When I pulled into the street, I saw him leaning against the ash-grey trunk of a eucalypt in front of the courthouse—faded collared shirt and jeans wrapped loosely around his hunched frame, a cigarette cupped in his hands.
He was following the progress of a ute in the middle of executing a reverse parallel park, calling instructions to “swing harder” and “back out”. The driver seemed not to hear him. I pressed and held the horn until he, and everyone else on the street turned to face me. Another stranger in town, they said with desiccated squints and scowls that suggested limited access to dental hygiene.
He rubbed his cigarette into the tree trunk, waited, then crossed the street, scraping his sneakers on the road as he approached the car. Continue reading
No sudden slump in the cab, or grinding of rim on rock. Nothing to indicate that the wheel had put up a fight. Only an unsatisfying and noiseless wobble, an deflationary apology for having left me perched perpendicular to the descending mud track, and enveloped tip to toe in mountain forest.
It was eleven past midnight. Continue reading
Today I’m going to pass on a secret that’s been in my family for at least a generation or two, and show you how to whip up a batch of Nonna’s homemade gnocchi which, aside from being the cheapest gourmet-sounding meal this side of the poverty line, is the only thing I ever learned how to cook with conviction and mild success; apart from scrambled eggs on toast, which I still fuck up on occasions.
But before we get started I want to give you a bit of background info. First of all, I swear. A lot. A gift from my father before he went the way of all alcoholic diabetics with a monumental appetite for refined sugar. I also have a birthmark on the back of my left thigh shaped like the Eiffel Tower, or an ice-cream cone; it depends on how far I bend over.
As for the recipe, it all came from my Nonna—a stringy old bird from the north of Italy who, like many folk after the war, found herself on a boatful of other white-looking immigrants bound for Australia to work their arses off and get called a bunch of ‘good-for-nothing wogs’. She was the only one in those days who’d bothered to learn any English, which made her pretty popular around the markets and hospitals and court houses and anywhere else where monolingual Italians used to turn up with any frequency.
Nonna was of the old school of cooks: she could march into any kitchen, sift through the shit on the shelves, and cook a decent family meal, or a snack for passing Nazis, and by three-thirty in the afternoon she’d have the whole house licking their lips and loosening their pants asking where the nearest couch was. And no matter who you were, she’d touch you on the cheek or on the shoulder when you spoke to her, because she knew that everyone needed something extra, something tactile, to show that other people were listening to them, and she’d leave you with some nugget of wisdom or down-to-earth advice, even if it involved the best way to take up a pair of men’s trousers.
Okay, so I’m painting a pretty rosy picture here—she might had whacked her kids around a bit too, and shot a few of the neighbours’ dogs because they pissed on her azaleas—but she was generally alright, and I have never understood how, from such a sweet lady as my Nonna, came the rancorous crab monster that is my mother. Continue reading
The water drummed against the bow of the Gritty Tang as she tugged her way along the western shoals.
Captain Kona stood silently at the wheel, his calloused hands responding in twitches to the pitching and lurching of the spring swells. He glanced at the mirror, and frowned at the curtain of mist that was purling over the horizon. The rains were coming. They’d promised three fingers by evening fall. Continue reading
Chic (adj.): a half-refurbished ground floor space in a former East German apartment block.
Austere plaster swimming with granite and silver adornments; dub music playing softly from speaker cones; retro phones converted into candle holders and pink shag in the toilets – Irving hated this restaurant. The food was overpriced and unexciting, the cocktails nauseatingly pretentious (anyone for a Strawbunny Chokehold?), and the patrons were invariably overdressed proles with huge teeth, or chihuahua hugging metro sexuals with their dress pants on backwards. That’s why, out of all the upmarket promi-troughs, it was Charlotte’s favourite. Continue reading
From the red haze on the southern horizon, the coast ran cramped and arched between the dust and sea like a green wire. There were headlands, the most extreme of which formed the southern end of the bay, a prism of forest and stone that stretched out into the sea like a chain of pyramids. The tip they called the Nail and there was a cabin and a fire they would tend to at night to warn ships away from the bluffs, or to give those who had been driven into the rocks by the relentless northern gusts, those who survived, a point of reference on the hazardous climb from the shoreline. The fire had had not burned in months.
From the sea the face of the Nail resembled the face of a man, old and unwashed, with hollow eyes. Fringes of scrub grew in thick clusters around the promontory, tumbling around deep fissures and rocky orifices, a slab of sandstone shot out parallel to the ocean’s surface and sniffed at the winds, and the roots of trees, dead and living, fed into the shallows, stirring with each flow of air and water. Finn, who had not often look upon it, fancied it to be the face of someone he’d once known, his father, or a priest, perhaps. The personalities changed with every season, each new tide of the weather lending its own character to the vegetation to the jagged coastline. Every storm and fire and flood a new wrinkle on the face of Bendethera. Continue reading
I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.
One of the most enjoyable things about learning the discipline of writing is studying those you admire; following the authors who inspire you and whose writing you would walk on fire to be able to emulate. Reading acquires a new dimension as you study their methods, their choice of language and themes, and begin to understand why you love their work.
You might also want to talk about it. Heaping praise on Australian author Tim Winton, at least for me, is easy. I identify with his settings and characters, and I think his prose is magic.
But when may a new writer stand up and level harsh criticism at an ‘acclaimed’ work of fiction with impunity? Which credentials are required? If Mark Twain says he has no right, then who am I to say that I loathed [insert book title from Man Booker prize nominee here]? Who am I to judge? Continue reading