Make up sex

Donald hopped out of the taxi, the long flight still heavy in his ankles. “Keep it,” he mumbled handing over a hundred.

“Merry Christmas,” the driver said before skidding off down the oak-lined road.

In the street lamp’s yellow wash, Donald thought he could see his father-in-law’s frowning face in the the two-story Victorian’s facade – his white eyebrows in the eaves, his brick jaw resting squarely against the trimmed grass – and he was suddenly thankful he’d been delayed. Continue reading “Make up sex”

Across the border

It is not simple line on a map, or a fence that pinches against our wispy plains like a monk’s belt.

No, our border is a wall: as high and thick as a mountain. It strangles, silences, mutes the cracks of truncheon on bone. No one knows what lays beyond; only that the clouds and birds that pass over head fly somewhere, and we cannot. Continue reading “Across the border”

Is fiction writing tasteless?

Tonguing for a meat pie
Tonguing for a meat pie

Taste is an elusive sense. Have you ever tried to describe what bitterness is? What about the enigmatic meatiness of umami? It’s not an easy task. But should I change the question and ask what you feel when you eat something of a particular taste – not just whether it is hot, chewy or smooth, but what you think or how other parts of your body react besides those in your mouth – then we stumble upon a banquet of ideas.

I for one swoon at the pleasure of devouring a savoury stew of thick beef chunks, red wine, sea salt, carrot and sweet onion, but the taste of tripe makes me want to call a priest.

Food is emotional

The sense of taste triggers intense reactions in us, both physically and emotionally. Therefore, when writing fiction, we don’t need to rely on words such as bitterness, sweetness or sourness – readers know these gustatory concepts already. Our goal is to connect notions such as texture, smell, temperature, memories and expectations so that we can communicate the experience of taste.

Consider this sentence:

Joanne held the spoon of honey at arm’s length and let the syrup topple into her mouth. At first she felt a tingling, then a slight whisper of wattle and citrus before the sweetness started to crawl across the surface of her tongue like viscous wave of sugar ants, up the insides of her cheeks and across her palate. She closed her mouth and eyes and thought of her mother’s farm, the smell of warm September mornings and of her childhood pet, the one-eyed cat, Salamander, who would lay all day purring on her bare feet.

Here we reveal not just the physical properties of the food, but also the relationship between Joanne and the taste of honey, in both the present and the past. We animate the texture, throw in a few taste references that would make a thesaurus-hugging wine connoisseur proud; we depict even the way she eats the food.

Most people are familiar with the taste of honey, but by adding these emotional and sensory ingredients we are attempting to present honey in novel way.

Of course it doesn’t have to be as floury as my example, but I think depictions of food are only tasteless when they don’t venture beyond the ‘bland’, ‘sweet’ and ‘sour’. By using all the senses at our disposal, it is possible to transform the description of taste into a very delectable morsel for readers to digest.

Creating descriptions of people

Here’s an exercise we were taught in writing school to help free our minds from the conciseness and blandness used by politically-correct trogologytes with nothing better to do than to force us all to use non-figurative, monosyllabic grunts expressly devised to be comprehensible to a sock puppet.

What you do is think of someone you know well and write ten metaphorical sentences about them. It starts by thinking:

“If my friend were a vehicle, what type of vehicle would he/she be?”

The answer might be something like:

“She is a wheat harvester rearing on its back wheels.”

The idea is taken from a poet, whose name I cannot remember, who used this device to describe English poet laureate, Ted Hughes.

For example, here’s one I made up about a person I know:

His shoulders are two oversized furcoats, draped over a telegraph pole.
His voice, a shotgun ringing through a bowling alley on a Saturday night.
His eyes blink over an early evening at the equator.
He uses his nose like a vacuum cleaner sucks up marbles.

As you can see, you can create a fairly vivid image of a person through the association of ideas. My example is rubbish, but give it a go, it’s not only simple but fun – like throwing a hair dryer in the fish tank.

Ode to my Saturday morning newspaper

“Adapt or perish”, “turn new corners”, “invest in people”: yeah ok, enough already. If you haven’t already heard about the rise and rise of online news then you may not have had the pleasure of hearing such responses to the perceived challenge of the internet from media executives. But if all the hysteria and rapid investment in the web by media companies is any gauge, then there is actually some substance to what they are saying.

Countless paragraphs have been published on the implications of the digitisation of news media, particularly surrounding the fate of traditional media at hands of its precocious digital cousin.

But what it boils down to is consumer behaviour patterns – how people consume news media, how they are told to and how they want to. The behaviour of the market is what drives our capitalist system. It’s not the actual presence of the internet or the web or the ipod – it is that people are using or prefer to use these methods of information retrieval and delivery. But are we all heading towards a plugged-in future?

Personally, I enjoy the whole weekend newspaper ritual. You buy two kilograms of recently pulped Tasmanian rain forest, discard anything related to motoring, sport, advertising or the insidious tabloid journalism that is infecting the major dailies these days, haul it down to the local café and spend the next two hours skimming. I could just as easily take along my laptop which weighs about the same and utilise the café’s free WiFi, thus gaining access to all the adblocked news, entertainment and porn I could ever want at 10pm on a Saturday morning. However, until the concept of e-paper is commercially realised, a newspaper will always have the following advantages over online news:

  • Convenience

    The portability of paper is why it’s still quite popular. In fact, you can take it nearly anywhere except to places where you might indulge in a little swimming or fire dancing. And we all know that sand and keyboards don’t mix and that’s a fact. Furthermore, in the absence of sudden blindness or total solar eclipse, you can assume full control over your reading experience. There are no cords, no electricity and no download limits and you can read a newspaper in bed and on the toilet. Hoorah!

  • Readability

    Unless you are the terminator, I’m guessing that prolonged reading from computer screens makes your eyes tired and your mind mush. Reading a newspaper is just easier. Black and white. No white on cotton blue, or 10px Arial with 80 per cent opacity, marquees or whatever some designer considered cool on the day.

  • Static structure

    The static nature of newspapers can sometimes be a disadvantage, but it is dependable. It presents you with a sequence of information that can be accessed as part of an unchanging index. There’s no danger of losing your way, and if you decide to skip or re-reread a feature on battery-hen farming practices it will be there when you return, just where you left it and unedited by a nervous copyeditor who has just received a call from KFC’s lawyers.

  • Information underload

    Newspapers and websites provide distinct reading experiences. Unlike modern news websites, newspapers don’t contain flashing advertisements or promotions tempting our brains and fingers to click away from what we really came for. Of course,  a newspaper contains publicity and, at times, grossly over-sized advertisements but there are no popups or 1000 links to divert your attention from breezing past these and onto the next page. I know a great deal of money is poured into online information architecture these days however with a newspaper you don’t have to spend hours figuring out why the letters section isn’t listed in the navigation, and is linked from the right hand side of the op-ed main page.

  • Enjoyment

    Reading, whether on the web or through the printed medium is fun and when combined with another activity, such as sunbathing, it can be terrific!

Online news is tremendous nevertheless and gives us access to a seemingly unlimited and close-to-realtime resource of world and local news, weather and facts. And although the web’s influence on modern journalism and news production is undeniable, I am confident that we won’t see a radical decline in the stuff that ends up as birdcage liner in the immediate future. Newspapers will change the way they present information and we will see more references to online editions, but I speculate that we latte-lovers will continue to have our moments of newsy solace every weekend for a long time to come.