When should you stop reading?

By Vita Forest

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So, for a few weeks now I have been reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.

The Luminaries… winner of the 2013 Booker Prize,

The Luminaries… set in the goldfields of New Zealand in the 1860s,

The Luminaries… over seven hundred pages long,

The Luminaries… which I am now about halfway through and which I am going to stop reading.

When do you give up on a book?  I used to struggle through, grinding my teeth if I found it excruciating.  Reading on til the bitter end.  Sometimes I still do.  If the book is two hundred pages long.  But this is a brick of a book.  I think if it hasn’t grabbed me yet, it is not going to.  And I’ve given it a goodly chance.  I’ve given it a few weeks of my life, as a pile of books I want to read sit unread on my shelf…

It’s not the length.  (Although that is not helping).  I relish spending as long as possible in certain books.  And sometimes do it again and again (Possession by A.S. Byatt, or WolfHall by Hilary Mantel, The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta).  But the story and the characters have not grabbed me beyond a very limp handshake.  I can let go without feeling loss.  I don’t really care what happens…

I am supposed to be reading it for a bookish meeting you see.  This is the good and bad thing about book clubs.  The good thing – you read books you wouldn’t normally read and discover wonderful authors you may not have come across before – Wallace Stegner, Diane Setterfield, Hilary Mantel.  The bad thing is – you read books you wouldn’t normally read and discover authors you never want to read again (not naming names, but

  • there was a certain book about a certain time travelling stone that involved a lot of very badly written caveman sex…  Yes, there is such a thing.  The girl who suggested it left the country soon after, we like to think it was due to the shame of having picked such a book.
  • And the very bad vampire romance with the main characters with the hilarious names with very bad spelling.  (Actually some of the club loved this one and went on to read the series, peopled with more vampires with mothers who couldn’t spell).

So I guess I will be one of those people who go to a book club without reading the book.  Someone who can add something to the conversation about the book, just not a whole lot.

Not that having read the book always matters.  We had a very spirited and funny book club meeting last night (another book club – you can never belong to too many), where a good portion of the attendees hadn’t read the book (All the Light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr – now make sure you read that one!)

How long do you give a book?

I’m letting this one go.

 

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Mum’s masterclass

By Vita Forest

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Last Saturday, my mother held a master class in how to cook her special Florentine biscuits.  In attendance were Saskia, my sister Briony, and I.  My father drifted in and out for taste tests as a break from his current carpentry project.  It was just like old times.

Florentines are a toffee-like biscuit made with slivered almonds and orange peel and coated on the back with a thin layer of chocolate… Is your mouth watering yet?  My mother and her friend Jenny, used to sell them to a number of shops including a swanky boutique, whose owner used to serve them as elegant treats at her regular fashion parades.  They were packaged in glistening cellophane bags which were sealed with a length of ribbon, ringletted into curls with the blade of a scissor, and finished with a hand-made paper rose inserted through the knot.  Very fancy.  Let’s just say they are something of an institution.

There have been numerous experiments over the years, leading to adaptations and alterations of the original recipe (its page in the old recipe book is now covered with updated ingredient quantities, tips and conversions for making larger batches.  Oh and splatters of butter and chocolate.  It is a messy operation), and the technique has been honed and perfected.

Mum marshaled the troops, ordering us about, as is her wont.  It was a regular production line, one apprentice placing blobs of the mixture onto one tray, while another tray cooked (carefully monitored to reach just the right golden brown), another minion peeled cooled, cooked discs off baking paper, while another picked these up and applied a thin coating of warm dark chocolate, before setting them down on another tray to be packed.  Quite an operation.

I took time out from apprentice duty to type out the recipe on the laptop, adding in all the special tips.  These included – if the cooked Florentines harden before you get to adjust the spilled edges to form perfect circles, pop the tray back into the oven to soften again, and – coat the back, not the front with chocolate – it’s smoother.  Saskia and Briony reviewed the document and added their own observations.

We chatted as we cooked, and remembered how after a session of Florentine-making, Dad would often find smears of chocolate on the underside of the kitchen bench where Jenny had wiped her fingers.  About how we were (and mostly still are) a family that needs to have some project on the go, even while watching T.V. – be it knitting, quilting, cross-stitching, leather or woodwork.

During the cooking, I dropped the chocolate knife on the floor, leading to another story of how I once spilled silk paint on the very table we were using, leaving a permanent stain.  Oops.   Apparently I am a rusher.

I gave out small packets of the finished product to some of my work colleagues today.  One of my friends, who is trying not to eat sugar, just rang to tell me how she and her kids have devoured the whole lot already. Her conversation was punctuated with quite a few “Oh my Gods!”  I might have to go an eat one myself.

 

Hats off to…

By Vita Forest

Hats off to some fabulous blogs

Hats off to some fabulous blogs

Earlier this week I had a surprise.  Jen from A Venturing Girl has nominated me for the Blogger Recognition Award!  Thank you Jen and please check out her lovely blog too.

I only started this blog in July, so am pretty new to the blogosphere, but am enjoying it so much.  It has been a wonderful way to connect with so many people – around the world and here in Sydney, both on and off-line.

Jotterizing started as a place for me to practise writing, to become disciplined, to explore topics of interest and to connect with like-minded people.  You can read more on this here.

Some advice to new bloggers…

  • schedule it into your week/month/whatever time-frame and stick to it.  Give yourself permission to post things that you don’t think are perfect.  This is not your novel, this is your blog – get it out there!
  • be prepared to be surprised – ideas for posts come from the strangest places.  Be open.

It’s been wonderful seeing what others out there are doing too.  So many creative and hardworking individuals.  Thank you for your generosity and bravery.  I’d like to nominate the following blogs for the Blogger Recognition Award:

The Daily Think

A Narcissist writes letters, to himself

susannevalenti

Follow your bliss

Daily (w)rite

Through open lens

The Stone Soup

Things we like

James Radcliffe. com

A little bird tweets

The Renegade Press

Aniket Sharma Photography

Glitchy Artist

Friday Madness

Ann Wood Handmade

If you blog appears in the above list, here are the rules of the Blogger Recognition Award:

  1. Select 15 other blogs you want to give the award to. You cannot nominate yourself or the person who has nominated you
  2. Give a brief story of how your blog got started
  3. Give a piece or two of advice to new bloggers
  4. Thank whoever nominated you, and provide a link to their blog
  5. List those you’ve nominated in the post and comment on their blogs to let them know you’ve nominated them.

If you haven’t seen the blogs above, take a look!  They are great!

 

Literary cats provide their own special kind of assistance

By Vita Forest

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Meet my cats.

There is Isaboe (black and white, freckle on her nose, likes to chew cardboard boxes and wears a mask.  She is named after the kick-ass heroine from Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles).

And there is Zadie (one month younger than Isaboe, but larger and fluffier.  White, currently shedding fur.  Everywhere.  She has a long elegant tail like a feather boa and is rather chatty – chirps and hums as she follows me around.  She is named after the novelist Zadie Smith).

Here they are when they were a little younger and could share the top spot in the cat tower.

Yin and Yang cats

Yin and Yang cats

But let me take you back to last Saturday…

I awoke at 6.30ish and thought I may as well get up (the kids were still asleep and I wanted to fit in some report writing).  While I made a I made a cup of Earl Grey tea, my phone beeped and I saw that a friend from school was also up and about.  She was bemoaning the fact that due to the good weather, she could not start on the school reports as her kids’ cricket would not be cancelled.  Another friend texted from bed, What are you doing!?  Been out dancing and partying.  She was not going to start hers anytime soon. Just about to start, I let them know.

I carried my tea to the table and spread out my piles of Maths tests, report outcomes, notes and lists of children’s names.  Then the cats came to help.

Zadie lay across the Measurement tests.  Isaboe sat expectantly on the class list.  The non-furry children slept on.  I managed to pull out a pile of tests and began grading them.  My phone beeped again.  Another friend had arrived at school with her takeaway coffee to get to work on reports.  It was 7am.  What were we thinking? another texted, she was sleeping in too.

I put down my phone and returned to the tests.  Zadie’s ears pricked up at the sound of the paper clip being removed from the paper.  She started to bat it across the table, flicking it under the sheets of report outcomes, which she then had to scatter to find the paperclip.  I found it for her and threw it across the room.  She bounded after it.

Isaboe blinked at me then curled up neatly again with her tail wrapped along the length of her body.  I sorted tests, I wrote grades for each student for outcomes in Number and Algebra, for Measurement.  Zadie leaped up on the table again and dropped the paperclip near me.

Dogs play fetch with sticks, Zadie uses paper clips.  I threw it again and texted my friends about my “helpers.”

“Go back to bed!” advised one, “The cats are trying to tell you something!”

“Bring them into school!” said another, “They can help me!”

After a few rounds of batting the paperclip along the length of the table like a hockey puck and skidding across the floor to collect it when I threw it for her, Zadie decided enough was enough and sprawled across the Maths tests I had spread in front on me.

Very.

Helpful.

Then I heard a door open and Max burst onto the scene.  Lucy also appeared, rubbing her eyes.  They grabbed the cats and gave them a good morning cuddle.  Papers shuffled and fell on the floor.  Cats leaped from the table, children’s voices argued over what we should have for breakfast.

At least I had made a start…

Maths tests are super comfy

Maths tests are super comfy

 

Melbourne Micro-story

By Vita Forest

I was here

I was here

Above is my submission for Chart Collective’s “I WAS HERE True micro-stories set where you stand” initiative.  I made the meme yesterday, adding some appropriate theatrical bling by way of a photo of an old dance costume of Lucy’s.

There were a lot of restrictions on this piece of writing (which I like as you may know).  These included:

  • the stories had to be true
  • they had to be set specifically in Melbourne
  • and the real doozy – they could only be up to a total of 300 characters long (that’s right, not words, but characters. 300 words is hard enough).

This last rule meant I did many drafts, and then cut and cut and cut, until I distilled my memory into only three typed lines.  There could be no lazy words, no padding.  This post is already about three times longer than the text could be…

If chosen, they will be printed on posters and displayed near the site where they took place.  I really love this idea, reading stories directly related to the place where you are standing.  They were submitted anonymously, so you have the inside scoop if mine gets picked.

Maybe I should start an online Sydney equivalent – a blogging event about places in Sydney.  Let’s call it Sydney in Sixty (that is 60 words).  Have a go, then reply to this post and send me the link.

What have I learned from blogging? Reflections of a newbie blogger.

By Vita Forest

Having fun with Diptic - how do you make your illustrations?

Having fun with Diptic – how do you make your illustrations?

As a teacher, I spend quite a bit of time reflecting on how lessons went, how successful programs were, how effective certain strategies are with my students.  I thought I would apply the same logic to this blog.

I started this blog in July for a number of reasons:

  • to have a place to do some writing.
  • to make myself write regularly.
  • to explore and experiment.
  • to connect with other people.

This is what I have learned so far…

  • some discipline.  I committed to writing at least one post a week and have done that.  Instead of writing being something I did when everything else was finished, and if I had any energy left, I have prioritized my writing and built a kind of routine.
  • it doesn’t have to be perfect.  James Clear has written some very good articles about creativity and the fact that you need to do a body of work.  Sometimes it won’t be amazing, but producing something regularly is much more effective than waiting for inspiration to hit. I have become more fearless and open and hit that Publish button with relish.
  • sometimes it’s good to have constraints.  (Actually make that all the time).  Whether it’s word limits, time constraints, or a very particular designated topic in a blogging event, limitations of some kind seem to bring focus, and paradoxically, they free up the mind from the paralysis of the open-ended. (So far I have participated in two blogging events, producing An unfortunate meeting with a fairy and He loves me, he loves me not… )
  • unexpected topics have a way of cropping up.  I thought I had to have everything mapped out, but sometimes I start writing about one thing and it turns into something else.  And that is OK.
  • how to make visuals I get to create my own images (mainly photos doctored in Diptic).  This is another way to be creative that I hadn’t expected.
  • feedback and community are fantastic.  I have now completed two novels.  I send them out (occasionally) and wait indefinitely to get any response from agents or publishers.  Sometimes it has been positive, but more often its impersonal, months later and in the form of standard rejection letters.  Blogging is a way to instantly connect with people from all around the world, and I really appreciate people taking the time to read, Like and respond to my work.  It’s so helpful (and I have to say I get a buzz out of it!)  Maybe one day, someone will publish my novels, but until then, I’m loving the blogging.

Now I’m going to try and transfer some of my newfound discipline to the rather tedious and often soul-destroying task of sending out my second novel to agents and publishers.  Because nothing will happen if I don’t DO something.

So that is what this newbie blogger has learned so far.  How about you?  What have you learned from blogging?