The Power of Books.

I hadn't realised series 10 of the ABC's Book Club has changed format. I sat down - tea cup in hand, a piece of home-made banana and walnut cake in the other - and cued up this month's episode. Bonus! There were two. It is scheduled weekly, not monthly for 2016.

Episode two was entitled: Books That Changed My Life. The question was asked of the four guest panelists. Their answers were varied: The Uncanny X-men graphic novel,  The Marriage of Heaven and Hell by William Blake, Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence and Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller. This got me pondering. What book changed my life?

I thought about it for a week. Many books have influenced me, but which one book had changed my life? This wasn't an easy question.

I come from a religious family. My faith was introduced to me at a very young age. The Bible influenced me greatly, from a very young age. It shaped my beliefs, my ethics. It guided me. It challenged me. It made me ask questions. But it didn't change my life because it had always been there.

I thought harder. I've read so many books, but had any caused a specific change in my life? Then it was clear. The book that changed my life was Lord of the Rings.

In high school I was an avid mystery reader - Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh. It wasn't long before I had finished the books in that section of the library. In grade eight, the school librarian, who made it her quest to widen a student's reading vocabulary, gave me a copy of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

A new, fantastical world opened up to me. I read and read Lord of the Rings. I sourced other books on Middle Earth. My library now boasts three copies of The Hobbit, three copies of Lord of the Rings, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Lays of Beleriand, The Silmarillion and The Unfinished Tales and other J R R Tolkein essays.

It was a big part of my adolescence. But how did Lord of the Rings change my life?

First: I discovered speculative fiction. I could transport myself to a place where anything was possible. It provided an escape from a difficult family situation and the uncertainty of the eighties when world leaders had their fingers hovering over the 'big red button'. Once hooked, I found a hero in Doctor Who, I found adventure in Star Wars. Instead of physically running away, I absconded into fictional worlds where good triumphed over evil and friends were loyal, even against the odds.

This led to the imaginative world of Dungeons and Dragons. I now created my own worlds, drew up maps, created world histories and characters to fill the void. This inspired me to write my first book (still hidden somewhere in storage boxes). I wrote fantasy, science fiction and Doctor Who adventures. I researched history - leading into decades of historical re-enactment - and fell in love with words. Those early seeds grew over the years. Writing and speculative fiction came to my rescue in another time of need. Helping me to cope with anxiety.

I'm fortunate to have discovered Lord of the Rings at a pivotal point in my life - a time I was pondering life, the universe and everything. The themes of preserving our natural environment, resisting corruption, of loyalty and sacrifice for others and the ability for the smallest of people to make a difference in the world follow through the books. They shaped my life and re-enforced childhood teachings. I care for the environment, companion plant, save water, recycle. I worked twenty-eight years, looking after the health of others. I crave for a world where friendship and loyalty are more important than material wealth.

Over the years, I kept returning to Lord of the Rings - to the Ents who fought against the destruction of their home and defeated Saruman. I returned to Aragorn the hero, to Galadriel the elf-queen who resisted the temptation of the ring and to Samwise, the loyal friend - who I think was the real hero of the tale.

LOR collection

Not Just Soggy Around the Middle

First read through and rough rewrites on The Department of Curiosities is progressing. I have a long list of notes for the next rewrite, more research of facts and scenes to change or exorcise. Rewriting the beginning is, in a weird way, fun. I can revisit the excitement of a new adventure. Help my characters grow and add more va-voom.

soggy middle notes

But the middle? Argh!

Why do I keep stalling? It's not just the trudging through the myre of the soggy middle. It's first draft is done and discussed in Of the Muddle of the Middle and Other Inconveniences. I thought it would be easier attacking rewrites for this section. During my procrastination-research stage, I read many blogs and articles specifically on writing the middle (act 2) of a story. It seems I am not the only writer to say it: Rewriting the middle is drudgery.

I need to kill my darlings. In every sense of the phrase. Let me just talk about rewrites (or spoilers!) I need more action. I need to consolidate the twists and plots. I need to tighten the belt around that soggy middle.

I'm off to another writing class next month: Power up your writing.  Perfect timing. I need to start my next rewrite with a new eye, new skills and gumption.

But that is not my only hurdle.

I can't believe I wrote Of the Muddle of the Middle and Other Inconveniences over a year ago. To be fair, I have written and published three short stories and a novella, Doctor Jack, while I procrastinated my way around a specific scene. One I am now facing once more.

I thought the middle was a muddle for my head. Act three is just as wracking. Remember the darlings I mentioned. I don't want to part from my characters. They have been with me for over a year of writing and floating in my imagination for twice that. When I finish that last scene, they will have changed. That part of their story is ended. Some will return for another. Some may not.

So it's not just a soggy middle I am wallowing in. There is reluctance to give up my darlings and move on. Time to hitch up my belt, set my sights on the end and exercise those writing muscles.

I can do this.

It’s National Bookshop Day!

It's National Bookshop Day.

Despite the choruses of doom last decade, the  book is not dead. And neither are the purveyors of reading pleasure. According to this ABC story "Australian bookstores are still going strong" - and I am glad. Give me a paperback to shove my dog-eared bookmark into any day.

I love bookshops. That won't an earth shattering revelation. I love big bookshops, with aisles of tomes, elegantly displayed for easy access. I love cramped cupboard-shops with barely room to move as I hunt the wobbly stacks for that one great find. Paperbacks, hardbacks - it doesn't matter. It is the excitement of not knowing what I will find, and knowing that when I do it will bring knowledge, entertainment (and) or joy to a dreary day.

There are three things my Dearheart and I do when we travelled overseas:

  1. Sample the local chocolate
  2. Visit local bookshops (my favourite was the one in the crypts of San Lorenzo Church in Florence where I purchases a book on the archeological excavations of the Medici crytps) and
  3. um... let's just stick to two.
There is more to a good bookshop than the stock that lines the shelves.  Usually the staff are book-lovers as well, ready to help you find your perfect read. Here is my book stash acquired this weekend, both new and preloved. new books 2ndhand

Some bookshops had giveaways (Cabin in the Woods was from Dymock's 'free pick box'); others had raffles to celebrate (I am hoping to win one of the book hamper from Dillon's books).  We even visited Oxfam's bookshop where I scored a 1873 copy of Ivanhoe to add to my colletion.

There is still time to visit your local store this weekend. Enjoy. Viva la librairie!