Saturday, January 23, 2016


I have had writer pretenses of the most amateur kind ever since I learned how to grip a pen. I remember writing an unintelligible space drama and being publicly destroyed by Mrs Butterworth in front of the class when I was 8; there was the Entombed-inspired rambling story (Entombed was a computer game that I was crazy about) in Form 1 or 2; there were poems and religious rants in my teens; preachy, obvious philosophical stories in my early twenties; occasional fiction and short stories in my later 20s; in my pre-China phase I was trying to stick a novel together but never completed it. (The plot of which I still ponder about.) Oh and there was this blog. All pretenses went when I really start to read in larger quantities.

It took me a long time to mature as a reader. Despite my ability to focus in chess and language learning, I found it hard to focus and read fiction on a regular basis as I grew up. This really did change in my mid-20s. Perhaps it was the surplus time I had when I was self-employed, or just that other things weren't as interesting at the time. I've since made up for lost time even though there are still huge gaping chasms of books that I would like to have read but probably will never read. There have been some great books in there, as well as Chinese books in the last 6 years. Some books came like cold water. It was Lolita in particular that broke my heart. English was Nabokov's third language and he wrote something so well conceived and written; it disabused me of all those silly little fantasies of being an author. Reading Jin Yong, a Chinese novelist, also had a similar effect on me. Not that I ever though that I was going to be a Nobel Prize winning literary master. Or perhaps I did. I've always been a fabulist.

When I got Dan Carter's biography for Christmas I was lucky in that the giver mentioned it could be exchanged. And I knew exactly what I was going to swap it for: Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I'm not even an inch into this 800 page novel and I get the same sort of sense as I did with Lolita. Just like Nabokov, it's not just about the ability to write but those awarenesses and knowledges that go into preparing the ideas and imagery: Catton knows the geography, the history, the terminology of mining, social norms and language of the time. She might have researched some of it for all I know but the seamlessness of the background shows that most of it was probably known before as the story formed in her mind. This is just one of many things that come to mind as I read and think.

Naturally, if I ever finish that one novel, I wouldn't be writing in that style. (I meditated on the topic of style more than I wrote.) Writing doesn't need to have the wow of knowledge to construct a potent, meaningful story. It doesn't need complexity and moving parts. Just pitch it to the heart, yeah?

I'm starting "proper" work again soon but writing has been an interesting side project recently, too. I've had the luck to work on a friend's friend's content writing project. It was child's play to someone who likes to write and provided some extra cash during this quiet time. And then there was my on-going tussle with my diploma essay writing. Due to circumstances beyond my control I've had very little supervision of my project work and support for the writing requirements; throw in the fact that my essay writing has never been my strongest suit and you get an interminable saga. I hope I get some signs that my last submission is good enough to scrape over the line.

Words and scribblings, they're all for something or someone. If not they're just hot air. So many times I'm just writing for me, even when they're submitted with a word count, or put into a blog frame. Luminaries was written and stands to be read. And it's a book that I can't want till I have a moment to read more of.

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