Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Kate Grenville

I've read two Kate Grenville books: The Secret River and Lilian's Story. I liked the former, but not the latter. But then later, I found out Lillian's Story was based on a real woman in Sydney. That made me a little more interested in the whole thing. I regret that I didn't like it more, and feel maybe I should read it again. It's a depressing book though. I don't know if I want to go through all of it again. Maybe I'll just try to see the movie someday. Toni Collette and Ruth Cracknell are in it. I like them.

Wait! Maybe I didn't like the book BECAUSE it was based on a true story. As I've mentioned before, I usually don't like fictionalized accounts of real people. Maybe somehow my subconscious knew it was based on a true story, and that's why I couldn't get into it. I thought it was because it was too depressing. But I'm thinking of the storyline of the whole thing, and it's stuff I'm interested in.

I don't know what to do. Should I read it again, or not?

Well, I'm going to say no for now. But I may change my mind later.

When I get uptight and worrisome about my blog, Tim will remind me that I should be writing the blog for myself and not other people. It's good advice, and something I especially need to keep in mind when writing about writers. For some sad reason, my author posts usually get ignored. They're rarely read. If I decided to write purely for an audience, I'd stick to actors. They get the most attention on my blog. I did have someone searching for information on Stephanie Laurens when I checked this morning. So, that's cool.

Anyway, there's a good chance I'm totally talking to myself right now. If you're reading this, you might be the only one....besides me. It's like a private talk between the two of us.

I guess I should get started on the research.

Lord Wiki says that baby Kate was born in Sydney on 14 October 1950. So, she'll be turning sixty this year.

One of Jack's favorite TV shows has a Baby Kate in it. Actually, it's one of my favorite shows too.

Baby Kate Grenville had two siblings. Her dad was a lawyer and then judge. Her mom was a pharmacist.

There's not much else here about Grenville's childhood. Lord Wiki skips ahead to her graduating from The University of Sydney. Then she went into the film industry— doing editing of documentaries for Film Australia which is now Screen Australia. This is the government film body. Is there a ministry for that? I just suddenly got curious about that.

I'm searching through the Screen Australia website. I'm getting that the Minister of Arts is their liaison person, and that's Peter Garrett. He's Minister of Environment Protection, Heritage, and the Arts. Why do they combine arts with the environment?

In 1976, Grenville decided to do a working holiday in the UK. It was supposed to be a six months thing, but she ended up staying for seven years. This is what I had hoped would happen to us. Yeah. Dina, Tim, and Jack went to visit Australia. They liked it so much and found work, so now they've been there for five years already.

Grenville lived in London and Paris. She did more film work and some secretarial stuff while writing in her spare time. That sounds really nice.

Okay. I was all confused for a second. I thought Lord Wiki said she had been in the UK for seven years. Then he had her coming to my country in 1980. That's not seven years. But what he said was that she was AWAY for seven years. She spent about four years in Europe and three years in the United States. In the U.S, she went to the University of Colorado, and got a Masters Degree in Creative Writing.

In 1983, Grenville returned to Australia. She worked for SBS in the subtitle department. I wonder if that would be a fun job. It kind of sounds fun to me. You're not just copying the dialogue. You probably have to describe sounds as well. Ominous music plays softly in background. I love subtitles.

In 1986, Grenville got herself a literary grant. She was able to leave SBS, and do her writing stuff. That's really cool. And the University of Sydney gave her a room to write in. They're so nice to writers in Australia. Well, they're probably nice here too. Maybe. You probably have to audition and all that. I'd surely get rejected. I'm pretty much always rejected when it comes to my writing....well, at least in the professional and moneymaking avenues.

Grenville is married to a political cartoonist named Bruce Petty. He might be interesting. I think I'll add him to my list.

Petty and Grenville have a son and daughter.

What else?

Grenville is into learning how to play the cello. Tim knows how to play the cello. But we don't have one, so it's not like he can play on a regular basis.

Before Grenville had gotten the grant, she already had an award-winning short story and Lillian's Story published. So I guess she had showed enough promise to earn that grant.

Grenville's bibliography is fairly short, so maybe I'll go through all the novels.

The first was Lillian's Story, the one I read. It's about a woman who has a very rough life involving incest, mental institutions, obesity, and homelessness. It's based on the real Sydney woman Bea Miles. Maybe the book scared me. The woman comes from an upper class family. I come from an upper class family. I'm an eccentric living among the upper class, and I don't feel like I fit into any of it. I feel like I'm such a black sheep in my world. So maybe I read the book, and on a subconscious level, I worried I'd end up doing the mental institution and homelessness thing. Maybe the book hit too close to home. I've had no incest and obesity, though. So, that's good.

Grenville's next novel was published in 1986. It's called Dreamhouse. I wonder if she wrote it during her grant time, or if she had completed it before then. Anyway, I was googling the book, and came across Grenville's own site. I'm thinking maybe I'll just get all the book information here. It makes sense to do that.

From the description of the book, it sounds like it's about a gay person who has forced himself into a heterosexual marriage. That's a rough situation. Grenville's website says it's a comedy, though, so I guess it probably shows the light and dark side of trapping yourself in the closet.

In 1988, Grenville published Joan Makes History. This is probably what she wrote during her grant time. I'm reading the description of the book, and it sounds a lot like Forrest Gump. This is the story of an "everywoman", Joan, who was present at all the famous moments of Australia's European history. She gives her irreverent version of what went on, filling in the blanks that more solemn historians leave.

It sounds good, though. I'm going to look out for it. Lillian from Lillian's Story has a cameo in the book. That's cool. I like crossover stuff.

It looks like Grenville took a bit of a hiatus from novel-writing. Maybe she was busy with mothering? Or maybe her next book took a really long time to write. It came out in 1994, and was called Dark Places, or Albion's Story. What's with the alternative title? Could they not decide which title they preferred? Or maybe they chose one title, and the book didn't do too well, so then they decided to try something else.

Oh wait. Now I see. The American version of the book has the alternate title. What's the deal with Americans changing the title of things? I notice that a lot when I'm looking at IMDb. America will rename Australian movies. Why? It's so weird. It's like the whole hiding-the-Australian accent thing.

Dark Places is the story of Lillian's father. Do I want to read about a protagonist who rapes his daughter? Probably not. Or maybe I should. I've already lost faith in humanity. Maybe I should start trying to understand more about evil. What is it like to be the type of person who hurts others and feels very little guilt and remorse about it? I'm not saying I'm perfect. I've hurt people before. But I feel bad about it, and I usually TRY to make amends or at least apologize.

The Library Journal quoted on Amazon.com says, Albion's obsession with his large, homely, bright, and determined daughter Lilian ("a chip off the old block") cannot be reconciled with his delusions about women. When he ultimately rapes her ("You want it," I reminded her. "You have wanted it for years"), she descends into madness, but Albion sees no fault in himself.

That's really sad. Last night I dreamed some terrorists decided to kill me because I'm Jewish. They weren't really mean to me...well, besides threatening me with death. They had the attitude of well sorry, this is the way it has to be. But does it have to be that way? Is there no other way? When I woke up, I thought about how I've pretty much always imagined that if someone (terrorist, serial killer, robber, etc.) planned to kill me, I'd try to plea for my life by telling them that I have a child. But it's so doubtful it would work. Why? They wouldn't care. They wouldn't care about me, Jack, Tim, my parents, friends....any of it. None of that would matter to them. Or at least it wouldn't matter enough.

There was this woman who was horribly cruel to me last year. She wrote very abusive stuff towards me. It's the kind of stuff that would drive some people into a deep depression...maybe even suicide. The experience was shocking to me. I guess it was my slap in the face regarding humanity. I wondered how she'd feel if she did destroy me. Would she feel guilty? Was she the type of person who played with fire and then regretted it once someone got burned? I'd love to believe that. But I have my doubts. I've come to think that, if she heard I went insane or killed myself, she'd likely laugh and shrug her shoulders. She would have probably felt she had done the world a favor by getting rid of me.

Hopefully, I'm wrong.

I feel too much guilt. It handicaps me at times. But as I've said before, I'd rather feel too much guilt than not enough.

In 1999, Grenville wrote The Idea of Perfection. That's gives us a five year gap between books. I'm thinking she's the type of writer who works on a project for a fairly long time.

The description, of the book, on Grenville's site says The Idea of Perfection is about two people who seem the least likely in the world to fall in love. Douglas Cheeseman is an awkward engineer, the sort of divorced man you'd never look at twice. Harley Savage is a big, plain, abrasive woman who's been through three husbands and doesn't want another.

That sounds good to me, kind of an antidote to the romance novels which feature two people with perfect bodies.

In 2005, Grenville published The Secret River. I read this but don't remember much about it. All I know is it had something to do with the relationship between a white man and his aboriginal neighbors. I think the book surprised me in some way, but I forgot how. Maybe it had a difficult ending rather than a corny unrealistic one? That could have been it. Or I think maybe the protagonist was less sympathetic than I expected. Yeah. I think that was it. Grenville's site talks about how the protagonist is faced with a difficult moral choice. This is probably what I'm remembering.

It turns out the book is part of a trilogy. The second book is called The Lieutenant. It's based on the diaries of William Dawes and is about his relationship with an aboriginal girl. You know, I've been thinking. Maybe I'm being too uptight and judgmental about novels based on real people. I say I don't like them, but that's not always true. I loved Richard Flanagan's Wanting which had real people from history. And I'm sure there have been others that I've liked. The Lieutenant sounds really good to me. I want to read that.

Grenville's site has a biography page. For some reason, when I read The Secret River, I pictured Grenville to be really young....like just out of college. I don't know where I got that idea. Maybe it's the name Kate. It sounds like someone really young. I pictured a woman in her mid-twenties with long brown hair; serious and intellectual looking. Instead, she's a redheaded woman in her sixties who looks happy in a zany kind of way.

Well, the biography doesn't say much. I pretty much got the same stuff from Lord Wiki.

Grenville has some essays about writing and stuff. Maybe I'll read those.

The first is called "History and Fiction". The essay is in response to historian critics saying that Grenville sees her novel as a work of history. A historian named Mark McKenna worries that as historical novels have risen in popularity, scholarly history is harder to get published. Well, maybe that's because a lot of scholarly history is boring. Maybe I just don't like world scholarly. It sounds like something you're forced to read for school. I'd probably prefer the term nonfiction.

This essay is pretty much Grenville airing her personal gripes against McKenna. I kind of feel I've been dragged into a war. Oh well. Who am I to talk? I write a lot about my personal gripes on this blog.

Grenville says, It's difficult to talk about a book set in 1815, the research I did for it, and the real events that were its inspiration, without using that word. Unless a writer of historical fiction says (as Peter Carey did about The True History of the Kelly Gang) "I made it all up!", there is going to be discussion of the idea of "history".

Did Peter Carey really say that? Did he just make everything up? Maybe that's why I didn't like the book. Maybe that's the difference in what I like, and didn't like. It's one thing to take a real person, and just make up stuff off the top of your head. It's another thing to do extensive research and then build a fictional story around that.

I'm going to reread some of my post about Carey, and see if I mentioned this I-made-it-all-up thing. Well, I don't think I mentioned it, but I did talk of my aversion to novels based on real people. The blurring of fiction and truth makes me feel stressed and confused. But I guess I'm okay with it in some instances.

Jack's decided he's going to be the new family videographer. So I offered to star in one of his movies. I thought it would be cool to read the first paragraph of Lillian's Story. So we did that. But I messed up a word, and asked if I could do it over. Jack suggested I sing, and I said how about I sing the first paragraph of the book. Jack looked very hesitant and said People will think you're weird. I said. Oh, that's okay. I don't have comments anymore, so I don't have worry about what people say.....Or what they don't say.

Having no comments gives me this sense of wild freedom. By next week, I may be dancing around naked on video.

Back to the essay. Grenville is making me realize that avoiding fictionalized biographies is foolish. She says, Artists have always taken aspects of the real world and shaped them for their purposes. Did Monet's water-lilies really look as they appear in his paintings? Story-tellers have taken historical figures and events as a starting-point for their work since before Homer and continuing through Shakespeare, Dickens and a thousand others.

That's very true.

Besides that, I'm getting a little bored with the essay. I'm going to move onto something else.

The next essay is called "Academic Fictions". Grenville says, I’d always had the idea that the role of academics was to come to a subject without preconceptions, look at all the available sources and draw conclusions and insights from them backed by accurate quotes. But what she's now seeing is scholars acting like tabloid journalists: they take up a position and distort the evidence in any way they can, in order to support their case.

This reminds me so much of Good Morning America's recent segment on Unschooling. It was extremely manipulative. In one scene, the parents say they let their children choose their own food. What does the segment show the children eating for breakfast? Chocolate donuts. So, what are we supposed to conclude by this? Unschooling parents don't give a crap about their child's nutrition. And without their parent's guidance, the children eat a horrible diet. Obviously, the children choose to have chocolate donuts for breakfast every morning. Yes and children who go to school eat a 100% healthy diet every single day.

The family featured on the video have spoken out about how the coverage was so horribly manipulated. In the segment, they make it look as if the family spends all their time in front of the television. The family later said that the film crew ASKED them to watch TV. They were also filmed doing stuff that was more educationally impressive. That stuff was cut out of the segment.

I don't know what's worse—that Good Morning America could sink to such ridiculous tabloid levels, or that people would so easily believe what they see. What happened to....what do you call it? Oh yeah. Critical thinking.

Back to Grenville's essay. It's another one with her defending herself against attacks. I know what it's like to want to defend yourself. When other bloggers attacked me, I read something advising people NOT to air the drama on one's own blog/website So, I didn't do that. I hinted about it, but didn't go into details. And I didn't name and shame. Grenville is doing just that. Has she made the right choice, or wrong choice? I don't know. She says, I’m aware that going into this detail brings with it the danger of seeming to protest too much. However, not protesting has encouraged the fabrications to gather authority, and damaged not only the books but also my own reputation.

I guess the difference between her situation and my situation is, I'm not famous. I'm not sure how much the attacks against me damaged my reputation. First of all, I don't have much of a reputation. Second, the blogger who posted worst of the stuff didn't have a whole lot of readers...well, as far as I could tell. Outside of a few exceptions, I don't think many readers of my blog knew anything had happened. Ah, but now you do! Or you don't....since this is an author post, and no one is likely reading this. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm likely talking to just myself.

Grenville lists some things that people do in manipulative writing/reporting. The first is The Unsupported Assertion. This is making a claim without backing it up with footnotes, or other methods of citing sources. I see this a lot in parenting articles and books. I saw one yesterday regarding homeschooling, actually. Let me go find it.

Here it is. It's called "The Negative Effects of Homeschooling". The author says A lonely childhood often make people loners and introverts for their whole life and it says Homeschooling makes children loners . It provides comfort in some sense but it can be really dangerous if the child feels depressed and frustrated with his closed world.

That's a pretty strong assertion there. I guess there's two things we're supposed to get from that.

A) Homeschooling causes children to be loners
B) It's bad to be a loner.

Does the author provide any statistics or facts to back up this claim? No. And maybe they don't need to. It's not a scholarly article. I'm sure I say stuff on this blog, without backing it up with footnotes. But I TRY to distinguish between established facts and my own opinions.

I would have more respect for the author of this editorial, if he could provide studies that show homeschooled children are more likely to be loners than schooled children. I'd also like evidence proving that being a loner is a BAD thing. Is it?

The second tactic Grenville mentions is Apparent Paraphrases. Grenville says people will say something like Grenville describes...blah blah blah. But the blah blah blah ends up being such a huge departure from what she originally said. It's kind of like....lying.

Some of this is getting tedious to me. I think I'm going to talk about only some of the mentioned tactics. Grenville is kind of making me paranoid here. I'm worried I'm guilty of some of the crap she's talking about. I hope I'm not.

Ah! I think she mentions what I'm probably guilty of. Evasive Syntax. Grenville says this is saying stuff like It could be argued.... It could be said that....This could be read as..... Okay, well I don't think I use those exact phrases. But I know I use evasive stuff a lot. I use a lot of maybes and I think....and I could be wrong, but.... Would Grenville have a problem with that?

Well, that brings us to the next tactic; the useful rhetorical question. Grenville says, If a claim is too grotesque, far-fetched or libellous, it can always be presented as a question. The wonderful thing about a question is that, because it’s not a statement, it doesn’t have to come with all that awkward baggage of evidence or argument.

Betsy Hart wrote a response to the Good Morning America unschooling segment for The Courier News of Chicago. She's very much against unschooling, and ends her editorial with one of those rhetorical questions. She says, What are these "all-about-me" unschooled kids going to do then? "Unlife?" Because she says things this way, she doesn't need to worry about any burden of proof type stuff. She doesn't need to prove that unschooled kids are self-centered. Nor, does she have to prove that unschoolers are unsuccessful in life. She can just ask the question, and leave it at that.

I don't know, though. I think it doesn't matter much in the end. If people are against homeschooling, they'll read the statements, as rhetorical questions, or not, and accept them as gospel. Oh, but I shouldn't say that because I don't have footnotes to back my assertion up. I haven't cited a study that shows anti-homeschoolers believe anything negative they read about homeschooling. So I'll be rhetorical. Do anti-homeschoolers believe everything they read if it trashes homeschooling? Are they lacking in critical thinking schools because most private and public schools fail to teach this properly?

I'm being silly. What can I say? Grenville has made me totally paranoid about my writing. I don't need footnotes to back that up, do I? I don't think so.

I'm going to try to get away from Grenville's war with her critics, and instead read this essay which seems to be about her various novels.

Grenville says, What we’re after, of course, is stories, and we know that history is bulging with beauties. Having found them, we then proceed to fiddle with them to make them the way we want them to be, rather than the way they really were. We get it wrong, willfully and knowingly.

I guess that has to be the case when you're dealing with historical fiction. Since the people are dead, it's impossible to know the whole truth. Although even if they were alive, you can never fully count on people telling the truth. When I write these blog entries, I write with the assumption that what I read is the truth. But I do question it sometimes. If an actress says My main hobby is yoga. it could be she's saying that because it makes her sound healthy and spiritual. She might really prefer getting drunk with her friends. I'm assuming that Grenville loves to play the Cello. But maybe her main hobby is racing on Mario Kart Wii, and she feels that doesn't fit well with her image. So she plays up the whole Cello thing.

Grenville talks about how women have often been ignored in history, and it's their stories she wants to tell. But since they're not in the historical records, she has to make stuff up. She has to use her imagination. I'm reading through this essay, and I feel Grenville is just as confused as I am about the blurring of fact and fiction. In a way, she seems to have doubts about what she's done. I feel paranoid about saying that....like I'm twisting Grenville's words... using one of those tactics she mentioned. I'll just say this is the idea I'm getting. I could be wrong. See? There's my evasive language again.

And now I'm going to be rhetorical. Is it okay to take a person from history, research them, and then fill in the blanks with your imagination? Grenville says, The trouble is that germ of truth at the root of the fictional tree—does the novelist really have the right to take that and graft fabrication onto it, so that the border between the invented and the real becomes blurred?

I don't like the blurring of truth and fiction. As I've said, it makes me nervous. Grenville says though, Perhaps we should stick to pure invention ­ except that I suspect there’s no such thing. It’s real life, and real history, that provides all the best ideas. Anything we can invent will only be the palest imitation of the richness of reality.

Beautifully put. And I agree. The thing is fiction ALWAYS has to be based on reality. There's no way around it. Writers borrow from the real world. Even fantasy is based on reality. As far as I know there's no vegetarian vampires in the world. But there are awkward teenagers who fall madly in love and find themselves in the midst of a torturous love triangle.

Maybe what we need is not for writers to be more truthful. Fiction writers make stuff up. Nonfiction writers are going to slant the facts in their favor. I guess in some ways, they have a right to do this....to a point. Maybe the burden is with us...the readers. Whether we're reading fiction or nonfiction, we need to understand that the words we read may not be entirely true. We need to be able to separate fact from opinion and understand the biases that are behind the news reports we see and read.

Well, I think I'm going to wrap this up. Jack wants to make peanut butter. See? Unschoolers DO eat things besides chocolate donuts. Although I'm not going to lie. We do eat unhealthy breakfasts sometimes. But I think many families do. I don't think it's a purely unschooling thing.

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