the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Month: December, 2012

When I talk about writing

by MDY

“What do you do?” is a staple of end-of-year reunions. How long is a piece of string, and will it suffice to make a noose? Between the hours of 9am and 6pm I can cycle from copy-scrawling hack to Master of the Tweets via video editor and back again in the space of a few minutes, sometimes less. They say multitasking kills the brain, slowly, hyperactively. Flip the hours around and what do you get? It’s cold in the water, and salty. Producing children’s books is more than just finding words that rhyme with “indemnify”; you’re acting as quartermaster,  negotiator, door-to-door salesman. “Writer” is a smug word, a talisman of self-congratulatory torpor that deemed itself impervious a long time ago to worldly concerns like sales and multitasking.

I need to eat, but I’m a hunter at heart. Narrative is my currency but words only make up one denomination. My resolution is wide-screen: every opportunity to improve my abilities is now fair game. Tertiary education is over, so learning can once again take precedence as order of the day. Hopefully this year you’ll be seeing me in more places than one. I’m not a writer; I was born a storyteller.

The trouble with characterisation

by MDY

We’re all victims of physiognomy. I tend to write against the outward grain, but not exclusively so. You don’t usually read about vertically-challenged samurai, or goat-herds with spectacles and tinea. More often than not, my characters exist solely as brief outlines, dappled with a hint of blue eyes or the shadow of an elevated cheekbone. From my limited knowledge, most people build up a mental picture of the characters when they read, hence the outcry when a novel is rendered in 35mm and the actors reify interior monologue into flesh and bone. I rarely “see” my characters when reading, or writing. Far more important to hear what they’re saying to me than to know if their eyes are blue or brown. My mother always said that it’s what’s inside that counts. You don’t need contact lenses if you only exist on page.

Everyone contradicts their selves. If you’re writing cardboard cut-outs, you’re working in the wrong medium. If life is like a box of chocolates, then people (and people-as-animals, or people-as-foliage, or people-as-computers) are like those amusements at fairs where you can pop your face into an oval opening and have eggs thrown at you. The physical shape may look the same, but there’s a different personality inhabiting it at every moment. I prefer chocolates, but they’re only sweet some of the time. That’s not to say that you should write your characters bipolar, but consider this: how many faces do you put on in a single day?

Try not to project. When I was younger, I used to imprint the people I’d read onto the people I’d met, and then end up bitterly disappointed when they didn’t turn out to be superheroes or dragons-in-disguise. I think my Megatron and Bumblebee toys were my best friends until at least my 7th birthday. In the first three years of school, I made up an imaginary friend based on Tintin who would accompany me everywhere, simply because real people seemed a bit passé in general. I was always suspicious of journalism because it turns real people into characters, whereas fiction turns characters into real people. To my flesh-and-blood friends: if I call you Ishmael, or Steven Stills, forgive me. There’s a saying about old habits and the end of the world.


Writing in other languages

by MDY

English has always been a plural. In Australia, the term “player” denotes an individual, usually male, with a heightened proclivity and prowess for romantic engagements with numerous members of the opposite sex (hopefully one at a time, always in quick succession). The term bears with it a mixture of distaste and intrigue: after all, badness carries far more allure than piety. In Canada, however, people speak not of players (except in sporting and video game contexts), but of “wheeling and dealing”. Wheeling (as I learnt from a friend who speaks Canadian) is the process of using one’s charm and wiles to attract members of the opposite (or same – the heteronormative distinctions hold less sway in colder climes) sex; dealing, conversely, is the process of negotiation between two individuals who are sweet on one another but lack the courage to say so. A player in the Antipodean sense, then, is in Canada someone who has “got wheels” – typically also a literal epithet, since cars are a necessary precursor to modern virility and Canada, like Australia, is a very big place. I’m not sure whether “sweet on” will make sense to my friend who speaks Canadian. Her language differs from mine, but its underlying genome is the same.

Find a native speaker. Tolkien had an excuse but nowadays even Rivendell has fibre-to-the-citadel. The beauty of a language is in its irregularities. If not for my friend who speaks Canadian, how would I have ever known I don’t actually have wheels?

Not everything needs translation. My mentor’s latest novel contains sizeable tracts of Russian interpunctuated with a  smattering of elven Cyrillic. I don’t understand what those sections say – nor even how to say them in the latter instance – but it doesn’t matter. The beauty of a language is in its incomprehensibilities. The only familiar word is shto which my Russian friend often says not to me but to members of her extended and fibre-to-the-dacha family. Not so long ago we were eating frozen yoghurt when her grandmother used her mobile phone to call and ask her many questions in that blunt yet well-meaning manner of all grandparents except the ones who don’t ask questions any more. I could only hear one side of the conversation, in a language I didn’t know, but that just added allure to its piety. Their language differs from mine, but our underlying genome is the same.