I am writing my 15th novel and it is called 'The Deck Scrbbers'. I shall now detail what happened to the 14 before that. Here's the first five.
1: SOME, IN FACT MOST PEOPLE ARE FUCKED. I wrote this when I was 20 and it was nothing more than an exaggerated diary entry. I mythologised myself for 250 pages. It was about the realtionship I was in (and how it ended), and it was truly awful. But, I re-read it recently and I'll give it this: It was unintenionally a perfect snapshot of the Melbourne late 80's- early 90's goth-punk music scene, (pre-Nirvana), and a reasonably well presented coming-of-age tale, seeing the young man dropout from uni, enter the workforce and try to juggle responsibility, flatmates, relationship, drug binges, writing poetry and all set to a cracking soundtrack. Writing it I didn't realise how much the music played a part in the book - it's only on the re-read it jumps out. The bands always got mentioned, the pubs, the albums... it's wonderful. And Melbourne itself comes out well... there's one scene set at a poetry reading (Squib - Eric Dando was a character in it). It's a nice snapshop of my life at that time, but it's not publishable.
2: UNDER THE FINGERNAILS OF BYRON'S ATHENIAN LEGACY. This was the exciting sequel to the first novel, but the mythology was ramped up. It was about 300 pages and details a year in Athens, Greece, but with added Greek gods running about. It mainly concerns my falling in love with Betty Lekkas from Pireaus (in the book I changed her name to Bessie Lekkas). It is an awful book, but still the same music angle plus sex and drugs and all that which makes it readable for me. The writing was better than in the first novel, but it's still unpublishable.
3: FROG IN TNE VELVET LOUNGE: From the previous novel I got the idea of a Greek God intercating with humans, and I took it further here. I wrote it first as a film script. I sent it to Jan Chapman who procued 'The Piano'. She read it, sent it back, congratulated me, and suggested I workshop the script with a theatre group, stage it as a play, then send it back to her. I approached a theatre group and they were keen, but two weeks later they went bankrupt and I gave up. So, I turned it into a novel instead (though I never quite finished it). It holds up well to this day and I should return to it some time. It concerns a young insurance clerk (me, disguised - I did a year at an insurance company) who wants to be a poet. He lives in a large share house in Fitzroy and all his flatmates are going away for the weekend and he has the house to himself. He can't wait.. he's going to write poetry all weekend. It opens on Friday night. He's at home burning all his old poems because they're shit, when three junkes break into his laundry and start stealing his clothes. He catches them. Rather than hand back the clothes, they ask him for money - he gives them $20 and they leave, taking his best jumper. He then turns that into a poem (though he calls them 'three monsters' in the poem) and recites the poem out in the street (at 1am). It wakes a neighbour, who yells, "Hey Picasso, shut the fuck up!". "It's okay," he says, "I'm a poet." The neighbour says, "Well juxtapose this you cunt!" and throws a rock at him. That's all in the first chapter and it is one of the greatest openings of any film or book ever. He wakes up the next day and the Goddess Athena (re-imagined as a punk chick) is in his bed. Madness ensues over the course of the weekend. It finishes on the Sunday night when he grows a dick. Literally. It's great.
4. OPIUM AND FALSETTO The third novel (above), all set in the one house over the course of one weekend, got me interested in cabin-fever a bit, and how a lot can happen in one weekend. This book was set over two years about a couple that never leaves the house. It opens and the man, Opium, is 20 years old and his lover, the violent and unhinged Falsetto, is 31 and married. The house is enormous... like, the size of a castle. It has 'wings', it's own zoo, observatory etc. The book opens with Falsetto beating up Opium with a cricket bat because she found a list he'd made with his Top 10 favourite things in the world.. Books came in at number one, Falsetto at two, so she beats him mercilessly, but then decides she better stick around and nurse him back to health and not return to her husband. Over the course of two years, the house gradually shrinks, Falsetto gets younger as Opium gets older and by the end of the book, it's a one-bedroom apartment in Richmond, Opium is 25 and Falsetto is 19 and needs to get back home to her parents' house because she has an assignment due the next day. And it's only two days' later. It takes 300 pages or so for the reality of the situation to become clear. It was too ambitious for my talents (lack thereof) and I gave up almost half-way through.
5. JOEY Another reason I gave up on the novel above was that I realised I wasn't too fussed about the boy/girl dynamic, and I wanted more characters. This fifth novel was about Joey, an insurance clerk who wants to be a poet, calling a work-sickie on a Tuesday morning as he wanted to spend the day typing his poems up on to his new computer. He lives in a one bedroom flat in East Melbourne, on Hoddle Street (by coincidence... so did I when I wrote this). But, word spreads he has called in sick. It's a bit Ferris Bueller, but anyway, all sorts of stuff happens throughout the day, people coming around, and there's marital affairs, a murder investigation, a suicide, a fire and lots of sex and drugs, all in his apartment, all on the one day. It was all very surreal (I used that word correctly, by the way), and about 80 pages in, I realised I didn't like my own surrealism. I was going through a David Lynch phase.
I was 25 years old and had five novels complete or partially complete.
Saturday, 10 May 2014
By Christos Tsiolkas.
Very disappointed, very annoyed... with myself. This has sat on my shelf since the week it was released, but after buying it I ignored it. First of all, it was about normal everyday people living in the suburbs of Melbourne. I thought: Why should I read about that? That's just my life and most people I know. As Perseus Q scholars will know, I shy away from 'real-life dramas'. I like books with grand themes. I couldn't give a fuck for the minutiae of Western society. I like murder, death, sex, power, religion, collapsing nations... fuck the soap operas and fuck the fruity melodramas. That's why I can't look at a Good Weekend (or any Sunday magazine insert in any newspaper) without wanting to kill people. Second of all, everyone was talking about it, and then it became an ABC mini-series, and I have this social/intellectual disease that presumes if a work of art is instantly popular (as opposed to the slow-burn) it must surely be fucking shithouse. Thirdly, I had in mind my review of Tsiolkas's other book I'd read, 'Dead Europe' where every second chapter (historical account of main character's ancestors) was fantastic, but every other chapter was about a gay bloke gaying around Europe being gay (note: if it was a heterosexual bloke heterosexualing around Europe being heterosexual I'd be equally ambivalent). Being that The Slap was set in the now, I figured it'd be more like the half of Dead Europe that bored me shitless. It sat on my bookshelf, lonely.
The Slap is the best book I've read in years and here is why.
I am a couple of years younger than Tsiokas. He went to Blackburn High and I went to Mitcham High and the only thing that separated those two High Schools was Nunawading High (now a housing estate). I was lower than middle class, but higher than lower middle class. Mum never worked. We holidayed in caravans.... but we holidayed. I'm not Greek, but our school was populated about 10% Greek, so we all knew Greeks and had Greek friends. I also happened to be a philhellene (Byron, Iliad, 'Clash of the Titans', Bullfinch) and ended up living in Greece for almost two years in my early twenties. I speak some Greek. I was best man at a Greek wedding. I used to go to The Retreat when it was Greek and eat saganaki, drink wine and dance Greek until 3am. I want to be writer. I am writing a book. I'm halfway done. It's my 15th novel. I am not gay but what I do for a living has put me my entire working life around gay people and I have many gay mates and I am simply not fussed by their sexuality but I do find their sexuality endlessly interesting to chat about. I know alternate bands - intimately. I didn't work at a vet surgery but I worked in audio-visual rentals. What's all this matter? I understand Tsiolkas.
Not only that, I may as well have been in the novel. I knew every character. I've been to their houses, I have been to their parties, I have eaten with them, fucked them and taken drugs with them.
The second-most awful person in the book was Rosie (her husband the worst) - she's the mother of the kid that got slapped. Her cunt of a husband goes missing and she gets help from an Aboriginal Muslim family-friend. They eventually find him in a pub but he's wasted so they leave him there. The Muslim takes her back home and she's sitting in the kitchen. We know her past. She was once very promiscuous. She's now just a fuckup. She's eyeing off the Muslim (who has turned his life around - he used to be a drinker and fighter) thinking she should suck his dick, and I was getting all tense, but then he says to her: "I don't want you or your husband or your son in my life... I don't want you to talk to my wife, I don't want you to be her friend..." Rosie loses them as friends, and the Mussies buy a 2 bedroom house in Thomastown. It was at that point I realised it was the greatest Australian novel in a long time. I realised it was about power, sex, religion and death - everything I want but it just happened to be set in Melbourne. It's Game of Thrones: Coburg.
See, the problem with Australian novels is that they are either cliché (bush setting), or they're about junkies (gee there's a lot about junkies) or they are meant to be about normal people but aren't. They are about extraordinary people but the writers and publishers sell it to us as 'real-life' when it is not at fucking all real life. The people in these real-life novels are far too sophisticated and altruistic, and quite often saint-like. It's bullshit. But Tsiolkas's people are real. They look out for number one, and maybe numbers two to seven, and that's it. Seems about right. Like Germaine Greer does as well, he says what I think but I never know how to say it.
Manolis, the old Greek man said this of my generation (but in reference to a female character): "Her beauty, her sophistication, her education, none of it meant anything. Monsters, they had bred monsters." I know why he is saying that. I know old Greek men. I know old men. I know my friends. I know me. Tsioklas knows me too, and he knows that we know we are monsters, but that we cannot help but be monsters in the eyes of the older generation, and we have to be monsters to our peers and our offspring, but that does not devalue what the old Greek man thinks, nor does it devalue how we live our lives. We're Gen X. That's just how it is. We will make our mark like every other generation has made theirs.
It is close to flawless, but there's one flaw. One of the eight chapters, Aisha, read like a diary entry. It lacked the flow of the other seven.
It's now going back on my shelf to sit there proudly.
I give it an A.