Piles of Repurposed Writing

In a purple patch of writing in my early thirties, I churned out ideas and outlines for short stories and longer-form fiction almost daily. I was childless back then and had little to distract me from my notebook and keyboard. Some of my "churn" developed beyond half-baked plots — none was published.

In these heady days of Google, Wikis, forums, YouTube and social media, it's hard to believe technical books once sat on the desks of computer programmers. But old-timers, like me, recall when having a reference book at hand was invaluable for learning a language, solving a problem and keeping your job.

Award-winning author Anna Funder discussed her 2003 bestseller Stasiland on the Better Reading podcast in February 2019. Having visited Berlin in 1987 and 1995, her book on the East German secret police piqued my interest. It wasn't on the shelf at my local bookshop, but I did find All That I Am.

The Miles Franklin Literary Award is Australia's premier prize for literature. And I've read four of the ten books on the Miles Franklin longlist for 2019: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, A Stolen Season by Rodney Hall, Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills and The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen.

What could be easier than writing a piece based on travel journal entries from seven nights my wife and I spent in Moscow and St. Petersburg? Well, for a start, it was way back in 1993, and I was still finding my "writer's voice". Many of the entries are inconsistent, and some downright embarrassing.

My first Tim Winton was Cloudstreet, bought in 1992, just after he'd won his second Miles Franklin Award. I've since added ten more Wintons to my bookcase. I enjoyed reading each book, but, for me, none had the wow impact of Cloudstreet. And then I read Winton's latest novel, The Shepherd's Hut. Wow!

It was my birthday recently. My brother and sister-in-law gave me a charity gift of 1000 pencils to be sent by Unicef to children in need to help further their education. The gift reminded me of my backpacking days, travelling in East Africa, and being beset by kids begging for pens and pencils.

On January 11, 2018, I launched a book covers and first sentences series on Instagram with On the Beach by Nevil Shute. I celebrated the 300th post on March 22, 2019, with The Natural World of New Zealand by Gerard Hutching. All books are from my bookcase. So much for Marie Kondo's 30-book rule!

In A Book of Travellers' Tales (Picador 1985) Eric Newby describes Dervla Murphy as: "Intrepid Irish traveller, mostly in Asia and Ethiopia, on bicycles or with quadrupeds, or local transport." Her tale is titled: "A lone female cyclist deals with a randy Kurd on the Turkish-Iranian frontier, 1963."

I am a sucker for a good book cover. So, while I hadn't registered the hype about A. J. Finn's debut novel, The Woman in the Window, it had caught my eye in bookshops. And as I am also a fan of Jimmy Stewart's Alfred Hitchcock movies, I was intrigued by its homage to the 1954 classic, Rear Window.

Writers and wannabes need to shut out distractions. We need to focus on our writing. But sometimes, we find excuses, chores to be done, children to be fed and sent off to school, lives to be led, or perhaps a new dog training venture to set up? At least, that's been my excuse for the past month.

I'm not into making New Year's Resolutions, possibly because I don't trust myself to keep them. However, while on holidays at the end of 2004, a barista with whom I grew friendly over morning coffee fixes, talked me into writing a list for 2005. The other day I found the list and my year-end review.

It's my habit to read in bed and usually, after ten to fifteen minutes of reading, my eyes get a little tired and sometimes I wake to find the book resting on my face. It can take me a long time to read a book from cover to cover. So I was surprised by the size of my "year of books" pile for 2018.

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