One thing I forgot when I hauled the Dan Brown off the bookshelf yesterday morning was just how big it is - I bought it just after it was released, so it's the whacking great big hardcover edition with the dust jacket. Not so good for tucking in my bag this morning for the commute on the ferry... So I had one of those frantic, OMG what am I going to read moments when I really needed to be walking out the door - because the ferry does not wait!
I picked up Drusilla Modjeska's Timepieces, a collection of essays published in 2002. A timepiece, as she explains in the opening essay - which was written for this book, as opposed to the rest which she pulled out of her files - is a miniature chest or cabinet made by a cabinetmaker's apprentice at the end of his apprenticeship as a gift to his master. She makes the point that writers rarely have single teachers, and that writing a piece in direct imitation of another writer's work would be unlikely to be seen as a complement. However, in reworking a collection of essays written over a lengthy period of time, she revisits different writers who have inspired her so I think the essays can be seen as something akin to timepieces.
I like essays. I like writing essays - something most of my fellow students at art school really didn't get! I like the discipline of having to deal with a particular question or issue within a set framework and word limit. I also like breaking the rules when I think I can get away with it. I still remember having a marker criticise my use of an Ethel Turner quote in a history essay - she said it wasn't an appropriate academic reference. It was, in my view, totally appropriate within the context of my discussion...
Like Modjeska, I have a file of essays stashed away. I find them periodically, usually when I'm moving house yet again, and justify the break in packing by telling myself I NEED to read them because I need to check and see if they're worth packing and adding to the boxes I cart from place to place or whether I can ditch them and maybe save a box. Needless to say, I still have them. I may do something with them one day...maybe. They could do with tidying up, but on the whole, they're not a bad collection. There are also a few still trapped on floppy discs that I carefully stored away pending a chance to pop them into a computer that still has a floppy disc drive - if I can find one - because I don't seem to have hard copies of them anywhere!
Modjeska has always been one of my biggest inspirations as a writer. At art school, when our advanced diploma course got upgraded to a degree, we were confronted with business subjects. I can't remember quite what the units were, but there were two big writing projects that required us to explore the connections between our work and that of another artist - and writers were on the list of possible choices. Because I am a cross disciplined creative type, I rarely work entirely within a single medium, and as a book junkie, this was right up my alley. I did both projects with Modjeska and her writing as the central inspiration because without exception, whenever I read her work - any of the books (and I have all of them) - I find myself enormously motivated to write, and that often triggers other creative processes.
I also realised this morning, reading Dan Brown with my breakfast, that there are a number of things about his writing that have begun to irritate me, so I'm not sure if I'll make it through the re-reading of his book - which might mean that the book goes west to make bookcase space for something else. I have a rule - to try and stem the compulsion to just keep adding to the bookcases without any sort of discipline - that unless a work of fiction gets re-read within the year, it has to go. I think too, that the surfeit of bloody (used as an adjective rather than an expletive) violence on the television these days has left me rather less than enthused about this tale that is marked throughout with acts of fairly nasty violence. I don't need that kind of imagery floating around my head in the wee small hours.
I am hearing the call of the book shops - I do need a new story!