Bookmarks: A picture story and the anti-performance performance

About eight years ago, the Sydney writer and performance artist Fiona McGregor – who more than 20 years ago was in the first group of writers to be named a Sydney Morning Herald best young Australian novelist – won The Age book of the year award for her novel Indelible Ink.

Fiona McGregor.Credit:Edwina Pickles

The book tells the story of Marie King, mother of three adult children who is confronting big changes in her life – a recent divorce and the impending sale of the north shore family home. On a whim, she decides to get a tattoo, a decision that has consequences for her, her friends and her family.

Now McGregor has published a sort of coda to the book that she calls A Novel Idea, which consists of a series of photographs taken as she worked on the book to document the process. As she puts it in her afterword: ‘‘I share with other novelists frustration at how often our job is mystified, romanticised or, conversely, trivialised. Let this document then show how banal, gruelling and lonely it really is.’’

Each page of A Novel Idea has a photo, usually taken from behind McGregor as she sits at her desk in her small study with a blue wall and works away on her 10-year-old laptop. Sometimes there’s a shot of the screen showing a couple of paragraphs from the draft. There is a view from the window very occasionally, there are dust sheets and pictures of scaffolding and men’s legs as she bemoans the noise and debris coming from work being done on external walls.

McGregor breaks up with her girlfriend and then she’s off – to Estonia, where she writes on a farm in a thatched hut where there is nothing to do but work: ‘‘No alcohol, no sweeets, no red meat. That chocolate was a one-off. The writer as mad monk.’’

Then it’s on to Berlin, where she battles with a draft that should have been finished in Estonia in time to allow her to do a performance in Serbia.

A Novel Idea. By Fiona McGregor.Credit:

Now she is turning A Novel Idea into a performance piece. Not her idea. She never conceived of it for performance, but a request from Melbourne Writers Festival set her thinking. ‘‘Initially, I didn’t think it could be performed. In fact I know it can’t, so I have come up with something conceptual that meets all the criteria. It’s a sort of anti-performance piece.’’

As she puts it in a sort of exegesis she has written: ‘‘The book documents the process of writing a novel under the rubric of endurance performance; in the process it shows such an endeavour to be approximate. Similarly, this performance will show the absurdity of making the act of writing into spectacle and entertainment. It confronts the notion of the Writer as Fetishised Identity that has increased over the decades with the proliferation of writers festivals and talkfests.’’

McGregor is reluctant to give too much away, so won’t go into the details of her piece. At this stage, there are no plans for her to repeat the gig in Sydney, but you never know.

Revving up a review

Peter Goldsworthy’s new novel, Minotaur, is about a detective blinded after being shot in the head. It’s also about revenge. As a consequence, his hero, Rick Zadow, has to stop work on the restoration on his prized vintage Ducati motorbike. Goldsworthy reckons motorbikes run in his genes – his grandfather was a bike salesman and mechanic – despite not actually owning one himself. In the book Zadow buys some parts for the bike from a website called Road and Race.

Illustration: Andrew DysonCredit:

So Goldsworthy was tickled by a review of the book that runs in Australian Book Review. The reviewer, novelist Chris Flynn, tells readers he has just bought a vintage Ducati and is in need of front fork seals. So what does he do? He checks out the website from Minotaur and, to his delight, finds it exists: ‘‘Goldsworthy’s research proved exemplary,’’ he writes. And what does Goldsworthy make of that? He’s tickled pink: ‘‘I couldn’t believe he was getting his motorbike lore and where to buy his spare parts from a novel. That must be a first.’’

Criminally good sisters

Bestselling crime writer Jane Harper has continued on her merry way by winning the International Thriller Awards’ best paperback original for The Lost Man while she was on a promotional tour of Britain. Closer to home, her book is also on the best novel shortlist in the Sisters in Crime Davitt Awards. The judges will be hard put to produce a clear winner, given the strength of the list, which consists of: This I Would Kill For, Anne Buist; Second Sight, Aoife Clifford; Redemption Point, Candice Fox; Mine, Susi Fox; The Lost Man, Jane Harper; Wintering, Krissy Kneen; The Killing of Louisa, Janet Lee; The Ruin, Dervla McTiernan; and Live and Let Fry, Sue Williams.

Meanwhile, entries for the New England Thunderbolt Prize for crime writing – short stories, articles and poetry – have opened. Details:

Shriver’s return

However you feel about Lionel Shriver – remember what happened when she spoke at Brisbane Writers Festival a couple of years ago? – she will get you thinking, both in her novels and her speeches. So get ready for September, when she’s speaking at Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney on ‘‘creativity in an age of constraint’’.

According to the CIS website, Shriver will ‘‘argue that it’s time for those in creative professions to push back and that artists should return to being iconoclasts willing to risk ruffling feathers’’. Details:

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