Winter 2018 Soiree | Jennifer Bryce

Elwood Writers recently held its Winter 2018 Soiree at St Kilda Library in Melbourne. Over the next four blog posts, each of the writers will tell us more about the work they presented at the event. We begin with Jennifer Bryce.

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Elwood Writers soiree, St Kilda Library.

It’s daunting to get up in front of 30 or so people – even when they are friends – to read your own work. Daunting because what you’ve written is something of your own creation; you are vulnerable – you can see the response of the audience – it’s more immediate than receiving a critique (or a rejection notice) for something you’ve written.

But the experience of reading in a public setting is extremely valuable. We usually read work out aloud in our writing group meetings because we find that hearing our words brings out different aspects of a piece. You might have read a piece to yourself several times – but things jump out when you hear the words rather than just look at them. And when you know that it’s to be a public reading, you go through the work with a fine tooth comb.

Earlier this year I started work on my second novel. It is connected to the first (which is at present doing the rounds of publishers), but not necessarily a sequel. Publishers would classify it as historical fiction. For our Soirée I chose to read the very beginning of this new book. One reason for choosing the very beginning is that it should make sense to listeners without requiring any explanation.

I love to immerse myself in early 20th Century history – I’m intrigued to understand the world that existed just before I was born. In my new book a young woman travels to London in the 1930s to take up a scholarship at the Royal College of Music. So much happened at this time: World War II was brewing, Edward VIII was about to abdicate in order to marry a divorced woman (he also had Nazi sympathies), radio had developed and people liked to ‘listen in’ to news broadcasts and concerts.

My protagonist has completed a diploma at the conservatorium in Melbourne, but she is naïve to the extent that the trip to London on board the Strathnaver is indeed a rite of passage. She isn’t modelled on any particular person of that time although a few years earlier pianist Eileen Joyce had left Australia ultimately to become a celebrity known in films and on gramophone recordings as well as on the concert platform. Other young women, such as composer Miriam Hyde, also ventured overseas at that time because Australia was seen as a backwater and you had to study overseas to ‘make it’.

For the Soirée I divided the first chapter into two parts. In the first part, the ocean liner leaves Melbourne. The young musician is alone and she watches the coastline as the ship steams up Port Phillip Bay and through the heads. I have never travelled by ship, so I had to read memoirs and talk to people who had had the experience of a liner pitching in rough seas, sea-sickness, the layout of a large steamer. I found useful photographs on the Internet. In the second part, my protagonist has met one of her cabin mates (she is travelling tourist class and has to share a cabin with strangers) and they have dinner in the tourist class dining room. This part was assisted by an old menu I had from the time when my mother was taken overseas by her parents in 1939. Compared to today’s menus, the food was stodgy and plain – Brown Windsor Soup, roasts, caramel pudding.

I know, from experience, that this chapter will change a lot before I consider the piece to be ‘finished’ – indeed, is a piece of writing ever finished? But the challenge of reading at our Soirée meant that I gave the all-important opening chapter special attention.

My first novel took several years to write. I hope that the process will be a little shorter for my second. One thing I’m sure of is that in a year’s time the piece I read at our Soirée will be different. I hope that in a year’s time I will have finished a complete first draft of the novel. Even though I have a plan, it will change.

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Duo con Brio, St Kilda Library.

At the Soirée I enjoyed the opportunity to play some music. Playing the oboe is an important part of my life and I’m in a chamber group: Trio con Brio. Our flautist has been unwell, so we were Duo con Brio: oboe and cello. We have found that some of Bach’s Two Part Inventions for keyboard work very well for this combination because Bach gives an interesting line to both treble and bass – it’s not a case of the cello plodding away and the oboe having all of the fun. We enjoyed playing some of these pieces in between literary items.


For more on Jennifer’s work, visit her website Little Smackerel.

All images HarrietClaire Photography

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we tell our stories, and pay our respects to Elders past and present.

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Lit on a Winter Afternoon

At the end of August, Elwood Writers held a literary soiree in the community room at St Kilda Library in Melbourne. The event provided an opportunity for us to present a curated program of short readings from our own work, and included fiction, memoir, and poetry.

Duo con Brio, with Monica Edwards on cello and Elwood Writers’ Jennifer Bryce on oboe, punctuated the proceedings with musical pieces by Bach.

We’ll provide more information on the work presented at the event over the next few blog posts. For now, wherever you are, happy reading and writing.

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The writers.

All images HarrietClaire Photography

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we tell our stories, and pay our respects to Elders past and present.

THE OUTSIDER AND THE MEURSAULT INVESTIGATION

A recent posting from Jennifer’s website:

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CAMUS 1

In Camus’s The Outsider, a nameless Arab is killed on a beach in Algeria. He is killed by Meursault, a man who seems to be totally lacking emotion. The first words of the novel, narrated by Meursault are: ‘Mother (or Maman – translated from French) died today.’ Stark and devoid of grief. Much later in the book, Meursault happens to be walking on a hot beach, holding a gun.

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He sees the Arab man and kills him. My sense was that it was just because the man happened to be there and Meursault happened to be holding a gun – some say it was because the sun was in his eyes. There is no apparent motive. Callous indifference to Arab life? It was 1942, a time of resistance to the French rule that would continue until 1962.

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Algerian money, 1942

It seemed to me that the killing was utterly…

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THE FINDING

Here’s some very short fiction from Barry Lee’s website:

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… closed his eyes, slipped into a place. Into an easy unfettered place where a meadow slopes gradually down to a river. A narrow stretch of river through a town, old town, a university town. It’s summer, it’s evening. The air pale and yellow, viscous, an end of day light, settling. Trees, old buildings around. Medieval? He’s no expert. There’s a chapel. Means nothing, beyond its architectural beauty, compelling lines against the sky. The whole is more a sensation, a relief, but sometimes these call to be described and this is how it could be described. There’s not much more to say. An elusive episode. Something else. A word came to mind: infused. The yellow, perhaps, suggested the word. As if the air were infused with a gentle dye. Suffused might be more accurate, he’s not sure, but that wasn’t the word that came. What else? That’s it, really. Nothing…

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Paco Rabanne, take 2

A recently posted piece of short fiction from Barry’s blog:

BARRY LEE THOMPSON

A one page ad in a glossy magazine: image of a man sitting in a brightly lit theatre, looking towards an empty stage that’s framed by deep red curtains. There’s no one else around. His feet are up on the back of one of the seats in front. The man’s in casual daytime clothes. He’s wearing the fragrance that’s being advertised, thinking over the events of the afternoon. He’s been rehearsing the actors in his new play. This is Sweden, perhaps, and the theatre is in the middle of a small Swedish town. But the actors, they’re not very good. Or they’re not quite right, although they were the best from the auditions. He feels differently to yesterday. Not one of the actors has given any indication of really understanding the material, and he’s worried that its message might be getting lost. If only he’d stayed in the city where…

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LOVELESS

“Loveless”, from Jennifer’s blog:

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Apparently the title of this Russian film comes closer to ‘Non Love’ than ‘Loveless’. There is absolutely not one speck of love. The beginning is arrestingly bleak: slow shots of a snow-covered river bank with piercingly clashing splinters of music. When will we see some life? I wondered.

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After quite some time we see a brief shot of some ducks on the river with their young, then the camera dwells on an unwelcoming concrete building with a flag over the door. We wait – and at last, people – it is a school and the children burst out of the doors at the end of a school day. One of these children is 12 year-old Alyosha.

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This portentous opening immediately reminded me of another Russian movie I saw in 2012: Elena. At the time I described the opening: ‘slow-paced and tense, with wonderful use of sounds – to start…

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Quote

THE GHOSTS — BARRY LEE THOMPSON

It’s a squarish room, plain by day, and nothing to speak of. But after dark, when the lamps are lit and the candles positioned, the room takes on an inviting glow, and were you to walk inside from the chill of a wintry evening, throwing off your coat and rubbing your hands together, you’d think […]

via THE GHOSTS — BARRY LEE THOMPSON

A recently posted piece of very short fiction from Barry’s blog.