On ‘Saving Francesca’ by Melina Marchetta and the Aussie voice

After finishing a massive rewrite of a manuscript, I wanted to crawl up in a hole and not do too much at all. The experience of having to more than double the word count of a finished story, while exhilarating when I was done, was also exhausting. I felt like I was out of words. And a writer needs words in order to be able to fashion them into coherent sentences. Which I couldn’t even do while talking out loud for awhile.

During the couple of months I was outlining and rewriting and throwing wads of crap ideas in the bin, I neglected my reading. That was a conscious decision for two reasons. The first is because when I read, I like to be able to devote hours and hours to a book without having my own unfinished work churning in the back of my mind interrupting my reading flow. The second is because I can’t focus on both reading fiction and writing fiction at the same time, and I didn’t want my choices of reading material to sneak into the re-planning of the novel I was working on.

So I neglected my reading.

My reward after finishing that manuscript was to spend a voucher I got for Christmas on books. Real paper books, rather than ebooks, which was also a conscious decision. I love ebooks. I love the immediacy of buying them and having them appear on my kindle to devour instantly, but there’s still something for me about holding a paper book in my hand and turning each page as I read. I also love having those books on my shelves in my study/office, and being able to look at them and try to remember if I liked them, or what they were about. There’s something tangible there, and when I’m recommending a book to friends or my niece, if I can see one on my shelf, it’s easier to remember than looking through my kindle. And it’s easier to pick a book off the shelf and just give it away, which I love to do.

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The books I bought as a reward for finishing my manuscript: Tomorrow, When the Ware Began, Eleanor & Park, Paper Towns and Saving Francesca.

Anyway, I wanted to try a mix of books  and read for both research and enjoyment, and I made a long list of the ones I wanted to read from a few online recommendations lists and then whittled it down to these four. I deliberately made sure to have two Aussie books on there, because I’ve been reading a lot of American authors lately, and while that’s perfectly fine, my own works have very Australian characters in them and I wanted to see how other authors dealt with our unique Aussie language and settings. I haven’t read a lot of Aussie books since I was at high school, which is something I am now in the process of rectifying.

I read Paper Towns first, because I hadn’t read anything by John Green (I know. A YA author not having read John Green. Shock! Horror!) and he’s on everyone’s lips right now. Paper Towns had been recommended to me by a teacher I met awhile ago as the John Green book I should read first, and I loved it. Having watched John and Hank Green on youtube, I could hear John’s voice telling me the story of Q and his quest to solve the mystery of the disappearing Margo Roth Spiegelman. I read it in three sittings, and that was only because I had other stuff to do in between (like spend time with my wife, eating and sleeping). I’ve seen The Fault in Our Stars, but not yet read the book, and I’m looking forward to reading Looking for Alaska.

Today, though, I finished Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta, who is a popular YA author here in Australia. I have to say that in the beginning, the book frustrated the hell out of me, and though I’m still not entirely sure why that is, I have a theory. I almost made the decision to just put it down and go onto the next one. I’m one of those people who hates not finishing a book though, so I put it down for a couple of weeks and came back to it when I had more time to focus on reading without interruption. I finished it over the course of three days. I loved the book, and while the story seemed simple enough – teenager in her second last year of high school, navigating her way through an all-boy school that has just started accepting girls, a depressed mother and everything that comes with it – it was the characters who enthralled me the most. By the end I, along with Frankie, the viewpoint character, was surprised at how she’d ended up with so many good friends after resisting so early on. We definitely have a very unique way of writing coming-of-age stories here in Australia.

Saving Francesca is definitely a book I’ll be rereading in the future, and it’ll be one I’ll be giving to my niece to read.

And after thinking on it this morning, I realised that the reason I struggled with the book in the beginning is because I’ve not been reading enough Australian books, and I’ve grown unaccustomed to our unique voice. It was almost like I’d been overseas for a long time and came home to our laconic Australian accent and cringed at it. Which, incidentally, actually happened to me a few years ago when I was in Europe for two months with my wife.

I think that’s also why I’ve struggled with voice in my own writing as well lately, and I’m determined to fix that by trying to focus on more Australian books and authors than I have in the past.

My next read will be Tomorrow, When the War Began, by John Marsden which has been on my radar for a long time.

If you have any recommendations on Australian authors and books I should read, particularly in the YA genre, let me know and I’d be happy to add them to my To Be Read list.

 

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