Monday, August 27, 2012

Not what Lloyd says, or the art of extraction

photo by Annie Hayward 
Against Lloyd Jones' advice to keep my novel close to my chest -- here is an extract from it. Fresh out of the Dropbox where I've popped it to share with my writing group. Why share it? I guess I'm excited to be back in the project - properly inside it -- and writing writing writing, not self-censoring and obsessively pruning and barely moving forward.

I've decided my style isn't pared back. It's busy and loud and full of cultural and contemporary references - especially, in this case, music and fashion. Different from The Blue -- so maybe it's just this book that's like that? The next will be different? Oh I don't know. But I spend too much time discussing these things with myself.

Must. Keep. Writing.

And I'm trying to follow Henry Miller's maxims which include this: 'Don't be nervous. Work calmly. joyously, recklessly ...' I like that last one particularly. I guess blogging an extract is a bit reckless.

Okay the extract from 'This Seagull Heart of Mine'  ... 

First of all, picture Jackson St, Petone, and the protagonist (who owns a second hand clothes shop on Jackson)  is looking for a particular tartan skirt, or rather she's looking for a person wearing a particular skirt  ...  the clothes shop Beauty is, she's decided, a good place to start. She's just spotted a woman on the street wearing tangerine (the colour) and both are walking into the shop....


She was ahead of me through the door into Beauty. Both of us billowed momentarily on the scented air: something rosy but chemical with an undertow of chrome polish, and that smell along with the shiny white minimalism of the walls and furnishings gave the impression of stepping into a mirror. The girl behind the counter was shiny and featureless, too, with bleached hair, no eyelashes, a white singlet. She was listening to Paramore on her laptop. She lifted her head from buffing her nails and watched us walk in.  

I didn’t know her name and I didn’t care; it wasn’t worth finding out even though we were in the same business and the same street. Any day now she would slide her skinny, bleached self through the door and onto a bus to go and work in a larger version of this shop somewhere in Lambton Quay. And from there where?                        

I scanned the shop. Tangerine was at the shoe table. The closest rack to me was cotton shirts, bright, crisp, chemical. Brights predominated – shades of purples and maroons. Black and grey tights. Loose tops. Nothing here had seams which ached from the movement of a body, or buttons hanging from thread pulled thin by fingers, or hems and cuffs which smiled at the secret and not-so-secret adjustments made to make them fit. ‘Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after’ – it was something Brian said cynically now and then about his colleagues. Yeats I think it was. It seemed to me that’s what people thought clothes shops offered them – a kind of perfection. A size not a shape. A look not a person. A way to smooth out the irregularities of the body. 

My shop offered that as much as the next one, but in a way that was less of a violation I suppose. They were not aloof, my clothes, and already well used to a body or three - bodies they brought with them. The short-armed woman from Naenae, the 80s freak from Wellington with the shoulder pads and the bouffant hair, the nervous girl from up the road who embroidered everything she owned with the tiniest stitches and seed pearls.                                                 

The assistant was standing now, as thin as a pencil, eyes heavier than the weight of her bones, moving so slowly around the large glass table I knew I had time to sprint to the skirts. 

From This Seagull Heart of Mine by Mary McCallum copyright 2012

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