Life is like a box of doughnuts. Mmmmmmm, doughnuts!
Theo Bernstein is on something of a losing streak. He lost his money, he lost his wife*, he lost his job, and he lost the visibility of one of his arms. Given how high profile the reason for losing his job was – who knew people would miss a mountain? – it’s a wonder he is able to find any work at all, first at an abattoir, then at a hotel. The hotel gig might be easier than hauling offal, but it’s a weird job, made weirder by the strange bottle left to him by his old professor, Pieter van Goyen. How can this bottle be the future of entertainment? And is there a doughnut shop nearby?
In the middle of last year, an author friend – Kaaron Warren** – recommended The Management Style of Supreme Beings to me. It was one of the nominees for an international award she was judging and she spoke glowingly of it. I’d previously enjoyed one of Tom’s books under his KJ Parker pseudonym, so I decided to track it down at the library. Obviously, I was unsuccessful, as instead, I ended up with Doughnut.
This explanation is a roundabout way of saying that I had high expectations for this novel. In some ways, Doughnut managed to rise to those expectations. Holt is a very sharp and inventive author. There are plenty of genuinely funny moments and ideas in this book. But somehow I felt it was all a bit pointless and inane.
In some ways, this is a product of the very British bumbling protagonist used in this novel. It tends to influence the way the story is told, usually in a way that is deliberately frustrating but with the reward of large doses of humour. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this was quite funny enough for the narrative style.
So while this was quite entertaining, I had hoped for more, particularly in the humour department.
*Lost his wife in the sense that she decided to leave him, not the lost in the ‘we were just walking through the Xmas sales and she let go of my hand for a moment and now I can’t find her in this crowd’ kind of way.
It feels like only yesterday, but it’s actually just over a week since I finished my Fellowship at the KSP Writers’ Centre. What’s a Fellowship? I hear you ask. Actually, I didn’t hear you, but I do hear voices in my head – no, I have an adequate sufficiency of matches, so be quiet. Anyway, I applied for a writing retreat to focus on (finishing….) my novel Evil Corp. Twelve-and-a-half days to do nothing but writing in a purpose built hut.
The writing huts are modeled after Katharine Susannah Pritchard’s own writing retreat and are very much focussed on having a room to write in. Your desk faces out onto the garden – I had a view of a gum tree with a beehive in its trunk – you have amenities for snacks and drinks, a chair for quiet contemplation, and a bed for… well, you know what beds can be used for.
The hut was quiet and felt ideally suited to writing. Or painting. Or reading. Or slowly going mad and deciding to live like a hermit. All good options.
The best feature was definitely the lack of adjoining accommodation for young children, who slowly steal your hopes and dreams as they consume more of your life than you’d ever imagine, such that you wake up at 40 wondering why you haven’t published a novel yet.
With the welcome letter in hand, my computer set up, I was ready to right write!
Getting my author on
For my stay at KSP I had set a few hard and soft goals. Hard goals were things like: relax and enjoy being able to pursue my hobby uninterrupted for a fortnight; not wake up at 5am because my kids weren’t going to be there; refrain from buying a beret and neck-scarf; write more than 1,000 words per day. Soft goals were things like: wake up before noon; eat properly; get some exercise; try not to feel guilty about leaving my wife alone with our kids; write 20,000 words during my stay. Try to guess which goals I achieved.
I didn’t want to place too much pressure on myself to, say, “finish my novel” or “write 5,000 words a day”, because that would have sucked the fun out of the Fellowship. Having previously won NaNoWriMo, I knew I could write 2,000 words a day for a sustained period, but I was surprised at how having more time to write didn’t necessarily increase output. I’m going to claim that it was higher quality than NaNoWriMo writing though. A low bar I’m willing to jump over. But I did manage to write 20,000 words, do some plotting, create a few characters, outline several chapters for the future, review a couple of books, and come up with two plots for other projects, so it felt productive.
On the first weekend of my Fellowship the KSP Writers’ Centre held their open day. It was a fun event and well attended despite the threats of rain. As the above photo shows, I was asked to do a reading for the event on behalf of one of my writing groups. I read Werespoon by my fellow Fantasy Sci-Fi Horror group author Anne Forbes. Gillian Clarke read on behalf of my other author group, the Thursday Night group.
Another thing that made me feel authorly was mingling with other authors.
Surrounded by other authors
Writing is generally regarded as a lonely occupation. Well, unless you take your laptop to a coffee shop so you can tell anyone who has the misfortune of coming too close that you’re an author and that sitting in a coffee shop telling people about your WIP counts as writing. The KSP cabins were decidedly setup for writing. On your own. Uninterrupted. I brought a guitar. But I still managed to hang out with other authors.
Kaaron Warren and Rachael Mead were also at KSP doing a Residency and Fellowship respectively. Kaaron has been publishing stories since before I’d figured out Coco-Pops didn’t need extra sugar. She was shortlisted for an Australian Shadow Award while she was in residence, and just last week released Tide Of Stone. One evening we were discussing awards (she is a judge for the World Fantasy Awards this year) and she casually mentioned being beaten by luminaries Stephen King and KJ Parker… I’m not sure that counts as losing.
Rachael has a PhD in creative writing and, like Kaaron, an impressive list of awards to her name. She has published multiple poetry collections, including one that came out earlier this year, and regularly contributes arts reviews to magazines. She also writes short stories and was working on what appears to have become a collection themed around paramedics during her time at KSP.
Which made me the bumbling rookie trying not to sound like an amateur around the two pros.
It was invaluable to chat with them over dinner, or at drink-o-clock, or at procrastination time. For example, Rachael helped me with a chapter I was headed in the wrong direction with. But it was also good just to be able to have a chat and socialise, including catching up with an old friend who is a mutual friend of Kaaron’s. If that wasn’t enough wordsmiths to hang out with, we also had a lovely dinner out with some other KSP Fellows. See the blurry photo below that proves kids aren’t necessarily good with technology.
It was great to have the opportunity to feel like a writer and make some progress on (one of) my works in progress. I met some lovely people, got some writing done, and didn’t get woken up by a toddler wanting to find the teddy that is lying right next to them in bed even once. I very much appreciate the board and staff at the KSP Writers’ Centre for awarding me the Fellowship.