Air Rifles

by Chris Somerville

April 23rd

Yesterday I paid to retain this domain name. For a moment I hesitated because maybe it’s better to look like I don’t care and just use a blogspot or something like that, and then you can dodge the guilt of paying money instead of using a blogspot and it’s worse to look like you made an effort. It’s like how when I was in high school it wasn’t a good idea to wear a raincoat or take an umbrella if it was raining. You just let yourself get soaked.

Maybe it’s not like that at all.

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of stuff instead of writing a novel. I keep telling people I’m writing a novel, even though I’m not. I’m sitting in my office staring dead-eyed at my computer. It’s getting colder and the days are becoming shorter. I keep writing about seasonal weather on the Internet.

January 16

Yesterday I spent a short amount of time walking around in the city, leaning into the wind, which was uncomfortably hot. People were walking out of stores or restaurants and yelling about how hot it was. At night my girlfriend set up two pedestal fans to point at our bed, and we lay there, unmoving. We’re both from Queensland, though I’ve never felt equipped for the heat, and probably the worst is how much I complain about it.

I’ve been working on something longer, which is a novel about an epidemic at a university, and other things too that sound dumb, like burglary simulations. Maybe it’s hard to go into this sort of thing. I get caught up in the idea of somehow ruining it because I don’t want to think about it that way yet, like those protons that change whenever they’re observed.

Here is an excerpt:

In the university’s front loading bay elderly men and women from a retirement village were climbing into a mini-bus. They’d travel over to use the library.

That is the end of the excerpt.

Finishing Up

I finished up doing some illustrations over at Stilts. If anything, it forced me to draw more, which I used to do a lot when I was younger and through to my early 20′s, but which dropped off after real life kept getting in the way. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just lazy.

In any case I drew myself, my father as a young man, my brother and my grandmother. You can check them all out right here.

Other news: spring has come; I’ll be appearing at the Brisbane Writers Festival, along with the much more talented Anna Krien and here are the event details; the fiction I’m working on is something long for a change and also something shorter for a magazine.

Sixth of August

romantic bad-ass

Recently I’ve started watching the BBC mini-series Brideshead Revisited with my housemates and a few other people from down the street. We’ve only watched the first episode so far, but it’s pretty hilarious in parts, is obviously setting us up for tragedy, and Jeremy Irons plays the most romantic dude in the universe. There’s a fair amount of voice-over, lifted almost word-for-word from the book, and he’s prone to dropping lines like: “When at length I returned to my rooms and found them exactly as I had left them that morning, but I detected a jejune air that had not irked me before.” Just great.

Second of August

Currently, for the month of August, I’m doing portraits of my family over on the Stilts website. You can check out the first entry, Portrait 1: Myself as a Teenager, right here. Generally I don’t write much non-fiction, so this was a way to force myself into doing it more. I thought it would be too obvious to finish with a self portrait, so I figured I’d get that out of the way. But I don’t know, I spend a lot of time worrying about things that maybe no one really cares about.

Today, leaving work, a strong wind blew my scarf into my face and it made me momentarily panic and walk into the low-hanging branches of a tree. I’ve thought about it for the rest of today; how worried I was that someone witnessed this happen.

Thirtieth of July

Real brief: I have a short story about a soldier who comes home, shoots a horse and then does some other things in an upcoming book. The whole thing was put together by Angela Meyer. It’s called ‘the Great Unknown’. Here’s some more information on it, along with the cover artwork and a list of other writers involved in the project.

Other thought: My friend was recently telling me about a dream she had, where it was the weekend before her arranged Jewish marriage, and she was marrying a man she didn’t know. It made her wake up in a panic because the whole thing took place in her bedroom and she thought it was still happening, even when she was awake. She said, “I can’t wait to tell my mother about this.” We were eating churros. We discussed the possibility of writing about dreams in a way that wasn’t tedious and didn’t really come to a decision on it one way or the other.

Going Home

Recently I went to Hobart as part of a tiny book tour, where I was lucky enough to launch my book (alongside fellow writer and friend Krissy Kneen) and also kick around town for a few days. Mostly it was nostalgic and people were very nice, though I’m still not the best at being interviewed. Hobart, in places, can be an incredibly pretty place, and there’s lots of places you can go where you can see large parts of the town and breathe in cold air and feel kind of sad that you don’t live there anymore.

The things I learned were that I miss the abundance of good apples and raspberries and I still find it a slight struggle to be articulate and interesting immediately. Being on live radio, though only for five or so minutes, still made my mouth dry. I don’t know. At the book launch a few of my parents’ old friends turned up, which I can only assume is what a crowd feels like, in a small city that you grow up in, but then leave and drop out of contact with everyone you were friends with in school. When I left Hobart I was eleven and didn’t have an email address.

On a final note at the book signing in Hobart I was given an album someone had recorded, under the name Gladhands, and so far this, along with the hardcover novel I was given by Readings bookstore in Melbourne, was incredibly touching and great and charmed me to no end.

Is Voice Enough and Ann Beattie

1.

So recently my first book came out and now I’m being forced to think about what it is I’ve done, or at least what I’ve tried to do, with the book. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible. At the moment I’m having trouble trying to boil down what I think about fiction so it comes across as a nice anecdote, while at the same time trying to expand on this point I have where I think voice in fiction is important, but also don’t think that it’s enough. I’ve always considered everything I’ve ever done to be wildly non experimental but it also must get on people’s nerves when they want you to talk about craft and all you offer them is a shrug.

At the moment I’m saying you need two things; voice and something at stake. When I was younger I used to focus on voice more, and expect that this would be enough to sustain everything. People would just keep reading along with me while I told them semi-entertaining lines. Voice is difficult, don’t get me wrong, and usually it takes years and years of work for a person’s voice to fully develop/emerge, but I’ve come to the thinking that tension is important too. At the moment I just say this and kind of gesture towards the air in front of me. I’m trying to improve. Each interview I’ve done so far seems like I’m trying to present a special kind of awkwardness.

2.

Currently I’m teaching a couple of fiction classes at the University of Queensland. We’d set an Anne Beattie story called Snow, from her book Where You’ll Find Me, as part of the extended readings for the first week of classes, which I hadn’t thought much about when setting it for the class, other than I’d liked it, it was quite short, and it had a strong sense of place, but dang it’s good on a re-read. A lot of the students hadn’t read it, so I’d read it out aloud to them, awkwardly holding my laptop while standing because I hadn’t thought ahead to print it out.

The first line: I remember the cold night you brought in a pile of logs and a chipmunk jumped off as you lowered your arms.

If anything can be taken from it, it’s this: One night, giving me a lesson in story telling, you said, “Any life will seem dramatic if you omit mention of most of it.”

Hunting In My Family

For a while there was a photograph of my grandfather holding up a dead kangaroo that he’d just plugged with a rifle, standing beside the tray of a ute. My grandmother hated that photo. She said my grandfather only ever shot something once in his whole life, and she didn’t see why someone had to go ahead and photograph that sort of thing.

When my uncle was in art school he turned the photo into a triptych; my grandfather holding up a dead kangaroo three times, shaded red then yellow then blue.

My father used to tell my brother and me about shooting wild pigs out around Bundaberg. He had a story about a boar walking in to a cabin his friends were staying in. It was at night and changed them and one of his friends had to kill it with a knife. He told this story to us a few times, once when we were bushwalking overnight, while looking down at some tree roots that had been dug up by wild pigs. He’d pointed out the hoof prints all over the ground and that night I’d slept in our tent with a Swiss Army knife under my pillow.

As far as I know my father never killed anything and even the photo of my grandfather has been lost, though I still have a copy of the triptych rolled up in a cupboard somewhere.

When I was a kid I used to collect skeletons. I’d find them at my grandmother’s house, bones from possums mostly though once I was pretty sure I found a cat skull, and I’d keep them on the windowsill over my bed. I had a pretty good collection going until one day I threw the whole lot out.

How The X-Files Reveals Nothing

Recently I wrote an article for Readings about when I used to be younger and would lie  about how many books I’d read, or sometimes bend the truth a little to make the books I’d read seem wider, more smart or, in the very worst cases, cooler.

Anyway that article can be read here. I ended up throwing out a few ideas, one of which involved reading novelisations (though really they were novella length, if that) of X-Files episodes, written for young adults. The only real reason for this was that our local library had all of them, and our parents never let my brother and me watch the show. The one about the kid who can control electricity (called Voltage, though the episode  was called D.P.O. and starred both a young Giovanni Ribisi and Jack Black) had some nice elements about being a  loser in a small town and hanging out with other losers – one of the characters is literally called Zero – but other than that it’s hard to remember much else about them, especially in a reading/development of literature sense. Maybe if my reading taste later in life had gone into speculative fiction, the X-Files books would have been a good example of foreshadowing, but it didn’t. It revealed nothing.

As am end note, my brother and I worked our way through the entire show on DVD. I was at university at the time and he was in high school. We were living together and working our way though it. The show seemed to swing between extreme highs and lows, sometimes really great episodes were followed right after by horrendous ones, but we made it through the whole series and have now never watched another episode again.

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