Today I have something a little different to share with as part of Kate De Goldi's UK blog tour for her novel The 10pm Question.
And now I'm handing over to Kate to introduce an extract from The 10pm Question:
I wanted to give a sense of the different family relationships, and a little more depth to the personalities in the family – without actually doing straight descriptions...And I wanted to give a sense of the working, metropolitan world that Frankie and Louis are wandering through, but I wanted to do all that in a more glancing, implied way...and for it to be amusing. Tricky emotional stuff is often better conveyed with humour, I’ve found...I certainly like reading that sort of thing (Lorrie Moore is, I think, one of the great contemporary fictionalists who can deal with profoundly difficult and moving matters with brilliant, mordant humour...).
And, on a strictly self-entertainment level (a big ingredient in writing!) I just love comparing people to animals or birds or vegetables...it’s great fun...and actually, quite a good creative writing exercise, too, (a way of focusing ideas about character, honing the elements of a character)...I often do it with classes. Comparing people to vegetables is especially hilarious...it is quite incredible how everyone can be delineated in this way.
As Frankie ruminates in a later passage there are the veg/birds we want to be – the way we like to imagine ourselves – and the way other people see us, or how we really know ourselves in our honest hearts... Frankie fears he might be a humming bird (nervy and hovering); he wishes he was something dashing like an osprey or tough like a jackdaw...but then he decides he’s a kingfisher (solitary and watchful) and quite likes this...
Birds are an ongoing presence in 10pm...partly because I love birds...I’m not quite a bird-watcher (not patient enough), but I’m pretty interested in them, the astonishing variety in the world, the fact that they fly (human fascination with bird’s aerial capacity is as old as man), and sometimes talk...and their species names: I love lists, taxonomies (there are a number of these in the books, too) - the language of specialists classifications.....there’s a kind of music in a recital of nouns that I find very pleasurable. But, birds operate as a analogy or metaphor for Frankie’s dilemma, too. The aral birds in the story within the story are an explicit metaphor for Frankie’s ‘capture’ by his mother’s condition and his own anxiety. He longs to be free from it all, uncaged, liberated to soar into his real, untroubled life. (There are other intimations of caging/capture in the story, too – the unnamed woman in the painting in Ma’s room; Lara, the dancer in Ma’s old music box...and Lara is Aral backwards – but the bird metaphor is the most obvious).Which is why Frankie is so disturbed and distressed when Sydney suggests alternative endings for their story – the aral birds dying or being maimed...this is intolerable to him, sensing as he does that the aral birds are an imagined version of his own situation...but, of course, he is learning something important here from Sydney, who is, if you like, an unleashed, courageous kind of bird who has recognised how complex life is...
Kate De Goldi
Thanks for sharing that insight with us Kate. It is fascinating to hear how birds are such a theme in the novel. And now on to the extract:
“If sparrows could talk what do you think they’d say?” Frankie asked Louie. He crouched beside the table, his chin resting on top.
He was eye-level with two grubby sparrows; they pecked at a white marshmallow he’d placed near the edge of the table. Louie crouched and rested his chin on the table too, studying the birds.
“Where’s the money, bozo? ” he said, speaking out the side of his mouth like Bugs Bunny. “Ya said ya’d get it here by six.”
The sparrows’ heads bobbed and lurched, exactly as if they were snatching a furtive conference. “Listen half-wit, it’s not so easy. The old lady’s watching m’every move…”
Frankie giggled. It was dead right. And it occurred to him that Louie was a bit like a sparrow himself — pecking, bobbing, chirping and chatting, on the go and on the make.
“Ya shoulda ditched that old bat years ago, she’s crampin’ ya style, bozo…”
“Ahhh, shut ya face!”
Frankie walked two fingers gently across the table but the sparrows were unconcerned, still jabbing at the sweet.
“If Gordana was a bird what do you reckon she’d be?” he asked Louie.
“Something merciless that eats small mammals,” said Louie.
Frankie let go a laughing sigh and the sparrows darted upwards, startled by the draught.
“A sparrowhawk,” said Louie, “or a kestrel. No, no, meaner and more brooding — a barn owl.” He grinned, pleased with his own meanness. “On her good days maybe a heron… or a crane.”
Frankie could see this. Gordana had long legs; and she could just stand there sometimes, staring off, ignoring you.
“What about when she’s arguing with Uncle George?”
“A magpie?” said Louie.
“No,” said Frankie, thinking about it, “a screech owl.
They’re really high-pitched.”
“Ha,” said Louie. “What’s Uncle G?”
“Easy,” said Frankie. “A penguin, Emperor, King, Adelie–”
“— a puffin!” said Louie, thumping the table. “They’re fat and child-like.”
“He’s not fat,” Frankie protested. “He’s well-built. He could be a pheasant, maybe. They’re kind of big, and noble.”
Back in the truck Frankie sneaked a marshmallow to Ray Davies and Louie fiddled with his Shuffle, moving through his playlist for just the right song. The Shuffle made Frankie think of Sydney. He burned to know how it was going in the kitchen back home.
“Next stop, PSC,” said Louie.
“What about the Aunties?” said Frankie. They were driving round the north perimeter of the Botanic Gardens, past the children’s park. Nellie had taken Frankie there for regular swing sessions and had once been knocked out by a renegade swing going backwards at speed. Frankie had been just five at the time but he could remember the incident very clearly. Nellie had recovered quickly but the woman pushing the swing had become completely hysterical. Finally, Nellie had bought everyone large ice creams to calm things and the woman had chosen orange chocolate chip, which was Frankie’s all-time least favourite flavour. It was peculiar, he thought, the details that stuck in your memory.
“Alma’s a pelican,” said Frankie, “all the chins. And Nellie’s–”
“Something massive and slow-moving,” said Louie. “A great auk. What about your gf, then? What would she be?”
Frankie ignored this. “I think Nellie’s more of a partridge.”
He was pleased with this. Partridges were plump groundnesters, which was very appropriate for Nellie with all her cooking and gardening. “This is a good game. How come I never thought of it before?”
“The Aunties are all rocs,” Louie proclaimed. “The roc was gigantic.”
“Also imaginary,” said Frankie.
“Yeah, but they’re stranger than fiction. C’mon Frankie,
what about — what’s her name? Is she a swan? A flamingo?
“Shut up,” said Frankie.
“Not a bantam,” he said, after a moment, which made Louie laugh. “And she’s not my girlfriend.”
“She want to be your girlfriend?” said Louie.
“Of course not,” said Frankie. Privately, he decided that Sydney was a parakeet. Or, a woodpecker. She was small and brightly coloured and very insistent.
At the Postal Services Centre Louie made himself comfortable in the office. Apparently he and the receptionist had once been on a school ski-trip together. The receptionist’s name was Quetchin Brooker. She had blue-black hair in a most severe cut, and black fingernails. She wore dark eyeliner and a very short
skirt. Frankie was just thinking she was like the femme fatale in a Bond movie when she winked at him and he blushed furiously.
While they chatted Frankie began a list of words and phrases in his notebook. Mobile shredding truck. Destruction Centre. Secure bins. Licensed employee. Pulverising. Shredding. Cancelled cheques. Legal records. Closed-loop process. He could have made an alternative list, he thought, full of bird names and gossip. He could have truthfully told Mr A that gossip was a vital part of Louie’s work.
Back in the truck Louie banged the steering wheel and let out a big sigh. “Queech Brooker,” he said. “We all fancied her like crazy at school, but turns out she’s strictly for the girls.”
“She’s a raven,” said Frankie. And when they arrived at the District Court he thought one of the men behind the counter was a vulture, and the female office manager some sort of wading bird — a plover or a curlew. The entire world was becoming avian.
“You want to see the shredding or do The Istanbul?” said Louie. He was clipping the District Court bin into place on the truck platform. Trolley. Platform. Elevator. Crane mechanism.
A group of guys stood on the steps of the courthouse, huddling a little, smoking and murmuring. Marabou, thought Frankie. Over the road three elderly ladies with perfectly white, freshly set hairdos sat side by side at the bus exchange, a purse each on their ample laps. Snow bunting, thought Frankie. A couple of young women passed by, in and then out of earshot, talking fast, waving their hands, shrieking. Jays. Shrikes.
“What do you think Ma is?” said Frankie, suddenly.
What a great extract!
I confess Kate that in my family there was a rather dark superstition about birds and it came from my Nan who thought that they were a symbol of bad luck after her brother died. For a long time I wouldn't have anything bird related in my house. I've grown out of that fear now and I just adore penguins. Blame the film Happy Feet!
So a question for the readers who have joined us today. If you were a bird, what would you be?
I think I'd be a dancing cockatoo because I am a definite head-bobber whenever I hear music!