Heinui FW 2015

Heinui collections always make me happy. It's just a really woman-friendly line, with beautiful prints and lovely silhouettes. This Fall/Winter collection actually looks more like a Spring/Summer - it operates on a cooler pallette instead of those autumnal tones, and I kind of love it all the more for it. Plus, y'know, I'd give an arm and a leg for that dancing girls + wolves dress.

You can check out the full line over on their website.





Valentino Haute Couture FW 2015

There's basically nothing I don't love about the latest haute couture collection from Valentino. It's totally witchy and wonderful, Game of Thrones or Ursula le Guin. Straight up magic. I particularly love the gold dress, which makes me dream of autumnal spirits.

Check out the full lookbook over on The Clothes Horse.

Ingrid Starnes FW 20

Ingrid Starnes always delivers such a classy line, and her FW 2015 collection is no different. I'd be lying if I said I liked every look, but it's undoubtedly a nice and cohesive set of looks, and some are sexy in really interesting ways. Plus, deep colours with grey is one of my fave styles.

You can check out the full collection over on the website.




What I Read November

A photo posted by Sophie Overett (@sophieoverett) on

I've been a bit slack with my reading the last couple of months, something I'm hoping to rectify over the holidays. Still, I got through a few books in November, and a few really great ones too.

Donna Tartt's A Secret History is probably my favourite as far as books I read this month, and I've been singing it's praises to anyone who'll listen. It's one of those funny ones who's been recommended to me so many times it's almost comical, and I started it earlier in the year for my book club, but never quite powered through it. This time though, I've devoured it. This story of a group of students at a university murdering a friend unfolds in such an odd, yet natural way, and Tartt's handle on language is basically sublime. It might just be one of my favourite books this year.

My love affair with Ann Rule / true crime has continued with The I5 Killer too. I don't think this one is as transcendent and intimate as The Stranger Beside Me, nor as compelling as Small Sacrifices, but she's still a remarkably compelling writer and this story about a sex criminal's escalating behaviour is both enthralling and devastating.

Speaking of love affairs, Rachael Briggs was one of the first poets I really connected with, having heard her read at Queensland Poetry Festival a number of years ago. I finally got around to picking up her debut collection, Free Logic this month and it's been a great read. She captures gender fluidity and strange companionship really beautifully, and it comes through in virtually every poem in this award-winning collection. Interestingly, I actually read most of the collection aloud because the words and the rhythm of Briggs' poetry is just that good. It doesn't roll off the tongue exactly, but these poems like to be there all the same. They're lovely, and aching, and demonstrate a really great new voice in poetry.

And sure, let's go with the love affair theme in the rest of these things - I've started reading Hana Kimi by Hisaya Nakajo, a manga which seems to have been around since the dawn of time (or, well, 1996). It's the story of a girl who travels halfway around the world to meet an athlete she adores only to find herself enrolled in an all-boy's school. It's pretty typical as far as shoujo Japanese manga goes, but I'm enjoying it enough at the moment (particularly after long days at work!)

Anyway, what did you read this month?

Friday Finds

I've basically been mainlining Jessica Jones the last few days and it's been everything I ever could've dreamed and hoped for. I'm recapping it for Momentum too, so you can check out the first one here. Have you been watching it?

Watching: I LOVE Aziz Ansari, and this compilation of his work is pretty awesome. How beautiful does A Monster Calls look? This list of Sci-Fi/Fantasy films on Netflix is giving me a pretty great Christmas break to-watch list. ALSO THE CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR TRAILER <3 <3 <3

Reading: I had the total pleasure of seeing Claire Vaye Watkins read On Pandering as a keynote at Tin House's Summer Writing Workshop earlier in the year, and to be able to read it again is basically the best. All about fantastical, made-up languages, this list of books with deliciously bad women is really bulking out my to-read list. Patti Smith talking about masterpieces and her favourite books is a bit magical, but not quite as magical as Mary Gaitskill talking about the inherent truth in Anna Karenina. And hey, finish it up with this article on the history of women using perfume as poison.

Listening: to allll of the Adele. You should check out her live performances on SNL and just like, chinhands with me forever.

In Other News: These dogs being celebrated at Nepal's Kukur Tihar Festival are captured in gorgeous photographs.

Betina Lou FW 2015

I really love the sort of autumnal college look that Betina Lou is so rocking in her FW15 line. It makes me think of romantic, old universities and study dates or walking through leafy parks to get to publishing internships. It might be pretty cliche, but it doesn't change the fact that I'd wear every darn thing.

You can check out the full collection over on the Betina Lou website.





On Beginnings

One of my big goals of 2015 was to finish a few bigger projects, particularly two of my YA manuscripts, Agatha Abel Meets Her Maker (which I did! And it was shortlisted earlier in the year for The Text Prize) and Dig Up Your Own Bones, and an adult manuscript, The Rabbits, which I took on my residency at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre at the end of 2014 and to Tin House in July. It’s been a lot of work but something I feel really proud of. Working on these three massive projects has sharpened my process when it comes to writing longer work, and made me stretch my creativity, particularly when it comes to the fundamentals of story.

As I’ve been working on The Rabbits, I’ve been thinking a lot about story beginnings. A big part of this is probably because I’ve rewritten the opening to it about eight times now and have struggled with it in a way I haven’t before. After all, a story beginning has a lot of work to do. It’s got to introduce characters and time period and setting, lay the foundation of tone and theme, all the while acting as the entry point for your readers.

In other words, it’s got to contextualise your story.

Usually, I find my beginning through my characters. My protagonists, as cliché as it is to say, talk to me. They tell me where their story starts, and I’ll write it in the first draft, and revisit it in later ones, as the way the story unfolds inevitably reinforms that opening. That said, the changes I make from the first written ones rarely alter dramatically. That hasn’t been the case with The Rabbits, and I think it’s probably because there are more Point of View characters sharing the protagonist role. This story is about a family falling apart after a son goes missing and it’s split my attention between mothers and sisters and brothers, and it’s made me revisit beginnings I love to try and find the right tone and order for it.

One of my favourite openings is from one of my favourite novels, The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. It starts:

‘Barrabas came to us by sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy. She was already in the habit of writing down important matters, and afterward, when she was mute, she also recorded trivialities, never suspecting that fifty years later I would use her notebooks to reclaim the past and overcome terrors of my own.
Barrabas arrived on a Holy Thursday. He was in a despicable cage, caked with his own excrement and urine, and had the lost look of a hapless, utterly defenceless prisoner; but the regal carriage of his head and the size of his frame bespoke the legendary giant he would become.’
For me, this is basically perfect. There are three storythreads in fewer paragraphs, and they weave together impeccably. Allende masters the broad setup while also writing incredibly personably and intimately. You want to know about Barrabas and the narrator and Clara too – the character setup is balanced and it works.

You can be vaguer though. Another one I love -  

‘Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.
They crossed the country on a rambling southwest line in an old Citroen sedan, keeping mostly to secondary roads, traveling in fits and starts. They stopped in three places before reaching their final destination: first in Rhode Island, where the tall man with black hair worked in a textile mill; then in Youngstown, Ohio, where he worked for three months on a tractor assembly line; and finally in a small California town near the Mexican border, where he pumped gas and worked at repairing small, foreign cars with an amount of success that was, to him, surprising and gratifying.’
You can pretty much put any of Stephen King’s openers on a list like this, but ‘Salem’s Lot’s is probably my favourite. Both distancing and somehow intimate, much like Allende’s, King keeps a bit of a further separation, but poses a more direct set of questions. Where are the man and the boy going and how do they relate to each other? They’re questions that won’t be answered for a long time, but they’ll weigh the narrative at every turn.

Another step back.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James doesn’t even start with the protagonist:

‘The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as on Christmas Eve in an old house a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered til somebody happened to note it as the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child. The case, I may mention, was that of an apparition in just such an old house as had gathered us for the occasion – an appearance, of a dreadful kind, to a little boy sleeping in the room with his mother and waking her up in the terror of it; waking her not to dissipate his dread and sooth him to sleep again, but to encounter also herself.’
The themes are there, the crux of the story, but we don’t meet the Governess who carries us through this novella or the setting for a couple of pages. Instead, James would rather draw an atmosphere and a tone, something to set the reader on edge which, in a ghost story, is perhaps more important than a character or a place.

But what about the opposite? What about going closer? One of the best beginnings I’ve read recently is from Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. It goes like this:

‘I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood. Something’s wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders. Little Orphan Libby grew up sullen and boneless, shuffled around a group of lesser relatives – second cousins and great-aunts and friends of friends – stuck in a series of mobile homes of rotting ranch houses all across Kansas. Me going to school in my dead sisters’ hand-me-downs: Shirts with mustardy armpits. Pants with baggy bottoms, comically loose... In class photos my hair was always crooked – barrettes hanging loosely from strands, as if they were airborne objects caught in the tangles – and I always had bulging pockets under my eyes, drunk-landlady eyes. Maybe a grudging curve of the lips where a smile should be. Maybe.
I was not a loveable child, and I’d grown into a deeply unloveable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it’d be a scribble with fangs.’
How great is that? It’s tone and it’s character and it’s vicious in a way that’ll carry through the entire story. It may not tell us what’s going to happen, or who, exactly, Libby Day is, but it gives us something rawer. It tells us how she sees herself something we don’t often see so explicitly drawn in novels.

You can be more explicit. Less metaphorical or self-reflecting. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is often quoted in these things, but for good reason:

‘My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. In newspaper photos of missing girls from the seventies, most looked like me: white girls with mousy brown hair. This was before kids of all races and genders started appearing on milk cartons or in the daily mail. It was back when people believed things like that didn’t happen.’
The whole story’s there in five lines. That’s what’s happened – Susie Salmon’s been murdered. It’s what will happen – the realisation that these things do happen and will continue to.

Another one I really love is On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. Most would rather talk about her novel, Looking for Alibrandi, but On the Jellicoe Road was more important to me as a kid and the beginning’s always stuck with me.

‘My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die.
I counted.
It happened on the Jellicoe Road. The prettiest road I’d ever seen, where trees made breezy canopies like a tunnel to Shangri-La. We were going to the ocean, hundreds of kilometres away, because I wanted to see it and my father said that it was about time the four of us made that journey. I remember asking, ‘What’s the difference between a trip and a journey?’ and my father said, ‘Narnie, my love, when we get there, you’ll understand,’ and that was the last thing he ever said.’
It’s moving and it’s hearbreaking, and just like with Sebold’s and King’s, it poses questions for the rest of the story to answer.

A beginning doesn’t have to be so encompassing though. Doesn’t necessarily have to set up theme or ending, but it does need to setup your story, whatever that may look like.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling is always up there with me for openings because it does such an excellent job of introducing the world of the story. It doesn’t start with Harry’s miserable life at the Dursley’s or even as he steps into Hogwarts, it starts the night his parents die, as Dumbledore puts Harry on his aunt and uncle’s doorstep. In a chapter it introduces the magic, while showing that it is separate from ordinary life. It backdates a war, and the people Harry’s parents were, and then, the people his aunt and uncle are not. It’s brilliantly done, framing the unusual against the usual and, well, contextualising the story.

I’ve tried a lot of these approaches for The Rabbits and think I’m mastering the balance. Revisiting beginnings like these helped though, and reminded me the power in a good opening, so I hope it helps you too!

Do you have any beginnings you love? I’d love to hear about them!