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#amwriting - a book review. Perfect word mixology and not giving up.

Whisper to the wind, 'This is how to write.'

No, not these inexpertly assembled procrasti-rambles but words discovered in a book that I have been promising myself I would read for many, many months and have now started. My ascent so far has taken me to chapter 4.

What a journey those first chapters have been!

I am daily transported to India.

All its scents, noises, lights, people, traffic, food, grime, poverty, politics, fabrics, fruits, spirits, humanity, hysteria, tragedy, faith, prostitution, drugs, hospitality, bribery, corruption, travel, cosmopolitan enlightenment, tolerances and intolerances in just four chapters; sixty or so pages. A portrait of a place so immersive and with characters so bright that they light up each page with the intense shine of their being. Reality is not merely being created for the reader - this setting and its characters live and breathe (even if some of them are fictional).

What a lesson in how to write!

I don't remember now what took me so long to open this book. And to plunge utterly into it. I last found this sense of wonder at story-telling when I lost myself in Kipling's Kim. Many years ago. Seldom do any stories I read or invent get close to kindling that sense of complete delight. It is like spending a life looking for a memory of a taste; hunting through menus and recipes, sampling foods that are similar but fail to ignite that remembered flame, until one day, you stumble into a kitchen and a rainbow fills your brain, the clouds clear and there on your tongue are the flavours you longed for, and you weep and laugh and don't know why you're crying. And your eyes are swamped with sunlight and music erupts in your ears. Reading this book is like that. But with a hefty lump of awe tossed into the recipe.

The repeated choice of perfect words hints at a mixologist so confident in his language that I feel I have stumbled upon Nirvana and found it humbled beneath the shadow of a genius.

Where did an Australian convict learn this craft? Can you hone such skills in enforced confinement - in a place without the moon and stars (his own description of prison)? Was imprisonment a writing retreat of sorts? Or is his book his redemption?

I need to read more. You need to read it, if you haven't already. This brilliant writer is, I suspect, not a man I would like or warm to. I do not agree with the things he freely admits he has done. I do not condone any part of the drug or people trafficking trades. I despise them and the harm they do. But, as someone who usually abandons books where I struggle to warm to the protagonist, I will continue to feast on his words because his words are just so beautiful. And his characters so very, very real. Phrases leap off every page; quotes that I find myself reading again and again, and going back to, just to check that I have remembered them right and that they are as good on second, third and twentieth reading as they were the first time; quotes I could carry with me beyond this book.

I can't ever hope to emulate his word-smithery. Where do you learn an imagination that lets you describe a face as something carved by a rush of river from volcanic stone, or the emotional vocabulary to admit that you grieved loved ones' memories and lives into your own mind until they became your own life?

Who is he?

My older children know. They discovered him before me. It is one of their fraying and battered paperbacks that lies heavy in my hands. I am almost reluctant to read more, partly because a bit of me doesn't want it to end, but also because I have heard hints of gritty stuff to come. And I prefer my grittiness with rounded edges and happy endings.

So, try this book for yourself - Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. I can recommend the first four chapters. Wholeheartedly.

To myself and my writing friends out there or anyone else worrying about the mountains they dream of climbing and fearing that they don't have the strength or ability to carry on ... do! Carry on. Don't give up. Adjust, reset your goals, but never lose sight of your dream. Check your route. Modify it. Do everything you can to remove the hurdles strewn in your way. Just keep reaching for it. And if you need motivation, try this 'it is hard to fail but worse having never tried to succeed.' Perhaps, when you reach the peak of your mountain, you will look down and see it is more of a hill. Surrounded by other people on smaller hills and some, like Gregory Roberts, on mountains. But you will have got to your summit. And if you're not there yet, keep climbing.

Bertie Baggins and Four-legged-friend have no mountains to climb.

No dreams other than those that make them sleep-bark and twitch as they chase imagined rabbits and deer.
A good life? Hmm ... perhaps.

But I prefer a life with words.


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