Thursday, April 23, 2015

Rediscovering Nevil Shute

A few months ago I was browsing through the stacks at my local library when I came upon several books by author Nevil Shute.  I remembered Shute from many years ago as the author of On the Beach, an Armageddon-themed story of worldwide nuclear destruction.  On the Beach was subsequently made into a film with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner.  For a long time, this frightening novel and movie was all I knew about Nevil Shute.  And then a few years later, my parents loaned me a book entitled In the Wet, a story about the Australian outback during the "wet" season that dealt with the mystical-religious theme of reincarnation.  Wow, I thought.  This guy Shute digs into a lot of different and interesting subjects.  I was intrigued, yet somehow got distracted by other writers exploring themes in the current mainstream. Now, at my library many years later, I am catching up with Shute's other books, with themes ranging from those dealing with bridging social barriers and race, to characters surviving life-threatening episodes to build productive lives for themselves and others. 

Shute, whose full name was Nevil Shute Norway, was an aeronautical engineer who at one time formed his own aircraft construction company and worked on dirigibles before World War II.  A number of his novels contain aviation and engineering as backdrops (An Old Captivity, Trustee from the Toolroom).  Shute's books offer a "comfortable" read, written in an easy, storytelling style, sometimes with a first person narrator—a character sitting with someone over a drink recalling a life-changing episode he or she has experienced, or describing an incident involving someone they know.  For instance, A Town Like Alice explores the travails of a woman and man caught in the Japanese occupation of Malaysia, how they survive, and ultimately reunite in the small Australian town of Alice Springs.  Pied Piper tells the story of an old man who rescues seven children from German-occupied France and brings them to England and America.  The Far Country describes a young woman who is frustrated with post-war socialist England and travels to Australia to seek a better life.   I could go on and list his other works, but I won't.  Shute wrote a total of 24 novels and novellas in his lifetime.  I haven't read them all, but those I have have been very engrossing. 

I know there are many current works that offer more compelling stories than those of a writer who died over fifty years ago.  But as we know, literary themes never really change.  Characters always find themselves in conflict with each other, with society, with the elements, government or religion.  If this weren't the case, Charles Dickens wouldn't still be as popular as he is today.  Nevil Shute is one of those subtle perveyors of social/cultural issues who is able to wrap his themes in a good story.  So, if you haven't discovered him already, visit your library or book store and pick out one of his titles.  You may like what you find.

See my books on Amazon:         





Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Good Walk Can Ease the Mind

The other day, I got caught up thinking about too much at once.  I was irritated and worried and disheartened all at the same time.  Things were getting to me, and I was doing what is often called over-thinking. 

As a writer, I can frequently put distance between myself and pesky real-life problems by sitting down and putting words on paper.  I enter the imaginary world of my story and characters, and usually, I can escape.  But on this occasion, not even the muse could silence the internal fuss I was having.  Pressure was building, and I was getting frustrated.  So, I looked out my office window, saw the line of distant hills, and decided to go for a walk.

I started out on a familiar route along the pedestrian/bike path near my house.  It was a day of mixed cloud and sun, on the cool side, but comfortable enough to set out at a brisk pace.  At first, I continued to think about all the stuff that had driven me outside.  Worry and irritation dogged me.  But I kept moving, one step at a time.  By the time I had gone a mile, perhaps a little more, the troubling thoughts began to fade.  And then I began to take in my surroundings.  I saw fluffy white clouds on a mountainous horizon.  Smelled freshly-turned earth and wet grass; heard birds in trees, high schoolers on a nearby playing field.  I was surrounded by a physical world I saw too little of, and the more I walked, the more reassurance I felt that it was still there.  It was an immediate connection, like I was bonding with nature.  I wondered why I didn't walk more often.

We are often told that a change of scene puts things in proper perspective.  I believe it does.  In many cases, worry and confusion can be left behind by simply leaving the house.  Finding harmony doesn't have to be a time-consuming exercise in soul searching.  It can be as simple as opening your door and going outside.   

Take a walk in the great outdoors.  It's fresh, invigorating, and therapeutic.  And it's free!




Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Writer in All of Us

We are all writers. 

We look at the world through our own special lenses.  There are things we see as individuals that nobody else sees.  People, places, events—nothing looks the same. We call it perspective. 

As a fiction writer, I do a lot of visualizing, picturing scenes of high drama as well as the very ordinary.  Sometimes these scenes make it into prose; sometimes not.  But it is all part of the process of composition.  I survey the landscape of reality and transform it into one of story and characters.  And through this journey, I am transported to a time and place of my own creation.  It's what fiction writers do, and in a sense, it's what all of us do, whether we formalize the process as writing or not.

Those of us who do not capture our world view on paper nonetheless "write" the stories of our times.  Each day is another composition about people and problems, and the way we would like things to be—the day to day experiences we all have that become our personal stories.  Unlike fictional creations, however, these stories often do not tie up neatly into organized plot lines.  They are sometimes messy, unsatisfactory accounts of challenge and heartbreak, with endings that taper off without any meaningful resolution.  These are our personal histories, biographical sketches of how the world succeeds or fails within the confines of our lives.  And the events and characters are very real.

The vanity in those of us who write believes we can draw on the compelling aspects of our lives and that of the world around us to make a story that holds the reader's attention.  We shape our plots and polish our prose to create something entertaining.  It is a work of faith.  We don't know how the end product will be interpreted.  But we do it anyway because somewhere deep down, consciously or unconsciously, we believe our story may strike a familiar chord.  Why?  Because some readers have lived something similar to what is in the story, or they know someone who has.  After all, fiction contains truth, no matter the genre—literary, romance, mystery, fantasy—it all reflects some aspect of life. As people leading real lives, we contribute to that truth. 

We are all writers.


       DREAM TRAVELER - Book One