themousethatroared…

…says hi! Welcome to my blog. My name’s Cushla Managh and I’m a journalist, writer and now communications person in Wellington, the capital city of New Zealand.  I spend my spare time studying creative writing, working on various writing projects, and reading books. Lots of lovely books! My tastes are pretty eclectic – I enjoy low-brow stuff alongside really good literature.  It’s about finding a book that best fits the mood, and for me that varies.  Sometimes I’ll develop a crush on a particular author and read everything they’ve ever blurted onto a page.  If I’ve done some heavy work-related reading during the day I tend to prefer something light at night: a bit of space opera, a police procedural, etc. I particularly like SF, contemporary poetry, and non-fiction stories about people who have climbed Mt Everest and survived various extreme environments. I have a soft spot for websites featuring medieval cooking and I don’t mind a heart-thumping romance novel on occasion. Can’t say I’m a huge fan of so-called chick lit or self-help books – but anything else is fair game!

Anyway, welcome to my blog – and I’d love to hear from you.

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So it’s been nearly two years, right…

…but I’ve been busy. I’ve even spent some of the time reading – yay! I’ve been missing jotting down my book-thoughts on my little blog so I’m going to start posting again. Can’t wait, actually.

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I ate a centipede today.

I was feeling feverish with a winter cold so popped a panadol and took a swig from the glass of stale water on my bedside cabinet.  Next thing I felt something wriggling on my lip.  Thinking stupidly that it was the pill slipping, I bit down on it.

Dawning realisation that it wasn’t the pill.

Spitting out the hideous wriggling thing with black pincers and legs. Or should I say: spitting out HALF of the hideous wriggling thing because I had eaten the other half. 

Dawning realisation that I had eaten the hideous thing’s bum because it was the spat out head half that was now writhing on the carpet. 

Watching the kids’ eyes light up as they latched onto a great story for school news. 

Looking for the rewind button on the time travel chair and realising the bloody knob must have fallen down the back of the couch and now I’m stuck here.

Consoling myself with the golden tassel left over from last night’s dinner at Valentine’s family restaurant. It was from my centipede-free yellow drink which supposedly bore a passing resemblance to something involving pineapple (snort).  One sip and I was practically in a diabetic coma.  Which would have been desirable because then I would have been spared the sight of the kids licking their plates clean and scrabbling under the table for the little plastic rhinos and giraffes that graced the sides of their lurid cocktails. 

As I reclined after my meal of dry fish and coleslaw and mashed green jelly, and as I popped the elastic waistband on my trousers, I was reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers: The Story of Success’. It’s a great read, full of insights about why some people succeed and others don’t.  In a nutshell, people are usually successful because of the family, culture or community they come from, the opportunities to develop expertise that land in their laps, or the people they meet – coupled with their own hard work and talent.  In some instances, success is purely a byproduct of falling in the right age group at the right time, as in the case of a number of sporting codes.  In other instances, it’s the result of 10,000 hours hard graft. 

It’s never something that individuals achieve by themselves, without reference to anyone else.  

Achievements are a community affair. 

And today, as I spat out a gob of centipede bum and sneezed over the golden tassel from last night’s family outing, I realised that if I’m ever to become an outlier I’ll need to hitch my stationwagon to a better class of community.

If only they’d have me.

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Is it a novel? Is it a short story collection?

And does it matter?  

‘Opportunity’ by Charlotte Grimshaw works as both a collection of stories and as a novel of fragments that create a world, a rubik’s cube of possibilities.  It reminds me of a pantoum, with the characters cycling and recycling, interacting in ways that continually shed light on them as humans. The writing is character-driven and I found it easy to disappear into their preoccupations and dilemmas.  

I admire Grimshaw’s ability to describe the right things with the right amount of detail.  Sometimes we want to understand the land when it’s central to the story – the beach, the pine forest, the gorge, the bruised clouds – and other times we need to understand how someone looks – the foul, contorted look, the freckles and bent back. It would be easy to overdo all of this.  Detailed descriptions of landscape usually make me lose the will to live but the descriptions in ‘Opportunity’ are both familiar yet unexpected. The characters, too. Someone who presents as obsessive and weird in one story comes across quite differently in another.  Sunny characters have their dark side; the unredeemed sometimes surprise themselves.

The title is well-chosen.  All the stories, really, are about opportunities – seized, missed, regretted, glimpsed, mangled.  My favourites: Pity (a man discovers his ex-wife wants to kill him), Daughters (sad sad sad), and the title story Opportunity (what goes round comes round)…but there weren’t many that I didn’t get something from.  Grimshaw’s written other books so I may have to break open the piggy bank.

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Everest the Hard Way, by Chris Bonington

Dunno what it is about Everest but I can’t get enough of it.  I think it’s because I’m such a gutless wonder when it comes to all things physical – I get vertigo standing on a chair to change a lightbulb and you can forget about bungy-jumping (heights again), caving (dark narrow spaces), diving (dark wide spaces plus sharks with big teeth).  The only venturing forth I do is to rummage in the dark recesses of the fridge for another can of Coke Zero.  

I tried to get over my fear of heights one time by learning to fly.  The good bit: getting to say ‘Alpha Charlie Foxtrot’ or somesuch as I taxied at Wellington Airport, hanging onto the coattails of the big boys in the passenger jets.  And flying down the narrow Hutt Valley, green hills level-pegging on each side, the river twisting below like a silver snake and tonka toy cars piling up at the lights. The bad part: the plane’s ‘bonnet’ shaking like the ancient V-dub I used to drive when I was 20, and me climbing over the instructor as he taught me to bank the plane, shrieking: ‘We’re going to plummet to the ground and die!” 

So, anyway.  Everest.  You can see the fascination. 

My appetite was whetted by John Hunt’s ‘The Ascent of Everest’, describing Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s 1953 journey to the summit.  I especially loved reading the appendices, about the food they took, the testing of the oxygen masks to get the right type, the footwear, all of the logistics. And Hillary’s account of slogging up the mountain – magic!  I’ve been slowly working my way through Everest books ever since. I’m fascinated by what extreme environments do to human minds, bodies, the psyche – and why people put themselves through that, knowing the risks.  I understand the drive to explore (hey, remember my forays into the fridge!) but I’m trying to figure out why people will pursue adventure at the cost of their families, even when it involves frostbite, amputation, death. 

The physical discomfort alone would do me in.

Chris Bonington’s ‘Everest the hard way’ is another must-read. It describes the first ascent of Everest’s formidable south-west face by a British team led by Bonington in 1975.  The thing with Everest  is that it’s hard to get a true sense of the height and width and dangerousness of the mountain from photos (generally speaking).  The pictures that show the mountain in its entirety are taken so far away that Everest looks tame, able to be scaled with a good pair of shoes and a few sturdy ropes, while the close-up photos often show people trudging up broad snowy slopes, out for a Sunday stroll.  There are startling exceptions, of course, such as the photo on p110 of Bonington’s book that shows Ronnie Richards climbing a fixed rope with the tents of camp 5 in the background clinging precariously to a snowy cliff, out of the path of the worst avalanches. Everest the Hard Way has some great photos and I spent hours poring over them, marvelling.

But for me it’s usually the writing that best captures the sense of risk and cold and danger.  Bonington’s book does this superbly. He’s used journal entries from other members of his team to illustrate events, in the process shedding light on the relationships between the lead climbers and the issues that annoy and amuse them. From Martin Boysen’s journal: “Pete (Boardman) calls incessantly ‘Martin could you secure my rucksack? Martin could you bring my camera up? Martin…’ I told him to stop pissing about, expecting me to run around for him, and come down to help dig out our platform.”  This level of detail helped establish the human-ness of the endeavour and highlighted Bonington’s leadership skills in somehow making it work. 

And the drama of it all, and the sadness of Mick Burke’s death.  Pete Boardman, recalling his arrival back at camp 6 after summiting and the loss of Mick Burke: ‘Martin was there and I burst into tears’. 

As usual, the appendices are a real treat.  Climbers took umbrellas (for the walk-in to Everest), plastic pee bottles for use on the south-west face (presumably to prevent frostbite from waving your dangler around in a blizzard), paper underwear (!), dice, cards, and something called a ‘housewife’ (which I suspect is a type of tool…?).  Mike Thompson provides an interesting account of organising the food supplies, which is also worth reading.  A typical day’s menu is: breakfast – tea, porridge with milk and brown sugar, biscuits with margarine and honey, followed by more tea.  Lunch – roast almond chocolate, spangles, nuts and raisins, fruit juice and soup.  Evening meal – tea, Irish stew with mashed potatoes and peas, christmas pudding and cream, followed by coffee, whisky and chocolate.  Forget about falling off the mountain – I’m amazed the climbers didn’t have a coronary!  But I guess when you’re working in such an extreme environment you need all the fat and sugar you can get. 

Everest the Hard Way – definitely worth reading if you’re an Everestophile.

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I’m a bit distracted, sorry.

I’ve just started doing some more creative writing study so that’s taking up a lot more of my spare time – rushing home from work, gobbling down dinner, hugging the kids and throwing dirty laundry into the machine, then writing writing WRITING!  

And then this week I start a new job, woohoo!

The good news (well, for me anyway) is that I’m reading lots and I have a little stack of books beside the bed that I want to blog about. 

My other bit of good news is that I’ve had a story accepted for a book that’s coming out later this year – more woohoo!

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I’ve been plodding along…

…with Ian Ranin’s ‘Bleeding Hearts’. Not a Rebus story, alas. It’s about an assassin with haemophilia – interesting premise – who finds himself hunted after a recent kill and some dodgy goings-on. 

It’s all right:  The problem is that I just don’t care that much about the main character.  I’m finding it hard to be the support crew for an assassin. I wouldn’t have any difficulty if it turned out that he only killed Really Bad People, but nope, he knocks off anyone for a fee, including innocents and do-gooders, and there’s not a lot of back story about why.  There are other writers who can pull this off – for example, Barry Eisler with his John Rain series – but they usually have some pretty strong back stories to explain why the lead has become an assassin or it’s apparent from current events in the lead’s life that he has to kill or be killed. 

Rankin’s assassin just leaves me cold. 

Oh well, just a bit more to go.  I know what happens in the end, of course, but I’m forcing myself to wade through the remaining 30-odd pages in case something unexpected occurs. 

Don’t think it will, though.

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Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx.

Proulx easily captures the dialogue, the time and the place of her characters. I love the way she leaves lots of spaces in her writing to make readers to fill in the emotional content; nothing is spoonfed.  It’s honest labour, and by the end of the story I was in that trailer with Ennis del Mar, burying my face in Jack Twist’s stiff, bloodied shirt and reheating stale coffee. 

The sadness of it.

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