Gert Loveday – Writing is Easy

 The house party has always been a favourite setting for crime writers. Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers, all the cosy crime writers had murders at Christmas parties, bodies in the library, murders at Halloween. What most of these books had in common was that the participants were often related or at least known to each other. They needed to be to provide a motive for murder.  A modern take on this is the Yoga retreat, the detox weekend or the well-being retreat. But here of course, the participants are usually unknown to each other.

I have been reflecting on this subject lately because Liane Moriarty’s book 9 Perfect Strangers is streaming here in Australia. Our readers may know that I admire the work of Liane Moriarty. She is very good at what she does; writing genre fiction about the joys and sorrows of middle class life. Her characterisation is good, her plotting is good, and her books have humour and intelligence and can provide an absorbing read when great literature has palled a bit. In her  latest book, a group of people, mostly unknown to each other attend a ‘wellness retreat’ in Tranquillum House. They all have their sorrows; broken relationships, fading careers, family tragedy and they want to be healed.

The story has been filmed in green and sunny Byron Bay (Australia), but one has to endure American accents and the wooden acting of Nicole Kidman. (I will refrain from launching into one of my raves about the general inferiority of the world of the screen to the world of the book.) Even so the series is engaging, it is funny, and we want to know all the back stories of the attendees and of those running the retreat.

But let me remind you that Gert was here first with her brilliant idea of a group of people all very different and previously unknown to each other, attending a writer’s retreat. They are in a beautiful house, Gagebrook, with elegant food cooked by Mandy and Andrew. Two well known writers are in attendance as writing coaches, Lilian Bracegirdle and Marcus Goddard.

Here is Gagebrook

Gagebrook was very modern, spread long and lean over low hills overlooking a wooded valley and, in the distance, the sea. From the distance it looked like a pale chip of wood catching the sun at its angles. Closer up, it seemed to hang unsupported above the valley until you saw the steel poles driven deep into the hill. Between slender pillars of mottled pinkish-grey wood, glass stretched apparently seamlessly behind narrow balconies that ran the full length of each floor. Guests looking out from their rooms all along these balconies felt as if they could walk out over the valley and stay hovering effortlessly, the trees turning quietly far below, the distant sea tilting gently against the horizon.

Here is the food

She set the dinner table with two rectangular burners, three earthenware pots sitting on each. In between the burners were set great platters of vegetables – baby chestnut mushrooms, asparagus, courgettes, new potatoes, celery and carrot sticks and slices of apple and ripe pear. Oysters, king prawns and slivers of beef and chicken lay on beds of ice. Piles of crusty bread. Each place was set with a dark blue place-mat on which lay a deep red glazed bowl, a long-handled fork balanced across it.

‘Fondue rules, ‘said Mandy. “lips must never touch the fondue fork. Use your dinner fork to take the food off and put it in your bowl. And no double dipping. And, ladies, if you drop something in the fondue, you have to kiss every gentleman at the table.’

Here is a sample of Marcus’ writing and his preamble

‘As most of you know, this story is about a young girl, forced to become a nun to save her family from financial ruin… She has felt a strong awakening of feeling for Father Kevin, and she is torn.’ He began to read, ‘Immaculata walked out to the old stone cloister where she had paced in prayer so many times before. Her heart was fluttering. Her hand burned where he had touched her. She raised her hand to her warm lips and pressed them on the soft flesh where he had touched her. She thought, “If he were to do this I would faint in ecstasy. But, oh my God, what can I be thinking of?” Her eyes filled with tears, for she was just a young girl, although she was clad in the black garments of a bride of Christ.’

And Lilian’s

‘if and therefore because or if not because then perhaps because if, perhaps, ah no, if it is perhaps because it is perhaps it is because it is because perhaps.’ Ah there spoke radical uncertainty…She went on, ‘ink a tink a scrrrggg, the cold of it, the stone of it, perhaink a tink the if of scrggg’….she allowed the super-ego to strike its hammer blows of guilt,’shooouuld the stone, should the you scrrrrgggg the stone of it? You shooould SHOOULD…’

And the writing of one of the students, Desma

Joseph sits at the counter of his shop writing in his big green ledger in his beautiful copperplate writing. Outside it is raining cats and dogs and he is glad he has just fixed up his tin roof with the help of his younger brother Martin. Martin is a good lad if a little wild but he has a heart of gold and when Joseph asked for help with his roof Martin was only too happy to help. It took them two days to fix the roof but now it has been done and Joseph is happy to know that his roof is as good as gold.

The other students all have widely differing styles, and it becomes clear that their tutors are not very invested in helping them to write.

In fact, the whole thing becomes what a friend of mine used to call, ‘A piss-up and shambles.’

I could just see it as a television series.

25 thoughts on “Gert Loveday – Writing is Easy

  1. Lilian Bracegirdle and Marcus Goddard. – based on their names and the writing – what a pair of delicious prats. Which one gets murdered first? And it is because of the execrable prose or some other egregious performance?

    A writer’s retreat would be seething with petty jealousies, unrequited grievances, unspoken yearnings, and torrid psyches all bursting to express themselves and get attention. Bracegirdle will try and shape them up but she is fatally flawed because of her past associations with the Rosicrucians. Goddard is too busy catching his reflection in the mirror and sweeping that lock of hair from his brow to be of anything but a reliably unreliable narrator panicked to conceal an unsavory past from his equally unsavory present.

    What fun!
    Wot larks.
    This needs to be written Come on Gerts.

    1. It has been written, and I have had the great pleasure of reading it. Gert wrote and published it, and you can find it and Crane Mansions and others under “Books” at the top of this page.

            1. It is fun to be able to enjoy each others’ company, and Deke and my (very large) family seem to like each other. Very sorry to hear that you might not see your kids for so long. Christmas is a ways off, and I hope that the spring and summer bring more openness and less COVID.

  2. I’ve mentioned this before but it’s a great shame that I just cannot get along with a Kindle or in fact any e-reader, because all three of your titles sound enjoyable. (Ditto audio books, which I just don’t have the patience for.) If only reading by another name was easy I’m sure I’d love these, but give me a physical book every time.

  3. Gert – strike while the iron is hot and send it off – I imagine Simon Callow as Marcus . Must reread abs cast the rest

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