Where do you draw the line? An experiment with “found” writing

Due to a recent tweak in my insomniac four-year-old’s bedtime routine, I now spend hours each night sitting outside her room waiting for her to fall asleep while answering the questions that run through her head while she winds down: “Mum, what’s a fawn?” “How do you spell poison?”

It’s painful, but at least it affords me some reading time, and as a consequence I’m churning through the books at the moment. One of the latest is The Beat of the Pendulum by Catherine Chidgey.

If you’re not from New Zealand, you’ve probably never heard of Chidgey, who had success with her first three novels, published in the late 1990s and early 2000s, before a long silence (during which, as we learn in The Beat of the Pendulum, she and her husband were trying desperately to have a child). The silence was broken in 2016 with The Wish Child, a WWII epic that won New Zealand’s biggest writing prize, the Acorn Foundation prize for fiction. The Beat of the Pendulum comes hard on its heels, less than a year later. I was intrigued, and even more so when I read in a magazine profile that it was a “found novel.” I’d heard of found poetry, and found art, but how could you “find” something as big as a novel?

As it turns out, by listening to and capturing the language that’s around you every day. For a year, Chidgey recorded conversations on her phone, copied text from emails, advertisements and websites, transcribed the creative writing classes she teaches, and curated it into a full length book. The result is a remarkable read – disorienting at first, but as you begin to sift through the noise, characters (chiefly Chidgey, her husband, mother, daughter and friends) emerge, themes and echoes become apparent, and a story takes shape.

I absolutely loved it. It’s bold, experimental, and inspiring. So, in homage to Catherine Chidgey, I present a “found blog post” – snippets of language from the last week of my life. Enjoy, and may I encourage you to try this yourself some time. It’s amazing what you find.

Collage photo of Chidgey’s novel and a writing notebook and pen laying on top of a drawing of Holly
Writing, art, and inspiration: Chidgey’s novel, and Holly as drawn by Rowena Fry.

1.

Tēna koe Ms Walker

I read your book over the Summer break and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you for being so honest about your experiences and challenges. With more young mothers in Parliament this term, the Speaker’s commitment to a more family-friendly institution, and our Prime Minister expecting, its timely to reflect on the challenges you faced and how to overcome these for our current and future MPs.

On behalf of the study group, I would like to cordially invite you to speak at a Seminar exploring how to make Parliament more family-friendly (for new mums in particular). If you are willing, it would be appreciated if you could please speak for approximately 15 minutes. Please note the seminar will operate under Chatham House Rules.

The Seminar is proposed for Tuesday, 27 March 2018 in the Beehive Theatrette and we would appreciate your presence from 6.00pm to 7.00pm. You would also be welcome to attend pre-seminar drinks and nibbles in the foyer from 5:30pm.

Thank you and I look forward to your response.

2.

Mum, is there a real Cuddlestown?
No, I don’t think so, it’s just pretend for the TV. After all, you don’t really see talking bananas going round in pyjamas do you?
So they just made it up?
Yes they did.
I am so mad. I am not even going to watch it. … And there’s no real Elsa and no real Anna?
No, they are just pretend for the movie.
I am so mad.

3.

Throw all of the pet bedding in the washing machine and let it go for a deep spin. That includes anything that the pets like to regularly lie or sleep on, which isn’t always intended to serve as pet bedding. Wash it all – the bedsheets, the throw on the sofa and the bathroom rug.

If the item is not salvageable or the inside of the pet bedding is full of dirt (dander, flea eggs, flea larvae, and flea excrement) best to throw it out and purchase a new bed. Even if you wash the cover and put the inside of the bedding back in the cover, the eggs will still hatch.

Fleas attack humans, too. If you suspect that you might be a victim of those blood-sucking vermin — even if you don’t — you’re going to need to wash your sheets and upholstery as well. Anything that you regularly touch is a vector for fleas. Wash it thoroughly.

4.

Kia ora Angela,

Sarah Smith passed on your contact details to me, I believe she has spoken to you about the possibility of me doing some modelling for your group? Thanks so much for your interest.

Basically this is something I have always wanted to do (my mum used to model for a drawing group here in Lower Hutt when I was a kid so I think the seed was planted early) and I made it my new year’s resolution to find a group to model for this year. I’ve also been commissioned by the editor of a magazine to write a feature about the experience.

If you are still keen, and happy for me to write about the experience (I could name or not name the organisation, up to you), I would really love to come along. Please let me know what’s involved and when might suit. Feel free to give me a call if talking on the phone is easier.

Many thanks,

Holly

5.

Rose escaped the Children of God as a child, moved to the States, and then ran away at thirteen. She lived a transient punk lifestyle on and off the streets until she was discovered in Los Angeles and overnight became one of Hollywood’s most desired actresses. In a strange world where she was continually on display, stardom soon became a personal nightmare of constant exposure and sexualization. Rose escaped into the world of her mind, something she had done as a child, and into high-profile relationships. Every detail of her personal life became public, and the realities of an inherently sexist industry emerged with each script, role, public appearance, and magazine cover. The Hollywood machine packaged her as a sexualized bombshell, hijacking her image and identity and marketing them for profit.

Hollywood expected Rose to be silent and cooperative and to stay the path. Instead, she rebelled and asserted her true identity and voice. She reemerged unscripted, courageous, victorious, angry, smart, fierce, unapologetic, controversial, and real as f*ck.

6.

Plagiarism – Where do you draw the line?

Plagiarism

Copying a paragraph verbatim from a source without any acknowledgement.
Copying a paragraph and making small changes – e.g. replacing a few verbs, replacing an adjective with a synonym and including the source in the list of references.
Cutting and pasting a paragraph by using sentences of the original but omitting one or two and putting one or two in a different order, no quotation makes; in-text acknowledgement e.g. (Jones, 1999) plus inclusion in the reference list.
Composing a paragraph by taking short phrases of 10 to 15 words from a number of sources and putting them together, adding words of our own to make a coherent whole; all sources included in the reference list.
Paraphrasing a paragraph with substantial changes in language and organisation; the new version will also have changes in the amount of detail used and the examples cited; in-text acknowledgement e.g. (Jones , 1999) and inclusion in the reference list.
Quoting a paragraph by placing it in block format with the source cited in text and list of references.

Not plagiarism

7.

Would you like the white one or the blue one?
The white one please.
Only children can have these pieces of paper.
Ok, well you take it back then.
Mmmm. I’m sorry you can’t have it.
Now, I think you should take a piece of sausage roll, dip it in the sauce, and have a try.
Hello?
Hello.
Are you ok?
Mmm, no.
Are you just so tired?
Mmm hmm.
The sooner you eat your dinner, the sooner we can get you to bed. That’s it.
So macaroni cheese for lunch today at Imagine?
Ohhhh, I wanted macaroni cheese for dinner.
Hmm. How about we make that tomorrow?
Yeah.
Whoops, you’ve dropped it. Did the macaroni and cheese at Imagine have ham in it? Or just cheese and macaroni?
Just cheese and macaroni.
If I made it for you at home would you want to have ham in it or just cheese?
Just cheese…. With cooked capsicum, cause I like that.
Do you like cooked capsicum? Ok. In the macaroni cheese or next to it?
In the macaroni cheese.
Mmm hmm. Ok. Cool. Red capsicum, or green, or yellow?
Um, I think green.
Green capsicum. Ok. And you had three servings of that today?
Mmm hmm.
Yummy.
Get it off my plate.
You ate what I ate.
It’s delicious.
Mmm mmm mmm mmm.
You’ve got a bit of sauce on your lip.
Where?
Right here. It’s kind of like a moustache.
Yuck. You smell horrible.
What do I smell like?
You smell like… HP Sauce!
That’s all I’m having. Can I watch bananas?
You have to eat more than a few cherry tomatoes for dinner.
Oh. I want you to sit next to me.
I am sitting next to you.
I mean better next to me.
Like, right next to you?
Mmm.
You are so tired today.
Mmm.
You had such a late night last night.
Here, sit up straight and move your chair over a bit. Move your leg over to the front of your chair.
I can’t!
There.
Owww.
I’m just making room for me to sit next to you.
But look Mum.
What’s happened?
Look at my leg.
Is it crushed?
Yeah.
Ok.
Right, can I help you.
Mmm.
Do you need some help?
Mmmmm.
How can I help?
I’m so tired.
I know. You’re so tired. Because you had a very late night last night. Do I need to feed you like a baby?
Mmm. I don’t want sausage roll.
You have to eat some.
But I have.
Dip it in yummy sauce. Ready? Take a bite. That’s it. Good girl.
I’m only eating that piece.
Ok. I’ll have the rest, but you’ve got to finish this piece ok?
Ready?
No.
Cool, and you’ll have one more bite left after that.
Chew it up and swallow first.
Ready?
Mmm hmm.
Go.
Ok so I can eat this piece?
Yum, thanks.
Mmm, yummy. Have a drink.
One two, three four five, now I caught a fish alive. Six seven, eight nine ten, now I turn you back again.
One two, three four five, now I caught a fish alive. Six seven, eight nine ten, now I turn a back again.
You ok? Ready for more?
Uh huh.
Would you like another piece of sausage roll?
Uh uh.
Just cucumber and tomato?
Do you want one more bite of sausage roll?
You’re almost done!
Mmm.
Good job. You did it.
Can I watch bananas now?
Yes.
I’m too tired to get down from… from the table. Can you lift me down?
I don’t think I can. What are we going to do?
You need to pull me out.
Ok.
There you go.
Would you like the white one or the blue one?
The white one. Thanks.

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