Quick tutorial: the semicolon

iStock_000018482964XSmallIt’s been a while since I posted a quick tutorial, but I was asked recently to explain when and how to use a semicolon. Some writers hate this innocuous little slip of a thing, mostly because they’re not sure what to do with it. Others seem to like the idea of it but use it indiscriminately, hoping they’ll get it right.

Here’s a quick and easy guide.

Holding things together

The semicolon can be used to join two parts of a sentence that are closely linked in meaning and are independent clauses.

For example:

Charlene ate all the chocolates; she should have felt guilty.

Charlene ate all the chocolates and she should have felt guilty are linked in meaning and are independent clauses—that is, each could stand as a separate sentence:

Charlene ate all the chocolates. She should have felt guilty.

Whether you join them with a semicolon or cast them as two separate sentences is a matter of choice and nuance. Joining them perhaps confers a greater sense of judgment on the greedy Charlene!

Note that independent clauses can also be linked with a coordinating conjunction—for example:

Charlene ate all the chocolates and she should have felt guilty.

Charlene at all the chocolates so she should have felt guilty.

Each of these also gives a different nuance to the sentence.

But a comma should not be used to join two independent clauses. The following example, known as a ‘comma splice’, is incorrect:*

Charlene ate all the chocolates, she should have felt guilty.

Pushing things apart

The semicolon can also be used to separate items in a narrative list that contain internal commas.

Take, for example, this list of items:

  • three bags of coconut rough, one weighing 600 grams and the others, 400 grams
  • six bars of dark chocolate, two of them 85% cocoa
  • a silver-embossed, ribbon-tied foil carton of truffles

If this list were to be used in narrative in the usual way—that is, by separating each item with a comma—the sentence would look clumsy and be confusing to read, so semicolons are used instead of commas between the items:

That greedy Charlene ate three bags of coconut rough, one weighing 600 grams and the others, 400 grams; six bars of dark chocolate, two of them 85% cocoa; and a silver-embossed, ribbon-tied foil carton of truffles.

(OK, I confess: Charlene is me.)

I hope that helps!

*This ‘rule’ is often intentionally broken for creative purposes—for example, for rhythm, or to achieve a particular effect.

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The short, the sweet and the historical…

The Australian Short Story Festival takes place in Perth on 19–21 October, at the Centre for Stories in Northbridge (with some events at other venues). The festival’s creative director, Susan Midalia, has put together a wonderful program, which you can peruse here.

Guests include David Malouf, Maria Takolander, Roanna Gonsalves, Anthony Macris, Laura Elvery, Jennifer Down and an impressive list of local emerging and established writers. I’ve booked for several sessions and am looking forward to a stimulating weekend of discussion on fiction in its short form.

I’ll be presenting a workshop on historical fiction, It’s not just breeches and bloomers, on Friday 19 October, 1.30–4.30pm. If that’s of interest to you, here’s the link for booking.

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2, 2 and 2: Alan Carter talks about Heaven Sent

Alan Carter
Heaven Sent
(Fremantle Press)
SERIES CRIME FICTION

Alan Carter 3jpgAlan Carter has had a meteoric career in crime—crime fiction, that is—since the publication of his first novel in 2011. He’s prolific, too—four novels since then, and here he is, about to release the fifth. (And I happen to know there’s another in the making, as I had the privilege of reading a draft—it’s a cracker!) 

As well as being a successful author, Alan is sometimes a television documentary director, and it’s in this capacity that I first met him: he has often worked with my husband, sound designer Ric Curtin. Clients have on occasion had their suspicions about Alan’s faraway gaze while working—deep in thought about their project or solving a knotty plot problem?

Alan’s Cato Kwong series—Prime Cut, Getting Warmer and Bad Seed—has been published in the UK, France, Germany and Spain, while his last novel, Marlborough Man, won the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and was shortlisted for the 2018 Ned Kelly Award for Best Crime Novel.

He was born in Sunderland, UK, emigrated to Australia in 1991, and now divides his time between Tasmania and life on a farm in New Zealand’s South Island. Such idyllic locations—such criminal preoccupations!

Here is the blurb for his new release, Heaven Sent, the latest in the Cato Kwong series:

Detective Sergeant Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong is light on sleep but high on happiness with his new wife Sharon Wang and their baby girl. But contentment is not compatible with life in the Job, and soon a series of murders of Fremantle’s homeless people gets in the way of Cato’s newfound bliss. As New WAve journalist Norman Lip flirts online with the killer, it becomes apparent that these murders are personal—every death is bringing the killer one step closer to Cato.

And now over to Alan…

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2 things that inspired the book

Mark Billingham’s Lifeless, where his hero Tom Thorne goes undercover to track down a killer targeting London’s homeless, was, for me, a great example of how crime fiction can be used to interrogate an important social issue. In that regard, it’s a direct inspiration for Heaven Sent—although I don’t have Cato going undercover for this story. But victims and victimology are an important choice a crime writer makes in every story, and the representations we use and the attitudes we portray can say a lot not only about society but about us as writers.

Another inspiration, this time for the Norman Lip journalist character, was the long line of writers/reporters stretching back to, say, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and forward to the amoral journalist in the first series of The Bridge who decide to ‘deal with the devil’ for their professional advancement. It’s an ongoing dilemma that storytellers face, particularly where real life, true crime, and fiction converge, and again it’s fertile and explosive territory to tiptoe through.

2 places connected with the book

The old Swan View Railway Tunnel up in the hills outside Perth is a spooky place in a beautiful setting, and the brief history outlined on the information boards provided me with metaphor and suspense galore.

The spaces occupied by the homeless in and around Perth and Fremantle constantly shift, too. Beachside carparks, shop doorways, abandoned buildings, tourist precincts, parks, fast-food joints—all find different meanings and uses, depending on whose eyes you view them through, and when.

2 favourite elements of the book

DI Hutchens, Renaissance Man. Cato’s boss continues to be one of my favourites. He’s a dinosaur, not very PC, and gets to say a whole bunch of things I’d love to say but normally wouldn’t dare. But…old dogs, new tricks. He’s now spearheading the force’s new social media hearts and minds campaign. For Cato, it’s a disturbing development.

Catching a middle-aged man mid-tweet somehow deprived him of any residual dignity, reflected Cato. This former warrior of the streets, sunk so low.

Cato holds a mirror up to society. Over lunch, he discusses with amoral journalist and wannabe deep thinker Norman Lip the changing nature of immortality and fame.

Everything now is about fleeting associations with fame. People crave it and seize it like it’s an entitlement. These days Zapruder would probably miss the president’s assassination because he’d be too busy taking a selfie.

Heaven Sent is released on 1 November 2018
Find out more at Fremantle Press
Follow Alan on Facebook and Twitter

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Kate’s Paris: Luxembourg Gardens

I love the Luxembourg Gardens, the centrepiece of Paris’s 6th arrondissement. Kathleen O’Connor’s earliest works in Paris were painted here, en plein air—oil sketches of individual figures and groups captured opportunistically. Women in long Edwardian dresses and elaborate hats, nursemaids with infants in prams, family picnics, couples conversing, women knitting, sewing, sketching…

On my last visit, I sat near the lake, the Grand Bassin, watching walkers and runners, men and women pushing strollers, people reading newspapers or scrolling on their phones, groups of friends chatting. My sister was beside me with sketchbook and pencil, absorbed, while I watched the life of the gardens through the lens of my camera.

Just as they had been in Kate’s Paris, the gardens were still a place for quiet reflection, leisurely pursuits, human connection. And the artist’s eye.

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Kathleen O’Connor of Paris coming soon from Fremantle Press

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An exhibition opens, a book enters the world…

The exhibition Being There—Kathleen O’Connor in Paris opened last night, at the Fremantle Arts Centre, on the eve of Kate’s 142nd birthday. This stunning exhibition of 56 works is drawn from her long career of six decades, and includes one of her student works from 1903 and her last (unfinished) work, dated 1965. It also features ephemera and some of her personal possessions—exhibition posters and invitations, her famous tortoiseshell bangles, a fragile 1913 Salon d’Automne catalogue, items that feature in her 1920s still lifes. The exhibition runs until 4 November, 10am – 5pm daily, and if you’re in the area, or visiting from elsewhere, I encourage you to drop in.

Alongside last night’s exhibition opening was the pre-release launch of Kathleen O’Connor of Paris. Mike Lefroy—author, historian and one of Kate’s great-nephews—gave a fabulous launch speech. I wish I’d recorded it! But here are a couple of photos.

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I’ll be giving an author talk at the gallery on Saturday 22 September, and am really looking forward to having this wonderful opportunity to talk about the works in the exhibition and put them into the context of Kate’s life. Pre-release copies of the book will be available for purchase (ahead of the release in late October), and I’ll be signing after the talk.

If you’d like to come along to this free event, here are the details.

Author talk/book signing: Kathleen O’Connor of Paris,
in conjunction with the exhibition
Being There—Kathleen O’Connor in Paris
Fremantle Arts Centre
1 Finnerty Street (corner of Finnerty and Ord streets), Fremantle
22 September 2018, 1–3pm
Free event
RSVP here

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Kate’s Paris: cafés of Montparnasse

Montparnasse Bienvenüe is one of the busiest métro stations in Paris, and, being a transfer station for several lines, one of the largest. I discovered it’s also an easy place in which to get lost. I seemed to be walking for miles through tunnels and along travelators before finding my way out!

Among the many things to see in Montparnasse are the cafés along boulevard Montparnasse and its arteries. For Kathleen O’Connor and thousands of other artists, these were part of a way of life in the years before the First World War and through the 1920s. They would meet there at the end of the day for replenishment of one form or another—hearty food or a bowl of coffee, information or gossip, serious or not so serious discussion about art and life.

Kate revelled in

the café life, which to me is almost the most fascinating of all there is to see. Cafés dancing with lights, glasses glittering with reflections, and with it all the music of many voices, the babble of many tongues.

As I stood on the corner of boulevards Montparnasse and Raspail, with the distinctive red facade of La Rotonde in front of me, Le Dôme on the other side and La Coupole a few paces from that, it occurred to me that these iconic landmarks are as instantly recognisable as the Eiffel Tower.

Just as they had been the centre of life for foreign artists in Kate’s Paris, today they are a beacon for tourists. I watched them coming and going, listened to ‘the babble of many tongues’.

But there was not a paint-stained smock among them.

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Kathleen O’Connor of Paris coming soon from Fremantle Press

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Legacy

KLOC ©RWoldendorp

Kathleen Laetitia (Kate) O’Connor died in the late hours of 24 August 1968, just before her ninety-second birthday. Fifty years ago today.

I am trying to imagine what a tweet from Kate would sound like. She was, in the context of her time, a dab hand at self-promotion—she had to be—and if I could spirit her into today’s world she would probably take to social media as though she was born to it.

Her voice is clear in my mind, but I can’t make the language work for Twitter. Nor the need for brevity.

A word to say that that nice young man Mr Lipscombe, very sensible type, is getting up an exhibition of my pictures at his salon at the Fremantle Arts Centre. I expect you’ll want to come. In haste to post, Kathleen L O’Connor #ParisInFremantle #AllTheSmartSetWillBeThere

The coming exhibition and my book Kathleen O’Connor of Paris celebrate her long life and a career that spanned six decades.

When Kate left Perth in 1906, ostensibly on a year-long sojourn to the Old Country, she was intent on pursuing a career as an artist. Paris, she said, was always her objective.

She spent most of the following fifty years abroad, exhibiting among artists she revered in the highly competitive salons of Paris, in many prestigious exhibitions, in two solo exhibitions. Her work was noticed, often lauded, by French critics. Financial reward eluded her, but her story speaks to a different kind of success.

In Australia, the Art Gallery of Western Australia staged two major retrospectives during her lifetime, and exhibitions in Adelaide and Melbourne brought her wide acclaim in the last years of her life.

I wish she could have known that there would be yet another retrospective at the state gallery. That her glorious decorative arts, very much the product of 1920s Jazz Age Paris, would be the feature of a new exhibition. That her paintings would become sought after, attracting high prices at auction. That her work would find its way into the national galleries of Australia and New Zealand, every state gallery and major collections across Australia. That fifty years after her death, she would still be an inspiration to other artists, and writers, too.

But none of us ever knows what the future will make of us, what our legacy will be.

I try another Kate-tweet.

A word to say that there is a book written up about all I have done, by that writer woman (you know the one? peculiar hair). The questions! She has taken liberties, I expect, but c’est la vie. #SheShouldWearAHat

Ah, Kate.

Being There—Kathleen O’Connor in Paris
runs at Fremantle Arts Centre,

14 September to 4 November 2018, 10am–5pm.

Kathleen O’Connor of Paris
will be released by Fremantle Press in November 2018
and is available for pre-order now.

A pre-release launch of the book will be part of the exhibition opening,
13 September, Fremantle Arts Centre.

Photograph courtesy Richard Woldendorp

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