Constructive Writing: You’ll be Sorry when I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy

At the age of eleven I decided with no small sense of certainty that when I grew up I wanted to become a prostitute. (p.1)

And so begins the reader’s chance to understand Marieke Hardy’s personal, and sometimes family, history. This is a collection of the best-of-the-best and the needed-to-be-shorter-for-publication articles written by Hardy for The Age and others.

She tell us of lovers and loves, fuck-up and fucks, alcohol, acting, hipsters, and cancer.

We may not have been able to duck out of its revolving clutches but by fuck we were going to tackle it on our terms. (p.73)

The cancer story is the most sincere – perhaps because the subject is treated with respect, other that the flippancy read elsewhere. More so it is the story least about Hardy’s own experiences. It is about her friend and how a group deal with a difficult situation (difficult makes it sound like doing a cryptic crossword hungover. Cancer is worse, but they deal with it in the cryptic crossword meets Melbournite approach).

Unfortunately, and no-one really wants cancer to be a highlight, this is the funniest story in the book.  Other’s fence language for their laughs.

It’s not overtly fashionable, particularly flying in the face of all those startling commercials where unfortunate lads and lasses imbibe one too many alcopops and crash spectacularly through a variety of glass objects, but I really am a huge fan of drinking. (p.216)

When humour is wedged into a sentence by means of wordy words it is not easy to get a laugh. The writer is relying on the mood of the reader, which is either set by the tone of previous paragraphs or the reader’s environment. However, when the line is simply an observation about a character, then honesty does most of the work.

There is something deeply untrustworthy about teetotallers, something that emits an aroma of giving up. (p.222)

Readers identify with a writer’s honesty in character analysis better than the writer’s verbosity. And it is here, when Hardy focus’ on honesty rather than words, that her writing is best… and funniest.

Changing Status: In the cancer story Hardy’s friend’s health deteriorates, going from lively to fatigued. Few other stories have such a change in character.

The Worst: When a problem is identified, the worst that can happen is feared. When that fear becomes reality, even in fiction stories, the reader gets excited. Apart from the tension readers enjoy learning how to cope (like in Harry Potter books), or they enjoy seeing what happens when the worst occurs.

One problem raised by Hardy was to identify when an orgy she was attending would begin.

I was obsessed with The Moment. How did everyone know know when to start? Was there a bell? (p.173)

When The Moment arrives it carries no climax (pun).

‘It’s started!’ he squealed in a high-pitched, thrilled voice. (p.180)

Without much development, save for the arrival of two who pass Hardy by and enter another room, this Moment is brushed aside. It is as though the hype of expectation was a mistake. It’s a bit of a let down.

High Stakes: Hardy doesn’t really put anything on the line, other than her self-respect… but she doesn’t have much of that. No, that’s mean. She has self-respect. She just doesn’t have it in the sense of fearing of losing way. Public opinion wont hurt her. Does that make sense?

The greatest loss, other than life, that Hardy seems capable of in these stories is pride… but I don’t think she can lose that either. She’s too content with her friends to need the reader’s praise. Which is a pity. That kind of humility (not to say she’s egotistic) would make for a more fragile and captivating read.

Believable Characters: There are real people in the stories. The brevity in their description adds an authority. The reader trusts Hardy is telling the truth (why would she lie about her vagina?) and doesn’t need to question the characters appearance. Their reality is also enhanced by their occasional mundaneness. People at an orgy being tentative? That is so dull it is real.

Time Pressure: As a series of short stories there is pace, but the lack of continued pressure does not persuade the reader to read quickly.

Educate: Some notion of how do deal with child stardom, or at least media exposure, and some advice on coping with cancer exists. There’s some good tips on what to expect from a prostitute, but ultimately little to use in everyday life. Unless you meet Hardy and want to gloss over the interesting parts of her life story.

PS: Reassuringly, for a Melbourne drunken writer Hardy suggests the age of 35 as the cut-off mark for taking life seriously. If one does not settle down at that age, get a permanent job, find a permanent residence and start a permanent family, then one should drink more or have started life earlier. I’m 34. Cocktails anyone?