18 December 2012

Solstice: a new digital edition

by Matt Rubinstein at 7:48 pm

Solstice Cover

My first novel, Solstice, is now available in a new digital edition from the Kindle store, with other platforms to follow. 

I started writing Solstice when I was eighteen and had just read Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate in my English literature class at university. It blew me away and, like a teenager, I decided that the best way to express my admiration was to write something similar. 

I set it in Adelaide, where I lived, following five characters over the 24 hours of the summer solstice—the longest day of the year. I guess I took the timeframe from Ulysses, Under Milk Wood and Aristotle’s unity of time—I was quite pretentious—and the day itself from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Because I didn’t want to copy Vikram Seth too exactly I decided to write it in Shakespearean (ABAB CDCD EFEF GG) instead of Pushkin (ABAB CCDD EFFE GG) sonnets, but I was persuaded by Seth’s arguments favouring tetrameter over pentameter. I had the early images of the day breaking, the city waking, the characters who found themselves in Adelaide on that day, and a kind of darting perspective that bound their stories together.

After almost a year of writing I had 600 of these sonnets, one for every two or three minutes of the day. I printed them all out on a dot-matrix printer, photocopied my manuscript at the SA Writers’ Centre and sent it in an Express Post satchel to the Australian/Vogel Literary Award for unpublished manuscripts by authors under 35. The winner that year was Helen Demidenko/Darville’s The Hand that Signed the Paper, but Solstice was shortlisted and was published the following year by Allen & Unwin.

My editors were quite indulgent with the manuscript, which I liked at the time, but they corrected the worst solecisms, suggested I might reassess my affection for semi-colons, and asked that I reduce the number of sonnets by about a hundred, so the book wouldn’t wear out its welcome. I secretly railed against the last request, and plotted to restore the lost sonnets in a full author’s cut one day.

Of course, now that the digital age has given me the means to release another edition, only a couple of the lost sonnets have been reinstated—and many of the published sonnets have been combined or deleted to improve the pacing and curtail some of the more pointless diversions. I’ve also slotted in a few of the new sonnets I wrote for the stage adaptation. This all nets out to 480 sonnets, exactly one for every three minutes of the day, which is kind of mathematically satisfying—and certainly would be for my somewhat nerdy protagonist.

When I wrote the first version I didn’t know as much about verse as I do now, and I wasn’t always vigilant enough in avoiding strained and repeated rhymes, as well as pairs that look like rhymes but aren’t really, because they’re too similar. Most of these infelicities have been corrected. I haven’t done anything to the story, or to any of the perhaps adolescent sentiments expressed in the book, because those are so intrinsically part of the original. I’ve also bloody-mindedly left intact the sonnet that prompted one Nobel-prize winner to murmur “dodgy rhymes, indeed” when he read it out at random. But in general this is the same story expressed better: I think it’s a more fitting companion to the later and more fully-realised Equinox—and might even be a better tribute to The Golden Gate.

The new edition of Solstice is now available for $2.99, €2.79 or £1.99 on the Kindle store (US UK CA DE FR ES IT JP BR). But it will be free on the 21st and 22nd of December 2012. So you’re very welcome to buy it now and send it up the charts, or wait a couple of days and bag it for free.

And a happy solstice to everyone!

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