Posted by on 8 October 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

I’m writing this from Ólafsfjörður, in northern Iceland, where I arrived a few hours ago. This is the start of my two-month residency at Listhús, where I’ll be working on the draft manuscript for my novel.

So far, I have written what I estimate is about 40% of a draft manuscript. At this point, I am feeling pretty good about the state of the manuscript (although there is such a long way to go). In part, I’m feeling positive because I’ve received some encouraging feedback on the chapters from those who have read them so far. (It was an especially big relief to me when my Australian publisher told me that he felt the chapters were in very good shape.) More broadly… well, I am not sure what I can say of this project-that-I think-about-every-single-day. All descriptors seem banal and inevitably fall short, which in some way reflects the larger issue I face in writing of and to its subject matter. The words do not grip very well at all whenever I approach this project – and this kind of inadequacy of language is in fact a sign that I’m on the right track. The whole project is like some preposterous plan but, when I am not terribly intimidated by the whole thing, I know (and I recently mentioned something similar in a talk I gave at University of Geneva) that I like working in the realm of the preposterous.

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In the last few months, however, I haven’t been working on this novel. Among other tasks, I’ve been working on an application for permanent residency in Canada. After months of hard work, the application was recently submitted, although it will probably take at least 1.5 years to process. Should I receive permanent residency, I would like to base myself in Toronto… and Melbourne. For now, I don’t see myself making a complete break with Australia.

Anyway, I recently had my English tested as part of my application for permanent residency. The English testing wasn’t compulsory, but doing it was an opportunity to accrue further points (literally). So I completed what is known as an IELTS test (IELTS stands for International English Language Testing System)

The IELTS test involves 4 separate tests in listening, reading, writing and speaking. Each test is scored out of 9, with an averaged overall score out of 9. Put simply, my application to the Canadian Government concerns my ability to significantly contribute to Canada’s cultural life. Naturally, then, my application rests somewhat heavily on persuading the assessors of the strength of my writing work and skills, and so it was for this reason that I felt some pressure to do well in the English testing. Additionally, I had heard that the test is trickier than one might expect (see, for example, the article about IELTS testing in Issue 3 of Anne Summers Reports, which can be downloaded here). So I did actually take the time to prepare for the test with some practice materials, which was definitely worthwhile.

The testing took an entire day and here are my test results:


As you can see, I achieved the highest possible overall score. However, I achieved a top score for everything except – embarrassingly! – writing. Marks are deducted for poor handwriting, so perhaps that explains the lower result. (I swear that I didn’t write anything in the vein of my fiction.) Anyway, I emailed my test results to my lawyer with an apologetic note…

On the reverse side of my test results page, there are descriptions for each of the band scores. For example, the description for a Band 9 is: “Expert User: Has fully operational control of the language: appropriate, accurate and fluent with complete understanding”. Here is the description for a Band 8, which I did enjoy reading. Maybe that’s what I get for being interested in the inadequacies of language:

IELTS Band 8 description

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From one inadequacy to another: I’m a barely adequate photographer. I’m pretty much a point and shoot photographer (along with doing things like obscuring the lens with my fingers and taking blurry shots). However, the Icelandic landscape is so very forgiving of poor photography skills.

On the way to Ólafsfjörður, here are some photos I took (click to enlarge):

My desk here faces a window. Through this window, beyond my laptop screen, there is a view of snow on the ground and snow-covered mountains. But, over the next two months, the view of or ‘into’ my laptop screen will hopefully become just as satisfying. (What’s on my screen will change from business as usual too, as I’m going to be less responsive to emails and will also limit my time engaging with social media.)

Ólafsfjörður has a population of around 800 people. It’s -2 degrees celsius outside right now and, over the next two months, it’ll get a lot colder. It is such a relief to be here.

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