Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Writing Goals for 2011

Well I may as well put them out there, create a little accountability. I know from experience that without a goal/deadline I am prone to cronic procrastination - cronic to the point of being terminal, as far as my writing goes - that doing the washing or vacuuming the floor become tasks I want to spend my time doing, and as I now have an iPad, well...you can imagine how easy it will be to time-waste in '11.

So here they are, in no particular order... by this time next year I hope to have...

6 published poems, 3 published short stories, 2 blog posts per month (which shouldn't be all that hard seeing as I already have a couple of dozen writers signed up for my interview series) and one completed first draft of 'a' novel. I will have to chose which of the three to concentrate on in 2011 and stick to it - pushing through the hard times rather than switching projects as I tend to do.

I also want to participate in NaNoWriMo again and, depending on where I'm at with the goal novel come November, I'll either use it to push through to a completed draft or use it to work on novel 2 or 3.

I've recently formed a writing/critique group with some of the writers I was at TAFE with, so with monthly deadlines and face to face feed back, I'm looking forward to a productive and creative year of writing.

How about you? What are your writing goals for 2011?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

2010 - the year that was...

Ok, so it's not quite over yet but to give me the chance to start fresh in 2011 (and to ensure I don't forget) I thought I'd get this one over with now...

When I look back on the past twelve months I could quite easily be disappointed with myself. I feel like I've made very little progress this year as a writer. I haven't sent out many pieces for publication. I'm still yet to complete a first draft of a novel (I say 'a' as opposed to 'my' because I now have three on the go - which could be part of the problem really), and I've failed (though not for want of trying) to have my short story collection Reflections reviewed...anywhere... There you go - failure with a big fat F!

However, when I looked to see what I've actually had published in 2010 (including blogs other than this one) I was surprised. For a year full of writerly-slacking-off I acheived more than I thought - 10 pieces published including 3 poems, 2 pieces in Victorian Writer, a guest review and a handful of interviews. Oh!! And oops, I forgot - a poem in the next Moving Galleries Exhibition...that's a big one, don't know how I forgot that! Not bad, considering the dismal effort I put in to getting anything published this year.

And of course there was NaNoWriMo - churning out just over 50,000 words in 24 days (6 days before deadline) was also a pretty mighty effort. Sure, many of those words wont deserve to ever see the light of day, but there's some good dialogue in there at least and enough 'story/plot/character' to build at the very least a longish short story...

And as usual I read & read & read - around 60 books in total but I won't be boring and list them. Thirteen of them were by Kate Forsyth. If you love fantasy and you haven't read anything by Kate - shame on you - she is an Aussie treasure. A few of my favourites for the year include Bereft by Chris Womersley, The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett, Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Fall Girl by Toni Jordan.

As for 2011, as I said in the previous post I have a series of interviews lined up, so I hope you'll stay tuned for those. I hope to keep them coming all year. As for other 'writerly' goals for 2011, I'll save them for another post as this is already becoming a bit of a book...

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays etc...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Coming in 2011...

...I have a star-studded line up of writers ready to be interviewed.

This is a project I've been thinking about for the last six months and I'm thrilled that it is about to happen.

So - watch this space!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What I will be reading in 2011

Working in a library has its many advantages, as the ever changing tower of fiction next to my bed throughout this year will attest, but these advantages can become disadvantages. I have realised that many wonderful books on my own shelves have been overlooked and let's face it - there are only so many books you can read in a lifetime.

With this in mind I have made a pledge with myself for 2011 that I will not borrow any fiction from the library no matter how interesting said fiction is. I will resist temptation.

Here are some of the titles from my own well-stocked shelves that I will be delving into in the coming year.

What will you be reading in 2011?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NaNoWriMo - It's a wrap...

NaNoWriMo finishes for me not with a roar but with a whimper. This is probably because I finished 6 days early, so there was no mad dash, no sprint to the finish line. This was my first attempt at NaNo and I'm glad I made the effort, glad I embraced the challenge. One of my tutors at TAFE instilled in me the following advice - "Don't get it right, get it written" or, in other words, give yourself permission to write badly, first drafts are meant to be rubbish. Nowhere and at no time is this more true than at the end of a hectic 'write or die' 30 days of NaNo maddness.

So, am I happy with what I've written? Yes & No. There are parts of it that I will salvage, either to be used in the rewriting of my NaNo novel, which at just under 51,000 words is by no means finished (whether or not I choose to continue on with it is yet to be decided), or to be used for other shorter pieces of writing - the dialogue alone is useful.

So, was NaNo worth it? Of course! Even if I were to never use a single word I wrote during November, even if I was to delete the file from my hard disk (I won't - I don't delete anything, you never know when that phrase or sentence of dialogue might come in useful) it would still have been worth the effort. I had gotten out of the habit of writing - this is something that has happened to me at different times over the years - so what NaNoWriMo did for me was get me writing again. It gave me the right kind of motivation to turn up at my desk every day, to keep my bum in the chair and my fingers on the keys.

What do I take away from this experience? 1. Give me a deadline and I'll hit it every time! I had already had an inkling this was true for me. I work well under pressure. If I can physically see on a calendar how long I have to complete and submit a piece of writing I find it much easier to get on with the work. I will be setting firm but realistic deadlines for myself for my future writing projects. 2. Write fast. Okay, so maybe 50,000 words in 30 days is a little extreme, but I see no reason why I can't aim to have a 100,000 - 120,000 word first draft finished in say 4 mths. This seems less of a struggle than chipping away at it for a year or maybe two, at which time one of two things would probably happen - either I'd be sick to death of the idea & still be without a completed draft, or I'd have invested so much time in the project that, if in another two years or more when I think it's finally ready to send to a publisher I receive a rejection, I'll be so depressed that I'll never write another word.

Will I participate in NaNoWriMo again? Probably... How about you?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

RIP Saffy

Of all the times to be taking home a book about a cat...

Our beloved tortoiseshell cat Saffy (short for saffron - one of the many colours in her coat) was hit by a car on Sunday night and too badly injured to be saved. Today at work a book I'd put on hold came for me Making the Rounds with Oscar by David Dosa. It was my Aunt who had recommended the book to me when we'd met for coffee a couple of weeks ago. I've added the book to the ever-growing pile next to my bed but I certainly don't feel like reading it just yet.

Meanwhile, I keep seeing Saffy out of the corner of my eye in all the places my brain expects to see her; laying on top of the heating vents in the lounge room (her favourite spots to stretch out in the colder months), at the back door - wanting to come in and be part of the family (especially at dinner time), and in the laundry looking for a feed. Like me, Saffy loved her food, and like me, she was a bit overweight from the love of it. I didn't think I wanted a cat at first, but I had no choice. She was Rob's cat and "part of the package". We had a bumpy beginning, Saffy and I, as I learned to let go of my need for having a hair-free lounge suite. The arguments Rob and I had about that at the start inspired one of my earliest published stories Cat Hair.

Eventually she tamed me... and I'll miss her... stupid (lovable) cat.

Monday, September 13, 2010

An interview with the lovely Toni Jordan.

A month before the release of Toni Jordan’s second novel Fall Girl, her publishers have sold the film rights to her widely acclaimed debut novel Addition. I thought I’d ask her to come down from the clouds for a moment and talk to me about it.

First of all, congratulations! You must be super excited. Please tell me when and how you heard the news, and how you reacted.

It's been a long process. Addition was first published in February 2008, so I've had many meetings with talented, imaginative film-makers who had all kind of ideas for the book. In the end, Christina and Bruna seemed like a perfect fit.

Good news needs to be shared. Who did you tell first and how did they react?

It wasn't a 'OMG' moment, but rather something the rights team at Text have been working toward for almost 3 years. These things don't just happen without a great deal of strategy and hard work. I think the reaction from everyone was relief!

Were you involved in the process? Will you have any input before or during production?

Yes, I met with everyone who submitted a formal proposal and thought hard about who would be the best people to look after Addition. I knew nothing about either film-making or adaptations beforehand, so it's been fascinating. I don't know yet how much input the filmmakers want from me. I want to do whatever is necessary to help make the film a success, and that might be just getting out of the way and letting them do it!

If you could choose anyone you wanted to play Grace and Seamus who would you choose?

Oh I wish I was a visual kind of person! I can barely even picture what I look like. Sadly I have no idea.

Did you ever think about Addition becoming a film while you were writing it?

Never. In fact, when I was signing my original contract with my publisher, my husband Robbie and I had a small chuckle at the section marked 'film rights'. "Yeah, right," we said to each other.

How long do you think it will be before we see it on the big screen?

Ummm--no idea! These things can take years...

If there is one part of the book you’d hate to see them get wrong what is it? Why?

The only thing that really matters to me is that Grace is treated with respect. She is intelligent and sexy and funny, and I'd hate to see her become a twitching OCD stereotype. Her condition is just one part of her and by no means the most important part.

If there is one part you don’t want them to leave out what is it? Why?

Nothing really. Film making is a very distinct art form, and something that works perfectly on the page might not work on the screen. It's the spirit of the book, rather than the letter, that I want to see preserved.

I hear you’re thinking of asking for a cameo appearance in the film. Is that true?

It started off as a bit of a joke, but who knows?

Your new novel Fall Girl is due for release next month. Please tell me something about it.

I'm very excited about Fall Girl! I've tried to channel my love for screw-ball romantic comedies of the forties and fifities into a modern story--a novelistic 'Charade' or 'To catch a thief', something where you could imagine Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn as the protagonists. Except set in Melbourne. Those classic romantic comedies had it all: fascinating characters, intricate plots, witty dialogue and sexual tension to burn. I only hope I've done them justice.

The second novel can sometimes be daunting for a writer who’s had such success with the first. Was this true for you?

For a long time I could hardly write my own name. I was frozen, tight inside. Nothing worked, for over a year.

What was the most challenging part of writing Fall Girl?

The first draft was an absolute nightmare. Every day I forced myself to sit down and type out 1500 words of rubbish. Little beads of blood pooled on my forehead. It wasn't until the second draft that everything clicked and I was carried away by the fun of the story.

Grace is such an unforgettable character. How different from Grace is Della? What motivates her?

Della is very much a woman of our time--she is pulled in every direction. She feels the pressure of looking after her family, her career, her love life, all at once. Della has big issues to face. If she's not defined by her name, and she's not defined by her job, and she's not defined by her family or the house she lives--then who is she? I think many women today see themselves as a compilation of the roles they play. Della's search for her identity is what drives the whole book.

Which novel was harder to write? Why?

If I could just erase the pain of first draft of Fall Girl from my memory, they were both a joy.

Do you have any writing routines or rituals that help you with the process?

Yes--the secret to my success is Freedom for Mac. This fabulous fabulous program turns off your internet connection for a set period of time and won't turn it on again, even if you beg it. I'm evangelistic about it. Every writer should have it.

Have you begun work on novel number three?

Of course Lisa, you know how addictive writing is!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Melbourne Writers Festival Wrap Up!

Well the Melbourne Writers Festival is over for another year and what a great festival it was. This year I got to more sessions than I've ever managed before. I discovered for myself the truth of the saying "If you want something done ask a busy person".

The first session I attended was "Creating History" with
Lisa Lang (Utopian Man), Peter Rose (The Rose Boys) and Michael Meehan (Below the Styx). This session was free through my work and I've blogged about it here. As I'm still keen to finish my historic novel I was interested to hear what other writers were doing with history. The most helpful advice from this session came from Michael Meehan, who said 'It's not so much what happened but how it felt'. He said 'People read for sensation and feeling not facts. Reality and truth is where you start but not where you finish'.

On the following Monday I attended a session with
Kate Forsyth and Ben Chandler called "Worlds of our own creation". As you know, I interviewed Kate and her sister Belinda last month. This was my chance to meet Kate face to face and get her to sign a copy of her book The Puzzle Ring for my son. This session was also of interest to me given my on-again-off-again romance with my own fantasy novel in progress. Kate said she writes the kind of books she likes to read; puts into them everything she likes; leaves out everything she doesn't like. She makes it sound so easy! She likes to write about a world at a point of change. Ben writes what is most commonly referred to as "steampunk" (Quillblade). He said 'there used to be an either or' when it came to technology (sci-fi) and magic (fantasy), but that now 'they blend and interplay', which I think is a good thing.

The next session I attended was "The Lure of Ancient Magic". The session wasn't as lively as I thought it would be; it was a little disjointed, but I still enjoyed hearing from
Carole Wilkinson about her Dragonkeeper series. One of the most interesting things Carole shared was that 'she didn't even think about writing until she was thirty-eight'. Karen Healey is a relative newcomer, but her debut novel Guardian of the Dead, which is steeped in Māori mythology, sounds superb and is now on my "must read" list. Carole and Karen both believe that the editing stage of writing is the best part of the process, and that getting the first draft written is the hardest.

On the final day of the festival Rob & I attended "The Long Road" with
John & Jack Faine. Father and son shared some of the highlights of their inspiring road-trip, from Melbourne to London (From here to There), with some stunning slides as a back drop to the discussion. Lastly we listened to Steve Toltz (A Fracion of the Whole), Rebecca James (Beautiful Malice) and Angelo Loukakis (Houdini's Flight) in conversation with Louise Swinn. "Unravelling Secrets" wasn't exactly what I was expecting but I enjoyed it none the less.

So how about you? Did you check out the festival this year? What were the highlights for you?

Books bought (yay! books!)

The Puzzle Ring
Rocks in the Belly
Torpedo Greatest Hits
How a Moth becomes a Boat

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Author Interview - Kate Forsyth & Belinda Murrell

Two sisters. Two books. One release date. Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell talk about writing and their latest books The Wildkin’s Curse and The Ruby Talisman.

Do you think writing is something that can be taught?

Kate: I often talk about what I call the Three Ts of Writing – Talent, Technique and Tenacity. Talent is a gift that you are born with, and manifests itself in a love of books and words and writing. Technique can be taught – and indeed, all writers go on learning their craft all of their lives. Tenacity is the determination to keep on going even when your faith in yourself is shaken to its foundations – and often it is not the most talented writers who end up making a career as a writer, but the ones who keep on trying.

Belinda: It’s the old Nature versus Nurture argument. I used to believe that good writing was a talent you were either born with or not. But I’ve come to realise that there are many skills and strategies you can learn to improve your writing. I’ve also learnt that in addition to talent, writing also requires a great deal of passion, drive and sheer hard work.

Are there any writing reference books you would recommend?

Elements of Style by Strunk & White
Steering the Craft by Ursula le Guin
Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft by Jane Yolen

What is the best piece of advice you could give to young writers?

Kate: Get into a regular writing routine and then stick to it. And be brave! You need courage to write truthfully and powerfully, and you need courage to show your work to the world. Have faith in yourself and keep on dreaming.

Belinda: The best advice I can give an aspiring writer is to write, write, write. Write every day. Keep a notebook with you at all times so you can jot down ideas, descriptions, interesting names and quirky thoughts. Try to make your writing the very best you can – crisp, clear, beautiful. Write what you love. Finally read lots of books, because all fantastic writers were fantastic readers first.

What do you know now that you wish you knew then (when starting out)?

Kate: That I really could make a living as a writer! So many people told me it was impossible and I’ve proved them all wrong.

Belinda: That being a successful author requires so much more than just writing a good book – it also involves marketing, promoting, networking and performing.

Do you ever suffer from writer’s block or a shortage of ideas? How do you overcome it?

Kate: I never have a shortage of ideas but then I make sure I keep my well of inspiration full – by reading widely, by listening to people’s stories, by going to the ballet or the theatre or concerts, by being always curious and aware and interested in the world. I sometimes get stuck in a story, not being sure how to move forward, but I have immense faith that the answer will come to me in time, and so I keep working on other aspects of the novel, until inspiration strikes again.

Belinda: Yes – usually when I am tired or distracted – like now after several weeks of festivals, school visits and promotional events. The only cure for me is to get stuck back into the writing, to reconnect with my story and start chipping away at the writing word by word, until it starts to flow again.

Have you always written or is it something that happened over time? When did you know for sure that you wanted to be a writer?

Kate: I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I think I was born wanting to write! I wrote stories and poems from the time I first learn to hold a pencil, and have never stopped since.

Belinda: As a child I loved to write, but I also wanted to be a vet like our dad, because I loved healing animals. By the time I was an adult my decision was made for me – I could write, but I couldn’t do maths, physics and chemistry!

Is there one book you read as a child that can be directly linked to your decision to become a writer?

Kate: ‘The Story of My Life’ by Enid Blyton. This book belonged to my mother and I read it when I was a child. It describes Enid Blyton’s life as a writer, with photos of her beautiful old house ‘Green Hedges’. It had the most beautiful big garden with roses and apple trees and swans. I remember reading this book and wishing with all my heart that I could be a writer too, and live in a big old house with a big old garden and lots of animals, and write stories all day long.

Belinda: As a child, the book that most fired my imagination was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. I loved its enticing mixture of adventure, action and fantasy. Kate and I would dress up in silver chain mail, with swords and bows and arrows, and play Narnia. I was enraptured by the idea that it might be possible to pass through a secret door into a magical world, full of talking animals and adventure.

Kate, you’ve written adult fiction as well as young adult fiction. Which is harder and why?

I don’t think one is more difficult than the other – they’re just different. Before I begin writing a book I always know who I’m writing for – the story demands its own shape and its own audience, and so I adjust my style accordingly. A lot of it is intuitive, though during the editorial stage I do spend some time thinking about the age group the book is for, and trying to make sure it’s not too simple or too difficult.

What do you love most about writing? What do you like least?

Kate: I love every aspect of writing. I love the early stage, when I read and daydream and wonder and make notes to myself, and let the story unfold in my head. Then I love the actual writing of the story, even though it can be hard sometimes to keep on going. I love the final stage as well, the editing and rewriting and cutting and polishing. The only part if don’t really enjoy is the final proofread because by that time I’ve read every word so many times. However, I know the next step is holding my beautiful book in my hands and I LOVE that!

Belinda: I love the research into so many fascinating topics, I love getting lost in writing a story and how it almost seems to write itself and I love getting feedback from kids who love my books. The part I find difficult is juggling the demands of writing and marketing and having a family of three children, a husband, a house that won’t tidy itself, and lots of demanding pets – all into a day with only 24 hours!

Why do you write fantasy as opposed to other genres?

Kate: I don’t always write fantasy. I’ve written picture books, historical fiction, contemporary fiction and poetry. I do, however, love books that have magic and adventure and mystery in them and so most of my books have these three ingredients.

Belinda: Like Kate, I do write other things including picture books and historical fiction, however I have always loved books that are full of adventure, history and a twist of magic. Fantasy is a true escape from the humdrum reality of work and school, housework and chores. I have always loved fleeing into a world where children are empowered to change their worlds, to fight for good, to overcome evil, to be strong and brave and clever.

Belinda, Kate shared a bit about her writing process in the video link below. Could you tell us a little about your own particular process?

Usually something will inspire an idea in my mind like a tiny seed. Over time the idea will sprout and shoot into the start of a story. This could be an evocative setting, something I’ve read or a chance conversation. Once the idea has seized my imagination, I spend three or four months researching background information, thinking, planning, jotting notes and plotting out my rough story. I usually do a synopsis which maps out the overall story, then start writing. The writing itself takes about the same amount of time, followed by another three or four months of editing, polishing and proofreading.

Do you share your work with each other during the writing process?

Kate: No, I don’t show any part of the book to anybody until I have a complete first draft, as perfect as I can make it. Then I show it to my publisher and my editors, but no-one else gets to read it until I have wrought the best book I possibly can – not even my own children!

Belinda: Kate and I tend not to read each other’s manuscripts until they are finished. We do help each other in so many other ways, whether talking through a difficult plot problem that is bothering us, helping to look after each other’s children or giving each other a stern talking-to, when we are doing too much, or getting stressed from juggling the many demands of motherhood, career, family and writing.

At what point in the process of writing your last book do you begin working on your next?

Kate: When I have completed my first draft, I send it to my publisher and they will keep it for quite a long time before sending it back with an editorial report. I usually begin working on my next novel during those months, though often I don’t do much writing – just a lot of daydreaming and reading and researching. Then, once I have finished the rewrite and sent it back to my publisher, I begin on the new novel in earnest. I’ll have to stop to do the final proofread but that doesn’t usually take very long – a few days or a week – and then I immerse myself in the new book again.

Belinda: I find ideas pop up all the time which might form the basis for a good book, so sometime I’m guilty of daydreaming about a new idea while I should be writing my current book. This new idea needs to be jotted down in my notebook, then firmly set aside until I’m ready for it! When I finish a book, I usually need a few weeks to re-organise my life, house and finances before I start on the next project, but I find the ideas in my notebook start to resurface and take over my thoughts.

Have you ever considered writing a book together?

Kate: No, I think we have enough ideas of our own. And our styles are quite different – we’d have to work really hard to keep a consistent voice throughout the book and be constantly reining our own voice back. I’d rather write my own books and then have the pleasure of reading Belinda’s!

Belinda: Kids often ask us that and we joke that we might end up throttling each other!

Could you tell us a little about your most recent books The Wildkin’s Curse and The Ruby Talisman?

The Wildkin’s Curse is a fantasy adventure for readers aged 12+, set in the same world as my earlier book The Starthorn Tree (though it can be read on its own). It tells the story of two boys and a girl, whose people have been enemies for centuries, setting out on a secret mission to rescue a girl who has the power to enchant with words. She is kept muzzled, locked away in an impossibly tall crystal tower, by a cruel king who seeks to use her powers for his own evil ends. It is filled with danger, excitement, mystery and romance.

The Ruby Talisman is an exciting time slip adventure where my modern day heroine, Tilly, falls asleep wearing an old ruby pendant and is magically transported back in time to the glittering and opulent court of Queen Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI. Tilly wakes up in Versailles on July 14th, 1789, the day the peasants storm the Bastille, sparking violent uprisings against the aristocrats all over the country. Tilly sets off on a series of terrifying adventures throughout France to help her aristocratic ancestor Amelie-Mathilde escape the dangers and chaos of the French Revolution.

Kate shares her
writing process

Monday, July 19, 2010

Author Interview I did for www.femail.com.au

Why did you decide to submit your short stories for publication?

There comes a point for every writer I think where the goal is to be published and, as a result of that, to be read by people other than your family, friends or writing buddies. I needed a project to focus on - I decided putting together a short story collection might be a good way to get my first solo publication "under my belt" so to speak. I knew other writers who had done it and decided "I can do that too!" and went for it.

Reflections is your first published book, how did it feel when it book was accepted by Ginninderra Press?

I had to read the email a few times to let it sink in. I was relieved in a way because I knew I had put a lot of effort in to the collection and it was gratifying to have it accepted for publication. There was still work to do though. The editor gave me feedback on some of the stories that he thought weren't working as well as others. It was a wonderful process working together with an editor to make the work the best it could be.

What tips do you have for writers who hope to, one day, have their books or short stories published?

Persistence! Don't give up. Writing is like anything else you want to learn to do well - you must practice, get into the habit of writing regularly, and be prepared to redraft your work. Don't generalise - it's the specific details that bring your writing to life. Write! I know that seems simple, but to be a writer you must cultivate that habit or you'll find that doing the washing has sudden appeal. Even writing badly is better than not writing at all - you can redraft and edit bad writing. Be brave! Once you have worked on a piece, taking it from a first draft to a well-crafted piece of poetry, fiction, or non-fiction, send it out. Find the magazine that fits your piece of writing and submit it. If they say no, and you're sure it's the best it can be, and then send it out again to a different magazine. Keep good records.

Where does the title, Reflections, come from?

Reflections is the title of one of the stories in the collection, but it's not as simple as that. I got to thinking about the way I write, the process, the things that spark ideas and, sometimes when I'm lucky enough, fully formed stories. I think as writers what we are often doing is holding a mirror up to the world, capturing a moment, a snapshot in time and recording it. Not literally, though it can be that way sometimes, but what we think or feel about it. Perception is a funny thing. No two people will see the same event in the same way, and how we see it will say something about us. That's why writing takes courage, because that mirror that we hold up will inevitably show something of ourselves as well.

What are your future writing goals?

I dream of being a novelist. I'm struggling along at the moment writing a novel that may not even want to be written. It's an historic novel set in Melbourne in the late 1800s. I say it might not even want to be written because I'm trying to tell the story of a real person, a girl who immigrated from Ireland to Australia with her parents, and it might not be my story to tell. Having invested months in research and five months writing, I will persevere to at least finish the first draft. Then I will reassess and decide if the project is one I should continue with. I also have an incomplete draft of a fantasy novel in my filing cabinet that I am keen to get back to when the time is right. Whatever direction I decide to take in the future, I will be writing. I have come to understand that writing is a way of life for me, it's something that I can't "not" do.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Last Days of Summer - Vicki Thornton - Review

Vicki Thornton is a Victorian writer who lives in the picturesque Dandenongs. Last Days of Summer (Mockingbird) is her first collection of short stories.

Thornton’s style is sparse, her stories brief. Brief enough to fill the smallest moments in a day. Those moments between the usual domestic chores and family pressures, but though the stories are brief they have a depth and subtlety that can linger for hours or days. Longer.

In ‘For a Moment’ we are introduced to Billie, as seen through the eyes of an innocent unnamed girl; as someone wise, someone worth seeking out, someone to sit beside quietly and listen to. We also see Billie through the unforgiving eyes of the girl’s mother, as a homeless person, someone to distrust, someone to avoid. It’s all a matter of perspective. Billie might seem to be someone worthy of pity; she is poor, old and homeless, but she is also independent; free. She rejects the entanglements of the material world, chooses for herself how she will live and how she will die.

In ‘Aerodynamics of Love’, the writer experiments with structure as she dissects and deconstructs a relationship with perfect detachment. The structure itself gives added meaning to the story. Each word is necessary. Believable. There is no need for embellishment.

‘Cicada Song’ reads like a list. This is a story of summer holidays by the beach, a story of childhood. The memories are specific yet there is much for the reader to relate to. These are happy memories tinged with sadness and loss. In childhood, feelings—happy, sad— are equal and depend on each other for context. In adulthood, memories are often the same.

In ‘The Sweetness of Musk’ we are plunged into Jake’s world; a small rural town gripped by drought, where everything is either dead or dying. Jake is a child not yet tall enough to see over the lolly counter; naive to the world beyond the boundaries of his town and the future that awaits him, yet in some ways he is old beyond his years and all too aware of what it means to be mortal.

The characters who inhabit these stories are broken; bowed by circumstance, steeped in sorrow. Thornton lays bare their secret lives, exposes what is usually kept hidden from public view. It is human nature to hide parts of ourselves; to wear a mask. Thornton’s characters are people caught at their most vulnerable, with their faces naked and their private lives on show.

You probably won’t laugh while reading these stories, but you may feel uncomfortable, and you will think. Through her choice of topic, Thornton’s collection explores what it is to be human – the doubt, the struggle, the simple joys, the pain.

Friday, June 4, 2010

On reading The Road

As you may already suspect, I am a voracious reader. I devour books with the fervour of a fat masterchef. What I don't do often enough is let them settle when I'm done. Digest. I scoff them down one after the other without thought for indigestion.

After having Cormac McCarthy's The Road staring at me from the bookcase (pantry) for over a year I finally took it from the shelf and read it. I'd heard all the talk about how horrifyingly bleak it was, but had (& have) not seen the film, so I came to it with a fresh palette so to speak.

I read The Road in 3 days, beginning it on the train to the
Emerging Writers Festival (which I'll blog about later). The writing style is plain and honest. The structure leads you into the story one paragraph at a time and keeps you reading. There are no chapters. The writer's use of "the man" and "the boy" is clever. By not assigning names and therefore fixed identities to these characters he has made them "every man" and "every boy"; representative of humankind.

The boy's constant need to be reasured that they are the "good guys" is understandable given his child's perspective. To survive in the face of such widespread devastation; the total breakdown of society, is a difficult, seemingly impossible, thing to do. In order to do it, lines must be crossed. There is no room for regret, for weighing the right and the wrong of a thing; action (& sometimes inaction) is primal; instinctive.

What sustains "the man" is not the food they manage to find along the road, nor is it the gun he carries. What sustains him, what motivates him to keep going, is his love for "the boy". Though he is forced to face the very vilest parts of mankind, both within himself and in other people, it is humanity - the goodness of it - that makes survival possible. The human spirit needs a reason to fight; needs something worth fighting for. Without it, why would we bother, when it's much easier to give up.

When I'd finished reading
The Road I chose another book from the shelf, but I found I didn't want to start it just yet. If we don't ever allow ourselves to feel hungry, how can we ever fully appreciate what we eat.

I have found that The Road is a meal best digested slowly; thoughtfully.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What do you do when you've lost your passion?

I've been dragging my heels when it comes to my writing of late. Between June and November '09 I wrote 46,000 (first draft) words of my historic novel. The first six months of the year had been spent reading for research and thinking; and as one of my teachers at Tafe always drummed into me "thinking time is writing time", but now my thinking is working against me.

The problem is I think I've lost my passion for the project and, as I discussed with a writer friend today over coffee at my local cafe, I feel guilty about it. I've spent a lot of time developing this novel idea and I've put in a lot of hours at the keyboard. The thought of abandoning it and moving onto something else (or back to something else as the case may well be) just feels wrong.

I'm holding on at the moment; trying to figure out if this is just a block I have to push through as opposed to a real lack of faith in the project and/or my ability to see it through, or perhaps even a normal down period (for want of a better word) after completing a previous project - my short story collection Reflections.

I guess I could try and write my way through it but I feel this disconnection with it at the moment and I'm not convinced I can find that spark of interest again. I can take a break from it; I have some poetry I could work on in the mean time & a few short story ideas that could use my attention.

And of course there's that other novel...

I guess I'm worried that if I do move on to other things and leave it by the wayside that this novel will be there in the background (like some spectural being) nagging at me, calling me a coward and a quitter...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A year goes so quickly...

It's been a year since the worst natural disaster to hit Victoria. A lot has changed. The emergency services have realised the warnings were too little too late. New early warning systems have been put in place, but we'll only know how good they are if the worst were to happen...again, and I hope that it never does.

I was worried about friends and family on that weekend. So many fires on so many fronts and even my suburb and the next got their own small dose of the madness. It's important to remember that built up residential areas are still at risk. We Aussies love our bush, and many suburbs keep as much of it as they can. I hope we never become complacent and that tougher penalties - which should include jail time - will be enough to deter the would-be firebugs.

Last year I wrote a poem in response to that harrowing time. I thought I might share it here...

February 2009

the nightly news
has become a morbid fascination
and you’ve never listened
so much to 774 AM
and each night
the nightmare deepens
and the daily papers
show the faces
of the dead
and the living
keep on breathing — thankful
for breath
and survival seems
more and more
a carnival trick
or divine intervention
and you wish
you could be there to help
it’ll get worse
before it gets better
and that nothing you do
could ever be enough
so as night falls
you switch off your
radio, turn off your
TV and settle down to sleep
in your comfortable bed
inside your house — thankful
it’s not you