Short and bitter-sweet…

21764851_1531504716906887_632268119352508245_nSOMETHING FOR NOTHING AKA THE DAYS OF LIBERATION

When my father died in May, 2016, an enormous chasm opened up in my life. I’d been his Power of Attorney, daughter, friend, co-conspirator, travel companion and problem solver as Alzheimer’s stole his life and mine had changed forever. The following week I signed up for a BA in Creative Writing and in week one in my first unit, my task was to write 100 words on ‘Who Are You?’ for the discussion board.  I didn’t really know the answer, so I wrote about how I’d just lost my father and to fill the hole in my life, began studying to look after myself: to step away from being the go-to girl for everyone else – the survivor who realised she’d lost herself along the way.  I later described this as “the big re-write of my life.”

For a second unit, Writing the Short Story, I wrote about losing Dad for a major assignment. I used first person POV – out of the ordinary for me – in a contemporary, chronological style, with occasional flashbacks and changes from present to past tense to add meaning and context.  I used informal sentence structure in places – short, and choppy; angry tones evoked by words like garbage, shout, slap, knots and pain. I found this liberating and emotive and this story did, in a way, form itself. I didn’t try to apply a creative formula, or plot structure, yet black garbage bags filled with Dad’s clothes became a theme – an emblem of my grief.

My words changed organically: “dad’s/his clothes” became “the clothes” as I felt more detached, and then, more hopeful toward the ending. Soft imagery of grand things: a mountain, the sun, stars, and clouds; soothing gardens, water, flowers, love, pink and white; liberation in scattering, and freedom – painted a sense of promise and resolution.

My continued learning gives me pause to think about finding meaning with colours, language, style and structure. I enjoyed expressing this in text format:                           using Nine ohhh for 90 (his age), and words like SLAP in capitals.

Economy of words also adds impact, and short form writing has become a journey into myself when seeking just one or two words to convey what would normally require a sentence, a paragraph, or more.

I wrote the bones of the story in a café – a public place where I thought I’d feel strong while writing these private words of affront and devastation. I wanted to feel distant from my feelings, like a reader might feel. I also used a different writing tool while away from my desk: a beautiful old Sheaffer fountain pen, an award Dad had received on his retirement – 14k gold nib and all. This symbol was not lost on me – I wrote that he was as good as gold, and the pouring of black ink onto the page gave me a sense of writing through my grief, of bleeding onto the pages.

In July, 2017, I rewrote this story into a short 500 word entry for the annual Hunter Writers Centre Grieve Competition. I was chosen as a finalist, and have a complimentary copy of the published anthology sitting before me, in pride of place on my desk as I type. It is a book to be consumed in small doses, yet much time is needed to hear the voices of the living and those who are no longer here, but are enlivened on the pages inside.

This quote by Allende, (2013, p. 4) sings to me:

“Every story is a seed inside of me that starts to grow and grow, like a tumour, and I have to deal with it sooner or later.” 

I’ve written from that same place: to deal with that tumour.

Allende, I. 2013, ‘Why I write’, in M Maran (ed.), Why We Write: 20 acclaimed            authors on how and why they do what they do, Penguin Group, New York, p. 4

 

A press release to inspire… (Or: They Don’t Have Fires Like They Used To)

I recently came across this old newspaper article in Pioneers Victoria (a public Facebook group administered by Anne Therese Courtney) and became engrossed in the story – not so much for the subject of a major loss to the people of SANDRIDGE, but for the stunning depiction of the event recorded by a nameless journalist. (Especially in paras 2 & 3.)

I’d like to think they went on to create stories in book form somewhere back in time… and am going to try to discover who crafted this powerful account.

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SANDRIDGE – VICTORIA SUGAR WORKS FIRE. 8 June 1875
Williamstown Chronicle, Saturday 12 June 1875
The Sugar Works at Sandridge were discovered to be on fire at about half-past one o’clock on Tuesday morning last, and the destructive element obtained such a hold on the inflammable material within, that damage to the extent of between £30,000 and £40,000 was done before the fire was got under. The fire originated in a room used for storing loaf sugar, in a blue stone building of five stories. Rapidly extending through the several floors of the building the flames shot through the windows and roof, threatening the tall bluestone refining tower only a short distance away. The local and metropolitan brigades, who were promptly on the spot, directed their energies to endeavouring to save the tower, but in vain.

Every now and then, enormous tongues of fire belched out from the burning mass adjoining and shot as high as the roof of the tower, licking the tall structure and leaving small patches of flame on the windowsills and roof. The firemen did their best to extinguish these dangerous spots, but as the flames which seemed living, and possessed of an intelligent and malignant desire to embrace the tower in their fiery folds shot up time after time, climbing higher, and hugging the structure closer, they gradually began to get a hold of the building through the windows and the roof of wood and lead, until at last the defeated firemen, who were struggling gamely against the scorching heat and falling flakes, saw that the upper part of the tower was on fire and burning fiercely. The flames at the top were practically out of reach of the water, and uniting with those below, the whole place seemed sheathed in a case of leaping fire.

At this time the scene is described as very grand. The whole building apparently blazing like a colossal beacon, shed a lurid glare over the whole of Sandridge and the shipping, turning the waters of the bay and the lagoon to a blood red colour, while high overhead streamed a vast broad banner of flying sparks and of flakes of flame, now shining bright and clear, and anon obscured into the semblance of a gigantic floating wreath of smoke, bespangled with blazing stars. The spectacle, though grand to look upon, boded danger in more quarters than one, and it was greatly feared that some of the numerous wooden buildings in the town would be ignited by the falling flakes of burning material.

The efforts of the firemen and a large body of volunteers prevented the fire extending outside the Sugar Works premises, however, and were also successful in confining the raging element to the tower and adjacent bluestone building. The tall shaft remains uninsured and the buildings in which a large quantity of sugar was stored were also saved. It is roughly estimated that damages from £30,000 to £40,000 has been done, the insurance amounting to £29,500.

Photo of Victoria Sugar Works fire, 8 June 1875 – State Library Victoria.

Meet my friends…

This morning I asked the ever willing Siri to set a me timer for a quick writing sprint of 20 mins before relieving at the library for Children’s Book Week. 525 words. Bang. It’s amazing what you can jam in with just a pencil and a piece of paper. If I’d gotten my MacBook out, I’d have fluffed around with files and then (if I didn’t get distracted altogether) would have fiddled and only written half the words by back spacing and editing as I go.

I’m about to go and watch another Scrivener tutorial and am seriously thinking about sticking to my pen and paper method (so portable – even in bed or on the run). THEN I can transcribe it into Scrivener when I want. The only flaw in this method is the worry of no backup for the notebook is really possible. I guess that means I should type them up fairly regularly. This way those notebooks can become the back up of my backups! 🤷🏼‍♀️

I have this image of beautifully inked notebooks packed with my jottings tied up in neat bundles. Time to get out my favourites – each one gives my hand a different style. Meet Sheaffer, Parker, and Rosetta.890F65CC-AD44-467D-8535-63993241B6A1.jpg

Grieve

 

Writing is sometimes described as bleeding onto the pages…  IMG_6549

I’m about to become a published author! This was the second year I entered a story in a national competition run by The Hunter Writers Centre on the difficult subject of grief, and I’ve been selected as a finalist.

Despite being a natural part of the human condition, our experiences are mostly kept hidden and private – at least within my experience of white Australian culture. The annual Grieve Competition with print and e-book anthologies aims to change that by the sharing of our stories. Writing about grief evokes the most poignant emotions and with Grieve, must be captured and defined in a mere 500 words.

Writing is sometimes described as bleeding onto the pages… and in this way, can bring healing to both writers and readers. Yes, indeed.

Reading/writing inspiration: who inspired your love of reading?

Unlike many other authors I chat with and read about, I did not get introduced to M&B romances by my mother. I cannot even remember how I did get to dabble in them and confess my affair was brief. I love historical fiction, women’s fiction and rural memoir mostly, and I can thank my mother for the books about animals and the struggles of life that she did pass on to me like Black Beauty, Watership Down, I Can Jump Puddles and Call of the Wild. 

My father’s Readers Digest condensed collection also had me dabbling further into a range of genres which led me to explore further the unabridged versions of some favourites. Now I work in a library, I get to see and feel all the new releases that come in. And love talking about readers’ favourites with them.

Popular Romance

I wrote this post in August last 2016, and decided it would better fit on My Word…

HAPPILY NEVER AFTER….The Romance Story in Popular Culture

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Last weekend, I attended the 25th Anniversary Romance Writers of Australia Conference at the Stamford Grand Hotel, Glenelg, South Australia. It was a grand affair, fitting of the venue and the theme: Ain’t Love Grand. This year the RWA aligned with Flinders University to present a parallel academic stream of workshops available to the 400 delegates there. I was really keen to meet up with some of my favourite authors and to feast on the writing workshops from international and local guest writers and publishers, but the academic stream piqued my interest. On the evening of my arrival, prior to day one, I put off checking into my beckoning 5-star luxury beachside accomodation to attend a free public event in Adelaide city; Representations of Love and Romance: Scholars and Authors in conversation. Scholars from the University of Alabama, Melbourne University, and the University of Western Australia, as well as a Medieval Historian, NY Times bestselling author Heather Graham, romance author May McGoldrick and Hollywood script consultant Michael Hauge, formed a panel to discuss the writing and representation of romance in popular culture.

My eyes were opened: popular romance books perhaps do not denigrate women as mindless waifs waiting to be swept off their feet to ride off into the sunset with a handsome, but often harsh princely type. Rather, they can teach us about dreams and relationships in ways that women want them to be: she wants to fall in love with the hero – who must have integrity and be lovable, and the heroine will overcome trials, be in control, can keep her career and – horror of horrors – even have a past!

I ponder about other forms and genres of popular escapism and fantasy. The notion of romance is rooted deeply in our popular culture: from the Bible, in songs, advertising, and high culture, there is a powerful romantic narrative of how to live the good life.

Why can romance be generally regarded as acceptable, but seen as mindless and embarrassing in print? To expand on this question, here’s an article that appeared in The Guardian newspaper this week: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/aug/24/mills-and-boon-romances-are-actually-feminist-texts-academic-says?CMP=share_btn_link

As for myself, in between reading more literary tomes, for respite I love to devour rural romances and what I loosely term women’s fiction. So why do I shamefully drop the Romance/Women’s tag, to Rural/General fiction when I describe my choices? Do you?

I have just learned that romantic fiction is the biggest publishing sector in the world: that there are entire societies of romance fiction enthusiasts, practitioners and scholars in its grip. At the Conference I finally found a safe place to come out. When asked “What do you write?” I found myself answering, “Historical rural fiction, ummm,” head nodding and bright-eyed, “with romantic elements!”

What do YOU read and write?

#PopularRomanceStudies #WomensFiction #RuralRomance #WhatWomenWantToRead #AintLoveGrand #RomanceWritersOfAustralia

About birds…

IMG_6587.JPGYesterday I found a snippet of Barbara Kingsolver’s writing in an amazing short story book I got second hand from somewhere: Birds in the Hand – Fiction & Poetry About Birds. (D Nelson & K Nelson eds.)

There’s a short extract from Prodigal Summer which describes her main character Deanna, sitting quietly on the porch at dawn to hear the various birds begin their calls. There is much to love about this excerpt, but something that really captured my fancy was this ending sentence: “A bird never doubts its place in the centre of the universe.”

I’d not really looked much into the book until yesterday and can see I’m in for a treat exploring all the different writers who care about such matters as birds and the universe.

Procrastination and some fabulous distraction…

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Today I wrote 909 words – squeezed like blood out of a stone. (If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that Monica McInerney will approve of my accidental number!)

Seriously. I did everything else but this daily no zero writing pact with myself. I groomed my horse. Fussed around with the garden hose. Tidied my desk. Rang a friend. Checked emails and FB too many times. Sought comfort from snacks. Until I made myself get it done.

And I still had hours in my day to walk off some of those calories and think about my plot structure. Oh and I bought this neat pile of loveliness (research???) in the op shop.

Reading, writing roadtrip

It’s mid winter here, so what better way to make the most of a rare day of sunshine than to hit the highway with the Wimmera Wordsmiths in my car for the 260km return road trip to Mount Gambier, South Australia for a gorgeous fan-girl/writerly luncheon with Monica McInerney.
She was delighted when I asked to take a pic to post on the RWA website and had been pre-warned that a writing group was attending! So when she opened her presentation she made special mention of us, and said she expected lots of questions about writing from us. The readers took up much of her QA time, so as a nice gesture she called for one more question and stared straight out at me…

She’d talked of being a pantster so by the seat of my own pants, I asked something that’s been occupying my thoughts this past month – characterisation. She’d said while she writes in a daily ritual word count which must end in 9 – don’t ask – she spends around twelve months prior thinking about her characters, allowing them to grow and develop in her mind (& heart I suspect). It’s no wonder when she sits down in her Irish attic each day that the story flows.

As I’m writing with an elderly protagonist, I was captivated at hearing of her muse-like relationship with one of her most prolific characters, Lola Quinlan. She also mentioned how so many readers let her know they have loved her older characters.

There would have been around 80 guests to her luncheon and she gave a beautiful insight into her writing. It was a privilege to hear her talk with such love of her characters – which is obvious between the pages. To cap it all off, ‘The Trip of a Lifetime’ went to national No 1 yesterday.IMG_6580