My last novel ‘On the Edge’ was published in late 2016. One way and another I’ve usually been busy writing since then, but I’m haven’t been working on another novel. It can be a long time between books for fiction authors. There are, however, many other forms of writing that don’t end up between covers in bookshops or in libraries. The purpose of my blog is to give some airspace to the other material that I, and authors like me, find themselves producing. I’ll also post occasional reflections on the world of words that absorbs us all.
I noticed him as soon as I strolled into my local park. The young man was lying on his stomach propped up on his elbows, staring into his phone. He was taking a selfie. His expression was dark, mournful, even grim. On my second circuit of the walking track he was sitting cross-legged, phone thrown on to the grass, and he was weeping noisily into a large handkerchief.
I was a bit nonplussed: should I speak to him? Try to offer comfort? I didn’t. As you don’t. But he’s been in my thoughts.
That’s probably because the writer inside me has been speculating. What was his story? Did his girlfriend dump him? Did he send her the selfie to show her how miserable he was? Did she text back something like – get over it? Worse- sent a happy photo of her with another bloke? Or was another story altogether?
I love shadows. Shadows add such drama to life, to photographs and most of all to stories.
A few months ago I found myself with a group of fossickers in a quarry outside the far western Queensland town of Richmond. We were scratching around the bottom of what used to be an inland sea over twenty million years ago, looking for fossils. Yes, we did find some fragments – but only a few days later a young family unearthed a huge internationally significant find just metres from where we we’d been digging.
I took this group portrait there, and it was my submission to my photography club’s ‘shadows’ theme. Some of the entries were so imaginative – the shadow of a wedding ring captured between the pages of an open book, the shadow of a statue cast on to a ceramic pot.
Where writing is concerned, shadows and secrets are the stuff of page-turners. I enjoy weaving plots around crimes and misdemeanours of times past which cast shadows over generation after generation … and I love reading other books where shadows hover over the plot and mystify the reader.
It’s so hard to let go of a manuscript. My short story collection Pick and Choose has been a work in progress for some years now, and finally it’s reached the point where It Is Finished! It’s been edited and proofread countless times. Anything more I do to it will be overkill. I know that. So why do I find it so hard to let it go?
Soon it will join my collection of e-books, out in the world for readers’ enjoyment and criticism. I’m waving it off a bit nervously, and with a twinge of regret. Long experience has taught me that there’s nothing that appeals to everyone. Where writing is concerned, quality is in the eye of the beholder. I can only hope it finds its own readers in due course.
One of the perils – and responsibilities – of being an author is critiquing the work of other writers. I’ve recently been reading a novella, a beautifully presented piece of work by a keen first time author. I remember the feeling well, of giving my very first real attempt at fiction to a respected writing colleague for an opinion. It was a bit like passing a cherished child over to the dentist!
I find it’s always a difficult balance to strike when I’m reviewing work in progress. It’s no mean feat for a new writer to produce a coherent 25,000 word story, and credit must be given for that. So where do I draw the line between praise and (hopefully) helpful criticism? The last thing I want to do is discourage anyone. But many writers fresh off the starting block see their first draft as the finished product, and want to send it off to be published while they get on to their next project. I have learned the hard way that I need to take at least as much time to rewrite as I do to write the first draft – of anything. Maybe that should be the last of my comments on this particular piece of work?
Anyway it’s been a salutary reminder that I should take a closer look at issues like pace and tension in my own fledgling novel. It’s all too easy to roll along, letting the characters tell their own story.
I’m always fascinated by the Big Picture. Look at this recreation of Central Australia which has been installed in the fabulous Cranbourne Gardens southeast of Melbourne. Someone was able to stand back and find the essence of the colours and the feel of our Red Centre, then plunge into the detail to find a way of representing it so vividly in a totally different climate.
My work in progress was put aside for a fortnight’s holiday. Of course it came with me – in my head. But instead of focussing on details, I was able to muse on my Big Picture: what is this story really about? what’s the point? what needs to happen for that point to be made? While I haven’t added many words I’ve now got a clearer idea where I’m heading with this novel. I never plot too far ahead, but all authors have to keep a grip on their Big Picture or their writing can start to meander.
Having a breather let me do some reading too. ‘Me, Antman and Fleabag’ by prizewinning Aboriginal author Gayle Kennedy is a sparkling collection of short stories about life as a ‘blackfulla’ – written in the vernacular, it’s funny, quirky, sad and above all insightful. This was one of several Australian books I took with me on my Kindle – what talent we have here.
There are plenty of roadblocks out there for writers. Emotional upheaval, money worries, family problems and illness probably head the list. We won’t mention writer’s block. Then there are the distractions of life that get between the fingers and the keyboards – like other (real) work and its deadlines, like Christmas and all the food and socialising it involves, and of course holidays.
I seem to be working my way through all those distractions at the moment, and blaming them for lack of progress on anything vaguely associated with my writing life. Now I’m ticking the last box and going on holiday for a fortnight. My iPad will come with me though – you never know when you might have a good idea and none of us can afford to let one of those get away!
So I would just like to wish all you keen readers out there a very happy reading new year for 2015 – may you discover some new authors that interest and excite you!
I’ve taken the mss of my new short story collection ‘Pick and Choose’ to my beach getaway to review, edit, and sequence the nineteen pieces in this collection. Two hours at a time is all I can do without seeing double and losing the plot.
For once it’s cool and cloudy, a lovely day for photography. I find some shoes and a hat, grab my camera, and take myself into the nearby coastal forest for a long walk through to the beach. You know you’re getting closer by the sound of the waves pounding on the sand. Getting away from my work in progress is as important to me as every other part of the writing process. Reflection adds perspective for us all.
Before I got into serious writing, I had no idea of the amount of ‘business’ it involves! Probably along with countless other readers, I imagined the author sitting at desk in front of computer, coffee (or glass of wine perhaps?) at elbow, gazing out a window at some tranquil scene or other, waiting for inspiration to beam its way from the ether to the brain to the fingertips and thence on to the screen and eventually to the page.
Well, it can happen like that – and it’s an exhiliarating day when it does.
Other days, however, are occupied with editing, then rewriting, and then laboriously ploughing through page proofs word by word, double checking facts and figures as you go, all the while with one eye on the publisher’s deadline. I have calculated that there are probably more of these days in producing a book than there are days that offer the thrill of creating something out of nothing.
All of which proves that writing is not a pastime. It’s an addiction.
My writing life has been on hold for a couple of years: that was caused by an illness, which prompted a decision to move house, which involved selling, downsizing, buying, moving, then settling in … a lot of you will have been there and know how little headspace is left for anything else! I am so glad it is all behind me now.
A small commission – which I accepted reluctantly early this year – was probably the catalyst to return to writing. While I struggled to write the brief biographical piece required for a man who lived a life worth a hundred thousand words, it did make me realise how much I had missed my writing life.