A couple of years ago The Australian Dictionary of Biography requested me to write the biographical entry for Professor John Willett, the first Vice Chancellor of Griffith University in Queensland. I had worked there in management for most of his tenure in this position, had known him well and admired him immensely. My first instinct was to decline: as the ADB is the definitive source of information on prominent people in Australia, this would be an awesome responsibility for a person of his stature. It turned out I was the latest in a long line of former colleagues they had approached who felt the same. Years earlier I had written another entry for the ADB on a Brisbane headmistress so in the end I agreed, because I knew what was involved and I felt we owed him so much.
I have never put such an effort into such a short piece of work, which was supposed to come in under 1000 words. The ADB finally published all 1800 words of the article I sent them with a note pointing out that he had not lived a 1000 word life – they couldn’t find anything to edit out either!
The ADB, housed at the Australian National University in Canberra, brings out a new volume every two years; it is produced in hard copy for libraries (although I believe this is being phased out) and is of course also available on-line. It is invaluable to researchers. There is no payment to authors, many of whom are employed as academics. What motivates the rest of us? I suppose it depends on the subject you’re asked to research. In this case, I felt it was an honour.
Christmas is almost here again – I hope yours is a very happy one, followed by an even happier new year.
Have you seen the film ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas?’ – which relates how a broke Charles Dickens badly needed to make some money in a hurry, and ran up his enduring classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ in a few weeks to get it published for the Christmas market. He made it – just!
Any writer would relate to how this book came into being – the writer as bowerbird, the writer as voyeur, the writer trying to fit these jigsaw pieces together, the writer being haunted by partly-formed characters who refused to do what they were told, and eventually the writer as businessman. Writing fiction is a baffling process for some of us. It’s never clear to me exactly who is in charge!
Enjoy the festive season and find time to keep tapping …
The holiday has been and gone (but more of that some other time) … and here I am back home, getting my head around what happens next. On THURSDAY 17 AUGUST at 10am I’ll be speaking at CARINDALE LIBRARY in Brisbane, about my recently published book ‘On the Edge’ which is currently finding its way into libraries around Queensland: not crime this time, this Townsville-based story explores how two women respond very differently to crises in their lives. You can find out more on the ‘Other Books’ page of this website. As well, I’d like to share some of the strange twists and turns I (and my brain, of course!) have taken on my journey into writing fiction. Live and learn!
I do hope some of you will be able to come along – with a friend, if you like. This is a free event, but the Library does require bookings; please phone 3407 1490.
The print copies of my new novel ‘On the Edge’ have finally arrived – it’s been a long journey to get this particular manuscript between the covers. The novel is set in the tropical coastal city of Townsville in North Queensland, which to me is dominated by the ever-changing spectacle of Magnetic Island out in Cleveland Bay. Somehow that island creates illusions … it seems to change its colour, shape and density by the hour; sometimes it looks close enough to the mainland to swim there (a very bad idea in waters infested by sharks and stingers!), sometimes it looms in the far distance like a foreign continent. And sometimes it disappears entirely in misty clouds.
Magnetic Island fascinated my protagonist Ruth as much as it does me, so naturally I had to visit the island to get the feel of it. For her, of course. When she ended up living there for six months she saw it through a different prism entirely. Here we see the old jetty at Picnic Point with the mainland in the background, looking a lot further away than it actually is. The tropical colours are as vibrant as always. Or is that another illusion?
Well perhaps you should read ‘On the Edge’ and find out for yourself!
It’s done! Finished! ‘On the Edge’ has been uploaded on to Amazon and Smashwords and production of a print version is underway. Details about the book can be found on the ‘Other Books’ page of this website.
Now I’m feeling relieved – and bereaved – and gratified – and a bit nervous that the ball’s now in the court of the readers.
It’s a generous act, to give feedback to a writer. Right from the start you’re teetering along a tightrope, trying to find the balancing point between being helpful to the text and being destructive to the fragile ego of the writer. If you want to preserve a friendship with him or her, you’re clutching that balancing bar even more tightly! It’s a skill all of its own.
I’m just getting feedback from three readers of my latest novel in draft. To make it easier for them (and for me) I gave them some questions to answer. So now I’m examining their verdicts, looking for commonalities, pondering over differences. Reading a text is just as individual an experience as writing one!
They do agree it should be published, somehow or other. I’ll brood on their comments for a few weeks before I tackle the next draft. I know It will be all the better for their collective sharp eyes and brains. I’ve never written anything that hasn’t been improved by me gritting my teeth and handing the mss over to be dissected! Now I have to decide how much of their sage advice I will take. In the end, the novel is mine and mine alone.
She was behind the counter in a coffee shop beside the highway – except it had run out of coffee, so we had icecreams instead. She was keen to chat. She needed to tell her story. She needed to be heard. She was desperate.
She and her husband were sharefarmers with his two brothers, she told us. But schizophrenia ran in the family, times are tough in the drought-stricken bush, and one brother had committed suicide eighteen months ago. The other two men had struggled on, trying to support all three families; the women found such work as they could – always involving a long drive for low wages. Tears started trickling down her cheeks.
Then, she said, a month ago the other brother killed himself. Now she and her husband are trying to support all three families from the one farm with only one worker – him. They couldn’t afford to buy in labour. So they decided to sell the farm, carve up the proceeds and get out of there. To anywhere.
But there are no buyers. Not now. Not until the drought breaks, at least. Perhaps not even then – there are so many farms on the market. They are all trapped. The trickle of tears became a flood. We murmured useless phrases of sympathy, empathy – but how could we city slickers relate to an existential situation like that?
Travel opens so many windows on so many lives, and the glimpses inside can be horrifying. She has haunted me every since. What story would we have heard if we had stopped at the next little struggling eatery? How could it possibly have been worse than this?
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.
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.