Challenge Complete – sort of

I signed up to do the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge as usual, aimed for the Franklin level (read 10 books, review 6) but only managed to get as far as Stella (read 4, review 3). The main thing that got in the way was the creative writing course I started through Tabor Adelaide, which ate time and led me to read differently. Getting an iPad for my birthday also contributed.

The three books I reviewed were:

Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung

Tasting Life Twice by Ramona Koval

The Messenger Bird by Rosanne Hawke

 

I read more than four, have read 9 and counting, these were mainly nonfiction:

A Fig at the Gate by Kate Llewellyn (again)

First Things First – Selected Letters by Kate Llewellyn (read it twice) Editors were Ruth Bacchus and Barbara Hill

Piano Lessons by Anna Goldsworthy (again)

The Floral Mother by Kate Llewellyn (again)

The Fictional Woman by Tara Moss

Kerenza by Rosanne Hawke.

the shifting fog

I have borrowed a stack of Rosanne Hawke books and some Kate Morton, who I’ve not read before, to read over the summer. Then I must read them, instead of playing Pocket Trains!

 

 

 

Tasting life twice by Ramona Koval

First Published 2005 by ABC Books.

tasting life twice

Tasting life Twice: Conversations with remarkable writers gets its title from a quote by Anaïs Nin, ‘We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.’ I found this book in an obscure corner of the Tea Tree Gully library, and what a find it was. 26 interviews with some of the biggest names in writing. Originally for ABC Radio National, these interviews were conducted around the turn of the millennium, and were later turned into this book.

At the time of writing this blog post, 12 of the writers have passed on, and of the 14 who are left, most are aged about 80, with the two ‘babies’, Ian McEwan and Martin Amis being old enough to get the pension. And I was dazzled, absolutely dazzled that Koval even managed to get this opportunity to meet these people in the first place, and she does the job well, and asks the sorts of questions that make the interview very interesting. She goes beyond the nuts and bolts of writing and gets to the deeper philosophical reasons why these people are writers and the other things that make them tick.

But then that old issue of gender raised its head. While I am glad the author has made the book her own without giving into the dreadful business of political correctness, and that whinge about there not being enough coloured or gay or whatever people represented, I would like to reflect a little on how it might have worked out that 8 women and 18 men were included.

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Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung

First Published 2011 by Black Inc.

her father's daughter

I was dazzled by her first book, the memoir Unpolished Gem. The line that stuck in my head was the part where she had “a funeral in my brain and we hadn’t even studied Emily Dickinson yet.” I was also dazzled by her bio – her being a writer and lawyer, yet to see her on the telly speaking at some writer’s festival, I was struck by what a nice down to earth person she seemed to be.

Despite all that, I must have borrowed Her Father’s Daughter five or six times before I finally read it. There were little things that put me off starting, such as her use of the third person, I mean who writes about themself as if they were someone else – except when preparing a bio of course! Another thing that made me bump the book in favour of others was the alternating perspectives, daughter-, father-, daughter- etc.

However the real reason if I look a little deeper, was that one of the settings was Cambodia, a place I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, after what I had heard.

But Cambodia lurks all through Unpolished Gem, although it is carefully stepped around. As the story progresses it is the elephant in the room, the why of half of the odd quirks of Pung’s family.

Her Father’s Daughter begins with a few introductory chapters, in which the overprotective behaviour of Pung’s parents continues well into adulthood. This part where she tries to break away is easy and pleasant reading. Then finally, we must bite the bullet and face the horrors of the killing fields, and her father’s story of the suffering that went on is one the reader must grit their teeth to get through. No wonder her father didn’t ever speak of it. But it seems that only after Pung delves into this history and visits the country is she finally allowed to grow up.

Having now read both books I find that neither of them can really exist without the other. You could read Unpolished Gem as a standalone book, but more depth is obtained through reading Her Father’s Daughter. Her Father’s Daughter is not a book that can be just read either, it needs the scene setting of Unpolished Gem.

What writers can learn from farmers

Where did the year go?

Suddenly it’s NaNoWriMo again, that time of the year when would-be novelists around the world are scrambling to get 50,000 words of a novel written over the 30 days of November. I’m aiming for 20K. It’s my second attempt and last year I only got 10K written, which was still an achievement considering the crap that was on my family’s plate at the time.

For me here in Quorn this scribbling coincides with the wheat and barley harvest and while I’m trying to gather in words, the headers are out there day and night, weather permitting. There’s a lovely symmetry here, and even as I write this post I can hear the hum of harvesters.

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For years I have thought quite often about what a writer’s life and farmer’s life have in common. The first one is, of course, the irregular income – both writers and farmers need either a day job, or a partner with a steady income, to keep them going in the months between payments.

There’s periods of intense activity during seeding time and harvest time interspersed with months where not much seems to get done.

Writing itself is a lot like planting seeds; what you do mostly is put your work out there and then wait. Months later something might come up. This work is not without risk because crops like books sometimes fail.

Farmers are a lot like writers when it comes to planning, and they can be a cagey lot when discussing what they plan to sow this season, much in the way a writer avoids discussing plot-lines out loud in case it kills the book stone dead.

We also have a solitary lifestyle which we would not have chosen did we not thrive on it, and we get to set our own timetables.

There also does no retirement age – think of the late Max Fatchen or the man behind the wheel in the above photo, Lawrie Fitzgerald, still cropping in his 80s.

Despite this, there are many things writers do which would have your average farmer shaking their head with the folly of it all.

Because the main life lesson a farmer teaches us is to sow on regardless. In Ecclesiastes it says, ‘He that observeth the wind will not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds will not reap,’ (11:4) and any farmer worth their salt sows seeds every year whether they’ve ever opened the Bible or not. No matter what the next growing season may bring, they will be out there sowing at seeding time whether the experts are predicting a dry year or not. The risk is taken every year.

And this brings me to the mistakes writers can make, especially the amateurs. The first one is procrastination. Instead of putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard we waste time wondering if these words we’re thinking about writing will ever see light of day, or whether what we write might suck or not, etc etc. Farmer don’t have the luxury of being able to procrastinate, or we would all starve. Have you ever seen a farmer polishing all the silver when they need to get behind the wheel of the tractor? I don’t think so. Or their crop yields would plummet!

Then there is the waiting for feedback, which I sometimes do when I’ve just written an awesome blog post. It would seem at times that the better the post, the louder the silence accompanying it!  But if a farmer ploughed one paddock then waited around for another human being to express their approval of it, we’d probably starve.

Another one is resting on success. This is when we’ve written that awesome blog post and someone else likes it, and maybe it will lead to a new opportunity or whatever.  But how many hours do we waste being in that happy little bubble instead of being like Dory from Finding Nemo and ‘just keep writing’. Have you ever seen a farmer take a year off because last year’s harvest was such a good one? Not around here anyway.

And have you ever seen a farmer endlessly self-promote? Okay you can probably think of at least one, but if they all did, we really would starve.

Study the habits of the writers who are successful and you will notice they are not unlike those of our agriculturalists. This is why they can write for a living and not starve!

(Originally published 12 Nov 2014 on ABC Open.)

Is the internet a double-edged sword for writers?

I don’t share much of the rubbish that comes through Facebook, but I had to share this:

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This is because I am the Queen of Faffing About.

I have this little ritual which I do every morning, that I call Checking My Stuff.

It starts with Smashwords for any possible downloads, my WordPress site for stats, Hotmail, Facebook, and finally Twitter to see if I have picked up any new followers.

The internet is a great source of information designed to help us become better writers, and failing that, become better at promoting ourselves through social media.  Unfortunately I can spend hours trawling through them all so the best piece of advice I’ve seen for writers is to ‘use a computer that’s not connected to the internet’.

When I first began writing 21 years ago our ‘social media’ consisted of hand-written letters, phone calls, and conversations that were face to face. In those early years I wrote copious amounts of stuff that I now consider to be my ‘apprenticeship’ in writing.

Very little of it was publishable, but the joy of producing a few well-written paragraphs kept me going.

The upside to having the internet is that if we’re a bit like Emily Dickinson when it comes to approaching the scary publishing houses we can alternatively upload stuff and wait for readers to discover our fine work.

Praise that comes from online readers is the second greatest joy you get from writing – the first being actually writing the piece.

There are other things though, that are just as valuable to do as ever, and that is joining in with any local or group writing activities.

I’ve been going to Port Augusta Writers for a couple of years now, but quite often at meetings when asked if I’ve brought anything or done the homework, I have told them “no I haven’t” because of the many distractions at home.

More recently ‘the guy from the ABC’, Anthony L’Huillier, joined us and as soon as he suggested a writing day I was looking forward to it.

At last a chance to do something for ABC Open’s 500 words project, as I’d spent six months thinking about what I might write without producing one word.

I produced the following two pieces that day.

Before I met your father

Grandma K

And after that came the old joy, the one that comes when you’ve written something you know is good.

(Originally Published 28 Jun 2013 on ABC Open.)