2018: What a Year!

2018 was immense!

For someone who prefers to be a hermit and hide away at home this year has pushed me miles outside my comfort zone!

I’ve home schooled my children through grades 4 and 6, and started sporadic lessons a lot earlier than planned for my 4 year old who is insistent that she be taught how to read and write, NOW!  While this is mostly, obviously, at home, we’ve done excursions to all sorts of places, visiting a whole bunch of different historical sites, bushwalking, swimming, getting lost in mazes, attending theatre productions, experiencing our local Indigenous culture at the Naidoc week celebrations, visiting Writers Festivals and Sustainable Living Expos, and so many other things!

I’ve chauffered the above mentioned children to a bajillion activities (no… I don’t know if bajillion is a real word, and yes it certainly felt like there were that many!) – dance,drama and music – lessons,rehearsals and performances. I spent a good deal of the year sitting in the car reading/writing while waiting for said children, or doing laps around our beautiful river.

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If you look closely you can see a platypus in the middle of the river…

I’ve made hundreds of  Tasmanian beeswax candles; melting and colouring and pouring and levelling and packaging to send off to the handful of shops who stock the candles my husband and I make (with the children’s help, when they are feeling particularly keen).

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And I spent some time volunteering – transcribing convict records. That was a fantastic experience – there was a new, fascinating, real-life story at every turn, some of which I hope to share with you all next year.

As for my own writing, 2018 has been a huge year for me.

I’m not sure if I’ve written about this before, but for the last few years I’ve had a goal to submit on average one piece of writing each and every week. Now, I need to specify that I don’t necessarily mean one new piece of writing per week. Most of my submissions are older short stories that haven’t found a home yet. However, some of my stories are brand new, and this year, amongst the 56 submissions I made 18 of them were new stories, written just this year.

But the biggest news of my writing year was my involvement in The People’s Library project.

What the Tide Brings - People's Library Cover

 

It started last year, really, with the invitation in December to submit my work to The People’s Library. That resulted in the editing and polishing of my novella ‘What the Tide Brings’, to bring it up to scratch, followed by months of checking and re-checking emails as news on the project dripped in – dates, covers, and most importantly – edits, while myself, Pearl and Isabel (two other members of my writers group who were also invited to include their stories) planned events to make sure we made the most of this fantastic opportunity!

When September hit, it seemed everything happened all at once.

I had a drabble (a story that is exactly 100 words) published on September 1st, and then on the 7th writers from all over the state made their way to Hobart for the opening of the library – what must have been the biggest book launch ever as 113 books were launched.

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The first author event of The People’s Library. myself and Isabel Shapcott, reading our work in the gallery.

The following morning Isabel and I were the first readers in a month long string of events all centred around the Library. (Part of my reading was filmed… you can view it here, if you like).

That was just the beginning. This reading was the first of three public readings, the next held a fortnight later in Deloraine (although I had lost my voice, so Isabel did my reading for me), and another approximately 6 weeks after that, at the Little Laneway Festival, also in Deloraine.

My fellow Deloraine writers and I were in the local newspapers, The Examiner, and The Meander Valley Gazette, and some of my fellow writers were even interviewed on ABC radio.

Throughout the year I’ve also been posting regular stories on my rarely mentioned Patreon Page. While most of these stories have been published before, most are not easily available – if at all, and I’ve started branching out into some newer, only-available-on-Patreon short stories. (If you’re interested to see what I’ve written, there are some free stories on the page, and for $1 you’ll have access to the entire backlog of stories for a whole month.)

And my year has ended with the acceptance of another of my flash-fiction pieces ‘Tea with Grandma’ on a new Australian website – Lite Lit One. This story was written for a ‘Zine’ my local writers group planned, but which unfortunately fell through, so I’m so glad to find it a home!

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The Tamar Valley Writers Festival

This is the follow up post from my post a month ago about Schools Day at the Tamar Valley Writers Festival.

I have so much to write about this weekend, I almost don’t know where to start!

I attended seven sessions:

  • Learning to Fly: Emerging Authors
  • Garments of Time: the many Guises of History
  • Numbers Never Lie! Writing a Bestseller
  • Matters Fantastical: Speculative Fiction
  • Moment of Launch: Emerging Writers
  • Honourable Mentions: do Literary Awards help or hinder?
  • Blessed Disguises: Dressing up fact as fiction

There was some common advice shared in many of the discussions:

Write from your heart. I don’t know how many times I heard this during the festival, but I’ve written it at least 4 times in my notebook. The general consensus was that the joy you have from writing what you love flows out onto the page, and makes the reading much more enjoyable, and therefore it’s more likely to be picked up.  Also – the books publishers are publishing now were usually picked up several years ago, there is no point writing to a current trend – publishers will have already moved onto the next one (which could be your book).

Enter everything. Awards, grants, competitions – even if you don’t win, the feedback can be invaluable. This was the focus of the ‘Honourable Mentions’ panel, where the general answer to the question ‘Do Awards help or hinder’ was two-fold: winning is a great affirmation that you’re on the right track, and can also be good advertising.

Develop a thick skin. Rejection is the norm. You could be rejected for any number of reasons, none of which have anything to do with you, or your writing.

Be persistent! This follows on from the above – rejection is the norm, don’t give up, keep writing, keep submitting! (But always remember to be professional).

 

I tried distilling my weekends worth of notes down to something brief and easy to read, but I found with my favourite two sessions, I just couldn’t – so here’s an overview…

 

‘The Garments of Time: the many guises of history’ with Rebe Taylor, James Dryburgh, Margaretta Pos, Louise Evans and Stephanie Parkyn.

 

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#TVWF Session: The Garments of Time: the many guises of history – Rebe Taylor, James Dryburgh, Margaretta Pos, Louise Evans and Stephanise Parkyn

 

I love history, so this was probably my favourite session of the entire festival.

There was so much to take from this session!

Rebe Taylor pointed out that we can never step into the past – it’s never clear, and that to write history we must be as present minded as possible. She quoted Graeme Denning  who said that to study/write history we must be ‘anthropologists of ourselves’.

James Dryburgh notes that History changes clothes (going with the theme of the panel title – ‘Garments of Time’) depending on who tells it, and how they gather their information. But history is not seperate from the present, threads from the past join with the present.

His book ‘The Balfour Correspondent’ contains actual letters written by a 13 year old girl living in Balfour, in North-West Tasmania, to the Weekly Courier (a Launceston newspaper), about her life in Balfour. As James pointed out, we rarely look at history through the eyes of a child, what we have instead is a very narrow view of history. There have always been dissenting voices.

Someone asked a question about how the authors decide on the historical ‘truth’ when there are so many stories. The authors seemed to be all in agreeance – there is no single, universal truth, if you ask a group of witnesses of the same event what they saw, everyone will have a different account, because we all view the world through our own understanding, which has been formed through our own experiences.

 

Matters Fantastical: Speculative Fiction chaired by Lyndon Riggall, with Amie Kaufman, Jodi McAlister, and Paul Collins

 

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Matters Fantastical: Speculative Fiction chaired by Lyndon Riggall, with Amie Kaufman, Jodi McAlister, and Paul Collins

 

What a fantastic panel this was! I have three pages of notes for this one – a sure sign it was loaded with information! This post is already quite long though, so I’ll try and be concise…

Someone recommended watching V E Scwab’s ‘Tolkein’ lecture, which I did and loved, so now I’m recommending you should watch it, too!

Amie spoke about writing a series: in book one the obstacles/crisis feels immediate and terrible, but by book 3 those problems need to seem minor in comparison with what’s going in the book 3.

Lyndon commented that carrying a narrative in your head gets exhausting – living in another world for half the time. So that’s why I’m so tired all the time!!

Amie said it was really important to take time out from writing – you have to ‘put stuff in’ in order to ‘get stuff out’, and Jodie was of the importance of compartmentalising life: work/writing/life.

Jodi writes ‘Intrusive Fantasy’, where the fantastical intrudes on reality, which is a term I’d never heard of before, and really describes my writing.

Amie pointed out that fantasy allows us to examine our world from a distance, and that sci-fi/fantasy is where we get to rehearse the future.

For writers the advice was that you should always know more about your world/story than you share, that you need to make sure the story starts in the right place, and – for fantasy writers – always make the map first!

And finally

There were so many other wonderful little snippets of wisdom, but I’ll try to note just a few:

Adam Thompson (whose brilliant short story ‘Honey’ was recently published in the Kill Your Darlings Tasmania Showcase) spoke about the use of stories in educating people, how when reading fiction people tend to have their guard down, they’re more willing and able to see another’s point of view. He spoke about how readers want a unique voice, they aren’t after another Stephen King, for example.

Louise Allan spoke of the process she went through with her book ‘The Sisters Song’, which had at least 30 full redrafts (that made me feel better – I’m only at about redraft 24 with my novel), and the struggles she’s having finding the same authenticity with her second novel (Second novel syndrome is real, people!).

Cheryl Akle said the magic of fiction is that every person in the room could be given the same idea, and yet every story would be different.

With regard to writing a bestseller, the general consensus of this panel of writers was that you can’t actually sit down and write a bestseller. There are things that will help; like writing from the heart (see above!), and making sure you know the craft (spelling/grammar/structure etc). Having a publisher with good distribution channels is crucial – a book needs to be available online as well as in your local bookstore and the big chain stores. But really, so much of the process is down to luck, you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best.

#AWW2016 Review – Flywheel by Erin Gough

Flywheel

 

I first heard of The Flywheel at the Tamar Valley Writers Festival earlier this year. Author Erin Gough spoke about her experiences discovering her sexuality as a teenager. Attending an all girls school she had never ever heard of anyone who was gay – it wasn’t mentioned at school – there was not even any teasing, and she’d never come across gay characters in any of the books she read. She assumed that the only reason she liked girls was because she didn’t know any boys, or at least, not well enough to develop a crush on.

She wrote this because she wanted other young gay girls out there (and guys too I guess) :), to be able to see themselves in fiction – to learn that they are normal, that there are others out there just like themselves.

I loved The Flywheel, it really is such a sweet story.

Delilah is 17 years old, and gay. It’s the universal high school story – misplaced crushes and the embarrassment that stems from the world finding out – but there’s a twist – the popular girl Delilah has a crush on likes her back, but is not confident enough to admit to the world she’s gay, let alone she’s attracted to one of the uncool kids.

Struggling with the taunts after popular-girl’s friends find out and believe the attraction is all one-sided, Delilah decides to ditch school for a bit and focus on the family cafe she’s supposed to be running while her father is away. This also gives her more time to spy on her newest crush, the beautiful Rosa, who dances flamenco at the tapas bar across the road.

This is such a well written story – and I’m sure totally relatable to anyone who has ever attended high school, regardless of their sexuality. Highly recommended! 🙂

Tamar Valley Writers Festival 2016

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Last weekend was the Tamar Valley Writers Festival – two days (well, for me – there were other events on other days too), of non-stop panels and book-signings and networking!

Those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while now, may remember that around this time two years ago I attended the Festival of Golden Words, in Beaconsfield, Tasmania. This is that festival – rebranded, and I have to admit I was a little disappointed with the name change.

Unfortunately I missed the opening of the festival, arriving just in time for the second time slot of the day, with two talks of interest to decide between. With three sessions for each time slot, there were a few clashes over the weekend, which make it hard to decide what session to attend!

The first couple of sessions of the day (Saturday) were sparsely attended, and I worried that the festival wasn’t going to draw the same crowds as the first time around, (a big concern as this is the closest writers festival to me, and I want to be sure it continues!) but by the third session of the day there was standing room only in the sessions I attended, and the atmosphere was bustling, though some of the panelists seemed to lack confidence speaking to such large groups. Sunday continued on much the same as far as attendance was concerned, though the panelists seemed to be much more comfortable and relaxed, with more banter occurring between panelists.

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Petrarch’s Bookshop was in attendance, and with authors signing their books I spent up…

There were some fascinating discussions, and so much to think about – I ended up with seven pages of sometimes-barely-readable scrawl in my notebook! I won’t retype the whole seven pages here – just a few snippets from the weekend.

  • In ‘Mosaic Australia: words and cultural voices’, Ellen van Neerven (author of Heat and Light, which I read just recently – look out for my review soon!) commented on the use of the word ‘myth’ in regard to Aboriginal stories, for these stories are real and current for the Aboriginal people, and are held in the land itself.
  • In ‘Lost Voices: recreating historic characters’, Historian Michael Cathcart stated he was interested in confronting the mythologies of the past, that ‘they are not us’, and his interests lie in the differences between now and then. He said it was useful to look at the strangeness of the past, that we find the story in the difference.
  • In ‘Questions and Lessons from our History’, someone (my apologies – I didn’t jot down who!) commented on how stories from history are never actually finished, there are always ongoing discoveries. When asked about choosing the stories of ‘minor players’ of history, Steve Harris, author of Solomon’s Noose (a story about a hangman in Hobart during colonial times and now added to my TBR list!) commented that unless we acknowledge our own stories of the past – good and bad, we can never expect anyone else to.
  • ‘The Rich Tapestry: diversity in life and literature’, introduced me to Erin Gough, who spoke of her experiences growing up as a gay teen, and the lack of gay characters in any of the books she read. ‘We read to find our place in the world’, she said, and she wanted to write stories for teens today, so they can see themselves reflected back in fiction. (Seeing yourself in fiction is so important on so many levels and there’s a website ‘Visibility Fiction’ which promotes diversity in fiction – not just regarding sexual identity, but also colour, and disability, and any other way people may be different from each other).
  • Historian Patsy Cameron gave me goosebumps in ‘First Voices: Our Indigneous past’, when she spoke of trekking to a cave where thousands of years ago her ancestors left their hand prints on the walls. And later, in the session entitled ‘Our Island Home: issues in Tasmanian history’, my views on the past were re-arranged yet again (it’s happened quite a lot over the course of my research for my current WIP), when Patsy commented that she sees the war between the Tasmanian Aborigines and the white settlers as the ‘White War’, not as it is more commonly known, the ‘Black War’, because it was the whites that caused the war, not the original inhabitants of the land.

I’ve come away from the festival with so much to think about, not only from the panels and discussion, but from personal conversations with people – friends and acquaintances and those I only just met.

I have no doubt what-so-ever that my novel will be much stronger from the changes I’m making, due to what I learnt over the two days, and I’m so inspired and encouraged to continue with my writing.

Looking forward to the next one!

 

#AWW2016 Review – The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy

World Beneath

Late last year I attended the Tasmanian Readers and Writers Festival in Hobart, where I listened to Cate Kennedy and Kathryn Lomer in conversation, and discovered this book. The next day I also attended Cate’s Masterclass, and I am so glad I did – what an amazing day – (you can read about it here). 🙂

The World Beneath is the story of a family in pieces. Sandy has been left to raise Sophie alone, while Rich follows his dream of travelling the world and photographing amazing places. But Sophie is 15 now, and Rich wants to reconnect with the daughter he barely knows. A bushwalk along Tasmania’s famous Overland Track seems like the answer.

What to write about this novel??

I’m a Tasmanian, who loves bushwalking, but I still haven’t been on the Overland Track. I’ve been to Cradle Mountain and enjoyed day walks in that area, and I’ve taken the ferry across Lake Sinclair to the southern most end of the track.

I’ve heard of all the names: Du Cane, Narcissus, Pine Valley, The Labyrinth; and I’ve seen amazing photos of the incredible landscapes to be found, and perhaps because of this, Cate’s story felt so familiar. I could ‘see’ every step of Sophie and her estranged father, Rich’s journey across the wilds of Tasmania, I understood the risks, the importance of heading weather warnings, and being prepared for any eventuality. I cringed when… well, that may be a spoiler, so I won’t finish that sentence – you’ll just have to read it for yourself _ I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about when you read it.

Even Sandy’s story – a mother just trying her best – resonated with me. I loved her visit to the Goddess workshop; felt terribly sorry for her as she tried her best to deal (mostly in her imagination) with a domineering mother and judgmental friends.

This is a brilliant story about facing those inner-demons we all carry, and coming out stronger on the other side. I highly recommend reading this one!

 

In Conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak about creativity.

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In conversation with Tasmanian author Heather Rose, Liz told us all about her creative life, which she has written about in her book ‘Big Magic’.

I sat in the dark theatre, scrawling largely spaced notes into my notebook, hoping not to overlap notes on a page I couldn’t see. Elizabeth Gilbert is a great speaker, her observations made us laugh, and I don’t know about others in the audience, but some of her observations made me tear up too.

The idea of a 4 year old, presented with a box of lego blocks, worrying that today’s creation would not be as good as yesterday’s creation, or feeling blocked, had the audience in peels of laughter. But when an audience member asked about motherhood and guilt and taking the time out to be creative, Elizabeth’s words had me blinking away tears.

Admitting she has no children of her own, Elizabeth talked of witnessing this strange phenomena of ‘mother-guilt’ in her friends: about how any time the mother takes to benefit herself is seen as ‘taking’ from her children. But as Elizabeth noted: Your children will imitate what you do, not what you tell them to do. If you are a creative person, and make space in your life for creativity, then they will do the same.

It was almost a relief to hear Elizabeth talk about her own mother, who often told Elizabeth and her sister to leave her alone while she created. And Elizabeth appreciated that because it taught her that creativity was important, and encouraged her to lead the life she’s led, as an author – and I’m keeping my fingers crossed my children will feel the same way. There is always that cringe I feel when I tell my children I need some space to write, that I need silence – the constant chatter is not conducive to writing, that constant interruptions do not help that connection to where-ever it is my ideas flow from.

Big Magic

Which leads me to another point Elizabeth makes: Creativity is collaboration between a human being and mystery. She extends on this idea in her book ‘Big Magic’ in which she talks about the ancient Greeks who had aword for the “highest degree of human happiness “eudaimonia”, which basically means ‘well-dameoned’ – that is, nicely taken care of by some external divine creative spirit guide.”

I love this idea, and I can certainly relate to it. Though I would have called it ‘being in the zone’, it is certainly this sense that the ideas are flowing from somewhere other than me, that I am just the conduit to getting the words down on paper (or screen). It’s not an easy state to get to, I find, there’s a lot of work required to get into that flow, and it’s quite easily disrupted (hence the need for children to be elsewhere…), but when I get there the story takes on a life of it’s own and the characters find themselves in situations that I neither planned or expected. And that is usually (not always) the time when the best writing comes through.

There was so much that was inspiring and thought provoking about what Elizabeth had to say, I could go on for pages, so I’ll try to summarise my favourite points:

  • When Elizabeth was 16 she took a solemn vow to her writing – she went into her room, lit a candle and promised: “I will never ask you to take care of me. I’ll take care of both of us.”  As Elizabeth says, it is possible to work in a job that earns you money, AND be creative at the same time.
  • She talked about how we are all born ‘makers’. If you go back far enough in your family tree, everyone was a maker. Long winter nights were spent making – women traditionally knitted or sewed, men might’ve sat by the fire whittling, everybody made something. But today we are taught that only a few are creative. Only a few have talent, and those few often decided upon in school, while everyone else is deterred from following a creative path, told they aren’t ‘good enough’, and taught to be ashamed of their creative attempts.
  • “Done is better than good.” This gem is from Elizabeth’s mother, who believed that something that was completed was far better than something that was perfect, but still only existed as an idea, or a half –finished something.

And the last point which I think is so important: (paraphrased…)

“If you keep silent you are dishonouring all those women who never had the opportunity to have a voice themselves.”

For so long, women had no voice in society. We were not permitted to speak in the public sphere, our opinions and viewpoints were ignored. Today, women have no such problems holding them back. We can write stories, we can even publish them ourselves if nobody else will do it for us.  We have the opportunity to share life as we see it, to give others some insight into the unique position that is ‘me’, the unique outlook that each individual carries, which is never exactly like another person’s outlook.

If you have a story in you, that is busting to get out into the world, write it. Write it until it is the best you can make it, and then let it go.

Done is better than good.

 

 

Tamar Valley Writers Festival 18-20 March 2016

Exciting news!

Those of you who have been following me for some time may remember that I attended the Festival of Golden Words, held in Beaconsfield, Tasmania, in 2014 (for those who don’t, I blogged about it here). I had such a fantastic time, and was so looking forward to returning this year, only to find it didn’t happen. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement, especially as only a few months ago the website showed no signs of being updated since last years festival.

But there is good news! The Festival of Golden words will be on again – but it’s had a name change – The Tamar Valley Writers Festival. It has a huge line up of writers already, with more yet to be added (so I understand), and if it is anything like the first event it is certainly not to be missed!

So, having a bit more of a heads up about this one I’m already putting away my pocket money for workshops and signed books, and I’ll be heading back to the program page of the website in September so I can start planning my weekend!

(Also in September there is the Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival, held in Hobart on the 11th, 12th, and 13th of the month. I have hopes of attending that too – just got to find some babysitters… 😉