A Novel’s Research

Some time ago I published the first of what I intended to be a short series on the writing of my novel. That post was ‘A Novel’s Inspiration‘ and here, finally, is post #2 – a brief account of the research that went into this novel.

First of all there were the bush walks – one of which inspired the story, the others which helped me with setting:

 

Then there was the reading, of which this pile accounts about 3/4 of the books I own, and not the many I borrowed from the library,

research books

nor the countless articles I read online, nor the primary sources I found – mostly through Trove – such as this letter to the Colonial Times Newspaper – printed 26 Feb 1830*

invaded 'a settler'

 

And I can’t forget the practical experiences: such as tanning – my character Elspeth tans a kangaroo skin, thought it might be a bit big to start with so I went with something a bit smaller – a wallaby, (and if you’re wondering – I followed the instructions on this site, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out for a first attempt).

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Which leads me to the Bush Foods Workshop led by two Indigenous Tasmanian women, where I learnt that bracken fern is good for jack-jumper bites, and crushed wattle seed smells like coffee, and the fruit of the pigface tastes a little like a salty fig while the leaves can be used in the same way we would use aloe vera (among many many other things). Most exciting was learning there are several species of edible natives in my backyard – which I’d looked at only weeks earlier and wondered ‘Can I eat that?’ Unfortunately by the time I learnt I could eat them it was too late – the goats had got to them first. Hopefully the goats didn’t completely destroy them, and they’ll grow back next year (fingers crossed!).

 

 

* For those trying to read this letter:

Mr Editor – Your desire for information respecting the Aborigines has induced me to state what I conceive to be a proper view of the matter. In our neighbourhood every day affords from proof of their determination to destroy, and their declaration to war with the whites. Whenever an opportunity presents itself they have invaded our district in almost every direction, during the last eight months, with considerable success as respects their hostile attacks, particularly in taking the lives of several individuals, and in having accomplished the ruin of whole families.

 

It is almost impossible for me to fathom how someone who had been living somewhere for such a short time can accuse the original inhabitants of ‘invading’ the district…

Tamar Valley Writers Festival 2016

tvwf image.gif

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.

TVWF books
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!

 

A Novel’s Inspiration

This:

IMG_5798

Just over three years ago this scene, in the middle of a paddock, in the middle of the bush, miles from anywhere, triggered an image that has developed a novel-length story.

Tentatively entitled ‘On Demon’s Shores’, my first view of the story was a woman, crying over a grave very similar to this. She’d been a convict, but had served her seven year sentence and was married and living out in the bush, away from the prying eyes of the government.

My husband and I had been bushwalking and were on our way out when we passed this, still with a good couple of hours walk ahead of us. To this day I don’t know if it is actually a grave, or simply a memorial, nor whether it’s for human or animal, but as we walked out of the bush that day more and more of a story came to me:

The woman was Scottish. She’d learnt folk magic from her grandmother, and had worked with the fairies of her home to cast her magic. But she could not communicate with the spirits in her new home, halfway across the world in the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land.

What to do? The solution came easily. My Scottish character had to learn the ways of this land, and what better way to do it than to learn from an Aboriginal woman – what food to eat, where to find water, how to find/build shelter. Once she was attuned to living off this land, then she might better be able to connect with the spirits. Perhaps then she could work her magic again.

In the three years since then, ‘On Demon’s Shores’ has evolved and grown, and I’ve been busy researching and writing and reading and rewriting, pouring over old newspapers and rewriting some more.  I have learnt so much about the history of my home state, and most particularly the Indigenous inhabitants.

 

I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I live and write, the Pallittorre people.  I would like to show my respects to the elders past and present. 

Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, there are no descendants of the Pallittorre people alive today, and therefore no present elders (Perhaps someone can correct me on that?). The Tasmanian Aborigines were almost completely wiped out in less than 30 years of settlement, between 1803 to 1830. My heart breaks at the terrible crimes that were committed against the Aboriginal people, and all the knowledge that has been lost, all that we could have learnt from those who’d lived this land for generations before we ever set foot on it.

A Perfect Place for Surprises

I wanted to show you my favouritist place in the whole world! (yes, I know favouritist isn’t a word lol – but it needed to be emphasised here)

Lee's Paddocks

This is The Paddocks (not quite it’s real name, but we can’t have everyone flooding the place!). I’ve been here about half a dozen times since my first visit almost 15 years ago. It’s a 5 hour walk – at a steady pace, although on saying that we did stop to admire the views a lot! I haven’t been here since before my son was born – I haven’t been on a bushwalk anywhere since before my son was born, at least 7 years ago!

The Paddocks is an absolutely glorious spot to go Bush Walking here in Tassie. It is the location in my story Sanctuaryas best I could describe it at the time. Description however, is not my strong point, so while I was there I set about practising that skill, taking particular notice of all the sights and sounds and smells. This is what I came up with…

Footfalls on the trail are muffled by the layer of leaf litter, broken occasionally by the crunch of twigs and and silenced by the soft spongy moss. Out in the open, crossing the paddocks – with their damnable button grass – is harder. The button grass grows in high clumps, close together, creating deep narrow ravines. The choices are to using the grass itself as stepping stones… sort of… or try and walk between the grasses, though when the base of the clump is halfway up to your knee this can be tricky (and what about snakes!!). Thankfully most of the paddocks have walking tracks where the button grass has been thinned out – but we did head ‘cross country’ a couple of times as we explored the area.

The scent changes; on the first day the sun shone brightly, warming the air and releasing the sweet scent of rotting leaves and hot moss, and surprising me with a fragrance that smelt distinctly of chai tea, even though none of the spices used in the drink grow here.  On our way out the temperature had dropped. We had enjoyed a thunderstorm on our first night, listening to the sporadic rain on the tent, as the flashes of lightning lit up inside and the thunder rumbled almost instantly overhead. Rumbled is not strong enough actually. For a moment, at least, the storm was directly over head – and the thunder thundered! It didn’t roar, or roll, and rumble seems a far more gentle word for what we experienced. It boomed, cracked through the sky.

But I’ve digressed a little. Because of the thunderstorm, it was cooler on our way out. The air was cold, fresh, crisp. The myriad of scents obvious the previous day were muted now, barely there.

The scenery was as breathtaking as always. Everywhere is green – all different shades. And varying shades of grey and brown as well, from the tall trees with their moss covered bark to the wet rotting stumps. But now and again there is a surprise of colour. Fungi mostly, brightening the bark. The odd flower – tiny purple and white ones, some with yellow stamens. And out in the open there is the brilliant blue sky and the distant mottled green mountains.

And on our way out we took a fork in the path – one neither of us remembered being there, from our separate trips – and discovered the most amazing waterfall – so tall, absolutely stunning.

And now I’ve said my piece – I’ll show you a few snippets:

Splashes of Colour
Splashes of Colour

I've walked this track at least 6 times before, and never knew this waterfall existed! Sometimes amazing things happen when you follow new trails.
I’ve walked this track at least 6 times before, and never knew this waterfall existed! Sometimes amazing things happen when you follow new trails.

During our walk inspiration struck, a couple of times, and I managed to jot down a few ideas, including one for a historical novel, based in Tasmania during convict times, and including a bit of fantasy and magic too.

But that is not my most exciting news from my weekend – my most exciting news is that my gorgeous man (who suggested the bush walk in the first place) proposed to me on the banks of the river, as we paddled our sore and swollen feet in the icy water. OMG! It was the last thing I expected at that moment. A wonderful surprise! 😀

The Ring
The Ring

Inspiration via Nanowrimo – and our final winner!!

One of the things I absolutely love about National Novel Writing Month, are the Pep Talks. Emails from published authors, encouraging all the writers out there to keep on writing.

Today’s Pep Talk was from Nick Hornby. His words of encouragement need to be shared with the wider writing world. All of us who worry that our work is not good enough, who judge our work based on the ideas/rules/perceptions of others (which, lets face, it probably everyone!), need to read his email, and print it out, and stick it somewhere so we can remember what he says.

I will try to paraphrase Nick’s words here – but if you’d like to get the full impact of what he has to say, click here to check out the pep talk!

(And for those who don’t know – Nick wrote the books “About a Boy”, “High Fidelity” and “Fever Pitch” all of which have been turned into films!)

Every writer questions whether they are good enough – whether there is a stick by which we can measure the validity or otherwise of our work. But as Nick points out – art is subjective. Not everyone agrees that Shakespeare was a great author (and lets not get into a debate about whether he really did the writing, or simply stole someone else’s work). Some people say that a good novel takes between 2 and 7 years to write – but P G Wodehouse wrote 98 books in his 75 year career (and that’s not counting his plays).

Nick says:

“It’s a mess, the arts. Critics don’t agree with each other, readers don’t agree with critics. And real writers—if I may become definitive for a moment—change their minds about their own worth and talent somewhere between two and seven hundred times a day.

I’m trying to tell you that your own opinion of your work is entirely irrelevant, and so is the opinion of others. You have a job to do, and that job is to write a novel.”

I love that line “your own opinion of your work is entirely irrelevant, and so is the opinion of others”. Of course, I would think that if the larger percentage of “others” tell you your work is bad, perhaps you should listen to them – but then again if your work reaches even one person who – to paraphrase Lemony Snickett (see this pep talk) – takes it to heart and feels an effect in their life from your words – surely you have still achieved something as a writer, and that one thing is not to be sneered at.

Being a writer is far from easy. I send my stories out to different people – they come back with different ideas on what needs fixing. If the majority come back and say the same thing needs fixing, I fix it. But what if only half say there’s a problem with x,y,z…? What if only a few say “such and such is lacking”? I guess that is the point where personal preference must shine through – what do I like best? It is my work after all, and if I am sending it out into the world, it is important it has my mark, not the mark of others.

Today is the day I draw the last copy of The Secret Keeper. And I was going to try and do something original to draw the winner, but instead I will just flip a coin, as the only commentors we have had (who haven’t previously won!) have been Bec, and Laura Kay, (and anonymous – but as I can’t confirm your identity you’ll have to miss out this time!! Feel free to post again though! 🙂

And the winner is! Bec!!

Yay!! I’ll send you an email shortly Congratulations!! 😀

Nanowrimo 2012

Ah Nano! I love it! This is my fifth year of taking part in NaNoWriMo, and I am pleased to say I have been successful each time, some more than others.

This year, I was excited to be writing a sequel for a novel I wrote during Camp Nano in June. To my memory, Red Sky flowed from my fingers onto the page with ease. And I guess it must have been fairly easy, for I finished it in 19 days. Dark Sea, however, was like pulling teeth. Or rather – as I explained to my partner the other day – it was like there was a blockage in the pipe. The inspiration was there, I mostly knew where I was going, but it just took so darn long to get anywhere! I’d sit for hours, and end up with a meagre 500 words, and then all of a sudden, bam! The blockage was gone and the words poured out, and I had an extra 1500 in 45 mins. But the next day, the pipe was blocked again, and I had to go through the painstaking effort of unblocking it before the words would flow again.

Looking back, now I’ve finished the first draft, I’m feeling pretty good about the story as a whole, though there were moments when I thought what I was writing was utter tripe! Mind you, I haven’t been back to reread it yet, that won’t happen for a month or two… probably January… so I have no doubt that there are moments of utter tripe, but I’m hoping that mixed in all the mess there are gems as well, just waiting to be polished.

And now I’ve used every cliche in the book, perhaps I should go do something a little more constructive with my day. 🙂

 

 

 

Young Writer’s Program

 

I am thrilled to say that my 6 year old son is joining in the Young Writer’s Program this year. (http://ywp.nanowrimo.org/)

We signed him up on the site, and checked out the Word-Count Goal Calculator, a brilliant device to help Young Writer’s set a word goal for themselves. He typed away for 10 minutes, with lots of distractions, and ended up with 30 words. Focus is not really one of his strong points at the moment – his world is far too full of excitement to concentrate on any one thing for too long, so we’ve set him a daily goal of 50 words, 1500 words for the month. Personally, I think he’ll get that easily, but I wanted something small for him to aim for, in his first year.

Then we downloaded the Young Writer’s Program workbook for Elementary Students. It is brilliant! It asks him to think about novels that he likes and doesn’t like, and what it is he likes or not about them. Then he begins the planning for his own novel. So far we have a character, whose name he picked out from a baby name website after searching for a name that means warrior or fighter (it’s going to be an adventure story), and the character has now been fleshed out with likes/dislikes, where he lives, what he looks like, and what he does best.

Best of all is that my son is so keen to work on it. He is so excited about his story, he’s been bragging to all who will listen about how next month he’ll be doing the Young Writer’s Program.

And we’ve already discussed his prize should he succeed, a YWP “Nanowrimo Brain” t-shirt.

Looking forward to next month, novelling away with my boy!! 😀