Laidley Corn Day
This is the world I’ve been living in for the past few years as I’ve been researching and writing my latest project, Dear Madman, a novel based on a tragedy that has haunted my family for generations. Laidley is a town in the Lockyer Valley west of Brisbane where the story is predominantly set, one hundred years ago.
I love this photo because it captures just how “edge of nowhere” it was back then. I am especially intrigued by the girl on the pony in the middle on the far right. Pinafore and all. Who is she and where is she going? She could even be one of my great aunts.
For a long while I had this picture pinned up beside my desk to remind me where my characters were living. For them, this was the nearest big town.
I loved living in this quieter time and place where I could hear the thud of horses hooves and my own footfall, not the constant stream of traffic flowing past my home now in busy Brisbane.
I’ve finished the latest draft and have sent it off with fingers crossed and candles lit. But now I’m left, relieved in one way to be free of the madness and violence at the heart of this story, but sad too that I have lost this slower, simpler world.
how it feels some days
So what have I been doing all this time? Putting too many things in my wagon – that’s what!
Most days I sail along but others, I must admit, I feel a bit like the poor horse in this picture.
I’m teaching narrative at the University of Queensland, and yoga to the performance dance students at the Queensland University of Technology (yes I’m a yogi). I also teach both writing and yoga privately and edit other people’s work,as well as marking homework, looking after my family and keeping the household reasonably hygienic. And helping out my sisters with their small children and new baby.
I’ve also been busily organising a family trip to Europe to visit relatives – a first for all of us. Very exciting.
This has meant not much time is left for my own projects. I have a new short story half-written, and have gone part of the way through reading and marking up the draft of Dear Madman I wrote at Varuna. Oh how I long to return there to have some uninterrupted time to sit and ponder and immerse myself in the Madman’s world so I can better whip the manuscript into shape. A novel is a huge thing, you need time and space to hold it properly in your mind, to be able to figure out how best to bring it to life.
Today I have to agree with Toni Morrison,
“We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for that.”
She’s right. I’d rather have an A+ for finishing Dear Madman. An A+ for prioritising my own work.
Find some time for your writing today. See how good you feel when you do!
Oh, and Child of Fortune (the Cambodian novel of many names), is being read at a few major publishers as we speak. Getting a major publisher and some royalties coming in is one way to make sure my own work comes first. So cross fingers.
When Ransom Publishing first sent me the cover image for Thrill Seekers I burst into tears. Not just because my book was finally coming to life but because the young man in the picture looked so much like my brother Matty, who was the inspiration for the character of Douggie. The expression on his face, his eyebrows, even the shirt he’s wearing. An old friend who’d known Matty thought it WAS a photo of him. It was scary. I knew then that as a writer I’d done something right, that the person who had created or chosen this image had the same vision of Douggie that I did.
When starting to write Thrill Seekers I knew I wanted to have some sections from Matty’s perspective. But I was a middle-aged woman. How could I get inside the head of a young man with schizophrenia?
Luckily I had few old notebooks of Matty’s where he’d written some poetry and diary entires. I used his own words in the story “Douggie and the Paparazzi”.
“And now I”m going to sing a happy song.”
Using Matty’s own words as inspiration, I found that once I started writing in first person, I soon found a voice other than my own coming through. Matty’s obsessions about his looks and stardom were easy and fun to write about. More difficult to witness, and to write, were his battles with deep despair when he wasn’t flying so high and realised his predicament as someone with a serious mental illness.
Writing Douggie’s stories helped me understand Matty better and also allowed me to share my soft-hearted, courageous brother with the world. Because he was brave, and funny, but mostly brave. In the face of a crippling illness he never gave up. I hope that his spirit of resilience shines through in the book.
The best part about writing Thrill Seekers was using the power of fiction to change the ending. In my story, Douggie, and through him Matty, lives on.
Matty at thirteen
Back from retreat and ready to make a new start. Time to move on from angst about Thrill Seekers ever coming out (in my lifetime anyway) and make this blog more useful to those who read it by sharing hints and tips to nurture the writer’s spirit. Writing is a joy in itself but the path to being a recognised, published (and paid) author is long and often holds many challenges.
In the words of a song I heard once on Sesame Street, “It’s a long hard road, But I’m gonna make it. It’s a long hard road, but I’m gonna try. It’s a long hard road but I’m gonna get there. I’m heading for the morning sun!”
Keep focused on the work itself. Sit down every day and do your best. Feel the joy of creative expression, enter that zone where everything else fades except the words on the screen or page and the characters in your head. Become one with your story and let it do all the work. Then sit back and trust that the very same source your ideas came from will find the right beholder/publisher/readers.
As one of my all time favourite writers, D. H. Lawrence said,
“The creative, spontaneous soul sends forth its promptings of desire and aspiration in us. These promptings are our true fate, which is our business to fulfill.”
So if, like me, the urge to write is strong in you, you get grumpy if you don’t write every day and depressed at the thought of ever stopping, then there’s your answer. Writing is not just a career. (All this hard work for, most of the time, very little return, you’ve got to be kidding!)
It’s a calling.
So, what are you waiting for? Write something!
Lots of love,
I first started writing in earnest in 2002. That first novel I wrote as my small son had his afternoon nap will never see the light of day, but it was an excellent training ground. Since then I’ve written a collection of short stories that was transformed into a young adult novella, a novel set in Cambodia and now a self-help title. A mixed bag. Years of redrafting.
A lot of it has been fun, exciting, interesting, cathartic, healing. But it’s also been infuriating, annoying, challenging and bloody hard work.
Looking back I can see how I have grown in my craft. I now describe myself as a writer without even an inward squirm. I understand the fear of a blank page as well as the thrill. I have developed a thick skin strong enough to withstand rejection and the toughest edit. I’ve met other wonderful writers and enjoy their support and advice. I’ve felt the highs of grand self-delusion and the pits of feeling “everything I write is crap.”
I’ve earned my writing stripes.
And I am more determined than ever to never, ever, ever, stop.
My best writing buddy, the talented Helena Pastor (see her work in Island, Griffith REVIEW, Westerly, Hecate etc), have set ourselves a deadline of finishing the first drafts of our works in progress by the end of August. Helena is writing a creative non-ficiton project called “Iron Men – Alchemy at Work” about a youth project in Armidale and I’m working on my”Little Guide to Grief, First Aid for your Heart and Soul. Practical Tools to Help Cope with Loss”. A long title and quite a change from fiction but it demanded to be done.
When we’ve finished our drafts on time the mammoth effort will be celebrated by our traditional Writers Retreat at Evan’s Head where we forget that we are mothers for a weekend and indulge ourselves in uninterrupted reading and writing. We will edit each other’s work and plan our second drafts.
Today I did 1700 new words (that’s a pretty good day for me considering I’ve been out teaching). Tomorrow I hope to do the same. It’s only a few weeks till the end of August and I’ve got this chapter to finish and then two more. Can I make it? You bet your booties I can (or I’ll eat my bonnet). Having neither booties nor a bonnet this is a pretty safe bet.