• History,  Writing

    The lure of information: an Archives story

    Another branch of my research tree: a talk and tour at the NSW State Archives & Records at Kingswood in Western Sydney.

    For my current work in progress I’ve made use of the many records that have been made available online and last year, I paid a visit to the Archives centre.

    But during this visit on the weekend, I got to see ‘backstage’ – beyond the reading room, to the highly secure and atmosphere controlled spaces where the precious documents are stored.

    The technical details of what is kept, and how, were interesting. But I admit to a particular thrill at being up close and personal with books such as the Parramatta Gaol description books from the 1800’s, and the registers of Conditional Pardons from that period. These books would almost certainly contain the names, descriptions and other details of some of my story’s characters, based as they are on real people.

    The volumes – faded, torn covers and all – impart a tangible sense of the people named between their covers: the lives they lived, their mistakes and their second chances.

    I’ll be back to find more details about my characters’ lives, so today was a good taster and a reminder that, while the ease of access to historic documents via digital sources is wonderful, there’s nothing quite like the original paper, book or map to create a link between now and then.

    If you’d like to check out the NSW State Archives website, go here

  • Writing

    Short Story: ‘Mystery Flight B’

    airplane-backlit-clouds-1262304

    April’s Furious Fiction

    Guidelines for this month were that each story had to include three pieces of dialogue, taken from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Anthony Burgess, and Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty.

    Here’s my effort:

    Mystery Flight B

    “What’s it going to be then, eh?” The ticket seller tapped his foot, waiting for a response.

    Rod hesitated. “What’s today’s choice again?”

    “Mystery Flight A, return; or B, one way only.”

    Rod heard the tumour speaking to him through his stomach wall. Take B! You don’t need to come home…

    “OK… I’ll take B, thank you.”

    The man looked pleased. “Good choice! Not many taking that one nowadays, but still, you never know.”

    No, Rod thought, you never know.

    Three hours later, he was in a cramped seat, the belts clicked, ready to fly. As he waited for the pre-flight checks to be done, he thought about his sister’s reaction when he’d called her.

    “You’re WHAT?”

    He’d repeated it.

    Silence. Two beats, five. A rustling as she covered the phone’s mouthpiece, turned to someone, probably Phil.

    “He’s never done anything like this before,” she whispered.

    “Ros? I’m leaving in a couple of hours. I wanted to say…goodbye…Not sure when I’ll be back.”

    “How are you going to live, wherever it is you’re going?” Her panic zinged through the air between them. He was surprised: he hadn’t thought she’d care that much. Since both their parents had died, there wasn’t a lot holding them together. And Phil hated him. Rod shrugged. He didn’t have much time for his brother-in-law either, so that was fair.

    He said, “I’ll manage. I’ll find something to do.”

    “Well…will you at least let me know when you get there? Let me know how you get on?”

    “Of course I will,” he promised. He would if he could. “Better go now. Say hi to Phil. Look after yourself, OK?”

    The pilot’s voice came through the intercom. Professional, reassuring. “Good afternoon, folks. Welcome on board today’s Mystery Flight B. It’s a beautiful day for flying so be sure to take a peep out the window. Enjoy the flight.”

    Rod smiled at the elderly man who’d taken the seat beside him. The man smiled back. He had a mane of snowy white hair and a long, snarly beard. He looked very…dignified.

    Rod leaned back in his seat as the sounds and sensations of take-off started. He closed his eyes. When he opened them, the light had gone from outside. Had he fallen asleep? He pressed his face to the window. Gave an involuntary gasp as he took it all in. Glimmers from floating stars. Earth, a blue and white marble far below, floating on a sea of inky dark velvet. The paper-thin layer of atmosphere, once a cradle of protection, now a toxic soup that threatened all life beneath it.

    The man next to Rod leaned forward to look. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution,” he said.

    Rod only nodded and turned his face to the window again.

    Just for fun, let me know in the comments if you worked out which bit of dialogue comes from which novel.

     

  • Life: bits and pieces,  Writing

    Some (reassuring) advice from a best selling author

    We’ve all heard of Markus Zusak, right? The Australian author of the runaway best-selling book of 2005, The Book Thief. It’s won numerous awards, been translated into multiple languages and made into a feature film. His new book, The Bridge of Clay, was published in October 2018, amid high anticipation. So the author would be well entitled to consider himself as having ‘made it’ in the world of publishing, surely?

    I was listening to a podcast today (Writes4Women) recorded at a fundraiser for the inaugural 2019 StoryFest Festival to be held in Milton, on the beautiful South Coast of NSW. Markus Zusak was the guest speaker at this event and the talk was recorded for the podcast. You can listen to it here:

    http://writes4women.libsyn.com/bonus-storyfest-2019-launch-with-markus-zusak

    Some of what Markus Zusak says in this talk came as a bit of a surprise to me. For example, the author says:

    I don’t think of writing (for me, anyway) as an art form. I’m a tradesman and I go to work and I just keep chipping away, waiting for the moment to come…but it won’t come unless you’re there, doing the work. The biggest effort can be just getting to the desk, and making that commitment and being prepared to fail. It’s a trade that you’re always working on and trying to get right…I can love the effort even if I don’t always love the result.  Markus Zusak

    These words are balm to the soul of anyone having more of the “I can’t believe I wrote this mess!” days than the “Wow, look at what I wrote!” ones. Just turn up. Keep plugging away. Commit. Learn to do it better. And then do it all again, on the next draft, and the next…

    It doesn’t have to perfect or even very good. Be proud, still, of the effort and the improvements you make.

    And actually I think this can apply to any endeavour in life. Art, music, writing, gardening, a profession, a job.

    As Markus Zusak says, “Love the effort.”

  • Writing

    Update on ‘Write Your Novel’ program

    It’s in!

    Back in January I gave an update marking the halfway point of the ‘Write Your Novel’ program I’ve been working through, with the Australian Writers’ Centre.

    This week my classmates and I have to submit our full manuscript for workshopping in small groups. So, we each submit our manuscript, and we have a month to read and comment on manuscripts submitted by two to three of our classmates.

    A few minutes ago I clicked the ‘Submit’ button. How did it feel?
    Scary – no one has as yet read my full draft. Will they like it? Hate it? Feel indifferent?
    Exciting – the workshopping and feedback process in this program has been so useful to date. I just know I’ll get back comments that will help me make my story stronger.

    There’s also a sense of responsibility to my classmates: to provide honest, worthwhile feedback to assist them in the way I hope to be helped along by them.

    The feedback I’ve received on this program has been very worthwhile and certainly helped me to improve my writing.

    As our online tutor, Cathie Tasker, has said:

    It’s the arrogant authors who don’t make it.

    Find the Australian Writers’ Centre programs here:
    https://www.writerscentre.com.au/

  • History,  Life: bits and pieces,  Writing

    Wonderful serendipity: “The Good Girl Song Project”

    In last week’s post I mentioned being at the Cobargo Folk Festival recently, and having the pleasure of meeting Gabrielle Stroud after reading her book ‘Teacher.’

    At the same festival, I had another of those wonderful moments of serendipity. Also on the festival program were several performances of “The Good Girl Song” Project. A song cycle called “Voyage”, it was written by Helen Begley, based on research by Liz Rushen and eyewitness accounts of the voyage.It presents in  musical and theatrical form the story of young single women who emigrated from England to Australia, in the 1830’s. The show was performed by Helen, Penny Larkins, Penelope Swales and Jamie Molloy.

    I just loved this presentation. It was Australian history, brought to life. The hopes and dreams of poor women searching for a better life, who sailed halfway round the world to be met by several thousand men on the Sydney dock. The colony was starved of eligible young women, at that time in it’s history. So did the women receive a warm welcome? Hardly. They were greeted by jeers, catcalls and filthy remarks from the assembled men. Imagine the women’s distress and disappointment. And the resilience they needed, in order to lift their heads, endure the humiliation and jeers that their ship was a “floating brothel” and walk down the ship’s gangway, to somehow make a new life in this strange land.

    The show brought me to tears. It evoked thoughts of my own ancestors, some of whom I am writing about in my current fiction project. Some arrived as convicts, others as free passengers, but all of them would have experienced the hardships of the voyage here, and the same trepidation as they stepped ashore.

    To hear more about the project go here:https://vimeo.com/130713977

    or visit their Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/thegoodgirlstory/

  • Writing

    The joys of writing: Discovery

    You know the story is working when the story is leading you, rather than you leading the story. Arnold Zable, author.

    I’ve been pondering the question:  what are the most satisfying things about writing?

    In a previous post I wrote about enjoyment I’ve had with the research process. (It’s on my ‘Books and Projects’ page if you’d like to see it.)

    One of the  surprising pleasures of writing for me has been the process of discovery. I’ve had a general idea of my characters, major events in their lives, and where they end up (some of these dictated by the historical records, as my major characters are based on real life people from the 1800’s)

    Within those broad parameters, it’s been astonishing, and great fun, to sit at my keyboard and have ideas just develop, as if from nowhere. I’ve heard some writers say their characters ‘tell them’ what they’ll do and say. I’m not sure that applies to me, but I have to say there have been times when, after writing for an hour or so, I have to admit ‘I didn’t know that was going to happen!’

    As a new writer it’s easy to either get anxious about this, or get carried away by it. Overall I prefer to stick to my general plan, but it’s fun to allow a bit of leeway and explore roads and lane ways that open up unexpectedly. It doesn’t mean that all of these make it past the first draft, of course. But it’s fun, certainly.

    I think I ‘m coming to see the writing process as more like consulting a map. I know where I’m starting, and where I want to get to. In between, I can take the most obvious route, but I can also take interesting little detours or twists and see what comes of them. Being open to the possibilities is the thing.

    Kind of like life, don’t you think?

  • Workshop,  Writing

    Progress report: ‘Write Your Novel’ program

    Last year I wrote a post about a new online program I was about to start with the Australian Writers’ Centre, called ‘Write Your Novel.’ I’m now almost half way through this six month course and I’m pleased to report that it is proving to be a worthwhile venture.

    When I began the program I had a first draft manuscript of over 119,000 words. Yes, I know, far too many words. I knew I needed to redraft, edit, cut and whittle away a whole lot of those words…words that I’d sweated over and celebrated as the word count mounted. Odd, now that I’m celebrating as the word tally goes down

    Anyway, as this was my first novel, I was a bit lost as to how to set about this (mammoth) task. How to critically examine my story’s plot, structure, characters, dialogue, description. How to make sure all the parts work together to make a satisfying whole. What are the themes of my story and how to ensure they shine through? And of course, how to tighten the language.

    This is where the ‘Write Your Novel’ program has been invaluable. I’m in an online classroom with eight other aspiring authors. We have an online tutor, Cathie Tasker, an editor with many years of experience in publishing. Cathie gives each of us feedback as we take turns to submit segments of our manuscripts. And, we all workshop each others’ work and provide feedback on what works well and what needs more work. Already I have learnt so much – from giving feedback and receiving it, and reading the comments given by my classmates on others’ work as well.

    I’m happy that I’ve already trimmed over 14,000 words, mainly through tightening language, deleting those pesky repetitious or unnecessary words and checking my overuse of adverbs! And  I’ve been able to write more convincing characters by getting closer to their point of view.

    Lots more work to do, of course. But I’ve been pleased at the things I’ve learnt so far and confident that I can keep applying this to my writing, even after the program finishes.

    To find out more about the ‘Write Your Novel’ program or other classroom and online courses at Australian Writers’ Centre, go to their website: https://www.writerscentre.com.au/

    (I promise I am receiving no payment of any kind for this mention! I spent ages online trawling through writing courses and was happy to discover the AWC, so I’m sharing the love. 🙂 )

    I’ll be back in another few months to update my progress.

  • Life: bits and pieces,  Writing

    Short Story: ‘When Greg Stopped Believing in Santa’

    Here’s my little entry into the December ‘Furious Fiction’ at the Australian Writer’s Centre. 500 words, the story had to be set on Christmas Eve, either 40 years ago or 40 years in the future.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    When Greg Stopped Believing in Santa                                               By Denise Newton

     

    I looked out at the red and green tinsel around my neighbour’s front window and the Merry Christmas written in white window spray in the centre of the pane.

    “Merry Christmas,” I said, to myself—not aloud. Greg always said it’s safer to keep some things to yourself, in case people get the wrong idea about you. Greg was so wise for his age. Missing him was a sharp hurt, a pain deep in my chest. He was so far away this Christmas. All the way across the Nullabor. Past the Great Australian Bight. I’d never been but he described how it looked from the plane window when he and Sally flew there to start their new life in Perth. He’d said perhaps, I could go and visit them one day, stay for a couple of weeks.

    Greg had gone away the year after he stopped believing in Santa. Well, okay—maybe a few years after…perhaps twenty years…but I found it hard to believe it was that long.

    One Christmas Eve, he was staring, rapt, out our back door at the garden, the grass made dewy by the cool of the night.

    “Look, Mum!” he breathed. “Santa’s sled tracks on the grass.” He pointed to a spot in the middle of the lawn, little finger trembling with joy. I couldn’t see anything but I smiled and ruffled his hair, loving his willingness to believe.

    “Best be off to bed, then, love. Santa doesn’t stop at homes where the children are still awake.”

    And he raced to leap into bed where he lay, eyes pressed closed in case Santa peeked through the window.

    The next Christmas he was silent and embarrassed if Santa was mentioned. I knew he no longer believed but didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Sweet boy.

    And then, what seemed like the very next year, he was off to Perth, he and Sally together. I was glad for his new job, his new city, his new wife. Sally with her miniskirts and her glossy hair piled high in the beehive hairdo that was all the rage now. She loved Greg—that was what mattered. Still, I hurt inside, though I never said it aloud. I’d learnt that from Greg. He called every Christmas Eve and all the other special days and I loved hearing his voice, though it never made the hurt go away.

     

  • Books and reading,  Writing

    Australian Women Writers Challenge

    I discovered this initiative only this year, at a writing workshop I attended: thank you Julian Leatherdale (http://www.julianleatherdale.com/) for the information.

    The AWW aims to encourage, via Twitter and Facebook, email and websites, librarians, booksellers, publishers, book bloggers, English teachers and authors were invited to examine their reading habits, and commit to reading and reviewing more books by Australian women.
    Quoted from the AWW blog, which you can find at: http://australianwomenwriters.com/

    Readers can link their reviews via the AWW website, and sign up for regular emails in which AWW volunteers give ’round ups’ of the latest batch of reviews in particular genres.

    If you are a reader who’d like to discover more of the wonderful works created by women writing in Australia, this is a terrific way to keep informed and across the latest (and not so recent) from women authors.

  • Books and reading,  History,  Writing

    Book(s) Review: ‘The Monsarrat Series’ by Tom & Meg Keneally

    The ‘Monsarrat series’ comprises three books (at time of this post):
    The Soldier’s Curse, The Unmourned, The Power Game

    No surprise that I was drawn to this series  – they are, to date, three novels of historical fiction, set  in several different locations in convict era Australia. Another draw card was the fact that they were co-written. I’ve always been a little fascinated by how the co-authoring process works, and this is an intriguing father and daughter team: well loved Australian author Tom Keneally and his daughter Meg. If I had the chance, I’d love to sit down with the authors and find out more. Who writes which bits? Which of them comes up with the initial ideas? Do they meet physically to discuss, plan and plot their stories, or is it an online or Skype process?

    The stories centre around Hugh Monsarrat, who we first meet at Port Macquarie penal colony in NSW, while he is serving out his sentence for fraud, in the early part of nineteenth century NSW. Hugh is an educated man whose intelligence and aspirations outstripped his means, tempting him to pass himself off as a lawyer in England. His deception is discovered and  he is shipped off to NSW on a convict transport.

    The books take the form of classic “whodunnits”, as for one reason or another, Hugh is tasked with solving murders that occur where he happens to be: Port Macquarie in book one, the Parramatta Female Factory in book two, and Maria Island (off Tasmania’s coast) in book three. There are plenty of opportunities for guesswork by the reader, with red herrings  planted throughout, and various characters having their own reasons to commit a murder.

    A truly delightful character who appears in each book is Mrs Mulroony, a forthright Irish woman who has already served her sentence and becomes Hugh’s offsider. Mrs Mulroony is a woman of many talents, including skillful tea making and shortbread baking, to which she adds a fierce intelligence and the ability to accurately read people and situations – usually much more astutely than Hugh himself.

    The books have a droll humorous tone, with believable characters and intriguing story lines. What I also enjoyed is their examination of the social, economic and political forces at play in colonial times, and the way in which these impact on the various characters.

    If you are looking for well written historical fiction set in early Australia, peopled by characters you can fall in love with, you won’t be disappointed in these stories.I read that the books have been optioned for a TV series and very much hope that will eventuate.