on the writing & reading trail

Archive for March, 2012

Edit diary (March 29)

Day 37 (March 29)

Nothing went according to plan today, but I’m happy with the results. I started out thinking I would finish editing on the last twenty pages of Part One. On the third page I decided to check how I’d represented something in the short synopsis for Book One, and ended up doing a total rewrite. For no good reason I can recall, I moved on to do the same with the synopsis for Book Two. In that process I needed to look at consistency with an item in Part Four (the end of Book Two).

Now this is the good part. I started to read the last two chapters and got so carried away I couldn’t stop. It’s been a while since I looked at them and I enjoyed the read, and made a few minor changes. A little more work is needed but not much. A very pleasant surprise.

Freya and Australian Aboriginal doctor, Mani Strachan, arrived in Amsterdam exhausted after the medical evacuation of Dora, an aid colleague from Africa. Their missions were cut short by several days for this journey, and both were heading to Scotland on furlough after debrief with the aid head office. As so often in aid work, a strong friendship was cemented because of the trust that developed from seeing colleagues work effectively under duress in a team context.

Colourful foot gear

Their stay was enhanced by the gratitude of Dora’s family and fiancé who provided them with temporary accommodation and a surprise invitation to the wedding to take place when Dora recovered sufficiently.

Windmills everywhere

Central Amsterdam

Edit diary (28 March)

Day 36 (March 28)

Short editing day as I had to leave the library early for an eye test for renewing driving licence and was talked into having an all-in-one tetanus, whooping cough and diphtheria booster. The diphtheria feels like an odd inclusion for an older person, but it’s done. Did not accept the flu vaccine as the only time I had it in recent years was the only time I had a dose. Hoping my immune system is up to the mark this year. Apparently flu is already on the go locally.

The morning was good for editing. I made good progress with changes in what turned out to be an awkwardly written chapter when Freya’s good friend is leaving Glasgow for her marriage in Mallaig and life in Aberdeen where she will continue her nurse training. Freya will miss her. Then I was surprised to find a long backstory segment that I thought had already been moved elsewhere and rewritten in an active way. Memory is not always reliable. Or maybe I’ll find the rewrite somewhere.

In other chapters the Dunbars are settling in Brisbane where Jacob is building again.

Centre of the city

I sometimes dream about doing, only to find it was just a dream. There are a few compelling dreams in the story; pretty much in line with personal experience in real life. Also, some of my characters have seeded themselves in dreams. At least I never run out of ideas.

Edit diary (27 March)

Day 35 (March 27)

Goals for today:

Goal 1: Work on later chapters of Part One with a view to finishing the editing of the Part by my provisional deadline of 30 March – 3 days to go.

Progress: I worked on six chapters, from 13 -18, and made many minor changes. I’m happy with the result and believe that initial writing skills improved as the work progressed due to attendance at courses / workshops, along with paying greater attention to the mechanics of writing when reading valued books and most importantly the feedback from Writing Group colleagues.

Scots locations visited were Glasgow where Freya and her friend Kirsty gain experience in different nursing environments, and Galloway and Mallaig for Kirsty’s holiday.

Freya is emotionally affected when caring for an accident victim whose toddler was killed in a drunk-driving accident. In Mackay in Queensland the Dunbar family are preparing for a move to Brisbane. Alexander has enrolled for teacher training and continues his flying activities.

Goal 2: Critique a late submission chapter from one of the Writer’s Group members for Friday’s meeting.

Progress: Done.

Goal 3: Re-read and confirm / adjust comment on novel synopsis by a Writer’s Group member.

Progress: Done. She has done a great job. We all find synopsis writing challenging. Her story is ready for submission to the big wide world of the industry. Good luck.

Goal 4: Attempt to outline one of the intended short stories for competitions.

Progress: Wrote a series of paragraphs, fictionalising incidents relating to two spinster lady neighbours in Bangor County Down many years ago. Somewhere a germ of a story is there, it hasn’t found its way to the light yet.

City transport

Edit diary (26 March)

Day 34 (March 26)

Goals for today:

1) Focus on early Part One of the first book of a series (three in draft, the fourth incubating). Aim to complete changes to flagged areas in one chapter, towards readiness for submitting by the end of this week, to writer friends who have offered to critique changes. I’ve incorporated almost all their suggestions. This task has been complicated because of major alteration to the structure (and limited changes to content) of the story and the reconstruction of flashbacks to fit linearly.

2) Continue brainstorming ideas for stories for three competitions – up to: 600 words, 1500 words, 3000 words.

For me brainstorming is an informal method of generating ideas by free association. I often use this technique alone nowadays, but used to find it useful as a group technique when I facilitated management development modules.


Goal 1) On track. Changed several scenes to: simplify, by excluding names for two incidental characters, and to: expand two incidents that sow the seeds for the authenticity of later actions by Freya’s grandmother even though they would seem incomprehensible to most people.

Still only fourteen, Freya starts to understand how her mother struggles to deal with Gramma’s idiosyncrasies. For herself, she is on the verge of planting memories that will translate later to articulating what she sees as manipulative behaviour.

Goal 2) Lots of ideas for short stories emerged. Fodder for many tales. Will I live long enough to tell the half of them? Haven’t settled any approaches yet, but want to decide quickly to avoid loss of momentum for the major task of editing the novel drafts. Got so enthused with the brainstorm stuff I almost missed the bus. No time to enjoy the ambience there today – interesting themes in the artistry.

Tranquil at this time

Edit diary (24-25 March)

25 March: Undertaking detailed writing or thinking at home doesn’t work for me – too many distractions – and the undone housework jumps out and undermines my resolve to ignore it. Instead today I’ve looked at competitions for short stories in the offing, and started to brainstorm ideas of potential topics. One is set – the Stringybark focus on the seven deadly sins. I’m trying to meld two incidents of anger (wrath) – one recent and local involving the vulnerability of an older woman, the other from 1981 in the midst of the hunger strikes in Northern Ireland, into a satisfying storyline.  Something entirely other may emerge. The other two possibilities are open for content. Must get back to challenging the brain connections.

24 March : Not much editing / writing progress this weekend. Focussed more on networking in Cleveland on Saturday. Met a new group of artists intending to work on a major project using artefacts from the natural environment on Stradbroke Island in June. There is also intention to make use of up-to-date technology – an interesting mix. Talks were motivating. A speaker from Macleay Island told about their plans for an artistic and community event coming up soon. The group’s next meeting will have emphasis on writers. Interesting experience. Couldn’t help being overtaken by a sense of the romantic about the Bay Islands and those wonderful laid-back ferry rides to and from the mainland that feel so friendly. Had a wonderful week a few years back on Coochiemudlo where I managed to get the bones of my family saga (draft now completed) into some sort of shape.

A favourite place

Two candidates for the upcoming local council elections attended and spoke about their support for the arts and interests in promoting the values of community. No-one showed much interest in the State election that happened today – seemingly accepting the poll forecasts as a foregone conclusion, even if they were not pleased with that possibility.

All the time in my subconscious is awareness of issues for Freya (the protagonist in the family saga) as she starts to deal with the broader issues around humanitarian aid work (covered in detail in Parts Four and Six of the story). I completed the editing of the chapter mentioned in recent blogs, and emailed it to our Writer’s Group members for critiquing at the meeting on 3oth March.  The later unfolding of the plot will bring Freya into contact with the war correspondent she met on the flight to Nairobi. She is intrigued by his venture into health reporting in Africa and rightly questions how he manages the comparative tameness of this in view of his obsession with being on the front-line.

Edit diary (23 March)

Day 31 (March 23)

Started the day’s editing with Chapter One, Part One. A good start to the day as it was suddenly clear how to fix a couple of awkward areas that jarred even after several previous efforts to improve. Location – Maroochydore in mid 1970s on the beautiful Sunshine Coast. Right now that coast is inundated because of unusually heavy rainfall – people have lost a great deal.

For the Part Four chapter I identified yesterday for critique by the Writer’s Group on 30th, a number of fixable areas jumped out – had become bogged down in the research about the early AIDS denials in some African countries in the 1990s. Had to make a choice about representing this awful situation well, or glossing over, or leaving out altogether. Came down on the middle way – unsatisfying of course, but as it is not a major part of the plot-line for Freya, I’ve settled for that, but hadn’t wanted to avoid such a major health problem for that continent altogether (unsure, but may make more of it than I have already, in Part Six). Completed lots of minor paragraph and sentence structure changes and word replacements.

Main satisfaction was subtle work on a paragraph that is one of my favourite events for the whole saga. I trust that when (not if) the story gets published somehow, this scene will be recognised as one of several (in this and later Parts) that epitomise the experience of so many who worked and have written about pivotal insights from their times in Africa. ‘Hope’ is a recurring theme.

Satisfactory day. Even though on reflection I don’t appear to have accomplished much, it feels like a barrier of some kind has been crossed.

Edit diary (22 March)

Day 30 (March 22)

Am all around the shop. Long dental appointment in the morning. At home I had to wait for a phone call and then had  an unexpected visitor so I abandoned the intention of going to the library to work on editing there. Instead I decided to find the next chapter for submission to the Writer’s Group for critique on 30th March. Needs a fair bit of work and a change in mental focus from Parts One and Two that stray between Australia and Scotland.

With the Group I’m well into Part Four for feedback. Freya is in Nairobi on her first R&R break from South Sudan. She has an uplifting experience at a UN function and is surprised when asked to stay on to attend a conference on behalf of her supervisor who can’t get a plane because of militia interference with flight arrangements at the aid camp. The conference is another eye-opener into humanitarian aid realities in other parts of Africa. Made some changes and identified a number of other shortcomings to work on before submitting the chapter. That will be tomorrow’s goal – to get that completed, and move back to Part One issues.

Edit diary (March 21)

Day 29 (March 21)

No editing on the page today, although some thinking happened as I rode to and from Brisbane on the bus, and walked around the city before meeting my two sisters for a long lunch and catch-up time. A most enjoyable occasion. Apart from family chat we talked a lot about books we’ve read or are reading and about movies and TV programs and the weekend State election coming up. Even though each of our lives are, and have been very different, we share so much common ground.

I left home a bit early and walked a fair bit first. The Wednesday fresh produce and food market in Brisbane Square is always inviting – such an array of wondrous things and a great atmosphere among the stallholders. But how my heart clenched when I saw the poster at the bridge entrance showing the children of Africa. Such a vast gulf between the haves and have-nots. If only . . .

Entrance to produce and food market, Brisbane

There’s a fair bit of work to go before my editing task moves to a large segment of the story when Freya arrives in Africa to become part of a therapeutic feeding program. That time was the late 1990s when South Sudan was in the grip of a desperate famine. Freya was challenged in many ways during her mission. I was reminded of it and know changes are needed, but will delay more thoughts of that for now.

Tonight I intend relaxing and checking out the photographs I took today.

Queens Street Mall

Edit diary (March 20)

Day 28 (March 20)

Cool and wet again.

Managed to tidy up one of the problematic early chapters in Part One (at one stage it was Chapter One). The action takes place in Mackay, a large town on the Queensland coast, around one thousand kilometres north of Brisbane.

Sun Times in Mackay, Australia.

Sun Times in Mackay, Australia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The major dissonance was solved by re-jigging the beginning of this chapter to draw attention to the gap of four years since the last action, given that the now preceding chapters were taken forward and into the present to avoid back-story flashbacks included in later chapters. Now I need to be conscious of eliminating repeat content and checking that tenses are consistent with the new structural approach. Two more awkward chapters to deal with and it should be easier after that.

Library was comfortable and quiet for working most of the time today.

Good work environment

Edit diary (18-19 March)

Days 26-27 (March 18-19)

March 19:  Thankfully a cool day with rain and comfortable for thinking. Quick review of the outlines for all six parts of the saga again –  apart from some awkwardness with the new structure for the beginning of Part One, I am satisfied with the flow of the storyline right through.

Still avoiding the issues for those early chapters, but conscious of ‘under-the-radar’ work going on – it will come right – just not quite there yet.

Spent time making changes within a late chapter of Part One, where subterranean evil intent is being worked out, that will have a grave impact on Freya’s hopes and plans. It is late 1983. She expects to finish training and have finals result for her nursing course early the following year. Surely her grandmother will be well enough to travel to Australia by then? Another Glasgow winter looms.

Starting to get cold

March 18: Had another non-edit day. Trusty laptop freaked out yesterday for a while and has been flickering. Suddenly realised it might be reaching the end of its useful life. No shame to it – it’s outlasted two PCs. When realisation hit I dashed out to buy a new USB drive and started to backup all my research files as well as older material and other stories, just in case. Current drafts are usually safe as I back them up at least every few days to at least one /more often three locations for safety. Attended to the most important files and folders. Will continue over next days until all are safe. If computer holds out that long. Trying to decide on best replacement to meet competing demands for portability and tired eyes.

English: A Sandisk-brand USB thumb drive, SanD...

Image via Wikipedia

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