on the writing & reading trail

Archive for June, 2012

Progress note re family saga edit

Day 44 (June 27)

Editing:  A good productive day with editing. Moving on and thinking I might try focusing on both Parts One and Two of Present Tense (I’m trialling the new title – maybe it feels OK) to see if that will work. The parts are very different with few overlapping interests so it may be practical. I’m itching to get to some of the African content and I currently have several library books out that will be helpful to check previous research and to be mentally and emotionally in the right place.

Reading:  I finished Past the shallows. I was disappointed that I still could not relate to the human characters although there were a couple of wonderful sea episodes. Maybe my problem is that I worked many years ago with abused and desperate children in a Glasgow Children’s Home and Parrett’s characters didn’t resonate in a recognisable way. Who knows why? It’s all complex and personal as to what attracts or not.

I’m starting on a new family drama series, unfortunately tapping into Book Three, titled Found, by Karen Kingsbury. Chosen because it is large-print, I look forward to a comfort read of this designated best-seller – apparently over three million of this author’s books in circulation. I’m disappointed I couldn’t find the first of the series on the shelves. Today I returned four books, only started but left, because the print is too small for comfort. Sad. I really wanted to read each of them, the blurbs were so promising, not that that is a guarantee of satisfaction. The settings were India, Pakistan and Europe.

General: Tomorrow is a new day. Roll on the dual editing experiment.

Editing and critiquing

Day 43 (June 26)

Editing: Setting aside the first 50 pages of the second novel for a few days, waiting for feedback on the first chapter from Writing Group members. I need an opinion about whether it sets the scene for an independent book, given that the two parts that comprise it have been separated out from what was envisaged as a large whole. When I get to the end, the same will apply to the last chapter; will it wrap up well enough to be self-sufficient, before the third book unrolls the next part of the saga? I’m also playing with the idea of a different title – perhaps Present tense. Feels like a good follow-on from Past imperfect – maybe a bit risky though in linking it well enough with the storylines.

Critiquing:  Worked on a disturbing chapter of marital discord, appropriately set in the midst of a tropical Queensland storm (wonderfully described and felt). The woman of the family is not thinking straight, caught in a thrall of guilt about leaving her mother behind in Wales, even though she’d chosen not to accompany them. The husband is frustrated. He thought all had been resolved before they left, and he and the children are loving their new life in Australia. A few glitches, but I could see and feel the tension in the writing. Well done.

Short story competition: My story was not selected. I wasn’t that hopeful as it is a gentle low-key tale, not one to set the senses racing; I’d been aiming for more of a slow burn, but clearly it didn’t work. Not daunted, will keep on trying.

Comfort of knowledge

General:  I think I’ll head off early today. The library feels cold and it is dull and raining outside. Not so many in today even though the schools are on holiday. Home in front of a heater with a fleece around my knees sounds inviting – real old lady stuff. And a chance to continue reading Past the shallows.

When I was in the shopping centre at lunchtime one of the servers mentioned that there was no heating there, and usually isn’t anymore – cost constraints – electricity price hikes – pre-empting carbon price effects that start on Sunday. Concerns are real. Every week there seems to be at least one more shopfront pasted with closure notices. And other places worrying about laying off staff – some have done it already in preparation. The commentators are busy and people are hurting.

All about the reading today

Days 40-42 (June 23-25)

Editing: Reformatted first 50 pages of Present hope and carried out minor editing. Preparing for submission to a manuscript development program with limited entry. Hoping! But not too hopeful.

Reading: Dipped into the Scroggins book over the weekend but concentrated mainly on a first novel, Past the shallows by Favel Parrett, that was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and was compared favourably with Tim Winton’s work. Although both authors demonstrate a clear love for surfing, I failed to find a writerly connection even though there were several lyrical sea and landscape passages. I haven’t finished the book yet. See http://www.milesfranklin.com.au/2012/bio_favellp for some background information.

Although I get the storyline I haven’t been able to identify with any of the family characters or feel for the sadness of it all. The only individual I sense an affinity with is George, who seems an outcast, except to the youngest son, and so far exists on the periphery of the main story. I suspect and hope his role will become clear as I read on.

Several of the reviewers noted the simplicity of the Parrett’s writing and in a general sense it is visibly so, but for me it seems an empty simplicity when I compare it with one of my favourite short novels, I heard the owl call my name by Margaret Craven, also a first novel.

The Craven novel made such an impression that on my first visit to Vancouver I made quite an effort to seek out the impressive collection of totems on display at the University site there, and then last year when visiting the First Nations Museum in Ottawa was overwhelmed to find a reconstruction of the living quarters of the Kwakiutl people. I felt I knew each one of Craven’s characters intimately as I read and they have stayed with me now for many years. I must read the book again. By coincidence it was returned to me last week from a loan to a friend. http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/709.Margaret_Craven provides some quotes from the book which made New York Times best seller lists in 1973. The author died in 1980 in her seventies.

Editing, writing, critiquing, reading

Day 39 (June 22)

Editing: Moving through the chapters slowly, experiencing the same hiccoughs as previously, but generally satisfied with progress.


Short story: In the context of the Locked collection of stories I envisage, the first one is taking shape out of an amorphous conglomerate of ideas. About the experience of a young woman, about a first pregnancy, the story will mirror the inevitable expedition resulting from the unique genetic permutations that take her budding embryo through to the outside world. With a husband absent in a war-torn zone, she immerses herself, not just physically, but more and more emotionally and philosophically into the event. The question is: Can I do the ideas justice?

Another novel: Last year when I was travelling alone in Canada I filled some of the empty time spaces between viewing the landscape and being an inevitable eavesdropper on surrounding conversations during a couple of long train journeys, by jotting notes for a story that was hankering to be told. In odd moments this week (almost a year later) I’ve been typing up those handwritten scrawls and fleshing out the tale of an expat who was trying to escape memories of the violence of Northern Ireland in rural Australia. Not sure how it will go, but it seems that just when she was reaching longer spells of peace, a thoughtless prank by a youngster at her workplace revived the memories. But it also directs her energies in another direction.

Critiquing: Next Writers Group meeting is in sight so the chapters are dropping in by email clamouring for comments. I’ll make a start over the weekend, first with the ongoing fictionalised biography of Maggie Gard, an aspiring Australian soprano as she explores the mysteries of her teacher’s French castle in the gaps between lessons. The teacher, Emma Calve is most famous for her role in Carmen.

I’ll submit part of a late chapter from my own Present hope novel. That section won’t be in my editing sights for quite a few weeks. It’s a challenging multi-person conversation, so input will be most helpful for when I get to that stage.

Helpful sources

Reading: I’m spoilt for choice at the moment. Will finish the Atkinson yarn tonight – am totally devoid of predictions about the twists, there will be a few more to come for sure. My shelf dedicated to library books is full and I’ve a few favourites from my own collection set aside for re-reading sometime.

And now I have another choice: Wanted women: faith, lies and the war on terror: the lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui by Deborah Scroggins. What a wonderful coincidence that the author’s name beamed out from a library trolley of new acquisitions just as I was leaving today. I can’t be absolutely sure of the details after a gap of five or six years of thinking about my saga novels and following many lines of research, but I know that Deborah Scroggins had a role in how my story developed after I read her book Emma’s war. It is located in large part in South Sudan and tells the unique story of Emma McClune and her marriage to a local warlord. Some scraps in the book that referred to the work of Medecins Sans Frontier at that time led me on a much wider search, and later on, snippets of the experiences of women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali within Holland, found their way into my story as well. Now I know which will be my first read of choice after Atkinson is done.

Weekend: Won’t be able to turn a blind eye to the housework screaming out for attention.

Good editing day and a great book to read

Days 37-38 (June 20-21)

Re family and friendship saga – Book Two with working title Present hope

Editing: Yesterday I managed to toil through Chapters 4 and 5 (set in the early 1990s) that explored some of the disconnections between Freya’s and Reg’s work situations, and their attitudes to wealth. Reg is optimistic that they will sort out their differences; Freya is not so sure.

There were a lot of changes to make, mostly of the minor variety regarding sentence structure and placement, and dialogue, but it seemed to take forever to be sure that all grammatical anomalies created by those changes are eliminated. A bit disappointing to realise it is going to take much longer than anticipated to get through this book. I started out with false optimism.

Today the work was mainly on Chapters 6 and 7. A couple of characters really had a go at creating havoc with the storyline – in a good way.

During a road trip to the Sunshine Coast Reg learns a little more about the history of Freya’s family, in particular about the secretive Gramma. Dredging up answers to his questioning confirms to Freya how little she knows about her grandmother in spite of living with and caring for her after a stroke for three years in the 1980s. It brings to the surface again how uncomfortable their family relationships are, in particular hers with Gramma. Freya’s mother is unsure whether her daughter’s claims of happiness hold true.

Chapter 7 moves to Scotland where Alexander’s puzzlement with his wife’s apparent reluctance to visit her parents as regularly as before leads him to question whether their daughter is missing out by not having contact with them, given that her Australian grandparents are so far away.

Same issues as yesterday with the editing. Long haul ahead! Quiet day in the library.

Comfort of knowledge

Reading: Having a hard time leaving Kate Atkinson’s When will there be good news? aside. Felt guilty (not really) when I stretched my lunch-hour reading time. I’m taken with the story (some wildly funny bits among the pathos and nastiness) and also as usual by her writing style and how expertly the plot and character threads start to coalesce. Must recommend this author to one (maybe two) writer friends with an interest in crime stories who may not have discovered Atkinson. The style reminds me a bit of Anne Patchett too – only just had that thought. The following website includes a video of Kate talking with the actor Jason Isaacs who plays private investigator Jackson Brodie in a TV series.


Family saga edit progress

Day 36 (June 19)

Editing: Today was full-on editing. Have been surprised how much change I’ve made to Chapters 2 and 3 which had previously seemed almost done. They feel improved now, as if the motivations for action by the characters will be as clear for readers as I thought they were for me. But there was a surprise in store; the characters went beyond my visions for them. What a lark! The editing becomes more enjoyable by the day. Freya is finding the relationship with her mother-in-law puzzling. Where are Ruby’s manipulations heading?

I also worked on a late African chapter in the second part of the book to present for the next critiquing meeting of our Writers Group. Same experience as above; some big changes happened. Only issue perhaps is that the word count is creeping up. Hopefully there will be some compensating reductions somewhere.

Reading: Tony Park’s book The Delta is full of violence – very real – warlike with guns and tanks and rockets and explosions and major destruction all over, with personal and political sabotage as well. Not to my taste, but sadly representative of what is happening throughout parts of Africa and the reason for much of the humanitarian medical aid work of Freya and her MSF colleagues in South Sudan in her late 90s timeframe. Similar violence is happening again now. And Park is uncovering a nasty and unexpected personal twist which may become even nastier I suspect. Tonight will see me finishing the book. I am thankful that in the midst of horrors my story focuses more on the saving side. I am glad I read The Delta now though as I’ll soon be editing my African content. Serendipitous.

Editing and reading progress

Days 32-35 (June 15-18)

A cold weekend and catching up on household matters with minor and interrupted forays into editing. Lots of reading though – mainly the Shaha memoir, and an action-packed African tale of conflicting interests around conservation, and within and between country and tribal politics and personal gain, told through the experiences of a female mercenary. Because my interest was held by the background issues of history and politics in a number of South African countries, in particular the attractions of the Okavango landscape and its flora and fauna, I swept through what seemed to be a few plot and character improbabilities and inconsistencies – fictional licence perhaps. The Delta is a great yarn by Australian-born author Tony Park who lives between his homeland and Southern Africa with his wife. Website http://www.tonypark.net/ will put you in touch with his wide range of activities and publications. I’m almost done with The Delta but have a few other books on the go. Started the Kate Atkinson one today on the way home in the bus.

Current reading

Today, Monday was a good day for progress on editing of Future hope. Started working on from where I’d left off in Chapter Eleven but was soon led to tackle a later chapter that connected, and then needed to return to the beginning again. Spent some hours reworking Chapter One and am now satisfied that the ragged edges and backward ties with Book One (Past Imperfect) are now resolved as is the foundation for the rest of Future Hope. Also settled outstanding issues about timelines for Part One. Have left the time-flow implications for Part Two for another time.

Family saga edit slowing this week

Days 26-31   (June 9-14)

It’s been one of those weeks. Extra family and home maintenance matters had priority until today when I’ve managed a full day at the library.

We usually call for one quote for work that is needed, hoping it will look reasonable so we can accept it straight away. No such luck. First quote for what seemed like a low-level task to our inexpert eyes was $800+. Tried another tradie – result $500+. Discovered a trusted previous helper was back in business after a health layoff – work done next morning – $150. What were the others thinking? Can’t believe we seem old and senile enough to be taken in! Maybe they don’t want the work. OR . . . .? Can’t be bothered expending more energy on thinking about it – wasted enough time already.

Editing was bitty on previous days with a sense that inconsistencies may flourish because of the discontinuity. All was good today with many changes, mostly low-level, but should contribute to clarity and improved readability and more natural dialogue. On a visit to Maroochydore Freya had a difficult time when memories of Alexander surfaced unbidden.

Reading:  Today there were six requested books waiting for me on the reserved shelf. Two Patchett ones (a short story collection and a novel), and surprisingly several novels I’d tracked down when scanning Library Thing yesterday. Just love that site but what a time-eater – discipline needed. Also a memoir, telling of a young Muslim’s journey towards jettisoning the Islamic beliefs of his immigrant community – title is The young atheist’s handbook; author is Bangladeshi, Alom Shaha. The blurb says, ‘In this powerful narrative, Alom Shaha shows that it is possible to live a compassionate, fulfilling, and meaningful life without God.’ Couldn’t resist dipping into this one over a lunchtime bite. You can find author details on the web http://alomshaha.com/

Short story ideas were scribbled on receipts or entered into mobile phone notes in passing when I was out and about, and thankfully retrieved for entry into laptop files before they disappeared. For some unknown reason my trusty notebook was absent.


Family: Had a wonderful catch-up lunch with one of my sisters yesterday. Great meal at a Nursery restaurant to the cheerful sounds of kookaburras. Cold though as the breeze was brisk. Lucky for us that cosy wraps were provided. The leisurely walk through the paths and boardwalks in native flora and rainforest afterwards topped off a pleasant afternoon before we headed in our separate directions. We are vaguely thinking travel – maybe the European waterways? Maybe a stretch into Turkey? All hypothetical at the moment. But action has to start somewhere.

Friends: Tomorrow’s coffee and cake with two writer friends will complete a pleasant week.

Hopefully productivity next week will reach an all-time high.

Editing and beyond

Days 23-25 (June 6-8)

The days continue cold. There was even a threat of snow in our supposedly sunny state of Queensland. A rare occurrence. The kids love it. I saw snow for the first time in Scotland many years ago, aged nineteen. I was working in a Children’s Home. The young ones couldn’t believe their luck – an adult willing to play in the cold with them – snowballs flying. Maybe not such an adult!

Editing:  Progress slower than hoped. More effort than expected to weave in essential background from Book One. Hopefully picking up most issues, but will have to rely on friendly critiquers to find the outliers. Satisfied overall.

Other writing: Have been toying for a while the notion of compiling a topic-based collection of pieces. Over the last few days I’ve settled on the notion of ‘locked’. The ideas are flowing for short stories, reflections, mini-essays. Who knows if or when it will come to fruition. At the moment there are around thirty topics in the frame.

Short stories: Entered two stories for competitions within recent days. Although they are not remarkable in any way, it felt good to think outside my family saga series. I had fun fictionalising around some real life nursing incidents from long ago.

Restless thinking: It seems premature to be thinking two more novels when I still have almost two more to edit, and none of the three existing ones published, but that is what is happening. One has a few chapters down and might stretch to novella length – a fairly light-hearted story. The other would be the fourth in the family saga series, with Freya settled back in Australia after two humanitarian aid missions in Africa behind her, and becoming an advocate in the fractious politics of international adoptions.

Weekend reading

Reading: Enjoying the Yeldham novel, Glory girl, based around a true story. It’s good to be reminded of early aviation days in Australia and the beginning of QANTAS and the Flying Doctor Service. I’m set up for weekend with a surfeit of books and expect to dip in to each of the ones pictured. I’m also including some interesting and amusing links for anyone looking for some insights into authors Yeldham and Patchett.





Long holiday weekend ahead so writing output will be down. The Library is where I work best.

Edit diary for family saga – Present hope

Day 22 (June 5)

Mixed and laborious editing day today, continuing the work on Present hope. As I was expanding a scene that was a bit thin on detail I realised one of the references to an incident in Book One (Past imperfect) would now seem quite cryptic, removed as it would be in time for those who had read the first book, but much more so for a reader just entering the series. So, I spent quite a long time working out a credible summary without recreating the whole. I hope it will work as it underlines Freya’s character traits of integrity and loyalty even when it is hard.

No doubt this type of pitfall will need attention more times as I progress through the separated manuscript.

Short story: Laboured over that as well. Have decided that it is difficult to write to someone else’s topic, especially when it is overlaid by some other expectation; in this case to be amusing. I think I’ll stay with open topics in future. Reminds me a bit of the burden of writing speeches or speech notes to order, that had to fit the political emphasis of the moment even when one’s heart was not in it, due to having a yen for another viewpoint altogether. Pleased I don’t have to do that anymore. Ain’t retirement grand?

Good for working

Library was very quiet today. Very conducive to concentrated work.

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