on the writing & reading trail

Archive for September, 2012

Edit diary and reading and remembering

Days 138-139 (September 26-27)

Reading: Still being challenged by the Watson book (Where war lives) – so much violence in the world he describes and so much obfuscation he observed and reported.

Today I chose to read a different book (it was lighter in weight, but definitely not in content) as it was more convenient travelling on buses in and out to the city for an appointment. The Translator: A tribesman’s memoir of Darfur by Daoud Hari (as told to Dennis Michael Burke and Megan M. McKenna) is an emotional read about many things but particularly the war in his part of Sudan and his role in escorting international media staff into danger zones at great risk to all involved. My first read several years ago was compelling, and seemed even more so now. Told in a deceptively simple style, it is a story of great evil, of courage, of the importance of family – and of the deliberate destruction of individuals, communities, cultures and resources. So powerful. I want the whole world to read it and to respond because it represents what is happening still in many places around the globe. As the blurb says ‘It is a harrowing tale of selfless courage in terrifying conditions.’

A powerful story

Editing: Is progressing. The end of the month completion for Present tense feels possible.

Other activities: These were also affecting, but more in a nostalgic sense. First I was privileged to visit The Mummy Egyptian Exhibition at the Queensland Museum. What a superb opportunity to learn so much through an excellent film and to see in 3-D the results of science in action; plumbing the depths of history, geography, culture. I was reminded of a long ago teenage frenzy of reading everything Egyptian. It was good to have a memory jog. I can’t remember those authors of long ago, but I thank them for many hours of riveting reading which made me feel very at home in the exhibition rooms.

The second visit was to the MacArthur Museum, also in Brisbane. Another set of reminders and more details than I ever knew as I was very young at the time and had never truly appreciated Brisbane’s importance during WWII. It was of interest to have insights into the political and personal relationships around MacArthur and our two Prime Ministers during and after the war. At another level I could see why an aunt had more of an interest in the thousands of American soldiers swelling the city population. Nostalgic to remember ration books, gas masks, trench drills, searchlights at night, and frightening shorts at the movies. So sad to see the war action and the destruction and to think of the families affected and how those effects may have travelled through the generations to the present.

An interesting visit

Edit diary and reading

Day 137 (September 25)

An early start to the day attending to personal and business arrangements, so I didn’t get to the Library till later to start editing.

Editing: Scrolled through last twelve chapters of Book Two (Present tense) and attended to most highlight areas except in those two pest chapters that still need a fair bit of attention. However, I’ve tracked down the relevant research material and will be able to check details for re confirmation or necessary changes in coming days.

I was diverted from that task to check for potential date changes that could affect issues for Book Three (working title meantime is Future hope) so I dropped into the second part of the story to check. Once there, the need for a few changes jumped out – nothing major – and I found myself enjoying the new timeframe but it is clear there is a question significant to the ending date for Future hope to be considered. Today I tapped into the story where Freya is ending her furlough which included time in Scotland, Europe and Australia, with a holiday at a ranger’s home in Kruger National Park prior to commencing her next mission which will take her back to South Sudan.

Following a number of startling experiences in Scotland and Denmark Freya’s personal confidence about her place in family and life in general has been enhanced. Little does she realise there are more surprises and twists in store. I am looking forward to starting the edit of Future hope from the beginning, starting on October 1.

Below is a short excerpt from where I started reading today, when Freya and her former nursing boss in Australia (Louise) and Louise’s erstwhile Dutch colleague (Hanne) spend time with Sandy, wife of the park ranger Bill who has not returned home as expected, possibly because he is shadowing a poacher.

Louise and Hanne smiled at each other. They’d caught up on essentials in the last few hours, and the years of separation had faded away. During the ten days here, followed by four weeks travelling on their own, they’d fill in the fine details at leisure, how and when they wanted. In tandem their gazes swept the room, and rested on Freya, sharing a sense of delight at her total relaxation. It seemed the bush was her place.

Although Sandy sat as if at peace, there was an aura of restlessness about her. Ten minutes on, she said, ‘If Bill doesn’t come soon, I won’t put off asking all about you any longer Hanne. I reckon I’ve been patient enough. Bill will just have to put up with my second-hand story to save you repeating it. I told him about the fun we had when you stayed with us in Cape Town so long ago. You were on your way to Australia then.’

‘That’s where I met Louise. She took pity on me late one night in Rockhampton when I’d missed my Greyhound bus booking for Brisbane. I never did get to spend time there because Lou persuaded me to go with her to Cairns and use her place as a base to explore north Queensland. She said Brisbane was just another city but the north was something else.’ Hanne turned to smile at Louise, ‘She was right. It was a magic place that year. Cairns was laid-back, the tableland communities were interesting and it was a privilege to see the tropical rainforests and travel as far as you could go, to Bamaga on the tip of Cape York. I always meant to go back to Oz to see southern parts of Australia, but never made it. And we lost touch.’ Hanne reached over to pat Louise’s arm. ‘How did we let that happen?’

‘Life gets in the way I guess. I moved a lot around that time, taking casual jobs. And then I got into serious work and for a few years it took over. Steep learning curves getting into management. . . . And you got famous and busy with all that writing and projects.’

‘Thanks to Freya’s volunteering you tracked me down.’

Reading: My shelf of books on loan from the library is looking very different from recent months. Instead of flaunting a predominant mix of fiction with around 30% humanitarian aid volumes, it is now 100% with books for the move to editing work on Future hope. Suddenly (and I’m sure very temporarily) I feel a compulsion to work solely on material that will help to flesh out my writing. The book of recent days is by Paul Watson, Where war lives: A journey into the heart of war. So far it is a stark and sobering read, but will be helpful to bring more authenticity to one of my middle-range characters. Freya was drawn to Leka when they met during her flight to Africa in Present tense. He turns up again in Future hope.

The following paragraphs are taken from a review of Watson’s book by Levon Sevunts, himself a journalist, writer, producer and translator at http://sevunts.com/?p=35:

“The writing is edgy, sometimes chaotic and raw. It feels like you’ve jumped in for a bumpy ride with a war correspondent: You get the passenger-side view of the madness around you and the inside view of how journalists work and survive in humanity’s hellholes.

Along the way, Watson shares his mental anguish, his feelings of guilt and his struggle with depression and the onset of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Yet he manages to avoid the “tortured soul reveals all” stereotype. Where War Lives is an emotional but also intelligent book. It takes the reader behind the headlines. Watson “unspins” lies and propaganda, shows the reader the connection between fighting in the streets of Mogadishu and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

The book also shows the power – sometimes unintended – of the media.”

Anthology celebration: I’m including a photo of our group from the anthology celebration, along with one of the group unable to attend due to his work commitments.

Our absent writer

Celebrating our anthology

Edit diary and celebration

Days 133-136 (September 21-24)

Afternoon: Scrolled through a number of chapters with small items highlighted and was able to fix them quickly. Two chapters still have significant work to be done. Also need to check original research to make sure that any earlier changes haven’t raised anomalies; e.g. moving dates that may not match seasonal issues in Africa with regard to rainy season, hunger gap and disease outbreaks. The library was quiet even though many children were there because of school holidays. Left sooner than intended and made it home ahead of the worst of a storm. The season has started.

Quiet here today

This morning was special. Our Writers Group had a small function to celebrate the e-publishing of our anthology Ten Minute Tales and to meet our UK writer who is in Australia on a brief holiday with his wife to visit relatives. It was a lovely get-together and Graham is just how I imagined he would be from reading his writing and enjoying his imaginative approach to story topics. I’ve included a picture of our cake which represents the cover of the anthology (a co-operative family event I gather). It picks up the wonderful blue in the real cover picture. Find the anthology by Googling Ten Minute Tales anthology.

Ten Minute Tales

The end of last week was slow for editing – mainly catch-up at home after being away. The effects of the break haven’t worn off. Still on coastal time I think.

Evening sky


Edit diary and R & R

Days 123-132 (September 11-20)

I’m home from a week on the Sunshine Coast. It lived up to its name for five wonderful sunny days even though there was a fair wind one day and heavy rain on another (much needed). I journeyed both ways by bus and train, smooth and seamless trips and particularly enjoyed the view of the Glasshouse Mountains up close. I am glad they have a place in my first two books; not very high, but spectacular volcanic plugs, they dominate the surrounding flattish landscape before the Great Dividing Range rears further west.

On the first evening I caught the wonderful evening light; magic pastel sky near the Maroochydore Surf Club.

Evening sky

Maroochydore has long been a favourite place, so rejuvenating with sounds of the surf in the background. It was good each day, seeing lots of swimmers between the Surf Club flags, surfers in the buffer zone, some in wetsuits – body surfing, long boards and boogie boards in plentiful supply. The volunteer Life Savers were out in force – fit and tanned bodies with their trusty boat at the ready. And so many joggers along the sand. Many others like me were satisfied with paddling along the edges of the surf.

And – oh yes, a tussle with frustrating editing. Two chapters are still a challenge. I’ve returned to them several times, hoping for subconscious resolution. They have to be done by the end of the month [that will be more than four months of editing for Present tense].

In amongst longish walks and editing I saw the Australian movie The Sapphires which was magnificent, and attended a cooking class about meat marinades. That was fun and casual, a bit disrupted at times and a reminder that coast time is very different from usual work time at home.

Maagical day

Perfect day

Today at home I’m reaping the benefit of the break and catching up on family, friends, emails, bills, household matters. Although I didn’t get as much work done on the writing as hoped I feel much more energetic.

The day before I left for the coast, the inspiring author talk by Michael Robotham at our local library was well attended – needed extra chairs. He writes psychological thrillers. A very versatile and talented writer with a journalistic background, he ghost-wrote many autobiographies before turning to fiction. Interesting to hear how much he befriends his characters.

Sky tells it all

Short story: There are more things . . .

There are more things . . . 

 It was the story-telling and the dream that did it. Brought it all back. From that day in the shop.

When I’d set my shopping bag on the floor and started to look around. I noticed a plump fiftyish woman carefully turning over items in a reduced-price bin to my right. Normally that would have been the end of the observation, but I was stuck with sales assistant Stella whose yellow name badge displayed a large red letter ‘L’ in the corner. She was obviously a very new learner, and taking forever to receipt and pack my purchase. I’d already delved to find there wasn’t enough cash in my wallet, so had no choice but to wait. I’d murmured encouraging phrases trying to allay her nervousness and smiled patiently, and remarked more than once, ‘A week from now it will all be second nature for you.’

After another venture with the Eftpos machine Stella said, ‘Excuse me, I need to get some help,’ as she took off among the maze of counters, looking for a supervisor I supposed.

Although I wasn’t in a real hurry, my patience was wearing a bit thin. The afternoon was balmy, half-way through autumn, and I was thinking it would be good, after I’d picked up a book from the library, to take a turn around the park before returning to the home chaos and the twins.

So my attention returned to the woman at the bin as she examined article after article with close attention. They were mostly wintry accessories; scarves and hats and the occasional length of fabric, all from China no doubt. Her dress was neat and unremarkable, her hair greyish and formed into a low sort of sausage roll along the nape of her neck. It struck me as an old-fashioned style; and it was the same with her light and dark grey fine-checked tweed skirt and toning cardigan, and sturdy black brogues. A walker perhaps? She shrugged as she carefully folded and replaced the last of the many items inspected, clearly deciding not to buy.

I was slightly embarrassed to be looking directly at her when she turned towards me, but discomfiture became surprise when she greeted me enthusiastically and without hesitation, ‘Nurse Baker, how nice to see you.’

It felt good to see how her fair skin flushed up with pleasure. I had no idea who she was but there seemed to be a more than passing and puzzling familiarity about her. I didn’t tell her I was Staff Nurse McDonald now.

It was bewildering as she gushed about meeting me. ‘I’ve thought of you often and all your kindness and patience with me and my visitors. They were grateful too. I was so sorry when you left on holiday and then got sent away for some other experience outside the hospital. One of the other nurses told me that. I asked her where you lived because I wanted to write to you, but no-one would give me an address. Privacy rules or something.’

Ah, an ex-patient! I prided myself on remembering people. Lots of folk; patients and sometimes their visitors, even from my first year of training as a nurse, had registered strongly enough that I recalled them and details of their circumstances years later. I might meet them on buses (sometimes they insisted on paying my fare) or in shops, at the library, or just walking down the street. Someone might stop me for a chat, or just call out in the passing, even if I wasn’t wearing my tell-tale outdoor uniform of Burberry and matching cap. Quite often the details of our hospital encounter would come to mind very quickly. Living in the area where you work can be nice or it can be a hazard. Mostly it was good and I liked the feeling.

My mind was running at speed trying to identify this woman. She’d given me clues. It seemed we’d met when I was a student, before going on a community experience placement. That meant it had to be third year, and I remembered my last ward before that was Female Medical. So . . . four years ago. Because she assumed I would know her it was likely she’d been an in-patient for an extended time, so possibly subjected to a myriad of investigations . . . or maybe she’d been very, very sick. . . . Alright.

But over the years I’d nursed thousands of men, women, children and babies so it was no mystery that I didn’t remember everyone. I’d got a technique down to a fine art for the chance meetings when I couldn’t be sure if I’d nursed the person in question, seen them through the Out-Patient conveyor belt, talked to them as a parent or a visitor, delivered their infant, or supported them as an anxious partner during an awkward labour.

A bit like the psychics you see on the television, I’d wait for the person to go on talking which they almost invariably did, or I’d make a general chit-chat comment, playing for time, hoping they’d mention something that told me whether to ask for themselves, their partner, family or child. More often than not I got the context right quite quickly and made the appropriate remarks before we departed, leaving both of us feeling quite happy with the interaction. People really appreciate being remembered, and I felt the sometimes tiny subterfuge was good for public relations with the hospital. Helped to provide a balance when there were occasional glitches that caused community concern.

But this meeting had felt quite odd. The clues said she was the patient herself; not a visitor, wife, mother, or grandmother connection. Because she talked on in such a personal way I was inhibited at first from asking for a name or other reminder, and as time went on, it didn’t feel appropriate. The moment had passed. In any case, there was no way to get a word in edgeways and as I needed to concentrate on what she was saying, it wasn’t possible to keep totting up the clues. Luckily I didn’t need to do much more than nod and make agreeable noises until Stella came back with her supervisor. The woman waved as she moved away, and said, ‘I’ll never forget you Nurse Baker, I hope to see you again. We’re just back from a visit to England and we’ll live here permanently now.’

Another clue, but not too helpful as there’d been many UK patients over the years.

Although life was busy with work and family, memory of the meeting kept bugging me. I suppose I’m a bit more conceited about my good memory than I should be. It’s a gift, but I work at it too. In my head I thought of her as the old-fashioned woman (OFW).

A couple of times my husband Joseph was irritated when he said I wasn’t paying attention to him or the twins. He brushed my explanation away, saying, ‘How could you expect to remember everyone? You should be happy she was a satisfied customer anyway.’

Joseph was right of course, and I owed it to him and the little ones to pay full attention. He was very good with them, shared their care, and made it easy for me to have occasional outings on my own, to relax and sometimes even to get extra sleep on days off.

For a month or two I suppose, I kept trying to recall that medical ward placement whenever there was a spare moment. It was a bit of a challenge. Quite a few patients with their various ailments came to mind but nothing clicked.

The only thing out of the ordinary, if you could think that some of the severe illnesses in a medical ward were ordinary, was the period of weeks when one of the women went into slow deterioration before our eyes. Funny I can’t remember her name either but I can still see her in my mind’s eye. She was skinny to start with but the flesh kept dropping off her and she failed in strength and will day-by-day. She was alabaster pale with long straggly hair that was difficult to look after but we did our best and plaited it over her head to keep it tidy and comfortable. As she became thinner and thinner we felt she would break and that her so-transparent skin would tear whenever we moved her. But we were proud that our care had kept her free of bedsores. She used to lapse into coma for long periods and surface for a while before dropping away again. I remember thinking she was escaping the pain because she groaned a lot.

Visiting specialists were called in from other hospitals and overseas if they happened to be in the country but there was no diagnosis by the time I left. Whenever the specialists arrived we had to ask the horde of visitors who surrounded her to leave for a while. More tests were ordered and shocking bruises were left on her arms, feet, ankles and hands when doctors kept trying different places to draw blood from her fragile veins. Treatments started, and stopped and started again. I was sure there’d be a post mortem when she died.

Those visitors were gentle and mannerly people but they were a nuisance to our work at times, blocking our way and making us feel bad or inefficient, always asking for information no-one had to give. I think the only reason Sister Munro allowed so many to be present at the one time was because the woman was expected to die at any minute and a few of them had made the long journey from England to be with her before the end. They prayed a lot and sometimes sang hymns very quietly. The other patients seemed to accept the rule-breaking. Just as well she was in the bed nearest the entrance of the ward where there was a bit more room. It was standard practice to keep the sickest ones there as it caused less disturbance if they died and had to be moved to the mortuary, especially if it happened at night.

In a way it seems strange to me now that I didn’t inquire about her or if there’d been a diagnosis when I got back to the hospital. The thing is, I met Joseph during that holiday and was so totally involved with him that I’d no mind of her till now. No point talking to any of my friends who trained at the same time. I was the only one of our group in that ward then and I can’t be sure who else was on the staff; we were all moved around so much to get compulsory general and special experience fitted in before Finals. I knew the ward sister and staff nurses had changed long since.

For quite a long time after I met the OFW, whenever I was in the town, I was on the look-out for her and even tried to be in the same locality around the same time as I’d met her in the shop, when I could. On days off I would wheel the twins in their pram up the main street and dawdle over a coffee to watch passers-by. I’d decided that if I did see her I’d ask her name hoping that would bring the memory of her back. Maybe the care needs of that other nameless woman were so overwhelming my focus on the OFW had been damped down. But it was so aggravating not to remember.

Eventually the sort of obsession with it all wore off and the puzzlement only surfaced when life was quiet. That didn’t happen very often.

The twins are four now and still a handful but in a different way. Time-out is more precious than ever and I set such store by the once a month get-together with a group of other mothers for a bit of a chin-wag and coffee with home-baked goodies as we watch over the little ones playing in a safe yard.

Though I do say it myself, we are an interesting group. I’m the only true-blue local who grew up here in Queensland. Judith comes from Melbourne, Lolita from Hong Kong; Morag, who claims a bit of the second-sight, is from the north of Scotland; Marylou migrated from America’s Deep South only a year ago and yesterday’s gentle hostess, Florence, found her way here from a Kimberley Aboriginal settlement after she married a teacher.

We love to meet at her place because of the rainforest setting and the space of acreage. And it suits her to have us always, because as a wildlife helper she usually has fragile animals or birds of some kind in need of regular attention. There are enough cuddles or wonderful peeps to go round for us and for the youngsters before we send them outside.

We usually keep clear of chat about the children, but otherwise the talk can be about anything and everything and there’s usually lots of laughter and occasionally a few tears. Sometimes it’s politics. Just lately that’s kept us all mad at the whole shebang of our illustrious representatives, here and in Canberra. Could be sport, especially with the Olympics just over and the changing to the different codes with the season. Somehow yesterday took us into the spiritual realm.

Florence and Morag had different stories to tell about premonitions, and finding things and calling people in, but underneath all was a sense of mystical awareness and a recognition that there was much beyond the physical world that would probably never be explained by logic and rationality. The atmosphere felt softer as we left that day. Even the children seemed calm.

Last night I was restless in my dreams and twice Joe nudged me awake because it was disturbing him. I moved into the guest room after that and dropped directly into a half-awake vision. There she was, my robust OFW, looking straight at me. Then she slowly dissolved into a floating mist that morphed into that same very sick and skinny lady of all those years ago, in the medical ward, surrounded by her prayerful friends. Visible on the wall behind her was her clinical chart with the name Irene Cartwright plain to see.

I woke up straight away, my mind so clear as if I’d been inhaling from an oxygen mask. My OFW truly is Mrs Cartwright and she’s very much alive. I couldn’t recognise her in the shop that day because in my mind she wasn’t in this world anymore; she’d died. I’d written her off because that’s how her future looked the last time I saw her. That’s why my memory didn’t work. I remembered now that one of her friends had said, ‘We have faith. It’s not her time.’ I’d ignored it as wishful thinking.

Now certain she was healed because of the constant presence and prayers of those faithful people who rallied around her, and the compassion of Sister Munro who for some reason overlooked the rules to allow them to be there for her, I felt my heart fill and my mind open up. I didn’t care about my memory any more. And thank-you Morag and Florence.

There are more things in heaven and earth . . . .

Edit diary: slow progress

Days 118-122 (September 7-10)

September 10: A day for edit and research, mainly grappling with changes to one chapter that has already been done over twice in recent days. Best to set it aside again I think. Also planning for a combined holiday and writing retreat on the Sunshine Coast. Booked accommodation today.

September 9: Editing at home, catching up on news and weekend papers, emails and family phone calls.

September 8: A crowd-packed day at the Queensland Writers Festival in Brisbane. Between sessions people milled around the concourse, bumped through the State Library bookshop or the Festival display of books, queued for author signings, took to the sun outside or the thronged eateries, searched for colleagues who attended different talks and lined up for the next one. So busy, so organised; and spoiled for choice of interesting opportunities. Then the thinned space for an hour until the mass change of venues for the next item on the program. I enjoyed the zingy energy.

September 7: Our monthly critiquing meeting was interesting all round even though there were two unavoidable absentees; one for work reasons, the other because a friend was visiting from far away. In the space of two hours we were entertained in Milan about the opera scene, in London about life enjoyed by the truly upper class, at Yeppoon to a resolving family crisis and in South Sudan to reflections about lost love. It is interesting to contemplate how much of ourselves we reveal when deconstructing our own writing and how much more we learn about our writing colleagues. An absolute delight.

But it feels sad to know that most of the people we walk past with or without a nod or a smile in everyday life must have equally riveting and complex and hidden stories to tell if we but knew it.

Edit diary, Tech question, Critiquing, Anthology, Writers Festival

Days 115-117 (September 4-6)

Editing: Am working on Book Two in the mornings (current edit almost done, at least one more to go) and Book One in the afternoons (hopefully the last sweep). At the moment I’m still too close to the second story to see it objectively, but was a bit shocked in my revisit of Book One to find more than the occasional stilted passage surviving.

In both parts of the day there is much chopping and compacting along with loosening up. I hope the need for significant changes will tail off soon.

Tech question: I’ve been hankering after an iPad for a while but feel unable to justify the expenditure with a trusty laptop that travels with me for everyday use and a trouble-free PC at home. When a For DUMMIES book on iPad 2 jumped out from the library display table I couldn’t resist the chance to explore what it can do. So who knows where that could end? I’ve seen some writer colleagues toting a compact package with iPad, external keyboard and other bits and pieces working very effectively. Maybe the versatility, light weight and therefore easier portability will win me over.

Critiquing: Tomorrow’s meeting of ourWriters Group promises to be interesting. Most members continue to submit work each month. As always it is a joy to see new work or chapters that have been reworked, shining in different ways. This month I was so excited by a YA story that seems to have taken off – very talented writing. I can see it being snapped up when completed.

I’ve had online feedback already for my chapter, and look forward to tomorrow’s discussion of the comments. I had intended to wait for all suggestions before making changes, but related so strongly to one view that I have already done a big rewrite of one section with more to do in other parts of the story so that one of Freya’s character flaws can be more clearly understood. Very clear in my head but hadn’t come through to the page.

It will also be good to hear opinions about the experiences of several members who are participating in ongoing workshops sponsored by the Queensland Writers Centre.

Anthology: The number of views is climbing. Hopefully readers will enjoy the results of our fun experience. It’s free on Smashwords. Title is Ten Minute Tales by the Victoria Point Writers Group.

Queensland Writers Festival: There are so many interesting workshops and panelson offer it has been hard to choose. I plan to flit between a number all day on Saturday.

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