on the writing & reading trail

Posts tagged ‘editing’

Edit diary and other things

October 16

Editing: Over recent days I’ve been working on two fronts – finishing those last paragraphs of Present tense and what I hope is the final sweep for Past imperfect. I’ve put Present tense aside for several weeks so that I can see it with fresh eyes.

It’s been slow so far with Past imperfect. I’m one quarter throughand feeling satisfied that the changes are enlivening the narrative. Hopefully my writing was improved for the later chapters and I wonder if an end of the month target for completion is too optimistic. I’ll stay with that meantime.

Writing: Writing Group members who contributed to the anthology, Ten Minute Tales, that we recently e-published for free now feel we have learned how to manage the process well enough to embark on a more serious effort at quality writing. Last week we agreed our focus – to produce a collection of short stories with a ‘twisted’ orientation. We’ve set a completion date for the end of November and a maximum 1,500 word-count.

One member is off to a flying start with a story completed already. I’m struggling with the ‘twist’ emphasis and grappling to find something that works – meantime all that surfaces is as lightweight as a spiral of licorice.

I guess I’m thinking maybe we need to aim for more than one story each or perhaps to find several themes or even something open, as well. Is that an escape hatch for lack of inspiration / application? Or a legitimate thought for something solid enough to publish?

NB – One of our members, Nene, has a story on the ABC website. Congratulations. Find Nene’s story here – https://open.abc.net.au/projects/500-words-caught-out-28dn4ay/contributions/santa-s-helper-helps-herself-78du0ff

Reading: A few real books and several e-books on the go. Continuing with Caleb’s Crossing, the Redlitzer Anthology 2012, Where war lives: A journey into the heart of war, and another war correspondent journey, What remains by Denise Leith – a devastating story of different kinds of horror – at the moment I’m with her in Rwanda after a spell inSarajevo. These readings balance each other out in different ways and with topics in current editing where the story is personally disappointing for the protagonist but underneath is a happy situation even though that is at risk.

I’m taking advantage of The Australian (newspaper) offering of free e-books for readers. The Marmalade Files by journalists Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann was a straight-through riveting read – brought back so many memories of eight years working in the Commonwealth bureaucracy in Canberra – thin cover for contemporary happenings in the national capital. It really is like that. Reminds me of the TV programs, Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister, so popular in the UK many years ago.

General: During a weekend walk we met this wonderful fluffy creature. About to capture a front-on shot, a cyclist hurtling over the bridge sent the bird off in fright. Another day perhaps but it will be a big bird then.

Fluffy friend

The library was quiet today. Students are back at school. The sun is shining again. An earlier dry spell and recent winds have reduced the blossom from our beautiful jacaranda trees. We’re left with carpets of mauve. I hope there are some late bloomers left. They are among my favourite trees.

Jacarandas in bloom


Editing priority change

Day 103 (August 23)

Editing: Decided to change the priority for a couple of days as energy levels are low – maybe the result of a day in the city with all the flu bugs around and lots of coughing in the bus on the way home yesterday evening. Everything feels lighter near home with a wildlife corridor running metres away from our house. Feeling like a dose of new creativity, so will focus on writing. There are a few competitions coming up.

Writing: Poetry is not my forte and nor is cricket for that matter but I’ve decided to have a bash – up to 150 words. An unlikely challenge but will certainly take me beyond usual comfort zone. Won’t tell my husband who is not quite a cricket fanatic but used to be close, just yet. I once did the unpardonable when I started to read a book at a cricket match because from our distant seats I was unable to see the ball and had no idea how it was going. Backyard games or small ovals like Canberra were more my scene.

There are also a couple of stories to tidy up that fit the word limits and if there’s time I might even try a short non-fiction stint. Could be a refreshing change from editing – maybe a week.

Mainly relaxation day today – minor editing and reading

Days 101-102 (August 21-22)

 Editing: Will spend a little time on editing yesterday’s highlighted areas of later chapters of Present tense, but don’t expect to get far as it’s becoming late. Also did some mental work on the way to the city in the bus this morning, and of course pen and notebook to hand so none of the gems get lost.

 Reading: Brisbane City Library had a book on hold for me and it took all my attention on the way home – Crossing to safety by Wallace Stegner.The book came to notice through Jennifer Byrne’s First Tuesday Book Club a few weeks ago. I am hooked already by the first pages and the biographical note and introduction; a book about friendships. The notion appeals, partly because my own three novels are based around family and friendships. No doubt there will be many thoughts as more pages are devoured.

Last night I finished The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith – a sad but inevitable end. An important read for Australians and closely based on a true story.

Art Gallery: Portrait of Spain: Masterpieces from the Prado was well worth a visit. As I’m not familiar with Spanish art it was an education to see the changes in style over the centuries. And a reminder of the prominence of religion and royalty in art. The exhibition was well attended with a number of guided groups being introduced to the main works in each of the galleries. The absolute stand-out for me was in the entrance area. Won’t spoil it by comment, but a must see for anyone interested in attending. Cameras were clicking at a major rate; the only place they were permitted.

Editing of family and friendship saga continues: Present tense

Days 96- 100 (August 17-21)

Editing: Slowly getting through a few more awkward chapters. Previous editing changes have a flow-on effect that has led to a substantial rethink, not of content but of presentation. Dialogue has been compressed. Not sure how the many repetitions escaped previous scrutiny. Have also found numerous paragraphs which are improved by bringing the final sentence forward to the beginning – an unfortunate and recurring tendency I’ve noted. Have highlighted many segments for further work this time round.

Tomorrow’s tasks

The end is night though, for this edit – only six chapters remaining. Then I’ll take a break and go through it all again to check whether the changes have worked and how much more fine-tuning is needed. Am more or less satisfied that no extensive alterations are required. Hoping the next sweep through won’t change my mind.

Hoping to move on to Book Three (probably to be titled Future hope) by the middle of September.

Reading: Ran out of time to finish Anna Funder’s award winning novel All that I am. It is in demand and the library wants it back – no extensions possible. Because I was reading it in short stints I couldn’t seem to relate strongly to any of the characters. Probably a book that is better approached when there is continuity of time. I will request it again.

Am just about finished The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, a dark tale by Thomas Keneally. Not enjoyable but of interest and I’m supposing with many true insights into the experience of a proportion of Aborigines of mixed descent when subjected to continual discrimination. Some wonderful poetic passages around environment and flora.

I’m also still dipping into Wanted women: faith, lies and the war on terror: the lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Aafia Siddiqui and Emma’s war, both by Deborah Scroggins

Recreation: Friday’s coffee catch-up with friends was a delight as usual. So was Sunday’s walk in the park. Still didn’t find my bird friend (pictured). A beautiful afternoon with need for alertness to dodge the many cyclists enjoying the afternoon.

Elusive bird

Tomorrow is a visit to the Prado Exhibition at the Art Gallery and a birthday lunch for one of my sisters. Looking forward to that. Wonderful sky as I waited for a bus.


Edit progress and unusual words

Days 88-93 (August 9-14)

Editing: Editing continued to be disjointed in recent days but with good and enjoyable reason; spending time with a grey nomad couple from Western Australia. The woman has a long-ago connection with my husband’s younger sister who is still in Northern Ireland. Unsurprising that there were gaps and confusions with decades-old memories, but entirely expected that there was a lot of laughter. The Irish are like that. And although cold, the weather held good with sunny days for their visit.

A walk in the park reminded that it is wattle time; not so good for hay-fever sufferers but bright and magnificent and uplifting for others. The ducks were enjoying themselves.

Golden wattle

Even so some chapters did get revised. No reading though.

Ducks in the creek

And then today I got stuck into editing, and back-tracked to some earlier chapters (which hadn’t had recent scrutiny) in the second part of Present tense. I finished up feeling satisfied with work on two-and-a-bit chapters. The following short extract describes Freya’s arrival in South Sudan after a stop-off in Nairobi:

June 1997 – Arif:  Freya hung on to the arms of her seat tightly, white-knuckled, as the Mission Aviation Fellowship plane circled the area and flew into the rough landing strip in a spiral. Now there was a problem with this aircraft. Her placement was doomed before it could start. She should have read the signs. She wasn’t meant to do this. All those hindrances and delays over recent months had surely been pointing that way.

On the ground, four passengers melted through the crowd that was clamouring around the unloading efforts, to board vehicles waiting on the edge of the packed-dirt tarmac. Two guards edged the swarm back as a line of workers broke into a clearly familiar pattern of passing the large packages from plane to ready hands, to other hands, until till they reached a waiting United Nations truck. Within minutes Freya realised the scrawny starving people in the periphery weren’t here for distribution as she’d assumed. The packages were destined for storage first.

Freya struggled to keep her expression neutral at this first evidence of the reality that starvation and malnutrition were the highest priorities in the area. Desperate people scrabbled along the edge of the transit line for pickings. Oblivious of injury risk, children of all sizes crawled between the legs of the workers to retrieve a few grains of rice or corn or a packet of therapeutic biscuits that might fall from a damaged container. Hunger is a powerful driver. The workers were thin but seemed healthy and strong enough. They had work; they had money; they must be able to get some food.

It wasn’t like that for those on the fringes, the scarecrows. She saw two women faint; their ribs barely covered by skin. They were almost trampled until dragged beyond the throng to be cared for by family members who fanned them with dusty branches wrenched from the sparse shrubs on the boundary of the air strip.

As there was no sign of an MSF logo or anyone who might be looking for her, Freya remained in the wing-shade of the plane. Heat crushed in on her whole body. Overcome by a cascade of sneezes and coughs triggered by the swirls of fine dust thrown up by all the activity, her breaths became shallow and barely sustaining. She leaned against a wheel strut, and pulled the cotton scarf from her neck to hold it over her nose and mouth.

Unusual words: More Scots words today.  One of my major characters who is a presence through all three books of the saga had an unfortunate experience. I might have written about her to say:

Gramma haed a shock an’ twas a sair strouchle tae walk a straucht line. That is, Gramma had a paralytic stroke and found it a hard struggle to walk in a straight line.

It took me some time to learn interpret speech like this, but in the end I was mainly successful. It was usually from older rural folk.  I wonder how common usage is now.

Tonight Billy Connolly has a double TV program Journey to the edge of the world, so I’m primed after thinking about old Scots chat today.

Editing, critiquing and research

Days 79-87 (Jul 3-August 8)  

Edit diary: Editing time has been patchy and feels unsatisfactory.Recent days have been full of distractions; catching up with friends, cooking to stock up the freezer, hobbling round with painful muscles after overdoing some exercise, overdue housework to make our home presentable for visitors.

Critiquing:  Our Writers Group meeting last Friday (see photos of wonderful colleagues) was excellent with welcome feedback for all who submitted material even though it left some of us with puzzles about conflicting views and suggestions about tackling some plot or character issues. Whilst the perennial suggestions for how to ‘show’ instead of ‘tell’ are a constant at our meetings, there were some stunning examples of ‘showing’ in some passages. And we learn from each other.

Treasured colleagues

More of us

Short story:  In a separate entry, I have great pleasure in introducing a short story Miss Understood  by Writers Group colleague and friend, Nene Davies.  

Reading:  Has been disjointed because of constant reference to research resources as I edit my second story Present tense while I have relevant books from the library; to recheck and / or to flesh out information regarding war correspondents and the challenges for aid volunteers in Africa in the late 1990s. Sadly in South Sudan current upheavals seem like a re-run from that time. Even though the political structure has changed, the underlying disputes around resources, ethnic differences, and national and local disagreements persist.

Research:  Because it is such a joy to read one of the books, Emma’s War, by Deborah Scroggins in a large print library edition I’ve been finding it difficult to set it aside even when I’ve found the reference(s) I need. So good not being distracted and slowed down by struggles with the small lettering in my personal copy. Thankfully most of the other books are easier on the eye.

Although the Scroggins timeframe is a little before my story, her book provides a wonderful panorama of the political and aid environments leading up to the later famine years and the increasing unrest that claimed so many lives through violence, malnutrition, starvation and ill health.

Médecins Sans Frontières websites claim me for hours at a time, reading of the work of the volunteers and the experiences of the survivors of the turmoil as they seek help in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. The amazing MSF videos should be compulsory viewing by the whole world.

Why aren’t these people (and others like them in many countries) the ones we welcome to Australia? They have no money to help them move between countries and then buy places on leaky boats. Of course the issues are complex for all asylum seekers and many, many have unmet needs. In my novel the volunteers often have to make diabolical choices about who receives priority for medical care because resources are finite. Same with asylum seekers. We can’t take everyone. My preference is for governments to focus on those people in the most dire circumstances with the fewest or no choices.

Words, writing, editing, critiquing, reading

Days 73-78 (July 25 to 30)

Words: I don’t remember what triggered the memory but the word ‘scunner’ drifted into mind and took me back many years to my early months and years in Scotland when I battled with accents, different word usage and what seemed like an endless procession of new and often strange sounding words and sayings. It was unexpected, as my father had adapted fully to Australian speech and mannerisms. Probably partly self-preservation as an immigrant and a little to do with his keen musical ear. He could play any tune on request after a few starter notes and was in demand for round-the-piano sing-alongs when friends got together.

Although a Scots word, I didn’t hear scunner used much in Scotland; more so by a Belfast neighbour in Northern Ireland. She would often say that someone or something was a scunner. Her tone of voice left no doubt that she looked on the person or thing with disgust. A vivid word. Scots and Irish history is interwoven with much population movement in both directions.

Two other ‘s’ words felt right as well when I got to know them. An irate father might say, ‘A’ll skelp the sleekit wee bugger’s bum if he tries that again.’ (I’ll smack the sneaky little one’s bottom).

More than half of my first draft novel, Past Imperfect, is set in Scotland. Initially I used a fair bit of dialect, but bowed to the recommendations of Writing Group critiquers and advice in books on writing and cut it back significantly.  What follows is a small segment that survived. Opinions welcome.


1941 – Gorbals:  Sssh Nancy, the wean’s sleepin’. Puir wee thing, she’s bin coughin’ sore. Her mam’s near roon the bend wi’ worry and she hates to leave her, but she’s nae choice but tae work.’ She laid down her cup with care to avoid it clinking. 

‘Aye, there’s a few in the same boat. Lucky she seems strong enough hersel’. Mebbe from all that guid highland air till she came here,’ whispered Isa.

‘The young’un would be the better o’ that for sure. It’s a wonder she doesnae go back to ‘er family now ‘er man’s been kilt.’

‘The gossip says she’d no’ be welcome back. Her old man has her a sinner for leavin’ the brethren and mixing wi’ unbelievers. They’re a rum lot they brethren. Ye’d hardly blink an’ it would be a sin.’

‘She’s aye at the kirk, and sayin’ prayers all the time and she keeps modest an’ looks oot for ithers, so she seems right enough tae me. An’ that young Dougal woulda enticed me awa’ frae hame too if I’da thought he’d have me.’

Isa hesitated. They said gossip was the devil’s work. But it was such a tasty morsel. ‘Ach well, there’s a story aboot that an’ all. Some’d say he was glad tae leave the north tae get awa’ frae her bossiness and wilfulness, and the religion too. She does seem more’n a mite inclined that way. . . . They made a bonnie pair though. ’Tis said he married her to save her face for following him here an’ bein’ ousted frae the family.’ She took another sip of tea and set the cup silently again before going on.

‘Ma cousin Ailsa heard in a roon-aboot way that Dougal was smitten wi’ her looks for a while when he was up there, but no’ for long. The word is, he tellt her there wasnae a future as he reckoned on the war comin’ and he was gaun tae join the military. Seems like she had ither ideas. But fair go, they did seem to be a’right th’gither till he was posted. An’ he was fair besotted wi’ the littl’un; chose her name an’ all. Ah heard tell it was because o’ the light in her eyes and her sonsie complexion he called her Claire. Agnes said it means ‘clear and bright and famous’. ‘Ye could see it might fit the wee thing . . . when she’s well that is.’

Nancy digested this in silence.

Isa continued, ‘Agnes complains aboot this place amang the Catholics and the Jews but she doesnae realise how lucky she is tae hae a place at a’. If Dougal’s Irish cousins hadnae taken her in she’d be in a right mess. It’s lucky the factor let her stay on when they moved to the country when the weans got evacuated for safety. They went after the Clydebank bombing. . . . That was awfy sad.’

On the stair outside, Agnes heard the next part of the conversation.

‘Aye, that’s another thing. She’s aye on aboot Dougal desertin’ her. Joinin’ up when he didnae need tae, him bein’ from the Irish Republic. He allus said he would fight for right though, and she couldnae move him. She thinks that makes her loss more’n others. Doesnae go doon so well aroon here. There’s nae shortage o’ the grievin’. An maist o’ the women are proud o their men for gaun in spite o’ the worry and the losses.’

‘Even she does think that, I wish she wouldnae say it in front o’ the bairn. She’ll hae enough to deal with, without thinkin her Da left her willingly.’

‘Aye, ye’re right enough aboot that, Isa. Agnes’ll no see it that way though, she’s all aboot hersel.’ 

Quietly Agnes stepped backwards down the stair, hoping no one would see her and call out; then she’d banged her way up noisily as if just arriving. Anger seared through her at the indignity of these women talking about her in that way. She’d get out of this place, and soon.

Editing: Good progress.  Stuck for days on one chapter, but moved through two today.

Critiquing: Finished the last two critique chapters yesterday. One was the continuing memoir of a London childhood in the 1940s. The other was the beginning of a new fantasy story – a war between good and evil will develop I suspect.

Reading: I’ve been flitting from book to book, trying to decide whether to persevere with a couple and needing to focus on my African stories. Five books on hold turned up today. Three of them will be useful research resources and were published after my earlier efforts completed.

Tag Cloud