on the writing & reading trail

Posts tagged ‘MSF’

Mostly reading

September 28-October 7

Edit diary: A little bit of editing happened – way behind expectations. I hope to complete the current sweep of Present tense soon before moving to Future hope, the third in a family saga series. A number of mundane happenings (pest and termite inspection requiring furniture removal from walls, servicing of air-conditioning, appliance breakdown, business meetings etc. etc.) interrupted the edit flow and there were a few unexpected events as well. Never mind, with the walls and floors behind furniture exposed what better time to dive into spring-cleaning that somehow didn’t happen properly last year. Too busy swanning around Europe and Canada and having a great time.  Will include one photo reminder from last year – Vancouver, one of my favourite places away from home. However a number of bus journeys to and from Brisbane last week gave the opportunity to catch up on reading.

From a float plane

Reading: Back to a third read of Six months in Sudan: a young doctor in a war-torn village, by James Maskalyk – an incredible and saddening catalogue of civil strife and trauma, unmet basic needs and epidemics of preventable diseases and lack of infrastructure and essential resources. It wasn’t a new story then and although the north and south of Sudan have since separated, the situations continue. Wonderfully low-key writing that packs a punch. I am backing up the reading with watching the newly released MSF TV AUSTRALIA program which will run for a month. Compelling viewing. So much being done; so much still to do. If only we could change the world. Of course the questions are ‘which we’? and ‘change which way?’  Could go in an entirely unbearable direction instead of towards harmony and help and fairness.

Another disturbing read was Dorothy Koomson’s tale of tragic events that affected two teenage girls and the lasting and widespread legacy that followed. The blurb says ‘Gripping, thought-provoking and heart-warming, The Ice Cream Girls will make you wonder if you can ever truly know the people you love. I stayed with the book because of the excellent writing.

My current book is Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. The writing is superb and lives up to previous books of hers that I enjoyed – March and People of the Book. I look forward to having the companionship of the two main characters, Caleb and Bethia over following days and learning more of their lives in the 1660s  between Martha’s Vineyard and Cambridge.

Writers Group: A small group this month but as usual we travelled far and wide, enjoyed the company and benefited from the constructive comments and suggestions offered.

Other news: Last night, two of our members – Marci and Sara, received Highly Commended certificates at the Redlitzer Short Story awards, and launch of the second annual anthology. It was a very successful event in support of emerging writers in the Redlands. The anthology features ten stories from adult writers and ten from young people. Another read to be savoured. And in ten days I’ll attend the launch of a friend’s fifth book.

Editing of Present tense moving on

Days 94-95 (August 15-16)

Editing: A fair bit of time today was spent with an awkward chapter. Freya was attending a conference in Nairobi and being introduced to the challenges experienced by health workers striving to gain recognition and action at all levels to address the escalating AIDS epidemic in many African countries. In the late nineties the responses were varied with some health authorities choosing the route of denial.

In my chapter I hadn’t got the balance right to avoid it seeming like an information dump. Problem is that even before making changes the content fell so far short of representing the situation. But I need to remember I am writing a fiction not a treatise, so there is a need to weigh the offsets. The full facts (so far as they can be) are in other places, in the background reading.

My information came mainly from the work of Canadian journalist, Stephanie Nolen and a report of the MSF Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines which was published sometime after my relevant timeframe but indicated their earlier involvement. Some details can be found:  http://www.msfaccess.org/our-work/overcoming-barriers-access/article/1374    and http://www.msfaccess.org/the-access-campaign

Nolen’s book 28: Stories of AIDS in Africa is a remarkable collection and I commend it to anyone with an interest in this area.

Hopefully my chapter is improved now. Will re-read it tomorrow. A short extract follows:

The AIDS presentations made Freya’s head spin as stories of ignorance and inertia unfolded.

Experiences were different in different countries and communities as reported by health workers, journalists, and several brave souls determined to advocate for others at the expense of their own reputations.

Most shocking of all were the cover-ups; leaders of countries apparently in denial of the existence of the disease in their communities, unable to accept the reality of departures from the phantom moral codes; denying that hazardous sexual practices were occurring, contrary to supposed cultural norms. Individuals who did not want to admit to casual partnering outside their traditional marital structures often avoided testing. And some men who were tested chose not to tell multiple wives of their positive HIV status. 


Exercise: A long walk in the park after yesterday’s editing was a delight. Warmth and sun and few cyclists made for a comfortable time in good company with an author friend who is planning the launch of her fifth book next month. I’m looking forward to reading it.

This wonderful bird was elusive yesterday but I caught him on a recent visit.

Still for a portrait

Relaxation: Tomorrow is a fun day. Am meeting some writer friends for coffee and a chat that will carry us through to lunchtime – always enjoyable. Apart from talk of writing matters and progress on compiling our anthology, we catch up on personal things as well. Writing brings great friendships. Congratulations to Nene who was featured on this blog as a guest author recently. She had word that a story will appear in an anthology soon. Great excitement.

Editing and reading

Day 61 (April 27)

Editing:  Going well. Almost done with the latest sweep of Part One of Book One. Tomorrow I move on to Part Two. Still trying to settle on titles for parts and books.

Reading:  Weekends seem to come round very quickly. That’s when major reading happens. I’m more than half-way half-way through the keepers of truth, and found the source of the title. Won’t spoil it for anyone – but what an impressive character duo. I love the scene where the meaning becomes obvious.

I’m also planning to revisit The Loop by  Nicholas Evans for some light relief – great yarn about the tensions between the protectors and hunters of wolves.

The other book I want to revisit, but with serious intent is An imperfect offering by James Orbinski. In the not so distant future I expect to start editing the second book of the family and friendship saga series I am working on, and want to be in tune with the awful realities of humanitarian aid work. Orbinski’s book among several others, is so compelling about the work of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and will I hope, help me to bring some authenticity to my own writing. In my Book Two, Freya, after experiencing disappointments and sadness in Australia, sets off as a volunteer with MSF to work in South Sudan.

For anyone who is interested in what happens to the ordinary people (many of whom become extraordinary) in a country during devastating climatic conditions combined with the upheavals and politics of war, I recommend any of the participating country sites for MSF. The one I most regularly follow is www.msf.org.au for contemporary issues. Many such issues are mirrored in what happened in the time-frame of my story, set in the late 1990s. Orbinski’s writing itself is easy and flowing. My difficulty is with the impact of the stories and the need to read in increments to take in the horrors. This is real life, and I guess that is why I can’t read manufactured horror stories.

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