on the writing & reading trail

Posts tagged ‘reading’

Reading and neuroscience

Interesting study that shows how various regions of the brain are involved for different types of reading – for pleasure or close reading. Although preliminary, it might surprise how widely areas of the brain are involved. No wonder we like to read. Very encouraging for authors as well as fascinating for the scientists.

http://www.salon.com/2012/09/19/your_brain_loves_jane_austen/ Edit

Edit diary, writing, critiquing, reading

It’s been a while since I was in this space – life got in the way – more technology glitches – family health issues – time consuming investigations of retirement living options – eventually postponed decisions again. We are just not ready.

So, uncertainties settled for the time being, I’m back to the business of preparing Past imperfect, the first novel in the Long shadows series, for publication. Following my final edit, the manuscript is with readers.

Feedback: Readers are providing helpful feedback and I am thankful that one awkward blooper was discovered – absolutely confirms the need for dispassionate eyes to assess a manuscript. In one of my rewrites, an important intention of the protagonist was erased. Thank you Sara for your time generosity and discerning eye.

Writing: Am still working on front and back matter for the final submission – strangely more challenging than expected, but getting there. Until I press the publish button it is too hard to work on the host of other ideas that are calling my fingers to start new files to develop the short stories and memoir fragments that are clamouring.

Critiquing: Last Friday was Writers Group critiquing day, with a mixture of novel and memoir chapters, a short story and a writing exercise to discuss.  As usual we parted reluctantly from our session of laughter, serious comments and constructive criticisms, words of wisdom and mutual trust, with nourishing food for thought to improve our offerings.

Reading: The impulse to read fiction is curiously dampened when full-blown editing takes the stage but some still happens. My focus has been on social media and marketing ideas. I’ve mentioned it before, but the ProWriter course How to find readers and market your novel, devised by Joanna Penn and C J Lyons, is extremely helpful and I commend it to anyone preparing for e-publication. http://www.thecreativepenn.com/marketyourbook/.

However I did finish The secret life of bees by Sue Monk Kidd which was left behind by a family member who stayed recently – loved it. A Library Thing reviewer had this to say “The Secret Life of Bees is a coming of age story in the deep south in the early 1960’s. You will come to love each of the characters. Reading this book you will both laugh and cry. This book is about hope, empathy, and dignity across racial lines. I’m already to read it again!’

I am also reading The Forgotten garden by Kate Morton (only recently found her, and she’s an Aussie). If I’d discovered it earlier I might have found a way to adapt some of her seamless literary devices for backstory for use in Past imperfect. It is also interesting to find similar themes about compulsions that are driven by identity uncertainty, family secrets and family loyalties in her novel and mine. Find out about Kate at http://www.katemorton.com/

Next on the agenda: e-publication of Past imperfect – hopefully before the end of March.

Editing and writing

29 November

Editing: Steady progress. Nothing startling – the usual changes – rejig sentences and paragraphs, chop some adverbs, get rid of repetitions, turn passive into active, and transform ‘tell’ to ‘show’ where possible.

I’ve included a short extract from Past imperfect – Eyemouth again but from an earlier time. This is where Freya’s father grew up after the war after being found alone on the shore as a baby.

Freya remembered their family visit to Eyemouth in 1970 when she and Jacob walked to this same cottage all those years ago. Claire and Nessie and Douglas were unpacking in the little house they’d rented for a few days. All of them were excited to be celebrating the fiftieth wedding anniversary of their Dunbar grandparents over the weekend. Seventy-something had seemed so old, beyond imagining. Before they arrived, Freya had pictured them as tiny, wizened and helpless. It was mind-blowing that old people could be energetic and full of laughter and thankful for their lives. So different from Gramma.

The breeze had blown sharp off the North Sea, ruffling their hair and stinging their cheeks. Papa’s words were still clear in her mind. ‘Feel that bracing air, Freya, seaweed and salt, it makes your lungs hungry for more.’ He pointed out the harbour wall where he used to chat with the fishermen and the boat-builders at weekends and after school, and to the large shed where he learned so many of his carpentry and building skills.

For Papa he’d been quite talkative. ‘I hope the old pair are not too frail. Their writing has been getting spidery lately. I suppose that happens after seventy.’ He’d suddenly turned and touched her shoulder, ‘Don’t say anything about the war, Freya, unless they do. Remember they lost their two boys when they were teenagers. So sad. I only got to know the younger one vaguely, he left when I was four, but those boys were the ones who found me.’

Writers Group get-together: Carole recently travelled to the US and hosted a wonderful show of carefully selected photographs from Hawaii, California, the north-east and New York. What a wonderful range of experiences. Thank you Carole.

We were also pleased that the launch of our Ten Minute Tales anthology (find it on Google) had local press coverage with quotes from two of the group, Carole and Nene. The anthology is free on Smashwords.

On the way home I stopped to photograph the wonderful avenue of Poinciana trees.

Reading: I finished the Koomson book – a satisfying end. Had to be like that. Ready to read a book I bought recently I am frustrated – it has disappeared and is not to be found in the usual places. Time to clear all surfaces.

Writing: Hopefully I’ll manage to complete the second story with a twist, probably destined for our next anthology. There are so many stories buzzing – fiction and some memoir fragments. Will I live long enough? Probably not because I’m sure the font won’t dry up.

Editing, writing, reading

November 10

Editing: It’s back to the drawing board. Amazingly the agent I approached viewed my sample chapters straight away, but the answer was negative – not interested – but might consider again if I undertake a lot of work. The suggestions were helpful and I’ll rework the novel again with some of them strongly in mind, and think some more about others. Am leaving that till next week.

Writing: I’m working on two short stories for our next anthology – there needs to be a twist. That is a challenge, but an item I read in a weekend supplement last week and an internet story I stumbled on have provided inspiration for family oriented tales – that is not a surprise for me. One focuses on the early stage of life, the other on the later stage – this isn’t new either – in one theme of our Ten Minute Tales anthology the same beginning and life end matters found their way to the top of consciousness. Is that what being the eldest of seven does?

Reading: Mainly focused on books the library will want to have back on the shelves again soon. Would love to keep Caleb’s crossing by Geraldine Brooks a while longer, to savour it. Denise Leith’s book What remains is another I will dip into several times before returning. Am also reading a local author Paula Watson’s YA story Shadows (about love, nightmares, angels, war) since hearing her speak about it at a local Author talk run by Redlands Libraries – had to wait a while for it as I was well down the ‘request’ list. Very clearly and well written; I’m enjoying the read even though fantasy type writing is not a preferred genre.

There are some books piling up that I couldn’t resist buying as well and I’m thinking of reviewing some indie titles on Smashwords or through Library Thing. Should keep me out of mischief. Won’t slow down the new writing though as reading is an evening activity.

Colleagues: Nene, a member of our Writers Group is busy working on her novel on advice from an e-publisher. I wish her well. Keep up with progress on her blog at nenedavieswrites.weebly.com Another member is also on the brink of submitting a novel for consideration as well. It’s a big step to let go. Thoughts are with her as she makes that decision.

The jacaranda are still magnificent.

Purple beauty against a stormy sky

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.

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.

Editing, reading, this and that

Days 57-65 (July 10-17)

Today, July 17, the library was very quiet. It’s like that most Tuesdays. Returned to editing yesterday after days of doing this and that. Nothing new to report; same issues arising as before. Just a slog, with some satisfaction at moving along, however slowly.

Quiet here today

For a few days there was no writing, no editing. Had fun surfing the net looking for ebook cover designers. There are lots of them – fees differ remarkably. Unsure if they reflect differences in quality of images. Found a couple whose designs I really liked – closest one is in New Zealand. When I’m ready I’ll contact her.

Read another Anna McPartlin book So what if I’m broken – again located in Dublin, about a dysfunctional family and how they individually, and often together, found their way through a gamut of experiences with life’s darker issues – wonderfully and sympathetically written. See http://annamcpartlin.com/ or http://authors.simonandschuster.com/Anna-McPartlin/44893203/interview_with_id/746 for more information.

July 12: I do not miss the tensions that always went along with this day during my seven years in Northern Ireland in the 70s and 80s, and around Glasgow before that.

Instead I enjoyed a wonderful morning coffee catch-up with two writer friends. Turned out we all feel just a little stale – maybe the weather, although the three of us have a preference for these cooler days.  Our lively chat left me feeling fresher and more motivated. I hope the time together had the same effect for them.

From there I hurried home to cook. One brother and his partner from the far north of Queensland arrived later for several days of talk and reminiscence for us all. Although only two years apart, my brother and I remember such different things and even for the same events our interpretations are often so unlike. Gender differences? Age differences? It was good to have some more women-talk as well. The house felt really empty when they left.

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