on the writing & reading trail

Posts tagged ‘short extract’

Critiques, reading, editing

Day 72 (July 24)

Critiques: The month is powering on and it is time for sending chapters for critique and receiving work from others.

I did an early send to two of our members who offered to take an advance look at a chapter that I wasn’t sure worked as it is totally comprised of reflection by several of the characters after retiring for the night, following uneasy and puzzling interactions when Tony and Alexander meet with the two nurses at the aid camp. Thankfully both critiquers think the material achieves by filling personality and plot gaps as intended. I’d wrestled with other ways of conveying the necessary elements of the story without success. Hopefully when the material goes to other members they will agree, even though there are sure to be different suggestions for overall improvement, or maybe they will offer inspiration for a different approach.

Two short extracts from the chapter follow. The first focuses on the musings of Tony, a logistician, as he thinks about the local political dangers when planning his activities for the next few days.

Tony knew that even a minor provocation could translate to histrionic temper tantrums by the warlords and result in a veto on clinic activities, or additional restrictions on team movements between clinics, camps, embryo hospitals and outreach points, or even the planting of new landmines in the area. Or worse. But with guerrilla activities so unpredictable, guesses about potential reprisals could be notoriously off the mark. With the recollection that general intelligence for the area had been optimistic he dozed again. 

Recurring unease brought him suddenly awake at times.

During one of the wakeful times he started a mental check on the list of activities scheduled for tomorrow. He needed to cover all bases without reference to written lists. The commander he’d be negotiating with prided himself on getting things done and had little truck with education and learning. Tony knew that the tribal elders who would be present understood the tenuousness of talks and were always careful to avoid contentious issues. They wanted the best for their families and their people and he could rely on them to recommend good helpers for the measles campaign if agreement was achieved.

 In the second extract Alexander’s puzzlement emerges about Freya’s behaviour during their brief and unexpected meeting after many years.

Alexander lay for a while, staring at the sky without seeing it. He wrestled with a sense that something to do with Freya was out of whack but couldn’t hook it. Clearly she did not want to acknowledge their old relationship. She was the same, and different. She’d always been so open, transparent really, and now there were pockets of containment and opaqueness. A protective mechanism? He guessed she’d need something of that when doing this kind of work. The passion about anything she was doing hadn’t gone; the graceful gestures remained; still a toucher and comforter.

 So far I’ve received only one chapter for critique. It covers the ongoing development and success of the Australian opera singer who performs magnificently in Monte Carlo and who is bound for more tuition in Milan. Her ambitions are being realised. A few structural suggestions made – I hope they are useful.

I’m expecting several more submissions in coming days.

Reading: Hospital’s volume of short stories, Forecast: Turbulence has been fascinating. Such power. The blurb says: Janette Turner Hospital sensitively weaves stories of heartbreaking poignancy, shocking power and steadfast resolve, all honouring a universal question: how can we maintain equilibrium in a turbulent and uncertain world?

Although this is a theme in each of the three existing books in my family saga, it is much more so in the one I am currently editing than in the first. In the first book Past imperfect, the dilemmas are more at individual level, while the second book Present tense attempts to explore issues in a wider context. I am reaching out to emulate the power of Hospital’s prose. An elusive ambition I suspect.


While still dipping into Nigel Brennan’s different type of saga as the members of his family dealt with his incarceration and efforts to free him, I’ve also started to read The Postmistress by Sarah Blake which was recommended by a friend and just appeared on the hold shelf of the library yesterday. Looks promising.

Editing: I’ve finished the current sweep of Part One of Present tense and am now working on the humanitarian aid part of the story. Although exhaustively researched many months ago I need to re-read resources and perhaps find new material to strengthen what is already written. The passage of time has not made it any easier to represent with authenticity the atrocities that can occur between human beings or the impact of natural disasters. Among the survivors, resilience and hope prevail for those who are not broken; so many humbling stories in the midst of despair. Where are the ways to overcome evil and greed in their many guises? Maybe somewhere amongst the survivors the will and talents will emerge to find ways to share the resources of this marvellous world co-operatively?

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