Dear Writing Gods

So, Writing Gods, I’m still here. Just in case you’d forgotten. I mean, I’m sure you hadn’t, because you’re the all-seeing, all-knowing Writing Gods, but maybe you got a bit distracted by a brilliant, funny writer or a writer who wears way cooler clothes than I do or maybe a writer who actually spends more time at their desk than baking. And I’d understand that, really I would. But I haven’t given up. I’m still here in my ugg boots with my copy of ‘How Not to Suck at Writing’ and I’m still making up stories and sending them away. But it’s been quiet. Eerie.

Here’s something I wonder – do you ever think the acceptances and awards we writers get could be spaced out a little better? As Writing Gods, do you ever consider using your influence to drip-feed our successes throughout the year? Why must we get all our good news close together, then nothing for months? Writing Gods, it’s cruel.

So anyway, if you’re not too busy, maybe fling something my way? Anything would be fine. A longlist, an honourable mention. Hell, I’d take a personal rejection note at this point. Just a sign from above not to open a bakery.

Also, Writing Gods, sorry for whining. I appreciate the thrills of the Writing Life, I really do. I know I’m so fortunate. I thank you for your bounty and I grovel humbly before you.

Yours in readiness,

Fiona

15 Comments

Filed under writing angst

Straight from the heart: Review of ‘To Become a Whale’ by Ben Hobson

IMG_2402Books rarely make me cry. Movies, yes. Talent shows, oh boy, yes (when those contestants get selected, they’re so happy! Who could stay unaffected?!). But for some reason, while I may feel some inward emotion when reading, I hardly ever cry. A book has to be powerful to squeeze actual water from me. To Become a Whale is that type of book.

To Become a Whale is the debut novel of Brisbane writer Ben Hobson (published by Allen & Unwin). It’s an emotional and mesmerising read – the story of a boy on his way to manhood, fighting his way through loss and a difficult relationship with his father. Part of the story takes place at the old whaling station on Tangalooma Island, and these gritty details are both repellent and engrossing.

The voice of the main character, thirteen-year-old Sam, is so believable that I quickly fell under the spell of this book and was reluctant to put it down. More than that, I began to love Sam himself, and every twist and turn of his fate tugged at my heartstrings.

And yes, I cried.

What I liked most about this book is that it is written for the reader, not for the author. Ben Hobson hasn’t used long flowery phrases, he hasn’t gone wild with metaphors or wacky similes or descriptive passages. The novel is beautifully written, yes, but always with the reader in mind, never as an indulgent authorial flight of fancy. The story is told in a clear and compelling way.

If you want a riveting read with a profoundly tender heart, To Become a Whale is definitely for you. Just keep the tissues handy.

 

8 Comments

Filed under book reviews

the importance of play

IMG_2686The past couple of weeks, I’ve been writing and writing. Sure, I’ve wasted time here and there, but I’ve also worked at my desk for hours.

Except, what I’ve written has been awful. Flat, uninspired, dull. I revised 3 stories in the past ten days and became thoroughly sick of each piece. Not because they were finished, either. They were just so terrible I couldn’t stand to read another word.

So I’ve been feeling sorry for myself and bemoaning my uselessness and wondering for the zillionth time why I thought I had any aptitude for this. And then last night something occurred to me.

Maybe doggedness can be a bad thing.

I’m not saying I’m about to give up, or that I don’t believe in hard work. But I realised that lately, my approach has been all wrong. It’s joyless. I’m showing up at my desk as if I’m sitting an exam. I’m not getting outside enough, not walking enough. I’m thinking about where I’ll submit a story before it’s even finished, instead of losing myself in the tale I’ve created. I’m as playful as a back brace.

I know writing isn’t all fun and games. I know it involves hard work, showing up, putting the words together. But surely that can still be done with a sense of fun, with an attitude that brings a lightness of spirit, creating prose that sparks and surprises.

Maybe my defensiveness over hearing criticism of ‘earnest’ writing was not just because I write emotionally, but because I sensed I was writing without enough playfulness in my heart. Which is not to say that story content should be always be humorous – just that the approach shouldn’t be so stompy.

Maybe I’ve had my gumboots on when I needed to skip around in a pair of sandals.

Or even barefoot, across the grass.

4 Comments

Filed under writing angst

Every Year on Mother’s Day

IMG_1117Every year on Mother’s Day I feel weird and uneasy at all the hoopla. I know it’s a tough day for many people, for a variety of reasons.

Some women aren’t mothers and never wanted to be mothers, and this day can make them feel as though a person only has value if they’ve procreated.

Some women want so much to be mothers but it doesn’t happen, and Mother’s Day is a slap.

For women who have lost babies and children, this day can bring fresh tears.

Many men and women have lost their mothers. This day reminds them of how their mum used to laugh, or cut onions a specific way, or how their mother smelt when she hugged them. There may be mixed emotions, but always emotions.

Others can’t wish their own mothers a Happy Mother’s Day even though their mother is still alive. The relationship was simply too toxic. Their mother is mentally unwell, nasty, and not seeking help or understanding their own illness. The only way to stop the unending damage from that unwell mother has been to move away, in every sense. I have two friends who have found themselves in this situation, and they are two of the kindest women you could meet. Both tried for years to solve the issues before making the break. Although it has been the best decision for both of them, it was not done without great heartache. So on Mother’s Day, there can be sadness.

When the second Sunday in May arrives each year, I can’t help but reflect on the mix of feelings that must swirl around on this day. Pride. Betrayal. Loss. Adoration.

My wish is that everyone still has a moment to feel good on the day – whether it’s paying tribute to a mother, being celebrated as a mother, or being hugged by a mother (your own or not, as long as they hug you well). xoxo

6 Comments

Filed under personal

going wild

IMG_3414I went away for a few days with my family, and the cabin we stayed in had no mobile phone reception, no internet connection, no tv channels. We were on the edge of a national park, so during the day we walked the tracks and in the evening we ate simple dinners, read and watched movies on the couch (I did appreciate the DVD player and TV screen!). I had mobile reception on top of two rocky climbs in the middle of nowhere, and found myself answering texts from work, much to my family’s disgust. But apart from that, we were disconnected. We talked and joked and hung out together. Annoyed each other and ate potato chips. My son made a fire in the pot-belly stove. None of us were glued to our phones. We didn’t wander away to separate areas of the house, to separate computers and devices.

I realise that families are made up of individuals, all pursuing different goals. We all have different interests. It’s natural that we’ll spend time apart. And using technology is a part of life these days. But I loved having those three days without the intrusion of connectivity (well, apart from my work texts!), all together.

It was so relaxing, I wonder if a ‘fake’ disconnect would be almost as good? For when the news gets too grim, when every email is junk, when the Facebook feed is never-ending and the phone keeps ringing … just for one Sunday at home. Switched off from the internet with the answering machine taking all calls, going for long walks, taking baths, eating food cooked slowly whilst sipping wine or soda water. Maybe that would work, too, when getting physically away is impossible.

In the meantime, I’m determined to be intentional in how I spend my time, and how connected I am. Because as much as I love social media and interacting with people, sometimes I let myself get swamped by it, and I can spend hours flicking, reading, clicking. These past few days in the wilderness have reminded me I have choices, if only I pay attention. If only I pay attention.

6 Comments

Filed under general

Earnestly, yes

IMG_3310

I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction lately. Short fiction and commentary about short fiction. And I’ve been feeling unsettled. Not by the short fiction, which has been varied and fresh and intriguing. It’s the talk about the Australian short fiction scene that has been bothering me.

A couple of writers have made remarks to the effect that Australia short fiction tends to be boring and bland. One gave the example of too many stories set in rural Australia where not much happens. I’m sure I read an interview where another writer said he hated writing that was too earnest. And right away that comment made me defensive and squirmy. Is that me? It might be me.

I actually agree that some stories struggle to excite. They try too hard to be ‘literary’. Farmers’ wives gaze out over fields and farmers’ brows crease and the fly-blown sheep carcass is a metaphor. Clouds gather and it looks like rain but then it doesn’t and the story ends.

However. People in glass houses and all. Because I can’t help it, my stories are a bit earnest, they’re really not funny in any ha-ha way, I don’t write satire or fantasy, my characters frown a bit too. But I write the only way I can. It’s the only thing I know – people and what’s in their deepest hearts, what secretly moves them, what makes them cry at night, what they fear and what they hope for. What they can’t forget. Who they’ll always love.

I don’t believe that stories in traditional narrative form are boring if the content is good. I don’t believe a short story has to be humorous, or satirical, or contain magical elements to be entertaining. I believe there is a place for every kind of story, done well.

I like trying new things, within my capabilities. I’ve written dystopian fiction, magic realism, a dialogue-only story and crime fiction. I try to learn and to stretch myself. I read widely. But ultimately I am developing my own voice, and that voice is emotional and I guess it’s a bit earnest too. I need to own that without shame.

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under writing angst

Writing amongst the trees

IMG_3297I can hardly believe my two weeks at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre are almost over. I’ve had such a good time here, and not in exactly the way I expected.

I thought I’d write three or more stories during my residency. But I arrived with a story yet to be finished, and worked on that for a couple of days. Then I panicked for a couple of days, because I felt this intense pressure to choose a Good Idea for my next story and nothing seemed close to adequate (normally I would take the vaguest of concepts and just wing it). Eventually I calmed down and told myself to just play. So I tried something I’ve never tried – writing a story in second person. It was truly bad at first, so I worked on it, and now it’s approaching fair. After that I began a new story which I’m having fun writing. And here I am on the Friday of the last week.

So with two full writing days to go, I’ve edited one story, written a full story in second person, and am perhaps halfway through a new tragi-comedy sort of piece. I wouldn’t call that an enormous output yet. I say yet because I have no doubt that my experiences here will lead to more stories, perhaps as many again as I have written so far. I have walked at sunset, shopped in an Indian grocery store, met many creative people, attended writing groups and had dinner with a lovely writer friend I hadn’t yet been able to meet in person. I’ve had meals and discussions and lots of laughter with the other two Fellows here. I’ve read every night before bed. I’ve had time to become immersed in writing.

It became a bit of a catchcry between myself and my next-door neighbour Fellow Mark J Keenan (who is going through the re-drafting process with his novel) – It’s not about the word count, it’s about the whole writing experience. Thinking, planning, dreaming, talking and writing amongst the trees.

2 Comments

Filed under general