On receiving an acceptance

Mr Peregrine at Typishly

You know how it is. You brace yourself when you see an email from a literary magazine. Oh, okay it’s back, you think to yourself. Oh well, I’ll see where else I can send it. You open the email and it’s an acceptance. If you are like me and not super confident of your abilities, it probably takes you a while to realise what the email is actually saying. That they want to publish your story! 

It is a wonderful moment and for me a rather long winding journey to this first acceptance. I first wrote some short stories in the 1980s. In the 1990s I wrote poetry (and had quite a few acceptanced) and then began writing historical fiction which pretty much consumed me. (And still does). Short story writing was not something I did anymore. But three years ago a window opened and ideas flew back in.

It has taken me a while to build up a reasonable amount of short stories that I felt worthy of sending out into the world. Spreadsheet in hand I have been submitting in earnest for a while now and lately receiving some very encouraging “please submit again”s. And then in May my first acceptance from Typishly. I have also received a second acceptance of another short story but there is nothing like your first. And here it is.

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My talk on the research of Tomaree

On March 10th I will be giving a talk at Toronto FAW on the research behind Tomaree. Now that it is nearly 10 years since the book came out, the long view helps me put a few things in perspective.
Firstly I am so grateful that I began researching the book when I did. Officially that was 2 January 2002. My friend Wayne Sampey had kindly put together a group of local residents for me to question. I was blown away because I had only been expecting one or two and here I was with a whole group of strangers. I believe the discussion was recorded and I remember it as a lively one.
Back in 2002 there was still quite a few residents that I could interview about their personal reminiscences that I believe really helped with the tone of my book. Also two US soldiers were still alive and corresponding with them was marvellous. In my talk I hope to illuminate how they did help make Tomaree a better book. And more importantly the real Peggy and Tom were alive and living in California when I began the book in earnest.
Time is not kind of course and most of the people that were adults during World War II are now gone. One of the things I value now more than ever is the letters I exchanged with the real Peggy until her death in 2010. She read the beginning of Tomaree when it finally came out and said she was too moved by the first encounter between Tom and Peggy, to continue reading. I hope that I captured something of that first conversation that eventually led to a young Australian women giving up all that she had known, including her family and country, for a new life in America.
I believe I am speaking for about forty minutes. Of course I have hours and hours of memories regarding my experience of researching the novel but I hope I can touch on the main points and help give others the tools to bring the past alive.

Centenary commemorations of Dr Elsie Inglis and of the Scottish Women’s Hospital Movement

ELSIE INGLIS-LW

Descendants of pioneering Scotswoman Dr Elsie Inglis gathered at her grave today (within Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh) to mark the centenary of her death and pay tribute to her remarkable accomplishments in establishing and running the Scottish Women’s Hospitals during World War One. Photo source: Lenny Warren / Warren Media

The story of Elsie Inglis and The Scottish Women’s Hospitals is an amazing story that should be more widely known and I was so pleased to hear, earlier this year, that there would be Centenary commemorations for this marvellous woman at St Giles Cathedral on the 29th November. Although I couldn’t attend I was very excited to receive an invitation.

When war broke out in 1914 the Government put out a call for doctors and nurses to help on the front line. “Elsie was more than willing to play her part. She went first to the military authorities in Edinburgh and then to London to the War Office itself to offer her services, only to be told: “My good lady, go home and sit still.”

Of course she didn’t sit still. She went on to form what soon became known as the Scottish Women’s Hospitals which “served the war effort from 1914 to 1919 and were not finally disbanded until 1925. They started off in Calais supporting Belgian soldiers, but their main locations were four hospitals in France, two in Corsica, two in Greece, one in Macedonia, two in Romania and six in Serbia. There were also a number of satellite hospitals and dressing stations.

As a writer, discovering the existence of the SWH was life changing and of course led me to write a novel inspired by the movement and Australian women who worked at the field hospital in Ostrovo, including the novelist Miles Franklin. I am indebted to Alan Cumming for keeping me company on this journey of discovery and to Ann Wells for the gift of the booklet that was given out at the commemoration and from which I have quoted. Also for the use of the photo above. Luckily for historians and writers there are quite a few good biographies and memoirs written by members of the SWH. Contact me through this website and I can give you my full list.

 

Setting realistic writing deadlines

Deadline_logoOr not! So, it seems that I have left myself two weeks to complete my second draft of Paris Next Week. I’m not panicking though. Generally I find that the second half of a manuscript is less of a mess than the first half. I’m hitting my stride and have usually by this stage of the work, sorted out my characters.

What I have to do in the next two weeks is to read the rest of the manuscript, approximately 110 pages and check continuity and readability .(I’m not doing a lot of word by word scanning – that will be done in a later draft). The main thing I want to do in this second draft is to get rid of the remaining 106 hashtags which highlight points of research that I must check.

For instance the last three hashtags were:

The date the Clifton Gardens Hotel was built. 1871.
The date the amphitheatre at Bradleys Head was built. Yes, I know! Easy for some of you – in 2000 for Mission Impossible II.
An English perfume not too earthy and not too flowery that was around before WWI. White Rose by Floris.

These have been done and I now have 103 hashtags to go! Of course what I should have done to avoid this last minute deadline was to break down the number of weeks before my deadline and to set a realistic word count for each week. But hey, life has got in the way and time has flown. Hopefully you will be little less tardy with your planning.

The act of researching – time, place and memory

Chateau Chalon

Image – artwork by Maureen Boyle

About two years ago I bought a photographic print by Maureen Boyle. She had quite a lot of prints on display – small and large of photographs she had taken in France and I was taking my time choosing. After all, I was aware that I might be selecting an image for a scene or scenes of a manuscript not yet written. I asked her endless questions. Some scenes were of Paris, from memory, others were taken in the Jura region and several of a chateau were what particularly drew me.

But let me step back a little. In November 2013 an idea came to me about writing the earlier history of a character that appears in my novel Tomaree. She would be nineteen or twenty in the year 1924 and we would find out what happened to her in those early years to shape the character she would become in 1942. In 2015 I realised that I was actually writing a trilogy and that in the second book Sarah would travel to Paris and research the movements of her grandmother in the 1870s. I knew that a chateau would feature in the second novel but where would the chateau be and what would it look like?

A chateau not far from Paris fascinated me but then I discovered Maureen’s photos of Chateau Chalon in the Jura district of Eastern France. I looked at several, well I think I did, of the chateau and finally selected a white framed print 8 x 5. I think it is a marvellous photo, put it in my spare room and promptly forgot about it.

Life intervened, as it always does and I didn’t finish the first full draft of Paris Next Week until a week before Christmas last year. I am now embarking on a second draft – tidying up the prose and checking some 281 points of research that need to be verified, expanded on or simply deleted because they are not relevant to the 1920s. I.e. “comes a cropper”; I hash tagged this remark made by my character Christopher Hyatt as I wasn’t sure how old it was. Turns out it’s pretty old and safe for my character to say. Hastag deleted. Current count is 247.

Back to the photograph. On the evening of Bastille Day, at the French Friday markets in Newcastle I met Maureen again and went through her photographs. I picked up one of the chateau and I told her that I had bought possibly the same chateau, but from another angle. She said she had taken a lot of photos that day. As I studied the photograph she showed me the same photo but much larger. Excited I bought the larger photo. The details were so much clearer of course. Not only was there a little Juliet balcony but a small enclosed tower next to it. I took the photo home that night and yes, you guessed it, I had bought the same photo.

No, I don’t have a bad memory. I have a particularly good visual memory. It just seemed to me as I contemplated the photograph for the second time that it was a different photograph. I was of course seeing it with new eyes. I like to think that this is a nudge to look much closer at something that has become an everyday part of my life. After this, it will be very hard now to chose another chateau.

PS I’ve just discovered that this is a photo of a house near the Chateau. More digging is now obviously required.

HNSA Satellite Event at Sutherland Library

Last week I had a wonderful time discussing researching, writing and publishing at Sutherland Library with, from the right, Julieanne Miles-Brown, Isolde Martyn, Elisabeth Storrs, Diane Murray who chaired the event and myself. The title of the event was ‘Follow that Horse! All you ever wanted to know about researching, writing and publishing historical fiction’.

In regards to researching Diane asked each of us a number of questions including: What do you do when you have your story timeline all planned out, your characters and events all in place and you either can’t find the information you want or the information you do find conflicts with the rest of your story? What do you do if you cannot get the facts exactly right? How do you still make your story ‘real’ and what are your preferred methods of research?

On the subject of writing we discussed: When the research starts to run into months or years beyond your expectations, how do you maintain your momentum?  – how do you keep interested enough to finish writing the story even when you are totally over the character and the storyline?  And what is the average time it takes you,  from start to finish, once you decide to write a particular story, to get it to a final draft?

And finally on publishing the questions were: What is your particular winning formula for getting your books into print? How do you push your work out into the world? And for you is publishing about making money or seeing your story in print?

It was definitely a lively and enjoyable discussion and I was very pleased to be involved. I’m sure the HNSA Conference in September will be a resounding success. The countdown is on!

 

 

 

Faces of 1924

For three and a half years I’ve been looking at photos of the 1920s, especially looking at women and fashion, for my manuscript Paris Next Week. What did the women do in Australia in 1924? How did they fill their days? I’m still not completely sure but some of them in Sydney attended afternoon tea at Ambassadors, and fundraising events at the Hotel Australia, They went to the beach and to parties and balls. One excellent photo I discovered on flicker was of two women attending a tennis party on Australia Day 1924 at Victoria Barracks.

There’s a lot of grainy images of socialites to be discovered in Trove but they are studio portraits and don’t seem to offer up glimpses of personality. I have come across a wonderful photo of picnickers in front of their car, a picnic spread out and the styles of their clothes interestingly displayed but, still, it is an ad for Arnotts biscuits and not an insight into the psyche of the people photographed.

The photographs of Mina Moore come closer to what I’ve been searching for – a glimpse of that’s person’s life in their eyes – particularly an image of Vera Dwyer, author. As a result of discovering that photo I read two of Dwyer’s novels. As a result of discovering the photo above I am now in a quandary because I’ve just discovered that the young woman looking straight at the camera looks quite a lot like a young Katherine Mansfield.

The young woman is Kathleen Mangan the youngest daughter of the artist Frederick McCubbin. She grew up at Mount Macedon (not far from Hanging Rock) and sitting next to her interestingly is Joan Lindsay, the author of Picnic at Hanging Rock The image is from Mangan’s memoir Daisy Chains, War Then Jazz but unfortunately there is no mention of Joan Lindsay so there is no way of knowing if they were acquaintances or good friends. And I’ve spent hours trying to discover any further connection. Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.

I’ll leave you with Mangan on Mount Macedon:
“I always had a sort of love-hate relationship with Mt Macedon. It could be a scary place at times, especially when the wind came down from the top of the mountain and raced through the treetops. At night-time it was frightening when this occurred, particularly when the house trembled and the wind moaned through the rafters beneath the roof. But when the wind dropped and the clouds came swirling past our windows it was even more eerie. Everything became so hushed and still when the clouds locked us in. The only sound was the dripping of moisture from the eaves and the loud beating of your own heart then you saw, or imagined you saw, grotesque forms in the clouds, leering at you through the window.”

 

Newcastle Writers Festival 2017

It’s this weekend and I’m very excited. This is a cross post with my other blog Starving in a Garret and for us starving artists and lovers of literature there are a lot of free events. Actually, all the events I’m attending are free. Here is my selection:

Friday 7th April
11am to 12pm Yarn Spinners. A celebration of Dymphna Cusack, Florence James and Miles Franklin. Marilla North in conversation with Ann Hardy.

2pm to 3pm From the Page to the Screen. With Vanessa Alexander, Mark Barnard and Michelle Often. Host George Merryman.

Saturday 8th April
11.30am to 12.45pm Inside Publishing. With Meredith Curnow, Benython Oldfield and Geordie Williams. Host Jane McCredie.

2.30pm to 3pm Book Launch. Jan Dean will launch Magdalena Ball’s new book.

3.15pm to 4.15pm Book Launch. Judy Johnson discusses and reads from Dark Convicts her new book. Host Jenny Blackford.

4.15pm to 5.15pm Short and Sweet: Reviving the novella. Nick Earls in conversation with Chris Flynn.

Sunday 9th April
10am to 11am Time Travellers. Historians on their craft with Tom Griffiths and Grace Karskens.

11.30am to 12.30pm Drawn from Life. Poetry inspired by the everyday. With Eileen Chong, John Foulcher and Maggie Walsh. Host Jenny Blackford.

1.15pm to 2.15pm The Importance of Women’s Voices. With Emily Maguire, Sara Mansour, Tara Moss and Tracey Spicer. Host Jane Caro.

3.00pm to 3.00pm Crossing Boundaries. Jaclyn Moriarty in conversation with Emily Booth.

I can’t wait and I might see you at one of the many events!

Reading just as fast as I can

screen-shot-2017-02-13-at-10-10-24-pm

Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing these last two months. Like a long distance runner, I’m trying to put as much distance as I can between myself and the first draft of my manuscript Paris Next Week.

Why, you wonder? Well I’m not one of these people that can put a manuscript away for say nine months or a year. (For me that’s like those dreadful people who leave Easter eggs in the fridge for months! It’s just not happening!) Instead I find that the best way to bring new eyes to my work, after a short period of time, is to read a variety of books. As many as possible.

So what have I been reading since 23rd December last year? Well most are in the pic above and as you can see at a glance they are mostly NOT historical fiction. (And that I’m behind in my reviews.) There’s a self help book, an Australian novel written in the 1920s, a short introduction to a trilogy set in 1919 and the first book in the trilogy (yes, I know, historical fiction). There’s a collection of short stories by a popular English author, a biography, an autobiography, a memoir set in Greece, a crime novel set in London in the 1990s and a romance set in the US in the 1960s.

Looking at the list now I can see (although it was done mostly unconsciously) I have selected quite a range. I’m also currently reading a poetry collection and a collection of the Sunday Times 2016 short story competition finalists.

What I’m aiming for is immersing myself with writing that is very different from my own. Poetry is particularly good for this – the unusual word usage, juxtapositions and the sheer mesmerising difference between poetry and prose. Will it work? I’ll get back to you on that shortly.

The slow progress of a first draft

Pages written 1

Well, as you can see it’s a very crumpled messy piece of paper but it is the start of my manuscript with the working title of Paris Next Week. As you can also see the first two and a half pages were written over three years ago on the 5/8/2013. Being Australian that means the 5 August not the 8 May. On the 25/2/2014 I ended up with 43 and a half pages. Not a bad start but overall the slowest first draft I’ve ever written, However keeping a record such as this does help remind me of several things.

Firstly, as you can see near the top of the page there is a gap of three months. Not sure why now but probably had to stop and really think about what was happening with the novel and to check that I was heading in the right direction after the excitement of getting those first five pages down.

Secondly I can see now where I took breaks of over a week or two for research. These are breaks that I couldn’t be avoided by using hashtags (see my earlier posts). In May 2014 I took two weeks off looking for a suitable chateau by a river in France. In early October of the same year I took a week or so off researching Kings Cross. And then from late October 2014 to early July 2015 I didn’t write a page. I was doing a major rewrite of a previous manuscript for a couple of months and then during the first half of 2015 I was quite ill suffering from a severe flareup of eczema.

During 2015 and early this year I also wrote three short stories featuring a brand new character called Zach. More breaks to research Sydney Theatres and quite a long break researching 1920s actresses and their famous roles and also looking for 10 locations that my main character Sarah’s grandmother would have been tempted to sketch in the 1860s in Paris. Whew!

Pages written 4

Above is the home run with the very last entry written sidewise just last week, 4 and a half pages finishing the final chapter entitled S S Ormonde. I also did some editing checks and eliminated two words that I used a frightening number of times – one was the word ‘word’ and the other ‘beautiful’. I’ll be doing a lot more of this type of editing in the next draft but these two jumped out at me and I felt compelled to reduce them drastically.

And this is what makes it all worth while. A list of all the chapters and a rough page count.

List of chapters

35 chapters, 255 pages and 70,687 words. The page numbers are pretty much screwed after chapter 27 because I did add a page here and a page there to some scenes that had to be rewritten but it is close enough. This sheet is one thing I don’t keep up for the next few drafts as the manuscript is in a state of flux with rewriting and researching going on but I do tend to write another one of these up for the final draft.

Would love to hear how you all keep a record of your drafts. Probably not as old fashioned as this but the result will be the same – words into sentences, paragraphs into scenes, transformed into chapters to form a complete first draft of a manuscript. Happy writing and a Happy New Year!