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Archive for the ‘Australian writers’ Category

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found it strange celebrating a winter solstice festival in the middle of summer. As Christmas approaches and we swelter here in Australia, praying for rain on Christmas Day so we won’t be bathed in sweat while eating the Christmas dinner, we find ourselves looking longingly at pictures like this.

christmas-roomOh, how we wish …

All’s fine with me, up here on the Far North Coast of New South Wales. To anyone who bought Dropping Out, the collection of linked short stories I put out in early October at https://www.amazon.com/Dropping-Out-change-novel-stories-ebook/dp/B01LXF9QEB I’d like to say thank you.

droppingout_e-cover

And so I currently have a little cat fairy tale called “Perversity” going free at: http://www.catsstories.com/perversity.html If you’re in the mood for a cat fairy tale, this 700 word story could be for you. The story’s zany illustration (below) was done by my daughter Tara Sariban.

taras-cat

While all’s well with me, my old cat seems to be failing.

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He’s fourteen, and for some months now, he’s been losing weight. I know animals tend to lose weight as they grow older; a device nature has to lessen the load on the heart, but his weight loss came on suddenly (since the end of August), so it’s a cause for concern. I’ve had various tests done on him, and he’s due for a blood test for FIV (feline HIV) and feline leukemia on 3 January. He’s seems well and happy, and he’s eating well, so at this point, it’s a bit of an unknown.

I plan to spend the first six months of next year putting the scenes for the sequel to MagnifiCat (https://www.amazon.com/MagnifiCat-Animal-Fantasy-Danielle-Valera-ebook/dp/B00H0ORWQY) into the right order.

 

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After that, I’d like to spend some time finding a title and cover for the Brisbane novel I hope to put out in 2018. Because it’s a long work (108,000 words, at present), I’ll start content editing it in the second half of ’17. That way I’ll have plenty of time to pull the whole thing together, line edited, copy-edited and proofed by September ’18. I’m a tortoise at everything I do, I need all that time just to get all the various processes right.

For the rest of this year, though, I’m not planning to do much at all, except catch up with a lot of things I’ve been avoiding doing on the internet. If you’ve been working hard all year, I hope you too find time to kick back and take it easy.

time-to-recharge

Merry Christmas, everyone! And a safe and happy New Year.

Dani

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The other day I found myself with nothing to read so I pulled out my old copy of A Book of Australian Verse, selected by Australian poet Judith Wright. I was reading the collection when I came across the poems of John Shaw Neilsen, whose work I’d always admired. This shy, slight figure, who had almost no education, had a love of natural beauty and could produce lines of effortless simplicity such as:

“I was around by the cherries today: all the cherries are pale. The world is a woman in velvet. The air is the colour of ale.” He is considered one of Australia’s finest lyric poets.

Shaw Neilsen

Shaw Neilsen

Whenever I think of Neilsen, I’m reminded of a story my old friend Lyle Freeman told me. Lyle (gone now, alas) wasn’t a writer, but he moved on the edges of the literary circles in Brisbane and Sydney in the 1940s and early ‘50s. In his late teens, he ran away from the family business in Kingaroy, went to Sydney and with friend Lois Whose-last-name-eludes me, they opened a boarding house in the vicinity of Kings Cross, where itinerant writers and artists often stayed while they found their feet. Or not. At one stage, Charlie Blackman and his wife Barbara (not his wife at the time, but) boarded there.

I think it was his friendship with Queensland poet Val Vallis that would have got him the invite to Judith Wright’s house that Sunday.

judith-wrightWhenever Lyle told the story (it was a story I asked to hear more than once), the house he described was in Mount Tambourine, though Wright never moved there permanently until 1950, and the event Lyle described must have happened before 1941. (Neilsen was at that time up from Melbourne; he returned there and died within twelve months of this encounter.) Perhaps Wright toyed with renting houses in the country outside Brisbane as many of us did in those days before land inflated to preposterous proportions; my partner and I had a weekender at Mt Glorious in the ‘60s.

On this particular day, Lyle told me, a group of seven or eight aspiring writers were sitting in Wright’s kitchen debating the state of Australian arts and letters when there came a gentle knock on the back door. Standing there was a shy, slight man in his early seventies. Perhaps an elderly gardener, they thought.

The man spoke only one sentence. He said softly, “I’ve come for my tiffin.” (He meant afternoon tea.) Wright handed him a cup of tea and a plate containng some cup cakes and he went away. “That was Shaw Neilsen,” she explained to the Young Turks. “He’s staying with us for a while. He’s a bit shy.” Lyle said he felt immensely humbled to see this unassuming man shuffle away with his tea and cake. There they’d all been, debating the parlous state of Australian literature, and there he was, the real thing, just wanting peace and quiet and a bit of tiffin.

Lyle had an interesting life. He was a roadie for the Borovanski Ballet when Kathleen Gorham was one of the principal dancers, and he was gay at a time in Australia when it took real guts to come out and say so. He was once insulted at a party by Patrick White, that dour, sharp tongued Australian novelist.

patrick-whitePatrick White

Wine must’ve loosened my old friend’s tongue sufficiently for him to begin talking about his ambitions for a novel. “Hmph,” White said to him. “You’re a small man, and you’ll write a small novel.” That put my friend Lyle, who was six-foot-two, nicely in his place. White was famous for these bon mots.

Lyle never did write that novel. There were no mobile phones when I knew him, and the only photo I have of him is more than forty years old and somewhat blurry. Thanks to the expertise of Paul Smith I’m able to reproduce it here.

The photo was taken on the verandah of the house I shared with Queensand poet, Michael Sariban.

the-presentation-on-the-verandah

From L to R: Ann Hurley, DdeV holding a young Sasha Sariban, Olga Sariban and Lyle Freeman.

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THE GENESIS OF DROPPING OUT: A TREE CHANGE NOVEL-IN-STORIES

Years ago, when I was pregnant with my second child, I ran away to Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island to escape relationship problems with my then partner.

stradbroke-1

In those days, it was wonderfully primitive —a four-and-a-half-hour journey by boat to get there, followed by a one-hour journey by bus across the island to the point; no pub, no electricity, earth toilets, an ice works, a post office and a general store. I lived in a one-room cabin with my first child, a boy. We loved Straddie, but because my first child had been a Caesarian and the specialist intended the second to be the same, eventually as my time drew near I was forced to return to the mainland.

While I was there, however, an American couple befriended me. They were an interesting pair. She had been a theatre sister at the Johns Hopkins, and we were all big readers. One night over dinner, they tried to persuade me to write short stories. At that stage I was still carrying the Brisbane novel like the proverbial albatross around my neck. (Still am, in fact, but all that will change in 2018.)

To return to the point, over dinner they extolled the virtues the short story held for writers, one of which was a quick remuneration. I remember at the time saying simply, “I can’t write short stories.”

Time passed, as it does. When my partner and I broke up for good, I found myself alone with two small children. Remembering what the Stradbroke Island couple had said about short stories (the magic word was remuneration), I put away the Brisbane novel and turned to stories as something I could manage between the children and the chores. It took me a while to get the hang of the form, but in the end I did, and started aiming for well-paid competitions and magazines. As is always the case with submissions of any kind, the old 1 in 9 rule applied. That is: expect 1 acceptance for every 9 rejections. That way, you won’t be crushed, and occasionally you might even be pleasantly surprised.

Occasionally.

Now, after 25 years of writing short stories, most of them set in Byron Shire, I’ve been able to put together a collection called Dropping Out.

droppingout_e-cover

I would’ve loved to call it something enigmatic like Richard Flanagan’s The Sound of One Hand Clapping — or something beautiful, like Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. But the book was intended for the internet market (though there is a POD option available for those, like me, who like the feel of a book in their hands) and search engines make hard masters, so it’s called Dropping Out: a tree change novel-in-stories. Which translated means the stories are all character linked, so the book reads like an episodic novel.

Do pop over and have a look if you have time. This is my one and only collection of short stories, there won’t be another.

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/669161

and

https://www.amazon.com/Dropping-Out-change-novel—stories-ebook/dp/B01LXF9QEB

Amazon has a generous sample in their Look Inside feature.

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A few days ago I paid one of my biannual visits to friends at Dyraaba in northern New South Wales, about half an hour’s drive out of Casino. They have a 240 acre property there, where they run 30-40 head of cattle and half a dozen horses.

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It looks idyllic, but the beauty of this photo belies the amount of work it takes to keep a property like this running smoothly. To add to the workload, when the couple moved here four years ago, the paddocks were overgrazed; fireweed, blady grass and lantana were rampant.

Lantana 2Lantana – hell to eradicate

Four years of hard yakka has pulled the property back into shape, with improved pastures on the flatland, hardly a fireweed in sight, and very little blady grass. One more year should see the last of the lantana.

That’s the extra work, of course. Just everyday running of a place like this involves so many things that owners have to keep on top of. There’s worming, earmarking, drenching, dipping and hand feeding of stock during drought, the keeping up of miles of fences, sitting up nights with calving cows, saving stock from wild dogs, etc. etc. Some winter nights when the dogs are bad, you can hear them howling in the distant paddocks like something out of Dr Zhivago.

Some people on a neighbouring property have filled in the wetland where black swans used to come every year. Now my friends have swans gracing their biggest creek.

DSCF4402

It all looks very idyllic, as I said, but the work required would stimey most people. In summer you need to be in the paddocks by 4.30 a.m. at the latest, so you can get in a good six hours toil before the heat hits. From noon to four, the fields are impossible. However, work can recommence at 4.30 and go onto until night falls. Winter is different, of course, but those early mornings are mighty chilly; it was 6 degrees C when I was there.

All in all, it’s a beautiful place to visit, but not a place to live if you shy away from hard work. Fortunately, both my friends are tigers for punishment and thrive on the lifestyle.

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Having worked with animals all their lives, they understood when they bought how it would be, and so didn’t suffer the fate of many tree changers who move from the city to the bush, chasing the dream.

 

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Worried womanI’ve spent the first three months of this year finishing off the 1st draft of the sequel to the cat book. (See right.) I’m now at around 80,000 words, and I’m embroiled — no other word for it — in arranging the scenes in chronological order. You see, I write novels out of order, just picking one scene from the story line as the mood takes me. I don’t do this with short stories, which I plan out in advance, but I do it with novels, god help me. Now I’m the proud possessor of around 80,000+ words, roughly 85 scenes — all out of order.

To get a book out of this is no mean feat. When I saw the extent of the problem, plus the fact that I still had three critical scenes to write, I thought of lying down on the railway tracks.

Railway tracks

But the train doesn’t run in these parts anymore.

How to proceed from here? My method was to buy a packet of catalogue cards, write the name of each scene plus a brief description on a catalogue card, and then sort the cards into piles representing the main characters. I then sort each character pile into their journey arcs. After that, I shuffle the cards until they’re in what I hope is the right order for the novel, interpolating the main character cards as I go. This takes time. Quite a bit of it, in fact. When that’s done, I take the printout of the novel and put the printed out scenes into the order I obtained via the catalogue cards. Then I read the printout to see if it flows, where bridges need to be added, etc.

It’s madly time consuming, and I’m only at the catalogue card stage at present; I have a fair way to go yet. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing that can’t be hurried. Glitches in the plot will always appear at this point, and it takes time to work through them, for something to occur to me that will solve the problem.

Writing a novel out of order is a mug’s game; I don’t recommend it to anyone. But that’s my way with novels; I just take them on, one bite at a time, until eventually they’re done.

So here I am with my catalogue cards wrapped around with a rubber band. I get up in the morning, put on my dressing gown, feed the cat, make a cup of tea, and shuffle the catalogue cards.

Worried woman in dressing gown

I predict it will be a while yet before I have a properly organised printout that I can use to arrange the scenes in the right order in the computer version.

As the late Bob Ellis used to say, “So it goes.”

PS If you’re wanting to catch up on any of my short stories, the easiest way to do it is to go to http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-de-Valera/e/B00H286LXI  There’s a list there of all of them.

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Many thanks, Danielle, for inviting me to say a little about my latest release Cold Faith, the first instalment in a three-part series being published by Hague Publishing.

Cold Faithhttp://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B00VBZQ8FY

 

Cold Faith is set in the aftermath of a protracted volcanic winter that has devastated the planet and left only isolated pockets of survivors. Seeing just one slim chance for survival, the main character Rab decides to set out on a perilous journey north in search of a fabled city rumoured to be one of the many staging areas where spaceships were launched to ferry the people of Earth to a salvation planet; the evacuation plan was known as Safe Harbour. Unfortunately for Rab, he is coerced into taking the last three surviving children of his village with him. After one of the children breaks his leg, they are rescued by a young woman named Sunny, who leads them to her underground city where a large band of survivors are living in comparative luxury. As far as Safe Harbour is concerned, Sunny appears to be a belligerent sceptic, while her old grandfather is a believer like Rab. The two insist on joining Rab as he continues his journey north with only the young girl from his village. It’s then that Rab’s real troubles begin.

Despite its scientific foundation, Cold Faith is a character-driven narrative that follows Rab’s journey of discovery—which ultimately reveals not only the true nature of the planet’s desperate situation but also much about himself. Like Rab, I had a bit of a quest of my own in writing Cold Faith. I wanted to explore the drive behind humans’ unyielding struggle for survival in situations where all seems lost and our capacity to accept that all questions may not necessarily be answered even at journey’s end. Ultimately only the readers will be able to tell me if, as an author, I succeeded in my quest.

My favourite character in Cold Faith is Sunny. She is tough and complex. Some reviewers have been quite taken with the relationship between Rab and the young girl who features prominently in the story. My stories are all heavily character-based, so I’m glad readers are identifying their own personal favourites.

While the opportunity for writers to see their work published has expanded, the fall-out is a flooded market and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for any one emerging writer to be noticed. I’d like to take this opportunity to invite everyone who purchased and enjoyed Cold Faith to keep an eye out for the sequel Faithless, which is due out in 2016. In the meantime, I have two earlier books readers may like to sink their teeth into: Bus Stop on a Strange Loop, a time travel novel, http://www.amazon.com/Stop-Strange-Loop-Shaune-Lafferty/dp/0980749794 and Balanced in an Angel’s Eye, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0987154877 both of which are available from the usual places as well as Amazon. You can find out a bit more about my books on Goodreads, Amazon and on my publishers’ websites.

Thanks, Danielle.

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Reflections final

Somewhere around the year 2000, I wrote a short story called “A Pink Rosebush and a Piece of Lattice” that was lucky enough to win an award up here in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. This story “Reflections” is the longer version, and is around 2,300 words.

I’m besotted with the cover, which my US author friend C S McClellan created from a beautiful image I found online at Eden Pics. You can see more of their nature photos at http://www.edenpics.com and, wonder of wonders, their images are free.

This story is the last of the ten stories I have been formatting and putting up on the web over the past fifteen or so months. Because it’s so short, I wanted it to be free, so it will only appear on Smashwords.

In this story, Charles Lawson, the notorious heroin dealer formerly known as God, has been released from jail and, after living quietly with his cats for a number of years, is now so old he has to enter a nursing home. Here he reflects on his life and, in his last moments, imagines he is reunited with his wife Angela, who died some years before him.

It sounds like a pretty grim read when I put it that way, but all those who’ve read it found the story touching and/or uplifting. I hope anyone else who checks it out will feel the same way.

“Reflections” is available from Smashwords in various formats, including pdf, mobo and EPUB at:     https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/554292

Thanks to everyone who’s taken this journey with me so far. I’m hoping to put out a collection of these stories in print and e-book at the end of the year. However, good looking print books don’t come cheap, so that date may yet end up in the first quarter of 2016. Will keep you posted.

Dani

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