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Archive for the ‘fiction editors’ Category

I recently had occasion to reread the in-depth review (below) by Paul Smith, and thought his unusual take on the story might be of interest to others.

Paul Smith

Paul Smith

Back in July 2014, he reviewed “Remains to be Seen”, the 3rd story in my linked short story collection entitled Dropping Out: a tree change novel-in-stories. Paul has a blog at  http://twogreytoes.blogspot.com.au/ The unusual title for the blog comes from a cat he once owned, which he and his partner called Two Grey Toes.

Two Grey Toes

Two Grey Toes

Below is Paul’s review of “Remains”, reprinted with his permission.

VIETNAM VETERAN BUCKS THE TREND

REMAINS TO BE SEEN BY Danielle de Valera – Some thoughts

Remains-cream-khaki

What is it about human nature that, no matter how much some blokes get blown off course, their homing instinct swings them back around so that their deepest urgings drive them to have a crack at what evolution made them for. Just being born male is enough to be led in the wrong direction. Peer pressure to transgress for the hell of it is just the start. Being born working class ensures that options that lead to independent success, taken for granted by the privileged few, are rarely considered. Going to war all but seals the fate of too many who take that route, whether voluntarily or by ballot. Existing, even if only briefly, as an agent of human destructiveness all but strips away the tissue of connectivity that makes us human – all BUT! The bond that men form with one another when the life of each depends on the loyalty of others endures more widely than marriage. That bond makes it difficult in some cases to overcome the nearly universal condescension of their gender towards women. Women therefore exist in the lives of such men as a convenience at best or an unavoidable encumbrance. Children, the evolutionary point of there being men and women in the first place, are a fearful and even distasteful prospect. Yet, here’s the story of a bloke and his woman, mired in pitiful relationships with his peers, who choose each other and embrace the prospect of having children – even if the likelihood of failure can’t be ruled out.

Danielle de Valera has done something I once thought I would never tolerate: writing in the first person about the life of a Vietnam Veteran. I first encountered this phenomenon in a writing course. One of the other students wrote about an incident in Vietnam, not only as though it had happened, but as though he’d been part of the action. I was incensed! In that moment I understood the outrage of indigenous people when a non-indigenous person writes (or paints etc.) as though they are indigenous. Anyone remember Wanda Koolmatrie? Or Eddie Burrup? Well, Ms de Valera has cured me of my possessiveness. (Yep, I am a VV.) I think what made the difference was that, in her use of first person narration, she does not come across as a “wannabe”. Her extensive knowledge of David Hackworth, one of the most acclaimed Vietnam Veterans certainly helps her achieve an authentic sense of “being there” without intending to claim as much. She also strikes the right tone in narrating events in Mullumbimby in the mid eighties – not as they actually happened, but as they would have, given the cast of characters in her story. There can be little doubt that she was there – as participant and as observer.

Ms de Valera’s story alternates between events in Mullumbimby in post-Vietnam war times and moments in the thick of it in-country, as we used to say. Each episode is a panel of an unfolding mural. The first combines inconsistent messages about the Japanese – as a former enemy on the one hand, and as purveyors of the stuff of our prosperity on the other. Being denied entry to the Ex-Services Club provokes cynicism and confirms the sense and fact of isolation for the two Vietnam Vets. This commonplace episode resonates with the animosity of Second World War Returned Servicemen towards Vietnam Veterans until 1987 or thereabouts. As they drive away in the slashing rain the story segues to an operation in Vietnam, as chopper-borne Diggers are dropping through the rain into a clearing for a rendezvous with US forces for what was to be a joint operation. Not for the last time in this story would the Diggers be let down, and worse, by their so called allies. Do we hear the voice of David Hackworth, disillusioned with his own country’s military, in this story? It wasn’t just the Diggers who questioned the professionalism of their overlords. Each of the alternating snapshots has such issues embedded in the narrative.

This is a story that can be re-read numerous times without exhausting all that is hidden between the lines. It is a Coming Home story that, in this and other works by Ms de Valera, unfolds over a number of years. That thought suggests a link with the film that bears the name of its genre. Is Michael O’Neill an Aussie version of Luke Martin – emotionally rather than physically disabled– who decides that the best way to help his mates is to escape the horror of their post-war life (for its destructive nature is every bit as horrific as their experience in Vietnam) is to throw himself into something resembling a “normal” life? Does Azure thus have her Lucky Out in Michael’s self administered “cleansing”?

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Anzac Day

This Australian day of remembrance always reminds me of my Uncle Charlie, one of the many uncles on my mother’s side and the one I knew best when I was growing up; he and my mother were close siblings in that large Australian-Irish family of twelve children.

Charlie got into World War I at the age of 16. Unlike my father who escaped from the dairy farm in Palmerston North at 17 by joining the US merchant navy “when the old man’s back was turned”, Charlie did the whole thing legitimately. After his older brother Dave had joined up, Charlie drove the family mad, pestering them to let him go, too. “You’re too young,” they said. “And you’re not strong enough.”

Charlie couldn’t make himself any older, but he could work on the other objection. From then on, locals were treated to the spectacle of Charlie hanging from various tree branches around the shire, doing pull ups between chores on the orchard. He made every dinnertime a nightmare for the family; there were 13 of them now with Dave gone — 7 brothers, 4 sisters and the long suffering parents. In the end, Daniel Doyle and Clare Donovan Doyle (not that she ever called herself that) gave way and signed the papers to let him go, hoping Dave, who was much older, would be able to keep him safe over there. (The Australian military kept brothers together.) Charlie celebrated his 17th birthday in London.

As far as I understand it, he wasn’t a part of the unsuccessful Gallipoli campaign that spawned the holiday Australians observe today: Anzac Day. Where he was and what he did over there in the trenches, I have no idea; he never spoke of it. He spoke freely though of his search for relatives of the family in Ireland, and I remember once seeing a photograph of him standing with a group of people outside a thatched house somewhere in Cork.

The only person he ever talked to about his war experiences was my father. And that was only after Dad had joined the army in WWII and had gone over the Kokoda Trail in New Guinea. On the few occasions that he ever got leave, he and Charlie would sit up in the kitchen drinking rum into the night, long after everyone else had gone to bed. Looking back on it now, I realise just how much comfort Charlie must have been to my father, helping him to debrief from the ongoing experiences of that war in the Pacific.

Back in 1919 after WWI ended, Charlie and older brother Dave were on their own. Like thousands of other young men fortunate enough to return home to Australia physically unscathed, they were suffering from post-traumatic stress, a phrase unknown at the time.

Pine Islet Before MovePine Islet Tower [Pine Islet Preservation Society]

At first, he took a job as a lighthouse keeper at Pine Islet, his way of trying to come to terms with everything that had happened to him. Older brother Dave, who’d also returned unscathed, simply became an alcoholic and remained one until the day he died. Neither of them ever married. And neither of them marched on Anzac Day. “All the marching in the world won’t bring them back,” Charlie said to me once with tears in his eyes. It was the only time I ever saw him cry.

All his life, Charlie kept a framed photograph of a young woman on his dressing table. She was no beauty, I always thought with the harsh judgement of youth, and she was rather stout — still the fashion in that early 20th century Georgian era before the coming of the Roaring Twenties, when boy-slim became the mode. I gathered from my mother that Charlie” had been sweet on her” before he went to the war, and that she had married someone else while he was away. Young women married young in the country in those days.  Obsession and suicidal depression ran in that 1st generation Australian-Irish family, but Charlie picked himself up, lived an organized life with a job in the telephone exchange, kept his little house spic and span and never ever, ever drank too much.

There are so many things now that I wish I’d asked him when I had the chance. But I was too young to understand that nothing lasts forever and elders won’t always be around. If you’ve got an Uncle Charlie in your life, better ask him those questions while you still can.

 

 

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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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Aust'n flag

Last Wednesday I heard on Australia’s Radio National that the population of Australia has reached 24 million. Strange, when I was a kid in primary school, the population was 8 million. Australia’s population has tripled in my lifetime.

A great deal of this increase came about, not through births, but through migration. I remember the influx of European migrants after WWII, made palatable to this insular nation by the fear engendered during the war by the threat of a Japanese invasion. “Populate or perish!” we were told. “All those yellow races to the north want our beautiful country, and we must fill it up ASAP!” This extensive immigration program was only possible because the displaced people coming to Australia as migrants after the war were white. NO way would Australia have accepted coloured migrants in 1947. The foremost intellectual paper of the day The Bulletin ran “Australia for the White Man” on its masthead, just under its title.

The bulletin

When the government decided to end the White Australia Policy in 1973 and take in migrants who were ugh, shriek, not white, it had a problem on its hands. The country had been racist ever since its inception in 1788, and this racist attitude became law with the British Colonial Office’s declaration of terra nullius in 1835. This meant that anyone on what was now government property without government permission (viz. The Aborigines) could be treated as trespassers; it also quashed any treaties already signed with Aboriginal tribes. (This state of affairs continued until parliament passed the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1976, which made it possible for dispossessed Aboriginal tribes to begin to claim back at least some of their land.)

Austrian Aborigines

The declaration of terra nullius cleared the way for European settlers to take over the land, in the process eradicating a great number of the original inhabitants (occasionally via hunts, massacres and poisoned flour). The results of this are clear to see in the table below.

Table 1.1 Ethnic Composition of the Australian People (per cent)

Ethnic Origin 1787 1846 1861 1891 1947 1988
[Source: Charles Price, Ethnic Groups in Australia, Policy Option Paper prepared for the office of Multicultural Affairs, 1989, p 2].
Aboriginal 100.0 41.5 13.3 3.4 0.8 1.0

 

However, Aborigines were not the exclusive recipients of race hatred from Anglo-Celtic Australians. When Chinese diggers came to Australia in the 1860s, attracted by the Gold Rushes, they were treated with the same mistrust.

Mongolian octopus, 1886[Newspaper cartoon of 1886]

 

When the government announced an end to the White Australia Policy in 1973, it had to mount a new campaign. They called this multiculturalism. Australia is a part of the wider world, they now cried, we can’t be an island any longer.

Although Donald Horne had removed “Australia for the White Man” from The Bulletin’s masthead on becoming editor-in-chief in 1961, most of the inhabitants of Australia were still racist, and the entrenched views of more than two hundred years have proven difficult to eradicate. In 2005, the Cronulla Race Riots demonstrated this to the world.

Cronulla Race riots

Still, the government perseveres, but there are setbacks. As recently as September 2015, elite Aboriginal footballer and Australian of the Year 2014, Adam Goodes, decided to retire, following consistent booing from racist spectators after he’d had a girl who called him an “ape” ejected from the stadium. This booing was not a one-off thing, but continued over months, game after game.

Adam goodes

Although Goodes in a press conference attributed his retirement to his “35-year-old knees”, and “a number of factors”, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the continued booing had had a great deal to do with it. (For a good rundown on the controversy, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Goodes#Controversy)

So now we are officially 24 million, with people of European descent comprising about 88% of the population, 74% of this being of Anglo-Celtic origin. But have we put the White Australia Policy behind us? With the Goodes incident mere months in the past and new Muslim controversies looming, I doubt it. The mistrust of more than two centuries is not so easily eradicated, despite the government’s perseverance. I am reminded of that fine last line of The Great Gatsby by E Scott Fitzgerald:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

“Advance, Australia Fair” still has more than one meaning for some.

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Monkey2

Tomorrow, the 8th February, ushers in Chinese New Year, the Year of the Fire Monkey. Sometimes I wish I lived somewhere where there was a celebration of that — I’ve always related to CNY far more than the traditional western New Year’s Eve, which, in Australia, is just an excuse for a good piss up.

Drunken revellers

Though NYE’s not as bad as Australia Day, which is a regular Bacchanalia.

Passed out man

I hope this new year brings you all good health and happiness. What about wealth? I hear you say. Strangely enough, that’s really not that high on the happiness scale – as most people who’ve ever come suddenly into money will tell you when the glitz wears off.

Monkey1

Different animal years in Chinese astrology are said to affect different signs in different ways. Checking on the link below to see how I might fare in this Year of the Monkey, my prediction’s not looking very good; I hope I will be able to keep the cat in the style to which he’s become accustomed.

Tim worried

Cat worried about maintaining his standard of living.

Perhaps you’ll fare better. Have a look at the link below (one of the most comprehensive re CNY I found in a Google search), if you’d like to know what your fortune holds in the Year of the Fire Monkey.

http://www.chinesefortunecalendar.com/2016/

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