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Archive for the ‘Fiction writers’ Category

Here in South Golden Beach, just a few miles from the Tweed-Byron border, we’re having an easy time of it. There’s water in the streets, and people are boating up and down the lower end of my street, the end closest to the canal, but up on the higher end, we’re warm and dry. The water hasn’t even risen up the driveway and the biggest problem we have to face is that the rubbish trucks didn’t come this morning and we’ve had to retrieve our bins unemptied.

But many of the other parts of northern New South Wales have not been so lucky. The levee banks Lismore was relying on to keep its CBD safe from the floods have broken and they have feet of water in the main streets.

Murwillumbah’s CBD is also flooded, and thousands of people on the south side of Mur’bah have had to be evacuated.

Anyone who’s lived in the area knows this is nothing new, but the amount of water that fell in the catchment area this time was, depending upon what radio station you’re listening to, between 500 and 750mm, all in a matter of 24-36 hours.

So we’ve been lucky this time. The worst flood I’ve seen here in twenty years was the 30 June 2005  flood when the water came to within 15cm of the floor boards. For us here in South Golden Beach, this particular flood is nothing like that.

In truth, the biggest danger we’ll ever face here is from the ocean and our depleted dune system. Our dunes are so low now that the next time a cyclone storm surge coincides with a high tide, we’ll have seawater in the streets. It won’t be dangerous, not like a tsunami, but it will be unnerving for the new chums and for anyone who lives in a house that’s built low to the ground.

Fortunately, there aren’t many of those. The hippie settlers who built here in the ’70s and ’80s understood about flooding.

SGB Cottage. jpg

Their little timber cottages, spurned by richer folk for not being built of brick on a concrete slab were all built at least a metre off the ground.

We’re lucky.

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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.

timmy-p-72

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.

 

mcat-cover-300

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 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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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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