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Archive for the ‘struggling writers’ Category

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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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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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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super moon in starry sky on sea

 

Nine years ago or thereabouts, the Australian Women’s Weekly ran a short story competition with a first prize of $5,000 and guaranteed publication in this most circulated of Australian women’s newspapers. Being a writer and thus financially on the rocks (I figure I’ve made about $8 a week from my writing over the last 20 years, and that’s a high-end estimate), I decided to enter. I didn’t expect to win, but I thought there’d probably be a short list and the stories on that would be offered publication. And the Women’s Weekly pays, baby, pays.

So I sat down and sweated out a story of 5,000 words and sent it off. Months passed. Eventually the result was announced, but Danny Margaret had scored zero, zilch, and there didn’t appear to be a short list. Well, I thought, so much for that, and I put the story away in the proverbial bottom drawer.

Five years went by. One day (I must’ve had nothing better to do, perhaps it was the wet season) I pulled the story out and reread it. It’s not bad, I thought. Very Women’s Weekly – what a shame it didn’t get anywhere … Then I remembered Australian writer Marele Day saying once in a writing workshop that magazines were always looking for Christmas stories. They were drowning in the other kind, she said; but they were always short of Christmas stories. Hmm, I thought.

At the time my finances were in worse-than-usual disarray. Publication in the WW would sort all that out. O-kay. There was just one hitch: My story wasn’t a Christmas story. To solve this problem, I had the main character’s daughter refer to Christmas in an already-existing phone conversation and I had two people the main character passes on her way to the beach wish her a Merry Christmas. That’s all I did.

By now, my CV had filled out, and I had a little more confidence than I’d had in earlier years. I approached the editor of the Women’s Weekly by email, gave her my CV and a 3-line synopsis of the story and asked if she’d be interested in reading my “Christmas story”. Next thing I know I’m being offered publication in their 2010 Christmas edition.

The moral of this monologue is: If you put a short story in a competition and it doesn’t get anywhere, that doesn’t mean anything. What matters is being published. Craig McGregor told me this way back in 1979, but I didn’t take any notice. Besides, being a single parent, I needed the money that comps could provide.

Now here is “Stella by Starlight” minus the Merry Christmases. I’ve also made one other change, transforming the main character from female to male, to fit the story into the collection I’m publishing next year. Everything else, though, is the same, and the theme and moral of the story are unchanged.

Sales points for “Stella” are below. I hope you enjoy it. I wish I could provide a direct sales link to Apple, but I’m digitally disadvantaged.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

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HorseI’m one of those people who believes in everything and nothing, so don’t take it amiss that I share a few thoughts with you at the beginning of this Year of the Wooden Horse. The book I’ve got on Chinese astrology (someone less able than I to accommodate ambivalence gave it to me) says horses always look terrific, have plenty of sex appeal and know how to dress, but that they’re also hotheaded, hotblooded and impatient. In the years when I was younger and used to give Chinese New Year’s Eve parties, there must have been a few horses among the crowd. If there were, I don’t remember them, so I can’t pass judgment on the accuracy of the book, but we sure had a lot of fun passing it around and guffawing at the descriptions.

But I digress. What I’m really here for is to wish all those who read this post the best of luck in the coming year. If, like me, you’re just starting out on the digital journey, my commiserations.

My goal, this year, is to release a dozen short stories, roughly one a month, ranging in length from 4,000 to 9,000 words, half of which are set in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, Australia, an area I’ve lived in for the past thirty years and am still desperately in love with. I’m lucky enough to have a friend I met through this blog who is designing the first cover, but after that, I’ll be on my own in the formatting of both cover and story text.

Just how I’m going to manage, I have absolutely no idea. Designing the Smashwords versions of the stories won’t present many problems, thanks to the beautifully clear instructions in Mark Coker’s (Mark is CEO of Smashwords) Style Guide, obtainable free on the internet. Designing a Kindle version, however, is going to be more difficult. Both Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offer simple, pain-free translations of documents  from Word to Kindle, but what I’ve seen of the results doesn’t enchant me. However, whether I’ll ever be able to learn enough digitally to do better remains to be seen.

In short, just learning enough to put up those dozen stories in one form or another is my goal for the year. Wish me luck, everyone – and if anyone wants to tell me their goals for this Year of the Horse, I’m a good listener.

Horse drawing

Good luck to you all!

Dani

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Christmas is here again, whether we like it or not. And whether we like it or not, it’s wise to remember it will soon be over – as will most other things.  So hold your loved ones near to you, tell them you love them. Cherish the good times, don’t dwell on the bad. And remember that kindness is like water in the desert to a stranger – to anyone, really.  We all need kindness.

Have a safe and happy New Year, everyone!

Danny's Christmas Tree

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MagnifiCat_Cover_for_Kindle

Anyone taking a casual look at the novel I’ve just put up on the web might be forgiven for thinking I need therapy.

Cat CartoonBut though the cats have the spotlight, many other Australian animals feature in this fantasy for adults — a porcupine policeman, a python bank manager, a kangaroo in the milk delivery business, etc. etc.

Aside from all the animals, though, that slide, hop, glide through this novel, and despite my determinedly lighthearted approach, the book’s theme of life below the poverty line gives it gravitas. It’s not as innocuous as it seems.

But enuff about the novel. Maybe it’s merely a drop in the digital ocean, but because I’m such a klutz digitally, I’m just happy to have survived the experience of getting it up there.

Take a look. It’s available in both e and print form. It’s certainly unusual.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY

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