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Posts Tagged ‘Australian writers’

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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Frightened woman

I’m afraid to open the parcel containing the Amazon proof copy of my short story collection. I’ve had it since Tuesday, it’s now Saturday. When I got the proof of the 1st novel I put up on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY, I fell on it like a famished wolf. Why this sudden turnaround? Perhaps it’s got something to do with the cover, which was unfinished when I sent off for this particular proof, and feels to me as if it will ever remain so.

Let me explain. You see, when I wrote my weird cat fantasy novel, which caused people to think I had finally lost the plot (though they were all too nice to say so), I had the image for the cover before I even wrote the book—a marvellous black & white drawing by US artist Marty Norman.

Marty Norman's cat illus'n 75 dpi copy No cats on pedestals

This time, I had chosen another of his works, a wonderful, hard-edged painting of a businessman on a tightrope, see below. (Sorry I’m too much of a luddite to know how to make the image bigger.)

man on wire

But beta readers from here to Timbuktu all agreed that to use an image like that on the cover of my collection was to mislead people into expecting a book about the problems of Wall Street suits. And that, my little short story collection set in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales definitely was not.

What to do? I had no idea. In the end, I settled for a very ancient image (no, I’m not going to show it to you at this point), and hoped like hell it would work. To open the package from Amazon, even though I know the cover is unfinished and will make the necessary allowances, is to expose myself to immense disappointment if this cover idea hasn’t worked.

Now it’s all very well to say I’ve got time to think of another and still get the book out in October-November of this year, but you see, I can’t. Having been dragged from one fixation (which in my heart I still prefer) to another, something in me has said, This is it. Further than this, I’m not prepared to go. In other words, I’m stuck with this cover, no matter what. So the parcel feels very threatening to me and just sits there on the sofa, accusing me every time I walk past. Thank heavens I’m going out today. I’ll be out all day – so there, parcel!

This state of affairs could go on indefinitely if I don’t so something, so I’ve set myself a deadline of Monday morning. On Monday I must take a deep breath, rip open the parcel and take it on the chin, come what may.

Am I scared? You bet. But will I keep the deadline? Oh yeah; I’m a creature of deadlines. I’m not really happy unless I can see one looming somewhere on the horizon. So Monday it is. Meanwhile, I give the sofa a wide berth.

 

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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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Novel under const'n

 A few days ago I was surprised to receive an email from Carol Middleton, an Australian award-winning writer, and a reviewer for the prestigious Australian Book Review. In the email Carol invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, in which writers are invited to reply to four questions about their writing process and then pass the baton on to another writer/s.

Many thanks to Carol for inviting me to contribute to this tour, which in its construction is like a chain letter but nice. You can see Carol’s Writing-Process Blog published Monday 12th at http://carolmiddleton.com.au/wordpress

Here goes.

 

 

What am I working on?

Having put my first novel out on Amazon and Smashwords last year, I decided to try to get myself a bigger presence on the web by putting up a short story a month in 2014. Being the digital klutz that I am, it took me three months to learn enough to put up my first story Busting God, now available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S. I’m now working on formatting my second story Remains to be Seen, which follows the fortunes of Busting God’s hero as he tries to recover from the post-traumatic stress caused by his participation in the Vietnam War.

I’m a tortoise, very slow at everything I do, and not very comfortable on the web. However, I’ve decided that having a higher profile there will help my novels eventually, so I’m nailed to the cross of formatting these twelve short stories for the remainder of 2014.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

How to answer this question? My short stories were published in such diverse places, ranging from Penthouse to Aurealis to the Australian Women’s Weekly. Each time I adapted my basic writing style to suit the market — I was a single parent and I needed the money. My only novel published so far is MagnifiCat: www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY a strange little animal fantasy about a family of cats who find themselves on the poverty line in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. In it I aimed to produce a kind of Wind in the Willows for adults. To what extent I succeeded is hard to gauge. The novel’s definitely not satire; it’s more like a fairy tale for adults, with an underlying heavy core that makes it adult fiction, though I plan to release a children’s version of it in 2015, minus the alcohol and the angst.

Why do I write what I do?

In my case there are two answers to this. The short stories were written either for money — publication or competition money — or to add to my literary CV. In the novels, however, I get to please myself. And I notice that what comes though in all of them (I have another four in various stage of development) is a desire to nail down a particular time and place that’s now long gone. You could say I’m obsessed with transience, and writing about these places is my way of trying to keep them alive in people’s memories after they’ve disappeared under the bulldozer of progress. My Queensland novel is set in Brisbane in the early 1960s; MagnifiCat is set in Byron Shire in the mid-1980s, and somewhere in the dim future, should I live that long, I’d like to write a novel set in Brisbane during WWII. It’s as if I’m saying to readers, Remember how it was. Don’t forget this.

How does my writing process work?

I write first draft material in the morning, while I still have some contact with my unconscious. Editing, a completely different process requiring a different part of the brain, I can do any time. I never work after dark unless I have an editing job or a manuscript appraisal for another writer and the deadline is looming.

To me, producing first-draft material is like digging semi-precious stones out of the ground, while editing is like polishing those stones into something people might find beautiful or useful. Basically, I want my writing to entertain, to make people happy. At the risk of sounding overly ambitious (or merely quaint), I’d like it to give people hope. Life can be tough sometimes.

 

The writer I’ve asked to continue the Writing Process Blog Tour on Monday 26th is Ed Griffin, a Canadian novelist and prison reformer. Ed taught creative writing in prisons for many years. He blogs at:

prisonuncensored.wordpress.com

Check him out on Monday 26th.

 

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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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I first met John Macgregor about ten years ago. Turned out he lived down the street from me. John’s over in Cambodia now, having adventures, while I, ever unadventurous, am still in the same street. (Anyone who’s read my trip to NZ post will know that I’m not a traveller, never was.)

 John has recently put his award-winning novel, Propinquity, up on the web. I asked him to write a few words about the book and how he felt about it after all these years. This is what he wrote:

Propinquity cover

 

I tend to think of the 1980s as being quite close in time – a bit like Now With Bulky Devices. But exhuming Propinquity, my 27-year-old novel, revealed just how much Australia has changed in the few years since then.

Propinquity was disinterred for publication as an e-book. This meant I had to read the thing – for the first time since I was a young lad of 36 who regarded it as reasonable behaviour to wear black all the time, and smoke a lot.

I knew I had changed. And I knew my alter ego narrator would have changed (had I attempted anything so gauche as a sequel). Australia was the character which provided the surprises.

To get the difficult bit over with first: during the Mullumbimby section of the novel, my narrator, Clive, regularly goes swimming naked with two girl children (his girlfriend’s kids). That would probably be out these days. Indeed I’m nervous about even mentioning it. I suspect the way this passage was received in 1986 (not a single comment from a reader or reviewer) is different to how it will be read now.

But far more interesting (to me) is that Clive habitually tends to put a negative spin on things. I did not know in 1986  that this “pessimistic explanatory style” is the leading cause of depression. After 35 years of the black dog I was very happy to put it down about ten years ago, thanks to some learned optimism training. Many others have done the same. In my opinion we’re in something of a Golden Age of psychology – an age which lies in Clive’s future. So seeing his episodic gloomfulness now – from that future – is a bit like observing a gloomy adolescent: you feel he’ll grow out of it.

Small, linguistic things have changed too. There are no “awesomes” in the book, but one “whatever”, and one line that made me LOL:

“She laughed out loud.”

And what is it with all these hyphens? Back-drop? Match-box? Stick-figure? Plaster-board? Sun-tan? Heart-beat? Switch-board? Did we ever spell like that? If so, two and a half more decades of Americanisation have ended it.

It’s not just language that’s changed, but diction. After the Loyal Toast at a Melbourne wedding reception, Clive tells us: “The toasting done, assumed English accents at neighbouring tables began to rise again in volume.”

This alludes to a generation of Melbourne society women, who are now all dead. No-one thinks a fake English accent is sophisticated any more, even in Toorak. (One also suspects the Loyal Toast has gone the way of the Divine Right and Charles I’s head.) But it’s remarkable how recently these faux Englishwomen walked (and talked) among us. I can still hear the terrifying, brittle voices which cut the air before them them as they beelined toward you at a party, like the Queen with an icepick behind her back.

The book also suggested how our views on alcohol, diet and health have changed in scarcely a generation. Clive drank a real lot (“we spent a month drinking beer in the Portsea pub”; “The wine was tolerable too, the second bottle tasting better than the first.”), as did his friends. They even did this at breakfast. I don’t drink at all these days, and if I had anything to do with it (which I would) neither would Clive.

And to think that this young idiot also drank iced coffee and ate camembert! Didn’t he know coffee crashes the adrenals, and that dairy is the world’s number one allergen? To make matters worse, on page 126: “I consumed mountains of garlic bread.” These grain foods were the very thing that would soon make me sick for an entire decade, till the arrival of the Internet enabled me to learn that we’re not a grain-eating species. D’oh.

But Clive is incorrigible. He seems determined to submerge himself in over-work, coffee, tax evasion, alcohol, grand theft, garlic bread, procuring perjury and eating dairy – all the vices, not just a few:

“The meetings and telexes and coffees and cigarettes had been endless.” Unspeakable.

Indeed, after he has discovered the divine female at the heart of Christendom, exposed a 2,000-year Church conspiracy, fled Westminster Abbey, been chased by the authorities across the globe, and is finally nabbed by the law in Byron Bay, he tries to makes his escape by slugging a policeman. These days police are armed, and he’d be shot.

The foregoing also reminds me how radically the way people think about God has shifted. Propinquity is saying that everything we have been taught about God is nonsense – a fringe view in 1986, which is now mainstream. The old structures totter on, but the cynicism about them is total.

Finally, for all his sins, my hero Clive was right to suggest a post-revolution firing squad for Rupert Murdoch, for it is his ilk who have ensured that “the old is dying, and the new cannot be born”.

“In this strange interregnum” (to complete the quote from Antonio Gramsci) “many morbid symptoms arise”. Looking around me now at 61, he wasn’t wrong about that.

In 1986 it was thought that we were in with a chance to save civilisation, and the planet that gave rise to it. The ensuing quarter-century saw the ideas and structures by which that could have been done steadily abandoned. Now we’re down to a series of rear guard actions. The emphasis has shifted, with a slow, intricate subtlety, from preventing disaster to adjusting to it. None of that was visible when I was 36, and wore black, and smoked a lot.

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