ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Through the eyes of a child - my story for the March WEP challenge.


There are many children in the world whose lives are far from optimal. Some experience various types of abuse on a daily basis, some are trafficked for sex, some are used as beggars…and the horror goes on. In warzones, children are often stolen from their families and trained as child soldiers, trained to kill. Others remain with their families, but whole families seethe with hatred against the enemy...who don't always understand they're the enemy.

My story is creative fiction - partly true...partly fictional...


The Child
                                                   

The Muslim call to prayer rang across the Baluchi Valley, punctuating the silence with staccato bursts.

The dogs began to bark. The child gentled them with a light tap on each head.

He slid behind a rock on the mountain side. The desert spread below him, a dark blanket. He strained to watch the procession snake along the path.

Hate seethed through every pore of his grimy body. Filthy infidels! His fingers closed around a rock.

The patrol moved close by; he could see each soldier struggle through the cool sand. They were like cockroaches as they wriggled along. How stupid they were in their great big boots. He looked at his bare feet and smirked.

Then his smirk turned to alarm. There was a woman amongst the men. Infidel, he spat.

***
Elvira fought the exhaustion ripping her body apart. The lead soldiers were obviously fitter than she, a newly-arrived recruit. Her knees screamed, her thighs burned, her lungs were on fire.

This place was hell.

She was in another universe, a universe where nothing was as it appeared.

Who was friend?

Who was foe?



Wednesday, 19 March 2014

A Mother's Offering to Her Children - What legacy do you wish to leave for your children?

Hi all!

I'm currently in Townsville, North Queensland for a week, celebrating with my daughter who has just received her degree in Social Work, Honours, from James Cook University. Her ceremony is tonight.

Thinking about the relationship between mother and child, my reminiscences brought me to Australia's first children's writer and her book, A Mother's Offering to Her Children. It was published 170 years ago by a woman known as 'A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales.' For almost a century her identity was Australia's most puzzling literary mystery.

By researching the 'Lady' in the 1960s, Marcie Muir, an award-winning Australian author of 25 books, uncovered one of the great lost stories of Australian history..

Eventually Muir's research found the 'Lady's' name - Charlotte Waring, a child prodigy who could read at age two. Her father was a man of fortune whose ancestors had come to England with William the Conqueror. Charles Darwin was her fifth cousin. All the father's money went to her brother, so Charlotte found a governess position and travelled to Sydney. Charlotte married a wealthy man, James Atkinson soon after arriving in Sydney. After her husband died, leaving the estate to his son, Charlotte remarried George Barton, a violent drunk. She eventually fled with her children. She had to find some way to house, feed, clothe and educate her children who were literally starving. So she wrote a book, an instant bestseller.

She released her novel in 1841 in time for Christmas. It appealed to adults as well as children, filled as it was with descriptions of storms, shipwrecks, strange animals, fossils and cannibals. Her income from it provided for her family for many years.

The book was structured as a dialogue between a mother and her four young children, complete with moral instructions and outmoded Victorian sensibilities. Charlotte wrote about what she knew - Australian history, native trees, birds and animals, the life of a settler, the first to feature the life and culture of the Australian Aborigines. She based her stories on those she had told her own children, who had lost everything - their father, their wealth, their home. Through these stories, she created an enchanted circle where her children knew they were loved.

The first edition of A Mother's Offering to Her Children is now valued at $60,000.

The final paragraph:

'We know not the day, nor the hour, when time may cease for us; and we be summoned into eternity. Let us, dear children, endeavour to profit from the frequent warnings we have of the uncertainty of life...(Let us) so pass through this life that we gain a knowledge of the things which belong to our peace; and become at last heirs of immortality!'

Charlotte was the mother of the first Australian-born novelist, Louisa Atkinson.

As a mother, I'd like to leave a literary legacy to my children, but I doubt I'm a Charlotte Waring. So, Candice Covey, your family (especially your mother) is very proud of you for never choosing the easy road.

  • This month's WEP challenge is: Through the eyes of a child, where entries are to be just that - told from a child's POV, whether flash fiction, non-fiction or poetry. Photographs and Artworks can also be posted that represent a POV of a child.
  • Your'e invited to join us on March 26, with your interpretation of the prompt. You can sign up in my right hand sidebar, or visit Write...Edit...Publish. 








Wednesday, 12 March 2014

POINT OF VIEW IN A NOVEL - To Kill a Mockingbird and Scout.

Hello everyone!

Before writing any story, whether flash fiction, a short story, a novella, a novel, the writer must decide on the point of view to adopt to tell the story. The choices are wide:

  • an 'all-seeing God', writing in the third person about something going on 'down there'. The advantage of this POV is the writer can talk about anything he/she wants to, but the disadvantage is that the story could be a tad impersonal.
  • 'second person'. Not many writers choose this POV, but it can be interesting to find the occasional 'you' or 'dear reader' interspersed amongst the 'first person' or 'third person' narration. But when an author chooses to address the reader directly, pay attention, it must be for a good reason.
  • 'first person', the favourite of YA and MG authors, where the writer 'becomes' an actual character in the story. This might liven up the story, make it more immediate, but again the writer has to stick to the rules and limit himself/herself in time and space as the character would be limited.
I do enjoy the old classic 'God-like' stories. Many remain favourites, but today the all-seeing narrator is not that common. Not everyone likes first person, so for them there are variations of the 'third person' style, a more limited viewpoint. I have no problem with first person, whether multiple viewpoints or a single viewpoint. One classic novelist made it her inspired choice, an unusual choice for her time - Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird. 

At first the reader struggles with the language - boy, is this little girl educated or what? How mature she sounds for such a young girl. The reader should keep in mind that there are two Scouts in TKAM: the little girl experiencing the story and the adult Jean Louise who tells the story. 

In TKAM, we are given the impression of incidents as they are experienced by six-to-nine year old Scout. Her name, too, is inspired - Scout is both a questioner and observer of people and events in Maycomb County in the American South. She asks tough questions because she is a child. She doesn't understand the full implications of the things happening around her, making her an objective observer and a reporter in the truest sense. 

This is a very nasty story, and Harper Lee could have treated it in a different way. It is a book about violence, hatred, bigotry and rape...just for starters. How do you think a Harold Robbins or a James Patterson would have told it? Lee's choice to tell the story through the eyes of a child was obviously deliberate; it softens the nastiness somewhat. Scout's innocence can be contrasted with the prejudice and hypocrisy, the dominant attitudes of the older townsfolk.

The first person POV gives the reader an insight into the story which Scout herself does not have. For example, Scout is not aware of the meaning of the objects in the knot hole, but the reader is; Scout is not fully aware of the danger outside the jail when Atticus is confronted by Mr Cunningham and his mob, but the reader is...etc... 

The POV presents moments of humour for the same reason. When Miss Maudie is talking about Stephanie Crawford's storytelling:
"Stephanie Crawford even told me once she woke up in the middle of the night and found Boo [Radley] looking in the window at her. I said what did you do, Stephanie, move over in the bed and make room for him? That shut her up a while.
I was sure it did. Miss Maudie's voice was enough to shut anybody up." (p.51)
A LITTLE ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama. It is likely she based Maycomb on her hometown, and her own childhood experiences. The racial concerns she addresses began long before her story starts and continue long after her story finishes. Her story was informed not only by the laws and attitudes that were part of her youth and her culture, but also by the Civil Rights movement which continues to struggle today at various levels. This is what makes TKAM timeless. Harper Lee is Scout. And she told her story in the style of Scout's memoir. It begins lazily then grips the reader by the throat and never lets go. I'm proud to own one of the first copies ever published. Second-hand bookstores are full of treasures!

LIES

Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling them that God's in his heaven
and all's well with the world is wrong.
The young know what you mean. The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can't be counted,
and let them see not only what will be
but see with clarity these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter
sorrow happens, hardship happens.
The hell with it. Who never knew
the price of happiness will not be happy.
Forgive no error you recognise,
it will repeat itself, increase,
and afterwards our pupils
will not forgive in us what we forgave.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko

(It could be an Atticus Finch monologue.)

Some other of my very favourite novels told through the eyes of a child:
  1. The Diary of Anne Frank, by Anne Frank
  2. The Fault in our Stars, by John Green
  3. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  5. Mockingbirds, by Daisy Whitney (using themes from TKAM)
  6. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  7. The Night Rainbow, by Claire King - (5-year-old narrator)
  8. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
My brain is working overtime now and I can think of plenty more, but will restrain myself and let you follow this link if you want to know a few more. There are also many novels in the third person omniscient POV, telling stories of children, such as The Lord of the Flies etc. There are heaps of others - can you add to the list?

  • So...why am I on about POV and TKAM today? Well, I'm a guide by the side of my Year 10 students every year as they study it for its timeless themes. 
  • This month's WEP challenge is: Through the eyes of a child, where entries are to be just that - told from a child's POV, whether flash fiction, non-fiction or poetry. Photographs and Artworks can also be posted that represent a POV of a child.
  • Your'e invited to join us on March 26, with your interpretation of the prompt. You can sign up in my right hand sidebar, or visit Write...Edit...Publish.
  • How many books do you know that are told through the eyes of a child? 

 




Wednesday, 5 March 2014

How to turn away visitors to your blog in 5 Easy Steps. My Insecure Writers Support Group effort.

Hi all!

With the A - Z racing towards all the eager April beavers, I'm taking this opportunity to talk a little about the things that slow me down when I'm visiting blogs. Now I don't want to upset anyone, so I probably shouldn't post this, but getting only 0 or 1 or 2 comments can make a writer insecure. So...I'm taking the risk and putting it out there. I hate preachy blog posts so I've tried to keep it light. Tell me in the comments if you agree, disagree, or have more to add...or you hate me and will never visit this blog again!!


Click on the badge to read other posts....
STEP ONE

When visitors click on your Profile, make sure you have a full list of all the blogs you've ever created. Perhaps something like this:

Growing Flowers in the Attic
A - Z Challenge
The World  is Going Down the Gurgler
My Secret Diaries revealed
My Weight Gain Secret
Little Darlings
Writer Expert
Fluffy Snuffy's Trial Blog

Is that enough? Your new visitors will generously, perhaps, click on one or two, but then find that the last post was in January 2004. They can't hang around all day, so they'll possibly leave without making contact with whichver is your current, updated blog. :(

SERIOUS SOLUTION

I have multiple blogs, but I only 'Show' two, which are easy enough to suss out - Write...Edit...Publish and Denise Covey. You just go into Edit Profile and Hide the blogs you no longer use or only post on occasionally. I add a link to my other blogs using the Pages Option on my main blog.

STEP TWO
This is an easy one, unlike the ones with numbers!

Have Word Verification/Captcha Codes on.

When a visitor is rushing round, trying to do the right thing in whatever window of opportunity she/he has, then types a long comment, hits Publish, then has to prove she/he is not a robot, grr. During the A - Z that will probably mean the commenter will flee  to more comment-friendly blogs. If I meet a Captcha Code face on, I'll get out my sword and swing it once or twice. If I successfully breach the fortress, I'll add to the comment that Captcha Codes are on, as sometimes, apparently, bloggers don't know Google has turned the pesky little sentinels on.

SERIOUS SOLUTION

Go into Settings, Comments, and tell Google that you NEVER want Word Verification turned on. Sure, I know some of you are twitchy about getting spam comments, but I've been blogging since 2008 and accept that the occasional rant from the Submissive Husband or I Hate American Women is better than making the other 99.9% of visitors prove they're not spammers. Try it! We'll all thank you for it.

STEP THREE

Make it as hard as you can to find where to comment.

Okay, so I've managed to crash the Gatekeepers on the User Profile, and have actually been able to read your wonderful post. I so want to comment. My fingers are twitching. I have to meet a friend for coffee in 15 minutes, so time is of the essence. Hector McKraken, where do I comment? Let's hit the Post Date, sometimes that is where they're hidden. Nah. Let's try the Post Time. Nah, not that either! OMG! It must be one of those blogs where the comments are a vague number at the top!! Grr...so just to make sure I have read the post, I have to scroll up, hunt around - right side? Left side? Ah, that's it! Click! Now...what was I all fired up to say...totally gone. That cup of coffee is looking good. Byzies! (And if I do actually remember what I wanted to say, I have to scroll back down to the bottom again to actually comment! Go figure...)

SERIOUS SOLUTION

Yep, I know some blog formats use the Comments at the Top, but why oh why, when most of us are programmed to click on the simple old phrase, 'Post a Comment', at the bottom, after reading the illustrious post. Being too avant guard may cost you comments, especially from new visitors, potential 'Friends'. If you don't care for comments, by all means ignore me. What would I know? I'm old fashioned. I love comments! And I love being able to see other comments when I leave one on your blog, but I see this little indulgence has been removed from some blog comments now. Sadly. How can you join in the conversation if you're shut out?

STEP FOUR

 Link to your Google + Profile. 

Yeah, yeah, I know. Google loves you to do this, all good for them, but bad for bloggers. What happens when I click on your name when you comment on my blog, or I see you on another blog and decide to visit? Well, I do most of my blog commenting on my phone, and when I click Google + links, I get a nice invitation from Google to 'Get it for my mobile', which of course I already have. If I actually get through on my laptop, then I have to poke around all your 'Likes' and 'Shares' to actually find a post from you which will lead me to YOUR blog. An onerous process which once again, slows a commenter down. Nowadays, unless it's a blogger I absolutely love, I won't bother following the Google + link.

SERIOUS SOLUTION

If you notice that the comments aren't flowing in like they used to, Revert to Blogger Profile. It's easy. I've done it, as have many others, I notice. It's easy. There's a link on the Dashboard in the top right hand corner.

STEP FIVE

Play it again, Sam. 

Have you ever been doing the blog rounds at the library, a cafe, or some other public place, when you hit a blog that belts out a tune? After I pick myself up off the floor, I notice the dirty looks and that's not just because they've knocked their coffee all over their laptop. I'm outta here! I LOVE music, but not on blogs - it's a distraction and quite annoying and probably sends a lot of visitors scurrying to a quieter blog.

SERIOUS SOLUTION

Don't play it again, Sam. It might have worked for Ilsa Lund in Casablanca, but it doesn't work on blogs. I love music, but music style is very subjective. You may love to greet your visitors with Eminem's latest screaming out, but chances are your visitor's taste in music is different (well, I don't mind a bit of Eminem, but keep him for parties!) not on your blog.
  • Okay, you have it. Let me know your opinion. Are there any other ways a blog can not attract readers/commenters?
  • And if you feel up to the challenge, WEP is hosting its monthly bloghop on March 26 - Through the eyes of a child. You can sign up here! You have 3 days to post if it conflicts with other bloghops, like the one I'm involved in, March Book Frenzy (see details in my sidebar).
Thanks for visiting/commenting!!