Book Review: Dark Light By Jodi Taylor

This is one weird book – I mean that in a good way. Elizabeth Cage is a mostly ordinary widowed housewife who likes a quiet life. Her primary problem is that she can see colours, which means she can read others emotions by the colour aura that swirls around them. We discover through her backstory that her special power is of interest to a man who had her locked up in an asylum so he could study and exploit her, until another inmate helped her escape.

Dark Light opens with Elizabeth running away and trying to cover her tracks by jumping random buses, then disembarking only to do it again on another bus until she decides to stop in the town of Greyston out of pure exhaustion from being on the move all the time. That’s when things really start to get wacky. Greyston is a small English village of women with a medieval tradition that involves kidnapping a man to be king for a year, getting him to impregnate the towns women then sacrificing him to the stone gods on New Year’s Eve. Elizabeth is recused from almost becoming one of the towns women by the man she was running away from.

It soon becomes evident Elizabeth has other special powers as she slips between the cracks of this world and other bizarre, chaotic, parallel universes inhabited by creatures from your childhood nightmares. In these other spheres bad things happen, dramatic rescues take place and Elizabeth is subjected to all kinds of quirky twists and turns, all the while wishing she could just sit quietly at home in a warm bath with a cup of tea.

All the way through this supernatural thriller, I was surprised at how it drew me in. When I had to put it down to go and attend to my ordinary life, I couldn’t wait to get back between it’s strangely engrossing pages. I have never read any of Jodi Taylor’s writing before and it wasn’t until I finished Dark Light that I realised it was the second book in a series – luckily it turned out that didn’t matter particularly, other than being disappointed I hadn’t started at the beginning with White Silence. I am certain I will be reading more of Taylor for another dose of peculiar, spooky fun in the future.

Book Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Trent Dalton’s novel Boy Swallows Universe is part crime novel, part coming of age story and part memoir. Eli Bell is a boy growing up in commission housing on the outskirts of Brisbane in the 1980’s with his brother August who doesn’t speak. It follows Eli from age twelve through nineteen when he realises his boyhood dream and becomes a journalist. As a child he gets life advice from his babysitter and mentor Slim who is a convicted murderer, and he lives with his heroin addicted mother and violent, drug dealing step father – until his stepfather disappears when his criminal past overtakes him, his mother goes to jail and Eli loses his lucky charm.

Eli and August then go to live with their father, an anxious, alcoholic man who is a prolific reader of fiction and buys Eli writing paper to ‘burn the house down or set the world on fire.’ And Dalton certainly set the world on fire with this novel.

The book has won more awards than you can poke a stick at including four ABIAs: Book of the Year, Literary Book of the Year, the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year and Audio Book of the Year (Wavesound, narrated by Stig Wemyss); the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing and Peoples Choice Award at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards; the Indie Book Awards Book of the Year; and the MUD Literary Prize. Oh, and it’s going to be adapted for screen.

It’s a long work at 480 pages, but every one is packed full of humour, tragedy, hope, love and a splash of magical realism, all written in Dalton’s unique lyrical prose. It gets the one of my favourite ever books award because it’s a rollicking good read and I loved his writing style. I expect I will read it more than once.

Watch my language? Watch my language? This is what really shits me, when the clandestine heroin operation truth meets the Von Trapp family values mirage we’ve built for ourselves.”

Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe

Storytelling and editing

Storytelling existed long before the printed page came into existence. The earliest known discovery dates back to around 14,000 B.C. to the Lascaux Caves in the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France. The story drawn on the walls of a cave in pictures depicted the hunting practices and rituals in the area. The first printed word story was the epic of Gilgamesh carved on stone pillars thousands of years later in 700 B.C.

Rock Art, Utah

Of course oral storytelling has been a central part of human cultures for thousands of years, but dating it exactly, like dating when humans first began to speak, is impossible because words leave no trace in the archaeological record. Over time stories have been used to preserve cultures across generations, to teach social norms and transmit knowledge, to create community cohesion, and to entertain. Storytellers were the healers, the spiritual guides, leaders, keepers of culture, entertainers or jesters, and they transmitted their tales in the form of songs, poetry, orations and chants.

In some senses humans are stories because we are made up of the narrative constructs of our lives. Stories are how we are remembered, and how we remember others. A narrative is a powerful tool, and lives can literally be changed by them. Remember the books that influenced you as a child and moulded the way you think today? Stories give children access to their rich imaginations and deep fantasy lives and build emotional literacy. They help us to make sense of our world as well as challenge us to think about the world beyond our own narrow limits.

Telling Tales, Lamen Island, Epi, Vanuatu

For writers who subject themselves to the monkish like isolation required to create stories, writing is an activity that takes us deep within ourselves and draws us out all at the same time. An idea is often seeded by something that happens in the world around us, but when I look at what I have written retrospectively I usually wonder where it came from.

While I edit I have been thinking quite a bit about the difference between the written and oral forms of storytelling, because I use reading my work out loud to help with editing. Reading out loud allows me to hear the cadence, pacing and rhythm of my work. It puts my writing on display in a way that the written word does not.

An editor I know recently suggested I actually get someone else to read my work back to me as part of the editing process. She says how you hear your work is different again coming from another person and the exercise can help to further improve it. Getting someone else to read your work is particularly useful for grammar as it makes your realise that commas are far from meaningless markers. They cause a pause, or a breathe in vocalisation that you would not always pick up in silent reading. Punctuation alters the tone of the words they punctuate by indicating a change of idea, an increase in detail, or a change of speaker. Used incorrectly punctuation can confuse the reader, and when we confuse readers we throw them out of our stories.

DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague

I have been listening to a few audio books recently – and I do love an audiobook. They mean I read more because I can listen to them gardening, driving, walking, or when my eyes are too tired for the page. Though you do have to be wary of listening when you go to bed, because whilst it’s a lovely reminder of being read to sleep as a kid, there’s the risk of missing half the tale if you start snoring and the book keeps playing.

Well narrated audio books are an immersive experience that pulls you into the story when the reader infuses it with emotion. They can manipulate the pace by reading faster or slower, and vary tone and pitch for different characters to bring them to three dimensional life. You can’t skim an audiobook the way you can the printed word and in listening you can focus on the bricks of detail to notice how the writer has constructed the story. You can hear how they grab your attention and draw you deeper in, or do something that pushes you away, such as using large slabs of narrative that create distance.

I’ve been listening to Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton this week. It was named book of the year at the Australian book industry award and won audiobook of the year as well as a string of other acclamations. The story is based on Dalton’s own childhood growing up in a suburban Brisbane housing commission amongst drug dealers and criminals. Dalton’s use of dialogue is often hilarious, and his prose is evocative. He uses colorful details and wordplay to describe the minutiae of life and the deepest inner thoughts of Eli, drawing out the young narrators surreal imagination and philosophical meanderings. I’m only about half way though the audiobook but suspect I may want to turn around the read the written version as well when I’ve finished to see what I can learn there.

Main image: DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague

Review: Law Week Event on Stalking, Trolling and Cyber-Bullying

Sisters in crime hosted a Law Week event in partnership with Victoria University last week on the subjects of Stalking, Trolling and Cyber-Bullying. The Age journalist Wendy Tuohy, interviewed authors Ginger Gorman (Troll Hunting: Inside the world of online hate and its fallout), Emma A Jane (Misogyny Online: A short (and brutish) history) and Rachel Cassidy (Stalked – The Human Target) about predator trolls who use technology to bully, troll or stalk their victims to the extreme.

The author talks were reminiscent of Eileen Ormsby, author of The Darkest Web: Drugs, Death and Destroyed Lives, whom I listened to at Adelaide Writers Week. Ormsby talked about how the internet (her focus was the dark web) has created a safe place for bad people to meet, talk and normalise one another’s antisocial behaviour.

The Law Week speakers described the perpetrators of predator trolling as primarily narcissistic, entitled, anglo, straight young men. They often work in well organised, structured syndicates and find someone to target who they see as the ‘other’. They search for a targets weakness and then threaten harm or incite them to hurt themselves. They then set out to demonise, dehumanise and harm by choosing some characteristic (religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality) to focus their harassment on.

Gorman drew the analogy that cyberhate is the modern day version of workplace harassment and domestic violence. It was an interesting observation on the internet as a social device. As a communication tool the internet can amplify both the good and bad of what has historically only happened in the school yard or the workplace. However, unlike the schoolyard or workplace, there is little, if any attempt to moderate or prevent harmful behaviour online and without moderation or regulation the internet can become like the island in Lord of the Flies.

Ginger Gorman was not entirely without empathy for some of the men she met online, despite having been the victim of trolling herself. She spent some time exploring the common characteristics of those who become predator trolls and found quite a lot of unhappy upbringings in disfunctional families, where parenting was outsourced to the internet and children were left vulnerable to grooming by other angry disenfranchised people online. An experience that perpetuated hate. She also found many trolls to be educated intelligent, but hateful men (mostly), some of whom were married with children and you probably wouldn’t connect with this behaviour if you met them in passing in real life.

When disenfranchised individuals get together in unregulated forums that enable anonymity, bad behaviour can snowball and become amplified. It’s a sad reflection on what’s broken in society if support structures aren’t available for either the disenfranchised youth who are destined to become predator trolls given the right set of circumstances, or the victims they harass.

Gorman has been heavily criticised by some for giving attention to the people she met online, but having been a victim of trolling herself I suspect she did not undertake the exercise lightly. It’s a complex area that will not change without shining a light on it.

It will be interesting to see if cybercrime starts to creep into more crime fiction narratives in the coming years as there’s certainly plenty of content for it. The three authors at Law Week have produced non-fiction works that will prove to be excellent research material for fiction writers with an interest in this area, and present some fascinating insights and plenty of food for thought. The take away message for me was a comment by one of the speakers at the end…

“Take your radical empathy online.”

Respect Matters

There are a lot of ordinary people in the world who do extraordinary things. Most of them pass through life unnoticed by all except those whose lives they touch. A small number become immortalised when their contribution is recognised by the media, awards, or writers who become fascinated enough in their stories to commit them to paper, but most often the extent of a person’s contribution to society, only becomes apparent when we hear others tell stories about them.

Last week I went to a living wake for a woman called Katrina Leason, a long-term friend of my partner, and someone I have come to love and admire through that association.

Zelda’s Place Collective

In the mid-eighties when feminist activists began to challenge dominant discourses about violence against women, a group of young women in Melbourne got together and formed a collective to set up Zelda’s Place which provided support and accommodation to young women who were victims of incest. Katrina was one of the founding collective members.

The collective named Zelda’s Place after Zelda D’Aprano, a staunch feminist, labour unionist and pay justice advocate. Zelda was an unstoppable force in the women’s movement and the labour movement. She got sacked from factory jobs for speaking out about unfair condition for women, organised pub crawls with groups of women to drink in bars that banned women from entering, and chained herself to the doors of the Commonwealth bank in 1969 to protest the dismissal of an arbitration of an equal pay case with the meat industry union. On another occasion she chained herself to the doors of parliament house, only to have her chains cut and removed by a police officer. When the officer suggested she should be embarrassed by her behaviour, Zelda responded she was not because soon there would be more women joining her. Sure enough they did, and Zelda formed the Women’s Action Committee and the Women’s Liberation Centre with them, and the women’s liberation movement was born.

Outdoor glamour

Zelda’s spirit inspired the young women’s collective who formed Zelda’s Place, five of whom were at Katrina’s living wake. The five have taken varies trajectories in their careers, but Katrina, like Zelda, and the in the spirit of that first collective, dedicated her professional life to ending violence against women.

On sighting Katrina from a distance you would not immediately pick her as a staunch feminist, she doesn’t fit the stereotype. She is glamorous. Tall, blonde, immaculately dressed and always made up. It is not until you speak to her that you realise she is a woman not to be taken lightly.

I had known for some time that Katrina had done quite a lot of work with the Australian Football League (AFL) around reducing violence against women. What had not dawned on me was that she was one of the drivers behind the professionalisation of women’s football, which emerged as a national competition backed by the AFL in 2017.

Gathering

Katrina had realised some time ago that Australian’s love of sport could be a vehicle for change and bought her more than twenty-five years of working to create more inclusive environments to the male dominated world of football.  She believed that increasing the participation of women in football was key to the cultural change needed in community football clubs to prevent violence against women and girls, and pursued that belief with the same strength and determination that she pursued all her years of working to eliminate violence against women. I imagine that many of the blokes in the football world would have been surprised by Katrina.  As my partner pointed out; Katrina Leason never shies from a fight, but always turns up dressed for a ball.

Katrina has approached her illness with the same pragmatism she has applied to her life.  Meditation has given her inner strength to withstand many challenges and to stand tall with dignity and pride in the face of opposition and adversity, along with her connection with family and close friends.

We live in a society that is largely afraid of death, and where talking about it is often taboo. Katrina chose to take a different path and engaged a Buddhist death doula to provide non-medical support to her and her family through her end of life journey. Doula’s can help us to lean into death, to steer away from the socialised silence that most commonly surrounds dying and that brings disconnection rather than that which we most crave – connection.

A Splash of Gold

The theme for Katrina’s living wake was semi-formal with a splash of gold and she looked ever glamorous in a long dress with gold braid. The gathering took place over a sit-down dinner at the same place Katrina and her husband, Peter, had married, but the main event was the family and friends who spoke.

Katrina gave those who knew her the opportunity to tell her, and for her to hear their words that she would not have experienced had they been spoken at her funeral. It was a beautiful evening to be part of.

I sprayed my hair gold and shed quite a few tears at the beautiful speeches.  The final speaker presented Katrina with a well-deserved Zelda D’Aprano Lifetime Achievement Award in honour of her tireless work to contribute to the elimination of violence against women. Afterwards I felt I knew Katrina a little better and had a deep sense of gratitude for the woman in who’s honour I was there, for showing us what it means to strive not only for a good life, but for a good death as well.

Book Review: The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

Anna can’t bring herself to end it. Instead she spirals toward insanity while she sits on the pavement outside her house and polishes five tiny footprints embedded in the cement, protecting them from passers-by. Her son Daniel disappeared and the footprints are all she has left.

DCI Marvel is a curmudgeonly detective who hates most people but has a uncharacteristic empathy for the missing and murdered. His mood takes a turn for the worse when he’s assigned to look for his bosses wife’s lost dog.

Anna and Marvel meet when Anna is trying to throw herself off a bridge. When Anna goes to a psychic for help to find Daniel, she meets the owner of the missing dog and decides to help the cynical Marvel find it. Then things take a strange turn.

English crime writer Belinda Bauer brings her characters to life by exposing quirky details about the absurdities of life and then weaving them with human tragedy. She has a knack of making the almost unbelievable plausible and times you’re not sure whether to laugh or cry. Her prose flows in a way that is easy to digest and draws the reader into the characters.

The first Bauer novel I read was Snap, short listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2018. Snap was a page turner that surprised and delighted with its offbeat, idiosyncratic characters and made me an immediate fan. I must admit I wondered if I would enjoy her earlier novels as much given I seemed to have started with the best. I’m pleased to say The Shut Eye did not disappoint and I’ll be delving into more of her work in the future.

Recycling Books

Guggenheim, New York

In 2015 on a trip to New York I had the good fortune to meet a gentleman who worked at the University Club in Manhattan. It’s an elite private club established in 1861. Its purpose now is to promote Literature and Art and it’s based in a Mediterranean-Revival-Italian Renaissance palazzo-style purpose built building constructed in 1899 on West 54th Street. The Club hosts one of New York’s greatest private art collections which includes works by American artists Gilbert Stuart and Childe Hassam. It also has an extraordinary reading room with ceiling murals by H. Siddons Mowbray that were modeled after the Vatican Apartments (unfortunately I couldn’t take photos).

The gentleman gave us a tour of the building, library and rare book collection and it was one of the greatest book highlights of my life so far. Some of the rare books we were shown included:

‎⁨Strahov Monastery and Library⁩, ⁨Prague⁩, ⁨Czech Republic⁩
  • Ptolemy Geographical (1511): an early publication of geographical maps pre-dating knowledge of Australia’s existence, which does not appear in any of the drawings.
  • Domenico Fontana Architecture (1590): which described and illustrated the removal of the Vatican Obelisk from its old location behind the sacristy of St. Peter’s, where it had been since the reign of Caligula, to its present location in the center of the Piazza of St. Peter.
  • The natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands 3rd edition, Mark Catesby (1771): which contained drawing of the figures of fish, snakes, turtles, etc.
  • Handwritten Patent of Nobility, King Ferdinand to Don Pedro Jacinta Elantra (1750): a royal manuscript printed on velum (goat/sheep skin).
  • Trattato del giuoco della palla (1555), Antonio Scanio: the first book ever written on the rules of tennis.
  • Book of Common prayer (1770’s): which had a fore edge painting, a painting on the edge of pages that can only be viewed from a certain angle.
Guggenheim, New York

I set about reviewing and rationalising my own book collection for the first time in about ten years last week, and while it may not contain any valuable or rare books it was an interesting trip through my own history, because a book collection can tell us a lot about ourselves. They put on display an intimate insight into our intellectual lives, inspirations, influences and escapes. I remember the last time we did this exercise and took a big load of books to our local second hand bookshop. It was after a youthful phase of reading loads of self-help and personal growth books.

The shop owner foraged through the boxes, turned to us and said, “I hope you feel better now.”

Guggenheim, New York

This time the throw out pile, about eight boxes, includes an eclectic mix of mainly literary and genre fiction. There are also a small number of management, cooking and personal development books.

What we chose to keep on our bookshelves is as interesting as what we discarded. The unread; favourite reference books (cooking and gardening); the books we loved and reread with the bent spines and creased pages (like Tracks by Robin Davidson; The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger; poetry books; and anything by Jeanette Winterson); the nostalgic volumes that hold some fond memory from childhood that we cart from house to house even though we may never read them again (James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl; The Black Stallion Walter Farley; Midnight by Rutherford Montgomery); and the ones we read as adults that hold some historical meaning and we might revisit one day (Equus by Peter Schaffer; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance and all those tomes on the art of classical dressage written by the greats like François Robichon de La Guérinière and my own teacher Master Nuno Oliviera – even though I no longer ride)

Book Art, Adelaide

Of course when I mentioned discarding books, I didn’t mean throwing them away, that would be sacrilegious, there are many options to consider, disposal being the last resort. I have seen some amazing creative uses of old books from art installations to turning them into a bed base. I will attempt to find homes for as many as possible with friends, at second hand bookshops or by donating them to the local library, or op-shop, or one of the places around Melbourne listed below. Then I’ll set about filling up those empty shelves again.

Aboriginal Literacy Foundation: accepts donations of new and used children’s books. Refer to the criteria on their website before sending or delivering books.

Australian Books for Children of Africa (ABCA): appreciate good quality kindergarten to year seven books, both fiction and non fiction, new and second hand, including story books, dictionaries and atlases.

Lifeline: raise over 80% of their operational costs through retail activities such as Lifeline Shops and has drop off points around the country that accept books

National Prison Book Program: is run by teh The Australian Prison Foundation and has collection points in Melbourne

Street Library, Berlin

Street Library: Community home’s for books in the street where people can simply reach in and take what interests them; when they are done, they can return them to the Street Library network, or pass them on to friends. The website shows drop off points

Brotherhood books: When you donate or purchase a book from Brotherhood Books, you are supporting the Brotherhood of St Laurence in working for an Australia free of poverty. All the proceeds of these book sales are reinvested back into the charitable operations

Vinnies: accept donations of quality books – fiction, non-fiction, childrens

Do you ever clear out your book shelves? What do you do with your second hand books?

Let’s talk about sex

I’m writing a mystery/crime fiction novel. It’s full of secrets and lies and deceit and conflict, and a good dose of humour. It’s about a private investigator going undercover to try to find out who killed two activists, and why someone framed a dead junkie for their murders. It turns out the novel includes sex scenes, and I’m developing a whole new level of appreciation for romance writing all of a sudden because of that.

Sure I’m a Feminist,
Whitney Museum of American Art

Despite the fact the novel has a character who is a sex worker, I didn’t intend to include any sex scenes, it’s a crime novel after all, but my MC and a secondary character had other ideas…and it happened.

Writing those scenes made me more nervous than writing any others. Excuse the pun, but is that performance anxiety? Sex is a messy, clumsy, three-dimensional business. One minute you’re chatting over a great curry and the next there’s an entanglement of sweaty body parts. It’s not easy to bring to life with black ink on a page. To little information and its confusing, too much is tipping into pornography…besides people I know might read it.

The Golden Penis,
Prague Castle

The Bad Sex in Fiction Awards lingers like a shadow over my keyboard whilst I edit. Do I hint at a bit of foreplay and fade to black, or follow them into the bedroom and record what goes on in there? I don’t want to sound like a gynecologist, just include enough to get readers imaginations going and leave them to it. I question every word, knowing that crass metaphors and clumsy euphemisms seem to be what gets authors on that Awards list.

My other lingering doubt is the question of whether sex belongs in crime fiction at all, which some seem to have strong feelings about. Desire and conflict are infused in the genre, and as Kurt Vonnegut said, characters must want something ‘even if it’s only a glass of water.’ Lets face it, intimate relationships are ripe for conflict and what greater desire than the sexual urge? Crime novels revolve around a death, so bringing in its intimate cousin is not so strange, is it? Even crime crusaders have sex sometimes, look at James Bond.

Sex Life of Plants,
Flecker Botanical Gardens, Queensland

Sex and death are intimately connected, and not only because they are topics you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company. For some species in the animal kingdom death is the cost of sex. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and French social theorist Michel Foucault argued that the two topics are fused, that humans have a life instinct, and a death instinct, and that the death instinct pervades sexual activity. The French even frame orgasms as la petite mort, translated to the little death, likening the sensation of post orgasm to death.

If the scenes are important for the development of the character or the plot, and add tension, say because it’s someone the MC shouldn’t be getting intimate with, then they a have a purpose. Just make it low risk and avoid too many metaphors and similes I say.

What are your views on sex scenes in fiction? Do you have favourite or most disliked examples?

Main image: Street Art, San Francisco USA


Free Wheeling

It’s the end of the day, of the end of my second week back at work and as may become evident from this stream of consciousness blog, my brain is a little tired and addled. Yesterday it was Bohemian Rhapsody, but ten minutes ago I had the song The Wheels on the Bus going around in a loop in my head, when the wheels on the actual bus made an abrupt stop. As I write this I’m sitting on said bus, and it ain’t going nowhere, having broken down ten kilometres from home when the door jammed open. I’m reframing the experience as an opportunity for more writing time, very Buddhist of me considering what I want most, is to get home, eat dinner and put my feet up.

Buddha Walk, Crystal Castle, NSW

Speaking of Buddhism, as I understand it, the second noble truth is that suffering is due to attachments and expectations, to grasping and clinging. The idea of letting go makes me think about writing practice, when we need to hold on, and when we need to surrender.

I remember when I wrote my first draft, how chuffed I was to complete it, and how attached I was to those 60,000 odd words, little realising the lessons I was about to understand. Learning to edit was about coming to terms with letting go, to absorb feedback and use it to improve technique, to apply critical non-attachment.

It’s a funny thing that us writers can become so attached to those tiny squiggles on the page, invest so much of ourselves in them as if they were a living part of us and we will become less if we let them go.

A Public Practice, Vienna

I often think of writers as being most akin to musicians. When a musician wants to perfect their craft they will spend hours practicing. They study music theory, receive tutoring from a professional instructor, and develop a work ethic that gives them the grit to keep plugging away at it. They can’t afford to get attached to all those notes, to hoard them all and try to prevent them from floating away as they leave their instruments. They don’t think all their notes played in practice are wasted either. I wonder if writers would benefit from thinking of words more like musicians think of notes, embrace our practice as practice, know that not all our words are necessarily destined for the world, and that the cutting and pruning is about honing and perfecting our craft.

A Long Road Home, Nevada

My commute is a long journey, but hey, so is writing a book right? I’ve been editing for a long time now, and it occurred to me this week how my approach to the task has changed over time. It was a hard lesson, well learnt, when I did a structural edit of an early draft and realised I had to cut and rewrite all of the first five chapters. I think I put down my manuscript for a full week, fuming over the realisation, before I could bring myself to do it. Now after much application, I have become detached and carefree about editing, happy to cut and slash and relegate large chunks of text to the bin. I enjoy allowing fresh ideas to surface as I rewrite and rework, and apply what I have learnt to improve my manuscript.

…Oh, here comes another bus, and I must get on it.

Main image: London Bus, Esperanto Museum, Berlin

The writer’s brain

I’ve been listening to The First Time podcasts recently about the first time you publish a book. Fortuitously, one I listened to this week was an interview with counselor and coach Alison Manning who described part of her work as ‘helping writers with their minds’. She assist writers to understand themselves and their relationship to their writing in a way that aims to overcome roadblocks and self defeating thought patterns.

Objects of Desire

The interview included an interesting discussion about some of the myths, from both reader and writer perspectives (particularly first time novel writers), about how beautiful writing is produced. Manning said there is a common lack of understanding of the effort involved in completing a book – that it doesn’t just flow out as the finished product. Writers who are the most resilient operate from a growth mindset. That is that rather than focus on the outcome (getting published, being successful, etc) their emphasis is on valuing effort, development of effective strategies, hard work and learning from whatever happens – regardless of achieving outward success, or what might be perceived as failure. Their interest is primarily in exploring their potential.

Manning quoted research that says one of the five most powerful elements of well-being is achievement for its own sake, doing something that matters a lot to us and doing it because it’s interesting and enjoyable just to see how well we can do it.

Searching for Self

The interview also discussed the importance of focusing on the things we can control, rather than those we can’t. That to find out what’s possible we need to develop the flexibility to allow ourselves to work with what we’ve got, even if it’s not our ideal, and focus on doing what we can.

I thought her advice was useful in a whole range of contexts but the reason I found the discussion so interesting right now was that I had been grappling with feeling a bit disappointed at not completing more of my project during my year off, and wondering how/if I would find the time to finish it once I returned to my busy job. It’s the kind of thinking that can really erode motivation and become self defeating if you give into it. The interview gave me some ideas about managing my own expectations and changing circumstances to help keep up momentum on my project. It could also prove to be valuable advice in the workplace.

Just five more minutes

This week I’ve been adjusting to a new routine after returning to work, as has the hound. We’re up at 5am for the dog walk/run and I’m on the way to the office by 7.30am. My commute is loooong, about 1.5 hours one way, so that is now my writing time – on the bus on an iPad. I’m lucky to always get a seat because I get on at the first stop and off at the last. There will be some days, no doubt, that I will be too tired or full from my day to write and will just sit on the bus and read a book or listen to a podcast, activities related to developing my writing practice, even if not actually writing.

Manning has also done a podcast series called A Mind of One’s Own with novelist Charlotte Wood (The Natural Way of Things) in which they discuss many of the struggles that plague emerging writers, and how you might address them, so I shall also add those to my listening list also. I will add links to both podcasts to my resources page.

Main image: Brain like a Jellyfish