This woman’s place is her writing space

Edited version originally published by Queen Victoria Women’s Centre on 25 November 2018

Having secured a writing space to call my own, I know my place. In this chaotic space, relatively-free from domestic distractions, I mostly write non-fiction pieces. I’ve published one novel, and have been clawing back time to finish another.

Women are writing across all genres and subject matters. Works of fiction by women can be powerful. From books that unashamedly focus on everyday life to those that shake perceptions, reveal the unspoken, and stare political opponents in the eye.

Publishing or reading novels by women is no longer frowned upon. Some of these books provide motivation to keep going, ideas for breaking down barriers, and an image of a fairer society to strive for.

pippiThere are many woman-authored books with strong female protagonists from my childhood, but the ones that most stand out are the Pippi LongStocking series by Astrid Lindgren. Pippi showed me that it’s possible to be uniquely you. Be a rebel, have fun, walk your own path, but remember to help others РPippi did not leave others behind.

Reminiscing about younger-me wanting to be like Pippi, I discovered that Astrid Lindgren (1944 ‚Äď 19993) was also an inspiring person. She was vocal about women in politics, children‚Äôs rights and civil rights for African-Americans, and was against corporal punishment. Awarded accolades in her lifetime, Astrid Lindgren even has an asteroid named in her honour.

Recently I re-re-read Toni Morrison’s 1988 Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved. I nowbeloved understand why Baby Suggs chose to spend her last days on earth pondering colours. Starting with blue, gone before she reached red. There has been too much red. Beloved tells the grim story of a traumatised runaway-slave that kills her toddler to save her from a life of chains.

Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature 1993. Very few writers can capably use storytelling to combat white supremacy and injustice with as much clarity and fearlessness as Toni Morrison does.

Although her books often tell stories at the intersection of sexism and racism, Toni Morrison ‚Äė‚Ķdoes not write ‚Äúist‚ÄĚ novels.‚Äô In an interview Toni Morrison was asked why she distances herself from feminism. She replied:

In order to be as free as I possibly can, in my own imagination, I can’t take positions that are closed. Everything I’ve ever done, in the writing world, has been to expand articulation, rather than to close it, to open doors, sometimes, not even closing the book — leaving the endings open for reinterpretation, revisitation, a little ambiguity. I detest and loathe [those categories]. I think it’s off-putting to some readers, who may feel that I’m involved in writing some kind of feminist tract. I don’t subscribe to patriarchy, and I don’t think it should be substituted with matriarchy. I think it’s a question of equitable access, and opening doors to all sorts of things.

proofCloser to home, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence is the second novella in a trilogy written by my maternal aunt Doris Nugi Garimara Pilkington (1937 ‚Äď 2014). The book retells how my grandmother Molly escaped a church-run institution for children, after being incarcerated under the government‚Äôs racist child removal polices. These practices occurred nationally, from the early 1900s to the 1980s, and those taken are the stolen generations.

Aunty Doris became a published author later in life. Receiving the 1990 David Unaipon Award led to the publication of her first novel, Caprice: A Stockman’s Daughter. Whenever I worry about running out of time to reach my goals, Aunty Doris’ success gives me hope. And whenever I feel like everything is too difficult, I remember the tenacity of my grandmother and know the strength of my ancestors’ flows through me.

A space to write is essential, even if it’s just a small corner of the kitchen table. Many of us write in difficult circumstances: decades of juggling demands on our time, giving birth, dealing with grief and loss, worrying which bills will be late this month, and being just so so tired. Some women are writing whilst in toxic relationships or dealing with attempted sabotage from exes. And then there’s women writing in exile or incarceration.

sky.jpgRecently, author Susan Abulhawa was detained by the Israeli government and refused entry to Palestine. An American-Palestinian writer, Susan Abulhawa is a human rights advocate, the founder of Playgrounds for Palestine, and a Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) activist. She was to be a guest at the 2018 Kalimat Palestinian Literature Festival.

In her statement to the Festival, Susan Abulhawa says:

I want to leave you with one more thought I had in that jail cell, and it is this: Israel is spiritually, emotionally, and culturally small despite the large guns they point at us ‚Äď or perhaps precisely because of them. It is to their own detriment that they cannot accept our presence in our homeland, because our humanity remains intact and our art is beautiful and life-affirming, and we aren‚Äôt going anywhere but home.

Set in Gaza, Susan Abulhawa’s The Blue Between Sky and Water is a tale of four generations of Palestinians living under siege Рrefugees in their own lands. Amongst the atrocities and destruction inflicted by the Israeli government, the Baraka family love, laugh, give birth, grieve, and resist.

And at the centre of everything are women.

I was there with the women in my life. I was in the colors. In the mulberries, magentas, and corals of a tired sun. In the blue between sky and water.
I was there watching. Their conversations and laughter anchored the ground in place, tucked the shore under the water, and hung the sky and decorated it with stars and moon and sun. All of this happened in Gaza. It happened in Palestine. And I stayed as long as I could.

To prepare for this article, I made a stack of novels by women that centred girls and women. Choosing these four was hard. However, it was a chance to re-visit these books. I still remembered what they showed me about life, of love and hate, overcoming oppression — and about myself.

I have patrons for my writing!

The last couple of weeks I’ve been peeking through the growing pile of debts, at my computer screen – reading arts grants, job pages, and other sources of potential income. And, as usual, spending too much time procrastinating on Twitter.

As is often the case for me, it was on Twitter that a potential solution was found. A means of managing the practicalities of living AND pursue my long-time dreams of writing. Another artist I follow on Twitter, Alysha Herrmann, was promoting her page on somethings called Patreon. What is this……

Curious, I did some research: starting with a read of the official blurb on the Patreon site. Ah, another crowdfunding platform. This one is aimed at linking arts patrons/supporters with creators. So they can do what they do best – create! There is a choice of per project, similar to other crowdfunding platforms, or monthly contributions, which sounded a bit different.

I’ve read a lot about crowdfunding, but have not gone there before. Some sites and projects are great, some not so. So I did some more looking into Patreon. I searched for reviews exposing the darkside of Patreon. Scam or not? And other than people saying how hard it is to attract patrons, supporters¬†or backers, I didn’t find anything too worrying.

Having self-published my debut novel, I know it takes nerves of steel¬†to promote yourself as an indie. But I’ve also learnt a fair few social media skills along the way. Why not give it a whirl? Nothing to loose, and perhaps something to gain.

First up, the platform is really easy to use. Very similar in usability to Google+ or Yammer. Setting up a creator profile takes about the same amount of time and skills as designing a WordPress blog. My newbie tip: have at least basic skills or find someone to help you.

The most time consuming part is what to say. So do some thinking about your goals, rewards, creator needs, and capabilities before you start. It will make it easier. Look at accounts by artists/writers/designers similar to you – what are they wanting, what are they offering, what tone do they use?

Patreon recommends using videos to attract sponsors, but that’s not my thing. I have a morbid dislike of putting my image and voice out there. Many introvert creators are the same.¬†So I had to make sure my written words could do a good job of promoting me. Luckily, I’m a writer so could manage this without too much stress.

Setting up the financial side of a creator account was fairly easy for me as I already had a PayPal account, and had my financial details nearby. I’ve been selling my book online for three years, so the USA tax forms weren’t daunting. It was great that they have the form ready to fill in electronically. Many other US-based platforms don’t give users as much help and information.

Links to commence promoting my page was not too difficult for me, again because of my experience as an indie author. I already have a fairly strong author platform (i.e. social media presence) so it was fairly simple to link these accounts.

Coming up with goals, rewards, background, intended use of funds etc wasn’t too daunting for me, as I’ve years of experience working in project management, grants writing, research and policy. All I needed was to downplay the corporate speak, don’t overshare, and write a clear plan for potential backers. I’ll go back and tweak these sections, once I get the hang of crowdfunding.

So I set up my creator account, wrote embarrassing things about myself, invented some rewards, and clicked the launch button. Simply by posting on Twitter,¬†I had three patrons within the hour, and reached six by the next morning. For a newbie, and having peeked at other accounts, I think that’s a promising start. I still have to do a proper launch, but its a good start.

And something that surprised me – although very grateful to my first patrons, I didn’t suffer from my normal feelings of not being worthy, guilt of taking other peoples’money or other forms of self-doubt. This is an important milestone for me. And a massive step to overcoming my dislike of¬†being too visible –¬†as well as¬†my fear of success.

If interested, my Patreon site is here. I just used my real name to make it easier for people to search for me, as I read that Patreon’s search engine is one of its weaker points.

Feedback is welcomed. I see typos every time I look at the page. So its still a work-in-progress. I won’t mind if you point out more typos.

Would you like to support me to develop my career as a writer, but the thought of monthly payments put you off? You still can. Simply use the PayPal button on here (ie WordPress blog) > over there in the right-hand sidebar (not visible on mobile devices). I also have a PayPal button on my Wyld Words bookshop website, for people who’ve expressed an interest in helping me keep another local bookshop from closing. ¬†I love book lovers ¬† ūüôā

Okay – time for me to get back to being a bookseller / writer.

In Good Company

163 I often get invited to participate in blog-hops and author interviews, but I generally let these opportunities slip by. Usually because I feel as if I don’t have time, or have nothing to contribute. Being an introverted, self-effacing author is not conducive to promoting my work. So I have been making more of an effort to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity, and even seek some.

Over the past few weeks I’ve participated in a number of such opportunities, and its been more fun than I expected. And, as an added bonus, I have connected with other writers and learnt more about non-commercial genre writing. Perhaps I’ve also caught the attention of readers, and encouraged¬†people to consider reading my work.

This week-end, I was interviewed by David McDonald, as part of the Australian Spec Fic Snapshot 2014 series. I confess, I had not heard of Snapshot previously, even though it has been running since 2005. To be invited to participate alongside emerging and well known writers of speculative fiction was a great opportunity. How could I possible say no? The timeframe was tight, as I was a last-minute addition, plus I was in a sooky-la-la mood (tail end of a minor cold), but I just slipped in before the series finished today. I’m not yet comfortable with interviews, so I tend to waffle on. If you are interested, read my interview here. Take the time to read the other interviews, too. They spread across fifteen reviewers’ blogs, but there will soon be a central link to all of the interviews.

Also this week, I participated in Zoe Brook’s¬†¬†second Magic Realism blog-hop. Like last year, I had a great time. Although I only got one post done this year, as opposed to the four I did in 2013. In this year’s post, I share my confusion about what is and isn’t magic realism. In fact, I am probably more conflicted than the first time I ever wrote about magic realism, with my sense of surety that it was the voice of peoples that have survived oppression, and still have strong connections to age-old cultures. Some of my co-blog hoppers were just as confused, while others were confident that their work was magic realism. I don’t always agree with the way that magic realism in literature is defined, but its great being involved in group discussions with other writers that have similar tastes, and learning more about genres.

A few weeks ago, I jumped on board the 2014 Deadly Bloggers Blog Carnival, which was inspired by NAIDOC Week and Australia Blak History Month. My post, which was prompted by a situation that happened when I was on a recent¬†road-trip through outback Australia, attracted a fair bit of attention. Readers were very open and honest about what they might have done in the same situation. Fear stops us from doing what is probably the ‘right thing’. However, xenophobia has too much of an influence on the way we react to others in need.

Well, that wraps up the recent opportunities to promote my work. I wonder what the next few weeks will bring?

A tale of sand, magic and city streets

Shiny Clock (screensaver) by http://clock-desktop.com/

In the most ordinary of places, extraordinary moments can occur

Like many people, I am guilty of not taking time out from being obsessed about time. Sure, as a writer and sometimes artist, I feel absolutely no guilt in those moments that I am absorbed in creating, or thinking about creating. However, moving from the professional world of the day job to the creative realms after hours on a daily basis, means that I am often rushing, trying to squeeze in too much and not taking time to just be in the moment.

What do I miss by not living in the moment? What do I miss by focusing on the sand that falls through the hour-glass, rather than seeing the beauty of each grain of sand? I waste opportunities: to absorb nature, build a real connection to others, to practice self-reflection, or glimpse the whole tapestry of life.

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.” ¬†George Eliot (aka Mary Ann Evans, 1819 – 1880), quote from¬†Janet’s¬†Repentance

The day job involves interstate travel, which sometimes occurs in frequent blocks. After weeks of spending time in various cities around Australia, from the east to the west coasts, this week I had the chance to see my own capital city from a different perspective. Playing hostess to guests from all states and territories, I stayed in the east end of Adelaide city for a couple of nights. I can’t remember the last time I saw Adelaide by night, so it was fun to join with the visitors for evening walks, discovering interesting places to dine.

One night, after sharing a few hours of conversation over a meal, everyone wandered back towards the motel, some with the intent to purchase desert on the way. Standing outside the restaurant, waiting for everyone to pay and leave, I heard the faint sounds of music competing with the city noises. As the guests walked past, I suggested to a few that they should cross the road and pass by the busker I had spied. Soon it was my turn to leave, so I dragged the person I was with across the street, called by the sounds of a violin. In transit, my walking companion dropped a few coins in the hat, and turned to leave, as most people do.

I stopped, realising that I didn’t have any coins to give. Normally I would have just walked on, but this time I dropped in what money I did have; a note. The musician thanked me with a merry change of tune; I laughed, and moved on. Down the street, I bumped in to the others, who had purchased take-away deserts and were making their ways back to their motel rooms. Almost to the motel, I didn’t feel like going back to my room yet. Despite a chill in the air, and fighting the wind, with a chai latte for warmth I walked back up the street. Making myself comfortable on a bench, I settled in to hear more of the music; determined to just be in the moment.

Slowing down the sands, to see golden moments
Being in the moment is not easy, especially on a windy city street, with the distracting sounds of cars, patrons of the hotel across the road, people walking in groups along the street, people spilling out of restaurants. However, stilling my cluttered mind, looking up at the darkened sky, and really giving in to the music, I had fleeting success of just being.

And then I watched; it felt as if I was seeing the city through different eyes, with a beautiful soundtrack in the background. I then noticed that the busker also appeared to be people-watching, for his music frequently changed to match those walking by; some of which tossed money into his hat on passing. Not many spoke or made eye contact with the violinist, but there was often something in their bodies to show that they had heard; a slight shift that indicated the music had connected with them.  Earlier, I had a feeling that this busker was different, and my intuition was confirmed: not only was he a talented violinist, but he could speak through his music.

Finding a glimmer of magic on the streets
Loosing the being-in-the-moment vibe for just a moment, I couldn’t help myself; I approached the violinist in between tunes. And, as is often the case, I had a mad woman moment, and said something¬†unnecessary. As I recall, it was something about me not really being a weird stalker, but that I was taking time to just watch people; you know, the thing that us writer-types frequently do.

He politely smiled, and asked me what I write. And……I fell all over my tongue…..as usual. Its silly, I know, but I just haven’t got the hang of being able to succinctly say what I write or what my novels-in-waiting are about. I need to get better at this if I want to successfully promote my first novel, which will be released in December. I need to have an Elevator Pitch ready.

When I mumbled that some of my work is in the style of magic realism, he asked ‘Like Harry Potter?’ This is a common reply, and at this point I always struggle to find a way to describe my favourite genre in a way that doesn’t make me sound too much like a deranged wannabe-writer and, at the same time, properly target my response to the person’s understanding of literature (without assuming too much).

In this instance, I rattled off some magic realism authors that I felt he may know of; the likes of Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The musician nodded, and returned his violin to its well-worn position under his chin, while I walked back to the bench. His hand, holding the bow, poised above the violin, as he said, ‘I thought that was what I do; magic realism.’

And you know what: it is. His music, on a windy city street, is magic realism. In that ordinary setting (a city at night), with people walking along the street, on their way to/from ordinary moments, they pause for just one moment. As the extraordinary sound of a well-played violin reaches out to them, they stop; they connect to the music, they feel, they may even connect with the violinist, and then they walk on. That moment of connection to music is the magic. And this particular musician is a creator of magic realism.

Leaving the streets behind
Too soon, the wind got to me, making me feel uncomfortable. And my fingers started to itch, wanting to know what was happening elsewhere; slave to constantly checking my android phone. I collected my belongings, and got up to leave. First I stopped to thank the violinist for sharing his music, and asked for his name. And I left.

And I must confess, I left feeling a little bit smug. Although I have trapped my ego in a thick-walled cage, it’s still a wild beast and is a long way from being domesticated enough to be of service. So, my ego and me walked down the street, feeling smug about being one of the few who took the time to sit and listen to the music. Feeling smug that I had just acted like a ‘real’ writer (i.e. people watched); when in reality, I haven’t yet published a novel. And my smugness kept me warm on that cold street; at least for a few steps.

I soon came across another hat on the side-walk, containing not many coins. The hat belonged to an elderly man, who looked as if a warm bed did not await him on this cold night. It was the same person I had walked past earlier, on my way to dinner, not giving him a second thought, let alone a coin. Feeling ashamed, I put my ego back in its cage, looked him in the eyes and smiled. Then I dropped some money in his hat. I told him that I hoped that the cold night would not be too unkind to him. He smiled, and said that he would be alright.

When I got back to my cosy warm motel room, I reflected on how nice it was to have heard a story through music; not feeling a need to hear a verbal telling of the musician’s story. Well, I soon discovered: yes and no.

I ‘googled’ the musician, and within a few clicks, I discovered that there was much more to his story than the music he had shared with me. I soon discovered that I had just been in the presence of an angel, come to visit (as George Eliot so eloquently said); and I had been too focused on the sands to realise.

Melvyn Cann, performing in Rundle Street Adelaide, 23 Oct 2013

Melvyn Cann
performing in Rundle Street Adelaide
23 Oct 2013

The man behind the music
The street violinist that I had stopped to listen to was Melvyn Cann, who is a classically trained violinist; in addition to being a talented Australian composer and conductor. Melvyn Cann’s musical talents had been identified at a young age, being selected to study at the Adelaide ¬†Elder Conservatorium at the age of 13; three years after he contracted polio (see this newspaper¬†article¬†from 1954). Melvyn was then accepted to play with the South Australian Symphony Orchestra at 16 years of age, going on to perform with other esteemed orchestras; including holding the title of Concert Master for the Victoria State Opera.

Melvyn was granted a scholarship to attend Oxford University, where he studied philosophy. He then spent another 27 years in university, as a lecturer. He is also a known poet and artist (see some of his paintings, and a biography, here), and father of five.

In addition to a life of opportunities and rich experiences, Melvyn has had more than his fair share of challenges. It is both these challenges and opportunities that has led him to the streets of Adelaide and Melbourne, to become a street performer (read more about Melvyn here).

In his biography, Melvyn has written: “In the classical tradition, the composer creates a notation that is a key to realisation of the work. The score leads the performer to find the work to present it to the listener. But the work itself is entirely ethereal: it exists only in the consciousness of the creator, the performer and the listener. The score may be a bit of material hardware: it can be bought and sold. But the music itself cannot be so bought: or, at least, this is not generally the case.” (extract from biography, at ¬†https://juxtaposestudios.com.au/artist-profiles/exstasis

I think that the above quote sums up how I felt about Melvyn’s music; that he, the performer, is able to create something ethereal. He tells a story that only exists in the consciousness of the performer and the listener; if people would only take the time to stop and listen.

As is often the case, a simple event has shown me a lot, and has taught me a little bit more about myself. You just never know what you will find along the road of life. Nor can you ever assume to know the story of the people you pass in the streets.

If art does not enlarge men’s sympathies, it does nothing morally.” ¬†George Eliot, from¬†Letter to Charles Bray,¬†15 July 1859

Welcome to my Literary Soiree

Print by Honor√© Daumier (French: 1808 ‚Äď 1879)

It’s a Brave New World of Publishing
I have read a lot of e-books lately; diving into genres that I have not previously ventured. I’ll call it research, not procrastination, as I did learn of lot about contemporary self-publishing. Although, I did have to switch off my inner-editor and ignore a few typos, grammar mistakes and formatting issues. And they are there, in abundance, in the world of e-publishing; from new DYI writers to those under the wings of the big publishing houses. Aside from picking up some pointers for my own writing, including what not to do, I have come to view this e-publishing phenomenon in a different light; especially Indies.

Firstly, let’s be honest, there are more than a few unreadable e-books out there. And there are also hidden treasures; well written and professionally edited, with strong character development and enjoyable plots. Also in my on-line hunt, I came across many tragic home-made covers, as well as some inspiring, creative designs. ¬†Without generalising, it would seem that, in the e-world, you can tell a book from its cover; as unprofessional looking covers often forewarned of novels that were lacking in craft.

My second discovery, well more of a realisation, was that among the multitude of indie publishers there are many talented emerging writers. Writers that have chosen a new medium to develop and refine their writing skills. Rather than be ultra critical of these writers, I believe it is important that we show support. After all, they do not have a stable of publishing experts helping them; they have us – readers and/or fellow writers. We can choose to become patrons of the art, like in times past. We can give feedback: honest but encouraging words. We can support these writers by inviting them into our ‘homes’ (i.e. buy their books for our e-readers, expand our social media communities/discussions) and into our hearts. We can be patrons of new literature and break-through writers.

In the spirit of supporting new writers, today I have decided to throw a Monday Soiree. On my invite list is my fellow moderators of the G+ community Literary Agents Hate Kittens….¬†and yourself, of course. Like all good hostesses, I have a delectable assortment of dishes and drinks. And, as a patron of the arts, I have invited the most interesting, most creative, most nouveau artistes of the written word. Come with me, let me introduce you to some of my exciting literary discoveries.

Welcome to my Soiree
‘Darling, you are here. Its so good to see you. you have taken your time to accept my invitation, You naughty thing. You are here now, so do come in.’
The guest stepped hesitantly over the threshold, thrown by such a welcoming; curious as to what they may find inside. They let the hostess take their coat, and waited expectantly in the hallway. Taking the guest by the arm, the hostess steers them down the corridor, stopping at the first door. The guest peers through, and is surprised by the sight of pale sock-clad legs resting on a small pouffe. The room appeared to contain a well-stocked library, and a warming fire in the hearth.

‘Oh there you are, Doc. I see you have made yourself comfortable,’ says the hostess, indicating the glass of scotch in the owner of the socks hand, and the book in their lap.
The friendly looking gentleman managed to get in a quick nod at me, before our hostess dragged me away. Looking over my shoulder, I saw him chuckling, before he returned to his book.
As we walked, the hostess asked me, ‘Have your read¬†Timothy Hurley‘s latest book? No? Well, you should. On first glance,¬†Shortstack¬†is just another self-published book with a home-made cover. In this instance, though, you really can’t judge a book by its cover. Or the talent of the author by the self-taken photo on that cover (it’s an acquired taste, surely). Look within and you will find an amusing book, full of humorous short stories. However, look deeper and you will find some insightful tales hidden among the ¬†funny anecdotes. Many of which are based on Timothy’s, a retired Doctor, rich life experiences and acute observations of human beings. My favourite is¬†Uncle Bill’s Unicorn; such a vivid description of small town life through the eyes of an imaginative child. ‘
I paused, wishing to return to that warm, inviting library, to speak with this author, but the hostess would not let go of my arm.

‘Let me get you a drink,’ she said.
I followed without hesitation, keen to wet my whistle. She led me to the bar, and after enquiring of my tastes, made me a dry Martini sans olive. I sipped my drink, and took a moment to look around. The room was full of small clusters of people, all deep in conversations. The room was abuzz with talk, a scattering of laughter, and the clinking of glasses. My eye caught a strange sight in a far corner of the room.
‘Oh, I see you have noticed our resident conjurer,’ commented the hostess. ‘Perjos often follows Chaunce Stanton, but I will caution you to be wary of the man. The magician, not the writer. Chaunce is a lovely man, and I will introduce you to him soon. First, let’s see if the canap√©s are ready. To the kitchen, come on.’

As I walked into the kitchen I noticed a tall man hovering over a tray of food, with a thoughtful look on his face. He straightened, and smiled.
The hostess said, ‘Ah, Phil Simpkin, darling where have you been lately? You are looking so good. All that dieting and exercising is really paying off. I see you have found the special treats I have ordered just for you; healthy and tasty. Be a dear and carry the food out. ¬†Just find a spot out there. I’m sure the guests will be eager for some nourishment; with all that talking about writing, they must be in need of energy.’
Eager to be of assistance, I picked up some of the platters and followed this man called Phil out the door. We placed the food on small tables scattered throughout the very chic salon, and it wasn’t long before the other guests gravitated towards the delectable treats. Picking up a warm pig-in-a-blanket, I turned to Phil, intending to make his acquaintance. However, my overly eager hostess took my arm once more, and steered me away.

‘You must find time to talk to Phil. He is a most interesting new writer. He’s writing the third book in the exciting crime series, The Borough Boys. A retired policeman, Phil has a knack with writing authentic tales of crime. He is also a talented English historian, as he is able to vividly recreate Leicester, London 1850.’ She leaned closer, whispering in my ear, ‘Now don’t get me wrong, I fully recommend his books, but I need to advise you to be patient. Phil obviously has a passion for research, and there is a wealth of back-story, so book one starts off a bit slow. Keep reading and you will soon be a fan of Phil’s work, and the grimey under-belly of old England that he has created. I am looking forward to book three, to see how much Phil has developed as a writer. For he is serious about writing, and is dedicated to honing his skills.’

Before I could comment, or ask more about these interesting sounding books, I heard a cry. In the doorway, leading to the garden, stood a man; holding a wriggling child.
The hostess made cooing noises as she approached them, ‘Oh look at the little sweetie pie. And you brought your child too, Todd Grundle. ¬†Let me hold that little darling. Yew, I meant the child.’
The man handed the child over, and our hostess handed it promptly back, looking in dismay at her dress. I passed her my handkerchief, and she proceeded to wipe off the trail of dribble from the front of her red silk cocktail dress.
‘Never mind,’ she said. ‘Its not the first time someone has dribbled on me. I don’t think children actually like me. Anyway, Todd, it’s so good to see you. You have been hiding in that van of yours, down by the river, for too long. I heard you have been frantically writing another book in your hideaway van. I must tell you, I really enjoyed¬†The House That Smelled Like Urine. Its content is as unusual as its title. I have to admit, it’s not my usual taste in books, and perhaps I didn’t understand the main story as much as I should have, but the side-stories are an entirely different matter. I see you as the next king of hilly billy gore, for sure. Its my predication of the day. Now, I must show my new friend around, let him meet more of my wonderful writer friends. If you care to find your way to the kitchen, you will find some candy in the top drawer, where I hid it from Phil. You might even find a treat for the child, if you look in the freezer.’
As we walked back inside, she said to me, ‘Do have a look at Todd’s work. He writes under the name of¬†Giovanni Russano. Or perhaps he actually is a Giovanni, and goes under the name of Todd? I must ask him about that. In the meantime, let’s go and find the girls. You are probably thinking that I only invite men to my soirees. These men are all good-looking, talented writer-types, I know, but we must leave them and go in search of the amazing Amazons of Literary Agents Hate Kittens.’

We went back into the salon, which was now abuzz, many more guests having arrived. Hearing the sound of unabashed laughter, I noticed a small group of women by the bar, looking like they were having a great time.
‘Ah, there’s Jane Turley¬†¬†and Susan Rafferty. Two wonderfully sexy writer / bloggers, who never fail to surprise me with what they can achieve amidst the chaos of children. Don’t be thinking they are just stay-at-home domestic goddesses. Their sense of humour will have you unashamedly chuckling. Best not to read their blogs whilst on public transport, or at your desk at work. Not unless you want people giving you strange looks. Jane is editing her first novel at the moment, and I can’t wait to read it.’
I went to take another sip of my drink, and noticed that the glass was empty. The hostess also noticed, and thankfully went to make me a new one. Finally free, I walked towards Jane and Susan, intending to introduce myself. However, I too soon felt that hand on my arm again.
‘Here is your drink, Now, darling, there is plenty of time for talking to the girls later; after I have introduced you to one more guest. If I can find him. Unfortunately, Carmen Mytris-Garcia¬†¬†isn’t joining us this evening. She is too busy enjoying that island hide-away of hers. Roze Fleming, another little kitten from Literary Agents Hate Kittens, is also absent. Then again, she has not been seen for some time. I do hope she is doing well. Karen Wyld might be around here somewhere. I haven’t seen her as yet, but she often turns up to these little shin-digs of mine. I suspect she’s a lush, likes the free booze, if you ask me. One more form of procrastination. I’m starting to suspect that she will never publish that damn book she bangs on about. Ohh, listen to me; quite the sharp-clawed kitty, aren’t I. Let’s move this subject on, shall we? ‘

Hearing an unusual braying sound, I turned towards the large picture window. In the garden was a large mule, which appeared to be protesting to the man pulling on its halter. Muscles rippling, the man refused to let the mule win; and the mule appeared to be just as determined.
‘There he is, there’s Buzz. The elusive Buzz Malone¬†is the owner of Literary Agents Hate Kittens, and all the moderators submit take direction from his leadership; even if he has been too busy for idle chit-chat of late. Buzz has written a number of books, including the¬†Silence of Centerville. This is another book that should not be judged by its cover, for inside is a poignant tale of post WWII small-town Southern Iowa. The style may not be as common these days, with its drawn out descriptions and long inner-dialogues, but its a formula that suits the story. He is a talented teller of story, and I’m planning to keep an eye on Buzz; as I am sure his work will become more polished with each book that he produces. My only itty bitty issue with the story is the age gap between the protagonist and his love interest; it just feels like an elephant in the corner.’

As I watched the battle of mule and man, a blur of skin flew past the window. I wasn’t sure, but it appeared to have been a naked man. I turned to my hostess, expecting a look of shock on her face and, hoping for an explanation.
She casually remarked, ‘I see that Andrew Buckley has decided to make an appearance. I’ve only just started reading his book,¬†Death, the Devil, and the Goldfish¬†,¬†but it’s looking like a crazy, fun-filled adventure. Very professional looking, and a pleasure to read; Andrew ticks all the boxes for how to publish and market an indie book. Too bad he has a thing for public nudity.’

From behind the mule, a box laden with vegetables appeared; and then a man carrying said box. He was strolling towards the house, and the hostess went to open the door for him.
‘Chaunce, you shouldn’t have! I so loved the last gift you brought, all those yummy organic goodies from your backyard. I’m glad you popped in. I wanted to chat to you about your latest book,¬†The Blank Slate Boarding House For Creatives.¬†Such an imagination you have, its a wonderful story, full of the most interesting characters. Although, I must say that as I am a fan of magic realism, I do have a soft spot for your earlier book,¬†Luano’s Luckiest Day.¬†I wanted to talk to you though. What was it again? Yes, your books. You are such a talented story weaver, truly creative. However, I have to say, I want a bit more dear Chaunce. Your characters are so colourful, so intriguing, but they fall a bit flat in some areas; their motives are sometimes not clear, and the relationships not quite believable. Look, I only tell you this because I believe in your talent, in your future as a writer.’

I shifted uncomfortably, a bit embarrassed; feeling as if I was eavesdropping. I  wondered how Chaunce was feeling, being the target of this overbearing woman.
Before Chaunce could reply, the hostess turned to me, ‘Darling, are you ready to find your own way around? I’ve introduced you to a few of my writer friends, so perhaps you could go and start a conversation; find out more about their work. I want to talk to Chaunce some more, if you don’t mind.’

With that, she turned away, shifting her focus to the hirsute writer-gardener. Seeing my chance for escape, and wanting to refill my empty glass, I wondered off; eager to talk with the other guests. Already, I knew that I wanted to come to the next soiree.

Is That Your Story To Tell: non-indigenous writers and First Nations stories

20140711_133655Its time writers stopped cultural appropriation of First Nations peoples stories – their heritage, cultures and places. Its time to progress the conversation beyond a writers’ rights to tread where they wish, and instead talk about decolonising Australian literature.

As a starting point, writers should consider cultural safety. Many other sectors have introduced this intercultural model to their workplaces and practices. It could be of benefit to the Australian literature sector. 

Cultural safety
Cultural safety originated in New Zealand in the 1980’s as a solution to the inequity, cultural bias and systemic racism that Maori people encountered when accessing health care. It has since spread to other sectors, such as education, and exported to other nations, such as Australia. Its a good fit for countries that have a similar history of colonisation, and the subsequent ongoing socioeconomic disparities.

In simple terms, cultural safety is a form of interpersonal relationship-building that takes in to account the complex sociopolitical influences and cultural elements of individuals: history, culture, heritage, power & privilege, worldviews and values.

Identity, colonisation and literature
My identity is uniquely mine. I am complex but I know who I am.  And where I sit on the constantly shifting Power & Privilege Spectrum. At this point in time, part of my identity is that I am a middle-aged motorbike-riding Aboriginal writer and bookshop owner.

When I write, it’s important that I have a clear understanding of me, and an honest awareness of my limitations. And there are limitations to the creative process. Writers do not have free-range to write whatever they want, without regard to others. So I am aware of the need to follow cultural protocol; to write in a responsible and respectful manner; to know what I can and can‚Äôt write. In simple terms: to do no harm.

Harm has always existed in Australian literature. Regardless of whether its fiction or non-fiction, literature is yet another means to colonise and oppress First Peoples. To silence voices of Indigenous peoples by myth-making and constructing a non-inclusive national story. To reinterpret the violence of nation-building; from invasion to appropriation.  

Honestly, I’ve slowly drifted away from Australian fiction. Dreading the moment when the non-indigenous writer would introduce an Aboriginal character or appropriated story, I knew it was time to look elsewhere for reading material. I now mostly read books by non-white writers. We read to see parts of ourselves represented. There’s been some improvements, but Australian literature is not inclusive.

Reading¬†books containing paternalistic, out-dated and offensive terminology is uncomfortable. Even traumatic. All that misinformation, romanticised versions of history, and cultural bias that oozes from some pages isn‚Äôt an enjoyable reading experience. That’s not cultural safety. These writers, and their publishers, show no regard for Aboriginal readers. No respect for the culture, heritage, and lived experiences of First Nations peoples. This type of writing is cringe worthy at the least; appropriation (i.e. theft) of cultural knowledge at the worst.

Embedding others while resisting otherness
The intention of this blog post is not to scare writers off from including Aboriginal characters, history and places in their works. We should build capabilities to embed intersectionality in our works, and explore a broader range of values and ideas.

However, we should also be wary of resorting to otherness in our depictions of diversity. Not everyone can, or should, write outside of their lane. A writer needs to be competent. And the inclusion of intersectionality needs to be more than a token gesture.

Research is the first step, but make sure your sources are reputable. Reflecting on your own background is essential. Get advice Рand remunerate Aboriginal people for their time and expertise. Listen to that advice: if its suggested you make changes, or remove elements, then take those recommendations seriously. Always write from a position of respect Рnot entitlement. Do you want a badly written or unconsciously offensive piece hounding you for the rest of your writing career? 

Whose story is this?
The above advice is good for minor characters and story elements. However, i
f you are considering a main character who is of Aboriginal descent, or intend to depict a historical event involving Aboriginal people, or include an aspect of others’culture (i.e. lore, law, spirituality, ceremony, protocol, language, songlines), then extra care should be taken. In most cases I would suggest writers reflect on the¬†harm their work may cause others, and to reconsider¬†what they intend to write.

If your only source of information is the internet, if you have not engaged an Aboriginal cultural adviser, and if you are not of Aboriginal descent Рshould you be even writing that story or inventing those characters? In most cases: No. Find another story, other characters, or at least another approach. And if you are non-indigenous and intend to write from the point of view of an Aboriginal person Рseriously, think before you go there.

Not only do you run the risk of being culturally unsafe and inappropriate, but you will probably misrepresent Aboriginal peoples, history and culture. We have enough Australian history books, novels, research papers and movies that do that! 

Its time to move away from paternalistic, entitled, irresponsible and lazy storytelling. No more appropriating other people’s stories, stealing their cultural knowledge. Globally, indigenous peoples have lost enough. Find your own stories.

The lone black duck in the room
Australian literature sector is really really white. Blindingly so. Its still extremely hard for Indigenous writers, poets, journalist, editors and academics to get a foot in the door. This is not from lack of talent, passion or capacity. Its because literature is one of the last vestiges of colonialism in Australia. And there’s an abundance of cultural bias, racism, cultural incompetence, and paternalism lurking in the book making/distributing realm.

Recently I sat on a panel with other members of this realm. There were two strong voices on the panel passionately speaking about the need to protect Australian stories (ie white middle-class stories). As the only non-white panel member, I reminded them a couple of times that there is no such thing as a collective Australian story, and that many peoples’ stories remain unheard. I was then schooled and ‘corrected’,¬†by panel members and audience. Told that there is enough diversity in Australian literature. And told, quite aggressively, that there were plenty of Aboriginal books, and adequate opportunities given to Indigenous writers in Australia. Oh really?¬†

At the beginning of this session, I had introduced myself as an Aboriginal writer – who sits on the Board of the First Nations Australian Writers Network, and actively promotes diverse books in my independently-owned bookshop. As the only non-white person in the room, I felt very isolated and under attack by a dominant worldview. And this wasn’t the first time I’d had this experience – its so suffocating! Driving home, I had to stop in a darkened carpark for an hour to shake that feeling off. Deep breath. Keep moving forward.¬†

Make some space for Aboriginal voices
Stories of colonisation, grief & loss, racism, inequity, and historical wrongs need to be told. As do stories of survival, resilience, family, culture, heritage, community, and future-building. However they need to be told the right way, with the right voices. White writers should be wary of taking on others’ voices, and be more aware of potential harm they can cause others. All writers need to take the time to reflect on where they sit on the power and privilege spectrum.

Aboriginal people need to be given more space, and resources, to tell their own stories. Protecting, maintaining and owning culture and story is a globally recognised right of indigenous peoples. Publishers need to acknowledge and support this right by facilitating more opportunities for Aboriginal writers to become published. And stop publishing works by white writers that are offensive or that appropriate others’ stories.

Find your own voice
As a non-indigenous person, writing your interpretation of others’s voices, you potentially silence peoples already striving to be heard. You also miss opportunities to find your own voice; to tap into your own wealth of knowledge, experiences, heritage and culture. Its important to know who you are, and write what you know. There are plenty of story-seeds closer to home.¬†

If you are driven to write about other peoples because of a desire to ‘do good’, then maybe you could find a more appropriate way than using a voice that is not yours, or telling a story that is not yours to tell. Walk the talk by being mindful of what you are writing, and why.¬†Be a champion of cultural safety in literature.

Decolonise literature
It will take a multi-pronged approach to decolonise Australian literature. Writers, readers, editors, reviewers, publishers, event organisers, peak bodies, booksellers, librarians and teachers all have a part to play. From my professional experiences in government, health and community services, and education (including delivering cultural safety training), I know it won’t be easy. However, other sectors have made a commitment to be more inclusive and culturally competent. They have pledged to reduce systemic racism, inequity and cultural bias.¬†Why can’t the literature sector do the same? If more people speak up, become advocates for equity in literature, then change will happen.

Together we can do this. Let’s decolonise literature in Australia!

 

This article was originally posted on 4 September 2013. Re-worked on 10 September 2016

Hopping to the Magic – it’s Real!

This week I will be participating in my very first Blog-hop

If you were to ask me today to explain how a blog-hop works, then you would get mostly silence. Ask me at the end of the week and it will be a different matter. Regardless, I am up for trying something new. And the subject of this hop is very appealing to me: Magic Realism.

I will be joined by 20 other writers/bloggers, who will all be discussing magic realism within literature and/or their own writing. As soon as I have a link to their posts, I will share their work. In the meantime, you can see the list of blog-hoppers by clicking the below picture.

This blog-hop has been organised by Zoe Brooks, author and blogger. Zoe has been extensively reading and reviewing books that she believes fit within the magic realism genre, which she features on her Magic Realism blog at http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com.au/    This blog is a must-visit place for anyone interested in learning more about magic realism.

Zoe Brooks can also be found at:
Twitter – @ZoeBrooks2
Facebook author page –¬†https://www.facebook.com/zoe.brooks.589?fref=ts
Google Plus – https://plus.google.com/106505914682601677250/posts?partnerid=gplpo
Writer Blog –¬†http://zoebrooks.blogspot.com.au/

As most of the blog-hoppers live in the northern hemisphere, you will have to wait a couple more days to read all the interesting posts that they have waiting for you. It will be worth the wait, I am sure.

The Politics of Apples and Oranges in Literature

As a writer, I am working hard at perfecting the art of procrastination. And as most of us know, spending time on the internet can waste away precious hours of our lives; time that we could be writing, connecting to loved ones, housework or doing something far more productive. One of my new favourite ¬†haunts is a writers’ community on Google Plus: Literary Agents Hate Kittens (LAHK) (https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/115642714471343142243). I have been spending so much time in there that they ¬†recently made me a moderator – as retribution to all the nonsense I contribute there. Well, writers can’t be serious all the time….except for right now.

The other day, one of the other newly appointed mods, Jane Turley (http://www.janeturley.net/) posted a very interesting and thought-provoking article (she is yet to be punished for stepping outside of the group norms). At that time, I just happened to have been going through an annoying situation where my rights, identity and core values were being irrationally attacked by a group who were stuck in shared worldviews based on white-privilege and ignorance; so this article struck a chord with me.

It brought up the following questions for me: Is there a difference between a writer and a creative writer? And should politics enter literature? Are all written works equal – can we compare apples to oranges – or should we instead be focusing on equity for all writers?

The article in question was published by the Guardian on 30th April 2013, and is an¬†edited version of the keynote speech delivered by Olive Senior at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference: Trinidad (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/apr/29/olive-senior-literature-political).

I urge you to read the article yourself, but for me the standout quotes are:

“As writers we live lives that are not navel-gazing but conscious, fully engaged with the world.”

“Literature is above all, storytelling. And, as Chinua Achebe has said, storytelling is a threat. Storytellers, poets, writers, have always found ways of confronting tyranny, especially in spaces where such actions are dangerous and deadly. Throughout the ages, writers have developed and employed myriad literary devices and explored the fullest limits of language through satire, magical realism, fantasy, fable and so on. Writers over the ages have found ways of talking about issues ‚Äď like politics ‚Äď without seeming to talk about them.¬†The function is not to present the world as it is, but to present it in a new light through the narrative power of art. Literature does not ask “What is it about?” It asks “How do we tell it to make it real?””

Anyway, after reading the article I posted a long-winded reply to Jane in the LAHK google community, followed by another long comment. Rather than derail Jane’s post, I have decided to delete those comments and move them over to here, in my blog.

My first comment was a gut-reaction response to both the article and Jane’s question: “…how much does politics shape your writing?”

Comment One: 5 July 2013

I will never be ashamed to say that I live and breathe (small ‘p’) politics and thus my fictional and non-fictional writing will always have a (often subtle) political/human rights element; because these works are from and of me.

I believe that the purpose of art, including literature, is to hold a mirror up to what is and what can be. Creatives can plant seeds for change in ways that other advocates cannot. Writers of literature can and do change people’s perspectives, which can lead to a better future for humanity, the planet and all living beings. This is done one book/story/poem/article/blog post/word at a time.

My small ‘p’ politics are shaped by my values, worldviews and life experiences. And formed through my heritage and identity as a First Nations person in a colonised country; which includes a legacy of dispossession, and continued loss & grief caused by power & privilege . Thus my political ideals are driven by a firm belief in equity for all, acceptance of diversity, and empathy for others.

I respect those that write sans politics (small and large ‘p’) and I know the value of occasional escape within ‘lightweight’ books. And indeed the much-needed escapism that ‘places’ like LAHKs provides.

However, because of who I am, because of the shoulders on which I stand and those who will one day come after me, I will continue to learn how to one day embed seeds of change within my work (i.e. my writing). Living, and writing, in any other manner is not an option for me.

– End –

From here, the discussion started towards a new, but related, question of merit amongst writers: How can we differentiate between the works of writers without judging writers themselves? What is and isn’t art?

Comment Three: 6 July 2013

Although it’s not ‘polite’ or fair to categorise written works on the basis of artistic qualities, sometimes it needs to be done to aid discussion.

Perhaps where we are heading now in this discussion is the ‘politics’ of the written word and literature. All written works and their authors have a right to¬†equity¬†(i.e. to be read, appreciated, and not¬†judged unfarily) – however not all written works are¬†equal¬†¬† Which is fine, as diversity is important in all areas of life.

I think you can find comparisons to this dilemma in the visual arts world. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and art is very much subjective but: –¬†there is a difference between the squishy pottery ‘vase’ your 5 yr old brings home from school, the nice ceramic plates your neighbour makes and sells down at the local craft market, and that amazing ceramic sculpture you saw at an art gallery.

You might absolutely adore that squishy blob because your child made it; and you love using your hand-made plates because they match your decor. However that sculpture made you stop in your tracks: you examined it from all angles, it made you think, you were moved by its beauty/rawness; and your glimpsed the message hidden in its form.

How does this relate to writing? Well, we’ve probably all read a squishy book/poem/short story that a friend/relative/fellow writer has asked us to read. And just like with the 5 yr old, we put aside what we really think about the actual work, and instead we appreciate it because of our relationship to them and because we want to encourage them to express themselves/follow their dreams.

And then there are the works that are functional, which are all different; from rudimentary to well written. They are not literature as such, but they serve an entertainment purpose. The writers of such works are often happy with what they produce and are not interested, or unable, in producing works of literature.

So we move on to literature (see below definition). Again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, its subjective. However, the majority of readers would know when they read something that is different, a collective of words that is not squishy or solely functional (i.e. for entertainment purpose only). They may not like it or understand it, but they know its different. And those that feel the need will read this work and know it as literature. They will examine it, absorb it, search for the overt and covert messages – and put it down again – knowing that something within them has been changed from reading it.

And going full circle back to Jane Turley’s¬†original question and linked article: it is within this last group that little ‘p’ politics flourish.¬†(note: ‘p’s can exist in the other categories, if the writer chooses to venture into those waters)

I haven’t succumbed to snobby ideals of a hierarchy of writers or their works. Nor am I meaning to cast stones at roughly formed blobs of clay and pretty ceramic plates. Each and every work has a purpose……one is not better than another……just different.

I’m not ashamed to say that my ceramic plates are still somewhat squishy, but if I keep working hard I may one day have a fine set of plates. And in my heart, I long to find it within me to create an artistic sculpture before I depart this existence.

-End-

I hope that you find something of worth in the above, or at least forgive my meandering thoughts. Now its time I stopped my procrastination, and get back to writing and editing. Where did I leave that last blob of clay?

Google definition of Literature:
1. Written works, esp. those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit: “a great work of literature”.
2. Books and writings published on a particular subject: “the literature on environmental epidemiology”.

The Rainbow Serpent

Earlier this week I posted a short piece titled ‘Shedding Skin’. ¬†So, for my overseas followers, I thought that a story about the Rainbow Serpent may be of interest.
This is one of many versions of the Rainbow Snake, who is seen as a creator in many Australian Aboriginal song-lines (i.e. Dreaming).
Pre-invasion, there were hundreds of separate Aboriginal nations living in Australia: each with their own distinct languages and cultures.

This video is based on a book by the late Dick Roughsey (book published 1975).   Dick Roughsey was a Lardil man from Queensland.

The narrator is David Gulpilil, a well known Australian actor. He is a Yolngu man from Northern Territory.

Enjoy,
Karen

 

Credits

I have downloaded this from Youtube. The ‘about’ information, as supplied by the person who posted it on youtube, is as follows:

Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories, Story by Dick Roughsey, Narrration by David Gulpilil, Soundtrack by Andrew Vial

Photographed and edited by Alexander Cochran, Artwork adapted by Stephanie Adams, Book published by Collins, 1975, Film produced by Weston Woods

Buy the book: The Rainbow Serpent. Collins: Sydney. ISBN 0-207-17433-4