Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

read a book_nWinter is the best time to catch up on some reading with a nice hot cuppa, especially if it is frosty outside and I am warm inside wearing a nice pair of fluffy socks.  Thankfully, we’ve had a few wet days in Adelaide, and with the children getting bigger, I managed to spend a good part of my term break catching up on my reading and not acting as referee.Wintergirls

I usually focus my reading (and reviews) on Aussie books but since I had some extra time I thought that I would look a little further afield.  I started my reading with a 2009 release that our lovely librarian at Gleeson College recommended.  Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Wintergirls shares the story of Lia in what is a deeply moving and highly confronting story about anorexia.  This beautifully written novel explores with an aching honesty, Lia’s descent into mental illness as she struggles to cope with the recent death of her friend Cassie to bulimia.  Not knowing much about the disease myself I can’t speak for the accuracy of the story but Anderson has certainly succeeded in making it seem authentic.

I followed Wintergirls with another American YA novel; this time the 2012 release Breaking Beautiful by Jennifer Shaw Wolf.  Breaking Beautiful is a mystery/romance.  I don’t usually go for mysteries but this one had enough teenage angst to keep me relatively interested.  It tells the story of Allie, who survives a car accident on a dangerous cliff road that succeeds in taking her boyfriend Trip’s life.  What follows is a piecing together of the night in which Allie (conveniently) is unable to remember.  Generally this is a fast paced novel that had me turning the pages quickly but is never quite got me as excited as I would have liked.

I continued the American theme in my reading with a foray into Veronica Roth’s now famous 2011 dystopian book Divergent.  I don’t often allow myself the opportunity to read blockbusters (I find them a distraction from all the wonderful Aussie books that I am so passionate about).  However, I consistently keep hearing good things about this one, and, what with the film’s recent release, I thought I might as well give it a go.  Without giving too much of a review (heavens I hardly think Roth needs my review), I was actually pleasantly surprised by this one.  Whilst not beautifully written by any stretch of the imagination, Roth has succeeded in doing what the Americans often seem to do so well; write brilliant stories that make you want more.  I do want more but I will probably whet my anticipation a while longer, watch the film, before delving into the second book in the series.breaking beautiful

Having gorged myself silly on American fiction I felt compelled to turn my attentions to an Aussie offering.  Fiona Wood’s 2013 YA Contemporary Wildlife is the second book in a series (the first book was called Six Impossible Things).  I haven’t read the first book, which didn’t really matter because (God bless Wood) the novels work well as stand-alone.  Wildlife is essentially the story of Sibylla who is a pretty mixed up sixteen year old who is just beginning her rite of passage adventure as a boarder in her exclusive private school outdoor education program.  This is a highly readable story that many teenagers will relate to.  I didn’t mind it, although I did find Wood’s style of narration disjointed and frankly irritating at times.  Furthermore, and I am still not sure if this even is a criticism,  the story focuses on the escapades of the middle class privileged kids from a snotty private school.  Personally I found this annoying, however I do appreciate that this is certainly the experience of many young people in Australia.Divergent

I followed this theme of Aussie Fiction with a new release offering from Suzy Zail,  Alexander Altmann A10567 (2014).  In this serious piece of historical fiction Zail explores an experience of the Holocaust through the eyes of a fourteen year old Jewish boy Alexander.  We follow Alex as he survives Auschwitz and suffers the dehumanising experience of the Nazi death camps.  I’ve read many Holocaust books over the years, and while this is a good one, it is certainly not the best I’ve read.  That said, it is a beautifully crafted story, using accessible language that will ensure that it is deeply appreciated by a new generation of young people.

I finished my holiday reading with a lovely little story by English author David Gilman.  Monkey and Me (2014), sat on my bedside table for a whole week before my ten year old daughter picked it up and read it.  When I was finally able to prise it out of her hands she raved about it so profusely that I promised to read it directly.  She was right, this is an amazing little book.  Monkey and Me tells the story of Beanie, a nine year old boy living with leukaemia whose friendship with juvenile chimpanzee Malcolm, has surprising and comedic results.  Beanie’s innocence and optimism, in spite of his illness, shines brightly, and captivated me from the outset.  This is one of those stories that once started I couldn’t put it down.  It will have broad appeal with children and adults alike.Monkey-and-MeAlex Altmann

Well that’s it for now.  It is back to school for me next week and back to my regular schedule of planning, teaching and marking student work.  Stay tuned though because I promise to have some new and exciting books to share with you very soon.

I blinked somewhere around late October and found myself at the beginning of December.  I’m not sure what happened but I suppose this is what is inclined to occur when you are busy.  Before I blink again and find myself in 2014 I thought it best to update you on what I’ve been doing since my last blog.

starwarscake

My son turns 8 on the 21st December.  It turned out to be a really crappy time to have a baby, what with the world being smothered in tinsel and Christmas trees around this time every year.  What can I say, it isn’t my fault, the little fellow wasn’t due until February (I thought I had it planned so well).  As a result we celebrated his special day last Saturday before everyone got too drenched in Christmas spirit.    It was Michael’s turn to have a cake.  This year he wanted a Star Wars theme.  Goodness me, I thought, I’m not so sure I can do cakes for little boys (let alone an older and infinitely more particular boy).  You see I am surrounded by little girls . . . literally.  Michael is the only boy on both sides of the family (last count I had 8 nieces, 2 daughters and Michael).  So, you see, I can’t say I’ve had much practise.  My only previous efforts included a Tardis which was a dismal failure.  It fell down in such a spectacular fashion that my kids still joke about it.  Needless to say I lost some sleep over this one.   Thankfully it didn’t fall down and my little man was as pleased as punch with it.

For those who may be interested I modelled Yoda out of gumpaste and the lettering is done with a very basic run-out of royal icing.  I used a pre-coloured RTR fondant to cover the chocolate mudcake and finished it off with some simple royal icing piping and a dual layered ribbon.   The top ribbon is printed with some great characters from the Star Wars movies and was a great little ebay find.  It is a simple little cake.  I am moderately happy with Yoda, who turned out to be tricky (oh so many wrinkles).  My husband thought he was a little on the tubby side and perhaps looked more like a troll!!!!

mincepies

I’ve also managed to fit in a little Christmas baking.  Here is my first batch of mince pies.  I made the mince a week ago, and with more than a half a bottle of brandy in the mix, I’m hoping they are something special.   To be honest I forgot to taste them yesterday when I made this batch, but my Mum tells me they are “fantastic”.

I did manage to drag myself from the kitchen and spend a considerable time at my computer over the past few weeks.  I started a  major revision of my manuscript which I only completed late last week.  I found the process somewhat arduous. I have made some huge changes, killed a lot of my darlings and invented a few more.  It needed to be done.  I’d like to start sending it out to publishers early next year but I might sit on my hands a little longer with it, show it around a bit more before I do.  For now though it is time to get serious about starting a new writing project.   I am heading back to the classroom in February and although I am only part-time I need to be realistic about what can be achieved in these circumstances.  Past experiences have taught me that teaching is both mentally and creatively draining.  I hope I get the balance right and can produce a new novel next year whilst managing to plan my lessons, grade work and still run around after three kids and a husband.

I’d love to hear your experiences of juggling your work with family and other commitments.  What keeps you sane?  How do you make time for the things you enjoy whilst still managing to keep your house clean and your kids fed?

A Brief Literary Hiatus

Posted: July 16, 2013 in Crafting, Uncategorized

Those of you who know me personally will vouch for the fact that I am rarely idle.  I always seem to have something on the go.  My writing manages to take up a large portion of my spare time (admittedly something in short supply anyway with three young children). But every so often I give this a break and turn my attention to other pursuits.

About three weeks ago I placed my manuscript into the hands of a trusted colleague for beta-reading.  For a short moment I threw my hands up in the air wondering what on earth I would do with all my evenings free.  Then I started making stuff . . . and then I made some more stuff . . . and then I couldn’t stop.  Then, when I ran out of supplies I headed out to Spotlight and purchased some more.  You can see the fruits of my labours littering this post.

I made this for my sister.  She is due to have her third baby this week.  Yes, it's a girl (at least we hope it is)

I made this for my sister. She is due to have her third baby this week. Yes, it’s a girl (at least we hope it is)

I made this for my daughter Rose.  I bought the fabric an aeon ago and woke up inspired to turn it into a dress.

I made this for my daughter Rose. I bought the fabric an aeon ago and woke up inspired to turn it into a dress.

Communion Banner for Ellen. I never want to sew on another sequin again!

Yesterday I received a call from my beta.  The manuscript is ready for me to collect.  Part of me did a back-flip.  I can’t wait to start to make the changes and get ever closer to my goal of submitting the manuscript to publishers.  A small part of me drew in a massive sigh.  I am somewhat sad to be  closing the door to the fabric cupboard again.   As I do this I hear my beloved Grampsie whispering in my ear, “You’re book will get better as it improves my dear.”‘

“Yes Grampsie, but my manuscript won’t improve unless I hop to it and start to make that happen!”

Enough said . . . or is it stitched, appliqued and beaded?  I’m off to write . . . or will when I finish these last few dresses.

 

I also made this for Rosie from the same fabric stash.  I had intended to turn it into a dress but it does make a nice dress doesn't it?

I also made this for Rosie from the same fabric stash. I had intended to turn it into a bag but it does make a nice dress doesn’t it?

Image

Three am this morning I wake to the sound of the baby crying.  No big deal.  I pull back the covers and shiver my way down the hallway, locate baby, shove dummy in zombie crawl back to bed.  “Problem solved,” I whisper. “Back to sleep.”  No such luck and it’s not the baby’s fault either.

As I lay in bed I start to think of the draft I put aside moments before heading to bed last night.  I’ve just finished my third pass though the manuscript.  I had made a lot of changes, cutting this passage, extending another, adding more active language and deleting anything passive.  I’ve been ensuring that there is plot consistency, character consistency and a strong sense of setting.  No drama.  I was even starting to think that my manuscript might be showing the first hint of a sparkle.  Then, I opened the latest (freshly edited and reviewed) version of the MS and start to read.  First came the head shaking, closely followed by the red pen (okay it was blue but only because that was the only one available).  What is wrong with my first chapter?  I’ve followed my checklist to the letter but still it is.  . . how shall I put it . . . lacklustre?  By this time I’ve had enough so I pop myself off to bed, only to be woken at three am by the baby.

But this is not about the baby, who as an aside appears to be teething again and ended up in my bed less than an hour later.  No, this is about the other thing that kept me up.  My other baby.  I toss and turn wondering what I can do to make this better.  It’s then that my inner voice quietly nudges me, whispering, “Scrap it.”

“What?” I answer back.

“I said, scrap it.  You don’t need it.  It adds nothing to the story.”

“But oh it does.  It sets the scene, it introduces the protagonist it . . .”

“Does it?”

“Does it?”

“Go on sacrifice it.  Kill your darlings.  I dare you.”

“Okay, I will.  But only if you let me sleep.  Agreed?”

I’d like to say I had a blissful sleep after this.  Only I didn’t.   As I mentioned earlier the baby came in to bed with us soon after and, from here on, she decided to practice her dance moves, kicking me in the backside intermittently.  However I did fall asleep only to wake at seven with a headache and the terrible feeling that this was all a dream.

After I get the children off to school this morning I sit down and start to imagine what the story would be like without the first chapter.  I conclude that ditching it is the appropriate course of action.  Its then that I realize the following:

1)    I shouldn’t kid myself, sacrificing my darlings is a tough gig.  I’m emotionally invested in every chapter, paragraph, sentence and sometimes even individual words.

2)    I should trust my inner ramblings, incoherent as they may seem, especially those that appear in the middle of the night.

3)    I need to stop thinking about the long term goal of this project (getting published) and focus on what I can do to make the manuscript the best I can from where I am at the moment.

4)   The pursuit of perfection is like the quest for the Holy Grail.  The only solution is to do your best, seek feedback from people you trust and be prepared for a hard slog.

5) Editing and revision is a lot like childbirth.  It bloody hurts but the fruits of your hard work are worth it.

6)    I need to hope and pray that in doing the above that the rest will take care of itself.

So, that said I’m off to do some work on the fourth pass of my manuscript and this time around I plan to get very friendly with my delete button. . . I think.

It has been my great privilege to tutor a couple groups of first year teaching students at UniSA this semester.  The course requires that students continuously read a range of children’s literature and each week we spend part of our time together sharing our reading.  Today, as I walked around the room my eyes fell upon a paperback copy of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.  I happened to make the comment, “You know, I’ve never actually managed to read anything by Jane Austen.”  Quite a few jaws dropped at the table.  Apparently they were surprised to find someone that they believed to be “well read” had not taken the time to read anything by the great and mighty Austen.   I went on to explain that a number of times I had actually downloaded e-versions of her books (for free I might add), but each time I had failed to identify with her characters or narrative voice so I left them alone.

Clearly Jane Austen doesn’t inspire me much (although I have been known to watch a few of her film adaptations….not that I could avoid them if I tried).  At any rate I left the tutorial wondering what books have inspired me firstly as a person and secondly as a writer.  I have read quite a few books in the last 37 years.  Most of them I don’t remember anymore, some of them I remember somewhat (don’t ask me what they were called or who wrote them), and a select few have stayed in my heart and they will remain forever on my bookshelf (I’d lock them away in a gem encrusted box if I could afford it).

I’ll start with those books that flat out inspired me.  In other words, those that helped to shape me into the woman I am today.  I’ll try to do them in the order that I read them.

  1. Laura Ingalls Wilder           Little House on the Prairie (the whole series)
  2. Louisa May Alcott              Little Women
  3. Charlotte Bronte                 Jane Eyre

I read most of these before the age of twelve.  No doubt it was the strong female voice that spoke to me.  I liked the idea of a strong and courageous woman taking on nature (Laura Ingalls), of a young woman overcoming the limitations of society to succeed as a writer in a man’s world (Josephine March) and the notion that seriousness and intelligence can be captivating (Jane Eyre).

Moving into adolescence my interests moved into the realm of social commentary and science fiction.

  1. William Golding                        Lord of the Flies
  2. John Wyndham                        The Day of the Triffids (I also liked his The Crysalids)
  3. George Orwell                            Nineteen Eighty Four (Animal Farm was also noteworthy)
  4. Aldous Huxley                          Brave New World
  5. Homer                                           The Odyssey
  6. Thomas Hardy                           Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  7. Arthur Miller                              Death of a Salesman

Hardy tends to stand out like a sore thumb on this list.  Frankly I don’t think he belongs here but I was 16 when I discovered him so here he is.  Perhaps I was nostalgic for the stories of my late childhood.   At any rate I remain a huge fan of Thomas Hardy’s work and have more recently relished “Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Far from the Madding Crowd and a short story The Withered Arm.  It surprises me how many people seem surprised when I tell them of my love for Hardy, “Don’t you think he’s a bit depressing?”  Sure, I don’t see a lot of joy in his work but he manages to balances this with a great deal of compassion.  In short, I’ve always found him to be a faithful companion when I needed a good cry.

I managed to read a bit a university (although not as much as I should have or indeed was supposed to).  From these

My copy is falling apart.  It is thumbed and underlined but always with love.

My copy is falling apart. It is thumbed and underlined but always with love.

days there are a few good standouts.

  1. Kurt Vonnegut                         Slaughterhouse 5
  2. Buchi Emecheta                      The Joys of Motherhood
  3. Brian Friel                                 Translations
  4. Geraldine Brooks                   The Year of Wonders
  5. Tracy Chevalier                     The Girl with a Pearl Earring

The real standout here is Emecheta’s book.  I fell in love with yet another tragic tale (the title is ironic), and it was between her and Friel that I came to a deeper understanding of the far reaching implications of post-colonialism.

On the topic of favourites I don’t have one, although Hardy and Emecheta are probably competing for the title.   What is clear is that the majority of these books share in common the idea that people (especially the small ones) matter an awful lot.   Arthur Miller’s character Linda perhaps explains it better than I do in Death of a Salesman (Act 1) :

I don’t say he’s a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never in the paper. He’s not the finest character that ever lived. But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall in his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention must finally be paid to such a person.

It is this idea that I hope I convey though my writing.  As for what inspires me as a writer, well that is a whole other topic for another day.

Is there a certain book that has helped shaped you and the person that you have become?  Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas with me here.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Welcome!

Posted: June 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

SAMSUNG

A warm welcome to my friends both old and new. Many of you are aware that I have been moving closer to my goal of creating (and eventually publishing) my own Young Adult novel. This has been a dream for longer than I can remember.

With the first draft of my manuscript, “Magpie Game” now complete I felt it prudent that I begin to develop an online presence (especially before I make contact with literary agents and publishers).

My aim is to use this blog to keep you updated on my progress.  Thanks for joining me on what I anticipate will be an exciting journey with lots of twists, turns and inevitable pot holes.