Meet the “author”

This morning I had the privilege of being the guest speaker at my local library. They’ve been having monthly “Meet the Author” sessions in honour of the Year of Reading.  As I’m a writer, but not yet an author, I didn’t expect anyone to come to listen to me. For a while I sat there alone, in all my glory, with books and magazines spread out in front of me. I waited…waited… The librarian kept peeking around the corner, smiling pityingly at me. (I realise there’s probably no such word as “pityingly” but quite frankly I don’t care.) It was a great relief for us both when a small group finally gathered expectantly around the table. What books? What magazines? I hear you ask. Be patient; I’ll get to them. I am grateful to, and humbled by, the people who gave up their time on a Saturday morning, to come and listen to me dribble on. I’m passionate about books and stories and words, but I’m always amazed that there are others who share my passion. You’re all wonderful people and I pray a thousand blessings on you and your households. The books? Keep your hair on; not long now. One of the lovely things about this morning, were the myriad of lovely memories that came flooding back. There was my delight when I discovered dwarves were real. The time I earnestly searched for another wardrobe like the one that led into Narnia. The day I read a German folk-tale in a fabulous picture book about three animals that got lost in a forest. It made me realise, at the tender age of 7,  that night time shadows can make ordinary things look very scarey and maybe there weren’t monsters in my cupboard after all. There was the time when I was 11 years old and read my father’s copy of Gone With the Wind. It was the first I’d heard of the American Civil War and it sparked a deep, abiding fascination with history. There were many more, but that’s all I’m sharing for now. I only told the little group in the library about the dwarves because that was my earliest memory and the most significant. I was 5 years old and I saw a stage production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Once I realised that dwarves were real, I knew that fairies, giants, ogres, pixies and the rest had to be real as well. Ipso facto. Stories are true. The books? The magazines? I took along some copies of the magazine I review for: Good Reading Magazine. I thought it’d be nice to let people have something to take home with them, and it really is a great magazine. I also brought, from the reference section of my bookshelves, a small selection of books that I’ve found helpful over the years. It wasn’t dificult to choose which ones. For example, I didn’t take Stevens and Bannon’s Book of Poisons, or Wynn’s The Crime Writer’s Sourcebook, or McCutcheon’s Everyday Life in the 1800s. They’re all a bit too genre-specific. Here’s the list (in no particular order) of the ones I chose. 1)Stephen King: On Writing; 2)Writers’ Digest: Complete Handbook of Novel Writing; 3)Dufresne: The Lie That Tells a Truth; 4)Gardner: The Art of Fiction Writing, and 5)Browne and King: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I have a number of other books that are an excellent resource for writers, but these are the ones which I most frequently consult. I hope I encouraged somebody. I hope I was informative and, perhaps, a little entertaining. I so appreciate those dear people who gathered around that big round table in the library. They could have been out having coffee, or home washing their smalls. Instead they chose to spend an hour or so with a stranger, as she waffled on about her life and her journey with writing. I wish them all the very best with their own forays into the writing world but, (I’m going to be painfully honest) I really hope I get a book published before them. Just saying.    ...

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You got shoes.

Do you remember the little adage: I complained I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet? I had one of those moments the other day. I’ve been having a little debate with myself about the medication I’m on. Dr P says his aim is to keep me healthy for as long as possible. So far, so good. But, the drugs I’m injesting make me feel chronically tired all the time, yet I have trouble sleeping. (Even more so than usual, and I’ve never been very good at it.) I often feel nauseous and occasionally the other end behaves in a loose and violent manner. I either have a raging appetite or the smell of certain foods puts me right off. (I have a very confused stomach.) My joints ache. The tendinitis is raging. I get horrible headaches. So, I ask myself: Is this really what they mean by, “healthy”? I’ve been wondering whether it’s worthwhile taking all this stuff, when I know that it can’t and won’t produce a cure. Should I consider going for quality rather than quantity, especially when – without the pills – I can still count on a reasonable amount of quantity? Then I think: actually, even before the pills, I had more quantity than quality. Let’s face it, it’s not as if I was competing in triathlons; or planning a trip to the Greek islands; or spending my Saturdays hiking through the forest. I’ve not been a very active person for years and years. (Okay, decades and decades.) I don’t have a good-paying job. This financial year I earned enough that I only need about another $14,000 before I have to start paying taxes! So, we’ve always been limited in where and when we have a holiday; how many times we go to concerts (one every ten years or so), or go to the movies etc etc. Then the “no shoes/no feet” moment arrived. I saw a documentary about a pair of conjoined twins in a little rural town in India. Some Australian doctors, all specialists in their fields, agreed to perform the operation there (for free), instead of in Australia. The hospital was poorly resourced; flies were making merry in the operating theatre; conditions were basic at best. However, the staff were dedicated and determined. Unfortunately, one of the little girls didn’t survive. So very, very sad. Those people had almost nothing. Here in Australia we have a wonderful health system that is available to everyone. Okay, you might have to wait a while if you don’t have private insurance, but if you have a life-threatening condition you are seen straight away. What is more, you are given the best treatment and care that is humanly possible. In other words: I have shoes when other people don’t have feet. I also realised that I do have quality of life. I have a home, a family, friends, freedom to worship who I like and freedom to criticise the government if they deserve it. I can go to the shops, walk the streets (or, in my case, drive the streets) without fear of being shot, blown up or hacked with machetes. I have books to read, a television to watch, Rex the Wonder Dog who adores me, and there are cafes and hotels nearby that provide delicious coffee and meals at very reasonable prices. I live in one of the top five “most liveable” cities in the world. What is more my husband supports me as I fulfill a life-long dream of being a writer. He doesn’t throw the lack of money in my face, even though I’m sure there are days when he’s tempted. He encourages me to persevere in spite of the knockbacks. He believes in me. Yeah…I’ve got quality and I’ve still got a reasonable amount of quantity. I’ve already had a life-time more than the little twin who died. So… a big slap to the back of my head and stern words to myself: Stop grizzling and get on with living, old girl! Don’t forget: You got shoes!...

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Dear Ms Christie…

When we were first married, and before the offspring arrived and used up our money, the Old Boy and I lashed out and bought the Agatha Christie collection. That’s right: all her stories gathered together in a delightful, hard-cover set. Not realising we were immediately reducing the value to “just another lot of old books”, we got rid of the dreadful plain white paper dust-jackets. The black hard covers, with gold and red trim, looked smart, sophisticated and – yes, I’ll say it – had a semi-academic je ne sais quoi air about them as they perched on our bookshelves. Dear “fluffy” Miss Marples is all lace, lavender and buttery cup-cakes until she figures out you’re the murderer and then watch out! Monsieur Hercule Poirot, (a Belgian, not a Frenchman) with his waxed moustaches and his hearty self-admiration seems to be a dandified figure of fun until you realise his beady little eyes don’t miss a trick. Her characters are called Colonel Arbuthnot, Major Blunt, Carstairs, and  Lady Astley. So very English High Tea, old Victorian hotels, lunch at the Savoy and trains. For the last four years the collection was on loan to a friend who had been quite ill. She’s an “Aggie” fan and being able to lose herself in vintage Christie was a much-needed distraction. We were happy to leave them there because, quite frankly, we were grateful for the room it left on our bookshelves. The books finally found their way home last week. In celebration, I picked one at random to read. It was a Poirot mystery and had all the usual elements: dead body, wrongly accused man, baffled police, etc. But, as I read I made a dreadful discovery. Agatha Christie, the Grand Dame of Crime/Mystery novels, the toast of the Who-dun-it world, really wasn’t such a good writer. (Excuse me while I let my mind have one more bout of boggling! O.O) I can just imagine how it would go these days if she submitted her first book to an agent: Dear Ms Christie. Your point of view is all over the shop. You jump from head to head and back again a disconcerting number of times within the same chapter, without any break to show that your narrator has changed. Your dialogue often hangs in space, without any beats to anchor it in time or place. You need to work on “show not tell”. You aren’t consistent in your use of “said”. He said/ said Robert/mused Colonel So&So/Reginald uttered… Just stick to “said” and keep it after the name. No one these days says, “said he”. There is a surprising abundance of servants, yet your choice of names for them are severely limited. Every second parlourmaid is called Annie. Who the heck these days, apart from the queen, has a parlourmaid? What is a parlourmaid? The police are always buffoons totally baffled by the crime, always arresting the wrong man, in spite of being equipped with forensic science and years of experience catching villains. Yet your strange little Frenchie, or the dithery old lady, can figure it out at the drop of a hat pin. Many of your stories aren’t long enough for a novel. Some are novellas and others are glorified short stories. Unfortunately novellas and short story collections are no longer big sellers. A novel should be at least 80, 000 words or more. I wish you all the best for the future, and recommend you consider doing some sort of writing course, either on-line or in a recognised tertiary institution. And yet, in spite of all the short-comings and the fact that they are hopelessly old-fashioned in setting and world-view, there is still something in an Aggie novel that draws you in. How did the body end up in the tea-chest? If he didn’t do it, then who could it have been? What clues is the author giving me that I’m missing? How can a character be so absurdly pompous, fastidious and irritating yet still be so likeable? How can I look at white-haired, sweet-faced, dithery old ladies in the same way, ever again? Her books aren’t great literature. They could have done with some serious editorial work. And yet, in spite of the shortcomings, as an author she was a rip-roaring success. Her books are still loved all over the world. What is her secret? She’s a damn fine story-teller. That wins, every time.    ...

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Silver, baby!

The circle of life has spun around and, once again, we find ourselves immersed in the “limplicks”. (That is what my children used to call this event. I’m just being careful. The thing is so heavily sponsored by big corporations that in some cases just mentioning the “O” word could get a person sued.) Is it just me, or has some of the joy been sucked out of it? There are still some inspirational moments. There are plenty of athletes who are thrilled to be given the opportunity to take part and represent their country. For example, I saw brief footage of a chap gamely rowing his single skull, struggling to hold on to his oar, grimacing with pain and effort, while all the other competitors had finished long before. The spectators were cheering him on as if he was going for gold. For me, that’s what the limplicks is all about. I wish we could see more of that sort of thing: someone, proud to represent their homeland, doing their best. On the down-side, I saw a lovely young Chinese archer with hideous yellow tape plastered all over his cap, because it wasn’t made by one of the big sponsors. PUH-LEASE! He probably couldn’t afford the sponsor’s cap; not many of us can. If it was such a big deal, why didn’t the official cap people give him one? Was it because they weren’t expecting him to do so well? I saw a Japanese hurdler, right leg heavily bandaged, limp his way to the finish and then collapse onto the ground. No one…I repeat no one ran to help him. Not one other athlete lent him a shoulder to lean on while he struggled to leave the ground. Not one official offered assistance. Perhaps he was one of those “amateurs” who didn’t have a sponsor, so therefore he wasn’t important. If a dedicated young Aussie swimmer gets silver, she’s reduced to tears and feels she has to apologise for “letting us down”. It’s silver, baby; that’s brilliant! A young man, still in the early days of his career and with lots of potential, is made to feel as if it was all his fault that a relay team didn’t win. (Note to everyone: there are 4 – count ’em – four swimmers in a relay team.) Yes they didn’t win, but they did their best on the day. Hooray for them, I say. The trouble is, as always, money. The limplicks needs money or it won’t survive. I mean, it’s the biggest single world event for our planet. It takes serious cash. The poor Greeks are in the proverbial financial toilet as a result of hosting one in 2004. (Ok, there were other factors involved, but the limplicks tipped them over the edge.) The organising committee needs the big corporations to put up the dough. Good on ’em. It’s just that if you dance with the devil, you pay the consequences. Those same corporations, and the advertising companies, all demand their pound of flesh. So, the talented athletes find they’ve been sold to the highest bidder. They’re no longer just competing for their country, their families and themselves. They’re running/swimming/riding… for their corporate sponsors. It’s no longer good enough to simply take part and do their best. They must win; and nothing less than gold is good enough. It’s a sad, sad thing. I’m a huge sports fan and I’m a proud Aussie. I cheer when the hockey/basketball/beach volley-ball/rowing/sailing/swimming teams win. When an Aussie swims/runs/shoots/rows/rides/lifts weights, I shout at the television urging them on. I would be sad to see the limplicks disappear. There is something amazingly beautiful about an arena full of people from almost every nation on the planet, gathered together celebrating life. However, the raison d’etre for the limplicks has changed. And, in our endeavour to keep it all going, I think we’ve lost some of the joy and wonder. Meanwhile…COME ON, AUSSIE, COME ON!...

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