Tag Archives: book

Weekend Coffee Share – 1st July, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share and a pinch and a punch for the first day of the month!

How has your week been? I hope it’s been going well. What’s the weather been like? We had some dreary rainy days last week but a few days of sun even if it’s freezing. I’ve had woolen gloves on and yet they’re still like ice blocks. I figure they lack the body heat to warm up even with the help of the gloves. These are desperate times. I’ve just put on the heater and will go out soon and hopefully boost my circulation that way.

Amelia Grease

This highlight for last week was watching our daughter appear in Grease the Musical which was put on by her school. She played a cheerleader and was also in the dance ensemble and we just loved seeing her up on stage. We also knew quite a few of the cast and were almost as stoked to see them up there. We’ve known one of Amelia’s friends since she was a year old so we go back a long way, which is really special.

Of course, the other thing about seeing Grease again was reliving my own teenage years where I must’ve watched that movie 10 – 20 times on the old VCR. We also played it at a slumber party for my 13th birthday. All but one of us had never seen it, but this girl had just moved to Australia from America and had seen it 13 times. We thought she was so cool!!

This is the last week of the school term here. We’re not going away these holidays. Our son will be appearing in the Scout Gang Show in the second week and that week is also packed with rehearsals. Our daughter has a lot of dance workshops and rehearsals. She’ll be doing her Grade 6 RAD exam in a few months and so it’s all action stations there and she also has a dance comp during the holidays. That had me trawling the globe in search of a tutu, but she’s borrowing one from her teacher. I suspect a growth spurt is around the corner and we’ll revisit the tutu next year.

Row a little boat

After all the excitement of watching Grease, I crashed over the weekend but I did read a fantastic book which I highly recommend. That was Richard Bode’s: First You Have to Row A Little Boat. Here are a couple of quotes:

“And so in time the rowboat and I became one and the same-like the archer and his bow or the artist and his paint. What I learned wasn’t mastery over the elements; it was mastery over myself, which is what conquest is ultimately all about.”
― Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

“For the truth is that I already know as much about my fate as I need to know. The day will come when I will die. So the only matter of consequence before me is what I will do with my allotted time. I can remain on shore, paralyzed with fear, or I can raise my sails and dip and soar in the breeze.”
― Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life & Living

I’m still reading Kate Grenville’s: The Secret River. The train trip to Sydney certainly helped me make some steady progress. The train is probably my preferred place to read. While it’s snugly curling up in bed with a good book, it’s way too easy to nod off.

Last week we had a particularly great prompt for Friday Fictioneers. It was a photo of a box office and it doesn’t take too much imagination to see how that image would resonate for me. Here’s a link to my contribution: Triple-Threat Friday Fictioneers. I thought I’d also share a link to Keith’s contribution which I found incredibly funny: Keith’s Ramblings – A Theatrical Tale.

In terms of the coming week, I’ll be giving a talk about photography at Girls’ Brigade on Wednesday night. I was going to talk about finding inspiration in the every day. However, after seeing a friend in hospital last week, I thought I’d write about what photography means to me. I’m very pleased with how this is turning out and will be posting it on the blog. I’ve started off with how having my photo taken as a child made me feel special. I’ve moved onto my travels through Europe with the camera. Then, I addressed how photography has helped me get through some particularly hard times when health issues flared up and I couldn’t work. My whole identity, not to mention my very survival, was under threat but photography gave me a new identity and something to talk about instead of work. Indeed, the more I thought out this life change, it actually sounded rather idyllic aside from the fact of being broke.

Well that about covers the last week. How was your week? Hope you had a great one.

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share…22nd June, 2019.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Apparently, today marks the Winter Solstice here in Australia, although in typical form where nothing is certain or guaranteed, the shortest day might actually fall either side of the anticipated date. So sad, too bad. This is when this little black duck is going to celebrate and all that entails is a sigh of relief that this freezing cold weather is about to head North. Tomorrow we’re looking at a minimum of 7ºC and a freezing maximum of 15 ºC. For those of you who are thrilled to experience these temperatures at the height of your Summer, I apologize for our inability to handle the cold. However, we do know how to handle the heat.

Catching up on the Weekend Coffee Share wasn’t all I missed last weekend, although we crammed a lot in resulting in a total rest on my part for a few days afterwards. Our daughter danced with her school at Starstruck in Newcastle. We went to the Matinee performance and caught up with my cousin and her daughter until we picked Miss up afterwards. Sunday, Miss and I were off to Sydney where she competed in the State Allschools Aerobics Championship. They did well but didn’t place. So, for better or worse, they’re not off to Nationals in Queensland. My best friend from school joined me to watch her compete and we also caught up for coffee and cake. So, while I can taking our daughter all over the countryside last weekend, I managed to catch up with close friends and made the most of it.

Thursday, my daughter and I were back on the audition trail. She auditioned for a climate change video in Sydney. She didn’t get through but we had a wonderful afternoon exploring Surry Hills which is one of my favourite escapes after medical appointments in Sydney which justify my going off the grid for a few hours. My Dad’s family settled around Surry Hills and Paddington from around 1850 through to around the 1930s. While they’ve left no footprints in the streets, a few of their former homes still stand and the family stove-making business at 90 Fitzroy Street is now a framing gallery.

For those of you who haven’t been to Surry Hills, it’s located about 3km from the Sydney CBD and is noted for it’s terrace houses, tree-lined streets and village atmosphere as well as it’s artistic and LGBTIQA communities. For a place in the midst of Australia’s New York, its friendliness and village feel, is very refreshing. People greet you with a smile. Have a bit of a chat and you might even find a dog or two keen to meet you as well. I’ve done a few blog tours through Surry Hills before. I can’t stop going back.

Here’s a link to our last trip to Surry Hills: Surry Hills Through The Lens

As it turned out, I forgot to pack my book for our day trip to Surry Hills. While my daughter and I might’ve chatted all the way on the train to and from Sydney, I realized she wasn’t going to be that chatty after her audition. I am not good at just sitting like a dodo staring at the wall for over an hour. So, we headed back up to Crown Street where I’d spotted a bookshop…salvation! I bought two books by Stephen Fry: Mythos and Heroes. I was hooked and my wallet was a lot lighter.

By the way, the book I was reading back home was Kate Grenville’s, The Secret River. I’ve had this book for awhile and should’ve read it ages ago, but you what it’s like with the book pile. There’s a lot of good intentions, wishful thinking and plans. Then, you spot another book out of left field and it jumps straight to the top of the queue. I don’t know about you, but I hesitate to relocate my book pile to the shelf, because I really do intend to read these books and know I’d never get through them once they were consigned to the shelf. In other words, the bookshelf is a death sentence. That explains why there are more book stacks in our place than a library.

All that aside, my biggest news from last week was that I’ve started a new blog to start building up a community around the book project. You can now also find me at The Shadow Hunter’s Quest. This is where I’m going to start posting stories about my family within their historical context while weaving my storyteller’s wand. I’ve picked up a lot of additional information and stories which I also thought I’d stick in this blog. I’m still ironing a few things out and will add a few more posts before I go for something of a launch. However, you’re welcome to pop over for a sneak peak. I’m planning to write a coffee share over there as well.

So, that’s enough about my week. How about you? What have you been up to? I’d love to hear from you!

This has been another contribution to the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

Z: ZZZZ…Motivational Quotes A-Z Challenge

“There is a time for many words, and there is also a

time for sleep.”

― Homer, The Odyssey

Welcome to the last day of my series of Motivational Quotes for Writers for the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. Phew! I actually made it through to Z and on time, which has been quite a miracle this year. Although you could say many of us mad writers “belong in the zoo”, I have chose ZZZ or sleep as my word for Z.

You see, I’m not only needing to catch up on Zeds after powering away at the challenge while researching and writing my book, I also wanted to touch on the importance of getting enough sleep while your beavering away on your book. After all, chronic sleep deprivation is a form of madness itself.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have

promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Robert Frost

DSC_0175My husband will tell you that I’m the last person who should be giving anyone advice about sleep. Lately, I’m been burning the candle at both ends as it seems I always seem to make an incredible find around midnight and I have to keep going until I’ve completely unraveled and made sense of it all. Unfortunately, as we all know, time stands still for no man (or woman) and as much as I might try to steal a few hours out of the sleep bank, deep down I know I’m only cheating myself.

Perhaps, I should follow the advice of William Blake:

“Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the

evening. Sleep in the night.”

After all, it’s good to have a daily routine and have everything in the correct time slot. That is, instead of mixing them up and doing everything upside down staying up all night and sleeping all day when you should be getting a bit of sunshine and light into your day. It all makes so much sense, and yet for a night owl and for many mums with kids at home, those night hours are the only time you get a moment’s peace. Trading in that freedom for the boredom of routine is a tough ask, especially when the creative juices are flowing and you’re tasting success.

Yet, I also know that I think much more clearly after a good night’s sleep. That I often stay up writing long after I’ve started to nod off and it’s not my best work. Indeed, I could well be pressing delete in the morning.

Anyway, here are a few more sleep quotes I thought you might like:

“A person who has not done one half his day’s work by ten o’clock, runs a chance of leaving the other half undone.”
― Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

“I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”
― Ernest Hemingway

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”
― Dr. Seuss

“I wonder why I don’t go to bed and go to sleep. But then it would be tomorrow, so I decide that no matter how tired, no matter how incoherent I am, I can skip one hour more of sleep and live.”
― Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Anyway, I need to practice what I preach and head off to bed. So it now

Ronnie Corbett:
And now, it’s goodnight from me…

Ronnie Barker:
…and it’s goodnight from him.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

R- Read…A-Z Challenge.

“Read a thousand books, and your words will flow like a river.”

― Lisa See

Welcome back to my series of Motivational Quotes for Writers for the annual Blogging A-Z April Challenge. These quotes are particularly geared towards writers working on a large project such as writing a book and aim to help you reach the end of the tunnel.

It was a toss up between READ and RESEARCH today. However, they overlap quite a lot and since I’ve covered research elsewhere, read it is.

For me, reading fuels and refuels a writer. After all, if we keep pouring our words onto the page, we need to put something back. Of course, experience is also important but reading helps us to arrange and interpret these experiences in ways which will excite and entice the reader.

“The more that you read, the more things you will

know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll

go.”

― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

 

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than

the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”
Henry David Thoreau

“The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor. …
“[R]ead a lot, write a lot” is the great commandment.”
(Stephen KingOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 2000)

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share – 15th October, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share.

Crooked House

This week, I’m very thrilled to be greeting you from dry land. Indeed, the sun’s even stuck her head out, bathing the backyard in golden rays as we speak. Even though I know it’s only temporary, this break in the weather is a relief. We’ve had two weeks of very heavy rain and our house was beginning to feel like proverbial Noah’s Ark. That’s not so crazy as it sounds because my desk is parked out the back of the house in one of those indoor-outdoor rooms. So, being surrounded by glass, it’s easy to feel that I’m on a boat and the house is about to leave it’s moorings and drift out to sea. That’s not so crazy either. The beach is only at the end of the street. So, not a lot of imagination is required to transport it there. Humph. I appears that I’ve taken Margaret Wild’s children’s book: The Little Crooked House too much to heart. I used to read it over and over again to my kids, and in this story the crooked house keeps relocating itself. So, you see, I’m not the only one who thinks about crooked houses like ours going walkabout, or even sailing.

While I haven’t been on any great physical adventures during the last week, I have covered considerable ground inside my head. A few weeks ago, I picked up: Companion to Henry Lawson Fifteen Stories for a $1.00 at the garage sale at Pearl Beach I’ve previously told you about. Well, as luck or extreme book hoarding would have it, it turned out that I already had the companion book: Henry Lawson Fifteen Stories on the shelf at home. Not bad considering it was published in 1959. Anyway, I decided to really study these books both to further enrich my appreciation of our culture, but also to learn more about the art of writing the short story.

What’s actually happened is that I’ve become consumed by Henry Lawson’s own life story, and also how it reflects back on the experiences of my own family going back. It actually turned out that Henry Lawson grew up near Mudgee not far from where my Irish Famine orphan, Bridget Donovan lived with her husband George Merritt. They owned a store in nearby Avisford and were contemporaries of Henry Lawson’s parents and grandparents, who also provided some of the material and inspiration for his stories. So, knowing this connection has given me both a deeper appreciation of Henry Lawson’s stories, and has also added to Bridget’s backstory.

Reading Henry Lawon’s bio, I also found out that The Bulletin sent him out to Bourke in 1893 to collect stories and send them back. Here was another interesting coincidence.  You see, I’ve grown up with my mother telling me this story of how she had tickets to see Peter, Paul & Mary but was forced to go out to Bourke with her parents instead to see her Great Uncle Herb Bruhn who was a watchmaker out there and also had something to do with musical productions. I don’t know if the whole family went out there but I’ve heard stories of all four kids squashed into the back of the FJ Holden and this is what you would call legitimate suffering…especially in the Australian heat. Mum was studying music and piano at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and she performed while she was in Bourke at a fundraiser for the Miss Australia Quest. There’s so much to that trip that there has to be a couple of stories in it.

Anyway, I ended up looking Uncle Herb in the old newspapers online, and struck absolute gold. Turns out that Uncle Herb was anything but idle while out in Bourke. Indeed, he was involved with establishing the Bourke Music and Dramatic Society and they put on Oklahoma, South Pacific, Carmen  and Cleopatra. It seems that while Uncle Herb might’ve been living in a small town, that he was a man with grand visions. These old newspapers have yielded multiple poems he’s written, columns of advice about how to sing and improve your voice. He wasn’t from Bourke, and yet he became so passionate about the place. I found one article where he was talking about the risk of distant Dubbo bleeding Burke dry and needing to fight to preserve the town. I see so much of myself in him, and only wish I’d known all of this when I was younger. Perhaps, my life might’ve taken a different course. Or, do I still have time? Almost 50, is it too late to return to the stage? There wasn’t much to come back to, although I’ve done numerous poetry readings.

Gidgee Guest House Bourke

For Sale. This is what $480.00 buys you in Bourke. This is my dream home. 13 bedrooms. OMG. No more decluttering required.

By the way, Geoff did a Google search to check out real estate prices in Bourke and we’ve found our ideal home. It’s just such a pity it’s so far away and I can’t help wishing to transport it here brick rick. It used to be the Commonwealth Bank in Bourke and even has a safe but what I love about it is having 13 bedrooms and all that space. Golly. I could actually practice my violin without my bow banging into something.

On the home front, on Saturday our daughter performed in the Dance Team production with her dance school. The production started out with Flick a 45 minute drama written by Daniel Russell. The plot revolved around the teenager losing her 7 year old little sister while her parents are at work. Instead of ringing her parents or the Police, she (gulp) contacts her friends. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in my seat thinking the sister’s been abducted and they have 48 hours to find her. You need to hurry up and press the panic button. So, the play gains much of it’s terror and suspense through what doesn’t happen and how that grates against the audience’s knowledge of what should be happening. Little sister eventually turns up and she’s been sitting on the roof of the house watching the moon as though it’s the most natural thing to do and isn’t dangerous. I found this drama more terrifying and scary than a Stephen King horror film. The drama was followed by two choreographed dances choreographed and directed by Karina Russell. I’m new to this contemporary dance business, but to my musical mind, it was like an orchestral piece where the dancers were moving like an integral whole with some spotlights flashed here and there but they truly were team performances. I would really like to see the whole concert again so I could enjoy each performance as a whole instead of focusing so much on trying to find my daughter and watch her dance. I always watch anything she’s in with my eyes zoomed in on her and I know other parents are the same and we tend to miss the big picture. Tribe, which was choreographed and Directed by Karina Russell, was set in Ireland around 9 AD during the Viking era. Tribe “sees the repercussions of a group of young Celt women left to fend for themselves and their land while the men of their tribe are at sea.” Meanwhile Red Thread was inspired by the Ancient Chinese Proverb: “an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place and circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but it will never break.” These were incredible performances which I would like to see again and again to really appreciate the very depths of what was being expressed. It was very moving and clever and the sort of choreography you’d expect to see at the Sydney Dance Company. Well, it seemed that way to me.

In terms of blogging this week, my research into Henry Lawson inspired this week’s contribution to Friday Fictioneers: Not the Boss’s Wife.  Then, we visited Stanley, Tasmania – Thursday Doors.

By the way, since I missed last weekend’s Coffee Share, I thought I’d also let you know that our daughter has just got her very first pair of pointe shoes. It was so exciting, as it’s one of those right of passage experiences and time to crack the metaphorical champagne. You can read more about it or just check out the photos: HERE

So, what have you been up to? I should’ve asked you that at the start and offered you a cuppa and a cupcake, but as I’ve said before, I’m a lousy host.

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Alli.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

 

 

Dealing With Characters in Non-Fiction.

Not every writer aspires to write a novel. Although I have stumbled into a passion for both writing and reading flash or bite fiction, my book-writing aspirations focus almost exclusively on writing non-fiction.

By non-fiction, I’m not referring to something along the lines of memoir and motivational writing. However, a few years ago, I stumbled upon some gripping stories through my family history research, which were writer’s gold. You know, the sort of stuff which could easily be described as “the Big Bang”.  After all, as the saying goes, “fact is often stranger than fiction”.

Anyway, after having yet another monumental tussle with a character this week, I thought I’d share a few peculiarities I’ve encountered dealing with characters in non-fiction.

Obviously, the very clear distinction between developing characters in non-fiction, is that your characters are or were real people. They’re not products of your imagination, even if they were inspired by real people.

This places certain limitations on how you construct and develop your character. For example, you can’t just make up where they lived, their occupation. Moreover, something real has happened to spark the story in the first place. So, as the author, you’re not really in command of character development or plot. Indeed, you’re role is more that of a meticulous restorer, than a designer.

Using the Proust Questionnaire.

This is where turning to the Proust Questionnaire can be particularly helpful, as it allows you to focus on and bring out the idiocyncracies of your character. It poses a series of questions, which may be used to “interview” your character. Here’s a brief snap shot, which was taken from the Vaniety Fair version.

1.__What is your idea of perfect happiness?

__2.__What is your greatest fear?

__3.__What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

__4.__What is the trait you most deplore in others?

__5.__Which living person do you most admire?

Character Have Limitations in Non-Fiction

Clearly, with your characters being real, this places all sorts of restrictions and limitations on how you can develop your character if you are trying to be truly authentic, rather than using a real person as a launching pad into fiction.

With the pieces I’m currently working on, I’m trying to be as authentic as possible. Indeed, I am in effect being, in effect, more of a restorer, than a designer. I’m working with my tweezers and magnifying glass to get those little details right, and yet at the same time, using a broad brush to create suspense, action and all the usual tools that you usually use to make a story worth reading. After all, a reader has no obligation to read anything we write, and there has to be an exceptionally good reason for them to even read the title, let alone the opening page. The days of readers bowing and scraping to the almighty author are long gone. We are the ones who need to get down on our knees and thank the reader. Be thankful they gave us their precious time.

Meticulous Research, Minimal Use.

This is why you don’t want to burden your reader with too much detail, even though you may have volumes of research. They should only see the tip of the ice berg. That’s not to say you don’t need the ice berg, but the reader is also interested in the other bells and whistles. You need to know your stuff. They need to know you know your stuff, but they don’t want you to regurgitate it all over them.

There is beauty in simplicity, something I’ve been appreciating more and more through writing and reading flash or bite fiction. A well-chosen object, piece of clothing, or even the use of language, speaks volumes. You don’t always need to write a novel.

Best Guess is Good Enough.

Another challenged I faced writing non-fiction, was working out about how to fill in the gaps. There’s stuff I don’t know. Can’t find out. Making things up bother me. Was it lying? However, I don’t believe there’s any harm in a best guess scenario. After all, the lines between fact and fiction are really quite blurry once you look into them. There’s always an overlap. Well, at least, that’s my humble opinion. I certainly wouldn’t call it “lying” or “fabrication”, and I am fairly fastidious about getting historical detail right.

The Character Drives Plot. The Author is the Passenger.

This week, I struck a another challenge peculiar to writing non-fiction. You are not writing or making up the plot. Rather, your character is in charge, and doesn’t care whether their next step is going to scuttle hours of work, and your entire philosophical position. No. They just do what they like and all you can do is structure and arrange facts and events, through your own editing lens.

The project which brought this to light, was actually my family history research. While I have been developing a series character sketches, which I’ve been posting on the blog in preparation for a book, I actually had nothing to say about my 4th Great Grandfather, John Johnston. I couldn’t find anything.

Plot is Unpredictable

However, after 20 years of passive research, I found out John Johnston was convicted of bigamy in New Zealand in 1864. Indeed, not only was he still married when he married my 4th Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget Flanagan. They even had four children, and it wasn’t like they weren’t living nearby either.

Photo2

This could well be John Johnston approx 1886.

As you could imagine, this changed a lot of things. Indeed, it actually changed his name. He was known as “Alexander John”, despite having a younger brother who was Alexander.  Moreover, instead of immigrating directly from Scotland to New Zealand, I found out that he had been living in Liverpool. Indeed, he had married Jane Ellen Jones at St James Church, Toxteth Park, Liverpool in 1855. Alexander John and Jane Ellen then lived with her parents for four months. They ultimately had four children and at least two of them were born in England. Alexander John moved to New Zealand around 1860 and three months later, Jane Ellen and the children sailed out. They settled in Dunedin where Alexander John was licensee of the Argyle Hotel until he went off to the diggings.

Understandably, my impressions of John Johnston nose-dived sharply. Although I’d never found any signs of greatness,  family legend had it that he’d built the North Sydney/Cammeray Suspension Bridge in Sydney in 1892. As it turned out, that was built by his brother, although we’re sure he was in there somewhere. Previously, I was thinking very much in terms of right-hand man, not the family charity case. Meanwhile, his other brother, Angus Rutherford Johnston was some kind of Indiana Jones type character who’d fought in Nicaragua, had been shipwrecked and captured by Indians, escaped, found gold and settled in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island where he ran a successful store. This has been, and continues to be, a family of high achievers. I’d always thought it was just a matter of time until I found out that John had built a railway, a monumental bridge or somehow made a name for himself somehow, and certainly NOT as a bigamist.

I won’t go into the ins and outs of the bigamy case here, except to say that he stared straight at his first wife in court and denied being married to her, despite their four children. Indeed, when he took the the detective round to see his wife, he really seemed to apply the charm: ” Jane, my girl, you wont prosecute me,” You see, it was actually the Crown which was pursuing the case. In the end, “Alexander John” was found guilty and fined. He got off lightly on a technicality.

However, it wasn’t just the bigamy, or his denial which shot him down in flames. He was also a perpetrator of domestic violence. In 1863, he attacked Jane Ellen with a knife:

Threatening to Stab—Jane Ellen Johnston I charged her husband, Alexander John Johnston with threatening to stab her with a knife on the 13th inst. The defendant was required to give bond to keep the peace towards her for six months, fined in the amount of £lO, and to find two sureties tor £2O each.”

Otago Daily Times, Issue 464, 16 June 1863

I knew nothing about this a week ago, and as you could imagine, it changes everything. I was shocked right to the very core. After all, you don’t really need much of a sense of ethics or values to know this man was a bastard, or at least capable of acts of pure bastardry.

However, as if all of this wasn’t already bad enough, it gets worse. Much, much worse.

On the 8th February, 1866 Jane Ellen and Alexander John’s nine year old son found a pistol, which his mother thought was safely out of reach. Jane Ellen was out in the garden weeding with two of the other children, when she heard a firearm exploding. Nine year old, Thomas James Johnston had shot his 15 month old sister, Ellen Overton Johnston, in the chest and she died. He didn’t know it was loaded.

Clearly, real life has now moved into the pits of hell, and to compound his first family’s agony, Alexander John was off living with my 4th Great Grandmother, Maria Bridget. Indeed, their son Angus had been born on the 6th January, 1865 and Margaret was born roughly a year later.

This wasn’t the story I was planning to write, even for my own consumption.

Of course, not all non-fiction takes such a turn for the worst. However, the story of John Johnston certainly illustrates that you need to be prepared for surprises, and somehow make the necessary adjustments.

The Challenge of Writing My Own Motivational Memoir.

I’ve faced different, but related challenges, working on a motivational memoir, known as: “The Book Project”. Just as I thought the plot was reaching it’s climax and about to trail off to its “living happily ever-after” conclusion, fate stepped in and the book was dead.

You see, I was working on a motivational book about overcoming my severely debilitating auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis and for 12 months, I was soaring. Flying high. I’d managed to all but turn my mountain around. I’d lost 10 kilos despite being on the fat drug, prednisone. I’d taken up the violin despite my disabilities and had played at a happening local music venue at our end of year concert. I’d started my blog and had built up an online blogging community. I’d also gone on an adventure camp where I’d gone parasailing, driven a quad bike and gone down the water slide on the boat without my glasses on, and had ridden a camel. I’d also managed to return to work one day a week as Marketing Manager of a local IT company and was also helping out in my son’s classroom as a volunteer teacher’s aide, and sometimes took the class. These were all things not only I had deemed impossible. It was all there in black and white, or at least shades of grey. The grand finale for the book, was going to be skiing down the Front Valley at Perisher, which would represent turning my mountain. Unable to climb a mountain and ever the individual, I’d decided to ski down the mountain instead.

Indeed, I did it. More as a terrified, quivering wreck of my former self, but I’d pulled it off.

However, even while I was still  down at the snow, I developed the beginnings of a severe chest infection, which blew up into pneumonia. One night while coughing uncontrollably, I briefly even stopped breathing. Meanwhile, a CT scan on my lungs showed that I’d developed fibrosis as a complication of the dermatomyositis, and suddenly the thrill of soaring steadily upwards, came crashing down and didn’t stop at ground level. It kept falling. Seriously, at this point I thought I was looking at a death sentence. Twelve months to live. I’d smacked into the wall, and I was all but a dead duck.

This wasn’t how the Book Project was meant to end. You can’t write a motivational book, which finishes off with you drowning in your own lungs. Come on. That’s not even a story you could give away, let alone become that guaranteed best seller I’d written in my head right down to the second last page.

Fortunately, my doctors put me on a series of chemo infusions of a drug called cyclophosphamide and five and a half years later, I’m still here, and I’ve been in remission ever since. Amen!

While these plots certainly plunged unexpectedly deep into the dark side, they do illustrate how when you’re writing about real people, the author is not in charge. Indeed, you’re much more of a passenger, than sitting in the driver’s seat. Indeed, you can see that at work even when I was writing my own story, although in that instance, it was fate which stepped in.

Clearly, this has become a very lengthy post, and so I’m going to stop it there and turn it over to you. Have you ever written non-fiction? How did you face and overcome some of the hurdles involved? It was be great to get a bit of discussion going.

Best wishes,

Rowena