Tag Archives: books

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

 

 

 

 

Weekend Coffee Share- 23rd September, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

How was your week?

Every week when I sit down to catch up with you over coffee or whatever your preferred beverage might me, I have to switch on my thinking cap and try to reconnect with the week that was. What on earth happened? Do I really do all of that in one week? Or, more distressing…where did that week go? I’ve done nothing at all.

However, last week was more special than most because both my kids were in the school musical, Alice in Wonderland Jnr. Our daughter was on stage as one of the three Cheshire Cats who were the narrators in the musical and our son who has been on stage in Scout gang shows for the last three years, was actually backstage doing the lighting. However, although our daughter spent most of the show on stage and I was clearly besotted, I loved the show as a whole. Indeed, I thought it was an excellent choice for a school production as it allowed so many kids to shine. While Alice clearly played the lead, there were three Alices as well as the Queen of Hearts, White Rabbit and the Mad Hatter. A surprise character, at least for me, was the caterpillar, which I’ve never really taken much notice of in the book. The caterpillar was one cool dude. I was so impressed with the production, that I decided to go to the second performance and I’m so glad I did. I absorbed so much more the second time and I also managed to get a seat on the other side of the theatre right under my daughter’s nose.

The downside to enjoying the musical so much, was that it ended and I clearly know that I’ve fallen off the mountain top into a sense of “panging after the fjords” to quote Monty Python in a rather bizarre and twisted way. While well aware that the cast can get a sense of “grief” when the show is over, I haven’t really heard much about the audience or the parent of a performer going through this. However, I did. Yet, I make no apologies. It was such a great production and so upbeat, funny and entertaining. Moreover, I’ve known much of the cast and the audience for many, many years. Indeed, I’ve known middle Alice since she was one. Being a school of local production has that intimacy over something professional and it really was fantastic.

Amelia Ballet audition Sept 21 2018

Our daughter at her ballet audition.

However, there was no time to rest on our laurels. The musical was on Wednesday and Thursday nights and then on Friday afternoon, our daughter had an audition to appear in a local production of Madame Butterfly with the Melbourne Ballet Company. Normally, this would’ve been something we would’ve been well and truly prepared for and given such an audition it’s due. However, being the day after the bigger than Ben Hur school musical, we just couldn’t get into gear properly. No chance of getting organized the night before and I picked her up early from school and found myself driving like a maniac to the dance wear shop with quite a shopping list. Indeed, we were so short of time, that we rang ahead with our list and I was so grateful. They had the lot and had it waiting on the counter. We weren’t the only ones doing the manic pre-audition dash either. It was just crazy and I was under phenomenal pressure. We got there with about ten minutes to spare. Unfortunately, she wasn’t selected. Last year, nine people auditioned. This year there must’ve been 80 and I think about twenty kids were chosen. She was quite philosophical about it afterwards. “It was good experience”. With all that stress, I couldn’t bite my tongue. I had to disagree. Then, I remembered that it was my job to be the motivational coach, even when I wasn’t feeling motivated. That was when I remembered a pearl of wisdom I’d picked up during the week while watching an interview with former Australian 60 Minutes reporter, Ray Martin on Ahn’s Brush With Fame. Ray Martin had taken his son along when he’d interviewed Australia’s last ANZAC Alec Campbell. Ray hadn’t been able to draw much out of him, however he’s son had struck up quite a conversation. When Ray asked his son what he’d said, he’d said: “to have a go”. Have a go…it sounds too simple and yet that’s what lets me down time and time again. I’m so needing to be perfect and to get it right the first time and not make a mistake, that I don’t even try. I don’t have a go. I think I need to write that up and stick it on my desk where it stares me right between the eyes. Get on with it! Just have a go!

Fiona_anh

Ahn Do pictured with Professor Fiona Wood burns specialist.

By the way, speaking of Ahn’s Brush With Fame, I’ve actually been doing a bit of binge watching this week. This show seems to be into its third series and I only watched it for the first time a week ago on what’s referred to as “Catch Up” on our TV.My daughter thought it was disgusting that an almost 50 year old woman could go binge watching and she thought this was something reserved for the teen. However, I had great delight in bursting her little bubble. Binge watching is suitable for all ages. However, at least in my case, the choice of subject matter was entirely different. I’m going to write something more detailed about the show once I’ve caught up. However, just to put you in the picture, Ahn Do is a lawyer, comedian and author of numerous books including: The Happiest Refugee. He is also an incredible artist and interviewer and that’s what Ahn’s Brush With Fame is all about. He invites a smattering of people he finds interesting onto the show which is set in his art studio. His subject takes a set in a really striking canary yellow arm chair and they just begin chatting while Ahn starts working away on the canvas with lashings of paint mostly applying the paint using cake decorating spatulas or knives. To be perfectly honest, I find it hard to believe anyone could create any kind of realistic portrait using these things but he does. He also tends to use the brush more for female subjects and he frequently uses his fingers. On the surface of it, it’s all anarchy but he’s one of those truly clever people who appear chaotic when there’s actually a surprisingly amount of order beneath the surface. He also sends the subject out for at least 15 minutes at the end of each session so goodness knows what he does then when we’re not watching, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved a magic wand. His portraits are incredible and each of the sitters I’ve seen have commented on how he’s not only captured a physical likeness, but he’s also brought out something of their inner being. He’s a very clever, and incredibly intuitive man from what I’ve seen. I think he’s also very curious and fascinated by what makes people tick and what’s to know what we’re here. Indeed, that’s what he asks at least most, if not all, of his subjects. You can watch the episodes online so just because you don’t live in Australia, it doesn’t mean you need to miss out. You can click Here.

In terms of my posts this week, there was a post inspired by Ahn Do’s interview with burns specialist Professor Fiona Wood. I participated in Friday Fictioneers again with a comic piece referring to cupid’s frustrations with us humans. Lastly, I participated in Thursday Doors and posted about Penguin Gaol, Tasmania. Indeed, the gaol was so small it did seem better suited to penguins than humans.

Lastly, I’ve just started reading Tree: A Life Story, by David Suzuki and Wayne Grady, which extends that celebration in a “biography” to the tree. “A story that spans a millennium and includes a cast of millions but focuses on a single tree, a Douglas fir, Tree describes in poetic detail the organism’s modest origins that begin with a dramatic burst of millions of microscopic grains of pollen. The authors recount the amazing characteristics of the species, how they reproduce and how they receive from and offer nourishment to generations of other plants and animals. The tree’s pivotal role in making life possible for the creatures around it;including human beings;is lovingly explored.”- Goodreads

We now have one last week of term before the school holidays begin. One term left before the end of the school year. Where has this year gone? No doubt, you are just as baffled.

Anyway, I’d better get cracking. I’ve actually had a very quiet day and a big rest to catch up today. However, it time to carpe diem with whatever’s left. This has been another Weekend Coffee Share, hosted by Eclectic Alli.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share… 13th August, 2018.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

As much as I’d love to have you over for coffee tonight, you might want to reconsider. It’s so cold that my fingers are numb. Of course, it would help if I accepted that it was still Winter, and that turning on the heater or putting on a jumper would be a good move. It’s evening and currently 11°C or 52°F.

Rosie tennis balls laptop

Rosie with her tennis ball collection on my laptop.

Before I proceed, let me just introduce you to Rosie, our black and white Border Collie x Kelpie, who is staring straight at me with dogged persistence. She has a serious fixation with chasing balls, sticks or anything which could possibly launch through the air with her in hot pursuit. Rosie’s been parked in front of my chair for hours patiently depositing fragments of stick on my keyboard depositing fragments of sticks and tennis ball on my keyboard, and wondering why I haven’t seen them. Indeed, the pile is growing and she’s just upped her campaign and brought me a forbidden wooden peg. You should see the focus on those eyes and the highly strung tension in every cell of her body. She can maintain this pose for hours…and hours. I’m ignoring her more than usual tonight. Wonder if she thinks I’m broken? Or, perhaps she’s concluded I require more training… She certainly hasn’t given up trying to motivate this comatose human. She is the personification (or should that be dogification?) of persistence.

Rowena Haircut

Sporting my new haircut at the local waterfront. 

My big news this week, is that I’ve finally had my haircut. While I acknowledge that for much of the population having a haircut is a non-event, for me it’s more of significant and I’m out there ringing the brass bell.  Forgive me Father for I have sinned. It’s been around two years since my last haircut, and that rushed ponytail or makeshift bun have been heaven-sent. I know it sounds terrible now I’ve actually reflected on my crime and the horrors -of “letting myself go”. It’s just that it takes a lot of effort, not to mention money to maintain the facade, and my prime focus is more on what goes on underneath something money can’t buy.

Rowena Flying Hair

Trying to get a photo of my new haircut…the wind showed no respect and kept blowing it around. 

After my haircut,, I headed back down to Terrigal Beach for a Fisherman’s Basket and thought my hair hair was about to fly away…so much for respecting my new haircut. However, I was grateful to find a parking spot. It took quite a tour to find one. What? Did they know I was coming? Obviously not.

Last week, I mentioned that I was reading Raphaelle Giordano’s  French novel: Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One. This inspirational book is a hard creature to categorize. While it claims to be a novel, for me it reads more like a memoir, which is perhaps the ultimate tick of approval for any novel. After all, they’re supposed to feel real, and lure the eager reader into their web.

However, most novels don’t include action steps and writing post-it notes to change your life. Fill the void surrounded by all the trappings of success, supposed happiness, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.

I decided to take on these challenges myself. Why not?

The first task was to throw out ten items. Me being me, I started musing to myself about what these ten things should be. Of course, I could follow the letter of the law and throw out ten bobby pins and cross it off. However, obviously to experience the full benefit, I needed to embrace the full spirit of the law. Ideally, I would’ve moved on the piano, car bed or table I’ve been meaning to sell or give away, but that wasn’t going to happen quickly. So, I found a sort of middle ground and the deed was done. Too much analysis was only going to lead to paralysis, something I knew too well.

In the book, simply throwing out these ten items launches Camille into a cleaning and renovation frenzy where she even ends up painting their apartment. Such monumental change seemed too good to be true. However, I’m also finding a renewed desire to straighten things up around here. As usual, all roads are leading to my desk and the kitchen table, which always end up as a layer cake of family detritus. Indeed, I have no doubt that there are even fragments of stick buried on my very desk. Clearly, when it comes to sorting all of this out, I’m up against it.However, I’m not aiming for clinical perfection. It is our home. We’re a family. Love, connection and relationships are what it’s all about. Yet, these diametrically opposed worlds collide in every home and we each just try to make the best of it.

Have you read any good books lately? Has anyone read the Jane Hawk series by Dean Koontz? I heard a great review this week, and am tempted to have a go. I don’t usually like reading series and am more of a non-fiction reader, but might give it a go.

How has your week been? What have you been up to? I hope it been great.

This has been another contribution for the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Eclectic Ali. You’re welcome to come and join us for a cuppa.

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

L – Norman Lindsay: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge.

As you may be aware, my theme for the 2018 A-Z April Blogging Challenge is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Today,  I’ll be writing to Norman Alfred William Lindsay (22 February 1879 – 21 November 1969). He was a famous Australian artist, sculptor, writer, editorial cartoonist, scale modeler, and an accomplished amateur boxer. Today, we’ll be entertained by Australian Jazz band Galapagos Duck performing I Feel Good at Norman Lindsay’s home at Springwood in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

By the way, it is almost comical that Norman Lindsay follows on directly after Abstract Expressionist, Wassily Kandinsky. While Kandinsky lauded modern art as a founder of the Blaue Reiter and later at the Bauhaus, Norman Linsday, like Hans Heysen , seemed oblivious to various new ways of painting and steadfastly continued along the same path. Both Norman Lindsay and his brother and fellow artist, Lionel, resisted modernism. Indeed, Lionel Lindsay called modernism : “The Cult of Ugliness” and they distinctly saw it as a threat to the Australian national identity and civilization itself.

Magic Pudding

Warning…Pudding with Attitude.

However, my introduction to Norman Lindsay pre-dates my awareness of all these “isms”. When I was a little girl. My mother gave me a book for Christmas… The Magic Pudding , which was written & illustrated by Norman Lindsay. For some reason, I didn’t read the book at the time, just as both my kids have managed to ignore the beautiful, hardcover edition I bought for them at around the same age. Surely, I must’ve read it at some point. The illustrations are very familiar and the story line more or less came back to me tonight, as I powered through it online.

The Magic Pudding was published in 1918 and tells the story of a magic pudding, which grows back after a slice is eaten. Moreover, you just have to whistle and the pudding changes flavour. Clearly, such a pudding was worth a fortune, and the plot centres around the battles between the pudding owners and the conniving pudding thieves. While I’m focusing on the illustration side of the book, the creative use of language throughout reminds me of Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese) in Fawlty Towers (who I just found out played Alfred the Pudding in the movie based on the book). How about you try reading this out after a few drinks:

Of all the swivel-eyed, up-jumped, cross-grained, sons of a cock-eyed tinker,’ exclaimed Bill, boiling with rage. ‘If punching parrots on the beak wasn’t too painful for pleasure, I’d land you a sockdolager on the muzzle that ‘ud lay you out till Christmas. Come on, mates,’ he added, ‘it’s no use wastin’ time over this low-down, hook-nosed tobacco-grabber.’ And leaving the evil-minded Parrot to pursue his evil-minded way, they hurried off in search of information. [1]

Pudding characters

Yet, while the language is comical and entertaining, Lindsay’s illustrations bring the story to life with his incredible drawings. These include: Albert the Pudding, Bunyip Bluegum, the Koala; Sam Sawnoff, the penguin; Watkin Wombat and the Possum.

However, there was a lot more to Norman Lindsay than the Magic Pudding. However, to get to know that side of Norman Lindsay, I had to grow up. I can’t remember which came first…the movie Sirens starring Elle McPherson, or visiting his former home at Falconbridge in the Blue Mountains and seeing his obsession with the nude in its unrestrained splendour. He didn’t hold a lot back. Indeed, some of his works were very controversial.

The first major controversy of Norman Lindsay’s career erupted in Sydney in 1904 when the pen and ink drawing, Pollice verso, 1904, was displayed in the twenty-fifth Annual Exhibition of the Royal Art Society of New South Wales. A huge debate erupted over the painting, which was seen as “blasphemous”and debauched by its detractors. Indeed, it landed Lindsay in a lot of hot water, which carried over into the pages of The Bulletin, where Lindsay worked as an illustrator. Three years later, Lindsay sent it to Melbourne for display in the Sydney Society of Artists’ First Melbourne Exhibition, which opened at the Guild Hall in Swanston Street on 25 October 1907. Most astounding for Lindsay,  Pollice verso was purchased from the exhibition by the Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria for the extraordinary sum of 157 guineas and 10 shillings[2].

While Lindsay might condemn me as a “wowser”, I am much more comfortable with his Magic Pudding sketches, than his more “interesting” nudes.

Meanwhile, today I uncovered another Norman Lindsay gem: Creative Effort: An Essay in Affirmation, which was published in 1924, which covers the meaning of life and art, drawing on philosophical concepts and is heavily influenced by the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche. It was mind-boggling reading, especially as I was really zooming through it. However, I’ve jotted down a few quotes, which I intend to follow up later…

“One thing alone in existence is manifest, permanent, indestructible, and that is the individual effort to create through thought and beauty. This passion to create something finer than the creator himself is the one, permanent and enduring element in man, and since creative effort is the rarest, most difficult achievement, it remains the greatest stimulus to high development- and this development is life”[3].

 “But evil must be measured by its reach, its aim, its capacity to destroy the highest. Therefore, its attack must be in an effort to pervert, mislead and destroy the creative impulse[4]

“Pain and exultation, Beauty and Ugliness, Good and Evil, these are all part of the Test. Without them there is no development – no leap upwards into the gigantic problems of Futurity.[5]

“But the problem of Common man is not effort, it is the desire to escape effort.[6]

So, after cramming my head full of all of this today, I am somewhat prepared to start writing to Norman Lindsay…

Letter to Norman Lindsay

Dear Norman,

I don’t know whether you ever felt torn between your creative drive and inspiration and the realities of family life. However, I’m burning the midnight oil and it’s getting far too late to wax lyrically about anything. I have an early start and need to get my daughter ready for a dance Eisteddfod. Clearly, it doesn’t take much for my mind to fill up with research and I should be thinking about tutus instead of the meaning of life.

However, after reading snatches of your Effort: An Essay in Affirmation, I thought you might be a good one to direct this rather weighty question to:

What is the meaning of life? Has it become any clearer for you since you crossed over to the other side?

I’d appreciate your help.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Letter from Norman Lindsay

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter. It’s forced me into conversing with that Kandinsky chap, although I did enjoy sharing letters with Hans Heysen.

All I’ll simply say is not to be afraid of death. Indeed, death is birth. After all, “why should the change in this life to the next be anymore stupendous than the arrival of Life on Earth?[7]

I hope that helps.

Best wishes,

Norman Lindsay.

Further Reading

https://www.salon.com/2004/07/28/pudding

Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort.

References

[1] The Magic Pudding: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/23625/23625-h/23625-h.htm pg 53

[2] https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down-the-trials-and-tribulations-of-norman-lindsays-pollice-verso-2/

[3] Norman Lindsay, Creative Effort pp 20-21.

[4] Ibid p 45.

[5] Ibid p 48.

[6] Ibid p 59

[7] Ibid pg 52.