Tag Archives: character

Making Up Friends…Charles Dickens Quote.

“It is the fate of most men who mingle with the

world, and attain even the prime of life, to

make many real friends, and lose them in the

course of nature. It is the fate of all authors or

chroniclers to create imaginary friends, and

lose them in the course of art. Nor is this the

full extent of their misfortunes; for they are

required to furnish an account of them

besides.”

― Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

For those of you who have written novels, how have you felt when you’ve reached the end and your relationship with your characters is over? Or, worse still, when you’ve killed off one of your favourites?

I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Festival of Red Doors…Thursday Doors.

Welcome to Another Thursday Doors

This week I’ve decided to keep it simple. It’s absolutely bucketing down outside, and although I took a few photos of doors while we were out shopping last night, they were a bit too ordinary. So, this week I’ve taken the easy way out. Dredging through the archives, I’ve brought you a delectable palette of red doors. Indeed, seeing all these red doors amalgamated together has seriously raised my heart rate and the excitement is almost too much.

Have you ever wondered what inspires someone to paint their front door red when all the doors around them might be painted more conservative shades of grey, heritage green or even beige? I haven’t really give it much thought before. However, seeing all these red doors bunched together made me wonder about the people living on the other side of these doors who call these places home. What makes a red door person?

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

― Maya Angelou, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

Red is my favourite colour. I’m an extrovert, passionate person. Moreover, I not only drive a red Alfa Romeo 159, I view this car as an outward manifestation of my self. It is me. Well, to be honest, it’s more of an idealized version of myself these days as I spend too much more time in the slow lane.

A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other flowers in the garden to be both red and roses.”

Oscar Wilde

However, despite my passion for all things red, our front door is heritage green and really much more of a conservative, blending in colour. However, you could say that’s quite in keeping with my husband’s personality. He’s quieter, more conservative and tends to blend in. However, that’s not why we have a green front door either. It’s simply what was here when we bought the house almost 20 years ago. The door also has a stained glass window which suits heritage green. We have given some thought to painting the house and we’re thinking of replacing the door and painting is something of a blue slate. We live right near the beach so I thought a more beachy look would suit.

“The long and winding road
That leads to your door
Will never disappear
I’ve seen that road before
It always leads me here
Lead me to you door…”

The Beatles – The Long & Winding Road

However, while I don’t have a red door now, I did have a red door growing up. Our house had this little outdoor structure, which was very much like a grannie flat except it is very basic and didn’t have bathroom or kitchen facilities. Indeed, it’s probably more like an artist’s studio. It was a great place growing up, and I turned it into my bedroom for a few years as a teenager. It was fantastic, and I must admit it enabled me to sneak out a bit too. Not usually to get up to too much mischief, but I had a friend who used to roam around during the night and she would tap away on my window.

Oh dear! This was supposed to be a quick post and now I’m turning it into a confessional. Just forget what you’ve read. Strike it from the record. I’ve never done anything wrong. Made stupid decisions. Taken unnecessary risks EVER!!!

Anyway, before I make any further confessions and do myself further in, I’m heading off. Indeed, you could even say I’m closing the door.

This has been another contribution to Thursday Doors hosted by Norm 2.0 Please pop over and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

K- Know Your Characters…A-Z Challenge

“You never really understand a person until you

consider things from his point of view… Until you

climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird 

 

Welcome to the latest installment in my series of Motivations Quotes for Writers and Creatives working on a big project, especially writing a book. This is my theme for the 2019 Blogging A-Z April Challenge.

Today, we’re up to K, which must be around halfway. So, I can let out a loud cheer for getting this far, because I almost didn’t take part this year as I’m deeply immersed in working on my book.

I have a background in sales and one of the things they really used to hammer into us, was to know your product. As writers, we also need to know our product in addition to our craft and that includes knowing your characters and knowing them well.

One of the tools I’ve used on and off has been the Proust Questionnaire. The Proust Questionnaire was originally a parlor game, which was popularized although not devised by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist. Proust believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature. As writers, asking our characters these questions can help us develop more interesting, dynamic and effective characters in our work.

If you’re interested in checking out the Proust Questionnaire, you can explore the Vanity Fair version Here.

Here are a few other quotes I found about developing characters:

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.” 
― Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.” 
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.” 
― Samuel Smiles, Happy Homes and the Hearts That Make Them

“I don’t know where people got the idea that characters in books are supposed to be likable. Books are not in the business of creating merely likeable characters with whom you can have some simple identification with. Books are in the business of creating great stories that make you’re brain go ahhbdgbdmerhbergurhbudgerbudbaaarr.” 
― John Green

Lastly, while I was trawling around the Internet in search of quotes, I came across this fabulous quote about knowledge, which kind of touches on developing our characters but I feel also adds an important quality to our writing:

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

After all, if we really care about our characters and their wellbeing and what’s happening to them, that will draw the reader inside that vision which is what great writing is all about. It’s not just about us fulfilling our ambitions. Indeed, for the person paying good money for your book and not someone else’s, you don’t factor into the equation.

Do you have any tips for developing characters? What works for you? 

Thank you for joining on this journey through the alphabet and I hope you are feeling encouraged psychologically while hopefully also taking some action steps.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Mohammed Ali…Hero and Villain.

In a tribute to In a tribute to the late Muhammad Ali I am reflagging this excerpt from my book Rope Burns, which is to be republished in September 2016. By now you should not be remotely surprised to learn that one fine evening back in 1980 I somehow conspired to find myself perched on […]

via Muhammad Ali: Hero and villain — ianprobertbooks

Proust Questionnaire: Bullying is the trait I most deplore in others.

Today, I’m finally moving on to Question 4 of the Proust Questionnaire: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Humph!

Working through this Proust Questionnaire is really challenging my brain.

Think! Think! Think! Think! Think!

“For I am a bear of very little brain, and long words bother me.”― A.A. Milne, The World of Winnie-the-Pooh

I can almost hear it ticking and there’s this jarring movement between the question which is ticking very fast and my brain, which is very slow..ly plod..ding a…lo..ng…

Back leaning over my keyboard late at night, I’m wondering whether this is all too much. Have I done it again and set myself yet another overly ambitious target and perhaps I should slow things down a bit? Perhaps, it’s also yet another procrastinating, delaying tactic distracting me from simply writing the book instead of doing more “research”?

I’m also wondering whether this Proust Questionnaire is relevant to the 21st century and if is it asking the questions I want to ask my character?

However, this is what happens when you embark on any new, intensive project. You have second thoughts, doubts and if you’re anything like me, you also like to put your own stamp on things and have trouble rigidly sticking to the rules.

Well, in this case, I set myself this challenge and the schedule so I could stop of change this at any time but part of this is also starting something and getting it finished. I also see merit in answering someone else’s questions to add depth to my character in ways I wouldn’t have considered. There is merit in not always beating to your own drum.

Meanwhile, it’s late and the dog’s have left the back door open and a cold wind is wrapping around my legs instead of their warm furry coats. I’m still awake because it’s school holidays and the kids are staying at my parents’ place for a few days and I ended up sleeping much of today. I’m pretty much back on deck after recent bronchitis but get fatigued easily. Besides, it was a cold, windy day and it felt so good sleeping with my electric blanket switched on and the world outside switched completely off!!

I’m not going to mention yesterday’s train trip with the kids to Sydney either but suffice to say that I was relieved to drop them off and meet up with Geoff and have a quiet dinner out.

This brings me to question 4: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Humph. This is quite a hard one.

After throwing a few ideas around, I’ve found it…bullying.

Bullying doesn’t need any introductions or definitions  because it’s all over the web.

The reason I’ve nominated bullying as the trait I most deplore in others is that involves the misuse of power to intimidate others or to get what you want no matter who or what stands in your way. While this might be perceived as determination, it can also be a form of bullying and should be treated as such.

I was brutally bullied when I was at school. I wasn’t punched, kicked, scratched or even stabbed with a knife but for 6 years I was brutally bullied with words, ostracism and just plain cruelty, largely for being different.Being different, as most of us appreciate, is a serious crime at school and even though the world might open up like a flower once we leave, it’s like being stuck in a lift for six years and for some it becomes too much.

What none of us knew at the time was that I had a serious medical condition, which accounted for these weird and wonderful symptoms. Mum had a very difficult birth with me and that was probably how I ended up with hydrocephalus or fluid on the brain, which wasn’t diagnosed until my mid-20s.

The shadow of bullying can haunt people for years.

The shadow of bullying can haunt people for years.

Despite the troubles, I had at school, I attended my 10 year school reunion only weeks after brain surgery and half my hair had been shaved off but no one could tell because they’d left a layer a “curtain” of hair over the top. The reunion went really well and I even made new friends and connections. We’d all grown up a lot, which was really reassuring and there was none of that trademark bitchiness we’d had at school.

Most of the time, I don’t think about my experiences of being bullied at all these days. I found my peace and moved on…right on. However, my daughter recently talked to me about being bullied and said: “You don’t know what it’s like”.

Well, that was time to share a bit of my personal history only I can’t remember very much. No doubt I shut the door on all of that and don’t want to go back. The only reason I’d go back there at all would be to help my kids. Show them that you can go through being bullied and come out the other end being strong, a survivor. I ultimately found my niche at university where I had plenty of friends and was even ran for election for the student newspaper.

The other thing, too, about when I was being bullied was that while it was obviously going on, as I mentioned before, there wasn’t a lot that stood out that you could actually mention. No physical scars or proof and just words. We didn’t use the term bullying at our school. I guess a bully was stereotyped as some kind of thug of a boy and I was at an all-girls’ school. If you were picked on or bullied at our school, you were just a “loser”, “reject” or “Nigel No Friends”. There was no way of pointing the mirror back at the bully, so they could see their own ugly reflection. There was no “portrait of Dorien Gray” either. I don’t think there was any kind of of punishment or action taken by staff. You were just crushed…and your parents paid a fortune for the privilege.

These days I still see bullying and I’m not talking about kids. Parents slaughtering a teacher’s reputation without any evidence or a second thought. Parents judging children, judging other parents and just speaking their mind without any kind of filter whatsoever. I’ve heard these parents described as “gaters”. Not just because they hang out at the school gate but because they’re as brutal as a pack of alligators and show no mercy.

It seems to me that bullies grow up.

While I’m not always good at minding my tongue either, my grandmother, who was a very wise woman, used to tell me: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing at all”! That is very sound advice, which would prevent a lot of heartache and worse.

Would any of you like to share the trait you most deplore in others?

Just to get you thinking, a few of the other traits I considered were: anger, superficiality and arrogance. I obviously couldn’t mention running late, staying up too late or eating too much chocolate without pointing fingers back at me.

xx Rowena

Proust Questionnaire: Making Mistakes.

As you might be aware, I’m working my way through the Proust Character Questionnaire as background research for the Book Project.The journey started here:

Continuing right along with the Proust Questionnaire, we’re now up to question 3:

What is the Trait you deplore most in yourself?

Addressing this question in 2015 well beyond the Victorian era when it was posed, I’m a little taken aback.

Aren’t you supposed to be asking me about my strengths before we get stuck into the weaknesses? Isn’t that how this thing works? Don’t I get an opportunity to shine before I hang out all my dirty laundry?

Smile!

Smile!

Well, I guess you could say things were a little different back in 1890 when Proust responded to the questionnaire as a teenager. This was long before phrases like: “Greed is good” and “looking after Number 1” came into vogue.

Indeed, dare I mention the Seven Deadly Sins:

  1. Wrath
  2. Greed
  3. Sloth
  4. Pride
  5. Lust
  6. Envy
  7. Gluttony

I might be wrong but it seems like the Victorians were more concerned about what they were doing wrong than doing right. After all, this seems the era where you constantly renovated yourself, rather than your house.

However, when it comes to the trait I most deplore in myself it has to be making mistakes. I really don’t like making mistakes and often feel like a bumbling idiot.

Sponge Cake

Sponge Cake

Take yesterday’s sponge cake for instance. I probably took it out of the oven a minute or two too soon, which meant that the top was still a bit too moist. There I was staring at perfection one minute and then the top stuck to the wire cooling rack and just like a skinned knee on bitumen, it was savagely ripped off. While it might have looked funny for the blog photo and made me look endearingly human, I didn’t want to be human. I wanted perfection. I wanted to swan around at home as if I’d just won Best Cake in Show at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

Violin Concert 2013.

Violin Concert 2013.

The same goes with playing my violin. I cringe every time that jolly instrument squeaks, even though violins are legendary for being difficult, temperamental and just plain nasty. If you think a two year old child can throw the world’s greatest tantrum, you haven’t met a violin and yet, they can sing like an angel too!

There I was two years ago practicing for my preliminary exam with my accompanist and it was so hot that my fingers were sliding down the strings. After all those months of practice, to have my performance compromised by the heat was almost the last straw. I could’ve hurled that violin straight of Sydney’s most famous suicide spot The Gap without a second thought.

Indeed, my aversion to making mistakes on my beloved violin was so intense that I arrived at the examination rooms an hour early to warm up (despite the heat). When there was nowhere to practice, I went downstairs onto Sydney’s busy York Street and set myself up in an empty bus shelter practicing away as bicycle couriers, buses and cars whizzed past. I didn’t care what anyone else thought. I was going to get my A…and I did!

So, as much as I hate myself for making mistakes, I do admire myself for those times where I keep pushing through, persevere and finally reach victory!

A family photo Mother's Day 2007.

A family photo Mother’s Day 2007.

When it comes to making mistakes as a parent, of course, the list is endless but at least I never left the baby at the bus stop or failed to pick the kids up from school. Most of what I term mistakes are actually more funny incidents in retrospect. Such as the time, our newborn son was still crying at 2.00AM and my husband put him in the pram and took him for a walk through the local shops and his screams were apparently quite deafening as they echoed through the empty streets. There was also the time we completely freaked out because he’d turned orange. We’d thought he was dying but he’d simply eaten too many orange vegetables. There were also his explorations which took him on top of the back shed at 2 years and looking like a scene out of Dead Poet’s Society, he marvelled at the “mountains” and how different things looked from up there. Another time, he fell off the back shed and Mummy caught him. He also got stuck exploring under the house and did I mention anything about climbing trees? Our daughter cut her finger when she was 3 and needed surgery after that.There have also been many hours where my children have had to occupy themselves as the ravages of living with my auto-immune disease took over.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

Our Family 2014- Byron Bay Lighthouse, Australia.

I’m sure this list of parenting mistakes is only going to extend now that our son’s about to start high school and we’ll soon be embarking on the teenage years.

What I hate most about this fear of making mistakes, however, is not the mistakes I’ve actually made. Rather, it’s all the things I’ve never tried because I anticipated failure and gave up before I’d even started. This list is so long and very humbling but I have started working on it. I am moving forward with the book project and while attempting complex recipes I’d put off might seem a relatively trivial thing to overcome, I disagree. Baking can be a very non-forgiving science. When making sweets, you usually need to be very precise and precise isn’t my strength. I’m much more slap dash and intuitive. Moreover, due to my medical conditions, strictly following procedures and getting things in the right order isn’t always easy for me. So baking can actually  be quite challenging. Of course, these challenges multiply expediently when I’m cooking with the kids. Of course, they add a whole extra layer of distracting confusion, as much as I love cooking with them. It can be quite hard when I’m making something new and I don’t know what I’m doing and they can step in and add all the wrong things at all the wrong time, all with good intentions of course. Unfortunately, this is when my aversion to making mistakes rears its ugly head and I might snap at the kids, morphing into something of a Gordon Ramsay disgusting myself completely and it’s tears all roun.

Thank goodness for “Sorry”!

Fortunately, most mistakes aren’t fatal.

We can have another go and seriously who expects to get things right the first time? Yes, I know we all do.It would be great but it’s not realistic. It takes practice. trial and error. More error than success but giving up is a guaranteed fail.

When it comes to stuffing up our relationships, “sorry” is a good start but change is always possible and alongside sorry comes forgiveness. Not always possible but I’m talking more about garden-variety crimes than the big ones. We all hurt each other unintentionally possibly more so than through intent.

How could she do anything wrong?

How could she do anything wrong?

Although as a parent these days, I’m more focused on my parenting crimes, I still tend to gloss over those crimes I committed as a child. That same sense of entitlement I don’t like seeing in my own kids…a lack of appreciation to outright rebellion.

There was a certain party I had when my parents went away for the weekend but hey at least hordes of gatecrashers didn’t turn up along with a Police helicopter. As great a crime as it might have been, having a handful of trusted friends over could have been a hell of a lot worse. Moreover, the effort that went into devising a story to tell my Dad was worthy of an epic novel and gave us all quite a lesson in creative writing. Being a writer himself, he should have appreciated that but he had his “Dad” hat on at the time.

So, above all else, I owe my parents a huge bunch of sorries. Most of all for being critical of their parenting efforts and not understanding that everybody makes mistakes. That we’re all human and simply can not walk on water. That’s a hard lesson for us all!

I know we can't just rub out all our mistakes but it's worth a try!

I know we can’t just rub out all our mistakes but it’s worth a try!

The next question on the Proust Questionnaire is: What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Dare I say being perfect? Getting it right the first time?

Ouch! That’s tempting but as I said, I’m only human!

xx Rowena

The Dalai Lama and the Psychiatrist Converse.

In my last post, I mentioned that I’m reading “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler.

Although I don’t usually write book reviews, I’ve made an exception in this case and I’ve been so inspired by this book that I couldn’t wait to finish the book to share my glee. I’m only halfway through and I definitely can’t put it down (except to update the blog and touch base with the family).

I strongly recommend you do whatever it takes to read this book and to read it slowly and carefully. I read such books with my pen and write notes to myself and underline text and use the book as a notebook. For me, I guage how good a book is by how much ink I’ve scribbled all over the pages. So, on this basis, this book is doing brilliantly.

Before I read the book, I must admit that I was a little uneasy getting too engrossed in a different religion. Although I’m a Christian, I do read very broadly but at the same time I wondered whether reading this book and absorbing the thoughts of the Dalai Lama was going too far. That I was crossing over into foreign soil and that when it came understanding happiness, I should turn to my Bible first.

However, while they certainly address Buddist beliefs, the book has been written as a series of life-lessons for a Western, largely American, audience and it doesn’t delve into the spiritual in an overbearing way at all.

Indeed, in many ways it reminded me of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet” and “Tuesdays With Morrie”.

“The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living” by His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

As the Dalai Lama explains, “We attempted to present to the reader a systematic approach to achieving greater happiness and overcoming life’s inevitable adversities and suffering. Our approach combines and integrates, hopefully, the best of East and West—that is Western science and psychology on the one hand and Buddhist principles and practices on the other.1.”

“In The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, the Dalai Lama offers a good first step when pursuing any positive goal: Learning. If our objective is happiness, we need to begin by learning about the benefits of happiness. The recent scientific evidence has identified a wide array of practical benefits of happiness extending far beyond merely feeling good–including better physical and mental health, longer life, stronger relationships, greater career success, higher income, and many other personal rewards.

One of the fundamental principles of The Art of Happiness is that cultivating greater happiness not only benefits oneself but also one’s family, community, and society. There is new scientific evidence supporting this principle as well. Such evidence helps dispel our common cultural biases and myths, such as perceiving happiness as a somewhat “soft” or frivolous subject, or considering the pursuit of happiness to be self-centered or self-indulgent”2.

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama

This book is also about so much more than happiness. It also looks at sorrow and has a whole chapter about compassion, including a meditation exercise. Being part of 1000 Voices for Compassion (http://1000voicesspeak.org/), I really appreciated that chapter. It added quite a lot to my understanding.

The book is also very helpful for writers interested in personality, what makes people tick and how to create really complex, more diverse characters. There’s quite a lot of discussion about what makes people tick…or indeed, not tick. After all, this is more of a book about people than just happiness itself.

I’d also like to add that the Dalai Lama doesn’t pretend to be able to solve everybody’s problems and acknowledges there are people facing very complex problems. He doesn’t pretend to be able to fix these any better than anybody else. However, he does offer a few tools, which might help.

When you consider that one of these tools might say alter your path by 10 degrees and perhaps another by a further 10, you are now 20 degrees away from where you were originally heading. Perhaps, this place is no different to where you were but it could be. There’s that hope. I often think that making these seemingly small changes can make quite significant difference over time.

I must admit that while this book is a new to me, it did spend 97 weeks on The New York Times bestsellers list so obviously thousands, maybe even millions have beaten me to it and that could well include you.

Have you read it? In which case, I would love to hear your thoughts and how it might have impacted on you.

xx Rowena

Sources

1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/experts/howard-c-cutler-md

2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/howard-c-cutler-md/learning-the-art-of-happi_b_374134.html?ir=Australia

3. His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler: “The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living”, Hachette Australia, 2003.

Happiness: The Proust Questionnaire.

The Proust Questionnaire, starts off with a serious bang: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It was quite ironic that I was thinking about happiness when things on the home front were anything but.

As I sat down at my computer tackling the question, there was an incredible thunder storm outside and the rain was bucketing down in huge cascading dumps with something of the force of an AK-47. Our roof had been damaged in the big storm back in April and it sprang another leak right above the printer while Geoff was out for dinner. This forced yours truly of “Break-it” not “fix-it” fame, to come to the rescue setting up buckets and towels… all while researching happiness!

Photo: Geoff Newton.

Photo: Geoff Newton.

By the way, did I mention the thunder strikes?!! It was wild out there.

It wasn’t much better inside either.

I’m not one to whinge or complain and I usually tolerate a fair amount of medical crap before I happen to mention: “I am not feeling well” or “the kids are sick”. This is usually code for: “we’re on standby for an ambulance”.

So, storm outside, we’ve been battling nasty coughs and colds inside and the kids have been home from school. These things happen in Winter but my son has asthma and I have Institial Lung Disease, so for us anything more than a common cold starts to press alarm bells. We have coughs that would clear train carriages and Mister’s nickname is now “foghorn”. He gets this cough most Winters and I remember standing over his cot as a tot and freaking out, not knowing when to intervene and take him to hospital. Our local hospital is in Gosford. Going to hospital is therefore known locally as “going to Gosford”, a phrase which chills most parents as they remember long sleepless nights in casualty and usually nothing much to report. That said, Miss was admitted with a UTI when she was 8 months old and we both spent a week in Gosford. Definitely NOT my idea of a holiday.

Meanwhile, I somehow managed to get the dog off to the vet for his shots. Bilbo is almost 9 years old and as the vet kept unkindly reminding him, he’s “an old man”. He might be old but he certainly hadn’t forgotten the vet’s. I don’t know whether it was the smell or what but he knew. After all, he’s not an idiot and definitely knew he wasn’t going for his morning run at the beach!!

Bilbo with his ball. Actually, that's another dog's ball. Humph! Just call him obsessed!

Bilbo with his ball. Actually, that’s another dog’s ball. Humph! Just call him obsessed!

When you see Bilbo running along the beach chasing the ball, he looks perfectly fit and I hang onto that. Once a large dog starts hitting 9 years of age, however, you can’t help asking: “How long is that ball of string? How long does he have left?” Not being millionaires and having the kids, we have to be pretty pragmatic about vet bills. Our bank account can’t cope with unknown lengths of string. It’s finite.

So, Bilbo has lost a fair amount of weight since Lady arrived, which we hope is just the added exercise and possibly even the desire to impress his new friend. But, at the same time, when your dog has always been portly, you do wonder whether such weight loss is indeed healthy. He’s also had trouble with fleas since Lady arrived and has terrible dermatitis. It’s been Winter so I haven’t been keen to wash him a lot so it’s persisted. I have applied a bit of cortisone cream but it hasn’t really helped. There is also a lump on his head which could be nothing but might be something and needs checking out.

The skin problems are quickly attributed to fleas and a secondary infection. While fleas might sound like an easy fix, we’ve been working on them ever since Lady arrived almost a year ago and I don’t know what strain these blighters are but they’d definitely survive a nuclear blast!

Fleas definitely don’t spell happiness!

The vet tells me that Bilbo needs to be washed in Malaseb a couple of times a week. I hope Bilbo heard that because he hates baths and despite being a “good dog”, when he was last bathed, he chewed right through the lead and was pretty aggro jumping and clawing at me, which is very out of character.

Somehow he needs to understand that these baths are “for his own good”.

Perhaps, this is his way of asking to go to the dog salon. However, being a true-blue Australia sheepdog, the garden hose will do. After all, if the crazy mutt can stand outside in the rain, surely he can put up with the hose?!! Besides, while he might not like the hose, the hair dryer is right up there on his list of hates next to the vacuum cleaner and the postman.

There I was at the vet’s processing all these dog issues with a very heavy cold, two sick kids and a dog who wanted to go home. Oh yes, I wanted to be in bed too!

After half an hour’s torture, Bilbo was finally allowed out after two jabs and two needle biopsies into his lump. The vet was encouraging but after a look under the microscope, thought she needed to check for mast cells. These mean TROUBLE!

So, by the time we left the vet’s and I’d paid the bill, I was feeling worse than the dog!

Naturally, this is hardly a picture of happiness.

So, after dealing with all of this, I am looking at the Proust questionnaire, considering: “What is your idea of perfect happiness?”

Right now, I’m very tempted to say no leaks in the roof, no coughs and colds in the house and a ray of sunshine.

Perhaps, even a chocolate Tim Tam could enter the equation. Or, even something stronger…like the entire packet!

This is an exceptionally rare packet of Tim Tams. The tray isn't empty!!

This is an exceptionally rare packet of Tim Tams. The tray isn’t empty!!

However, I know this question is seeking a much deeper, philosophical response. Something clawed out from the very depths of my soul and that isn’t an easy question to answer. As much as Charles Schulz wrote: “Happiness is a warm puppy”, happiness is much more complex.

A simplistic interpretation...or is it?

A simplistic interpretation…or is it?

Or is it?

It was time to turn to the great poets and philosophers lining my shelves and do a Google search.

Before I could possibly identify what perfect happiness was for me, I needed to do some research.

The DNA of happiness is up next.

So much for a quick romp through the Proust Questionnaire. It looks like we’re in for quite a journey.
xx Rowena

In Pursuit of Character: The Proust Questionnaire

Although I’ve spent many years trying to refine and improve my own character, attempting of course, to become more virtuous, this journey is more about the pursuit of character development. How to develop complex and meaningful characters in our writing.

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.
Helen Keller

Or, in the case of the Book Project, creating myself as a character which is authentic and yet will inevitably end up being some kind of fiction.

I'm a veteran journal writer.

I’m a veteran journal writer.

I dipped my toe into these incredibly deep waters as I wrote about myself on my train trip to Sydney, trying to view myself through the eyes of the other passengers, who are of course, complete strangers:

Me, Myself & I: Writing A Complex Character Profile https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/me-myself-i-writing-a-complex-character-profile/

This proved quite useful but was obviously very superficial and based on how I looked, my actions.

I mean, perhaps this said a lot more about me than I’d like to believe. After all, as we’re observing others, we feel quite invisible and yet we could equally be the subjects of their study. They could indeed be writing about us. Did you ever think of that?

Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.
Henry Ford

The train trip home proved more insightful, confirming indeed that I was protagonist and antagonist rolled into one, as my creative diversions made me late for my medical appointment: https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/surry-hills-to-gore-hill-sydney-a-hill-climbing-odyssey/

To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.
P. G. Wodehouse

Anyway, some time ago, I heard about the Proust Questionnaire and decided to work my way through this in the same way I worked the Blogging from A-Z April Challenge…one set topic per day and by the end of the month, I had knocked over quite a lot of writing. I was rather surprised…and impressed. If you had asked me to write that many words in a month, I would’ve balked. Of course, all those words came at a price and I was viewed as something of a ghost on the home front that month but I was thrilled to pull it off. After all, it showed me that I was truly capable of writing longer works (and indeed completing the book project if only I could get started!).

Writing to a set topic everyday was quite a change for me. After all, I have unwittingly always been a “panster”, not a planner when I write. I’d never heard much about terms like “protagonist”, “antagonist”. I just had my thesaurus. Besides, if you are a good story teller, these things are what makes a good story, whether you give them formal titles or not.

BUT…

While all this creative spontaneity might work for a shorter work, I am thinking that more planning and structure is required to pull of the Book Project. Much of the book concerns what happened but I am wanting to fully develop the text by having fully developed characters and a strong sense of place as well. These have turned out to be much more complex than I thought because how I see myself is no doubt quite different to how others see me. Moreover, each different observer, has their own viewpoint and perspective. While it is very tempting at this point to say it’s all just too hard and to just create a fiction, I am going to persevere.

writer at work...Perisher 2012.

writer at work…Perisher 2012.

Indeed, it has become something of a challenge.

After all, anybody can make up a character. It’s quite another thing to capture what is in a way that strangers can fully understand. Strangers who, by the way, live all around the world and might not quite appreciate some Australianisms.

“Dreams are the touchstones of our characters.”
― Henry David Thoreau

In order to pursue character development further, I have decided to turn to the Proust Questionnaire like so many other writers have done before me. Author Marcel Proust didn’t actually invent this questionnaire. Rather, such questionnaires were popular in the day and his friend Antoinette asked him this list of questions. It was a way of getting to know your friends and your self better, which translates well into developing the back story for your characters across a range of creative pursuits such as writing, painting acting.

Here’s the list as it appeared at The Writing Practice: http://thewritepractice.com/proust-questionnaire/:

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
What is your greatest fear?
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Which living person do you most admire?
What is your greatest extravagance?
What is your current state of mind?
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Which living person do you most despise?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
When and where were you happiest?
Which talent would you most like to have?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
Where would you most like to live?
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
What do you most value in your friends?
Who are your favorite writers?
Who is your hero of fiction?
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Who are your heroes in real life?
What are your favorite names?
What is it that you most dislike?
What is your greatest regret?
How would you like to die?
What is your motto?

There are 35 questions, which makes it roughly one question every day for just over a month. It might take me a few days to tackle the more challenging questions, while on other days, I might make it through a few. While I do want to get through this in a disciplined and focused manner, I don’t want to rush it and gloss over the weightier issues just to adhere to a schedule. I am doing this to learn, create, extend and understand myself better, which could well benefit from a better focus on the clock but won’t be governed by it…if that makes sense.

My shadow in Surry Hills

My shadow in Surry Hills

I now invite you to join me on this journey either writing about yourself as a character or to answer the questions through the eyes of a character you are working on. Feel free to respond in the comments section or to write your own posts, which can be linked through in the comments as well.

So, Who are you? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WseRJMQf1U

This is going to be a very intriguing and challenging journey.

xx Rowena

PS I recommend you read this post by Ula at Broccoli Addict: 5 Questions Before You Write Your First Draft https://broccoliaddict.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/5-questions-before-you-write-the-first-draft/

Me, Myself & I….Writing A Complex Character Profile.

The train is quietly humming over the tracks heading for Sydney’s Central Railway. It’s a long, slow journey without any sense of speed or rush but I’ve come prepared with my journal, writing plans and a water bottle…all but a picnic lunch.

train

These trains are usually packed, even out of peak hour but today I’m in luck. Bodies are spread out throughout the carriage, mostly slumped forward like inert sacks of potatoes. So, after settling in next to the window, I spread my stuff out across two seats and finally relax. Phew! I’m so thrilled not to be all squished up with a bunch of strangers inside a cramped sardine tin. There’s nothing worse than having your nose shoved in a stranger’s armpit…even in Winter.

I relax and yet I’m about to start work.

Somehow, I’ve got to start working on the Book Project. After all, it’s Monday and summoning up the threads of long-lost perseverance, determination and what I mistook for an iron-will, I’ve got to get started.

Unfortunately, this trip is challenging my best intentions. Instead of sitting down at my desk promptly at 10.00 AM and getting into that work routine, I’m off to Sydney for a medical appointment, detouring ever so slightly via Surry Hills. That’s where I had the most divine Coconut Chai Latte a few months ago and I also need to get my dose of urban funk.

While writing on the move wasn’t part of the plan, I remind myself that writing is like breastfeeding. You can do it anywhere, anytime. No need to write at the same place every day, being rigid and inflexible. You just need to get on with the job and before you know it, you can write anywhere.

Well, of course, I have no trouble writing anywhere about anything. My trouble is sticking to the Book Project and getting that done and dusted. Something tells me this will require strict, hardcore discipline, not bucket loads of creativity and that’s why the whole project’s become stonkered.

That’s why I’m trying to enforce a pretty rigid routine. Laissez-faire clearly isn’t producing results. Well, at least not a book.

So my task for today, as I pull out yet another fancy notebook, is to write a character profile. This will be for the protagonist, who I also suspect is the antagonist…me. I am working on a motivational memoir about overcoming trauma and setbacks and instead of just writing about what happened, I really want to develop this book into a piece of literature. Have well-developed characterisation as well as a strong sense of place. After all, I am not just a survivor telling their story. I am a writer.

While writing about yourself might sound egotistical and self-absorbed, it is actually a lot more challenging than I’d thought. I can’t just make myself up like a fictional character. I need to be true to life and not necessarily how I perceive myself but how others perceive me, which could potentially be very different to how I see myself.

So, who am I through someone else’s eyes? Of course, this varies from person to person, forming a complex kaleidoscope, which makes me think I am about to become a work of fiction anyway.

That there is, indeed, no “me” etched in stone.

Yet, I’m still not sure.

I pull out the character questionnaire. The one I’m using today comes out of a writing book for kids but I thought I might actually get further with Simple Simon that the more complex ones I’ve tried before. Keep it Simple Stupid (the KISS formula).
This feels so strange. As much as I might observe others, I’d never really considered that others are watching me and perhaps scrutinizing me in the same way. That they may also be trying to work out what makes me tick. Rather, I’ve felt quite invisible watching them.

Looking around the carriage, I start to wonder whether I could somehow describe myself using contrast. Who and what I’m not? What makes me stand out from the crowd?

The first clue is that I’m traveling in the “Quiet Carriage”, which is one way of sorting the chaff from the oats. This is where the readers, sleepers and lone travelers gravitate. That said, every now and then you get people who can’t read signs or at peak hour, grandparents returning bickering children home and simply need a seat (and a stiff drink as well I’ve heard!)

The next thing I’d notice is that I’m writing in a notebook at a furious pace. The notebook is covered in brightly-coloured butterflies, so you could possibly class me as a dreamer. You might also wonder why anyone these days would still be using pen and paper. While it is quite usual for me to write by hand in a paper notebook when I travel, I’m sure that for many, pen and paper are as obsolete as a quill and ink.

My shirt might also catch your eye. Distinctly vintage and rather loud, it’s covered in very large, incredibly bright orange, purple and pink flowers which could possibly be wild poppies. While this might all sound cringingly loud and excessively flower power, the volume is somewhat muted by the conservative, navy-blue background. The shirt is almost sane. I don’t think anyone else sitting in our carriage is wearing any colour whatsover…just dull greys, browns and black. That said, there is a girl sporting a large silver bow on her head a few seats away.

Then, by my side, there’s a bulky backpack and if your eyesight is half-decent, you’d notice “Nikon” printed on the front…a serious camera bag. Evidently, I’m not someone who simply takes photos with their phone on a daytrip to the city. I’m clearly a photography nut.

Artistic.

If they’re really paying attention, they might notice a ring on my finger. Married.

Then there’s the walking stick sitting beside me, which keeps falling over. I strike you as being rather young to have a walking stick and you remember how your Gran used to have one, then two and then forgot who she was and disappeared somewhere very deep inside behind those ice-blue eyes.

In between frenetic bursts of writing, you might notice that I’m staring out the window or looking around the carriage as though I’ve lost something or am looking for someone. Then, you remember about writers going on field trips and how they eavesdrop and observe. Soak up random strangers for material. Suddenly, you feel vulnerable and possibly even violated, suspecting you’re about to be cast as the axe-wielding maniac in my upcoming novel. You could discretely change seats to peer over my shoulder just to make sure but then you remember that you need to send a text. Make arrangements for tonight. Oh and did you put out the cat? You text home. Thank God for that phone! You don’t have to remember anything anymore!

Meanwhile, my attention strays out the window and I’m mesmerised by the passing trees. I feel quite dwarfed by the towering gum trees beside the track. They are soaring giants and I am but an ant.The wattle trees are just starting to flower and the dull green vegetation is illuminated with a stunning golden glow as the train speeds past.

Wattle trees morph into graffiti
sprayed on urban walls.
Red-bricked, ageing units
shuffled with Victorian terraces,
like a deck of cards.
A kaleidoscope of roofs
spread out across the urban plain
rusty, corrugated iron sheeting
dispersed with terracotta.
I wonder if anyone’s home?
Doubt it.
This gang of stragglers
is now millionaire’s row
double-income,
daycare kids.
Only the dog gets to call
the place home.

Once it was me.
Or, was it?

Further into Sydney, the trees are superseded by concrete walls sprayed with graffiti…something which has never made any sense to me… just meaningless tags, ugly scars on the landscape. There aren’t even any words or pictures…anything which could convey a message to anyone beyond their tribe.

Yet, I wonder if your words means as much to them as mine do to me.

Whoops! There I go interjecting my voice into the story when I am supposed to be the observed, not the observer. I am no longer narrating my own story but who can ever truly escape their own shoes, no matter how hard we try to place ourselves inside someone else’s skin?

We are who we are.

On that note, I should confess that anybody who knows me would say that I never shut up but it takes a lot of silence to write and I write a lot. Moreover, here I am sitting in the Quiet Carriage. That immediately divides me from the talkers.

While I haven’t polished off this character profile, I’ve come to a deeper appreciation of the complexity of human characterization. That we’re all kaleidoscopes and not so easily boxed.

However, that doesn’t let me off the hook. I still need to get my character profile done but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

The train is now rapidly approaching Central and we are on just one of many tracks. Yes, we’re well and truly in the Big Smoke now! I start packing up my stuff, getting ready to leave.

I can’t wait to get into Surry Hills and lose myself in the coconut frothiness of the magical Coconut Chair Latte and I love being surrounded by all those quirky Victorian terrace houses while also enjoying the modern.

The Clock Tower at Central Station, viewed from Surry Hills.

The Clock Tower at Central Station, viewed from Surry Hills.

Finally, the train stops. “We are now at Central. This train will terminate. Please change here. All out. All change.”

All out…all change….indeed!

I could have used that line on the kids this morning. They were absolutely refusing to budge. Yes, they definitely needed to get out of the house and have a dramatic change of attitude.

That said. Monday morning is what it is and I have no idea why new projects always start on a Monday. They’re seemingly doomed before you’ve even downed your second coffee.

I guess that’s why I don’t like Mondays!

xx Rowena