Thoughts on Editing

I’ve spent the better part of the weekend working my way through Book 3. Frontier Resistance (Book 2 in the Frontier Series) is on its way towards publication, and after completing the first draft of Book 3, I put it away for a rest.

I picked it up again this weekend to re-read and begin the editing process to get it ready for submission. It’s been quite fun to read it after a break. This story ends the trilogy, so it’s been a challenge to write.

I’m very conscious of the issues with trilogies. So often I’ve read a great first book, a good second book, and then an ‘only OK’ third book. I’ve had to remind myself not to be self indulgent, try and make sure the ‘reveal’ is actually a reveal and not a foregone conclusion, and wrap things up nicely.

So far, I’m fairly happy with the first half, but I’m about to find out if the second half works as well as I want it to. That’s the bit that’s been scaring me – have I got it right? It’s a weird thing to try and finalise the story. I’ve always known how it ends, but the getting there has always been a bit of a mystery.

That’s probably a facet of the way I write. I’m a sequential writer, who knows how it starts, and how it finishes, and a bit about how stuff happens in the middle. Just not all of it. And then there’s the moment that you realise that what you thought was going to happen isn’t. And you have to rethink a whole pile of stuff.

Anyway, this is a bit off topic, so back to business. I’ve found a few bits of writing that I’m really proud of, and other bits that may require a bit more tweaking. At the moment I’m working chapter by chapter, and incorporating each new chapter into one document. During the first draft, I save each chapter individually. It’s only when I get to this point that I stick all of them together, and after I’ve finished reading them, I’ll put them away for another couple of weeks and then read the whole thing through.

I always find it amazing just how many little teeny weeny errors creep in. Little formatting or spelling errors, misplaced words, a thread that doesn’t quite hold together, or just a piece of writing that doesn’t quite work.

It’s a process that takes time and effort, and one that is really important – just as important as the initial writing. It’s the polishing that turns a fairly decent story into a better one.

I’m reminded of how many times school teachers tell kids that the first draft isn’t the final one. Now I understand it. Then, I thought it was just an annoying waste of time. Now I wish I was better at it!

Anyway, my fingers are falling off, and it’s time to let the brain have a rest.


Tomorrow

Tomorrow

That stupid song from Annie.
It’s been going around and around inside my head since my writers group decided on the theme. I liked the idea of ‘Tomorrow’ when we talked about it last month. Initial thoughts of spaceships and super-cool technology flashed past my eyes when I first heard it, because, hey, I write Science Fiction!

And then the banal music began its march of sparkly colours through my mind and covered the images with mud. Aargh!

So, instead of five hundred words of scintillating prose that tell a world breaking story of future adventure and hope for the future, you get to hear me rant through the fixed smiles and bared teeth of that song from ‘Annie.’
As I write, all I can hear with my mind’s ear is ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow, you’re only a day away…” All I see, is a small, redheaded child wandering around on stage with a fluffy doggy, eyes fixed on her dreams (or at least her pseudo-dreams), pulling emotion from the theatre going crowd with her voice, so that they drip tears into their handkerchiefs.

And then my mind is drawn away from the magic of theatre, with its ability to place ideas and hopes in front of audiences sitting happily in their well-fed chairs, while feeling more emotion for fiction than they do reading the morning news.

The morning news. That harsh reality that tells not of Tomorrow, but of Yesterday and Today. That tells of the hopes and dreams and sorrows of many. That should move us to think, to help and to hope with our fellow humans, yet so often passes us by. That news, that speaks of real people, whose lives and despairs should move us to tears, but so often doesn’t. That news that tells us of so many whose ‘Tomorrows’ have been cut from the future, or whose ‘Tomorrows’ will be unending days of fear and persecution.

‘Tomorrow.’ Only a day away, yet so, so far away for so many. Yet, despite it’s banality, ‘The Annie Song’ has a context of hope. And that’s why it moves the audience, why it elicits real emotion.

“How can we turn the morning news to a context of hope?” You might ask.
“Get off your bottom,” I might reply. Choose to stand up and make a difference. Read the news, see the people, remember they’re real. Much more real than the fictional characters who’ve already moved us to tears. Let the power of their stories move us more deeply than the unreal, and work to make sure they have ‘Tomorrow.’


The Bravery of Ian Thorpe

As I write, I’m watching Ian Thorpe’s interview with Michael Parkinson. I’ve always loved to watch swimming. I swam competitively myself, not at a particularly high level, but high enough to understand what he meant when he talked about ‘having a relationship’ with the water. Our kids swam, and the swimming is the one bit of the Olympic Games that I love, and I watched his victories in the pool with great enjoyment.

For the last forty minutes, Ian Thorpe has spoken about his life as a swimmer, his relationship with the water, coming out as gay, and more importantly, how he’s been living with depression since his childhood.

The interview has been promoted heavily, with nearly all of the advertising focusing on the ‘Are You Gay Question.’

I wasn’t sure if I’d watch it, but I have, and I’ve been astonished at Ian Thorpe’s honesty, integrity, and most of all, bravery.

Mental illness is a horrible thing and an enormous struggle for so many. Depression affects not only the depressed, but all of those around them, and is often misunderstood by well meaning friends and family, which makes it even harder for the person dealing with it in their life. Ian Thorpe has spoken so frankly about his struggles, that I’m sure his story has resonated strongly with many.

Mental illness is common, but often hidden. At Continuum X, the Sci-fi convention I attended recently in Melbourne, a very brave group of people put themselves out there and allowed authors and others to question them about their sexuality, their lives and mental illnesses so that one day, we might write characters experiencing those things and get it right. I’m still astounded that they were so brave.

I’ve just watched the Australian 4*100m freestyle relay team win Olympic Gold, while reliving it through Ian’s commentary. So much elation, national pride, and joy. Well done Ian Thorpe, and best wishes for your future. Thank you for talking so frankly about your struggles with mental illness.

 

 


Ethics and the Internet

I’ve been pondering ethics today. Ethics and truth, to be precise. There’s a bit in the Bible I rather like, which says ‘let your yes be yes, and your no be no’ – it’s in a bit where Jesus is talking about oaths – or ‘swearing by something.’

I like it, because it is about ultimate integrity and honesty. In the ideal world someone’s word would be completely trustworthy, and there would be no misinformation, complete understanding and no misinterpretation.

Sounds great.

Sometimes I engage in discussions on Facebook about things that I feel passionately about. Today I did so, and had possibly the most bizarre discussion I’ve ever participated in. It ended up with one of the other participants suggesting that I needed to be exorcised. Not usually how I finish a discussion.

It led me to ponder on the internet and the wonderful place that it can be, as well as the dangerous place it can be, when attempting to source reliable information.

In my part-time job as a physio, I often have to explain to people that their self diagnosis, aided by ‘Dr Google’ is wrong, and then I have to explain why. I’m also having to spend more and more time explaining that the weird treatment they think they’d like isn’t appropriate, and why the explanation that they’ve read is anatomically and physically impossible.

There’s a fine line between plausible sounding information and reality. The biggest difficulty in explaining stuff is the limitations placed on people by a science deficient education. Basic chemistry and biology seem to have passed many people by. It’s a problem, and makes them an easy target for expensive yet ineffective treatments for improbable injuries or illnesses.

On the internet, anyone can say anything, without any need to back it up with evidence. That’s when yeses and nos can mean anything, and the vulnerable preyed upon. Add to that, the preponderance of trolls who spam threads and abuse people they don’t agree with.

It’s not an ideal world, but we can choose to communicate with integrity and and honesty. We can choose to source our information carefully, and look for the evidence and we can choose politeness over snarky trolling.

I think I’ll keep crusading, occasionally embarrassing our kids as I do it, but hopefully working on making sure my yeses and nos are clearly spoken.


When You Finish Your First Draft (And How Being Too Close To Your Own Work Can Be A Problem)

Today I finished the bulk of my first draft of my third book. What I mean by ‘the bulk’ is that I finished the meat of the story. I still have a couple of things to write, some loose ends to wrap up, and I’m still pondering whether I want to completely close the door on Frontier, or leave a few things open in case I want to revisit that world again. 

It’s a funny feeling. For such a long time I’ve been thinking about Shanna and her friends, and her adventures with her starcats on Frontier. I’ve been going to sleep most nights working on just how to make the ending I’ve had in mind for years, come about successfully. Have I succeeded? Well, when I finish a draft, I put it to bed for a week or two, and do something else, and then read it again. That’s when I usually realise whether it’s good or not, or whether I need to rework a few sections. Or even some major plot points.

I have quite a few other projects I’d like to write, so this is probably the time to really give them some serious thought, while I let the first draft percolate a bit. I often find that when I get back to it, it’s with a fresh set of eyes. Eyes that see what I actually wrote, rather than what I thought I wrote.

It’s a problem for writers – thinking we wrote something, reading what we thought we wrote because that’s what our brains do, and then realising that we didn’t write what we thought we wrote. That’s where fresh eyes, and eyes that don’t belong to us are so important. I’m fortunate enough to have a daughter who reads my stuff. She tells me if my writing sucks (“Mum, that bit really sucked!”), if I’ve changed the name of a character (“Mum, do you realise how many times you changed that name? And the sex of the character?”), or if the plot just didn’t make sense or didn’t move the story along. (“Mum, that bit was really boring.”) As you can tell, she’s not shy about telling me. 

And that’s what writers need. They need critical eyes, and people who aren’t afraid to tell them the truth about their writing. It’s really easy to have friends read your work and tell you how wonderful it is, but it’s not always useful, because we all need to grow thick skins, be willing to realise that our work is less than perfect, and learn from our mistakes.

Anyway, tonight I’m going to shut down Pages (I write on a MacBook Pro), pull out my eReader, and alternate between reading, watching Masterchef, and attempting to compose pithy tweets while I watch, and listening to the dogs and cats snore while the wind howls coldly around the outside of the house.


Pondering Ethics In The Real World, And The Worlds Of Our Imaginations.

I’ve been watching a few Goodreads threads this week, and also a few threads on Facebook in a couple of group I participate in. They’ve been about a variety of things, but mostly about sexism and exploitation.

I was struck by the variety of reasoning used by the various posters.

There were discussions about historical accuracy in the treatment of women in literature and visual media, versus the gratuitous exposure of flesh in rape scenes, particularly in visual media like television and film, and the points were made with passion on both sides of the argument. That particular discussion is quite fascinating and still ongoing. There were comments about choosing to read/watch certain things because of the explicit content, and the way that it’s portrayed in the media of choice, and whether sometimes titillation tips the scales in popular culture, and then whether that’s good or bad.

Other threads have covered discussions about the issues around objectification of women and girls. Again there’s been a huge variety of responses.

Some have argued that all women playing sport are strong and empowered, no matter whether they’re not allowed to wear the same protective clothing as men, have ‘accidental nudity’ clauses in their contracts and no medical cover. Others have vowed to keep working to bring down organisations that have such (in my opinion) exploitative views of women.

I was pondering the role of Speculative Fiction writers in being part of the change around the stereotypical hero/heroine divide, and particularly the portrayal of women and minorities. It was a subject that was covered at some length at Continuum in Melbourne. If speculative fiction writers can’t or won’t choose to change stereotypical tropes, then who will?

This week we had our writers group meeting. Each month we write 500 words on a topic, and then read it to each other. It can be any type/genre/style or form of writing. This month’s topic was ‘Natural Disasters.’ As I was thinking about the topic, I realised that I had a choice to make. I’d already decided that I’d write fiction, so the choice was about who would be my main protagonist. We’d talked about female stereotypes at Continuum (I was on that panel!) and I’d had a few ideas rumbling around my mind for the last couple of weeks. 

I sat down with my laptop, and then I decided. My protagonist wasn’t going to be particularly young, she was going to be female, chunky, and wearing the wrong bra for the disaster about to descend upon her. So I wrote, and now I have a great desire to continue her story. Hopefully one day, I’ll find out whether she strikes a chord with my readers. In the meantime, I’ve just about finished the first draft of Book 3 in the Frontier series which is taking up quite a bit of my time.

We’ll see what happens when I write the rest of her story. 

 


Barbara Jefferis Award Nomination

Barbara Jefferis was an Australian Writer who was the first female president of the Australian Society of Authors. The Australian Society of Authors describes her thus: ‘Barbara Jefferis was a feminist, a founding member of the Australian Society of Authors, its first woman President and, in the words of Thomas Keneally, ‘a rare being amongst authors, being both a fine writer but also organisationally gifted. She was a professional and internationally published writer long before most of us dreamed of such things.’ You can read more about her in her obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Last Monday, I received an email from Andrew at Hague Publishing, telling me that Frontier Incursion was to be nominated for the Barbara Jefferis Award. For a moment, I was absolutely stunned, and then I felt honoured, emotional, and humbled, because ‘The Barbara Jefferis Award is offered for ‘the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society’.

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I have a bit of a feminist bent. Actually, maybe more than just a bit. In a world that increasingly hyper-sexualises women and girls, and has a tendency to reduce them to the sum of their body parts, I feel the need to persistently campaign for the rights of women.

Why, you might ask? Surely women have achieved equality? Well, in some ways, yes we have, but in others, not so much.

Let me explain. If you’re a woman, you’re expected to look a certain way, behave a certain way, and wear certain clothes. Some of you reading this might be thinking “No you don’t, no you don’t, and you can wear what you want. That’s what ‘women’s lib’ was all about.” And to a certain extent, you’re right. It was. But reality has intervened, and somewhere along the way, something’s gone wrong.

When I’m not writing, I’m a physiotherapist. I work part time. Nearly every week, I meet several new, injured young women and girls. More and more often, in the course of their recovery from injury, I hear “Do you think I’m getting fat because I can’t do my normal exercise?” and “Do I still look alright?” Less and less am I hearing “When can I get back to the game?” It’s all buried under a concern about body shape and image. And these are usually sporting, fit, active young women – the ones you’d think would be most confident about their body image.

I’m in my late forties, and I’ve watched the numbers of women and girls playing sport past thirteen or fourteen years of age decline. I’ve watched those who continue to play, become obsessed not with their sport, but their bodies. I’ve seen less girls look forward to physical activity because of the clothing they’re required to wear, and I’ve seen the rise of ‘sports’ such as the Lingerie Football League be touted as ‘real sport’ but deny their competitors pay, protective clothing and injury protection, while serving up a visual spectacle full of boobs and butts and ‘accidental nudity.’ 

In television and media, there are few women presenters over a certain age, and the ones we do see, confirm to a narrow physical stereotype, and are usually caucasian. Media speculates about their weight, their clothes and their hair, and if they buck the mould, they’re thrown on the scrap heap. Singers and actors who are female, face endless scrutiny and disparaging remarks about their appearance, and are valued more for how they look rather than whether they’re actually good at their job. Even our previous Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, faced daily comments about her looks, rather than her policies. 

This a post-feminist world. A world where the law says that we’re all equal, but a world where societal values have shifted to another extreme – that of the unspoken ‘female stereotype that all shall adhere to because if you don’t and your appearance doesn’t fit, then you’re not valuable.’ It’s not enshrined in law, but it is enshrined in social media and pop culture. This is the world that my female friends, my daughter, my mother, and my nieces, cousins and aunts inhabit. This is theoretically the world where women are equal. And they are, except when they’re not.

On Goodreads, I subscribe to a couple of threads on sexism. One looks at the lack of female authors reviewed in major publications, discusses how some female authors go by their initials rather than their names to encourage male readers to actually pick their books up, and looks at whether there are conscious or unconscious biases at play within the publishing industry. What century is this?

When I wrote Frontier Incursion, I deliberately wrote an egalitarian society – one where gender and race don’t matter, and for the most part, aren’t even mentioned. And then very deliberately again, I wrote my main protagonist as a young woman. She isn’t defined by her gender, it’s just part of her. It doesn’t hold her back or prevent her from doing anything at all. In fact, all that matters in terms of her career choices, are her competencies. I also chose not to add a romantic element to the story in the initial book, because she is not a girl who will ever be defined by her need for a relationship. Relationships do happen in real life, but usually they’re not instantaneous, and usually they’re about two people, not one. 

So, as i finish this long winded hobby horse of a piece of writing and hop down off my soapbox, let me say that if one girl, just one, reads my work and says to herself “I’m a girl, so what? I’m valuable because I’m who I am. Not because of my looks, or my gender, but because I’m skilled, I work hard, and I can do the job,” then I’m happy, award or no award. 

And many thanks to Andrew, at Hague Publishing, who saw what I wrote into Frontier Incursion, and thought it was worth a nomination. It means a lot to me.


Continuum

Well, I’m back. From four days of discussions, panels, cover art pose offs, and lots of fun. Continuum was my very first Science Fiction Convention, and I’m happy to say it most definitely won’t be my last.

I participated in three panels as a panellist, did a reading of Frontier Incursion, and ran a market stall on behalf of both myself and Hague Publishing.

There were so many lovely people at Continuum. It was a friendly, inclusive, and thoughtful bunch of Sci-fi and Fantasy fans. As a long time fan of all things Speculative Fiction who’s lived in rural and remote Australia for most of her life, I’ve never actually been in a really large group of people who get that discussing whether Disney might ruin StarWars (Probably not, because Jar-Jar), is completely normal, who wear Tardis T-shirts, and who have advice that is easily remembered as 5: 2: 1 – At least five hours of sleep, two meals, and 1 shower per day. I confess to almost not making the two (meals) on Sunday, despite giggling about it in the session where it was explained… 

The panellists were thoughtful, informed and educated about the topics that they discussed, and the audiences were passionate and happy to contribute their thoughts in respectful and entertaining ways.

Panels didn’t shy away from the difficult topics – they embraced them. I loved that. I loved that the scientists and science communicators were so passionate about their topics. I burst into spontaneous applause when one of them ‘had a small rant moment’ about the completely debunked autism/vaccination thing as it’s one of my hobby horses, and I was actually tempted to stand up and applaud. (Wish I had.)

I was totally blown away by the ‘We Do This Stuff – gets personal’ panellists, who spoke about extraordinarily difficult things with such grace and honesty. (Thank you.) 

I can honestly say that I met some new friends, thought about a few things I hadn’t considered, and am now inspired to write a story with a particular type of heroine. It’s been bumping around inside my head all day, so I think I’ll sign off and jot a few notes. Maybe I’ll start with a short story. Or not. We’ll see. 

I’ll leave this brief piece now, hoping that it’s vaguely comprehensible, because I didn’t get home until 2am this morning, and then I was up at 7, and I don’t do well on limited sleep anymore. Below, you’ll find some of the cover picture pose off images. When you’re laughing at them, remember that they were all women’s bodies in the images, and that at least one of them required four assistants to place the contestant’s body in a vaguely correct position, and that some of them were anatomically impossible (well, actually lots of them), and they certainly weren’t going to be very useful as a starting point for a fight.

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Continuum X – Next Weekend’s activity!

Next weekend I’ll be at my very first Science Fiction Convention – Continuum X: Carnival of Lost Souls, in Melbourne. Although I’ve always loved reading Science Fiction, and now writing it, I’ve never been to one, as we’ve always lived in remote, and now rural, Australia.

It’s really interesting when you tell people that you’re going to a Science Fiction Convention. The first thing they do is look at you in a funny way, and then say something like: “Oh..and you’re, you know…is that…are you going to take any pictures?” Which really means: “So, are you going to dress up? And if you do, what kind of weird, kooky costume are you going to wear? I didn’t know you were like THAT.” Most peoples’ image of a Sci-fi convention is the costumes we see on the news, and not the panels, discussions, readings or other stuff that actually goes on.

This is what Continuum’s website actually says: ‘

Am I supposed to dress up? do I have to dress up?

There is a perception that everyone who attends dresses up in outlandish outfits for the entire convention; the truth is, only a small number of people walk around the convention in costumes. It used to be more common twenty years ago, but even then it was only about 5% of the attendees. So long as you have shoes (for health and safety reasons) and clothes (because we don’t want to see your dangly bits) that’s all the dressing up you have to do. But if you have a costume and feel like wearing it, feel free.’

So, for the record, no, I’m not going to be dressing up, and I will be wearing normal clothes that cover all the appropriate bits. (Family and friends, you will be able to look me in the eye afterwards!)

I’ll be part of several panels next weekend, and am moderating one. I’ll be moderating a panel on ‘Insterspecies Interactions’ on Sunday afternoon, participating in one on ‘YA – All Grown Up’ on Sunday morning, and another on ‘Triptych: Gender Stereotypes in Speculative Fiction’ on Monday afternoon. I’ll also be doing a reading on Sunday afternoon, (from Frontier Incursion, and a teaser from Frontier Resistance) and manning a market stall on behalf of both myself and Hague Publishing

I’m really looking forward to catching a pile of other panels, meeting my fellow panellists, (with whom I’ve only conversed via email) and seeing just how Continuum runs. Next week I hope to do a Continuum post, wrapping up how things went and what it was like, and if I have any good photos, then I’ll post them too! 

 


Connecting With Your Characters (Or why some authors cry when they kill off their darlings.)

Today I killed someone. Not a real person, I hasten to add, if you’re thinking I’m some kind of closet murderer, but one of the characters that I hold dear. And as I wrote, I cried. 

As I finished writing, and closed the chapter on this person’s life – a life lived only in my imagination – I pondered on why the tears fell at the demise of someone who never existed anywhere except on the printed page. It was a sobering thought. 

I’m a somewhat emotional person, and am what I’d refer to as a ‘sympathetic crier’ – if you’re crying over something sad, it’s quite possible that I’ll join you. I’m well known in my family for crying during sad parts of movies, sad parts of books, and when my kids were little, sad commercials on TV featuring undernourished children using rocks as pillows to go to sleep. (But it did inspire us to sponsor a child, so perhaps it was a good thing.)

For a while I thought that perhaps I’m a bit weird, but then I decided that I’m probably not. (Let me know if you think otherwise!) Grief is a part of life. We all experience it in different ways, and we can’t escape it. It’s an inevitable part of the human condition. 

When we write, we draw on our life experiences, be it consciously or unconsciously. When someone writes the death of a beloved character, they have to write emotion onto the page, and this is apparently the way I do it. I have to experience the loss in order to write it.

As an adult, I’ve lived long enough to experience a number of significant losses in my life and I’ve also experienced great joys to counter them. When I write, giggling to myself, or dripping tears on the keyboard, I feel as if I’m connecting with my characters almost as if some of them are old friends who’ve been part of my life for years. In a way they have, as they’ve percolated their lives through my imagination, as they’ve grown and developed, and then poured themselves out through my fingertips and onto the electronic page in front of me.

It’s a funny thing, and I hope I’ve succeeded. Time and readers will tell. 

 


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