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Even in a little thing

3rd April, 2016. 3:21 pm.

I'm here and I've a lot to catch up with. I had a fabulous National SF convention and meant to report on it, but came back to the release of my History and Fiction book and to bushfire smoke and to teaching and the world suddenly contracted. So there is much good news and just a bit of bad news.

I still have WHM posts and will put them up over the coming days, until I run out. Just this year, it will be March-April celebration.

Today I spent a few minutes discovering some very interstate things about the Misses Polack, who were much more important than I had thought, given the family chatter. I should remember that the family is still a bit uncomfortable about internal positions of spinsters. We're not unloved (by any means) but I'm not sure traditional Jewish families now what to do with us. I was all geared to tell you about them here, when I realised that there's a novel coming out son (there were delays, that's one of my bits of news) and that it would make a really nice guest blog post for anyone who wants. The first person to ask me about the Misses Polack and their luxury lifestyle will get an illustrated blogpost (I have no pictures of them, alas), and I will entirely enjoy writing it. Because they were public figures, I can find about them from Trove, which is very nice. I even have descriptions of their clothes and when they travelled. They were very much part of Miss Fisher's Melbourne until they went into receivership in 1932.

Expect me as you see me this week. I'm doing a big catch up.

Over the weekend I have the new GUFF delegate staying, so I won't be online much at all. Fortunately for me, the people he needs to meet just happens to be my friends. I anticipate next weekend being very good indeed.

Read 6 Notes -Make Notes

25th March, 2016. 9:50 am. Women's History Month - Vashti Farrer

Vashti Farrer is an Australian historical fiction writer.

There has never been a time when I haven’t been conscious of writing - as a woman, even if it has only meant having to think like a man or a little boy when my protagonist was male. Clearly, they have a different outlook on life and that needs to be reflected in their speech and behaviour. Germaine Greer may have urged us to give our sons dolls instead footballs to bring out their more sensitive side, but mine was adamant he would have preferred a football.

I first encountered an obstacle in trying to write as a woman, when I married. Before that I’d had adult short stories broadcast on the ABC and published under my maiden name / pseudonym of Vashti Farrer. Having married, however, we moved to Canberra where I approached The Canberra Times seeking to become a book reviewer. Yes, but they said, not as Farrer. It was newspaper policy apparently to pay married by-lines, so any work I’d produced in the past had to stay there, because even with an unusual Christian name, the average reader would now regard me as two different people.

Needless to say I swallowed my pride and accepted cheques addressed to Mrs.

Years later we moved back to Sydney and I contacted The Sydney Morning Herald and was again accepted as a reviewer. “I suppose you pay a married by-line?” I asked. “Whatever for?” said the editor. I explained, thinking the newspapers were co-owned, but she said, “I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous!” So I went back to being Farrer. When the Society of Women Writers NSW Inc was asked to appear before a Parliamentary Inquiry into restrictions placed on married women I gave evidence explaining what had happened to me only to find, on returning to Canberra, that things had changed. Now, the Times would allow my Farrer by-line which then caused several raised eyebrows in our former babysitting club because the gossip was that we must have divorced!

Children presented another challenge to writing. I’d foolishly thought that a career writing from home with small children would be easy. After all, I only had to wait till they were asleep. Haha! I hadn’t envisaged the days when I would finally manage to get the eldest to take a nap while I juggled breastfeeding the baby and typing up the final draft of a story with one hand. Tricky.

We couldn’t afford a nanny to allow me the luxury to write in peace and by the time I had three children and needed to undertake research I would end up taking all three to the Australian War Memorial where the library section in those days was divided into small glassed offices. This allowed me to hand the older two their colouring books and pencils and settle the toddler with his toys on the floor. It only happened a few times and luckily they seemed to sense that this was not the sort of place where you made any noise.

Deadlines were always a problem. Children have the strange habit of demanding that their needs be met first. This of course meant having to wait till they were in bed to sit up, sometimes till 2 am to finish a review or story. On one occasion my husband was away and it was 9 pm before all the bedtime stories had been read and the lights out. Then, and only then, did I sit down to write a short story I had to post to a competition the following morning. Fortunately it was all in my head, so to speak, so it flowed onto the page and I finished it at midnight. I was delighted when it came second, but couldn’t help thinking that the young man who won it, probably didn’t have to contend with the obstacles I’d had to get it written.

Motherhood, by definition, carries with it a certain amount of guilt, like a permanent shawl around the shoulders. Another time I told the kids I had to get a story in to The Canberra Times by 5 pm, (it was then 4.55). I charged into the office, thinking, “All systems go!” only to hear the 2 year old say to his siblings, “Shut up, darling, mummy busy!” and I felt terrible. No doubt I’d committed my kids to years of psychiatrists’ couches for my neglect - because of being a mother trying to write.

But all three grew up realising that writing was important to me. So when they were teenagers, and I said I had a story to finish for a competition, and if they could get their own lunch and not worry about me, I’d make it up to them by taking them out for a slap-up afternoon tea. Okay so it was bribery and I thought no more about it as I tapped away at the keyboard. Then suddenly the door of my study opened and a disembodied arm came round and deposited a mug of coffee on my desk. Then another arm, equally disembodied, came round and lowered a plate with a sandwich on it onto the desk. This was the point at which I realised that maybe they wouldn’t end up on shrinks’ couches.

Now I’ve come full circle. My kids are proud of what I’ve written, but even more so, my grandchildren are. They tell their school mates and teachers. I’ve managed to dedicate a book to all but one of them (and I’m working on that) and they are inspired to write stories of their own. They ask for tips and regularly report on plots and ideas. So, writing as a woman, may have had its problems in the past, but no longer.

Read 1 Note -Make Notes

25th March, 2016. 12:59 am. Women's History Month - Y.S. Lee

Y. S. Lee is the author of the award-winning Agency novels (Walker Books/Candlewick Press), a quartet of mysteries featuring a mixed-race girl detective in Victorian London. After earning a Ph.D. in English literature, Ying realized that her true love was gritty historical detail – something she tries to make the most of in her fiction. She lives with her family in Kingston, Ontario. Visit her at www.yslee.com or on Twitter @yinglee

“I’m stuck.”

Hello, friends. This week, I felt tired. I was easily irritated. I slept poorly, drank too much coffee, and didn’t get enough fresh air. It follows that I also didn’t write as much of my novel as I’d hoped – and not for lack of honest effort.

In the past, I’d have been angry with myself. I’d have decided that I was a slacker and an impostor, and found ways to punish myself. It would not have occurred to me that a) I don’t treat others this way, and 2) I would not tolerate this treatment from someone else.

However, in a small but encouraging sign that change is always possible, I didn’t fall for the own-worst-enemy routine. Instead, I decided to be gentle with myself. I gave myself an hour off. And when that hour was over, I went to my writing shed and happily fixed a scene that had been troubling me for 2 days. It really works, not being a jerk to oneself.

In an effort to step back and protect myself in future rough weeks, I’ve made a checklist called, “I’m stuck/tired/lethargic/don’t feel up to writing, WAAAAAH.” As its name so subtly suggests, I’m aiming to train myself to refer to this list every time I feel stuck, etc.

When I mentioned my checklist on Twitter, I got an immediate response and fell into a really interesting private conversation with another writer, which made me think that I should share my list here. It’s geared to me as a self-employed writer, of course, but I think it’s much more broadly applicable.

So, on days or in moments when I feel stuck, etc., my goal is to step back and consider: why do I feel this way? Is it a) low mood, 2) mental fatigue, 3) physical fatigue, or 4) a combination (or something else entirely)?

Then, I have a list of strategies for each type of problem.

Low mood

Focus on self-care: go for a walk, practise yoga, or make a cup of tea and drink it while looking at the garden.
Do a couple of small tasks that cost little energy and are satisfying to check off on a list (viva the bullet journal!).
Organize something small; choose something that gives positive concrete results.
Think about another aspect of my life that I could change, with satisfying results, and make a plan to take care of it.
After an period of self-care, try slipping into a writing session. Even a couple of hundred words can be a triumph.

Mental fatigue

Take a short break from work.
Focus on something concrete and personal (NOT for the children!).
Maybe do something domestic: garden, bake, tidy.
After a break, turn towards the WIP: where am I in this project? What tweaks do I need to make? Make notes towards the next writing session. Maybe slip into that writing session, or maybe not.

Physical fatigue

Rest, already!
Read (secondary sources or go over the existing WIP).
Think about an aspect of the WIP and where it’s going. Once the brain is humming, slip into a writing session.

If progress on the WIP remains elusive

Work on a secondary project (mine is currently a picture book)
Make a list of scenes, flesh out in the historical detail in the existing WIP
Read secondary sources
Figure out how to start the next writing session with a sense of momentum, inevitability – map out where I need to go

That’s my checklist-in-progress. It’s far from exhaustive, though, and I hope to build on it. What do you do, friends? How do you manage work slumps and protect yourself from your harshest critic?

Today's post first appeared on Wednesday, May 27th, 2015, at http://yslee.com/2015/05/im-stuck/ It is re-eprinted with the author's permission.

Make Notes

23rd March, 2016. 9:10 am. Women's History Month - Sue Bursztynski

Sue Bursztynski is a Melbourne author, mostly of speculative fiction. We swap stories about our not-quite-the-same-but-closeish backgrounds and meet up whenever I can get to Melbourne.

Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly - The Popular Book That Has Never Earned Back Its Advance

In 2008, I was on long service leave, enjoying a term of travelling and relaxing, when I had an email from Paul Collins, the publisher at Ford Street Publishing, a wonderful small press that does only children's and YA books. Paul's partner, Meredith Costain, had written a book called Fifty Famous Australians and Paul wanted a companion volume about fifty infamous Australians. Was I interested?

Is the Pope a Catholic? I've always loved writing non fiction for kids, loved taking on the challenge of a subject with which I was only vaguely familiar and turning my knowledge into something that would mean I'd appreciate any news I read about the subject afterwards.

This one was a particularly good challenge. I would have to choose local crooks and write about them in such a way that gore-loving kids would have a thrill without having nightmares. There would have to be a balance between serial killers and over the top humour. Among the many in the latter category were the librarian who hijacked a helicopter to help her boyfriend escape from jail and then was caught out because of an overdue library video about a daring helicopter prison escape, and the idiotic robbers who tried to rob a restaurant in the Dandenongs outside Melbourne one April Fool's Day and escaped with a bag of stale bread rolls and a wounded behind when the man accidentally shot his female partner. My Dad told me later that he'd had a chat with the restaurant manager, who said that now they were keeping bags of rolls and such at the desk in case they had any more robbers.

And the nice thing was that I had a whole term to get it going - of course, the editing would take longer, but I could handle that. The research was a fascinating experience. I worked from books, Internet and newspapers, including on-line ones and microfilms at the State Library. I found amazing web sites with a wealth of information. While I was sending in my chapters, my queasy editor begged, "Can we please have something other than serial killers?" That was when I asked a friend for a suggestion and he offered the April Fool's Day robbery.

I also asked the wonderful Kerry Greenwood, who said that there was a story that was every crime writer's nightmare, which is when your novel gives a real murderer ideas. She suggested I check out the tale of Arthur Upfield, author of the Boney series, whose day job at one time was working on the Rabbit Proof Fence. While there, he asked his friends one night, around the fire, for an idea for a near foolproof murder, which would be very hard for his hero to solve. One of them suggested an idea that involved burning the body and using acid to finish the job. Unfortunately, another man listening used the idea to commit his own murder and was only caught because of a recognisable wedding ring that hadn't been disposed of. I don't know if Upfield had nightmares over the incident, but the papers published extracts from his new novel and I'm betting the sales went through the roof.

I had an unusual research experience while travelling. I met a lovely "grey nomad" couple somewhere in the Northern Territory and, over a pub dinner, told them about my book. At the time, I was researching Caroline Grills, the woman who killed family members with poisoned afternoon tea treats in the 1950s, first for the inheritance, then because it was fun. She was eventually caught and sentenced to life imprisonment. The grey nomad wife said,"Oh, I knew her! I was nursing in Long Bay Jail when she was there. Such a sweet woman!"

Which goes to show how she managed to impress even the prison staff, who knew what she'd done. But I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to chat with someone who had actually met one of my subjects!

Later that month, when I'd returned from my travels, Paul asked me to write a chapter about Tony Mokbel. Wondering what I could say to kids about him that they would find entertaining, I took myself off to the local Macca's for a coffee and a newspaper. There was a two page spread about Mokbel's flight from Australia - a highly entertaining, amusing article. I had my Mokbel story.

As well as the Fifty Infamous Australians there were a lot more in the between-chapter "Did You Know?" paragraphs. I must have researched at least a hundred naughty folk! It was huge fun.

Then the book was published. It had the best cover I've ever had(don't get me started on the cover of my book on women scientists, with its woman in a lab coat holding a test tube!). The cover designer was the amazing Grant Gittus, who also did the poster for Aussiecon, the Melbourne-based World SF Convention. There were dozens of beautiful internals by Louise Prout. The subject matter was just right for kids. Many schools bought it, including mine, and kids borrowed it non stop; the five copies on our shelves were out constantly; even now, most of them are out and all of them are worn from reading. Children from the local primary school have approached me to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Schools are why I'm getting good ELR income from it.

Despite all that, it didn't sell in the shops. To start with, book shops never know what to do with children's non fiction anyway. It's quite possible to have your book gathering dust among hundreds of other non fiction books because nobody can find it. And when, out of curiosity, I asked a staff member at Borders where was the crime section, he exclaimed, "In the children's section?" In fact, they had put it into the adult true crime section, as had Dymock's. Well, it was easier to find there, but which adult is going to buy a children's book in the true crime section when they can have Robin Bowles or Andrew Rule? Mind you, I went to a signing once, with the rest of the Ford Street authors, and the manager said they'd sold twenty copies in about two days, so he was short of stuff for me to sign. Like another sensible bookshop manager, he had placed them facing out.

As it turned out, the distributor had the book on the wrong page of their web site,non fiction instead of children's. By the time Paul noticed, it was too late to do much good. Shops don't keep unsold stock for long, however good it is, and they aren't interested in getting in older books, unless requested.

Australian Standing Orders, which sells books to schools - a bit like Ashton Scholastic, except they sell to the libraries instead of the kids - didn't want it. They rarely sold non fiction and the few they did sell were, at the time, usually from another publisher, not Ford Street. Ford Street has never managed to get any interest from Scholastic either.

Then Macmillan moved to Sydney and refused to take any of the Ford Street titles. Paul had no room for more than a few copies of anything in his new premises, so offered us all copies of our books at a low price. I bought five hundred rather than see them pulped, so I'm not unlike those self published authors back in the old days, before ebooks, who had stacks of books on their living room floors. Paul kept a hundred and promised to buy some back if he sold those. And you can get it in ebook from the Baen web site and from iBooks. Maybe even on Amazon.

But it almost might as well be out of print. So that's a book that kids loved and which had wonderful reviews, but has never earned back its advance.

If you're interested in reviewing it, email me via my blog. It might be a bit expensive sending copies outside of Australia, but if you're keen, contact me anyway. I'll see what I can manage. I'd like to get a few copies off my library office floor!

Make Notes

22nd March, 2016. 11:04 am. Women's History Month - Wendy Orr

Wendy Orr is one of my favourite writers. Also a thoroughly nice person. Also the only author I know who has both Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler in the film of the book. Most of the rest of us tend to say "If my book were ever filmed..."

Her next novel is Dragonfly Song, which will be published by Allen & Unwin in 2016.

I first started writing in 1986, when my daughter started school and my son was in Year 2. I was working as a paediatric occupational therapist three and a half days a week, with an hour’s drive each way. And we had a sheep farm. I did not have a lot of spare time – but I was focussed, determined, and probably better organised than I’ve ever been, before or since. I didn’t let anything interrupt that day and a half of writing time. I used my drive to work out phrases in the books I was working on, saying them aloud to test for rhythm. And though I was scrupulous about not writing in my clinic, I did jot notes down in my work diary in some exceptionally irrelevant staff meetings. (I found one of those notes last year: ‘children playing in the dust, making a ring of flowers in a ring of stones.’ It belonged in the book I’ve just finished, as if it had just been quietly waiting all these years for me to find its story.)

I was quite prolific in those five years, but I’m not recommending this – superwomen acts aren’t sustainable. Not for me, anyway. I knew I was going to have to give a bit, somewhere, if I was to continue both working and writing. The choice was taken out of my hands by a speeding driver (and no, I wasn’t thinking about books at the time. I simply made the mistake of believing that a car on a side road, slowing down for the Give Way sign, would continue braking instead of accelerating into me at 140 kmph. My injuries were horrific, though at least I was able to use them in my YA novel Peeling the Onion). Amongst other gloomy prognoses, I was told I would never be fit enough to work again, and by default, became a full time writer.

A writer in too much pain to sit or concentrate for more than an hour or so a day is not prolific. We’ll skip the next fifteen years. But now, when I’ve defied most of the worst medical prognoses, go days at a time without pain, and truly am a full time writer, I should have it all sorted.

I don’t, of course, but I’m getting there. After years of being defensive about ‘Don’t invite me for coffee - writing is a full-time job,’ I’m making a conscious effort not to jump into the ‘I’m busier than you are’ game. It’s certainly true that writing is a full time job. I take it extremely seriously. But I’m at the age where friends are looking at retiring in the next five to ten years; I’m starting to think that if I intend to go on writing forever, I need a bit more balance of time for myself. So my latest goal is to consistently take weekends off. I used to take the weekends off from writing, unless I was pushing against a deadline, but used them to catch on admin – blogs, fan mail, website, tax etc… as well as the usual working woman’s weekend house and garden tasks.

The result was that I resented the admin tasks, did them badly or not at all, and did not truly have time off. My new plan is to schedule those things into the week. I’m not completely there yet: old habits die hard, and deadlines sometimes truly do have to be met. But now, the proof pages of my new book, Dragonfly Song, have gone back to my publisher for the last time, and I am determined to set these good practices in place and start the next book with a clean desk. Clean except for that day planner, meticulously – and realistically - filled in.

‘We’ll see,’ I can hear my family chortling. But life goes on evolving, and if creativity is a driving force in that life, it needs to be given the time and respect it deserves.

Read 1 Note -Make Notes

21st March, 2016. 6:33 pm. Women's History Month - Mary Victoria

Mary Victoria is a London-based NZ writer and artist. I asked her for a very personal response to a rather large question, this WHM.

What do I do to survive? It’s a good question, because there are many kinds of survival: material, emotional, spiritual. The answer for me is that because there are so many, I need a range of skills. I need a personal sacred bag of tricks to keep me more or less sane, and centred, and free of noxious enchantments. It’s an ongoing struggle and I don’t always succeed.

For it's is a tough, if exciting time to be an artist, in this second decade of the twenty-first century, in our increasingly noisy, interconnected world. There’s so much to be said, and a shrinking number of ways to reach audiences already saturated by a screaming torrent of information. There’s a kind of lethargy to fight against, too, when attempting any sort of social comment. Why bother? Who’ll listen? That’s what I mean by enchantment. It’s as if we’re fighting an addiction, and I choose that word advisedly. Ignorance, bigotry, fear, greed: these things are drugs we’re mainlining at the moment. No one likes reality, it’s too difficult and complicated, and besides the problems are always someone else’s fault. Shut up and go away, leave me to my politics and my porn, my demagogues and demons. This world is full of opiates, maddened with them, so going cold turkey – let alone convincing anyone else to do so – is quite a business.

Any artist, man or woman, has to dig down, deep down, to find the reserves of strength necessary to create in circumstances inimical to creative expression. Here we are, living in a culture that prizes material wealth and success and couldn’t give a toss for love. You’re not supposed to make art unless you can “break through”, earn a tangible return and “succeed” in the free market. Never mind that art has always been an iffy business proposition, at best. God help most musicians, painters, writers, because those who manage to make a decent living from their art are few and far between. God help anyone who does it for love, an “amateur”. Amateur, the “one who loves”, has become a dirty word. It means you aren’t good enough, when really it should mean that you love enough.

There are plenty of insidious little distractions that assail us as artists. One is the business of money. Since when have overt popularity and success been the criterion for decent artistic output? If anything, historically, the formula goes the other way around. Another and linked distraction has to do with self-confidence. We’ve been taught that career success is the only measure for self-worth. Forget the pursuit of excellence, dedication to craft, artistic engagement or any desire to help others. The only way you can feel good about yourself is if you sell, sell, sell.

I would like to say, respectfully: that’s effing bs. Also, it’s very, very dull.

I have a bag of tricks, talismans and magic I use to keep the noxious spells at bay. Anyone can source the ingredients. They are our birthright as human beings, and cost nothing. To make one bag, obtain:

- Supportive allies.

- Creative critics.

- A sense of purpose.

- A sense of humour.

- A middle finger to flip when necessary, and occasion demands.

Read 19 Notes -Make Notes

8th March, 2016. 10:39 am.

I've been silent because life's been interesting. Both interesting in a good way and interesting in a bad way, but interesting. It will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, too.

I've signed one contract today (for an chapter on Game of Thrones for a book) and am trying very hard to sign another, but the other requires scanning and the scanning function of my printer has decided that it doesn't want to work to deadlines. It was fine last week, but last night and this morning it is totally not. So I have 2 contracts signed but only one actually sent. I like John Wiley's system better than I like Palgrave Macmillan, for the record, simply because Palgrave Macmillan requires my scanner to work.

Anyhow, now I have two books and an academic article out in the very near future. The academic article is as close to fun as an academic article can get. The book chapter will take a bit longer, for submissions aren't due yet. Mine is already in, however, editing hasn't begun. It's funny, because I wrote the chapter first but life happened and it shifted between publisher and editor and a whole heap of things, whereas the little article was accepted straight away and was easy to edit. In fact, it had the least mark-up I've ever received for something short and scholarly. Four note. This was from the peer review bit and from the copy-editor and from the person who wanted to talk to the overall editor about the order of articles. One was inserting an extra sentence because the question in the abstract wasn't quite reflected as a question in the body of the text (in fact, it was a statement in the body of the text, and used slightly different wording) and another was a formatting check and another was that somehow we'd forgotten my uni affiliation. And so it's done. Or will be, when I can scan the b* contract and send in my notes about the changes

My busy March and April is getting busier, but we have warm weather still (in the thirties, in autumn - not good) and I can't open all the windows at night and revel in the evening air for we have nearby bushfires. I get through things, but it's hard work and I hurt a lot. Still, I get through things. I joke that of everyone I know my ratio of academic and related publications to full employment is the lowest. (On a happier note, some of my missing teaching may yet happen - just in a different way. Discussions are taking place. I may yet be more financial this year than I feared. I don't know yet for certain, however.)

In a little, I'll post an introduction to this year's Women's History Month celebration. (I'm starting late because of the strangeness of my year - I just couldn't organise it til last weekend.) Then I'll post the first entry by the first guest. Or I might do them in reverse order. We'll see. The first one is specially for IWD and doesn't reflect the theme of the whole month: it's a very personal story of feminist awakening by someone dear to me who has been a major (quiet and behind the scenes) force in the Australian women's movement for a long time. We worked on several things together a decade and a half ago, and we were both enlisted by Helen Leonard to get WHM happening in Australia. I thought you'd like to meet her and to get to find out what pushes one particular woman into seeking major social change.

After today, all the posts will be by writers. They have a very specific and very interesting brief. And I have just decided I'll leave my introduction of that til later and just put up Lulu's post. I want her voice to be the voice of my blog for the rest of the day. She talks about things that she does not often talk about, you see, and they're important.

Read 6 Notes -Make Notes

1st March, 2016. 2:19 am.

I've been quiet because I've been overworking, but with wonderful outcomes. It looks quite possible that my novel will be released during Women's History Month and my other book soon after. This curtails how much I can do this year* (and if anyone wants to join in the month, email me, for I'm still doing things - I just don't have time to plan!) but it's a wonderful outcome.

Why is it a wonderful outcome? I'm so glad you asked. I'm not going to answer yet, though.

It's all in the novel.

Speaking of which, I have a proof and my publisher needs it back and I must return to it.

I'll tell you about the change in title and the things I left out (mainly for my own sanity) and why I regretted using my mountain trip in a different novel. If I remember. Sometime this month. And I'll catch up on all my friends, for I have been a bad, bad friend recently.

I guess it's possible to admit that this novel might show my politics a little more clearly than my others. It's just barely possible. My politics are in everything I write, but mostly one can overlook them because I care profoundly that our world has many views and many beliefs and that story is more important than preaching anyhow. I live my life and want other people to live theirs. This novel isn't really different. It's just that the characters... well, you'll see.

If readers read it and want the recipes of the book, I will post them. Only if people ask for specific ones, however. This might be because I'm cruel. Heartless. And short of sleep.

* ETA: for Women's History Month - having 2 books out of the way before my birthday opens the floodgates for other work

Read 7 Notes -Make Notes

23rd February, 2016. 2:26 pm.

I'm teaching essay-writing tonight and have done most of my prep. I just need to get my bag together and get dressed. Why am I not dressed an hour after lunch? That would be because it's 33 degrees outside (or thereabouts) and going to get hotter, so the longer I put off putting on my teaching clothes, the less bedraggled they'll be when I actually teach. Tomorrow will be even hotter, but tomorrow I teach in the morning and it really doesn't matter how bedraggled I look in the afternoon.

Mostly today I've been working on the novel. I'm sorting out the path the novel will take now that I have its deep structure, and my research from here on in will be far more focussed. This is where I needed to be if I am going to finish by the end of the year.

Research for a novel (even a research-intensive one) has a point at which it becomes entirely different to research for scholarly purposes. I have my general understanding, which is the overlap point. From here, instead of asking big question that needs answering, I will be exploring the material I need for the plot. Form here on in, therefore, it's not everyone's 17th century, it's the 17th century that works for my novel. It's all built world from now on. Which is tough on historian friends, for it still looks as if I'm playing in their sandpit and this is the stage that I will have more and more questions, but it's the world of the novel, not the shared world of historical interpretation. And this brings me back to the matter of my book (for it's where I talk about the difference), which will be out within the next two months. I'm hoping that the book makes these two constructs a bit clearer. What I'm finding is that knowing what the difference is saves me a heck of a lot of time and energy in researching the novel. It's still a vast amount of work, but I know what I'm doing more.

I won't be teaching an in-depth version of what to do about this (because the ANU offered it and Canberrans said "no thanks") but with luck I'll have the one day overview at various writers' centres (two of them have expressed an interest). Personally, however, I've benefited hugely from my research. My historian self isn't playing gross interference with the development of this novel. I know what to find out and why. My historian self is handy still, for I can generally go straight to the right places and find what I need.

If I get an academic job (hah!) I want to do more work on story space and genre constructs, because I've only just made a beginning. I'm beginning to doubt there will be a job, though, despite the interviews and the exceptionally positive debriefing I've had from each of them. This market is dire. If I don't get a job, I can't do that research. At least the first section will be out, in book form, and other writers can benefit from my work. But still... so much to study, and for this, income matters.

If anyone wants to tell me to "Do it anyway" I dare them to first live on $15-20k for 18 years. Semi-freelance has wonderful advantages - like working in PJs - but it really makes it tough to do solid scholarly research over the longer term. If it weren't for the ANU and the occasional help of others eg the ACT Government, I wouldn't have even finished the first section of the project. If I get an academic job, then, there will be more exciting research outcomes. If I don't, there won't.

I did say last year that this year was the year I ran out of choices.

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22nd February, 2016. 5:33 pm.

Well, that was unexpected.

I've got so much stuff for the 17th century novel, and am nearly up to the targeted research. Precise drilling-in on stuff I need. Hopefully that will happen in March.

What I've been doing during this last however-long is seeking my unifying elements. What kind of story I'm telling, What heart it has. I wanted to use emblem literature because it's seriously cool, but my gut kept telling me that it wasn't what I needed. It wasn't unifying in the context of this novel. In fact, it would have split my story up into separated sections, and I've already done that (the novel will be out next year, and the sections are quite on purpose). I didn't want that sort of sectioned novel. Shame about the emblem literature, but it didn't work. Nor, it seemed did a thousand other things. This is one of the many reasons I read widely. Understanding comes from thinking and curiosity for me, not just waiting for inspiration.

One other novel did this to me: had a heart that needed a lot of thinking to pin down and one that gave me the narrative pattern when I finally found it. This was The Art of Effective Dreaming and the heart was a poem by Prevert.

Just now I worked out why my current earworm was my current earworm. Its structure is my structure. Its tone is the tone of my novel. The story in it is not my story - it's that counterbalance between theme and chorus and the narrative pattern that I needed. I was most of the way there, but this codifies it and makes it easy to remember and work with I didn't expect this one, however:


I hope Mr Minchin doesn't mind.

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