My inspiration for Miss Ursula Lightfoot.
Since the beginning of March I’ve been head down, back hunched as I Dive Deep into Margie Lawson’s Developmental Editing course. With one month down, and another one to go I’m getting a clear plan on how to best convey the heart of my story and am really looking forward to the outcome.
My fictional character is Ursula Lightfoot- an elderly woman who’s been living the life of a rural recluse for 40 years. I’m interested in the people who would normally be avoided or overlooked in society – but nonetheless the subject of gossip and derision. My Ursula is an amalgamation of two such women I’ve encountered in my district. She’s cheeky, a bit naughty, and very, very savvy. I love her and I want to save her from herself…
Someone will arrive at her locked farm gate and step into the midst of Ursula’s life where she’s at war with her neighbour, with her past, and with herself… it doesn’t always go well.
It pays to know your theme…
Just want to report (shout out from the rooftops) something neat. I’d skipped over a few of the editing course tasks last week to dive into the theme lessons. I’m not a skipper-overer, nor a skimmer, but I had a purpose! I had a five minute telephone pitch opportunity with Harlequin Australia.
I live 190 miles from a capital city, and the Australian Society for Authors provided this for writers like me who often have to rely on our purses to advance or promote ourselves. I wanted to experience pitching, albeit a blind speed date with my ideal partner – one who was looking for what I’ve written:
Thanks to my Lawson’s Writing Academy tutor Rhay Christou, who sped through my feedback, and of course the inimitable essence of Margie Lawson, I had a neat thematic statement to deliver in confidence to my chosen Commissioning Editor yesterday.
How precious it is to know your story in a nutshell. A five minute call, with only three of those for me and the other two for questions, felt like 60 seconds.
Five minutes folks. Think about it. One minute to get my tongue working around my genre and potential audience, while the other side of my brain was seeing the three minute story overview I’d prepared was never going to have its moment. I was asked whose/which stories I’d compare my work with. “Great choice,” she said. (Yay). “Three minute warning,” she added. (Gasped and told myself, Jay turn up the oxygen, you’re going down into deep water without a torch.)
I’d scribbled a three line overview of the essence of my story characters and what made it unique just before the call in case it all went too fast – it did – and along with my newly minted thematic statement, this reassuring CE had reason to care enough to ask if my MS was complete. I was honest and told her about my 120k MS being in the Developmental Editing stage, and that I had a fairly tidy first draft. And… she cared enough to request I send my story when I’m ready.
Ironic. Dive deep, and come up early with a tiny pearl that might just one day make a strand.
It’s time to add the weight belt—too easy with all the bum glue required for this— to go deeper. I’m aiming to surface in the tropics one day.
I’ve recently been concentrating on reading for purpose, rather than pleasure. I’m reading Australian historical fiction and memoirs to research for a novel I am writing. My aim is to gain an insight into the narrative of Australian culture during the 20th Century, and in particular, relating to WW1, WW2 and the Vietnam War.
It’s an interesting way to approach books: not diving into the latest best-seller, or the book that came before the movie. It has opened my eyes to different ways of seeing who we were, and who we are; of seeing… us. Beyond Duck River, written by Angela Martin, Hodder, (2001) bears no exception.
Ms Martin has written of her kin. The Sydney-born author, academic and arts administrator descends from English and Sydney Aboriginal ancestry, and writes what she knows. She grew up around Duck River and presents a family saga based on three generations of suburban Aboriginal women.
I found her writing style drew me into each scene with subtle, yet deep point of view to enhance the meaning. Keenly observant and frank, dry and sometimes witty, Ms Martin presents the trials of half-caste assimilation through vivid characters to show their ways of avoiding the scrutiny of authorities, the effects of wars, the cruelty of stolen generations and of domestic abuse. The families try to belong, but through class and race division, can never truly blend in, even when forced.
To portray this, I have included a segment about the main character’s grandfather, Jack Smith:
As the horse and cart took off from the orphanage, Jack Wilson stared at the reins as they steered him away from his sister and into a world without hope. He was delivered to his new home where the people were kindly.
“We weren’t blessed with a child of our own,” Mrs Smith tried to explain, “but if you let us, we can look after you and love you just the same.”
“And, your name will be just like ours too, Jack. You’ll be a Smith, like us,” said Mr Smith proudly.
“I don’t want to be a Smith. I want to be a Wilson, like Essie. She’ll never find me if I’m a Smith. I’m a Bullamatta boy!”
“You mean Parramatta, Jack.”
“Bullamatta. Bullamatta! Matta’s place of water. Bulla is eel. Food, see?
You’s changed it, just like you wanna change my name.”
Beyond Duck River is about a family’s place of belonging and the river which flows or trickles throughout the story – both are gradually degraded by the march of time, but their spirits endure. The story may appeal to fans of Bryce Courtenay, Kate Grenville, Thomas Keneally, Colleen McCullough and Sally Morgan to name a few. Not bad company in my view. – JJ Hicks.
|Description||Sydney : Hodder Headline, 2001
298 p. ; 21cm.
|Subjects||Women, Aboriginal Australian — Fiction. | Australia — Social conditions — 20th century — Fict|
Annmarie Reid (fellow Fiona McIntosh Mini-Masterclass attendee) and I had a fabulous time at the Historical Novel Society of Australia Conference at Swinburne Uni, Melbourne, back in September. It was an informative and frankly, amazing weekend filled with some incredible guests and lots of familiar Romance Writers of Australia (& famous) faces. The next conference will be in Adelaide in two years. Well worth it, even if history isn’t your thing … it just might be after such an insight into the human condition. This is why we write after all.
Seriously, some of the presenters were tearing up with their passion in tracing the lives of people of the past. Authors, screenwriters, scholars, publishers – everyone was there sharing that.
Here’s Annie’s acceptance speech and a gorgeous poem she quoted: Dare I say – this is why we write and shows the importance of positive stories….
Although this award is for lifetime achievement, I didn’t start writing until I was 58, so if you’ve been thinking about it and putting it off, well…
I thank the National Book Award Foundation, the committees, and the judges for this medal. I was surprised when I learned of it and I’m grateful and honored to receive it and to be here tonight, and I thank my editor Nan Graham, for it is her medal too.
We don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. This is a Kafkaesque time. The television sparkles with images of despicable political louts and sexual harassment reports. We cannot look away from the pictures of furious elements, hurricanes and fires, from the repetitive crowd murders by gunmen burning with rage. We are made more anxious by flickering threats of nuclear war. We observe social media’s manipulation of a credulous population, a population dividing into bitter tribal cultures. We are living through a massive shift from representative democracy to something called viral direct democracy, now cascading over us in a garbage-laden tsunami of raw data. Everything is situational, seesawing between gut-response “likes” or vicious confrontations. For some this is a heady time of brilliant technological innovation that is bringing us into an exciting new world. For others it is the opening of a savagely difficult book without a happy ending.
To me the most distressing circumstance of the new order is the accelerating destruction of the natural world and the dreadful belief that only the human species has the inalienable right to life and God-given permission to take anything it wants from nature, whether mountaintops, wetlands or oil. The ferocious business of stripping the earth of its flora and fauna, of drowning the land in pesticides again may have brought us to a place where no technology can save us. I personally have found an amelioration in becoming involved in citizen science projects. This is something everyone can do. Every state has marvelous projects of all kinds, from working with fish, with plants, with landscapes, with shore erosions, with water situations.
Yet somehow the old discredited values and longings persist. We still have tender feelings for such outmoded notions as truth, respect for others, personal honor, justice, equitable sharing. We still hope for a happy ending. We still believe that we can save ourselves and our damaged earth—an indescribably difficult task as we discover that the web of life is far more mysteriously complex than we thought and subtly entangled with factors that we cannot even recognize. But we keep on trying, because there’s nothing else to do.
The happy ending still beckons, and it is in hope of grasping it that we go on.
The poet Wisława Szymborska caught the writer’s dilemma of choosing between hard realities and the longing for the happy ending. She called it “consolation.”
They say he read novels to relax,
but only certain kinds:
nothing that ended unhappily.
If he happened on something like that,
enraged, he flung the book into the fire.
True or not,
I’m ready to believe it.
Scanning in his mind so many times and places,
he’s had enough with dying species,
the triumphs of the strong over the weak,
the endless struggle to survive,
all doomed sooner or later.
He’d earned the right to happy endings,
at least in fiction,
with its micro-scales.
Hence the indispensable
the lovers reunited, the families reconciled,
the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded,
fortunes regained, treasures uncovered,
stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways,
good names restored, greed daunted,
old maids married off to worthy parsons,
troublemakers banished to other hemispheres,
forgers of documents tossed down the stairs,
seducers scurried to the altar,
orphans sheltered, widows comforted,
pride humbled, wounds healed over,
prodigal sons summoned home,
cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean,
hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation,
general merriment and celebration,
and the dog Fido,
gone astray in the first chapter,
turns up barking gladly in the last.