Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 24)

Longing is a woman’s song – in search of Marred Glyn Dwr

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The idea of writing a novel from Marred Glyn Dwr’s viewpoint came to me early one morning. I woke to the impression of a woman alone in a tower room looking back over her life. I heard her voice that morning, knew she had a story to tell. The aim of the last three days in London has been to forge a tactile connection with Marred and the people in her life.

Public Records Office

My pressing dilemma (because I’m ready to write the scenes) is to determine how long Glyn Dwr served under Gregory Sais at Berwick in the year 1384. It has been pointed out to me that this was possibly not the highpoint of Owain’s military career. That is true. But guess what? This isn’t about Owain! Marred, his young wife, would have been sixteen years old at the time (possibly younger) and newly married. This would have been the first time she’d managed her husband’s household in his absence. The first time she sent him off on campaign. She’d have been homesick, heartsick, perhaps even morning sick. She would have been counting down the days until his return.

There are two entries for Glyn Dwr in the Medieval Soldiers database for 1384 – 24th January and 1st of March. Both are from Muster Rolls. From my reading I had gathered that men undertook to serve on a campaign some months prior mustering. In my mind, the above dates represented the day Glyn Dwr signed up and the day he actually turned up. I’ve since been told this wasn’t the case. I hoped therefore to gain some clarity from the Muster Rolls. A naive assumption, as it turns out. But well worth the effort. See it turns out the Muster Rolls were real, fourteenth century lists enscribed on vellum. Like real. As in six hundred years old real. Faded, barely legible and, of course,  written in no form I could decipher. I am as a consequence no closer to knowing how long Glyn Dwr served at Berwick. But I saw his name on Muster Rolls for 1384, 1387 and 1388. Which gave me a tangible frisson of excitement (even if it isn’t all about Owain).

British Library

I applied for a British Library Readers Ticket online, prior to leaving Australia, and ordered items in advance. There is a system to using both the British Library and National Archives – no pens or pocket knives, multiple security checks, free lockers and large clear plastic bags provided for your research essentials. I particularly wanted to see the Exchequer Rolls in which the evidence of Marred’s imprisonment are to be found. Fortunately, these were not six hundred years old. A historian had been there before me, translating them and publishing them in an easily readable form. But it was thrilling and more than a little sobering to see the black and white paper trail of her final days.

Tower of London
Marred’s son, Gruffudd, was captured and imprisoned around 1405. Since most of Glyn Dwr’s men were executed upon capture, we can only assume that Gruffudd’s imprionment in the Tower was intended to force his father’s surrender. Owain never surrendered. Gruffudd died (possibly from the plague) sometime during 1409. The fall of Harlech gave the king a fresh new set of hostages. I didn’t visit the Crown Jewels while at the Tower or buy an ice cream, or visit the Tudor Armoury, or peruse the Fussilier’s Museum. I simply wandered the grounds trying to envisage the Tower as it would have been in 1409. A palace, a fortress, and a prison. From the £30 spent on their upkeep, we can guess the Glyn Dwr women were initially kept in a degree of comfort. They would have been allowed out into the castle ward under guard and perhaps to worship in the church on Sundays. But the siege of Harlech had been harsh and protracted, during one of the longest, coldest winters on record. Catrin had lost her husband during the siege. Marred most likely knew she would never see Owain again. Starved and heartsick, the women and children faced a long journey to London, whereupon they were imprissoned in a forbidding stone fortress surrounded by a foetid moat. As Catrin’s infant son had a distant claim to the throne of England (stronger than the usurper Henry IV’s) his demise would not have been unwelcome. As it became clear Glyn Dwr wasn’t going to surrender, the women would have become an encumbrance.

We do not know how Marred ended her days. But Catrin and her remaining daughters died in 1413 under suspicious circumstances. They were not buried among the headless bodies of traitors at the Tower, nor in the cemetery set aside for the working community. They were buried in St Swithin’s Churchyard, a brisk twenty-five minute walk away. Why, St Swithin’s? That is a mystery yet to be solved. Though a pamphlet in the British Library hints at a list of St Swithin’s rectors dating back to 1237. Maybe that will hold a clue? St Swithin’s was under the advowson of the Earls of Arundel prior to being assigned to the prior and convent of Tortington in 1367. So that is another possible link. We also know there was a chapel to St Catherine and St Margaret in the church complex. The church was bombed during the Blitz and never rebuilt. Today all that remains is a memorial garden, surrounded by office blocks, builders scaffolding, and the persistent whine of pneumatic drills. A not unfitting resting place for these forgotten women of history. Once I’d found them, I found it strangely moving to be in their presence.

 

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March is women’s History month – and I’m involved :-)

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In December last year I received an invitation from Wendy J Dunn. It started like this:

Late in 2016, the British newspapers’ “History Book of the Year” lists caused consternation amongst many writers who write history. In these lists, the Telegraph listed nineteen works written by men and only three by women, the Independent listed 8 works by men and two by women and the Times 8 works out of 9 authored by by men. This aroused a global twitter protest, with the hashtag #Historybooksbywomen being shared by those who know that women who write history – either that of non-fiction or fiction – are unsung stars and a force to be reckoned with.

Wendy went on to invite local women history writers – fiction and non-fiction – to participate in a month-long Women’s History event at Eltham Library. Now being an eager beaver, I shot a note back straight away, explaining that I’d had success with historical short stories and that my first full length publication, The Tides Between, would be published by Odyssey Books in October 2017. I then sat back and watched others respond – real writers (see the biographies below) with impressive qualifications and significant publications under their belts and, as the list grew, I felt less sanguine about my chances of being included.

Imagine my delight therefore, to be asked to participate in an initial panel discussion on Sunday 5 March and to speak in more depth at a meet the author event on Saturday 18 March. Like, wow! Two pre-publication author events, just like that.

I’ve included the full program below and put my name in bold because, of course, it’s all about me. 🙂 But seriously, the line up looks amazing. If you are free in March why not booking into one of the sessions?

Women’s History Month – March 2017
Eltham Library
Join a celebration of Women writers of history with this opportunity to meet local writers in a series of Readings and Panels.

Sunday 5 March 1.15pm – 4.30pm

1.15-2.45 – Panel Discussion: why women write history. Chair: Catherine Padmore
Panel: Kelly Gardner, Barbara Gaskell Denvil, Elizabeth Jane Corbett, Kate Mildenhall, Glenice Whitting, Kathryn Gauci.

2.45-3.15 – Afternoon tea and launch of Barbara Gaskell Denvil’s new historical novel The deception of consequences

3.15-4.30 – Historical fiction Readings and book discussions.
Kathryn Gauci, Barbara Gaskell Denvil and Wendy J. Dunn

Book here

Saturday 11 March 12.30pm – 4.30pm

12.30-2.00 – Readings and Discussion from their works
Katie Holmes, Janis Sheldrick, Christina Twomey, Liz Conor

Afternoon tea

2.30-4.30 – What draws women to write about the past?
Chair: Wendy J. Dunn
Panel: Liz Conor, Katie Holmes, Christina Twomey

Book here

Saturday 18 March 12.30pm – 4.30pm

12.30-2.00 – Meet the Authors
Elise McCune, Wendy J. Dunn

Afternoon tea

2.30-4.30 – Meet the Authors
Rachel Rossignol, Elizabeth Jane Corbett

Book here

Saturday 25 March 12.30pm – 4.30pm

12.30-3.00 – The powerful and different ways that non fiction and fiction tell the stories of the past, and why women are so good at telling these stories.
Chair: Eloise Faichney
Panel: Professor Josie Arnold, Barbara Gaskell Denvil,, Kelly Gardiner, Glenice Whitting

Book here

Author Biographies:

Josie Arnold
Dr.Josie Arnold is Professor of Writing. She developed the MA (Writing) online course and the PhD by Artefact & Exegesis for creative practitioners. She is the author of over 45 books in many genres and academic articles about theories such as writing, feminism and Indigenous inclusion in the curriculum. She is currently working on producing a PhD training hub for postgraduate work on creative, traditional, contemporary or scientific areas of knowledge and an Indigenous Knowledge Hub to contribute to teaching and learning and the decolonization of scholarly ways of knowing.

Liz Conor
Dr Liz Conor is an ARC Future Fellow in History at La Trobe University. She is the author of Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women [UWAP, 2016] and The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s [IndianaUP, 2004]. Liz is editor of the Aboriginal History Journal, a columnist at New Matilda, and freelance essays have appeared in The Age, The Conversation, The Drum, Crikey.com, and Arena and her blog has been archived by the National Library of Australia. She is former editor of Metro Magazine and Australian Screen Education and has published extensively on colonial and modern visual and print history. Liz is a community campaigner, founding and convening the Coalition Against Sexual Violence Propaganda (1990) on media portrayal of sexual violence, the Stick with Wik (1997) campaign on native title, the Mother’s of Intervention (2000) campaign on maternity leave, and the guerilla theatre troupe The John Howard Ladies’ Auxiliary Fanclub (with Zelda Da, 1996) and most recently the Climate Guardians (with Deborah Hart).

Elizabeth Jane Corbett
When Elizabeth Jane isn’t writing, she works as a librarian, teaches Welsh at the Celtic Club in Melbourne, writes reviews and articles for the Historical Novels Society and blogs at elizabethjanecorbett.com. In 2009, her short-story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Another short story, Silent Night, was short listed for the Allan Marshall early draft of her first novel, The Tides Between, was short listed for a manuscript development award. It will be published in by Odyssey Books in October 2107. Elizabeth has an active social media presence, is an experienced public speaker and is in her element discussing books and ideas.

Barbara Gaskell Denvil
Barbara Gaskell Denvil is the author of five published historical novels – Satin Cinnabar, a crime adventure tale actually commencing on the Bosworth battlefield, Sumerford’s Autumn, an adventure mystery with strong romantic overtones, set in the early years of the Tudor reign, Blessop’s Wife, (published in Australia as The King’s Shadow), a crime/romance set in England during 1482-3 in those turbulent years around the death of King Edward IV, The Flame Eater, a romantic crime novel also set in 1482/3, and a time-slip novel Fair Weather, a highly adventurous mystery set during the reign of King John. Barbara is also an author of fantasy – both fantasy and historical fiction take us into new worlds and Barbara’s books do exactly this – being multi-layered, and rich in both characterisation and atmosphere.

Wendy J. Dunn
Wendy J. Dunn is an Australian writer who has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of three Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction, The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel, and Falling Pomegranate Seeds.

Eloise Faichney
Eloise Faichney is an emerging writer and editor from Melbourne. She is a PhD candidate in creative writing at Monash University and Co-Senior editor of Other Terrain and Backstory literary journals. Her work has been published in the Medical Journal of Australia, SMUT zine, Stormcloud Poets Anthology and others.

Kelly Gardiner
Kelly Gardiner writes historical fiction for readers of all ages. Her latest novel is 1917: Australia’s Great War. Kelly’s previous books include the young adult novels Act of Faith and The Sultan’s Eyes, both of which were shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and Goddess, a novel for adults based on the life of the seventeenth century French swordswoman, cross-dresser and opera singer, Mademoiselle de Maupin. She teaches writing at La Trobe University, and digital literacy at the State Library of Victoria. Kelly is also the co-host of Unladylike, a podcast about women and writing.

Kathryn Gauci
Kathryn Gauci was born in Leicestershire, England, and studied textile design at Art College. After graduating, she spent a year in Vienna, Austria before moving to Greece where she worked as a carpet designer in Athens for six years. There followed another brief period in New Zealand before eventually settling in Melbourne. Before turning to writing full-time, Kathryn ran her own textile design studio for over fifteen years, which she enjoyed tremendously as it allowed her the luxury of travelling worldwide, often taking her off the beaten track and exploring other cultures. The Embroiderer is her first novel. Set against the mosques and minarets of Asia Minor and the ruins of ancient Athens, it is a gripping saga of love and loss, hope and despair based on historic events spanning the period from The Greek War of Independence in 1821 to the Nazi occupation of Athens in 1941. It has recently been picked up by a Greek publisher and is available in Greek. Currently, it is being considered for publication in Turkish and Romanian. Her second novel, Conspiracy of Lies, a drama set in France during WWII will be published during the first half of 2017.
Katie Holmes
Katie Holmes is Professor of History and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Inland at La Trobe University. Her research spans Australian gender and environmental history and she has written about women’s diaries, gardens, gender and war and environmental history. Her books include: Spaces in Her Day: Australian women’s diaries from the 1920s & 1930s; Reading the Garden: the settlement of Australia (with Susan K Martin & Kylie Mirmohamadi) and Between the Leaves: stories of Australian women, writing and gardens. She is currently co-authoring a history of the Mallee lands of Southern Australia.

Rachel Le Rossignol
Rachel Le Rossignol has been writing since the age of 8 (early works are safely hidden away). She holds a Masters degree and PhD in Creative Writing. Her short stories have been selected several times for exhibition as part of the Cancer Council Arts awards and winning the Mercury Short Story competition (junior section) at the age of 16 only fuelled her desire to share her stories with the world. One of her plays, No Sequel, won the People’s Choice Award and First Prize at the Eltham Little Theatre’s 10 Minute Play competition in 2014 whilst another, Crime Fiction, was performed at Short and Sweet Manila and Sydney in 2016/17. Her second passion after writing is the theatre, and she has been performing in shows and working backstage for a rather long time. She co-wrote and performed in the 2012-2015 version of the hugely popular Murder on the Puffing Billy Express, a 1920s murder mystery set on the iconic Dandenong Ranges train. The inspiration for the Tarya trilogy, which begins with Harlequin’s Riddle (to be released in 2017), began when she read a quote by Broadway actor Alan Cumming about that in-between moment just before you step on stage and enter a different world, a moment when anything is possible…

Elise McCune
Elise McCune is an Australian, Melbourne-based writer. Born in New South Wales, Elise moved to Perth, where she raised her two children. She worked for many years in the Western Australian Museum and in this time she travelled to Egypt where she visited Cairo and Alexandria. It was during this visit that she first became interested in researching the stories of Australian WW1 soldiers who fought in the Middle East. Elise writes dual narrative stories set in two time periods and while her first novel Castle of Dreams (Allen & Unwin 2016) has one narrative set against a backdrop of the Pacific War in WW2 her work in progress has one narrative set in WW1. The memory of her time spent in Egypt and the research she has done on Australian soldiers fighting in the Middle East during WW1 will be woven through her story.

Kate Mildenhall
Kate Mildenhall is the author of Skylarking, published by Black Inc. in 2016. She is a writer and teacher. She has taught in schools, at RMIT University and State Library Victoria, and has volunteered with Teachers Across Borders, delivering professional development to Khmer teachers in Cambodia. Skylarking is her debut novel, and is based on the true story of Kate and Harriet, best friends growing up on a remote Australian Cape in the 1880s, and the tragic event that befalls them. Skylarking was named in Readings bookstore’s Top Ten Fiction Books of 2016 and longlisted for Debut Fiction in The Indie Book Awards 2017.
Kate lives in Hurstbridge, Victoria, and is currently working on a new novel.

Catherine Padmore
Dr Catherine Padmore was awarded her PhD in creative writing in 2002, and she has taught literary studies and creative writing at La Trobe since 2005. Her first novel, Sibyl’s Cave (Allen and Unwin, 2004) was shortlisted for The Australian/Vogel Award and commended in the first book category of The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (South-East Asia and South Pacific region). Catherine has been awarded two retreat fellowships at Varuna, the Writers’ House, and in 2014 she was short-listed for their Publisher Introduction Program. She has novels-in-progress about Amy Dudley and Levina Teerlinc. Her short creative works have been published in Island, The Journal of Australian Writers and Writing, The Big Issue, The Australian, Dotlit, Antithesis and in the anthology Reflecting on Melbourne (Poetica Christi, 2009). Catherine’s scholarly work has been published in Australian Literary Studies, TEXT, JASAL, Life Writing and Lateral, with chapters in Telling Stories: Australian Life and Literature 1935-2012 (MUP, 2013) and Expanding the Canon of Early Modern Women’s Writing (CSP, 2010).

Janis Sheldrick
Janis Sheldrick is an independent scholar who initially studied philosophy and began historical research for a biography with the support of Deakin University through a PhD in Literary Studies by Creative Thesis. Nature’s Line: George Goyder, surveyor, environmentalist, visionary was shortlisted in 2014 for the Ernest Scott Prize (for an original contribution to the history of Australia or New Zealand or colonisation) and the University of Queensland non-fiction book award.

Christina Twomey
Professor Christina Twomey is Head of History in the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies. She is the author of three books, A History of Australia (2011, co-authored with Mark Peel), Australia’s Forgotten Prisoners: Civilians Interned by the Japanese in World War II (2007) and Deserted and Destitute: Motherhood, Wife Desertion and Colonial Welfare (2002). Christina has also published widely on the cultural history of war, with a focus on issues of imprisonment, captivity, witnessing, the photography of atrocity, gender and memory.

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Why did I ever leave it so long? A review of the Rowland Sinclair mysteries

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I can’t believe I took so long to start reading Sulari Gentil’s Rowland Sinclair series. I’d heard Gentil speak at the 2015 HNSA conference, had listened to readers sing her praises and had loaned the books out to every one of my crime-reading, housebound library clients, without ever having read them. But December arrived and, with my husband away, my mum terminally ill, and me sitting on the exciting but not yet signed news of a publishing contract, I needed a distraction. I downloaded the first book, A few right thinking men, on impulse. Within minutes of meeting, Rowland Sinclair, the wealthy, self-effacing, piercing blue-eyed, Sydney based, artist and his bohemian friends, I was hooked.

There is something almost Whimsyesque about Rowland Sinclair. Possibly it’s the impeccable tailoring of his suits, or era he lives in, or the gentility of old money, maybe the unrequited love interest? The Australian sleuth, is every bit as captivating as Lord Peter Whimsey. The feel of the novel as authentic as if it had indeed been written in Dorothy Sayers’ day. If Rowland is Whimsyesque, his three friends – Clyde, Edna, and Milt, are somewhat Blytonesque. In saying that, I’m not implying that Rowland’s circle of friends are childlike. However, I do not believe there was ever a Famous Five adventure in which all four cousins did not participate. As Rowland’s friends sit on the end of his bed, drinking beverages that only occasionally involve cocoa, they make false assumptions, take wrong turns, get caught in cliff hanging situations and solve mysteries in settings as divergent as Germany, Paris, London and Sydney. They are, at once, a well crafted complimentary group and complex individual characters. It is though the group’s eyes that we get a fuller image of Rowland Sinclair.

However excellent Gentill’s characterisation, to me, the wow factor of this series lies in its historical detail. Set between the wars and succinctly chronicling the rise of fascism amid the widespread fear of communism, each mystery is interwoven with real 1930s historical events. Chapters begin with a series of newspaper snippets. Participating in each self-contained mystery are historical figures such as Norman Lindsay, H.G. Wells, Eva Braun, Eric Campbell, Charles Kingsford Smith, Somerset Maugham, Albert Göring and Unity Mitford, just to name a few. The skilful interweaving of the characters with the fictitious plot lines lifts the Rowland Sinclair  books above being just-another-crime-series, and gives the reader a seemingly behind-the-scenes glimpse at historic events.

The final feather in this series’ cap is its subtle humour. There is a delicious sense of tongue in cheek throughout the series’ pages. For example, on page 128 of A few right thinking men, after struggling to paint an accurate portrait, of triple-chinned, buck toothed, squint eyed Lady McKenzie that was also pleasing to the eye, Clyde, presents the finished work to his friends.

“Lady Mckenzie is finished, at last,” he announced. “I’m taking her to be framed with the most lavish gold leaf frame known to man.”

“So let’s see her.”

Clyde swivelled the canvas round. For a moment there was silence as they gazed at the dreaded portrait. Rowland broke it first.

“Clyde, old boy, you’re brilliant!” He applauded.

Clyde had depicted Lady Mckenzie accurately, but she was no longer the focus. The foreground was now dominated by a poodle with large beseeching eyes which, by distraction, softened its owner’s severe and unwelcome features.

“My friend, you have painted Medusa without turning us all to stone,” waxed Milton.”

The classical allusion was lost on Clyde, but he gathered it was a statement of approval nonetheless. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier,” he grinned. “She loves that mutt.”

“She’ll be happy with it, Clyde,” said Edna. “It’s such a cute dog.”

“It’s a vicious smelly beast, actually,” Clyde replied, “but its a lot prettier than the good lady.”

The former is smile worthy. But it is not the end of the poodle joke. On page 162, Rowland’s sister-in-law, Kate, is trying to set him up with Lucy Bennett, a suitable young woman from his own social class with whom she hopes he will settle down and forget his bohemian lifestyle. In an effort to draw Rowland into the scheme, a naive Kate suggests he paint Lucy. Flicking through Rowland’s notebook, Lucy quickly becomes alarmed at the suggestion.

“No, I really couldn’t,” she said. “I just couldn’t.” She pushed the notebook back across the table towards Rowland.

Kate looked at her friend, dismayed. Wilfred appeared distinctly disgruntled. Rowland’s lips hinted a smile, but he tried to seem politely disappointed. He slipped his notebook back into his pocket. He knew Lucy had found the pencil studies he’d done of Edna for the nude he’d given his uncle. He was relieved. There was nothing interesting about Lucy Bennett; nothing worth capturing on canvas. As far as he knew, she didn’t even own a poodle.

There are seven books in this series, so far. I read them all in quick succession, during which time, I found myself glancing over my shoulder, fearing dead bodies, ghosts, would be assassins, Hitler’s brownshirts, Moseley’s fascists, and members of the Australian New Guard to attack me. Thankfully, they were too busy beating up Rowland Sinclair. So, I headed over to his Facebook fan page and left this message.

To which the author kindly replied:

 

 

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Corny Christmas Commercials – and some difficult news on the family front

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Confession – I do love corny a Christmas commercial. Despite their mercenary motivation, they bring back memories of daylight saving and summer pyjamas, the smell of radiatta pine, jacaranda’s blooms, carols by candle light, and the early Christmas morning santa-shrieks of delight. It’s absurd really; they are only trying to sell something. This year I need that kind of comfort.

I saw the John Lewis ad as the Trump debacle was unfolding. We’d received some bad news about my mother’s health and after a sober family meeting, the John Lewis ad made us all laugh.

 

 

This time last year I was in the northern hemisphere enjoying my first English Christmas since childhood. Mince pies, puddings, mulled wine, Christmas lights, the Queen’s speech, board games and rugged-up walks in the park all made sense in those short, dark days of winter. We do things differently down under. It was one of my emigrant mother’s hardest adjustments, singing jingle bells in the summer sun. I’m not sure what Ronan Keating has to do with Air New Zealand but I guess that’s the making money part of the equation.

 

 

The commercial purpose of this final ad is so subtle, I’m still not sure what they are selling. But it made me cry and I was sitting in a cafe. You see we’d just found out my mother is dying. This will be her final Christmas. I’m not sure what the next few months will look like. Only that they will be a sacred time in our family life. So if things go a bit quiet on my blog, you’ll understand why.

 

 

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Back at work and other exhausting aspects of daily life

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I’m back into the full swing of daily life and if going bush at Easter felt like rubber hitting the road, going back to work felt infinitely worse. Not that I’m complaining. I have an amazing job in a fantastic library service with wonderful colleagues but logging into an inbox with 2,897 emails was bound to put skid marks on my soul. Fortunately, I am a quick deleter or should I say reader. As I culled my inbox making mass irreversible decisions, I did notice one consistent theme – blocked public toilets. 

It’s good to know people have been focussed on the important things while I was away. 

Back at Welsh class we facing a crisis of too many learners and not enough not tutors. Added to which there has been a coup by the dirty rotten northerners. I arrived back thinking I’d be picking up where I left off with my Hwntw (southern) class only to find myself back with the beginners teaching a Gog (northern) version of the NEW SSiW course. This has meant the production of a whole new set of flash cards. Other tutors don’t do this. They use neat handouts and words printed on Roldex cardboard. But I can’t, teach this way. Though, I have zero evidence my colourful efforts are any more effective. For me, getting my head around the course material involves Google images and laminating. 

The good thing about teaching the beginners, is an opportunity to record what does and doesn’t work. By the end of the year, I should have a basic tutors guide for others to follow.

I am back at the gym and, after my experience of doing Seiclo Dan Dô (under roof cycling) in Machynlleth, I have been braving weekly spin classes. Last Wednesday the teacher did a kind of creative exercise in which he pretended we were racing out on the open road. As well as riding ‘up hills’ and turning ‘sharp corners’ and being told we were great and could do it and that we really love the climbs, he divided the class into four groups and pretended we were in a peloton. As each group took their turn in the lead they had to pedal hard against the wind. It wasn’t real – the peloton, or taking the lead, or breaking the wind – but as I rose red-faced and gasping in my saddle I thought: I’m into this. Followed by, what does this gullibility say about me?

While settling back down my manuscript has been in the drawer while trusted friends do a final read through (the word drawer being a little like the mythical peloton). Meanwhile, I have started researching Australian publishing options. There’s no rush. I have some irons in the fire. But my manuscript is sitting right on the border between young adult and adult fiction – a wonder tale set on board a nineteenth century emigrant vessel with both teenage and adult viewpoints. Sadly no one seems to have a designated submissions editor for historical and slightly mystical crossover novels with multi-age viewpoint characters. Call me cowardly. But I don’t like rejection. So if you could read my blog over the coming months and tell me how much you’re enjoying it, and how great I am, and how much you’re loving my climbs, you will help keep my therapy bills to a minimum.

Finally, I’ve had a brief brush with fame the last couple of weeks. Bethan Gwanas interveiwed me about my language journey. The ensuing article can be found in the 31 March edition of Golwg. I also did an interview with Geriant Lloyd for Radio Cymru. My segment comes 59.15 minutes into the program. I am speaking a lot faster than in my earlier interview with Siân Cothi and a lot less fluidly than I was speaking six weeks ago in Cymru. Ond fel na mae – but that’s how it is…for the time being.

L

 

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Blog twenty-five o Gymru – are you a friend of Dorothy?

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'You are going to have to be deliberate,' a friend and Welsh language mentor told me before I came to Wales. 'You will meet lots of well meaning people who are happy to learn Welsh, but don't actually want to speak the language. You will also meet people who in ordinary circumstances you might want to spend time with. But if you want to improve your Welsh are going to have to prioritise friendships.'

This turned out to be sound advice. I have met both of the above types of people. But for the most part, I have made Welsh language activities my priority. Until I got an invitation to the oh-so-very-English Aberdyfi Pantomime.

You see as well as the half-Welsh-girl lurking inside me, there is another little girl who had an English daddy in addition to her Welsh mummy, who spent her whole childhood reading books set on the other side of the world, in a place her parents called home, where there were oak trees and badgers and seaside holidays and rock candy and donkey rides and piers and pebble beaches and castles and Yorkshire puddings and pork pies and New Forest ponies and Sadlers Wells and the West End and … pantomimes.

Here is what Wikipedia says about the pantomime:

Pantomime (informally panto) is a type of musical comedy stage production, designed for family entertainment. It was developed in England and is still performed there, generally during the Christmas and New Year season and, to a lesser extent, in other English-speaking countries. Modern pantomime includes songs, slapstick comedy and dancing, employs gender-crossing actors, and combines topical humour with a story loosely based on a well-known fairy tale, fable or folk tale. It is a participatory form of theatre, in which the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.

The key part of that quote being: performedto a lesser extent, in other English-speaking countries.

You see, I had never seen an English a pantomime and prioritised Welsh language friendships, or not, I was not going miss the Aberdyfi Pantomime.

I bought my ticket.

Now if you think this involved turning up alone on the night and buying a single ticket at the door, think again. You see Dave from Corris Uchaf (top Corris) was playing the part of the Aunt Em from the Wizard of Oz and everyone in Corris knows everyone which meant everyone in Corris knew Dave which meant a show of support was required which meant half the village decided to attend which meant a bus needed to be ordered along with chocolates, paper cups and wine for sharing enroute.

The idea that I had never been to a pantomime was a topic for discussion.

'What! Never seen a pantomime! But … you've seen the Wizard of Oz?' someone asked on the bus.

'Oh, yes, I've seen the film, definitely. But not as a pantomime. What about you?'

'Loads of times. It's a rite of passage for us.'

'Er… Right of passage? In what way?'

'Judy Garland.' Someone else answered. 'Gay men love Judy Garland. The question: are you a friend of Dorothy? Was like a password or secret handshake.'

'Oh, yes, of course.' I knew that (not).

The Dyfi Pantomime was everything I had imagined.

  • People laughed
  • Clapped
  • Booed
  • Sang along
  • Yelled directions
  • Laughed at corny poo jokes
  • Enjoyed the not so subtle innuendos
  • And the fact that Elvis had somehow found his way to Oz
  • Along with Prince Caspian
  • I mean, this was a village pantomime
  • Everyone needed a part
  • From the young
  • To the old
  • To the talented
  • And those simply having a good time
  • The stage effects were amazing
  • As were the scenery
  • And the costumes

On the bus ride home people remarked on the finer details of Dave from Top Corris' costumes, right down to and gold eyelashes.

'He won't want to take it off.' Someone joked. 'He'll come to the cafe as Aunt Em on Saturday morning.'

'I think Corris is ready,' someone else replied.

'Yes, others agreed.'


I'm not sure whether Corris is ready for Dave in his burgundy corset and matching bloomers but it's already doing diversity. This has been one of the privileges of living in this tiny mid-Wales village. Not a particularly Welsh speaking community – but a place in which friends of Dorothy live alongside every other Tom, Dick and Mary as if that is perfectly normal (because it damn well is) and where people are kind and caring and accepting and hire a bus and go to the pantomime (even those who don't like pantomimes) because their friend is performing and who let Aussie Welsh-language-fanatics join them for the evening and make artists from all over the world feel welcome because they understand community. And they are wonderful.

Thanks Corris for an amazing seven months and for inviting me to the Dyfi Pantomime.

 

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The place for a village – some thoughts on Victoria’s early history

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Last week in the hiatus between my fevered consumption of fairy tale re-tellings and resuming serious manuscript edits, I started researching my next project. I say started, in reality, I have been reading about life in the early days of the Port Phillip District for years. Reading, without making notes or marking maps, leaving what next in the periphery of my head.


On Wednesday, I pulled down a pile of books and shifted gears.

For me, research is the prime stimulus for my creative process. I start with characters chattering in my head. I have a vague sense of where they lived and what their inner issues are. How I work out these issues – the nuts and bolts of events and scenarios – tends to spring from research.

My next novel will be set in the Port Phillip District of the then Colony of New South Wales. I therefore decided to ‘start’ my research by re-reading A history of the Port Phillip District: Victoria before separation.

In 1842, the Port Phillip settlement was ‘officially’ only about four years old. Two earlier attempts and been made to settle the region. One at a site close to modern day Sorrento. The other in Western Port. In between, sealers and whalers plyed the coast, various surveys and explorative expeditions were conducted and, ahead of the law, men started to transport sheep and cattle across the straight from Van Diemen’s land.

I am always amazed, post Mabo – the landmark High Court case in which indigenous land title was recognised – to read the attitudes of Australia’s early settlers. Here are some thoughts that struck me this week:

The colonisers saw the land entirely in terms of its usefulness to them. Consider this 1831 newspaper quote, written in relation to the Hume and Hovell expedition.

“…discovery of a vast range of country, invaluable for every purpose of grazing, and agriculture – watered by numerous fine streams, and presenting an easy inland water course extending from Port Phillip and Western Port to the settled district of Bathurst – thus refuting the previously adopted opinion, by which this line of country had been denounced as inhabitable and useless…”

Did anyone notice an omission in that passage? Like some kind of recognition that the land was already inhabited?

Many who did recognise the indigenous land title did so from their own agenda. There were no official treaties with Australia’s indigenous people – unlike those made with the Maori’s at Waitangi and by the Quaker William Penn with the ‘Indians’ of Pennsylvania – apart from a treaty made on behal of the Port Phillip Association, in which Batman claimed to have purchased 500,000 acres of land North of Melbourne in return for blankets, knives, tomahawks, scissors and mirrors (even as a child, I wondered at the ludicrousness of such an exchange).’

Setting aside the illegality of Batman’s processes and that clan land was non-transferable, held in trust for future generations, the treaty did seem to be recognising indigenous rights to the land. Indeed, the Association expressed a desire to found a colony on ‘principles of conciliation, civilisation, philanthropy, morality and temperance.’

However, when you take into account that Batman’s treaty was made on behalf of a group of capitalists who were seeking to appeal Governor Arthur, who had repeatedly urged a such treaty on the Colonial Office, and that, in Van Diemen’s land, Batman had a record of ‘much slaughter’, it becomes apparent that they were were merely dressing their actions in a ‘philanthropic disguise’ in order to gain the support of the humanitarian lobby in Britain.

In the end, Batman’s treaty was declared void.

It conflicted with the Imperial position that Australia was terra nullis – an unoccupied territory.

There were individuals who recognised aboriginal land rights from the outset. When discussing colonial attitude towards Australia’s indigenous people’s it is not uncommon to hear sentiments such as: ‘Oh, well, were men of their time.’ It is gratifying to note that, from the outset, there were individuals who recognised aboriginal land title. These men were not saints. They were active participators in the colonisation process. Like us they had personal lists of bigotries and short sightedness. But in this respect, they saw clearly. In A history of the Port Phillip District, Shaw lists them. It seems appropriate to acknowledge them here.

  • Bishop Broughton,
  • Quaker visitors James Backhouse and G.W. Walker,
  • The Wesleyan, Joseph Orton,
  • The Presbyterian, John Dunmore Lang
  • Surveyor, Charles Tyers
  • Aboriginal Protectors Robinson and Dredge (does anyone see the irony in the appointment of aboriginal protectors in an unoccupied territory)
  • Settlers like, Gideon Lang, William Howitt and William Westgarth
  • Pamphleteer and newspaper editor, George Arden
  • Soldier and author, Colonel William Mundy
  • Under-secretary James Stephen
  • And…finally, not until 150 years later the High Court of Australia

 

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An ignorant Aussie looks at the Scottish referendum

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This week Scotland will vote on the matter of its independence. If the yes vote prevails, it will be a moment akin to the Berlin Wall coming down. Not in terms of Scotland’s living conditions. But in terms of history. The Union dates back to the seventeenth century when James VI of Scotland became James I of England and united the two crowns. The fact that four hundred years later the Scots are preparing to vote on the matter suggests the union has not always been a happy one. In fact, some would say it was involuntary. I suggested this to an English friend recently.

‘No, Liz. You’re wrong.’ He said. ‘The Scots were never conquered. They entered into a union of their own accord.’

‘Really?’ I said. What about Culloden? The Battle of Solway Moss. It seems to me they fought pretty hard to stay independant.’

‘That was religion,’ he said. ‘Nothing to do with independence.’

I said: ‘It was the same thing in that era.’

Think Henry the VIII, Bloody Mary, even Good Queen Bess. It was all about religion in those days – religion and inherited power. James I grandfather was killed at Solway Moss. His Catholic mother Mary Queen of Scots made a series of unfortunate marriages and was forced by Protestant rebels to abdicate. She was imprisoned twice, once in Scotland, and once at the behest of her cousin the Protestant Queen of England, who eventually ordered execution. In accordance with the prevailing religious beliefs of the Scottish aristocracy, James was raised a Protestant. When Elizabeth I died without issue, he succeeded her to the English throne, where he ruled by ‘divine right’ with the support of a priveleged minority. The average Scot had no say in the matter.

We don’t do things like that anymore.

That’s what I find so exciting about the Scottish referendum. Not who wins. From my vantage point I can hardly presume to know what is best for Scotland. But, through a lengthy process of devolution, the Scots have brought their nation to this moment. As far as I can tell, there has been little woad wearing, freedom fighting, remember-Culloden type rhetoric. People have been taking about what they want for their nation. Discussing nuclear armaments, Scotland’s role in the Middle East, health care, education, social welfare, the possibility of further devolution. In short, deciding the kind of nation they want to be in the 21st century. Whatever the outcome, that is a victory for democracy. And if Scotland votes yes, a significant moment in history.

Here’s what one little Aussie town has to say about the situation

 

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Learning from Locke

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Monday night I went to the movies. I don’t do this often – what with work, Welsh classes, church, Parish Council, Google Hangouts, catching up with mum, interstate Skype chats, and a parade of family anniversaries, I don’t have time.

This week was different. Andrew and I had planned to visit mum. She was out of flue quarantine (yes, this happens in aged care facilities) and we had set aside Monday evening. When she rang to say she wasn’t up to company, we found ourselves with free time on our hands. I proposed the movies. Unusual for me. I’m generally a stay-home-in-your-pyjamas kind of girl. But I’d been feeling tired and over-serious since getting back from overseas. I needed to escape and re-fuel. A movie would be perfect. But which one?

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Andrew said. ‘We’ll choose when we arrive.’

Standing in the half price Monday queue, we narrowed our choices down to two movies. Boyhood a hundred and sixty four minute long, coming of age story, filmed over the course of ten years. Or Locke a shorter, British drama starring Tom Hardy. I favoured Locke.

‘It’ll be risky,’ Andrew said. ‘It’s just a bloke sitting in his car.’

It didn’t sound promising. I had to admit. But it was a British film (whatever that means in the current context) and at only an hour and fifteen minutes in length, Locke was a significantly shorter risk, than Boyhood, which sounded like watching the grass grow.

We bought tickets for Locke. It opened with a character called Ivan Locke sitting in his car. It ended with the same character, Ivan Locke, sitting in the same car. In between were scenes in which Locke drove and talked on his car phone. That’s it. The whole film. Just Locke in his car. Talking. Weeping. Blowing his nose. Driving. Talking some more.

It was riveting.

I repeat, riveting, and, although it was supposed to be a break from work, I gained a number of valuable, writerly insights from the experience.

.

1) your voice doesn’t have to be perfect

Thirty seconds into the opening scene, I nudged Andrew.

‘Psst,’ I said, ‘he’s doing a Welsh accent.’

Note. I didn’t say the lead actor is Welsh. Hardy isn’t. But, in Locke, he had a damn good crack at a Welsh accent. Curiously, this wasn’t scripted. It was Hardy’s innovation. In Wales on line he had this to say about the decision:

“It’s just that, in my mind, the men that come from Wales have a certain gravitas and integrity…. There’s a durability and toughness to them, an inner strength that’s very calming – and the same goes for the Welsh accent…. There’s a softness and soothing quality to it which Ivan need to have. He had to sound like Richard Burton, like he could put out fires with his voice.”

The voice wasn’t perfect (Hardy is the first to admit this). At times, he sounded almost subcontinental. But the accent created an effect. For the duration of that journey, we were in the car with him.

2) good dialogue is everything

Apart from, Hardy’s acting and some evocative night filming of English motorways, dialogue made up the entire movie. We never saw the faces of the people Locke talked too. Only their names, as entered in his car phone directory. Yet these intricately arranged snippets of conversation revealed his values, his loves, his anger, his passions, his motivations and the crisis he was driving towards.

3) some things are beyond the artist’s control

There is a saying in writing circles: if there is a gun on the mantelpiece in the first scene of your story, it had better be in someone’s hand at the climax. Nothing is superfluous. Every detail communicates something. And right from the outset, I couldn’t help noticing, Locke had a helluva cold. He snuffled his way through phone conversations. I can’t tell you how many times he blew his nose. Yet, this seemed to have no direct bearing on the story. This puzzled me. Until I learned that filming took place over five nights with Hardy sitting in the car which was being driven down the motorway on the back of a flat bed truck. There was a degree of improvisation to the situation. The phone calls were coming live from a hotel room. And Hardy had a cold. Here’s how he described the situation to out.com:

“That’s always the way, isn’t it? You have to do something at the last minute and you get ill… I actually really did have a cold. That’s also why Ivan has the handkerchief in his sleeve. There’s nothing like trying to hold a sneeze in when you’re having a very important business conversation—but of course, no one can see you doing that. No one knows where you are when you’re on the phone…unless you’re in a bathroom and there’s an echo. Then someone knows. But I was trying to create that juxtaposition of reality. Here I am, trying to have this very important conversation, and someone’s asking, ‘Are you listening?’ I am listening, I’m just trying to stop snot from flying out of my face.”

Voice, dialogue, perfect timing, and improvistaion. Sound familiar? These are the elements of good writing. In Locke they came together for an hour and fifteen minutes of real, raw, powerfully-understated drama. The effect – not only energising, but inspiring and also, strangely comforting. I may still be an apprentice when it comes to voice and dialogue, but I’ve experienced the strange mix of adrenaline and lack of control that carries creativity forward. I’m also prone to developing colds at just the wrong moment. It may not be much. But it means I’m on the right track. For now that will be enough to go on with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A week in Cymru Cymraeg

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In Wales, there are two worlds. The English speaking world that you see on the surface and the magical, Welsh speaking world, of Cymru Cymraeg, that lies beneath. Once-upon-a-time, Cymraeg was the dominant language in Wales. It infused every element of Welsh life and culture. Now it is possible to be born, raised and to live in Wales, without entering its realm. This week, during my Saysomethinginwelsh bootcamp, I somehow found my way into this magical, world.

Yesterday it was hard… so hard to leave.

I hadn't met any of my fellow bootcampers prior to our week long holiday in Tresaith. We had all followed the same Welsh course and participated, to varying degrees, in the learners forum, but we were essentially strangers, defined by forum posts, stamp-sized web photos and a common desire to take our language skills to the next level – to experience a week immersed in the Welsh language.

I caught the train from Moreton in the Marsh and arranged a lift with one of my fellow bootcampers from Aberystwyth (yes, I know, a lift with strangers I'd met online). Once we'd settled into the Canolfan, the rules and format of the week were explained. Dictionaries were not encouraged, we were told, nor were sentences like: beth yw y gair am sausage? Miming and talking around the unknown word was the preferred method of communication. For example, if you didn't know the word for sausage you might say: cig sy'n mewn croen hir – meat that is in a long skin while miming the shape of a sausage with your hands. Inevitably, another learner would know the word. If not our Welsh language hosts would provide it.

Once the guidelines had been established we were asked to go around the room and convey interesting things about ourselves to each other using only mime. This was hilarious and, as you can imagine quite difficult. At the end of the fifteen minutes, it was a relief to start talking in Welsh.

After the initial, enforced silence, the chatter didn't didn't stop. We did all the activities that any group of friends might do on a holiday. We rose late-ish (me latest). Had breakfast, visited, towns, castles, museums, villages and restaurants, went on walks, took photos, got lost, browsed in book shops, shared meal preparations, misunderstood directions, got lost, went to the pub, stayed up late, laughed, talked, sang beneath the stars, all under the banner of the Welsh language. I'm not going to give you a blow by blow description of the week. I couldn't. You had to be there to experience the wonder. But here are some of my personal highlights.

Walking through the wonderful Welsh countryside

Making castles on the beach

Speaking Welsh

Laughing at my mistakes

Visiting a water operated woollen mill

Doing a drama session in Welsh

Laughing like a school girl

Realising I understood what that was being said

Laughing even more

Doing a tour of Castell Aberteifi

Hearing about the first Welsh Eisteddfod

Having a lesson in a cwrgl

Realising I understood everything the teacher was saying

Everything

I repeat: everything while turning hopeless circles in a cwrgl

Swimming in the Irish Sea

Making jokes in Welsh

Laughing

And laughing

Til I feared my sides would split

Thinking in Welsh

Realising I was thinking in Welsh

Telling my friends

Knowing they understood

Wishing the week would never end

 

 

 

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