Elizabeth Jane Corbett

writing her way home

Tag: novel (Page 2 of 2)

Tagged – my not so rolling blog tour

Let me introduce Christine Maree Bell. I first met Chris at a book launch and then, many moths later, quite by accident, I bumped into her on the train. We were both heading into the city for a Melbourne Writer's festival workshop. I don't know when or how we started work-shopping together. Only that we've been doing it now for quite some time. As I write this post, Chris is heading up to New South Wales to take advantage of a Varuna fellowship. This recognition is long deserved. She has written for the web and had multiple children's educational titles published. Her first young adult novel also won an unpublished manuscript award. Her second young adult novel is at submission stage. While at Varuna, Chris will be working on re-drafts of an adult historical novel.

See what I mean, she's going places.

I was therefore thrilled when she tagged me in a rolling book tour. This involved answering some questions about my writing process and tagging three other writers. This is the writerly version of a chain letter without the accompanying threats and curses.

Here are my answers to the questions Chris sent.

What am I working on?

I am working on the re-draft of an historical novel called: Keeping Notes. In 2007, an early draft of this novel was short-listed for a Harper Collins Varuna manuscript development award. Since then it has been re-worked, rejected, put aside, and then restarted. There was something about this story that wouldn't let go of me, though my stomach clenched every time I thought about the amount of work involved in re-writing. I have just finished the end of the re-draft and I'm getting ready to send it out to readers.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Keeping Notes is a psychological novel, set in 1841. Part coming of age, part fable, it is a story about losing a father, facing the truth, and how life is never as it seems. The setting is a nineteenth century emigrant vessel. The history early Australian. But there is also a fair bit of Welsh mythology thrown into the mix. I don't know anyone else writing an Austeakian historical, psychological novel with Welsh mythology at its core. I trust it is therefore distinct.

Why do I write what I write?

I was born in Britain to a Welsh mother and English father. Emigration was the defining event of my childhood. I've spent my life reading British novels and, in particular historical ones. I did an Arts degree, as a young adult, majoring in history and politics. In later years, I went on to study librarianship. But I never stopped reading historical fiction. When I decided to give writing a go there was no choice. It had to be historical. I started with the character of Caroline Chisolm and then worked my way into all things nineteenth century and immigration. I decided to make their destination Melbourne because that's where I live. When I threw a Welsh story teller into the mix the story took off. I journeyed back to the Land of My Fathers in my imagination.

How does my writing process work?

I'm a nervous convoluted sort of writer. I start with an idea for a scene in mind. And a wringer twist in the pit of my belly. I light a candle and over coffee and journal about what I want to write about. Yes, that's right, I write about what I want to write. This gives me courage to face the empty screen.

Sometimes, my writing day goes well. My fingers fly across the keys. Other days, I sit at my desk and bleed. But I'm learning that bleeding is a necessary part of the process. As at the end of a difficult day, when I begin to unwind, the answers to a knotty scene begin to clot in my subconscious. I jot them down before I go to bed and then journal about them again the next morning and, all the while, I'm trying to work out the beating heart of the story.

Right, having answered the obligatory rolling blog tour questions it is now my turn to tag three other writers. This has proven a little more difficult than anticipated.

You see, all my close writing buddies have already been tagged. Feeling distinctly unloved and seriously unpopular, I turned to my cohort of Historical Novel Society colleagues. Eureka! A number of them expressed an interest in being involved. Sadly, my excitement was short lived. Despite plaintive polite reminders, only one of them has sent the requested biography and photo.

Sophie Schiller is now my new best friend.

In fact, in my eagerness to procure Sophie's participation, I may have invited her to dinner and succumb to the Aussie stereotype of offering to throw a shrimp on the BBQ.

As Sophie lives in the US, I may never have to make good on my offer. But I wouldn't mind, honestly. Her work sounds so interesting. Sophie was born in Paterson, NJ and grew up in the West Indies amid aging pirates and retired German spies. She was educated at American University, Washington, DC and spent many years working in International Business before becoming a writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Thanks for coming on board, Sophie. And if anyone else out there is not too busy or too famous or to otherwise engaged, send me your bio, photo and URL and I'll add it to the page. Oh, yes, and you can also join me and Sophie for dinner, if you are in the area.

Woo hoo! Lance Elliot Osborne has joined the dinner party. His apologies for the late arrival – he's had an insane week, hit by a storm of family and professional obligations.

Lance is a Texan who grew up twelve miles from Hornsby's bend and two miles from the mountain that in Bold Crossings the Wukubuu's people call “Father of the Great River.” He also grew up with descendants of Malcom Hornsby's family and the tales of their ancestors in the 1830's. These legends, coupled with thorough research regarding all peoples that populated Texas in the same decade, are the makings of Bold Crossings. In his research, he has learned a great deal about the Penatuka Comanche that called central Texas their home. And he is honored to have grown close to his Penatuka Comanche mentors in Lawton, OK during the research process.

Before Bold Crossings, Lance had written in various genres, including for the small and large screens. In fact, when he was seven years old he penned a two-page script for his favorite TV show…

Lance blogs at: http://boldcrossings.jimdo.com

 

A little wisdom from Family Guy

Next week, I'm going to finish the complete re-draft of my novel. That's presuming I don't go under a bus, over the weekend, suffer a sudden loss of memory, or get summoned home by the great Library God on high. I've got a final chapter to write, a week's long service leave booked, and a husband going hiking in Tasmania.

Monday afternoon, I anticipate writing the long awaited words, The End.

Though, in fact, it will only be a beginning. I will have pull the manuscript together, tidy it up and send it out to readers and then, commence the next round of edits. But before that, I will take stock of my achievements. It has, after all, been a long process.

How long? I'm not going to tell you. But I started with four children living at home. They are now all gone, three of them married.

That long! Yes, I'm a special case.

But before you agree, let me offer some provisos.

First, my three children married young and in quick succession (there's a blog in that surely).

Secondly, I had never written a novel before (apart from three chapters of a horse book in year five). In fact, I hadn't written fiction for a very long time. Not since a disastrous short story in year nine in which I pinched the boat in a painting idea from C.S Lewis' Voyage of the Dawntreader and tried to write something touching about salvation. The teacher begged me to re-write. Yes, it was that bad. I refused on religious grounds – religion in this case being another word for laziness. I scored a measly pass (generous teacher) and never tried my hand at fiction again until…I turned forty and started wondering where my life had gone.

My early drafts were a mess. I didn't understand point-of-view or over use of adjectives. I didn't know about narrative drive, proper punctuation or even story structure. I had a particular fondness for over extended metaphors. Despite this, I had some early encouragement. From Sally Muirden, who taught Year of the Novel, at the, then, Victorian Writers's Centre, from Peter Bishop at Varuna, who short listed the novel for a manuscript development award, and from Alison Goodman the kind soul who agreed to asess my work. These people were incredibly generous. But that didn't change the impact of their words.

It needed work. Serious work.

Now being a first time novelist, I thought this meant lots of tweaking. Even after I took my novel to TAFE and learned about story structure, with Euan Mitchell, I was still trying to nip and tuck without altering the basic shape of the thing. It took winning the Bristol Short Story Prize and being rejected by a respected Melbourne publisher to bring me to my senses. Even then, I dug my heels in, until Nick Gadd, my then TAFE tutor, offered a few home truths about the situation.

I was shattered. He and the publisher were suggesting a total re-write. Like, you know, a throw-the-cards-up-in-the-air-and-see-where-they-fall type of affair. Apparently this is what you are supposed to do at the end of a first draft. It is rarely a matter of tweaking and polishing.

I was in a bad place at the time. Kids on the run, kids getting married, people needing my attention. I had to take a break. Try and work out whether to give this re-write a go or chuck the whole project in and start something else. I got stuck in that place for quite a long time – friends wearied of hearing me go over and over the same old stuff – until one day my good friend Denis took the bull by the horns and said: I don't think you can chuck it in Liz, so you may as well get on with it.

I'd like to say it got easy after that. But it didn't. That's where this segment from Family Guy comes in. You see, I never had a sly-voiced, fork tongued friend like Stewie to undermine my confidence. I had my own hissing voice in my head. You're a fool, wasting your time. Your friends all think so. No one else has taken this long to wrote a novel. You can't be a real writer. You're having too much trouble. You may as will give up and knit booties. Or…didn't you used to be good at cross stitch?


 

Now I took these thoughts to my medical man in a cardigan and we did some cognitive work on things. But the self-doubt didn't go away. I had to start writing with those snakes hissing and coiling in my head. That's when I discovered Bird by Bird (thanks Anne Lamott) and post card sized assignments. Every morning, I'd wake with a clench of dread. I'd tell myself all you have to do is set the scene. All you have to do is write that piece of dialogue. All you have to do is imagine how your character is feeling.

I also read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Did all the exercises in the book – like all of them. Morning Pages became an essential part of my routine. Every morning I'd light a candle inviting God into the process then I'd write long-hand in a red leather bound notebook about, well…everything and anything, over and over – all the rubbish in my head.

At some point I'd arrive at what I was going to work on that day. I'd blow out my candle and head to my computer. You can write a whole novel that way. I almost just did. And, once I hit the mid-way point, the negative voices began to fade. I started to enjoy myself, to wake each day with a surge of anticipation. To feel that this project may in fact be worth finishing.

Worth? Now that's an interesting word. How do you measure the worth of a thing? A publisher's rubber stamp of approval? Well, that would be nice. However, I am not falling into that trap again. I'm going to measure my manuscript's worth by the self-doubt I've battled, by the blind faith I've mustered, the knowledge I've gained about writing and myself, and by the friends I've made along the way. With these things as my yard-rule, I can never fail. But that doesn't mean I won't be giving giving old Stewie a final whack on the head when I finally write: The End.


 

Hanging out – a week in so many words

You've had a momentous January. First, ten days of bronchitis during an extreme heatwave. Second, a week at the beach with a rowdy family group. Whilst there you relax. Clock up thirty years of marriage. You return home and the reality starts to sink in. You haven't been to the gym for two and half weeks. You haven't touched your novel either. Or kept up with the whole social media thing. Added to which, you've eaten way too many Celebration Meals.

You attend a church meeting Monday night. Welsh class starts back on Tuesday evening. You also have your brother staying with you. You know that for missionaries coming home is always confronting. You also know that Sydney Road is nothing like Main Road, Blackwood. So much ink, he tells you with a shake of his head. When did that happen? You try to listen and be sympathetic. You talk about his work. His plans for the future. You have your own ideas but you try to be tactful. You fail. You can't sleep because of this. You go to work exhausted. You are pleased to meet your new job-share partner. But it's hard getting your head together. You deliver books to a local aged-care facility and leave without returning the keys. Drive back. Read the roster wrong. Forget about the afternoon staff meeting. Your new job-share partner asks about your life. She says I get the impression your are a creative person. You think, that's a very generous assessment of the situation.

Despite your inefficiencies, the two of you cover heaps of ground. You feel wasted but you manage to converse in Welsh at the SSIW Google Hangout that evening. Your brother makes a positive comment about your language acquisition. You make excuses about how rusty you are. But deep down you're ginning like a gate at the compliment. You're on the bike by seven o' clock the following morning. You make loads of decisions regarding work processes. You manage to read the roster correctly. And turn up for your desk shift. After work, you catch the train to Flinders Street. Do some shopping. Cycle home in the cool of the evening.

At home, two excited dogs run to greet you. That's right, your daughter's dog is staying for the weekend. You make the mistake of letting the dogs sleep in the house. You wake up around one o' clock to a volley of barking. You fumble for a light, the keys. You put the dogs in the garage. You wake up early, worried about them in the heat. You have washing to do. The dishwasher to unstack. You sigh, remembering all those Celebration Meals. You decide to do an extra BodyStep class. You're hopeless. Someone has to help you adjust your step. You mutter something about having had a break. You shop. Cycle home. Unpack the groceries. Hang the first load of washing. Chop some rhubarb. Unstack the dishwasher. And then you do what you always do. You write something. And once you start writing you realise you're tired. It's been a big week. You drink some coffee. Hang a second load of washing. Unstack the dishwasher. Bring the bins in from the street. You survey the summer parched garden. And promise yourself a lazy evening.

 

Ysbwriel

Helo! Dw i ddim yn ysgrifennu fy mlog i yn aml yn ddiweddar – Hello! I haven’t written my blog much lately. Mae’r achosi? – the cause? Wel, dw i wedi bod yn trio canolbwntio ar fy nofel i – well, I have been trying to focus on my novel.
 
Dw i ddim yn gwybod os bydd y nofel erioed yn cael ei chyhoeddi – I don’t know whether the novel will ever be published. Ond mae rhaid i fi ei orffen hi – but, I have to finish it. Mae rhaid i fi ddweud wrth y stori – I have to tell the story. A dw i’n moyn fy nofel i i bod y nofel wella iddi hi’n gallu bod – and I want my novel to be the best novel it can be.
 
Felly, dw i’n gweithio yn galed – therefore, I am working hard. Gwna i llawer o newidiau – I am making many changes. Weithiau, ffindiais i fy mod i’n gorfod i dorri darnau o’r nofel – sometimes, I find that I am forced to cut parts of the novel.  Darnau mawr – big parts. Darnau llawn of ysgrifennu eitha neis – bits full of quite nice writing (wel, dw i’n meddwl – well, I think so).
 
Felly, meddwlais i, efallai, bydda i’n newid y blog ‘ma tu fewn bin sbwriel – therefore, I thought, perhaps, I will change this blog into a rubbish bin. Felly, nid rhywbeth bydd yn gwastraffu – therefore nothing will be wasted. 🙂
Syniad da? Good idea? Dw i’n gobeithio – I hope so.
 
Mwynheuwch! Enjoy!
***
Bridie sat waiting for Rhys. She had something to ask him. Something important. She’d been trying to catch him all week. Finding him alone wasn’t a problem. He often spent time by himself. But whenever Bridie had been almost ready to approach, Alf had made one of his clumsy attempts at friendship, or Ma had set another foolish task, and the moment passed.
But no one was going to stop her this afternoon.
Doctor Roberts had called a cleaners meeting and Ma rested. Rhys sat alone. Bridie had a queer skittering feeling in her tummy, half excitement, half nerves. She was determined not to lose her resolve.
Rhys sat behind the horse-box. Bridie had seen him squeeze in between the two small boats. She would like to have joined him, but it wasn’t a place for two. It didn’t matter. She had plenty of time. Alf would be hours.
Laying her dad’s notebook on the deck, Bridie leaned against the horsebox. The sun felt warm on her bonnet. Its heat prickled the skin of her neck. Sweat teased and tickled beneath her bodice too. But there was nothing she could do about that.
She wriggled her toes in their encasing of stout black leather. Ma insisted she wear her boots between decks and, generally, Bridie didn’t mind. The floor of steerage was damp, almost composting. It would have felt slimy beneath her feet. But here on the main deck, it was different. The timber was airy, sun-soaked and clean. It would be nice to take her boots off, to feel the breeze on her sweltering feet.
Bridie tugged at the laces of her boots. Glancing about to make sure no one was looking, she slipped her hands up to the garters above her knees. Two quick movements, and her feet were free. Rolling stockings into a ball, she shoved them into her empty boots, allowing her toes to bend and flex in the sun.
They had been at sea for almost a month. Alf was knotting each day into a length of string. The first two weeks they zigzagged back and forth between England and France. Last week they had passed the Bay of Biscay. Now they were somewhere, way off the coast of Morocco, where the skies were blue, bluer than blue, the clouds a whisper on the breath of God. Strange birds wheeled in the skies overhead. Sleek grey dolphins swam beside their ship, arching and dipping, in the white froth at their prow. It was a holiday, a summer picnic, cucumber and cress. It was raspberries, sweet blackberries and plums.
Tilting her head back, Bridie squinted up at the man in the crow’s-nest. He was looking for Corvo, the northern most island of the Azores. Alf said they would pass it any day now, so long as the winds remained favourable.
Bridie couldn’t fault the wind at the moment. The ship fairly danced along its yards of canvas bowing and bucking like shirts on washing day. After Corvo, they would pass a host of other little Portuguese islands, followed by the Canary Isles, which were Spanish. It seemed to Bridie the sea was filled with small scattered islands, like a giant’s hopscotch, all belonging to different players. It would have been interesting, if only Alf were not so intent on turning it into a geography lesson.
From the Canary Isles, the captain hoped to pick up the northeast trade winds that would carry them down to the Equator at which point Neptune might pay them a visit. Bridie hoped he would.
A scuffling on the other side of the horsebox caught her attention.
Maybe Rhys was finished already!
Further scuffles and a whine, told her it wasn’t Rhys, while a cold wet nose confirmed it was a puppy, a black puppy, with a patch of white around one eye and splashes of brown across its tub-of-lard body. Its mother, on the other side of the horsebox whined and scolded, alarmed by her offspring’s daring.
Bridie picked up the pup. He was warm and soft with folds of ready-to-grow skin. Smiling, she held him close, enjoying the tickle of his downy new-puppy fur against her cheek. ‘Go back to your ma, little one. Can’t you hear her call?’
If the puppy did, he wasn’t listening. He opened a miniature snout, full of pinpricking teeth, and gnawed her hand.
‘Ouch,’ Bridie adjusted her grip, holding him at arms length. The puppy gave a small annoyed yap and squirmed in her hands. ‘You’re a tinker,’ she said. ‘But if you don’t go back there will be trouble. Trust me, I know.’
She put the puppy down and clicked her fingers, pointing towards the horsebox. The puppy wasn’t interested. He plonked his bottom on the boards and raised his tiny, teddy bear’s nose, sniffing.
The yelping and scrabbling on the other side of the timber panels intensified.
‘Naughty pup, listen to your ma, she’s worried about you.’
The puppy wasn’t going anywhere. Bridie pushed him along the smooth wooden surface towards the sound of his mother’s distress. He turned, cuffing playfully at her arm. It was sweet, his paws being so chubby and uncoordinated. She could have played with him for hours but his mother barked, thumping heavily against her pen. She would have to take him back.
Scooping the wriggling pup into her arms, Bridie crawled towards to end of the horsebox, rounded the corner, and came face to face with Rhys.
‘Bridie!’
‘Yes.’

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