Sunday, September 30, 2007

I miss the train...

Back when I used to commute 45 minutes each way to work by train, I read a lot. Or, if I'd had a big night, I dozed or put the minutes toward thinking. It was really easy to do. On the way to work, I knew to start paying attention to stops as soon as the train went underground. My stop was the second one into the subway. On the way home, no worries at all. My stop was at the end of the line immediately preceded by a long and gentle curve where the railway line slid out of built-up suburbia and in to parks and a sparkling bay dotted with boats.

Originally, I had to bustle down to the public wharf and catch the ferry to my home town - through the boat-sprinkled bay and across the more open stretch of water known as Port Hacking. As soon as I had enough money though, and a partner as it so happened, I moved to the end-of-the-line town and cut 1/2 an hour off my commute.

90 minutes a day is just enough time to think up some great plans for the WHOLE weekend, just enough to read a Larry & Stretch Western from start to finish, and more than enough time to flick through a newspaper or catch up on missed snack-times.

I really miss all that. Even Larry & Stretch.

Now, I have a 20-minute walk [depending on what music I'm plugged in to] or a 5-minute drive to my work place, and no time to read anything other than traffic lights. When I first embarked on this new routine, I thought it was great. Working so close to home has been super convenient on more than a dozen occasions. But as my children grew up, life became busier and reading/thinking time was slashed. I've become quite nostalgic for the good old days of rail commutes and enforced time alone.

If only reading while walking was easier to manage.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Oft Beaten Path - part 2

Remember how I said at the beginning that this story was originally intended to be part fictional? It occurred to me that the only really fictional part was my character, the hapless writer being run over by a tourist bus. I will endeavour to avoid such a tragedy and keep that event as fictional as possible.

In the meantime, let’s look at the crooked path a writer needs to travel before reaching their golden gate of paradise [that being the open and welcoming arms of enthusiastic agents and publishers].

I started writing fiction in late 1998. I was writing really bad poetry at the time. Not a lot [thank god] but enough to know that I loved to write. I started on a poem about a woman who was a messenger, of sorts, from the gods. Celtic history was a passion at the time so it had a lot to do with legends from Ireland. After a few A4 size pages of scribble it occurred to me that fiction might be a better option so I switched and started my first “novel”. I was hooked from that point on.

My first novel for publication [yeah, I’m still waiting for the publication bit], was started in late 99 and completed in very early 2000. Since that time, I’ve rewritten, deleted, added, polished, rewritten and rewritten. That novel is why I’m here in Katoomba. Either this retreat will lead to a publishing contract or I stick it in the bottom drawer of my desk and forget about it.

That’s not the only thing I’ve worked on in that time though. I’ve written another novel set in Sydney, a novella set in New Mexico and Colorado, a few short stories and two plays. All of these I have sent to agents and publishers with no luck.

And yet I keep going. I must be a true writer because I’m a bloody idiot who won’t give up on this whole writing journey!

Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve learned along the way.

1. There’s always another writing course you can take to improve your technical skills and knowledge

2. books on writing are prolific and expensive, tell you mostly the same thing and aren’t that helpful in the end

3. published novels are amazing in their variety, especially when it comes to good writing and bad. I’ve seen dozens of books that are complete drivel and yet they’re published and I’m not! Go figure.

4. Do not compare your work to published work. It will only make you feel depressed, frustrated or angry and all of these feelings are not particularly conducive to a great writing experience

5. Plenty of writers, advisor, editors and people who have an opinion on just about everything will tell you that you don’t really need an agent to reach a publisher. Great news! Agents are as hard to lure in as publishers

6. Many of the bigger publishing houses and those who think themselves big state on their websites that they will a) not accept unsolicited manuscripts b) will only work with literary agents

7. Publishers will tell you that they expect queries that grab their interest from the first sentence, are brief yet detailed, filled with marketable promises yet are original. Literary agents will tell you pretty much the same thing

8. Most publishers will not tell you whether you are being sent a form rejection letter because they are truly not interested in your novel or just because your query writing ability sucks

9. If you get a form letter that advises that your work does not fit in with the publisher’s line at this point in time, but, hey, good luck anyway, then they probably didn’t even read your query letter to start with

There’s heaps more but I don’t want to overwhelm you.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

David Airey - graphic design blog

I've been subscribed to David's blog for a few months now and it's one of the few I regularly check back on, save the email notices for new articles, search through for information and comment on.

David is an Irish graphic designer with a great website full of informative information [currently term of the month in my house] on a great variety of topics from advertising & marketing to design & art and music.

One of my favourite places to hang out!

So, the reason for this blog and recommendation is for all of the above plus, it's David's one year blogging anniversary and he has some great giveaways. Go check them out, and while you're there, don't forget his portfolio, articles and blog posts.
The Oft Beaten Path

Being the [mis] Adventures of a Struggling Author

This was going to start out as a short story. A quickie if you will, about an author – part auto-biographical, part fictionalised – who after years of writing and re-writing novels, novellas, short fiction, articles and the odd play or two [most of it unpublished], goes on a writing retreat to the mountains. From the moment she leaves her front door this writer is inspired to write and write and write. Unfortunately, for that author, I was going to kill her off on the very first day of her week-long retreat. Something to do with tourist buses, narrow winding roads and the best story she’s ever dreamt up.

On the first day of this writing retreat [my writing retreat, in fact] I felt, inspired yes, but also disjointed. A little bit like a phony. Actually, a lot like a phony. I’m dead certain that the tutor at this retreat is going to tell me my novel, which he has read the first chapter of several times, and by now has read the whole thing, is utter crap. Which would be a great pity, because I think the story is wonderful!

Interesting correlation between the fictional author and me on the inside. So, instead, I went for a walk up and down a few hills [one doesn’t come to the mountains for flat country-side after all], returned to my slightly disappointing room [more about that later], made myself a cuppa and had a lay down. My thinking was, at that point, that maybe I could lose the disjointed feeling if I had some semi-formal separation from busy real life to writing life and a nana-nap seemed like just the right action to take.

I lasted half an hour having spent the whole 25 minutes “writing” my feelings and five minutes worrying over whether I would be able to sleep later if I actually managed to fall asleep then. I promptly came up with some ideas, including the title for this piece and decided I should turn on my lap-top and physically write instead of just think.

Writer’s, well, I do anyway, come to terms with things in the form of stories. On the way to the mountains [Katoomba to be specific] I mentally started a memoir of sorts about the train ride I was undertaking – the old Victorian style houses I was passing, the people on the platforms, the book I was reading… I thought it quite a good story but dismissed it as not very market worthy unless I was famous [which I am emphatically not]. One day, perhaps, not today.

When I arrived at the retreat, an old art deco house that takes five writers at a time and has a great library, I mentally wrote a story about the disappointment I felt on being ushered to my room.

My room is at the end of the corridor. I like that. The writing part of my room is a separate room with a shared bathroom in between. I don’t like that. The other rooms have a writing “room” attached to the sleeping area. If I had one of those rooms I could sit at my laptop naked if I wanted to. Might be a bit chilly but I had the choice. I like the idea. However, my writing space is quite large and I do like that. It also over looks the courtyard on two sides. I like that too. My bedroom over looks the back yard and has a big tree that, in summer and with leaves on it, must look fantastic. My space covers two corners of the top floor, and if I didn’t have to share the bathroom would be perfect. I don’t like that my bedroom shares a wall with the bathroom and I dread to think that I’ll be laying in bed listening to people pissing and showering.

In the backyard, of which I have such a sunny aspect, is a studio room. I drip with jealousy of the writer who has that space. Should I come back at any time I shall specifically request the studio. I wonder if it has a private bathroom?

In the middle of all that mental complaining, my writer’s view notices that I may be aesthetically disappointed but that I’m on my second page and am moving on from that pretty darn quick.

After all, my desk is really large, not cluttered with the paraphenalia of a writing mum with three kids and someone will be supplying dinner at 7. I will eat, clean up my mess and then retire to my space to either write into the night or collapse in bed and get some sleep.

With that, I will depart from my first impressions of my first writer’s retreat and embark on phase two of this manuscript – second impressions, plans and how I got to be sitting in Katoomba at the end of winter while my family stays at home in Sydney.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Back Online

After being virtually rendered computerless by phone lines that wouldn't work, connections that wouldn't stay connected and a creakingly old computer, I am well on my way to being back in the world of the cyber-living.

My phone line is fixed and I'll soon be getting broadband.

My old pc has been retired and a sparkling new model adopted.

And I have a pile of articles to post to this blog.... just as soon as I get Word and all my other applications re-installed, which means finding the disks. Cue the shuddering fearful me - my little office is a shambles. I had to pull it apart to allow the phone guy access to my phone line and to replace my pc box. This only happened yesterday and I've been at work all day today. Still a mess in other words!

Hopefully I'll be in full action by the weekend.

Until then

cheers all