Tag Archives: literature

Events I Managed to See at Sydney Writers’ Festival 2018

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Here’s what I saw and learned at Sydney Writers’ Festival this year. A quick run through of all my #sydneywritersfestival action, ranging from helpful advice from Jane Harper to The Chaser’s War on Mummies:

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Structural Workshop with the Divine Dr @KathrynHeyman – #SydneyWritersFestival

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If loving Kathryn Heyman is wrong, then I don’t want to be right. There, I said it. Everyone else in the Structural Intensive workshop hosted by the Sydney Writers’ Festival was thinking it, I just said it. You would be hard pressed to find a more dynamic presenter, and the best bit was, that Dr Heyman had substance to back it up. I’ll be perfectly honest, I am not going to detail everything that she covered, partly because I wouldn’t do it justice, and partly because if you want to truly learn from Kathryn Heyman then you need to go and do a workshop/course/mentorship with her yourself. What you get out of a course is a deeply personal thing because we are all on different paths in this writing journey. BUT this would be the world’s shortest blog if I gave nothing away for free so here goes…

One of the first sound bites that really moved me was when Kathryn Heyman said, “Your fear drives why you write.” Now I’ve heard, “if it scares you do it,” “go where the fear is,” and all those other common things before but on that cold, wet, Friday, where I had arrived drenched, late, with a slightly broken umbrella and the memory of my kids crying ringing through my brain, this phrasing, and this women really hit home. For me, I’d got my money’s worth all in that one hit. Because, I’ll let you in on a little secret, come closer, even closer, shhhh, closer, I’m going to whisper this so listen carefully, every single novel I have written deals with exactly the same issue, no matter what the genre or target audience. My chick lit novel coming out in July has a main character who has an intelligent, and quirky main character who happens to have incredibly low self-esteem so can make some pretty dumb choices. My children’s novel coming out next year has a very confident main character but the backstory that never gets explicitly covered is that the mother is deeply scarred and traumatized individual trying to be that super mum who gets everything right. Memoir From the Madhouse (I’ve never shared an excerpt from that so will pop it at the end of this) looks at why we are who we are, how our past demons drive us. I could go on but in a nutshell, I write women’s fiction, no matter the genre, no matter the age range, and the story is always – What happened to the little girl that nobody loved. Fuck, I hope she turned out okay. Until Kathryn Heyman said, “Your fear drives what you write,” I did not realise that I had written the exact same story over and over again as I grappled with my fear. It’s kind of liberating to know that I am on a cathartic journey. It’s even more liberating to know that I love that story and I will tell it over and over again, in as many ways as I like until I am ready to put that issue to bed. Because that story needs to be told. That story needs to be told not just for me but for all those little girls. I’ll keep speaking out. I’ll keep publishing for you. I hope you will join me.

Now I think you can understand what I meant by saying that this writing gig is a deeply personal journey and you have to go sit at Dr Heyman’s feet yourself to get what you need. However, I won’t be a total spoil sport, there were plenty of general things that were good for everyone. Mainly, it really helps to have a concrete, physical manifestation of conceptual matter. So if there is an obstacle, how about getting another character to embody that. If you have some sort of transformation make sure there is some sort of event or location that can act as a metaphor rather than having it all inside the character’s head. If the character has an internal desire, give it a physical manifestation, as in what action or situation would demonstrate that the desire had been met or totally failed. I’m leaving it there because as I keep saying, you have to go learn from Kathryn Heyman yourself in order to get the real benefit.

 

As promised, and true to my blog’s about section, unedited, unkempt, and untamed, here is an excerpt from Memoir from the Madhouse.

 

I am running, running faster than I’ve ever run before. The cold from the dew damp ground runs up my bare legs and covers my naked body with goose pimples. But still I run on. The warmth is fleeting, the wind is chasing me, and they are hunting me. I run naked in the cold dark night and all the while I think – I’m not crazy, I’m not crazy.

Out of my periphery I see a nurse approaching me. I let out a delirious laugh and keep on running.

‘Run, run, run as fast as you can…’

The wind whips away my words and I still run on. The ground starts to gently slope downwards and in the darkness I lose my bearings. I trip. I roll. Arms and legs flail at impossible angles. The world slows down as sky and earth blur into one. I smile and think about what has brought me here, starkers, in the dead of night, chasing demons, in the psychiatric hospital’s grounds.

 

6 Hours Earlier

I sit in Consultation Room 2 staring at my psychiatrist. I have no idea what he is saying. His voice is so soft that I can only make out every second sentence if I’m lucky. Regardless I nod like I understand. I don’t want him to think I’m rude or worse, stupid. My constantly interrupting to say, ‘Eh?’ or, ‘What?’ only results in him repeating his mumbles anyway. So instead I just nod along like I agree.

‘Are you anxious about going home tomorrow?’ Finally a sentence I can hear.

‘No,’ I lie.

Of course I’m anxious. I’ve got newborn twins and a two year old. They’re hard work. I have to somehow keep on functioning, no, mumctioning, despite the fact that the twins won’t sleep, which means I can’t sleep either. All work and no sleep makes Robin a dull girl. Perhaps they could be trained to settle one another. One cries and the other rubs their back, then they roll over and swap jobs. That’d be pretty sweet but although I’m in the nuthouse even I know that won’t happen.

‘Really?’ my psychiatrist raises an eyebrow. ‘Last time you were supposed to go home you had such an anxiety attack that we had to transfer you to a medical hospital.’

I shrug. More words are spoken that I nod thoughtfully along too. God only knows what I’ve agreed to in these sessions.

‘Do you like cap guns and pillows?’ Nods in agreement.

‘Do you still wet the bed?’ Nods thoughtfully.

‘Do you have a Christ complex?’ Nods politely.

‘Do you like the smell of your own farts?’ Nods vigorously.

He probably thinks I’m the biggest psycho to ever have graced this Crackpot’s with Babies Unit. No doubt I’ve inadvertently agreed to having a fetish for gingerbread men, partaking in cock fighting as a chicken, and having to burp three times every time I hear the word purple lest the world ends. Not surprising that Doctor Huang is so shocked by my casual attitude.

Truth be told I’m just quietly packing shit. My husband and I have arranged for a babysitter to come for a few hours a day during baby rush hour. 4 – 7 sucks with the under threes. They’re cranky, they need baths, they need dinner and they need to go to bed. Times that by three and I seriously struggle. The babysitter coming at these times doesn’t help me rest. Just helps me make sure none of my kids are neglected. I want to rest. We can’t afford rest. Fucking money.

‘A lot can change in a week.’

Confessions of a Mad Mooer: The Mad Robin in the Attic #rant

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Confessions of a Mad Mooer: The Mad Robin in the Attic #rant
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Everything is awesome

I like having a bit of a write (and evidently a lot of a rant). In my adult life I’ve now written three novels, two children’s fantasy novels and most recently a memoir or a me-moi as my daughter says. Add to that the three fabulous novels I wrote in Primary School (viciously slammed by the critics, siblings can be so cruel,  but take it from me they were sensational) and I’m quite the novelist. So it surprised me somewhat when I told a friend that I’d just written a me-moi and they responded by saying, “Oh, are you still writing? I thought you’d give up now that you’d spent time in a psychiatric hospital. Wouldn’t you be unpublishable now?”

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      WHAT THE ACTUAL F!!!!

I responded with something resembling a sentence and then disengaged from the conversation as soon as was politely acceptable. Clearly they’re unfamiliar with Susanna Kaysen and the now famous quote from Girl Interrupted, “Don’t point your finger at crazy people.” Obviously nothing bad happened to them, I didn’t explode or bark or start wailing or use too many ors in a sentence or forget to use commas… I just muttered something about liking writing and then retreated to the blanket fort in my head. Here’s what I should have said –

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Serious, literary, lego me

In 1979 two great things happened, I was born (shamelessly arrogant but I feel the sense of drama was required) and The Mad Woman in the Attic was first published. The Mad Woman in the Attic was possibly my favourite text that I studied in University. And you Good Sir should read it. Because not only would you lock away the “mad woman” in literature but also in society. As soon as a woman is counter to your understanding she is to be boxed up and put away. Did it not occur to you that not all who seek help are snivelling,  messy haired, violent psychopaths? That we can be productive members of society? That perhaps the locking away and stigmatising of the “mad woman” is what forces them into violent gibberhood. And so what if I am a crackpot? At least I am in good company! Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Virginia Woolf, Luanne Rice, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Suzanna Kaysen and Patricia Cornwell have all been considered raving loonies at some point. They’ve all spent time in “supportive environments whilst they recovered from exhaustion.” So when you think about it, being barking mad would pretty much be a prerequisite. If anything I should be expecting a bunch or marauding female novelists to come barging through my door at any given moment in order to clutch me to their collective bosom and shower me with literary agents’ contact details. I too am now a raving writer. I too drink tea like it’s on tap. Ich bin ein lunatic. And honestly what real writer doesn’t have a scarf, a beret and a jumbo sized pack of antidepressants on them at all times? (I’m pretty sure I stole part of that quote from a joke about stereotypes made by Destination Saigon authour, Walter Mason) So just go take your snivelling comment and stuff it down you fluffy, lemon, jumper.

Oh, on second thoughts, it’s probably better that I didn’t say that. Let’s face it, if I did he probably would have just said, “Yeah, that makes a lot of sense if you think about it like a crazy person.”

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Unequivocal proof of my madness, not even my kids are safe from me logoising them.

#Indigenous Representation in Speculative Fiction

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There is a lack of Indigenous Representation in the type of literature that kids like to read. This is something I initially posted about on my personal Facebook profile rather than on this blog because I was concerned about being torn apart like so many people trying to tackle this incredibly sensitive issue before me. I’m white, I’m female, I’m educated and these days I’m middle class, so what do I know about these issues? True. I am utterly unqualified. I am not an Indigenous Australian, I have not lived an Indigenous existence and I do not live in an Indigenous community. I cannot deny that, nor am I trying too. But I have decided that this issue is too important for me not to say something. So even if I get called ignorant or superficial at least people will be thinking about it. And hopefully those thoughts will help come up with a solution. So here is my Facebook post cut and pasted directly here.

Alright people. I’m doing it. I’m going political… or cultural. I’m going something controversial, not sure of the label but it definitely would have one.

Let’s talk about the lack of representation of Indigenous Australian characters and stories in Australian Literature and “white man’s” (self included) fear of portraying them.

I think we can all agree that there is a lack of Indigenous representation across all genres. Sure there is some literary and memoir style Australian fiction out there looking at settlement/invasion/colonisation, but let’s be honest, how many children sit about thinking, “Gee, I’d love to read some literary historical piece that can be very heavy handed and judgemental.” Not many. They’re thinking things like, “Harry Potter is awesome, Twilight is tots romantic, Hunger Games is the bomb yo.” So if we want our youth (black, white, green, purple, sparkling) engaging with Indigenous issues/characters/themes, then surely we need to but it into novels that they’ll actually want to read.

Now the three novels that I’ve mentioned above that have taken youth by storm are all Speculative Fiction, which to me means Australian writers need to put Indigenous content into this genre. But how can we when we’re too scared too. Yep, there I said it, I admit it, I’m too scared too and I’m not the only ones. Now I’m sure Indigenous authors aren’t too scared to. That they feel totally comfortable writing about their own heritage but there’s a slight problem with that. The problem isn’t only that we have an education gap making literacy levels low amongst indigenous populations low, hence writing a whole novel and going through the long journey to get published quite challenging. But also that even in an ideal world where this gap is bridged, the Indigenous population only accounts for around 3% of the Australian population. And let’s face it, not everybody is born to be a writer, so we’re looking at a very small drawing pool. On top of that not everybody has exactly the same taste is books. Even amongst Speculative Fiction fans you have those that both love and hate Tolkien. So to expect this small drawing pool to produce works of mass appeal is just ridiculous. Sure it only take one, like JK Rowling to come along and inspire a generation, but we cannot expect every writer in the Indigenous community to be the next Rowling anymore than we can expect it of any other community. Not only that, not every writer wants to write for children or young adult. The pool gets smaller yet.

So, how do we fix it? Forced breeding to increase the population? Let the petrified white writer have access to the stories as well? Do nothing but whinge? Do what we do now (self included), have Indigenous minor characters but avoid drawing on the Dreaming or any settings or major characters? I honestly don’t know how this issue can be fixed. I could rather glibly say that stories should be available to everyone. That Celtic and European folktales, myths, legends, history and religion seem to be open slather for anyone to appropriate, so why can’t writers of any culture just draw on anything and anywhere to serve their story. But I can tell you this, I love the stories from Hinduism but I’m sure not going to write about that either. Because not only am I scared that this Celt would unintentionally offend someone but also because I know I would get crucified for it. White writers who tackle other cultures, even previously popular writers, have a history of being torn apart. I, an unpublished, very pale skinned, blue eyed, woman of Scottish and Welsh heritage, am surely not the one to fly in the face of this history and solve all problems. So for my part, I’ll continue to have Indigenous minor characters and refer to Indigenous plants but who will do more? Who can bridge this gap and solve this lack of representation? Thoughts?

I would normally blog about something this lengthy (and yes I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of this incredibly complex and sensitive issue) but quite frankly I have no desire to be called a stupid racist by complete strangers… I’ll leave that to my friends 😉

This rant was inspired by something #KateForsyth said at the Monsters Under the Bed discussion hosted at the New South Wales Writer’s Centre #nswwc about the need to increase the representation of Indigenous stories and the complexities involved in this.

Monsters Under New South Wales Writer’s Centre #nswwc

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– art from http://odessasawyer.deviantart.com/art/Monsters-Under-My-Bed-153492618

This evening I attended “Monsters Under the Bed” at New South Wales Writer’s Centre featuring Kate Forsyth, Matt Finch and Nyssa Harkness. It was an interesting discussion on the portrayal and purpose of fantastical baddies. The entire evening was fascinating but I thought I’d just quickly share the point that stood out the most for me.

Darker social realism is generally read by fairly safe and secure kids not children with horrific problems (paraphrased from what panelist Kate Forsyth said in response to an audience question, unfortunately I did not get the exact quote which was far more eloquent). Children with real problems often prefer the escapist nature of Fantasy. Now that isn’t to say that safe secure kids don’t like Fantasy, because plenty do, but that forays into realistic darkness is generally too painful for children suffering abuse and so they prefer Fantasy. This really interested me as a teacher who has sat through many conversations with colleagues who actively put down Fantasy as pointless and silly. It is these kinds of attitudes that prevent our most at risk students reading what they will enjoy and actually need. Some healthy escapism is what these children crave, yet we insist on adding salt to their wounds. They need a world where good can triumph, where monsters can be overcome, a place that shows that in the end anything can be conquered. Unfortunately literary snobbism has perpetrated schools and we often insist that children read material that further depresses them, further abuses them and further increases their sense of helplessness. Even as the teacher in the classroom I find it difficult to teach a particular text on the gang rape and murder of a girl I knew. I’m in my 30s, the incident was decades ago, yet I walk out of each lesson where I am forced to engage with that text sickened and shaken. A fellow teacher of mine slid further and further into depression having to face this text daily that she too knew intimately that she didn’t just leave the school but the entire country.  I can only imagine how traumatised my students are who have recently been raped or had a family member raped. To force students to endure something so close to their personal life and so recent to them seems absolutely barbaric. So is it time that us English teachers got off our high horse and allowed our students to engage in texts that could actually heal them rather than further traumatise them? Or should we continue on our preference of dark “realistic” literature? Is it really better plotted, structured, characterised or written? Or are we simply being snobs and forcing our preferences onto youth for no actual good reason? Food for thought for writers and teachers alike.

Thank you to the New South Wales Writer’s Centre for hosting such an interesting discussion topic with such insightful panelists, Matt Finch, Nyssa Harkness and of course Kate Forsyth who inspired the topic of this blog.

Book Review: “The Wild Girl” by Kate Forsyth

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I will do my best to avoid spoilers. I will try to avoid referring to anything too specifically past the first three pages, although of course there will be general reference past this point, for there must be in order to review the whole novel.

Once upon a time there was a young princess who was trapped in a tower. But of course it wasn’t really a tower, it was a hospital, and it wasn’t really a princess it was a little girl. That little girl was Kate Forsyth. Through her time spent in hospitals as a child Kate Forsyth learned about yearning, struggle, and the importance of an imagination. She put that imagination into good use through reading fairy tales and writing her own stories. Now much older (well not MUCH older), Kate Forsyth’s latest novel “The Wild Girl” combines her exquisite story telling abilities and her love of fairy tales.

“The Wild Girl” explores the life of Dortchen Wild, one of the sources that the brothers Grimm used to write their collection of stories. It is a tale of love, exploration, family, hardships and exploration. Kate Forsyth manages to weave a beautiful spell between historical fiction, magic realism and fairy tale, as she tells the tale of Dortchen Wild. From the very first few pages you know that not only will this be historically accurate, with mentions of the palace and customs, but there will also be that beautiful sense of fairy tale magic, with the references to crows and rose thorns. Throughout the entire novel this balance of history and magic is held strong. Small touches such as using the historically accurate, yet fairytalesque (yes, I made up that word but I’m sticking with it) term for Napoleon “The Ogre”, is what makes this book so special.

I won’t spoil it for you by mentioning any more, aside from this is a truly magical book for the lovers of historical fiction, fantasy, magic realism or fairy tale.

Book Review: “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss

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I will do my best to avoid spoilers. I will try to avoid referring to anything too specifically past the first three pages, although of course there will be general reference past this point, for there must be in order to review the whole novel.

Patrick Rothfuss managed to recapture my love of fantasy in his stunning debut, “The Name of The Wind.” At its heart it is a coming of age story, but of course it isn’t the coming of age story of an ordinary boy but that of a very talented one. This boy, Kvothe, is so talented that in fact, some people may criticize this as being unrealistic. Rothfuss, however, skilfully manoeuvres his was past this issue through his use of an unreliable narrator. Part of this story is set in the present time (present for the land they’re in) whereas the rest is Kvothe reluctantly telling the story of his childhood. The reader comes to love this unreliable story teller, full of belief in himself and utterly beset by tragedy, In fact it is the very tragic childhood that he has endured that makes us believe in him even more. Arrogant, troublesome but utterly honourable and loveable. The kind of hero that you can invest your heart in.

For lovers of adventure and epic fantasy this is a must read. It delves with the storyline of one character but through the flashing back and forth in time and the switch from third to first person narrative it really gives a fuller sense like that of Raymond E Feist who deals with a cast of thousand.