Tag Archives: stories

A surprising response from an editor

Six weeks ago I sent my novel ms to 3 publishers. I had low expectations of success given the small number of novels published annually in Australia and the tidal wave of unsolicited manuscript submissions washing up weekly on editors’ desks. Nor did I expect any feedback since publishers’ websites sternly enjoin ‘no feedback will be given’ and ‘silence equals rejection’. Let’s add the fact that I had no idea if my writing was good, bad or ho hum who cares?

Imagine my surprise to receive feedback from one editor . Alas, not feedback saying this is the most brilliant piece we have ever seen and we’re publishing it unchanged in a print run of 1,000,000, film rights already being auctioned. Quite the opposite. As a work of fiction it requires more work and they are not interested. So far, so depressing. I keep reading.

They love the ‘compelling sense of place’ and the ‘very strong travel narrative’ – you may recall my story is set on the Camino in Spain and France – and suggest I focus on that in the short term, perhaps placing articles in travel magazines, perhaps as a stand alone travel book. Well, knock me down with the proverbial feather. I love quality travel narrative ranging from the classics of the 19th and early 20th century to contemporary travellers/commentators/writers and am no snob who believes fiction is inherently superior to travel narratives.

Anyway, it is early days and only 3 publishers, however, it does give me food for thought [sorry for the unimaginative cliché] as this blog began life as a story of hiking and writing and maybe that will be my path again after a detour into the land of fiction. Not that I am giving up on fiction, perhaps this story needs a breather though. It is my first effort, I have learned a lot and cliché alert number two, you have to know when to hold and when to fold.

I have experienced three dramatic turns in my life in the last year and this could be number four.

Watch this space…

 

Her spirit returned last night

She came to my house last night, uninvited, unwanted, unseen. Fifteen years gone. The moment I opened the front door, I sensed her presence as the faintest trace of perfume of a long ago lover. Graveyard chilled yet unable to turn away, I entered and followed her trail up the stairs, the marks a phosphorescent glow in the dark where she had stopped and run her hand along the bannister, touched her photos on the landing and hesitated by the painting. Our painting, that day at the beach.
The air tingled, vibrating like a high voltage power line as I followed her scent into my study, the buzzing deafening where she had opened my latest book and dropped it at mention of Anna, fleeing from my new life. The trail vanished at my bedroom door, as though she had not dared to enter what was no longer hers.

An unquiet soul on unfinished business.

I walked back downstairs, scared, cold, hair bristling and at the same time, entranced as I had been for so long by her. In another place, in another life. I turned on the lamp from the old house, lit the oil burner with her favourite, sat and waited. Listened to our music.
She had loved me, hated me, loved me, died.
The journey to forgiveness is long and hard.
The journey to self-forgiveness is without end.

Talking to strangers

strangers on a train
I love trams and trains, not so keen on buses and I’m an avid people watcher, especially these days with passengers’ social media habits. Who hasn’t enjoyed listening to someone’s mobile phone conversation delivered at the top of their voice, detailing how they have just been dumped by/dumped some %^$&hole who ^&(*&^% them? Or how they fucked over their boss? Classic. Or enjoyed seeing some jerk walk into a closed door or miss their stop because they were too busy checking the stalk book status of some person they met somewhere sometime and about whom they don’t give a rat’s clacker, but – MUST CHECK NOW.

Given where I live, hearing such a variety of languages, on occasion even another language which I know enough to understand. And simply the general weirdness of social interactions in a culture where private and public boundaries have dissolved and people interact and speak as though in their living rooms or bed rooms and not in a public space surrounded by strangers. Mind you, most are too immersed in their own social media bubble to notice whereas, being a relic from an earlier age, I do notice as I read my book (or pretend to) and daydream and look.
And sometimes check my phone, I confess it. MUST BE CONNECTED.

But I digress. How do I attract them, the strangers who are happy to share their intimacies with me? Okay, I am not sitting in a private bubble of music and/or text and I am genuinely interested in people’s stories [writers are ruthless collectors, aren’t we?]. Also if I see someone ‘weird’ ambling along, I do not automatically lower my eyes; only if they look weird and dangerous. Maybe they can see my own secrets etched in the lines of my face?
Sometimes I leave the tram or train and reflect. Yes, I reflect how lucky I am to have survived what life has thrown at me, but more than that.
Like a few months ago, last tram home from Saint Kilda, the tram of the drunks and the loners and a few couples absorbed in each other. A clearly mentally distressed and aggressive guy sat across from me and a space cleared around him in an instant. He barked and yelled and glared at me and I looked and said nothing and as he staggered off, he looked me in the eyes and said with utmost clarity ‘You’re cool, man.’
Did he see? Could he tell? I have seen much worse.

And I become the receiver of stories of exes (none of them any good, surprise, surprise), drugs, mental illness, crap relationships, how they’re ‘doing much better now’ or rants about *#^+$# politicians. The last is fair enough: political discourse in Oz is the pits. I will not listen to racist or sexist rants or political rants. All else, let it rip! They come to me like seagulls to a chip – how grateful are the other passengers as they see the weirdos’ radar lock onto me as soon as they step aboard and shuffle their way towards me.

What brought on my musing today? Coming home on my Brunswick tram a couple, both heavily tattooed, she anorexic skinny and twitchy, he all muscle shirt and bravado, told me (she articulately, he with grunted agreements) how God had saved them from drugs and prison and how he/she could save me too (good luck with that, mate) and how the guy hoped one day to get access again to his son. She told how she was learning to cook and how she was getting him to ‘stop eating shit’. It was fascinating to see how the skinny woman was the dominant personality and muscles followed along. Sad stories. All true? Maybe. It is their version of reality and for now it serves them well.

How many of our own stories are true? Don’t we all continually re-invent our past? Don’t you? Talking to strangers, safe in the knowledge we will never see them again?

How do you react to strangers on a train? Avoid them? Or listen and reflect? What stories have you heard and what stories have you told them?

I’m glad they chose me and I’m glad I listened.
trams

Walking the Via Francigena

The decision is made. My next long walk will be the Via Francigena, the old pilgrimage route, from the Great Saint Bernard Pass to Rome. Some 940 kilometres, I plan a leisurely timetable of 6 weeks, allowing days to detour and wander on the way, commencing in June 2016 once the pass is open for walking and aiming to arrive in Rome late July.
Commencing here –
saint bernand pass
and finishing here –
rome
I have walked from Le Puy en Velay to Santiago along the Via Podiensis and the Camino Frances, 1500 kilometres or so depending what book or map you believe and this one will be quite different in character and terrain.
This gives me 14 months to have my novel-in-progress published, in the process of being published, self-published into probable oblivion or consigned to the rubbish bin.
Step one: start learning Italian.
Step two: start pondering ideas for a novel set on the Via Francigena. Maybe a series of linked short stories?
Step three: stay open to this changing. The 88 Temples pilgrimage in Japan is tempting… or a stroll in the Cotswolds or the new walk along the Turkish coast or ….
Again, there is no religious element involved. It is the joy of wandering and writing and of meeting people and experiencing places the old-fashioned way; by foot.

a modern fairy story of infinite nothingness in 100 words

She brought him back to life. Not the usual chest pumping, sternum cracking, lip-to-lip resuscitation, instead she was kind and caring to him as other women had not or perhaps before he had no ability or experience to recognise and accept it. He began to trust and to feel again; to come from the shadows he knew well into the light which was unfamiliar and frightening.
She loved him in her way and he mistook this, unaccustomed as he was to friendship and compassion. He fell in love with her and told her so.
This time she could not save him.
broken heart

Our first anniversary

I was reluctant, but my friends kept telling me that I had to get out there, get in the game, join the million other hopefuls. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? So I agreed to give it a try despite my anxieties that I was too old for this sort of thing and had been to the trough a few too many times; better to put on my slippers and night cap, get a dog and close the blinds. But that has never been my style and, recalling the old adage that you should never die wondering and that remorse is better than regret, I let myself be persuaded.
It was scary and it was exciting getting to know each other; the familiar tingle, the anticipation of our meetings, the world suddenly a brighter and happier place of colour, aromas, sound and sensation. A special connection with another! Sigh. Every poetic cliché of every trashy romantic novel.
She seemed to feel the same and that was wonderful.
After a couple of months, however, I could feel our connection slipping away. Sure, we liked each other, missed each other when we could not meet, but there was something lacking – the age old cry of lovers, no?
In the middle of the year we travelled together for two months and we had the closeness I craved. It did not last. Back in Australia I was ready to give up and she felt the same. It was simply not working and in my heart I knew it was my fault because I was withholding and not being my true self with her. I was playing a role and felt paralysed from acting differently. Nor was it all my fault; there was a guardedness in her, a core of secrets which she was not showing me.
I was losing her and I hated it. Hated my own inadequacies.
Knowing I had to change, I began to reveal more of myself: my hopes and fears, wants and needs, wounds and scars – the usual stuff. I began to find my own voice, becoming recognisable to myself and thus to others. Although she is cautious, I can feel her responding to me as I learn to trust and to share and to be ‘authentic’ [I know, all very new age]. Others do it, so why not me? How hard can it be? Don’t answer that, we know how hard it is to stop pretending and role playing and going through the motions and instead to be truly present and honest.
Early days and I have much left to learn. It is getting better.
Yes, it is our first anniversary.
One year since I began on WordPress in utter naivety. It has taken me a year to get a feel for what I want to do here and what I want to say; in short, to find my voice. Next I must take another deep breath and interact with the blogging community and not be only a passive reader and receiver; I could not do this unless I first found what I wanted to do with my blog.
She has been patient and accepting and you know, I think we’ll make it to our second anniversary!
Wish us luck!

10 things I learned from reading detective novels and one caveat

1.Start mid-scene and keep the story moving!
2.Sketch characters quickly and concisely and unpack their motives and complexities by action throughout the story.
3.Maintain suspense, do not reveal early. If there is sexual tension/possibility, defer, defer and defer the consummation.
4.Action drives the plot and reveals character.
5.No pontificating and explaining until the end when motive, means and opportunity are revealed.
6.No backgrounding and scene setting at the start.
7.Dialogue must be to the point, revealing either character or plot [or both].
8.We must want to keep reading and discover ‘what happens next’ = a good old page turner.
9.The ending is foreshadowed at the beginning and the story is a satisfying whole where it ‘all makes sense’.
10.We want to find out what happens, yet do not want the story to end.

Okay, on the one hand this adds nothing new to what I have been taught in the few creative writing workshops I have done in the last year. On the other hand, becoming aware of what was happening in me when reading a quality detective story and then making this list did give me a fresh insight and a template against which I can keep checking the progress of the fourth draft [total rewrite] of my mystery/romance set on the Camino.
On the other hand, as a former academic there is always an ‘on the other hand’ and always a caveat, how different would these insights have been in the mid-nineteenth century when there was not the same emphasis/obsession with ‘showing, not telling’ and when there was room to stretch out and take our time telling a story without an editor telling us to get on with it because readers get bored after sixty seconds [or is it less?] and won’t tolerate slabs of narrative or description.
More on this question in my next rant – oops, I mean my next post.