In reviewing posts, I found these questions from the audience at the launch of The Bracelet in Burnie in 2014. They were at the end of an exuberant post from that event. I thought they could use another airing – people ask good questions.
Question and Answer time at the launch of The Bracelet, 2014
Q – Did you have a plan?
A – No. I felt like Dr Frankenstein sometimes, stitching together these pieces that I had written sporadically over the two years to make a whole thing. I had a starting point, an idea for the structure, sort of, and a collection of characters.
Q – What would you do differently next time?
A – Investigate a program called Scrivener. It’s supposed to be brilliant at helping novelists to keep their stuff organised.
Q – What is your next project?
A – It’s a non-fiction work. In May 1945, a training accident at an Army base just outside Wagga in NSW blew 26 young men to pieces. Two days later they were buried in the local military cemetery. It is still the largest military funeral on home soil, but until recently, even the local population was largely oblivious to it. It had been forgotten except by the families of the men. Each of these 26 was only ‘important’ because they were 26. If it had been 19 men killed, it would not be a record and it would be different, perhaps. But each of the 26 left behind a particular shaped hole in their families. And the families are still coping with that gap in their lives. So the book is a way to honour them and acknowledge their grief.
Q – What was the balance of the work your editor did with you – the balance between addressing the commas and the big picture issues?
A – I am fortunate to have a gifted reader in my wife, so she actually did a great deal of the big picture stuff before Kate got to see the manuscript. There were many issues of consistency because of the way I wrote it, in bits and pieces. So I’d ask Mary Ann to read a sequence and she’d provide some feedback about what did or didn’t work for her. Then, as it started to come together, she pointed out the inconsistencies.
I sent the first draft up to James Moloney but her only got through about 90 pages. His response to me was ‘It’s called The Bracelet, but the bracelet appears briefly then disappears for the next 90 pages. That’s a problem.’ So I had to go back to it and do a whole lot of rewriting.
By the time Kate saw the whole work, it had already undergone much revision and ironing out of the wrinkles. Kate, however, also picked up on some big picture issues, such as the beginning, which she thought just did not work. What was the beginning now appears at about page 60 and the present opening sequence was made up entirely.
The new went though the novel line by line. She questioned the punctuation, some of the wording, the images used – everything. A great deal was left unchanged, but I had to justify, to myself as well as to Kate, much that remained unchanged.
Q – What were some of the pieces that you really liked that got edited out?
A – The opening. Even though it appears later in the book in a revised form, it is changed. And there is a section that has a series of letters in it. In the original, there were twice as many, but it was too slow, so I cut them back sharply to keep the momentum of the story going.
Q –What was the problem with the beginning?
A – I was trying to be clever. I wanted to create the echo-effect, a frame for the novel, so that it begins and ends with the same sort of scene, even, the same scene. Very literary, but it didn’t work in this novel. Mary Ann had tried to tell me this much earlier but I didn’t want to hear it. By the time Kate was telling me I had had enough and was ready to concede.
Q –Is there a worry that the editor can have too much say?
A – Yes. A ‘bad editor’ will try to shape a work according to their own ideals. But a ‘good editor’ will point out what does not work, in their view, and there might be a discussion of that and alternatives, and the writer then goes off and deals with it. That’s how the present beginning sequence came to be.
I used to think there was one author, the one whose name appears on the front cover. Not so anymore – it is a collaborative effort. Yes, it is my concept, my drafting, but there has been so much given by others that I really do see it as more a collaborative effort now. Writers need editors.
Q – When you were writing the novel, did you ever sit down to write have nothing happen?
A – Yes. But I couldn’t afford to just sit there and watch the scenery. Sometimes I was not in the right headspace to write the next thing that needs to be written. That was one of the good things about writing the novel in bits and pieces.
There was always research to do if I got really stuck.
But often I could attend to other things, non-creative things like editing, organising files, attending to correspondence, transcribing sections I had written in longhand, etc.
What I found usually happened then was that my headspace would change and I could go on and do some of the creative work.
One of the really liberating insights from the process that came after a while was that so much of what I write gets tossed out. Partly, perhaps, that is because I often need to write myself in to a story or a character rather than make it up in my head first, then write it down. I’d have done it pretty tough if I’d been writing in Jane Austen’s era, or Charles Dickens’ office, working with nibs and ink bottles and loose sheets of paper.
Q – Did you ever want to give up?
A – Yes. The knockbacks, or even worse – the no replies, were hard to take sometimes. To lift my spirits early on a friend told me that no-one can count themselves a real writer until they’ve had 29 rejections. (It actually worked for me!) Then there were the occasions when the sheer enormity of the task left to do – even to finish the first draft – would get me right down.
In the world of exploration, Certainty is a killer. Knowing that I’m right – ‘Yes, I’m certain!’ – is a one way ticket to nowhere else.
Why? Pretty obvious: you get what you look for – you find what you know. The prejudices you look through pick up corroborations and delete the errants. Nothing new there.
But turn the perspective on the immaterial world and the same applies. Religious certainty is a killer. Nothing more is required of the believer than to adhere. Adherence means living out the consequences of the belief, and maybe defending it. Following the paths, patterns, structures implied in the belief. And this is as it should be because, if you’re going to believe in something, then wholehearted is the way to go. Right?
What if – what if there is merit in the opposite – complete uncertainty – ‘I don’t know but I’m going anyway’ ?
Being right leads to entrenched positions, concreted attitudes, rigid responses to the curlies that life throws up.
Just being – stripped of the accreted filtering layers that shelter me from the unpredictable weather of Uncertainty – is a challenge. I have to trust what I don’t know, who I can’t name, whatever it is that is beyond the reach of my intellect. It means removing control from my beliefs. It means I don’t care about being Right anymore. It is inexplicable and indefensible to anyone else who sees the outcome as Wrong. ‘Why?’ gets a shrug, a smile and a lengthy, open eye-contact.
How did I come to this? read more …
10 Jan 2018
There are no beliefs here.
I am on my own.
In my being with whatever waits in the darkness
there is nothing but my self to sustain me.
All the frippery and ephemeral disappear,
unseen in the night,
In the Blindness there is only the Light
glowing from within,
a bubble-shield illuminating a few bare centimetres,
not even the length of my foot
shuffling its next tiny step.
Who can tell in the darkness?
It is enough to move in the Light,
trusting my Self not to seek to know –
Why? Where? How? –
trusting whatever this is
It is a precarious way to live.
Life is easier without them.
Not the ones that hold your shirts together and not the ones you find in elevators or on keypads. I’m not writing about zippers and Siri.
It’s the ones I’ve stitched onto myself, the threads shallow beneath the skin, and the bright, shiny ones that surface in my skin, wires running down into bone marrow and even deeper into my psyche, rooted in something forgotten. These ones especially, like gross, shiny, flat-topped pimples located on the edge of awareness and trailing inside to something unknown – these ones I can do without. read more …
Some of the recent history of the Malayasia-Myanmar-India-Bangladesh region sits clear through the window of this book. What I read in the news from that region now has more depth. The detail in the book is amazing. No wonder it took Ghosh 5 years to research it. Historical fiction, in my opinion, should attempt to reveal something of the past clearly and sincerely. I want to know things like: What happened? Why? What was it like for the people involved? How is the past visible in the present? etc. The Glass Palace is most satisfactory. (That sounds condescending!)
There are some things that will stick with me for a long while: the scathing critique of imperialism delivered politely, two of the wartime deaths, the change in Burma’s circumstance over the twentieth century. read more …
Imagine you come upon someone saying ‘I know of a way to be free of the buttons and bindings of being here, a way to brush aside dusty webs from the mirror – it’s as simple as breathing …’ What would you say?
(You may choose more than one option.)
A – What’s the catch?
B – No thanks. I’m an atheist.
C –Spill. My life sucks. read more …
The subject is stark – brutalised humanity in the plight of Syrian refugees living in appalling conditions. What stands out is the humanity.
I am reminded of the poetry of Wilfred Owen – exquisite poems from the horrors of the trenches in WW1. He too stressed the humanity of his subjects despite their shocking situation.
It takes a special writer to achieve this.
Flanagan offers, in this short essay, a masterclass in human portraiture.
No wonder this book was shortlisted for two Premiers’ Literary Awards in 2014 and won two in 2016. Dark Emu caused a slip in my consciousness. It is a pivotal work.
The book turns our Australian ‘history’ on its head. I grew up believing that the Aboriginal way of life was pretty fragile, apt to be shattered by the next drought or flood or outbreak of disease. As ‘hunter-gatherers’ they basically moved from one kangaroo to another. Admittedly, they were pretty clever, I later learned, in their use of fire to manage the wildlife – they had to have something going for them to have lasted this long – but basically they were opportunists, lacking the technology to create or store food reserves. And this left them at the mercy of the vagaries of the elements and meant they were inferior to us white folks. read more …
Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett (2013)
Not as gripping as The Truth (the birth of news-papers) or The Colour of Magic (the birth of Film) and perhaps it is a fact that I have read an inordinate number of Discworld novels. HOWEVER, Pratchett is clever. His toying with words and their meanings delights me. For instance, it took me some time to realise that the ‘loggysticks’ that the engineer was going to depend on to finish building a bridge in time were actually … (cue drumroll) … ‘logistics.’ read more …
I lost my reading glasses last night. Annoying. Without them, I have to squint at anything I read close-up. We had driven to Launceston in the afternoon, with a number of stops, to drop two friends at the airport, then driven home in the dark. So I searched my clothes; I searched the car. I looked on the benches and table-tops where I might have put them on my return. Nothing. Do I start phoning the café, the airport, the friends?
No, I squinted, and that’s all I did. I did not enter into an internal diatribe about my failings, nor look for a way to shift blame. My mind, so used to being in charge, did not leap to making up interpretations of this little event. There was no rage, merely the ephemeral annoyance. I went to bed content and in the morning found the glasses in their case beside my seat in the car. read more …