Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘adversity’ Category

super moon in starry sky on sea

 

Nine years ago or thereabouts, the Australian Women’s Weekly ran a short story competition with a first prize of $5,000 and guaranteed publication in this most circulated of Australian women’s newspapers. Being a writer and thus financially on the rocks (I figure I’ve made about $8 a week from my writing over the last 20 years, and that’s a high-end estimate), I decided to enter. I didn’t expect to win, but I thought there’d probably be a short list and the stories on that would be offered publication. And the Women’s Weekly pays, baby, pays.

So I sat down and sweated out a story of 5,000 words and sent it off. Months passed. Eventually the result was announced, but Danny Margaret had scored zero, zilch, and there didn’t appear to be a short list. Well, I thought, so much for that, and I put the story away in the proverbial bottom drawer.

Five years went by. One day (I must’ve had nothing better to do, perhaps it was the wet season) I pulled the story out and reread it. It’s not bad, I thought. Very Women’s Weekly – what a shame it didn’t get anywhere … Then I remembered Australian writer Marele Day saying once in a writing workshop that magazines were always looking for Christmas stories. They were drowning in the other kind, she said; but they were always short of Christmas stories. Hmm, I thought.

At the time my finances were in worse-than-usual disarray. Publication in the WW would sort all that out. O-kay. There was just one hitch: My story wasn’t a Christmas story. To solve this problem, I had the main character’s daughter refer to Christmas in an already-existing phone conversation and I had two people the main character passes on her way to the beach wish her a Merry Christmas. That’s all I did.

By now, my CV had filled out, and I had a little more confidence than I’d had in earlier years. I approached the editor of the Women’s Weekly by email, gave her my CV and a 3-line synopsis of the story and asked if she’d be interested in reading my “Christmas story”. Next thing I know I’m being offered publication in their 2010 Christmas edition.

The moral of this monologue is: If you put a short story in a competition and it doesn’t get anywhere, that doesn’t mean anything. What matters is being published. Craig McGregor told me this way back in 1979, but I didn’t take any notice. Besides, being a single parent, I needed the money that comps could provide.

Now here is “Stella by Starlight” minus the Merry Christmases. I’ve also made one other change, transforming the main character from female to male, to fit the story into the collection I’m publishing next year. Everything else, though, is the same, and the theme and moral of the story are unchanged.

Sales points for “Stella” are below. I hope you enjoy it. I wish I could provide a direct sales link to Apple, but I’m digitally disadvantaged.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MTVVG9C

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/467119

Read Full Post »

 The Kid

As 2013 draws to a close I find myself thinking more and more about my neighbour Ron, who passed away in October of this year after a long battle with cancer. We lived across from one another for over 13 years and, although we were never in and out of one another’s places (we would’ve hated that), we were there for one another. He was a single parent. When he first moved in, he had a boy who’d just started high school — a wild boy.

A number of years ago, when Ron was still well and I didn’t even know he had cancer, I went over to his place one day for coffee, and he told me his story, how he’d been given less than five years to live and how he’d decided he couldn’t die because no one else would be able to raise his son, whom he called ‘the kid’.

Ron was a born storyteller. The whole story rolled off his tongue and when I came home I simply wrote it down, just the way he’d told it to me. I’ve never done that before or since; I’m not that kind of writer. Later, when I wanted to enter the story in a fiction competition based around the subject of cancer, I added an extra frisson by having the narrator say she’d been on her way to commit suicide and the story of Ron’s courage had stopped her. The story ended up being short-listed in the Cancer Council of Victoria’s short story competition and included in an exhibition of art, poetry and stories, fiction and non-fiction, that toured country Victoria in (I think) 2009.

Ron was stoked to see his story in print. He was one of those unsung heroes who live and die unnoticed by the world, known only to a few friends and family. As his illness progressed, I saw a bit more of him, making him a baked dinner on Sundays when I made my own, but leaving him in peace to eat it in his own time. He had a miniature fox terrier named Bella, and even when things became difficult for him and he was on heavy doses of morphine, we would still see him walking Bella, growing thinner and thinner every week. He used to say, “She’s been so good for me. I wouldn’t get out and walk if it wasn’t for her.”

If you haven’t already done so, you can read Ron’s story FREE at http://www.derekhaines.ch/vandal/2013/11/short-story-the-kid-by-danielle-de-valera/

Remember, though, I’m a fiction writer: I was never a widow, nor am I contemplating suicide. (I left that behind with my youth.) The great part about the story is the real-life ending. Although given only five years to live, Ron lived to see his son all grown up with a kid of his own who promises to be every bit as much a tiger as he was. Life goes on.

The best of everything to you all for the New Year. May we be safe and well in 2014. (Wealth is good, but health is even better.)

Danielle

Read Full Post »

DSCF3566

In the bush outside Casino, musing on the vagaries of life, and human nature in general, accompanied by two bovine mums. The new calves are just out of the frame.

 Last week I went to Casino to celebrate the Melbourne Cup with friends. For those of you who don’t know about the Cup, it’s the foremost horse race in Australia; everything stops for it. I don’t know one horse from another, but it’s good to catch up with old friends and see what improvements they’ve made on their 240 acres since I was last there.

I had another reason to be glad I was in the bush for a few days: the first morning I was there I received an email from the POD designer – she’s holding my book to ransom until she receives the remainder of her fee. Which is not a lot, I might add. This is unusual in the industry, thank the Lord – the e book designer sent me 3 different versions of my novel and an invoice the next day with a month to pay.( I paid him 48 hours later – I have figured out how to use PayPal.)

The print book designer and I have had a rocky time (we were both starting out). So, as I say, I was happy I was among friends when I received the email confirming what I already suspected but couldn’t bring myself to believe.

My November deadline, has perforce, moved to 11 December — too late for anyone wanting to buy hard copies for Christmas, unless they’re prepared to ship the book using Amazon’s exorbitant Priority Paid option.

Along with the ultimatum, the designer gave me her bank details. Alas, I haven’t yet learned how to pay someone overseas in this way, where, I understand, certain extra bits of arcane information are required. It was on my To do list, but what with editing and proofing the novel, it got pushed to the back burner. Into the nearest town that has a branch of my bank, obtain a bank cheque, and send it by registered post. It will take at least 10 days to reach the US.

When the designer has received the money and sends me the POD version (hope hope hope), it would be madness to go to press without seeing the proof. (We’ve been though two, so far.) Even using Amazon’s priority paid shipping option, I will lose another 6 days. If there are formatting errors that require fixing, I wonder what happens then?

Even if the book is ready to go, and I sure hope it is, I will lose another six days while I wait for the last lot of print copies to arrive. In my youth, I would’ve lost a lot of sleep over this. Now I just chalk it up to the aforesaid vagaries of human nature and move the date to 11 December. Just to be on the safe side.

It’s a weird situation, and I have no feelings against the designer. It’s not her fault I haven’t yet conquered overseas internet banking. And she did have a hard time with me, I know that. Remember, I’m the one who didn’t even know how to save attached files forwarded to me as downloads. (I thought you saved them under View, and wondered why I couldn’t print or forward them to anyone.) In my defence, though, I had a bit of a hard time myself. When you’re both learning, these things happen.

Life’s funny, and far too short to waste a lot of emotion on a thing like this. It’s very small hiccup in the overall scheme of things. It’s even funny, if you can just see the humour. Fancy being so awful that someone felt driven to this measure. It’s a kind of distinction, I suppose, but one I could well do without.

Darth Vader image

Come over to the dark side, Luke, with me and Danielle de Valera.

Read Full Post »

During my latest stint of two weeks without a computer (the pedal-driven, twig and raffia monsters I work on have a habit of breaking down regularly), what with the rain coming down incessantly, I had recourse to a number of books in an effort to save my sanity. I read T C Boyles’ The Inner Circle, Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost (big books, both of them) Joe Orton’s Diaries (he was killed by his lover, remember?), Christopher Isherwood’s A Meeting by the River, and on and on. And on, anything to try to save my sanity. These books don’t reflect any pattern; I’m not a planned reader, I read anything I fall over or that people lend me. Being obsessive by nature, I dare not make a reading plan, find it wiser to keep myself open to whatever reading matter comes along.

The last book I read before the snowed tech finally got around to me was The Journals, Volume 1 by John Fowles, another big book, edited by Charles Drazin from the raw material of Fowles’ diaries, over two million words covering the period from 1949, when he was in his final year at Oxford, to 1965, when he’s wrestling with a lucrative offer from Fox Studios for The Magus.

Fowles, c. 1952

Fowles, c. 1952

These days, Fowles is well known for The Collector, The Magus, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, all of which were made into films, but being unknown as a novelist myself, I found most interesting the period in which he was struggling and unrecognised. I thought other indie writers might enjoy reading a bit about this part of Fowles’ life too, so I’ve included a few lines from The Journals below:

25 August 1956

Halfway revising The Joker —  now The Magus. The construction is all right. But [there is] constant slipping down in technique; invasion of cliché. I have to treat each sentence drill-fashion. Is it necessary? Is it succinct? Is it clear? Is it elegant? Has it clichés? It usually has.

10 May 1958

Creation by effort; it is despised. What is admired is the ‘natural’ genius of the ‘born’ artist … myself … I seem to have endless obstacles to overcome — laziness, doubt, slowness, the cliché — so that if I finally achieve anything … it will be in spite of myself; self-taught, self-made. And no aid from the bloody muses.

About his poverty:

4 May 1958

Rent increase; already they take five guineas a week. Now it’s to be six. We shall have to leave. It’s too much to lose each week, even with E [his wife] working as she is now, fulltime …Poverty is now part of me … There is still very little I would (indeed could) do for money; but sometimes the strain rises above the surface of my acceptance. The great black wall to wall … poverty that we have had for the last four or five years; we swing from Friday [his payday as a schoolteacher] to Friday. Like squirrels on the run; it doesn‘t do to think of a branch or Friday giving way.

When he finally makes it with The Collector in 1962, you heave a sigh of relief. Some of the first things he buys are an overcoat and a suit for himself, an outfit for his wife, a secondhand camera, a coffee table and some secondhand chairs. Touching. (Though, upon reflection, you begin to wonder just how Fowles defined poverty when he and his wife were both working fulltime before his breakthrough, and they had no children. But let’s not ruin the story; perhaps the rent they were paying was exceptionally high for the times.)

For any writer out there who is currently struggling and unknown, the journals give a glimpse into the problems of a writer whom we all think of as having made it, and just a taste of his struggles AFTER he’s made it, the terrible script conferences where he tries to hold on to the integrity of his work in the face of Hollywood’s dollar worshipping producers.

The Volume 1 Journals end where he’s bought his place Underhill at Lyme Regis, and has just accepted Twentieth Century Fox’s offer for The Magus of $7,500 for the option, $92,500 on exercise of the option and $10,000 for a treatment. I couldn’t relate to those figures and, as I imagine Volume 2 will be his life after fame has hit him, I don’t think I’ll be taking it on. Still, Vol. 1 is an interesting read for struggling writers, and aficionados of Fowles.

Happy St Patrick’s Day, by the way.

 

Read Full Post »

cyclone

Tropical cyclone Oswald, with its attendant winds of 140 kph and rain that looks set to cause worse flooding in south-east Queensland than the disastrous floods of 2011 has now moved south to New South Wales. Here, in South Golden Beach, only a few miles from the Queensland border, no one goes out. The streets are empty and strewn with debris, mostly leaves and branches from trees.

Oswald has now been officially downgraded to ex-tropical cyclone Oswald. For us, the worst of the wind was last night, and few of us got much sleep, Oswald had turned into a very unpredictable rain depression that carried within it mini-cyclones that could tear a town apart as one did yesterday in Bargara, a seaside township near Bundaberg.

Still, now at 2 p.m. it seems that we are over the worst. Wind gusts are down to around 70 kph and are predicted to drop further in the late evening. Oswald is slated to arrive in Sydney in the early hours of tomorrow morning, bringing with it the kind of torrential rain that has already flooded the CBDs of towns in south-east Queensland and is going to flood the capital city of Brisbane once more. The people in this area are exhausted: they barely survived the 2011 floods in which lives were lost and many homes were flooded to the rooftops. Most had just finished rebuilding or renovating; now, they must go through it all again. In some towns, the flood heights are predicted to be higher than in 2011. So we are lucky. So far, there have been not even been any power cuts, though most are well prepared with water, matches, torches, candles, food and gas burners.

Floods are not such a problem here. In fourteen years of living in South Golden Beach, the closest I’ve ever come to being flooded was on 30 June 2005, when the water reached to within six inches of the floorboards. Here, being so close to the coast, the biggest danger the village faces is from wind. There’s always the possibility that some cyclone with nothing better to do will wander in from the sea and wipe us out the way Cyclone Zoe did the little hamlet of Sheltering Palms four miles to the south of us, in 1974.

And so we count our blessings. We are overdue for a really bad cyclone. Fortunately, this wasn’t the one.

Read Full Post »

Someone I know on the UK business and social network site Ecademy put this blog up on 6 August. I was so affected by it I asked to be allowed to reproduce it here. The writer wishes to remain anonymous.

 

 

 

 

I’m not quite sure what his name is. He doesn’t talk much and when he does he mutters into his chest. His head is always down. Basically, he’s invisible to almost everyone. The residents ignore him sullying their perfect town. The holiday-makers look straight past him like he’s a nobody at a networking event. Their children are afraid; they whisper to each other and their protectors.

I think his name is Alwen or something Welsh. On the rare occasions when I have coached speech from him his voice is not crude. It has vestigial politeness from the age before everyone started imitating Jonathon Ross and there is a musical lilt to it. Welsh or possibly Irish.

His path crosses mine most days of the week and sometimes we arrive at the same point at the same time. I try my best to have some change ready to slip into his hand, or a fiver – with which I can say, “Fancy some fish and chips”. He always thanks me, shocked but polite. He always mumbles “Thank you very much.” There’s nothing drunken, common, criminal, abusive, threatening or druggy about his demeanour or his speech.

He invariably wears a battered fleece and a hideous waterproof jacket, whatever the weather. Sometimes he stands near the beach, slightly out of view, watching the normal people and their normal lives, as if he is fascinated by their world.

Once in a while I mention him to people to see what they think. All the most beautiful girls in town are volunteer collectors for the Lifeboats. I chat to them most days when they look bored. None of them even knew who I was talking about, though he walks right past them, twice, each day. A sun-beaten local with classic seaside casuals, chestnut tan and white beard often speaks to me in broad Cornish accent. He thought Alwen was into drugs. The lady with five sheepdogs thinks he’s a tramp, which is fairly obvious. My friend Keith who empties the litter bins and cleans the windows at Sainsbury’s (which is right by the beach) says “…he’s pitiful but harmless…” No more curious than that.

Is Alwen mentally ill? Was he released into the community? I doubt it. I can recognise nutters and feel their vibes. He doesn’t give off that strange menace that crazies and hostile networkers do. Did he lose his job? Did his wife kick him out? How long has he been sleeping rough? Does he get any benefits? I doubt it: sometimes I see him picking through bins near the chip shops. I have never seen him with a drink in his hand, though I know where he goes to collect dog ends that teenage thrill-seekers have left behind during their petting sessions.

I strongly suspect from his age and the strength of his constitution in resisting that awful life that he’s ex Army. One of those guys who goes into shock and never comes out. One of the heroes that we abandon after we’ve used them up. If I can discover the details I know where to write to get him help. I’ve done it before when I lived in Warminster, which is haunted by broken soldiers.

Where does he shelter on stormy nights? I’m trying to find out but he’s extremely secretive. He glances behind him like he’s afraid of being followed. He cowers. He wants to be invisible. He wants to be lost and unknown. He’s the real thing, not some wanna-be folk-singer posturing at being a drifter like everyone did in 1966. This guy truly is drifting, like garbage in the wind as far as anyone is concerned… Even the Reserve Police Lady doesn’t know who he is, or doesn’t care, or doesn’t want the hassle… And she’s very nice.

So, it seems like it is down to me to keep him in touch with the human race and watch out for him in the snow. And I can’t even walk. We don’t want to take him home but I can’t abandon him to the elements and the slight risk of yobs with vicious dogs that we get in the summer. Someone has to keep an eye on him to make sure he isn’t ill, to check that he puts in an appearance every day, his invisible appearance. If I could discover where he lays his head I can confirm that he’s OK in bad weather when he doesn’t show…

This evening I thought I saw him and since I had a pocket full of change I went after him for a casual hello and maybe a nod of the head and a quick handover not to insult his dignity. As usual, he was looking back to check that no one is following. He saw it was me and slowed down, because he actually likes having a bit of money to spend for a change.

As I approached I was getting ready to speak, carefully… Same ample hair but scared white. Same battered coat but the trousers looked different. Perhaps he’s found some new ones in a skip. He turned.

It was someone else: a distinguished intellectual type, dressed down, in town for the Jazz Festival. But he looked just as haunted, just as afraid in the eyes, just as bitter in the jaw, more so, in fact. Perhaps that’s why we ignore those who have succumbed to the fate we fear ourselves, slipping through the cracks in society and into the gutter.

One banker’s bonus could save Alwen and ten thousand others like him.

Read Full Post »