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Archive for the ‘aging’ Category

Reflections final

Somewhere around the year 2000, I wrote a short story called “A Pink Rosebush and a Piece of Lattice” that was lucky enough to win an award up here in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. This story “Reflections” is the longer version, and is around 2,300 words.

I’m besotted with the cover, which my US author friend C S McClellan created from a beautiful image I found online at Eden Pics. You can see more of their nature photos at http://www.edenpics.com and, wonder of wonders, their images are free.

This story is the last of the ten stories I have been formatting and putting up on the web over the past fifteen or so months. Because it’s so short, I wanted it to be free, so it will only appear on Smashwords.

In this story, Charles Lawson, the notorious heroin dealer formerly known as God, has been released from jail and, after living quietly with his cats for a number of years, is now so old he has to enter a nursing home. Here he reflects on his life and, in his last moments, imagines he is reunited with his wife Angela, who died some years before him.

It sounds like a pretty grim read when I put it that way, but all those who’ve read it found the story touching and/or uplifting. I hope anyone else who checks it out will feel the same way.

“Reflections” is available from Smashwords in various formats, including pdf, mobo and EPUB at:     https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/554292

Thanks to everyone who’s taken this journey with me so far. I’m hoping to put out a collection of these stories in print and e-book at the end of the year. However, good looking print books don’t come cheap, so that date may yet end up in the first quarter of 2016. Will keep you posted.

Dani

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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

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P1000489(1)

Astrologers tell me I was born with the moon in Pisces, which is supposed to explain my fondness for water and the fragile state of my mental health. Well, who knows? Anyway, perhaps that’s why I fell in love many years ago with the idea of a trip on a houseboat — not that I’m an intrepid sailor; I don’t know port from starboard, and though I can stay afloat in calm water, I can’t swim for nuts.

When it came my turn to organise the biennial get-together of a few old Ag Scientists and spouses (the operative word here is old; if you want to be politically correct elderly), I wondered what I would do. I live in a broom cupboard three hundred metres from the Pacific Ocean. Eight of us couldn’t stay there. What to do? Then I remembered my houseboat dream. l made enquiries. T’was possble: The rental for 4 days and nights was a little over $200 per person. This amount can be a lot or a little, depending on the state of your finances.

Off we went.

The first night one of my girlfriends and I spent a lot of time wandering the boat while everyone else slept. We were trying to uncover the source of various odd noises. Were we dragging the anchor? What was that strange banging noise we could hear upstairs? Had we dropped the anchor too short and the nose of the boat was slowly being pulled under the water as the tide rose? (My particular favourite.) Etc. etc. Eventually exhaustion overcame us and we slept. To put it in buddhist terms, we “wore the experience out, and so were able to relinquish it.” Whatever.

We had a bit of an accident on our first morning out. In attempting to get from the houseboat to the dinghy, one of our number fell into the river. But we fished him out and dried him off and gave him a cup of tea. Soon he was as good as new.

More adventures befell us. With me as navigator and our Fallen in the Water (FITW) skipper, we managed to run aground later on that day. Well, of course, what were you expecting? I have zero skills as a nav. In my defence I have to say that when we reached the point where we had to choose one waterway or the other, the green bouys I was following appeared equally relevant — or irrelevant, depending on how you were looking at it. It was just bad luck that decided me to tell our intrepid skipper to go right (starboard?) instead of left (port)?

“We need to rock the boat from side to side,” our FITW skipper told us. So we rushed to the upper deck and ran en masse from one side of the boat to the other while he revved the engine below. We were lucky: We were able tto reverse off the sandbank without having to submit to the shame of being towed off, or whatever it is they do under those circumstances.

We managed to get into and out of the dinghy without further mishaps.

 P1000498

 

Here we’re returning from lunch at the Tumbulgum Pub; I’m the one in the orange pullover, clinging white-knuckled to the gunwale. Note to those in the Northern Rivers: The food at the pub was OK, but if you want ambience and nice food, skip the pub and go the the little Birdwing Cafe down the road.

With a little help from our friends, we got to the Tweed River Art Gallery to see the new installation: a recreation of some of the rooms in recently-deceased artist Margaret Olley’s terrace house in Sydney. Olley was famous for her house, which was a mix of objets d’art, paintings and clutter.

 Margaret Olley

 

It was a good trip. The weather held fine, the Tweed lived up to expectations — it’s a beautiful river and there was very little traffic on it while we were there. Evenings as the boat swung at anchor, the stars seemed to wheel slowly across the night sky, and the moon slipped in and out of view in the windows of the room where I was sleeping.

If you’ve never had a trip on a houseboat, think about trying it sometime. It’s different.

[Photos of the Tweed and the “Kalinda” by Dr Martin Playne. ]

 

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bustinggod(2)

A long, long time ago, back in the early ‘90s, I had my first short story published in a national magazine. My children and I were over the moon: the money (AU$1,500) was astronomical in those days. A few years later, I decided to see if I could crack the same market again—after all, $1,500 never goes astray.

I’d just read Narc! Inside the Australian Bureau of Narcotics by Bernard Delaney, who was a senior investigator in the narcotics bureau for some years before becoming Commander for the Southern Region of Australia. So I wrote this 5,000 word short story about an undercover narcotics agent, basing the procedures on Delaney’s book. After the usual eight drafts, I submitted it to the editor who’d accepted my previous story. My timing was bad. A week after I submitted the story, the magazine was sued for defamation. In the chaos that ensued, ‘Busting God’ went nowhere. I put it away and concentrated on the next draft of my Brisbane novel. Some twenty years later, I sent the story to an Australian magazine called Blue Crow, edited by Andrew Scobie, who accepted it enthusiastically.

Now that I‘ve decided to put all my work up online before I fall off the perch (it seems safer than wrapping it in ‘fireproof’ material and putting it in the tin trunk, but I might be wrong), I gave the story yet another draft and put it up on Amazon and Smashwords. In brief, it’s the story of an aging undercover agent who, along with his long-time Vietnam buddy Baby Johnson, is sent to the Northern Rivers of New South Wales to bust a heroin dealer everyone up there calls God because he’s so big. Apart from successfully running God to earth, the major conflict in the story takes place in the hero’s head. Will he stay in law enforcement or get out before his slowing reflexes get him killed? That’s the main idea behind the story, and the idea that leads to the next story I’m putting up in three weeks time, this time for free, called ‘Remains to be Seen’. As part of my plan to try to save the work before I drop off the perch, I plan to put up another eleven stories on the web this year, half of them for sale, half for free. This one has a price on it, but I chose the lowest price both sales sites would allow.

‘Busting God’ is one of the three favourite stories I’ve written; there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour. It’s also the first thing I’ve ever formatted. Being the digital klutz that I am (oh yes, I am — see my previous post on this subject at: https://danielledevalera.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/for-all-you-luddites-out-there/, formatting that story took me a long time and I’m so chuffed that I managed to do it. I was further encouraged by fellow writer C S McClellan, who did the you-beaut cover for me. Thank you so much, Connie; designing an ebook cover is way out of my league.

If you’ve got a moment or so, pop over and take a look at ‘Busting God’. You can read about 30% for free at either:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/416303

or www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

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I first met John Macgregor about ten years ago. Turned out he lived down the street from me. John’s over in Cambodia now, having adventures, while I, ever unadventurous, am still in the same street. (Anyone who’s read my trip to NZ post will know that I’m not a traveller, never was.)

 John has recently put his award-winning novel, Propinquity, up on the web. I asked him to write a few words about the book and how he felt about it after all these years. This is what he wrote:

Propinquity cover

 

I tend to think of the 1980s as being quite close in time – a bit like Now With Bulky Devices. But exhuming Propinquity, my 27-year-old novel, revealed just how much Australia has changed in the few years since then.

Propinquity was disinterred for publication as an e-book. This meant I had to read the thing – for the first time since I was a young lad of 36 who regarded it as reasonable behaviour to wear black all the time, and smoke a lot.

I knew I had changed. And I knew my alter ego narrator would have changed (had I attempted anything so gauche as a sequel). Australia was the character which provided the surprises.

To get the difficult bit over with first: during the Mullumbimby section of the novel, my narrator, Clive, regularly goes swimming naked with two girl children (his girlfriend’s kids). That would probably be out these days. Indeed I’m nervous about even mentioning it. I suspect the way this passage was received in 1986 (not a single comment from a reader or reviewer) is different to how it will be read now.

But far more interesting (to me) is that Clive habitually tends to put a negative spin on things. I did not know in 1986  that this “pessimistic explanatory style” is the leading cause of depression. After 35 years of the black dog I was very happy to put it down about ten years ago, thanks to some learned optimism training. Many others have done the same. In my opinion we’re in something of a Golden Age of psychology – an age which lies in Clive’s future. So seeing his episodic gloomfulness now – from that future – is a bit like observing a gloomy adolescent: you feel he’ll grow out of it.

Small, linguistic things have changed too. There are no “awesomes” in the book, but one “whatever”, and one line that made me LOL:

“She laughed out loud.”

And what is it with all these hyphens? Back-drop? Match-box? Stick-figure? Plaster-board? Sun-tan? Heart-beat? Switch-board? Did we ever spell like that? If so, two and a half more decades of Americanisation have ended it.

It’s not just language that’s changed, but diction. After the Loyal Toast at a Melbourne wedding reception, Clive tells us: “The toasting done, assumed English accents at neighbouring tables began to rise again in volume.”

This alludes to a generation of Melbourne society women, who are now all dead. No-one thinks a fake English accent is sophisticated any more, even in Toorak. (One also suspects the Loyal Toast has gone the way of the Divine Right and Charles I’s head.) But it’s remarkable how recently these faux Englishwomen walked (and talked) among us. I can still hear the terrifying, brittle voices which cut the air before them them as they beelined toward you at a party, like the Queen with an icepick behind her back.

The book also suggested how our views on alcohol, diet and health have changed in scarcely a generation. Clive drank a real lot (“we spent a month drinking beer in the Portsea pub”; “The wine was tolerable too, the second bottle tasting better than the first.”), as did his friends. They even did this at breakfast. I don’t drink at all these days, and if I had anything to do with it (which I would) neither would Clive.

And to think that this young idiot also drank iced coffee and ate camembert! Didn’t he know coffee crashes the adrenals, and that dairy is the world’s number one allergen? To make matters worse, on page 126: “I consumed mountains of garlic bread.” These grain foods were the very thing that would soon make me sick for an entire decade, till the arrival of the Internet enabled me to learn that we’re not a grain-eating species. D’oh.

But Clive is incorrigible. He seems determined to submerge himself in over-work, coffee, tax evasion, alcohol, grand theft, garlic bread, procuring perjury and eating dairy – all the vices, not just a few:

“The meetings and telexes and coffees and cigarettes had been endless.” Unspeakable.

Indeed, after he has discovered the divine female at the heart of Christendom, exposed a 2,000-year Church conspiracy, fled Westminster Abbey, been chased by the authorities across the globe, and is finally nabbed by the law in Byron Bay, he tries to makes his escape by slugging a policeman. These days police are armed, and he’d be shot.

The foregoing also reminds me how radically the way people think about God has shifted. Propinquity is saying that everything we have been taught about God is nonsense – a fringe view in 1986, which is now mainstream. The old structures totter on, but the cynicism about them is total.

Finally, for all his sins, my hero Clive was right to suggest a post-revolution firing squad for Rupert Murdoch, for it is his ilk who have ensured that “the old is dying, and the new cannot be born”.

“In this strange interregnum” (to complete the quote from Antonio Gramsci) “many morbid symptoms arise”. Looking around me now at 61, he wasn’t wrong about that.

In 1986 it was thought that we were in with a chance to save civilisation, and the planet that gave rise to it. The ensuing quarter-century saw the ideas and structures by which that could have been done steadily abandoned. Now we’re down to a series of rear guard actions. The emphasis has shifted, with a slow, intricate subtlety, from preventing disaster to adjusting to it. None of that was visible when I was 36, and wore black, and smoked a lot.

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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.

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 My guest blogger this month is Ed Griffin, who teaches creative writing at Matsqui Prison, a medium-security prison in Canada. Ed has just released his new eboook – a novel entitled Prisoners of the Williwaw – on Amazon. Over to you, Ed.

 

In the 1980s, my wife and I owned a mom and pop commercial greenhouse. Our business was prospering, but something was wrong. My life was planting seeds, growing tiny plants and selling vegetables and garden plants in the spring. I was becoming what I grew — a cabbage, or maybe a petunia. My mind was dying and I knew it.

          I started playing around with writing. After supper every night I would go out to my ‘office,’ a little added-on room between our house and the garage. It had windows to the front and back and a space heater that was adequate for spring and fall, but not winter. I would sit down at the typewriter and follow my creative muse.

          Whole worlds opened to me. I wrote about the area behind my childhood garage where I practiced pitching, and dreamed of reaching the major leagues. I wrote a short story about a group of prisoners on an island. I wrote a poem about getting along with the Russians. Hours passed. Suddenly, as I wrote, an alarm would sometimes ring in the house. The alarm meant I hadn’t turned the heat on in the greenhouses. I had to shut the door on the vibrant world that grew on the paper in front of me and hurry to the greenhouses to start the furnaces.

          An hour later I’d be back at the typewriter. Type a sentence, stop, look at it, realize it wasn’t quite true and then search deeper. Layers of middle-aged half-truths disappeared, the comfortable maxims I had surrounded myself with — “Business is good. Don’t make any changes,” and “Relax. You’re getting older.” The fires of my youth burned again — civil rights, world peace, a place in the sun for every person. The idealism that had lain dormant for eight years sparked back into life.

          Isaiah was on the scene again, reminding me of the words I read in the seminary and tried to live when I was a priest:

          I have appointed you to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison and those who live in darkness from the dungeon. [Chapter 42-6]

          As I wrote I dug, I searched always deeper, trying to reach the truth. It might be easy to speak a lie, but it wasn’t easy to write one. I started to unravel the tangled skein that was me. These revelations came, not from writing philosophy or self-help dictums, but from writing fiction. Put a man and a woman in a fictional situation. What does the woman really think? What does the man think? Is this real? Is this how people are? Where do I get my ideas? What is human nature all about? Who am I?

          For example, as I wrote about the prisoners on the island, I got to know each one of them. How did they get into crime? Why were they different than me? Did they have a religious education as I did? What did they think about God? Was God a mean father for them or a gentle parent? What did I think about God?

         Amazing. The seminary had tried for twelve years to teach me how to meditate, and here I was doing it while I wrote.

http://www.amazon.com/Prisoners-of-the-Williwaw-ebook/dp/B005S33Q7S/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1342834442&sr=1-1&keywords=prisoners+of+the+williwaw

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