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Novel under const'n

 A few days ago I was surprised to receive an email from Carol Middleton, an Australian award-winning writer, and a reviewer for the prestigious Australian Book Review. In the email Carol invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, in which writers are invited to reply to four questions about their writing process and then pass the baton on to another writer/s.

Many thanks to Carol for inviting me to contribute to this tour, which in its construction is like a chain letter but nice. You can see Carol’s Writing-Process Blog published Monday 12th at http://carolmiddleton.com.au/wordpress

Here goes.

 

 

What am I working on?

Having put my first novel out on Amazon and Smashwords last year, I decided to try to get myself a bigger presence on the web by putting up a short story a month in 2014. Being the digital klutz that I am, it took me three months to learn enough to put up my first story Busting God, now available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S. I’m now working on formatting my second story Remains to be Seen, which follows the fortunes of Busting God’s hero as he tries to recover from the post-traumatic stress caused by his participation in the Vietnam War.

I’m a tortoise, very slow at everything I do, and not very comfortable on the web. However, I’ve decided that having a higher profile there will help my novels eventually, so I’m nailed to the cross of formatting these twelve short stories for the remainder of 2014.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

How to answer this question? My short stories were published in such diverse places, ranging from Penthouse to Aurealis to the Australian Women’s Weekly. Each time I adapted my basic writing style to suit the market — I was a single parent and I needed the money. My only novel published so far is MagnifiCat: www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY a strange little animal fantasy about a family of cats who find themselves on the poverty line in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. In it I aimed to produce a kind of Wind in the Willows for adults. To what extent I succeeded is hard to gauge. The novel’s definitely not satire; it’s more like a fairy tale for adults, with an underlying heavy core that makes it adult fiction, though I plan to release a children’s version of it in 2015, minus the alcohol and the angst.

Why do I write what I do?

In my case there are two answers to this. The short stories were written either for money — publication or competition money — or to add to my literary CV. In the novels, however, I get to please myself. And I notice that what comes though in all of them (I have another four in various stage of development) is a desire to nail down a particular time and place that’s now long gone. You could say I’m obsessed with transience, and writing about these places is my way of trying to keep them alive in people’s memories after they’ve disappeared under the bulldozer of progress. My Queensland novel is set in Brisbane in the early 1960s; MagnifiCat is set in Byron Shire in the mid-1980s, and somewhere in the dim future, should I live that long, I’d like to write a novel set in Brisbane during WWII. It’s as if I’m saying to readers, Remember how it was. Don’t forget this.

How does my writing process work?

I write first draft material in the morning, while I still have some contact with my unconscious. Editing, a completely different process requiring a different part of the brain, I can do any time. I never work after dark unless I have an editing job or a manuscript appraisal for another writer and the deadline is looming.

To me, producing first-draft material is like digging semi-precious stones out of the ground, while editing is like polishing those stones into something people might find beautiful or useful. Basically, I want my writing to entertain, to make people happy. At the risk of sounding overly ambitious (or merely quaint), I’d like it to give people hope. Life can be tough sometimes.

 

The writer I’ve asked to continue the Writing Process Blog Tour on Monday 26th is Ed Griffin, a Canadian novelist and prison reformer. Ed taught creative writing in prisons for many years. He blogs at:

prisonuncensored.wordpress.com

Check him out on Monday 26th.

 

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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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Internet friend Ed Griffin continues his run of prison reform novels with Delaney’s Hope, an upbeat idea for a new kind of prison.

Delaney's Hope coveAvailable at: http://www.amazon.com/Delaneys-Hope-Ed-Griffin-ebook/dp/B00GFGEBMG

In this guest blog Ed talks about the wellsprings of his hope for reforms and the novels in which he’s put forward these ideas.

Ed Griffin:

I am interested in prison reform. This is a direct result of teaching writing in prison for twenty years. It’s an indirect result of my education and service as a Roman Catholic priest for five and a half years. I heard the message of the gospel that we were to care for the “least of the brethren.” In my opinion, there wasn’t anybody more least in our society than a federal inmate.

I left the priesthood a few years after marching in Selma with Doctor Martin Luther King. That’s another story, relayed in my non-fiction book, Once A Priest.

I’ve written a lot about prison reform. My first novel, Prisoners of the Williwaw, is a story about Frank Villa, who convinces the US Government to put 300 hardened convicts on an island with their families and let them rule themselves. The federal government has finally realized that they can’t keep paying for prisons. Right now it costs $100 a day to keep a man in prison. So they let Frank Villa have an abandoned Naval base on the island of Adak in the Aleutians. No guards will be on the island, but the US Coast Guard will patrol the waters around Adak, and they will shoot to kill.

Half way to Russia and caught between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea, it rains and snows 85% of the time on Adak. In addition, a fierce wind called a Williwaw builds up behind the mountains and smashes down on houses, equipment and even children. In World War II, the weather killed more soldiers than the enemy did.

Frank also faces a convict who plans to use this situation to his own advantage. He knows that each convict leaves prison with $200. He’s eager to help them spend it.

Can convicts rule themselves? This is an issue the novel looks into.

My second book about prison is non-fiction. It’s called Dystopia. An inmate in my writing class joined me in telling the story of prison. We each wrote our stories, not in lesson form, but by relaying the stories of the men we met there.

I told why I came to teach in prison, despite my wife’s worry. Then I started with my first scary day and told about all the people I met in my class. One of the most amazing people I met was Mike Oulton. He’d been arrested in Mexico for trying to smuggle cocaine into the United States. His sentence was ten years, two of which he spent in a Mexican prison and eight of which he spent in a Canadian prison. Mike also tells stories of the men and the staff he met in all those years, and he hints at which prison system he liked better. Mike’s been out now for seven years and he’s doing well. He works as an MC and as a master of ceremonies for weddings. This is right in line with Mike’s whole life, but now he’s found legitimate ways to express his exuberant personality.

The third book about prison reform is my latest novel, Delaney’s Hope. Delaney is a prison official who put his feet up for twenty years. He tried at the beginning to make changes, but his superiors stepped on him, and so, he did nothing. But then his missionary brother died for standing up to the oil people who wanted to take his parishioners’ land. Delaney feels guilty about wasting all those years, and he tries to repent by setting up a prison that really works. He convinces the government to let him use an abandoned minimum security prison in Wisconsin.

At the beginning he will only have five prisoners and three staff, counting himself. The criminal history of each inmate is given, as well as a picture of the staff. Delaney tries to break down the ‘us and them’ that exist in every prison. He tries to show the inmates that we are all weak human beings and no one, including the staff, is perfect.

His inmates include a drug smuggler who tries to sabotage everything Delaney tries to do. Another man killed his wife in front of their son. A third inmate ran a commercial greenhouse and cheated on the rules. That might have been okay, but then he knocked an old man out of tree, a neighbor who opposed his plans. The old man died. A sheriff who wanted this land to build a big maximum security prison convinced a sex offender to come to the prison, where he presented Delaney with a lot of problems.

Another thing Delaney tries to deal with is the sexism of prisons. Yes, what we now mean by a male prison is not a place for women, but Delaney points out that almost all of society is mixed male and female. If he can create a calm atmosphere, there is no reason why male and female inmates can’t be integrated at least as far as programs are concerned.

The prison starts and Delaney faces problem after problem after problem. Will it work? Can a prison work that’s not like what we have today?

Prison reform is not a popular subject, but we need to face it. When we hear that California spends more money on prisons than it does on education, we begin to ask questions. When we hear that the United States is one of the countries with the most prisoners, it’s time to look at prison reform. And Canada now with its conservative government tries to win votes on the backs of inmates. Right-minded people do not agree.

I hope my two novels and one non-fiction book about prison reform will have an impact. When I started to write, I promised myself I would never bore the reader; I would show, not tell; I would not let one word of opinion enter the story. I hope I have succeeded.

Ed Griffin

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HorseI’m one of those people who believes in everything and nothing, so don’t take it amiss that I share a few thoughts with you at the beginning of this Year of the Wooden Horse. The book I’ve got on Chinese astrology (someone less able than I to accommodate ambivalence gave it to me) says horses always look terrific, have plenty of sex appeal and know how to dress, but that they’re also hotheaded, hotblooded and impatient. In the years when I was younger and used to give Chinese New Year’s Eve parties, there must have been a few horses among the crowd. If there were, I don’t remember them, so I can’t pass judgment on the accuracy of the book, but we sure had a lot of fun passing it around and guffawing at the descriptions.

But I digress. What I’m really here for is to wish all those who read this post the best of luck in the coming year. If, like me, you’re just starting out on the digital journey, my commiserations.

My goal, this year, is to release a dozen short stories, roughly one a month, ranging in length from 4,000 to 9,000 words, half of which are set in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, Australia, an area I’ve lived in for the past thirty years and am still desperately in love with. I’m lucky enough to have a friend I met through this blog who is designing the first cover, but after that, I’ll be on my own in the formatting of both cover and story text.

Just how I’m going to manage, I have absolutely no idea. Designing the Smashwords versions of the stories won’t present many problems, thanks to the beautifully clear instructions in Mark Coker’s (Mark is CEO of Smashwords) Style Guide, obtainable free on the internet. Designing a Kindle version, however, is going to be more difficult. Both Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) offer simple, pain-free translations of documents  from Word to Kindle, but what I’ve seen of the results doesn’t enchant me. However, whether I’ll ever be able to learn enough digitally to do better remains to be seen.

In short, just learning enough to put up those dozen stories in one form or another is my goal for the year. Wish me luck, everyone – and if anyone wants to tell me their goals for this Year of the Horse, I’m a good listener.

Horse drawing

Good luck to you all!

Dani

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 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

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MagnifiCat_Cover_for_Kindle

Anyone taking a casual look at the novel I’ve just put up on the web might be forgiven for thinking I need therapy.

Cat CartoonBut though the cats have the spotlight, many other Australian animals feature in this fantasy for adults — a porcupine policeman, a python bank manager, a kangaroo in the milk delivery business, etc. etc.

Aside from all the animals, though, that slide, hop, glide through this novel, and despite my determinedly lighthearted approach, the book’s theme of life below the poverty line gives it gravitas. It’s not as innocuous as it seems.

But enuff about the novel. Maybe it’s merely a drop in the digital ocean, but because I’m such a klutz digitally, I’m just happy to have survived the experience of getting it up there.

Take a look. It’s available in both e and print form. It’s certainly unusual.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY

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Girl looking out window

It’s strange the way things pan out in life. My career as a writer almost didn’t happen.

I was in 3rd grade in primary school, slowly getting on top of things, when we were sent home one day with instructions to write our first composition.

I trudged home, very unhappy. My career as an even halfway-coping schoolkid was over. I knew I’d never be able to write a composition.

My mother was in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal. Unusual for him, my father was also home; there’d been very few ships in port that day. When he saw me slumped in misery at the kitchen table, he asked me what was wrong.

I said, “We have to write a composition about trees, and I can’t write compositions.” and I began to cry.

My father put down his newspaper and said, “It’s okay. Whatever the subject is, you just talk about it.”

“Talk about it?” I wailed.

“Yeah,” he said, “like how they’re green and leafy and they give people shade. Do you like trees?”

Of course I liked trees. I practically lived in the loquat tree up the back.

“Have a go,” said my father, returning to his paper.

I sat there, chewing the end of my pencil, and tried to write as if I was talking about trees. That half-page took me the best part of an hour.

“How’d it go?” said my father, who must’ve been watching my progress from behind his paper. He read through what I’d written. “Not bad,” he said. “But it needs something.” And he dictated a line about leaves dancing when the wind blew; something quite poetic. “Slip that in somewhere,” he said.

I rewrote the piece, placing the line he’d dictated where, I hoped, a teacher was least likely to notice the extra zing it put into my dreary effort.

 

By the time the English teacher came into the room carrying our exercise books three days later, I very much regretted using the line my father had written. Now, it was all too late, as she began to deal with each composition in turn, from worst to best — a tried and tested form of torture even when your conscience is clear, and mine certainly wasn’t. Eventually, there were no exercise books left but mine. I was convinced she’d saved mine ‘til last because she intended to expose me before the whole class. Why had I let my father talk me into adding that line about leaves in the breeze?

To my surprise, she pronounced my composition the best, and read it out to the class. I felt no elation, though it was the first time I’d ever come first in anything. How, I asked myself, was I going to continue this run? My father was leaving in a few days for a job at sea. What on earth was I going to do?

Inevitably, we were given a new subject to write about. I trudged home and sat at the kitchen table. Nothing came. I felt like the girl in the fairy tale who was supposed to spin straw into gold. Or else.

In desperation, I decided I’d pretend to be my father. Clearly, I had no talent for writing, but he did. Okay, Dad, I said to myself, what have you got to say about pets? And I began to write.

I was stunned when that composition also came first. Around me, there were boys in tears, boys who hadn’t been able to get even four lines onto the pages of their exercise books.

I knew how they felt.

It was pure chance my father had been home that day.

 

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Most writers engaged in producing a novel have some wellspring of hope the work will someday see the light of day. Acclaim would be great, they think, but even publication — ah, publication! — would be a wonderful, perhaps life-changing, event. This hope of publication just over the hill is often the only thing that keeps the writer going through the long, solitary journey.

Long distance runner

In my particular case, it actually appeared as if I was in with a chance of having a traditional publisher for the book I’m about to put up on Smashwords and Amazon this November. Way back in 2003 or thereabouts, I sent the 3rd draft of an animal fantasy set in Byron Shire to one of the foremost agents in Australia. I’d been stalking this agent for years, trying to tempt her with various projects. When she accepted this manuscript without reservation, I was ecstatic, this lady handled big names like Frank Moorhouse. She loved the work, she said, and intended to send it first to HarperCollins. HarperCollins! I was over the moon. I had this crash hot agent, and she liked the novel so much she’d gone for one of the biggest publishers in Australia.

Well. I waited and waited. Gradually, my excitement dwindled. After some months I rang the agent up. The head editor of HarperCollins, said the agent, hadn’t liked the anthropomorphism in the work — hell, it was one 70,000-word piece of anthropomorphism — so goodbye HarperCollins. But never mind, she’d look around for another perhaps smaller publisher.

More months went by. Eventually the agent rang me up: what genre did I reckon this book was, anyway? Yes, dear reader, it was a cross-genre work. Which, if you’re an unknown novelist in Australia is akin to setting fire to your chances of ever scoring a large traditional publisher. I understand their thinking. If you’re a publisher, you can afford to take a chance on a weird, off beat novel with a well-known writer. With a writer such as myself, known only for short stories, the risk was simply too great.

I don’t know when the agent gave up on the ms, I was never informed. I simply heard one day that she had retired. In my naivety I attempted to find another agent for the work. However, having had the big-name agent turned out to be the Kiss of Death for my finding another. ’Oh,’ each of them said to me, ‘if she couldn’t place it, I doubt I could. I’ll pass.’

I then attempted to place the ms myself with small Australian publishers. After all, I did have a track record of pleasing the public with short stories, and had been fortunate enough to win a number of awards with them. Every small publisher I approached with the ms seemed to think I was writing in this fairy tale style because I could write in no other, ignoring the fact that my published stories were, in fact, rather edgy and streetwise. Two of them managed to reject me on Christmas Eve, though I’d sent them the ms many many months before. My mouth fell open when I opened those emails, which occurred in two separate years. Rejecting a writer on Christmas Eve was, as well-known author Susan Geason remarked, like something out of Dickens.

So I came at last to the wild and woolly territory of indie publishing, which contains its own pitfalls as set out in my previous post . Currently, I’m working on the first set of proofs from CreateSpace – but more of that next week. (If you like horror stories, don’t forget to tune in.)  After that, it’s back to the Hill of Bewilderment for more agonising over categories – Amazon allows writers two.

Will it be worth it? Money wise, I doubt it very much. But it will be nice to finally hold a published copy of the book in my hands and to know it’s out there somewhere after all this time.

Writing. It’s a great life if you can last the distance.

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Janet leigh

For those of you who might be wondering where I’ve been these last ten weeks, I’ve been investigating Indie publishing, particularly the publishing of Print on Demand (POD) books with CreateSpace, a subsidiary of Amazon. Those ten weeks have been most illuminating, and I thought I might share my discoveries with you. If you’ve already published a POD book, stop reading now, I won’t have anything new to tell you. If you haven’t, gird your loins, and read on.

For most writers, the journey into indie publishing follows a certain pattern. First, we have:

1.   The Sylvan Glades of Writing the Novel, where the Wellsprings of Hope bubble to cheer the fiction writer on his/her way. The writer thinks the going is tough, but they ain’t seen nothing yet. Emerging from this glade, the writer who chooses to indie publish must traverse:

2.   The Desert of the Last Copy-edit, a fearsome place littered with the bones of writers who didn’t know what they were doing with commas. Crawling out of this desert, writers encounter:

3.   The Fork in the Track, where the writer must decide whether to do only an e book (much cheaper, and easier on the nerves), or to take their courage in hand and rapell into:

4.   The Dizzying POD Chasm. Should the writer choose to do only an e book, Nos 6-10 will still apply, but they will, to some extent, avoid:

5.   The Slough of Despond, where the writer realises that s/he must either format the print book themselves or pay someone else to do it. Even if they decide to pay someone, as I did, they will still have to traverse:

6.   The Forest of Dread, where they must choose two categories for their novel. A great deal is riding on their choice, especially the novel’s findability. Having negotiated this forest, and there is no way around it, the writer comes to:

7.   The Hill of Bewilderment, where s/he must choose seven keywords which Amazon buyers might (the operative word here is might) use to discover the writer’s novel — again, very important for the novel’s findability. After this, they arrive at:

8.   The Lakes of Confusion, where they must set a price for their beloved novel and try to understand Amazon’s royalties system, e.g. a $9.99 price for a 250 page, standard-size paperback will yield the writer US $2.14. What happened to that 70% (or even 35%) we heard so much about? If, after this, the men in white haven’t taken our writer away, s/he must then cross:

9.   The Bridge of Tears, where, if s/he is a non-US resident, s/he must attempt to prevent the US Internal Revenue from taking 30% of his or her earnings. To do this, she must do battle with monsters ITIN, W-7 and W-8 BEN, go on a quest for a Notary (cross his palm with silver) and also find the elusive Apostille, without which the writer will continue to pay the dreaded 30%. Finally, the writer comes to:

10.   The Well of Disappointment, which s/he quaffs while contemplating the novel’s sales figures. If you think I’m being unnecessarily gloomy here, Mark Coker, founder and CEO of Smashwords says that, for most writers, the average number of e books sold per title is 100.

What does all this mean? In a nutshell it means that the average indie writer/producer of a POD book will be flat out getting their money back. There are hidden costs to producing a POD book that exist regardless of whether the newbie writer outsources, or designs the cover and interior themselves.

In the meantime, I’m camped on the Hill of Bewilderment, right next to the Lakes of Confusion, having taken over a week to negotiate the Forest of Dread with nothing but a hurricane lamp to guide me.  While camping out and enjoying the sights, it occurred to me that I might be able to do some good by devoting one post to each of the steps I’ve described above, so that newbie writers will at least know what lies in store for them.

Forewarned is forearmed. So they say.

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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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