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Archive for the ‘true stories’ Category

 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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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.

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A former client of mine, Chris Shaw, recently sent me one of the short stories from his lately released book, My New Country, a collection of short stories about his experience as a newbie in the wild and woolly country of Australia. He also sent me a great page with photographs of the book’s cover, plus the blurb, a photograph of himself, and information on how and where to buy the book, which is available in both hard copy and e version.

Being digitally disadvantaged as I am, I find I am now unable to insert his material into this post.  I used to be able to do such things, but for some reason, totally unknown to me, when I try now, all I keep getting is a link – which is something, I suppose, and I should be grateful, but it’s not the same as having the cover right there, here and now, in front of you.

But, it’s the best I can do for the moment. I apologise to readers and also to Chris. The link for how to find and buy his book appears at the end of the story.
 

My First Drink in North Queensland

I came to Australia in 1973. Originally, I’m from Felixstowe in gentle East Anglia, but I had spent seven years in the Caribbean, prior to emigrating to this really big island.

I arrived with my Trinidadian wife and three-month-old son in Sydney International Airport, but we had already decided to settle in a northern beach suburb of Cairns, Queensland, mainly because of its similarity to the tropical environment of the West Indies. We flew there after a ten-day stopover in Brisbane.

In Cairns we secured the land, built the house and bought a successful business, thus taking on a twenty-year debt – as you do; or at least, as you did then.

The first drink I had in a pub in the area was in the Trinity Beach Hotel, a large corrugated iron shed, with floor-to-ceiling louvres to the east and the west of the building. It was sixty metres above sea level, on top of a hill overlooking the Coral Sea.

It was around noon, in February 1973. The temperature would have been 33+ degrees Celsius, with humidity hovering around 90 per cent. The sea was flat calm, as blue as an advertisement, and dotted with green islands. Bougainvillea and frangipani blossoms tumbled down the hill below me.

The bloke on the next stool to me swivelled around.

‘G’day, mate’, he said. ‘Haven’t seen you in here before.’ No question mark was needed, but it was a question.

‘Nah, mate. New chum; just arrived,’ I said, desperately hoping he didn’t pick the falseness of my accent. ‘Can I get you a beer?’

‘Yeah, thanks. What do you do?’

‘Me, mate? Pharmacist. What about you?’

‘Surveyor. Been doing some work with my team in Papua New Guinea, up in the Highlands. Of course, there’s not a hell of a lot of law and order in those villages. We came on a situation not so long ago, where a white missionary was fooling around with the young boys and girls in one particular village. The head man of this village was very worried and came to talk to us about it.’

‘What’d you do?’ I asked.

‘We killed the bastard, of course.’

‘Seriously?’ My eyebrows hovered near my hairline, along with my voice.

‘Yup. Only thing to do under the circumstances. Think about it: a long, drawn-out, expensive court case with lawyers and all that flying in from Australia, and the family travelling all the way to Port Moresby? Children giving that sort of evidence? Nah! Would’ve brought huge shame on the families, and they couldn’t have paid for it, anyway. So, we told the head man we’d take care of it.’

I just had to ask him. ‘What did you do with the body?’

‘Dropped it into a septic tank, mate. Ten days, no evidence, see. Can I get you another drink, mate?’

So this was Australia. Bloody hell, this is a rough country! I’d better keep my eyes wide open, but, by God, I loved the sensation of this cutting-edge, pioneering stuff!

A1 sheet for My New Country book

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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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