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Posts Tagged ‘anecdotes’

God chasing cat, b&wWatching my cat Tim this morning leaping from the washing machine to the linen cupboard and from there to the ledge of the little window from where he likes to survey the kingdom, I was reminded of another cat I used to have and his adventures with a rescue dog my then partner brought home, wanting to take in. Just why we didn’t realise from the start just what we were letting ourselves in for, I don’t know. But we had a lot on our minds in those days, what with the two children and my elderly mother.

The cat’s name was Mao; he was a bluepoint Siamese, and he knew it.

Bluepoint siamese

The rescue dog’s name was Harry.

Harry was a German Shepherd that nobody seemed to want. That should’ve given us pause right there, but as I said, we had a lot on our minds, particularly in the mornings. Harry was obviously well bred, the sort of dog that would’ve had “papers”, yet nobody wanted him.

We tried him out with the children; he was fine, so we let him stay.

Night fell. We fed Harry and bedded him down and locked him into the shed at the side of the house. Next morning, unbeknown to me, as I was working in the kitchen, making breakfasts, ironing uniforms, getting the children off to school, my partner let Harry out.

Mao, the Siamese cat, having finished his breakfast, strolled out to inspect the dawn from the doorstep of the back porch. As he sat there checking out the day, Harry came around the side of the house.

 

Shepherd looking tough

The cat, accustomed all his life to being superior, waved a paw at Harry to tell him his presence there on the step was not required, that he was persona non grata, in fact.

But Harry came on. The cat found himself being pursued by this slavering beast. He raced into the nearby bathroom and leapt up onto the hand basin. Harry’s first leap landed him in the hand basin, too. Just in the nick of time, the cat leapt up onto the edge of the shower stall, a precarious position.

Harry was leaping and snarling at him, but he couldn’t quite reach the cat, when I came out, atracted by the commotion. I grabbed a straw broom and began to beat Harry with it, to no avail. Then the cat teetering on the edge of the shower stall lost his balance and leapt onto the head of the straw broom when it was at the height of one of its upswings. Anyone could’ve told him this was not a good idea, but it seemed it was the only one he had. He then fell off the broom head, and saved himself from landing in Harry’s waiting maw by latching onto my thumb.

I screamed, turning this way and that to save the cat. The dog leaped and snarled, the cat clung. I don’t know what would’ve happened next if my partner hadn’t arrived just then and whipped Harry off with one of the studded leather belts he liked to affect.

After that, we locked Harry back in the shed and drove to the hospital so that I could get a tetanus injection and, of course, I needed stitches. As I said, just why we hadn’t realised from the start what we were letting ourselves in for, I don’t know. But we had a lot on our minds in those days.

Harry stayed, by the way. He and the cat arrived at an uneasy truce, with the cat dominant. The tucker was good, and there were lots of cattle to harrass in the nearby paddocks; Harry knew he was on a good thing.

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Worried womanI’ve spent the first three months of this year finishing off the 1st draft of the sequel to the cat book. (See right.) I’m now at around 80,000 words, and I’m embroiled — no other word for it — in arranging the scenes in chronological order. You see, I write novels out of order, just picking one scene from the story line as the mood takes me. I don’t do this with short stories, which I plan out in advance, but I do it with novels, god help me. Now I’m the proud possessor of around 80,000+ words, roughly 85 scenes — all out of order.

To get a book out of this is no mean feat. When I saw the extent of the problem, plus the fact that I still had three critical scenes to write, I thought of lying down on the railway tracks.

Railway tracks

But the train doesn’t run in these parts anymore.

How to proceed from here? My method was to buy a packet of catalogue cards, write the name of each scene plus a brief description on a catalogue card, and then sort the cards into piles representing the main characters. I then sort each character pile into their journey arcs. After that, I shuffle the cards until they’re in what I hope is the right order for the novel, interpolating the main character cards as I go. This takes time. Quite a bit of it, in fact. When that’s done, I take the printout of the novel and put the printed out scenes into the order I obtained via the catalogue cards. Then I read the printout to see if it flows, where bridges need to be added, etc.

It’s madly time consuming, and I’m only at the catalogue card stage at present; I have a fair way to go yet. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of thing that can’t be hurried. Glitches in the plot will always appear at this point, and it takes time to work through them, for something to occur to me that will solve the problem.

Writing a novel out of order is a mug’s game; I don’t recommend it to anyone. But that’s my way with novels; I just take them on, one bite at a time, until eventually they’re done.

So here I am with my catalogue cards wrapped around with a rubber band. I get up in the morning, put on my dressing gown, feed the cat, make a cup of tea, and shuffle the catalogue cards.

Worried woman in dressing gown

I predict it will be a while yet before I have a properly organised printout that I can use to arrange the scenes in the right order in the computer version.

As the late Bob Ellis used to say, “So it goes.”

PS If you’re wanting to catch up on any of my short stories, the easiest way to do it is to go to http://www.amazon.com/Danielle-de-Valera/e/B00H286LXI  There’s a list there of all of them.

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Star-goldceleveniafinal

 

Star’s Story—the genesis

Sometime around 2004, when I was on the Aged Pension and a more assured income, I had a little time to experiment. I wanted to see if I could get into Meanjin, the foremost literary journal in Australia. I had something of a knack for styles. If I could get hold of enough back copies of a magazine, say ten, I could usually nail down the style their story editor liked. I’d done it with Penthouse and the Women’s Weekly—why not Meanjin? Unfortunately, I could only afford to buy one copy; the pension doesn’t pay that well, and business wasn’t booming at that point in time.

I had always found the stories in Meanjin rather mystifying, and downright inaccessible at times, so I constructed a rather post-modern story with flashbacks and time jumps that weren’t always sequential. Should be inaccessible enough, I told myself. I ended up with a piece of around 3,000 words, which I called “No Through Road”.

I didn’t send it off to Meanjin straightaway, ah no. In my experience, the best way to pick up a little lucre was through competitions. I chose two which had well established writers as judges (one was Frank Moorhouse) and a first prize of $1,000AU. Even getting shortlisted in one those would help to get a more sympathetic reading from the editor of Meanjin.

I was lucky, though I never hit the jackpot. “Road” was shortlisted in the prestigious My Brother Jack short story competition in 2004 and in the equally prestigious Hal Porter in 2006. Right, I thought, now for Meanjin. So I sent the story off – in those days, you still sent manuscripts through the post –  and waited. And waited. Eventually I got a lovely rejection letter from the ed, saying that although the piece had almost made it, they had decided not to take it up.

Well, it wasn’t bad for a first time, and I’d only had one copy to study; I’d do better next time, I thought. Then the internet hit us, and I began to consider publishing on the web. I saw in it a way to obtain print copies of all my work to safeguard when I was gone. Better than leaving the manuscripts to moulder in the tin trunk, I figured. I live in the sub-tropics, it’s very humid, I was worried about how long they’d last. Maybe I could be discovered posthumously and the grandchildren would make a fortune. So probably goes the thinking of millions of indie writers.

To return to the point: I changed the title of the story from “No Through Road” to “Star’s Story” to make it easier for anyone following these stories on the web as they come out. Publishing serially like this, I think you need to remind readers of where you’re up to in the collection. Which I’ll publish next year. I also changed the point of view from 1st person to 3rd; the thing seemed just too confronting in 1st.

Because it’s only 3,000 words long, it’s FREE in three formats at Smashwords. (Amazon won’t let writers sell their stuff for free unless they join Amazon’s KDP Select, and then only for 5 days out of every 90.) I’d love some feedback on the cover, love it or hate it. I could also do with a couple of reviews of this story as it’s unlikely to garner anything favourable from the general population, it being so literary and post-modern, hem hem. The link is: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

Below is a recap of where we’re up to now in the collection:

  1. Busting God

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S

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

  1. Remains to be Seen

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00LNDWRM2

FREE at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454352

  1. Stella by Starlight

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

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

  1. Star’s Story

FREE at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/479505

Only another seven stories to go.

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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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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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I had a funny experience the other day: I’d gone to the pathologist for my annual blood test, which required fasting – always a stressful time for me. I’d been fasting for 14 hours by the time I came out of the pathologist’s. As I was maundering, a bit light headed, through the shopping centre afterwards, I noticed the weighing machine.

The machine and I are friends. We have a date, once a fortnight. It was only five days since our last tryst, but there it stood, and I thought: Wot-the-hell, it won’t hurt to weigh myself again. I tend to put on weight in winter. It was mid-winter now, and I like to keep an eye on things.

I fished out a dollar coin and stood on the machine, which informed me that I was four pounds lighter than I’d been five days ago. Four pounds lighter! For an instant, I was jubilant, but then I began to have doubts: Four pounds in five days — in the middle of winter? Not likely. I wandered away, thinking that, with my low blood sugar, perhaps I’d read the numbers wrongly.

I really was feeling a bit strange. I went into the coffee shop and wolfed down a cappucchino and a large piece of banana bread with butter. That should do it, I thought. Then I read the local paper for a while, to give my body time to catch up; but I couldn’t really concentrate on who had just grown the biggest pumpkin in Goonellabah. I was still brooding about the weighing machine, and how I couldn’t possibly have been four pound lighter.

Out with another coin. I returned to the machine. This time it told me I was five pounds lighter. Five pounds! But I’d been four lighter, twenty minutes ago. Dearie me. I began to do the math. One pound in twenty minutes was three pounds an hour.

I was fading away. At this rate, I’d be lucky to last two days.

The banana bread, plus the sugar I’d put in my coffee, still hadn’t kicked in. I made it to a bench in the shopping centre and sat down. Two days. I’d never get my e-book out in that time; I was only up to page 82 of Mark Coker’s Smashwords Guide, and I hadn’t even opened the How To Kindle book. I’d never get the sequel finished, and I’d never get to see my daughter, who was arriving at the end of August.

Biochemistry’s a wonderful thing. After about ten minutes of this, my blood sugar finally decided to get the message, and kicked in. With this came the realisation that there must be something wrong with the weighing machine. I went into the chemist shop and reported it. Bad machine, to have let me down in my hour of need.

Waiting for the bus that would take me home, I was struck by how beautiful everything looked — the trees, the sky, even the shopping centre’s crappy banners flying in the wind. And I thought: Reminders of mortality are a good thing.

Nothing <i>too</i> big, mind you. Just something small that can be fixed with a cup of coffee and a piece of banana bread.

Danielle de Valera
twitter.com#!/de_valera

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