I have recently been asked by blogger friend Jolandi, Dreaming in Arabic if I would like to participate in the Writing Tour, which is currently doing the rounds amongst bloggers. I decided to participate, because it gives me an opportunity to stop and think, what am I doing (in respect of writing).
I recommend Jolandi’s blog to all, she combines photographs and words to take us on a lyrical journey through the mystical Middle East, and opens our eyes to the beauty in that world, a wonderful antidote to the nightly news.
As part of the Writing Tour I have to answer four questions: What am I working on? How does my work differ from others of its type/genre? Why do I write what I do? How does my writing process work?
I was surprised to discover that I am actually working on five different writing projects, more or less simultaneously. This is odd, because I do not consider myself a writer as such. I think of myself as a retired corporate executive looking for a new string to her bow. And in the male-dominated shipping and logistics industry which I made my career, running off at the mouth was not admired. I sent many colleagues mad with detail, when I felt all I was giving was essential background information. So, I didn’t get much writing practice in the workplace. However, I am one of those annoying people who send a letter with the Christmas card, and sometimes it can reach seven or eight pages. I tried to give it up, but many recipients said they missed it – go figure. So that has been my writing practice up to now. In a similar vein, this will be a long post . . . many apologies . . . maybe it should be read in instalments.
One other thing before I do “run off at the mouth”. The idea of this challenge is to pay it forward. Theoretically, it should be three bloggers, who should have agreed in advance. Isobel, from Travels with My Son (http://travelswithmyson.wordpress.com/) has agreed to come on board. Isobel blogs about ‘J’, her adopted son, and their experiences of love, life, and learning to be a family. I think there will be many fascinated with what she has to say. I know I am!
Well, here goes my list:
Blog, I now call it the Reluctant Retiree, by Garrulous Gwendoline. I already did a post called “My Ten Good Reasons for Blogging” so I won’t repeat that content here. As for how it is different – I think many bloggers have one core theme and stick to it. Which is probably good marketing. Mine is broader, more of a reinvention of self in retirement. It started when I was travelling Europe for several months, so it was clearly a travel blog at that time. But when I returned home I looked to the world around me for inspiration for a weekly post. I don’t work and re-work it. I simply sit at the laptop and bang out a story straight into the WordPress platform, like an extension of the Christmas letter-writing style (then I check the spelling etc). Most of the posts about going on road trips around NSW are drawn from journal entries I wrote at the end of each travelling day. When I wrote the journal entries, I imagined I was writing a letter to my travel-loving friend in Sweden who, sadly, passed away last month without ever having visited Australia in person.
Liz Thurlow. Liz is a sub-set of the blog. She was born accidentally last month after I attended a one-day workshop on Story Planning. She is an invented character who I am taking out for an adventure. This is the first time I have tried to invent a character, and I have not contrived a plot for her. I have set myself four parameters: write for thirty minutes, limit to 500/600 words, don’t plan ahead, and try to make each episode coherent. The story goes out in ‘as-is’ condition. I don’t refashion what has taken place, and I don’t know what is going to happen when I start, except that it flows on from the previous episode. Of course, I can theorise, but ultimately Liz decides. It is like doing your homework in public. Why these parameters? New writers are often recommended to write for fifteen minutes or more each day. I can’t bear writing gibberish, although it did work for the Jaberwocky in Alice in Wonderland, hence the restriction to write a coherent story. I am not sure it is working; that blessed detail is probably getting in the way of pacing. So last episode I did push her into bed with another man, she was going to get there anyway, although a few readers did feel the timing was sudden. So! It is a great exercise to get such instant feedback. I know many others who are blogging flash fiction – but I think they edit their stories before posting. In my case, I put the oven timer on for thirty minutes, open WordPress, bang out a story, do a quick spell check and then press post. Why no plot planning? Because I want to see what happens when you leave the story in the character’s hands. Of course, I am scared the answer will be “nothing much”. So then another exercise would be to turn it around and make the character conform to a predetermined plot. I might try that next.
I Belong to No One is a full length memoir, 95000 words. For years people used to tell me I should write the story of my life, and I believed them (mistake?). Turning fifty was the trigger. So, when I was still working, I set aside a Saturday once a month. I started from my earliest memories and worked on. Sometimes I used the photo album as a trigger. Sometimes it was characters around me, or unusual or special events. I wanted it to be a tribute to the women who had supported me because my mother suffered mental illness and there was no Dad. I spent far too long trying to make the early chapters perfect, before I got a grip and wrote to the end. I was 50,000 words in and still didn’t know its direction. Once I got to the end, and understood what was unfolding, I was able to go back and take out all the parts that did not relate to that story, including most of those laborious early chapters. I thought I was finished then. Little did I know I would write seventeen versions! I was still revising it up to this June just gone. By the time it was finished, it was a story of mental illness in part, but its major point is relinquishing a child to adoption. It seems my creative style is to sit down and write in a linear fashion without having a story outline. I hear of people planning what they will write in each chapter. I did the story planning workshop in the hope of picking up such a good habit, but I haven’t grasped it yet. Perhaps it’s a backlash to the organisational skills required in my work-life. It’s not as if you can load a ship in such a haphazard, unplanned, hope-for-the-best manner.
The memoir has secured a fabulous agent and is currently under consideration by a mainstream publisher. It is up to the costing stage. I have my fingers crossed that it will see the light of day, something I never dreamed of that first Saturday when I typed the first sentence (which did survive, but moved to a different place). NB: the story is not exactly funny, but it is not a misery memoir – – – I hope.
The Reluctant Retiree – Fifty-Five Days in the Balkans is a work-in-progress, first draft, travel memoir based on the trip which I blogged about last year. I am 35,000 words in, and only up to Day 18, so again, it will be grossly over-written. But this time, I don’t dwell on what I have already written, nor try to perfect it. I simply have a quick look at what I wrote the day before, and then push on with the next section. Again, it’s ultimate theme is yet to emerge. I get cranky with myself for writing in this style, however, I take comfort in thinking of the first draft as a humongous story outline. I have enough experience from the first memoir to know the final outcome may look nothing like it does now. Whether it will have any commercial appeal, I don’t know. I think one of the major differences in this, and all my writing, is that I do not have scribbled notes and phrases lying all around the place. I don’t do thought balloons, or mind maps. I can’t stimulate myself to write from those joggers, I just feel clumsy. I wish I could hand-write sitting in the sun, or somewhere dreamy, as I imagine that heightens creativity, but I can type faster than I can write, so I always end up back at the laptop, I wish I could write unconnected paragraphs or sections which I could meld or move around, but I always seem to think chronologically. I might know I am going to write about something that happened later, but I find I can’t pay attention to it until it’s time arrives. So – I just type in a logical stream, with the idea that I can tizz it up later. For better or worse. (nb: and so far, this memoir is mostly funny).
Un-named, un-commenced Novel. At the end of last year, I signed up to do a memoir writing course in Paris (the French one), this October-November. Perhaps starving in an attic, living on absinthe, might stimulate creativity? When I enrolled, I imagined my memoir would need further work, whereas it is now out of my hands. So, I need a new project. Why Paris? Why not? Actually, the real reason is that my Mum died (aged 93) and left just enough to finance the course, accommodation and airfare. So, in the spirit of seize the day I decided to do something I would never dare if the money came from consolidated revenue. It’s a kind of thank you to my Mum, to allow myself this indulgence. What she couldn’t do for me in life, and all that stuff.
What to write is the conundrum. In ‘I Belong to No One’ I mention that I have to go back to 1854 to find a legitimate birth on my maternal line. So I am going to Bradford, England, in search of that woman. The last one before it all went pear-shaped. I want to try to re-imagine her life and journey to Australia as a single woman. It’s a stretch to match it to a memoir course, but maybe I really will get inside her head.
It calls for a lot of research, beyond Googling to check a random fact. Not something I have done before. I have contacted a number of historical societies in Bradford and had one reply, which I am following through with. I expect to be buried in the Local Studies library for at least a number of days in Bradford. I know I will be reading a lot of newspapers and history books. I have come across something called the Female Middle-Class Emigration Society, and I’ll be digging into that further. Thanks to a tip-off from fellow blogger Sandra Danby, I have read Kate Grenville’s novel, ‘Secret River’, and am reading the back-story, ‘Searching for Secret River‘. The first is a novel based on a convict Australian pioneer, who was a London Thames lighterman. The second is her search for her real London waterman/convict ancestor Solomon Wiseman, and how that formed the basis for her novel. Perhaps I can emulate her experience. As to whether I can emulate such worthy novel writing is another story.
I will be in England from 10th September (that’s the week after next! – Ouch!) and France from 11th October, so am happy to meet up with fellow bloggers there. And if by some miracle this blog is read by anyone who is knowledgeable about Victoria Bradford, feel free to shout out!
If you have read this far, congratulations, and many thanks from Garrulous! And to all my followers, thank you so much for your support! I truly appreciate it.