Tag Archives: writing

My Writing Process–Blog tour

A fellow writer, Linda Huber, who I met on Twitter, invited me to take part in a blog tour during which authors and writers talk about their process. I don’t have a current book to promote but I wanted to be helpful and I think it’s good to analyze the ways in which we approach our work.

Of course the main question might be Why do we blog? Well, it’s obvious. We like to think we’ve done some cool creative things (like the guys in the photo above) and we just wanted to show you.

You can enjoy Linda’s blog here. (She has a much prettier photo.) Her second novel, The Cold Cold Sea, will be published by Legend Press this summer.

What am I working on? I have just finished the first draft of a historical novel set during the fall of Singapore in WWII. It’s about a young British woman who falls in love with a Chinese man in the midst of chaos. I lived in Singapore for a year and became fascinated with the Peranakan culture. I wanted to attempt to write a romance. The first draft is a cringe-making mess. I am now trying to salvage it. To get at that vision I had which was smooth, clever, sexy.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? I began my career writing satires but wanted to try my hand at other genres. Perhaps I thought I would be taken more seriously. Get invited to the Booker party. I don’t know. But I haven’t been wildly successful lately until I wrote a darkly comic short story called My Wife the Hyena and it was included in the Best British Short Stories 2013. So perhaps I should return to my roots.

Why do I write what I do? I have a friend who laughs when I tell her what I’m writing next. She says Where do you come up with these ideas? Not sure but I do know that writing for me is compulsion. It is how I process the world and my place in it. I examine themes which pertain to me. For example, one of the Singapore story’s themes is nationalism. Because of the several number of nationalities in my family, this holds fascination for me. Successful writing, I find, involves a fine line between using that compulsion and fine-tuning it to interest others. Yes, I write about what interests me but I try very hard to write in a way that will interest others.

How does your writing process work? I write and write and write. Then I write some more. And then a bit more. I wish I had more control. Every time I approach a book I tell myself, Be more focused, Know where you’re going, Understand what you’re doing. But it never works. I just wrote a 85,000 word novel that frankly stinks for the first half. But I had to write that first half to know where I was going. The problem arises when I am loathe to give up sections of writing and spend too much time trying to squeeze them in other spots in the book. My best days are when I can finally kiss those large sections of darlings good-bye and toss them. Sometimes good material, like good men, will only show up if you get rid of the slackers.

Next Week Sarah Wesson will blog about her writing process. Here is her bio:

Sarah Wesson blogs at Earful of Cider so she can avoid writing while writing, and sometimes even while writing about writing. She’s a mommy of two, a spouse of one, a reader of anything, a public librarian, and a biographer of local dead people and rehasher of local history (not your local, her local).  She’s also a keeper of half-written fictional shipwrecks, completer of four drawer novels, querier of what is not a caper novel, because those don’t sell, and WIPping girl for a couple of new projects.
 

photo by Ari Helminen

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I’ve Gone Native.

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Trees, that is. I’ve become obsessed with Australian native trees. Gum trees, especially. Their long willowy trunks which reach high into the sky. Their delicate drooping leaves. Their infinitely fascinating bark.

When I think I’ve done enough writing for the day, I like to swing by my local nursery. I’ve become best pals of a sort with the plant man at Bunnings.

You here again? he says.

Yup.

I walk along the aisles, happy as a pig in potatoes, drooling over the choices: cyclads, tree ferns, native grasses, pandorea pandorana…

Recently I’ve discovered CERES nursery in East Brunswick. Oh how my plant obsession runneth over. Here a treasure of Australian natives awaits: grevilleas, banksias, wattles, kangaroo apples, wattles, lilly pillies, blackwoods, chocolate lillies, lemon myrtle. I love the taste of the words in my mouth.

I want to encircle the hot dry garden of our new house with trees and spend many a waking moment deciding which ones. My first dream is to have a pepper corn tree, the most exquisite specimen, sage colored leaves like fine tooth combs waving beautifully in the wind.

Right now I flirt with smaller shrubs and see how they fare in the soil. At Ceres I found a luscious Grevillea Red Hook. Even the cashier was impressed. She looked longingly it at it. “You found that here? I didn’t see it. I’m jealous.”

I hold on to it firmly. I know a good specimen when I see one.

Same thing happened when I found two statuesque burgundy Agonis. “Wow, those are tall. I didn’t see them,” said another cashier with that same jealous look gleamed in his eye.

I’m starting to realize my competitors are not the buyers but the staff.

Today I came home with a dwarf mandarin for my son who will eat no other fruit, and a Silver Princess eucalyptus.

The Silver Princess eucalyptus is very young, barely a metre high. But I have fallen in love with the species. Tall and delicate, often leaning lopsided like she’s had a touch too much to drink. In season her white slim branches will cascade with pink little gum-nuts.

But I must get back to work now–Revisions await–and try not to think about the kangaroo paws I would like plant along the path. They come in all sorts of colors, salmon pink, orange, blood-red, red and green striped, even black. I’m like a kid in the candy shop.

Princess gum photos by Tatiana Gerus (flickr)

Peppercorn tree photo by macinate (flickr)

Kangaroos paw photo by Linda DV (flickr)

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Best British Shorts Stories 2013 and Moi

I can’t believe I didn’t blog about this before. I better blog now before 2013 becomes 2014!

Sometimes in a writer’s life events transpire to really give them a boost. This year it was my turn.

In 2012, Roelof Bakker, a photographer based in London (in my neighborhood of Crouch End, in fact) asked short story writers to contribute to his book of photographs.

I contributed a story called My Wife The Hyena.

STILL is a beautiful book, full of evocative photographs of empty spaces. The short stories from an international group of writers are wonderful. (I will be doing an interview with Roelof Bakker in January. )

In a gorgeous serendipity, one of the other short story contributors, Nicholas Royle, a novelist and editor at SALT Publishing who publishes Best British Short Stories, read my story in STILL and called me up. He said, “You’re not by any chance a British Citizen are you?”

I had just become a British citizen that morning and had celebrated with a delicious English fry-up which I was still trying to digest.

So I was eligible.

It was the highlight of a rather trying year!

Roelof Bakker kindly did an interview:  http://www.neg-press.com/interview-nina-killham/

Sometimes writers have really good years and this one was one of mine.

Thank you, Roelof Bakker and Nicholas Royle.

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Doris Lessing. Mentor or Monster?

The city of Paris introduced me to Doris Lessing when I was twenty years old. I was living there alone and homesick when I wandered into the Shakespeare and Company at 37 Rue de la Bucherie, a croissant’s throw from Notre Dame. It was a glorious place, books lining the walls like wall paper, books lining the floor like walls. I was convinced that if I just stayed quiet enough I could stay all night and not be discovered.

One day I discovered The Golden Notebook. I still remember my eyes devouring the first pages, first propping myself up against a book case, then hunching down and finally just flat out collapsing in comfort to the floor to read what to me was a revelation: a woman’s intimate, psychological life written by a woman, in its intricate, no apologies way.

In the years since I have read many of her books: The Grass is Singing, Briefing for a Descent into Hell,  The Good Terrorist, The Fifth Child and The Memoirs of a Survivor. I worshiped her from afar.

Then one day I read about how she had abandoned her first two children.

It shook me to my core.

Granted, when I read it I had two young children and was hyped up with oxytocin. But I was appalled at her decision to abandon her children for her literary career. As I tried to type out my word count amidst baby bottles and tantrums and the endless chaos of a young family household, I understood her motive. Oh, indeed I did. But I could not condone it. And I certainly couldn’t see past it. From then on, every time I read her books I thought, Well, must be niiiice.

Once my hormones and children were under better control, I reconsidered. After all, even without my ‘gorgeous’ children I knew I would not be so prolific, so erudite, so revolutionary as Doris Lessing. And certainly not on the receiving end of a Nobel Prize. And so I gave her the benefit of non-judgement: something, of course, I owe all people (well most) and began to enjoy her novels again.

Until I read about her attitude toward the women’s liberation movement. ‘The battles have all been won,’ she said, ‘except for equal pay for equal work.’

And I thought Hey! You! You’re pushing it!

Don’t tell me the field has been leveled. Childcare is overwhelmingly done by women, violence is overwhelmingly done to women, poverty is overwhelmingly thrust upon women.

To say otherwise is to abandon the issue.

When I heard she had died yesterday, I felt the passing of a defining literary figure. In more ways than one. We all make our choices. We live with them, we die with them. I owe her respect and yes, admiration.

I like to remember her as one of the commentators did in the Guardian today:

“Very sad to hear of the death of Doris Lessing. I saw her talk at the British Council in Harare in 1995. She was one of the writers I wrote when I was working, through VSO, teaching English in a rural Zimbabwean Secondary School, Chatiza High School near Mutoko. I asked each writer to send a copy of a book which I thought would be inspiring for the students, for the school library . I asked Doris Lessing for a copy of ‘African Laughter’, where she writes about building school libraries in rural schools. She didn’t send me one copy, she sent me a case load of books. And made sure that they were delivered directly to school. An inspirational woman.”

Indeed.

R.I.P Doris Lessing

photo by xjyxjy (flickr)

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House as Character

https://i0.wp.com/pdqpatterns.com/images/zen_animal_alphabet_K_kangaroo.jpg

My house is a character. She was born in 1905 and has sat on a corner lot in the middle of Brunswick, just north of the Melbourne CBD, being grand. I call her the Baroness. She has seen Brunswick change, from a plantation to a brick making center to Greek and Italian conclave to a downright hipster pad with superb coffee and even better graffiti. Down the street one of the shops is still engraved with the name of one of her owners, a not very nice man I’m told who in the 1920’s made oodles of money from his general store but refused to extend credit.

My house is what’s called here of the federation style. It’s a particular Australian style which overlapped the Edwardian era but embraced Australiana themes. Australian flora and fauna were prominently featured: kangaroos, wattles, bottle brush.  Inside we have smoked doors featuring gum trees and stained glass windows glowing with sand and sea. The fireplaces are carved with Art Nouveau scrolls. The molding around the living room features lyre birds.

My house has so much character I have to resist making her into something she’s not. When we first moved in I had so many ideas.  I wanted to lighten up her dark yellow and green trim. I wanted to plant cool clean hedges in place of the granny-fashioned row of lollypop white roses. I was aching to clamp a frilly verandah on her and make her beautiful. But once I arrived I realized she is who she is. For one thing she’s just not a verandah kinda gal. She’d look ridiculous. I have to respect that.

Do you see a writing blog coming a mile away….

I’ll spare you.

I just wanted to say that I’ve painting some rooms in lighter colors. I even painted the yellow tiles in the bathroom white. I didn’t know you could do that and it worked perfectly. The good thing about painting I’ve found is that your thoughts turn to your writing. In fact I thought up a great blog the other day as I painted, tongue stuck between my teeth, the intricate rose molding above the hall. It was witty, insightful, ground changing. Unfortunately by the time I finished the painting I’d completely forgotten it.

But I’m hoping more thoughts will bubble up about my novel as I try to finish rewrite phase. But some days my brain is exhausted. I have squeezed it dry of anything to do with the subject and it must fill up again. So it turns to bits and pieces and that’s fine with me.

The Baroness and I just hang out, listening to the birds outside the doors squawking their little hearts out. Wiping paint off  our noses, we keep going. Because in the end that’s all that works.

Though occasionally I do feel her shaking her roof at some of my ideas.

x

kangaroo window by PDQPatterns.com

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House Renovating for Writers

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We bought a house. We plunked down a fortune and signed an IOU in blood to our local bank. We received keys and a pile of bricks. We are wildly happy.

But today I stand in the hallway overwhelmed. Renovation, even the mildest, most superficial, is not for sissies.

The first couple of days I was so excited. I sat, pleased as purple punch, deciding paint colors. I obsessively poured over magazine pictures which had no bearing on my house but which I had turned to as a template for my future home. I was determined to create something beautiful, awe-inspiring, Zowie-invoking.

But after a week I have hit a wall. The hallway has taken the life out of me. Two coats primer. Two coats white paint. Endless painting of the molding around the ceiling edge and the two roses above the hanging lights. My excitement has turned to a slight depression.

Will this ever get finished.? Paint drips down the walls and splatters all over the floor. Cans of sticky paint and even sticker brushes lie underfoot. I am now realizing why painters get the big bucks: They deserve every penny.

I am also struck by how much renovating is like writing a novel.

You get an idea. You are so excited. You jump in, words flying here and there, until about a week into it you grind to a halt, words dripping down the page, surrounded by sticky platitudes. And you realize why the professional story tellers get the big bucks….

I smile as I reach out and return to painting. The key, of course, is to paint one wall after the other. Write one sentence after the other. Until you reach the end. And then you get to look back and say Ooooh! Or, as with most feats of creativity, see how different your feat is from what you had envisioned. But still you have done it. And you’ve done it the best you can.

Take a bow.

Take a shower.

Start again.

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It’s a bird, it’s a story, it’s Superman

I just returned from a lovely coffee with a friend I haven’t seen since we lived in Singapore. In the time I’ve seen her she has had two children. Two lovely little boys aged five and half and two and half.

I had forgotten how cute little kids are. As mother of a 14 and an 11-year old I’m in a different stage of parenthood. Of course I find my children just as adorable. But in a more elongated, bolshy, complicated way.

Little ones, especially little ones that you have limited time with, are just munchable. The five year old was an adorable little chatterer and the two year old so cute I wanted to wrap my mouth around his little legs and chomp.

We decided to go to the Hollywood Costume Exhibit at the Australian Museum of Moving Images in Federation Square. As we walked in, my friend said, “As you probably remember we’ll be doing the abbreviated tour.

And yes, I did remember: the zooming by all the people looking with great interest and time at each and every costume. We rushed past the the ravishing green dress that Keira Knightly wore in Atonement, Austin Power’s blue velvet suit, the white dress that Marilyn Monroe wore ( just) in The Seventh Itch.

We ended up underneath the costume of Superman which was suspended from the ceiling in full flying mode. In the place of the head was a photograph of Christopher Reeves.

The five-year-old was enchanted.

“Look!” he said with glee. “Superman!” He gazed up at the costume as if the Second Coming was approaching with a big Slurpee in its hand.

With studied eyes we examined every facet of the costume. We oohed over Superman’s rather dashing bright red leather boots which neither of us had ever noticed before.

“What’s his name?” the little boy asked looking up at the face.

“Christopher Reeves.”

“He is beautiful,” he said.

“Yes, he is, ” I agreed. I made sure to use the present tense. Not the time to discuss accidents, paralysis, death, cancer, orphans….

“He’s a good flyer,” he said.

“Well, he’s an actor playing superman,” I said. “He’s helped by wires.”

“An actor?”

“Yes, actors play the characters. That’s what this exhibit is about. The costumes the actors wear when they play the characters.”

“Christopher Reeves is an actor?” he said.

“Yes. He plays Superman.”

The little boy glanced up at the model above us. Then looked back at me, puzzled. And in that look I realized I was walking a dangerous path.

“But he’s a good flyer,” he insisted. “That’s why he got picked to be Superman. He’s a very good flyer. You have to be to play Superman.”

I opened my mouth then closed it. I suddenly realized we were talking about something much more complicated than death. Here, looking me in the eye, was suspension of disbelief. In fact so suspended it didn’t even exist. At least not yet. This little boy was the truest of story followers. I had forgotten his existence. His gorgeous existence. A touch of him remains in all of us. But here he was, unblemished by time and mundane reality. He shone like the largest most brilliant jewel.

So I looked up at the cape suspended by hooks and smiled. “Yes, he is a very good flyer.”

And I left it at that.

I think Christopher Reeves would have approved.

photo by Max-California

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