and peace to all, wherever you may be…
and peace to all, wherever you may be…
This is the last of three posts featuring the group of Western Australian women writers who were my guests two years ago under the banner ‘The Next Wave’. It’s been a great pleasure to watch their development as writers since then, and to know them individually as the lovely women they are.
Here are Amanda Gardiner, Louise Allan and Kim Coull reviewing what these last two years have brought to their creative lives.
There have been a lot of changes in my life since I was featured as one of Amanda’s WA women writers to watch out for.
In 2015 I began work as a post-doctoral research fellow at the South West campus of Edith Cowan University. I love my job and it has given me the opportunity to pursue ideas that had been bubbling away in my imagination for years.
The work I am most proud of is an interdisciplinary research project called The Spaces Between Us that is based on my doctoral research into women who committed child murder in colonial Western Australia. As part of the project I invited six artists (including a composer) to engage with the 55 cases I had uncovered.
One of the results of the project is an exhibition that is being held at the Bunbury Regional Art Gallery throughout December 2016 and January 2017.
It is hard to do the type of work that I do. There is a lot of pain, and suffering and death. There is a lot of injustice and shame. It is a heavy weight to bear. So it is important to me to share what I do in ways that embody empathy, respect and compassion. Ways that invite questioning and a deep and nuanced understanding of context—of why people behave in the ways that they do.
And this is the intent of The Spaces Between Us, and the idea behind working with this group of artists.
For me, the resultant work has beome a form of bearing witness. Of not turning away. The exhibition allows us all to carry and hold the mothers and babies; to let them know they have not been forgotten and that we seek to find and evoke wisdom, compassion and social change through their trauma and suffering.
This past year working on the project has been a rewarding experience for me, and I have learned a lot from this talented group of people.
You can listen to me talking about the project on the ABC’s Books and Arts program.
Another achievement I am proud of is being a member of Westerly’s 2016 Writers’ Development Program. One of the most exciting things about being part of the program is that Susan Midalia is my writing mentor. I have had a literary crush on Susan for many years, and working with her on my Westerly piece has been such a rewarding experience—she always asks just the right questions.
I was the winner of the 2014 Magdalena Prize for Feminist Research.
In 2015 I received the second place award in the National 5RP (5 minute research pitch) Competition for my presentation ‘Sex, death and desperation: Infanticide in colonial Western Australia (1829–1901).’ You can watch it here.
I was also featured on Radio National’s The Science Show. You can listen here.
My PhD thesis was shortlisted for the Australian Women’s and Gender Studies Association (AWGSA) PhD Award in 2016.
And in 2016 I was Highly Commended in Shorelines (Bunbury’s writing for performance festival).
The cover of the catalogue for The Spaces Between Us features Helen Seiver’s adding absence. Photo by Lloyd-Smith Photographics
Watch a documentary on The Spaces Between Us (by Peacock Visuals) here
Well, much has happened since the first series of ‘Next Wave’ blog posts two years ago.
Since then, the biggest development has been that Allen & Unwin will publish my novel in September 2017. I still have to pinch myself every day—I can’t imagine seeing my book on a shelf in a store, or in someone’s hands.
Going back to December 2014, and the news that my novel had been shortlisted for the 2014 City of Fremantle TAG Hungerford Award: it didn’t win, and although I was disappointed, it didn’t hurt as much or for as long as I thought it would. I took a lot of encouragement from the shortlisting—it meant that a group of independent and experienced authors had read my manuscript and decided it had merit. It meant I was on the right track.
I’m also quite philosophical about these things—I’ve had my share of disappointments, and I know that things happen when the time and place are right. So I told myself something even better was waiting in the wings.
After speaking with author and writing teacher Natasha Lester, I decided to seek an agent before looking for a publisher. I sent my manuscript to Lyn Tranter at Australian Literary Management, and a few weeks later, Lyn telephoned. She had a lot to say, most of it negative. My book needed a lot of work, not just a few tweaks here and there, but a major rewrite.
I was up for it. I stripped my book right back—if it were a tree, I’d say I took to it with a chainsaw, cutting not just the leaves and twigs, but the hefty branches, too, until all that remained was the trunk. Many paragraphs and even whole chapters were assigned to the trash and will never be seen on a page again. Indeed, the excerpt that I included in the December 2014 post here no longer lives! Then I added scenes back in, one by one. Some of them are nearly the same, with an added line or two that changes the emphasis, but many are totally new. I also rewrote the ending, and right up until the last few pages I had no idea how it would turn out. Hopefully, it will be a surprise for readers, too!
I believe my story is much better, much truer to my themes. There were parts of previous versions that even I didn’t like, but I didn’t know how to fix them. I needed someone with experienced eyes to tell me, and I’ll be forever grateful for Lyn’s feedback. I can’t overstate how helpful feedback from the right person is, and how important it is to heed that advice, especially for someone like me, a first-time novelist without a creative writing degree who was learning on the job.
Lyn accepted my rewritten novel and the first publisher she sent it to, Annette Barlow at Allen & Unwin, accepted it. I’m now waiting for the structural edits—I have no idea how extensive they’ll be or how long they’ll take, but, once again, I’m up for it.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to write Novel #2. My first few attempts were in third-person point of view, but they were abysmal. So I returned to my tried and true first person POV, and the words are flowing. It seems I write best when wearing the shoes of my protagonist.
One other thing: my novel is no longer called ‘Ida’s Children’ and I have no idea what the new title will be, so I can’t tell you what to look out for. Stay tuned…
Thanks, Amanda, for following up on this series. It’s only been two years—a short time, really—and look what’s happened in between. I hope the next two years are just as productive.
It is very still here this morning as I write this. Summer is creeping in. But I do love this last hurrah as the jacarandas break out. It’s about 11 am. The horse across the road is neighing. I never see this horse, although it keeps me company on the days I have time to sit and write. Like this morning.
In the last two years there has been a lot of space and in that space the heart of the game has deepened for me. Words have morphed into vibrations and back again. There’s been a great deal of silence and in that silence (paradoxically) I’ve found another well to plumb, or rather it has been like falling into an ocean and eventually finding myself washed up on a distant but vaguely remembered shore.
I’ve been time-travelling back into my music and writing songs. I made a harp recently. On it I carved the primal sound (although I’ve heard that may be only a secondary vibration to the initial ping). I have been interested in the healing value of Sanskrit and Gurmukhi and also language that creates soundscapes and vibrations, and I am applying this to the writing process. Over the past year, especially, from this intersection of sound, words, vibration and silence, I’ve written an album of songs that I plan to record in 2017.
I am also working on my book about art, narrative therapy and archetypes and hope to publish that next year as well as my poetry manuscript.
Some writing I have put away, understanding that it has served its purpose. Other writing is continuing to find voice in these varied ways. Perhaps getting older also makes you value silence and the nectar in the pause.
You can find Kim on her website
In this post, Rashida Murphy and Karen Overman, part of the wonderful group of Western Australian women writers I featured here two years ago in the series ‘The Next Wave’, talk about what has happened in their creative lives since then.
In 2014, when I was featured in the ‘Next Wave’ series, I had a manuscript entitled ‘The Historian’s Daughter’. I also had a year to go before I submitted that manuscript as part of a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University. In August 2016, The Historian’s Daughter was published by UWA Publishing. Since then, my life has traversed uncharted waters. As a novelist I have appeared at two regional writers festivals and been invited to the Perth Writers Festival in 2017. I have judged writing competitions and just finished a stint as a guest editor of the journal Westerly (‘New Creative’ issue). I am to be a Writer-In-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre next year. All of these events seem designed to make me pinch myself (which I do, frequently, and my husband no longer appears concerned when I yell, Ouch!).
Life as a published writer has unexpected moments of grace. Like the time I walked into a bookshop in Fremantle and the wonderful manager recognised me and told me my book was ‘selling well.’ And the time, in a library, a woman came up and said her friend had recommended she buy my book. Friends and strangers have posted positive reviews of The Historian’s Daughter, and it has been sighted and photographed in India, America, England and Canada, in addition to various cities in Australia. And I find myself answering questions about writing as if I know something. In truth, I’m terrified. Proud of my novel, yes, but terrified that I’ll find out it’s been a big mistake and this will all go away in a puff of smoke. This feeling is sometimes referred to as The Imposter Syndrome, a malaise many writers suffer from, apparently.
So where to, next? I’ve started writing my next novel and I expect it to change so many times that I won’t try to describe it in a sentence. Yes, it has women with foreign names who wear flowing skirts and have completely non-exotic childhoods. (I write fiction, after all).
Next year, I expect to wander around, lost for days, waiting for someone to find me and take me home. We are moving south of the river. As a northerner, this thought flummoxes me and feeds into my directional dyslexia. They say change is good for the soul, don’t they? I’m hoping ‘they’ are right. At the very least, expect some entertaining stories about those strange people who live south of the river, eat bananas and keep goannas as pets. Now I really must ring my kids (all of whom live south) and assure them it’s an advantage to live close to us again. It doesn’t matter how far they run, we’ll find them.
So what have I been up to since last we met?
‘The Blue Moment’ manuscript sits percolating in a drawer with its sisters (I shall return soon to this manuscript to ‘prune’ and feed anon), and work upon another manuscript has been embarked upon. This most recent will form part of a trilogy.
In the interim I have been travelling lots—Finland, Norway, Ireland and soon a return to Russia and China. On these travels my mind becomes a net scooping up little bits of shimmer-and-gravity along the way.
Oh, and I have been blogging. Some pieces of shimmer make it into these blogs. On one occasion a piece of gravity did, too, in a blog addressing the hysteria (and unkindness?) being displayed towards the Muslim community in Australia. I say Australia, but its argument could be applied to the wider world.
I think I poked a bit of a hornet’s nest. Apart from being kindly informed that I was ‘a piece of s**t’, and then hearing from another dear reader, ‘I hope you die in a terrorist bomb blast’ (I’m hoping I don’t get one of these readers in the Christmas Kringle…)—it gained an audience from all over the world. At last count it had attracted almost 23,000 shares. It also confirmed my deep-seated feeling that if my larger work ever attracts a substantial readership, I hope this doesn’t occur until at least three minutes after I’ve popped my clogs!
Did this brief moment of notoriety make me want to crawl back into my shell?
Did it make me want to court greater notoriety?
Did it make me want to moderate my opinions?
Not really. (Well, perhaps momentarily after the first few death threats, but when the hundreds of messages of affirmation began streaming into my Facebook Messenger in-box from all over the world…no, no rescinding of opinions at all.)
Most importantly, it reaffirmed my belief in the power of the word. And, especially for someone like me who eschews public speaking, the power of the written word.
The effect of the blog drove home to me how important—in my life, and perhaps in yours—it is to think deeply about what is occurring in the world that surrounds us: the beautiful things, the ugly things, the unfairnesses and the actions that make us as fine as we can aspire to be. These are all worth applying the best of one’s mind to, and perhaps even to take the further step of writing down the fruits of such thought.
On 19 November 1863, Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address said, The world will little note, nor long remember what is said here—and he couldn’t have been more wrong. The world remembers every word of his address, firstly, because what he said was fine; he stated his nation shall have a government of the people, by the people, for the people. But, most significantly, his thoughts live on because he Wrote. Them. Down.
The power of the written word cannot be underestimated. So, as a mantra to myself, and as an exhortation and encouragement to my fellow writers on Amanda’s generous-spirited blog, keep writing.
Keep thinking, deeply.
And, keep writing!