Well it's easy to lose track when trips and sickness and exciting things happen at once, but that's been the past few weeks so here's a writing update.
The first full draft of Girlie is done and this week I'm hoping to share an electronic draft with beta readers for feedback. There is still much to do, and a couple of trips to places and chats with people to be held, but the novel has shape. I also seized an opportunity to enter the draft manuscript in a literary competition for 2020 so we will see what comes of that risky venture.
If the work doesn't find publisher success in the next twelve months, I'll self publish it. I've played with a very rough cover draft in anticipation (as attached).
I've returned my attention to a previous project that is speculative fiction, based on the premise that the rise of right wing movements and increasing hostilities between nations and religious groups leads to world conflict, overshadowed by the unfettered outbreak of a new Ebola strain that is nourished by world politics and religion. Apocalyptic virus stories are far from new, but I've written this from a diary perspective as if it happens, say, next week onward. I finished the full draft in November last year, but I'm revisiting it to update some minor matters and then I'll see if I can garner publisher interest.
While those two projects are sent to find their fates, I'll return to sort out a fantasy project that was almost half written (one and a half books) before I pulled back from the project to write other material in 2015. Time to dust off the work and get busy.
So, as posted on my social page, I’ve finished the very first raw edit of Girlie and now doing the second edit the good old way before I can claim to have a full first draft of the novel for my beta readers. Funny what the mind-eye sees when print is on paper as opposed to text on screen. Maybe it’s entrenched skill from 40 years English teaching, or 30 years writing editing, or maybe it is an essential part of the process - but it is definitely effective.
This part of the edit is around ‘best words’, sentence and paragraph structures, reducing overwriting and paring back in general. For those curious, it includes taking a piece like:
‘When the children finally made it home...’ and rewriting as ‘When the children arrived home...’ - arrived replacing three words. That’s a simple example of what this step in the process involves.
This is a long, essential step in writing. It often results in less words, but tighter writing.
I amused myself by thinking keeping a blog based on editing would be interesting - yeah, nah. This past fortnight, I've worked through just over 200 pages of editing on the project, finding typos, adjusting information, and it's required a level of self-discipline to push myself to sit and work patiently. There's something challenging reading through a project you've finished and having to admit it's far from finished yet.
Editing pushed me back down more research rabbit holes around post-war rationing and how Australian families lived in austerity in order for Australian governments to supply England. I thought it was fascinating to learn that petrol rationing was stopped before butter rationing. Being the son of a dairy farmer, I still can't rationalise why butter was such a difficult commodity to obtain, so for my own curiosity I'll go deeper into that part of the research post-editing.
The rationing process spawned significant black market industries, and those 'in the know' or with 'good connections' could access goods the average family went without. Research also uncovered yet again how those in the right class levels - don't ever kid yourself we live in an egalitarian society - actually lived very comfortably during the war years, adopting a clever culture of not flaunting their wealth while they continued to accrue it and enjoy it in the privacy of their homes.
The rise of the car from 1948-1952 (the scope of part of the story) is itself an interesting research path. Apart from the first true cars in Australia being steam-powered (yes, ironic in modern times), Chifley's support for an Australian-built car - eventually the 48/215 or FX Holden - coupled with increasing importing, and locally-based built cars, and increasing employment meant more and more people began to own cars. In 1950, one in ten families owned a car and by the end of that decade more than half of all Australian families had a car in the driveway. The effect of post-war immigration and American industrial might on which cars became available to Australians and how British vehicles steadily lost the market is also a fascinating study for another time.
I went deeper into the world of dentistry techniques and dentures, and the lengths people went to for their Hollywood smiles and dental health before the dental fraternity started filling every hole they could to save rather than extract teeth.
Correcting spelling errors, typos, adjusting 'he said' and so on terms, adding in character reflection and colour and limited imagery, checking historical accuracy all continue to be part of the current task. I have a week off work now, so I'm planning on finishing the raw edit this week and then sharing the first draft with beta readers for honest feedback before I begin second complete edit.
Continuing editing this week - returned over Chapter 1944 before moving back into 1945.
I spent time researching several facts, beginning with vehicles likely to be plying the roads in 1944, like the Ford Coupe. Of course, then I found myself cruising through ads about collectors' vehicles and before you know it I was way off task.
A small part of the story involves Glenelg Primary School and I was pleasantly surprised to find an online resource celebrating the history of the school: https://www.glenelgps.sa.edu.au/our-community/history/
The school ran a range of different activities around visiting submarines and marches, and raising donations for the war effort.
I checked architectural housing styles: https://www.alexarealestate.com.au/re…/adelaide-house-styles
to ensure places were accurately described in style.
I also went back into researching favourite serials on radio at the time, including The Witch's Tale, Dad and Dave and The Lawsons (that show went on to become Blue Hills).
Looking for synonyms for repeated words was also part of the process during the week. I also began to explore the central character reflecting on various events, looking to add dimension to the character.
A slow continuation from last week, but editing is never glamorous.
As planned, after finishing the raw draft I took a break from the project to clear my head and attend to other matters. This week, I’ve begun the arduous journey of first edit.
The editing process for me involves working through the chapters, one-by-one, and checking for:
• Obvious language errors and typos
• Evaluating words and phrases and choosing better ones where possible
• Overuse or inappropriate use of adverbs and adjectives
• Repetitive words and phrases
• ‘noise’ words – words that don’t add to the writing
• Inconsistencies and inaccuracies with information
• Lame dialogue – dialogue that doesn’t add character information or move the story forward
and a host of other matters.
As foreshadowed in the previous post, I’m adding subtitle quotations to each chapter that ‘comment’ on events in the chapter. For the first chapter, the quote comes from The Sullivans:
“As soon as this one’s born, let’s have another kid. I’d hate to think of a guy growing up without brothers.”
Albert Leo ‘Al’ Sullivan
Eileen was one of nine children and Clarisse, her mother, had those none kids in a thirteen year period, making her basically a baby machine over that time.
Creating the opening lines to a story is always a challenge. The story begins with the children stumbling upon a soldier bleeding from stab wounds at the local bus stop, so I’ve tried several options, choosing in this edit to go with:
“Two aspects of the moment astonished her: bright blood pooling on the concrete pavement beneath the wooden bus stop bench and the soldier’s indifference.”
In real life, a local soldier came home on leave only to find his wife undertaking recreation with another man. A fight ensued and the soldier came off worse. Oddly, he chose to wait for a bus to take him to the hospital and that’s where the Bonney children found him. An ambulance was called but his fate remained unknown.
This edit means adding details like the advertising on the side of a double decker bus – Crompton’s Bunyip Soap – and yes Adelaide had double decker bus services. Glenelg Primary School features and so I’ve gone through the archives and the history of the school in the past week to see what was happening in 1943 and the buildings of the time. Careful checking of hat styles and clothes and rationing has also been necessary to recreate the 1943 environment.
In 2010 I was lucky to go through the rear of the original family home on The Broadway with Mum and the old kitchen and backyard space was still intact. However, by 2018, the backyard was subdivided and demolished, but the old kitchen remains in place, albeit unused. The house is currently a furniture and fashion shop.
Another add-in while editing has been referencing the Anderson shelter that was built in the front yard of the house.
While I haven’t completed an edit of the full chapter this week, I’m hoping to edit a chapter a week from this point forward. I’ll add a post on what I discover while editing to show the process and its impact on the project.
Thanks for following the journey. I enjoy your company.
As predicted, the project end is still a few words away, but the raw draft surpassed 100,000 words yesterday and the end is definitely in sight!
Research at this point has diminished as I'm working from Eileen's notes and using character development to fill gaps. Bill proposed to Eileen, as noted in the previous post, in order to be married before he began work at Naranga station, so Eileen visited Bill's world - his father's farm and the farm Bill worked on for the Lloyd family - and her brothers and sisters also visited.
Henry's farm - a 120 acre plot six kilometres from Lake Alexandrina on the Nine-Mile Road, caught between Tailem Bend and Meningie - is where Bill grew up, and Bill and Eileen spent almost all their married life on the property. The landed families around the district surrounding Henry's farm measured their properties in thousands of acres, so Henry's property was tiny and almost worthless from a farming perspective. It was not connected to the electricity grid or the mains water network, had a rudimentary five gallon bucket toilet, an underground rainwater tank for drinking water and an ancient pipeline running from the lake that produced tainted, low quality water for washing and stock.
The house was originally a two-roomed establishment hand-built from stone and lime and wood by a brother and sister in the late 1880s. Two more rooms were added, the roof sloping down from the original peaked roof, and a tiny annex added for a kitchen and wash space. I often wonder what Eileen thought of the place when she did move into it (which is after this story), having grown up in Adelaide where electricity and water were common conveniences in most dwellings by the 1950s.
Because I also grew up there, I can confirm the electricity was not connected until 1966 (kerosene lamps and candles lit our nights) and mains water was never connected. On reflection, as a child in the 1960s, I felt like I was growing up in the previous century when it came to the conveniences and houses my school friends and relatives grew up in.
Research this week did lead me to explore the existence of a bridal shop on Goodwood Road where Eileen bought her wedding dress, but I haven't located where it might have been yet.
However, historically 1953 included significant events, including a vicious storm in May that destroyed property and coastal edifices like Brighton Jetty, almost as severely as the famed 1948 hurricane. Queen Elizabeth the Second's coronation took place in June, so setting the story against these backgrounds adds flavour to the tale.
Given the year by year chapter structure I've adopted, which appears to be working really well, I've also researched famous movie quotes for each year to sub-head the chapter title, choosing quotes by characters that point toward the events in the chapter that affect Eileen.
Not much to report this week, but the end is in sight, so back to the keyboard.
Maybe the penultimate raw draft entry - the project is at 97,000 words and midway through the final chapter: Chapter 1953.
Returning to work has definitely had the wrong impact on the project, but as the routine settles down I'm still hoping to finish the raw draft by the close of next week. I guess the next blog entry will report accordingly.
Research shifted a little this past week from 'delving into the unknown' to recalling the 'vaguely remembered.' Eileen's courtship involved her travelling from Adelaide to Meningie initially by bus and her first overnight stay was in the Meningie Hotel to attend a Ball in the Meningie Town Hall. All of these are familiar to me - having even ridden on the Bob Mitchell bus service several times in my childhood and teen years - but it still sent me digging into the histories.
Meningie Town Hall and Council Chambers were opened in 1889 and also became the local facility for showing movies and holding dances for many years. In recent times, the building is used as an arts and crafts centre with a small cafe for tourists.
The Meningie Hotel began in 1867 as a single-storey establishment owned by William Hitch. The second storey was opened in 1925 and additions made thereafter. Local historian, Marianne Cunneen, has published a book detailing the building's history.
Less is easily available regarding the Bob Mitchell bus service, although research on it wasn't necessary for the brief reference in the story.
Pre World War Two and certainly the Depression years, the push-bike was prevalent and cars were owned only by the well-off in the community. Post-World War Two, cars were not common in families in Adelaide. Sources put it that only one in four families owned a car in the 1940s and even in 1948 there were approximately 162 cars per 1000 people in South Australia (which was higher than the National average!). Many young men were riding motorcycles and taking their young ladies to dances on them. Bill owned and rode motorcycles as his prime means of transport after he was repatriated from the hospital and returned to his country home at Malcolm Plains near Lake Alexandrina.
To impress Eileen during the courtship, Bill bought a 1936 Chevrolet Coupe convertible from Smith's Motors in Adelaide. I have the original papers of the sale and the owner's manual. Holden actually made the coach/body for the car and bolted it to an imported Chev chassis for the Australian market. A car very much like the one Bill bought was sold in 2017 by Shannon's at auction for $50,000 (lucky I didn't know about it or I would be significantly poorer!).
Bill proposed to Eileen on her birthday, March 24, in 1953, his motive being also that he'd been offered full-time work at Naranga Station, a large property established south of Meningie on the way to Salt Creek. When Bill left the Repat in 1952, he was basically unemployed, like many returned service men and women who had been injured or were ill. Bill had begun Airforce training in mechanical engineering, but never finished it, so he was doing itinerant work for local farmers to make ends meet when he began dating Eileen and therefore hardly a realistic marriage prospect. The Naranga Station job gave Bill the reason and courage to ask Eileen to marry him. And she was delighted.
A short distance to travel in drafting - let's see where it gets.
Easter Sunday and an update on the project. With a handful of days not at work, we've smashed the 90,000 word barrier and all but completed Chapter 1952, leaving one chapter to draft. I definitely acknowledge that what I've produced so far is a draft synopsis more than a novel, with the hard work to mould it into something readable still ahead.
Research into events in Chapter 1952 led to several fascinating places, the first being the Wondergraph/Star/Ozone/Curzon theatre that graced Goodwood Road from 1911 to 1964. The company who bought the theatre and renamed it The Star signalled its inevitable demise when they built and opened the New Star (now Capri) in 1941. It must have been unusual for two theatres owned by the same company to be operating literally paces along the street from one another.
Research also took me to the Wayville Trots held in the Wayville Showgrounds from 1934 until 1973. The track was originally used as a speedway track from the mid 1920s until 1934. Coincidentally, I also ended up chasing down the routes of the old Adelaide tramways and was surprised how extensive the original tracks were - a past lost by poor vision.
I took the opportunity this past week to also visit the Daw Park Repatriation Hospital Museum where several kind gentlemen allowed me to look around and even set foot in the old mortuary refrigerator. I strolled around the outside of Wards 1-8 and Daw House to get a sense of 'place' and peered through windows at the now-empty rooms within.
This is the chapter in which our central character meets the man she will marry, my father, Bill Shillitoe. William Henry Shillitoe was a patient in the men's ward in 1952, admitted after a relapse associated with his medical discharge from the RAAF in 1945.
Bill joined up in July 1944, days after he turned eighteen, and after training in Wagga Wagga he was assigned as an AC1 to Darwin to learn mechanical engineering. Unfortunately, he fell ill in October with a double-whammy of Scarlet Fever that led to Rheumatic Fever and he was placed first on the critically ill list and then the dangerously ill list as his condition rapidly escalated. Research revealed the Rheumatic Fever was not uncommon in World War Two as a consequence of men living in damp, ill-equipped close quarters, as was the case in Darwin, but the use of penicillin in medicine proved an effective treatment and the rate of infections declined markedly.
The illness in Bill's case, however, became Rheumatic Carditis and left him with a permanently weakened heart and damaged heart valve. He was repatriated to Adelaide, discharged when considered well enough, and he returned to itinerant work as a farm hand near Ashville. I have no record of how often he had relapses associated with the illness, but he was in the Repat before July 1952 and discharged in September 1952.
My mother told me in our interviews that when she was assigned to light duties post-TB, she was attracted to a 'shy, well-spoken and handsome young man' and she started paying him extra attention, including visiting him after hours. She was disappointed when he left, but he wrote her a letter shortly afterward and then rang her and invited her to a dance ball in Meningie. So began a life-long relationship.
So, tomorrow I begin drafting the final chapter of the project, and hopefully will have it done by the end of next week, or the week after, depending on the impact of returning to work. When I began, I wasn't sure I had enough material to flesh out a novel. It turns out I do. One more chapter in raw draft, and then we get serious about polishing the rough.
Chapter 1951 has proven the most difficult chapter to write so far, partly because of the story's events and partly because life has thrown a few of its usual disruptive curve balls, the saddest being the passing of one of Eileen's sisters, Judith (Auntie Judy). Judy and Eileen were close sisters and good friends, sharing time together in their latter years. Auntie Judy was a strong and resourceful woman, sharp with her tongue and soft with her heart. She looked after my youngest daughter for a short while when her mother began part-time work and I still hunger for Auntie Judy's boiled fruit cake because it was amazing! My heart goes out to her two children, my cousins, Dean and Diane.
Much of the research for Chapter 1951 was covered in a previous post around TB and rehabilitation centres in Adelaide at the time. In the latter weeks of rehabilitation, Eileen stayed with her brother, Bruce, and sister-in-law and former nursing colleague, Betty. I lived and worked in Whyalla between 1978-84, so the area is familiar to me: the red iron ore dust and steelworks and housing trust homes.
In 1951, the fledgling city was on the verge of dramatic growth, its hopes resting in the shipyards and steelworks and the migrants brought in from post-war Europe to build the future. The Morgan to Whyalla pipeline was commissioned in 1940 as part of the war effort to support the steel mill, completed in 1944 and officially opened in 1945, supplying fresh water from the Murray River to the fringe desert city. Members of my mother's family were working as builders, constructing cheap government-funded homes for the workers.
The BHP-owned shipyards were thriving post-war. The first ship - HMAS Whyalla - was launched in 1941, and the shipyards went on to construct a further 63 vessels before the yards were shut down in 1978 by escalating costs and cheaper overseas competition.
Founded as a tiny mining town, Hummocks Hill, in 1901, Whyalla grew rapidly in the 1950s and town planners were preparing for a future population of 100,000, but it peaked in the 1970s somewhere between 30-40,000, and the shipyards closure, followed by progressive employee cutbacks at the steelworks in the 1980s, saw the population rapidly decline, stabilising in recent times at around 21,000 people.
So, Mum, or our central character for the novel, was briefly in a place that was glowing with hope for the future, appropriate for a young woman who had walked the valley of death and emerged on the other side, recuperating to begin life again.
Onto Chapter 1952, 83,000 words passed in the draft.
Just over 78,000 words drafted and well into Chapter 1951 - the project drives me forward.
Research this week delved into the history of tuberculosis and its treatment in the 1940s and 1950s. As previously noted, Mum spent time working in the TB ward in Heidelberg Repat in 1949, although she didn't present with symptoms until her return to Adelaide in 1951. Initially disguised as a bout of influenza, a Mantu test and x-rays confirmed Mum had TB in the lower lobe of her right lung.
Tuberculosis has a long history stretching back to the earliest human times, found in Egyptian mummies, and reaching near epidemic proportion in the C18th/C19th period when it was described once as 'Captain among these men of death'. A simple summary of its existence is in a ScienceDirect article:
At the time of Mum's illness, standard procedure was to collapse the entire lung (pulmonary collapse) and send the patient to a sanatorium for up to two years rehabilitation. Such a sanatorium was run at Birralee Sanatorium, Belair. However, her doctor opted to do a resection - lobectomy - removal of the lower lobe of her right lung, partly because lobectomies were beginning to have greater rates of success post-war, and the antibiotic Streptomycin, introduced in 1944-6, was proving very effective in treating tuberculosis patients. Recovery from a lobectomy - no pun coming up - cut recovery time in half for patients.
All up, Mum spent four hours in the Repat theatre, a month in Intensive Care Unit, five months in Ward 2 confined to bed, and another four months at St Margaret's Convalescent Home in Semaphore before she returned to light duties as a nurse at the Daw Park Repat.
The plan is to complete this chapter by next weekend...
Writing is my passion. Ideas, opinions, beliefs, experiences expressed through language - through words and images - pervade and create my life. Writing is my voice, my soul, my self. My dream is one day writing will sustain my life...