This has been a squirrel week - so many distractions and challenges and opportunities! Work and family aside, even the writing has squirrels bounding in disparate directions, demanding attention.
So I thought I'd focus on fixing the Amazon edition covers on the Andrakis series. Andrakis hasn't had much luck when it comes to covers. The original series from Pan Macmillan started with different artists unable to capture the first cover until the final design emerged with Andra on the final battlefield facing dragons emerging out of roiling clouds. I totally loved that first cover visual because of its energy and dark threat. The lettering for the title - meh - but the cover was great. And then it was all downhill. The cover for Kingmaker always felt half-finished, leaning towards cartoonish; Andra standing in a stream of dragonfire on Cennednyss bridge. And then came the disastrous cover for book three. Conceptually, Dragonlords with Andra confronting A Ahmud Ki beneath the twisted trees had merit, but the cover design was nothing like the first two books and readers looking for book three didn't recognise the link. By the time most did, Dragonlords was off the book shelves and it still remains the most difficult book to track down. I maintain that the sales drop from book two to three was entirely due to the odd marketing decision to make book three look nothing like books one and two. that experience made me overly cautious thereafter. The original series covers are posted with this entry.
Jump ahead ten years and the Andrakis books were out of print so Rob Stephenson kindly had them redesigned and marketed through Altair as POD (Print on Demand) for readers still interested in reading the series. It was a low budget, quiet reprint, but Kirsi Salonen created new art work for the covers and the series finally looked like it was a series.
Jump forward ten more years and I decided to rekindle (pun deliberately intended) availability of the Andrakis series via Amazon. Well, what a learning journey that has become so far as cover production is concerned. Initially I created three very amateurish covers on white backgrounds just to see how the whole CreateSpace/Kindle space worked. Then I thought maybe I should make the covers a little more professional, so I played with Kirsi's original artwork, made several mistakes and finally ended up with a finished product last week. What did I learn?
Okay, I learned I'm no artist - or designer actually. But I have learned a little more about design and Photoshop.
I learned self-publishing is a little bit of fun and a lot of craftsmanship and that precision is essential. Someone In Amazon would be sick of sending me emails saying there was still an error in the print or on the cover. Jan Balo popped into conversations and offered sound advice to help me avoid some design errors. However, I made the corrections and learned more from the mistakes. Text shape and size can significantly change the 'professional' appearance of a cover. Layers can be manipulated to add depth. Colour matching and linking adds continuity, and so on. I've included the final covers as evidence of the progress. I would post the alternative cover designs I tried while I was learning but they are seriously embarrassing (and no doubt still visible somewhere on the web).
So the cover squirrels kept me chasing in circles the past week, but I've enjoyed the chase.
Writing squirrels also had me running in circles - and jumping between projects, including writing the first chapter of the sequel to The Last Wizard (yes, I know, 25 years later!). I've mapped out a story/plot for the second book. When I finish it, and begin the third in the series, the titles will emerge as Tamesan's Song: The Last Wizard Book One (the original), Chasse's Song: The Last Wizard Book Two and Jaysin's Song: The Last Wizard Book Three. I originally wrote The Last Wizard to be a stand-alone novel, but even as I reached the end the next two books announced themselves. I wrote notes etc, but my life tilted sharply in a different direction in the late 1990s and the project never took flight - but now it has.
So, yes, I'm working on three writing projects concurrently again. Squirrels. Everywhere.
And then theres' COVID 19 and school and IT and...
Back we go..
Tomorrow is back to work after four days and two weekends away from the chaos. In fairness to Meg, I did spend three days working on school web sites for teachers, parents and students during the so-called break, but the last four days I devoted to being a writer.
After a wee bit of excitement back in 2015 when I tried to kick start a flagging writing business, I neglected much of what needs to be fostered. As my previous blogs detail, I have returned to writing in earnest and the momentum is good. What I neglect is everything AFTER a book is written, and that I must change.
This week I revamped my tired old writing website at www.tonyshillitoe.com.au Drop by for an updated view - still a page to fix around how and where to buy my books, but essentially it's almost done. From now on I will also store these blogs on that site.
I also spent time this week revamping the Amazon covers for the Ashuak and Andrakis series, learning new techniques and applying them to the covers to make them less amateurish. This led to updating the interior content as well, again to improve the appearance. It takes a full day to design a cover, and another whole day to check the layout of the content, and that's the tip of the iceberg. Examples of the updated covers, one from each series, are included below (drafts - finals are too large a file for here).
Moving forward, I am about to embark on book two of the new fantasy series later this week and I'll add updates of that in the next entry. For the record, yesterday I was distracted for three hours and wrote an intro to yet another new series. I need to focus!
Well, no recent posts because of our common enemy Covid-19 who has consumed my life within our school; building an online learning strategy, environment and resources for parents, students and teachers, supporting teacher resilience and competence in that strange new environment for ELC-12 using Teams, Managebac and Showbie and a vast array of web resources and tools, and basically caring for the learning and emotional wellbeing of a community. I'm currently building web sites to support teachers, parents and students with digital skills. As John Lennon aptly sang, 'strange days indeed.'
Writing took a back seat, but some events chugged along. I submitted Girlie to a publication contest, but lucked out on that one, so now I'll prepare the manuscript for the usual submission processes. A re-read yesterday revealed a couple of glaring editing errors - no matter how ruthlessly you work through 115,000 words, even with vigilant friends checking, you miss details. When I hear someone complain that they found a spelling error on page 27 of a novel, or a missed word, I know how and why those errors happen - and no, I'm not talking about lots of errors in a text. Anyway, Girlie will be packaged and sent to the first publisher target to see if they will take her on. If not, we move to the next one.
The pandemic zombie-fest novel, working title All We Have, was sent to its first publisher a fortnight ago, so we will see where that ends up. Either my timing is terrible or great in this current world event. While it was never aimed at imitating a Corona style pandemic, maybe there is enough in it to make it a worthwhile read. Anyway, the waiting game has begun for that novel.
I also reshaped and finished Book One in the new fantasy series, currently titled (insert title here). Creating a title is really challenging because so many books and films have been published and already bear the very titles the next writer/creator want to use. So one target in the next few days is to generate a list of options, test them against the titles already published and come up with an appropriately interesting/catchy title for this work. I'm hoping to head into Book Two during the coming week, given I'm taking four days off work post-Easter (happy dance).
I hope everyone out there is safe, socially-distancing and looking out for family, friends and neighbours. We are living in one of our films or novels right now. I might say that for a full-time writer this might seem 'normal', as it would for gamers, introverts and only children (I qualify in some of those categories). Use the time we've been given wisely. Happy Easter!
Best Laid Plans...
As Douglas Adams wrote, 'The best-laid plans of mice.' The plan was to flesh out the fantasy world for the new series and even draw maps. Well, I did find time to flesh out the worlds a little. The maps - not so much.
Currently, two cultures are drafted, three to be drafted more.
Working out a hierarchy and political and social structure for the dragon culture has been interesting. Essentially, the political structure is a regal matriarchy supported by an oligarchy overarching a loose socialist democracy. Queen Shadrael is the inheritor of rule from her grandmother who featured in the Ashuak Chronicles, but her right to the role is challenged. While the Queen has absolute authority, she is guided/advised by a group of Elders, and Clan-wide decisions have to be agreed to by the dragon Congress. Social status is tied closely to political status, with some allowance for birthright. Economically and militarily, the dragons live off of a human slavery system that they have established by domination. The dragons can draw on several millenia of cultural history, stemming from a time when they were beasts in the wild, through the era of the dragonlords and the Andrakian trilogy to inheritors of magic from the Genesis Stone.
The key human culture of the tale is the Domovinan kingdom, ruled by a Shah. Inherited absolute rule is the key system, supported by a warlord leading class and a fledgling and highly-threatened democracy in the city. The culture is misogynistic in the extreme as a result of a history where powerful women were users of magic who were eventually overthrown by men. There's a tale within a tale buried in that history that will also hark back to the Andrakian trilogy. The Domovinan kingdom is in the middle of an industrial revolution and ruthlessly and jealously guards its technology (this technological revolution precedes but ties into the world in the Dreaming in Amber series). Social strata in Domovina is very much like that existing in C18th England - from wealthy royals through to wealthy merchants/criminals, middle class business owners down to workers and the poor.
The dragon culture embracing the human slaves is still taking shape as those characters begin to receive airplay in the story. The Alfyn culture is to be developed early in Book Two and a new human culture will be brought into play as the first two clash.
The complexity of the cultures is still unravelling as I write and new necessary detail is required in the story. A friend on the weekend asked if I subscribe to George Martin's differentiation of writers as being architects (detailed planners) or gardeners (organic growers). In my case, both apply. There is an awful lot of planning and almost as much organic growth to create characters, places, communities and a story embracing them.
And as for the diversion of direction on the new project, I accepted an invitation to Meander - a B&B property near Springton owned by good friend Evelyn - and used the escape time to add and edit details in another project to complete it. This is the post-apocalyptic project for which I now need to find a publisher. Tonight I will begin drafting a proposal and blurb to accompany the first chapters of the novel and select who I will approach. Frankly, I'm so far out of the writing loop my choices will be dictated by what I can research online. I'll post the progress on that as it unfolds over the next few months.
PS: The fantasy novel is now at 100,000 words and growing, so I've stayed busy
As an act of self-discipline, this post is generated in a writing break today - otherwise I won't remember to do it.
Currently titled Dragon Storm - but only in draft because that title is in plenty of other places - the fantasy project is now past 60,000 words today, with the fifth key character introduced.
I've been wrestling with multiple ways from the outset how to introduce what are effectively five disparate characters who will be brought together in the one major event. I considered multiple devices, but I've settled on four of them having 4-5 chapters to open the series - enough time for the reader to get to know a little about the character and their circumstance. Each set of chapters do end at a point hopefully leaving the reader wanting to know what will happen to them next. Readers will judge that. I like it - but, hey, I'm just the writer.
Oh, the fifth character? She gets her intro early in Book Two.
60,000 words puts me just short of halfway into Book One. What will follow now is the drawing together of the characters into the bigger conflict unfolding while they are resolving their own personal conflicts in different ways as I head for the close of the first book.
Because this is a project blog, there will be many spoilers as I discuss what I'm doing. It is what it is.
The first key character I'm developing is the Dragon Queen. She is caught up in the ambitions of her dragon culture to seek revenge against humans, and this she is pursuing, but dragons have the ability to use magic, including the ability to polyform into human form. As a dragon, their scale and hide strength is almost unparalleled, but they lose all their dragon ability in human form and are therefore extremely vulnerable - exactly as the species they become. The impact of this transformation on the Dragon Queen will be to influence her attitude toward humans as the tale unfolds until she is caught in an ethical dilemma...
The second key character is Ven, fundamentally a ruthless underworld boss who seeks power and fortune. He is driven by his own form of ethics, but his relationship with a child eventually also creates an ethical imperative that takes him on a pathway that collides with the other key characters.
The third key character, Ara, twin prince of Domovina, makes a decision that leaves him leading a kingdom under direct threat from the dragons despite a prophecy that named his twin brother as the one to lead the fight.
The fourth key character, Jai, is a girl unwittingly caught up in the unfolding events after trying to spy on the Domovinan princes. In the misogynistic Domovinan culture, she inherits the legacy of women without understanding its import until circumstance teaches her otherwise.
I'll write about the fifth character when we reach that part of the tale.
The bleeding obvious is that all five characters are embroiled in the one conflict, taking sides and struggling with their ethical and not-so-ethical decisions. Growing the characters is my current challenge.
Next instalment will be around world-building, hopefully next week.
Moving forward into the new project, I can record I've smashed through the 45,000 words barrier, although the pace slowed once school kicked into top gear this past week.
After initial concepts were drawn around how the story will run to a conclusion - I always map a conclusion before I begin a project: it creates a target and purpose - generating characters has proven interesting. I do have the antagonist/protagonist (depends on point of view in the story) taking solid shape. She is becoming increasingly complex, given the clashes between her responsibilities and desires and cultures and powers. Her goals and aspirations run against the goals and aspirations of a second character and cultural group, and that character is also taking shape. Of course, the big driving event of the story - one culture vying for domination over another - brings into play a trope of most stories in many genres, although I'm hoping the reasons for the struggle and how they change as the conflict unfolds will bring some fresh aspects to that 'big picture' view.
Additional cultural clashes are already planned to occur beneath the big picture - one the legacy of previous novels I've written and one that resonates today around gender.
Below the two primary characters are four secondary characters whose lives are both driven by personal 'quests' and whose lives are also caught up in the bigger battle by circumstance.
And so my writing project dilemma - how to begin the individual stories and draw them together.
I began with alternating chapters, but I've abandoned that as I did the very first time I started a fantasy series, in favour of running between 4-6 chapters focussed on what a particular character is doing. The upside is the reader has time to get into the character's story. The downside is with multiple characters the reader may be forced to wait multiple chapters between one character's story and returning to it. I know readers will persevere because it isa common approach in many novels, so I will continue in this vein for book one in the series. The plot is such that by early book two the plan is to bring several characters together - the old quest-line-for-a-common-cause trope of course - so the dilemma becomes resolved as far as writing.
First draft means punching out the writing in pursuit of plot and characters so I'm not spending time adding details yet unless they 'present themselves' in the process, but I've reached the point where I'm beginning character notes to keep track of characters and their parts - major, moderate and minor - in events. For the record, already that's sixty-three characters who've made an appearance of some kind in the story.
Names are also an interesting dilemma. The dragons are being named using conventions I created back in the original Andrakis series - names non-human in every way really. Human cultural groups I'm swinging between 'made-up' names for less important groups, but the core human culture names are based on Slavic and Arabic names rather than Anglo origins. The purpose is to add a mix of familiarity/factual naming with a sense to the likely English-speaking readers of foreign names as well. I don't know how this will work. I'm experimenting for now.
I'm also going to devote some time in the next fortnight to mapping places in the story - it's a nice therapeutic task, but it helps me create travel distances and visible landmarks and features for the background and character experiences.
Okay. Saturday afternoon is here and it's my only writing space this weekend. Hope your weekend is relaxing and productive too!
Editing completed on the Girlie manuscript, that project now moves into the submit-and wait-category of writing, and because I chose to enter the raw manuscript in a literary competition late last year, I do have to wait for the outcome of that before I can begin the process of approaching alternate publishers one by one.
So, onto the next project.
The last epic fantasy I had published was the Dreaming in Amber quatrology back in 2008. Shortly after that I began a new fantasy project, but I set it aside multiple times as other life events and pieces of writing intervened. Now I am returning to it to finish the first book and my blog entries will focus on this project.
Tentatively titled The Clan Chronicles with a trilogy outline, the simple concept at the base of the project is to draw together six core characters creating and/or caught in major events around a plan by dragons to conquer the world. Book One doesn't have a title yet. That will come when it's done.
My fantasy novels are all positioned within a common world beginning with the lands of Andrakis, Targa and Ranu Ka Shehaala in the Andrakian trilogy, spreading to Ashua and Vechwer in the Ashuak Chronicles, and then spreading from Shess and Chekisu in the Amber quatrology to embrace all the previous lands.
In Freedom, the third novel in the Ashuak Chronicles, Alwyn and the Alfyn trick the dragons into chasing the Alfyn through a portal that takes the dragons far away from the source of magic, the Genesis Stone. The new series picks up on where the dragons emerged - on another part of the world, far to the west of the original lands.
Starting the new series has been nothing short of problematic, to the point where I had written eight completely different openings since 2008, each of which I really like and each of which would be a good choice, but none of which suited the bigger picture/concept when I reviewed them. My writing preference has always been to begin a story mid-action - my 'trick' for hooking the reader if you like - and each attempted start did exactly that.
Almost every opening I've used to begin a project never ends up in the final copy as the opening. The Andrakis trilogy original beginning became Chapter 10 in the final. The original opening to Blood never made the final copy at all by the time I submitted it to a publisher.
So, I've made a choice to open the new project with the dragon queen-to-be learning from an Elder what she must know and how she must act to be the Queen, and that she is under threat from within the Clan. This week has seen 14,000 words take shape - the first four chapters of what will most likely be a fifty chapter novel (target guide figure only).
The novel now begins with the reader meeting and getting to know the dragon queen, Shadrael, and dragon culture and plans. These are the new generation of dragons, the descendants of the dragons who were led through the portal. They are motivated by a desire for 'revenge' against their old enemies, the Alfyn and the Eyano - humans, and a core belief they are the most advanced intelligence and the dominant species who should rule the world. Their magic is still strong, but not what it might have been if they had been able to take control of the Genesis Stone. Readers will decide how they feel about the dragon's ethics and plans. And there is a whole lot more to unfold and reveal as the tale takes shape.
In the opening chapters, we learn how so far the dragon domination has been successful and that they know and are preparing to encounter a very different Eyano (human) culture - one that has developed industrial age science and engineering, semi steam punk level if you like. The dragons know that if they defeat this nation, Domovina, nothing can stand in their way.
The next set of chapters will introduce the next major character, Ven, a criminal boss making a living in Grad, the capital of Domovina. Through Ven I'm hoping to introduce part of the Domovinan culture and give glimpses of two more major characters who will emerge in the story - Ven's daughter, Jai, and the Domovinan prince, Ara, who will get their stories unfolded in chapter sets, before we return to the Dragon Queen and the looming main event. Time to write.
Christmas with Girlie
Christmas 2019. Done. Meg and I went to the Bonney family get-together at the beginning of December, Christmas Eve was joyfully spent with the Stropin-related family side and then I flew to Brisvegas on Christmas Day to have a pleasant lunch with the Shillitoe line. Grandson Henri was awesome as always. Girlie would have enjoyed all three events.
The last Christmas I spent with Mum was the end of 2012. On her birthday, March 24, 2013, she was taken to hospital and told she had terminal bowel cancer. Happy birthday. She died in August of that same year. Christmas as the only senior adult of the family is not the same.
Festivities and family activities aside, at least I can spend a little more focussed time on the novel's second-edit and redraft. And let me just say to would-be writers - this is the part that is mind-numbingly challenging because by this stage I have read all and parts of the work maybe 6-8 times creating and making alterations. Writing requires a level of self-discipline I struggle to commit to, especially when so many great things are going on around me. And there's always sleep as an option!
Today, I am at the halfway point of the manuscript since my last post concerning readers' feedback. I have worked in adjustments and suggestions, as well as added details from interviews with family that fit the story concept. An example is shifting the nurses' names from first to surnames to reflect the work environment at the hospital - so Woods instead of Shirley.
I ended up returning to researching the 1948 storm that wrecked the foreshores, smashed the Glenelg pier and beached the warship HMAS Barcoo, and added more detail around it to a chapter of the novel. Inevitably I found myself distracted, reading about the efforts to refloat the Barcoo and how Charlie Pudney was stranded at the end of Glenelg pier during the storm - research does that.
What the most recent family interviews brought to light was a very obvious discrepancy between how the older and younger children viewed the father of the family, so I have worked that into the text. Also my mother - Girlie - never mentioned a range of facts around what was happening to the family during her time at the Repatriation Hospitals, so I am now working small details into the text concerning the family move to Port Neill and various places in the city, up to and including three of the children ending up in children's homes for a period of time. Again, these are not crucial to the overall story, and will be passing mentions in the scope of Girlie's tale, but they add a layer or texture to the background that highlights the tragedies so many families experienced in post second world war Adelaide.
Now I must go back to reciting dialogue aloud to myself and ruminating over the right words for the sentence, and the sentence structure and length, and deciding whether the adjectives and adverbs are necessary, and whether the reader will be able to feel/imagine the scene and the people. I'm hoping to finish the second half before the end of this week and before I head back to work the following week.
At Christmas time, there's something rather warm about writing a novel based on my mother as a young woman - like having those conversations together we might never have had about our lives otherwise. I hope you all had good Christmases and that you spent time with those you love and those who love you. This brief life is precious. Cherish the special moments. Be in them.
The readers' reports are in - well almost all of them - and now we move into the next phase of editing the project. The feedback has been extremely helpful and insightful, and there's very little I will reject or ignore (entirely). To give you an idea of the kind of matters and issues the readers' feedback addressed, here's an outline. I am not listing typos etc in this list and there were a few found by the readers. There will be more of those to come.
Two readers indicated the story has an arc that needs strengthening - the sense of Girlie's journey and personal growth from the story start to end requires work. This is, of course, the challenge in taking a factual life and moulding it into more than an historical list of events, which is the purpose of this project. I will work on that closely.
The readers were happy with the development and sense of places, although one correctly pointed out a glaring historical error which is now amended. I'm re-checking the others as I go through this second major edit.
Language became a point of discussion - Australian slang and swearing in particular. Curiously, while swearing was not uncommon, it was often contextual and also reflected social class, or an attempt to belong to a social class in the 1940s and 1950s. Girlie's parents did not abide swearing and so the children grew up with an abhorrence for it, as I've reflected in the novel. This was at odds with one reader who expected more robust Aussie expression, but that's one of the oddities that fascinated me in researching this project - the lack of 'bloody' and 'bastard' and so on in the Bonney family that is sometimes incorrectly considered synonymous with Australian culture. It's not that some of the lads couldn't or didn't swear either - but not in front of children or girls and ladies - and it was strictly followed by certain groups of people in Adelaide.
All readers concurred that they felt the dialogue felt real and advanced the story, but I will still check it thoroughly on the second key edit. For what it's worth noting, I read dialogue/conversations aloud when I write them. It helps me find emotional authenticity in each character, even when the dialogue is trivial conversation. Dialogue is a key component to my story-telling style and I need the characters to sound and feel real.
I've now interviewed three more surviving members of the family about a range of incidents in the story - the family living on Brighton beach, the number of moves the family had to make in the homeless period, and the fates of the younger children when they were forced to live in foster homes. Many of these events won't make it into the novel, but I now have a richer tapestry of what was happening to her siblings when Girlie was in Melbourne and Tasmania.
I've also learned that while the father was a philanderer and put the family in dire straits during the post-war period, fascinatingly he never abandoned them entirely - finding them places to stay, sometimes work - and some of the children remember him with fondness: the elusive TD as he was nicknamed by the boys. I learned that while he was not invited to Girlie's wedding to Bill, which forms the closing chapter of the novel, he was there, standing on the Morphett Road bridge overlooking the church. This poignant fact will now find its way into the story.
I have one more interview to hold, to gather additional facts and confirm others, during this second edit period. This is the point where I now work steadily through the draft manuscript, adjusting and correcting sections in line with the reader's feedback and the new interview information, and embellishing the creative components of figurative description and character reflection.
Time to work harder on the project. Second edit is underway!
Been a little while - not without things happening. Currently I'm having fun and some degree of joint and muscle pain in the midst of the Australian Masters Games. Five games of indoor volleyball down, two to go, and then on to two days of beach volleyball. So I'm having fun.
The project, Girlie, first draft, is now undergoing its second round of revision, looking at more research, currently focussing on two key events in 1948.
April 1948 saw Adelaide shorelines wracked with probably the most powerful storm in the time of European settlement. The Glenelg jetty had its guts torn out, ending the era of the amusements and kiosk and aquarium on the jetty in the rebuild. HMAS Barcoo was stranded north of Glenelg beach and the chaos along the shoreline saw caravans overturned and boats beached. The damage extended inland with cuts in telecommunications and electricity and trees and buildings ripped and wrecked. Trove provides a range of newspaper entries recording the event:
December 1948 also saw Adelaide's longest mystery established - the finding of the body of the Somerton Man on Somerton beach. Coincidentally, two days ago, I overheard an ABC radio program covering the curiosities surrounding the mystery. No cause of death seems to be available, although autopsy reports suggest poisoning. The man was neatly dressed, but all the labels of his clothes were removed, no wallets or identity available, and no one ever reporting a man of his description missing. The case is still currently unsolved after 70 years, although there is recent hope DNA science will finally provide answers. It's worth reading about, or listening to on ABC radio RN Presents. Here's one snippet of information of the event:
So, the novel continues to grow into second draft and edit.
Simultaneously, while this project moves through editing phase, I have two other projects underway - a revival of a fantasy project that has been long in creation and a novel around men. The fantasy project currently has 160,000 words drafted (all of Book 1, the start of Book 2), but the 'struggle' is around character focus and sequencing back stories. Between breaks in editing Girlie, I am developing the fantasy project into a shape and structure that satisfies me.
The second project is a novel I've wanted to write for several years, but never quite get to. Now I have. Although it's barely 5,000 words in, it is at least started. I'll make it the focus of posts in the coming months at it takes shape.
Okay. Off to another volleyball game.
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...
Another Sunday, and this is a quick break in a writing day to add an update to the current project. Working title 'Girlie' has moved over the 70,000 word mark with Chapter 1950 coming to a close. This has been the hardest chapter mainly because the original storyteller - Mum - gave scanter details on events for this period than for earlier ones, leaving me to join dots and create material to develop characters and setting while retaining integrity to the original life.
Research this week led me into a wide range of places, including the history of the Huon valley apple industry, learning how apple picking and vine pruning was done by itinerant pickers, many of whom were paid by weight and amount, not by wages for labour time. The accommodation conditions were rudimentary wooden huts with shared long-drop dunnies and washing spaces. Of course, not every orchard or vineyard was the same in 1950, but Mum shared a hut with five other girls when she was picking and in a recent visit to Huon Valley I was able to see the type of wooden huts built and used.
Mum rode her bike around Hobart and into the Huon Valley district in mid-winter 1950, a solid bike riding landscape which contributed to her personal fitness and strength that helped in a later event in her life. An event I uncovered in this research phase was that a New Zealand nurse was publicised as riding her bike around both New Zealand islands before she moved to Brisbane Australia from where she recommenced riding a bike around Australia. This notable woman, Joy McKean, was in the Huon Valley district shortly after Mum left, but her quest emphasises the importance of the bicycle in post-war Australia, especially as a means of travel for women.
With the 1950 draft complete - that's seven of the planned ten chapters done - I'm keen to begin 1951 when Mum returned to Adelaide only to become terribly ill with Tuberculosis.
Back to today's writing time...
Slowest week of all last week, with a lot of work and family activities on, but the focus in the project was on the central character's shift from Devonport to Hobart, leading to research of hotels and dance halls.
When Eileen arrived in Hobart, she worked briefly as a maid in a hotel, made a good friend with whom she went dancing and partying, and the two young women left their hotel work and headed into the Huon Valley to work as apple pickers.
Hobart was certainly a place for dancing in 1950, although the big ballrooms had seen the best of their years pre-World War Two. Research uncovered a range of articles including two ABC pieces:
about the Belvedere Ballroom in Argyle Street that have helped shape events in the novel. The Belvedere Ballroom was housed above a car showroom in a gorgeous art deco building that was demolished to become a car park - no irony in that fate.
The project is approaching 70,000 words in draft, and we move from Hobart to the Huon valley and the catalyst that brings the main character back to Adelaide in 1951.
Crept past 65,000 words today, still finding myself digging into events of the past to add actuality and flavour to the story.
One event in the story features the Preston Falls aka Delaneys Falls and that sent me on a journey to work out why the Falls had duality in the names. Seems the Falls were on land once owned by William Delaney and he was asked to give access to the Falls for all Tasmanians in perpetuity.
A second event now woven into the story was a performance in Devonport in 1950 by Hindu dancers Shivaram and Janaki. Shivaram was first introduced to Australia by Louise Lightfoot in 1947. Shivaram returned to Australia as late as 1976.
For Australians freshly out of World War Two, the Federal Government beat-up of the Communist threat leading into Australian troops entering the Korean War in 1950 must have seemed surreal. This, too, makes its way into the story in passing.
Writing has been subsumed by research this week. The project grew 3,000 words in the process, but the key research diversions revolved around two focii: Ulverston, Tasmania, where the opening to Chapter 1950 is set, and dentistry in 1940s Australia.
Mum travelled to Ulverston with a friend whose sister lived in the town, so I started researching what Ulverston was like in 1950, and discovered this amazing resource online (see below):
The 1953 Tasmanian Education Department film is incredibly invaluable in establishing the setting's physicality. Mum told me in our interviews back in 2010-11 that she worked scaling fish and packing boxes in 1950, and it turns out through finding newspaper articles online that International Canners had only recently opened their food processing cannery in Ulverston a year or so earlier, giving me another vital piece of evidence to add authenticity to the tale.
My mother had upper and lower dentures - all teeth having been removed when she was young - and I was curious as to how and when that would have eventuated. Research led me to a series of articles on the history of dentures and dental practices. People like Mum, especially in middle and working class families, grew up through the Great Depression that flowed into World War Two, and dental hygiene and upkeep were quite often neglected and unaffordable. The manufacture of dentures from vulcanite and ceramic was reaching its apex as a craft, enabling wearers to look and feel 'natural'. The practice of 'drill and fill' was only gaining traction at the start of the war as a means of ensuring recruits and active service people could continue to serve and it didn't get momentum in Australia until well into the 1950s. It was accepted in folk mythology in some western cultures that teeth inevitably decay as a part of living, and sugar and sweets were relatively cheap commodities, even during wartime rationing. Couple all these factors to a prevailing theory that decaying teeth were sources of significant germs that affected other parts of the body and it was little wonder many young Australians in the 1930-40s chose to have decaying teeth extracted.
It turns out, in Scotland and other places, the extraction preference led to a practice dubbed 'Wedding Teeth' or '21st Birthday Teeth'. As a gift, parents would pay for the full extraction and provision of dentures to their older teenage daughters to ensure their daughters retained beauty (especially as Hollywood starlets always had perfect white teeth) and that newlyweds weren't saddled with the woes of tooth pain and dental costs in the early years of marriage!
I've yet to chat with Mum's family to learn what they might remember of when she had all her teeth out. A photo I have of Mum when she was 15/16 looks like she had already had her teeth done by that age, but it seems too early. I guess I'll learn through asking people.
Chapter 1949 came to completion today as a first draft and I was pleasantly surprised with the result, although it will need a thorough edit. The project has moved to 60,000 words, and I move into 1950.
Completing 1949 required research into the 1949 Melbourne Cup, won by Foxzami on a heavy track. I discovered a film of the race, resources around the racing colours on the day and information on the horses, and several newspaper reports that gave me opportunity to add authenticity to the novel's scene.
I also learned the ship that carried passengers across Bass Strait in 1949 was the SS Taroona and it was interesting to read the history of that particular ship.
At the time of leaving Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, there was a Hepatitis outbreak among staff and Mum was a victim, but she refused to stay for treatment and boarded the ship to Devonport, I believe in part to escape an engagement with a young man.
Now, I move into 1950, the year Mum, as a free-wheeling nineteen year old, spent working and cycling and travelling around Tasmania.
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...