Sunday, May 31, 2015

My Writing Efforts in May

In May I started behaving more like a writer, even though I am still very tired. I wrote a lot more and I started critiquing again. I put this down to quitting Facebook six weeks ago. I really missed Facebook to begin with, but not so much anymore. I gave myself permission a few days ago to go back on Facebook, but I still haven’t ventured onto it, though I might to plug this blog post. I decided that I will only go on Facebook after I have written at least 500 words of fiction – or edited for 2-3 hours -- and done whatever critiquing activities I had scheduled for that day.

Novel Writing.

In May, I wrote 13,525 words of my novel Branded, more than doubling my monthly totals for this year. I reached my daily quota of 500 words on 18 days with 1020 words as my best daily total. So I averaged 436 words a day.

I have written approximately 87,000 words of the novel. I had hoped that the first draft would be around 90,000 words, but my characters decided not to cooperate with each other at the end of part four. Consequently, I have just started the fifth and final part of the novel. It should go for around another 10,000 words. So I should finish the first draft in June.

I am writing it as a stand-alone novel with some hanging threads left for the reader to imagine what might happens next. But those threads are starting to wrap my imagination in sequel ideas.


I mentioned in my last post that I had joined and the Australian Writers Forum. In May I did a critique a week for critters, three short stories and the first chapter of a novel. One short story impressed with a non-traditional narrative style.  But the novel appeared to have a very overused plot driver.

So far nothing has appeared on the Australian Writers Forum for me to critique, so I will start searching for active Australian science fiction critiquing groups again.


I finished reading the disappointing What the Family Needed, by Steven Amsterdam. It had none of the urgency or call to action of his excellent Things We Didn’t See Coming. I will review What the Family Needed in my next blog post. I am just about to start reading Amnesia, by Peter Carey. He’s one of my favourite authors, loved True History of the Kelly Gang, and Illywhacker was great fun too.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Review of Brother in the Land

Brother in The Land begins with teenager Danny taking a break from working in his father’s corner store to go on a long bike ride into the English countryside. It starts to rain, so he takes shelter in a World War II pillbox. As he waits for the rain to stop, he sees the flashes of nuclear missiles exploding.

Aware that the rain might contain radiation, he waits for it to stop and then rides back to his fictional hometown of Skipley. It is badly damaged and hundreds are dead. The rest of the novel tells the story of Danny’s attempts to survive.

Brother in the Land is a young adult novel told exclusively from Danny’s point of view. Danny seems slightly emotionally detached from what is going on around him. He mourns little for family and friends who died, which leaves the reader wondering if he had had any friends. But perhaps he is just in shock and too busy getting on with surviving to mourn.

The novel does a realistic job of describing the aftermath of a nuclear attack: the breakdown in authority, the wait for help while many people do whatever it takes to survive, people dying of radiation sickness, crops failing, deformed babies being born.

The novel was written and set in the 1980’s, at a time when nuclear war was a big fear. But the novel reads like it could have been written in the 50’s. One of the reasons for this is the near total absence of females in leadership roles. There is only one substantial female character in the novel, the tough, but pretty Kim. She is used to show that Danny still has teenage hormones.

The novel has a real boy’s own adventure feel to it. It is obvious that its author Robert Swindells had a military background, with Danny’s devotion to duty being one of the novel’s big themes. Duties that include helping his family and joining a militia to fight those who sought to enslave the survivors.

The prose is straightforward, with little creative flair. The sentences are short and there is a lot of foreshadowing. Brother in the Land won the “Other” award, but I could find no reference to that award on the web.

Originally the novel ended with little hope for Danny’s survival, but Swindells added a new chapter that gives some hope. This seems unnecessary and goes against the novel’s overall bleakness. It also seems unrealistic.

Except for the additional chapter, Brother in the Land appears to be a relatively realistic portrayal of a teenager trying to survive after a nuclear war. As it progresses, it becomes a passable action novel, with Danny forced to fight to survive. But his lack of emotion left me thinking the author was too scared to explore the inner thoughts of his main character. It is very much a novel for teenage boys who don’t want to read any girly emotions.

Friday, May 8, 2015

My Writing (meltdown) in April.

Image result for free image train wreck

I had a writing meltdown in April. I was, and still am, frustrated with the lack of output and progress with my fiction writing. Strangely, the meltdown was caused by my non-fiction writing after I submitted an article to Divine in mid-April. The editor immediately replied, wanting a few changes. Most of the changes were due to restrictions imposed on Divine because it is run by the state government. These restrictions would not allow me to mention the name of the website the article was all about.

I had hoped that I would be on safe ground mentioning this website because its creator – who I interviewed – had, what I considered, a great deal of credibility due to her advocacy in the disability field. The website had also been written about in mainstream newspapers.

My initial reaction to the editor’s request for changes was that the article would not work without mentioning the website, so I should just scrap the idea. But then what would I write? I had no idea. Coming up with ideas for Divine is becoming harder and researching and writing them seems to becoming less enjoyable and fulfilling.

The last article that I had enjoyed writing for Divine was a review of the movie The Theory of Everything.  The unsentimental and unsensational movie combined with some knowledge of Hawking made it easy to write. But since then I have had various issues when researching and writing articles. I thought that with the problems my recent submissions were encountering, maybe I should just take a break. So I shot off an email to my editor saying I was going to scrap the article and take a break.

When I finally had a look at the article again, I found it relatively easy to remove the website name and make the necessary changes that came with that to still have a reasonable article. So I sent another email to my editor saying that I could make the changes if she still wanted the article. I had real doubts whether the editor actually wanted the article. I also had real doubts that it or anything I had written for Divine were any good. I feared my enthusiasm for Divine had more to do with my articles being published than my writing.

I then began questioning whether anything I had ever written was more than just misguided enthusiasm. And whether my Master of Creative Writing was more a Master of Creative Delusion. On top of that, I thought my writing had improved little over the years, and might even have gone backwards due to my constant tiredness.

Anyway, I decided to take a real break from writing and get away for a few days. I went to Melbourne for four nights.  I went to the footy, Scienceworks (including the planetarium), the zoo and the museum. I almost expelled writing from mind for four days except when I came across two ideas for articles for Divine.

But then came the day I was due to return home, and I checked my emails. My editor wanted to speak to me. She wanted to “renegotiate” how I wrote for Divine. This sounded ominous to me, like she was going to take the opportunity to get rid of a crap writer. Unfortunately/fortunately, she was not in the office that day, so I could not contact her to have my fears confirmed. Instead, I had all day, including a three-and-a-half hour train trip to ponder what renegotiate meant. As it turned out, I did a lot more than ponder Divine, I spent a lot of the train trip thinking about my writing goals and why I was still standing alone at full back, a long way from my goals.

I concluded that I was more in love with the idea of being a writer and trying to appear like one, rather than actually being one. I had written 46 articles of varying quality for Divine, and I had written a post for this blog nearly every week for the past seven years, and I had done a number of writing courses, and I had completed Nanowrimo three times, and I had connected to 100’s of writers through social media and some of the published ones actually commented on my posts. I even write every day, but precious little quality fiction.

I am still yet to have any fiction published. I have three novel scripts, a novella, and numerous short stories all filed away in first or second draft stage. Although I write every day, I don’t write much and on many days writing is the last thing I get around to doing. I don’t read much either. The way I am going, when I die the sum total of my fiction writing will be a dozen first/second draft novel manuscripts on a USB stick which no one else will ever read.

Something had to change. On the train trip home, I felt I had two choices, either get stuck into fiction writing or quit. By getting stuck in, I mean writing a lot more quality fiction, and improving as I learn more about the writing process. To help improve my writing I need to get it critiqued.

I need to make changes in my life to help me achieve my writing goals. The big one is to overcome my constant tiredness. I am sure one of my chronic illnesses has a lot to do with it, so it’s time to finally try everything to get it under control. To help with this I decided to reduce some of the stress in my life, part of which I achieved by negotiating a two-month break from Divine. I have no doubt that my reaction to the Divine editor’s changes and my diminished enthusiasm for writing for Divine have been influenced by my tiredness.

I decided to get off social media. There are a number of reasons for doing this, including using that time to write. But primarily I wanted to get rid of the delusional satisfaction that I am a real writer because I associate with actual writers, many of whom are published authors. In reality, I am just a wannabee writer. So I quit Facebook a fortnight ago. The lack of contact with people I care about, and many who I am curious about, has been very hard, and I really miss playing Word with Anny during my afternoon coffee break.

I decided to get some quid pro quo going for critiquing. I re-joined, and I also joined the Australian Writers’ Forum. I need to find other science fiction writers for mutual critiquing. My search for trusted critiquers and beta readers begins.

I also have decided to spend less time blogging. Some of the posts on this blog have taken many hours to research and write, time I could have spent writing or learning about writing. From now on most of my posts will be book reviews. I figure reviewing books will get me thinking about what works in writing.

So what did I actually achieve writing wise during the month? As I didn’t write for 14 days in a row, I only added 3766 words to the novel. I read a book, Robert Swindells’ nuclear apocalypse young adult novel Brother in the Land, review pending.

PS. I seem to be writing more fiction since I quit Facebook. And I also find myself thinking more about the novel I am writing and not about some status update on Facebook. But computer problems have not helped. First some malware, then a product recall on the power cord for my laptop, where they recommend not using it until a new cord arrives. Toshiba told me that they will “process” my registration for a new cord within five working days. Does that include mailing the thing out? As I was also having trouble with the laptop’s DVD burner I decided to buy a new computer. Now I have to get use to using Windows 8. In between fiddling with the new computer and transferring files and trying to remember all those passwords, I did make the time to critique a story for critters. Yaa, one whole critique this year.