Determination and grit…

A few weeks ago my sister completed a half marathon. It’s her second in two years. She ran it over a challenging course in terrible conditions, rain and cold. The trail was difficult, slippery and murky.

Anyway, I was super impressed and admire her success. And it’s not just because she’s my sister or that she’s relatively new to running, it’s because she’s a woman in her sixties (oops, hope I don’t get into trouble for that little bit of info) and she epitomizes the role determination and grit plays in meeting goals. 

We can’t all run half marathons but most people have their sights set on completing something that’s important to them.  Producing a piece of art work, volunteering for a special cause, finishing a course or degree, painting a house or planting that unique garden, are just a few ‘want to do or complete’ dreams that come to mind. How many of us fall short of crossing the finishing line by giving up too early? I know I’m guilty.

However, in light of my sister’s mighty effort, I’ve decided to sharpen my determination and grit tools and proceed toward the finishing line with a few overdue projects! And no, I won’t publish my list just in case I run out of D & G…

 

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I’ve just returned from Ireland, you know, the evergreen place that captures the imagination of so many. Even without Irish heritage, unlike my husband who’s ancestry is all things Irish, I’ve learnt to love the place. But despite the rich green countryside, the small quaint villages, soda bread, Irish stew, stone fences and old churches, it’s the people who really make Ireland.

It was our fourth time in Ireland and our second time in the little village of Bruree in Limerick. We stayed in a mill cottage beside a running stream and our hosts Jessie and Dick welcomed us back with beer and talk. And that’s what Ireland represents to me. People talk to you, they tell you things, especially if you stay in their ‘neck of the woods’.

My husband’s family originate from around Bruree and nearby Charlesville. Over time the process of documenting these family lines and stories has lead to meeting many warm and generous people.

Just last week, the night before we were to return to Australia, there was a knock at the cottage door. Standing there with an old brown case in hand was Paddy, a man my husband met the day before. He told us he went looking for old photo’s and memorabilia and found them on top of a wardrobe. That was the start of a fascinating session around the kitchen table. Thanks Paddy, you are one of the generous people I’m talking about.

And then there is Eileen. She’s ninety-five and a local icon. She welcomed us into her home, talked and laughed with us and told us stories of family members well gone. She surprised us by, at one stage leaving the room and returning with a hand written book in 1832. It was the original copy (before it went off to the printers) of a book written by a distant ancestor of my husband.

And so, we arrive home with fond and warm feelings toward our Irish friends in their beautiful countryside and lives steeped in history….

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What our stories tell us

This year, I’ve been preoccupied with publishing my first novel, Finding Eliza. Actually, it has taken over my life, every day there have been numerous emails to answer, events to attend and decisions to make. It’s been a stimulating  time but a time to reflect and appreciate a process that has resulted in the making of a book, my book.

Holding my book in my hand for the first time gave me joy, goosebumps and anxiety all in the same moment. What if it’s not okay, what if the readership don’t like it, what if, what if, what if? There have been moments of doubt since and certainly before, releasing Finding Eliza but also some memorable experiences. So many special and heart warming moments when people whom I’ve never met before, tell me about their own lives and how the book touched them in different ways.

They want to know why I write, how I thought of the story. Then, after satisfying their initial curiosity and perhaps ensuring I’ve passed the test, they tell me their own story. So many wonderful and special stories about life, migration, love, sadness and loss and the stories keep coming.  I’m humbled by the conversations I’ve had with people who have so graciously bought and read my book.

I’m also humbled by the many, many emails and texts that have flooded in over the months. People tell me they cried when they read the story of Knill searching for his mother. Others related to the description of places in the book that they themselves had been to and others wanted to know what happened to certain characters beyond the last page of the book. Some readers said they didn’t want to finish the book because it meant severing contact with the people in the story with whom they had become attached.

For me, the writer, I had similar feelings about leaving my characters after the book was released. I had lived with them in my head for years , especially the last two years. They were part of my daily thinking – closing the cover on the last page was hard. I did in the first few weeks, secretly re-read a few chapters, to gather the closeness again. After all, they were part of me, I was part of them.

I remember, years ago at a workshop, accomplished writer, Paddy O’Reilly said that a writer has to ‘love their characters’. I recall, much to my embarrassment now, that I wasn’t so sure about that and of course voiced my opinion at the time. She graciously allowed me to think it my way, but I’ve since learned that she was absolutely right. I love my characters and for me there is no other way to write. I have to say though, the process of loving the people you write about, even if they are difficult, has to develop during the process. It’s a love that’s steeped in understanding and it’s gathered along the way.

Anyway, I digress. I was talking about the people I have met and exchanged heart warming tales about their lives. Stories of courage, abuse, love, sacrifice, dislocation, family secrets, countries at war and resilience, the list goes on. I guess, in the last months I’ve discovered the human spirit in the simplest and yet the most complicated of ways. Everyday people, have the best and most meaningful FE_Hi res stickerstories to tell. More about this another time.

Writing my book was just about telling a story. A fictional story but for me there were aspects of self, family, community and above all I hope it represented the humanity of ordinary people and their lives. The process of writing Finding Eliza taught me about how much there is to love and admire, sometimes amidst difficult circumstance and survival. Our stories tell us this, time and time again.

 

 

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Book launch in the little town of Majorca

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It was a beautiful day in the tiny township of Majorca. The sun shone and a sense of Autumn drifted across the small hall.

The afternoon tea tables were weighed down with scones, slices and cheese platters whilst the finger food was heating in the small kitchen. The urn bubbled in readiness for tea and coffee and the sparkling wine and mineral water was chilled for serving.

Finding Eliza stood proudly on display and stacks of books sat in anticipation of finding a new home. I was nervous, the MC was cool and collected and the launcher, stood with professional calm.

Cars began arriving and parked along the roadside, people began flowing into the historic hall. Then without warning the hall filled and the event was ready to begin. Friends, family members, friends of friends, writing colleagues and locals, all at Majorca to support the birth of a historical novel partially set in Central Victoria, Australia.

The presentations happened, the crowd was generous, books got signed and the food and drink enjoyed. Finding Eliza was finally launched. A memorable day with fabulous people.

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Finding Eliza book launch…

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I’m excited to let everyone know that my book ‘Finding Eliza’ is to be launched at 2pm on Sunday 22nd April 2018, at the Majorca Hall in Majorca (Central Victoria). 

This story has been a long time coming. It’s changed as I’ve changed. The characters have developed as I’ve developed my craft as a writer. For reasons that sometimes evaded me, I have persevered with getting this story to completion and shaping it into a novel that I can now call complete. I have learnt so much about the world of writing, publishing and the demanding stages and processes that are required for a book production.

Knill McMillan’s life is perfectly ordinary: country upbringing, caring parents, best mates with his cousins. He is a young man with the world before him. But he’s always had a sense he doesn’t quite fit in, doesn’t quite belong. And then one night he is brutally beaten. As he lies bleeding on the ground his attacker calls him something that he is unable to get out of his mind. And so begins a journey he never envisaged – to understand who he really is, and where he really belongs.

 

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Writing, publishing and running a marathon!

I’m in the middle of preparing a book for publication and launch in April. I thought the hard work was almost behind me, but self-publishing isn’t for the faint hearted. Thankfully my editor knows her way around the book industry, otherwise I’m sure this work of love would not have got this far, and it’s still got to land yet!

On bad days, I can only compare writing and publishing a book, to running a marathon. Not that I’m a runner, but I am a fiction writer!

‘Running, it feels good, you’ve always had a need to be physical, to exercise. Pushing yourself even when some days you don’t have the desire. But somehow, you know when your feet hit the pavement you’ll be back in the zone and pleased you pulled on your running shoes. Writing is a bit the same. There are days when distraction pulls hard and opening the laptop seems a chore, but like running, when you immerse yourself in the world of fiction, all else fades. It feels good to emerge hours later with a feeling of elation.

Well, that’s in the beginning anyway. We all know that a training run or a couple of hours writing is not the end result. It’s only a tiny part of a journey toward running a personal best or publishing a book. All the training runs and writing hours are part of the slog.

Starting the marathon, you feel fresh, well-trained and invincible. You believe you can break your own barriers. You’re pumped and ready to go.  Then the tape drops and you’re off…Your first draft is complete. Feels amazing! The fact that you’re finished is amazing, this does not necessarily refer to the draft! Although at this stage you may still be thinking it is.

The other runners around you are full of hope, they jostle at this early stage, but it’s a fact, not all will last. You want to be one of the finishers…The second, third and fourth drafts get tricky. The story timelines are messy and one of the characters is not working, you change his name and fiddle around with his voice, fix it later, you tell yourself. Push on is the advice, don’t get too focused on smaller issues. Okay, you like that, keep writing.

You notice some of the runners fall behind. You pick up your pace and stay with the front group. Legs not as fresh but you know you can endure…The assessor says a few complimentary things about the manuscript, but then writes pages on structural changes required. You tell yourself to be robust, use the feedback constructively. Pour a glass of wine!

Everything around you slows. The pain in your legs congregate to your ankles and you fear an old injury is about to play up. You’re losing too much body fluid, you drain your drink bottle. Others are falling back, you and a few others hold together, just. Only half way!…Many months, years and drafts later and you have to make a decision…will this manuscript ever be ready for publication?

Tiredness hits every part of your body. You run in unison with the runner beside you. If you slow down now, you know it’s over. The ankle pain has returned to your calves and thighs, throbbing each time your feet hit the ground…You plough through yet another structural edit, hoping your editor will say, perfect! She doesn’t. You brace yourself and make the changes. On bad days, when you can’t string a sentence together, you berate yourself for ever thinking you could write a book, let alone publish one. You have another glass of wine.

Despair. Your body is shutting down, you suck at the air around you. The pain throbs and you become the pain. You want it to be over…What if the story line is too weak, the characters not authentic? You lose all sense of enjoyment. You could pull the pin now. No you can’t, too many years and you’re not a quitter. Hopefully!

Then, something miraculous happens, the home strait looms ahead, you can see the sign posts. Maybe you can get there. Your limbs relax and although exhausted you find your rhythm all over again…A copy-edit gives hope, very close now. Typesetting, book covers and a launch date chosen. Nerves jingle as the last stages begin to line up. Nearly home!’

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Light at the end of the tunnel

For more years than I care to admit, I’ve been writing a story. Nothing special about this activity, I know many people who are writing a book. Some people have indeed written many books. But here I sit with my one and only novel near completion. It sure has been an endurance test. On the days when my confidence ebbed and I allowed my inner critic free rein, I doubted that my project would come to fruition.

Writing wasn’t my profession or training, in other words I’m a novice and I had to learn to write (to industry standards). Of course, when I started I didn’t know that. I knew I had to learn the trade and assumed the skills obtained from other aspects of my life and my professional career would naturally transfer across to the world of fiction writing. Well, some of those skills certainly did come in handy but the rest had to be learnt. Thankfully, I discovered this quickly, and so the steady journey of learning specific skills and understanding about the complicated world of writing fiction began.

It’s not easy coming from a different professional base, feeling wise and competent in one arena and then being designated to the bottom rung again. But it’s important to work that out early in the process. It’s a humbling experience, if not a unique one but it sure does require dedication. There were periods of time when I fully focused on my writing and at other times I neglected it or maybe took time out instead. But the story remained in my head and drew me back with renewed interest each time. Hence a drawn out gestational period for this book.

One frustrating aspect of writing, is when non writing friends and relatives continue to ask ‘have you finished your book yet?’ Well, truth be known I’d finished it many times, only to go back and re-draft, yet again and again. This is where the learning is, I guess. I could have (foolishly) self-published this story a couple of years ago but I knew it wasn’t ready. Try explaining that to others!

Over the last year I’ve braved up and had a series of readers critique for me, that’s been a rich and valuable experience. I’ve also engaged a professional editor which has made all the difference. And just recently, one of the most important aspects of the process has been to apply self-imposed timelines for the completion and publishing of my book. As soon as I did this, a light flickered at the end of what has been a long and arduous tunnel.

Book picture

 

Watch this space for more updates and news about my book…

 

 

 

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