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Thoughts on Writing-Elise McCune

I have been asked to speak to a group of writing students in October and while they will be asking me questions about my writing journey I also want to put together some points for them to consider. This is what I have come up with so far.

1. Read

To be a good writer you must read. Read what you love but also read widely in other genres and other types of writing to find out what you consider good and not so good writing. Read the much maligned historical novel which is linked to the romance novel and then read them too. A friend commented that my own novel Castle of Dreams was not a romance novel but a novel about love. Her comment resonated with me. Some years ago I wrote an outline for a tv series with a friend which was both historical and contemporary. I read other scripts and paid attention to the narrative voice.  People from the past read longer more descriptive novels read these too. Read memoirs, debut novels, and online diaries. You will have moments of self-doubt when you reread what you have written (lots of doubts and often). It’s normal for a writer to feel this way. If you wait for the perfect time to write you won’t start.

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2. Research

For my research I read primary sources like diaries, letters and newspaper reports. I read books written about and of the period I am researching. Trove and Ask a Librarian at the National Library of Australia’s online resources are a valuable source of information. I use Google but online information can be inaccurate so be careful and check more than one source. I use my wonderful local library and inter-library loans for books I don’t necessarily want to keep on my bookshelf or cannot find, and also, I always read bibliographies carefully in each book as they are a source of more information on the subject you are researching and this is something I’m sure most writers would do.

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3. Discipline

An important piece of advice I received early in my writing career was to be disciplined. If you want to finish a novel or any other piece of writing it has to be a priority. Put aside time each day to write. If you watch television use the time to write. Limit the time you spend on social media. A page a day is a novel in a year. Have a professional attitude to writing. Set yourself deadlines.

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4. Inspiration

‘There is not a particle of life which does not bear poetry within it,’ says Gustave Flaubert.

‘Wonder is the heaviest element on the periodic table,’ says Diane Ackerman. ‘Even a tiny fleck of it stops time.’

Writing is not easy so take the time to find inspiration in the common place and in everyday life. There is a poetic layer of life: look at things with a painters eye. Notice the variation of colour on a single tree leaf, the rainbow in a drop of rain when the sun comes out on a cloudy day, jeweled raindrops on spiders webs and the expression on peoples faces.

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5. Notebooks

I always have a notebook with me. My notebooks are many: some tattered with age, some with exquisite covers, some the red and black chinese notebooks from the newsagent. They are different in size and appearance but they all serve the same purpose: to capture an exquiste moment in time. I also have notebooks to write my research notes in. By the time I finished writing Castle of Dreams I  had ten notebooks of scribbled information that I had used in my story. For my WIP I have read a few books on WW1 and its aftermath.  On  three large sheets of butchers paper I wrote a timeline and described and named characters and wrote background information. I found the outline a little restricting so I’ve  made detours but I go back to it for inspiration. And of course I have a new notebook!

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I read somewhere the most important thing about writing is to write from the soul. I couldn’t have said it better.

Have a great week: writing, reading and finding inspiration in the everyday,

Cheers Elise

 

 

 

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A Writer’s Notebook

As a twelve year old I discovered H Rider Haggard and read She his novel that has sold over 83 million copies worldwide.

It was one of the books that influenced my interest in the Gothic novel. I live in Australia and while my parents, living in suburbia, would never have thought of Australia as having Gothic elements, (they would more likely connect Gothic to haunted castles in England and Europe) these features were part of the Australian landscape to early settlers in the bush and isolated parts of the country. Women were often left alone, some with small children, while their husband worked away, fearful of the unknown, and unseen dangers around them. The bush was a living, alien thing to them.

She is also one of the central texts in the development of Imperial Gothic. Many late-Victorian authors during the fin de siècle employed Gothic conventions and motifs in their writing, stressing and alluding to the supernatural, the ghostly, and the demonic. As Brantlinger has noted, “Connected to imperialist adventure fiction, these interests often imply anxieties about the stability of Britain, of the British Empire, or, more generally, of Western civilisation”.Novels like Dracula and the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde present depictions of repressed, foreign, and demonic forces at the heart of the imperial polity. In She the danger is raised in the form of Ayesha herself:

“ The terrible She had evidently made up her mind to go to England, and it made me absolutely shudder to think what would be the result of her arrival there… In the end she would, I had little doubt, assume absolute rule over the British dominions, and probably over the whole earth, and, though I was sure that she would speedily make ours the most glorious and prosperous empire that the world had ever seen, it would be at the cost of a terrible sacrifice of life”.
She’s threat to replace Queen Victoria with herself echoes the underlying anxiety over imperialism and European colonialism emblematic of the Imperial Gothic genre. Indeed, Judith Wilt characterises the narrative of She, in which British imperialist penetration of Africa (represented by Holly, Leo, and Job) suddenly suffers a potential “counter-attack” (from Ayesha), as one of the archetypal illustrations of the “reverse colonalism” motif in Victorian Gothic. Similarly, She marks one of the first fictional examples to raise the spectre of the natural decline of civilisation, and by extension, British imperial power, which would become an increasingly frequent theme in Gothic and invasion literature until the onset of World War I.

This week I received the structural edit from my publishers Allen & Unwin. A busy week coming up with this edit but I am enjoying the process of creating a book from the first word to the last full stop.

I sent my work to Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch and this was the first step to publication.

Enjoy your week, keep writing and when your work is polished send it to the appropriate publisher.

Good writing, Elise x

Ref: Wiki

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A Writer’s Notebook

Today I’m looking at the grey winter sky from my desk and enduring the cold weather, which I’ve been reliably told, is the coldest anyone in Melbourne can remember. In the summer of 2014 the sun is still shining and in each summer of my life before then. I’m keeping warm by remembering them and also by imagining the summer days to come, for they will.  I lived for many years in Western Australian where I didn’t own an overcoat, where cotton garments sufficed in winter, although I do remember I owned several woollen jumpers and a raincoat. I grew up at Cronulla, a beachside suburb of Sydney, and spent my free days on the beach, on hot nights my family often slept on the beach.  I was born under the sun-sign of Leo. I love hot weather. I love swimming and the beach. Yet, there are good things about winter in Melbourne: hot chocolate, open fires, red wine, steaming soups, and clouds that will blow away. I read on Allen & Unwin’s website that what makes cold days (and nights) magical are:  a large sweater, warm tea, (I like my tea scalding as does a favourite character in the novel I am working on), soft socks, a good book and a box of chocolates.  Most importantly, while the days are shorter, writing time seems longer.

Each day, summer or winter, if possible I keep to my writing schedule. In the early morning, after my breakfast, I check emails and by 8 a.m. I’m at my desk ready to write until around 12.00 noon.

I read back over the day before’s pages before I start writing. Like most writers, some days are more creative than others. No matter what type of day it is I keep writing.

I consider the hours I spend researching delightful ones. I research as I go along rather than at the beginning of a story. This way I don’t have thousands of words of research that while fascinating is not used. I save many hours of time this way. A  well researched story is better than one, that while quicker to write, has errors of fact.

Writing each day is important. It is not necessary to write a certain amount of words but it is necessary to be consistent.

Sunday is my blogging day which I enjoy immensely.

Good writing

Elise x

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A Writer’s Notebook

I have been reading The Journals of Mary O’Brien 1828-1838. It is a portrait of life in early Ontario.

Mary Sophia Gapper came to Canada in 1828 at the age of thirty and married Edward O’Brien. She first lived in Vaughan Township north of Toronto, then later at Shanty Bay on Lake Simcoe. Mary, with her mother, sailed from Bristol harbour to visit her two brothers who had taken up land near Thornhill in Upper Canada.

I read the journals with interest as a small part of my novel, to be published in 2016 by Allen & Unwin, is set in Toronto. My novel has a working title at the moment and the link to Toronto has provided me with two options. I also have a long list of other titles to consider and when the time is right I’ll send the final list to my publisher. How those few words can take so much time!

Here in Melbourne it is very cold. I can almost imagine there will be a dusting of snow on the suburban landscape when I wake in the morning. Cold weather can be ideal for a writer: hot chocolate, hot soups and fresh crusty bread and a place to write near the fire with Bella my cat curled up dreaming her cat dreams. There are daffodils on the window ledge and roses on the mantle; portents of spring.

I purchased one of those red and black chinese notebooks from the news agent and index cards. I  (might investigate Scrivener)  can’t wait to start a new story.

Have a good writing week

Elise x

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A Writer’s Notebook

One of my favourite writers is  Virginia Woolf.

Woolf on Modern Poetry from “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” (1924)

Grammar is violated; syntax disintegrated; as a boy staying with an aunt for the week-end rolls in the geranium bed out of sheer desperation as the solemnities of the sabbath wear on. The more adult writers do not, of course, indulge in such wanton exhibitions of spleen. Their sincerity is desperate, and their courage tremendous; it is only that they do not know which to use, a fork or their fingers. Thus, if you read Mr. Joyce and Mr. Eliot you will be struck by the indecency of the one, and the obscurity of the others. . . . Again, with the obscurity of Mr. Eliot. I think that Mr. Eliot has written some of the loveliest single lines in modern poetry. But how intolerant he is of the old usages and politenesses of society–respect for the weak, consideration for the dull! As I sun myself upon the intense and ravishing beauty of one of his lines, and reflect that I must make a dizzy and dangerous leap to the next, and so on from line to line, like an acrobat flying precariously from bar to bar, I cry out, I confess, for the old decorums, and envy the indolence of my ancestors who, instead of spinning madly through mid-air, dreamt quietly in the shade with a book. For these reasons, then, we must reconcile ourselves to a season of failure and fragments. We must reflect that where so much strength is spent on finding a way of telling the truth, the truth itself is bound to reach us in rather an exhausted and chaotic condition.

LINKING WORDS

Linking words help you to connect ideas and sentences.

Giving Examples

For example, For instance, Namely

The most common way of giving examples is by using  for example or for instance, namely refers to something by name.

Adding Information

And, in addittion, as well as, also, too, furthermore, moreover, apart from, in addition to, besides.

Ideas are often linked by and. In a list, you put a comma between each item, but not before and.

I will write more about linking words in future posts.

Have a great writing week,

Elise x

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A Writer’s Notebook

 

Persephone Books is a bookstore in the UK. When I was in the UK I didn’t know about this wonderful bookstore and I will certainly visit it next time I’m  there. I’ve  had contact with the staff through email and  have found them always to be courteous and helpful.   Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. Each one of their collection of 110 books is intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written, and most are perfect presents or a good choice for reading groups.  I am always so excited when I receive my copy of the Persephone Bianually. I have recently recieved the Biannually for Autumn/Winter 2014-15 with a portrait of Nina Hamnett painted by Roger Fry (A member of the Bloomsbury Group) in 1917 on the cover. She is wearing a dress desighned by another Bloomsbury member, Vanessa Bell and made at the Omega Workshop.

Persephone Books now have twenty e-books. To quote from the Biannually: We know that our readers like the beauty of our books, and they like to feel a book in their hands; nevertheless we feel it is important to offer some of our titles electronically – partly for readers abroad who do not want to pay the cost of postage, partly because an e-book reader is so much lighter to carry than a book, partly because we would look old-fashioned if we eschewed e-books entirely.

But do we like them? Well, we do not dislike them.

On their list (110 books) no. 33. The Far Cry by Emma Smith, is a beautifully written 1949 novel about a young girl’s passage to India: a great Persephone favourite. R4 ‘Book at Bedtime’ in 2004. Preface: author.

Have a good writing week (with Christmas fast approaching time may be limited).

Elise x

 

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A Writer’s Notebook

I read an article recently in a writing magazine about getting so bogged down in the research for a book that the author didn’t think he would every get round to writing the actual novel.

The first place you search is your imagination for ideas for the story you intend to write. You might have heard of a real-life happening from the past or a story from your own family or a newspaper story that can be used as inspiration. You will know where your story is set so read fiction or non-fiction set in that part of the world. If you want to place a character in an enviroment you are not familiar with find a book set in a similar place. No detail is too small to overlook. I read a book once by an author from the nineteen-forties  who wrote about Australian aborigines and had obviously never read about our indigineous people because the scene she wrote came out of darkest Africa. It took much away from what was otherwise a page-turning novel.

The depth of research should be seamlessly intergrated throughout your story. I research the most important historical facts and leave the smaller facts until I am writing. If I want to know the type of hat a person would wear in a particular scene I  spend a half-hour on the internet or a relevant book from my library to find out. The reason is that small scenes are often added along the way and I might never need to know about the type of hat. It saves time.

I am not sure about visiting places that you are researching, some authors do, some don’t. If it is historical research often the place your are researching is changed beyond any recognition. It might now be a carpark or a new housing estate might have built and all the old buildings demolished.

I have visited America but never been to Northern California where one of the chapters from my completed novel is set. I researched on line, read diaries and books written in the era I am writing about, and asked two friends that I workshop with, one Canadian and one who spent many years in America, to give me their opinions on the chapter. I asked them if the writing transported them to the time and place the chapter is set in. I also asked if they noticed any jarring notes or incorrect facts. They did and after listening carefully to their comments I changed or added a few words here and there. Their constructive, helpful and thoughtful advice made this chapter all the better. But be careful who you share with as you have to be able to discern what comments or suggestions will help your work without changing it too much. It’s your story after all.

A short excerpt from my Northern California chapter:

Robert  turned left at a bend in the road and drove up a short trail bordered by tall oaks, a cascade of purple bougainvillea blossom spilling from their highest branches. He slowed and Vivien followed his gaze to a one-storied silver-grey cabin on a rise bordered on three sides by pine trees. ‘Well, this is it,’ he said. 

The cabin to which they came, built in the late nineteenth century of straight pine logs that once must have smelt of resin, was roofed with silvered cedar shingles; it had a wide porch and a fragrant hedge of fading lilac blossoms. It was a place where a hundred generations of feet had padded across the soft brown pine needles. Vivien imagined gold-bearing rocks beside dry trails, meadows and wild bees, and the smell of wood-smoke laced with maple branches.

I have a feeling that I captured the essence of this beautiful part of the world.

Have a great writing week, keep your fingers tapping on the keyboard, or your pen (or pencil) racing across a notebook,

Elise x

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A Writer’s Notebook

I am pressing on with the research for my new story. I want to  absorb the feeling of the period I am writing about which is the latter part of the nineteenth century. The story  is steeped in mystery, women’s rights (in this case a women with no rights at all) the goldfields of Ballarat and a small country town in South Australia. I usually don’t discuss the story I am working on but a few words here and there on this blog might lead the curious reader to discover who and what I will be writing about.

A wonderful discovery recently is  The Journals of Mary O’Brien 1828-1838 edited by Audrey Saunders Miller.

The journals (to quote from the inside cover of the book) belongs immediately on the bookshelf alongside the works of Anna Jameson, Susanna Moodie, and Mrs Simcoe as a colourful and fetching portrait of life in early Ontario.

Her journals record the immensely varied life of Upper Canada – visits to Niagara Falls and the bustling town of York, Treaty Day among Indians at Lake Simcoe, household life and friendship.

Excerpts from the journals.

May 26 (Spring 1829) – The apple trees are in blossom. The wheat is six or seven inches high and very promising, and the oats which Bill sowed are quite green. Cucumbers and onions are coming up in the open ground; asparagus in perfection, early potatoes just sprouting. My mosquito bites are still numerous – six active and eight dying away.

June 11 (Spring 1829) – Pleasantly warm again. After dinner I rode with Fanny through some of the most magnificent woods. Our business was to order some butter tubs to be made by a cooper who lives there. Fanny was startled to see a pedlar with his bag of drapery and little mahogony box in so wild a scene, but I believe no inhabited spot is beyond this class of adventure.

A few lines on an excursion to Lake Simcoe, July 1829.

Now Mr O’Brien has got into our canoe and paddled out to get a water lily which is spreading its beauty to be admired by the frogs. Now we get into the lake and make way. The Indians’ canoes cast off and I, casting my eyes on the water, see the whoe verdant carpeting of its bed – every leaf and insect distinct. Now I am attracted by the Indians on the bows who are singing in a rich soft voice a common psalm tune to Indian words.

The best part of any research is to read diaries from the time and while Mary’s journal is not connected to my own research I have enjoyed reading them for the vivid word pictures they paint.

Have a wonderful writing week, Elise x

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My Writing Journey

Finally finished my WIP (work-in-progress)! I have had time away from my blog and now look forward to writing it again each Sunday morning. I have put the finished novel aside and will re-visit it in a week or so. It’s amazing what fresh eyes pick up in the manuscript. The publisher who asked to see the finished novel has resigned from her position and kindly let me know. She is not working in publishing at the moment but I have a feeling she will return to it one day. I have an idea for a new story but not sure if I will pursue it. I have a busy three weeks coming up so time to enjoy the thinking stage of writing. I’ll let you know how it all goes. Have a good writing week, Elise x

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My Writing Journey

Literary Tip

Linking words help you to connect ideas and sentences, so that people can follow your ideas.

The most common way to give examples is by using:  ‘for example’ or ‘for instance’

Adding information

And, In addition, As well as, Also, Too, Furthermore, Moreover, Apart from, In addition to, Besides

Setting the Scene

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.

No smoke came from the chimney and the little lattice windows gaped forlorn . . .

The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done, but as I advanced I was aware that a change had come upon it: it was narrow and unkempt, not the drive that we had known . . .

Chapter 1 of Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier.

This famous opening sets the scene immediately, it is disturbing, and starts to tell the story.  The reader can only wonder and turn the page. The storyline of this novel is bound up with the geographical setting of Cornwall, I can’t imagine it set in any other place. But the setting is there to serve the story. A story filled with dull people and a boring plot cannot be redeemed by an evocative setting.

Thanks for your emails, I hope to answer all of them eventually!

Good writing, Elise

 

 

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