Updates

My life is full of updates. Today you get small ones, just to reassure you that I’m still here. I’ve had an exceptionally challenging time since early April and it will be another few weeks before my life gets back to normal.

First news is a review of Langue[dot]doc 1305 by an academic. I know what I put into my novels, but I don’t know how successful I am in this until someone points it out, so this review makes me happy, because some of the things I intentionally put in are explained: http://medievallyspeaking.blogspot.com.au/2016/05/polack-languedotdoc-1305.html

Secondly, I will have an essay myself on Langue[dot]doc 1305 in a coming issue of postmedieval. I’ll let you know when it appears.

My new novel appears to have been delayed. Due to my recent and interesting past, I don’t know why there is a delay. The release of the book was the day of my operation, so I didn’t know it hadn’t come out until I was fully conscious. It was a disconcerting piece of news to wake up to in hospital, I admit. Again, when I have news, I’ll post it here.

History and Fiction is safely released and looks very pretty. If your bookseller doesn’t have it and you want it, the publisher is has world wide distribution so they should be able to get it in. I do need to warn you that it’s an academic book and so it’s rather expensive.

Women’s History Month – Vashti Farrer

Vashti Farrer is an Australian historical fiction writer.

There has never been a time when I haven’t been conscious of writing – as a woman, even if it has only meant having to think like a man or a little boy when my protagonist was male. Clearly, they have a different outlook on life and that needs to be reflected in their speech and behaviour. Germaine Greer may have urged us to give our sons dolls instead footballs to bring out their more sensitive side, but mine was adamant he would have preferred a football.

I first encountered an obstacle in trying to write as a woman, when I married. Before that I’d had adult short stories broadcast on the ABC and published under my maiden name / pseudonym of Vashti Farrer. Having married, however, we moved to Canberra where I approached The Canberra Times seeking to become a book reviewer. Yes, but they said, not as Farrer. It was newspaper policy apparently to pay married by-lines, so any work I’d produced in the past had to stay there, because even with an unusual Christian name, the average reader would now regard me as two different people.

Needless to say I swallowed my pride and accepted cheques addressed to Mrs.

Years later we moved back to Sydney and I contacted The Sydney Morning Herald and was again accepted as a reviewer. “I suppose you pay a married by-line?” I asked. “Whatever for?” said the editor. I explained, thinking the newspapers were co-owned, but she said, “I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous!” So I went back to being Farrer. When the Society of Women Writers NSW Inc was asked to appear before a Parliamentary Inquiry into restrictions placed on married women I gave evidence explaining what had happened to me only to find, on returning to Canberra, that things had changed. Now, the Times would allow my Farrer by-line which then caused several raised eyebrows in our former babysitting club because the gossip was that we must have divorced!

Children presented another challenge to writing. I’d foolishly thought that a career writing from home with small children would be easy. After all, I only had to wait till they were asleep. Haha! I hadn’t envisaged the days when I would finally manage to get the eldest to take a nap while I juggled breastfeeding the baby and typing up the final draft of a story with one hand. Tricky.

We couldn’t afford a nanny to allow me the luxury to write in peace and by the time I had three children and needed to undertake research I would end up taking all three to the Australian War Memorial where the library section in those days was divided into small glassed offices. This allowed me to hand the older two their colouring books and pencils and settle the toddler with his toys on the floor. It only happened a few times and luckily they seemed to sense that this was not the sort of place where you made any noise.

Deadlines were always a problem. Children have the strange habit of demanding that their needs be met first. This of course meant having to wait till they were in bed to sit up, sometimes till 2 am to finish a review or story. On one occasion my husband was away and it was 9 pm before all the bedtime stories had been read and the lights out. Then, and only then, did I sit down to write a short story I had to post to a competition the following morning. Fortunately it was all in my head, so to speak, so it flowed onto the page and I finished it at midnight. I was delighted when it came second, but couldn’t help thinking that the young man who won it, probably didn’t have to contend with the obstacles I’d had to get it written.

Motherhood, by definition, carries with it a certain amount of guilt, like a permanent shawl around the shoulders. Another time I told the kids I had to get a story in to The Canberra Times by 5 pm, (it was then 4.55). I charged into the office, thinking, “All systems go!” only to hear the 2 year old say to his siblings, “Shut up, darling, mummy busy!” and I felt terrible. No doubt I’d committed my kids to years of psychiatrists’ couches for my neglect – because of being a mother trying to write.

But all three grew up realising that writing was important to me. So when they were teenagers, and I said I had a story to finish for a competition, and if they could get their own lunch and not worry about me, I’d make it up to them by taking them out for a slap-up afternoon tea. Okay so it was bribery and I thought no more about it as I tapped away at the keyboard. Then suddenly the door of my study opened and a disembodied arm came round and deposited a mug of coffee on my desk. Then another arm, equally disembodied, came round and lowered a plate with a sandwich on it onto the desk. This was the point at which I realised that maybe they wouldn’t end up on shrinks’ couches.

Now I’ve come full circle. My kids are proud of what I’ve written, but even more so, my grandchildren are. They tell their school mates and teachers. I’ve managed to dedicate a book to all but one of them (and I’m working on that) and they are inspired to write stories of their own. They ask for tips and regularly report on plots and ideas. So, writing as a woman, may have had its problems in the past, but no longer.

Women’s History Month – Y.S. Lee

Y. S. Lee is the author of the award-winning Agency novels (Walker Books/Candlewick Press), a quartet of mysteries featuring a mixed-race girl detective in Victorian London. After earning a Ph.D. in English literature, Ying realized that her true love was gritty historical detail – something she tries to make the most of in her fiction. She lives with her family in Kingston, Ontario. Visit her at www.yslee.com or on Twitter @yinglee

“I’m stuck.”

Hello, friends. This week, I felt tired. I was easily irritated. I slept poorly, drank too much coffee, and didn’t get enough fresh air. It follows that I also didn’t write as much of my novel as I’d hoped – and not for lack of honest effort.

In the past, I’d have been angry with myself. I’d have decided that I was a slacker and an impostor, and found ways to punish myself. It would not have occurred to me that a) I don’t treat others this way, and 2) I would not tolerate this treatment from someone else.

However, in a small but encouraging sign that change is always possible, I didn’t fall for the own-worst-enemy routine. Instead, I decided to be gentle with myself. I gave myself an hour off. And when that hour was over, I went to my writing shed and happily fixed a scene that had been troubling me for 2 days. It really works, not being a jerk to oneself.

In an effort to step back and protect myself in future rough weeks, I’ve made a checklist called, “I’m stuck/tired/lethargic/don’t feel up to writing, WAAAAAH.” As its name so subtly suggests, I’m aiming to train myself to refer to this list every time I feel stuck, etc.

When I mentioned my checklist on Twitter, I got an immediate response and fell into a really interesting private conversation with another writer, which made me think that I should share my list here. It’s geared to me as a self-employed writer, of course, but I think it’s much more broadly applicable.

So, on days or in moments when I feel stuck, etc., my goal is to step back and consider: why do I feel this way? Is it a) low mood, 2) mental fatigue, 3) physical fatigue, or 4) a combination (or something else entirely)?

Then, I have a list of strategies for each type of problem.

Low mood

Focus on self-care: go for a walk, practise yoga, or make a cup of tea and drink it while looking at the garden.
Do a couple of small tasks that cost little energy and are satisfying to check off on a list (viva the bullet journal!).
Organize something small; choose something that gives positive concrete results.
Think about another aspect of my life that I could change, with satisfying results, and make a plan to take care of it.
After an period of self-care, try slipping into a writing session. Even a couple of hundred words can be a triumph.

Mental fatigue

Take a short break from work.
Focus on something concrete and personal (NOT for the children!).
Maybe do something domestic: garden, bake, tidy.
After a break, turn towards the WIP: where am I in this project? What tweaks do I need to make? Make notes towards the next writing session. Maybe slip into that writing session, or maybe not.

Physical fatigue

Rest, already!
Read (secondary sources or go over the existing WIP).
Think about an aspect of the WIP and where it’s going. Once the brain is humming, slip into a writing session.

If progress on the WIP remains elusive

Work on a secondary project (mine is currently a picture book)
Make a list of scenes, flesh out in the historical detail in the existing WIP
Read secondary sources
Figure out how to start the next writing session with a sense of momentum, inevitability – map out where I need to go

That’s my checklist-in-progress. It’s far from exhaustive, though, and I hope to build on it. What do you do, friends? How do you manage work slumps and protect yourself from your harshest critic?

Today’s post first appeared on Wednesday, May 27th, 2015, at http://yslee.com/2015/05/im-stuck/ It is re-eprinted with the author’s permission.

Women’s History Month – Sue Bursztynski

Sue Bursztynski is a Melbourne author, mostly of speculative fiction. We swap stories about our not-quite-the-same-but-closeish backgrounds and meet up whenever I can get to Melbourne.

In 2008, I was on long service leave, enjoying a term of travelling and relaxing, when I had an email from Paul Collins, the publisher at Ford Street Publishing, a wonderful small press that does only children’s and YA books. Paul’s partner, Meredith Costain, had written a book called Fifty Famous Australians and Paul wanted a companion volume about fifty infamous Australians. Was I interested?

Is the Pope a Catholic? I’ve always loved writing non fiction for kids, loved taking on the challenge of a subject with which I was only vaguely familiar and turning my knowledge into something that would mean I’d appreciate any news I read about the subject afterwards.

This one was a particularly good challenge. I would have to choose local crooks and write about them in such a way that gore-loving kids would have a thrill without having nightmares. There would have to be a balance between serial killers and over the top humour. Among the many in the latter category were the librarian who hijacked a helicopter to help her boyfriend escape from jail and then was caught out because of an overdue library video about a daring helicopter prison escape, and the idiotic robbers who tried to rob a restaurant in the Dandenongs outside Melbourne one April Fool’s Day and escaped with a bag of stale bread rolls and a wounded behind when the man accidentally shot his female partner. My Dad told me later that he’d had a chat with the restaurant manager, who said that now they were keeping bags of rolls and such at the desk in case they had any more robbers.

And the nice thing was that I had a whole term to get it going – of course, the editing would take longer, but I could handle that. The research was a fascinating experience. I worked from books, Internet and newspapers, including on-line ones and microfilms at the State Library. I found amazing web sites with a wealth of information. While I was sending in my chapters, my queasy editor begged, “Can we please have something other than serial killers?” That was when I asked a friend for a suggestion and he offered the April Fool’s Day robbery.

I also asked the wonderful Kerry Greenwood, who said that there was a story that was every crime writer’s nightmare, which is when your novel gives a real murderer ideas. She suggested I check out the tale of Arthur Upfield, author of the Boney series, whose day job at one time was working on the Rabbit Proof Fence. While there, he asked his friends one night, around the fire, for an idea for a near foolproof murder, which would be very hard for his hero to solve. One of them suggested an idea that involved burning the body and using acid to finish the job. Unfortunately, another man listening used the idea to commit his own murder and was only caught because of a recognisable wedding ring that hadn’t been disposed of. I don’t know if Upfield had nightmares over the incident, but the papers published extracts from his new novel and I’m betting the sales went through the roof.

I had an unusual research experience while travelling. I met a lovely “grey nomad” couple somewhere in the Northern Territory and, over a pub dinner, told them about my book. At the time, I was researching Caroline Grills, the woman who killed family members with poisoned afternoon tea treats in the 1950s, first for the inheritance, then because it was fun. She was eventually caught and sentenced to life imprisonment. The grey nomad wife said,”Oh, I knew her! I was nursing in Long Bay Jail when she was there. Such a sweet woman!”

Which goes to show how she managed to impress even the prison staff, who knew what she’d done. But I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to chat with someone who had actually met one of my subjects!

Later that month, when I’d returned from my travels, Paul asked me to write a chapter about Tony Mokbel. Wondering what I could say to kids about him that they would find entertaining, I took myself off to the local Macca’s for a coffee and a newspaper. There was a two page spread about Mokbel’s flight from Australia – a highly entertaining, amusing article. I had my Mokbel story.

As well as the Fifty Infamous Australians there were a lot more in the between-chapter “Did You Know?” paragraphs. I must have researched at least a hundred naughty folk! It was huge fun.

Then the book was published. It had the best cover I’ve ever had(don’t get me started on the cover of my book on women scientists, with its woman in a lab coat holding a test tube!). The cover designer was the amazing Grant Gittus, who also did the poster for Aussiecon, the Melbourne-based World SF Convention. There were dozens of beautiful internals by Louise Prout. The subject matter was just right for kids. Many schools bought it, including mine, and kids borrowed it non stop; the five copies on our shelves were out constantly; even now, most of them are out and all of them are worn from reading. Children from the local primary school have approached me to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Schools are why I’m getting good ELR income from it.

Despite all that, it didn’t sell in the shops. To start with, book shops never know what to do with children’s non fiction anyway. It’s quite possible to have your book gathering dust among hundreds of other non fiction books because nobody can find it. And when, out of curiosity, I asked a staff member at Borders where was the crime section, he exclaimed, “In the children’s section?” In fact, they had put it into the adult true crime section, as had Dymock’s. Well, it was easier to find there, but which adult is going to buy a children’s book in the true crime section when they can have Robin Bowles or Andrew Rule? Mind you, I went to a signing once, with the rest of the Ford Street authors, and the manager said they’d sold twenty copies in about two days, so he was short of stuff for me to sign. Like another sensible bookshop manager, he had placed them facing out.

As it turned out, the distributor had the book on the wrong page of their web site,non fiction instead of children’s. By the time Paul noticed, it was too late to do much good. Shops don’t keep unsold stock for long, however good it is, and they aren’t interested in getting in older books, unless requested.

Australian Standing Orders, which sells books to schools – a bit like Ashton Scholastic, except they sell to the libraries instead of the kids – didn’t want it. They rarely sold non fiction and the few they did sell were, at the time, usually from another publisher, not Ford Street. Ford Street has never managed to get any interest from Scholastic either.

Then Macmillan moved to Sydney and refused to take any of the Ford Street titles. Paul had no room for more than a few copies of anything in his new premises, so offered us all copies of our books at a low price. I bought five hundred rather than see them pulped, so I’m not unlike those self published authors back in the old days, before ebooks, who had stacks of books on their living room floors. Paul kept a hundred and promised to buy some back if he sold those. And you can get it in ebook from the Baen web site and from iBooks. Maybe even on Amazon.

But it almost might as well be out of print. So that’s a book that kids loved and which had wonderful reviews, but has never earned back its advance.

If you’re interested in reviewing it, email me via my blog. It might be a bit expensive sending copies outside of Australia, but if you’re keen, contact me anyway. I’ll see what I can manage. I’d like to get a few copies off my library office floor!

Women’s History Month – Wendy Orr

Wendy Orr is one of my favourite writers. Also a thoroughly nice person. Also the only author I know who has both Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler in the film of the book. Most of the rest of us tend to say “If my book were ever filmed…”

Her next novel is Dragonfly Song, which will be published by Allen & Unwin in 2016.

I first started writing in 1986, when my daughter started school and my son was in Year 2. I was working as a paediatric occupational therapist three and a half days a week, with an hour’s drive each way. And we had a sheep farm. I did not have a lot of spare time – but I was focussed, determined, and probably better organised than I’ve ever been, before or since. I didn’t let anything interrupt that day and a half of writing time. I used my drive to work out phrases in the books I was working on, saying them aloud to test for rhythm. And though I was scrupulous about not writing in my clinic, I did jot notes down in my work diary in some exceptionally irrelevant staff meetings. (I found one of those notes last year: ‘children playing in the dust, making a ring of flowers in a ring of stones.’ It belonged in the book I’ve just finished, as if it had just been quietly waiting all these years for me to find its story.)

I was quite prolific in those five years, but I’m not recommending this – superwomen acts aren’t sustainable. Not for me, anyway. I knew I was going to have to give a bit, somewhere, if I was to continue both working and writing. The choice was taken out of my hands by a speeding driver (and no, I wasn’t thinking about books at the time. I simply made the mistake of believing that a car on a side road, slowing down for the Give Way sign, would continue braking instead of accelerating into me at 140 kmph. My injuries were horrific, though at least I was able to use them in my YA novel Peeling the Onion). Amongst other gloomy prognoses, I was told I would never be fit enough to work again, and by default, became a full time writer.

A writer in too much pain to sit or concentrate for more than an hour or so a day is not prolific. We’ll skip the next fifteen years. But now, when I’ve defied most of the worst medical prognoses, go days at a time without pain, and truly am a full time writer, I should have it all sorted.

I don’t, of course, but I’m getting there. After years of being defensive about ‘Don’t invite me for coffee – writing is a full-time job,’ I’m making a conscious effort not to jump into the ‘I’m busier than you are’ game. It’s certainly true that writing is a full time job. I take it extremely seriously. But I’m at the age where friends are looking at retiring in the next five to ten years; I’m starting to think that if I intend to go on writing forever, I need a bit more balance of time for myself. So my latest goal is to consistently take weekends off. I used to take the weekends off from writing, unless I was pushing against a deadline, but used them to catch on admin – blogs, fan mail, website, tax etc… as well as the usual working woman’s weekend house and garden tasks.

The result was that I resented the admin tasks, did them badly or not at all, and did not truly have time off. My new plan is to schedule those things into the week. I’m not completely there yet: old habits die hard, and deadlines sometimes truly do have to be met. But now, the proof pages of my new book, Dragonfly Song, have gone back to my publisher for the last time, and I am determined to set these good practices in place and start the next book with a clean desk. Clean except for that day planner, meticulously – and realistically – filled in.

‘We’ll see,’ I can hear my family chortling. But life goes on evolving, and if creativity is a driving force in that life, it needs to be given the time and respect it deserves.

Women’s History Month – Mary Victoria

Mary Victoria is a London-based NZ writer and artist. I asked her for a very personal response to a rather large question, this WHM.

What do I do to survive? It’s a good question, because there are many kinds of survival: material, emotional, spiritual. The answer for me is that because there are so many, I need a range of skills. I need a personal sacred bag of tricks to keep me more or less sane, and centred, and free of noxious enchantments. It’s an ongoing struggle and I don’t always succeed.

For it’s is a tough, if exciting time to be an artist, in this second decade of the twenty-first century, in our increasingly noisy, interconnected world. There’s so much to be said, and a shrinking number of ways to reach audiences already saturated by a screaming torrent of information. There’s a kind of lethargy to fight against, too, when attempting any sort of social comment. Why bother? Who’ll listen? That’s what I mean by enchantment. It’s as if we’re fighting an addiction, and I choose that word advisedly. Ignorance, bigotry, fear, greed: these things are drugs we’re mainlining at the moment. No one likes reality, it’s too difficult and complicated, and besides the problems are always someone else’s fault. Shut up and go away, leave me to my politics and my porn, my demagogues and demons. This world is full of opiates, maddened with them, so going cold turkey – let alone convincing anyone else to do so – is quite a business.

Any artist, man or woman, has to dig down, deep down, to find the reserves of strength necessary to create in circumstances inimical to creative expression. Here we are, living in a culture that prizes material wealth and success and couldn’t give a toss for love. You’re not supposed to make art unless you can “break through”, earn a tangible return and “succeed” in the free market. Never mind that art has always been an iffy business proposition, at best. God help most musicians, painters, writers, because those who manage to make a decent living from their art are few and far between. God help anyone who does it for love, an “amateur”. Amateur, the “one who loves”, has become a dirty word. It means you aren’t good enough, when really it should mean that you love enough.

There are plenty of insidious little distractions that assail us as artists. One is the business of money. Since when have overt popularity and success been the criterion for decent artistic output? If anything, historically, the formula goes the other way around. Another and linked distraction has to do with self-confidence. We’ve been taught that career success is the only measure for self-worth. Forget the pursuit of excellence, dedication to craft, artistic engagement or any desire to help others. The only way you can feel good about yourself is if you sell, sell, sell.

I would like to say, respectfully: that’s effing bs. Also, it’s very, very dull.

I have a bag of tricks, talismans and magic I use to keep the noxious spells at bay. Anyone can source the ingredients. They are our birthright as human beings, and cost nothing. To make one bag, obtain:

– Supportive allies.

– Creative critics.

– A sense of purpose.

– A sense of humour.

– A middle finger to flip when necessary, and occasion demands.

Women’s History Month

I’m sorry that this month got off to such a slow start. That was me. I have two books coming out in the next couple of weeks and find myself easily distracted. Both of them are visible on the internet now. One is my next novel, which I like to call my Sydney feminist Jewish magic novel (The Wizardry of Jewish Women) and the other is a non-fiction book about the relationship between history and fiction writers. I’ll do you a post for each of them when they’re safely launched into the big world. Until then, I have some delightful guests for you to meet.

This year I have fewer guests, but I’ve asked them to write substantial and possibly somewhat personal posts. We’re looking at the lives and work of writers from a number of directions. I’ll give you a full explanation at the end of the month but, for now, I’d like the essays to stand by themselves.

Enjoy them!

Women’s History Month – Lulu Respall-Turner

Today is International Women’s Day and my guest is Lulu Respall-Turner. The rest of the month has a slightly different theme, but today I’ve asked Lulu to talk about how she became a feminist. I’ve known Lulu for nearly two decades. We were part of a small team that founded Women’s History Month for Australia. She’s done an incredible amount of work (mostly unseen) for women in need and it’s an honour to host her today.

An Awakening – A Feminist Journey

Part 1: I Am Woman

When I left an abusive marriage decades ago, I wasn’t aware that my ‘abandonment of the marital abode ‘ (in the terms cited in the Civil Code of my country of origin) marked the beginning of my feminist journey.

I didn’t count myself as a feminist then. Indeed, I didn’t know what it meant – I remember reading bits of news from the UK and USA of women marching, burning bras, picketing men-only pubs and clubs. These reports mystified me. What was it all about?

It wasn’t the actual act of separation from my former partner that I regard, in hindsight, as a feminist act. Leaving an unhappy marriage is not necessarily feminist, without considering the circumstances that led to it,.What counts is how it leads to a woman’s realisation of self, and the accompanying awareness of a distinct identity and place in society.

My ex-partner was prone to drunken violence. Looking back, and with what I now know of psychological disorders, he might have had untreated post-traumatic disorder that led to violent behaviour. However, at the time, few people, not even those among the medical profession in my home country, knew of or understood PTSD.

I sought counselling. My partner, of course, didn’t think there was anything wrong with him – the problem was me. He expected me to conform to the ways of his family. One of those I consulted was an old Catholic priest, a kindly man, but his advice was like a death sentence: : “You just have to bear the suffering, my dear, never mind, you will get your reward in heaven”.

I resisted that advice after much soul-searching; I decided to leave when I realised that staying could end with premature death (never mind the heavenly reward), either from mental illness and suicide, or from any future DV episode. I was not fearful for the children staying with their father because he was never violent towards the kids, and his parents and sisters were living in the same premises.

Even though I felt free at last from fear and violence, I was still beset by guilt, shame and self-doubt, especially about leaving my children. Family and friends, even though they knew of the violence, thought it was wicked of me to leave. I should have just stayed, ‘for the sake of the children’.

One day I chanced upon Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. I read it through and could not believe how closely it seemed to resonate with my life, my innermost longings and thoughts. It was a godsend, an eye-opener. The high, almost ecstatic, sense of enlightenment I felt was like the day when, as a very young child, I discovered I could read and comprehend the words in my kindy primer. The Second Sex made me understand why my life had gone awry, why my marriage failed, even why the violence. Simply put, my ex-partner and I weren’t ‘made for each other’.I wasn’t ready, not mentally nor emotionally equipped, to accept the patriarchal dominance that was the norm prevailing, which my ex-partner expected . Indeed, it was my father’s dominating, controlling hold over me that drove me into marriage, thinking that as a married woman, I would at least be leading my own life as an adult – from frying pan to the fire, as it turned out. As de Beauvoir put it:

The truth is that just as – biologically – males and females are never victims of one another but both victims of the species, so man and wife together undergo the oppression of an institution they did not create. If it is asserted that men oppress women, the husband is indignant; he feels that he is the one who is oppressed – and he is; but the fact is that it is the masculine code, it is the society developed by the males and in their interest, that has established woman’s situation in a form that is at present a source of torment for both sexes.

However, the notion of a long-institutionalised ‘masculine code’ cannot be taken as an excuse for violent and abusive behaviour. Each of us, after all, should be able to still use reasonable judgment to guide our actions.

I am about to reread The Second Sex, now more than three decades since my eyes fell upon the book. No doubt there will be some of de Beauvoir’s original ideas on women and female relationships that I would now disagree with, but I daresay some of her major points will still hold. But what I know is that at the time I first read her work, during those early weeks when I left my marriage, her words gave me much comfort and encouragement. She taught me that the patriarchal order of things, which I had accepted as ‘the way things are’ is not the natural order. This now famous quote particularly struck a powerful note with me: One is not born, rather one becomes, a woman. Women accepted patriarchy as normal for too long, to the detriment of their own personal and social development as a human being.

I stopped feeling guilty, no longer felt ashamed. I wasn’t wicked: I was simply resisting and fighting back against oppression. Having removed these negative feelings, I was on my way to remaking my identity and my life.

This episode – reading de Beauvoir – is only the first of my encounter with feminist thought. My interest and understanding of feminism continued developing. Like life itself, ideas of and about feminism are constantly changing. The concept of patriarchy as a theory of male oppression over women may be outmoded, but it is not dead, because it is still practised in many societies. But it is not the only explanation for gender inequality and oppresssion. Much more needs to be explored in the economic, political and cultural structures of society to correct the imbalance between men and women in all aspects of their lives.

Postscript: I have remarried, happily now for many years, to a man who has encouraged my feminist development and pursuits. I eventually gained custody of my children. I can say that these words by de Beauvoir now applies to my present situation

On the day when it will be possible for woman to love not in her weakness but in her strength, not to escape herself but to find herself, not to abase herself but to assert herself–on that day love will become for her, as for man, a source of life and not of mortal danger.

Note: This piece is an account of my own experience. In referring to Simone de Beauvoir’s analysis of male-female relations of power and oppression, I do not deny that men also can be victims of oppression or violence, with women as perpetrators. But statistics overall do point to the majority of victims of DV to be female.

Structuring a novel

Well, that was unexpected.

I’ve got so much stuff for the 17th century novel, and am nearly up to the targeted research. Precise drilling-in on stuff I need. Hopefully that will happen in March.

What I’ve been doing during this last however-long is seeking my unifying elements. What kind of story I’m telling, What heart it has. I wanted to use emblem literature because it’s seriously cool, but my gut kept telling me that it wasn’t what I needed. It wasn’t unifying in the context of this novel. In fact, it would have split my story up into separated sections, and I’ve already done that (the novel will be out next year, and the sections are quite on purpose). I didn’t want that sort of sectioned novel. Shame about the emblem literature, but it didn’t work. Nor, it seemed did a thousand other things. This is one of the many reasons I read widely. Understanding comes from thinking and curiosity for me, not just waiting for inspiration.

One other novel did this to me: had a heart that needed a lot of thinking to pin down and one that gave me the narrative pattern when I finally found it. This was The Art of Effective Dreaming and the heart was a poem by Prevert.

Just now I worked out why my current earworm was my current earworm. Its structure is my structure. Its tone is the tone of my novel. The story in it is not my story – it’s that counterbalance between theme and chorus and the narrative pattern that I needed. I was most of the way there, but this codifies it and makes it easy to remember and work with I didn’t expect this one, however:

I hope Mr Minchin doesn’t mind.

On personal safety and on jam tomorrow

I’m finding it slow but very important to develop my own subjective sense of how women compromised and navigated places and social situations to remain safe. It’s such a big part of women’s lives today (I do not walk through certain carparks at night, I do not travel at night alone at all unless I can walk quickly enough, I carry my keys in my hand if I must, I do not walk through clumps of lingering drunk guys and so forth) and I was even more so in the late 17th century, with the burden of civil war still upon England and France. My sorting of this is going to take a while longer, but it looks as if I’ll understand enough to compromise my women’s lives magnificently. Everything they do will be despite the world, and most of it won’t feel extraordinary to them.

The other thing I’m sorting is just how very, very wrong most novels get 17th century magic. I keep thinking about things I know and realising that knowing them isn’t the same as understanding them which isn’t the same as internalising them to the level one needs to write effectively from. I now have a thought to ground myself with, should I go astray which one of the critical tools I use personally to achieve understanding.

My memory code for magic is Salem and Boston. Not the 1692 trials. Earlier. By the time of my novel (1682) Massachusetts (especially Boston) was the place where witches operated according to English pamphlets. “We have no witches in England anymore, but Boston isn’t so fortunate,” is the kind of feeling I was reading. This led me to a whole lot of thought about a whole lot of things, several of which are critical.

The obvious thought is a jam-tomorrow thought. Jeanne Favret-Saada did a study of modern witchcraft in the pre-bocage in France. I visited the area and chatted with the locals and they all said “She’s wrong. We don’t have that kind of thing here. You want…” And I want to the next area and chatted and they told me the same thing. They added there (in the Norman bocage) at the best witches were all from the Berry region. When I read 17th century material there is a lot of talk about witches and they’re always known and they’re always somewhere emotionally close (such as Boston, Mass.) but out of reach ie they’re safe to talk about because no-one’s going to meet them. This is terribly important for my women, because when they travel, they might be travelling into jam-tomorrow in their mind, or they might not, and the actual places that witches and magic in general are counted only sometimes overlap with the popular places where there is supposed to be magic. I could do an overlay map r find one that someone else has done, but right now, jam-tomorrow is what I need for my novel. Or rather, I need “witches in Massachusetts.”

It just struck me that a modern equivalent of this is probably the deadly Australian continent in the eyes of the US. S often US documents show a greater fear of Aussie spiders than of local gun deaths.

I was going to talk about some of the other consequences of the magic side of reading, especially for women travelling, but I need a cuppa and I need to read 2 more thingies before lunchtime. I looked at my month’s schedule last night and I have some reading to catch up on.