An intriguing book, neither a collection of short stories nor a novel, but a series of vignettes – snapshots − of women, no longer young, but who are determined to wring every drop of verve and excitement out of life. Most of the action is revealed in conversations over coffee or drinks, between the protagonist, Sofia and her friend Ingrid. The ‘glue’ holding the story – or rather stories − together is a love of ballroom dancing and the venues in which such events are held, in particular the Crystal Ballroom, which is a character in its own right.
In this unusual book Libby Sommer puts women’s psyches under the microscope – their hopes and dreams, fears and foibles – yet always with a deft touch and a sympathetic ear.
I’m running a writing workshop this Saturday at the Brahma Kumaris Centre for Spiritual Learning in Wilton, New South Wales. It is part of the Society of Women Writers Retreat weekend. I’ve titled my course ‘Writing from Within’ because the aim is to tap into the right side of the brain, leaving aside that nasty critical left side, and really getting to the heart of what you want to write. I’ve run workshops like this before. Usually I use a combination of meditation techniques, and a guided colour exercise for relaxation and then spontaneous writing, or timed writing. It’s truly amazing what people write when they are able to get into the zone and not be held back by negative thinking.
These are the rules of timed writing according to Natalie Goldberg in ‘Writing Down the Bones’:
Keep your hand moving. (Don’t pause to reread the line you have just written. That’s stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying.)
Don’t cross out. (That is editing as you write. Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write, leave it.)
Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar. (Don’t even care about staying within the margins and lines on the page.)
Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
Go for the jugular. (If something comes up in your writing that is scary or naked, dive right into it. It probably has lots of energy.)
Should be a excellent weekend featuring publisher Catherine Milne and presentations from authors Emily Maguire, Susanne Gervay, Kathryn Heyman, Libby Hathorn, Beverley George.
I’m sitting at my writing desk this spring morning in Sydney thinking about the need to ground our writing in a sense of place, whether landscape or cityscape.
How often have you heard someone say of a book they loved: ‘I felt like I was there.’
Even if you relocate the poodle tied to a fake-cane chair, the sound of a game of tennis, the table of older men after their regular Sunday match at the café overlooking the tennis courts at Cooper Park that you drank a lemongrass and ginger tea at in Sydney into a café in a story in another state and time, the story will have originality and believability. ‘But that café was in Sydney, I can’t transport it to Adelaide.’ But you can. You can have flexibility with specific detail. The mind is able to transport details, but using actual places that you experienced will give your writing authenticity and truthfulness. It grounds your work in place, giving life and vitality to your writing, rather than a whole lot of exposition that floats in the air.
If you don’t create evocative settings, your characters seem to have their conversations in vacuums or in some beige nowhere-in-particular. – Jerome Stern
Creation of the physical world is as important to your story as action and dialogue. If your readers can be made to see the hand-knitted socks or the row of vitamins on the kitchen benchtop, the scene becomes alive. Readers pay attention. Touch, sound, taste, and smell make readers feel as if their own feet are warm under the cold sheets.
Place situates the story in your reader’s mind. Fiction that seems to happen in no particular place often seems not to take place at all. – Jerome Stern
I hope this tip on creating a sense of place is helpful. Do you have any suggestions you would add? Let me know in the comments and please share this post with a friend if you enjoyed it.
My short story On Valentine’s Day appears in the September Quadrant available now in newsagents and good book stores. It took two years of rewriting before the story was accepted for publication. In Friday’s mail I received my contributor’s copy and a generous cheque. My name is on the front cover. Always a thrill. It took many years of my stories appearing in Quadrant before my name made it to the cover 🙂
The first paragraph of On Valentine’s Day reads:
You had to get out of them occasionally, those Australian country towns with the funny names: Wagga Wagga, Wee Waa, Woy Woy. Once, after a devastating week wiped out more than $4 trillion from the global stock exchanges, one of the local papers boasted a banner headline: WAGGA WAGGA WOMAN WEDS WOY WOY TOY BOY. You had to make an effort from time to time to get out, even if it meant flying all the way across the Nullarbor to go to a Valentine’s Day party.
My critique group will recognize the first paragraph. We meet weekly at the New South Wales Writers Centre to give and receive feedback on two pages of our writing. I brought sections of the 4,000 word On Valentine’s Day many times to the Women Writers Network at the Centre. Two dear friends also read the story and commented. Very much appreciated. More than once my two friends read the whole of On Valentine’s Day and offered constructive criticism. I couldn’t have got the story to a publishable standard without my writing group and my two friends. Lucky me.
Quadrant is a highly regarded literary magazine: http://quadrant.org.au/september-quadrant-now-sale/
I can’t emphasize enough how useful it is to have a weekly writing group. I work to that deadline. We take a couple of pages each and have 12 minutes to read and receive feedback. I think of it as ‘off Broadway’ and ‘on Broadway’. Famous comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen say they test their material out on an ‘off Broadway’ audience before performing ‘on Broadway’.
What about you? Are you in a writing group? Do you find it useful?