Writing Tip: Narrative Momentum

The other day I was listening to someone talk about the craft of creative writing and she was speaking about the necessity of forward momentum in narrative in order to keep the reader engaged.

The speaker suggested keeping in mind the words:  “but then …”

Using those two words, either on the page, or in your head, gives a twist or complication to the story.

Sound a good idea to me. What do you think?

My Poem ‘Twisted Tea’

Have a read of my poem ‘Twisted Tea’ first published in ‘For Ukraine: by Women of the World‘.

Dr Diann Rogers Healey, founder of the Australian Centre for Leadership for Women called for and brought together a collection of poetry and prose by 35 writers from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, United States, and the United Kingdom. We wrote in solidarity with those impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

All proceeds from the sale of the book will go to United Nations Women Australia for assistance in Ukraine. Available on Amazon and other online outlets. Please read the book and review.

Twisted Tea

I splattered the last of my favourite

loose leaf tea all over the floor today,

when I lost my grip on the lid.

Twisted Oolong produced in Ukraine

it said on the label.

But it is a time of such sadness,

a spilt canister of loose leaf

is hardly worth mentioning.

So many shattered tea sets

buried in the rubble.

Ceramic pots and porcelain mugs,

smashed.

Fierce railroads bombed, buildings, farms.

Civilians tortured.

“Filthy scumbags,”

said President Zelensky.

“What else can you call them?”

I watch a woman sob on camera.

“Their soldiers are barbaric.

They don’t understand.

They are murderers.”

It is hard to consider sipping tea

without crying into the cup.

Will the small tea plantation

—out of the line of fire for now—

be spared?

I’m holding as tight as I can

to the thought that one day

we’ll be able to celebrate

with a pot of rare twisted oolong loose

leaf tea produced on a small farm

tucked away somewhere

in a corner of Ukraine.

Copyright 2022 Libby Sommer

My Story ‘Around the World in Fifty Steps’

Libby Sommer with her book The Crystal Ballroom in book store

‘Around the World In Fifty Step’ was my first published story. It appeared in Overland Literary Journal Autumn, 2000. Since then, more than 50 of my stories and poems have been accepted for publication in prestigious literary journals including Quadrant, Overland and The Canberra Times.

Have a read of this first one. Hope you enjoy it.

Around the World In Fifty Steps:

Copyright Libby Sommer 2022
  1. Joanna lives in a Sydney suburb with her two sons. It’s 1992 and Australia is in recession.
  2. “I’m sick of licking arse in a service industry,” she says of her marketing business. “And I’m fed up with financial insecurity, the feast or famine of too many projects or not enough and chasing new business and getting clients to pay their bills.”
  3. “I’m thinking of renting the house out and travelling,” she tells her grown up sons after reading “The Pitter Patter of Thirty-Year-Old Feet” in the Sydney Morning Herald.
  4. “You’re ready to leave home are you mum?” said one son.
  5. “Why don’t you just go on a long holiday instead,” said the other.
  6. “I want a new beginning, a change of career, a new home, a community of people, an intimate relationship with a significant other, that sort of thing.”
  7. “You could always get yourself a dog,” suggests a friend.
  8. Her son moves out when she puts his rent up.
  9. “Are you going to wait till he buys a new house for cash before you ask for a decent rent?” her mother had said.
  10. “I’ve decided to go and live with Dad for a change,” says the other son.
  11. “I’ll be away for six to twelve months,” Joanna says as she throws her client files on the rubbish tip.
  12. She spends the spring in Italy. The summer in England, Scotland and Ireland. The autumn walking the gorge country of the Ardeche in France.
  13. In the winter she rents a studio apartment in Villefranche on the French Riviera. The studio belongs to a friend of a friend so she’s able to get it at a good price. She works as a casual deck hand on one of the luxury cruisers in dry dock for maintenance. “The first thing I want you to do,” says her boss when she arrives at work on the first day, “is blitz the tender.” After a backbreaking morning of hard physical work cleaning the small run-about she goes to lunch. She orders a salad nicoise and a coffee and realises her lunch will cost her a morning’s pay.
  14. A young and handsome French man who lives in Paris but comes to Villefranche to visit his grandmother most weekends, pursues her. Joanna comes to realise that French men love and cherish women as much as they appreciate good food.
  15. She shops at the markets, paints and reads and falls in love with the light and the colours of the south of France.
  16. “I’m able to live contentedly alone without a regular job, without a car, without speaking the language,” she writes to her friends back home.
  17. In the summer she moves on again before the tourist masses arrive and the rent goes up.
  18. She gives away to her new friends in Villefranche all the things that won’t now fit in her backpack but keeps her paint brushes and pallet knife.
  19. On the Greek island of Skyros she joins a group of landscape artists led by a famous English painter.
  20. “My purpose in leading this group is to help everyone find their own unique style,” says the woman.
  21. Joanna spends the autumn in London meeting with other artists from the island and the woman becomes her mentor and they meet for a cup of tea every week and talk about the isolation of being an artist as well as many other things.
  22. “It’s important to stop and regenerate before the creative battery runs flat,” she says.
  23. Joanna paints every day and goes out with an English man named Clive.
  24. “Your painting is vivid and alive,” says the famous English artist. “I’ll write you a letter of introduction to my contacts in Australia when you’re ready to exhibit this collection.”
  25. Clive has a strong face with chiselled square cheekbones. Dark brown eyes and dark hair that falls in a square fringe on his forehead. His fingers are long and sensitive for playing the piano.
  26. “What are you doing there?” her mother asks on the phone from across the ocean.
  27. “I’m painting,” says Joanna.
  28.  “But what are you doing?”
  29.   “My mother is like a poisonous gas that can cross from one side of the world to the other,” Joanna says.
  30. Joanna dreams about her sons every night and Clive tells her she cries in her sleep.
  31. She yearns for the bright Australian light and for the sound of the ocean.
  32. She returns to Australia for her eldest son’s wedding.
  33. In Sydney, Joanna supplements her income from the house rental by getting a job as a casual for a clothing company. She unpacks boxes and steampresses the garments. Her back, neck and shoulders ache and she suspects she’s getting RSI from the steampresser.
  34. Clive rings to say he’s coming to visit her.
  35. In preparation for his arrival she moves all her furniture out of storage and rents a small place near the beach hoping that he’ll love it in Australia and decide to stay.
  36. Two weeks before his arrival Clive rings to say he’s not coming and Joanna finds out through a friend that he’s met someone else and is moving in with her.
  37. She tears up his photos and throws his Christmas present at the wall.
  38. Joanna stops painting.
  39. She reflects on the past and all that she’s lost.
  40. I thought when love for you died, I should die. It’s dead. Alone, most strangely, I live on. Rupert Brooke.
  41. Joanna stays in bed most days but still feels so tired that she can only remain vertical for four hours in any twenty-four hour period.
  42. The phone stops ringing.
  43. She rehearses her own death by going to the edge of the cliff.
  44. From the edge she sketches the waves breaking on rocks, the lone seagull on the shore at the water’s edge.
  45. At home she fills in the drawing, blending black charcoal and white pastel reminding herself the darkest hour is before the dawn.
  46. And, after winter spring always comes.
  47. Joanna sells the house where she lived with her children and spends half the money on a home unit overlooking the ocean and the rest of the money on Australian shares.
  48. Her new home faces the east and she can smell the salt from the ocean.
  49. “It takes twenty years to be a successful artist,” echoes in her mind.
  50. On a new canvas she drags the colours of the sunrise across the blank white space.

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

Writing Tip: Managing Writers’ RSI

Repetitive strain injury often starts gradually but can soon become severely debilitating. But there are ways to nip it in the bud – and alleviate the worst symptoms.

1. Take Frequent Breaks

Take short, frequent breaks from repetitive tasks such as typing. A 10-minute break every hour. Use the computer only as much as you have to. Small hand movements, like scrolling on a screen, seem to set off RSI.

2. Type using both hands

It’s like playing the piano; correct fingering is essential. We tend to overuse one side of the body.

Become ambidextrous, e.g. use the mouse in your other hand, lift the kettle with the other hand.

3. Move

Get up from your desk every 30 minutes and move your neck and shoulders to release tension.

4. Use a Fountain Pen

When writing by hand, use a thick grip fountain pen that flows really well, rather than a ballpoint pen. Needing to push down on the pen, even lightly, makes the inflammation of RSI worse.

5. Check the ergonomics of your work station

Keep wrists straight and flat when typing. Sit with thighs level, feet flat on floor (or on footrest), sit up straight, shoulders relaxed, upper arms at sides, not splayed out, forearms horizontal or tilted slightly downwards, so knees and elbows are at a right angle. Keep the top of your screen at eye level and adjust the position of your keyboard, so it’s easy to reach without stretching or hunching. Don’t slouch. Use good posture. To keep wrists straight and flat use a gel wrist rest for the keyboard and the mouse.

6. Keep wrist straight when sleeping

Don’t curl your hands into a fist when sleeping. Some people wear a brace to keep their sore wrist straight.

7. Strengthen the supporting muscles

A physio will give you exercises to do to strengthen the arms. e.g. bicep curls

8. Stretch

Stretch neck, shoulders, arms, wrists. I find yoga is excellent for a full body stretch. The downward facing dog pose can cause discomfit in the hands, but I try to remember to flatten the knuckles to reduce pressure on the wrists.

9. Massage

Like yoga, a regular massage helps keep the body aligned and pain free.

Hope you find these tips useful. Good luck.

My Poem, ‘Quarantine’

My poem ‘Quarantine’ was first published in Quadrant magazine in September 2020. It was written during the first year of the Covid pandemic.

Have a read. Hope you enjoy it.

Quarantine:

But there still are the other things –

water’s rhythmic tumble

over rocks,

the gentle hush of wind through leaves –

we celebrate

in solitude.

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

The Benefits of Poetry

photo of person walking on beach

I’m reposting this post from last year when we were deeply in the midst of the pandemic. It’s worth having another read about the benefits of poetry:

‘Neurologists at Exeter University, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, found that reading poetry activated different brain regions to prose – even the lyrical prose we find in fiction. When the research participants read poetry, it lit up the regions of the brain variously linked to emotion, memory, making sense of music, coherence building and moral decision-making. Poetry, the study’s authors concluded, induces a more introspective, reflective mental state among readers than does prose.’ – Sarah Holland-Batt, Weekend Australian, 21–22 March 2020

If you feel you’re losing your ability to focus on a long book while confined indoors and surrounded by digital screens (as staying up to date on a global pandemic seems to command), try turning to poetry to nurse your shrinking attention span back to life.

In the Time of Pandemic

And the people stayed home.,

And they read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.

And they listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.

Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed.

And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

—Kitty O’Meara

‘Poetry is the quiet music of being human and in these days and nights when our humanity is fully vulnerable and exposed, poetry takes a small step forward. In our separate isolations, a poem is like the Tardis: bigger on the inside. Like spring – to recall TS Eliot – poetry mixes memory and desire.’ – Carol Ann Duffy, The Guardian

This poem by poet  Ian McMillan,  reminds of us of just what we lose each time a library is closed.

Adult Fiction

I always loved libraries, the quiet of them,
The smell of the plastic covers and the paper
And the tables and the silence of them,
The silence of them that if you listened wasn’t silence,
It was the murmur of stories held for years on shelves
And the soft clicking of the date stamp,
The soft clickety-clicking of the date stamp. I used to go down to our little library on a Friday night

In late summer, just as autumn was thinking about
Turning up, and the light outside would be the colour
Of an Everyman cover and the lights in the library
Would be soft as anything, and I’d sit at a table
And flick through a book and fall in love
With the turning of the leaves, the turning of the leaves.

And then at seven o’clock Mrs Dove would say
In a voice that wasn’t too loud so it wouldn’t
Disturb the books “Seven o’clock please …”
And as I was the only one in the library’s late summer rooms
I would be the only one to stand up and close my book
And put it back on the shelf with a sound like a kiss,
Back on the shelf with a sound like a kiss.

And I’d go out of the library and Mrs Dove would stand
For a moment silhouetted by the Adult Fiction,
And then she would turn the light off and lock the door
And go to her little car and drive off into the night
That was slowly turning the colour of ink and I would stand
For two minutes and then I’d walk over to the dark library
And just stand in front of the dark library.

From Talking Myself Home, published by John Murray, 2008

‘The astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson (January 2, 1960–May 19, 1999) was twenty-nine when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma — a blood cancer that typically invades people in their sixties and seventies. Throughout the bodily brutality of the treatment, throughout the haunting uncertainty of life in remission, she met reality on its own terms — reality creaturely and cosmic, terms chance-dealt by impartial laws — and made of that terrifying meeting something uncommonly beautiful.

Rebecca Elson, 1987

‘When she returned her atoms to the universe, not yet forty, Elson bequeathed to this world 56 scientific papers and a slender, stunning book of poetry titled A Responsibility to Awe (public library) — verses spare and sublime, drawn from a consciousness pulling the balloon string of the infinite through the loop of its own finitude, life-affirming the way only the most intimate contact with death — which means with nature — can be.’ – Maria Popova

Elson’s crowning achievement in verse is the poem “Antidotes to Fear of Death,”

ANTIDOTES TO FEAR OF DEATH
by Rebecca Elson

Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.

Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
Already there
But unconstrained by form.

And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:

To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.

Hope you felt the positive benefits of reading these poems.

Stay safe and be well everyone.

My Poem, ‘His Coriander’

His Coriander:

Flourishing above the planter box, it’s ready for harvesting.

I snip the curling tendrils with their skinny stalks,

hearing the clean snap of stem from dense green foliage.

At the end of a rain-filled night, the earth smells heady.

He took his suitcase, his cello, and his sheet music.

He left the fragrant coriander seeds,

said, Tending a relationship is like keeping a plant alive.

So I’ll take this herb

inside to the kitchen and chop it.

I’ll disperse it piece by piece with my hands,

the longed-for exotic spice of citrus and curry.

I’ll be forever grateful for escape,

from my infatuation

with coriander.

Copyright Libby Sommer 2022

‘His Coriander’ was first published in Quadrant Magazine September 2020

Australian Poetry Publishers

Poetry Sydney is an independent literary organisation committed to a presence for poetry in our culture. On their website they have the following information re poetry publication:

The Australian Poetry Publishers directory is a portal for poets to have their poems published, to encourage Australian poetry to be purchased and to support Australian Poetry in enabling poets to have the opportunity to be published. Publishers on this list are those who publish poetry within Australia.

Black Inc (no unsolicited submissions currently) www.blackincbooks.com.au

*Black Pepper (no unsolicited submissions currently) http://blackpepperpublishing.com/

*Brandl & Schlesinger (no unsolicited submissions currently) https://www.brandl.com.au/

*Busybird (only with self-published authors) https://www.busybird.com.au/

Collective Effort Press Facebook (no unsolicited submissions currently)

*Cordite Books (no unsolicited unsolicited submissions currently) https://corditebooks.org.au/

Dangerously Poetic   (no unsolicited submissions currently) Byron based. dangerouslypoetic.com

Flying Islands (no unsolicited submissions currently) Website coming soon.

Fremantle Press WA
(open for unsolicited manuscripts from new and emerging Western Australian poets) Please note that while they are open to considering work from established writers, their focus at this time is on the work of new and emerging poets.  https://www.fremantlepress.com.au/  

Friendly Street (open for submissions from members and residents of South Australia) friendlystreetpoets.org.au

Ginninderra Press (open for unsolicited submissions) www.ginninderrapress.com.au/

Giramondo Publishing  (open for unsolicited during specified periods) https://giramondopublishing.com

*Gloria SMH  (no unsolicited submissions currently) http://gloriasmh.com/

*Grand Parade Poets (no unsolicited submissions currently) http://grandparadepoets.com/

*Hunter Publishers (no unsolicited submissions currently) hunterpublishers.com.au  

Interactive Publications (open for unsolicited submissions)Valuable contributor to Australian poetry, but check terms advised. Reading fee. http://www.ipoz.biz/interactive-press/

Light Trap Press (no unsolicited submissions currently, but check for open submissions in September) http://www.light-trap.net/

Lightning Source  not a publisher, printing and distribution for self-publish. www.ingramspark.com

*Magabala Books (an Indigenous publishing house. Publishing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poets – open unsolicited submissions) https://www.magabala.com

Melbourne Poets Union (MPU) Chapbooks (competition based selection for chapbooks) Several open periods during year. https://www.melbournepoetsunion.com

*Pitt Street Poetry (no unsolicited submissions currently) https://pittstreetpoetry.com/

*Press Press (open for unsolicited submissions for chapbooks) http://www.presspress.com.au/

*Publicious (not a publisher, but operates as a printing service for self-publishing) http://www.publicious.com.au/

*Puncher & Wattmann (no unsolicited submissions currently) puncherandwattmann.com

Recent Work Press (open for unsolicited submissions in June) https://recentworkpress.com/

Rochford Press (no unsolicited submissions currently)  https://rochfordstreetreview.com/

Spinifex (a feminist publisher, open for unsolicited submissions) https://spinifexpress.com.au

*Studio Christians writing (open for unsolicited submissions) email: studio00@bigpond.net.au 

*Sunline Press (no unsolicited submissions currently) Western Australia based. http://sunlinepress.com.au/

University Queensland Press (UQP) (no unsolicited submissions) Only accepting poets with an agent or solicited submissions. https://www.uqp.uq.edu.au/

Upswell Publishing (open to unsolicited submissions in a quarterly pitch) http://upswellpublishing.com/home/about

Vagabond Press (no unsolicited submissions currently) https://vagabondpress.net/

Wakefield Press (no unsolicited submissions currently) South Australian based. https://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/

Walleah Press (no unsolicited submissions currently) Mostly Tasmanian. https://walleahpress.com.au/

Wild Weeds Press (not a publisher, but operates as a printing service for self-publishing)Western Australia based. https://www.wildweedspress.org/

This Australian Publishers directory was compiled by Les Wicks for Poetry Sydney, December 2021. All reasonable efforts were taken to ensure information is accurate.  We welcome information that assists in maintaining the directory. We urge you to look at the array of links, and encourage you to buy some great Australian poetry.  Inquiries should be addressed to the publisher.

Listings marked with * did not respond to our queries and those publishers marked had information gleaned from their website.

My Poem ‘The Cellist’

Have a read of my prose poem, ‘The Cellist’ first published in Quadrant September 2020.

Hope you enjoy it.

The Cellist‘:

I was grudgingly ancient. Not older, wiser and ancient. But easily recognisable as ancient. Skin was the culprit – the human body’s largest organ. I had his mobile number and he had mine, the cellist from the seniors’ dating site. I examined its configuration. Was there a pattern I needed to decode? I hated initiating, but he needed reassurance. It might take him forever to ring. Composing a text, my palms sweated. My heart thumped. Was he okay with texting? I hated my impatience. I hated my unexpected fragility. I sent the text. Yesterday’s meet-up was fun. I’d like to go for a ride on your motorbike sometime, although the helmet will squash my hair.

Then I worried I’d gone too far. My legs wrapped around him on a bike? I sounded like a whore. A desperado. A woman too long without a man. His reply was immediate. Had he been holding the phone in his hand? We can start with a short ride around the block. I’ve got a large helmet. Everyone gets hat hair.

I don’t want you to go on his motorbike, my daughter warned. I’ll go for a ride on his bike, my granddaughter offered. What sort of boat’s he got? A tinnie or a sail boat? asked my grandson. I googled: ‘what to expect when riding pillion’. Hang on. Brace for braking and acceleration by holding on to the rider’s waist. Bikes must lean to corner. Relax. Tyres provide plenty of grip.

We had dinner, exchanged silly jokes, leaned towards each other, went back to my place – and had incredible sex. The sensitivity of a stringed instrumentalist was really something else. If I knew how, I would have burst into song.

Copyright 2020 Libby Sommer

Things Raymond Carver Said About Short Form Writing

‘My attention span had gone out on me; I no longer had the patience to try to write novels. … I know it has much to do now with why I write poems and short stories. Get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on.’

‘Every great or even every very good writer makes the world over according to his own specifications.’

‘It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent.’

‘Isak Dinesan said that she wrote a little every day, without hope and without despair.’

‘”Fundamental accuracy of statement is the ONE sole morality of writing,” Ezra Pound.’

‘It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine – the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it. That’s the kind of writing that most interests me.’

‘That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say.’

‘I like it when there is some feeling of threat or sense of menace in short stories.’

‘I made the story just as I’d make a poem; one line and then the next, and the next.’

‘V.S. Pritchett’s definition of a short story is “something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.” Notice the “glimpse” part of this. First the glimpse.’

‘The short story writer’s task is to invest the glimpse with all that is in his power. He’ll bring his intelligence and literary skill to bear (his talent), his sense of proportion and sense of the fitness of things – like no one else sees them. And this is done through the use of clear and specific language, language used so as to bring to life the details that will light up the story for the reader. For the details to be concrete and convey meaning, the language must be accurate and precisely given. The words can be so precise they may even sound flat, but they can still carry, if used right, they can hit all the notes.’

Raymond Carver, Fires, Vintage 1989

So who is Raymond Carver?

Raymond Carver, in full Raymond Clevie Carver, (born May 25, 1938, Clatskanie, Oregon, U.S.—died August 2, 1988, Port Angeles, Washington), American short-story writer and poet whose realistic writings about the working poor mirrored his own life. – Encyclopedia Britannica