Last week I had an occasion to indulge in the Writer’s Happy Dance.
Well – I didn’t actually do a proper dance – more of a geriatric gyration. With lots of clicks and groans in my ancient bones.
The reason for this joyous occasion was a notification that one of my stories has been accepted for publication in an anthology. It also means that I am in the running to win a prize in a writing competition. The competition was jointly run by Radio 1079 Life (Life FM) and Tabor College. Tabor was where I did my Masters Degree in Creative Writing; I can highly recommend their creative writing programme which can be studied externally.
The competition is called “Stories of Life” and are based on true-life experiences and must contain some element of one’s Christian faith. I initially found it challenging to come up with a viable story concept, but once I started, the words flowed easily. I must admit that I put myself under a little pressure, leaving my submission to the very last day and posting it the website at 11:35 pm, just 25 minutes before the closing time of midnight. I always say that I shouldn’t put myself under so much stress, but it happens far too often.
The story I wrote was based on one of my experiences while travelling in Nepal about ten years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday in Nepal and vividly remember many of my amazing experiences. You can read some my experiences here.
Submitting stories and poems to competitions is an excellent way of improving your writing skills. I must admit that I don’t do this nearly often enough. By pitting one’s writing against other writers, you get to hone your writing, editing and proofreading skills. Some competitions even give feedback from the judges. This helps you to further improve your writing until you regularly get listed in the short list or get a commendation from the judges. Winning some prize money is wonderful, of course, but this should never be the prime reason for entering. A prize is a lovely bonus. Constantly improving your writing should be your main aim.
When writing for a competition follow these simple hints:
- Write the very best story you can.
- Rewrite, edit and proofread the story until it sparkles. Or grabs the readers’ throats.
- Read – and reread – the rules set out by the organisers.
- Stay within the word limits, not too short and never over the maximum word count.
- Read your story out aloud, or get someone else to read it – this will help you to find typos and errors in grammar.
- Submit before the due date.
The same rules apply to poetry, except that the organisers usually stipulate the maximum length and sometimes the theme. A few years ago I was delighted to actually win a national poetry competition. I not only did the Writer’s Happy Dance, I think I also gave a yell of delight. The prize money was a wonderful bonus, too. I can now put “Award-winning poet” on my resume – how cool is that? You can read some of my poetry here.
A personal goal
As I said above, I don’t enter nearly enough competitions. I have hundreds of suitable poems and dozens of good stories ready to go. It is one of those things I always intend to do, but I need to enter far more regularly. I do have this as one of the goals for this year, but I am a long way off reaching my goal.
Just a few thoughts today about Stephen King, Writing, Reading and Life.
It happens to be the great writer’s 70th birthday. I, too, will also be 70 in a few weeks’ time, but the comparison ends there.
I just wrote that he is a ‘great’ writer. Many people would undoubtedly agree with that statement, but I don’t agree – or disagree – with that assessment. I can only go on what other people have said and written. This is because I have only ever heard or read about his written works. I cannot recall ever having read any of his stories, so I really cannot pass any kind of judgement.
Not a fan
I should also say that I am not about to race out and buy any of his books.
There are two reasons for this:
- I don’t particularly enjoy reading the kinds of books that he writes, so I am not a fan.
- I have far too many unread books on my bookshelves and on my eReader to justify buying any more. At this stage.
I am sure that he is a fine writer. His popularity and his impressive number of major awards testify to this fact. He has the track record to show that he is a highly regarded writer by many people. I have no problem with that. But now I must come clean with a confession: I have actually bought one of his books and it has sat unopened, unread and unloved on my bookshelf for more than 4 years now. I speak of his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I bought it with the view of studying the writing craft as seen by one of the greats.
And so I will. Soon, I hope.
Great Stephen King Quotes
Today I came across a list of 70 great Stephen King Quotes on his 70th Birthday. This is a great list of wonderful quotes about reading, writing, life and a whole range of topics. While I don’t particularly like some of them, many of them are great, and some of them are very well known, like this one:
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”—On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
I agree wholeheartedly. These two things I have been trying to do over the last 13 years since I retired from being a classroom teacher. All through my life, I have been an avid reader, but much of that reading was classroom based. I would voraciously read children’s books, always searching for the next great book to share with my students. For eight of my 35 years of teaching I was a teacher-librarian, so books have always been foremost in my professional life.
Me – the writer
All through my teaching career, I struggled to find the time to write. While I always regarded myself as a writer, my writing was largely confined to weekends and school holiday periods. Since retiring, however, I have given myself permission to write every day, and during some periods have considered myself to be a full-time writer. Life has a habit of getting in the way, and there have also been lean writing times – like the last few months caring for my ill wife. (She is improving – thanks for being concerned.) During these years of my second career, I have had some publication success, and I have written nearly three million words, many of them published on my various blog sites. ( Trevor’s Birding and Trevor’s Travels.)
Me – the reader
Now that I have the time, and the freedom, to read whatever I want to, I am finding so many great writers and books to explore. My family is convinced that I will die with a very high pile of unread books alongside my bed. This is probably true – and they will find many unread books on my eReader as well. Still, I love the freedom of reading whatever I want to read, and exploring the works of authors and genres I didn’t have time to read in earlier years.
So – Happy Birthday Stephen King.
Good reading and good writing to you all.
The Golden Hour by Claire Belberg
Stone Table Books, Northcote, Victoria, Australia, 2017.
And now for something different.
This is a novel with a fascinating plot – the story kept me intrigued and guessing until the very end. Sure, many other books have done that too, but this novel drew me in from page one and wouldn’t let me go. What was actually happening to the characters? What had happened to them?
James, a teenage computer hacker and graphic artist, is trapped inside a mysterious, windowless room. He has no idea how he got there. Two other occupants of the room have no idea how they also came to be in this surreal room. The story delves deeply into the fears, background, family and life of James, and how he relates to his companions. Attempts to escape appear futile – or are they?
This is a brilliantly written novel filled with a small cast of finely drawn characters. While the reader’s sympathies lie with the protagonist James, strongly portrayed through the author’s first person account, one is also drawn one minute to the other characters of Naomi and Eliza – and then almost immediately repulsed by them through their words, attitudes or actions.
It is hard to pigeon-hole this novel into a single genre. While there are some elements of fantasy, it does not sit comfortably there in my opinion. Is it a psychological thriller? Hardly – though there are many moments where the reader just has to keep turning the page. Possibly the closest one could get is to describe this novel as speculative fiction. It goes a long way to answering the ubiquitous writers’ question: “What if…?” What if you unexpectedly find yourself locked into a place or situation from which there was no hope of escaping? How would you react?
As something of an aside, as I read this novel I couldn’t help thinking of the characters in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” The surreal nature of this novel would, in my opinion, translate well to the stage or possibly even the screen. The plot, dialogue and action are all dense, confronting and intense.
Launch: this novel is being launched tomorrow 21st June 2017 at 6:30 pm in the Blackwood Library, South Australia. RSVP ph: 8372 8255
- Stone Table Books – you can order the novel here.
- Claire Belberg on Goodreads
- Claire Belberg website
Acknowledgement: special thanks to the author, Claire, for her friendship, encouragement and for a review copy.
On a recent trip to Sydney, we stayed one night in the Poet’s Recall Motel in Gundagai. In the past, we have taken only two days to travel from home – Murray Bridge near Adelaide – to our son’s home in Sydney. Due to doctor’s appointments on the day we had planned to leave, we decided to take a more leisurely two and a half days to get to our destination.
On the second night, we had planned to stay in a cabin in the local caravan park in Gundagai. We usually prefer to stay in a cabin because the cooking facilities are generally better in cabins. Of course, I should have booked ahead.
When we arrived at the caravan park, they had no cabins left vacant. The lady in the office told me that rooms were in short supply in the town, and she gave me a few possibilities to try. A few hundred metres away was the Poet’s Recall Motel; what a charming name for a motel. I loved the idea of staying in a motel which acknowledged the role of poetry in our Australian culture.
We managed to get one of the few rooms left that night. It was cosy (read “smallish”) but quite adequate for our needs. Comfortable and clean. On the downside, I had to lug our gear up some stairs, but we only had an overnight bag and a few other items, so I managed okay.
One of the first things I noticed was a plaque on the wall outside our room. Later I noticed that every room had one. Each plaque was a tribute to an Australian poet of note. I have featured two of these plaques above and below. The top one features our well-known poet, Dorothea Mackellar, and the one below Mary Gilmore. I particularly love the quote from Gilmore’s poem.
The Dog on the Tucker Box
Many Australians are familiar with the story of the Dog on the Tuckerbox, made famous in another poem. The tribute to this famous story and poem is featured a few kilometres north of the town of Gundagai. I wrote about several of our visits in posts on my travel blog, Trevor’s Travels. You can read those posts by clicking on the links below.
- The Dog on the Tuckerbox
- Autumn in Gundagai
- Joseph Carberry’s Inn, Gundagai
- Morning tea at Gundagai
- Trevor’s Travels – my blog about our travels here in Australia, Nepal, Thailand, Ethiopia, Morocco and Spain.
In beginning to write on this topic, I must admit to something of a dilemma and a little confusion. I am quite clear about what an autobiography is, as well as a biography and I have read quite a few in each of those categories. What, therefore, is one’s memoirs? And what should one cover when writing one’s memoirs?
Does it cover every aspect of one’s life – no, that has to be a biography. Biographies cover life to death events – and everything in between, often in chronological order. What I am working on is less than everything I have ever done, or the major events anyway. Many of the mundane happenings in my life are of little or no interest to anyone, even my closest family members. I suspect it would be very boring, except for the odd exciting and interesting event.
A special request
Several months ago my eight-year-old grandson was asking me a whole range of questions about when I was young. This probably came from discussions he had in class at school. We have frequent and long conversations on the phone every few days. Because he lives in Sydney, about 1400 kilometres away (or two days’ drive), this is our main means of keeping in touch and getting to know one another. He has been asking plenty of questions about my early days. It was his interest which motivated me to start recording some of my experiences as a child, and as a young person growing up.
While the things I am including in my memoirs are of interest primarily to my grandson, there is also the potential for other family members to be interested in reading such a work. I know that my daughter and my son have both expressed an interest, but my five year old granddaughter is probably not there yet. She has too many other things filling her head. She only started school a few weeks ago. There would also be some of my nephews and nieces who might also be interested, and possibly even my brothers. Beyond that, a few odd friends may have a little interest – but they would have to be quite ‘odd’ indeed.
What to include?
The beauty of memoirs, as opposed to an autobiography, is the subject matter which is included. Biographical writing tends to cover the whole range of events in one’s life, with a special emphasis on the major influences and achievements. In memoirs, however, one can ignore some of the otherwise significant periods of a life, and instead focus on some of the minor snippets, incidents and insights which have become memorable to the subject and have somehow had a profound influence on them. Memoirs can be more of a series of isolated snapshots, rather than a broad, panoramic movie. They are reflections and reminiscences rather than all inclusive biographical records.
While have read a few memoirs, biographies and autobiographies in my time, it is a genre I have not really delved into in depth. I recently came across a wonderful resource, a list of the 100 Must Read Memoirs. I am pleased that I have read several of the titles on this list, I have seen the movie of at least one of them, and several others are on my yet-to-read pile of books.
Please feel free to recommend any memoirs, autobiographies or biographers in the comments. I am always looking for more titles to add to that rapidly growing Must Read list, and to that mighty Waiting-to-be-read pile.
Good reading. Happy, productive writing.
- Memoir or novel – should one fictionalise your life – a fascinating discussion on whether one should turn one’s life into fiction. A very useful and thought-provoking article. I have to admit that there is much of my life woven seamlessly into my novels.