Archive for the 'Fiction' Category

Writing prompt: the Old House

Ruin near Rankins Springs, NSW

On my trip to Sydney earlier this year, I took a somewhat circuitous route to get there. I wanted to spend some time in the Lake Cargelligo area to do some birding. You can read about that trip on my other site Trevor’s Birding. I have fond memories of a visit to this area some years ago. The route I took went through the large towns of Mildura and Hay. Just before reaching Lake Cargelligo I went through the small village of Rankins Springs. This is a lovely area and is a mecca for birders like me.

An old house

Just north of Rankins Springs, I stopped in a roadside rest area near the edge of Jimberoo National Park. I didn’t have time to fully explore the area, so instead, I walked a short distance along a dirt track. After a few minutes, the open forest took me to a spot overlooking some farming land. In the middle of the nearest paddock was the ruin of a house, shown in the photos above and below.

A peaceful scene

This peaceful scene set my writer’s mind whirring. Here are some thoughts I had which you might like to use as writing prompts.

Writing prompts:

  1. Write a fictional account of the discovery of this area and how one farmer had the vision to build this house.
  2. Write a short story about the building of this house and the difficulties of constructing it.
  3. Write a story from the point of view of the old house. What did it see and hear during its early days? How does it feel about being left to decay? Who was its favourite occupant? Why was it abandoned?
  4. Choose a fictional character who once lived in the old house. Tell their story as it relates to the house.
  5. Relate the story of a tragic event that once occurred in or near the house. Was it a sudden death? A murder? perhaps death by drowning in a nearby creek? A violent robbery?
  6. Imagine that the house was built for a newly married young couple and their wedding was held in the house or in the hills nearby. Write a story about their joys or heartaches that followed.
  7. Imagine that you grew up in this house in the 1800s. Write a story about the delights or hardships of living in this isolated house.

Ruin near Rankins Springs, NSW

Conditions of use:

  • Feel free to use any of the story starters listed above.
  • Change anything to suit your needs.
  • Give it your best shot.
  • Edit your work carefully before sending it off to a publisher or posting it on your blog.
  • Let me know in the comments section how it went.
  • If you publish your story on your web site or on your blog let me know so I can make a link to it for others to read.

Good writing.

Trevor

A Great Book for Young Soccer Fans

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Birthday

A few days ago my grandson had his ninth birthday. He had previously made a long list of things he would like for his birthday. This sure helps old grandfathers like me in the selection process. I am usually quite hopeless in choosing appropriate gifts for family members.

Birthday list

One of the items on his list included books in the Tiny Timmy series written by Australian soccer star, Tim Cahill and co-written by Julain Gray. My grandson only had Book 1 in a six-book series. I read this book and I was very impressed. It has been many years since I read mostly children’s books. That was when I was a teacher/librarian and a classroom teacher in primary schools.

Tiny Timmy books

The book I read this last week was Tiny Timmy: Soccer Superstar. Being the first in the series, the protagonist Tim is mad keen on becoming a soccer star. He desperately wants to play on the school soccer team. There are just three main problems: he is smaller than his teammates, he is constantly teased by the other players, and the coach doesn’t pick him in the team. Tim is not discouraged, though even his attempts at being the team’s orange boy are disastrous.

Perseverance

Although the authors don’t use the word perseverance, this book shows young, enthusiastic soccer players that hard work, dedication and trying hard to improve will pay off. Little Timmy keeps practising and helping out until he discovers that he has a unique skill the other players do not possess.

Review

I loved this book. It is easy to read. It encourages young people to keep trying. It teaches children to stay focused on what they want to achieve. It is easy to read with appropriate illustrations on every page. The chapters are short and filled with action. I cannot find any information regarding how biographical these books are, and they are listed by the publisher as fiction. It doesn’t matter; they are great little books for anyone aspiring to improve in any endeavour, sporting or otherwise.

Recommendation

I highly recommend this book for readers ages 8 to 10, especially if they are keen to improve in any sport, not just soccer. I was so impressed with the first book in the series that I went and bought books 2 and 3 for my grandson. I think he was impressed.

Reference:

Cahill, Tim and Gray, Julian: Tiny Timmy: Soccer Superstar. Scholastic Australia, Sydney, 2015.

Book review: Return to Me by Lynn Austin

Return to Me (#01 in The Restoration Chronicles Series)

Return To Me by Lynn Austin (Restoration Chronicles #1)

This was the first of Lynn Austin’s books I have read. It is the first of her trilogy in the Restoration Chronicles. Having read the first one, I am sure I will read the following two in the series. I am particularly interested in the third book which features the life of Nehemiah, one of my favourite people of the Bible. The book of Nehemiah is one of my favourites in all of the Bible.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will probably read more of her works in the future. This book is a fictional account of the first group of Jews to return to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon. It is very true to the historical Biblical account.

The main character of the story is Zechariah. The plot follows his early life growing up in Babylon with all of the hardships endured there, including the pressures to conform to the social moralities of the Babylonian culture and religion, including astrology. The sudden change on the part of King Cyrus is greeted with great joy by the Jews in captivity, and plans are immediately made for them to return to Jerusalem to begin life anew in their home country. The author cleverly portrays the family conflicts which arise, with families being torn apart, some remaining in Babylon, with others leaving for the long journey home.

The reader is given an in-depth impression of the physical hardships endured on the journey and the subsequent struggles to establish themselves in Jerusalem and in the surrounding countryside. The author never shirks from also drawing out in depth the spiritual pressures placed upon this band of people, especially the constant exposure to the paganism and astrology of the neighbouring Samaritans. The stark contrasts between the Jewish faith and the faith of other people living near Jerusalem is explored in many ways in the novel.

Zechariah features prominently in this account. Towards the end of the story, we see him as the prophet whose book we read in the Old Testament. The author strongly portrays a young Zechariah in the early stages of his developing spirituality, and how he has a growing awareness of his special relationship with God. Austin never strays from showing the internal spiritual struggles of Zechariah, as well as his grandfather and mentor, Iddo.

I only have one little criticism: the frequent changes of point of view can take a little getting used to, but overall, this is a very well written and enjoyable account. The novel has one enduring strength: by being written as fiction, the author can draw each character in compelling and intriguing depth, while never losing sight of the facts of the historical foundations of the narrative.

Highly recommended.

Reflections on an old story

Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie

Memory lane

I have been having a trip down memory lane in recent days. I have been typing up an old story I wrote many years ago. In fact, the only copy I appear to have is a typed copy with 1989 on the title page. I was shocked to realise that this story was written nearly 28 years ago. It has languished ever since as one or two copies stored in boxes in our garage. The copy I am using was printed on an old dot-matrix printer. Remember those old clunkers?

Early computers

This story, called Magpie Farm (hence the photo of an Australian Magpies above and below), was typed on either a borrowed Commodore 64 computer or on the Amigo 500 I bought around that time. I can’t remember. I think that it was written during a school holiday break; I was a classroom teacher at the time. Those old computers were wonderful, and I learned so many things about the digital world from them. I still have the old Amiga – in working condition too, though I only fire it up every five years or so. Sadly, the old Amiga discs are not compatible with today’s PCs, hence the need to retype this story.

First novel

I am sure that this was my first attempt at writing a novel for children. At just under 10,000 words it is probably better described as a chapter book. I have since written several more novels for children, of varying lengths and subject matter. I am planning to prepare these for publication sometime this year. They will initially be in eBook format with print on demand paper copies also available.

Background to Magpie Farm

As I type up this story, I recognise many incidents from real life. The main character is a young boy who is afraid of magpies. Some Australian Magpies are notorious for their tendency to swoop people during the breeding season. The boy’s family move to a small farm and he is horrified that there are magpies on the farm. Some of the incidents I have included in the story are drawn directly from my own family’s experiences. A few years before writing this story, we also bought some acreage, though five acres (two hectares) can hardly be called a “farm”. We did have some sheep for a while; I’m not sure if that qualifies it as being a farm.

A problem

I have a serious problem with the story. Several problems, actually.

It is terrible.

Honestly – it needs some serious editing, rewriting and restructuring. The problem is that I have decided to be very strong as I type it up. I tend to edit as I type. This applies to most of my writing these days. The first draft is often very close to the final draft. I rewrite, edit, proofread and so on as I go. Not always, but usually that is my preferred writing style. This time I decided to be very strong and resist all urges to stop and rewrite, edit or change anything. Those steps will come later.

Why is it terrible?

As I type, I find myself wincing often. How could I have written such terrible prose? The dialogue between characters is not all that bad, but the rest of it is quite naive – almost childish. This shows up three basic things:

  • I have certainly progressed a long, long way as a writer in the intervening years.
  • There is much good material in the story which can be vastly improved.
  • I now know what is wrong with the story and the writing, and how to fix it; that comes with experience and heaps of writing practice (over 3 million words later, and counting).

Where to now?

I still have a few chapters to type up. Then I will spend a week or two rewriting whole slabs of the text to bring it up to publishable standards. Later will come the proofreading and copy editing stages before I send my baby out into the world. After that, I have two other longer novels written several years later and they will both need the same treatment.

Is it all worth it?

If the story as it stands now is so terrible in my own eyes, is it worth pursuing and putting in all that work? I believe so. I take this attitude, not because it was my first serious attempt at a novel, but because of feedback from readers.

  • At the time I printed out a number of copies and handed them out to friends. They all commented how good it was, and how much they enjoyed it.
  • I also read it to several classes I was teaching at the time of writing. I still have contact with many former students who remember the story well.
  • I was asked recently by one former student if I had published this story. He added that it had a profound, positive effect on him. It inspired him to become a writer. He has published some of his writing, he has participated successfully in performance poetry events, and he wrote and performed in a musical which was showcased last week at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. This festival is regarded worldwide as second only to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
  • Wow! I love feedback like that.

Stay tuned

I plan to publish this chapter book (novel?) in the near future, so stay tuned. The launch will be announced on this site, and it will be available through this site.

Good reading. Good writing.

Trevor

Further reading:

  • Trevor’s Birding – check out another blog of mine where I also write regularly about Australian birds. I showcase many of my bird photos on that site.
Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie

 

Book review: The Valley Between

THIELE The Valley Between HC

Book Review: The Valley Between by Colin Thiele, published by Rigby Publishing in 1981.

Biography

Last week I reviewed the official biography of Colin Thiele. You can read that review here. I found this biography to be very interesting and quite inspirational. Thiele was a prolific writer despite also being a full-time teacher and a much-in-demand public speaker. In his day, he was a much-loved author, particularly regarding his works for children of all ages. His new books were always eagerly awaited and sold out quickly. I believe that his writing is still held in high regard, though many younger readers have probably not heard of him. Even younger teachers may not be aware of the huge contribution Thiele made to Australian literature.

Inspired

After reading his biography, I was inspired to reread some of his works. I have a few in my own library, but for some titles, I had to go to my local public library. Not all of his books are available here locally, so I am grateful for the provision of interlibrary loans. (We have access to all the books held in public and some school libraries throughout our state of South Australia.)

The Valley Between

One of the books I choose to read was The Valley Between a novel for children set in the mid-north of South Australia in the 1930s. The valley in the title refers to the Barossa Valley about an hour’s drive north of Adelaide. This is a world famous wine region. Thiele grew up a short distance north of this valley. He was born in 1920 and so this book very much reflects his boyhood experiences and exploits. It would be interesting to know how much is from personal experience, and how much is from his very fertile imagination. This story roughly continues from his earlier and better-known novel, The Sun on the StubbleBoth were later adapted into a television series. Probably his best-known work is Storm Boy which later became a very popular film of the same name. A remake of the film is under way this year (2017).

Vignettes

The narrative of The Valley Between is mostly in short vignettes of the happenings in the life of the protagonist, Benno Schulz. Each chapter is an episode in itself, but the over-arching storyline follows Benno’s first experiences after leaving primary school. In those days, many children did not go on to secondary or tertiary education.

While each chapter can be read in isolation just like a short story, several characters appear in each episode, intersecting with the life of Benno as he grows up on a farm near the imaginary town of Gonunda. The town is quite clearly reflective of the town of Eudunda where Thiele grew up. There is a statue of Thiele in a park of the town.

German influences

Many of the characters in the story are descendants of the German settlers who came to South Australia in the 1800s. Thiele uses their distinct dialect, a mixture of English, German and mash-ups of both languages to great effect. He has even included a glossary of German words at the back. I, too, have the same heritage, so the language is easy for me to read. Contemporary readers may struggle a little until they get used to it. This is a small price to pay for reading this delightful story. Many incidents are laugh out loud moments as Benno gets into all kinds of adventures, both deliberate and inadvertent.

Descriptions

Colin Thiele is known for his rich descriptions of the environment in which his stories are based. His words sing with metaphors and similes which bring his settings to life. His wonderful characters come to life through his words and their sometimes bizarre actions and attitudes. While I have said that this book is somewhat episodic in structure, the narrative carries the reader on to the satisfying conclusion.

When I first came across this title in a list of his works, I thought that I had missed reading this title. On getting about half way through, I realised that I had read it, albeit several decades ago, possibly when it was first published. It is well worth tracking down a copy to read.

Further reading:

Colin Thiele