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 Little Desert by Colin Thiele

The Little Desert by Colin Thiele and Jocelyn Burt H/C D/J 1975

Book Review: The Little Desert.

Text by Colin Thiele.

Photographs by Jocelyn Burt.

Published by Rigby Limited, Adelaide, 1975.

The Little Desert

This is a region in western Victoria, Australia. It is about midway between Melbourne and Adelaide, being about 350km from either city (about 4 hours travel time). It was in earlier times suggested as an area that needed to be cleared from native vegetation and turned into farming land. In the early 1970s, there was a concerted effort made by conservationists to preserve this unique piece of the Australian landscape. Eventually, it was declared a national park and today it is still one of Australia’s most beautiful places to visit.

Not your typical desert

The area known as the Little Desert is not your typical desert. It only has this title due to the soil type. It is very sandy and lacking in essential nutrients, so it would have been very unsuitable for farming without vast amounts of fertiliser. The ‘desert’ as it has always been, and continues to be, is an area rich in plant life. With over 600 species of plants, it is a magnet for botanists, photographers and nature lovers. It also boasts a rich range of native birds and animal species. Most of the national park is covered in mallee trees. Also present in large numbers are smaller shrubby plants and even a range of beautiful native orchids. In the eastern part of the park, one can see larger eucalypt trees, notably along the Wimmera River which flows through this area.

Poetic prose

Colin Thiele’s beautiful book on this area covers some of the history of the conservation efforts to save this little gem in the Australian landscape. He also describes, in evocative prose, the hidden beauties of this landscape, from the dainty Spider Orchid to the enigmatic Malleefowl, an amazing bird found in the park tending to its enormous nesting mound of sand and rotting vegetation which acts as an incubator to hatch their eggs. Much of  Thiele’s prose is closer to poetry, and it is no surprise that he is also known as one of Australia’s leading poets. I will review one of his collections of poetry in a few day’s time.

Photography

Thiele’s wonderful prose is accompanied by equally wonderful photographs by Jocelyn Burt. She has provided photos for several of his other books. The photos cover the flowers and other botanical marvels, as well as some of the many species of birds resident in this area. Every double-page spread in this volume has a photo on the right with Thiele’s text on the left; each one complements the other.

My visits to the desert

Even though this beautiful part of Australia is only a few hour’s drive from my home, it saddens me to write that I can only ever recall visiting the Little Desert on three occasions, once to camp in our old tent, now decommissioned due to a leaking roof, and the other times were fleeting half-day visits. I must correct that oversight soon.

Further reading:

 

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

Review: Can I Call You Colin?

CAN-I-CALL-YOU-COLIN-BIOGRAPHY-OF-COLIN-THIELE-by-STEPHANY-EVANS-STEGGALL

Can I Call You Colin? The authorised Biography of Colin Thiele

Written by Stephany Evans Steggall

Published in 2004 by New Holland Publishers (Australia)

 

I regret only ever having met Colin Thiele once in my life. I would love to have met him many more times than that but our paths only crossed on that one occasion. I would love to have met him many more times than that but our paths only crossed on that one occasion. I would love to have chatted with him about books, writing, literature, children, teaching, the environment and so many other topics. It was not meant to be.

Published books

All through my teaching career (1969 – 2004), I read many of his children’s books to my classes over those years. He was a prolific writer and published well over 60 titles for children; many more if the various multiple editions are counted. In addition to his children’s works, he published dozens of fiction and non-fiction titles for both children and adults. He contributed articles and stories to many magazines, journals and anthologies, and his unpublished speeches and talks would fill many more volumes. He wrote many radio scripts for ABC Radio here in Australia. He was also a prolific poet, publishing six volumes of poetry in addition to several volumes of children’s poetry. And all this prolific writing was done part-time while holding down a full-time teaching position. What an amazing man.

Highly regarded

Through his works, I thought I knew him quite well. This biography, however, has fully rounded out my knowledge of one of Australia’s most highly regarded writers and educators. This is a brilliant work and pays homage to a great South Australian, one who is held in such high regard here and abroad. The author of this work has researched her topic well, interviewing not only Thiele and his immediate family, but also many of his friends, colleagues, publishers, editors and hosts of others. Even some of his admiring fans are quoted, because hundreds, if not thousands of children wrote to him during his life.

Lifestory

The author covers every aspect of Thiele’s life, from his childhood growing up on a farm in the Eudunda district of South Australia, to his time at university in Adelaide through to his war-time experiences in the 1940s. His early teaching career is well portrayed, along with his venture into married life and parenthood. Later he was an inspiration to many hundreds of young people training to be teachers.

Thiele struggled throughout much of his life between to demands of his chosen profession, and the passion he felt to always be writing. This biography shows the strength of character of Thiele in all his dealings, whether that concern was for students, family members, colleagues, editors or readers.

Challenges

Despite the challenge of an overpowering workload due to his profession, his writing and his family, Colin had one other debilitating challenge to cope with throughout much of his life, He suffered constant pain due to rheumatoid arthritis. As a result, he also endured many operations, but these never seemed to slow him down. Many times he set up his hospital room as a fully functioning office so the work could continue.

Inspiration

This biography has also inspired me to revisit many of Thiele’s classic novels for children, as well as some of his non-fiction works and especially his poetry. Tracking down some of his poetry titles has proved difficult; thank goodness for inter-library loans!

Serendipity

The inspiration to read this biography has come through a serendipitous twist: the author Stephany Evans Steggall has recently become my daughter’s neighbour while they are both teaching at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In another serendipitous twist, I share the same birthday with Colin.

Vale, Colin

Sadly, Colin passed away in 2006. His much-loved books for children include Storm Boy, Blue Fin and Fire in the Stone, all of which have been made into popular movies. Another favourite is Sun on the Stubble which was made into a television series. His stories continue to live on, love by each passing generation of children and adults alike. Only recently it was announced that a remake of Storm Boy is being filmed this year.

Related reading:

Review of Morton’s Anglish Fictionary

Morton's Anglish Fictionary; Fierst Endition by Morton Benning

Review: 

Morton Benning – Morton’s Anglish Fictionary: Fierst Endition (2016)

It is the sign of a good book when one laughs out loud. I laughed when reading this book, almost on every page and many times on some pages.

It is even better if, when I read out a portion to my wife, she laughs out loud too. Or groans – with a roll of the eyes.

A winner

Morton Benning has a winner here with hundreds of neologisms, invented words made by changing one or two letters, all with their own improbable, but highly entertaining, daffynition.

Over several years I have seen portions of this amazing volume develop as the author tried out the words and meanings by testing new words on his Facebook friends, also known as contrefutors, many of them adding extras of their own, or modifying suggestions.

Entertainment

While I admit that I read right through the book from cover to cover when I received it, and it can be read like that, I think it is best read by dipping into various pages at random. In this way, it is sure to entertain the reader for many years.

A downside

I notice that the author has called this the Fierst Endition (read the book for daffynitions of those words). I do hope there is not only a seconnd endition, but a theard and more. There is one downside of this work. By the time I was only half way through reading, I was seriously questioning my ability to spell even basic words. Sigh.

Such phun.

Grab yourself a copy from here. You won’t regret it.

Here are a few tasty morsels:

  • pratzel: an annoying idiot twisted in a knot and baked
  • velcrow: a raven that sticks around
  • shenannygans: grandmothers behaving badly
  • articulatte: to communicate clearly about, or because of, coffee