Disappearing facades

Do you ever walk down a street in the centre of town, wondering what type of building stood there before? Or appreciate the historical buildings that are still standing today, but try and ignore the ones that were once considered modern and trendy but are now no more than a dating contrast against the once brilliant facades of more than a century ago?

It’s true that the real historical buildings themselves would once have been considered modern, but for some reason have aged much more gracefully in terms of aesthetics, al be it with the help of the restoration efforts of current owners.

And, occasionally, when I see an old photo on social media of a well-known street today, I can’t help but spare a thought for the buildings that had been replaced with ‘award winning’ parking lot complexes and skyscrapers today.

But lately, the part that strikes me most, is that most onlookers wouldn’t give these buildings a second thought. Or spare a thought for the people who considered it significant, all those years ago, who lived amongst it or whose lives may have been shaped around it at one point in time.

Take AMI Stadium in Adelaide, for instance. Have you seen the open void that is there today which once held thousands of cheering fans at football games, enduring the rain and cold as their team may or may not win?

Fast forward a few generations, and who will really remember doing any of that anymore?

If lost ancient cities or the remains of kings and queens can be discovered under parking lots and fields in Europe, what small percentage of history have we really discovered? And if photographs and artefacts found on site are our only link to what was (or perhaps still is) below the surface where we walk today, what was here before that just hasn’t been discovered yet?

Shaped by what we love

Have you ever quoted a line from a movie you had watched over and over as a child or imitated the mannerisms or repeated the words of someone you had spent a lot of time with, without really realising it or without remembering that you had picked it up from somewhere in the past?

I’m not sure why we do it, but I don’t think we’re alone.

I wonder whether the same can be said of writers’ characters? I think it can. It is true that we include the characteristics we admire in our protagonists and the characters we like, and we include the characteristics we don’t admire in our antiheroes or villains, in the slightly judging way us humans generally do. And we all do it (whether we like it or not) with the natural, yet sometimes surprising predisposition that comes with being creatures of evolutionary inevitability.

But when it comes right down to it, even the people we admire have less-than-perfect days. And so do we, al be it completely out of character. Which is all good stuff for writing, right?

I think I’ve said before, but it often is insanely challenging to write about character traits we perceive as unreasonable. Is this because we don’t often give ourselves permission to act in the same way, if at all? So why should our characters have this luxury?

Because otherwise any book you write would be five pages long and boring. But I won’t be too hard on these characters for too long, because usually ‘just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.’

Relatable

As I’m planning the scenes of my next novel, I am also starting to think about the nature of the new characters I don’t really know yet. You see, I spent so much time with Anna and Daniel, the protagonists of Words for Anna, that it feels rather strange to tell someone else’s story from the beginning and allowing readers to be in these characters’ heads all the time.

And this is the part I find challenging in terms of character development: the balance between relatable and interesting. Because, let’s face it, the ‘perceived normal’ may not always be that interesting, even if it promotes comfort in us to read about.

So how do you add traits to these characters that you may not possess yourself, or opinions that are a little foreign to us as writers, and dialogue that you may not ever hear yourself say?

We throw caution to the wind, dear friends. Avoid that stereotype (or not), spend enough time on those backstories that may seem static at best, and double the dose of empathy for likeability and the human factor.

And keep a record of these traits, that is easily accessible when you are on your tenth edit and you can’t remember whether the female protagonist had been consistently jumpy throughout the book, or whether this only started happening somewhere in the middle of the last edit. Had her mother always been from a small town which made her weary of large crowds, but the most welcoming person she had ever known? And what was the male protagonist’s fall-back behaviour when confronted?

Are you feeling stressed yet?

What dreams tell us

Have you ever had a dream that keeps popping up from time to time? I have, and it generally goes like this:

  • I am 14 years old, have a piano exam that same day and I haven’t practised.
  • I am at uni, about to sit the final calculus exam (it’s always mathematics for some reason) and I hadn’t attended any of the classes or done any of the practice exercises.
  • I am standing in front of a live audience, about to sing a song, and I don’t know many of the words.

The last one actually happened to a few of us in a choir once, so it’s perhaps not that big a leap.

But what do you think this means? That I like to be prepared for something? I suppose it’s worth stating the obvious. But why then, do I often do just as well at something with little preparation time at all?

Let’s not overthink that one.

Wanting to be in control comes to mind.

It is true that in fiction, dreams often give readers a really good insight into a character or her back-story, without having to give too much away at once and to describe something that should stay a little vague for a while. But I try and use it sparingly.

Now that I have my first book under the belt, I feel a bit more confident in my decisions to include or exclude something in my writing. With Words for Anna, I probably would have analysed a dream scene for days, only to cut it altogether. But don’t get me wrong – structure is still my friend.

I don’t know whether I would be here without it. At least not what my first published book and this post is concerned:

Next post – done.

Tick.

Words for Anna

My debut novel ‘Words for Anna’ has been published!

It’s still hard to get my head around the fact that something I had worked on in almost every spare moment, can now be read by anyone with an internet connection.

This romance novel had come a long way, not just in its creation, but it had also outlived at least one laptop and had travelled through Europe, Africa, Asia and the States, as it progressed from a short synopsis to a written first draft – of course, with several other steps in between.

So, what is it about?

Set in Australia, England and South Africa in the early 2000s, Words for Anna is the heart-warming story of first love. Twelve years earlier, Anna and Daniel faced the cruelty of being forced apart as a result of one senseless letter. What happens when they are reunited and given a second chance at love?

Striving to establish a new identity, working in the Australian wine industry, Anna has had no choice but to create the best life she can for herself and her son, Mattie, in Sydney, Australia.

Meanwhile, Daniel, who has been pushing his father’s corporate agenda in the UK for years, as a means to an end, hopes that he may someday see Anna, his lost love, again.

But when they find each other in a chance meeting in Sydney, they are compelled to revisit the past. Forced to work together every day, the secrets Anna has kept for so long are gradually revealed. This, together with the separation they endured and the strange situation they now find themselves in, raises the question – Do they have any chance of rekindling their love?

Words for Anna is a moving novel about hope, resilience and rediscovery.

Available now in digital and print:

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The long story

It’s a long story – have you ever heard more annoying words? Together with any interchangeable phrase you can think of, that is generally used to avoid filling someone in on something obviously secret or at least somewhat interesting?

Don’t ask.

I’ll tell you later.

Or my favourite, the quiet response which generally follows a hint of something under the hood, accompanied by the person in the know making eye contact with whoever happened to have been there at the time when the original interesting event occurred, before looking the other way… in the hope that all questions will come to a complete stop.

Okay, don’t tell me, I’m not interested in gossip anyway.

However, it is true, that in fiction, we definitely are interested in the stories that last the longest and especially the gossip that keeps us turning the page, or else we wouldn’t know what has happened, why a certain character is acting in a certain way, or why we should be bothered caring about one character and not another.
They don’t call it a book because it’s a one-pager, a few headlines or a couple pages of visuals, instead of tens of thousands of words that we love to read.

Did you know that the other day, I handed my novel over to my editor again, this time for a line edit? Who knew there were so many types of editing and so much that has to happen before publication.

To be honest, it’s best not to think about it too much.

I suppose I’ll tell you later.

Don’t ask.

It’s a long story.

Lost to history

So, you reckon you know exactly what happened to you yesterday?  It’s not an unreasonable belief.

What about what your friend or colleague said happened to them? Any room for scepticism there?

Ok, now imagine that a week goes by, a few months, a year. And imagine that all of a sudden, you’re asked to document what had happened.
Now imagine it’s NOT modern day, without videos and audio and the internet at your disposal. It’s actually 200 years ago.

Sure, you have fact checkers who confirm things you were told, the things you hadn’t actually witnessed. There’s the media that had published a few articles. Heaps of people had told a similar story.  And your memory is top-notch (remembering exactly what you think is important). Right?

Done. It’s in the history books. People will be reading it for years and take it at face-value.

It’s not that hard to imagine.

So, what exactly hadn’t been written down that perhaps should have made it into the history books? And what exactly is inaccurate about what had been written down, all those years ago? I guess we’ll never know. And I suppose it is what it is.

But say you fast-forwarded to 100 years from now…

What will those people believe about our present day that had become ‘history’ to them? Will having the internet, with all the information in all the lands at their fingertips, make it easier or harder to sift through garbage to find the facts.

You and I understand this, but will our grandkids’ grandkids’ grandkids’? When the internet had allowed anyone to write whatever they wanted, for a century or more, until it had evolved into something we can’t actually foresee right now?

Let’s not think about it too much. No one will know the difference.

The advantages of being a 30-something in 2018

Having another birthday in your thirties, isn’t that bad, is it? Here is my list of benefits of being a 30-something in 2018, in no particular order.

  1. We don’t have to slum it while travelling overseas anymore.
    No more hostels. And trip-advisor is there to guide the way
  2. Experience of entertainment technology, early to late
    We may be able to play music or shows online from a smartphone, cast on televisions and speakers all over the house, but we still have VHS tapes, somewhere in the cupboard and know what it means to ‘rewind’ something.
  3. We’re not too cool to listen to any type of music
    Whether it’s 70s, 30s, or being the first ones to like grunge in the 90s (before it became mainstream), we can handle it
  4. A time with and without smartphones
    We can remember a time when you had no choice but to wait for someone to show up, with few options of contacting them
  5. Social Media
    We’re not addicted to, yet can cope with Social Media
  6. Movies
    We remember a time when YOUR type of films were being released almost every month.
    Has TV killed the movie star? (See what I did there?)
  7. We have read poetry in our lifetime
  8. We know what we want to be when we grow up
  9. We value the people who make time for us
  10. We have blogs that take up too much time, when we should be writing and/or editing

Calendar events

We all have ways we spend our spare time, wasteful or otherwise. I, for instance, love to procrastinate for days about what to write a blog post about, while feeling guilty that I’m not editing, which means that I’d either end up editing my manuscript or do something completely different, until somewhere along the line, I eventually spend the 20 minutes writing that post.

Of course, we also do other things that belong in varying spots on the time-well-spent scale.

And then there are the events we are forced to look forward to. Don’t you think we’re actually living our lives by calendar events? You may ask me how else you might live it.
Bear with me.

I’m not referring to anniversaries or birthdays, which are of-course great. Even though you’re the one who has been choosing everyone’s presents for the last decade and a half. No, I mean the focus of any shop window display at different times of the year. And the inevitable questions that precedes it. For example, what are you doing for [enter event here]?

First comes New Year’s Eve and Australia Day in January, then it’s Valentine’s day’s turn (which some people celebrate and others just see as a slightly annoying day with a total lack of free restaurant options). Next, it’s Chinese New Year’s lanterns and dragons filling the streets. When you throw in all the food and comedy festivals (which are awesome, by the way), before you know it, it’s Christmas and we’re organising those presents again.

I can honestly say that I’m exhausted just writing this.

But I’ll have to cut it short there.

I have to get up to go to the super market now: Those Easter eggs and hot cross buns will only be on sale for a very short time.

What?

Smartphones

When did smartphones become so addictive? I can tell you when, about 30 years ago, or so it feels. But in reality, we all know when it started to happen. Just over a decade ago.

And we also know what has happened to most of us in that time. We can’t go without it for a day, or let’s be honest, no more than a few hours.

When you really think about it, do you really want to? I have a semi-good reason at least (al be it bazaar), for not wanting just that.
We have almost become the exact humans in those man-vs-machine films where the machines are really calling the shots and the humans go on with ordinary things, completely unaware.

Truth is, I don’t often leave my phone at home by accident, but when I do, OMG (that’s right, I also wouldn’t have used that acronym 10 years ago). Actually, forget I used it now.

When you do go out in public without your phone, you can forget about feeling connected at all – Not because you don’t want to be in the moment, smell the roses or interact with a real human, but I really think it’s the option of having all-information-ever at your fingertips and the potential need to use it at any point, that gets you.

You would have no idea whether the train is actually going to be on time, what has happened overnight or what is going on in the world right now (through actual news or otherwise), and how anyone is going to contact you.

If this was the 90s, fine. When you had no other option, waiting for a friend to show up and hoping that you gave them the right info, was all you could do.

And when you eventually get back home to find your phone, which, let’s face it, was probably happy for the break and its battery almost fully charged, how many texts and instant messages are really waiting?

Wait, don’t answer that.

But It is what it is.

Google it. Or not.

How else do you solve arguments these days?

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