Saturday, 15 February 2014
Many years ago I went through an extended period of unemployment. I spent this time stressing about not having a job and wishing that my life was different. I was incredibly unhappy and could only focus on what was missing in my life. I was envious of everyone around me who seemed to have it so easy as I lamented my lack of money and long days with nothing to fill them. I lived just a few minutes away from an amazing beach and beautiful park at this time, and although I used to go for walks there occasionally, I was too miserable to really enjoy them.
Fast forward to the day I got a full-time job and suddenly the leisurely life I had known came to an abrupt end. No more staying up late. No more lying in bed reading till lunchtime. No more strolling to the library and having a relaxed lunch before taking in a movie in an almost empty cinema. No more sitting in the sun just watching the world go by. Now my life was all about alarm clocks and trains and deadlines. Weekends were for doing all the chores that I didn't have time to do during the week and trying to repay the sleep debt caused by those early starts. My old life began to look a whole lot better and I truly started to regret that I hadn't savoured all that free time when I had the chance.
It's human nature to think the grass is always greener on the other side, but over the last two years life has given me another big chunk of free time that I've been determined to make the most of. Living in an isolated area where no one else wants to live is not much fun, but it's truly the only way to step out off the treadmill and free yourself from the shackles of a huge mortgage / rent. My partner earns enough for both of us and my paltry wage from 2 days work a week barely makes a ripple in our income pool. A few years ago when I was teaching high school I thought that my life was set in stone and that for the next 20+ years I would be too busy lesson planning and marking to do much else. Although it was my decision to leave teaching I have been very surprised by the direction my life has taken since.
My current situation would be much easier if I had a beach / café / shopping centre / theatre / gym to turn to for entertainment and distraction. The nearest decent town is 100 kms away so on my days off I have to fill the hours all by myself. It would be easy to become despondent and feel like life was passing me by out here (which I do sometimes, I can't lie), but after my previous experiences I've made a big effort to ensure that none of this time is wasted. My reading used to be confined to a few pages before bed or some snatched moments on the train, but now I'm finally able to catch up on all the books I've been wanting to read for so long, while keeping on top of new releases. Writing has been a godsend for me and helped to keep me sane since we moved here. I'm using this time to do an MA in Creative Writing, something I might not have worried about if I was working full-time.
I was prompted to write this entry when I read over some of my old journals from that long, lonely stretch in my life. I dumped them in the garbage where they belong and made a promise to myself that I would never become that negative again. If I'd started writing back then instead of feeling sorry for myself then I'd be a much better writer than I am today. This current period in my life won't last forever and when it's over I will miss the solitude, the silence, the time to think and dream (and sleep in!). I'm not going to waste any of it on pointless misery and regrets. I've come to understand that time is far more precious than money and that's why I'm very grateful for this period of freedom to step away from the daily grind and nurture my spirit a little.
What do you have to be grateful for?
Wednesday, 5 February 2014
Friday, 31 January 2014
Wow, here it is February already and I
haven’t even welcomed in the new year in my blog! One of the side-effects of
living in the middle of nowhere is that when you finally get back to
civilisation for the holidays they tend to be very action-packed. This
year has been no exception. Now the Australia Day weekend is over
and life is settling back into its familiar routine. We’re adapting again
to the very slow pace of life in the bush. At the moment this mostly involves
lying on the lounge under the air-conditioning as the Riverina endures another
week of 40+ degrees.
May 2104 be a wonderfully productive and exciting year for all writers out there as we face the tyranny of the blank page and keep coming back for more! We are a masochistic lot and only others writers can understand what compels us to keep going.
Monday, 11 November 2013
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.10
Friday, 8 November 2013
Thursday, 10 October 2013
A while ago I wrote a blog post about university creative writing courses and whether they're a waste of time. I came down on the side of those who believe writing skills can be taught and that these courses are an excellent way of learning about the finer points of writing.
Now I'm nearing the end of my second semester of a creative writing course through Macquarie University, I can speak from actual experience about this subject. I wish I could say that my writing has improved dramatically and that I've learnt a great deal that I can use, but it's not that simple. Don't get me wrong, my classes have been extremely enriching, and I've learnt a lot about how to critique other people's writing and my own, but the downside of reading so much good writing, both by published authors and my fellow-students, is that I look at my own writing now and see how substandard it is. I also suffer from the literary equivalent of "stage fright" because when my writing is going to be read and judged by others, whether for a workshop or assessment, I find that I freeze and lose my spontaneity. This is the thing that make writing fun, so to lose it is quite concerning.
I enrolled in this course to "find my voice as a writer" (so pretentious, I know) so it's pretty ironic that instead I feel I've lost it. Sometimes it seems like I'm trying to force my writing into a mould that it just doesn't fit into, and the only answer is to stop trying to force it. The trick, I believe, is to listen and take on board everything about literary technique and style, but not let it stifle your imagination or cripple your own unique personality. Even though I haven't seen much obvious improvement in my writing I'm hoping that in the long run I'll benefit from all this learning. The unconscious is a funny thing and sometimes you just have to let information simmer there for a while, especially with something like creative writing, which delves very deeply into the hidden and mysterious reaches of the mind.
I have to make a decision very soon about whether to apply to continue this course next year, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to take it to the next level. Reading and analysing stories is something I enjoy so much that I could do these kinds of classes forever. My educational qualifications are starting to look ridiculous on my resume, especially considering I'm not even using them at the moment. Maybe one day it will all be worth it. If not, at least I'm doing something I love. I can't think of any better reason for persevering against what seem like crushing odds sometimes.
Saturday, 28 September 2013
Everyone's heard of Edgar Allan Poe, the so-called father of American mystery fiction. Everyone is familiar with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation Sherlock Holmes, arguably the most well-known detective in literature. Of course we all know who Agatha Christie is, so why is the author Anna Katharine Green, who was a major influence on both Doyle and Christie's writing, so unknown today?
Green is the author of The Leavenworth Case, which was the first detective novel ever written (Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue was the first to have a detective hero) TLC was published in 1878, nine years before Sherlock Holmes appeared on the literary scene. In her books Green established many of the genre conventions that are still used to this day. At the time her book was a bestseller. Critics predictably claimed that a novel which displayed such a detailed knowledge of the criminal system couldn't possibly have been written by a woman. Unlike Poe, Doyle and Christie's books, TLC has slipped into obscurity, along with the many other novels she wrote.
Green was a prolific writer, penning a book a year for five decades, spanning two centuries. Many of these books are now available for free on Amazon, which is how I discovered this badly neglected author. I downloaded a copy of The House of Whispering Pines, and from the opening page I knew I was in the hands of a master storyteller. When I did a bit of research on the author I was truly shocked that I'd never even heard of this woman who has had such a major impact on mystery and detective fiction. So what is the reason for this neglect?
Some reviewers have claimed that her books are too wordy and old-fashioned for contemporary audiences. I disagree with this argument. Other classics from the same era which are much harder to read are still enjoyed by many. My feeling is that because of her obscurity Green just hasn't reached the audience that will appreciate her work. There are several editions of The Leavenworth Case on Amazon and the highest number of ratings for any edition is seventeen. All of her other books have only a handful of reviews. Goodreads is little better, where reviews number in the hundreds for TLC and two other books have over one hundred ratings, but this is a mere drop in the ocean compared with Poe's The Murders in the Rue Morgue which has nearly five thousand ratings for one edition. Most of Green's books on Goodreads have less than fifty reviews.
There's something very wrong with this picture and I don't think it's just a coincidence that Green, a woman who wrote the first fully-fledged detective novel ever, has conveniently been erased from literary history. Sure Agatha Christie was, and still is, an extremely popular female mystery writer, but it's one thing to be a great author in a particular genre, and another thing to actually play a key role in establishing that genre.
Have you heard of Anna Katharine Green? I'm willing to bet that most people reading this haven't. To help rectify this situation, I urge you to go to her Amazon page and download some of her books. They're free so you've got nothing to lose. And spread the word about this author who deserves a lot more recognition than she's received. I can't put it any better than Michael Mallory who wrote in his article The Mother of American Mystery: "If any American writer is due for a major rediscovery, even if only on the basis of historical importance, it is Anna Katharine Green. While largely forgotten today, her novels paved the way for…well, for just about everybody working in the mystery genre." I for one am thrilled to have discovered this forgotten author with a very large body of work to immerse myself in.