Waiting for Eleanor Dark

Slow Dawning by Eleanor DarkI‘ve been doing that for quite a while now for two very different reasons but I had better start at the beginning. I first discovered that I really wanted to read Eleanor Dark‘s first novel way back in the early 1990s. I was researching my third manuscript set between the wars and as the tone of the times (as I like to think of it) is always very important to me I generally try and read at least a few books written during the time that I am researching. By then I had read Prelude to Christopher and thought it marvellous so I was quite interested in reading Eleanor Dark’s very first novel. I can’t recall the exact details but it became obvious that there were limited copies available and I think I had to either try and buy a copy online (which I never attempted) or read the book at the Mitchell Library. Also impossible with a young child and a very unsympathetic husband.

Life moved on. For me there was a divorce and a move up the coast, a World War II novel (Tomaree), a contemporary novel (Crossing Paths: the BookCrossing Novel) and then a manuscript set during World War I (The Grey Silk Purse). As research for that book I thought I would finally attempt to read Slow Dawning and this is when the waiting really began.

In July 2011 whilst researching transport during WWI, I requested Slow Dawning along with another book. I did this online during the week to make sure both books would be available for me after I got off the Newcastle train and arrived at the Mitchell Library in Sydney. On arrival I was told that Eleanor wasn’t there. I said I requested it. The staff nicely informed me there was a delay of about half an hour. She couldn’t be quickly located.

By the time the book turned up I was deep in my other research and only gave the novel a cursory glance. I was still at this stage thinking I could read it in several sittings or just glance through it and dismiss it (particularly after what Eleanor Dark’s biographer had written about the book). I did neither. I decided I really wanted to read it but wasn’t sure how I could achieve this as I knew by 2011 that the book couldn’t be bought online. Surprisingly no second hand book shop on the net had it available for sale (and still doesn’t). I reluctantly returned the book and thought I would have a look at it again next time I was at the Mitchell and hopefully not as busy.

On Saturday, 26 January this year I arrived off the train, keen to have another look at Slow Dawning. It was my main focus this time. I went to the desk to pick the book up and they told me it wasn’t there and would take  a while for them to find it. I said this had happened last time and why couldn’t it be ready when I put a special request in for it? They didn’t know. I was frustrated and beginning to wonder why this book AND ONLY THIS BOOK kept me waiting. It arrived and I began to read Slow Dawning. Because of the delay in arriving I didn’t have much time with the book and was now more determined than ever to read it.

I took it to the front counter and asked if I could photocopy the book. They said yes and calculated the cost – approximately $30. Being a starving artist I didn’t have the money to spare that weekend but promised myself I would be back in a few months to finally read Eleanor Dark’s first novel. What a mission!

On Saturday 1st June I had an awful trip down on the train, missed my connection and had a wait at Gordon station. By the time I arrived at the Mitchell I was already very frazzled and precious time had again gotten away from me. I went to the front counter to pick up the book (as before ordered online for a quick pickup) and was told AGAIN the book wasn’t there! They couldn’t locate it. WELL… you can imagine what sort of mood I was in! I made a fuss (as much of a fuss as anyone can make in the hallowed rooms of the Mitchell Library). I was asked if I wanted to make a complaint. I said yes I did, mainly, I explained because obviously there was something wrong with the cataloguing of this particular book. I filled out the form (still haven’t heard anything back) and waited.

Finally after about thirty five minutes of twiddling my thumbs the book was in my hands and I went into the photocopying room to carefully copy each page. I began by putting twenty dollars on my card to do the photocopying with and the machine just ate my money. By this time I was practically in tears! The Library staff must have thought I was mad but eventually the money was allocated to my card and I spent over half an hour photocopying each page. Finally I was able to read Eleanor Dark’s first novel. Here is my review:

Slow Dawning by Eleanor Dark

I have the book but I’m still not happy! I recently downloaded for free Betty Wayside by Louis Stone. This novel is from 1915 and is quite dated now but anyone can read it. The same should apply to Slow Dawning. In my opinion it has been forgotten because both the author and her biographer dismissed it as a potboiler. I argue that it is much more that that. I believe Eleanor Dark had serious intentions for this book but with the long delay in publication and the fact that sales were disappointing, she dismissed it as a potboiler to cover her disappointment. What serious novelist with literary aspirations sets out to write her first novel purely for money, particularly a book with a prophetic paragraph such as this:

“It was in this way that she had seen her fellow-women. They would climb at last, she dreamed, to a height where they would perform not only the artistic or intellectual work to which their natures inclined, but the normal functions of wifehood and motherhood as well – carrying a double burden as only they were privileged to carry it. A terrible fight, and a slow one, but epic in its magnificence. Generations it would take, and thousands of women would be the most bitter enemies of their own sex.”

No, I really think Dark had fairly high hopes for this first of her babies, especially when you consider her next novel Prelude to Christopher. You DO NOT as a writer, I believe, intend to write a potboiler as your first published work and then write something of such high standing as Prelude to Christopher as your second.

But the waiting for Eleanor is not over. This book should be made available for the general public to read. It is the first book, a very enjoyable novel, of one of Australia’s major writers. It should be accessible to all and the cataloguing problem needs to be fixed. Hopefully, something will be done about this sad state of affairs and Slow Dawning will eventually be available for everyone to read.

The Next Big Thing – The Grey Silk Purse

The Grey Silk Purse Notebooks

Here are four of my six notebooks for my current work in progress.

1) What is the working title of your current/next book?
My current work in progress is entitled The Grey Silk Purse and is set in 1917/1918 Serbia and Mayfield, Newcastle in 1920/1930.

2) Where did the idea come from?
Several years ago whilst doing book talks for Tomaree, a bookseller showed me a card advertising a New Year’s Eve party at the Trades Hall, Newcastle for 1930 run by The New Moon Dance Club. Whilst searching for more info about the mysterious club I came across a November, 1922 ad: “Lost yesterday Lady’s handbag between Elizabeth & Henry Streets, Tighes Hill along Port Waratah tramline or left in 6.42pm Port Waratah tram from Newcastle, contains 6 pounds, metal season railway ticket, keys etc. Finder handsomely rewarded on return to Miss Summerville, Room 5, Carrrington Chambers, Watt Street.”
I kept the name Miss Summerville but couldn’t find Carrington Chambers. Somehow I made the jump from there to my current project.

3) What genre does your book fall under?
Historical fiction

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Strangely I have no idea for this one. I cast Crossing Paths though. The main characters were played (in my head) by Rose Byrne, John Cusack, Rupert Penryn-Jones, Miriam Margoyles and Helen Mirren (in an uncharacteristically timid role).

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
It is January 1920 and Miss Summerville living in a beautiful house in Mayfield, Newcastle begins a diary detailing how, after a long illness, she has woken up and can’t remember the last two years of her life.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I hope to finish the manuscript very soon. (I’m on the second last draft now.) I’m determined to find an agent and a mainstream publisher and that is my goal for 2013.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?
Much longer than Tomaree. Approximately two and a half years.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
The Winter of the World by Carol Ann Lee
The Soldier’s Song by Alan Monaghan
Armistice by Nick Stafford

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Heroic Australian women from both world wars, including Olive Kelso King, Alice Kitchen, Vivien Bullwinkel and Nancy Wake.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
Hopefully the wonderful Scottish Women’s Hospitals who ran 14 field hospitals during WWI. Many of their doctors, nurses and orderlies were Australian, including Stella Miles Franklin who worked at the Ostrovo Unit in Serbia, the unit featured in The Grey Silk Purse.
I’m now tagging three people to keep this meme going. They are:
Matthew Glenn Ward @ Matthew Glenn Ward
Anthony Wood @ Want For Words
Janna G. Noelle @ The Rules of Engagement
Happy writing!

Doing a TV interview

It was fantastic. I’m not quite sure how Channel Ten Sydney came to approach the Adelaide BC group but bookcrosser Newk put up the information at BCAUS, the yahoo BookCrossing group, that the station was looking for bookcrossers. Yours truly, never backward in coming forward, put up her hand and also contacted the station.

Eve Neylon the segment producer was wonderful and the online intro the station put together to explain BookCrossing to the general public was one of the best examples I’ve seen. BookCrossing really is a parallel universe. It is a tricky thing to explain in a few minutes but the bottom line is that www.bookcrossing.com is about sharing books. If you love books and want to share books with others, read reviews of your favourite books, meetup with people to discuss books and even receive books in the mail from faraway places then BookCrossing is definitely for you.

For me discovering the site has literally changed my life. I have not only been to 4 conventions: Adelaide, SA in 2006, London in 2008, Greece in 2008 and the Sydney Unconvention in 2010 but it has also inspired me to write my second published novel Crossing Paths: the BookCrossing Novel.

One of the questions my interviewer Paul Henry was going to ask me was how did I get into BookCrossing. Well, a week before Christmas in 2003 I saw an ad in an Australian Publications mag about the site and immediately I was intrigued. I couldn’t wait to get home and sus it all out!

After an hour or two going over the site (it is a very comprehensive with a lot to take in) I immediately realised “This is so me.” I love books and I love synchronicity and BookCrossing is about both. After a little while I also realised that BookCrossing was also a book – a book that I could write. I remember working out that amazingly people can be tracked through BookCrossing. And you could also anticipate where people might be travelling to next, by the books on their “virtual” bookshelf.

I also remember, within a day of discovering BookCrossing, studying my “real” bookshelf to try and work out what books my character would take with her and how many. I initially decided on 10 but then lowered it to eight to allow for books she might pick up on the way. Also important was where she was going to release the books and so began my journey of writing a book inspired by an online bookclub, the doorstopper that I managed to hold up in my TV interview, as you can see for yourself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PAqoC94Sis

Doing the interview was a wonderful insight into how segments are produced. Eve was very thorough. First interviewing me by phone, keeping in touch by email, phoning me again to confirm the appointment, asking more questions and a day or so before emailing me with background information that the interviewer would be reading to prepare themselves (Paul Henry as it turned out) for the segment and questions they would be asking to give me a chance to put together my best answers.

We only had three minutes and because the station decided on producing a small online intro to BookCrossing, that freed Paul up to ask different questions. He asked one or two on the list but the rest were dictated by his curiousity and the way the conversation went. Although he did interrupt a bit I’m glad he did because that’s how we managed to cover quite a lot in in such a short timespan.

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to do the interview. It was such an enjoyable experience. I was lucky to have my friend Gina drive down with me from Newcastle and she was allowed to sit offscreen and watch the segment. Everyone was so friendly – the makeup girls, Lana, Eve, Paul and Kath. Thank you Channel 10! It was fun!

How Many Drafts of Your Novel Should You Do?

My answer is six and that is probably my average. If the book proves problematic then I’ve reached eight but that’s generally my maximum. I’ve heard other writers speak of astronomical numbers such as 18, 27, 34 and even fifty odd.  I immediately think how do they do that many drafts? But me being a suspicious person, when I hear such amazing figures I often wonder what they consider constitutes a draft. Say, maybe a quick adjustment of a few words here and there, a scan and then start again? Is that what they call a draft? Put the thing away for a week or so, pick it up again, flick through, change another paragraph and that’s draft 25 for you? I don’t know of course. I can only tell you what my methods are so here goes…

Draft 1 is obvious of course. That’s where you get the main storyline down including what scenes to put in, what to leave out and from whose point of view. Last Tuesday I completed the first draft of my work in progress The Grey Silk Purse. Strictly speaking it is not a complete first draft. It is missing one final chapter and the epilogue which is a letter. Both I can’t do at this point until I’ve done heaps more research.

And this is where the 2nd draft comes. I will now go back, look up and check 95 # points of research such as the uniform of staff working in a stationery shop in Newcastle in 1920. In my novel Tomaree. In Crossing Paths I actually don’t remember that I had as as many things to check. I managed to do most of my fact-checking as I went along.

Before I generally start writing a novel I have already done a fair amount of research. Whilst writing the first draft I’ll check as many points as I can but when fact checking starts to really slow me down that’s when I put a # in and move on.  With the second round of research I will often have to change the narrative slightly to accommodate facts I have recently discovered. I will also tidy up my prose and check overall length of chapters. Is that scene really necessary kind of thing. With The Grey Silk Purse I have a massive construction problem two thirds of the way through. I will tackle that and will also have to keep a good eye on it in the next draft.

In the 3rd draft I will usually start drilling down, checking my word usage (okay for that particular character or time etc) my paragraphs (are they too long?) I also check how the writing flows. This is a good time to actually really look at any scenes or chapters that still trouble you. Can I do without it altogether or do I need to rewrite? Any extensive rewrites at this stage will have to be checked closely because they will not have been read anywhere near the amount of times of the rest of the work. This is where I often check odd things like the colours of the diaries in The Grey Silk  Purse. There are four different diaries that feature in the manuscript and they are all different colours.  I will probably check the word count of each diary and that I’ve got the colour correct for each one (particularly as these are referenced later in the novel).

It is usually around the 4th draft that I like to print the whole manuscript out and work at it on paper,  pretending I’m a ruthless editor working through page after page, slowly but very carefully. It’s where you really get to see how the manuscript will look in hard copy.

It’s funny how many things you can pick up and fix in this different format.  You’ll find it is very handy when looking at dialogue. I also generally write my edits on the page and then do another draft putting them in to my word document. This will then be the 5th draft.

In this draft I will not only put in my changes but do a global search for a particular word that I think I might have used too much.  (This is why it is a good thing to keep your manuscript all in one document!) I’ve done this with all my novels and it is never the same words that keep cropping up. It is generally different words for different books. When you realise you’ve got 162 “wondered”s you can then push yourself to find alternatives. (In this 900 word essay I have 13 “check/ed/ing”s. Maybe too many but hey this us what this piece is about.)

The 6th draft (if all is going well) is the final read through. It’s a chance to read the manuscript for the umpteenth time.  (Because if you are like me you will often re-read it a lot of times before you even start the second draft).  You can check every word for typing errors and watch out for those slippery little suckers the closing quotation marks which (for me anyway) have a habit of disappearing at a great rate. Are there any missing? Can you find any more typos? Realistically you will not find them all so that’s where a friend can come in handy and do a read through for you. Another pair of eyes will always pick up things you’ve missed. That’s my experience anyway.

And now your baby is ready for an amazing journey. Kiss it goodbye and wish it luck.

The Bottom Line: Our characters are what they focus on.

It sounds simple of course but I really didn’t discover this until recently. To be more precise after I finished writing Crossing Paths: the BookCrossing Novel.  I decided (unwisely I now know) to use eight different points of view to tell the story. This was a challenge of course and one I think I met for the most part, except for one thing – two of my male characters were often confused with each other by my readers. I thought it was enough to differentiate them – one was gay, lived in Cornwall and was a new age writer; the other was in love with the main female character Jane, lived in Boston and was an antiquarian bookdealer. But ultimately they often appeared the same because their thoughts were both focused on Jane, worrying about her and trying to anticipate her next move. It also didn’t help that both men’s name started with J…

We learn of course by our mistakes and I am much more aware now, how important focus is. It doesn’t just dictate our character’s thoughts (and ours for that matter) but also how a character dresses, acts and treats others and ultimately dictates the course of the whole novel.

In Fifty Shades of Grey the main character’s focus is of course on the sexy but rather twisted Christian Grey. In the novel James labels her character Ana’s thoughts as sometimes “my inner goddess” or  “my subconcious”. These “other” voices occasionally clash with her general thoughts but for the most part Ana’s focus collectively remains on Grey’s delectable hips.

In Bernard Schlink’s The Weekend: A Novel it is hard to keep track of the characters at times but when we do move closer to them I noticed that Schlink had given them all different concerns; if they were focusing on the same thing ie their friend, a former terrorist released from prison after serving a long sentence – then they were depicted with varying viewpoints. Reading this novel was a real eye-opener for me in regards to differentiating characters.

I realise now too, how brilliant one of my long time favourite writers is at this. I remember in Rosamund Pilcher’s The Shellseekers, when we are introduced to Noel all he’s thinking about (I’m writing this from memory) is his clothes and the heating in his flat. And that’s all that is really important to this character because he’s totally self-absorbed.  Never mind that his mother is ill, material things are more important and this is all just in the first paragraph introducing him – a brilliant example of determining a character’s focus quickly. Pilcher can do this very artfully in her short stories in just a few lines and that’s why I love her!

I used to think that as long as you managed to get in a character’s physical description and emotional makeup, were careful how they spoke and dressed, then they would all appear different from each other. But of course that’s not necessarily true. I’ve learnt this lesson after years of hard work. It’s all so obvious now but the knowledge has come to me at a time when I actually can’t put it into practice! In my current novel I am unable to go into the mind of my character. We can only judge her by what she says and does. Her diaries tell us some things but the reader has to guess her focus.

As you can guess by this, I love to set myself challenges and I will report on my blog with what I’ve learnt from this exercise in the near future. In the meantime back to The Grey Silk Purse.

Writing Challenges and Passions

When I’m writing two very important things have to be there for everything to fall into place. 1. The writing of the manuscript has to challenge me in some way and 2. I  must be passionate about my subject matter. The Grey Silk Purse is my sixth book and both these things definitely apply. In my earlier novels this wasn’t quite so obvious to me. I was just writing a book! But now after writing prose for thirty years, themes and concerns do become clearer.

With my first novel, just putting my ideas down was enough of a challenge. I mean could I even finish the damn thing let alone write coherently? With my second novel this was even more true because I began writing the enormous (still unpublished second manuscript) when my second child was five months old. I have vivid memories of Elise in a capsule and me struggling to borrow a heap of library books before she screamed the place down. And later of clasping her as a toddler between my legs to stop her from crawling off whilst I desperately tried to finish some photocopying for my research into the Broken Hill Proprietary Co.

With my third manuscript the construction of the novel defeated me (for the moment) but themes were emerging. Themes of loss – loss of place, loss of memory. Of abuse and madness. With my first published book (and fourth manuscript) Tomaree the writing challenge was how to blend the past with the present; how to move smoothly from 1942 to 1972 and back again many times. Luckily the passion kicked in (a passion to raise awareness of the wonderful Australian GI brides who gave up everything for love).

For my last novel Crossing Paths, the challenge was enormous! To create eight very different characters and give them succint personalities. I’m not sure that I succeeded but I gave it a fair old try. And the passion was of course for the wonderful world of BookCrossing.

Now I am facing a new writing challenge and it is quite daunting – to recreate life as an  ambulance driver working in the Macedonian front of 1918; my passion to highlight the wonderful work of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and other heroic women such as the Australian Olive Kelso King.
Wish me luck!!