Tag Archives: research

Wrestling

Inertia (noun) ii-ner-sha
Definition: Lack of movement or activity, particularly when movement or activity is desired or required
Reference: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inertia

Keen-eyed observers will quite rightly point out there’s been little movement on Thunder Road. Less progress than along the South Eastern Freeway during peak hour. Fewer words shared than during a silent meditation retreat.

I don’t want this blog too become a moan. Far too many past posts already focus on my frustrations with work-life imbalance or my inability of late to quarantine enough hours for clear-headed creativity.

But it’s something I wrestle with. Often. As a father/husband/allegedly mature adult, can I really allow myself an author life when the financial rewards are generally paltry?

I know other writer friends face the same dilemma. Some are reluctantly choosing to walk away from their vocation. To pay bills rather than pay attention to the stories shimmering in their consciousness. Tales that require countless hours to chart.

Adding to the angst, trade law changes proposed for the book industry by the Federal Government may sound the death knell for many literary careers. (See also: http://bookscreateaustralia.com.au/)

For my part, I am massively relieved mooted changes to the terms of copyright have apparently been abandoned. As a journalist and author I’m not the most practical or handy bloke. I’ve never built a house or factory that I can leave to my children. The novels I’ve had published may be the only things I’ve constructed that I can pass to my family – so the threat I’d lose ownership of my work, possibly after a fleeting 15 years, was devastating.

So where am I at? I’m working full-time, carefully choosing words that may appear in an app inside a mobile device, somewhere beside you, some time soon.

I’ve been learning about Viking culture, via a Danish exchange student staying at our home and now hosting my son.

And I’m following the fortunes of the North Melbourne Football Club, filing occasional match reports for The Footy Almanac.

Meanwhile the manuscript leading the pack of several pieces I have in progress is languishing but, hopefully, mentally marinading until the time is right to heat and serve.

I was lucky enough to visit Japan again recently and my research there will bolster the speculative fiction story I’m so keen to complete. We spent an afternoon at a sumo tournament and, as I type this, my epiphany has taken the shape of a mighty wrestler.

When a rikishi (contestant) enters the ring, there’s much tradition to be honored (and posturing to be enjoyed) before a bout begins. Salt is tossed liberally to purify the arena. The brow is mopped. Sake is slurped. Chests, bellies, buttocks or thighs are slapped, thunderously. The wrestlers may drop into their pre-attack crouch and give their opponent a death-stare, only to rise and lope back to their corner. Then begin the rituals again.

The build-up lasts longer than the battle. The rikishi only wrestle when they’re good and ready or their opponent is utterly psyched out. Perhaps that’s where I’m at. I need to throw salt. Purify my arena. Get my mind clear. Lower myself into writing position. Charge forward like an enraged bull. And wrestle my manuscript into submission.

Sumo wrestlers watched by officials

No rest for the weekend

Cue nefarious laugh. Weekend… wicked, geddit? Sigh. OK, I apologise for the bad pun to launch this post. It seems that one of the unspoken rules of ageing is that your humour takes a hook turn toward Dodgyville.

Then again, perhaps it’s a sign of stress. Busy I am. This week, extraordinarily so. Here’s a sample of the current and prospective action along the Thunder Road.

  • Sun: Cycle 110 km as part of a training ride for the Ride to Conquer Cancer
  • Mon-Tues: Work on a massive project for the federal government, deadline mid-November
  • Wed: Research/writing time on TWO book proposals. Exciting stuff! Then off to the State Library to discuss the future of the Dromkeen Dragons.
  • Thu-Fri: Back to the aforementioned mega-project. Pressure on, big time. Lots of stressed people. Also, judge the short story competition for the Whittlesea Agricultural Society annual show.
  • Sat-Sun: Riding to Conquer Cancer, approx 100 per day, raising money for the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Camping overnight in the chilly Yarra Valley.
  • Mon: Back to project land, briefing a crucial agency on the action so far.
  • Tue: As above but throw in a panel discussion with two brilliant bookish people at an eastern suburbs school.
  • Wed: A return to research & writing.
  • And on it goes.

Better to be busy than bored, yes? Man, I should not be posting, Yoda-style, on a Friday night. It’s three parts tripping, one part blogging.

OK. Deep breath. There were, cough, three valid, rational reasons for attempting this post.

1. My annual short story competition them round-up.

I’ve been judging the WAS competition for umpteen years. I see the topics year 7 to 12 students tackle in their stories as a geiger counter for the issues occupying teen minds. For all those people who say my books are too dark, check out what the kids are writing about this year:

Dementia; disobedience; detention; death; parenting (good & bad); death; birth; bullying; ageing; Rhonda & Katut; drought; fire; manslaughter; domestic violence; murder; alien invasion; asylum seekers; poverty; death; racism; divorce; disability; murder; murder; murder; dystopia; fast food containing rats tails; fire; domestic violence; refugees; dementia; dystopia; alien invasion; fairytales; road trauma; racism; bullying; corrupt religion; broken hearts; dishonesty.

It’s a good thing that stories are a safe place for young writers to explore the dark and the light in their lives.

2. Big news. Five Parts Dead is now available on iBooks, Amazon Kindle, Google Books, ebooks.com. Kobo and ReadCloud. That makes me very happy. Tree-books are good too, though.

3. I wanted to tell you about my recent experiences crash-testing new work with real live, Impro Melbourne actors. Blimey those people can think fast. Way faster than me, late on the eve of a big bike ride. So, I’ll end with another apology. My time on stage with the actual actors will have to wait for a future post, sorry. Good night.

Stack

No, I haven’t crashed anything with wheels recently. I’m referring to a midden of materials that have caught my eye, piqued my curiosity and provoked my thinking. A pile of clips and cuttings that doubles as a smorgasbord for local silverfish.

Yesterday, I tackled the stack. After a sifting session, that is. Drastic steps were required because the ideas sheaf and the “I think this is important so I better review it soon but I can’t be stuffed now so let’s keep it handy although it’s probably not so pressing I should cart it around with me” heap somehow merged. De-merging (?) is never fun.

On the upside, the reply dates for a couple of member surveys and special offers had long since passed. Excellent. Saved myself some time not reading those documents. Memo to would-be wealthy entrepreneurs: How about inventing paperwork that spontaneously dissolves into the atmosphere after the reply dates have expired? A Mission Impossible style self-combustion would be cool, too. As long as this didn’t ignite adjacent parchment.

Because those scraps and remnants are important. Among them I found foundations for two novels, several character back stories, settings and more. Viewed individually, they’re random and make little or no sense. Viewed collectively, they’re like sedimentary rock – historic layers of references and scrawled notes. (Anything that didn’t trigger an “Aah, yes” in my memory got sent straight to recycling.)

Part of me was excited to rediscover the thinking behind the collection. The ideas felt close to the surface and ready to explore, Indiana Jones-style.

Another part is frustrated that my current timetable means that’s unlikely for quite a while.

But hey, at least the cuttings are neatly grouped now. They’re not going anywhere … unless the silverfish digest them before I do.

Tackling the hot topic of autism

My lovely wife recently stumbled across this School Library Journal article which looks at depictions of autism spectrum disorders in fiction. The catalyst for the well argued piece was the tagging of a book with “current cool disability” on the very handy LibraryThing site.

Now, for those with no clue as to what the previous convoluted sentence means, here’s the skinny. LibraryThing is a website for anyone who wants to keep a record of books in their collection or titles they’ve been reading. Whenever you add a book to your online collection you can tag it to help other site users looking for similar tomes. For instance, I tag books in my collection with ‘books for boys’ if I think they will work for reluctant male readers. That makes them easier for me to find – and anyone else who might be interested.

So, someone read a book which features an autistic character and tagged it as “current cool disability.” Hmmmmm, wonder what the previous trendy disability was…

It’s a cheap shot. The fact that there are growing numbers of novels that explore autism doesn’t mean that this disorder is cool. It might mean that with rising numbers of autism diagnoses there’s a market for stories that shed new light on what can be a very challenging condition. I doubt that many families directly affected by autism would consider it cool. Heart-breaking, perhaps. Testing, yes. Inspiring. Instructive. Many other adjectives could be used. But not cool.

In my first novel, Game as Ned, the title character has a form of autism. I didn’t have autism in mind when I began writing. Apart from Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Asperger’s syndrome in Rain Man, I knew very little about it. But I could visualise my character acting in a particular way and needed to research why and how this behaviour might manifest. Many hours of research later, I found that autism could explain what I wanted to describe.

This was a start point, not an end to my research. I read books by authors with autism (especially Dr Temple Grandin and Donna Williams). I attended exhibitions by artists with autism. I spoke to families dealing with autism and interviewed disability professionals. All this work showed me autism spectrum disorders involve a vast range of behaviours, difficulties and abilities. It helped me understand a character in my story could express himself in a way that most of us would never consider. It was liberating and intimidating.

When I heard about Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time I was devastated. I didn’t think anyone else would want to read about an autistic teenager, given that CI had been so successful. A publisher assured me that yes, there was a market for novels relating to autism. Game as Ned was eventually launched by a very generous lady with extensive and personal experience of autism.

My book is now one of several novels that explore this condition. I believe this is a good thing. We all see the world in unique ways and if more of us understand this, fewer might judge, dismiss or belittle folk because they’re different. Sure, we could argue that a rash of books on vampires renders bloodsuckers hip. That doesn’t mean a handful of novels tackling autism makes for a groovy disability.

For references on autism spectrum disorders, scroll down my Teachers’ Notes page.