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A Writer’s Life

“To have a successful writing career you must be willing to sacrifice a great deal. The book, the deadline come first before anything else. Writing is not a job; it is a lifestyle, and it is a roller-coaster ride of highs and lows. You need self-confidence and an iron carapace.” ~ Virginia Henley Re-blogged from Mary Jaksch ‘Write to Done’ This is so true, but after a lifetime of looking after others, putting every mundane task first, before the writing, it takes a huge leap of faith, to say nothing of enormous discipline, to put the Writing first and foremost.

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Excerpt from my novel

I'm re-writing 'Capriccio' under a new title. It seems that most readers have never heard of Ted Hughes' poetry sequence of the same title, which is hardly surprising, considering they were first published as 'rare books' at the cost of 4000 English pounds each. So people may think my book is about music, as 'Capriccio' is mostly used as a musical term for a fast, merry piece. Assia's story is far from merry, although she had some exciting times.

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Why Writing Groups Work

The following words, could well apply to the Randwick Writers Group, which I convene fortnightly. All members of this group have improved their writing by leaps and bounds (excuse the cliché), one has been accepted for publication this year, and two have had interest from literary agents. Through rigorous feedback, following our guidelines (praise first, then constructive critique, finishing with global) we four are constantly motivated to keep writing.

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More about Helen

“The most compelling thing I’ve read online recently is Helen Garner’s piece in The Monthly, ‘The insults of age’. Garner’s writing is always emotionally intelligent and always delivered with a clear-eyed grace, but this piece – her perspective on what it means to be a 71-year-old woman – is a particular gem. The cultural assumption that the ageing are almost-dead […]

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The Great Ingmar Bergman

Had the privilege  this long weekend of viewing seven of Bergman’s films, dating from the late forties to the sixties. What a treat! Each movie was introduced by the erudite David Stratton, who shone light on these sometimes dark, deep movies. From the beautiful and horrifying Virgin Spring, to the fascinating psychoanalytical Persona, we were transported to the wild coastlines and dark forests of Sweden, and invited into the psyches of his characters through brilliant close=ups, and monologues that could well emanate from the analyst’s couch. The elegance of Bergman’s direction was obvious, from his mediaeval ‘The Seventh Seal’ in which his main character gambles for his life with the black-garbed Death, to the light-hearted ‘Smiles of a Summer Night’. So interesting to see how Woody Allen’s ‘A MIdsummer Night’s Sex Comedy’ was influenced by this film of Bergman’s. My favourite was ‘The Silence’, about two sisters and their complex relationship, starring Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom. This was closely followed by ‘Persona’ in which the identities of two women, played by Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson, merge and diverge in a dreamlike way, so that the viewer sometimes can’t tell which is which. In one anazing close-up, the two faces are blended onto one.

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Until We Are All Free

My 13-yr-old granddaughter, Zoë, on Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers: My name is Zoë Davis. I live in a comfortable home with a room all to myself. I go to school, have three large meals a day, have a hot shower whenever I want, and have a family who love and support me. I live in a city where I […]

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Fact and Fiction Re-visited

Janet Malcolm, in her masterly work on the biographies of Plath, makes an interesting point about fiction having more ‘truth’ than non-fiction. It’s fascinating to consider that in some respects fiction could be more true than nonfiction. Fiction is part of a closed world, all in the author’s mind, and even if the author deliberately leaves options open, that openness is part of the author’s created world. With nonfiction, there really is a truth that happened, but there are so many mediators between that truth and the reading audience, each interpreting the facts differently or choosing which facts to reveal, with some having a stake in how the story is presented and understood. How can one be sure of the truth? What’s Fact, what’s Fiction? In ‘Capriccio’ I use the facts of Assia’s life as  a scaffolding on which to build the deeper truth of emotions, thoughts and conversations, using fiction. For example,  in my chapter entitled ‘Edge’, we know the facts are that Sylvia wrote a letter, and asked for stamps, on the night she took her life. The letter, if it was found, has never been disclosed. My excerpt from that letter is invented, an imagined version of what she might have written on that last day. The fictional letter from Sylvia contains the things Assia might have read about herself. We also know that Assia was shocked to read the vituperative language Sylvia wrote about Assia and David in the […]

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Assia’s birthday

Remembering Assia Gutmann Wevill, born this day 1927 in Berlin. Tragically she took her own life in 1969. She’s the main character of my new novel, ‘Capriccio’, which retraces her stormy relationship with poet Ted Hughes. Who was Assia? Why has history treated her so unfairly? Was she, as Ted Hughes speculates in his poetry collection ‘Capriccio’ doomed to die? For answers to these questions, and more, read my novel ‘Capriccio’, excerpts of which can be found on this Blog, under the menu item ‘Excerpts’.

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The lost poems of Ted Hughes

Ted Hughes’ series of twenty poems, called ‘Capriccio,’ was first published in 1990 in a print run of only fifty. The expensively produced leather-bound volume was inaccessible to most readers, by virtue of its cost ($4000) and rare book status. It was not until after Hughes’ death in 1998, that the series was accessible in its entirety, as a brief section in ‘The Collected Poems of Ted Hughes’ edited by Paul Keegan. (Faber and Faber, 2003). Thus the full sequence of ‘Capriccio’ was virtually lost to Hughes’ readers for many years. Why did Hughes wait almost thirty years after his affair with Assia Wevill to publish these poems? Why did he tell Assia’s biographers, Eilat Negev and Yehuda Koren, that these poems were perhaps ‘not the ones I should have written’? Was this work an apologia for Hughes’ role in the life and death of Assia and Shura, intended to show destiny as the culprit? In these poems, some of which cruelly portray Assia as Lilith the devil-woman, there is little mention of Hughes’ own destructive influences. Hughes appears to argue that he’s biologically predetermined to be Assia’s prey, and that the winds of fate brought them together. The fate she carried sniffed us out, he writes in ‘Dreamers’, the only poem about Assia which is not in ‘Capriccio’. Next to Hughes’ award-winning ‘Birthday Letters’, the autobiographical nature of ‘Capriccio’ went barely noticed for many years. When the poems were […]

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Randwick Writers’ Feedback Guidelines

GIVING FEEDBACK The Sandwich Analogy: Say something positive before something negative, then finish on the positive or how to make it better. Give the positives first and say what works for you. Give the negatives next, and say what doesn’t work for you, and lastly, how you think it could be made better. Take on the task of critiquing with a positive and helpful intention; read carefully, trying to understand the writer’s point of view and creative goal. Consider the basic issues of narrative structure, characterisation, evocative and atmospheric language, vivid setting and believable dialogue.  Be honest in your feedback; the writer needs guidance, not niceties! RECEIVING FEEDBACK Be prepared to receive negative, as well as positive, feedback. Separate the personal from the product, and see feedback as a valuable opportunity to improve your writing. While receiving verbal feedback, try not to interrupt the speaker. Be ready to respond to negative feedback, after speaker has finished. Give your reasons for your opinion. Rewrite your work in accordance with the feedback received, and see if it is better. If not, stick to your guns! A sure sign that you can write is that you keep going after knockbacks.

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