Monthly Archives: January 2015

Writers come from all walks of life and choose many different paths to achieve their dreams

Coping with challenging theories

We live in a wonderful world that is full of charm and adventure. There is no end to  the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.’—      Jawaharlal Nehru

Writers come from all walks of life and choose many different paths to achieve their dreams. My way turned out by chance to be an academic pathway. I have never regretted the change of direction or the journey that unfolded. However, I constantly worried whether I could achieve my creative writing dreams. I soon discovered all I needed to do was embrace the fear and enthusiastically  accept the challenge.

When I began my Masters by coursework and minor thesis at Melbourne university I did not have the university based background of many students. Returning to study after leaving school at fourteen and still working as a hairdresser meant taking evening courses. I began VCE at TAFE followed by a Bachelor of Arts at Monash. By the end of the BA I had discovered my passion for writing. From there, instead of doing the usual Honours year at university, my priority became to complete a diploma of Professional Writing and Editing back at TAFE. Therefore, when I decided to tackle a Masters of Creative Writing at Melbourne University I did not have the required research background.

Writing the Unconscious was a seminar-based subject that explored the implications of theories of the self and how the unconscious affects modern artists and the creative process. Thank goodness this subject’s lecturer was Dr Dominique Hecq. She is a talented, nurturing and understanding soul and I tested every ounce of her patience. We were studying philosophers such as Donald Winnicott, Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) and Jacques Lacan 250px-Lacan2I had never heard of them, leave alone studied them. My decision to give my presentation on Lacan was because it was just before the Easter break and I would have the four day holiday to recover from my hairdressing job and constant study. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for. One student said, ‘How brave of you to choose Lacan’ and I wondered what she was talking about, but my knees quivered. Here is an extract from my writing journal

Lacan, plus Freud, dash de Saussure, accent Levi-Strauss

 A spotlight bold and bright highlights my desk. In the shadows papers festoon every inch of the floor and the filing cabinet is a hanging garden of paper. Outside, the sun is rosebud pink under dark clouds and will soon rise above them, lost to me for another day. Why am I doing this? Why study until my eyes won’t focus and my head tips towards the computer screen hoping for some support? The only time available in this busy life is between three and six AM and today I’m giving a presentation on, who else but that poet/theorist Lacan, or Lacoh as the French would say.

I look at what is written on the computer screen. Scratchy figures slash and divide. The hieroglyphics of a distorted mind, my mind that grapples with the Rebus puzzle of The Agency of the Letter…since Freud.

In a Rebus puzzle often attention is drawn to some part of the picture, often by an arrow or underlining, indicating that this is where we should be looking for the clue. Here the arrow points to the first AID, and thus the answer is first aid.

Snores, loud and sonorous. Sound sleep at last. A cough. He will soon stretch, yawn and reach for me. In pyjamas and ski socks I must slip back to bed and pretend that I haven’t moved, not a muscle, not a twitch for an entire night. “Want a cup of tea?“ I watch the wisps of steam rise and feel acid gnaw at my insides. Today. Today I give my presentation. A week of intense study, a week spent locked up with a dead Frenchman who wants to tease me, taunt me, frustrate and fascinate me. He has become more intimate more real, and I possibly know him better, than the body in the bed. And best of all? He can’t answer back.

My brain feels like melting jelly. It slops within my cranium. If I tip forward the top of my head will fly open and a river of words, theories, algorithms and metaphors will spill over the kitchen floor, into the laundry and out into the yard. Steady girl, you’re losing it. You still have until 3:pm before you have to catch that train. Plenty of time to pull it all together. Saussure Nothing is working, John Muller is not helping. Joan Gallop is taking me down the feminist path. I’m fascinated with her thoughts on the Name of the Father, and is that what she really feels about the phallus? Maybe….tick, tick, tick Back to Muller. Has he got the key? I flip pages, faster and faster looking for the door to the secret garden. The black lump in the base of my stomach drops even further. If I had a penis it would be petrified by now. No makeup, still in my socks and clutching my oldest cardigan around me I open the door.

“Come in, come in, how is your new home? Do you miss Victoria.” They are unexpected, uninvited. “Not putting you out are we?” “Not a scrap. The house is a mess but I’m sure you can cope with that.Toasted sandwiches? Cheese and tomato?”

“Goodbye. See you next time you’re down.”

Print the presentation. Where is he? Where has he gone? I wasn’t away that long. Couldn’t Lacan wait? Instead, he has slipped into the shadows, buried deep in an unconscious inaccessible to me. Nothing makes sense. Signifier, signified, symbolic system, simmering symptom. SSssssss. Es in German means the Id. Lacan all over the bed, rocking my beliefs, spinning in my head and dragging me down on the floor. To weep, to moan, to curl up in the foetal position. beaten, betrayed. Too late, too late. Calls from downstairs. Pain that transcends my own, that call me back, to caress, to care. Can I go? Can I leave my husband for Lacan? Husband insists, he will be okay. Go girl go. I catch the train just in time. Signifier, signified, symbolic system, simmering symptom. He has returned. Out of the shadows leaps Lacan to bless, to inspire, to invigorate and lead. logo_home Giving my presentation on Lacan at Melbourne university was a turning point in my life. I learnt to overcome fear and ‘go for broke’ as the saying goes; that nothing is as bad as I think it is going to be. But most of all, I learnt to take a chance and no matter what the outcome, I would survive. The world opened up for me and I now live by that philosophy. Accept the challenge, face the fear and go for it. .

ARE YOU A BUDDING NOVELIST?

THE BEGINNING OF MY SECOND SPRINGTIME

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 I was familiar with being a mature aged student and had found it an exhilarating experience, but postgraduate study? I’d toyed with the idea but never seriously given it much thought. My play Here Today, Gone Tomorrow had been produced and I was happily writing a story based on my father’s life about a boy, a great-hearted German Grossmutter and a man caught between two worlds.

The reason we take a different pathway in life can hinge on such trivial things as a word, a phrase in a book or even what a writing friend suggests to you. My foray back into university life began with a brief notice in The Victorian Writers magazine.

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The University of Melbourne

Are you a budding novelist?

A blooming poet? Or simply ready for your own springtime?

We can help you grow…

In the Masters of Creative Writing you will develop your editing and writing skills while working with an enthusiastic group of students of all ages in workshops: expand your ideas through stimulating reading and discussion: meet literary agents, publishers and editors: and develop your manuscript on a one-to-one basis with a supervisor.

How could I resist? For years I’d been working on ‘The Book’ and was starting to go in circles. Feedback was definitely needed. My Mordialloc Writers’ Group, organised and run by Mairi Neil were a very supportive bunch of people but I didn’t think I should forever bludgeon them with the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Franki and Grossmutter. They needed a break. I was passionate about the story. I’d gone too far to simply put it into the bottom drawer. Many times, in frustration I’d turned my back and immersed myself in other writing endeavours but something always pulled me back. An incident of racial prejudice, a snippet of German/Australian history or the memories and stories of elderly people who lived through those times. Before I knew it I was up to my ears in research…again. So why not go back to formal study? Melbourne University beckoned and I could not resist.

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Two referees. I needed two referees. Who could I ask to recommend me? Who was going to do that? Ray Mooney, that kind-hearted, enthusiastic motivator/lecturer from Holmesglen TAFE. He wouldn’t refuse and old pupil. Liam Davison, at the time was Program Co-ordinator of Chisholm TAFE. Would he remember me? Liam was a brilliant author who supported his students. I grieved for him when he lost his life on Malaysian flight MH17 over Ukraine, which killed all 298 people on board. I wanted to shout out loud what a fine person he was and how grateful I was for his support. Both writers generously gave up precious time and energy to help me achieve my dreams.

Online application completed. Project outline. Sample of novel. Synopsis. Character outline. Anything I’d forgotten? My hand shook when I made the appointment at Melbourne University. Would they accept me?

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In the train rattling towards enrolment, I studied a map of the campus. Nothing was familiar. Names leapt out: Economics, Education, Engineering. At last I saw Studies in Creative Arts. At least I knew which building. Checking my folder, I reread what I wanted to do, to achieve. Themes I wanted to explore.

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The Old Arts building is a well-hidden gem surrounded by the façade of more recent buildings. Inside, passages branch off in all directions. Which to take? Like Alice in Wonderland I was soon lost and believed the stories of the ghosts of lost academics wandering those corridors still trying to find their way out. People noticed my bewildered expression, took pity on me and pointed me in the right direction.

Enrolment followed, then payment of fees and photographs taken. The student card was my ticket into an exciting world. It was time to take stock of my new writing home.

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Beautiful old buildings, vaulted archways, vigorous green grass, sheltering trees, birds happily chirping and a young student frantically lighting a cigarette and drawing the smoke deep into his lungs. I’m a non-smoker, but my tongue was hanging out for a shot of caffeine. If only a café would present itself. Retreating to The Loft study area away from a multitude of students, I felt raw and new. Everything was an acronym. UMPA, SCAR, UNIMELB. Would I ever get the hang of it and actually know what I was saying? I discovered a café called The Deep Dish and retreated to settle my feathers.

Peak hour in Melbourne and the platform was crammed with leg-weary workers. The express train had already travelled around the city link and was packed to overflowing. I moved further down the train, resigned to strap hang for the next hour. Several passengers squeezed up to make a precious space. Precariously perched and clutching my pull – along case my belly churned when I thought of the classes ahead. Could I cope? Would I be able to produce interesting, entertaining stories or would the words lie dead on the page? Ideas began to bubble and boil in my brain. Completely out of my comfort zone, I kept telling myself that’s what life is all about. New challenges are an integral part of the writing journey. I just had to convince myself that I could handle what the course threw at me.

I may not have handled it well, or correctly, or gracefully, or with finesse, but I did successfully complete the Masters of Creative Writing by Coursework and Minor Thesis at Melbourne University and revelled in the joy of learning.  It also became my launching pad into a PhD scholarship at Swinburne University.

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The completed novel, Pickle to Pie was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, won the Ilura Press International Fiction Quest and was launched by Ilura Press at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival.

Heather Blight: author of Singled Out

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To swim early in the morning surrounded by mirrored clouds is the perfect time to reflect on life. This morning I peacefully floated on my boogie board thinking of all the people who have shared my writing journey.  One particular friend came to mind.  Here is Heather Blight’s inspiring story.

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Heather sat curled up in front of the fire, the mental video of her life playing over and over in her mind. She wanted to scream, ‘Stop, please stop’, but no matter what she said or did it kept babbling along, constantly tormenting her with negative images and scenes from her past. She asked herself, ‘Why do I watch all this lousy stuff?’ Why not change to another tape, one filled with happiness, not this dreary self-perpetuating dirge. What if I simply started with the title? Blight. The name says it all. If I changed it, would the story change with it? But in her heart, Heather knew that if she was going to survive, she would have to change not only her name, but her life. Was it possible? Could she become Heather B. Light?

Twenty years ago she stared at the doctor in disbelief as her world disintegrated. She wondered if she was allowed to cry. The tears flowed anyway and somehow they helped. Her husband had already been told that surgery was out of the question and he had refused chemotherapy. He had only a few days, weeks at the most, and he wanted to use the time to say goodbye. Her husband wanted a party.

Heather was horrified, but as usual she repressed her feelings and started to joke about his Going Away party. Anything for peace. Often he would look at her and say, ‘I’m the one who’s dying, why are you crying again?’ The voices in her head kept telling her that it was all a dream, a nightmare, some sort of strange game. Her husband organized a video camera to record his farewell. She was the dutiful wife, supportive, loyal and faithful. The party was a success. People admired and applauded their courage but didn’t know how helpless she felt.

After the funeral the doctor gave her pills to ease her crying. They helped but didn’t stop the constant shaking inside. Work. That was what was needed. She bought a plant nursery not knowing the difference between a plant and a weed. Constantly physically and mentally exhausted she questioned her abilities. Heather wondered what had possessed her to believe that she could succeed. Her father always told her that she was no good. The nursery folded but money was made on the sale of the land. After that came a boring office job, then, mortgaged to the hilt, not one, but two sandwich bars. On an emotional roller coaster she fluctuated between depression and euphoria. Six months later her house was sold to pay the bills. Heather began playing the ‘I’ll be happy when,’ game. I’ll be happy when I’m a success. I’ll be happy when I’m in a good relationship. Reading a book called The Game of Life and how to Play it about accepting responsibility for herself made the difference. Was her own miserable world her own fault? Taking flight to a cottage by the bay did not help. Constant black depression forced her to consider alternative thinking.

Slowly she realized that her husband was a replica of her strong unloving father. Had she tried to relive the past and get it right? She looked at her business ventures. Were they subconscious sabotage? Was her subconscious mind programmed with guilt and self-sacrifice? Had she sought out comfort zones that were wrecking her life?

Heather decided she had to forgive her father and her husband, before she could forgive and love herself. Like a computer, her habits, patterns, comfort zones programmed in since birth by other people. In her daily meditation she carefully reprogrammed her subconscious mind to replace the negative movie of her life and replace it with a positive one. No blame, no recriminations, no criticism. It worked.

Singled Out cover

Heather enjoyed curling up in front of the fire, the mental video of her life now filled with painting classes, water aerobics, creative writing at TAFE College and grandchildren. She began writing a novel based on her experiences of returning as a mature woman to the singles scene. During this time, Heather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but refused to let the illness define her. Last year her debut novel, Singled Out was published by www.soulmatepublishing.com and is available at Amazon as a kindle book for US $3.49.

‘Singled Out’ is a satirical but poignant look at friendship, cheating, death, and addiction in the mature-age singles scene in Australia. Beth, terminally young and incurably optimistic, will not receive her inheritance unless she gets married again before she turns forty. When potential husbands lie, cheat, and betray Beth, her drinking escalates with flashbacks to a traumatic childhood. Can she rise above it all to find true love?

Singled Out is also available from Amazon Australia for AUS $3.99

Singled Out: A Satirical and Humorous Insight Into a Journey of Self Discovery

Singled Out is a rollicking romp through the highs and lows of the mature aged dating scene. It is about four friends, a gay hairdresser, a dysfunctional mother and a woman who undertakes a life altering journey and finally achieves her dream. Heather Blight is an extremely gifted storyteller and wonderful crafter of character and dialogue. Her novel humorously reveals the hopes, desires, pitfalls, and back stabbing nature of friendships, mother daughter relationships and the online dating scene. However, Singled Out reminds us of a simpler time. Relationships and dating techniques are discussed in detail with close personal friends and wisdom passes from one to the other. Beth is a lovingly wrought character, not a perfect woman by any means. Therefore, she is very human. It is uplifting when her personal growth and ultimate belief in herself enables her to break the cycle of failed relationships. Singled Out has depth and there is much more to discover in this book for those willing to read beneath the surface.

Heather is currently writing a memoir titled ‘Multiple Sclerosis Miracles and Me’ about all the different treatments she has tried since being diagnosed with MS. These range from burning cow dung to making her own yoghurt. She has also made rational choices regarding traditional medicines. What is the most important thing to Heather? Her subconscious mind has long ago stopped playing the negative movie of her life. It has been replaced with one containing no recriminations and no criticism. Her mental video is now filled with positive images.