Category Archives: Melbourne university

The Victorian Writer

I’m delighted to be able to share an article about my writing journey published on page 22 of the The Victorian Writer magazine.

Anyone who wants to know what is happening in the writing world looks forward to this magazine. I believe they have 3500 members who delight in reading the articles and love the ‘competitions and opportunities’ page.

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Beyond Academia

Writers often dream of being published and getting their work ‘out there’. I am no exception. My second novel has just been published but it has been a long road to publication. This manuscript has had at least three reincarnations with a change of title each time. Each version has its own merit and has taught me something valuable about the craft of writing. The novel, ‘Something Missing’ began life as ‘Hens Lay, People Lie’: my artefact for my PhD at Swinburne University.

I had just completed my Masters of Creative Writing at Melbourne Uni when my first novel, Pickle to Pie co-won the Ilura Press International Fiction Quest. This meant a cash advance, plus publication and I was beside myself with excitement.

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Pickle to Pie was the story of a boy, a great-hearted German Grossmutter and a man caught between two worlds. It was a record of my father’s life. In his late eighties he would sit for hours telling me, or whoever would listen, the stories of his early life, the first child born in Australia to his family of German immigrants.

I had promised myself, if Pickle to Pie was ever published that I would give up my day job. Hairdressing had always augmented the family income through good times and bad. After the book launch I stuck to my promise, sold the salon and walked away to a life of poverty. I knew I was not a J K Rowling, but I was happy.

I had often toyed with the idea of studying for my PhD but never dreamt it could happen. However, to be awarded an APA scholarship meant the opportunity to study at Swinburne University. I grabbed it with both hands. With the help of two supervisors I could learn the craft of writing and understand all the rules. I would then know why I was breaking them. I decided to do what so many writers do. I chose to write something close to my heart. Something entirely different. This time it would be based on my thirty-five year pen-friendship with an older American poet, a story about two women, a life changing pen-friendship and the lies they tell each other. I wrote in my journal, ‘I am writing an epistolary, autoethnographic novel grounded in both feminism and post modernist paradigms with the aim of revealing women’s hidden stories in the hope of instigating social change. I believe this embedded story of the journey of self discovery and friendship will carry with it the possibility of nothing less than the restoration of faith in human kind.’

What lofty aims, but here was a chance to use our letters, interspersed with text, to explore the influence this elderly poet had on a young woman who left school at fourteen to become a hairdresser: a woman who unconsciously yearned for the education given to her brother and denied to her. My journey into epistolary fiction using letter, diary and journal extracts, plus snippets of poetry, had begun.

I began work using an older American woman’s voice in first person narration; an elderly Australian woman in second person; and the young Australian mum in third person. The story would have embedded dialogue, following author, Debra Adelaide’s example, where only the formatting and actions of the characters, rather than dialogue marks, reveal to the reader who is speaking at that time. The elderly Australian woman would reveal the pitfalls and joys of writing a novel in a humorous, tongue in cheek, vein.

For four years I am caught up in a world where my mind kept bouncing backwards and forwards between my creative writing of this novel and the formal academic exegesis.

Friends warned me that I would have a meltdown post PhD, but I was convinced that would not happen to me. I was too strong, too resilient. That sort of breakdown only happened to other people. The wail of the ambulance soon bought me back to earth with a thud. I asked my adult son what section of hospital I was in. He replied, ‘The resuscitation room, Mum.’ Two weeks later, just home from hospital and feeling weak and tired, I had resigned myself to missing my already paid for graduation ceremony. My son hired a wheelchair, determined I would make it.

There were only three PhD degrees awarded that night. I waited in the wings for all the BA’s, Masters and double degrees to be awarded before my son wheeled me over to join the queue waiting for their turn to hear their name called and to climb the stairs to the stage. Determined to walk under my own steam, doubts filled my mind. What if I couldn’t manage the stairs? What if I fainted, collapsed, or worse still, threw up when the chancellor, in all his finery handed me my much sort after certificate. What if…
To leave my wheelchair and walk on stage wearing the hired floppy Tudor bonnet and colourful gown was a highlight in my life. I had an overwhelming feeling of achievement and self worth that no one could take away from me. Afterwards, I thankfully joined my peers on the stage and proudly marched out with the academic procession only to flop into the wheelchair waiting by the door.

The mature aged student journey from VCE to PhD had required passion, dogged determination and guts, but it had also been the most exciting, exhilarating time in my life. I knew I would miss it and all the friends I’d made along the way.

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Using my recently gained title of Dr Glenice Whitting I sent my edited and, according to me, perfect manuscript out to publishers and waited for the offers to come rolling in. Nothing happened. Slowly, relentlessly, one after the other a stream of rejections arrived. ‘Thank you for sending Hens Lay People Lie, however…’

I was caught in a catch-22 situation. To get a publisher I needed an agent but to get an agent I needed a publisher. I also took a long hard look at what I’d written, and following the suggestions of American author/editor, Cindy Vallar, I inserted quotation marks to all the dialogue and renamed the manuscript ‘What Time is it There?’ Still the rejections arrived. It was ‘too academic’ too many voices, too literary, too hard to read and so on. Had I, over the years of study, begun to sound as if I’d swallowed a dictionary? I knew I had to, once again, rewrite the manuscript. It took a huge leap of faith to take it from literary fiction into popular fiction.

The third reincarnation is the one that is being published. It was an invaluable lesson. To be a writer I had to be myself and write the way I really wanted to write, from the heart. I took out the overarching second person narrating character, made both Maggie and Diane third person narration, threw in a handful of suspense and Voilà …’Something Missing’ was born. It had gone beyond academia, beyond epistolarity into what is now called, popular fiction. I was over the moon with excitement the day I received the email that Tim Ridgway and Melanie V Taylor of MadeGlobal Publishing. They loved the story and would I sign the contract?

It is every writer’s dream to hold their book in their hands. It gives them a chance to thank all the people who have helped along the way. There have been so many people I could list who have patiently and painstakingly worked with me through all three versions. However, there is an indescribable joy in being able to finally thank them formally, via the acknowledgment page, in the soon to be published last reincarnation of the manuscript, ‘Something Missing’.

When academic friends say, ‘Congratulations on getting ‘Hens Lay, People Lie’ published’ I simply smile and reply with a heartfelt ‘Thank you’.
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Glenice Whitting left school at fourteen to become an apprentice hairdresser. Her journey as a mature –aged student took her from VCE to PhD in creative writing. Her debut novel Pickle to Pie won awards and was published by Ilura Press. Her latest novel, Something Missing was launched at Swinburne University in December and is now available via MadeGlobal in London or at Amazon.com.

Connect with Glenice on her website or on Facebook at Writers and their Journey

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‘Something Missing’ available at www.madeglobal.com & www.glenicewhitting.com
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Nothing Sacred

Nothing Sacred, a verse novel by Linda Weste was launched at Museo Italiano last Wednesday.

Nothing Sacred is a novel written in free verse poems. This imaginative work of fiction evokes the lives of characters including Clodia Metelli, Clodius Pulcher, Catullus, Cicero, Caesar, Caelius and Pompey during 66–42BCE, the final decades of the period of antiquity known as late Republican Rome. It can be bought from Scholarly Publishing for $24.95. Just follow the link.

Poems by Linda Weste have been published in Best Australian Poetry and Australian literary journals. She lives in Melbourne. Nothing Sacred: a novel in verse set in late republican Rome, is her first novel. The book was launched by Dr Paul Skrebels previously from Adelaide University and was attended by Associate professor Marion Campbell of Melbourne University along with many writing friends.

Dr Linda Weste holds an MCW and PhD in creative writing from the University of Melbourne, and is a recipient of the Felix Meyer Scholarship for Creative Writing. Her creative practice includes poetry and historical verse novels.

Linda read several poems and finished with WOULD BE SACRED on page 105.

‘He who ruminates on the entrails of birds

Has us by the balls’

Caesar rolls his eyes as he dismisses

The bevy of soothsayers from his pillared halls

Linda’s words evoke stirring images. We feel the work as we read it and the poetry makes the Roman experience a real artistic truth.

Lygon St Carlton was buzzing with people out to have a good time, eating, drinking, and catching up with friends. I’d traveled from Carrum to attend the launching of a book by writing friend Linda Weste.  I had never even heard of the Museo Italiano in Faraday Street and I couldn’t wait to find out more. From their website I saw that they are an Italian Resource Centre showcasing the Italian migrant experience.

Museo Italiano displays and interprets the experience of Italian migration, and the culture created by Italians in Australia. Italians come from many different backgrounds. with strong regional affiliations that continue to inform Italian-Australian identities. Italians departed from Italy for many reasons to seek opportunities in the New World. Italian-Australians have developed a unique culture by relating their traditions, knowledge and customs to local contents and values.

I noticed they had a photographic exhibition about the migrant camp at Bonegilla. Recently I’d stayed with friends who live on a farm at Wodonga and they had taken me to see what was left of the old Bonegilla  Migrant Camp. Only a few huts remain but volunteers were working to restore them. Unfortunately, when I arrived for the launch I was told that the Bonegilla exhibition had been taken down that day. Such is life. I’ll make sure I see it next time.

Wandering around the many rooms looking at all the photographs lining the walls my mind went back to how much Australia owes to these hardworking migrants who helped shaped this country. I remember many years ago sitting in the sidecar of my father’s belt driven Indian motor bike. We struggled up a steep the hill near Rowville and waved back to a line of Italian prisoners of war walking along the road. Years later it was Italian migrant, Guliano Maionchi and his unlimited hospitality when I visited his orchard in Sommerville. His Palamino sherries and dry ginger sipped under a cool grapevine arbor were legendary.  He gave my two boys a calf called Moosle who followed them everywhere they went.

Walking around the Museo Italiano, seeing the now familiar scarf covered heads of the women and hard working men I reflected on how much Australian culture had gained from the input of migrants such as these.

To attend Linda’s book launch was a highlight of the week. To see and understand the wonderful work done at the Museo Italiano to validate and promote Italian/Australian culture over the years was an added bonus.

Three and a Half Inches Behind

Be nice to your children, they choose your nursing home

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I was visiting a friend who has just moved into assisted care. This newly built aged care facility provides permanent care, dementia care, nursing services and palliative care and is a long way from the basic nursing homes my mother used to talk about. She believed the old saying, Be nice to your kids, they choose your nursing home.  

In the secure section’s tranquility room a small white haired woman snuggled under a soft covering watching laser light ‘stars’ dance on the ceiling. Bright eyes met mine and I sat beside her. She grabbed my hand and beamed at me. ‘Hello’, I said.’How are you?’

‘Three and a half inches behind’. I stroked her hand and spoke quietly for a while eventually saying, ‘I must go now. She patted my arm, ‘Three and a half inches behind’ she said with a smile. When I reached the door I heard a quiet, ‘I love you’.

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For twenty-five years I’ve been a research volunteer with Melbourne University’s Womens’ Healthy Aging Project and have learnt a lot about, menopause, H.R.T, post menopause and lately, dementia and Alzheimers.

According to the current literature Dementia, also known in my mother’s day as senility, is a broad category of brain diseases that cause long term and often gradual decrease in the ability to think and remember clearly . So much so that a person’s daily functioning is affected.  The most common affected areas include memory, visual-spatial, language, attention and problem solving. Most types of dementia are slow and progressive. By the time the person shows signs of the disease, the process in the brain has been happening for a long time. At the moment there is no cure. Globally, dementia affects thirty-six million people and is on the increase. More people are living longer and dementia is becoming more common in the population as a whole.

Senility has been around for a long time. My mother often told me that when she was eighteen she was sent to look after her Gran who was senile and needed constant care. It was a daily struggle just to get Gran dressed. After fighting with her to get some sort of clothes on, Mum would try to put on Gran’s leather buttoned boots. Gran would clench her teeth and plant her foot on the floor. They would struggle for about half an hour before Mum finally got the boots on and buttoned. Mum would give her grandmother a bag of tangled pieces of string for her to unravel. It kept her busy all day. At night Mum would mix them all up again and hand the bag back to Gran the next day.  Only when her Gran was dressed and occupied could Mum escape to do her own chores.

Not every dementia patient is as difficult as Gran. They can be as sweet and lovely as Three and a Half Inches Behind. WHAP research has found that the story of each patient recorded in a book assists people to  understand how to help dementia patients  live as calm and enjoyable a life as possible.

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The new three story building that is home to my friend houses elderly people with physical and mental problems and is better than any luxurious Retirement Village I’ve ever seen. Large private rooms with an en-suite, wide hallways, comfortable lounges with aquariums and electric fireplaces complete with realistic flame effect. Friendly, caring staff. These facilities are a far cry from the urine smelling shared rooms of the nursing homes of my mother’s day.

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I remember sitting next to eighty year old friend, Mickey when we flew through a violent storm in a tiny eight seater plane. After a particularly loud boom of thunder, she bent forward, put her fingers in her ears, closed her eyes and muttered her mantra, ‘Never a nursing home, Never a nursing home.’ Mickey would not have such a fear of being sent to a home if she had seen one of these new Aged Care Facilities today.

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But to get into one of these top class aged care facilities is still a trauma and, if you cannot get a government funded place, can cost the earth. I don’t know what the answer is, but I am so happy for my friend. Her physical condition has improved since being there and her mind is still as sharp as a tack.

A writer’s Journey

How do writers discover their love of writing?

Some authors have always been readers and writers. They have grown up surrounded by books and have imagined or written stories all their lives. Others discover, like me, their love of writing by chance.

Follow your dreams

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“Write one page on anything you like,” our VCE English teacher said. The other students started to write, but I felt numb, apart from an overwhelming fear that made my hands shake. I knew my children were proof that my body was fertile, but what if my mind was barren? I wrapped my bulky cardigan around me and commenced to scrawl anything, just as long as the paper wasn’t blank.

How many girls were told, “She doesn’t need a higher education. She’ll only get married and have children.” So we tucked our dreams, along with the hand-embroidered linen, into our glory-box.

My life moved on from the frenzied earning and child rearing years. I remember sitting in the Robert Blackwood Hall, witnessing my son receive his university degree and thinking about the difference in our education. At fourteen, I’d left Malvern Girls’ Domestic Arts School to start an apprenticeship. Over the years, in an attempt to self-educate, I’d tried to read the dynamo labelled school books in the bookcase, but they were hard to understand. How could I relate to my two sons? Already they were trying to talk to me in a foreign language of hyperlinks and megabytes. I felt an overwhelming desire for knowledge and decided to go back to school.

Could I cope? What if I failed? My mantra became, ‘one day at a time’, and like a learner swimmer flung into the deep end of the pool I clung to my life buoy of supportive teachers and classmates.

Several weeks later the worst was over and I was part of a triathlon team. We powered forward, exhilarated in heart and mind. With the help of dedicated teachers the code was finally broken to my son’s books and they revealed so many previously hidden biological facts and literary treasures. Acceptance at TAFE, and later Monash, Melbourne and Swinburne Universities, resulted in a joyful ongoing journey of discovery, but the greatest discovery of all was my own innate ability to learn, and most important of all, to write.

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These days, the long hours tapping away seem only minutes. I write anything and everything and beside me is a novel, Pickle to Pie. What writer worth her salt hasn’t written The Book? It was with great pleasure, via an acknowledgements page, to formally thank the many supportive and inspiring University lecturers, TAFE teachers, writing friends, the Mordialloc Writing Group, my family and friends who have helped me on my journey. Their kindness and generosity has changed my life and I no longer have a vague feeling of ‘something missing’.

I am no longer at ‘school’, but after finally completing the writing journey from VCE to PhD I want to say to other mature aged women who yearn for knowledge and need the help of others to show them the way, “Don’t be afraid to take the plunge. It is never too late to follow your dreams.”

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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. .