Category Archives: writing workshops

The Highs And Lows of The Writing Journey

As authors we are constantly told to write and share our journey. I decided to send a blog article to the Historical Novel Society of Australasia (HNSA) before presenting on a panel Sunday week (10th Sept) at Swinburne University

Here is a copy of that article and accompanying email by author Elisabeth Storrs

An inspirational story that gives heart to ‘later bloomers’ – Glenice Whitting joins us on the HNSA blog. https://hnsaustralasia.blogspot.com.au/2017/08/writing-and-publishing-hidden-stories.html

Glenice will be appearing in the ‘The Lie of History’: How the Mirror of the Present Shapes the Past for its Own Purposes with Wendy J. Dunn, Diane Murray, Gillian Polack, and Cheryl Hayden in our academic programme. http://hnsa.org.au/academic-programme/

Writing and Publishing Hidden Stories – by Dr Glenice Whitting

Writers often dream of being published and getting their work ‘out there’. I am no exception. I had just completed my Masters of Creative Writing at Melbourne University 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. 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 as a boy with a German name living through two world wars and a depression. After he died I discovered a box of old German postcards and decided to write his story. In the process I came to terms with my previously hidden German heritage.

In any society, there are many forms of cultural and personal censorship that prevent the telling of tales considered unpalatable, unsavoury, subversive or insignificant. The result is that written history can be one sided, dominated by strong cultural groups, the stories of minorities unvalued and unrecorded. These stories cry out to be heard and with every life extinguished, we lose part of our collective memory. Writers can give voice to neglected stories of human beings who have been damaged deeply by world events.

To be a guest speaker at the Historical Novel Society’s Conference Academic Program Session four at Swinburne University is a dream come true. On the 10th September from 10am-11am our focus will be on the Lie of History. It is my chance to give voice to the children of German descent who lived in Australia during the last century and struggled to come to terms with their opposing worlds.

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.

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 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 three and a half 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.

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 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 faction. I was over the moon with excitement the day I received the email from Tim Ridgway and Melanie V Taylor of the international MadeGlobal Publishing. They loved the story and would I sign the contract?

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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 Pickle to Pie and all three versions of Something Missing. However, there is an indescribable joy in being able to finally thank them formally, via an acknowledgment page.

It is invaluable for a writer to participate in conferences and to be part of the Historical Novel Society of Australasia. The HNSA provides the opportunity to talk with readers and authors and discuss writing and promoting ideas. The members are so supportive and it feels like you belong to one large family. Why don’t you join us during this stimulating and inspirational weekend filled with talks, feedback and historical writing workshops? Go to HNSA and check out the program.

Glenice Whitting left school at fourteen to become a hairdresser. Her journey as a mature-aged student too her from VCE to PhD in creative writing. Her debut novel, Pickle to Pie, was published by Ilura Press. Her latest novel, Something Missing, was launched at Swinburne University in December 2016. Both books are available from Dymocks book stores and at her websiteSomething Missing is also available though Made GlobalBook Depository, and Amazon. Connect with Glenice on her website or on Facebook at Writers and their Journey.

As part of our HNSA 2017 academic program, Glenice will be discuss: The Lie of History: How the mirror of the present shapes the past for its own purposes with Wendy J Dunn, Diane Murray, Gillian Polack and Cheryl Hayden.

Admission to the academic programme is free but bookings are essential. You can find more details about Lie of History session on our website or buy tickets here.

HNSA 2017 Conference

The HNSA 2017 Melbourne Conference is being held on 8-10 September 2017 at Swinburne University.

This celebration of the historical fiction genre will showcase over 60 speakers discussing inspiration, writing craft, research, publishing pathways and personal histories in our weekend programme. Among the many acclaimed historical novelists participating are Kerry Greenwood, Kate Forsyth, Deborah Challinor, Libby Hathorn, Lucy Treloar, Sophie Masson, Sulari Gentill, Robert Gott and Arnold Zable. The HNSA’s speakers’ list is available on the HNSA website.

In addition to the two-stream weekend programme, there will be ten craft based super sessions and two research masterclasses.You won’t want to miss our interactive sessions on armour and historical costumes either! Purchase a ticket and you will be entered in the draw to win a $100 Dymocks Gift Card.

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Historical Novel Society of Australasia Sept 2017

To be a guest speaker at the Historical Novel Society’s Conference Academic Program Session four at Swinburne University is a dream come true.

On Sunday the 10th September from 10am-11am our focus will be on the Lie of History. It is my chance to give voice to the children of German descent who lived in Australia during the last century and struggled to come to terms with their opposing worlds. I also want to reveal what it was like for a woman growing up in the USA and Australia during the fifties and sixties. These stories are often the hidden stories of the past. Unrecognised and forgotten. They need to be recorded and told.

SUNDAY 10TH SEPTEMBER 2017

ACADEMIC PROGRAMME

 TIME

10.00 am -12.30 pm (2 hours plus tea break)

Entry for anyone wishing to attend the academic program is free but bookings are essential due to limited space. http://hnsa.org.au/academic-programme/
VENUE

LEVEL   5,   ROOM AMDC  506

AMDC Building
Swinburne University of Technology
Hawthorn Campus

 10.00 am – 11:00 am Session Two
THE LIE OF HISTORY’: HOW THE MIRROR OF THE PRESENT SHAPES THE PAST FOR ITS OWN PURPOSES  

There is no question that we are constructions of our own times, and the writing of history is always shaped by those who recount the past for their own purposes. How does the mirror of the present day reflect and dictate the telling of history? Do we filter a version of history that tells more about us than the times of long ago through what we choose to reveal and erase? Dr Wendy J Dunn will discuss these questions with panel members Drs Glenice Whitting, Diane Murray, Gillian Polack, and Cheryl Hayden.

The HNSA conference is from Friday 8th Sept to Sunday 10th sept http://hnsa.org.au/conference/programme/ and the aim is to promote reading and writing of historical fiction.

My Abstract: Writing Hidden Stories

In any society, there are many forms of cultural and personal censorship that prevent the telling of tales considered unpalatable, unsavoury, subversive or insignificant. The result is that written history can be one sided, dominated by strong cultural groups, the stories of minorities unvalued and unrecorded. These stories cry out to be heard and with every life extinguished, we lose part of our collective memory. So how do writers give voice to neglected stories of human beings who have been damaged deeply by world events?

 

    

The Historical Novel Society Australasia (HNSA) promotes the writing, reading and publication of historical fiction, especially in Australia and New Zealand. The HNSA was formally established in 2014. The society considers the historical fiction genre to be important to both the entertainment and education of readers as it contributes to the knowledge of the reader and provides a valid perspective beyond the viewpoint of the historian. Both the imagination and dedication of historical novelists present an authentic world which can enrich a reader’s understanding of real historical personages, eras and events. The HNSA conferences enable readers and writers to celebrate this genre and showcase the best of Australia and New Zealand’s literary talent.

Writing a Memoir?

How to make your story come alive

Writing a memoir might seem easy because you already know the story-after all, its your own. But to write a fascinating account of your life, you not only have to tell your tale compellingly, you also have to master plot, character dialogue, theme, and the other essential elements of great writing.          (Victoria Costello)

I’ve always found that belonging to a writer’s group or attending and even running a class where you workshop your story helps me as a writer. It inspires me to keep on writing. The prompts, exercises and inspirational examples help get the story out of  my head and onto the page.

You may simply want to record your story for your family, or may want to write it for a larger audience. But whatever your aim, it helps to know how to craft your story into a gripping yarn.

Don’t hesitate to stand on the shoulders of others. Learn from those who have gone before you. I read everything I can lay my hands on relating to the story I’m writing. Dishes are left in the sink, beds remain unmade but reading helps me to understand how other writers have overcome some of the problems I may be facing.

Here is a list of some of the books and authors who have helped me on my writing journey.

The Artist’s Way: A spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron

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Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

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Naked, Drunk and Writing, Shed your Inhibitions and Write a Compelling Personal Essay or Memoir by Adair Lara.

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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

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Experience has taught me that if I’m going to write anything beyond the mundane I must accept the need for crappy first drafts. Anne Dillard, in The Writing Life says,

‘When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. soon you will find yourself deep in a new territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow, or this time next year’

Friends often ask when the book will be finished. My reply is ‘How long is a piece of string.’ Some people can write a complete memoir in half the time it takes me. Everyone is different. A book may take from one to ten years to complete, but who cares as long as it is a labour of love? The passion carries you through until you complete the journey. When writing the story based on my father’s life I pinned a quote from Bryce Courtney onto my wall.

‘There is no greater tribute than to lovingly record a life’.

Maya Angelou, author of the acclaimed memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings says,

‘What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat,’ you know. And it might be the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced I’m serious and says, Okay, okay, I’ll come.’

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Fellow blogger and close friend, Mari Neil has a blog titled Up The Creek with a Pen. In her blog  A little moderation Goes a Long Way she believes writing classes are here to stay. I certainly hope so.

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May the words flow freely. Happy writing everyone

Writing Healing Life Stories

For writers, writing is how they make sense of their world.

There is a long human tradition of writing to make sense of events that effect the self. Writing can be a way to heal the emotional and physical wounds that are an inevitable part of life

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Some people use writing as a way to work through emotional issues by privately writing of grief in personal journals and diaries. Others write and publish memoirs such as the heart-rending Paula (1995), in which Chilean writer Isabel Allende interweaves autobiographical fragments into a letter to her dying twenty-eight year old daughter. Two recent memoirs about coping with the loss of a loved one are Megan O’Rouke’s The Long Goodbye (2011), about mourning her mother and Joyce Carol Oates’s A Widow’s Story (2011).

The most touching of all is perhaps Sandra Arnold’s Sing No Sad Song: losing a daughter to cancer (2011). These books add to a growing sub-genre that includes Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking (2005), a memoir of her husband’s death, daughter’s illness, and the wife and mother’s efforts to make sense of a time when nothing made sense. In her latest book, Blue Nights (2011), Didion mourns the loss of her family, youth and ability to write. David Rieffs’ Swimming in a Sea of Death (2008) is a loving tribute to his mother, the writer Susan Sontag, and her final battle with cancer. In a similar vein, Anne Roiphe’s Epilogue (2008), explores late-life widowhood.

This mourning of mothers, daughters, sons, husbands and friends shows the reader that their experience is not unique. They are not alone.

Last year I ran workshops concentrating on teaching the craft of writing and discovered that many students were recording their own traumatic stories. They wanted to make sense of their lives and hoped sharing their experiences would help others. The stories were far reaching and covered how life threatening illnesses, drug addiction etc. changed the lives, not only of the person involved, but also the extended family.

For this reason I’ve decided the 2015 workshops beginning in April at the Living Now Wellbeing Centre, Studio 7/14 Hartnett Drive Seaford will focus on the writing of Healing Life Stories.  The ten week course begins Tuesday April 14th until June 16th (10am -12noon).  If interested ring 97724566

Writing can heal your life. It allows us to find our creativity, write our stories, become more whole and expand our horizons.

 letter writing

Random notes jotted into an exercise book helps us to sort the tangled web that is our lives. My début novel, Pickle to Pie began in this way. Ostensibly I was writing my father’s story, but after the book was published, I realized it was my way of dealing with my hidden German heritage.

small final pickle coverBefore I was born, because of the ill feeling towards German people after two disastrous world wars, my Australian born father renounced his German ancestry. He also changed the family name by deed poll from Schlessinger to Sterling. When I was seven I found an old photo album in the bottom of a wardrobe and asked my father why the sombre groups of people looked different. He hesitated then replied that in 1885 his grandparents migrated (not from Germany) from Belgium. I didn’t meet my German grandmother until I was twelve and by then knew not to ask questions. The feeling of release once the story of my father’s life was published was incredible. I finally understood the whispered background to my childhood and could let go of the past.

Recently completing my second book, ‘Hens Lay, People Lie’ I now see that I’ve done it again. Written a story that explores my life journey. This book has moved beyond my childhood to enable me to make sense of my adult life. However, when I was three quarters of the way through writing the manuscript about two women, two countries and a life altering pen-friendship, my penfriend died and I was grieving. I found myself trying to writing while mourning. At first I couldn’t write, until I realised how much words like regret, love, loss, guilt, memory and remorse have power over our lives.

Hélène Cixous, a French feminist philosopher, claims that, ‘Words are the doors to all other worlds. At a certain moment for the person who has lost everything, be it a being or country, language becomes the country. One enters the country of languages’ Cixous 1992: 19).

cixous 2When Cixous was eleven, her father died. She describes this event as having a formative influence on her as a writer. Loss and the need for consolation became key motivating forces in her writing life. Her advice to those struggling with trauma in their lives is, “We should write as we dream; we should try and write, we should all do it for ourselves, it’s very healthy, because it’s the only place where we never lie.

IS TRAUMA WRITING CATHARTIC, OR IS THE WRITER RETRAUMATISED?

If the writer revisits painful emotions there is extensive literature about the risk of slipping into depression (Kammerer & Mazelis 2006; Stone 2004; Wurtzel 1999). Joy Livingwell, online columnist for the Neuro Linguistic Programming website, for example, warns of the danger inherent in reliving grief when she advocates that it is essential for the person involved ‘to get the useful life lessons from less-than-positive memories, without getting upset or re-traumatized’.

Therefore, if writing can be cathartic, it can also be dangerous. To avoid the danger of slipping into depression, writers need as safe space. A journal can be such a safe emotional space; a gap between reality and imagination where feelings and emotions can be intuited, articulated or performed. A space to write. Yet, there is the constant danger of being brought undone by your own words: stabbed by your stories, bowled over by both understanding and misunderstanding. Terry Williams writes: ‘Words are always a gamble, words can be like splinters of cut glass’. Writers attending the 2015 Healing Life Stories workshops will explore this aspect of trauma writing and learn how to protect themselves.

I’ve found writing can take you places you’ve never been before; some good, some bad. However, for me, writing about my life has been an uplifting experience. It has enabled me to let go of the past and move on with anticipation to the next exciting stage of my life journey.

You can write your healing stories about yourself or someone else important in your life  either for your own benefit or with the aim of helping others. When writing the story of my father’s turbulent life,  I found myself writing with passion and compassion. Above my computer is a quote by Australia’s famous author Bryce Courtenay 

‘There is no greater tribute than to lovingly record a life.’

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