The ocean helps me remember 4

boat-leaving2

Jane remembers the feel, the physicality of ocean, her own history with it, and its relationship to all of us.

The ocean helps me remember to breathe. That might sound odd, especially if you’ve ever been caught underwater, the astounding pressure of water above, the inconsequential grains of sand below. It is the rhythm of the tide, rolling in, pulling out, relentless and seemingly without end. It reminds me of days spent in blinding sunshine, water eddying and eroding moated castles built with care a distance away from the ocean’s edge, but there’s the trick. There is no singular defined limit of an ocean, no perfectly marked boundary. Just as no breath is quite the same as the next.  

How I love to look at the horizon, that very slight curve far off in the distance that makes me realise the transitory nature of existence, how the ocean goes far beyond what I can see. The sheer scope of it. The hidden depths, the dangers and delights contained within. It reminds me of boat trips, fishing expeditions, even plane trips. How being perched up in a seat, high above the ground with a bird’s eye view didn’t make the ocean less magnificent. If anything it made it more so.

It makes me think of long journeys, centuries ago, across oceans melding into one another, no clearly defined frontiers, just endless blue horizons with occasional interruptions of land. It reminds me of journeys taken by boat, the vague sense of unease as moorings are left behind and we chase the horizon. The relief as land finally comes into view, the toss and tumble of the ocean’s passage soon becomes a memory.

 

 

 

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The ocean helps me remember 3

caravan

The ocean helps Raewyn remember childhood holidays at the beach.

The ocean helps me remember endless days of childhood freedom.

Long summers at the campground just across the bitumen from the beach. At first in the blue bubble caravan, later in the bigger tan one with the striped annex. Being the eldest I was allowed to sleep out there on the canvas stretcher with the grey steel frame. This was Ohope in the seventies. Not crowded at all, with families of kids from all over who had the similar beach dream. Come evening, the bikes, scooters, and roller skates, and later skateboards, came out to play and the gaggle of all-age kids formed a tribe.

My mother always ensured we had these two weeks at the beach, mostly to get my father off the farm, but for our good as well. They both loved the beach. Dad was a one for body surfing, or blowing up the long blue lilo and thundering in on the huge swells that were common in those summers.

Mum’s joy was endless reading on a low fold-up beach chair in the breeze under the beach umbrella, its white tassels beating a wild, windy dance.

“Make sure you don’t drift, keep in line with the umbrella”, was always the instruction whenever we entered the surf. It was easy to allow the tow to take you sideways as you beat an endless path in and out of the broiling shore-bound waves.

I am grateful to have become a life-long lover of the endless summer beach and the deep, quiet blue ocean. The ocean helps me remember my childhood self.

 

The ocean helps me remember 2

island

The narrator in Richard’s piece associates the ocean with quite different memories, and we sense a political context here.

The heat is worse than usual, and the flies are relentless in their search for moisture, swarming at my eyes and nose and mouth.

This track I have chosen goes through the stink of the piles of garbage that have built up over the years, so the flies are inevitable. But that, I hope, makes the path a safe one, and I trudge on, drawn by a distant susurration.

I hear voices ahead – loud, arguing voices – and I slip off the track and crouch in the bushes.  The beer-fuelled argument stutters along the track towards the camp from which I have come, and I am thankful they have found something to argue about.  I glimpse a bottle being waved about, and can see that at least two of the four men have bush knives strapped to their waists.

When they are gone, I resume my trek towards that soft sound. It grows louder as I creep through the last trees and out onto the gritty beach.  There is no one in sight, so I can walk to the edge of the beach and let the tepid salt water surge around my ankles.  While sea-birds wheel and dive beyond the reef, as I stand, searching the blue expanse.

The Ocean helps me remember where I came from, and where I hoped to go, before they put me on this island, in that camp.

 

The ocean helps me remember…

Recently our writing group considered the thought-starter “The ocean helps me remember.” We decided to blog the interestingly different responses to those five words.

Therese’s response is poetic, philosophical.

seaweed-gulls1

They say that life began in the ocean, floating around in the Earth’s own amniotic fluid, so the ocean is where everything came from. We can all trace our ancestry back and back and back through time to some unicellular organism whose whole world was water, that eternal blue, sinking down into the black depths.

Perhaps everything is held there, all of evolutionary history, so I imagine the ocean as a place filled with memories. My own as well. All of the world’s memories mingling with flashing schools of sardines and echoing with whale song.

It is not often that I get to stand by the ocean, living inland as I do, but once or twice a year I hear the call, and I cannot help but respond, as if the whales themselves are summoning me. Their song can travel vast distances underwater; but on land, I think the ears of the heart can hear them just as well, can feel the deep vibrations of their sea voices. They call, and I go, finding some quiet corner of a beach where I can be with myself, and no one else.

The smell of salt water and rotting seaweed, the sound of gulls. It all reminds me of summers past, childhood holidays. Sitting on the beach shivering after taking a dip only to be wrapped in a towel baked warm by the sun. Sand stuck to my shins. Fruity ice blocks and fish and chips.

But these are only skin memories, some moving deeper, into flesh, being powerfully felt in the body; but most light on the surface, shallow. What I want is bone memory, and the ocean gives me that, transferring stories, histories, as if by osmosis. When I wade out into the water, and I feel the pull of the waves around my ankles, the push and suck of the tide, the gentle swish of seaweed against my leg, something deeper comes. Bone memory. Ocean memory. Something so ancient it cannot be put into words.

 

Storymaking

knocking-on-door

What happens when you ask a group of writers to compose a story on the spot, from a jump-off point?

We gave twenty minutes of the last meeting of our writers’ group, to find out.

“Here’s the situation,” I said. “Someone turns up at the door of a house, carrying a suitcase, and announces to the door-opener that they want to stay for a while. The occupants of the house have never set eyes on this person. What happens now?”

Here’s how the story, as constructed by the group, unfolded.

It’s raining hard. There’s a knock on the door of an ordinary house.” I’ll go,” says the woman of the house.

She sees an aging man on the doorstep. He looks done in. He is of average height, wearing a pale green fedora and a camelhair coat, and is very wet. He carries a bulging suitcase. His boots are steel-capped. “I’ve come to stay for a while,” he says.

The woman is very reluctant to let in this stranger whom she has never before seen. She shuts the door firmly.

Then she thinks: hang on, isn’t that Grandpa’s suitcase? They hadn’t seen him for over twenty years. She opens the door again.

Still wary, she says “Who are you?”

The man looks very ill, and about to faint. He falls across the doormat. “Please… I am very hungry… haven’t slept for days.”

How could she leave him there? She allows him to enter. Then he lifts his eyes and says, “Oh, you’ve changed the wallpaper.”

He knows the house! And he has a Grandpa feel about him – but is not Grandpa… 

At this point we wondered: could he be a twin, a half-brother of Grandpa? His mannerisms are similar.

Could he be wanting the house they lived in? Was there a new will that they had not seen, in the suitcase? Would they be dispossessed of this old comfortable house that had been theirs for a long time?

Could he be an imposter?

Is Grandpa murdered? Is his head in the suitcase? (Hey, why not?)

Stories grow from  tiny seeds. How would you react if a stranger turned up on your doorstep, wanting to live in your house for a while?

 

How to write a book proposal

conreact

“Now is an amazing time to be a writer.”

Thus is the sentiment of Michael Larsen, author of How to write a book proposal. “You are blessed with more ways to get your books written and published and more ways to promote and profit from them than ever before.”

Yet when it comes to traditional publishing, why is it so difficult for new writers to get picked up by big publishers? While there are many ways to answer this, one big reason is that their proposal is letting them down. A writer can spend months, maybe even years putting everything they have (blood, sweat and tears, the whole shebang) into perfecting their manuscript, only for their work to be rejected because of a poorly written or unconvincing proposal.

But why do editors and agents put so much emphasis on the proposal? I mean it’s the manuscript that’s what really counts, right? Well, yes and no. Because, while the manuscript is the main feature of a writer’s submission, the proposal is what convinces the editor to invest their precious time in picking it up and reading it in the first place.

“To sell the steak, you’ve got to sell the sizzle,” writes Larsen.

How do you write an effective proposal then?

This is where Michael Larsen’s book comes into play.

  1. The introduction: “Your introduction should prove that you have a marketable, practical idea and that you are the right person to write about it and promote it,” write Larsen. “The introduction has three parts: the “Overview,” “Resources needed to complete the book,” and “About the Author”. They give you the opportunity to provide as much information about you and your book as you can muster.”
  2. Overview: The overview consists of several parts, most of which are optional: Your subject hook. Your book hook. Your book’s special features (optional). A foreword by a well-known authority (optional). Answers to technical or legal questions (optional). Your back matter (optional). Markets for your book. Your book’s subsidiary-rights possibilities (optional). Spin-offs (optional). A mission statement (optional). Your platform (optional). Your promotion plan (optional). Each point is covered more depth in Larsen’s book.
  3. Resources needed to complete the book (optional)
  4. About the Author: “Include everything that you want the editors to know about you in descending order of relevance and importance that is not in your platform,” writes Larsen.
  5. The Outline: “is a paragraph a page of prose outlining your chapters to prove that there’s a book’s worth of information in your idea and that you have devised the best structure for organising it. Aim for about one line of outline for every page of text… To help make your outlines enjoyable to read, start each one with the strongest anecdote or slice copy from each chapter, then outline it.”
  6. Sample Chapter: “Include the one sample chapter that best shows how you will make your book as enjoyable to read as it is informative.

 

FOR EXTRA POINTS: The parts of an Irresistible Proposal

According to Larsen these are just some of the ‘hot buttons’ that can excite editors enough to buy your book:

  • Your idea
  • Your title
  • Your writing
  • Your credentials
  • Your book’s timing
  • Your ability to promote your book
  • The size of the markets for your book
  • Your book’s subsidiary-rights potential
  • Your book’s potential for bulk sales to businesses
  • Your book’s potential as a series of books that sell each other

 

The above is just an overview of the first chapter. The books goes into topic by topic detail to aid you on your way to writing up a proposal or pitch to any potential publishers, so it’s a really handy tool to have in your writing arsenal. We have a copy on shelf at the Blue Mountains Libraries.

Happy Writing! 🙂

Source: How to write a book proposal by Michael Larsen

Out of the comfort zone 5

rock-climbing

Karen thinks that climbing a cliff like this is probably at the bottom of her to-do list, so the scene she describes in this sketch is definitely an unfamiliar subject!

I thought all the exertion would be in the ascent. I didn’t realise we’d have to walk to the mountain before we could climb it, or that we’d be carrying all this heavy gear. When we reach the pitch I just stand there, looking up, up, up. My neck hurts from tilting my head back so far. I shrug the rope off my shoulder.

Jill points out the traverse. “There’s a bit of a scramble. Then, see that dark line of shadow? It’s a ledge. You follow it along until you reach the line of pitons.”

She keeps on speaking and I know I should listen but I can’t get my mind off that ledge. How can you walk on a shadow? I realise that Jill’s stopped talking and I tear my gaze away from the cliff face. She puts her hand on my shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I’ll go first. Just watch me. Dave will have you on belay the whole time.”

She helps me put on the harness and Dave double checks everything. I should be reassured but I feel as if I’ve lost control, that I’m a marionette and the rope and harness are my strings.

I can say no. I can say I’ve changed my mind. I don’t.

Jill looks me up and down, one final check, then begins to climb. She moves quickly, and I try to remember the handholds, where she sets her feet. At the end of the ledge she stops, clips herself to a piton and leans back, looking down at me.

“Come on, Liz.”

The sun hasn’t reached down into the valley yet and the rock is cold under my fingers. Jill was right. Even a beginner like me can see the handholds. I stretch my leg up and to the side and toe into a crevice so I can get my knee onto the ledge. It’s awkward and my legs shake as I push myself up into a standing position.

I edge along the ledge. It’s only four centimetres wide. My head is turned to one side, my cheek brushing the rock, my arms outstretched. I can see Jill’s feet out of the corner of my eye and I aim for them.

At the end of the ledge I hook onto a peg and glare at Jill. She grins. I poke her shoulder.

“I’m buying you a dictionary for your birthday. There’s no way that was a ledge.”

Out of the comfort zone 4

graveyard2

Alison writes: I have a tendency to write about rural innocents, within an optimistic framework. This character is not innocent.

Father Francis finishes his homily by the graveside, and waves the censer absently about. The relatives gaze down at the coffin. The dead man’s wife dabs at her nose with a hanky. She has a slightly mad look. Father Francis feels some pity for her, but more than a little irritation as well. He has told them often enough that death is not death, that they return to the arms of the Almighty and the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. How can they not appreciate the benefits of death? The man has knocked his wife about a bit, and drank more than was good for him. She is better off without him, all said and done.

A multitude of family secrets find their way into the confessional box, which always makes funerals an interesting, rather quixotic affair, from his point of view. People think they believe things that they do not. People place trust in places that do not warrant it. He shakes his head, smiles thinly. They trust him.

He turns from the graveside as the relatives trickle away, and gives a nod to the workmen who stand at a discreet distance. No one wants to watch a grave being filled, and neither does he. It is time for afternoon tea, and a particularly fine cake, bought at the local patisserie, sits on his sideboard under a net cover. It involves hazelnut and coffee flavours, and quite a lot of cream. He has asked Mrs Hudson to change the brand of coffee she uses to make his espressos. The old brand has begun to taste like dishwater, he needs something with more bite. More elan, he told her. She’d stared at him, nodded, and walked away. Almost respectful – but not quite. She is, he ruminates, showing signs of insubordination. It is subtle, certainly –  but it is, he thinks, there. If she doesn’t want the job there will be others who do. That attractive young woman who does the flowers occasionally, what does she call herself? Tiffany, Tilly, something with a T. She is hard up, could use the wages, and she is easy on the eye. She has been to confession quite regularly, so he knows the nuts and bolts of her life. Some tragedy there, making her vulnerable. Frail. The frail ones are interesting. Ready to be manipulated, if need be.

Out of the comfort zone 3

My way of tackling this difficult prompt, says Therese, was to write about a perspective that I passionately disagree with—the idea that we as humans are meant to take control of nature, and shape the world to suit us. Genetic modification is a particularly disturbing area, with the capacity to do irreversible damage to the Earth. I must point out that not all scientists think like this. But the scary thing is that some do.

lab-2

G.M.

Sarah was used to criticism. Whether from greenies or religious types, she’d learnt to ignore it and get on with the job. She pulled the latex gloves over her hands and snapped the rubber tight at the wrists. Then she looked down into the microscope and adjusted the knobs, seeing her specimen blur and then come into crisp focus. Looking up again she removed another glass slide from the box and dropped a circle of cloudy liquid onto it with a pipette.

Lab work could be tedious sometimes, but when there were results, real advancements, then all the hard work became worth it. What was true was this: Genes were building blocks, which could be altered or manipulated, in order to build new things. Sarah was a genetic engineer, an explorer of new and exciting scientific territory. She considered it her duty to do this research, to test things, to come to understand genes and their uses. Whether it was a new pest-resistant strain of wheat, or a breed of cattle that would produce better meat, faster, well, it was all part of her service to humanity.

In fact, it was ironic that the people who objected to what she did on religious grounds accused her of playing God, because didn’t they understand the upshots? She was working for their benefit, making God’s plans manifest, in a better, more controlled, faster way. Giving evolution a bit of a kick up the backside.

She looked down into the microscope again, moved one slide out and slotted another in. What she did was all for the greater good. No exasperating protestors were going to keep her from her work, her duty, her motivation in life.

‘The purpose of science is to understand nature, so that we can increase our dominance over it, and control it.’ That’s what one of her university professors had said, back when she was a student. One of his scientific idols, Francis Bacon, had said something to that effect. It was so inspiring!

So Sarah had dedicated her life to that aim. To understanding genetics, so that genes could eventually be controlled, made to perform certain functions. Surely a strain of wheat that resists all known pests is the ultimate strain of wheat. A logical progression from the imperfect, chaotic creations of nature, to the prefect, controlled creations of humanity.

Someone had broken in to the lab the previous month. Six month’s worth of samples had been destroyed, and the modified seedlings in the plant nursery, the whole place trashed. It had been such an expense replacing the equipment, improving the security, but now the lab was shiny and new, a pleasing sterile smell wafting up from the brand new lino.

Sarah looked up from her work and got to her feet, stretching out her cramped spine. She walked over to the window and looked out across the car park. Weeds sprouted out from the gaps between the concrete, and along the edges, and she frowned.

‘I’ll find a way to control you,’ she said. ‘Just you wait and see.’

Out of the comfort zone 2

church

Richard’s take on writing about an unfamiliar subject is called

In Another Man’s Shoes

Edward hurried along the uneven paving stones towards the arched wooden door. He could see Mrs Tompkins and Miss Bray waiting where the morning sum warmed the angle between the stone wall and its flying buttress.

Edward fossicked in his trouser pocket for his key ring, and had to snatch to stop his robes from sliding off his other arm. He didn’t need the ostentatiously neutral looks the two women hurled at him to know that he was late.

“Morning ladies; lovely morning, isn’t it? Too nice to be inside”

He regretted saying it before the last syllable had passed his lips. Mrs Tompkins’s eyes narrowed.  The corners of Miss Bray’s mouth turned downwards.

“Good Morning Father” was all the reply he got as he fumbled at the lock. The key went home and he turned it.  The old wooden door seemed stiffer on its hinges than ever.

A bump from his shoulder set it moving. He stood, feeling his ears burn, as two bundles of flowers were carried past him.  Both women had their noses ever so slightly in the air and Miss Bray’s eyes had swept across him, lingering briefly on the shirt he knew was not tucked in properly, and the too loosely knotted tie.

He slipped into the vestry as the two old ladies began placing the flowers. They were silent at the altar, but by the time they reached the middle pews, low murmurings were drifting back to him.

Father Jenkins had owned this church for almost four decades, and was now buried in the adjacent graveyard. Edward felt certain that more than a few of his dour, aging congregation would happily sign up if the Devil offered to swap the old priest for the new.

By rights, he should have had a few years as an assistant curate to an experienced minister at some larger church. He was finding out the hard way that Honours in Divinities and Theology did little to prepare a young priest for pastoral work.

“Hallooo?” The round tones of Eric the organist echoed through a space meant for hundreds.  Edward wondered if there would even be dozens to hear Eric’s heavy handed renditions of the ancient hymns and psalms.

Not so ancient, Edward supposed, to someone as grey and antique as Eric. He gave himself a mental rap over the knuckles.  How could he entertain such thoughts when he was about to present a sermon charity?  And Eric at least brought a few extra bums on pews, a couple of them quite shapely – how did that man produce such pretty daughters?  Edward ordered himself to take a longer penance after the service was over, and waited for the organist to shuffle through his papers.

Which raised another question, would Eric have managed to pick the right music for this week’s readings and lessons, or would he be a month out, again? And, would asking to preview the music selection result in another dose of last night’s whisky fumes?  Edward wondered how he would tell the difference between the whisky fumes of last night, and this morning, if such were to be the case.