Monday 28 February 2011

Point of View

Regular readers know that I’m currently busy with an on-line Creative Writing Course, presented by author Jo-Anne Richards and script-writer Richard Beynon. I’ve reached the half-way mark in the course—Module 5—and am finding the course challenging, interesting and, most importantly, practical.

My favourite module so far? It’s hard to choose as each module brings something new to the table and I still have more to come. But the module I’ve learnt the most from is Module 4, which deals with POINT OF VIEW (POV).

Any writer knows there are three narrative points of view: first person, second person and third person.

First person is when the author writes from the character’s perspective. “I went down to the sea today and...” The only details available for the author to use are those from the ‘I’ character’s perspective. Anything the character himself cannot see, smell, hear, touch or know is out of bounds.

Second person creates the illusion that the reader is a character in the story by having the narrator directly address him. “You went down to the sea today and ...” This is an uncommon form and a difficult one to manage successfully.

Third person narration has an objective narrator tell the story using the pronouns he/she/it/they. “She went down to the sea today and…” The perspective can be either omniscient (where the narrator knows everything there is to know, including that which the character doesn’t know) or limited/attached (where the perspective is attached to one character and limited to that one character’s perceptions).

If all writers know at least the basics about POV techniques, why did I find this module so useful? Because as Jo-Anne Richards, my supervisor for this module, points out, it’s a difficult, but vital, skill to master and even the most astute writers often err when using different POV techniques.

Below are two excerpts from the assignment I completed at the end of this module. The brief was to write about an incident in a child’s life in third person attached from the child’s POV. You’ll see from Jo-Anne’s comments in red just how easy it is to slip out of a character’s authentic POV. 

EXCERPT 1:  Soft. Fluffy. Ma said if she could catch it, she could hold it. Lovely. With, at first, nervous steps, then with an eager rush, she chased the rabbit. The strange chortle of laughter, Be a little careful of what she notices here – and vocab and voice. Small children are the very hardest perspective characters (in either first or third person) that always seemed to catch in the back of her throat and come out like a snort, burst from her as she ran around the garden after the pet.

I wrote about a real-life
incident involving a
disabled child and her bunny.
Would she refer to the rabbit as “the pet”? Sounds a little removed from her, closer to an observing narrator. How old is this child? I don’t think you’ve quite captured her voice and style of thinking. It’s really just a matter of a few words, so don’t despair.

 EXCERPT 2: It hopped here, past her feet. Then it hopped there, under the bush Ma was so proud of, the one with the purple flowers that Ma dried and she crushed, so that Ma could sew them into little cushions to put in her clothes drawers. Lovely. Perfect. The sun, hot and burning, brought a faint sheen of sweat on her forehead. Oh no, now this won’t really work. A small child wouldn’t notice a “faint sheen of sweat”. She might notice that her head felt a bit wet.

I hope you’ve learned as much from these examples as I learnt from the assignment. In the writing I’ve done since completing this module, I find myself more aware of POV. I’m becoming better at catching myself when I unconsciously slip out of POV. And I can already see the improvement in my writing, which is what makes this Creative Writing Course so useful!

Free Image from ClipArt

Monday 21 February 2011

The Fool

I'm taking the leap. Jumping off the cliff and onto the e-revolution bandwagon.

I'm following in the succesful footsteps of Michelle Argyle Davidson and independently publishing my novel.

I've had such good responses to my novel from agents and publishers, both local and international. Why then did I choose to independently publish this story? Because, despite all the praise ringing in my ears, nothing but rejections have came my way.  I became tired of hearing the same refrain (with variations) from publishing professionals, whose choices are understandably governed by their bottom lines.

And so I finally decided to go the independent publishing route. I explored a local  company that provides all services, proofreading, cover design, distribution, printing etc. Their work is of a high quality, but they are expensive. So I've decided to go the e-book route. I've had a professional designer draw up my cover and an external proof-read is in progress.

I don't expect to make money at this point; it's more a "test-the-waters" exercise. If I can sell more than 500 copies in the first 6 months, then I'll consider the expense of print copies.

Why did I finally take this massive step?

I believe in my story. I got fed-up with the long wait periods in the traditional route. The e-book revolution offers an exciting new path to authors.  The reasons go on and on.

The Fool,
from the Rider-Waite tarot
In the Tarot, the first card of the Major Arcana is THE FOOL. A free-spirited (or some might say foolish) young man is about to leap into an unknown abyss. He knows not the difference between possibility and reality, and so believes all things are possible. The Fool archtype (for all the tarot represent collective symbols or archetypes) is innocence; a freedom and a willingness to embrace the unknown.

The Fool can, negatively, also represent the idiot, the harmless madman, who lives outside the limitations of accepted society.

Right now, on my writing journey, I am The Complete Fool. As I leap into the unknown of independent publishing, I move away from the validation and mighty power of traditional publishing society. I do so with my heart as full of fear as it is full of hope, and with the belief - perhaps naive - that anything is possible for my story.

If my book is as good as some professionals say it is, it will sell. If it's not good enough, it won't sell. It's as simple as that. But at least I'll have closure on this writing project that is so dear to my heart.

Watch this space for the release date and more exciting news!

Monday 14 February 2011

St Valentine

"The heart has its reasons that reason does not know."     
Blaise Pascal in Pensées

This lovely St Valentine's Day card,
postmarked 1862, has the printed message
"My Dearest Miss, I send thee a kiss."
The lucky Miss Jenny Lane 
of Crostwight Hall, Norfolk was the recipient.
  One romantic legend has it that this day for lovers originated as far back as 269AD, when a Roman priest called Valentine was martyred for continuing to perform secret marriages in defiance of Emperor Claudius II edict that young men must remain single.

In a meeting between Claudius and Valentine, Claudius was so impressed by Valentine, he tried to get him to renounce his faith, but when Valentine refused he was martyred for refusing to give up his Christian faith, despite having healed his jailer’s blind daughter. On 14th February 269AD, before he was beheaded, he sent off a note to his beloved, signing it “From your Valentine”. That certainly puts a new perspective on losing your head for love.

Sadly, there’s not much fact in this legend. There were at least three early martyrs called Valentine!

In Ancient Rome, an archaic rite connected to fertility, Lupercalia, was held, with the Festival of Juno Februa, meaning "Juno the purifier "or "the chaste Juno," celebrated on February 13–14. Pope Gelasius I (492–496) abolished Lupercalia and the first real recorded reference associating Valentine’s Day with lovers comes from Geoffrey Chaucers “Parlement of Foules” (1382) who wrote during a time when the traditions of courtly love where at their peak.

The earliest surviving Valentine is a 15th-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife. At the time, the duke was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415. Charles survived his imprisonment but his wife, Bonne d'Armagnac, didn’t live to see his return from captivity. At least she had his Valentine!

Happy Valentine’s Day! What are you sending your loved one this Valentine’s Day? Husband and I promised each other no present (we’re making a stand against rampant commercialism) and we’ve promised each other only one card each! But (shhh! don’t tell) I cheated: how could I only choose one card? I bought all the ones I liked and for the last week I’ve been mailing him one card A DAY to his office. I haven’t signed them, so let’s hope he remembers to mention them or, on this Valentines Day, he may find himself in more trouble than the Bugs Moran gang did in 1929!

Monday 7 February 2011

Shadow Tag, Samsara and Beauty's Gift

Click HERE
to buy a copy of Shadow Tag
by Louise Erdrich

Erdrich is, without a doubt, a magical writer. She weaves words into images and emotions as exquisitely as her Native-American ancestors wove colourful tales into their blankets.

Unfortunately, ‘Shadow Tag’ has a dark edge that’s not to my taste. When I think of ‘The Painted Drum’, ‘The Last Report of the Miracles at Little No-Horse’ or ‘The Master Butcher’s Singing Club’, I remember stories that wrung my emotions but left me with a sense of hope; a sliver of illumination that highlighted the essential strength and courage of her characters despite their very human flaws.

In ‘Shadow Tag’, a story about a disintegrating marriage, the love/hate relationship between Gil (an artistic genius)and Irene (his wife and model) has too dark an edge. Irene has a spitefulness that I disliked, but Gil was by no means her innocent victim. Emotionally stunted, his art his only real passion, Gil was only slightly more sympathetic than Irene.

I finished this book compulsively, as I do all Erdrich’s books, simply because her adroit use of words, her evocative imagery and the raw emotion of her characters makes for compulsive reading. But a melancholy has lingered in my heart, because ‘Shadow Tag’ is an unrelentingly grim story.   

Click HERE
to buy a copy of Samsara
A Pan Nalin film starring Shawn Ku & Christy Chung

Samsara, the continuous flow of life, where there is no beginning and no ending.

'Samsara', a movie about a young Tibetan monk, Tashi, brilliantly and sensitively acted by Shawn Ku. His story begins with his return to the monastic life after three years in solitary meditation. Having won the admiration of his Buddhist community, he is faced with a new challenge: his sexual desires. But how can he renounce that which he has never had the chance to experience? Even Buddha, he implores his mentor, lived a full life before his enlightenment.

But, despite marriage to the beautiful and strong Pema, superbly acted by the beautiful Christy Chung, Tashi remains unable to master his desires and, despite his successes in the material world, remains unfulfilled and victim to his sexuality.

An elegant portrayal of one man’s search for fulfilment, 'Samsara' grips one with a subtle fist. Dialogue is sparse. Stillness pervades this movie; it flows with a gentle inevitability that reflects the ever-turning wheel of life itself, and yet the superb acting skills effectively communicate the depth of passions and the range of emotions that constantly drive humanity. There are some exquisite (and fairly explicit) love scenes, enhanced by a magical score. With the original Tibetan soundtrack and excellent English sub-titles, this colourful movie is a feast for the senses, and for the soul.

Replace the towering backdrop of the magnificent Himalayas with skyscrapers, and exchange the coarsely woven clothes with jeans and sweatshirts, and 'Samsara' will still tell a universal story of love and desire, and how they affect us all for good or ill.

Ultimately, Tashi has to decide which is better: to satisfy one thousand desires, or to conquer just one. And so his never-ending quest for enlightenment flows back to the beginning…

Click HERE
to buy a copy of Beauty's Gift
by Sindiwe Magona 

I bought this book with some trepidation, as I'm more concerned with animal rights. But, as I like to support local authors, I added it to my basket.

The FFF used to consist of Five Friends: Edith, Cordelia, Amanda, Doris and Beauty. But then Beauty passes away suddenly. Aids has claimed another victim. On her deathbed, she extracts a promise from Amanda. Ukuhle, she begs of Amanda. May you live a long life, and may you become old.

Because Beauty’s premature death was as a result of her unfaithful husband, the remaining friends all swear an oath: they won't have unprotected sex – not even with their husbands – and they will find out their own HIV status as well as that of their husbands/partners. This oath has surprising consequences.

Aids and its impact on African life is clearly a dominating theme. But this book offers so much more than that. It challenges oppression that masquerades as tradition and irresponsibility that hides behind love.

While dealing with a predominantly (but not exclusively) African problem, Magona points a delightfully irreverent finger at our prolific and polygamous President. In a gentle but strong - almost motherly - way she gives a masterly indictment of the predisposition of some African males to infidelity, promiscuity and reckless negligence towards the women who love them.

But she is clear-headed enough to also condemn the women who, in this time of Aids, passively accept this state of affairs (excuse the pun) because of ‘tradition’. Encouragingly, there are also characters – too few of them, the FFF’s lament – like Amanda’s brother PP, who are the best of what an African man can be. There is also the sympathetic portrayal of Selby, Doris’s fiancĂ©, a good man who struggles with the transition from traditional sexual mores to a more modern, and responsible, attitude.

In an easy-to-read style, with touches of humour and deep poignancy, Magona has produced a novel that is about the evolution of the African soul towards a new kind of freedom; one in which both sexes take responsibility for their lives in an effort to curb a new and dangerous enemy: Aids.

As the remaining friends face challenges to their beliefs, and their relationships are tested and sometimes found wanting, a core message shines through: use your freedom responsibly.

‘Beauty’s Gift’ is a gift to all women, for it shows how a women’s strength and gentleness can be combined to effect changes in a world that is often violent and, even more often, lonely. But the FFF’s have each other and, in their unity, lies their salvation.

How glad I am that I added this little gem to my basket! 

Tuesday 1 February 2011

Unofficial Work Space Day

Over at that sunshine spot in blogland called Anita Laydon Miller's blog, we've been called to participate in the unofficial POST A PHOTO OF MY WORKSPACE DAY. Some times when I get the blues about not being blessed with children, I come into my studio and realise there are compensations. My workspace is one of them.

I hijacked the formal lounge (which was never used) and turned it into my studio. My desk is L-shaped.  On the one side is my computer and printer, under a "Careless, Carefree Muse", a interesting abstract painting by a local artist Addy Hoyle.  From the collection of crystals scattered throughout the room, you can see the influence of my fifteen years as an evolutionary astrologer. My interest in comparative religion also creeps in, as you'll see in a later photo.

This is what I see when I look out the window. The summer garden is looking pretty this year, and I love watching the birds bathing in the bird bath (hidden behind the splash of pink begonias at the bottom of the garden). My favourite sighting is when a shy Burchell's Coucal gives its distinctive call and appears out of the bushes. As you can see from the sun and shadows, today is a beautiful summer's day; a relief from the heavy rains we've been experiencing.

Here is where I write my first draft. Always by hand and always with an HB pencil.  This photo also shows my favourite icon, the Madonna hand-painted on old wood, gilded with gold leaf. A natural heart-shaped hole is in the wood and the artist painted the Madonna around that. Stunning. Husband bought it for me at the ancient St Donat's in the old city of Zadar, on our trip to Croatia.

The framed page below it is a hand-painted calligraphy page from a 15th century Koran, the Holy Book of Islam. One of our Muslim friends has an uncle who is an Imam. He gave us the Koranic reference (Sura 9, Verse 101 onwards), which talks about hypocrisy and repentence.

To the right is a crucifix, made of wild olive wood, which I bought at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. 

When you wander around the rest of the room, you will find iconography from a variety of religions: a mezuzah from Judaism, a Native American dream catcher; aboriginal art (thanks to my sister's recent trip to Australia); a papyrus scroll of the Ancient Egyptian goddess Bast (the cat goddess, of course, as HRH Theodora wouldn't have any other!); Kuan Yin, the Chinese goddess of compassion and mercy; a Tibetan thangka, and many other symbols and artefacts of the world's faiths.

What's the purpose of mixing the different faiths of different people, you may ask?

Harmony. At least here, in this one tiny corner of the world, the different religions co-exist in peace and tolerance.

The interesting thing is, is how people are drawn to this room. We have our lounge, where we try to take our visitors...but, before long, everyone migrates into my studio and that's where we stay until the evening's end.

No wonder I love writing in this work space.