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What Is Your Theme? Writer’s Diary:4

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If you don’t know your theme, get to know it. You will be asked about it, best it doesn’t come as a surprise to you – Elizabeth Jolley.

Years ago, I read the above quote from Elizabeth Jolley, and decided to pay special attention to becoming aware of my themes. I thought I knew what my overarching theme was. I thought (loftily) that my themes were the psychology of behaviour with narratives on behavioural theory.

It is often said that theme is difficult to describe, and writers are frequently unaware of just what their themes are. Theme is not story or plot. Theme is the underlying idea, concept, or philosophy in your story. Theme is not what happens in your story, but what your story is about. Theme is often not a choice, especially for fiction writers, but evolves out of a writer’s interests and passions, and, as a result, writers very often – but not always – have the same theme throughout their works.

Now that I’ve completed my third book, it has become clearly apparent that my theme is more tangible, and less lofty, than ‘psychology of behaviour’. I can now be more exact. For some reason not known to me, I write from a male POV and my theme is as simple as crazy men doing weird shit, or, men’s decent into madness.

Knowing your theme can be a useful tool in getting your story finished. If I find I’m wondering what it is I’m actually trying to say, if I’m asking the question, who is this story about? or what is this story about (questions publishers and agents want you to know about your own work) or what message am I trying to get across? Being clear on theme can help answer those questions.

Melissa Donovan says theme can be described as broadly as redemption, sacrifice, betrayal, loyalty, greed, justice, oppression, revenge, and love or they can ask questions or pit two ideas against each other: science vs. faith, good vs. evil, why are we here and what happens when we die?

When I put the question, what do you think your themes are, out to social media, writers were much more specific about their themes:

Kim Swivel: love, bigotry, class, political stupidity, Australian iconography

Anna Spargo-Ryan: Mental illness, family violence, parent-child relationships, substance use, love, loss, food.

Jade Aleesha: My most recent novel explores the power of the media and government to redefine history, and the overlooked role of women in revolution.

Caroline Hutton: Secrecy in families, letting go of old hurts, staying whole in marriage, marital expectations of boundaries vs secrets

Sarah Jansen: Abandonment, the pursuit of happiness, self-reliance, unexpected situations

Sarah Widdup: Relationships, imbalance, expectation, equilibrium

Bianca Nogrady: Family and what we would do for them (or not). Also choice … I’m fascinated by this idea that choice is generally viewed as a good thing in that it gives us a sense of control, that we can always choose between options, however bad those options are. I think there are some choices that we never want to be faced with, and in some situations we would rather have those choices taken away from us.

Eliza Henry Jones: The themes of my writing have always changed to reflect whatever it was I happened to be grappling with at that time in my life. Reading back over (very, very, very poor) novels that I wrote as a teenager is almost like reading a diary. I’ve explored issues of religion, dementia, adoption, substance abuse and parental mental illness. I think what I keep coming back to again and again, though, are themes of grief and letting go.

Fleur Ferris: Online safety, grief, consequence, religious extremism, fanaticism, misuse of power, bullying, identity, relationships/friendships/family. (Not all in the same book…OMG, it doesn’t matter. I’m so miserable!) *rushes to computer and begins writing a romantic comedy.

Robyne Young: Emotional and geographical displacement, punishment, feminism, family.

One of the benefits of knowing your theme means you can look where other writers have explored the same themes with success. Men’s decent into madness threw up the following titles, which also made me aware that, so far, I’ve only found male authors who have approached the same theme, so I’d better get to work!

One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey; Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky; Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad; The Stranger, Albert Camus; Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk; The Shining, Stephen King; King Lear, Shakespeare; Catch-22, Joseph Hellar; Lord of the Flies, William Golding; Shutter Island, Denis Lehane; Hamlet, Shakespeare.

 

 

 

 

Published by Xoum: Excerpt From The Neighbour – Chapter five

SCROLL DOWN TO READ an excerpt from Chapter five (5) of The Neighbour

A Psychological Drama -you will never think of your neighbour in the same way again.

(Winner of the Seizure Viva Novella prize)

PAPERBACK:

U.S. Amazon

Australian bookstore Booktopia $13.25

Australian Bookstore Readings  $14.95

Australian Bookstore Seizure $14,99

Australian bBookstore New South Books $14.95

E-BOOK:

U.S. Amazon 

Amazon Australia $4.99

Kobo 

Xoum Kindle, Google Books Ibookstore Kobo

He dips the syringe in the bottle and draws it back to suck the ink within it. Bubbles rush and crackle. He dismantles his pen and pokes the syringe into it. The slow, detailed movements smooth his frayed mind. The ink, like black blood, fills the pen shaft quickly. He takes the syringe to the kitchen sink and pulls the plunger out. It sucks against itself with the pressure that has nowhere else to go.

The floorboards creek in the bedroom; he lifts his chin to listen. Laney is up now. He turns the water on fast.

Laney had laughed about his pen and ink when he first used it in front of her. ‘Who are you? Professor Plum?’ He wanted to explain that it isn’t the pen that he’s interested in. It’s something about how easy it is to fill it up again once it’s drained; it satisfies. But her laugh was a taunt, so he let it go.

He holds the clean syringe up to the light of the window to check for any spots that remain. One little dry speck in the ink will cause uneven lines, bumpy lines that annoy like rocks on a road.

Sam’s feet patter on the floorboards down the hallway towards the lounge, where he’ll switch the television on. And in a daze, he’ll snuggle under his blanket. He’d given up the need for his blanket last year, but now needs it near him always. Luke will sit with him later, and they’ll comfort each other.

In his office, Luke sits before his diary, and places a cross over today. He obliterates it, done, no more today. Now all he has to do is live it. He flicks the diary pages and counts the days that lead up to the anniversary of Lily’s death: seven months and twelve days. This is how much time he has given himself to repay his debt to Angie.

The time feels different depending on whether he looks forward to it or braces for it. Maybe he’s wrong to control things this way, but he has to do something; the idea of life, or no life, after that day fills him with relief, like a bloodletting. Some say suicide is selfish. He doesn’t want it to be that way. He tries to get his head around this idea, that it would be selfish. He can’t think of anyone who won’t carry on in life as though nothing had happened, who won’t think life was better with him gone, who won’t think justice had been done.

He sees Laney on the deck outside the window above the desk. She’s taken up smoking again, and she’s taken it on with gusto. She draws on it hard as if to fuel her life.

She pulls the cigarette from her mouth and calls out across the yard, and in a sudden movement waves her arm about wildly at something in the garden. Cigarette ashes float away like snowflakes. He wishes it would snow; it’s the most innocent thing he can think of. Laney calls out again and jumps off the deck. Luke leans forward to see who she calls to. A large brown dog skulks around the scrub of the far garden with its head low and its ears back. Laney moves closer, but shoos it with her cigarette. ‘Shoo, shoo.’

Frightened by her calls and arm flinging, the dog bounds away. It bends its long neck to turn and look back at her. When it sees that Laney doesn’t give chase, it returns to the same spot in the garden. It takes careful steps among the weeds.

Laney shoos and stomps and calls out at it. ‘Get outta here, go home.’ Eventually, it runs, the poor dog, down the side of the house, and this time is gone.

Laney is in her pyjamas. Her hair hangs lank around her pale face. She stands metres from the garden bed that had drawn the dog’s attention. Luke taps on the window with his bony knuckle. She doesn’t hear. She steps closer to the garden bed. She picks her path in bare feet across the sparse brown grass while two fingers cling in the air to the cigarette that has burned down to the yellow butt.

Luke taps again on the window, harder, quicker. She looks up, but doesn’t see him wave at her. He stands up suddenly and knocks his chair backwards. It glides and crashes against the wall. He crooks his finger in the old metal hook of the timber window, and yanks at it once, then again, and forces it open. It halts at an inch wide and won’t budge. He puts his mouth to the gap and calls to Laney.

‘Breakfast!’

She lowers herself to the ground, crouches, and parts the small bushes to look into the garden bed. Blood pumps into his forehead. He imagines a bloodletting that sets him free, and he calls to her again. This time, it is more urgent.

‘We should have breakfast now!’

Laney finds the dead animal.

When his brother drowned, their mother approached them as they floated in the water. She smiled and said something. She thought they were playing, swimming in the water tank that was sawn in half just for them. But what she saw was his brother, as he floated, face down. He wafted in the swells that still billowed and sank from the movements of their play. And Luke, with his back pressed hard to the wriggly tin wall, tried to get distance from the situation that was Bob. And his mother’s hand clasped to her mouth so hard that he can still recall the sound, like a bird hitting a window: Fwomp.

Laney claps her hand to her mouth as she rises and steps away from the unkempt tumble of weeds and forgotten plants that provide the hurried cover for the dead cat

 

Where is The Neighbour Available?

PAPERBACK:

U.S. Amazon

Australian bookstore Booktopia $13.25

Australian Bookstore Readings  $14.95

Australian Bookstore Seizure $14,99

Australian bBookstore New South Books $14.95

E-BOOK:

U.S. Amazon 

Amazon Australia $4.99

Kobo 

Xoum Kindle, Google Books Ibookstore Kobo

 

 

That Word When: Writer’s diary, 3.

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There’s nothing wrong with the word ‘when’, and many many writers, including myself, use it in the way that I’m about to tell you can distance your reader from the action and lose them a little bit; they might start thinking of cats and drop the book and look around for the kitty litter tray and never come back. I’ve just read this sentence at the beginning of my chapter 9:

When Ulrik breathes in the taste of hot dust, he remembers where he is.” And I’ve edited out two words, ‘when’ and ‘he’. “Ulrik breathes in the taste of hot dust, and remembers where he is.”

The difference is that the word ‘when’  means the action is not happening now, it happened at some time in the past or will happen some time in the future. There’s no urgency to keep reading, it’s not happening right now, and there’s probably no dire consequences bc Ulrik is perfectly fine right now. Taking out that word ‘when’ has dropped the reader right into the action.

Clunky sentences? Read that stuff out loud. Writer’s Diary: 2

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The last thing I do before moving on to the next chapter to edit, is read that thing out loud — shut the door and say it loud! — It’s a piece of advice people give you but you never do, right? I started doing it b/c the couple of times I’ve had to record a short story for radio and podcasts, I found that in the act of doing so I picked up so many clunky phrases or yucky sentences. And it’s especially helpful if you’re a fan of sentences that have rhythm and feel good and are nice to listen to. After reading my stories for said radio/podcast I actually changed a lot of words and had to resubmit the written story. If you imagine, while reading, that it is for radio and therefore u need to pronounce clearly, it really hones in on those ugly words – and you never know when, in the future, you might have to read that out loud to someone, so best fix that shit now.

Chat about meta-fiction novels

At Swim-two-birds
At Swim-two-birds

— at its simplest and most basic, meta-fiction is fiction, about fiction —

(See below for an incomplete list of elements that make a work meta-fiction)

One of my greatest loves is a good ol’ meta-fiction novel. Meta-fiction refers to fictional works that draw attention to the fact that they are a work of fiction.

Wikipedia’s definition: ‘Metafiction is a form of fiction in which the text – either directly or through the characters within – is ‘aware’ that it is a form of fiction.’

I’ve begun a list of female meta-fiction authors here, as mentors for my own writing.

My favourite meta-fictional work, At-Swim-Two-Birds, is a meta-fiction-feast – a story within a story within a story within a story within a story. And my favourite section of AS-T-B has the characters of one story give the writer a good beating. It’s not so much the thrashing I love, but that the characters take revenge on the author. It’s a scenario that I’d love to include in my own novel one day.

And I couldn’t help myself, I’ve written my own little meta-fictional work, but it doesn’t have an author beating. At present it’s doing the rounds of agents, so wish it luck will you? The main character, a homeless man, (male mental health is a theme that runs through all my books to date)  befriends a woman who is a struggling author. She steals his life story to use as a novel, and as the story unfolds, it becomes apparent this story is the novel itself.

Over the years I’ve read a few meta-fictional works that I’ll list elsewhere on this blog. I’m gradually adding the notes that I made at the time of reading, not reviews of the books, but simple notes that I made with no intention of blogging – at the time there was no such thing as blogging, let alone an internet.

As a bit of a guide to understanding meta-fiction Wikipedia lists these common meta-fictive devices in literature:

  • A story about a writer who creates a story
  • A story that features itself (as a narrative or as a physical object) as its own prop or MacGuffin
  • A story containing another work of fiction within itself
  • A story addressing the specific conventions of story, such as title, character conventions, paragraphing or plots
  • A novel where the narrator intentionally exposes him or herself as the author of the story
  • A book in which the book itself seeks interaction with the reader
  • A story in which the readers of the story itself force the author to change the story
  • Narrative footnotes, which continue the story while commenting on it
  • A story in which the characters are aware that they are in a story
  • A story in which the characters make reference to the author or his previous work

A related genre is the self-reflexive novel: a fictional work in which the author refers to themselves in the work, and/or refers to the work itself.

And then there is the anti-novel which is better described as a more experimental work. Dictionary.com defines anti-novel as, ‘a literary work in which the author rejects the use of traditional elements of novel structure, especially in regard to development of plot and character.’ Wikipedia defines the anti-novel as, ‘any experimental work of fiction that avoids the familiar conventions of the novel, and instead establishes its own conventions.’

Of course, a novel can be one or all of the above, makes definitions complicated, doesn’t it.

Authors/writers/bloggers on snapchat

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Are you an author / writer or bookish person ( blogger/ reviewer) on Snapchat?

If you’d like to be added to this list of writers/authors/booky persons on Snapchat, add me on @julieproudfoots  and message me to alert me to your request.

me :0 Julie Proudfoot:  @juliepoudfoots

 

 

Writer’s Diary: 1

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(Apologies for the repost, I’m changing my theme and rearranging my blog.)

THE process an author goes through is detailed and individual. In Writer’s Diary I will dip in and note what it is that I do to create my current novel. The posts will be short and to the point, and, on the topic of writing, only. I hope it is useful to both you and me!

I’m currently working my way through a draft of ABSENCE. It’s something like the fifth or sixth draft. (when I think about it, it’s a lot more than that!) As I deleted approximately 50,000w in the last draft the MS was down to about 40k, but the essence of the story is now very clear and tight. So now I’m working my way through and expanding every idea in each chapter. I’m also working backward from C60 back to C1 so that I give every attention to the individual chapters rather than getting lost in the entire story. It’s now back up to just over 63k and I’m at C28.

The more you know…The Author-Narrator-Character Merge

 

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I’m in my happy place when I’m with a good book on writerly devices, and I love to experiment with what I have learnt and attempt to incorporate that into whatever I’m working on, just for the fun of it, but there is a downside to this, I can’t unknow things that I have learnt. I can’t write and ignore great advice, can I?

I recently read The Author-Narrator-Character Merge: Why Many First-Time Novelists Wind Up With Flat, Uninteresting Protagonists, an essay by Frederick Reiken. I definitely don’t feel like I have an uninteresting protagonist in The Neighbour, after all, people either love him or hate him, no in between, but it’s an element of writing that I don’t think I have thought about.

Reiken states that a writer will often fail to distinguish between, and keep separate, the author, the narrator, and the protagonist.

Understanding this separation is easier with first person narrative, there is the author, there is the narrator who is a character separate from the author, and there are characters in the story. In regard to third person narratives it becomes more complex. Reiken refers to psychic distance between a narrator and character- an idea put forward first by John Gardener. The division between author, narrator, and character is much more complex and there you get more into an author’s own style and the varying degrees of psychic distance, the idea of which requires more space and thought than I can dedicate here, but I urge you to seek out this article and give it a close read. Perhaps I might tease it out in another post soon.

I’m pleased to say (if you’ve read The Neighbour you’ll understand why I’m pleased :)) that I went to great lengths, many many drafts, to create a character that had nothing of me, the author, in him and the style is more what is called Free Indirect Discourse. Free Indirect Discourse has the narrator reporting the thoughts and dialogue of the character. The narrator reports all that the character does, sees and feels almost as if the narrator is the character, except she is still that third person. I feel this style gives the reader more access to the thoughts and feelings of the character and is a more engaging read.

If you are a fan of writing this way you are in good company, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen were all fans of Free Indirect Discourse. But this idea of the Author-Narrator-Character Merge is an element of writing that will forever be on my mind when I’m writing, I can’t unknow it!

Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge, 2015 – all in the past.

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It’s wrap up time for my Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge reading experience for 2015, for me that means time to announce yet again what a slow reader I am. MY NAME IS JULIE AND I AM A SLOW READER. My stated plan was to read 4 books by Australian women and review at least 3.

The books that I did read where RISK by Fleur Ferris, a fast-paced, relevant YA novel about a girl who finds danger on the internet. I also had the pleasure of interviewing Fleur at her launch of RISK in July. I read THE STRAYS by Emily Bitto,  a beautiful Stella Prize winning Literary novel which I read as part of my planning to share a panel with Emily at the Queenscliff Lit festival in May. And I read Elizabeth Lhuede’s Debut Novel, SNOWY RIVER MAN, a Romance novel written under the pen name, Lizzy Chandler, a  book with lovely  depictions of the Australian landscape written around a mystery type story. I said I would read MEDEA’S CURSE by Anne Buist, but even though it is a worthy work, I found that me being a writer that delves in psychological drama and Anne being a psychiatrist I unfairly expected more psych drama and that isn’t the type of book it is, so put it down.

Other readings this year  were Truman Capote’s Summer Crossing (not AU), Janette Winterson’s Written on the Body (not AU), some of the Australian novel by Maxine Beneba Clarke, Foreign Soil, which has won many awards, The Infinity Pool (not AU) which is a great summer holiday read, engaging but not too demanding, so you can relax on the beach and doze between reads, The Marquise of O by Heinrich von Kleist (notAU) written in 1808, a drama involving a mysterious rape, which I promised to review for someone but haven’t, YET, and The spring edition of Tincture Journal which features many Australian writers.

This year I also read books on writing. I’m currently reading A KITE IN THE WIND which has an excellent essay first up on the separation of author, narrator and character (NOT AU)

That’s it! bring on 2016! 2016 book resolution: I WILL READ BETTER!

 

 

Post from march 2015:

I’m a little bit slow to get my blog post of intended reads down this year, it’s already coming up to Easter, so here we go! I’m planning the Stella level ( read 4 – review at least 3 ). I’m being conservative, but I know I’ll read more, I’m cheating – if I set my sights on a low level I know I won’t fail!

Here are my four intended reads of women writers for this year:

* RISK by Fleur Ferris (YA) (Fleur is an author buddy of mine, so I’m excited about this one)

* MEDEA’S CURSE (PSYCH THRILLER) by Anne Buist (I was appearing with Anne at Queenscliffe Lit fest so picked this one up quick smart, but now instead of Anne, I’m appearing with the next lady on my list –)

* THE STRAYS by Emily Bitto (LIT FIC) (The Strays has been shortlisted for this years Stella Prize)

* SNOWY RIVER MAN (ROMANCE) by Lizzy Chandler ( also known as Elizabeth Lhuede, founder of the Australian Women Writers Challenge)

I’ll also be heading back to some favourite women writers this year, with a little bit of Doris lessing, no, not Australian, but a favourite, and a bit of Elizabeth Jolley. I stopped reading Jolley when she passed away a few years ago because I didn’t ever want to find myself in the position of not ever having another Jolley to read, but there are so many that I’ll have forgotten them by the time I come back to them again, and anyway, there’s a finite number of books you can read in your lifetime so might as well make them good ones!

Happy Reading!

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