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.

 

 

 

 

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

aww-badge-2015

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!

RISK is a gogo!

It’s finally party time for my friend Fleur Ferris and her debut novel RISK. I received a little zing! notification today to say the ebook has arrived in my Ipad, and the paper one is soon to follow, although I think there are quite a few already out there.

I’ll be chatting with Fleur at her launch in a couple of weeks – dets below –  Fun and champagne! Congratulations, Fleur!

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Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015!

aww-badge-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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