I am tearing my hair out this weekend trying to finalise the programming for Conflux 12 (which is next weekend). I haven’t yet worked out what panels I’ll be on, but if you’re going, I’ll see you there!
A little while ago I found out about a fascinating community art project called Object Therapy being run by Canberra’s Fix and Make Workshop. In short, it invited members of the public to donate broken household objects for artists to transformatively repair. I submitted two “objects”, both of which were accepted. Interestingly, one was all about emotional connection, memory and sentimental value, and the other was all about raw beauty. They were…
A broken rocking horse.
My grandfather made this for me. I spent hours riding on it when I was a kid, and even as a teenager I treasured it and kept it in my bedroom. It’s not the most elegant or romantic version of a rocking horse you’ll ever see, but it was so much fun.
Add to that, it also doubled as a spaceship/racing car/motorbike if you turned it upside down and sat inside it.
And it wasn’t just me. My kids had a ball with this old thing. My daughter used to ride on it for hours at breakneck speed when she was tiny – barely two. There’s even a great story about how I lost the diamond out of the antique ring my partner gave me and she found it – embedded in the carpet under this rocking horse of all places.
It was well-loved and well-used for probably more than thirty years.
Perhaps that’s why the neck joint finally gave out and its head came off.
A box of broken crockery
I’m kind of a hoarder.
All these bits and pieces were just so beautiful, I couldn’t bear to think of them as just rubbish, so I put them in this huge old styrafoam box that once held seafood, and kept them for years. I think I was thinking one day I’d maybe make a mosaic or something out of them. In submitting them to Object Therapy, I was thinking maybe someone else could use this raw material to make something new and wonderful.
Fast forward a few months, and yesterday I got to be reunited with my objects! Just last week I got a little sneak peek of what happened to my crockery. It went to artist Halie Rubenis and I’m kind of in awe of the innovative approach she took to transforming the objects. I’ve only seen three of them (there are apparently a few more), but…wow. You can get your own preview on Halie’s instagram site. What blew my mind a bit was how she not only used the broken crockery in the artwork she produced, but also the styrafoam box and even the old plastic bags the bits of crockery were wrapped in.
I think the plate in this photo is my favourite. I love the contrast between the formal, almost prissy design of the old plate, and the organic jumble of coral-like growths (former styrafoam box!) now oozing out of the crack.
In addition to giving me the heady rush of contributing to the creation of new art, this project has also been extremely thought-provoking. In the reuniting interview, I got asked a lot of questions about how this project made me think about waste and recycling/reusing/repurposing, and also about whether how I valued the objects had changed. That value question is so hard to answer. It’s easy to look at a finished piece of art and value it for the materials gone into making it. The time and sheer human creativity and ingenuity that have gone into it are much harder to quantify. What do you count? The time working on the actual object? The time brainstorming (and weighing up, and discarding) ideas? The answer is, all of this counts, of course. But it can be hard to justify.
Which brings me to this thought-provoking video I saw at a conference earlier this year in a presentation all about valuing creativity.
And what about the rocking horse?
(It’s beautiful. It’s mended and whole and just stunning. And I’ll tell you all about it after the exhibition on 14 October at Hotel Hotel in Canberra.)
I have spent the last few days on my couch recovering from a truly horrible flu (seriously: I can’t recall ever having been this sick, even with appendicitis.) But, before that, I was very privileged to be able to attend the second part of Round 1 of the ACT Writers Centre’s HARDCOPY 2016 program, Intro2Industry. This was an extended 3-day weekend’s worth of seminars on all aspects of the publishing industry, and it was fascinating. And, I have to confess, sobering in equal parts.
First up, a big shout out to the ACT Writers Centre and the wonderful Nigel Featherstone for convening the course. I could not have asked to be placed in more generous, professional or gentler hands for the weekend. Thank you, Nigel, you are a star.
We had presentations from just about every aspect of the industry you can imagine, from publishers, established authors and agents, to writers festivals, booksellers, reviewers and government arts funding agencies. Catherine Milne from Harper Collins gave the opening session on “What do publishers want?” This was both inspiring and daunting, as she described how publishers fall in love with manuscripts and then have to pitch them to the dreaded acquisitions board – a process that sounds just as terrifying for the publisher as pitching to them is for the author. I loved hearing about how half the time the manuscripts they lose their hearts to are ones they didn’t know they were looking for. “Publishers are like two-year-olds,” she said at one point. “We don’t know what we want, but we know we want it!”
Alex Adsett from Alex Adsett Publishing Services was as charming and engaging as always (I’ve seen a couple of her presentations now) – which is not necessarily what you’d expect from a lawyer delivering a session on copyright and contract law. Seriously, if you get a chance to see her in action, do it. She is great. Jacinta Dimase from Jacinta Dimase Management took us through some case studies from her stable of authors. She also got us to do a fascinating exercise in pulling out seven key themes from our novels and posting them up on a wall of the theatre. Seeing them all grouped together from a field of 28 authors writing across a range of genres was fascinating.
One of the most talked-about presentations was from Patrick Lenton from Town Crier Digital Marketing. He talked to us about the importance of authors having an online platform and talked us through a few different options. He was insightful and deeply knowledgeable and I got a huge amount out of his presentation. A key learning is that whatever online presence you decide to have, it has to be authentically you (otherwise you’ll never sustain it.)
A surprise learning from Allen & Unwin rep Deb Sevens and owner of Dymocks Canberra City, Alison Kay, was that “good sales” for a new author from one bookshop might be only one or two books over a month. This was a very sobering presentation, when us starry-eyed, emerging authors all learned just exactly how many books there are in a bookshop competing for each customer’s attention and how there is only room for a few of them to be placed face out. We also talked about the importance of a good cover. It was frustrating to learn how small the window is for a book to be considered a “success” in sales in bookshops, and even more so when we heard from Linda Funnell from the Newtown Review of Books about how sometimes review scheduling can miss this mark.
For me, in amongst it all was this strong thread of love for the written word. Even the in the moments when we or the presenters gave way to their most jaded or frustrated thoughts, everyone who was there was there because they love books. Because they adore stories and they want to get more stories out there to the readers who will treasure them. Even though every pearl of wisdom we received over the weekend came with a warning about the hard reality of the current times, I think we all finished the course in the spirit of “pragmatic optimism” that Nigel took care to foster throughout. I certainly feel as though I’ve been given the best possible preparation for what (hopefully) lies ahead.
I wish all my fellow HARDCOPIERS all the very best for the next stage of their literary journey. (Photo courtesy of Alex Fairhill)
I haven’t had a whole lot of writing news to share lately, so here’s some stuff I did last weekend. Last Friday was my son’s primary school’s annual trivia night, and our table always goes pretty hard on the dress-up theme. This year the theme of the night was the Silver Screen, and our table chose to dress up as characters from the Wizard of Oz. We won best dressed table!
So what did I decide to go as? Dorothy?
The Talking Tree!
Also: my sewing machine blew up while I was making this. No, really. There were sparks and great gouts of stinky smoke and everything.
Look what got delivered to my doorstep this morning! I’m so happy to finally have it in my hands.
Will you look at that stunning chapter heading? There’s a different one for each story. And mine is perfect.
I got Snapshotted! As part of the 2016 Australian Spec Fic Snapshot, I got interviewed by the wonderful Helen Stubbs & you can read about it here.
Interview by Helen Stubbs.
Leife Shallcross lives at the foot of Mount Ainslie in Canberra, with her family and a small, scruffy creature that snores. She reads fairy tales to her children at night, and then lies awake listening to trolls (or maybe possums) galloping over her tin roof. Her work has appeared in Aurealis and several Australian and international anthologies, including The End Has Come, edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey. She is actively involved in the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild and is the current president. She also helps organise Canberra’s science fiction convention, Conflux. She can be found online at leifeshallcross.com and on Twitter @leioss.
What are you working on at the moment, both in your writing and for the upcoming speculative fiction convention, Conflux?
I’ve spent most of the last year focussing on writing the first draft of my current novel project, a…
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I sold a story!
Have a celebratory happy baby goat.
So, to deal with my stuckness (which hasn’t yet been dealt with), my good friend and writing buddy Robert Porteous asked me how my story ended. I kinda have an idea about that, but it’s vague. Bare bones. I have the pre-ending climax all sorted and have done for a while, but the actual key story climax? Sigh. So he suggested I work on that. It seemed sensible: if I know how it ends, I’ll know what I have to get to. So I did a bit of brainstorming and created a few seeds of ideas that if I water carefully enough will produce shoots (and maybe, hopefully grow into something interesting and fulfilling).
But it’s hard.
So, as a tried and true avoidance technique, I thought “Maybe I’ll go and do some story planning work on one of my other novel WIPs and get into the story planning mood by doing something a bit fresh and different and revitalise my imagination.”
And guess what. No ending on that one. Pre-ending climax sorted. Major story climax? Vaguety-vague-vague-vague. I did a bit of a mental riffle through my other novel projects and, yep, this is something of a pattern for me.
“I wonder why this is?” I wondered. Wonderingly.
As usual, it’s all to do with emotional peaks and troughs. All these minor climaxes are (in standard 3-Act plot terms) the Darkest Hour. It’s the moment of highest and most drawn out emotional tension in the story. Think the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi; Rapunzel thinking Eugene has chosen the looted crown over her; Henri telling Danielle she’s a fraud and publicly withdrawing his heart; Elizabeth Bennet confessing to Mr Darcy that her youngest sister has eloped with the villain that almost ruined his sister’s life.
If you think about most of these story examples, the Darkest Hour packs a whole lot more emotional punch than the final climax. It’s when the protagonist has lost everything – or the thing that means most to them – and it almost doesn’t matter what else happens to them at that point because their heart has been ripped in two and everything else is trivial.
The exception out of these four (all faves of mine) is Tangled. Much as it hurts to see poor Rapunzel watching Eugene sail off with the crown, it is nothing, nothing, to the blubbering mess I become at the actual climax of the film when he does what he does – not to save her, because he can’t do that at that point – but to stop her giving up on saving herself. *Deep shuddery breath*
And therein lies the lesson. If I’m going to get interested in this part of the story and motivate myself to write it, somehow I’ve got to find a way to make my ending deliver as much, or more, emotional punch as the Darkest Hour.
Here’s a good word for an insomniac. It’s a term for a piece of art, most often music, that evokes evening or night, or, alternatively, a dreamy, pensive mood.
I like it because it sounds musical. It sounds haunting. For me it conjures up purple twilights, glimmering stars and crickets chirping.
Artworks at top: Nocturne Landscape, Jon Molvig; Nocturne: Forest Spires, Tom Thomson; Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket, James Abbot McNeill Whistler; The Falling Rocket (detail)
I’m stuck. The WIP is sitting on about 88K and has done for the last two weeks. And now the insomnia has kicked in again. It’s 2.30 am. I’m sitting here wide awake with a glass of wine, staring out the window at the clouds drifting at breakneck speed across a winter dark sky. So far I’ve seen three shooting stars.
I think it’s because I can’t quite see the end. I feel like I should – this novel was only supposed to be about 90K. But I feel like I’m still only 2/3 of the way through the story and there is so much work still to do.
These clouds are terrifying. I feel like I’m watching a herd of fabulous beasts running hell-for-leather towards some purpose I can’t even guess at, and they’re far too vast and I’m far too insignificant for them to notice me standing here, head tipped back, wide-eyed and wondering.