My Adventure into Social Media

mazeApparently I needed an online presence to get my book out to a wider audience. Easier said than done!

I had no presence. Online, that is. I typed my name into the internet browser and found that there was absolutely nothing about me. It all seemed scary… but then the unknown often is.

Is this what people felt when Galileo declared that the world wasn’t actually flat? If I take the leap will I fall off the edge of the world wide web?

Like a modern day explorer, I set out off into the maze. I joined Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. That seemed easy.

Now for a webpage. I heard about WordPress. It seemed straightforward, but it was a minefield of inhospitable terminology. Well, for me anyway. For goodness sake -what on earth is a widget? I got as far as I could on my own and then got stuck. I sought help and luckily, my friend’s son, Theodore knew all about it. After a few pointers I got back on track.

It was exciting to set up my page. Like decorating a new house, I chose colours, pictures and themes. Now what?

I had to write something. What was I going to say? I looked at what other writers were doing. Some were writing about their daily lives. Some wrote stories; others wrote poetry. In fact, people seemed to write just about anything.

Finally, I typed my first post. My finger hovered over the publish button. I moved my hand away. Once I published where would it go? I was invited to make it sticky. What did that mean? Uncertainty and fear plagued me. Like Scarlett O’Hara, in Gone with the Wind, I too decided to think about it tomorrow.  I kept my first draft for a day or two or three.

After a week or so of procrastination, I took a deep breath and  pressed the publish button. Then waited and waited. Nothing. Funnily enough, I was relieved – there was no expectation, no feedback and it didn’t come crashing down all around me.

No news was good news as far as I was concerned so I decided give it another go. My next post was published. I got some likes and then some followers. Then I posted again and again.

It seems so long now since that first post but if you haven’t read it here it is… https://sckarakaltsas.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/the-letters/


So you think you’ve finished your book

 

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I was smugly satisfied that my book was done. But was it?

There were nuances in my writing that my beta readers had pointed out; words in my dialogue such as ‘well’ at the beginning of a sentence was one example. I knew I needed help with punctuation – who doesn’t?

I read a lot about editing – copy editing, line editing, developmental editing – these terms were all confusing to me. I’d also heard that a writer should be their own editor. That an editor can change and interfere with the integrity of your story. Ok then, all I needed to do was critically edit my own work and organised for someone to proof read – surely that was enough.

Then I met a lovely lady called Meredith who asked to read my book. Luckily for me she’d been an editor in the past. She gently set me straight and pointed out ways to cut my wordy sentences. Did I really need a whole page to describe something which I’d said earlier in one line? Had I really developed the characters enough? Male dialogue sometimes sounded girly in parts; there were too many adverbs. She opened my eyes to things that only someone with such expertise can do. She could see things that I couldn’t and under her expert guidance I revised and revised. I realised then that I had needed that valuable advice and that my book was far from finished.

After the rewrites I found another lovely lady, Annie, who did a final edit. Like Meredith, she too gave me advice and feedback which all served to make my book the best that it could be.

When I look back at my first drafts, I just can’t imagine what I must have been thinking. If I’d released my book on the world in that state, I would have regretted it.

Writing is a journey especially for someone who is new to it. Increased skill will only come from practice,great feedback, more practice and more feedback. I don’t think I’ve nailed it and maybe I never will, but I’m motivated to continue on the scary path to improvement with many amazing people helping me along the way. I’m in awe of all the incredible editors out there and the painstaking work they do. Everyone needs them.


Five things I’ve learnt about writing so far.

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I had my story, but was trapped by the truth. How do I tell it, yet be faithful and true to the people who lived during 1948? I needed help but I didn’t know how to go about getting it.

Quite by chance I read an article about an upcoming Emerging Writers Festival in my city. I trawled through the site and worked out what sessions I wanted to attend.

The day arrived; it was cold and lonely walking into the large auditorium. I found a seat and the first session opened with a panel of five writers. The comments of  Emily Bitto and Hannah Kent resounded. They had both written and published historical fiction novels; The Strays and Burial Rites. I read them later and urge anyone to read them – they are fantastic!

These are the points that created an impact for me -:

1. Just write!

I went home and gave it a go and discovered that when I wrote I got into a zone. It was almost meditative.  I didn’t worry about where it was going or how it sounded. Naivety meant that I had no expectations and no rules to get in my way. It freed me!

Many people tell me that they have an idea but don’t know where to start. Go with the first thing that comes into your head and let it go. I might be wrong, but if you torture yourself about how to go about it, I can’t see how you’ll ever get it done.

2. Read, Read and read!
I have always been a prolific reader for pleasure but now I began dissecting the books I was reading for structure, language, character development – borrowing concepts and ideas to see how they fitted for my writing. One idea quickly led to another. I didn’t have anything to lose but try.

3. Be empathetic
I had to walk in the shoes of my characters and transport myself to 1948. What did my characters know, understand and feel about what was happening around them? How did they speak? I read newspapers of the time. The fear across the globe was of Communism and financial problems. When you read the newspapers today that fear is Islam and financial problems. Some things don’t change much.

4. Draw on your own experience
I pulled out character traits from people I knew, without even realising it. Now I can recognise elements of the people I have known throughout my life, in the characters I’ve built.

5. Don’t get bogged down in research.
I had spent months researching the era, Ocean Island, mining, the murders etc. How was all of this research going to find a place in my story? I suddenly realised that I could use fiction. I drew on my research when I needed it. It released my imagination and freed me up to write. It was exciting and exhilarating.

 

No wonder it became my obsession.

Feel free to let me know what you’ve learnt.

 

 

What happens when you take your obsession on holidays?

DSC_1284A holiday to far north Queensland with my dear friends, Pauline and Ron, took me away from my book. The trip had been pre-planned for months and somehow I had to wrench myself from the computer. Like a newborn child I couldn’t leave it, so I took my writing with me.

The day before we left, we found out that a category 5 cyclone  was bearing down on Cooktown, some 650 kilometres away from our destination, Townsville.

When we arrived it was calm and sunny in Townsville. The cyclone hit Cooktown and was downgraded to category 4 – nothing for us to worry about. The next day it began to rain. We watched the weather forecast closely –  the cyclone was making its way down the coast straight toward us. Should we now be worried?

The next morning I woke and all seemed calm in our solidly built apartment overlooking the sea. I got up and opened the curtains –  the wind and rain was fierce. The palm trees were being buffeted from side to side; the waves from the sea splashed over the pool. Pauline stood next to me – we  looked at each other in alarm. Is this what a cyclone is like?

The loudspeaker crackled on and a man with a deep voice announced, “Good morning, the lifts are closed until the cyclone has passed. Please stay indoors. We apologise for any inconvenience.” Our plans for the day had been thwarted – what should we do?

With my obsession never far away, my thoughts went to my book. I could use the imagery of the cyclone but what else? Could my friends re-enact the murder? After a little persuasion, they agreed to humour me. The scene was re-enacted – laughter included. I wasn’t expecting an  academy award winning performance, but they did a great job to help me visualise how the murder might have happened. But it created more questions. I wondered why the woman hadn’t run out of the house while her husband was being stabbed. She had picked up the phone instead.

Soon after, the sky cleared. We looked out of the window – people were on the beach, children were in the pool. The cyclone had passed.

How do you know if you can write?

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I had finished reading the book “Questions of Travel’.  The author, Michelle De Kretzer,  wrote two stories with two points of view. One was about a man who suffered the loss of his wife and son under horrific circumstances during the war in Sri Lanka and the other was the story of a wanderlust young woman.

Perhaps I could do the same thing but instead tell one story from two points of views. What I had was an important history in my fathers letters.Could I write a book about what happened on the island?

The Australian media focussed on the murders of the husband and barely mentioned his wife. I know it was indicative of the times but this got under my skin. I wanted her to have a voice. Why had they died? What had happened?

One night I lay in bed and thought about what she must have endured . I couldn’t sleep so  I got up and wrote my first chapter.

I hadn’t written anything creative since high school. I had worked in the financial services industry for more than 30 years. What did I know about writing? I hadn’t written anything . . .  or had I. I began thinking about my working life. I had written policy, procedure, letters, emails, newsletters, speeches,templates. Perhaps I was equipped to write but didn’t have the confidence. What I did have though, was my growing obsession which drove me to just give it a go. What did I have to lose? I read that first chapter to my family and with their encouragement began to build confidence.

I went away for a weekend with some close friends and read  the first chapter. I got some positive feedback – wow. A small part of me wondered if they were humouring me . . .  or if they were just shocked to find out I wanted to write a book . . .  or maybe just surprised I could string two words together.

It was enough to spur me on to write five chapters. I picked out the events that my father wrote about then visualised the scenes with the help of the photos I had.The story was built  around the events and I  filled in the missing blanks. How did I do this? Research and imagination.

How did I know if I could write? Well, I still don’t but if it makes sense and the reader gets something out of it then I’m half way there. Aren’t I?

When do you tell a white lie?

My father had an operation on his appendix. The doctor and his boss each wrote to my grandparents to tell them and to also let them know that he was well.

He had always been fiercely independent and he played it down in his letter.’I’m very sorry about his appendix business Mum. The doc didn’t tell me anything about sending that cable, and I told you a fib in the letter so as not to worry you.’ I wonder what my grandmother must have thought. He had been away three months on this remote island and already two trips to hospital!

To prove how well he was and I suppose to allay any worries  he later writes,
“I’m thriving on the life up here though and reckon it’s a great place. I’m as fit as a fiddle – developing quite a few long unused muscles owing to the strenuous work and still eating like a horse.” He painted a picture of  his social life – playing tennis, dinner parties and dances.

I knew from his letters there were about 2000 workers on the Island, some with families, but for the most part, the population was male. I started imagining what it must have been like. No doubt there would have been alcohol and I wondered if a young man like him would have indulged. It was a rare day when he didn’t enjoy a beer in his adult life and he was proud to tell us that he never drank to excess.

I wondered if it had started on Ocean Island. I smiled when I read a line in one of his letters.
  ‘And I hope you’re not worrying about the manner of my liquid refreshments – the strongest drink I’ve had, or intend to have is fruit cordial, but put away an average of about four or five coconuts per day.’

I found out later that the European workers each had a daily beer ration. I learnt to read between the lines.