The Writers Journey

its hard work


There are times when I wish that I had been kinda sassy and brave enough to stand against what I was being told to do when I was a younger woman and started attempting to write before life became complicated, like adult life generally is.

Instead of going to teachers college I wish I had tried to write novels like the ones I would lose myself in for hours at a time instead of doing my assignments. I wish I hadn’t listened to the university lecturer who told me point blank that writing for children was the hardest form of writing, that only the very best should ever attempt it and decide there and then that it wasn’t for me.

And yet,  if I’m honest with myself, when I look back to the works I wrote, they lacked depth, understanding and mostly it lacked soul. If I hadn’t travelled the journey that has brought me to this place in my life, I think that my dream of becoming a published author would be nothing but a pipe dream, or maybe not a dream at all.

What truly matters is that I think the dream is worth striving for even now. Even when I think it’s beyond reach; that I’ve lost the chance to be what I believe God has designed me to be, I believe it’s worth continuing to try.

I just wish that there were more hours in the day to devote to the striving. More hours…? Or more productive hours? Hmm… not sure I like what that line of thought is suggesting.

Oh that imaging the stories and putting them down on paper didn’t cause me to struggle and work as they do. I long for the day that the writing comes effortlessly. I wish that I didn’t need outside validation as much as I still do. That when I read a piece of work created a few years ago I didn’t cringe and think… “Oh, that’s baaaad!” but rather that I saw the talent that is within me.

But it’s OK. Even when rather than sassy self belief, there are  long weeks of self-doubt, when the writing just doesn’t come at all, its all part of the journey.

I Have a Wee Problem here in Canada

friday bubble bath

Last night I was contemplating things that are challenging for me here. Things that make living in my adopted country of Canada a learning curve experience. Things that are mildly irritating or otherwise just not right because it’s not like back home – because back home in Australia we do it right you understand.

Its not that I don’t I find it maddening that here in Canada people drive on the wrong side of the road, which leads to me being confused as to what to teach my daughter in regards to learning to cross the road safely. When I was a child Hector the Safety Cat used to sing a handy dandy song that gave every child instructions on to how to cross a road safely.

This song made perfect sense – in Australia. But here in Canada, when I sing that little ditty to myself, it only leads me to trouble. Because here in Canada I’m not sure if I look left or right first… I can never recall which side of the road traffic is going to be approaching from. Picture if you will, a spectator at a tennis match being played on the television in high speed, head whipping left and right at full speed, desperately trying to gauge when the right time is to walk across the road. Way to teach the child huh?

In my incredibly accommodating, welcoming home state of Victoria, as a driver with a licence from overseas, I can walk into my local VicRoads office, produce a licence from valid country, and walk out with a full Victoria licence without having to even prove I can drive. Gallingly, here in Ontario, I have to jump through hoops that would send a highly trained circus poodle into a psychotic frenzy, and if I screw up my one chance to prove I can drive (I am a nervous test taker – years of secondary and university transcripts would attest to that) I have to go back to the very beginning of the driving scale (equal to a 16 year old) despite my having driven cars for almost 20 years with no major accidents and only one (highly contentious) speeding ticket.

After talking to the chemist, oh, sorry, the pharmacist it is just a little niggle on the frustrating side of things that I blindly assumed I would have easy access to medications you can buy over the counter back home are only available with a prescription here.

And I do find it demoralising that I can earn $21 an hour as a casual worker in a supermarket stocking shelves or putting customer’s orders through the check out, and here, if you earn $9.15 an hour, people say that you are on a good wage for a customer service job.

Oh and whilst I’m at it, please don’t ask me to pass you a Klennex… it’s called a tissue and the brand you are asking for isn’t the one we currently offer in our home… will a Shoppers Drug Mart do?

But for all the frustrations I feel with these little annoyances, I say to myself, “Suck it up buttercup! You came here; you deal with here.”

But none of the above issues have the ability to truly drive me mad.

No. What really drives me over the edge is this.

It’s when I’m resting in a far too infrequent warm bubble bath, and someone in my family simply insists that they have to use the toilet..

Pass water. Piddle. Whizz. Tinkles. Twinkies. Wee-wees. Pee-pee.

When I’m in the bath.

Now its bad enough that there is no natural light in this room which is squeezed into the centre of the building as if its an after thought, but to subject me to the indignity of hearing – smelling – you twinkle right at my heads height as I recline in the bath – oh it is not to be endured!

And every time this occurs, I ask the offending member – did you not know that you had to pee before I got in the bath? I told you I was going to have a bath. I walked up and down the length of the apartment calling out that I intended to have a warm bath… could you not have chose to empty your bladder then? Why when I’m here, enjoying the sensations of warm water do you feel the need to relieve yourself?

Of course, the offending member (my husband) will offer to pee in the kitchen sink, which sets of new waves of nausea in me, earning him the verbal reward of being called a jerk! Sadly that only makes him laugh all the more, thus threatening to spray his pee everywhere, because the sight of me, holding my nose, tightly screwing my eyes shut and singing “Tra La La Laaaaa!” in an attempt to not experience the streaming water hitting the water in the base of the toilet is just too funny for him. Some are more easily amused than others.

And the thing that is truly beyond my comprehension is having a toilet in the bathroom in the first place. The room is called a bath room for a reason people; you are supposed to bathe in it, not pee in it. Even the Penguin Concise English Dictionary agrees with me:

Toilet n 1A A fixture for receiving and disposing of faeces and urine. 1B a room or compartment containing a toilet and sometimes a washbasin. 2 archaic or literary the act or process of dressing and grooming oneself.

Does anyone see the word bath or bathe in there? No? Do you note that the toilet is described as a room or compartment containing a toilet and sometimes a washbasin? That would be because it’s a very simple thing. Bath room – bathe. Toilet – pee. The toilet does not, I repeat, does not belong in the same room as the bath tub.

And I have learnt that it’s not just because I live in a small two bedroom box apartment that I must deal with a toilet in the bathroom; no, no, no! Even the big fancy – schmancy houses here in Canada have the chamber pot in the same room as the bathtub. The only advantage in a big house is there is more likely to be a smaller toilet tucked away some place incredibly useful – like under the stair well, only big enough to be comfortable for oh, say, a two year old troll or something.

I think it is the one thing I truly hate about living in Canada. It is the one thing I cannot be a buttercup about and suck it up. I will, til my dying day, think it is wrongWrongWRONG to have a toilet in the bathroom. And even worse to use the toilet when someone is in the bath.

Now please excuse me, I have to post this love letter to my husband now so it gets to him by next Friday.

Singing in the Choir of Blogs

Anne, author of the blog Small Town Mommy left a note on the Rams, RAM and Romance post that commented on my use of language.

I love the words you use, it sounds so foreign. I don’t know if it is the Australian or the Canadian, but it sounds so musical.

Of course, the first thing I focused upon was the ‘sounds so foreign’.

This one sentence sent me into what I’m sure is the classic ‘outsider living in another country’ blogger panic. If my words sounded so foreign, did this mean that I wasn’t being vigilant enough and allowing much too much Aussie slang into my blog posts? Would my choice of words mean that a wider audience would not make the effort to read more than the one post they had read, because the words were so foreign: which in my mind obviously means too hard to understand? Was I limiting my audience – and did I even have an audience beyond the few people who had stumbled upon my blog or who had come to visit out of sheer politeness?

Come. Let me show you the inner thoughts that flitter across my mind like an ice skater glides across a smooth expanse of glassy water as I pondered Anne’s comment:

Good grief. Do people in North America really not say things like getting my goat? Stupid question; think about all the weird sayings Clotilde of Chocolate & Zucchini
has been telling us the French say! Of course no one here says get my goat! Hmmmm, now that I think about it, people tend to call rubbish bins trash cans here… yes, that’s a serious oversight, I need to be much more thoughtful on behalf of my North American audience. Voila! Definitely an attempt to suck up to the French Canadian readers who might one day find my blog… I adore the French language and culture. Wish I could speak it fluently. I really need to go to French classes seeing I’m a Landed Immigrant. Lord, I’ve enrolled Bronwen into a French immersion school and I don’t speak the language! Heeeeeeelp!. Bronwen starts school… in…. wait on….six months… SIX MONTHS? How is that possible she was only born a little while ago…. arrrrrrrrrrgh! Maybe this example proves I could be a good entrant into the Ramdon Tuesday Event hosted by Keely at The Un-Mom Blog. I can be really rather random. How did Random Tuesday Event get into… oh yeah. Small Town Mommy.

You get the idea.

But of course, what I should have focused on in the comment left by Anne – what I have seen more fully with my inner sassy self, is that it sounds so musical.

The blogosphere is full of voices, all telling tales, all sharing wisdom and insights; each writer wanting to teach other people something. It can be a cacophony of noise (a little like Twitter!), or it can become a choir of compassion, understanding and sharing. And because Anne and I come from different parts of the world with different experiences, we don’t see things the same way; nor would we want to. In the sea of voices on the blogosphere, an Australian living in Canada is indeed musical, because I don’t say things in quite the same way as anyone else. But each blog writer has a voice that adds a unique colour in the choir…. and phrases are the gift of language to reveal and rejoice in our differences. Because in a few words Small Town Mommy gave me the gift of seeing that my voice is a wonderful part of the choir, and I’m going to sing my heart out!

Beep! Beep! To You Too

Ottawa Taxi

I have always had an inner kernel of sassy in me, just waiting to be set free from the confines of societal expectations, but it wasn’t until recently that I really started to allow my sassy to start expressing itself.

Not so with my daughter. My daughter is fabulously sassy already.

Stating the obvious, but here is proof.

Today Matthew took her downtown to get his health care card renewed at City Hall, and as you can imagine on a busy grey work day in Ottawa, people are grouchy, going about their business as if they are the only people on the planet who matter, who have their own agendas and want their own way – NOW.

As Matthew and Bronwen were crossing a street, a taxi driver got sick of waiting for a (4 years old  in 15 days!) child to walk across the street… so he blasted the horn at them to either try and scare Bronwen into walking faster or to make her Daddah pick her up and run the rest of the way.

But my little girl was having none of that! No, no, no.

She swung her head sharply around, gave the taxi driver a withering look that can only be described as saying “How Dare You!”  in the haughtiest aristocratic way and replied… “Beep! Beep! To you too!” and then, without turning back even once, she kept on walking to the beat of her own drum.

I couldn’t stop laughing with delight as Matthew relayed the story to me over the phone. Bronwen  is the living example of Kinda Sassy; she really  is sass on legs!

Was Jane Austen the Original Chick Lit Writer?

Portrait of Jane Austen (1810) - by Cassandra Austen  watercolour and pencil

Portrait of Jane Austen - by Cassandra Austen (1810) watercolour and pencil

I’ve sniggered at the insanity of Becky Bloomwood’s behaviour in Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series. I’ve owned the whole series of “Princess Diaries” by Meg Cabot long before I had a daughter to justify them by saying one day I would share the books with her. I’m a big fan of Jennifer Weiner because she made the heroine in “Good in Bed” a plus size woman who didn’t fall into the predictable line of society’s demands for womanhood. If my bookshelves are anything to judge by, I am, in short, a “chick lit” kind of reader.

But for the longest time I have kept my reading preferences hidden, as if women’s contemporary fiction was my dirty little secret. Why you ask? Well, that genre of writing isn’t considered, shall we say, profound, now is it? Admitting to reading such novels does not make you look at all discerning. Not according to the intelligentsia anyway.

For it seems sometimes to me that for people sitting on discussion panels on book shows (like First Tuesday Book Club ), or people who write reviews over at the New York Times Book section can, intentionally or not, appear somewhat boorish in their need prove their superiority to the average person who reads, shall we say, contemporary women’s literature. Apparently writing doesn’t become good literature until its gut wrenching or emotionally tiring so that, yes, you are in awe of the authors’ ability and skill, but still in the end, feeling oppressed. And the good literature that the intelligentsia laud takes work to digest; it isn’t something that you enjoy for a time and then move on.

But I happen to agree with Jennifer Weiner, who in her own blog said;

(Give us) Contemporary women’s fiction (duh!) reviewed by people who do not think that contemporary women’s fiction and/or contemporary women themselves represent a pox upon the land. Reviews of books people are actually reading, instead of the ones the critics think we should be reading.
– Tuesday Feb 3rd 2009

Now don’t get me wrong. I spent a whole day in the bathtub one summer long ago, reading “Fall on Your Knees” by Ann-Marie Mac Donald with baited breath. I knew what was coming in the deepest part of my heart… I just didn’t want to see it confirmed in black type on the page. I’ve been whisked away to a time long ago and felt the softness of the silk kimonos against my skin in Japan with “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden. The gritty desperation and sadness in the story of “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt made me think of my own mother’s life. And I’m confident enough in my opinion of good and bad to say that I really wasn’t impressed with Wally Lambs’ “She’s Come Undone”. I think it was a success primarily because of the hype he gained from being chosen for Oprah’s Book Club.

So why is it that I’ve felt the need to hide my enjoyment of pure literacy ‘girliness’? And why have I felt the need to deny that if I were to ever write the stories that I know are floating around in my head, they would more than likely end up being considered contemporary women’s literature? I dream of writing neither the great Australian novel, nor Canadian for that matter. I do think it would be an amazing gift to write something that would change the world forever, but in all seriousness I do not dream that my writing skills will one day earn me a Pulitzer Prize. A Nobel laureate I am not! What I do dream, is of going into a book store and seeing books, printed and bound, with my name on the spine. Of being able to in some way support my family financially using the talents God has placed in me.

I decided, on a whim the other day to pick up a ‘classic’ in the form of Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility.” I had been putting it off reading it for the longest time because I assumed it would be hard work, a piece of literature I would have to really work at to enjoy. How wrong I was; it was pure reading pleasure. I confess that I had Emma Thompson’s screen adaption and the latest BBC version by Andrew Davies playing in my minds eye as I read the story, but that only added to the pleasure. The gloriousness of the vocabulary, the extensive speeches, and the very richness of words that Austen used struck me strongly. Such a book, if it written today, would, I doubt, ever be published. Or if it were accepted by a publishing house, an editor would probably rip it to shreds in the name of readability; condensing it into a concise book with 10,000 words less to its girth, slap a pink cover on the front and apologise for its existence by placing it in the contemporary women’s literature category.

But a few days after finishing the book I had a thought strike me so strongly that I have been able to think of little else whenever I think on the subject of books. Jane Austen was the writing heroine of her age. She wrote novels that had the whole of society talking, despite her stories placing women as central characters and the heroines in an age where they counted for very little in a culture ruled by men. Austen wrote domestic fiction, putting the dynamics of human relationships into a sharp and often critical focus.

True. She didn’t sit down and plan on writing novels that would be lauded decades into the future. She wrote the story that played itself out in her mind over the course of several years and when it was published, hoped that people would read and enjoy it. She hoped that people who read Sense and Sensibility would come to love Elinor and Marianne as much as she herself must have loved them as she wrote their stories. And in the end, she herself would admit that she wrote stories to make money. And here it is, two hundred years later; Jane Austen’s books are still being published, still be discovered by new eyes and still delighting afresh.

So now I’m thinking that its high time I got over my fear of the title contemporary women’s writer and just started writing, in honour of Jane Austen. And by the by, indulge my current craze and tell me, which is your favourite Jane Austen novel?