Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Margaret Sutherland - Guest Blog

I would like you to meet an author who has jumped into the fray to help me out during a period when I am overwhelmed with work. I am very grateful.
Margaret Sutherland is an author with a large body of work. She has written fiction of the full-length and short varieties with great success, and is taking the floor this week. Please make her welcome.


  “Don’t give up your day job!”
This gratuitous advice to authors suggests that, as there’s no money in it, writing isn’t real work, and for the money part, that’s true for most of us. Novelists and short story writers don’t draw regular paychecks.
So isn’t writing work?
Of course it is, if work implies regular effort carried out for reward. It’s just that the varied rewards of writing may not be measured in cash.
We still need money and most of us do have some other form of paid work. Magpies that we are, we will gather experience for future writing, in the way that Somerset Maugham used his training as a doctor for ‘Liza of Lambeth’ and ‘Of Human Bondage’. 

As a young woman, my occupation was raising three children and keeping a home. In the ’60’s that wasn’t considered work. Only when I suggested taking a paid part-time job did the issue arise. Who would do whatever it was I was doing all day? I postponed taking the job. Instead I turned to writing. That probably saved my sanity, but nobody called it work. It was my little hobby in Suburbia. (Guess what my early novel ‘The Love Contract’ was about.)

In later life I qualified as a piano and guitar teacher, (my current day job). I needn’t think hard about how music has infiltrated my fiction. In ‘The Sea Between’ there’s a procession of characters. I’m throwing a little get-together for them right here. Let me introduce you: irritable Mr Casubon, gifted musician forced to support his large family by teaching; Julian Moxham, ambitious bipolar cellist; shy pianist Dot, briefly a nun.   

And from ‘Leaving Gaza’, here’s Heath Barnes, retired now from the Conservatorium but still teaching music at home. (On the quiet, a lovely man, but a terrible frustration to his wife, who paints. Trouble brewing there.)

Let’s move on. You know how rackety arty people are. 

Behind this closed door, the sick and elderly are celebrating life. How resilient they are! By now you’ll have gathered I also worked as a nurse? After training in the ’70’s, I was employed in Women’s and Baby Health, Aged Care and Migrant Health. The experiences from this period fill a whole book; life stages and characters who people my just-released paperback and e-book, ‘The Last Party’.
Well, excuse me. It’s time to go. Old friends are calling and then it’s back to work.

MARGARET SUTHERLAND  is a New Zealand writer who has lived in Australia for twenty years. She has published seven novels and several collections of short stories, has held the New Zealand Scholarship in Letters and has received two Australia Council writing fellowships. Her work has been included in many anthologies. For further details, visit Margaret's website at

Thank you Margaret - most readers would have clicked on the book covers by now. Our curiosity is roused. Leaving comments should start a discussion about writing and work.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Guest blog: Tom Kepler on poetry

This week, I have a guest blogger taking the floor.

Some of you might know I started off life as a published writer with poetry. Although I haven't done much since the 1990s, after publication of my collected poems All the Wrong Places, I have kept an eye on the scene, building fascination about poems that tell a story and fulfill the narrative sequencing sought by readers of fiction.

Tom Kepler is my guest blogger today. He delves into this subject much better than I ever could. His collection Bare Ruined Choirs is worth keeping handy, for the occasional foray into a gentler, more contemplative read that elicits understanding of the human condition, of human emotion.

Without further ado, here's Tom.

Poetry That Tells a Story

We'll start not with "poetry" but with "poetic" to lessen the clicking sound of readers mousing to another website.

"How poetic of you!" and "How poetic!" are common enough sayings, and what those expressions mean is pretty clear to everyone: poetry extending into prose, words used with greater intensity, more meaning packed into fewer words.

So what about when the storytelling of prose wriggles its way into a poem? We have three possibilities:
Writing poems in a series is a fascinating opportunity for a writer. A poet can create windows of perception--poems one by one--and then link them.

Modern technology gives us the "slideshow" effect as an example. Each photo is its own reality, yet together the images conjure a greater effect. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

The same is true with a series of poems. They can be crafted, each with its own beauty, yet can also be compiled and organized to tell a story. Like flash fiction, poems can be short, impressionistic vignettes that "hint" at a larger story.

If novels are like the cinema, a series of moving pictures, then modern lyric poetry is the individual photograph, each viewed one by one. What is the functional difference of experiencing these two modes of storytelling?

In a movie, the audience is stationary and experiences images as they move. This is true also in a novel; the action occurs on the page to the characters. When a sequence of poems tells a story, the poems are like still images mounted on a wall. It is the viewer or reader that moves from reality to reality--transformed by words that are "possessed of more than usual organic sensibility," to quote William Wordsworth.

My book of poetry, Bare Ruined Choirs, consists of twenty-eight poems that document the life of a relationship. Six years after the last, fading years of my first wife's life, I realized I had the makings of a story, a chronicle with a beginning, middle, and end.
The organization of the poems, though, is conceptual, rather than chronological to the order of their writing. The artistic, universal story supercedes the biographical--or perhaps the two blend together to the universal story of "love, life, and death."

If passages in novels can be poetic prose, then certainly a series of poems can be designed to tell a story. That's what I tried to do with Bare Ruined Choirs, anyway--to tell a universal story and to structure a tribute to a brave and tragic lady.


Thank you, Tom: this gives those wishing to venture into poetry once more a springboard. Stories are what writers love to tell, and shaping them as you have, into a book of poems that together form a narrative, yet stand individually rather well, might be the way.

Find out more about my guest here:

Tom Kepler
Tom Kepler Writing Tom Kepler Writing and Website)
Tom Kepler Writing/Wise Moon Books (Facebook Writing Page)
Tom Kepler at Smashwords

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Authors and depression

Self-doubt and unreliable income can wreak damage to susceptible artistic people. Authors and other artists are vulnerable, are exposed to rejection, and rely on a certain level of intellectual success to validate their occupation. Not that this is not true for any other job, but writing seems to be burdened with the public perception that it must succeed: it must include a degree of noteworthiness, if not outright fame and fortune. When expectations are dashed, or achieved only slowly and painfully, it is not only the authors themselves who question the validity of what they do, but those nearest and most intimate with them. Perhaps that is why male authors, who do not always manage to make enough to sustain a family, are traditionally more affected.

Anne Sexton Anne Sexton

Anyone who has ever studied literature or read a biography will not be surprised to learn that authors sometimes suffer from the blues. As a group, those who identify themselves as authors, or make the bulk of their income that way, have more than their fair share of members who suffer from mental illness. Even off the cuff, one can mention famous authors such as Virginia Woolf or Anne Sexton, Ernest Hemingway or F. Scott Fitzgerald as some who were notorious for their moods.

Benedicte Page, in her Guardian article last year, wrote that writing was one of the top ten professions 'in which people are most likely to suffer from depression'. She also observed that male authors with the complaint outnumbered female ones. Reasons stated were the isolation, self-examination, introversion and subjecting one's work to scrutiny. Anyone who has ever written anything creative can relate to these aspects.
Artistic people are plagued by an intense inner life that needs an outlet, but they are also artistic because their make-up consists of a fascinating mix of facets, often accompanied by other problems such as gender orientation confusion, family dysfunction, substance abuse and inertia. Experiences, ideas and stories that run deep into a person's psyche are all magnified when it comes to one who writes, because rather than strive to subdue them, ignore them or pretend they do not exist, authors need to dredge, dig and remember. They need to rouse and elicit all that lies in their heads and hearts just to be able to frame what they write on some basis. Even if they write pure fiction, the personal element is never absent.

Gwyneth Lewis
There is a side to writing, however, that comes to the aid of authors. Given the difficulty of what they do, the meagre earnings for those but the most famous, the discomfort that comes from being misunderstood, and their continual lack of guaranteed success, the poet Gwyneth Lewis writes she is amazed "that writers don't suffer more." Many would agree that the notion that an artist or author needs to suffer for their art is nonsense. There is a cathartic side to writing that does heal. There is a definite closure to be felt when one finishes a work that feels productive. Joy is possible, and is available to authors in ways often denied to those without an artistic outlet. The ability to transcend problems, place them in perspective - even get rid of them by giving them to an invented character - lies within the scope of the author. Many writers have analytical perception, and the mental agility, to overcome feelings of depression. Goethe, when he wrote The sorrows of young Werther, exorcised his own suicidal impulses and thoughts, and very likely saved his own life.  (Pöldinger W. 1986) It has been suggested that in their depressive state, authors gather new impressions, which are then released in a fresh and vigorous writing stage, when creativity is unleased, in a kind of 'manic' state.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Perhaps it is useful to regard moods as necessary in the life of a writer: a series of hills and troughs, with their attendant feelings of alternating doubt and determination, melancholia and joy, despair and elation. If one sees there is gathering and collecting of material - of emotion - during the low moods, and great production and creation during the jolly fruitful intervals, one can face anything. Most importantly, one can face that keyboard with courage.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Meeting the Twisted Sisters

Friday night was eventful.  It was rainy and grey in Perth: not exactly the night to seek an address in an unfamiliar part of town. So I gave myself an extra half-hour of driving time to be on the safe side, and set off with map and explicit directions, written in red marker. I still got horribly lost, ending up at Midland first, and then at the international airport. My destination was nowhere near either.

Sunrise over Perth, Western Australia, taken f...Image via Wikipedia
I was heading for a home where the Twisted Sisters - a keen and knowledgable book club - meet. Arriving half an hour late after phoning for directions could have been embarrassing, but the  hostess and all the other members of the club made sure I walked into a room of strangers... to a warm welcome. The rest was pretty close to perfect. The night passed quickly, as we discussed According to Luke, which they had all read, and topics included in the narrative. Let me assure you there is nothing quite like talking to readers who all know my book backwards. Some made notes. Others had sticky bookmarks attached to passages they liked! All were on first-name terms with the characters.

How does an author reward such a crowd of new-found fans? Well - it's not easy, but I found that the personal touch is always valued. I gave them snippets of knowledge that only talking to the author of a novel could give them: secrets. I told them how the story originated. That some of the props exist and where they are. And I gave them insights they could only access through me. Oh no - I am not about to put any of that information here. It is only for readers I meet in person.

Let's face it - authors do tend to love a captive audience: seven attentive women whose eyes lit up at every second sentence did make me don my racconteuse hat. I told them stories connected to the creation of According to Luke, and also some about Camera Obscura, my next novel, coming soon from BeWrite Books. They seemed eager to read it, and showed a lot of interest in my other titles.

Pic: NC State University
Sometimes, an evening is simply a roaring success, even if it does start with a hiccup in the pouring rain. Sometimes, I come away from an event smiling, and warmed by genuine enthusiasm for writing, which goodness knows I find does not always come easily. All the work of drafting, editing, revisions, proofing, and promoting seems suddenly all worthwhile.

I am grateful to bookclubs who take on my fiction: after all, I am not famous or newsworthy, but they take the risk and seem to be glad they did. They clamour with questions - most of them rather clever and insightful. They ask for more - which is what any author would want to hear. They pass the word on to others, which is the strongest form of publicity that exists.

Thank you, Twisted Sisters, for a very enjoyable night.
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