Rosanne Dingli

Rosanne Dingli

Friday, September 19, 2014


To go a bit further along the road laid by my last blog post, it might be expedient to work on the
virtue that's not always accessible to the author: patience. The threads of impatience start to weave their basketry into the brain the instant one half of a novel is laid down in draft form.
Authors are impatient to finish, to start on rewriting, impatient to finish that as well, so their beta-readers can have their first glimpses of this long-awaited new work. Then authors are extremely impatient to hear back from their readers with praise (or otherwise), and how they can go about improving an already tremendous novel.
They can't wait for their editors to finish, already! Get on with it, hurry. Authors want to get the work typeset, formatted, out there in the queue for uploading to the ethereal place they cannot even imagine; that literary sausage-machine from which each book emerges into the world. And then from there into the metaphorical brown paper-bag. The book pops, warm from recent production, in front of the eyes of the readers of the world.
The world! Impatience for a book to be available to the world is so strong in an author that hardly any are of the opinion that waiting is good for them. Why should anyone wait? The longer a book languishes out of sight - out of the reach of purchasers - the longer it might take for them to access acclaim.
Acclaim? Renown? Okay - fame, perhaps. Or at least knowledge of one's name in a tight band of faithful followers of their particular genre.
It happens eventually, they believe, all these hopeful authors who cannot wait to type that last full stop. It's inevitable that good work will rise to the top and receive attention. Eventually, readers in their thousands will line up to buy that last full stop. How long is "eventually"?"
"It has been well said that an author who expects results from a first novel is in a position similar to that of a man who drops a rose petal down the Grand Canyon of Arizona and listens for the echo" PG Wodehouse.
Results are not only hard to get, they are also hard to gauge, to measure, to ascertain with any reasonable accuracy. It's almost impossible to know whether anyone actually reads one's work, unless a review is written and posted somewhere.
And authors are so impatient for reviews.
Eventually can be a very long time. Overnight success does happen - but it takes ages. The myth of instant acclaim, however, is so well ingrained in popular storytelling about celebrities of all kinds that it's now impossible to erase. We can't destroy the myth that if writers all do exactly what the last miracle author did, they'd all have the same kind of success.
Elementary mathematics and common sense show us it's impossible, of course. How can all authors be equally famous? How can even a third of all authors currently impatient to see a surge in sales have their wish come true? It's been proven a dozen times that there aren't enough shelves in the world, enough reading devices, enough readers, to make this happen.

Patience, then, must be accompanied by reason. But how many impassioned eager creative people have that? If one had reason tempered by an understanding of statistics, by probability theory, and perhaps a touch of practicality, one would take up a career in anything but writing.
Leave a comment - speak your thoughts. Define your own way of seeing impatience. Or perhaps you might have a new way to explain how long "eventually" is!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hopes and expectations

I could just as easily title this post "Learning from someone younger", or "Receiving enlightenment from a youthful sage". Without going into the identity of the young person who is the fount from which this blog springs, I am riding on a mere glimpse, today, of how an author can truly benefit from listening.
We talk, we rant, we deliver workshops to those who would listen. We write reams and reams of words. We read the writings of wise ones who went before - in a book world that was vastly different, of course, pre-2009 - but emerge more or less unaltered.
Then a young person says something, in that inimitable enthusiastic, clear, bright way they have ... and realization, if it were a liquid, would have drenched the tablecloth. Refilled the yellow cups, flooded the plates and cutlery, made mush out of napkins and leftover Stroganoff.
There's a difference, I learned, between hopes and expectations. And one must never confuse the two. Hopes are rather like dreams - we can have them with impunity. Hope is never denied, even to those with the most unrealizable of dreams. We can always hope.
Confusing hopes with expectations, however, can be dangerous, defeating, and the result can be just plain depressing. Expectations require some consideration of an outcome, which is always limited by environment, participants, income, location, ability. Hope is eternal and needs no real results. Anyone can hope. We might continue to hope long after the lottery is drawn, the ship goes out, the parcel is lost in the post. But expectations need input, and an understanding of real elements necessary to bring them about.
One can mark up what I mean: it can be easy to visualize the difference by listing hopes and expectations in the same way as one would pros and cons. Do it: draw a vertical line down the middle of your page and list Hopes on one side and Expectations on the other. Do this for each aspect upon which you are imagining some sort of result. It could be a response from a distant person, a batch of seeds to sprout, a tax refund to arrive, or yes ... book sales.
Your hopes are understandable, legitimate, vital, even. One needs to hope. Hope is a basic human attribute. Without it, we lack ... well, we lack hope. If we are denied hope, we rebel.
The hopes on that side of the page are all appropriate and valid. But list the expectations, and suddenly a sense of realism, of down-to-earthedness, of real possibility, descends, and if care is not applied, it can be crushing to come to this realization. What we hope for might not ever happen, because it's improbable, impossible, or both. I can hope that my Stroganoff might turn out as tender and delicious as that of a first-grade chef, but the reality is of course limited by my utensils, skills, ingredients, knowledge, and time. My expectations must be similarly limited.
Learning this makes me take a pair of garden secateurs to my expectations: trim them down to what is in fact, in obvious fact, truly possible. My long list becomes drastically shorter. I am brought nose-to-nose with the reality of what it is I imagine might happen.
How do you distinguish between hopes and expectations? Have you - until now - felt they are much the same thing?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Reading for pleasure - an encounter with Margaret Sutherland

It took me a long time to figure how to breathe new life into my blog, but it did not take long at all for Margaret Sutherland to respond positively and accept my invitation to be here. Her patience and lovely disposition match her elegant, insightful writing. Prolific and comprehensive, her fiction takes the reader from country towns in Australia to the vast world inside the heart.

Here's how she sees that world:

Hello, Margaret! Tell us a bit about your novels - why do dogs figure so significantly in your recent fiction?
Dogs have been part of my life for several decades. A new dog usually turns up unexpectedly. Jo was a stray, Jessica sat withdrawn in a pet shop cage, Pixie was inherited, Beau was a foster dog, etc.

Most dogs share similar characteristics. They are intuitive, and transparent in showing their feelings. They can be zany and playful, patient and forgiving. They are vulnerable to the vagaries of an unpredictable world. They have deepened my ability to nurture and to play. That’s why my recent romances always include a dog. I draw on what I have learned to love about them.

Why are you writing romances now?
World problems are overwhelming. Romance gives the reader a break from gloom and introduces a note of happiness and  optimism.

You have worked in a number of fields. How do you bring work experience into your writing, if at all?
Yes, as well as publishing about 10 novels and several collections of short stories and memoir, I have worked as a nurse, a mother and wife, a laboratory technician, a bank teller (briefly!) and as a music teacher. I’ve used all these situations in my fiction. I am a writer who keeps close to life as I understand it.

 A Quintessential Love AffairI have worked in hospitals and community settings. My short collection, ‘The Last Party’, deals with life from the birth of a premature baby to the death of a splendid old woman. Short stories were my most popular genre. I cut my teeth on them, and many are republished in my book, ‘A Quintessential Love Affair.’ Some of those stories could have been expanded into novels. For example, my three years of nursing training were condensed into a single story, ‘Particular Friends’, and a full year of living in Papua New Guinea became the setting for a short novella, ‘Dark Places, Deep Regions.’ Of course, these are not autobiographies. They are fiction.

Tell us a bit about teaching music.
It is lovely work. I meet young children, teenagers and adults. Over time, many become friends, who share their lives and even buy my books! It can be sad when pupils move on. I try to be an encouraging teacher. I think that belief in oneself works better than criticism, so I aim for the positive. From the most gifted to the average, every student will benefit from learning to play an instrument. And yes, several music teachers play a role in my stories, especially in ‘The Sea Between’, a historical novel set in New Zealand and Australia during the First World War era.

Are locations as important as a reader might think when reading your title, ‘The Taj Mahal of Trundle’?
Although most of my books do have a carefully-placed setting, in fact the Taj title is pure irony! I just couldn’t find a better contrast than between an imaginary laid-back country town with its run-down shops and flapping awnings, and one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The title represents the gulf between dreams and reality. It is a story about the migration of an Indian family, the Lals, to Australia, and the adjustments a migrant faces. I am an expatriate from New Zealand myself so the theme interests me. I used the same theme of migration in ‘Leaving Gaza.’

 Saving Shelby Summers
Margaret Sutherland's most recent release

Some authors struggle to find time to write, whereas others seem to be writing all the time. What are you like?
In retrospect, I could have worked harder. When nothing was nudging me to write, I just dropped it and did other things. Mind you, that’s where I found new material. Now, yes, I am working most days on writing matters, but getting to an actual day of writing is very rare. There are the associated duties now. Writing a review, drafting up an interview or blog, social media, reading craft articles, learning some new computer programme or wasting hours with a technical hitch, checking sales, giving a library talk … oh, there’s so much to pull you away from the writing. One just tries to find a balance. I wish I had more time.

What do you read for pleasure?
I read something from the tumbling pile on my bedside table. At the moment, Sol Stein’s ‘How to Grow a Novel’; Robert Macklin’s ‘Dark Paradise’, about the history of Norfolk Island; Chinese Take-Out’ by Ian Mathie, a novel based on the defection of a Chinese biochemist and his wife at the time of Tienanmen Square; ‘That’s Life’, a magazine that takes me back to the days of babies, fashion, beauty, cooking, horoscopes and all the paraphernalia of the young family years … and of course, my trusty Kindle, crammed with goodies, including romances by my fellow authors at Secret Cravings Publishers.

Where can readers see more about your books?

My website has all the information, covers and trailers.

Margaret Sutherland's books

Thank you, Margaret, for this brief but informative visit to my blog. It's been an excellent way to revive these pages - and who knows, people might notice what we are both saying and doing in this writers' world.