22 February 2008

Group novel

On Wednesday we had another plotting session for our group novel. Gee, it's fun. What if this happened? What if that? And it's amazing to sit down and read what we've written so far. The voices are all so different -- this project has certainly energised the group.

Initially, I found it easy going -- the voice was flowing, and I was in character -- perhaps not a good thing since my character's been acting like a dickhead. And a sleaze. But a loveable one. (At least I think so. My co-writers may not find him quite so adorable.)

It is interesting at times to see how protective some of us get with our characters. Someone says something like: "Oh, your character wouldn't do that. They're not that nice." And people get their backs up. We tend to forget that we are not our characters. I suppose we each love our own, and perhaps it's hard to hear because ironically our characters are us. Even when they're not. They're still drawn from the pool of all that we are.

Anyway, then I got reimmersed in my main novel, and when I tried to work on the group novel I struggled. It didn't matter much as I was ahead of some of the others anyway. After I finished my draft (of my main novel) and commenced a final editing pass, I found that with distance I was able to slip back into this one. I'm not someone who can work on more than one major project at once. I'm too obsessive a writer -- and, do you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. I like obsession. I truly do. Total immersion in a project is one of the great joys of writing, and one of the reasons the novel is my favourite form of fiction. Sorry, Haines, you're not going to turn me into a dedicated short story writer any time soon!

13 February 2008

Sorry day

A few years ago, a family friend of ours, a quarter-caste Aborigine, lent me her copy of the Bringing them home report. What sad, shameful reading that made. Even worse were the letters and reports that belonged to her mother. My friend is one of the Stolen Generation. I read her mother's letters with disbelief. There were letters to Mr Neville, the Chief Protector of WA, asking for permission to buy new shoes, letters asking for permission to go to the dentist to get a toothache fixed, letters asking for permission to marry (refused because her fiance was darker-skinned than she was).

Like many Australians of my generation, I had learnt nothing of massacres and stolen children. We had read about white settlement, not white invasion. When I read my friend's papers, I was shocked. By then I was aware of reserves and, to a lesser extent, invasion, but I was unaware of the level of control forced upon these people. And, on reading this, I was ashamed.

I am not a terribly political person. I am not one who is off fighting for causes. I live a quiet life. But this has touched me. And the more I have learnt -- of what assimilation really meant, of what really happened -- the more appalled I have become.

So, today, Kevin Rudd's speech deeply moved me. I am sorry too for the past injustices, and for the continuing ones. I would like to see far greater government spending on bringing education and health services up to par in remote communities. I would like to see the inequalities addressed.

I am sorry children were still being taken in my lifetime -- an atrocity I find unfathomable. I am sorry it has taken so long for us to heal the rift. I am sorry there are still people around who cannot see the need to say the word. I am sorry they cannot feel it.

I am sorry we cannot still all acknowledge what went on, and that there are people who deny the existence of a Stolen Generation, who don't care that their comments divide already divided communities. I am sorry the hurt continues, that nothing we can ever do can really erase the pain. I am sorry that we hide behind the excuse that they were only doing it to save the children, to give them a better life. If that were true, why did they only take the light-skinned children? Why? No-one has ever been able to give me a reasonable answer to that question. I don't expect I'll find anyone who really can explain it, not so it convinces me.

There is much to be sorry for, and I am sorry for it all.

05 February 2008

People watching

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of being a writer, one of the allures, is watching people and wondering about them. This to me is one of the appeals of reality television. I know many of my writer friends pooh-pooh my fascination with "Big brother", but I love the show. Can watch most reality shows with interest -- "The biggest loser" for example. What I love best is watching the social interactions between the housemates/contestants, and hearing them talk about their motivations and the things that move them. This is great stuff for writers to ponder. Some of the most powerful and moving television I've experienced has been on "Big brother". Who could forget Chrissie in season three, having overheard the cruel comments by someone working behind the scenes, and how the normally feisty, articulate woman was reduced to tears? Or in season five, David's coming out speech? Terribly moving. Terribly revealing. And brave.

Some of my friends say it's an act, that they're always aware of the cameras, but I don't believe this. Some are more aware than others (or so it seems to this observer), but it's clear that at times they all forget.

I don't watch any of these shows religiously. I just don't have time. Others I've enjoyed have been "Australian idol" and "American idol", "Race around the world", "Australian princess", one of those one-(Aussie)-bloke-eliminating-lots-of-prospective-girls shows and "Survivor" -- though I haven't seen much of this.

Two weeks ago, I interrupted my children watching "America's next top model", something that I never would have turned to on my own. A bunch of anorexic-looking spoilt princesses? Nope, not my style. But within a few minutes I was hooked. And of course most of them were not like this at all -- but the cattiness of one of the contestants! I couldn't wait for her to be voted off. Of course she lived to survive another week.

Last week was the final of the show. Finally, the bitchy one got her own, and off she went. But her comments after she'd been eliminated -- something along the lines off: "The judges got it wrong. I thought the best girl would win, but I didn't." Wow, I thought, what ego. And then she went on to say, "They mistook my confidence for aggressiveness." Really? Looked like more than confidence to me. Interesting that that's how she saw it.

Finally, we were down to the last two, and that "confidence" word was stuck in my head. I liked both finalists equally, but felt one deserved to win more than the other. The judges were torn, and ended up going the other way. They didn't chose the girl who I thought would win because they said she didn't have enough presence when she walked into the room. They showed her walking in again, and I studied her and her rival to see what the difference was. The winner looked confident. She came in smiling and met the gazes of the judges. The other girl looked shy -- she walked in with her gaze down (much like the early Princess Di), not making eye contact with the judges until she'd stopped walking, and then she gave them a dazzling smile. Her lack of "presence" seemed to me to be a lack of confidence.

There's a lesson in this for writers: a lesson about backing your own story and believing in it. The bitchy evictee shows that nothing can really wound you if you just believe in yourself and your work, and our runner-up shows that if you don't believe in yourself no-one else will either. An interesting viewing experience in the end: I'm glad I went along for the ride.