Monday, March 21, 2011
The WINNERS this month are Michelle E and Rita G. .
The GIVEAWAYS NEXT MONTH are a copy of Aussie Stories (an anthology of short stories published by Strand Publishing, 2009)
Heartland: A Parable by Charles Fivaz (BookPal, 2010.) and The Silver Poplar by Edmund Smith.
You were involved in professional theatre for a time. How did that experience inform your writing?
Yes, I spent a year singing, dancing and acting in a musical production. Drama is just another form of story telling, so I spent that year really soaking up that particular form of the art. Of course, drama is a very visual form, so that year presented me with a great opportunity to develop my visual imagination which is so essential to the craft of writing. I mean, readers want to see your story, visualise it, picture the characters and the setting, and they’re often disappointed when they see a film adaptation of a book because it doesn’t match their own picture-drama of the narrative. Theatre did also give me an appreciation of how the characters I was playing could best be presented. My initial ideas were often at odds with the director, so it was a marvellous learning experience about what works for an audience and what doesn’t.
Did you find the theatre a difficult place to maintain a moral stance?
Difficult? Now that’s an understatement! The world of theatre and film is notoriously amoral. It’s a world of “anything goes” – I suppose because professional actors and dancers are constantly having to put themselves into the characters they are portraying, dark or otherwise. Professionally they have to be indifferent to the morality of a situation they are acting out. It’s the world they live and work in and the line between on and off stage often blurs. But I have to say that when a performer does make a quiet, often unspoken moral stand (off-stage), everyone generally respects that. Even admires it. But it is difficult. To make it even more difficult, the show that I was in went on tour, which meant the cast were living in hotels and sharing digs in various towns. You couldn’t get a more blurry line than that! The trick was to be constantly aware of the blur, then be firm and constant in your spiritual life and in the integrity of your relationships.
How did you establish your contacts in the industry? I'm asking this to help authors learn about marketing.
Joining writers’ groups and attending writers’ festivals put me in touch with the industry. The Victorian Writers’ Centre for example runs year-round workshops, talks and panel discussions that involve the whole gamut of the industry. Emerging and established authors attend these events, along with editors, publishers, publicists, artists, journalists and so on. And you get to meet and speak to people in the know. Same with the festivals, especially the Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne which is especially geared for getting new writers to come to grips with the market. I met a lot of handy people there. One other thing I did was to phone and write to other authors for advice; Sharon Witt for example, who had successfully self-published her books. I was amazed at how generous authors are in sharing their experience with newcomers.
It's notoriously difficult to get short stories published. Which markets did you explore? How did you go about it?
I didn’t so much explore as fall into one by sheer luck. I sent a short story to an advertised national competition that promised publication to prize winners. It was my first attempt and I was awarded third prize. I was astonished. I say “luck” because judges and editors look for different things at different times, and they have their own pet likes and dislikes. Your brilliant submission may be not quite what they were looking for in their publication. The next story I sent to a Christian publisher got no reply. Then a year later it was looked at again – and accepted. Writers and mentors always advise: be patient and persistent, and do have a good look at the publication to see if your story will suit its style and readership. The Victorian Writers’ Centre’s monthly magazine and online news bulletin regularly lists the competitions and publications that ask for story submissions. That’s where I got most of my marketing ideas.
What are the themes running through your work?
My stories are often about journeys of transition. About transformation. My characters have to face themselves, their past, their prejudices, and their attachments. They struggle to transcend their “stuckness”. Wanting to ‘have life and have it to the full’ is a painful process, and I want to show that. Having faith in dark times is another theme. Faith is the one thing that will carry us through life’s trials – faith working through love. Another favourite theme is humility: characters having to deal with their ego-centricity. We all have to do battle with our egos, don’t we?
Tell us something about your latest book.
Heartland. Well, first of all it’s a parable. Parables are like dreams. When you’ve had a significant dream what happened was you’ve told yourself a story! And when you tell someone else that story or write it down, you realise it’s about some real aspect of your life that needs attention right now. In telling the story you kind of get in touch with the problem; you say, ‘Ah! This means that, and that’s what I need to do here.’ The dream is a fiction narrative, but it is a “true” story. So: Heartland is a story about a runaway farm girl in search of her roots, looking for healing, and about her father who must let go of everything in his quest to find her. They’re on an emotional roller-coaster, journeying through farm lands and through their history. It’s a rite of passage for both of them, and when the farming community gets involved they too are challenged and transformed. An Indigenous tribesman plays a significant role as the heroine’s mentor. He tells her stories, using myth and fable to engage and encourage her. But what’s Heartland really about? Christian readers will have little trouble figuring it out. Even secular readers have told me they were moved by it and got a lot from it. A retired South African journalist called it “an enthralling read for anyone concerned about moving forward from the hurts of the past to a unified and forgiving future.” And they should know!
Link to my work: www.heartlandaparable.com .
Saturday, March 5, 2011
THIS MONTH'S GIVEAWAYS ARE The Silver Poplar and Yellow Zone. TO BE IN THE DRAW, POST A COMMENT. For submissions for author interviews to aussiewriters, email Wendy Sargeant at aussiewriters (at) gmail (dot) com (without the spaces), but before you do, be sure and post a comment.
Edmund Smith's The Silver Poplar is the CALEB winner in the Biography section. As we witness the tragedy in Christchurch, New Zealand and think of those left without loved ones, Edmund's story as an orphan with a keen sense of the grace of God is a real witness for humanity. Welcome, Edmund.
The issues of adoption and fostering are pivotal to your work. What do you think of adoption, fostering and surrogacy now?
A. Fostering and adoption have undergone great changes since the times The Silver Poplar is set in, and in many ways for the better. More efforts are made to ensure compatibility between would-be adopters and children - even efforts are made quite often to match them for physical likeness. Foster mothers frequently find it hard to hand back babies after short care, but their love is such that many of them continue to foster other little ones. Love for abandoned children or ones not naturally your own by way of adoption or fostering is special.
At what point did you decide you would have to write this story down?
A. Although The Silver Poplar was only published in December 2009, it was written in a long form roughly 30 years ago--written out of a crying need to give way to emotion about my past as a bewildered boy in an institution for neglected children. The story was eventually shortened and set out to make more explicit the wonderful change the grace of God brought about in me at age 17, a year before I left the institution. What was initially designed for a secular publisher became one with a Christian one in mind.
How did your family and friends react when you made it public?
A. Some were surprised to learn of my past, for I had said little about it, feeling few would understand. Many have expressed admiration for my honesty and the ability I had to capture the spirit of the times in which I lived. Reactions have varied in terms of being saddened or amused by the book's content. One friend remarked my experiences "were full of an overwhelming sadness," and yet said it is written with grace and humour.
What do you say to people who experience depression and self doubt?
A. It is a difficult question to answer in a few words but, based on my experience, ultimately I seek to point out the need to rest in the grace of God through Christ. One friend, whom I knew well in younger days, wrote to me upon reading The Silver Poplar and said, "you have an incredibly strong spirit to have endured all that life has presented you," but I do not feel that way about myself. I often feel frail and fragile, even in knowing the grace of God is at hand for me in Christ. I can still get depressed and can be vulnerable to self-doubt, and for that reason can have empathy for those who suffer in that way. As I said, whatever help can be given, ultimately there is a need to rest in God's power and mercy.
Can you recommend other biographies that have inspired you?
A. If it means recommending what is still purchasable, there is no guarantee all the books mentioned can be now obtained. Life in Jesus by Octavius Winslow is a lovely book, to do with the author's mother who was widowed at 40 and then went to America, giving birth to nine children. I remember someone reading the book and being driven to kneel in prayer, when previously kneeling was not the thing to do. That is the kind of book it is.
Other books to inspire have been: Richard Wurmbrand's Christ on the Jewish Road, The Pastor's Wife by Sabina Wurmbrand, Augustine's Confessions, Arnold Dallimore's Spurgeon and The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun.
Tell us something about your story.
A. At the age of six I entered a country place in Victoria called The Sutherland Homes for neglected children. I entered there believing I was an orphan. The place was my home for 11 years. At the age of 15 I discovered I had a sister; we were separated from one another when I was four. In the rest of my time at Sutherland, we knew nothing of our parents.
In my late teenage years my guardians believed I had the ability to do Fifth Year at Eltham High. It was then 'Auntie Lil' sent me an unwanted Bible. I set out to burn it. How I did not is disclosed in The Silver Poplar, which ends by telling of how I discovered at long last much about my family history and the triumph I had at a family reunion in Tasmania in 2002.
Where can we buy the book?
A. It can be bought through Koorong, Word bookshops or QBD http://www.qbd.com.au/product/9781921589102-Silver_Poplar_by_Edmond_Smith.htm. Or, it can be bought directly from me at a reduced price.
The email address is eksmith (dot) email (at) gmail (dot) com, should anyone wish to contact me and have the book posted.
Thanks, Edmund, for showing us how great tragedy can be turned around.