The writing life: On retreat

Right now I’m in Canberra, writing my little fingers to the bone, on a May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust retreat fellowship. More on that soon, although not much happens. I just sit in a room and write. There are crimson rosellas picking at the grass outside my window, and every so often a roo bounces past on its way somewhere very important.

Unlike some Australians, who get a bit snarky about it, I’ve always loved our national capital: the architecture, the lake, the national arts institutions, and the surrounding country.

It’s Ngunnawal/Ngunawal, Ngambri and Ngarigu country around here and I acknowledge and celebrate the traditional custodians of this place.

sunset over canberra

On the road

A couple of days ago I was back at Hampton Court Palace, the last of many castles and palaces I’ve visited in the last few weeks, on the interwoven trails of Queen Elizabeth 1 and the Irish pirate and rebel, Grace O’Malley.

I’ll post more photos in a bit, but right now my main thought is that the politics of both the Tudor court and early modern Ireland, and the moments when the two intersect, are so complex that this book is going to take a lot longer to write than I imagined.

It’s daunting. But it’s OK.

In other news, 1917 goes to press this week – that freaky moment where you have to accept you can’t change a thing.

The ‘R’ word

She’s not the first to say it, but she says it well: an interesting take on romance fiction as a feminist genre, from Trisha Brown:

Romance is one of the most feminist sectors you can find in all of art and entertainment. That statement defies all of the stereotypes, but it’s true.

You can read the whole article here.


Human stories

There’s been nary a day in the past decade that I haven’t had to set someone straight about the fact that I wrote my books for people, not women. My female colleagues report much of the same. We swap stories and shake our heads and laugh, but it isn’t funny. Because when an artist has to assert that her intended audience is all humans rather than those who happen to be of her particular gender or race, what she’s actually having to assert is the breadth and depth of her own humanity.

– Cheryl Strayed, on gender bias in fiction, in the New York Times.

Coming up

Next week, I’m celebrating Library and Information Week by visiting Carnegie Library for a chat with the folks in the Reading Circle about historical fiction and Goddess.

Looking forward to it.

If you’re a local, do drop in – 13 May in the afternoon.

Details here.

The magic of the story

If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader. If the writer has that urge, he may sometimes, but by no means always, find the way to do it. You must perceive the excellence that makes a good story good or the errors that makes a bad story. For a bad story is only an ineffective story.

John Steinbeck

Happy new year

Thanks to all of you who’ve followed the blog, been in touch on Facebook or Twitter, posted reviews on Goodreads or elsewhere, and (or) read Act of Faith.

For my next trick, I’ll be doing edits on the sequel over the next few weeks, but we’ll have to wait a while to see it in print. Should be out around August.

In the meantime, have a great summer holiday (or winter reading spell, if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and I look forward to another busy year ahead.

2013. Already? Didn’t see that coming.



Every day is women’s day

Another International Women’s Day.

First, let’s celebrate all the astonishing change that has happened in the last few decades with a little Aretha.

I remember when that song came out. If you ever doubt that art can change the world, remember that song.

I remember the International Year of Women in 1975. I was in high school (yes, I’m rather old) and it had a huge effect on me, and on the world. I remember televised debates featuring Eve Mahlab. I remember the badges and t-shirts and rallies, and also the backlash.  I remember reading The Female Eunuch – God knows what I made of some of it, since I was 15 or so. I remember reading the poems of Oodgeroo Noonuccal and Judith Wright and Audre Lorde. I remember feeling like my life – the whole world – was shifting, and it was. I remember my great aunt Madge, a veteran of the women’s peace movements in World War One, telling me: You’re just like we were.

I remember so many IWD rallies of the 80s, remember speaking at one (it must have been 1983) in the pouring rain, and I remember our current Prime Minister in attendance. I remember being abused by bystanders as we walked down Swanston Street with our banners. I remember fighting with countless numbers of men in suits in boardrooms about childcare, about discrimination, about at least keeping their stupid bosom jokes to themselves.

And now look. So much has changed. Yet so much hasn’t. So far.

(Here’s Kirsten Tranter on Why Women Writers Get a Smaller Slice of Pie, for example.)

I feel like every day we need to focus on what more needs to be done, and that’s just as it should be. But maybe we should keep this one day for celebrating and reflecting.

So today I’m remembering Madge and her sisters and my great-grandmother and her friend Vida Goldstein and that whole stroppy generation. I’m remembering the generations of strong women in my own family who  didn’t want to make a fuss about it, but did change the world anyway – just by example. I’m remembering the women who marched beside me, then and always. I’m remembering the poets and the visionaries.

And I’m grateful.