It is hot. Blisteringly, scorchingly hot, with the mercury hovering just below the forty degree Celsius mark. The sun blazes in a clear, blue sky, and all I can think of is the ocean nearby. That wonderful cool, clear water.
I don my swimsuit, a tee, sandals. Splosh on sunscreen, pick up a hat, sunnies, towel, bottle of water, and toss it all into the beach bag. Drive five minutes to the beach and find a park close by.
The water beckons enticingly. Aqua blue, calm, with just a gentle ripple. The sand at the edge of the water glistens in the sun as a wavelet surges gently up onto the shore, before receding lazily to recoup its spent energy. I am amazed to see so few people on the beach and in the water. Plenty of room for many more.
I tumble from the car and cross the hot pavement onto the sand. Trudge through the soft sand. The red-hot sand infiltrates my sandals and my feet burn. Now I know what it’s like to walk over hot coals.
Reaching the strip of hard, wet sand above the water line I shed the sandals and the damp sand cools my feet. I drop the bag. Off with the tee, I head into the water and wade in.
The cool water caresses my legs. Little fish swim only feet from the shore, where ridges in the sandy bottom dig into my feet. Ouch! But they are soon left behind for the smooth, sandy ocean floor.
I’m in waist deep and the water feels cold. There’s only one thing to do. Dive under and swim. After the heat, the cold water is sheer bliss! I come up with a gasp, shake my head and push the hair back from my face.
I look around. There are a few other souls in the water nearby. Teenagers splashing, diving, and horsing around. A few children on paddle boards. A group of three women a little way off, chest deep, hats on, bobbing down deeper now and then as they hold an animated conversation.
A couple of serious swimmers further out are practising their strokes.
I look down. The water is so clear I can see the shape of my toenails, and the occasional pebble on the sandy bottom. A lone strand of seaweed drifts by. But mainly it’s just clear, rejuvenating water. I swim a bit, do a few stretches and kicks, float lazily. The heat is forgotten.
Ah! This is what I missed so much when I lived in other places – South Australia’s long stretches of sheltered, white, sandy beach. Not crowded. Usually calm enough to actually swim in.
What! No surf? you say. No, if you want surf, go further down the coast. For me, I like to swim, float, cool off. Forget the heat.
This is Adelaide in the summer.
I always enjoy learning the history of places I visit, and while living on the beautiful mid-north coast of New South Wales, I researched the past of Bulahdelah, a picturesque village about 200kms north of Sydney on the Myall River.
In the early days of colonisation Bulahdelah was well-known as a timber-cutting area, home to magnificent cedar trees. The local Historical Society is active, and they made their information freely available to me, and I searched records and pored over photos. Then an artist friend loaned me a book of ‘Rachel Henning’s Letters’- letters that had been written by the English wife of a Bulahdelah timber-mill manager in the mid-nineteenth century to her various family members. In them she described her daily life, which she found very agreeable.
This made me curious about the lifestyle and conditions for all women in the nineteenth century
What my research found was that women then had few rights and were dominated by the men of the time, and not all women led the pleasant life enjoyed by Rachel Henning.
The law in that era stated that when a woman married, all her assets became her husband’s property, and the law gave him the right to force her to obey him in every area of her life. This meant she was totally dependent on him for everything, both financially and emotionally. If he turned out to be heartless, violent or miserly, she had little or no recourse.
So, under the laws of the day a woman had few rights; prior to her marriage, she must obey her father, and when she married all her property became her husband’s on the day of their marriage. She became virtually his chattel, to treat as he wished. No matter how badly he chose to treat her, she had to bear it.
Women were considered to be physically, emotionally and intellectually inferior to men, and the entrenched and patronising attitudes of the time meant that the judiciary, all male, took the view that whatever the man did was right and a woman was meant to be an obedient homemaker and bedwarmer for her husband, while not expecting sexual pleasure herself!
Throughout history there have been many influential women
But on investigation it becomes obvious that they were either rulers, like Elizabeth 1, in England, or Catherine of Russia, or else they were wives, mistresses or concubines of influential men. Many of them had great power.
But what of the ordinary, everyday women…
Women who had the spirit to rebel against this injustice – women who refused to be browbeaten by the men? And if they defied custom – could they face the results of going against the conventions of the day?
Happiness – and love – could not have been easy!
It was these findings that incensed me and provoked me into writing the Redwoods series.
AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN is the first novel in the series. This book focuses on life in Australia in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and to make the story authentic meant researching many details in Sydney in that era. Which hotels, pubs, churches etc had been built by then? Where would Kitty and her mother have shopped? How far had the suburbs spread by then? What transport was available? It also looks at the attitudes that caused Kitty much unhappiness in her marriage.
After I finished ‘An Independent Woman’ I started to think seriously of my next book ,which continues Kitty’s story and begin that of her young daughter Joy. However, I found that writing in a series throws up a whole new set of problems for an author. I have covered this topic in my blog on writing a series (Sept 7)
By the time I came to write ‘A LIBERATED WOMAN’ I had already done a lot of research into Sydney in the late 1800’s for ‘An Independent Woman’. However by 1893, the starting date of this book, the political climate had changed. There was hot debate over the looming prospect of Federation. Some colonies were for Federation, some against, and I needed to research the political figures of the day and their opinions. Also, Australia was in the grip of an economic depression – did this affect my characters?
Then there was a whole new world to portray when Joy went to England, to meet her English family, to be presented to Queen Victoria, and to have a London Season. The relatively free and easy lifestyle of Australia gave way to the strict social codes of Victorian England, where life was highly regulated.
My research for this included learning the protocol of presentation at Court, and what activities happened where and when during the Season – from garden parties and coming-out balls…
to a week at Royal Ascot for the thoroughbred racing….
‘A MODERN WOMAN’, the last book in the trilogy, begins with the commencement of the new century, a time of hope and new beginnings, and focuses on Joy’s life now she has becomes a woman – on her relationships, and on her burning ambition to make Redwoods into a successful thoroughbred horse stud, an ambition that was born back in England when she visited Royal Ascot with her grandfather.
As I had already done a great deal of research into women’s roles in those early years for the previous two books I had no need to delve further there, but I knew little of horse breeding. So my research focused on that. I investigated some of the ailments that can afflict horses, watched the birth of a foal on ‘You Tube’ video and ‘picked the brains’ of a horse breeder. All very interesting.
For the racetrack scenes I drew on my own experiences, having been a lover of thoroughbred racing and a frequent visitor to the races for many years. I have always loved the thrill of watching those magnificent animals stretching towards the winning post, every fibre in their bodies striving to win, and then to see how they relish the cheers of the crowd when they beat the rest of the field!
Having once been the part-owner of a racehorse I understand the nervous excitement Joy felt before and during each race, and the euphoria when her horse came first past the post – a feeling that’s hard to beat! And I understand too the affection and attachment you feel for your horse, win or lose!
As for the relationships and emotions of the characters, in all the books– well, allowing for the difference in the conventions of the time they’re not all that different from those of people today. Times change, but people don’t.
Over the centuries we have all had similar needs and desires – for a good life, security, a loving partner. A wish for romance is strong in many of us. And we all experience similar emotions at times. Love, hate, fear, anger, frustration. We all have different ways of dealing with them, and so it is for the people of Redwoods.
I had a lot fun doing this research, and putting the characters into the situations in these books. I hope you will enjoy reading about them as much as I have enjoyed telling their stories.
‘A MODERN WOMAN’ is due to be released on March 1st, when it will be available on Amazon and can now be pre-ordered on Smashwords, Apple iBooks, Barnes &Noble , and Kobo
I am re-blogging this from an Eescapades post
When I decided to write my first novel, ‘Inheritance’ I had been up in far north Queensland for several months, and had come to love the area.
We were based at a little place called Flying Fish Point, a few kilometres east of Innisfail, bounded by the mouth of the Johnstone River on one side and the ocean on another. A glorious place, where the forest is lush and deep green, the golden beach is long, and the cerulean sea and sky almost seem to merge.
From here we made trips to the Daintree rainforest, to the huge plateau of the Tablelands, up to Cairns, Port Douglas and as far north as Cooktown. All wonderful places. And wonder of them all, we went snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef.
But there was a downside to this paradise, for we were all aware that in the waters of the Johnstone River and the myriad creeks and rivers nearby lived that most fearsome of creatures, the saltwater crocodile.
I knew my book had to be set in this superb place, and that my main character would be a spirited young woman. In such a place the story needed to have elements of adventure, and mystery, and to reveal something of the soul of the place. It should also include some of the lore of the aboriginal people who were the original inhabitants of the land.
I set the story on Yallandoo, a cattle station (ranch). But I was born and bred a city girl, with little knowledge of cattle stations, or rodeos, or aboriginal culture and spiritual beliefs, and their burial rites. Or the habits of crocodiles.
What I do know a lot about is life, people, and human nature. The rest I had to research.
That included how to brand a steer, how points are allotted at a rodeo, the Aboriginal Dreamtime, how immigrants to the Snowy River scheme were housed on arrival, how a fire is fought without piped water, and just how dangerous is the ‘saltie’?, as the local crocs are called, (very dangerous!), to name a few.
Ihad the most wonderful time for weeks and months, delving into all these fascinating subjects – in books and papers, in libraries, and on the internet. I love research, but I am so easily led from my subject into interesting by-ways, which runs away with the time!
I have tried to keep things authentic, and if you pick up any irregularities in the facts of the story, you must blame it on the fact I’m really just a city girl!
Inheritance is now available as an Ebook in all formats on Harlequin’s Ecscape Publishing.
It’s never been easy being a woman, and perhaps this is a good time to reflect on that, and the attitudes to women and their rights in general today.
It is the week in which Australia’s first woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was deposed. She had crashed through the glass ceiling to become the first woman in Australia to reach the highest post in the land, but its shattering must have left her with cuts that will take a long time to heal.
Gracious in defeat she thanked her supporters, but added, ‘I’ve been a little bit bemused by those colleagues in the newspapers who have admitted that I have suffered more pressure as a result of my gender than other prime ministers in the past.’ I would like to think that her following words are correct –‘What I am absolutely confident of is it will be easier for the next woman and the woman after that and the woman after that.’ But how long will it take?
I have no intention of going into the politics involved here but, given that she made mistakes, I believe she received more bad press than previous PM’s had for their mistakes. Take, for instance, this photo reporting of Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition, as he addressed a rally, standing beneath a placard saying ‘Ditch the Witch’.
Of course these are not the most pressing issues women are facing today.
Amnesty USA recently reported, following results of their current research, that, compared to her male counterpart, a girl growing up in the developing world is more likely to die before her fifth birthday and less likely to go to school. She is less likely to receive adequate food or health care, less likely to receive economic opportunities, more likely to be forced to marry before the age of 16, and more likely to be the victim of sexual and domestic abuse.
Do you know that women account for 70 percent of the world population living in absolute poverty (on less than $1.00 a day), and that women make up 80 percent of all refugees and displaced people. Instruments of genocide such as sexual violence and rape are often directed at women and girls, and the majority of persons smuggled illegally across country borders are women. Many of them have been kidnapped or sold by their own families into the sex industry.
Five hundred thousand women die every year from childbirth complications— that’s one woman every minute. Girl babies have even been killed in countries where males are considered more valuable.
Women are denied property rights and inheritance in many countries. Worldwide, women own only 1 percent of the world’s property.They work two-thirds of all the world’s labour hours but earn just 10 percent of the world’s wages.
In the developed world we are more fortunate, but even here gender inequality abounds. Domestic violence is all too frequent, as men use their superior physical strength to quell opposition to their wishes or vent their anger. Sexual harassment, sexual abuse and rape are all too common. The recent rape and murder of Jill Meagher in Melbourne, which brought thousands of that city’s citizens to the streets in protest at violence against women, received much publicity but for that one atrocity, that touched so many hearts, there are many more that do not receive much publicity.
We have come a long way, however, from the universal conditions that were standard treatment of women in recent centuries, here in Australia and Britain and the USA as well as other developed countries. Then the laws of the day stated that when a woman married, all her assets became her husband’s property, and the law gave him the right to force her to obey him in every area of her life. This meant she was totally dependent on him for everything, both financially and emotionally. If he turned out to be heartless, violent or miserly, she had little or no recourse. Under the laws of the day a woman had few rights; prior to her marriage, she must obey her father, and when she married all her property became her husband’s on the day of their marriage. She became virtually his chattel, to treat as he wished. No matter how badly he chose to treat her, she had no redress. Women were considered to be physically, emotionally and intellectually inferior to men, and the entrenched and patronising attitudes of the time meant that the judiciary, all male, took the view that whatever the man did was right.
Rose Scott, a leader in the women’s suffrage movement in Australia, wrote: “Men have come to look upon women as a sort of appendage to themselves, a sort of tail that can only wag when man – the dog – is pleased!’ This meant that a woman was meant to be an obedient homemaker and bed-warmer for her husband, while not expecting sexual pleasure herself! For the average woman, life was not easy. It was these findings that led me to write An Independent Woman the first book in a fictional series based on my research.
Where did it all start, this supremacy of men over women that so many men seem to believe is their right? Back in the days of the caveman, I suppose, when his sheer physical strength meant that the man went out hunting to catch the food and the woman’s part was to serve her master, to cook his food, to share his bed and to bear him children to increase the population. It was the survival of the fittest, and he took what he wanted by sheer brute strength.
Yes, we’ve come a long way since then, but it’s taken thousands of years. Fortunately changes have happened more rapidly in the last century. We must thank the suffragettes for gaining women the right to vote, for that gave us the the power to influence the laws of the day. And today the power of the media in all its forms means that what happens today is known worldwide in a matter of moments.
So where are women’s rights going today? I think this quote from World Vision Magazine – Spring 2007 says most of it:-According to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “No tool for development is more effective than education for the empowerment of women.”
This one thing can do more to address extreme poverty than food, shelter, health care, economic development, or increased foreign assistance. There is a saying in Ghana: “If you educate a man, you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” When a girl is educated, her income potential increases, maternal and infant mortality is reduced, her children are more likely to be immunized, the birth rate decreases, and HIV infection rates (especially in Africa) are lowered. She is more likely to acquire skills to improve her family’s economic stability, and she is more likely to ensure that her daughters also receive an education. Educating girls pays dividend after dividend to the whole community.
Many of us women in developed nations already have these advantages, but we still have many issues to address. There are still individuals in the male population, here and worldwide, who think that the advantage of their physical strength gives them the right to take what they want, when they want it. And here in Australia, in our enlightened society, some males will do whatever they can to bring down the woman who achieves greatness, believing she is not worthy.
When will another woman be brave enough to aspire to be Prime Minister of our country?
There’s nothing new under the sun. How many times have you heard that? A dozen? A hundred? When it comes to fiction it’s true – no matter what idea you come up with it’s been done before. But as a writer it’s your responsibility to make it all seem fresh and alive, as if it’s being told for the first time. This applies to all genres – mystery, romance, dramas of human endeavour, in fact all fiction.
Take all the great love stories – Romeo and Juliet, Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, Gone with the Wind, Pride and Prejudice, Casablanca. Add a few of your own favourites if you like, and think about them. They’re all about love, about boy meets girl, man meets woman, and about the obstacles that come between them and their true love. Same idea, different problems, different resolutions, different writing. Those authors took an old idea and, using their own special magic, wove stories that have been loved by generations of readers. They haven’t all been joyful stories, many of them haven’t had happy endings.
But they have all touched our hearts.
And how have they done it? The authors have taken the idea, and they’ve created their characters and situations and woven their stories around them. But it’s the characters that are the pivot. If the characters are real people, people that come alive, people that we can love or hate, then we care about them, and we care what happens to them. And that keeps us turning the pages to the very end and then, perhaps, we’re sorry that it is the end.
As a writer how can you do this? First, your characters must be real to you – you must know them intimately. As you write you must be able to get inside their heads, to know how they feel. If you don’t know, then how can you make your reader know? Your reader wants to feel their emotions, to share in them. Emotions are mankind’s common language, we all have the same emotions – love, hate, anger, sorrow, joy – and we never lose them. And as well as the emotions, you need to know how your characters will react to any situation. For this point in time you must become your character. And of course you must create situations that will put them through the wringer, so we can see how they’ll come out on the other side, see how much they’ve changed.
All this means that as you create your story you must write from your heart. However, once you’ve finished the story you must begin to use your head, for this is when you must take your rough diamond and polish it.
You owe it to your readers to make sure your words flow in a manner as close to perfect as you can make it. It’s not just a matter of ensuring there are no errors in spelling or grammar, you must also think about the sounds of the words. Are they pleasing to the ear? If in doubt, read your work aloud. Do the words sing? Do they convey your idea as you wish? Or are they stilted and banal? Simple words, beautifully expressed, should be your aim.
So there it is. WRITE from the heart – EDIT with the head. Take an old idea and make it new.
And perhaps your story will touch hearts!
There is a big difference for a writer between writing fiction and writing non-fiction. With fiction a writer can give free reign to his/her imagination. It can soar like a bird. The only restrictions are to stay within the bounds of possibility. But with non-fiction you must stick to reality – unembellished by your creativity.
With fiction you want to tell a story and you want captivate and entertain the reader, you want the story to be as engaging as possible, and so you employ all your writing skills – all your imagination and creativity – into producing your masterpiece.
Non-fiction needs a totally different approach. You are writing for a different type of reader – a reader who is seeking information. No flights of fancy here. Just facts. Here your reader is not looking to be entertained – he is looking to you to help him solve a problem. You can only attempt to do this if you have the knowledge and expertise to do so.
Perhaps you’re an expert in your field. Or you might be someone who has discovered a new and easier way to build a dog kennel, and you want to tell other dog owners or soon-to-be dog owners all about it to save them time and effort. In either case you do it because you know something that you believe will be helpful to others. And to be able to pass it on you have to explain it in the clearest way possible. No fancy words, just plain, simple statements.
I have just finished a non-fiction project, which has taken much more time and effort than I envisaged when I first started on it, and I have found it much more difficult and demanding than fiction. Called ‘Eat Cook Slim’ I decided to write this book because of the frenzy of diets, books, supplements and meal replacement products on the market today relating to weight loss and good health. During more than thirty years experience in the beauty/natural therapy industry in Australia I helped hundreds of clients to gain good health and a slim figure – by which I mean the right weight for them – along with the benefits of a healthy glowing skin, which is the basis of all beauty. I know that diets don’t work and that following the simple guidelines to healthy nutrition is the only way stay slim and healthy, and when you know how, it’s not all that difficult. And I believe I can pass this know-how on to others. So I wrote a book about it, and then decided to put together a series of books of quick, simple recipes to accompany it. It proved a big task.
I had no idea of the amount of time and effort I would need to put into such a project.
When I’m telling a fictional story I become embroiled in the lives of my characters – I’m like a fly on the wall watching them as they go about their endeavours, eager to see what they will do next, totally immersed in them. And I love every minute of it!
But non-fiction demands so much more. You must check your facts, down to the last detail. Does the latest research agree with your advice? You must be careful not to make a mistake, your readers are relying on you. I must admit I gave a relieved sigh when I finally finished this project. And if it helps a few readers I’ll be satisfied.
But I can’t wait to get back to my next partially written novel, which has been languishing in my laptop for too long!