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PhD progress

I can’t believe it is six months already.

I’ve been at this gig for six months!

Do I miss work? No.

Do I miss the money? Yes, a bit, but not as much as I thought I would. I keep telling myself I will get a part time job, but I’m not desperate enough yet.

Do I miss my work mates? Yes, I do. The social scene at uni is different. You come to the study centre and you study. Occasionally you chat to people. It takes time.

As a PhD is self-directed research it can be difficult to judge your progress. If I sat around at home and did nothing, then I’d have the guilt meter out. But I’m on campus usually four days week and if I don’t then I’m working from home. If I consult my guilt meter it’s pretty good actually. No falling into the red zone there.

Actually, I’m just getting to the part of my study where I’m calming down. I won’t call it slowing down. Looking back I can see I approached this PhD like a bull charging a red flag. I was anxious. I was stressed. I was working like a maniac at times, dreaming up papers in my sleep. There was so much to know and I wanted to know it all. But that’s been settling down now for a few weeks.

I think there came a point that I thought I can do this. I can understand. A bit earlier than that I knew I had to dial it back as I couldn’t sustain the pace over three years. I was studying on my day off. Technically my day off is my writing day. My fiction not related to PhD writing day. It also doubles for catching up with friends day, which means I usually don’t get to write much when I do the social thing.

I’m enjoying it though and it can be absorbing. Some days on campus, I look up and see the time and think what am I doing here at 6.00 pm? Then I scurry home.

I’m coming up to my six months study. I am going to be doing my introductory seminar next week. That’s where I get to stand up and talk about my research topic, methodology and my creative project. I think my supervisor is optimistic that I won’t flubber, blubber…splat. This is a compulsory seminar, but it is not assessed. I have a bit of work to do before my first year is up as I have to do my confirmation seminar. Yes that’s right. I can be booted. I can’t see that happening but you know I have to get things up to scratch.

I’m heading for the Romance Writers of Australia Conference in Adelaide this week. We are driving down because we’ve not driven to Adelaide before. We are driving over two days. I’m doing a signing there. Waves! There is an academic stream for the conference. I put in for a paper but didn’t get chosen. Apparently there was an over supply of papers. But I believe it is a truncated stream. I am putting in a paper for the conference proceedings. Well I will. I’m just waiting on some final comments from my supervisor. I’ve been working on this paper since March. But as it is my topic area, none of it’s wasted. It was probably a good way to get across the topic, having that paper to write.

When I get back from Adelaide, I’ll be reorganizing myself. I want to start working on my creative project. So far I’ve thought about it and drafted a short outline. However, I think I have to write it and see if it works, then change it if it doesn’t. This is a fiction piece I’m giving myself time to draft. I think I might have mentioned it will be SF with romance. The other task I have to complete for my confirmation seminar is my literature review. I still have stuff I need to read, most stuff I will read two or three times before I’m done. Then I have to read romances! This means dividing up my time so that I get things done. I like to be flexible of course, but still…Would you believe I’ve been tidying my desk today? I’m sorting my journal articles into alphabetical order and putting flags on them as to why I think they are important. I feel saintly and so unlike me. I think it’s because I’m treading water. I’ve done my prep for the seminar. I’m heading to a conference and I’m waiting for comments on a paper so I can send it off.

I also have a romance readers survey and a romance writers survey as part of my PhD and it’s ready to go. Give me a hoy if you want an invite. I’m going to kick that off in September post introductory seminar.

 

I watched Jupiter Ascending (2015) again last night, possibly for the third time. it took our minds of the Australian census drama. A number of my friends hate this movie. I’ve always liked it. I like SF romance and this movie sort of fits the bill. Jupiter Ascending is a beautifully rendered movie visually. From the design of the space ships to the guns and boots ahh sigh. My partner and I agree it was very well done. We both thought the flying dragon-lizard things in leather jackets was way cool. Also pig tailed gothic bounty woman on the scooter! Ooh yeah.

I have read that Channing Tantum’s performance was wooden and flat. I don’t agree with that either, well only because that fits with his character. He is a bioengineered soldier who is not meant to be emotional so it totally goes that he is not over demonstrative. When he gets to the kissing part, he seems to manage that okay!

What struck me last night though was Titus holding a container of the youth elixir. He tells Jupiter that 100 people died in producing that one container. He also says that being human is an act of consumption. This morning I’m thinking that Wachowskis were being deliberately allegorical. Who knows how many people had to die to keep me in pizza for six months? How many people die because they don’t live in a society that is equal to mine? Countless. I also think there is commentary here on the Western’s world’s pursuit of longevity. We spend a lot of money on research to extend our lives (those of us who can afford it) but what about the people who die of everyday, treatable diseases or from lack of medicine and health care or even appropriate or sufficient food? So we in the West, the lucky ones live at other people’s expense. That is if we truly believe we are all equal. Equality is very geographically determined concept.

Then there is Jupiter Jones, played well by Mila Kunis. She’s no ass kicking super hero, or overly educated privileged white woman. No, she’s a migrant, poor, working in the most shit job imaginable. Cleaning other people’s loos! What is interesting for me is that she goes back to that job after everything and she goes back to it happy, taking pleasure in her role and service. For the life of me I can’t parse that in some ways (I was weaned on princesses), but in other ways I can. She’s a every person’s heroine. She is not glamorised, despite the costumes and the beauty and the power she is offered in her galactic existence. She’s happy to just be the cog in the wheel appreciating the simple things in life. She is happy knowing that the world is safe.

I’m not saying the movie doesn’t have some flaws. Sean Bean doesn’t die. Totally threw me that. Lol. Okay I’m kidding. The bees, while spectacular the bit about them recognising royalty not so much. I also noticed that Jupiter is called your majesty and then your highness, which are different. I thought the whole royal house thing was a bit hazy, but that didn’t bring it down for me.

Hate me if you dare! I give Jupiter Ascending four out of five stars.

It is coming up on the first six months of my PhD. A friend said that studying/researching for a PhD is an apprenticeship. It’s about learning to be an academic. Once the PhD is achieved there’s more work ahead if academia is the choice of occupation. Or more accurately, if one is lucky enough to get to work in academia afterwards. The message I get here at Uni is there is little work for PhD candidates after awarding of the degree and what jobs there are go to those who are known etc. Mine PhD is in creative writing so year… This is rather depressing really.

Coming from the public sector where in principle jobs are gained on merit, I can’t help react to the idea that it’s not the same outside of the APS. However, I try not to think about it and just get on with the work. Maybe that’s a skewed point of view. Anyway, I enjoy the work, or the research if you please. Perhaps I have faith in people. Perhaps I don’t know what my long term plans are. Perhaps I don’t believe what people say…

So, I have probably rabbited on about this paper I’ve been working on for months now. Yes, it has dragged on and on and on until I think I’m going to go insane or that the paper development, commentary/edits etc will never end. Not doing things right the first time feeds into my internal ‘I’m not good enough motif’. Lucky for me I’m also very persistent and somewhat driven. I have an excellent supervisor who doesn’t let me off the hook. Finally I think there is sunshine on my horizon.

My paper started off with everything I’d found to date about my topic. All shoved in there with big waving banners. Nothing given too much depth. Like a bit of jumping up and down at the beach and saying look at this castle I made before the wave comes in and washes it all away. That sort of thing…

Then my supervisor comments on the paper. In fact it’s an infestation of comment boxes. There’s something not quite right with my structure, he says. Perhaps I should thin it out a bit… so something along those lines.

I chuck out bits of the paper like flicking lint across the table and watching them fly off into the wind. Next go, mmm still not quite right with the structure. Perhaps I should just talk about three or four books in more detail. Perhaps I should reread them…do deeper textual analysis. (I then read some papers on textual analysis). This time I get the scissors and cut the paper like a string of paper dolls, a concertina of vague shapes snapping back and forth. I have to build it up again. I’m told not to throw anything out but start a new document. All that stuff is good, just not in this one paper.

I return to my key texts and start the process of really examining them, taking notes and figuring out how they work and how the issues are discussed within them. It takes heaps of time.  I’ve also continued researching books and journal articles, adding more and more to the critique of romance and feminist critique of romance and anything else that I find interesting about romance. I read  books, thank you Laura Vivanco and Pamela Regis.

Then I find I have a big, huge, lengthy paper that is well over my maximum word limit. I’m struggling with the structure. I’m working late on the paper at uni without even realizing it.  Crazy!

So I know I have to restructure the damn thing. It’s too long and definitely unwieldy.

My supervisor is not available for structure rescuing and nor should he be. I know I can do it. I need distance. I read a paper on Untamed by Jodi McAlister and the structure is so straight forward, bam, bam, bam. I look at my paper. I stop wailing and pulling my hair and think-you can do that. It’s possible. Go with your gut instinct.

I take the paper home with me on the weekend but I don’t look at it. I need space. I go to a funeral and find I’m not up for working on it. All good I say. Distance and thinking is what is required. I talk to my daughter about the paper and about structure generally. Then I go into uni on Tuesday and just do it. The need to cut helps me. I cut things and try to keep it focused. I rearrange, put funny headings everywhere, try to make it flow into a new form. To me I think I’ve done it. I’ve improved it. I’ve focused it. I’m getting the idea.

I realise I am learning. I have been told by the other PhD candidates here at Uni that the first paper is the worst. It’s my first attempt at putting the research, part of it at least, into words and for others to see it. I feel my mind shifting gears. It doesn’t mean I won’t have structure issues again, but I probably won’t quail as much as  I did this first time.

So yesterday I sent the paper off to my supervisor again. It will need a careful read and some tweaking but… My supervisor said the structure was better…I got positive vibes!!! I’m so excited by this. It’s not world domination (there are no spreadsheets involved) and it’s not the cure for cancer but it’s my paper….yay!

Okay so maybe I should calm down…but I am an apprentice. The apprenticeship grind is long. But maybe there is a small improvement in me right now.me with glasses

Recently, I was offered the opportunity to drive to Victoria and pick up a collection of Mills & Boon books. These were Grace’s books, her romance collection. Grace died about a year ago. This collection consisted of six 80 litre tubs of Mills & Boon. I couldn’t even lift one of these tubs. They are like gold to me for my PhD studies of feminism in popular romance fiction.

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This collection is so exciting for me. So many books. I had so much fun just looking at what was there, discovering. Grace’s collection as originally larger, but some were given away before they ever came my way. However, what I did get held amazing variety.

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Grace’s friend, author Lisa Ireland, told me she didn’t know Grace was a such a huge romance reader until after she died, but her family were well aware. Lisa said that Grace had a wicked sense of humour and a quick laugh. And she was determined. She defied her diagnosis for a very long time.

This collection spans the mid 70s until 2012-13, with lovely gems from the past with lots from the future. I believe Grace loved books, her books as much as I cherish this collection. I hope I’ll get to read them all. I believe Grace grew this collection because she loved the genre, loved reading and a bit like me, a bit of a hoarder. The hoarding baton has passed to me.

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Her brother John said of Grace.

What can I say about Grace Fastuca? How to sum up her life? Grace many Aunty a universal word. The fun Aunty, the wise Aunty. Whether you were or weren’t family.

Grace didn’t judge anyone. Many people have said how she helped them be a better person and this wasn’t just about staring death in the face. It was about taking a person a face value. Not talking down to people, really hearing what they say. About being in and making the most of every moment.

Ten years ago Grace was told she had six months to live and would miss her 40th birthday. So what did Grace do about that? She organized a very memorable 40 minus 3 party to be enjoyed with family and friends.

When Grace wanted to enjoy moments away from the hustle and bustle she went to Anglesea. Nothing can be said that will do justice to the connection she felt for the area, not to mention the amount of Mills & Boon books she bought at second hand stores there.

Grace knew as much about your life as you wanted her to know and vice versa. She was and will continue to be a great inspiration to everyone who knew her.

Grace was one of the funniest people I have ever known. As time passes we all realize how much we miss her laughter, her voice and her ability to cut through it all.

Everyone deserves an Aunty Grace.

Thank you Grace for this lovely collection which means so much to me. I must say that this collection complements the one started by Doreen Watt, from a gift of a selection of retro Mills & Boon to start my reading, which was augmented by Lifeline Book Fair purchases again assisted by Doreen. And also a collection given to me by Debbie Phillips, mostly of Silhouette romances. It is also amazing!

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It took me a few days to sort through this amazing collection. First I just had to look and get excited as I looked at each one. Touched it, wondered over it and then reached for the next one. Then I started roughly sorting the books.

IMG_6500There were many double Harlequin Mills & Boon and I just didn’t know how to file these as they were two different authors and there were so many books. These found their way back into the tubs for later sorting. Then there were a handful of non-genre books and single title books that were more historical romance. These I’ve put aside. I filled one tub with medical romances as I’m not focusing on them. Matthew argues that I should look at them too. I might just not now. Not enough shelves for starts. Then I put them in alphabetical order. I found books from authors I knew about but didn’t have books for. I found I had piles of books from particular authors who I didn’t know but where obviously quite popular, like Sara Craven, Sandra Kendrick, Anne McAlister,  Lindsay Armstrong etc. I also gained a few from authors I did have books for like Charlotte Lamb, Robyn Donald, Daphne Clair and Penny Jordan. My collection of these authors has expanded.

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I had just collected two new book cases so the books went straight in there. My lovely partner, Matthew, lugged the books inside. To my surprise I found them in the lounge and then I was a lost woman and all my plans for the day went out the window. Although they don’t all fit in the shelves atm.

I had to take a break from the sorting as it was physically demanding. All that crawling around on the floor, squatting, crouching, leaning over etc. I scored some Helen Bianchin and then I realized that she was an author I read when I was 19 when living in New Zealand. When I looked through the books I  saw that I had that book. THAT BOOK! And then when I looked up Helen’s bibliography I realized it was her first. It is a great book too. I love it. So I lay back on the couch and read The Willing Heart by Helen Bianchin, then Vines of Splendour and a more recent one, The Marriage Arrangement. I do note though as I’m collecting books in Australia, that there is a bias towards Australian and New Zealand authors. No problems there.

In amongst the Mills & Boon were some older Harlequins, and quite a few Silhouettes. These I have merged with my Debbie Phillips collection in the other book cases. I think there’s a thousand books there. I don’t know. But it’s awesome and the collection will be put to good use in the PhD reading and for enjoyment and my hoarding genes are well aligned.

 

 

This post my take up a bit of your time. POPCAANZ16 was my first academic conference ever! I didn’t present. I went to sus it out-network etc and to see if I could present next time. POPCAANZ stands for the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand. It was so fab. Every presentation I went to was interesting and somewhat exciting. For me it was like an ideal SF convention where all the panels added to the view of my world and filled me with excitement that people were actually talking about stuff, about pop culture things that are relevant to the now.

There are a number of streams ranging from fashion, movies, television, gothic horror, crime fiction, creative writing etc. Unfortunately there was no romance fiction stream as they were undersubscribed or so I heard. Also about half the people were from New Zealand.

Day one

There were three streams per day and sometimes the choices were difficult to make. Also, all speakers presented their paper and then there were questions so generally once in the room you were likely to stay. My first stream was the Disability/Gender & Queer on Wednesday morning. The first paper was one on Beauty Contests for Landmine Survivors by Fran Hassencahl. She talked about a documentary about Morten Taavik’s beauty pageant that challenges our concepts of beauty. Apparently Cambodia pulled the plug on the documentary as the victims were symbols of shame. Fran was saying that as a Buddhist country there is a strong sense of Karma and that the victims somehow deserved their fate either in a past life or this one. This translated to very little opportunity for being reestablished in society, work etc. I was quite struck with that. Also that only intact women compete in regular beauty competitions. There have been in recent years some entrants with impairments, such as a  contestant being deaf or wearing in insulin dispenser. But visible impairments not really. Fran was saying that Morten wanted to draw attention to these women’s plight but also that everywoman deserves to feel beautiful.

The next speaker was Michaela Baker talking about Mental Illness and Artistic Creation. She talked mostly about David Bowie’s concept album, Outside. This was an interesting piece about depictions of madness and provided insights into Bowie’s creative process.

The next paper was on Mental Illness in the X-Files by Kimberley McMahon-Coleman. This was an insightful analysis of the show. The role reversal between Scully and Mulder. Scully is the scientist, the skeptic, the logical one a role traditional ascribed to the male protagonist and Mulder is the intuitive, feeling one. However, Mulder is invariably right. Scully gets kidnapped a lot. What Kimberley was highlighting in her talk was the medical model of mental illness with the immediate listing of symptoms, that anyone with a mental illness was immediately discredited/testimony discredited by Scully and then proved right by Mulder. She also talked about the depiction of Autism and how wrong that was. That Autism wasn’t a mental illness but a communication disorder.

The last paper in this stream was on post-racial feminism by Holly Randell-Moon. Holly used a portion of Angela McRobbie’s (2004) paper in her paper and also about recent debate about People of Colour (POC) and about how whites don’t acknowledge their whiteness. My thoughts on this paper was that some delving into McRobbie’s position. I’ve read McRobbie (some) and she’s very interesting but she reads to me like a radical second wave feminist, using Marxist analysis. I also think that as a white from a dominant white culture we don’t want to draw attention to our privilege. Just my thought there.

After a nice lunch where I tried to talk to people I didn’t know and succeeded, I went to the Film stream. First up was Sequential Multimplicity in Franchise Cinema by Tara Lomax, a phd candidate. This was the most technical of the papers for me and also interesting. I mean Marvel right? She talked abit about Marvel’s transmedia strategy and the groups of writers that keep track of the stories and copyright etc. Apparently DC didn’t want to copy Marvel’s strategy but that may be changing. This speaker was very enthusiastic about her topic and ran out of time. Next up was Exploded Views by Pansy Duncan. My notes are going to fail me here, but the essence of this for me was the study of explosions on film from the 1900s to the present and how they have evolved and that the new ones were going in upwards directions instead of down. Apparently in Independence Day movie, the first came down, the second just hovers, but in Xmen Apocalypse the bits of Earth go up. I’m going to keep an eye out for those. Seeing the Future of American Industry by Christian Long. He talked about John Carpenter’s film, Escape from New York and the politics in there. He discussed the crime rate in the 1970s in New York in the lead up to the film. He also talked about in this future envisioning, the USA could live without its financial centre.Inside the prison of New York lack of industry lead to problems. Kurt Russell (Snake) was to rescue the president to make world peace. The irony is that when saved the president shoots the baddie with glee. A very enjoyable paper and I must watch more John Carpenter.

Next I ducked into the Fiction:Words on paper stream. “It’s all in the detail” Historical crime writing by Jean Anderson. Jean talked a lot about the paratextual in historical crime novels, that is the text on the outside of the book, blurb, about the author etc. In the novels she discussed there was an effort to establish the author’s authority through the non fiction they published or academic career etc. Some part of the talk was on the recipes in some of these novels and also how if an author gets this wrong who responds. Most readers won’t notice but some do and will let you know. Jillene Bydder talked about Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriaason and the detective Erlendur. I know have to read all these books and the Icelandic sagas. Jillene did a comparative analysis of Arnaldur’s books and the Icelandic sagas. I’m to start with Jar City because that talks about the DNA project that is going on in Iceland. Next was Beatrice Dahl: JG Ballard’s Hidden Heroine? by Tracy Clement. Again an excellent talks. Tracy is doing her phd on the book, The Drowned World. I recall she said it was a fine arts degree which included sculpture and her doing an additional chapter of The Drowned World. Utterly fascinating and another book on the to read pile. Next up was In Search of Australian Noir: by Leigh Redhead. More books on the to read pile. Hannah Kent Burial Rites. Anyway, for me an introduction to what noir is. Negative ending.

Day two

I was a bit late. Bus caught in Sydney traffic so I only caught the end of the first session and I chose the big room because I would be less conspicuous on entering. This was the performance stream and I only caught the end of Tilda Swinton: Performing Fashion. Apologies to Karen De Perthuis the presenter. Lorde, Lady Gaga and ‘Authentic’ David Bowie tribute by Alison Blair was entirely enthralling. An analysis of the two performances and the reaction, particularly on twitter. Lorde’s performance being the most appreciated. The crux of the matter for me was that Lady Gaga was performing David Bowie and sensationalizing him and Lorde performed as herself singing Bowie with a low key and respectful performance. Who knew this stuff was so interesting and complicated? Costume, Condertfeit in Neil Armfield’s ‘King Lear’ by Julie Lynch. I met Julie first up and she’s from NIDA. Her first time at this conference too. This was an eyeopening talk that discussed the costumes used in this performance but also a bit about the Sydney Theatre Company, particularly under Cate Blanchet and co.

Next session I ducked over to the gothic horror stream. Dining at the table of (cultural) horrors by Lorna Piatti-Farnell. Some interesting preamble about eating and manners and how we have manners because eating is violent. Loved it. She talked about a move, The Sushi Girl. Another movie for the to watch pile. She deconstructed some horror tropes for me which makes me thinks I could watch some. The Gothic Heart of ‘Hinterland’ by Emma Doolan was an exploration in settings and liminal spaces. She discussed the series Hinterland set in Wales and yet another DVD series to watch. To end that session was (Im)moratlities of Style in ‘American Horror Story’ by Samuel Finegan. Again for me a refreshing look at a genre that I don’t gel with normally. He explained this so well and how ‘camp’ the horror was. We have some of these at home so they have been star rated for watching with my partner, Matthew, who loves horror movies.

After lunch I switched to Television because of Zombies as you do. First up was LIving with Zombism in ‘I Zombie’ by Kayleigh Murphy. I hadn’t really been aware of this show. And yes another one on the to buy pile. This was an interesting analysis of this TV show and what zombies are embodying-social fears etc. I Zombie apparently is about stigma and living with disease or something else that can be hidden but is not socially accepted. It is a show that is focused on young people too. I won’t spoil it for you but I’d love to read this paper. Hopefully it will be in the conference proceedings. Gender in ‘The Bachelor’ New Zealand. Interesting and I guess typical of those shows. Performing gender. Lots of good quotes for Judith Butler which I appreciated. Thank you Ximena Smith. Utipic Spaces and the Rewritable West in Mad Men by Grace Torcasio. I’m not a watcher of Mad Men but I have heard of it. This talked about the spaces New York and California and how California served as a type of holiday space, a place where the character (Fred?) could reinvent himself. I hope I got that right. I’m working off memory here.

The last sessions were hard to pick but I left Gothic and Horror and chose History/journalism/religion mostly because first up was Ritualistic Societies and the Neo-Victorian Perspective by Matthew Thompson. He talked about Downey’s Sherlock so I’m cool with that. Second reason for this stream was Sue Green’s talk Knitting Needles as Weapons of War. I’d chatted to Sue before but I’d already picked this session. I mean Knitting Needles! So yes this was fabric, textile paper with a feminist perspective. It was quite eye opening as it discussed knitting patterns and how they were used to manipulate women, even in their language. Women knitted socks and other bits for men at war. One million in WW1 and 3 million in WW2. Also was the change in patterns after the war, particular WW2 when they changed from utilitarian to lacy, feminine things. Also the new look and corsets constraining women back into the home after working in men’s jobs during the war. Loved this. Please, please universe put this paper in the conference proceedings. Some great historical images in this talk too. IN the program there is a session listed, The Dispute is Not About Oil, by Michael Potts. I’ve got nothing for that. I was either transported to another reality while he spoke or he wasn’t there. Last up on day two was Warhol’s Religio-Secular Incongraph by Jewell Homad  Johnson. This was fascinating. I had no idea Warhol was religious! Ta daa! And I had no idea someone tried to kill him and that person was from SCUM (society for cutting up men). Now I have to read the manifesto because I had no idea. Interesting piece. Nice work Jewell.

Day three (last day)

Filled with the proceeding day’s awesomeness and post Alex Caine Series book launch at Galaxy Book shop, I made it in only a little late. Again bus, traffic etc. The first talk was Gothic Wedding Cake Decoration by Carmel Cedro. This garnered so much discussion. I decorate cakes as you know. I’m probably the kind of person who would put a bleeding heart on my wedding cake. I’m geek and I’m proud to be so. Apparently goths express their identity with these cakes. Carmel said the rest of the ceremony is very traditional except for the cake. Just google gothic wedding cakes and you’ll see. It’s a thing but mostly USA centred apparently. The Frankenstein Myth and Deals with the Devil by Naomi Von Senff. This was an interesting talk. The only problem was the speaker spoke so quickly, reading off her paper that it’s impact was lessened. Naomi did a analysis of novels with the Frankenstein myth but said there wasn’t much in recent novels. If you know of some let her know. She’s on Twitter maybe. I have two unpublished books that deal with the Frankenstein myth…as in resurrected monsters type thing. Weird Tales and Monstrous Subverions by Cory R Walden. I’m drawing a blank here. There were pictures! Sorry I’m going from memory. He did do the talk but I need a hint to trigger my memory.

After lunch which was very yum, (Great catering at Sydney University Village) was the visual arts stream with Socialist Realism (un) popular culture by Ryszard Dabek. This looked at socialist realism in art and architecture. Those North Koreans are weird. Soda_jerk’s science fictional Aesthetics by Andrew Frost. I have to look into this art work, by these two anonymous artists. Apparently they mine the edge of copyright infringement taking bits of film and reworking it. Fascinating. Hurrah for Art! 20th century popular culture by Eric Riddler, which was a picture stream with commentary that was very encompassing. Last up was Arabic Appearance in a Predominantly Anglo Culture by Cherine Fahd. A very striking paper about how we use visual cues to judge, probably incorrectly. The main part of her presentation was a series of photos in black and white with white background with men with dark hair and beards. The men wore the beard by choice not for religion and not all were of Arabic/middle eastern/sub continent decent. The main upshot from this presentation was could  hipster beards coexist with the jihad beards. Some mentions of people being beaten up for having a beard and being mistaken for middle eastern or jihady or terrorist beards. A thought provoking session all up.

Last sessions were on biography & life writing and girlhood. The Militant Suffragette by Anne Reddacliff and Rachel Franks provided a good overview on the Australian suffragette story with a focus on the holdings from the State Library of NSW. Some excellent sources provided. Hateful Eight Contains the Uncanny Power of Girlhood by Juliette Peers. This was an amazing presentation but somewhat over long. This was due to this session not having a chair or the chair not being able to communicate with the speaker. Not sure which. I haven’t seen Hateful Eight, nor Carrie or The Exorcist, which were part of the analysis. After hearing the talk and the images I don’t want to either. Juliette put a pretty powerful argument about this movie. Little Miss ANZAC by Anita Callaway was an interesting exploration of a (for me) lost work. A children’s story that features a beleaguered wooden doll. It was very evocative of the effects on war on men, I think, but as Anita pointed out, the illustrator died before the war and the book was renamed. She also showed us illustrations from the author and the illustrator (I think) but very interesting stuff. Finally, Hashtag Skater Girl: Pop Culture and Extreme Sports by Jessica Jackson. As an aside I introduced myself to Jessica and we got talking. She’s a writer too. It was her first conference and her first presentation. She’s African American, the elder of identical quadruplets who were adopted. I’m going to check out her books. She and her siblings are writing books together. Link below. Jessica had to have given one of the best presentations at the conference. She didn’t read from a paper but spoke to her slides very eloquently. I was very impressed obviously. Her talk was about skaters, what we call skateboarding, and also surfing and snowboarding. She looked at the treatment of girls in the sports by men, the funding arrangements which prejudice women and the lack of take up of the sports by women. (I hope that is right, Jess). And what a way to end the conference.

So I’ve only given a very short impression on what these sessions were about. I was engaged throughout and I wish to thank the organisers for all their hard work. Great venue, great speakers and topics. Also, I should note that there is GANZA, The Gothic Association of New Zealand and Australia. ganza.co.nz and they are on twitter @GANZA_Official

There is currently a call for papers for their conference in Auckland in January.

Also, what the hell is the Uni of Sydney doing closing the Sydney College of the Arts!

Links

POPCAANZ here

GANZA here

And if you want to keep in touch with Jessica and her three siblings, her blog is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first book in my new epic fantasy series, Argenterra, on going on promotion for a very short time. It’s 99 cents folks. Grab it for it’s a bargain. The price will go back up to $4.99 next Monday.

It is a new book! A new series! I hope the next book, The Crystal Gate, will be out in a few months time.

Argenterra is suitable for young adult readers as well as adults. The story features Sophy who, along with Aria, is pulled into the land of  Argenterra. Everyone in Argenterra can use magic except Sophy. So this is a fish out of water story, but also a story about unbreakable oaths and different kind of romantic relationships and best friends.

Argenterra (Silverlands Book 1) The Blurb!

Every one hundred years a woman comes to Argenterra through the Crystal Tree Woods. This time two women came…

 While on a ghost tour in Castle Crioch, Sophy and her best friend and foster sister, Aria, are sucked into the world of Argenterra, where they encounter a strange Crystal Tree. Two leaves fall from it, one of which Aria catches and the other mysteriously delves into Sophy’s chest.

Met by Dellbright, the prince of Valley Keep, and Oakheart, the high king’s ambassador, the girls learn they are expected. Aria has beauty and talent with the given, the land’s native magic. She finds a home and a husband in Prince Dellbright and is revered as the legendary Gift of Crystal Tree Woods.

Sophy is out of place as anything made with the given makes her ill.  

Sophy accompanies Oakheart to the capital to find out why the crystal leaf is in her chest. A sinister force is tracking her—trying to snatch her away or kill her. Only Oakheart suspects her importance: she is the talisman that can cause great harm to the world of Argenterra if she falls into the wrong hands.

IMG_6085

Cover by Les Petersen

Buy links.

Kobo here.  Amazon.com here. Amazon.au here. Amazon.uk here. Amazon.com.ca here.  iBooks Australia here. iBooks USA here.

I’ve done a series of blog interviews on the topic of beta readers previously. Recently though, I’ve had some thoughts on the timing, or better still at what stage of your drafting/writing/revising process it works best. This was sparked by receiving some excellent feedback on a work in progress.

Not everyone uses a beta reader, but if you look in the author comments or acknowledgements in your favourite books you will see people who  have been thanked, usually as first reader etc. For myself, I need beta readers like I need air. God forbid that a published work of mine was raw and that my first feedback was from a reviewer or a bunch of readers. Thankfully, mostly everything except my blog posts have had a reader, editor etc before being published. Even my Indie published fantasy, Argenterra, had beta readers and an editor before being published. I also beta read for author friends. Not all of them return the favour them being busy with contracted deadlines etc, but I get something out of it. I get to read their books before everyone else and sometimes I get a present of a nice shiny book! I also learn!

I have also used the services of a manuscript appraisal service when I first started out, also I have workshopped a novel with Envision (a fantastic program that no longer exists), that was Argenterra BTW! I also won a Longlines Fellowship to Varuna Writers’ House for Dragon Wine back in 2006 and part of that was feedback and also sharing with other writers there. For Dragon Wine I used the services of a continuity editor which was really useful too.

The ideas and the words are my own but feedback help shape ideas, perspectives etc which are all valuable. Even reading your book aloud to yourself will pick up stuff. Really! Read it to someone else and then heaps of things will jump out at you even when you’ve proofed and polished the text within an inch of its life.

Maybe because I’m an extroverted thinker that beta reader comments work for me. I need a sounding board and I work fairly quickly too, which means I can’t play with one story for ten years with no fertiliser from other people. I usually have several novels or short stories going.

An important consideration in having a beta reader is to have someone who gets what you are doing, who has some interest, sympathy, knowledge, way of thinking etc that gels. Your mum is probably not the best person. Even your kids…although mine usually pick up typos etc after the fact. You need some distance, someone you can trust to be honest and helpful at the same time. More importantly, you need to be ready for feedback. You need to be able to accept criticism because that’s what it is all about. If you want a beta reader to say “OMG! This is the best book on the planet ever!” Give it to your mum. Not that it is not great to get positive feedback, it is…

So it is hard to get good beta readers. If you write a lot it is even harder to share the work around them. Also, you need to return the favour, unless you are paying for a service. If you are paying for a service expect a detailed report and expect to pay upwards of $500 (more these days). Remember you want to be a beta reader that your reader buddies can respect. This means you have to give feedback on things like structure, character, pacing, setting etc too. Your beta reader doesn’t have to be another writer. A reader who likes the genre you write in can be very helpful. I mean they are a sample of your audience right? Your feedback might be a lengthy document, an annotated MS, an email or even just a conversation. It all goes into the mix.

Also different readers have different strengths. You might get a reader who is instinctively good with pacing. Another with character development. So having more than one is helpful. I was going to say essential but we can’t have everything.

I have trusted beta readers for a range of stories. I probably have one who reads anything I write and I read hers. I believe we trust each other, although we have different perspectives.

Timing! Finally I get to the point. This is interesting. The timing varies for me. I might send my MS off just before I send it to submission, when I think it’s fairly polished, but not finally polished just to check that it’s not fatally flawed. Or I might send a tidied up first draft. I never send a story with a gaping hole in it (unless I didn’t see it). I may have a few x in place of names, but usually the story is fully formed. At a minimum a tidied first draft. My older work needs a few drafts before they are ready for beta readers. I’m finding that with The Crystal Gate, the sequel to Argenterra. The third installment is an incomplete rough draft and a nightmare!

You see, Argenterra has been worked on over many years, had many revisions, cut backs etc. The sequel has sat in the hard drive minding its own business and stagnating. Essentially it is a tidied first draft, maybe a tidier second draft. More recent work for me means that the first drafts are much better. I used to be a panster! Now I straddle the fence and plan a bit. Older drafts can be a lot of work, especially if you didn’t make notes!

So the minimum I believe is a tidy, good first draft, where you have  a full story etc and there is something to comment on. I sent The Crystal Gate for a beta read and it’s a tidy second draft. Why?

I have trouble listening to the little voice in my head that says things like “You’ve said that twice now. Maybe cut that.” or “You’ve written the action but what is the character feeling? What is the character’s emotional journey?” Or “That’s all well and good but could there be too much going on in that scene?” But because I’m focussed on my end goal of getting through the revision I don’t stop to deal with those things. I need a second opinion. (Insert LAZY here). I need a kick up the bum. I need to know what’s working and what’s not before I invest too much, before I make a wrong decision. This is where beta reading comments come in. I got some this morning. Some were the kick in the pants stuff-the stuff where I should know better but didn’t. Other comments point out flaws I didn’t notice or thought I could get away with, others highlighted aspects that I hadn’t thought of at all. I know that in addressing these comments I’m going to make the work better. I don’t have to agree with everything that my beta reader says. I’m going to wait for the other beta reader’s comments before working on the MS again.

Essentially the comments have filled me up with enthusiasm, ideas and identified trouble areas where I need to do more thinking. I love this.

I think I would be less likely to be accepting of feedback if I had polished the story to the nth degree and thought it was amazing and gorgeous and nothing could be improved. Nothing could be worse that having someone say-this is fatally flawed, you need to restructure this. You might take that from an editor maybe if you could see their vision. So far I haven’t had to restructure anything majorly at all. For this reason, I think getting feedback on a good draft is better than a polished draft you have no brain power to accept feedback. It can be done. I’ve worked with someone who had been edited and a reader picked up something which meant it had to be edited again and the issue addressed.

Of course, the timing is individual. Some people I know won’t let me read for them until they think their MS is perfect. Naturally enough I don’t get to read for them very often at all.

Now I wrote this post because I’m working on a rough draft of The Ungiven Land, Silverlands book 3. It’s hard work even thinking about this story so procrastination helps. This blog post is brought to you by procrastination!

 

 

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