Writing Notes

2018-10 October

It is spring Down Under, with longer days and warmer nights, the birds and bees and blooms doing what comes naturally. I prefer writing in spring and summer when I can close down the house, crank up the air-con and hibernate through the heat until it passes – lovely!

I have caught up on some TV shows like Killing Eve and Call the Midwife, both of which were entertaining in very different ways.

I found Killing Eve mesmerising for its unexpectedly subversive dynamic between Eve (the investigator) and Villanelle (the assassin). It messes with your head when the murderous bad girl alternates between being endearingly sweet and deliriously vicious as she ‘does her job’, i.e. creatively killing people. At the end of Season 1, the only way Eve manages to stay alive is by playing on Villanelle’s penchant for women (her singular weakness, it seems) long enough to slip in the knife, to betray her. In terms of queer visibility, do we really need another psychopathic lesbian on film? Admittedly Villanelle has a certain charm, but seriously? It’s been done.

In wild contrast is Series 6 of Call the Midwife which finds Patsy and Delia ‘riding off into the sunset’ together at last. I have enjoyed watching these two nurses wrestling with the perils of being queer in the 60s. The plot and script were very respectful and gentle with the development of their story and its final denouement. It’s a pity we won’t see more of them, but ‘happily ever after’ always means the story’s end. No real nurses were harmed in the making of this queer sub-plot, yet it reminds us of the many who struggled to stay sane, find love and maintain decent relationships, no thanks to ignorant folk. And yes, I did once know two such nurses who, despite the naysayers, came through love intact.

Is any queer visibility a good thing, or can we afford to be a tad more discerning these days? Happy spring/autumn, YLW.

2018-07 July

‘Struth, there goes another year...nearly. Mid last year, I caught a jet plane to Europe and visited much loved relatives, a journey long overdue. Thereafter, it took an inordinate amount of time to conceive and gestate the gist of my next foray into writing. However, I did get my ducks in a row before Christmas, ready to start in the new year.

Since, I have been planning, plotting and writing, which is why I haven’t posted for so long. The art of creating a cogent novel is to succumb to an intensely jealous beast that insists on one’s passionate and undivided attention. Meanwhile, the distractions and necessities of everyday life compete for said attention. Consequently, this ‘note’ will be short, no more than a wave of the quill to indicate that I am currently engaged in the singularly peculiar act of transferring a vivid imagination into compelling prose.

But before I get back to my scribbling, do go and see Disobedience at the cinema. I read Naomi Alderman’s book earlier this year and can recommend both it and the movie version—well worth your time. Keep reading... keep smiling! YLW.

2017-08 August

What’s your favourite film in the genre? It’s rare that a movie comes out in mainstream cinema, so we all keep a watch online in case something good is released. I don’t have an absolute favourite, although “When Night is Falling” is hard to beat for sheer entertainment. “I Can’t Think Straight” is such good fun, and “Saving Face” has a quiet humour that makes me sit there grinning... ‘conjugating Latin verbs’, anyone? Not to mention it features the very delicious Joan Chen who was sensational in “Wild Side” with Anne Heche... but make sure you see the uncensored version, or it’s incomprehensible! Here in Australia, we’re enjoying another season of “Janet King” on TV. It really is great viewing and so heartening to see a lead-role, multidimensional lesbian character on the small screen.

People helpfully review movies, books and all sorts of things online. I’d like to thank readers who have commented, despite sometimes wildly disparate views. I had someone write that they thought Taite (in Milgrane) was way too harsh on Sabine, whereas another said she really, really liked Taite, and felt she was courageous and strong. Another said she would date Sabine in a heartbeat! The reappearance of Kreyna (from Filigrane) was seen as a definite plus, and the spooky energies theme was intriguing... different... ‘when’s the next one coming out?’

Whatever your thoughts, do write a review on anyone of the many booksellers’ sites. And I make a point of writing back when people write to me here, no problem. Cheers, YLW

2017-07 July

An unexpected audience of straight friends, family and acquaintances has recently emerged – people who have read and enjoyed my books while initially knowing very little about what it’s like to be queer in this world. I’m excited to say it’s been an education on both sides.

Because these stories are far from mainstream, they are not available in any old bookseller’s shop down the road... mores the pity. And there seems to be a dearth of queer bookshops across Australia, particularly in rural communities. The chaps at The Bookshop Darlinghurst in Sydney proudly told me they had encouraged the Sydney City Library to add my books to their stock – thanks, guys!

Not everyone can afford to buy every book they fancy, making libraries an absolute goldmine because any patron can borrow for free. So if you’re living off the beaten track, by all means make purchase suggestions to your public library. A request will get their attention – if you don’t ask, you don’t get! And all the more people will benefit from greater access to stories they can relate to, learn from and share.

2017-05 May

A reader who enjoyed the paranormal element of my novels has asked if I would consider writing a series that more deeply explores that element while putting aside the queer romance theme. After considerable thought, I’m not of a mind to do that.

The issue is one of queer visibility. When I was a teen, few role-models existed in any medium. Love stories in books were difficult to find in bookshops and practically non-existent in libraries. Gay women in film were depicted as perverted, crazy, suicidal or murderous. Unsurprisingly, they often ended up dead. None of that stopped me from seeing those films, simply to have someone to relate to, no matter how flawed. A lesbian vampire movie? Hey, why not.... better than nothing!

Even now, everyday lesbians leading everyday lives appear rarely in mainstream media. And when they do, I get very excited and lap up whatever is on offer. It’s true, I do become resoundingly bored with unrelenting heterosexuality, and thusly delighted when characters like Caroline and Kate turn up in the British TV series, “Last Tango in Halifax.” You could just about hear the global groan when Kate was killed off in season three. Here we were, enjoying two sane and functional women going about their daily lives with perfectly ordinary worries like career and family, as the vast majority of us actually do – so refreshing. And then Kate, a gay woman of colour, tragically dies. Part of me was not surprised. We’ve come a long way in the last forty years, yet not far enough.

I love writing about women loving women, and will continue to do so. Sure, many more queer books are available now.  I hope the genre will continue to grow, improve and develop genuine literary legs that allow it to hike into mainstream media– the more the merrier.

2017-03 March

My second novel, Miligrane: Embracing the Sapphire, was released by Bella Books in Tallahassee, Florida on the 16th of February. How well it will be received, I won’t know until October. Meanwhile, I’m contemplating a third novel, knowing that much as the second is considerably different to the first, the third will be different again. Exactly how, I won’t know until it unfolds in the writing.

Certain themes pop up that can take me by surprise, lead me down dark alleys or out into the open. Some can’t stand the light of day and I tone them down, while others insist on being exposed within the context of two women in love.

It’s a sometimes startling juxtaposition that I wonder if the reader can bear, but I respect her grit and intelligence sufficiently to write it for her anyway. She may or may not relate personally, but often can relate through the people she’s known, or knows of, who have had similar experiences. If something insists that it be said, I’ll write it with respect and commitment, despite my heart being in my mouth.

I saw Adele in concert at Subiaco Oval in Perth this week. She was A-mAZing! Me and 65,000 other people, delighted just to be there to witness her singing stories of love and all its agonies, her honest heart throbbing on her sleeve for all to see. And we could not help but love her for it... for allowing us to relate and feel with her.

All of us together in this time and place; we’re not so very different.

2017-02 February

Writing is a solitary occupation that carries the inherent danger associated with it occurring in a vacuum. That is, a first draft can be thin in some places and positively cyanosed in others. The cure is oxygen in the shape of critical readers, preferably sharp-eyed, light on praise and excruciatingly honest with their comments.

Through pure serendipity, my first editor was Katherine V. Forrest who was an unexpected blessing, even if just the thought of her reading my amateurish manuscript was mega-intimidating. Turns out, she was gracious, kind and forthright. I had to work hard to get the draft up to her standard. More importantly, she took a ‘big picture’ view that encouraged me way beyond anything I had previously contemplated – priceless insight and advice that motivates me still.

I have a handful of ‘beta readers’ – lovingly critical souls who read my work, think about the good, the bad and the ugly of it, and what they think it needs more or less of. Their thoughtful commentary is invaluable. While I may not always agree, I give every point a good airing for I learnt long ago not to be too precious about my words. It’s that ‘try again, fail again, fail better’ approach that pushes me from ‘okay’ to ‘could be better’ to ‘just about right.’

I can’t always oblige my beta readers as I have my own style that lends itself to a certain type of writing, and is less comfortable trying to be something it’s not. In the end we can only strive to be the best expression of ourselves – can’t do better than our best.

2017-01 January

In the planning stage of a novel, well before I start writing, I spend a helluva lot of time creating the main characters, usually two women. For each, I create a document that details everything about her, from the obvious, such as physical looks, to the obtuse like her hopes and dreams, what she values and what she wants out of life. Much of it I never actually use in the writing, but I begin with a very good idea of what both are like.

This process makes each character very real and clear to me. It’s important because I need to know what she’s likely to think, say and do in any given situation. She must have a credible history before she meets Whatshername – that woman she’s about to fall in love with. Her history may include family structure, ethnicity, education, career, health, relationships, stellar successes / abject failures, and especially her strengths and weaknesses.

Deciding on a name is an intriguing, instinctual exercise, feeling for the right sound that personifies the character. Also, I research the meaning of a name and use numerology to analyse its implicit energy, sometimes adjusting the spelling to suit what I want it to convey. For instance, in Milgrane, just from their names you can tell that Sabine Zaffiro is the sensuous, shapely girl with secrets. And that Taite O’Dath is the uptight, angular, no nonsense investigator. Usually, I find a photo of a celebrity or actress who approximates how they look, just so I have a mental image as well.

Do I do the same for lesser characters? Not to the same extent, but I’m particularly careful with names, given the vastness of the internet, so as not to inadvertently implicate the innocent!

2016-12 December

"The Price of Salt” has to be one of my favourite books, so when I heard it was to be made into a film, I hoped it would do justice to Patricia Highsmith’s classic, fifties romance. When I first saw “Carol” I was impressed, and remain so, overall. But for some reason, the scriptwriter watered down the main character’s personality to such an extent that it made you wonder what the ‘magnificent’ Carol Aird saw in ‘pretty’ Therese Belivet. In the film, Therese is initially given a pair of forgotten gloves as an excuse to pursue Carol; in the book, she has no reason other than an instinct that she impulsively follows, which I think makes her far more substantial.

Neither is Mrs. Aird as sweet to her young admirer in the book as she is in the film. On paper, she’s erratic, challenging and tetchy, which bewilders Therese. From a distance, the reader can see that in the toxic-to-queers fifties, the older woman is testing her courage, resilience and commitment. Suffice to say, it took tremendous strength to be gay back then, let alone manage an enduring relationship with a same-sex someone. The talented Ms. Highsmith’s life is testament to the difficulties of the time. But I suspect she would raise an eyebrow at the way her two protagonists were air-brushed and made ‘nice’ for film in the 21st century.

I remain in awe of her sparse yet fraught-with-meaning writing style, without seeking to emulate it – she was a ‘one-off.’ Take your time when reading “The Price of Salt” – read it, then read it again. Its full story is not easily discerned, but it’s worth persisting."

2016-11 November

The stories I write are mainly set in Australia because it is a country with a culture and cities I know reasonably well. I’ve lived in various locations around the world, and draw on personal experience to create a sense of place for people and action. However, I’m aware that many of my readers are international, particularly American, so I strive to bring the Australian environment alive and make the culture accessible for all readers, without compromise.

As population grows larger, the world grows smaller by virtue of the internet, social media, and telecommunications. I like to drop in characters of differing origins and non-English-speaking backgrounds who might use another language in conversation throughout the story. That mix can be disconcerting, yet it reflects an Australia that is proud of its multicultural society which developed by dint of migrants who arrived from a dazzling array of countries over at least the last hundred years.

Those who once were ‘foreigners’ are now as Aussie as they come – part of the culture and landscape, which is all the richer for their presence - I make sure to include them.

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