Friday, March 8, 2013

In search of Edward and his relatives

With the first draft I wrote nearly six years ago copied to my iPad, I've set out to revisit and redraft the story while I am in London again. I've take a red pen to much of what I had written - too complicated for primary school children to understand, too many characters, too much history.

I haven't got far with the rewriting but I've done some good research in Westminster Abbey, St Albans Cathedral, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle. I've walked my feet off, and hopefully some centimetres off my waistline in the process, and I've had a good time. I've got some good ideas which I hope will improve the encounter between Abbie and Edward, and I have not taken a single photo. It's all in the mind. I hope nothing happens to it before I get back to Australia or I will have to turn around and come back again

Off to York on Sunday

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A patchwork of writing projects

Like my sewing cupboard, my metaphorical writing cupboard is full of unfinished projects. Some are almost complete, just waiting for a few details to be researched and a final draft. Others have a long way to go, and some are barely started. I expect more will be added before even a few of these are finished.

I have to make distinctions between them. There are the 'have to' projects, the ones I am commissioned to write. They have deadlines. One in particular has to be completed so it can be published in time for an anniversary in 2015. Other shorter pieces have to meet much tighter deadlines. They have to meet submission criteria for newsletters, meetings and grant providers.
All of which means at the 'want to' projects are constantly shoved on to the back burner to be brought out only when there is space in the imaginative section of my mind for them. One of these precious spaces is looming. On Saturday I fly to London for three wonderful weeks of indulgence. With me will be Abbie, a creature of my own creation, a twelve year old tomboy whose architect mother and historian father are researching and writing a coffee table book on the great cathedrals of Europe. Abbie's encounter with the ghost of Edward V in Westminster Abbey sends her on a wild goose chase in search of the Prince's murderers. And I will be with her all the way.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Is it really that long?

The last time I blogged it was September 2011!

I've been busy, too busy to spend a few minutes thinking of something to write about, not that I had nothing to write about. There was simply too much else that needed my writing attention to leave any time for blog creativity.

Nothing much has changed. I'm still busy. I still have more to write about than I have time to write, but it seems a shame to let this blog fade away without some contributions once in a while. Besides it is good to get up from the computer and the writing that has to be done, take myself down to my favorite coffee shop, Wen and Ware, in Bridge Mall, and write for the fun of it, while enjoying a latte and a fabulous macaroon. I think I will make this my new year's resolution. I will blog whenever I am in Wen and Ware.

On the way here I was thinking of my mother. It's just over a year since she died at the age of 95. But at the age I am now, she had declared herself to be a old lady. She had long since retired from work, she did nothing strenuous, prepared meals for herself and dad, baked a few cakes, and little else. Dad did all the heavy work, hanging out washing, vacuuming and the like.
In the afternoons she napped with an open library book in her lap, or some knitting close at hand which would eventually get finished. Life was much the same for the next 25 years. She used to be appalled by the number of tasks I took upon myself. She was constantly telling me, "you should slow down. You're not getting any younger."

No chance of that. For the next six months at least I will be president of the Ballarat Mechanics' Institute, chairing meetings, fielding inquiries, dealing with the day to day running of one of the most beautiful and flourishing institutions of its kind in Australia, and probably the world. I should blog about mechanics' institutes some day.
At the same time I have a history to research and write, lectures to compose for the U3A course I am teaching on the Birth of Sydney, an adult novel, stalled for want of attention, and two children's stories. For one of them, a novel dealing with the journey of the First Fleet and called Transported, I need to either find a publisher or publish it myself. That, in itself, requires research and considerable effort, but I am so committed to this story which is so relevant to our history, and fits so well into the new national curriculum, that I'll not rest until it is published in one form or other.
The other children's story is taking me to England again in March. It needs more work. Called Abbie in the Abbey it is a murder mystery with a difference as the victim is Edward V.

In between this writing, researching and travelling, there will still be the garden to attend to, the grandchildren and the grand dogs who all need to see me often, and my own dog Maisie, who needs a daily walk. And I have to keep up the supplies of champagne and cigarettes to my sister in her nursing home.

I haven't decided what I am doing with my leisure time.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Blog about Blogging

When I started this blog in February this year I fully intended writing something every few days, but like all good intentions, the space between blogs has become longer with time and I am suddenly surprised to find that it has been over a month since I have visited the site.

I began the blog to publicise Eureka House, the epublishing house I have started with my daughter Emma, and to promote my three ebooks, Brigid, The Liberator's Birthday and A Terrible Paradise, all of which are available through Eureka House and Kindle. All are historical fiction and all deal with Irish and Irish-Australian themes.

I listened to every bit of advice that came my way about promotion. I started a Facebook page. I read other people's entries but have rarely contributed anything myself. Maybe I'd have had more success in reaching potential buyers of my books if I had written more about what I was doing, but I think I felt a little uncomfortable about nattering about myself on such an open forum.

With the blog I was less inhibited. Besides it was my writing and teaching experiences I intended writing about. Sometimes I deviated from these two themes but I tried to maintain an impersonal approach, except for the day I was so frustrated with the petulance of my 95 year old mother that I wrote about what I wanted to be like when I reached that age.

I linked my blog up to net blogs, book bloggers and genie blogs and read lots of other people's blogs especially the ones dealing with historical fiction, the art of writing and some review sites. Just doing all this took so much of my time that I hardly had time to work on the novel I had begun at Christmas last year. Then there was teaching about the War of the Roses at U3A, novel writing workshops to run, a writing festival and the responsibilities of being president of the Ballarat Mechanics’ Institute. Blogging just has had to go on the back burner for a time. But now I have an iPad so I can write wherever I am. All I need now are some good ideas to write about. I think I will start by asking people for their advice on how to promote my books more effectively.   

Sunday, August 7, 2011

explaining why the First fleet is so important to me

As soon as I moved to Sydney from Melbourne in the 1970's I began to absorb myself in our nation's convict history. I was particularly interested in the folly of sending a fleet of ships loaded with criminals to a place few Europeans had any knowledge of, and even fewer had seen. For much of the journey the ships' captains were sailing blind with only some coordinates on a map drawn by Captain Cook eighteen years earlier.

The journey of the First Fleet became the topic for my Masters thesis. I wanted to know how well we had told this story to our children. The answer, in the 1990's, was badly. Besides the brief accounts in  school history books and magazines, there were only  a handful of novels published which dealt with the journey and it's aftermath until the approach of the bicentenary spurred new interest in the subject. Apart from John Nicholson's excellent picture book which detailed the ships, their cargo, and the hazards the fleet faced, the results were disappointing. More recently there have been some well researched additions to the collection of first fleet books for children, notably from Jackie French whose Tom Appleby was a joy to read. But at the time I was studying the topic I felt compelled to contribute a story of my own.

I wanted to explore the folly of the project. Sending convicts to New South Wales was as bizarre as sending modern day prisoners to colonize the moon. In fact, it was more bizarre. Today's prisoners know more about moon than the convicts of 1788 knew about New South Wales. I chose a narrator, who I called Jack Dorrington, and allowed him to tell his story about his journey into the unknown.  Another extract follows:

“A bath!” Elsie said pulling her old shawl tight around her chest. “Don’t like the sound of that.” Higgins ignored her as he ordered us all to line up down the end of the passage where some of the sailors were filling big tubs with water. The geezer was standing beside them with a tall thin man in a fancy braided jacket and white breeches. His long pointy nose   stuck up in the air as if he was trying to keep it above our stink.
             “Get those filthy rags off!” the geezer bellowed at the first woman in the queue. When she tried to back away he shouted at Higgins. “You have my permission to tear the clothes off her.”
Before she could finish protesting that it wasn’t decent for a lady to take her clothes off in public, Higgins had stripped her down to nothing but skin and bones.
“Now get in there and scrub yourself from head to foot,” the geezer roared. “Or the marines will do it for you.”
The woman grabbed up the scrubbing brush the sailors had dropped in the tub and started gently rubbing herself with it.
“Soap! They need soap.” This time the geezer was bawling at the pointy nose.
“There is none, Sir”
“And why is that?”
“None was ordered, Sir.”
The geezer was getting very red in the face again. “Do your marines have soap, Lieutenant?”
“They do, Sir. The Royal Marines are expected to be clean and presentable at all times,” the pointy nose said in his pointy voice.
            “Then you will hand over their supplies of soap. I’ll see it replaced before we sail.”
            The pointy nose didn’t look pleased but he sent two of the redcoats to fetch all the soap they could find. Four more women were made to undress and were sitting in the tubs by the time they returned.
“Scrub hard,” the geezer ordered. “Soap every part of you especially your heads. Once you’re clean the lieutenant will give you new clothes.”
One of the women bent down to grab her old coat from the pile of rags on the floor but she got such a smack on the rump from the silver topped cane that it left a big red mark.
“Those rags are infected with every manner of vermin. They’ll all be burnt,” the geezer told her.
Soon it was our turn. Elsie tried to hide but Higgins spotted her. He dragged her to a tub and with his knife slit her shawl and dress from neck to toe. Madge flattened the two redcoats who thought they could tear her old dress off. It took half a dozen of them, and a lot of pushing and shoving, to get her into a tub head first. They all had to jump back quickly to avoid being swamped with the water that splashed up all around her. She managed to get herself the right way up spitting water and curses all over the geezer as she did so.
“Quiet woman or I’ll have the marine wash your mouth out. There’ll be no foul language on this ship,” he bellowed.
Me mum and Mary got Mad Sarah into a tub and scrubbed before doing themselves but when it was Dolly’s turn to take her clothes off she started to cry. Higgins grabbed at the blanket and pulled sending baby Anna flying through the air.
“S’truth,” he yelled as he caught her.
“Put the infant in the tub with its mother. It’s got to be washed too,” the geezer told him. Then he spotted us. “Those boys! See to them.”
            Higgins had me by the collar. Another redcoat called Nicholson grabbed Joe. They ripped our clothes off and had us in tubs as quick as a flash and then they took to scrubbing us. And did those brushes hurt especially on our heads. When they’d finished with us I staggered over to the pointy nose expecting to get a bundle of clothes and a blanket like the women were getting.
            “Get away, child. I’ve nothing for you,” he snarled at me.
            The geezer heard him and swung around. “Give the child a blanket. He’ll have to wrap himself up in that.” He flicked his cane at me, “Go! Get back to your berth.”

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dorrington's First Encounter with the Unknown

 For people who had never travelled more that a few kilometres from their home, the first leg of their journey in a covered wagon must have seemed extraordinary. Please on as Jack tells us of his disappointment.
Only we weren’t!
       When the wagon stopped and the flaps were lifted Madge shouted, “This here’s no New South Wales. It’s only Woolwich. It’s where that no good sailor thought he could hide. But….”
Before she could say another word, the geezer appeared and started shouting at some redcoats who’d come out of the fog that covered everything.
“Get these women out of the wagon and down to the end of the pier quickly. Make sure they stay together. I don’t want any of them thinking they can escape.”
There was no chance of that. Those redcoats shoved us this way and that down a path of wooden planks. One of them decided to get a bit fresh with me mum. He asked her name and told her his was Higgins before he pinched her on the bottom. She let out a yelp so I kicked him in the shins.  He swore, grabbed hold of me and lifted me clear off the ground.
“Ya’ little swine!”
            I kicked again and got him in the belly. That made him let go of me. I fell in a heap on the planks. The geezer came rushing to see what was going on.
            “Get to your feet, boy. Do you know the punishment for striking one of His Majesty’s officers?” I shook my head as he poked me with his silver topped cane. “No! I thought not. You’ll not do it again or I’ll have you thrown into an orphanage. Your mother will have to go to New South Wales without out you.”
            Me mum started to cry. “Please, no! He’s all I’ve got. Besides he was only protecting me from this man.” She pointed at Higgins, but all the geezer said was “Hrrump,” and waved his stick as he bustled back into the fog.
He was waiting for us at the top of some steps.
“Down you go!” he ordered. There was a little boat bobbing about against the bottom step. Mad Sarah refused to move so Higgins picked her up and carried her down. Me and Joe and our mums ran down after him and sat ourselves down on a hard wooden seat that went across one end of the boat. Elsie and Dolly followed us but Madge stood at the top of the steps with her arms folded across her chest.
            “I’m not going anywhere in that thing. It’s too small.”
            The geezer prodded her with his silver topped cane. “Move woman,” he roared, but she wouldn’t budge. Higgins and another redcoat got behind her and pushed as hard as they could till she toppled over. She rolled down the stairs and into the boat sending water splashing up all around it. The two redcoats followed her down as the geezer shouted to the sailors to move off. They put their oars in the water and we began to move away from the steps into the fog.
            We didn’t have far to go before we came smack up against a great wooden wall with a rope ladder hanging over it.
            “Up you go,” Higgins said to me and Joe as the sailors lifted their oars and took hold of the ladder so we could climb on to it. It swung about a bit but we worked our way up it. When we got near the top some hands reached down and pulled us the rest of the way. We found ourselves standing on the deck of a huge ship.
            Me mum and Mary helped Dolly up the ladder and Elsie scrambled up after them but Mad Sarah had to be prodded and poked by Higgins before she’d move at all. When she was half way up she decided she wasn’t going any further. Eventually one of the sailors from the ship had to scurry down and drag her the rest of the way. She hissed and spat at him like a frightened cat. Madge didn’t give the redcoats or the sailors any trouble as she made her own way up the ladder on to the deck.
            There were more redcoats on the ship lining us up in rows and telling us to be quiet as more women were brought out to the ship. The last to come on board was the geezer who was met by an angry man in a long black coat with lots of shiny buttons and a three cornered hat on his head.  
"How dare you bring women out to my ship in such a wretched condition. They’re covered in filth and their clothes are rags. I want none of their vermin infecting my clean ship. Do something about it.”
“I gave orders that they were to be properly dressed, Captain,” the geezer said in a much quieter voice than he used on us.
“Then you should have seen to it that your orders were obeyed.” The captain turned his back on the geezer and stood in front of us.
“I am the captain of this ship, the Lady Penrhyn, and while you are here you will obey me and my officers at all times. You will not fight among yourselves. You will keep yourselves clean and you will not have anything to do with my crew.”
Behind me Madge muttered, “Scurvy lot! Wouldn’t touch them if you paid me.”
The captain heard her.
“You speak when I’m talking, woman, and you’ll spend the journey in the coal hole.” He waited till there was real quiet. Then he roared. “Do you know what that’s like?” Madge didn’t answer. “It’s a pitch black hole full of coals for the galley. And anyone one of you that misbehaves will spend time in there. Do I make myself clear?” With that he turned on his heel and disappeared through a door at the end of the ship.
 The geezer’s face was still pretty red when he ordered the redcoats to get us below.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The unfashionable First Fleet.

The unfashionable First Fleet.

I suppose I can understand why the story of the First Fleet was unpopular during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Good, honest, law abiding Australians did not want to be reminded that the prosperity they enjoyed in this great southern continent had come on the back of seventy years of convict transportation. They didn't want their children told about the shiploads of misery which were landed in Sydney and made to tame a landscape which had previously been in harmony with its human inhabitants.

Times have changed. Our convict past is a thing to be celebrated. Family historians mull over shipping lists, court records, convict movements and the like looking for ancestors. Writers like Kate Grenville have been very successful with the novels she has written for adult readers about the life and people of the convict colony of New South Wales. Jackie French has some excellent novels from then period for children. So why am I told that stories about the First Fleet are unfashionable?

Below is an excerpt of my First Fleet novel for middle readers called Dorrington’s Extraordinary Journey. Please tell me if you think it is unfashionable.

The name’s Dorrington, Jack Dorrington. And I’m here to tell you about the amazing journey I’ve just been on. You see, our King George, the one that lives in the palace in London, he gets this bit of land right down the bottom of the world, and he doesn’t know exactly what to do with it at first. Then he gets this idea. There’s too many criminals in London, he thinks. He could ship them off to the bottom of the world, and all the proper people what live in proper houses can feel safe again.
He gets some ships together and tells his people to start rounding up the criminals. Mostly they’re like me mum and me sitting about in the gaols wondering when this transportation across the seas that the magistrate sentenced us to was ever going to happen.
You see, we’d been thieving. Good at it, we were till I had a bit of an accident. I was reaching for this nice green vase I reckoned would fetch a pretty penny. Only it was too heavy and it slipped right through me hands. Crash! Down it went on the ground and me mum and me took off running. We would’ve got away too if it hadn’t been for an upturned lorry blocking the way. We were off to Newgate that very night.
That’s where I met Joe. He and his mum, Mary, were thieves too, but not very good ones judging by the rags he was wearing. He was eyeing off me velvet jacket till it got ripped off me back by a huge ugly woman called Madge. She sold it to the fellow with the gaol keys for a jug of beer.
She didn’t share any of it but none of the other women made a fuss. They didn’t dare, Joe told me. Madge was a murderer. Killed a sailor that cheated on her, chopped him up in little pieces and fed him to the fishes. I kept out of her way as much as possible while we waited in Newgate.
And we had to wait a long time. Elsie, the old crone who’d taken a bit of a shine to me mum, said we wouldn’t be going anywhere on account of the folks in America not wanting any more of England’s rubbish. But she didn’t know about King George’s bit of land then. Nor did Mary or Dolly, who had a baby that cried all the time and made Madge angry. And Mad Sarah was too mad to know anything. Then that geezer turned up and said we were all being transported to New South Wales.
“Where’s that?” Elsie asked him but he just glared at her and told her to hold her tongue. Joe’s mum Mary had a go at relieving him of his gold watch chain but he whirled around and caught her. He gave her such a wack on her skinny rump with his silver topped cane she let out a yell.
“Get your thieving hands off me woman or you’ll find yourself hanging from the gallows instead of going to New South Wales.”
When the wagon turned up to take us to New South Wales there was quite a fuss. Me mum got Mad Sarah up into it and she helped Dolly who had her baby hidden under the old blanket she’d wrapped around herself. But when she went to pull me up a man, who was counting how many there was to be squeezed into the wagon, shouted, "Can't take children."
       Me mum started climbing back out of the wagon. “I’m not going then,” she told the geezer. Other women joined in pulling their children to them and crying.
       The geezer shook his cane at the counting man. “They have to go. There’s nowhere else for them.”
        “They can’t,” he snarled back. “No room and no provisions.”
       The geezer ignored him. He grabbed me by the collar and threw me up into the wagon. The women piled in behind us till we were so packed in we could hardly move. The flaps were tied down and we were on the way to New South Wales.