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. 


Thursday, July 7, 2011

When I'm 95

If, when I'm 95, I'm still:

  • Writing 
  • Reading
  • Listening to audio books
  • Taking an interest in world affairs
  • Championing the cause of women, indigenous populations and refugees
  • Knitting
  • Crocheting
  • And enjoying the company of good friends

 Then please visit me

  • Join me in a good Irish whiskey
  • Or a  cuppa
  • Or a cafe latte

So we can talk about the books we have read, what we are writing, what the world is doing to our planet and anything else that comes into our heads.

But if I have spent the last ten years making excuses for why I can't do things

  • Why I can't use the remote control on the television
  • Why I can no longer read
  • Why I can't visit with anyone who might be sicker than me
  • Why I can't participate in any activities in which I won't be the centre of attention 

Then don't visit me because all I'll be able to talk about is:

  • How ill I am
  • How my hands hurt when I write or knit
  • How I am unable to learn how to use the remote control on the television, put my hearing aids in my ears or do up buttons
  • How my back ache is worse than anyone else's backache
  • How bad the food is
  • How much difficulty I have eating, walking, sleeping and just about everything else 

If I can only greet the people who still care about me with a litany of misery then for God's sake put me out of my misery.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The joys of owning an ereader

At last!

I have an ereader courtesy of my daughter who has upgraded her ipod and given me her old one.

I don't mind that it's secondhand. I'm just delighted to have one. It doesn't seem right to be publishing ebooks which I would like other people to purchase and download on to their ereaders if I am not reading ebooks myself.

Now I can! I can tackle my list of books to read before I die list electronically instead of searching the secondhand book shops for the out of print ones and spending fortunes buying new ones from bookstores. Think of all the trees I won't be responsible for cutting down.

Already I've investigated the Amazon catalogue under the historical fiction heading and found enough titles to keep me reading for years. I'll concentrate on anything related to the War of the Roses for the moment as I am half way through the course I'm teaching at the University of the Third Age in Ballarat and contemplating redrafting my children's story Abbie in the Abbey.

Once that is done I will have to decide which direction my historical interests take me. Perhaps I'll go back to the Irish Diaspora theme  of my enovels Brigid, A  Terrible Paradise and The Liberator's Birthday. There's an Irish Diaspora feel about the one I am writing now. But then there is French history and all the great novels which have been written about France and the people who have played a part in shaping its destiny. Or the Tudors! The scope is endless. All I need now is time to read.

Jill's ebooks

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Roses and wars - my current obsession

The War of the Roses - something of a departure from the usual historic themes which have featured in this blog since I started it in february this year. But the forces which drove me to an interest in the Wars of the Roses were the same ones that brought me to delve into convict history, the Irish Australians and the history of the Goldfields in Victoria. I wanted to write fiction set in a particular place at a particular time and I needed to know what was going on in the world my characters inhabited.

Not for me a superficial reading of the time and place. The historian in me demands that I investigate thoroughly, steep myself in the written history and visit the historical sites to soak up the atmosphere.

So what brought me to the War of the Roses?

Several years ago as I sat in Westminster Abbey an idea came to me for a children's story featuring a little girl called Abbie who encountered a ghost in Westminster Abbey. As my time in London was short, the idea had to go on the fiction back burner until I could manage another trip. I did, however, decide that the ghost had to be a child so I made arrangements with the archivist of the Abbey to do some research into the children who were buried there on my next visit. They were very helpful, allowing me access to their archives at the top of a dusty staircase off the cloisters.

Of all the stories I read, none fascinated me as much as that of the bones which occupied an urn in the Children's Corner, believed to be those of Edward V and his brother Richard. As I set about engaging my Abbie in conversation with a haughty thirteen year old king elect, I realised I had to know what had brought him to his early death.

That was in October 2007. Nearly four years later, I know, at least as well is as generally known, what brought him to his tragic end, although like the members of the Richard III society, I don't accept that his uncle was necessarily the instigator of his demise even if he was the usurper of his crown.

The story of Abbie in the Abbey still needs work before it can go in search of a publisher but the history I have learnt is being put to good use in the class I am conducting for the University of the Third Age in Ballarat.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Foibles - We all have them so the characters we create must have them too.

Regardless of the genre of our novels or the themes we pursue, the characters we create are unlikely to be perfectly horrible or perfectly perfect. They will undoubtedly have flaws and depending on the role we are giving them to play, some of these will be major, but even a serial killer can have flashes of humanity.

For those of us who aren't writing about serial killers, the flows in our characters will be more foiblelike, quirks in their personalities, but knowing what they are helps us to emphasise with them as we set them to the task of enacting the plot we have devised. The foibles themselves may not get a mention in the story we are telling but knowing what they are allows us to predict how they will deal with the issues we want them to confront, and the relationships we want them to enter into with each other. if we understand our characters strengths and weaknesses so too will our readers.

Deciding which flaws and foibles to give our characters can be tricky particularly if there is a danger that they will resemble our own family members, the people we work and play with, the neighbours and others with whom we are acquainted. We don't want to be challenged or sued by irate friends and family.

Fortunately people tend to avoid owning to own foibles so they they do not associate themselves with characters who behave as they do. I had a funny experience with the publication of The Liberator's Birthday. I had quite deliberately modelled the publican's wife, a woman who through her husband's good fortune on the goldfields has risen several rungs on the social ladder, on my mother who was a terrible snob. It was with some trepidation that I gave her a copy while I prepared dinner for her one night about the time when the book was first released. It didn't take long before she was in my kitchen declaring that I had 'got that Martha Farrell right!' It seems she was just like my mother's Auntie Jeanie. I took her word for it and we were all happy.

The Liberator's Birthday and Jill's other romantic dramas

Friday, June 3, 2011

Love and Romance

Love and Romance! Themes which seem to force themselves into most novels. Love can be requited or unrequited, glorious or tragic, expressed in furious sexual activity or totally divorced from physical attraction.

Love knows no age limits. It is not confined by gender, race or any other division of human kind. And because it is a human emotion the characters created to act out the novelist's plot will no doubt have experienced love of some kind along their life journey even if they display no evidence of it for the duration of the story being told.

In A Terrible Paradise, which has just been released as an ebook, love is a tragic thing for the main character Elise Cartwright. She feels it pulling at her heart strings over a man she barely knows. It sets her off on a quest to save him from his terrible fate giving the writer the opportunity to tell the reader about the brutality of the British penal system of the nineteenth century, and the corruption and sadism which was tolerated by those in power.

Forbidden love of the young barman Tommy for his Kate colours his relations with his parents and his growing hatred of the Catholic Church in The Liberator's Birthday which is also available as an ebook.
 He despises the dean who cursed Kate's father and drove him to his death, and all those who curry favour with the bombastic clergyman in the hope of gaining advantage in this world and the next.

Barriers of class, education and circumstance prevent Brigid from expressing her attraction to Eamon Darcy in the first of my novels, Brigid, to be released as an ebook, but it is clear that her love was no passing thing. it smoldered unrequited during her life, and allowed her no rest in the afterlife until she could find the means to give it expression.

Now I am embarking on a new project in which the love between two women in nineteenth century Melbourne will scandalise the family of one of them as they listen to the reading of her will.

Link to all ebooks mentioned in this blog

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The launch of A Terrible Paradise

To celebrate the epublication of A Terrible Paradise, the third of my historical novels set among the Irish Diaspora of the nineteenth century, all three of my enovels will be available from Amazon at a special price for a short time.

A Terrible Paradise is a romantic drama set on the notorious Norfolk Island during the last years of the convict era when those employed to administer the settlement were able to exercise their sadism in a reign of brutality against those who could not retaliate in the knowledge that their superiors in
Sydney and London cared little for the welfare of the convicts.

For Alice Cartwright, though, the fate of one of the convicts weighs heavily on her. He speaks to her on the journey to the island from Van Diemen's Land. he knows her name. Despite his ragged appearance there is something about his bearing that tells her he is no ordinary criminal. She convinces herself he has committed no crime. But discovering why he has been sent to Norfolk Island is impossible. Her mother forbids any talk of convicts under her roof and none of the young men who work for the dreaded commandant dare offend the wife of the superintendent of agriculture by answering her daughter's questions.

The more she is denied information the more determined she is to rescue her convict from his plight. She cannot imagine how many lives she will be putting at risk by her actions or whether her love for this man of mystery will be returned if she succeeds.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Hidden Ireland in Ballarat around 1900

Ballaarat Mechanics Institute
Twilight Talks
Autumn 2011

Val Noone
Fellow of the School of Historical Studies, University of Melbourne

will talk about

Hidden Ireland in Ballarat around 1900

Most of the Irish who came to Victoria in the 1800s spoke Irish, but much of their story remains hidden. This illustrated talk will focus on some remarkable efforts around 1900 to maintain and revive Irish Gaelic culture and language in Ballarat and the goldfields region. Seven aspects will be discussed: preliminary efforts by Patrick O’Farrell of Sebastopol; theatrical performances at Mary’s Mount girls’ secondary school; decorative art in books and scrolls; an Ararat welcome in Irish to the visiting Irish patriot and international labour leader Michael Davitt; a manuscript sent from Ireland to the Reidy family; and a hurling match between the Springbank and Bungaree. The conclusion will show that the Ballarat efforts, like similar ones in other parts of Australia, were linked to developments in Ireland, New Zealand and North America.

Ballaarat Mechanics Institute,
Sturt Street, Ballarat
May 27
5.30 – 6.30pm – refreshments at 5.00pm

Monday, May 16, 2011

the puppeteer and the student - another great twilight talk

In her research for her PhD Jennifer Pfeiffer   conducted an international collaboration and residency with 5th generation Shadow puppeteer, A. Selvaraja from Chennai.

She will talk about the challenges the project presented, particularly those of communication, and cultural difference. In overcoming these difficulties, she details the poetics and story-telling strategies they employed to create their multi-media public performance. The talk will be augmented with visual examples from the production, The Window.

Ballaarat Mechanics Institute,
Sturt Street, Ballarat
May 20
5.30 – 6.30pm – refreshments at 5.00pm

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Two great writing workshops in Ballarat this May

May 21 -

Chapter One: Elements of writing, from plot to publication

Presenters: Alison Arnold and Cath Crowley
 Some of the topics they will explore include:
  • How do you write a character that burns their way onto the page? 
  • Are you tripping over plot holes? 
  • Is your dialogue shining or sagging? 
  • Agent or unsolicited? 
  • How do you pitch your book? 
  • How do you get published?
Join Cath Crowley and Alison Arnold for a masterclass that will inspire you and your writing. 
Alison Arnold is an editor at Text Publishing. Cath Crowley has taught creative writing for over ten years and is the authors of numersous novels including: Chasing Charlie Duskin (aka A Little Wanting Song), The Life and Times of Gracie Faltrain and Gracie Faltrain Gets it Right (Finally) and Graffiti Moon.
 details and booking

May 28, June 25, July 23, August 20 

So you want to write a novel!
A course for serious writers over four Saturdays, with Jill Blee

This course is designed for writers who are embarking on a major work of fiction. Over four Saturdays the participants will be encouraged to examine the components of the novel in relation to their own project. They will be guided through plot development, characterisation, choosing the form of narration which best suits the story they are telling, writing dialogue and the effective use of description.

Dr Jill Blee is a writer and historian, and teaches writing at the Council of Adult Education in Melbourne. She has published numerous novels including The Liberator’s Birthday, Brigid and The Pines Hold Their Secrets.
 details and booking

Monday, May 9, 2011

Another great Twilight Talk

Ballaarat Mechanics Institute
Twilight Talks
Autumn 2011

Gib Wettenhall

will talk about the amazing unknown Indigenous history of the Gunditjmara’s eel aquaculture systems and associated stone house settlements at Lake Condah in south west Victoria – probably the oldest fishtrap and associated village system in the world by several thousand years.

He will also tell us about the Eumeralla War the people of Lake Condah fought over a 6 year period in the 1840s to stop dispossession by squatters including the author Rolf Boldrewood of Robbery Under Arms fame.

Ballaarat Mechanics Institute,
Sturt Street, Ballarat
May 13
5.30 – 6.30pm – refreshments at 5.00pm

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Identifying the Irish in Ballarat

Ballarat in the first couple of decades of gold was such a melting pot of nationalities. There were English, Irish, Scots, Cornish and welsh as well as people from all over Europe. In the district around Ballarat there were pockets of people who had all come from the same region of the Old World to seek their fortunes in the new. The descendants of the Italians and Swiss are still living in places like Daylesford and Hepburn Springs today.

And then there were the Chinese, so alien to all the Europeans that they were despised, abused, excluded from the camaraderie of the goldfields and blamed for everything from muddying the drinking water to causing the disappearance of poultry from the coops in people's backyards.

Among this collection of humanity the Irish were between 15 and 25% of the overall population. Not all were Catholics and not all Catholics were Irish although the clergy was so and had little time for those who didn't conform to the customs and practices their brand of Christianity demanded.

In the early days there were too few priests to have much of an impact on how Irishmen related to their fellow goldfields citizens. As Irish women represented 75% of all single female immigrants, marriages across religious lines were common, the clergy of all faiths being resigned to baptising the offspring of such unions and counting them in their flock.

The promulgation of the Syllabus of Errors by Pope Pius IX in 1864 changed all that. Henceforth it would be much more difficult for Catholics to get into heaven, and on the goldfields of Victoria the Irish Clergy were committed to making sure the new rules were adhered to with absolute obedience.

Mixed marriages were an abomination, children could only be educated by Catholic teachers in Catholic schools, and all communication with those outside the Church were to be limited to necessity only. The Irish Church in Australia was building a wall around itself which would stay in place, and encourage derision from those outside it, until a wise old pope decreed that it be pulled down in the 1960s.

Jill's books dealing with the Catholic Church in Australia

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What was happening in Ballarat once all the fuss of Eureka had died down?

This had to be the first of many questions I had to ask myself as I embarked on the novel writing part of my PhD. But where to find the answers. Fortunately for me Ballarat has wonderful resources. There are several collections of memorabilia which can be accessed.

The Australiana Room of the Central Highlands Regional Library has books, newspapers and pamphlets pertaining to the history of the district and beyond from teh beginning of European settlement. it also has maps, directories, records of property ownership and the like, and all the local newspapers are on microfilm. 

The Gold Museum houses the Ballarat Historical Society collection and has a wonderful photographic collection. The genealogists have more records and the Sovereign Hill Museum Association is a font of knowledge about what Ballarat was like in the first decade of gold. On top of that there is more information to  be had from the historical societies in some of the little hamlets around Ballarat such as Buninyong and Woady Yallock.

Then there is the Ballarat Mechanics' Institute. There it is possible to read every newspaper ever printed in Ballarat in hard copy in the beautifully restored library and reading room. The Institute also boasts an extraordinary collection of books, newspapers and journals sourced from around the world for its members. This fine collection, now beautifully housed in the Old Mining Exchange contains many rare and hard to find volumes and is well worth seeing. There are tours of the Institute every Thursday and the building will be open all over Heritage Weekend, Saturday, May 7 and Sunday , May 8.
Ballarat Heritage Weekend

Monday, May 2, 2011

Invitation to a terrific Twilight Talk

Ballaarat Mechanics Institute
Twilight Talks
Autumn 2011

Assistant Curator, Gold Museum

Claire Muir

With a little help from her friends at Sovereign Hill

Will entertain us with

Horrid Novels:
Victorian Gothic, Sensation and Supernatural Fiction

The performance will include an account of Victorian popular fiction on the Ballarat goldfields by Jan Croggon and a scene from the melodrama East Lynne by Barry Kay and Eloise Gooding

Ballaarat Mechanics Institute,
Sturt Street, Ballarat
May 6
5.30 – 6.30pm – refreshments at 5.00pm

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Finding Irishness in Ballarat

It is one thing to be given the task of writing a novel about the Irish in Ballarat, it is another to decide exactly what that novel will focus on. What themes will be pursued, who the characters will be and how their story will be shaped.

To find out I had to get to know these Irish of nineteenth century Ballarat better. That meant reading everything that had been written about them and Ballarat since the first shovel full of gold bearing dirt had been dug in August 1851 at a place the miners called Poverty Point.

Gold was so important to the story I would tell. because there was so much of it and, after the initial burst, so hard to wrench from the ground, it shaped the place that Ballarat would become. Unlike some of the Victorian goldfields which are now only faint scars on the landscape, or marked by slowly decaying buildings, Ballarat with its grand architecture, wide tree lined streets, and other signs of past opulence, stands as a monument to a time when the colony was gripped with gold fever.

And there were Irish there from the very beginning. Not the typically poor, downtrodden, priest ridden Irish which are the stereotypes of the anti-Irish establishment, but men, and overwhelmingly they were men, who were filled with the spirit of adventure, who had enough money to pay the considerable passage cost the ship owners were charging. Some were the sons of gentry like Peter Lalor of Eureka fame whose father had been a member of the British parliament. There were young lawyers, too, unable to find a place for themselves at the Irish Bar had struck out expecting to dig their fortune from the ground only to find that there was more money to be made in practicing the law on then goldfields.

There were others too, medical men, hoteliers and those with no particular profession who had sold everything they owned to relocate themselves, and sometimes their families, to the goldfields.

Some of the Irish were at the Eureka uprising. Some, no doubt, kept well away, determined to get on with the business of making money while others protested, on behalf of all the goldfields oppressed, for more equitable conditions, the abolition of the gold licence, parliamentary representation and manhood suffrage.

And contrary to popular myth, Eureka was not an Irish fight. Sure, there were plenty of them there. After all, the stockade had been erected on the Eureka Lead where most of those sinking shafts through the layers of alluvial deposits in search of ancient gold bearing streams, or deep leads, were Irish. Until a short time before the disastrous uprising, the leaders of the protest movement had been Welsh chartists, some of whom had been committed to a non-violent policy of moral persuasion. When this approach failed to bend the colony's governor, it was the Irishman Peter Lalor who took the reins, but those who followed him to the stockade included an Italian who had fought with Garabaldi, a Prussian who styled himself as a military leader and some Americans. Their purpose in arming themselves and drilling was for defence against the soldiers and the police who were spoiling for a fight.

Unfortunately for me, though, the story of Eureka has been told many times in history, movies and is re-enacted nightly in a brilliant sound and light show called Blood on the Southern Cross which is conducted by the Sovereign Hill Museums Association.

Blood on the Southern Cross

The Liberator's Birthday and Brigid

Monday, April 25, 2011

You are all invited to Twilight Talks

 Each year the Ballarat Mechanics' Institute hosts a series of Friday night talks called Twilight Talks. The first for the year will be held this Friday in the Humffray Room of the Mechanics' Institute, 117 Sturt Street, Ballarat commencing with refreshments at 5pm. 
As it is the first talk for the year and just a few days after Anzac Day our speaker will be:

The Secretary Victorian Committee for the Battle of Australia

Lieutenant Colonel Ted Lynes

Who will use the first Twilight Talk after Anzac Day to talk about

The Battle for Australia

His talk will encompass all actions between Japan and Australia and her Allies from mid 1940 to the Japanese surrender 2nd  September 1945

Ballaarat Mechanics Institute,
Sturt Street, Ballarat
April 29
5.30 – 6.30pm – refreshments at 5.00pm

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Getting to know the Irish

 Facts, written and oral records, eye witness statements. These are the sources the historian must use to write credible history. Hence it is relatively easy to write about events and issues for which there are contemporary accounts or where there are physical remains. Likewise recording the lives of famous people is made easier by the existence of diaries, letters and other records.

But what about the people who have left no written record of themselves? How does the historian write about them? With difficulty! The fears, hopes, aspirations they had for themselves, the cohesive forces that held their communities together , and those that divided them, can only be gleaned from the observations of the more learned or literate who, as often as not coloured their opinions with their own prejudices.

The Irish I chose to write about for my PhD were just such a group. At first glance they were the Catholic laity, the people who filled the cathedral on Sundays, donated to building funds and sent their children ot Catholic schools. They also drank heavily, bemoaned their own and Ireland's misfortunes as if they were one and the same, and they exhibited a blind obedience to their clergy. They were all the same, or were they?

Sure, there were some who were still 'worshipping the sorrowful legends of Ireland' as James Joyce has one of his characters in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man doing. They were giving themselves an excuse for their own failings. Every misfortune, every blunder, every offence could be added to the accumulated persecution Ireland had suffered at the hands of its colonial masters.

But these people, as I found out, were no more typical of the Irish in Ballarat than were those who had seized the opportunity that gold digging had offered them, or others who had seen the possibilities that were to be had in becoming a provider of goods and services to the gold diggers. The Irish who were to be the subjects of my study were all sorts. Some were devoutly religious, others antagonistic to the power the church tried to exert. Among them were the ambitious, the lazy, the drunken and sober, the proudly Irish and those who classed themselves as Australian. I needed to included the whole range in my novel.

I had originally thought about setting the novel in the back room of my great grandfather's drapery business in Rubicon Street where family legend has it that he taught Gaelic to a group of friends dedicated to preserving in Ireland and abroad. But they were hardly representative of the Irish in Ballarat. While many of the Ballarat Irish had come from counties were Gaelic was still in regular use, others had never spoken it and the Church did not promote its use.

The Globe Hotel stood a few doors away from the drapery business and it seemed to me to be a better venue for the Irishmen of my novel to demonstrate their diversity as they grappled with the issues which concerned them, their Church and Ballarat generally. The Globe still stands although only the wooden bar bears any resemblance to the timber clad pub of The Liberator's Birthday

The Liberator's Birthday

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why write historical fiction when you can write history?

I have occasionally been asked why I have chosen historical fiction as a means by which to portray the people about whom I study. Why not write history instead?

I fully intended writing history when I embarked on a study of the Irish population of Ballarat in the second half of the nineteenth century for my Doctor of Philosophy degree, but when I was invited by the University of Ballarat's Professor Kevin Livingston to present my research in the form of a novel I jumped at the chance.

The Irish in ballarat were my people. My mother's ancestry was full of Irish names like O'Farrell, Daly and Dolan. Most were from Counties Cork or Clare and had left Ireland in the wake of the Great Potato Famine but were in Victoria before gold was discovered. They were probably tenant farmers for one of the two irish entrepreneurs granted special surveys of large tracts of rich volcanic soil in the Western District around Port fairy and Koroit.

The Irish in my father's family tree is less obvious among the English, Scots and German names, but it is there nevertheless. His English forebears were in Portland where the Henty family had established themselves in the 1830s, and were already established as grain and chaff merchants in Ballarat before the first sparks of rebellion began to fly in 1854. There is no record of them taking part in any of the protest meetings or of swearing allegiance to the Southern Cross. Perhaps they were onlookers or perhaps they kept right away on that fateful day.

Having been given permission to write about the people to whom my ancestors belonged I had to find a place to begin my research. More on that later.
To purchase The Liberator's Birthday