Remember the Nuremberg Code

  1. The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.
    This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved, as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision. This latter element requires that, before the acceptance of an affirmative decision by the experimental subject, there should be made known to him the nature, duration, and purpose of the experiment; the method and means by which it is to be conducted; all inconveniences and hazards reasonably to be expected; and the effects upon his health or person, which may possibly come from his participation in the experiment. 
    The duty and responsibility for ascertaining the quality of the consent rests upon each individual who initiates, directs or engages in the experiment. It is a personal duty and responsibility which may not be delegated to another with impunity.
  2. The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.
  3. The experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study, that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment.
  4. The experiment should be so conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.
  5. No experiment should be conducted, where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the
    experimental physicians also serve as subjects.
  6. The degree of risk to be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.
  7. Proper preparations should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability, or death.
  8. The experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified persons. The highest degree of skill and care should be required through all stages of the experiment of those who conduct or engage in the experiment.
  9. During the course of the experiment, the human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end, if he has reached the physical or mental state, where continuation of the experiment seemed to him to be impossible.
  10. During the course of the experiment, the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage, if he has probable cause to believe, in the exercise of the good faith, superior skill and careful judgement required of him, that a continuation of the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental subject.

[“Trials of War Criminals before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10”, Vol. 2, pp. 181-182. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1949.]

Two publishing offers and the decision to self publish

Me the moment I decided to self publish

A couple of years ago I received two publishing offers for my fiction manuscript, Gunfire Lullabies. Can you imagine my joy? I’d slaved over this this book to get it to a high standard, and after considerable interest but no final offer with other publishers, my book and writing was finally about to be formally realised.

One offer was with a small independent publisher and the other was with a more academic publisher, but with restricted conditions. I decided to go with the first offer, even though I’d checked them out and had a few concerns.

After dilly dallying for 18 months, which included months of no communication at all, and missing the golden opportunity to publish my book on the 20th anniversary of the East Timor independence ballot during which it’s set, the publisher pulled out. This was despite a legal opinion from Australia’s top publishing barrister that my novel was good to go.

My disgust and relief were palpable. It was like escaping an abusive relationship. My gut feeling about this publisher had been spot on, which is far easier to say in hindsight.

I decided to do another line edit that took my novel to a new level and sent it to an agent who was a contact of several published writers I knew. This was a mistake as they had a commercial focus, and my book is crossover literally–commercial. Their response was, shall we say, discordant.

I could have gone back to publishers previously interested in my novel or taken it to others. But I asked myself what did I really want?

The answer was creative control. In the end, it’s simple when you work out what your one priority is.

I’m confident about my novel and don’t want to cut out a character, component or the entire literary element to reduce the word count from 113,00 down to 90,000. I couldn’t bare to receive yet another, may I say divergent opinion on one character or another, or to wait to find out whether someone finds my writing style either beautiful or too something or other. You get the idea. I’m not new to the writing game, and while editors’ and agents’ opinions may be informed by professional experience, they’re nonetheless subjective and vary wildly. And really, you could go on perfecting and altering a manuscript or painting for a lifetime.

So I came the decision to self publish. I’d considered it before, but had previously associated it with failure. These days, many formally published authors are making this same decision for some or all of their work for similar reasons as above.

In part this may be because self publishing is not what it used to be. I’ve watched it develop into a big industry featuring unlimited distribution possibilities and a multitude of support options that didn’t exist even 5 years ago. While competition is fierce and the marketing side feels daunting right now, what doesn’t in the beginning?

In the end, it’s time for me to birth my baby so that others can read my story; it’s time for me to finally hold a copy of my book with my name on the cover in my hands.

We were young again

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It was summer again today. The sun burned the clouds and dew and mist away, and the people lay on the white sand and frolicked in the waves and laughed, and cars cruised by playing loud music and there was beer and fish and chips. And or a brief moment, everyone who’d lost their jobs, held fears for their future, couldn’t get supplies or was working from home, forgot. For a moment, the world was young again.

How long should grief last?

[Written on 26 July]

It’s three years today since my mother died, joining my father in death and  leaving my brothers and I alone, and me the oldest in the family as well as the matriarch. That came a hell of a realisation, I can tell you.  

My mother planned to live until she was in her nineties. But I knew this was unlikely.

Deeply suspicious of the medical establishment, and rightly so given her woeful treatment by male gynaecologists who happily stole her fertility and thrust her into early menopause, she refused to deal with them.

Then when she was forced to, she trusted another male doctor who once again let her down, ironically because he gave her what he thought she wanted even though it meant an earlier than necessary death, which I know she did not want at all. But would he listen? No. He would look at me like some interfering busy body as she told to him time and again the lies she told herself.

But that’s all in the past. What is it that I miss about her today, a day of many challenges?

Perhaps I miss that I have no one and nowhere to go to.  

Not that my mother ever understood me or my problems, or was someone I could easily turn to. I could in theory, but in reality I whenever I tried I found myself feeling more alone than ever, more unrecognised with every attempt. 

I don’t blame my mother for her remoteness. Abandoned by her father in her teens in the worst kind of way, reviled by a jealous and competitive mother, and a survivor of all sorts of childhood travesties including during World War II, she didn’t let that overcome her. Instead she immigrated, had a family and created her dream of being a psychologist. 

I admire and respect that and am filled with awe for her.

She could have been a bitter and angry person, she could have inflicted upon us what was done to her. But she wasn’t and she didn’t. She chose to help people. But with me, we were forever ships in the other’s night, reaching out but finding the other too far away to grab hold of. I could not find her being behind her mask of survival and control. 

Perhaps what I miss today – and what I’ve continued to struggle to come to terms with these three years – is what we were not and what we can now never be. Her once soft belly and warm full breast of the mother of my dreams would never be realised. All those times I called her up and fell mute when she failed to hear me. That time, days before her death, when I cried into the phone that I never truly felt her love other than as some intellectual exercise. Finally she convinced me it was there, and for some moments it finally was laid bare.

Right now I would settle for even for five minutes of the frustration with her. I would get in my car to be with her, a person who despite it all, welcomed me no matter what. 

So perhaps what I really miss is not just her strangled kind of love, but that her death has forced me to grow up. Perhaps I miss being a child. Her death has indeed forced me to be alone at a time when I could very much do with an escape. 

And there it is. There is no escape. There is only, and has only ever been, me. And that is the greatest realisation and hurt right there. That she dared to leave me. That she could never rescue me. That I am alone, just as I always was. And neither she nor anyone was ever going to be able to allay that truth. 

Maybe there is a part of me too that regrets those struggles we had, who wished I wasn’t so busy with my life during her middle years, who wished I had been more generous with my time and made my mother more welcome, who was less driven mad by her incessant self talk.

Perhaps there is part of me also who, with time, has imagined she could have been different, that she could have changed. But the truth is that no matter how hard I tried, she was never going to be different. She could never step into that hopeful void I made for her to step into. 

So as much as all of that, and in the very end, I simply miss my mother. Bravo, mother. Bravo. I love and miss you no matter it all. 

Do your words convey your intent?

Ann Patchett’s quote is only too true. That said, it’s during my many (and I mean many) edits that I attempt to unearth the words I hope will go some way towards evoking the feeling I want to convey. Sometimes I can spend two hours on a key paragraph. I personally love writing where my emotion and understanding are greater than the sum of the words. This is true art.

Maybe everyone does have a novel in them ... I don't believe it, but for the purposes of this argument, let's say it's so. Only a few of us are willing to break our own hearts by trading in the living beauty of imagi.png

Creating is messy

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The full quote from Scott Belsky goes like this:

‘No extraordinary journey is linear. The notion of having established ideas and making consistent incremental progress is impossible. Those seeking a linear journey can still be successful, but often they struggle to create anything new.’

Something to remember when your work in progress isn’t doing what you want it do to. Now, get on with your creating 🙂

Baring my writing soul

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I started writing a novel in 1993 after finally getting my Arts degree (and having two kids). I didn’t believe in it or myself enough and gave up.

I went and lived: Got a job, worked overseas, witnessed revolution and war, got divorced and had a relationship with an abusive guy.

I wrote another book inspired by some of these events, this time fully supported by my new partner. I received publisher interest, but was rejected many times.

Each time I picked myself up off the floor and went back to the drawing board. I wrote three different versions of my story over 13 years. That’s around 4 years per book! (It doesn’t feel that long.)

Late last year a publisher finally said, ‘I love it. Let’s do it!’

My debut novel, Gunfire Lullabies, will be published in August 2019.

My message to my fellow writers and anyone doing something challenging is:

NEVER give up
BELIEVE in yourself
BE OPEN to constant improvement

And just KEEP ON WRITING!

Now for the next novel…(eek!)

How to Create Tension In Your Story

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Conflict is story

At the core of every story is conflict. Conflict keeps us engaged and wanting to read on. It’s meaningful and relatable, and why we love stories. This conflict must be powerful, deep and complex enough that it requires an entire novel to resolve.

How do writers technically create conflict?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Ensure the stakes are high enough – If your main character doesn’t stand to lose much, no one will care about the ending. If true love, or life and death, or a great moral dilemma fill your story, then readers will want to go on turning the pages.
  2. The opening scene must contain a mini conflict – The purpose of this is to hook your reader in by revealing key aspects of your main character while also alluding to the nature of the broader conflict they face. Opening scenes are a taster aimed at drawing the reader in for more.
  3. You must have complex and engaging characters who want different, opposing things – Given that stories are character driven, your main character needs to have many sides, and be flawed, relatable and want something badly that isn’t easy to obtain. Pitting characters who have different goals against each other creates friction and is how your characters reveal who they truly are.
  4. Conflict must be inner as well as outer – The protagonist must face internal conflict as well as some outer struggle. Stories are often about journeys of the self, about change and transformation. This must be reflected at every level in every chapter in the moral dilemmas the character has to deal with while facing opposing outer forces.
  5. The threat must be constant and immediate – The reader must feel the danger at every turn meaning in every scene and chapter. Readers shouldn’t be allowed to forget what’s at stake for a moment.
  6. Ensure the action happens in the present – While short flashbacks (no more than 1-2 paragraphs) can reveal character, they aren’t immediate. Instead, reveal character in small bites and through what they do. Keep readers in the moment by staying in the moment.
  7. Every word must count – Each word you write counts. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. In particular, use strong nouns and verbs that reflect the kind of issues at stake in your story. Likewise, if a scene doesn’t reflect the theme and move your story forward, then get rid of it. No one wants to go down rabbit holes that lead nowhere.
  8. Include scene and chapter arcs – Every scene and chapter has an arc – a beginning, rise and climax or reversal at the end. These components build towards the novels’ overall story arc, building tension as they go.
  9. Everything should reflect tension – The environment, the characters, the music, the smells, the colours and the weather are just some things that can reflect tension, building atmosphere in support of your story. If your character is sad, the sky can be cloudy, if they’re tense, traffic around them can be chaotic.
  10. Believe in your story and tell it passionately – If you don’t believe in your story, no one else will. Your story therefore needs to be something that you MUST tell. This will keep you writing and rewriting to perfection. Remember not to be too hard on your first draft. Add layers in the redrafts.

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
Barbara Kingsolver