Fear is swirling around the world like one of those amazing dust storms you can see from miles away as it whirls its way toward the very ground you stand on. Suddenly you find yourself coughing and spluttering from the gritty air and you realise you haven’t brought your washing in and the white sheets will now be more of a reddish hue. Even after the dust has moved on its way, you must put in a huge effort to clean up the mess it left, not to mention rewashing the sheets.

Much of the world is now watching as a giant fear storm encompasses areas and even countries, leaving its dirty residue in its wake. Much of the world is worried and fearful. None of us want to find ourselves in the middle of the storm when it hits.

Dust storms are common in arid and semi-arid regions. I have never heard of a dust storm occurring in a forested area. The same can be said of fear. In my humble opinion (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase…) fear only grows in places where people feel marginalised and disenfranchised – the arid places. Fear doesn’t seem to have much of a hold in strong communities, where everyone looks after both their friends and their neighbours.

I am not saying there are no evil people in this world, that terrorist groups would cease to exist altogether if we all joined hands and sang “Kum ba yah”. I think we all know it is not likely that terrorism, or any other crime, will ever be eradicated so long as people exist who are greedy for power and money. But it has been well documented in the media how the random acts of terrorism in various countries are usually perpetrated by disenfranchised youth who feel marginalised. These are the young people who live in a society they can never hope to be a part of. They are the ones we generalise and exclude. We don’t ensure they receive a great education – great, not adequate, we don’t look after their emotional needs, we don’t listen to them, we turn our backs and hope someone else will look after them.

Is it so difficult to understand that, when one is excluded from society they will look around for somewhere else they can belong? We all want to be a part of something – a family, a friendship group, a community – and we all want to feel as if we are an important part of something. As long as there is exclusion, poverty and life is a constant struggle, there will be terrorism and crime.

You might wonder what we, as lone citizens of our society can do. You might think we have no power to change the way others feel. You might be of the opinion that the world is going to hell and all we can do is watch.

But I believe we can begin by building stronger communities, by caring for our neighbours as well as our friends, by being more inclusive and accepting people who might not be the same as us, by making them feel an important part of our society. We can also lobby governments for better education for everyone, not just a select few. We can demand investment in new technologies, such as solar energy, which would create more jobs. We can make sure our governments know we want more equality and less poverty.

And we can smile at those who cross our paths. A simple smile is both welcoming and reassuring. It shows you accept the person you are smiling at. There is no fear in a smile.

Let’s start building communities and societies, just as one might plant a forest.

Exploring other Genres

Lately I’ve been toying with writing in different genres. I’m most comfortable with memoir, digging up stories from my past and expanding them through research. So far I’ve finished one manuscript which looks at the relationship I had with my father and attempts to uncover some of the secrets from his past. It took me four years to write, with much of my time spent in research. Although I was often frustrated and sometimes felt as if I would never navigate to the end of the story, I loved the process and especially the research.

But I’m often tempted to move outside of my comfort zone and try to write for a different audience, or age group, or both. Deciding on a new genre is a bit like choosing a holiday destination. First you have to select the destination which suits you best. Up until now you might have been comfortable relaxing on a beach, so you might decide to climb a mountain instead. Or perhaps a cruise might be a better decision as then you still have the ocean close by. So, keeping in mind some stories from my childhood, I’ve been considering books for children.

I realise I could never write or design picture books. I might be creative and I’ve been known to sketch now and again, but I am certain my artistic efforts would be nowhere good enough for picture books. Besides, I never related too well with babies and toddlers, cute though they may be.

But what about an older age group. I have deliberated about writing chapter books for children and I do have a few ideas for stories, some of them from my own experiences. I am the first to admit I know nothing about structuring stories for the older child, however I’m not averse to learning. So, I might look up a few courses, read a few books in this genre and try to get a feel for what is required.

I would have to stick to the 9 – 12 year old age group as I’m not sure I would be any good at young adult novels. For me, the content of these novels is too difficult to navigate.

Then again, I’ve always enjoyed detective novels. I believe I’ve read (and re-read) every Agatha Christie, most of Ngaoi Marsh, almost all of Dorothy Sayers, some of Raymond Chandler, a few PD James and nearly all of John Le Carré, amongst others. Surely, being so familiar with the genre, I could write in it. But as hard as I try to think of any plot, let alone a clever one, I cannot come up with anything. And I realise, despite having read so many examples, I am not very interested in writing about murder or mystery. I much prefer to read about them.

I cancel out horror, science fiction, romance, historical fiction and fantasy. I have never liked the first two genres and romance isn’t really my thing. Apart from the Narnia series, I’ve never been attracted to fantasy and, although I’ve occasionally enjoyed Georgette Heyer books, I’m not too keen to write them.

After weighing up all of these options, I’m leaning toward trying my hand at children’s chapter books. I’ll start by looking up courses and finding some examples. It could be the beginning of a whole new writing adventure.

Book review – The Dangerous Bride, Lee Kofman

The last week I have spent very little time writing and much more time reading. Reading is one of my favourite things to do and I grab spare moments in time, especially when commuting to and from work, to gulp down as much as I can. Now I have finished my research for my manuscript, I no longer have to focus my reading material on the Second World War. I am very grateful for this respite from warfare, horror and sadness. I have certainly been enlightened by my research, it has given me a much wider understanding of that time in history, but it has also been depressing and has left me with images I would rather not have.

Although I read a bit of fiction, I most enjoy memoir and autobiography. I’m currently working my way through the books of Karl Ove Knausgaard, which are well worth reading and of which I will write about later on. However, I decided to read The Dangerous Bride by Lee Kofman, not only because Lee is my current mentor, but also because her book is written about a subject I wouldn’t normally read about – non-monogamy. I like to test myself now and again, stretch my literary boundaries, so to speak, and I wasn’t disappointed.

As I read I was both astonished by and appreciative of the honesty of the writing. Lee truly exposes herself in this memoir. I am envious of the way she is able to take her thoughts, her actions and her soul and toss them in front of her reader, as if to say “here I am, here is all of me.” For someone who finds it difficult to write about my inner most feelings, my past and my own feelings, Lee’s style and openness were a revelation. One day I hope to be able to write in the same way. However, I do wonder about the impact of this story on the people Lee writes about. Would I ever be able to write about myself, my friends and my family as honestly? I’m not sure.

The Dangerous Bride manages to tell a personal story of searching for an ideal, of personal hopes and dreams, emigration and life in a foreign country, while at the same time weaving research, interviews and literary tales through the narrative. I especially enjoyed the accounts of other writers’ lives and loves, as well as excerpts from their writing. Some of the passages were confronting but at the same time, they were fascinating and often took me down unexpected paths. Living in Melbourne, I also liked the references to places I knew or had visited.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in someone’s personal story, or the pros and cons of non-monogamy, or the results of research into non-monogamy; or to anyone who appreciates a beautifully written story. I found it difficult to put down once I had picked it up.

If you are interested in this book, Lee Kofman’s website can be found here: http://www.leekofman.com.au/dangerous-bride/

Sometimes I just think

There was a time I thought being a writer meant sitting at my computer for hours at a time tap, tap, tapping on the keyboard, producing pages of wonderfully crafted words. It is true I spend a fair amount of time at my computer but I have found I spend a lot of time just thinking. Sometimes I think while sitting at the computer but not always.

I used to feel guilty about extended thinking time, now I realise it is as important as the time I spend writing. Without the time to think, many of the words I write wouldn’t take the shape I want them to. It is during this thinking time I play with my stories, design how I want them to flow, what happens where, when chapters will end and where they will begin.

Although some of my thinking time happens at home, usually sitting in my sunroom, mindlessly watching the world go by; I find one of the best times to think is on public transport. I have taken a year off driving to work to see how I go with public transport and I find the time I’m on trams, trains and buses is valuable for creative thinking. Sitting or standing, I can let my mind wander while being chauffeured to my destination. I learnt long ago to block other travelers out and concentrate on my own thoughts.

However, I confess there are times I eavesdrop on the conversations of others in the hope of finding new material for my stories, or just because I’m curious. There are times I don’t have to eavesdrop as some conversations are so loud everyone can hear. Those are often the best ones. I am not wonderful at writing dialogue, so listening to other people speak gives me ideas of what to write. I even tried to record two people on a tram one day on my way home from work, their conversation was so weird I wanted to capture it. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise I had to save the recording and I lost all of it. If I do hear something I want to remember, I usually type it into my phone.

There are so many stories out there in the world! Other people’s conversations are a never ending supply of potential tales. Woven into my thoughts of my own work are daydreams of where the other people around me might be going. Perhaps they too are going to work, or maybe they are on holidays. I can usually think of a few scenarios.

For me, this thinking time is important – no, invaluable – for my writing.