Why I love my library

lubbockquote

John Lubbock really knew what he was on about. Isn’t this a great quote? I love it. I want it tattooed on the wall of my next house, in the room that will be my very own private library.

I was a wee little thing when I visited my first library. I remember it well. It was in the hallowed halls of St Joseph’s primary school in O’Connor in Canberra, Australia. It was the late 1970s, so the children’s reading corner was very traditional – lots of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven, Herge’s Tin Tin, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix, Jeff Brown’s Flat Stanley – and featured an enormous tube cushion in the shape of a giant snake. I loved that library, and I remember the competition was fierce for the good books, particularly the ones featuring Julian, Dick, Anne and George (and Timmy the dog!). The boys in particular were quick to swoop on any Tin-Tin and Asterix books. For my money, mysteries were  the way to go. I was green with envy over my friend Jo’s collection of original hardcover Famous Five books, which she had inherited from her mother. It was hard going trying to find all of the books and read them in order through the library, and yet the library offered me something I’d never had before: reading choices.

70412-4

My next most memorable library was on the other side of the world at Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston, Virginia, USA. You wouldn’t get a more different collection of children’s books, which isn’t surprising given how culturally different the two countries were in the 1980s, a time when you couldn’t even watch American ads on Australian TV. It was here I discovered the likes of Joan Aitken’s Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and Louise Fitzhugh’s charming Harriet the Spy (which inspired me to carry around a similar notebook of frank and fearless observations for a while – to my detriment).

I also discovered Judy Blume, a then (and probably still) controversial author. She was your go-to girl for all the gory details about periods, first bras and kissing boys. Reading ‘Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret’ was a rite of passage.

When I wasn’t at school, I begged my father to take me to the Reston Regional Library, where I would walk out with armfuls of books. The school holidays were heavenly. A keen reader, I’d churn through most of them in a week and insist on another trip. It was cheap entertainment, considering a few years earlier I’d been badgering my father to buy me endless copies of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden books at around $6 a pop (big money then, and when you read them as quickly as I did).

TRIXIE-BELDEN-16-PB-OVAL-THE-MYSTERY-OF-THE-MISSING-HEIRESS

There have been other libraries since then. Other books. Many other books. But those three libraries and their contents shine in my memory as havens for the young me, a bookish child, and opened up a world of joy, adventure and knowledge.

These days I tend to buy my books instead of borrow them. Some books I read straight away, others I shelf for a rainy day. I buy new, I buy old. I buy mass market books, and I hunt down rare and unusual tomes. I buy locally, interstate and internationally. I buy in shops and I buy online.

I almost never give away books and, after a few bad experiences, I absolutely never lend them. My collection gives me great joy. I still have books that I owned as a child – adventure stories, fairytales and compendiums of myths and legends – precious touchstones that still evoke feelings of delight and wonder. Books have proven to be constant friends to me, and even in my darkest hours (and I’m fortunate in that I’ve never had too many of those) they have been my crutch, my confidante. To live without books in my life would be akin to giving up food or water.

My fondest wish as a child was to have my own library. My very own shelfed sanctuary heaving with every kind of topic or genre that has ever grabbed my fancy, well kept and respected tomes, gently loved and, post-read, occasionally caressed. The air thick with the scent of ageing pages. I have that now – a few thousand books that line the walls of my old 1940s cottage, roughly ordered by subject, spines rebelling against anyone’s attempts to colour coordinate to any interior decor whim. This isn’t a show-pony library, it’s a reader’s library.

Books taught me about the importance of storytelling. It’s a love affair that has defined my career choices and hobbies – first as reader, then as journalist, book reviewer, editor, and writer – so it’s little wonder that I share my house with so many stories. I’m not a hoarder, and I’m not a collector. I’m merely in tune with my true nature (and yours), the primal need we all have for sharing and finding meaning in the human experience.

For telling stories.

Reynolds Price said: “A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens – second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter.”

‘Hey lady!’ I hear you say, ‘haven’t you heard of ebooks?’

Well yes, yes I have. But if someone pulls the plug on the Internet tomorrow or Amazon.com crashes, or your e-reader runs out of juice, your ebooks will be floating in the ether. My books will be on the shelf, ready to read.

In my library.

A new age in publishing…

self-publish-cartoon

ALLI member David Mattichak has posted a great summary of the state of play in publishing and where independent publishing fits in over at his popular blog www.dgmattichakjr.com.

“Whether we like it or not, we have entered into a brave new world of writing and publishing across a range of media and books is only one of them. The fact is that there will always be bad books and there will always be good books, and the difference between them will be decided by the people that read them, not the people that publish them.”

Well said David!

The progess so far…

941e371841a236ab4b73e0f8566ed79b.jpg_srz_1500_1000_85_22_0.50_1.20_0

It’s hard work to keep a blog going when you’re working fulltime and writing in every other spare minute.

And yet, this blog is my rudder, keeping me on course for the year and, more importantly, keeping me honest where my personal Short Story Challenge is concerned.

So what do I have to show for 2014?

One standalone short story, Army Dreamers, published to Amazon’s Kindle store, partly as an experiment. It will also feature in Tales of the Damned, an anthology from CFZ Press due out later this year.

Three connected short stories, one of which – For Fear of Little Men – has been entered into a writing competition. The stories explore the dark side of having faeries for neighbours, but will stay under wraps for the time being until I know the outcome of the competition. Judging takes place in June, so stay tuned!

ADAnother standalone short story, All Hail the Queen, is about the proverbial new girl at school and her newfound and somewhat unhealthy obsession with beekeeping. I’m presently finalising this one for publication – prepare to feel its sting!

A third short story, Last Request, is in the final stages. It’s the tale of a struggling musician who takes on what seems like an easy-paying gig, but may just end up being the one paying – with her soul! Cue maniacal laughter…

On the side I have been working hard to bring a non-fiction anthology of essays to publication – The Tasmanian Tiger: Extinct or Extant? – which explores the case for and against the continuing existence of the Thylacine. It should be published by July.

So while I feel I could have been more productive in the first half of the year after hours, I’m not doing too badly.

1800277_10153902312960010_2088236709_n

Writing at Talliston

20140521084053-GilesG_The_Watchtower_sofassmall

Mucking about on Facebook one day, I chanced upon the exquisite loveliness that is Talliston House & Gardens.

Talliston is owner John Trevillian’s personal passion project – a former council house transformed into myriad chambers of loveliness, each of the 13 rooms inspired by various grand houses, castles, and exotic destinations.

Recently, the Talliston dream has been threatened by the most mundane of circumstances – money, or the lack thereof, which has fueled this project from day one (cripes, am I starting to sound like Kevin McLeod or what?).

John’s goal was to create something extraordinary from the means of an average living wage, and he has done just that. With the loss of his job recently, the future of Talliston is now uncertain. In fact, it has just been listed on the market.

Enter the Saving Talliston Indiegogo campaign that could be the gamechanger for this artistic enclave, which in addition to being a private home, is also host to writing and poetry groups, and serves as a performance space for various artists and musicians.

20140523003958-TheOffice

Allow me to quote briefly from the Indiegogo appeal:

Talliston House & Gardens is a project that has taken the most ordinary of English dwellings – a three-bedroomed, semi-detached, ex-council house in Essex – and over two and a half decades has painstakingly transformed it into a magical labyrinth of locations, each set in a different time and place.

After years of design, research, sourcing and construction, each room or garden is infused with a rich story, incorporating over 1,650 antiques and authentic objects sourced from 27 countries across the globe. With a name that means ‘the hidden place’, Talliston is not just an interior design project. Instead, it is a growing community venue that serves as an inspirational wonderland for writers, artists, craftspeople, and anyone seeking the extraordinary within the ordinary.
And all this has been accomplished by an ordinary team of people – all inspired by the project’s unique vision.

Impressed by the writerly credentials of the owner, and his commitment to such a wonderfully unusual and creative project, I recently joined the Talliston Writers’ Circle and attended my first meeting in May.

Everyone was incredibly friendly, even though I was the Max Headroom character in the corner on a laptop screen, a bleary-eyed Australian doing a 5am live Skype cross with my British counterparts on the other side of the planet (isn’t technology wonderful?).

It was a great meeting, and we were treated to a talk by crime novelist Linda Stratmann who walked us through her Frances Doughty Victorian crime series, and also talked about the various true crime books she had written. Book #1 The Poisonous Seed is now at the top of my reading pile 🙂

I sincerely hope John and his friends can save Talliston. It’s a special place, one imbued with magic and mystery. Talliston means ‘the hidden place‘, and I can’t think of a more fitting name for the labyrinth of painstakingly created rooms that lie behind the unassuming door of this ex-council house.

Like a series of movie sets, it’s the perfect house for creative types, and one worth saving. If you can spare it, fund the dream in whatever small way you can.

We need more magic and beauty in this world.

 

Terror of Tendonitis

Bek7ohcCQAAajmU

I suffered from Tendonitis recently.

If you’ve never had a brush with this writer’s curse, let me tell you it’s no fun – in fact, I found it rather excruciating.

It was my own fault, of course – the way I use the mouse was, I think, was largely to blame. However the affliction hit me while I was in the middle of two feature articles, a short story and a few corporate writing assignments; in other words, I was busy!

The prescribed treatment for the afflicted appendage is a fortnight’s rest, so this ‘righty’ was forced to become a ‘lefty’, at least where using a mouse was concerned. I also had to strap my right wrist in such a way as to prevent my hand bending back and forth – no easy thing.

And then of course there was the drama of finding the right kind of wrist wrap. I initially trialled a slip-on compression sleeve – agony! I then moved on to a ‘Thermoskin’ with a built-in brace/splint. An initial mix-up by the chemist’s assistant saw a left-handed model strapped onto my right hand, making the bent brace/splint that is supposed to sit under your palm to prop it up do the reverse – meaning double the agony! Once the right model was fitted I was all smiles – well, as smiley as you can be with an aching wrist.

The pain was fairly constant for a week before tailing off to something more bearable. Stoic, I shunned muscle relaxants, painkillers and topical creams. The only relief I gained was while in bed at night, and the back of my hand and wrist gently rested on a pillow.

To look at, my wrist appeared no different, but beneath the skin the tendons throbbed and burned. It was a constant pain that would flare up when I temporarily forgot about the problem and twisted or wrenched my hand while drying myself with a towel, picking up a bag or opening a door.

Some long-term ergonomic changes were required. I now permanently use my left hand for the mouse. For the time being I will continue to strap my right wrist while writing to ‘train’ it to make use of the ergonomic gel mouse pad. After all, I don’t want this to develop into something worse like RSI.

Look after your paws, people!

Library Saturdays

Old Public Library Sign

In November 2012 I organised a series of meet-ups at my local library after being inspired to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NANOWRIMO).

Despite living in the area for more than 10 years, I’d never actually been to my local library before. In checking its suitability for a group of writers I was pleasantly surprised to discover it had a nice quiet space for our group, free WIFI, and happily turned a blind eye to the presence of drinks and food (within reason).

The meet-ups were a great success, although I have to be frank – we chatted, snacked, tweeted and Facebooked more than we actually wrote. And no, I didn’t make my NANOWRIMO deadline for 2012 either!

Fast-forward to 2014 (I missed last year’s NANOWRIMO as I was travelling) and I have rediscovered my love for the library thanks to a heatwave of 40C+ days.

Living in a house without air-conditioning is no fun over summer and, try as I might, I just can’t settle down and write when I’m physically uncomfortable.

As I thought long and hard about where I might hole up for several hours – somewhere cool and quiet where I wouldn’t be interrupted – I remembered the library, which among its many positive points also boasted air conditioning.

I can tell you there really isn’t anywhere better to write in the world than in a room surrounded by books. Especially a temperature-controlled one. I’ve found my visits to the library focus me in the same way my weekday job does.

In sitting down at a desk I find my brain clicking over into ‘work’ mode. I ignore the WIFI – the devil’s instrument! – and get straight down to writing.

Forget hiring space or saving up to build a writing shed. While there are still libraries, writers will always have an affordable quiet haven at hand.

Make the most of yours, because if you don’t use it you may one day lose it.

10172624_717979031598317_496267255_n

Constant readers

10296885_866489213367597_8440998041112254985_n

Everyone has fans.

For instance, my Mum and Dad love everything I write but really wish I’d settle down and write a children’s book – none of this folklore business, or menacing horror stories (although Mum has indicated she wouldn’t mind a good crime novel!).

But finding other people to read and objectively critique your work – for free – is difficult. Friends will be supportive – they can’t help themselves, bless them, and that’s why they are friends – but if you’re lucky enough to have professional or published writers in your circle you will receive much more considered (and hopefully tactful) feedback.

These people are more familiar with story-writing conventions and the editing process, and recognise how valuable their critical feedback is to the writer.

Many established writers will attract diehard fans who are only too happy to avail their reading services, which can be handy if you’re looking for experts when it comes to fact-checking your fictional worlds, double-checking timelines and assessing continuity of story arcs across several books.

The pool of people you use to review and give feedback about your work are known in the independent publishing world as ‘Beta readers’. It’s nice to give Beta readers some recognition, whether it’s on your blog or in your book (perhaps with a free final physical signed copy of your work).

If you’re dealing with a fellow reader, you might agree to return the favour. In my own experience, it’s far easier to find people to critique short stories, particularly over the holiday period when people are looking for quick ‘fixes’ in the reading department.

Put the call out, you might be surprised how many people are waiting to read your work!

Entering competitions

Bb9dSFdCQAEZXOD

As if I won’t be busy enough this year with my personal short story writing challenge, I have also set myself a personal challenge to enter four short story writing competitions in 2014.

Crazy! But there’s a method to the madness.

For many years I have jotted down the details of various writing competitions and, in well-meaning fashion, committed them to my diary so that I won’t forget to enter.

The only problem with this approach is forgetting to write the actual story!

So while this year I have, once again, committed various dates to my diary, the difference is I am now actively working towards these deadlines.

And it’s a mixed bag of literary, fantasy and crime – there’s nothing like genre hopping to keep you on your toes.

I have already finished my first entry, a fantasy tale – For Fear of Little Men – but I’m unable to share it for now due to the entry guidelines, at least until I find out how I fare. But I can tell you it’s full of very bad faeries. The good news is my volunteer readers love it, so I am submitting it this week.

Bon voyage little story! I hope you make a great first impression. And if you don’t, well, you might just end up as part of my short story anthology.

I’ll let you know how I go.