An article! An article!

If there’s one thing that helps to ground you when you’ve felt voiceless or powerless in the past, it’s when you see the writing equivalent of your name up in lights, that is to say, in print, as a solo author in a peer-reviewed professional journal article. That is about to happen – just give it days and I CAN’T WAIT. This is not skiting, as immersion within the process of imagining, thinking, articulating, writing, editing and preparing your thoughts on a topic and submitting this for peer review (and resubmitting or even ignoring for a long time and then resubmitting) is a whole thing in itself. I feel reborn as a gen-you-ine author.

But as we all know, the anticipation of a thing, it’s near reality, the near-completion, the not-quite-there- yet is more important than the actual publication itself. While it is still a potential, it is powerful because it has not yet come to be, has not yet come to be known. Those ideas, put together and uniquely fashioned by me in my own way with my own references and turn of phrase have not yet been picked up, consumed, digested, regurgitated and spat out yet. It’s still in the future, even though it’s the imminent future. And while it is still becoming, it (the article) and me (it’s author/mother/father) also reside in the zone of potentiality. I can’t be dated by my last work because it’s still a work in progress and hasn’t come to be. Beautiful logic, isn’t it?

This reminds me of the difficulty faced by researchers in gaining grant monies. No sooner do they apply for and receive monies, there is no time between this event and the anxiety riven process of putting together the next application. There is no time to rest on your laurels, to be known for the last piece of research published and it is clear to me that the anticipation and expectation is better than the event itself. It’s all downhill afterwards… Academia is really about what’s coming, rather than what is.

But more than this, it’s not just me and my voice alone in the article. When I talk about having a successful journal article publication I’m joining in the stream of conversation about the topic that I wrote about. I’ve drawn in the great words of like-minded and opposite-minded thinkers to position myself within the tensions of these opposing arguments. I’ve had to take a position myself and position myself I certainly did. This is challenging, because you have to align yourself one way or the other. No fence sitting. You take a position and align yourself with like-minded authors who’ve been there before. That’s one way of writing.

There are other ways too, but the important point is that I’ve joined the conversation. I’ve made my observations and put forward my contribution. I’ve drawn on the expertise of those who came before me, but I’ve put my thoughts together to say something and it seems to be of merit. I’m not voiceless anymore, or just banging on about something and getting sick of hearing my own voice. I’ve taken the next step, and it started at least a year and a half ago, even though it’s coming to fruition now. So, what are you waiting for? Dust off those manuscripts sitting in the drawer, locate those rejection slips and get editing.


Reading fiction as therapy

Recently I found a website that offers fiction as therapy. You have a consultation of sorts and they send you away with a list of novels to read over the next twelve months. The problems sound like the concerns of everyday life, not serious psychiatric disturbance and the list given to people to read sounds like a prescription of sorts, specifically for you to heal yourself through reading a list of novels, selected specially for you.

Having just rediscovered fiction after almost a lifetime of hardly reading any at all, I now wonder about the idea of fiction as therapy and think that this idea needs to be interrogated. What goes on? What is read? What is the psychic shift that occurs – or that the prescriber hopes will occur – in the reader? Does everyone get the message, get affected in the same way by the same works? Do classics work better than other forms of writing? Does your age make a difference? And more of course…

As I work my way through ‘Missus’, a classic of Australian fiction written by Ruth Park sometime in the 1950’s about the characters who will feature in her later classic, ‘The Harp in the South’ I cringe painfully as I start to recognise character traits in myself, in people I know, in people I live and work with including members of my own family. I recognise modern versions of the same dilemmas faced by the characters in the novel and wonder how I would resolve them in my own life. You always balk at the reality of insight as it hits you and it is this realisation that I have come to about fiction.

Fiction gives us the opportunity to share in the stories of our own times, in the taken for granted understandings and insights about the human condition. Novels may be thinly veiled fact, or completely imagined, but the characters, situations and tensions are all drawn from something in real life. Everything’s a story one way or another and in reading fiction we all seek to get to the point of the work, and there is always a point, a message, a reason for the storyteller to put pen to paper in the first place. This is the novel that we all have inside us, the tale that we all wish to tell.

I am not a scholar of fiction, literary or otherwise and can only offer opinions on having rediscovered both being a writer and a reader. My writing takes the form of everyday administrative rubbish, occasional scholarly work and more regular blogs while the reading now takes the form of a delicious immersion in fiction.

I feel like I have rediscovered a secret world, an open secret held by everyone but me, a world of tales unique and common, imagined and real populated with characters who I both love and hate, easily identify with and ponder the reasons why some author bothered to characterise, draw and write about some of them at all. And some of the people I’ve read about, well, there are characters that I really dislike. I’ve been reading and writing non-fiction for so long, I have wondered what the point of fiction was? Ridiculous really for someone whose bread and butter is people’s stories of everyday life…

So if the point of therapy is to cure, and novels are being recast as therapeutic tools, then what is happening when people read in a curative fashion? Are novels taking the place of elders in the community? Are they taking the place of the lessons we learn from parents, friends and others in our social worlds? Are they providing the ah ha experience that is lacking in our friendships, in our social relationships? Are they replacing the GP, other people within society in whom we put our trust, share our fears and seek guidance from?

So let’s get back to the real and away from the conjecturing – what have I learned since I returned to the novel?

I’m finding out about women, about the conditions of life that we have lived in and continue to live in. A feminist autobiography rather than a novel really, but it rekindled and reaffirmed my belief in feminism and reminded me of the real challenges that women continue to face.

I’m finding out about the stories that circulate about parenting. Reading fiction about families has taught me about what some of the taken for granted understandings are that parents across generations, across ethnicities and across time have shared. Not all children are perfect and so too, neither are parents. And we all have varieties of children, and these tales too have already been told.

There used to be more privacy and respect for privacy too. Sharing on the scale that we encounter in the modern day just never existed. People had private lives, private thoughts, private desires and others didn’t necessarily participate in these the way we all do now in our voyeuristic and observing societies in which nothing cannot be written in response to ‘how are you feeling now?’

I’ve learned about relationships, about the kinds of things we strive for, about self-disclosure within relationships, about needs, both met and unmet and about the different ways that people come together through varied circumstances. I try to fit my own narrative in there somewhere too…

Intangible elements such as the joy of following one’s nose, following one’s passion and becoming a leader in your field despite obstacles get portrayed in fiction. I love this and find it inspiring. We all need to be inspired and find this through different ways in our lives.

There are stories to guide you in your quest for self-improvement and enlightenment (help me please, I can’t stand some of this), but it does teach you something about your own limits as well. Do I put down a story I’m hating by page 33, or do I persevere? Is this a metaphor for my bad relationships too? Should I just learn to let go earlier? But, like in relationships, there’s always something that just keeps you on the page…

I’m finding that I’m drawn more and more to biographies, even to autobiographies, which if you’re writing these mid-life are really a form of memoir. While claiming to be factual, they can only ever be a perspective, even if it’s your own perspective on your own life. Everything is contextual, isn’t it? How do people account for themselves? How do people account for the horrors of their upbringing? How do they account for the marvellous circumstances in which they found themselves? Or how do they account for the striving in their lives that brought them to the place in which they can sit and reflect now? I love people’s stories.

So can fiction help you? I think that it can, in that fiction exposes you to characters, situations, dilemmas, the possible and the impossible and shows you how someone else has conceptualised a dilemma, a person, a situation, a feeling and how they’ve dealt with this. In doing so, fiction can help us know more of the world in ways that we hadn’t accounted for, and that brings a richness into our own lives and the way we live and share our lives.

So am I ill for needing fiction? Am I cured through reading fiction? Both and neither at the same time. It really depends on your perspective… I’m loathe to succumb to the further medicalisation of everyday life, but perhaps the reading of fiction allows us the opportunity in much the same way that tales always have of fixing that within us that needs mending through the knowing and knowledgeable words of others.

Happy reading!

A photo fell out of a book…

My book group (I say with inner pleasure at finally belonging to one) usually decide on books to read for the coming months by asking for suggestions from the group. Being completely illiterate in fiction since about 1979, I leave it to the rest of the group to offer suggestions, which are usually made up of lists gleaned from recent prize winning works allocated literary awards. In this way, for this month we had decided on The Road from Coorain, by Jill Kerr Conway, reviewed inspiringly on the front cover as “The internationally best-selling memoir of an Australian childhood”, something we all probably guiltily felt we should read. I didn’t have a copy, wasn’t planning on buying one and ended up getting an interlibrary loan for the bargain price of $1.00 and picked it up from my obligingly helpful local library.

The book had come across from the other side of the city, nowhere where anyone from my book group lives, so I wasn’t taking up a copy that would live on my bedside unread for two weeks, then extended for another week on loan and finally returned half read… If the truth be told, my heart has not been in my book group. That is, not until I discovered audible ebooks and this has CHANGED MY LIFE.

The Road from Coorain, however was definitely not an audible ebook, but a good old fashioned plastic covered, paperback waiting for me to find time to sit and be with it. Not so easy in modernity when life is so much about multitasking, and it’s so very hard to actually sit and just be with a book, without any other call on your time. Audible ebooks? I keep company with them while I’m driving, while I’m hanging out the clothes, cooking in the kitchen, putting away the laundry, cleaning the house and even after setting it to ‘Sleep’ for 10 minutes, just before going to sleep myself. My hairstyle doesn’t matter anymore because it can’t be seen below the headphones permanently attached to my ears.

As I left the library with my copy of our new ‘must read’, I checked out the book, turning it over in my hands: it was a Vintage Publication from 1998. Only a couple of hundred pages and nine chapters. Lots of descriptive bits and not much dialogue and it looked a bit old fashioned. Hardly a perceptive appraisal fit for a book group … I was so hooked on the audible books, on the ease with which I could incorporate reading this way into my life I was loathe to have nothing on my IPad, no audible file to tap into, I was resentful and didn’t really feel like reading an actual hard copy, a real book, so I did borrow something audible to keep me going.

But I digress: I decided that if I actually sat down and read about a chapter a day I could finish the book in less than a fortnight, return it to the library on time as it couldn’t be extended, and actually be ready for discussion at my next book group meeting towards the end of the month. That would be a first. I had been treating the book group as a social club after having been told that there were two types of book groups: those that drink and those that read the books. Well, this one did both. Clearly I need to make more of an effort with my social life, but like anything in midlife, there’s such a lot of effort involved, isn’t there?

I opened the book. It instantly flicked open to somewhere in the middle, somewhere in the middle of a chapter called ‘The Nardoo Stones’ [what the hell are Nardoo Stones, I asked myself]? It had flicked open as if destined to by a returning reader who had bookmarked the page. I was not that reader, but I instantly got a glimpse of the someone who might have been. The book had flicked open because inside it were a series of six – not the old traditional four – colour passport-sized photos all in one piece, uncut falling out of the book and on to the seat of the car.

I picked up the photos and looked surprisingly at them. I instantly smiled inwardly to myself, thinking that this was probably a series of photos of the last person who’d borrowed this book from their local library across the other side of the city. I imagined that they, as we all do when we have to be practical had had the photographs taken somewhere, possibly in a photo booth at a local shopping centre, and, when they were ready in order to not damage them had slipped them into something that would protect them, something that was handy, something that would slip open easily and be accessible when they got home, something that had recently also been picked up perhaps, that had a reason to be opened again soon as it had a ‘due date’ attached to it, and was still sitting in a handbag: the book from the library.

The photos were colour and were of good quality, but perhaps not from a photographic studio, who would most likely deliver the photographs to customers affixed to some sort of protective card or board that would also include a logo for the store, as you wouldn’t miss a marketing opportunity if you were in business, would you? Out from the white frames looked a face, scrutinising me with no affective tone at all. Yes, these were definitely passport style or identity photos, but for what purpose?

The face looking out of the photos at me was that of a woman. She was middle-aged, a bit older, judging from the jowly neckline. Her hair was neat, short, and a white grey. It wasn’t particularly styled or coiffured, but neatly combed with a left-sided part. Her skin was creamy and pale and had that soft-looking texture associated with age that contrasts so much with the firmness of younger skin. Her skin, slightly darkened around the eyes, and falling as women of a particular age’s faces do, between the eyes, around the mouth, crashing on the neckline betraying or supplying us with a history of having lived, depending on your perspective.

Her eyes were blue, a dark grey blue, contrasting with the makeup that she wore: some foundation possibly some eyeshadow and bright red lipstick that filled her lips, but inappropriately glossy for a photo such as this. The lipstick matched the little bit of her garments that could be seen, telling the viewer something of the way this woman presented herself to the world, especially on this occasion, an important occasion where identity was being captured in a frame, that would be inserted into documentation, stamped and sealed and kept as a standing record of one’s ‘who-ness’.

In the photo she’s wearing a collarless shirt; it looks like a T-shirt, and somehow far too casual for this sort of photograph. There’s too much skin exposed around the neckline, it’s too summery a shot for such a formal requirement, as if the capture of summer didn’t qualify as a ‘real’ photo of the self. The T-shirt is red, with horizontal white stripes which can just be seen around the top of the shoulder line. This tells me something of the woman, who wouldn’t be fat, because we all know what a mortal enemy horizontal stripes are to the obese. And vertical stripes stretch too…

She looked straight ahead, straight into the lens of the camera, as we’re all instructed to do when taking identity photographs. On the production line and on the authority of asserting, depicting, supplying, confirming and assuring of one’s identity you must NOT SMILE.

One’s identity must be neutral, even if you’re always smiling, laughing and animated in your normal everyday life, or conversely a morose, sad, anxious or angry person, your essential identity for capture in this form must comply with that of a living corpse: eyes open and the one bit of your whole body that communicates so much to be held hostage so that not a bit of feeling animates your face at all, as if a smile or frown would somehow invalidate who you ‘really’ were.

So while she’s not wearing a collar on her shirt, she is wearing ear rings [how come they let those through, you wonder], the style that sit close on your ears and look like clip-ons. I have to squint up close to get a good look at them. They’re gold and look like they’ve got three rows of small dark stones on them, rows that run down vertically angled from the outer part of the earlobe to the inner part. Where are these from? The local jewellery store? Seen and then bought because of a sale brochure for a jewellery chain that was found in the mailbox? Mock ups from the local department store? Or something of beauty, and great cost that the woman couldn’t part with wearing, something that spoke of an essential ‘look’ that she inwardly held about herself and that included the framing and adornment and the signs of wealth that these pieces of jewellery held for her. It’s an attractive look, but one that coupled with the lipstick and makeup seem to sit in contrast with the casual attire she’s wearing.

I try to imagine how she’s standing or sitting while having the photograph taken. Is she worried about her trousers creasing? Is she wearing a skirt with the red and white striped T shirt? Did she, as so many women do, fold her skirt underneath her legs as she sat down? Behind her is the starkness of a white background and I wonder if it’s a wall, or more likely a pull-down screen that shields the subject from any hint of the context of everyday life that might be occurring in the background. Identity is not contextual, that is the clear message that we’re being given and that we give when we have these photos taken and supply them on demand to various authorities that seek them. NO CONTEXT they scream, as if it’s even an affront for people to show anything of adornment or individuality, for photos that are supposed to well, differentiate us from each other through capturing some sense of well, individuality…

It must have been taken on a warm day as her neck was so bare, and there weren’t any cardigans, scarves, jumpers or jackets to be seen anywhere. It’s the end of Winter here in Sydney now, so if the photos had been taken and then put inside the novel, they must have been sitting in the library and on the shelves for at least a season, or perhaps more. Had the woman lost them? Had she – as we often do – had the photos taken and then forgotten about them? Had her plans changed and she no longer needed them, and hadn’t thought about them before the book had had to be returned to the library? Had she turned the house, the car and her handbag upside down, reassuring and convincing herself that she had had the photographs taken, she really had as she searched through her bedside drawer and handbag again for the umpteenth time?

Photos such as these are very stark. Taken as they usually for a specific purpose they exist counter to the nature of photography in the modern era with its spontaneous selfies and unlimited digital imaging. This is reminiscent of finding black and white film undeveloped but still sitting in a box brownie. While ID photos serve to differentiate persons from one another in a quantitative sense, they are not animated in a qualitative sense by the very thing that makes us human: the richness of our expressiveness and our emotional life. Devoid of such, identity photos depict us as products, as citizens of a state machine, to be numbered and differentiated from each other by the barest of markers: our hair and facial features, the ultimate determinants of our modern day personal identity.

Was she going on holiday? Updating her passport photos? Using them for membership of a new organisation? Where are photos required that our current forms of identity do not suffice? Most agencies accept our state driver’s licenses as adequate forms of identity, simply because they too have a photo and your signature, that other means that serves to tell the world that you have certified this to be you.

The woman’s photos now serve as my own bookmark and my reading of ‘The Road from Coorain’ will always be inextricably linked with the face of this woman. I have to think and link the two things together in my own mind now too. Why did she choose this book? Was it foisted on her as it had been on me? Was she indeed an Australian trying to find out something of the white history of the country in which she’d been born? Or was she a traveller, or a migrant who was reading this on the recommendation of someone who thought that the book was a great insight into life on the land? As I’d found the photos part way through the book, I wondered if indeed she’d got past where I’m up to now, and had she finished it? The book had clearly been returned to the library, but the photos hadn’t found their way to their own destiny.

What if something had happened to the woman before she’d used the photos for their purpose? What if she’d become ill, had an accident or suddenly – God forbid – what if she’d died? Who knew? In any of these circumstances the book would have eventually been returned to the library, it would have taken its rightful place on the shelves, been marked as returned and back in the fold of the repository of knowledge administered locally through the care of the local librarians. The book, Jill Kerr Conway, she was taken care of, but what of the woman in the photograph? What had happened to her?

I look at her face and think that like Jill Kerr Conway, this woman too may have been born around the same time. I’m googling ‘Jill Kerr Conway date of birth’ and come up with October 9th, 1934. I closely look at the woman in the photo and don’t think that she’s 80 years old yet. But there are age spots on her neck which might also be on her face, covered and well minimised with an application of foundation as it is. Was she reading a story about a contemporaneous woman her own age? Even her own era? Was this a reading of ‘if only…?” Was she reading to fill in the gaps of history? Was she an avid biography reader? Had she travelled to the places mentioned in the book? Or was she wanting to go there at all?

Now I looked at her and wondered. What happened when the equanimity and Buddha-like serenity we all express in these photos was suddenly broken? How would this woman’s features re arrange themselves on her face? What have her years of living, of sociality, of being in the world and belonging tell us as she returns to animate her features to interact with people? Will she slip into an easy smile? Or is her nature that of the grouch who is always irritable and in a hurry? Is she graceful, elegant and aloof? Or an intellectual critic? Gentle, loving, mean, angry, a victim, a hoarder, an angel, a great neighbour, a grieving widow, a woman of the night, a blogger, a secretary, a CEO, a chef, a beautician, hairdresser or a housewife?

She looks like she’s taken the time to care for herself, to present this face to us, so what then would she sound like? Is she empathic, motherly, even grandmotherly and caring? Is she mean-spirited? Would she laugh about having lost the photos and chide herself for her thoughtlessness and prepare to have the photos redone, or would she berate herself and others for losing them and despise the fact that she had to respend money on something again?

I suddenly realise that I haven’t looked at the back of the photos. This tells me something: the photos are printed upside down on Kodak Xtralife Paper. The paper is thin and as I look at the edge I realise that it looks like it’s been cut unevenly, probably with a pair of scissors. Have the photos been taken and printed up at home? And then taken for their purpose slipped in between the pages of ‘The Road to Coorain’?

I’m weary now of thinking about her, of wondering about this woman in the photo with her red lips, her red and white striped top, her bare neck, what these all indicate; her life and her fate. But both of these are about identity, about a woman’s portrayal of herself through a set of images that determine her identity, while the other too is about the identity of Jill Kerr Conway herself. The Road to Coorain is the first of three books that address her life. In one form we have a stark visual form, a shorthand form for confirmation of oneself while the other presents us with hours of reading forming image and meaning in our mind that deepen as we read.

The woman in the photo fell out of a page of Jill Kerr Conway’s biography, and, while I don’t really think that the photo and the author or the place are intertwined, in postmodernity that doesn’t mean to say that they’re not linked, and thinking about all this has taught me that I won’t ever find out the truth and since that is the case, in my own mind they always will be.


Writing, writing, writing

Writing looms large in my life now. I’m getting better at it than I was. I like short form [140 characters] but adore longer form, like blogs. And I recently completed some professional writing that’s rekindled my sense of having a voice in the anthropological world again.

It starts with an idea, then a conference abstract, then you give the paper, then they want an article for a special edition of a journal. Might not be an A+++ journal, but it’s not the local gazette either. I was challenged by the word length, not that it was too long, but that it was surprisingly TOO SHORT. Alarm bells should probably be ringing here… And it included the abstract and references. In the end the article was less than four pages. I don’t get out of bed in the morning for less than five.

So I dusted off my professional voice and found my writing and revision texts (thank you Wendy Belcher!) and discovered the pleasures of writing for a specific audience, for one that I wanted to convince of something that I knew had been ‘wrong’ and therefore something that was amenable to being written about. It wasn’t a research project, it was an ‘opinion piece’ was how the journal defined my submission.
I’ve passed first muster now as its been anonymously peer-reviewed by two international reviewers, the gold standard of academic journals, but it still has to be collated with the other papers and have an editorial attached to it. And then it’s still got to go through the online manuscript submission to the journal and reviewed again through the journal processes and then we’ll wait and see.
But its almost life affirming to see the words in print, “May be published as written”. I like that.

And just so you don’t think I’m gloating, remember that for every yang, there is a yin. My shadow paper is the manuscript sitting in the manila folder somewhere on the bottom of the pile in my ‘Inbox’ with the shameful email attached outlining the two reviewers suggestions for the extensive rewrite of my submission that went to the journal, what, nearly three years ago now. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that anonymous reviewers have read your work and that without any other context have critiqued it savagely, but with the proviso that with all these great changes, it too is publishable. It is so dispiriting.

I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do the work of the rewrite at the time that it came back to me. And unfortunately now that I’m a better version of myself, now that I’m my writerly self, it’s really too late to be dragging my fieldwork note out again now. It’s been too long ago. With the focus of reporting now having the urgency of the recent present attached to it, it’s hard to believe that even Clifford Geertz wrote about the Balinese cockfight almost 10 years after the event.

That anthropologists write in the eternal present brings ethnographies to life, makes life seem as if it was always so in this or that place and that is part of the strength of the anthropological tradition. This writing technique makes you feel like you’re there alongside them, looking over their shoulders and seeing what they see, hearing what they hear and so on. We are partly the voyeur, the participant-observer, the ‘etic’ trying to see and experience the ‘emic’ perspective, constantly a part of and separate to the people’s lives whom we study. Fieldwork really is an experience of immersion and trying to ‘write up’ the account afterwards will always be a pale imitation, a partial truth associated with the fieldwork experiences through which one lived.

But fieldwork has a use by date too. And that’s the problem with writing about it, or attempting to, too long afterwards. There is plenty of advice about this, but clearly this wasn’t relevant for Clifford Geertz in his day. For me however, my thesis and my copious fieldnotes will hit the dustbins of history, consigned to a dusty bookshelf in an obscure library where no one will read them. They weren’t that well written anyway, but they were a record of the work that I undertook, based on the idea, the thesis that I developed and this made my work unique.

How many people fail to publish? What happens to their work? Some self – publish, not wanting the angst of having to go through a publishing house. Others rewrite their thesis and produce a book. You are supposed to do this, but even better write and present your work as a series of journal articles so that other researchers can find your work, read it and make reference to it. And write a book too.

Well, there’s not enough jobs in academia to support ongoing research for all, so if you’re not on that trajectory, what do you do with your work? Let me know when you find out please…

Aside from the above, none of this can detract from the pleasures of writing. And this includes writing in various forms. I now take perverse pleasure in writing for my day job, enjoy adding in the flourishes with words that separate the wordsmiths from the technicians. Recipients of my writing will always be surprised by the lack of bureaucratic-speak, the openness and frankness of my writing when they receive it. They remark that a polished report was unexpected, or that a brochure was very highly regarded. But this only serves to remind me of how boring and mundane writing associated with bureaucracy really is.

More than anything it highlights what happens when you force yourself to do more of the thing that you want to do in life. In a past job I was heavily criticised for not having put pen to paper, for not writing about a project that I was involved in. I wasn’t sure what happened, but the climate in academia is not always a friendly one, and I think my voice got stuck somewhere. I look at photos of myself during that period and realise that I was 15kg heavier than I am now. And I never smiled. And I certainly didn’t write.

It’s not just a matter of typing away, there is an explosion of writing happening and we bloggers, we Tweeters, we essayists and academic writers are all joining the conversations, contributing our own thoughts in various forums for consumption by avid readers – yes you have to be an avid reader if you want to write, but that’s for another post. And writers don’t know how their product, how their ideas, how their creations will be consumed, or where, or when, or in how much depth. They don’t know if their materials will be referred to elsewhere, whether their ideas will stimulate more thinking on topics, whether they will offer clarification or lead to new vistas of thinking about how we live in the world. This is unknown, but exciting and I love that I too have made contributions to this world of thought and inspiration.

Go on, write something…

Yin, yang and the bad fan fiction writer

“Young people” she began, “young people don’t read books much anymore” she continued, lamenting modernity and youth as she tucked her novel away into her library bag.  “They’re always staring at screens”.  Well, the elderly woman at the bustop (a total literary fraud created to fit my purpose here) might be right.  But kids do read.  They can be voracious readers (all those kids queuing for the latest Harry Potter and the multibook deal etc), and all of those blood-sucking, time-crossing, eternal characters who inhabit brick-thick, Vampire books that you buy by the kilo, and even Tolkien’s still popular. It is true that these books are also linked to high grossing movies which will always attract a teen audience, but kids still enjoy reading novels.  And even in their pure forms.

But it’s not just the form that’s changed, it’s also the content. You usually have to read the pure form (what am I saying here?) before you attempt to read or write a fan fiction version in order to know what’s going on, what’s being adulterated.  In fan fiction world Hermione, a Vampire and Gollum can all meet up, interact and create new forms of fiction, new fantasies, new arenas in which new writers can play out and represent our fears, anxieties, dreams and desires in more complex and challenging ways for us as readers to consume.

All these characters have names, histories, past attachments, challenges, strengths, failings etc etc etc, and all of these occur within the context of a carefully crafted world.  This is the craft of literary composition, something I clearly lack. So what we see in fan fiction is not only a case of the reader becoming a writer (which is really the aim of our Blogging 101 challenge today), of the yin becoming the yang, but an extension and transformation of the novel from its original context to become something entirely new.

I’m sure that this has been theorised, researched and written about extensively, but I’m so totally not there yet.  Even the Bible has thousands of fan fiction stories dedicated to improving and reinterpreting the original.  Is this is a clash of worlds?  An attraction to playing out the age-old myths in modern contexts?  Or are fan fiction writers seamlessly doing in print what we do in modern multicultural societies, bringing everyone together on the same page to interact in new and creative ways?

This carefully constructed argument is a painfully thin veneer of an excuse to hide the fact that I’m not much of a reader.  I used to devour books.  Now I only have time for journal articles for the two professions that I belong to and the next one I’m trying to break into, and even then I’m sometimes reduced to skimming articles, or only reading the abstracts or – horror of horrors – only reading the title in the subject line of the email. These days if you want to get published (‘properly’, ie not in a blogpost) you have to basically tell the whole story in the title, so (hand up in the air) I’m guilty of receiving and reading fullsome titles.

Everyone around me reads avidly though and my house is covered in floor to ceiling book cases stuffed with knowledge: history, anthropology, fiction, kids fiction, science, technology and art books. There are medical texts too.  And cook books, lots of cook books (they’re mine).  At work my workmates read at lunchtime and discuss literary classics (no, not really, but I was getting into this).  I even finally got an invitation to a book group that I had been dying to join and wondering what social faux pas I’d made that had prevented them from seeing my wit and brilliance and demanding that I join.  I love going.  And this is the kind where they drink wine AND read books.  I’m so fearful though of summer ending because we’ve been tasked to report back in March on ‘what we’ve been reading’.  I’m still only halfway through ‘Underground‘ by whatsisname, the Australian author.  My report will be very, very brief and I’ll be quietly shunned I think for my ignorance and lack of adventurousness – but we’re not talking key parties here.

Everyone reads but me.  “You have to be an avid reader” they all say, “or you can’t write”.  “If you don’t read novels” they say, “you only live one life”.  “READ ALL THE BEST BOOKS FIRST” my bookmark extols.  “GUILTY” I cry!  “Who has time to sit and read” I demand?  [Where the hell do quotation marks go?]  How can I put one and one together and make three if I’m not reading fiction?  “But I have to do the assignment, or I’ll fail my first free online course”  That would be embarassing.

So here goes:

But wait, isn’t this the modern form? Isn’t this how ‘Into the Woods‘ came about?  And what about ‘One Direction Fan Fiction Writer gets Six Figure Book deal’?  How am I possibly going to top these?

Once upon a time three little pigs were sent off into the world to make their own way and they built three houses.  The first piggy built his house out of straw.  The big bad wolf came along and blew the house down with the tornado from The Wizard of Oz.  The second piggy built his house out of sticks and was fined by The Tax Inspector because he hadn’t applied for a council permit and then the big bad wolf blew it down and onsold the hardwood timbers to contractors who used it to build overpriced recycled homes to trendy DINKS in the inner city.  The third piggy built his house out of bricks.  The big bad wolf came along with the guy from Grand Designs and they did a great segment on exposed brick walls and the modern architectural form.  Then they went into the third little piggie’s garden and picked fresh kale and made an Ottelenghi Kale, Quinoa and feta salad (don’t Google this, I just made it up).  The salad was so delicious and fun to make they decided to film it so they brought in Baz Luhman who staged a theatrical spectacular with great costumes and songs, one of which made it into the ITunes Top 40 called ‘Salad Days‘.  And the moral of the story is?  Always build in brick and make every word count.