Last week, I signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014, which began on 1 January and will finish on 31 December. For this challenge, women and men readers and bloggers in Australia and elsewhere are invited to read and review books in any genre written by Australian women.
The challenge has run for the past two years, and each time I’ve thought of an excuse not to be involved. Laziness, perhaps. I mostly choose to read books by women and talk about some of them at the book club to which I belong. Reviewing is a logical next step.
Books by male authors in Australia are far more likely to be reviewed than those by women. The stated aim of this challenge is ‘to help overcome gender bias in the reviewing of books by Australian women’. As a woman writer, I have to like that!
In the challenge, there are four suggested levels. The first three are named after Stella Miles Franklin, an Australian writer and feminist who is best known for her novel My Brilliant Career, which was published in 1901. The levels are:
- Stella: read four books, and if reviewing, review at least three
- Miles: read six and review at least four
- Franklin: read ten and review at least six.
- Create your own challenge, which could include reading and reviewing an unlimited number of books, or simply reading a few more books by Australian women and reviewing none.
I’ve been very gentle with myself and opted for the Miles level, which means that, in 2014, I’ll read at least six books and review four. Because I write memoirs and sometimes facilitate life-writing courses at Peter Cowan Writers Centre I tend to read more memoirs than books in other genres.
My plans could easily change, but for the challenge I’d like to read and review books from several different genres. Perhaps I’ll find some books written by and about older women. I’ll report my progress and include the reviews in my posts.
There are a few reasons why I’ve joined:
- The idea of being part of a community of people who are reading and writing about books by women writers appeals
- Accepting the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 is an act of solidarity with women writers who are underrepresented in book reviews and on long- and short-lists for most writing awards
- I like challenges, even small ones.
Anyone reading this blog can join the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 and read more books by women this year. I know some people would enjoy reviewing the books, as well. For those new to reviewing, there are guidelines on the AWWC website, and there are also numerous websites with information and tips on how to go about it. Perhaps members of book clubs and writing groups could encourage others to join the challenge and support each other’s review-writing.
ps. This is the first time I’ve tried to add links to one of my posts. I can’t find any way to check until I post this. If I haven’t got it right, I’ll try again. Learning curve!
In the olden days, when I was a girl, the Christmas season lasted twelve days. The season was celebrated in song and stories that everyone knew – think, for example, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, and Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. In some cultures, Twelfth Night was a time for revelry. But, traditionally, in my family, the twelfth night was the time to take down the Christmas decorations and pack them away until the next year. By then, too, hopefully, the last of the ham, Christmas cake and puddings had been eaten, the holidays were over and life was restored to pre-Christmas normality.
In those days, on the sixth of January, the day after twelfth night, Christians commemorated the arrival in Bethlehem of strangers from ‘the East’, gentiles who had come to visit the little, Jewish Christ-Child. This was known as the Feast of the Epiphany. Now, at least in the Catholic Church, the feast day has been raised to a Sunday feast, so that the date is no longer fixed.
The Magi are traditionally known as kings and sometimes as wise-men. They may have been astrologers, which would explain their ability to follow the star to Bethlehem. Depicted on Christmas cards (remember when everyone sent and received them in the days before email?) the men do not look like travellers at the end of a gruelling journey. They’re always dressed in clean, colourful finery, sitting on camels and bearing precious gifts, often beautifully wrapped with ribbon ties. The Magi probably didn’t arrive on the first Christmas morning, and it is likely that by the time they got to Bethlehem, Mary, Joseph and the Baby had moved out of the stable and settled in the town.
In T.S. Elliot’s poem, ‘The Journey of the Magi’, the narrator is an old man dictating his recollections of the journey the men undertook. Leaving their homes, ‘the summer palaces on slopes, the terraces/ and the silken girls bringing sherbets’, they went through hostile cities and unfriendly towns and dirty villages. In the end they resorted to travelling at night, sleeping in snatches. The narrator hints at scenes that foreshadowed the end of the life of Jesus. Although he says he would do it again, he is not sure if they had been led all that way for Birth or Death. After his experience of seeing the Child, nothing could be the same again. http://allpoetry.com/poem/8453741-The-Journey-Of-The-Magi-by-T-S–Eliot
Epiphany, eureka moment and enlightenment are a few of the words used to describe an apparently sudden breakthrough. In reality, such new insights can only come as the result of long hard slog, after weeks, months, sometimes even years of total immersion in the mundane details of a problem.
Often, we’ve lived with the question for so long, seen the contradictions, chased down blind alleys and suffered so many failures that we’ve almost given up. At this point, we step back. Only then does the answer becomes apparent. Breakthroughs cannot be anticipated and often come from an unexpected direction but always as a result of hard work.
The solution that comes suddenly at the end of such an arduous process can be helpful, useful, simple, beautiful, elegant, or more loving. It is always exciting. For scientists, the moment of discovery is their Eureka! moment; in the arts, as in psychology, it is an epiphany; and in spiritual or religious terms, enlightenment.
Looking back, the person involved may be able to see the steps along the way that led to the eventual discovery. But one thing is sure: his or her life will never be the same again.
Since our peaceful, joyful, family Christmas day, I’ve spent some uncomfortable hours with the dull ache of disappointment and embarrassment, wondering how to make amends to my sister and brother-in-law for forgetting their invitation for my husband and me to share a special meal with them and our brother on the Friday between Christmas and New Year.
I’d looked forward for weeks to spending time with my siblings, but without checking my diary I’d invited another person to our house that evening. There’s no excuse. Not only did I hurt people I love, but John and I also missed one of the highlights of our festive Christmas season.
When my sister rang to ask where we were, I confessed that I’d forgotten. As if that wasn’t bad enough, when I eventually looked in my diary I saw that it was the birthday of one of my granddaughters. I’d bought and wrapped her present before Christmas, but I’d forgotten the day completely.
On one level, not checking my diary was a simple mistake, but not to use it or the calendar by the phone for a week? There’s something about this forgetful behaviour that disturbs me. My decision to make some changes takes effect from today.
It’s mere coincidence that it is almost the end of the year. New Year’s resolutions have never been part of my life. In the past couple of decades, each year on my birthday I have reviewed the previous year. A long time ago, a friend gave me an illustrated notebook with beautiful paper, and I’ve used that to record any past achievements and write to plans for the next twelve months.
One year, I worked through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I began to write three pages in longhand every single morning, followed by a long walk. That process changed my life as I allowed myself to become more creative across all dimensions.
The next year, I read Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy. In 365 little essays, one for each day of the year, Breathnach writes about ‘six practical, creative, and spiritual principles – gratitude, simplicity, order, harmony, beauty and joy’. It took some work to transpose meditations about seasons and celebrations applicable in the northern hemisphere to Australia, but the effort was worth every moment.
But over the past few years, some of the foundation elements that made up my well-ordered life have slipped. This is partly the result a dramatic change in life-style brought about by remarrying when I was almost seventy, after living alone for almost thirty-five years; and partly because I’ve become less physically robust as I’ve aged.
Since I sent the completed manuscript of a book to an agent three months ago, my life has been in the limbo of ongoing waiting for her verdict on my work. A writer of any age who isn’t writing can be very grumpy indeed, as well as disorganised and forgetful.
THREE TOOLS FOR AN ORGANISED LIFE
Now it is time to change, to return to the simple principles and practices that I love and that help to keep my life ordered, abundant and creative. I am a writer and I write! And I promise to use my diary regularly.
There’s a happy ending to the story of the meal with my siblings. Yesterday, our brother invited us to his place for dinner tonight. And my sister sent me a reminder message on Facebook, complete with exclamation marks. I’m loved and forgiven..
One hundred-and-one books make a reasonable reading list.
‘We could start a book club,’ my new friend said. ‘That way we’d get to read a lot of different books.’
‘Good idea,’ said another friend.
‘We could each invite one other person to join,’ I suggested. ‘That way we’d meet new people, too.’
That was eleven years and one hundred-and-one books ago. Continue reading “One hundred-and-one books”
Always a prolific writer, she clocked up over fifty books that included short stories, memoir, non-fiction, plays, essays and poetry. But she is best known, and loved, as a daring novelist who experimented with a variety of forms including realism, fantasy, science fiction, space fiction and even the paranormal.
Over her long life, she explored deeply a range of concepts and philosophies that included communism, socialism, psychology and psychoanalysis, Sufism and feminism. Attempts were made to brand her with descriptions which included eccentric, but she steadfastly rejected the labels with which people tried to saddle her.
Her writing reflects her many enthusiasms and passions; her versatility and depth won her a large following of dedicated readers, of which I am one.
One of Lessing’s perhaps less critically acclaimed novels, The Summer before the Dark, (1973), deeply affected my own life and writing. I still have the paperback copy, bought many years ago, for which I paid $2.95. Like most of the Lessing books on my shelves, it is well-loved – battered even. Today, when I picked it up, it fell apart in my hands. I remembered once before, in a hurry, crudely repairing it by pouring glue down the spine and pressing the pages into the mess.
Almost forty years ago, when I was newly divorced and struggling to support six children financially and emotionally, this book burst upon my consciousness with the force of a meteor. Until I read it, I had been only vaguely aware that a life different from the one I was living could be possible. Gender politics and feminism were for me still vague, unexplored notions.
The Summer before the Dark tells the story of a middle-aged woman, Kate Brown, who has been an exemplary wife and mother. With marriage and motherhood, she has acquired many virtues including adaptability to others needs and wants. But when the novel opens, her grown children and successful husband all have exciting engagements, and she will be home alone for months. She embarks on a summer of exploration, freedom and self-discovery.
The novel can be enjoyed on many levels, but Lessing uses a number of devices which add layers and depth to the story. Over the summer, Kate has seven dreams of a large, black, wounded seal which she must carry over rocks to water. These psychoanalytic sequences that involve Kate’s personal bête noir (her helplessness and vulnerability) refer obliquely to the seven seals of the Apocalypse.
Lessing not only references the Bible, but also TS Elliot’s poem, ‘The Journey of the Magi’. In the poem, one of the travellers, now an old man, reflects on the difficult journey he undertook to see the Child Jesus in Bethlehem. This man, like the heroine of The Summer before the Dark, was also in transition between one life and a new. He reflects on what he has seen on the journey – a white horse and a black one; men under the vines betting with thirty pieces of silver and three trees on a hillside, all images from the Book of Revelation.
What they have seen and experienced will be but faint memories when the travellers return home. But they are profoundly changed and so was I when I first read this book.
Thank you, Doris Lessing – an amazing woman and writer.
In recent years, I’ve enjoyed my first ride in a helicopter, learned to sail a yacht and spent a weekend helping in the sheep yards on a farm during shearing. At sixty-five, I went back to university as a full-time student; another year, I published my first book, a memoir, Other People’s Country. At seventy, my best friend and I escaped from our respective families. We married in secret in a very lovely ceremony, and then honeymooned in Paris – my first trip to Europe.
This year, after a shaky start, I’m blogging.
A search for blogs about ‘ageing’, ‘old age’ and ‘growing older’ turned up sites devoted to residential aged care, dementia, incontinence and depression. It also found sites devoted to research into some of the more dismal aspects of old age. I know a bit about all of those through my work as a nurse in aged care facilities. As well as that, before my retirement from full-time work, I was the chief executive officer in a non-government agency that advocates for people who live in residential aged care, as well as those in danger from elder abuse.
There is another, better narrative about growing older. People in their late sixties and seventies are often still in the workforce. We travel; contribute generously to our families and communities; attend the theatre, concerts and festivals; vote; exercise our bodies and minds; learn and grow. We are indignant about the poor treatment sometimes meted out to older people, and not afraid to speak our minds.
Stories about ageing gracefully (and disgracefully) are the ones I hope to celebrate in my blog.
Thank you for visiting!