Friday, 25 November 2011

Presentation Evening Recollections

Presentation evening for Professional Writing and Editing, Chadstone Campus, Holmesglen TAFE.  The night of nights, the gala of galas.  Red and white wine in cardboard casks.  Plastic cups almost thin enough to be rubber gloves, or worse, prophylactics.  Stubbies in a bin with two bags of ice for company.  The empty stubby box makes a practical bin.  Chips, nuts and homemade sandwiches, spread on a makeshift buffet of desks.  The agenda is unclear, and we sit and chat, waiting for something to happen.

People come and go, but more come than go, until everyone is there.  Old friendships are rekindled.  People not in my class from 2011, but I knew from 2010, or earlier.  Writers come in all ages.  There are students straight from secondary school, and students old enough to be my parent, and I’m not so young...  I meet the thirty-two year old daughter of one of my fellow students. 

Eventually one of the teachers marshals order, and we get underway.  We say farewell to two teachers, both with long tenures.  Two teachers, from a small group of eight.  The course will be less without them, but somebody will step forward to take an opportunity.  Tears flow as people remember their friendship and classroom inspiration.

A bucket is passed around for all to contribute a gold coin or two.

There is performance on offer, and first up is a music video from one of the students.  It looks great, but the sound isn’t working.  A student pops up to help, but to no avail.  We scratch that item from the agenda.

Awards are given out.  A book, a bottle of wine, and a Slurpee voucher from 7-11.

Each award is accompanied by a description of the achievement.  This student has produced poems of great character, or descriptions of beauty, or achieved the highest academic results.  The words drip from the lips of each teacher, superlatives and platitudes, recycled, no doubt used before, but each award accepted with pride and a kiss and a hug.  Applause from the eighty people floods the room.  The air is moist with emotion.

A phone rings.  Our master of ceremonies realises it is hers, announces who is calling, and the lecture theatre choruses, ‘Answer it.’

The bucket of money is divided in half and presented to the top two students.  $81.70 each.

 It might not be the Academy Awards, with red carpets, glittering dresses and sparkling champagne. 
But like the Academy Awards attendees, this is a performance group.  Our work is intended for public consumption.  Everyone chooses to be here.

When one of the students performs with guitar and voice, he is very good.

A poem is read by a dozen people.  I know to avoid adverbs and clichés to describe the quiet in the room.

Some of us will go on to be published.

You, the public, will pay money to read our works.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Katy's Poem (and mine too)

Katy and I collaborated on a poem in writing class on Thursday night.

Some say love is like old cheese
Texture plus a bitter taste
Blue veins and holes – such a tease

Quite poor, although produced in less than five minutes, and constrained by specific rules.
-          First sentence provided
-          Following two lines must have same number of syllables
-          Final words of lines 1 and 3 to rhyme

What was the point of the exercise?  I guess (because we weren’t told) we were experimenting in the use of picking our words carefully.  Five minutes to select fourteen syllables.  Imagine deploying the same amount of care to my novel:
-          seventy-five thousand words
-          approximately one hundred and fifty thousand syllables (what is the average number of syllables in a word?)
-          eight hundred and ninety-two hours
-          two and three-quarter years at one hour a day (I’ve got a family and a full-time job).


Add to that time spent in class learning better techniques, writing this blog and a few short stories, and the occasional bout of laziness.

That first novel might be some time off yet.  Or, practice so that I can produce fourteen syllables in less than five minutes.

What’s that you say?   Surely you can write faster than that?  Yes, on average, I think I write about fourteen words per minute.  But then, at the end of the first draft, how many further drafts?  This is the point of the poem we constructed – it takes time to get the right words in the right place for maximum effect.

One last thought.  It was fun.  Moving words around, seeking the right mix.  Looking for poetic elements that worked.  Understanding the nature of cheese and getting the right context.  If you get it right – it’s also fun to share with the class.  I’m sorry to say that we didn’t get it right, but then, it wasn’t all my fault.  I had help.

Any comments from the very few people that read this out there?  How many words do you write per minute?  How many drafts?

Monday, 14 November 2011

A day at Luna Park

Clanking sounds, like ghosts dragging chains.
A strain of popular music grates through a public address system, poking out occasionally from:
Bells tinkling as a two carriage train fights through the crowd.  A mother curses as poorly trained staff fail to manage a queue.
Foreign languages.
‘Can we go on the spider again?’
‘It’s your birthday.  You can go as many times as you like.’
Disneyland has longer queues and shorter wait times.
One of the rides is closed down.
Weeds grow between the uneven pavement.
Purple uniforms are hoisted to the waist to stop them falling down.
Broken down Mad Mouse carriages sit in full view.
Yet happiness reigns.
Are Melbournites so cheap?  Where is our high quality theme park?  Where is the Big Dipper?  And the River Caves?  I miss the Giggle Palace.
Yet happiness reigns.
Only one staff member per ride to keep the costs down and the time between rides interminable.  Yet people wait.
The Scenic Railway is ninety-nine years old.  It has the longest queue.  We wait, and buy the picture of the children, arms raised high and mouths open in giggle-screams.
Happiness reigns.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A day at the races

A day at the races for those that don’t gamble regularly is an experiment in hope and frustration.  Each race comes up, you use what little knowledge you have to pick a horse, you place your bet, and hope.  Of course, it doesn’t work out.  Some people get lucky, but on average, it can’t work out.  If it did, then the bookies wouldn’t make money, and we’d all be gamblers.  Stands to reason.

We go to the races for other reasons.  Fine company.  Real champagne, and plenty of it.  Nice food.  People to watch.  Lots of people to watch.  You get to giggle at young women in ridiculous heels, and see them struggle as champagne enters their bloodstream, the sun beats down, and blisters set in.  Not to mention the blokes with eight beers too many under their belts.

But back to the horses.  I watched every race on a big screen.  (The only live horseflesh that made it passed my eyes were the police horses at the end of the day.)  Money was invested, and the horses were away.  People yelled and cheered.  I watched.  Mostly, my horses ran fast early, and were swallowed up in the run to the finish.  A couple of times our horses came in and I watched, and regretted my betting strategy on those occasions.

On no occasion did I set up a betting strategy to avoid returning to work on Monday.  That was probably sensible.

My first novel is like one of those horses.  I’m placing my bet – the hours invested in writing, and in learning the craft of writing.  (You can be the judge of my learning.)  My skills are amateurish, like the unprofessional gambler.  When the novel is completed it will leave the blocks, ‘and they’re racing’.  Will it get published?  Will it sell?  Will my strategy to sell it be successful?  The professional writer knows how to avoid negative answers to these questions.  I have to take other people’s tips.

My first novel won’t allow me to avoid returning to work on a Monday in the future.  But like a day at the races, there is enjoyment regardless.  I’ve enjoyed the classes and the learning.  I’ve made friends along the way.  There is a joy in my little successes.

Still, despite hope not being a strategy, I hope my novel is not swallowed up in the race to the finish line.
It’s a cliché, but I’ll say it anyway, slightly modified for accuracy.  Many things in life are a risk.  One thing wasn’t much of a risk – Black Caviar winning for the 16th time in a row.  I didn’t waste my money on a bet.