Monday, 31 December 2012

last post for the year

Just under twelve and a half months ago I set out to write a novel. Two and a half months later I started on an historical novel about Vashti, Queen of the Ancient Medes. Six months later it was complete at 152,000 words. It was impossible to stop at our (Hamma Mirwaisi, whose unique research on the Ancient Airyanem civilisation of the Middle East was the co-author and researcher) original goal of 120,000 words so I felt it was quite ok to make my first novel an epic.
Perhaps that was  a mistake because trying to sell it has not  been a good experience. Literary agents posit an incredibly competitive and cash starved publishing industry.  Only the best of the best makes it.Our book is now on Amazon but still frozen there.
Undaunted, we have started on the sequel, Esther Mystery Queen of the Medes, also written on the basis that King Ahasuerus of the Biblical book of Esther and husband of Queen Vashti was the father of Darius the Mede of the Biblical book of Daniel. Because Darius was aged 62 in 539 BCE at the fall of Babylon, he cannot be the son of King Xerxes, who was born in 519 BCE. So King Xerxes was not the husband of Queens Vashti and Esther. There seems to be little evidence about this in historical accounts, so once again the Bible provides valuable historical proof about the origins of an heroic figure who has not received the acclaim she deserves but would probably not have pursued.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

loss of a literary giant

A famous Australian writer died last week. He wrote a book a year for the last 21 years. He was born to a seamstress in South Afroca and suffered horribly from bullying in childhood. Gaining a scholarship to a boading school he had to return to the prphange which was ususally his homme during scholl holidays.He learned to tell stories to survive. He did more than survive, with each of his books making $10 million for the publishers. His son died of blood transfusion unduced AIDS, he divorced his wife, who later was cared for by her remaining sons till she died. He was estranged from his sons at times, they seemed to indicate that his writing and obssessive creating of his own 'facts' interfered with his ability to relate to his family. Do writers write for themselves? Of course, they write their own stories, and it seems the good ones can write everyone else's at the same time. Hence the masses can identify.
This writer's motto was something like, 'Success is the only option.'
I absolutely agree.

giving up

Yes, we've temporarily given up on tradtional publishing and have given in to digital (more than one finger). And no this message is not in binary code( yet). Somewhere on Amazon sits half of our as yet insignificant tome. We have facebooked it, blogged it and it has its owm commentary page on Amazon. Thhe other half is ready to be launched, but I am not ready to let it go. The count down has started...mean a while a young Jewish girl named Hadassah waits within the walls of a mudbrick house in the Ancient Median city of Susa, wondering if her people will ever return to their homeland.

literary agents and masochism

Hours and weeks of submittung to literary agents, giving them what they want yields only rejections and engagement in a few negative telephone calls. Such a waste of time and effort, this process is hell compared to the heaven of writing.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

J K and the writer's 'reality'

JK Rowling has been interviewed a few times on the publication of her first adult novel. In one session she was asked whether she was nervous about its reception. She replied to the effect that she was as thin-skinned as any other writer and she could be insecure and defensive.  It was comforting to know that even the great writers of our age experience these doubts before their work is exposed to readers.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

voices in my head

My son is a musician, he adds music to any situation he can, by tapping, singing or making indescribable rhythmic sounds. Music is in his being, even when he is not listening to it or is playing his guitar.  I have words, sentences and paragraphs in my head a lot of the time. I suppose this is writer's schizophrenia. Today whilst confined to a recovery position from the common cold I saw one writer on the TV who had coincidentally been diagnosed with the mental condition. He mentioned that a writer should do more than raise the issues of, say, the challenges of the  human condition and morality, but they should change the reader and make them see things differently. I do not know if our work will do that, but it definitely exposes readers to the words and concepts taken from my restless and often excited mind, recording the era of a civilisation that we believe has not previously been written in such accurate and comprehensive detail.

the little Aussie battleaxe

In Australian legendary history there is a female character who helped 'pioneer' the country with European settlement. She is a short stout woman clad in a billowing but practical dress and wielding a small (or larger axe) with which she splits kindling for the kitchen stove where she cooks feather light scones and legs of roast lamb. She uses the axe to chop the heavier wood if her husband is away droving or at a far flung part of the station, or huge grazing property. In my case the littler Aussie battleaxe has fallen down at the wood pile, her fingers reaching feebly for a piece of kindling. I have just removed myself from my bed where, with a mild fever I have delusionally thought of replacement words for those that were not quite right in the 150,000 words plus of our novel.


How do I use imagery? Everything I write I have a picture of in my mind, including passages where the characters are reflecting. I try to to true to the image by portraying it as interestingly and accurately as I can, often whilst introducing the reader to something new (I cannot help but attempt to spread knowledge, it is the teacher in me).  This is the process that I use to to communicate with you, the reader, with my best wishes for your enjoyment and increased understanding.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

doing them justice

As I fit the characters' lives into the historical facts (and readers will discover a few not commonly known), I wonder in some trepidation whether I am doing them justice, or injustice. How could I possibly know what it was like in those times for which little archaeological and written evidence has been found? (It is believed that what existed has been destroyed or the information sabotaged). At times I have felt quite presumptous in even attempting to represent some of these historically elusive people on the pages of a novel written for the present. Will readers grasp the significance for then and now of this two and a half thousand year old civilisation? When the characters look up to the stars and the readers are prompted to do so themselves, hopefully the latter will feel the connection between these ancient people, themselves and the millions of their descendents denied or fighting for their freedom in the same territory today.

racing steadily to the finish

As each chapter was finished the story would edge to completion and I still would not know how it would turn out. I suppose somewhere in writer's manuals and courses are instructions to plan the plot.  These are for structured writers who need security (and probably not to waste time making plot detours) but part of the absolute fun and anticipation of writing a novel is being there with your characters. You actually live in the book with them. Inspite of the possibility of there being a psychological disorder description for this mental phenomenon it is a type of roller coaster ride amongst the computer keys. But more than that it is the re-composition, in the case of our novel, of lives already lived. Put that way it sounds daunting.

how many words?

We aimed for 120,000 but by 125,000 it was clear we had a long way to go, so we just kept going. How could word restrictions ever be allowed to curtail this important untold story? I started to proudly call it an 'epic'.

posts needed

Now I have neglected the blog (again) I feel guilty for not having confidence that one day it will be read (writer's isolation -relective of 'will anyone ever read the book, or the blog for that matter?). This evening is devoted to catching them up, in the hope that I can remember all those 'blog thoughts' that I failed to record.


Doses of writer's fatigue have plagued me, plus the effort of completing the story when I do not know what will happen next. But my co-author who carries the stories of these ancient people in his DNA supplies the bones while I fill out the flesh. I have shirked posting because I did not want to admit that I was beating the well worn path of tiredness.

two months' absence

For the last two months I have focussed on writing the book only. Anticipation of climbing emotional mountains with our key character has been harder than actually getting her over them.  I feel like I have been living their lives.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

110,000 words plus and very timely encouragement

At this stage in the writing process the content is piling up and the story is becoming weighty, perhaps that is the sign of a 'not so good writer.' Although I never lose enthusiasm for the story, the characters or the culture, I feel like the road down the other side of the hill is flattening.  Little do the unsuspecting characters know that there are still several mountains they must climb.  Today I was greatly encouraged by the words of my co-author Hamma about the future of our book.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

word count

Today the word count on the novel has topped 100,000 words, in fact it is 100,175 words. This is an incredible achievement for me, its taken just over three and a half months.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

the interview

This is a record of the interview that I might never have.  It is modelled on the ones that I've seen with famous authors such as Bryce Courtney and Anna  Funder.
Interviewer: Did you have any idea that your first novel might be published so successfully?
Vashti: When I first started to write as I described on my blog I didn't know if I would be able to produce so many words.  But as I proceeded the story was repleased from my mind. I cannot describe this process, it is one of thos miracle that just happens.  However I drew on all my experiences - emotional, academic, school, family spiritual, inter-relational and so on.  It was like the cream of all of these had risen to the top of my consciousness and it was being strained and smoothed like melted butter onto toast.
Interviewer: When do you do your best work?
Vashti: Some artists describe being 'in the zone'.   It happens to me when it is quiet and there is no one else around and the mid winter sun is tracking across my desk or I am sitting beside the heater's flue on a cold night.  That's when I become one with the characters and whatever is happening to them and my best writing is produced.  At other times I am contriving the text in order to get through a phase in the story, that is when the writing does not flow as well, it is not as relaxed.  But then life is like that, sometimes it unfolds easily and other times it needs to be pushed or pulled.
Athletes talk about being alone on the race track in a foot race, unaware of and deaf to the crowd watching them. They have a sense of nothing else and total focus on their goal, which is the result they have trained for over along period.
I have practised for this novel all my life. Now I know that this is what I have been working so hard for. A recent TV program explained how athletes have to practise discipline, commitment, focus, self-sacrifice, energy and belief in their ability to achieve their goals. As a writer I have to accomplish all of these.  The road seems long and the competition strong, but I beleive that one day my work will be published. (At the present it is a joint work)
More on this interview in the next post.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

down the other side

Although I have written over seventy five thousand words in this my first co-written novel, I still get writer's block, which is apparently quite normal. Everytime I commence writing I sit at the computer for a few minutes, trying to mentally key into what's been happening in the story and how the characters are developing. It takes a few minutes to get into their world again, but then it opens up and they start to live their lives via the mechanical and electrical forces that work my brain and the computer.  However, if the writer's block extends beyond a few minutes it turns into low level panic fuelled by the question, 'What am I going to write?'
I used to think that about writing anything as big as a novel. Then it was, 'Where will I get all those words from?'  That's hard to answer, as they come from the some of the instrinsic meanings aquired sub-consciously from life's experiences. Lots of other words come from deliberately planned material. Altogether I hope they make a story that not only reveals many neglected or previously distorted historical facts but that also inspires readers from all walks of life.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

tune needed for this refrain

Mid June -  Over 55,000 words. Going through the half way blues, and I need a good blues song writer to compose a tune. Last week I wrote approximately nine and half thousand words, a record for that time period. It left me drained. I feel like I am plateauing and I fear the book might be levelling out too. But then life sometimes goes flat and this book is meant to reflect and symbolise many things in life.  Half way…is that a glass half full or half empty? I am hovering within a half full and a half empty book.  On the empty side I can see a long ream of blank pages stretched out before me. On the full side I can look back and see a first ever achievement and a very interesting journey.

ancestral heritages

Having mentioned the political tone of the novel I also have to marvel at the beauty of the country it is set in, the toughness of its people and their desire to protect and maintain their culture, plus the fact that it is so very old.  They possess and practise ceremonies, traditions and beliefs that their ancestors did over two and a half thousand years ago!  Their artistic expression of this is colourful and enthusiastic, and also reflective of a strong sense of who they are and who they have been for all that time.   The most I know about my ancestors was that they farmed somewhere in Britain and my first ancestor in this country was a convict accused of stealing fourteen sheep!  I consider this a fairly interesting background but it pales into insignificance in comparison to that of Hamma and Showgar.

freedom versus force

Another realisation I’ve come to is that I am privileged to live in a country where human rights and freedoms are mediated under a constitution based on battles fought and won a long time ago and enshrined in the Westminster system of government.  It’s made me aware of the fact that other countries are still dealing with the struggle to achieve self-government, justice and peace for their people and their lands.  Hamma’s work is integral to this and he has decided to devote his personal resources and time to the cause.

the gift of friends

Part way through this process I realise that it has already given me a reward. If it weren’t for a common interest in a little known queen of antiquity my co-author and I would never have become acquainted or developed the story of her life. I am greatly indebted to Hamma’s persistent, comprehensive research and intelligent input into the topic.  He has been ably supported by his wife Showgar.  They have imparted a sense of the present plight of their people and their past struggles. Also they are the first people I have met on the internet, which is an entirely new experience!

literary duo

The unusually preoccupying focus I have on this work is a brain changer. I race through everyday tasks, reluctantly go off to my day job and forget about details like making a phone call, taking the shopping list, and what we are going to have for dinner.  Now Hamma has asked me to help him with another project and I am considering doing two at once, which might not be wise.  However, I cannot resist the opportunity to learn more about this people and their culture and history that is so different from my comparatively mundane and relatively limited life experience.  The demands of this extra challenge might cause more erratic behaviours (creative people are usually excused from these!) but the fun will be worth it.


Have I been inspired by this process? Absolutely yes! When Hamma writes, the sense of who he is and what his nation is and has been oozes out of the coaxial cables, satellites (don’t blame any malfunctions on his fervour!) and whatever else carries emails across land and sea. Then it spills into my computer and I get an immediate sense of a very old, rich culture that is still living.  This is an amazing experience.  And I know there are lots more to come, I estimate we are not half way through this work yet.

losing the plot?

Now I have another fear, that having not written for a few days I’ll lose the plot and the close relationship and understanding I have had with our characters.  What if they disappear and can’t be found? Then I think about what the characters would have done. Would he have run from the battle? Would she have given up her beliefs to keep her powerful position?  I must proceed bravely and resolutely as they would have.  But such are the anxieties of a beginning and maybe even a more experienced writer.

good guys, bad guys

It is good to have our key characters with me when I am doing mundane tasks like driving or cleaning.  They brighten my day and can astound me with the life possibilities they suggest.  My deepest, darkest fears are that I am losing myself in these characters and their culture or that they are taking me over, or most fearfully impinging on my identity.  Or worse still… you will have to read the book to find out the other ways these characters might have affected the writers  who have eagerly resurrected and re-constructed the story of their  lives.  I hasten to add that for the most part, I believe that their influence has been positive, with the exception of the villains of course!
On the other hand the characters’ lives are exposed without their knowledge or permission. What they thought and did is being interpreted and recorded whether they would have liked it or not.  I sincerely hope that if they were able to watch this process, and understand what we are trying to do, they would approve, realising that the opponents of the cause will never be convinced!

ultimate control

Writing an historical fiction means both true and concocted material is used.  The beauty of making stuff up is that you control it, the book takes the shape you want it to for your purposes.  I have to say that the purposes of our book are not merely self -motivated, they are other- motivated for many different reasons.  They will be revealed when you, the potential reader finally satisfies your curiosity by reading the novel.  I might be biased but I do not think you will be disappointed at what you will learn and experience.

testing time

Now I am in a mini-testing time, I have to put aside my beloved work to go to my ‘day job’ and spend time with my family.  It is a guilty person who writes ‘have to’ in regard to their most loved family, and a mildly psychologically dependent person who experiences withdrawals of boredom and sadness if they can’t get their daily writing ‘fix’.  There is no substitute for it, material composed in my head is forgotten, and indulging in reference books on the subject increases the longing to be back in the book with my characters.

of dreams and future visions

I recently heard a talk by a professor of journalism whose theme was, ‘Giving up your dream’. He was speaking to artists and composers including musicians, film makers and writers.  He described how a magazine that he started, one of his life’s goals, failed.  In giving up his dream he realised that he had learned a lesson, that he could survive losing something material or intrinsically creative that he held very dear.  It taught him that nothing must come between him and his faith in One God.
The writing of this book has commenced the realisation of a dream, held consciously and subconsciously for over forty years.  It has become a passion but it cannot surpass the anchor that is my faith in an all-powerful and all -saving God.  I just have to stop and take a breath sometimes remembering that this project, if successful, will someday be forgotten, although I do not believe the messages in it will because they are forever.  After any fanfare that might happen God will still be there turning the wheels of the Universe.


With fears of becoming obsessed I struggle with a sense of emptiness and meaningless when I’m not writing, but then this is the next best thing – writing about the book! I wake at night wondering what the key character will do next and what it was really like for her to be living at that time.  What did she think about the future, its unknowns and insecurities?  How did she manage to make her way through all of this? What sustained her and what motivated her?  From whom and where did she learn her biggest life’s lessons?  How did she cope with her deepest sorrows and what did she do with her gifts, talents and privileges?  How did she share her joys?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

six weeks in

Mid May 2012. Over 30,000 words into the book now, I’ve been writing consistently since early April, six weeks. The commencement date on our contract is 1st April, my mother’s birthday, the completion date is two years from then.  It seems like only a few days, such is the fun that I’ve had working with our characters and the story of their lives in an ancient but little known empire.  It has had extreme highs when Hamma, (the co-author and native expert in this culture and its history) has emailed some info describing a battle, the countryside or a wedding. Then working on a series of events or an idea I want to get across until it is completed, I find that the hours slip by and the sun moves through its elliptical path across the sky.  When I have worked for five or six hours, I have to go out into the garden to try to rest my mind which wants to stay back in those times long past. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

getting into it

In the following weeks we struggle with the second chapter doing several re-writes, I’m trying to capture and represent that ancient civilisation about which I know so little. Then suddenly the characters burst into life and they are off and running, with me trying to catch them at times. Meanwhile I think Hamma can hardly believe what he is reading from a Western woman who's only spent about a week in the Middle East.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

early experiences

Early April 2012 The key character is introduced in a flash of fantastic luxury and trauma amidst historical truth.  Her character jumps into the story and then her culture is built, or rather resurrected.  During this process Hamma is emailing information about another civilisation in a long gone era.  How can these buried characters be resurrected?  What do they have to say to us today? They start off like children, unsure of themselves and then they settle into their lives within the book, and start to grow. They are like young plants emerging from the soil of ancient texts and living oral tradition.  And I have the breath taking privilege of placing their lives on a screen and a computer chip, which will later be translated to more of the same and paper and print.

Monday, 21 May 2012

This blog has been started, neglected and now a year after its inception, has beeen re-invented as a commentary on an upcoming text.  I hope readers will appreciate a sense of understanding the composition process of this story which my co-author Hamma Mirwaisi and I think is a unique one.