Thursday, 22 December 2011

National Short Story Day

You can click here to read, download and listen to loads of lovely short stories and to discover the short story recommendations of writers including Claire Massey, Alison MacLeod, Elizabeth Baines, Nicholas Royle, David Constantine, Toby Litt, Zoe Lambert, Vanessa Gebbie, Annie Clarkson and many more.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Making stuff

In addition to making stuff up, I also love making stuff. When it's my children's birthdays, I always volunteer to make their cakes and at least once a year I also help them to paint a big canvas. It would be fantastic to be able to make stuff all the time (provided someone followed me around and did the cleaning up).
I'm going to be off line for a week or two. I'll be making stuff: Christmas cake etc. and I'll also be making things up: I'm hoping to hand in the first 20,000 words of my novel after the holidays. Merry Christmas.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Do I dare disturb my universe?

I wore my 'Dare' t-shirt on a Friday morning a couple of months ago. When it was time to take my youngest two children to school they said, 'Awh, Mum. You aren't going to wear that are you?'

I explained about T.S Eliot and Prufrock; about daring to disturb the universe and daring to eat a peach, but they remained intractably attached to the conclusion that I am an embarrassing parent. And they are right.

As I drove up to the school I noticed that none of the other children appeared to be wearing school uniform and, not for the first time in my career as a mother, I realized that I had orchestrated an Epic Fail. A Dukes of Hazard style three point turn, a lightening drive home, a couple of Superman-speed clothes changes later, and the children were ready for mufti day.

[Deep breath; 'Dare' t-shirt at the ready - here goes...]

In years gone by, such a parenting failure would have left me feeling nauseous for at least twenty four hours. I was brought up in a Mormon family. When I was a child there was a sign in the hallway of my parents' house which said: 'No other success can compensate for failure in the home' (Mormon prophet David O' McKay said this in 1935). The home is very much seen as the woman's responsibility in Mormonism. In 2007, Julie Beck, leader of the Mormon Women's organisation, The Relief Society, said the following in an address titled Mothers Who Know:
Mothers who know are nurturers. This is their special assignment and role under the plan of happiness. To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers who know create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes. Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home. Home is where women have the most power and influence; therefore, Latter-day Saint women should be the best homemakers in the world. 
(I take issue with so much of the above statement, but I'll limit my response to a request for access to the thesaurus that synonymizes nurturing with homemaking. Other women have taken the time to respond thoughtfully to Beck's address as a whole here).

By the time my youngest child was born, the square footage of my life had been reduced to such a small area that any failures in the home, any lapses in orderliness, seemed disproportionately enormous. Once, I sent son number one to school dressed as a Roman, wrapped in a sheet wearing a homemade, paper-leaf crown: Roman day was the following week. Another time, I forgot to pick a friend's daughter up from school, and she waited there for an hour before I remembered. My ironing basket frequently reaches volcanic proportions and beds often remain unmade. I am not, and never have been, one of the 'best homemakers in the world'. And shaming, in the form of 'should be' statements, has not increased either my aptitude or my inclination to improve.

There are some good things, some funny things and, of course, some bad things about being brought up in a Mormon family. By far the worst thing about such an upbringing is earning the label of 'apostate' when, like me, you decide to leave.
Before you joined this Church you stood on neutral ground. When the gospel was preached, good and evil were set before you. You could choose either or neither. There were two opposite masters inviting you to serve them. When you joined this Church you enlisted to serve God. When you did that you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it. Should you forsake the Master you enlisted to serve, it will be by the instigation of the evil one, and you will follow his dictation and be his servant. (Joseph Smith) 
Although the rhetoric of apostasy may suggest otherwise,  I am definitely not a servant of the Evil One (that'd be the devil, as opposed to Voldermort).

Mormons sometimes say that people can 'leave the church, but they can't leave it alone.' This aphorism is an attempt to silence those who leave, and for many of us it works: we don't want to upset or embarrass our family and friends by saying anything about our Mormon experience which could be construed as 'negative' or 'apostate'. Trying not to talk about Mormonism when you've been raised in it can be a little tricky (although it's something I've managed pretty well, to date). But trying not to write about it has been a bit like trying amputate one of one of my limbs with a toothpick; painful and ultimately impossible.

Mormon fiction is frequently 'blindly affirmative' and 'essentially devoid of genuine conflict' (Eugene England). Perhaps this is because some Mormons perceive the creation and depiction of flawed Mormon characters to be an act of aggression; a symptom of apostasy and the desire to be 'negative' - a cardinal sin in a religion in which happiness and positivity are so frequently equated with righteousness. But without conflict and flawed characters, there are no stories. Levi Peterson maintains; 'Literature should reflect life. Ultimately, it should reflect all of life.  Nothing that people feel, nothing that they do, should be denied a place in literature.'

One of my stories has just been published in Dialogue magazine. 'Scaling Never' is my first published story to reference Mormonism. It is a story about doubt, faith, and an absent miracle; the antithesis of the neat, happily-ever-after, stories I used to hear at church. The Mormon church teaches that people should expect miracles. In articles such as this one, 'Do you need a miracle?' the church commodifies miracles, offering instructions on how to obtain one. A miracle would have given 'Scaling Never' an easy, yet utterly unbelievable and defective resolution. Levi Peterson believes that 'Timid authors fall into the error of incompleteness'. I am trying not to be timid; trying not to write incomplete stories that don't reflect real life, even though, in light of my Mormon upbringing, such forthrightness is counter-intuitive.

This blog post probably seems innocuous and incredibly long (well done if you've made it this far) but it's a bit of a milestone moment for me. My younger brother gave a nod to his Mormon roots some time ago, but it's taken me several years to feel able to do the same. I've just disturbed my universe. I've admitted to diminishing guilt re. my 'homemaking' failures, mentioned my Mormon roots and alluded to my future writing plans. Robert Sheppard would describe this post as poetics (and he'd be right). It wasn't daring of me to separate myself from Mormonism - leaving became essential - but, having been raised in a culture which demands the of silence of those who leave, it's taken some daring for me to begin to write about it.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Ranfurly Review

The Ranfurly Review - Issue 17 - December 2011I've got a story in the December Issue of the Ranfurly Review. Although it takes place in a supermarket, the story is about rescuing people and it features the Chilean Miners who were trapped underground in 2010. I watched the television footage of their rescues and had a long think about the ways and circumstances in which people can and can't be saved - I think I might write more about this at some point in the near future...

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A desk of my own

My author biog in Mslexia makes mention of the fact that I have been redecorating in order to make space for my very own desk; finally, it's done: I've got a desk of my own. For the first time in nearly fifteen years, there's a place in the house that's mine, all mine (sometimes I will share...maybe).

It's an odd feeling to have somewhere to 'work' - that's what writing feels like now that there's a specific place to do it. Of course, I sit at the desk preparing seminars and handouts, marking essays and giving feedback on fiction; these things have always been in the 'work' category, but having a specific place to write is helping me to begin to think of my writing as work too.

Almost exactly two years ago I got my first rejection letter. I tried very hard to ignore the voice in my head that said, 'See, you're rubbish. No-one wants to read your stupid stories. You're wasting your time when you could be doing more worthwhile things, like cleaning the house.' I sent the story somewhere else straight away - it was rejected there too, but I kept trying and it wasn't long before it was accepted.

Of course, a solitary acceptance didn't make me think of myself as a writer (I'm still not there - I've got a few more arbitrary hurdles to jump). I had to laugh this morning when I read Debs Riccio's latest post at the Strictly Writing blog: '10 Ways to Stay Unpublished'. Debs's list reminds me of my arbitrary hurdles, and of how easy it is to become discouraged. I'm innately pessimistic, perhaps that's part of the reason why it's taken me so long to get a desk - 'What will happen if I get a big, lovely desk and then never write anything worth publishing ever again? The desk will be a monument to my baseless optimism...' Recently, I've been trying to make fun of my pessimism. There's a line in the Lion King: 'I laugh in the face of danger, ha-ha-ha!' - I'm trying to laugh in the face of failure.

Since my first rejection two years ago, I've had fifteen stories accepted. I'm hoping that having a desk of my own - somewhere to work - will lead to a few more acceptances and some more exciting firsts in the coming two years.