Tags: challenge, depression, historical fiction, re-writing, teen fiction, Young Adult fiction
For the last month or more, I have been re-writing my second novel, (its working title is Thursday’s Child, although that will probably change). It isn’t complete – I had written about 62,000 words but, about four-fifths of the way through it, I had hardly written anything on it in the year until this January.
I was stuck. I couldn’t get motivated. I had no enthusiasm to get the story finished. I also had a year in which depression played too big a part. I wondered if my book would ever get written.
Then, after reading a few teen/Young Adult novels at the end of last year that worked really well, I decided to change my story from past tense and third person to present tense and first person. So now, my main character is telling her own story instead of someone else telling it for her. It works so much better!
With my new-found enthusiasm and will, I have so far re-written and edited my manuscript to over 60,000 words. I have another 5,000 words to go until I get to the place where I almost gave up a year ago.
I am hoping – no, expecting – that when I get there, I will be able to carry the story to its conclusion. After all, it is so much better to be telling the story as if I am the main character than telling it from an outside perspective.
My main character, Tori, has become much more real to me in the process of re-writing, and at times, I can feel her emotions as if they are mine. They are raw and real.
My first novel, Ben’s Challenge, was written in first person past tense, and that seemed to work well. But this one does better written as an unfolding story in the present. That present being Australia in 1959-1960.
I simply must finish telling Victoria’s (Tori’s) story!
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: bacon & baked beans, Blackburn Infirmary, camping, hay cutting, Oswaldtwistle, picnics, smell
Last week I wrote about the smell of pine trees and the memories they evoked fifty-five years later. There are a few other aromas that also strongly evoke memories of my childhood.
1. Bacon and baked beans
All my life I have loved the smell and taste of bacon and baked beans. Whenever I have had it, I think of being on the moors back in England when I was little. I didn’t know why this memory always came with this aroma until Dad told me (when I was in my fifties) that he and Mum used to take us for walks out on the moors of Oswaldtwistle. When we were there, Dad, a former Rover Scout, would light a fire and cook up bacon and beans for us. It was a special treat that we didn’t have very often.
When we go camping now, we have eggs and baked beans, with either bacon or sausages, at least once during the trip – my husband has always loved it too.
2. Cut grass on a warm day
Occasionally when I have been driving in the country, I have come to places where council slashers have been busy cutting the long grass along the sides of the road. Sometimes an aroma hits me, and I am taken back to my early childhood in England. I have discovered that the right smell is only there when the cut grass is long and dry, and the air is warm but not too hot. I didn’t know then why this wonderful smell affected me so much – I love it, it brings me a great feeling of happiness.
Whilst visiting Dad over Christmas in 2005, I mentioned it to Dad. He said he always loved the smell of new cut hay in the fields back in England. It was then that I realized what the odour was. Haying time was a great time for kids then. I had picked up those feelings, along with the aroma of hay being cut on a warm day in autumn before I was five years old. They have stayed with me all these years.
3. An Isolation Hospital
When I was about three years old, I had glandular fever and had to go into the isolation cottage at Blackburn Infirmary, where I spent some weeks. It would have been about 1951. I remember being in a cot and wanting Mum and Dad to come and take me home. They weren’t allowed to come in, and I could only see them, and they me, through a window.
There was a smell there that, when I come across it today, always takes me back to that memory. I’d always thought the smell was chloroform, but that wouldn’t be right. It is more likely to be the old kind of cleaning alcohol that was used when giving injections. The modern alcohol cleanser doesn’t seem to have the same smell.
Because of a later association with this odour, another memory also springs to mind. It is of walking past a mobile medical facility that used to occasionally park in the area in front of the shops at Albion Park Rail when I was probably about 10 to 13 years old. I think it was the TB testing unit.
Tags: Great Ocean Road, memories, Reed Park, scent of pine
It was December 2005, and we were traveling along the Great Ocean Road in southern Victoria in our camper van. [My husband] Dirk and I were in bed at a caravan park in Apollo Bay, when an aroma took me back to my early childhood. As the perfume wafted in through the open window, it affected me so powerfully that I couldn’t sleep until I had written about it.
This is what I wrote then, and added to after we returned home.
11.20 pm 19th December 2005, Apollo Bay Caravan Park, Victoria.
I lie in my bed in the caravan, weary yet content, and listen to the murmur of the waves, ebbing and flowing, muted by a hundred yards of distance from the seashore. Beside my head is the open window. Through it wafts a scent/smell/odour/perfume, carried on the cool night air. It is fresh and clean, and takes me immediately back to my childhood. It is at the same time comforting and exciting, familiar yet strange, bringing me thoughts and feelings from the distant past, whilst still being here in the present.
I take in the smell with each breath and attempt to analyse it. What is there about it that makes such an impression on my both conscious and unconscious mind? I look out of the window. In the diffused glow from the park lights, and against the darkness of the sky, I see the spreading branches of the huge trees beneath which we are parked. They are ancient pine trees, what kind I don’t know, but as soon as I realize that’s what they are, I can put a name to the perfume my subconscious memory has already identified.
It is the clean scent of pine; a perfume that has been added artificially to cleaners for years to give the impression of freshness and purity. But this isn’t that artificial perfume which invades the senses and often becomes cloying. Instead it is a subtle blend of pine needles, bark and resin, damp pine-infused earth, and cool night air. It is light, almost ethereal, more a presence than an odour.
It brings to my mind cool and shady woods, feelings of peace and tranquility overlaid with the tang of adventure. I can almost believe there are elves or fairies present – that is how strong the impact is on my senses and my feelings. It stimulates me to such an extent that I can’t sleep until I have put these impressions and feelings onto paper. I wish I could capture in words the strong sense of how I am somehow transported back more than fifty years into the past and to the feelings I had as a young child.
What power has the sense of smell on the mind! I want to drink in this perfume as if it is the elixir of life, and to be conscious of every draught of it.
I am sure it was at Reed Park, where we lived in a caravan for an extended time during 1954-55 when I first encountered this aroma. We had arrived in Australia from England in March 1954, and somehow, the scent makes me think of good times, the stimulation and excitement of the new, but also of security and contentment.
I talked about this with then, and later with [my brother] Peter and Dad over Christmas. They all agree that there definitely were huge pine trees around where we camped in the caravan at Reed Park. Peter can’t remember there being pine trees anywhere else we’ve lived. So I am confident that the smell that night – which I have not thought about since I was about six or seven – was from that park. I must have been happy there, I think.
© Linda Visman
Tags: acrostic, memories
I have written just a few memories here in the form of an acrostic, using the above title. They are from my first thirteen years, and are limited by the letters I had available to me. They are also very brief, though I have already, or will in the future expand on some of them in other posts. It actually wasn’t that easy to do this self-imposed exercise!
School days at St Mary’s, St John’s, St Paul’s, St Mary’s & Dapto High
Oswaldtwistle, where I was born, and left when I was five
Making my own bows and arrows to play Indians
Entertaining ourselves with simple toys and games
Mowing the lawn at twelve
Easter rituals at Church and school
Mum’s green leather belt when we were naughty
Ordinary – that is how I saw my life; nothing special at all
Reading to find worlds of adventure
Ironing before heat controls or steam and burning my white school shirt
Earning a few pennies by opening & closing the railway gates for motorists
Singing old songs from England with my parents, uncle & Granddad
Odd one out – the middle child of five who didn’t fit anywhere else either
Finances always strained, with no money for extras
Milk – our milkman came around with a horse and cart
Yearning for I knew not what, but something more than I had
Yelling at my sisters & brother when I was angry – too often!
Eating Mum’s trifle at Xmas & New Year with Grandma, Uncle Fred & our families
Sitting at the kitchen table on stools that Dad had made
Taking Peter’s canoe onto the lake when I was forbidden to
Eating tough mutton chops & being unable to swallow the over-chewed meat
Radio serials like Superman and Tarzan that we listened to after school
Dad, David & Pauline hospitalised with polio
Accident, where I fell onto a joist when Dad was building an addition to the house
Yearly tests and trying to beat the two boys who were my main rivals
Songs from the 1940s, 50s and 60s that we listened to on the radio
What memories would you write if you did this acrostic exercise?
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: 2016, blogging, friendship, New Year, wishing for peace
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.
It has been gratifying to see the rise in the number of visitors and also of followers to my blog. Thank you to all who come to my page and especially to those who comment on the posts.
Here’s an excerpt:
The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
I’d like to wish every one of you a Happy New Year for 2016. I hope it is a year filled with positives in every part of your lives; challenges that help you grow; joys that make you happy; friends with whom you can share; and a world that becomes less troubled by hate, intolerance and violence.
May peace and love be the mainstays of your life and spread from you to all with whom you come in contact.
Tags: Albion Park Rail, Christmas Day, Christmas in summer, Oak Flats, Oswaldtwistle
Going away for a holiday in summer – or at any time – was unheard of in our family when I was growing up. However, the Christmas holidays were always a wonderful time of the year, as they were for all kids. Christmas Day was, for us coming to Australia from England, so different that we may as well have been in another world.
I still remembered the grey, drab, cold and usually wet days in Lancashire. Sometimes it did snow too. On Christmas morning, we would be rugged up in a coat and hat, with leggings and boots, and a mackintosh, to walk the mile or so to St Mary’s Catholic church for Mass.
How different was the two-mile walk to 7am Mass in Australia. We would set off, without breakfast, just after six o’clock. Our little home was in Albion Park Rail, but the hall where Mass was held was in Oak Flats. Almost always, the day would be clear and bright with no sign of drizzle or smog, and no smoke-blackened stone buildings. Instead of wet or icy stone footpaths, we walked along long, dusty streets that were usually hat as well.
Mum and Dad wore their Sunday clothes, as did we, but instead of the heavy clothes of England, they were light cotton shirts, or dresses (usually made by Mum) and sandshoes (usually freshly whitened by Dad). I remember skipping along the street, light-hearted and happy. The lake was on our left as we walked to church, and the new-risen sun shone from a blue sky onto its still waters, making it gleam and glisten. Everything looked fresh and clean.
There were few houses along our street, and hardly anyone was about so early. But whenever we did see someone, we would call out “Merry Christmas!” and they would respond with a smile and a similar greeting. This made the day even more special.
A wide creek marked the boundary between the two little villages and the halfway point in our walk. An old wooden bridge, missing many of its planks, spanned the creek. We thought crossing it was an adventure, but Mum always called out for us to be careful. It was later replaced by a higher one, still of wood and but with handrails on the sides. We’d stop in the middle and watch the ducks swimming in the water – how many would there be there today?
Mum and Dad would catch up with us at the other side of the creek and we’d climb the steep rise to the road above. This took us to the centre of Oak Flats village, where Mass was held in a small, community hall made of fibro.
Mass was still said in Latin then, but we would follow it with our Missal, that gave both the Latin and English words of the priest and altar boys. It was often boring on other days, but on Christmas morning there was a special joy and reverence that was missing on normal Sundays. I loved listening to the story of the birth of Jesus in the manger, the coming of the shepherds and the wise men.
The walk home included anticipation of breakfast, but also of what we would find under the Christmas tree we’d decorated with bits of tinsel, crepe paper streamers and a star made from cardboard covered with silver paper from Mum’s cigarette packet. With little money to buy presents, we usually received home-made gifts, or clothes we needed for going to church. There were no large items like bikes or doll’s prams.
However, one Christmas, Dad made wooden scooters, one for me and one for my younger sister. Another year, she got a cowgirl outfit and I, being a tomboy, received a cowboy outfit. Apart from the scooter and the cowboy outfit, the best present I ever received as a child was two children’s books of adventure stories. They were the first books I ever owned and I treasured them for many years.
Those years, from age six to ten, were the happiest of my childhood, and the best Christmases that I can remember.
Best wishes from me in Australia to all you lovely blog visitors for a wonderful Christmas, wherever you may be in the world.
© Linda Visman
Tags: childhood activities, creativity, independence, interpreting memories, living with nature, versions of the past
I sometimes wonder whether my childhood memories are as authentic as I believe them to be. There have been times when my siblings have reminded me of an event that occurred which illustrates an alternate version of those times, one that I may have pushed aside or interpreted in a different way.
I know that people can focus on aspects of their youth that colour and reinforce a version they have become used to. Sometimes, that version is a happy one, sometimes a negative one. I know of two brothers who see their experiences in a way that makes it seem they lived in different worlds – one seeing a society accepting of migrants and the other seeing discrimination everywhere. That has to be related to how their personalities have been shaped and to their natural optimism or pessimism I think.
Of course, there are some who really have endured awful family backgrounds, situations that could break them if that is what they focus on. And it does break some – but paradoxically makes others, even in the same family, stronger and more resilient.
We had a pretty good family, where we were loved and cared for, but during which we also endured some pretty tough times. I do remember those hard times, but I also remember the good times. Perhaps I have created a world that was somewhat better than it actually was, but at least it helps me to focus on the good stuff. Here’s a poem I wrote that does that:
In spring, summer and autumn,
we walked along muddy creeks,
along lake shores and ocean beaches,
over expanses of sea-side rock,
dotted with crystal-clear pools,
our bare feet tickled by weed and grass,
salt water and sand.
We collected driftwood and shells
and wave-smoothed stones
and carried them home
in bright red or blue or yellow buckets.
We spent hours sorting them
by shape and size and colour,
and days making sea-drift sculptures,
shell borders for photo frames and mirrors,
shell pictures and maps.
We strolled through wetlands,
dense with melaleuca,
wary of spiders and biting mosquitoes,
through lakeside forests of casuarinas
with their wind-eerie sounds,
and through paddocks and gullies
studded with eucalypts & blackberry bushes,
wary of red-bellied black snakes.
We collected sheets of paperbark
to make three-dimensional pictures,
flexible green sticks to make
dry reeds for arrows,
and bulrushes for spears.
Our Christmas decorations
were made from strips of crepe paper
that twirled across the room;
the star on top of the tree was
a piece of cardboard covered in
silver paper from cigarette packets.
From the huge pine trees
that bordered our school yard
(long gone now)
we fashioned their thick bark
into serviceable pistols, or dolls,
and their pinecones sawn through
created wide-eyed owls.
Inside, on cold or rainy days,
a sheet of newspaper could make
a ship or a plane or a hat,
or a row of dancing dolls.
A block of wood
made great cars and trucks;
large circular off-cuts from
holes drilled in plywood
made wheels for them.
Making our own entertainment was normal,
a stimulus to creativity and independence.
Not for us the electronic wizardry
of television or video games,
of computers or mobile phones.
We made what we could out of what we had
and enjoyed a childhood
rich with stimulation and experience.
What was your childhood like? Are your memories pleasant or negative?
© Linda Visman
Tags: Dapto High school, Leaving Certificate, muck-up day, schoolies week, sholarships to university, study for exams, StuVac
The Leaving Certificate exams were held In November 1965. These were the culmination of twelve years of schooling, and the results would determine much about our future. It was important therefore that we put everything into them we were capable of – at least that’s what I thought.
About October, the school held its end-of-year assembly and prize-giving. I won the senior public speaking prize for my Anzac Day speech -a copy of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury of Verse. I also won the French Consulate prize for French – I don’t know whether it was just for our school or for the region. That prize was also a book, a history of life in France, La vie Francais a travers les ages. I kept and read both of those books for many years. In late 1989, just before leaving New South Wales for nine years to teach in remote areas of the Northern Territory, I boxed up most of my books so they wouldn’t get damaged and left them with a friend. Soon after that, the friend left the area and I never found him again – nor did I get my thirteen boxes of books back!
Before the exams, we had a week’s break from school for study. We called it StuVac (study vacation). It was our final opportunity to catch up on, go over, pretend, go into a panic, or hopefully understand and expand our knowledge of the topics we hoped would be covered. Most people know the stress that final exams can put onto a student. In those days, any assessments we received during the school year did not contribute to our final result. They meant nothing – the examinations were everything. Some students, not as motivated as others, took the week as if it were an ordinary holiday, or only did a minimum of work. Others, including myself, were determined to do the best we could. Some wanted high grades, whilst others just wanted to pass well enough to get that precious certificate. I set up a study regime for myself and spent many hours every day working to achieve the best grades I could.
Our last day of school before StuVac was ‘muck-up’ day for our cohort of students, a day to let off steam before the intensity of cramming and exams. The principal, Mr Stacey, had made it clear before muck-up day, that there was to be no vandalism, no damage done to any property and that we had to clean up afterwards ourselves. If those rules were broken, he said, our school references would be withheld – references that we needed to impress prospective employers.
On the day, everyone dressed up in whatever we felt like, and did things like flour- or water-bomb teachers and other students. The science students made and released rotten egg gas – a staple. Dirk, who became my husband forty years later, was in the same year as me. He remembers more of the day than I do and told me more about what went on. One group dressed up as gangsters and their molls and drove around the school in a student’s 1940s car. Some of the boys picked up a teacher’s car – a Mini Minor – and carried it down to the end of the sports field and set it down sideways between the goal posts. They did return it to its place before leaving the school though, I’m glad to say. Some students held an assembly where ‘famous people’ made speeches, including an occasional satirical comment about the teachers. It was all good clean fun.
Examination week came during an early summer season. We wrote them in our school’s assembly hall, which was next to a grove of trees. That year was a great one for cicadas and their strident noise almost made it impossible to hear the moderators give us our instructions. But once I began, all sound seemed to vanish as I concentrated on my exam papers. It’s weird that I don’t remember any of those papers now. The only thing that immediately comes to mind when I think of those days is that almost overwhelming noise of the cicadas.
Nowadays, students in this country who have finished their exams have what has become known as Schoolies’ Week. Many go off for cruises or to popular tourist spots, like the Gold Coast. Most have, after their six years of high school to our five, turned eighteen. They are legal adults, and in many cases the focus of their newly-won freedom seems to be an orgy of sex, drugs and alcohol. When we finished school, we were seventeen, still legally children, even though most kids our age had already been out in the workforce for two years or more.
On the last day of our exams we said goodbye to Dapto High school. Those who already had jobs to go to, started as soon as the exams were finished. Dirk began his on-the-job training at Port Kembla Steelworks as a metallurgist. Valerie and I among others were hoping to go on to further education, and we had our last summer holidays to enjoy. Val and I would occasionally visit each other’s homes and go for walks, where the topic of conversation often turned to our hopes for the future.
Val wanted to be a Maths teacher. As French had been my favourite subject, I had decided I would teach languages. When we talked about the exciting possibility of overseas travel, my destination would always be France. I wanted to speak the language properly and see the country I often read about. Val previous results just about guaranteed her a place at university, but that was a prize I had never thought I could reach – nobody in my family had even aspired to those heights. So, although I tried to be optimistic, I didn’t know what the future really held.
Then, in January 1966, I received my hard-earned Leaving Certificate. My results were good enough to earn me the choice of any one of three scholarships to university. After discussing it with my parents, I settled on the Teachers College scholarship that was tenable at university. The nearest one was the University of Sydney, the oldest and most prestigious in Australia. There, six weeks later, I would begin my studies to become a teacher of French and German in the public education system.
(c) Linda Visman
Tags: being different, Dapto High school, insecurity, teenager
For whatever reason, many people look back on their school days with distaste. But I did truly like school and my attendance reflected that. I only missed an occasional day almost every year (except when we were quarantined for the polio) and, in my final two years, my attendance was 100%. When the time came, I actually regretted having to leave school.
It wasn’t the social side I took to so much, as I didn’t have many friends. What I loved was the learning and the rewards I gained from my own efforts. My parents supported me in my studies and as the only one in our extended family to have the opportunity of completing high school, I wanted to make the most of it.
Dad never had the chance to go through high school (he went to work at 14), but he supported me. Here I am at home in my summer uniform with him and my little brother in 1964.
My sisters and younger brother were much more sociable than me, and had friends right through school. I was self-conscious and I sometimes wonder if it was because of our poverty. Most of my free time was spent at home. We never had the extra money to go out anywhere, or if we did, it was only to church. I didn’t have new clothes very often, and Dad used a cobbler’s last to repair our leather school shoes.
In Fourth Year, I needed a new school bag. Instead of buying one, Dad, always good at making things with whatever he could find, made one for me. He cut up an old leather coat, and stitched it to make the outside with a flap over the top. He then glued plywood inside for the base, front and back, and also glued and riveted two straps around it. The handle consisted of a piece of thick round dowel attached to the straps. At first, I’d usually go to my locker when I’d get to school in the morning and leave in the afternoons, so nobody else would see it. However, once I got used to it, I was really proud of Dad’s ingenuity and skill, and I really loved that bag. It was a symbol that we were different, but in a way that I could accept. I really wish I still had it, or at least a photo of it!
A more realistic interpretation of my feeling of being an outsider was probably because I had many insecurities. I envied the girls who were confident, social and popular, and I felt so different that it was hard to feel accepted by them. I was a tomboy, not into makeup and fancy clothes, and I probably contributed a fair bit to their excluding me by my own attitude. Looking back with a clearer knowledge of humanity, I realise they probably thought I was stuck-up and too good for them.
When our English class put on a play, in spite of feeling excluded, I really wanted to take on one of the roles – even a small one. However, the teacher chose those who were confident and outgoing to play every part. My timidity didn’t allow me to even ask to be involved, not even in the support crew. My only friend, Valerie, didn’t get asked either, but I didn’t even ask if she’d wanted to be. I wonder if I’d been allowed to take part in the play it would have made any difference. Mmmm…
In my final year, I went, together with one of the top boys, Tony, to attend a Lions Club dinner and speak to them about our hopes for the future. I’m not sure, but I think it was because that group had paid my scholarship and Tony must have been the other recipient. I also gave a speech to the school at our Anzac Day ceremony in April 1964 about the importance to Australia of Anzac. Dad helped me write that speech, and I wish I still had a copy of it.
(c) Linda Visman