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Read, Write, Dance

Read, Write, Dance . Those three words could almost be my epitaph. Certainly (bearing and rearing children aside) they are the three activi...

About Me

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I am a writer, editor, reviewer and dance teacher based in Perth, Western Australia. I trained in piano and singing at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. I also trained in dance (Scully-Borovansky, WAAPA) and drama (NIDA). Since 1987 I have been writing reviews of performances in all genres for a variety of publications, including Music Maker, ArtsWest, Dance Australia, The Australian and others. Now semi-retired, I still write occasionally for the ArtsHub website, and I still teach dance at Trinity School for Seniors, an outreach program of the Uniting Church in Perth. You might enjoy my books - The Dagger of Dresnia, the first book of the Talismans Trilogy, is available at all good online book shops. Book two, The Cloak of Challiver, will be available again shortly. Book three, The Seer of Syland, is in preparation.

My books

The first novel of my trilogy, The Talismans, is available as an e-book from Smashwords, Amazon and other online sellers. I do have paperbacks of The Dagger of Dresnia at the low price of $AU25 including postage within Australia. I also have a short story, 'La Belle Dame', in print - see Mythic Resonance below. Book two of the trilogy, The Cloak of Challiver, will be available again shortly. The best way to contact me is via Facebook!

Buy The Talismans

The first two books of The Talismans trilogy were published by Satalyte Publications, which, sadly, has gone out of business. Book one, The Dagger of Dresnia, is up on the usual bookselling web sites as an e-book, and I have a few hard copies to sell to those who prefer Real Paper. Book Two, The Cloak of Challiver, will be available soon. The easiest way to contact me is via Facebook.

The Dagger of Dresnia

The Dagger of Dresnia
Want a copy? Contact me at satimafn(at)gmail.com

The Cloak of Challiver

The Cloak of Challiver
Available again as an ebook soon!

Mythic Resonance

Buy Mythic Resonance

Mythic Resonance is an excellent anthology that includes my short story 'La Belle Dame', together with great stories from Alan Baxter, Donna Maree Hanson, Sue Burstynski, Nike Sulway and nine more fantastic authors! Just $US3.99 from Amazon. Got a Kindle? Check out Mythic Resonance.

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Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Manchester, UK

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Gippsland, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong, Australia

Places I've lived: Geelong,  Australia

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've lived: Tamworth, NSW

Places I've Lived - Sydney

Places I've Lived - Sydney
Sydney Conservatorium - my old school

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've lived: Auckland, NZ

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier

Places I've Lived: Mount Gambier
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Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

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Places I've Lived: Perth by Day
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Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: High View, WV

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Lynton, Devon, UK

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Braemar, Scotland

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've lived: Barre, MA, USA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night

Places I've Lived: Perth by Night
From Kings Park

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Sunday, 28 October 2007

Writers, Depression and Addiction

This has been a busy week. Every day I've had at least one commitment that entailed going out, and I'm one of those people who can't seem to write and function out in the world as well – so no writing and very little editing has been done. I know some writers who manage to hold down full-time outside jobs or have enormous family commitments and still manage to write something meaningful every day, but not me. One well-published writer of my acquaintance says you can train yourself to do it, but so far my psyche refuses to co-operate. I need at least three days of down time with no human contact to get any useful work done, writing-wise. I do think that by nature, writers tend to be loners.

Apropos, over at Storytellers Unplugged, Richard Steinberg has written a piece called "On being not-too-bright" which touches on the idiosyncrasies of writers. Steinberg says "I know (meaning know well) thirty-seven professional writers. In reviewing the list, I discovered that four of them could be called happy pretty much all the time, two others were happy more often than not, one pretends she’s happy to please her husband and children, and thirty were pretty much depressives on one level or another, like me." He also touches on the well-known predilection for addiction often mentioned in connection with not only writers, but creative artists in general.

I posted the link on one of the mailing lists I subscribe to, with some interesting responses. One lister said "I think the world created a romantic but distorted ideal of the writer and artist being alcoholics, drug addicts, and tortured souls."

My feeling is that the "tortured souls" part is the essence of it. Happy people don't become alcoholics or drug addicts, AFAIK. Mind you, there are not many truly happy people about and the ones that are often simply delude themselves. Life is hard, and I think the creative part of us knows that and longs to hold up a mirror to it. And for some, turning to drugs or other addictions is one way to hold the inherent misery of life at arm's length. Addictions do not, however, make one more creative and often they have the reverse effect.

In other words, the creative urge springs from our recognition of the harshness of life, often because circumstances made us realise this harshness from a very early age. Addictions spring from the same place. Not infrequently, the two go together, but many such people realise that their addiction hinders their creativity and take the necessary steps to overcome it. For most of my life I was the archetypal co-dependent (although I did go through a phase of abusing booze myself) but it wasn't until I'd done several years' work on myself that whatever little creative flair I have stuck its head up and asked "is it safe to come out now?"

I posted these thoughts to the mailing list and had three interesting responses. One lister said "Actually, as one pretty well versed on the subject, I believe that addictions are genetic." Another said "The writing life - hours alone, unpaid, unsung, the longest apprenticeship in the world - is enough to drive anyone crackers," and also "addictions are a way we avoid problems instead of dealing with them."

You know, I think all the above are true. They are three ways of approaching the same topic. It's a bit chicken and eggy, really. Writers - in fact all artists, I think - tend to come from dysfunctional families, which are often dysfunctional because of a genetic tendency toward addictions. This situation turns out loners - who wants to be with people when being with people causes so much pain? - and spending so many hours alone just makes folks more and more eccentric. And we learn fairly early that getting involved in a creative project is a great way to forget the pain. It's just another addiction, in some ways.

What do you think? Check out Steinberg's article. It will make you laugh and make you cry.
Sunday, 21 October 2007

The Importance of Sensory Detail

This time last week I was feeling really despondent about the critiques I've been getting. For years, people have been telling me that my characters need more depth; build-up needs more tension; narrative needs more showing, less telling - and the one I forgot, which has actually turned out to be the really essential one - I don't use enough sensory description.

In despair I uploaded a new chapter to OWW with a plea that critters would not just tell me these things, but show me exactly where and how to include them. Now most critters balk at this. Re-writing another's work looks arrogant. No sensitive critter will do it. But why not, just now and then, put a practical spin on the adage we keep passing around like a mantra "show, don't tell"? In this case, it turned out to be the final ray of light that illuminated the room where my book lives.

Here's what happened: by (unwillingly, I might add) actually rewriting two sentences of my WIP, crit buddy Ursula demonstrated what people have been telling me for at least five years. Her review lifted me from down-in-the-dumpiness to up-in-the-cloudsness in the time it took me to read her advice. Look at the difference between these ways of writing the same thing.

My original version:
Her visitor strode across the room, swung his pack from his back to the floor and bent to kiss her cheek before taking the seat opposite hers.

Nothing wrong with that. It gets across what happened in a few succinct words. But look at Ursula's rewrite:
He brought a draught of cold air with him as he strode across the room. Shrugging free of his pack he tossed it to the floor and caught her in a hug. His skin was chill against hers as he bent to kiss her cheek.

In that brief passage Ursula caught the essence of what people have been trying to tell me all these years. All those criticisms were saying the same thing, as if my critters were coming into my story-room through four different doors; doors labelled Depth of Characterisation; Tension Building; Sensory Description and the old chestnut, Show, Don't Tell. At last, I've realised these are just four doors into the same place.

Adding sensory detail makes it easier for the reader to see the character close up. To walk a mile in another person's shoes we have to feel those shoes pinching. If we don't feel the sensation, we won't understand what s/he's going through. In experiencing what the character is feeling on the physical level, we more readily feel the tension not just in the character's body but in the situation s/he is in. And through that feeling and experiencing we are being shown, not being told.

To think of all the times I've been reminded to do these things and not understood what was needed! Dear critters, you must have been thinking that I was either dense or stubborn. Perhaps I am both, but most of all, I am obviously a slow learner. But now, please rejoice with me, for reading that passage Ursula re-wrote made me see that all my problems boil down to one: the need for More Sensory Detail.

So although I've written one and a half chapters this week I've actually spent more time editing; playing with the interconnectedness of those four persistent criticisms. Thank you, Ursula, for your kind help, and thank you all the people who were probably dying to re-write my stuff but hesitated because I never thought of asking you to. At last your patience has paid off, and hopefully you'll start to see an improvement in the functioning of all four of those doors into my story!
Sunday, 14 October 2007

The chorus is never offstage

The promised new chapter is written – but it was a blood, sweat and tears job. It took me all week to psych myself up to writing 1500 lousy words to serve a first draft and while I feel reasonably pleased with the outcome I was totally drained afterwards.

While I don't want to bore you with a load of internal angst, I will share with you the realisation that I am actually pretty scared of finishing this novel. Why? Because I fear it will be another book that is Nearly Good Enough.

Nearly Good Enough books are easy to find. Heck, some of them actually get published. I know I've read several and I expect you have, too. Usually the author doesn't get another chance – at least, not under the same name – and fades into ignominy without even selling out his or her advance. The reading public knows an NGE book when it sees one and is unlikely to look for a sequel. I've already written two NGE books and it's time I wrote a Goodenough one. (Now there's a thought – a new pen name! How would "Satima Goodenough" look on a cover?)

It's frustrating, this fiction-writing. After several years of solid work, I still get crits for the same faults – characters need more depth; build-up needs more tension; narrative needs more showing, less telling. Every time I do a rewrite I think "Aha, got it nailed this time," only to get the same old comments back from critters. They sometimes sound like a Greek Chorus, commiserating with me while pointing out the Fatal Flaws that doom the fruits of my labours to oblivion.

OTOH, all the published writers I've read on the subject agree that there is one characteristic no writer can do without, and that's perseverance. I'm not sure whether to be cheered or disheartened when I read of Writer X who sent a ms off thirty times before finding a publisher and Writer Y who wrote for twenty years before getting published. In one sense, these stories are encouraging, in that they demonstrate the value of hard work and persistence. However, at sixty-four years of age, haven't I left my run a bit late? Shouldn't I be spending my time down at the Senior Cits Centre, playing bridge and listening to U3A lectures?

Ye gods and little fishes, no! So what's the alternative? I know, I know - to get back on that bloody keyboard and write! Be it ever so difficult, unrewarding, frustrating and even heart-breaking, there never really was any other option, was there?

So, Musa volente, I shall write another chapter this week. In fact, even if the muse is not willing I'll do it. Slow progress is better than no progress, after all!
Sunday, 7 October 2007

New Writerly Friends

I had a very pleasant day yesterday, as I attended the first writers workshop I've come across in the southeast of South Australia. I only moved here a year ago and I still miss the many wonderful groups I belonged to in Perth. Since Perth is a city of over a million people, you can find groups or classes for almost anything you care to name: in the twenty years I lived there I belonged, at various times, to groups devoted to Astrology, Ballet, Belly Dance, Buddhism (all schools are represented in Perth), Chi Gong, Editing, French conversation, Genealogy, Indian dance (Bharat natyam style, but it was possible to find groups for other styles, too), Meditation, Operatic chorus singing, Personal Growth, Sanskrit grammar, Shakespeare, Spanish Dance, Speculative Fiction, Tai Chi, Writing and Yoga. (There were probably others: those are just the ones I can remember with a couple of minutes' recollection.) In short, there are things happening in cities that simply don't happen in country towns, and those, together with ready access to the state libraries, art galleries and museums are the things I miss most about city life. And that's before I even start to think of dear friends and family members who still live in Perth while I live over 2,000 miles away. Now I'm feeling sorry for myself:-)

Yesterday, however, was an oasis in a desert of days. A group known as Coastal Quills ran a superb one-day workshop called Writer's Journey, facilitated by the delightful Peter Dunn, a writer and illustrator resident in Millicent, a small town some 30 miles from where I live. Peter has cleverly devised a series of reflective exercises to help writers consider the outer journey as parallel to the inner one. We spent time meditating on the history of our lives in writing – when did we first realise we wanted to write? How did the desire manifest? What barriers might have presented themselves on inner and outer levels that prevented us from fulfilling our dreams? What events or defining moments reveal, in retrospect, that the vision stayed alive, even if not manifesting on an outward level? What do we really want out of life? If we want to write, how can we, starting with the tools and opportunities we have in the here-and-now, set tangible, realistic and measurable goals towards fulfilling our writing dreams?

I think every one of the eighteen participants, some of whom had travelled for up to a hundred miles to attend the workshop, went away uplifted, enthusiastic, and no longer feeling quite as alone as they did. For we writers are a queer breed. Generally, we prefer our own company to that of others and oftimes we find the inner life more interesting than the outer one. Yet we crave occasional contact with like-minded others to reassure us that we are not anti-social misfits or crazy eccentrics. We need opportunities to remind ourselves that we have an important place in society. We are the chroniclers of past, present and future; investigators of the human condition in all its many forms, real or imagined. No civilisation has ever survived without such chroniclers, nor ever will.

We are writers. And to the individual writer, the journey of investigation is more important than the destination.

There were five or six people in the group who live close enough to me to make regular connection possible. At least one attendee was a fellow spec-fic writer; others shared my passions for history and genealogy and one or two even expressed interest in joining a Shakespeare group if I form one. Another is a fellow Belly Dance enthusiast and has promised to put me in touch with a teacher. WOW!

Great hopes are in the air and great plans are afoot, therefore. Add to this that my friend Annalou in Adelaide has invited me to stay with her for the duration of the Writers Festival in March next year and you have one cheerful and hopefully unblocked Satima. I plan to set aside a day this week when I will not edit, not critique others' work, not answer e-mails nor answer the phone. I will sit down and write the first chapter of part three of the WIP, even if it's crap.

Now, all I have to do it psych myself up to that – wish me luck!

PS I want to publicly express my thanks to Peter Dunn (get a website, Peter!), Steven Davies and the Coastal Quills crew for putting on such a fine workshop. More, please!
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