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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
Blue Lake

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've lived: Adelaide, SA

Places I've Lived: Perth by Day

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

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

Inner Peace Blog

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Awarded by Joanna Fay. Click on the image to visit her lovely website!

Versatile Blogger Award

Versatile Blogger Award
Awarded by Kim Falconer. Click on the pic to check out her Quantum Astrology blog!

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Thursday, 29 July 2010

What is Success?

Another post copied over from my old WordPress blog.

Over at her Year in America blog, my friend Fiona Leonard posed the question, “If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?”

I thought for quite a while about this before posting a comment, trying to identify how I define success and what anchors me in my undertakings. I came to the conclusion that it’s not the lure of success that motivates me, but my passion for the thing I’m doing.

I’ve had many interests over the course of my life: in fact, in a post about a year ago I described myself as being “artistically promiscuous” as a girl, since I loved so many things. I studied piano, singing, speech and drama and several forms of dance as well as a full trencher of school subjects and all the peripherals that go with being a music student – theory, harmony, aural training, history and form of music…my days were full from wake-up time at 6.00am until I collapsed into bed at about 9.30pm. I loved all those activities (or at least most of them, most of the time!) and did not want to give any of them up.

Until, of course, they became too difficult. This happened first with piano. I was a student at Sydney Conservatorium, and I was well aware that although I had above average ability in music, I was never going to be much better at it than I was then. It had become a hard grind. I pushed myself through the required two hours of practice each day, but each session was a struggle. My teacher, Raymond Fischer, told me I was at least three years away from being ready to sit even the simplest diploma exam, and I realised I just didn’t have the enthusiasm to last the distance. Possibly, with a lot of effort, I could have done what my parents hoped and expected I would do – go on to Teachers’ College and become a specialist music teacher in a high school. But the prospect of having to face four or five classes a day for the rest of my life, trying to interest a mob of teenagers in a subject that had already lost its juice for me, was utterly unthinkable.

After a year of Arts at Sydney University, I took a year off study to work in the public service and make a rather unfortunate early marriage. It didn’t take long for me to realise that working in an office environment was not my thing, either, and in 1962 I entered the National Institute of Dramatic Art to try my hand at acting. However, during that year I had my first baby and in those days there were no creches at universities, and as I couldn’t find suitable child care, I had to give up my scholarship and quit the course. I was sad, but not devastated, because at heart I’d already realised that this was not my path, either. I loved Shakespeare, but opportunities for specialist Shakesperean actors in Australia were virtually nil at that time, and the thought of spending my time preparing for auditions for TV commercials didn’t exactly fill me with enthusiasm. Several of my fellow students did indeed become professional actors — two of them, John Bell and Anna Volska, even became specialist Shakespereans! — but many more became bartenders, teachers and insurance agents.

I continued to be involved in amateur theatre and to teach dance for another twenty years, while rearing my five children. Along the way I furthered an interest in astrology that had started in my teens, and tried my hand at farming, even gaining a Certificate in Rural Studies to give myself a theoretical base for milking cows, drenching sheep and mucking out pig pens. Actually this was one of the happiest times of my life in many ways, and not the least happy-making part was watching my children growing up close to nature, seeing first-hand the cycles of life that as urban dwellers we see only dimly, as when someone has a baby or an elderly relative dies. In farm animals these cycles play themselves out far more quickly.

Dance was the one thing that never lost its appeal for me, despite my short legs and hockey-player’s build that rendered me unsuited to classical ballet. In my forties I returned to study at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, where I completed an Associate Diploma in Performing Arts (Dance) with the intention of “updating my expertise” so that I could catch up with the latest doings in the dance world, especially in teaching. My forty-odd-year-old body complained terribly and it took three years for me to complete the two year course, but complete it I did, and I was quite proud when I walked across the platform to receive my scroll. Concurrently, I’d started a BA in Religious Studies, which I loved. I complemented it by converting my Associate Diploma to a Dance minor, and also started another BA in Languages. This was in those heady days of the 1980s when all tertiary education was free, so I was merrily undertaking units in French, Italian, English Literature, Linguistics, Psychology and Journalism. However, when I was part-way through this second BA, my second marrriage broke down and fees for university courses came back, so I could not afford to finish it, much less go on to do the masters in Religious Studies that I’d hoped to do. Of course, none of those transcripts actually qualified me to do anything, and I was getting older and becoming less and less employable in a country that has always valued youth above almost everything else. So I turned to my other interests to put bread on the table, and these are the things I still do today – writing, editing, astrology and meditation. And I still love all of them.

Writing fiction, however, is just as heartbreaking as music, dance and acting. The chances of any individual “succeeding” at it are very low indeed. For every thousand manuscripts that are started by hopeful would-be authors, only one or two, at best, will eventually be published by one of the major commercial publishing houses. I frequently become discouraged, and talking to my fellow writers, I realise most of them do, too.

Nevertheless, I will keep up the battle until writing loses its juice for me. And when might that be? If my past experience is any guide, it will be when I know that I’ve reached the limits of my ability, which to me isn’t failure; it’s just a fact of life. I have the good fortune to have better-than-average talents in a lot of directions, but I have never proved to be outstanding at any of them.

The nine Muses dancing with Apollo

But is this a bad thing?

I think not. If it were, I wouldn’t have had the chance to do so many wonderful things because I would have spent my life focussing on the prospect of success in just one of the things I love. I worship all the muses, and while, perhaps, none of them loves me quite as much as she loves her dedicated votaries who have just one talent in abundance, I can nonetheless bathe in all their sacred pools and come away refreshed. And that may be the best gift of all.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Once I thought I'd like to be an editor

Here's another post recycled from my old WordPress blog.

As I wrote the title to this post, I thought it sounded vaguely familiar. Then I remembered a silly little song my father taught me when I was five years old, which began, “Once I thought I’d like to be a cricketer”. I can still remember the words, so just for fun I put them up here.

But this post is not about cricketers, but editors. How does one become an editor?

I suppose it’s not unlike the way one becomes a cricketer or anything else: you watch other people doing it, then maybe you get someone to teach you a few things, and from then on its practice, practice, practice. That’s certainly the way I learnt, but that was twenty years ago. Things are a bit different now, in that there are tertiary courses devoted to editing and publishing and the Institute of Professional Editors has set up a qualifying examination. But a lot of people, even today, just fall into it, as I did.

I was at Edith Cowan University and had just started to write for Music Maker Magazine, in which I had my own column. Fellow students, therefore, thought I might be some kind of expert and they would often ask me to check their work for spelling and grammatical errors before they passed it in. I soon realised I was, in fact, not bad at copyediting. After all, I come from a generation that had the Rules drummed into them from an early age. It horrified me a bit to realise that in my French classes there were young people fresh out of school who literally did not know a noun from a verb. The lecturer was in despair. ‘How can I teach them French grammar,’ she asked, ‘when they don’t even know the rules in English?’ I sympathised completely, and I felt sorry for the students, who had never had chance to learn the beautiful intricacies of our language.

If our own young people cannot understand English grammar, what hope does a foreigner have? So when a few years later a student from Nepal asked me to help him learn to speak and write better English, I was happy to help. Jaganath (who has since become a friend) somehow persuaded his university that they should pay for his English lessons. The university responded by sending me more students, and it didn’t take me long to realise that they didn’t want conversation practice nearly as much as they wanted help with their assignments.

In some countries, styles of writing differ considerably from the linear point-to-point-to-conclusion logic that we are used to in English. Rather, scholars there prefer a rather more circuitous approach. This difference puzzles a lot of students for whom English is not their mother tongue.

What’s more, academic English, especially in the sciences, still prefers a formal style with a preponderance of Latinate words rather than plain Saxon-based ones. Formal written English is almost a different language. Naturally, lot of students, not all of them foreign, find this really confusing. Formal English uses Latinate words for historical reasons – after the Norman invasion of 1066, the ruling classes, who made and enforced the laws, for several centuries did not speak the same language as the predominately Anglo-Celtic people they had conquered. When I explain this to students it’s a joy to see comprehension dawn in their eyes, and some of them get the hang of the different “feel” of the two forms of English very quickly.

And so it was that I fell into editing quite by chance. As more and more students were awarded their degrees, so my confidence grew. By this time I had become interested in writing fiction, and other writers would ask me to critique their work. At first, I would only copyedit their offerings, but here, too, I gradually became bolder and more confident and as my expertise grew I took on more and more complex editing jobs and felt I could charge a reasonable fee for my work.

If you feel drawn to editing and would like to learn more, find your state’s society of editors (There’s a list on the Society of Editors WA website.) If you live outside Australia, try an internet search for society+editors+Antarctica, or whatever other country you live in. The internet is full of wonders and you’re sure to turn up something!

Of course, if you’re young enough to want to make this your career, you can enrol in a formal course either in journalism or editing and publishing. But a lot of freelance editors are older people like me, who learnt formal English in school and who may have some journalistic or teaching experience; who have read widely and taken appropriate workshops when they’ve had the opportunity, and who are willing to go on learning.

There’s room for all kinds of editors. Few freelancers make a full living from their editing activities, but that’s not a bad thing. Many people today depend on a portfolio of skills for their livelihood . If you love language and enjoy helping people, why not make editing one of yours?

Monday, 26 July 2010

Genealogy in a multicultural world

This is another post that I've copied over from my old WordPress blog.

When I was a child, ethnicity was a relatively simple matter. England was full of English people, Chinese people lived in China and in the south sea islands there were people who wore grass skirts and possibly ate missionaries. Of course, it wasn't really quite as simple as that, but that was how it appeared to me at three or four years of age.

I remember Mother calling me to the window one day, saying, "Look, there's a Chinaman!" I leaned over the windowsill and gazed down at the street below, but all I could see was the back of the man's head as he hurried along like everyone else in the bustling crowd, heading for a bus stop, his workplace or the shops. (I should explain that we were between houses and at this stage were living in a flat over a butcher's shop. It was at 26 King St, Stretford, Manchester, if you'd care to consult Google Earth!)

My illusions were shattered! The man wasn't even wearing a long robe like the mandarins in my picture book.

The world was already changing. The end of World War II left millions of people displaced, and they often ended up somewhere far from their place of birth. Other emigrations involved young women from Japan and Germany who had married soldiers from the UK, America, Australia and other countries. My own eldest sister married a refugee from Serbia and our house was often filled with his friends, many of whom spoke little or no English. And when we emigrated to Australia in 1952, we already found the beginnings of a multicultural society.

It was largely European multiculturalism, of course, for at that time the White Australia policy was in force. It suited the authorities to forget the Aboriginal people their ancestors had displaced, the Chinese adventurers who had settled here during the Gold Rush of the mid-C19, the Kanakas from the south seas islands who had been kidnapped and brought to Queensland as slave labour, the Afghan camel-drivers of Australia's Red Heart and the Japanese divers who worked in Broome's pearling industry. No, Australia was White, and White it was going to stay.

But Australia was flourishing and people all over the world were on the move. Laws had to change to bring in much-needed labour. Young people of the developed nations discovered the joys of travel, and many of them brought home foreign partners or settled in other countries. Students began to attend universities in lands other than their own, and by the 1960s countries that had been reasonably homogeneous, population-wise, found themselves turning into melting pots. Multiculturalism had arrived.

Now we have second and third generations of children whose parents or grandparents came from other lands. In some families, the immigration took place long ago, as in the the case of the Chinese gold-diggers' descendants. Some time ago, I met a girl from Broome whose four grandparents were Japanese, Aboriginal, Afghan and Irish. She was, I might add, extraordinarily attractive!

Two of my children descend from a part-African slave trader from Jamaica, who brought his family to Australia in the mid C19 when that terrible trade failed. Two more of my children are part-German. I have nieces and nephews of two generations who are part-Serbian, part-Greek or part-Polish, and step-grandchildren who are part-Italian.

All this has made for some interesting research in my family tree! I have not attempted to follow the Italian, Serbian, Greek and Polish laterals, leaving those for closer relatives to investigate, but I have found out a great deal about the ex-pat Jamaican line and that of my German children. Family historians are incredibly generous in sharing their research, and in fact my German cousin-by-marriage, Elfriede, came to visit me with her husband, who is Indian, a few years ago and I was fortunate enough to visit their lovely home in the Rhine Valley in 2006.

The ever-increasing mixture of nationalities must surely strengthen the gene pool, although it might create problems for genetically-based medicine in the future. Already we occasionally hear of someone who cannot find a tissue match because of their unusual bloodlines. But as genealogists, we face our own challenges. We are very lucky today in having access to so much information from all over the world. Not all of it is readily accessible, but even so, many of us can trace our ancestry back for at least a couple of centuries if we are determined enough. But who knows how long this happy state of affairs will continue? Borders alter, governments fall, mass migrations of people can happen almost overnight, especially in the event of war or natural disaster. All these things can mean gaps in the records. Anyone with any sense of history, anyone with any feeling of family pride, anyone with any sense of curiousity and wonder, wants to know about their ancestry. It is of vital importance, therefore, that this lucky generation of family historians should collect and preserve all the records they can for their multicultural, multi-coloured descendants! Write down everything you can remember of the stories your parents and grandparents told you about life in the old country, and their difficulties in learning to live in a new culture. Don't throw out those old photos, documents and letters Opa Jan, Aunt Mary, Uncle Ngobo or Cousin Takeko left in the garage. Rather, preserve them in archival quality folders and albums. Your great-grandchildren may well thank you for it.
Sunday, 25 July 2010

Authorial voice, passive writing and the passive voice

How do you like my new-look blog? Kudos to my clever son Scott over at ManeyActs.

I've decided to import some old posts from the WordPress blog that I no longer use, and as Blogger won't let me import the lot in date order, I shall copy and paste them one by one. Here's one I posted in March of this year:

On sites that offer writing advice one sometimes reads instruction that confuses “passive writing” with “passive voice”. We see this among critiquers in writing groups as well, and it’s a source not just of confusion but also of misinformation.

I think there are two sources for this confusion. We often read that a writer needs to develop his or her own “Voice”. (I’ll capitalise this hereafter, to distinguish it from the other meaning of the word, which I’ll deal with farther down.)

“Voice” in this context really refers to those distinctive elements of a writer’s style that remind us of who is writing. If we look at authors of bygone days, Voice is not hard to see. Charles Dickens, for instance, had a distinctive Voice. So did Rudyard Kipling and DH Lawrence. In fact, pick up a work by any well-known author active before about 1980 and if you’ve read a few of that author’s books you will probably recognise the Voice straight away, because it did not vary much from book to book within that author’s oeuvre.

Few authors today have that kind of truly distinctive Voice. This is, I think, because of the popularity of the so-called “deep third” (AKA tight third or close third) Point-of-View (POV). It is currently fashionable for authors to hide behind their characters, giving the reader a seamless experience in which the author almost “channels” the POV character. In speculative fiction, two authors who demonstrate remarkable mastery of the deep third are Joe Abercrombie and Margo Lanagan. It is easy to lose oneself in their characters; to feel the character’s sensations and emotions and even to feel as if one is thinking that character’s thoughts. The author’s Voice and the voice of the POV character become one.

Some other authors use the close third only for moments of high tension and drama, retaining their own voice for narrative passages. Guy Gavriel Kay’s work is largely written in this style.

That more obvious, capital-V voice found in authors of past decades is easily confused with another sense of voice – passive writing. If a writer employs a lot of unnecessary auxiliary verbs (forms of “to be” and “to have” as part of an action, such as “He was running”) and constantly uses weak verbs such as walk and go (or went) people say the writing is passive. It’s only a short step from here to thinking that the writer has a “passive” Voice, and here’s where the trouble really starts, because the expression “passive voice” has a clearly defined grammatical meaning.

The “passive voice” as opposed to the “active voice” means using a verb without close reference to the doer of the action, as in, for example, “The ball was thrown by John” instead of “John threw the ball”. The giveaway is that little word “by”. A verb in the passive voice is followed by a preposition, most commonly “by” or “to” (as in “The award was given to Jenny”).

Let's look at examples of the three matters under discussion here – authorial voice, passive writing and the passive voice:

1. An author’s voice (I'll stop capitalising it now you 've got the picture!)
Here is Dickens’s famous opening of A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

The opening gives us an excellent feel for Dickens’s very distinctive (authorial) voice.

2. Passive writing
Here’s a passage I’ve just made up:

I was walking along the road, having just been to the dentist, when I was hit from behind by a cricket ball that had been thrown by a schoolboy. I had been intending to go to visit my mother, but the blow to my head gave me such a migraine that I found myself thinking that perhaps I should be going straight home to lie down.

That is passive writing. We don’t get any feel for the action or for the character’s feelings and sensations because we are separated from them by wases and –ing words – and one example of the passive voice! Can you see where it is?

3. The passive voice
Yup, that’s right: “I was hit from behind by a cricket ball” is in the passive voice, grammatically speaking. The passive voice is best avoided in fiction writing because it is frequently found as an element of passive writing.

But don’t get the terms mixed up. Passive writing is not always in the passive voice. Passive writing, as I’ve said above, is characterised by too many auxiliary verbs, weak verbs and probably weak nouns as well. It may or may not include use of the passive voice.

And not all writing that uses auxiliary verbs is passive, either. For instance “The pretty girl was dancing when I first saw her” uses the auxiliary “was” to indicate the past continuous tense. Some critiquers might try to persuade you to replace it with the simple past – “The pretty girl danced when I first saw her”. They would be wrong, because the simple past tense in that case would be incorrect and somewhat ambiguous. It might suggest, for example, that the pretty girl started to dance because I saw her!

What I’m trying to get across here is don't confuse authorial voice with the passive voice and especially don't confuse passive writing with the passive voice. “The pretty girl was dancing when I first saw her”, and, for instance, “The pretty girl will be dancing next time I see her” are certainly not in the passive voice, and, used correctly, are not necessarily examples of passive writing, either. They are perfectly legitimate uses of continuous forms of the verb “to dance”.

We are fortunate in having so many ways to express things in English, and the continuous tenses have their place. The skill lies in knowing when you can get away without using them, rather than making blanket statements about "passive writing" or worse, confusing them with the passive voice.
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