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I am a writer, editor and reviewer based in Perth, Western Australia: my first novel, The Dagger of Dresnia (Book 1 of The Talismans) is published by Satalyte and available from their website as well as Amazon.com and other online outlets. As both writer and editor, I specialise in historical and high or epic fantasy. If you have a manuscript in preparation, don't waste money on editing too early. Instead, let me help with a mini-assessment of your work, based on careful reading of your synopsis and first 20 pages. Then, when you've worked on the manuscript in line with our discussions, I will be happy to do a full edit before you send it off into the big wide world. My fees are very reasonable - for more about my editing work, CLICK HERE

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Monday, 30 January 2012

Studying Anatomy or How One Thing Leads to Another

One thing all writers have in common is the fact that they’re into words, bigtime. A gift for languages is not uncommon: most writers I know have at least a smattering of knowledge about languages other than their own. And words can even be the key to getting us to learn other subjects. I love it when I have to write a scene that demands research such as a sword fight or a walk in a northern hemisphere forest in spring. I not only garner facts, but new words to add to the collection. These ventures have some practical spin-offs: most writers are useful to have on your team at a quiz night and can be relied on to play a decent hand at Scrabble. And they can bandy about words that are not usually found outside specialist dictionaries.

Anatomy, for example, is longstanding fascination of mine. The parts that make up a physical being, be it a flower, a mouse, a raven or an elephant, form such wonderfully cohesive wholes that one wonders how the heck it all happened.

Physiologists, geneticists and experts on evolution can give us some answers, but they are hard put to explain their findings in terms ordinary mortals can understand. Me, I just look at the petals and stamens and wonder at the beauty of the flower and stand amazed at the cleverness of the evolution that brought it about. Any deeper interest I have in anatomy has to do with its wonderful vocabulary.


As a uni dropout back in the early sixties, when I had no money and less sense, I did whatever I could to earn a crust. This involved doing a great many things that my parents wouldn’t have approved of, some of which required me to get naked. One such money-spinner was posing nude for artists and photographers.

A regular gig was posing for the art students at East Sydney Tech, now the National Art School. The school was (and still is) housed in the old Darlinghurst Gaol, an ancient edifice with thick stone walls that kept the sun out and the cold in – nice in summer, but it made for little joy in nude modelling in winter-time! The door would be open to let in light, and they would put a two-bar electric radiator close to me. This meant that one half of my anatomy was freezing and one half burning. I remember one time when the lecturer completely forgot to give me the obligatory stretch break after 20 minutes. When she finally remembered, I had trouble standing up. The cold half had gone completely to sleep while my buttocks must have been ruddier than the cherry, although it would have taken more than a Handel aria, or even a Puccini one, to warm my tiny hands, to say nothing of my entire front and most of my left leg.

I didn’t only model for straightforward sketching classes. One nice gig – I got to keep my clothes on! – was posing for the portrait class. It was mind-blowing to look at the students’ work as it took shape, week by week. Of course, the lighting was subtly different for each one, depending on what part of the room they were in. Some added glamour to my appearance, some painted me half in shadow, but the most surprising one was of me as a boy! The features were there, but the clothes had somehow become masculine and my trade-mark pony-tail had metamorphosed into a short back and sides! OK, so maybe my girl-friends calling me The Titless Wonder was not entirely unwarranted…

But the most interesting term was the one in which I was the female model for the anatomy class. It meant taking my clothes off again, but the weather was better by then so I didn’t mind as much. I hadn’t done Biology in high school, so the entire subject matter of the course was a revelation. As a dancer, I knew how to pose, of course, and I also knew what poses would make which muscles stand out. What I hadn’t known was the names of the muscles. We spent several classes on the visible musculature of the leg, and I think I can still, even today, recite the names from hip to toe, for the lecturer was determined that his students should not just able to sketch the muscles, but know their names and functions as well: gluteus maximus. fascia lata, sartorius, plantaris, tibialis, gastrocnemius, extensor digitorum longus and a dozen more. I can’t remember exactly where they are or what they do anymore, but the names still roll trippingly off my tongue, and what lovely words they are! Latin, like its grandchild Italian, has a poetic, sonorous, musical feel to it. I could listen to either language for hours.

I got to know some very interesting people through modelling, including Thea Proctor (1879-1966), the well-known artist. She was nearing the end of her life when I modelled for her and her friends, but she was sprightly and intelligent, her mind still as sharp as her lino-cutting tools. I still have a sketch she did of me, which funnily enough did not look remotely like the ‘me’ of the time (I was dancing then, and weighed less than 50 kilos) but it looks very like the mature me with curves more voluminous than voluptuous!


Naturally, the snippets of anatomy I learnt from modelling stood me in good stead when I later became a dance teacher and later still, when I decided to update my expertise by studying at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. There, our anatomy lecturer would take contorted poses that looked like something from one of those statuary groups that depict an attack on some helpless tribe by another that wasn’t so helpless, sometimes twisting one arm behind her back or overhead in a dramatic manner that made me think she should have been an actor instead of a physiologist. She was a hard taskmaster, making us name the agonist and the antagonist and other such technicalities that I never did quite figure out. But I learnt a lot more lovely words: pectoralis major, brachialis, latissimus dorsi, supraspinatus...

Isn’t it funny how one thing leads to another in life? In the last decade or two, I’ve done quite a lot of academic editing, and I am quite fearless in tackling theses and papers in the medical arena. I’ve had a crack at most of the health sciences, predominantly physiotherapy. After meeting extensor digitorum longus and his mates, fascinating facts concerning COPD or female incontinence hold no terrors. And it’s unlikely that I will be intimidated by any jargon, ever again!

Pictures courtesy Wikimedia Commons:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A2009-08-31-akt-muehla-041.jpg
by Ralf Roletschek [GFDL 1.2 (www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons (Even though that pic is from Germany, it looks a lot like the environs of the old gaol where I worked!)
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/46/Muscle_posterior_labeled.png
by Mikael Häggström (w:Gray's muscle pictures) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3 comments:

Jo said...

You have had a varied career haven't you? I know what you mean about language, I have always been fascinated by it, not that I am into anatomy like you are. But I do have more than a smattering of several languages which one day I hope to improve upon.

Sue Bursztynski said...

What a fascinating tale, Satima!

Satima Flavell said...

Yes, certainly a varied career - all grist for the writing mill! I guess everyone has a lifetime of stories to tell, and I know I get ideas not only from my own experience, but that of my friends as well!

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