Category Archives: non-fiction

Christchurch 22nd February, 2011

The fall of certainty

(I recently rediscovered this piece, written a week after Christchurch’s major earthquake while my partner worked for Victim Support and we stayed in our Addington flat – Heather Sylvawood)

On this first day back in the city I find myself caught in a Carmelite-like situation where I am left to pray and imagine the sorrows of the world while others get out and do things.

Our little bolt hole is the epitome of privacy – I feel the jolts as the great earth mother creaks her bones and tosses about to find a comfortable spot to rest for another millennium, but only the sirens and occasional texts from people out in the city let me know what is happening.

TuiNook 008

Reports come in

From my partner Tre comes in a report that the evacuation centre at Pioneer Stadium where she is stationed has been evacuated itself to check out the safety of the structure. The refugees must wait to return to their borrowed mattresses on the floor.

From daughter Natalie a report that her boys are having a great time on the skateboard ramp across the road from a crumpled Basilica beyond the cordon. I suggest the boys could use some of the local streets so crumpled are they that cars treat them like a series of road humps.

Another daughter and her husband text in delight that their chemical toilet has finally arrived. It is a relief that some normalcy has descended into their lives. They’re still without power or running water but having a toilet as opposed to a hole in their backyard has become the height of luxury.

EQC staff blitz our area marking off each residence as they inspect whether it is structurally sound. Tre is briefly home, but still wearing her Victim Support ID and they recognise it. There is a moment of camaraderie – an acknowledgement of a common purpose and then they move on.

Fly past of the victims

This afternoon the air is cut, cut, cut by the rotor blades of a series of choppers. We are less than a kilometre from South Hagley Park and I suddenly realise that these khaki Darth Vadars have arrived to take bruised and broken bodies to the morgue at Burnham. It seems fitting that these victims should fly above us … they gave their lives as the city shook itself beyond recognition.

Less than three kilometres away people from many nations hand pick rubble to uncover the next victim for the Darth Vadar patrol .., and yet here, around our barely-touched flat, the wind tosses the trees and splinters the sun shadows. The traffic sound is quieter than I remember for a shopping Saturday. Even the voices of neighbours are absent.

I am here as a camp follower, displaced, working on my computer, which I can do anywhere, but don’t feel like doing. I want to be picking up pieces too. This is my city, a city that shared the birth of four of my children and five grandchildren. I want to give them back some certainty. But I cannot.

An earthquakes’ legacy

And that is probably the greatest legacy this catastrophic earthquake has given Christchurch residents – the certainty that we can never again be certain. It’s snatched the tragedy from the distance of television screens and planted it firmly in our heads. Life is uncertain.

Several days have passed – too fast. They have tumbled their impressions like loose debris into my consciousness.

  • Waking to earthquakes in the night, and sometimes not waking. Dreaming weird dreams of improbable people tossed together.
  • Clutching bench tops and chairs that cannot give any protection, but instinctively wanting solid support during the aftershock.
  • Hearing stories of escape and more stories of random destruction.

The instinct of survival

My daughter and son-in-law are being entertained by a couple of other Kiwis in a house that does have power, water and a flushing loo. A large jolt has three of them (the Kiwis) diving under the substantial table, while our German son-in-law rushes around in a panic looking for a doorway safe enough to stand in.

“That’s what comes of living in the shaky isles,” my daughter muses. “All those earthquake drills have become instinctual.”

That may be so, but the wobbling glass and metal table I have to shelter under does not fill me with such confidence.

When will the next one strike?

We seem to be in a constant state of tension. A sudden rumble as a truck passes, or the vibration of the ranch slider sliding open, have our ears on alert. The instant fight or flight decision when a rumble materialises into a shake: ‘Is it going to go on, or get larger, or start breaking things?’

It seems that the community is being divided into opposing groups.

  • The ‘copers’ who dig their outside loos, cover their roof holes or prop up their leaning walls; and the shocked and paralysed who want ‘someone’ to arrive and fix things.
  • The short tempered drivers who honk if they have to wait more than a second while someone makes a tricky manoeuvre over liquefaction humps; and the courteous drivers who stop and let others cross-over in front or quietly join the queue ahead of them.
  • The residents still in darkness, who fear looters; and the looters themselves whose thefts often seem to be based on survival: petrol, food, bedding.

Of course, some criminally inclined use the cover of darkness as a way of making their job so much easier, and equally there are those whose wrath and anger would have them do despicable things to the thieves.

There is certainly nothing like a disaster to bring out the best and worst in people.

The Truth of the Matter

Heather Sylvawood, www.writegear.co

I was thinking about ‘stories’ the other day and how the word itself has the implication that a story contains some element of ‘make believe’.  When we read a newspaper story, however, we believe the story to contain the truth, not make believe.

So are there true stories?

As I followed my fanciful thoughts I came to realise ‘the truth of the matter’ is far from ‘the truth’ because no matter who is writing the account it is seen through their filters.  Even autobiographies (written by the subject person) are filtered remembrances because who wants the world to know about their embarrassing or shameful moments? And if they do want to share them, doesn’t the author skew the account to elevate their part and play down their protagonist’s part?

True C onfessions magazine
True or fiction?

Newspaper stories

I thought back to the time when I was a newspaper reporter and considered how make believe might have sneaked into my writing. Embarrassing confession: it did regularly.

My first filter was which of the leads did I want to spend most time on? You’d expect the answer to be the one of most public interest. The answer, however, was always the story that most appealed to me personally. Subconsciously I’d assume that because it appealed to me, it would also appeal to everyone.

Less important information

When writing the story I would highlight the facts that enhanced my viewpoint and minimise comments or information that didn’t feel quite so important. Even though I reported this ‘less important’ information it would be relegated to the last paragraphs which the sub-editor would cut if space was tight.

My important story would be allowed an accompanying colour picture and would probably be given the largest headline. The reader subconsciously would assume that the picture and large headline meant this was an important story.

News filters the truth

Imagine what is happening in the US at the moment. Picture the differences in reports of President Trumps’ saying and doings. Same story/report of actual facts will be written with different filters and appear in print as if the writers were listening to different events or broadcasts.

The readers, viewers or listeners will hear only what they are expecting to hear. They will apply their own filters and accept or reject the reporter’s bias – their filter. When stories link into emotional issues, as President Trump is doing, the blurring of reported facts becomes catastrophic. Such stories can lead to  hatred, riots and war.

President Donald Trump
It’s merely the way you look at him … or is it?

Editorial versus Reporting

We accept that an editorial contains some element of opinion and therefore ‘make believe’. We don’t expect a news report to contain make believe. However, I would challenge anyone, whatever side of the Trump debates they sit, to say they can eliminate their personal bias or filter from what they write on the issues Trump raises.

And guess what? I don’t think reporters should.  Whatever moral ground, religious filter or belief you have should be applied to any news report, just as you would to an editorial. Public debate is important, dissension is important. These are the tools that define a nation’s moral codes on which are built our judicial system and laws.

The Illusions we live by

By Heather Sylvawood

Authors/writers deal in illusion. Readers accept that they are being drawn into the illusion and for a time enter the unreal world the author has created. Even non-fiction is an illusion because the writer offers the reader ONLY the filtered version of their observation.

So when this image (below) came through Facebook from UniverseLetters.com (artist is J R Slattum) I was jolted into a mind-blowing vision of illusions within illusions within illusions.

TheIllusionOfSelfControl

‘Your future self is watching you right now through your memories’

My translation of experience today becomes my memory, and influences how I look at things in the future – thereby, at the moment of the experience, I am shaped inevitably into my future-self.  (This is my filter – not necessarily yours. If you see it differently, whose illusion is the ‘truth’?)

As a writer,  I know also that my memories shape the characters I will write into my novels and short stories, and in the writing of them and their imaginary experiences they become another layer of memory. Then, in reading my stories, the reader (perhaps you) absorb the memory of my character and what happens to them, and your filtered memory shapes your future self, your beliefs and even your intentions.

Like a bolt from the blue

The thought made me realise that authors and writers have a huge advantage. We can influence future generations through memory and illusion.

My second thought was – ‘Duh! People have known this for centuries when relating the stories, propaganda, and the half-truths they have told.’

All religions have passed on and added to the stories that influence their believers. Even the ‘truth’ that has been written down is recalled through the reader’s filters. For instance, the stories in the Christian Bible from the apostles, while based on the same experiences as the others, will have been filtered by the previous experiences of the apostle who is relating  what happened.

Who is doing the telling matters

Think about the real-life dramas that are being played out in Court rooms throughout the World. Witness 1’s recall contradicts  Witness 2 and 3 and … We talk about reliable witness statements – but these come from the illusion that people who haven’t had a conviction, or attend church, or run community groups, or public figures, or are talented entertainers are somehow more reliable than the general hoi polloi. We can all point to examples where people in these groups are far from reliable.

The only way that these illusions are accepted as ‘truth’ is by having them committed to memory. And most of our memories are based on frequently repeated stories that become ‘beliefs’.

Writers capture readers by beliefs

A book or story that captures reader imagination must be based on some accepted belief or disbelief. So the writer or author needs to understand the common illusions accepted by most people in their culture.

If an author tried to base a story on the belief that the World is flat they would have an uphill battle convincing readers. The best they could hope is that the reader would keep on reading through sheer disbelief. Even fantasy novels are based on some commonly accepted beliefs, e.g. mountains are high and made of rock, or water runs downhill. (Think about it!)

The trick for writers is that they must pick the beliefs/illusions they tamper with. They have to decide how far the reader will go without putting their novel or short story down in disgust.  I also think they need to decide what they are putting into the memories of their readers – violence, cruelty, experience of death, love, kindness or courage.

Reality doesn’t exist unless you see it

If you consider that memory is based only on filtered illusions, news that Australian scientists have discovered that reality is an illusion comes as no surprise.

“According to a well-known theory in quantum physics, a particle’s behaviour changes depending on whether there is an observer or not. It basically suggests that reality is a kind of illusion and exists only when we are looking at it. Numerous quantum experiments were conducted in the past and showed that this indeed might be the case.

“Now, physicists at the Australian National University have found further evidence for the illusory nature of reality. They recreated the John Wheeler’s delayed-choice experiment and confirmed that reality doesn’t exist until it is measured, at least on the atomic scale.”

If you don’t believe me (and why would you?) take a look at this article on the Mind Unleashed website.

Accepted illusions of life

Many of the great novels of the last two centuries have been based on illusions

  • That good always triumphs over evil
  • That the underdog always succeeds by using tenacity
  • That the pursuit of money is a worthy goal
  • That the rich and powerful are involved in a conspiracy against world populations

Or are they illusions?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

How It Feels To Be An Author

… at last!

I have just watched a video of Joanna Penn (www.thecreativepenn.com) talking about publishing her first novel (she had previously published a non-fiction book). The watching of it brought back to me some of my own feelings on self-publishing my first books.

One of my overriding emotions on publishing my first book (non-fiction – Real Estate Rollercoaster) was one of FEAR – fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of a flood of emails pointing out errors in the book. The last two didn’t happen, probably because the first one did. Real Estate Rollercoaster never got climbed the first  loop.

Like many authors I thought the mere publication of my masterpiece was sufficient for the world to recognise the gems I was sharing with the public and it would be an instant best seller. Uh, huh!

RERC_frontpage

Self-publishing is a rollercoaster ride

Far from being an even playing field, self-publishing is a minefield of craters into which the ignorant and naïve will fall unless they are prepared to educate themselves into the new realm of marketing eBooks and publishing on demand. I am a long way from being a master, in fact, I’m probably not even a mistress of the marketing game. I am LEARNING. Which is why I spend time listening to other self-published authors to find out how they do it.

I’ve been snatching moments this week to listen to some podcasts put together by Chandler Bolt, creator of Self-publishing School, as he talks to various other successful authors about ‘How-to’ write, publish and market your book.

JoannaPennVideo

In one of the interviews Joanna Penn says that the writing of fiction is hard work and tiring; you gain a sense of achievement at the end but you might have to resort to eating lots of cake in order to get over how tiring writing is. I totally concur. I have had to resort to chewing gum in order to avoid the cake.

Even the act of blogging can be tiring when you’re concentrating on making your blog fun, informative and worthwhile. Every word counts.

Rollercoaster ride of emotions

Monica Marlowe relates a feeling tantamount to depression after publication of her debut novel, Finding Felicity:  “My debut novel had been released in August and the excitement I felt at its release was euphoric. I was so lucky to be published and learning the ropes as a new author was exhilarating. But as summer moved into fall and winter, the fever pitch took on colder pall….. I wondered, could it be post-publication depression?”

In her Blog HERE Monica relates her surprise and disappointments about the way her friends received her foray into novel-writing. I can relate to many of her experiences, as I am sure other newly published authors will.

An acquaintance of mine was worried about how her friends and people who knew her would react after reading her work. I relate to that too. Although most novels are not strictly autobiographical, the ideas in them come out of your brain; the characters often reflect what you think or feel about issues; and if you write sex scenes – of course you will believe the reader will think you ‘do it’ that way. Actually, if you’ve written a quality novel, the reader will be so engrossed in what the CHARACTERS are doing they won’t even be aware of you – the author.

Like a painter who doesn’t believe their painting is worth anything until someone buys it, authors too feel their books are second-rate unless lots of people read them. And that’s where writers come unstuck in their self-belief when they self-publish. They have no way of finding out what people think about the book until they get reviews. And even if they get reviews they might get BAD reviews (or simply reviews that complain that you have your book in the wrong category – as I received).

Writing is only a 1/3 of the rollercoaster ride

You may experience fear, or euphoria, exhaustion or sleeplessness. Chuck Wendig, novelist, screenwriter, and game designer, says in his blog HERE:

“So, you just had your book published. … And you want to know what’s going to happen now. Here is — roughly, potentially, maybe — one scenario.

“For a variable amount of time, let’s call it a week, you’re going to be flying high. Hell, flying high doesn’t even cover it. You’re going to be flitting around the big blue heavens with a pair of magical laser dolphins as shoes. You’re going to be past the moon. You’re going to feel like you’re snorting comet dust and making sweet love to asteroids.

Because you wrote a thing.”

Well, Chuck may be exaggerating a little. For most of us thirsty firsties we’re out there panting for some recognition and the publishing rollercoaster keeps roaring by.

“Excuse me! Here! Did you read my book? Did anyone read my book?”

Surviving the fall

The only way I managed to survive the tiny plop of my first novel was that I was already almost finished my second and had already started on the sequel for novel 1. I’d also read a lot of blogs and viewed many videos on marketing eBooks and self-published novels.

Marketing and promoting your book takes a lot longer than you anticipate if you’re a thirsty firsty. You might even be completely turned off writing more books if you wait around for positive feedback from the amorphous cloud of readers following popular fiction.

I knew that popularity was not going to arrive with novel 1, nor probably with novel 2 … 3 …. 4. It would be only when I had an out-there profile and people accidentally came across my work, read it (in a weak moment), liked it and looked for more, that I would become better known. I also had to wait until friends read it (and they don’t read your novel when, or as quickly as you would like/expect) and then fed back to their friends about the quality of the writing.

It all takes time – and unfortunately that’s time away from writing your next blockbuster. But then … isn’t blogging ‘writing’? Don’t you also develop a personality, a sense of accomplishment AND writing technique from blogging? It’s sometimes harder work than allowing the creative flow to surge words onto the screen or paper.

The Last Word in Self-publishing

I’ll leave Joanna Penn to tell you how it is that even successfully-published writers feel when they finally launch their novel into the sea of new authors.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

PS: Only one CAKE was harmed during the writing of this blog.

Think big

Author: Let Readers Read Your Writing

You’ve written a book – a novel. You’ve had friends read it and have received encouraging comments. You could go ahead and publish on Amazon Kindle, Kobo, CreateSpace or Smashwords. (These links take you their publishing pages.)

However, if you’re not quite ready for total exposure you can take advantage of Wattpad – a website that publishes new and old writing a chapter at a time.  You can read another writer’s style and decide whether it is for you, then go look for them in the online book stores. Or you can simply sample and read on – a chapter at a time – the work of authors who appeal.

That sort of dip-in and leave or come-again reading without having to commit any cost is useful in many ways. You can use the talents of others to compare or lift your own writing style.

James Joyce  – masterful writing still

I was able to click into “The Dubliners”, a collection of short stories by James Joyce (now out of copyright). I read Joyce’s story “The Sisters”. It’s written in the style of last century, but what stimulated my writer mind was the subtlety of the revelation of characters. It was not the sisters but the character of the priest which is revealed, hint by hint. Joyce’s use of language, though now apparently old-fashioned, is masterful still.

Wattpad for aspiring authors

Here are a few trending titles on Wattpad right now:

      

The real benefit of Wattpad for an indie author with a completed book is the option you have of uploading your own works to the website (unpaid, of course) and testing out the response of readers. You could actually write your story online in their text editor, but I would urge you to copy and paste into the editor and follow the instructions to upload your story. It’s a great way of testing out the potential popularity for a serial.

Be careful, though, that you’re not infringing any of the rules of the websites where you may want to publish later, e.g. Amazon has strict rules about how much of a work may be published elsewhere if you choose to enrol in the Kindle Direct program and receive higher percentage royalties.

Become an educated author

No I’m not advocating that you go out and spend megabucks on books and writing/publishing or marketing courses. The information is out there and ready for the taking if you are prepared to spend time sifting through the dross. Look for blogs by successful writers – those with more than one book on the online shelves. Here are two I suggest you check out:

  • Non-fiction author Tim Ferriss’ How to Write a Bestselling Book This Year blog. This link to Tim’s blog is littered with other links that will take you to more information. Tim is author of the “Four Hour Workweek”, “The Four Hour Body” and several others in the same vein.
  • Well researched fiction author, Joanna Penn writes at The Creative Penn blog and invites in equally talented authors to talk about the processes they use to make them great. Joanna adds podcasts to her blogs which you an download and listen to at a later date.

slideshow6

Of course, I’d like you to check my own WriteGear Facebook page where I post many links to the results of my research, and you can enrol at my www.writegear.co website to access the long list of how-to writing and publishing videos.

All of these blogs and websites require you to register, but the pay-back for writers who want to learn and succeed will be tremendous.  And who knows? You might even discover new authors you’d like to follow.

In the creative flow – Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author