My apologies for this week’s post being a day late, but I was quite busy starting and finishing a 3,000 word paper titled,“Differentiation and Personalised Learning in Primary Education –Theories, Rationale and Practices for the Promotion of Inclusive Teaching,” sounds riveting I know! The good news is I managed the get the paper written in record time and also was finished at a reasonable hour. The downside is I’m not quite sure if what I was writing about is quite enough for a passing grade (fingers crossed it is!) and also despite being finished at quite a reasonable hour (around 9:30 last night) I was actually unable to sleep until almost 2am because my characters that I have been neglecting for so long refused to let me sleep!
You see, since I made the conscious decision to become sidetracked from Lonely Hearts and decided that I needed to write József’s story if I am to truly understand Thomas and Rose’s story, I actually havent had a spare minute to even consider writing, well besides writing that riveting piece of academic writing that is! It seems though that last night, my characters had simply had enough of me neglecting them and the words of József’s story began to fill my mind, effectively preventing me from getting much sleep. At the moment József’s story isn’t 100% planned out, whilst I know roughly what his story is, I do not know the finer details of it yet. However, this does not stop József’s words filling my mind in fragments of his speech, thoughts and so on.
So as a reward, I have a little piece of what József insisted I write down last night before allowing me a few hours of sleep. Remember this is only just notes and fragments, a very rough drafted piece and is in no way finished or complete, so be kind.
My name is József István Szabó.
I know what and who I am and I know what and who I am not.
I am a simple man.
I am a humble tailor.
I am a man who loves and cares for his wife.
I am Hungarian.
I am a Jew.
I am not a soldier.
I am not a man of war.
I cannot and will not take a life.
It is not my place to choose who lives and who dies; I am not God.
This is why I must leave this place, my home and my people.
This is why I must go far away, before I am forced to become someone I am not.
Over the next few weeks things are going to be quite hectic as we get everything ready for our new adventure (in case you missed it, this is where we are heading). There’s an enormous list of things to get done before we leave and only 6 weeks to get it all done! So I apologise in advance if my weekly posts become a little shorter of if I miss a post. I promise to make it all up to you know once we are settled in Hungary and the WiFi is up and running.
However I do have a little something I wanted to share with you all today and this post is inspired by a comment on last week’s post from my grandmother. Last week, I was discussing my plan to become “purposely sidetracked” from writing Lonely Hearts in order to write the story of one of the secondary characters from the planned series, the Hungarian adopted father of Rosie. You see, my reasoning for this is that it would be wonderful to write this character’s story whilst in Hungary, being surrounded by the history and culture of this character’s origin. As a comment on this post, my grandmother reminded me of the words of advice that were given to Josephine March by her friend Professor Bhaer. Professor Bhaer told Jo, an aspiring writer, that she should write what she knows, the result of Jo writing what she knows is her novel My Beth.
Now this got be thinking, what we know can change from one day to the next, as we learn and experience new things. You see, what we know when we are at age five, is very different to what we know at age 25. With regards to writing historical fiction, we will never really “know” the time we are writing about as we never really physically experienced it, however through research “what we know” begins to include knowledge of the past, it may not be 100% accurate (we can never know for sure), but it still eventually forms part of our knowledge base. History leaves behind clues, which historians piece together to try and form a clear picture of the past. For some eras there are many clues which can be pieced together to form quite a clear picture and understanding of the past, for other eras there’s not so many and the picture not as clear.
Now, what I am trying to say is this, whilst Professor Bhaer’s advice to Jo is sound advice, particularly for beginning writers, writing what you know does not have to be limited to your own experiences or perceptions. The “database” of what we know is constantly changing and growing. If you want to write about sixteenth century England for example, don’t be put off by sticking only to writing what you know, change what you know, do the research and make it so life in sixteenth century England is part of what YOU know.When I first started writing Lonely Hearts, I admit I didn’t know an awful lot about 1930s Sydney, so I spent many hours researching everything from clothing, to speech, to everyday living. I admit there is still a lot to learn but life in 1930s Sydney, Australia is most definitely becoming part of what I know. I have always had a passion for history, no matter what the era, I still can explain in detail the family tree of the boy Pharaoh Tutankhamen from my Year 12 Ancient History class, perhaps this is why one of my favourite genres to read is historical fiction.
I am a little familiar with the history of Hungary and also the treatment of the Jewish people in WWI as I began researching this as part of József’s backstory in order to familiarise myself with the character. During the first world war, Hungarian Jews were forced to fight or be labelled as deserters and be put to death, often along with the members of their family as well, this being the driving force of József’s story, his escape from Hungary and his migration to Australia. Whilst I admit that Hungary in the early twentieth century is not a big part of what I know, I fully intend to remedy that through further research, so that when I am writing József’s story I will be able to confidently state that I am writing what I know.
So my advice to fellow aspiring writers is this:
Write what you know and if you want to write something you don’t know then do lots of research!
Well this week has been another whirlwind type of week, with so many things to organise before we set of on our adventure. So unfortunately it’s been another no writing week for me. Even though I am not really having time for writing at the moment (except for my weekly blog posts), thoughts and ideas to do with writing are constantly popping up in my thoughts, especially when I least expect it. In fact, I’ve gotten rather sidetracked and I am finding that my thoughts to do with writing and the characters I’ve been creating are actually becoming more to do with one of the secondary characters in Lonely Hearts, so much so that I’m now thinking that this particular character also has a story to tell in the form of a novel or at least a novella.
The character that is occupying my thoughts lately is Rose’s adoptive father, József Szabó. I am quite sure that the reason this character keeps making his way into my thoughts is due to the fact that quite soon I will be exploring his country of origin. The more I think about it, the more I;m considering the possibility that perhaps I am supposed to become sidetracked from completing Lonely Hearts and that perhaps now is not the time to finish Thomas and Rose’s story. Maybe I’m not ready to finish Thomas and Rose’s story just yet. Perhaps I cannot do their story justice if I were to finish now. I’m actually coming to realise this as I type (so I apologise in advance for my incoherent ramblings).
You see, when Thomas and Rose’s story begins, József is the adoptive father of Rose, but he is more than that. He is an Hungarian Jew, who left his country of birth during World War I in hope of finding a better life for himself along with his young wife and unborn child. József has been through love, loss and complete and utter devastation and comes out the other side to find some sort of happiness again. Perhaps I need to experience József’s story, before I can do justice to Thomas and Rose’s story. Perhaps things really do happen for a reason. If I am going to focus on writing József’s story, what better place to write about an Hungarian Jew than in Hungary itself! Maybe everything that has happened this year is the universe’s way of telling me to get a little sidetracked and to focus my attention on telling the story of József Szabó and how he came to a tailor in The Rocks, Sydney in the 1930s with an adopted fair-haired daughter and an investment interest of the one and only Thomas Heath.
Unfortunately, with my moment of realisation, I think I’ve just set myself up for a tonne of research. Whilst I’ve started to become fairly familiar with Sydney in the 1930s, now I need to start looking at Hungary during the outbreak of World War I and the treatment of the Jewish people during this time. Whilst I have researched this a little, in order to get a bit of a backstory for József, there’s a huge difference between researching a backstory and writing the actual story of such a character.
So it seems I am now purposefully becoming sidetracked from my original goal and am now going to focus on getting everything organised for our family adventure in Hungary and the start of a new WIP, the story of József Szabó, humble Jewish tailor living in Hungary during the outbreak of WWI.
This week has been a week full of reflection, revelations and tough decisions. There’s going to be some big and exciting changes coming up soon for my little family and even though it’s going to be an awesome adventure, I’ll admit that I’m also a bit scared of what lies ahead.
At the beginning of the year, I think it was, I wrote “The Plan”. Well it seems life’s unexpected twists and turns have gotten in the way and not much is going according to this plan. All of the things that have happened this years have prompted a lot of reflection and caused me to re-evaluate what is important.
So the title of today’s post is to capture the nature of my thoughts at this point. When I chose the title “Other Side of the Road” I meant this not only as a metaphor but also literally and I am not one of those people who misuse the word “literally” (who know the people I’m talking about, the ones who are literally dying from laughter). You see, one of the decisions we’ve made is to take our family on an a rather extended holiday to beautiful Hungary, my husband’s home country and the origin of one of my characters from Lonely Hearts, József Szabó.
Whilst I have been to Hungary before, it was in a time BC (Before Children) and only for weeks not months. This time requires a lot of planning with only weeks to get it all done. So one reason for the title of today’s post is a literal one, we are literally going to the other side of the road. Ok, I know Hungary is a bit further that simply the other side of the road, but it is the other side of the world and they drive on the opposite side of the road than I do, so that’s how I am justifying the use of literally.
This decision also had me thinking about my characters and the decisions they had to make in the past (and the ones they will make in the future), that will take them to the “other side of the road”, emotionally and also physically, leaving behind the world they know, away from the familiar and into the unknown. Whilst we won’t be travelling for months by ship like my characters, it doesn’t make the impending journey or the decision any easier, I imagine.
In some ways I feel like Claire Fraser in the Outlander series (****spoiler alert****) as she discovers in the 1960s that her beloved Jamie didn’t in fact die at Culloden and she prepares to travel through the stones once again to 18th century Scotland. As she decides what to take with her from her life in the 1960s to the completely different world of 18th century Scotland. I know I’m being a little dramatic, after all I am making this trip with my family and not alone, on a plane and not through the circle of standing stones and certainly not to 18th century Scotland. Yet in a way, Hungary is like a completely different world and whilst they of course enjoy every piece of modern technology and comfort we have grown accustomed to, it doesn’t remove the feeling of walking into a completely different world. If you ignore the modern technology and modern convenience and so on, walking around does sometimes feel like you have stepped into a completely different time. Hungary is an ancient country full of history, culture and traditions, from the stories of the nomadic Huns that settled on the banks of the Duna (Danube in English) to the brave Kings of Hungary that fought off invasion and to the modern show of bravery of those who rose up against Communist rule and freed Hungary from the grasp of the Soviet Union.
Just so you know, I haven’t abandoned “The Plan”, not at all, I still intend to achieve every aspect I set out to achieve, however the time frame might have to be slightly adjusted. I am never going to give up writing Thomas and Rose’s story, in fact Thomas and Rose’s world has also given way to several other ideas, looking at the stories of some of the secondary characters as well. So whilst I know this will be years in the making, I am not giving up on writing, even if I wanted to, I don’t think my characters would leave me alone until I finished telling their stories! Who knows, maybe this extended holiday will allow for some valuable writing time (I hope).
The journey we have decided to take is also much more than a physical one, it is also an emotional one. Through the difficulties we have faced this year, I kept wondering what was waiting for us on the other side. It seemed to just be one blow after the other, but no matter what life threw our way we somehow managed to survive somehow and come out the other side perhaps little bit stronger and even a little wiser. So now I look forward, a little scared but mostly excited to see what is waiting for us on the other side of the road (or world!)
On another note, I went to the grocery store last night to get a few things with two (of my three) children tagging along hoping to score some kind of special treat they could sneak into the trolley. On my way out, I noticed an older man with a beard holding at least a dozen bunches of flowers in his arms. As I walked past, to my surprise he asked me what colour flowers I would like, I tried to politely decline feeling like I was taking something undeserved, but upon his insistence I accepted a bunch of red carnations. Later I found out this man’s story; his mother had passed away several years before and each year on her birthday he goes and buys as many bunches of flowers as he can afford, handing them out to all the mothers that he sees as a way of honouring his own mother’s memory and also to remind everyone how awesome mother’s are. This small act of kindness reminded me once again that no matter how bad things seem at the time, we need to look for the positives, the sunshine on a cloudy day.
So my lovelies, no matter what is happening or what waits for us on the other side of the road, whether good or bad, let us always look for the sunshine, not matter how cloudy it is or whatever (sh*t)storm might be brewing, search for the sunshine and don’t rest until you find it!
In the past I’ve written about the workings of a vivid imagination, in particular my own vivid imagination and the way I am able to ‘edit’ my own dreams in that stage between sleep and awake (you can read about the inner workings of a vivid imagination here). This led me to the understanding that in some ways I have always been a writer, whether I have been physically writing or not (you can read You Know You’re a Writer When… by clicking here).
Recently I came across a quote in my Facebook newsfeed that got me thinking again about the ability that children have to creative and imagine,
“Being a writer is just a way for grown ups to keep their imaginary friends.” – Brian A. Klems
Despite a child’s ability to create and imagine entire worlds, places, beings and even best friends, somewhere along the way from childhood to adulthood many (if not most) of us lose this creative ability.
As far as I can recall, I never really had an imaginary friend as a child, my cousin did and of course anytime she was in trouble it was the imaginary friend’s doing and not hers (although she still copped the punishment I’m guessing). I did however imagine and create worlds filled with people and creatures, so I guess in a way I had imaginary worlds, not friends. My backyard became a dark and scary wood, my friends cubby house was a castle and our baby brothers were the dragons trying to attack the princesses or whatever the theme was on that day. The characters we played in our role playing games had background stories and so did their imagined enemies, every element was thought out and every detail imagined. As I got older, I never really lost that ability to imagine and create worlds and characters, however trying to put these “imaginary friends” and worlds into words is somewhat more of a challenge. To attempt to convey the images and characters in your own mind to your audience is always a challenge. Creativity and a vivid imagination is the foundation of writing fiction perhaps, but becoming an accomplished writer who is able to convey the world of their vivid imagination and draw their audience into that same world is something that will take a considerable amount of practice, revision and editing I’m sure.
Whilst I haven’t had a lot of time to work on Lonely Hearts lately, the world and the characters I’ve been creating are never far from my mind. I imagine what the characters see, hear, feel and say in their 1930s world, I imagine how their experiences of The Great Depression and other experiences in their lives have shaped who they are and how they view the world around them, the world of 1930s Sydney, Australia.
The ability to imagine and create is something that should be cherished and encouraged from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood. A world without imagination or creativity is not a world that I would wish to be a part of, nor would anyone else, I think. The day we stop creating and imagining is the day in which we cease to exist, every day I am thankful for my own creativity and imagination and for the imagination of the wonderful authors whose writing I enjoy to read. Writing and reading is not just a way to “keep their imaginary friends” it is a way to escape, to explore, to travel without even leaving the room you are in.
So I encourage you all to imagine, to create and to explore and if you feel so inclined, to write down these imaginings, even if only for yourself to look back upon one day.
When I first started teaching, we taught writing according to text types. So we taught children the specific structure of a narrative, a procedure, an exposition and so on. Recently though we are told that children learn to write best when they are allowed the freedom to “write what they know”. Whilst this is an often debated teaching strategy (which I’m not going to get into), by allowing children to “write what they know” we are encouraging them not only to write, but also often we are encouraging them to indulge in their own creative imaginings, whilst their writing may not be structurally perfect, the idea of getting them to simply convert their ideas into written words is definitely one of great value.
I guess what I am trying to say is, through encouraging children to “write what they know” we are also perhaps encouraging the continued development of imagination and creativity, perhaps also effectively lowering the risk of these abilities disappearing as they become adults.