For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dr Dub at last!

'Knowledge is learning something new every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day.'
Zen Proverb

It has taken six years, some of full-time study and some part-time, along with a few stops and starts and a transfer from one university to another, but finally I have completed my PhD. I've received my examiners reports (glowing), made the few minor amendments required from one examiner and submitted it once again. That's it. I'm done. The graduation ceremony isn't for six months but I'm not going to wait for that. Dr Dub it is! And I'm rightly proud of it.

So why undertake a PhD or an MA or any other course that involves writing? Firstly, there's the title – Dr Dub has quite a ring to it. However there are plenty of other reasons for doing a PhD, one of which is the potential for finding a well paid and secure job in a university, something which most writers only dream of. Another reason to study in this way is to find a space in which to write, with a framework and a discipline that is imposed from the outside in the form of supervisors and deadlines. This is why I did my MA in Writing a number of years ago in the UK. I began it when my first child was six months old and finished it two years later when my second child was six months old. I have little memory of those two years of sleepless nights, part time work in London, classes in Sheffield, morning sickness and deadlines. However, aside from a certificate bestowing me with the honour of an MA, what emerged from these two years was a novel. And that is another reason for doing study in this area – it's fruitful. You can't just start a project, stop it and start another. You have to see it through! In an educational institution there is also guidance and constructive criticism that helps us to find a way through the bleak patches. This guidance comes from the teachers but also from fellow students, all those other people who are mad enough to want to write. There's the potential for friendships too, based on common interests, feedback and support through all those difficult times when you want to give up and when the support is not coming from elsewhere.

Some people say that writing can't be taught, that these courses are simply fleecing students. I disagree. The art of writing can only be found through learning the craft and in many cases this needs to be taught. Quite a few years ago when I did my BA, I majored in creative writing and loved it. I made long lasting friendships and learned a lot of useful theory but the emphasis in the University I attended was on experimental writing and I found there was a subtle pressure to conform. I left with a BA and no idea how to construct a story or create convincing characters. It was only when I joined the MA program at Sheffield Hallam University, that I learned about technique, something which then allowed me to find my voice as a writer, identify the stories I had to tell and tell them with some measure of success.

For me the PhD was different than my previous courses because I didn't do it in order to learn how to write fiction. In fact, initially my interest in story and its inherent structure, led me to begin a purely theoretical PhD, called Story: Mapping the Journey to Self. I channelled my research into this, whilst trying to write a novel 'on the side'. However, what began as a simple desire to understand the structure, origins and purpose of story, became much more: an attempt to understand the essence of creativity, the dual functions of memory and imagination and the complex nature of truth. My interests grew and I struggled to keep within the confines of my initial plans for the thesis.

Work on my thesis was interrupted when my novel, Gathering Storm was accepted by Penguin and I began the process of editing. It was interrupted again during the excitement of publication. Then unexpectedly for a third time it was interrupted when I found my interest shifting to my new novel and realised that the research I had been doing for my thesis was reappearing in Flight. It felt like an alchemical process, as I unconsciously transmuted theory into fiction. Through story I was exploring themes such as: the power of words; the nature of story and its patterns; patterns of human behaviour; the journey of the soul, illustrated in Flight through shamanic initiation; the role of memory and imagination in creativity; and the legacy of memory, through personal experience, ancestral inheritance and through the repeating patterns of past lives.

Speaking publicly about Gathering Storm helped me to realise that my own writing was a cathartic process for me. I had been unconsciously weaving my memories, and the themes that were pertinent in my life, into fictional stories. The process of transformation I was exploring in my thesis was playing out, both in my fiction and in my life. I became intrigued by the process. Could I weave these ideas in without detracting from the story? Could I illustrate these ideas through the journey of the major characters rather than through exposition? To do this I had to digest the theory, rather than reiterate it, trusting instead that it would somehow transmute into fiction. When my interest in this process did not wane I realised that I was writing a different thesis and changed my theoretical PhD to a more practice led one.

So was it worth doing a PhD? Yes, very much so, and I'm pleased now that I worked with both fiction and theory, exploring the way in which the two work together. What I found most precious in doing my PhD was the space it provided me, in which to think, to discover my true interests and the direction I want to take my research in the future. What has emerged from this space is a novel and a supporting theoretical document that are both deeply enriched by my research, practical experience and personal reflection. From studying the work of others and fusing it with my own experience and ideas, I have been able to find that 'something new' which is the aim of the PhD. Instead of an end, this feels like a beginning, a passport to follow my interests and become a specialist in my field. Story!

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Who Do We Write For?

'What I represent every time I set out to achieve something, is myself.'
Maya Angelou

In previous posts I've pondered on why we write and what our responsibilities are as writers. Now I want to explore who it is we write for, something which is clearly linked with our reasons for writing. Often when we do a creative writing class we are asked to consider who we write for, an exercise I have always struggled with but one that is nevertheless useful. An acquaintance of mine who is a non fiction writer friend says he can only find the right tone and style for a particular book by choosing a person he is writing for and imagining it as a conversation. However, in most cases we are less specific, perhaps writing for women, or children, young adults, or readers of a particular genre.

Asking ourselves who we write for can help us to usefully consider our market and perhaps choose a genre in which to write, if that suits our need. We may then have to adapt our style to that readership, in the process considering our use of language and the concepts we wish to explore. Even more importantly though (to me anyway), is that asking who we write for helps us to identify what is limiting us as writers. If we write for our critics then we will be writing to please. If we write for our mothers then most likely we will be leaving out much that we need to explore, or conversely we might be writing simply to shock. If we write only for our publishers then we run the risk of losing our voice and purpose. Writing for a specific genre too, runs the risk of boxing us into a category that we can subsequently find it difficult to escape from. We might become boxed into a genre, a style, even a theme and one day find ourselves with nothing left to say because we are no longer growing. Paradoxically though, we may instead find that the limitations of a particular genre give us more freedom to explore, allowing our imaginations to work within the relative safety of its boundaries. And of course, if we love a particular genre then it follows that we will enjoy working within it to create our own stories.

I would like to say that I write for myself, that I follow my heart. And in a sense I do, because I write what I feel needs saying. I don't imagine a reader; if I did I would find myself tongue tied. I don't imagine a story because I expect it to unfold as I write. I don't even imagine a genre because I'm not sure I could stay within its boundaries. However, even when we write for ourselves our perspective is limited, by our ideology, our history, our culture, the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. . . In the end, perhaps all we can do is as Aldous Huxley suggested when he wrote: 'Writers write to influence their readers, their preachers, their auditors, but always at bottom, to be more themselves.'

Considering who we are writing for can also help us to explore further the reasons we write at all. I had to write Flight. It was a deep need that demanded resolution. It was also a responsibility – to tell a story I felt needed telling. In its writing I tried not to think of readers or publishers, and instead concentrated on uncovering the story I had to tell. Because Flight is my story and I had to live much of it. It is difficult to say how much of the novel is true in the factual sense of the word. Like Fern, I was born in Adelaide and adopted by a religious couple. There are, however other true events in the story that are not so easily identified as fact. Describing how she writes, Isabel Allende said, 'in the slow silent process of writing I enter a different state of consciousness in which sometimes I can draw back a veil and see the invisible. The writing of Flight was just this, a stepping through the veils and a drawing together of my own numinous experiences. I wrote down the visions that came to me unexpectedly, the glimpses of a past beyond the boundaries of my own life and the dreams which spoke to me symbolically. And in the process something coherent formed from them in the shape of a story and one that refers back to a long tradition of storytelling that explores the journey of the soul and our initiations into the mysteries of life.

The themes in Flight are broad but the novel was written for me, to help me understand the threads of my life and to make sense of all that was happening to me. It was also written for anyone who has suffered a loss of meaning in their lives, anyone who is questioning the limitations of the physical world and who is courageous enough to take the journey to self. It is my way of reaching out to others and sharing something I feel is important. So far the novel has been called a work of literature, a commercial thriller, a young adult novel, a fantasy novel, a romance, a spiritual novel and a memoir. I sincerely hope it embraces all of these categories while defying the limitations of any one of them.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Moving On

'Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.'
Eckhart Tolle

My new novel has been launched, school holidays are almost over and now it's time to move on, to once again seek a sense of steadiness, and to find a way of settling back into routine and fill the sudden empty space that has appeared in my life. But there's a winding down that needs to happen first, a letting go and a reconnecting with life. Launching a book into the world is not as straight forward as most people might imagine. Yes, there's the pure joy of completion, the celebration of all that has made this moment possible, but underlying that is the lingering fear of how the book will be received and a strange grief associated with its release. Publishing a book is akin to sending a grown child out into the world. There are many mixed emotions: reluctance, pride, sadness, fear, relief and joy. So inevitably the period of time around publication is an emotional roller coaster.

It's also difficult to mark the exact moment of publication. Is it the letter of acceptance from a publisher, the signing of a contract, the receipt of an advance? Is it the completion of a final edit and the knowledge that it's no longer possible to change a single word? Is it the first sight of the book cover design, or the moment we first hold the book in our hands, feeling the strange sensation that it is no longer ours? Or then again, is it the special moment we see the book in the shops, actually there, stocked and visible to the rest of the world? Does it lie in that terrible waiting time when we wonder how our book is being received and if there will be any reviews or interviews? Or is it when we invite our friends to celebrate and help us to launch our book into the world? I think it's all of these moments, each of which carries significant and often complicated emotions.

For me the letter of acceptance represents the purest, least complicated of these stages. It is pure joy. This is the moment that a great burden lifts from my shoulders and it's also the moment that holds the greatest potential, because for the briefest of times the book can and might be anything; doubt, worry and disappointment have not found their way in to sully the purity of possibility. The book launch is more complicated because unless you are one of those very few authors whose books are published with great hype and publicity, there is already the fear that your book might be overlooked, that it might fall between the cracks and miss its narrow window of opportunity. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, the book launch is an important ritual. It is symbolic. A chance to give a blessing and a parting kiss to a book, and of course it's an opportunity to celebrate, before re-immersing oneself into the solitary world of the next book. But most importantly of all it is a chance to gather friends and well wishers, to fill a space with good will and to launch a book that carries that same good will with it out into the world.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes about being published and the upheaval, confusion and disappointments it inevitably brings for most of us. The anxious waiting for something to happen, for reviews, interviews, invitations and royalties. The hope that this time it will be different, that this time the publisher will invest their money and time in creating hype around the book. But the most interesting story Lamott tells is what she learned when one of her books did do well and she found herself caught up in all the attention. Seeking peace but unable to come back down from the excitement, she asked advice from a priest, who told her. 'The world can't give us peace. We can only find it in our hearts. . . but the good news is that by the same token, the world can't take it away.'

Flight has not been published with hype but it has been launched with an enormous amount of good will and that means more than bells and ribbons. No doubt there will be reviews and so far there have been a couple of interviews. I don't know what the reviews will be like. Gathering Storm received many, mostly glowing reviews but Flight is different. It isn't a safe book, or one that can be easily categorised. One of the reasons why I have found it so difficult to find publishers is because my writing has always bridged the commercial and the literary, so is not easy to market. I can only trust that Flight will build its readership and I hope it will do so by finding its way into the hearts and minds of its readers. I can offer support, speak for it when I am invited, but essentially, like a grown child, it is on its own now. For as Kahlil Gibran wrote in his poem, On Children
'You children are not your children,
they are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. . .
. . . You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.'

All I can do now is give Flight my blessings and let it go. And the secret of doing this successfully is to immerse myself deeply into another project. The sequel! Already I can feel it seeking my attention, tantalising me once more with the prospect of the unknown. . .

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Looking Back

'Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs.'
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

It strikes me as strange that in the week that my second novel is published I'm musing on the long and decidedly bumpy road to this point, so bumpy in fact that my husband suggested I must have done something awful in a past life to gather so much bad karma. To be fair, there were many pieces of good fortune along the way to lure me on: grants, residencies, the publication of short stories and non fiction pieces. But always the novel eluded me. It took me twelve years to find a publisher for my first novel (actually my second) and in that time and even since then, I have come to know the tone and tenor of every form of rejection, from the blank silence that is never filled so you wait each day for a response, not even knowing if your manuscript has been received, to the glowing personal phone call - 'This is an extraordinary novel, perfect in every sense, but I'm afraid I can't publish it. . .' In between these extremes are a vast array of styles: the blank 'with compliments' slip; the pre-written standard note; and the hand written personalised note, its words scrutinised over and over for any subtext. Aside from the waiting and the silences, the worst for me was the one that began – 'Do not despair. . .'

My first novel, Nowhere Man (still unpublished) found me an agent and a ream of rejections. Most publishers loved it or admired it (or so they said) but no one would publish it on the grounds that it was terribly bleak and would only work as a second novel. I set to work on a new novel and Gathering Storm was finally completed at a time when memoir was at the height of fashion and fiction was at its lowest point in history. Consequently, although it was appropriate for a first novel, all it received were flattering and often elaborate rejection letters. In the end, despite their tone or their word count, rejection letters are still rejections.

Some time before Gathering Storm found a publisher, my eldest daughter gave me a magnet that says in big bold letters, NEVER NEVER NEVER GIVE UP. It still sits on my filing cabinet in my study and over the years has proved to be a most useful piece of advice. Ironically though, despite the fridge magnet admonishing me to 'never give up', it was only when I made the decision to 'give up', that my novel was published. For some time I had felt a growing tension between my need to find more work, my family and my own writing. Perhaps I was simply discovering the truth behind the old adage, 'two's company, three's a crowd'. Something had to give. Rejections are not easy to stomach at the best of times and despite the fact that I felt writing was my path in life, I also felt that I simply couldn't take any more rejections. I felt beaten down by them and bitter that the beauty of the creative process was being overwhelmed by the ugly realities of a market driven world. It was also hard for my husband and children to watch my frustration and frequent despair. All this was compounded by the fact that my agent ran out of publishers to send my novel to and set it aside.

Much to their astonishment, I announced to my family that I was giving up writing. With that decision came a sense of letting go as I took my attention away from rejections and simply accepted where I found myself. Not long after that the little miracles began. First, a creative writing student of mine who was gifted with a strong intuitive ability, unexpectedly announced that my novel (called at that time Lucky Road) had not found a publisher because I needed to change its title. I took little notice of this, but that evening mentioned it to my husband, who immediately suggested, Gathering Storm. I will never forget the feeling of rightness that came over me when I heard that title. The next day a friend mentioned to me that a new publisher had joined Penguin. I emailed my agent to suggest that we try one more time, and within weeks I had an enthusiastic offer of publication and importantly, a passport to keep writing.

Gathering Storm was reasonably successful; it sold well, gained critical acclaim and was published in translation in the Netherlands. On that basis, I simply assumed that publishing the next novel would be straight forward. I was wrong. Flight was too different from my previous novel and didn't fit with the direction in which my publisher wanted me to go. It was rejected and I found myself floundering once again. It's always harder to go through something a second time, particularly when it is unexpected. I battled with myself. Should I write what was expected of me or should I follow my heart? This was a particularly difficult decision at the time, with a building global economic crisis and a publishing industry in flux. In the end I had no choice, my heart won but it meant another bombardment of rejection slips and the onset of a deep-rooted weariness that came close to stopping me from writing again. It was a publisher at HarperCollins who finally rescued me and for that I will be eternally grateful. There is nothing more special than when someone really 'gets' your novel, and she 'got' Flight. She was patient too, waiting as I honed the novel to its final form and trusting that I would do it well. The journey since then has been smooth but I won't make the mistake again of assuming that it will always be this way. The wheel of fortune turns and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

So what have I learned from this? Paradoxically, I have learned not to give up but also to let go. And I have learned that above and beyond outcomes, the importance of writing lies in the process itself, something that is difficult to remember when writing and the need for an income become entwined as mine has for some time. During those years of rejections I edited and assessed other people's manuscripts, mentored a good number of people and taught many creative writing workshops and courses. I still do. It has been a great privilege to teach and to work with aspiring writers. In that time I have been constantly touched by people's faith in me. I have learned a lot about myself and about the creative process, which no doubt has informed my own work and made me a better and more courageous writer. I have learned patience, how to savor the journey of writing and not reach out impatiently for the destination. And hopefully I have helped some writers to find their voices. Looking back over these years I see that though I often felt in limbo, actually there was good reason for fate to unfold in this way. Now, given the opportunity, I wouldn't change anything. Perhaps that's the greatest lesson of all.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Book Excerpt From Flight – Part Two

 The Way of Love is
not a subtle argument.

The door there
is devastation.

Bird's make great sky-circles
of their freedom.
How do they learn it?

They fall, and falling,
they're given wings.

Rumi, (translated by Coleman Barks), The Essential Rumi

As promised, here is the second part of the prologue to Flight. For anyone who hasn't read the opening of the prologue, have a look at the previous post first. And for anyone who is new to this site, as my novel is published this week I am being self indulgent and posting a couple of book extracts instead of my normal posts. If you want to see what I generally discuss in this blog, have a look at some of the earlier posts.

My apologies to those readers who are not based in Australia or New Zealand and who would like to read Flight. It seems that there will be some restrictions on its distribution for a few months yet. There are a number of online Australian booksellers who may send print editions to international customers: such as Dymocks, Fishpond, Borders, Boomerang Books and Booktopia.

Flight - Prologue (Part 2)
He was biding his time. My father wasn't an evil man but he had already done wrong, and this deed had set in motion others. Then it was only a matter of time, as the prophecy ate away at him, turning him into its slave. Perhaps the seeds of madness had already been planted deep in his heart, in this life or another. Or perhaps they were sown later; I am not sure, for it is hard to see the beginnings of things.

People always say that children can't remember. That babies have no language and therefore no memories. That an abandoned baby can't be traumatised. They are wrong. There are many ways of knowing. The memories we carry in our consciousness are not the only ones. There are others, ones we can't relate in words, and yet their scar tissue builds up so that we live every day of our lives in reaction to them. I have learned first hand that we carry memory in our cells. Unresolved trauma acts like a cancer, scarring, mutating, warping our cells until they become sick. Remembering is implicit in the decision to enter the labyrinth, to look inside ourselves, at our wounds and our carefully buried strengths. It's there in the patterns we identify in our lives. And there too in the truths we discover and recognise as having always known. I know these things because I have looked deeply into myself and seen what needed seeing.

I was born in Adelaide on January 2nd 1989. From the beginning, life for me was a serious matter of survival, but it was also something I did not relish at all. There is a contradiction in this, I know, and one that tugged me this way and that, making me strong, yet fearful; determined, yet too ready to give up. A contradiction that for many years trapped me in a half-life, a twilight world of muted colours. A prison I didn't even know I was in until I made my escape.

I entered this world wearing my mother's blood and carrying the marks of my father's fist on my back. Within minutes of my birth an ambulance arrived, its siren sending my heart thumping too fast all over again. There were danger signals everywhere and I could no longer distinguish between what was safe and what was not. But I was a tiny baby, born a month early, and the hands of those men were gentle as they carried me to the relative safety of the hospital.

He tried one more time, in the hospital ward, his large hand grabbing me by the leg and swinging me up and out of the plastic crib and head first into the wall. One swing, but he hadn't built up momentum yet. My mother's loyalties were torn, but for that one crucial moment the hormones swilling through her body put her on my side. She screamed. Just once, but there was a tone in it, enough to bring people running. Before the next swing a nurse appeared in the doorway and, reading the madness in my father's eyes, pressed the alarm.

Already a master of disguise, my father recovered quickly, cradling me in his arms, uttering comforting baby noises while I stared mutely up into his eyes, my heart thudding.
'I slipped,' he told the nurse. 'I almost dropped her. My God, they're so fragile.' Then, as a nurse took her from him, 'She's alright, isn't she?'
Uncertain now, the nurse looked at my mother lying there in the crisp white hospital bed, wearing a white hospital gown because there'd been no time to pack, sobbing, milk leaking from her nipples.
My mother looked at each of us in turn, seeing the threat in my father's eyes, the bewildered fear in mine and the question in the nurse's. Then, stony-faced, she turned away from us all. She had made a decision. 'It was an accident,' she said. 'He slipped.'
But she did sign the adoption forms. To keep me safe.
Then she wrapped me tightly in a white blanket, placed me back in the plastic see-through hospital-issue crib and wheeled me into a room full of other howling cribs, setting me loose into a sea of indifference with no anchor and no oars, with only the sun, the moon and the stars to navigate by, and no lessons to help me decipher them.

On my original birth certificate there is a blank space next to Father. My mother's name is listed as Joan Childe. My name is listed as Erica. On my second birth certificate my father's name is listed as Richard Parsons, my mother's as Grace Parsons My adopted parents called me Fernanda after an evangelical missionary they favoured at the time. I called myself Fern. More than anything I wanted to fly. But in order to fly, one must first be willing to fall.
This is the story of my journey, following the clues back through the twists and turns that made me into what I was, searching for the moments of definition: the overheard sentence, the intention in another's eyes, a boy seducing a girl, a fist, a beating and a mother turning away. I had to go deep into the underworld and enter the labyrinth, with no guarantee of return, seeking the threads that I could weave into a rope thick enough to haul me out again.

In this story there are those gifted and cursed with the power of prophecy. There's a young man haunted by the past and an old man haunted by the future. There is death and corruption and injustice. There is love and passion and hatred, all carried across lifetimes. Occasionally there is compassion. But more often, as in real life, there is fear.

I am there too. Haunted and hollow. An outline, waiting to be filled in. Poised trembling before the entrance to the labyrinth. A shadow of the self I should have been. A shadow of who I am now as I sit here looking for a beginning when there isn't one, when there never is, because life is simply not neat, and one story hardly ever ends before another begins. Instead they span time and space, reaching back into a past that extends beyond our first breath and into a future that extends beyond our last, through a multitude of lives and tied only by the threads of souls and their patterns.

In the absence of a clear beginning I will draw an artificial line through time and begin on that stiflingly hot afternoon, in the attic room of a run-down terrace in the inner suburbs of Sydney. . .

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website: