Editing is Hard (or, ‘I wish I was my Cat’)

Stating the obvious, but damn, as much as I love the editing process, it’s HARD.

Time consuming. Brain-power sucking. Concentration-requiring. Hard.

Despite knowing this, I’d still hoped I’d be more done with the editing than I am right now. Foolish me. I’d forgotten that August is a massive month for birthdays in my family: my daughter, my brother, two sisters-in-law, an aunt and my father-in-law (seriously, just what the heck is in the air in November??) and with all the attendant present purchasing/party organising (for my eleven year old Miss)/and general celebrating, I just ran out of time – the quiet, UNINTERRUPTED, type of time that one requires to edit so that your manuscript doesn’t devolve into gobbledygook.

Grr.

Nevertheless, I’ve only got twelve chapters of dialogue editing to go, and the final hardcore line edit is looming fast. Yay!  (I think)

So I’d best get back to it … even though the day is cold and rainy, and I’m so sorely tempted to join my lazy cat in doing what he does best: slobbing around in front of the heater.

Exhibit A: Leo, the laziest cat in the world

Exhibit A: Leo, the laziest cat in the world

Later!

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Editing: Butt in and out of chair

This is just a fly-by post, me keeping my promise to myself that I WILL blog at the start(-ish) and middle of each month. So far, so good.

I’m time-poor right now because I’m chunking my way through the final nuts-and-bolts edits of my book, The Colours of the Dead.

I’ve done dedicated pass-throughs for setting, the weather, the senses, and to double-check all the bits of research I’m a bit wobbly on.

I’ve scoured my manuscript with an eye to examining characterisation and subplots, backstory and exposition and genre.

I’m in the midst of doing a pass-through to tighten up dialogue. After that will come a hardcore line edit … and then, I think, I will be done.

As much as a writer can ever say they’re done.

To stop all this butt-in-chair business from causing muscle atrophy – not to mention from making me lose my ever-loving mind – I’ve been getting outdoors to exercise. Even though it’s winter. Even though it’s flipping freezing. But it’s head-clearing. And as you can see, the views are beautiful:

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Do you see those small brown dots on the grass in the background? Just a couple of our friendly neighbourhood kangaroos!

Home for me is the Adelaide foothills, meaning that on a good day I’m only a twenty minute drive from the city centre, whilst still having all this beauty on my back doorstep.

How lucky am I?

Hopefully, I’ll be darn close to having a fully polished manuscript next time I post. Wish me luck!

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Write – Like a Rolling Stone.

So, I’m a huge Stones fan. Have been since I was a kid. I listen to “Miss You” when I work out (it’s got just the right beat for pumping weights!) and the hubby and I have been to their concerts whenever they’ve played our home town of Adelaide (well, in the years we’ve been old enough to go, at least).  The last concert I caught was October last year, and man, after more than fifty years of riffs and beats, these guys can still rock.

Which means I really shouldn’t have been surprised to find some great nuggets of creative wisdom, not to mention inspiration for my own writing, when I cracked open Keith Richards’ autobiography, LIFE. I mean, you don’t stay on top of the song writing game for over five decades and not come to know a thing or two about creativity, the writing brain, and the business of entertainment, right?

So, for your edification, here are some of “Keef’s” pearls –

On how the work will get done if you just show up, every day:

“We felt then that it was impossible that we couldn’t come up with something every day, or every two days. That was what we did, and even if it was the bare bones of a riff, it was something to go on, and then while they were trying to get the sound on it or we were trying to shape the riff, the song would fall into place of its own volition.”

On the futility of chasing the next Big Thing:

“Mick was chasing musical fashion. I had a lot of problems with him trying to second-guess the audience. This is what they’re into this year. Yeah, what about next year, pal? You just become one of the crowd. And anyway, that’s never the way we’ve worked. Let’s just do it the way we’ve always done it, which is do we like it? Does it pass our test? When it comes down to it, Mick and I wrote our first song in a kitchen. That’s as big as the world is. If we’d been thinking of how the public was going to react, we’d never have made a record.”

On finding that gap in the market and making it yours:

“With all the songs I’ve ever written, quite honestly, I’ve felt there’s an enormous gap here, waiting to be filled; this song should have been written hundreds of years ago. How did nobody pick up on that little space? Half the time you’re looking for gaps that other people haven’t done. And you say, I don’t believe they’ve missed that fucking hole! It’s so obvious. It was staring you in the face! I pick out the holes.”

And I’ll let the man himself have the last word, on why he believes writer’s block is bull.

Rock on, Keith. Rock on.

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Book Recommendation – Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback

WOLF WINTER

It’s winter Down Under. We reached a chilly max of just 14C today (yes, I know that hardly counts as cold for anyone north of the equator, but brrr, it’s sheer torture for us Aussies!)

It’s also the beginning of three weeks of school holidays, and with my kids home I often battle to find the time to write, so much so that some days I give up altogether. But that’s OK. The upside of not spending my time writing is that I spend it with my kids – and if I’m super lucky, I even get to spend it curled up by the fire with a hot cup of tea and an excellent book. And the excellent book that grabbed my attention this week was WOLF WINTER, Cecilia Ekback‘s debut novel published early this year.

Set in early 1700s Swedish Lapland, WOLF WINTER opens with fourteen year old Frederika and her younger sister – both newcomers to a tiny, remote community on the beautiful yet unforgiving Blackasen Mountain – stumbling across the savagely mutilated body of Eriksson, an unlikeable local man. Their neighbours blame the wolves, but Frederika and her hard yet resourceful mother, Maija, quickly come to suspect there is a human hand behind Eriksson’s death, and set out to solve the mystery of his murder.

As Maija and her mother separately probe the dark secrets of Blackasen and the homesteaders who live in its shadow, years of deceit and deceptions are gradually laid bare. Multiple suspects emerge, and danger lurks behind every stony outcropping, behind every forest tree. Ancient supernatural forces seem to be at work and worst of all, a “wolf winter” – the harshest winter imaginable – is coming …

I loved this book. It’s beautifully written, the language spare and evocative, not a word wasted, and the story is rich with a sense of foreboding and brooding menace. The medieval Nordic setting is a character in itself, stark and threatening. And the mystery of who killed Eriksson, with its plot twists and red herrings aplenty, gripped me from beginning to end.

WOLF WINTER is definitely a highly recommended read- with a mug of something hot in hand, and the windows shut tight against the cold … and whatever else may lurk out there.  😉

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Victorian England – An Era of Oddities

And now for a few more of the intriguing tidbits I’ve stumbled across while researching my novel.

This time, three very odd – and one, perhaps a little grim – factoids from the Victorian era.

The 5th Duke of Portland’s Underground Haven

William John Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, the 5th Duke of Portland, was a truly eccentric Victorian aristocrat.

Never married, the duke was extraordinarily reclusive. His valet was the only servant permitted to lay eyes on him. His other servants received their orders via written notes posted by the duke through a slot in the door to his private apartments, followed by the summonsing ring of his bell. He preferred to take his strolls at night, accompanied by a female servant bearing a lamp. And he reportedly had the gardens of his London townhouse enclosed with ground glass screens so he might take a turn outside without the neighbours seeing.

The poor man most likely suffered from a crippling case of agoraphobia, and nowhere is this more evident than the building works he commissioned at his country seat of Welbeck Abbey, in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire (yes, Robin Hood’s stomping ground!)

At Welbeck Abbey, the duke employed an army of workers to make special additions to his family seat. He considerably renovated the abbey’s interior, and added a massive riding house for his stable of over one hundred horses (none of which he ever rode). But the oddest of his constructions is the network of sumptuous rooms and connecting tunnels that, over a span of twenty years and at a phenomenal cost, he had dug beneath the ground.

A ballroom, library, picture gallery, kitchens and wine cellars, all connected by gas-lit tunnels, some of which were wide enough to permit a carriage, others with tracks set in the tunnel floor so food could be whisked along from the kitchens. Now, to be accurate, the rooms are best described as “below ground” rather than “subterranean” as they are not completely covered with earth and admit natural light via skylights set in the ground above. But of course, the duke made sure the skylights’ glass domes were all screened from prying eyes by shrubbery.

The overseeing of all this subterranean work reportedly gave the duke great pleasure. But sadly, his reclusiveness meant he never shared his underground haven with a single guest, and by 1879 Welbeck Abbey had fallen into disrepair, the duke living in only four or five habitable rooms, all stripped of furniture … and all painted pink.

Welbeck Abbey is still in the Cavendish-Bentinck family’s hands today. It is a private residence, meaning access to the underground rooms and tunnels is not permitted. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to take a peek at what lies beneath!

The Fake Houses of 23 & 24 Leinster Terrace, London

In the 1860s, London’s original underground railway was powered by steam, and as such, its tunnels required regular “venting” sections, open to the air above. One of these venting sections can still be found at 23 & 24 Leinster Terrace, Bayswater – but from the street, you’d never know it.

Standing on the tree-lined pavement, all you see is an elegant row of white, stucco-walled terrace houses, in keeping with the rest of the genteel neighbourhood. From the rear, though, the secret is revealed – numbers 23 & 24 are nothing but a five foot thick facade, towering over a pit through which the Tube line runs (see this Daily Mail Article for some terrific photos).

A very Victorian way of keeping up property values by keeping up appearances!

The Gruesome Secret in Scotland Yard’s Basement.

The Thames has a long and grim history of disgorging London’s dead. Records show that in 1882 alone, 544 corpses were pulled from the river. Three of the more bizarre deaths connected with the Thames occurred during 1887 to 1889, when the limbs and headless torsos of three female murder victims were discovered in or near the river. They were dubbed, “The Thames Torso Murders.”

Now, the act of committing three murders, then dismembering the bodies and disposing of the parts about the city, is mind-bogglingly macabre. But the oddest of these three crimes surely must be the second, purely for where the killer chose to dispose of some of the remains.

The poor woman’s arm was found first, in Lambeth Road. Next, her arm was fished from the Thames near Pimlico. And not long after, her torso was found  – dumped, of all conceivable places, in the construction site of New Scotland Yard being built upon London’s Victoria Embankment. Death on the Met’s brand new doorstep.

Scotland Yard has long since moved to London’s Broadway. Only one of the victims was ever identified. And the killer’s identity remains a mystery, as does what it was about Scotland Yard that drew him to dispose of his victim’s remains there. Mere opportunity? A sick joke? I doubt we’ll ever know. But the Jack the Ripper Casebook site has a thorough discussion of the case – including speculation the same killer committed similar murders more than ten years before ….

Oh. And these murders overlapped with Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror in Whitechapel. Shudder. It’s a wonder any Victorian Londoner ever left the house.

Do you have any bizarre tales of Victorian London? Do share. You know I’ll be all ears!

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Slow blogging gone mad

Slow blogging. It’s all the rage now – see Anne R. Allen’s blog post for her knowledgeable and in-depth discussion on the swing away from blogging like a banshee, and why it’s a good thing – and to me, it makes a lot of sense. But given the time that’s elapsed between my posts, I seem to have taken the whole slow blogging movement to a crazy extreme.

I might even have started to go in reverse.

I’ve got good reasons for my silence (heh, there always are). The best one, though, is I’ve been writing hard and have nearly, nearly, got my book, The Colours of the Dead, all gussied up ready for the query-go-round.

First dibs will go to the wonderful agent who requested the full manuscript after listening to my pitch back when the book was just a shitty first draft. Then, I’ll be shoving my book’s dance card under the nose of every agent and publisher at that damn ball.

But I’m starting to have a little more time to breathe now. More time to pay attention to my poor neglected blog. I’ll still be blogging slowly – how much do I have to say, really? – but this time, I won’t leave you wondering whether my blog still has a pulse.

Promise.

(I’m not crossing my fingers – I’m not! 😉 )

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Science and Punishment in Victorian England

In case you didn’t know, I’m an Aussie gal. The places and eras I write about are far from my own, which I guess explains why, when I research my books, my eye is always caught by any antipodean connections.

One such link to Australia I came across in researching The Colours of the Dead involves Sir Edmund Du Cane.  He was a Royal Engineer who answered the call of the Comptroller General of Convicts in Western Australia to come out to the colony to plan its prison buildings. But Du Cane was also the architect of one of the most brutal, soul-destroying prison systems put in place in Victorian times. And he did it largely in the name of science.

Late nineteenth century Victorians loved their technology and science. They lived in a time when great shifts in these spheres were taking place at a very fundamental level. The disciplines known as “natural philosophy” and “natural history” gradually became “science”; gentlemen dabblers and “naturalists” became “scientists.” This was also the era that gave birth to Darwinsism and the fledgling field of psychiatry; germ theory was nailed down; sewer systems were built, as was the London Underground.

With technology and scientific thinking pervading much of Victorian life, it is little wonder it was eventually directed towards the question of its prisons, and its inmates.

The eighteenth century had seen the idea of the reformability of prisoners flourish. But by the second half of the nineteenth century, influenced by social Darwinism, thinking had changed.  Many believed there was little point trying to reform those of the criminal class – they were what they were – and Sir Edmund Du Cane, Chairman of Commissioners of Prisons (amongst other posts) held such views.

For Du Cane, reformation was secondary to  control, and his prison system was unapologetically aimed at breaking a prisoner’s spirit to swiftly acclimatise them to a regimented existence. The methods employed to do this, viewed from our 21st century perspective, were incredibly cruel.

Food rations were barely enough to sustain an inmate’s existence. This was deliberately so, and termed “scientific starvation”. Men went to bed hungry, got up hungry. There were reports of prisoners driven to eating boot grease, poultices and candle stubs to ease their hunger pains.

Inmates slept on plank beds, with clothing insufficient to ward off the cold. Singing, whistling, any musical sound, was punishable by bread and water.

Picking oakum

Picking oakum

Out of their cells, prisoners were kept busy with menial, dangerous and soul-destroying tasks such as  picking oakum (the fibres that made up ship rope) and breaking rocks. Climbing the treadwheel was a particularly barbaric trial. The treadwheel was a massive, wooden apparatus of continually revolving steps originally intended to drive belts that supplied power to mills and lathes, but in prisons was used purely as part of the “breaking” regime. Prisoners spent hours each day stepping on the treadwheel (in some prisons, climbing the equivalent of over 16,000 ft a day) and to make matters worse, they were separated from one another by cubicles to prevent any communication as they slaved. Accidents often occurred, as did fatalities.

A prison treadwheel

A prison treadwheel

Turning the hand crank was also part of the prison regime. These cranks were situated in the cells, and the number of turns made by each prisoner was carefully counted. There was absolutely no point to this endeavour, of course, but prisoners who failed to reach the required number of turns were penalised by a loss of privileges or food.

Yet another pointless activity imposed on inmates was the carrying of 24 pound cannonballs. They were picked up, and put down, for several hours a day, again, with no objective at all.

By the end of the 1880s most prisoners were subjected to Du Cane’s regime. The “tasks” imposed by his system were menial, physical torturous, dangerous, and worst of all, utterly pointless. A prisoner was reduced to nothing more than a cog in a vast, diabolical, machine designed to break him down. It is hardly surprising that many men released from these prisons were mentally damaged by their ordeal. Neither is it surprising that a very high number of these men returned to lives of crime. They were probably unfit for anything else.

If you’d like to read more about Sir Edmund Du Cane or the Victorian prison system, I highly recommend:

London’s Shadows: The Dark Side of London by Drew D. Gray

English Local Prisons 1860-1900: Next Only to Death by Sean McConville

The Punishment and Prevention of Crime by Col. Sir Edmund Du Cane.

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