Author: Diana Whiley
Adelaide, South Australia
With a clearer view of where my writing is going these days, I am curious to see what has changed, what my writing was like years ago.
I rummaged around in my cupboards and found folders of my earlier writing - old novel extracts ranging from crime fiction, a completed western and fantasy.
It was like looking at another person. My style was simpler, even a little naïve at times yet written with confidence.
Much happened later to dampen that confidence. I worried too much about what others thought. Was confused on what seemed the right way to approach my writing.
Was my story entertaining and interesting enough?
The sheer need to write and the imagination I have pouring from me overcame the doubts enough to persevere. Still it is a roller-coaster up sometimes down the next. Up now.
I am going to use some ideas from one of my old fantasy pieces. It was based on the myth of Pegasus and the Chimera. I have a large book of the story. I read it over and over again as a child, fascinated by the images and fierceness of the horse and rider as they battled the beast.
The feeling of being that child again moves through me. Like the poem I wrote.
Being too bound by the mechanics of writing can at times override that something waiting to be born.
I take much from the Western writers I’ve read with their rich mine of characterization. Their characters were a Mix of strength and vulnerabilities who make mistakes but move on to do what is right. Pioneers amidst lawlessness who cemented their place and stood for the people; empowered by self-realization.
Today I am happy with my reflective exercise. There is much I can reinvent from my old writing as well as bits and pieces of my old self.
I take heart from one of my favourite western writers, Loius L’Amour, who was quoted as saying:
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning.”
Writing a novel is demanding. It takes time for my thoughts to form something I can work with, then express. I’m a dreamer which is frustrating sometimes but I find my varied interests bring a lot into whatever I’m creating - science and history my top interests after art and writing.
The past affects the present as I’ve mentioned previously - memories carried on - a legacy that can evolve into something new. The recipient adding their perspective.
As I touch an old ornamental fan, wooden slats painted with violets, memories open and unfurl of my Great Aunt’s house steeped in Victoriana.
I was seven when I stayed with her and picked walnuts from her garden. Opened them to reveal halves like a map. She’d travelled and mapped her life with her husband, a diplomat in India. She’d brought back a silver tea set and brass vase (now mine).
It ignited my enduring fascination with the legendary Silk Road and trade.
Her sister, my Grandma used stars as her guide. She often won at the race track when she was guided by Astrology. I went with her one day and watched the horses run, entranced by the beat and flash of the jockey’s colours.
We shared an orange, its juice stabilizing her diabetes, the memory of its segmented pieces overlaying her skin, a drop of blood and needle.
With another needle she stitched together my love of textile and pattern. She died when I was nine. Another connection, another loved one gone.
I often wonder if that was the start of the longing -a longing for what could have been - that added layer of family knowledge lost in time.
I’m sure it influenced my reason for writing fantasy. In the creating new worlds and other races, I could explore my characters sense of belonging - be it a place, a people or the seeking of its meaning.
It’s a journey also I wanted to express in my art.
I started sketching first, enjoying the intensity of the light and shadow; the marking with dark lines like map making. A map of joy and passion, of life and death, of light still shining through like I’d seen in the Old Masters - Monet, Turner and Vermeer. Monet in particular liked charting the light of the day in his famous haystack paintings. The changes in colour inspired me to experiment.
I tried digital art and found it suited my style. Using a black background I bring in light and colour to give atmosphere. Pick a face, an object or landscape and with a seeming randomness at times, meld the layers. And like bark, layers come off too, leaving behind the final piece.
Creating something new is like my experience of watching a cello being made.
The body exudes twists of complex muscle.
Inside a hollow palpable silence;
It is still young.
Nodes are inserted.
Without them, strings have no tension
And tension draws the best from fingers.
Lacquer is applied with slow precision.
Gloss in the long sweep of curve
Hardens to a sunset resonance.
The imprint of hand and heart
transforms sound. Its first voice
I have just finished reading my latest copy of the magazine “Heavy Music Artwork.”
I started reading the magazine a few years ago, first hooked by the artwork then by the artists’ creative processes.
Many of the artists are also members of the band and the songwriters. The way they translate their ideas and values into the visual, reflect the mood and content of the music is both enlightening and empowering.
Their philosophy on life is an intriguing mix of thoughts on rituals and myths, religion and big themes like the state of the world, the Universe and our place within it.
In many cultures animals have been used in ancient ritual and ceremony. Totems and shaman spirit walking to name but a few. A way of infusing the attributes of the animals into our body, linking us with the primeval. It can be a twice edged sword.
I thought about that and how it pertained to my life. The part music has played in it and converged.
In the Heavy Music Artwork magazine, the duo, “ Mothmeister” make their own tribute to animals through taxidermy and ritual. They create surreal photographic images with these animals and paired with individuals who are masked. Despite the suggested anonymity, the portraits are intimate and posed very theatrically and with intensity.
I’ve felt that same sense of intimacy at the theatre seated twenty feet from Shakespeare’s Hamlet as it unfolded. The body language as much as the voice of the actors stayed with me long afterward. Potent. And like being a part of, and listening to the bards and performers in the time of travelling shows.
I shared that experience when I learnt contemporary dance.
With body and mind I sought to interpret the meaning behind the choreographer’s story. Inevitably included my own point of view – which was also The Point.
A duality that can cause tension. Like a metaphor.
Arms pivot to the gilt edge
Of a finely wrought blade slicing through air
Make music of their own
Fly in their own sky, arc and extend toe to toe,
Vibration moving from the floor
In waves up through my poised backbone
A delineation; life or death.
Tension often causes conflict. An essential ingredient when novel writing.
The inner conflict of the characters being as important as conflicts brought about by outside influences.
I write up detailed backgrounds for each character. Won’t always use all of it, but it’s there and I can mix up what happens to them. Bring out their fears; push them into situations contrary to what they’ve experienced or have hidden.
In books I’m reading I want to see into the characters mind. To move with them as they evolve. How they cope. How they are challenged and wait for their philosophy on life to be revealed.
Absorb and appreciate their differences.
Note: Heavy Music Artwork #10 Vol 3 April 2019.
The Botanic Gardens is one of three places that have defined much of my life.
Needing some thinking time I drive to the Gardens and step through the gate and onto the main path. I walk through an avenue of giant Figs, old and gnarled. They look the same as the first time I came as a child scuffing through their leaves.
Their air of permanence is a balm to my overloaded brain and offers a serenity that escapes me at the moment. A place that pledges renewal and permanence yet at the same time stimulates.
I zero in on my favorite sections. The strand of nettle pines where I imagined mysterious creatures hidden and waiting to reveal themselves. When they didn’t, I determined to make them come alive on the page.
The Lily pond with its mixture of pink and white blooms and seed pods, their faces uplifted to sky and the Universe. Majestic back drop for theatre productions in summer, gowns of silk swishing over green ululating lawns as the legend of Arthur and Camelot unfolded.
Other stories. Water puppets translating legends and bringing into being the universe of multiple gods; great swirl of creation.
The Botanical museum with its seeds and propagation. Large books from centuries ago detailing new discoveries of flora and fauna. Cabinets with plant fibers and woven skirts alongside vials of scents and oils. A place of memory - past and present.
I turn to the other two places for opposing reasons. Both inspire imagination. The Hills around my Aunt’s farm that spelled freedom; open space and hills to roam and be myself.
The house I lived in from nine years old to late teens with land opposite filled with small dunes. Behind them, the Adelaide airport. A dreaming and fantasy time of far off dunes, of Egypt and the wonder of shifting shape and ancient tales.
They live in me, brought out when the wind stirs, when I hear planes overhead, and smell new growth.
After wandering, thinking, I leave the botanic gardens with a new confidence and a question. Who in my novel do I really want to take my first journey with?
Now I can answer. Now I can shed the complicated plot line I tried to encompass.
It will make my friends laugh. Many times I’ve changed my mind about what I’m writing. Have even done so, here, in my journal.
It comes down to really understanding myself, my motivations and needs. Like a tendril of vine testing the air, the light I’ve come back to my first concept - water crystals, whales and music.
Now Ben and Eryn’s story can be told with my full commitment.
Tapping into my own experiences is one part of how I create the backgrounds for my characters.
I try to use all the five senses - smell, taste, sight, sound and touch. In each of these are numerous variations, personal experiences. Taste can be salt spray from the sea. A lover’s warm skin. Fragrances lingering as an aftertaste.
One of my strongest memories comes from the smell of apricot jam cooking. A ritual. My introduction to the seasons as I stayed over holiday times at my Aunt’s farm.
We cut apricots together and I tasted more than a few. Later the jam jars lined the pantry shelves, amber and gold jewels I can still see clearly. As I do many other experiences on the farm, many a first.
The orange hills around the farm I likened to dunes from afar and heard whispers on the wind of ancient people and times. The Murray River, brown-green and dangerous. I’d been afraid of the slimy reeds on my skin and the opaqueness of it since swimming there. A fear that remains and I often think of such things when writing.
When at home the house was filled with music. Mum and dad played the piano - my dad often pulling out his flute. My younger brother and I learnt the piano. He added the clarinet, his reed- crooning sounds like smooth jazz nights. My eldest brother strummed the guitar.
It was only my younger brother and I who played together, and realize now, how often we stuck together through the underlying, sad notes in our family.
Individual experiences make each of us unique. All help to form responses. A stepping stone.
I imagine who my newly formed characters could be, and what formed their core values and what eventually changes them. Endeavor to make them recognizable in the way they think and act.
Ideas are the foundation of writing. After starting this journal I looked back to the first idea I had that set others in motion.
I’ve always been fascinated by snowflakes. They are all individual and beautifully geometric. I imagine snowflakes bouncing together and making their own music like wind song and water, a slow trickle that can become a cascading roar. Energy. Vibration.
I read about Pythagoras, a scientist and mathematician from 660 BC who believed a vibration and resonance emanated from all planets and combined to from a harmony, a balance in the Universe. He called it “The Music of the Spheres.”
It gave me the foundation of the magic in my fantasy world - music, resonance and mathematics – or more specifically geometric pattern that linked to the elements of life.
For me, I was always going to base my characters on Earth, where magic is not a given but mainly appears in myth. I often wished many myths were true and imagined my characters having special abilities but unknown to them.
My first character was a musician, a violinist. I picked this instrument as I have always been deeply affected by the sounds of violin strings. Believed the emotional connection I felt would help me to express mine, and hers. But being a fantasy novel I wanted more for my character Eryn - another reason for her passion for music.
I gave her the ability to hear Whale song, gifted to her by the Whales themselves, those wonderful sentient creatures. Their song and themes, both haunting and somewhat other worldly suited my thinking and would help form a link to something beyond our world.
Eryn’s character was also haunted by her dad’s recent death but did not suffer alone. Supported by Ben, who she’d grown up with since she was five. Like a brother. Seven years older and a glass artist. One who saw patterns within his creations that stirred within him both longing and echoes of past nightmares.
These two characters were part of my first novel, the one I set aside while I grappled at that time with my own griefs. I still wrote short stories, unable not to create something as well as ideas burgeoning from my interest in biology and science.
In nature there is a golden ratio called the Fibonacci that forms shape and growth; innate properties locked into seeds. These days seeds can be genetically engineered.
I’d first read of the possibility in a science fiction book I read in High School, “The Day of the Triffids,” by John Wyndham. His main character, a scientist modified plants. Not considered very ethical for the time. When they were affected by a meteor shower, they turned into killer plants.
It had me thinking years later of this scenario and I wondered - what if seeds from space came down to Earth instead? Who could have sent them and why? What kind of plants would they turn out to be?
One came easily to my mind - the Amazonica Victortia Lily. A plant I have always been fascinated by and visited in its pavilion in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.
I researched its history. The seeds of the Lily plant had been taken from the Amazon in the 1800’s to England where it was propagated for the first time outside its natural habitat. I could imagine, the Amazon both a mysterious and dangerous place being infused with magic. From it my character Del was born and I started another novel.
I’d written 10,000 words when I had an epiphany. There were similarities and possibilities in the new novel that could marry with my original one and its characters. It made sense to combine them, four main characters, who all had abilities unknown to them.
I could transform the old and meld it into the new. Am now doing so with a plotline and an ending which has given me the room to fully explore the dynamics between the characters and their situation.
As I draw and sketch in the shadows that define the overall image I am currently making, I think of the darkness, the underbelly of emotion and motivation that often drives a story.
Much can drag a person down into the depths of rage and despair, or a cold precision. The reasons, how or why – a slow decline over time or linked to a sudden circumstance that tests core values.
I felt moved by and appreciated the effect of the former, in the first lines of the poem “Family Trees” by the African Poet Tsitsi Jaji.
Mother was a mango transplanted by moon-light, she glowed split cream. On unknown days she would burst into bruises. Or leak tears, but it was just a skin game, fruit do that, seeping out ripe juice. When inside all is sweetening. The real hurt was slower, deeper.
Background information on a character determines reaction and response. I create detailed notes on my characters, which have a flow on affect as I refine my plotline.
In my fantasy novel “Song of Seed and Blood,” one of my main characters Del, transforms into the Victoria Amazonica Lily. The flower itself is pollinated at night by a beetle that turns at first pink then white. Del absorbs people to become the flower. Two lost days then she returns to normal.
Does she like it? No, which forms that core of her - regret, guilt and a wanting to understand and stop it. She cannot. It is part of her and only the beginning of her journey into another transformation.
I had to think about where she came from, her reason for being on Earth. Who knows about her and the ramifications of the act itself – one Seed in the coming rise of darker arts across worlds that affect the balance of dark and light in the universe.
Her partner and love interest Li, in turn has to have the capacity to accept and understand; to be willing to help her. I gave him ancestors both of Druid and Mongolian Shaman, his childhood full of myth and legends. And as such, many of them with a dark underside.
Jared, her counterpart is driven by his mother’s death from cancer. A biologist and scientist with an ability to see patterns where others don’t. He finds out about Del and wants her blood while she is transformed, to create a drug to combat cancer. He is determined to get what he needs but finds himself one step behind her. In his frustration he falls prey to an outside influence who promises the power to get what he wants.
He considers his motives pure. But how far will he go? What else is in store for him?
My job is to keep up the suspense. In plotting I use many of the steps used to create crime fiction. Set up clues and motives; consequences and the result. Usually a death or more. The influence of place on the overall atmosphere and the mood of the characters.
In fantasy, world building and the part magic plays in it are crucial to the atmosphere. Forests that are sentient. The cities and where they are situated. The list is endless. A feast of imagining and one I enjoy.
Note: Poet Tsitsi Jaji and her book of poems “ Carnaval “ part of a series
Seven New Generation African poets By Slapering Hol Press at www.writerscenter.org
As a writer and artist I move from one to the other, each contributing,rounding out my ideas, and as often taking me in new directions.
My favourite haunt in my city of Adelaide is the Art Gallery. At one time I spent three months going each week to view a different painting and responding to it.
Back then my default was writing poetry even as I worked on my novel. But I was also fascinated by the artists, their personalities and motivations – all fodder for background information as character most often drives a story. And woven into its fabric, is its theme, which could be about belonging, a journey into the mind or as many other permeations. Epic journeys and coming of age. All important in understanding the character as he or she moves forward.
Besides writing speculative fiction I have also written literary and general fiction. One story I called, “With These Hands,” was based on my own experiences as a child.
My youngest brother was born with several disabilities. When he was an infant my mother massaged his legs and arms. Pushed them into shape, trying to get his brain to make new pathways.
It worked. When he was three years old he did walk. My mother’s persistence had paid off and I like to think it rubbed off on me. I lost it for a while but it was still there waiting.
Persistence plays a large part in finding an audience; being read, viewed and heard. As do setting goals and creating specific projects.
I am currently making a commitment for the next few weeks to draw every day - a face or figure using many of the pictures I’ve accumulated from magazines. Fashionistas, dancers and musicians, of the latter David Bowie who loved to change his look.
The reason behind the exercise is my intent to write a graphic novel. My figure drawing needs work. The writing I will create and revive from that dialogue I mentioned in radio plays. And once again read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.
As I continue this journal I remember what matters most from my past. How my brother’s love shaped me and does still. He’d always been interested and encouraged me in my writing.
I am not abandoning my first novel but transforming it.
Writing a novel is a learning experience, a journey in itself and of self.
Change too, a vital part of the process. Knowing by adapting, it is not a dismissal of what is already written - more ideas and characters reformed and molded to fit.
My favorite books are those that make me cry, make me think as I experience how others coped through their lives.
I want to give that to my readers. So I am going to write up a plan. One that will help me remember all these things as I write. To remember to draw on my own experiences of loss and love, pain and joy. To face my fears and find that inner core and confidence in my abilities I once had.
After responding to the poem “Catalyst” I thought about all the other forms of writing I’ve done. One in particular stood out - a radio play.
Different from audio books, it can only use dialogue to portray the sense of place. To reveal, the values that the characters hold. And done well, sharply defines emotional undercurrents.
In that form, it actually helped me to see my characters more clearly.
With that in mind, I intend to spend more time reading my writing out aloud. To listen for those hidden nuances and hope I get them right.
By writing this journal I’m hoping to fully immerse myself in my writing again. To express the depth and intensity that I enjoy and appreciate in other writers. To regain my purpose and drive.
I read a haiku poem recently called ‘Catalyst” by Anita Virgil. Only three lines but very relevant to now, to this…writing a journal.
The room is white
Until that red apple
It is often easy to miss what is right in front of us. I am going to put a plan in motion to keep myself motivated as well as tap into my emotions. Creating conflict in writing can, and is often too close to the bone.
I intend to go back to my first love and read a poem every day and respond to it. See how the poem is relatable to my characters, the novel’s flow and plot line.
Here is my response to the poem Catalyst:
Black script curves
Undulates in a river’s meandering ease
Until meaning slaps like a wave.
Immediately after I’d written it, the word hidden sprang to mind. What had I forgotten that is hidden in my characters? What drives them?
Each character is an individual. I will try to regenerate that feeling of discovery, of that first insight into who the character is and the journey they will take - the reason behind the journey in the first place.
I started my writing life as a poet. Its brevity suited me. I loved searching for the right metaphor that I hoped, would convey the emotion I wanted to evoke. I think it was my form of journal writing.
It came to a great halt when my brother, a songwriter, died of cancer in 2002.
I couldn’t get past his absence for a long time. But eventually, with the help of music and a need to write something in his memory I resurfaced.
The knack of writing poems seemed to have deserted me. Luckily I discovered Neil Gaiman and his Sandman series. It hit a chord – his big themes of Universe and myths
Already an avid reader of fantasy I looked at what I loved about the genre and came up with some ideas. Ideas based on that connection I wanted with my brother again, and with music.
Many fantasy books used crystals as focal points in their magic. That appealed to me too. I’d always felt there was resonance in rocks. So, I began my journey into novel writing – a big step for me and wrote 100,000 words.
When I had nearly finished, the drive that had kept me going left me. Looking back, I realize that writing the novel was part of my grieving process. Odd not to know it, but I think I blotted it out. Tried to see it as creating something new, of being constructive.
Even now I struggle at the idea of finishing it. Sacred to let go of what it represented? Probably. It’s difficult. Hopefully I can get past it and believe an ending is not forgetting.
I let work take over for a while. Enjoyed teaching Creative Writing and drawing, after going back to University. Also worked in mental health, looking for answers. My mother had had clinical depression all her life.
I’d always felt helpless and hoped by seeing others, trying to help them it would open a window into my mother’s mind. It didn’t but I came to understand we all have our inner struggles, and by just being supportive we can make a difference.
I kept writing bits and pieces all the way through. Concentrated on short stories but still had the characters from my novel popping up in my head. I had to visually represent them.
I’d previously learnt to draw and dabbled in oils but I wasn’t truly satisfied with the results. That’s when I turned to digital art to see what I could do. It suited my style. I love to grab images, often random - my subconscious obviously telling me which ones, then layering them. I’d often end up with happy accidents just like in watercolour As well as flops.
I have now revisited my original novel and am revising, adding new aspects. But will I finish?