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Handmade Renaissance

Most people have an interest in being creative in some way. Our jobs are often just not big enough for us. Not many define themselves by their Monday to Friday jobs, but ask them what their interests are and you start getting to the essence of the person.

In the very early days of writing The River and the Ravages, I knew I wanted the protagonist, Aaliya, to be a saddle maker. This wasn’t just a random selection of a trade relevant during medieval times. I wanted saddle making for its association with practicality and for its incredible range for beauty. Saddles have stories. The people that had owned the saddle, the distances it had covered and the horses it had been on, the battles the saddle had been in, the unique parts of the world the saddle had been taken to. All of this mattered. And it shaped the character, Aaliya: who she was, what she stood for, what she wanted to achieve.

There’s a significant renaissance in the handmade movement at the moment. Etsy.com (Ebay for handmade) is mega-business as people seek out unique products. I’m drawn to handmade the same reasons so many other people are: the ideas, the tactility, and the hands that work upon the matter. You don’t just get a material item with handmade, you get meaning and stories. There’s longevity. Handmade items are rarely thrown out and in our disposable society, that’s BIG. Handmade items are often handed down through generations. They stand the test of time in a world where there is so much change and nothing seems to last. They help to define who we are and our place in the world.

I’m also heartened by the fact that around the world schools of old trades and craft are opening up and are thriving. Schools for blacksmithing, saddle making, woodworking, decorative ironwork and on it goes. Many people have become interested in learning old trades and craft as a way of counterbalancing our busyness and highly distracted modern lives.

More importantly, I think everywhere people are learning there’s a sense of joy to be had from making. There’s also a strong connection with the present moment when you’re making. You’re not thinking about your imperfect body, or the size of your mortgage, or your messy divorce. Loneliness simply drifts away when making and creating. All that matters is the connection of hand and mind and achieving something real and beautiful. Even if it’s just for yourself. No one else need ever see it.

Victor Frankl once wrote: ‘It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.’ Joy is the goal, not happiness. And I’m a firm believer that making is a strong element of joy in life.

Expect that anything worthwhile takes a long time. You won’t go from novice to highly skilled overnight in whatever craft you pursue. But that’s not an excuse not to start. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. But you already know that. And it’s more than likely you’ll discover a whole lot about yourself along the way.

And you know what’s the easiest part? Nothing. It’s hard work. But the rewards are plenty.

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Forthcoming attractions (and me!)

Ah, that long, lovely lull at the start of the year. Everyone (certainly me, anyway) dragging themselves out of holiday mode. I’ve made it to mid-February and looking down the barrel of the remaining months in 2018…it looks set to be a biggie.

Book 2 in The River and the Ravages trilogy is now in full swing. I’ve done my all important plans, I’ve pondered, I’ve ruminated…and now I’m writing like a demon. Every which way you look at it, there’s going to be edginess and grandiose struggles, characters are going to find themselves up to their eyeballs in problems, lessons are going to be learned the hard way, and of course there will be love and sex and beauty. Oh, not to mention hilarious banter. Something you’ve come to expect from me are well-developed characters and a conflict driving the main character to seek solutions…and you won’t be disappointed. This is all verging dangerously close to hype but sometimes you’ve got to put faith in your writers. And yes, I have a book title, and no, I’m not telling you what it is. Not yet anyway. Like all good maverick creatives, I must retain some shred of mystery, you know…

Some people have been asking about the audiobook version of The River and the Ravages. The process has been BIG…even I’ve been surprised. There’s so much involved…narration of course, but also sound engineering, rights and privileges, distribution and so on. But it’s so close now folks. Any day now it will be available and I’ll let you all know when and where and how so you can listen and enter your own river and ravage world while you walk the dog, smash those muscles at the gym, cook dinner, commute to work…

As I’m not quite at the stage (okay…not remotely at the stage) of chucking in my day job and being a writer full-time, I also will be endeavouring to transform the business of the South Australian public service agency where I work as a Project Development Officer. Yes, I have a whole other life outside writing which I fulfill like the good taxpayer that I am. But rest assured, writing is my love and I spend every waking moment outside my day job writing for your reading pleasure. Awww.

And for those who may be curious, the lovely artwork in the picture was done by my thirteen year-old-daughter. What a treasure she is. She helps to make my instagram account interesting!

Right, got to go

Books don’t write themselves. Yet, anyway.

JM

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Why I write what I write and other glorious anecdotes

I read some advice by author Joanna Walsh, “define carefully what makes you uncomfortable, and dwell in that difficulty. Find ways to enjoy it.” It’s hard for me to contemplate the notion of discomfort while I sit outside with the sun on my back on this beautiful spring day, but I know it all the same.

Something I secretly fear (but act like it’s no big deal) is that my book The River and the Ravages simply doesn’t fit easily in a genre. I didn’t follow the rules of outlining my plot and forming my characters based on what is normally done in any single genre. This was pointed out to me quite early into my writing but it felt too darn important to me to keep writing the book that was inside me and not follow the rules. I may pay for that decision one day, but I may, on the other hand, reap the rewards.

Too often we fear to take bold steps and instead follow the safe path. I’m not being critical by any means. I’ve done it plenty in my own life. There are often so many competing priorities in any given decision to be made, I wonder how any decision gets made in the first place. But for the big stuff, the stuff that defines who we are, who we choose to love, how we spend our days, our weeks, our lives, it often requires gutsy decisions and dwelling in some bone-deep difficulty for a while.

What it means to me as a writer, is than I’m going to continue to write what interests me. Sex. Love. Family. Money. Death. And I’m going to continue to write about people on the brink of change and growth. People who sometimes make some great decisions, and who sometimes stuff up quite spectacularly.

And I’m going to have so much fun along the way. What a time to be alive!

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Influences, ideas and a certain movie from 1991

I’m going to cast your mind back to 1991. If you weren’t born then, don’t you dare leave this page. You deserve to know too…no judgement here. One night, I got myself to a cinema with the few spare bits of taxpayer funded coinage I could rustle together. Thought I’d check out that “chick-flick”, Thelma and Louise.

I was in my first year of university and so I was doing things a girl normally does in her first year of university. Playing the bagpipes. Learning about hygiene. Making great strides in farrier science. I actually didn’t know much about the movie prior to seeing it. Yeah..yeah..women stuff. Whatever. It blew me out of the water.

I wasn’t prepared for a story where women get the last word in. It seemed like a milestone moment for female characters in movies. And I know I wasn’t alone thinking this. Women came out of cinemas in 1991 cheering, applauding, positively dancing in the streets after seeing this film. The story arc of two women discovering their potential had us wanting more, MORE! Everyone expected there to be more like it. But strangely, almost eerily, there weren’t more. In fact, the tale somehow slipped into folklore.

Thelma and Louise always stayed with me as a pivotal story in its own right. And inspired I was indeed. Fast forward 25 years, if I may be so bold enough (mmmm, yes…I can certainly be bold enough) I thought I’d have a crack at redressing the void since that fateful release in 1991. I too was going to tell a story. And straight away I knew it had to have two women as the lead characters. And like Thelma and Louise, I didn’t want them to be role models. I wanted them to be real women, going through real shit, and finding a way to get through it.

On an end note I want to say that I don’t believe for a second the dearth of great women’s stories in movies and TV is also happening in the world of books. There are countless books that tackle this wonderful theme. One only has to look at Goodreads lists such as “Best ‘strong female’ fantasy novels” and “YA Books with awesome female characters” to see there is strong demand for great stories with women in the driving seat. Female story tellers are kicking goals. I salute you all.

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In case you were wondering…

I get asked…okay, one person has asked me…what books have influenced my writing. It’s a fine question and one I know none of you can bear to look away from the screen in anticipation of my response. So many books…How does one pluck those few jewels from all that treasure? Those ones that have been caressed and dog-eared the most, whose covers are tired and worn, whose spines are bent and creased like aged hands? Well, rest assured my friends I do have some special ones in mind.

  1. The Turning by Tim Winton – I could put any Tim Winton book here. They are, hands-down, the best books exploring the human heart. Tim’s book delve into people, our wants and needs, our fallibility, how we’re all so child-like in our need to be understood. His writing has that stunning ability to capture everyday conversations and the nuances behind every interaction, and the delivery is poetic. I’m in awe, AWE!!
  2. Little Birds by Anais Nin – Our famous lady who made erotica accessible. What a genius! There’s no barechested hulks and scantily clad women on these covers. Erotic writing is an art form in the hands of Anais Nin. She passed away in the 1970s yet no one has come close to her legacy. She certainly inspired me to write about sex even though my preference was for distance the length of a transnational highway between me and the subject matter.
  3. Half the World by Joe Abercrombie – And then there’s Joe. Ahh Joe Abercrombie. Maestro of ubercool fantasy stories. I feel like he’s an old friend. I’ll pick up something new to read but then I won’t be able to go past the niggling feeling that all I really want is to cuddle up with another Joe book. He’s taken all that warlock, dwarf, high priest stuff and made it all somehow sensible and interesting. Good plots, great characters, fabulous world building, action, conflict, emotion…What’s not to love?

So, there you go. Consider yourself informed. You’ll never be the same again I’m sure.

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