Position vacant: journalist. (Journalists need not apply)

I came across a job advertised online this week in which a website for sports fans was seeking a journalist to write for it. Read on, though, and you are told the successful candidate “WON’T have any professional journalism experience or qualifications” (my emphasis).

Yet, in another paragraph, it says the successful candidate is  probably already doing this journalism in their “free time”. If you get the job, you will “Write articles, generate discussion, host forums and use the…platform to grow your online following and generate copious amounts of discussion around a topic we all love. SPORT.”

To me, all those things constitute journalism in some of its many and varied forms today. What they really mean is that you must never have been paid to write. Pity if you’ve had to make a living in the meantime—but I digress.

The great irony is that this job pays—not much, but $10,000-$20,000 a year “OTE” (which, as I’ve discovered after seeing it in several job ads, means “on target earnings”, traditionally used for sales positions as a guide for what the company thinks you might be able to make).

Given that you’re never to have been paid for any journalism, wouldn’t the first story you wrote for the sports website actually then preclude you from continuing with the job? Anyway, it would disqualify you from getting another such job, since you are now a professional journalist.

I agree that in the digital world, you don’t necessarily have to have trained and been paid as a journalist or to have formal qualifications in journalism to practise journalism. There are many great aspects of citizen journalism that I like—and certainly, it cannot be ignored.

But I wonder what it is about journalists or people who have studied journalism that this company so dreads? They have a very old fashioned idea of what a journalist is or is not: these days, the term “journalist” has a very broad application, and can’t be easily delineated.

And what is “professional journalism”? For example, if you write a blog and you get free tickets to a concert, or a free book or meal for review, technically, you are being paid for writing. Does that mean a blogger who has accepted one freebie couldn’t apply for the aforementioned job?

What nonsense.

Journalists are among the most adaptable people I know. If the job requires them to write like a fan, they’ll write like a fan. You CAN be a sports fan…and one of those dratted  journalists, too, amazingly.

Writer’s Diary #6: How to finish your novel: ditch the to-do list

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 10.17.44 AMWe’re constantly thinking up new things we want or need to do, adding them to the never-ending list, then moaning about never having time to do them. If you are a writer, you probably complain that so many things get in the way to thwart you that you will never finish your novel.

The answer? Don’t have a list! Obviously, it’s good to have goals, but when you have so many that you’ll never have any hope of achieving them, it’s counter-productive. Often you have so much to do, you don’t know where to start.

So, the idea is, only put on your list what you can reasonably achieve.

In one weekend, no matter how enthusiastic you are at the start, you will not be able to clean out the cupboards, start your novel, read a whole book and go to the movies. Pick one and do it. Then you’ll be happy you achieved your goal, and you won’t be disappointed in yourself for not finishing four other things on the list.

Sometimes one day at a time is better than making five-year plans.

I’ve got a long-term to-do list that has been the same for about five years. I never cross anything off it, because I never get to it. So it’s always lurking there on my virtual computer sticky notes, reminding me what a disappointment I am to myself and others. I’m going to get rid of this list soon.

I gave away superfluous clothes from my wardrobe recently. Two big bags full, so now I can find the clothes I wear. The clothes that went to charity were all things I thought I’d wear again. But I haven’t, so out they went, except for a few classics.

So now I want to take the same philosophy to my to-do list. I have to realise that I am not going to be able to write 10 more novels in the foreseeable future—and probably not ever. But I think I might be able to write one, and possibly two or three. So I should just pick my top three ideas and forget about the others. I’ve started all three of them anyway. Yes, I know. I should choose one and go for it. Actually, I’ve got a new idea that I think would be great and for which I could happily put all others aside for a year.

I’m making a new plan to finish my third book and to have it published. To do that, I will have to put all other things aside, particularly to-do lists, though unless I am successful in attaining a government grant, I won’t be able to give up paid employment. Still, eligible applicants have about a one in 10 chance of getting a grant in my category, so it’s better odds than buying a Lotto ticket.

Screen Shot 2013-08-25 at 10.27.07 AM

My Secret Island

When I was eight or nine, my favourite book was Five on a Treasure Island, the first in the Famous Five series, by the British writer Enid Blyton. It was already an old book, and quite dated, by then, but it captured brilliantly the concept of getting away from adults, of setting up a comfortable camp, and of endless summer days of reading, playing outdoors, and going to sleep under the stars.
As adults, we still need to get away from the adult world every once in a while. It’s why J. M. Barrie’s mythical Neverland still appeals to me.
In my mind, I have a secret island. I’ve painted it to show you what I see. It’s easily accessible by boat, but for some reason, no one else has discovered it yet. There is a simple wooden house round the back of the island: you can’t see it from this viewpoint, because I don’t want anyone else to know it’s there. All the rooms face the sea, and you can open them all up by folding back the walls. There is a large veranda that runs the length of the house.
The house is stocked with the necessary staples, and there is an abundant fruit and vegetable garden and all the seafood you like to catch. There is a deep fresh-water pool nearby with a tiny waterfall.
It’s never very hot or very cold on my island. It rains every few days, but just for an hour or so. When the sun comes out strongly in the afternoon, there is a refreshing sea breeze that blows through the house to provide natural airconditioning.
Miraculously, there is also fast wireless internet, so I can keep in contact with all my friends on social media whenever I like.
At one end of the house, there is an art studio and writing den. This is where I will write my next novel.
Well, in my imagination, at least.
Everyone needs a secret island, even if it exists only on a canvas. This is mine.

20130713-190911.jpg

I’m a poet and I didn’t know it!

Dear Readers,
I’ve been pondering how we start and end our correspondence, particularly electronically (which is 99% of the correspondence I get these days anyway). I made a quick list the other day of some of the greetings and closes I’ve received recently. I laughed when I read it back, because it sounds like a poem. Here is my list, which I’ve even given a poetic title:

 Truly, sincerely, faithfully

Hi/Dear

Sir/Madam

Madam/Sir

To whom it may concern

How are you?

I hope you’re well

 

Kind, best, warm regards

Yours truly, sincerely, faithfully

All good things

In solidarity

Bye for now

Thank you

Cheers

When I was growing up, there were strict rules about letter writing. You started with “Dear so-and-so [comma]”. You then indented the next sentence on the line below. This sentence should contain a greeting: “I hope you’re well”, if it was an informal letter to a friend or acquaintance, or a statement of the purpose of the correspondence if it was a business or professional letter.

How you ended your letter would depend on your relationship with the person.  If it was a formal letter, you would thank them for their attention and then sign off with “Yours faithfully” if it was a first letter on business, then “Yours sincerely” in subsequent letters. Historically, Americans use “Yours truly” and “Sincerely Yours” in the same way. There’s a link here to more on the rules, if you’re interested.

Nowadays, of course, the old rules have been relaxed, especially with the advent of emails. Hardly anyone starts an email with “Dear…” any more, particularly young people. They almost always write “Hi…”.

I always sign off with “Love, Caron” if I’m emailing close friends or relatives, or “Cheers” for colleagues or acquaintances (for want of anything that doesn’t sound as formal as “Regards” nor as familiar as “Love”). Because I write so many emails to friends and relatives, putting “Love, Caron” is almost automatic: I often double-check emails to my students to make sure I have put “Regards” and not “Love” absentmindedly, because the latter would sound weirdly inappropriate!

And I often think “Cheers” might not always be appropriate for acquaintances, because of its connotations with drinking. But as I say, I can’t think of anything else, so I use it reluctantly.

Sometimes, I just sign my name, without a closing “Cheers” or “Regards”. Then again, many people don’t bother to sign off emails at all, because their name is at the top anyway.

By the way, “In solidarity” is how staff at my union sign off, and “All good things” is the hallmark of a happy friend.

Cheers,

Caron

Angry Mr Smith: A Parable

'Venice Beach, sunset', pastel painting © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012

Mr Smith was an angry man. There didn’t seem to be any good reason for his anger: it just was.

He felt angry when his neighbour got a bigger, newer SUV than him; he felt angry when his brother got the latest smart phone and boasted about all its apps; he felt angry when the woman over the road bought a cinema-sized TV screen; he didn’t feel happy for colleagues who got promotions—he felt only anger that HE hadn’t got that promotion; he felt angriest of all when the neighbour with the big TV sold her house and moved to a much bigger one in a better suburb closer to the city.

Mr Smith took his anger out on random people he didn’t know. One day, as he was driving his big vehicle with its bull bars on the front, a woman in a small car cut across in front of him, and he had to brake suddenly. He made a point of driving up beside her at the next intersection.

“Where did you get your licence, lady—out of a cereal packet?” he shouted, shaking his fist.”

“Sorry,” she said, genuinely.

“Aw, get stuffed,” he said, and roared off.

The woman, Ms Jones, knew she had made a mistake, and she really was sorry. She was not herself today because her faithful dog had died that morning unexpectedly, and she was driving home from the vet’s surgery. Of course, Mr Smith couldn’t have known that, but Ms Jones cried all the way home, and felt very alone—more so since she had made a mistake while driving and had been shouted at. All she wanted today was someone to be kind to her.

Eventually, Mr Smith became a manager at his work, and was in charge of 20 people. He was always finding fault with them—most of them were so useless, he thought.

When the sales figures came in for his first year, they were well below what they had been the year before, under kind Mr Tickle. Mr Smith was furious, and he made a plan to get back at the staff. “This will teach them,” he said, fuming. Then he called his staff together and told them their work was not good enough and that they would have to work harder, and take a pay cut, if they wanted to stay. And three of them would have to go anyway: Mr White, Ms Green and Mr Brown. These three had always been very hard workers and had been with the company for many years.

Mr White had had some bad luck: he had a chronic illness for which he needed expensive medication. Even though he had sold his car and his house, when he lost his job he knew he would no longer be able to afford this medication. A year later, he died. Mr Smith said they couldn’t send a card or flowers to his family, because everything the company did had to be cost-effective. And anyway, Mr White no longer worked at the company, so it was not like he was an employee.

One day, Mr Smith had a heart attack, a big one. The doctors told his lovely wife and their three adorable children that he might not pull through and that the next 24 hours would be crucial.

They kept a bedside vigil: although they knew their husband and father was an angry man, they loved him all the same and wanted him to live. The children, Sam, Eliza and John, stood on the left side of the bed, holding his hand. His wife, Jane, sat on the right side, holding his other hand. As Mr Smith stared up at the loving faces, they all started to glow like moonlight; but they were gradually going out of focus, and he knew he was dying.

Without warning, he saw in front of him a burst of forked lightning, and, like a huge wall of TV screens, videos from all his angry outbursts appeared before him, all running together. Beside each screen of him being angry was a video of his victim. There he was, shaking his fist at the errant driver, Ms Jones, and there she was, sobbing as her faithful dog died in her arms. There was Mr White, being told by Mr Smith to pack his things and leave the building immediately; and there was Mr White, dying in pain because he couldn’t afford the medical attention he needed. On and on it went.

All the screens disappeared again, and Mr Smith could just faintly see through the white mist the faces of his wife and children.

Suddenly, he got it—the point of life, and he knew he had failed miserably. He had brought children into the world, but he hadn’t done anything to make the world a better place for them, and for their children and their children, and so on. In fact, he had made the world a worse place for them.

Sorrowfully, he admitted to himself that he had done nothing but take from the world and had let his anger be directed at innocent people who did not deserve it. He had made lots of people miserable. He had been greedy, arrogant and mean.
And now, tragically, just as he saw the error of his ways, it was too late to do anything. If only he could have a second chance to mend his ways. If only he hadn’t left it this late.

Slowly, the faces of his wife and children were coming back into focus. He could not speak to them, but he could squeeze their hands just slightly.

The doctor said he would live for now, but he must change his ways and give up work, and even then, he might not have a long life. Luckily, Mrs Smith had a job, and they decided that if they sold their house and bought a cheaper one, they would be all right.

When he returned home, Mr Smith thought about how he could best use his remaining time. He knew he wouldn’t be able to do anything big, or world-changing. But something was better than nothing.

He had been advised by his doctors to exercise every day, so each afternoon, he set off on an hour-long walk, to the end of his street , where there was a park beside the beautiful beach. Along the way, he smiled at every person he saw and wished them good health. Sometimes, he could see the sorrow and lack of hope in their eyes. But actually, there was barely a person who didn’t smile back just a little.

Before too long, Mr Smith found himself whistling a tune as he walked along. This brought smiles to the faces of passers-by, too. Often, he would see the same people in the same places, and they would exchange a few words. After a while, Mr Smith’s walks turned into two- and even three-hour outings, he had so many friends along the way that he talked to.  They would often tell him their troubles, and he would listen to them. Often, it was dusk by the time he walked home again, and he grew to love this peaceful time of the day, the sinking sun sparkling across the water.

Five years passed, and Mr Smith’s doctor said he was a walking miracle.

 Mr Smith was happy with his life, but he wanted to do something more. So he wrote a book about what he had learned, and how he had once been an angry man, but that nearly dying had helped him to change. He called his book A Walk in the Park.

The book was a runaway success, and it sold a million copies. Mr Smith decided to give most of the money to the park, for all his friends to share. As a result, they set up outdoor chess tables, a speaker’s corner, children’s swings and slides, and a cafe where anyone could have lunch for free.

Soon, other people in various suburbs started to follow the idea in their own neighbourhoods. Then other cities and other states caught on. Mrs Smith and the now almost-grown children were very proud of him, but, mostly, they were so pleased that he was such a happy person to be around. They hardly remembered the angry Mr Smith from years ago. And still, Mr Smith went on his daily walk to the park, smiling at every one he met.

Against all the medical predictions, Mr Smith lived to 95, eventually dying peacefully in his sleep. His local park was renamed Smith Park, and a statue put up in his honour—a man walking along, whistling a tune; a happy man who had made a difference.

Painting: ‘Venice Beach at Sunset’, pastels on board, © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2012.

New York, 1968: “Love, Daddy”

NY1968 NY1968_0001

My mother recently gave me some old cards and letters she’d kept, and among them was this wonderful postcard that my late father had sent me when I was a little girl, in 1968. Dad was in the New Zealand army, but we were living in England where he was doing some research at York University, and he had gone to New York on business. This might well be the first piece of mail I ever received addressed to me personally.

It is dated 24.6.68, and he writes:

Dear Caron,

My hotel is just along the road from this big building, and after lunch today, I am going to go right up to the top. I will take some movies, and you will be able to see them when I get home. Love, Daddy.

It reminded me of a much earlier letter I have, from another father to his young child. It is addressed to “My dear little man”, and it was written by my grandfather, Captain Freddy Eastgate, to his son, my father Harold Eastgate (later Captain as well). Dad was 5 when this letter was written to him by his dad, who was a career army man. Years after this letter was born, my grandfather would be away for seven years at the Korean War and with the army in Japan.

MyDearLittleMan

Hut 150
Trentham M. C.
Saturday 16-5-42
My Dear Little Man,
I thought you would be almost better by now. I sent you a small parcel last Sunday but it doesn’t seem to have arrived there yet. There is nothing in the camp much to buy or send to little boys. I hope you are getting better. Try and be a good boy and help Mummy as much as you can. I am going to try and get home to see you next week end. You try and get better by then aye.
Cheerio for now.
Lots & lots of love from
Daddy xxxxxx

I wonder now what was in the parcel and if Dad received it. Dad kept quite a few things from when he was young, so it’s possible whatever it was is still among his possessions, most of which my mother kept.

Writer’s Diary #5: “Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer dead!”

If you’re a writer, you can probably relate to the idea of there being so many books to write and so little time in which to write them.

I am constantly coming up with great ideas for books, first lines, characters, titles and so on. I have a file for them—well, a few files, actually. I have grandiose-looking title pages with bylines and a copyright line…and no other content. I have outlines, first chapters, premises, character studies, film and stage adaptation ideas.

Image by Dmitry K Valberg

Image by Dmitry K Valberg

The problem is, I am like a child in a candy store: you flit from this piece to that, each one sweeter and more vibrantly coloured than the last. But, sooner or later, you get sick of eating sweets and you crave a nutritious meal.

If you want to continue being a writer, you have to make a decision, knuckle down, and write one book at a time. From start to finish. From cover to cover.

It’s all very well to have ideas, but ideas are cheap. Good ideas are the easy way out if they are not realised: you feel like you’re working on something, but actually, you’re not. Following all the way through on a good idea is much more difficult. Good ideas don’t make you a writer. Writing a complete manuscript makes you a writer. Those two words, “the end”, make you a writer.

I have book ideas from 20 years ago that “might come in handy one day”, just as my grandfather had a shed full of jars of nails, nuts and bolts of different sizes and my father had jars full of hundreds—perhaps thousands—of rubber bands.

I have to realise that I don’t need all those jars of bits and pieces. They will not come in handy.

It’s time to clean out the ideas file and all its cobwebs.

It’s time to get rid of the drafts of my books—they have been published already, so I really don’t need them. I am never going to be such a famous writer that draft marginalia will be worth buckets of money to collectors one day. I don’t have children to pass them down to.

I even have a manuscript written by an old friend of mine who, when she went overseas nearly 20 years ago, asked me to look after it “in case you ever hear of a publisher who wants it”. We lost touch, but I’ve kept it all this time and I’m trying to find her now to see if she wants it back.

There is a finite time in which to write. I have lived more than half my life. I need now to prioritise and to focus on projects one by one that I can research, write, edit, and get published.

Simplifying my writer’s shed with its jars of figurative nuts and bolts and rubber bands will give me more room in which to work, a clear bench on which to craft my works, and a direction in which to proceed.

 

The art of food

In response to a challenge from The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge to “detail a three to five step story or process, and illustrate each of the steps with something visual”.

When I took up painting two years ago, I didn’t think still life would interest me. However, I gave it a go and found that I loved painting food. I had  an idea to paint recipes: that is, to paint the elements of a recipe before they became a meal. This idea evolved to include place settings and pre-dinner snacks—anything to do with food preparation, utensils or consumption in the home, in fact. Strangely, I have painted a knife in all of them!

CutMeFeb2011

“Cut Me” (above): This is the very first painting I did. It was with trepidation that I took up a paintbrush and loaded it with that wonderful vibrant red. I was pleased with the result, especially the way the knife turned out. It took me about 15 tries to get that reflection right!

Lemon and Knife

“Lemon and Knife” (above): This wasn’t really meant to be a painting at all, just a trial of my new PanPastels, which are a pastel medium pressed into small dishes and applied with sponges. This took me only about 15 minutes at the breakfast table one morning. The knife is special, as it was given to me by my late father when I was about 20. I have used it almost every day in the kitchen since then. As someone on an online art group I belong to commented: “Sometimes the simplest things are the best”.

OnlyOnHisDayOff

“Only On His Day Off” (above): Until recently, my husband worked evening shift five nights a week. On his days off, he loved to indulge in some red wine and accompanying snacks. The cloth is one I bought from Bali when I visited in 2005.

MakingSangria

“Making Sangria” (above): the ingredients for this classic Spanish drink are peaches, oranges, lemons, red wine and soda water. The red wine was sourced from a shop in Melbourne that stocks the right kind, and it was expensive! There is also usually sugar in the recipe, too, but I thought I had enough elements already.

Salad Niçoise

“Making Salad Niçoise” (above): For the ingredients of this French salad I bought a Spanish onion and bottled olives, Italian canned tuna and anchovies, and Australian extra virgin olive oil. You can also add capers to this salad. I used those fantastic green plastic souvenir salad servers sent to me by a friend in Auckland, New Zealand, plus a wonderful green glass platter given to me by a friend in Melbourne, Australia. Most of my paintings contain elements that are meaningful to me.

The secret to writing a bestseller

In his ground-breaking 2006 novel J-Pod, Douglas Coupland reveals on the second-to-last page a recipe for writing books people will want to read:

“Yesirree, nothing could possibly go wrong with everything being so good.

“But of course, in books, good is boring.

“Good is a snoozer.

“Good makes people close the covers and never reopen them.”

—Douglas Coupland 2006, J-Pod, Bloomsbury, London, p.448

These words are posted in response to this week’s  Trifextra Reading Challenge, which asked participants to find a 33-word quotation of great writing they admire. If you want to join the challenge, you can find the link here.

If you think about your favourite books, very few—if any—of them will be all about happy events. The interest comes from tension, adversity, bad luck, conflict, bad choices, addiction, indulging in any of the seven deadly sins and so on. In fact, a happy ending is only so when there’s been a lot of unhappiness along the way.