I have a dream…

You could say my life is characterised by dreaming. And until recently that was something I felt embarrassed about.

I am a dreamer. Not the socio-political dreams of a Martin Luther King Jr but daydreaming. No, I wasn’t the kid in class who didn’t pay attention (another stereotype bites the dust) but I daydreamed to the rhythm of swings, imagined other worlds while I puddled in the creek at the bottom of the hill where my childhood home stands, and read, read, read. I have long enjoyed the world of my thoughts and the ‘what ifs’, and I cultivate dream sleep. I’m not into lucid dreaming, just imagining, letting my mind float, wondering.

Adelaide Hills creek where I grew up - a dreaming place
The creek I grew up by – a personal dreaming place

Why did this embarrass me? We live in a culture that says we’re meant to be usefully busy, achieving tangible goals, making a difference. We’re told not to waste time, have nothing to show for it, or be ‘so heavenly-minded we’re no earthly good’ as an acquaintance once described me to a friend.

There was also reading guilt, grown, I suppose, out of the many times my mother called me and I’d ‘just finish the chapter’ two chapters later.

In my fifties now, I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I’m not likely to achieve anything in this world that makes people think, ‘Wow, she made a difference’. No more than the next person, at any rate. And, to be honest, I don’t think my imagination is going to take the reading world by storm either. So how can I justify being a dreamer?

I don’t have to. It’s just what I am and that’s okay. I dream for the same reasons I write – to understand myself and to enjoy story. Dreaming isn’t all I do but it’s an important part of what I do, even if it doesn’t change the world or make me look like an asset to the neighbourhood. And maybe something more will come of it, when a story or a poem emerges that others enjoy too.

What about you? Do you like to daydream? Do you have other ways of challenging the ‘must look busy’ mentality of our culture?

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Dedicated to…

My recently published novel, The Golden Hour, has a dedication in the front*. It reads:

In memory of my maternal grandmother,
Mirabel Cobbold Rogers,
whose love of writing inspired me from childhood
to dream that I, too, might become
that magical being: a writer.

It was a last minute idea. There are so many people I could have chosen to name who have made valuable contributions to my life and writing. I chose to honour her, though I did not know her well because we lived on different continents.

Author Mirabel Cobbold Rogers as a young woman
Mirabel Cobbold Rogers, author

She came to mind as the novel was going to print because I was about to travel to the UK, and among the plans for the trip was a side trip to East Anglia to visit sites related to her family history. We met up with the delightful founder and keeper of the Cobbold Family History Trust, who joined us in Ipswich to introduce us to my ancestors, so to speak. It was a fabulous three days.

Prior to that we looked up the archives of my grandmother’s student days at the Society of Oxford Home-Students (which later became St Anne’s College, one of Oxford University’s 38 colleges), and what a treat that was! There were letters from her and about her, and even a copy of her wedding invitation. The husband she married in August 1927 was dead by the end of that year in a tragic test aircraft accident, and the newspaper cutting of his death was among these records. Thank you to librarian Clare White of St Anne’s for making these available to us and with such enthusiasm. Continue reading “Dedicated to…”

Light for dark days

My book launch was on the shortest day of the year. I like long days, so the winter solstice (in June in my part of the world) is both a bane and a boon – long night (yuk), days starting to get shorter (yay). A book launch was a great distraction as the days grew darker earlier, and the celebration of my book with seventy people was, for me, also a celebration of more light coming in the cold weeks ahead with the gradual lengthening of days.

I obviously do not have Viking genes. I’m told (by one who does) that those with such genes are not prone to SAD, the light-deficit depression that many others suffer in the long, barely light days of northern Europe, Asia and North America. I crave light, and that’s in a southern Australian winter where many days are bright, and even the reflection from the clouds is glaring. In the Adelaide Hills, where the rainfall is higher than on the plains, we experience more cloud cover and therefore more grey days. And they drive me nuts. We installed bright lights when we had to replace our light fittings, and on grey days I leave them on. I refuse to close curtains until outside provides no additional lighting inside. Our children, on the other hand, seem to be troglodytes. When asked to choose their preferred bedroom curtain colours, they chose dark, heavy fabrics. Aagh!

I adhere to the ideal that the only way to spend such days is lost in a book, wrapped in a blanket or in front of a warm fire. Reading is such a gift, a legitimate escape from the immediate world of our experience. I say it’s legitimate because reading, if the content is not entirely puerile, is not merely escapism. Can I make a plea that we differentiate between ‘escape’ and ‘escapism’? The first is fine – we need to be able to rest, recuperate, escape from current pressures for an hour or three. It’s only healthy, giving us what we need to be able to re-enter the fray and last the distance. Escapism, on the other hand, is a habit of escaping, a way of life that runs from life when the going gets tough. Not so healthy in the long run, like all life-controlling, life-sapping habits.

Reading is, in itself, a valuable activity. It stimulates the brain in ways that benefit other functions. It enhances the capacity to think (language is needed for ordered thinking and the stronger the language ability, the sounder the capacity to think usefully). It, obviously, provides information. It enables us to come across views we have not held and experiences we cannot have. It enlarges our sense of our humanity, and humbles us as we realise that we are not individually the centre of the human family.

Then there’s fiction. It does all of the above, but it adds an emotional aspect. Good books draw us emotionally into story, engaging us with characters and settings we have not physically met. The heart of good fiction is truth. Not necessarily facts, but something that resonates in our spirits as the real thing. In our scientific age, we don’t always recognise that truth is not limited to measurable fact. There are important truths that will never, I expect, be able to be measured or observed scientifically, to do with issues of meaning, purpose, and qualities of spirit. Love, for example, is said by some to be merely a matter of chemical reactions. We, who have ever been loved deeply or longed for it, know that this does not express it all (or at all). That’s where fiction can reflect and explore like nothing else.

So on these wintry days of the southern hemisphere, go ahead and escape for an hour or three, and let the light refresh your weary soul.

 

Where is your favourite place to read (winter, summer, wet or dry season)?

The Golden Hour launched

All the work of promotion, planning and preparation for the big event culminated in a fabulous evening at my local library with about 70 well-wishers. It was wonderful to have the support of so many friends and relatives, and thrilling to also have people attend whom I had never seen or met before.

book launch signing

Reading at the book launchI think I saturated my local neighbourhood with flyers, newspaper articles, community Facebook notices and talking to everyone at every opportunity. The support of the local traders was astounding, and made me realise again how wonderful it is to live in a place with a sense of community. The Adelaide Hills is like that, a string of local communities in the range of hills lying to the east of Adelaide. Of course, the publishers were doing their part too, and my writing group and my faith community.

Writing can be a lonely pursuit. We need community,  professionally and personally. Professionally, our work benefits from the objectivity of other writers critiquing it. And, of course, we need readers and buyers! Readers in our neighbourhood are the starting point for what ultimately becomes a non-geographic community of readers. It’s such a privilege as an author to connect with this community, and that’s where the personal bit comes in. Continue reading “The Golden Hour launched”

Novel released!

My first novel, The Golden Hour, has been released! Here’s what it’s about:

Graphic artist and computer hacker, James Elkind, finds himself imprisoned with two women. Who are his companions and what is this facility they’re trapped in? As they search through the past to try to understand their surreal dilemma, seventeen year old James must confront the contradictions of his identity. Can he escape to find a future or will this place prove to be his tomb?

I completed this short, somewhat literary novel 8 ½ years ago, and received very encouraging feedback from a number of writers I respect. I duly submitted it to unpublished manuscript competitions, small and large press slush piles, and a couple of agents. In Australia, agents are as hard to come by as publishing opportunities, so it’s not a simple process of ‘find an agent and they’ll find the publishing house for you’ as the plethora of internet-based advisors suggest.

In the meantime I began my second, much longer, novel. It’s an entirely different beast, which means that when I finally finish the first volume (it has turned into three), I may be right back at the beginning again – trying to find a publisher who will take a punt on someone who has a publishing credit but for a different market.

The market is the key. I have heard that for years. But I cannot bring myself to write based on marketing advice. For a start, my books don’t fit popular culture, and secondly, I can’t write them fast enough to follow that advice. But it’s true that you need to know your market as you write your book. That has proven to be the challenge of my first novel.

That novel is liminal in many ways: between genres (realism, speculative-spiritual), between marketing audiences (not really YA but with a teenage protagonist), and between the lengths publishers typically look for. (At 40, 000 words, it’s too long for a novella, too short for a novel, about the length for the YA category it doesn’t fit into.)

novel about identity, trauma and transition

These categories are, of course, purely marketing inventions. Once upon a time there were no such things as teenagers, let alone Young Adults (aged well before legal adulthood) and a ‘genre’ devoted to them. But that’s not a fight a newbie can begin to win.

I am grateful to Stone Table Books for tackling these challenges and throwing their weight as a small, new, publishing imprint behind my small, unusual novel. (Pun alert) We’re both ‘novel’… Continue reading “Novel released!”

Welcome to The Character Forge

Well, here it is: my first post as a soon-to-be-published novelist.

I’d like to say I have spent months planning this day, and in one sense it’s true. Knowing my debut novel had been accepted by a publisher, I have spent hours researching author platforms, trying to work out what would work best for me and my readers in terms of access, interest and sustainability. On the other hand, I still don’t really know what this blog will look like!

I’m here because I want to give readers a chance to engage with who Claire Belberg is. I love writing, so blogging is no hassle, especially when I get to connect with people through it.

I will post excerpts from my current writing projects here, and thoughts on the writing process. I’ll review books I’m reading, keep you up-to-date on any publishing news, and happily respond to your comments. No screen is interesting with text alone, so I hope to do some photo-journalling also, though I’m no great shakes as a photographer! If there’s anything else you would like to see here, let me know! And I’d be happy to hear about your favourite author blogs too – let’s all share the joy.

Let’s begin the journey!

Why did I call my blog ‘The Character Forge’?

I’m glad you asked.

It’s a play on ideas, really. I write to explore character, those traits that make a person unique, built over a lifetime but visible in their unfinished form from early childhood. At the same time, I find the process of writing is character-building for me.

Here’s a poem I wrote years ago on this two way movement between imaginary people and myself. Continue reading “Welcome to The Character Forge”