The romance is off. But...

Alison Lloyd's newsletter #4

Sadly my romance story, mentioned in the last newsletter, didn’t make it to the next round of the competition :( (Though I got feedback from the judges to fix it up.)

But… I am still riding dauntless into the fray! Scroll down to:

  • help me out with a quick opinion

  • read a micro adventure story

  • discover the woman behind the ‘Drover’s Wife’

Help me out - your opinion please!

I’m working on the true life story of a friend, to be self-published later this year. We’re figuring out a cover design, and I’d love your opinion.

Which option do you like best? Which might entice you to read the book? Flick me a quick 1, 2 or 3 by return email or hit the comment button. If you’ve got time, tell me why — what does or doesn’t appeal to you?

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Your feedback is much appreciated.

Hold up! Take a short adventure

This month I also wrote a new story for a ‘microfiction’ competition. In only 100 words, my assignment was to tell an adventure story, including characters eating cake and the word ‘distance’. Thought you might enjoy what I came up with:

Leaving the Goldfields

The coach jolted to a stop, in dust-speckled forest mid-nowhere. A musket’s black nostril thrust through the window. Ginny clutched her son’s hand, her shawl and the square bundle.

The masked man pointed. ‘What’s that?’

She unwrapped the tea-cloth, offered the burnt block. ‘Fruitcake.’

‘Bloody charcoal.’

‘I can’t afford to waste,’ she said.

He waved it aside, then made her turn out her skinny purse.

Hours later, in the distance, she saw the roofs of town – bank, government, barracks.

Ginny sighed. ‘Now for cake.’

She broke away the black crust. The boy’s wide eyes reflected her secret ingredient, gleaming.

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Parliamentary Portrait #3

You may have read the classic Australian story ‘The Drover’s Wife’, by Henry Lawson, in high school. I did. But we weren’t taught anything about the woman it was quite likely based on, despite her achievements.

Louisa Lawson — Henry’s mother — grew up in outback NSW in the Gold Rush years of the 1850s. She was forced to leave school at 13 to look after her 11 siblings. She married at 18, moving into a tent for her first home. Like ‘The Drover’s Wife’, Louisa’s husband was often absent, and ‘sometimes forgot that he was married’. In 1883 she left him and brought three of her children to Sydney. Son Henry joined her shortly after.

In Sydney, the tall, energetic Louisa Lawson earned her own living by sewing, washing, and running a boarding house. In 1888 she wrote and published Australia’s first magazine for women, on her own printing press. The Dawn declared itself to be ‘the printing ink champion of mankind’s better half’. It aimed to ‘fight women’s battles’ on issues like divorce, childcare and suffrage. The magazine was also happy to share poetry and household tips, such as how to clean wallpaper. (Iron it, if you were wondering).

The Dawn was a commercial success. However in 1900, Louisa was thrown from a tram, and never fully recovered from the accident. She was forced to close the magazine in 1905. After women were given the vote in NSW in 1902, Louisa Lawson was publicly recognised as the originator of the suffrage campaign. Unlike her writer son Henry, she was not given a state funeral when she died in 1920. She left only a modest estate of £629. But I think she’s worthy of a portrait in Parliamen, for the substantial heritage she bequeathed, creating a public voice for Australian women.

From the bookshelf

I thought we’d revisit ‘The Drover’s Wife’, in honour of Louisa Lawson and rural women. And because it’s great writing. How’s this for a sparse, evocative setting, the monotony reinforced by the rhythm of repeated words:

Bush all around — bush with no horizon, for the country is flat. No ranges in the distance. The bush consists of stunted, rotten native apple trees. No undergrowth. Nothing to relieve the eye save the darker green of a few sheoaks which are sighing above the narrow, almost waterless creek…

Four ragged, dried-up-looking children are playing about the house. Suddenly one of them yells: ‘Snake! Mother, here’s a snake!’

The gaunt, sun-browned bushwoman dashes from the kitchen, snatches her baby from the ground, holds it on her left hip, and reaches for a stick.

She ends up guarding her children in an all-night vigil, thinking about her life:

Tears spring to her eyes as she sits down again by the table. She takes up a handkerchief to wipe the tears away, but pokes her eyes with her bare fingers instead. The handkerchief is full of holes, and she finds that she has put her thumb through one, and her forefinger through another. This makes her laugh, to the surprise of the dog. 1

You can read the whole story in the Bulletin magazine of 1892 on the National Library’s Trove website.

Thank you for reading my random writer thoughts! I’m very happy when you enjoy my writing, and when you like it enough to share with someone else.

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1

The Penguin Henry Lawson Short Stories, 2009, p25.

From the 'lost & found'

Alison Lloyd's newsletter #3

Scroll down for:

  • a poem that turned up in my papers

  • another pin-up girl for Parliament

  • more counter-intuitive writing tips

  • a beautiful description of the sea from author Lucy Treloar

Thank you to everyone who told me they enjoyed my fairytale last newsletter. The link to the story is in here if you missed it. How did I go with the next round in the story competition? Yes, I got another short story in - a romance! No feedback yet as to whether I made the third round. I’ll share the story with you later. Since I entered it in another competition too, I’ll keep it back for now.

Lost and Found

I seem to have misplaced a lot of stuff recently. Not just socks but also thoughts and notes. I actually found this scribbled poem of mine while looking for something else, which you’ll see is kind of ironic.

An Author Misses her Inspiration

I thought I’d lost my creativity -
She missed appointments
Got squashed under the washing
Fell from the shopping trolley
Was mired in email
And wandered in the abyss
Twixt fingers and keys.
Somehow
She winged her way out
And see - here she is!
Accident-prone and
Full of surprises.

(c) Alison Lloyd 2021

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Parliamentary Portrait #2

Cultural advice: this story contains the image of a deceased indigenous person

Last month, I wrote that Caroline Chisholm deserved a spot with the worthies on the walls of Parliament House. Another woman whose life is largely buried in the archives was Tasmanian Mary Ann Arthur. Unfortunately, the only picture I can find is one of those unsmiling Victorian poses.

Mary Ann was thought to be the daughter of an Aboriginal woman abducted by a white sealer. She worked as a maid in Tasmania, until she was taken to Flinders Island with around 180 indigenous Tasmanians, supposedly to protect them. She taught in the island’s school - she might have taught her soon-to-be-husband Walter George Arthur.

In 1846 she helped organise a petition to Queen Victoria, protesting that the Queen’s ‘free children’ were badly treated by the Superintendent who ruled their daily lives. Mary Anne and her husband followed up the petition with a series of letters to Governor.

I thank my Father the Gov that he has told us black people that we might write him… The Superintendent talks plenty about putting us into jail and that he will hang us for helping to write the petition to the Queen from our country people. We do not like to be his slaves nor wish our poor country to be treated badly. I remain, Sir, Your humble Aboriginal Child, Mary Ann Arthur.

I admire her courage and persistence in the face of the Superintendent’s opposition. Her letter shows the power of literacy, in that Mary Ann and her community succeeded in getting transferred off Flinders Island. But conditions in the new settlement near Hobart weren’t much better - after eight years, only 15 of 47 residents survived. Mary Ann was one of them. She eventually died in hospital of ‘paralysis’ in 1871. A tough life, but portrait-worthy - an indigenous Australian who used the political weapons of her day to stand up for her community.

A Contemplative Landscape

Here’s a link to a lovely pic of the Wybalenna chapel on Flinders Island, where Mary Ann Arthur would have gone to church. I’ve turned it into an online jigsaw, as a kind of memorial:

Click here for Flinders landscape

Writing Tips your Teacher didn’t tell you #3

Here’s another writing tip that might seem counter-intuitive:

Don’t worry about the beginning until you’ve written to the end.

I know beginnings are important - first impressions and all that. So we can get stuck on them. We rewrite the start over and over, trying to get it right before we get on to the rest of the essay or job application or whatever.

My suggestion is put some words down but DON’T revise them. Not until AFTER you write the main things you have to say, and your conclusion. When you’ve got that sorted, let it shape the beginning.

You might find you can delete most of your original first sentences. A lot of the time the first lines I write are kind of feeling the way, warming up, clearing my throat. (Whichever metaphor you prefer!) If you’re waffling around, cut it out.

If you’re a student, obviously you can’t revise in a handwritten exam. But you can practise in advance, and you can plan on the spot. Then you’ll know your answer structure before you write. Lay that out in your opening paragraph and you can’t go far wrong. To give a rather generic example: ‘The theme of X drives author Y’s book on multiple levels. This essay will discuss the main character’s dilemma, and how this is reflected in the narrative structure and style…’

From my reading shelf

Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek is a historical novel set on the salt-and-sun-drenched Koorong. The Wolfe Island of her second book is off the US coast, disappearing under future rising sea levels. Dystopias aren’t my favourite reading, but Treloar has a way of making her characters deeply lovable. And she has a thing for the sea:

We are moving through the salted ossuary of ancient docks: here a ribcage, there a raised arm, and at the ends of each dock the old oyster shanties, which somewhat resemble skulls with their sunken rust-weeping eyes and raddled paint. Lines of silvered posts strike out to sea … if I were impossibly agile I would leap from one to the next across the water and at the last one turn and see this lost world anew: a low stretch of grasses standing and falling like the pelt of a living thing on the ocean’s surface… 1

Can’t you just see it, and feel the sadness of impending loss? Gorgeous.

Love to know what you think, about any of the above.

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And please do share this newsletter with anyone who might enjoy it.

Blessings and best wishes,
Alison.

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1

Treloar, Lucy. Wolfe Island, Pan Macmillan, 2019, p 6.

Poster girls, fairy tales, phantoms, and Pharaohs

Alison Lloyd's newsletter #2

Scroll down for

  • a free fairy story

  • poster girls for parliament

  • historical phantoms

  • another writing tip your teacher never told you

  • and a bit of Pharaonic pomp

Fairy Story

Do you like fairytales? In the 2021 NYC Midnight competition Round 1 (with 6000 entrants!), my challenge was to write an original fairytale about an animal lover and exhaustion, in a week. Yesterday I found out that I’m through to the second round! To celebrate, I’m putting up my story as a freebie on my website. You can download it via this link:

This weekend I’ll be madly scribbling another story on an unseen prompt, in three days this time. Wish me luck!

Parliamentary Portraits

Recently someone suggested hanging pictures of women in the halls of Australia’s parliament. They thought it would encourage a less male-dominated environment. Social change probably takes more than refurbishing the décor. But it got me thinking, which notable women would I pick for parliamentary portraits?

You may not realise that no women were elected here until WWII – that’s a whole century after men began to be enfranchised. So with a shortage of female MPs, I’m widening the criteria to women who represented the community’s interests in less formal ways. First up is Caroline Chisholm (1808-1877), mostly because she has a connection of sorts with Easter.

When Caroline Chisholm arrived in NSW in 1838, men outnumbered women in the colony by 5:2. To correct the gender imbalance, the British Government was sponsoring single women’s fares to the colony. But once they arrived, Sydney was desperately short of accommodation. Girls in their teens were arriving fresh off the boats with nowhere to go, except caves on the foreshore. Many were lured or forced into unsafe temporary liaisons with men, then abandoned into prostitution.  

Mrs Chisholm was ‘struck forcibly’ by the situation. As the wife of an officer, Mrs Chisholm was well-housed herself and part of the colonial elite. She decided something should be done for vulnerable arrivals.

‘I felt sure that God in his mercy would not allow so many poor creatures to be lost… On the Easter Sunday, at the altar of Our Lord, [I made] an offering of my talents to the God who gave them. I promised to know neither country nor creed, but to try to serve all, justly and impartially.’

She lobbied the colonial authorities in her social set to fix the homelessness. ‘All acknowledged the need,’ she commented later, ‘though thought the thing impossible.’ And some, particularly in the Anglican church, were less impartial than Mrs Chisholm herself, and were unwilling to cooperate with a Catholic woman.

Caroline Chisholm eventually persuaded Governor Gipps to let her have the use of an empty, rundown barracks in Bent Street. (There’s a skyscraper on the site now, up the top of the hill near the Domain, if you know Sydney.) Mrs Chisholm left her children in their genteel home, and set up an office in the barracks. The first night she was invaded by rats. The next night, undeterred, she fed the rodents milk laced with poison. Then she opened up Australia’s first women’s refuge and employment agency. Unexpectedly, she had trouble finding good positions for attractive girls. Single men liked pretty maids for the wrong reasons, in Mrs Chisholm’s opinion, and wives didn’t want them around their spouses either. Nevertheless, she managed to place 1400 women in work in a year. After her return to England in 1846 she continued to promote emigration by families, including the families of convicts.

You can argue that Caroline Chisholm contributed to the colonisation that displaced indigenous Australians from their lands. By her time, European settlement was a near-unstoppable tide – 40,000 free settlers arrived in Australia from 1838-1841.  

Mrs Chisholm did not focus on the welfare of Aboriginal people. But she did seek to stop the degradation of women, without discriminating as to their ethnicity, religion or class, and despite official prejudice and apathy. For that, I would make her a parliamentary poster girl.

Caroline Chisholm also has a cameo role in my Our Australian Girl: Meet Letty books, if you have a young reader in your life.

From my Bookshelf

Ghost Wall, by UK author Sarah Moss, is a rare thing: a short novel. I found it an unsettling, tense read — not what you'd expect in a story about a group of uni students and enthusiasts re-enacting Iron Age life over their summer holidays. Beyond that, it's about family, commuity and violence. The 'ghost wall' of the title refers to an Iron Age rite, but it also suggests the wall between the past and the present is not as solid as we think. I like the way teenage main character Silvie flips our usual conception of the past here:

That was the whole point of re-enactment, that we ourselves became the ghosts, learning to walk the land as they walked it two thousand years ago, to tend our fire as they tended theirs... To do it properly, I thought, we would almost have to be absent from ourselves, leaving our actions, our re-enactions, to those no longer there. Who are the ghosts again, us or our dead? Maybe they imagined us first. Maybe we were conjured out of the deep past by other minds. 1

I think this is some of the reason why I write historical fiction — we have an intimate connection with the past. It isn't so far away. It has shaped us and still does.

Writing Tips your Teacher didn’t tell you

Tip#2: Cut extra padding

Last time I said that good writing communicates what you need to say. Today’s tip is to write less words. Because

[I’m thinking that] [sometimes] we [quite often like to] stuff [our] sentences [full] with [a lot of] extra [little] words that [really help to] clog [up the] meaning [so much].

SEE? Versus:

We stuff sentences with extra words that clog meaning.

Or even:

Don’t clog sentences with extra words.

Isn’t that cleaner and clearer?

Watch out for qualifying words. Pervasive culprits include: just, really, very, actually, quite, seems, like, generally, mostly, especially, all, a lot… They’re weeds that I’m forever slashing from my lines. You can too. Be brave. Be ruthless! Set your message free of padding.

Just for Fun

Last week several dynasties worth of sarcophagi moved house when Egypt opened a new museum. The parade was less historically accurate than the average Hollywood epic, but I think the Pharaohs would have enjoyed the fuss and pomp. If you want to watch the 2 hour original it’s on Facebook. I liked this pic for its ancient-goes-modern irony:

Perhaps the selfie was for his mummy? (Antiquated pun, I know :( )

1

Ghost Wall, Sarah Moss, Granta, 2018 p 34

Me; Lord Melbourne; and a Reliquary of Memories

Alison Lloyd's newsletter edition #1

Thank you for letting me into your inbox! In this very first edition of my newsletter, you’ll find:

  • who I am, for anyone who doesn’t know me

  • a link to a free story

  • the sad scandal behind a character in the BBC series Victoria

  • a short but beautiful piece of writing, from an oldie but a goodie on my bookshelf

  • a writing tip your teacher never told you - surprising but helpful, especially if you’re not a confident writer

  • and something you can do just for fun

Feel free to Scroll down…

First a bit about me

After publishing ten books for children, I’ve begun writing historical fiction for adults. I like fiction that’s thoughtful, evocative, inspiring and entertaining. I’m a stickler for a high degree of historical accuracy, because truth is important. I love sharing what I find and the stories I write, so I’m hoping you’ll enjoy them too.

If you’d like to read a piece of my fiction, click below for a copy of my short story ‘The Pavilion of Enlightenment’, shortlisted for the Historical Writers Association prize. In a wintry Qing Dynasty mansion, Lan the servant girl enters the forbidden library,
searching for her lost kitten, and finds more than she expects... 

It’s FREE. The link will ask you to sign up for this newsletter - don’t worry, I will delete any double-ups.

Lord Melbourne’s marriage

I hail from the Australian city of Melbourne, named after a British Prime Minister, of whom we generally live in blissful ignorance. I knew nothing about him until I watched the BBC series Victoria during lockdown recently.

In Episode 3 of the first season, Lord Melbourne, played by a broodily handsome Rufus Sewell, stands with the young queen in front of a portrait of Elizabeth I. He remarks that not many marriages are happy. The series gives other dark hints of his scandalous past. But unless I missed it, viewers aren’t told the story of Lord Melbourne's marriage. And it's filmworthy in itself.

In 1805 the young peer William Lamb married 19-year-old Lady Caroline Ponsonby. (He didn’t become Lord Melbourne until his father died in 1828.) Lady Caroline was a passionate, intelligent and unconventional woman, who was literate in four languages, and liked cross-dressing as a page. Sadly, William and Caroline’s first child suffered physical and intellectual disability, or perhaps autism. A second child died soon after birth.

When Caroline Lamb read the poetry of notorious Romantic Lord Byron in 1812, she declared she ‘must know him’, and plunged into a three month affair. She is the one who reputedly said Byron was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’. William Lamb took her off to Ireland to escape the resulting scandal. Byron turned to other women, but Lady Caroline remained obsessed with him. She wrote a letter to the poet enclosing a lock of her hair – and not from her head. She confronted him at a ball, and when he rebuffed her she picked up a knife. She was stopped from harming herself in the ballroom, but not from writing a revenge novel, which became an instant bestseller for its thinly-disguised portraits of her husband and Lord Byron.

Despite all the scandal, and his own extra-marital affairs, William Lamb did not disown his wife. They didn’t separate until 1825, when she requested it. Even then she lived in his family home, Brocket Hall. Unlike the abused children described in Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby, Lamb’s disabled son wasn’t institutionalised either, but also cared for in Lamb’s home. In 1828, Lord Melbourne returned from a government post in Ireland to be at Lady Caroline’s deathbed.

As a politician, Lord Melbourne opposed parliamentary reform and the abolition of slavery. Not admirable. Yet paradoxically, in his private life, he showed loyalty and compassion to wife and son. Why do I think his story is worth recounting? I’m not on a mission to redeem white colonial aristocrats as good guys. I’m not excusing the land-grabbing and genocide that went on here, a place named after Lord Melbourne and his queen, in her name. But on some present-day cultural soap-boxes, I sense an eagerness to denounce historically powerful men as complete villains. Lord Melbourne’s story suggests to me that the people of the past were complex and messy, deserving of understanding. Like the people of the present.

From my bookshelf

Speaking of the present, my parents are putting their house on the market - every drawer is jammed with stuff and with memories. Last week my son also decided to clean out his closet, dumping the soccer trophies, the schoolbooks and the toddler toys. I would like to hold on to all of it, the whole precious patchwork of the past. But I can’t. Nobody can…

At the same time as helping clean out, I’ve been reading Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. It’s full of achingly beautiful prose. This passage resonated with me:

[We] could not leave that house, which was stashed like a brain, a reliquary, its relics to be pawed and sorted and parcelled out among the needy and the parsimonious… For even things lost in a house abide like forgotten sorrows and incipient dreams and many household things are of purely sentimental value… In the equal light of disinterested scrutiny such things are not themselves. They are transformed into pure object and are horrible. 1

That last word is something of a shock. It makes perfect sense in the novel, but I can’t say more without a spoiler, so I won’t. Except to say that reclassifying our everyday pieces of the past into junk is hard.

What are you reading that seems to sync with your life? Tell me about it, through return email or the comments on the newsletter page.

Writing tips your teacher didn't tell You

Almost everyone writes in our society: job applications, grant applications, visa applications, requests, instructions, thank you messages. And so on. As a writer, I've been surprised to find how many adult people get anxious about writing. This advice might take some of the fear and loathing out of it.

Writing Tip #1: First, forget about spelling and grammar.

Yes, really. What do you actually want to say? Put that down first. Ignore the red squiggles in Micorosoft Word. Have a couple of goes at it, until it's clear in your own head, and down on paper (or screen). Spelling and grammar are like shoe polish - they make writing look sleek and neat. But you've got to have the right shoes on to be going somewhere first :)

In later posts, I'll say more about polishing sentences. For now I want to encourage you that good writing communicates what you need to say, and you can figure that out.

Just for Fun

Finally, before I sign off, do you feel like something romantic, historic and time-wasting, just for fun? Here’s a jigsaw portrait, of someone connected to the content of this newsletter, and also my place of residence. You do it online as a mystery pic, or see the image by hovering over the icon at the top of the jigsaw. Change the number of pieces on the left if it’s too hard/easy. Enjoy!

This newsletter has been fun to write. Let me know which parts you liked: comment on the newsletter page or email me back.

'Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.’
Book of Proverbs 18:21
1

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping, Faber Modern Classics p209.

A flick through history and things literary

'Scroll' is Alison Lloyd's monthly newsletter - a collection of stories, quotes, recommended reads and writing tips, from Ancient Egypt to Qing Dynasty China

Scroll with me, Alison Lloyd, historical fiction author, found in literary rabbit warrens, historical ruins, libraries and long walks.

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