Friday, April 12, 2013

Stillness after craziness, the love of long lost fathers and the tangling of webs

I love the morning. Love the promise of it. The stillness of it. The quiet pause of it.

This morning the stillness is particularly sweet. After a crazy couple of weeks of releasing Portraits of Celina into the world (or to be more precise, Australian bookshops and libraries!) – a couple of weeks of great excitement and extreme trepidation, where I have had the pleasure of reading some AMAZING reviews, where I have had the joy of seeing nice little STACKS or teetering PILES of the book in bookstores (coupled with the worry that the piles will remain teetering and end up being returned), where I have had gorgeous, enthusiastic emails and facebook messages full of praise and good wishes from friends, relatives, booksellers, early readers and writing buddies, where I have introduced the book to hundreds of teen girls and been encouraged by their excitement and engagement – after such a couple of weeks, it is good to soak in the stillness of the morning, take stock (and a deep breath), make a vow to stop obsessing, worrying and self-googling, and to get back to my next novel.

And this brings me to thoughts about my dad and tangly webs.
My dad died when I was barely twenty. Six months exactly before my wedding day. (Yes, a child bride!) Eight years before I had that first stirring in my belly that I’d like to write, and twenty years before I had my first book published. In an interview for Magpies magazine, Joy Lawn asked about the absence of fathers in my last two novels. The question threw me. I hadn’t realised. And I had to wonder if it was due to the fact that deep down I feel like I have missed out on having a father for much of my life.

I don’t remember an awful lot about my father as a person. I think he was cheeky. I think he loved having fun. I think he was a risk-taker. I say think because I don’t really know. But when I think of him, my first thoughts are not about what we did together, my first thoughts are of love. I loved him deeply and I know he loved me unconditionally in return. And despite his early departure, he left me with some very strong “lessons” that have travelled with me my entire life. He taught me to be prepared – to do my homework – before speaking or acting or reacting. He taught me to strive, not to settle for a small life. And he taught me about truth. Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive. His favourite saying. And the core of my new work. A story of love, lies and deception and a very tangly web.

So now, thirty-three years after his death, Dad is with me again. He is sitting on an orange vinyl chair at a laminate kitchen table, sipping his whiskey, chuckling and saying, Go for it, Suzie-Q; you can do it. Those tangly webs will make for a damn good story. Just do your homework and strive – don’t settle for a small story, make it big, make it shine.

And I am going to give it a red-hot go. This one’s for you, Dad. Love you. Miss you. XXX

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Give them pleasure

“Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.” Alfred Hitchcock

I didn’t set out to write a creepy story. But it seems that I have.

Early responses from readers of Portraits of Celina are that the novel is gripping, thrilling and seriously creepy. This comment is often followed by grimaces and shudders, and then the sharing of favourite “freak out” moments. All relayed with huge grins and much wide-eyed glee. Fantastic and appreciated feedback for me as the author, but it got me thinking what a weird lot we human beings are! Why do we gain pleasure from reading stories that scare us?

The answer can be found in biology and evolution. Feeling fear is a primeval response that has contributed to our species staying alive and thriving, and that has saved us from many dangers.

The science goes like this. When we are confronted with a dangerous situation, the brain immediately releases a surge of hormones, in particular, adrenaline, but also others such as dopamine. These hormones trigger our fear response that allows us to react swiftly. Our bodies go on high alert, we are charged with energy and our senses are intensified. Essential things for survival.

Now, for many, when these hormones are released in non-dangerous situations, where there is little or no risk of physical harm, this heady rush of hormones results in a type of exhilaration, or at the very least, exciting, pleasurable feelings. All thrill, but no price! Perfect.

I can assure you it is very unlikely that I will ever bungee jump off a bridge, go skydiving or swim with sharks. I’m not even that keen on roller coaster rides. For me, there is no better place to get my dose of thrills and chills than curling up on my sofa in the safety of my own home caught in the suspense of a nail-biting novel, experiencing fear vicariously.

So I am pleased to have written something a little creepy – something that allows readers the same pleasure as waking from a nightmare!

Hope you enjoy the rush.