I got to go to the Writer’s Conference, Word on the Lake, this past weekend. Now that I have (mostly) recovered from the excitement and adrenaline high, here are a few pictures:
I got to have a blue pencil (critique) session with Gail Anderson-Dargatz, an award-winning internationally bestselling author who just happens to live in the area. Gail is amazing. She went way beyond what is expected from a blue-pencil-er (blue pencil provider? critiquer? whatever that’s called). Her input was encouraging, illuminating, challenging, and informative, but aside from that, she’s just a great person to talk to. We got along like a house on fire (at least that’s how I felt), and largely thanks to her I came away from the weekend feeling that much more like a “real” writer. And of course I bought her latest book, The Spawning Grounds, and got her to sign it for me.
And here comes the great big shoot-up-the-fireworks highlight: I won an award. That’s right: I got first place in the non-fiction category of the Word on the Lake Writing Competition! I got a cash prize, but even better, my story of how I immigrated to Canada (“Canada” being this year’s theme) was printed in the contest anthology. I’ve been published!!! It’s just a small little book, nothing all that amazing – but you know what, to me it is amazing. It was all very exciting. There was a banquet with lovely food and entertainment, and I had my hand shook and all, and got a beautiful certificate to take home.
I had a sales table in the foyer during the conference where I tried to flog my books and/or get more editing clients, luring them with candy. The success rate was, shall we say, indifferent (i.e. I only sold one book, to a friend, and gave one away), but hey, having the table made for some good networking. Which is what a conference of this kind is all about. Plus, I gave people sugar. Muahahah!
Of course all of that was only part of it. There were so many learning opportunities in the amazing workshops – “How to Get Your Book Noticed” (by Gail), “Effective Book Proposals” (by Anna Comfort-O’Keeffe, a professional editor), “The Importance of Setting in Fiction” (by the very funny and Irish Patrick Taylor)… and another by one of the writers for Murdoch Mysteries, in which we learned how a mystery show episode is written (I’ll never watch TV shows the same way again). I came home with my head full to bursting; I still haven’t quite settled down to everyday life again.
Life, the Universe, and a Writer’s Conference. I’ll be processing the experience for quite some time yet.
One of the great things about pottery is that clay is very forgiving. Every potter has a slop and trimmings bucket sitting by their wheel, and when you’re in the early stages of your pottery skills acquisition, most of what you attempt to make ends up in there as well. But you haven’t wasted anything at this stage – you just let it dry out, re-wet it, wedge (=knead) it back together, and you’re back in business. So all those crackpots you have on the shelf? As long as they haven’t been fired, you’re good – chalk it up to practice.
Here are Guy and Cat on the subject, from p.95 of Seventh Son. This is the first time Cat is in his pottery shop with him:
Guy was in the corner of the room, by the drying shelves, examining the cups and lids Cat had looked at the previous day. He looked up as he heard the shop door creak and raised his eyebrows in greeting as he saw Cat.
“These are ruined, I think,” he said, gesturing at her with one of the lids without a handle. “Too dry now to put the knob on. Ah well, we start again.” He chucked the lid into a bucket which sat on the floor between the wheel and the shelf and was filled with dried-up pottery pieces. It hit the contents with a dull thwack, and broke. Cat gasped—did he so casually discard his work? Guy looked up at the sound and gave her his crooked smile.
“There’s plenty more where that came from,” he said, sending half a dozen partially dried cups without handles after the lid. “It’s not a waste; I’ll reuse it. As long as it’s not fired, the clay can be re-wet over and over and made into new things.”
“Couldn’t you salvage these? Seems a shame to throw them out!”
“No, the handles won’t stick now; they’d just crack off during drying—or worse, after they’re fired, and then it really would be a waste. There’s not much use for a fired cracked pot. And, believe me, these aren’t a great loss; I can easily make more. Besides, sometimes this”—he narrowed his eyes, and hurled another cup into the bucket with extra violence—“can be quite satisfying.”
The cup shattered into a dozen pieces.
If you want to know what happens next (hint: something pretty dramatic!), just get a copy of the book. It’s free to download!
Life, the Universe, and Reclaimed Clay. It’s all highly symbolic.
I’ve been watching the 1996 Emma again. No, not that one, the other one. The one with Kate Beckinsale. Yes, I like the Gwyneth Paltrow version a lot too, and the 2008 Romola Garai one – in fact, so far the Kate Beckinsale one has been my least favourite of the three; I only own a copy on taped-from-TV VHS (I know, right?). But I pulled it back out lately for reasons of research completely unrelated to Jane Austen.
You see, I’m using the Frank Churchill in that movie as a model for one of the characters I’m writing at the moment. Just physically, mind you – it’s the actor, Raymond Coulthard, his looks and the way he moves and smiles, that I’m using, not Austen’s Frank Churchill. I’m picturing a young Ray Coulthard, ca. 1996, playing the scenes in my story, which helps with writing them. Sort of a writer’s life drawing class, except, uh, with clothes on the model… umm, yeah, never mind.
But in the process of watching Coulthard I couldn’t help but study Frank Churchill. (What was that I was talking about a while back – all research rabbit trails lead back to Austen?) And I’ve come to admire the way Coulthard makes me understand him better.
Austen has, of course, written Frank Churchill as a charming rogue, just shy of one of her bad guys – he’s an ambivalent character, on Austen’s hero-to-villain scale somewhere in the middle, not too many steps removed from Persuasion’s Mr Elliot, who is firmly in the realm of the baddies. Churchill is very charming, good-looking, funny, crush-worthy and all (hence his suitability as a model), and he makes Emma, and everyone else, think that he’s in love with her. But of course, he’s only doing it to cover up his real love, which is for the beautiful, talented and poor Jane Fairfax.
What makes him skirt the edge of caddishness is the fact that he openly flirts with Emma, going so far as to make fun of Jane, all to hide what’s really going on, and his behaviour almost goads Jane into breaking off their engagement and going out to be miserable as a governess; he (and she) is only saved at the last minute by the fortuitous death of his rich cranky aunt which allows him to please himself and marry Jane. Yeah. Not that nice a guy. Which is exactly what Austen wants us to think – we see all this from Emma’s point of view, judge Frank Churchill by her standards.
Except – watching Ray Coulthard play this role – and I mean really watching him, ignoring Emma who is the focal point of every one of their scenes – Frank Churchill comes across as far less of a jerk. Coulthard masterfully brings across in his facial expression, his little smirks, the small pauses before he speaks, the sidelong glances exchanged with Jane (Olivia Williams), what is really going on inside Frank’s head. You can practically see his thoughts on his face. He really does love Jane, and he feels that he’s between a rock and a hard place – he loves her, but doesn’t want to, or feels he can’t, give up the inheritance he stands to get from his aunt (possibly as much for Jane’s sake as for his own).
Furthermore, he actually doesn’t think he’s pulling off the deception very well – he thinks that his feelings for Jane are so perfectly obvious that everyone knows what’s going on already. So certain is he of this that he says to Emma, “You must suspect…” (which, of course, she doesn’t, being a little dense on that score). Frank Churchill’s morally dubious behaviour isn’t actually that dubious from his own standpoint, because he doesn’t think he’s successful at it.
Until he is confronted with the fact that he’s nearly managed to push Jane away from himself – and then he’s miserable and cranky himself. He makes matters worse by more or less arguing with Jane in public on Box Hill, the arguments all couched in generalities (which Emma, true to form, manages to thoroughly misinterpret again). Fortunately, there is the “saved by the bell” event of Aunt Churchill dying at the right moment, and all is well for the star-crossed lovers, whose story by this point has become only a backdrop against which to play out the Mr Knightley/Emma tale.
Frank Churchill (as interpreted by Ray Coulthard) is an excellent study in secondary characters and their motivations. Austen writes quite a few flat characters, but Frank is a prime example of one of her many secondary characters with fully rounded personalities and motivations. What you see (the effect of his actions on Emma) is by no means what is actually there (Frank’s motivations, his love for Jane).
Once you really watch Frank Churchill, it becomes quite easy to understand where he is coming from, and to be in sympathy with him – and with Jane Fairfax for falling in love with him. At first glance, it’s tempting to say “I’m sorry for Jane, getting stuck with a shallow guy like Frank! Whatever did she see in him in the first place?” But at second glance, and third, and a few more start-and-stop-and-fast-forward-and-back viewings of the video (I ended up getting the DVD from the library – the VHS got too tedious) – Frank Churchill really isn’t so bad. His actions make sense, when you take the trouble to try to get into the guy’s head.
In fact, having watched him, and watched him again, I have to admit to having developed a little crush on him myself (his borderline caddishness notwithstanding). Or is it on Ray Coulthard as he was in 1996? Or, really – on the character I’m writing, who has nothing whatever to do with Austen or Churchill or even Coulthard? It’s hard to tease apart. Maybe I’ll have to boot up the other two Emmas I have on the shelf to watch their Frank Churchills, to see how I feel about them. Of course all in the name of research, you understand.
Life, the Universe, and Watching Frank Churchill. The trails that research leads you down…
PS: Just to clarify, the character I’m modelling on Ray Coulthard is not Guy from the Septimus Series. Guy’s got curly hair, too, but he’s a redhead.