Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Little Things Matter - Getting the 'Dys' out of Dysfunctional Families

I recently wrote a piece for Female First UK - an online magazine - talking about a source of inspiration for my fifth novel, the Peithosian Gift. I focussed on dysfunctional families because this theme was a core aspect of the book.

Here's the link to the article that went live today:

And, if you don't like to click on random links, here is the text reproduced below...

Many years ago, during one of those provoking training courses that punctuated my professional career, the presenter offered a quote that helped me to recognise a key to my moral compass:

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” (Carl W Buehner)

At the time, the quote emphasised that we should treat each other with care and respect. Yet it always reminded me of family. Not necessarily blood relatives – for family can also be those people in our lives we adopt to assume the role of surrogate siblings or parents – those whose shared purpose is centered on being supportive caregivers to each other. Fundamentally, nurture is at the heart of a functional family, what we build beyond the nature in our genes.

Both sorts of families – traditional and unconventional – have been important in my life and the concept of family has featured in much of my writing from when I began to put pen to paper.

My first short story, written just before my thirteenth birthday was a Lovecraft-inspired horror tale about a box of slime three siblings discovered in a remote abandoned mine. It coincided with my family’s move from the city to the country and how much more I needed to rely on them then, living in the middle of nowhere.

While I was too young to read horror fiction at the time, my father was anti-censorship so let me read as many books, including non-fiction, as I wanted to read. My childhood conversations with family around the dinner table, where I was encouraged to push the boundaries on discovering and discussing ideas and opinions, also encouraged my interest in philosophy and science, giving me a lifelong fascination with these disciplines that has intersected deeply with my literary pursuits.

To this day, I am not sure whether the freedom I was given by my parents as a teenager was a good or bad thing. The topics of discussion over those dog-eat-dog debate-filled dinner table conversations have been (mostly) long forgotten but I still remember how I felt afterwards. Why couldn’t a meal be just a meal?

I do appreciate the value those hard conversations had in shaping me – inspiring the inquisitiveness that has pervaded my entire life. But I also often wonder if I could have learned better life skills if empathy had featured more in my childhood landscape.

The little things matter. The unfair weight of expectations placed on me, by my father especially, pushing me to be more or different to what I wanted to be. Being afraid to bring home art made at school because it was frivolous and did not match the career choice he believed I was meant to pursue. Intelligent discourse encouraged, emotional revelations not, the behaviour I learned from this lethal combination was to forcefully and regularly suppress any healthy release of cathartic fluids.

So, I wrote to make sense of life, release those bottled up feelings onto a page in a created world and explore family dynamics – the ‘dys’ in dysfunctional (and dystopian).

My fifth novel, The Peithosian Gift, was born out of a conversation I had with a close friend on a road trip. This friend is my surrogate brother, with high emotional intelligence, and to whom the book is dedicated. We talked about how persuasive advertising can be and how some people seem to be more easily persuaded than others. In my usual tangent style, I speculated about a ‘what if?’ question around every living thing having a will that could ‘push’ ideas onto another living thing. From there, the seed grew into the idea of the push and pull of Nature, and a bunch of people who had a gift and, by the time we reached home, I had the shell of a story that turned into The Peithosian Gift.

The novel is the first in a planned speculative/fantasy series about two warring families who possess the power of mind control. It tackles a range of philosophical questions and moral dilemmas and, at its core, explores why it is important that we do not project an image onto a person of what we want or expect them to be. Setting unrealistic expectations will hold them back from discovering who they are meant to be.

Remember, think about (and feel) the impact you have on others – they may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. If you push too hard, you may break them.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Inner voice centricity

I am not a superstitious sort generally speaking though there have been times when I have wondered whether there is something to the concept of bad karma. That's me on a bad day. On a good day, I usually recognise that bad stuff happens for no reason at all and it is most likely just a coincidence that it occurs just before I am about to take a vacation. With one exception, my significant travel plans over the last decade have been stymied by bad stuff happening just before I was due to travel. With one exception, the bad stuff has been health related (either my own or close family). My so-called "travel curse".

I was planning to go to a wedding in late September in London. This travel was ruled out by my doctor who missed his calling as a dystopian story-teller. I swear the man could have made one of those classic "fire and brimstone" exorcist performing priests seem tame in comparison. Apparently a plane full of people on a long haul flight is a life-threatening risk for someone with my medical history. I could have hopped on that plane but was terrified to do so after the medical lecture. Perhaps this is how phobias start?

So I 'converted' my overseas travels to a domestic road trip to the middle of nowhere (otherwise known as most inland parts of Australia). There would be some 'civilisation' - the occasional country town, some bigger than others, measured by size by the number of hotel-pubs on the main street running through town. Mostly, I would be on back roads Where there are next to no cars and definitely no people. Somewhere where I could step out of my car and yell at the top of my lungs at the Universe for giving me a plethora of inherited uber-crappy autoimmune diseases that make my life a challenge on the best of days. Consolation prize.

It seems the Universe was not in the mood to hear my roar. A day before my brother was due to fly down from his home town to join me for the first few days of the drive, my routine visit to one of my possie of specialists (my favourite one as it turns out - my endocrinologist always entertains me with wonderful stories about his family adventures) ended up being not so routine. My latest blood tests and talk of pain at the site of a former tumor (see Operation Ditching Rupert from 2013) leads him to order a CT scan - "first available" - and I'm suddenly in the hospital drinking bitter tasting contrast in anticipation of a fresh medical test.

I ring my brother - tell him our trip may be delayed (while I wait for results) or replaced by a hospital stay. I let my work colleagues know. There are a few among them all too familiar with my travel curse. I really want to be on the road but it seems my body is resisting the prospect.

I have read the science that suggests our body is prone to get "ill" at the start of a vacation - something about working with a certain degree of stress and then 'relaxing' which somehow weakens the immune system (with greater risk of exposure to bugs etc). The body takes a vacation, too, and nasties take up residence. I have certainly experienced this first-hand ahead of some of my vacations. But I don't think the idea of physiological responses to vacation time extends to the growth of unwelcome house guests inside my body. Maybe the universe is telling me that I should embrace my introverted nature and accept that being a home body means "staycations" rather than vacations would be better for my health.

There are certainly pluses in doing so - I've started writing the sequel to the Peithosian Gift (aptly named the Peithosian Curse). Some quiet time at home would be a great opportunity to continue one of the best parts of the early drafting process - creating new characters channelling my "inner voice". As a concept, it is difficult to explain. My preferred writing style is inner-voice centric. This basically means I tend to focus on the thoughts and feelings of the characters I write - getting inside their heads. It's an interesting thought experiment to contemplate the perspective of a 17 year old punk girl one week and a 36 year old prodigious neuroscientist male the next.

I generally find male characters easier to write and all of my favourite characters from my earlier books have been boys and men. I am not saying that they are emotionally simpler than girls and women. I just suspect my inner-voice is naturally more masculine than feminine. This might have something to do with growing up with brothers, being more fond of science then dancing, working in a profession dominated by men. There I go again, seeing patterns and correlations that may just be coincidence.

But I digress. I was describing the "travel curse". The outcome of the medical tests came quickly - an actual plus of my medical history is the specialists can get priority status on running diagnostic tests so I only usually lose one nights sleep in the wait time. Counting only hours to learn my fate with a different inner voice trying to reassure me that everything will be alright.

My inner voice was right for a change. The pain was an existing tumor (benign) sharing its growing pains with me. It's now the size of a mandarin. Luckily I have space inside me - prime real estate vacant land where some of my missing organs used to be. Being spleenless can be a blessing after all. Clearly, I am an optimist.