The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

Research Weekend to Camden, NSW

Camden Park House Camden NSW

In case you’ve missed what I’ve been up to, here’s a quick recap. Basically, I’m writing historical fiction based on my family history in Camden, New South Wales.

This past weekend, Camden Park House had its annual open day. Just one weekend annually, this historic house is open to the public. And I had to see it for myself.

Although my ancestors worked at the Park and appear as characters in my story, they are not the main characters and they did not even live nor work at the Park at the time my novel is set. That’s the beauty of historical fiction: there’s a certain level of creative licence one is afforded. Neither my fictional family nor my actual family would not have seen nor stepped foot inside this homestead. Probably.

I began my trip by flying to Sydney from Brisbane. (Yep, I am certainly committed!) From Sydney, my cousin and I drove to Camden to begin researching. The first stop was Camden Cemetery at Cawdor, where I knew my first Australian ancestors were buried.

Gravestones of Thomas and Elizabeth Bugden

What you see here are the gravestones of Thomas and Elizabeth Bugden, who were the first Bugdens to step foot in this new colony. They were born in England, and were brought out by James Macarthur to work at the new Camden Park Estate. Thomas became a lessee of his own farm (I even found a photocopy of the original lease agreement!) and died in 1898. I must take a moment to thank the volunteers at Camden Museum, and Camden Historical & Genealogical Society for giving me so much of their time and resources as well as answering all of my questions. Special shout out to Robyn for answering questions about what life was really like for my characters back in 1909.

The visit to Camden Cemetery and Historical Society took up most of Friday, so on Saturday we headed back to visit Camden House for their open day. The home is still inhabited by descendents of John Macarthur (seventh generation, if I’m not mistaken) and is still a working dairy farm. It was quite overwhelming to stand in front of this homestead and imagine my characters interacting with actual people who once lived there. Some scenes of my novel take place within the walls of the homestead, so I was keen to see the layout of the house. Turns out, I was very wrong! It was a self-guided tour through the house, but there were volunteers in every room to talk a little about the history of the room and answer any questions we had. I talked to several of them about my project, and was met with enthusiasm, interest and well wishes for its completion.

I wasn’t so interested in the gardens, although they have won several awards. The gardens were (and still are) used to grow exotic and unusual plants. One example is the Bunya Pine, which was brought to the Park by William Macarthur to cultivate and sell to people around Sydney. (Shout out to Euan, one of the horticultural volunteers, for this information.)

What I was interested in was the layout of the Park. Obviously several thousand acres have been sold since the original land was granted to John Macarthur, however I was able to ask about the cottages of the original workers. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get too close to those cottages as they are inhabited by current workers and aren’t the original cottages anyway. Still, it was interesting to see where the cottages would have stood; it gives me a good idea about distances for my characters to wander around the Park.

At the open day, I was lucky enough to meet author Michelle Scott Tucker, who wrote a biography called Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World. It was reading this biography that inspired me to write my novel. She was signing books, however I’d bought my copy on Kindle and asked for a photo instead.

Me (Renee) meeting author Michelle Scott Tucker at Camden Park

I told her about my novel and how her book had inspired me. She was so gracious in wishing me well and even said she would like to read my manuscript when it was completed!

Over the weekend, I took close to 200 photos, mostly of Camden Park House. This opportunity is one I am so grateful for; not many authors get the chance to actually look through an iconic historical location featuring in their novel.

So what next?

I now have no excuses not to finish this novel! I’ve just hit 50,000 words. I’m not sure where or how this particular story ends; I definitely have enough information to complete it and write several sequels if I wanted to. My original idea was to move my fictional family to Queensland, however I think I might keep them in Camden, at least for this novel. Let’s see what happens.

I will say this though: there is definitely a lot of writing in my future. I’m just getting started.

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September 25, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

What am I up to?

I’ve been sharing little hints on social media about what I’m doing at the moment, but this post is letting the cat out of the bag, I suppose. I’m excited about this project and it all seems to be coming together, which is also very exciting!

For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a fictionalised version of the Bugden family history. Thomas Bugden was the first Buggo in Australia, brought out by James and William Macarthur to work as an agricultural labourer on the Macarthur farm in Camden, NSW. When the brothers died, the land was passed to Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, who turned the Park into dairy farms.

I read a biography of Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of John, who pioneered the Merino industry in Australia from Elizabeth Farm, near Parramatta. While reading that biography, I discovered synchronicities with my life in Queensland. Little threads of the tapestry, if you will. Things like, Elizabeth Macarthur, daughter of Elizabeth and John, was briefly engaged to John Oxley, who was the first white person to explore the Redcliffe Peninsula. I thought it interesting that my Australian history started on Macarthur land and here was a connection to where I am now. Finding this part fascinating, I toyed with the idea of writing a fictional family who move from Camden to Queensland.

My local libraries run a lot of free seminars about a range of topics; one I attended was by Kali Napier, author of Secrets at Ocean’s Edge. She spoke about writing historical fiction and the research required, plus making fact and fiction blending seamlessly together. Inspired, I went to the library and started looking at the early history of this area, finding a range of interesting facts and tales. It was decided: my fictional family would move from Camden to Queensland.

In another exciting synchronicity, my fictional family are dairyers on the Camden Park Estates, and the land on which I actually live used to be a dairy farm. It’s a no-brainer to have them move from Camden to this actual land my house now resides!

This is what I’m writing at the moment. It’s a slow process right now because I’m using my daughter’s two daycare days a week to write, plus there’s a lot of research and distractions going on; I’m also busily looking through the library’s records of local cemeteries, which is so interesting!

I also have some paid work. Content writing, blogging, editing, proofreading and the like. Today I attended another of the library’s free seminars on freelance journalism. While I’ve never considered myself a journalist, I can see the possibilities. I just need some discipline and better time management skills!

As for my novel, here’s a brief synopsis for those interested:

The Richmond family are dairyers on Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow’s dairy farm in Camden, NSW. When (something exciting and yet to be decided) happens, they’re forced to pack up their lives, choosing to move north into the unfamiliar state of Queensland. There, they find work on another dairy farm, where new and strange adventures await.

And as for my family, the fictional Richmond family work with the real-life Bugdens, but the Bugdens are not the main characters. Mainly because none of them moved to Queensland and I want to explore the social and cultural differences between the states while paying homage to my own life’s tapestry.

June 23, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Sisters of Mercy

Let me start by saying two things: 1) I was so annoyed with the book by page 150 that I was tempted not to finish it, 2) The hook of the novel isn’t what the story is about, which is a trademark of Caroline Overington’s novels.

Sisters of Mercy by Caroline Overington starts out to be a mystery: what happened to a grandmother who went missing during a 2009 dust storm in Sydney? The story doesn’t start or end there, and the mystery is belayed to the background while a different yet related story is told. At the centre of both is Snow Delaney, the long-lost sister of the missing woman who is in prison for other crimes. Her story is told to a journalist through letters while the journalist pieces together what the hell is going on (as all good journalists do).

The novel has a few gaping flaws, which lessened the believability somewhat and led to my annoyances with the plot.

Journalist Jack Fawcett seems to be an outsider on the case. He misses a lot of the important developments in the story, therefore also missing being the one to publish the scoop. In fact it seems he only becomes truly interested in the case when Snow begins writing to him from prison, which she does to correct him on mistakes in his articles. It is never mentioned whether Snow has written to other journalists; presumably she’s found fault with their articles as well (as she mentions later in her letters to Jack about media sensationalism vs truth). So here we have a journo with his hands tied- the story has gone cold, the links to the missing granny have closed and he’s left with an inquiring mind with nothing to gain. Although Jack reveals nothing of his own life, it’s easy to imagine him as a bachelor with nothing better to do than follow trails of breadcrumbs.

The most interesting person in the novel is Snow, a nurse and foster carer for disabled children, currently imprisoned for her startling naivety.

Apart from the granny, the owner of Delaney House (Snow’s care centre for disabled children) has also gone missing. Snow pleads innocence; she didn’t question the disappearance although in the closing chapters it is revealed she lied about her whereabouts during a critical time. Intertwined with these disappearances lies Snow’s story of how and why she came to care for disabled children which ultimately led to her imprisonment.

I like the ambiguity of who might have done what, although I am not in the least bit convinced Snow had anything to do with either disappearance. Her boyfriend has motive for both missing women: money. The owner of the house bequeathed the home to both Mark and Snow in her will, coincidentally signed just days before she went missing. Snow wanted the house, sure, but the money and equity afforded to Mark probably proved too tempting. Snow’s sister, the missing granny, stood to inherit over a million dollars which, if she was out of the picture, would become Snow’s inheritance. Considering Mark’s criminal record and gambling addiction, surely he would at least have to be a suspect, but apparently not. As mentioned, by page 150 I was outraged that the blindingly obvious solution to all the novel’s mysteries had not been mentioned. It was only after Ms Overington herself replied to my frustrated tweet that I finished the novel.

Apart from the most obvious person not being a suspect, I had difficulty believing Snow could be that naive. Both media and the law grasped her inhumanity, but yet Snow was blind to it all. What she believed was in the best interests for her clients was in fact child abuse, which she was eventually imprisoned for.

All in all, this novel is what one can expect from Caroline Overington, a former journalist. Along with this one, her previous novels contain a hook which is part of the story, not the whole story, and quite often don’t have a narrative resolution. I actually quite like this style. As happens so often in Real Life, stories have no resolution and it becomes a trial by media and the public. As such, the reader is left to form their own conclusions which may or may not be what happened. Case in point: the boyfriend’s non-suspect status (which turns out not to matter much but is oddly convenient…) Although I am not a journalist nor studying to become one, I am required to undertake journalism units to earn my PR degree. Knowing Ms Overington has a journalism background, I was interested to see the differences between journalism theory and practice, especially the tendency of sensationalism and twisting of facts to create a story.

As always, the sign of a good novel is the ability to bitch about it. It shows you’re engaged enough to care what happens. I’d read it again and look for clues that Jack Fawcett missed.

7 out of 10 bookmarks.

December 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment

Fin

Yes boys and girls, I completed the epic task of 50,000 words in a NaNoWriMo month! (Plus the other essays and assorted writings I was doing during November…) My best day was Saturday, 24 November when I wrote a whopping 11,000 words in a day. It was all because I had taken the weekend off to attend a writer’s retreat on the beautiful Stradbroke Island in Queensland. I’m so glad I did! I met a bunch of awesome people, got very little sleep (thanks to some all-night singing) and absorbed much inspiration via osmosis from the lovely people around me. I will definitely do it again should the opportunity present itself.

I have withdrawn from uni for this semester though. I felt that my being away for 3 weeks in January 2013 (a quarter of the semester) would be of detriment and I wouldn’t be able to dedicate my best effort. So far, it’s been two weeks and I’m a bit lost. I have nothing to do… so I thought it would be a great time to start a new blog about watching an episode of The Simpsons every day until I have seen every episode. Follow the insanity here.

As for my NaNo novel, I really like the work I have done on it and plan to continue with that journey. Firstly, I need to finish it. Then comes the process of editing and eventually, I think I would like to self-publish on a platform such as iTunes and/or Google books etc. Just to be part of the process, ya know?

Thanks to everyone for putting up with me, especially to my boyfriend who basically didn’t see me at all for the last two weeks of November as I spent every waking minute writing or at work. A special thankyou to Bryce Courtenay, who passed away recently. Thankyou for the stories, for your dedication in getting a novel written every year and for sharing so much with us. You’re sadly missed already.

December 8, 2012 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Imagination Takes Over

First, allow me to apologise for my recent lack of posts. I notice that my last post was in June! How time flies whether you’re having fun or not…

Secondly, here’s one of the reasons I have been busy this month. Image

Thirdly, I am also currently writing two essays due this Friday. I’m starting to think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew for this month, this week at least.

For the past week, I have spent every waking moment writing. Obviously, I am writing this blog post, but I’ve also been writing 50,000 words for the NaNoWriMo challenge as well as these two essays. (Apologies to my boyfriend, I will be back in reality sometime next week…) I’ve written before about the magic of NaNoWriMo, which never fails to astonish me. When I was a kid, I remember writing a letter to a favourite author asking why she had killed off my favourite character. She actually replied, saying it was something that needed to happen. This has always puzzled me. You’re the author, you get to decide what happens, how could you let this character be killed? As I ventured deeper into the world of writing, I find that sometimes, amazingly, your characters absolutely have a life of their own. In my current NaNoWriMo project, two of my characters did something I wasn’t expecting. Michelle, the wife, kicked her husband James out of the house after surprising him with some midday shenanigans in his office. Four chapters later, he retaliates by picking up a woman in a bar and taking her home. Where did that come from? Based on the successful word count of that chapter (almost 3000 words), I decided that another male character, Ben, also needed to get laid. I’m sure Ben was grateful for the experience.

After an hour or two of letting my brain wander all over the page with NaNo, it’s time to focus on either essay. I don’t mind writing essays but I do find them tedious. For every hour of writing, there’s three hours of research behind it. For the record, one essay is 2000 words about television’s reaction to youth culture by comparing The Monkees with The Simpsons. The other essay is about how radio advanced the discipline of journalism. No, it’s not very exciting but luckily is only a thousand words. Hence my dedication to writing this month, and indeed, taking up almost every available minute of this week in particular. By the end of the month I will have over 53,000 words to show for my effort (not included incidental writings such as emails, this blog post and my shopping list).

A few years ago, I saw an interview with Bryce Courtenay, who said writing is a full time job for him. He sits down to write at 7am and doesn’t finish til at least 5pm, often later. I admire someone who can keep going for that amount of time every day. I usually run out of ideas within an hour or two (but then again I’m a terrible planner, nothing I write started off with a well thought-out plan. Perhaps this is where I’m going wrong?) My 2010 effort at NaNoWriMo went pretty well. As soon as I realised 1667 words a day wasn’t too hard, I managed to scrape together enough to “win” the challenge. Truthfully, the only reason I decided to do it again this year was because I was invited to a writer’s retreat on the beautiful Stradbroke Island and thought I should make an effort to write a novel…

My point for this blog is this: Writing can be as easy or as difficult as you like. What I have learned over the past two weeks is that I can easily clear my mind by pouring out 1667 words which will hopefully come together as a coherent novel (as an aside, I like this effort much better than my 2010 effort, which is probably only suitable for Mills & Boon readers). After clearing the mind, it is free to focus on interesting tidbits in which to base an essay upon. I’ve also learned that if you are falling behind and need more hours in the day to write, the internet will fail you at work and you will end up spending seven hours texting your friend from another store to pass the time.

See you again sometime next week… Assuming I survive this War of Words.

November 20, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The First 10,000 Words

This post is a Q&A about my project for NaNoWriMo.

Q: Who are the characters?

A: There are three main characters; Amy, Mart and Campbell. Amy is a travel writer in her late 20’s. Mart is her openly gay flatmate. Campbell is the guy Amy has an affair with.

Q: Are the characters based on anyone from real life?

A: Well, yes and no. Amy has experiences similar to my own but right now she’s nothing like anyone I personally know. Campbell has similarities to people I know, and some aspects of his life (mainly career) are things I had to ask people I know in order to research. The idea of Campbell has basis in reality, although the character doesn’t. Mart is an amalgamation of all my gay male friends- they’ll definitely see parts of themselves in Mart (only the good bits though!) Mart is the comic relief, the epitome of the lighter side of life. He’s my favourite character to write.

Q: Where did the idea come from?

A: My friend Katariina told me about NaNoWriMo last year… on Halloween. I promised myself I’d do it this year so I registered early and got things together. I had no idea what I was going to write until about a week before it started. I had a vivid dream involving the basic plot and some scenes. I wrote it all down when I woke up, then formed the synopsis around it. Once November 1 came around, I started writing and it just flowed. The story has elements of my life; for example, I went to Bali last year over Christmas/New Year for a friend’s wedding, but the actual affair bit is pure imagination.

Q: Where do you write?

A: At work during quiet moments or on my laptop at home. I’m constantly emailing copies of the draft to myself so I always have the latest copy nearby. Plus I have a notebook in case anything pops into my head at other times, like when I’m out walking.

Q: What will you do with it once NaNoWriMo is over?

A: No idea! Lots of novels started during NaNoWriMo have been published and have been successful. Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen is just one; they’ve filmed it and the movie will be released next year. While that’s obviously a lovely dream, to be honest I’d just like to finish writing the novel before I decide what I can do with it.

Q: How have you found the process?

A: Easier than I expected, actually. The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. That’s 1667 words a day, or about four A4 pages. I write longer emails than that, so I knew I could do it! So far I’ve missed only two days, but I’d like to get at least some writing done every day. I told everyone I know that I’m doing this, and everyone has been really supportive.

 

November 8, 2010 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , | Leave a comment