Alumni Feature February 2016

A Writer’s Resolutions

by Diana Jenkins, Alumni Features Editor

New Year It’s the 2nd of February, so that’s one resolution already up in smoke: this first feature is a day late and counting, which is not how I planned to start the year. It’s not that I generally make a list of unrealistic New Year’s resolutions – I don’t – but each January, there is a mental reshuffle, professional and otherwise, and I do always start the year hoping to improve my performance and that certain things get done.



Hope. That’s the problem right there. Hope is rarely enough to accomplish anything. It doesn’t hold much sway in this household, that’s for sure, although we’re incurably (some would say relentlessly…) optimistic people. The problem with hope is that it’s so damn passive. It mainly involves waiting around for all the good things to strike – like a series of merry missiles, launched from some unknown but infinitely benevolent source – whereas People Who Get Things Done are all about action.

Most of us are capable of both behaviours – I know I am. I feel waves of satisfaction every time I delete something off my current To Do list, but some days I just can’t keep it all together.

Today, for instance, I missed a doctor’s appointment. Our lovely GP always runs hours behind – hours and hours – so the first appointment of the day is mighty hard to come by, as all her patients know it’s the only way to see her within striking distance of the appointed hour. Having claimed this coveted 9am slot weeks ago, imagining Llew would be able to do the school drop, I failed to mention this plan at any time, then also failed to check my desktop calendar last night or this morning, and nothing else prompted any recollection whatsoever that the appointment was today. Unsurprisingly, no one at the surgery called to remind me, either; both reception and assembled patients would have cheered at this unexpected contraction of waiting times. I can see them all now, blowing party tooters, hugging and weeping with gratitude.

This is not my kitchen, but I recognise it on a deep, psychic level.
sea lion Why am I so scatterbrained? Well, it’s my eldest son’s second day at school, you see, so it’s true I’m a little distracted. I didn’t even manage breakfast for myself this morning. The last hour before we had to leave for school seemed to eat itself, which is precisely what I could’ve done about half an hour later when my stomach started screaming in protest. I always eat breakfast – it’s not the sort of thing I need a New Year’s resolution to institute. It’s breakfast. Yet today, I didn’t get to the most important meal of the day until nearly 10 am, by which time I was insane with need. I snatched toast and coffee from the café conveniently opposite the school (praise be) and tossed both down my neck like a sea-lion swallowing fish at the zoo.

My 15-month-old was eyeing off my toast, but I stand before you now still defiant. Yes, that’s right: I refused to share my food with my child. He’d already eaten. Twice. So I scoffed my toast in one hand and held him back with the other (imagine cartoon legs wheeling on the spot). That’s what missing breakfast does to me, so perhaps I do need a public pledge after all: I shall feed myself while I’m feeding others. If my toast were an oxygen mask on a plane, I’d even be encouraged to eat first. Fancy that!

My stomach just grumbled, like it knows I’m writing about it. Very hard to satisfy, this stomach of mine, although it is lunchtime, and I am stalling the sandwich making. Why? Well, because my baby’s sleeping now, of course, so how could I possibly justify stopping to make lunch, when during this brief lull I can write in peace? The school day ends at 2.45pm for the next fortnight (what kind of workaday is that?! It’s the fastest thing ever!), which is just another reason why all my efforts at this desk, every single time I sit down to work, have become so frantic. Is it like this for everyone? I guess that’s something I’d like to explore in 2016: less clenching, more calm.

(“Good luck with that,” says that irritating know-it-all voice in my head, the one that’s attached to the quasi-OCD elements of my personality and is disgusted by all the many ways in which I continue letting myself go.)

Part of my campaign for becoming more ‘Zen with the Pen’ is carving out clear, regular, structured writing time away from family demands. I’m not getting those hours any other way: this much I finally understand and accept. I have gone back and forth about enrolling in such courses for years now, time and money being such stubborn obstacles, but I had a big rush of freelance work toward the end of 2015, and, thanks to a bit of money in the bank as a result, I’ve decided to invest in my professional development. To that end, I’ve signed up for a short story class this Saturday and a couple of substantial Sydney-based writing courses at the Faber Academy, Writing a Novel: the First and Second Draft, the first of which kicks off mid-month and involves Tuesday nights and occasional Saturdays.

At the moment, when I have two young children and a husband who regularly works late (Exhibit A: it’s now 8.45 pm and he’s not home), it’s far easier to manage than my first preference, which is always time in residence at Varuna. I know I’m preaching to the converted, but in my opinion, Varuna is the gold standard for writing time. It doesn’t get any better than retreating from all other pressures to live and write in that beautiful, peaceful place with other writers, without even having to think about or prepare the evening meal (thank you, Sheila, thank you). So my plan – the ambitious resolution – is using these two Faber Academy night courses to work toward entering one of Varuna’s programs once the MS is sufficiently developed to warrant applying. The big, bold resolution for 2016 is that I WILL, GODDAMNIT, FINISH THIS DRAFT.

Which draft? Oh, this is a story I started writing years ago, back when I very first became sick to death of the manuscript I still can’t shake. That’s the one you’ve all heard about too many times: the endlessly redrafted, accidental YA manuscript (the final fate of which has yet to be confirmed, but isn’t looking good). I could certainly make a resolution around that piece of work. It already has all the hallmarks of a bad relationship. If it were one, everyone would be telling me to get out – although in the case of a dud dude, I doubt I’d need to be told – so let’s call this the Year of Goodbye.

You know, it felt great just typing those words. Imagine really doing it: cutting myself loose from this albatross – snip, snip! Oh, the relief. Yeah. I really think it’s time. I think it’s been 10 years now. The 2016 manuscript, if I may be so bold as to consider it that, could not be more different. I’ve written about 40,000 words and have developed something like affection for the three main characters. I’d like to see what happens to them. I intend to find out over the coming months, with a little help from people who know what the hell they’re doing. That’ll make a nice change, as the record shows I have no idea.

news My other writerly resolutions mostly revolve around reading. My husband has the most extraordinary ability to pull out a newspaper from Christ only knows where and to stand reading it while either or both of his children are lurching from one playground peril to the next. On Sunday, in the time it took me to go to the ATM next to the playground, our busy little crawler had managed to position himself directly below a fireman’s pole being commandeered by much older children, all of whom were dropping to the ground at speed, while my eldest son was preparing to leap straight over the side from the very top of the slide (one broken leg is clearly not enough to deter him). As I scooped up our baby and shouted at our big boy to come down the conventional way, muttering numerous expletives to myself, I looked around for Llew, who was found leaning against a post, pleasantly oblivious and wholly engrossed, newspaper in hand.

Oh, boy.

start I should be clear that I deeply envy him this ability to tune out so completely while he’s supposedly supervising, but it’s not a practice I plan to co-opt. It’s just that while I was watching him, blood boiling, there was a quiet, sad inner whisper that I need to read too. Llew’s the master of whipping out the paper during “family time,” which neatly turns into “Daddy time” the second that broadsheet barrier is erected, and frankly I want a piece of that too. I’m going to start pulling out my book every time he throws up a paper wall – and won’t it be a fascinating marital experiment to see how well that works out. There’s an element of point proving, no question, but I mainly want to make sure I’m reading whenever I can. Taking a leaf out of his book, as it were. I want to be prepared. Ready for action: right across the board, action is what’s needed to even make a start. Reading, writing – take your pick. Neither one is a passive pastime. Both are active pursuits, and this year, I intend to give chase.

I’d love to hear your own Writer’s Resolutions for 2016. What are you determined to accomplish or complete? And if there’s anything or anyone you’d like to see covered here as a Monthly Feature, please don’t be shy: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., let me know and I’ll do my best to oblige. And now it’s 9.18 pm and I haven’t had my dinner because I was determined to finish this first. It’s been that kind of day.



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New Works by Alumni


Silvery Elms The Kaleidoscope cover

Silvery Elms, The Kaleidoscope
by Joanne M McCarron
(ASA, December 2015)

When Chris meets a mysterious woman in white beneath a prunis tree on Silvery Elms and David finds an unusual kaleidoscope in Great Aunt Mary's old house they are lead to a wonderful courtyard in a land called Aartemia. There they meet the fairy-princess, Ava, a girl with an intimate beauty and a quizzical interest in all things. Guided by King Alexander and Queen Brianna, the great white tigress Tamika - Ava's guardian - along with Elyse the mermaid, Gadrian the dragon, and the wisest of all the elves, The Story Keeper, the children set out on a quest to find the owner of the magic kaleidoscope and learn what it is they're meant never to forget.

With that, their lives are changed forever more.


Alumni Profiles


In the past month we have added a profile for Maria Katsonis.

Read other profiles online at Alumni Profiles.


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More in this category: Alumni Feature September 2016 »


  • A duel of words - but printed, not spoken. Great concept, so long as he notices!

    Deborah Rice Thursday, 04 February 2016 18:37 Comment Link
  • Oh dear, Deb. That's a very good point.

    Diana Jenkins Sunday, 07 February 2016 19:05 Comment Link
  • Great to hear your enthusiasm, Di. It comes through in your ever-enthralling voice. If your monthly features are anything to go by, I can't wait for news of this new novel. How exciting!

    Catherine Lee Monday, 08 February 2016 14:54 Comment Link
  • Aw, thanks, Catherine. That's a very generous reading of my woefully dishevelled start to the year.

    Diana Jenkins Thursday, 11 February 2016 13:53 Comment Link

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