The Eastern Writers Group Newsletters – extracts

The Eastern Writers Group newsletters are edited each month by EWG secretary James Vanselow. Most of them contain topical information of interest only to EWG members, but there is much besides that may interest a wider range of readers. There will eventually be a year’s supply here.  See for yourself:

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter August 2017

Our member of longest standing, Gwayne Naug, who writes as G. M. Naug,  has won a small government award based on the books authored by her on the shelves in the Eltham library. While the money amount may be small, the prestige is significant and as a group we should be pleased that we were able to assist Gwayne in her notable achievement with The Ferenghi Quartet. Sharing your writing with a group such as ours gives a sense of not being so much alone with your writing, and that you are receiving a regular dose of encouragement.

 Our August meeting begins at 2pm on Sunday 20th.

In the July newsletter, advice was given on punctuation of dialogue and a website supplied for a concise guide.

This month I will deal with an aspect of capitalisation which seems to confuse some of our writers.

When directly addressing a person, a title such as Father, Dad, Pop, Grandfather, Granddad, Grandpa, Mother, Mum, Grandmother, Grandma, Uncle, Auntie, Brother, Son take an initial capital letter.

When referring to a person, no initial capital is used, so it becomes my father, my dad, his mum, their grandpa and so on.

For example, Paul called out, “Hey Dad, Bob and Terry want me to go over to their place and meet their mum.”

That’s my brief advice, but here is a more complete piece from the Internet and you may like to sample some other advice on this website:


Do You Capitalize Family Titles?

When terms denoting family relationships are used as proper nouns (as names), they are capitalized. However, when the terms are used as common nouns (not as names), they’re not capitalized. Generally, there will be a possessive pronoun (my, her, his, our) or an article (the, a, an) in front of family titles used as common noun.

It’s easy to get confused about whether you should capitalize family names in your writing. If you come across a family “title” such as mom or dad in your writing, ask yourself: Is this title being used as if it were a person’s name? Is the person being directly addressed?


Can I go to the mall once I finish my homework, Mom?

I know the crash was serious, Dad, but I’d really like to borrow your car.

What have you been up to, Grandma?

In the examples above, Mom, Dad, and Grandma are capitalized because they are being used like names. You could replace them with proper names without changing the rest of the sentence.


What have you been up to, Diana?


If a family member is not being directly addressed, but rather is being spoken about, his or her family title should not be capitalized, and an article or possessive pronoun should be used before the title.


Gracie asked her mom if she could go to the mall after finishing her homework.

I asked my dad if I could borrow his car the day after the crash.

Lorraine wondered what her grandmother had been up to.


When quoting a conversation, simply think about whether that person is being directly addressed in the conversation.


“We will all remember Aunt Bessie for her generous nature,” Melinda said.


“I feel for Melinda’s loss,” said the neighbor. “Everyone remembers her aunt’s generous nature.”


brilliant deal-maker who puts Rowling first.

Complete text at



Eastern Writers Group  Newsletter for February 2017

 Bob with an article on punctuation, a long debated issue.

I clipped the attached from the ABC website. You might be able to use it, or part of it, for the next newsletter. Some of our members won’t much like the content. Clive, in particular, hates to start a sentence with a conjunction. But (there, I’ve done it) nobody is bound by the advice offered in this kind of article. We can write any way we like and nobody will hang us.

 Editor James has this to say:

I agree with Clive to some extent, and I think And and But are often used at the start of a sentence when not required at all, eg, “And I will now sum up my argument . . .” and “But on the other hand, one might say . . .”. I have noticed in the press that But is often used intead of the correct And.

I think of punctuation as the mortar that cements word bricks together. I remember my father once asking me, in relation to bricklaying, whether it was worse to have too much mortar, or too little. He didn’t tell me what he thought, and I still don’t know, so I guess he knew the question was an enigma and that both are equally bad. Punctuation is much more of an art than a science, and sometimes we have several correct alternatives, frequently making it a matter of choice to suit your style.


Things you were taught at school that are wrong – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Clipped from:

By Misty Adoniou, University of Canberra

(Updated at 12:12pm Mon 2 Jan 2017, 12:12pm)

Do you remember being taught you should never start your sentences with “And” or “But”?

What if I told you that your teachers were wrong and there are lots of other so-called grammar rules that we’ve probably been getting wrong in our English classrooms for years?

How did grammar rules come about?

To understand why we’ve been getting it wrong, we need to know a little about the history of grammar teaching.

Grammar is how we organise our sentences in order to communicate meaning to others.

Those who say there is one correct way to organise a sentence are called prescriptivists. Prescriptivist grammarians prescribe how sentences must be structured.

Prescriptivists had their day in the sun in the 18th century. As books became more accessible to the everyday person, prescriptivists wrote the first grammar books to tell everyone how they must write.

These self-appointed guardians of the language just made up grammar rules for English, and put them in books that they sold.

It was a way of ensuring that literacy stayed out of reach of the working classes.

They took their newly concocted rules from Latin. This was, presumably, to keep literate English out of reach of anyone who wasn’t rich or posh enough to attend a grammar school, which was a school where you were taught Latin.

And yes, that is the origin of today’s grammar schools.

The other camp of grammarians are the descriptivists. They write grammar guides that describe how English is used by different people, and for different purposes.

They recognise that language isn’t static, and it isn’t one-size-fits-all.

1. You can’t start a sentence with a conjunction

Let’s start with the grammatical sin I have already committed in this article. You can’t start a sentence with a conjunction.

Obviously you can, because I did. And I expect I will do it again before the end of this article. There, I knew I would!

Those who say it is always incorrect to start a sentence with a conjunction, like “and” or “but”, sit in the prescriptivist camp.

However, according to the descriptivists, at this point in our linguistic history, it is fine to start a sentence with a conjunction in an op-ed article like this, or in a novel or a poem.

It is less acceptable to start a sentence with a conjunction in an academic journal article, or in an essay for my son’s high school economics teacher, as it turns out.

But times are changing.

2. You can’t end a sentence with a preposition

Well, in Latin you can’t. In English you can, and we do all the time.

Admittedly a lot of the younger generation don’t even know what a preposition is, so this rule is already obsolete. But let’s have a look at it anyway, for old time’s sake.

According to this rule, it is wrong to say “Who did you go to the movies with?”

Instead, the prescriptivists would have me say “With whom did you go to the movies?”

I’m saving that structure for when I’m making polite chat with the Queen on my next visit to the palace.

That’s not a sarcastic comment, just a fanciful one. I’m glad I know how to structure my sentences for different audiences. It is a powerful tool. It means I usually feel comfortable in whatever social circumstances I find myself in, and I can change my writing style according to purpose and audience.

That is why we should teach grammar in schools. We need to give our children a full repertoire of language so that they can make grammatical choices that will allow them to speak and write for a wide range of audiences.

3. Put a comma when you need to take a breath

It’s a novel idea, synchronising your writing with your breathing, but the two have nothing to do with one another and if this is the instruction we give our children, it is little wonder commas are so poorly used.

Punctuation is a minefield and I don’t want to risk blowing up the internet. So here is a basic description of what commas do, and read this for a more comprehensive guide.

Commas provide demarcation between like grammatical structures. When adjectives, nouns, phrases or clauses are butting up against each other in a sentence, we separate them with a comma. That’s why I put commas between the three nouns and the two clauses in that last sentence.

Commas also provide demarcation for words, phrases or clauses that are embedded in a sentence for effect. The sentence would still be a sentence even if we took those words away. See, for example, the use of commas in this sentence.

4. To make your writing more descriptive, use more adjectives

American writer Mark Twain had it right.

“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable.”

If you want your writing to be more descriptive, play with your sentence structure.

Consider this sentence from Liz Lofthouse’s beautiful children’s book Ziba came on a boat. It comes at a key turning point in the book, the story of a refugee’s escape.

“Clutching her mother’s hand, Ziba ran on and on, through the night, far away from the madness until there was only darkness and quiet.”

A beautifully descriptive sentence, and not an adjective in sight.

5. Adverbs are the words that end in ‘ly’

Lots of adverbs end in “ly”, but lots don’t.

Adverbs give more information about verbs. They tell us when, where, how and why the verb happened. So that means words like “tomorrow”, “there” and “deep” can be adverbs.

I say they can be adverbs because, actually, a word is just a word. It becomes an adverb, or a noun, or an adjective, or a verb when it is doing that job in a sentence.

Deep into the night, and the word deep is an adverb. Down a deep, dark hole and it is an adjective. When I dive into the deep, it is doing the work of a noun.

Time to take those word lists of adjectives, verbs and nouns off the classroom walls.

Time, also, to ditch those old Englishmen who wrote a grammar for their times, not ours.

If you want to understand what our language can do and how to use it well, read widely, think deeply and listen carefully. And remember, neither time nor language stands still — for any of us.

Misty Adoniou is an Associate Professor in language, literacy and TESL at the University of Canberra.

Originally published in The Conversation.

Topics: education, schools, subjects, english, australia

First posted Mon at 10:22amMon 2 Jan 2017, 10:22am

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter for November 2016

Power in the words

In the October newsletter, I wrote that I had been pondering on some aspects raised by Vance Packard in his book The Hidden Persuaders:

To illustrate the power of words in tapping into your hidden psyche or sentiment, so far down you cannot reach it consciously, consider Donald Trump’s presidential election campaign slogan: Make America Great Again.

Those four words appeal to American patriotism, and they also involve the voter in exercising their choice in achieving a better future.

While the Trump campaign started with most of the media deriding his prospects as remote, Trump’s ability to fund advertising and campaign marketing experts has now put him in a serious contender position.

Well, now the decision is in, and Donald Trump has won the presidency of the USA.

I have little doubt that much of his appeal to the voters was that he was not a career politician, and even less doubt that the Make America Great Again slogan got him across the winning line. I could not remember Hillary Clinton’s slogan/s, and did not find them at all memorable when I checked out

A great take on the backroom goings on in American election campaigns is to be found in the movie The Candidate, starring Robert Redford as Bill McKay, running for senator. He was never intended to win, the whole process being to financially benefit campaign managers. However, McKay starts to tap into the concerns of voters and develops a slogan from his words, “There must be a better way,” which morphs into the vote-winning slogan “A better way with Bill McKay”. I will not tell you the ending of the movie, but I think many of us will think that Bill McKay and Donald Trump share a common dilemma.

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter for October 2016

James Kelso gave each of us a copy of his Aphorisms, Thoughts and Maxims so that we could take them away to contemplate. Some of them connected instantly with the members present, while others, I thought, needed time to consider. My comment at thtime was that there was far too much content to be absorbed in a single reading, a fact that James had foreseen by providing the takeaway copies.

After reading a few times, I have decided to comment on just two (for now anyway) which connected with me. (I hope you don’t mind me quoting them, James.)

The first is: Behind the appearance of every healthy, breezy, well-functioning, optomistic family is the suspicion of a lie. [James, the editor] Are “happy families” really happy, or do they just give that appearance to the casual observer?

My Mum never (or rarely ever) hugged or kissed me, even at an early age as far as I can remember. I guess she must have, but my brothers and sister and I certainly did not grow up in a family that gave their Mum a hug and a kiss as we went out the door.

Mum imposed a guilt complex on me, which I carried all my life until she died. Only recently I have analysed that it was her “put downs” that created an emotional gap between us, making it difficult to discuss anything with her. These are what I remember:

You’re just like your father.

Don’t you think of anyone but yourself?

What will people/ the neighbours/your father think.

Can’t you ever behave?

If you don’t behave I’ll get the doctor to you. (I developed a deep fear of doctors whom I associated with pain and death.)

If we didn’t have you kids we could go on holiday.

Don’t be such a nuisance.

Not now, I’m busy.

You’re too quick with your fists, you’re a standover merchant. (I was in fact a skinny nine-year- old with no aggressive tendencies – was she really talking about my father?)

[Note: I am wondering if authors make much use of “put downs” in dialogue to help define their characters.]

Did the guilt stop when I got married and left home at age 27? I recall my mother saying for no apparent reason: ”I have never forgotten how you made me push Alan (baby brother) in his pram down the street to buy you that toy popgun.” I was then aged four or five, and Mum was dumping this bucket load of guilt on me at around age 40.

The popgun was for my birthday or Christmas and “down the street” was Commercial Rd., Prahran, and a distance of less than a kilometre to the shop near the corner of Chapel St. I had thought I was the only “guilty” one in the family until at a family Christmas gathering many years after our mother had died, my elder brother remarked, “Mum’s dead, Jim. You don’t have to feel guilty any more.” I took it from this that my older brother (by two years) had been sharing the guilt burden.

I do remember two times Mum lavished praise on me. The first at age five was when I bought a butter dish (cost threepence) for her at a Food for Britain stall at Prahran Central School. She told me what a nice thing it was for me to buy it for her. The next (and I am sure some other good things must have been said inbetween) was at age 30 when I was promoted to Rates Information Supervisor with the Board of Works.

Mum was absolutely delighted, so I explained it was only one step up from my former position as an Accounting Examiner. “But it’s such an important sounding title,” she said. I guess that she thought it would impress the neighbours.

I think Mum took responsibility for her children’s misdeeds and indiscretions and carried the guilt as her own. Why my Mum, a caring devoted mother to us kids, found it necessary to carry the burden of our guilt as well as her own I have yet to discover.

This is probably the biggest demon in my life, the emotional rift and lack of loving communication with my mother. Well, that was a can of worms, but I don’t regret opening it.

Judy is writing about Martin’s demons in her book The Hanging Tree, and I made the comment at the September meeting that while Martin was getting plenty of well- intended advice, it looked like he would have to battle his demons his own way.

The second of James’s Thoughts I will comment on is: Humankind finds it very difficult to “deliberately” take the middle road, and be content with just that. It cannot stck to the middle road. It is much better, instead, at pushing any concept, concept, idea or ideology to extremes. And that is what most harms it and causes, in the short and long term, the most grief. It is also that which causes the reversal of this concept, to then “fix” the situation by seeing as the “solution” just the opposite extreme. The middle road – the ideal – is experienced unconsciously, and in transit.

I am going to apply this to the corporate world, the world of business and the stockmarket. I have for years wondered why a company making a good profit does not settle down to paying off any debt it has, then setting aside some funds for a rainy day and distributing the rest as dividends to the investing shareholders.

But no, there is a belief that a company must grow or go under. So the profit making company retains most of the profits and borrows more so that they can expand by building new factories/businesses or by acquiring existing ones. If the market for their products or services is saturated in Australia, they look to the rest of the world. Thus we have had forays by the ANZ bank into India (many years ago) and recently into China.

Both failed with substantial losses incurred. Similarly with HIH Insurance, which bought the California Workers Compensation business and are now flat broke. I am wondering if QBE Insurance will end up the same way with their USA business.

Perhaps they won’t go flat broke, but they may exit with a loss. Domino’s Pizzas is another company that seems to be subscribing to the Big Bang theory of global domination and in the meanwhile is making very little on its cutprice pizzas.

The immediate reaction to falling sales and profits seems to be cutting down on advertising (bound to further reduce sales) and reducing staff, initially backroom, but inevitably customer service. Some companies make the boardroom decision to sell off non-core businesses so that they can concentrate on their central business on the grounds that attempting to manage several types of business leads to inefficiency. But didn’t they know this before? Wesfarmers own Coles, Bunnings and some coal mines. If this core business theory is true, why hasn’t Wesfarmers divested its coal mining interests? Now Bunnings is expanding into Britain where it has bought the second- ranking hardware chain. Despite seeing assurances that the homework has been done, I see nothing but pain for Wesfarmers, just as Masters was pain for Woolworths. Instead of growing, especially by acquisition, companies would be better off concentrating on managing their existing profitable business, ensuring that loss-makingproduction units or retail stores are manged back into profit or disposed of. Close a store, open a store would be a good rule of thumb. When sailing before a fair wind, one does not need to seek out a stronger one to gain speed with the possibility of becoming a shipwreck.

James’s thoughts obviously have wider applications than the contexts I selected, so those of you who have a copy of his Aphorisms, Thoughts and Maxims, please have a read and see how they relate to you.

For other EWG newsletter readers, our webmaster Bob Dalvean may put them on our website if we get James’s permission.


Eastern Writers newsletter for September 2016

Comments on dialogue attributions (repeated from August)

Michael’s reading in July of a chapter from his novel The Chinese Contagion drew several comments on the lack of attribution of dialogue (he said/she said/Jack said) and the need to break up lengthy exchanges of dialogue with a bit of short narrative, such as “He leaned forward, elbows on the table”, or “His shoulders slumped”.

Now having said that, I set about reading The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, taking note of his usage of dialogue attribution and interceding narrative. I think I got lucky with this gruesome book which my wife rescued from a box on a neighbour’s nature strip. While I don’t recommend the book to anyone for reading (although I did find it a real page-turner), there is no questioning the author’s ability to write and attribute dialogue.

Harris indicates who is speaking whenever there are more than two people present. When there is only two possible speakers he frequently uses the listener’s name in the dialogue, as in, for example, “I think, Jack, that we had better talk about this later”, thereby removing any necessity to identify the other person as the speaker.

However, when Dr Lecter and Catherine Starling (law enforcement student) engage in interviews, Harris usually lets the words spoken identify the speaker.

What of other authors? In a book of short stories by Kurt Vonnegut, he seems to attribute, in some stories, just about every piece of dialogue with “he/she said” even when it is obviously unnecessary to do so.

Whatever style is used is the choice of the author, but, I feel, it is a choice that needs to be consciously made.

More thoughts on The Silence of the Lambs

Early in the book, two people are speaking in an office when the dialogue breaks to say one got a drink from the water cooler (or words to that effect). This act has no bearing on the conversation that continued unabated and seemingly added nothing to to our view of the speakers, other than one was feeling a bit parched. To me though, I wondered whether or not we were in a closed office (as I had imagined) where a private conversation could take place, or in a more general space such as a corridor or open office area room where drink machines and photo copiers are usually located. Perhaps

water coolers are available in some higher echelon private offices for individual use, but I felt it unusual. A very small thing indeed, but it distracted me, I feel, unecessarily.

The point I am making here is that actions and body languge during an exchange of dialogue need to be carefully considered so that they contribute something to the mood of the speakers or help the reader form a view of the setting. I think a good exercise to pick up on this would be to watch a movie with a facially expressive actor like Humphrey Bogart and note the expressions and actions he uses as the mood of a situation changes – jabbing his cigarette, drawing back his lips onto his teeth when he is angered, or straightening his bow tie in a gilt-framed mirror when trying to impress a socialite woman.

A lot can be gathered from how a person feels by the way they are sitting in a chair. For example, an anxious person will tend to sit on the edge of a chair, whereas one at ease will relax backwards – take note of the person in the witness box next time you are watching a courtroom scene on TV. Whereas movie directors can achieve this communication on film, writers have to thread all these little indicators into their words so that readers can form images of the setting and interpret the mood of the characters.

On Silence of the Lambs, the novel, my initial impression was that it moved too fast and had too many characters. That meant that I did not form any sort of attachment or deep understanding of even the main ones, apart from Clarice Starling, the FBI cadet.

Indeed, I was left with little knowledge of Dr Hannibal Lecter, the insane, but brilliant, psychiatrist.

The movie was shown on TV recently, and I noted that some characters had been played down to little more than “walk ons”, However, the imprisoned Dr Lecter still remained a mystery to me as little or no background information was revealed as to the development of his condition. It would seem that to fill in some gaps that a prequel was made of the earlier written Red Dragon, followed by Hannibal Rising, dealing with his childhood years. To cap it all off, a further film was made titled Hannibal to renew Lecter’s association with Clarice Starling. Perhaps when I catch up with Hannibal Rising I will find what I am missing out on as regards the formation of his character.

Had it not been for the award-winning performance by Anthony Hopkins as Dr Lecter,

and Jodie Foster (at 53 years old) playing the major role of 22-year-old Clarice Starling, I don’t think the movie would rate as more than average. Should you read the book before seeing the movie? Definitely, because if you miss just a few mumbled words from Dr Lecter you could find yourself lost in in a series of seemingly disconnected events. Only my opinion, but the movie needed to slowdown on the breakneck speed of the book.

Neither the book nor the movie is recommended by me for anyone the least bit


Eastern Writers Newsletter for August 2016

James Kelso’s essay this month initially posed the question of “as to what extent do mod cons, technologyetc. help us in our lives, and to what extent do they hinder us.” The essay inevitablyincluded consideration of whether or not a simpler life would be a happier one and inspired enthusiastic commentary by our members.

I am, at my advanced age in the seventies, always on the watch for what I call
revelations, and I had one about James, much younger than most of us (if not all), that he lives in a different world to us, timewise. His experiences as a child do not include those of my generation who watched the steam trains in the railway yards at North Melbourne, nor going to the Saturday arvo flicks to see the latest (months if not years old) movies, nor hitchhiking to school because there were no buses. As to myself, I did not watch Sesame Street on TV as a young child, nor did I use computers at school as James and his generation did

L.P. Hartley started his novel The Go-Between with the words: The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

I think that so too with James, that he must have a different perspective of the worldthan older generations, having experienced a different past. Thus there is an ongoing need for each new generation to produce essays which are relevant to them, and for that reason essay writing will endure for as long as men and women ponder on questions to do with our lives.

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter July 2016

Edited by James Vanselow

 On Journals

When I think about travel and writing, I think about journals, and I wonder if past-president Robyn wrote her prize-winning short story “Poste Restante“ from a journal kept while backpacking around Europe, or if she wrote it from memories. (Read the story at

Whatever, journal keeping must provide a more certain way of recollecting what one has done and experienced on a long trip. Take a photo of this, a photo of that, hundreds of photos, but they still don’t capture how you felt at the time, the sounds, the smells, the atmosphere, how you engaged with the people.

I think journal writing in regard to travel has suffered enormously from the increase in airplane travel over ship voyages. Back in the mid-1960s, it took P&O liners four weeks to reach London from Melbourne, and even their big new ships such as SS Canberra (42,000 tons) and flagship SS Oriana (44,000 tons) did not have all that much in the way of entertainment during the day – but plenty of time for writing.

 Why come to a writing group? (repeated in part from June)

You can find the answer at

in an article by Jessica Au  titled Creative Writing Courses vs Writers’ Groups.

An extract from the article has

So, in short, the supposed perks of a creative writing subject – the theories and related set readings – were never a great help to me. What could have been helpful, on the other hand, was the workshopping aspect. This is because I do think that outside feedback is crucial. Writers, to put it bluntly, regularly need to get out of their own heads – we need our blindspots shown to us, we need, as Bel [Monypenny, editor of Voiceworks] nicely puts it, the blinkers taken off. But peer reviewing tends to work best for everyone only when a number of things come together: experience, enthusiasm and commitment.

 Do you read deep enough? (repeated from June)

During the early 1960s, I was reading mainly Ernest Hemingway, but did purchase a Penguin paperback of Somerset Maugham’s short stories. I found his style rather ponderous and he did not find favour in my young mind. Some fifty years later, my son gave me the fourth (and final) volume of Somerset Maugham’s Collected Short Stories (published by Vintage) and I found the stories better reading this time round, although still of ponderous structure.

To me, Maugham includes far too much scene setting and what could be regarded as extraneous detail. A typical structure of his is to begin a story by describing an exotic location, with lengthy description of its beauty and vegetation and the rivers, beaches and mountains, then to detail the circumstances by which he has come to be in this location. Predictably, he will meet some fascinating character, usually a male and often a planter or government or company official, who offers him accommodation, details in which the reader is then immersed and which has little to do with the real story. The storyteller will disclose to Maugham a story which Maugham will again labour to explain may be regarded as almost inconceivable by most readers, The story is then related, with Maugham keeping the dialogue going with comments and questions to draw the speaker out.

But do we need all this detail which suffocates the story, such as in one story someone seeing an oleander tree which the character had never seen before. Nothing to do with the story other than to emphasise he was in a different land with a warmer climate.

However, amongst all this packaging, like the polystyrene shells that rattle around in an oversized cardboard delivery carton, if one digs deep enough one can uncover the truly worthwhile gems on human nature.

I don’t know if one can always express the conflicts of human nature with psychology, but I was intrigued in Somerset’s A Man with a Conscience as to how the protaganist acted contrary to the logical decision he had made over who was to blame for his friend’s death. A real conumdrum to be puzzled over, I thought. I dug deep into the polystyrene and came up with the gem of a realisation that I will hold over to next month while you have a read of the story and ponder on why he acts irrationally.

Maugham writes early in this story:

My object here is to tell a story. As I am well aware, one can never know everything there is to be known about human nature. One can be sure only of one thing, and that is that it will never cease to have a surprise in store for you.

Go to to read the story online (you have to turn the pages by clicking the next page number at the bottom of the text.)

An option with larger text but short lines is at

There is a great review of Somerset Maugham’s Collected Short Stories Vol 4 at

You may wish to read the original story before reading my following story summary with notes on Jean’s thoughts.

The Man with a Conscience summary (the emphases in bold are mine)

Jean and Henri (Riri) are constant boyhood companions and at age 20 both fall in love with 18 year-old Marie-Louise. Riri met her first, so it is agreed that he have first right to marry her. Marie-Louise is fond of them both, but loves neither. However, her mother is sick and wants Marie-Louise to marry before she dies.

Marie-Louise accepts the unemployed Riri, but on the condition he gains a job. Riri has been unable to find employment in France, so his father, using family ties, has found him one in Cambodia. However, Marie-Louise will not go back to SE Asia where she once lived and where her father died. Under pressure from his father to accept the job in Cambodia, Riri abandons his plan to marry Marie-Louise.

But then an opportunity arises for him to gain a job in France with a shipping firm, the chairman of which knows Jean’s employer. Jean’s employer, on behalf of Riri’s prospective employer, asks Jean if he considers Riri trustworthy with a shipping company’s payroll. Jean replies that Riri is a lifelong friend, emphasising how they grew up together and how well he knows him. He then declines to answer the question. This of course implies that Riri is not to be trusted with money. Riri is advised by letter the next day that his services will not be required. Shortly after, he leaves for Cambodia.

Jean initially claims to Maugham (the narrator) that the words he spoke were not his, that he was not responsible for what he said. He tells Maugham that this solitary occasion was the only regret he had in his life. He tries to excuse himself by saying that if he had not married Marie-Louise, that he would have died, but that Riri was a resilient likable fellow who would soon find other interests in Cambodia.

Jean is fast to take advantage of his deception and marries Marie-Louise, whose mother dies within the year. Once married, however, Jean, an accountant, becomes bored with Marie-Louise, whom he regards as terribly stupid and having petty women’s ways.

After two years, startling news arrives of Riri’s death in Cambodia from typhoid fever. Jean is grief stricken, but Marie-Louise seeks to downplay any part Jean would have had in their future life, all well intentioned to relieve Jean’s grieving.

The narrator, Maugham, writes from what Jean has told him:

… she was not to blame for that (being stupid), she was not to blame because he had been false to his friend … but it was on her account that Riri had died, and he loathed her. She bored him to distraction.

The morning after after an engagement party for Riri’s sister, at which Jean felt heightened grief while in the house in which his friend had lived, Jean is exercising at home with Indian clubs in the bedroom. Marie-Louise, with a close-cropped hairdo Jean hates, is seated at the dressing table.

Marie-Louise makes a rather petty and catty comment about Riri’s mother’s dress as being dyed and made over, but still recognisable as the one she wore to their own wedding.

Jean forcefully strikes Marie-Louise over the head with one of the Indian clubs. Marie-Louise dies in hospital two days later, and Jean tells Maugham, “I was glad she did. We could never have lived together again, and it would have been very hard to explain my action.”

[Here, he puts his need to be guilt-free ahead of his wife’s life. He expresses no remorse for her death, nor does he accept responsibility. He must be able to justify to everyone that he is blameless of any indiscretion. Jean has a huge ego and consciously seeks approval. When his subconscious impulses act contrary to his ego, he can’t explain his irrational act.]

At his trial he claims the blow with the Indian club was accidental (it slipped from his hand), but medical evidence refuted that as the blow needed to be forceful for the injuries sustained. He would have received the death penalty or life imprisonment except the prosecution could establish no motive for the killing. So Jean was sentenced to six years imprisonment.

In the June newsletter, I said that Somerset Maugham, the author, had included a gem (of revelation) to be discovered deep down in this story. It is in these words spoken by convict Jean:

“In the end I was sentenced to six years. I don’t regret what I did, for from that day, all the time I was in prison, awaiting my trial and since, while I’ve been here, I’ve ceased to worry about Riri. If I believed in ghosts I’d be inclined to say that Marie-Louise’s death has laid Riri’s. Anyhow, my conscience is at rest, and after all the torture I suffered I can assure you that everything I’ve gone through since is worth it: I feel I can now look the world in the face again.”

Jean considers that Riri is now at rest as he has been avenged by the killing of Marie-Louise – I did it for Riri.

When I attempt to figure out what makes Jean tick, I first think of his need to be guilt- free, to be blameless, to have a clear conscience.

Jean is obsessed with how he appears to the world, Thus, even when he loathes Marie-Louise, he does everything he can to treat her well, not for Marie-Louise’s sake, but to give the world the impression that he is a loving husband.

He doesn’t consider himself a murderer, more a noble avenger. Riri’s death was haunting him until Jean did the one thing that would release him, and that was to kill Marie-Louise whom he held responsible for Riri’s death. No, he himself wasn’t responsible in his own mind, because that would have defeated his aim to be a guiltless, honorable man acceptable to the world.

Indeed, he says to Maugham:

“A great many people thought at the time that I was the victim of a grave miscarriage of justice; the director of my firm is convinced that I was unjustly condemned; and I may get a reduction in my sentence.”

Why did Jean fall in love with Marie-Louise? Well, in my opinion he didn’t – he fell in love with Riri and Marie-Louise. In fact, he already loved Riri as a companion, and when together he saw what he liked in the lively entertaining Riri reflected in the more demure Marie-Louise. Split apart, Riri was entertaining and Marie-Louise dull and boring in Jean’s mind. Or, then again, perhaps he just desired Marie-Louise because Riri did.

 Maugham wrote that he thought the above story as told by Jean was hard to believe, but I found a strikingly similar one on the internet news on 5 July, just a few days ago:

A Queensland man who hit his sleeping wife on the head with a baseball bat will be sentenced after a jury found him not guilty of attempted murder, but guilty of a lesser charge.

Glen Douglas Cobb, 53, told police he “exploded” in November 2014 and was saddened by the collapse of his marriage to wife Michelle.

But in swinging the bat he had “just wanted to give her a lump on the head” rather than crack her skull, he had told detectives.

A trial in Brisbane’s Supreme Court heard Cobb lay down beside her and plunged a knife to the hilt into his leg when he realised the damage he’d done.

The jury on Monday acquitted him of attempted murder after deliberating for just over an hour, however he was convicted of committing a malicious act with intent. He was sentenced to eight years jail on Tuesday and must serve six-and-a-half years behind bars before he is eligible for parole.

 Bob Dalvean on Somerset Maugham

Hi Jim
While I was extracting material from the most recent of your newsletters I lingered over what you had to say about W.S. Maugham. Many years ago I set out to read all of his short stories (then available in several Penguin books) and I found that at the end of each tale I felt as if I’d spent too long in a room whose air had turned musty. Then I read Edmund Wilson’s dismissal of Maugham as a hack and had to agree. A thousand years later I came across Gore Vidal’s evaluation:

[He – Vidal -] was compelled to agree that Maugham’s success was, in effect, in writing for people who did not have a clue about English as a medium for either tragedy or comedy.
But the best summing-up of Maugham (who himself wrote a self-evaluation called The Summing-Up) came from Christopher Hitchens

Someone once wrote that Maugham, despite having flawless manners, only had to enter a room for the temperature seemingly to drop several desgrees. I don’t think anyone liked him very much.
Bob Dalvean


The Eastern Writers Group Newsletter June 2016

Why come to a writing group?

You can find the answer at courses-vs- writers-groups/  in an article by Jessica Au titled Creative Writing Courses vs Writers’ Groups.

An extract from the article

. . . So, in short, the supposed perks of a creative writing subject – the theories  and related set readings – were never a great help to me. What could have  been helpful, on the other hand, was the workshopping aspect. This is because  I do think that outside feedback is crucial. Writers, to put it bluntly, regularly  need to get out of their own heads – we need our blindspots shown to us, we  need, as Bel [Monypenny, editor of Voiceworks] nicely puts it, the blinkers  taken off. But peer reviewing tends to work best for everyone only when a  number of things come together: experience, enthusiasm and commitment.

 Personally, having completed the Professional Writing and Editing Diploma at Box  Hill TAFE, and thoroughly enjoying it (with a reservation on Desktop Publishing  which I found hard going), I think Jessica should have titled her article Creative  Writing Courses plus Writers’ Groups, because I think the two are complementary.

The last subject I did in the Diploma course was Literature for Writers and I deem this  the most valuable as I was forced to read all genres of writing from Homer’s The  Odyssey, through Shakespeare’s The Tempest to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment  and Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. It really opened my mind to different styles of  writing, and dispelled my long held idea that Ernest Hemingway was the ultimate  writer, now realising there is no such thing and that all (good?) writers have their  individual merit if the reader searches for it.    Also have a read of the following website  writers-group- manifesto/ about a group of novelists who follow strict guidelines but  really have the same aim as our more relaxed group.

The Writer’s Group Manifesto  Novelist Katharine Davis explains why there’s power in numbers—and how to make it  work for you.

I joined a writing group in Washington, DC while writing my second and third novels.  “The Group,” as we called ourselves, truly changed my writing life. Having five  readers, all novelists, was a tremendous help. I received page-by- page critiques of my  chapters in progress, what was working and what wasn’t, along with specific  suggestions like: tighten this scene, fix dialogue, add more tension here.  The unexpected benefits of working in a group proved to be many. The writers in the  group asked the kinds of questions that helped me avoid pitfalls that might have  required lengthy revisions had I discovered them later in the process. I learned not only  from having my own work evaluated, but also from observing the others under review.  Learning to critique the groups’ manuscripts led me to read my own work with a more  critical eye.

Go to the website listed above to read more.

On Punctuation

Some of our members are particular about correct punctuation, because it can change  the meaning of words in a sentence. Words plus punctuation marks are needed to communicate the correct meaning in our written language.    In our spoken language, words can often be misinterpreted and the listener will, if in  doubt, query the speaker to clarify the meaning. However, misinterpretations in the  spoken word frequently go undetected with the result that the intended communication  has an effect other than that intended.

On the other hand, some of us may not be particular with punctuation at draft stage, preferring to concentrate on the story and its readability, while bringing to attention any possible grammatical and structural errors, such as an unintended change in tense or point of view. It is left to the writer who is presenting their work to specify whether or  not punctuation errors are important to them at this stage of the writing process.

I would caution though against any unpublished author sending a manuscript to a publisher without the punctuation having been checked. Some publishers may look for a satisfactory story and ignore the standard of grammar and punctuation, but others may well read the first paragraph and think,”No idea of punctuation; they can’t be bothered  to punctuate correctly so I can’t be bothered to read it.”

That said, I have found in the judging of the Biggest Little Short Story Competitions our group has conducted in the past, that the standard of punctuation has been good, as to in the entries in the Slippery When Wet competitions of David Larkin’s Australian  Roadside Services. Obviously writers are well aware that whether in a competition or  the battle to get their book accepted for publication, that every little bit counts and  nothing should be left to chance.    This angst by some with punctuation goes back a long way, and Anton Chekhov wrote a  short story in 1885 to get a laugh out of it.   (A Man of Ideas by Anton Checkhov (1885), extract from Chekhov, The Early Stories  1883-88, translated by Patrick Miles and Harvey Pitcher, Abacus 1984, ISBN 0-349-  12328-4 ).

Prison superintendant Yashkin and local school headmaster Pimfoff are sitting at a table  under a lime tree, drinking to relieve their suffering in the intense heat of the day.  “Dammit,” Yashkin exclaims suddenly and so unexpectedly that a dog dozing  by the table gives a start and runs off with its tail between its legs. “Dammit! I  don’t care what you say, Fillip Maksimych, there are far too any punctuation  marks in Russian!”

“How do you make that out, old man?” Pimfoff asks timidly, extracting the  wing of a fly from his glass. “There may be a large number, but each has its  rightful place and purpose.”

“Oh, come off it now! Don’t kid me your punctuation marks serve any  purpose. It’s just a lot of showing off . . . A chap puts a dozen commas in one  line and thinks he’s a genius. Take old Kastratoff, the deputy prosecutor – he  puts a comma after every word. What on earth for? Dear Sir, comma, while  visiting the prison on such and such date, comma, I observed, comma, that the  prisoners, comma . . . ugh, it gives you spots before the eyes! And it’s just the  same in books . . . Colons, semi-colons, ordinary commas, inverted commas –  it’s enough to make you sick And some smart alec isn’t satisfied with one full  stop, he has to go and stick in a whole row of them . . . Why, I ask you, why?”

“It’s what the experts demand,” sighs Pimfoff.

“Experts? Charlatans, more likely. They only do it to show off, to pull the  wool over people’s eyes.”

At this point the discussion shifts to spelling.    You can find the text of many of Chekhov’s works at  but not A Man of Ideas. I have searched for the text on the internet without success.    Do you read deep enough?

During the early 1960s, I was reading mainly Ernest Hemingway, but did purchase a Penguin paperback of Somerset Maugham’s short stories. I found his style rather ponderous and he did not find favour in my young mind. Some fifty years later, my son gave me the fourth (and final) volume of Somerset Maugham’s Collected Short  Stories (published by Vintage) and I found the stories better reading this time round,  although still of ponderous structure.    To me, Maugham includes far too much scene setting and what could be regarded as  extraneous detail. A typical structure of his is to begin a story by describing an exotic  location, with lengthy description of its beauty and vegetation and the rivers, beaches  and mountains, then to detail the circumstances by which he has come to be in this  location. Predictably, he will meet some fascinating character, usually a male and often  a planter or government or company official, who offers him accommodation, details in  which the reader is then immersed and which has little to do with the real story.

The  storyteller will disclose to Maugham a story which Maugham will again labour to explain may be regarded as almost inconceivable by most readers, The story is then related, with Maugham keeping the dialogue going with comments and questions to  draw the speaker out.    But do we need all this detail which suffocates the story, such as in one story someone  seeing an oleander tree which the character had never seen before. Nothing to do with  the story other than to emphasise he was in a different land with a warmer climate.

However, amongst all this packaging, like the polystyrene shells that rattle around in an oversized cardboard delivery carton, if one digs deep enough one can uncover the truly worthwhile gems on human nature.    I don’t know if one can always express the conflicts of human nature with psychology,  but I was intrigued in Somerset’s A Man with a Conscience as to how the protaganist  acted contrary to the logical decision he had made over who was to blame for his  friend’s death. A real conumdrum to be puzzled over, I thought. I dug deep into the  polystyrene and came up with the gem of a realisation that I will hold over to next  month while you have a read of the story and ponder on why he acts irrationally.

Maugham writes early in this story:    My object here is to tell a story. As I am well aware, one can never know  everything there is to be known about human nature. One can be sure only of  one thing, and that is that it will never cease to have a surprise in store for  you.

Go to to read the story online (you have to turn the  pages by clicking the next page number at the bottom of the text.)  An option with larger text but short lines is at  with-a- conscience-by- w-somerset- maugham-401613#/page/1  There is a great review of Somerset Maugham’s Collected Short Stories Vol 4 at

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter April 2016

By James Vanselow

Cost of books

We are well aware that many of the books we buy are printed in Asian countries far cheaper than they could be in Australia. Apparently Australian publishers have till now been partly protected by import restrictions but the government is aiming at having these lifted to reduce the price of books.

An article titled Authors throw the book at it written by Blanche Clark appeared on Page 11 of Herald Sun Tuesday, May 3, 2016.

[I cannot find the full text online to copy, so here is my summary:]

A report by the Australian Government Productivity Commission found Australian booksellers could buy many titles from overseas publishers cheaper than from local publishers and that import restrictions should be lifted by the end of 2017.

However, authors and publishers say this threatens the Australian $2 billion book industry.

The Australian Society of Authors had this to say:

“The Australian book industry publishes more than 7000 titles every year, generating $2 billion in revenue, investing $120 million in Australian books and their promotion, employing 20,000 Australians across the industry.

For most people it’s important to them to have a voice for Australian culture, particularly kids. They want their kidsreading about wombats not Paddington Bear.”

Editor’s Note: Seems like our government is willing to send our publishing and printing industries the same way as our car manufacturers – cheaper product for consumers at the expense of Australian jobs.

While searching the internet for the above article, I found the following which I think is well worth a read by the novelists in our group.

How to write a novel: Authors share advice and tips

February 5, 2016 10:00pm

Blanche ClarkBooks editorHerald Sun

 Putting your adjectives in order (repeated from April 2015)

I did not do very well on the following puzzle when I tried it in 2015, so it is not to be unexpected when writers who do not have English as their first language occasionally make mistakes. I doubt any of us could recite the formal order of adjectives and most of us rely on our “ear” to put the more normal two or three adjectives used in correct order. It’s a far harder task with eight.

Here is a word puzzle for you inspired by chapter 8 of Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence:

Place the following adjectives in order, between the indefinite object (a) and the noun (knife).

rectangular silver lovely old whittling little French green (knife)

Have a go if you haven’t already, then check Forsyth’s answer toward the end of this newsletter.

To learn more, go to the Cambridge Dictionary website:

 Mysterious workings of the brain

Last week I came across a word I thought I had never encountered before and checked it in the dictionary. The following day I came across it again in another book – spooky I thought and got both examples together side by side to make sure it wasn’t a case of déjà vu. I mentioned it to my son, Mark, who said it was a case of Baader-Meinhof Complex featured in a 2008 German movie of that name.

I sourced the following from

There’s a Name for That: The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

Your friend told you about that obscure bluegrass-electro-punk band yesterday morning. That afternoon, you ran across one of their albums at a garage sale. Wait a minute — that’s them in that Doritos commercial, too! Coincidence … or conspiracy? More likely, you’re experiencing “frequency illusion,” somewhat better known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.

Stanford linguistics professor Arnold Zwicky coined the former term in 2006 to describe the syndrome in which a concept or thing you just found out about suddenly seems to crop up everywhere. It’s caused, he wrote, by two psychological processes. The first, selective attention, kicks in when you’re struck by a new word, thing, or idea; after that, you unconsciously keep an eye out for it, and as a result find it surprisingly often. The second process, confirmation bias, reassures you that each sighting is further proof of your impression that the thing has gained overnight omnipresence.

The considerably catchier sobriquet Baader-Meinhof phenomenon was invented in 1994 by a commenter on the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ online discussion board, who came up with it after hearing the name of the ultra-left-wing German terrorist group twice in 24 hours. The phrase became a meme on the newspaper’s boards, where it still pops up regularly, and has since spread to the wider Internet. It even has its own Facebook page. Got all that? Don’t worry. You’ll hear about it again soon.

Ed: I have forgotten what the word is that started all this, but if Baader-Meinhof really works, I should not have too long to wait for it to pop up again.

Answer to Forsyth’s puzzle

The correct order of adjectives is: opinion size age shape colour origin material purpose Noun.

In the example given: a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife.

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter February 2016

Edited by James Vanselow

We seem to have a tradition in Australia for getting lost in the bush – only today the Sunday Herald Sun, 14 February 2016, page 18, carries a story of a Belgian tourist, Veronique Biunkens, lost for five days north of Buchan in Eastern Gippsland. She became lost when the track became overgrown and she pushed on until she lost her sense of direction amongst the tall trees.

Why she pushed on when the track petered out (became overgrown) instead of turning back is something to ponder on. I guess one answer is that when one sets out on a journey that there is an overwhelming sense of determination to complete it. Fortunately for Veronique, she quickly recognised she was lost, found running water and built a shelter to await rescue.

My favourite Australian “lost” movies are:

The Earthling starring William Holden and Rick Schroder; and

Walkabout starring Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg (credited as Lucien John) and David Gulpilil.

So who is Donald Barthelme?

I have found in commenting on the readings of members of our group that I often mention author Donald Barthelme, especially if the writing has a “bent” to it. I have two volumes of his short stories: Sixty Stories and Forty Stories (no story appears in both volumes). To me, he takes a normal situation and applies an abnormal/skewed plot, or he takes an abnormal situation and treats it as being normal. Either treatment leaves me with the feeling that I have read “on the weird side”.

For a more academic commentary on his writing, I turned to Wikipedia:

Donald Barthelme (1931-1989)

Extract from Wikipedia

Style and legacy[

Barthelme’s short stories are often exceptionally compact (a form sometimes called “short-short story”, “flash fiction“, or “sudden fiction”), often focusing only on incident rather than complete narratives. (He did, however, write some longer stories with more traditional narrative arcs.) At first, these stories contained short epiphanic moments. Later in his career, the stories were not consciously philosophical or symbolic. His fiction had its admirers and detractors, being hailed as profoundly disciplined or derided as meaningless and academic postmodernism. Barthelme’s thoughts and work were largely the result of 20th-century angst as he read extensively, for example in Pascal, Husserl, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Ionesco, Beckett, Sartre, and Camus.

Barthelme’s stories typically avoid traditional plot structures, relying instead on a steady accumulation of seemingly-unrelated detail. By subverting the reader’s expectations through constant non-sequiturs, Barthelme creates a hopelessly fragmented verbal collage reminiscent of such modernist works as T. S. Eliot‘s The Waste Land and James Joyce‘s Ulysses, whose linguistic experiments he often challenged. However, Barthelme’s fundamental skepticism and irony distanced him from the modernists’ belief in the power of art to reconstruct society, leading most critics to class him as a postmodernist writer.

Literary critics have noted that Barthelme, like the French poet Stéphane Mallarmé, whom he admired, plays with the meanings of words, relying on poetic intuition to spark new connections of ideas buried in the expressions and conventional responses. The critic George Wicks called Barthelme “the leading American practitioner of surrealism today…whose fiction continues the investigations of consciousness and experiments in expression that began with Dada and surrealism a half century ago”. Another critic, Jacob Appel, described him as “the most influential unread author in United States history”. Barthelme has been described in many other ways, such as in an article in Harper’s where Josephine Henden classified him as an angry sado-masochist.

[Ed] Ah! I liked that “the most influential unread author in United States history”. Both volumes of his short stories obtained by me from Merchant of Fairness booksellers in Balwyn are first editions, but they have been later published in Penguin Classics (paperback) so you should be able to purchase them online.

A cheaper way (free) to read some of his stories, however, is to access them online at

Jessamyn West (librarian, writer, technologist, justice of the peace, moss enthusiast) writes:

I got permission from Frederick Barthelme to reprint these stories. His email address is findable online. He was very nice. I have heard you may need to contact Nick Wylie Agency of New York for for-profit uses of DBs works.
Bob Dalvean had this to say in an email to me:

Thanks for the Barthelme stuff. I used to bore people in the early 70s telling them how wonderful he was, and that was before I knew how to pronounce his name (It’s Bar-THEL-mee). I’d forgotten about him and now I’m glad you’ve resurrected him in my memory.


Hi Jim

In your last newsletter, you spoke of archetypal plots. At first I read it in a hospital, where the combination of trauma and drugs had turned my brain to mashed potato. I couldn’t understand a word and wondered why you’d written the whole thing in Sanskrit. I’m at home now and controlling my own drugging, so I’ve dragged out a massive book I bought ten years ago, It’s called The Seven Basic Plots, by Christopher Booker.

What I like about this book is that the author doesn’t distinguish between “high” and “low” literature. For his purposes The Simpsons and Hamlet inhabit the same universe: they’re both stories and they both have plots. I’ve found a summary PDF, which is attached. You might be able to to find the book itself it in a library

(you’ll need a forklift to lift it). Google might be able to find a PDF version of the whole book.

Here is a summary of the book in PDF form (readable on most computers using any PDF reader such as the one downloadable from



Eastern Writers Group Newsletter January 2016

Edited by James Vanselow

Recently I meantioned EWG member Gwayne’s poem Aftermath [author: G. M. Naug] was written soon after the Partition of India. During the Christmas holidays an excellent mini-series titled Indian Summers was shown on TV, all on the same day. To see the show as a continuous presentation (like a long movie) rather than broken into weekly segments made the weaving of the plots and characters easier to follow. That I watched 10 episodes over four-plus hours sitting indicates how enthralling it was to me. Those of you who watch The Indian Doctor, a TV series set in Wales in the 1960s, will recognise the actor playing the political leader of the Untouchables caste.

I found it interesting in Indian Summers that Gandhi, while wanting to help the 80 million Untouchables, did not want them to have their own seats in the new Congress being formed. I gathered that he wanted their votes to go to his party to ensure it won a majority of seats. There is more than just a sniff of political conniving at the close of this mini-series, which I found enlightening as well as enjoyable.

Details can be found at

An excellent coverage of The Partition of India can be found at

On plots and human nature

It was good to meet up with Edith and Patricia at our Christmas do, and in conversation with them somehow we got onto The Lord of the Flies. I will confess I have not read the book, but have seen the movie. Plotwise, take a bunch of kids, dump them on a deserted island and see how they survive, That survival requires acting as a group, and that group of course requires a leader. But what happens when you have two people wanting to lead? You have a split. Sounds like our political parties.

While on the surface it seems like a story of survival, deeper down is the theme of regression of human behaviour once the controlling power of law and order is removed.

I was moved to comment that this was not the type of story that could be defined as a “quest”. To me, a quest needs a goal, and that goal can be varied. Consider the quest for revenge of Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, the quest for treasure in King Solomon’s Mines and Treasure Island, and the quest for redemption of the knight Ivanhoe who left his post while guarding the royal standard.

It is perhaps useful to have a read of The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers. Excerpt from

says this is a popular screenwriting textbook by writer Christopher Vogler, focusing on the theory that most stories can be boiled down to a series of narrative structures and character archetypes, described through mythological allegory.

To whet your appetite to find out more, this is part of the contents:

Stages of the Journey

The second part describes the twelve stages of the Hero’s journey. The stages are:

  1. The Ordinary World– the hero is seen in his/her everyday life
  2. The Call to Adventure– the initiating incident of the story
  3. Refusal of the Call– the hero experiences some hesitation to answer the call
  4. Meeting with the Mentor- the hero gains the supplies, knowledge, and confidence needed to commence the adventure
  5. Crossing the First Threshold– the hero commits wholeheartedly to the adventure
  6. Tests, Allies and Enemies– the hero explores the special world, faces trial, and makes friends and enemies
  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave- the hero nears the center of the story and the special world
  8. The Ordeal– the hero faces the greatest challenge yet and experiences death and rebirth
  9. Reward– the hero experiences the consequences of surviving death
  10. The Road Back– the hero returns to the ordinary world or continues to an ultimate destination
  11. The Resurrection– the hero experiences a final moment of death and rebirth so they are pure when they reenter the ordinary world
  12. Return with the Elixir– the hero returns with something to improve the ordinary world

While these stages may seem more appropriate to a knight rescuing a fair damsel from the lair of a fire-breathing  dragon, many of these stages can be applied to Graham Greene’s Travels with my Aunt, although the protagonist definitely omits stages 11 and 12. Perhaps closer to the hero mark would be Allan Quatermain in King Solomon’s Mines.

Each culture has a tradition of storytelling, although some are very similar, and I think it is well to be aware of the stages in a book’s plot. They may not fulfill all twelve stages listed, nor in the precise terms: No.8, death and rebirth, need not be actual, but could be represented by imprisonment followed by freedom.

Use a bit of imagination in applying the stages and you will see how they relate to particular stories. Captain Ahab, for example, reaches No. 7 when The Pequod sights Moby Dick, but his journey finishes without experiencing rebirth (No.8).

It would be a dull world of books if they all conformed with the 12 stages listed.

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter December 2015

Edited by James Vanselow

On plots and human nature

A few weeks ago I watched on TV a 1960s western titled The Plundererss and became aware of many similarities in plot and theme with The Incident, (1967) starring Martin Sheen (Charlie’s father) Tony Musante as two hooligans.

Briefly, in The Plunderers, four young cowboys take over an isolated town populated by mainly elderly people. In The Incident, two young hooligans terrify the vulnerable occupants of a train carriage. In both cases, no one will stand up to them until a crisis point is reached.

I wondered why the reluctance for the numerous weak to band together against the few strong existed. OK, so people don’t want to get hurt, nor do they want to get involved, but what makes us this way? Why is it embedded in our culture?

On Thursday’s news there was a report of a burglar being found dead after a neighbour responded to screams from a neighbour. Baring any proven deliberate killing, I would give the neighbour a Good Samaritan award. However, in reality in our justice system, the well-intended guy faces the possibility of criminal charges.

But deeper down than the fear of unforeseen legal consequences if one intervenes, is our Judeo-Christian culture of tolerance: somewhere in the Bible we are taught “when smitten on one cheek, then turn the other”. I have always thought this piece of advice unwise, preferring “run like hell, scream, and shout for help”. (I have read that shouting “Fire!” brings more response.)

Extend this built-in do nothing, don’t get involved pacifity to a world political level, and it becomes easy to see how Hitler got so far with his invasions before Britain and France declared war on Germany. Other countries (but not all) stood back and said “it is not our fight, we won’t get involved”. Had they banded together immediately with Britain and France, the world war may have been “over by Christmas”, as some had over optimistically predicted.

Those are my thoughts and others may validly differ, but what I am seeking to point out here is the disproportionate power an agressor (individuals or country) can wield against a much greater disorganised group.

As writers, we need to be aware of human behaviour, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Suppository of All Wisdom (review in brief)

140 commonly mangled, mucked up and misunderstood words and expressions

by Andrew Thompson

Cartoons by Andrew Weldon

ISBN: 9781922213808 Hardback 180 x 130 mm Humour $24.99

Published by Affirm Press 2015 South Melbourne

The book’s subtitle aptly describes the contents and joins many other books seeking to clarify English words and expressions with often confused meanings.

Extract (in part) from the book

Jealous versus Envious

Jealous means “resentful that someone has gained something you rightfully deserve”.
Envious means “resentful towards someone else’s advantages, possessions or success, wishing that you had them”.
Examples and Greek origins are also given. Jealousy is more personal and emotional than envy.

  1. He was envious of the man’s wealth and jealous that the man’s girlfriend was his ex-wife.

Ed: I sometimes think that the greatest value in these books on confused English usage lies in knowing what words and expressions are likely to be misinterpreted by a reader or listener – remember, that the meaning you send in your words is not always the meaning received.

I long remember telling one of my bosses that I was “not disinterested” in the problem we were discussing, meaning to convey that I had previously formed an opinion and that I was not unbiased. The stupid fellow went into a rant, telling me, “I hope not, this is a very serious matter.” Obviously he had thought that “disinterested” meant the same as “uninterested”. It does pay to consider the vocabulary level of the person to whom you are talking. Did I correct my boss? Not on your life! He would have resented being lectured on English by an underling and taken it as a criticism of his personal English skills, rather than appreciating the opportunity to improve it.

Glad I don’t work in China though, particularly as a journalist.

Tom Phillips in Beijing – The Guardian – Monday, 7 December 2015 reports:

Four Chinese journalists have been suspended after inadvertently – and incorrectly – announcing the resignation of president Xi Jinping.

A typographical error in the opening sentence of a report about Xi’s recent tour of Africa meant that instead of informing readers about a “speech” (zhi ci) given by China’s commander-in-chief, reporters referred to his resignation (ci zhi).

The story was published on Friday by the official China News Service and subsequently reprinted, before being corrected, by a number of leading websites.

Among those reportedly punished for the gaffe was Song Fangcan, the news agency’s bureau chief in South Africa, where Xi had been speaking at the end of a five-day visit to the continent.

Ed: I wonder what the punishment was.

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter October 2015

Edited by James Vanselow

Our next meeting begins at 2pm on Sunday 18th October.

Readings, September 2015

Les Sullivan brought along his copy of the Spring 2015 edition of Wings, the official magazine of the RAAF Association, so that we could view the published result of his article On the Set of the Battle of Britain, retitled Battle of Britain – The Movie, which he read at our August meeting. I am delighted that this magazine is available on the Internet and that Les’s artilcle can be found on page 18 at

Also of great interest is an article on navigation by the stars, titled Southern Cross ­– Crux on page 22, by Lance Halvorson (editor of Wings) – with thanks to the Astronomical Society.

My comment to Les, on first viewing the magazine, was how impressive the production and layout were. Although the focus is obviously on the RAAF, Wings includes articles on civilian aircraft (page 23, TAA Jet-Age Fleet) and a general interest article on computer security (page 26, Keep Your Computer Secure).

On a personal note, I found mentions of Catalina flying boats of interest, having worked with an ex-crew member who was based at Magnetic Island during World War II, and of 77 Squadron Gloster Meteors in the Korean war, a 16mm movie of which was shown to the students at Box Hill High School around 1956 when I was there. Articles, which excite our personal memories, are most rewarding.

Believe it or Not

In the September newsletter, I questioned the validity of scientific theories which I felt had been too readily accepted by the ordinary public. My intention in doing so was to demonstrate just how readily readers will accept the written word as, if not entirely factual, at least as reasonably possible.

Part of what I wrote then is:

The human mind is highly inquisitive, as well as receptive to what we are told is fact, and these traits can be used to make your writing compulsive reading, a real page-turner, by posing a mystery to be solved and feeding the reader’s mind with sufficient facts for them to believe they may just be able to find the solution.


For my part, I am a confirmed sceptic who is not wholly convinced that even Newton’s Law of Gravity is any more than a theory. An enduring theory explaining gravity that I first read in the 1950s in a science fiction book, and reread recently, is that the Earth, the universe and the galaxies, are all expanding at an accelerating rate of 32 feet/per second/per second, the same rate as we can measure an object dropping in a vacuum. For Newton to say, in the simplest form, that bodies attract each other just doesn’t cut it for me ­– I want to know why.

Bob Dalvean got back to me with this:

Hi Jim

I’ve only just got round to reading your latest newsletter.

You say, “For Newton to say, in the simplest form, that bodies attract each other just doesn’t cut it for me – I want to know why.”

But that’s more a philosophical question than a scientific one. What Newton said was that any two bodies will attract each other with a force equal to to the product of their masses divided by the square of the distance between them. Nobody knows “why”, even though the author of the following piece (below) uses that word in his explanation.

The frequent objection that some set of observed regularities is “only a theory” confuses the ordinary use of that word with the scientific one.

From The American Museum of Natural history

What is a Theory?

In everyday use, the word “theory” often means an untested hunch, or a guess without supporting evidence. But for scientists, a theory has nearly the opposite meaning. A theory is a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses and facts. The theory of gravitation, for instance, explains why apples fall from trees and astronauts float in space. Similarly, the theory of evolution explains why so many plants and animals–some very similar and some very different–exist on Earth now and in the past, as revealed by the fossil record

A theory not only explains known facts; it also allows scientists to make predictions of what they should observe if a theory is true. Scientific theories are testable. New evidence should be compatible with a theory. If it isn’t, the theory is refined or rejected. The longer the central elements of a theory hold–the more observations it predicts, the more tests it passes, the more facts it explains–the stronger the theory.

Many advances in science–the development of genetics after Darwin’s death, for example–have greatly enhanced evolutionary thinking. Yet even with these new advances, the theory of evolution still persists today, much as Darwin first described it, and is universally accepted by scientists.

Thanks, Bob, I much appreciate your presenting a more scientific view. However, I remain a Professor Julius Sumner Miller fan from his old TV series with the catch phrase “Why Is It So?”

Some humans in ancient times, equally intelligent as us, once thought the world was flat, and developed the belief (theory) that the Earth must be carried on the back of a giant turtle swimming in space. That answered the questions of what held the world up and why it moved around the Sun. Of course, advancements in astromony have conclusively proven otherwise now – until of course the Hubble Telescope reports on the sighting of Space Turtles.

But why are we so ready to believe?

In the Now You See Me movie, one of four magicians explains that people want to believe in and be excited by magic because they are bored.

I expect the same bored people would get excited by this report in Herald Sun, page 17,Monday 21, 2015.

Black Holes a Time Bomb

Astronomers have discovered two huge black holes are on course to collide, causing a blast capable of destroying an entire galaxy – thankfully not ours.

Researchers, using data from NASA’s Galaxy Revolution Explorer and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, have found two black holes so close to each other they are considered to be the” tightest orbiting pair” detected so far. The distance between them has been estimated at about one million light years. Black hole mergers are the most violent events in the universe.

So, all we have to do is to wait one million light years, plus the time for the light emitted by this forecast event to reach planet Earth, for validity to be added to the Black Hole theory credited to Stephen Hawking.

Meanwhile, keep on with your writing and remember not everything has to be factual to be published – read Stephen King if you have any doubt.

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter September 2015

Edited by James Vanselow

Some musings on what we believe

When packing up after our last meeting, a member said to me, “I can’t believe just how credible people are, how willing they are to believe.” In the following paragraphs, I consider some aspects of human belief.

EWG member Chris Browne writes fantasy, horror and science fiction, all the exciting stuff we logic bound writers normally leave to others. Chris’s story was very well received by our group, which perhaps shows that our minds can, when required, be tuned into the “paranormal”.

Do you believe in vampires or werewolves? After reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was around 10 years old, I used to lie in bed waiting to go to sleep, thinking, “I mustn’t invite him in,” over and over again. My one defence against a vampire was that they couldn’t enter a house without first being asked to. Real enough to me then, but it took me years to get over what I now regard as nonsense (Or is it? Can I be really sure?) This sort of stuff gets down into your subconscience where it lurks waiting to be aroused by stories such as Chris writes.

So what happens when someone with a genius-level IQ, such as Stephen Hawking, puts forward a theory regarding black holes in space, supposedly caused by gravity so strong that not even light particles could escape. OK, it’s only an unproven theory, but most people like something new to keep them entertained or to occupy their mental processes, so many accept theories from learned notables such as Hawking, Einstein and Newton as being scientific truth rather than correctly as theories not completely substantiated.

Stephen Hawking’s original theory has since been modified. Go to

An extract from which is

“There is no escape from a black hole in classical theory,” Hawking told Nature. Quantum theory, however, “enables energy and information to escape from a black hole”. A full explanation of the process, the physicist admits, would require a theory that successfully merges gravity with the other fundamental forces of nature. But that is a goal that has eluded physicists for nearly a century. “The correct treatment,” Hawking says, “remains a mystery.”

Likewise, most people seem to accept Einstein’s theories of general relativity as fact rather than unproven propositions. On a TV documentary, I saw that a team of scientists had spent the last ten years manufacturing a metal sphere the size of a golf ball with a surface so exact that it could be used in an attempt to prove one of Einstein’s theories. On the same TV documentary, viewers were given a look at a silo-like machine that split protons into three parts. When the presenter asked the scientist what this ability could be used for, the reply was “Nothing that we know of, but it’s good to know we can do it if we want to.”

So what has all this scientific stuff got to do with writing? I think it illustrates just how highly inquisitive the human mind is and the ever-expanding boundaries of the search for knowledge. Moreover, we seem to be willing to believe some theories as being fact, revealing a human trait to believe “authority” figures such as eminent scientists, and at a much lower level to believe in newspaper writers and celebrities. Book authors on TV interview shows seem to gain “authority” in their opinions on every imaginable subject, from politics to economics, from global warming to religion. Viewers seem willing to accept their opinions as valid just because they wrote a few books.

For my part, I am a confirmed sceptic who is not wholly convinced that even Newton’s Law of Gravity is any more than a theory. An enduring theory explaining gravity that I first read in the 1950s in a science fiction book, and reread recently, is that the Earth, the universe and the galaxies, are all expanding at an accelerating rate of 32 feet/per second/per second, the same rate as we can measure an object dropping in a vacuum. For Newton to say, in the simplest form, that bodies attract each other just doesn’t cut it for me ­– I want to know why.

I said the human mind is highly inquisitive, as well as receptive to what we are told is fact, and these traits can be used to make your writing compulsive reading, a real page-turner, by posing a mystery to be solved and feeding the reader’s mind with sufficient facts for them to believe they may just be able to find the solution.

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter August 2015

Edited by James Vanselow

When does a problem become an issue?

My Concise Oxford Dictionary (8th ed. 1990) defines “problem” at the first level as a doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution, while, in the closest context, an “issue” can be (level 3) a point in question; an important subject of debate or litigation.

So while a leaking tap, or even a blocked sewer, is only a problem, a dispute over a fence could be an issue requiring debate (negotiation) or litigation.

But that was back in 1990, and in the year 2015 the word “problem” has all but dropped out of our English language. No longer do customer service staff cheerily say: “Not a problem,” while the computer screen tells me I have an “issue” with accessing a website. Therein I think I may have ascertained a change in English usage attributable to Microsoft. Bah, humbug! I refuse to turn this problem into an issue by issuing legal proceedings against Microsoft to abide by dictionary definitions.

A resurrected idiom

In the Herald Sun, Thursday, August 6, 2015 on page 7

There is an article headed “Retail mecca at airport” informing of a new shopping precint to be included in the new T4 terminal to be built at Melbourne Airport.

The idiomatic usage of the word “mecca” with the meaning of a place that people should visit if at all possible.

My Concise Oxford Dictionary has:

Mecca (noun) 1. A place one aspires to visit. 2. The birthplace of a faith, policy, pursut, etc. (Mecca inArabia, birthplace of Muhammad and chief place of Muslim pilgrimage)

If one is a keen golfer, your mecca may be St Andrews in Scotland, or for a tennis player Wimbledon, a cricketer Lord’s, or an Elvis fan Memphis. I suspect that the near demise in the media of this idiomatic expression is the result of cultural sensitivities.

Wouldn’t you know it? A few hours after I wrote the above I was reading the Business pages of Saturday’s Herald Sun and came upon the following under the heading “Packer’s Asian play takes earnings hit”:

Sagging visitor numbers in the Asian gambling mecca of Macau are taking a toll on Melco Crown’s bottom line . . .

It would probably be particularly offensive to Muslims, who regard gambling as a sin, to have their holiest city associated in the same sentence with Macau, where gambling makes up 50% of the economy.

Putting your words in order

In May I dealt with the order of adjectives, inspired by chapter 8 of Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence, giving the correct order as: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose, followed by the Noun.

Forsyth further writes in Chapter 8:

There are other rules that everybody obeys without noticing. Have you ever heard that patter-pitter of tiny feet? Or the dong-ding of a bell? Or hop-hip music? That’s because, when you repeat a word with a different vowel, the order is always I A O Bish bash bosh.  So politicians may flip-flop, but they can never flop-flip. It’s tit-for-tat, never tat-for-tit. This called ablaut reduplication, and if you do things any other way, they sound very, very odd indeed.

[Extract from The Elements of Eloquence, Mark Forsyth, Icon Books,

ISBN 978 1848 31621 8]

Dennis Jones and Associates

Assist authors (like our Gwayne and Clive) to self-publish their books. Check them out at

Phone: 61 3 9762 9100. Fax: 61 3 9762 9200.

Mailing Address: Unit 1/10 Melrich Road Bayswater Victoria 3153

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter June 2015

Edited by James Vanselow

Swimming Home
Born in 1911, American John Cheever began writing after being discharged from the army after World War II. To me, his stories have always seemed to have the aura of an arlier era, that of the 1930s with rich and not-so-rich socialites living on country estates or New York apartments. Whether or not Cheever intended this or not is for the reader to decide; writers often write out of the era in which they live.

One of my favourite short stories of Cheever’s is The Swimmer, just twelve pages long, and was made into a movie starring Burt Lancaster. This is one of his later stories, so it was possibly written in the 1970s. The screen rewrite, to me, is absolutely brilliant: it contains all of the swimming pool segments, some expanded to make them truly

meaningful, plus the addition of an episode with a teenage girl not in the original story.

I don’t think I will spoil the story or the movie for you by writing about it here; rather, you probably will benefit from knowing a little.

The story is written in the third person, but you only get to know what the main character knows. The main character, one of the younger rich socialites living on a country estate, decides to swim home (8 miles away) from a party through a chain of neighboring swimming pools. He begins mid-summer, but as the story progresses it turns to autumn, and it may be the autumn of another year. He swims the Levys’ pool and shelters in their gazebo during a thunderstorm. When he continues, he finds the next swimming pool, the Welchers’ has been drained (unheard of in summer) and the house is for sale (something he would have expected to know about.

Cheever then positions what I assume is a “time break” part way through this journey home story, but I wonder if the slide in time should have been earlier, immediately after the Levys’ house, or if Cheever was just being deliberately misleading with the following empty swimming pool and house-for-sale.

Have a read of The Swimmer in the attached file and see what you think. No cheating now by searching the internet for this much analysed story. After reading this story at least four times in the last month, I have just had a startling revelation as to a possible answer. Which, of course, may differ entirely from anyone else’s.

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter May 2015

Edited by James Vanselow

Had a brief debate on comma usage and Judy has supplied the address of an informative website:

I was particularly interested in the section “When comma rules conflict”, because it acknowledges that sometimes there is more than one correct usage.

The author of The Punctuation Guide is Jordan Penn, and although he addresses current American usage he has added a brief section (to me, incomplete) on differences with the British style.

Other punctuation usages are included in this guide, and I like the last of Penn’s 10 Top Tips:

  1. If in doubt, rewrite

The easiest way to solve a vexing punctuation problem is to avoid it. If you aren’t sure how to properly punctuate a sentence—or if the proper punctuation results in a convoluted, confusing, or inelegant sentence—rewrite it. Perhaps as more than one sentence.

How does our group match up with others?


Bob Dalvean made a valuable find at

Please have a close read of this as it would seem to indicate that we are on track at EWG.

One point I would like to elaborate on, is how we respond to a reading. We hope our comments are made tactfully as suggestions for consideration by the writer; they should never develop into a discussion as to whether or not a particular suggestion is good or not. The writer can note them down and make his/her own decision in their own time. There is perhaps at least one exception to this, and it has happened to me, that sometimes it is evident that a commentator has made a mistake in interpreting a piece of writing and that the comment, although well intended, is not a valid one – an error in comprehension of a fact rather than opinion.

The following taken from the website deals with this aspect:

Rule #4

  • Are there any rules for people who are criticizing each other’s work to follow?

This is so important. One nasty writer with a mean streak can destroy a talented beginner, and use his critique time as a way to grind the “competetion” into powder. This is stupid, it sucks, and it’s pointless. There is a better way. Critiques should deal only with the work, should be constructive, and should be short. If one person takes more than ten minutes to discuss a piece of work, that’s a good sign that the meetings are poorly controlled.

Rule #4 Example

Schrodinger’s Rules of Critiquing:

1) Critique the writing, never the writer. Never say, “You are…” or “You should…” Instead say, “The writing is…” or “The story should…”

2) Find what is right in each piece as well as what is wrong.

3) Don’t say, “This is how I would write it;” how you would write it isn’t the point.

4) Remember that subject matter is personal. You don’t have to like a story to give it a fair critique.

5) Remember what your biases are and critique around them.

6) Remember that real people wrote this stuff, and real people have real feelings.”

Things you may not say while critiquing.

“That’s awful.”

“That’s stupid.”

“You couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag.”

Rule #5

  • Are there any rules for people whose work is being criticized to follow?

Again, this is essential. People get very defensive when others are telling them what they did wrong, and their first impulse seems to be to argue. The critique-ee needs to have rules to follow, too, and the first of these needs to be “Shut up and listen.” If people have taken the time to read or listen to what you wrote, take the time to hear what they have to say about it.

Rule #5 Example

Schrodinger’s Rules of Being Critiqued:

1) Listen. The person who is speaking has taken the time to listen to your work, and wants to help you find ways to make it better.

2) Wait until everyone has finished critiquing before making comments.

3) Explain only if necessary. Don’t rebut.

4) Take notes.

5) Realize that everything can be improved.

6) Be willing to make changes. Conversely, don’t change anything you feel must remain in order to make the story yours.

Things you may not say when being critiqued.

“You’re wrong.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries.””

Putting your words in order (repeated from April)

Here is a word puzzle for you inspired by chapter 8 of Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence:

Place the following adjectives in order, between the indefinite object (a) and the noun (knife).

  • rectangular silver lovely old whittling little French green (knife)

Forsyth writes about how difficult it is to put words in English in an odd order (hyperbaton) and uses as an example the strict order of adjectives which we all seem to know how to use but which few of us could list; eg. colour, shape, condition etc. (not their correct order).

Have a go if you haven’t already, then check Forsyth’s answer at the very end of this newsletter.

One rich canary

There has been an increased number of bloopers in the Herald Sun since they decided to cut staff in the last year or so, but I thought this one exceptional. From page 25 (Business) Herald Sun Tuesday May 5, 2015, under the heading Bulla Man a Canny Appointee (quoted in part):

Mr Kelly helped SPC secure a $22 million grant from the previous state government.

The funds will be going towards a $100 million upgrade of a canary (my emphasis) near Shepparton.

Answer to Forsyth’s puzzle

The correct order of adjectives is: opinion size age shape colour origin material purpose Noun.

In the example given: a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife.

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter April 2015

Edited by James Vanselow

As the readings comprise the major part of our meetings, it is worth taking a look at what they achieve. They enable us as writers to get feedback from other writers: what they like and dislike about our works, and to offer helpful (we hope) suggestions for improvement.

It is not surprising that I found similar remarks in a book by Celia Blue Johnson titled Odd Type Writers (Penguin Reference ISBN 978-0-399-15994-7).

In the chapter on Eudora Welty (titled Pin It Down), we are told:

Welty became aware of the importance of revision while reading to an audience. As she stood before a crowd and spoke she often noticed areas in her stories that needed improvement. While discussing her readings at colleges, Welty recalled, “I could see all these weaknesses that had been in there all these years and I didn’t know it.”

These weaknesses frequently involved a simple shift, moving a piece of the story from one place to another. Welty repeatedly found that something in the beginning of a story fit much better at the end.

At times in our group, the author has asked for someone else to read their work aloud, and often the author has found the experience most useful. I recall the first time I attended EWG, and felt too nervous to read my short story “Screaming is a Health Hazard” [available on this site: ed] and asked then-president Joy Dettman if she would read for me. Early in the reading by Joy, I felt one part of a sentence was really awkward and needed revision.

Silly me for not noting down the words, because when I got home I read my story over and over again and could not detect the offending words. Perhaps it sounded so wrong to me when Joy read it because of her phrasing and stress on words being different to mine, but it is a useful example

The chapter on John Steinbeck in Odd Type Writers, Sound Writing, tells us how he was focussed on the sound of words rather than written words on a page. The young Steinbeck read his writing to a neighbour, and later in life used a Dictaphone:

“You can you can hear the most terrible things you have done if you hear it clear back on tape,” Steinbeck explained. The recordings lifted his words right off the page. Steinbeck had tried reading his words aloud, but it didn’t offer the necessary distance.. “Then,” he noted, “my eyes are involved.”

Putting your words in order

Here is a word puzzle for you inspired by chapter 8 of Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence:

Place the following adjectives in order, between the indefinite object (a) and the noun (knife).

  • rectangular silver lovely old whittling little French green (knife)

Forsyth writes about how difficult it is to put words in English in an odd order (hyperbaton) and uses as an example the strict order of adjectives which we all seem to know how to use but which few of us could list; eg. colour, shape, condition etc. (not their correct order).

See how you go and I will give you Forsythe’s answer next month.

Midnight Express, the book

Billy Hayes, author of  the book on which the movie is based, was in Melbourne in the first days of April, and my youngest son, Mark, bought three signed books from him. The first of course is Midnight Express recounting the author’s tale of his arrest for drug smuggling and his ensuing incarceration in a Turkish prison and his eventual escape after five years. The other two books are Midnight Return: escaping Midnight Express  and The Midnight Express Letters:  from a Turkish prison1970-1975.

These last two books each carry a backcover blurb by Melbourne-based Gregory David Roberts, once known as the gentleman bandit, and author of Shantaram.

I haven’t heard any more about making Shantaram into a movie. It is a few years since Johnny Depp was getting things organised with some location work in Mumbai when something else came up and sent him on another course. Perhaps depicting beatings in an Indian prison may have been unacceptable to the political powers, but that is just a wild guess of mine.

It just goes to show that any author selling movie rights should insist on a sizeable cash upfront payment rather than relying on a percentage of the box office takings. For Billy Hayes to be promoting his books in Melbourne, I wonder just how much (or little) he got out of the Academy Award-winning movie made from his story first published in 1977.

However, my son tells me that Billy Hayes is an actor and performer as well as an author so I guess travelling the globe is part of making a living

Midnight Express is now new edition copyright 2013 by Billy Hayes, ISBN 978-0-9889814-4-7

Midnight Return copyright 2011 and 2013 by Billy Hayes, ISBN  978-0-9889814-5-4

Letters copyright 2013 by Billy Hayes, ISBN  978-0-9889814-3-0

All published by Curly Brains Press, LA. (

I have yet to read these three books, but it would be well worthwhile asking your library to acquire them.

Words, the movie

A movie recently on TV was Words, a simple title which gives little indication to the plot other than one could guess it would be about a writer. While pleasantly enjoyable for those interested in writing, it is never going to make it into any list of best movies, not even the Top 5000 (if such exists).

However the tale did begin very similar to an Ernest Hemingway short story (which I have been told about but never read) about a case containing a manuscript being left on a railway station. The movie is slightly different in this beginning, but it is possible that Hemingway’s story was the inspiration for the movie.

There were a couple of scenes which I found of interest. The first was where a publisher told the young writer that his novel, three years in the writing, was worthy of publication but that people were only buying books by known authors and therefore it was not a commercially viable proposition to publish a book by an unknown author.

The second scene was where the older author says words like, “there is a hair’s breadth between fiction and truth.” He is, of course, talking about his own book which was closely based on his own experiences and I think his comment should be taken in that context. When literary folk talk about truth in fiction, I think they mean “truth” in the fictionalised setting and circumstances; that having accepted the world is under attack by alien monsters (or Killer Tomatoes) that humans will act in a believable way.

Just thinking about it, has there ever been a novel written , or a movie made, about aliens attacking other aliens, with no humans whatsoever involved?

Eastern Writers Group Newsletter March 2015

It does not translate

Many years ago, perhaps after publication of our most recent anthology Images, Bob Dalvean queried the fairytale beginning “Once upon a time” and wondered what “upon” meant in that context. Surely “One time long ago” is the meaning, but the phrase we use is so deeply imbued in our English language that we just accept the words and the implied meaning.

But let’s look at the problems caused by these “accepted meanings” for phrases where the words do not exactly match up.. I was watching the Japanese NPK channel 656 a few nights ago when the Japanese presenter reading in English said “once and again” in a context where it should have been “now and again”.

That got me to thinking once again about the difficulties of translating accurately from one language to another, particularly from Russian to English, or, indeed from any language which has not contributed to the evolution of the English language.

I much admire the work of Constance Garnett in her translation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment which I studied for Literature for Writers at TAFE. In translating from a foreign language with a different alphabet, it is necessary for the translator to interpret the meaning, sense and emotion of the words, then use English words which will create the same effect in the reader’s mind. In Garnett’s version, the impoverished university student Raskolnikov believes he has to move outside the laws of society and beyond accepted morals to achieve a people’s revolution to relieve the oppression of Russia’s poor. So Raskolnikov reasoned that it was acceptable to rob and kill a pawnbroker to obtain funds for his noble scheme; a theme which we call “the end justifies the means”.

Garnett made this reasoning of Raskolnikov’s perfectly clear in her translation, but a more recent translator passed over it in very few words, leaving any reader without an extremely inquiring mind the idea that Raskolnikov was little more than a murderous thief.

In conversation (also years ago) with our Bob Dalvean about Constance Garnett’s translations, he said he thought the dialogue attributed to some of the Russian peasants was “too gentle” by far, to the extent that gruff ruffians seemed to be amusing friendly fellows rather than those you would rather not run into on a dark night in a quiet alley. More coarse language was what Bob wanted, to reflect the character of the speakers.