Word Power–written, spoken & sung

Think of all the words we read, speak and write in a week, a year, a lifetime. What might encapsulate your output, by which people remember you? Politicians know a word, phrase or speech that can fast track their career. Or batter it (as in “things that batter” from Alexander Downer). Remember these?

  • I have a dream…” Revisit Martin Luther King Jnr.’s words in light of recent world events.
  • Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”
  • Julia Gillard’s “misogyny” 
  • Paul Keating’s “the recession we had to have” 
  • “Drain the swamp”…

Do your words speak vision – or derision?

Freedom of speech is much debated at present. It’s allied with freedom of religion, seen through a kaleidoscope. Political perspectives and stances are volatile. We reel from the terrorist attack on tolerant Sweden, which welcomed so many refugees.

What of regimes where words are censored?

Many who enjoy freedom of speech and religion cannot imagine life under repression. Between 1987-1991, hundreds of thousands of Estonians expressed their patriotism in the only way they could – singing. Their Singing Revolution joined with fellow Baltic Republics of Latvia and Lithuania in nonviolent protests that gained their independence from the Soviet regime in 1991. See a documentary and SBS Great Continental Train Journeys: Riga to Tampere. (Where my great-uncle Edvard Back fought in the Civil War, as you can read in Midnight Sun to Southern Cross.)

Edvard Back soldier 2_NH

Finland fought for Independence with war and music

in 1899 (the year my great-uncle fled Finland, pursued by Russians at Suez), Jean Sibelius composed “Finland Awakens” (later renamed “Finlandia”) for a benefit concert to aid journalists repressed by the regime. Growling tremolo and biting brass chords paint in sound the “Great Hate” for Finland’s oppressors that contrast with a plaintive hymn tune. As Finns also expressed patriotism in choral groups, they added vocal lyrics: “Finland, behold, thy daylight now is dawning” and “Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side.”

The Finn Choir sings this at my book launch 23 April, 2–4.30pm

“Midnight Sun to Southern Cross” tells much of Finland’s struggle for Independence, whose centenary is celebrated this year.Midnight Sun front cover

Dr Bill Glasson, AO, who shares similar heritage, will launch the book at St Lucia Uniting Church, Brisbane. A recital of Finnish music will use the organ that my grandfather W.A. Back donated in 1954. Finnish oboist Emily Salonen plays The Swan of Tuonela by Sibelius on cor anglais.
Hear relevant passages from the book and footage of voices from the past.
It’s a free event and all welcome, but do let me know for space and catering.

Finnish pastries!

Afternoon tea will be catered by Finnish chef Bianca Kasurinen, who worked with Jamie Oliver. So please RSVP by reply email, or (61)411782404.

Where to order copies?

Autographed copies are available at the launch, or pre-order copies online.

Cheques can be mailed to PO Box 422, The Gap, Qld 4061 Australia. Or email for direct banking details. Like its predecessor, Burn My Letters, this second book of the saga, Midnight Sun to Southern Cross will be available as eBook (Kobo, Amazon, Book Depository).

So what’s it about?

In the tradition of great family migration stories, Midnight Sun to Southern Crosscontinues the saga of the Back brothers’ flight from Russian-occupied Finland to Australia as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth.

From frozen Finland to the lush rainforests of northern New South Wales, to the dry and dusty sheep country of western Queensland, you follow the highs and lows of their new life under the Southern Cross.

It is an extraordinary tale of success, failure, hard work and dreaming. What drove the wheeler-dealer Wilhelm Anders Back, known as WA, to became in his time Australia’s richest Finn? And what stirred his eccentric writerly elder brother Karl Johan, KJ, pacifist and political dissenter? What sustained those who stayed behind in Finland, as they bravely struggled to oust the Russians from their homeland? This book, and its predecessor, Burn My Letters, are timely in the centenary year of Finnish Independence.Inside Cover F

Ruth Bonetti, WA’s granddaughter, also contrasts his and Karl Johan’s formative years in Finland with her own upbringing in outback Queensland. For her, it is a voyage of discovery and self-discovery as she tells of her extensive search in Finland and Australia for the broad Back family history and weaves the story of her own life from shy bush girl to musician and writer, wife and mother.

Enjoy the Saga!

PS. To attend the launch, bookings (email, Facebook or phone) are essential.

 

Walk Out – Talk In-clusive

The audience of ultimate indignity…someone walked out of your keynote. How to continue, wondering what nerve was hit? What sacred cow did you shoot?

We imagine the worst, take it as a condemnation of our words. But perhaps they went to take an emergency phone call or to the bathroom?

Misread Body language?

If pressured, we may misread signals. As I did, presenting my first American sessions, aware that a co-faculty member sat with bland face–as he processed my words. Yet he came first to shake hands and say “I was intrigued that you said…”

Some do tell it straight…

By posting a blog as did Yassim Abdel-Magied. She protested that acclaimed author Lionel Shriver’s Brisbane Writers Festival keynote address targeted “cultural appropriation, identity politics and political correctness.”

Stay on topic

To their credit, festival organisers quickly mounted a right of reply, saying Shriver “didn’t stay with the agreed brief” of “community and belonging” but reverted to her submitted topic of “fiction and identity politics.” Even a respected author who won awards for We Need to Talk About Kevin should stay on topic. 

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Natural habitat

Writers festivals are my natural habitat. They attract thinking, articulate people, who discuss reactions, smiling as they plod though mud between tents to absorb yet more challenging ideas. Mega thanks, Byron Writers Festival and Jesse Blackadder for the opportunity to launch my book Burn My Letters.

This inspiring festival is unique amongst others in giving space for humble indie authors.

Hear radio interview

A new writers festival

And for Sunshine Coast International Readers and Writers Festival where director Wendy Hanlon launched Burn My Letters in an innovative, inclusive and friendly atmosphere. In it, I give voice to one who was censored, I “step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats” (to quote Shriver) as authors do.FullSizeRender

I’m thrilled with 5-star reviews on Goodreads.

What’s it all about?

Out of town, I missed the BWF keynote furore. But reading the transcript I’m of two minds. I sympathise with those who felt confronted by the speech, but wonder how many silent majority audience agreed. The sort of people Hillary Clinton dismissed as “deplorables” who feel so ridiculed for conservative beliefs, and disenfranchised that they would even consider voting for extreme right politicians.

Some commentators including The Financial Review sided with Shriver.

Bring on the debate – pro and con

Did some nod at her words: “The left’s embrace of gotcha hypersensitivity inevitably invites backlash. Donald Trump appeals to people who have had it up to their eyeballs with being told what they can and cannot say. Pushing back against a mainstream culture of speak-no-evil suppression, they lash out in defiance, and then what they say is pretty appalling.”

Abdel-Magiel has appeared on GotchaLand ABC QandA panels.

But it’s simplistic to dub a walkout as as publicity stunt, not knowing sensitivities that prompted it. We value our country’s freedom of speech that enabled Abdel-Magied her voice. We can always learn from criticism.

But as a wordsmith, I worry that increasingly, words are curtailed, censored, criticised.

Shriver cited recent authors that the left judges for “cultural appropriation.” Do we add the white Harper Lee whose To Kill a Mocking Bird and Uncle Tom’s Cabin that took on American racial prejudices? Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood?

What price words?

The Australian government deems words so cheap that they consider changing laws to cut copyright to a mere 15 years. Or allow parallel importation of books, that would decimate authors’ already meagre incomes.

We need to talk, with open minds, respect and sensitivity. Dialogue, not monologue. Unless we’re the keynote speaker.

 

Find your voice to speak/write

Voices reveal all. Writers wrestle to ‘find their voice’ and that of characters.

Public pressure may cause speakers to lose resonance, even voice.

  • Tension causes tight timbre. (Tip: Hum into your head, so you feel vibration in your crown. Hum while opening your nostrils and nasal passages; and while accessing the front “mask” area of your face. Keep your throat open and posture upright.)
  • Insecurity causes ‘up talk’ or that recent trend, ‘vocal fry‘.
  • Tip: Before presenting, find your natural range with a conversational ‘aha’)

Edit, edit and more edit!

Whether you write for the ear or the eye, prune excess words and redraft. 

But my coming book cries ‘no more culls!’ But how to choose between fascinating stories? Rather than publish a brick doorstop tome, I opted for two books:

  • Burn My LettersTwoCovers
  • Midnight Sun to Southern Cross

Curb – or censor?

My characters expressed their voices in archival letters and recorded interviews. 

These and my research unearthed answers to why refugee Karl Johan Back wrote in 1899 to ‘Burn My Letters!’ Under Russian occupied Finland his words were censored. Letters that were saved from the fire uncover insights into his story–and his unique voice. 

Will you help me crowd fund the final leg of a decade long journey?
This week I launch a crowdfunding campaign to publish my next two books. I’ll post a link when it goes live. I offer rewards in return for pledges from $7 up. Books, of course. Scandinavian goodies like home-baked Finnish gingerbread. 

I’m excited! It’s countdown to campaign lift off. I hope you will come aboard. 

More on my Facebook page.

Enjoy the journey as I have done with its discovery. 

April opportunity – coaching and presentation NZ, Adelaide

As I fly there for other bookings, I can offer presentations and coaching without usual travel costs. Email for available dates. 

Dare to speak–or write–your truth

What is truth? And what if our idea of truth doesn’t foot the accepted line? We risk offending or being rejected but take heart that some will respect us for speaking out, holding true to our beliefs.  

We are blessed to live in a free country. Cherish that. Challenge it.

Advocacy or Activism?

Disturbed by government funding cuts in my particular fields of words and music, I eyeballed a politician and spoke my mind. He took it with grace, as he touted his party line. I supposed that was the end of it.

> Opportunity

A year later he welcomed me onto a policy sub-committee where I could voice such reservations, written and spoken. They were noted and a slant found its way into draft working paper representations. Even the gratifying word “listen.”
Will it make a difference? Who knows. My words may be edited out in the process.

Rather than whine on the fringe, I’m satisfied that my concerns are heard.

What if people misunderstand?

Or misinterpret?
Letters to newspapers are edited, sometimes giving an emphasis not intended. If I list several names as an example of a group, the editor may choose the one most noteworthy and ignore others that would temper my argument. This may project a more extreme position than the balance I intended.

“I’m amazed to hear you support X!” people exclaim.

Actually, no. The other three names gave a broad perspective.

I cannot recall or fiddle these words above my name.

Avoid a backfire?

I could play safe. But I choose to exercise my freedom for the good I intend. Let’s hope my audience gets it.