Words that uplift… or shame?

Words, whether written or spoken, hold great power. The defamation twins are libel (written words) or slander (spoken), i.e. false or malicious statements that damage someone’s reputation. It’s a difficult balancing act to speak our truth without offending.

What might words uncover?

Author Kate Grenville SO inspires me. Her book The Secret River has been adapted to stage and screen. When her research about ancestors uncovered uncomfortable truths, she changed the names and turned to the novel genre. As I have been advised to do by relatives, as I write my discoveries of my family stories.

Who do you think you came from?

Ancestry.com habitués might envy my dilemma: a treasure trove of letters illuminated the heritage story. How to condense into a book? The insights gained from these letters and my research are so exciting that I gave up on efforts to condense: I’ll publish two books.

They’re close to publication and I’d appreciate your crowdfunding support.

Pass on heritage before it’s too late

What more precious gift to relatives and future generations than to write a family history or memoir? Do it now, before stories and insights are lost to dementia and coffins. But first consider: for whom do you write?

Will you circulate amongst family a few copies produced at the local print shop? Or might your stories resonate with Everyman and Everywoman?

Will you present facts as a historical document, with diligent footnotes and bibliography? Or through creative nonfiction put flesh on bones, words in mouths, and look under the surface to the motivations that drove actions? If so, one writes with relatives peering over the shoulder, while wondering what flack the finished book might draw. They caution: “Change the names, write a novel, and avoid offence.”

These are REAL people

My attempts to novelise felt stilted. Why waste my treasure trove of archival letters and diminish a great story? Let the characters speak for themselves. My narrative nonfiction morphed into memoir as I discovered and interpreted stories. Accepting my role as storyteller unlocked the cage to write freely.

Black sheep and white sheep

Some families draft ancestors into pens of white and black sheep, with little variegation between. What demons drove the reprobate to that more interesting story? Avoiding all conflict makes for dull reading and robs readers of the opportunities to learn from generational patterns.

Shame on the family!

What family tree doesn’t sprout illegitimate twigs? Recent generations shrug but Great Aunt Flossie concealed scandals with hushed euphemisms for 90 years. She threatens legal action if her family name is besmirched. Living relatives cannot sue on behalf of “defamed” deceased. Australian Society of Authors membership includes legal aid but avoid pitfalls with nonjudgmental, factual reporting. 

What is truth?

Contradictions are inevitable when sifting truths from myths of oral history.
Relatives view my many-faceted Grandfather from varied kaleidoscope angles to mine. This is the paradox of history; the events of World War 1 written by people from Germany, France, England or Australia would differ, even contradict in some details.

My writing style is to look under the surface of dates, events and facts and find the persons beneath. What drove two brothers to flee their native Finland to settle at the far end of the earth? Did they struggle, away from the security of the nest?
After a decade of research, countless drafts and edits, my two books are close to publication. I hope they fulfil the calling of Psalm 102:18

“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet unborn may praise the LORD.”

Novel way to publish books

How to hook a mainstream publisher? That question keeps authors too busy to write their next book. We spend disheartening time on pitching, proposing, publicity. All writers know the pain of rejection.

• Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling were rejected by a dozen publishers, including Penguin and HarperCollins.

• Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times before publication.

• Orwell’s Animal Farm: “It’s impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.”

• To F. Scott Fitzgerald, “You’d have a decent book if you got rid of that Gatsby character.”

TwoCovers

When some publishers are interested and enthusiastic, we’re buoyed and tread on clouds. Until we discover they’re academic or vanity press, offering little recompense for our hard work, intellectual property and writing skills. Even asking us to pay for the privilege of seeing our words between covers. Might as well self-publish.

Last year I swore I wouldn’t indie publish. Even though I have already published books for musicians and teachers through my Words and Music imprint. But I’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign for the last leg of a long journey.

Even print on demand needs outlay of funds. Thanks to my son Paul Bonetti who helped, having successfully crowd funded his second album. (You can hear my clarinet backing on a few tracks.) I’m encouraged by the successful campaign to reprint Brisbane Art Deco, which includes my contribution about my Granddad’s house in St Lucia, Brisbane. Back House main BCC-B54-1976

Granddad (W.A.Back) was a Finnish Swede who emigrated to Australia to escape conscription into the Russian army. When his black sheep brother fled in 1899, Russian military police searched for him in Suez. He dodged them and found refuge in Australia. But why did he write home to “Burn my letters?” A decade’s research found answers to such questions. 

Letter KJ Back 1899:2

A treasure trove of archival letters

I’m blessed that my relatives gifted me with illuminating archival letters. These helped me piece together the story of my forebears.

What an inspiring, empowering story!

There’s a degree of memoir as the books cover:

  • Growing up in the Australian outback
  • Schooling in Brisbane: at Ironside State School, Somerville House and University of Queensland.
  • (Granddad led a consortium that developed St Lucia)
  • Studies, research and work in London, Sweden, Finland and more during 7 years in Europe.
  • My musical and life journey

My books that tell their stories and my own journey to discover heritage are ready to go. But I need help to afford printing. Please support my crowd funding campaign so I can put my books between covers.

http://pozible.com/burnmyletters
It’s going well, but not quite safe yet!

Many thanks in anticipation!

Inspiring words

My grandfather, W.A.Back (Wilhelm Anders) died on 2 April 1974. He attended my wedding two weeks before, and wrote a personal letter to me that inspired me through our marriage and to write his story.

He wrote:

“As I look back now on our marriage at Mooball on the 4th November 1908, I can remember it as plain as if it were yesterday. The wedding was in our new home that I had finished only a few days before, and the Minister from Byron Bay came by train to perform the ceremony…”

“Just do it!”

Granddad’s advice has helped me keep going to bring his story to publication.  

A man of enterprise

Granddad was an entrepreneur, the Migrant Made Good. So I think he would have approved of my crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to publish my book.

Would you please support it? Click the above link, choose an amount and reward (books or goodies). Your account won’t be accessed until after the campaign.

 

A man of faith

He wrote that he surprised his bride with a gift of a piano—the Hart family were musical. Then they knelt at the bedside and asked God to protect, guide and bless them through their lives.
“We asked for some material blessings that in the eyes of the Lord were very small and he blessed us with very much more than ever we contemplated or asked for. If you take God into your partnership I am sure it will be even better than what you anticipate.”

Good advice, Granddad. I keep faith that this gift for my sons to know their heritage, and for family and the Finnish community, will come to fruition.

Thank you!

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. 

Ms. Crotchet calls time on tutti

Group vs. individual music lessons?

Kudos to colleagues who teach mixed groups of instruments, standards and ages as their norm. I know some who battle groups of 30 Bb/Eb clarinet and sax beginners. They’re braver than me!

So I’m blessed…

That last week, in a group of three, some Year 4 clarinet beginners managed a few opening notes of Pink Panther in their third lesson. I was as surprised as they were. With help from parents who play a little clarinet, they managed the first phrase next lesson. Are they practising? Heaps!

But I am OVER mismatched groups!

I sent an email to parents last year:Ruth + Student_6921

“Dear parents,

To best realise your child’s potential and optimise your investment, consider:

GROUP LESSONS – Pro and Con:

  • Group suits family budgets.
  • They nibble a teensy taste of music.
  • It’s sociable – if players are well matched and compatible.
  • BUT age, instruments and standards often vary.
  • Little scope for timetable changes, or adjustment.
  • 2 students in 30’ group = 15’ each.
  • 3 students in 30’ group = 10’ each. Pieces chosen for the group pace.
  • Time goes on aspects where Matt struggles but Jake plays easily.
  • Fingers twiddle while Mr. Quaver fixes a student’s bent key.
  • If a student misses a lesson that others attend, there’s no scope for make-up.
  • Exams aren’t feasible for groups with little time to cover all aspects. Ms. Crotchet talks staccato sfz, marcato, V between brows.
  • Presto to hear what students practised and give new pieces.
  • If no time to play all they prepared, why practice next week? They lose interest.

Practice dwindles > performance nervespractice

They need Ruth’s books (check the half-price deals and class sets).

Capable students stop lessons if frustrated, wasting talent and parents’ investment.

PRIVATE LESSONS

  • Negotiate timetable for premium times in break/before class.
  • Make-up lessons if 24 hours’ notice of illness or tests.
  • With teacher’s undivided attention, students move at their own, faster pace.
  • Ms. Dolce chooses pieces and styles they like, is enthusiastic, relaxed and fun.
  • Exams and competitions are well prepared, so high results are likely.
  • Students set and meet goals, enjoy challenges, realise potential and SHINE IN PERFORMANCE!”

CMP-with-shadow

Andante con momentum

It was a risk. But this year, Mrs Dolce’s schedule is full, her days long, but she emerges grazioso!

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.

Of voice, gifts and refugees

It’s Twelfth Night. Dismantle the tree and lights, throw out perfume boxes and cheap bling, and casserole the last turkey remnants. Let me share my “Aha!” illuminations of the past weeks. 

Let your light shine

An earlier post bewailed ever-tighter restrictions on “free speech” yet even I bowed to political correctness pressure. Some Christmas greetings wimped out with a vague “Whoever and however you celebrate” rather than wish happy Christmas.

“Aha!” I thought, I dodged my own issue and missed the boat of the true meaning. That the Christmas story goes on to tell of a Palestinian refugee family who fled from a despot dictator.

Soon after, The Australian newspaper reported that singing Christmas carols is now banned in Victorian public schools! Bah, humbug, to quote Ebenezer Scrooge, for singing and praise uplift the spirits!

“Aha!” at the carol service

Ever thought a casserole might be more practical for a poor, young family, not the Magi gold, frankincense and myrrh? Yet these gifts were God’s provision to afford their refugee flight to Egypt.The father, Joseph was warned by a dream that the despotic King Herod was so threatened by a baby Messiah, that he would massacre all young boys. Refugee Jesus Christ lived–to put the real meaning into Christ’s Mass. Then suffer and overcome a miscarriage of justice.

What propelled refugees’ flight?

Many struggle to comprehend, welcome and assimilate the mass of refugees who fled Syria and other regimes into Europe. What ordeals propelled them? A book has illumined this tough issue: the gripping yet lyrical I Confess – Revelations in Exile by Iranian doctor Kooshyar Karimi (Wild Dingo Press). Read my review of this eye and heart opener.

(And while on goodreads.com and Amazon do comment on any of my own books you’ve read. Or order them here.)

Another refugee story

My next book tells of another flight from oppression – a refugee from Russian occupied Finland, where a rigid regime’s Board of Censors suppressed newspapers and free association. Self-described “pen-fighter” Karl Johan Back, my great-uncle, fled in 1899 to asylum in Australia. Three years later his brother, my grandfather, followed to settle. He become the Migrant-Made-Good, developing much of the northern NSW, St Lucia in Brisbane, and western Queensland pastoral land.

Burn My Letters; Midnight Sun to Southern Cross is closer to publication, as I explore options. Email for info about release date and launch, to join my crowd funding caravan.

Writing Life Stories

See tips in my blog on this tricky process.

This year, may you shine in all your endeavours.
Rise and shine!” my mother chirruped to wake her eight children.
          It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. (Proverb)

                                   Be that light.

Safe speaking

Should political correctness inhibit public speakers? Are you more wary of speaking verbatim, in case your tongue slips into a pitfall? People have lost jobs because their flippant comment on social media went viral, or their emails were dissected for forms of “ism.” Be aware of perils if, like me, you spice your communication with humour.

What price ‘free speech?’

Written and spoken words are my metier, so I’m disturbed by this year’s terrorist attacks. Not just in Paris; I urge you to sign or write petitions to free journalists imprisoned or murdered for doing their job.

All that is needed for evil to flourish is for good men [people] to do [say] nothing.

(Attributed to Edmund Burke.)

Are private words safe?

A quick riposte on FaceBook or Twitter is out there, can be read from apposite perspectives. More disturbing is when private email has been hacked and circulated.

Most thinking persons don’t mean to offend others with their words, sounds, images or writing (my tools of trade!). But the devil is in the interpretation of “reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people”. 

Let’s lighten up

People warm to humour, if well handled. See tips to avoid pitfalls and inject safe humour in my book Speak Out-Don’t Freak Out.

(A quick 90-minute read to pep you before a presentation; it’s available on Amazon.)

Do we need to be funny?

Where relevant, humour can be a big audience winner. Jokes are safest if turned on oneself, perhaps relating a mishap or embarrassing situation. People respond to your openness. Don’t embarrass other people.

Beware especially of racism, profanity, or stamping on religious and political corns. Test those hilarious jokes on the family over breakfast to discover just how effective they are. If you do upset anyone, have the courage and grace to apologise.

Is ‘off the cuff’ off the planet?

You know those network situations where all have a minute to pop up and spruik their business? Usually I speak off the cuff, it feels natural. This week, I crafted and read my words. As the presenter, about to give constructive feedback around the table, I had to set a positive example. It felt stilted. I did a verbatim retake to show the difference.

 But be yourself

If you feel safer with a written text, so be it. Vary content according to audience/situation. Pause to breathe. Look up to include your listeners.

Ruth’s 2016 Diary is open

Email to check available dates for presentations, training and coaching there and elsewhere.

Or writing
You’re articulate… but too busy to condense a lifetime’s expertise into a pithy, witty and life-changing presentation.
Or deadlines loom for media releases, blogs and papers.
Whether you write for the ear or the eye, I can craft your scribbled bullet points into engaging text; edit out words that invite stutters into those that flow off the tongue. And polish your content so it shines!

Dare I say it?

Yes. I wish you God’s blessings, joy and peace for a happy Christmas season. However and whoever you celebrate.

Adrenaline: performance highs and lows

End of year exams, presentations, and concerts to juggle and prepare, we’re tired and living on adrenaline.

ALERT: Beware adrenal fatigue.

PRIORITISE as time runs short. I could have posted this blog sooner, but chose to schedule a massage and a nap before the afternoon’s teaching and practice sessions.

My students played their concert last week. That morning, I wasn’t surprised when some asked to change their pieces to Plan E (for EASY) instead of the mooted Plan C (for CHALLENGE) or Plan D (Doable). Because many students – and teachers – struggle to fit everything into the time before any big event. Myself included.

As I practise for solo performances this weekend, and prepare my students for exams and concerts, I need the advice in my own books! So I reread the chapter “Me-Time” in Sounds and Souls: How music teachers change lives.

The days beforesoundsandsoulsmedium

Actors and singers know to “save themselves” as well as their voices on the day of a performance. They talk less, eat less, pamper themselves a little, and don’t rush around. They retreat into themselves, focus on their part or persona, and avoid arguments or upsets. Try to plan the lead-up days, to reschedule where possible any draining commitments. Maintain a balanced, healthy diet. Curb caffeine, sugar, alcohol and…

Channel adrenaline

Seasoned presenters have learned to go with the adrenaline rush, even to welcome it as a source of energy and vitality. Yet this is also the province of the “fight or flight” response triggered by the primitive brain stem when in pressured situations. It is the very breeding ground of those unsettling physical symptoms like dry mouth, queasy stomach and shaky hands – which even experienced speakers may occasionally experience.

Try this quick fix to channel and focus this adrenaline by accessing the sophisticated part of the brain, the cerebral cortex.  Defuse the negative responses of the brain stem and to access your brain’s frontal lobes: sit quietly backstage, breathing slow and deep, with a hand on your forehead.  Holding these forehead pressure points, called the “positive points” by Brain-Gym exponents Paul and Gail Dennison, has a bonus effect of also calming an unsettled stomach. And unwelcome symptoms of nerves fall away like a pack of cards.

Hear Ruth Speak

BRISBANE: 3 December
Ruth will present and workshop around how to “Stand & Deliver and Power Up your Professional Introduction”

LikeMinds Networking breakfast The Gap  Bookings:  0406007753

BRISBANE: 3rd July 2016 Music Teachers Association Queensland

“Dealing with performance anxiety”

Ruth Tours 2016

NEW ZEALAND March, April and again September

ADELAIDE April, May 2016

Contact Ruth to check available dates for student workshops, Professional Development, training and coaching.

Ruth Performs

As soloist with Brisbane Symphony Orchestra: Mendelssohn, Konzertstücke for 2 clarinets features Ruth Bonetti and Sian Davis, principal clarinet of Noosa Orchestra.

Movie Themes Family Fun Concert

28 NOVEMBER | 3PM Lake Kawana Community Centre 07 5413 1400 29 NOVEMBER | 3PM St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School, Corinda Tickets

Tips to handle questions

Even experienced presenters can struggle with a question from left field. And alienate listeners if they stonewall or become defensive.

“Are there any questions?”

Part of your speech preparation is to jot down potential queries and practise appropriate answers.

What if no one asks?speakoutmedium

People may be shy of speaking or not ready to verbalise. Listeners use a different part of the brain when absorbing content.

• Give time; “While I drink a glass of water, think if you have any questions to ask me.” That water will also help you to think fast if someone lobs a curly one! in which case draw on the POWER OF THE PAUSE. Reflect.

• Clear the fog with: “Often I’m asked …”

• Plant a colleague in the hall, primed with a question you know inside out. This breaks ice and triggers other questions.

• Loosen them up with “Turn to the person next to you and discuss…”

Handling Tricky Questions 

If you can’t answer, it’s better to admit it openly than to tangle yourself up in convoluted attempts. People appreciate honesty: “I don’t think I could do justice to that without research. Let’s follow up later.”

Or “I’m not prepared to answer that at present; could someone else enlarge on it?”

Remember, you are the expert. Most couldn’t match your command of the topic.

Handling hostility

Dodge inelegant public power-struggles which will alienate the rest of the audience.

• Drop your shoulders, take a deep breath and a drink of water.
• Listen carefully to their points, looking to agree on some common ground.
• Empathy helps to defuse possible aggression and maintains rapport with listeners.
• Remain objective.
• Maintain a neutral, even voice. Curb emotive language.
• See it as an opportunity to re-state your position: “Let me clarify my point.”
• Find a source of agreement: “I understand that you do agree with me on …”
• Deal with a threatening point briefly and call for the next question.

Manage Grandstanders and Big-Noters

An “on-edge” presenter may mis-read an enthusiastic question as an effort to trip. Most wheelbarrow pushers will desist once they have their quota of attention. If they try to turn it into a debate, suggest following up the discussion later rather than take time from others’ questions.

Phrases like “Perhaps you might briefly share your expertise with us …” defer to their knowledge while giving yourself time to marshal your own thoughts.

[Excerpt from Speak Out – Don't Freak Out; Public speaking with confidence
available as hardcopy book and eBook] 

Need help with coaching and speech/blog writing? Email Ruth