The Empathy Library

Have you heard of The Empathy Library?

Founded by School of Life member Roman Krznaric, it’s a fabulous new on-line resource to help us to walk in mile in someone elses shoes. It seems an idea very much in the footsteps of what the School of Life has been pioneering: a new and more considered way of thinking about the big issues of life, free from the traditional ways of teaching. If you’ve read any of the books by the philosophers and writers involved, you’ll know just what I mean. In an increasingly ‘blip-vert’ society (extra points if you get the reference! 🙂 ), their work is refreshingly well considered.

The Library contains more than just philosophical works though. As they say:

“What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The Library takes you on journeys to these unknown worlds.

The Library is founded on the belief that empathy can transform both our own lives, and the societies we live in.”

Beyond my personal interest in trying to understand other people, which is always a challenge, I think that the Empathy Library could also be a terrific resource for writers. I want my characters to be believable, and ring true. My imagination, although pretty broad, probably can’t extend to all walks of life without a little guidance, and so I’m looking forward to browsing its shelves. Maybe you should too.

‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ is listed in the Empathy Library, in the hope of helping people understand what the experience of being a mother is really like for a range of women around the world.

 

What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpu
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf
What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The library takes you on these journeys into unknown worlds. – See more at: http://empathylibrary.com/about-the-library#sthash.EGbLUl45.dpuf

Book Launch!

On Sunday the 23rd of March, we had a joyful celebration of the Launch of ‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood.’

Somewhat ironically, the launch was held at Abbottsford Convent, which still seems to have the aura of nun’s ghosts floating down the corridors. Despite this, it really was a fantastic way to finish a project, if you can ever call a project like this finished. The energy of having all those supportive people in one place – estimates say that we had about a hundred attendees – really can’t be beaten. I was on a high all day. 🙂

I confess that I did umm and ahh about whether or not to have a launch, as it’s a lot of extra time, effort and cash to organise. I don’t think I would have done it if the fabulous Dr. Carla Pascoe (who has a bub even smaller than mine – and mine is only 17 months) hadn’t stepped in to give me a hand, especially as I am a book launch virgin.

Our Book launch was perhaps a little unusual. Bearing in mind that many of those attending would have small children, we thought it best not to have a boozy affair at a sleek bookshop, although that would have been fun. Instead, our venue opened out on to a green courtyard, and we were blessed to have Judy McKinty facilitating play, and the talented Richard Morden helping with Colouring-in. There was even fairy bread, although how much was consumed by adults on the quiet I cannot say.

The Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest MotherhoodHeather Harris, one of the contributors to the book, and also a midwife with Medecins Sans Frontiers, spoke eloquently about how the cover of the book represented women form around the world spitting the dummy, and refusing to be silenced about our experiences, despite the societal pressure to fit us into neat little molds. I also wittered on about something or other – its’ all a bit of a blur…

 

Anyway, thank you to everyone who came along, and to all the wonderful people who helped out along the way!

A once in a lifetime experience.

 

Practical advice for the beginning novelist

Today, I’m delighted to be able to host a Guest post by the talented Cheri Roman, fellow blogger at The Brass Rag, and author of ‘Descent’.  A lady who understands how hard it is to fulfil that dream…

“How do you come up with all that cool stuff in your novels? Your characters and settings are awesome. When I’m reading your novel, it feels like I’m right there. And your villains…” (shudders delicately) “…super evil.”

This is a portion of the fantasy conversation I’d love to have with a reader someday. It ends with the fan asking for my autograph and assuring me that I deserve a Pulitzer. For writing fantasy genre fiction. Hey, if you’re going to dream, go big or go home, I always say.

My fantasy also includes a secluded writing spot; four clean, white walls and a huge bay window through which I can see little forest creatures cavorting on a wide, green lawn ringed by ancient redwoods. No phone, TV, or (gasp) Facebook. Best of all – hours upon hours of uninterrupted writing time.

But the operative word here is “fantasy.” These are rare scenarios, unless, of course, you are Dean Koontz or Nora Roberts. (Seriously, have you seen their houses?) For many authors, the writing life looks more like this:

Get up at five a.m., go to your day job. Work all day, constantly distracted by story ideas, terrified that they will escape before you can capture them. You steal the odd moment and write on whatever is handy: file folders, notepads, the desk calendar, napkins. Frustration sets in because you end up accidentally filing, covering, losing or throwing the notes away. You consider getting a notes app on your phone, but you worry that your boss will accuse you of making personal calls on company time.

The work day is over; you hurry home. Ideas are still buzzing between your ears as you maneuver through traffic. You arrive home and the kids/spouse/pets need your attention, so you feed and brush everyone and then, finally, the house is quiet and you hurry to your writing space and….your mind goes blank. You fear you’ve used all your creativity just to get through the day. But you power through. You pull out the crumpled napkin, power-gulp an energy drink and you write. Sometime around four a.m. you stumble into bed where your spouse gives you a sleepy side-eye but you are too tired to notice. You fall into the bed, already unconscious. The alarm goes off at five. Time to start over.

Alternately, you save your writing energy for the weekend and your spouse complains that they never see you, because you spend Saturdays and Sundays behind a closed door with this sign on it:

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The writing life is challenging whether you work a day job or not. Business, family and writing pull you in opposing directions. Plus, you have to sleep sometime. But for authors, giving up isn’t an option. Not writing causes mental and emotional agita. So you steal the moments and write the words that torment you until you put them on paper. It isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. So do it.

That’s my best advice. Create the space in your life for the passionate art of writing well. Surround yourself with like-minded people who support your efforts and dreams. Explain to your significant other how important writing is. Ask for their support. Be courageous enough to say, “no,” in order to guard your writing time. And write. Every chance you get, consistently, creatively, bravely. Write.

Book launch!

MOFK COVER front finalI’m very excited to announce the launch of our new Anthology about honest motherhood – The Milk of Female Kindness!

It’s out now on Amazon and Createspace, with The Book Depository to follow.

Terrifically proud of the 28 women from all around the world who have shared their thoughts, creativity and time to make this book. It’s wonderfully diverse, with artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews, from women at all stages of motherhood. Many are established writers and artists: others are new to the world of publishing. Some of them have been featured in Writer’s Block already, and more are to come.

So – if you are a mother, know someone who is, or have a mother (and let’s face it, most of us have at some point ;)), then this book will touch you, challenge you, confront you, and best of all, make you rethink the role of motherhood.

If anyone is looking for a book for the holidays – this could be the one for you. 🙂

Cover reveal! Milk of Female Kindness

Finally, I can reveal to the world the face of all our hard work over the last year! Drum roll please….

Here is the cover of our anthology of honest stories about motherhood – ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’.

MOFK COVER front final

The Anthology is a collection of the work of twenty-eight women from around the world, who have been brave enough to write honestly about their experiences of motherhood. I’d like to extend my most sincere thanks to all the contributors. It has been an honour working with such an inspiring group of people! 🙂

Unlike most other books on the subject, we have a creative focus – there is artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews.

The collection is deliberately diverse, in all senses. All stages of motherhood are reflected, and really the aim is to broaden the range of stories out there, and allow women to think for themselves what it means to be a mother, rather than relying on the shallow and market focused roles that the media might like to push us into. You may disagree with some of the work: others pieces will resonate with you. Whatever happens, it will make you think more deeply about being a parent.

The book will be released in paperback first, with e-book to follow soon after. Stay tuned for developments!

Fantasy Genre – Guest Post by Cheri Roman

Today, I have the good fortune to have a Guest Post by the talented Cheri Roman, who has just released her first novel, Descent. It is being very well reviewed, and you can see my personal take on it here. She writes for us on a subject close to my heart – fantasy, the improbable, and how ludicrous it is to discount ‘genre’ fiction. Enjoy!

earth-ship-clouds-sailing-sailfish-fantasy-otherThe Oxford Dictionary defines the word fantasy as “the product of imagining impossible or improbable things.” That’s not a bad start for defining fantasy as a genre. However, when you have such a name, it can be challenging to get the literary world to take you seriously.

One of the things that appeals to me most about fantasy writing is that literally anything can happen. You can have sentient storm clouds and flying houses and mice who fence and speak with the facility of an Elizabethan stage actor, because it’s fantasy. Nothing is out of bounds so long as it fits within the plot line.

That said, fantasy is not fluff. The basis of all fantasy stories lies in the question stem, “what if…” What if a boy found out that he was really a wizard? What if a group of siblings was transported to an alternate universe? What if a group of supernatural beings came to Earth and fell in love with humans? Such questions are interesting, not just in and of themselves, but for the deeper answers they point to about what it means to be human. Heroes and villains in fantasy are experimental models we can mentally climb into for a test drive. In fact, a good book in any genre should be like entering one of those virtual reality games, but with fewer limitations. By immersing ourselves in the world and characters created by a talented author, we are able to safely explore the extreme edges of moral and emotional dilemmas we hope we never have to face in real life. And just like lifting extra weights at the gym, the lessons we learn in those imaginary worlds can strengthen us for the everyday challenges of real life.

The boy wizard begins by searching out who he really is, something all of us must do at some point. The group of siblings must decide whether landing in a new world means finding a new moral center. Their example can inspire us to cling to our own moral code under much more “normal” circumstances. The supernatural beings have to learn that there is a cost to every decision we make; a fact we might ignore or fail to discover on our own. None of these are “light” matters. All of them hold eminently human lessons. The value of fantasy, and indeed of literature in general, lies in its ability to reveal such lessons, allowing us to see the world from a point of view other than our own, and learn from it.

Fantasy is often discounted as “light reading,” or worse, the less than brilliant sibling of science fiction, herself a distant cousin to literary fiction. But don’t sell it short. Considering the lyrical prose and plot complexity created by such authors as Ursula K. Le Guin, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George R.R. Martin in the mix, one should resist the temptation to dismiss fantasy as “light” anything. Instead, we should judge the writing by its own merits just as we do any other genre, and thereby enjoy the ride twice as much.

Cheri blogs at The Brass Rag, which is well worth checking out.

You may also like this post by Sabrina Garie, about her favourite fantasy character: the lovely, practical and not at all ethereal Samwise Gangee.

Art dirtied by the mighty dollar

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In a reversal of the usual roles, yesterday I interviewed a psychiatrist. Perhaps it was novel for her: it was certainly informative for me. The interview will hopefully form part of the Anthology I’m working on, with many other writers from around the globe, on the subject of motherhood. It’s even tentatively acquired a title now (which I will post about another time), so it must be starting to resolve itself, like the image appearing gradually on photographic paper. I’ll just have to keep swirling it in the developing fluid of continued effort, and hopefully it will emerge as something beautiful.

Anyway, one slight stumbling block in the interview was her continued confusion as to what the Anthology was for, and whether it would be commercial. Had I looked at all the other works about motherhood out there? Was ours going to fill a niche? Would it be useful? What, in short, is the market?

I suppose that a more mercenary person would have considered these issues in more detail, but for me, to complete the project as well as I am able is actually enough. If I’m going to give it the self-aggrandising name of ‘Art’, then I think art can, and perhaps needs to, be created just for itself.

Not that I’m saying that I wouldn’t like it to be successful, but it feels like something that needs to happen regardless. One of the best rewards a writer can have, I feel, is to have people enjoy their work. In the case of this Anthology, we’re perhaps hoping even for some social change, by deepening and widening the discussions around the experience of motherhood. The current level of conversation on the subject in wider society seems to be at the moment at best trite, and at worst shallow and deceptive.

Anyway, the psychiatrist’s emphasis on the commercial viability of the project got me thinking. I’ve always been someone who writes and paints ‘just because’. It’s an outlet of my subconscious, which has taken me to some surprising and very varied places. I don’t have a consistent painting style, and perhaps that is a reflection that I am an amateur. But I also write about diverse subjects – few things could be further apart than this current Anthology and my novel, which is science fiction! Perhaps my brain would explode if I didn’t let this stuff out.

I’m aware that other writers do find a niche, research a market, and write accordingly, and no doubt many of them are more commercial successful than I am. In the case of non-fiction, that seems an entirely justified approach. But I wonder if that whole process doesn’t compromise the creativity of fiction writing. It feels to me a little manipulative: like having an ulterior motive to do a good deed. I read a great post over at the ‘the Writing Blues’ some time ago about how she might lose her real voice if she started to think too much about what her readers would like to hear.

I’d be very interested to hear what others think about this issue. Is creation of art for arts sake enough? Am I just naive? Does having a market in mind compromise your work?

Selling the Man (or Woman)

I read an interesting article in ‘The Age’ recently about the strange cult of celebrity which has risen up around writers. You can have a squizz at it here.

You could argue that there is a strange cult of celebrity around practically anyone (with a large enough voice and publicity machine) for no very good reasons, but in this case I’m fascinated by two ideas: firstly that people are genuinely interested in writers as people; and secondly that part of this interest seems to focus around the writing process itself.

I don’t know about you, but what interests me about my favourite authors are the things they write, rather than the people behind the stories. I’m happy to hear a tidbit of two if there is something genuinely fascinating about them, but if they are normal, middle class people, with a normal family and a nine to five job, well, that’s fine, but I’m much more interested in the strange and exotic fruits of their imagination. Frankly, even if they live in a commune, work as a bear trapper and moonlight as bellydancers, I’m still only going to be impressed by their writing if it strikes a chord with me. That said, I suppose one of the reasons many writers blog is presumably to feed the thirst for more information. 🙂

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The second issue, that of trying to find out what “is the mysterious alchemy that transforms a hazy idea into 300 pages of gripping prose,” seems to be grasping at straws a little. It’s a kind of magic, and the best part about it is that it is a magic that’s unique to every individual. I understand that Thomas Wolfe wrote his work standing up, leaning his paper on the top of the fridge, but funnily enough, that’s not going to work for everyone. The wonderful thing about writing is that it is something wrestled from your own subconscious, and we need to find ways to make that wrestling as productive as we can.

I’d love to hear what you think about this. Are you curious about the people behind story? Does knowing more about them make you more likely to read their work? And have you found inspiration in hearing how others go about it?

Book giveaway – get in now!

Just a quick reminder that the Giveaway of my novel ‘The Artemis Effect’ is ending tomorrow, so if you’d like to win one of five paperback copies, please pop on over to Goodreads to enter!

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Artemis Effect by Kasia James

The Artemis Effect

by Kasia James

Giveaway ends January 29, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

I’ve been delighted with the number of people entering the Giveaway so far. Fingers crossed a few people will actually read and review it! 🙂