Saturday, 14 January 2017

Commissions

Something about Christmas reminds Dad that it’s been a year since he last asked where my book is. He has somewhat revised his approach: less interrogation, more befuddled amusement. Thanks Dad.

I told him I had completed some work. Commissions, short stories and the like. He has no interest in the commissions I take up from time to time.  I think he thinks it’s a distraction from the real work. It’s all real work Dad. Every single piece of writing is as good as I can make it. That's how it works.

For a while now, I’ve been invited to write a piece of micro fiction from time to time. How to describe micro fiction?  Writer’s pain wise, it’s about a 7.  When an editor says, 750 words, or 500 words, or 36 tweets, that’s what I deliver.  Or used to. It’s not worth the pain anymore, and I will tell you why.

I would get the final work in, then months later check the publication to discover every time that every other bastard had run over the word limit.  I include myself as a bastard – actually scratch that. I am a nerd. An over-zealous high-achiever who will work my eyeballs thin scouring the page looking for the words to slash to bring me in under my limit.  There are always too many words. There is some pride in finishing, absolutely spot on the word count. But I suspect no one cares.  I figure I would recognize people who can’t keep to the word limit. Their words would trail from their shoe like a piece of toilet paper.

It’s not their fault. The fault is all mine as I am far too invested in the word count.

And then a commission comes along that is really cool.

For example, the splendid edition of Cordite Poetry Review that came out in October 2016.

The edition would feature 25 of us – Indigenous writers from Australia and India.  Poetry, plus my 500-word micro fiction, would be translated into a Dalit (Indigenous Indian) language and also appear in English.

The invitation to submit came at around about the time there was fair bit of media about conflict between different Indian groups. It’s a bit hard to follow if you don’t know who’s who.  

I found parallels with the Australian scene. When outrage is afoot, what exactly are people’s agenda? As evidenced by these days of waning social media interaction,  the regular diet of online blackfella outrage has spluttered into a hair ball and we're fast approaching the tipping point where nonIndigenous people will 'take it from here'. 

But in India, I detected the tensions were considerably higher than a bit of sounding off and dabbling in edgy cultural debates. It's in the writings of individuals and those who identified as being of a particular group that a disturbing picture of present day India emerged. People had died. People were being chased down and killed in the street. Universities were not safe places, not by a long shot. 

I followed many threads across the internet and eventually found that what resonated the most was the creative work.  Though the National Commission for Backward Classes, a Statutory Body under the Minister of Social Justice & Empowerment, is not part of a work of fiction. It really exists. But in general, the fiction, the poetry was a better means of understanding the Indian people and their culture.

Indigenous peoples around the world exist within a dominant culture with much in common, and then again with differences that make me glad I live on the Australian continent. It’s not perfect here but I have liberties that they can only dream about in India. Or maybe they think we are the ones bereft? This self-examination has been one of the many rewards of immersing myself in a 500-word short story.

And then I put it all aside and the thinking part of writing the piece commenced. If it is being translated into another language how to write the story in the first place?  Flowery language is out. I do like an artful turn of phrase but that could go horribly wrong in a translation. It also could not be heavily dependent on punctuation to navigate nuance.

A form of writing I really enjoy is to imagine myself an alien, how would I describe myself to other kinds of aliens?

This is the pleasure of writing for a new and defined audience. I guess I should do it all the time, but I committed myself and zeroed in on 'Indigenous-to-Indigenous'. And then I sat down to write, freely.  Agonizing though short commissions have been from time to time, they've given me a reasonably sharp eye for word lengths and I’m a fan of the traditional short story structure so it kind of gets there in the end.

I see people write a short passage and call it 'a short story'. I can only look away.

And then I sent it off, marked the scheduled release date in my diary and moved on.

Months and months later, the Review arrived. I had not expected the beauty of the form of an Indian script.

And then I read the piece submitted by the Indian writer who translated my piece. And then I scoured the internet for more examples of his work. I was not prepared for the breadth and depth of his work.  I was ashamed I’d been so pernickety about the word count, even if it was drama played out only in my head.

There can be no greater honour than for another writer to translate your work into their own language. Surely?

I wondered, what did he think when he read my little story. Does he get me? Does he know I write of our condition, and not my version of the faddish dystopia permeating popular fiction, which will quickly pall as people realize it is no longer that fantastic a premise?

Final thoughts:

My words must stand on their own in any language. I never know where they will end up.


And imagine my joy when I was invited to submit for 2017 publication in several new anthologies from publishers overseas – two of them have a maximum word length of 7500. Oh happy days! Pain level 5.


Cordite Poetry Review DALIT / INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIAN
Editorial: Mridula Nath Chakraborty and Kent MacCarter

And you can read my work here...