Author Christine M Knight's Blog
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Reading introduces girls and young women to worlds and the possibilities of life outside the world they actually live in. It teaches them they do not have to be defined by their circumstance but can rise above it.
Quality fiction and non-fiction about strong women show readers what women are really capable of and also portray the diversity of womankind. By strong female characters, I don’t mean physically strong but strong as in interesting and complex. Strong as in resilient and able to face adversity with courage.
Strong female characters have a depth of conviction that is never allowed to be undermined. They have the ability to act independently, to make their own choices despite the pressure put upon them to do otherwise, and to think through to consequences.
Reading about the diverse experiences portrayed in quality fiction and nonfiction also counterbalances the questionable values and images being promoted in many of today’s television shows, movies, and music videos that target teens and young adults. Those questionable values and images represent a narrow and false image of the people, cultures, and the world that we live in. Literature and quality nonfiction make it clear that it’s who you are on inside and not your shape, size or skin colour that counts.
Reading also develops skills that assist girls and women to succeed. Reading and studying both require persistence and an ability to sustain focus and read for long times.
Thursday, July 02, 2015
The right to privacy refers to a person’s right to have a private space, be it around the body (aka personal space) or associated with the home and personal property or having private matters in the person's life staying private. The right to privacy also refers to the right a person has to control the degree of access by others to a person’s private domain.
For most celebrities (not those associated with reality shows), celebrity status was a by-product of the person’s success. It was not the person’s primary goal. Instead the person was focused on achieving goals and longevity in a career and gaining recognition for a talent or achievement. Celebrity status is something that famous people are confronted with and have to learn to manage.
This topic is complex and there are three aspects to it: freedom from scrutiny versus a right to privacy, the media myth, the impact on the audience and in turn on society.
Many people confuse freedom from scrutiny with a right to privacy. We are all subject to passing scrutiny when we’re out in public whether we are conscious of it or not. We observe others and are observed ourselves in turn. Sometimes as part of that scrutiny, we make judgements about who or what we see around us. It’s part of being situationally aware which is increasingly important nowadays. Similarly, we are subject to scrutiny by speed cameras when we travel on public roads and by CTV cameras in shopping malls and other public places. That scrutiny doesn’t mean a person’s privacy has been invaded though.
If you are a celebrity, there is a high probability that a greater percentage of people will be interested in you than they are in a passer-by. It is unrealistic for any celebrity to expect not to be observed and scrutinised when the celebrity is out in public but in a private capacity.
Given the high tech features of mobile phones (I believe Americans call them cell phones) and the ease with which people upload into social media nowadays, everyone has the potential to be a roving reporter. It is natural for fans to want to snap a discrete photo of a celebrity from a distance to record the experience and to share it with friends. In such circumstances, there isn’t any invasion of the celebrity’s privacy.
The second aspect of this topic centres on the myth and argument that celebrities forfeit their privacy once they develop public persona. Whether we realise it or not, we all have a public persona – the face and identity we choose to show to people outside of our homes. Our job – be it a trash collector or an entertainment industry star – is not a valid reason for others to deny our right to privacy.
Of course, in the entertainment industry and politics, celebrities and the media need one another. Like all healthy associations, it should be a symbiotic relationship where there is a mutual benefit, not a parasitic relationship where one exploits and benefits at the expense of the other.
There isn't any valid reason for a celebrity to be treated as an expendable commodity, someone to be exploited and then discarded when exploitation is no longer possible. Certainly there isn’t valid justification for the exploitation of the dark or embarrassing moments of that person or that person’s family life.
The third aspect of this topic is the threat posed to civilised society when we accept the right of others to invade a person’s privacy. When people discuss the right to privacy, they mostly do so from the celebrity or media’s perspective. Few people stop to think about the impact on the audience. That impact is negative and supports the growth of a destructive culture.
The culture supports making money from ‘stolen’ moments in a celebrity’s private life and the writing of take-down articles. It appeals to baser human instincts within the composers as well as the audience. It is a culture that is unable to celebrate success and that lacks generosity of spirit. That culture threatens society because it shifts our reference points for what is acceptable and unacceptable. That culture endorses predatory behaviour that causes tragedy such as the death of Princess Diana.
You may say in response to this article that there are celebrities who behave badly and do so knowing they have a public audience. Surely, they have lost the right to privacy.
That does of course happen. A certain celebrity who shared compromising pictures of himself through Twitter and Instagram comes to mind. In that instant, the celebrity has surrendered the right to privacy for that act in that situation, however, the celebrity has not renounced the right to privacy for the rest of that person’s life.
The actions of the rude, crude, and uncivilised in social media are not reasons to publicise such behaviour. When the press pick up on that type of behaviour and promote it widely, they are contributing to a shift in societal values and the development of a spectator sport. That spectator sport is very similar to rubber necking and to the blood sport fascination associated with gladiatorial games in Ancient Rome. It is strongly reminiscent of the society in the capitol of Panem as portrayed in Hunger Games. If mainstream media does not pick up on social media sharing, a tweet is lost in the blink of an eye because a tsunami of information is now shared through social media.
If we want to sustain a civilised society, we have to consider the people who are impacted by widely publicised poor behaviour – the audience. Public exposure to questionable behaviour inadvertently sets a new code of behaviour because it implies it is acceptable and so establishes it as the norm.
Think for a moment about the way obscenity such as f***! has infiltrated the language in everyday situations in a diverse cross section of society. Through constant exposure to it via film, music, and television, people have unconsciously absorbed the values implied by the use of that obscenity. The impact of that exposure on an audience is similar to the impact of subliminal messages. The impact is huge. Teenagers now use the word liberally and often without realising the word is offensive to many.
Even the most unlikely people, when in similar conflict situations to those shown in the mass media, find themselves uttering the expletive. A thinking person stops, aghast that she or he has reacted in that way, and questions the response and makes a conscious decision to reject the use of such expletives in the future. The unthinking person doesn’t even blink and in doing so endorses the behaviour, establishing it as a normal response and modelling it to the immediate audience as a normal reaction in stress.
As Lieutenant General David Morrison, former Chief of the Australian Army, said in June 2013, 'The standard we walk past is the standard we accept.' I will go one step further. The behaviours we mirror and model in everyday life are the behaviours we condone in society.
The right to privacy is an important right of citizens in a democratic and free world. We have a right to have a private space where we feel safe, be it around the body (aka personal space) or associated with the home and personal property and to expect the private matters of our lives to remain private. We have a right to control the degree of access by others to anything in our private domain. The right to such privacy is very different from freedom from surveillance. Since 9/11 and the rise of terrorism, there has been a genuine need for surveillance to ensure public safety and societal security - a totally different blog and discussion.
Thursday, May 07, 2015
International readers please note that Christine uses the British spelling system.Male role models are critical in shaping what girls and women value and what they reject. Girls and young women learn how to interact in a variety of situations from the male role models in their lives just as they do their female role models. What men appear to value influences how a young woman shapes herself, her behaviour, and her aspirations. So men have an extraordinarily strong influence over what girls and young women value just as the entertainment industry does. That is why the Robin Thicke / Miley Cyrus 2013 performance brought such criticism.
A diverse range of male and female role models is important in the life of a child and teenager. Why? Male and female role models demonstrate the codes of interaction and the boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It is a major contributing factor in learning how to form positive relationships: personal, emotional, workplace and career. It is crucial to long term well-being for a young person to learn how to belong to the world in which that person lives.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Recently, Taylor Swift said she looks to no one – at least in her own industry – as a role model. During a Time magazine interview, she wondered with open embarrassment what her grandchildren would think if she behaved public more like her peers, such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus, exposing herself and selling her image through her body.
Taylor Swift has a point. Girls and women mirror what they admire and adopt the values of their role models. I always keep this in mind as a storyteller as I explore the many roles women play throughout their lives, their choices, and assumptions that shape how they behave.
To provide better role models for tweenies and teens, we need to think about who their role models are. We often think of role models as people with outstanding qualities or with high public profiles such as music or movie stars, sportsmen, and the like, but we all function as role models. In particular, parents and family members are powerful role models during childhood. Indeed, girls form their understanding and expectations of male and female roles and how to interact with the other gender from what they observe and learn within the family unit. In my debut novel, 'In and Out of Step', I explore the far reaching ramifications of childhood role models on Cassie Sleight and Mavis Mills.
Children, teenagers, and even adults learn through observing and modelling others. We first see this with small children at play. From their earliest years, children learn how to interact in a variety of settings and situations by observing the people around them and seeing the reaction to a variety of behaviours. It is from this observation that children identify and then learn about what is acceptable or unacceptable, what creates popularity, makes them a target and so on.
The influence of parents and family leaders as role models appears to lessen as a child nears and goes through adolescence. This change is a reflection of an adolescent’s journey to adulthood, the move toward independence, and driving need to develop her/his own identity. At this stage, tweens and teens not only have a wider situational awareness than they did as children, but they also mix with many more people of different age groups in an ever increasing range of situations and settings.
Adult readers, I’m sure, will have memories of their own journeys through adolescence, the widening circle of influences on them, the swirling emotions and the conflicts that arose as they sought to establish their own respective identities. They'll also be aware that, as part of the journey to independence, the lens through which teens and young adults view their parents and family leaders changes.In order to provide better role models, we need to realize that there are values embedded in everything we say and do and don’t say and don’t do. So it is important that we demonstrate through action and lifestyle the values that we hold dear and want our children to consider modelling. Importantly, we need to consider and scrutinize the values actively and passively modelled by the world at large. We need to initiate discussion with our children about that world to better help them understand it and develop discernment. If that dialogue is established early enough, it will continue in the difficult years of adolescence. That doesn’t mean adolescents will accept or adopt their parents’ perspective, but a childhood of conditioned response means that perspective is taken under consideration by teens even though the immediate response could appear to reject it.
Related to the journey to independence is the strong genetic drive to belong. In order to belong, tweens and teens need to be in step with the day's culture and so they look to leaders in that culture. That culture is driven by the entertainment industry, including magazines.
As adolescents grow up, they often try on different role models just as they try on different styles of clothing and experiment with fashion styles. They’ll walk a mile or two wearing that role and make decisions about its suitability for them. They look for what roles fit comfortably into their lives, what helps them fit in and be liked. All the time, adolescents observe and gauge the reactions it brings. If it brings unwanted reactions or doesn’t achieve what they seek, they change because being liked and accepted is part of belonging. Importantly, girls change role models and adapt their behaviour as they grow into womanhood and evolve. If you are a teen music, film or television star, your evolution is reported as a series of mistakes rather than role play experimentation. Those mistakes may result in notoriety and an unhealthy cycle of behaviour that interferes with real growth.
Tweens and teens are highly impressionable. They are vulnerable to the culture of the day. Those years are a time when they experience everything on a much higher emotional level – ask any mother if this is not so. As adults, we need to be situationally aware of that culture and its embedded messages.
We appear to live in an era that is intolerant of diversity among women, an era where being sexy and being a particular size and shape and having a youthful appearance is more important than anything else. An era where real women are airbrushed, photo shopped, and manufactured to represent a commercial image that denies the reality and diversity of womankind. An era where material culture is promoted and sold directly and indirectly. In the entertainment and other image preoccupied industries, it doesn’t seem to matter that cosmetic chemical and surgical intervention to halt the aging process makes people a parody of youth rather than youthful. The embedded messages to tweens and teens is one that devalues aging and reduces a person’s value to how well the person fulfills the stereotype – a narrow external image that is driven by commercial motivation and that reduces women to objects. Objectification supports a culture of misogyny, sexual harassment, bullying, and violence in the workplace and in public. Given the denial of female diversity and the rising trend to objectification, it isn't surprising depression for tweens and teens is on the rise.
In order to counter this, we need to see and hear about strong, confident and inspirational real women from all walks of life regardless of whether or not they fit the stereotype. We need to challenge and discuss with our children the images being sold to us on a daily basis. We should speak up and protest against objectification of women and unrealistic portrayals of them and instead reinforce the value of diversity as well as a person’s talents, traits, qualities, and achievements. Longevity is a gift not a curse and should be celebrated. As part of that celebration, we should talk about and celebrate the diverse roles that women have played in history including how they have contributed to shaping the world.
Images of women sold in magazines and shown on television have a huge impact on the target audience, tween and teens especially so, moreso than a pop diva or pop dio (the male equivalent of diva). While the audience and written content of magazines may differ, there is an alarming similarity in the images selected to represent women. Those images box women into a narrow category (beauty and desirability being ranked as important) with little attention to any woman's intelligence, talents, inner qualities, admirable traits, achievements, or how she positively contributes to society. The focus is on material culture instead, and women are repeatedly told that their personal fit is a simple matter of purchase.
Our bodies are merely the vehicle in which we travel though life. The body does not represent the sum total of any woman's value. It is important that women of all ages have this reinforced to them especially by magazines and shows that purport to be for women and run by women. As a society, we need to see and hear about more women who are content to be their age at every stage and valued because they are so.
Increasingly, images of women in magazines and on television represent myths and propaganda that shape our culture, influence attitudes toward women, and alter what we as a society accept and value.Television shows do the same thing. For instance, there are lots of action TV series and movies that have tiny women in high heels with martial arts skills giving as much violence as they get. Such shows mislead and potentially put young women in danger because they are misled into thinking they could defend themselves or even overpower a stronger man. The men’s world boxing championships have weight divisions for a very good reason. A champion lightweight boxer cannot overpower a heavyweight. By showing women in such violent situations, the shows are shifting our view on what is acceptable. It could be seen as a covert way of condoning violence against women. It covertly undermines the white ribbon campaign whose slogan is Say No! to violence against women.
As a society we need to challenge misrepresentations of what is heroic in women and encourage girls to look outside the box for heroines. Heroic women are strong women. I don’t mean physically strong (although some women are) but strong as in interesting and complex. Strong as in resilient and able to face adversity with courage.Strong women have a depth of conviction that is never allowed to be undermined by any romantic involvement. Love and romance in the real world is very different from the romance genre. Strong women enjoy love on their own terms and actively avoid being treated as objects and discarded due to an expiry of a use-by-date. Truly strong women have the ability to act independently, to make their own wise, well-considered choices despite the pressure put upon them to do otherwise, and to think through to consequences and make decisions with their own good and the welfare of others in mind. Such women draw affection, love, and importantly respect.
As a society we need to encourage story tellers, journalists, the media, and workplaces to value diversity, and portray and represent the beauty, strength and diversity of womankind in all of its forms. My novels do this.
Consider also reading http://www.christinemknight.com.au/poetry-2/a-model-for-the-modern-woman
The lyrics 'Take It Off' also deal with this issue. http://www.christinemknight.com.au/author-christine-m-knights-blog/take-it-off-a-song-from-song-bird
'Take It Off' features in 'Song Bird' and is sung by two fictional characters - singing sensation Nikki Mills and international rock star, Rick Brody. 'Song Bird' is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, other online sellers, and many bookstores in the USA.
If you wish to comment, please send me your comment through the contact page. I've had to close my blog for direct comments because of spam.Note to international readers. An Australian, I use the British spelling system.
Friday, March 20, 2015
This blog entry is an excerpt from BELONGING: A RELATED TEXT COMPANION to 'IN AND OUT OF STEP', on sale through Amazon.
Focus: the protagonist - Cassie SleightTechniques: third person narration, characterization, context (place and situation), metaphor, dialogue, flashback scenes, plot action, choice of language
From the first page of the novel, the author signals, through third person narration, that the protagonist is in the role of observer (page 3) and distanced from the world and people around her. The reader sees what Cassie observes and shares her perspective of the worlds that she is entering: the high school setting, the Madison House community, and the wider township. This discussion will focus on Cassie's quest to belong in the school setting.
From the outset of the school plot, it is clear that the protagonist, Cassie Sleight, a championship dancer, does not see herself as a high school teacher and feels that she does not belong to the teaching profession.
As a coping strategy (a strategic process) to help her overcome her feeling of being an outsider, she chose to reframe her view of the world she was entering by likening her finding a place in that world to the dance floor and a 'form of dance' - metaphoric thinking. That coping strategy gave her confidence in dealing with a new environment because it focused on similarities rather than differences in her old and new world. In addition, she also saw the means to inclusion as a matter of wearing the right costume and knowing the steps of the dance. The author uses the extended metaphor of dance to represent Cassie's coping strategies.
After locking the car door, she looked down at her clothing: a simple white shirt, a flowing denim skirt, and her favourite black shoes. She looked the part. All she had to do was be it.Teaching is another form of dance, she thought, a simple matter of learning the steps and getting in time to the rhythm of school life. I can do this. (page 4)
Cassie's sense of being an outsider is exacerbated by the attitudes and values of the community that she seeks to join. On the first day of the school year, male students reinforce that she does not belong in the male world of the English faculty to which she is headed.
The stairs leading into the English block were congested with students.
‘Excuse me, would you mind moving so I can get through?’
‘You in the right place, Miss? This is the English block entrance. The Home Economics stairs are over there and the Music and Art are near the main office.’
‘I know. Now, would you mind moving?’
Legs moved and an aisle appeared amidst the sea of bodies.
Halfway up the stairs, she heard snatches of adolescent conversation.
‘Geez! Tail bait in English, again!’
‘Fun and games ahead, boys.’
‘How long do you reckon this one will last?’
A sinister note is established through dialogue when the boys make reference to 'fun and games ahead' and 'How long will this one last?' The question emphasizes the outsider status of women teachers in the English faculty.
Cassie's outsider status is further reinforced by the behaviour of the men of the English faculty when they arrive that day.
The men, when they arrived, were noisy. They acknowledged Cassie’s shy greeting but then ignored her. Camped in clusters around the centre table, their conversations interlaced and centred on cars, women, and the coming year’s football team. Feeling overwhelmed, Cassie withdrew to the window again. She found being ignored comforting. It gave her time to learn about the men as they were, without the show some people assumed with strangers. (page 25-26)
While the men's behaviour reinforced Cassie's outsider status, narration emphasized her role as observer of the action. This scene also shows that exclusion is not always a negative experience. Feeling overwhelmed by the new experience, Cassie found 'being ignored comforting'. It gave her the opportunity 'to observe the men as they were, without the show some people assumed with strangers.'
Cassie's first term experience in the school shows that belonging is not a matter of having a desk within a staffroom (a physical place) or a class allocation (a role within the community).
A sense of belonging requires shared values, behaviours, and culture - behavioural notions (an insight). A number of behaviours within the adult workplace contributed to Cassie's feelings of exclusion. Disrespect for her personal space made her feel physically uncomfortable in the staffroom.
Focusing now on her workspace, Cassie saw the discard of crates and some of her things on the floor and under the table. Gesturing at her things on the floor Cassie said, ‘Didn’t anyone notice this or did you all just step over it? I don’t care what this table used to be, it’s my work station now!’ The denial of her ownership of her faculty working space by her male colleagues emphasized their view that she did not belong there. (pages 74-75)
Failure of the adult community in which she worked to share corporate knowledge and to provide collegiate support exacerbated the problems she experienced in the classroom and heightened her feeling that she did not belong (insights). A person's emotional response to the behaviours in the world in which she/he lives and or works is another factor that shapes whether of not a person feels alienated or belongs.
Added to this, it appeared that there was an underlying agenda within management to force Cassie and the other women to leave. Management's failure to provide adequate professional orientation put her at a distinct disadvantage within the faculty and the classroom. She did not understand how the discipline process, the marking process, or the established codes of interaction worked. She also didn't know the etiquette of dealing with management or the interaction necessary to get things done. This set her up for conflict and confrontation with management. The insight is that if the community doesn't accept you, then you cannot belong. If you don't understand the codes of interaction or 'the rules of operation' then you cannot be accepted.
Therefore, knowledge of a place as well as knowledge of the social and cultural forces operating within a place play an important part in a person’s struggle to belong especially when there are conflicting values and attitudes.Lack of knowledge and lack of understanding also shape how an outsider views the community and, at times, accepts isolation as a means (strategy) to deal with it.
‘You need to surface for air a lot more than you do. Bonds in the staff room are as important as control in your classes.’
‘I’m not comfortable in here.’
‘And you never will be unless you make the effort, Cassie.’ (page 55)
In the classroom, Cassie's outsider status is empathized by the non-compliant behaviour of her students. That behaviour denied her her role as teacher, the person in charge. She was made to feel an outsider.(page 41) This made her feel defeated and excluded. The author's:
• description of her reaction 'Slumped against the classroom wall' symbolizes her temporary defeat
• use of metaphor 'feeling like dust on a shelf' symbolizes her feeling of irrelevancy and being out of place
• inclusion of Cassie's subtext shows the coping strategy that she used to deal with her sense of alienation and emphasized Cassie's sense of alienation within the classroom.
Summing up, Cassie found herself confronted by a range of unexpected issues in her new workplace. Tacit resistance to the inclusion of the women teachers in what had been one of the last bastions of male supremacy at Keimera High was a major barrier to her finding acceptance and her place within the faculty team and in the classroom. The cramped physical conditions in the staffroom (setting), the hostile behaviours of her male colleagues (characterisation), the related withdrawal of collegiate support and corporate knowledge about workplace practice (aspects of characterisation), rioting students in her classes (setting), evidenced her alienation and exclusion.
The author shows that the barriers to Cassie's acceptance in the workplace and the related adversities that she faced were fundamental to her role change from observer of life to participant in it (insight).
So, what did Cassie do to overcome those barriers?
Overwhelmed by the foreignness of the setting, the lack of acceptance in the workplace, and without the option of returning home, she persevered at working for change despite feeling isolated and, at times, sickened by her situation. At work, she prioritised the obstacles before her, with survival in the classroom as the foremost obstacle to overcome. She then adopted a trial and error approach to problem solving in the classroom. She shelved everything else for the 'too hard basket' and avoided contact with the men at the heart of other issues. Solutions to her classroom predicament were not found readily.
During this challenging time, Cassie found relief from the compounding trauma of her workplace predicament through the familiar ritual of everyday life outside the workplace and the developing connections with the people in her personal and social worlds as well as in the weekly phone contact with her parents. This sustained her in her struggle.
She saw little of her male colleagues beyond the blur of the rush (to and from class). Samantha (another teacher) shared a wry comment whenever they passed, usually eliciting an unexpected laugh. Rajes, serene in her progress, always took time for encouragement. (p45)
In the tradition of generations before them, George and Minna Madison (her landlords) had afternoon tea on the front verandah in the summer months. For Cassie, it was a period of respite from her workday stresses. (page 47)
Cassie made progress in her quest to belong only after she stopped being an observer of her workplace and when she sought to overcome the difficulties she faced there. As a result of dealing with the challenges confronting her, Cassie changed her way of thinking about and seeing the opposition to and exclusion of her. When she recast her students as individuals rather than as a wall of resistance (metaphor) or as a group of people who outnumbered her, she made headway in gaining control and claiming her place as a teacher. The author used wall here as it represents an impassable barrier. In the case of her classes, Cassie's mindset had been one of the barriers to her making satisfactory connections with her students.
Similarly, Cassie's mindset was a barrier to her 'fitting into' the faculty team. It was only when Cassie recast her male colleagues' persistent encroachment on her workspace as random acts of thoughtlessness that she found the strength to be assertive and stake her claim. By rejecting a paradigm where the men were cast as powerful aggressors in her world, she also stopped seeing herself as a victim and as powerless. Gaining inclusion within the faculty team did not solve the complications and challenges in Cassie's life: work, social and personal, but it did provide a sense of security and empowerment.Those changes in mindset caused a change in Cassie's super objective (the motivating force behind her actions). At the start of the novel, Cassie's super objective was the need to find 'a safe harbour' (page 162). That super objective had led to her emotional shutdown after a significant trauma in her mid teens and was revealed through flashback scenes. Her 'safe harbour' objective led to her becoming a shadow of her former self.
As the plot action progresses and as she dealt with the issues and people in her new world, Cassie's understanding of herself developed. She realised that she had previously withdrawn from life and had assumed the role of observer and become a wallflower.In rejecting the roles of observer and wallflower, Cassie re-engaged with life. The re-engagement is reflected by:
• her search for ways in which to gain control of her rioting classes,
• her standing up to Coachman (her boss),
• her standing up the men of the faculty who denied her claim to a staff room workspace,
• her direct rejection the sexually harassing behaviours of some of the men in the faculty and demand that she be treated appropriately,
• her lobbying of Coachman and demand that he deal with student accusations of sexual harassment by Talbut,
• her insistence that Van der Huffen cease being an outsider during his friend's crisis and provide the support that Selton needed during the latter's personal crisis and loss (Chapter 25, pages 253-260),
• her return to the dance floor and later to dance competition, and
• her attempts to provide support Samantha Smith after the rape and re-engage her in life (Chapter 41).
The author used the wallflower metaphor to represent Cassie's growth in self-knowledge. Cassie realised she would only find her 'safe harbour' if she put aside her fears and participated in life and the varied forms of relationship to which she could belong rather than withdrawing from life and accepting isolation or alienation - a significant insight into herself and life. It was through re-engaging with life as demonstrated by assertiveness that she ultimately found a place where she belonged. (insight)
At the same time, the other women teachers' predicament, which mirrored Cassie's experiences in the workplace, triggered a change in the behaviour of the men. It became evident to some of the men that the covert strategy to deny acceptance of the women was unfair and could not continue. A grudging respect for the women evolved and some collegiate support followed culminating in some of the men saying 'this is not on'. (Chapter 19 starting page 187) Familiarity and respect that comes from perseverance are factors in gaining acceptance and inclusion.
Insight: It was only when Cassie rejected the role of outsider, stopped being a passive observer, and actively participated in the world around her that she found her place and achieved her sense of belonging.
Note: The author used parallel and contrasting subplots that dealt with Cassie's and other characters' experiences at Madison House and the school to explore further aspects of belonging and to extend on insights into her themes, including the concept of belonging.
You can buy a paperback or eBook copy of BELONGING RELATED TEXT COMPANION through
You can buy a paperback or eBook copy 'In and out of Step' from any bookseller online. The Book Depository has free shipping.
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Growing up, were you an avid reader? If so, what did you read?
Yes, I've always loved reading. Books have functioned as portals into other worlds for me. I've always been drawn to novels that explored the times, culture, and values in which a story was set.
The 'Heidi' stories made a significant impression on me in my pre-teen years. In particular, the comfort that Heidi drew from the soft chorus of the alpine trees in her most vulnerable moments when she moved into her grandfather's house. That impression was so strong that many years later, I looked for a rural property bordered by confirs. It was the deciding factor for me when my husband and I purchased land north of Canberra,
As a teenager, I loved Jane Austen's novels, not because I saw them as romances, but because her stories looked at the world from the female perspective. Her novels explored the challenges that women faced in her society then as well as the changing attitudes to relationships. I think Austen would be upset to know many people nowadays had reduced her novels to simple romances. They represent so much more than that.
I also enjoyed writers like Elizabeth Gaskell and the three Bronte sisters. Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' was another favourite. In each case, it was the world the stories were anchored in that interested me. I also read all of Agatha Christie's novels.
In my late teens, I was enlightened and inspired by authors such as Mark Twain, Leon Urus, John Steinbeck, and Hemingway. Their stories were firmly grounded in the historical, social, religious, and economic circumstances of the times they wrote about.
Reading helped me comprehend the world.
What did you read as an adult?
I loved quality fantasy fiction by authors such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Terry Brooks, and Raymond E Feist. I was fascinated by science fiction stories as told by Issac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, and Frank Herbert.
I loved James Clavell's novels - he wrote superb stories. 'Shogun' is a favourite. I loved the way Clavell positioned his readers to view Japan from the changing perspective of his central character, John Blackthorne. Half-way through that novel, if I'd been able to speak Japanese, I would have stopped speaking English. The female heroine in 'Shogun' is truly memorable.
Clavell had a huge influence on me as a writer. In my stories, I also position readers to see the world through one or more character's eyes. By doing so, I make it possible for the reader to feel life from that character's perspective. That makes the impact of conflicts powerful.
I was attracted to all of those stories because the authors wrote about ideas, values, and the world their characters inhabited. Stories like that can be read more than once.
I am also a huge fan of the TV series 'Castle' and have all the novels that were spin-offs from that series. Although those books were fun to read, they lacked the substance that I normally look for and enjoy in novels.
Have you ever had a favourite bookshop?
As a child and teenager, I did. My father used to take my brother, sister and me to David Jones at Parramatta once a fortnight (2 weeks) on Saturday mornings. My mother worked in retail - Rockmans at Cabramatta - and it was Dad's job to entertain us and keep us out of mischief.
We used to sit on the floor in the book department section of the store, browsing the first chapters of books, deliberating on which ones we'd ask Dad to buy. Although money was in short supply in those years and we didn't have much, we did have access to books.
Dad let us buy two - three books each on the proviso that we had to read them over the two week period and then talk to him about the stories, ideas, and values in them before the next trip to David Jones. In many ways, my father had difficulty relating to his children but he did share many precious moments with us through a shared love of reading and storytelling.
Those days are wonderful memories. I'd sit cross-legged on the floor in the book section, a book open on my lap, and disappear into new worlds. The shop assistants didn't fuss about us reading their books beyond talking to us about how to hold a book and turn pages. They actively encouraged a love of reading. When business was slow, they would chat to us about the stories they loved and thought we'd enjoy.
Sunday, February 01, 2015
extravagance, and bad financial management. That truth was so fixed in his thoughts that he feared his daughter’s career would lead to her ruin.
The group moved forward as Marg spoke to Dan. “Hold Zoey’s hand, Dan.”
“Gran, do I have to? I’m too big to hold hands!”
“You’re right, Dan, but today you will. It’s too crowded. I don’t want you gettin’ lost.”
“Can’t I just promise to stay next to her?”
Zoey said, “Dan's pretty responsible, Aunty Marg. If he says he’ll stick close, then he will.”
Reluctantly, Marg agreed. “I’m relyin’ on you, Zoey, to keep him close.”
With affable efficiency, the publicist led the way into the terminal. “So many more fans than I’d hoped. Mr Doyle will be thrilled! We have great media coverage: Nine, Eight, Seven, Ten, and the ABC as well as the newspapers! You can’t buy press like that, and I’ve organised the perfect spot for a touching reunion.”
“Hang on,” Trevor Mills said, stopping. His group came to a halt. “You can put a cork in that idea. You’re not goin’ to exploit a private family moment.”
Trevor looked at his wife who reflected his confounded expression.
The group did not move.
“Okay, I’ll work something out.” The publicist hurried forward, aware that her time-critical plan now worked against her. Why hasn’t anyone explained the importance of the publicity show to them? It’s too late to organise the VIP room. How can I make this work? Looking back over her shoulder, she was relieved to see this particular train was back on track.
Passing through the terminal’s automatic double doors, the Mills and Zoey came to a standstill. Not only could they not move forward, they were gobsmacked.
A squeeze of select fans positioned behind waist-high barricades raised the hubbub significantly in the Arrivals area. Exiting travellers, after clearing the Customs Hall, flowed down a narrow path into Arrivals, met their welcome parties, added baggage trolleys to the congestion, and converged into a single lane that moved like Sydney traffic in a peak-hour jam.
“Okay.” Zoey let go of his hand.
Hired security guards on the lookout for the publicist cleared a path for her party. The publicity machine took over.
The Nikki Mills Band exited the Customs Hall midstream in the flow of people. In the time they had been away, the look of the band had changed. It was not so much what they wore but the ultra-cool attitude they projected. The men wore sneakers, jeans, solid colour Tees, and carried jackets. Usually clean-shaven, they all wore a patina of stubble that day. As the men exited Customs and took in the glare, Jack Carter and Steve Mason donned sunglasses.
Close on Dan’s heels, Sarah O’Brien, dressed in soft appealing green hues, rushed to her husband.
The Mills and Zoey joined Nikki and Dan, as did Susie Blake. With Dan attached to her, Nikki hugged each parent, her father first.
“Mum! It’s the October school holidays. Besides, I know my stuff backwards. It’s just low-key revision from now on. I’ve missed you!”
“Oh, I thought … never mind, I’ve missed you too.”
The publicist, eager to harvest the fruit from this carefully planned event, enjoyed the press’ interest in what was an unusual story of a single mother triumphing against the odds in the music industry. “Nikki, I’ve booked a media room because of demand. We’ll head there next. The press are very interested in The Babes-in-the-Bath tour and why the British and European press dubbed it so.”
Nikki laughed. “You heard about that over here?”
“The Sotheby’s auction and the story behind the tour tag has the media intrigued.”
“I’d be a poor publicist indeed if I didn’t make the most of such a golden opportunity.”
“Then we’ll be happy to tell the whole story.”
“Now if you, Dan, and the group will follow my assistant, I’ll round up Jack and Steve. We thought some shots of you reunited with Dan—”
“No, I’m not exploiting my child.”
“But, Mummy, I want to stay with you.”
“There are no buts about it.” Nikki flicked a grateful smile at Zoey who soothed Dan with an undertone explanation. Nikki looked apologetically at her parents before speaking to the publicist. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Isra Haq. I’m the senior publicist for The Harbourside Agency.”
“Mr Doyle saw the wisdom in my suggestion to provide one given your parents are country people unused to city traffic or the airport circus. It will make visiting his office after the media interview easier as well. No parking hassles.”
Aware of her travel-dishevelled state, Nikki said, “I hadn’t planned on meeting anyone today let alone being in a media interview. I intended going straight home. Have a good look at me; I’m not dressed for it. Can’t you reschedule both?”
“I can’t do that.”
“We have to take advantage of this media opportunity now. I can’t reschedule Mr Doyle either; he pays the bills and calls the shots. I do have a make-up artist ready though.”
“Not a stylist and a change of clothes for us?”
“No, our line is that this was a spontaneous fan-based response, and we just took advantage of it on the day. The crumpled look is the look we want.”
Nikki responded, “If I’d known about the meeting with Doyle, we could’ve showered in the QANTAS lounge facilities before we came through Customs.”
“How spontaneous was it really?”
“As spontaneous as any such gathering can be. Look, I know you’re unhappy about the way today is playing out, but doesn’t the fact that you flew back Business Class compensate?”
“So that’s the reason? We thought it was because the tour was such a success.”
“I’m not privy to Mr Doyle’s reasons.”
“Yet, you linked our mode of travel to the media circus unfolding here.”
“I’m just trying to see the glass as half full, that’s all. … The media room is this way.”
* * * *
The Harbourside Agency occupied a premier location in Darling Harbour southwest of the Harbour Bridge. The agency occupied floors in one of the greenest buildings in Sydney. The building was an innovative and ecologically sustainable facility, a reflection of growing national concern about climate warming. Natural light filtered into the building through a panelled automated roof that tracked the sun and shade. Huge expanses of double glazed windows provided views of Cockle Bay to the west and the harbour to the north while maintaining energy efficiency. Solar chimneys expelled
hot air and drew in cooler sea air. The interior walls transitioned subtly from blue to green. Furnishings were elegant yet functional.
The publicist excused herself.
“Will you look at that view!” Trevor Mills said. “This place must cost a bundle!”
Nikki crossed to her father and spoke softly to him. “Dad, try not to look so impressed. It puts me at a business disadvantage.”
“Oh, right. I need to act like this is run-of-the-mill stuff, eh, Mavis?” He chuckled, pleased with his subtle witticism.
Nikki smiled at her father’s attempted pun. “Dad, have you forgotten you agreed to call me Nikki in business situations?”
“We both had, love,” Marg said. “Trev’, doesn’t this look a gastronomic delight? So much more appetisin’ than that airport food. I wonder if we should wait for Mr Doyle.”
Trevor answered, “Wait would be the right thing. It looks more like a gastronomic nightmare given all that gluten and dairy.”
Doyle’s elegant personal assistant glided into the lounge area followed by the publicist. The assistant spoke to Nikki. “Miss Mills, Isra Haq has explained your desire to freshen up before the meeting. I’ve discussed your request with Mr Doyle. He’s happy to wait.”
“That’s very kind, but I don’t want to waste his time. He must have a busy day.”
“He does, very busy, but he’s more than happy to give you time to freshen up. Besides, his sister has popped in without an appointment. London to Sydney is such a long flight. Staff here appreciate how terrible travel grunge feels. Our shower facilities have a full complement of hair and make-up products. I can organise a fresh change of clothes from the Harbourside shopping centre if
you can’t access your luggage.”
“Thank you.” Nikki consulted with Susie before adding, “If someone could buy us jeans and a T-shirt each, sizes 10 and 12 respectively, we’d appreciate it. Fellas?”
Jack answered for them, “Yeah, we’ll have a shower and change as well. We’re a one-size-fits-all group, regular, thirty-four waists, large Tees. We haven’t had time to get local currency yet so—”
The personal assistant replied, “No worries. The agency usually takes care of this sort of thing.” She left.
Nikki spoke to the publicist, “Thank you.”
“I hope it compensates in part for not giving you a heads up before you returned to Oz.”
* * * *
From the comfort of his leather chair, Doyle looked up at her, an unusual experience for him given he was significantly taller. His face was symmetrical, lean with a well-defined bone structure, expressive brown eyes, and dark hair. His sister was a classic beauty. They shared a strong family resemblance although he opted for a quiet, understated casual look that nonetheless spoke money and success.
“You’re confusing my clients with wedding singers. It’d be an insult to ask any of them to perform at your wedding, a wedding the old man hasn’t consented to as yet, or are you prepared to forgo inheritance and go for love alone instead?”
“I’ll bring Daddy around. I’m not sure how yet, but I will. His preoccupation with bloodlines and breeding is absurd!”
“I agree, but it’s a consequence of his passion for race horses and his decades old dream of winning the Melbourne Cup. It might help if you enlisted Gran.”
“Do you think she’ll like Gavin?”
“No, he’s not her cut of man. For that matter, I don’t understand what you see in him either.”
“The heart wants what it wants.” Avril stood. “What I want is essentially the same as we did when we were kids — a close-knit, demonstrative family. Have you forgotten?”
The question triggered a memory from his childhood. He remembered the sleeting cold rain of that winter’s day and the bleak chill of indifference. That day had been a milestone in his young life.
“I haven’t forgotten.”
“Well, with Gavin, I can have that family. He grew up in that family.”
“And if you’re made to choose?”
“I’ll call Daddy’s bluff, but if push comes to shove, I’ll go with my man if it comes to that. It won’t though. Gran wouldn’t stand for it.”
Doyle’s phone rang. He rerouted the call to his personal assistant.
“I hadn’t planned on it.”
“I’m officially introducing Gavin as my fiancé so I’ll need your support.” Avril glanced at Doyle’s photographic collection symmetrically aligned on the wall as Doyle walked her to his office door. “That’s new.” She crossed to examine the framed photographs. “Oh my God! Shaun, you’re the anonymous buyer from that Sotheby’s Art Auction that made the headlines!” She considered each of the four photographs carefully. “You paid an outrageous amount for them!”
Doyle recalled the heat of the bidding and his unexpected determination that he had to possess those photographs.
“Both women look hot! Are they?” Avril turned on her heel and looked critically at her brother. “Are you interested in one or both of them? I would not be surprised if it were both. You have such a harem!”
“I’m no blabber-mouth, well … not since I grew up. Your secret is safe; I promise not to use it as leverage to get my way. Well, I’ve places to be and money to spend.” On impulse, Avril hugged him. “You are the best brother a girl could ever wish for. You’ve two weeks to rearrange any conflicting plans for that weekend. I know you won’t disappoint me.”
As the lift descended, it occurred to Avril that her brother’s explanation did not quite ring true. Maybe it was the reason for him bidding at the auction, but it did not explain him engaging in a bidding war that was the talk of Fleet Street and the Australian media. Which of the women was he interested in?
Want to know what happens next?
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Wednesday, January 21, 2015
I’ve lived life
As a masquerade
Defined by roles
I have played.
I’ve been a shape shifter
Me to be.
VERSE 2: WOMAN
Take off the mask
Farewell the double face.
You don’t have to pretend
I know the fear of being real.
When you are true
You can be true to me.
Strip it off.
Let it fall away.
Turn desire into
Heat and fire.
Strip it off.
Let it fall away.
Touch and taste
In our natural states,
We can live
Without the masks
That bar love
You can be true
To yourself and me.
Strip it off.
Let it fall away.
Turn desire into
Heat and fire.
Strip it off.
Let it fall away.
Touch and taste
Get down and be real with me. (repeated)
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Inside, people stumbled, domino like, into one another. 'Hey, watch it!’ protested a number of voices.
The Deputy sat behind a paper-littered desk. His face resembled that of a basset hound, and he seemed small com- pared to the man before him. Cassie suppressed a smile when she heard the Deputy addressed as Mr Barker. Unfortunate name, she thought.
Coachman weighed up the wisdom of a skirmish.
Coachman suppressed his quip, swept past the women, and headed toward his domain. The women followed in brisk pursuit.
During the drive to the boarding house, Cassie sifted through the day’s images. The staff room was cramped and hot. The men were a defensive pack obviously resentful of female intrusion. The English Head appeared to be a control freak. The identities of her colleagues were a jumble. Overwhelmed by the number of names she would have to learn, she did the maths: five classes times thirty students. God! That is one hundred and fifty names to know and identities to work out. Eleven men in the faculty, not to mention the rest of the staff! How will I ever remember them all?
‘Tea, George?’ Minna Madison sat in a large wicker cane chair. She was a small woman who liked to think of herself as plump rather then overweight. Plump suggested an attractive, soft ripeness of the figure like in Rubens’ paintings. George, her husband, thought of her as having a Mae West figure without the ‘Come up and see me sometime’ attitude. Minna loved life and everything in it.
Rounding the final curve leading to Pipers Point, Cassie caught her breath at the sight. Madison House, a white two-storey colonial mansion, dominated the crest of the peninsula and was the only house visible.
Thursday, November 13, 2014
As part of the writing process for 'SONG BIRD', I write lyrics that focus on key character relationships. 'The Flame’ deals with one of those relationships. The scene below is from the novel.
The world-wide launch date for 'SONG BIRD' is 2nd February 2015. My publisher has advise me that it will be available for pre-order through all online sellers and can be ordered through bookstores from 15th January 2015. You need to tell your local bookseller it is POD.
VERSE 1 -MAN
I once thought
Love was pure desire
A hunger, fever,
An appetite on fire,
That came my way.
Blaze and fade.
VERSE 2 - WOMAN (variation in melody)
Once I thought,
Love was like breath,
Something we were preset
To feel and express.
Seduced by a masquerade,
I got burned and learned,
Actions, not the serenade,
Love's truth confirms.
I know now
Love's an eternal
It burns brightly
On the darkest
It fills my heart,
Soul, my mind.
It can’t be denied.
Steadfast and constant,
That’s what I’ll be
On life’s road with you.
When things ‘re tough
You can depend on me.
You hold my heart
I know now
Love's an eternal
It burns brightly
On the darkest
It fills my heart,
Soul, my mind.
It can’t be denied.
© Christine M Knight
Hear the full song at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/christinemknight2