CHRISTINE M. KNIGHT

An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

On Writing: In and Out of Step

As a writer, my preferred genre is general fiction but with a woman as the protagonist and men in the supporting role, developed only as far as the role they played required. As a story teller, I like to explore character perspectives through experience, evoke an emotional response, provoke thought and discussion, and allow readers to conclude insights.

Since my teens, I've been interested in the position of women in modern Australia; their place in the modern world, the nature of relationships, gender politics and power, choice, and changing societal views about male and female relationships. When I entered the adult workforce, I became interested in bullying, sexual harassment, and the conditioned responses and culture that support overt and covert forms of it.

I first thought of using fiction to explore chauvinism, gender politics, the realm of sexual behaviour and the links to sexual harassment, bullying, and the line between appropriate and inappropriate humour and sexual innuendo when I lived in the United States. In 1991, I was glued to the television, fascinated by the United States Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas. Hooked, I stayed tuned throughout the hearings, relocating as many household tasks as possible to that space, watching mesmerized until the early mornings for about a week.

The contradictions of that case and the questions that arose from it puzzled me for a long time. How could someone, who seemingly supported women's rights and empowering legislation that could protect women, be accused of sexual harassment? In what circumstances could a man be a sexual harasser? Was the paradox possible? Could a man try to be 'modern' and yet be threatened by power shifts in society and the workplace? What was credible?

So began my research into the fabric of gender politics and the politics of power in the physical and social contexts in which I lived. Research focused me on gender patterns of action, interaction, and belief as well as the polarities in a variety of environments. As part of that research, a huge number of women shared their personal and workplace experiences in a world where sexual freedom was the order of the day.

Many women shared stories about their first sexual encounters, more often than not impromptu affairs where the boy was swept away in the passion of the moment and the girl caught up in that tidal pull. Those stories centred on private trauma, developing personal doubts about sexual identity, the need to resolve those doubts through further sexual experiences, and empowerment issues.

During the research phase, I found a lot of 'ordinary' women in the workforce felt caught in a dilemma. Was sex the only coinage for advancement in a male dominated workplace or could women achieve advancement as a result of their knowledge and skills set? Did so-called workplace femme fatales make it difficult for other women to advance? Did such women in part bear responsibility for sexually charged workplaces and undermining the status of women who wanted to be seen as a person first and a woman second?

At the same time, my love affair with dance continued. When watching newcomers to the ballroom in lessons, I was struck by the way traditional gender roles were reinforced during the process of learning ballroom dancing even though in non-dance environments there had been significant gains in gender equality. Students came to the dance floor as 'equals in ignorance' and the ritual of role was imposed on them. As dance novices, girls and women were drilled with 'Whatever you do, do not lead! Be alert to your partner's cues and submit to his intent' even though boys and men seemed quite happy to let the female lead if that meant the male avoided the embarrassment of being visibly out of step on the dance floor.

The traditional gender perspective embedded in lessons seemed to be contrary to the reality of my own ballroom dance experiences where both male and female dancers responded to music, its rhythm, and relied on one another to know the options for steps and patterns. As skills developed, dance seemed to be more a conversation and dialogue about partnership than an act of submission.

Yet, in lessons, the traditional gender biased perspective about roles went unchallenged despite changing societal views. I observed that, in life and on the dance floor, attuned gender interaction was lost, especially as the complexity of the dance increased, when one person appropriated control and power of the dance and required blind following. In such instances, the dance broke down visibly as well as in a decline in the number of willing partners. As an aside, it is interesting that during the second wave of the women's movement that dance styles broke away from male dominated lead.

Out of those experiences, the story line and central characters for my first novel manuscript, 'Down Under' developed. It took 12 months to draft the manuscript. Another year to work with an editing service to refine it. I spent my final year in USA in search of a publishing home for it. Feedback from publishing houses was American audiences were interested in home-grown stories not overseas ones and that I should write for the romance genre instead. In short, rejection letters said, 'Put it in a bottom drawer and start a different project.' I did both.

After studying the conventions for story telling in the romance genre, I decided that genre wasn't for me for philosophical reasons. I believe there is more to a woman's life than the getting of a partner, and while the heated sexual tension around that getting may be interesting, there is a lot more to life and the nature of love than the romance genre allows writers to explore. I realised I wanted to write women's fiction that also had an appeal to men. For years, I played around with various plot lines and characters. Ultimately I drew inspiration from mythology: the story of Cassandra, Pandora's Box, the Sword of Damocles, and the story of the phoenix. I was also influenced by a line from Tennyson: 'I am part of everything I meet.' I think the corollary is also true. That is, I am part of everything I meet, and it becomes part of me.

From that realisation, I wrote the poem 'Stepping Back' which became the organising motif for the story of 'In and Out of Step'. I realised I wanted to explore the ripple effect of experiences and the impact that the people we meet have on us and how that impact defines the authentic version of self. My narrative came into focus and became a multi-threaded plot as I explored the contrasting perspectives, the culture, and the characters that shape Cassie Sleight as a person. That world and its people are an important part of Cassie's story as well as her journey toward self-knowledge and recovery from trauma - a form of rebirth.

In closing, I agree with Margaret Culkin Banning who accurately described the art of writing fiction. Banning said:

'Fiction is not a dream; nor is it guess work. It is imagining based on facts, and the facts must be accurate or the work of imagining will not stand up.'

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QUICK LINKS


GLOSSARY SNIPPET

The Australian Bicentennial occurred in 1988. The novel is set between 1988-1990.

anti-Metherell campaign: teachers’ union protests against the changes to the New South Wales (NSW) state school education system introduced by the then NSW Liberal Minister for Education, Terry Metherell.

arvo is Australian slang for afternoon.

BHP (today known as BHP Billiton) is a global mining group that includes steelworks such as those based in Wollongong south of Sydney. In Australia, it is the top producer of iron ore and coal (thermal and metallurgical).

bloke is Australian slang and means an ordinary man

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LATEST BLOG POSTS

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Life Song - a story of metamorphosis

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Twenty-two-year-old Mavis Mills first appears in my novel In and Out of Step. Outgoing, gregarious, and confident, Mavis is a significant secondary character in that novel.  Mavis' story - a subplot - is used to provide contrast to and insight into Cassie Sleight's (the central character) journey. 

    At one point in the novel, effervescent Mavis is severely injured – physically, emotionally, and psychologically - by domestic violence and the fire of her partner’s rage. He also destroys her guitar and the copies of her original songs. Part of  the subplot from In and Out of Step explores the context of the domestic violence and provides insight into the psychology of it. Excuses are not made.

    At the start of Life Song, Mavis is twenty-eight-years-old and very different from the young woman who shone throughout most of In and Out of Step. She is the central character in Life Song. She has become subdued, distrustful of her own judgement, and an echo of her former self. Unexpectedly, she discovers she has a choice: continue to live a life tainted by domestic violence or seize the opportunity before her and try to rise above her circumstance and, like the phoenix bird, leave the ashes of her past life behind.

    'Could she live the rest of her life as she'd been living. She couldn't, not now she'd glimpsed another world, fleeting though that vision had been.'

    Life Song is not a cliche 'chic musician on the road' story and is definitely not a romance. It is about the woman Mavis becomes and the people who stand by her as she undergoes transformation – physical, psychological, and to an extent spiritual. She does not solve her problems in the arms of a man but makes the hard choices herself.

    The drama comes from the tugs-of-war that Mavis has to work though. It is made all the harder because Mavis' heart is in conflict with itself. One person, no matter how strong, cannot win a tug-of-war alone. The same applies to Mavis.

    Readers learn about the things that give Mavis strength and that enable her to boldly embrace the inevitable changes coming into her life as she becomes Nikki Mills, the Song Bird from Oz.

    I recommend you listen to two songs from that novel: Sunshine Days and Life Song (A Vision Splendid) to get a feel for this story.

    There are many kinds of wins in life, most of them personal rather than widely acclaimed. It's those personal 'brave heart' moments that define Mavis. Reader feedback through my publisher and website is that Life Song is a gratifying read.

    As part of your journey in reading this blog,  I suggest you listen to Move On.  In my imagination, it is first sung by Mavis' support network, but ultimately the song becomes her personal mantra.

    Australia is a diverse landscape and has diverse communities. Life Song gives readers an opportunity to spend time in some of those communities. The title alludes to the fact that each character's life has its own melody and when sung in concert become the symphony that is Life Song

    Notes:

    Life Song is one of four novels in The Keimera Series. Each novel is a standalone narrative and has the backstory woven into it.  The Keimera Series is an opus.

    Keimera does not in any way allude to chimeraa monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature from Greek mythology.

    If you would like to lend me your support so that I can produce more music from my novels, you can buy any of my songs from CD Baby.  Each of my songs can be purchased for the very small price of $1.69. My music is also on iTunes and other major online music sellers as well.



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    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    The story behind my song 'The Flame'

    Sunday, June 25, 2017


    'The Flame' features in my novel ‘Song Bird’. In the novel, it is sung by rock legend Rick Brody who serenades Nikki Mills (the central character in the novel). In real life, it was sung by Funnie Williams and Thanapat Yarchartoen (aka Film). I produced the song through Karma Sound Studios in Thailand.

    BACKSTORY TO 'THE FLAME' - The Singer or the Song?

    In ‘Song Bird’ and its prequel 'Life Song', Nikki Mills - the Girl from Oz - is a survivor of domestic violence. Once an innocent, she believed the very convincing serenade of her first significant love, Terry Kikby. Long before Nikki met Rick, his song 'The Flame' resonated with her.  She believed that Rick's songs really expressed his own ideas and values.

    Having been at the top of the music industry for sixteen years, Rick finds his music is dropping in the charts. Defined by his 'bad boy' image, he has lost sight of his real self. Consequently,  his music has lost its connection with his fan base. Interested in Nikki as a woman as much as in her skill as a lyricist, Rick collaborates with Nikki on a new album. 

    Flattered by Rick's interest in her and impressed by 'The Flame', Nikki embarks on a relationship with him.  A subplot in the novel explores the ramifications of that decision.  Can she help Rick find the heart that his music once had?  Will Nikki be hurt or healed by the relationship with him?  The answers are found in my novel 'Song Bird'. 

    Readers of this blog may also find the pop rock song 'Masque' and interesting insight into Rick and Nikki's relationship issues.

    I currently have 8 songs on CD Baby and iTunes. You can help me raise the money to produce the rest of my songs by buying one or more of my songs at the very small price of $1.69 per song. They are on sale at CD Baby and  iTunes. Online music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer promote my music, but I only earn approximately one cent per one hundred streams. 

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    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    The Story Behind Pop Rock Song 'Masque'

    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    'Masque' is a duet between charismatic rock star, Rick Brody, and singing sensation Nikki Mills (the Girl from Oz). They are fictional characters in my novel, ‘Song Bird’, which is on sale through Amazon, Book Depository, and other online booksellers as are my other novels' 'Life Song' and 'In and Out of Step' - in paperback and eBook formats.

    'Masque' features the vocal talents of Australians, Skye Elisabeth and Nic James. I am the composer and executive producer for all of my music. Although I am a musician, I no longer perform publicly but use talented session musicians.

    I use music as part of my writing process when developing a novel as it allows me to explore character perspectives, challenges, and personal journeys.

    My song ‘Masque’ evolved out of my exploration of Rick and Nikki’s relationship when developing 'Song Bird', the novel . The song helped me better understand rock legend Rick Brody, the impact of being a rock star on Rick's relationship with Nikki, and the core obstacles they faced. Rick Brody is one of four pivotal men in Nikki Mills' life.

    Wider Relevance
    The song has relevance for anyone who feels compelled to be what others expect the person to be rather than being true to self, something that is much easier said than done.

    'Masque' also has relevance for a diverse number of people. For instance, I play many roles: wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, author, musician and so on. I understand how the expectations and demands of others put me under pressure not to let others down. In trying not to short-change others, it was so easy to forget about who I was separate from those roles and what my being real meant.

    The context behind the song 'Masque'
    In ‘Song Bird’, Rick Brody is charismatic rock star who has been living the cliché - sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. Like the Tinman from Oz, Rick is injured by his trade. For the Tinman, it was his axe. For Rick Brody, it was his status as a rock star and image of 'bad boy’. He became defined by those roles. Life became a masquerade.

    In both cases, the Timan and Rick become manufactured men in want of heart.  Rick’s preoccupation with living the cliché meant that his music lost its heart and the appeal that had drawn audiences to him as he rose to the pinnacle of the music industry.

    By contrast, Nikki refused to sell out in order to achieve success. She was determined to get to the top on her own terms and to not be treated as a commodity in the industry.

    At the Australian Recording Industry Awards, Rick asked his manager to connect him with Nikki after seeing her perform. Rick claimed his primary interest in Nikki was musical collaboration, but his libido and history of conquests shaped his reason for collaborating with her and definitely shaped the way he interacted with her.

    Although Nikki pretended not to be attracted to Rick, she was flattered that he was ‘interested in her of all people. Unlike his fans, Nikki did not have an urge to flash her breasts, hand over her panties, or suggest a threesome.’  She maintained a mask of cool indifference and stayed work-focused throughout the early stages of their musical relationship. Consequently, Rick viewed Nikki as a challenge. Committed to the long game in winning her, he courted.

    A survivor of domestic violence, Nikki was cautious about the men with whom she mixed.  ‘Song Bird’ explores the ripple effect of her decision to work with Rick. Can she help Rick find the heart that his music once had? Can he become real with her? Will Nikki’s relationship with him injure her?

    You can read more about 'Song Bird' here and on other pages at my website.

    You can help me raise the money to produce the rest of my songs by buying one or more of my songs at the very small price of $1.69 per song. They are on sale at CD Baby and  iTunes. The online music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer promote my music, but I only earn approximately one cent per one hundred streams. 

    Note: As the novels are set in Australia, I use the British spelling system and language conventions. There are minor differences to the American system.

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NEWS

  • 'Sunshine Days' playing on FM radio in USA

    05-Sep-2017

    Christine M Knight's fabulous song 'Sunshine Days' (https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/christinemknight7) is playing on the following FM radio stations in USA. If you are a listener in any of the followi..
  • A saga to relish and enjoy

    22-Aug-2017

    Tired of the dark, brooding narratives on TV and in the cinema? Escape into the world of ‘Life Song’ and 'Song Bird' https://www.amazon.com/Life-Song-Christine-M-Knight/dp/0987434853..
  • 'Masque' trending in Southern USA, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East

    23-Aug-2017

    Christine's rop-rock song 'Masque (https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/christinemknight4)' is trending in Southern United States, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. It can now also be heard in rotation on:..

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