CHRISTINE M. KNIGHT

An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

On Writing: Song Bird

‘Song Bird’ is the third novel in the Keimera series and a sequel to ‘Life Song’, but the story stands independently and on its own merit. When read within the context of the series, the reader’s knowledge of the characters in that world is enriched. The reader grows with the characters over the course of the three novels. As I am an Australian author, I use the British spelling system.

To date, I have used a different central motif in each novel to organise the story. I use a motif to weave together the thematic complexities of characterisation and plot. The motif is the palette used to shape my characters and the world that they inhabit, to comment on characters, and to point to the story’s underlying meaning.

Some of the key elements of the motif are the golden road, red shoes, the land of glitter and gloss, the colour green, and the Holy Grail pursued by the protagonist and other key characters. A few of these elements are incorporated into the book’s cover design and into marketing imagery used to launch and promote the novel.

The title ‘Song Bird’ meant that this story focused on Nikki Mills (aka Mavis Mills) and her journey now that she has achieved fame and fortune. The novel’s subtitle is ‘Matters of the Heart’, a key focus in the plot and subplots. The subplots were constrained by their relevance to Nikki’s journey in this stage of her life. I developed them in broad impressionistic strokes. They support and expand upon the major plot and its insights. I also use subplots to change the pace of the storytelling and to shift tone and mood. I’m told the story is fast paced.

In contrast, my other novels focused a lot more on the world and issues in which the protagonist and other characters lived. I developed the subplots in those stories in greater depth as they provided insight into the respective worlds and allowed me to explore the themes from differing perspectives.

The complexity of each novel stems from the paralleling and contrasting of lives, relationships, and the ripple effect that people’s actions have on one another in a community. My novels are character driven stories anchored in the physical and social settings of the times. I use point of view shifts from inner thought to dialogue to the situational arena to explore themes and examine them from several standpoints. I’m intrigued by and interested in the notion of reality versus perception, myth versus real-life, the discoveries that characters make about life, the connections and discordances between people, and the complexities of love.

As part of the writing process for 'Song Bird’, I composed lyrics and music that helped me focus on character relationships and the central theme. ‘Road to True North’ and ‘The Flame’ are two songs that evolved from that process. They were ultimately engineered and produced at Karma Sound Studios in Thailand and are on sale through CD Baby and iTunes. Dagny (London) provided the vocals for 'Road to True North'. Thanapat Yartcharoen (short name: Film) provided the male vocals in 'The Flame' and Jirana Williamson (short name: Funnie) provided the female vocals in that song. 

My publisher also commissioned a song through crowdsourcing for ‘Song Bird’. ‘The Golden Road’ by Justine Camilleri and Chris Gale was chosen from a highly competitive field of entries. The lyrics were the outcome of a number of discussions between Justine Camilleri and me about the imagery that I used in 'Song Bird’ and the plot’s concerns. It is one of two songs used in the book video trailer. The other song is ‘Road to True North’. My song is engineered and produced by Shane Edwards, who also provided all of the instrumental work.

Performer bios

Dagny is a Norwegian singer songwriter who has blossomed from a musical background in Tromsø in the very north of Norway. Interestingly, her promotional brand is song bird of the north. In many ways her music reflects her personality ‐ a folk/pop sound infused with eternal optimism. Dagny is no stranger to big crowds ¬‐ she opened for Sir Elton John, playing to a crowd of over 10,000 people in March 2012. Later that same year she was the exclusive support for Sting at the Impact Arena in Bangkok and in June of 2014 she opened for Bryan Adams at Clam Castle in Austria receiving an amazing reaction from a crowd of over 9,000. In late 2013, Dagny moved to the UK where she has become a firm favourite on the indie folk/pop scene.She is on Facebook.

Justine Camilleri is an Australian born singer/songwriter with a passion for coffee and comfortable shoes. Starting her career in the mid ‘90’s as a singer with MO Award nominees, Sisters Incorporated, Justine was taken under the guiding wings of her mother, Billie Wilde, and the late Sharyn Crystal. Performing regularly on television (Midday with Kerrie-Anne and John Mangos), P & O Cruises, corporate sector events and clubs throughout N.S.W gave Justine the opportunity to grow and develop her own stage presence. A meeting with multi award winner Allan Caswell, best known for ‘On the Inside’ (the theme song for the Australian television series ‘Prisoner’), solidified Justine’s desire to not only write songs but to write them from the heart. In 2009, she formed a rewarding song writing partnership with Melbourne musician Chris Gale. The rocky ‘Golden Road’, a purpose written song for Christine M Knight’s third novel ‘Song Bird’ was given its punch with the help of her brother and drummer, Jason Bryant, and guitarist, Warren O’Neill. She is on Facebook.

Thanapat Yartcharoen (short name: Film) is one of the male singers (the tenor) in the Thai Pop Opera group, Fivera. Fivera can be located on YouTube. Fivera also has a Facebook page. Jirana Williamson (short name: Funnie) is one of the singers in the Thai all girl pop group Karmiix. They don't have any videos as yet but can be located on Facebook. 


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QUICK LINKS


GLOSSARY SNIPPET

The ARIA AWARDS are the Australian Recording Industry Association Music Awards.

ANZAC is an acronym formed from the initial letters of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. ANZAC spirit refers to the ANZAC legend dating from World War 1. For more information visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anzac_spirit

arvo is Australian slang for afternoon.

Carry on like a pork chop means that ‘someone is behaving in a silly or stupid way. This expression is a shorter version of the longer and more widespread phrase be like a pork chop in a synagogue. This colloquialism has been around since the 1950s. Since pork is forbidden food for Jewish people, to describe something as being like a pork chop in a synagogue means that it is highly inappropriate, embarrassingly out of place, and quite unwelcome. The Australian expression carry on like a pork chop has now shifted the focus from inappropriateness to foolishness’. For more information see http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Pork+Chop

Bump in and out refers to the process of moving a band’s equipment in and off stage and in and out of the performance venue.

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LATEST BLOG POSTS

    Friday, November 25, 2016

    Acknowledging Indigenous Heritage in the Palerang region

    Friday, November 25, 2016

    Recently, I wrote a blog about the restoration of The Carrington Inn. My article about the inn also appears in the District Bulletin's December issue. The District Bulletin reports on country living in the Palerang region. I feel it would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the importance of Indigenous heritage as a side bar to the Carrington article.

    Heritage places are a visible reminder of Australia’s history and identity. If they are neglected or demolished, then part of our history and identity is lost. When they are protected and restored, they add value and dimension to our community. This applies equally to the heritage represented by the traditional owners of the land. It is important to acknowledge that Indigenous heritage when promoting awareness of colonial heritage as it shows respect for Indigenous culture.

    Before European settlement, Indigenous people represented an unbroken culture that was inextricably linked to the land and history of the continent. That relationship and life as Indigenous people knew it changed drastically as a consequence of Dr Charles Throsby and Hamilton Hume's exploration of the region in 1820.

    By the end of 1821, Europeans had settled the region. The provision of a mail service in 1837 formally made the settlement a town while the arrival of train services in 1885 resulted in the town becoming the hub of the region. Cobb and Co coaches transported travellers to far flung settlements. 

    During this period and into the twentieth century, Indigenous people experienced a history of exclusion, denial, and were silenced. Many Indigenous people many died as a result of white settlement (disease and conflict). Indigenous heritage is in the land, in sacred places, lore and values. By contrast, colonial heritage is in buildings and property and its laws.

    To better appreciate the impact of the European arrival in Australia and related issues, click on  The Dispossessed.

     

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    Sunday, November 20, 2016

    The Restoration of the Carrington Inn, Bungendore

    Sunday, November 20, 2016

    Late October, I met Innkeeper, Richard Graham in the motel carpark of The Carrington Inn a few weeks after it had reopened.

    Originally known as The Lord Carrington Hotel, the property was built between 1884-85. It was named after the newly appointed governor of NSW. When the governor retired, the inn became The Carrington Hotel.

    In the 20th century, descendants of the Winters sold the property to Toni Dale who reverted the property to its original function from a domestic residence. It later changed hands until Richard bought it eight years ago.

    As we walked through the half acre of man-made gardens' entrance to the Wintergarden complex, I was struck by their intrinsic naturalness and the patterns of dappled light. Richard said they are ‘one of the largest publicly accessible private gardens in the region.’ He credits the illusion of a much larger space to the use of meandering sinuous paths.

    There are three distinct themed locations within the Wintergarden complex: The Tom Wills Tavern, The Empire Hall and Salons – fine dining, and Myee’s Tearoom. Myee is pronounced my. The tavern’s namesake and a local, Tom Wills was a leading Australian cricketer from 1856 and is said to be the founder of Australian Rules football. Heavy drinking was apparently part of the sport's culture at that time and purportedly played a role in his tragic death in 1880.


     

    Maria Myee Gallagher, 1889-1967, was the granddaughter of the original owner, William Daniel Winter. ‘An educated woman of many talents, Maria Myee never married and lived in the hotel throughout her life.’ She was a skilled pianist and taught the piano as well as the sewing arts and painting to locals. She was also well-known for her charitable work in the town.

    The interview and tour began in Myee’s tearoom. Its décor, like the rest of the complex, ‘pays deference to the 19th century colonial Victorian nature of the Carrington Inn.’ An airy and serene space, the tearoom’s authentic hand-painted stencilled wallpaper, pale green wainscoting, slate floor, furnishings, and hanging baskets suggest a Victorian garden conservatory.

    When I asked about the ideas underpinning the renovation process, Richard explained the choice before him. Restore the inn to look like the property as it had been in 1885 or restore it to reflect the Victorian era from 1885 but have modern restaurant equipment. For commercial reasons, he opted for the latter.

    After much research, Richard and his team distilled the Victorian period to a single restoration intention: ‘allow modern-day patrons to appreciate the aspirational nature of the Victorian era’ and witness a different lifestyle.

    The aspirational mood of the period is clearly visible in the style of ceilings in the tavern and the Empire Hall and Salons. The tavern’s patterned copper ceiling is reminiscent of Tudor ceilings and represents the revival of British styles during the Victorian era. The decorative tin ceiling in one of the salons is another popular architectural element from that period as are the subtly lit, rounded vaulted plaster ceilings in the Empire Hall.


     

    The Victorian theme is evident in the use of decoratively etched glass mirrors, beautiful period-styled drapery, luxurious furnishings, dining settings, and décor accents. Thirty-three hand-painted artwork reproductions tell the colonial story, including artwork by Tom Roberts. In the tradition of the time, a picture of Queen Victoria dominates the Empire Hall.

    The attention to authentic detail is also seen in the use of deeply embossed wall covering (Lincrusta) in  the Empire Hall. Lincrusta was invented in Britain in 1877 by the same man who invented linoleum floor covering some years before.

     

     Having visited many famous historic sites, I found The Carrington Inn as striking as places like Chatsworth House and Hampton Court in UK. Of course, The Carrington's pristine interior décor  and the inn are much smaller in scale than those other historic UK properties.

    As Richard told the stories behind each room’s décor, I realised that he is more than the owner and operator of an enterprise that happens to exist in a heritage property. He is keenly aware of his custodial role in restoring, documenting, and protecting heritage.

    As I left that afternoon, I realised that heritage places not only add dimension to the character of a community and its diversity but to its unique features of streetscapes as well.

     

    Left to right: Mark Summers, General Manager; Edwina Fitzgerald, Accommodation Manager; Me, Innkeeper; Merili Pihlamäe, Venues Manager; and Andrew Stansbie, Executive Chef.

     

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    Monday, August 17, 2015

    Do socio-political interests obscure what's best for children?

    Monday, August 17, 2015

    Topic Summary

    Perhaps you’ve noticed it in your Facebook or Twitter feeds – those people who always point out the political side of an issue. You might also have noticed that while these social media friends are great at pointing out the flaws from someone else’s point of view, they are suspiciously blind, deaf and dumb about criticism toward their views, even when the same kind of criticism is appropriate.

    While we may chalk up this double standard to human nature, the tragedy in this dynamic involves more than mere ignorance; it can include children too. In recent decades, feminists and others seeking to have children without traditional family structure have argued that, with sperm donors and surrogacy, men have become redundant. Similarly, there are lobby groups arguing that women are equally redundant and that all that is needed is a loving parent. Also other lobby groups are promoting the myth that having children is a right.

    Discussion
    Does anyone have ‘a right to have a child’?

    Rights are legal, social, or ethical principles of freedom or entitlement. In the late 20th century and definitely in this century, it has become common practice for lobby groups to claim a desire for something is a right and argue that the two are synonymous when they are not.

    No one has a right to have a child, but people have a natural and understandable desire to have children. Historically, the only people who could have children were those couples who were able to procreate. I’m sure readers are aware that not all of those people capable of procreating should have had children. Since the advent of IVF and surrogacy, the number of people capable of having children has increased. People who have to go the extra hard yards involved in 'having'  a child demonstrate a high level of commitment to forming a family. But is that enough?

    Is this discussion – what’s sufficient to raise kids – more about the narcissism of adults/would-be parents?

    No, it is not automatically about narcissism, but perhaps it is about an unchallenged view that has been handed down over the generations. Remember the saying ‘Children should be seen and not heard’ – that saying encapsulates an adult perspective only - the desire to have a child. That perspective becomes narcissism when adults talk about children as if they are coloring books or mini versions of themselves with identical needs – clones. It ignores any consideration of what a child may want in terms of parents. In the current lobbying by special interest groups, children are lost in the mix. 

    The purpose of my dialogue in radio interviews is to bring audience focus to children and their needs.

    What is needed to raise children?

    Just to be clear, when we’re talking about raising a child we are referring to the conscious decisions involved in bringing a child up rather than a child growing up without adult direction and input.

    Raising a child goes beyond the provision of the basics such as love, shelter, food, clothing and education. A focus on the welfare of the child and her/his needs has always been crucial and is even more so  in the 21st century given we live in an increasingly challenging world.

    You know that saying ‘It takes a community to raise a child? It’s so true. Whether that community is extended family, friends, supportive neighbours or single parent groups, it doesn’t matter as long as there is tag team approach to support parents as they wrestle with the issues of life and parenting. A tag team approach is important as it provides opportunities for parents to have respite from the daily, at times grinding, stresses of parenting. Respite enables all parents to retain perspective and to recharge emotional and psychological batteries. Respite is crucial to reducing depression in adults and in contributing to healthy emotional growth in children.

    It also takes a community to raise a child because adults through their actions and interactions role model the various ways a person can be a woman or a man.  They also model how people respond to the stressors in their lives - successfully and unsuccessfully. Children are discerning. They will often pick the behaviour that they see works. It is really important to talk about reactions to stress and what truly works and what only appears to work at the surface level.

    Depending on your parental circumstance, you need to be aware of the stressors that your child may face due to your family structure, and you need to anticipate those stresses and have strategies in place to deal with them before they arise. Forewarned is forearmed. Ideally, you need to lay down the positive ground work that can defuse the impact of such situations before they arise.

    There’s extensive research now that shows the variables that impact on children increase as the parental circumstance varies away from the traditional mother and father household. Single parents are a good example of the added stresses and challenges that a child has to navigate as well as the added challenges and pressures that the parent has to face and resolve. Similarly there are lobby groups in 2015 populated by children from same sex partnerships that reveal the challenges that children (irrespective of the child's sexuality) face in such family structures. Those challenges have less to do with the child's relationships with lesbian/gay parents (often reported as harmonious, warm, and caring) and more to do with backlash that the children faced in the brutal world of the playground.

    Be aware that the world in which our children live and mix  - at school and socially – is not one governed by political correctness. In the playground, children reflect the unguarded voiced views that parents express in the privacy of their homes. Think back to your own childhood. So the more a family structure varies from the traditional structure, the more challenges the child faces and the greater need for thoughtful adult intervention and support. Parents need to be aware of this and not be deceived by the myth that all they need to do is provide a loving home environment. Of course that is important but in itself it’s not enough. Children are not colouring books in which you impose your own coloured values.

    Whether you like it or not, children learn that it takes a woman and a man to create a child. That knowledge sets up an expectation in children that they will have a parent of each gender. There’s extensive research to show that children separated from biological parents for whatever reason often feel driven to connect to and seek them out in adult years. Readers will be aware that even adopted children with fantastic adopted parents want to know their biological parents and often seek to forge some sort of bond with them.

    Children also want what they perceive others to have and that they believe they should have. They don't want to be different even when they are in a loving non traditional supportive family structure. I explore this through Dan Mills' and Zoey Blake's subplots in both LIFE SONG and SONG BIRD.

    Historically and for generations, there have been plenty of non-traditional family structures for a variety of reasons. For example, children raised by loving aunts or uncles or grandparents. What’s needed to raise healthy children is AWARENESS of the child’s needs from the child’s perspective and a willingness to address them to the child’s satisfaction. Good parenting involves achieving your happiness without it being at the expense of your child's happiness and well-being.

    I’ve researched this subject matter extensively before writing LIFE SONG (https://youtu.be/dEioHGbnWiA) and SONG BIRD (https://youtu.be/x-vNrsKCYUY). In a subplot in those novels, this subject is explored from the different children's perspectives and from different family structures. When you read those novels, think about Dan, Zoey, Kate, and Shaun's views on this topic.  Irrespective of the family structure, diverse role models are important as children learn how to interact and function with both genders through observation and experience. Children need to know there isn’t one mold and that diversity is acceptable.

    It is absurd to claim, as many lobby groups have, that either gender is redundant. Women and men play important roles in children's lives beyond the role of procreation. Children and teenagers learn about life through observing and modeling the behaviour of  others. Children and teens learn how to interact in a variety of settings and how to form relationships by observing people and seeing the reaction to behaviour. They learn how to form relationships with people from both genders, preferably functional ones, from observing the adults in their world. Children identify what is acceptable or unacceptable, what creates popularity or makes them a target. Research shows that children learn a huge amount about adults in conflict but need to learn more about how to constructively function and form relationships with a diverse range of people as well as how to successfully resolve conflict. 

    It’s important that parents remember the perspective of a child when they are dealing with situations that stress the parents. Children absorb parental stress even if the adult thinks it is hidden. Children read you. It’s hard I know, but irrespective of whatever you’re going through, the child’s needs have to be addressed as well especially so when the stress stems from the family structure. The unknown frightens children. It destabilizes them. So too does isolation from parents. Providing comfort to a child who is in conflict with a parent is not taking sides in an argument when that comfort assists the child to reconnect to the parent and resolve conflict.

    When those stresses arise from conflict with your child, it is important to remember how you felt when you were a child and in conflict with your parent. Why? It re-frames your perspective and generates compassion. You see the conflict from both perspectives. That compassion can defuse the heat in conflict and get you to healthy resolutions faster.

    Parents have so many distractions and demands on them nowadays that it’s easy for them to define their children’s needs from the parent’s perspective and forget that the children’s perspective on what they need from parents and extended family may be very different.

    I’m not saying children should be placed at the centre of the parental universe and that parents should be subordinate to it. Such behaviour fosters the growth of narcissism. What is important is the continual effort to find a balance between competing needs and maintaining an ongoing dialogue with children about choices that affect family members and the consequences. The act of considering consequences and dialoguing about them with your children is what matters when raising children. It develops understanding. It role models critical thinking processes. When things don’t work out, it is crucial to openly dialogue about why.

    In IN AND OUT OF STEP, my debut novel which is confronting at times, I explore the way parent role models and childhood experiences shape life behaviours and goals. Both Cassie Sleight (the central character ) and Mavis Mill's lives and the choices they make are directly impacted by the role models with far reaching consequences. Consider the dance video and how this subject is embedded in the choreography https://youtu.be/5HdLfeX6d78

    So irrespective of family structure, adults who come into contact with children need to be aware that through action and lifestyle we are teaching children about how to function in life. We need to demonstrate a range of positive roles – how to be assertive rather than aggressive, how to be flexible and resilient rather than defeatist or a victim and so on. Importantly, we need to consider, scrutinize, and discuss with them the values actively and passively modeled by the world at large.

    Another thing for parents to consider when raising children is the inter-generational transmission of attachment styles. Within the context of this discussion, attachment refers to bonds between parents and children. Research shows that people who received sensitive and well-balanced care as children find it easier to form secure attachments in adulthood. By contrast, people who received insensitive and indifferent parenting in childhood have greater difficulty in forming positive and secure adult relationships.That is not to say the latter can't form positive and secure relationships. They can, but it requires thoughtful behaviour, introspection, and a desire to be a better version of 'self' in all arenas. It is important to avoid the mentality of it never harmed me. It is also important to avoid being a helicopter parent who denies the child opportunities to play, explore, risk take, and experience the world within safe parameters.

    Importantly, parents and adults who come into contact with children and teens need to model resilience. Getting back up again after life experiences have knocked you down is as important as providing a loving home environment. Raising strong children is not about wrapping them in cotton wool and isolating them from the world. Rather it is about demonstrating resilience when hardships occur and showing children how we recover from hardship and learn from it. We need to show children that we don't have to be defined by the circumstance that we are born into or that our choices have created, but that we can rise above those circumstances and become  who we were meant to be. This message is central to the plot of  'Life Song' and its sequel 'Song Bird', available through Book Depository, Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble, and other major sellers.

    How would you categorize the socio-political biases involved in this discussion?

    It’s Life viewed through a lobby group’s lens, isn’t it?  It’s a very narrow view driven by lobby groups’ desires rather than anyone’s rights. It is an approach of self-interest. Self-interest can become narcissism and ultimately results in injury to others. 

    I have concerns about any lobby group that reduces complex and important issues to a bumper sticker approach to it. That approach denies the perspectives of the multiple interests groups affected by an issue. That denial can result in injury to those groups denied a voice or an advocate. Some elements of those socio-political groups even resort to -ism statements and other derogatory terms to shut down objective discussion.

    Does this criticism extend to “modern families,” which include parents from the LGBT community?

    Good parenting is not shaped by or determined by anyone’s sexuality. 

    I’m not passing a negative judgment on anyone which is what is implied by the word criticism. Rather, I’m initiating a discussion on issues about raising children and good parenting. My message is the same regardless of your audience’s sexuality and family structure.

    People in the LGBT community know all too well the challenges and hurt they suffered as they grew up. If anything, their childhood has informed them of issues that may arise due to sexuality that they need to address when raising their own children. Those issues may arise irrespective of their children’s sexuality. Parents from that community need to be prepared to deal with the hurt that may arise as a result of their non traditional family structure. So too do the parents of parents from the LGBT community. Readers may remember Robin Williams' 'Bird Cage' which sensitively explores some of these issues. The hurt goes two ways.

    Good parenting is determined by the parents’ commitment and willingness to consider the needs of children and a willingness to weigh up parental and children's needs and seek balance.
    As I said before, the more your family structure differs from the traditional model, the more variables are introduced and the more strategies you need when raising your children. Don't make the mistake of parenting by remote control. By that I mean unthinkingly repeating parent and adult behaviours that you observed as a child. Be discerning. Select from the battery of positive strategies and avoid repeating negative parental behaviours that you learned from your parents. When you react unthinkingly in any situation with children, discuss your reaction and the consequences with the children concerned and discuss other ways the situation could have played out.

    The key to raising a healthy child is to help your child feel competent and confident as she or he navigates life, its stresses and its challenges. Teach your children resilience by focusing them on the positive things in life when they are dealing with hardship. Provide them strategies to deal with hardship and strife. Be positive that life can get better. Encourage them to be mindful of the way they live life and of the values that underpin the way we live. Foster empathy. Teach them to forgive themselves when they make significant life mistakes, to learn from those mistakes, and to move onto better days. Be involved in your children's lives; you only have them for a short time and that time passes all too quickly.

    © Christine M Knight

    All of Christine M Knight's novels are available on order through major book stores and online sellers. Her paperback novels RRP: A$24.99 and her eBooks RRP: A$11.99.



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