One day a few weeks my daughter came home from school and said that there was a new boy from class. "He is, I don't know how to say it, interesting," she told me, with large emphasis on the word interesting.
After some questioning it turned that the boy, lets call him Sam, was from Vietnam and went to a language school four days a week and came to her school once a week. He spoke funny and the kids all laughed when he said anything. He would say things like "give me rubber."
I told her that Sam was learning the language and that's what happens when people learn English. In fact, it's what she did when she learnt. The only difference is that she was too little to know. I explained that when the other children laughed at Sam they were making him feel self concious and that it was a form of bullying.
Sofia took on board my comments. Whenever Sam was at school she would tell me about the things other children were doing and how she felt bad about it. One night she cried as she told me how the children were laughing at him. She realised that this had happened to another boy last year and she hadn't realised what was happening. We discussed that feeling bad was well and good, but we also had to take action when something wasn't right. I told her that it all it takes is one person to do the right thing and make others think about their behaviour. She decided that she would be-friend Sam and that's what she did.
A few weeks later two boys were apparently playing with Sam. Their idea of playing was to hold a cricket bat above their head and shout at him. Sam was very frightened. Sofia intervened and told the boys off. One of the boys attempted scaring her by telling her that he would tell his brother on her (the brother is a grade 6 captain), but Sofia wouldn't back down.
My daughter is not what you would call a shrinking flower. I've raised her to have a mouth on her, even if it is to my detriment. Yesterday I was getting ready for a dinner with the girls. I matched my beige dress with a beige cardigan, and went to put on my tan sandals. "What do you think about these shoes with the outfit, Sofia?" Her answer, "Did you buy every brown piece of clothing at the shop?" After I stopped laughing I put on my silver sandals.
When Sofia came home and told me about what had happened with Sam, I told her I was proud of her. I was proud that she did the right thing and that she stood up for injustice, but I was incredibly proud that I had raised a daughter who had the strength of character to not back down. As girls we are socially conditioned to comply, to be people-pleasers and to not make a fuss. But it is these same things that can place us in danger and take away our self confidence. I'm proud of my daughter and I hope that I can continue to inspire her to be a strong girl and grow to be a strong woman.
Most of the time, when I have a hankering to write about my writing instead of actually writing, I write a 140 character Tweet and satisfy the urge. But tonight a few things are conspiring to make me want to spend the time and pen this blog post and have a record to mark this moment in time.
A few weeks ago I finished yet another redraft of my memoir. I have been writing my memoir officially for five years, unofficially my whole life. I had finished a draft and sent it to my agent a year ago. She didn't think it worked as it was and so I embarked on yet another structural edit. In the meantime she went on maternity leave and I decided that I would wait for her return and resubmit. Finally at the beginning of this month I hit send on the email. Ever since the nerves have been coming and going, but thankfully work has kept them at bay.
In order to revise the memoir for the umpteenth time I needed a fresh perspective and this could only come from working on something else and taking a time out. Which I did. I went back to a young adult novel I had started and abandoned in order to work on my memoir. I had used Blake Snyder's book Save the Cat to plot this novel and it was just waiting for me, dangling like a ripe fruit that you ravenously wanted to eat. So finally I turned my attention to this novel.
On the 7 July 2016 I tweeted "Memoir finished-again. Another draft, another re-structure, another ending. Until the next time anyway. #amwriting"
10 July 2016 "Finally back to writing fiction and working on the first chapter of my next YA novel. So refreshing to be writing something new. #amwriting"
On the 17 July 2016 I tweeted "I finished draft of the first chapter of new YA novel. Very happy with myself. #amwriting"
From then on I set a goal to write a chapter a week, or at least attemped to. I think most times it took me two weeks to write a chapter, but as long as I slowly chipped away, that's all I cared about. I started with 14,000 crappy words that I mostly edited out or deleted, and kept plugging away.
By 5 November "Over 1000 words today & Chapter 11 finished. At the point where my characters are surprising me with their depth. #amwriting #WorkinProgress" The school holidays gave me much needed respite to really get stuck into my novel and I set a daily goal of 1000 words. On Jan 1 "Have hit 36K on MS. Am plotting the unravelling in my book. Feeling excited because I can actually see the end in sight. #amwriting" Jan 10 "Rough draft of chapter 17 of YA MS is completed. At 46, 684 words. 3 more chapters and this sucker will be done. #amwriting #writinglife" On January 15 I hit the big milestone. "Jan 15 "First draft of young adult manuscript is complete at 55K. The last few chapters are rough as guts but you can't edit blank page #amwriting"
This term I've been dipping in and out when I had time and revising the last few rough chapters so they were readable. The most interesting part of the process was that the final book did not really resemble the notes I made using Save the Cat. It very much changed from what I thought it would be and this was in great part because of the wonderful feedback from my critique buddies Renee and Chris who really helped me dig deeper with the early chapters.
I'm pretty proud of myself. I completed a draft of a novel in nine months, worked full time as a teacher, and managed to do a few more revisions of my memoir in that time too. So what now? I am continuing to get my young adult novel critiqued and ready to submit to my agent, but today is the day to start a new book.
This is a novel I started writing five years ago. It was going to be a historical crime fiction novel using my mother's life story as inspiration. As I was writing the book I kept wanting to delve deeper into my mother's real story rather than fictionalise it, so I put the book away and worked on the memoir. Now I'm returning, five years later with 16,000 words to play with and compiling all my research and notes into a Scrivener file. I haven't actually done any writing today, after all I've been busy writing about writing, but the elements are there. It's just a matter of digging in and getting the words down.
Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher who draws on her Bosnian cultural heritage to write own voices stories for young people, who like her, are searching to mediate their identity and take pride in their diverse culture. She writes memoir, young adult and romance under the pen name Mae Archer.
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