If you haven’t already – go and have a look at the overall info for Novel November, my FAQ blog and the original announcement about my Fellowship. I’m going to assume anyone reading those blogs has read all of that already so that I don’t have to keep repeating background details and boring the life out of you.
Surprising no-one (including me) I’ve contributed more time to the Fellowship and Novel November over the first week than I intended to. This is because some things just took me longer, I’ve added some extra things in and because I’m enjoying it! Having said that, I am still doing some work for both Writers SA and headspace Berri, and an independent projection outcome due this month so I do need to pace myself. The Fellowship is my primary focus, but it’s not my only commitment. Rest and downtime are important parts of doing good work too.
This week I’m only writing Mon, Tues and today and then heading to a conference in Adelaide Thurs/Fri. Sat & Sun are Novel November community workshop days with a poetry focus on Saturday and a scriptwriting focus on Sunday. Over the weekend just gone we had a short story focus on Saturday and on Sunday looked at graphic storytelling (comics/graphic novels/narrative zines) and branching narratives (twine games, choose your own adventure stories). There were seven participants on Saturday, including me, and four on Sunday.
Reflecting on the workshops:
Saturday I think I tried to make the short story workshop too general and didn’t bring enough of Novel November and the ongoing work of the project into the workshop. This is because I was trying to make the workshop content relevant to a broad range of ages and for people who wanted to apply it to their own outside projects. My intentions were good, but ultimately these workshops *are* for and part of Novel November so I think it’s important that the examples, exercises and content draws from and builds on wherever Novel November is up to. I’m still really happy with how the workshop went and the many conversations it started.
I also wrote this silly but fun little drabble during the workshop:
No-one ever thinks sheep are dangerous, making them perfect for smuggling. Which is how I found myself tied to the belly of a sheep in the middle of a cycle-night, ready to board the living-ship Fugenavis. Jared was ahead on another and I knew he’d be freaking out, but I just had to hope and pray he wouldn’t scream. We were boarded onto Fugenavis without any trouble but I’d lost all feeling in my legs by then. Unfortunately we hadn’t thought through how we’d get loose. Which is how I ended up a ghost on Fugenavis. Sheep are dangerous things.
Drabbles are a short story format where the story has to be exactly 100 words.
I tried to take this reflection into Sunday’s workshop with examples and exercises that directly related to Novel November content. The examples were good but my energy was not. I was exhausted and flaky and really struggling to bring the energy and care needed to facilitate the workshop (to my own standards). My mind kept wandering and I tried to fit waaaaay too much into the one day, meaning that we kept rushing over things to get to the next thing I’d planned. The best outcomes of Sunday’s workshop weren’t in the content, but were in the conversations between, when we spoke about other interests and projects people were working on. By about 2pm I’d just fizzled out completely and we collectively decided to abandon the rest of the workshop content I’d planned and just write together. Even that wasn’t working for me so I used the time for some planning for this week instead.
That’s not to say the workshop was a complete waste. I showed everyone the basics of writing a logline and we had a go with a little collectively made up story about a character on Uttie who has to deal with a setimret infestation.
We also talked through the basics of what a pitch packet for a graphic novel contains and looked at a whole bunch of interactive narrative examples together, including these:
Cat Petting Simulator: https://neongrey.itch.io/pet-that-cat
Queer lovers at the end of the world: https://w.itch.io/end-of-the-world
Hana Feels: http://hanafeels.com/index.html
My point being: things don’t always go to plan and sometimes we’re just not in the right head space for a particular activity, but we can still find value in the connections and the sharing of small breadcrumbs to help people find their way.
Novel November Progress
I’ve started putting up world materials here: https://thelandsoftheriver.world/
This is for anyone who would like to write their own stories, poems, songs, scripts and ideas set in the lands of the river in between. I’m still adding materials, and some of the materials will be edited/change as we continue making discoveries but this is the starting place I’ve been writing from/in so far.
Each Monday during Novel November I am sending illustrator Sam Wannan a package of written material developed through the residency so far. Sam is then responding with illustrations to whatever grabs him within that material (and reading along in the live g-doc). Last week Sam sent through a whole bunch of concepts for many of the peoples we imagined during the world-building weekend and this absolutely glorious illustration of the ship Fugenavis:
This interpretation of Fugenavis was inspired by this little piece of writing I did on the very first writing day (Monday 1st November 2021):
A ship called Love
Coats flapping in a breeze that has no wind,
magic river running to a trickle, and questions.
Questions seep into the rock –
They gather the misfits, the pirates and the pretty
and the curious, voiceless dreams
that sit crouched between their knees.
They build a ship, the first in this world.
Large, unwieldy and ugly,
she waddles and wails amongst the stars.
They call her “love” but her name is Fugenavis.
The ship that became a world.
The ship that became a home.
The ship that became a legend.
The ship that saved them all.
I have loved seeing Sam’s illustrations coming into my emails and really glad we were able to find the resources to make this happen. The illustrations feel like a lovely little gift to me, which helps with motivation and connection to the worlds/project, and they’re also something visual that I can share with everyone else on social media to help communicate more about the project as it unfolds. Honestly, I just want to win the lotto so I can pay Sam forever to illustrate everything I write!
If you’ve dropped in or been regularly following my writing progress in the g-doc, you’ll have noticed that I am hopping around a lot in all the ways: characters, location, form, genre. This is deliberate and something I will keep doing right across November. The purpose of this residency isn’t to have fully resolved material, it’s to end the month with 2-3 stories & ideas that can be further developed and built on in 2022. So I’m deliberately iterating and exploring and beginning from different places and in different ways. If there are characters or stories or ideas currently in the doc that you feel more invested in though, please let me know! Knowing that will help me determine which stories I should develop further or return to during November.
Content note for this final section: grief, death, death of a young person, suicide
If you follow me on social media or you read Monday’s Novel November writing in the g-doc, you’ll know that a young person I worked with when I lived in Adelaide died over the weekend. The death of anyone you know is always devastating, and the death of a young person especially so. I’ve felt so, so sad this week since finding out. I thought about taking a writing break from the residency on Monday and just giving myself some space this week but instead I found myself in the g-doc anyway, writing from that place and those feelings of grief and loss and hurt and worry for those left behind. The writing I did, the stories and the characters and the circumstances, was all completely fictional and grounded in the context of the lands of the river in between but it reminded me of why I love fantasy (and science fiction) as genres.
I spent so much of my own adolescence escaping into fantasy novels, and fantasy is still my preferred genre as an adult, though I read more widely across genres now. The thing about fantasy, or at least the fantasy I love, is that fantasy might happen on imaginary worlds with imaginary creatures and heightened action, but the stories, always, are ultimately about what it means to be human. What it means to struggle and question. What it means to love and to lose. What it means to grieve and betray and be betrayed. What it means to belong and to not belong. What it means to forgive and accept and make space. What it means to heal and to hope. What it means to hurt in every fibre of your skin. What it means to journey through all the unknowns of what makes a life. What it means to hold on and what it means to let go.
I love fantasy because it allows us a little space (through the fantastical settings and creatures) to really look and see. See who we are, see who we have been and see who we could choose to be.
I want Novel November to be something fun and enriching and welcoming for me and my community, but that doesn’t mean it’s fluff or without substance. The stories we tell in this world are about exploring the Riverland. Who we are, who we have been and who we might become. Those stories are fictional and metaphorical and subtle, but they are there if you look.
We are always in the stories we tell.
#novelnovember #myriverland #riverlandSA #riverlandstories #riverlandvoices #riverlandideas #bepartofthings #creativeriverland #speculativeaussiefiction
Alysha Herrmann’s Novel November Residency in 2021 is supported by the Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund, through the National Regional Arts Fellowship Program, with additional support from Writers SA through Alysha’s role as Writers SA Riverland Coordinator.