Does 2020 Spark Your Joy? Pondering Fearlessly With Karen Brooks
by Karen Brooks Ponderings Magazine
Does the Thought of 2020 “Spark Joy” For You?
words by Karen Brooks
It seems appropriate to raise the spectre of the decluttering dynamo, Marie Kondo – someone who inspired an unparalleled cleaning frenzy – as, Janus-faced, we look both backwards and forwards as we reach the threshold of a new year.
The truth is whether you “Kon-maried” your home or not, over the last twelve months it’s been almost impossible to declutter our hearts and minds as social media and the news are filled with stories more likely to raise despair, angst, anger and frustration. Whether it’s the appalling state of our politics and politicians (and not just in Australia), where not only have humane policies and platforms been belittled and trashed by a variety of leaders and media commentators as “woke”, “lefty” or the product of “inner-city elites”, but climate science has been turned into something akin to a religion/faith which you either choose to believe in or not.
Just when you think it cannot get worse, as our country burns and lives and livelihoods are tragically destroyed, the Prime Minister goes on holidays offering, as he is wont to do, “thoughts and prayers.”
What saddens many people (and it breaks my heart) is how denialism, inhumanity, lies and complacency have not only become normalised, but entrenched in our politics and sections of the media and thus cultural conversations, causing huge ideological rifts in families, communities and the nation.
Remember the adage? Divided we fall.
As the year draws to a close, it’s more important than ever to try and carry over whatever positives we can wrest into 2020 – a year that signifies balance and clear vision – seeing the “truth” of a situation.
If there’s anyone who has come to exemplify truth and “de-cluttering” the fabricated information we’re being fed, who has cut through the BS, exposing those who wilfully peddle it for what they are, it would be Greta Thunberg, wouldn’t it?
Described as a “lightning rod” for the climate change movement, Greta is that and so much more. She’s an ardent, positive, no-nonsense voice in a world filled with mainly old white men proffering lame excuses and outright lies, despite the evidence around them and which many of us experience on a daily basis, insulting us all in the process.
This young woman has united people across the globe. Using protest and affirmative action, she’s inspired us to shake off inertia and use our voices, our presence – digitally and physically.
Greta has reminded us of not only of the power and passion of youth, put the conservative older generations on notice, but our own clout. Whether it’s climate change, Indigenous, LGBTQI and women’s rights, gun violence, political and corporate corruption, the overwhelming importance of the arts and a free press in any society, we’re no longer content to sit by and bear witness to our freedoms, rights, our future being trashed, ransomed and sold.
Contrary to our politicians’ insistence that they represent “quiet Australians”, they’re exposed. They don’t and never have: they represent self and shareholder/corporate interests.
This is why, more than ever, we need to raise our voices – together. Instead of emphasising our differences as our binary-minded leaders do, telling us we’re either left/right, hetero/homo, religious/non-religious, city/country, pro/against climate change (which is ridiculous – are you pro or against a cancer diagnosis?), believer/non-believer, PC/unPC, refuse to be categorised and aspire to demonstrate we’ve far more in common than they allow.
Not only will uniting and collectively acting and demanding change spark some much needed joy, but it’s our only chance to show we care; to shore up a brighter and clearer future for 2020 and beyond. In other words, as Greta illustrates, we must be the change we want to see.
As someone who is fortunate enough to make a living from writing (historical fiction and a weekly newspaper and advice column), I often get asked what my writing process is like and what inspires me.
I wish I could say something really clever or divulge some kind of shared magic. Better still, I’d love to be able to say I sit in front of my computer in a dreamy haze, mounds of chocolate biscuits to one side, dressed in pyjamas, and let my fingers glide over the keyboard as stories pour forth in an unstoppable rush. I wish. The truth is, sadly, really dull. Writing, whether fiction or fact, is a hard grind for me. Not “hard” in the way other people’s jobs are (and ones I’ve had in the past), but in a sense, I take writing very seriously; treat it as a business (after all, I’ve deadlines, contracts, other people who rely on me). I work at it for set hours every day, and rewrite, edit, cut and delete in order to try and create the best stories and columns I possibly can. It doesn’t always come easy and certainly needs a lot of refining.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let me tell you how I approach novel writing…
Which is far more interesting than admitting how, akin to a (boring) sponge, I absorb as many newspapers and TV bulletins daily in order to write topical columns that contribute to social debate and prick the conscience – and generally make myself miserable about the state of the world in the process (but that’s another story).
When I start a new book, I tend to read a great deal of relevant historical non-fiction and fiction and completely immerse myself in the era. I spend months before I commence ordering books, journals, and documents; everything from court transcripts to academic treatises, maps, Ph.D.’s, to wonderful novels by talented writers set in the same period. I spend one-two years researching, usually while I’m in the editing and final stages of the previous book.
I take copious notes, re-read books, pour over maps and any paintings or photographs, and watch documentaries pertinent to the time as well. Then, when I feel I’m ready, I write. (I usually know because I can’t NOT write.)
I already know how the book will start and end.
But, how the book unfolds and where the characters take me is a complete mystery. In that sense, I am more a pantster (writing by the seat of my pants) than a plotter.
Listening to music composed in the era is really motivating, as is burning scented candles to evoke moods. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to the places I write about (if not the time – where’s Dr. Who and the Tardis when you need her?), so my photos and recollections while in situ are so helpful.
As for my inspiration…
Apart from history, and everything else mentioned, especially other people’s wonderful words and music, and my wonderful dogs, it’s people who are my main inspiration. The dead and the living. All the crazy, terrible, unjust and cruel as well as loving, heroic, brave and foolish things we do – to each other and ourselves – in the past and now.
It constantly depresses, challenges, emboldens and inspires me, to write, to ponder and to think about how we can all be better. I think about how I can write stories that capture what makes us who we are and where we can be and which fire the imagination. Then, I just hope like hell people like reading them as much as I love writing them.
I don’t know any author who sets out to write a book (or journalist a column or story) that doesn’t excite and move people. I’m no different. I just wish I was better at it too.
Dr. Karen Brooks: is an Author, columnist, social commentator and academic. Karen is also a part of a gorgeous brewery in Tasmania with her partner. The brewery and the authory keep her busy!
Ponderings is completely self funded and certainly not owned by a big media organisation. In order to deliver REAL news and great stories we need your support. Running Ponderings Magazine now requires a team and a whole lot of work and we need your help to keep it going!
When you subscribe each story will be delivered to your inbox and you get a special gift- the Anthology Edition.
In December you will receive your special limited Edition Ponderings Anthology Magazine delivered to your home address. Some of the country’s best writers and the stories of of some our bravest, most courageous and interesting fellow humans selected and printed in a high quality eco friendly magazine.
You will also get stories emailed directly to your inbox so you can keep up to date AND you will receive a special link so you can get discounts and offers from our amazing advertisers and sponsors.
Our gifts to you. Because we believe the stories of our collective humanity deserve to be shared- with integrity and without the tail wagging the dog.
Ponderers, please focus your eyes on this wonderful creature- an award winning social commentator, journalist for the Courier Mail, author, academic and columnist PLUS she reads Ponderings which makes her a fave, she is the gorgeous Dr. Karen Brooks. Some of you may know that I once ran a candle company, candle making was one of my FAVORITE hobbies which then turned into a lucrative business. I came across a book titled Tallow, and was swept away into a mystical land of magic, candles and fantasy. Who could imagine a candle maker infusing the ability to heal and manoeuvre? (Grin inserted) Karen was responsible for MANY an all nighter as I consumed the Bond Rider Series and more than a few packets of Tim Tams.
K: One of my favourite book series of all time is the Tallow series. I have never met a creative such as yourself that can write such exquisite fiction and then jump over to current news affairs and social commentary- you’re quite extraordinary in this sense. How do you make the switch and what is your secret?
KB: No-one has ever asked that question before. I think writing in the two entirely different modes, even though they’re both creative acts, makes it easier for me to shut out one and focus on the other. One also stimulates the other. You see, when I was an academic and lecturing at university, I was always writing lectures, papers and researching and my newspaper columns were, in a sense a liberating (because I didn’t have to footnote and could write in the first person!) extension of that. With the newspaper columns, I have to work to a strict word limit which is generally quite inflexible, so it’s great discipline for a writer. It teaches you to delete extraneous words. You have to write quickly, to topic, get your points across concisely, entertainingly (you want the reader to keep reading) and lyrically/persuasively. In many ways, both academic writing and the opinion pieces trained me for fiction. I researched the Tallow series very thoroughly (and do even more now with my historical fiction), but I also learned to write in a disciplined way which also meant being able to switch off while at the same time using the skills I’d been taught by great editors. It takes me one to two years to write my books, but every week, I also have to produce an 800 word column on a social or political issue. I look forward to those days (mostly LOL!) and no longer feel they interrupt my novel writing, they are just part of what I do. I don’t think there’s a secret – I simply flick over. I’d never thought about it before. But, after 17 years ( I started writing fiction and newspaper columns at the same time), I’m an old hack – at the column, that is. Still learning so much about writing fiction! So it’s not a secret, but something that I’ve become accustomed to doing and don’t think about anymore.
K: Who is your favourite character you have created and why?
KB: Oh, sheesh… That’s like asking who’s your favourite child! I love them all… however, I adore Tallow and Dante. I also love Anneke Sheldrake (from The Brewer’s Tale), Mallory Bright and Sir Francis Walsingham from The Locksmith’s Daughter (the latter being a real figure in history, he was such a challenge and treat to create from the bones of history, to make him three-dimensional) and, in my current book, The Chocolate Maker’s Wife, I have fallen in love with a few of the characters, including another real historical figure, Samuel Pepys, the great diarist, who features. I will keep the others a secret for now 🙂
K: Who inspires you and why?
KB: My amazing husband (one in a million) and my wonderful adult children. They have always inspired me and will continue to, and not just because I should include my family, but because they are my rocks, terrific, grounded people in their own right, and my loves. My fantastic friends – they inspire me. They’re all honest, good, hard-working, talented and kind people. My grandmother inspired me because of her strength and resilience – despite being such a pragmatic woman, she also had a vivid imagination. I’m also inspired by my beloved friends, Dr Kiarna Brown (obstetrician and gynecologist in Darwin) and Kerry Doyle (CEO of NSW Heart Foundation) who are both incredibly smart, witty, kind, compassionate women who give so much to those around them. Also, my beloved friend Sara Douglass who, even though she died in 2011, still continues to inspire me for all the same reasons. People like Quentin Bryce, our former Governor General, who has always conducted herself with such dignity, intelligence, and grace. Writer Shirley Hazard for the same reason (I had the great privilege of meeting and interviewing her back in 1994). Margaret Atwood – for her powerful writing and politics. My incredible friend Stephen Bender for his integrity, kindness, insight and ethics. And my former colleague and dear pal, Professor Jim McKay for his endless support, wisdom, compassion and generous heart and mind. They’re all sensational people for so many reasons, and I’m so fortunate they’re part of my lives – whether it be in the flesh or from a huge distance or through words. I could list so many more… Makes me realise how lucky I am to have such good people in my life.
K: Tolkien or Austen?
KB: Ha! Can I say both? It’s the brain switch thing… 😉 I still reread them.
K: What advice would you give your 25 year old self if you could meet?
KB: Be kinder to yourself. Life isn’t a competition no matter how many people try and convince you to enter into it or race you to the finish. You will find great love if you open your heart and give it (I did, but it would have been nice to know back then when I was on the cusp of a horrible divorce); as much as it’s a cliche, really do stop and smell the roses.
K: France or London and why?
KB: London – I am an Anglophile – the history, the messiness, the imperfections, the incredible resilience of the people, it’s amazing.
K: What music are you listening to?
KB: Albums of Restoration music – I always listen to music from the period my novels are set in as I write them.
K: What do you like about the Australian art space?
KB: A great deal. We have such variety and talent – across all genres and spectrums. My daughter, Caragh Brooks, is an artist in Melbourne and I love her work (illustration, painting, and sculpture) and the generosity of the art scene and other artists towards her and each other. I also adore the work of Andrew Taylor in QLD. I have the work of Ken Johnston hanging in my home, some of Shaun Tan’s marvellous book covers as well as an Indigenous artist named Muly’s work. Oh, and my daughter’s work – that is proudly displayed everywhere in the home and always attracts great comments. I also like the work of Tom Roberts, Fredrick Drysdale and Jeffrey Smart. Now, I took that literally to mean “art” but if you broaden it to include other aspects, such as writing, music, theatre, film, etc. Then, I like that artists keep giving so much to culture that (and this is what I don’t like) sometimes doesn’t seem to appreciate the enormous contribution they make. Economics may be the bones of a society, infrastructure the flesh, politics etc the mind, but art is the beating heart.
K: If you could have one minute on National TV Prime Time to give a message what would you say?
KB: Please, be more generous in your heart towards others.
K: When is the next book coming out?
KB: In the USA, next year (The Locksmith’s Daughter – which is out here already) and in Australia, October 2018 – The Chocolate Maker’s Wife.
For more information about Karen:
Dr. KarenBrooks www.karenrbrooks.com
Associate Professor and Honorary Senior Research Fellow IASH, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland.
Columnist for the Courier Mail.
Join Karen for great conversations and sharing on FaceBook: KarenBrooks‘ Official Fan Page – love to have you!
Author of: The Locksmith’s Daughter ,The Brewer’s Tale, Tallow, Votive and Illumination in The Curse of the Bond Riders series.
Consuming Innocence, Rifts Through Quentaris and the Cassandra Klein Quartet
Director: Sara Douglass Enterprises www.saradouglassworlds.com www.nonsuchkitchengardens.com