Sarah Jane Doe

Category Archives: Writing

Living a fantasy

Now that my blood consists more of antibiotics and anti-mucoids than cold and flu germs, a walk past this little stationary shop here in Ubud filled me with heart and purpose: I’m here to write! Yeah! Fist-pump! Back to the room, dig out that manuscript, on with the show!

Many of you are writers so you’ll know that wonderful feeling when you pull out old work and look at it with fresh eyes and delight yourself. Hungry for this sensation, I put a tissue up each dripping nostril, turned the fan up to causing-the-woven-rattan-ceiling-to-tremble level and told the warring Asiatic squirrels in the coconut tree to keep it down, or else. Then I settled in to immerse myself in my own brilliance.

This is what I read. ‘Exposition, exposition, exposition, quip, exposition, exposition, cliché.’  Notes, notes, notes, ‘Filler, exposition, exposition, cliché, filler, exposition, exposition.’ And repeat.

In case you don’t believe me, here’s an example of just how bad things currently are. The names of my two chief evil-doers are Karl and Darius. I might as well have called them Cruel and Devious and been done with it. Our hero? Bastian. Last bastion of hope, freedom, and terrible punning nomenclature. I could cry (I may have cried).

For a life-long lover of quality fantasy fiction, this is pretty terrible news. After deciding I didn’t have the energy or implements to kill myself (I also like my housekeepers so much I hate troubling them for extra loo roll, so corpse removal would really be a whole new level of imposition) I read on to see if anything could be salvaged. Around page 87, one  of my appallingly named characters finally stops being a caricature and becomes a character. My sigh of sheer relief was fulsome enough to give the squirrels pause and this writer a glimmer of hope for the next few months of work.

Still – ouch. What happened? My only comfort is that the very first part of Game of Thrones wobbles in the same way. Lot of good versus evil, a direwolf for every child, exposition, exposition, cliché, exposition – and then good old George R.R. Martin seems to forget that that he’s setting things up for a ‘Fantasy Series’ and lets his characters run free. To, I would argue, the benefit of all mankind.

Shippey, my favourite Tolkien historian, writes that successful world building happens when the author stops giving us backstory and prescription and simply offers us a ‘corner of the eye glimpse’ of the world they’ve created – the kind that intimates that all sorts of complex events and histories have occurred; that fabulous cities exist, and people have loved and lived and died in them. For reals. It’s going to take some serious time for me to do this. Meanwhile, a little help from my fantasy-loving friends would be hugely appreciated. Names. Some masculine, some feminine. And it will be the last thing I beseech-th of thee-th*.

*Note: by ‘last’ I mean until I need help naming everything else and then move on to help with the religious-exclamations-occuring-in-slang-speech-of-the-currently-unnamed-eastern-most-city.


A dear friend emailed me here in Ubud to tell me she loves reading this blog, but that she wanted to make sure I was really A-OK and enjoying myself. At first I wondered what part of the delicate sub-text I’M HAVING THE TIME OF MY LIFE was failing to convey my heart-bursting joy. But she had good reasons for wondering, and I think they’re worth addressing. My friend is one of these clever selfless creatures who works with peoples’ minds when they become concerned about them. Or someone else does and you find yourself in flexi-cuffs. She sees a lot of pain and confusion (coming from younger people in particular) as the post-modern human juggles various online identities and personas, always scanning for likes and reassurance and struggling with their ‘status’ in more ways than the obvious. My friend knows that reality checks are important.

I’m going to leap now from all things social-networky and online and much written about, to the sticker families on the backs of cars. Where I live in inner city Melbourne these don’t exist because we are all way too not-Bogan-unless-it’s-ironic-or-actually-comfortable-like-Ugg-boots to do this (yes, I do understand the contradiction in all being cool in exactly the same way which renders it uncool, la la la, it’s a joke, but having said that – we’re wicked cool). I’m confident of this assertion because a quick trip to Sydney’s Northern Beaches revealed the opposite problem. I thought I enjoyed it when people expressed themselves. Turns out I want their cars to explode taking Perky Athletic Mum and BBQ Beer Dad with them.

What further depressed me when witnessing this suburban tidal wave of assery was the lack of joke stickers – no one had thought to put up even the basic stuff like six Fat Dads or some pets in compromising positions. I came home enraged by these homogenous white hetero stickers and once I finished my tirade the Boy only asked thoughtfully, ‘What happens if one of them dies?’ Mm.  How long do you drive around with Mr Snuffles on the back window before you have to scrape him off? Do you start with ears or tail? And what if it’s not your labradoodle? What if it’s Mum? What if Dad just leaves? When do you admit it publically? And do you start with a limb? What do you put in the hole left behind? Or do you just cross him off? Quite apart from these conundrums is the alarming disconnect you get when driving past Happy Skinny Yoga Mum and Smiley Pretty Girl to find two dumpy females of very different ages but unfortunately similar expressions, both hot and harried and yelling at each other in the car. If I’m uncomfortable with that distance from the truth, how do they feel?

Meanwhile it feels very natural to me to express; to overexpress, to hyperexpress, to throw sixty words in the air like clay pigeons and blast them with an AK47 of an idea. I can’t help it. I like doing it. I like reading it when other people do it. And as much as I understand there is no such thing as truth – and that everything I leave out by accident or design is another version of my life – what I’m looking for when I write in this way is an essential truthiness. The closer I get to it, to the essence of what I’m actually experiencing or wanting to share, the better I feel. I’m soothed by communication. And I feel a rising pressure inside when I don’t or can’t. Maybe that’s all the sticker family people are doing too but they’re thwarted by their materials. Maybe if there was a Chubby Gamer Girl Who Likes Gay Jap-Anime Porn and is Worried About Being Accepted and her Balding Overweight Dad Who Loves Classical Guitar and Longs To Kill His Floor Supervisor I’d feel better about it all. Truthiness*.

*Note: sarahjanedoe is as much a real live sarahjane as a janedoe. The level of anonymity is quite low. The pictures are all mine and taken by me or my family unless specifically credited. Ditto the thoughts, feelings and ideas.

The trouble with trouble in paradise

I’ve been dying to use the title ‘trouble in paradise’ for quite some time now. Exciting, isn’t it? The juxtaposition? Trouble! Egads man, where? Paradise! (dramatically sharp intake of breath) But by Jove, that’s the very last place you’d expect to find it! And just like the Twisty-and-Fanta shellacked readers of the Herald Sun, I still get a shiver every time I see ‘trouble in paradise’ writ large in Times New Roman.

I forget where I first read it. It was probably a re-issued Nancy Drew title, or perhaps the local paper in the Sydney seaside suburb where I spent my adolescence. It’s the kind of phrase the avid reader/junior writer regurgitates with ease and pleasure for use in a school assignment. I remember itching to pull it out during my first job as a journalist for a small newspaper in South West Florida. The paper was circulated amongst honeymooners and retirees on a beautiful barrier island, and contained a lot of earnest stories about the superior quality and affordability of holiday accommodation and eateries. Looking for real action, I ‘embedded’ myself for 24 hours with the emergency services at the local fire-station.

All kinds of unexpected things happened during each of those hours, and I went back to the office ready to pump out an authentically shiver-laden ‘trouble in paradise’ piece, only to discover that I wasn’t allowed to write any of the good bits (‘You want tourists and snow-birds to read this? Are you gosh-darn kidding me? Show it to advertising – those guys sure need a laugh today’) so it came out with a ridiculously long and bland title (slapped on by our roundly-despised acting editor) that went something like ’24 hours with people who are allowed to use sirens and can cut your car in half please drive carefully on our island home turn to page 11 for your Dairy Queen voucher’. Thwarted.

So here I am in paradise; real, proper Paradise™ with faultless weather, swaying palms and exotically beautiful inhabitants who smile all the time and wear colourful costumes and get about with a lot of things on their head like tropical fruit and monkeys. And where’s that editor now, mm? Hopefully not still correcting someone else’s film review from ‘on celluloid’ to ‘on cellulose’ and then claiming this to be the fault of her ‘Apple MacIntyre’s spellchecker’ when a hundred emails are received from nasty old Republicans with too much time on their hands joyfully denouncing the author’s apparent ineptitude at discerning between film and paperstock.  Nope, she’s nowhere to be found and it’s highly unlikely she’s even heard of Webby Logs, so here it is:

Trouble in Paradise.

I’m a big lover of both frogs and fireflies, and at first I was thrilled with sightings of each of these creatures in the dark, swaying paddy fields of Ubud at night. But now? Well, there are just so many of both that I fear I might tire of them, and nothing spells ‘trouble’ quite like ‘passé-firefly’.

One of my chief reading-over-coffee pleasures is a physical copy of The New York Times; a newspaper where they still have those super-fancy extras like sub-editors, and journalists who travel outside the tri-state area and stuff. I can’t find it anywhere in Melbourne so it was a very pleasant surprise to discover that I can get daily copies here in tiny Ubud for about $3 from a hawker up on the main street. However, what was a simple joy has now become fraught and complex – today my new friend Alejandro told me about a lovely bakery where I can get copies for free and spend my $3 on a smoked salmon sandwich with fresh sourdough while I do. So now every time I read it I have to feel guilty that the poor streetseller has probably lost my business for the next few months, while I ingest a totally non-macro-Zen-Ubud recipe of fluffy white bread and Philly. Thanks Bali. Way to make me feel disgusted with myself yet again.

Finally (because I’d hate to disturb you with any more outrages, gentle readers) the relief at having a kilo of my dirty clothes returned to my room washed and pressed for $2 evaporated when I ripped open the plastic to discover that the smell of a thousand colliding artificial fragrances did not. After a restless sleep last night in PJs that inspired a kind of olfactory claustrophobia akin to having my head stuck in a feedbag of laundry powder, I anticipated the showdown with the host of my domicile this morning when I’d have to try to explain that I wished my clothing to be less clean in future. After rehearsing various scenarios and fretting about the outcome, I presented the complaint using words from two languages plus a little dance and some rending of the fabric on my back and was told ‘OK, you want not so strong smell? OK, OK, so sorry, no problem!’ All that catastrophising for nothing! What, does he think I do that kind of worrying for free? Ubud – writers’ paradise? Maybe. But with trouble, I tell you. With a lot of trouble*.

*Note: the use of the word trouble in this instance may actually be limited to things that, outside Paradise™ would be labelled ‘minor annoyances’ or ‘petty grievances’ (abbreviated simply to ‘petty’).