Who am I?

I am a writing and publishing guru. What I dont know about the market just isn't worth knowing. So what if I'm unpublished? I choose to give other writers the gift of my wisdom and experience* that the other 500,000 writing blogs out there fail to give.
* No actual experience

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dreaming of a white one?

Christmas comes in the middle of summer here. Some insist on forcing down a roast lunch with all the trimmings, but many are conceding that in hot weather, this is a tad masochistic.

We had a barbecue lunch followed by platters heaped with watermelon, mangoes, cherries and stone fruit. Summer fruit....my idea of heaven, bury me now.

I’ve certainly had hotter Christmas days than today, it reached 30 Celsius (that’s 86 Fahrenheit) in Melbourne. But it was so humid and muggy that, well, lots of rehydration was needed. We were all quite merry, in a sluggish, laid-back way! Even the energy balls kids were lethargic. Or maybe their shenanigans didn’t bother us.

Then at 3:00PM a storm swept through the city. The temperature plummeted and I initially thought drunken revellers were chucking stones. As it turned out, it wasn’t human hands – those cloud-dwelling creatures were. We had hail.

Golf-ball sized chunks of ice bombarded the yard. Some bounced off the neighbour’s roof into our courtyard. As we’d covered the courtyard ground with recycled rubber matting, the hailstones bounced around the small space, some smashing spectacularly against the house wall. It looked like the inside of a popcorn maker. Within minutes, the ground was white. 

The kids’ excitement was short lived as they discovered that getting pelted with ice actually hurt. We stressed over the cat’s whereabouts, but when it was over she sauntered in, her fur completely dry.

But all those dreaming of a white Christmas got one.

Hope you guys got what you wanted, too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

just an observation

The word “hysteria” means “womb” (just think of the word hysterectomy, if you don’t believe me).

Yep, way back when the study of mental health was in its infancy in the last century, it was deemed that such irrational, uncontrolled excessive emotional behaviour was purely feminine. So it was plainly obvious to the learned gentlemen that its origin must be in the uterus.

First coined in the days of Hippocrates, and largely forgotten, Freud repopularised the term and wrote several serious papers about it. Thanks, Sigmund – it obviously wasn’t enough that we were supposed to envy those other things.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Had to share..

The writers’ prayer.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the words that don’t need to be changed;
courage to edit the things that do;
and wisdom to know the difference.

- sorry, I cant attribute this quote to anybody. If you know who corrupted the Serenity Prayer, lemme know.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Search for Perfection

On a cold evening there’s nothing I enjoy better than to curl up on the sofa with a warm cup of something soothing and read the telephone directory. Not just any directory – hey, I have standards here – but the paper version of the White Pages.
The drama! The intrigue! The humour! I laugh out loud, and diligently resist the temptation to skip to the end to see how it turns out.

My husband questions my mental health. It’s research, people, truly.

I want the perfect name for my characters. I’ll know it when I find it.

Scientifically Proven
Names are important!
One’s name has an impact on one’s self-perception and the path one chooses in life.
A study of names in medical and legal professions showed there was a slightly higher proportion of doctors with the name Doctor or with the letters "Doc" in their names and lawyers called Lawyer or with Law in their names, than predicted by chance.

The study is linked here  if you could be bothered.

Furthermore, doctors called Wee were more likely to practice Urology than other branches of medicine. I couldn't make THAT up.

I’ve noticed these trends myself. A dietician called Candy, a veterinary called Dr Catt. A lawyer called Conquest (although I seriously wonder whether the latter changed their name by deed poll to sound macho and go-hard. If I were choosing legal representation, I’d be more likely to select somebody with a winning name, rather than say, Slack or Dowdy. I just wouldn’t date somebody called Conquest. Or Slack or Dowdy.)

Writers have used this for years; suggesting personality traits in characters through their names. Rowling was a champion at including puns in her characters’ names. My favourite was Dolores Umbridge, from Order of the Phoenix. Dolores means pain and umbrage means both shade and to take offense.  Yes, she was an offensive pain who cast a shadow on life at Hogwart’s.

So back to my telephone directory ramblings.

I’ve come across names that give me a chuckle at the image of a character it inspires. 

I would only use the family name Sweet for an absolutely foul character. Block would  be a henchman.  But these are quite basic. My mind boggled at what a person called Ear would be like ( a spy, maybe?).

How would you picture people with the following names (all currently listed in the Melbourne White Pages)?
Stallion (ok, I got a giggle here)
Slockwitch (Dickensian)
 I eventually found the perfect name for my character: Perfect. Or so I thought, until I saw the next name –Perfetto. Perfectionist and pretentious.  Suited her. Perfectly.
Tell me – would these games be possible with the e-directory?

BTW - sorry if I've used your name here. No offense intended. But seriously, dude, consider changing it!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Having hung around writerish blogosphere for some time now, I was vaguely aware of an annual writing event, National Novel Writing Month. Kind of like an orgy in which quantity is the key.

As I understand it (not that I've been researching) published and wannabe writers aim to complete a 50,000 word novel in the one month, averaging about 1600 words per day. Ok, sounds great for some who have time and/or stamina, and horrifically stressful for those who don’t. I think they've adopted and adapted the Nike Just Do It philosophy.

As it happens, November is a quiet month for me, work wise. I’m self employed but rely mainly on one company for work, and they are super busy in the middle of the year, and slow down between November to February. I was well aware of this when I agreed to work for them, and allowed for the lull. I took on more projects than was wise over the busy period, knowing I could postpone some things until now. Such as writing. And other stuff.   

December is ridiculously hectic. End-of-school-year activities and Christmas-is-coming functions fill the diary (at least people in the Northern Hemisphere are smart enough to have split these between July and December. Down 'ere, we pack 'em into a single mad, mad month). January is school holiday time, so I might squeeze 4 words per day between the demands of child-wrangling. And in Feb., work starts to pick up again.    

So, happy coincidence, NaNo seems to have been tailor made for me.

Except I put the No in NaNoWriMo. I’m not a joiner. I’m not even sure of the logistics, as I only skimmed through the web page.  

Plus, I would have been cheating if I had, seeing as I already had about 10,000 words of a newish project (YA paranormal) done by Nov 1. My aim was to develop it this month. So far, so good. 

So far,  I have exceeded the NaNo (daily) total- I can manage an average of 2000 words (more during school days, less on weekends). So I expect to have added about 60K words to my WIP by Dec 1 provided I dont get tanlged up in any inherant contradictions, or need to go back and change a character's motives or decide there's not enough substance in the plot to carry it over 25K words. And so on, the usual reasons I might hit a wall.

Nevertheless, knowing that others are powering through their manuscripts is inspiring, particularly as not everybody can dedicate as much time to it as I can. And I’m sure that if I got into it, I would be delighted for Ella of Eltham completing her MS within the allocated time. But the reality is that I don’t need the distraction of posting my own, and following others’ totals. I’m a solitary old grump, not a cheer squad. The other merit of the NaNo approach is that just writing until something happens is a good way to get into the writng zone. It's ok to go back and delete the first few useless paragraphs. Waiting for inspiration to hit is a great time waster.  By "doing it", I get more done (well, duh).

However.... even without the burden of an employer, I've got a life. The "other stuff" gobbles up my time.  Such as attending Professional Development seminars, to maintain my professional registration (I have a two day course and a one day course in the next two weeks); getting some much avoided dental work happening (it’s not just writing I procrastinate) and pushing myself to do regular exercise (the scales scream and run when I approach). So a month may sound like a long time, but it's far from empty.

In other words, I still need to juggle my White Whine concerns.

I could still be persuaded to join the NaNo culture. What benefits have others found from being NaNo participants? Please share!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

On writing

“How come you write so funny?”

Something I heard many times as a child – pity it was my appalling handwriting and ridiculous pen-hold they were referring to, as opposed to my flawless wit.

Have a look at my party trick. That’s my thumb.

I can effortlessly bend it like that. What used to be called double jointed is now “hypermobile”.  And, no I can’t lie on my tum and swing my toes in front of my face- that would be way cooler. I’d be posting that instead.

It simply means the ligaments in my thumbs, and to a lesser extent, my fingers, aren’t good at their job of stabilising a joint. It means my fingers suck at controlling a pen. And I have to keep a death-grip on my pen to form legible letters.

If you were to see anything I’d handwritten at school, you’d find the first few lines reasonably neat, followed by a rapid decline in the quality as my hand fatigued. After a few paragraphs, you’d swear somebody else started to write, because I’d shift the position of the pen in my hand, and the letters would slope in the opposite direction. The writing would be neat for a few lines, then deteriorate again, and I’d find a different way to hold my pen. And so on. A page of my handwritten text looked as if it was a joint effort of three or four (messy) people.

As a teen, I stumbled across the “science” of graphology – or personality analysis through the study of handwriting. Yep, it’s as valid as personality analysis through astrology or phrenology (the study of bumps on your head), but I was not to know.

Seems that meek people have small handwriting, letters leaning forward (ie, to the right) are a sign of an impatient person, while you really can’t trust those who don't close the circles on their o’s, liars did that all the time! Those whose writing sometimes fails to stay on the line are easily led. And so on.

Well, my mixed up writing had dire implications: I was an introverted extrovert, meek, pushy and easily led. But I never lied.

So there ended my study of graphology.

In the early 90’s I shared a house with a German lady, who was applying for jobs. She duly sent off handwritten applications until the rest of us suggested it made her look slack. She was shocked. In Europe at the time, a graphological analysis was a standard personality screen of applicants. To send in a typed letter meant that you were hiding your inherently evil nature.

I don’t know if this practice is common today (if any Euro readers could comment, I’d appreciate it) but I guess no European company would have hired a fruit cake like me back then. Unless I could have persuaded a neat person to write my application for me.

It all came back the other day, while watching my younger son’s fingers grasping his pencil so tightly his nails were white, and how laboured the whole task of writing was for him. Yep, his fingers are even more mobile than mine were.

Another introverted extrovert who was both meek and pushy....

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


A recent post about doing exercises to take myself back to childhood and relive the sensations got me thinking about memory and how trustworthy recollections could be.

Here’s an exercise. If you want to start an argument with a sibling (like that’s difficult), just ask him/her the simple question: “Who first came up with the idea to...” and fill the blank with a practical joke, executed jointly that worked beautifully; or a project you both put a lot of effort into as kids. Chances are both of you will claim credit for coming up with the idea, and get annoyed with the other for failing to recognise this simple historical fact.

Why? Because memory is highly fallible.

We might experience memory like a tape recording. Rewind, press play, and the scene unfolds in front of us. The times when we’re unsure, we have to consciously reconstruct it, think harder, fill in blanks, and perhaps seek confirmation from others. The point is, even the times we feel quite sure of what happened, we are not replaying an undistorted scene. Because we recall by reconstructing the event. We follow a series of neural pathways, and jam together incidents and feelings that may not have actually happened in the sequence. Neural pathways are linked – associated. It’s easy to see how the pathway that portrays ourselves in a positive light is the one that gets chosen. It’s not hard to make a wrong turn and feel 100% confident that the memory is true.

There’s proof for this view. A recent study asked people exiting Disneyland to respond yes or no, regarding which characters they’d seen during their visit. “Mickey Mouse?” “yes” “Donald Duck?” “yes” “Bugs Bunny?” – many responded “yes”. Impossible, because the wascally wabbit is not a Disney character.

Yet, because it had been suggested, and because cartoon characters are filed close together, a large portion of people accepted they had seen him. On follow up a few weeks later, the same people were asked to list the characters they had seen at the park. Many who said “yes” to having seen Bugs included him in their list, and felt no need to question their memory. Why? Because it’s perfectly plausible. They’ll probably  wonder why they failed to take a photo of Bugs on the day.

Now, I’m sure if the study had asked whether they’d seen Hannibal Lecter at Disneyland, few would have thought they had. Serial killers tend to not be closely associated with the Happiest Place on Earth. It’s harder to suggest something completely incongruous.

The thing is, misremembering happens every day, and it’s damned difficult to recognise when it does. As an example, many years ago, we had a pet rabbit. A girl came to visit and refused to hold him, as she’d been bitten by a bunny a few days earlier at a petting zoo. The other day, the long-deceased rabbit came up in conversation. The girl (now adult) scowled and said “I remember him, he bit me.” Well, one of us is misremembering here.

So what’s that got to do with writing?

Plenty, if you’re writing a memoir or a non-fiction piece which includes “eyewitness accounts”. Particularly if they refer to third parties.

As for fiction... well. In my earlier blog entry, I said I was aiming for authenticity by immersing myself in sensations of childhood. But I started to question how true my memories were, and got tied up. Finally, I asked myself - does it really matter? Fiction is about making things up. Writers are notorious for trawling through their own and other people’s lives for incidents to include in their work. If I’m going to steal others’ stories, the least I can do is modify them, even if I don’t mean to.

My only warning is: we tend to misremember incidents in a way that portrays us (and out pet bunnies) in a positive light. If we’re going to retell stories from our own childhoods, just expect siblings and close friends to feel we’re hogging credit for incidents they reckon they were responsible for! Let’s be generous and give kudos to others – even when we’re sure the credit belongs to us.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

random ramblings

Sometimes I experience things that I reckon could easily be worked into a story to add a laugh or pump it with authenticity. I duly store them away in a file, then struggle like anything to find their niche. And fail utterly. I'll share them with the lucky readers of my blog, and I'm more than happy to let people adopt them.

1. A friend came back from her travels and shared her tales and photos. The highlight had been a scenic helipcoper joy ride. "It was really scary - the helicopter had no doors!" The other listeners "ooohed", but I looked blank. "So how'd you get in if it had no doors?" (imagining a hatch underneath). She gave me a pitying look and explained that the cabin was permanently open on one side, to the amusement of the others.

2. It was a joint birthday party - the father was turning 40 and the son 4. The house was full! There were mountains of food. The littlies congregated around the adult table, eating sushi, pesto olives and other delicacies. The blokes hung around the kids' table and munched on chips and franks.

3. When my cat doesn't think I'm watchng, she's good buddies with the cat from next door. They sun themselves on the paving in the backyard, side by side, ocassionally rolling over to toast the other side (it's a tough life). But when I step outside, she immediately takes a swipe towards the other cat's nose. The other cat looks annoyed, but doesn't move. My cat duly lifts herself up and chases the other cat, who looks as if she's thinking "whatever" and saunters away. My cat looks pleased with herself. Clearly, it's her job to keep the yard free of other cats.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


I’m the proud auntie of five wonderful nieces and three fabulous nephews. And if you add the three nieces I gained from marrying, then you can see that’s a lot of birthday presents each year!

I mention these people because (good aunt that I am) I’ve just returned from my nieces’ dance concert. Miss 3 and Miss 5 (nearly 6!) were proud to display their ballet skills. With their glittery hair and swishy dresses, they both looked like little princesses – and they knew it. These concerts are a riot, because the very little ones simply have no idea what they are doing. Some have the rabbit-in-headlight look on stage, others overperform. Many just struggle to remember what the heck they are supposed to be doing, and require a gentle prompt from an assistant to twirl or do the next move. At the end of the number, there’s always one kid frozen on stage when the others are thumping off, and the older girl pretends its part of the act as she pirouettes towards the recalcitrant one and shepherds her off. The Awww factor was High!

There were probably eighty or so kids in total, from about 12 classes. Two of whom were boys, and both of whom were the brothers of girls who were regular troupers. The Billy Elliots looked preschool age, and unlikely to have learnt that boys who dance rarely get looked on favourably at school.

My two younger sons came to the concert, as there was no way that Mr 9 was going to watch ballet. Mr 7 thoroughly enjoyed it, he loves music and rhythm and appreciated the story that each of the acts told. He was given the option to leave as soon as his cousin’s piece had finished, but chose to stay to the end (Mr 5 started to nod-off half way). But when I asked Mr 7 if he wanted to learn dance, he responded with a horrified “no way!”. And, yes, there was some relief on my part.

My boys learn Tae Kwan Do. The moves they learn are probably as demanding as the ballet steps, and as rhythmical (but sadly, no music is involved). Both sports are great exercises, build strength and flexibility, and challenge them to learn self-discipline and body awareness. Both provide kids with the opportunity to build self-esteem as a result of mastering a centuries-old discipline.

There’s a minority of girls in the Tae Kwan Do class, probably a third, and I think it’s great that girls are being encouraged to learn to defend themselves. I wish I’d had a chance as a child. But on reflection about what my son and I had discussed, I felt uncomfortable. Martial arts are about asserting yourself. Ballet is about pleasing others. It’s ok for girls to take ownership of their bodies through self-defence, but not ok for boys to view their bodies as a means of self expression.

Before I had kids, I imagined that I would minimize sexual stereotyping in my own children, but I realise that has not happened. And my own stereotypical views are more ingrained than I thought. As a result, my gentle, artistic 7 year old boy has well and truly internalised the cultural messages about gender role. Nobody had to tell him “ballet is for girls”, he learnt that all by himself.

Subtle messages are directed at children daily. As a wannabe writer for kids, I need to scrutinise what I am saying in my narratives – or showing. Am I colluding with societal expectations, or am I challenging them? Are there better ways to challenge stereotypes than with a “Sally Soccer Star” type story with an overt message?

Is this something other kids’ writers worry about?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Book review Sector C

Sector C by Phoenix Sullivan. Available through Amazon and the usual outlets.

Sector C is a skilfully crafted narrative, a medical thriller. Set a few years into the future, Sector C takes us into a territory that the recent Swine Flu and Bird flu epidemics threatened to but did not did not – a fully blown, species jumping, fast acting pandemic. But instead of being the inevitable outcome of fast mutating viruses, this one was the accidental by-product of genetic engineering by humans.

The story follows Donna and Mike, a vet and an epidemiological investigator brought together when their respective investigations into unusual illnesses merged, and suggested the source of an outbreak. On a ranch with the probable “Patient Zero” they uncover the machinations of a profit-hungry company.

My benchmark for a good story is not just sympathetic main characters – and Sector C has two of those – but three dimensional antagonists. Ms Sullivan has created a gem with Walt Thurman, a man unapologetically prepared to capitalise on the devastation he has inadvertently unleashed, and in Dr Volkov, the geneticist whose research work was directly responsible for the pandemic. I applaud Sullivan for her portrayal of the scientist with a God-complex, simultaneously compassionate and ruthlessly self-interested; devoted to finding a cure, yet prepared to withhold it from those most at need.

Sullivan deftly weaves her story between the personal accounts of families and ranchers devastated by the pandemic; a company in “damage control” (trying to contain the damage to their bottom line, not the population) and the two heroes who find themselves needing to dodge some unexpected creatures. She also paints a frightening picture of a world where no animal or food source can be trusted.

Overall, Sector C is a seamless balance of science and action. Sullivan has a knack of making scientific concepts easily accessible throughout the narrative without bogging the pace or sounding like a text book. Well done!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

through the eyes of a child

Is it possible to enter the mind of a child? I have strong memories of my childhood, and I don’t only mean of events, but of sensations and perceptions.

The child’s sensory world is different to the adults. Colours are more vivid, sounds more complex, and tastes sharper and more defined. This is not just me in reflective mood, I’m referring to observations that have been confirmed by scientific research. For example, in some experiments, adults were given a target colour, and asked to match it by adjusting the saturation and brightness of another panel. They had to identify that exact point at which there was no difference between the two samples. Most adults will perceive the two as identical earlier than a child does. This trend applied across most sensory modalities. Their eyes, ears, noses and tongues are sharper than ours.

It’s the reason why the thunder of our childhoods was always more threatening, why the shadows moved more in a child’s darkened bedroom, and why spring was more joyful – the world is actually deeper for a child. It’s also why children will spit out a cabernet sauvignon and shriek at a whiff of gorgonzola cheese – to their senses these things are poison. Sorry to tell you, but we don’t have more refined palates, people. Instead, we’re stuck with dulled ones that need something as sharp as alcohol or blue cheese to awaken them. We can hold the red wine in our mouths long enough to rhapsodise about hints of blackcurrent, and pretend that’s a sign of sophistication.

Descriptions will always add depth to a narrative. Describing all sensory input is, I think, essential when writing for children. Given that their senses are clearer, it takes more effort to get it right.

I spent a while today musing about how things felt when I was little. I closed my eyes and sent myself back to a time when my feet didn’t touch the floor when I was on a chair, a time when most decisions were made for me.

I held the memory of the chill of a smooth window pane as I pressed my cheek to it, and watched my breath condense in a haze beside me. The freedom of bare feet on sand, the grains rubbing between my toes, the hot sand quickly becoming unbearable and having to hop hop hop to a towel.

Just some random moments. Difficult to capture – I’ll keep trying.

After that, I’ll have a go at recreating the world through an adolescent’s dark coloured, hormonally charged lenses.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Separated by a common language...

I’m feeling a little better about myself. I found a call for submissions for childrens’ stories, and ...completed something. The theme was Halloween, and I managed to squeeze a story into the 500 word limit. Lots of culling needed, but it got there.

It was a strange theme to be writing about, as it’s an American custom. Although it's been transplanted in our backyard, it hasn’t quite taken root. Some years the night of Oct 30th passes with no child doorknocking, sometimes we get one or two. One year, an American lady (who has since moved) organised all the local kids to go for a trick-or-treat. She went so far as to drop flyers in the letterboxes along our street asking people to tie a balloon to the gate on Halloween to show they were ok with a gaggle of excited children holding out their hands for sweets. She even provided the balloon!

My babies thought it was the best idea ever! Knock on the door and somebody hands you goodies that you don’t have to earn (as their mean old witch concerned mother expects).

So what did I put in my Halloween story? It was about a child, who misunderstood the term as “trickle treating” (well, it is a steady trickle of treats), and was mocked for it and excluded from the gang's trick-or-treat outing...and her revenge! 

As a child, I was convinced it was "trickle treating"! In my defence, the tradition was non-existent when I was a wee lassie, but certainly prevalent on tv. I think adults saw it as somewhat audacious, but us kids could appreciate the merit of such a pastime.

American television provided many hours of entertainment when I was a kid. I can remember a few more misunderstandings courtesy of that accent (no, I don’t have an accent, but you do!). I shall share these so that you can mock me. 

The song “for he’s a jolly good fellow” ends with “and so say all of us” over here, but folks on American shows mysteriously sang about “nobody candy nigh”. Huh? 

I was quite flummoxed about why girls waving pom-poms should be “chair leaders” (and why such an activity was highly sought after). What were they thinking?

However, I was anticipating one day visting that wonderful city that was built near a beach that was so wide they named the town in honour of that feature. You know the one – Sandy Ago.

Ok, maybe I should have had my ears checked.

But, grasshoppers, this was centuries before the internet could answer all conundrums at the tap of a keyboard. Even as a teen, some of the mysteries of the US persisted. In Paul Zindel’s novels, some of his delinquent MCs spent some time “hanging moons”. What such an activity might have entailed, I truly had no idea. It’s not that this pastime wasn’t indulged in around here – possibly with greater frequency than in the States – but we gave it a far more descriptive title: "flashing a brown eye".

Come on, ya gotta admit, even if you’d never heard of it, you would have gotten the gist of it straight away. However, that part of the vernacular seems to have since disappeared, probably due in no small way to young Bart Simpson. 

I'm not the first to complain about the Americanisation of global cultures, and prob wont be the last. But, hey, if I get paid for a story about Halloween, I won’t be carrying on like I’ve got a ‘roo loose in the top paddock.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

the f-word

This is a topic that every writer has to tackle during the course of serious wordsmithing... fatigue!

Those of us who earn a living not-writing know it well. Writing fiction is as demanding as a second job. Sure we've all heard tales about bestselling authors who held a high-flying full-time job when they were unpublished, and yet managed to churn out airport sized manuscripts at night or early in the morning when the world was sleeping. I'm thinking of the likes of Peter Carey and John Grisham here.

I happen to spend some hours on the computer during the day to fulfil my obligations to the people who pay me. In the evening, I need to step into mothering mode. This job tends to not involve a computer screen, but it's still pretty busy - making sure that a nutritious meal finds it way into the kids, and that they get cleaned, and have done their required reading, music practice and other bits of homework. Sometimes I step into Tiger-Mom mode and attempt to give them additional tasks to do in order to challenge them further to achieve their full potential or some such nonsense.

Then, once the blood has been mopped from the floor, and the darlings are curled up in their beds, I try to squeeze some creativity from my brain. That's the point at which the f-word hits. Sure, I swear and curse, but that does nothing to remove the fog (another f-word) and urge to call it a night. I reduce the brightness on my screen, and that stops me from squinting. I also zoom in to make the words larger. And try to write. I aim for 500 words on a working day and 1000 for a non-working day. Targets are such optimistic things, yeah?

Ok, so I'm having a whine here. I'm not the only person who has to live in the real world and chooses to write. Unless you're living off inherited wealth, or have a machne in the basement that either cranks out more time or more money, and you're not forced to keep busy for 7 and 1/2 hours per day, then chances are you can relate exactly to what I'm talkin' about.

I'm wondering what people do when the urge to shut their eyes takes becomes overwhelming. Do you give in to it, or just push through? Does it involve caffeine or stealing your kids' ADHD medication? Physical exercise? Yoga/ meditation? Watching really bad tv and consequently feeling superior and inspired? (or does cr*p tv just make you want to scream another f-word?)

So far, one thing that has helped is to change the technology I use. I've come across a wonderful innovation that is low glare, portable and very energy efficient. I'm talking about pen and paper! Sadly, the spell check and word count is completely lousy. It also means that I need to transcribe it back into a word document when I can finally face a screen again without wanting to cry.

The good news is that the act of writing is different to typing, and just being away from a lap-top seems to nudge my brain into producing something.

Please, share your strategies for battling the f-word...

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Words are a writer’s tools. In skilled hands they can inspire and stir passions and incite revolutions and bring down governments. They can flatter the powerful or crystallize the collective resentments of the powerless. They can be woven into tangled webs that mislead and manipulate. They can draw attention away from the issue and trap the unwary. Beware fine print!

By their own nature, they are imprecise. One single word can evoke a number of different feelings or associations, depending on the individual listener/ reader. I might think that being compared to a cat is a compliment. Others might see it as an insult.

An unskilled user can mangle and mash words, and jam them into a context they had never been in before. Or do I mean a poet? Gosh, I’m not sure. Genius or idiot?  The line can be thin.

At worse they fall flat. A poor metaphor grates like a sliding door. And only those of us who have been irritated by a sliding door that squeaks and jams every time it gets used would appreciate that one, otherwise, that metaphor would grate like a ...

Words with the same linguistic root can take on vastly different meanings. And when they jump between languages the real fun starts! An “offense” (noun) in French is a mere insult, an affront (something the French are familiar with - and they have both insult and affront in their vocabulary, but clearly required another term with that meaning) but in English, an “offense” is cause for arrest (although something "offensive" may not be). The prefix “in” in French reverses the meaning of a word, but only does so when it feels like it in English. As my (French) mother found out when she got a funny look asking for “in-salted” butter!

“Dilettante” is another example. In Italian, it’s a compliment; it refers to one who is well read and very knowledgeable about a multitude of issues and topics. In English, it damns with faint praise. It suggests the person is a dabbler and not serious about anything. “Dilettante in furs” is particularly insulting (or do I mean insalting?) referring to a young woman of a privileged background who slums it for a while with a bunch of revolutionaries. Because, of course, a young woman would have absolutely no ideals or wish to explore worlds different from her own background, now would she? No, she’d just be passing time waiting for the rich husband to show up. And there's no equivalent term for a young man who passes time with revolutionaries.

My point is – I’m feeling like a dilettante at the moment. In both senses of the word (although without furs). Yes, I try to read widely across a number of fields. Arts, sciences, medicine, history.

But am I just a dabbler? I dabble in writing. I procrastinate. I have hardly written any fiction over the past few months, and suspect that I’m not up to the self discipline and rigour needed to see a project through. I go and read across my fields of interest rather than sit down and write.

How long can I get away with calling it “research” before I have to face the fact that I might just be a dilettante and not a serious writer? Or have I just insulted dilettantes?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hey! I'm a guest on somebody's blog!

Ok, I'm a softie for anythng with paws. It's its small and furry, my interest is piqued. And if it purrs, well, I wanna take it home. Ask me about my darlings (past or present) and I could bore entertain you for an entire day. Click over to Confessions of An Animal Junkie (here), for one such cat story.

The story's true, but recounted in the voice I used for my one and only pub'd piece, "My Own Secret Dinosaur" (the main difference being that I had the cats as an adult, but the story is told through the eyes of a child). But as I'm really eight years of age on the inside, aaah, writing it that way was not a huge leap.

And if you enjoyed the blog piece, and would like to read the Dinosaur story, drop me a line privately and I'll get a copy over to you.

Friday, August 12, 2011

On planning

I’m a panster writer. That means I always make sure that I’m wearing undies before I start writing. (Unlike some degenerates who write in the skin, I guess).

Ok, ok, some probably see me as a degenerate, because plans are a bit like maps, and most maps are meaningless to me. They exist to confuse and taunt me. My visuo-spatial skills are non-existent. I often head off 180° from the direction I’m supposed to be going.

Panster means writing by the seat of your pants, doing away with unnecessary frills like plans and schedules and time-lines. Sometimes I do plan. The concept of a plan sounds very sensible. But the bolshie in me snorts at the plan and asks my past self who does she think she is, bossing me around and telling my present self what to do.

A plan for me often works like a reversal. Whatever I plan to write, you can be sure I end up writing about anything but (veering off 180 degrees, probably). So doing diagrams and charts with little arrows pointing everywhere ends up being a complete waste of time.

In my days as a student, I knew I would waste precious exam time by planning how I would structure my response to a question. I either knew the answer and it would come pouring out of me, (and I would go on for a few pages – not necessarily coherently) or I would realise I knew only a few related fragments that I had no way of integrating into a whole, and write the lyrics to Monty Python’s Lumberjack song ten times instead, before passing out and reviving myself in the pub. (Most people tend to pass out after a lengthy session at the pub, but that’s just me, I often do things the wrong way. I planned my wedding and ended up having the honeymoon before the nuptials. Ah, well.)

Often, when I sit in front of the keyboard, I have no idea what I’m going to write about. But as I have a huge phobia of blank screens, I hurry to fill it with  - anything. Garbage mostly.

Some people start writing with a vision. It could be a place or an era. Not me, I have enough trouble visualising where I’ve left my keys, let alone how somebody’s home or clothing might look. If I try to desribe how a scene looks, I end up confusing everybody, especially me.

I always start with voice. I let the character talk. And talk and talk. Sometimes I have to tell it to shut-up. Often I let it talk to others. Their conversation will tell me a lot about what they want, and what’s stopping them from getting it. That’s the germ of a plot, and I run with it and explore some blind alleys, but my characters are often kind enough to take me somewhere interesting. And unexpected.

Maybe it depends on your definition of a plan. Does a notion count as a plan? I may start with a vague idea about what I’d like to see happen in the story. Say, a kid turning the table on the bullies. I’ll dive in and write an inordinate amount about my character and his/her nemesis. In writing about them I discover their motives, their voices. They have conversations, arguments. And in doing so I gradually learn how the bully gives the poor MC a hard time.  If I’m really lucky, I’ll discover the chink that lets the MC suddenly (and hopefully magnificently) make the bully look like a complete imbecile. In front of those they were wanting to impress. Or I might end up with a tale of finding lost treasure. Or the whole thing may ramble with no hope of reaching a resolution this millennium. Depends on how nice my characters are being.

Maybe I do plan. Does the extremely rough draft of a completed tale count as a plan? A very lengthy and slowly worked out plan, perhaps? A plan that gets chewed on and thrown into the blender a gazillion times before I have the satisfaction of crying “finito” (and startling the cat)?

I know I’m a strange person individual who does things her own way. It would be nice to hear about others' methods, even if only to reassure me that in this field, as well as every other field I've tried, I'm a complete and utter misfit. 

How do other people write?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Judging your own work

A few years ago when my big muscely boy was a tiny bundle that needed regular feeding (well he still does) and changing, I went to a class for nervous new parents. It was all about infant first aid and how to recognise serious illness in a baby.  One piece of advice the crusty old nurse running the class gave us was to dispense with thermometers altogether. We would be able to tell if a child was feverish just by touching their forehead.

Later, she appeared to contradict herself as she went through the symptoms of meningitis (a life threatening disease, characterised by a rapid and sudden decline), one of which was a fever over 40 degrees C. “How could I tell if my baby’s temperature is over 40?” I challenged her. “If I’m not supposed to have a thermometer?”

“Like I said, you can use these,” she responded glibly, waving her hands about.

“Well, you might be able to tell, but I asked how I would be able to,” I snapped (actually, I didn’t, I just thought it loudly).

So I bought one of those strips that you plonk on the child’s forehead. It had five little windows on it, and eventually one changed colour to give you a reading.

My boy became ill a few times over his first year, never serious, but he was the sort of child whose temperature spiked rapidly. And once, it did reach 40. And you know what? He was so damn hot that I didn’t even have to touch him to tell it was high, he just radiated. Nevertheless, I used the thermometer, and it told me what I’d already figured out.

The nurse had been right.

Now, at the risk of alienating my readers into thinking that this blog has suddenly reinvented itself as a parenting blog (let’s face it- these are as rare as writer’s blogs!) there’s actually some relevance. My point was that I had needed to go through it myself to trust that I could recognise a sick child when I saw it. It only took one experience to learn. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all judgements could come so quickly?

How do we recognise good writing? Don’t I wish there was a plastic strip I could place on my own work which will distinguish between “crap”,“good”, “very good” or “smokin’ hot”. How much experience does a writer need to trust their own judgement, and to be satisfied that their own work is even good enough, let alone smokin’?

Taste is a fickle thing. I’ve loved books that others have dismissed as “feelgood rubblish”. On the other hand, I’ve ploughed through tomes, finished them just to see if they actually improved, because people have raved about how fabulous the story was (“Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The DaVinci Code” spring to mind here).

Or am I confusing “bad” writing with “not to my taste” here?

What the hell is “good” writing anyway? Is there a universally accepted definition?

Since I’ve started doing some serious writing myself, I have been trying to analyse books myself – reading like an editor rather than for pleasure - to identify what makes one story compelling and another ho-hum. The more analytic I become, the more confusing it is. I used to be comfortable with my judgement. Now, I’m seeing merit when I previously only saw rubbish, and some "good" stories are seriously flawed.

Please, someone – give me a magical plastic strip to rate the writing so I can compare it to my own judgement!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When your advice has been followed...

Ah! It seems that one person has been paying attention. Well done! I've noted in previous posts the absolute neccesity of doing something to make your query stand out. Seems that this guy/girl has done so. Kudos for thinking outside the quadrilateral, and to take the adrenaline soaked plunge! Rules were made to be broken, after all.

Link below, to see what I mean. It's been retweeted all over the ether.
Dont tell me that's not publicity! What's that? Agents hate it?

Monday, July 25, 2011


I was browsing through a catalogue of writing courses, when one jumped out at me and hit my funny bone (rather than my pain centres): Write Your Memoir in Paris. Holy cow! Even if I was a part of the target audience for this course (now, don’t tell me you have no image of the sort of person who would fly to Paris – from Australia, not London – with a bunch of strangers and a teacher just to write a memoir) I just think it would be too ridiculous to consider.

Come on, surely the course’s main attraction is the bragging rights it would confer on all who attended. If I was going to write my memoir, I think I’d visit locations that might – yanno – trigger some memories!

Besides, I’m under no illusions that my memoir would have any appeal outside my family, old friends and ex-boyfriends – and most of them would only read it to see if I’d written anything actionable! (Actually, hub might read it to discover if there was anything I’d kept from him).

I'm sure that I’d get bored with it in ten seconds flat and suddenly find myself writing about all sorts of adventures that stray from the truth. Just a little. That’s why I write (and mainly read) fiction.

Let’s face it though, if I was going to Paris for a week or so, I reckon I’d deserve to be hit around the head for not going out and enjoying the sights and sounds. Why sit with my head down, detailing the time my teddy bear had to get shaved because someone smeared chewing gum through its fur, when there are sights to see and patisseries to fail to resist?

This would be one of the few times anybody would be justified in yelling: “Go and procrastinate! Now! Traipse around the cobbled laneways then have a three hour lunch!”


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Paying For It

Unpublished writers certainly aren’t an endangered species. We can be found in all sorts of environments across every continent (I’m sure there’s at least one in Antarctica) where we wreck our postures and strain our eyes as we weave our words into all sorts of patterns waaaay into the wee small hours.  Our print-outs could probably account for a number of rainforests. Most of us would be lying if we said we didn’t crave the validation of a publishing contract.

There are some who see our numbers as a "demand" or a "market" and have spawned a niche industry in providing "supply".  Because there are nearly as many prepared to take wannabes' dough as there are wannabe writers.

I'm talking about the huge range of courses, conferences, competitions, mentorships, webinars, subscriptions, associations, face-to-face pitch sessions with agents and manuscript assessments now available. It's a sizeable industry, but I dont begrudge them if they offer value for money. It just makes me wonder how many hopefuls use these, and still end up without a publishing contract.

For those who take the e-book self-pub route, there are more people who would accept money to edit your baby, or to promote it somewhere on-line.  (I hear that Amanda Hocking spent thousands to become an e-book giant).

Then, there are unscrupulous “publishers” who prey on the naive by offering contracts that translate as “give us your money, we'll keep the rights, we’ll print it as it stands, and you’re stuck with promotion and distribution”.  (boo, hiss)

I’ve been mingling in on-line fora (plural of forum, people!) for nearly a year now, and have learnt so much for nothing more than the cost of my internet subscription. People in my face-to-face writing group have been generous, too, as has my on-line crit partner. It seems that there are just as many people who willingly offer their time and opinions as there are people who turn it into a business. The pay-for services would really have to be of outstanding quality to compete with the kindness of writers on blogs far as I’m concerned.

Having said that, I did a short writing course about a year ago, and still refer to the notes. So that was money well spent, and I would recommend it to those who are starting on the dream. Besides, it was the list of resources provided that alerted me to the whole world of writers’, editors’ and agents’ blogs that I had no idea existed – and that I now spend a few hours each day reading and commenting on.

So, what would a champion tightwad like me spend money on?

I think I’d like to go to at least one local conference, just to meet people in the industry, but not to shove my manuscript under editors' noses.

I have paid for comp entry fees, and will continue to do so. I baulk at manuscript assessment services, but accept that I may have to try at least one, just to see if I actually learn anything from it. There’s one webinar I have my eye on, but as PayPal can’t cope with my bank account details, I’m unable to pay for. I often read course descriptions, but I've become very picky (who runs it? do I like their work?).

I don’t think I’d feel comfortable at a face-to-face pitch session with an agent - yet.

So, anybody prepared to comment on what sorts of services they have actually paid for as writers, and which were worthwhile? Please, share....

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Some of us frugal, economical, thrifty, careful and prudent types (ok – tight-a**es!) don’t like to part with our cash. It hurts- neurological studies have shown the pain-centres of the brain to rev-up (and maybe even start smokin’) when a stingy person is faced with the prospect of having to pay-up. Especially for something that was previously free.

I’m talking about paying a publisher to consider one’s submission.

Ok, I get that it was never actually “free” – in this case it was one of their expenses.  It was some overworked editor’s job to wade through the slush. And for those who only accepted manuscripts via an agent, the expense was not negated – they would pay more for the rights if they got involved in a bidding war.

I want to state that it still seems to be against the code of conduct to charge to read through an author's manuscript. However, some companies have found a novel solution... they hold an unpublished manuscript competition. And charge a fat entry fee.

I truly believe that publishers are committed to the philosophy of developing emerging writers. This is a laudable motive. I get that the entry fee offsets the editors’ salaries. Hey, they’ve got families and mortgages too. And I’ve always thought that sending a manuscript or synopsis or whatever to a publishing house has always been like entering a comp.

So what’s my problem?

The publishers have tweaked things to their advantage. Fair enough, they’re not a charity. However, when they congratulate themselves for “developing emerging talent” and secure a government grant to do so, I feel uneasy.

Let’s consider the advantages to the publishing house.  One:  they are closed to unsolicited manuscripts and can cut some editorial staff. Two: the fee also means that people with unpolished manuscripts will hesitate to enter – one of nature’s great screening devices. Three: they are not committed to publish any gems they unearth during the process. The prize is not publication – the winners will be invited to attend a workshop to develop the manuscript with agents and publishers, with the company retaining the option to publish.

Having just sent off a manuscript, with a $50.00 entry fee, my feelings about this are mixed. I’d love to win the one of the places at the workshop, but my disappointment will be greater if rejected – not only would my MS be deemed not good enough, but my fee’s been wasted. In this particular comp they won’t even give unsuccessful applicants a line or two of feedback. Just like a regular publisher!  I don’t expect feedback from a publisher, but if I’ve coughed-up my dough.... hmmm. Even a few lines would suffice (lousy concept/ poorly developed/ strains credibility etc).

My pain centres are pulsing. Wish me luck!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Time’s Wing’d Chariot...

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity...
-Andrew Marvel.

Hugs your kids and tell them a stupid joke.
Give to those in need, for one day you might be in need yourself.
Tell stories. Lots of them. Make stuff up.
Chuck your television out the window
Learn a musical instrument
Have a run in the park.
Make eye contact and smile at a stranger, particularly if they look frail or lonely or otherwise vulnerable.
Reduce your working hours and buy everything second-hand.
Treat fashion as the monstrously huge con that it is.
Plant stuff. Herbs, veges, flowers, trees.
Tell more stories. Convoluted, ridiculous, silly, happy, illogical stories.
Enjoy your food, celebrate your wobbly thighs and belly.
Keep on telling more stories. Write them down.
Sing “You’re the one that I want” as a horribly out-of-tune duet with your partner
Then go hug your kids some more.

How long will this attitude last? Dunno.

Just hope it doesn’t take another unexpected death to inspire it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Getting an agent (part 2)

Well, the previous post about snaffling an agent of your very own was so hugely popular that I thought I’d share more of my wisdom with those writers canny enough to recognise a goldmine of information when they see it.  

And I promise you, you won’t find this advice anywhere else. It’s exclusive to my blog.

I’m not sure why I don’t have agents brawling in the streets for the honour of representing me – but believe me, it will happen!

Try these sure-fire winning tips:

  1. Those companies who still accept paper submissions request you dont staple or bind your MS, but I say rubbish! Wouldn’t you hate it if the klutzes at the agency or publishing house lose a page of your work? Of course you would! You wouldn’t want your pages mixed up with those of an inferior writer, now would you? So, don’t risk loose leaves, – get it bound!
  2. Spelling errors are really not a query killer. You’re the writer, the creative force! Those nit-picky editors can deal with trivia like spelling, grammar and general sentence cohesion. And plot structure. Actually, a few clever phonetically spelt words might elicit a chuckle from the agent. That’ll make your work stand out! Which is what you’re aiming for.
  3. Throw a few profanities around your query to demonstrate just how freakin’ edgy and unconventional you are.
  4. When it comes to categorizing your novel, be generous. You know that your masterpiece is just too broad to be pigeon-holed. You are being accurate when you describe it as a Fantasy-Women’s Fiction-Self Help-Comedy-Thriller. If the agent gets fed-up and asks “Where would I find it if it was in a bookstore?” the answer is simple: on all five shelves. Duh!
  5. Chances are that the query will be read by a wet-behind-the-ears trainee (sometimes known as an intern or assistant). A brainless sap too gormless to know a good read when they see it. You need to be forceful here, and establish your dominance over them right away. Having the person whose duties include collecting the dry-cleaning read a query may be good enough for the cookie-cutter authors, but you need the actual decision maker to look over your query. Try phoning the company and say this in your best dog training voice: “Hey, you. Assistant bitch. Stop reading this straight away, and pass it to someone who knows what they’re doing. That’s your boss, moron. Go on, move it.” 
  6. It’s a fact that gorgeous people get better treatment than the aesthetically challenged. (Actually, I’m being serious at this point.  Multiple studies in social psychology have shown that people assume that a good-looking person is more honest, enthusiastic, intelligent and hard-working than a slob with a face like a baboon’s rear end – and treat them accordingly). The clever writer will apply this information to their advantage. I suggest including a glamour shot of yourself on the query email or letter. It won’t matter that the shot is 20 years out of date. Or that your email will take ages to download with those few extra MBs of data. Remember - the job of the query is to get those agents biting your bait like piranhas. Make yourself so damned attractive that the agent will be smitten. Then they won’t give a crap about what the book’s about. They’ll just want to represent you. 
  7. Actually, you could go one step further and email an audio file yourself reading your query aloud in your best bedroom voice. Husky, make it husky. Throw in a few double entendres, and voila! You’ll have an agent eating out of your hand. (NB, this works even better when querying for a children’s or Christian manuscript).

When all else fails, have a look at what this guy did: (http://misssnark.blogspot.com/2007/03/nitwit-of-day.html .
He’s the master query writer, and I take my hat off to him.