Monday, 15 December 2014

This little piggy

I’ve not posted anything for ages, and the reason is that I’ve been working seriously on my next novel, and the plot, the characters and the setting are all I can think about. In part I owe this burst of creativity to my writing friend, Les, who has been texting me daily and urging me to Do some writing now! Or Go write!  (As an aside, I think everybody could do with a friend like this, but I would really like it if he made a little detour one day, and sms’ed Do some baking now! Or Go eat lemon meringue pie!)

I also owe this burst of creativity to one of my other writing friends, who has very recently signed a two-book contract with Pan Macmillan. Hooley Dooley Yes Indeedy. (And that’s all I can tell you at this point…) But what got me being all creative was that it's a two-book contract, part of the deal is that she must produce the second manuscript by April next year.  Hooley Dooley again.

In one of my more intelligent moments I worked out that I should get cracking on my second manuscript in case the same thing happens to me. I wish. But if it does happen to me at least I’ll be ready; I am currently up to just under 22,000 words of (working title) Charon House. And, yes, it's another Gothic novel.  

What’s interesting here is that I said above “…and the plot and the characters are all I can think about”. I find it nigh impossible to create anything else while I’m writing a novel. I can do redrafts and edits of other work, but think about creating a whole new other story, even a short story—? Uh-uh. Not this little pig. (This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed at home.)  

I find, too, that I have no interest in reading fiction while I’m writing. Two books are languishing on my bedside table as I write. I don’t need escapism; I don’t want to become involved in some other plot and characters, to be distracted; I have more than enough to think about… 

How do other writers feel? Does this happen to you?

Monday, 27 October 2014


My writing friend, Andrea, has posted a blog called “Ideas” on Fiction Southeast.  You can read it here.  It got me thinking about where I get my ideas, and how I develop a short piece of fiction from an idea.

Unlike Andrea, I don’t seem to have an overabundance of ideas. In fact, if I have one a month I’m doing really well*. My consolation is that very often that one idea is enough to generate a solid and reasonably good piece of fiction. As it happens I have just had an idea for a short piece of work. But first, some background: Sunline Press, based in Perth, sent out an invitation a few days ago for writing for a new online writing journal to be known as Cuttlefish.  You can read about it here. And I started thinking about a piece of work of only 1,200 words, which is not a lot of words. I spent, no, sorry wasted, a great deal of time last week trying to wrangle 700 words, which I already had, into this longer length of 1,200 but ultimately ditched my efforts. 

These guys could have done with some ideas.
Then I had a thought. Previously this year I was in hospital to have a portacath removed. (A portacath is a medical appliance inserted beneath the skin of your body whereby drugs and other fluids can be readily administered, rather than having a needle injected into your arm every time.) Anyway, there was a little incident with the surgeon that I thought was amusing, and I had always meant one day to write it down and see if I could make something of it. As any writer will know one little incident is not enough to form a basis for a short piece of fiction.

So I knew I couldn’t make a worthwhile story with just one incident, because a piece of short fiction should convey something meaningful, whether it be emotion or beauty or philosophy. Then I remembered that when I first had the portacath inserted, there were a couple of orderlies pushing my trolley-bed to the theatre, talking between themselves,  who had to tear themselves away from their conversation to ask my name and date of birth. (When you are in hospital, it seems to me that people ask you for your name and date of birth every five seconds. I can’t blame them; I would not like to be muddled up with Jane Doe who is having her appendix removed.) 

I still felt this wasn’t enough, but nevertheless I started bashing it out on the keyboard, and while I was writing the rest of it came to me. My point here is that very often you may think you don’t have sufficient material but once you get going you manage to draw what you need out of thin air, or so it seems. What happens is that you start inhabiting the world you’ve created, and because you’re immersed in it, you get more ideas. 

This little girl is desperate for an idea.
Something else I’ve noticed is that more often than not, there’s an autobiographical element to my ideas for short fiction. Sometimes I can start with the autobiographical element, but by the time the story is finished, that element has gone and been replaced by something more pertinent. 

Please feel free to leave your comments. It would be really interesting to hear from other writers on the subject.  

And, clearly, these seagulls all have the same idea.
*One way around a lack of ideas is a writing exercise you do with another friend, whereby they start a story and email it to you, then you add some sentences and return it for them to add a para or two, and so on. I blogged about it here.   

Friday, 3 October 2014

Launceston, Tasmania, Literary Award 2014

Excitement. I've been placed second in the Launceston, Tasmania, Literary Award.  You can go here to see the results. The short piece I wrote is memoir, inspired by my daughter, who mothered me while I was sick, and my recent experience with chemotherapy.  I don't know if the SWWT intend to publish it online; I'll find out. 


Monday, 29 September 2014


I've been away - in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa - which is why I've posted nothing for weeks.  A couple of things worth noting have happened while I've been gone:  one of my writing friends, Julie Kearney, published a short story in Cleaver Magazine, and my dearest and nearest writing friend, Andrea Baldwin, has begun writing a column for Fiction Southeast.  You can go here to read it.  Another friend, Ellen van Neerven, has published her first book, Heat and Light and there are some lovely reviews on These events are all causes for celebration.

While I get my addled brain back on the "write" track, here are some piccies from my holiday.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

A short story about a short story

Two weeks or so ago I wrote a short story. It was started as a collaboration with my writing friend, Julie, the process of which I blogged about here. I sent it to Julie for feedback and she loved it, then I sent it to some other writing friends, who agreed it was beautiful but said it was too mysterious, and made suggestions about how it could be improved. I was in a quandary. Which advice to accept? I made some changes to make it less enigmatic, and emailed it to yet another writing friend, Les Zig, who’s an editor. He said that it was now a little too clear, and it was what he called static.  Characters stand on their marks, he said, say their thing to establish or move the premise, and then there's a denouement.  He went on to break down the story, like so: 

·         boy comes in disgruntled with grandfather
·         boy talks to grandmother
·         grandfather comes in and there's minor conflict with boy
·         boy goes out and chops wood
·         grandparents talk off the page
·         grandfather comes out and gives boy his consent.

This last thing was an even bigger issue as far as static went, he said, because the grandfather acts through no journey or action of the boy. So in terms of an arc, the boy's development occurs on autopilot—his life shaped by his grandmother, who’s done the talking off the page to the grandfather—when really the story is about the boy finding himself and his independence and choosing a life for himself.

Needless to say, none of this had occurred to me.

He suggested that I think about “the unexplored possibilities of the story”.  One thing I often query, he wrote, (particularly in movies, where it's often overlooked) is how did the characters get to the scene in which they appear? What happened just before, off the page? Saying all this, let me give you some examples of what's I think are unexplored opportunities, and the characters hitting their marks. For instance, the boy comes in and says nothing he does makes the grandfather happy. Now does he deliver this dialogue simply to set up the story? That's the way it seems to me, given the grandfather comes in and there seems no connectivity to this statement. By connectivity, I mean something like this: maybe the boy storms into the house and says, 'Nothing I do makes him happy' because he's trying to help the grandfather fix the car, but the grandfather is unhappy with his work. Now you have a motivation for why the boy's unhappy, why he comes in, and the statement he makes.

I have a dog and a cat in my story, and Les pointed out that there were a number of props in the story—the dog (does nothing), the cat (does nothing), the oily engine part (does nothing). They become scene-setters. In the case of the engine part, why not a) introduce it much earlier into that scene, and b) have it an object of contention? Again, just for example, the reason the boy comes in originally is to fetch an engine part, he's upset because the grandfather is unpleased with his help, the boy picks up the engine part, he talks with his grandmother, she cuts herself, the grandfather comes in to find what's become of the boy and the part the boy was sent to get, and at the end of it all we find the boy's actually picked up the wrong part. That's a bit more telling about the differences.

You can see that Les is an awesome editor. (You can look up his fees and charges here.)  You can also see that although readers said the story was beautifully written there were some problems that maybe only an editor would’ve picked up. 

What I’m saying is that Les has taught me to look more closely at my work in the future.  To examine not only every word, but every prop, every action and reaction, before I think my work is done. 

As an aside, here’s something interesting. Les said my cat was just a prop and served no purpose, yet at least three of my readers said they particularly loved the bit about the cat. I should mention that my readers were all female, except for Les. My conclusion: keep the cat!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Book covers

Some of you will know that I am a little obsessed with book covers. You can't judge a book by its cover, but a good cover sure does a lot to recommend a book. It's like dressing up for a date.  So along these lines I've voted for the People's Choice Award at the Australian Book Designer Awards 2014.  You can do so, too. But be quick, it closes 19/8/2014. Go here.

As you can see, there are some spectacular covers. Sigh.


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Blog-hopping via Rebecca Jessen

My writing friend, Rebecca Jessen, will be launching her very impressive debut novel Gap—a crime story in verse—at Avid Reader early next month. Bec won the Queensland Literary Award for Best Emerging Author in 2013, and she was also the winner of the SLQ Young Writers Award 2012. We studied at QUT together and I had the privilege of reading Gap when it was still a tiny baby. My, how it has grown! Bec is currently working on a collection of memoir, which you can read about here. Her blogs are always thoughtful and moving and I am a big fan. Recently, she tagged me to participate in a blog-hop and answer some questions about my writing process. (Her answers, to the same questions, you can find here, and from there you can hop backwards to numerous other writers.) 

What are you working on at the moment?
Two things. I have another gothic manuscript underway – this one’s about a man having a mid-life crisis – of which I’ve got around 12,000 words down and I’m really enjoying the journey. And then I’ve been collaborating with a writing friend producing short stories. We’ve done two each so far. She writes the first couple of sentences and emails them to me or vice versa, and I add another paragraph and return it to her, and we go on like this until we feel it’s time to take the story our separate ways. It’s really interesting what we’ve come up with and how different our stories are. The main thing is that the collaboration seems to inspire us, and that without it neither of us seems capable of thinking of anything original at the moment! It’s a lot of fun. 

How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?
There aren’t many gothic novels being written these days, and so I like to think that I’m reintroducing an old-fashioned genre to readers, but with a modern take and new energy. By inverting some of the traits, for instance changing the weather from cold and dismal (think Wuthering Heights) to hot and sunny in Australia, I’m bringing vitality and intrigue to the form. 

Why do you write what you write?
I don’t read crime, fantasy or science fiction, although of course I’ve read Harry Potter and The Passage and I read Peter Temple—I mostly read contemporary literature and I mostly seem to write the same. That seems to be what happens at any rate (although just this week I’ve written a short story which is definitely crime). I also find that very often the things I write about are tinged by my own experience.

What's your writing process, and how does it work?
I don’t have any peculiarities, like a play list or chocolate by my side, but I do like to be in my own study at my own computer, and I work better in the mornings than at any other time of the day. I don’t plan my work. I start with a character and a setting usually, and sometimes I have a vision of something happening, and I go from there—I go along for the ride— although having said that I almost always know how the story’s going to end before I start writing it. I’m also not a person who writes in a hurry. I take a long time to mull over everything, and I like to have a scene as near as perfect before I move on. My reasoning behind this is that when I revisit my work, it’s not fresh anymore, I’ve already been there in my head, and capturing its allure is not as easy the second time around. 

So, who’s next?
Emerging writer Julie Kearney. I met Julie only last year, but already we have a warm and flourishing writing relationship. She is an award-winning visual artist but nowadays she writes to the exclusion of all else. Fiction, memoir, book reviews and art essays, much of it published. Her work has appeared in anthologies and several times in Griffith Review. At the moment she is working on the second of a trilogy of historical novellas. Julie blogs here and in a week she’ll post her responses and tag another emerging writer for your enjoyment.