Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to open a door

If there's one thing that's guaranteed to make you feel insignificant, it's automatic doors that won't open for you. You know the feeling: you're wandering up to the supermarket entrance, green bag in hand; you step up to the glass sliding doors...and nothing happens. You're left loitering on the outside, like the little match girl, watching the happy, warm shoppers inside loading up their trolleys with imported garlic and 2-for-1 chocolate bars, until finally someone with more presence arrives and you can sneak through behind them. As happened to me this morning.

Maybe it's the way I approach the doors. Perhaps I'm too self-effacing, or I sidle too much. Usually it happens when I'm caught up thinking about something so I don't even notice until I've nearly run into the stupid things. (I'd like to say I'm caught up thinking about plot developments or character arcs or how to solve global warming, but it's more often things like What is dust made of?)

Maybe I need to practise striding in at a precise right-angle to the door. Head-on. Looking the sensor thingo dead in the eye as I do so. Or just find somewhere to shop with manual doors, to save myself the humiliation of being ignored by a machine!

Anyway, to add insult to injury I just discovered that apparently Australia is the 'dumb blonde' of the world! (And apparently it's still acceptable to call blondes dumb.)
Have a bonza day everyone.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Fact or Fiction

The thing I like about writing fiction is you can't just make stuff up. (I know, look at me opening with the counter-intuitive statement.)

It's true: every work of fiction has (should have) its own internal logic, and once it's been established, the author has to work within it. In non-fiction, you don't have to justify the events that occur. You simply say, 'It's a true story - it happened to my aunt/grandfather/neighbour's gardener.' If the reader thinks the story is unlikely, that it didn't happen, the author's response is 'Well, it did.' End of.

In fiction, that's not a good enough explanation though. Readers won't swallow wild coincidences or sudden changes in characters' personalities, even though this technically happens often enough in real life. But they'll swallow all sorts of impossibilities as long as they happen logically.

For example, my novel involves one instance of time-travel. 'Time slip' I think is the term for it. It happens once; it's just a plot device to get my mc into a different period. But I was workshopping some of it in class the other day, and the whole discussion got hijacked by the mechanics of time-travel.

'But how does it work?' they wanted to know.
'Er...I dunno,' was my incisive reply.
'Well is it a wormhole? A space-time rip?'
'Um. Maybe. Ok. Yes... a wormhole.'

What I wanted to say was, 'Who bloody cares? It's not important. Do I look like a physicist? What's important is what happens afterward.'

I didn't, because once I thought about it, I was fascinated that what I hadn't thought of as more than a plot-device other people saw as part of the plot. They wanted the logic of it, even though time-travel is, in real life, impossible.

But then I realised my book is not at all sci-fi-y, and there are no physicists in it to explain how the time-travel works, so I changed my mind.

'Um, actually, it's not a wormhole, it's magic.'
'Oh, ok then.'

See? It might be impossible, but as long as it's justified, readers are happy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Organisator

I’ve blogged before about writing softwares and whether they are useful/necessary. I think my verdict earlier was ‘no’, but now that I’m 25 000 words in, and my hard drive is littered with Word documents called things like ‘The bit where mc gets homesick’ and ‘scene describing the town’, I wonder if there might be a use for some kind of organising program. 

One that’s been recommended to me is yWriter, but unfortunately it doesn’t work on macs.
I like its simple approach: ‘yWriter is a word processor which breaks your novel into chapters and scenes. It will not write your novel for you, suggest plot ideas or perform creative tasks of any kind. It does help you keep track of your work, leaving your mind free to create.’

No frills. However, so far I can achieve the same effect by using the document Navigation pane in Word, as long as I label all my scenes with ‘headings’. I’d like to do a comparison with yWriter, to see if it’s more effective than Word alone, but will have to wait until it becomes available on Mac I suppose.

In the meantime, my favourite tip for making software work for you is using the Autocorrect function to enter characters’ names. I can’t remember where I picked it up, but it’s pretty handy when one of your major characters is called ‘Aunt Honoria’. Just open the Autocorrect options menu in Tools, and add an autocorrection: Replace ‘aun’ with ‘Aunt Honoria’. Easy! And it saves me 10 keystrokes every time Aunt Honoria pops up in a scene. I can't imagine how I got by without it.

Are there other shortcuts you use? What else am I missing out on?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Working from home

It's everyone's dream, right? Be your own boss, work when you feel like it, play whatever music you like as loud as you like..

When my old work asked me if I'd like to do some editing work for them and I didn't have to come in - I could Work From Home - of course I jumped at the chance. I could save money and psycological damage by avoiding the commute to work, and I had visions of sitting in a cosy cafe hunched over my laptop.

Alas, I don't think I'm cut out for working from home.
At home, there is no-one there to look at me disapprovingly if I turn up at my desk well after 9am. There's no-one to raise an eyebrow after I leave for my tenth cup of tea and perusal of the fridge. And there's no-one to tut-tut if I spend two hours on lunch, or get distracted by email, by (ahem) blogger, or even, perversly, if I start doing my homework instead (when homework becomes a procrastination tool, I know I'm in trouble).

In short, I am the least self-disciplined of people and I make a terrible boss.
On the up side, I've made quite some headway with my novel...

Any tips for working from home would be most welcome.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tomorrow, when I start my essay

Yesterday, I went and saw the new film version of Tomorrow, When the War Began. Yes, I have an essay on symbolism in Robert Drewe's The Drowner due in two days, but TWTWB is an Australian YA classic, and I wanted to see how they'd gone making a film of it.

It was ok I suppose. They've axed a couple of sub plots, and Ellie was too pretty and didn't look tough enough, but overall it stayed true to the book. The funny thing is, in one scene, one of the girls is reading a copy of My Brilliant Career. Ellie, the heroine, comes over and asks her how the book is, and the other girl replies, 'It's not bad--better than the film.'
'Yeah, books always are,' says Ellie.

A nice ironic touch there? I guess the producers knew what they were risking, taking on a favourite of Australian teens since 1993, so they got that in early, but it sounds self-defensive to me. If your audience really is sitting there thinking, 'this isn't as good as the book,' why underline it for them? Why not just get on with the movie. 
A bit strange, but I still enjoyed the movie, even if, um, it wasn't as good as the book.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Be nasty

Some Sunday morning reading in The Age from John Birmingham on a universal truth: good drama requires a writer to be a bit nasty to their characters.

It's something I struggle with, because I'm one of those people who just wants everyone to get along! I don't like it when my characters are mean to each other, but who wants to read 50 000 words or more of people being nice? Bor-ring.

So I work really hard at remembering to make my antagonist as vicious as a tiger snake. Whenever I write a scene with him in it, I think 'tiger snake'. Aggressive, kind of handsome, and poisonous.

Does that sound crazy, or do other people work this way?!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ten words we all should hear more often:

'Could you do me a favour?...Do you eat chocolate?'

Do I.

The call to action came during my weekly volunteer shift at the Friends of the Earth cafe/bookshop.

One of the advantages of working with predominantly vegan people is that when the contents of the chocolate jars need to be tasted to determine which is chocolate-coated ginger, and which licorice (the labels were mixed up), the only person up to the challenge is yours truly.

'Mmm, yep that's licorice... no hang on, let me taste another one...'

I've found my calling.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Eluding the procrastinet

Oh the wonders of enforced unpluggedness (there are four syllables in that). In the library at TAFE today the internet was down for some time. Right from the moment I arrived, in fact, with all my plans for the next hour or two centring around:
1.       Check email.
So there I was, stymied before I even got the wheels off the ground. Procrastination nipped in the bud, cut off at the knees. Pre-emptively struck against.
Normally I use the more useless distractions of the internet to entice myself into doing work. The prospect of a hilarious email about cats who wear sunhats, or the upcoming federal election (always good for a laugh), at least gets me seated at the computer, and then I have a vague hope that I might accidentally type out an assignment while I’m there.
No internet? I stared at my computer screen and thought dully, ‘But what do I do?’
Reluctantly I concluded that I was going to have to do some work. Writing, to be precise, because the only homework I ever have that doesn’t rely on documents in my email or dropbox is Write Some of Your Novel.
And oh dear it was productive. Without facebook to check every time I finished a paragraph, or got stuck over an adjective, I simply kept going. I almost got in this ‘zone’ I keep hearing about.
But then, alas, the IT department waved their wand and the dub-dub-dub opened its vistas once again. Without a backward glance at my novel I fired up the hotmail, read the paper and then moseyed on to blogger…
But I did make a mental note to cut the cord more often while I'm working.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Word of the week: hiatus

Hiatus, from the Latin hiare, 'to gape'. Definition in the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary: 'a break or gap, esp. in a series, account, or chain of proof.'

A break in a series of blog posts, for example. Yes, there has been a bit of a hiatus, not just because I went on holidays, but also because the holiday had an extended effect. And writing is like most things - the longer you put it off, the harder it is to start again.

However, I thought this was an auspicious time to kick it off again, because something very lucky happened to me yesterday. I mean incredibly, what-are-the-chances lucky.

I came in to uni only to discover that my printing account had been deleted. After some conversation with the IT people, I learned that they had 'changed the system over' or something, which was all fine, except three people happened to lose their printing accounts. Three people in the entire uni, and one was me.

'What are the odds eh?' said the kind lady who helped me get my account back. 'You could have won the lottery with luck like that, but you got this instead.'

Yes, thank you. Remind me not to go out in thunderstorms.

Friday, June 25, 2010

It's been a busy few weeks. End of semester, presentations, essays all done. I passed the 15 000 word mark on my wip. Socceroos lost, drew, finally won, then were ignominiously pushed off the front pages by one Julia Gillard becoming Australia's first woman prime minister. Our security alarm (which we never use) had a fit this morning, our real estate agent had gone AWOL, so I spent an hour listening to bipbipbipbipbip waiting for her to call back with the code to shut it up.

whew. I need a holiday.

I need wide open spaces, sunshine and red country. So I'm going here for a couple of weeks:


Saturday, June 5, 2010


Well, it's June, and winter seems to have arrived bang on time this year. Which means for students and writers, especially writing students, it's RUC time.

RUC standing for Really Ugly Cardi.

You know the type. That great big shapeless woolen thing you wear around the house because what you really want to wear is a blanket, but some dying ember of pride won't let you forgo wearing actual clothes as clothing.

I'm hunched over my desk in my RUC today, trying to do homework, wondering where the hell I've put my fingerless gloves, and dreaming of living in a home with central heating. Winter, welcome.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Work it for me

I found this post in a recent perusal of the interweb, and it got me thinking about writer groups, workshopping and feedback. Giving a useful critique of someone's work is hard. I'm still improving in this area I have to say, but generally I try to make sure everything I say is helpful in some way.

On the other hand, when receiving feedback, it's a bit like art - I don't know much about it, but I know what I like:

 - NOT a copy-edit. No punctuation corrections please. It can wait til the final edits. I don't need to know I haven't separated two clauses correctly when the whole novel's about to fall into a plot hole the size of the MCG. Unless you suspect I don't know the difference between a full-stop and a comma, in which case go for it.

 - Someone who can see what's missing, not just what should probably get taken out (this is far more common!). It's so valuable when someone says, 'I think what you need here is a bit about how the mother never really loved him and drowned his puppy when he was a kid. That will explain the whole chainsaw thing.'

 - A little bit of praise. It helps. And makes you feel like maybe writing some more.

 - Insights into your characters that you were lacking

 - Insights into situations that you've thrown at your characters ('Did you know that chainsaws actually run on diesel, not petrol? So he couldn't have siphoned the fuel out of her car.')

Fortunately, my workshopping group ticks all of these. If only someone could tell me exactly what to write so it would get published and earn me millions.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Writers - always good for a laugh

I'm really stuck on what to write - about anything -  so yes, I'm resorting to writer jokes

Question: Why did the writer cross the road?


A. To see what that person over there was doing.

B. Because there's this bit in my novel where the mc crosses the road, and I really wanted to get a feel for what that would be like for her.

C. To get a fresh perspective. There's nothing like a fresh perspective to help you see what is working or not in one's trip to the shops.

D. Did I cross the road? Oh yes - you're quite right, I did. The POV has changed from left to right side - and I didn't even notice! Thanks for pointing it out.

(Note: more than one answer may be true.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Dropping the Y-bomb (Or, Yarn Bombing, what's that?)

Taking a break from writing today. Well, from writing about writing. Obviously, you know, I AM writing.


When I don't write, the other creative process I get hooked on (ha ha) is crochet - and to a lesser extent knitting. A good friend of mine recently gave me a book about Yarn Bombing, or guerrilla knitting, which involves 'tagging' public spaces with pieces of knitting or crochet. It's low-impact in terms of damage done to property, but has high visibility and 'Oh, would you look at that!' value.

As you can see above, it can be used simply to brighten things up, or be just a little bit subversive. [The 'tank cosy' is a piece by Danish artist Marianne Jorgensen]

The same friend is getting married later in the year, and has asked everyone to contribute some stitches to a yarn-bombing project for the ceremony. We'll be covering a huge river red-gum tree. I have to say it's inspired me, and I have a nice lacy number in progress. Red-gums are the grand dames of the Australian landscape, and I like to think this one won't mind being dolled for the occasion.

For more about guerrilla knitting and what's it all about, have a look at warrenbird, here or here

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Sunshine and Dumpster-diving

Nothing like some autumn sunshine to lift spirits. And every man and his dog was out in Melbourne today to do some basking in it.

I went into the city to go to the library and pick up some wool for a yarn-bombing project (more about that later), and when I got off the tram at Flinders St there was a HUGE open skip on the side of the road full of books. Hundreds of them. I don't know who was throwing them out, or why, but the bin had attracted a sizeable crowd.

It was heartening to see the good citizens of Melbourne (City of Literature) picking through a dumpster of books, and I wish I'd had a camera. Everyone was at it - from well-heeled matrons to skinny jean hipsters to fluoro-orange-vested tradies.  All looking for a good read on a Saturday and none too proud to nose-dive into a bin for it.

What a literary bunch we are!

Friday, April 30, 2010

I'm a Writer...sort of, well, um...I mean I sometimes, you know...write...stuff

You would think, by now, a year-and-a-half after I dropped everything to 'become' a writer, that it'd be getting easier to call myself one. You would be wrong.

I have a rather menial editorial part-time job at the moment, and yesterday one of the editors asked me to submit some reviews for one of the guidebooks we publish. They need writers, and I'm doing a writing course - no great leap of the imagination there.

'Of course,' I said. 'I'll give it a go.'

Give it a go?
No, I won't 'give it a go', I'll do it, and I'll do a kick-arse job of it, because I'm a writer and I'm pretty good, if I pull my finger out.

But I had to give some wishy-washy answer like, 'I'll give it a go.' All you non-Australian writers out there who have self-doubts: imagine also growing up in a society where the worst social crime is to have tickets on yourself.

Later that day, just before my evening Novel class, I stopped to get a hot chocolate from the French waffle place in Degraves St. I was chatting to the owner, and it came up that I was studying over the road. He asked me what course I was doing, naturally, and I said Writing.

'Oh, you are a writer?' he asked, with great French enthusiasm.
'Um, well I'm trying to be,' said Miss Wishy-washy.
'No, you are. You have to believe in yourself,' he said. 'Good luck with it.'

I don't want to stereotype (but here I go), but it strikes me that the French don't really do self-doubt. Existential angst maybe, but I suspect they don't have an equivalent phrase to 'up yourself'.

I'll be going back to the waffle place regularly, I think.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not taking it lying down

I went and saw that George Clooney movie the other day - Up in the Air. It's not a bad film, I enjoyed it and Mr Clooney is always nice to watch. BUT there was a moment that got me riled.

It's about half-way through. George, the corporate, shallowish jet-setter, is in his airport hotel room and receives a text from the chick who is the love interest. Some dirty texting seems imminent when she asks him what he's doing.

And his reply?

His reply?

'I'm just laying in bed.'

Laying? What is this? I think.

Picture me then leaping from my seat, fists clenched by my side, yelling at the screen:
'Laying? What? George! I don't see any eggs in that bed. No bricks, no table or even (ahem) another lady. You are not laying, you are LYING in bed! We can never be married now.'* [sits down]

I don't know, maybe the film's writers were trying to lend an air of veracity by having a character make what is a fairly common mistake. I'll give them (and George) the benefit of the doubt.

And anyway, I suppose I can see how the mistake is made. Lay is the past tense of lie - easy to get them mixed up.

OK, George, even this pedant can't resist that twinkle in your eye. But please, just try to remember:
if you are making yourself horizontal, you are lying down. If you're making something else horizontal (or producing eggs) you are laying them.

*I might not have actually said this aloud. I'm usually very considerate of other theater-goers.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Hero's Journey

I've been on holidays from my course the last two weeks, so of course I've spent all of this weekend churning out the homework we were given to do over the break. Organised is my middle name, but unfortunately my first tame ends in 'dis'.

Anyway, I've been having some fun today with the Hero's Journey. This is a concept/meta-myth put together over the years by various anthropologists, historians and literarians. It's the idea that all hero stories, from King Arthur to Buddha, follow a number of essential steps. Things like an unusual birth, an unknown childhood, threats to life in adulthood, apotheosis etc. (it means elevation to a higher plane, I had to look it up). So we had to use Joseph Campell's model (it's the most widely-know one) to write a 500-word hero's journey of our own, and I thought I may as well do it for one of the characters in my novel. 500 words is 500 words, eh? It all counts!

It was such a good exercise. I wrote a hero's journey for Albert, an Aboriginal station hand from the 1890s, using 6 of Campbell's steps (below). I might not use all of it in my novel, but now I have this great mythic background for a character. When I say mythic btw, I don't mean gods and dragons 'n stuff, I mean a story that resonates. I think we recognise and respond to the hero's journey in even the most every-day stories.

I suppose my point is that these myths and journeys are a tool that writers can use. If you're like me and go a bit wobbly without some structure, you can use something like the Hero's Journey to scaffold your story, and fit characteristics or plot around it.

Here were my 6 requirements for the story:

1. Hero is a child of parents of two different peoples/cultures, but is raised by only one of them
2. The parent dies, and hero leaves their home in search of their heritage in the other culture.
3. They meet a helper on the way who is ambiguous. There is a test that shows whether helper is trustworthy.
4. Revelation about the family/heritage of hero, and threat to their life.
5.  Hero returns to family roots (could be either parent’s culture).
6. Adulthood and responsibility.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bums on Seats

It really is (are? My grammar's failing me here) the simple things in life that make it. Fresh stove-top espresso, a grim-looking day outside, and slipping my feet into my moccasins for the first time since last winter. Bliss!

We've had a fairly sultry, tropical start to Autumn this year, but it's finally starting to crisp up. And while it's nice to have an extended summer, I like my seasons, and I like them to be seasonal.

Anyway, got my copy of the Victorian Writers Centre magazine today, and among many interesting snippets were the results of this survey ('More than bums on seats: Australian participation in the arts'). Apparently 7% of Australians are writing a novel or short stories. That's 1.4 million of us! That's a lot, and while it puts my efforts into perspective, I found it kind of encouraging. I'm not the only one giving it a go!

Also good to see they've announced another Emerging Writers competition, for Vic residents only though, details here.

So many reasons to put my bum on my seat and get on with it!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

So uninspired I can't even think of a title!

To say I've been feeling uninspired lately would be a slight understatement. I just can't be bothered, and there's always something else to do. Maybe it's to do with the days drawing in, the beginning of some kind of creative hibernation.

Anyway, sitting at the computer is not doing it for me right now, so this morning I took my notebook and a pen to a local cafe and spent an hour frowning to myself, scribbling stuff down and generally looking very creative I'm sure. And it worked! I wrote a whole scene about two of my characters meeting for the first time.

There are many reasons I will never give up writing in notebooks:

- They are light and the battery never goes flat

- They don't crash and they can't catch viruses, though I admit they are flammable

- My handwriting takes up more space than typed words, so it looks like I've written more

- My handwriting is almost illegible, so I don't waste hours re-reading it and agonising that it's all rubbish - I just get on with it

- I can doodle in the margins while I'm thinking.

I'm interested in how other people find inspiration when it's just not working. A change of scenery? A change in technique? A change of underwear?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Knitting as a metaphor for writing

These little bundles of potential have been sitting on my shelf for about 4 months, until I finally had enough of admiring them while I write and started on a scarf (there were originally three). It's not often I buy wool with no 'project' in mind, but these were just so pretty.

Which brings me to my metaphor:

My ideas for writing are these balls of wool. I bring them home, very pleased with them and excited about their potential. The colour and texture are lovely, but with the yarn all rolled into a nice even, compact ball, it seems a shame to undo them, so I sit them on my shelf. I admire them from my desk, but don't touch them.

Then, after they've collected some dust, I look over one morning and think, 'They look nice, but I'm really going to have to do something - anything - with them.' It's time they were put to use.

So I take a skein of perfection, find the loose end and unravel it a bit. A nice simple scarf should show this wool off best. I try crochet, because that's my preferred yarn-based activity, but it's not right for this type of wool, so get out my knitting needles. Cast on a few stitches, and then realise how much work I've got ahead of me (I'm a very slow knitter).

After five or six rows, I'm usually thinking 'Oh God, this is so boring' and go looking for something more interesting to do. Have a cup of tea. I sit down again (maybe days later) and do a few more rows.

After a while, I look at my uneven stitches and think 'Nope, this is awful. It isn't going to work. I should have left the wool rolled up and perfect.' But it's too late! The ball of wool is half used up, warped and deflated. I've ruined it -- even if I unravelled my scarf and rolled the wool up, it wouldn't be the same. (There may or may not be a dummy-spit here).

But half a scarf is no use to anyone, so I keep going, and about one-third through I'm thinking, 'Hmm, it's not looking so bad, and I think I got the width right.' I decide it's worth finishing, and by the time I cast off, I'm fairly happy with my scarf.

It may not be as perfect as a ball of wool, but it's more useful, and far more interesting.

Of course this is where my metaphor stops, because with a story, at least once you've finished it you can go back and edit and fix up the dropped stitches. Whereas all you can do with a lumpy scarf to make it look better is tie some tassels on the ends.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Love + Hate + Chain stitch

The redeeming power of craft! In The Age's Odd Spot this morning: prisoners in the UK are being taught embroidery - and the work is sold through the charity Fine Cell Work.

I love the fact that the work displayed on the website looks just like the type of needlework you'd expect to see on inmates' skin, if you look here.

I'm not much of an embroiderer (ok, I'm not at all an embroiderer), so I was impressed by all of it - there is some serious skill on display. You couldn't pay me enough to embroider a high-definition picture of a beetroot onto a cushion. Anything I attempt with needles thinner than 2.5mm involves first sulks, then tears, a minor tanty, and finally a mess of cotton and cloth dumped in the lap of my mother to fix.

It might sound like and odd scheme, but big respect to the people involved in Fine Cell Work.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ukraine's got Talent

Another link - this one nothing to do with writing really at all, but utterly mesmerising.  We've all seen Susan Boyle, now have a look at the Ukraine's recent winner!

(It's sand on a light-box, btw.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What the truckie told Kevin

Just a quick link to this article a friend got published recently.

It's PBF (pretty bloody funny), although for those outside Australia it will probably be more appreciated if you are aware that:

- Our prime minister has a peculiar talent for mangling the language, and also likes to paint himself as a bit of an ocker larrikin/bogan [UK trans: chav],

- The leader of the opposition recently almost got cleaned up by a truck while holding a press conference on the side of a highway.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Word of the Week: Quizzical

I was asked this week to read over a short story by a fellow writer. It was a very affecting story of love and loss - all the good bits - in which he had used 'quizzical' not once, but twice. And I didn't hesitate a second before running my pen through both of them. Didn't even explain why - just left a comment in the margin after the second one: 'Aaaaargh! Here it is again!'

Don't worry, we're good enough friends that he didn't take offence at such unhelpful censoring. But he did defend his use of the word. 'What's wrong with it? It perfectly describes the look she (his main character) had.' I have to concede he's right. According to the old ACOD (Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary):

'quizzical adj. 1 expressing or done with mild or amused perplexity. 2 strange; comical.'

The situation in his story definitely demanded a mildly perplexed look from his MC. So I was forced to confront my prejudice against the word. It wasn't because it was inappropriate or misused. It was a little bit because it reminds me of Enid Blyton books,* but mostly it's because it's such an ugly word!

Yes, as far as quizzical is concerned, it's a question of form over function. It sticks out like a sore thumb. Those two 'z's combined with the 'q'. Awful. Outside of a game of Scrabble, I never want to see them in any word in front of me.

But is that reason enough to scribble it out? Surely it's hard enough choosing the best word to use without worrying about whether its physical form is going to be off-putting to sensitive readers like me.

I'm inclined to think with words like 'quizzical', using it once is ok (Oh, if you must) but any more than that is distracting. And I mean once in a whole novel. Ok, maybe twice.

*I love Enid Blyton's books, but her prose isn't quite suited to contemporary Australian short stories!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Would you believe I did this three times trying to get Lizzie Bennet? It seems there's no arguing with Miss Austen.

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Myths and Symbols

Gosh, it's been a busy week over in the block or not corner! I started back at my writing and editing diploma, and what with evening classes, internships and homework, haven't had much 'sitting and thinking' time.

So to save me coming up with my own post topics, I've decided to do a few on what we've done in classes.

First up, in my class on myths and symbols and how they're used by writers, we were asked to think of a story that has 'stayed with us' - and why.

The story that I first thought of was the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone. Demeter's daughter Persephone is kidnapped by Hades and taken to the underworld. She's eventually rescued, but because she ate six pomegranate seeds while she was there, Zeus rules she has to stay with Hades for six months every year. Demeter is the goddess of fertility, so for those six months every year she refuses to make anything grow, which is why we have winter every year (although I think in Australia it would be summer!).

The reason this story has stayed with me? Mostly it's because when I was a kid reading it, I had no idea what a pomegranate was, and why you'd eat the seeds. And the explanation for the seasons is very cool.

But, apart from fascinating yours truly over the course of her lifetime, this story has been around for thousands of years. That makes me think I should look at it more closely, and try to learn something!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Self-indulgent, or self-sufficient?

''I said to the distributor, 'I want to sell 10,000 books,' and it's fair to say he laughed until he was purple."

These are the words of self-published author Christopher Ride, who, if you read on in this article, you will see ended up selling 10,500 books. Crikey.

I've always been told to avoid self-publishing like the plague. Vanity press is for sloppy or self-indulgent writing, and these publishers prey on the egos of writers ground down by rejection letters yet buoyed by 'empty praise' from their mum/writing group (see these interesting blog posts on usefulness of praise by Nicola Morgan and KarenG).

But you do hear more stories like this. Matthew Reilly is the Australian poster boy for self-publishing - the story about how he convinced one bookseller to put a stand of his books in prime position in the shop, and how he used to sit on peak-hour buses facing all the commuters with his nose in a copy of his book, is a legend whispered about up the back of many a creative writing class. I suspect, however, that he is more an exception than the rule.

This Christopher Ride, who I'd never heard of before, invested $130,000 of his own money in his book, which, if your book is no good, is an expensive ego trip. He now has a three-book deal with a 'real' publisher however, so I guess it worked out for him.

Perhaps these days, with the e-book revolution on the horizon, self-publishing is becoming a viable option?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thank you to Old Kitty and KarenG for nominating me for these blog awards!

From Old Kitty:

I like the challenge of this - answer questions in one word only. Takes me back to my monosyllabic teenage years.

Your Mobile Phone? Dated
Your Hair? Brown
Your Mother? Educates
Your Father? Farms
Your Favorite Food? Ice-cream
Your Dream Last Night? Heatwave-induced
Your Favorite Drink? Drunk
Your Dream/Goal? Publish
What Room Are You In? Airconditioned
Your Hobby? Working
Your Fear? UV
Where Do You See Yourself In Six Years? 2016
Where Were You Last Night? Couch
Something That You Aren't? Telepathic
Muffins? Blueberry
Wish List Item? One?
Where Did You Grow Up? Didn't
Last Thing You Did? Tea
What Are You Wearing? Colours
Your TV? Square
Your Pets? Missed
Friends? About
Your Life? Fortunate
Your Mood? Sanguine
Missing Someone? Sometimes
Vehicle? Pushbike
Something You Aren't Wearing? Socks
Your Favorite Store? Merton
Your Favorite Colour? Greeny-bluey-purply
When Was The Last Time You Laughed? Yesterday
Last Time You Cried? Pointless
Your Best Friend? Lentils
One Place You Go To Over And Over Again? Desk
Facebook? ...useful...
Favorite Place To Eat? Verandah

From KarenG:


Rules are to give ten honest things about myself, but I do like the ambiguity of this one if you just remove the 's'.

1. I eat too much pasta
2. I can't spell 'perseverance' (well, I couldn't before I looked it up in the dictionary).
3. I probably spend more time thinking about stuff and writing for this blog than I do on my book.
4. I still don't really believe I can write a book.
5. My bike tyres probably should have been replaced about a year ago.
6. If I don't have any caffeine in a day I get headaches - been wondering lately whether to give it up, but it helps me write.
7. Correcting grammar and punctuation makes me feel smug.
8. Channel 10 has stopped showing The Simpsons every day of the week and it's really annoyed me.
9. I've lived in the city for 12 years but still can't call it home.
10. I eavesdrop on public transport.

I don't have a heap of blogs that I follow, but these are the ones I think deserve awards, to do with what they will (they definitely deserve a look):
Melinda Szysmanik: I should be writing but...
Just Jemi 
Rebecca Knight - Writer in Progress

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Check it (out)

Help! I Need a Publisher!: MORE POINTS OF VIEW - SAYS WHO? SAYS I

If anyone would like to see a tiny piece of my writing get picked apart ever so helpfully by YA author and writing/publishing guru Nicola Morgan, please proceed through the above link.

I'm very grateful Nicola took the time to consider what I sent her, and recommend her blog as one of, if not the, best blog/s for aspiring writers.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

This Straw Not Recommended for Hot Beverages

So said the wrapper on my straw when I went into my local coffee franchise for an iced one.

I'm not sure what the statistics are; whether the incidence of people receiving mouth burns from sipping their long blacks through a straw was abominably high and action had to be taken, or if perhaps it's decreased since they started labelling straws in this fashion. One thing for sure, we live in a society that likes to point out the obvious.

Which is probably why I'm having a little trouble with avoiding the obvious when I write lately. My writing's full of 'he saids' and 'she saids' when it's very obvious that a) someone's talking (the talking marks give that away!) and b) the person talking is him. Or her.

I can't help it - I use these words like punctuation to break up sentences, and because they're easy. When I get an idea I want to get it down as fast as I can, so I use quick and easy words, which are rarely interesting or evocative.

The results are some ve-ery sloppy writing, so I have to keep reminding myself: The point of writing a story is not just to say what's going on - you're supposed to bring something more to the table.

On the other hand, when I do take the time to slave for hours over two sentences until they're just shimmering, it's a bit like when you spend all afternoon cooking lasagne from scratch for your housemates/family and you serve it up and it all goes in about 5 minutes: a two hour sentence will be read in an average of 2.5 seconds*.  Then the reader goes straight on to the next one.

Aim for the next week: increase the interesting and evocative while writing as fast as possible. Easy!

*Statistic not verified.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

New Year Revolutions

I was feeling a bit stuck in a rut -- a new year and all that, but I was still at my desk, tapping away and struggling with the same writing I was before Christmas.

I mean, apart from the pock, pock in the background of tennis balls being bashed around Melbourne Park, you'd hardly know it was the new year.

Desperate for a mark of change, I changed the background of my desktop. I know, radical, but I think it did the trick. Now I've got something new to look at every time I sit down at my computer, and have some vague sense of fresh beginning, even if I'm still struggling with the same writing I was before Christmas. I also moved my desk lamp from the left to the right side of my desk.

Never underestimate the power of change -- it's as good as a holiday!

And for a bit more inspiration for the year ahead, here's a piece in The Age last week by Catherine Deveny, a "professional pain in the arse" hero of mine.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Write by numbers?

OMG, as they say. Blog and ye shall receive.

No sooner had I made a wish list of technologies that would make me a better and speedier writer, than what should I come across in a far corner of the internet? Fiction writing software

Specifically--and there are many out there--one called StoryMill. It's a novel writing program for Apples that contains a word frequency tracker and a cliche finder! Clearly I am behind the eight ball on this one.

The full list of features runs as follows (from the website):

• Track, tag and filter characters, scenes, locations, and research with StoryMill's unique dynamic outline.
• Visually and interactively display your story across time with StoryMill's timeline view.
• Annotate any text in your project.
• Revise your work with innovative tools like a word frequency tracker and cliche finder.
• Set and achieve your daily writing goals with the progress meter.
• A built-in support for tracking submissions to editors and agents.
• Manage the creative writing process with Smart Views.
• Write, distraction-free, in Full Screen Mode.
• View your novel in multiple views.
• Back up any and all activity in StoryMill

StoryMill supports the following languages: English, French, German, Italian.

Sounds quite impressive, and makes writing a novel seem like just a matter of being able to interactively display your timeline while not being distracted by having only a single view of your novel in Part Screen Mode. 

In other words, it seems like a whole lot more excuses for why my novel isn't working ('But I don't have a progress meter - how can I set my daily writing goals? How am I supposed to keep track of my characters without a dynamic outline?').

So while it seemed a good idea in theory, and yes, the cliche finder might be handy and I'd love to give it a go just to see, I think I might press on with my creative writing process sans Smart Views and see where it gets me.

[Has anyone tried any of these kinds of software? Am I being unjustly dismissive?!]

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Villain of the Piece

So, I'm trying to put together the plot of my book - outline of story, characters, their motivations etc.

While I'm not anywhere near certain about all of this, the process has made me much more aware of the importance of the bad guys in a story. They are, after all, usually the cause of all the hero's problems, and create the all-important conflict.

And watching the new Sherlock Holmes movie the other day made me aware of how important villainous markers are.

The epiphany came right at the start. Holmes and the new improved, beefed-up Dr. Watson are racing against time to prevent the ritual killing of a pretty young thing by -- a man whose face is shadowed by a hood, all except his wonky front teeth. The lingering close-up on his crooked not-so-pearly whites tells all the viewer needs to know. This guy is a bad guy and he's going to cause trouble for the rest of the movie (why distinguish him by his crooked teeth if you're not going to show them again and again?).

It's not subtle, but it works, and it made me realise I need to focus a bit more on my own villain and leave the good guys be for a while. I had no clear idea of what my villain looks like, or even of his motivations beyond just being a bit of a bastard. But it's so important that he's a rounded, convincing character, and a worthy foil to my heroine. I'm also thinking a scar down his right cheek and a wall-eye. Or is that going a bit far?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Tools of the Trade for the Modern Writer.

I've just discovered the 'stickies' program on my Apple and think it's one of the most useful things I've ever come across on a computer. It's great. You just open it up and a little yellow square, of exactly the same size and appearance of a post-it note, appears on your desktop. You can then type anything you like on it - reminders, ideas, internet banking passwords - and it will stay up there until you either delete the text or 'bin' the note.

It's very useful for keeping track of writing ideas and unlike my current system, the notes can't be blown off my desk into infinity by the fan, or lost in the rest of the writing detritus that weighs down my desk.

All technology should be this good. In fact, I am so pleased that someone has made a program that meets my needs this well, that I'm now sitting back, waiting expectantly for the following innovations to appear and make writing as easy as it's surely meant to be...

Word Psychic 1.0.
A word processor with telepathic device attached, Word Psychic plucks half-formed thoughts from the user's head, before they've had the chance to ruin them by trying to put them into written words. The program then analyses the thoughts and spits them onto the page in the clearest, most moving prose available to express such thoughts. A version would be available for mobile phones and mp3 players, allowing the writer to make the most of pensive journeys on public transport and amusing work situations.

Having trouble maintaining the voice of your narrator? Not sure whether your cockney washer woman would use the word 'ineffable'? The iVoice will solve all these problems and more. Simply type in a sample of your character's 'voice' into the sampleator, add any other information about your character (female, English, likes suds), and iVoice will track your writing, alerting you to any deviations from authentic voice and suggesting replacement phrases.

Cliche and Mixed Metaphor checker.
Does what it says on the tin.

Yellow Ink Purple Prose Inhibitor.
Another fairly straight-forward application, but one that comes with an adjustable index of acceptable purple prose content. Settings include 'Love-letter' (up to 90% allowable PP), 'Mills & Boon' (<60% PP) and 'Dirty Realism' (<0.01% PP).

With technology thus taking all the hard work out of being a writer, I should be able to then get down to the proper business of the occupation. This chiefly involves drinking tea, sending off absorbingly brilliant manuscripts to publishers and sipping champagne at the book launch.

Can't wait.