Thursday, 28 July 2011


Recently I submitted a short story to a competition. Do I expect to get anywhere? Not really and the outcome doesn’t matter. It would be nice of course but am I less of a writer if I'm unplaced? Not at all. Why do it then? One reason is for the goal of completing a story; deadlines help in building a body of work. The second is that the more I write, the more I increase my chances of becoming better at the craft. Maybe that is the more important reason. I'm no literary genius just a modest writer. My greatest asset is that I'm committed. I write a little every day because I have to. I don’t mean that I'm compelled by an external force. The drive to write is internal. That’s the way it’s been ever since I can remember; even when life isn’t going well. Some ten years ago I was ill. I could not speak because I was so short of breath. In fact, I was almost ready to say goodbye to the planet. But I kept a diary of those events. It’s how I process things. It’s what I needed to do to get through. That diary became my first non-fiction title 'Heart to Heart' 
It took years to get from my splotchy fountain-penned notes to the bookshelf. It was a combination of many polite rejections, taking on board feedback and persistence that got me there in the end. It would have been easy to give up. I'm too sick, too busy, too much in pain, too despondent. I chose to keep going. Unlike many writers, I can’t sit at a keyboard for hours. All my writing is done a few minutes at a time: a word, a paragraph a page. The deadline might be a competition closing date or the end of an A4 page. I love finishing a piece and sending it somewhere: to a comp, to my writing group, to a friend. There’s huge satisfaction in knowing that I got there. It makes me feel like a winner. The only competition I need to worry about is the one I'm having with myself. Don’t you give up either! It’s okay to award yourself first prize.   

Saturday, 23 July 2011


I've spent day going through old documents that are like a time line of my life before Twitter. So many scraps of paper! It started with a practical goal of sorting out tax documents. I knew the seven-year rule but still anxiety gripped me What if I need this later? I kept asking myself. I was too scared to let go. Traveling back in time can be jarring. It made me wonder why we hang onto the past so tightly. I was shocked at all the trivial things I hung onto. All had lost their importance over the years. The only thing I kept were old pieces I’d written. Because in writing, nothing is ever wasted. I can’t say the same for the old gas accounts and birthday cards from people who, sadly, I no longer remember.
I fed piles of paper into the shredder and listened to the sharp teeth tear my life on paper into pieces that could never be stuck together again. When I finished, I appreciated all the empty space in the filing cabinet. The weight of the past had shifted. Maybe the Australian Tax Department's seven-year rule should be applied to all aspects of life?  Maybe after seven years it’s time to work our way out of grudges and misery; take a different attitude; get a therapist if necessary, do the work. Get a mental shredder. Oh… and file the tax return.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Lost Austen and Lost in Austen

So Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript has sold for $1.6 million. I have a heap of unfinished scribbling in my bottom drawer but I suspect that none of my writing generates the interest that Jane’s does. Our fascination with her continues. What captivates me about her writing is her observations of society at the time, the dos and don'ts of behaviour; what was expected and the uncomfortable nature of that, especially for women. The characters are so real to me that I could imagine how they would behave in any given situation. The brilliant television series ‘Lost in Austen’ put a new spin on Jane’s work, melding the characters with modern times. Oh to be able to write like that…

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The work of change

Today I was thinking about making change and the sheer hard work that is involved. The changes can be physical or psychological or both. Whichever it is, this is what I've come to realise: many people want things to be different but nobody wants to change. Change is hard work. Lasting change initially makes you uncomfortable to the core. It’s painful. It makes you question what you believe about yourself and others. If you want just how confusing change can be try this simple experiment: next time you're dressing, start by inserting the opposite arm to the one you usually use first for your top/shirt or use the opposite leg for pants/trousers. It feels weird. It challenges the habit—the practiced response. We have to kill off the old thinking pattern to develop new ones. Neither of those is palatable. Change involves a death of sorts. There is a mourning period to be observed. The most painful period is that between the old and the new. It is uncomfortable sitting with the dormant; the things that are yet to emerge. Like trees with bare branches waiting for spring to unfold their new leaves, it’s easy to notice only nakedness; to think about the dying colours of autumn, to feel the sting of winter rain though the branches instead of focusing on the sky revealed. The old must be destroyed to make way for the new—new habits, new thinking, new writing. Don't be afraid to sit under that barren tree. Look up to the sky. Use a different starting point; wait patiently. Before you know it, everything will be in bloom again.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The Godfather was a girl and Blanche Dubois was a guy’

I'm tired because of Hardie Grant Books. They sent me ‘The Godfather Was a Girl and Blanche Dubois Was a Guy' by Eamon Evans and I’ve been up half the night discovering the good, bad and sometimes surprisingly ugly inspiration behind many of my favourite characters. Intrigue list to date: the alarm clock bed invented by the person who inspired Wonderland’s Mad Hatter character, Peggy Lee as inspiration for Miss Piggy (gives me Fever!) and for managing 72 weddings in a few years and giving us four to enjoy, I love Richard Curtis even more. Really engaging read. I can feast like I did last night or graze. Satisfying—and fab dinner party conversation.

It confirms that writers need to be observers when creating our characters; one trait or one remark when given a creative twist can make our character leap from the page or screen. So, I'm off to make a list of strange people I have known as part of my character research then I'm going to catch up on my sleep.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

First steps on the writing road

What’s it like to start out as a writer? I often think about this when I facilitate a group taking their first unsteady steps in the craft. They don’t only come with paper and pen but often with uncertainty and little confidence. They believe it’s not right to call themselves a ‘writer’ because they don’t know enough or don’t believe they are ‘good enough’. Most often they believe that only being published allows the word ‘writer’ to be used with their name. I can share with people some of what I know about the craft. I tell them that none of the things they worry about matter but I can’t turn them into writers; they need to choose that for themselves. My small voice is often lost in the clamour of their inner critic. I keep telling them—keep your pen to the paper, your fingers on the keyboard. Tell the critic to shut up! Keep going. Slowly I see the changes. People become bolder at having a go; more willing to share their work publically. I'm coming to the end of another group who have worked through some of these issues and are producing good work in just a few weeks. I'm grateful to them because they remind me of what it was like when I first started. I learn just as much from them as they do from me. I always come away feeling humble and privileged. One day I’m sure I’ll see names I recognise from these early days on the spines of books. Be brave.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Balancing the books

I don’t get as excited as an accountant about the start of the new financial year but I do like new beginnings. There’s always hope in a chance to begin again. I think of that often when I'm writing. It can always be fixed later. As long as the words are on the page, I can redraft, edit, refine. Pouring it out on the page is the sticky point for many writers (me included). We want our books to be perfect, balanced. We want to know that there is more profit than loss. That’s why we stall—we’re afraid of what is going against the ledger. The constant self auditing grinds us to a halt. I'm going to try and be more brave, leave my auditing until it’s required; enjoy accumulating the words, the paragraph the story, hope I can hold my readers’ interest.

I'm no financial expert but I’d love to cook a book.