Monday, October 19, 2020

Random Magic

Today, I submitted my entries to the Scribbles Creative Writing Awards. It was a nice feeling, even though I could improve the stories if I kept working on them (forever, ha!). 

These two characters were snapped in Seville a couple of years ago: a bit of ordinary, ciggie-smoking, magic on the edge of the street.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Writing Life Hurdles

I began writing professionally when I was 26. In the beginning, I loved it so much it felt as though every moment was a joy, including all the muddy bits and the mistakes and the struggles. Fourteen years and 14 books later, the joy evaporated. That 14th anniversary challenge, my first writing life hurdle, was all about something Jen Storer calls creative shame. My success wasn’t successful enough to meet my hunger for achievement. All I could see was the inadequacy of my books and my writing and it was emotionally crippling. When I walked into a bookshop, I was swamped by feelings of shame and envy. I didn’t want those emotions to be part of my identity, so I gave up writing. Since we’re talking athletics metaphors, I confess I balked at the hurdle and ran off the field.

I spent most of the next decade running a public art business with my beloved, which brought me lots of joy until I realised I missed writing. When I reflected on my writing life, it seemed as though it had barely begun. 

I had always written the sort of non-fiction that I wanted to write but my fiction had been entirely transactional. I wrote teen romance for money. That felt sensible but I wondered whether that was the root cause of my creative shame. I decided to put my heart and soul into trying to write the sort of fiction I loved to read: speculative fiction like Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Herbert’s Dune. I was 46.

It took me five years to write and one year to self-publish The Light Heart of Stone. I understand why I self-published but I’m not quite sure why the book took me so long. I do remember that I was very lonely in front of the computer. I ignored the loneliness and started the next project: a science fiction murder mystery, but everything felt pointless. I walked off the field for the second time.

I spent the next three years as the Communications Manager at my local hospital. I loved working collaboratively, but writing other people’s messages wasn’t always satisfying. I kept thinking about my own ideas and the purpose of my working life. I wondered whether I should take a plotting masterclass and whether there was some way I could collaborate to ease the loneliness.

I started writing again last year. I wrote two children’s picture book manuscripts and found the constraints of the genre really stimulating. I wasn’t spending five years on a single story and it was nice to be a beginner again. In the second Covid lockdown, I enrolled in Jen Storer’s Scribbles Academy to learn a bit more about the craft of writing for a younger audience. 

And the loneliness problem? I haven’t solved it, but I have resolved to be open to exploring new ways of writing. During the first Covid lockdown, I collaborated on a long piece with an old school friend. It was liberating and exhilarating. I’m also meditating and exercising, and I have my fingers crossed that the resultant improvement in my mental health will usher in a better writing life now that I have turned 60 and have become so clever and wise.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thinking of cork trees again…

Cork tree in Extremadura - after the harvest

Now that I’ve almost finished writing my young adult, science fiction, murder mystery novel, I’m almost ready to start volume II of the Promise of Stone series and I’m going to use a new method.

In February this year I had the good fortune to be able to listen to Hugh Howey speak at the Savannah Book Festival. I hadn’t heard of Hugh and hadn’t read his books but went along because the blurb said he was a successful self-published science fiction writer. I’ve now read four of his books: the three novels in the Wood trilogy and another novel called Sand. They were great and had plenty of interesting ideas, which is something I really value in my speculative fiction. Hugh deserves the enormous success that he’s had.

Before hearing Hugh speak, I’d begun thinking about writing the second volume in my Promise of Stone series. I’d decided to try writing the last chapter first and then working my way towards that ending. Maybe writers shouldn’t be thinking about productivity – but I was. I was sick of writing and cutting around 50,000 extra words as I wandered away from, and around, my plot. Hugh Howey suggested the same thing. He also talked about writing novella-sized slabs that you can release as you write. Releasing novella-sized slabs is a really interesting idea but you'd need to be very confident about your process and you'd have to have a great editor to work with.

In the meantime, I have to wrangle the present novel before leaving it to settle for a few months.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Cory Bernardi-style Nightmare

Meet my… bond mate? shadow daughter? love niece? significant other? clone? daughter’s mother’s daughter?

I’ve been thinking about English language kinship terms and their woeful inadequacy when describing contemporary family relationships.

Wife, husband, mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, niece... Even if I list them all, including the gradations of cousins and the step and in-law equivalents, I’m still left high and dry when I go to introduce some of my family members. The trouble is the kinship terms I’m reaching for don’t exist.

My closest familial term problem is Will. Will is my…

My what? My him? The one I live with? Not my partner or boyfriend because that underestimates the seriousness and longevity of our relationship (28 years and children). Lover? The notion makes me think of French cinema, which is no bad thing, but it suggests that we spend all of our time in bed and have nothing else in common. And as for the very Australian descriptive: my de facto, the term makes me cringe and giggle at the same time. Cringe, because I’m forced to admit that my mother wasn’t the only snob in the family. Giggle, because, de facto is such a silly, needless term outside the particulars of legislation and the judicial system. If Will is my husband in fact but not in law, then then he’s clearly my husband.

Maybe I should just get on and call Will my husband: keep things simple. And I do, quite frequently, but only because English doesn’t offer me anything else that seems to fit. The problem is we’re not married for a reason. We don’t want to be husband and wife. Ugh! Trivial but ugh.

I have other familial term problems that worry me more.

Esther is my ex-sister-in-law’s daughter from a relationship subsequent to her mother’s divorce from my brother. Mouthful? Absolutely. Too much detail for a casual conversation? Yes.

I’d really love to be able to speak about Esther without taking my listener into that sort of guerrilla territory. Generally, I call Esther my niece. Sometimes, when I want to clarify that descriptor and show a little of the subtlety of our kinship, I reach for something else. I’ve tried my almost niece and my niece-in-law – sort of. Recently, I asked sister-in-law, Maryse (I don’t refer to her as my ex-sister-in-law because the term reminds me of Monty Python’s ex-parrot) what familial term she’d suggest for describing my relationship to Esther. She said that Esther could be my love niece.

At first I was really excited about love niece and thought I could apply it universally. But my next conundrum makes it pretty plain that love won’t work as a catchall familial term modifier.

I have an ex-husband, Dror. We have a son, Ari. Dror went on to marry Shiri and they have had four children together. Will and I have had two together. That makes seven children with Ari as a kind of pivotal link. The first lot of familial terms are easy. Shiri is Ari’s step-mother. Ari is a brother to all of his siblings (we don’t use half-brother – too diminishing). Will is Ari’s step-father (ignoring the fact that Will and I aren’t married). Beyond those few, relatively clear kinship terms, things get horribly nameless and invisible.

What is the relationship of Ari’s paternal and maternal siblings to each other? There is no blood, step or in-law relationship between my subsequent children and my ex-husband’s subsequent children and yet they all share a sibling. My brother’s brother? My brother’s sister? Sounds odd. And yet it shouldn’t be so difficult to speak about such common and important relationships.

And what about my relationship to Ari’s paternal siblings: those children Dror had with Shiri after our divorce? For obvious reasons, I can’t call them my love children, which puts a dent in Maryse’s beautiful new familial term modifier. And if those children are introducing me to someone, how should they explain me? Am I their step-mother-in-reverse? Should I be their mirror mother (as in Through the Looking Glass)? Could I be their shadow mother (the nameless and ambiguous one)? All too difficult. My not-quite-step-children should be able to introduce me as, ‘This is my…’ and have everyone understand our important but attenuated kinship relationship.

There are cultures where Auntie and Uncle and Grandma and Grandpa are used for respected older adults – and that’s all you need to know, unless you need to know more. It’s a nice global solution but unfortunately it doesn’t really satisfy me. Apart from the fact it doesn’t solve my children’s sibling of my sibling dilemma, I like a bit more precision in my conversation. When I want to show more, I like to be able to show more.

Kinship terms in Aboriginal cultures in Australia describe genealogical, moiety, semi-moiety and, frequently, skin relationships. These categorisations are much more complex than English familial terms. They describe the kin and cosmological position of all natural phenomena and some spiritual entities in addition to dealing with genetic relationships. In a real sense they cover a person’s relationship to everything and everyone. The existence of such sophisticated systems gives me hope that English familial terms will evolve. (Some links are given at the end of the post).

So I’m looking for new kinship terms that might nudge English along the evolutionary path. If you have some, please share. You might want to make them up, you might know of some interesting ones from historic or existing cultures, you might have read a novel that had something that would suit.

Here is my latest find: odd sister and even sister from Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The author created the terms for sisters born in a technologically enhanced future. The standard daughter (created from two parents) was the even sister and the daughter who was created from one parent, but and enhanced and modified, was the odd sister. Perhaps the idea could be reworked to suit the existing world. Perhaps my subsequent children and Dror’s subsequent children could be each other’s odd siblings.

Sources in relation to Aboriginal kinship and Aboriginal Languages
The Northern Land Council
The Central Land Council
Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Fix the Boats

The original boat image is by Jimmy McIntyre - Editor HDR One Magazine 
(An old fishing boat Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. 
I remixed it under the creative commons licence by adding the words ‘Fix the Boats’.

We argue in my family about who came up with the half facetious and half serious ‘Fix the Boats’ slogan.

I know absolutely and for sure that I thought of it. I was fatigued by politicians telling me that they were only sending asylum seekers to Christmas Island, Nauru and Manus Island to stop people drowning. Better to improve the Indonesian fishing fleet – cheaper and more humane. ‘Fix the Boats!’

Will knows for a fact he was the one who first said ‘Fix the Boats’. His argument is that it’s his sort of notion.

Push and Pull

I’ve been thinking about my family and our push and pull factors.

I once sighted and then lost sight of some document that suggested that my mother’s father’s family were pushed out of Scotland as part of a manoeuvre to rid the place of the poorest and most ignorant of its highland people. I was told they wept and grabbed keepsake sods of earth. Pure push if it’s true.

In the nineteenth century, my mother’s mother’s people journeyed from Devon to Queensland to take up country and turn it into stations. My mother told me that the family was attacked by Aborigines as the wagons rolled up country. We were unwanted and uninvited. We might have killed to acquire those stations. I don’t know. If the story is true it’s pure and calculated economic pull.

My father’s father’s family were Scots living as traders in Jamaica in the mid-1800s. The Jamaican economy turned against them and Ballarat’s booming, gold-fuelled economy sounded. Economic push and pull.

So me? I’m fourth or fifth generation on all sides but somehow I don’t feel as though I or anyone else has a particular right to this country – or any other country.

My children are a different story. They are fifth, sixth and second generation Australians. Dror, the father of my eldest son, immigrated here when he was ten. Will, the father of the other two children, came here as a refugee during the cold war. In both cases the critical pull factor was Australia’s native and introduced fauna.

Dror was asked to make a choice between staying in Israel and living with his grandmother or moving to Australia to live with his mother and step-father. The idea of seeing kangaroos hopping down the streets brought him to Melbourne.

Will was an Eastern European refugee, sitting in a refugee camp in Austria. He chose Australia for two reasons. The immigration officer waved a brochure under his nose that promised fast-tracked citizenship and then there were the rabbits. You can’t go hungry in a country full of rabbits.

Free Movement – Money, Goods, Services and People


I’ve been typing up some letters that my mother wrote to her first husband in the 1940s. She and Bob were living in America but she’d come back to Australia to visit her parents. The young couple was desperately poor during the first few post-War years. My grandfather wanted to give them some money but there was a problem. It wasn’t legal to transport Australian pounds to America. My mother’s letter is full of schemes to buy jewellery and then sell it when she gets back to the States.

Goods and Services

I keep trying to buy computer software from America. I keep trying to use Netflix. Each time, I feel the pinch of the continuing territorial nature of the movement of goods and services.


When I was born my father didn’t want to register my birth. He said to my mother ‘I want Victoria to be a citizen of the world.’ My mother thought the idea was irritating and registered me. I’ve always felt the world was as much mine as yours so maybe Dad succeeded.

Political Philosophy

I once heard someone arguing that globalisation will inevitably result in the free movement of people. There are precedents. The people of the British Empire used to be able to move freely between Commonwealth countries. Currently member citizens can move within the European Union and New Zealand and Australia have a movement arrangement.

The pejorative phrase for the free movement of people is ‘open borders’. The polite phrase is ‘migration without borders’.

Utopia and Dystopia

I’ve thought that we might end up in a fully globalised world where economic and political cogs whir people around the globe. I’ve wondered what will happen to Australia’s construction and housing sector if we don’t have enough immigrants and refugees. I can’t help thinking about a Star Trek future of re- and dematerialisation or a future of consciousness down- and uploads, making borders obsolete. I wonder what would happen if all the Iranian, Iraqi, Sri Lankan and Afghani dissenters moved here. I’ve fantasised about Australia giving up car making and taking up boat building to profit from ferrying free movers. I’ve imagined Papua New Guinea flourishing from the cultural and economic stimulus of thousands of asylum seekers. Increasingly, I’ve pictured myself as a cultural refugee needing to seek asylum in a more liberal country.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Marketing Ebooks

The Light Heart of Stone on Kindle

2013 is my personal “Year of the Ebook”. Most of the other self-publishers whom I’ve met have focused on ebooks from the very beginning of their publishing journey. In fact, Patrick O’Duffy commented that he was ‘floored’ when he heard about my focus on The Light Heart of Stone as a traditional, physical book. I can understand why.

As a reader, I’m a huge fan of digital books. Having an iPad and Kindle has increased the number of books I read and I love the lightweight and portable format. As a publisher, ebooks make complete sense. While publishing a well-designed and high quality ebook isn’t inexpensive (at the very least there are editing, design and proofing costs), ebooks offer a much lower barrier to market.

I focused on The Light Heart of Stone as physical book because I had some really strong ideas about real world marketing that were better suited to a physical book than an ebook. Against those ideas was a complete mental vacuum when it came to marketing ebooks. I had no idea how to set about the task. I went so far as to produce an ebook with the help of Amanda Greenslade of Greenslade Creations. For all the good it did me… Amanda did a great job, but my ebook has been sitting on electronic bookshelves in cyberspace shops (Amazon, iTunes and Kobo) doing no business at all. On the other hand, its physical sibling has been selling: and selling well.

During the New Year period, I made a resolution to make 2013 my personal Year of the Ebook. My skills in physical world marketing had developed organically over many years. In the pre-ebook age, I worked in publishing and got to observe the operations of a couple of marketing departments. I’ve been involved with a various arts organisations. I’ve run a visual arts business and I have directed an art gallery. I don’t have comparable digital experiences to call upon.

I was worried about the time I’d need to come to grips with ebook marketing. I’m currently finishing a draft of a new novel and I’m about to start writing volume II of the Promise of Stone series. And that work can’t be set aside: not if I want to continue my professional life as a writer. The alternative of paying an ebook marketer didn’t appeal at all. It wasn’t just the money. Yes, I wanted to be sure I spent carefully and effectively, but I wanted to learn, not just receive a service.

I’ve been lucky in knowing Katherine Sylwester. Katherine is a Californian native who has lived and worked in my hometown in Australia and understands the particular Australian version of the worldwide book culture. Just as I declared 2013 my Year of the Ebook, Katherine opened Pale Blue Dot, a business designed to support the global needs of ultra-micro businesses. Nice! And the strong Australian dollar didn’t hurt either.

Katherine is doing my initial ebook marketing research and has prepared a simple strategy for me. I still get to do the ebook marketing work (so I get to learn, but learn in the context of Katherine’s support).

Katherine and I have lined up a number of sites and services that could be useful marketing tools. Some are free; others cost money. Our first target is a free US site called the Author Marketing Club. The Club was started by Jim Kukral, a business person and online marketer.

The Author Marketing Club site operates as a point of contact where authors can seek and offer reviews, discuss approaches, list their books, ask for advice and make use of some opt-in paid services. Is it good? Is it worth it? I have no idea but I’m game to give it a try.

To date, I’ve used the site to request review copies of other members’ books and have asked them to return the favour if they have a genuine interest in epic fantasy. I’m been completely upfront about my policy of not reviewing books unless I like them – so I’m under no obligation. I risk reading a few bad books, but I take that risk when I visit my local library.

I hope that this year will bring lots of ebook sales and that I come to some sort of understanding of the ebook marketing process.

The Light Heart of Stone on iPad
I'll let you know how it goes.


I may derive an advantage from mentioning the Author Marketing Club in my blog. Discussing the Club and including a link to the Club’s site may result in The Light Heart of Stone being featured on the Club’s website.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Ballarat Town Hall... It no longer exists in my Next Big Thing: a young adult novel set eight generations in the future

I’ve been off the blog for far too long (and by the way off the blog isn’t anything like being off the grog) but I’m back on it again because Patrick O’Duffy invited me to contribute to an online writers’ roundabout called the Next Big Thing. Each writer answers ten questions about their current book and then tags five other writers.

Patrick is the author of a terrific ebook called The Obituarist and he is currently writing a novel called Raven’s Blood. Raven’s Blood is a young adult fantasy and I really liked the sound of it so I hope he hurries up and finishes it.

Thanks to Patrick, I’m enjoying envisaging my new book as the Next Big Thing. Imagining success is something all writers have got to be good at. It sustains us over the years it takes to write each book and keeps us busy writing.

1) What is the working title of your next book?
The working title of my new book is The Half-Life Girl. I usually change my working titles and character names several times during the drafting and redrafting process. It helps me to come to terms with the essence of the characters and the book’s overall narrative. This book has already had two working titles. The original working title was Long Sweet Song. I’m about ready to create another as The Half-Life Girl doesn’t really do it for me anymore.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
I had been thinking about the way professional boundaries drift over time. I’d also been thinking about the diversity – across cultures and times – of the age at which a working life begins: anything from early childhood to post-university or even later. Those thoughts combined into an idea for a young adult novel set eight generations in the future, at a time when there is no school because everyone undertakes on-the-job training within family businesses.

I looked backwards to look forwards and was inspired by those times when disciplines that now seem incompatible, such as astrology and astronomy and barbering and surgery, were compatible. It seems likely to me that those sorts of professional shifts will continue and that the future will contain some odd professions. I knew I wanted to write a police procedural crime novel but imagined different kinds of law enforcement officers: midwife coroners and detecting psychologists.

In The Half-Life Girl, my protagonist is called Fortune Sweet Song. He lives and works in a medical law enforcement family. His mother is a midwife coroner and his father is a detecting psychologist. In the first chapter, sixteen-year-old Fortune begins his apprenticeship in the family business by examining the body of a teenage girl found lying, presumed dead, in Armstrong Street in Ballarat.

Ballarat's Central Square has also disappeared and has been replaced by a shop called Shimmerama on Sturt
This is the location where Fortune finds the body of the teenage girl

3) What genre does your book fall under?
The Half-Life Girl is a cross genre, murder mystery, science-fiction novel for young adults.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
The Sweet Songs have Chinese, Indian and Anglo-Saxon heritage. I’m not really sure which actor should play Fortune, but he’d have to have an ethnically mixed background. The supporting character Cara Wungalu is an Indigenous Australia. I can imagine her being played by Miranda Tapsell. I’ve been watching in Redfern Now on the ABC and I really enjoyed Miranda’s work in the episode called Joy Ride.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A boy who is planning to amputate his gifted hands ends up investigating a death, solving a murder, finding a profession, making a friend and accepting his genetic inheritance.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I’m not sure that I can answer that question at this stage. I’ve had fifteen books published in my writing career. All bar my latest book, an epic fantasy novel called The Light Heart of Stone, have been published traditionally. I’ve really enjoyed self-publishing but it takes lots of work and time: time that could otherwise be spent writing.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?I’m still writing the first draft. I began writing in January and have written about 60,000 words. I’ve thrown out about 40,000 of those words so I’m still some way from completing the draft. I expect I’ll have the first draft finished by March 2013, which is when I plan to begin writing volume II in my new epic fantasy series.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Ender’s Game without the military theme (is that even possible?). Harry Potter without the magic (well, that’s probably not possible). The common element is that The Half-Life Girl is a story about a boy who is shouldering an adult responsibility, much as Ender and Harry had to do in their stories.

Looking back on my answer, I feel I need to say a word about my protagonist being male. I wanted Fortune to be male because I wanted him to experience the emergence of his upgraded, gifted hands as something akin to menstruation. Fortune’s hands give him certain powers, but they weep, bleed, ache and have to be managed. Sound familiar?

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I attended a fiction master class with Steve Carroll at Writers Victoria in January this year. It was really inspiring and got me started on The Half-Life Girl.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
Readers will probably enjoy reading about the technological differences in this future Australia, which is familiar but different. I hope they will also enjoy reading about the challenges faced by the characters.

What particularly interests me about technology and change – and I hope the readers will agree – is that new technologies often present real difficulties for people entrenched in old technology (think about publishing in the digital age). While that abstract thought might not grab young adult readers, the story of Fortune’s family’s business – the Long Sweet Song Gifted Hand Clinic – probably will. The Clinic has relied on the physical upgrades possessed by family members to make a living. A new forensic technology has emerged and the Sweet Songs look as though they’ll be out on the street, facing a hostile world, in the not-too-distant future.

For the next, Next Big Thing (posting Wednesday 12 December) please visit:

Amra Pajalic
Julie Mac
Pete Aldin
Sue Isle
Gillian Polack