Wednesday, 19 December 2012

NaNoWriMo "success"

Okay, so I didn't reach 50,000 words by 30th November, but I still regard my NaNoWriMo experience as a great success because it got me started. By 32,000 words, I felt I owed my historical fiction novel more detailed research, so I slowed down, popped the champagne but continued writing. I'm still writing every day, still researching and immersing myself in Melbourne life in the 1840s. From immigration depots, to the early 1840s depression, I feel my characters coming alive under my pen - especially some of the minor players, which is a surprise. Can't wait to see where it goes.

Thursday, 1 November 2012


Have I gone mad? Well, at least the kids think so. For I have signed up for NaNoWriMo - which is an event   that requires participants to write 50,000 words (a novel) in the month of November. I think it would be far less painful to grow a moustache and just sign up for Movenber. But really, it will challenge the procrastinator in me and will still my busy mind that, at the moment, has two novels vying for attention while I walk the dog at 5.30am every morning. So if I break it down, I only have 1,666.66667 words to write every day. Or if I take weekends off, I will have to write 2,272.7272727 a day - that's probably a bad idea because I know I will forget how to write when it comes Monday morning. So here I go ... I wonder if the title counts, and oh, they have to be DIFFERENT words? Hmmm. ... My story began when Melbourne was not even Melbourne at all - it was Port Philip Bay, New South Wales. (19 words already!)

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Redfern Now - At Long Last

This post isn't about books but it may as well be. It's about arts, culture and understanding ourselves as Australians. I can't wait to tune into 'Redfern Now' a groundbreaking and historic program starting on ABC 1 this Thursday night at 8.30.
For the first time ever, we have a program written, directed and produced by indigenous Australians. Most of the actors too, are Aboriginal faces you will recognise, although the trailers appear to have some well-known albeit token white faces. I'm keen to explore how this makes me feel - to be the minority for once. And I urge you all to watch, listen and feel - without judgment, without blame - just watch this show.
Leah Purcell says it's "a bloody good drama" told from a "blackfella's perspective" - a storyline that "all comes back to love". LOVE people - and doesn't the world need more of that precious commodity?!
'The Sapphires" star Miranda Tapsell says 'Redfern Now' is not about hating, or blaming - but it makes her feel proud that "for the first time, indigenous people are creating their own identity in mainstream television".
Dare I say, it makes me feel proud too, and I'm a whitefella. That's not to say, I won't feel shame too. But, regardless of where you sit on the issue of race relations in this country, tune in. Because Thursday night will be history in the making.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Hi Ho Hi Ho .. when "work" gets in the way of real creativity

Most writers are well-accustomed to the fact that the thing we love to do most in the world doesn't pay very well. Personally, I am very lucky my husband/patron/household treasurer is happy for me to keep plodding away at creative writing. But, I still struggle with the feeling that I should be "working" more, by which I mean "earning" more. So, I recently jumped at the chance to do some corporate writing - writing that actually pays. Quite well. I have been given the task of researching and writing about several African countries for an international recruitment firm. My info will be put into brochures for potential employees, clients and visitors. Thus, I am now an expert on Tanzania and Angola, but dragging the feet a little on Nigeria. I can't seem to get past the fact that my husband was offered a post there when we had a newborn and a two-year-old - needless to say, we didn't feel quite up to the adventure back then. Tanzania got me really fired up - who wouldn't want to live there with Mt Kilimanjaro, the Masai Steppe, Ngorongoro Crater and the white sandy beaches of Zanzibar? I was just about ready to learn a bit of Swahili, stick the kids in boarding school, and head off. Even Angola looked exciting .. but Nigeria? Isn't it the home of  internet fraudsters? Not to mention, a government which rewards writers critical of the regime with the death penalty? And a swift and deadly strain of malaria? I am sure I'll find something positive to say about this West African nation, 12th largest oil producer in the world, and tipped to have the highest average GDP growth in the world between 2010 and 2050 ... There I've started already.

Monday, 10 September 2012

To the desk, to the desk as BWF closes

It's back to the real world now that the Brisbane Writers' Festival is over for another year. I never did run into that lady from West End who I seemed to see every year in the Queensland Terrace on a Friday morning. I hope she's still out there somewhere enjoying good books.
For anyone who has ever considered volunteering at the festival - do it! I have had the best, most stimulating, wonderful five days.

But now that's it's over, I have work to do. I hope I can find the time and discipline needed to get my thoughts into stories - good and worthy ones. And I hope this year brings more publication and writing rewards.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Brisbane Writers' Festival Starts with a Bang

At last! The Brisbane Writers' Festival has begun with some good news for Brisbane barrister and writer, Simon Cleary, who last night won the People's Choice Queensland Book of the Year with his novel Closer to Stone. You may remember Simon as the author of The Comfort of Figs set around Brisbane and the Story Bridge.
I was lucky to take part in a BWF workshop conducted by Simon today: 'Weaving Fact Into Fiction'. Simon is a lovely guy who imparted encouragement and words of wisdom including where and how to research, realising when you've done enough research and finding ways to weave it all into fiction. Nice to know, in this age of information at our fingertips (hooray for google, wiki and trove), it's often better to talk to people about their experiences to get the emotion and idiom in eye witness accounts. Could be a bit tricky with my research into Melbourne in the 1840s, but still. Glad I did my homework - researching the history of Brisbane City Hall - as I may continue a story I started today on the haunted clock tower lift. I also met some lovely people in the workshop who, going by their stories today, have big futures as writers.

On Thursday afternoon, I collected Australian of the Year and Nobel Prize Winner, Peter Doherty and his wife Penny from the airport and listened to Peter's fascinating talk on Sentinal Chickens at UQ which was a real treat for me.

Other highlights from the festival on Friday were listening to Patrick Gale, Richard Fidler in conversation with Gina Perry who has written about the infamous Milgram shock machine experiments of the 1960s, meeting Chris Cleve and Jeet Thayil and then Poetry in the Red Chamber, Parliament House, with Jeet, Jan Wagner, Chantal Spitz, a.rawlings, Ouyang Yu, Nicholas Powell and Les Murray.

On Saturday, I met a wonderful lady, Peggy, who at the age of 93 has just won her first poetry prize. An inspiration! Is listened to Robert Dessaix interview his dear friend Drusilla Modjeska (I've been a fan of Drusilla's since reading The Orchard at uni), contemplated What Makes Us Happy with Kathleen Noonan, Peter Lantos, Bev Aisbett, Tanveer Ahmed and Mind Gardener Martina Sheehan. I was fortunate to be venue manager for a talk by young adult fantasy writer Kate Forsyth, and then got a behind the scenes peek at the design behind Gary Crew and Ross Watkins' book The Boy Who Grew Into a Tree (can't wait to read that one to the kids).

Even though I "worked" as a volunteer for four days at the Brisbane Writers' Festival, I think I'm way ahead in terms of value. On Sunday, I was the venue manager at an industry masterclass presented by Australian Writers' Marketplace and gained invaluable tips on how to get an agent and/or publisher - basically for free!

Thursday, 23 August 2012

A Wonderful Tool for Short Story Writers

Something that has helped me in the past, and will probably help my writing process well into the future is a daily blog I receive called The Write Practice by Joe Bunting. I will never have writer's block again thanks to Joe. If you are an emerging or even an established writer, I urge you to investigate this as a valuable tool.
People ask me why I write short stories. Joe sums it up well when he says:
"There’s something magical that happens when you finish a story. 
§ You can get published.
§ You can get feedback.
§ You can experience every aspect of the writing process, not just the first draft stage.
All of this leads to becoming a better writer faster. You also begin the process of building a writing career and a platform for your fiction.
I think that’s why so many great novelists through history first published short stories. Mark Twain, Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, and even Stephen King didn’t start out writing novels. They built their craft and their careers with short stories."
Australian author and one of my favourites, Peter Carey, also started his writing career with short stories. When making the jump from advertising exec to writing, he would answer the inevitable "so what do you do?" at parties with "I am a writer" to the point where he actually had to became one. Other Australian writers who have produced fabulous short stories are David Malouf  ('Towards Midnight' from Every Move You Make is brilliant!), Kate Grenville Bearded Ladies, Tim Winton The Turning and Peter Goldsworthy Gravel. Cate Kennedy and Amanda Lohrey are also well-known short story writers. And if your tastes lie overseas, then look no further than Somerset Maugham (UK) and Alice Munro (US).
So, why do I write short stories? To hone my craft (every word counts!), for more instant gratification (competitions) and because I can't help myself - I see short stories everywhere. Not that it's easy. My writing teacher, Isabel D'Avila Winter, said most writers spend about 10 hours editing each page (that's about 250 words). Sometimes, I edit and revise my stories 15 times before I think they're polished enough to send off. So next time you read a cracker of a short story, just remember, they don't come easy. Not that I'm complaining. Short stories just appeal to the perfectionist in me.
I'd like to give a plug to Joe Bunting's new ebook:
It explains how to research, write, edit and submit to literary magazines.
Let’s Write a Short Story! is available as a PDF or for your Kindle or Nook reader. It’s also available on
Happy writing.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

'Why Don't Elephants Smoke?' success

I have just received the exciting news that my short story 'Why Don't Elephants Smoke?' will be included in the 2012 volume of Award Winning Australian Writing (Melbourne Books). Will post more details when they come to hand.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey: an example of moral decline or just a good read?

If you are my mother, stop reading this now.
Okay, let's talk about EL James' popular erotic novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. Partly due to the unprecedented popularity of this book, ebooks have outdone "real" book sales for the first time. And, FSOG is the most downloaded book ever. Not bad for a former TV exec who dreamed of "writing stories people would fall in love with".
The story goes like this. Literature student and would-be publisher Anastasia Steele falls in love with gazillionaire Christian Grey who, because of his troubled past, likes kinky sex. She is such a down to earth, smart, and good person, he also falls in love with her. He introduces her to his world of bondage and sex toys which Anastasia, for the most part, likes. But can she deal with his dark, secret past and thus can she heal him?
Let's face it, literary fiction it is not. And it doesn't pretend to be. It is purely erotic fiction, so if that's not for you, then don't bother buying/reading it.
As a book lover, and writer, living in 2012, I felt I needed to download FSOG to see what all the fuss was about. And really, it's not that bad. There have been a lot of hate reviews about this book -- perhaps because of its popularity and the moral ramifications that come with it. Perhaps deep down some of us would have liked to have thought of it first because it really is quite a simple book. (Who hasn't looked at the Wiggles and thought, why didn't I think of that?) That's not to say, it isn't well-written.
Okay, it's a bit repetitive. Okay, it's very repetitive, but it's a definite page-turner and the characters are quite well-drawn.
FSOG has been dubbed "Mummy porn". I suppose that's an apt buzz phrase for erotic fiction. It's derivative of Twilight, but with more sex. (Come to think of it, what IS it about those Washington State folks?) It is NOT degrading to women. It does contain a lot of sex, some of which is a bit kinky and some readers may feel uncomfortable with bondage. But at least the sexual gratification is reciprocal. And in this day and age, when you hear stories of teenage boys collecting lipstick rings at parties, this can only be a good thing, right girls?
Good on you, EL James. There's a very good reason why it's the most down-loaded book in history: no-one needs to know what you're reading on the bus! Except the smile on your face might just give it away. I think EL James has, um, nailed it, with the right book and the right time. And I expect there'll be a flurry of similar books, so get ready people.
My only criticism would be that readers, and I suspect the publishers, couldn't wait for the second book Fifty Shades Darker and I thought the third, Fifty Shades Freed was rushed. Future editions would benefit from a good copy edit.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Ah, is that you Spring? Must be Brisbane Writers' Festival Time ...

I live for my family. I live for friends, a good walk, red skinny jeans and cooking the perfect creme brulee. I also live for the Brisbane Writers' Festival. This is my time of the year. I have my already well-worn copy of the program from The Weekend Australian. I have colour-coded events and authors I absolutely must see, events I wouldn't mind seeing and events outside my usual taste and comfort-zone - for this is where serendipity comes into play. I have a (growing) list of books I must buy at this year's festival and I am about to transform my initial confusion (think kid in a candy shop) into a very grown-up spreadsheet. Go to for ticket details.
After my first writers' festival in Ubud in 2007 (where I forewent the chance to party with Richard Flanagan - sigh - because I was there to learn, listen and work) and after being a paying participant at the BWF for years, this year for the first time, I am a Brisbane Writers' Festival volunteer. I will wear a blue t-shirt adorned with a heart-shaped stack of books (can you think of anything more appropriate?), help people find where they need to go, hopefully get to meet authors, and listen in on some fabulous talks. So when I say I live for my family, well, they will have to look after themselves between September 5 and 9. Okay, I will cook up a freezer full of food and worry about the mountain of washing created in my absence later.
Another reason why I love the Brisbane Writers' Festival, apart from all things books, is that it marks a time when the weather begins to turn in our beautiful city. I have embraced winter rather than endured it this year - with the help of a slow cooker, a super-comfy cable-knit jumper and our new fire-pit in the back yard. But there's no time of the year I look forward to with such anticipation than September.The State Library's Queensland Terrace with its Great Wall of China (one hell of a crazy tea set)  is touched by the warm hand of spring, birds are atwitter and City Council buses rumble by on the street level below. It's there that I see the same lady from West End every year as if some magic brings us together to the same spot year after year. We both know this and we glean a silly comfort from it. I don't even know her name.
Today also marks the deadlines for several short story competitions that have plagued my working subconscious for some time. Do I have anything ready? Maybe. Do I have anything good enough to enter in the extremely profitable Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize for New and Emerging Writers? Probably not, but it's worth a crack and the experience is invaluable. So today, I will be at my desk in a flurry of last-minute editing, concentration and hope.

Friday, 29 June 2012

The Hare With Amber Eyes: A New Look at Biography

I must confess I have long resisted biographies of any sort to be discussed at the monthly book club I organise. Why? Because I have always considered biography an impossible genre to dismantle, dissect and discuss the various motifs, characters or meaning. However, my steadfast views have been shaken upon reading Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes, Vintage, 2011.

the hare with amber eyes editionsIt's not so much the story of how a collection of netsuke (tiny Japanese ornaments once used to tie up kimonos) has remained in one family for two centuries - although that in itself is miraculous. But rather, it's the journey of those little ornaments amid the backdrop of modern history that makes this book so rich, I think. De Waal has looked at religious persecution, fortunes built and lost, European politics and the associated public groundswell, the importance of language, as well as sense of place and belonging. The book would be ideal for anyone considering their own family history (and it made me see just how many holes I have in my own research so far) or for anyone who simply loves a good story. Bearing in mind though, what de Waal thought would take three to four months to research and write, actually ended up taking two years. Now that's a long time to give up your day job. But de Waal writes of his compulsion; that he felt the anecdotal, dinner-party telling of the story was making it 'thinner'.
"Owning this netsuke - inheriting them all - means I have been handed a responsibility to them and to the people who have owned them."
I suspect this foray into biography has made me spoilt. It is a well-told story full of superb detail and language told by a potter who has a far-better-than-average command of English, and it's impeccably researched bringing de Waal's ancestors to vivid life.
And the ultimate test for me: am I a better person for having read this book? The answer is, a thousand times yes, my word I am. Edmund de Waal's The Hare With Amber Eyes is a stunning book, brilliantly sublime and thoroughly un-put-down-able.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Grenfell - a small town with a big heart

It's back home and back to my desk after travelling to the lovely NSW town of Grenfell to collect the Harold Goodwin Memorial Statuette for my short story 'Why Don't Elephants Smoke?' I am thrilled to win my first writing award and I have the statuette, based on Henry Lawson's 'The Drover's Wife', looking over my shoulder as I write this post.
While my Mum, Jan, my daughter, Ella, and I were in Grenfell, we were treated to a concert showcasing local musical talent at the Henry Lawson High School and we were moved by Steven Tandy reading Henry Lawson at the awards night. Steven managed to weave the narrative of Henry's life, including all his loves and flaws, with the great poet/writer's works -- beautifully presented, highly informative and deeply moving.
I was fortunate to meet Henry Lawson Festival Patron Dr Hilarie Lindsay MBE OAM who, as an active 90-year-old lady, is nothing short of inspiring. I wish I had half of Hilarie's wit and energy. I should also mention the kindness of Pam Livingstone who looked after us at Strayleaves B & B -- a host who went the extra mile to make sure we were comfortable and well-fed when temperatures at night dipped below zero.
 Grenfell is a country town of approximately 4000 people, a three-hour drive from Canberra and six hours from Sydney. It's a picturesque town brimming with history as the birthplace of Henry Lawson and the haunt of bushranger Ben Hall. But what really struck me at the weekend is the warmth, courtesy and friendliness of Grenfell residents. I can't wait to head back there one day soon -- it's a small town with a big heart.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Why Don't Elephants Smoke?

Recently, I was delighted to win the previously unpublished author section of the Henry Lawson Short Story Competition with my short story 'Why Don't Elephants Smoke?' You can check it out at I was also very thrilled to win the Harold Goodwin Memorial Statuette for the best short story overall. 
'Why Don't Elephants Smoke?' is a mixture of  memoir (a family's history of smoking) and good old narrative fiction. Hopefully, the protagonist learnt something about herself along the way. My thanks go to my family, both immediate and extended, who gave me the inspiration to write this story. I dedicate it to my Mum who really did say a pink, marble ashtray didn't make it glamorous, and who, I am happy to say, is in fine health.
My 14-year-old daughter won Highly Commended for her short story 'Under the Mango Tree' in the High School Student Section -- and has subsequently won the Junior Section of the Bush Curlews Literary Prize based in Charters  Towers. 
So, my Mum and my daughter and I are off to Grenfell in chilly New South Wales to collect my prize this weekend. I hope the birthplace of the great Henry Lawson will inspire me onward. I'm looking forward to meeting some of the other prize winners -- perhaps it will be the start of more literary connections. And I'm hoping my Mum will get to see snow for the first time as we drive from Sydney to Grenfell -- stopping in the Blue Mountains and at some lovely coffee shops for something warm along the way.

A Rabble of Butterflies

Welcome to my new blog: A Rabble of Butterflies.
My aim is to post my awarding-winning stories (assuming there will be many), keep you all up to date with my writing news, share my thoughts on writing-related issues and ultimately be part of the modern world of blogging. As a writer, and former journalist, it's important to embrace new technology whether it be iphones, blogs, and love it or hate it, twitter. Time and technology never seem to stand still and, as communicators, writers need to strive to keep as up to date as possible. Writing can be a lonely pursuit, so I'm hoping my blog will connect me with the wider world.
Oh, and finally a word on the title of my blog ... recently my 12-year-old son did collective nouns for homework, so out came a great book called A Parliament of Owls, Penguin, 2005. I just loved the irony of 'a rabble of butterflies'; surely a group of butterflies couldn't make that much of a sound! Writing can be like that too. There's so much out there, it rarely makes a sound, or does it?
Hope you enjoy following me and please feel free to comment. Kerri