Gimme the Facts…

I’m at that stage of the journey, where I can no longer make stuff up. Writing about the real world is challenging, especially when my main character  is going through medical hell. Whilst I have the outline of the story pretty much figured out, it’s now time to start fleshing the story out with the facts, in order to make my story authentic and factually correct.

I am so grateful to be writing in this day and age. Research has never been easier with the  World Wide Web and email facilities literally at my fingertips.

The only downside to research is that it’s time consuming searching for facts that fit the story. And it’s also a Pandora’s Box. I get side tracked and fascinated and overwhelmed and often so distracted by all the great facts I find that I want to restructure the story to fit everything in. A trap of facts that I fall for every time.

This time is different. I am organised and focussed and I have a plan. Specifics will save me. I have a list of questions. Specific questions. And I have a brand new timer from Smiggle. With 30 minutes a day of allotted time to research my facts, I have to be ready and willing to get in and get out, to avoid that spiral down the great factual vortex of no return. So off I go…into the factual void, armed and ready with my Smiggly device. Fear not…I’ll be back… that’s a guaranteed fact.

SCBWI and such

Early Xmas Celebrations for SCBWI Members QLD

Early Xmas Celebrations for SCBWI Members QLD

Last Sunday, I attended my first SCBWI meeting held at the beautiful home of Prue Mason, in Maleny. We gazed upon a backdrop of mountains and a canopy of Australian bush. It was impossible to not be inspired when surrounded by such beautiful sights. Writers and illustrators from across Queensland gathered and discussed their latest projects and successes. I was in awe of how much talent surrounded me. And I was inspired to hear how hard these people work to achieve what they do.

In the past week, I’ve hit a bit of a writing wall. I’m back at work and feel my creativity seeping away from me, a little more every day. It frustrates me, no end. Yet I still have to write to get this book done. I have to figure out strategies to get myself to the page every day. I have been flicking through my writing books in search of some tips. In her book, ‘Writing Down the Bones’, Natalie Goldberg talks about the two characters that often live in writer’s minds. They are The Dictator and The Resister. And often the two fight to the death.

“I want to write today,” says the Dictator

“Well, I don’t,” answers the Resister.

I know these two characters intimately. As, I’m sure, most writers do. Goldberg’s teacher, Katagiri Roshi taught her the term “Fighting the Tofu”. He explained tofu as being dense, white and bland and concluded it was pointless to wrestle with it. You get nowhere. It’s a strange analogy but I get his point. He suggests you let your internal characters fight as they wish. Let them come to the page with you and then give them five minutes each of your time to put forward their arguments. I put this to the test.

Five minutes of why I don’t want to write:

It’s hard, I don’t know what to say, I can’t think straight, I’m tired, nothing makes sense, everything I write sucks, no one will want to read it, I’m tired, I want to sleep, I can’t think of anything to say…boredom sets in…

Five minutes of why I DO want to write:

Because it’s what I love, it connects me, it advances my story, it works toward my goal, it makes me feel good, it gives me a sense of achievement, it motivates me, it makes me happy, it elevates me, it keeps the momentum of my story going, it  makes me feel alive, it wakes me up, it makes me aware, it stimulates me, it drives me, it makes me feel at one with everything, my story is important, my writing is important, writing is my truest passion…
My DON’T column became tiresome after a couple of minutes. Even I got bored with being bored of my own stuff. My DO column could have kept going. The positives far outweighed the negatives, which makes me ask why do I make it so hard to sit down and do it each morning? The answer is that I don’t really know. What I know works is that when you sit down anyway, and write, the Resister makes tracks and the Dictator gets the writing ball rolling along. And what I do know is that I am surrounded by wonderful writers who work hard to achieve their goals. They inspire me to keep going and I am grateful to them. I am also supported by great organisations such as SCBWI and Queensland Writers Centre both providing regular events and meetings that allow me to network and learn as I travel this road.
The SCBWI meeting was full of great information and inspiration for me. It was also brimming with talented Queensland authors (and the lovely Dee White – (author of Letters to Leonardo) who was up here from Melbourne on a special writing retreat). I came away from the day inspired and informed and ready to write. Now to put those strategies in place…
P.S
A big thanks to Prue for being a fabulous hostess and a big hug to Mahoney, the wonder dog, who stole the show.

Words are all I have…

‘Smile an everlasting smile, a smile can bring you near to me’

I’ve taken on a new project for Year of the Novel. It’s a young adult story about a girl named Meredith, who is fighting bone cancer. The more I write this young girl’s story, the closer I am getting to her. I am beginning to read her moods and slowly she is revealing her personality to me. Whilst I can see her clearly in my head, there are no guarantees that my words are going to deliver the same picture of her to my readers. When I did Year of the Edit with Kim Wilkins, I remember one of the valuable lessons I learned was to be specific when writing. Instead of writing about a car, write about a midnight blue Maserati. Instead of writing about a bird, write about a tawny frogmouth. The use of specific words adds another layer to the writing. Clear visuals help build the world for the reader and make the experience of story more satisfying.

I was writing a scene the other day and my character was going about her business as usual and I realised I hadn’t clearly shown what she was feeling as she was trundling along. Mid scene, I planted a half smile on her face. Showing that specific emotion changed the feel of the scene completely. Be it a scowl or a smile or a flicker of doubt, including these things helps the reader connect to the character by bringing the inner workings of the character to the surface.

‘Don’t ever let me find you gone, cause that would bring a tear to me’

One of my main goals as a writer is making my reader fall for my characters. I want the reader to care about my characters. Establishing that empathy fuels the reader to keep on reading.  Years ago I read a book by Anne Marie MacDonald, titled Fall On Your Knees. In that story, I met Lily, a saintly crippled girl who stole my heart. The book weighs in at 512 pages. I loved this story but it was Lily that pulled me through every page. I didn’t want the book to end, simply because of her. If I don’t feel for a character, then it’s just words on a page to me. I lose interest. In my last project, I wrote about a twelve-year-old boy. Each critique that came back said the same thing. They couldn’t get a feel for the character. And I know why. I couldn’t get a feel for this character either. I loved the world he was in but I didn’t love him. I didn’t care enough about him so how could I expect a reader to care? I had to let him go, and hate to admit it but finding him gone hasn’t brought a tear to me at all. I am hoping that in this book, because I feel so much for Meredith, I will be able to pour this empathy onto the page for the reader to experience and that people will want to embrace her.

‘This world has lost its glory, let’s start a brand new story now, my love’

Keeping the reader interested in my story is another challenge. I dread a sagging middle and fear writing a story that loses its magic through inconsistency. When I read, I trust the author to take me on a journey. I invest my time with them and expect there to be no deal breakers on their behalf. When your reader falls out of the story, sometimes it’s impossible to get them back. It is so easy for them to start a brand new story. I am guilty of doing this in the past. Of picking up a book that is full of promise and then being disappointed. It’s not necessarily because it’s a poorly written book. Often it’s just about personal preference. The few stories that do lose me are good teachers though. I look for the reason why the story lost me and store it away for future reference. My goal is to keep my reader turning the pages, no bookmark in sight.

‘Right now, there’ll be no other time, and I can show you how, my love’

One of the exercises we did for Year of the Novel was examining first lines of other novels. Hooking the reader within the first few pages is essential. Hooking them in less is ideal. There are so many good books out there. When I pick up a new book, if the first page doesn’t grab me, I will usually put it back down. This makes me realise that there is no better time to grab the reader than in those first few moments when the reader and my story come together. I have to be able to promise them a fabulous journey. And then I must deliver.

‘Talk in everlasting words and dedicate them all to me,

and I will give you all my life, I’m here if you should call to me’

Once I have my reader on board, my goal is to make them feel so connected that they might think the book was written for them. I want them to hand themselves over to the story and immerse themselves. One of my most favourite experiences was reading Sonya Hartnett’s Ghost Child. I recall that experience often because it was so positive for me. I was lost in that book. Forgot I was reading. Didn’t want to come home and could have stayed in that world forever. I love books that call to me as that one did. And I love it when I put a book down but can’t leave it alone. It calls me back to the pages to keep reading.

‘You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say’

Ever had those sad reading experiences where the characters aren’t believable, the world is full of inconsistency and nothing really flows or works together? As I write Meredith’s story, I am mindful of making her world believable and doing whatever it takes to makes sure that is the case. As a reader, when I lose faith in a story, I lose faith in the author. For me, it damages credibility and it can take a while to build up that trust again. It’s important to me that my readers believe in what I am saying. It is equally important to me that I never cheat them in any way.

‘It’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away’

Writers only have words. That’s it. They are the tools we use to take our readers hearts away.

Our choice of words and the way we craft them can change lives.

Realising this makes me stop and look closely. It makes me choose wisely.

Deleting the rubbish is easier when I do this.

Saving the good words and weaving them into a beautiful tale is magical.

Words are all we have –  thank you to the Bee Gees for pointing this out.

Mending Socks

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It’s been a strange ten days. Even now, I can’t even begin to make sense of it all. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined the emotional repercussions of having my mate put to rest. I feel like my  universe shifted gear. I feel I have been left reeling. I came to consider that grief is like a sock. Unless you are actually in it, you can never really understand or explain the feeling of it wrapped around you. Up until last week, I’d never experienced the euthanasia thing. It’s made me rethink all the basics in life. Integrity, responsibility, guilt, shame and love to name but a few. I admit to loving my animals far greater than I love any human. Perhaps that’s why the pain is close to unbearable at times. When unconditional love slips through your fingers, the loss seems all the more heartbreaking. The perfect love has escaped you.

I always told Ollie that if he wasn’t a dog, I would marry him. Aside from the odd bit of thievery, he had all the prime qualities I would want in a partner. He was loving and loyal. Faithful, intelligent and caring. Not to mention adorable. And he was fun. Beyond all measure.

If only I could find someone with his dog like qualities. Someone who simply loved having their belly scratched, who ate everything I put down in front of them like it were gourmet food for a God. Someone who beamed love at me every time I walked in the room. And someone who wanted nothing more than to please me. What I think is most apparent is that perhaps these qualities are the ones I must work on in myself, in order to attract that which I so desire. He was a teacher. My best. No doubt about it. What I do know through all of this is that I am changed. Through this experience I am no longer the same person.

I turned up to my first shift back at work and folded. Just couldn’t do it. Wasn’t ready. I was sent home in tears. I searched for a grief counsellor but no-one could see me for at least a week. Hard to put all those tears on hold for a week when I could barely manage an hour without weeping. A friend called and I asked her to contact my vet. It was a last ditch effort to pull the pieces together. She came back to me with a name. Karlene Bradley. I rang the number she gave me and was eventually led to a woman who didn’t know me from Adam but who spent over an hour on the phone talking me through the worst of my grief. She was a pet bereavement counsellor. She was an angel. She knew what I was going through because she had been through it herself. She wore the sock. She let me wail and talk and she talked and listened until there was nothing left to say. I was wrung out. She picked up the threads of my frayed spirit and she tugged and she tied and she knotted. She rethreaded my heart strings and the mending began.

From there, I began writing. I poured my heart and soul onto paper. Writing also became my saviour. It wrapped its inky arms around me and welcomed me into the fold. It accepted everything I lay down before it. Never questioned. Never doubted. Just let me be as I was at the time. It led me through the rough. I am so grateful I am a writer. I am grateful to have this outlet that helps me to heal.

I have tried to keep busy in these past ten days. I have surrounded myself with photos of my beautiful boy. It helps just to see him framed in a corner, a lucky dog biscuit pressed tightly between his lips. And I have taken Little Moo on adventures away, for she too is grieving the loss of her mate. From both of us, thank you to all of you who cared, thought of us, called us, emailed us, messaged us, hugged us and supported us in any way. There are a lot of you. And I am grateful to every single one of you. But a big thank you to Karlene. This world needs you. And I am eternally grateful to you. You helped mend me.

Below: How Little Dog and I have spent some days…

Shopping for New Toys

Shopping for New Toys

Having a Girls Day at the Spa

Having a Girls Day at the Spa

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Trying Out a New Bed

Stocking Up on Treats

Stocking Up on Treats

Remembering the True Glue of Friendship

Remembering the True Glue of Friendship