Who am I?

I am a writing and publishing guru. What I dont know about the market just isn't worth knowing. So what if I'm unpublished? I choose to give other writers the gift of my wisdom and experience* that the other 500,000 writing blogs out there fail to give.
* No actual experience

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why write?

Money? Ok- any published writer reading this, please feel free to laugh!  I reckon if I ever did get published, it would work-out to a cent per hour of effort put in. You know, the sort of wage that even the most oppressed sweat-shop worker would turn their nose up at. Hey, I'd love to give up my day-job to write. But not if it means giving up luxuries like - let's see - food, a house with more than one room, power (and appliances that use it), clothes that are less than 10 years old, keeping a car maintained and in petrol. (Yes, I know I'm spoilt).

As a fun leisure activity? Yeah, to some extent. I enjoy being on a roll, and when a solution to a character's dilemma suddenly presents itself, it's like being on a high. But most days it's frustrating and causes eye strain. (note to self - overdue for eye check - maybe that's the cause of headaches?)

For kudos? Well, I kinda like the idea of doing a reading, particularly to small children. Well, what I would like to do is to read my work to an appreciative audience. I'm not sure that a class of restless, bored children asking why I'm not Roald Dahl fits with my successful children's writer fantasy. The reality probably would entail lots of driving and voice-strain. But I'd be lying if I said that a classful of enthralled youngsters hanging onto my every word was not a compelling image.

Actually- here's the reason. Forget about a classful.  I don't need to be present when kids are exposed to my words.  What I really motivates me is the thought of my words reaching the eyes of a child I'll never know or see. And the story speaking to the child. And for a short period, the child living in a world I have created. Experiencing my characters' feelings and thoughts. Identifying with their dilemma and loathing the antagonists. Cheering my character onwards, and caring very deeply about whether he or she succeeds. Turning each page with a growing sense of urgency. Being hit with a twist they never saw coming, and a resolution that they approve of - with all getting their just desserts. And finally putting down the book with a sense of satisfaction. I have experienced that through so many of my beloved books throughout my life.  It peaked between the ages of 8 to 12. Grown-up books can do that, but as a child I was moved to tears and laughter far more frequently.

And if my words can recreate that experience for just one reader, then I'll feel that writing was not a waste of time and effort.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

massacre your darlings

I want to write a thank you letter to the judges who tossed my entry for a short-story competition I recently entered. It was a 1,000 word children’s story. I maintain that I had a good story to tell, but sadly, it would have needed at least 3,000 words to do it justice.

But I was determined to enter that contest. “Kill your darlings” the mantra goes. So I killed and slashed and massacred. Adjectives, verbs, nouns, entire sentences and paragraphs - gone! At the expense of voice and detail. It was pared right down to the bare bones.

And it sucked. I knew that jamming it into 1000 words had not just killed my darlings, but the entire narrative. The plot plodded along, there was too much telling and not enough showing – just for the sake of brevity. The MC resolved the dilemma quite abruptly, but I’m not sure that a reader would have cared. But a glimmer of hope existed. I had left a few jokes in and thought that they might carry the story.

I was wrong. It fooled nobody, it was awful and the judges agreed. However, they were kind enough to each include a line of feedback. “Good idea, needs developing” said one. “Good use of humour, but needs editing” the other said.

For that, I thank them. For taking the effort not just to say so, but to trudge through it in the first place. And for teaching me the lesson that if a story is worth telling, it’s worth doing well.

Actually, I knew that already, but belief that my story was just so damned wonderful it could withstand heavy-handed treatment deafened me to my own common-sense.

Now, I will go back and treat my story with the respect it deserves. At 3000 words, it might be too short even for a “Chapter Book” for a 6-8 year old. Nevertheless, I will polish it as if it were a precious gem. Maybe one day I’ll find a niche for it, but if I don’t at least I know that I have told it as well as I possibly could have. And that’s the main thing!

Monday, May 23, 2011

move it or lose it

I'm a big believer in neuroplasticity. That just means the brain getting better with practice. As scientists are better able to map the brain's acitivity levels, there's more physical evidence emerging to demonstrate that the brain adapts according to the demands placed on it. It used to be common thinking that only the developing brain could be adaptable. In neuro-psych terms, "developing" refers to up to the age of twelve, not eighteen or twenty-one or whatever age is considedred "adult".

After that age, we're losing more neurons than replacing them. This view makes the adult brain sound set in its ways and very reluctant to incorporate new information and skills. Teach an old dogs new tricks? Hmm, unlikely!

But the good news is that even if we aren't scoring any new ones, they can still form new connections. And those connections become stronger every time we practice them. Some areas of the brain can be taught to take on tasks that typically weren't part of its job description (the brain is a structured organ, with particular areas being responsible for very specific skills, such as Broca's and Wernicke's areas being the parts of the brain responsible for understanding and producing language).

What's my point? What's that got to do with procrastination? Heaps, actually. Procrastination is a bad thinking habit. If I believe that I have more important things to do than  to write, such as watch television, I am training my brain to become a passive absorber of ridiculous information presented to be on the screen. But if I force myself to write (to write anything) then I'm getting into the habit of exercizing my brain to generate sentences, paragraphs, and pages of narrative. I'm making it choose words. I'm forcing it to sound out sentences to judge how well they flow. I'm asking it to make decisions about my characters and situations.  I'm projecting the situations into the future and planning what sorts of actions my characters will take to solve their problems.  In short, I'm practicing the very skills that I really want to become efficient at doing. Sure, often I produce crap. And, yes, it's tiring and I sometimes wake up feeling hung-over.  But it's all good.

Everytime I make the choice to write rather than to do something else, I'm shaping my brain to become the brain I want.

the answer is

I'm so not allergic to coffee. That was my silly lie

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Secrets and Lies

The lovely Phoenix Sullivan nominated me to play a game that sounds like a cross between Tag and Truth or Dare, except there's no dare involved.

Basically she listed some secrets about herself on her blog, and nominated some of her followers to do the same on theirs. I'm one of the priveleged few!

But because I'm a twisted individual, I'm listing some secrets and including a lie (one only). My challenge to anybody who's bothered to read through is to spot the untruth, and put their guess in the comments section. Once enough people have commented, I'll reveal which. 

Don't be polite and say #2 is the lie, because sadly, that's true. 

1.    French is my first language. That’s only a secret to those who know me on line. My maman et papa (and my teen aged sisters) migrated from Lorraine a few years before I was born. We spoke French at home, and I have a vivid memory of being both amused and aghast whenever a stream of incomprehensible gibberish passed from my mother’s lips: English. My younger bro and I both learnt English within a week of starting school, and after another week, were thinking in English (Mam says she heard my bro speaking in English in his sleep). Sadly, I now struggle to speak French. English slowly crept into the house.  The family finally got a tv (that’s how old I am). My older sisters left home to go to Uni. My brother and I spoke English to one another, and my parents just stopped talking to each other in any language at all. English became the predominant language. My school didn’t offer French as a subject. I understand it fine, and I can read it, but it pains my poor Mam to hear me speak it. She’ll speak to me in French, and I’ll answer in English.

2.    I’m actually quite stupid, but I work hard to hide it. My spatial processing skills are appalling. Maps are a complete mystery to me. Ditto puzzles. This isn’t false modesty; my job involves testing IQs.  The other day I had a play around with the new edition of an IQ test (the WAIS-IV, in case you’re curious). All the non-verbal reasoning tests stumped me. I just find it hard to visualise anything. So if you were to calculate my IQ (combination of a few different types of IQs, including verbal and non-verbal), you’d find it languishing around the bottom half. Ah, well.

3.    I have severe motion sickness. I just have to look at a boat to feel sea-sick. Amusement park rides are a form of torture. I’m the driver in the family because being a passenger makes me feel queasy. Which is a worry because....

4.    I failed my driving test the first few times I took it. I passed the fifth time. But they were harsh to fail me on some of those occasions, I mean, those pedestrians did recover.

5.    I’m allergic to coffee.

6.    My first-born was named after the cat. Well, that’s an exaggeration. The cat was called Diana-The-Huntress, but she was such a big eater, always demanding more, that we nick-named her Oliver. A few years after she died, and I was pregnant, my hub and I could not agree on names. Anything I liked caused a pained look to cross his face. So I once jokingly suggested Oliver and he didn’t object. And it stuck, because there was nothing else we could agree on. But we spelt it Olivier, just to have a Gallic twist. (get it- twist?).

7.   I’m a vegetarian, too. I do it for health reasons – the animal’s health. Tried to be vegan for a while, but the lure of cheese was just irresistible.

8.    I did The Compact for a while. You know, the agreement to not buy anything new for a whole year – just barter, buy second hand, make it yourself or do without. Rampant consumerism leads to the destruction of our planet, but non-consumerism is um – challenging – in a modern Western society. I’m off the wagon now but still consume modestly, and try to teach my children to think about a product in terms of the “cradle-to-grave” impact it has on the environment.

9.    I’m one of twins, but my sis died after birth due to complications. We were about 2 months prem.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Sibling rivalry - the gift that keeps on giving.

The other day, I went to a family party at my mother’s home. I had a little brag about a story being short-listed in a comp. To tell the truth, I was delighted! I could hardly keep the smile off.
The winner won’t be announced until June, so I need to curb my impatience.

“There were seven short listed in all,” I added.

“So how many entrants?” asked my dear brother. “Eight?”

It doesn’t matter that we’re both in our forties and have kids (three each – what a copy cat!) neither of us will let the opportunity for a snide remark pass by.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


My 7 year old announced that he wants to be a writer and enter writing competitions, just like his Mama. Which made my heart sing, although it’s not anywhere near as funny as his previous ambition, as expressed when he was aged 3: “I want to be a hairdresser and make everybody as beautiful as me!” (meaning him, not me! – that’s when I wondered whether all the compliments about his golden locks may have been slightly overdone).

I googled and found a writing comp for junior authors, and he became very excited when I told him first prize was $100. He forgot about writing the story and spent lots of time thinking about all the wonderful things that the loot could get him.

So I told him “First- catch your rabbit.” Not being familiar with Mrs Beeton’s cookery book, I explained the analogy. He went away and thought about it, and started to write.

Then he showed me what he’d written. It was a story about hunters trying to kill their quarry in the school yard: a rabbit.

You get your inspiration in whatever form it comes.