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 So what if I'm unpublished?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

Thursday, September 29, 2011

through the eyes of a child

Is it possible to enter the mind of a child? I have strong memories of my childhood, and I don’t only mean of events, but of sensations and perceptions.

The child’s sensory world is different to the adults. Colours are more vivid, sounds more complex, and tastes sharper and more defined. This is not just me in reflective mood, I’m referring to observations that have been confirmed by scientific research. For example, in some experiments, adults were given a target colour, and asked to match it by adjusting the saturation and brightness of another panel. They had to identify that exact point at which there was no difference between the two samples. Most adults will perceive the two as identical earlier than a child does. This trend applied across most sensory modalities. Their eyes, ears, noses and tongues are sharper than ours.

It’s the reason why the thunder of our childhoods was always more threatening, why the shadows moved more in a child’s darkened bedroom, and why spring was more joyful – the world is actually deeper for a child. It’s also why children will spit out a cabernet sauvignon and shriek at a whiff of gorgonzola cheese – to their senses these things are poison. Sorry to tell you, but we don’t have more refined palates, people. Instead, we’re stuck with dulled ones that need something as sharp as alcohol or blue cheese to awaken them. We can hold the red wine in our mouths long enough to rhapsodise about hints of blackcurrent, and pretend that’s a sign of sophistication.

Descriptions will always add depth to a narrative. Describing all sensory input is, I think, essential when writing for children. Given that their senses are clearer, it takes more effort to get it right.

I spent a while today musing about how things felt when I was little. I closed my eyes and sent myself back to a time when my feet didn’t touch the floor when I was on a chair, a time when most decisions were made for me.

I held the memory of the chill of a smooth window pane as I pressed my cheek to it, and watched my breath condense in a haze beside me. The freedom of bare feet on sand, the grains rubbing between my toes, the hot sand quickly becoming unbearable and having to hop hop hop to a towel.

Just some random moments. Difficult to capture – I’ll keep trying.

After that, I’ll have a go at recreating the world through an adolescent’s dark coloured, hormonally charged lenses.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Separated by a common language...

I’m feeling a little better about myself. I found a call for submissions for childrens’ stories, and ...completed something. The theme was Halloween, and I managed to squeeze a story into the 500 word limit. Lots of culling needed, but it got there.

It was a strange theme to be writing about, as it’s an American custom. Although it's been transplanted in our backyard, it hasn’t quite taken root. Some years the night of Oct 30th passes with no child doorknocking, sometimes we get one or two. One year, an American lady (who has since moved) organised all the local kids to go for a trick-or-treat. She went so far as to drop flyers in the letterboxes along our street asking people to tie a balloon to the gate on Halloween to show they were ok with a gaggle of excited children holding out their hands for sweets. She even provided the balloon!

My babies thought it was the best idea ever! Knock on the door and somebody hands you goodies that you don’t have to earn (as their mean old witch concerned mother expects).

So what did I put in my Halloween story? It was about a child, who misunderstood the term as “trickle treating” (well, it is a steady trickle of treats), and was mocked for it and excluded from the gang's trick-or-treat outing...and her revenge! 

As a child, I was convinced it was "trickle treating"! In my defence, the tradition was non-existent when I was a wee lassie, but certainly prevalent on tv. I think adults saw it as somewhat audacious, but us kids could appreciate the merit of such a pastime.

American television provided many hours of entertainment when I was a kid. I can remember a few more misunderstandings courtesy of that accent (no, I don’t have an accent, but you do!). I shall share these so that you can mock me. 

The song “for he’s a jolly good fellow” ends with “and so say all of us” over here, but folks on American shows mysteriously sang about “nobody candy nigh”. Huh? 

I was quite flummoxed about why girls waving pom-poms should be “chair leaders” (and why such an activity was highly sought after). What were they thinking?

However, I was anticipating one day visting that wonderful city that was built near a beach that was so wide they named the town in honour of that feature. You know the one – Sandy Ago.

Ok, maybe I should have had my ears checked.

But, grasshoppers, this was centuries before the internet could answer all conundrums at the tap of a keyboard. Even as a teen, some of the mysteries of the US persisted. In Paul Zindel’s novels, some of his delinquent MCs spent some time “hanging moons”. What such an activity might have entailed, I truly had no idea. It’s not that this pastime wasn’t indulged in around here – possibly with greater frequency than in the States – but we gave it a far more descriptive title: "flashing a brown eye".

Come on, ya gotta admit, even if you’d never heard of it, you would have gotten the gist of it straight away. However, that part of the vernacular seems to have since disappeared, probably due in no small way to young Bart Simpson. 

I'm not the first to complain about the Americanisation of global cultures, and prob wont be the last. But, hey, if I get paid for a story about Halloween, I won’t be carrying on like I’ve got a ‘roo loose in the top paddock.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

the f-word

This is a topic that every writer has to tackle during the course of serious wordsmithing... fatigue!

Those of us who earn a living not-writing know it well. Writing fiction is as demanding as a second job. Sure we've all heard tales about bestselling authors who held a high-flying full-time job when they were unpublished, and yet managed to churn out airport sized manuscripts at night or early in the morning when the world was sleeping. I'm thinking of the likes of Peter Carey and John Grisham here.

I happen to spend some hours on the computer during the day to fulfil my obligations to the people who pay me. In the evening, I need to step into mothering mode. This job tends to not involve a computer screen, but it's still pretty busy - making sure that a nutritious meal finds it way into the kids, and that they get cleaned, and have done their required reading, music practice and other bits of homework. Sometimes I step into Tiger-Mom mode and attempt to give them additional tasks to do in order to challenge them further to achieve their full potential or some such nonsense.

Then, once the blood has been mopped from the floor, and the darlings are curled up in their beds, I try to squeeze some creativity from my brain. That's the point at which the f-word hits. Sure, I swear and curse, but that does nothing to remove the fog (another f-word) and urge to call it a night. I reduce the brightness on my screen, and that stops me from squinting. I also zoom in to make the words larger. And try to write. I aim for 500 words on a working day and 1000 for a non-working day. Targets are such optimistic things, yeah?

Ok, so I'm having a whine here. I'm not the only person who has to live in the real world and chooses to write. Unless you're living off inherited wealth, or have a machne in the basement that either cranks out more time or more money, and you're not forced to keep busy for 7 and 1/2 hours per day, then chances are you can relate exactly to what I'm talkin' about.

I'm wondering what people do when the urge to shut their eyes takes becomes overwhelming. Do you give in to it, or just push through? Does it involve caffeine or stealing your kids' ADHD medication? Physical exercise? Yoga/ meditation? Watching really bad tv and consequently feeling superior and inspired? (or does cr*p tv just make you want to scream another f-word?)

So far, one thing that has helped is to change the technology I use. I've come across a wonderful innovation that is low glare, portable and very energy efficient. I'm talking about pen and paper! Sadly, the spell check and word count is completely lousy. It also means that I need to transcribe it back into a word document when I can finally face a screen again without wanting to cry.

The good news is that the act of writing is different to typing, and just being away from a lap-top seems to nudge my brain into producing something.

Please, share your strategies for battling the f-word...

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Words are a writer’s tools. In skilled hands they can inspire and stir passions and incite revolutions and bring down governments. They can flatter the powerful or crystallize the collective resentments of the powerless. They can be woven into tangled webs that mislead and manipulate. They can draw attention away from the issue and trap the unwary. Beware fine print!

By their own nature, they are imprecise. One single word can evoke a number of different feelings or associations, depending on the individual listener/ reader. I might think that being compared to a cat is a compliment. Others might see it as an insult.

An unskilled user can mangle and mash words, and jam them into a context they had never been in before. Or do I mean a poet? Gosh, I’m not sure. Genius or idiot?  The line can be thin.

At worse they fall flat. A poor metaphor grates like a sliding door. And only those of us who have been irritated by a sliding door that squeaks and jams every time it gets used would appreciate that one, otherwise, that metaphor would grate like a ...

Words with the same linguistic root can take on vastly different meanings. And when they jump between languages the real fun starts! An “offense” (noun) in French is a mere insult, an affront (something the French are familiar with - and they have both insult and affront in their vocabulary, but clearly required another term with that meaning) but in English, an “offense” is cause for arrest (although something "offensive" may not be). The prefix “in” in French reverses the meaning of a word, but only does so when it feels like it in English. As my (French) mother found out when she got a funny look asking for “in-salted” butter!

“Dilettante” is another example. In Italian, it’s a compliment; it refers to one who is well read and very knowledgeable about a multitude of issues and topics. In English, it damns with faint praise. It suggests the person is a dabbler and not serious about anything. “Dilettante in furs” is particularly insulting (or do I mean insalting?) referring to a young woman of a privileged background who slums it for a while with a bunch of revolutionaries. Because, of course, a young woman would have absolutely no ideals or wish to explore worlds different from her own background, now would she? No, she’d just be passing time waiting for the rich husband to show up. And there's no equivalent term for a young man who passes time with revolutionaries.

My point is – I’m feeling like a dilettante at the moment. In both senses of the word (although without furs). Yes, I try to read widely across a number of fields. Arts, sciences, medicine, history.

But am I just a dabbler? I dabble in writing. I procrastinate. I have hardly written any fiction over the past few months, and suspect that I’m not up to the self discipline and rigour needed to see a project through. I go and read across my fields of interest rather than sit down and write.

How long can I get away with calling it “research” before I have to face the fact that I might just be a dilettante and not a serious writer? Or have I just insulted dilettantes?