Monday, 4 November 2013

If I could turn back time/ Writing from real experience

When I was in grade 7, myself and one other kid from my class were chosen for a special outing during school time to an authors seminar at the local marina, Hillary's Boat Harbour. Not only did this get me out of a whole day of school, I got to go to the beach, have a special fish and chip lunch, get to hang out with the boy I had a crush on (yes he was that other kid) and I got to listen to these pretty interesting writers talk about their craft. It was a great day!

Now honestly, back then I had no desire whatsoever to be a writer (see post I was never going to be a writer for details) so I listened with fascination, simply because I had a love of books and making up stories. I really didn't appreciate what I had been handed, an opportunity to learn from those who had made it in the writing game. There was maybe eight of them all together and they each took at turn at speaking, giving great insight and expounding their knowledge on us next generation of possible writers. I do wish now that I'd listened a little more carefully or had the foresight to take notes, stick them in an envelope with the label OPEN IN 10 YRS TIME WHEN YOU CAN ACTUALLY APPRECIATE WHAT GOLD IS IN YOUR HANDS. Or perhaps if I built myself a time machine (not unlike the Delorean from Back to the Future, because I'd want to travel in style) I could go back to 1990 and give myself a swift kick up the backside, tell myself to stop ogling boy crush because it would never come to anything and bloody well pay attention... Of course while there, I could actually listen myself and take notes. Unfortunately while I spend my days in a fantasy world, in real life all I can do is shake my head and give a tremendous sigh. I mean how was I supposed to know at that age that I was going to grow up and change?! What's sadder still... And this is something that does really bother me... Is that we had the opportunity that afternoon to sit by the beach and write to our hearts content... once we finished we could hand it in and they would publish them as a book and send us all a copy with our little story's and poems in. Well I was inspired by the water glistening and waves churning and wrote some tale that featured the sea...but I never finished it! and hence, never submitted it! So when I received my copy of the book, it didn't even have my work in it... How sad is that?! (Note to self... Build said time machine, travel back to 1990 and kick butt twice as hard.)

Okay so I was a little slow on the up take of figuring out that my passion really lay in story writing but let me tell you, the whole experience wasn't a complete wash over, there was one piece of advice that really hit me and I have never forgotten. One of the ladies spoke in length about making sure you write about what you know... She put it in this way... when you're a kid, write about being a kid because it's something you can relate to, something you understand ... But if you try to write about being an adult, when you're a kid, it doesn't work so well because it's just your perception of what being an adult is (and let's face it, children's ideas of adults lives are far removed from what actually goes on). However, she said that as an adult you can write about being an adult, because you are one so you have some experience in that but also you can write about being a kid because you were one and you probably remember something about what it feels like and what's important to you at that time.

Here's what I get from that nowadays.

I truly think this author was onto something,
There is something to be said about writing from a point of view of experience, I'll give you an example... Before I moved to Canada I had barely experienced snow... While it does snow in the mountains in Australia, it is really bizarre to see it anywhere else... So I had been in a couple centremetres of snow and that's about it. What I could tell you about it back then was limited, it was cold and wet and made my lips blue. I could on the other hand, tell you all about living in a tropical place, with excessive heat and humidity... Hence my first book is featured in a hot climate... Because that is what I really knew about. Since being in Canada I could tell you so much more about snow, what it feels like, how it sounds when it crunches under your feet, the feeling of snowflakes floating down upon you and what it looks like as these flakes descend from the heavens. I could go on and on about it... But I won't. But you are likely to see snow in my next book... Not only see it but experience it because I can now write about it from a different point of view.


I do think we have a lot of room for imagination... I mean I am fortunate enough to have never suffered from cancer but I have known people who have had various forms of it, so I could probably write a pretty believable character who suffered from cancer using what I know of it and how I imagine it to feel. I don't think I could write it as compelling as someone who has actually experienced cancer but I guess I wouldn't be trying to either.

So while I still agree with that author, that writing from a point of view of experience and real knowledge is far more compelling than writing from second or third hand experience, I also think that a person can write something that is rich and interesting about a subject they have never experienced... I mean, we are writers and our minds are in tune with empathy and putting ourselves in other peoples shoes... It's what we do. But I think if you can write from as many true perspectives that you can... anything you do have to use your imagination for will be all that more believable. And hey, there's alot to be said for research and experiments (but thats for another post).

What do think? Writing from experience, Writing from imagination, Or room for both?
happy writing!

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Criticism - Taking it Constructively and Growing a Thick Skin.

It's one thing to write yourself the ultimate novel... you know, that story that has lingered in your head for years, being seen and available only to the minds eye. It's a whole other thing to then go and share your treasured masterpiece with the world... a world that we know can be downright harsh and critical at times... what's the answer? Keep said masterpiece to yourself and hide it away so that nobody can judge... or perhaps grow yourself a very thick skin.

Obviously you want to get it out there, for people other than yourself to enjoy, right? So i guess you're going to be needing that skin thickener.

Truth be told criticism isn't always that bad. Sometimes it can be absolutely spot on and when listened to, give us a chance to grow and better our work.
This has happened to me, numerous times with my book Journey of Destiny.
I didn't just publish it when I first felt that it was ready... I took it to trusted friends and asked them to read it and give me their HONEST feedback.
Yes... it did sting a little bit but each of my readers gave me something to think about, something to improve on, something to better.
What I wanted (and I'm sure you want this too) was to put out the BEST version of my book after much editing and improvement.

You get to a point in your novel, where you are blinded by certain elements and can't see what might actually be staring you in the face. You yourself see the story so clearly in your head that when you read back your story, your mind automatically fills in the blanks... and its awesome!.. for you... but what about your readers?... What do they see? or what do they miss because you haven't written it in quite the right way. Problem is you yourself can't answer this question.

But when your readers do answer the question... how do you react? Like a raving loon? That anyone should insult your writing in such a way! Do they not know how hard you have worked? The nights you spent countless hours hard at the computer perfecting your story?

Perhaps you smile and nod sweetly, then as soon as their back is turned, melt into a flurry of tears and with great drama declare that it's all over and you are not the writer you once thought you were?

Lets face the music... there will be critics and there will be burning comments. Think of the greatest book you ever read... look it up on amazon and read the reviews... they won't all be 5 star and more than a handful may be more than a bit nasty. Now that is for the greatest book you ever read... could yours be so much better? You work hard to make it so but even so bad reviews are likely to come and thats life... zip on that thick skin right!

So knowing that there will be reviews that will make you feel pretty small, you do what you can, now... before you release your book to the masses.

Allow a number of people to read your book (other than editors) and comment honestly... Suck it up and allow it to happen. Ask friends who are outspoken and always willing to tell you what they really think (you know the ones) or look into Beta readers (even better - they don't know you so won't feel the need to spare your feelings)... whichever way you go, you are looking for honesty and their true perception and evaluation of your book... be prepared for what they find.

Listen to their advice for improvement... Remember you wanted their comments, so let them speak openly and without fear of reprisal, loss of friendship or you freaking out on them. Their points may be very valid... they may pick up on things you completely missed or they may suggest ways that the story could be better. Listen to them and take it all in... above all NO tears and NO freaking!

Take in the bad points as well as the good... This is what you were looking for... holes, issues with writing or story development and stand out problems. What they didn't like may just be personal preference but it may also be that there is some serious problems to address... don't you want to find these out now? Before you publish? Personally I like the good 'ol nitpicker myself.

Take in the good points as well as the bad... Let yourself absorb what they really liked about the story. It's helpful to know what areas you have excelled in and what has captured the reader's imagination. Enjoy what they tell you they got into and be happy... it's not all bad.

Give great consideration to what you are told but do not make them rulers over your story... You asked them to read to get another persons point of view and now that you have you need to make up your own mind what you will do with it. You have to consider how valid what they tell you is... determine what is really a problem and what comes down to personal taste. This is YOUR story, you dictate what happens to your characters and what they would or wouldn't do in certain situations, DON'T start changing the plot or the personalities to suit your readers, be true to yourself... but perhaps if they don't like something or they haven't quite connected with your lead character it is because you haven't written it well enough... rewrite and give them something more. Add more to the story to gain more interest or take out something that takes away from the true spirit of the story or is perhaps irrelevant.  

Brainstorm ways to improve and get back on that horse and keep riding... I have done this before... been bowled over by a lot of information and things to consider that I have been left feeling overwhelmed. I could not continue on until I sat down and had myself a massive brainstorming session, giving great heed and consideration to what I had been told. What I came up with was a realisation that information I was keeping from the reader until the second book needed to be included and experienced by the reader in the first book... this was not my friends suggestion... because how could she have known that I was holding back a piece of the puzzle but thanks to her honesty I was able to realise the importance of this information and write it into the story... frankly I cant believe I had kept it from my readers in the first place but I am so happy i was prompted to write it in... because I know it made the story far better. That's what you have to do...ride it out until you get it just...right.

I'll be the first to admit that it is disheartening finding out your story is less then perfect... but being given the revelation, you are kind of given a gift... one that will help you grow and develop your book. It will get you one step closer to publishing the 'work of art' rather than just 'a good effort'.
At the end of the day you want those criticisms and problems pointed out to you before the book is on shelves or stored in kindle libraries... so accept the information graciously and use it as chance to get it right... after all, there will be enough people looking for something to criticise... lets make them work for it and give them little to complain about. But above all start growing that thick skin and allow yourself that opportunity to improve your craft.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

An insight into The Journey of Destiny...

In celebrating the release of Journey of Destiny, book 1 of the Titanian Chronicles, I thought I would share with you a little of this world of my creation.
Here we go... just another fantasy adventure?
Maybe... or maybe not, ill admit it has it's share of adventure, magic and mythical creatures but it is so much more. Add a dash of romance for good measure, daring and intrigue... this book will keep you on your toes, right till the very end.

So what is Titanian Chronicles? I hear you ask... well, let me introduce you...


Afeclin.., a human with a penchant for the mystic arts. He has been brought up by the Elvin King of Tebelligan in an all elf kingdom and since he was found as a baby in a cradle, the only survivor of a village ravaged by war, he has never seen or had anything to do with any other humans. While he towers over them all and has features that are vastly different, he kind of considers himself one of the elves... After all, it's all he has ever known. The world beyond the Tebelligan borders is but a mystery to him... Yet it's the world that he came from and rightly belongs.

Wolflang.., An elf with a longing for adventure. Unlike other elves who desire nothing more than the sweet, simple and I might add, peaceful life of Tebelligan, Wolflang wants out of there, he wants to see what is beyond the borders of his homeland and experience something of what the rest of the world has to offer.

Lenna.., An elf maiden who longs for the simple life she grew up with... which includes marriage and elflings, However she is far from the lady elf she is expected to be. Having spent her childhood with Afeclin and Wolflang the fiery red headed elf has learnt to wield a sword and shoot an arrow and is not one to be reckoned with.


Moorlan.., Once a prince in line for the throne, Moorlan was banished to the island Norvak after his father, the king was killed, thus ending The Great War. Moorlan, embittered and angry over his lost power and popularity, became a warlord.

Nargrin..,  In the service of Lord Moorlan, Nagrin does the warlords bidding. One might call him Moorlan's right hand man. He is harsh and cruel and is not above taking what he wants. However he also has a softer side which is a stark contrast to his ordinary demeanor.

The Dark Mage.., Moorlan's trusted adviser and powerful confederate. The Dark Mage is a mysterious wizard who's own reasons for bringing war to the Land of Marrapassa is anything but clear. Having been instructed by one of the greatest wizards known to Titania, Moorlan may just underestimate the dark one's power.

The lowdown...

It is the New Moon celebrations in Tebelligan, a time when the elvin folk kick up their heels and celebrate the coming of the new year. This new year marks a new chapter in the young elves lives and for Afeclin, it is time to leave and follow his desire to become a great wizard. Wolflang has come to the moment in his life where he must decide once and for all, settle down and have a family or leave and follow his dreams of adventuring the world first. However, the decision effects more than just himself... he must tell Lenna that he wishes to leave which is not the easiest of tasks as she has already made plans for the two of them. Lenna is liable to do anything once she finds out but could a rash decision lead her onto a path she never could of imagined? Is the land beyond the borders a safe place for naive travellers seeking out their destinies? 

The Love Triangle

Lenna fell in love with Wolflang right after he saved her from a drowning incident as a young elfling. As far as she is concerned, they are meant to be... and with the new year fast approaching she has her heart set on marriage.
Wolflang fell for the red headed beauty in their youth but has kept the idea of being wed at bay. Afeclin has also been in love with Lenna since the moment he first laid eyes on her in his fathers court. He is far from an ideal suitor for the elf maiden, given their obvious differences and keeps his love for her a secret. After all, while Lenna  adores the lanky human, she looks at him as more of a brother figure.

The Journey

While each has in mind where their destinies lie... it may not be quite as simple as passing over the Tebelligan border and finding what it was they were looking for. None can be quite prepared for a world they have never known. One that, unlike the elvin Kingdom, can be harsh and unforgiving not to mention being infiltrated by the likes of Moorlan's men. They may just have to look inside themselves and find out what they are really made of. It may end up being a journey of regret or they may find they are destined for something far from what they ever imagined.

While Titanian Chronicles is written for a teen and young adult audience it can certainly can be enjoyed by adults who still love a bit of adventure.  I welcome you to read the prologue and first chapter.
Chapter I

Sunday, 8 September 2013

A Theme-song for a book? Whoever Heard of Such a Thing?

(Sorry may not work on some devices)

I have a theme-song for my book... As ridiculous as it may sound.
Yes I know it's not a movie or tv show or anything that would make sense to bring out a soundtrack to... After-all, you can't hear a book... Well you could, if you were to buy an audio one but that's not the point.
Books ordinarily don't lend themselves to theme-songs because we read with our eyes not our ears. And I think the logistics of putting audio tracks within a book cover  would be difficult and expensive. Having said that, they are able to put music into greeting cards. And let's not forget the good portion of the world who has moved on from paper books to electronic versions... A media that is capable of containing audio files... So is the idea of a theme-song for a book so ridiculous after-all?

Well I for one would never have even thought to have a song related to my book, it just wouldn't have occurred to me since its not exactly a done thing but this theme-song wasn't intentional it sort of happened itself upon me.

Sitting in my car waiting for my kids to get out from school one day, I found myself half listening to the music on the player and partially stuck with thoughts of my story floating around in my mind after a particularly heavy session of writing. When WHAMMO the words of the song started blending beautifully with the motion picture running through my head and in that instant I knew that this was the theme-song to my book. 

Well why not I ask... What is the difference between a movie and a book? I'll tell you... One plays in front of your eyes and one plays in front of your minds eye. 
When I read (as I'm sure is your experience too) I see the story play out in my head just like a movie... Quite frankly that's what I like about books. So if a theme-song to a movie can enhance ones experience and lift it to another level... Why not a book? 

So this song by Aussie band (very appropriate) Eskimo Joe is called Setting Sun and while it has a more modern sound I find in fits nicely with the older period of the book. When I hear certain parts of the song or certain lyrics, my mind recalls particular moments in the story. I love that happening in any movie and I love it happening with my book. Enjoy! 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Storytelling… A serious weapon to have in your arsenal

 "When people told themselves their past with stories, explained their present with stories, foretold the future with stories, the best place by the fire was kept for... The Storyteller."

So, one night about a week ago, I was just about to settle down to go to sleep (in the wee small hours of the morning… Damn! Another late one) when I heard one of my girls get up to go to the bathroom… No biggie, when you gotta go, you gotta go… So I closed my eyes and attempted to sleep. Within a minute a loud sob started up and it sounded serious! I walked with some pace to the bathroom and found my youngest daughter in tears on the bathroom floor.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
Well, what had been a mournful sob turned into a painful wail complete with a flood of tears and an incomprehensible explanation.
Something about people in the bathroom with her and they were yelling at her.
‘Hang on…what?’
Hmmm very strange… ‘Please explain’
Same jumbled mess of words through wailing sobs.
‘But there’s nobody else in here.’
Always the sympathetic parent at 1.00 in the morning.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to make me understand she started holding her head and crying now in pain.
I held her close trying to calm her.
‘What’s wrong? Does your head hurt?’
‘Yeeessss!’ Came the shrill scream, ‘it hurts sooo much!’
Okay, midnight nurse shift into gear.
‘Right, lets get you back to bed and I will get you some Tylenol to ease the pain.’
I quickly ran downstairs to the kitchen, grabbed a couple of tablets and was back to her in a jiffy.
By now she was screaming and crying and howling all in one… It was amazing she hadn’t woken up the whole house.
‘Shhhh, shhh, here you go.’
I gave her the tablets to chew and then tried to hold her and hush in her ear to calm her.
Of course medicine isn’t some magical wonder pill that makes you feel instantly better so we would have to wait for the relief to kick in. In the meantime the sounds she was making were horrific.
What else could I do to help.
She was very hot, It was a pretty warm evening so I got out a face washer, ran it under cool water and put it on her head.
Still the pain surged and she filled the room with her growls and shrieks in angst.
I hoped this was nothing more than a simple headache, Jessi was always one for the dramatic but how is one to know for sure?
I didn’t know what else to do, she seemed to be getting louder and more annoyed with it all and I could do nothing but hold her, pray for her and try to give comfort.
Trying to think hard about what could actually help to settle her, without putting her in the bed with dad (as per her suggestion through tears of pain) who had to work the next day and would not be too tolerable having a screaming child next to his ear. I suddenly realised I had one trick up my sleeves that I hadn’t thought to use, my gift of storytelling.
While still carrying on and flailing her arms and body about every now and then, I tried to hold her as best I could, leaned in close and began to whisper into her ear a story.
It began with her and I, in the garden, happening upon a fairy castle hidden within a hollowed out tree… She didn’t seem to respond and it didn’t seem she was listening at all but I continued…
Knowing she is a huge animal lover, I was sure to include animals big and small that would interact and talk to her…
It didn’t seem to make any difference…
Tired myself and aching to head to my own bed, I trudged on through my story, hoping that something of her adventure would bring her some relief.
It didn’t seem to be working.
Then as she hopped up onto the back of a silvery white unicorn, headed for a ride out over the valley… the sobbing quietened and a soft little voice spoke.
‘But where are you?’ She asked with concern, ‘what happened to you mummy?’
I had kind of dropped myself from the story, placing a focus more on her.
‘Umm, well I’m there, I’m just watching you ride.’
We spoke a little more and then I asked her how she felt.
‘Better.’ She said.
‘Are you ready to go to sleep now?’
She nodded.
She was still hot so I ran down to the basement and brought up the fan, plugged it in and aimed it at her. As I did so we chatted about the story, she told me her favourite bits. I was surprised, she had actually been following the story the whole time.
I left her in dreamland to continue her ride on the unicorn in the moonlight.
I have since discovered the power there is in a simple story. The imagination to be cast into a world of make believe, making pains and fears dissipate is a serious weapon against the forces of darkness that plague the dreams of little ones. Just having an image of something special in her mind was enough to distract Jessi from the pain she was feeling and give it time to subside.
The story was nothing special… Believe-you-me, it had absolutely no plot and no conflict or structure to it… It simply had the right elements for Jessi… Animals, fantasy and a nice place to be. That was enough to bring comfort to her.
The funny thing is when I started writing this blog, late the other night, my youngest boy got up complaining of having had a bad dream (he’s five, had watched ghostbusters that evening and was having nightmares about evil marshmallow men or something). I let him get a drink of water and then followed him back upstairs to get him back to bed. As we walked down the hall he veered towards our room with hopes of hopping into our bed…
Hmmm…’I don’t think so, bud.’ As it is, he tends to hop into bed with us a couple of nights during the week anyway…but I don’t need to start the night with an extra body in the bed.
‘Come on back to YOUR bed.’
‘But I’m scared!’
‘Alright, I’ll tell you a story to cheer you up.’ (Now to see if this secret weapon of mine was just a fluke or the real deal).
He didn’t seem too convinced and showed it by his anti-attitude.
‘Would you like to have a superhero story?’
‘What about pirates?’
‘Something about cars?’ ‘No,’ ‘Animals?’ ‘No’ ‘Transformers? action-men? Knights?’
‘No, no, no!’
‘What do you like then?’
‘Oh-kay’ (waterfalls? Really?)
So I started a story that begun with a waterfall that had treasure at the bottom of it, he found a cave with a mermaid that gave him wishes and he wished for a life size train set… Among other things.
When I got to the end he wanted to hear more and I told him that he should close his eyes and ‘dream of the waterfall?’
‘Train set that he could ride around in?’
‘Mermaid? seahorse? cave?’
‘No, no, no.’
‘Then what?’
‘The treasure!’
‘Okay then…you dream of all the treasure you filled your pockets with! Goodnight.’
And he was fine after that, didn’t hear a peep out of him all night and the next night when I put him down to bed, he wanted to hear the exact same story again.
Yessss 2 for 2!
So I now truly believe in the magic of story telling and what a serious weapon it is to have in your arsenal against the dreaded nighttime terrors or whatever else that may come along.