It’s been a while between cocktails…

700Ahem. *Clears throat and looks around nervously*

It’s been a while.

If you’ve dropped in while the tumbleweeds were blowing through this part of my online space, I’m sorry I wasn’t here to offer you a cup of tea and a biscuit. Or a gin and cheese twist, if that’s more what floats your boat. If you had been relying on me for party-style sustenance, you’d have faded away to a shadow by now.

And now I’m going to share why I was away. It’s a bit long and a bit sad, so if you have better things to do or just aren’t up for sad, feel free to stop here, with the assurance that I will be around much more reliably in future.

For those who’ve stuck around, here’s the rest…

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Things I Learned in 2013: The one about reading

You may be wondering what a woman of my age (viz, no longer in the first flush of youth) can have to learn about reading.  The answer is, apparently, plenty.

You see, last year, I discovered, about half-way through the year, that I wasn’t reading much. Books, that is.  I was reading things on the internet – and no, not just status updates and captions on cat pictures.  In the course of a couple of quasi-scientific studies I conducted on myself during the year, I found that most of the time I spent on the internet was reading proper article-type things – serious newsy ones and amusing ones and a lot to do with the craft and business of writing.

The internet has, in effect, become my newspaper, my professional journal and my very own comedy channel.

And that’s all well and good (although, as I said in the previous post, the time spent on that needs to be controlled).

But I wasn’t reading many novels.

This, I hardly need to say, is not good.  I am a novelist.  For a novelist not to read stories is like an artist eschewing galleries, or a musician deciding to wear earplugs 24/7.  It’s as necessary for a writer to read as it is for some who likes living to breathe.  And it has never been a problem before.

But I wasn’t doing it.

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What I learned in 2013: The one about writing

This January, I am looking at what I learned last year, so I can do better this year.  The first post was about Christmas, but now the festive season is well and truly over.  Epiphany (the feast of) has come and gone, the Christmas decorations have been put away (with the exception of the one that got missed, which will now sit on the windowsill until Michaelmas*) and it’s time to think seriously about what 2013 has taught me about writing and what that means for 2014.

*I don’t know when that is either. But it’s a long time from Christmas and it sounds good!

First, partly because it’s the most recent lesson, and because it encompasses some other things I’ve learned about me and writing this year, I have learned that…

…NaNoWriMo is not for me (don’t all faint at once).

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month.  It’s a joint effort where people around the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in November.  People do it as a way to encourage them to write.  The idea is to give yourself a challenging word count every day for a limited time as a spur to persist, push through and get down some words.

It sounds like a good idea and for several years now, I’ve given it a go.  In none of them, have I got anywhere near writing 50,000 words.  More to the point, I think I would have written more in November if I hadn’t attempted it.  And here’s why:

  • Arbitrary goals set by someone else (or even set by myself) with a ‘win’ or ‘lose’ status attached to them get my back up.  There are a few reasons for this.  One is that I think I’m naturally ornery.  I don’t like being told what to do.  Even when it’s good for me.  Maybe especially when it’s good for me.  But it also stems from my long and disastrous relationship with weight-loss dieting.  I have learned the hard way that diets don’t work.  They set you up by making you obsessed with food, then telling you not to eat.  They divorce you from your natural relationship with hunger, by dictating what, and sometimes when, you will eat, with no reference to individuality or circumstances.  They make you crazy.  (There is a much bigger post – indeed, thesis – in this, but I’m restraining myself because that’s not what THIS one is about.)
    And I worked out this year that NaNoWriMo feels like a ‘diet’ to me.  An arbitrary set of rules, that may or may not mean anything useful, that you ‘win’ if you follow and ‘lose’ if you don’t.  This makes me cross.  It Continue reading

Of Mice and Progress and the Undertoad…

First, allow me to explain the concept of the Undertoad.

It’s a concept I learned from the Victorian Storytelling Guild.  I’m sure it has it’s origins in a mis-hearing of ‘undertow’ and there is undoubtedly a story that goes with that (really, undoubtedly 😉  ) but that’s for another day.  Today is for what it has come to mean.

Oral storytellers are performers and, as all performers who have been doing it for more than five minutes know, when it comes to performance, planning ahead and rehearsal is really important.  But no matter how hard you plan and rehearse and think you are prepared, there is always the risk of the undertoad.

The undertoad is that unexpected something that you can’t plan for, that you couldn’t forsee, that can throw you for a loop and disrupt the best-laid plans.  It’s the school that overinvites, because, surely, there’s no difference between telling to 20 children and 200?  Or the festival that thinks that putting you outside on a stage with a microphone is exactly the same as inside in a library, as long as the weather’s good.  The only way to handle the undertoad is to know that he could appear at any moment and to be flexible enough to manage the situation.

Well, that’s how my November’s turning out.

Monday was supposed to be my first full day of planning for my new book, in keeping with my NaNo commitment to plan first and write next, I had my Alexandra Sokoloff board all sectioned off and my index cards and was raring to go.  I have very little of this story nutted out to date.  I have one character, possibly two, who I know quite well and some ideas and that’s about it.  But I had faith that with some work it would all come together.  And it would have.  Except…

Except my child woke up in a very bad way and needed looking after.  And in the course of looking after her, I discovered that I had a mouse resident in my under-sink cupboard.  And that he’d ventured into the cupboard next door as well and left his calling cards everywhere.  I actually picked him up, accidentally, in a cloth that he’d made his house, but sadly didn’t realise in time to catch him and put him outside.

So Monday, instead of a wondrous flurry of planning, became a day of disinfecting and washing things and nursing and all manner of things I didn’t intend.  Undertoads, in fact.

Tuesday was a holiday here and we had plans, so it was always going to be difficult.  And the mouse is still in the house somewhere.

Today I discovered that the voluntary commitment I thought I had for Friday is not for approximately three hours, but rather for the whole day – and indeed, a long day.  I still have cordial and brownies to make for the fête on the weekend (because there’s nothing like a mouse in the kitchen to put a crimp in your cooking plans).

And Saturday is Dancing Concert Day (forget getting anything but hair, makeup, ferrying, feeding and watching done on that day).

And the mouse is still resident.

And did I mention that the dog has done an anterior cruciate?  Not as funny as it sounds.

Very soon, this undertoad will qualify as an overtoad, or indeed an ubertoad.

So here’s what I’m doing.  I have let myself off my solid 3-hour-stint plans for the rest of this week.  There is only so much stress I can take without snapping at all I hold near and dear and it really isn’t worth that.  I have index cards in my bag, by my bed and on my desk.  While I’m cooking and shopping for mousetraps, I am thinking constantly about my story and jotting down scene ideas and character notes as they come.  I’m also writing down snippets of scenes as they come to me (in the gaps between disinfecting) and today I think I might have struck on an opening! And next week, after this toady mess has passed, I will put them together and have a running start at framing this new tale.  I can make this one better, stronger, more gripping and I shall.

Just as soon as I climb over this toad.

How’s your November going?

Still School Hols here: not quite blown away yet!

So, it’s spring school holiday time which means it has also been Melbourne Show time and I had half-intended to take the offspring this year.

But my giddy aunt, the weather!  In recent days we have had stronger winds than we have had in decades.  Equivalent to a category 2 (or 1, depending on who you ask) cyclone, apparently.  I can well believe it.  A friend had her trampoline fly away and land two doors down, fortunately not on anyone.  And the rain that came with some of that wind was almost cyclonic and all.  I feel very sorry for the poor Show people.  Attendance must be down and just keeping the marquees pegged down and the animals sane must be driving them mental.  Just occurred to me that they might have lost power as well – many suburbs did.  Oh dear!

So we have been indulging in indoor pursuits, chez Imelda.  The girl and I spent a whole day watching Jane Austen movies and (in her case) embroidering and (in my case) answering tricky interview questions.  Yes, in spite of visitors and holiday shenanigans, I have managed to complete a couple of interviews lately.  One light-hearted one with Ms Destiny on Playing by the Rules for the Destiny website, and one on the business of writing and the perils of editing for the very lovely Gabba from Gabbawrites.  Just click that linky text if you’d like to read them.

I’ve also received a couple of lovely reviews, which has helped me out of the funk I was threatening to slide into after finishing a manuscript recently.  When you’ve written ‘the end’ and pressed send and waiting to hear back from people whose opinion is valuable what they thought, it’s really easy to think that you can’t write, you never could and maybe shouldn’t ever again.  Or maybe that’s just me? 😉 But in that funk, this review of Rules are for Breaking, and this one for Playing by the Rules really helped.  So I’d just like to sling an enormous thank you to everyone who takes the trouble to review, especially when they like the book.  It helps, it really does!

So, holidays finish this week and I’m hoping to be back to blogging normally next week – although I’ll also be preparing then for going to Genrecon, which is a first for me and about which I am very excited, so who knows?

So, what’s up in your neck of the woods?  Or, if you live in Melbourne, with the winds, what’s down? 😉


It’s school holidays…

And post submission, which means I am up to my neck in holiday shenanigans and trying to sort out the almighty backlog of home things that built up while I was finishing said submission.

Which translates to: one, three-day Karate seminar (I trained! A bit, anyway. I didn’t die!), one birthday sleepover party (with obligatory breakfast pancakes) one visiting nephew, a lot of thinking about/researching new stories, a lot of wrestling with a dodgy email system and a bit of washing of sheets and rearranging of rooms.  The tax and the filing have yet to be tackled (can’t imagine why).

Which all results in terrible blog neglect.  And any minute now, I have to take said nephew out to see the sights of Melbourne (the bits that haven’t been washed or blown away, that is – it was a bit wild overnight!).  So I thought I’d share a post from the vault.  It was one of a series about what makes a man sexy.  In this case, it was about clothes.  Specifically coats here, but other clothes can do it too.

In my recent release, Playing by the Rules, my heroine, Kate comes over all unnecessary when she claps eyes on the hero, Josh, wearing a dinner suit.  It was the first scene I ever wrote that made my beta readers fan themselves with a manuscript.  And it’s just a bloke in a suit.  Fellas, take note!

So without further ado, I introduce you (or remind you, if you were around the first time) to the wonders of the coat.  Enjoy!

Home is the traveller!

I’m back! Back from Perth, back from the quite fabulous Riding the Waves Conference, put on by the Romance Writers of Australia and I’m finally getting around to telling you how it was.

(Just quietly, who ARE these people, who manage to get blog posts up WHILE THEY ARE STILL AT CONFERENCE?  Clearly people who spend less time in the bar than I do.)

So, I went to the conference and it was fab.  I cannot go any further without thanking and congratulating the quite marvellous ALL VOLUNTEER conference team, who put on such a great show.  I always enjoy the RWA conference, but this was definitely one of my favourites.Selfie at conf cropped  There are too many people to thank individually and I would hate to forget anyone, but I’d like to do a special shout out to Shannon and her Mum who came up from Bunbury to help us out.  You guys helped to make my conference!

I am terrible at taking photos (as in, I forget to do it, not I’m a terrible photographer, although probably that too! 😉 ), so I only have a few.

I’ve included this one as it is a watershed moment – my very first selfie!  (My teen friends have informed me that it is a little lame to take a selfie in a mirror, but what can I say?  I’m rocking lame!)

This was me, prepared to go to the Friday night cocktail party, complete with pirate hat, to identify me as a conference-newbie helper.  I am wearing sunglasses, not because I drank rather a lot of champagne the night before a the Destiny Romance first birthday party (although I did, it cannot be denied) but because they always live on my head and I had to move them to put on the hat.  Yes, really.  In the picture below (at the cocktail party) I seem to have found somewhere to put them, but it’s also possible that they were just knocked off by the awesomeness of Cap’n Jack.JOHNNY

I am frantically busy finishing some projects at the moment, so I won’t go into detail about all the fabulous workshops I went to here (I will be expounding on some of the things I learned in future posts, so stay tuned for that).

But I can’t leave without mentioning two visitors I met who impressed me very much.

The first is Kim Hudson, who presented the Friday workshop on The Virgin’s Promise, her quite wonderful re-imagining of story structure.  Many parts of me are delighted by her work.  My latent academic is excited by the thoroughness of her analysis and the way she has shaped it into a proper theory.  The Hero’s Journey is a wonderful tool and it has been recognised as such for so long that it is very easy to think it’s the only way of looking at story.  But of course, it isn’t and work like this can start a whole new conversation about story and archetype that has far-reaching implications for how we see ourselves and our lives, as well as how we see stories.

The storyteller in me is also thrilled by a whole new approach to what makes story.  And the writer in me can see a whole swag of ways to use this practically in planning and deepening written stories.

So that was fun!  Also, Kim is an absolute doll whose presence was a joy.  A gifted presenter and a lovely person.

The other person I must mention is Sarah Wendell, from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.  I have been a fan (along with thousands of others) of her smart, snarky, funny website and reviews, dedicated to romance, ever since I discovered them and in person she did not disappoint.  She is whip smart, very funny, a wonderful presenter, a generous and genuine supporter of romance and a barrel of fun.  I didn’t make it to all her workshops but I loved the ones I did and very much enjoyed the re-enactment of her session on romance clichés that went on in the bar afterwards (there were actions, apparently).  I had the pleasure of chatting with her a little at the conference and meeting her again in Melbourne at an event hosted by Penguin here.  I can’t tell you how impressed I was that, at the second function, she remembered my name.  There were over 300 people (most of them women) at that conference and I bet she spoke to a fair swag of them over the weekend.  I don’t suffer from false modesty, but nor do I imagine myself to be particularly fascinating.  To be remembered was delightful, of course, but also seriously flipping impressive.  The lady is a pro.  If you like romance at all and don’t already follow Smart Bitches, do yourself a favour and start!

As always, it was also a joy to see so many friends both old and those I previously only knew online.  Always fun to see who matches their avatar!

There’s so much more to say, but not enough time!  I’ll be back as soon as deadlines allow.  In the meantime, don’t forget that Playing by the Rules is coming out September 15.  There’s a link to its page at the top right of this page and that’s where you’ll find all the buy links as soon as they’re available.

So – what have you been up to while I’ve been gallivanting?

I pinched this picture of the Destiny trade table at the conf from the Destiny facebook page, because I didn't think to take a picture of my own book!  PR fail!

I pinched this picture of the Destiny trade table at the conf from the Destiny facebook page, because I didn’t think to take a picture of my own book!
(Front, third from left, if you’re looking.) PR fail!




Beating carpets: or, why I don’t write historical novels

Yesterday, I beat my back door mat.

Those of you who read my previous post about my aversion to housewifery of the cleaning variety may find this odd.

Those of you who are aware of the existence of vacuum cleaners may also find it odd.

To the former, I say, even I get fed up with the crud eventually (and there is no end to the things a writer will do when the words are not co-operating).

To the latter, I say that, a mat walked over my by dog many times a day from our muddy back yard would challenge any vacuum cleaner (and there is a limit to what I am willing to ask of my nice, gently nurtured vacuum cleaner).


A carpet beater, courtesy of Wikipedia. Not the human kind, you understand, but what the human kind would do the job with…

Now, as is often the case while my hands are involved in such tasks, my mind was busy doing other things – namely, wondering about the days when vacuum cleaners were not available and beating mats and carpets was the only option.

Inevitably, my mind wandered to the people likely to be doing such tasks, who were probably maids, at least in the times I was thinking of.  What would they be thinking of while they were so engaged?  Would they be happy to be outside in the sun (since you would be unlikely to beat the carpets in the rain, methinks)?   Would they be learning the right way to do it from an older woman?  Would they have the chance to chat while doing it, or would the billowing dust mean they were better off with a hankie tied over the mouth and nose?  What sort of household were they in?  Was it well run and adequately staffed, so that they could do these jobs with any level of enjoyment, or would they be so overworked that they could only think of how they would never get this done in time to finish their other chores in time and how their back ached and their feet hurt and they’d give the world to just sit down for a minute?

One of the lesser-known facts about me is that in my Arts degree, I studied history.  It wasn’t my major – that was English – but it was pretty much everything I studied other than English and I loved it.  But I stopped pursuing it as an academic subject when I realised that the history I was most interested in was not what is usually covered in history books.  I was interested in how people lived.  When I read of the movements of the court from one great house to another, I wanted to know who had to organise the provisioning.  I wanted to know if the cooks had nervous breakdowns before, during or after such an event and if the scullery maid got any sleep at all.  And I wanted to know, when they swept the rushes out, what they swept them with.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that these things aren’t studied in academe – they are.  But it’s the hardest area of history to study.  Piecing together people’s day-to-day lives is the work of lifetimes and involves many complimentary disciplines to do well – or at all, really.  It’s absolutely fascinating, but it takes forever.

And herein lies the rub, for me.

If I started in to write historical fiction, I would spend so much time tracking down what kind of button, say, that the hero had on his shirt that I would never get the story done.  In the joy of digging through the vast library of material on the internet, I might end up with a Masters in history, but the novels would lie sadly neglected.

So, for now, at least, I will stick to contemporary stories and enjoy other people’s historical stories – and the freedom to wonder about previous carpet-beaters, without having to know for sure!


Speaking of contemporary stories, I’m pleased to say that the print version of Rules are for Breaking is still available at Australia Post outlets for a limited time and that the companion story, Playing by the Rules should be available digitally later this year!

My toilet smells right again

Toilet pictured not blogger's own.  Because that would be weird.  Apparently I can write about my loo, but not photograph it.  (This pic came from, as usual.) The baby is just because toilets with babies are much cuter than toilets without.

Toilet pictured not blogger’s own. Because that would be weird. (Apparently I can write about my loo, but not photograph it. This is why I am a writer, presumably!)
This pic came from, as usual.
The baby is there because toilets with babies are much cuter than toilets without. Natch.

I must begin with a warning.  If you are delicate of stomach, or sensitive about matters scatological, look away now.

Likewise, if you are the kind of housekeeper who can be dropped in on at any time and never found wanting, you will probably not find much to identify with in this post.

If on the other hand, you, like me, think that dust is God’s way of marking the passage of time, stick with me, for I have a tale to unfold.

It all started with the Excel running out.

For many years now, I have been using cleaning product made by an Australian company called Tri Nature.  I discovered them when I was working for a group that promoted environmentally-friendly technology.  This isn’t an ad for them, so I won’t go into raptures about the stuff, except to say that it ticks all of my boxes: it’s Australian, environmentally sensitive, plant-based (organic, wherever possible), safe for babies and dogs, it doesn’t make me itch or sneeze and most importantly, it works.

This last is particularly important when you understand that, as a housekeeper, I am more of your slash and burn merchant than your little engine that could.  I know that little and often is an effective way of keeping the place nice.  But… and I know this may shock the diligent among you, so I hope you have taken my advice and looked away… I don’t really care.

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Combatting Writer’s Bottom with Jane Wenham-Jones

100 Ways to Fight the Flab by Jane Wenham-Jones

If you’re reading this, chances are you are something of a ‘sitter’.  Either because you are a writer, or a reader, or both.

Now, while it’s completely possible to be a writer a reader and a triathlete, I suspect that most of us who are the first two are not the last.  So to at least some extent we are all at risk of ‘writer’s bottom’.

I love this term and would like to introduce you to the writer who coined it, Jane Wenham-Jones.  (Take note, she wants credit, against the day that ‘Writer’s Bottom’ becomes a recognised condition. 😉 )

I discovered Jane and her book on the blog of the lovely and helpful Catherine, Caffeinated (otherwise known as Catherine Ryan Howard and whom ).

I was immediately interested and hied me over to Amazon and got a copy and was delighted to find it was very good. Continue reading