Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The Caravan has Arrived

Tonight at Gorman House, the Emerging Writers Festival Canberra Caravan took a virtual tour through Cambodia, China, Dubai, the United States and Mongolia as writers shared their stories and poems. Across the landscape of relationships, adventure tourism, 'anti-semantism', escape routes and equine entrails, the panel touched down before heading to Sydney tomorrow. And not a guide book in sight !
Canberra Caravan Panel

Saturday, 25 October 2014


This past month has been a rollercoaster of emotions. The excitement and intensity of the three-day HARDCOPY 2014 workshop on 26-28 September was followed by a week of introspection while I tried to process all the information that we had been privy to. How on earth is it possible to juggle my writing, my social media strategy, my networking activities and my ongoing professional development while holding down a full-time job, raising a family and staying even a little bit sane? The jury is out on which ball will fall first. Assuming of course that I can get them all in the air at once.
Then I spent ten days being too afraid to check my emails.  This is not the ordinary form of technophobia but a much more visceral concern. Although quite common, there is no official definition for this but I can say with authority it has something to do with the possibility of finding a rejection letter lurking behind a benign subject line.

The un-Ken HARDCOPY workshop at Tilleys reminded me that all of us HARDCOPIERS were in the same boat (some even brought their computers...but I can’t speculate on the level of email checking that occurred). And let’s not get started on the implications of a mixed metaphor in which electrical implements could be juggled in a flotation device. It seemed at that time that the HARDCOPY Round II result was still weeks away.

So buoyed by the prospect that my current email list was in fact benign, I chanced a look and found to my amazement a missive from the ACT Writers Centre (one juggle ball takes a tentative throw and catch). I had to read it three times to double check that I really understood what it said. My manuscript had been selected!  This was followed by a feeling of euphoria (all balls thrown wildly into the air) which was immediately tempered by the Facebook posts of others who had not made it through (balls on the ground).

This morning I woke up and realised I’ve been holding my breath all week, waiting for the official results to be posted on the ACT Writers website.  Using a sporting analogy, I’ve been Keeping A Lid On It.  Strangely, the emotional rollercoaster came to land at the feet of my high school PE teacher, whose astute observation that I had no ball sense might even have nudged me closer to my writing future.  So thanks Mrs Barnes. And by the way, I think my ball sense is improving. 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Don’t Forget the Barcode

Scenario goes like this: enter shopper with a list in hand and a worried expression. The supermarket shelves are lined with all kinds of products. It’s impossible to tell one from the other. It’s impossible to tell which one is on the list.

Conversation on mobile phone goes like this: ‘Umm, darling, there are too many here. Which one did you want? Wait, I’ll take a photo.’

Scenario goes like this: shopper takes a photo and sends it to their darling. Shopper calls back. Shopper has a close look at the products, picking some up and putting them back while holding the phone to their ear. Shopper smiles. Shopper selects product.

Just like the problem faced by our shopper, publishers are often overwhelmed with the supply and variety of manuscripts. So what makes one manuscript stand out from the others? According to Michael Bollen from Wakefield Press it will be well written and presented, meet the needs of the publisher’s list, but above all it will engender a visceral response. It will make the publisher think:
‘I love this’
‘I know how to talk about it’
‘It pins me to the page.’

If you can’t pin your manuscript to the publisher’s list, don’t despair. You could always consider self publishing. In the digital age, Michael’s advice here is practical, ‘Don’t forget the barcode’ !

Thursday, 25 September 2014


(or how becoming a writer is just like walking onto the MCG )

I realised I was committed to my writing when I agreed to attend the HARDCOPY program scheduled on the same weekend as the AFL Grand Final. But as I asked myself, ‘What would Buddy do?’ the parallels between these two great events suddenly crystallised.

Buddy Franklin and the Sydney Swans checked in their luggage and travelled to Melbourne today in preparation for the big weekend. I checked I had a notebook and a pen, then worked out how to catch the bus to Ainslie. On Saturday, while Hawthorn and Sydney are getting ready for the kick-off, my writing skills will be getting a kick along with the session on digital publishing.  When Buddy is making connections with the footy, I’ll be learning about connections in the publishing industry. The fourth quarter will be ticking its way to the final siren as I try to hand-ball a serious question to the panel in the final session of the day.

So while Buddy takes a deep breath and dreams about walking onto the MCG, I’ll take a deep breath and dream about the day my manuscript becomes a novel.    

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Review: The Signature of All Things

When Alma Whittaker was born in Pennsylvania in 1800, her father ‘did not mind that the infant was not a boy, nor that it was not pretty’.  Thus Alma’s journey to understand herself, the form of natural things, and her place in the world began.

Defying the maxim that a woman’s place was in the home, Alma’s love of botany saw her story intertwined with that of Joseph Banks, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russell Wallace and the European age of naval and scientific exploration.

Alma was fascinated by those metaphors for human society, mosses, whose achingly slow growth she maps. She was also enthralled by orchids, drawn so exquisitely by Mr Ambrose Pike, an unexpected guest whose spiritualist approach to life changed Alma forever.  But it was the orchid’s exotic cousin, Tahitian vanilla, that posed a set of puzzles Alma followed half-way round the world.

A tribute to all scientific women, this lyrical account of Alma’s quest for knowledge is likely to start you on your own journey for the signature of all things.

The Signature of All Things
Elizabeth Gilbert, 2013
499 pp. 
ISBN 9781408841891

Saturday, 6 September 2014


I bumped into a former work colleague, Jenny, at the Canberra Theatre last night and it started me thinking about the passage of time. She mentioned she had been at my farewell from a posting in Bangkok, which was in 2005.

That final month in Bangkok saw my son turn seven and a week later have his appendix removed at the BNH. I remember the aching anxiety between the time I held the anaesthetic mask over his face prior to the operation and watching him shiver back to wakefulness in recovery less than an hour later. It seemed like an eternity.

These days Aidan doesn’t need his teddy (who happily also recovered from the appendix experience). And as a young adult he doesn’t need me in the same way he did at seven.  At the theatre last night, and nearly ten years on, he towered over me and made polite conversation.

He’s noticed the passage of time too.  “You’re not embarrassing anymore,” he said to me earlier this week. 

While I was trying to work out when I had ever been embarrassing (spinach in my teeth? forgetting someone’s name? kissing him good-bye at the school drop-off? ), he let me know we’d moved on to a new phase. Phew. Despite the sands of time shifting slightly under my feet, I felt relief. Even though I’d missed this awkward phase, it was over.  Probably best for both of us.

"You can do anything you like,” he said. The sands tilted further as I processed the fact that I was being given permission. Hmm.  He patted me gently on the arm and said, “Now you’re just amusing.”

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Review: The Mandarin Code

Canberra, Washington and Beijing are locked in a three way tussle of high stakes foreign policy and cyber-espionage. When a body is found in Lake Burley Griffin, reporter Harry Dunkley chases an information trail through the backwaters of a minority government, political assassination, powerful egos and a quest for control that spans three continents. What he uncovers is a cesspool of conspiracy that has more twists and turns than a party room ballot.

The Mandarin Code showcases familiar Canberra landmarks­­; Parliament House, the ‘Kingo’ Hotel, the Australian-American Memorial at Russell Offices. It introduces the recently constructed ASIO headquarters and Chinese Embassy as well as Nara Park, Yarramundi Reach and the hike up Mount Ainslie, well known to Canberra denizens.

For those who think Canberra is a sleepy backwater, think again. If you are a student of Australian politics, you might be surprised to discover who’s really running the show.

The Mandarin Code
Steve Lewis and Chris Uhlmann, 2014
Fourth Estate
459 pp.

ISBN 9780732294575

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

When Harold Fry receives a letter from a former work colleague, Queenie Hennessy, who is seriously ill, he knows that simply posting a reply will not be enough. Without proper equipment, or his mobile phone, Harold leaves his comfortable lounge room to set off on a six hundred mile journey. After a chance encounter in a service station, Harold believes he can keep Queenie alive as long as he keeps walking. Over eighty-seven days he walks from Kingsbridge in the south of England, to Berwick-on-Tweed near the Scottish border hoping he will arrive in time to say thank you for a kindness Queenie once did him.

As Harold makes his pilgrimage he undergoes a transformation, discovering friendship in unlikely places and a capacity he didn’t think he had to confront the memories he carries about his relationship with his wife and his son.

This book deals with the themes of families, ageing, grief, self-reliance, friendship and hope.

It will make you laugh. And it will make you cry. But most of all it will remind you about why random acts of kindness make a difference.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Rachel Joyce, 2012
Black Swan
357 pp.
ISBN 9780552778091

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Mice don't need to travel...

…because they can find great cheese nearly anywhere.

The tartan clad McMouse in St Andrews only needs to take up residence in the cheese shop on South Street to live out her days in luxury, tripping between the wheels of gorgonzola in the window, and the emmenthaler on the shelf. ‘Auch, forget the golf,’ she says, nibbling on a crumb, ‘any self-respecting traveller can smell the cheese before they even make it in the door.’

In Spain the lucky El Mouso living at Montserrat Monastery can look down on his comrades in nearby Barcelona. ‘I like to sit right here on the edge of the cliff on market day,’ says El Mouso, ‘it’s an excellent place to enjoy the local cheese or a fig or a little drop of honey while I watch the tourists take the cable car to the monastery.’

Cheese in Sarlat waiting to be tested by Madame Souris

Madame Souris in Sarlat, France, has the run of Place de la Liberte except on Wednesdays and Saturdays when she has to watch out for the vendors setting up their food stalls. ‘But I don’t mind at all,’ she says, ‘because I can taste any cheese I like while I listen to the buskers and afterwards have a nice nap in the cathedral.’
If you were a mouse, where would you find your favourite cheese ?

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Positive Affirmation

Writing is often a solitary pursuit so I have been overwhelmed recently with positive messages from friends and family about being part of HARDCOPY 2014. 

This made me think about the value of friendship, the nature of generosity, the longevity of relationships and the sheer fun of laughing out loud. 

Thanks to everyone whose friendship and generosity will make a difference today.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Finding the Muse

Finding that moment of inspiration is one of the joys of writing.

My Welsh Mountain pony, Twilight, started me on my journey as a writer. I remember how excited I was the day my Dad brought her home. I couldn't believe her softness, her smell, her beautiful dappled coat and that she was really mine to ride. So I wrote a poem about her. It was printed in the school magazine and I became a published author.
I love this photo of Twilight on our farm near Mullumbimby

Twilight isn't with us any more, but her memory and inspiration survives.

What inspired you to start writing ?