Tuesday, 23 December 2014

33. Story Time

Hi everyone. My newspaper column adventures have ended for the time being, but I’m sure I’ll manage to share a bit of family ‘dirt’ as the occasion merits.  ;)

Our family has a double up birthday in November. My youngest decided her father’s birthday was a wonderful time to arrive and give her parents the fright of their lives. She wasn’t due to arrive until the eighteenth of January, but what’s nine weeks in the scheme of things when you’re keen to be part of the world and determined to ensure no one ever remembers your father’s birthday as anything but an afterthought.

This year was the first time she realised Daddy wasn’t the same age as her and delighted in telling everyone exactly how old he is. She attempted to share my age as well, but trust me; I put a quick stop to that.

While choosing presents is never an issue, the matter of finding a cake that appeals to both father and daughter has been interesting. Try as we might, we can’t eat two cakes, so last year they had a half butterfly, half Batman cake. Yes, it defies explanation. This year, I found something they both love - Minecraft. The professionals needn’t be concerned about my cake decorating skills, but the birthday boy and girl loved it, and that’s all that matters.

(Don’t worry; I won’t subject you to the ‘wonderful’ cake picture again.)

As we hurtle toward Christmas and 2015, (where did 2014 go?) I indulged in my reading habit. First, ‘Grievous Harm’ by Ms Sandy Curtis.

This lovely lady barely reaches my shoulder, has the smile of an angel and looks like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. She also writes romantic suspense at a level that will scare the heck out of you and ensure you’re reading with every single light on – in daylight. There were several moments where I had to forcibly look away and remind myself I was reading a work of fiction. The most gripping thought though was how much fact weaved itself into the story. Some of the themes depicted in this story truly exist. Ms Curtis put her main characters through the ringer, yet I was the one who felt rung out after the intense pace her story had set.

Grievous Harm begins in the streets of Sydney and travels through to the Australian Outback in Queensland. American, Kate McLaren flies to Australia searching for her missing niece, unaware the child is being groomed by a sinister cult for terrifying purposes. Agent John Corey, whist working on what he believed was an unrelated case, soon learns the truth when he joins forces with Kate. Discovering the long reach of the cult is just the beginning, because not only are there other children in danger, they’re fast running out of people they can trust.

Personally, I love the nod the author gave to our Australian farmers doing it tough, which they are, and I hope that awareness shines through for other readers and in some way makes a difference to our famers’ plight.

You can find more about Ms Curtis here.

Next, ‘The Blood She Betrayed’ by Cheryse Durrant.

I must applaud Ms Durrant for her ability to keep her world building intact and her characters believable. When mixing the known world with the supernatural and even alien ones, if a character deviates from the attributes the author created, it immediately throws the reader out of the story.

A few years ago, I started reading a story of a human who crossed into an alien world. The writer described their ceremonies, culture and the plant and animal life to perfection. And then she had her female protagonist fight with another character and retreat to her room where she proceeded to eat a packet of chips (crisps). If the author had written something to the effect of ‘thin slices of an unknown vegetable that crunched between her teeth with the familiarity of the potato chips she knew on earth’, I would still be encroached in the alien world she so carefully and painstakingly built. Instead, I was back in the real world, disappointed and feeling somewhat mislead. Happily, The Blood She Betrayed did no such thing. :)

This is the first book in a Young Ault series ‘Heart Hunters’. Shahkara (Shah) is a seventeen-year-old half human / half Taloner sent from her world into ours to recover an ancient Elnara death lantern to free her people from the deadly Taloners. These humanlike beings with hidden talons, which protrude from their knuckles and eat human hearts to ensure their incredible strength and vitality, threaten to destroy her world. Once she finds it, she must return to her world all too aware that as a half Taloner herself, she too, will die. What she didn’t count on was meeting Max McCalden, a human boy, also seventeen, who has secrets unknown to them both. Worse, the beat of his heart calls to her Taloner instincts in a way she’s never experienced.

This story had more plot twists than a cut snake. Just when you think the duo is out of danger, they’re plunged into the next catastrophe and you begin to wonder if they’re going to make it through the first few chapters, let alone the whole novel – and this is book one... What could possibly happen next? :)

This is Ms Durrant’s website.

It’s become the norm for me to share a story at the end of the year so this is my first place story from my in-house writers’ group competition. It’s in our anthology ‘Too Long for Twitter’. Instead of a romantic story, this time I’m sharing an attempt at suspense. Hope you enjoy it. :)


It was a week before they found her. Covered in filth and grime, there was no doubt the tiny body had long since parted her mortal coil. The long grasses curled around her ankles and wrists as tender hands reached to pull her from the possessive grasp of the greenery.
An unbridled screech of the child’s name let them know the mother was there. Two neat rows formed as the searchers parted to make way for her. They did not raise their faces as she passed. With the child in his arms, the sergeant turned to face her. His tears slid down his dusty cheeks and splashed onto the child’s muddied features. He blinked and readied himself for the moment the woman fell upon them.
Overcome with grief and despair, he was used to that automatic reaction when their legs collapsed beneath them and their sanity followed. There was a serial killer loose in their district and the mongrel had claimed his fourth victim. The Sergeant gave no thought to the gloved finger he trailed down the girl’s cheek to brush away a strand of hair. He thought of the son waiting for him at home. He’d hug him tight upon his return.
The woman was within reach now; her mouth open, eyes wide, and he braced himself for the scream that hadn’t yet reached her lips. When the silence lingered he looked at her. Her face was alive with wonderment. A streak of hope had caressed her tired features as her gaze locked on her child. He looked down too and only the sound of his voice as he swore in disbelief broke the stillness. The child had opened her eyes.
Lucy couldn’t remember what had happened, not that she tried. Through errant flashes of memory, she knew something terrible occurred. She recalled the tallest man she’d ever seen had held her hand and promised to take her for a walk along the river. She was only six. She hadn’t seen the harm in going with the nice man even if her mummy had said not to talk to strangers. He had given her chocolate and although she couldn’t remember his face, at first he’d had the nicest smile even if his teeth looked funny.
Through overheard conversations, she knew she hadn’t been ‘interfered with’, whatever that meant. She gathered by the adults’ reactions that it was a good thing. They told her the bad man who took her had gone away and she believed them.
The dreams started when she was nine. The man was there but he did not have any chocolate. He made her walk faster, but try as she might, her little legs couldn’t keep up.
‘Hurry up,’ he said. ‘We have to get to the river.’
And when she couldn’t hurry, he became angry and carried her. His grip was too tight. He smelled funny and the nice smile had gone. Now his lips peeled back to reveal jagged, yellow teeth that he bared at her the way Bluey, their cattle dog, did when anyone came near his food.
She wiggled and squirmed but she couldn’t break free. She cried and said she wanted her mother, that she wanted to go home, but the man wouldn’t listen. He just held tighter and kept walking.
The sun began to set and Lucy cried harder. A flash of silver caught the last of its rays and then bit into the tender skin of her throat as he told her to shut up. Her neck started to sting and something warm slid onto the neckline of her t-shirt. Paralysed with fear, she quietened but she couldn’t halt the tremble of her body.
They reached a private spot surrounded by trees. Like cloying perfume, the scent of eucalyptus hung in the air. Mosquitoes buzzed and tormented the flesh that her t-shirt and shorts could not cover. The sound of water splashing told her they were near the river. He put her down on a damp patch of ground and told her to be quiet. He disappeared into the darkness but Lucy didn’t move. There was no moon to guide her and even if it had, she had no idea where she was.
She curled up on the grass with one tiny hand over her throat, which burned more than all the mosquito bites combined. She was tired and weak and she never heard him return.
The dreams lasted a week and then disappeared as if they’d never been. Lucy never spoke of them. She couldn’t find the words. Her parents sent her to counselling but the trauma was too much for Lucy to respond.
It took another eighteen months before she felt brave enough to sleep in her own room and she took to wearing scarves to hide the scar that marred her throat no matter what the weather.
When she was twelve, the dreams came back.
When they began at fifteen, Lucy spent the remainder of the week in a drug-induced haze of her own devising. Anything was better than to sleep and relive the nightmare again.
It wasn’t until she was almost eighteen that she realised the dreams happened on the anniversary of the week she’d disappeared. Maybe her parents had thought it best not to remind her, and maybe she’d blocked out the date, but now that she remembered, Lucy had to know more.
Why every three years? What did it mean?
At the town library, she waited until almost closing time before making her way to the computer furthermost from the door. She searched for the local newspaper, entered the date and released the breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding.
In seconds a scanned copy of the front page appeared. Lucy looked upon her six-year-old self bundled in the arms of a local police officer and the headline copied Australia-wide. The man looked familiar but she couldn’t place him. She stared at the picture a moment longer then began to read the article.
It was surreal to learn they’d found her at Murdering Lagoon. It was obvious the journalists and news reporters had over-glorified that particular detail yet they’d named her attacker after the Suttor River, which fed the lagoon. She didn’t read the comments on the extent of her injuries. She had her scars as permanent reminders.
On a hunch, she adjusted the date an additional three years and her insides turned to ice as the article appeared. Three years to the day, two more children had disappeared. And like Lucy, they’d found both boys a week later. Neither survived their ordeal. Her hand shifted to rest just below her heart.
If the knife had struck a centimetre deeper, she wouldn’t be sitting here now.
She adjusted the date and again the article was chillingly similar. This time the victims were girls. Their story was the same. Her hands hovered over the keyboard, the compulsion to check too much to ignore. She typed the date three years before her abduction and the article confirmed what she already knew.
To Lucy that meant just one thing. Not only was the man still killing, but also in a fortnight’s time, he’d be claiming his next victims.
As she collected her printouts, switched off the computer and made her way to her car, Lucy wondered if it was somehow her fault that the killer had evaded capture. She couldn’t remember his face. She couldn’t identify him.
She opened her car door, threw her bag and the printouts inside and then screamed blue murder when someone tapped her on the shoulder.
‘Jeez, calm down. I’m sorry. I thought you heard me.’
Lucy stared at him, her breathing erratic. Memory penetrated the fog of fear in which she’d surrounded herself. Now she knew why the police officer in the newspaper article looked so familiar. She’d gone to the same school as his son.
‘You startled me,’ she managed.
Jake smiled. ‘Yeah, I got that.’
His grin faded as she scowled at him. He caught sight of the printouts fanned across the front passenger seat.
‘What are you doing with those? Did you remember something Lucy? You know my dad found you,’ he persisted when Lucy pressed her lips together and stared down at her shoes.
Lucy moved her head in affirmation but she would not meet his eyes.
‘He’d help you know, if you asked.’
Lucy reared back and shook her head.
‘Then let me help, Lucy, because if you read the article about the murderer before they decided he was a serial killer, you’d know the first victim was my big brother and if there’s a chance I could find his murderer, I’d take it. Wouldn’t you? Don’t you want to make him pay for what he did?’
His sudden anger should have frightened her but Lucy felt a strange calmness. Decision made, she followed him back to his place. No one was home, but Lucy scarcely looked around. Jake guided her to his room and she sat on the chair he provided while he started his computer. She watched as he pulled out a torn, dog-eared manila file from an envelope he’d stuck to the underside of one of the drawers of his desk.
‘Policeman’s son,’ he said in answer to the look she gave him. ‘I copied these from Dad’s files. You realise they kept things from you?’
‘Your parents, the police, your psychiatrist ... anyone involved with the case. They thought if you didn’t know the killer was at large then you wouldn’t feel pressured to remember what he looked like. Things didn’t turn out the way they hoped and after a while your parents refused to let them near you.’
‘I don’t remember any of that. How do you know so much about it?’
‘I made it my business to know and, well, you’re probably going to think I’m crazy ...’
Lucy laughed, the joyous sound surprising them.
‘When I was nine I had this weird dream. The killer took my brother by mistake. He really wanted me. Every night for a week, I dreamed the same thing and then nothing. Dad was under enough pressure so I didn’t see the point in telling him. Not that it mattered; I could never get a good look at his face. The same thing happened when I turned twelve and again at fifteen.’
Jake’s speech hastened as he took in Lucy’s look of disbelief.
‘I’d see a knife slash the air, then a hint of misshapen teeth and I swear I could smell peppermint. You know, as if he’d swallowed a tube full of toothpaste. Although with his teeth he’d be fighting a losing battle.’
Lucy’s eyes flashed. Peppermint! That’s how he smelled. She remembered now.
‘Tell me more.’
‘Well he was tall and he didn’t look much older than we are now. Thin, but strong. He’d stare at me through my bedroom window twisting the knife in his hands.’
‘This window?’ she asked as she crossed the room and brushed aside the curtain floating idly in the gentle breeze.
‘Yeah. After the second lot of dreams, I put a mark against the wall where he stood. He was level with that.’
‘I had dreams too,’ she said suddenly, startling him. ‘Every three years on the anniversary of the week I disappeared I’d relive what happened. His face is always unclear but I remember his awful teeth.’
Her hand went to her throat.
‘And the knife. I remember he liked the way it slid across my skin.’
‘I’m so sorry, Lucy.’
‘Do you have a tape measure?’ she asked. ‘If you go outside and hold the tape level with the mark, we’d know his height.’
Jake felt his jaw clench as he forced his mouth to close. Her change in demeanour confused him. Not knowing what else to do, he shrugged, stooped to retrieve the jacket hanging off the back of his chair and put it on.
‘There’s a measuring tape in Dad’s shed. I’ll grab it and head outside. What’s wrong?’ he asked as she stiffened, her hand trembling as she gestured at him.
‘Your jacket! He was wearing one just like it!’
‘Are you sure?’
Lucy nodded.
‘This was my Dad’s when he was a recruit. You think this creep’s a cop?’
‘Maybe. I don’t know. I just remember the jacket had a strange bit of material on the shoulder.’
‘Material? You mean the epaulette?’
When she nodded again he said, ‘We need to tell Dad. Don’t argue, Lucy. We’re doing this.’
He was at the window with the measuring tape and asking for the number before Lucy could think of a reason why she shouldn’t just leave and pretend she’d never been there. She moved like an automaton through the house when he told her to grab her things and meet him at the front door.
When she passed the bookshelf, she glanced at the photos arranged on top. It wasn’t until she reached the last two pictures that she paid them any attention.
Fear ramped her heartbeat to a harrowing pace. Viscous fluid swelled in her throat, constricting her breathing. She clawed at her scarf as if it burned and let her fingers alight upon the scar she abhorred. She couldn’t avert her gaze no matter how her thoughts insisted she comply.
One photo was of two men in similar uniform; the other was the taller man only. Lucy recognised Jake’s father as the shorter man smiling proudly in profile. One hand pointed to the double-striped insignia on his shoulder while the other gestured toward his companion’s, which was plain. Unlike Jake’s father, the younger man’s face was emotionless. Her eyes moved without coercion to the second photo. The serious look had gone in this one. Now he smirked at her with that same chilling smile her abductor had given her before it dissolved into that horrific cavern of broken and rotted teeth.
‘Lucy? Is everything okay?’
‘Who ... who is that?’
‘Some juvie Dad took pity on. Dad got him into the recruiting program. It was a pretty big deal at the time. I can’t remember his ... Wait! You recognise him, don’t you? Is he ...?’
As he took in her expression, Jake stepped closer and wrapped his arms around her. Surprised by the comforting gesture, she hugged him back. When he whispered that everything was going to be okay, she couldn’t stop the tears from falling.
Jake was right. They had to tell his dad. She could identify her abductor now. They’d stop him before he hurt anyone else and he wouldn’t haunt her dreams. She looked at the scarf in her hand and smiled as she let it fall. The Suttor River Slasher couldn’t hide anymore and neither would she.

*The End*

Murdering Lagoon along the Suttor River exists. It is located in Central Queensland, the river originating from the Leichhardt Range northwest of Glenden. I wanted a Queensland setting for my story and an interesting name for my killer. In Suttor River, I found both. The fact that it also had a place called Murdering Lagoon made the connection real and gave life to my story. :)

However you celebrate the season and the coming new year, I hope it’s filled with love, laughter and time with those special people you hold dear. :)

See you in 2015. :)

Monday, 24 November 2014

32. Networking

The newspaper column went astray this month, but lucky for you, you get to read the latest embarrassing family episode. :)

For those who don’t know, Bunnings Warehouse is Australia's largest household hardware chain with stores in Australia and New Zealand.

We ventured to Bunnings last weekend where we made a sizable donation acquiring plants, fertiliser and enough scented woodchips to clear the nostrils of a thousand sinus sufferers. We’re not natural green thumbs, but we were eager to beautify our little patch of dirt. That is, until hubby asked our teen to retrieve the gardening tools.

I’ve been under the misconception Aussie kids emerge from the womb knowing to check for creepy crawlies before picking anything up. By the bloodcurdling scream and the sound of metal bouncing off the wall and onto the tiles, it appeared our teen had forgotten that all-important rule.

With visions of snakebites, scorpion stings and walls covered in blood, we rushed inside to discover she’d seen a huntsman on the shovel and shot put the defenceless implement down the hall squashing the spider in the process. Once our heartbeats returned to normal, our teen wasn’t so keen to continue gardening. Neither was her little sister - once she’d stopped laughing.

Forty minutes later, hubby had a sore back from digging and removing last year’s attempt, and I was ready for a few of those ‘extra special’ drinks. Oh well, there’s always next weekend.

I should add, unlike the spiders, no plants were harmed in the making of this garden. They are now growing happily in their new beds. We may not have planted some of them according to their little tags, but so far, they’re all thriving. We’re taking that as a win.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend a couple of workshops over the past few weeks and met some wonderful people who love the process of writing as much as I do. They also have publishing experience and an awareness of the industry I am yet to achieve. Fortunately, they are also very willing to share in this knowledge. The other wonderful thing about attending these events is establishing connections with these amazing people who’ve achieved the dreams to which I aspire.

Isobelle Carmody is a fantasy writer who has written fantasy, science fiction, children’s literature and Young Adult novels / works. She has five series, eight stand-alone novels and over twenty short stories / collections. She has been writing her Obernewtyn Chronicles series since the tender age of fourteen. She has a background in journalism, but now writes fulltime when not travelling to conduct workshops. And it was a fantastic workshop.

Because she’s a young adult writer, most of the attendees were teens, but a few ‘oldies’ were filling the seats too. Not that it mattered because Ms Carmody has that wonderful ability to speak to all ages and we were engrossed in everything she had to say. She shared pearls of wisdom on words. They should be rhythmical, musical and pleasant to the ear and of course, engage all the senses. She talked about character journeys – are they physical, emotional, and spiritual or a combination of the three. Do they have relatable emotions? And just when the character thinks that he/she knows what’s going on, it’s the writer’s job to change those expectations. Placing a spanner in the works of your poor, tortured characters is one of the things a writer loves best.

Ms Carmody also mentioned things she believes a writer should be observant, attentive, to ask questions and really listen to the answers, be aware of their surroundings, be interested in the world and other people, ask the same questions to people of different ages – their responses will always be different based on their experiences. I need to improve on some of those. :/ We also did some character exercises. She gave us each a photo and asked us to tell her about the person in the picture. There were some very interesting interpretations and of course, because there were different age groups in the workshop, their stories reflected this. I swear we were only there for half an hour and not the two-hour workshop scheduled. If you have a chance to attend one of Ms Carmody’s workshops, you certainly won’t regret it.

You can find more on Ms Carmody here - http://www.isobellecarmody.net/

At the beginning of the month, I also attended a Central Coast Queensland author’s chat at my local library conducted by Bundaberg writers, Ms Sandy Curtis and Ms Cheryse Durrant. Also attending were Benaraby writer, Sue Ellen Pashley, Rockhampton writer, Shelley Nolan and Bundaberg writer / illustrator, Jackeline Read. I met the lovey Ms Curtis a couple of years ago at my first Bundaberg Writefest. (And if you’re interested in writing, then this festival is definitely worth attending.) I didn’t think she’d remember me, but to my delight, she did. Of course, I had a fan girl moment, and I don’t think I stopped smiling for the rest of the session (or the day, for that matter.) I was also thrilled to meet the other ladies, most of who belong to Darkside Downunder (an online paranormal writers group of which I am also a member). How wonderful to enjoy a face-to-face conversation rather than an email or webpage one.

Ms Curtis and Ms Durrant talked about their novels, the process of publishing and writing in general. It was a relaxed, informal conversation and once again, time seemed to pass far too quickly. I purchased Ms Curtis’ latest release – Grievous Harm and Ms Durrant’s debut novel - The Blood She Betrayed (the first in a series) so look out for review time next month. :)

Now for a few links as not all the writers have blog sites yet –

And for those who are interested in the writers’ festival –

Back to work now. It’s been a busy month. Two members of my family share a birthday this month and deciding on a cake to suit them both is always interesting. Last year’s effort was a batman / butterfly combo (see blog #20). This year’s effort was more practical as well as a bonus given they both enjoy Minecraft. If you compare cake photos, you can tell my skill level hasn’t changed, but at least I found something that suits both genders (and the age gap.)

I also spent a wonderful weekend away helping celebrate the engagement of a dear friend’s daughter and catching up with wonderful people I’ve not seen in far too long, I have some major writing to pursue otherwise my November writing goal is going to fall a tad short. I do have a new column to write, writing group homework to finish and since I played secretary at this month’s writing group meeting, I need to type that too. You see why I don’t have much time for housework, right. ;) 

Happy reading :)

Sunday, 26 October 2014

31. Rejections

First, it’s the usual ‘embarrass the family’ session. Fortunately, they are good sports and have great senses of humour, not to mention enough embarrassing stories about me should I ever overstep the mark.

Ah Spring! It’s a time of rebirth, renewal and decluttering. Okay, maybe I adlibbed the last one but it’s a task that’s long overdue in my household.

Over the school holidays, we’ve had our share of fun. Picnics in the park, walks on the beach, games and movies nights and even a stint at the cinema because some things are just better on the big screen. So when it came time to relocate a few items the kids no longer required, I didn’t think it was too much to ask for help.

The youngest couldn’t possibly give away toys she hadn’t played with in months, and in all likelihood forgotten. Clothing favourites that didn’t fit were in a similar predicament. However, they had no problem parting with the clothes they didn’t like regardless of how good they looked. But hey, what would the mother of a teenager know about fashion?

Fortunately, generosity (and a hint of persuasion) shone through. They helped me with my contribution, and toys and clothes made it to the donation box. Best of all, I can see their bedroom floors again. Now if we could just convince their father to do the same.

By the title I’m sure you’ve realised I have a ‘low’ moment to share this month, but I’m happy to say it’s not all bad news. A few months ago, I sent one of my babies out into the world – a novella I’m passionate about and would love to have made my first ‘success’ story. With much trepidation, and a cider or three, I pressed the ‘enter’ key and sent a synopsis and my first three chapters to one of my ‘ideal’ publishers.

A few weeks after that submission, everyone within a fifty-kilometre radius may have thought some experimental device had broken the sound barrier. Of course, it was just me screaming in delight because the editor asked to see the full manuscript. I’ll apologise now in case those of a more delicate nature still having a ringing sound in their ears. The reason for my relation at this early stage – not many first time submissions receive a request for the complete story. There are exceptions, but one is more likely to receive a polite rejection or receive no reply at all. So when I saw the email (and reread it several times) I released the squeal that threatened to shatter the windows in my house and probably most of my neighbours’ windows too. I’m a trifle concerned no one checked to see if a murder was in progress or if I’d won the lotto (lottery) but I’m sure that my neighbours are used to strange noises coming from this house. After all, they have heard me sing. Anyway, if that’s my reaction for a complete manuscript request, I hate to think what I’ll be like the day I actually receive ‘THE CALL’.

That’s right. It wasn’t meant to be this time. My story wasn’t strong enough to carry me through and while I’m disappointed, I’m by no means defeated. And that’s because along with my rejection email, I received some fabulous feedback (and there’s not too many publishers/editors who do that either.) She also offered to read my next submission as, although this particular story didn’t shine as brightly as I’d hoped, she could see that I had promise and she was interested in what else I had to offer – not too bad at all given the scope of things. :)

To soothe my dented ego, I lost myself in another wonderful story – Jenny Schwartz’s latest release – Kiss It Better. This is another of Ms Schwartz’s ‘Jardin Bay’ series and I’m convinced she likes to taunt me with the fact this is a fictional location because every time I read one of these stories, Jardin Bay is the one place I want to be.

The blurb - All Cassie Freedom wants to do is save the world, and she could, if only she were able to. But her dream of nursing in Africa is shattered, and she returns home to Jardin Bay, where familiarity, security, and a sense of her own failure threaten to drown her.

Dr. Theo Morrigan knows a thing or two about responsibility, leaving his own medical practice to take over a family business. He knows his mind, his future, and how he wants to live his life – until an old secret resurfaces and rocks his whole world.

Suddenly, the man who needed no one needs a broken-hearted nurse, and a nurse who thinks she’s too weak will find her own strength.

This isn’t a medical story. It’s about rebuilding one’s life after receiving devastating news and discovering life isn’t always what one thinks it is. And that’s something to which we can all relate. As the story progresses, the characters learn their strengths and weaknesses, finding balance in their relationship through a series of damning events and long held secrets suddenly revealed. When life knocked Cassie sideways and returned to her family home in Jardin Bay, Theo was there for her, and when he needed someone to help him cope with a desperate business dealing in Melbourne, Cassie had blossomed in strength and vitality to provide the same support for him. Both characters had flawed family members threatening their relationship and the way they saw themselves and this story overcame those obstacles brilliantly.

I love stories where the relationships are equal and women are capable of standing up for themselves and this story was no exception – which is another reason I love Ms Schwartz’s stories so much – that and did I mention I want to live in Jardin Bay?

And now, as ‘they’ say, it’s back to the drawing board. I have a story to fix, and since I can’t grow a moustache for Movember, I’ll be joining the national writing month challenge instead.

Until next time... :)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

30. A Dent in the Reading Pile

Once again, on behalf of the newspaper column, I’m sharing the antics of my children and I think it’s only fair considering the many times they’ve embarrassed me. I have to have my snippet of revenge before the next developmental stage begins and I’m all over the ignoring my mother’s sound advice of ‘I told you so’ and ‘they’re just like you at that age’.

It’s book fair time at school, which means many wonderful books waiting to be discovered. However, to celebrate the occasion, creating an acceptable costume for my youngest to wear is a little more daunting.

If I were one of those talented parents who could sew or possessed the creative gene to throw something together that looked fabulous, this wouldn’t be a problem. Alas, my tailoring skills are limited to sewing buttons. I can brag though that once sewn, those buttons don’t come off again – ever.

My next problem was what my little miss might choose to wear considering her varying interests and her inclination to personalise her outfits. Visions of teenage mutant ninja turtle princesses and computer game-inspired characters filled my head. To my surprise, she chose to be one of those regular fairy garden princesses. (Her words, not mine.)

Fortunately, we have some ready-made costumes in the dress-up box. With a tweak here and there, we’ll come up with something. Whatever costume she chooses, it will need a button or two so I can say I had a hand in the creative process. The teacher will have scissors in case of any wardrobe malfunctions, right?

Just so you know, the youngest went as a flower from Alice in Wonderland’s garden and I didn’t have to cut her out of her costume when she came home. :)

Because the pile of books on my bedside table has been breeding again, here are my thoughts on J L Addicoat’s debut novel – Spirit of Love.

Widowed Julia comes to a 17th century manor with the intention of restoring the lodgings to their former glory, as had been her husband’s dream before he died. Although she’s sure she spied someone from the corner of her eye upon entering the house, she thinks she’s alone until voices sound behind her. She then meets an older couple who have been servants of the household since their youth. Before retiring for the night, Julia discovers a diary belonging to the wife of the man who built the manor. In its pages, she learns the woman placed a curse upon the manor and all its inhabitants so that no one who dies there can leave. Their spirits are bound to the manor along with the ghost of the evil husband who tortured his young wife to death. That night, Julia’s husband, Richard, comes to her in a dream and confirms the curse begging Julia never to leave the manor at night for that is when the old Lord is at his strongest. Despite this warning, Julia finds herself falling in love with the manor, the older couple who seem very happy to help her and especially the young man who has come to restore the gardens to their former glory. But all is not as it seems.

This tale begins in such a gentle manner, but surprises are in store and if you like a bit of sauciness in your stories then you will not be disappointed. When reading this story, I felt as though I was exploring a regal old building too. Secret passages, hidden rooms, nothing was omitted from the story. The story had a timeless quality about it. The imagery was beautiful as was the ending. :) A most enjoyable read.

For contrast, I read my first Patricia Cornwell novel. Late last year, as an experiment, I wrote a suspense novella, but something was missing and I definitely found it lacking. After reading Ms Cornwell’s novel, I can see why. :/

‘Body of Evidence’ centres on medical examiner Kay Scarpetta and is told in fist person viewpoint from this character, yet cleverly fills in the information the medical examiner needed through letters written previously by the deceased and from various characters Kay meets on her way to discovering the identity of the murderer. Admittedly, I thought I’d figured out said murderer within the first fifty pages. As it turns out, while I was correct to be suspicious of that particular character, he wasn’t the culprit. What a tangled plot Ms Cornwell weaved. So many characters to follow, so many misleading thoughts and yet they came together in the end so seamlessly I wondered why I ignored my instincts when the clues began to focus in another direction. Let’s just say that I will never make a great detective (but nobody tell my kids that.)

The character who fascinated me most, however, was not the strong female lead, the seen-it-all-before detective nor the murderer. This particular character wasn’t a mainstay in the story but was definitely a pivotal one (though I only worked out how pivotal when I’d finished reading.) Imagine a character who ‘sees’ the emotions people try to hide as vivid colours. Angry, aggressive people appear hazed in varying shades of red, calmer or depressed people appear as cool blues regardless of whether they are displaying those emotions. This character ventured into the field of aura reading and believed in their ability to see the future and absorb the emotions of others. To a paranormal writer, this character was gold. I wanted to know more about that person – did they believe what they were saying? Did they have such abilities or was it the fragments of a tortured mind? Unfortunately, said character wasn’t sticking around to sate my curiosity and yet he’s the one character I can’t get out of my head.

Now that there’s a slight drop in the reading pile’s height, it’s back to the writing. Perhaps that should be rewriting because it seems I haven’t so much as edited as obliterated the original novel. I’ll have to discipline myself now and stay focused on those words as a few favourite television shows are returning, and there are some making their debuts that have garnered my interest. Oh well, sleep (like housework) is overrated anyway. :)

Happy Reading :)

Sunday, 24 August 2014

29. Time for a Change

It’s been just over two years since I began blogging at the suggestion of a wonderful author who was kind enough to share her experience, time and advice. (And she’s just as generous now.) To celebrate this little anniversary I’ve updated my blog picture. Many thanks to Helen of HelzKat Designs for my previous design and now I have to thank my hubby for the new creation. (I knew I kept him around for a reason.) ;) What do you think? :)

Last month’s newspaper column was quite the success. Many a comment has made its way back to me regarding this phenomenon. I’m sure it’s because the subject resonates with many parents and not because it’s yet another sign of my misspent childhood.

My kids are impervious to the cold weather, and from what I’ve seen, they’re not the only ones. While I’m shivering my way to my youngest’s classroom, kids sans jumpers, long pants and even socks surround us.

I admit that at their age I never felt the cold either. I was too busy running around, getting into mischief, and much to my mother’s disgust, stripping off my warm clothes because I was too hot and putting on a completely different outfit when I’d cooled down again. According to her, I changed outfits at least five times a day. Now that I’m the one doing the washing and ironing, I get how annoying that must have been.

It’s not only the cold encouraging this epidemic of bare limbs and questionable sanity in winter. In my oldest child’s case, putting warmth before how cool one looks (pun intended) just isn’t on. It seems they’d rather freeze than appear in public wearing the wrong outfit, whatever that might be. Now that I think of it, I believed that as a teen too. I guess this ‘not feeling the cold’ business isn’t global warming or being too busy to notice. Apparently, it’s hereditary!

My hometown played host to a group of extremely talented authors and artists in our biennial Curtis Coast Literary Carnivale last month. Unfortunately, I could only attend one of the workshops on offer but what a fantastic workshop it was. :)

Mr James Roy is a Young Adult and Children’s author. He also has a cheeky, satirical sense of humour interspersed with a wealth of knowledge, all of which he generously shared. While I’m inclined to write New Adult stories, (college-aged characters) this workshop discussing the obstacles faced by teens and their respective ‘coming of age’ stories certainly provided a solid platform for my endeavours.

As Mr Roy and many of us can attest, the teenage years are some of our hardest. Everything is new. Our bodies change. (Never when we want them to and definitely not how we want them to.) We experience intense emotions. (Having four seasons in one day weatherwise is nothing on how quickly a teenager’s mood can change.) We wrestle with our naivety, (which we admit to only on pain of death and ultimate humiliation.) And above all, we struggle to find out who we are and understand where we belong. (Something many adults, myself included, are still striving to achieve.) I would certainly never volunteer to relive my teens unless there was something very substantial on offer in order to endure the horror. And when we come out the other side, then we have to learn how to be adults. That’s not all it’s cracked up to be either.

Mr Roy took us through various exercises on character building. We have to know our characters completely – who they are, what they want, what they need, their flaws, their strengths, their hopes and dreams – anything that makes us understand why and how they act and react to the situations we as authors impose upon them. Regardless of the age your character is, or their gender for that matter, you must be able to step inside your character’s head, feel what they feel and react the way they would react. Mr Roy proved he was adept at this skill simply by reading one of his short stories to the group from his book – ‘Town’. (Review to follow.) As he read, his voice, his stance and even his mannerisms changed. I’m not sure he was aware of this, but I found it fascinating. He became each character. The more he read, the more I wanted him to continue. And because of the way he brought his story to life, I had to buy that book. :)

I think this was the most valuable lesson I learned in his workshop. When I am reading my dialogue aloud, I’m not aware of any changes of character within myself, but by making a conscious effort to do so, I know this will improve my writing and breathe life into my stories. I will also need to ensure I practice that dialogue within the confines of my home or at least to a very selective audience (the cat wants no part of this) and not as I’m out walking or waiting to pick up the kids from school. Can you imagine the looks I’d get whilst sitting in the car having animated conversations with myself? Hmm, it may be too late for the last one.

And now the review - ‘Town’ is a collection of thirteen linked short stories regarding the teens of a fictional Australian town for which Mr Roy won several awards. These stories will take you through countless emotions, even the ones you buried deep within you with the vow never to let them surface again. One story involved the start of the school year, something a few of us looked forward to, while embracing the idea of meeting someone new with interesting results. Adults are the enemy and even doing the right thing can land you into trouble without knowing why. The stories explore love, hate, despair, tragedy, cunning, confusion, acceptance, confidence, accountability, responsibility and the kind of decision-making that could alter their lives forever. And believe me, they do.

One story in particular that resonated with me was about a teen on the verge of womanhood, who accepts a date with an older boy. Instead of going to a party as he stated, he takes her out to a secluded area to meet with a few of his mates. She’s the only girl there and the moment I realised where he was taking her, the adult (or perhaps the mum in me) told her she was making a huge mistake. She needed to tell him to take her home. She should have made him stop the car. Then she could have run back to town, to safety. Of course, the character didn’t listen to me. She realised too late the danger her decision beheld. The scary part is, in my naivety at the same age, how easily I might have made the same choice the character did. What’s scarier is the knowledge my kids will soon face those same choices. Hopefully they won’t be as naive as I was, which is why that particular story will be the first one my oldest child reads.

You can find out more about Mr Roy here.

I’ve another novel to add to my reading list so here’s a shout out to a lovely lady on her debut novel ‘Spirit of Love’ by J L Addicoat. And here’s the blurb:

Old buildings have an eerie haunting feeling, and the 17th Century Manor house in the Cornish countryside Julia intends to restore, is no exception. Originally her dead husband’s dream, she feels it’s up to her to complete it in his memory. When she arrives, she realizes it’ll take more than a quick clean to put the dilapidated old Manor to rights.

While exploring the house, she feels as someone, or something, is watching her. Darting shadows and movements, seen from the corner of her eyes, seem to confirm sinister happenings at the Manor in the past. The discovery of an old diary hidden in a chest of drawers and the story it tells, lead Julia in a different direction than she originally thought she would be taking”. 

You can find out more about Ms Addicoat here.

Speaking of reviews, I’ve mentioned previously that I placed in Romance Writers of Australia Little Gems ‘Moonstone’ Anthology and here is my very first review. :) It may be short and sweet but it certainly gave me a reason to smile.

Now to address the over-achieving - my notes are coming along for the new novella. The time line and chapter breakdown are complete so I know where this story is going and how it will end. There are no guarantees though what could happen on the way there. Sometimes these characters like to make ... suggestions. I also conducted my first research interview, which was a success thanks to the very generous nature of the interviewees who answered my questions and then raised a few more points to help round out one of my characters. :) And I’ve started on the novel rewrite – but let’s just say I’m tearing it to shreds rather than reconstructing at this stage. On the plus side, I’m far too busy for housework. ;)

Happy reading everyone. :)