Tag Archives: Creative writing

Open your mind, crush your dreams… Reading and Writing Expo

On Saturday I was lucky enough to have a Reading and Writing Expo on my doorstep. It was in Rockingham 5 minutes up the road. It was held in the recently built Gary Holland Community Centre, (worth a lofty 11million, quite literally, the main hall ceiling was 3 storeys high).

We heard from Meg McKinlay, a great poet and children’s author, Alisa Krasnostein, editor and publisher at Twelfth Planet Press, Georgia Richter, publisher at Fremantle Press and Glenda Larke, a highly travelled West Australian author of several books, and 3 more on the way! (Yeah…  I felt pretty low after meeting these four.)

Meg opened our eyes to the small moments in life that can spark ideas, and helped unpack images creating background and meaning.

 

Some nice things she suggested to try:

– Kids have certain ideas of the world, take one and counter it. See where the idea takes you.

– Grab moments in life that seem odd or different, store them, and use them later

– Using a painting or image to practice on, write what JUST happened and whats GOING to happen

 

I found myself motivated and ready to go, until Alisa and Georgia quickly brought us back down to earth in the second session. Not their intention I’m sure, (well, actually I think it was Alisa’s intention), they outlined the speed at which they go through their pile of new manuscripts, and where exactly they chuck them after they’ve rejected them (yours, after two years of hard work!) Sometimes it could be too similar to another and bore them to death, Georgia knew if she liked it after the first chapter, Alisa knew after the first paragraph!! In some respects they were probably quite helpful, telling us what not to do when trying to get published.

A few points:

– READ the submission guidelines. Any manuscript that does not adhere to the guidelines is chucked even quicker. Each publishers guidelines might be different.

– Go into a book store and try to place your novel on the shelf, where would you put it? Helps you find your genre, and thus what publisher to approach. Don’t submit your manuscript to anyone, check who publishes what.

– If writing a children’s book, you usually only send in your text. The publisher will find the illustrator.

– Send your manuscript to writing agents as well as publishers, if you want an agent, saves time. You don’t need one though. Tell the publisher on your cover letter if you have submitted your manuscript elsewhere too. “Because its the right thing to do”. Just to give them a heads up I suppose.

 

The third session with Glenda Larke focussed on writing mechanics. Admittedly my weakest area this was a very tough and intense two hours for me. Some members of the audience found this also, some were seen to nod off. Luckily for me four hour lectures at uni had me trained in attending to long tedious blasts of technical stuff.

Ummm… where do I start with this. I won’t I’ll just tell you what she covered. Skip this section if you like.

– Imagine a semester of writing mechanics squished into 9 A4 pages. It looked at tone, the HOOK (biggy), conflict, pacing (something I’d never truly thought about but which I have had trouble with before – bewilderingly (adverb)), adverbs, point of view (shortened in her notes to PoV, took me a while to figure this out), developing characters, dialogue mistakes (this is where my attention was wearing thin – the woman across from me was asleep), underwriting, overwriting, and a whole bunch of other stuff at the end that I have to google the meaning of.

 

After a short break I returned for the Rockingham Short Fiction Awards. All winners had been previously notified so I knew I was out of the running but I thought I’d look in anyway. The three winners of the main prizes were in the Eastern States sadly, so I didn’t hear any excerpts from their winning stories! I really wanted to know what I was up against.

I enjoyed the day. It was free and local, despite many being horrified that there was no tea, coffee or lunch provided. I wasn’t bothered, I drink too much anyway, of tea and coffee that is.

I ended the day with my kids watching the sunset over Lion Island. There’s about 30 seals on the island out there!

Seals on Lion Island

Sunset over Lion Island

 

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Life Works in Mysterious Ways – A Short Story

Sandra

I didn’t notice the man in the flannelette shirt and tracksuit pants approach me. I was walking in a daze, on autopilot, his request jolted me, and I was baffled, “Sorry? Change?”

He smiled, “Yes, just a little. I need to make a phone call”. Although he looked old and slightly scruffy, his salt and pepper beard grown wild, he definitely didn’t look impoverished.

He had caught me off guard and I had no excuses, all I could manage was a quick and pitiful apology, and I continued walking. The short encounter had roused me from my comatose state of mind, a dark world of grief and of revolving negative thoughts. Speeding up my pace I looked around the busy street and then up at the grey overcast sky. There was nothing to uplift or revive my normally positive and happy self. My seemingly hopeless world darkened further. Approaching the edge of the road, my head heavy from lack of sleep, I waited for a break in the traffic before crossing.

My destination was a bustling corner café. Despite the cool weather some people sat outside wrapped in scarves and gloves. As I got closer the coffee smelt wonderful. Despite my eagerness to grab my morning hit, I paused at the door unsure whether I wanted to immerse myself amongst the dozens of people. Thinking of the crusty instant granules from the dirty kitchenette at work, the aroma won me over.

The morning rush had yet to subside and I spent an uncomfortable ten minutes in the queue. I retreated to my normal spot beside a wide pillar, my safety blanket when seated in public places. I had a view of the street in front of me, obscured only by a few tables. One woman glanced up at me idly as I sat down. Behind me was a babbling table of private school girls gushing about something ridiculous and meaningless. It would be nice to enjoy a ridiculous and meaningless conversation right now, one in which you had no cares in the world.

As I waited for my coffee and toasted sandwich I felt empty, like a shell, still while life swirled around me. Staring out to the street I thought of the man who had approached me and I was reminded of my father; he was a similar age, I imagined him, homeless and poor. These thoughts stirred some deep powerful emotions in me, my chest began to ache.    

Why didn’t I just give the man some change? A few dollars meant nothing to me.

For the next twenty five minutes I sat motionless, watching without seeing. I managed to finish half of my coffee, and left the toasted sandwich untouched. As I got up to leave I tried to remember what it was like to function normally, moving through life without a care.

 

 

*

The following day I stopped in at the same cafe for my morning coffee. My usual table was occupied so I chose one by the window. With my jacket off and comfortable in my seat I looked up and was shocked to find the man from yesterday grinning back at me from the table opposite. He wore the same flannelette shirt but looked neat and not at all out of place. With a cup of tea and a newspaper laid out in front of him, his large weathered hands gently held the sides of the pages. He dipped his tea cup at me with a slight nod and smile, and took a sip.

I managed half a smile in return. It was a stupid idiotic smile. I was completely unsure of how to react. I pretended to look out of the window trying to find something to focus on. My coffee arrived carried over by the young female waitress in skin tight black clothing. I responded only with a muffled “Thank you.” Even though I may as well have ignored the poor girl completely, she promptly left seemingly unaffected by my demeanour.

Today the smell of my coffee was strong and overwhelming, and as business people swarmed around me I felt trapped, suffocated. Opposite me I was faced with my selfish actions of the day before, the man now quietly reading his paper. The sadness was engulfing and turning me into an awful being. Despair began to unfurl like a fast rolling storm cloud.  The familiar ache crept up my nose to my eyes, the tears were coming. Taking a deep breath I pressed my palm to my forehead, forcing away the tears that threatened to fall.

 

 

Bert

Poor thing, she looks terrified. I asked countless people for change yesterday. I didn’t feel any anger towards her, I only felt sorry for her. I’ll get on with my tea, she’ll figure out I’m not fussed.  

Looking back at my newspaper, I continued to read the article on plans for the new sports complex.  I read about the latest greatest technology and facilities that would be on offer. With a loud sigh I reminded myself that I probably wouldn’t be using any of them.

Turning the page I found the jobs section, Might be something worth a look. A couple of positions stood out but after reading them in more detail they soon proved to be out of my reach; there was always a certificate I didn’t have, or I fell short of the correct years of experience. A bricklayer position was still there that I’d applied for a few weeks back. Geez they must be picky. I knew better however, I’m old, past it, they’re looking for young-uns. 

Frustrated by the job advertisements I glanced up again, searching for a distraction. The young woman opposite looked so familiar. I just could not put my finger on it. She looked incredibly troubled, her gaze lifted every now and then, only to bow her head moments later. In one laboured movement she pushed her coffee into the middle of the table and rested her head in her hands.

Wow I could really pick them aye? Should’ve left her right alone yesterday.

She looked up at me and caught my eye but swiftly moved her gaze out of the window. She acted as if she were busy focussing on something, a bus perhaps, it looked very awkward.

Better head off before the poor girl loses it. I closed the paper and headed for the door placing it on the pile near the counter. I paused. Turning back, a name on the back of the paper had caught my attention, and under it was a photo. I picked it up and had a closer look.

Glancing once again at the woman sitting alone by the window, I now knew who she was.

 

Sandra

As I stepped out of the front door the rich delicious smell of jasmine engulfed me. The sprawling bush that inhabited the entire front fence was in bloom. The sun was already warming the day and despite the events that would transpire, I felt some happiness and a little hope. For the first time since my father had passed the world was giving me positive energy.

I picked up my mother from her home that was only a short drive away, she was thoughtful, calm and collected. At the church my brother arrived with his wife and young children, they were all dressed smartly, the children looking more sweet and a precious than ever before. Friends and family slowly began to arrive, and we greeted them with as much strength as we could muster, leaning on them for support as they leant on us.

While I spoke quietly with the minister, I saw him arrive. The man from the street, the man from the café. Today he was dressed in a suit and tie. He walked up to me, and took my hand, “Hello, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Bert, a very old friend of your fathers.”

Bert was gracious and kind, and he told me all about growing up with my father. He couldn’t remember when they had met but it didn’t matter, they were brothers, forever bound by the same experience. They had been orphans, their families were only a distant memory. He spoke fondly another boy named Paul, who completed the troublesome trio. Paul could not remember ever having a family at all. The three of them had stuck together, that was until Bert had been sent away at age eighteen to work in the city. He never saw my father or Paul again.

I was moved by Bert’s story because it was all too familiar. My father had spoken about Bert often and it was at this moment that I felt my father had been close while I travelled through the dark days of the past week; two chance encounters with someone who had known him from the very start of his life. This thought filled me with such hope, my father had gone but everything would be okay, his spirit would live on.

At the end of the day I thought of a way to repay Bert’s kindness and forgiveness but also the magic of his presence. I found him sitting with my mother on the porch of our family home, he was animated, obviously reliving a funny story about his childhood. Mother was smiling, she hadn’t smiled since father was diagnosed with prostate cancer 12 months earlier.

As they both fell into quiet reflection, I took a moment to speak with him. “Bert, would you please join me for lunch next week? I would love to hear more about the trouble you two got up to as kids.”

“Sure, sure. Name the place, I’m free any day” he grinned.

 

*

 

We met before noon at a restaurant not far from the café. The meal was wonderful, and the conversation was easy and carefree. He talked about my father with such fondness.

Afterwards I asked him to join me for a stroll. We walked through the gardens of a local nursing home, the sun was beaming down and the grass was lush and green. A man in a wheelchair sat alone by a pond, he was a family friend of mine. He had dementia and had been in the nursing home for about a year. He no longer knew me very well but I thought perhaps, just perhaps…

As we approached the pond, I whispered to Bert, “I’d like you to meet a dear friend of my fathers, although I think maybe, you’ve already met.”


First short story completed after 10 years

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(We went down to the beach at sunset to enjoy a family evening out. I enjoyed it so much more knowing my little project was complete.)

 

Yes, I’ve finally done it. I’ve completed story.

This is something I have not been able to achieve since high school. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post there are various stories and novels that I’ve worked on but nothing I have actually finished.

There were several factors that helped me complete my first written story in 10 years, these may help anyone else struggling with procrastination.

  • start small – in this case I needed to only complete a short story
  • find one item (in this case it was an artwork) that you will look to for ideas and inspiration
  • have a deadline – this was easy because I was entering a local competition, and therefore had no choice but to complete the story on time

When I first thought of the idea for the short story I was very excited about it. I went to bed that night and couldn’t sleep for all the plot points swirling around the bedroom. However, on completion of the piece, I have to admit that my love for writing had definitely been tested.  After writing numerous drafts, critical reviews by friends and partner, I was extremely bored with the whole thing. I felt like I was back at university again, tweaking an essay that had driven me crazy for weeks.

I had to remind myself that readers have new eyes, and they may be just as excited about the idea as you first were. Once edited, friends who were read the story for the first time provided positive feedback. That’s when I knew I was close to finishing.

When you complete the final edit, and print it out for the last time its a great feeling!

(On a side note: getting friends and family to read it was the best thing I could have done. They found obvious flaws I had missed and helped me improve it greatly. If you are thinking about getting people to proof and critique your work, let them. Its better that they read the less quality version instead of a publisher!!)

I know that some of you who read this may have already published novels and completed many stories and might have great advice for me. Well, please share your thoughts, I am happy to receive feedback.


Sidetracked from my goals by the easy stuff

With little time I often write the “easy stuff” in order to feel like I’ve achieved something each day. By doing this I am avoiding what is really important to me; my short story and novel.

The easy things are smaller pieces of writing, boxes that I can easily tick each day, for example, a diary entry, composing a post on my favourite blog, or writing up a short article for my website. Material for these tasks surround me each day. They are almost effortless to put together.

I feel that these easy things are my form of procrastination, avoiding the bigger writing tasks. I often ask myself:

Am I afraid to begin these projects, or am I simply lazy? Perhaps its all just too hard.

Writing stories comes less easily to me. Its tough to make sense of an idea I have, and make it work on paper. Its somewhat of a logistical feat for me. Perhaps I should stick to writing short stories for a while; keep my ideas in check, give myself narrow parameters to work within, and develop my writing skills slowly within controlled confines.

My Short Story – how to start, how to develop

At the moment my short story is planned out and only partly written. I’m not completely happy with all of the ideas but sometimes when I write out the story other ideas may flourish. This is the first hurdle for me. Getting the entire story written out. I need to write it out regardless of whether I’m happy with it.

I know from the short writing course I attended that authors create draft, after draft. You’ll never have the perfect story straight away.

I thought I’d add here what constitutes a short story. You may already know this, but I found it and thought it was helpful.

Short stories

  1. have a narrator; that is, someone tells the story;
  2. have at least one character in them;
  3. have some action occur (or perhaps fails to occur);
  4. take place somewhere; that is, there is a setting for the action;
  5. and someone either learns something or fails to learn something (theme).

If I can get my short story finished then I can begin a few exercises which may help me transform it into something I really love. Or, the second draft.

Some exercises once I’ve finished the first draft:

1. write the story from another characters point of view – quite a common exercise, helpful nonetheless

2. write out facts I know about each character and build who they are – colour in the background

3. change the setting – mix things up a little, put your characters in an environment they are uncomfortable in

I will try to achieve these steps and let you know how I go.