Friday, December 23, 2005


In a couple of hours, the DH and I will head off on our Christmas trip. We're taking the travelling fairly easy - we'll stay overnight in Mudgee tonight - about 5 hours drive away - and then go the rest of the way to Canberra (another 5 hours) on Saturday.

Christmas will be with my family. We're staying with my sister and her family, who live on 20 acres or so to the north of Canberra. My parents will come to their place for Christmas Day - the menu includes prawns, ham, turkey, and the Christmas pudding I made - and we'll probably eat outside.

Yes, you read that right. It's summer here, so forget those images of snow and reindeer! Instead, we're looking at very hot weather for the next day or two, and hoping that the very high bushfire danger doesn't eventuate into anything nasty. Hopefully by Christmas Day it will be not stinking hot but just good summer weather, so we can enjoy eating outside.

After our three nights in Canberra, the DH and I are heading further south, for a well-deserved and long-awaited short break away together. We've booked for three nights at what we hope is a nice bed-and-breakfast place in Hepburn Springs, in Victoria. The website makes it look okay!

Then, we'll take a day or two coming home. I'm due back at work on 4th January, the DH has a few more days off.

Best wishes to everyone for a joyous, safe, Christmas, and a New Year rich in love, laughter and friendship.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Web site redesign

I had today off work because of a bad headache, and since my brain was dead, in between naps I redesigned my web pages. I've been thinking about doing it for a while, and now I have, although it needs some fine-tuning yet.

Please have a look if you have a moment, and let me know whether you like it, and whether it works on your computer. Any and all feedback gratefully received!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Strange moments

Playwright Harold Pinter has just been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. His Nobel lecture - titled Art, Truth and Politics - is available online, as both video and text. It's an interesting and powerful speech. Most reports of it have focused on the political aspect - he is highly critical of the Iraq war and US and British actions - and I agree with most (but not necessarily all) that he says. However, I don't talk a lot of politics on this blog, so we won't go into that ;-)

Pinter's comments about his writing were also interesting, and I was struck by this paragraph:
It's a strange moment, the moment of creating characters who up to that moment have had no existence. What follows is fitful, uncertain, even hallucinatory, although sometimes it can be an unstoppable avalanche. The author's position is an odd one. In a sense he is not welcomed by the characters. The characters resist him, they are not easy to live with, they are impossible to define. You certainly can't dictate to them. To a certain extent you play a never-ending game with them, cat and mouse, blind man's buff, hide and seek. But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

The logical, rational, reasonable side of me used to point out that of course the author has control over the characters - we can make them anything we like. And we can. We can give any character any attribute, any history, any talent, strength, weakness, that we choose.

However, the author in me - the humanist in me - learned pretty darn early that while that is true, it doesn't necessarily make for good characters! Yes, we can make a character do anything we choose - but will it being in keeping with the character? Will it contribute to the character's growth? Will it build the reader's understanding of the character? Will it make this character a whole, real, believeable person?

I've mentioned in an earlier blog that I tend to start with an emotional impression of a character - sometimes arising from a scene that I've dreamed. And, while I wouldn't use Pinter's terms to describe my own process of 'discovering' the character, I do relate to his comment about the 'strange moment'. Because for me, there is a character there from that first moment - an emotion, a sense of how the character is, even before I know who they are.

From there, I use both logic and emotion to discover more: why does the person have that reaction to the situation? What sort of person would be in that situation? How did they get there? What are their choices from there, and why will they choose one path over another?

As an example, I've been thinking recently about the story arc that will cover the three books in a loosely-linked romantic suspense trilogy. In book 2, the hero has been working with two others, one of whom gets killed on page 1, throwing suspicion for his betrayal on the other - a female MI6 agent. That character was created out of a logical plot process, but straight away, without knowing anything about her, (not even that she would be the heroine of book 3 at that stage), I had a sense of a character - an intelligence agent that someone who worked closely with her wasn't sure he could trust. Someone damn good enough at her job to be assigned to an important cross-agency project, but reserved and distant, so that the hero in book 2 doesn't know what to make of her. Someone tough enough to have survived ten years in international field operations.

I wondered about her relationship with the character who got killed - and knew straight away that they had been lovers of sorts. Lines appeared in my head: 'You had a relationship with Dom?' 'No, Dom and I had a war. But one night we got pissed together and forgot all the reasons we shouldn't screw each other stupid.'

It fits for plot purposes, but it also fits the characters. She's had to be hard and tough to survive; not the sort of person to allow herself the weakness - the vulnerability - of caring easily. Just the sort of person that Dom would get under the skin of, beause he's not the kind to give up easily. (Damn shame I killed him off!)

So, while I don't feel as Pinter does that characters resist me or don't welcome me - I'm pretty clear that they're my creations, not independent entities in their own right! - I do experience that process of discovering them, of getting to know them, of using logic, imagination and subconscious processes to find out who they are. But it's not a purely logical, rational process, and I do get surprises and challenges - like the small voice that said to me, a top female MI6 agent may well have been used to assassinate dangerous targets... Oh, yes, now that would complicate a character, wouldn't it? Someone whose colleagues believe is capable of killing in cold blood... someone whose lovers had died... someone isolated from others because of who she is and what she's done...
...But finally you find that you have people of flesh and blood on your hands, people with will and an individual sensibility of their own, made out of component parts you are unable to change, manipulate or distort.

That's the second strange moment for me - that moment when I discover something so key about the character that they become fully real, even if there may still be much to unravel.

And those are the moments when writing is really exciting and wonderful - even while I'm thinking, 'An assassin heroine? Oh, shirt, how the hell am I going to pull that off?'

Special visitor

Look over on my photoblog for our surprise visitor - a koala.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

A fwap in the Belfry

Today's my day to post over in the Belfry Collective's blog.

So fwap on over and read about my purple cape.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Historical resources wiki

Today I set up a wiki - Historical Resources for Romance Writers. You can find it at:

Wikis are web tools for collaboration and resource building etc. Wikipedia is the biggest example, but there are lots of smaller ones out there. With a wiki, any one can easily and simply add and edit pages. You don't need to know fancy html or anything like that. And it's easy to search - there's a search box on every page, you just put in what you're looking for, and it will find it if it's there.

Anyway, I'm interested in wikis from a number of points of view (including work-related ones) and I thought that a wiki in which writers contribute research they've found useful for writing historical romances would be very helpful to other writers.

So, Historical Resources for Romance Writers was born today.

I haven't publicisied it much yet, but feel free to go and visit. And add some content!

(And no, I'm not actually writing an historical romance at the moment - but I have several ideas floating around for a couple, which I may write one day ;-) )

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Wild places

I haven't blogged much lately - I'm sorry about that. Life's just been a bit full. I've done a few entries on the photoblog, though, so whenever it's quiet here there may be something happening there.

I had a stomach bug today so didn't go into work - and with thunderstorms and rain off and on all day, it's been a good afternoon to curl up with a book. The book I chose today was a cloth-bound blank notebook I've had for about 17 or 18 years, in which I write interesting quotes and things that I come across. While I read the quotes I've written into the book often enough, tucked into the front are numerous pieces of folded paper in which there are longer poems or extracts, and I don't reread those so often.

So, it was nice today to touch base again with some extracts from TH (Harri) Jones' poetry, a Welsh poet who lived a few years in Australia before his untimely death, aged 44, in 1965. I came across a book of Jones' poetry in my first year or so at university - and loved it. Unfortunately, I only copied out a few lines here and there - and I think I've lost one of the pages over the years.

Jones writes often of his self-exile from Wales, and I think that what resonates with me in his poetry is the sense of place and connection to it, even over the distance of time. For me, sense of place is also important, and my memories are often tied up in where as much as who or when. Also, I visited Wales in 1983 and loved it, feeling an immediate sense of home, of belonging, although its differences from Australia are legion. But, like Australia, Wales is not a place one can ignore; the landscape, the history, the very air itself seem to hold an ancient wildness, and I can relate to Jones' yearning for the places of his childhood:

Homesick for clouded hills that never lose
The loom and shape they had when I,
My head in other clouds, trod their old paths
Too proud then to know that I too would die.
And, from another poem, in which he writes of his daughter visiting Ayer's Rock (Uluru):
Would the vision of that monolith
Stay in her mind and dominate her dreams
As in my mind and dreams these thirty years
There stays the small hill, Altlyclych,
The hill of bells, bedraggled with wet fern
And stained with sheep, and holding like a threat
The wild religion and the ancient tongue,
All the defeated centuries of Wales?

Tomorrow I'm going to the library at work, to borrow his books again, and to renew the friendship.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Tagged again

I got tagged by Kate, who thinks I haven't been posting enough lately. She's right - I haven't. But I'm in Canberra, looking after elderly parents and trying to set things up so they can cope.

Three screen names I've used: God, I'm so boring. I just use my own name.

Three things you like about yourself: mostly optimistic, reasonable human being, even temperament

Three things you don't like about yourself: lack of self-discipline, 20 extra kilos of weight, lack of eyebrows

Three parts of your heritage: love of books, love of natural environment, respect for others

Three things that scare you: fire; intelligent, power-hungry, amoral politicians; the power of large corporations in today's world.

Three of your everyday essentials: chocolate, quiet moments, a cup of tea.

Three things you are wearing right now: dressing gown, underwear, and.... um, a big smile?

Three of your favorite songs: Waterboys' A Pagan Place; June Tabor's The Old Miner (or something like that); Dead Can Dance The Writing on my Father's Hand.

Three things you want in a relationship: trust, respect, warmth.

Two truths and a lie: My grandfather fought in the Battle of Jutland; my great-great-grandfather was a convict; my grandmother had an affair with an Earl.

Three things you can't live without: chocolate; quiet moments; making up characters and stories.

Three places you want to go on vacation: Isle of Skye; Central Asia; Outback Australia.

Three things you just can't do: sing in tune; get enthusiastic about housework;

Three kids names: Don't have kids, but if I'd had them, they would probaby have been Isabel and Alistair.

Three things you want to do before you die: spend summer on the Isle of Skye; see a royalty cheque with my name on it and a large number; give up the day job to write.

Three celeb crushes: nope, never did the crush thing. But back in 1983, Scottish actor David Rintoul had really sigh-inducing thighs when I saw him on stage.

Three of your favorite musicians: Sting, Waterboys, June Tabor

Three physical things about the opposite sex that appeals to you: eyes (that's two) and a genuine smile.

Three of your favorite hobbies: Weaving. That's about it - who has time for more?

Three things you really want to do badly right now: win the lottery; write; go on holiday somewhere quiet.

Three careers you're considering/you've considered: historical costume designer; teacher; academic historian.

Three ways that you are stereotypically a boy: hmmm, might have to think about that one - I don't do stereotypes well.

Three ways that you are stereotypically a girl: see above.

Three people that I would like to see post this meme: I'm on my parents computer away from all my bookmarks, so you can all breathe a sigh of relief.

Will I be surprised if they ignore this: see above.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Life and stuff

It's been a busy week, with one thing and another. Work is busy and I've worked a few late evenings; I got off my butt and went to the gym one night; we've been having very frustrating modem problems at home with consequent limited, slow, internet access, and to top it all off, on Wednesday my mother had a minor stroke.

She's 500 miles away, and at times like these I really feel that distance. She's recovering very well, but as my father is disabled and can't care for her, and she's currently not able to care for him, it makes a tricky situation. My sister's been doing a great job, but it's quite a load.

So, I'll head down to Canberra in a few days to help out for a week or so, when Mum gets out of hospital. And support them, along with my sister, in finding out information about long-term assistance and talking through the possibilities. It's a very hard time for them both.

Just when I thought I wouldn't be going away again before Christmas, I'm off again....

But in other news, I had a fantastic chat/brainstorm session with some of the Belfrights this morning, working on a background plot for a trilogy I've been outlining. Bouncing ideas off each other is great fun and generates much creativity, so I really enjoyed it. I also solved a few plot issues in the process ;-)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Simple pleasures

I'm enjoying playing with my new digital camera. I think it's meeting a need for me at the moment to be able to do something creative that has quick results. My other creative activites - writing, weaving, knitting - take so long to produce results that they're not as recharging for the soul as I need just now. However, with the camera, I can take it to work, photograph things during the day or on the way home, pop it in my pocket while walking the dogs, and then download and edit photos during the 'scrappy' time between getting home and after dinner, when I don't have much chance to do other things. So, by the time I sit down for the evening stretch of writing, working, or whatever, I've done something creative and produced something beautiful - and I feel good about it.

And talking about feeling good, today has been a day of simple pleasures and good things. A brainstorm (via IM chat) with writing friends in Canada, Australia and various parts of the US this morning; lunch with DH and a friend we haven't seen for ages whom I bumped into on the way to the cafe; teaching an informal workshop this afternoon to a fun group of fellow spinners and weavers; being inspired by some finished work brought in - a handspun/dyed/knitted rug, and a handwoven jacket; and a walk with the dogs in light rain this evening. There's some photos from the day up on my photo blog.

Now I've got a couple of hours in which to write... and I feel relaxed and ready to.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Author day thanks

Thank you to everyone who called in to our Author Day - and my humble apologies for the technical hassles during my hour! When yahoo stopped us reading messages from the website it created problems for me, as my email was coming in slowly, out of order, and/or not at all - and our modem kept dropping out (would you believe, messages were still coming into my gmail account 11 hours later??? No wonder I couldn't follow anything!!)

Huge thanks to Gerrie and Donica for stepping into the breach and helping out - I really appreciated it!

And congratulations to the winners of the sets of photographs - I'll put those into the mail (carefully protected with thick cardboard) in the next day or so, and will send them airmail.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Author Day Schedule

Below is the schedule for the Belfry Collective's Author Day, which starts in just a few hours. My hosting shift is from 4pm-5pm NY time, which is 6am-7am my time - but I'll try and pop in to say hello at other times, too. (I'll also do my best to be vaguely intelligent during my shift - but I warn you, 6am is not my best time!)

Pleasse do come and join the fun! You'll find the Author Day yahoo group at:

World Clock Configuration
6 am New York (EST) = 8 pm Canberra, Australia

Times shown are US EST:

6 am-7 am– Sweet Romance & Confessions, Highlighting Gerrie Shepard

7 am-8 am Women’s Fiction & Christmas Stories. Hosted by Gerrie Shepard
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Bobby Cole, Gerrie Shepard, and Merry Stahel

8 am-9 am Time Travel, Mystery, & Intrigue Hosted by Merry Stahel
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Merry Stahel, Donica Covey, and Liz Wolfe

9 am-10 am Erotic Romance Hosted by Lyn Cash
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Lyn Cash and Ann Wesley Hardin

10 am-11 am Romantic Suspense and Thriller Hosted by author, Liz Wolfe
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Liz Wolfe, and Bronwyn Parry

11 am–Noon Mainstream and Suspense. Hosted by author Merry Stahel
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Bobby Cole, Donica Covey and Shara Jones

12 pm-1 pm Suspense and Mainstream cont. Hosted by author Shara Jones
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Shara Jones, Sheila Holloway

1 pm-2 pm Hen lit and Chick lit Mysteries. Hosted by author Liz Wolfe
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Liz Wolfe and Bobby Cole

2 pm-3 pm Romance, Mystery, & Mayhem. Hosted by author Shara Jones
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Heather Rae Scott, Liz Wolfe and Lyn Cash

3 pm-4 pm Another hour of Erotic Romance. Hosted by author Lyn Cash
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Ann Wesley Hardin, Lyn Cash, and Alexis Fleming

4 pm-5 pm An hour with an Aussie flavor. Hosted by authors Alexis Fleming and Bronwyn Parry
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Alexis Fleming, and Bronwyn Parry.

5 pm-6 pm = Erotic and Sexy Romance. Hosted by Christine Zubko
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Dee Tenorio, Kris Starr, and Christine Zubko

6 pm-7 pm Contemporary Romance. Hosted by Christine Zubko
Authors highlighted in this hour are, Dee Tenorio, Donica Covey, and Christine Zubko

Sunday, October 09, 2005

New photo journal

I've succumbed!

I've got a new journal for photos:

I'll fix up links from this journal etc tomorrow.

Don't expect photos everyday, but since the camera is small and fits into my purse, I'll carry it around with me.

Birthday surprise

As well as being the Belfry Author day, it's my birthday on Tuesday. (I'll be 23. Again*.) DH gave me my present early - a brand new digital camera, all for my very own** - so I'd have time to enjoy it over the weekend.

I'm still learning how to use it, because it has a gazillion settings, but above is a photo of my writing corner - the one I set up a week or so ago after totally rearranging the spare bedroom and getting rid of a heap of stuff. And you can just see a bit of view of bushland outside that window. While I'm writing, I can watch the kangaroos, wallabies, birds - and even the snakes ;-)

*I've been 23 for a lot of years.
**I had been using DH's first one, an ancient model bought in 1997.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

More on Author Day...

Don't forget - October 11th, 6am to 8pm US EST - more info here.
(That's 8pm 11th to 10am 12th Aus EST)

What will there be??
  • Authors from the Belfry Collective to talk with
  • Excerpts of our books
  • Fun contests
Did I mention the prizes??? As well as free books and a heap of other fantastic prizes, my contribution to the prize pool is two sets of four beautiful 10" x 8" photo enlargements, suitable for framing, of Australian wildflowers - some of the photos from my website. They're some of my DH's photos, all taken around our place. (You can see more of his photos at his photoblog.)

I'll give away one set during my hour (4pm-5pm US EST) and the other set will be given away sometime during the rest of the day.

So, come along, meet the Belfrights, and have fun!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Belfry Collective Author Day

My critique group, The Belfry Collective, is holding it's first Author Day on October 11th, 6am to 8pm US EST (October11-12 for Australians).

There'll be authors hosting, excerpts posted, contests and prizes - a heap of fun!

There's information about the day here.

I'll be hosting for an hour or so from 4-5pm US EST time (6-7am Wednesday 12th, Australian eastern time), but I'll also be popping in when I can during the rest of the day.

And in other Belfry happenings, it was my turn to blog again this morning - so you can read my ramblings here.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


There's a contest over at my friend Shara Jones' blog, and you could win book 'undies' - beautifully beaded thong bookmarks that Shara has made. Plus you get to talk to an author or aspiring author.

All you have to do is go to Shara's blog, pick one of the authors she's linked to, ask them one of three listed questions, and then post their answer back in Shara's blog, and you might be the lucky winner. Easy, see?

The authors are all ready and waiting for your questions. Me included. And we were even before Shara decided that if you win, we win ;-) Honest.

So, ask away. I promise not to bite. And I can answer any of the three questions, several times ;-)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Historical romance

There's a reason I don't write historical romance - as a historian, I know how much hard research is needed to get it right. I don't often read them, either, because it's rare to find one without the sort of errors that make my teeth grate.

I read one this afternoon. And, not only was it an historical romance, it was set in colonial Australia - and written by an American. It's to her credit that I finished it (I wouldn't have bothered if elements of the story hadn't been good), but the ground-down state of my teeth is testament to the fact that it is very difficult to write an historical romance, and particularly risky setting it in a place you don't know really well - because there are always annoying readers who do know the place and history. In this case, my knowledge of the time and place wasn't due to formal studies or research, but rather to family history, because my g-g-g-grandfather was a convict in the mid-19th century.

The book was set in 1858, and the hero had recently been transported as a convict to Australia - except transportation to New South Wales actually finished in 1853. The author kept referring to the 'New South Wales prison' and the warden's progressive attitude in assigning convicts to work with local farmers - obviously unaware that the vast majority of convicts in my country's history had been assigned, rather than kept in irons. There was also the constant threat of sending the hero to Norfolk Island, but Norfolk Island had been abandoned as a penal colony in 1855.

The author tried; she really did, and at a guess I'd say she'd spent some time here, but maybe she tried to put too much in, and the inconsistencies tripped her up. Like talking on one page about how bad the drought was, and only a short time later describing kangaroos in waist-high grass. She also went on about the heroine's problems of being constantly surrounded by prisoners - murderers, rapists, thieves - and the lack of any polite society for her to mix with. Hhhmmm... by 1858, only a small proportion of the population were convicts, and there definitely was polite society, even though it might not have quite reached the dizzy heights of London. The heroine lived near Parramatta, a major centre, and there were plenty of gentile women in that area by then. Heck, there was very polite society in my town by then - 400 miles into the bush from Parramatta!

I *did* finish the book, because despite a zillion very distracting errors, the relationship between the hero and the heroine was nicely drawn. I won't rush to read it again, though - my teeth can only take so much!

Article posted

This afternoon, I finally finished an article I'd drafted a while back on tips for writers' web pages.

It's posted on The Belfry Collective web site now:

I hope that it's useful!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Realistic romances

Over on Romancing the Blog today, Sandy Oakes asks:
Do authors back away from making their romances too realistic?

I suspect that part of the problem comes from the publishers wanting to back commercially viable fiction, and not being prepared to take 'risks', and consequent pressures withing the writing community to keep romance 'romancey'. Which is crazy, because there is a *huge* audience out there for a wide diversity of romance - from the lightest, fluffiest sugar-coated romance to dark, gutsy, confronting romance. Heck, there are 50 million romance readers in the US alone, and they aren't all going to like the same thing ;-)

Not all publishers are like this, however. I write at the grittier, realistic end of the scale and have had two full mss requested by NY publishers; in one ms, there's the body of a child on page 1. In another, the heroine is executed in the prologue.

If (when?) they're ever published, readers of the lighter kind of romance, looking for escape, probably won't read my books - but that's fine. Other writers target that sector of the audience, and my books will target another sector. There's plenty enough audience to go round ;-)

I write what I like to read - stories which are affirming because they acknowledge the darkness and problems in the world, yet also acknowledge the strengths and courage that exist within us.

While my stories have a very definite focus on the relationship between the hero and heroine, they're not what I think of as 'pink' books - Romance with a capital R. Mine are more a rich, dark red. I aim to ground my stories in reality, and reality is not always comfortable or happy or easy.

However, since part of the reality in which I believe includes the reality of love as a powerful emotion, (I blogged about this at The Belfry Collective the other day), then my stories do have emotionally satisfying endings - just don't expect pink frilly bows ;-)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A room of her own - with a view

A friend called on Friday night to ask if he and his 3 kids could come and stay on Monday night, on their way up to the Gold Coast.

No problems, of course - I'm looking forward to seeing them. However, given that life has been busy and I've only been doing the absolute bare essentials of housework, I was glad we had a few days' notice!

Since last time we had guests, I'd moved my desk into the guest room, but things were somewhat cramped, with the queen bed shoved over almost to the wall and my desk squeezed in so that I felt a little claustrophic. It's not that it's a tiny room, but an alcove at one end (where a piano will ultimately go) was chock-a-block full of boxes, cane baskets etc - fabrics, fleeces, papers, and old clothes I was sentimental about (and hoped to one day fit again!)

I've sorted through it all today, turfed out a heap of stuff (including clothes that don't fit), tidied away other things, moved my desk into the empty space, moved DH's old bookshelf in, and moved the bed back across so that there's space on both sides for guests.

And it's wonderful! I'm really glad I finally took the time and energy to sort it out and make the room more workable. The bookshelf has space for books and research papers. I don't feel cramped at my desk - immediately to my left is a window that looks out into the bushland around our place. To the right, I can see down the passage and out the french doors of our bedroom. It feels light and airy instead of cramped and cluttered.

I'm going to enjoy writing here now - although I won't be doing much until the rest of the housework gets done to prepare for our guests!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Piratical things for fun

I found this one on Claire's journal and am posting it here just for Kate, even though I'm a few days late for Talk Like a Pirate Day. (And she might already know about it, anyway.)

Go to:
and put in a web address, and it will translate the page into pirate talk.

Arrr, me hearties!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cairns trip

I arrived home from Cairns around 8.30 last night. The trip was reasonably good, although unfortunately the conference wasn't the most rivetting! (Maybe because it wasn't a writing conference ;-) )

I did catch up with a cousin I haven't seen for many years, and met her husband and children, which was great. They met me at the airport and took me to their home - a beautiful Queenslander styler house - for dinner. So we had a wonderful relaxed meal outside in the balmy tropical evening, caught up on family news, and watched the cane toads hop across the lawn. (I declined the offer to play golf with the toads. Toads are noxious pests, and Queenslanders try everything to get rid of them.)

The only blight on the evening was that when I went to carry some of the plates up stairs, I stumbled and fell heavily, smashing two out of the three plates I was carrying and doing minor damage to assorted portions of my anatomy. I don't bounce like I used to, but I guess it could have been a lot worse.

The following day we all went down to Babinda, an hour or so south of Cairns, and wandered through the rain forest where a river carves through the hills, with waterfalls, boulders, etc. Very beautiful! I also saw Ulysses butterflies for the first time - a gorgeous large brilliant blue butterfly. Then back to Cairns and the Botanic Gardens, where many tropical flowers were in full bloom and I walked around gaping in wonder.

The conference took up the next couple of days, but I did manage a few strolls around the city area of Cairns, which is a very short distance from the water, and wandered along the Esplanade and the laggon area. Yesterday I had a lazy morning and brunch at an open air cafe while trying to replot a novel before heading to the airport and my lunchtime flight. And then back to the real world and work...

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

still here - I think

Life's a bit mad right now. I've got major projects happening at work, consuming time and brain space, there's a lot to do at home (I haven't done housework for way too long), there's writing to be done, and I go away again on Saturday.

But the following pleasant things have occurred:

1. The DH and I went out for afternoon tea at the local art museum on Sunday, and after we came home we went for a walk. Together. It's nice to take a little time now and then to stop and smell the roses umm... fresh air?? - together. We've had some rain, the dams are the fullest they've been in ages, spring is here and the wattles are blooming, and we were keeping an eye out, on our walk, for any sign of the orchids that come out this time of year, if there's been rain.

2. I merged two versions of chapter one together and am (almost) happy with the result. I can actually see this novel, which has had ninety gazillion versions, actually being finally finished very soon.

3. After a long day at work yesterday, I think the workshop that I'm developing to run tomorrow is getting near ready. It's a challenging topic, for a an intelligent, critical group, so I'm feeling a little nervous about it. But I think (hope!) I'm on the right track.

Once tomorrow is over, my evenings will be back to writing - although I go to Cairns on Saturday for a work conference, so I suppose I'll have to find some summer clothes and pack for that, too :-)

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Growing characters

One of the most enjoyable parts of writing, for me, is developing characters. I love the process of thinking about, mulling over, characters, and developing them over time.

My stories are often born as the result of a dream. I dream a lot, and most of it is just crazy, jumbled up stuff (if anyone tried to analyse my dreams, I'd probably be locked up). But every now and then, I have a clear, short dream in which an incident takes place, and I get a *very* powerful sense of emotion from at least one of the characters - emotion that is still with me when I wake up.

So, often the character comes from the emotion. Who is the character? How did they get in that situation? Why did they feel that emotion? How are they going to respond to it? A number of my stories have begun in just this way - that powerful, instigating incident has become the prologue, or the opening of the first chapter.

Other characters grow a little differently, but I do seem to get some sense of who they are from the moment I start writing them, even if I don't know much about them then.

After I've done a little writing, playing around with scenes, maybe drafting a first chapter, I then usually start a somewhat informal character sheet. The character sheet I use is adapted from several that I found on the web, but I use it as a prompt for thinking, rather than as a form that has to have every space filled in. Sometimes things just simply aren't relevant to the story or to the character. But pondering the various things on the list does help me to flesh out and understand the character better - even if some things may not appear in the final story.

For example, one of the items on the sheet is 'most treasured possession.' When I was pondering this in relation to my character Gil Gillespie, I realised that if you asked him what his most treasured possession is, he'd scowl and say he doesn't have emotional attachments to things - or people. But I know that he did most of the renovations of his pub himself, that he has some woodworking tools, and that he finds it strangely peaceful, an oasis in a busy, demanding life, when he's working timber with his hands. So, thinking about just that one point on the list gave me a whole lot more to Gil. And, although he still won't get emotionally attached to things, he's going to fight a losing battle in trying not to become emotionally attached to people ;-)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Being Batty

Me? Shy, staid, respectable?

Obviously not.

(For the non-Bats reading this, I'm part of an online writer's group called the Bat Cave. Valerie Parv - aka known as Valkyrie, Bard from the Cave - gave me these Bat ears/antennae last year. So, of course I had to wear them to the breakfast gathering of Australian Bats at the Melbourne conference.)

(And thanks to Bronwyn Jameson for the photo!)

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Back from Melbourne

I arrived home from Melbourne last night. Had a fantastic week away, and really enjoyed the conference. It was also great to have the time with my mother.

I'll do a bit of a conference summary later, but in the meantime here's a pic:

L to R, Alexis Fleming, Jennie Adams, me, and Valerie Parv - at the conference dinner on Saturday night, which was good fun.

On Monday, Mum and I went out to visit my aunt in an outer suburb, and two of my cousins were also there, so it was great to catch up with them. Stephen is a wildlife artist - to see some great paintings, check out his website.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sad and happy

I heard this morning that a guy I know slightly hung himself on Sunday night. He was only 32 years old, a nice guy and a highly-regarded academic; what a tragic waste. I saw him just a few days ago - we smiled and exchanged a greeting in passing, as we normally did. We were only acquaintances, but it still hits hard. I keep picturing his face in my mind, and knowing that I'll never see it again keeps coming as a shock. I gather from the grapevine that a long-term, long-distance relationship he'd been in had recently ended, and it makes me very sad that, while men do care deeply about relationships, they far too often don't have the opportunity or the vocabulary that is meaningful to them to talk about the challenges and the pain.

On a lighter note, tomorrow morning I fly off to Melbourne, to attend the Romance Writers of Australia conference. I'm looking forward to it. I haven't been to Melbourne for years, and I haven't been to an RWAus conference before. I'm going a couple of days early, and my Mum is travelling down from Canberra to Melbourne tomorrow, too. She's not going to the conference (other than the Awards dinner on Saturday night) but we're sharing the hotel room and will do some things together in the non-conf time. As well as the conference, I'm looking forward to some quality time with her. My Mum is one special lady.

I'm doing a full-day workshop with Donald Maass on Friday, and three other workshops on the weekend - one on writing suspense, one on undercover cops, and one on historical romances for the UK market. Me? Excited?

I won't have much internet access for the next week - unless I find a handy internet cafe - so this blog is likely to be quiet. But I'll probably make up for it when I get back!

British top 100

The top 100 films in America has recently been doing the rounds, but I'd seen so few of them I didn't want to admit to it ;-) However This! Christine has just posted the British Film Institute's Top 100 films, and hey, I can bold a few of those! Mind you, there's a few that I saw on long-ago school holidays when our ABC used to show old movies at lunchtime, and I really can't remember much about them, but I'm sure I did actually watch them.

British Top 100 List

1. The Third Man (1949)

2. Brief Encounter (1945)

3. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

4. The 39 Steps (1935)

5. Great Expectations (1946)

6. Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

7. Kes (1969) Good movie, better book, but not up there to see if you're already feeling depressed.

8. Don't Look Now (1973)

9. The Red Shoes (1948)

10. Trainspotting (1996)

11. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

12. If... (1968)

13. The Ladykillers (1955)

14. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)

15. Brighton Rock (1947)

16. Get Carter (1971)

17. The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

18. Henry V (1944)

19. Chariots of Fire (1981)

20. A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

21. The Long Good Friday (1980)

22. The Servant (1963)

23. Four Weddings And A Funeral (1994) First movie I saw with Hugh in it, before I realised he plays Hugh in everything.

24. Whisky Galore! (1949) Good fun

25. The Full Monty (1997) More good fun

26. The Crying Game (1992)

27. Doctor Zhivago (1965)

28. Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) We're all individuals!!

29. Withnail and I (1987) Saw it in a movie theatre when it first came out, and I'm sure half the audience was smoking 'herbal' cigarettes. But it was one of those movies - and fun, it a weird, twisted kind of way.

30. Gregory's Girl (1980)

31. Zulu (1964)

32. Room at the Top (1958)

33. Alfie (1966)

34. Gandhi (1982)

35. The Lady Vanishes (1938)

36. The Italian Job (1969)

37. Local Hero (1983) Enjoyed - and the music was great

38. The Commitments (1991)

39. A Fish Called Wanda (1988) Brilliant. The whole cast were just perfect.

40. Secrets & Lies (1995)

41. Dr. No (1962)

42. The Madness of King George (1994)

43. A Man For All Seasons (1966)

44. Black Narcissus (1947)

45. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) Good.

46. Oliver Twist (1948)

47. I'm All Right Jack (1959)

48. Performance (1970)

49. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

50. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) Meh

51. Tom Jones (1963)

52. 'This Sporting Life' (1963)

53. 'My Left Foot' (1989)

54. 'Brazil' (1985)

55. 'The English Patient (1996)

56. 'A Taste of Honey' (1961)

57. 'The Go-Between' (1970)

58. 'The Man in the White Suit' (1951)

59. 'The Ipcress File' (1965)

60. 'Blow-Up' (1966)

61. 'The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner' (1962)

62. 'Sense and Sensibility' (1995)

63. 'Passport to Pimlico' (1949)

64. 'The Remains of the Day' (1993)

65. 'Sunday, Bloody Sunday' (1971)

66. 'The Railway Children' (1970)

67. 'Mona Lisa (1986)

68. 'The Dam Busters' (1955)

69. 'Hamlet" (1948)

70. 'Goldfinger' (1964)

71. 'Elizabeth' (1998)

72. 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips' (1939)

73. 'A Room with a View' (1985) I took my mother, hoping to persuade her to send me on a finishing tour to Italy - I even have a spinster cousin who would have been happy to chaperone ;-) Alas, it was not to be.

74. 'The Day of the Jackal' (1973)

75. 'The Cruel Sea' (1952)

76. 'Billy Liar' (1963)

77. 'Oliver!' (1968) Musical Version

78. 'Peeping Tom' (1960)

79. 'Far From the Madding Crowd' (1967)

80. 'The Draughtsman's Contract' (1982)

81. 'A Clockwork Orange' (1971)

82. 'Distant Voices Still Lives' (1988)

83. 'Darling' (1965)

84. 'Educating Rita' (1983) Excellent

85. 'Brassed Off' (1996)

86. 'Genevieve' (1953)

87. 'Women In Love' (1969)

88. 'A Hard Day's Night' (1964)

89. 'Fires Were Started' (1943)

90. 'Hope and Glory' (1987)

91. 'My Name Is Joe' (1998)

92. 'In Which We Serve' (1942)

93. 'Caravaggio' (1986)

94. 'The Belles of St. Trinian's' (1954)

95. 'Life Is Sweet' (1990)

96. 'The Wicker Man' (1973)

97. 'Nil by Mouth' (1997)

98. 'Small Faces' (1995)

99. 'Carry On Up The Khyber' (1968)

100. 'The Killing Fields' (1984) Remind me never to say that my life is tough.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


The dinner cruise out of Darwin harbour was wonderful - perfect evening, sunset and close to full moon, and superb, freshly cooked seafood.

It's a tough life, but somebody has to do it ;-)

Friday, August 19, 2005


I'm in Darwin. It's warm. Can't believe I'm wearing a short-sleeved shirt in August. There's a US Navy ship in port, and the town is booked out - lots of tired looking young men around this morning, and lots of raucous ones last night.

I have the whole day to fill in as my plane doesn't leave until 1.30am. This evening I'm going on a dinner cruise on the harbor in a sailing ship - one of the other women here for the meeting I went to is coming with me.

I did look at day tours but as we're talking Northern Territoy and vast distances, most of the interesting (Kakadu, Katherine) ones left at 6.30am. I rarely do 6.30am, and definitely not after only having 5 hours sleep the night before. (Plane times from Sydney to Darwin are mad - plane didn't get in until 11.30pm, and of course my luggage was the last off.)

The sun is shining, the weather is beautiful, and I'm heading off to do some sailor-watching sight-seeing research.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Fwapping away again

At 3.30 this afternoon, the boss asked if I could go to Darwin tomorrow. He was supposed to go but now can't, and none of the other team members can go. So, I'm flying off tomorrow lunchtime.

For those who don't know their Australian geography, Darwin is half a continent away. Next door to Crocodile Dundee country. It's also hot. They have two seasons - hot and dry, and hot and wet. I'll be going from one of the coldest places in Australia to one of the hottest.

I'll have a whole two days in Darwin - one taken up with meetings, the other one free to wander around (assuming I've recovered enough from late night flights).

I'm looking forward to it - I enjoy travelling, and I've only been to Darwin once before, about 17 years ago. I haven't currently got any ideas for novels set in Darwin, but I'm sure I'll come up with one or two while I'm there ;-)

I won't be taking the laptop, though - just the good old fashioned paper and pen - so this blog will be quiet for a few days. Unless you all decide to have a party in the comments while I'm gone ;-)

Monday, August 15, 2005

The Belfry Collective blog

My amazing critique group, The Belfry Collective, has started a group blog, and today was my turn to post.

So, hie on over to the Belfry Blog

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sentimental blokes

Yer-weddid-wife?" ... O, strike me! Will I wot?
Take 'er? Doreeen? 'E stans there arstin me!
As if 'e thort per'aps I'd rather not!
"I will," I sez. An' tho' a joyful shout
Come from me bustin' 'eart - I know it did -
Me voice got sorter mangled comin' out,
An makes me whisper like a frightened kid.
"I will," I squeaks...
Lying in bed this morning in the relaxed, cosy, dreamy state of an unhurried Saturday morning, I was thinking about male writers and romantic themes and I realised that, for all the rough, tough, laconic image of Australian males, there are some wonderful romantic stories written by them that have happy endings.

The quote above is from CJ Dennis' The Sentimental Bloke, a story in verse first published in 1915. The narrator of the book is a larrikin, a rough young man from the back streets of Melbourne, hovering, at times, on the edge of the law (his best mate, Ginger Mick has frequent 'stoushes' with the cops.) And then he meets Doreen... They're wonderful poems, written by a man about a bloke who falls head over heels, and have been popular for ninety years. I have fond memories of my Dad, when we were young, reciting the poem above, 'Hitched'. He can probably still recite it, word for word ;-)

D'Arcy Niland's Call Me When the Cross Turns Over (1957) is another book with a strong romantic theme and a positive ending. Barbie Cazabon 'was brought up in a man's world. She was dug out of this country and she'd be dug into it.' Jack 'Fascinatin' Kippilaw is a fighter, and the Human Buckjumper. The 'Cross' of the title is the Southern Cross, the constellation of stars, vivid in the night sky of the Outback in which Barbie travels. It's a great book, written by a man who spent years himself working and travelling in the Outback and the rural regions of Australia.

Then there's Jill and Guy Hamilton in Christopher Koch's The Year of Living Dangerously. And Neville Shute's A Town Like Alice, where prisoner-of-war Joe almost gets killed for stealing a chicken for the wandering group of women prisoners in Malaysia, and later goes halfway across the world to find Jean Paget when he discovers, years later, that his 'Mrs Boong' was never married, as he'd believed.

To be honest I haven't read a lot of more contemporary male Australian authors (Patrick White, Thomas Keneally, Tim Winton etc haven't really appealed to me), but certainly in the 50s and 60s Australian mainstream fiction, romantic themes, and male writers seemed to get along just fine.

(And I did mention that I managed to write this post without rereading the entirety of Call Me When the Cross Turns Over - but only just ;-) Did I mention it's a great book?)

Friday, August 12, 2005

Long weekend

It's Friday night, and I'm having Monday off, so that means I've got three whole days ahead of me to write.

Okay, so it won't actually be three whole days - tomorrow morning the DH and I are going to Guyra, about 60km away. Guyra's a much smaller town than ours, but it has a wonderful wool shop, and our town no longer has one. I need some circular knitting needles for a jacket I'm knitting, and a ball of yarn to use as contrast heel and toes on some socks I'm knitting.

This is, however, writing related, because strange though it may seem, knitting socks helps me write. Yes, yes, I know it's crazy, but I don't write fast, I write thoughtfully, and giving my hands something to do while I'm staring at the screen occupies the bit of the mind that wants to be 'busy' and stops my fingers from clicking on the web browser, or the email, or anything that takes me away from the wip. I can only knit plain things while writing, and socks are perfect - plus I get bonus hand knitted (and often handspun) socks, which I luurrve. The current socks are a variegated commercial yarn, but there are two balls of handspun merino that are telling me to hurry up and free up the needles.

So, a trip in the countryside up to Guyra, lunch with the DH in the cafe there, and then home to write. And knit. For three days.


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

I worked out how to do pictures...

Jaffa, The Princess Dog, was looking particularly cute last night.

(If she was a heroine in one of my stories, she'd have to be a Princess. Her sister, on the other hand, would be a Bombshell heroine.)

Reading characters

It no longer surprises me how two people can read the same book and come away with two totally different views of it. Because of this, I rarely take much notice of book reviews. If there's one thing that I've learned over the years, it's that reading is a very subjective process and that we bring our own interpretations to everything.

For about ten years, I ran a lot (well over a hundred) of selection skills workshops for a number of organisations - mostly two-day workshops. Before I seriously turned my hand to writing novels, I created characters for the practical exercises in these workshops and wrote detailed job applications based on those characters. Workshop participants, in groups, considered a set of three applications and had to decide which applicants they would invite to interview - and justify their decisions in terms of the selection criteria for the job.

Easy, right? Each group is considering the same set of information, using the same criteria.

Um.... no. In just about every single workshop, each group of 3 or 4 people came up with entirely different choices. And not just for one set of applications. I created others, for different characters, for different positions - and the same thing happened. Individuals and groups interpreted exactly the same information in VERY different ways. Administrative assistants, scientists, managers, academics: no matter what the position, one group would think applicant A was the most brilliant, perfect applicant - and another group in the same room would think that Applicant A wasn't worth the three seconds taken to discount them. And so on for each applicant.

Granted, I'd carefully created each character and application so that there were both strengths and weaknesses, but the interpretations and assumptions that were made about the applicants were amazing. They were always very effective exercises, of course, because they DID demonstrate very clearly that our reading of such things is incredibly subjective - and I used that to then teach techniques to make the selection process less subjective.

I learned a lot from those exercises myself. Firstly, that I enjoyed creating characters and was good at it - it was wonderful to see, time and again, senior managers and university academics (NOT the world's most excitable people!) getting excited about characters I'd written, and thoroughly enjoying the exercises. That really gave me the encouragement to seriously try writing. But secondly, I learned that no matter how much you give people, things will always be open to interpretation, and that often people will 'see' your characters quite differently to how you envisaged them.

Yes, it's true that there's a lot more scope in a novel to reveal your character than there is in a job application, but you only have to read a range of reviews of the same novel to see that the truth still holds - the reader will always interpret through their own lenses of assumption, preference, and experience.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Canberra bushfire legacy

I'm back from Canberra - tired, but glad I went. It was good to have some time with the family.

Canberra is a beautiful city, known as the 'Bush capital' because it is surrounded by wild space including the huge wilderness area of Namadgi National Park to the west of the city. Just on the edge of the city were large (non-native) pine plantations. I grew up there, spending much time in the national park, at the Cotter River reserve, visiting the Observatory at Mt Stromlo, and walking in the extensive pine forests.

In January, 2003, a huge bushfire swept through Namadgi, then through the pine forests - on a day that was so hot and dry and windy that the firestorm raced through 15 kilometres of bush and pine forest in about 20 minutes - and then destroyed 500 homes not far from where my parents live and where I grew up. I wasn't there at the time, but I spoke on the phone to my parents as they were preparing the house in case of flyng embers, when fires were only 2 streets away. Fortunately, the wind was blowing those particular flames away from them - but embers from the fires destroying homes (including my cousins' and some friends) a suburb away were dropping all around them.

I've been down to Canberra a few times since, and I can't get used to the changed landscape. It's hard to describe to those who have never seen the city, because its design is unique, but in the areas I travel most, from my parent's place to the city, or to the northern suburbs, you travel around the edge of the city - through what were once pine forests. And now there's nothing but wide empty space, and tiny fledgling seedlings. In the bush areas, the gum trees (eucalypts) are regenerating, but it's not the same as it was - and the mountains to the west, which I always loved catching glimpses of, you can now see more often - except they look grayer and... different. When I was down there last year, I went into Namadgi National Part, and walked around for a while, and although there was new leaf growth on the trees, many hadn't survived the intense heat, and the new growth on those that had was close to the main trunks, with ghostly, dead outer branches. And it was very, very quiet - the wildlife populations were drastically affected by the blaze and the destruction of habitat and food.

I love those areas, the way it was, and I feel the loss of them. I can't get used to the strangeness of it. The land will recover - is recovering - but it will take time, and some places will be forever changed.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Fwapping away for a while

While half my cyber friends are in Reno at the RWA conference, and the other half are having left-behind parties, I'm misssing out on both as I'm going to Canberra today for 6 days.

I'd post something wildly scintillating to keep you amused while I'm gone, but.... hmm.... can't think of anything.

...other than the challenges of writing suspense type plots when technology is making the difficult situations my characters might find themselves in obsolete. I was discussing surveillance technology with the DH on the drive to work this morning. Because if my secret agent characters can be fitted with a small microchip that enables them to be located by satellite anywhere in the world, then how can I lock them up in a hole in the ground and have nobody find them for 4 months, huh???? I was counting on the fact that any such device would be sending a radio transmission that anti-surveillance scanning devices could easily locate (good reason for my guys not to have them), but no, DH says, they have devices now that only transmit on receipt of a signal.

Hmmmm. Now I have to work out why my two top agents in the depths of dark places of the world wouldn't have these.

Oh, well, I have five hours in plane travel this afternoon to contemplate this.

I may not get to post while I'm away. Not that anyone will miss me much, I'm sure.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The perfect response

Thanks to some inspiration from the RWAus email loop I'm on, I'm now waiting for the next time someone asks me (with a superior smirk) why I write romance. Because now I can reply with a smile,

"I write popular fiction because I think it's way more sensible than writing unpopular fiction."

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Oops - again

Oh, shirt. I'm sure I must have posted something in the 12 days since 11th July. Not that I can remember it, but then my brain does resemble sludge right now.

Sludge filled with html. At work, I've been working with 7 academics to prepare their materials for the new semester's online units, due to go live on Monday. And running workshops on how to do it to the next batch.

At home, I've been developing this website for my critique group.

I'm going to write an article for writers on developing web sites. Some day. Probably not this week, as I'm going to Canberra for work on Thursday for 6 days - extra bonus that I get to see my family. And it's only a few more weeks before I go to Melbourne for the RWAus conference.

Tomorrow I need to do some sewing for that. Maybe that will dislodge the html from my brain.

And tomorrow I'm also going to do some writing. Yes. Really.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Brain Hibernation

Ooops - the days have slipped away without me posting. Sorry about that. I think my brain wants to go into hibernation - either that, or it's just overloaded and taking some time out. Although I've thought of a few things this past week or so I could blog about, I've just been too brain-tired to do it.

DH was away for four nights at a conference last week, which meant I had to get up early and walk our two energetic border collies each morning - plus do the other daily chores around the place that we normally share. I don't usually sleep all that well when he's away, either. Although I don't get worked up about being alone, miles from the nearest neighbour, I think my body or some part of my subconscious stays a bit more alert than normal. And it's winter and cold...

Okay, that's enough whingeing. I only have this week still working two half-time jobs, and I'll be really glad when that's over. From next week, I'll be working additional hours in my permanent half-time job, so while that means I'll be doing full-time for another 4 months, it will be so much easier only doing it in one job.

I may have some brain space left to write :-) I actually wrote about 1,000 words yesterday, and although it was on the 'wrong' book (the new idea I came up with a couple of weeks ago) it did finally get the creativity trickling again, so it felt good. And I'm using Mariane (pronounced with a French lilt) as the heroine's name, abbreviated to Mari.

And soon I'm going to start the countdown to the RWAus conference in Melbourne in August. I'm looking forward to it - it will be only my second ever conference, and first RWAus one. Not to mention my first 'holiday' trip away (other than visiting my folks in Canberra) for almost 3 years.

No wonder my brain gets tired.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Naming

Usually, it doesn't take me long to come up with names for characters. A couple of days at most. But for my latest story idea, the heroine's name is still eluding me, after more than a week. I've 'narrowed' down the possibilities - now there's only 26 on my list!!

The hero's name is Ronan. There may be a French/Breton/Celtic connection in the heroine's family. So, Ronan and...

Ghislaine Ariane Brede Ceridwen Grainne Damaris Eilis Eliane Elaine Emer Ruth Isabeau Juliet Kira Lianan Liane Liliane Lise Lissa Madelaine Maidlin Mara Mariane Marielle Mari Meg


I'm leaning towards Mariane.... or Grainne (although many people won't know how to pronounce it). But none of them are saying 'yes!'

And the really stupid thing about all this agonising, is that most of the time when I read a book, I don't remember the characters' names 10 minutes after finishing it. But when I'm writing, I have to get it right.

Sunday, June 26, 2005


I haven't got my RWR yet, so haven't seen the survey included about the definition of romance that has assorted blogs afire. As I understand it, the RWA offers two alternative definitions of a romance - a romance is between a man and a woman, or between two people.

Okay, so those two options could still be construed as excluding werewolves, menage a trois etc. And you might be perfectly happy with the current definition. But they are asking the question. Of us. Members. And presumably they will be guided by what we have to say.


Sorry, yes I shouted. Complete the survey and send it in, with your comments. Email the Board members and provide them with your reasoned thoughts. Go to the AGM at Reno, or, if you can't, nominate someone as your proxy - the form was in a recent RWR.

The 2000 article about RWA that Paperback writer linked to has some figures that should make us all stop and think:

...why should anyone care? Many RWA members don't, or else they don't want to become involved in an organizational process most charitably described as embarrassing in its shortsightedness.

Less than 15 percent of the members attending the conference attended the general meeting. Less than 20 percent of RWA's national members bothered to vote, even by proxy -- a regrettable situation, since RWA could make a crucial difference in the never-ending fight for writers' and artists' rights. The sheer number of RWA members -- 8,200 total and at least 1,500 published under the most restrictive definition of the word -- and their combined economic clout make RWA a force to be reckoned with.

RWA doesn't exist seperately from its members. The Board members are volunteers, they are ordinary mortals with strengths and weaknesses, elected by the members.

Make your voice heard.

Then, accept that there is no way that in an organisation of 9,000 members covering a wide diversity of people, that everyone is going to be happy with every decision. It simply isn't possible.

Some decisions I don't agree with but I can live with. If decisions go against my conscience, however, then it's time to reconsider my membership.

But those decisions have not yet been made, and I intend to ensure that my thoughts are heard in the right places before they are.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Outgrown ourselves?

I've been musing occasionally in the past few weeks about the RWA problems, and the recent column on RTB in which Tara Gelsomino from Romantic Times sought feedback about the magazine, and it seems to me that perhaps romance as a genre is just too big and diverse to expect any one organisation - or magazine - to be able to cover it.

Given that romance books make up 55% of all mass market paperback sales in the US (and similar in other countries), and there are over 2000 new titles each year, it's way bigger than most other genres put together.

Would it be so bad if there was more than one writers' organisation, catering to different sections of the genre? The organisations would not have to be competitive with each other - RWA presumably maintains friendly relations with other writer's organisations in other genres, so why not in different branches of romance?

And, assuming there's a market for it, I think it could only be a good thing if there were more magazines catering to romance readers - one might be more fanzine, another more review focused, another could be more literary style - or whatever the readers want. Without trying to please all in one publication, which must surely be impossible. (Note: I've never read Romantic Times, because it isn't readily available here.)

Maybe one organisation can serve us all - I'm not sure. I wish I was able to go to the RWA conference in Reno to participate in the AGM, but unfortunately I can't. However, I've given a friend my proxy, so at least my vote will count if critical issues come up.

I wouldn't want to see a split of the organisation in anger - but perhaps we should be discussing and asking ourselves whether we have grown (and grown up) enough as a genre that we can establish friendly, co-operative but seperate organisations to support the members interests - and work collaboratively when appropriate to encourage growth in the broader genre.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Cold x 2

I've temporarily moved my laptop back out to the living room. It's been cold lately, and one of my offices at work has been without heating, and I'm coming down with a cold myself (courtesy of DH), and I'm tired of not being warm. So, yesterday when it was cold and grey and we lit the fire before lunch, I moved from the study (heated only by a fan heater) back into the cosy warmth.

The weather forecast for the next few days suggests we might have light snow - which is a rarity around here. We get maybe a couple of 'falls' a year but I can only remember a couple of times when enough stayed on the ground to make a (very small) snowman. Usually, it melts as soon as it falls. Snow weather however always feels cold, though, because the daily maximums are low and the sun doesn't come out. The majority of our winter days are dry and sunny, which is more pleasant.

The heating at the morning job still isn't back on. They were working on it this morning again, but without success. Even though I dressed warmly, I still had to wear my coat for the first hour of work today.

Meanwhile, I'm still trying to find a name for the heroine in the story I dreamed up at the weekend, and I spent some of this evening going through my name lists without THE right name leaping out at me. Her hero is Ronan, her brother Dominic. I need something feminine, but not sweet or sissy. She's an historian, quietly confident, independent, socially capable but with layers few people see. I think her mother may have been French or Breton, so that might affect her name.... any suggestions???


Life has been waaayyy too busy lately. Two half-time jobs does not equal one full-time job - especially when one of them is actually a busy full-time job in itself. So I'm overtired and cranky and frustrated and my brain has been ready to explode for weeks - and no, I'm not getting much writing done. By the time I get home, let the dogs in, bring wood in, get the fire going (it's winter here), make dinner, eat dinner with DH (about the only time I see him), and then sit down at the computer, it's 8.30 at night and my brain goes, "Who, me??"

But the good news is... looks like I'll be able to do the PhD I want to do, which is connected with romance and internet things, so it will actually make a link between my writing and the permanent day job. Surfing the web will be a legitimate activity ;-)

And... the night before last - or rather, the 5ish in the morning yesterday - I had a dream which gave me a great idea for a story. A number of my stories have developed from strong dream scenes, so this is not unusual for me. This one will be a sequel to the ms that won the Valerie Parv Award - that first one isn't finished yet, but the ideas that I've had since yesterday for the second one are actually really helping my thoughts for the first. I can see some more possible layers and intricacies for the plot - along with perhaps a curly twist at the end. To be honest, I'd been a bit stumped on the first one; I had a plot outline, great main characters but something wasn't quite 'jelling' right, and I wasn't feeling confident that I could make it work. There's still some detail to work out, but the excitement for it is back again.

I've roughed out the first couple of pages of the second novel, which is enough for me at this stage to get some ideas churning and some shape to the characters, and now I'll leave it and get back to the others in the queue.

Less than two more weeks of the second mad job... I may get a life back after that.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A national treasure

We're into our fourth year of drought in my state - the worst in a century. This was one of this week's cartoons from my favourite cartoonist/poet Michael Leunig:

I love the way how, with a few lines and his signature 'simple' drawings, he encapsulates so much. In this case, a gentle humour - those guys could be my rural neighbours ;-)

In other cartoons, he invokes our consciences, shows us despair, compassion, guilt, hope, reality and surreality. Leunig doesn't just make people think - he makes them feel. A few years ago he was named a National Living Treasure - and he truly is. You can read more about him here, and see more of his cartoons here, here and here.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Music for loving

I was thinking about writing a blog entry on music and writing last night, as I was gnashing my teeth and staring at the screen. Then the Smart Bitches talked on their blog this morning about music for sex, getting in first and much more wittily, as usual, and totally eclipsing my small, not-then-existant ramble.

I'm rewriting a love scene. For the umpteenth gazillion time, trying to get the darn thing right. This one is tough. The characters are reserved, controlled, and powerfully attracted to each other - emotionally even more than physically. They're also exhausted, and in the middle of a heart-rending case, and they both know that after the case - if they get through it - they're each going their different ways. So it's a love scene more than a sex scene - tenderness, emotional intimacy, vulnerability, poignancy. (Yes, yes, I do have characters that just get down and do it, but these two aren't them.)

The 'theme' music I've been playing while struggling with this scene includes several haunting Celtic airs: 'Mrs Mary Stitt' (played by the group Tannas); 'Seathan' (Alistair Fraser); and 'Fraoch A Ronaigh' (Mouth Music). DH burned my playlists on to a CD at the weekend, and I may well wear out the CD tonight, trying to finally nail this damn scene down.

In total contrast to these characters, I've already drafted the first and second love scenes for the hero and heroine of the loosely-linked sequel. And their music couldn't be more different, becuase the characters and the scenes are so different. Waterboys. Early Waterboys. Raw and earthy and passionate and demanding and uncompromising. Best played up LOUD. A Pagan Place. Savage Earth Heart. Don't Bang the Drum. Trumpets. The Big Music. This is the Sea.

The next book I have to finish after this one might well have some Sinead O'Connor in it's 'soundtrack'. Troy, Drink Before the War, Never Get Old, Just Like You Said it Would Be. Not so much the literal words of any of those, but the emotion of them - the passion, the darkness, the honesty, the knowing.

Of course, the problem for me with listening to music is that ideas for stories bubble away. I'm listening to Sting's Englishman in New York right now - and I'd love to come up with a hero like that ;-) Once again, not so much the literal words, but the idea and the emotion and rhythm of the music. (He would, naturally, look like Sting.) And someday I'll have to write a sex scene to Dave Brubeck's Take Five. (Ellora's Cave might have to publish that one.) June Tabor's song The Old Miner has me itching to write an historical. Dead Can Dance's The Writing on my Father's Hand - I think that will have to be a somewhat dark fantasy.

Yes, just in case you were wondering, I do have eclectic tastes in music. We've got 300+ CDs in our collection, plus a few zillion vinyls. (Yes, I'm that old. And DH is even older.)

Oh, and the next time anyway tries to tell me that writing sex scenes in romance is easy and formulaic, I may well hand in my pacifist card and get violent.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Common historical costume errors

I've been buried under the pressures of work lately, compounded by teaching a spinning workshop all last weekend. But here's the promised post about costume errors that I find frustrating in historical romances.

Silk chemises
Okay, there may have been a few of them around. But the fact is, linen is much more comfortable next to the skin, and could be exquisitely fine and luxurious. Forget modern starched linen. Especially forget fabric marketed as 'handkerchief linen', because most of that is actually ramie, not linen at all. Ramie is not as fine, and is stiffer and scratchier than real linen. Real linen as used for underclothes becomes wonderfully soft the more it's worn and the higher-end stuff is beautifully fine. Even the lesser quality linen was still soft and sensual on the skin. My DH had a pure linen shirt years ago and it was soft, and fine, and draped wonderfully, whisper-soft on the skin. Pure bliss.

Corsetless Heroines
If you're writing Regency, you can get away with you heroine not wearing a corset. If you're writing pretty much anything else between about 1480 - 1915, and your heroine is even vaguely respectable, then she wore a corset the majority of the time.

You think corsets are uncomfortable? Restricting? Tight laced? Ummm... no. Many women (including me) find that a properly fitted corset is more comfortable than a bra. Yes, your posture is a bit different - but women wore corsets from adolesence onwards, and were used to them. They provide back support, boob support, and encourage a better posture.

Facts about corsets:
  • Dresses were designed to be worn over corsets. If your heroine puts on a dress without her corset, it won't sit right. Everyone will know that she's not wearing one.
  • Tight lacing was a short-lived phenomenon practised by only a few in the later 19th century - probably about as common as nipple-piercing today.
  • The slight restriction of corsets on deep breathing can heighten the sensual arousal and excitement for a woman.
  • Corsets are incredibly sexy. Ask any guy of your acquaintance. Men find them very, very enticing - the sense of the forbidden, the hints of what lies beneath stimulating the imagination....
Pre-20th century women in trousers
I recently read a 19th-century set American historical in which the heroine - a respectable woman, employed as a nanny - spent most of her time wearing trousers. Because they were more 'comfortable'.

Yes, some women undoubtably did don trousers in pioneer America and Australia, for practical reasons while trekking, riding etc. But respectable women didn't wear them around their employer's house as a matter of course. And women who'd spent most of their lives wearing long skirts and only loose linen or cotton underwear around their fannies probably didn't find moleskin or denim trousers cut for a man's shape to be 'comfortable.' Physically or socially. Which is probably why, in all the diary accounts and letters of pioneer women I've read, I can't recall any references to women wearing trousers. It's sort of like expecting modern women to go naked to their corporate jobs - yeah, it'd be more comfortable than power suits and heels, and a practical saving on cleaning costs, but there's a whole lot of other reasons why we just don't do it.

I'll probably remember the other costume issues I was planning on ranting about later, but it's been a looonnngg day and my brain just died.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Tagged by Kate

I stumbled, bleary-eyed and still half-asleep to the computer this morning to discover that Kate had tagged me.

Now that I'm slightly caffeinated:

Total number of books I own
(I'm not going to count the DH's as well):
  • 300 or so costume and textile books
  • 300 0r so novels and a few non-fiction in the living room
  • a stack of probably 100 category/series romances in a cupboard
  • about 150 children's and YA books in another cupboard
  • 200 or so academic history books
  • 200 or so boring management/leadership etc books in a box in my car (I ran out of bookshelf, so they've been in the car for a month or so.)
Space is a bit of a premium around here, so I've culled the book collection several times in the past year. I've also been very broke, and haven't bought as many books as I'd like. But today is the first day of the Rotary book sale, and I'm going into town shortly, and can probably afford to actually spend about $30 on books ;-)

Last Book I bought: On Wednesday I bought Sharon Sala's Bloodlines and Merline Lovelace's The First Mistake. (No, not you, Miskate.)

Last Book I Read: You mean the one I started reading at the gym the other week and have put down somewhere and now can't find??? It's a romantic suspense. By What's-her-name. Big name. Came out a few years ago and I've borrowed it from the library. Must be in my car somewhere - the car DH refers to as the movable office.

Five books that Mean A Lot To Me: Only 5??? How am I supposed to pick 5 books from 40 years of reading???

Mister God This is Anna, by Fynn

Maid of the Abbey, by Elsie Oxenham - the first Abbey Girls book I ever read (aged about 9) and a lovely romance

Any book by Michael Leunig, Australian cartoonist/poet and beautiful soul

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula Le Guin

The Shiralee, by Darcy Niland - he worked in rural Australia in the 1950s and wrote evocatively of the time and the people. His male characters in particular are brilliantly drawn; tough, hard-working rural men - real alpha heroes with flaws written by a man who was one himself. (Author Ruth Park's two-volume autobiography of her life with husband Darcy Niland is also wonderful.)

Five people I'm tagging:
Amy, Claire, Joanna, Rae and Carrie

Edit: Darn, Kate already tagged Amy. So, Janice, if you've got a blog, you're tagged!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

costume rant

I apologise to my handful of loyal visitors that I've not been around much lately. I started a new half-time job two weeks ago, in addition to the old half-time job, and that has sucked up most of my time and my brainspace.

But now I'm in ranting mode. The cover art on today's 'Pick' on the e-Harlequin site got my hackles raised. I have no idea about the quality or content of the book, and my rant in no way reflects any opinion on the book itself or its author*. But what's with the darn dress on the cover???

(If you can't see the picture, right click here)

Another example of cover art that bears no relationship to actual historical costume. And it's not even trying to be a Fabio cover, which I don't expect to have any relationship to any fashions seen outside a bordello. The book is apparently set in Montana, so I'm assuming sometime in the nineteenth century. The dress has some stylistic similarity to early Tudor styles (1500s) - except that there's no underskirts, undersleeves, and the fabric isn't anywhere near right, so the drape of the dress is more medieval. Unless our heroine had fallen under the influence of the Liberty set (unlikely, in Montana) then that dress simply could not have existed in a woman's wardrobe in Montana in the nineteenth century.

I don't read as widely as many of you, but I've noticed the tendency in a number of American-set historical romances to have costumes on the cover that just aren't right. And I'm not really picky, honest. Regencies tend to be a bit more accurate, and I'm happy to grant some artistic license. And the Fabio-style covers are supposed to be way over the top. But why can't cover artists of covers like this, which are (I presume) meant to convey a more realistic impression, actually portray something vaguely right, instead of this fantasy of women's fashion that never existed?

Some day I'll rave on about the portrayal of historic costume in novels, and all the totally wrong things that some romance writers fall in to - like their heroines never wearing corsets because they're 'uncomfortable', and silk chemises, and women wearing trousers.... but darn, I'm just too tired to rant any more tonight.

*If anyone's read the book and recommends it, let me know. It won't come out here in Australia for a couple of months, but if it's good I can probably get over cringing at the cover long enough to read it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Cultural differences in romance

Monica Jackson is doing a great job in blogland reminding us that romance doesn’t – and shouldn’t - just come in shades of white. I’m interested in how authors and wannabe authors portray diversity in their work. Do white writers consciously consider issues of race, ethnicity and diversity as they write? Do you make efforts to ensure your novels reflect the non-uniformity of our societies?

Like the US and the UK, Australia is a very multi-cultural society, although patterns of immigration, race relations, and ethnic and racial balances are different. Nevertheless, many of the issues are similar. As a writer, I want to ensure that the Australia I portray reflects the reality. Yet I’m very conscious that as a white, Anglo-Celtic, middle-class Australian, my experience as a member of the majority culture is very different from those who belong to minority cultures. I’ve been heavily involved in equal opportunity issues for most of my working life, so while I’m aware of the major issues, I’m also very aware that there are a zillion ways in which cultural differences are manifested that are subtle, perhaps sub-conscious, but which add up to a very different experience and, sometimes, a very different ‘way of knowing’ than the majority culture can really understand. For this reason, I’m very hesitant to pretend that I know enough to write heroes or heroines from very different cultural backgrounds to my own.

The loosely-linked series I’m currently working on is set in a small fictional town on the edge of the outback. I made a conscious decision when I began writing it that, while I didn’t feel qualified to write Aboriginal heroes or heroines (the issues surrounding the indigenous experience in Australia are very complex), I didn’t want Aboriginal people to be invisible. Nor did I want to succumb to the stereotypical images of Aboriginal people – either positive or negative. So, I have a major secondary character who will appear in all the novels (Adam) who is a Murri, and there are mentions and references to consulting with local elders, as a normal part of the way in which the community works. In the second novel, the hero will discover that his mother was Aboriginal, one of the ‘stolen children’ who never knew her own family due to the forcible removal policies that operated here until the 1970s. I won’t make a Big Issue out of it, but it is one facet of his journey to come to terms with his own life experience, within a fairly complex plot.

Will Adam ever get his own story? Probably not, because a) I don’t think I could adequately portray the experience of an Aboriginal man, and b) he’s still young, yet :-) But you never know… by the time I get to the end of the series, he may have his own HEA.

So, while I can only view indigenous issues through a white person’s eyes, and through the things Aboriginal people I know share with me, I hope that Aboriginal readers will regard it as a respectful view.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

But is it Literature?

I read this quote from Helen Falconer in the Guardian book section this morning:
When women write cheerful, upbeat stuff about aspirational females out and about in the world, they are bluntly informed that it doesn't count as literary, it's just chick lit. ... This situation means that there is a vast sea of books by female authors out there that are too well-written and quirky to be trashed, but which by their nature (written by women, about women, for women) do not qualify as literature.
And then over on Booksquare's and Brenda Coulter's blogs there is discussion about the article in The Book Standard which quotes Otto Penzler, 'dean of mystery-writing in America':
“The women who write [cozies] stop the action to go shopping, create a recipe, or take care of cats,” he says. “Cozies are not serious literature. They don’t deserve to win. Men take [writing] more seriously as art. Men labor over a book to make it literature...."
It really worries me that in 2005, any definition of 'Literature' that so blatantly excludes women and women's values and interests can be accepted as the norm - even by women.

I've been mulling all day over how I would define a novel as a 'Literary' one. Not that books have to be 'literary' to be good - there is nothing in the slightest wrong with a rattling good yarn read purely for enjoyment, whether it be romance, chick lit, women's fic, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, mystery, whatever. But yes, there are books for me which go further than providing an enjoying read, that I would class as 'literary'. So, what do those books have for me? One or more of the following:
  • evocative writing
  • emotional engagement
  • originality of concept
  • deftly drawn, fascinating, complex characters
  • beautifully crafted story-telling
  • a perspective of the world that shows me new things in it
A glance at my bookshelf shows the following books I frequently reread and that I'd class as 'literature': Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness; Herman Hesse's Narziss and Goldmund; Patrick Susskind's Perfume; Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; Kathleen Creighton's The Top Gun's Return; Ruth Park's The Harp in the South; Darcy Niland's The Shiralee. And, least you think literature has to be Serious - Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, which meets pretty much all of the above criteria (including laugh-out-loud emotion).

Yes, some of you will have spotted it - I've included a romance in that list. A category romance at that. And I didn't get struck by lightning. Not yet, anyway.

I'm interested in how others define 'literature', and whether there would be any romances on your list of literary books. I know that only about three people per day come here, but hey, feel free to make my life more exciting by leaving a comment ;-)

Friday, April 29, 2005

the good and the bad

I got a second half-time job today, which will last for two months. The good part about that is the $$$ - I definitely need them. The bad part is that it cuts my writing time down to just evenings and weekends. I guess I'm just going to have to be even more disciplined. (No, no - put those whips and chains away )

Oh, well, at least I'll be able to afford to buy a book every now and then. I've only bought about 4 this year so far, and I've had to resort to my local library for reading fixes.

I 'celebrated' the new job today by buying a book - Gwen Hunter's Shadow Valley. Although our small town, being a university town, is reasonably well supplied with bookshops, we are talking small, and there's not much more romance in the bookshops than the limited range in the local library. (There is, however, plenty of Literature. The university influence is strong.) I know nothing about Gwen's book other than the back cover blurb, but it was the only Mira romantic suspense I found in the shop I was in. I haven't started it yet.

I feel some mail order coming on..... any recommendations of good, well-crafted, realistic romantic suspense?