Category Archives: the joy of writing


It occurred to me the other day that my writing is fuelled by obsessions.

I read about the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD, and was fascinated by the stories revealed in Pompeii digs. How plaster casts made by filling up holes in the solidified volcanic debris show a man protecting his pregnant wife, the folds in her robes still distinct. The discovery this year of several skeletons huddled together in the central room of a newly excavated house in Pompeii, possibly a family hoping to escape the pyroclastic flow. After reading extensively, I wrote a story about a man with the same fascination.

Last year I watched a documentary about a Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints community in Utah, where each man had more than one wife, and I became obsessed with finding out more. How did these families work? What did the wives really think about this?  I read multiple articles and interviews, researched a specific community and used Google Earth to ‘roam’ around that town. I read more about FLDS beliefs. Then I wrote a story about a second wife getting ready to meet the third wife.

It seems to me that curiosity is so important in any writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, fantasy or realism. What happened? What might have happened, in such a place or time? Who is that person, and how would they act? And if we develop brief preoccupations in the process, I think these are good—powering our writing and imbuing it with the bright sharpness of our excitement.

Current obsession—caving. Tight squeezes, some underwater.






Filed under general, the joy of writing

breaking the drought

I read this morning that Jacob M Appel won the 1998 Boston Review short fiction prize with a piece that had previously been rejected by 75 literary journals. 75! I don’t know if I’m more amazed his story won the prize after such a chequered history, or at the fact Appel had the determination and conviction to submit his story so many times. He must have had faith in his own writing, and really believed that rejections often come down to a matter of taste.

I’m not going to lie, 2016 has been a lean year for me, writing-wise. Not in terms of the actual writing. I’ve been inspired, had ideas, and stories have come streaming out in various shapes and sizes, but I’m talking external validation here. Competition wins, or publication. I kept wryly telling friends and family who asked that I was ‘having a bit of a dry spell’. I told them I was writing plenty, but had no exciting news. I began to be impressed by my lack of achievement.

I received a few rejections, including a couple of pleasant, personal ones, but most of my stories are still with the journals I submitted to earlier this year (3 months ago, 5 months ago, 7 months ago, 8 months ago, even one piece that has been sitting comfortably on Submittable for an impressive 11 months). All of these stories are ‘in progress’ and most have been for a few months. I wondered if that meant anything good – the fact that the stories had been ‘opened’ and not rejected yet – but when I googled the topic, it seems a number of literary journals, being swamped with submissions and understaffed, don’t ever actually get around to ‘rejecting’ the piece you send. So ‘in progress’ on submittable may just mean no one has found time to send you the form rejection email. Gulp.

But last week, I finally had an email from a fiction editor, asking if a story was still available. The journal wants to publish it.

I may have cried. I may have done a little shuffling dance in my pyjamas. I may have felt that finally, finally, after a year of thanks but no thanks and a year of waiting and waiting for replies that may never come … that finally one of my stories will again be going out into the world.

I’ve said it before – writing is a mug’s game. We toil and doubt and wait and are rejected. But we do it because we love it, and because we want to share our words with others. And when we get an acceptance, even just one in an entire year of writing, it’s all worth it. Every heartbreaking, exhausting, exhilarating moment.




Filed under the joy of writing

owls that come from nowhere

I realised today that birds almost always appear in my stories. Birds call, hop and peck, or even swoop past in the night (like the owl in my latest story). But I never plan it. I never think to myself, ‘O-ho, I might just stick a bird in here. Yes, perhaps a magpie.’ It’s not like that at all. The bird just appears.


Thinking about the birds got me pondering just how much I love writing (when I’m not hating it, that is). I love the fact that I sit down with only the vaguest idea what I’m going to write about, and then characters appear and do things, and even birds arrive and do birdlike things. It’s like a movie the way it all pans out. And once I’ve worked on a story for awhile, it becomes so real and true in my head, I almost believe it all actually happened (I don’t truly believe it; I’m not crazy. Or so I tell myself).

So I’m wondering if other writers have recurring creatures or objects? I don’t mean themes or topics, I mean the weird mouse that’s always in the corner or your characters forever eating cheese. What is your ‘bird’? I’d love to know.


Filed under the joy of writing