Tag Archives: Writing

small and vital details

A story I was writing left me cold. I couldn’t figure out why. The plot was decent, the characters seemed plausible, the setting intriguing. But the whole thing was flat and lifeless.

I tried the usual things — asking myself questions about the characters so I could know them better. Getting rid of redundant phrases and adjectives. Powering up the verbs.

The story was still not right.

So I started adding details.

Instead of the character complaining that her husband ‘wanted the same foods every day’, the wife despaired that her husband wanted ‘steak or fried chicken day after day’.

Instead of the woman buying the cat ‘expensive toys’, I wrote she bought the cat ‘mouse toys and a plush bed he ignored, preferring to sleep in the armchair’.

Instead of a boy fearing ‘bugs and spiderwebs’ in a cellar, he feared ‘spiderwebs and bugs as long as his boy fingers’.

And suddenly the story was real. I believed it. I could see the plush cat bed that Elvis the cat ignored, I could picture the husband chewing through his steak (or fried chicken) night after night, and I could see those long, black bugs, scuttling away.

I realised how details can make a story true. As readers, we buy into a story, (or a poem, a screenplay, a play) if these ‘facts’ give it the ring of truth. They are small and vital details.

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A few good things

Good things have been happening.

In November I went to the Brisbane book launch of The Art of Disappearing by Elisabeth Hanscombe, and met Elisabeth for the first time. Here we are, admiring her book together!IMG_3812 2

It was a real thrill to meet her, and I realised later I’d already read and admired her work in Meanjin. The book is wonderful – the writing so effortless, honest, heartbreakingly good.

My friend Karen Hollands was chosen for a Hachette Manuscript development program.  My writing group buddies Warren Ward and Nikki Mottram won Katharine Susannah Prichard Fellowships for 2018, and Warren came runner-up in the latest New Philosopher writing competition. And my lovely friend Edwina Shaw was selected by Screen Qld to develop her Dear Madman manuscript as a screenplay, won a Katharine Susannah Prichard Residency, and has other projects in the pipeline too.

Fellow medico-turned-writer, my friend Louise Allan, has released her beautiful book The Sisters’ Song to widespread acclaim (I’m halfway through and I am spellbound).

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And in my neck of the woods, late last year I received a couple of rejection emails from well-regarded Australian literary journals, with warm, helpful feedback and suggestions to submit further work. I tried to be pleased, as I knew that might be the only encouragement I’d get for awhile. The last acceptance I’d received was December 2016, the last competition news (a shortlisting) was in March of last year.

Then early this month, a message arrived from a writer friend asking me to read some of my writing at their upcoming book launch. I was so touched and of course excited, too! I was still buzzing from that piece of news when two days later an email arrived saying a submission I’d sent to the Quart Short Literary Readings (in Adelaide) had been accepted, and that my story would be read by a professional actor at the Summer Shorts evening – next Tuesday January 16th, at the Bibliotheca Bar and Bookstore. I’ve never had anything I’ve written read aloud, nor have I ever read my stories for an audience. These new and wondrous experiences await!

If you’ve got some writing news to share, I’d love to hear it. (And if you don’t, hopefully your news is coming very soon!)

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Inspiring, inspired: ‘Home is Nearby’ by Magdalena McGuire

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Home is Nearby, the debut novel of Magdalena McGuire, is a book rich with themes of love, loss, home, inspiration, freedom and truth. I closed the final pages with the deep satisfaction that comes at the end of a good book. My heart was full.

This fascinating and emotional story follows the life of Ania, a young woman sculptor living in Poland in the early 1980’s. We meet her friends and boyfriend Dominik in Wroclaw, and her beloved father back in her home village. Poland falls under martial law, and conditions become dangerous. Houses are searched by militiamen, and citizens are thrown in prison without charge.

On a personal level, Ania wrestles with her own feelings of inadequacy as an artist, and experiences jealousy towards a talented artist friend who she suspects once was intimate with Dominik.

Home is Nearby has a freshness and an originality that makes you eager to read on. The entrancing characters live vibrant lives yet also deal with fear, hardship and grief in places and circumstances that are intriguing.

Ania’s passion for her art was especially moving, and her doubts and indecision were relatable. And although this book was very much about love and where we call home, the most powerful thread for me was about our inner creative lives and finding the truth in what we create. It was an inspiring read for any artist, or in fact anyone who likes to express their creativity.

If you’ve struggled lately to find a book that excites you, one that is different and beautifully-written, I can highly recommend Home is Nearby.

 

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roaring to the finish

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It’s not the end. Not yet it isn’t. 2017 still has thirty-three days to go, not counting what’s left of today. So if you’re a writer and you’re winding down, telling yourself not to bother because, well, it’s almost the end of the year, I’m here to tell you it’s not over until December 31st! Which is not for thirty-three days!

Whether you’re a novelist or a short story writer, an essayist, a poet or a flash fiction specialist, there’s nothing like the allure of cash prizes. So let me tempt you to keep writing with a few competitions closing this month or the next:

Fish Publishing Short Story Prize – ends November 30, maximum 5000 words, cost 20 pounds

Ink Tears Short Story Contest – ends November 30, 1000-3500 words, cost 7.5 pounds

Baltimore Review Winter Contest– ends November 30, maximum 5000 words, theme of food, cost $10 US

Hamlin Garland Award – ends December 10, maximum 7000 words, cost $20 US

Hal Porter Short Story Competition – ends December 15, maximum 2500 words, cost $10

The Moth Poetry Prize – ends December 31, cost 12 pounds

The River Styx MicroFiction Contest – ends Dec 31, cost $10 US for up to 3 entries, max 500 words

Boulevard Short Fiction Contest – ends December 31, maximum 8000 words, cost $16 US

If you’re strapped for cash or would rather submit to a journal, you could try:

The prestigious UK-based Granta literary magazine, which costs nothing for poetry submissions, or 3 pounds to submit fiction or non-fiction (but hurry as submissions close by January 4th).

The highly-regarded Australian literary journal Meanjin – still accepting submissions of poetry and essays.

The always hip lit mag Overland – accepting submissions of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and asks for pitches for other types of writing (see website).

If you write sci-fi, fantasy, horror or spec fic, Andromeda Spaceways – currently open for submissions, as is Clarkesworld, for the very best sci-fi and fantasy.

Southerly – open for themed submissions (see website for details).

And if you’d like to win $10,000 for no entry fee, you could try this:
The Hope Prize – short stories 2000-5000 words exploring theme of hope and resilience in the face of poverty of disadvantage, ends Jan 31 (see website for full details).

Happy writing!

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many cups of tea

It’s been ages since I last posted here. But I did write a post not long ago for the lovely and talented Louise Allan, whose novel The Sisters’ Song comes out in January next year (go here to read about her upcoming book!).

So what have I been doing? Well, writing, whenever I can. Plunking away at the keyboard. Patting the dog with my foot while I type. Eating too many snacks.

In August I went to the Melbourne Writers Festival and met Joyce Carol Oates. Yes, okay, it was just at a signing of her latest novel, A Book of American Martyrs, but still. It was incredibly exciting. She asked me ‘And Fiona, what do you do?’ – like we were at a party or something – and I rambled like I’d had seven beers and a tequila slammer, before collecting myself and moving on.

I’ve also been receiving emails.                                                                                              “Thank you for your submission, The Brussel Sprout Queen. We enjoyed reading it but unfortunately it’s a bit crap. We’d be happy to read further stories, but only if they’re much much better. Sincerely, The Editors.”

I’ve had several of these in a row. Another writing friend says ‘Oh, it’s just a dry spell, I once had a dry spell for two years.’ And I shiver and want to tell her ‘No, no you didn’t. You must be mistaken.’

But Onwards! I say and I make some tea. I know there’s nothing for it but to keep writing. And so I do.

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Dear Writing Gods

So, Writing Gods, I’m still here. Just in case you’d forgotten. I mean, I’m sure you hadn’t, because you’re the all-seeing, all-knowing Writing Gods, but maybe you got a bit distracted by a brilliant, funny writer or a writer who wears way cooler clothes than I do or maybe a writer who actually spends more time at their desk than baking. And I’d understand that, really I would. But I haven’t given up. I’m still here in my ugg boots with my copy of ‘How Not to Suck at Writing’ and I’m still making up stories and sending them away. But it’s been quiet. Eerie.

Here’s something I wonder – do you ever think the acceptances and awards we writers get could be spaced out a little better? As Writing Gods, do you ever consider using your influence to drip-feed our successes throughout the year? Why must we get all our good news close together, then nothing for months? Writing Gods, it’s cruel.

So anyway, if you’re not too busy, maybe fling something my way? Anything would be fine. A longlist, an honourable mention. Hell, I’d take a personal rejection note at this point. Just a sign from above not to open a bakery.

Also, Writing Gods, sorry for whining. I appreciate the thrills of the Writing Life, I really do. I know I’m so fortunate. I thank you for your bounty and I grovel humbly before you.

Yours in readiness,

Fiona

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Straight from the heart: Review of ‘To Become a Whale’ by Ben Hobson

IMG_2402Books rarely make me cry. Movies, yes. Talent shows, oh boy, yes (when those contestants get selected, they’re so happy! Who could stay unaffected?!). But for some reason, while I may feel some inward emotion when reading, I hardly ever cry. A book has to be powerful to squeeze actual water from me. To Become a Whale is that type of book.

To Become a Whale is the debut novel of Brisbane writer Ben Hobson (published by Allen & Unwin). It’s an emotional and mesmerising read – the story of a boy on his way to manhood, fighting his way through loss and a difficult relationship with his father. Part of the story takes place at the old whaling station on Tangalooma Island, and these gritty details are both repellent and engrossing.

The voice of the main character, thirteen-year-old Sam, is so believable that I quickly fell under the spell of this book and was reluctant to put it down. More than that, I began to love Sam himself, and every twist and turn of his fate tugged at my heartstrings.

And yes, I cried.

What I liked most about this book is that it is written for the reader, not for the author. Ben Hobson hasn’t used long flowery phrases, he hasn’t gone wild with metaphors or wacky similes or descriptive passages. The novel is beautifully written, yes, but always with the reader in mind, never as an indulgent authorial flight of fancy. The story is told in a clear and compelling way.

If you want a riveting read with a profoundly tender heart, To Become a Whale is definitely for you. Just keep the tissues handy.

 

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