Tuesday, December 30, 2014

WRITING TIPS for the holidays

So, you've been aching to get stuck into that new story for months but work commitments/life hasn't allowed for the full immersion needed to really nut out the plot and characters. Perhaps you've got your first draft almost done. Either way, I have some tips for you - easy ways you can improve your writing, whatever stage you are at.


1.     Use strong verbs rather than ineffectual words such as 'started', 'was', 'had', 'just'. Go through your entire MS and eradicate them!

2.     Try not to begin sentences with the noun/subject of the sentence, such as 'the' or the person's name. Begin with verbs, adverbs (sparingly) or subordinate clauses. This adds variety and can have a strong influence upon the rhythm of your work.

3.     Try to keep one subject per sentence ie: if you're describing a person, keep to them, or if it’s the ocean, develop that further. Link ideas with the first word of the next sentence.

4.     For a tight, concise manuscript, go through each sentence and eliminate at least one word. You will have to rewrite, but it will make your work stronger and more punchy.

5.     Have your plot worked out, even roughly, beforehand. I now use index cards with a brief description of each scene. I put them on my whiteboard with blu-tack and can move them around at will. In my latest novel I realised I had two missing scenes!

6.     Use active, rather than passive. ie: 'the sound of glass breaking was heard by Miriam' is passive. 'Miriam started. Glass smashed somewhere in the house.' Show what the character is doing, rather than what is being done to the character.

7.     Use the speech function in Word to hear your work read back to you. The computerized voice sounds a little odd, but hearing someone else read your work makes a huge difference. While you listen, edit.

8.     NAMES - for goodness’ sake, choose character names carefully! Don’t use modern names in a medieval fantasy. Similarly, don’t use old fashioned names that just do not fit the context simply because you’ve always loved them. Made-up names add to the world you have constructed, so make sure they sound like they belong there. Unless you’re doing it deliberately for effect, name your characters with their personality in mind - for instance, (in a fantasy story), a large, crudely featured man might be called 'Grumm,' and a dainty lady of royal birth might be called 'Trilaya'.

9.     Dialogue - the way a person speaks should reflect their character and make it easy to identify them. "Great," smirked Josh. "If you had listened to my sage advice you would not now find yourself in such distress," opined Wallace. "Yay!" Shrieked seven year old Lucy.

10.  Give us a picture of what your character looks like as soon as possible. Even scant details are better than none. Don't wait for page five to tell us the colour of her eyes.

11.  Begin a new line for each speaker's dialogue.

12.  Some of our most precious and treasured words are the very ones we have to take out, ie: 'kill your darlings'. They trap you into thinking they're so wonderful that the entire story can work around them, when in fact they hold you back and annoy the reader.

13.  The old saying, 'show, not tell' is so hard to do, but you must keep it in mind. Reveal a person's feelings/thoughts/opinions through their speech and actions. It is more effective than simply telling the reader.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Man from Cox's River DVD - A Brilliant Story of Modern Conservation

I'm so pleased to tell you that this DVD is now available, just in time for Christmas. I was lucky enough to see it, at The Mount Vic Flicks cinema, when it was first released. It's the story of the removal of the last wild brumbies from the Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains National Park.

You'll cry, you'll chuckle and you'll feel your heart in your mouth as local cowboy, Luke Carlon, endeavours to remove these horses by leading them out of the forest one at a time. Support Australian small films and buy your copy!

 Man From Cox's River DVD

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Creating a scene - essential elements to writing your story, scene by scene

So, I've fallen a bit out of love with my latest manuscript and looking for tips to freshen up my approach. Thanks goodness writers are a generous and caring lot! Perhaps it's because we know the pain and frustration of this totally insane lifestyle choice... I digress, as I usually do when stuck. Sometimes you write a scene and it appears to function well, but you get the feeling something is missing and you can't quite put your finger on it. Writer John August has a great website, with tips for writing scenes, to ensure you have all the elements needed. how-to-write-a-scene.pdf

Here's a brief overview:
  1. What needs to happen in this scene?
  2. What would happen if this scene got omitted?
  3. Who needs to be in the scene?
  4. Where could the scene take place?
  5. What's the most surprising thing that could happen in the the scene?
  6. Is this a long scene or a short scene?
  7. Brainstorm three different ways it could begin
  8. Play it on the screen in your head
  9. Write a scriibble version
  10. Write the full scene
  11. Repeat
The only thing I would add to this, is - Write three different ways this scene could END. I think having options helps free the mind. Doesn't matter if two of the options are ridiculous, it helps free the mind to possibilities. I'm also thinking of using colours for scene elements. I'll let you know how I go with that!

What's your story about? - Selling your story to a publisher

A few years ago I attended a workshop by novellist Nicole Murphy who introduced us to Michael Hauge, a mentor to film script and novel writers. I started using his six stage plot structure immediately, which turned my novel from confusing to a contract!

Michael Hauge is a generous man. His website has loads of free advice for authors. I have recommended and passed on his advice in my own writing workshops. I've just watched this video selling your story in sixty seconds and bought the book. I'm rubbing my hands with glee, waiting for it to arrive!

So, if you're in a bit of a hole today with your writing, click over to youtube and watch some of Michael's videos. You'll soon be tapping away like a frenzied woodpecker.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Once Upon A Christmas

It's here! This lavish, beautiful book of European folk tales, memoirs and recipes about that lovely time of year - Christmas. It's a keepsake, an heirloom to pass onto your children. In it, I have a memoir piece about my experiences of Christmas as a child in three lands; England, Australia and Norway. To purchase -

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

10 Reasons Why You Should Read to Your Child

I love reading to my daughter. I've seen it open her mind to the amazing world we live in, to the past and all its secret joys and mysteries. I've heard the language reflected in her speech (and attitude!) Reading to your child, every night before bed, is such a simple yet powerful way to build a strong relationship between you and positively influence every aspect of your child's life. Here's ten reasons why you should turn off the telly, computer, video game and just read together -

1. Quiet time
Getting to sleep can be difficult for some children. They need time to wind down from the stresses and excitement of the day. A bedside lamp, curtains drawn creates a snug environment that slows the heart rate and helps prepare the body for sleep. My daughter has an imaginary horse called Snowflake and if she's feeling a bit wound up I encourage her to dream up a new blanket or some other decorated item for her dream horse. These days, Snowflake is pretty spoiled! He's got everything a horse could possibly need.

2. Intimacy
Children have worries. They need to feel safe to confide their concerns to you. By excluding every distraction, (TV, computers, video games, the news etc) you offer something very precious to your child - your undivided attention. This sends a clear message, straight to their heart: "You are important to me. I am here for you." In these quiet moments before bed, a closeness develops and is maintained that gives your child a sense of security and love. You can say  'I love you' until you're blue in the face, but it's when you put aside your time that it really means something.

3. Expressive Language - Vocabulary
When you read aloud your voice is modulated, that is, it rises and falls. You naturally emphasize parts slightly louder or softer to enhance the understanding of the story. You act it out. When my husband first started reading to our little girl he sounded a bit like a robot, poor guy! Now he is very entertaining. She watches him, enraptured. Hearing us read to her has expanded her spoken vocabulary, because she will stop us and ask if a word is unfamiliar. This helps her utilise these same words in her own speech, giving her more tools to express herself. A larger vocabulary gives the child power over their speech and their thoughts.

4. Spelling
Being exposed to the written and spoken word improves vocabulary but also spelling and reading skills at school. Hearing a word pronounced correctly goes into the child's 'data bank', so that when they come across that word in their own reading, they can recognise it, or figure it out. The more words they are used to seeing, the easier spelling tests become. Visualising, or creating a picture in the mind, is a natural part of reading. This is also a valuable skill for learning to spell, as we must remember what words look like, if they aren't easy to figure out by their sounds.

5. Academic success
A reader is smarter, more articulate and confident. Why? Because they are more familiar with their own language. They have a greater understanding of a wide range of topics because they have read about them. They are able to use clues such as context when they come upon an unfamiliar word. They can tackle literacy tasks at school more easily because they have better language skills.

6. Memory
Readers use their imagination when they read to visualise the story and characters. This enhances their ability to memorise, holding thoughts and pictures in their head, adding to them as they read more. TV does not help this develop because it provides everything - the picture, the sound, the action. A viewer isn't using language themselves. This makes for a lazy brain. The ability to hold thoughts and concepts in short term memory is extremely important for learning, especially for concentration. Reading a plain page with black print forces the brain to create the action inside it, using more of the brain's fabulous abilities and increasing its power.

7. Accuracy and understanding
During reading time at night you can take turns reading out loud. This provides the opportunity to correct their accuracy, adding to their personal word bank. This then increases comprehension, (and enjoyment!). In 25 years of teaching literacy, this is the one tip I give parents that makes the most difference. Encourage your child to READ. The first step is reading to them.

8. Morals and values
By choosing good quality reading material you can teach your child the important morals we all must learn in society. There are thousand of excellent books for children, but some of the best are the classics, which teach kindness, bravery, compassion, cleverness, wit and strength. Reading these stories provides you with an opportunity to discuss why it's wrong to steal or abuse animals, the importance of The Golden Rule etc. Books are a powerful, non-intrusive, fun way to show your child how to become a happy, healthy human being.

9. General Knowledge
Reading about subjects you knew little about can also increase your own general knowledge as well as your child's. In our house we've covered topics I hadn't thought of, such as fossicking and caves, space and the universe, the human body systems, how food is grown and many more. This increases a child's confidence to understand the world around them and be able to make good decisions for themselves.

10. Culture and history
Reading opens up a whole new world, of foreign cultures, as well as your own. An appreciation of the diversity of human culture is important to a child's sense of self and where they fit in their community and the world. Being sensitive to the culture and values of others is also important. There could be many interesting aspects to your own family history that would otherwise go unnoticed if the topic didn't come up in reading. Children need to have a clear sense of their own identity. Reading family stories is another wonderful way to keep treasured memories alive.

I wish every parent was able/willing to read to their children. It would do a lot towards eliminating illiteracy and by association, poverty. Knowledge is power. And the first step to knowledge is being literate. Read to your child. Open up the world to them! Make them feel special and loved. And it's never too early to start.

For more information on helping your child to read, click here:  Montessori

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Westwords Fundraiser for Blue Mountains Bushfires

me and James Roy
I was privileged to be a part of the fundraiser last Saturday for Blue Mountains bushfire victims, in particular, the children who lost their homes, and of course, all their books in last year's devastating fires. The event, organised by the fabulous Judith Ridge of Westwords, raised over $2000. As a local author, I enjoyed meeting my community and sharing my books with them. Simon Marnie, from ABC radio 703 hosted the event and was a sterling MC. Authors and illustrators attending included:

Deborah Abela, Sarah Ayoub, Aaron Blabey, Wai Chim, Marjorie Crosby-Fairall, Sarah Davis, Ursula Dubosarsky, Lea Dunstone, Elizabeth Farrelly, Anna Fienberg, Kylie Fornasier, Simon French, Felicity Gardner, Margaret Hamilton, Wayne Harris, Ochre Lawson, David Legge, Stephen Measday, Dawn Meredith, Belinda Murrell, Amanda Niland, Oliver Phommavanh, Donna Rawlins, Emily Rodda, James Roy, Lisa Stewart, Leanne Tobin, Jodie Wells-Slowgrove,
Sue Whiting

The weather was perfect, loads of kids and their families came through the gates and everyone seemed to enjoy the catered event. There were stories read aloud, spoken and illustrated, games and colouring-in, silent book auctions, prizes and giveaways, interviews with authors and chats with kids and parents. What a great day!
Simon Marnie with talented Lisa Stewart

Kids at my table colouring in their monsters!