Ending the year with some writing

As we come to the end of another tumultuous year, I’m pleased to report that I’ve been making progress on my crime novel, using the wonderful feedback I received from Abigail Nathan from Bothersome Words, who did the manuscript assessment.

The manuscript is really coming together and I’m hoping to have it out to my beta readers before Christmas. It’s been such an interesting process, and I have learned a lot about what kind of crime story I enjoy writing. I love detective mysteries and have been immersing myself in them to gain a deeper understanding of the genre and to ensure my novel meets readers’ expectations (a great point raised by Abigail in her in-depth feedback).

I’ve also been busy reworking the outline for my gothic romance, which I am getting quite excited about because I had a few brainwaves about how to make the characters work better together and how to make the setting become a more essential part of the story.

I’ve also started blocking out the story beats for crime novel number two, which will feature the detective from my first novel. I have ideas for another three or four novels beyond that so it has the potential to become a series if I can get the first one right!

How are you ending your writing year?

The setting for my crime novel, regional NSW outside Queanbeyan
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Planting new story seeds

With my first novel out with an editor for a script assessment, my thoughts have turned to number two. I was going to start on my post-apocalyptic story but decided instead to tackle another story idea that’s been cooking away in my brain, a romantic suspense story set in central west New South Wales.

I’ve finished the outline and have decided it’s going to be a dual point of view novel – another departure from my crime novel, which has a single POV.

In this next novel, I’m setting the central love story against a backdrop of pandemic, culture wars and class divides. I’m excited to explore a darker tone and the challenges of creating a believable love story in a cynical world.

My story features a sprawling, historic house in the country outside Bathurst, New South Wales, inspired by Abercrombie House (pictured). Atmospheric, isn’t it?

I’ve set up the draft document with chapter breaks mapping to the story beats and POV reminders. Next step is to dive in and start writing!

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Powering on with novel revisions

Queabeyan’s Royal Hotel

I’m mostly enjoying the experience of revising my draft crime novel, although I’m also learning how much I don’t know about novel editing. There are so many of the writing craft you want to get right but it is hard work wrangling them across 80,000 words. The longest piece of writing I’ve managed previously was my Master of Philosophy dissertation at 40k. This one is harder because I love my characters, have enjoyed creating the story, plot twists and putting it all together in settings I’ve not often seen in Australian crime novels, including Queanbeyan in country New South Wales and Eden on the Sapphire Coast.

I’ve also decided to bite the bullet (an apropos crime cliche!) and engage the services of a professional editor to do a manuscript assessment to help me work out where to focus my energies next. I hope to have the novel ready for querying by July/August so this is a positive step. There is incredible demand for Australian crime fiction, so I am keen to get it ‘out there’.

Lots of ideas have been popping too for book #2 in the series, where I’ll continue to drop my leading lady into all kinds of trouble. She’s an awesome character and I am looking forward to you meeting her one day…hopefully soon.

Speaking of Australian crime fiction, did you see THE DRY? It’s grossed more than $20m at the Box Office (thank you COVID for creating space for theatrical releases of local films) and garnered mostly four and five-star reviews. Author Jane Harper is one of our best crime novellists – her work is up there for me with the late, great Peter Temple’s. I hope to see THE LOST MAN on the screen in the coming years. In my opinion, that’s Harper’s best work to date. She is brilliant and I have learned a lot from reading her novels.

Do you have a favourite Australian crime novellist?

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Writing News

I’m pleased to report that after a few stops and restarts, I finally took the plunge and finished the first draft of my crime novel. Now the really hard work begins! I’m loving my characters and setting (Queanbeyan and the Far South Coast of NSW) so it will be good to get it out to beta readers over Christmas and see what they think.

In between finishing the first draft and starting editing, I’ve written a synopsis for a post-apocalyptic novel set on the Snowy River in southern New South Wales. Thus one has been a long time coming so I’m looking forward to working on that next year while I’m querying the crime novel.

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NAIDOC Week 2020 – Modern and Contemporary Indigenous Art

This week celebrates Indigenous people, culture and history in the land we call Australia. This year’s theme recognises that Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were custodians of this land millennia before the arrival of the colonisers of the 18th Century.

This year I’ve been reading a lot more books by Indigenous writers and trying to understand more about the culture and traditions of the Ngunnawal people, who are the traditional owners of Canberra and the surrounding country.

I’m also trying to bring Indigenous culture, people and challenges into my stories, while being careful not stray into areas I shouldn’t and not falling for stereotypes that are harmful to our First Nations people. (I’ll also be enlisting sensitivity readers to help challenge any residual biases or misrepresentations.)

One of the best places to learn about Indigenous art is the National Gallery of Australia, which has permanent Indigenous galleries showcasing the history of modern Indigenous art in Australia (of course, Aboriginal art goes back at least 40,000 years on this continent – the most astonishing thought for white people, whose art traditions are “only” tens of thousands of years old), as well as a new exhibition of contemporary Indigenous art.

My main interest is in art by Indigenous women, which has blossomed over the past forty years to become some of the most exciting contemporary art being produced in Australia (and probably the world).

Below are some of my favourites from today’s visit.

The Aboriginal Memorial from Central Arnhem Land is an installation comprising 200 hollow log coffins, representing the clans that live along the Glyde River.
Uta Uta Tjangala’s untitled works (1984) are rich with meaning for the Pintupi People of the Western Desert (Northern Territory).
Detail of Uta Uta Tjangala’s untitled 1984 work
In the 1980s, Aboriginal women’s art burst into life. Emily Kam Kngwarreye’s incredible Alkalkere Suite is alone worth a trip to the gallery. This display has such impact – in my opinion it rivals the very famous Pollack that most NGA visitors flock to see. Read about the works on the NGA website.
Naata Nungurrayi – Untitled 2010
Mona Jukuna Chuguna and Pijaju Peter Skipper – Jamirlangu (Husband and Wife) 2003
Djerrkngu Yunupingu – Seven Sisters Djerrkngu 2012
Maringka Baker’s Kuru Ala (2007) is another example of brilliant colours, patterns and shapes being used to show us the land of the Pitjinjara people. The artist describes Kuru Ala as having ‘creeks and rock holes everywhere, and many trees. There is puli (rocks) and apu (rocky hills). This is Minyma Tjuta Tjukurrpa (Seven Sisters Creation Story)’.
Jan (Djan Nanundie) Billycan – All the Jila (2006). The artist is from the Kimberley and worked around Broome. Her distinct style represents the large mud flats, dunes and big country that dominate the landscape where her people have lived for thousands of years.
I visited at 10.30 on a Saturday morning and had the place pretty much to myself. It was incredible to be surrounded by such amazing art and being able to take as long as I liked with each painting. There was an art volunteer there and she told me about the artists, their lives and their practice.
How’s this for colour? Naomi Hobson’s Yinyalma (2012). Naomi is a contemporary artist in Far North Queensland. She is also a visual artist, ceramicist and photographer.
Gertie Huddleston – We All Share Water (2001). Hailing from Southern Arnhem Land, Huddleston’s religious beliefs and deep interest in gardens and landscpates were recurring themes in her paintings, focusing on the neat, orderly use of the natural landscape, depicting scenes of abundance in the context of human control.
Seven Sisters 2011 tells the Pitjantjatjara story of Kungkarangkalpa Tjukurpa, or the Seven Sisters Dreaming The story explains the movement of the Seven Sisters constellation (the Pleiades) and the Nyiru constellation (Orion) across the night sky. Nyiru was an evil man who wanted to marry the eldest sister. To escape his unwanted attention, the sisters forever travel between the sky and the earth, and he continues to pursue them. The collaborating artists were: Kunmanara Kawiny, Mona Mitakikil Shepherd and Tjimpayie Prestley.
The incredible A Sister’s Story by the Ken Sisters: The Ken sisters – Tingila Yaritji Young, Maringka Tunkin, Sandra Ken, Freda Brady and Tjungkara Ken from Amata in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. Painted over three panels in 2017, the painting represents the connection between the sisters and their connection to country.
The scale of Judy Watson’s Canyon (1997) is impressive. A printmaker and painter connected to her grandmother’s country in north-west Queensland, she represented Australia at the Venice Biennale in 1997, along with Emily Kame Kngwarreye and Yvonne Koolmatrie.
The newest work in the collection, Seven Sisters (2020) by the Tjanpi Desert Weavers, is from the story of the seven sisters and is part of the NGA’s Know My Name exhibition of women artists. You can see Nyiru in the right-hand corner, chasing the sisters.

From the NGA site: “This large-scale installation tells the ancestral story of the Seven Sisters Dreaming, using sculptural forms woven from materials including tjanpi (the Pitjantjatjara word for grass) and raffia. In the Dreaming story, the seven sisters are pursued across the land by a man called Nyiru, or Nyirunya. He chases the sisters up into the sky and down to earth again, intent on marrying the eldest of the women. Eventually, the sisters are transformed into the constellation of Pleiades and Nyiru assumes the form of Orion.”

If you are lucky enough to live in Canberra or visit our beautiful city, make sure you visit the National Gallery of Australia and spend some time in the Indigenous Art Galleries.

Happy NAIDOC Week 2020.

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The Upside of Community Quarantine

What a time to be alive! Not only did we have the hottest summer on record, followed by flooding rains and biblical hailstorms, we are now locking down our communities as we deal with a deadly pandemic.

I saw ‘science fiction is dead’ on Twitter the other day and I’m glad I’m not writing post-apocalyptic fiction right now. Events are catching up and overtaking a lot of near-future storylines so you’d have to be a genius to make a new story about the end of life as we know it.

So it’s a good thing I’m writing a crime novel. And there’s nothing quite like a social quarantine to free up some time and energy to put words on a page. Yesterday I managed 3.5k words and woke up with a head full of story this morning.

Of course, I’m one of the lucky ones. I work full time in a job I can do from home and I don’t depend on my writing as income. Now is a tough time to be an artist, especially one who makes their living through touring.

This article from Junkee sums it up well: https://junkee.com/coronavirus-tour-cancellation-support-bands/246690

I’m supporting my favourite artists by buying their albums and merch. It’s going to be a hard year for writers promoting their work so make sure you follow your favourite authors and buy their books where you can.

And batten down the hatches. It’s a wild ride out there.

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A New Decade


Three days into a new decade and it seems the apocalypse is here in Australia. Our beautiful coastal towns are being reduced to ashes, our mountain ranges are on fire and our nation’s capital is choked with acrid smoke. It’s an awful time for all Australians as we grapple with the reality that the climate has changed and take a glimpse into what our near future will look like as the climate disaster unfolds.

No doubt the climate emergency will change the way we write contemporary and dystopian fiction – in fact, we are already seeing it. In 2019 I read The Lost Man by Jane Harper and The Glad Shout by Alice Robinson, both authors using climate change as the narrative engine that powered their stories. These are just two examples of many Australian novels that give voice to the challenges we confront as we step into 2020.

As we close the door on 2019 and the decade that gave us brilliant literature by Neil Gaiman (The Ocean at the End of the Lane is my personal favourite), Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor (a searing portrait of a middle age in the middle class in Australia’s richest city), Light and Shadow: Memoirs of a Spy’s Son by Mark Colvin (updated after his untimely death in 2017) and the Slough House series by Mick Herron (starting with Slow Horses, which introduced us to Jackson Lamb, the ultimate anti-hero), I look back on my own writing journey.

I will be forever grateful to Jodi Cleghorn, who was the first publisher to give me a go and whose editorial advice and beautiful friendship gave me the confidence I needed to start writing. She published several of my stories at the start of the last decade, which left me wanting more and helped me realise I wanted to move to longer form stories.

Between 2014 and 2019 I dived into screenwriting and wrote two screenplays (both of which remain in second draft), went to the US to take Robert McKee’s Story seminar, and started my crime novel set in Queanbeyan. While this all sounds very impressive, it’s just a beginning, and a slow one at that. My progress was curtailed by the onset of migraine – a chronic condition that has worsened over the past five years to the point where I now have daily migraine attacks with very little respite. It’s really hard to write creatively when you have an invisible screwdriver jammed into your brain.

While my novel only grew by around 7k in 2019, I did finish outlining it and I now have a plan to get to the end of the first draft, which is where the real work begins!

My writing plan for 2020 is simple: finish the first draft, rewrite/revise as necessary and send it out to my volunteer beta readers. Depending on their feedback, complete a third draft and send it out to select agents to see if I can gain representation. If not, I’ll shop it around myself. Crime is hot and Australian crime is hotter right now so I had better get my skates on before it goes off the boil. I’d also better think about how I’m going to incorporate the climate into this first and subsequent novels to make sure I’m rooting my fiction in reality.

What are your writing plans for 2020?

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Happy New Year!

Wow, I missed 2017 and 2018! What happened? Not a lot on the writing front, that’s for sure. I did, however *drum roll*, graduate from my Master of Philosophy degree, change jobs, travel overseas (twice), join a new blues band and become a high school mum. I’ve also been suffering from increasingly severe and frequent migraine attacks which have basically depleted any spare brain capacity I may have otherwise had.

So, I’ve had to be very kind to myself about my writing. The stories are all still works in progress but they’re definitely there in my head, percolating away nicely.

My resolution for 2019 is to finish Charlevoix (screenplay #1) – and yes, I did visit that beautiful place on Michigan’s Sunset Coast in October 2016 – and submit it after I receive feedback from a script editor (argh, the horrors that await!). I’ll also commit right here to finishing the first draft of my Australian crime novel this year. If there’s any gas left in the tank I’ll hit screenplay #2 for its first major edit.

That’s probably all I’ll manage this year but if I get there, actually that’s quite a lot!

What are your writing goals for 2019?

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Confluence and convergence

It’s been a while between posts and that’s merely due to life and its many facets. I try hard to keep all of the things in balance, but sometimes that’s not possible. Given we can only manoeuvre settings around 24 hours in a day (life is a zero-sum game), that means some of our favourite things need to go on the backburner while we prioritise the more important things.

Too many things!

While running too hard I came down with an infection that took me out of the picture for two days of forced rest. This happens, apparently. Slowing down for a rest meant my brain could drop down a gear or two and ponder some bigger, larger ideas that have been coalescing in my subconscious. Those ideas are the spines of my two new screenplays. This got me thinking about words like:

Confluence – a place where two rivers or streams join to become one; a situation in which two things come together or happen at the same time (Merriam-Webster)


Convergence – the act of converging and especially moving toward union or uniformity; especially:  coordinated movement of the two eyes so that the image of a single point is formed on corresponding retinal areas (Merriam-Webster)


Conflux – which Merriam-Webster defines as synonymous with confluence; to me it means something altogether different. It’s nearly time for the annual Canberra speculative fiction conference! (Hope to see you there: 30 Sep-3 Oct, Novotel Canberra)

So, why am I writing two screenplays? Well, I found my muse. As I tweeted today, while technically there’s no such thing as a male muse (just ask Wikipedia), I certainly found mine in Richard Dormer. If you don’t know him, he’s an actor from Northern Ireland who stars in Fortitude, the genre-smashing psychological thriller series from Sky Atlantic/Pivot. His incredible performance as Norwegian sheriff Dan Anderssen got me right in the feels and, as a consequence, my writerly imagination has been obsessed with him since about the sixth episode of Season 1 (the next season is in post-production and should air in January 2017). You may also know Dormer from Game of Thrones but I don’t watch it (and neither does he, apparently).

Back to the muse part. So, I was having huge trouble picturing the antagonist in screenplay #3, which made it really hard for me to visualise the interactions between him and my protagonist. The more I saw of Dormer, the more I realised he could be my antagonist. But I wanted to write #2 first (it’s my second warm-up – a romantic drama told as a linear narrative) before I moved onto #3, which is a fractured narrative, post-apocalyptic drama set in the near future. It’s going to be the most technically demanding work I’ve ever written so I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. As it turns out, the muse – once found – does not want to be silenced. I can hear Richard whispering in my ear, in his Irish whisky voice, ‘Shouldn’t you be writing?’

Shouldn't you be writing

So I have been! He’s also making an appearance in screenplay #2, where I was looking for a contained but magnetic actor to play a small but significant role that takes the movie to its climax and back down the other, satisfying side. Yes, I can see Richard as Michael and that’s pretty much all it took for the gaping hole at the end of the penultimate act to close up. I haz a complete story!

I also *may* have been doing some productive procrastination in doing some *research* for my forthcoming trip to the US. I will be visiting Charlevoix and other lakeside delights, on Michigan’s mitten, in October – that’s NEXT MONTH – and I have been trying to work out the best way to get from Mackinac Island (in Lake Huron right up past the top of the Michigan mitten between the lower peninsula, upper peninsula and Canada) back down to Chicago to catch my flight across to Boston. I had hoped to get the ferry back to St Ignace or Mackinaw City (depending on where I leave my car) and then drive around the west side of Lake Michigan, but since I only have one day to do it, it’s a bit far at 8+ hours driving. It’s around 6.5 if I travel back down through the mitten, so that’s what I’ll have to do. I need to be at Chicago Airport in plenty of time to catch my flight so I don’t want to risk being late!

After leaving Michigan/Illinois, I’ll spend a couple of days in Boston, train down to NYC to catch up with a very good friend, visit Washington DC for a couple of days before heading back to New York for a three-day masterclass with the doyen of screenwriting, Robert McKee. Now that is something I have been looking forward to for a long time. Please make sure you look out for me and say g’day if you’ll be there too.

So now I have procrastinated successfully by updating this website and researching my driving tour, I can hear Richard getting impatient. Back to the screenplay!

Do you have a muse? If so, please share with me in the comments who yours is and how you found them (and what power they have over your writing).

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The joys of loglines and other news

Blase Pascal

So, I’ve been writing. And editing. And learning the joys of writing loglines, which this post is ostensibly about. But first, my big news:

I have finally been awarded the degree of Master of Philosophy!

Huzzah! I will graduate in December and never a more relieved graduand ever there was. It’s taken more than two years since I submitted my dissertation to convince a seemingly endless parade of academics that my research has value. What have I learned from this experience? The most important part of your research is, in fact, the methodology. Without the right methodology, your research question and findings can be rendered near worthless. I had to do a lot of work to justify mine and I could have saved myself two years of (very part-time) effort if I’d known this up front. So, my advice to aspiring researchers: the first thing you should do after you decide your research topic is to determine your methodology. Then test that approach with a wide range of academics, especially those who may end up being your supervisor or examining your thesis. Only once you are satisfied that your methodology is sufficiently robust should you start your literature review and set your research question. The methodology is the backbone of your work.

This learning can be applied to creative writing. For screenwriting, this comes in the form of a logline. What is a logline, I hear you ask? It is the encapsulation of your story in a single sentence. It is the basis of your pitch to development execs. The logline therefore needs to grab the reader’s attention and make him/her want to read the screenplay. Not only does the logline need to have a hook, it needs give the reader an instant understanding of genre (If the logline is for a horror film, is it scary? If it’s for a comedy is it funny? If it’s for a drama, is it dramatic?), who the protagonist is, what their goal is and what struggles they will have in obtaining (or failing to obtain) that goal.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Well, it is. However, the art is in the execution. I have (so far) written upwards of 50 variations on the logline for my adult romantic comedy (which I referred to in an earlier post as SUMMER SOLSTICE, but whose working title is now CHARLEVOIX, after the town it’s set in) and I still don’t have it right. This is because I wrote my first screenplay before I wrote the logline. Just like I wrote my dissertation without having a clear understanding that the academic merits of a master’s level thesis based on a single qualitative case study was hard to justify. Call me a slow learner.

Now that I’ve realised how important the logline is, I’m researching my butt off to learn everything I can about how to do it well and then I’m practising, practising, practising. And revising, revising, revising! Here is my logline for CHARLEVOIX as it currently stands:

Escaping from New York to Michigan’s Sunset Coast, a neurotic romance writer struggles to meet her publisher’s deadline when she tangles with a free-wheeling bluesman straight out of one of her books.

The logline, while still needing work, is only as good as it is through having been workshopped with a bunch of very generous and talented writers over on the Bang2writers’ group on Facebook, run by Lucy V Hay, whom I name-dropped in my previous post. There are also a gazillion logline resources on the web for those who want to join in the fun.

Now that I’ve realised a weak logline makes for a weak story, I know the very first thing I’ll do when I launch into my next screenplay (AFTER NO. 10) is to make sure I write and road test the logline.

So, two lessons for today:

  • Sort out your approach before you begin writing. This doesn’t mean you must plot out every detail, but if you don’t know what story you’re going to tell and how before you begin, you’ll most likely run into issues down the track which will take a lot of work and time to resolve.
  • Surround yourself with kind, generous and talented people whose experience can help you learn. This doesn’t mean asking your BFF to give you feedback that makes you feel good about yourself but doesn’t help you write commercial-grade narrative fiction.
  • (I know I said two lessons, but here’s a bonus) Don’t pull the ladder up behind you. Give back to the community once you’ve gained some experience and success. This can only make the creative arts stronger and better.

And, finally, very exciting news! My reward to self for completing the MPhil (and demonstrating the power of resilience and determination) is an October trip to the East Coast of the USA. I’ll be taking a field trip to Charlevoix, among other Midwest destinations, and visiting Boston, NYC and Washington. More about the trip in my next post!

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