Best of 3: Australian crime fiction

Aussie crime fiction is some of the best in the world. I had the pleasure this week of profiling three of my favourite crime novels over at British author and script reader Lucy V Hay’s author website.

Well, what are you waiting for? Go and check it out!

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Making movies

The Canberra film community pulled out all the stops for the recent Lights! Canberra! Action! short film competition. I was lucky enough to be involved as cast in two of the competition films, Horrorology, written and produced by Hannah and Laura White from Little White Lies Productions, and Million Dollar Angel, written by Sebastian Chan and produced by Vorfreude Films.

Not only did I have a very small role in each, my kids joined in the fun too!

My daughter and I were zombie extras in Horrorology.

Horrorology RJ LilyAnd my son had a role as ‘young boy’ in Million Dollar Angel. I played his mum. Yes, it was a stretch 😉


Both kids enjoyed the experience, although my son nearly ate his t-shirt when we went to the competition screening, because Million Dollar Angel was one of the finalist films and it was a little confronting for him to see his cute face up on the big screen! He was so funny in his little role that he got a huge laugh from the crowd. Here he is, with winner of the most Memorable Performance award, Daniel Tonon.MDA TJ Dan

It was all a little overwhelming – my little guy gets very shy when I mention his superb actor’s eyebrows. You can watch the film here:

I really enjoyed the experience. It not only gave me great insights into how a screenplay needs to support the producers, art department, cinematographers, directors and cast in making the film, but also my first acting credits! I won’t quit my day job just yet.

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A finished crappy first draft is better than an unfinished draft

Michigan Sunset Coast

“A finished crappy first draft is better than an unfinished draft”

I read this in a meme on Facebook today. And so it is that I find myself with a finished first draft of my debut screenplay, Summer Solstice (working title), an adult romantic comedy set on Michigan’s Sunset Coast.

I’ll give myself a ‘huzzah!’ for that achievement.

And then, it’s straight into the edits. There are several areas I’m planning to target in my first revisions:

  • genre consistency throughout (starting as you mean to go on. i.e. don’t start out with rom com in mind but deliver straight drama)
  • comedic tone consistency throughout
  • character consistency throughout
  • make sure time and space are working properly
  • make sure titles are consistent throughout
  • ensure names are consistent throughout
  • removing redundant description to boost showing and reduce telling (everything has to play visually in a screenplay)
  • reduce and remove ‘on the nose’ dialogue (I went to a writing workshop years ago with Canberra author Craig Cormick. He advised us to use description to colour in the peripheries of a scene, rather than listing details head on. I think this advice applies as much to screenwriting as to short story writing)
  • get my characters moving – I’ve made heaps of classic first-timer mistakes, like too many phone calls used to move the plot forward. This is not very visual, so therefore stinks in screenplays. From what I’ve understood from my research. One phone call is okay. Two phone calls are stretching the limits. Three? Well, you’d better be a Coen brother or a Tarantino to get away with that shit. So, I have three phone calls. LOL. Time to convert those suckers into face-to-face action.

What other tips do you have for revisions of the first, crappy draft? Apart from being prepared to kill our darlings, that is. I learned that requirement through my short story writing.

The second set of revisions will focus much more on character arcs and make sure they are working and have stayed true to the overarching theme of the screenplay (the *concept*). I will also check that the movie described in the logline and outline is what’s actually delivered in the screenplay.

Third set will focus on length and scene structure. My first draft has come in at 113 pages and I need to get it down to around 95 (or thereabouts), which is pretty standard in the rom-com genre.

Some of my sources for understanding how to edit our little babies include:

Where do you get advice on screenplay editing from?

Image credit: Joseph John,

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A good start to the new year


Summer Paints the Sky. Photo: Lily Mulholland CC-BY-NO-CA-4.0

I read over my writing goals for 2016 and I’m pleased to report I’ve made some progress! I am going great guns on getting the first draft done of my first screenplay. I’m just about up to the third act, having just about ruined my protagonist’s life (well, at least she thinks it’s ruined). I’ve got about 15 pages to write and it will be done. Of course, that’s when the real hard work begins! Killing my darlings, garrotting my clichés and ensuring every scene is doing its job in propelling the story to a satisfying conclusion. That’s the hardest part, I think. Writing a conclusion that a) ‘works’, b) isn’t too obvious and c) that leaves a lasting impression in the reader/viewer’s mind. Then I have to go back to the beginning and make sure the first two acts lay sufficient groundwork for the final act. And then back to the beginning again to check the whole thing still makes sense. No sweat!

A few people have asked me, ‘why screenplays’? The chances of getting your story made into a feature film are worse than being struck by lightning. There’s a much better chance of getting a novel published. And, if you can’t, you can always self-publish. Better than your story mouldering away somewhere on a hard drive (not sure if hard drives can moulder, but no one has a screenplay sitting in their bottom drawer any more, do they?). Well, the answer is two-fold: first, I think the time is right for more stories to be told about women, especially about how they navigate modern relationships in an era where existing relationship rules are starting to seem very antiquated; and second, there are a lot of very talented actors out there in their late 30s/40/50s who are tired of being passed over for roles or not finding any roles that stretch them and their art – many of them have set up their own production companies. Wonderful actors like Viola Davis, Reese Witherspoon, Kate Winslet, Emma Thompson, Rose Byrne, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sandra Bullock, Queen Latifah, Drew Barrymore have stakes in or own their own prodcos. They need stories to tell. I am a storyteller, so you never know, right? And, I figure, if I can’t get any of my stories to producers, I can always rewrite my screenplays as novels/novellas. That’s one way to stretch your writing chops and demonstrate your versatility! Of course, I could always try to make my own films, but for me, an introvert, that way madness lies! Think I’ll stick to writing 🙂

How are your creative efforts coming along in 2016?


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2015…It’s a wrap!

Coogee Beach at sunsestWell, another year is in the can, done and dusted (or will be in another 12 hours). I can’t say I’m sad to see 2015 go. It’s been a hell of a year for so many people. While it has been a hard year, it hasn’t been all bad. So here are some things I’m grateful for:

  • My family. My kids are growing up faster than I can imagine. My daughter is 10 and my son is 7 years old. They’re adorable and (mostly) good together and kind to others. My husband supports me in all our endeavours and has managed to retain his sense of humour even when the low indicator warning was flashing on mine! My parents have both had health scares in recent years but are now okay and enjoying their retirement as much as any couple could. My father-in-law, who is very aged, is very seriously ill in hospital, but retains his sense of humour, is well cared for and is not in pain.
  • My job. While my job is incredibly challenging (in every conceivable respect) and occasionally frustrating, it’s tremendously rewarding and provides me with endless variety and opportunity, as well as a solid income to support the family and our adventures. I have worked hard to become a professional, but I know that hard work was only possible due to the springboard my middle-class upbringing afforded me. Not everyone is as fortunate as me and for that I am truly grateful.
  • My friends. It’s only in my mid-40s that I really feel like I have a group of friends who understand me and love me for who I am. I love them too for their creativity, energy and passion. They love life, music, food and wine and that makes us very compatible!
  • My imagination. Despite chronic illness wracking my brain and body for the past four to five years, my imagination has remained active. I have at least four big stories sitting in my head, percolating patiently and waiting for me to be sufficiently proficient in writing across different mediums. 2016 is going to be the year where I finish at least two screenplays and perhaps convert one or both into novellas/novels.

Next year looks like it will be a watershed year in so many ways:

  • I expect I’ll be taking on a new role at work – one that will bring together all of the skills, knowledge and experience that I’ve gained over my career, but particularly over the past five years.
  • We are building a house – we’ve outgrown the place we are in and have been in the planning stages of the new house for the past 12 months – we are hopeful for a January start and a June finish (although, given how long and torturous the process has been up until now, it may well be later than that). I can’t wait to move into our new home!
  • I will get more writing done. My MPhil is still unresolved, but it’s out of my hands for now, so I can concentrate on writing of the fictional kind for the next few months at least.
  • As per the above, I might actually graduate with a Master of Philosophy in 2016. Now that will be worth celebrating!

I am also embracing a new philosophy and mantra in 2016. My philosophy is to live in the present, but not be consumed by it. My mantra is “to be a pleasure to deal with always”. Life is too short and brutal to be unkind, sharp or short with people (including my children). I aim to be more philosophical about the bumps in life and to remain focused on the big picture. I want to instil in my children a sense of wonder, permission to imagine and experiment without fear of failure, and gratitude for the opportunities they have in life. I want them to be as kind to themselves as they are to others. And my hope for them is that they can live their lives on their own terms and contribute to making society stronger for all.

What are your hopes for 2016 and beyond?

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Chipping away, slowly, ever so slowly


The good news? I’m writing again! The bad news? I am sloth-like in my progress. But anything is better than nothing and keeping that screenplay tucked up in my head in its warmest, flannel pyjamas won’t get it any closer to being finished.

I’m in the mid-section of the story and it’s hit a dull patch. I know that the last three scenes I wrote are probably going to end up in the editing bin, to be replaced by one of my two main characters reading out a section of a story in the newspaper, but for now, I’m plugging away so that I can tease out the B stories and ensure they are supporting my A story and driving things irredeemably toward the inevitable but not obvious ending. Easy peasy Japanesie, right? We’ll see 😉

But at least I’m writing again. It’s been a while but I’ve finally found enough determination and discipline to get myself off Solitaire and Wordament and into Final Draft. I do love my protagonist, so I am hell bent on getting her story written.

What are you working on and how do you stay focussed?

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Getting a bead on a character

How do you get a bead on a character? When I was writing short fiction I found that the details of a character’s physical appearance didn’t really matter. I liked to give the reader the mental space to create her or his own image and to make the character into anything they wanted to make it.

Since I’ve been writing films (that sounds so grand – I am actually only on my first), I’ve found that, in addition to being quite a different discipline from written stories, screenplays are all about the visual. Now, that sounds like a blinding glimpse of the bloody obvious, but until you attempt it, it’s really hard to understand. For the past six months as I’ve working in extreme slow time on this script (life keeps nibbling away at my quiet time lately), I’ve been finding it really hard to picture one of my characters. I realised eventually that I had the wrong name for my character – once I changed his name (from Alex to Josh), an image burst into my brain (of Josh Holloway, naturally) and the character just clicked into place. I mean, I had his ‘back story’ all sorted, I had his ‘arc’ mapped out and I knew what kind of man he is, but I just couldn’t pin him down. Now I have, I’m really happy. I know it’s an extreme long shot that the film would get made and it’s an even longer shot that we’d get Mr Holloway, but that’s actually irrelevant right now. It’s important, because now I have the second of my two central characters sorted, I can move forward in creating challenges and tension for my main character, Angie. Boy, is she in for a hard road ahead!

So, dear reader, how do you get a bead on your characters?

Josh Holloway

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On Anzac Day, a story of loss and longing

Today marks 100 years since Australia lost thousands of its young men on Turkish shores, at the place now known as Anzac Cove. The magnitude of the losses of human life is unimaginable a century later.

As a woman, I might think differently about war than the men who were sent to the battle front in the world wars. I know I think a lot about the families left behind, especially the women with small children and babies. I wrote a story about it several years ago and I thought I would share it again, in the spirit of Anzac Day 2015.


Across the Ocean
Lily Mulholland

Love waits for me across the ocean, abandoned more than once. Once I promised her there would be no more voyages, I would turn my hands to farming instead. Instead I sailed away from her. Her fidelity undiminished despite this broken pledge, she waits for me, a beacon to guide me back to land. Land is now but a memory, adrift I have been on these seas, a compass without a map, a star without a night’s sky for weeks, nay, months.

Months slip away until I know not when I last saw my heart, alone, waving from the headland as my boat left the bay and entered the turgid seas, black as the clouds that hovered above, threatening to engulf her where she stood, with an arm raised in farewell.

‘Farewell, my husband,’ she said to me that morning, tears sparkling in her eyes the way sunlight shimmers upon dappled waves. Waves of regret assailed me, forcing me to my knees to encircle her waist with my arms, to bury my head in her burgeoning belly, fecund and full with my child. Child of mine I am yet to see, to smell, to hold. Hold on to the thought of me, for I shall return to claim you as my own, teach you what I have learnt of the world, guide you through the narrow straits of life, give you the father you have met only in your dreams.

Dreams guide me across the water, filling the wind-whipped canvas with snatched images, ballast to the torment in my mind. Mind tricks prey on the unsuspecting sailor, visions of death drive out the living. Living day to day, I mark notches in my soul, chipping away piece by piece the nourishing memories that sustain me until the day the ocean is behind me and I can return to my waiting love.


My love dies a little every day I am left unprotected on these untrustworthy shores. Shores bearing witness to many a ruined marriage, a coast of familial shipwrecks, teeming with cunning and hidden shoals.

Shoals of abandoned wives swim through town as one, pitying and despising each other in equal part, united in their simmering rage, forsaken once again. Again I join these widow crews, helping where there is need. Need I see firsthand the pain that is coming when alone I birth this child of yours? ‘Yours’ is what he is – I can sense the wanderlust, the way he pummels me from the inside out, demanding to be freed. Freedom is what you guard so jealously, as you scud across the ocean. Oceans of gold, onyx, sapphire and jade you will never let me see.

See the way they swallow you. You drown each night in my sleep. Sleep brings no rest, choking me with terror. Terror that my love will die.

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Did you hear that whooshing sound?

Tux_Paint_lemon_slice_svgIt was the sound of a whole, entire year whizzing by. Is it really a year since I last posted? Apparently so. And I am still in the seventh circle of hell, with post-examination revisions to my dissertation still doing the rounds of the university.

I have managed a small amount of writing while awaiting responses from lecturers and professors various. My first screenplay is fully outlined and half-drafted. It’s a romantic drama and it’s been a great antidote to academic writing, which, I have discovered, I am not so good at! But I am not working on it at the moment – I am forcing myself to wait until I can resubmit my dissertation (for re-examination). The story ideas keep piling up in my brain, but I am not listening to them right now!

The upside of my MPhil being so hard to earn, is that when I finally do turn in a draft that meets Examiner B’s approval, I will feel that I have really, really earned this degree. It’s more than likely to be my last…although I could perhaps succumb to the learning bug in the future – but only if it’s on the subject of writing!

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Back in the saddle


Good news on the writing (procrastination) front! My 40,000-word MPhil dissertation was submitted on 19 March, with two external markers currently assessing it. I should hear back in late May as to what, if any (but likely), changes are required before the dissertation can be finalised and the degree awarded. I am so super-pleased to not have the draft hanging over my head any more, I can tell you! I am hopeful the revisions will be minor so that I can celebrate and move on with my life.

What this means is that, finally, my self-imposed fiction writing ban of the last two years is now ended. I am free to write creatively again, which now means I have to fend of writing paralysis! I have so many story ideas buzzing around in my head I am unsure really where to start. There is one story I really want to write (and it’s a screenplay), but I am a little afraid of starting as I don’t want to bugger it up! In order to avoid the buggering part, I have been researching screenwriting and screencraft. I’ve read (and mostly absorbed) Robert McKee’s ‘Story’, John Schimmel’s ‘Screenwriting Behind Enemy Lines: Lessons from Inside the Studio Gates’, and I’m about to read Blake Snyder’s ‘Save the Cat’. Let me know if there’s something else I should read!

Film is a fascinating form and I find the idea of writing a screenplay incredibly appealing. It’s also quite daunting as, just like in the world of literature, it is an incredibly competitive and challenging world to try to break into. Therefore, I will keep my focus on the writing and the story, rather than on trying to sell a product, as I truly believe that unless you have the most amazing work you can produce you’re pretty much wasting your time. Therefore, I am avoiding any deadlines (such as competition) or other pressures, as writing takes as long as it takes with me. What I do need to do, however, is start outlining my idea in terms of acts, scenes and beats to make sure I actually have a filmable story; it will need to be marketed at some stage!

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