Bookshop Addiction-there is no cure.

Do you admit to bookshop addiction? I do. Openly, blissfully I admit to my affliction.

And there is no cure. I know; I have done the studies. No. Cure.

When you enter those hallowed walls, how do you browse the shelves? What is your process? Do you head straight for your genre, despite looking for a gift for someone else? Do you start at the back and work forward? Or do you mix it up a little?

I start at the beginning. At the very front. Those tables piled with temptation; the specials tables, then the new releases. Oh… the joy of picking the latest by a favourite author. Beyond these to the crime, romance, literature. There is the classic I have been looking for. On to the self help which does nothing to salve my addiction.

The children’s section, cooking and wine. Art and memoir. My pulse quickened back at Australian Classics and my doctor would seriously disapprove of the level my blood pressure has reached. I have enough to feed my addiction for the moment. It is time to go.

Have you noticed most registers are never quite at the front of the store? Nor in the middle or the back? No. So as not to impede your progress, they know their best spot is to the side, set back a little; not too obvious but where you will see them, ready to transfer your treasures into a brown paper bag while they feed their spoils of your addiction into the till.

I confess to something a little peculiar; I pick the book behind the first one. So I buy a pristine copy. It’s like the top one is sacrificed for the good of the rest. Unless I am browsing a second hand bookshop. That’s a whole other story.

My habit is out of control; I have browsed many a bookshop and below are a few of my favourites. There’s a common thread in these; heritage buildings, high timber shelves, careful lighting. And those library ladders!

New modern shops with their bright lights and garish posters – not for the seriously addicted, clearly. No, the serious addict doesn’t want their affliction flaunted in places such as these. Give us the low light, soft murmurs, and that smell. You know what I mean. Breathe it in and exhale slowly.

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Are your characters loveable?

Should we always write loveable characters? Or even likeable?

I recently received constructive feedback on a short story I entered into a competition. One of the comments “…this successfully built empathy for her situation whilst allowing one to dislike her for…” led me to wonder how many times a character I have had empathy for, or even a person I have met, I have disliked despite that empathy.’Empathy’ and ‘like’ don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Not long after this I listened to a great interview with Dutch writer Hermann Koch who has written best selling novels with distinctly unlikeable characters and was thereafter involved in an impromptu discussion about the emotions raised during and after reading the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante. How cross one reader was with the protagonist despite empathy for her situation.

That really is what writing a good story is about, isn’t it? Raised emotions and reactions, for the story to remain with us after we finish reading it?

Who are likeable characters and what makes them so? Anne of Green Gables?A rascallyClark Gablerogue with a handsome face and twinkle in his eye, a smile that sweeps you off your feet? A beautiful femme fatale who takes the bullet for the hero? I seem to be channeling 50s gangster movies. Bridget Jones? How about the Artful Dodger or Nancy, from Oliver Twist? Oliver goes without saying.

Our characters ought to have some redeeming features, or we would all put the story away pretty quickly.These will be in the eye of the reader and the skill of the writer. How differently is a character seen or interpreted between the mind and words of the writer and the eyes of the reader? A lot I think. Our readers are individuals and as such react, well, individually. They may not appreciate the depth of the character we as writers have slaved over.

So, must we always write likeable characters? Obviously not as the best selling status of the above mentioned authors attest. We must write flawed characters, but how deeply do we portray these flaws? We don’t want to turn our readers away. Should the protagonist be likeable and the antagonist not, because by the meaning of the word they are there to be Harper Lee booksdisliked. In one of my favourite books, To Kill  A Mocking Bird, Atticus is a warm, loveable character. However, in the recently released Go Set A Watchman, he is the antagonist; but so cleverly written by Harper Lee I am still a big fan.

What type of characters do you prefer to read? Maybe it depends on your mood at the time. After an exhausting day you might look forward to something warm and cosy with a happy ending. Or on a bleak wintry day you might want to fire yourself up with a deeply flawed character set on saving the world the hard way.

And do we write the sort of characters we like to read? After all we are in their heads a long time; we can even become them.

Back where all this began -did I like my character in the short story, do I like her now?  I’m not going to tell you, but if you would like to find out for yourself whether you might like her, I have attached a link here.

A quick note – this story, Invisible,  was placed 34th out of 251 entries; the first 31 were published. I am happy with that, and have chosen not to rewrite that story, yet; instead to move on and use their feedback on a current WIP. So the story you may be about to read is there warts and all.

 

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Stephen King is one, Margaret Atwood is another…

It has been a long dry spell between drinks as they say. In my case between writing posts to this blog.

My feeble excuse is that I have been working on the draft of my work in progress, and I managed to finish it on cue just before Christmas.

For me this was both a milestone and huge learning curve. I learned a few things about myself during this time, or to be more accurate, confirmed what I already knew- that I am easily distracted (otherwise known as procrastination), and that I am a proud, flag carrying PANTSER. (Not that I would classify myself with the ilk of Stephen King and Margaret Atwood. )

Pantser Loose Definition: a person who prefers to write by the seat of their pants without a plan or an outline. There are variations on the theme but you get the drift.

I have tried the other way. In fact I joined an online writing course during this period but failed miserably to fulfill their dream of my potential. There was nothing wrong with the way they taught the course, but I was unable to do as they asked; submit planned outlines and scenes until after the event. That is, until after I had written them. Why? Because I didn’t know what was going to happen until I had written it. (Much like my posts to this blog.) And going backwards was, well a backward step for me.

IMG_1768I admire writers who have it all planned out, with data cards pinned to their wall in order of outline; their chapters neatly named ready to be filled by equally neat scenes. Mine have yellowed, the writing faded, covered with pictures of the dog.

People have sometimes been aghast that I don’t know what is going to happen. But I tell them it is like reading a book; you don’t know what it going to happen until you read it. And that is what makes it exciting.

 

 

6 excuses not to be a writer – and how to turn them around

When I tell friends and acquaintances that I write, so often they say – “I would love to write, but…” We all have excuses not to write, not to even start.  I used them. Most likely you did too. Excuses are not valid reasons.

So how to turn these excuses around and send them packing? In this post I share what worked for me, what made me pick up that pen and just go for it.

First and foremost, give yourself permission to write. This can be the biggest hurdle, too often we put our needs last. Believe in yourself, put you first and say ‘YES.’

No 1. I wouldn’t know where to start

Enroll in a writing course. This is the first thing I did when I finally gave myself permission to write. Enrol in a community college class or, if you want to be less visible, look online, whatever works best for you.  Start with the basics. I found these beneficial – Australian Writers Centre, The Writers Studio and UWA Extension, however there are many, many others.

Read, read, read.

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This is probably the one most important piece of advice I received and that I can pass on to you. Read the genre you want to write in. But do also read other genres. Join a book club, join a library. Expand on your reading experience. Pretty soon you might say to yourself – “I could write that.”

Pick up a pen and paper and just do it.

Notebook and fountain pensWrite junk. About anything. Write what you see outside the window. What can you hear, smell? Use all your senses and don’t worry what goes on the page. No one will see it except you. Throw it away after if it makes you feel better. But do it every day.

Join a writing group. There is so much support out there for new writers. Search ‘writing groups in your area’. Go on. I dare you.

 Attend Writers Festivals. This is my favourite thing to do. These are a mecca for writers and readers alike. Writers are there to promote themselves and their work and they offer much in the way of encouragement to those of us on our own journey to being published. Soak up the ambience and escape to another world with like minded people. Here is a link to a piece I wrote after the Perth Writers Festival 2015.

2. I don’t have the time

SunsetTime is on the move, don’t waste it.

Do you really have to watch the twentieth repeat of (insert here your favourite TV show)? That’s 30 minutes you could have been writing.

Do you commute by public transport? That’s twice a day you could be writing.

Get up 30 minutes earlier, go to bed 30 minutes later.

An hour lunch break? (Lucky you) Squeeze in 30 minutes of writing.

Once a month ask your partner to take the kids out for the day. Write. Do the same for him/her.

3. I don’t have a place to write

You don’t need a huge space to write. Grab a corner of the dining table.

Large oak treeSit under a tree. Go to the library or your favourite coffee shop. Your lap. As long as you can fit your notebook on it you can write.

Some days I escape the distraction of a dirty house, and crave a quiet spot. My local library is perfect. And there is a lovely cafe close by. What more do you need? Supposedly, the Potter books were written in a cafe on napkins. We all know what came next… (I know, but it makes for a good story, right?)

4. I don’t know what to write about

Stories are everywhere. Who is the person under the Santa suit? A friendly Granddad or a serial killer? Maybe he murdered the last Santa and is hiding out. Sorry, didn’t mean to scare you off Santas, but…

The homeless man on the station platform, the girl with the purple hair and the tears in her eyes on the bus. The old lady who walks down the road at the same time every day. They all have stories.

Write about the happiest event of your childhood, or the saddest. There is a story in you.

5. I couldn’t write a whole book

So don’t. Write a short story. Write a poem. Dig out those essays you wrote at school. Rehash them, rewrite them. They were good and they can be again.

PastedGraphic-10Enter competitions. I did and was lucky enough to have 3 short stories published. Some are free but most will ask a small reading fee. One of the benefits of many of the competitions is the feedback.

Stringybark Stories is a small publisher who runs regular competitions across varied genres, and there are many others. You can be anonymous and receive genuine feedback.

6. I am too old to write

The worst one of them all. You have sent the kids out to the wild beyond, you are winding down to retirement and you plan to sit and wither away waiting for someone to call? I think not. You especially, have a lifetime of experience to explore. Use it.

I am the world’s worst procrastinator, but at 59 I have 3 short stories published and at the time of writing this post, am 28,000 words into the 2nd draft of a novel.

Books by Mary WesleyMary Wesley, Laura Ingells-Wilder, Frank McCourt, Harriet Doerr, to name just a few, were all late-comers.

Maybe you just want to write for your own pleasure, you’re not ready to share your words. Keep a journal. Fill a notebook.

If you have ever once in your life said to yourself, “I want to write something”, then do it.

Perth Writers Festival 2015

The Perth Writers Festival is over for another year and for me it abounded with inspiration, warmth, fun and fantastic weather. It is one of the highlights of my year, I anticipate the next one for months before it occurs and live off the memories for months after. Yes I am a ‘tragic’.

Australian writers and illustrators from all genres mixed, mingled and debated with equally illustrious writers from overseas to bring their expertise to packed audiences. Tropical garden to airconditioned tents to theatres, the venues were as diverse as the guests. Kudos to the hosts, the University of Western Australia, whose grounds and beautiful buildings, as ever, proved the perfect venue for such an event. PeacockTo the left is one of the resident peacocks who kept me company for much of my downtime between sessions.

So many writers, so hard to choose a favourite. Elizabeth Gilbert oozed warmth and insight while Graham Simsion greeted his audiences on entry with chocolates; his wit, charm and intellect held us spellbound during sessions which passed too quickly. Liane Moriarty, Peter Docker, Inga Simpson to literally name just a few among such an exciting group of Australian writers.

I sometimes wonder what draws others to Writers Festivals. The demographic is predominantly female seniors, strongly Caucasian. But the multicultural mix is improving which is great to see. And family day is a joy to observe. There is a minority, however, who test my patience. The self promoters in the audiences who, at question time, purport to know more about the writer and why they wrote the book than the writer themselves. To the frustration of the rest of the audience and perhaps even the author. I swear there is at least one of these in every session. (end of rant).

I know why I am there. To learn, to be inspired, to be awed; to soak up the ambiance and float home afterwards, my mind full.

(originally written earlier in the year for my own personal use)

#pwf15 @paulinewrites