Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

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When I started this blog in 2013 I was a SAHM with 2 primary aged kids and a baby.  When I wasn’t cleaning up vomit and playing house, in those moments when my little one slept, I would write.  The product of this was a complete manuscript for my first YA novel Magpie Game.  I intended this blog as a place to write about my journey as a beginning writer aspiring for publication.  It also became a place to share some of my other creative endeavours (cake decorating and crafting) in addition to my general musings about motherhood.  At some point I started to review books and very quickly what was a blog about writing became a blog comprised mostly of book reviews.

I realised that I rather enjoyed writing reviews for other people’s stories.  I discovered that although there are plenty of people reviewing books online, many of these reviews are quite poor and too frequently they are not really reviews (rather they are plot summaries and re-tellings).  It became apparent that there was a distinct lack of reviews which were geared towards the needs of teachers and their students (Educational Reviews).  By this I mean reviews which identify:

  1. The appropriate age and grade for a title.
  2. Identification of the best use for the title in an educational setting (Shared class text, individual reading, reading circles)
  3. Cross curricular links for a title.
  4. Comparative titles (for pairing of texts or for linking students to new titles)
  5. Identification of theme and content
  6. Evaluation of literary merit of the title
  7. Other issues about the text which may be pertinent from a teacher’s perspective (ie comment on sensitive issues raised in a text).

I returned to teaching at the beginning of 2014.  I didn’t have much time (or indeed creative energy) for  my own creative writing, but I did find my list of reviews grow rapidly as I sought to keep abreast of the new texts being released each month.  It helped that the good people of Allen & Unwin and University of Queensland Press kept sending me things to review!  It rapidly became apparent that in order to do this properly I needed to create a new blog entirely devoted to this.  Of course, like most teachers, I was too tied up in the actual business of teaching to actually do this.  After a great deal of soul searching I made the decision to take some parenting leave for 2015 (at least).  I want to spend more quality time at home with my husband and three children and more time writing new stories, investigating publication options for these, blogging and writing reviews.

Now that the children have returned to school I find myself faced with the task of ‘getting on with it’.  I’ve spent the last few weeks creating my new blog and migrating all the reviews on here to there.  For the moment I’ve left reviews on here although they will slowly disappear over the next few weeks.  If you enjoyed my reviews I encourage you to head on over to the new blog www.ozbooks4teachers.wordpress.com.  Here you will find old and new reviews neatly categorised by genre and grade band. Where possible I have included links to book trailers and appropriate author interviews that can be launched straight from the blog (for ease of use in the classroom).   I also have a friend (and awesome Early Years Educator), Kellie Moore who will be joining me to review picture books and titles for younger children.

This blog will remain, although it will again be focused upon my own writing journey.  In terms of this 2015 promises to be a busy year with me investigating publication options for Magpie Game, whilst starting work on a new and exciting project…..but more about that another time.

Wishing you a  happy and prosperous 2015!  May it be filled with delectable books with all the time you need to devour them.

Tanya Grech Welden

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I blinked somewhere around late October and found myself at the beginning of December.  I’m not sure what happened but I suppose this is what is inclined to occur when you are busy.  Before I blink again and find myself in 2014 I thought it best to update you on what I’ve been doing since my last blog.

starwarscake

My son turns 8 on the 21st December.  It turned out to be a really crappy time to have a baby, what with the world being smothered in tinsel and Christmas trees around this time every year.  What can I say, it isn’t my fault, the little fellow wasn’t due until February (I thought I had it planned so well).  As a result we celebrated his special day last Saturday before everyone got too drenched in Christmas spirit.    It was Michael’s turn to have a cake.  This year he wanted a Star Wars theme.  Goodness me, I thought, I’m not so sure I can do cakes for little boys (let alone an older and infinitely more particular boy).  You see I am surrounded by little girls . . . literally.  Michael is the only boy on both sides of the family (last count I had 8 nieces, 2 daughters and Michael).  So, you see, I can’t say I’ve had much practise.  My only previous efforts included a Tardis which was a dismal failure.  It fell down in such a spectacular fashion that my kids still joke about it.  Needless to say I lost some sleep over this one.   Thankfully it didn’t fall down and my little man was as pleased as punch with it.

For those who may be interested I modelled Yoda out of gumpaste and the lettering is done with a very basic run-out of royal icing.  I used a pre-coloured RTR fondant to cover the chocolate mudcake and finished it off with some simple royal icing piping and a dual layered ribbon.   The top ribbon is printed with some great characters from the Star Wars movies and was a great little ebay find.  It is a simple little cake.  I am moderately happy with Yoda, who turned out to be tricky (oh so many wrinkles).  My husband thought he was a little on the tubby side and perhaps looked more like a troll!!!!

mincepies

I’ve also managed to fit in a little Christmas baking.  Here is my first batch of mince pies.  I made the mince a week ago, and with more than a half a bottle of brandy in the mix, I’m hoping they are something special.   To be honest I forgot to taste them yesterday when I made this batch, but my Mum tells me they are “fantastic”.

I did manage to drag myself from the kitchen and spend a considerable time at my computer over the past few weeks.  I started a  major revision of my manuscript which I only completed late last week.  I found the process somewhat arduous. I have made some huge changes, killed a lot of my darlings and invented a few more.  It needed to be done.  I’d like to start sending it out to publishers early next year but I might sit on my hands a little longer with it, show it around a bit more before I do.  For now though it is time to get serious about starting a new writing project.   I am heading back to the classroom in February and although I am only part-time I need to be realistic about what can be achieved in these circumstances.  Past experiences have taught me that teaching is both mentally and creatively draining.  I hope I get the balance right and can produce a new novel next year whilst managing to plan my lessons, grade work and still run around after three kids and a husband.

I’d love to hear your experiences of juggling your work with family and other commitments.  What keeps you sane?  How do you make time for the things you enjoy whilst still managing to keep your house clean and your kids fed?

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I thought I might share with you all what has kept me busy this week (and has certainly taken me away from my writing).  I agreed to create a cake for my sister to celebrate the baptism of my gorgeous niece ‘Harper Louise’.  You know when you start something and mid-way you wonder, “hmmm…perhaps I have bitten off a little more than I can chew with this one.”  This is where I’ve been this week and my family will confirm the fact that I have been a little grumpier than is usual for me.

It all turned out in the end and my sister was very happy with the overall result.  Of course I’m a little harder to please.  It didn’t help that my husband told me that the clouds looked more like pebbles on the beach.  Clouds aside I am really thrilled with how the sleeping baby turned out.  I really enjoy making these little gum-paste figures.  I’d much rather create these than actually make the cake.  I’ll be honest I am a far better cake decorator than I am baker…..although this one is chocolate mud and some people may suggest you can’t go wrong with chocolate.

Looking to my week ahead and I don’t see anymore baking for at least a fortnight now.  This is just as well because I don’t think I could cope having to cut out another flower let alone roll out fondant! The next cake I have will be something more low key for my daughter’s 2nd birthday.  I’m thinking a teddy bear on a picnic rug perhaps???  Whatever I do it will definitely include some little butterflies.  Miss Rosie was particularly taken with the “flyflys” on Harper’s cake.  My plans for this week include some more editing and revision of my manuscript, perhaps a little more tweaking of my pitch and if I get really motivated I might even prepare a couple of submission letters.

In the meantime, if you didn’t manage to last week, it is not too late to vote in my poll. I would really love to hear your thoughts and I promise that the whole process will take less than two minutes (one click voting).  You can find the pitch samples in my last post titled “Pitch Headaches (Again)” and the poll at the bottom of this blog.

Have a wonderful week.  I do hope that wherever you are in the world the sun is shining for you.

Magpie B

A few weeks ago I posted the latest version of my pitch.

“…I’m unravelling.  I’ve been doing it for quite a while now and steadily I can feel myself starting to vanish.”

Escaping the heat, dust and flies of Roxby Downs, sixteen-year-old Bekah moves to Adelaide, bringing with her a secret.  When she meets the level-headed Maton and mischievously-errant Wadey, she is captivated, drawn into their protective circle and the world of soccer.  Can she resist their charms, and, will she survive when tragedy strikes?

Magpie Game is a tale of growth, exploring the devastation of loss, betrayal and the liberation of forgiveness. 

 I’m still not happy and I’m still working at it.  At any rate, here is the latest version.  It is an entirely different approach.

Bekah hates being the new girl.  She hates the feeling of unravelling; of disappearing into the red dust while she swats at blowflies and swelters in forty-degree heat.  Yet, even more she hates choking on the secrets of her past.

Disappearing might be an option; except for Maton Hammond, tall and broad shouldered, he seems determined to gather every fragment, slowly piecing them together until she finally makes sense again.  Then there is Wadey, always eating, always whining.  But he knows how to makes her eyes dance, even if her stomach is twisting into tiny knots at the sound of his voice.

Can she trust either of them?

Finally, there is the magpie.  The magpie that hangs dead on the fence; and the one who warbles his lilting tune, because only he knows how the game will end and who will ultimately lose.

 I’d love to hear what you think.  Which one do you prefer?  The door is open for brutal honesty….or feel free to let me know if you can feel your credit card burning in the palm of your hand as it screams “I must have it.  I must know how it ends!”  Alternately complete the poll, selecting which version you prefer.

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I got my first rejection two days ago.  Officially I received a silent rejection today.  I suppose this is my official commissioning ceremony as a writer.

I was expecting it.  I had anticipated this being the outcome yet nothing could have prepared me for the feeling as my stomach hit the floor and my hopes were dashed like a waves on a rocky cliff.  Ouch . . . shit that hurt.

Yesterday was a bad day.  Yesterday I was giving up this whole writing lark.  I did some research and discovered (by someone possibly better at sums than me), that I have a 0.1% chance of getting my manuscript published.  It probably wasn’t a good time to have found that article.  Let me put it another way.  Three weeks ago today I submitted a partial of my manuscript to HarperCollins.  My dream publisher had decided after goodness knows how long to accept unsolicited manuscripts.  I got my manuscript in with the first submission, along with 175 other hopefuls.  Apparently a mere two writers were asked to submit their complete manuscript.  You can read the article if you like.

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/pitching-novels-online-rewrites-the-rule-book-for-wannabe-authors-20130830-2sw67.html

I am not sure on the maths but it seems pretty pointless doesn’t it?  It seems beyond futile when I start calculating the amount of hours already invested in this project.  I have missed out on some serious television viewing people.

I’ve come to that place where I’m scared.  Scared to write, scared to submit, not sure what to do and feeling as though I’ve exhausted my wisdom.  Indecision.  Dr Seuss puts it rather aptly:

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. 

Some windows are lighted, but mostly they’re darked.

A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!

Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?

Dr Seuss “Oh the Places You’ll Go!”

I’m hoping that someone will open a door for me.  Surely I can’t stay as I am out in the cold forever?? Until that happens I will keep writing and ask that dreaded Hakken-Krak to talk to the hand.  I’m not listening anymore.

But on you will go

Though the weather be foul.

On you will go

Though your enemies prowl.

On you will go

Though the Hakken-Kraks howl.

Onward up many a frightening creek,

Though your arms may get sore

And your sneakers may leak.

Dr Seuss “Oh the Places You’ll Go!”

read a book_n

Agreed, and the more you read the better you will spell. I’d better keep reading in this case.

I’m convinced that the world has a problem with spelling.

Okay, I will admit it; I have a problem with spelling.  Try as I might the sight of an incorrectly spelt word irks me.  Misuse a homophone and for me it is like nails being driven down a blackboard.  I’m no spelling genius.  In fact, I don’t believe that there are many people on this planet that can claim this title.  As a general rule though, my spelling is acceptable, mostly accurate and I have a fairly good command of the spellchecking program.  Where spelling is concerned, I am old school.   I always have a dictionary (yes a hard copy version) alongside me when I write.

I make mistakes.  Apparently I committed a grossly indecent one the other day when I misspelt the name of a sports car, a Maserati, in a text message (I added an e at the end).  It would seem that this was an offense so severe it was observed as sacrilege by the recipient.  Give me strength!  Day in day out I am burdened with common and basic misuse of words.  Never mind how to spell the name of a sports car, the average person can no longer identify the correct place to use ‘to, too or two’ or (heaven forbid) get their head around when to use ‘there, they’re and their.’

Teachers spend a great deal of time teaching our children how to spell.  They give them lists of words each Monday to be learned in preparedness for their Friday spelling tests.  It always amazes me that these same teachers seem surprised when little Johnny has somehow forgotten how to spell a word he learned in his test a few weeks prior.  Perhaps they should spend this time getting them to read instead.

It is not just this that bugs me.  Why is it that my spellchecker program automatically reverts to US English? In schools we have given up asking students to use UK English.  Anything goes.   Facebook has recently installed a spellchecking program in its system.  It has lead to a vast improvement in the use of language (although you can forget homophones).  Evidently I can’t seem to spell anymore.  The system doesn’t recognise UK English and if this can be changed I have no idea how to do it.

Perhaps we do need to be more flexible when it comes to spelling.  Perhaps we just need to appreciate that the globalisation of the planet will ultimately lead to the extinction of UK English.  Irrespective of this reality I am not quite ready to surrender my S’s and replace them with Z’s just yet.

***My dear friends in bloggersphere; feel free to identify all my spelling errors.  I make mistakes and typos on a regular basis.  Just be sure that you are using a UK/Australian Dictionary before you contact me.***

Magpie BI’ve been working on the pitch for my first novel Magpie Game.  Here it is so far:

“…I’m unravelling.  I’ve been doing it for quite a while now and steadily I can feel myself starting to vanish.”

Escaping the heat, dust and flies of Roxby Downs, sixteen-year-old Bekah moves to Adelaide, bringing with her a secret.  When she meets the level-headed Maton and mischievously-errant Wadey, she is captivated, drawn into their protective circle and the world of soccer.  Can she resist their charms, and, will she survive when tragedy strikes?

Magpie Game is a tale of growth, exploring the devastation of loss, betrayal and the liberation of forgiveness. 

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve revised it.  I’m sending it out to the world.    Are you captivated?  Does it sound a little too quiet to attract your attention?  What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

A New Season

Posted: August 15, 2013 in Writing
The gorgeous ornamental cherry blossoms in my garden today herald the first suggestion that Spring is on its way.

The gorgeous ornamental cherry blossoms in my garden today herald the first suggestion that Spring is on its way.

Today I stopped myself for a brief moment just to appreciate the first hint of Spring.  The roses I pruned in late June have started to show new growth and the two cherry trees I have in my garden are now in flower.  I could not stop thinking about the new season in my life that I am entering. My first book, Magpie Game is not quite ready for submitting but it has come to a standstill while I send it out to beta-readers.  I have started to think about the next story that I want to tell.  My next writing project.

I’ve had the idea simmering for a while now, but it has only just been recently that I have been able to take the time out to start researching and planning.  I’m really excited about this project, for a number of reasons, but mostly because I feel that I am moving into this book with a good deal more wisdom than I did with my first.  My writing friends will appreciate what a massive learning curve a first book is. For me, it often felt like I did things the long way and sometimes the difficult way.  This time around I am excited to put into practice everything I learned in my first major writing encounter.

This week I’ve been thinking a bit about the importance of atmosphere.  I’m not talking necessarily about setting, more about the feel I hope to create in my writing.  The setting for Magpie Game was the suburbs of metropolitan Adelaide. I frequently mention the hills that border the city on one side with reference to the line of the sea on the other.  However, in terms of atmosphere the book is quite dark.  The majority of the narrative takes place during winter.  It is an uncharacteristically wet winter.  This started subconsciously at first but became quite deliberate when I realised that I wanted to mirror the overall darkness of the book’s content.  My next book will explore the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder.  My setting will have moments of aridness.  I want it to echo the absence of words able to adequately describe the horrors my main protagonist has experienced.  In fact, he will, for the most part refuse to speak of his experiences, yet, like many sufferers of PTSD, his mind forces him to relive the experience nightly.

Magpie Game is a cold, wet little book.  I intend to let the sun shine into my next; but it won’t be warm and enveloping; because I plan for it to be bright, uncompromising and blisteringly hot.

I frequently get asked how I manage to keep track of all my ideas when I am writing.  I actually have quite a few strategies that seem to work well for me.  However, when you speak to other writers you quickly realise that are as many strategies for this as there are writers.

As a rule, writers seem to fall into two main categories, those who plan and those who don’t.  I am definitely a planner.  I take a long time to think about my story and to develop my characters in my head before I start to pound the keyboard.  I might write the first few chapters.  This gives me a feel for the story, but then I stop and start planning.  I begin with a character map.  I list every character, starting with the main ones and ending with the minor ones.  I include information about each one; names, ages, interests, eye colour and a physical description.  Some of this information never even makes it into the story but it is important for me to be able to see my characters clearly.  Finally, I like to draw lines to indicate how the characters are related to one another.  Essentially I group them and identify if any tensions between them exist.

It's a little hard to read (really an indication of its size) but it will give you an idea of what my character maps look like.  Lots of lines and characters clustered together in their little groups (or tribes).

It’s a little hard to read (really an indication of its size) but it will give you an idea of what my character maps look like. Lots of lines and characters clustered together in their little groups (or tribes).

The next thing I do is create a flow chart of the main events in the story.  I like to see how each event will evolve out of another.  At this point I like to visualise more clearly some of the key scenes.  A lot of this ground work takes place while I go about my day to day business and I make notes here and there as I think of them.  My children will tell you that I have been known to pull the car over when I’m driving so that I can send myself a quick voice message.  I also use the voice recorder on my phone to take notes.  The kids think this is hilarious since what I say never makes any sense to anyone else.

The last thing I create is a detailed summary for each chapter.  Each chapter summary starts out fairly short (one or two sentences), but I add to them once I start writing and as future chapters start to become clearer.  As I write I constantly refer back to my notes.  I find my character summaries especially invaluable for cross checking information.  Nothing is set in concrete and the document is constantly updated.

When I write I tend to write chapters in their correct order.  I like to write slowly, ensuring that they are mostly fluent and I am happy with them before I move on to the next.  Writers can vary a great deal in this too.  Some prefer to just let the words flow and they are happy to go back and spend lots of time slashing word count during the editing process.  My word count tends not to decrease with editing and revision.  Even though I am happy to cut out whole chapters I still seem to add to my story during editing and revision rather than take from it.

I’m a huge fan of chunking.  I really do believe that almost anything can be achieved in 20 minute increments.  It is easy to be overwhelmed with the scale of a large writing project.  I find it helps to think of writing as a series of steps and a matter of slowly chipping away.  It takes time but the outcome is worth it.  When I start to doubt my efforts I only need to go back and look at an early draft of my work to see how far I have come.

ideas for dresses

I like to find pictures that help me visualise important elements of the story. I found some images of dresses in a magazine. It was really useful when it came to writing about the dresses that some of the characters wore to their formal.

baby booties

It’s been raining babies lately and I’m not just referencing the long awaited Royal bub either.  In my neck of the woods it seems that Spring has made an early arrival and the announcements have started coming thick and fast, bombarding my facebook news-feed with every click.  This is fine by me, yet it was in the flurry of booties, frilly nappy covers and teeny Bond’s suits that I started to ponder the relevance of names.

Names are vitally important.  They help to define us, who we are and who we aspire to be.  This is a little ironic when you consider that, in fact, our name says more about our parents than they do about us.  Believe me when I say, I’ve had plenty of time as a teacher to shake my head in disbelief at some of the delightful offerings on my class roll at the beginning of each year.    Don’t parents realise that in the staff room we are hysterical with laughter (and seemingly not bowled over at innovation or creativity with vowels and consonants)?

Consequently, we took great care in naming each of our children and I’ll admit that the outcome was a conservative mix.  We have an Ellen, a Michael and a Rose (although admittedly we did name the dog after a beer, along with half the population of Adelaide).  It wasn’t that we didn’t try.   Michael was nearly Ajax; until the jokes about cleaning products became too much that we wimped out and named him after his grandfather instead.

So what has this to do with writing?  For a writer of fiction it has everything to do with it since names get to the very heart of our love affair with words.  Personally I feel as if I gestate and give birth to my characters.  I spend hours, even days wrestling over the name of my key protagonists.  I pore over Baby Name books, wasting an interminable amount of time googling the origins of names.  One of the central characters in my novel “Magpie Game” caused me to spend more time researching possibilities for his name than I did for my own children combined.  I called him Maton.  His parents allegedly named him after the celebrated Australian brand of guitars.  It is also an aboriginal word meaning ‘strong’ which I rather liked.  When a beta-reader suggested recently that I change the name to Gibson my husband nearly started to levitate with anxiety.  “You can’t do that!” he had exclaimed.  “His name is Maton.”

“It’s just a name,” I had rebutted, “Gibson will do the same job and will be more accessible to a broader audience.” His look of pure derision spoke volumes. “Fine, I’ll leave it.  I’ll change it only if publication of the book depends on it shall I?”

Crafting memorable characters begins with a name.  The right name must be memorable and capture the very essence and heart of the character that the writer hopes to create.  To be honest each time I christen my characters I secretly hope that I have indeed given birth to the next Harry Potter, Katniss Everdene or Bella Swan.