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!”

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A small cake to get my baking season started and to hone my cake decorating skills.

Spring is here and the time has come for me to set aside my sewing machine, don my apron and start baking.  I start with the deep Franciscan sighs every year at this time because this is when the celebrations start.

first birthday cake_n

3 tiers…what was I thinking????? It was my little girl’s first birthday but even I tend to think this was a little OTT.

I planned to ease myself into party season this year with a small cake to celebrate my daughter and niece’s First Holy Communion (see picture above).  In a couple of weeks I will be moving onto a Baptism cake for my baby niece, followed (in swift succession) by birthday cakes for each of my children.  I really start to curse once I get to December because by this time I not only have a cake to make for my son Michael, but also a Christmas cake and perhaps even a gingerbread house and an army of men to staff it.

Anniversary cake_n

I created this to celebrate my parents 40th Wedding Anniversary. The violets nearly sent me around the twist but they were essential since they are the flowers that my Dad has always grown in his garden (the ones he so often picks for my Mum).

This year I will not allow spring and summer baking to consume me.  I will pace myself and strictly set aside some time to write.  Who knows? The sudden rush of sugar could send me off writing in a flurry.   Goodness me I do hope so.

ginger stable_nGiant cupcake2_nTepot cake_ncupcakes galore_nChristmas cake 20123_nMikey cake9_n

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.

jazz cat

I can do this surely???????

It’s that time of the year again.  The time of year when frazzled mothers’ race to their local Spotlight store, in a frantic dash to gather ammunition to create a last minute Book Week Parade costume.  I was there last Friday.  I was lost somewhere in between the red spandex and the fluorescent beaded goodness-knows-what.  My quest? To locate the appropriate white stretchy fabric to create the perfect Princess Leia costume for my eldest daughter.  As I walked past the ready-made costumes I cursed (probably out loud), “Why couldn’t that bloody kid choose to go as Harry Potter?”  No such luck.  My kids would never be so pedestrian as to select a costume I could purchase on sale at Spotlight.

Sunday afternoon it rained and so I accepted the challenge to manufacture the best Princess Leia costume in the history of Book Week.  I started sewing.  Even my recent purchase of a special needle with a rounded tip couldn’t help me.  Having established early on that this fabric was impossible to unpick, I did manage to construct the main body of the garment.  Everything fell apart when I attached the arms the wrong way out.  Somewhere in between this I could be heard screaming at my middle child (who was screaming at his baby sister), “Stop making such a racket or else . . . or else. . . I’m gonna’ expire and then you won’t get your own flaming costume!”  Master M promptly dissolved into tears and I gave up, defiantly tossing $15 worth of white slinky fabric into the bin.  “I can’t do it!” I told my daughter; “I need to learn to sew a bit better before I will be able to succeed in making a Princess Leia costume.”  I secretly sniggered knowing that by that time it will probably be the X-rated version.

Needless to say they both are going to school with their Book Week costumes tomorrow.  They’ll probably be cold but their spirits will no doubt keep them warm.  In the end Ellen has decided to wear a red dress we bought in Hong Kong.  It is about two sizes too small but I’ll make her wear leggings and she might resemble something from Adeline Yen Mah’s Chinese Cinderella. Michael will is going as a jazz piano playing cat from a picture book called Max and the Lost Note.  I’ll need to find some black face paint to create whiskers and a nose (I might even employ permanent texta).   Don’t even ask about the baby.  Thankfully she doesn’t go to school yet as that would definitely tip me over the edge.

Happy Book Week!  My commiserations to those of you undertaking the impossible this week.  Who even knew that you could cook, clean, iron and wash, all in addition to constructing a one metre high cardboard hat while you taxi your progeny to their mid-week basketball game?

I need my own costume.  Perhaps this is what it should be...with some magic lycra to magically erase my bumps and lumps!

I need my own costume. Perhaps this is what it should be…with some magic lycra to magically erase my bumps and lumps!

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.

A Brief Literary Hiatus

Posted: July 16, 2013 in Crafting, Uncategorized

Those of you who know me personally will vouch for the fact that I am rarely idle.  I always seem to have something on the go.  My writing manages to take up a large portion of my spare time (admittedly something in short supply anyway with three young children). But every so often I give this a break and turn my attention to other pursuits.

About three weeks ago I placed my manuscript into the hands of a trusted colleague for beta-reading.  For a short moment I threw my hands up in the air wondering what on earth I would do with all my evenings free.  Then I started making stuff . . . and then I made some more stuff . . . and then I couldn’t stop.  Then, when I ran out of supplies I headed out to Spotlight and purchased some more.  You can see the fruits of my labours littering this post.

I made this for my sister.  She is due to have her third baby this week.  Yes, it's a girl (at least we hope it is)

I made this for my sister. She is due to have her third baby this week. Yes, it’s a girl (at least we hope it is)

I made this for my daughter Rose.  I bought the fabric an aeon ago and woke up inspired to turn it into a dress.

I made this for my daughter Rose. I bought the fabric an aeon ago and woke up inspired to turn it into a dress.

Communion Banner for Ellen. I never want to sew on another sequin again!

Yesterday I received a call from my beta.  The manuscript is ready for me to collect.  Part of me did a back-flip.  I can’t wait to start to make the changes and get ever closer to my goal of submitting the manuscript to publishers.  A small part of me drew in a massive sigh.  I am somewhat sad to be  closing the door to the fabric cupboard again.   As I do this I hear my beloved Grampsie whispering in my ear, “You’re book will get better as it improves my dear.”‘

“Yes Grampsie, but my manuscript won’t improve unless I hop to it and start to make that happen!”

Enough said . . . or is it stitched, appliqued and beaded?  I’m off to write . . . or will when I finish these last few dresses.

 

I also made this for Rosie from the same fabric stash.  I had intended to turn it into a dress but it does make a nice dress doesn't it?

I also made this for Rosie from the same fabric stash. I had intended to turn it into a bag but it does make a nice dress doesn’t it?