Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Altered perceptions

A week ago I started a new book. I'm almost 10K in - would be further but as usual, I realized I'd started in the wrong place and had to erase the whole of Chapter 1 and start again - and am really enjoying it. I'm writing in 1st person again, and my MC has a very unique way of seeing the world. She has synesthesia, so sees sounds and tastes colors. It's not an incredibly important part of the story, but it gives me an arsenal of different ways to describe things

Like most decisions I make about my characters, this one just happened. In my first chapter - the one I erased - she described a color as bitter and a sound as blue and I just went with it. By the time I reached the end of the chapter, I understood her oddity and it has just become a part of her voice. I love this journey of discovery. I feel as if I'm not guiding the characters at all, they're revealing themselves to me little by little. Luckily, Livvie's doing it at reasonable pace... I wish Jules would give up some of her secrets.

How do your characters develop? Are you actively involved in creating them, or do they kind of pop into your MS already fully evolved?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Lovin' The Language

So, it's time for this wonderful blogfest. I wonder if Jolene had any idea how hard it would be to find just 5 lines to post! I have been trawling my various novels and searching for the best lines in each. In the end though, I picked five from Chasing the Taillights because I really think it's the best written of the five novels I've attempted. Interestingly, all five are in chapters from Lucy's POV. That surprised me, because Tony is the more lyrical of the two, and I thought I'd find the lines I loved in his chapters.

So here we go...
1. The words build to a scream behind my forehead, hammering the bone with the need to escape. I’m aware of the woman’s hands coming down to hold my shoulders and realize I’m writhing on the cold blacktop, every movement awakening new hurt. A shriek rises and falls in the distance, growing nearer whoop by whoop.

2. . I’m not sure it was a dream. It felt too real, more like a memory. A fragmented memory, fractured like a shattered mirror, reflecting itself endlessly in the falling shards of glass. Nothing frightening happened in the dream/memory, but dread coats every inch of my skin.

3. I look up at him. The look of utter disgust on his face is terrifying. He hates me. I didn’t even have to tell. He hates me already. Maybe he can see it. It must show on my face. Perhaps the word is printed across my forehead for everyone to see. I reach up my hand, expecting to feel letters embossed on my flesh.

4. She marches me through the mall. She doesn’t seem to care I’m stumbling and tripping over small children, packages and other things that slide into my path. When Mom gets focused on something, it’s impossible to get her to see anything on either side of her beam. I trip along beside her and pray not to kill a toddler.

5. As the week drags on, I grow desperate. When he’s there, the chill coming from him is so intense, I can feel it in my room. I picture the icy waves of hatred creeping under his door, sneaking across the living-room to trickle under my door. At night I have to wrap extra blankets around myself to ward off the cold. Even then I find myself shivering.

YoYou will let me know what you think, won't you?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lifetime writer?

The other day someone asked me how long I'd been writing for. I didn't really think that much about it and said "since about 2008."

I realized when I was walking home last night that was a huge lie.

2008 was when I admitted I was a writer. It was when I started showing people my work. I joined and began critiquing and getting critiques, but I was a writer long before that.

I've always written. Even in the periods of my life I think I wasn't writing, I realize I was. I wrote as a child, just little stories mostly, but I remember writing a book about volcanoes when I was 8 or 9. When I was 12, a teacher loved a story I wrote in class and that sparked me to fill notebook after notebook with stories. I'm sure they're all awful. One day I'll work up the courage to dig them out of that box in the shed to see. The first drafts of both Assignment 9 and Holding it together came from this period. There is one paragraph left in Assignment 9 from that first draft, the one paragraph that was the genesis of the novel.

In high school, I kept writing. I remember an English teacher telling me she had to vomit after reading one of my early attempts at horror. Then I got into drama and focused my energy on acting... and playwrighting. I did a couple of courses in playwrighting, and was involved with a young playwright's festival both as an actor and a writer several times.

I finished my first novel while at university. I've read that more recently and it's horrible. Moments of lovely writing, but overall awful. That one stays in the trunk. I had a friend who wanted to write too and we used to challenge one another with words and settings as prompts, something I had totally forgotten about. Later, my singer/songwriter friend and I did the same thing.

And I thought I wasn't writing during this time? I was. I wrote screenplays too. I found the notebook in which I had written one recently and had sudden flashes of myself in my dingy apartment in Sydney, trying to keep cool in the sweaty heat, scrawling this script in purple ink.

I did a correspondence writers course for a few months too, got 8 lessons in before my first son was born and I ran out of time. I never finished which is a shame... But the point is, I've never not written, something I failed to recognize about myself. I've always been a writer. It's not a recent thing, it's been a lifelong passion.

How about you? Have you always written and not realized it? Or are you a true newcomer?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Let it rock!

I'm a total rock chick and I'm not afraid to admit it. Always have been. The first album I ever bought was Combat Rock by the Clash. I think I was eight...

Last night I was at the gym doing my usual Thursday night Spin class. The teacher was going to be away for a few days, so she decided to do a particularly difficult program (a whole hour long hill-climb). But she put on rock music. Usually her classes are done to pretty mainstream pop music, the kind of soulless, over produced garbage you hear on the radio. Katie Perry, Lady Gaga and that kind of thing. I try to get into it, but I can't.

Now rock music, that's a completely different beast and I can tell you, I worked harder in that class last night than I think I ever have. There's passion in rock music, emotion, a rawness that grabs you by the guts and drags you along with it. For me, that is motivation enough. I can crawl inside that driving beat and even though was gasping for breath by the end of the third song, at the end of the hour, I could have kept going. It was the best class since we had '80s week late last year...

What kind of music drives you?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Diving in

I've been procrastinating for weeks. I've been fooling around with an old project, trying to make it into something new, but the inspiration isn't really there. So last night I decided to just dive into my new book, The Boyfriend Plague. I have the big international Film Festival coming up on July 29th, so I've given myself until July 28th to knock out a first draft. I work better when I have a deadline.

So, after I get the kids off to school/creche this morning, and I've finished my spin class at the gym, I'm off to the library (it's too cold to write at home at this time of year) for 2.5 hours of nonstop writing time. I'm aiming to knock out the first two chapters. We'll see how we go.

I'm not an outliner, but I have written myself some notes for this one, just a few lines to guide me from chapter to chapter. It's a more complicated story than any I've attempted before, because there are two very significant things going on in my MC's life at the same time. In fact, each feeds the other, so I need to make sure the balance between the two is right. Hence, a little outlining. We'll see how it works out for me. I imagine by halfway through the book, I'll have veered so far away from the notes I'll need search and rescue to find me and drag me back.

Let's see if this self-imposed deadline gets the hoped-for result. Do you give yourself deadlines? Can you stick to them?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

And now for something completely different...

Something you probably didn't know about me, is that I used to be a chef. I still love to cook, even though I no longer make my living at it. There is something very satisfying about preparing food for people. Less satisfying is preparing food for children who turn their noses up at anything they don't recognize and say "I don't like that" without trying it, but....

I had my son's 4th birthday party here yesterday - a pirate themed one - and had to make a cake that looked like a pirate flag. It was delicious (if you ignored the fact it turned your teeth green when you ate it - black icing isn't easy to make.) and I thought I should share the recipe because this is an absolutely perfect chocolate cake recipe, and it's really easy.

2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
3/4 cut cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups sour cream
3/4 cup coffee or something else if you prefer - I used cranberry juice
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence

Throw all the ingredients into a food processor and whizz until properly mixed. Pour into a prepared tin and bake for 70 - 75 minutes.

And there you have it. The easiest and most delicious chocolate cake ever. I usually make a chocolate ganache to spread over it, which makes a nice smooth surface for writing on or decorating with colored icings, but a traditional buttercream is fine too. That's what I did for the pirate flag.

And another tip, if you're trying to make black icing, using black food coloring in white icing just makes it grey. I made a dark chocolate icing and added black food coloring until it looked black. The white icing was good for a skull and crossbones.

And what did that have to do with writing? Nothing it all. But sometimes we all need a break, right?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Heads up!

So, I heard about this awesome blogfest happening later in the month, and just thought I should let you all know it was happening, so you can join in too. Just click on the little heart logo and you'll get to Jolene's blog where all the rules are set out, and a sign-up sheet.

Now, I'm off to see if I can find the five best lines in my MS so I have something to post on the 27th.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Contest winners!

The random number generator picks number three, so Laura, you are the lucky winner! Congratulations! Email me your postal address and I'll get your prize into the mail first thing on Monday.

And thanks to everyone who entered. Always good to see you here....

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Born this way?

My son's school had a concert today. Each class in the junior school did a piece. Some were songs, others were dances, and several were plays. It was long, messy and hilarious.

What struck me was how, in every class, there were one or two kids who stood out. Confidence just oozed from them and you could tell they were having the time of their lives. Others looked like they wished they were anywhere but there, trying hard to lurk at the back of the group, barely moving. Their discomfort with the situation was palpable, the same way the joy was in those who were loving it.

Does this confidence in performing come naturally to these kids, or is it something they grow into? And is the reticence to get up in front of a crowd inbuilt? I'm curious. My own son is among those who clearly love being in front of an audience. What he lacks in co-ordination, he makes up for in confidence. Neither his father or I are great at being in front of crowds. I get tongue-tied if I have to introduce a film maker before a Q & A session, these days. But when I was younger, I was an actor.

I hope, if this kind of confidence is inborn, it lasts. Yet the world we live in seems full of people and situations that are designed to crush any confidence we might have. I remember dreaming of being a ballet dancer as a kid. I worked so hard at it, practicing daily and focusing everything I had on my weekly lessons. Then those four little words came and crushed my dreams : "You have no talent."

It was harsh, but looking back on it, it was the best thing. I was talentless. And without Mrs. Z telling me that, I may have wasted years chasing that dream, only to fail in the end. But at the same time, by crushing that particular dream, she also frayed my confidence. That little seed of doubt crept into my mind: maybe I'm no good.

I don't want my son to have that doubt. I want him to believe he's good at anything he tries until he decides for himself he's not. I want him to stay confident in front of an audience, even if he does look like a spastic monkey when he dances. It doesn't matter. The joy in what he's doing shines through and that's what makes it compelling.

It's the same with writing. You can feel when it's labored, when putting pen to paper was a chore. The words don't flow right, the imagery is off and characters don't live and breathe. Who knows what caused the lack of confidence? As writers, we're hanging our souls out on a daily basis, asking for critiques that might hurt us, sending off queries that more often than not end up rejecting us. Maintaining confidence in our work, and continuing to find joy in it is the most important thing.

Where do you find confidence? Were you born with it, or did it come with time?

Monday, June 13, 2011

100 Followers + contest

Wow! I just looked, and it appears that overnight, I've broken the 100 followers milestone with this blog. I can't believe 100 people find my ramblings interesting enough to follow, but thank you, all 101 of you!

I think this calls for a contest. I have a copy of the very first (and quite possibly only) issue of a publication called Death Rattle here, that's just begging to be given away. If you want to win it, just leave me a comment and on Friday, I'll choose a random person to win. I'll even sign my story in the anthology. And you'll get some pretty stamps from New Zealand when I mail it to you.

Sounds like an offer you can't refuse, doesn't it? And so easy to enter!

Good luck everyone. And once again, thank you for coming with me on this journey.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Romantic scene...

Gabriela Leesa is having another agent judged contest on her blog. This one is being judged by my friend Weronika so is well worth entering! The theme of the contest is love scenes, so here's something from Chasing the Taillights that you won't have read here before.

This scene comes toward the very end of the book. Tony has been struggling with having a crush on his best friend throughout the book. In this scene, Tony's had a hell of night and has decided he can't go home because he's afraid to face his sister who has just dropped a bombshell in his lap. So he goes to Jake's...

“Get out of those wet things.” He gestures at my clothes. “You’ll die of pneumonia. Or double pneumonia as my grandma always used to say.”

I don’t argue. I peel off my wet sweatshirt and rub the towel across my skin, trying to force the circulation back into it. My butt and thighs are numb, but I can’t take my jeans off. Not here. I just wrap the quilt around me and curl up on the couch again, still shivering.

Izzy ducks back into the room, zipping her jacket and pulling a woolen cap over her blond hair. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Where…” I can’t manage anything more.

“I’m going to your place,” she says. “I’ll make sure Lucy’s okay.”

Relief crashes over me. “Thanks.” I let my eyes close for a second. I wait until I hear the door click closed before opening them again.

Jake’s looking at me, standing by the couch, his eyes weary-looking. His hair is mashed against his head on one side, and his boxers sit low on his hips, hanging unevenly around his legs. He bends over, and before I know what’s happening, he’s knotted his hands behind my head, drawing me toward him. His lips meet mine, pressing my mouth against his. I pull him closer. I’m kissing him. Finally kissing him. And he’s kissing me! His lips are soft and full, warm, tasting a little like cinnamon candy.

It’s either a second or forever before I pull away. He steps back, and when I find the courage to look up, he’s leaning against the windowsill, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand. What just happened? Am I dreaming?

“Have you any idea how long I’ve been wanting to do that?” Jake’s voice is shaking.

I must be dreaming. This can’t be real. Did he just say what I think he did?

“Me too.” I get up, letting the quilt drop from my shoulders. I stand before him, realizing he’s trembling too. I bend and kiss him again, gentle this time, testing the waters, seeing if this might possibly be real. His tongue touches mine, and something like electricity pulses through me, weakening my legs so I have to brace myself on the wall to keep standing.

This time he’s the one to pull away. For a long moment we just stare into each other’s eyes. I’ve never noticed the flecks of gold and brown in his before.

“So… If you’re…um… Why did…?” Words fail me. My heart’s pounding loud enough to deafen me and my lips ache to be pressed to his again.

“Why’d I freak out that day in the locker room?” Jake gives a wry grin.

I nod. How the hell did he know what I was thinking? The guy’s a genius. “Yeah.”

He sighs and moves away from the window. “I’m a dick. I told you that. I freaked out. I’d been trying so hard not to like you, man. When you came at me like that, it scared the hell outta me. So I ran. And then I tried to find out if you meant it, remember? At that motel? After the meet?”

“I remember.” I nod again, stare down at my feet, too scared to look at him.

“I asked you, man. I pretty much came out and asked. And you blew me off.”

“I was scared too.” Admitting it is incredible. It’s like I’ve lost ten pounds in an instant. “I mean, you ran off on me the first sign of anything like that. What was I supposed to think?”

We move toward each other, lips meeting once more. I can taste last night’s booze on him in a bitter undertone.

“You’re wet,” he murmurs, jumping as my leg comes into contact with his. “And freezing. Why don’t you take those off?” His hands make their way under the towel and fumble with the top of my jeans. They’re warm against my cold skin. I’ve dreamed of this moment so many times, but I never imagined this heat. I moan as he tugs my pants down to my ankles and I step out of them. The towel rises in front of me as if by magic. Jake’s fingers brush against me and I clutch at his shoulders.

It’s at this moment my exhausted muscles resign and I crumple to the floor.

Please, don't be afraid to tell me what you think!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why I Write YA

Why do I write YA? That's a good question. And one I may have some trouble answering.

I think the teenage years are the most important years of your life. This is the period in which you become the person you end up being. You try on personalities, develop tastes, become engaged with the moral and idealogical tenets that will guide your life. It's a time where you develop relationships outside your own family and maybe even fall in love for the first time.

It's a confusing, messy time and any little event can invoke a massive emotional response. Some people change friends like they would their socks, trying different social groups for size. Cliques form and dissolve, bullying is rampant and acts of utter cruelty can be committed.

As a writer, this is dynamic stuff, and I can't get enough of exploring it. Teens are such a contradictory mixture of child and adult, it's a compelling voice to play with. There are so many opportunities to write about things that are really important without getting preachy or didactic. I love writing about the early, clumsy attempts at adult relationships, about the changing dynamic of families as children become their own people. I love it when my characters make the right decision at a crucial moment, but like it even more when, like teenagers do so often, they make the wrong one.

So, while I love adult literature, and read it, I write YA for the dynamism, excitement and wonder of growing up. For the voice that hasn't yet been ground down by the daily grind, for the hopefulness and idealism of youth, and for the opportunity to rediscover the moments that change you forever.

Why do you write YA?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First Chapters

The first chapter of a book is the most important chapter. It's what's going to hook the reader, make promises about the book and urge them to read on. It introduces characters that hopefully readers will want to follow through a book. So writing a good first chapter is hard.

With Assignment 9, I wrote and rewrote my first chapter about 100 times, if not more. In the end, I thought I had it just right. I introduced my MC and the romantic interest for her, hinted at what the conflict in the book might be, and then left the chapter with a cliff-hanger of sorts. But it didn't work. There was not enough action in the chapter to sustain it.

In Taillights, I've gone in a different direction. I've thrown the MC right into a horrific situation and left the reader to follow her as she figures out who, what and where she is. It's more action-packed, but you definitely don't get a very whole picture of who the character is, apart from in a flashback about two thirds of the way through the chapter. Yet several critiquers have told me to lose the flashback, that it drags them away from the action.

Without the flashback, you get no real idea of who Lucy is, other than someone lying on a dark road, trying to figure out how she got there and where the hell her parents might be. But does that matter? If the situation is intriguing, and you want to read on, does it matter that you don't have a good grasp on the character yet? It's one chapter. Over the course of the book, you obviously will get to know the character, and if by chapter three or four, you're not into that character, you can stop.

In my book, Lucy is one of two POV characters. And she's the less sympathetic of the two. I chose to open the book with her POV because hers is the more dramatic experience and after not having enough action in my opening chapter in A9, I decided to go all out with this one.

What are your thoughts about character vs action in an opening chapter? How do you balance the two? And what makes you want to read on?

Sunday, June 5, 2011



Juliana tagged me, so I'm going to have to answer these questions, and tag a few more of you! Just a warning, all you followers...

Do you think you're hot?
Well, not just at the moment. It's winter here, and we don't have central heating. So I'm not hot. Also, I'm in my robe, having just gotten out of bed, and nothing says 'hot' like bed hair and a rather dirty, worn blue robe.

Upload a picture or wallpaper that you're using at the moment.
My wallpaper is a revolving series of pictures of my kids. I love it because I never know which picture is going to pop up next, and when I'm at work, it's nice to see their faces, Especially on those long days where I drop them off at school and creche first thing in the morning, and don't see them again until the next mornings. Here's one of my faves...

When was the last time you ate chicken meat?
Hmm... That's going to take a little thinking on. I don't eat much meat because my partner's a vegetarian. I think I had chicken with my noodles from the new Thai place by the cinema on Tuesday though.... So, yeah. Tuesday.

The song(s) you listened to recently.
I listen to a whole lot of music I don't like at the gym, but I don't know what it is, so I can't say what it was. Last night I listened to some Bob Dylan because my partner was reading an article about him in Rolling Stone and thought he needed the appropriate soundtrack.

What were you thinking as you were doing this?
I was thinking about getting the kids dressed and out the door because we have a train to catch to my friend's house at the beach.

Do you have nicknames? What are they?
My dad calls me Katie, but he's the only one who's allowed to do that. One of my staff thinks it's funny to call me Katharine, so she calls me that. Otherwise, it's just plain Kate. Or Mum, which I guess is kind of a nickname.

Tag 8 blogger friends...
Ok. Trying to find new ones this time around. I seem to always spotlight the same people.
1. Tamara Hart Heiner
2. Cherie Smith
3. Kurt Chambers
4. Christine Murray
5. Annie McMahon
6. Rebecca Bradley
7. Sarah
8. T F Walsh

Who's listed as No. 1?
Tamara. She's the moderator of the first critique group I joined, and the first of my writing friends to get published. You should all read her book, Perilous.

Say something about No. 5

Annie is in my YA critique group and is a constant cheerleader for everyone in it.

How did you get to know No. 3?
Kurt is a stalwart of the YA critique group and one of the chattiest people in the forum. At Christmas I had the privilege of having a Skype conversation with him and Annie.

How about No. 4.
I met Christine through her blog and the ABNA contest. She made the semi-finals this year!

Leave a message for No. 6

I just met you recently through your blog, so hello! I hope to get to know you better.

Leave a lovey dovey message for No. 2.

I'm so enjoying reading Haven again. It's so much more complete and polished than it was last time I read it. It's almost like reading a whole new book!

Do No. 7 and No. 8 have any similarities?

Well, they're both aspiring writers, but then, most of the people I know online are writers. Does that count?

Friday, June 3, 2011


To be a great writer, you have to read. You have to read a lot. And I read a LOT. Well, as much as time permits. I read on the bus. I read in the bath. I read while I eat when I don't have to supervise children. I read in bed when I get the opportunity. I read pretty much anytime I can. I can't stand to go anywhere without a book, just in case I get stuck with five minutes in which I could read. So I'm the one who never has a tiny, chic-looking handbag because it's not big enough to fit a library book in...

And what do I read? I read everything. Sure, I have preferences, but I'm not afraid to branch out and read something different. I love contemporary YA, but you'll often see me with my nose in an adult crime-thriller, or a Russian classic, or even a cheesy romance novel. My library book selection this last trip consisted of a YA dystopian, an adult literary fiction novel, an adult mainstream novel and a YA historical. And I enjoyed them all in different ways.

Unfortunately I finished them all, and it's almost a week before I can get to the library again. I'll be trawling my home bookshelves for something to re-read until I can refresh my stash.

And when I do, does anyone have something they think I should read? Is there something that you've read that was so good you want to recommend it to everyone you meet? I'm always eager for suggestions. I just have to hope my library has it...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


It's been a while since I sent anything out into the world - stories, queries, anything - so my formerly toughened hide is probably back to its soft-as-a-baby's-bum state once more. A year ago I was sending stories off every week, querying like crazy and rejections slid off me like the proverbial water off a duck.

Yesterday I started, very tentatively, querying Taillights. I finished revising last week (just in time to get it into the mail to a contest) and it felt like the right time to start sending out a few feelers. I'm not sure the query is 100% right yet, but until it's been rejected a few times, well, who knows? It's been through several rounds of critique and polish, so I'm pretty sure it's in better shape than those first, terrible queries I sent for Assignment 9.

Now the waiting begins. And the sandpapering of my skin and soul as I try to build up those calluses again so the rejections don't hurt so much.

How do you prepare for this frightening stage of the writing journey? What do you do to thicken your skin against hurt?