Tag Archives: wrap-up

A Year in Review: Revisiting 2013

For those of you who’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you may have noticed my lack of goal-checking and goal-setting post at the start of January. There are good reasons for that. Many of them revolve around not having time to write one.

We shall have to remedy that.

First up, let me say that 2013 was the most intense, heart-shattering, life-changing, wing-growing, exciting, devastating, emotional, challenging, rewarding, and intense (did I already say intense?) year of my life. There were days I was so happy I couldn’t even feel the ground beneath my feet because I was flying too high. There were days when I literally cried non-stop for over 24 hours straight. There were days when I felt a zen-like sense of peace and well-being, and days when I was sure I’d ruined not just my own life, but also the lives of my children (and possibly their children).

It was a big year.


But let me start with my writing goals because, after all, that’s what this blog is supposed to be about. (Except when it’s not.)

How did I go with the writing goals I revised in July?

TNT #1

I was aiming to have revised this novel by October, and be ready to query it. This didn’t happen. Largely because in early September, I realised that the manuscript doesn’t just need a simple revision, it needs a complete break-down and rewrite.

This is a good thing and came about because (a) I finally “found” my true voice, and (b) I realised that I have recurring themes in my work, and discovered that those themes are there in TNT #1, but they’re hidden beneath a veneer of self-consciousness. So once I dig them out and make them shine, the whole story will be better for it.

I didn’t make my goal, but I’m darn happy with the revelations I had along the way.


My goal was to finish the first draft, finish revisions, and start querying. I¬†did finish the first draft on schedule — even though it meant writing my way through pneumonia to do it — and I finished my first-round revisions at 10:30pm on New Year’s Eve.

I’m not ready to start querying. Although I feel like I’m close. The manuscript is with beta readers at the moment, and I’m (eagerly) awaiting their feedback.

And feeling ill every time I think about it too much. But, you know, I’m not as bullet-proof as I like to pretend. ūüôā

Novel C

I didn’t start writing or outlining before the end of the year, but I’ve started it in the first couple of weeks of January. So I’m about a month behind schedule on this. But I¬†have worked out what I’m writing. I’ll give you a little hint to whet your appetite (and encourage you to nudge me if I stop writing!).

The story involves Greek mythology, violins, and a female protagonist with delusions of monsters and an acerbic wit.

Outline TNT #2 and #3

Yeah, whatever. Who wrote these goals???

Short Stories

Bum-bum. No more short stories written.


I don’t know if I read anything in the last few months of the year. It just wasn’t a priority for me.


I think my favourite writing-related part of 2013 was becoming part of a great group of enthusiastic, supportive writers. No matter what else happens in my life, I always have these writers there, supporting and encouraging and generally being awesome. Thanks to my P&Peeps for everything. *mwah!*

And that brings to the non-writing related part of this post.

In about August 2013, I got pneumonia pretty bad. It took over a month to recover. I didn’t end up in hospital — although, really, I probably should have. But I have two children, and going into hospital just wasn’t an option for me. So I spent weeks feeling miserable, struggling to breathe, and still doing the cooking, cleaning, raising the children, blah blah blah. You know how it is. But that put a few things into perspective for me. Things like: What’s really important? And: What do I really want?

Just prior to that, I’d been pulling my hair out over finances. So much of our money was being spent on rent and electricity that no matter how I sliced and diced, cut and shaved, managed and over-managed our budget, there was never enough left over for anything. And sometimes not even enough for the most basic of “extras”. Renting a movie to watch with the kids meant not being able to afford more breakfast cereal. Getting haircuts for the boys meant eating nothing but pasta and rice for a week.¬†

Between those two things, I came up with a radical and crazy idea.

What if we sold or gave away every single possession we didn’t actually¬†need, jumped out of the “rent this expensive house” game, and lived as simply as we possibly could?

What if we abandoned the life we knew ,and started a new one. A cheaper one. A simpler one. A life more in tune with the world, and with nature, and with the values that are close to my heart?

My husband agreed, and we set about the project.

We bought a dodgy, 30-year-old caravan, and I started renovating it from the inside out. (This is an ongoing project.) We bought a tent for the kitchen, and another one for the chemical toilet. We sold or gave away everything we didn’t need. Everything. It was a much bigger (and more emotional) job than I expected. And then we moved out to the middle of nowhere, and set up in a paddock that belongs to a friend of a friend.


This is where we live now.

It was a massive adjustment. Suddenly, weather plays a massive part in what we can and can’t do on a daily basis. We have to schedule time to move the cows off the road every time we go somewhere. Snakes are a major threat, as are paralysis ticks and¬†venomous spiders. We can’t race off to the shop on a moment’s notice — it’s at least 20 minutes each way to the closest not-all-that-convenient convenience store. We have to go outside in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. I hand wash the clothes, carry water to the kitchen and shower, and I even planted a vegie garden.

It was a massive adjustment.

And in the middle of this adjustment, on October 31st — our 9th wedding anniversary — my husband and I reached a point where we realised that, no matter how much we wished it was different, and no matter what we tried, our marriage was over.

Amidst tears and feelings of guilt and grief and pride-killing failure, we made the decision to separate.

For the good of our children.

For the good of ourselves.

Suddenly, in a change that felt like it happened overnight, I wasn’t a stay-at-home Mum and writer living in the suburbs with a husband who supported us financially. I was a single mother living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. With no income, and no easy answers.

It was tough.

It was tough saying the words “single mother”.¬†

It was tough falling asleep at night, listening to the wind buffeting the trees outside, and telling myself that everything would be fine, and I could do this — I could do this on my own. I could face this new challenge, this new life, and I could do it with all the strength in my soul and my arms and my heart.¬†It was tough cuddling my son when he asked when Daddy was coming home.

It’s been almost three months.

And I can do it.

DSCN1566[1]I don’t hate my ex-. Far from it. In fact, we get along better now than we have at any other point during the last six years. ¬†We both love our sons intensely, and want the best for them. And I’ve learned that I¬†can grow vegies. I¬†can make new friends, and be a good parent, and put up a tent, and build furniture, and train a dog, and start a business, and make our money stretch just that little bit further, and I can¬†do it on my own.

With the support of my friends and family.

Now, I stand outside at night, with the stars lighting up the sky, and the damp earth under my feet, and I feel loved and blessed and happy.

I feel like myself. 

I am myself.

And the future’s so bright, I’ve gotta wear shades.

How was your 2013?



Filed under Life With Kids, Opinion, Random Stuff, Writing

What Have I Been Doing?

Whew. What a week. To anyone who’s been wondering where I’ve been — I’m sorry to have apparently disappeared off the face of the planet. It’s been a bit hectic around here, and I haven’t had the chance to do the blogging that I’ve wanted to. But I’m back, and figured this would be a good time for an update on what’s happening with my writing.

Novel Writing

I’ve had the opportunity this month to spend some extra time working on my WIP (Work in Progress) after negotiating “writing days” with my husband. Basically, this equates to¬†four days a month where I can disappear into my (new) office space for 4 1/2 hours, close the door, and leave him to look after the children. That’s worked well so far, and I’ve written almost 9000 words this month.

Mentally, I’m so invested in my WIP at the moment that I keep expecting to see my protagonist wandering through my kitchen making himself a coffee. So either that’s a huge positive, or I’m going insane. I’ll keep you posted.

NaNoWriMo Prep

For those people who don’t know, NaNoWriMo¬†(National Novel Writing Month) is an annual “competition” where people from all over the world sign up to write a 50,000 word in the month of November. It started back in the 90s as a group of college¬†kids sitting around pushing each other to write a novel through sheer peer pressure, but has grown into an international behemoth of writing excitement. I’ve participated in NaNo five times previously, and have enjoyed every time. I haven’t always “won” (i.e. written 50,000 words), but I’ve always done at least 20,000 and NaNo is responsible for giving me the confidence to know that I can write a whole novel.

Back in February, when the year seemed to stretch out in front of me like a ribbon of eternity, I had a simple plan.

Step 1: Finish the first draft of WIP by 31st October.
Step 2: Spend November writing something different (a YA dystopian novel) for NaNo.
Step 3: Edit my WIP in December/January, ready for submission in February.

Of course, then the year disappeared, and I’m not even halfway through my WIP. And, in all fairness, I’m excited to have written 9,000 words this month. The chance of being able to write 50,000 words next month is pretty much zero. I’m not going to magically have fewer children or more hours in the day. So now I’m debating whether to (a) continue with the plan and try to write my YA novel, (b) sign up for NaNo but use it to try to write 50,000 words of my WIP, which would almost get me to the end of it, or (c) ignore NaNo this year and just keep plodding on with my WIP the way I have been.


I’ve also made a commitment to work on getting some of my work out into the world through submitting to short story markets. This has forced me to look at my story writing in a slightly different way, and I’ve come to a grand conclusions:

I suck at writing short stories.

But flash fiction (1000 words or fewer), I can do. And I really enjoy it. (As you can see from the number of¬†flash fiction pieces I post on my blog!)¬†But for some reason, when I write a short story (1,000 words – 10,000 words),¬†the feedback I get is generally along the lines of: “This seems like the first chapter of a novel.” or “This feels like the beginning of something bigger. You should keep writing it.”

Since a short story, by definition, should be a whole story that’s short, I’m clearly missing my target. While I know I could work on this and get better at the art of short story writing, I’ve decided not to do so. No, really. My intention is to be a novelist, and that’s the skill I want to work on improving. In the meantime, I enjoy writing short flash fiction, and so will be writing those for submission.

Wish me luck in getting a few submissions accepted in the last part of this year!


I signed up to be a judge for a novel-writing competition this year (I won’t go into the details of which competition), and am in the process of reading and scoring the first few chapters of four entries. I’m enjoying the process this far, although in some ways it’s harder than I expected it to be. It’s teaching me a lot about the way an editor or agent would read a manuscript, though, as I’ve found that I’m able to make a judgement about the quality of an entire novel after reading about 1000 words. (Sometimes even less.)

If you’re thinking of submitting your own manuscript somewhere, I’d highly recommend signing up as a judge first. You’d be amazed at the insights it provides for your own work.


As you know, I attended the Brisbane Writer’s Festival last month, and have been writing about my learnings. Or that was the plan. Anyone paying attention would realise that I haven’t got very far with that. But, since it was over a month ago now, I am really going to try to finish writing about the other sessions I attended this week. Fingers crossed.

I also signed up for a writing webinar¬†this week, and learned a lot. Alan Baxter is an Australian author who writes dark urban fantasy thrillers. He’s also a martial arts practitioner and instructor. This gives him a valuable insight into writing action and fight scenes. He’s got a great book called ‘Write the Fight Right’, and ran a 1 1/2 hour webinar on the subject on Thursday evening.

Two words: Bloody fantastic.

I learned so much about the way experienced and inexperienced fights react during a fight, and how unrealistic Hollywood-style fight scenes really are. I also learned how to structure and write a fight scene for maximum impact and tension. And, as an added bonus, I was able to submit one of my fight scenes to Alan for him to give me feedback on how to improve it.

If he decides to run another webinar, I’d highly recommend it to anyone. In the meantime, the book info is here.¬†It’s only US$1.99, and absolutely invaluable if (like me) you’re writing fight scenes without ever having been in a real fight yourself.


I’m going to mix up my blogging schedule again. Bear with me. I did warn you last time that I would change it when the whim took me. So, here’s how it’s going to look from here on out.

Monday:¬†Monday’s Top 5
Tuesday: Flash Fiction
Thursday:¬†What Jo’s Thinking
Friday: The Family Life

Mid-month: Writing Update
End-of-month: What I’ve Been Reading


Filed under Writing

BWF: Global Publishing Trends

Session: Australian Writer’s Marketplace Industry Masterclass – Part 2: Global Publishing Trends

Panelists: Melanie Ostell (Australian Publisher) and Christine Jordis (Senior Editor, Gallimard France)

This session seemed to drag a bit, and I’m not really sure what it was supposed to be about. Rather, I believe it was supposed to be about how global trends in publishing affects Australian publishing and authors in general. But really, it was two ladies talking about how to write a book that will sell.

Both Melanie and Christine were very interesting. They each had some good advice. But the session didn’t really touch on anything to do with global publishing trends.

Nonetheless, Christine Jordis had a very interesting perspective on what publishers are looking for, and how to provide it. (This is as close to a¬†word-for-word quote¬†as I could get with a notebook and pen, so my apologies if anyone reading was at the session and doesn’t think I got it exactly right.)

Publishers are looking for something different. We are looking for novelty; for something unique.

You need something new to offer. But often, the only thing that’s different is your voice. You are different to other writers. Always include yourself.

The best novelty in a book is you: the unique person you are. Don’t hesitate to be yourself.

But be yourself after ten drafts.

What great sentiments, don’t you think?

Overall, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy this session, but I also didn’t get a lot out of it. I would have loved to get a better idea of global trends and so forth, and was disappointed not to learn anything along those lines.

Rating: 3/5


Filed under Writing

BWF: The Journey of the Book

Session:¬†Australian Writer’s Marketplace Industry Masterclass – Part 1: The Journey of the Book

Panelists: Linda Jaivin (Author), Gaby Naher (Agent), and Shona Martyn (Publishing Director of Harper Collins Australia)

The idea of this session was to look at the process of producing and publishing a book from three viewpoints – how the author writes the book, how it gets to the agent and what she does with it, and then what happens from the publisher’s perspective. It was a fascinating session, and one of my favourite of the Festival.

The first thing that struck me when this session began was, in fact, not what was being said. Instead, it was the overall appearance of the panelists. I’m not someone who generally judges on appearance, so please don’t judge me in return. BUT… Let me describe the scene.

I’m¬†in an auditorium looking at three ladies seated behind a long table. There are no name-cards to indicate who is sitting where, and introductions haven’t yet been made. I don’t know any of the three ladies by name or reputation, and although I’m sure I looked at pictures of them online when I booked the session, I certainly don’t remember who is who. But it takes me about 3.5 seconds to make an educated guess.

The panelist on the left is wearing a knee-length, black dress with stockings and sensible shoes. She’s wearing minimal jewelry (only her watch was obvious from a distance), and no ornamentation in her hair. Her make-up is subdued and professional, and her nails look neatly manicured.

The panelist in the centre is wearing a very stylish grey pant-suit with heels. She’s got a cream-coloured silk scarf around her neck, a long, eye-catching necklace, and a sophisticated hairstyle.

The panelist¬†on the right has bright orange hair which is pinned on top of her head in a messy bun, flamboyant make-up, and dangly earrings. Every item of clothing she’s wearing is a different colour, including purple, orange, green, blue, and pink.

Not surprisingly, panelist #3 is our author, #2 is our agent, and #1 is our publisher. I found the fact that I picked this so easily¬†interesting because I’d never really considered whether I needed to have a “look” as an author. If I’m asked to chair a panel one day (fingers crossed!), what am I supposed to wear? Should I have a style worked out in advance? If I don’t look particularly flamboyant, will people assume I’m a business-oriented publisher rather than a creative author?

What do you think? Is it something you’ve considered?

Moving on to the actual talking bit…

Linda Jaivin got the session started, talking about herself, her books, how she got into the business of writing for a living, and so on. And I can honestly say that she was the most vibrant, enthusiastic and fascinating person I’ve ever heard speak. She was so full of life, I was fairly certain that extra bits were spilling on to the floor around her. (I hoped some would magically find its way to me, but that so far doesn’t seem to be the case.)

She told the story of how she read a book when she was a teenager, and had the sudden revelation that “books are more than just stories”. Words are magical things that can take you away from yourself, put you some place new, let you have an adventure and learn from it, and then take you home again. A novel is a gateway to something greater.

Linda hadn’t really considered being a writer initially. She went to work in a library because “she loved books”, and then decided to study Chinese history and Chinese language. Back then, China’s border were still closed and there was absolutely no point in studying about a closed country. So, why did she pick those subjects? “It was just one of those crazy things you do because it’s really interesting,” she said.

She wound up working in Taiwan, writing book reviews for a newspaper through a series of really unlikely events that could only happen in real life, because no-one would believe them if it was fiction. And from there she started to write.

Her advice to new writers included:

  • There are a lot of places that teach creative writing. Don’t do it. Don’t study creative writing. You can learn how to write on your own. Go and study something real. Study something you’re interested in. You’ll have more to write about and, if you’re lucky, what you study can also get you a job to pay the bills while you’re writing.
  • You have to be serious about every aspect of your career. That includes the boring parts like keeping track of what you’ve spent on writing-related things for tax purposes.
  • It’s the spirit of play that keeps us going. Don’t do a job that eats your brain.

Gaby Naher was next up. She was really interesting, and I found myself falling in love with the idea of an agent all over again. She was passionate, articulate, and talked to and about Linda as a business partner. She clearly loved the creative side of writing, but was very practical and realistic when it came to talking about the business side.

“Anyone who works in the arts community is always wondering where their next paycheck is coming from,” she said, and she clearly meant it. She left a position as a successful editor at a publishing house to work as an agent, and took a pay cut in the process. But she loves the freedom, the flexibility, and the chance to spend time with authors.

Like many agents. her message about self-publishing and indy publishing was a simple “don’t believe all the hype about what they seem to say. It’s too early to tell what the future really holds.” But when talking about traditional publishing, she said, “It’s still no picnic.”

The final statement Gaby made was one that has stayed with me. She was asked about how she chooses the clients she’ll take on, seeing as she doesn’t get paid unless their book sells. Gaby talked briefly about needing to feel passionate about a project, and then said, “But it’s always a risk. I gamble for a living. That’s just what I do.”

Lastly, Shona Martyn, publishing director of Harper Collins, had her chance to talk. She talked about how, with limited budgets that publishers have these days, the marketing department often has a bigger say in whether a book will be published than the acquisitions team. If marketing doesn’t think they can sell the book, the publisher won’t offer a contract. Her point was that, from the moment a book is written to the moment it’s published, “It’s a long process of persuasion.”

In saying that, Shona made it clear that the books that really break out and make a lot of money are always the ones that no one expects. So don’t try to write for a market. Write something you really care about.

Shona’s¬†parting words were also quite interesting from a business point of view, and something that I (and probably a lot of other authors) hadn’t really considered. She said, “If we give an opportunity to a book we don’t think will work, it means we’re turning down another book that might.”

Overall, this session was a fascinating insight into three different perspectives on the publishing industry, and a great introduction to the Brisbane Writer’s Festival.

Rated: 5/5


Filed under Writing

BWF: An Overview of the Brisbane Writer’s Festival

The 2011 Brisbane Writer’s Festival was the first real writing event that I’d ever attended, and I really had no idea what to expect. I’d booked my tickets, highlighted a copy of the program, and studied the venue map, but none of that really prepares you for the atmosphere of a writing festival. Authors, publishers, writers, readers, agents, organisers, volunteers, venue staff, and confused people who’d stumbled in off the street mingled in the lobby and foyer of the Brisbane State Library and the Gallery of Modern Art. The makeshift bookshop was packed with people browsing, buying, and lining up to have their new books signed by their favourite authors.

I’d like to say the atmosphere was electric, but that doesn’t quite encapsulate the feeling of:

  • Standing in line for 40 minutes (with at least¬†30 other people) for a cup of coffee, and then being told that you’re not allowed to take coffee into the venue.
  • Initiating a conversation with a random person in line at the cafe, chatting for 15 minutes about your writing, and then discovering that she’s a publisher.
  • Coming face to face with one of your favourite authors, and then… not… knowing… what… to… say…
  • Exchanging contact information with all sorts of random people you’ve just met, so that you can “definitely keep in touch” after the shared excitement of having a writing epiphany.
  • Listening to authors read excerpts of their books, and being so amazed that they can keep it together and sound so calm in front of an audience of hundreds of people… and then wondering if other people will think the same about you one day.
  • Being amidst a whole sea of writers who understand and get it and really believe¬† and think it’s not only okay, but good to spend time dreaming, and writing, and believing in the art of storytelling.

The organisation of the festival was fantastic, especially considering the number of different rooms and venues being used for sessions, and the staff and volunteers were amazing. (Especially considering they were put through their paces on Saturday evening when the fire alarm went off. But more about that in another post.)

The one statement that really stays with me from the whole festival is something that Meg Vann, Manager of the Australian Writer’s Marketplace, said:

Writing is like a long, winding bus trip. No matter what else you do, the most important thing is to stay on the bus.

This was the first writing event I’ve attended, but it certainly won’t be the last. Bring on BWF 2012!

(Read more about my BWF adventures here.)


Filed under Writing

BWF: Brisbane Writer’s Festival Wrap-Up

I’ve spent almost a week thinking about writing this wrap-up of the Brisbane Writer’s Festival. I attended two days full of seminars and events, and had a blast. While it would be great to be able to just say, “It was awesome! Make sure you come next year!”, I really want to review some of the sessions I attended, and talk about the pearls of wisdom I collected.

As my husband can attest, this process takes a while. (He very patiently listened to me re-enact each and every session I attended, with added commentary on my own thoughts.) So I was caught in a conundrum. Do I just relate a few of my favourite events? Do I try to blow-by-blow everything? Do I simply transcribe the 60 pages of notes that I took? How can I do this amazing event justice, without boring everyone silly?

In the end, I’ve decided to relate my adventure in bite-size pieces. Below, you’ll find a list of the posts I intend to write. As I do so, I’ll link them back to (and from) this post. I might post one of these a week, or several in a day. All in all, I’ll try to walk the middle road between spamming everyone with writing news and taking six months to review the event.

I’m also happy to answer questions, and will take requests on which order to write these posts. If there’s something you’re interested in hearing about, let me know!


Session Reviews:*

Book Reviews:**


* AWM stands for Australian Writer’s Marketplace.

** These are the books purchased (and autographed***) at the BWF by either myself or the friend who accompanied me.

*** They were autographed by the authors. Not by us. That would be silly.


Filed under Writing