Author Archives: Cauldrons and Cupcakes

Cauldrons and Cupcakes

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So, I unexpectedly find myself in downtown Byron Bay, at a bookshop cafe, while I wait for a friend.

Except for a brief visit to a second-hand book store on the way to a friend’s funeral a few weeks ago it has been many months since I’ve been in a bookshop. It’s been too long since I’ve had my head buried in a book of any description.

And what I also realise as I sit here sipping chai, is that it’s been too long since I have lost myself in that world that is my own land of story. The characters sit languid, waiting, growing paler and more indistinct.

I have the usual excuses; life, health, family, a crazy schedule…

But it’s all bullshit really.  I recognise a pattern sneaking back into my life where I make everything else momentarily more important that words on the page.  How have…

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The Things Writers Overhear

You can tell you’re a writer when everything becomes a possible inclusion in a current or future story, blog, or poem.

Go on, wriggle a little in discomfort if you know it’s true…

Your friend is going through the world’s most vicious breakup and you’re thinking this is the perfect twist for that character. You’re stranded on a train station in the wilds of India with not a rupee to your name and darkness falling and you think, at least if I survive I can write about it. You listen to a couple having a full-on barney on the train. Everything, everything becomes material.

Case in point:

Oh look, a bargain! Pic by Adam Dimech – adonline at Flickriver

I was standing in Lowes Menswear in Lismore Plaza today, buying work socks for the farm.  Two old ladies came into the shop and spotted a row of bright Hawaiian and other equally special print shirts.

“They’re nice, love,” said one old dear.

They walked closer to investigate.

“Oh, said the other old dear, rubbing the fabric in her hand, her brow knotted in consternation.  “Feel the flaminosity of this one, Shirl.”

“Dear, dear,” her friend replied as she also felt the shirt.  She frowned.  “No good at all.  Imagine if hubby stood too close to the barbie in that!”

They both tut-tutted, shook their heads and moved on to the more sedate cotton line as I struggled to suppress a giggle. Flaminosity. Beautiful.

Later I was talking to a friend whose eleven year old son has to pick a musical instrument as his elective for next term.  For months he has been harping on about getting an electric guitar.  Today he announced to his mum that he wanted to learn the drums.

Why the change of heart?

“Because I want to be the next Filled Columns,” he said earnestly. “He’s bald like dad AND he gets all the chicks.  Drummers rule.”

It took his mum about ten minutes to figure it out.

That’s gold.

By the way, Lachie, it’s Phil Collins, and yes, he does look a lot like your dad!

The story that can’t be told. Yet…

Writing is important to me.  I didn’t realise how much until I nearly croaked it a few years ago. My life, in that instant, boiled down to two priorities, and one of those was writing.

The story begins here…

A long time ago I sat  in a partly-completed resort on Fraser Island. It was a wild and woolly Friday night. Most of the construction team had gone off-island while they still could. While storms lashed the bay I cocooned myself in my quarters with a book, hoping to learn more of the island’s history.

It was there I first acquainted myself with a tale that fired my imagination – a true story of lighthouses, mystery and history.  Over the years I came back to this idea again and again, fictionalising it and writing snippets into a series of tatty notebooks. But I had no real clue as to how to make it grow from snippets to a full sized manuscript.

The story falters…

I put my lighthouse story away, and began another, managing about thirty thousand words.  This is the manuscript that later became Mapping the Heart – shortlisted for the 2011 Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program. The novel is an examination of what defines us, what protects us, and who we are when that becomes stripped away.

Then, for reasons that I can no longer fathom, I began a third manuscript. Not my genre.  Not my style.  (This one, which eventually grew up to be Return to Honour, selected for the 2011 Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program, is now jokingly referred to by my writing sistahs as the sex and bombs novel.) I progressed slowly, tortuously.  It was difficult to take what was in my head and make it measure up on paper.  I realised I needed help, and began casting around for some instruction.

QWC rides into my life shining a beacon of light…

I took myself off to the Queensland Writers Centre to do their Year of the Novel course with Dr Kim Wilkins.  Everyone else had just one manuscript to work with.  I of course, had three, plus a sheaf of half-begun ideas… Kim, in her wisdom, suggested I work solely on Return to Honour, and that is where I finally cut my writerly baby-teeth. I might add that she is an awesome teacher, and without her guidance I would still be blathering around.

I came back to do Year of the Edit with Kim, then Sisters of the Pen was formed, and we seven ‘sistahs’ have been sharing and providing support on what can be a lonely journey ever since.

The messy truth…

I wish I could say that I start one thing, bring it to an orderly conclusion, and then begin the next.

But that would be patently untrue.

I am a shambolic creative. I am in words up to my armpits, and my life is shaped by writing. It is my greatest joy, my most profound love, and my number one aggravation.

As it stands this is where I am today, three years after I finally committed to this writing life, and two after I began to take it seriously:

  1. Return to Honour (Harry Stanton series, Book One) Completed. 110 000 words. On a final edit before I send it to Hachette for their consideration.
  2. The Samurai Legacy (Harry Stanton series, Book Two) I’ve embedded bits back in Book One, have researched like a demon and am at about 25 000 words plus a fair plan of the guts of the remainder of the story.
  3. Mapping the Heart 140 000 words.  This baby needs a structural overhaul, and I am still a bit close to it to feel confident to wield my editing blade with precision.  I’m anticipating working on it in the second half of this year.
  4. Pirates Book One (as yet untitled) 95 000 words.  An unexpected book (and my illicit love)  that came out of an idea I had on Australia Day last year, and which the sistahs encouraged me to pursue.  It has magic, fairies, pirates and dragons and is for a younger audience. It is still at draft stage and will need altering based on what happens in Book Two.  I am anticipating seven to ten books in order to complete the story arc.
  5. Pirates Book Two (also untitled) 45 000 words – a work very much in progress.  I expect to have this to finished draft stage by mid 2013.
  6. Lighthouse Novel (not yet titled) This is THE story my heart longs to tell.  But I’m not ready yet.  I know I am still learning my craft.  Some days I think it best told as historical fiction.  Some days I think it needs to be non-fiction. I often think I need to travel to certain places and stand on the land in order to get the truth of this story in my bones.  I need to do it justice.
  7. Cauldrons and Cupcakes A blog I started recently because, gee, I still need somewhere else to put that endless supply of words in my head.

There have been three significant turning points for me as a writer.  The first was becoming an active member of the Queensland Writers Centre.  I often joke that I should have a t-shirt made that reads WRITER on the front and MADE BY QWC on the reverse. The second was finding my tribe, this wonderful group of sistahs who care about writing and each other and make the journey better on the days when it is fraught and hard. The third was the experience afforded to me by the Hachette/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development Program. That generous program allowed me to walk away knowing in my heart that I AM a writer, and that I CAN write.

With that faith I trust that one day I will have the skills to write the first story my Muse ever whispered in my ear.  I pray I shall not disappoint her.