Writer vs. Storyteller

photo-on-18-10-2016-at-11-02-amI’m stuck in the middle of my WIP (that’s why I’m writing this post instead of writing-writing) because the Writer and Storyteller in my head are fighting. I’m just under 50K words into what I think is a complex, layered, deeply nuanced character study, which the Writer is totally in love with. But now the Storyteller is trying to crash the party with questions like: Is the storyline strong enough to pull the reader along?

Writer: I don’t care what the reader thinks. I just care about my character.
Storyteller: I’m sorry, did you just say you don’t care about the reader?
Writer: I didn’t mean it. Of course I care about the reader. I’ve worked so hard on this characterisation — won’t it be enough to pull them along?
Storyteller: I don’t think so.
Writer: Then how about elegant sentences, and beautiful punctuation?
Storyteller: How about a plot twist in act three?
Writer: That would make it contrived.
Storyteller: That would make it a story.
Writer: It would cheapen the whole thing.
Storyteller: No it wouldn’t.
Writer: Yes, it would.
Storyteller: No.
Writer: Yes.
Storyteller: What about Peter Temple?
Writer: What about Peter Temple?
Storyteller: You’re always going on about how much you like him, and he does both.
Writer: I like — believe in, care about, fall in love with — his characters (and his stylish prose). I couldn’t care less about his plots. In fact I think they interfere with the characterisation.
Storyteller: That’s ridiculous.
Writer: And I still don’t get why there were chocolate wrappers in the bin at the end of The Broken Shore.
Storyteller: *Sigh* How many times do I have to tell you — I think it’s an implication of how Cashin will eventually, sometime in a future book, solve the mystery of what happened to the missing boys who made the ceramic pots back in 1988.
Writer: You have no idea either.
Storyteller: Margaret Atwood is good at both too.
Writer: I love Margaret Atwood.
Storyteller: David Mitchell.
Writer: I didn’t love Cloud Atlas.
Storyteller: I did.
Writer: You would. How about The Bell Jar?
Storyteller: Let’s not have that argument again. So what are we going to do?
Writer: About what?
Storyteller: Our story, for fucks sake!
Writer: Sorry, I was just thinking about the way the green light from the motel’s ‘Vacancy’ sign shimmers in a rain river along the ground to Dean Cola’s feet, just before Sidney leaves town with him.
Storyteller: Oh my God, you’ve just given away the ending!
Writer: That bit won’t be there if you get your way with the plot twist.
Storyteller: So you do want to give it a try?
Writer: I didn’t say that.
Storyteller: We’ll foreshadow it right from the start.
Writer: And if I don’t like it, I could take it out?
Storyteller: Of course.
Writer: I could do it with TrackChanges turned on — like a safety net, just in case.
Storyteller: You know we stopped using TrackChanges long ago. And you’re too stubborn to try Scrivener.
Writer: If it’s wrong, changing it back would be so much work, when I could be polishing prose instead.
Storyteller: You’ve done it before. Remember how many times you rewrote Please Don’t Leave Me Here?
Writer: *Curls up in corner and starts to cry*
Storyteller: You’ve learnt a lot since then.
Writer: No, I haven’t.
Storyteller: You — I mean I know what I’m doing now.
Writer: I’m not so sure.
Storyteller: Stop being a baby! It’ll be fine.
Writer: It might not be.
Storyteller: Then rewrite it again. And again, until it is fine.
Writer: But …
Storyteller: You know I’m right. Trust me.
Storyteller: Trust me.
Writer: OK.

Dead in the Water — book launch

deadinthewater_launch_inviteMy second book, Dead in the Water, was launched at Readings Carlton on Thursday 13 October
2016. The fabulous Janice Simpson (author of Murder in Mount Martha) was my launcher, with David Golding, my editor, doing the introductions.

 14713617_1329492400424725_3391830089212866128_n  14721559_10154377791245659_6180190302123559923_n  img_6649

cuoahmdumaal2ku-jpg-large… Sitting amid all these thousands of books makes it seem as though writing one is not a very significant thing to do. But it is to all the authors. It’s a huge thing — often a lifelong dream. I never thought I’d ever do anything of note, but I think this (second to having my three babies) is it — my greatest achievement.
I’m only sad that it took so long and some people aren’t here to see it:

My grandparents, especially my grandfather who kept all the stories I wrote when I was little and always told me I would be a writer when I grew up.
My father.
My auntie who would have loved a book set on Raymond Island — one of her favourite places.
But little parts of all those absent people have somehow made it onto the pages of my books, which will outlive me. Even if it’s in the book box at the school fete, or on a shelf at the op shop next to Raymond, somewhere, there they’ll be.

This book is dedicated to my mother, who is here tonight. And it’s her birthday, so happy birthday, Mum.

BEST BOOK EVER October 2016

It’s been a long time since my last BEST BOOK EVER, but I’ve finally got a new one: Formaldehyde 9781921134623-Perfect.inddby Melbourne author Jane Rawson.

Formaldehyde has been on my TBR list for a while and I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to get around to it (probably because my budget doesn’t stretch to many new books these days). I bumped into Jane recently at a friend’s book launch and felt guilty for not having read Formaldehyde, and when I saw it on the table for only $14.99, I splurged.

This little book (it’s a novella) blew me away. Magic realism is probably too old-fashioned a term to apply to such a modern story, which I think defies labelling. It crosses genres as well as times from 2000 to 2022 with its clever structure.

It kicks off with what seems like a Kafkaesque bureaucratic bungle at the Identity Office, which is hilariously similar to Centrelink. The story covers love, loss, severed limbs and impossible pregnancies. Surprising, shocking, heartwarming, heartbreaking, insightful, absurd … just wonderful. So original. And so well-written. It made me think at the same time of The Lost Thing (Shaun Tan’s picture book) and The Picture of Dorian Gray!

“I want to see you. I want to see you so bad. Like acid reflux, this constant aching in my solar plexus from the wanting of you. Like swallowing a corn chip the wrong way down, but to the power of five; like my trachea has been stuffed with hessian.” p49

“The guy next to me in the line is dressed like a Vietnam vet: dark blue bomber jacket with some sort of schizophrenic pro-and-anti-American patch sewn on it, torn jeans, bandana, aviator sunglasses — just the right age. Apparently a homeless Vietnam vet: he’s covered in grime,  his teeth are brown and sparse and he has a vague odour — that strange smell of stale socks and old snot common to teenage boys.” p59

“And every single day, without fail, he would look out the doors when the elevator stopped at the third floor, glance up the corridor, just in case. And when she wasn’t there, which was every time, he would paste a memory of her over whatever was happening in front of his eyes, stick her to the scene like fuzzy-felt.” p98

Formaldehyde delighted, surprised and inspired me as both a reader and writer. You have to read it! You can buy a copy from Seizure.

I’m off to read A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists now.

Write truly and not care

In my post Losing the Plot a few months ago, I wrote that I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up with my characters, ideas were coming at me from all directions, the words were flowing.

Well, now the words have stopped flowing. It’s more like squeezing drops of blood. I’m stuck, stalled, lost. With so few words coming out, there’s plenty of room for self-doubt to come in.

What am I doing? This story is too dark. It’s far more psychological study than thriller. There’s no crime-fiction-style murder. My protagonist, Sidney, is not funny; she’s not Brigitte. Nobody’s going to like it.

I came across this letter on Letters of Note that Ernest Hemingway wrote in reply to F. Scott Fitzgerald asking for feedback on Tender is the Night, and the advice struck a chord with me. It’s from a book called Letters of Note. If you don’t feel like reading the whole letter, the takeaways (for me) are:

  • You cannot make characters do anything they would not do
  • Don’t worry about what people will think
  • Listen to advice from those you trust
  • Use your pain
  • Don’t drink too much (hard to believe Hemingway would say that, I know)
  • Write truly and not care about what the fate of it is
  • Make time for your friends
  • Go on and write

While I’m waiting for the words to return and for self-doubt to leave so I can ‘go on and write’, I’m going to read Tender is the Night to see if I can get what Hem was on about.

The big mystery

My eight-year-old wrote this and asked if I could publish it for her. I think it’s pretty good.

The big mystery

The darker plans were showing
The stars were falling
The day was coming
The shells on the beach were shining
The wind went upside down
The air was cold
Drip drop
The forest is smiling
The flowers are a mystery.

By Jaime D’Arcy


The flowers are a mystery

Beer, Berettas and bonsai: Researching novels

Research for my first novel, Please Don’t Leave Me Here, involved sifting through 1990s newspapers on microfiche at the State Library, frequenting coffee shops in Degraves Street and drinking beer at featured pubs.

My second novel, Dead in the Water, required a lot more research. I stayed at the place where it’s set — Raymond Island, a tiny island in the Gippsland salt-water lakes system, with a population of about 540. There are plenty of koalas, but no shops or other businesses. If you run out of bread or milk [OK, wine], you have to catch the cable ferry across to Paynesville on the mainland for supplies. After the last ferry crossing between 11pm and midnight, there’s no way on or off. The perfect place to set a crime story!

Dead in the Water deals with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, so I spoke with a police psychologist and officers suffering PTSD. I also made friends with forensic scientists who told me more than I needed to know about dead bodies in water, DNA and gun shot wounds.

The hardest research was learning to shoot a gun. I wanted to write a shooting scene and, being a ‘method writer’, didn’t think I could do it without knowing how it really felt. So, I booked into a course at a pistol club.


You can hear gunshots from the car park. Inside, people are lying on mats, shooting rifles at targets on the range. I go the wrong way and end up in the bistro instead of the training room. You can relax and enjoy a drink in the lounge or licensed bar after shooting the crap out of stuff. There are taxidermied animals around the room and deer heads on the wall.

The training room is full of mostly young men. Anybody — who doesn’t have a police record — can do the handgun-shooting course. So how dangerous can it be? Our instructors enter the room — one has an arm in a sling; the other has a leg missing below the knee.

They teach us about the safety equipment required on the shooting range. Special earmuffs, because guns are louder than a jet engine and can cause permanent hearing damage. Safety glasses, because pieces of shrapnel can fly back and hit you in the eye. And be sure to wash your hands thoroughly afterwards, because handgun ammunition contains some very hazardous materials like lead styphnate, which can cause heavy metal poisoning. That’s if you have any hands left: Never cross your thumbs behind the slide of a semiautomatic pistol (the slide is the thing on top that flies back from the recoil of the shot, forcing the empty round from the chamber out through the ejection port). Not because it might break your thumb, but because it could slice it right off. Excellent. I start to think maybe I don’t need that gun-shooting scene in my book after all.

shooting range

Relaxed on the shooting range. “Never cross your thumbs behind the slide …”

Out on the range, each shooter is allocated a shooting bay. Always make sure the gun is pointing in a safe direction, and the only safe direction is DOWNRANGE! (they shout a lot on the range). Be especially careful of turning around to talk to the person next to you because … [Remember that scene in Pulp Fiction — ‘I just shot Marvin in the face’? You get the picture]. There is a yellow safety line along the back of the bays, and a red line along the front. NEVER REACH ACROSS THE RED LINE! At this stage, my legs have started to shake and my mouth is very dry.

They said we’d have plenty of time to get the ‘feel’ of the guns before shooting at the targets. But I’m still getting to know my gun, and so not ready when the Range Officer commands ‘EYES AND EARS!’, a reminder to get your safety equipment on. Trying very hard to suppress a panic attack, I put on my earmuffs and safety glasses. ‘MOVE FORWARD. LOAD. FIRE!’

I have a go at shooting semiautomatic pistols of increasing calibre, my mantra the whole time: Never cross your thumbs behind the slide, never cross your thumbs behind the slide, never cross your thumbs behind the slide. Then I try some revolvers, including a Magnum (or was it a Beretta? — same name as a cop show from the 1980s), which has quite a kickback.

The cylinder on one of my revolvers seems to be stuck. I keep trying to pull the trigger, but it won’t work, so I hold up my hand. The Range Commander comes over to check what’s wrong. Lucky I asked for help because one of the rounds is stuck in a chamber and, had I kept trying to shoot, it could have caught fire and exploded in my hands. That’s enough for me. I donate my remaining ammo to the guy in the next bay who is enjoying himself far more than I am. I come away with my eyes, ears and thumbs intact, and enough details to write the gun-shooting scene.


In my work in progress (working title: You Used to Love Me), my protagonist’s hobby is bonsai. I’m looking forward to a relaxing short course, researching the gentle art of bonsai. Careful with the trimming tools?