Category Archives: novel

Writing retreat

Because I am tortured by the compulsion to not only write stories, but also document every little thing I see and do, here is a blog post about my recent writing retreat experience (condensed version!).

So, I’m off now to my writing retreat (read: isolated cabin out in the bush with no wi-fi or washing machine, but affordable). I’m going to work on my manuscript that terrifies me. Don’t worry, I’ll be OK …



I picture part of my novel set in a place where I lived in my youth. I should have realised that coming back here — where I haven’t been for years, except for funerals — would be confronting. A strange, hopeful yet empty feeling gripped me as I drove the flat, dusty roads. Like returning ‘home’, but knowing that no family or friends are waiting anymore. Every road, every turn, holds a memory: there’s the parking bay where we had to stop when my daughter was little and she got car sick; there’s the spot where I blew up my Camira because I didn’t put water in the radiator; that’s the turn-off to the house where we used to live …

Enough nostalgia! Crying to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle on the Hill’ is ridiculous!

Writing retreat not so hellish after all.

Through the window of my little cottage:
Treated-wood porch — boards of clay-yellow and dust-grey. The screws in pairs look like eyes, the scratches below them like mouths. A fly is dying, kicking, spinning, spinning. A green-and-brown ceramic duck leans over the edge of the porch, into the dry air as if it were water. Above, from the awning, a gum leaf twists, dangling from a thread of spider’s web.
Long shadows are becoming one, covering the earth. Light filters through trees; breeze ruffles leaves gently. The landscape is almost colourless — Tom Roberts faded greens and yellows. Clumps of dry grass grow out of clay. Cracks in the earth. A stony, bitumen driveway leads to the road. The fences are in need of repair. The white letterbox leans sideways towards the give-way sign. Trucks gear down and rumble past on the main road. Sunlight glints off chrome.

Across the road, the cow-milking shed is more rust than tin. The tank behind the shed resembles a space-ship or a giant silver breast with a nipple on top. Cattle graze in the long grass of the paddock. They look like brown rocks in a sea of wheat-coloured foam.

The light takes on a golden hue. The distant sky is white. At the horizon, dark trees stand still, cow-coloured, tinged with blue.

Birds call.

Hints of pink. The cows are coming home. Headlights are flicking on. A kookaburra laughs.
The solar lights rimming the porch of my little cottage are lighting up. The trees are dark silhouettes against the sky. The clock on the wall ticks. Trucks zoom along the main road, lit up like Christmas trees — white, orange and red.

I am sharing my writing retreat with mice. In the dead of the night, in a cabin out in the bush, it’s hard to tell the difference between the sound of mice and that guy from Wolf Creek.

Luckily I bought some cheery reading for when I can’t sleep.

5–6 Get up (no alarm set)
9 Walk around property ½ hour
9.30 Breakfast
10–2 Write
2 Lunch
2.30–5.30 Write
5.30 Walk around property ½ hour
6 Wine and music time
? Write
? Dinner
? Write
10–11 Bed, reading

Wine and potato chips for dinner?
Why not?
No shower since Monday morning?
Oh well, maybe tomoz.

Cottage, olive groves, weird wool-less sheep

Mice were quieter last night, but I woke with a sore, throbbing right arm and pins and needles in my hand.

Me: I can’t feel my fingers!
Brain: I’m not surprised — after sitting and writing for so long at a very un-ergonomic table and chair. You need to adjust your posture, take regular breaks and do some stretches.
Me: I think it’s a stroke!
Brain: Can you poke out your tongue straight? Somebody told me that’s how to tell if it’s a stroke.
Me: [Rushing to bathroom, poking out tongue in mirror] Heart attack?
Brain: It’s not a heart attack.
Me: Some other illness …
Brain: Stop being silly.
Me: I think I can drive to the town, make it to a doctor in time.
Brain: No. We’re not leaving until we have a first draft.
Me: Maybe just to a chemist. Get some aspirin to thin the blood. And some bandages, just in case.
Brain: Sit down and get back to work.
Me: I can’t. I can’t breathe.
Brain: Breathe. If you’re good, we might go for a drive to the river later.
Me: You mean leave the cabin? [deep breathing into hands]

One of the weird wool-less ewes had a lamb this morning.

It wasn’t mice, but flies that kept me away last night. I’m not one to take fly-spray lightly, but the buzzing bastards annoyed me so much that I got up and sprayed them. And then stressed about the dangers of inhaling the chemicals from the spray in the air.

Hand is better, but now shoulders are aching and throat is sore (what could they be symptoms of?).

Through the window of my little cottage:
The warm night has melted into a cooler morning. The light, of indistinguishable colour — white / blue / grey — brushes over the darkness. The gum trees are silhouettes. A rooster crows. Birds chirp, warble and twitter. The constant traffic hum from the main road becomes heavier.

Oh, wow, look! A rubbish truck! It’s emptying the bin on the roadside. So interesting.

Time to leave the cabin for a bit?

I am leaving the cabin today. Didn’t yesterday. But, yes, today I am leaving the cabin! Going for a drive to the river. Although I’m worried that I won’t be able to find my way back here (maybe take my laptop with me, just in case).

Leaving cabin.

Here I go …

(Later) Left the cabin. Tried to find my childhood home, but couldn’t. Found the river.

The river
Dead leaves, dry grass and strips of bark crackle-crunch under foot. At the edge of the embankment, willows hang next to dying gum trees, half-uprooted, leaning, reaching towards the brown water. An almost vertical drop of pale-yellow clay leads the way down to the river. It meanders around slimy rocks, and fallen trees, bark-shed, grey, their snarly roots exposed. Blue sky and woolly grey clouds shimmer on the surface. Birds call, insects flitter and the breeze annoys the long wheat-coloured grass. It feels like somebody is watching. Just the trees — watching and whispering to each other. I don’t like it down here.

It wasn’t mice or flies or dead hands or trees that kept me awake last night. It was a prick of a mosquito — buzz, buzz, buzz in my ear all night long.

I hear it’s raining in Melbourne. Don’t think it ever rains here. Looks like another warm one today.

Spoke too soon — it’s raining here now. The drought has broken; the dust is being stirred up anyway.

Ten minutes later … Rain’s stopped now. Back to work.

Later (night, dark) … OMFG — a storm. A big storm! Lightning, thunder, wind, rain. I’m in a Stephen King novel. Help! Mummy!!!

Despite mice, flies, hypochondria, mosquitos and wild storms, I finished my first draft.

My little cottage in the wilderness was the perfect place to work on this stage of my novel. I think Sidney (my protagonist) would be pleased with how I have used the surroundings to build her world.

Time to go back to the real world now. It might take me a while to adjust, having not spoken to anybody, aside from my sheep friends, in six days.

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.

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?

In case you were wondering exactly what happened to Eric Tucker …

It’s been exactly a year since PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME HERE was published in Australia. I thought I’d celebrate its birthday (and the shortlisting for best debut novel for both the Davitt and Ned Kelly awards 🙂 ) by posting the ‘deleted scene’: my beloved Coroner’s inquest report. I wrote the Coroner’s report as a sort-of prologue, and it almost made it into the book (‘this close’) — it was cut during the final proofreading stage when it was decided that such a dry, bureaucratic piece of writing might not be the best opening for a novel.


Form 1

4th April 1997
Case No: 2418/94



having investigated the death of ERIC ALAN TUCKER with Inquest held at Coronial Services Centre, South Melbourne on 27 June 1996

find that the identity of the deceased was ERIC ALAN TUCKER and that death occurred on 23 December 1994 at 1/49 Rathdowne Street, Carlton from

in the following circumstances:

Summary overview

On 23 December 1994, at approximately 10.40am the body of Eric Alan Tucker was discovered at 1/49 Rathdowne Street, Carlton by the apartment complex caretaker, Sean McMahon. The apartment door was open and the deceased had been covered with a blanket. There was wine and a small amount of broken glass on the carpet.

See Sean McMahon statement, Exhibit 2, dated 23/12/1994.

Detective Sergeant Sam Campbell was the first on the scene, having received a call from D24 while driving past the Rathdowne Street address. Uniformed officers and paramedics arrived half an hour later.

A neighbour claimed to have seen a young woman leaving the apartment at approximately 7.00am that morning.

While some neighbours reported seeing a woman, known to them as Brigitte Weaver, coming and going to and from the apartment; others, including Sean, could not verify seeing any other person aside from Eric at the apartment.

See Detective Sergeant Sam Campbell statement, Exhibit 10, dated 23/12/1994.

In the wake of the discovery of Eric’s body, Police Investigators, led by Detective Sergeant Sam Campbell, commenced trying to locate Brigitte in order to pursue their investigation into the circumstances in which Eric’s death occurred.

While initially a person of interest, Brigitte was excluded of involvement in the death. At the time of Eric’s death, Brigitte had been critically injured in a hit-and-run car accident in East Melbourne. Doctors at St Vincent’s Hospital operated, placed her on life-support and induced coma. On waking, she had no memory of Eric Tucker when questioned by Detective Sergeant Sam Campbell. This may have been due to amnesia caused by head trauma during the accident, or simply to the fact that she did not know Eric. Brigitte lived with her grandparents in North Fitzroy and there was no conclusive evidence of her having been at the Rathdowne Street apartment.

Sean, diagnosed with depression, committed suicide on 25 January 1995.

Police investigations found no further suspects in the Eric Tucker homicide case.


Eric was born in Tasmania on 15 July 1949. He was an only child. His parents separated when he was 15 and the whereabouts of his father is unknown. Eric left home at the age of 16 and found employment at a musicians’ booking agency in Melbourne. He married his first wife, Margaret, at 20 and they had two children. He married his second wife, Michelle, at 27. They moved to Sydney and had another child.

Eric was a successful concert promoter with his own business, Tucker Touring. His work colleagues described him as entrepreneurial; a respected business and family man.

At the time of his death, Eric was 45 years old. His place of residence was Sydney, where he lived with Michelle Tucker. He also rented the Rathdowne Street apartment where he stayed when in Melbourne. Neighbours said he kept to himself, was rarely at the apartment and had few visitors. There was confusion as to whether or not a woman was also living at the Rathdowne Street address. However, there was no evidence to support any persons aside from Eric residing at the apartment.

History of violence

The relationship between Eric and Margaret Tucker featured a clearly documented history of family violence. This included physical and verbal abuse and controlling behaviour perpetrated by Eric against Margaret.

On 11 December 1975, Margaret Tucker obtained an interim- intervention order against Eric. The application stated that on 30 November 1975, after she requested a divorce, Eric had physically assaulted her, leaving her with a fractured nose and bruising to the face, head and body. The application also set out other instances of physical violence to Margaret and her young children that Margaret stated had occurred in the months preceding this event. The order was revoked on the return date for the hearing on 15 January 1976.

On 28 May 1976, Eric and Margaret were divorced. On 18 August 1976, Eric remarried.

Further, friends and family members of Eric’s second wife, Michelle, claimed Eric was abusive and threatening to her. However, no incidents were ever reported to the police.

Both Margaret and Michelle were excluded as persons of interest in the investigation.

Events preceding Eric’s death

On 16 December 1994, Eric was managing the concert tour of rock band Death Rowe. The tour was about to commence when the lead singer, Calvin Rowe, was detected by security staff at Melbourne Airport to be carrying cocaine. Police arrested Calvin for drug possession, and Eric made arrangements to immediately cancel the tour.

After being questioned and cleared of any involvement in the incident, Eric returned to 1/49 Rathdowne Street, Carlton at around midnight.

Eric made one phone call to his wife and several calls to work colleagues including, friend, Ian Willcox. Ian said Eric sounded optimistic and was planning the next concert tour. Several calls were made to Eric’s mobile phone and to the landline, but there is no evidence of any person having seen Eric leave the apartment between 17 December and the time of his death. No phone calls were answered after 7.30pm on 22 December 1994.

Cause of death

Dr Simon Marks, Forensic Pathologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, attended the scene of the incident. Due to the blood stain and bone fragments on the carpet, and the absence of blood spatter elsewhere, Dr Marks provided his opinion that Eric had been covered with a blanket at the time of death and the cause of death was head injury from multiple blows inflicted by a person or persons with a heavy, blunt object. Dr Marks estimated the duration of the post mortem interval as approximately one hour prior to being discovered.

On 24 December 1994 at 1.00am, Dr Marks performed an autopsy. He attributed the cause of death to intracerebral haemorrhage secondary to skull fracture. Dr Marks also noted significant bruising in the groin area.

Toxicology analysis of body fluids disclosed the presence of benzoylmethylecgonine, tetrahydrocannabinol and alcohol. No evidence of any significant natural disease process was present.

Due to the severity of injury, Eric was not considered suitable for visual identification. Eric’s identity was established by way of dental records examination.

See Exhibit 50, statement dated 24/12/1994 adopted at transcript.


Victoria Police Homicide Squad attended the scene and conducted the investigation into Eric’s death. Detective Sergeant Sam Campbell of the Homicide Squad was in charge of the investigation.

An extensive search of Eric’s Rathdowne Street premises and the vicinity on 23 December 1994 did not locate a murder weapon.

During the investigation, Detective Sergeant Sam Campbell was accused by Senior Constable Colin Moore, who also attended the scene, of evidence tampering and falsifying reports. An independent police investigation cleared Detective Sergeant Sam Campbell of all allegations.

Senior Constable Colin Moore died on 15 March 1996 from a gunshot wound while cleaning his service revolver. His death was ruled as accidental.

Detective Sergeant Sam Campbell prepared the Inquest brief and gave evidence at the Inquest of the investigations undertaken in an endeavour to get as much information as possible about how Eric died, and of the search for the person or persons who may have been involved.

See Exhibit 56 Inquest brief.


Having considered all of the evidence and the inferences that can properly be drawn therefrom, and having directed myself in regard to the standard of proof, I make the following findings:

Eric Tucker was killed unlawfully by person or persons unknown.

There is insufficient evidence to establish which person or persons were responsible for the unlawful killing of Eric Tucker. There are no witnesses to the killing known at this time.

This then concludes my findings.

Finally I would like to thank Police Investigators and others so involved, as well as counsel and instructing solicitors, for their assistance. I would encourage the State of Victoria to continue with its efforts to bring justice to those responsible for the death of Eric Tucker.

Dated at Melbourne on this 4th day of April 1997.


Losing the plot

Since my last post about plotting for pantsers, I’ve been travelling slowly and steadily along my well-planned and carefully built road (in case you didn’t already know, I love metaphors). I’ve been sticking to the map and taking no short cuts.

I’ve been polishing my writing as I go, not moving on until it was as perfect as I could get it. Maybe I’ll only need to write one more draft, I thought. This is the way to write a novel — why didn’t I do the other two like this?

And then I reached the first big turnoff, around 20K words in. Here, my characters started going wild — heading off in all sorts of unexpected sub-directions, doing stuff I hadn’t planned, picking up other characters along the way. I can’t write fast enough to keep up with them.

The writing’s rough, a lot of it in point-form; there are big gaps, blue place-holder text, and highlighting with notes in square brackets reminding me to ‘fix this later’. I’m working all over the shop now — on the middle at the same time as the ending, and then adding bits to the start, and here, there and everywhere — the ideas are coming at me from all directions. My manuscript looks like a complete dog’s breakfast. It’s going to need many more drafts.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 1.35.12 pm

E.L. Doctorow (also a fan of metaphors and similes) said:  ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way’.

Lost_Highway_52_(6131763809) (1)

This is a dangerous place to be. You don’t want to break down out here, where you could lose control of your story and get hopelessly lost. I’m pretty sure it will be OK, though, because I still have my trusty map. I know which turnoffs to make and by when, and I know the final destination — none of these things change much, no matter what my characters do. [Doctorow also said: Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. Ahem …] However, what happens in between, I don’t really know. Sure, the process would be faster and less painstaking if I planned these in-between bits better. I would waste less time and make fewer mistakes exploring dead ends and characters that don’t make the final draft. But for me, the thrill is in the exploration of the unknown, the joy in the discovery of the unexpected, the magic in the unearthing of things I never thought I could imagine. This is the reason why I write.

The P word

I confess to being a pantser who really wants to be a plotter. There are terrific books around about plotting — mostly written by screen writers — including Screenplay by Syd Field, Story by Robert McKee and Save The Cat by Blake Snyder. I really want to read them, and one day I will get around to it.

In the meantime, I follow a very simple, foolproof 🙂 method for planning my stories. [Just in case you’re somewhere out there reading this, Graeme Simsion, look away now!] It’s pretty much the same thing they’re teaching my daughter in grade Prep-2: you’ve got to have a beginning, a middle and an ending. Act one, act two and act three. Syd Field says: set-up, confrontation and resolution.

Close to the start of your beginning (set-up) you need to have an inciting incident — the event that kicks off the whole story (Cinderella’s invitation to the ball; the three little pigs refuse to give in to the wolf’s demands; a giant shark kills a swimmer on Amity beach). Towards the end of your beginning you need to have a plot point — another incident, which changes the direction of the story and propels it into the middle (confrontation).

Towards the end of your middle (confrontation), you need to have another plot point, which again changes the story direction just before your ending (resolution).

Your ending (resolution) should contain a climax — the highest point of tension, the big moment your story’s been building up to the whole time (Cinderella tries on the glass slipper; the third little pig confronts the wolf; water-phobic Sheriff Brody faces the giant killer shark). The climax should be related to the inciting incident.

Too easy? I wish.

plotting notes

I find Syd Field’s Paradigm Worksheet helpful for planning my beginning, middle and ending.

Once I have my story foundation in place, I like to use Nigel Watts’s eight point story arc as a tool for building up the structure.

Watts’s eight points are:
1. Stasis
2. Trigger
3. The quest
4. Surprise
5. Critical choice
6. Climax
7. Reversal
8. Resolution

You could read Watts’s book, or take a look at this Daily Writing Tips post, which explains the basics of the eight point story structure.

The Hero’s Journey is another narrative outline worth googling or reading about.

Once I’m pretty sure the story-house I’ve built is not going to fall over (and even if it does, I can always make repairs, additions or renovations), I start writing. From here, I let my characters take the car (mixing metaphors, I know!) and drive the story where it wants to go, and I adjust the plot accordingly. For me, character is as important as — if not more important than — plot.

Some wise words from Graeme Simsion, plot guru: Plotting vs Pantsing — Why I’m a Plotter | Graeme Simsion

And finally, my favourite storytelling rules:

Dark and spindly like an old Tasmanian apple orchard in winter

I don’t often post reviews — anymore 🙂 — but this one (of Please Don’t Leave Me Here) by Janice Simpson is too good not to share:

This novel took me on a dark and winding road of connection, coincidence and secrets. Chandler’s writing is assured, her characters are people you think you know, or at least have met once or twice. Flaws are close to the surface, which is the real strength of her characterisation, as authors often fall into the hole of creating an unpleasant character when writing a character with faults. Not in this novel, however.

In Part I, the protagonist, Brigitte, jolts through that which comes her way, the core and the peripheral indistinguishable in her world: her mother’s voice scratching in her ear; the one-too-many glasses of wine; her run-over cat. She is trying to keep many things humming along including being wife, mother and sister; a writer of monthly articles for ‘Parenting Today’; landlady to Aiden, one of her husband’s colleagues; and a past. (Incidentally, what happens on the night of the twins’ birthday will make you view cake quite differently.) And Kurt Cobain.

Part II is heartbreaking. Who doesn’t know a young woman who falls in love, falls for money over substance, falls into a hole. The positivists say holes such as these are made by the people who fall into them. They’ve had their chances, they never wanted for a roof over their heads and a meal on the table, so it must be their fault. But Chandler is able to weave a different version of how people come to fall in holes, a story that is altogether more satisfying, even while you lay in bed clutching the book, hoping that the bad thing you think is bearing down will be diverted. And Kurt Cobain shoots himself. The biggest hole of all.

I loved this book. It is dark and spindly like an old Tasmanian apple orchard in winter.

Janice’s novel Murder in Mount Martha is a terrific read. Well-drawn characters — some to hate, and some to adore. Inspired by a real case, the story will lull you with its nostalgia and shock you with its violence. So much more than just a crime story.