On Saturday 30th June 2018 I joined the throng at a one-day writing festival in Balmain.

Jacqueline Harvey and Kris at the Festival.

We started with a long queue for beverages on the front verandah. I have to say the catering was great, just a pity that everyone tended to have the same idea at the same time. If you wanted to see everything on offer during the day you just had to accept the rush for seating and the queueing for food.

The two sessions I got the most out of (I wrote notes that I could decipher later) were The Business of Writing and Fantastical Worlds sessions. There was a bit of overlap of content and my impressions are a bit fuzzy about which of the following ideas came from which session.

The best thing I took from these sessions was how the big names in writing are still just people who struggle, every day, to make progress. They still meet brick walls, and feel rejected and depressed… but have managed to keep going, mostly because they see writing as a profession which will involve challenges and frustrations, and boring bits.

Kate Forsyth was a journalist, but after signing her first book deal she had to get wised up about Contracts and Rights very, very, quickly. Her advice was; a professional must make it their business to learn the business side of writing; and getting a good agent is essential. (BTW her sister, Belinda Murrell organised the event).

Garth Nix had the advantage of being an editor, then a literary agent, before writing full time. He has discovered that successful writers were often book sellers at some time. It has the benefit of showing you what sells in the current market, (As against what you read/loved when you were a child)

So if you can’t sell books then haunt bookshops and libraries.

Louise Park was a publisher, and is an education consultant.

Alison Tait was a journalist and now is a freelance writer and blogger and partner in AWC-the Australia Writers Centre.

James Bradley is an ex-lawyer, editor, award winning literary critic.

Jaclyn Moriarty was an entertainment/media lawyer, has 2 sisters and an ex-husband who are writers.

So being very bright… and giving your whole life to writing seems to be a good idea.

In the Fantastical Worlds session:

The panel talked about their respective writing routines. The gist of it was: develop a routine – one that works for you. Some other person’s set of rules won’t necessarily work for you.

JM: talked about her blue bowl which she keeps close at hand and well stocked with fruit and chocolate. It is now so important in her mind as a symbol of her writing process that she began to worry about breaking it. So she jumped on a weird happenstance and bought 6 more. Just in case.

So if you have a routine that works, fight to preserve it.

In Question Time I asked the panel, What thing have you learned about the creative process that didn’t work for you… that turned out to be a dead end? I’ve paraphrased their answers below, short hand not being one of my skills.

JB: Don’t always stop to fix a problem when you are ‘in the zone’, come back for it later. He did add that you need to use judgement here. You might write-in a problem that will later take lots of work to write-out.

JM: Allow fallow time; time to ruminate while doing something else. Constantly writing to a deadline can mean you are writing in panic.

And we all know, panic makes you stupid.                                                                            

  KF: Just keep going. The only real failure is to stop writing. Everything else is a learning point on the journey.

The best idea regarding fantasy and magic came from Garth Nix: Magic must have a cost. If magic comes too easily then all the problems can be resolved with more magic.

The last sessions for the day gave a choice of watching people deliver a pitch for their manuscript a) Kids and Young adults, or b) Picture Books. Contributions from nervous authors were drawn from a box at random. The authors delivered a pitch, then received judgement.                                                                                                                                          The Picture Book Pitch Session was a great lesson for me. I went from really, really, wanting the chance to pitch – to really, really, not wanting the chance to pitch as I realised from the panel’s comments that I had big gaps in my approach. But it was definitely not a waste of energy. If you haven’t committed yourself to paper it is so easy, with the benefit of hindsight, to say to yourself …’Well of course I would have done that!’  The session started with an author reading a winning pitch from a previous year and her book had gone on to publication. (Sorry can’t remember the title of the book.) This sample pitch was most notable for covering all the dot points Belinda Murrell noted in her advice on Pitching on her website before the festival. No small accomplishment when you are given a limit of 1 minute/100 words.

In their feedback the editorial panel advised that it is a good idea to give an idea of the language of the text since that is what will sell it. Some people began reading a small excerpt from their text in response to that advice and their work suddenly became much clearer.                                                                                                                                                The panel was very supportive of the good things in the pitches and occasionally pointed out what needed adding or refocusing. They were honest but not brutal, so don’t be nervous about having a go yourself. See it as a ‘writer in training’ experience.         

The only time editors/publishers were scathing about writers was when they recounted incidents where colleagues were stalked in their private lives.

So don’t push your manuscript under the toilet door. And don’t push your manuscript into someone’s hands at a funeral.                                                                     

 Be professional. Publishing in Australia is a small world.


Dear concerned reader,

Hi Granny in the Driver Seat,

I am interested in your blog but have been logging on to see if you have updated your page and haven’t seen anything change recently? If 60 is the new 40 then I am concerned about turning 40. I feel 20 years of my life whittling away before me and I am not far away from turning 40. Can you give me some advice about this dreaded figure and how I can handle turning 60?

My second question is, are you really a granny? I find many people impersonate on the internet and I want to be assured that I am actually receiving advice from an actual granny.

Thank you for your great Blog. I appreciate your reply in anticipation,

 a concerned reader.

Dear concerned reader,

But it is good that you have bought your fears and concerns to Granny.

I feel your pain. It is unsettling to get close to 40, and sometimes quite hard to leave it behind. Let me reassure you that many people have survived the experience, and some have even enjoyed it.

If I may use a geographical analogy, Middle Age is not a steep climb to the top of the mountain and then a swift descent into the valley of incompetence and irrelevance. Middle Age is a plateau. Possibilities spread before you as far as the eye can see. You can safely cross and recross the terrain as you explore your options. Nobody can make you step off into Old Age until you are good and ready. (Go down fighting, that’s what I say.)

And while we are about it, there is a great deal to be said about turning 60. At this age there are certain things you don’t have to do any more, and there are other things that you have the time to do a lot more of.  But, little sparrow, I rush you. We will talk more on this when the time is come.

As for your second concern about impersonators… it is wise of you to be cautious. Who knows what evil influences you will come across on the internet. Danger is only a keystroke away. In this matter I advise that you always seek a second opinion. Those around you will willingly discuss your concerns and help you steer a safer path.

Let me put your mind at rest about my credentials. I fear that you are taking too narrow a view of the word ‘Granny’. After all, a man does not have to be unable to grow hair on his head to be termed ‘bald’. A person does not have to actually go to church to be called ‘Christian’. An Insurance Company does not have to actually pay out money on a claim to be called an ‘insurer’. Furthermore, a person does not have to be a Teacher in order to teach, and a person in the water does not have actually be swimming, or even know how to swim, to be called a swimmer. Thus, in the broadest sense, a person does not have to actually have to have grandchildren to be a “Granny’,  although I do concede that it helps.

I hope that you find this enlightening. Live Long and Prosper.

Love from Granny.

Wet Weather – an essay in 15 photos

Yesterday was wet. Today was wet. And tomorrow will probably be wet too.

Meet Willow. 16 years old. A teenager she is not!

OMG. it's raining!

OMG. it’s raining!

Yep. That's rain alright.

Yep. That’s rain alright.

That's a lot of water.

That’s a lot of water.

It's scary wet out there.

I can’t eat outside. It’s scary wet out there.

You've gotta be joking. The food's too close to the wet stuff.

You’ve gotta be joking. The food is still  too close to the wet stuff.

It's still not right.This is not the food place.

Just because you closed the door doesn’t mean the wet went away.

Are you sure I have to eat it here.

Are you sure I have to eat it here.

This is mine, right.

This is mine, right?

 Got my chew stick. But where...

Got my chew stick. But where… ?

 I don't like to chew it here. Here is not where I chew.

I don’t like to chew it here.  Here, is not where I chew.

 I could chew it in there... but I wanna be where you are.

I could chew it in there… but I wanna be where you are.

I really don't agree with this -eat outside- rule.

I really don’t agree with this -eat outside- rule. I want to eat inside where you eat.

Okay, okay. I give up then.

Okay, okay. I give up then.  (It was worth a try)

What am I. A second class citizen...

What am I,  second class citizen… ?

... for goodness sake...

… for goodness sake…

... this is beneath my dignity!

… this is so beneath my dignity!

Not all of us cope well with the wet weather.




Ok. So what was the worst ?

I went a bridge too far. On Sunday afternoon 22nd May, I bought a ticket to see Mysterious Ways: Poetry and Publishing. and unfortunately I wished I hadn’t. While fighting to discreetly open the lid of a stinking hot cup of tea – and managing to spill it everywhere, I heard three poets read from their published works.

Uh, ooh, I had walked in on the heavy academic scene. I wished I was somewhere else… because I just didn’t get it. If I was supposed to feel something then the session was a failure. I felt more about the mess I’d made on the cement floor than I did about the poetry.

Such a disappointing note to end on.

Lesson learned. I shall plan carefully for next year.




I forgot to include these items in my last post and strangely enough they were, for me, the most important bits.

What was the Best Bit?

Firstly, because I am interested in POETRY, this year I signed up for the Masterclass with Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye: The Spoken Word Crash Course (Sat morning 21st May)

Their teaching style was illuminating and came directly from their background in poetry slam competitions at colleges in the US. These slams value poetry as the spoken word… and I am a complete convert.

I totally understand when people give me the “you’ve just stepped on my toe”-grimace, or the “pleeeze….I’d rather be somewhere else” -gaze into the distance, when I mention poetry in casual conversation. I’ve been there.

Anyway, the point is that I decided to pop my toe into the water before I got to the class. I did my homework by watching them perform on a u-tube clip.

I’ll have a go, I thought. What could it hurt? If I am a total dud… nobody will know… Yeah, right!

So I put my name down to present one of my poems at the 18th May Bankstown Poetry Slam held at the Bankstown Arts Centre, Wednesday evening. Yes, my name was called out. Yes, I did manage to get through it without totally embarrassing myself. I will be the first to admit that my presentation needs lots more work, but hey, u gotta start somewhere.

Bankstown Poetry Slam

The audience was mostly young people, but included school kids and greybeards (thankfully) and all were so willing to include new-comers. The energy in the room was amazing.This was a room in Bankstown! People were there because they loved poetry! Who knew that was possible?

Continue reading

Attending the 2016 Sydney Writer’ Festival

What is the SWF?  

A time: mid-May   

 A place: Walsh Bay (mostly) 

  A purpose:  connecting with the world through books.

Time out between sessions

Time out between sessions

The Writers Festival arrives in Sydney in May each year.

What do you do there?

As much as humanly possible is most people’s reaction: gotta getcha money’s worth.

But there is such a thing as Festival burnout. You know you have a case of burn out that when you have to constantly check your timetable to explain what you’ve been doing, when you have trouble remembering who made ‘that brilliant point about…’,  when you have crossed paths with so many people during the day that you can’t remember if you have already told them ‘the bit about…’

So, what did you personally get to see there?

Thursday morning: a workshop with author, Kate Forsyth- Diagnosing Your Story’s Problems. This was a three hour steam train ride with BYO highlighters. Kate took us through the process of doing structural edit on our own work. Incredibly valuable and left you wanting more- and that’s not just coming from me.

Thurs afternoon: With burnout in mind, I left time to explore the swimming pool and hot tub at the hotel. Lap swimming was unnecessary. The view of the harbour and the change of temperature between pool and tub worked their meditative magic.

Thursday night: AUSTEN’S WOMEN was a one woman performance by UK actress Rebecca Vaughan. You didn’t have to be familiar with Jane Austen’s novels to benefit from watching the show. But it helped. I was frustrated by the lack of sign posting as to which book the character sprang from, after all I’ve read most of them. (OK, I’ve read some, and watched lots of movie adaptations. (Who hasn’t played and replayed the Colin Firth/ Mr Darcy in the wet-shirt-scene, from Pride and Prejudice?)  I felt embarrassed to be struggling so much to figure out who was who. But, I got over myself, eventually. After all, you didn’t really need to know the books to appreciate the characters who came to life under Rebecca’s capable hands. Austen peopled her books with women, both admirable and cringe worthy, and it was a pleasure appreciate again her acute eye and her humour.

Friday morning: A workshop with Inga Simpson-Crafting Beautiful Sentences. This was an opportunity to exam the power of a well-chosen word, and to test the balance of a well-crafted sentence. Did you know that you need to do about five edits of your manuscript? After you have completed a draft of your wonderful book you must edit. No, you can’t pay someone to do it for you. Each edit is vital to the shaping of the final story, and only the author can do that. First is the structural edit. Secondly you must read it through for consistency of character development. Then you check for fluency in the movement from narrator’s voice to character’s voice. Thirdly you read for pace, the flow from the inside of the narrator’s head to the inside of the character’s head, the transitions from scene to scene, the building of tension through the story arc, the speeding up and the slowing down.  Only then should you focus on line editing: this is where the beautiful sentence comes in. And finally, finally, we arrive at that stage that most people think of as ‘editing’, where you check for grammar and spelling. Apparently, the last two stages are best done by reading aloud. The whole book. Yes… the whole book!

Not surprising then that many books get started, and few get finished.

Friday afternoon: a workshop with Damon Young- Everyday Philosophy. This was a visit to a foreign place, a not very comfortable land full of people called Seneca (Rome under Nero), Nietzsche (19thC German) and other dead white guys. I appreciate their efforts to inform me that I should really think about what I was thinking about, but I battled to see how they could help me write better. See, the stress has made me less better already. I’m going to sneak out the door, let them get on with their job of arguing with each other and get on with the job of arguing with myself. That keeps me busy enough.

Friday evening: Discussion panel -THE END OF EUROPE. This is a hugely topical area given the lingering banking crisis and the current wave of refugees seeking safety from war and repression. Four speakers, a mix of journalists and authors, gave their perspectives on the viability of Europe as a political and/or economic unit. The atmosphere in the hall went from stodgy to electric and back again. At times the debate bogged down in a confusion of opinion and accents. At other times friction sparked a crackle of appreciation: European unity is an audacious expectation.

Catering for children is taken seriously. The largest growth area in book sales across the world is children’s books – so children are taken very seriously. Youngsters take over pier 4/5 on Sunday 22nd May. Their world is signposted as GLOWTOPIA and it offers music and talking and the joy of not-standing-still in four areas. One area is intriguingly labelled The Ministry of Noise….. In the Department of Stuff and Nonsense where the ‘all-grown-up-coz-I’m-seven’ crowd get to hear from their favourite authors. In the Bureau of Artistics there are bookish/craft activities for the ‘I can-sit-still-for-a-little-while’ crowd. Older kids who ‘wouldn’t-be-seen-dead-with-my-younger-siblings’ flee to The Royal Institute of All Day YA (Young Adults – for those not in the know). Just secretly the adults in this area are not all parents with kids in tow. Many are there so as keep an eye on publishing trends for their own reason. Get your ticket early, or miss out.

It is a joy to watch so many people connecting with each other, and the world, through books.

Continue reading

First blog post

How long is too long to stick at a problem? Maybe you set out to finish that chapter of your book. Maybe you wanted to pin down the research for your next article. Maybe you wanted to find your missing credit card. Or maybe you just wanted to learn  about blogging…..

But when stubborn gets mixed up with anger and frustration, lots of things start to go wrong.

You sweat … a little

You swear … … a lot

You get testy when someone offers tea and sympathy.

Or worse- well intentioned advice about something you muddled through three hours ago.

Be warned: you are at END STAGE when you can no longer form a coherent sentence as to what your problem is. It is time to go and do something different.

So, go mow the lawn, or clean the toilet, or sit in the sun with a glass of port… whatever it is for you that takes the pressure off.

No, really, go …

NOW !!