Posts Tagged ‘books’

This is the final report from the local writers’ festival I attended in August. It took me a while to get through them all. The last session I attended at the festival was called Frankenstein’s Children. Acclaimed Kiwi Speculative Fiction writers, Elizabeth Knox & Lee Murray debated the influence of Frankenstein on modern literature. Knox is one of my favourite Kiwi authors. I’m a big fan of her Dreamhunter series, which I found transformative and compelling reading (reviewed long ago when I was a member of Goodreads). Knox has an ONZM, is an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Laureate, and won the Prime Minister’s Award of Fiction in 2019. She teaches at Victoria University and lives in Wellington, New Zealand with her family.

Lee Murray is a New Zealand science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer and editor. She is a multiple winner of the Bram Stoker Award and a twelve-time winner of the Sir Julius Vogel Award. She is a well-respected rising star.

It felt like a privilege to sit in on their live-streamed interview. I love hearing how other writers think and how they approach their craft.

Both authors were asked the same question about why they had chosen the spec. fiction genre. “From childhood, the things that most excited me had dragons and ghosts. My imagination went in that direction very early.” Elizabeth Knox said, “You have a reaction to the world, and you want to push against appearances and say, what if? How much do we live in the present; how much do we live in imagination? It’s a penetrating, all-time approach to the state of the human being.”
Lee Murray had done her research. “It was a term coined in the 1960s. It was called Speculative, and it’s developed over time. Ursula le Guin said, ‘It’s about possibilities.’ It’s also about myths and legends, asking what if, and looking at the human condition. It’s new perspectives. It’s changing all the time.”
What a great way of looking at it. Why did the two authors consider their work to be “Frankenstein’s Children”?

“Mary Shelley is considered the mother of spec fiction,” Murray explained. “She wrote Frankenstein at the age of 17 in the 1800s, writing about the resurrection of life with electricity before it was invented. It’s a book about othering. The monster wanted to belong. Shelley couldn’t be published because she was a woman. Spec Fiction is a place for women’s narratives. She was able to show she is intelligent.”
I found this thought-provoking.
Murray went on. “I wanted to write about what mattered to me and things that frighten me. It allowed me to write about things safely. Spec fiction is not this world. It’s not pointing at this person or thing. It gives us a little bit of distance.”
The author neatly skewered one of the reasons this genre drew me to it. I can tell my stories without having to worry about treading on any toes because it’s all make-believe. The genre is a forgiving umbrella. I’m fascinated to hear it is popular. Since the age of seventeen, I’ve been writing spec fiction, but whereas in the 80s publishers told me, ‘No one is interested in fantasy,’ now, suddenly, it’s cool. Or, as Murray said, “It’s the place to be.”

This reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s interview. When asked at a previous festival, did he expect to be where he is today in terms of career, Neil said he never expected to be famous. When he started, he worked in niche areas where no one in those days ever got famous. ‘You didn’t get famous in comic books, fantasy, or children’s writing—I thought I’d be out here with the weird kids. Then it spread out, and now we’re all the weird kids.’ That’s it exactly. Our strange little frowned-upon fantasy corner of the world is becoming more mainstream. Hey, it’s nice to have company.

I am also drawn to writing middle fiction, and maybe there’s a reason for that. Knox said, “There’s a period when young people are entering the world, and they’re refusing it.” I liked that. There’s an inherent kind of rebellion that comes naturally with being young or young-at-heart and trying things out, questioning the status quo. “I think we need fiction more than ever.”

Murray said, “Spec. fiction has a role in social change. It has real value. It’s the new black. It’s the place where the young people are.”
I agree. But you have to write with a lightness of touch. “As soon as you start hitting readers over the head with your message, they don’t want to read it.” Knox said, “I’m an avid reader. But I’m resistant to being told I have to do anything. You can’t step outside reality. Spec fiction is the world outside the consensual reality.”
That’s what makes it so exhilarating.
“I love fairies and Arthurian legends. Even a tragic ending can bring joy because of the shapeliness,” said Knox. “I’m changing my mind about hope. I think it belongs to the things that console us like fiction.”

Wow!
Do you see why Elizabeth Knox is one of my current writing heroes?
I’m proud to write Speculative Fiction or Frankenstein’s Children. It’s fun! How about you? Do you read it or write it?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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Good stories are dangerous. Dangerous, anarchic, seductive. They change you, often forever…they challenge our vocabularies and our history. Sometimes they challenge our comfortable morality. And sometimes…they challenge our most basic assumptions. ~ Jane Yolen

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This is another report from the local writers’ festival I attended in August. My apologies that it’s taken me so long to report on it. The session was called Timeless Tales, with Hereaka & Jones. After this, I have one more session to review and hope to get on to writing it up soon.

I enjoy the live interviews or “conversations”. You get to see authors at the top of their games speaking about their books and answering thought-provoking questions. The theme of traditions of fable and myth drew me in to witness Timeless Tales, storytelling forms I find compelling and endeavour to utilize in my work.

Delayed leaving the house, unfortunately, I arrived at the event late. Bah humbug! It started everything off on the wrong note. I had missed the introduction and the opening questions, and I had to disturb others to find an empty seat. But, that hitch aside, I sat with my trusty pad and pen in my lap taking notes throughout.

Let me tell you, ‘contemporary writers at the height of their powers’ make fascinating conversation. Commonwealth Prize winner and Man Booker-shortlisted Lloyd Jones and 2022 Ockham NZ Book Awards Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize Fiction winner Whiti Hereaka spoke about their books, The Fish, and Kurangaituku, respectively. They were interviewed by Claire Mabey with a focus on the power of mythology and why each chose them for their stories.

Lloyd Jones put it this way. “The whole of literature is a rewrite. You can find threads in contemporary stories that go back to the beginning of time.” He was making the point that even when we don’t intend to write about mythology, we are inherently familiar with the old storytelling forms and resort to them unconsciously. “Stories are malleable from one generation to the next when they are told and told again.”
I agree with that 100%. That’s part of why I love to draw upon mythology because the stories are ours, and we’re allowed to retell them.
It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s interview at last year’s writers’ festival. Gaiman said that writers who think their prose all comes from within them are not being honest. He likened it to there being a giant pot of stew bubbling. And we all take bits out and “along the way we get to add a potato or two to the stew pot or a bit of gristle.”

Neil Gaiman said, “I don’t think it’s always dishonesty by the authors. In a lot of cases, you write what comes to you and you do not realize that you are pulling archetypes and story tropes from a treasure trove of shared ancestral memories.” That explains why legends are always the first things to hand in whenever I start a new story. Jones said when he sits to write, he never knows what he’s going to write, but these time-honoured story templates come up readily because we already have the story forms within us.
Whiti Hereaka concurred and spoke about growing up with myths. They “had always been there” so were a natural resource. In her book, Kurangaituku, she is retelling the Māori myth of Hatupatu and the bird-woman Kurangaituku. “In the original story, Hatupatu is captured and finds the strength within him to trick the bird woman and escape from the clutches of Kurangaituku.”

Hereaka found the writing of her mythological story so profound, that she even began to feel taken over by her main character, who was talking to her and telling her the story all the time. Hereaka said she learned “to say a karakia (prayer) to create the space to write and then again to close it and step away” to separate herself from the character. Even so, she was driven to right the balance of male-centric mythology and present a female voice.
Lloyd Jones added, “Fables are at their core an imaginative risk.” And, he elaborated, “You gather stories just in living, and one day you use them. It becomes lodged in you and you never know when they’re going to bubble to the surface.”
What is it about ancient stories that hold us transfixed? I know for myself, that the older the story, the more I pay attention.
“There’s truthiness in fiction because of the lies,” Hereaka said, “There’s an emotional truth that holds us. We are creatures who need a story to figure ourselves out.”

You can say that again. It was a riveting afternoon, guys. Thanks for the brain food.

It’s a fact we all use these fables instinctively. Do you? Do you notice the echoes of mythology everywhere?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“Someone said once when a person is being read to they inhale it and when they exhale it, they have made it their own.’ ~ Lloyd Jones


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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

November 2’s optional question – November is National Novel Writing Month. Have you ever participated? If not, why not?
No, I have never participated. Frankly, I resist the idea of inviting more pressure into my life than I have already. The thought puts me off and I must admit that I scratch my head over why NaNoWriMo is so popular. I tend to be a slow writer. While others produce thousands of words a day, I have to take my time. And, I have this ornery side that rebels against joining what everyone else is doing just because they are doing it.
Many friends do Nanowrimo and I always feel in awe of how hard they work. They have to maintain rigid discipline in their daily routine for the month to achieve it. One of my friends and fellow authors from The kiwi kids’ bookstore, Donna Blaber, wrote the first draft of her new series while on NaNoWriMo. Donna relishes the challenge. Me, not so much. I have plenty of mountains to scale in my life and try to keep my writing as a reward for getting everything else done. Setting myself a strict regime and then flogging myself every day for a month does not appeal at the moment. Maybe I’ll participate someday though. Never say never.

National Novel Writing Month began in 1999 with San Francisco-based writer Chris Baty. According to the website, the NaNoWriMo challenge is to write the first draft of a novel that’s at least 50,000 words, starting on November 1 and ending on November 30. ​In 2005, it gained nonprofit status. Now, when participants donate to NaNoWriMo, the number of writing programs and the availability of resources increases.
I think it’s a worthwhile initiative and applaud the great work.
There are other ways to participate for people like me who don’t wish to take part in NaNoWriMo. We can support other writers who are undertaking the challenge. I have two friends doing it this year, and I intend to encourage them through the grueling process. We can also donate to the cause. I get nervous for my buddies as the clock winds down. The tension is palpable. Rather them than me.


To all the 2022 participants, good luck!
Are you doing the NaNoWriMo challenge?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Let it be easy. ~ Anon


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My friend said she soaked up the events at this year’s writers’ festival like a sponge. I know what she means. The “conversations,” the lectures, the workshops, and the performances that took place in August filled my cup to overfloweth. It’s worth putting aside a week each year for the festival. I’ve been attending for years and have a large old paper notebook spiral-bound that I have kept notes in since the first time. As promised, I will continue to report on the events I attended whenever I get the chance. The writers’ festival is a blast. The buzz of being around other scribophiles and learning more about the craft and the business is an intoxicating mix. As a card-carrying introvert, it takes a lot to drag me out of my cave, especially in winter. But events like that can do it. Then I go out and come home jazzed every single day. However, once it’s over, I must lie inside my cave for a while to recover.

The second session I attended was the Middle Fiction workshop with Kate de Goldi. I know! I am such a fangirl and have rabbited on about this much-lauded Kiwi author and tutor for years, and I got to attend another workshop with Kate herself! As soon as I saw her name on the agenda, I signed up. I’ve done several courses with Kate over the years, and they have always enriched, enlightened, and inspired me. Though I didn’t expect Kate to recognize me, I’ll admit I was chuffed when she did. We even had a quick chat about the workshops in the past, and Kate let me get an updated photo with her. Yay!
Kate is a passionate advocate of the middle fiction genre and maintains that ‘Much of the best writing for children can be found in the middle fiction space.’ I remember the first workshop I did with Kate in 2005. I was so excited about her perspective. “I don’t think you can say suitable for 9 – 13. I resist those divisions. It should be 9 – 99. Most of the great children’s books are read by adults.” This so mirrored my feeling about children’s literature that I felt at home, in the right place. “There is no difference between writing for children and adults, and there’s no difference in the level of craft.” My sentiments exactly.

This workshop with her was about exploring ‘language, voice, and characters of the form’ and was as brilliant as expected. Kate had some terrific advice on how to write at the middle fiction level. “If we bring the same armoury of craft to children’s fiction, we need to be observing. Polishing and excavating your sensory capacity is necessary. Seeing the world from a completely different point of view is essential.” Kate recommended we get in touch with the old child self. “Interview your 9, 10, and 11-year-old self. Your job is to practice noticing and to think about the emotional territory we occupied at that time.” The reason for that was simple. “Noticing, a sense of wonder, and being new in the world IS middle fiction.” I love it when a teacher can be reductive yet, at the same time, say everything.
As Kate doesn’t believe in rules for fiction or prohibitions, she has a free approach to teaching about writing, which I also appreciate. “Being in the world and thinking about your inner child self is a good place to start.” That, I can do.

And how do you learn how to write? “A plumber knows drains. Read your genre. Go to the library and read your genre across decades and authors.” That was how Kate had learned to write. She started as a reader. She said she was too underconfident in her writing to take a writing course and had learned by reading. Similarly, I was too shy to share my work for years, therefore I connected with that point. Usually, I feel daunted by the wealth of scholastic accomplishments achieved by my writing peers. At least now I can say I’m in good company.
How do you figure out what to write about? Kate said you should not come to the page wanting to write about X. “You should come with something you feel driven to say that you don’t fully understand yet. Interrogate your 11-year-old self. What were you puzzled by, conflicted by? A character propelled by something is a good place to start. After that, I get them walking and talking.” Easy, right?

While I’m busy fangirling, who are your favourite authors? Who would you love to meet in person?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“I think of middle fiction as the body of work that has most influenced children.” ~ Kate de Goldi


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Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with the words Newsletter Subscription in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

This month’s question: What do you consider the best characteristics of your favorite genre?
Whittling it down to just one is a hard ask. My favourite genre is the one I write, fantasy fiction for middle-grade children. I remember in one of the writing courses I took twenty-odd years ago, the tutor exhorted us to do as Thoreau once said, to “know thy bone.” In other words, to circle your preoccupations, recurring motifs, to explore your particular palette, “bury it, dig it up, sniff it, gnaw on it” – know thy bone. Thankfully, many years ago, I discovered the right genre for me, and I’ve been circling it ever since, figuring out how to say what I want to say. The tutor advised us to “immerse ourselves in the genre” by reading as well. I don’t need any encouragement! This is why I write and read my favourite genre.
What is the best characteristic? Gee, still hard…

To make things easier, I might break the answer into two parts. Let’s start with the age group, middle-grade, or children between the ages of eight and twelve. This stage of life is magical because kids are strong enough to be somewhat independent while still being young enough to be starry-eyed. They are not too old for enchantment. Ava Duvernay said of this age group that ‘it is a time to discover who we are in our minds and our hearts. A time to listen and learn and think and wonder. A time to start to decide for ourselves how we want to walk through this world.’ That’s powerful stuff, right there.
Middle grade is a great age group to write for. The first time I ever saw Kate de Goldi speak in public was when she gave a keynote address at the Spinning Gold Children’s Writer’s Conference in 2009. Every point Kate made hit home when she spoke of why she chose to write Middle Fiction. “I don’t write about or for children, but I write for the once and always child in myself,” Kate said. “When I’m writing for children, I’m chasing down a lost Eden, that hopeful springtime, approximating the pleasure I had in those shaded places. The lost Eden of my childhood.”

Thank you for putting it into words, Kate. I am ever seeking to evoke the bewitching, magical heaven of my idyllic childhood when the joy of reading took hold of my heart and soul.
There is a deep secret fascination with that time of my life. In the years 8 – 12, I was an independent thinker, and I believed in the possibility of magical things, like leprechauns, tooth fairies, unicorns, and Santa Claus. When I was on a writing course with Kate de Goldi once, Kate told us, “Inside, I’m always twelve.” And I am the same. I feel I haven’t lost touch yet with my young life. The inner child who never stopped believing in the possibilities.
Middle Grade is a cool audience. They’re not reading with a sentimental nod back to those days when we used to believe in dragons; these readers can still be thrilled by the idea that such things might exist and aren’t afraid to let their imaginations run wild with it. I love that.

The fantasy fiction part of the genre is an equally important part of my bone. I started as a young reader of fairy tale anthologies, myths, and legends, Hans Christian Andersen, C.S.Lewis and Enid Blyton, and Tove Janssen. It was not that my life was something I sought to escape from as a child, but rather that fantasy fiction was so vivid, such a thrilling place to escape to. As Neil Gaiman said at last year’s writer’s festival, “Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been.” And that’s exciting.
Why do I write it? The common thinking about our draw towards fantasy fiction is that it’s about ‘fulfilling the heart’s desire.’ This usually means our longing for a better world, a better self, and a better life. I relate to that completely. They say that ‘Fantasy seeks to heal the wasteland.’ Almost every story aims towards the ultimate wish fulfillment, where everything works towards the greater good – the wasteland healed.
Saving the world is the deeper, philosophical view. I also write fantasy fiction because that’s what I read as a child. And, it keeps my inner child happy. Keeps hope alive. Feeds my sense of wonder. And, I gotta tell you, it is rewarding to learn how to trust my style, my voice, my way of adding another carrot to the stewpot. I adore my bone. It’s satisfying to bury, dig it up, sniff it, and give a good gnaw, before burying it again ready for the next time. It somehow feeds my soul, gnawing my bone.
Many people still look down their noses at the fantasy fiction genre. But, I love it. What’s wrong with that? What the heck is wrong with escapist literature?

I appreciated what Neil Gaiman said on this subject. “I hear the term bandied about as if it’s a bad thing. As if “escapist” fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or children, is mimetic, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds themself in.” I don’t get the prejudice. When the world outside my door appears to be on fire, why wouldn’t I escape to a fabulous place which is not on fire, where fantastic things are happening? Writing (and reading) fantasy fiction is a constant spirit lifter. And, I highly recommend it.
What do you consider the best characteristics of your favorite genre?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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When she is most lucky, the poet sees things as if for the first time, in their original radiance or darkness; a child does this too, for he has no choice. ~ Edwin Muir

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I have finished reading my thirteenth novel for 2022, Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, by Astrid Lindgren. I bought this novel because I had read Pippi Longstocking as a child, and I remember being utterly thrilled by the feisty wild protagonist. I’ll admit I was unaware the author had written other books. Bursting with curiosity, I raced home from the bookstore and started reading it straight away.

My first take on it would be that despite being published in 1985, Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, has a timeless quality to the writing that makes it seem to come from another age. I guess this reflects the author, Astrid Lindgren, having been born in 1907 and quite literally belonging to another age. The story starts with a flourish and continues the same way. On the night that Ronia was born a thunderstorm was raging over the mountains, such a storm that all the goblinfolk in Matt’s Forest crept back in terror to their holes and hiding places.
The story is set in the past. There is no technology. The robbers milk their goats, churn their butter, and hunt for their meat. Ronia is born the only child of Matt, the robber chieftain who lives in his castle in the mountains with his band of twelve robbers and Lovis, his partner. The thieves rob the forest travellers for their goods and live a life of freedom. Ronia, the black-haired daughter, grows up to know every part of the forest so well she can find her way through it in the dark. Like Pippi, she is a free spirit who learns to dance and yell with the robbers.

Life goes on unchanged until the day Ronia meets Birk, the only son of Borka, the rival robber chieftain who lives in Borka’s Wood. Although the kids are initially wary, they also are immediately drawn to one another as children on their own are likely to do. The pair slowly fall in love, which I found a little odd considering their age. Nevertheless, fall in love they do, in utter secrecy as their fathers are arch-enemies. When Matt and Borka, the two rival chieftains, have a major clash, Ronia and Birk reveal their bond and run away into the forest to live by themselves, causing great distress to both families.
The story follows the harsh realities of life in a cave for the two youngsters, in which they grapple with growing up fast. They manage to survive through spring and summer, and finally, much to the reader’s relief, the pair are finally reunited with their families and allowed to return home before winter.

It’s a highly original tale. I had never read anything like it before and perhaps never will again. Ronia, as our protagonist, is described by her mother, Lovis, as “a storm-night child” and “a witch-night child, too.” The dialogue and the phrasing, everything about this tale is evocative of a bygone age. Ronia gasped with rage. Borka’s Keep! That was enough to choke you! What rogues they were, those Borka robbers! And that rascal grinning over there was one of them!
Perhaps the fact it is so unusual and different is why I found it so fascinating. I couldn’t stop reading because I couldn’t imagine what would happen next. And the funny thing is that nothing much does happen. Even so, the story is well told in a quaint fashion that could turn it into a classic. It was certainly enough to inspire Studio Ghibli’s series, Ronja the Robber’s Daughter!

Astrid Anna Emilia Lindgren, née Ericsson, was born in Sweden. She was a highly successful children’s book author and screenwriter whose novels have been translated into nearly eighty languages, from Arabic to Zulu. Lindgren has sold close to 165 million copies worldwide. She earned the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing in 1958. Though she published many titles in her lifetime, it is Pippi Longstocking that is her main legacy as Pippi became an international phenomenon. Lindgren is particularly beloved in her native Sweden, where she appears on the 20-kronor note.
Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter, won the Mildred L. Batchelder Award. While it is not in the same league as Pippi Longstocking in my humble opinion, it was an entertaining read.
My rating: Three stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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Full of high adventure, hairbreadth escapes, droll earthy humor, and passionate, emotional energy. ~ Horn Book


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Lately, I have shared some of the information from the Step by Step writer’s workshop, run by bestselling author Graeme Simsion, at our local writer’s festival. Graeme based his writing advice on his latest book, The Novel Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Novel, Memoir, or Biography.
He said there were two parts to The Novel Project; the preparation and the process.

Under ” preparation” there were four parts:
Overview of the approach – which was a precis of the workshop.
Being a writer – Focus on being the best writer you can be. Don’t waste your time on social media.
Creativity – Figure out what works for you. When do you get your best ideas? Start looking for patterns. No matter how hard you work, most ideas will not come immediately. They need incubation.
Structure – Be knowledgeable about story structure. Learn the language. A three-act structure consists of setup, conflict, and resolution.

Under ” process” there were nine parts:
Concept: “What is your book about? You must be able to define it in a sentence or phrase (an elevator pitch). Keep a list of good ideas. One good idea on its own will have been done before, but two ideas mashed up against one another will be original.”
Synopsis – plot: “Beats are the things that happen in a story. I want to be able to tell the story from beginning to end in a few key beats.”
Synopsis – characters (players and decisions): Graeme gave us the inside scoop, “the Graeme Simsion method,” for getting to know our characters. He focuses on the motivations for their most important decisions. “I ask my characters three questions. What would you tell your best friend if you were asked about this decision? What would you tell your parents? and What would you tell your therapist? and follow this up by asking the therapist, What would you tell us about the character? Then this forms the framework for the entire story.”

Brainstorming the story: “Write every idea down. Write scenes in random order. I want lots of material to play with.” See the ‘bucket of scenes’ method in my first post on this subject, Step by Step.
Organizing the story: “Put the cards (from your bucket of scenes) in order. Usually, the setup is too long, the resolution too short, and there will be a lack of acceleration in the middle. A convention of story is to have acceleration throughout the body of the book.”
Reviewing the outline: “Once you have the cards in order, type them onto your computer. As you work on the scene breakdowns add everything you can think of. Flesh them out.”
First draft (manuscript): Graeme’s target is to write 1000 words a day. “Don’t get it right; get it done. I look at the beats and say to myself to trust the process.”

Rewriting (or editing): How many passes to get a better manuscript? Graeme said when he started writing fiction, it took him at least 70 passes, but these days it’s more like a dozen. His advice was that we wouldn’t improve our stories on the first passes, that it wouldn’t be 100%, but on each pass, we would make them better. And we should expect the process to take time. “At some stage, if you can leave the manuscript a few weeks, leave it then come back to it.”
Working with your editor(s): About this, Graeme said something quite beautiful, that “we need to be reflective practitioners.” We need to be willing to be flexible and change our darlings, but only to a certain extent. He told us to remember something Neil Gaiman had said once, “When the editors say something is wrong, they’re always right. When they say something is definitely wrong, they’re probably wrong. And when they tell you how to fix it, they’re always wrong.” That made us laugh.
Thanks, Graeme! And that wraps up his intensive workshop.

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“A story must have a beginning, middle, and end, but not necessarily in that order.” ~ Graeme Simsion


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Recently, I shared some of the insights gained from the Step by Step writer’s workshop, run by bestselling author Graeme Simsion, at our local writer’s festival. Graeme based his novel writing advice on his latest book, The Novel Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Novel, Memoir, or Biography. He started the workshop by saying, “What I want you to have is what I have. When I get up in the morning, I know what I’m going to do, and I make serious progress on my novel by the end of each day.”
Then he gave us the seven principles from The Novel Project.

0: Be aware of the process: or how you work best: “I always write in the same place at the same time. I start by reading what I wrote the day before.”
1: Writing is a craft that can be learned: “Every trade can be learned. Improvement is a career-long process.”
2: Concentrate on one thing at a time: “To write at a professional level takes work. Don’t try to focus on everything at once. The best way to tackle a difficult task is to break it down into steps.”
3: Make your work explicit (and learn the language of structure): “At every stage, write it down. Whether it’s a line of dialogue or a character trait, keep notes.”
4: Manage your creativity (and give your unconscious a chance): “Set the time aside for creativity for your story. We can do tons of things to enhance our creativity. Your job is to figure out what works best for you. Notice when you get your best ideas and try to reproduce those. Think about improving the quality of your creative time.”

5: The process is mostly top-down, but not rigidly so: “Start with the idea and keep adding to it. Flesh it out. File every brainwave. The process is not a straightjacket; it’s a support. It’s not about rigidity but safety nets.”
6: Decisions are crucial to stories: “What makes a plot sing is plot twists and character development. When these two things come together, things happen. Character decisions are what makes a story interesting. A story outlined and conjure six or more character decisions, and you have gone a long way.”
7: Think in scenes: “It’s all about shape and structure. We are told ‘show don’t tell.’ A lot of writers don’t understand it. Try thinking in scenes. If you can imagine it on a movie screen, you are showing and not telling. You can stitch the reflections and the summaries in later.”

Great stuff, huh? The seven principles laid the groundwork. Then, Graeme shared the preparation and the process of novel writing, which I will detail in the next step-by-step post.
Even for pantsers like me, using a planned approach like this one espoused by Graeme Simsion will pay dividends. Graeme said, “If you write intuitively, you can still use structure. It pays to learn the language. Once I have my structure I have a safety net. Then imagination can take you somewhere stronger. Creativity loves a challenge, and constraints inspire creativity.”
Today, I’ll finish by sharing what Graeme told us about social media for authors. I’ve always struggled to manage all the social media requirements as an author. At one stage, I had seven different social media accounts. When I hired a publicist in 2020 to release The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, she told me to limit my accounts to two and focus on my writing. I quit every site except for this blog, and my Facebook page. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I found it fascinating that Graeme concurred with this attitude about social media for authors. He said, “Don’t waste your time.” And he demonstrated with a great example about the time Bill Gates mentioned his book, The Rosie Project, on Twitter. Graeme watched the stats that day, and he received virtually nil extra sales after the top-level shout-out. However, when Bill Gates mentioned his book during a television show, Graeme’s sales spiked through the roof. Likewise, when Graeme himself was interviewed on TV, his book sales rocketed. He said, “It’s a waste of time promoting your books on Twitter and Facebook and so on. Social media doesn’t sell books.” What a revelation, considering it’s currently touted by most folks in marketing as the snake oil you need to use most while promoting your book. It pays to listen to those in the know.

Thanks for the top tips, Graeme!

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

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“It’s a process of constantly enhancing creativity. You can break the rules and then come back again.” ~ Graeme Simsion


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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

This month’s question:
What genre would be the worst one for you to tackle and why?

There are a few genres I would be too scared to tackle, and some I know I should never attempt. I wanted to write romantic novels at one point when I was a lot younger, and I made it to the halfway point with a contemporary romance set in the South Island of New Zealand when I ran out of steam. It felt like a case of mentally choosing a direction, but my heart wasn’t in it, so I couldn’t sustain the energy levels needed to finish the project. As Gina Cole said at the launch of her book Na Viro last Friday night at the New Zealand Society of Authors meeting, “Writing a book is tough.” Short, sweet, and to the point! All the fates have to be aligned, and your energy has to come from the inexhaustible fuel supplied by conviction. You can’t fake story writing. It needs to come from a deep source within or the well runs dry pretty quick.

I wouldn’t dare write literary fiction because I neither read the genre nor enjoy it. Throughout the recent writers’ festival, I sat in on several live interviews or “conversations,” and two of them were with authors of highly-praised literary novels. Those were the only events where I felt out of place. Truth is, I’m not as intelligent as I look. The thought that went through my head multiple times while watching those interviews was, “I think this conversation is above my pay grade.” A lot of the points they made did not compute.
Likewise, horror and all variations thereof leave me cold. It’s another personal no-go zone. I don’t have the stomach for horror. The only horror story I’ve read – apart from critiquing my friend, Maria Cisneros-Toth’s book, Spooky Tales – was Ghost Story by Stephen King (Peter Straub). The latter’s novel freaked me out big time, and I couldn’t stop thinking about Ghost Story afterward. I didn’t like feeling afraid in my own time because of a book, and it put me off reading horror altogether. The only horror movie I’ve ever seen was Dawn of the Dead when I was a teenager. I lasted five minutes watching that movie, and then I stood up and walked out of the cinema. It’s the only time I’ve ever done so. And I’ve not seen a single horror film since. The genre is not my bag. I don’t want nasty images replaying in my mind long after a movie is finished. And the same goes for the darker sorts of fiction. I don’t want to read threatening material or have it cloud the bright sky of my imagination. It feels like I need to protect my good spirits and keep my environment positive. My friend would call it ‘keeping my armour polished.’

Another genre I avoid is picture books. There was an extended period in my twenties when I wrote picture books for the 0 – 5-year-old range. I spent at least a decade developing the stories and illustrating them. Looking back on this time, I learned a lot about writing through labouring under the constraints of the form. The economy of language and tightness of composition is essential, along with an ear for the rhythm of the spoken word. However, I prefer using lots of words, and I felt confined by the genre and miserable. Eventually, the limits of the form began to feel like a straightjacket, and I felt driven to escape.

Alternatively, my first ever experiment writing middle fiction was like lighting a flame. With more generous word limits, I could have fun with words and spend more time getting to know my characters. I could explore the plot, the story arc, and so on. The natural fit for me was to write fantasy because that is the genre I read as a child and still like to read now. When I think back, it wasn’t a matter of consciously choosing what I would write at that point. I picked up the pen and that’s what came out. Fantasy middle fiction fit like a glove, and I’ve been playing happily in my sandbox ever since.
What about you? What genre do you avoid? Which do you embrace?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Let it be easy. ~ Anon

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Last weekend, I went to our local annual writer’s festival. It was fantastic. I learned a lot and thought I’d share some of the content over the next few weeks. My first event was the Step by Step writer’s workshop, run by bestselling author, Graeme Simsion. It was an intensive hour and a half of Graeme ‘drilling us’ as he put it with information. I wrote copious notes in my big old notebook. In this ancient tome, I have kept notes I’ve taken during writing workshops, courses, and lectures dating back thirty years. My friend from the Fabulatores (we’ve decided on the name now!) may have been surprised at how much I was writing. But, I have learned from experience you can never keep enough notes. My memory is faulty, and if I don’t record the tips, I’ll have forgotten half of the content by morning.

Graeme based the workshop on his method of working, detailed in his recently published The Novel Project: A Step-by-Step Guide to Your Novel, Memoir, or Biography. Billed as a simple guide to the writing process, he led us from premise to proofreading. A fast speaker, Graeme crammed a lot into an hour and a half. I had to write like the wind trying to keep up with him. He gave us an overview and then detailed his process of how to write a book in a series of concrete steps, as well as giving tips on how to develop character and what drives a good story.

At first, I thought I had made a mistake being there when Graeme made it clear that the class was for planners, whereas I am a pantser. In other words, I don’t plan anything. I set up the right conditions for my writing schedule and then write whatever comes into my little head. Graeme made it clear from the outset of his lecture that this was a formal planning approach. I hadn’t realized that key detail when I decided to take the workshop. Yet, I liked when he said that even if we were pantsers, perhaps one day in the future we might decide our approach wasn’t working anymore, then knowing how to plan a novel would be a great backup. “Think of it as a safety net.” That sounded sensible, so I stayed, and it turned out I took copious notes and learned an astonishing amount.

Graeme said he starts from the top with his stories; he likes to start with the concept at the outset, nailing down his soundbite or elevator pitch. As a teacher, he said he had met countless writers who could not tell him in a statement their story concept, which is a big mistake. Once he sorts out his story concept, Graeme works on a synopsis for the whole story, detailing the plot, the characters, and their decisions. He said a book should have an inciting incident to kick things off, a few key events hopefully linked to the characters’ decisions, a couple of things to twist the plot around then a resolution.

Graeme had other excellent tips too. I could see myself using his idea for a “bucket of scenes.” When brainstorming the content for our stories, Graeme advocated having an actual bucket and using index cards to jot down a couple of ideas each day using the cards. We can then toss the cards into the bucket, aiming for 180 per book, though we might only use 120. Usually, when I’m roughing out a new book, I catch notes on serviettes and the backs of envelopes, grabbing whatever is to hand. I liked the idea of using index cards and getting more organized in my approach. Gee, thanks, Graeme. You see how I’m changing already.

I love Graeme Simsion’s bio. He was born in New Zealand, became an IT consultant and the author of two nonfiction books on database design, and then decided at the age of fifty to turn his hand to fiction and virtually became an overnight success. His first novel, The Rosie Project, published in 2013, has been sold in forty languages and the movie rights have been optioned to Sony Pictures. The two sequels altogether sold more than five million copies.

There was such a wealth of information in this one workshop that I can’t fit it all into one post. I will write follow-up posts, More Step by Step, and Even More Step by Step at later dates.

What a fabulous evening. I might be a pantser writer, however, it never hurts to learn new tricks. There is power in information. What do you think?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol

“If I get writer’s block I lower my standards.” ~ Graeme Simsion


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