Writing on, and about, an island

Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

Monday Morning Inspiration for Creatives #3

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Island Life, Tasmania, Writing on April 9, 2012 at 11:02 am

It’s 10.45am on Easter Monday, and I’m sitting in the living-room of my Tasmanian house – with the wood-fire going already… Autumn has hit suddenly. Fortunately, autumn was made for Tasmania. Cold, sunny days; red-golden poplars; excellent local apples…

Anyway, this Brian Pickings post on short stories was well-timed – particularly because I’ve started working on a bunch of very short stories for a new online writing project I’m really excited about.

I particularly like tip number 5:

Start as close to the end as possible.

Full-length novels are hard to write (you’ve got to be built for stamina). Short stories are equally hard, but for different reasons (you’ve got to be built for speed).

PS: Speaking of stamina and speed, I’m putting the final touches on my author site to be ready for the launch next weekend (15 April).

Writers – Are You a Doer or a Talker?

In Books, Writing on March 28, 2012 at 11:22 am

If you want to get a book published, this is the question you have to ask yourself – and be honest when you answer.

I felt compelled to write about this today because I’m staring down the barrel of a self-imposed deadline. I know myself pretty well, and I know that I do my best work  when my back’s up against a wall. It helps me ‘jump my shark’: perfectionism.

My perfectionism can be crippling. Working as a journalist and an advertising copywriter has cured me of perfectionism in the corporate world, and gone a little way to helping me overcome it in my personal writing, but it’s a daily struggle!

It’s not that writing is hard – it’s avoiding distractions and staying driven that’s fucking hard.

Are you a doer or a talker?


  • Have no expectations (you may finish, you may not ­– but that’s not the point right now)
  • Let go of perfectionism (worry about perfect later – just get the words on the paper)
  • Do the hardest things first (the easiest things in life always get done anyway)
  • Make writing a priority every day (not TV, shopping, cleaning, sleeping in…)
  • Work smarter, not harder (identify the time of day when you’re most energetic, creative and inspired – and dedicate that time for writing)


  • Make excuses

Having said that, I believe it’s important to still talk about yourself as a writer – it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it starts to make your dream real.


An Idea: Writing Real Letters to Your Readers

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on March 27, 2012 at 4:24 pm

There’s a newish service you can subscribe to, called Letters in the Mail, where you receive ‘real’ letters in the post from authors on a regular basis. Apparently, it’s pretty successful. It gave me the idea that I should take the time to write – that’s handwrite – to people I know about the launch of my soon-to-be published book. It wouldn’t be to a lot of people, but in ‘this day and age’ (I sound like my grandmother), you should never underestimate the personal touch…

Why Keeping a Notebook by Your Bed Can Change Your Life

In Books, Career, Tasmania, Writing on March 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Following on neatly from my post on my midnight light-bulb moment, this article by award-winning Tasmanian author Rohan Wilson – “Winning the Vogel Can Change Your Life” – illustrates beautifully how, no matter what time inspiration strikes, you should heed it.

I’ve interviewed Rohan, and his success couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke. He’s also a very talented writer – but there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s made his own luck.


The Pros (and Cons) in Being Your Own Book Publisher

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on March 9, 2012 at 9:37 am

If you’re interested in publishing your own books – and avoiding the middle man – I’d recommend a read of indie author Susan Kiernan-Lewis’ blog. Her latest post on being savvy about the pitfalls of self-publishing is a good one. I enjoy her straight-talking style (she works in advertising, as I do) and the new angle she puts on the business of being an author, and the fact that she’s both pragmatic and passionate about pursuing her book-publishing dream.

What’s the Best Cover for a Crime Novel?

In Books, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on March 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm

I’ve just given my talented Tasmanian designer a creative brief for the cover of my crime novel (that I’m soon to self-publish as an ebook).

The web is heaving under the weight of woeful ebook cover designs. A well-designed cover is, therefore, non-negotiable. It puts your book in the top 10% of books that readers will bother to read (I made that stat up, but in my experience it’s pretty close).

Book cover design has always been a big deal for me. I started my uni degree with a graphic design major, as I wanted to be a book designer (I soon realised I was better at writing, and switched majors). Since then, I’ve worked as the editor on several books that’ve gone on to win best designed book at the annual APA Design Awards.

Crime novels require a special sort of look – or, more specifically, the kind of crime novel I’ve written lends itself to a certain look. I haven’t written a quirky No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency style book, or a hard-boiled police procedural, or a true crime, or a horror.

I’ve written something that’s set on a cold island, where winter seems to last for 6 months, where the environment is a character in itself, where corruption comes standard, where people need and reject history in equal parts, where the sky is big and clear, where the main colours are silver, slate, rust and khaki… you get the picture.

My interest lies in making the everyday appear creepy – in the way a crime book reads and looks.

I have a bookcase dedicated to crime and mystery, mainly of the psychological kind, so I have some good reference points (do I have a favourite? Not really, although Miss Smilla inspires).

While I’m usually all for bucking convention, there’s a certain logic to choosing a cover for my book that fits within the ‘classic’ look for the genre I’m writing in – it’s that rule of: don’t make it any harder for the reader to find you.

My crime-book cover brief:

  • Night-time time lapse photo of place where book is mainly set – strong sense of place is important
  • Matte cover (obviously irrelevant for an ebook, but I plan to print-on-demand also)
  • Spare, bare look (not overly ‘designed’) – to mimic the tone of the book
  • Muted colours – no neon, green or red!
  • Classy, not cliched (no bullet holes, dripping blood etc)
  • Sans serif font – actually, I’m a little torn on this, and will wait til the cover’s designed before I decide on serif vs sans serif
  • Create a look that could be run over several books
  • Reference Henning Mankell, PD James and Val McDermid (plus all Scandi crime writers) for mood
  • Title at top – or bottom??? I’m still unsure… which leads into…
  • My name (which will actually be a nom de plume, as I’m widely published in mainstream press under my real name). Everyone knows that the bigger your name and the smaller your title, the more famous you are. I’m hardly famous… but there’s the opportunity here to fake it til you make it; to make people do a double-take… Ah, crime writers are a sneaky bunch.

As with any creative product, I’ll continue to make changes as the design progresses. Stay tuned…

3 Things Every Writer Must Say

In Career, Freelance, Writing on January 31, 2012 at 10:26 am

There are a squillion words written on how to be a writer, and how to get published. But the truth is scarily simple – which is why most people don’t realise what it is…

This advice from the incredibly successful Sandra Reynolds (blogger turned cookbook writer) is priceless – whether you want to blog or write a novel.

Sandra says of her success (I’ve bolded the 3 unforgettable things you must communicate):

“I simply wrote about what I knew. As it turned out, the single best thing I ever did was simply being honest with my readers.

This is who I am.

These are my circumstances.

This is what I know.

Any good writer will tell you that every good story starts with those three pillars.”

Thanks to my colleague and friend Allison Tait at Life in a Pink Fibro, for the interview with Sandra on ‘Becoming a Cookbook Writer’ (read it, it’s great).

Running Writing

In Crime & Mystery Writer, Tasmania, Writing on January 20, 2012 at 3:33 pm

No, not what we were taught at school… Running writing is the writing I do in my head when I’m running.

Running is something I’ve recently gotten back into, as a way to expend my considerable creative and nervous energy in a productive way.

I have a tendency to expend that considerable energy in an unproductive way. Usually, drinking and being a dirty stop-out. For example, during the period when I was a newspaper columnist, I reported on Sydney’s coolest events and parties (oh boy, have I got some stories from those days!). Every night started with the promise of so much, and I never wanted to go home. I spent a year meeting punishing daily deadlines with a 365-day hangover*.

But I digress…

As a creative person, drinking and partying certainly burns up the energy and provides a certain dubious creative outlet. It is undoubtedly the path of least resistance to ‘expressing’ your creativity.

But, when you wake up in the morning, there’s nothing to show for it.

Hence, running

I run outside, for quite a long time, through the Tassie bush or along the beach. Why running? In Ayurvedic terms, I’m a Pitta (mentally hotheaded, physically easily overheated), and Pittas need the sensation of the cooling breeze on their face as they exercise. We need to escape, get out, be free…

Now that I’ve broken through the initial two-week pain barrier, I’ve reached that blissful stage where I’m writing in my head as I run. I don’t ask or expect it to happen. The welcome monotony and freedom of running frees up my thoughts. I write articles this way; I write whole chapters for my books.

Running writing = free thought

The physical act of running is a good metaphor for the type of writing it produces. Writing that flows, that has good rhythm, that is without restrictions (mental or space-wise). Don’t worry that you won’t remember what you’ve written in your head. Even if you don’t get it down word-for-word, running writing flavours what you do for the hours afterwards.

And don’t worry if you don’t like running. Walking is just as good. Washing dishes. Or, as Agatha Christie liked to do it, soaking in the bath while eating apples.

*If you’ve ever seen Secret Window with Johnny Depp as the alternately neurotic and apathetic writer, you’ll have a pretty good picture of me in these phases (although I’m not that handsome and I don’t have a brilliant French life) – unwashed hair, worn Missoni dressing gown, lying on the couch recovering from a hangover. And the avoidance of writing dreadlines that have taken on a life of their own…

Not Using Images

In Writing on January 6, 2012 at 3:42 pm

I’d always thought it was a given that I would use images on my blog.

This comes not just from personal persuasion – I am drawn to anything aesthetically interesting – but also from ‘training’ in the publishing environment. Words and pictures must go together. One without the other is a risk. And it’s the done thing with blogs, right?

But this year, I’ve decided, is a year where I’m going to rediscover my natural tendency to question the status quo. (Who says X is the way things should be?) And also free myself from obligation (in 2011, I was massively over-obligated, with full-time work and freelance work, and volunteering and family and…). So, I have made the decision to not upload images.

It goes against everything I think I should be doing. And everything I’ve been taught is convention.

But, I also know that my perfectionist values will insist that I produce the perfect image for each particular blog post. I actually tried adding images with a few posts, and it didn’t inspire me… it hindered me – I procrastinated about writing because I felt obligated to create a corresponding image. I am so sick of feeling obligated.

It also didn’t feel completely honest. With my days spent creating things for other people – things that are not of my voice – I started this blog so I could speak freely and unencumbered by expectations (mine or other people’s).

There will always be a battle between my puritan side and my bohemian side. Sometimes I love visual clutter. But there is enduring elegance in simplicity – whether it’s a blog or the decor of your living room.

Writing without images means I have to mentally and visually focus on the words, with no distractions. Writing in itself is visual – seeing stories in your mind… and the actual shape of the letters and the words is a visual experience in itself. The white space allows your imagination to fill in the gaps.

So, no pictures. For now. I guess I may change my mind one day.

First Impressions

In Tasmania on December 12, 2011 at 3:30 am

I was at a Tasmanian shopping centre, giving styling lessons as part of a fashion promotion… One woman told me she was worried about the first impression she makes. She thought her personality was getting lost in translation, but didn’t know how to dress her shopfront, so to speak. She wanted me to say: “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” But I don’t – because it’s not true.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

That woman got me thinking about Tasmanian businesses, and why they need a lesson on first impressions.

When I got my first journo job, working on one of Australia’s most influential lifestyle magazines, I silently pledged – Girl Guide-like – to be the champion for getting Tassie back into the pages. Nothing had peed me off more than my home being left of the map.

Fast-forward 12 years and, after battling to get this State seen, I can tell you exactly how Tasmania appears to people who don’t live there.

It doesn’t.

Because Tasmania ignores the internet.

I gave it my best shot. I researched everything. But apart from the usual suspects, Tasmanian businesses barely registered when I Googled.

Yes, there are some good Tasmanian sites. The rest are embarrassingly mediocre. Last time I looked, a certain official Tasmanian tourism media site (which shall remain nameless – but should know better) couldn’t even get renowned local painter Geoff Dyer’s name correct…

Many businesses don’t even bother. And when you’re pressed for time, you need info – fast. If it can’t be found, it goes in the too-hard basket.

Then, when I decided to move back to Tasmania, I did what everyone I know does: I looked online for my new doctor, childcare centre, hairdresser – fruitlessly, because none of those services had thought it important to invest in a website. Yet you want me to trust your business? Please believe me: your first impression is everything. And you have none.

When I did move here, I asked locals why Tasmania was 10 years behind the world. Those locals replied: “We all know each other, so why would we need a website?” Well, that’s lovely that you all know each other. But what about the rest of us? If you want to register with the rest of the computer literate world, then a website isn’t just desirable. It’s a virtual reality. (Mr Roy Morgan backs me up: 2010 figures shows our love for doing business on the web has skyrocketed. Whether this is good or bad for society is not my point; I’m simply stating a fact.)

My suggestion. Government should offer local SMEs a grant to build a good website. It’s obvious most people aren’t doing it for themselves.

The alternative?

The sound of one hand tapping delete.

%d bloggers like this: