• Writing

    What I’m starting today: Six month ‘Write Your Novel’ program with Australian Writer’s Centre

    I’m so excited about the magic date of 29th October .. it’s when the online version of the ‘Write Your Novel’ program with the Australian Writers Centre begins. I’ve signed up and I can’t wait to start!

    My motivation is that I have a first draft of a first novel that needs work…and since completing that first draft, I’ve been feeling a little at sea with how to approach what needs doing. This program, suitable for those with a chunk of a first draft or a completed one, will be invaluable for me. To go step by step through a manuscript, working out structural issues, plot development, pacing, character and dialogue; with help from an experienced editor tutor and a group of classmates all doing the same thing – wow.

    Here’s the link to the Australian Writers Centre website about the course if it is something that might interest you:


  • Books and reading,  History

    Book Review: ‘The Lace Weaver’ by Lauren Chater

    This debut novel by Sydney writer Lauren Chater is historical fiction at its best. The story plunged me into the snowy depths of winter in Russia and Estonia during WWII. Like some other novels I have read, the settings against which the drama unfolds become characters in themselves – and in this, I include the time setting along with the places.

    There are two main protagonists: two young women who at the novel’s opening live on either side of the Russia – Estonia border, but whose stories eventually entwine so that the climax and resolution of the novel involve them both. Katarina is the lace weaver of the title: a young woman determined to carry on the traditions of her Estonian language and culture, including knitting beautiful woollen lace shawls. Lydia is Russian, but her mother was Estonian and she was raised to love and respect Estonian traditions even as the country of her birth, Russia, spread its oppressive tentacles over all aspects of Estonian life. Both women suffer because of the actions and policies of Soviet Russia under Stalin’s rule until they are faced with yet another enemy: Nazi Germany.

    I love historical fiction when it spurs me to think more about the time and place in which it is set. This novel did that, opening up a chapter of European history that I’d previously not given much attention to. It also offered an insight into the dilemma of the Baltic peoples at this time: whether to embrace the Nazi invaders as liberators from Soviet rule or to resist the hateful Nazi race laws and ideology. Reading this book made me realise that for many Estonians at that time, the choice would not have been a clear-cut one, and in the end, the result was oppression and brutality whichever way they went.

    The motif of the lace shawls is woven beautifully throughout and highlights the themes of traditions, culture, family and love.

    I enjoyed this book very much and will look forward to reading this author’s future novels.

  • History,  Life: bits and pieces

    Words & where they come from: ‘Hobby’

    Where does the English word ‘hobby’ originate?


    The etymonline website tells me that hobi or hobyn originated from Anglo-Latin in the 14th or 15th century.

    It meant ‘horse’. No surprises there!

    Our two more modern versions are from the early 19th century. Probably referring to a wooden or wickerwork toy figure, or a costume in a dance (such as Morris dances).
    Today, ‘hobby’ can mean either:
    1) a child’s hobbyhorse (stick with horse’s head, or a rocking horse). I can remember happy times galloping on my hobbyhorse when I was a very little girl. Then there’s the  shortened version of this word resulting in ‘hobby’, meaning:
    2) a spare time activity or past time, for pleasure and recreation, (From Macquarie Compact Dictionary 2017)



  • Books and reading

    What I’m listening to… Audio book version of ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ by Liane Moriarty

    I’ve just finished  the audio book version of Liane Moriarty’s new release, Nine Perfect Strangers. I’ve ‘read’
    (listened to) several books by this best selling author. The audio versions are terrific as the narrator captures the very Australian voice and tone of the books. I admire Liane Moriarty’s characters and dialogue; they are very believable, contemporary and often funny to boot. I always recognise one or two people I ‘know’ in her cast of characters.

    Having also listened to the audio book and watched the TV adaptation of Big Little Lies, I was a bit sorry that the producers chose to change the setting from beach side Sydney to beach side California. Though of course, there are plenty of similarities. I heard an interview with Liane in which she said she was fine with it. She regarded the book and the series as two separate entities. Probably a very sensible approach: otherwise I’m sure it would be hard as an author to let go of your ‘baby’.

    Moriarty’s fiction could be regarded as ‘Chick Lit’ (a term I dislike, by the way, because to me it implies frivolity, ‘escapism’ and shallow themes.)  The novels I have read by Liane Moriarty have been anything but shallow. Her characters are flawed, complex, likeable and understandable. Her books deal with many of the big themes in contemporary life. Nine Perfect Strangers touches on teen suicide and family grief, divorce, mid life crises (the male and female variety), mental illness, illicit drugs, celebrity worship, money, the fast pace of the modern world, addictions (to drugs, exercise, social media…)
    It’s a cornucopia of  issues, stories and personalities in a big, satisfying novel.


  • Books and reading

    What I’m reading

    I’ve been reading – or more accurately, listening to – the audiobook version of Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton. What an astounding book this is. Part fiction, part autobiographical, it is the story of 12 year old Eli Bell, a character who is as memorable as Pip from Great Expectations. It’s the story of Eli and his brother Augustus who face the challenges of growing up in one of Brisbane’s poorer suburbs in the 1980’s, in a milieu of poverty and violence, populated by criminals, drug dealers, jail escapees and inmates.  It is also where the boys experience love and compassion, sometimes in the most surprising places.

    I heard an interview with the author, who said that people have often commented to him that they found it hard to tell which events and characters were fictional and which were based on real events and people. It is, truly, impossible to know.
    Buy or borrow a copy or download the audiobook to listen to. You won’t regret it.
    And what a cracker of a title! How could you not want to read a book with a title like this one?

    Here’s a Goodreads quote about this book: A story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel you will read all year.

  • Uncategorized,  Writing

    Draft completed!

    This is the printout of my first draft…it’s probably 10,000 words too long and needs a great deal of tender nurturing and care (also known as word whittling, re-writing, re-drafting) to become a second draft, then a third…and so on. Still it is comforting and reassuring to see the pages in front of me. Proof that I didn’t just imagine all those words!

  • Books and reading,  History

    Author talk: Grace Karskens

    This book was a welcome addition to my little reference library for research on colonial Australian history. Grace Karskens  is a distinguished Australian historian and author. She has the ability to ‘write history’ in a sympathetic and engaging way,  bringing to life events, people and places from our past. I’m thrilled to be attending an author talk with Grace at Hawkesbury Regional Museum, Windsor, on 27th October. She will be talking about People of the River, her forthcoming book about early contacts between indigenous people and settlers along the Hawkesbury -Nepean rivers. I can’t wait to read this book and look forward to hearing Grace speak about it.

    Here’s the link to the event: I’d love to see you there.



  • History,  Writing

    Where did that word come from?

    I enjoy words and sniffing out the sometimes obscure origins of words and expressions we regularly use, often with little thought as to how and why they come to mean what we think they mean.

    Here’s one for today:


    Canvass (with the double ‘s’) means to solicit votes or opinions, engage in a political campaign or to examine carefully’. (Macquarie Compact Dictionary, 2017.)

    So why does it look and sound so close to ‘canvas’, with the single ‘s’, which of course refers to a heavy, finely woven cloth – such as tent fabric or sails?

    The answer seems to lie in the fact that both words come from the Latin cannabis (hemp), from which sheets and flags were often made. To canvass once referred to a game, which sometimes doubled as a form of light punishment. It involved a person lying in the centre of a large sheet, and others tossing them around on the stretched out sheet – a bit like modern day games played in a park with parachute silk. From this origin, canvass came to mean ‘to stir up or punish’. Later, that meaning included ‘evaluation by a crowd’ – like ‘running an idea up a flagpole’. Because flags, of course, were also made of canvas- like material.

    So these convoluted shifts in meaning lead us from canvas to canvass. A fun example of the way language weaves its way through time, changing and mutating as it goes.

    Here’s a great website I referred to :


  • Writing

    My top three writing spots

    My three top places for writing:

    No 1:  At my desk, on the laptop: I am so lucky to have an office with large windows overlooking a back garden that is either greened up for spring (as it is now) or accented by autumnal tones from the deciduous trees. It’s my favourite spot. I have all my folders and notebooks there so I can spread out, which I need to do frequently.

    No 2:   Outside in the garden: ditto the comments above re the garden. Though it is now disgracefully neglected due to my attention to writing, rather than gardening, in spring it’s all forgiven as the flowering shrubs and perennials just do their thing without my assistance. As the weather warms it’s inviting to sit out under the pergola and write – or dream…





    No.3:  In a cafe. I can really only do this using pen and paper – I find the whole laptop thing difficult to wrangle away from my desk at home, though I hope to become better at it. Cafes, I’m sure, are the best places to edit a manuscript.

  • Varuna,  Workshop,  Writing

    Varuna workshop with Michelle de Krester

    My first visit to Varuna, the Writers’ House in Katoomba on Saturday 6th October. Such a thrill to spend an afternoon at this gracious house, a place dedicated to writing and the development of Australian literature. And to participate in a workshop facilitated by Michelle de Krester, twice Miles Franklin Award winner. The workshop was on ‘The Art of the Sentence’. Michelle is knowledgeable, friendly and very encouraging. I felt honoured to meet her.