An Australian author living in Norway

Tag: writing

What a difference two months makes

My last post was about staving off depression by posting exclusively positive content on social media throughout November. Shortly after November ended, I hopped a plane to Australia for Christmas and had one of the best visits “home” in my almost-13 years of living abroad.

After three amazing weeks of sun, family, laughter (oh, the laughter!) all my favourite nostalgia foods and finishing it all with a new year’s eve karaoke pool party, coming back to cold, dark Norway hit me pretty hard. My daughter went straight back to her dad, and thanks to jet lag, I worked from home those first few days back, which meant being alone at home with only my kitties for company. I started to sink again, hating my adoptive country for taking me away from the warmth of the Australian sun and my Australian people, who took such good care of me while I was away.

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Last weekend, two of my best friends (also writers) and I went up to a cabin in the ski resort town of Hemsedal, about three hours north of Oslo for a mini-writing retreat and jentetur (girls’ weekend). I had a plan to finish revising one of my novels, Audrey had some school work to do before heading off to a “real” writing retreat in the States the next week, and Chelsea just needed some inspiration to get started again.

Chris had generously offered to drive us up there, and his ears were likely throbbing by the time we arrived due to the incessant chattering and laughter that made the four hour journey (we stopped for lunch and grocery shopping) seem so much shorter. We talked about everything from inadvertent climbing expeditions to a nine-year-old boy’s fascination with googling pictures of butts.

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How to procrastinate like a pro

Procrastination. It’s a writer’s worst enemy, and I doubt there’s a one of us who doesn’t succumb to it now and then, if not on a daily basis. Yesterday was writing day, and I found myself doing all my usual procrastination self talk:

I’ll just get a cup of tea.

I’ll just check Facebook.

Oh! A message! Must reply to this message, then I’ll get to work.

Now I’ve lost my train of thought…better go put some laundry on while I collect myself.

Oops, there’s already a pile of dry stuff in the dryer – I should at least take it—

STOP! Just stop it right there and get back to WORK!

Back to the computer I go. And there’s an email from a client – I better answer that before I—


And so it goes. I got so mad at myself that I went to my author page on Facebook to put up a quote about writers who procrastinate. That takes a bit of research, so I had a look at some quote sites, started reading – rookie mistake – and another half an hour went by before I realised I was doing it again. Dammit! Close the quote site. Close Facebook. Close the browser entirely. Open Scrivener and stare at that blank screen again.

. . .

Yeah. Now I can’t concentrate.

The procrastination thing was bugging me, but not the urge to procrastinate, the urge to write about procrastination. I suddenly wanted to write something all writers could relate to, about how badly we procrastinate, and the sorts of crazy things we do to avoid actually sitting down and writing…but writing it would be procrastinating again, right? Right. So what did I do? I decided to write a note to myself, reminding myself to write this very blog post. That way, my head would be clear to focus on the writing I was supposed to be doing. I looked about for a piece of paper – my desk is covered with them – but I couldn’t find the right piece of paper. A Post-it was too small, the back of a discarded print-out was too likely to get lost or thrown away, one of my idea notebooks was too permanent (I hate tearing pages out, and I hate having notes about completed projects or tasks sitting around in books – yeah, I know).

What the hell? I was doing it again! Over a piece of paper! Gah! I grabbed a piece of lined paper and scribbled down three lines. Ahhh. Now I was ready to get back to my novel. Wasn’t I? Actually, this time I was. I wrote over 4000 words yesterday. Go me!

But later on I got to thinking about this whole procrastination business, and I realised something: Procrastination – when done the right way – is actually a very useful tool for a writer. And how do you procrastinate in the right way? I’m glad you asked. There are two ways I know of:


At the January meeting of the Oslo International Writers’ Group, we decided that we would introduce readings this year. Previously, we have read each other’s work ahead of time and given critiques at the meetings, but now that we have a year behind us and we know each other quite well, it felt like time to break away from paper and share our work out loud.

Being the one who suggested it, I volunteered to go first, having brought along one of my pieces for what is currently being called The Oslo Anthology (we’re still deciding on a proper title). It was the first time I have ever read my work aloud to a group, and I was unusually nervous – public speaking doesn’t usually bother me, but this is a group of truly talented writers whose opinions I value and respect, and although they are unceasingly supportive, I didn’t know what the reaction would be.

I had originally intended to read a small section of the story which related to the wine we were drinking (a Hardy’s wine from the region of South Australia I grew up in, and in which part of the story is set). But when I’d finished the first part, I was quietly reluctant to stop – it had felt good to read it out loud, and I was enjoying hearing the story myself, in an odd way. When I paused, the group stayed silent for a moment, one or two sitting with their eyes partially closed, as if savouring the words the same way they had savoured the wine. And then I was suddenly surrounded by smiles and nods, followed by eager requests for me to read on. What more encouragement could I need? I continued.

What followed was everything a writer could ask for: laughter, gasps, and at the climax, a cheer! Then, when I’d finished, that same savouring pause . . . Then applause, bigger smiles, bigger nods. My story is based on an experience I’d had when I first moved to Norway, and these people are, as well as fellow writers, almost all expats, and they related. Success.

I went out of that meeting on a real high. But that was nothing compared to the high I experienced at last month’s meeting; three of my colleagues shared their work, and it was good. Really good. And let me say now, I am usually not a fan of poetry – but the two poems that were read were so honest in such different ways; one was lyrical, abstract and almost dreamlike, the other grounded, real and painful in its honesty – yet both left me with images and feelings as if I’d been right inside the head and heart of the readers. Then a third piece was read, this time a work of fiction, disturbing in both content and tone, written from the point of view of a twelve year old child, being lead into certain death by people she trusted. I was both sickened and grimly fascinated.

Sweet, complete

Last week I finished the first draft of my second novel, Sweet Alyssum. It was quite an exciting achievement, not least because I had been aiming to get to this point by the end of October and actually reached by goal two weeks ahead of schedule. On my final day of writing, I wrote 9500 words earning a lot of self-congratulation, followed by a painful bout of tendonitis. But it was so satisfying to be done, especially since the series is now two thirds complete (unless I decide to go for that fourth book that’s been niggling around in my head lately, insisting that it should exist).

Sweet Alyssum is the second book I have written for my series The Eidolon Cycle, but it is not the second book in the series. Why? Because there is no second book. There is no first book and no last book. The Eidolon Cycle is a non-sequential series telling the individual stories of three different young women whose lives are inexorably intertwined, even though each book is set in a different time period.

My hope for the series is that readers will be able to start with whichever of the books appeals to them most. From that point, each additional book enriches the others until the reader eventually has the whole picture. Additionally, readers will get a different experience of the world and its characters depending on the order in which the books are read. Loyalties may arise for some readers where others are firmly opposed to certain characters, depending on how much they know about each of them before their story arcs are complete.

I will now let the draft rest for a couple of weeks before rolling up my sleeves and getting down to tightening and polishing it up before sending it to my agent. In the meantime I’m working on two short stories for the Oslo International Writers’ Group anthology, and I will then begin work on the third, and perhaps final, Eidolon book, aiming to have it complete by April 2013.

As a little good news aside, I won the Bookkus Water, Danger, Humour short story competition last week. My story was chosen as the winner by voters visiting the site, who scored the stories out of ten on a star-rating chart. Overall, my story, Rocks in his Socks, scored an average of 9 out of 10. I couldn’t be happier with the result, and am looking forward to seeing the result in print early in 2013.

Next steps

Things became interesting this week when I received not one, but two requests from New York literary agencies who want to read more of Amaranth. It’s both exciting and terrifying to come so close: it could be the start of something huge, or it could just give me further to fall. But what I want to be able to take away from this development is the knowledge that there are at least two agents out there who think my work is worth their time. That is HUGE.

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The Militant Author

What does it really take to be a writer? Talent? Skill? What happens when everything else gets in the way and a writer can’t find time to write? After all, we have day jobs, bills to pay, children, partners and pets to love, friendships to maintain… everything takes up time, and it can begin to feel like things are attacking the time that could be spent writing. This is something I talk about in my guest blog on

As part of their blog series entitled “The (Vacant) Author”, my post, The Militant Author, explores what it’s like to fit writing in around life, and life in around writing.

Bookkus is a new, independent publishing house looking to enlist real people to choose the books they publish. They’re currently taking on submissions from authors as well as looking for readers who want to participate in getting the books they are passionate about published.

Vocal challenges

My current work in progress is proving quite a challenge, and one of the key reasons for this is voice. When I mentioned my struggles to a friend recently, he said he could always recognise my voice in my writing, and that when he reads my work, he hears my voice in his head. I tried to explain this wasn’t quite what I meant, but I realised he had a point. I began to wonder if it is actually possible to separate the writer from the writing.

Amaranth is written in the first person, and the narrator is a nineteen year old girl named Eva. If I’m honest with myself, Eva’s narrative voice is very close to my own internal narrative; I wrote her much the same way I would write myself. She has a dry, dark sense of humour, is given to pessimism (and melodrama) and can be quite caustic. It was quite easy to write from her perspective.

However, the next book in the series is written from a different character’s perspective, and though she is also a girl in her late teens, she is a very different character to Eva. She’s bright, bubbly, mischievous and though she has a dark past, she refuses to let it get her down. It was a complete shift in gears for me, and I’m glad I took the time to write some short stories in between novels so that I could cleanse my palate of Eva, as much as is possible anyway, given the points I made above.

The interesting part is that two chapters in, though I’m struggling to keep the new voice authentic through word choice and structure, I’m finding the best thing I can do is to adopt her mindset. Method writing, perhaps? In order to know instinctively how she would react and what she would say in any given situation, I need to think like she would. I’ve found it rather therapeutic to shift my brain into nothing-gets-me-down girl; I’ve stopped for a break a number of times and found that I’ve been unconsciously smiling.

Reading back through the chapters I’ve written so far, I have managed to create a distinctly different voice for this novel, and yet my writing voice is still in there. Perhaps there are writers in the world who are true chameleons and can write in a completely different voice from book to book, but I am not quite there yet. And yet… I’m not sure I want to be. Not entirely. When I pick up a book by a favourite author, I want to hear his or her voice in there somewhere. It’s like a trademark. No, on second thoughts, it’s more subtle than that. It’s more of a watermark. Something at the nucleus of the writing that stamps it as theirs, and without it, I wouldn’t be able to trust the unfamiliar book to deliver what I liked about previous works.

Ideally, I want to find a balance. I hope that at some point my work will have fans who don’t know me personally, and don’t know what my real-life voice sounds like. For those people, I would hope to create something new and engaging each time, but with an intangible familiarity that allows them to trust that they’re going to get a healthy dose of what I do, no matter who the characters are, what they achieve or where I take them.

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