2011 sucked. Bring on 2012.

We’re one hinge swing away from 2012, and like all human mammals I find myself reflecting on my year. 2011 had some awesome moments, but I have to admit, dear reader, that they were sometimes cold comfort as I got used to a whole new way of being in the world. The reason, which I have hinted at here but never fully explained (being an old-fashioned girl who remembers the concept of privacy), was the breakdown of my marriage after 20 years together and the subsequent recalibration of my motherly duties to two young children. I had incredibly favourable circumstances in this regard, being financially independent and being able to remain on good terms with the kids’ dad, but it still sucked all of the joy and industry out of me. I have never been so tired, so sick, so lazy, nor so self-absorbed. The year whooshed past my ears at supersonic speed, and all I have now are the tinny echoes.

And yet, hope blooms again. Other wonderful things, both personal and professional, are already coming to be. I realise now that if you are lucky enough to live a long life, you can’t avoid bad shit happening. It’s a simple mathematical equation: the longer you are out here, the greater the chance that one of those ill winds is going to blow you no good. I am in my forties; I was probably due. And then, because I’m still out here, more fair winds may yet come my way. Damn I’m grateful to still be out here. So grateful.

So here’s to all the shit, because if you put shit on your garden it might stink for a while; but then your flowers bloom in vibrant colours.

How to write a novel, by me

I’m doing something exciting with the Queensland Writers Centre next month. Because I’m not taking any year-long courses for them, I came up with the idea for an intensive weekend course (a “boot camp” if you will) that teaches everything I know about preparing to write a novel. It’s going to be full-on, starting on a Friday afternoon and ending on a Sunday. I challenge the writers involved to clear the decks, batten down the hatches, and assorted other shipping metaphors. We’ll be planning out our narrative structure, getting to know our characters, coming up with a blueprint for getting the novel finished (students can then go on to do a Year of the Novel course if they like). My goal is to drive the students really really hard so they push through their resistance and go home inspired and equipped to write their novel. It’s an application-only course (I am trying to put together the group that I think will work best), and if you’re interested you can find more details here. If you’re too far away to come in for a weekend course, you might be interested in taking my online Year of the Novel course (26 lessons over a year). This one will be tutored by another writer, but the lectures and lesson plan are all me. More info here. You’ll have to be a member of QWC to take either course, but they’re the best writers centre in Australia (possibly the world) so why would you NOT want to be?

The Year of Ancient Ghosts

I am very very VERY excited to announce that I have just signed up with Ticonderoga Publications to release a collection of novellas in early 2013. The collection will be titled The Year of Ancient Ghosts and will feature a mix of existing and new publications. All of the works are in some way based on or inspired by medieval literature and history. The draft table of contents includes “The Death of Pamela”, first published in 2000 (based on Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur); “Crown of Rowan”, first published in 2010 (based on my ongoing OBSESSION with all things Anglo-Saxon); “Wild Dreams of Blood”, forthcoming in an e-journal in 2012 (which does funky things with the Eddas and cage fighting), and two as-yet unwritten novellas tentatively titled “The Year of Ancient Ghosts” and “The Lark and the River”. There will also be a nonfiction essay in the back about researching and writing the medieval.

The Ring of Brodgar: one of the locations in "The Year of Ancient Ghosts"

Kimberley Freeman, my more-popular alter-ego, has kept me very busy the last few years, so it has been a while since I’ve conceptuatlised and written a speculative fiction novel. Working on these novellas is giving me a chance to drink from that well again, and I’m very grateful that Ticonderoga sees value in the project. I love the novella form: it has a similar structure and weight to the novel, but is a quicker and easier write and read. Part of my research trip to the UK next year will be taken up in researching, developing, and writing these works, including a week in a lonely cottage near Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, which is somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. I feel very blessed to have such great support around me, and that I can spend the next six months or so (once Kimberley Freeman #4 is off in the River Publish) indulging these creative ideas that mean so much to me.

How to edit: a pictorial guide

Before I can finish my next novel, I have to make some changes to the first 70 000 words (which, unfortunately, weren’t working very well). Such a task can be overwhelming, so this is what you do.

1. Go to a location far away from phone and internet where you will feel guilty if you don’t work.

 

 

2. Write down a one-line summary of each scene in the story, as it stands, on a file card.

 

 

 

 
3. Arrange the file cards in chapters on a large surface (like a luxury king-size bed) so you can get a bird’s eye view the whole story, or at least the chapters that need attention. Now stop and think for a bit. What needs to be cut? What needs to be inserted (make a note of inserts on different coloured cards)? What scenes need to be combined or moved? Here is some thinking music…

 

4. Now make a list in your notebook of all those fixes. Make sure there are check boxes next to every point! Colour-code them if you want it to look super purty.

 

 

 

5. Transfer the list onto your computer copy, make a note (using “comments” in Word) wherever something needs to be done. Sometimes it will be a simple tweak, sometimes it will be a big fix. The example at the left shows that I need two new scenes and a bit of rewriting in a third scene. You might have dozens of notes to start with. As you complete the notes, you delete them. The number of notes decreases in a pleasing fashion.

 

 

6. Added fun can be had by ticking the check-boxes in your notebook!