Category Archives: Writing

Thoughts on Planning a Novel

I’ve been trying to write a novel for several years now.  I’ve got 4 first drafts of it, all of them bad, but they’re getting better.  Had I published it several years ago, I would be unable to read it now. 

Why?

Because there were too many plot holes, not enough accurate information to make the story believable (yes, I want it to be ‘right’), and the dialogue was patchy and sadly, preachy. 

Over the last year or so, I’ve been researching, reading, researching, reading, and researching and reading 🙂  In the midst of this busy life, I’ve also been scribbling when I can because this is the only way you can improve as a writer.  I’m trying to find ‘my voice’.

Paul McCartney said this: We practiced and played great blues songs, imitating our heroes, and eventually our own voices came through, our own distinct sound. 

That’s my goal.  To keep aping my betters until my own sound rings through the din.  And now, I’m starting to hear faint traces of that voice. 

I’m hoping to hear a lot more of that voice in the next draft.  I can’t wait!

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Filed under Becoming a Full Time Writer, Writing

New Humorous Column In The Gladstone Observer

Today a new column appeared in The Observer, Thirsty Cow.  It was quite well written, and funny.  This is fortunate for the Cow, because the column was sitting under the sub-heading, ‘Humour’.

My column was bounced today for a local lady who needed some editorial space to write about the upcoming Harbour Festival (seriously, if you can get a room here, it’s the best time to be in Gladstone!).  And tomorrow I have a meeting with the Ed to discuss the future of my column…

Anyway, I checked out Thirsty Cow’s creds’, and couldn’t come up with a web page, or a name, but I did discover that this versatile bovine’s column has been syndicated in The Sunshine Coast Daily, The Examiner and, (I’m assuming here), all the other APN papers up the coast of Qld… and possibly beyond. 

As someone with a bit of a passing interest in funny columns, I’ll be keen to see what the rest of the columns are like are like… from what I can work out online they are: Family Taming, Venus and Mars,  Alternative Universe, and Culture Sparrow. 

Perhaps if I’m real nice, maybe, just maybe, they’ll let me play too!

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Filed under Columns, Gladstone Observer Columns, Writing

The Legacy – A short (ish) story

Hi all!  This week I’m up to my eyeballs with the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo), so I decided to publish this instead of a blog.  I wrote it a few years ago.  The character is based on my Uncle Les.  I hope you enjoy the read:

The Legacy

The sound of the axe from the back yard rang clearly through the cold air as the young man climbed the front steps on the ‘big’ house.  Entering the kitchen he noted the stiff way his mother was holding herself as she watched her husband splitting timber at the wood pile.  Bad news.

He sat down and waited.   

The sound of the axe grew louder in the silence.  “The old man could still swing a mean blade,” he thought.

His mother turned to him, her face white, “Hello Paul.”

He nodded and asked, “Well, what’d the doctor say?”

“Two to six months.”

“Shit.”

Silence for a while, and the axe continued to chop in the yard.

“How’d he take it?”

“You know your father dear, he stood up, thanked the doctor, and walked out.  He didn’t say a word all the way home, and as soon as we got here he started cutting up firewood.  He’s been going for an hour now.”

For a moment the axe stopped, and they heard the sound of wood clatter onto the pile in the shed.  Then the chopping continued.

“I’ll go and talk to him,” said Paul and stood up.  His mother turned back to the window.

He slipped down the back stairs and walked towards his father.  It was a cool day, even for these parts, but his father was stripped to the waist, rivulets of sweat running down his spine.  As Paul drew nearer he could hear the man muttering angrily between the axe strokes. 

Paul coughed.  The axe hesitated in mid-air, before falling again, neatly splitting a piece of hard wood.

The axe head lifted, “What’s up boy?”

“Mums’ worried.”

“She’s should be son.  I’d be worried if I was in her shoes too.”

“You’d better put your shirt on dad, you don’t want to catch a cold.”

His father grinned, “A bloody cold is the least of my worries boy.”

They smiled, but avoided eye contact. 

“Cheryl’s pregnant.”

The axe chunked into the chopping block, and the man turned to him, “That’s bloody great boy, you’re mum must have been thrilled!”

Paul shook his head, “You’re the first to know.  I thought we’d wait for your news first.” 

The man picked up his shirt, “Come on, we’ll go and tell the old girl, then we’ll drop down to the pub for a quick celebration.  I reckon I could do with a break.”

An hour later the two couples were seated at a table next to a roaring fire.  The publican was surprised to see them here on a mid-week day.  They toasted the news of the impending birth.   Cheryl was red with embarrassment as they wet the babies head a little early.

The talk eventually turned to the mans’ problem, as it had been called for several months now.

Several rums had loosened his tongue, and he told them the cold hard news.  The small group sat in silence as the flames crackled and leaped in the old fireplace nearby.  Eventually Paul spoke up, “Dad, I want you to tell me your lifes’ story,” he nodded at Cheryl, “you know, for the kid, when he gets older I want him to know about you, and what you did.”

The man smiled, “I’ll tell him myself.”

Paul shook his head, and stared at the floor, “I don’t reckon that’s going to happen mate,” he mumbled. 

Silence. 

“I’ll think about it son.  Anyway, who’s up for another round?”

The next couple of weeks were a busy time at the farm.  The news got around the district and many people came to see the man and his wife.  Each visitor was given a cup of tea, and a brief outline of the grim future.  They expressed their sympathy and left after promising to help out when they could.   

Paul and Cheryl were regular visitors as well.  The men spending much of their time in the paddocks, tidying up the loose ends around the farm.  One morning, the two of them took a break and rode to the top of a small hill that overlooked the property.  Les handed his son a drink, and sighed as he gazed over the view. 

“Well boy,” he said eventually, “all this is yours now.  The place I gave you and mine will become one again.  You’ll be the new ‘man’.”

Paul sat silently, it was not a surprise, “I’ll look after mum for you dad.”

“I know you will boy.  That’s the third worst thing about my death.”

Paul looked up at him, “What are the other two?”

Les lifted his hat and scratched his head, “Number two would have to be not seeing my new grandchild, boy or girl, it would have been nice to get to know the little tacker.  And number one, would have to be the fact that I’m dying at all.  Bit of a shock to me son, I don’t feel old, and I’ve always looked after myself.  Doesn’t seem too bloody fair boy.”

Paul smiled, “Could be worse dad, could be like Grandad, rotting in a nursing home eh?”

Les nodded his agreement, “Yep.  I know now that he wasn’t joking when he asked me to shoot him.  Would have done him a big favour by putting him out of his misery.”

“You know Dad, apart from what little I learn from you and mum about the old fella, I don’t have anything of his that tells me about him.  You could do something for all of us before…you know.”

Les looked at him, “Like what?  I’ve given you the property, mums’ got the house, I can’t do much bloody more boy!”

“There is you know.  You could write down your life story.  You know, tell it the way you want it, couldn’t be a better time to do it really.  Not many people get the chance, always putting it off until it’s too late.  Then they die and leave a bag of mysteries for their children and grandchildren to put together.”

Les thought for a while, “Yep, I could do that, but it’ll take some time.  I’ll have to think about it.  Not much of a writer son.”

“I’ll buy you some tapes, and a microphone, all you have to do is talk.  Just tell it like it is.”

“Not much of a talker either.”

 “Ok then,” snapped Paul, “leave it to me, I’ll tell your grandchildren what you were like.”

Les’ head shot round to face his son, “I can just imagine what you’ll tell them!”

 “Well then, do it yourself dad.  Do it for the kids who won’t get to see you.”

Les turned his horse back down the hill, “I’ll have a go boy, I’ll do it my way, in my own time.”

Several weeks later Les had his first turn.  A couple of days later he emerged from hospital, gaunt and weak.  Arriving at home he was positioned in the lounge room in front of the television, but an hour later hobbled into the kitchen, “Jesus, dyin’s gotta be better than that shit!” he announced to his wife.  “No wonder people want to kill themselves, just watchin’ that garbage everyday would make you want to curl up and die.”

The ritual began.  Every morning Les got up early and hobbled to the kitchen, made breakfast and sat down with a tape recorder and a cup of tea.  He mumbled into the microphone for a few minutes before giving up in despair. 

As the days went by his strength slowly returned, and he took to making little trips to the wood heap.  He’d sharpen the axe and cut a few blocks of firewood, before returning inside. 

His wife watched him from the kitchen window.  Sometimes the boy would come over and help him cut timber, taking it slowly, talking with his father.  She didn’t ask him what they discussed, understanding that it was important that they spent this precious time together.

Summer wore on.  The heat was insane.  Les lost weight, and grew weaker, but every morning, he would stagger downstairs to the wood pile, sharpen his axe and chop a few blocks.  The effort would drain him, and he would stagger back into the house and sit in the kitchen for the rest of the day.  Talking with Helen, or listening to the radio.  Every now and then he would write a letter, or take down some notes. 

Autumn arrived and the days darkened.  Les struggled downstairs to the woodpile every morning, and would sit in the darkness until his son arrived to chop up a few blocks and pile them in the shed.  Afterwards they would talk some more, and Paul would help him inside.

Helen grew frustrated with him, “How much timber do you think we need Les!” she asked him one morning, “Shouldn’t you be writing your life story for the grandchild?  Stop wasting what little time you have left man.”

Les smiled at her, “I’m doing it my way luv.  I always have, I always will.”  She shook her head, and looked away as the tears formed.

Winter.  Cheryl and Les went to hospital the same week.  They were a few wards away from each other, and Cheryl made the effort to visit with the old man whenever she could.  Helen and Paul visited each day for a few hours, and returning home at night.  In the darkness, after the lights went out, Les would talk to his daughter in law, and she listened, growing to love the man.  The baby inside her kicked frequently, eager to be out.  Les liked to lay a hand on her tummy and feel the child moving.  “It’s a boy,” he said many times, “impatient little bugger too.  Just like his grandad.” 

The baby arrived in the middle of a fierce storm.  Westerly winds bought freezing rain and hail across the plains, and lightning danced across the sky.  Paul, gripping the newly born infant in his arms made his way urgently to his fathers’ room.  His mother followed him, limping hurriedly in his wake. 

Les was a skeleton now.  Painkillers had dulled his senses, turning him into a zombie.  As Paul entered the room, Les opened his eyes and smiled.

“It’s a boy dad!  A boy!”  Paul said, tears flowing freely down his face.  Les’ smiled widened, “Show me,” he whispered.

Gently, Paul lay the baby down next to his father.  Les grunted as he struggled to lift his hand and lay it on the childs’ head, “What’s your name?” he asked.

Paul sat down as Helen entered the room, “We decided to call him Les.”

Helen sat next to Paul, “Cheryl sends her love, and says she’ll come and see you as soon as she can.”

Les looked up at her and nodded, “You tell her she did good.  Paul, you’re the new man around the place, but don’t call little Les the boy.  Call him the little man eh?”

Paul nodded.  Les slumped back on his pillows, exhausted.  The automatic pain relief dispenser buzzed in his pocket.

“I’m bloody tired woman,” he said eventually. 

The baby stirred next to him, and began to whimper.  Outside the storm wreacked havoc across the district, moving eastward towards the coast.  Les took another look around the room, “Take the little man back to his mum, he’ll be wanting a feed soon.”

Paul left with little Les cradled in his arms.  Helen stayed, making herself comfortable in the reclining chair.  She would stay tonight.  They all would. 

At two a.m. Cheryl was wheeled into Les’ room, and little Les was laid next to the man.  The two of them slept peacefully side by side.

Les never woke up. 

The funeral was simple, and to the point.  Just like Les had asked.  Most of the town notables were in attendance.  Alan Grubb, the long time Mayor of the little town, approached Helen afterwards and offered his condolences.  She nodded her thanks.  Before he left he gripped her arm, “I know that Les didn’t like me all that much Helen, and I can’t say I blame him…”

Helen shook her head, “He liked you Alan, he might not have liked some of the things you did, but he did like you.”

The little mayor nodded his bald head, “Yes, I think you’re right.  Do you know, he’s the only man who never called me Grubby?” 

Helen nodded, “He probably hated that name more than you did.  Said it belittled you, and I can’t recall anyone calling you by that name when Les was around.”

“Thanks Helen.  It’s something I really respected about the man.”

The two of them stood silently for a little while, watching the small knot of people gathered at the side of the grave.

Helen turned to Alan, “Before you offer your help, I’d like to ask you to do something for Les.”

The mayor looked surprised, but eager to please, “Anything I can do I will,” he said simply.

Helen pointed to where Paul, Cheryl and little Les, “There’s a new man now, and he’s going to need help from time to time.  Someone to turn to when he runs into trouble, or needs an ear to listen, or a shoulder to lean on.  I want you to be that person Alan.”

Tears sprang to the little mans eyes, “I’ll do my best Helen, and thankyou.”

She watched as Alan made his way to Paul and shake his hand.  Paul looked genuinely pleased to talk to the mayor.  Helen smiled and turned away.  Time to go home.

It was cold when she arrived, and after she put on the kettle she moved to the small wood stove and tossed a few blocks of wood into the furnace.  She was reaching for the matches when something caught her eye.  At the bottom of the stainless steel wood carrier was the piece of paper.  She riffled carefully through the rough cut wood and eventually dug the piece of paper out.  It was a letter from Les.

Hello Luv,

            By the time you read this, I’ll be gone and you’ll be feeling the cold.  I’m not there to warm you up like we used to do, so I’ve left you a little present in the wood shed.

Your loving husband,

Les. 

Her tears splashed onto the page, and she quickly folded it up and put it away.  She lit the fire and made her tea.  Looking outside to the woodshed she saw that it was packed tight with cut timber.  More than enough for the winter months that lay ahead.  She smiled to herself and more tears flowed.

In the days and weeks that followed, Paul would come over each day and fill the wood carrier for her and place it next to the wood stove.  She would sit in her rocking chair with little Les and sing songs to him, or just nurse him in silence. 

Once a week, there would be another letter, concealed amongst the timbers.  Paul kept quite about the subject, and when she asked him how many more there were he shook his head and smiled. 

Spring was welcomed by the little community after the hard winter, and Summer was fast approaching.  One morning Paul arrived with the container of fresh wood, and approached his mother with an envelope.  She looked at him, “Bit of a change son, why didn’t you leave it in the pile for me to find?”

He smiled, “It’s the last one Mum.  I don’t know what’s in this one.  He wouldn’t tell me when he wrote it.  I sort of helped him with the others, but this one was special.  I’ll let you read it in peace.  We’ll see you at dinner tonight, Cheryl’s doing a roast.”

Paul slipped out quietly, and made his way back to his home on the edge of the old property.  Helen sat down at the kitchen table and opened the letter.

Well old girl, it’s time for me to say goodbye.  I know the last few months must have been hard on you, but Paul said he’d be keeping an eye on you, and if he hasn’t fixed the sheets on the roof of the barn you can give him a kick up the arse from me! 

Helen smiled at this, and glanced at the new sheets of iron shining in the morning sun. 

I’m sorry we didn’t get to do the grandparent thing luv, I really am, but that’s how it is.  I know you’ll be a good grandma, just like you were a good mum.  But now it’s time for you to live a little.  I know that you won’t be happy with me for this, but the time has come for you to move on.  Pack up your stuff and move to the coast woman, spend some of my bloody money.  Paul has another letter to be opened today as well, and in it are detailed instruction as to how to subdivide the property.  He can have as much land as he can handle, but our house is to be sold, and you my girl are to spend the money on a place at the beach of your choice. 

Helens’ hand lifted to her throat.  She couldn’t do it, she just couldn’t.

“You’re probably thinking that I’m being cruel luv, but I’m not.  This dying thing has helped me think straighter than I ever have in my life.  You’re not getting any younger, and neither is the house.  There’s going to be a lot of work and a lot of bills coming your way soon, and Paul, as good hearted as he is, can only do so much.  He has his own family now, and all the responsibilities of earning a living as well.   Time for both of us to move on woman.  This is the holiday I’ve always promised you, but we never had.  Do it for me, and for the boy darls, but do it for yourself.

I love you Helen.

Les.

Helen wept for a long time. 

That night she arrived at Pauls place with a cream tart in one hand, and Les’ last letter in the other. 

Paul stood forlornly at the door as she approached, and was surprised to see her smile.  “Mum, I don’t know what was in your letter from dad, but there was some bad news in mine.”

“Bad news dear,” said Helen, “Not like your father to leave you bad news.” 

“Well not for me mum, but for you.  Dad said I have to firmly tell you to leave the place and go to coast.  He said not to take no for an answer, and not let you bugger me about by putting it off.” 

Helen looked at her son, he was a man now, and behind him stood his young wife, a worried look on her face. 

She smiled at the two of them, “One of you go and wake up little Les, and the other one can get me a map, we have to decide where I’m going to live.”

Paul dashed off, but Cheryl stood silently by, “I have a letter too Helen.”  She handed it over, unopened to her mother-in-law. 

“It’s for all of us.  I helped Les with it before I went into labour.” 

Helen waited until Paul returned with little Les before opening the envelope.  She read it aloud.

Hello all.  Sorry about not leaving my life story like you asked.  I’m assuming that every one is happy about my request, and that little Les is growing into the spitting image of his good looking grandad. 

Put the house on the market before summer, before it gets too hot and the grass dies off.  And tell the new owners there’s enough timber to get them through the next winter!

Goodbye,

Les.

They settled down for dinner, placing little Les in his bouncer in front of the wood heater while they ate.  All of them aware of the simple legacy keeping the little man safe and warm.

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Nanowrimo – It begins again…

Well, I’ve done it again and signed up for another Frantic November of scribbling in the great National Novel Writers Month event. 

This year, I actually have a plot!!!  Which will be a pleasant change from having a ‘vague idea of where the novel will go’. 

So, by this time next month, I’ll be wrung out, stressed, sick of looking at my computer, and wondering if I’m going to make it, and wondering why I do this to myself… 

I’m starting to wonder already.

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Novel Plot Outlining

I’ve been hacking away at my novel/s, and have found myself stumbling over the same problem again and again; Plot Outline.

In the past, I have usually sat down and just hammered out my stories, having a vague idea of where I want to go with the plot, who the characters are, how many of them there are, and how the novel will finish.  So far I’ve written 5 or 6 first drafts in this manner, but they need a lot of work to get to the publication stage. 

Where the wheels fall off the wagon is when the the story deviates, or starts to sound disjointed, or scattered, and some of the characters are too lifeless, too cut and paste. 

And this is particularly evident when I’m editing.  All the plot potholes are suddenly revealed, and I end up starting to re-write the whole thing from scratch… not fun, and I usually struggle to keep going. 

So I have all these unfinished (yet brilliant!) stories piling up, and I’m starting new ones which will no doubt end up on the unfinished pile in basically the same state as all the others.  What I’ve been looking for is a plot structure device which is simple to remember and use, and is the correct shaped skeleton to hang the flesh of the story on.  I had come up with one of my own, which was OK-ish, but the other night I stumbled across this link, and all the ducks lined up:  http://www.screenplaymastery.com/structure.htm

Using this structure while I’m outlining has so far proved worthwhile.  The story stays on track, and I’m able to go slightly off kilter while following an interesting idea, story plot twist, without compromising the whole novel like I’d done in the past… especially like the time I was halfway through a novel and realised that I’d changed the focus away from the lead character and his message, to the story of one of the bit players who was a real ‘go getter’ and his much more interesting life 🙂

So, if you’re a fellow Scribbler, and struggle with outlining, then I can’t recommend this site highly enough.  And if you do use it, let me know how you went.

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Fish ‘n Kids

Some years ago, Big Mate and I were enjoying a few social drinks and recalling the various fish we’d caught over the years.  As the port flowed, the fish got bigger, the lines lighter, and the struggles to land them more heroic.  Unfortunately, the two little girls listening on believed every word. 

Early next morning I surfaced feeling crook as a dog, possibly due to something dodgy I’d eaten the night before.  The last thing I wanted to hear was my children begging me to take them fishing.  Resolving that I shouldn’t have to suffer alone I called Big Mate, but he wasn’t answering, and Long Suffering Wife had decided it was her turn for a sleep in.  Good for them.

Popping a couple of headache tablets, I collected the fishing gear and headed off to Pat’s Bait and Tackle.  I bought the bait, while Pat gave the girls some good fishing advice, then quietly slipped me a hot tip on the best place to take them so they wouldn’t get too bored.  To this day I don’t know if he actually felt sorry for me, or if he was trying to hook a couple more young customers.

Anyway, we pulled up near a small wharf, whose location will remain a closely guarded secret, and within seconds long streams of fishing line were tangled all the way from the car to the jetty.

I needed the many arms of Vishnu in order to keep up with the continuous re-baiting and de-tangling process, but then the tide, and our luck turned; The Littlest Princess caught a decent sized whiting, and while I was grappling with it, the Middle Princesses’ rod bent over like it had snagged a passing submarine.

She stubbornly hung on, and my mouth fell open as a large parrot fish surfaced.  Grunting from the effort, the little tacker hauled it in, and, when the fish hit the wharf, I pounced and wrestled it into the esky.  Clapping them both on the back, I uttered every fisherman’s favourite words, “They’re keepers!”

Parrot fish dinners have been a bit thin on the ground since, but years from now, I’m sure that two tipsy ladies will be telling their children about the time they each landed their first big fish in Auckland Creek while their hung-over father slept in the car.

Well, fishermen will stretch the truth a little…

Farewell Pat.

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End Game

Watching recent financial trends is making me a little worried.  So worried in fact, that I’ve been considering converting all my shares into solid gold.  I wonder how much gold my one dollar and thirty five cents will buy these days?

Actually, I don’t have anywhere near that much money invested, because, as anyone who knows me will confirm, I’m no financial whiz.  But what I do know is, that where there is money, greed follows closely behind, and greedy people will do anything for more money; a lesson I learned from playing Monopoly as a lad. 

Monopoly was a great revealer of financial character.  The fun generally started with the punch-up over who got to be the race car.  Needless to say, the person who was satisfied with being the little Iron token was immediately treated like a doormat by all the other combatants.

Then there was the kid who always had to be the banker.  He was usually hopeless at sports, but harboured a secret desire to be popular, or failing that; ALL POWERFUL.  In short, the sort of person who grew up to be a ruthless dictator, a power crazed referee, or worse, a parking inspector.

So, while he was buying properties with feverish intensity, I’d be skidding my race car token around the board, making the appropriate accompanying noises, and quickly going broke.

The banker would do practically anything to keep the game going in order to maintain his control.  Even when the rest of us had no properties, or any hope of paying our rents, he’d create IOU’s on worthless bits of paper, or hand out free money in order to keep us from giving up in disgust and wandering off to play cricket.  If he was really desperate, he’d even let me crash my race car through his neatly stacked hotels.

And lately, watching Governments around the world borrowing ludicrous amounts of money, which they can’t possibly afford to pay back, I’ve got that familiar sinking feeling that the end of the global Monopoly game is nigh.  Sooner or later, a lot of countries are going to realise that their situation is utterly hopeless, then throw their hands in the air and go off and play cricket.

With that in mind, I’ll think I’ll invest my $1.35 with a dodgy cricket team, because ‘Bucks for Ducks’ appears to be the only solid gold investment left these days.

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