Month: October 2012

A Plan So Cunning…

Right now I’m gearing up to participate in NaNoWriMo, the great November writing marathon where tales are spun upon gossamer threads, fingers develop calluses as tough as the sole of a hobbit’s foot and stories are shaped and forged in the fire of imagination. You might think I’ve been spending this time warming up my writing muscles, working on my plot or rereading the start of my grand opus (where exactly did I leave it)?  But you’d be wrong. Things have been happening to make made writing time as elusive as the One Ring itself.

So am I going to give up? Flag away NaNo before day one has ticked over on the widget? Absolutely not! I’m just going to pull out my diary and make the best of the time I have available.

The Problem with the Best Laid Plans.

I am a planner – utiliser of lists, charts, corkboards and highlighter pens. In my house, they’re used to me rubbing my hands together and quoting Blackadder with the passion of a zealot:

I have a plan Baldrick! A plan so cunning you could pin a tail on it and call it a weasel…

The problem with a plan is you can’t cover every eventuality. This morning I planned to get up at 6am and have at least an hour working quietly on the blog before the family woke up. At 6.15 the first child came out rubbing his eyes, delighted to find he had his mother all to himself…

When a Character’s Plan Goes Awry.

In a story, thwarting the plan is a good thing. Not for the character perhaps, but definitely for the writer. If we’ve done our job well the chance of success was slim to start off with, but as the plan goes down the toilet, so does our character’s hopes. The reader is pulled in – how are they going to get out of this one?

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf hasn’t even finished giving Frodo his super-secret-brief when he finds Sam Gamgee ‘not listening‘ outside the window. Gandalf can’t risk leaving a hobbit with loose lips running around the Shire with news about the location of the ring of power. It’s not like Sam, the gardener, has any skills to recommend him to the mission either. What’s a wizard to do?

The second grand failure of a plan was the creation of the Fellowship. Carefully crafted at the Council of Elrond to include a Wizard, one of the Dunedain, an Elf, a man, a Dwarf and a few Hobbits, – it only lasts about five minutes when the chips are down. The Elf and the Dwarf squabble, the man always thinks he knows best, the hobbits almost freeze to death at the first taste of unnatural snow and the only one with any power to hold them together falls at the hands of a Balrog. The man tries to take the ring and the whole group are scattered when the enemy turns up. Not a resounding success any way you look at it.

Yet in the scheme of the story both of these deviations work really well. Could Frodo have made it all the way to Mordor without Sam? Didn’t the Fellowship accomplish much more after they broke up?

So let your character make plans. Good, intelligent plans. And then mess with them any way you can…

Roll with It.

The most successful plan in TLOTR is Frodo’s very vague idea to head in the direction of Mordor and see what happens. On the way he and Sam do the best they can to negotiate a hostile landscape – forced to rely on an unstable ally, are taken against their will by the I-know-better-than-you brother of Boromir (the attempted ring-stealer), and are captured by Orcs a mere stone-throw from Sauron himself. Yet they never stop looking for chances to get back on the road to Mount Doom.

I’m starting to see the benefits to this kind of planning when you’re on an epic journey. Plan today and see what happens. As long as you’re putting one foot in front of the other, you’re still in the game.

A Good Attitude.

In a story when a character’s plan doesn’t work out they don’t throw in the towel, they just make another plan. Occasionally they’ll fail spectacularly and end up in the gutter (like Syracuse, Colin Farrel’s character in the sublime movie Ondine) but they always get back up again and make an effort to finish what they’ve started.

Just because my own writing plans haven’t gone well lately, it doesn’t mean I haven’t lost sight of Mordor (er – NaNo). So as the start draws near I’m consolidating: Getting my house in order, stocking the freezer so no one starves next month, sleeping. By the time November rolls around I’ll be a lean mean writing machine.

Don’t Give Up.

Of course at times the task seems insurmountable. What was I thinking – writing a novel? Me? Although it sometimes feels it would be easier to just enjoy other people’s stories – I still believe my writing has purpose; enough to encourage me to keep going when it seems too hard.

When Frodo and Sam were at their lowest, with no food and water, in hostile enemy territory they became a little philosophical about their circumstances. Sam sums it up well:

‘And we shouldn’t be here at all, if we’d known more about it before we started. But I suppose it’s often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to all them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually – their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn’t. And if they had, we shouldn’t know, because they’d have been forgotten.  We hear about those as just went on…

I have a small Amanda Cass card on my desk entitled Follow Your Heart (you can view it here) of a girl running after her heart as it flies before her. It’s a beautiful, visual reminder of why I’m on this journey.

How about you? What kind of a planner are you? Have any of your character’s plans gone spectacularly wrong? Did that ever lead to something so much better than the original plan? How about your own plans (especially in the lead-up to NaNo)?


It’s Nice to be Nominated…

It’s been an exciting writing weekend with two writerly-blog awards coming my way.


Thanks to EM Castellan and Aimee L. Salter for nominating me for the Next Big Thing Blog Hop – I appreciate the vote of confidence. This is the second time I’ve received this nomination, so if you want to check out the embryonic history of The Fall of the Kings you can here. However since I’ve decided to finish a different novel for NaNoWriMo I’ll give you a sneak peak into that instead:

What is the working title of your book?

The Legend of the Kings. Yes there is an obvious similiarity to The Fall of the Kings, but Legend was actually around first.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was doing a writing course and had to write a children’s story. What resulted was a story about twins who find and rescue a baby dragon. My tutor asked the question – what motivated them to rescue it? It was one of those questions that never quite left me.

I didn’t think I’d do any more with the story until we were on a 10 hour drive from Auckland to Wellington one hot summer day listening to Brian Adams. Suddenly I had the idea of a grown up Roan (one of the twins) having a very different encounter with a dragon. From there a whole world grew…

What genre does your book fall under?

Epic Fantasy.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When Roan Carter slays one of the dragons plaguing Gaelladorn, he unwittingly unleashes a devastating force set on destroying him and everything he holds dear – including the Kingdom itself.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I asked my friends to help me with this (because casting isn’t something that comes naturally to me) and one of my girlfriends said she was too scared to suggest anyone because I was so particular about my characters… ouch! (But sadly true *hangs head*). Can I just say I don’t have a dream-cast list yet?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m hoping for an agency, but am open to the possibility of self-publishing too if I can do it to a high standard!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This is the part where I want to weep. I’ve already written at least 50,000 words during NaNo 2010, but for the past year I’ve been working on a different project. I’d say at least 3 years so far…

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is a tough one. I see it as a grown-up Eragon, where the dragons are the bad guys.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a book about dragons and heroes and things not always being what they seem, and how sometimes pure determination can pay off despite the odds. Lets just say I loved writing this one.

A big thank you to E.M.Castellan and Aimee L. Salter for giving me an opportunity to share!


The second shout-out was from fellow epic fantasy writer Mara Valderran who passed on the Liebster Award, for someone with a blog following of less than 200. Thanks Mara! The idea is answer the 11 questions given to you and then to compose 11 more for 11 more people. So here are 11 insights into my psyche…

1. What is your favorite flower?

A host of golden daffodils…

What’s not to love about those cheerful little heralds of spring!

2. What is your motto?

Just keep swimming. (Dory, from Finding Nemo).

Not deep, but very true. On a more foundational level:

 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philipians 4:13)

3. Tell us three things about a favorite character you’ve created.

One of my favourite characters is Matthew O’Dell.  On one particularly hot day he went swimming ‘au naturale’ in a secluded part of the lake at the Sanctuary, and then Tobias turned up with a group of old ladies… He was the only novice asked to do his ‘service’ travelling around Gaelladorn (because he caused so much havoc at the Sanctuary). Every time he returns to his home at the Hamlet he spends most of his time with his best friend Magda, although he can never figure out why someone as lovely as she never married…

4. Which author influences you most as a writer, and in what way?

If I had to pick only one I’d say C.S. Lewis (although Tolkien is a close second). Although I love the Narnia Chronicles, Lewis wrote widely in other genres too. His writing explored many elements of his faith, without losing his sense of story and wonder. I try to do this in my own writing. Often times my characters are dealing with questions, or attitudes I’m trying to figure out in my own life – but in larger than life, fantastical ways.

5. Who was your favorite actor or actress when you were growing up?

Actor: Harrison Ford. Han Solo and Indiana Jones – what’s not to like.

Actress: Aylssa Milano in Whos the Boss. Boy that seems like a long time ago now.

6. Lake or ocean, and why?

Ocean. Maybe because we live by the beach and I love its power and many changing faces. Saying that I’m a bit wussy and prefer to swim in a pool…

7. When you get writer’s block, doing this helps. (If you never get writer’s block I’m blowing raspberries at you).

When I’m stuck in a rut there is no point trying to push through. I either write something completely different or put it down and doing something else. I think the only reason I was able to complete NaNo was because I was writing in 2 POVs. When I got stuck or bored with one, I’d flick over to the other.

8. What movie scared you (and maybe scarred you)?

We used to get Sunday Horrors on late TV when I was a teenager. One time I was staying at a friend’s house when her parents were away and we watched a movie about the Moana Cult – which was an occultish offering about a ‘goddess’ who stole the youth of young girls, leaving them in old ladies bodies. It totally terrified me and to this day I can’t (and won’t) watch anything that is overtly occultish (seances, demons, possession).

9. What is something you regret? (no need to get too personal)

Spending so much time worrying what others thought about me when I was younger – I could have saved myself a whole lot of heartache. A wiser person than me once summed it up beautifully:

When you’re in your 20s you worry what others think about you. When you’re in your 40s you don’t care what others think about you. When you’re in your 60s you realise no one was thinking about you in the first place…

10. What was the first thing you remember writing?

 ‘This is Raewyn’s pie.’ I got to go to the principal’s office (in a good way).  My first polished story (for competition) was called A Place of Safety – about a girl who tried (in vain) to hide from the world.

11. What is your favourite television show that was cancelled before its time/too soon?

Has anyone who answered this question ever not said Firefly. Seriously what was that studio thinking…

So my 11 questions:

1. What was the weirdest thing you wanted to be when you were a child?

2. What is your favourite sandwich filling?

3. Who, in your opinion, is the most memorable villain of all time?

4. What was the weirdest thing you ever saw a kid do at school?

5. What is your favourite colour and why?

6. Has a place ever inspired you to write a story?

7. Dogs or Cats?

8. Do you have any embarrassing writing stories you’d be willing to share?

9. Has a character ever taken over one of your stories in an unexpected way?

10. Who are your writing heroes?

11. Can you remember the first time you saw Star Wars. (Have you seen Star Wars???)

I’d like to nominate the following for both awards (feel free to accept both, one or none at all – this is really a token of appreciation):

Katherine Amabel  (I know you already have the Liebster…)

J.L Mbewe

Shannon A Thompson

S C Harrison – Because I loved Revive and it truly is a Next Big Thing!

Scott Biddle

Victoria Grefer

ReGi McClain

Best of luck and thanks for sticking through what must be my longest blog-post to date. Feel free to weigh in on any of the questions in the comments!

The Siren Call of NaNoWriMo

With just over two weeks to go until National Novel Writing Month 2012, I’ve already had two people take me aside and suggest this might not be the best idea for me – this year. You see it’s been a tricky sort of year with medical issues hijacking our normal routine, and I’m still trying to get everything at home back on an even keel. Christmas is just around the corner, and for those of us in the Southern Hemisphere spring is really getting its groove on.  Do I really want to tie myself to the computer for the whole month to write a truly awful first draft?

Of course I do.

The NaNo call has been issued. I hear it reverberating around the blogisphere:

‘Come one. Come all. Join us and in just one month you might have a whole new book…’

Too good to be true? Of course it is. But what’s a little bit of pain when you have so much to gain.

Now I know I’m wearing October tinted glasses. It always sounds like so much fun before the event. Like getting ready for a camping trip with your friends; before the mosquitoes, rain and sleeping on the hard ground… But it’s been two years since I won NaNo, and the painful reality has receded (the flashbacks are few and far between). Surely this time will be different? Easier? The words will flow right?

Okay, so I don’t really believe it myself. But there are some great things to be gained by participating in NaNoWriMo, so can it work when you have limited time?

1. Is 50,000 Words Realistic?

Hang on a minute, NaNo is about reaching the 50,000 word count – after all that’s how you win. So why on earth are you lowering the bar before you start? And for that matter isn’t it better to aim for a higher goal and miss, than aim small?

*looks around for NaNo police*

Too true, but if the goal is just going to be too much to handle, I’m likely to fizzle out in the first few days. I know it happened to me last year when I tried to do NaNo a week and half after moving house. After a few days I was so far behind I gave up altogether – and felt terrible. My calendar for November is already heaving, so I’m having to ask myself what is a realistic goal if I’m going to participate?

2. Setting Achieveable Goals.

Rather than focus entirely on word count I’ve been tossing up other goals.  A good goal is one that is both identifiable and measurable. So far I’ve come up with:

  • Write every day during November.
  • Give up television (in the evenings – I can still watch X-Factor with the kids before they go to bed…).
  • Do a half hour writing sprint every day.
  • Set ‘real life’ goals during the day, so time will be free to write in the evenings.

3. Preparation.

There are already so many great how-to-get-ready blog-posts out there I’ll just summarise:

4. A Vague Idea.

It never hurts to have a vague idea of what you want to write. Although in the spirit of NaNo there’s also nothing wrong with turning up and see what arrives on the page. A friend of mine wrote an amazing book during NaNo one year that just ‘arrived‘ sans planning. Of course the idea is to start something new, but it can also be a good opportunity to finish something you’ve already started.

This year I’m toying with either pushing through with Fall of the Kings, or going back to finish Legend – the poorly timed book three of my trilogy I wrote during NaNo 2010. After my recent attack of self-doubt with Fall of the Kings, I’m wondering if Legend might not be a stand-alone novel after all. Certainly I’ve been feeling some of the characters again lately and am itching to pick them up again.

But who knows? There’s still two more weeks to go and there is a very real possibility my loved ones will read this blog and stage an intervention…

So what are your thoughts on NaNoWriMo? Are you participating this year? How do you prepare? Is it worthwhile or not appealing at all? How do you feel about fudging the NaNo criteria?

It Takes a Village to Raise a Novel

Writing is by nature a solitary task. As writers we lock ourselves away for hours on end, performing acts of alchemy on uncooperative words – hoping beyond hope our efforts will produce something of value. The whole process can be isolating and we can be left feeling vulnerable if we don’t produce quick or tangible results. And that’s without taking into account the creative scars we all bear as the result of insensitive or destructive comments.

But despite the hazards, my writing journey is better because I don’t walk it alone. Inspiration, encouragement and friendship can come from the strangest places – so for those of you who are writers, I encourage you to take the risk and share your journey widely. To those unsung heroes who have kept me plugging away at my dream (you know who you are) – thank you.  This blog really is about you!


There is nothing like finding a kindred spirit who is on the same journey. Someone who understands the struggle with the page and why you need to write that scene over, backwards and inside out before you’re satisfied with it. When you’re injured and battle worn, this friend will help you back to your feet, hand you your sodden backpack and set off at your side.

When I started writing I didn’t know anyone else doing the same thing, but over the years I’ve collected a few good friends who get it. I’ve found them in the weirdest places too – at playgroup or a chance conversation in the street. More recently through this blog. I’m grateful to you all for many reasons, but mainly because I now know I’m not the only one like this!

The Voice of Experience.

As a writer-in-progress I am forever grateful for those who are happy to share their experiences and successes. I’ve learned the hard way over the course of my life that it is easier (oh so much easier) when I take the advice of those who have travelled the road before and avoid the potholes. Thankfully there are so many willing to share their knowledge.

If you can’t find the feet of a great writer (to sit and learn at…) writers-in-progress have many other sources to tap into. The books that live on my desk for frequent reference are: Dwight Swain, The Techniques of the Selling Writer and Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile.

For writing blogs I follow Janice Hardy at The Other Side of the Story and K M Weiland at Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors. These girls are published and writing, but they freely share their own experience and insight.

There are many more great references out there – it’s just a matter of finding what you need.

Around the Water Cooler.

These people write, but not necessarily the same kind of thing you do. I love to follow mystery writing blogs, YA blogs and romance blogs and although I don’t write in any of these genres I’ve learned a lot of tips that help my writing. For example mystery writers are big on structure – if you want tips on setting up the big reveal, these are experts. YA writers tend to get to the point quickly and follow theme closely. And as for romance – well there is romance in my book and trust me I need help. Writing good romance is an art form, so best to glean tips from those who do it well!

Friends and Family.

But they don’t write and they really don’t get it!

That may be the case, but these are the people who let you disappear off into your writing cave and love you when you come out. They cheer you up when you feel the bottom’s dropped out of your novel, and they listen to your euphoric outpourings of joy (often with a yes-she’s-off-on-it-again kind of look) when things go well and you regale them with incomprehensible plot details. For the children who will always argue takeaways are a great idea when you’ve been writing a bit too much (and should have been cooking dinner) and the husband who loves you just as you are. They may truly believe you are the next J.K. Rowling, but only because they are your biggest fans. To the people who never let you forget that real life needs to you too – thank you. I know I couldn’t do it without you!

Chance Encounters.

Have you ever been encouraged by random words of a stranger? I’ve come across blog posts that give a voice to struggles I’ve been facing at that exact moment. These have often given me that little push, or encouragement to keep going. Although I don’t even know these people, their words at just the right time have had great impact – probably more than they will ever know.

The Trolls.

There is always someone who will have something nasty, belittling or dismissive to say. The only positive thing I can say about that is, when you encounter a troll remember who you are. Why you write. We all bring something unique and precious to this world – whether that person recognises it or not. And then go and find someone from the list above to help you put it into perspective.

A troll visited one of the blogs I follow recently and left a particularly harsh (and anonymous) comment. The blogger responded with real grace, but it must have hurt. However the following responses were supportive, especially one that read: “Three squirts of troll-be-gone.” It’s a hard road to travel alone – but that comment reminded me why it’s good to be part of a supportive community.

How about you? Do you go solo – or share your writing journey? Who are your greatest supporters when it comes to writing?

A Fear of Sea Monsters – Building Memorable Characters

One of the fundamentals when writing memorable characters is to know them well. The good, the bad, and the weird idiosyncracies that lift them out of the realm of the cardboard cut-out and make them stride across the page in glorious 3D. There are many ways to create a character from scratch, but I think the most interesting and unique character traits tend to show themselves in the context of everyday life (scene) and are often unexpected.

At a very basic level consider how people take their hot drinks. I have one friend that dips the teabag in and out of the hot water so quickly it barely gets wet.  Another puts such a tiny dash of milk, I invariably lose the skin off the roof of my mouth when she makes me tea. However the reason for that is I grew up on a dairy farm, and because our family has always taken our tea with a decent dollop of milk, I always work on the assumption that a hot drink isn’t really hot.  Another friend won’t drink tea at all – sacrilege – but will drive all around town hunting down the best coffee.  There are so many more variations on this theme – I’m sure you know your own cast of characters in real life.  But do you know how your own characters might react to something so simple?

If you’re looking for authentic character traits – just look around you.  What weird things do your friends do that is unique to them?  And more than the obvious like twirling their hair or biting their lip?  Rather than spill the beans on my friends I thought I’d tell you a few stories about my life that might get the idea across.  It’s all about my fear of sea monsters. How it came about.  And how it still impacts my life today.

When I was eight, I had a friend who lived directly across the road. One day when I was at her house, her dad gave me a crayfish wrapped in newspaper and told me to run home and give it to my dad.  The thing was ugly.  Its alien-like head stuck out of the top of the paper, and to my horror the only way I could carry it was to wrap my arms about it and hold it against my chest.  I can still remember Mr George telling me to “hurry up and whatever you do don’t drop it”!

So my eight year-old self ran across the road, and half way across the paper loosened up a bit and that creature started to move.  The moment was seared into my memory by a ginormous adrenalin rush. In fact I cannot tell you how terrified I was.  Too terrified even to scream.  That it might’ve still been alive hadn’t even crossed my mind.  But with Mr George’s admonition ringing in my ears I didn’t dare let go of it either.  Instead I ran as fast as my legs would carry me over to our house where I found my dad and dropped the moving crayfish on the table in front of him.

You know how athletes like to do their own weird victory dances?  Well I did something like that – but it was all about ridding myself of scaredy-cat juju.  It involved hopping about, shaking my hands and pulling a face like I’d just sucked on a lemon or found half a caterpillar in my salad.

And so the fear of sea-monsters (no I’m not the slightest bit melodramatic) was born.

Years later I went snorkelling with my friends at Goat Island – a marine reserve close to where I grew up.  I was mostly okay with the fish and was growing in confidence – exploring around the rocks and enjoying the marine life.  I’ve always liked a good nature documentary and was fancying myself as an adventurous sort when I spotted a whole heap of kina (a spiky sea urchin that looks a bit like a curled up hedgehog) on the sea floor.  I was just making a mental note to watch where I put my feet, when I realised the kina were moving.

Can you see the theme here?  Firstly I didn’t know they could move – I thought they were stationary – and it totally freaked me out.  However it is impossible to do the wigged-out-juju dance when you’re snorkelling and NOT wanting to put your feet down.  I sucked in a lungful of seawater and almost drowned trying to get back to shore. It was not pretty. Not even the slightest bit adventurous. Needless to say not something I’ve ever been tempted to do again.

Fast forward to this Saturday.  I still won’t go near a crayfish unless it’s been cooked or has been dismembered (which means definitely dead).  And the only water I will get into is a bath – or swimming pool where I can see the bottom. But we’d come back from a matinee and one of the children runs up to the house and says “Mum there are three hedgehogs on the front door step!”

Now our fearless cat often brings us gifts of leaves and old bones he’s scrounged from other people’s houses – such is his hunting prowess – so I was doubtful he’d be able to manage one hedgehog let alone three.  But sure enough on our front door mat were three of the biggest curled up hedgehogs I’d ever seen.  They were enormous.

Except they weren’t hedgehogs.

Some friends had been diving and had brought back some kina for us.  Now I personally don’t like kina (on many levels obviously) – but I thought my dad might.  He wasn’t home though – so my husband (lets face facts I wasn’t going anywhere near them) – jams the freakish balls into the fridge.

That night he went out and friend of mine came around to watch a movie with me.  However when I went to get some milk out of the fridge (to make us some very milky tea), one of the kina flew out and landed at my feet with a great prickly thud.  Cue shrieking, flapping and almost hitting the roof with fright.  I could not even look at it, let alone pick it up – and the miserable thing had leaked some sort of stinky sea-juice all over my fridge and into the vege-bin.

When my friend stopped laughing fit to burst – she picked up the offending creature and contained it once again in the fridge.  I told my husband later he was lucky she was there or he would have had to come home early.  I’m not joking either. Fortunately he is big enough and brave enough to deal, so after he had a good laugh at my expense, he removed the creatures to my parents house and cleaned the fridge.  Now that’s my idea of a hero!

So the point I’m making, is I will always act a certain way around weird looking sea creatures.  Your characters will no doubt have their own unique ways of responding to the world and certain things they will do consistently.  Inspiration is everywhere once you start looking.

So how about you?  What weird rituals do your characters have?  What scares them?  What is the most unexpected character trait you’ve observed in your characters or your own life?