Brisbane – some memories

The blue-tongued skink I mentioned last week – about a foot to eighteen inches long, and snake-wide! These guys love Comfort Spring Fresh laundry softener…

As you no doubt realise, I sometimes get a bit stuck for ideas on this blog. Last week I talked about where in the world I would like to sit and write, if I could just choose. And I chose a certain little high-set house in Brisbane, Australia.

So this week, I thought I’d share some memories of that time. We lived in Australia from 1997 to 2002, so back in the dark ages now, but it still seems so vivid to us, mainly because it was a life-changing experience.

What I remember mainly about Brisbane and our time there is the wildlife.

So many things happened while we were there, the four of us, what with my hubby working away from home so much, and the children going through secondary school, and me, meeting people, doing courses, going to the Writers’ Convention on the South Bank, but all that seems to fade by comparison with the wildlife we shared our back and front yards with, our streets and parks and school yards with—many of them new to us, some of them frightening, some of them weird, some beautiful.

Lorikeets and a Rosella in the back garden.

Like the possums that lived in the roof of our first home, in Farm Street, in the suburb of Newmarket. Every night when we sat eating dinner or watching television, we would hear it above our heads, the slow roll of a stone from one corner of the roof to the other and sometimes back again, sounding just like a marble rolling across floorboards

And if I was waiting, alone or with the children, for my husband to come home, and sitting on the front step in the fifty seconds of twilight we only seemed to get in Aussie, we would sometimes see a possum come off our roof and onto the telecoms cables overhead, swinging itself along underneath the wire until it reached an intruding tree branch when it would flip upside again, amble on, then swing back under to move along the cables again.

Or the massive cockroaches that seemed ever-present in spite of all the Raid blocks we purchased and distributed in the bottom of the kitchen cupboards or in quiet corners out of the way. At Farm street, an older house, they used to run up the walls at night and terrify us so we felt like we were actually under siege, and out of sheer terror, I would splat them on the walls or floor with a long-handled spatula. It really was the stuff of nightmares. We never got rid of them in that house. We also had maggots falling through the ceiling onto the furniture including my young daughter’s bed. I hate to think what else might have been up in that roof space but we didn’t have the most hands-on of landlords.

Or the blue-tongued skinks that sprawled on top of the compost heap down the garden, gorging themselves on leftover melon, papaya and mango—they would look at me when I went out to the heap with the peelings from dinner, and I was convinced if they could talk they’d say, “So kind, dear lady, but I really couldn’t manage another thing…” They always looked exhausted. I imagined them talking a bit like Donald Sinden, I don’t know why. Or maybe James Mason? Or David Niven. Definitely a posh English accent for some reason. And if I left sheets or towels by the washing machine in the open-air laundry room under the house, chances are I’d find a snoozing lizard sprawled on them when I went back later.

the house at Farm Street – none of the windows had glass except the ones to the kitchen (back) and the sun room (front). These are the front steps where I’d love to write.

I rescued one blue-tongued skink from the oncoming wheels of a bus once. It was in the middle of the road round the corner from our lowset (bungalow) house at Lawnton, a suburb of Pine Rivers shire, about 20 kilometres from Brisbane. The bus only ran once an hour, so that left plenty of time for a dozy skink to meander into the road, fall asleep at the wheel and be in danger of becoming a traffic statistic.

I thought it was dead. It was lying there in the middle of the road, not moving. I’m certain a couple of cars ran over it. Then the bus came round the corner, and the stupid thing lifted its head. It was still alive! I let out a shriek of dismay and launched myself into the road, flagging the bus down then grabbing the lizard with both hands and shoving it into some shade under a bush—lucky I didn’t get savaged by something even nastier.

When I got on the bus, I began to apologise, but Bruce (yes, that really was his name) the bus-driver said, “Well I know you’re a Pom.” Apparently that explained everything.

Good thing he didn’t see me rescue the turtle…

That was along the road from our second home, after Farm Street but before Lawnton. We were living a couple of kilometres down the road from Lawnton at a lovely little town called Strathpine. I was coming home from the shops along a fairly quiet little road, when I spied a snake-necked turtle in the middle of the road .

Now only a few days earlier, Rolf Harris (eek!), on Animal Rescue or whatever it was called, had featured a turtle that had been hit by a car and had to have its shell patched up with fibre-glass. And I convinced myself that was the fate that awaited this chap, if he lived long enough. The young hoons—wild teenagers, to us Poms—loved to drive their cars at crazy speeds over the speed bumps down our road, and I could see the turtle was in danger of becoming yet another tragic victim.

So obviously, I had to interfere help.

I picked it up, and set off towards the creek. I quickly discovered that being a snake-necked turtle gave it an extraordinary range for gnashing at would-be do-gooders, so I had to hold the dinner-plate sized shell as far towards the back as I could to avoid being bitten, and I had to go as quickly as I could. The ingratitude! That didn’t stop me getting scratched by its huge clawed feet though. Eventually I got it to the creek and shoved it in the water. It seemed a bit reluctant to go in—maybe he’d only just left there? Another good deed done.

Snakes were the main wildlife at Strathpine. Well, those, and the spiders, bats, frogs and birds. And some fishing guys said there were often sharks in the creek, but I never went fishing.

The easement, with deluge, though partially drained away.

The birds were wonderful there—I’ve never lived anywhere so fabulously endowed with birdlife. It was because of the Easement.

The Easement was a strip of land between the park and a housing estate on one side, and another housing estate on the other side. Through the middle ran the creek. At one end, more houses, and at the far end, some farmland afforded us great view of cows with their ‘helpers’, the Little Egrets, that usually stood on the cows’ backs to – I don’t know, steer? Supervise? Shout advice slash encouragement?

The idea of the Easement is, when it rains which it does even in Australia, usually a year’s supply arrives in about an hour, and the creek very quickly bursts its bank, so the Easement is just a natural no-man’s-land to accommodate the temporary floodwater for the few days or week until it soaks away.

But on the day it rains…

The easement – sans deluge!

The whole area behind our house used to fill with water, resembling a small—and occasionally quite large—lake. Then all the birds would descend, especially if it was the first rain after a few dry weeks or even months. Cormorants, shags, ibis, white-faced blue heron, butcher birds, noisy miners, rosellas, sulphur-crested cockatoos, galahs, purple swamp hens, coots, magpies, egrets, little and not quite so little, rainbow lorikeets, even, one or twice, pelicans. It was amazing, and all I ever wanted to do was sit and watch. Sometimes I did just that, for hours. And quite often, I’d be menaced into providing the new arrivals with birdfood. (What a Pom!) It really was the most amazing spectacle. The shags used to bathe/hunt in the floodwater then hand their wings out to dry, standing like little black feathered scarecrows, for hours on end. The galahs and cockatoos would hang upside from the phone lines and flap and squawk, like footballers having their after-match shower.

Even the big lizards got in on the act (and probably the snakes too, though I don’t remember seeing them when it was wet, only when it was very dry). My hubby and I sat and watched one for ages as it swam about in the new lake, its long tail making a curving wake behind it. Not sure if this was the same enormous lizard that dug up my shrubbery to lay about 20 eggs in a big hole one day and then covered them and left without so much as a by your leave. We moved to Lawnton before they hatched—I was sad not to be there to see the babies.

Snakes are probably the one terror people associate with Australia. Well, snakes and spiders. Okay, snakes, spiders and crocodiles. And sharks. Don’t forget the sharks. So, snakes, spiders, crocodiles, and sharks. And jellyfish. And mosquitoes. And I’ve told you about the cockroaches. Oh, and the weevils. You have to keep your baking goods in the freezer, otherwise one hot, damp summer you, like me, will discover that your entire supply of plain flour, self-raising flour, cornflour, your bran, your wholemeal flour, your semolina, and your biscuits will be a squirming mass of weevils, and, like me you will scream in horror and disgust (mainly because you’ve just used several ounces of flour in a roux sauce and wondered naively why the resulting mix was two-toned: the top consisting of wriggling, brown weevilly-stuff and the bottom, still white, only slightly-weevilly stuff) and fling out the lot including the expensive Tupperstuff they were stored in, as I couldn’t bear the thought of washing them out and reusing them, then rush back inside to disinfect everything. No baking for weeks and weeks! It was very good for my waistline.

So snakes, spiders, crocodiles, sharks, jellyfish, mosquitoes and weevils. Not to mention the heat. And in Queensland, the humidity, which is sometimes 95%.  Apart from those few things, it’s lovely.

Australia’s most unwanted – the red-backed spider – we had a ton of them. Turns out they are partial to a strawberry planter.

At the junior school, the nice secretary lady had a little book on her desk, so that when the kids came running in from morning playtime (called little lunch) they could identify the type of snake they had just seen for the groundskeeper, and he would go out in his shorts and t-shirt, with his heavy boots and ankle-protectors, and track down the culprit and kill it. And if he couldn’t kill it for whatever reason, or he discovered there were too many for him and assistance would be needed, the playing field (oval) was closed to all pupils forthwith. But that didn’t stop the kids getting bitten by green ants—and that was a painful bite. Green ants are beautiful iridescent ants, about 1 to 1.5 centimetres long, and they have a fondness for young flesh. Okay, let’s be honest, any flesh, and their bite is like the worst stinging-nettle sting you can imagine, and doesn’t ease off for at least half an hour. So as you can imagine, play times and sports days were great fun for all the family.

I know, being the greenest Poms ever to come off the boat, we were a bit over-protective of our children. But I was still gobsmacked when the headteacher of the school sent a letter home to all the parents reminding them to ensure they always make their children wear shoes to school, and to stop sending them barefoot.

It was an amazing experience, mostly weird, often terrifying, but it didn’t kill us, it did make us stronger, and when we came back from Aussie after four and a half years, we were very sad and wondered if we were doing the right thing in coming back. We had some wonderful experiences Down Under, and we still hope to return some day, this time, forewarned!

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Rejection for Indie Authors 101

Just a few of my manuscript boxes!

This is one of my favourite quotes on being a writer, and I often use it. Here it is again, in case you’ve missed all the other incidences of it on my blog!

“A book is so much a part of one’s life that in delivering it to the public one feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic.” (Quentin Bell, nephew of Virginia Woolf, and author of a number of biographies including the fabulous ‘Charleston’.)

Yes, Quentin, that is exactly how one feels about one’s book!

You see, it’s kind of a weird thing, but as you write, the book/fag packet/old envelope becomes a living thing. And like a child (or ‘one’s own child’, I love that!) it seems so fragile, so vulnerable, so at the mercy of strong winds and icy chills. And once you’ve bundled up said child/book to send it off into the world all alone, there is a certain amount of anxiety that attends its imminent return, and you hang around the front door, or the post box, wringing your hands, hoping for a glimpse, a clue, anything to tell you (or to tell one, I should say) how your baby is faring.  and of course, until the parcel is dumped in your greenhouse with a note through the door saying the postman has left you a package, you have no idea what is happening.

Sometimes I look at my piles of paper, neatly wrapped up in the manuscript boxes on my shelves, and think, ‘There you are, all snug and safe, no nasty people are going to hurt you if you stay here with Mummy.’

Of course, if I’m really honest with myself (usually about two o’clock in the morning), it’s me that is afraid of being hurt.  And it’s me who is afraid of being unappreciated/viewed as talentless/doomed to be unsuccessful. So really, each story I write, each manuscript is an extension of myself: and my hopes, my dreams.

But if I want something to happen in my life, if I want anything to change, to have any chance of being appreciated, my books read, of gaining, increasing and developing my skill as a writer, of being in some measure successful, I have got to do it–I’ve got to step out into the traffic, or at least, put my child out into it and watch as it survives or dies.

Rejection. It’s something we all fear, I guess. We are born craving acceptance–if we are not accepted we will die. Or at least be put up for adoption. Writers are no different in this respect to newborn babies. We need to be loved.

Or maybe we are more like the loving mothers urging our offspring onto others and not able to see that our little angel has a huge nose or squinty eyes.

I have had a few bad reviews for my books on Amazon over the years. When I first set out on this crazy road of self-publishing back at the end of 2012, I knew that sooner or later it would happen, that I would get a bad review, or maybe poor sales. But when it happened, being pre-warned was no help at all.  I went through the usual stages of grief:  I started with a kind of ‘so what’ shrug, then went into a depression and a downward spiral, felt like everything I wrote was worthless and what was the point anyway, I was surely kidding myself I could write? I stopped writing. And was even more miserable. Then, I took a big step and asked a Facebook contact, who is a very well-established, successful writer, ‘What do you do, how do you deal with this?’ She told me what I already knew: ‘You can’t please everyone. Accept it and move on. Don’t let it get you down. Don’t let it stop you.’

To begin with, I don’t flatter myself that I have universal appeal, and just as there are books I would not enjoy reading, I realise that my books may not appeal to everyone. But I have to be myself. The thing is, it would be so easy to try to change myself, my style, my genre, everything, in order to please the dissenters who don’t ‘get me’. I’ve tried writing the ‘proper’ way, as I was taught by a number of well-meaning even successful writers and teachers of writing.

But I have to be me: (at this point it would be a huge help if you could visualise someone running down the road into a golden sunset, arms outstretched in triumph, singing “I Gotta Be Me – just gotta be free”). I need to write to be happy but also I need to be happy to write, so I have to make a decision to set aside the slings and arrows, and choose not to let them hurt me or distract me from what I am trying to achieve. I write my way. Some of my sentences begin with ‘And’. I use adverbs without shame. I split infinitives, and I occasionally tell instead of show. Some people actually like that.

So If you’ve had trouble with confidence, rejection or self-doubt, it’s now time to push it aside and forge ahead. If you don’t write your story, paint your picture, make your dress, plant your garden, train your hamster, bake your muffins or craft your craft, who will?

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Going Indie – part one

I’m a self-published—or Indie—author. And that is no longer something to be lamented or ashamed of, nor has it been for quite a few years. I published my first book in January 2013, and since then have inflicted several more books on the unsuspecting reading public, with many more planned for the future.

If you are thinking about being an Indie author, or you already are one and are ready to quit and get a ‘real’ job, here is my take on Going Indie. I hope overall, I will encourage rather than discourage you. Shall I say at the outset that I am finally making money? Because yes, I write because I love it, and I love the creative process, but at the same time, I need to live. I need to buy food, notebooks, pay bills and assist my hubby in keeping a roof over our heads. And it has taken the best part of five years to get there, though I’m sure plenty of other people could do it in a shorter period.

Fully aware of the unbelievably huge learning curve that awaited me, I decided in 2012 to ‘go for it’. How else would I ever see my books in print? How else could I share my words and my worlds with other people? I knew my chances of getting accepted by a publisher were virtually nil—as a creative writing tutor once unhelpfully pointed out to her newly enrolled class, we stood a better chance of getting onto the space programme. Well I was 50 in 2010, so I stood absolutely no chance of going into space (not that I wanted to) so where did that leave me with my dreams of being an author? It was obvious I only had one option available, so I took it, hesitating and afraid, but with a sense of audacity. Did I really dare to do it? Yes, I decided, I did. Oh and by the way, I was still working full time at that point.

What did I have to learn? The short answer is everything.

  1. I had to learn how to edit and proofread. I read everything I could, did some courses to brush up my grammar skills, I even got a lot of work as a freelance proofreader and editor. I had to learn to do this myself as I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it for me.
  2. I researched how to format a book for the various self-publishing platforms. I learned how to do this myself as I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it for me. I had reasonable computer skills but knew nothing about creating a manuscript from a computer document. That was all new to me.
  3. I researched the different self-publishing platforms as I knew nothing about them, and I wasn’t really in any kind of group or society or anything where I could ask other people. I was at that time completely out of touch with other self-published authors.
  4. Then I had to write the books. And edit, then rewrite, then edit, the rewrite, then edit… I knew that you couldn’t just finish a first draft and put it on Amazon as a book. I now know that when I’ve finished a first draft, that is just the beginning of the process. It’s the bit I find hardest, actually. I love rewriting, that is freeing and creative, but putting the bare bones down on the page? That’s tough.
  5. I tried using betareaders. That didn’t work for me. All that happened was the nice ones said, ‘Yes it’s wonderful’, and the others all just said the opposite to everyone else. I ended up with a new opinion for everyone I asked. Not helpful. So I didn’t bother with that again. Though I do now have writer buddies I occasionally run an idea or dilemma past.
  6. I had to learn how to create book covers. I tried Fiverr, and sorry to be mean to anyone but I got nothing worth using. And again, I couldn’t afford to pay anyone to design and create my covers, so again, I had to learn to do it myself. Now I find it so satisfying and it helps me to fix a book in my head, makes it come alive. To begin with I used PowerPoint, with stock photos from Morguefile or Pixabay. You can create a slide the size of a book cover (research the correct size—a quick Google search will give you that) then when you’ve finished fiddling with it, you can save itas a jpeg. And hey presto! This is one of the first ones I made.

It’s not great but I used it for quite a while before I made something a bit nicer.These days I still make my own covers, and I still use Pixabay or Shutterstock, but I now use Canva—which is wonderful flexible and FREE to make some very acceptable covers. And my other marketing materials. Here’s a couple of examples of covers I’ve made on Canva, I’m really proud of these even if they still look a bit homemade. I love them, and more importantly, the books are selling. so take time to think about a good cover for your work. It needs to both blend into your genre or niche, yet stand out. Prospective readers should get a vague idea of what the story is about, and know what to expect from your cover. It’s essential the title and your author name can be read in the thumbnail size, so make sure they are really bold and clear.

   

Part Two of this blog next week:

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Keeping it fresh…

Well this blog has been up and running for [I have no idea, it feels like forever???] three or four or five years, maybe ten? I feel it’s time for a nattier, newer, more ‘together’, professional look – so I’ve called in the big guns (the endlessly patient Chris at The Helpful Nerds) and as a result, a fab new look will be hitting this blog in the next few  weeks. It’ll be slick, it’ll be sassy and a bit more user friendly, so WATCH THIS SPACE! Woohoo!

Look out too for a new EXCLUSIVE and FREE fab deal on some of my books – you won’t be able to get it anywhere but here.

 

At the moment it feels a bit like this
Hopefully it’ll soon feel a bit more like this…

*****

 

 

Janus, or the art of looking both ways at once

happy-new-year-1912680_1280

Janus is the Roman god who has two faces, enabling him to look forward and backward at the same time. It is often (possibly erroneously) supposed the month January is named after him, poised as it is at the beginning of the new year yet with the old year still very much alive in our memories.

Once Christmas is over and the new year begins to beckon, we are seemingly in both places at once. 2016 (what an awful year, in so many ways) still dominates our thoughts and yet, here it comes, 2017, looming on the horizon, bright, shiny and new, full of possibilities, an unwritten page.

So we look forward and back at the same time, for the moment torn in our thoughts and plans, divided in our dreams, not yet able to completely commit to the new, the undiscovered, and still holding onto all that has happened during the twelve months of 2016.

We long for a fresh start. If 2016 is the experienced adult, bent by experience, then 2017 is the innocent child.The joyous optimism of leaving the past behind and reaching forward to something new and good is irresistible. And so we plan and and resolve to make changes in our lives. I am keeping my list of resolutions simple this year. I am going to write more, read more and enjoy life more. Good riddance, 2016. Thank God you’re here, 2017!

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