Monday, 29 May 2017

The power of story

This past week, we moved into a lovely unit almost as big as our old home of thirty-two years. However, the available space for books certainly isn’t as big. In my husband’s old study, there was a wall of built-in bookshelves which we, of course, could not remove. So our current task is to try to fit all our books into the bookshelves we could bring with us—or perhaps buy bigger ones!
Now my husband did cull his books severely before moving and I too dispensed with some at least. While doing so, I came across a number of books that had originally belonged to our children, so I decided to see if they wanted to hang onto these themselves.
Despite being a writer of novels and memoir and thus a firm believer in the power of story, I suspected they would say no, for various reasons. However, when I showed our elder daughter some middle grade and young adult novels with her name in them, I did not have to remind her how much she loved reading them.
‘Oh look, there’s Charlotte’s Web and all my Little House on the Prairie books!’ she said, her voice filled with nostalgia. ‘And I remember those Enid Blyton ones as well! There’s Mr Pinkwhistle’s Party—and there’s The Rat-A-Tat Mystery!’
As for our younger daughter, she clearly remembered her Laura in Littleland books and one called The Computer That Ate my Brother! Oh and, of course, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
But it was our big, burly, mathematician son whose reaction surprised me the most. He had already reclaimed his beloved Narnia books some time back, but in our clean-up, I discovered a book he had been awarded for coming first in his Year Four primary school class. It was a non-fiction book entitled Why Is it?, with answers to all sorts of questions about how and why things work in our world. Yet each entry in the book was so engaging to read and contained such interesting information that one could be forgiven for thinking it was all ‘made up’.
‘Oh, I remember this book—I’m definitely keeping it!’ our son told us, as he handled it almost reverently.
Yes, these books and many more have lived on in our children’s hearts and minds over all these years. But ... ahem ... for better or worse, could it also be that our children have taken on board a little of their parents’ attitude to books? You see, in packing for our move, I myself have still been unable to part with various novels from my own growing-up years—the Anne books by L M Montgomery, as well as her Emily books and Pat of Silver Bush; What Katy Did, What Katy Did at School and What Katy Did Next; Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men and Jo’s Boys; Heidi—and many others. Those stories still grip my heart, just as they did as a child.
So, whether we write for children or adults, let’s work hard to create stories that are powerful and memorable, that fire our readers’ imaginations, that touch hearts and impact lives. Then perhaps one day, by God’s grace, the time may even come when our readers will want to hang onto those stories of ours too!

Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and two non-fiction works, ‘Soul Friend’ and ‘Becoming Me’. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Do you like Marginalia?

I mentioned this subject long ago on my personal blog, and thought I'd elaborate on it today. Marginalia is defined on Wikipedia as 'The scribbles, comments and illuminations in the margin of a book,' I enjoy stumbling across unexpected examples, because if readers want to make the effort to add their two cents worth, they often think they have something valuable, or at least amusing to say. And perhaps they do. Or maybe they think the author's words are so great, they simply wish to remember them. For such a simple habit, I was surprised by the polarising opinions expressed by the general public in a poll I saw.

Let's get the negative out of the way first. Some people seemed to react as if they were being asked whether they condone murder. And since some hardcore book lovers seem to regard their books as living friends, that attitude may not be hard to understand. With every stroke of a pen, a page bleeds. Others tend to treat it like graffiti. They believe that vandals who consider themselves artists deface public property, in the same way that disrespectful or know-it-all readers deface the pages of books. If profanity and coarse language make their way into marginalia, it may be easy to see their point. However, I believe that if we're willing to think outside the square (and I realise that's a sort of pun), there's also a good side to marginalia.

For a start, old books with marginalia may retain something of their former owners' presence, giving you an a-ha moment, or even a bit of insight when you come across it. In Lucy Maud Montgomery's 'The Golden Road', the Story Girl receives a Christmas present from the Awkward Man. (Montgomery's tendency to give people labels as names really comes out in this book.) It turns out to be an old book with a great many marks on its pages. The Story Girl's pretty and worldly cousin, Felicity, accuses the Awkward Man of being cheap, and the Story Girl quickly sets her straight, saying she'd rather have her friend's marginalia than a dozen brand new books. She used different words, but that's the gist of it.

It's often possible that remarks scribbled down as marginalia will be honest, heartfelt reflections which might benefit others, otherwise the person who wrote them wouldn't bother. For the same reason, they are often witty, interesting and well worth adding. Spontaneous and fluent thoughts are often the best, and they are what we so often get with marginalia.

If you can call it a hobby, it's a good, cheap one. All you need is a nice sharp lead pencil. But maybe this is stretching it a bit, and surely nobody would recommend that we go jotting margin notes all over library books, calling it our hobby. In fact, if you think a book is worth lots of marginalia, you might as well get a writing journal, jot it all into a longer article and make it a book review.

Edgar Allen Poe wrote, 'In getting my books, I have always been solicitous of an ample margin ... for the facility it affords me of pencilling in suggested thoughts, agreements, or brief critical comments in general.' If I came across that in an actual book, I'd be tempted to underline it and write a margin note saying, 'Yes, I agree!'

Perhaps one of the saddest and most frustrating bits of marginalia was written by Pierre de Fermat in a famous old text book entitled 'Arithmetica'. He wrote, 'I have discovered a truly marvellous proof which this margin is too narrow to contain.' And Fermat's Last Theorem remained unproven by fellow mathematicians for another three hundred years.

To prove that this practice shouldn't be marginalised (hey, another one), I have four examples, including one of mine, in which a bit of marginalia turns out to be integral to the plot.

1) The Kitchen Daughter, by Jael McHenry
One of the main characters, David, jots a little margin note in the heroine, Ginny's, cookbook. It's simply that she should add a pinch of ancho powder to her hot chocolate to improve the flavour, but the effect is devastating. You have to read it.

2) Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling.
Here's an example from popular fiction. In this sixth book of the series, Harry finds himself in accidental possession of a second hand text book. The former owner had filled it with all sorts helpful additions, jottings and advice. In the short term, this marginalia helped Harry shoot to the top of his class. Only later does he learn the cost of owning the former owner's book.

3) The Boy in the Book by Nathan Penlington
The author bought a stash of old Choose Your Own Adventure books from Ebay, and discovered some long-forgotten margin notes by a previous owner. Some of the details about Terrence's life were so interesting and touching, Nathan decided to track him down if he could. This book is about what happened.

4) A Design of Gold, by Paula Vince
I had a go of my own, long before I'd heard the term, marginalia. My characters, Piers and Casey, discover a book owned by their son, Jerome, in which he has scribbled all sorts of margin notes, giving them vital clues about how troubled he has been in his mind. 'A Design of Gold' contains a lot about the enormous impact a random book may have on the life of the individual who happens to find it.

I'm sure there are many other novels, such as mystery stories, in which marginalia features strongly. If you can think of any, please let me know in the comments. I'd also love to hear any interesting true stories about marginalia you might have come across, not to mention your own feelings about the subject. Do you enjoy marginalia or not?

Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The Greenfield Legacy', Australia's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For more of Paula's reflections, you may like to visit her book review blog, The Vince Review.

Monday, 22 May 2017


I recently attended the annual Toowoomba Omega Writers Retreat. I had planned on spending time   writing,  but instead God had a surprise in store for me.  For years I had wanted to publish my own devotion book.  I had written a number of devotions, but no where near the 365 that I thought I needed for a year-long book.   I had ben feeling overwhelmed by the size of my vision, to the extent that I was almost immobilized. Oh I wrote a devotion now and then, but felt lost because it all seemed too big and too difficult. I was quite unmotivated and daunted by the size of the task.  So, I attended the retreat with the plan of writing a couple of devotions.  A friend had suggested that I book an appointment with the guest speaker to chat about publishing.  I laughed. I thought she was joking.  I was no where near the publishing stage, and wouldn’t be for years, the rate I was going. Why would I want to speak to a publisher?  By the time my manuscript was ready, too many things would have changed.   Well, as He often does, God had other ideas.

During a break, the guest speaker stopped for a chat and enquired about what I  was presently writing.  I mentioned my desire and struggle to publish my own 365 day devotional book.  Her answer was along the lines of “It won’t sell as there is no market for devotional books which are that long. Life is busy and most people won’t commit to something for that length of time.  As a matter of fact, people would be much more likely to buy a book of 30 devotions”.  Really?  Yes, really.   Surprise! My goal of writing my own book was suddenly attainable.   I made an appointment to talk more with the speaker. (My friend was pleased, as she wasn’t joking when she suggested  I do  this).  In the course of the half hour I spent with her, we came up with ideas for a number of books, including prospective release dates and ideas for a cover.  I was motivated and excited.  My impossible dream now seemed like a possibility and was definitely within my reach.

 Why am I telling you this? To encourage you in a number of areas.
1. Position yourself to learn. Make the most of available opportunities to glean from those who are more knowledgeable and experienced. Attend retreats and conferences.  Help is available, especially with todays technology.
2. Be teachable, always ready and eager to learn. We are never too old to learn new things.
3. Trust God. He is faithful. He believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. He has a plan and a purpose for our writing. If He has given us dreams and desires, He will do His part to see them come to fruition.  We have to be willing to do our part by trusting Him to guide us as we write what He lays on our hearts.
4. Any progress is just that, progress.  It may be a slow process, but keep moving forward in your writing journey.  Don’t allow yourself to stagnate. Even taking baby steps is better than standing still.
5. Use the talent God has given you.  The more we invest what He has given us, the more our talent will grow and develop, and be used by Him. And isn’t that why we write? To give Him the  glory and honour due to Him, and to touch the hearts and lives of others on His behalf?

 I have to remind myself of these points, often. My writing journey has been a slow process but I am greatly inspired and encouraged when God throws in a surprise along the way.

Janelle Moore lives in Toowoomba, Queensland with her husband and two teenagers. She has had various articles and  devotions published, and as mentioned above,  has long desired to publish her own book.  She is forever indebted to her Quirky Quills writing group for their nagging (oops, encouragement), and to Deb Porter (Breath of Fresh Air Press) for giving her hope that publishing her own devotional book is actually achievable. 

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Making rough places smooth...together. by Jo Wanmer

I sat on my back veranda in the sun. (I love Brisbane at this time of year; any time of year really!) My friends sipped their coffee. All was good in my world until the sun fell on my legs like a spotlight. Shock! Horror! Only thirty centimetres of leg showed below my three quarter length pants but...

You see the forest on my legs (I’d convinced myself no one would ever see) was highlighted, the blond hair so long it looked as though it needed brushing not shaving! I excused myself hoping they hadn’t noticed, and rushed to do the only possible thing. I changed to jeans that covered me to my toes.

The incident, traumatic as it was, reminded me of Paul the apostle, saying some parts of the body that are unpresentable should be treated with special honour. In other words, we cover up the ugly. I’m comforted to find at least my response is biblical.

Last weekend I attended the Omega Writers Retreat in Toowoomba. (My apologies to any attendees who may have been subjected to a glimpse of unbrushed leg hair!) We gathered as a body of Christian writers. Yes, a body. As Paul says, we are many diverse parts, but one body. There were fingers pounding keyboards, eyes reading, ears attentive, hands cooking. Wisdom was taught, expertise shared, counsel given and received. Together we made a whole, and even those of us who took the word ‘retreat’ literally and forgot the word ‘writing’, were treated with honour and love.

At CWD we too, are a family. Just this week there was a plea on Facebook for someone to read a MS. Another asked what a MS was. There is interaction and reaching out in love. And there can be also be lively debate and different points of view. But we treat each other with honour and respect, remaining in unity within our diversity. I love that.

But what happens when a writer displays an ugly side, submits or publishes an unshaved manuscript, or condemns another through a review or a cutting comment? How does our body of writers cover these episodes with special modesty as Paul says in 1 Cor 12:23?

I am forever thankful that my book was submitted to several mentors and editors before a publisher laid eyes on it. They covered its ugliness with gentle words... ‘If you’re willing to work hard I think I can teach you how to write.’  ‘It will need a lot of editing.’ ‘Show the story. Don’t tell us about it.’ Others taught seminars, led workshops, read and critiqued, edited and covered my shameful spelling.  Yes the Christian writing body worked very hard to stop me embarrassing myself.

Over the years in CWD I’ve watched as writers patiently imparted their knowledge again and again to ones who are still learning. They have graciously but firmly led them away from the danger of rogue publishers, pointed them to necessity of good editing and offered to read and make suggestions.  If necessary they will go off line to bring correction or rebuke. Why do they do this? Collectively we are known as Australasian Christian Writers. What one writer publishes effects our reputation as a whole. This is why we host conferences, retreats, chapters etc. and I believe we are seeing the results in the level of writing expertise being displayed.

The hardest thing to cover is pride, quickly followed by stupidity! I was working on a novel in NaNoWriMo several years ago and a member of CWD was also writing. She shared every step on Facebook about her efforts and reached the goal of 50,000 words before the deadline, 30th November. Allowing only one night to edit, she posted the story as an ebook the next day, under a different name. I was thankful it wasn’t written in Christian genre for I was appalled at its unprofessionalism, mistakes and even storyline. But, with no editing work, how could it have been any other way?

Writing is a process and when that production uses others’ talents within the body of Christian writers, we all stand proud. And then, we, with unshamed faces, celebrate together.

I did get Steve’s chainsaw and cut down the forest on my legs. Likewise, thanks to the Christian writing community, I have pages and pages of advice from friends, publishers and editors about how to smooth out my current MS. One day soon I’ll get the courage to take the axe to some of my beloved words so the storyline is more easily seen. 

Currently Jo Wanmer is enjoying the Queensland sunshine and wind in her hair. When she's not touring with Steve or minding wonderful grandchildren, she's communicating hope. She is a pastor at a small family church at Burpengary called Access and loves speaking anywhere people want to hear of the love of God. 
Her book ‘Though the Bud be Bruised’ was published in 2012 and there are two more novels in the pipeline. Her passion is to bring the love, healing and hope of Jesus to men and women who have walked through life’s valleys. There is always light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Why I'm a plate spinner ...

There was one vaudeville act that always fascinated me.  It wasn’t the clowns, the guy juggling the swords or the lion tamer who managed to stick his head somewhere near his pet.

The act that always fascinated me was the plate spinner. 

This was the guy who kept thirteen plates spinning on the end of thirteen poles … and none of them fell. He ran back-and-forth from pole to pole, giving the plate the slightest wobble, steadying it and giving it enough momentum to keep spinning.

It was more than skill. It was more than hand-eye co-ordination. It was a commitment to the plates, and never letting them fall. It was knowing that each plate needed to be watched and needed to have attention paid to it. It was knowing that the whole act depended on everything being kept moving.

You know, that vaudeville act is so much like writing.

If you’re a writer, you will more than likely identify with the plate spinner – keeping everything moving and not wanting to (or feeling like you can’t) let any of them fall. If any of them develop speed wobbles, we drop everything and head over to it to give it a bit more of a push, all the while hoping the other plates have enough momentum to keep going.

I was looking at my project list for my writing and all I saw was thirteen plates on the end of slowly speed-reducing poles:
  1. A new blog post, which feels like it is way overdue, even though my calendar says it isn’t
  2. Writing some more content to feed the hungry beast that is social media
  3. Adding another 1,000 words to my current work-in-progress, because the deadline I set three months ago is getting closer, not further away
  4. Editing that character in my completed manuscript to fully flesh him out because I’m starting to wonder if he’s a cardboard character with no soul
  5. Writing up that idea for a new novel that broke into my head at 4am yesterday and could be the best thing I’ll ever write, but won’t be if I lose the idea
  6. Following up that agent who I queried five weeks ago and hasn't troubled my inbox, even though I’ve been refreshing it every two minutes
  7. Preparing a proposal for another agent who I am absolutely convinced will be ‘the one’
  8. Reading two books at once to inspire me to improve my craft and because I can’t put either of them down
  9. Researching other authors to see how they are marketing themselves to see what I could learn
  10. Connecting with other authors on social media to check that my delusions of grandeur and massive insecurities – in equal measure – are normal
  11. Dreaming about the cover of my first novel and what it might look like sitting on bookshop shelves
  12. Exploring the professional development opportunities I would love to undertake if I had some money from this writing gig
  13. Reading those five web articles about writing that will help my writing process improve by at least 10%
But the main skill I have to keep up is the ability to keep everything moving. Maybe this is one this you face as a writer yourself – the constant movement, the constant checking and the feeling like momentum needs to be propelling you forward.

But the one big lesson for writers actually came from a plate spinner I once saw. One of his plates dropped.  The audience gasped and sighed in collective sympathy as they saw a failed act.

I looked at those remaining twelve poles and saw a guy who had managed to keep twelve plates going at once.  That was amazing.

And it’s a lesson I continually remind myself when I comes to keeping my own writing plates spinning.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Retreat Tactics

May 5-7 was the Omega Toowoomba Chapter 2017 writers’ retreat, and what an amazing time it was. Yes, you heard right. A retreat. To write. ALL weekend. (I can detect some green vibes out there.)

For non-writers, an all-weekend writing retreat might sound somewhat indulgent. For we writers, it might seem a lot of work to organise, a little craziness shoving that many focussed creative folk into one facility, and a great deal of travelling effort, depending on your locale. But what does one actually do at a writing retreat? Isn’t it just like a mini-conference?

Well, I’m pleased you asked … 😊

Yes, we all gathered, were fed (without having to cook, yay!), wrote, and lapped up inspiring and insightful words from our guest speakers, Deb Porter (Breath of Fresh Air Press) and inspirational author, Mary Hawkins. On Saturday, we welcomed our day attendees, and later, held contemplative conversation around the fireplace. Sunday saw opportunity for powerful collective worship and prayer over our writing projects. But the thing that stands out to me most, is how different the writing-retreat experience is for each attendee.

For me, I loved the common themes unfolding through each session, whether focussed on the spiritual or practical tips in writing and publishing—and, of course, the collective support and encouragement of so many writers gathered in one place.
Here are some ‘retreat reflections’ by other attendees:

I didn’t expect to write, but fulfilled my priority to retreat—but that’s my stage of the writing journey. I’ve said many times that deepening friendships of this smaller group sustains me more than a full-on conference.
~Ruth Bonetti, author, performance coach, professional musician, teacher

[M]y favourite part was sitting on the deck in the sun drinking coffee and eating toast as we read the word individuality yet together. Or it could have been that feeling of family fun and support. Or the high drama of building fires. Or the fact my phone was off the grid. Writing? Was it about writing? Did someone say writing?
~Jo Wanmer, author, preacher, pastor, grandmother, bookkeeper

I really loved my publisher appointment with Deb Porter. I’d been struggling with plot problems in my novel for about eight months and it just wasn’t working. Talking through some of those issues with Deb really brought clarity. It was hard at first to realise that I would have to undo some of those scenes, but by the end of the weekend, I felt as if a load had lifted. Yes, I have a lot of work to do, but I now have a plan and know what’s needed.  If you ever have the chance to do a publisher appointment, go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose except those rascally story problems.
~Nola Passmore, editor (The Write Flourish), psychology academic, all-round nice girl and liberated writer

It was a great time of fellowship and encouragement. I left refreshed and recharged.
~Deb Porter, presenter, publisher (Breath of Fresh Air Press), editor and writer

The workshops inspired me to create stronger content and avoid lazy writing. I was encouraged to hear about the different ways to publish a book too. Probably my favourite aspect of the retreat was the fellowship of other like minds. It's such a treat to be around other writers and bounce ideas off each other and actually have time to sit and create. It was awesome! ~Charis Joy Jackson, missionary, author, actor, filmmaker

The best part was getting the drop on the news that the trilogy Integrate, Replicate, Activate might be moving towards a fourth book. ~Anne Hamilton, author, mathematician, editor, speaker

Having deep conversations with other writers about writing, soaking up the natural beauty that surrounded us, having time to write and being inspired to write, and joining together in worship and prayer, praying for each other’s writing journeys—and seeing that previous year’s prayers had been answered.
~Jeanette O’Hagan, writer, reviewer, editor, doctor, theologian and master of a heap of other things

Thanks fellow “retreatees”. I’ll close on a final thought that, amidst all the elements of the retreat, sums up the ultimate focus for such a weekend …

Adele Jones is an award-winning Queensland author. She writes young adult and historical novels, poems, inspirational non-fiction and fictional short works, along with juggling family responsibilities and a ‘real job’ in the field of science. Her first YA novel Integrate was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript. Her writing explores issues of social justice, humanity, faith, natural beauty and meaning in life’s journey, and as a speaker she seeks to present a practical and encouraging message by drawing on these themes. For more visit or

Monday, 8 May 2017

Remembering My Mum


I want to celebrate Stella Violet Kinnear, my darling mum, on this coming Mother's Day. She is now with the Lord but still remains in my heart.

Did I receive my writing abilities from her? No. Stella was one of those active, on-the-go wives and mothers who didn't have all that much time for reading. But she soon realised I loved reading and encouraged me.

Her mother, Beatrice, was a real dreamer and always to be found with her nose in a book. Oh, yes many a time wisps of smoke came from the kitchen where a nice dinner was sacrificed to the arts. Thinking back, I wonder why my mum didn't resent that and make sure her daughter would follow a more practical turn of mind.

Stella was also an artist (from her father, Harrie Mackie Kinnear, a Scot.) It came to the fore when, during the Second World War with Dad in the RAAF, money was scarce. She actually made jewelry from bread! Beautiful little flowers coloured and baked in the oven. She also designed patterns for Patons Knitting Co and I was the recipient of lovely little jumpers, cardigans and hats. All this was enough to make a deposit on a small house in Oyster Bay.

By that time she'd become a savvy business woman and some years later she sent me to art school and began a ceramics studio in our backyard named Gymea Pottery. Dad cast various shapes of clay, and we two women decorated it with Aboriginal Art and Australian flowers and fauna. Then it was fired to the bisque state, glazed and fired again to 1,000 degrees Centigrade. It was a real hit with American business folk who were involved in the Kurnell Oil Refineries at the time. Many would come to buy and ask about the stories behind each piece. I loved telling those stories!

But similar to the book business today, the markets became flooded. How could we compete with cheap pottery from China? Never mind that it wasn't authentic Australian Art.  We closed up and gave the big kilns to Gymea Technical College. (They had the expense of hiring a crane and removing one of the walls.)
My darling mother was never able to read even one of my books, because she'd gone before they were published. That still hurts me, because in her later years, she too had taken up reading. But there's a lot of my life with her and Nan among the Aboriginal folk in my first book, Fire in the Rock. All changed of course in its fictional sense. And she would have loved my Victorian Trilogy, Signed Sealed Delivered, The Tie That Binds, & A Parcel of Promises.  I became aware my heroine's longing to find her mother is a part of my longing for my mum who has gone to be with her Lord.
Everything can change in a heartbeat is my brand.  And the logo is represented by the little open heart. 

At the moment I'm almost halfway on a third novel in a series - late 1800s where each of my heroines are searching for something,
1. Recognition and fame. 2. A husband.  3. Her voice.

That is such a truism in all our lives. We are all just one heartbeat away from changed circumstances whatever they happen to be - wonderful or tragic. 
Is there any one of you who have been estranged from your mother? Please dear ones, change that situation before you'll have to live with regrets for the rest of your life. Forgiveness comes from God.

 Do you have special memories of your mum?

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Book Review: Understanding Show, Don't Tell: and Really Getting It

I like to read books about writing craft every so often. It keeps me learning and improving both as a writer and as an editor. Often it gives me the explanations and vocabulary for things that I've known instinctively but haven't been able to explain to others.

One of the best books I've read recently is by Janice Hardy, called Understanding Show, Don't Tell: And Really Getting It.

'Show, don't tell' is perhaps the most common piece of writing advice, and when we 'get' it, and do it, our writing is a lot better. But what does it really mean to 'show' rather than 'tell'? Do we always understand it? And are we able to recognise it in our own writing - and know how to fix it?

A number of my editing customers are still learning the idea of showing, not telling, and I've struggled to explain the 'whys' and 'hows' of it to them, even while I've been able to say, 'Yeah, nah, that doesn't work'.

Now, though, I have the tools to explain it. I love this book so much I'm even recommending it on my website.

Hardy lays the whole thing out incredibly simply. The blurb for her book says that she 'takes you deep into one of the most frustrating aspects of writing--showing, and not telling. She'll help you understand what show, don't tell means, teach you how to spot told prose in your writing, and reveal why common advice on how to fix it doesn't always work.' And it's absolutely true.

Possibly the most practical aspect of Hardy's book is her list of 'Red Flag' words; clues as to whether or not your prose is telling or showing.

Here are a few:

Emotional tells:
in [fear]
with [relief]
felt [emotion]

If you're reading this list thinking, 'but hey, I use those words all the time', I've probably piqued your curiosity.

I don't have room or time to explain the whys or wherefores of them in one small blog post, but I do suggest that all writers go get themselves a copy of Janice's book, because it is in depth, clever, practical and enjoyable.

And it will clear up all the questions you ever had about Show, Don't Tell.

Cecily Paterson writes middle grade fiction for girls. She also does editing. Check her out at 

Monday, 1 May 2017

Genre - Exploring Poetry

by Valerie Volk

I grew up with a father whose simple philosophy was expressed (often!) in verse quotations:

Life is mainly froth and bubble;
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another’s trouble,
Courage in your own.

From Adam Lindsay Gordon to Longfellow:

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul

These were my father’s creeds  - but he would never have classified himself as a lover of poetry. How intriguing that lines of verse expressed best the values that were so important to him!

Why does the word ‘poetry’ set up barriers?

Two preliminary thoughts spring immediately to my mind, and they are both significant. One is the poignant moment when I stood in an Adelaide bookstore and watched people pick up my just-released verse novel Passion Play – only to put it down immediately saying “Oh, it’s poetry ...”

The second, equally sad, comes in that very popular 1989 film, Dead Poets Society,  where before the advent of the charismatic Mr Keating, a poetry lesson consists of the dreary reading aloud of chapter one of a ponderous tome on the topic “What is poetry?”

Perhaps this second thought explains the first. Too many schoolrooms where the study of poetry has been a soulless dragging through besmirched classics with a relentless analysis of rhyme, rhythm, symbolism, similes and metaphors  -  and let’s not forget alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia – these have been the breeding ground for a general automatic response: “Poetry is hard work!”

But prose writing is relatively recent!

“Too hard’ is a sad reaction, because poetry has been throughout the centuries the instinctive response of people (not just that breed we call ‘poets’) to an experience that they wish to communicate as vividly as possible to others. It’s interesting to recall that novel writing, prose fiction, any of the non-poetic genres of today, are comparative newcomers on the scene, only a few centuries old, where poetry was the natural form of expression for thousands of years.

In ages before people could read and write, audiences in the great halls of castles, gatherings around camp fires, villagers welcoming travelling minstrels, fair ladies being wooed by optimistic troubadours, all were being entranced and entertained by poetry. What did it offer them?

Certainly, for the pre-literate ages the use of verse made communication much easier. The epic poems, the sagas of a heroic age, depended heavily on the devices and techniques that made the oral traditional tales easy to listen to and to remember. Rhyme and rhythm were important as an aid to understanding and literary devices such as assonance, with its repetition of vowel sounds, and alliteration, with its use of repeated consonants, were there not to be clever or ‘poetic’ but to get right into the hearer’s consciousness and memory. So still today works like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Milton’s Paradise Lost, Shakespeare’s plays are part of our literary heritage, all of them in verse.

So what does poetry offer us today?

Here we come to the crux of it: what really does poetry offer? It provides the opportunity to capture experiences, emotions, ideas in a more precise and meaningful way, for this is what poets of all ages have wanted to do: to communicate at the deepest level with readers in ways that make their words a shared experience, and one to remember. Poets want to open our eyes to see things in a new way, whether it’s Wordsworth standing on London Bridge on a fresh new morning, a sight so touching in its majesty, or Shelley, listening to a skylark, and marveling at its unpremeditated art, or Wilfred Owen, bringing home to us the horrors of World War One, with its returning soldiers bent double, like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed, coughing like hags.

Difficult? No. The fact that poetry has been, traditionally, broken into lines seems to make casual viewers think that some special initiation into this art form is needed. Yet the line divisions in fact give us the chance to pause, hesitate, feel the emphasis on words in a way that allows them to carry special weight and power. Similarly, the language use in poetry is often richer and more flexible than that in everyday speech. Again, it heightens our responses. The potential of even standard devices, such as alliteration, is recognized in today’s advertising world – how many product jingles depend on alliteration! Try watching commercial television with an ear to this, and you’ll swiftly see its value in making an impact.

We read poetry to be moved and challenged to see the world in new ways. When Hopkins writes The world is charged with the grandeur of God we catch our breath with the sudden shock of his words – and that’s exactly what he wants.

This one line actually crystallizes what I’m saying. Take that word ‘charged.’ In a single word it opens so many thoughts, from the sense of electric vitality and force with which God created the world to the responsibilities we are charged with as custodians of the earth. It would take prose several paragraphs at least to explore these ideas, but in the succinctness of poetry they are evoked with one word. That is poetry’s potential.

But what we are talking about with this term poetry anyway?

Let’s move away from the blanket definitions, like Coleridge’s famous ‘the best words in the best order.’ It’s not a genre in itself, but almost needs a series of discussions on the various types of poetic genres: epic poetry, narrative poetry, descriptive poetry, lyric poetry with odes and idylls, dramatic poetry and the dramatic monologue, didactic poetry with its focus on teaching a lesson, satirical and humorous verse, specific forms such villanelles, sestinas,  triolets, rondels, ballads and sonnets, foreign forms like haiku, tanka and cinquain. What about song lyrics or rap poems? Poets can write in strict rhymed forms with lines that follow a huge variety of patterns, or they can choose unrhymed forms such as blank verse or the even more open free verse. Or further still these days, prose poetry, where it is only the heightened language use and phrasing that makes the classification ‘poetry’ possible.

Why do I write poetry?

I write poetry because I want to share as intensely as possible a scene, a person, an idea, that has been important to me, and I try to communicate this by calling on all that poetry makes possible. I try very hard to overcome the threatening reputation this genre so unfairly has acquired.

What makes me happy is when someone reads my work and says: “I’ve never read poetry, but you know, I could understand that. It really didn’t seem like poetry.”

I like to think my Dad would have felt the same. And I’m intrigued by the realization that many of the important ethical lessons he taught me I recall easily because they are expressed in poetry.

This blogpost was also published on Australasian Christian Writers.

Meet Valerie Volk:

As a seven-year-old I wrote embarrassingly bad fairy stories. Now, many decades later, I’m still writing  ... but I hope there’s been improvement. In between, there have been years as an academic, a researcher and an education program director in three Australian states –  but at last I’m a full-time writer with awards for both poems and short stories, which are to be found in journals, anthologies and magazines.

My first published collection, In Due Season, won the national Omega Writers CALEB Poetry Prize in 2010. The following year produced A Promise of Peaches, a verse novel, (Ginninderra Press), while my third book, Even Grimmer Tales, (Interactive Publications) is a dark and wickedly funny modern take on Grimms Tales, but, as the sub-title warns, definitely ‘not for the faint-hearted.’ My fourth book, Passion Play, an extended verse novel (Wakefield Press), is a modern reincarnation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, with the medieval pilgrims replaced by twenty-first century characters travelling to the famous Passion Play at Oberammergau. Next came two shorter collections of verse, Flowers & Forebears and Indochina Days, while 2015 brought a Biblical fiction prose work, Bystanders, (Wakefield Press) and 2017 will launch Of Llamas and Piranhas, South American poems.

My main interests, apart from writing, are reading (especially crime fiction), film and theatre going, music, and food - both cooking and (as a lover of good restaurants) eating. I’m an enthusiastic traveller, especially overseas, but my focus is always the writer’s first question: What if ...?

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