Monday, 31 August 2020

Should the Pandemic Shape the Settings of Our Novels?

Photos courtesy of Pille-Riin Priske on Unsplash

One of the dilemmas authors face if we write contemporary fiction or begin our speculative stories in a present-day setting, is whether or not we should refer to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

I’m developing a couple of novels at the moment. I’ve been working forever on a way-too-complex time travel romantic thriller and I’ve recently started playing with an idea for a contemporary, amateur sleuth mystery series. My plan is to do the back-end work on both and run with whichever idea takes over. My problem is that both stories begin in the ‘present day’. 

Do I acknowledge the pandemic or not?

There are different thoughts on this. 

I read on one forum that Amazon was taking down books that were focused on Covid-19. I tried to find evidence of this on Amazon's website but I couldn't find any prohibitions. In the early days of the pandemic Amazon was flooded with a wide range of dubious products claiming to cure the virus, which they subsequently took down from sale. They have also removed some nonfiction books of dubious merit, some of which have been reinstated. 

I honestly don't see how they could object to the pandemic acting as a backdrop to contemporary fiction but their bots do odd things at times. Mind you, I recently had a seasoned reviewer friend say they had a review removed from Amazon and the only reason they could think of was that they mentioned the lockdown in the review. 

Bottom line: If you have a book in mind and you are not sure if the theme is okay then I'd contact Amazon directly and check.

A stronger reason to avoid referencing the pandemic in our fiction is because people often want to escape life's problems when they read. I think it would depend on the reader and the level of realism they crave, but lighter reads have done well since the pandemic began.

I think that my friends who write fantasy are in a good position as they don't have to choose. Werewolves don't get Covid... although they could conceivably get parvo. Hey, there's a plot idea! 

But I digress. After thinking this through I decided to leave out any mention of Covid from my books. It seemed much simpler to ignore the mess the world was in and have fun in my writing bubble. 

But then I saw this two-star review posted on another forum. 

It makes me giggle – and groan – every time I read it.

My favourite line: 

The author apparently wrote the book before the pandemic and made the assumption that summer 2020 would be just like other summers…

I mean really, what a terrible author. I know many writers are brilliant creative people but this one missed it, right? If they wrote a book in 2018 or 2019 why wouldn’t they know life would be totally disrupted in 2020? Fancy not being able to predict that a global pandemic would disrupt the world at some future date. Epic fail!

In truth this is both hilarious and sad. Funny that someone would blame an author for not being able to predict the future, and disappointing that this two-star rating could affect the author’s ability to sell their book in the future.

Crazy, huh?

Did you see that 19 people thought the review was helpful?

All groans aside, it did make me realise that some people can’t see past the current world circumstances. The impact of Covid-19 on the psyche of some folk is so profound that they can’t embrace an imaginary world that doesn’t acknowledge the virus. 

The question is, what do we do about this?

  • When we are writing new books
  • When we’ve already written a book that refers specifically to 2020
  • When we get an irrational review like this

If we have a work in progress we might: 

  • Continue to set the book in the present but include a forward note explaining why we left Covid-19 out of the story
  • Set the book in a specific year – say 2019
  • Do nothing - refuse to waste our energy on the minority that might not ‘get’ our work

If we’ve already published a book that mentions 2020, we could try similar things:

  • Rewrite the whole book (Noooooo!)
  • Change the dates in the book to less contentious ones 
  • Including a forward note as above
  • However most traditional publishers would be unlikely to re-format books and put out a second edition unless there was a very good reason
  • Do nothing

If we get a review that shows *cough* a lack of insight like this one, all the conventional wisdom says: Do. Not. Reply. I guess it’s an opportunity to further develop the thick skin we need as authors (as if we don’t have enough of those opportunities 😆). 

So back to my novels. I think I’m going to stick with my original plan to exclude the pandemic from my stories. The forward note idea sounds good to me, but I’d love to hear what you think. Is this a good plan?

How are you approaching writing contemporary settings in 2020?
Have you ever received a crazy review like this? I'd love to hear what it said 😎. 
What would you do if you received a review like this? 

Susan J Bruce, aka Sue Jeffrey, spent her childhood reading, drawing, and collecting stray animals. Now she’s grown up, she does the same kinds of things. Susan has worked for many years as a veterinarian, and writes stories of suspense, love and overcoming for all ages - usually with animal cameos. Susan also loves to paint animals. Susan won the ‘Short’ section of the inaugural Stories of Life writing competition and won the 'Unpublished Manuscript' section of the 2018 Caleb prize. Susan is the editor of 'If They Could Talk: Bible Stories Told By the Animals' (Morning Star Publishing) and her stories and poems have appeared in multiple anthologies. Her e-book, 'Ruthless The Killer: A Short Story' is available on You can check out some of Susan’s art work on her website .

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Behind the Scenes: Scattered by Nola Lorraine

 Today we go 'behind the scenes' as Jeanette (Jenny) O'Hagan interviews Nola Lorraine (aka Nola Passmore) about her upcoming release of her debut novel, Scattered.

Jenny: Congratulations on your upcoming release, Nola. What inspired you to write your debut novel ‘Scattered’?


Nola: Thanks Jenny. The novel has been a long time coming. I first got the idea when my husband Tim and I visited the Canadian Maritimes in 2012. I heard about Sable Island, which is famous for its colony of wild horses. It’s about 300 km from Halifax and is known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic because more than 350 ships have been wrecked on its shores. Then when we went to Prince Edward Island, we came across a sign dedicated to John Willoughby, a volunteer at Avonlea Village who had helped many descendants of the British Home Children reunite with their families. I’d never heard of the Home Children, but I later discovered they were part of a migrant program that sent poor and orphaned children from Britain to Canada from the 1860s through to about 1930. The seeds of my novel had been planted. My heroine Maggie is on her way to Halifax to search for her brother and sister who had mistakenly been sent to Canada, but she’s shipwrecked on Sable Island and develops a special relationship with one of the horses. It took several years to get the rest of the plot in place, but I had my beginning.



Jenny: Tell us about the main character, Maggie. What drives her? What keeps her going despite the obstacles in her way?


Nola: Maggie is a 19-year-old Englishwoman who had been working abroad when her mother died. She has already lost her father and a brother, so when she discovers her two younger siblings have been sent to Canada, she’s desperate to find them. For a long time, I thought her love of family was enough to drive her search. As I got to know her better, I learned that there were also some deeper issues of abandonment that she had to deal with before she could move forward. A lot of obstacles are thrown at her, but her faith keeps her going, as well as the love and support of a dashing newspaper reporter and her new Canadian friends. If she has a flaw, it’s that she can be impulsive in her desire to speed things up, and that sometimes causes her problems.


Jenny: You’ve written an impressive number of poetry, short fiction and non-fiction pieces. How is writing a novel different?


There are some obvious things of course, like the length and complexity. However, I think one of the main things is the perseverance you need to complete a novel. I set myself a difficult task by writing an historical novel set in 1882 in a different country. I knew it would involve research, so I started by reading books on Sable Island and the Home Children. However, I was amazed at how many little things I had to find out to make it authentic. For example, it’s wasn’t enough to know that the telephone was introduced into Canada in 1880. I had to know what types of people would have had some of the earliest phones and how long it took for phonelines to be laid in different areas. The research was never-ending. Then there were the rewrites, some of which involved taking out huge chunks of the plot and totally rethinking some scenes and chapters. If I’d known how much work would be involved, I may not have started. But I have a very supportive husband and writing group who kept me going. I also prayed a lot about the trickier aspects and there were many times when I felt God gave me insights as to how to proceed.


Jenny: What do you know now about the craft and business of writing that you didn’t when you started?


Nola: This book has been a seven-year journey, so I now know about a hundred things I didn’t know before – LOL. I think one of the biggest ones is that it’s so important to have a good plot before you start tinkering with the prose too much. When I started, I had a general idea of where the story was headed, but it changed so much as I went along. Some of my most beautiful, gut-wrenching scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor because they didn’t fit the evolving plot. A lot of craft books and workshops will teach you the ‘how-to’ of creative writing (e.g., show-don’t-tell; snappy dialogue; good imagery), and all of that is important. However, if you don’t have a good story, you could end up with beautifully written rubbish. So my advice would be to work hard on your story, then polish it up.


You also really need to be thinking about marketing well before you finish your book. I highly recommend Iola Goulton’s Kick-Start Your Author Platform ( ) online course. It’s a great way to get you started.


Jenny: Now you’ve finished your first novel, what plans do you have for the next one?


Nola: I’m in the early stages of plotting the second novel. It will be set in 1896 in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, and features one of the characters who was a child in the first novel. I can’t say more due to spoilers. (Wink wink!) I’m also working on a small devotional book and have been blogging some of the material for that on my website.


Thanks for chatting with me today, Jenny. It’s been fun.

Jenny: Thanks for giving us a peek behind the scenes, Nola. I'm looking forward to reading Scattered and the sequel. 

Nola Lorraine (aka Nola Passmore) has had more than 150 short pieces published, including poetry, devotions, inspirational articles, true stories, short fiction and academic articles. Her debut novel Scattered is being published by Breath of Fresh Air Press ( and is due for release on 20 October 2020. She also co-edited the Glimpses of Light charity anthology with Jeanette O’Hagan. 

When she’s not engrossed in her own writing, she’s helping other writers through The Write Flourish, a freelance editing business she runs with her husband Tim. She is passionate about faith and social justice issues, and loves weaving words of courage and hope. She would love to connect with you through her website and social media platforms.


Author Website:

Editing Website:   





Scattered is currently available for pre-order from Amazon, Koorong, Breath of Fresh Air Press and Book Depository.


Monday, 24 August 2020

The Schemes of an Edwardian Coquette: Planning Your Main Female Character

Rita Stella Galieh

Planning your main female character

It’s always a good idea to know your protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses, both male and female. I have always planned likeable characters. Of course they have flaws and make stupid mistakes, but just enough to make the reader cheer them through difficult situations.

This time I thought I’d like the challenge of writing a novel about a character very much like Scarlett O’Hara, the Southern Belle lead from Gone With The Wind. The girl is a selfish, hardhearted schemer through and through. But she is INTERESTING! And she keeps you waiting to see what her comeuppance will be. And that’s right throughout the story.

If you’re writing a Christian Romance, a HEA (happy ever after) ending is expected. Now with such an unlikable girl, that presents a major challenge. Regency author, Carolyn Miller has such a flawed secondary character in one novel then follows up with the same girl being the lead in her next. This is a clever way of tackling the problem.

Just for a fun exercise I’ve written the following cameo (which I won’t be using) with some questions to see what some of you romance writers might come up with.

The Schemes of an Edwardian Coquette.

According to my Papa I am spoiled. He doesn’t understand. Just because I attended an elite college for young ladies and have my own personal maid, he expects gratitude. But he’s so wealthy it’s likely it doesn’t even a cause dent in his bank account.

I know I am like Mama. When I accompany her shopping, I always end up with one new outfit to her three. That is, including all the accessories Ladies must set themselves apart from commoners by their wardrobes and I agree. I shouldn’t ever like to look like a maid or a shop girl. Though some do have a flair in making the best of their wages. No one could ever believe our clothes are shop bought. Our designer, Pierre, has a special knack with fresh creations. I mean just imagine coming across another lady wearing the same apparel!

Tomorrow I am to join a house party and meet our crowd at the Beaumont’s. Their grounds are large enough for a full sized croquet court. Their lawns are so smooth and even the balls go straight for the hoops when hit with our mallets. I adore this game as I always attract help from young gentlemen showing me how to correctly hit the ball. It’s rather exciting to have young men in such proximity, I can catch a whiff of their shaving cream. And I know this irritates the other girls as I never fail to garner attention from Rupert, Edwin, Alasdair and Albert. Of course none of them quite meet my expectations as Mama says I must catch a wealthy man if I am to continue living the way in which I am accustomed. But I will never marry a domineering man like Papa. I shall only choose one who adores the ground I walk on and shall allow me everything my heart desires. Most of all he should possess his own flashy new roadster and be able to drive it himself. I should love the see the looks on my friends’ faces as we drive by with my scarf trailing in the breeze.

I am quite accomplished. I play pianoforte, I am told I possess a nice soprano voice, I employ pathos and humour in my recitations, and I can converse with ease no matter the gender So when I am presented before our new Queen Alexandra next year, I shall be a great success. Mama says it will be here that I should find my future husband as this is where fine society gentlemen eye all the possibilities. I have practised my eyelash flutters and thanks to Mama’s advice, I can sum up an immediate blush by thinking of my dance partner in his pyjamas. Of course I practise my fan signals of which most young men are familiar. Oh yes, I will be very well prepared for my Coming Out.


  • If you were writing this, how would you plan to change this little egotist’s outlook, ie. to change her from an unlikable to a nice girl?
  • Maybe something happens to shake up her comfortable life?
  • Maybe she comes across an attractive man who will question her outlook?

There are many possibilities and I’d be interested to see what you come up with in a sentence or two. And if this gets your muse working, you may very well begin your own Romance whether it be historical or contemporary.

Indie Publisher, Rita Stella Galieh, has written a trilogy of historical romance novels & has also contributed to several US anthologies. She is now completing a second Historical Romance series set in the Edwardian Era. She can be found on Facebook and  

Rita studied art at the National Art School then joined the family ceramics studio. After their marriage, she and her husband attended Emmaus Bible College, and lived in the US for two years. She has co-presented Vantage Point, an Australia-wide five minute Christian FM radio program. She enjoys giving her fun-filled presentations of Etiquette of the Victorian Era in costume but if her next series gets published she’ll need to change her presentation.

Everything can change in a heartbeat...
Victoriana Series: Signed Sealed Delivered; The Tie That Binds; A Parcel of Promises.

Monday, 17 August 2020

Omega Writers | Four Ways to Consider Feedback

By Iola Goulton

Omega Writers have recently announced the finalists in the 2020 CALEB Award. The finalists had a week to revise their entries based on the first-round feedback, and submit their full manuscript. These are now with the final-round judges, and we will announce the winners in October.

Those who didn't final will also receive the feedback on their entries in the next two days. (If you don't, please contact me at caleb [at] omegawriters [dot] org, just in case your email provider has decided to mark the message as spam.)

I got a few questions when I sent the feedback to the finalists, so thought I'd use today's post to address contest feedback, based on my experience as a contest entrant, judge, and organiser, and my background as a fiction editor.

Feedback isn't always consistent. Most contests have multiple first-round judges, and those judges aren't always going to agree with each other. Some feedback will make sense. Some won't. How do you decide which feedback to use and which to ignore?

Here are four questions to ask:

1. Is the feedback consistent?

If three out of three judges commented on an issue, it's probably something to consider changing. If one judge out of three commented, then it might be something you can ignore.

2. Is the feedback about an error of fact?

Did you write "Jesus's" and the judge corrected it to "Jesus'" (or vice versa)? Did they change your punctuation, or correct a fact? If so, they might be right ... but they might not. If the judge cited a source for their change, then check the source and make the change if appropriate.

However, most judges don't cite sources: they're judges, not editors. In this case, check for yourself in the appropriate dictionary or style guide. Hire an editor. But don't stress too much about these kinds of mistakes. An agent or publisher will overlook minor style errors if you have a compelling plot and interesting characters.

3. Is the feedback expressing an opinion on writing craft?

This is a little more subjective. Has the judge misunderstood your writing? Is that because you didn't make something clear? If so, how can you revise your writing so a future agent or publisher or reader won't misunderstand?

Or is there an issue of writing craft you need to work on? For example, some novels are written in omniscient point of view. But it's hard to write omniscient well—it often reads more like third person with headhopping.

4. Is the feedback addressing a fundamental plot or character issue?

Plot and character are the fundamentals of a great story. Readers (and judges) need to understand what your main character wants and why. If we don't understand those fundamentals, we're not going to buy into the central conflict of the story, the "why".

For example, does it make sense that your cash-strapped main character gives up a good paycheck in a job she loves to live with her in-laws and homeschool while her husband runs the family farm? Not to me ... unless you can give a compelling reason for the character to give up a well-paying job that will provide much-needed cash for the family coffers. For example, maybe the closest hospital is a two-hour drive from the farm. That would work. But there needs to be an obvious and compelling reason.

But it might be that the judge simply didn't "get" your character or their situation. In that case, it's fine to ignore the feedback. At the end of the day, it's your story and you have to follow your own vision.

Above all, don't let the feedback discourage you. Judges give feedback to help, so accept the feedback on that basis.

And if you want some more tips on dealing with feedback from a writing contest (or agent or editor), then click here to check out my post at Australasian Christian Writers.

Monday, 10 August 2020

The Hover Manoeuvre
As writers, our pens and keyboards are our mouthpieces, and just as ‘death and life are in the power of the tongue’ (Proverbs 18:21), so too are death and life in the power of everything we scribble or tap out, often with little thought.

It seems to me that social media encourages some fairly loose tongues to be converted to some equally destructive words on the screen. The effect is often instant and, once out there in cyber-space, it’s hard to take those words back or pretend the comment was never made. A quick search through someone’s social media posts can reveal much about a person’s attitudes. It’s a snapshot of the soul. And that should give us pause for thought.



It should also keep our fingers hovering above the keyboard until we’ve thought through our reactive responses. It’s so much easier to blurt out an indignant comeback when we’re not up close and personal with our alleged adversaries. Anonymity gives us false security and an overinflated sense of our own outrage and courage. Keyboard warriors abound and sadly, Christians are not exempt.   

In the current state of a country (indeed, a world) under significant stress, I am witnessing more and more people being attacked over their differing political and social views. Disagreement is fine. Judgement is not. Ridicule is not. Insults and put downs are definitely a no-go area, and unfounded accusations and outright abuse are serious boundary transgressions. They hurt! Scripture is extremely clear on this point.

James 1:26 speaks out strongly!

‘If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.’


 Proverbs 15:1 makes our responsibility clearer still.

‘A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.’


Does it mean we need to be silent on important issues? Not at all.

Anger, in and of itself, is not sin. The way we express it, however, can be, and too often is. I wish I could say I’m not guilty of this particular transgression but I am. I confess I’m extremely frustrated with people posting about their inalienable rights to not wear a mask, use social distancing and hand sanitizer, and to flout the gathering size regulations, all requirements that have entered our reality since the advent of COVID19. If you could only hear the words buffeting around inside my head as I hover my hands over the keyboard, you might be a little shocked.

Ten years ago, I’d have ‘let rip’. And, shamefully, I may even have been proud of it, as difficult as it is to admit. These days I hover (mostly) and if, as I wrestle with myself, I can’t find a way to righteously express myself, I scroll on by. Not every post needs my questionable wisdom. It’s been a long and winding road, and one I see so many people, Christian or otherwise, struggle to navigate.

I’ve found the following Scripture from Romans 12:20 particularly reassuring. It strengthens my resolve.

‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’


What if we witness a brother or sister mocking, judging or belittling someone who holds different views, on social media?

Galatians 6:1, directs us as follows:

‘Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.’

It’s not easy to find the right balance and sometimes, no matter which approach we use, it will fall on deaf ears and the online abuse will continue. What to do then? It seems harsh, but here it is.

Proverbs 22:10:

‘Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarrelling and abuse will cease.’

Clearly, when push comes to shove, abuse is not to be tolerated.  Do your best and if all else fails, hit that ‘unfriend’ button and reclaim your peace. But don’t forget to hover first. We might later regret a hasty decision and it will certainly be awkward to explain. Tricky, isn’t it?

Happy hovering!

Melinda Jensen


Melinda Jensen has blogged extensively on emotional and psychological abuse and is currently enjoying a sea change from writing fiction to writing non-fiction, self-development books. Who'd have thought? A keen student of human nature, she's had articles, short stories and poetry published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and journals, having juggled single-motherhood and chronic illness for about 25 years. She's still almost sane and definitely has a heart for God and a yearning to bring a couple of books to fruition this year. Apart from that, she's besotted with cats, makes jolly good fudge and is living her dream on an acre and a half of beautiful soil bordering rainforest. On that note, she’s extremely passionate about the natural environment God has gifted us all with.