A Novel Idea

Unless you are lucky enough to write in a state of peace and quiet, cocooned from the noises of city life in a far away beach or mountain retreat, you probably take some time to switch gears into writing mode. Music – of a specific variety – helps invite the Muse into your mind.

I want to share some pieces that I have found particularly inspiring.

Music has a number of functions for the writer:

1. Music stimulates your synapses.

2. Music sets the mood: for the writer to create and for certain stories to emerge.

3. Music can give you access to a character’s perspective (and their ‘voice’) quickly.

4. Music delivered through good quality headphones can block out external noise.

Have you found other uses for music in your writing life?

The Muse Calliope by Augustin Pajou, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Surely she’s a sucker for a symphony.

Here is a glimpse of the play lists I use for each function above:

‘Get the brain working’ play list:

– Jane Rutter’s ‘Apasionada: Spanish and Exotic Pieces for Flute’ (I’m listening to it as I write this).

– Handel’s Largos

– Brahms’ Symphony No.4

If classical just won’t cut it, try jolting your brain with Daft Punk’s ‘Around the World/ Harder Better Faster Stronger’ from Alive 2007.

‘Doing my writing thing’ play list:

I find music with lyrics almost impossibly distracting. I start singing instead of writing. While I have been inspired by the words of a song before, I tend to listen to instrumental music if I’m actually writing.

Classical! I hear you say – that has no words. 

Have you considered movie sound tracks? A lot of them include mood pieces which are perfect for writing along to.

Some of my favourites:

– Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard’s ‘Gladiator’ sound track

– James Horner’s ‘Braveheart’ sound track

– Randy Edelman’s ‘Tomb of the Dragon Emperor’ soundtrack (I kid you not) 

Character play list:

How well do you know your own characters? If they had control of your stereo or mp3 player, what would be pumping out?

At the danger of appearing nutty, here’s what one of my characters loves to listen to. Can you guess their kind from their musical choices?

– Good Charlotte’s ‘Misery’

– Santanna and Dido’s ‘Feels like Fire’

– Missy Higgin’s ‘Steer’

Do you have a set of songs or artists that you write by?

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

I have a lot to be thankful for. I have my health, I am much happier now that I’m writing full time in a bid to become an author, and wealth, well, that will come.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how good my run of teachers has been in life. In particular, I am grateful for the supervision of my senior high school English teacher. She made me feel special and she encouraged my love of literature.

I recently came across the card she gave me after I had just received the results of my final year.

The outside front cover is a reproduction of Renoir’s ‘A Young Girl’. On the inside, in a script that I had come to love reading (her essay comments were copious), is written:

Congratulations on your triumph …

All your talent, determination and spirit have been rewarded…

I feel it has been a privilege to teach you over the past three years. I know your journey in life will take you many places, and it makes me very happy to know our paths have crossed.

Picture: ‘A Young Girl’ by Pierre Auguste Renoir

I thanked her at the time, but that was the thanks of the young and inexperienced. I knew I was lucky to have her, but it was not until many years later that I realised how significant she had been in fostering my confidence.

I have thought of her often.

I have entertained contacting her – to send her a note of thanks – but something has stopped me.

I felt I had to wait until I was an undisputed, well-known, raving success.

Would she want to hear from someone who had not yet ‘made it’?

Well, I hope so, because I’ve decided to write her. But first I have to track her down!

Are there people who have helped you on your journey? Do they know how grateful you are for their kindness?

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

This morning I woke fired up. Well that’s not strictly true, I woke up slowly (having enjoyed a lovely glass or two of red with my partner last night). But once cognition kicked in, I felt marvellous. Why? Because today is a day of writing for me.

I’m studying and writing my first novel this year. Last week saw the final essay of the semester submitted, so I’m a free woman.

I may not be earning an income right now, but I’m learning my trade.

After the rounds of breakfast, bathing, news and email the day was clear.

A lot of published authors caution ‘Don’t give up your day job’, and while I am cautious in some respects, I knew this advice didn’t fit me. In my early posts I talked about trying to string sentences together in the wee hours before and after a demanding day of work. It was driving me nuts. Like someone only letting you eat one M&M a day. I want a bulging handful – if not the whole packet!

So I’m sitting at my computer this morning with a mission. My novel draft is resting till next week. This week I have decided to write one short story every day and then submit them all to competitions or for publication.

Working away and then BRRR, BRRR, BRRR as my phone almost vibrates off the shelf. I’ve blogged before about my strict no interruptions policy. But it’s my Dad. I’m always going to take his call. It must be urgent – he knows the policy. I just saw him a couple of days ago so he couldn’t be missing me already surely?

Everything OK?

Yes, just wanted to talk to my darling.

Thanks Dad, but I’m just in the middle of writing…

That’s good dear … [tells me about painting the house, mangoes are in season, but does not pick up on the not so subtle nod towards THE NO INTERRUPTIONS UNLESS IT’S URGENT & IMPORTANT POLICY]

…Dad – can I call you later, I’m midstream on my writing. This is my work day remember.

On that darling. I was thinking. Maybe you should get a part-time job.


Just part-time-

We’ve discussed this. The whole point of me quitting my job was so I could finally write my novel.

Yes, but a job would get you out and about…

(I back out of the conversation – We’ll discuss this later – tell him I love him – which I of course do – but I’m irritated)

Whenever I find myself less than angelic towards either of my parents I always feel quite guilty. They love me and have supported me and almost always been 100% behind what I wanted to be or do.

I felt irritated that my perfect writing mind had been jolted into a reminder of how hard things are financially. I felt irritated that six months into this escapade it sounds like my father is losing his nerve with respect to his daughter’s ability to eventually turn a profit from her new career.

I know he is only ever well intentioned towards me.

I don’t think anyone but other writers can understand how dark and desperate some moments are in that pre-published stage.

I stomp on the little voice that whispers doubts.

I turn up the volume on anything that makes me feel a little closer to my goal.

I have to.

There is only one thing worse than failing and that is not daring in the first place.

How do you cope with the good intentioned opinions of others?

Excuse me – I have a short story to create…

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

I went to a funeral today. Way to make you not want to keep reading. I avoid pain and sadness too. Sadly the beautiful lady who is lost to us except in memory, could not.

I have been crying on and off since she departed on Sunday. And there were many closer to her than I was.

She was a gentle woman who never had a cross word with anyone (yes they do exist). She helped so many people in her life – materially and immaterially.

Just a few months ago she sent me her delicious chilli con carne (having heard that my grandmother was visiting me later that day). She was at home, ravaged by breast cancer, yet still thinking of others.

We thought she would get better. We were wrong.

She loved God, People, Poetry, Stained Glass and Life.

We love her still.


by Robert Louis Stevenson

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:UN_Glass.jpg

Today is Melbourne Cup day, known in Australia as the horse race ‘that stops the nation’. This prestigious race is a long one – similar to the Ascot Gold Cup, the Gold Cup at York, or the Prix Du Cadran in France. Racing has a lot in common with publishing. Both are pursuits that draw crowds for the short-lived public performance but involve a lot of hard work in the much longer lead up.

I set out on a personal challenge to be published within a year six months ago. I, like many of the horses competing today, have travelled a long way to get trackside. I’m not getting pre-race jitters, but I am starting to see that the finish line may be much further away than I first anticipated.

Pictured: Sub-zero, the 1992 winner (about the time I started watching every cup race).

Image courtesy of http://www.news.com.au/national/melbourne-cup-winner-subzero-facing-customs-red-tape-death-sentence/story-e6frfkvr-1225784048987

The recorded fastest time to date for a Melbourne Cup winner was Kingston Rule with a time of 3.16.30 back in 1990.

Thinking about racing and more specifically, racing preparation has coincided with my decision to modify my original goal. I’ve come to realize that most books take a year to print even once the writer has delivered the drafted manuscript. Without self-publishing, or already having a polished manuscript up my sleeve, it is totally unrealistic to think (without even a contract) I could pull off zero to published in one short year.

I’ve been trying to gallop whereas my current form dictates I should ease into a canter.

I still think it is crucial to set goals (ones that stretch rather than knacker you). Here’s the new goal:

I will publish my first novel by midnight 19 April, 2013. [within 3 years of setting the first word of the novel down]

And, to make this first year really count, by midnight 19 April, 2011, I will send the latest draft of the novel TO A PUBLISHER.

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

Happy Halloween world! My treat to you: some recommendations on scary short stories. Read on…

Everyone needs a good (little) scare now and then – just to get the blood pumping. A nice safe scare is to be had for all ages in a ghoulish tale.

I’ll declare right now, I’m not super keen on horror, although dark fantasy I can cope with. I’ve read some Steven King, no Dean Koontz. But as a fourth or fifth grader I became hooked on what seemed at the time to be some very scary stories.

Do you like to read spooky stuff?

Neil Gaiman recently floated the idea of giving a book on Halloween. He’s calling it ‘All Hallow’s Read’: http://www.allhallowsread.com/

It made me recall those books that so captured my young imagination momentarily. I’m talking R.L. Stine and Richie Tankersley Cusick.

Here are two I remember vividly (the covers not the story lines):

Images courtesy of http://richietankersleycusick.com/

While I don’t seek out terrifying tales anymore, they do creep into my reading. If you are in the mood to be utterly freaked out, try these:

The Sandman by E.T.A Hoffmann

The Story of the Demoniac Pacheco by Jan Potocki

Note: both can be found in Fantastic Tales edited by Italo Calvino

Read well. Read often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

This week has witnessed the six month mark in my first full time year of writing. To celebrate, I want to dispel some of the myths that cloud a beginning writer’s mind, starting with what I call the ‘Early Promise’ theory.

I recently attended a talk by a newly published author. She essentially PowerPointed her way through her writing journey, but I’ll try not to hold that against her. At one point in her presentation she flashed up a scan of a child’s handwriting. Turns out this was a story she wrote when she was little. She read it out to us.

It seemed unremarkable to me, but to her it signalled that she was always destined to be writer. That worried me in some way, but she moved on to her next slide and then finished. The audience clapped courteously. I took a welcome sip of tea (I’m a bit old school in that I think courtesy dictates you listen to the speaker not continue to hoe through the refreshments).

That was a few weeks ago now.

But I’d heard that claim before – the ‘look – even as a child I showed promise’.

In a much more entertaining use, a minor celebrity here in Australia used her six year old self’s ‘Pony Novel’, as a prop in a very funny charity speech earlier this year. Her point was more ‘look – I’ve always enjoyed this writing game’ rather than ‘Hemmingway eat your heart out’.

At a conference this year, I heard a writer for Young Adults read the first page of his self-declared ‘dreadful’ first novel. His point: ‘look how much I’ve improved’.

I too have fallen for the allure of the ‘Early Promise’ theory. My mother loves to crow on about how I was constructing full sentences before I was two and how I had a university graduate’s vocabulary at age 13.

I am however keenly aware that I was not a child prodigy. Clever: yes, Genius: no.  

Flashes of brilliance – sure. But if I’m honest, I spent my childhood BEING A CHILD.

I am grateful that my parents’ glowing view of their daughter meant that they saved artwork and stories. I read some of them recently. Some truly inspired ideas jumbled up with interesting spelling and at times a flagrant disregard for punctuation. Some things don’t change terribly…

Here’s a rather ordinary attempt at a poem for example:

A witch is black.

She is winter.

A forest.

She is lighting.

An old black piano

She is a tv horra.

Some moldly bread.

Clearly I meant ‘lightning’ rather than ‘lighting’ and so on. I’ve preserved original spelling as one must not mess with the author’s intentions…

I could have shown you much better examples that could be useful in a narrative of how I have always been a talented writer, but that would be disingenuous.

A spark, does not a bushfire make.

Persistence polishes a knack for something into shining talent. I’m of the view that it’s never too late to start something and become great at it.

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.


It’s been a long time between posts.

When I first started this blog I was bubbling over with enthusiasm. It felt like such a luxury to have entire days to myself just to write.

I could measure my progress as the word count stacked up like poker chips. I felt like a professional.

That was before I decided to increase my subject load at university. I’ve gone from four full days of writing time to one. I feel like someone’s stolen all my chips in a move I should have seen coming.

There are just a few weeks (and multiple essays) between me and five glorious days of writing a week. I’m starting to feel excited again.

Not that I haven’t made any progress with my day a week this semester. But it’s been progress of a different kind – not measurable in word count or chapters or drafts.

I’ve attended courses, conferences and networked with real live authors – more on this in subsequent blogs.

I’ve been avoiding blogging because I’ve felt unless I’m making steady (measurable) progress towards that final draft, I’ve nothing to share.

How do you measure your progress?


Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TapeMeasure.jpg

With my self imposed deadline just around the corner of the next year, and with all I’ve learnt about the publishing game in the last few months, I’m starting to reconsider measurement.

I want to carve out a career as an author more than ever. I have faith in the value of my stories. I just need to stay focused on my creative health and trust that all else will fall into place. 

Write well. Write often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

If my library of books shared any of its owner’s innate impatience, I’d have a riot on my hands.

That book I bought last year in my King Arthur phase would be commanding READ ME, the slender champagne history would be sashaying onto someone else’s shelf and that great Australian novel would have galloped off into the outback.

I acquire books faster than I can read them. Much faster.

What do you consider a reasonable number of books to own?

As we are only three months away from year end, I thought I’d take stock. How much have I read this year?

Actually, this post was inspired by a less organised mentality. After mopping the floors today (yuck – I’m only doing it because we have our third dinner guest of the year this weekend – entertaining takes a nose dive on one income), I was horrified at the amount of dust gathering on my precious books. That led to a bookshelf tidy, which led to a desire to tally my reading achievements this year to date.

Novels READ: 10 (including 3 borrowed)

Novels reread: 1

Novels STARTED but NOT FINISHED: 13 (which I estimate equates to 5 novels read judging by thickness)

Total Novels READ: 16

Total short stories READ: Countless (20+)

Total Academic essays, Non-fiction and trade magazines READ: Countless (50+)

Total Picture Books READ: 4 (including 1 reread of an old favourite) 

That’s a lot of reading! I’m not even counting workshopping other writer’s work, the Saturday paper or online reading.

Before you pat me on the back, consider this.

Novels UNREAD and bought this year: 15 (clearly I think I can read novels twice as fast as I actually can)

Short story collections UNREAD and bought this year: 10

Nonfiction UNREAD and bought this year: 1

Here are some books which have been waiting years for me to get to:

I am grateful for the patience of pages. No person would put up with being ignored for so long.

How much have you read this year?

Read well. Read often.


(C) Copyright of the author. 2010.

  • In: Polls
  • Comments Off on Poll: Henry James Favourite Novel

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  • Violet: Thanks Alannah :) Apologies for not replying sooner: I'm finally catching my breath and the year is almost over!
  • Alannah Murphy: I remember your first post, way back when I had my old Here Be Dragons blog, and I am glad you are still writing. We all find out, sooner or later, ho
  • Violet: Good to hear that Aaron. Good Luck with your work.