Monday, November 29, 2010


Earlier this afternoon I pushed my word count to 50,211 words. So with a days grace I have completed the NaNoWriMo challenge.

My desk were it all happened.
What a month it has been. There were days when I thought I'd never make it and days where I soared through it. But in the end I made it.

I still have about three chapters to write for the story to be complete. I'll finish that tomorrow. Then I'm really looking forward to reading it. I knew if I glanced at it earlier my internal editor would get all excited and they'd be no hope of finishing the words.

So, book three of my trilogy is almost done and awaiting editing, along with book two. Still a lot of hard work ahead of me, but I'm dying to get stuck in.

On the home front, my daughter returned from Auckland with a whole pile of fabric scraps from her dressmaking Grandma. I envisage a good deal of sewing in the next week or so. And of course Christmas is almost upon us. So there's gifts to make and buy, cards to write and a house to decorate - although it needs a good clean first!

And somewhere amongst all that, I have promised myself to have the first draft of my first book printed  before Christmas. But right now I feel like I can achieve anything. After all I wrote 50000 words in a month!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The 24th day of Na No and it's hot and sunny in Dunedin.

Today I decided to get all domestic and wash the cushion covers on my two settees. While they were blowing in the breeze I vacuumed down around the edges of the settees. I hoped for money or forgotten possessions, but all I unearthed were paper clips, hair ties, bandaids and a boat load of dust.
At least I didn't have to use these to wash with. 

My daughter, who I home school, is spending a few days with her Grandma in Auckland, so I made the most of the freedom and spent the morning with a writing buddy. Then when I got home I attached myself to my seat and wrote 3000 words, which brings me back up to where I should be. I've had a hard few days, where the words just wouldn't come, but I'm back on track.

My story board that was covered with little yellow post-its is almost empty. I've covered two years and 21 post-its. There are nine left. The most exciting ones, containing the big climactic end.

In the last few days we've had: unusual weddings, strange goings on at the ranch, a meeting in a lawyers office and a quiet interlude between two lovers on the banks of Hell's Creek. The calm before the storm - maybe?

With only 9995 words to go before I hit the golden 50000, I'm feeling great.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


This morning I got up knowing that there was a whole day of various activities that the family were involved in. I also had yesterday's and today's words to write. (Yesterday being one of those days where nothing goes to plan.) So when I pulled back the curtains to a misty, rainy day, my heart soared.

All but one activity was cancelled due to the weather, so I spent most of it writing. I've almost caught up on my words with: surprise visits home at the ranch, a lover's spat, a marriage proposal and the beginning of a very important dialogue between two characters. Things are about to get very dramatic.

I have surprised myself at how much I can get written with NaNo, but the other surprise is that somehow I'm reading more too. As you will notice from the side bar I have just finished my sixth book for the month: THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd, which was a very good read. I watched the movie a year ago and enjoyed it immensely, but the book is even better.

Set in the 1960's in South Carolina, against a back drop of Black Civil Rights, the book tells the story of Lily. Her mother was shot accidentally when she was four and her father is a cruel, unloving man. All she has of her mother is a picture of a black Mary. A series of events leads her to run away and she finds  herself living in a flamingo pink house with black sisters May, June and August, and a statue of a black Mary.

What follows is a poignant story of love and forgiveness, sprinkled with humour. I've put the book back on my shelf knowing that I will return to it again and again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


In lots of places I had read that week two of NaNo was the hardest. Yep. I'd have to agree with that. Getting the minimum words out was like pulling the proverbial hen's teeth.

I went in to week three, a few hundred words behind and with bleak thoughts of tossing the whole thing in. Then came week three. I started with a whopping 3970 words on the first day and it's been plain sailing since.

I think the hardest thing is to put the internal editor away. I have to really push myself not to go back and fix that awkward sentence or check my notes for correct details etc. All that can wait until after I get these words down.There is a certain freedom in that kind of writing and when you get in the zone the words just pour out onto the page.

I'm enjoying meeting new characters and seeing the changes in old ones. Two characters are now married and happy, which made writing about them quite difficult, until I threw in a whole lot of conflict. (Rubs hands together in glee.)

Robert Leroy Parker aka Butch Cassidy
A new setting I'm using for this third book is the Wyoming State Penitentiary in Laramie. I've been doing some research on the prison and also found an excellent book that devotes a whole chapter to it. All helpful stuff. I've discovered that Butch Cassidy himself was a guest, not long after my character leaves.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, a baby is about to make an appearance and just who is that man riding on in?

Wyoming State Penitentiary in Laramie

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


This is a book, where I knew the title and had a smattering of an idea of what it was about. I'd heard of the movie, but wasn't sure if I'd ever seen it. I just knew that it stared Gregory Peck wearing glasses. Oh, and it was a classic that my son had loathed reading for English.

So I wasn't really expecting much. In fact I thought it might get returned to the library before I'd waded through it. Well, for all of you who have never read it, go out and get yourself a copy.

This is a superbly written gem of a story, about a girl in Alabama in the 1930s. Her name is Jean Louise Finch - Scout for short.

The book begins when Scout is six and finishes when she's eight. Scout, her older brother Jem and their friend Dill get up to all the usual childhood high jinks.

Boo Radley lives down the road, but no one has ever seen him. Scout wants to - just once, and the three friends come up with lots of daring adventures to bring him out of his house.

Atticus Finch, Scout's father, is a lawyer and he's called upon to defend Tom Robinson -  a black man. Atticus is a loving, wise and upright father and citizen, but he come's against the prejudice of the town when he stands up in court for Tom.

One could argue it's an age old story about prejudice, but there is a freshness to it, that held me spell bound. And Scout is a delightful character to read.

Two reviews on the back cover describe the story perfectly:

"A first novel of such rare excellence that it will no doubt make a great many readers slow down to relish more fully its simple distinction ... A novel of strong contemporary significance."  Chicago Tribune.

"Novelist Lee's prose has an edge that cuts through cant, and teaches the reader an astonishing number of useful truths about little girls and about Southern life." Time.


Saturday, November 13, 2010


I found this book quite but chance at the library. The title and cover intrigued me, so I gave it a go.

The two main character's are sister's, Alice and Lillian. The story opens with Lillian married to a missionary and sent off to India after a scandalous event. Alice remains at home with her father and numerous widow Aunts. To be honest I still haven't figured out how many there were.

The year is 1851 and in Victorian England, experiments, photography and the Empire are what concern most men, and Alice and Lillian's father is no different. He has amassed a huge collection of artifacts, both artistic and scientific from every nation and every era in history. There are twelve grandfather clocks at the bottom of the stairs and of course they chime in perfect unison. The conservatory is overgrown with every plant imaginable and it is quite normal to share a room with a nine foot stuffed grizzly, an electroplated statue of venus and a machine for peeling sixty apples simultaneously.

Both amusing and horrifying, the story moves between Victorian hypocrisy in England and the exotic yet brutal life in India. From the artificial limb that fires a pistol, to the flying machine catapulted from a huge rubber band, and from the Society for the Propagation of Useful and Interesting Knowledge to the vegetable growing Maharajah of Bhandarapur, this story pulls you along at a dizzying pace until the final climactic end.  

Thursday, November 11, 2010


About a month ago I blogged about the writing of a short story for a competition with the Dunedin Writer's Workshop. You can read about it here.

Last night at our final meeting for the year I was awarded Second Place. Yay!

Chris regained the trophy for First Place. (I'd been keeping it warm for him for the past year.) And Pen from over at The Dragon's Pen gained Third Place.

Here's my story:


Cold water dragged at my legs and pulled me down into the depths of the raging river. I grasped the bank.  Mud and pebbles slipped through my fingers. Water swallowed me and tore me away from the edge.  I kicked with my legs and surged up through the surface and gasped for air.
 The current grabbed me and flung me deeper. I thrashed out, desperate for air. The river held me in its icy grip. It took me deeper and smashed my legs against the rocky bed. Bubbles of air burst from between my lips. Terror ripped through me.   
A breath of water burnt my throat. I jerked towards the surface ...
 “Darling, please don’t go.” Jenny caught her lip between her teeth and a drop of moisture slipped from under her lashes. 
I took her chin in my fingers. “Nothing is going to happen to me. I’ll be back tomorrow with all our problems solved. I promise.” I kissed the tears from her cheek, knowing that when I returned I would taste her tears of thankfulness.
“Please.” She wrenched herself from my grasp and turned to our dresser. The top drawer screeched as she tugged it open and plucked out a velvet bag. “Take this.” The bag fitted into the palm of my hand. “And this.”  She yanked at the gold band on her finger. 
Her slender fingers wrapped around mine, her precious possessions enclosed in my fist. I would never sell her wedding ring, nor her mother’s jewellery. 
“It’ll give us enough to get by.” Her fingers trembled over mine.
I’d had enough of arguing. I was the one who had gotten us into this mess. I would be the one to save us.
I slipped her ring into the velvet bag and drew it closed, then tucked it into my waistcoat pocket. Tomorrow I would return them to her. “Its time I left.” I scooped her up into my arms, her slender bones fitting snugly against mine. I closed my eyes and pictured her on that very first day, so many miles and so many days from here. 
I left her at the door to our little shack and scrambled down hill, weaving between the outcrops of schist.  My breath turned to mist as I approached the churning Molyneux river and I shoved my hands deep into my pockets. Soon the sun would warm the land but for now it was held in the grip of a frost.
From the river’s edge, I looked back at Jenny. She forced a bright smile, but I could see the white handkerchief in her fist. I let out a deep sigh and wished there was a better way.
“I love you, darling,” she called as she stretched her arm above her head and the scrap of white cloth fluttered a farewell.
The track turned away from the river and wound its way through abandoned claims.  It dropped down into a shallow gully, littered with piles of dirt and rotten sluices, before it meandered up the side of a steep hill. 
I reached the summit and the sprawling tent town came into view. Smoke rose from the chimneys of the three stone buildings, while black smoke belched from smouldering camp fires. There were at least ten tents missing since my last visit and I wondered how long it would take for the town to disappear.
A gecko slithered over my boot and I watched it dart into the tussock.  I lifted my cap and dragged a hand through my hair. There was a job to do. With my cap back on my head, I set off down the hill. 
Outside Jonty’s store sat several miners, puffing on pipes or self made cigarettes. The clink of a whiskey bottle drew my eye to the man sitting on the end of the long bench. 
“Mac.” I stood beside him, staring out over the rutted street. “Joe about?”
He made a great show of clearing his throat, spat a wad of phlegm onto the mud at his feet then tapped his bottle against the knife strapped to his thigh. “Maybe.”
I fingered the coin in my pocket, I had better uses for it. It saw the light of day for a moment then disappeared into Mac’s shapeless coat.
“Ruby’ll tell ya.” He pointed with his chin to a row of tents.
The mud was thick and well trodden about her tent.  The hand painted sign nailed to her tent post swayed in the breeze. I stood for a moment at the entrance. It had been a long time since I’d frequented a dwelling of this nature. 
There were no sounds from inside and no place to knock. “Ruby?” I called while I worried the cap in my hands.
There was a groan and a shuffle and the flap was thrown back, exposing Ruby to day light. Striped stockings poked out below pantaloons that had once been white. A red corset kept the rest of her in check.
“What’d’ya want?” she scratched at her matted hair.
I cleared my throat. “Mac said you knew where to find Joe.” 
“Joe!” She ducked back inside the tent. “Somebody to see ya.”
A loud groan and some colourful cursing came from deep inside the dwelling.  Ruby shrieked then issued a long cackle. Joe’s head appeared, the canvas gripped tightly under his chin. He squinted at me with bleary eyes. 
My gut clenched at the sight of him and my fingers sought the shape of the knife hidden under my shirt.
“In the hotel. I’ll be there in a minute.” He disappeared behind the canvas and I let out a breath.
The bar consisted of planks of wood perched on top of barrels. There was no piano, no pictures and very few chairs. There was however an abundance of beer and whisky. I bought a beer which left a solitary penny to my name. Tomorrow, I’d be flush enough to drink whisky. 
I sat opposite the bar with my back to the wall. Even at this early hour there were six or seven men cradling bottles or glasses. The brown bottle felt warm and smooth. I crinkled the label under my thumb as I ran the plan through my head. It had to work. It was my last hope.
Next to my ribs I could feel the velvet pouch. Their sale wouldn’t bring as much as my plan. Any relief they bought, would be fleeting. I swallowed a gulp of beer. It hit my belly and rolled and I allowed myself to ask, what if? 
Jenny was waiting at home for a miracle. Last night’s memories came to me, bitter sweet. Stirring up desire, yet hammering home the need for action. 
The door swung open and Joe stepped in. His eyes scanned the room before he sidled over to my table. 
He leaned towards me as he sat on the only available chair. “You in then?”
Close up he smelt as ugly as he looked. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the scar that ran along his jaw. Here was a rogue of the highest order. I thought of Jenny and a jolt shook me. What was I doing in this man’s company?
“I said, are you in?” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair.
With my hand curled around my knife I nodded. Joe grunted then lumbered over to the bar. Hunched over the bar, he downed his first glass. He spoke a few words with the barman then ambled back to our table, a bottle and glass in his fist.
He poured a drink, then searched the room before he spoke. “The money’s arriving in Dunstan, around four this afternoon. We’ll take them up by the saddle just north of here. Know the place?”
“Yeah.” I swallowed. 
The whisky disappeared in two long gulps. He gasped, satisfied. “Be at Tom’s place by three.” He hauled his coat around his sparse body, ran his eyes over me and left.
I studied the door long after he had pushed through it. One job, that’s all. One job that would give us a stake to start over. Put food in our bellies, clothes on our backs and a fare to get us away from this God forsaken place. 
The promise of gold had been real. There for the picking, they’d said. And it had been for many, for those who were here in the beginning. My claim had produced no more than a few ounces of dust. Enough to live on, for a time. Now with winter approaching and a baby on the way, we needed out. 
The dregs of the beer slid down my throat. The clock on the wall showed a quarter to twelve. I left my empty bottle on the table and wandered outside.  
A wagon rumbled past, filled with household belongings. Three children straggled behind it. On the buckboard sat their parents. I watched as they drove away, and I knew I was not alone in my failure. 
The store beckoned and I debated spending my last penny on a rock cake. My stomach growled as I pulled open the door. Mr Jonty nodded a greeting before laying a bolt of fabric on the counter. 
I looked about for a familiar face, but the store was almost empty. I walked passed the  post office counter and studied the scraps of paper pinned to the notice board. Some were tattered and yellowed around the edges, some were so fresh I could almost smell the ink. 
I browsed through notices for missing stock and people, then scanned over the items for sale. There was mining gear, a butter churn, a Shacklock stove and a wagon.  And in the centre, an advertisement for workers. 
“We’re heading up there tomorrow,” came a voice from behind me. I turned to find my old mate James. “There’s room in the wagon for you and Jenny.”
I stared at him unbelieving, then read the notice again. A large station up in the Maniototo had been spilt up and sold. There was plenty of work for shepherds and general hands and positions for married men as well.
“You keen?” James stood patiently as my mind ran in circles.
 I felt my mouth spread in a grin. “Too right I am.” 
“Come on, then.” He led the way to the door. “Let’s settle it with a drink. My shout.” He clapped me on the back. I swallowed my pride as I followed him back to the bar. I’d shout for him with my first pay packet.
I found myself at the same table where I’d schemed with Joe. A shiver ran down my spine, followed by a surge of relief. I patted the velvet pouch tucked close to my chest. Jenny would keep her jewels. She would keep an honest husband too.
“How’s Jenny?” James dropped into the seat opposite and pushed up his sleeves and I recalled how serious he was about drink. I wrapped my fingers around a beer bottle and leaned back in the chair. Life felt good at that moment, blessedly good.
The sun was sliding behind the horizon as James and I parted outside the hotel. My eyes strayed to Ruby’s tent. Joe and his friends would be rich by now, or they could be on their way to gaol. I shuddered at the thought. 
I turned my back on the dwindling town and slapped on my cap. I whistled as I walked along the muddy track. I had a belly full of beer and prospects of a job. I quickened my pace, eager to deliver the good news to Jenny.
Twilight deepened and midges swarmed to my skin. The silent river heaved beside me, a mass of whirlpools and undercurrents. Light spilled from our shack’s window on the hill above me. My beautiful girl, Jenny, was waiting. 
Water gurgled at the river’s edge and I stooped to cup some into my hand. I rinsed the taste of beer from my mouth then leaned forward for more. The earth beneath my feet crumbled. I tipped forward and plunged into the river.
… The black river held me. I thrust up, desperate for air. My legs and arms were weighed down with clothing. I wrenched the jacket over my shoulders. The river tore it from my hands. I kicked furiously and broke through the surface. Cold air rushed over my face and I gulped at it. “Jenny!” I shrieked, but her name was lost in a mouthful of water.
Something caught my ankle and tugged. Water rushed over my head. My lungs burned. Rocks smashed into my elbow and bruised my ribs. I groaned with pain and water filled my lungs. I kicked the river bottom and I surged up, then the current rolled me back. The second breath of water came easy. My eyes opened to the black river, holding me, cradling me. The battle for air was over. 
My body rolled along the bottom of the river as I skimmed its surface. All through the night I followed it. We left the brown tussock of Dunstan and came to a place where the banks were lined with willows.  
Clothing was ripped from my corpse. A sleeve, a ragged trouser leg, the waistcoat with Jenny’s precious jewels. Tears poured from my eyes, but when I wiped them, invisible hands touched an invisible face.
Time passed. I tried to get to Jenny, but I was bound to the body at the bottom of the river. I watched as eels and fish sniffed and nibbled my bloated flesh. On the third day my corpse was washed up onto a bank, where we lay in the sun, lost and alone.
A man found my discarded flesh and dragged it to safer ground. I watched as he dug through the stony soil while I wished I could fly home to Jenny. I needed to tell her I didn’t go with Joe. 
I sat on the mound as my body rotted below me. Hours ran into days and then the man came back with a plank of wood. He pushed it into the earth at the head of my grave then stood back and admired it. His hat came off as he cleared his throat and I knew he was praying for me and mine.
The invisible threads that bound me, fell away. I was free. But before I fled, I stood at the foot of my grave and read the inscription …
Somebody’s Darling 
Lies Buried Here. 

Some of you will be unaware that this grave is in fact real. It is located close to Miller's Flat in Central Otago, New Zealand. The river Molyneaux mentioned in the story is now called the Clutha.
Another headstone stand's beside Somebody's Darling. The inscription on it reads:
Here leith the body of William Rigney,
The man who buried Somebody's Darling.

 the original wooden headboard inset into the marble

The wooden headboard for Somebody's Darling was replaced with a marble headstone some thirty years after he was buried. William Rigney was buried beside him in 1912.



Monday, November 8, 2010


Day eight of NaNo and my word count is 15,315.

I got to my desk later than I intended today. My daughter had a physio appointment this morning. That's three of us in regular attendance now. One shoulder, one achilles and now one ankle!

Then there was the supermarket and homeschooling. Also I needed to hose the new strawberry plants, the sweet peas that are still hiding somewhere under the soil, and my annuals.

Then, when I finally got to my computer, my mind went blank. I had to translate my notes of: Clara arrives, Maddie and Clara clash, and Maddie and Clara make tentative truce, into several scenes covering a week or two.

Somehow I got there and even managed to exceed my word count for the day.

Two young woman, one wearing cowboy boots the other in a pair of elegant ankle boots, traipse over an icy path cut through three foot of snow. Their goal: to collect eggs from the hen house.

Somewhere between discovering that hens can be victims of coyotes or raccoons and that fresh eggs are often covered in 'unmentionable' dirt, the young women realise that they may just have something in common after all.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Almost the first week has passed and I'm pleasantly surprised at how well it has gone. I haven't done my writing yet today, but last night I finished at 9,203 words. So I'm about 850 words ahead of myself.

I've found the process of writing in chronological order quite good. There have been the odd moments when I wanted to skip ahead, but I persevered. I've found that at least once a day I've paused from writing to check my progress, only to groan at the sheer impossibleness of reaching my goal. Then I would get back into the story and before I knew it, I'd exceeded the word count.

So far, so good.

I'm about to write some really exciting scenes, which should keep me motivated for the next few days.
A very pregnant and incredibly dainty, city lady is going to arrive at the ranch. A blizzard is brewing and nobody is particularly pleased to see her. In fact her presence makes Maddie downright proddy!

I can't wait to get back to it. I just need to make lunch, finish the washing, mark some homeshool work and .....

Here's a picture of a couple of men who could have walked straight off the ranch and a picture of two ladies in the latest city fashions.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Having reached the NaNo word count for today, I sat on our swing seat under a giant macracarpa tree and devoured the rest of this book. The sixth in the series, it is also the last and I have to confess to shedding a tear or two as I read the final pages. Not only was it farewell to a gripping, heart warming series, it was a farewell to some of the best characters I've ever read.

The opening prologue caught my heart strings. Curiosity, freed slave and great friend of the family central to the story, calls the reader to sit with her awhile on her porch. She fills in a few events from the last 10 years, then gently prods us to read on and find out more. This was beautifully written and very moving.

At first I struggled a little with all the 'little people' who had sprung up, but before long I'd fallen for them, slotted them into the correct families and the story took off.  Daniel Bonner, son of Elizabeth and Nathaniel, still struggles with a shoulder injury from the 1812 war. Then Martha, Nathaniel's ward and daughter to Jemima, returns to Paradise and puts a smile back on his face.

Jemima, bane to everyone for years, creates mayhem at every turn. She returns one last time, determined to create more havoc, but this is the last book and finally she gets her just reward.

Sara Donati wrapped the series up very cleverly with extracts from the village newspaper, highlighting both the tragic and exciting events of the Bonner family from 1828 to 1844. The final exert being the announcement of Elizabeth's death. For me it posed as many questions as it answered. Yet that is the nature of a family saga. The main characters have children, then grand-children and on it goes. Each generation have their own stories.

With a sense of loss, I return this book to nestle alongside its companion volumes. I wonder how long it will be before I pick up the first volume and begin the journey again.  

Monday, November 1, 2010


When I sat at my desk at 1pm, I was excited and a little nervous. What if I couldn't get started? What if my mind went blank? I had visions of not being able to get to the recommended word count.

I stuck the bright yellow post-it, with the outline of the first chapter, in front of me and began to type. The first paragraphs were slow. I'm never good at beginnings. Whether it's books, chapters or scenes, I struggle with those opening words. Often when I get going I need to go back and remove those first sentences. But with Na No there's no going back.

Twenty minutes in and despite the noise of the road being dug up outside, despite the bright sun beckoning, I was away flying. By 3.30pm I had a total of 2,478 words. More than the 1,667 I needed.

And the story itself? It took less than the first chapter for Logan to decide that this was his story and thank you very much, but he was going to do things his way. Ya gotta love the boy!

I'm looking forward to what tomorrow will bring.
The wide open spaces of Wyoming.