Monday, December 27, 2010


One of the first pieces of advice I got when I started to write was: 'write what you know'. So when I started to write a novel set in Wyoming - a place I'd never been - I thought I was in trouble. But my story is set in the 1880s and I'm never going to see Wyoming in that era anyway. It would be like expecting Tolkien to have visited Middle Earth before he wrote the books. (And before the advent of Peter Jackson!)

For a while it worried me that all my characters ride horses. I haven't ridden a horse since I was a kid.  But then I realised that most of the things that happen in my story are foreign to me. For example: being shot in the leg; milking a cow; riding a train over the Sierra Nevada's; smoking a cigarette; hunting game with a Henry rifle; gutting and skinning a rabbit; experiencing a blizzard. Now I am sure there are simply thousands of books where the author hasn't experienced half of what they write. And when I think of all those crime books out there, I think we should be glad crime writers don't get first hand experience!

I've read almost every book the library has on the West and guns, horses and outlaws. I've read dozens of novels set in a similar era and then of course there's the movies. And where would any writer be without the internet? There is nothing you can't read up on or watch. You-tube is helpful too. Recently I've watched a broom being made with a 19th Century broom machine, watched a Colt revolver being cleaned then loaded and witnessed elk and wolves in their natural habitats.

I've come to the conclusion that 'writing what you know' is not so much about place and setting, but about people: what makes them tick; what motivates them; how they react to each other; the full range of emotions.  Can you write a romance if you've never been in love? Can you write a thriller if you've never been scared? Could I write the story of Maddie if I hadn't had to strive for acceptance and a place in life, myself? No.

So, with confidence, I can say that I am 'writing what I know'.

Friday, December 24, 2010


For me, Christmas is a time of reminiscing of Christmas's Past. The history of our lives is steeped in our traditions and as I move through these days of preparation I am haunted by nostalgia at every turning point.

Getting down the crystal bowls for the salads and ambrosia this morning I remembered the way they sparkled on our Christmas table when I was a child. As I ran my finger over the cut patterns I recalled the story my Mum told me of how this particular bowl was her 21st gift from my Grandfather.

The tattered front cover of our carol music album is decorated with choir girls in 1940's perms and bright red lipstick. They remind me I always thought angels wore lipstick!

Tonight we will go to Midnight Mass, and I know the heady scent of incense will take me back to the Christmases when my children were younger and their warm heavy heads lay asleep on my shoulders and my back creaked as I stopped them from falling off the pew. I know that when Mass is almost over and the Priest puts the statue of baby Jesus in the waiting manger, that I'll shed a tear or two of thankfulness for His great gift to us.

Another memory was refreshed today as I made stuffing for the turkey. The last time I had turkey at Christmas was when I was four or five. My family were holidaying in a little place called Sutton, which is in an isolated part of Central Otago. We stayed in a little wooden house, with no electricity or plumbing. My mind boggles as I remember how Mum packed up everything we needed in the car. Plates, crockery, cooking utensils, linen, special Christmas food and presents as well. All for a family of five. Mum, you were a legend!

But the Christmas I remember the most in Sutton, was the one where Dad decided we would buy our own turkey - alive! I wrote a story about it a couple of years ago and thought I would share it with you. I hope you enjoy it.

*Nov 2012: Sorry, but I've taken down the story as I'm looking at publishing it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Amongst all the preparations for Christmas Day I've been visiting friends, tending the garden and in the evenings watching movies with Hubby. Writing and blogging have taken a back seat, for now.

I've thought about my characters and their stories, spent the odd moment wondering about this bit and that. I've revisited the Christmas or two that feature in my novel, checking I had all the right elements. But that's as far as I've got. Pre-Christmas organisation and just spending time with the family are filling up my days.

The sun is scorching outside - 31 degrees Celsius, which is quite hot for a Dunedin summer. For the last two days the winds have been gale force, hot and dry. My pansies have turned up their tales, and I've just come inside from picking off all the dead heads. Hopefully they'll bounce back.

I finished rereading Cross Stitch and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now I'm rereading Sharon Penman's, When Christ and His Saints Slept. I first read it fifteen years ago, but as I'm going to read its two sequels next year in my Off the Shelf Challenge, I wanted to refresh my memory. I'm only a little way into it, but I'm hooked. I'll tell you more when I'm finished.

From the wonderful Stats bar on blogger, I know I have many readers from the USA and other Northern Hemisphere countries: Russia and Canada, a few from Britain and Denmark and many other far flung places. Some of you will be caught up in the heavy snowstorms in Britain and Europe, and I hope you are warm and safe and the weather doesn't disrupt your holiday plans.

A big hello to my Kiwi readers too.

To everyone who visits my blog, I wish you a very Merry Christmas. I also invite you to leave a comment, even if it's just a simple 'hello'. It would be so nice to put some names and faces to the Stats.

Thank you for dropping by.


Monday, December 13, 2010


Here in New Zealand, Christmas coincides with the summer holidays. So apart from all the Christmas rush of activities, we have end of year break ups and the beginning of a 6-7 week school holiday. Today is the first week of holidays for secondary students, so all my children are home. Yay! Poor hubby, who teaches primary school, doesn't finish until Friday!

I'm very aware I haven't written anything since I finished NaNoWriMo two weeks ago and I haven't blogged much either. I've been attending prize givings, watching end of year plays, Christmas shopping, and I've been creative in other ways. My daughter and I have been making cards and gifts and I've sewn a Christmas wall hanging resplendent with Mediaeval angels.

Later in the week we'll be decorating the house, putting up the Christmas Tree and baking special treats. A family trip to the movies to see the latest Harry Potter is on the agenda too. But today I'm taking a leisurely re-read of a well loved book - Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon. It's a scorcher of a day, but overcast, with thunder pending. My favourite kind of weather. In the next room my daughter and son are watching Barbie's Sawn Lake and Tchaikovsky's wonderful music is floating in. Of course it's for the sake of the music that my son is in there!

So I'm feeling mellow and laid back, and I'm thinking in Scottish brogue - thank you Diana Gabaldon. And drifting off on a tangent, I recall that Sara Donati's Wilderness Series was peppered with Scottish brogue too.  I find it an interesting dialect to write and in my WIP I have one or two characters of Scottish persuasion. These Scots just pop up everywhere. There's just something about a red haired man speaking broad Scots, isn't there?

What I really need is to read a book with a character talking with an Irish accent. I can hear it, if I squeeze my eyes really tight. I can even hear the difference between a Belfast accent and one from Eire, but I wouldn't know where to begin in putting those inflections into writing. Anybody out there know a good book with an Irish accent or two? I'd love to hear from you.

The thunder has just made an appearance. It's rumbling up from the south. I'm going to go and hang out of the window now and watch the excitement. Oh I should mention, for the benefit of those in other countries, our storms are rather lame and we usually only have sheet lightning. So please don't think I'm being brave or adventurous, or even foolish!


Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I picked up this book a while ago from a sales table at a local bookshop. The cowboy on the front drew me in and when I read that it was set in Wyoming I nabbed it. It's the best couple of dollars I've spent in a long while.

It's a true story of a Wyoming boy who grows up loving horses, hunting, pick-up trucks and camping out. A boy who lives life fast and doesn't have a gear between fast and stop. Here's a quote from the second chapter:

Colton puts his hand up in class one day.
"Yes, Colton?" says his teacher. "You have a question?"
"No ma'am," says Colton."It's more of a suggestion."
"Well, ma'am, I was just wondering if you could talk twice as fast and then we'll get 'er done twice as quick and then we can get out of here in half the time."

An optimist with a forgiving nature, his mantra is: "Mind over matter. I don't mind, so it don't matter." And that sees him through his teens and into his twenties. By the time he is 25 he has a wife and two sons and is working long shifts at an oil rig in Upper Green River Valley. But tragedy is just around the corner.

In a story that evokes both laughter and tears, Alexandra Fuller's powerful prose delivers the heart and soul of Colton H Bryant. And as you turn the last page you know that he is indeed a legend.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


It's almost a week since I finished NaNo and I have to confess that I haven't done a word of writing since. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. I guess I just need a rest ofter the marathon event. If I haven't penned a few paragraphs - or more - by the end of this week, I might start to get worried!

At A Certain Book's latest blog I learnt that she has committed to a Reading Challenge for 2011. Good luck Joanne. I linked through from there to a whole list of challenges and have committed to doing the Off The Shelf challenge.

You can read about it here on the Bookish Ardour blog. There is a special button that I should have included in this post, but my computer illiterate brain can't fathom it. It might turn up soon, after help from my eldest.   (And there it is on the left. Thank you Josiah.)

The challenge involves reading books from your TBR shelf. I've set myself the goal of TRYING: which is a minimum of fifteen books. So I've trawled through my shelves and found fifteen titles that I have been meaning to read and just never got around to.
Here's my list:

1 - The Pyjama Girls of Lambert Square     Sara Donati
2 - A Profound Secret                                  Josceline Dimbleby
3 - King Solomon's Mine                             H. Rider Haggard
4 - Little Women                                          Louisa M. Alcott
5 - I, Coriander                                             Sally Gardner
6 - Time and Chance                                    Sharon Penman
7 - Devil's Brood                                          Sharon Penman
8 - The Captive Queen                                 Alison Weir
9 - Pillars of the Earth                                   Ken Follett
10 - World Without End                               Ken Follett
11 - Inkheart                                                 Cornelia Funke
12 - Lord of the Rings:
          The Fellowship of the Ring                J.R.R.Tolkien
13 - The Neverending Story                         Michael Ende
14 - Huckleberry Finn                                  Mark Twain
15 - Ivanhoe                                                  Sir Walter Scott

There you have it. A good mixture of historical, fantasy and classics. In between reading these I hope to cross off a good number of the titles in my TBR notebook. Most of which are recent releases. So my 2011 reading is sorted. I'll keep you posted with my progress.