Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Lately, trying to get words down on paper has been like pulling teeth. At the last meeting of my critique group I had nothing to bring. An absolute first and not one I wish to repeat. And now it is almost time for another of the Dunedin Writer's Workshop short story competitions. The last one, in February, took place with no submission from me. Now I have been known to skip one if the theme was "children's" or "fantasy", but this one had an open theme. Yet no matter how hard I tried, the page remained blank.

The competition which closes in a couple of weeks has the theme "Crime or Mystery" and I'm happy to report that I have two stories, almost finished.

The first I have mentioned before and is based on an historical 'sticking up'. It spent a very long time rattling around in my head before it finally emerged, but it's out and I'm happy.

The second story came about in one of those magical moments, when you least expect it. This morning, as I was about to throw off the bed covers and face the world, it just 'popped' into my head. Complete from beginning to end! I like it when that happens. I wrote almost 2000 words today and it is taking shape quite nicely. The word limit is 3000 words so I am almost there.

So what is it about, you ask. Well, it's historical - no surprise there. Set in the American West in the latter part of the 19th century it involves stagecoaches, outlaws, a curious carpet bag and a captivating heroine named Violet.

Fingers crossed for a place in the competition!

Friday, May 20, 2011


What would our ancestors, or even our parents, make of today's technology?

I vaguely remember a time before 24 hour tv and multiple channels. I recall oohing and aahing over the new Commodore computer - green writing on a black screen. As a 12 year old I played Pacman at the local fish and chip shop, and I remember the first mobiles were as big as the average handbag!

It really doesn't seem that long ago that I wrote on an old Olivetti typewriter. Then there were the electronic typewriters, followed soon with the inclusion of word processors. Now I just love my new sparkly white Mac notebook and with a Broadband connection, the world is at my fingertips.

I could discuss forever the pros and cons of such advancements; there are valid arguments on both sides of that debate. But earlier this week we lost our internet connection to some elusive fault, and I was surprised by what I missed the most.

I thought the loss of the ability to google - to fill in any gaps in my research as I wrote - would be the greatest loss. It wasn't. The ability to e-mail my friends, to join in the discussions on Facebook and catch up with fellow bloggers were what I missed the most.

I'm a bit old-fashioned at times and mostly I'm disdainful of this high tech world of ours, but at the end of the day it's still all about people. And that makes me happy.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Yet another week has flown by. A week where I was laid low by the 'flu. I did however manage to attend the Dunedin Writer's Workshop on Wednesday evening. A red letter day: my first meeting as the new president and my good friend Ruth as the new secretary. Nervous as we were, it was an enjoyable time.  

Our exercise for the evening was on developing characters. First we filled in a questionnaire for a new character, then we wrote that character into a scene. There were some interesting scenarios read out at the end.

I created a character - Mary - who sold flowers at Covent Garden, London, in Victorian times. It was fun, and she has captivated my muse. There may be more of Mary to come. I think Shaw's Pygmalion had just a little influence on my character - though there isn't a Henry Higgins in sight! Just a young butcher boy with an ailing younger sister.

Now for an update on my Catlins novel as promised. It has been one of those stories that is quite bothersome. Nobody does what they are told and writing it has been a real struggle. I decided to move the location, but then I still battled with it. So yesterday I consigned it to the scrapheap. Having purged the horrid story from my mind I lay down for a nap (I'm battling 'flu, remember) and bingo! A totally revised and workable plot dropped like a great weight into my lap!

The main characters will remain the same. The back story will be tinkered with. The plot and all its conflicts are brand new, however, the ending will still look the same. There is one sub-plot to be wrought and another to be streamlined, but I'm confident it will now fall into place.

Unfortunetly I still have no title, but I can't refer to it as my Catlins novel any longer. It is now set in Strath Taieri. A wonderful combination of Scottish and Maori names. The Taieri River meanders through a wide shallow valley- a strath, an hour's drive inland from Dunedin. In typical Central Otago country, brown grass and golden tussock is broken up with protrusions of crumbling schist rock.

The summers there are hot and dry and the winters bitterly cold. I used to holiday in this area as a child and I've always loved the solitude of the place, the sense of being millions of miles from anywhere. There's something magical about the rocks: they take on the shapes of animals, mythical beasts or strange turreted castles.

The small township of Middlemarch is positioned in the centre of the valley: a cute little railway station where the rail trail begins, two stores, two cafes, a museum, a handful of houses and the odd church. I drove up that way a few weeks ago for a poke around and to capture the landscape on camera. It feels like the right place to set my story.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


As promised, here are the details surrounding the first 'sticking-ups' in Otago.

Dunedin, prior to the discovery of gold at Gabriel's Gully in 1861, was a quiet little village with an almost total lack of crime. The one small gaol was used primarily for the incarceration of runaway sailors and the Gaoler, Mr Johnny Barr, often released his prisoners for the day with strict instructions to return before nightfall or they would be locked out!  It would seem that the prisoners were obedient.

Along came the advent of gold and the sleepy village became a seething mass of newly arrived diggers from Victoria, California and further afield. Although most of the miners were hardworking, honest men, there came with them a criminal element.

One such criminal stands out: Henry Beresford Garrett. A tall, strong man who was reportedly good natured and humorous. Transported from England to Norfolk Island in his youth, he went on to lead a life divided between spells in prison and outlaw pursuits. A more in depth look at this man's fascinating life can be found in THE FIRST NEW ZEALAND BUSHRANGER by David McGill. I haven't read this book as yet, but it promises to be a good read.

The very first 'sticking-up', which has been attributed to Garrett or one of his gang, occurred on the track between Gabriel's and Tokomairiro. The robber, with blackened face and pistol, relieved his victim of 3 pound.

It is the second 'sticking-up' which has caught my imagination and provided fodder for a short story. This  robbery was executed on a much larger scale with Garrett's gang of seven men.

The trail from Gabriel's came through the township of Waipori, crossed the shoulder of Maungatua (almost 3000ft high) and dropped down through bush to the Taieri Plains and on to Dunedin. On a lonely spot on Maungatua, near Woodside, Garrett's men laid a daring plan.

At the bottom of a gully, by a creek surrounded in trees, they accosted passing travelers. Holding them at gun point, they robbed them, then tied them up. By the end of the day, the victims numbered fifteen and the gang had amassed four hundred pounds in stolen cash and gold.

The good natured Garrett cheered the prisoners as the day wore on, lighting their pipes, holding cups of tea to their lips and imparting nips of gin. Toward evening he told them he was leaving, but would send someone along soon to release them. His parting gift was to wrap them up warmly with tents and blankets, before the gang mounted their horses and galloped away.

Only two men were ever brought to trial for this crime. A Mr Anderson who was nabbed from a local hotel and Garrett himself who was caught in Sydney and shipped back to Dunedin where he was imprisoned.

But for me the most interesting and humorous event of the day is the large shipment of gold that escaped Garrett's gang.

Sixteen year old George Calder from the North East Valley quarry, in Dunedin, was transporting 200 ounces of gold in the back of a dray, when he came across two of Garrett's men. Posted at the head of what is now called 'Sticking-up Gully', these men were charged with advising travelers to take the short cut down to where the gang lay in wait. Ascertaining that the track was too steep for Master Calder's dray, they offered him a drink of water and sent him, and 800 Pounds worth of gold, on his way!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Two and a half weeks since my last post! Where did the days go?

The school holidays flew by, filled with trips down south to Gore, a jaunt to Middlemarch and shopping trips to town. Then there was Easter in the middle weekend, which sliced up the holidays with church services, the walking of the cross and numerous tasty breakfasts of Hot Cross Buns.

It had been my intention to spend a good part of the time writing, but it just wasn't to be. I did however begin a short story for an upcoming local competition. The theme is crime or mystery and I unearthed an interesting historic event that occured not far from here. It was labelled at the time as the "first sticking-up" in Otago. What a quaint expression. My muse was taken with this event and a story based on it is developing nicely. More on this in a later post.

After some careful consideration, I am moving the location of my novel - hence the jaunt to Middlemarch.(A little township in the midst of a remote plain, an hour's drive inland from Dunedin.) And more on this in a later post too.

But what I really want to post about today is:  My new Kobo e reader!

Now let it be said that I adore books. The real kind, made with paper and ink. I love the smell of new books and the musty aroma of dusty old books. I admire the colours on the front cover and the fancy embossed writing that you can run your fingers over whilst marveling at the fancy fonts. I like the way they look placed in a bookcase in their sets, or stacked horizontally until they bulge from the shelf. There is nothing nicer than turning the crisp white page of a new book, or wondering about the stains and smudges of an old treasure. And nothing beats the thrill of finding just the right book in a dark corner of an op shop, or unearthing a long forgotten book at the bottom of a storage carton. I love books!

So, how could I have succumbed to an e reader, you ask?

The answer: logistics and cost.

Logistics: There are only so many books that a house can hold.
Cost: There are only so many "real" books that I can afford.

Now that I actually own one, there are more considerations to add: no need for a bookmark, it slips easily into my handbag, and reading in bed is so much easier. You know those chilly evenings when you snuggle down and only your nose and the hand holding the book pokes out? And there is always one side of the page that is harder to get at? And you have to squint because wearing glasses lying down in bed is impossible. Well, with an e reader the problem is solved: there is only one side to it and you can enlarge the font.

Will I still buy books? You bet! But I'm glad I finally succumbed to technology.