All posts by Jodie How

West Australian writer, poet and blogger.

KSP WEEKEND

I was given an amazing opportunity, by the Katherine Susannah Pritchard Writers Centre (KSP) and Laurie Steed, to join Bindy Prichard and David Allan-Petale at the Short Story Retreat held last March at KSP in Perth. Why? Because the third winning writer of the competition pulled out and a space opened up for me.

I didn’t realise, when I accepted the offer, that I’d have to overcome three challenges if I was to get the most out of the retreat.

Challenge number one was the medical cum political saga I had to deal with the week of the Short Story Retreat. If the medical powers that be hadn’t finally allowed me to swap malfunctioning medical equipment with new equipment, before I was due to leave on the Friday, I wouldn’t have been able to attend KSP. It was a hard week on a number of fronts but thankfully, I left home with working medical equipment in tow.

Challenge number two was overcoming the anxiety of separation from my husband and son for two nights after a stretch of bad depression.

Challenge number three was the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’. Maybe because I was initially not offered a place. Maybe because I was the only ‘officially unpublished’ writer in the group. Maybe because I didn’t feel my writing was literary enough. Or maybe just because I’m hypersensitive and often feel unworthy of rewards like this.

Had I earned my place at this KSP Retreat? Apparently I had and boy did I soak up every blessing poured out to me that weekend – just like a crusty sponge.

For the first time, I was privileged to receive one-on-one feedback with an editor. And not just any editor – the one and only Laurie Steed. (What an absolute gem he is, particularly within the WA writing community.) Laurie, who also often climbed to a higher step on his career ladder via ‘lucky opportunities’ that landed in his lap.

The weekend was intense for me, not just mentally, but also emotionally and physically. I had become so unaccustomed to taking so many study sessions in such a short amount of time. By Saturday afternoon I think all I was giving back to Laurie and my peers was a questioning stare with a mouth slightly agape.

We had a lot of fun over meaningful conversations, food preparation in the tiny KSP kitchen and a few too many glasses of red wine. Dave even broke a chair as we watched the sun set from the gorgeous KSP grounds – haha!

By the time Sunday rolled around and we had read our stories in front of a small audience, I felt like I was saying goodbye to family. I was the last to pack up my cabin, hand in my key and as I waved goodbye to KSP, it was with much reluctance and a tear in my eye.

Thank you Laurie, Dave, Bindy and KSP for your wonderful company and this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity. I will never forget it and I’ll never forget you all and everything you gave to me so willingly from hearts of true generosity.

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It’s Official – Mystery Mail is Published!

After months of emails flying to and fro between me and Raging Aardvark Press, an ultimatum supplied by me (marinated in a splash of dispirited annoyance) and a fuckload of waiting, the anthology Twisted Tales 2016 is finally here, IN PRINT!

My gut is misbehaving badly today and I woke with the blues. Add to that the frustration of trying to order thirty copies of Twisted Tales from the states and I’m only now sitting back to take in the good news.

I don’t even know how I feel about my first story being properly published, on paper, in an actual book. There’s definitely excitement but I’ve waited so long for this anthology to be published that the actual win feels rather like a lifetime ago.

My emotions are all mixed up with disbelief. I feel disconnected from today’s amazing news. Hopefully, the feeling of joy and a sense of achievement will catch up with me. How should I celebrate?

This morning, I created an author account on Amazon – because now I have a published story to my name. That was a surreal experience. I sure don’t feel like an author yet.

If you’d like a copy of Twisted Tales 2016, you can order it here: https://www.createspace.com/6652118 or here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0994525206 .

Or I can send you a copy for $15AUD (I gain no profit) to anywhere in the world. I’ll even sign it for you, if you like.

Thank you, again, for following my writing journey. I can’t wait for you to read Twisted Tales 2016 and tell me what you think of my story, “Mystery Mail”.

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Review: Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

Atmospheric scenes and constant tension stoke the fire of mystery in this collection of short stories. ‘Aha’ moments are delivered with skill and precision.

Alan Baxter’s work can’t be confined to a single genre, or even a known fusion of genres. His stories are a kaleidoscope of colour; of piercing light and darkest shadow.

In Baxter’s world, fantasy is woven tightly with realism. Dive in and you will be transported to believable scenarios in magical settings. You’ll meet supernatural characters that feel as real as people.

I’ve never encountered such a diverse range of stories written by an author. Baxter’s unclassifiable work enables him to successfully play an unexpected card at any point.

Within the fantasy, I found genuine depth and meaningfulness in each story. Baxter is a masterful short story writer – a true word alchemist with a strong, enthralling voice.

4.5 out of 5 stars for Crow Shine. Thank you, Alan, for drawing me into your ethereal world of dark beauty, where unfamiliar subjects were made accessible to me; the reader.

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Most Twisted Tale 2016

The month of August brought me a pleasant surprise. As I untied the bow on the unexpected gift and peeked inside the box, my heart thudded with equal measures of excitement and disbelief. Could it be?

Earlier this year, I made the goal of getting a piece of my work print published by 2017.

The small Australian publisher, Raging Aardvark Publishing, was running a flash fiction competition called Twisted Tales. I heard about the opportunity from a friend. It dawned on me that a particular story I had on the back burner would fit the bill. So I redrafted it, got feedback from friends and polished it up. I submitted the story just before the competition closed.

I was attached to the story that I entered. It had been living in my subconscious for well over a year, after all. I had an empathy for my mentally unstable female protagonist and wanted to know how this ‘moment in time’ would play out for her. I called the story Mystery Mail.

I was pleased with the finished version of Mystery Mail but I hardly thought it winning material. So when I learned that I’d won both the People’s Choice Award and the Judge’s Choice, I was shocked. I even considered replying to the email of notification with, ‘Are you sure?’

I didn’t feel my story deserved first place. I was invested in Mystery Mail but not the competition (I’d learned early on in the writing game that you really can’t hang all your hopes on getting published or you’ll be nothing but depressed).

Interestingly, I didn’t spend as much time with Carrie as some of my other protagonists and I didn’t spend as much time working on Mystery Mail as I had on other stories.

Holding this surprise box of kudos in my hands, it dawned on me that I’d achieved my goal for the year. What was I going to do now? I thought.

I’m so glad my story was so well received by a publishing house. Mystery Mail has that ‘aha’ moment that I’ve found infinitely hard to achieve in writing a great story.

The 2016 edition of Twisted Tales will be out soon and I can’t wait to hold a copy in my hot little hands.

Thank you to everyone who voted for my story and consequently won me the People’s Choice Award. You guys are the best!

 

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Are you a human-being or a human-doing?

You have been created as a human-being, not a human-doing. Your worth is based on everything you are, not on everything you do.

 

It’s not a new year anymore

It’s so easy to get caught up in the busy rush of everyday life, isn’t it? During the early part of the year, we tend to dive straight into achieving new goals and zoom along, sometimes at a whirlwind pace.

It’s March now… maybe it’s time to slow down a little and admire the sunflower that opened up just for you in your garden.

Achieving so much is great for the ‘doing’ part of our ego – the part that wants to achieve and feel good for it, the part that wants to please others and be commended.

But while you’re busy constantly doing, what’s happening to the ‘being’ part of yourself? Are you giving it any attention?

 

What am I talking about?

What do I mean by ‘doing’ and ‘being’? We live in such a go-go-go world that we’re always focussed on what’s next on our list of things to do. This is what I refer to as our ‘doing self’. It is purely task orientated.

Our ‘being self’ isn’t focussed on all the doing. ‘Being’ is about resting, loving life, recognising who you are and what you’re like and being okay with that. It is people focussed, not task oriented.

 

Stop

I’ve long battled with ‘doing’ and ‘being’. Having lived many years with a chronic illness, I’ve had to face the challenge of not physically achieving as much as my brain wants me to. Life lessons have impressed upon me that ‘being’ is far more enriching than ‘doing’.

If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to stop doing and just be, most of the time. You might get bored instantly or get fidgety. It takes practice to master, but once you have, your happiness will increase exponentially.

‘Being’ fits in with ideas about mindfulness. I’ll talk about this topic more in future weeks. Meanwhile, I encourage you to find some time to just sit and think. Maybe put some classical music on, maybe enjoy the sound of silence. Perhaps do it at the beach, or maybe on your couch. Maybe meditate (watching your thoughts drift by). You don’t have to do this practice for a long time, to start with.

I truly believe that being you is more important than being busy. Slow down a little, unique soul, you’ve been working hard on all your doing.

 

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ON THE ROAD

I’m excited and embarrassed to confess that next week, my husband and I are renting a deluxe motorhome and taking our four-year-old down to Esperance (South of Western Australia) for six nights.

Excited, because we’ve never had a family holiday, never camped in a motor home and never ventured further south than Albany. So it’ll be an adventure. I can’t wait to create fun memories with my favourite boys.

Embarrassed, because it seems like a very Grey Nomad type of thing to do! We’re usually known for our ‘tenting’ style of holiday.

My husband and I have always talked about doing a year-long trip around Australia, when our son is older. I guess this holiday could be a small foretaste of what that might be like.

After this trip, I’m guessing it’ll be hard to lower the camping standards to tenting again. And I’m guessing I’ll want to buy a motorhome.

Do you enjoy road tripping around Oz? Have you been on a long journey with a young child before?

Please share any camping stories you have, I’d love to hear them :o).

 

 

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Geek, nerd or ‘other’?

I finally got around to watching Firefly last month, for the first time. The series was strange but great. Firefly has attracted geeks galore, as you may know. Many movies and TV series have attracted geeks and I’m also an avid fan of some of them.

I’m going to Comic-Con in April (with the same girlfriend who dressed up with me to see The Force Awakens), which has been on my to-do list for a few years. Comic-Con attracts geeks too, and I’m geekily excited!

Nerdy? Maybe. Geeky? Maybe. Or maybe I’m both. Or neither. Yes, there are differences, as this article explains: http://www.wikihow.com/Tell-the-Difference-Between-Nerds-and-Geeks.

I actually don’t care what category I fit in. Geek and nerd have always been derogatory terms but in this Big Bang Theory era, we’re actually becoming more ‘cool’. And if I’m wrong, it doesn’t actually matter anyway.

At school, I always worked extremely hard to get good grades and to generally just succeed in life. My school friends affectionately called me a nerd, because I got A’s for most of my subjects (except sport, of course).

Other peers called me a square and I got teased with the L7 sign a lot. In the 90’s, the definition of the word ‘square’, wasn’t what the dictionary says.

I never thought I was a nerd, because there were plenty more people with fewer social skills and much more intelligence than me. And I hated math and science. I wasn’t cool but I wasn’t uncool either.

I always tried not to be a square, because I was ashamed of caring so much and trying so hard. Unlike a nerd, I was semi-social and not 100% introverted.

I still put 110% into everything I put my mind to. I still care about getting the absolute best results out of myself that I can. But I’m not as much of a perfectionist now – I’ve learnt to loosen up a lot. (Back when I was young, perfectionism and OCD just about tore my brain apart.)

Nowadays I’m surrounded by nerd and geek friends who I absolutely love to bits. They bring out the little inner nerd and little inner geek in me and I love them for it.

I realise now that I’m neither nerd or geek, and by definition, I’m not a square either. I’m just an enthusiast for all things. But you can call me what you like, I don’t mind.

Cool? Not really. But I reckon the geeks and nerds are the ones who make life most interesting and most fun.

 

 

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NOW IS THE TIME TO WRITE

The famous Liz Gilbert says you can always make time for your creative work, no matter how busy your life is. I believe her. Experience has taught me this much.

A writer friend of mine asked me, quite puzzled, how I find time to write. The answer is that I make time – like every writer. Making time to write is a constant choice and commitment.

 

No excuses

You don’t even have to be at home to create. The beauty about the art of writing is that you can do it anywhere. Nowadays, you can even write without pen and paper.

There are lots of ways to find time, to make time, to write. Use your travel time, your lunch break, snatch any amount of time from your day to play with words. Or set yourself fixed writing dates.

 

Anything is something more than nothing

Rome wasn’t built in a day, or so the saying goes. All the little fragments of writing you get done will create a final, finished piece eventually – much like a jigsaw.

There’s a thing called the pomodoro technique which might help you get acquainted with writing in short bursts of time. This technique requires only a timer and your commitment to sit and write.

Even if you produce only one sentence in, say, fifteen minutes, that’s more than you would’ve achieved if you hadn’t sat down to write in the first place.

 

Take the pressure off

Kristy Acevedo reminds us that succeeding isn’t about how many words you produce each time you write, but about creating a habit of writing, through daily commitment. (By the way, I’m still perfecting the ‘daily’ bit.)

I don’t find word counts helpful, but you might. I never meet them and always feel discouraged as a result. It’s better to just achieve a daily writing session (that’s hard enough, after all). Sit yourself down and see what comes of a short session – you can always set yourself word count goals later, once you’re on a roll with the habit of writing.

 

Making time

Writing definitely requires sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice worth making. You’ll believe me once you keep at it and see the results.

Writing is no lazy form of art, it’s true. But it’s more satisfying than watching TV or indulging in any other number of uncreative activities. Making a commitment to writing regularly doesn’t mean you don’t get do other things you enjoy. You just need to prioritise writing above recreational activities.

Maybe you need to give something up in order to clear some space in your life and brain to write. It could be another activity, a bad habit, a perfectionist mentality, poor self-esteem or laziness. Maybe you simply need to commit to this thing you love, writing, and really push yourself to stick with it.

Many things can arise to prevent us from writing. Think about what stops you and make the changes necessary.

 

The time is now

Don’t wait for the perfect conditions to start writing. Like everyone, you’ll always be busy and if you’re not busy, something else will become the obstacle.

If you’re really serious about getting somewhere with your craft, then you’re going to have to steal as many snippets of time from your schedule that you can, and just write. A lot can be written in five, 10 or 15 minutes.

And I’ll tell you something else I know (because I’ve been there), you’re going to have to make a deliberate decision to stop making excuses for not writing. Excuses displace responsibility and prevent progress.

Whatever you need to do to find time to write – do it! Now is the time to write, not tomorrow, not next week or next month. And for goodness sake, stop saying ‘one day’. One day never happens.

 

Now go and write, courageous one!

 

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Book Reviews

I’ve read a few decent books of late, so I thought I’d share two reviews with you.

 

YOUR HEART IS AS BIG AS A FIST by Sunil Yapa

312 pp. Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown & Company.

The plot is centred on the 1999 Seattle WTO protests where the main character, Victor, finally comprehends what the meaning of life is.

At the centre of the novel is the same question posed by the protests themselves: what kind of world do we want, and what must we do to get it?

You’ll either love this book, or hate it. There is a lot of violence throughout, so it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted.

Yapa has a unique writing style that is both raw and engaging.

You’ll find Yapa’s characters interesting and relatable. I believe he has successfully captured a deep beat of the human heart.

Yapa has brought a piece of modern history to life on the page and made it personal. An undercurrent of strong themes exists below a surface of evocative imagery.

FATES AND FURIES by Lauren Groff

390 pp. Riverhead Books.

Fates and Furies is a modern Greek tragedy which focuses on the marriage of Mathilde and Lotto (Lancelot). The book is divided into two sections – Fates depicts Lotto’s point of view; and Furies depicts Mathilde’s point of view.

Surprisingly, the story is more about life than marriage. It’s about screwing things up, surviving, trying and sometimes hitting on a win.

Fates and Furies isn’t your typical ‘women’s fiction’ book. It’s brooding, soap-opera style reminds me of Cloud Street, by Tim Winton.

Groff has a writing style that many readers will grow impatient with. Fellow writers, however, will appreciate the skill with which she weaves words.

If you’re looking for a light, easy read – this isn’t the book for you. It doesn’t have a typical happy ending and there is a lot of doom and gloom throughout.

Fates and Furies is a very good, but very oppressive story. You will carry a sense of dread with you through every chapter.

This book isn’t for the average reader, but for the select few who have a greater-than-average appreciation for drama.

 

Have you read any brilliant books lately?

 

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Literary Idols

Literary Idols

During a recent conversation, a friend asked me which authors inspire me the most and how. Here’s the answer to that question…

When I was very young, Enid Blyton captured my imagination with her Magic Tree tales. So fantastical and brilliant were her creations that I lived in these bizarre worlds for days on end. I loved to escape into the magical places she’d crafted. For me, Blyton’s enchanted tales were so adventurous and so believable that it was easy to tune out to everything else around me.

As I grew a bit older, I became interested in Roald Dahl’s tales. His unusual stories, where the main child character was always the champion, amused me no end. I found his writing was funny and a breeze to read. The antagonist was always someone so wretched that I wanted to get to the end to discover his or her horrible demise. By the time I grew out of Roald Dahl stories, I had read everything he’d ever written for children.

I then moved onto Paul Jennings. The quirkiness of this author’s plot lines and his bizarre characters completely drew me into his strange tales. In every one of his stories, I was compelled to solve the mysteries, and I loved discovering their answers.

By late primary school, I was enjoying a phase of horror fiction. My Goosebumps binge lasted for a while. The hardly-scary children’s stories by R. L. Stine appealed to my interest in terror and all things grim.

A. Montgomery was another favourite author at this time. I frequently ‘chose my own adventure’ and went on multiple versions of discovery within a single story. The mystery and novelty of these stories kept me hooked for some time.

As a young teen, I found myself engrossed in the works of Isobelle Carmody. Her Obernewtyn Chronicles had me charmed with the dystopian fantasy / post apocalyptic genre. (I also began to appreciate huge-arse books!) Carmody creates such believable fantasy worlds, deep characters with multiple dimensions and gripping plot lines. Her stories explore philosophical notions and the very soul of humanity.

In high school, I also discovered John Marsden. I found myself easily able to connect with his Australian stories and characters. Marsden’s tales deconstruct harsh realities and plunge right into human chaos. It was from reading this author’s books that I began to form a real attachment to characters in stories generally, and I grieved if they died.

As an adult, I’ve read countless novels and am inspired by numerous authors. Gillian Flynn is high on my list of revered artists. I love her gritty, crafty plots and her sharp, evocative writing style. She writes scenes with such efficient use of language. Scenes that make you want to throw up while simultaneously keeping you transfixed, turning page after page until the end. I know of no other author that can delve so deeply into the mind of such disturbed characters and write them with such accuracy.

So where do these inspiring authors leave me? They leave me with a hope of creating my own excellent stories. Stories that transcend the ordinary standard out there and soar to heights yet unreached.

If I can convince my readers to suspend their disbelief, no matter how absurd my story world is… If I can take my readers on a magnificent adventure full of mystery and discovery… If I can infuse my own quirkiness and make my readers smile… If I can create multidimensional characters that stand the test of time… then I will be a happy writer.

If I can shed light on, and create hope about, harsh realities… If I can make the boring old familiar topics of thought fresh and interesting again… If I can write with grit and precision… If I can keep my readers hooked and wanting more… then I will consider myself a successful writer.

Now that’s a long bill to fill, but I wouldn’t want the challenge to be any easier.

The best novels are always the result of the hardest challenges. I know, because I’ve been lucky enough to meet a couple of the literary heroes I’ve mentioned here.

 

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