Member blog by Gavin Fisher



HOOK them or LOSE them, and I’m not talking about fishing here, although that is a good segue into the topic.

Let’s say for instance your character is a fisherman or is watching someone fish. Unless you are au fait with the art of fishing, do your research on the subject. Otherwise your readers, if they know something about the subject, will soon pick up on the fact that you as the author know nada about the subject and they will lose confidence in your ability as a writer. On the other hand, if you delve deep enough into the subject, you might discover little nuggets of information that will be informative to your reader and you will have them well and truly hooked—no pun intended.


A story, any story, is set in a time or place. Again, if you are writing science fiction you will be able to get away with faking it. The time and places are after all in your own imagination.

If however you are writing about a real place, you will need to thoroughly research that area you are writing about. It’s good practice to establish street names and familiar landmarks that your reader can relate to. This gives your story a greater depth and will help your reader visualise the surroundings in which your characters find themselves.

Be very careful when setting your story in the past. Let’s say you are writing a period novel set in 1880 and you describe how your character walks under the giant steel arches of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, you may want to note that the tower was only built in 1887 to 1889. Your reader may even know this fact or happen to stumble across it.


If you are going to be writing about a city or place it will be helpful to physically go to that place. Walk the area and experience the culture, the vibe on the street, even the smells emanating from the restaurants or street vendors along the way. All of these experiences lend credibility to your story and will help to fuel the imagination.

I’ve personally found Google Maps helpful in some instances when I physically couldn’t see a place for myself. This will also be useful if your character is, say, driving from point A to B. You should be able to determine how long the journey will take him and also what he might see along the way.


Interviews are another great way to research the subject. People or professionals in their respective fields are generally more than happy to tell you about their occupation and how certain procedures are executed. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The people you will be interviewing are real people with feelings and dislikes, just as your characters should have. Very often you may get a glimpse of who the person is outside of the work environment. This will once again help you with building your own characters and their back stories. Just be careful not to infringe on anyone’s privacy.


Your personal digital library that is full of information and all at a stroke of a key at your own desk. Everything you need—from the use of chloroform, blood spatter patterns, acid that will dissolve bodies, various blunt-edged weapons and also dozens of synonyms for the word ‘carefully’ if you need it. Be careful though…big brother may be watching.

However, there’s a caveat. Don’t fall into the Wikipedia trap and believe that everything you see online is true. Be more discerning when researching on the net. Check multiple resources for their validity.


Acquaint yourself with your local library.

Most libraries will have an extensive catalogue of all the resources you will need for your research. You also have the opportunity to borrow as many books as you need and take your time to digest all the information you require.


Writers often make the mistake of bombarding the reader with so much information they have learnt about the subject matter, that the reader loses the thread of the story. Don’t let the subject matter become the story, unless you are writing in the first person about a character that supposedly knows everything about the subject. But again, be aware that your average reader may not want to know every small detail about fishing for example and will soon get bored.

Until next time, keep writing, keep researching!

Contributor Gavin Fisher

About Gavin

Gavin grew up in Paarl, in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, an area renowned for its scenic beauty and viticulture. Whether it was the scenery, drinking his parents’ wine on the sly, or being surrounded by the smell of fresh ink and the hum of his father’s printing presses—or all of the above—Gavin felt strangely inspired to start writing when he was twelve years old.

“My father gave me this old Underwood Standard. I’ll never forget it. It had a sticky ‘s’ key that would periodically instigate a maul of type hammers and shredded ribbon.”

Gavin went on the study Architecture and ran a practice in South Africa before emigrating along with his family, to Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s there that he started taking up writing seriously and began work on his debut novel, Colour of Greed. 

In 2008 he moved to the Gold Coast, Australia where he joined the Gold Coast Writers Association, serving as its president.

Colour of Greed went on to receive the Gold award for best fiction in Australia and New Zealand at the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2013.

“Writing can be an arduous and lonely journey. It is important to surround yourself with family and fellow writers who can support you along the way.”

Gavin still lives on the Gold Coast, working on his next thriller. A proud husband, father and grandfather. 

You can find out more about Gavin


Does AI spell doomsday for writers?

Ai for writers
Member blog by Beverley Streater

Does AI spell doomsday for writers?

A few years ago, a local writer commissioned me to edit his latest novel. I completed the brief (copyedit/structural edit) and returned the marked-up copy to him. I also included feedback on his use of words and expressions that could have been offensive to some readers. He thanked me for the work and paid me. When I saw him the following month, I asked him how he found my work. He laughed and said, ‘You did great, Bev. But Grammarly picked up another eighty errors.’

Following that unsettling conversation, I explored the plethora of free and subscription-based spelling and grammar checkers. I tested Grammarly, liked it, and bought the paid version. However, I did not enjoy it. Some of its suggestions did not work for my style of writing and I started treating it with contempt. I moved onto ProWritingAid. It suited me better and I now use its paid version to do a final check over my writing. Occasionally, I also let MS Word’s Editor function loose. I could go on about the pros and cons of AI language/grammar analysers, but I want to skip to the broader topic of artificial intelligence language models that can generate text and where they fit into our writing world.

What are people saying about AI?

I recently tuned into a Zoom offering hosted by the Institute of Professional Editors titled ‘What ChatGPT means for editors, authors, and publishers.’ There was record attendance, indicative of the existential angst expressed by fellow-editors about AI. The three speakers were leaders in the fields of AI safety, writing plain English and publishing in Australia. The key takeaways for me were – yes, AI will influence the publishing industry; no, it won’t replace humans; it is only as smart as the information it is built on; and governments around the world are struggling with designing regulations around the use of AI. They said the use of plagiarism checkers by educators is more relevant than ever and the speaker from the Plain English Foundation said AI can express itself well but often needs guidance regarding appropriate tone. The presenter from Epoch UK said AI is probably reliable for copyediting but suggested we don’t rely on it for accuracy.

Who is using AI?

I love that Australians are early adopters of new tech:

A young man in Queensland consulted it for relationship advice. An Adelaide woman asked for a poem to her boyfriend. A Brisbane rideshare driver turned to it for legal advice. An octogenarian man found ways to improve his system for placing bets. A young woman in Melbourne commissioned a love poem to her neighbour’s dog — on behalf of her own dog.

Last week friend told me she used OpenAI’s ChatGPT to compose her cover letter to an application for a senior job with a large organisation. She had spent a lot of time on her resume and had run out of time to write her supporting letter. She was happy with ChatGPT’s efforts. I wonder if AI will help her get the job.

I’ve also heard of people using AI to compose blog posts. This may be very helpful for writers who want to promote their book yet struggle with the marketing aspect.

ABC presenter Richard Fidler (Conversations) recently commented that he’d asked ChatGPT to write his bio and found it amusingly incorrect. (Did you ever Google yourself?)

What about copyright issues?

If you use ChatGPT (or Microsoft’s Bing, Google’s Bard, or Anthropic’s Claude) to write your work, who owns the copyright? This is a vexed question under Australian copyright rules. If I research (the web, periodicals, textbooks) for information to support my writing, I must acknowledge my sources. I can’t just steal ideas and words. But if I ask AI to generate text for an article I’m writing about, say, growing tomatoes hydroponically, and if AI scrapes the web for data and ‘writes’ my article, I can’t attribute the sources information because I don’t know where the information has come from. Am I unwittingly breaching copyright laws? Am I denying the source authors the right to recognition? (That’s a yes from me)

What is the quality of AI’s output?

Many years ago, when I was learning to wrangle Excel to bring data sets to life, the trainer contended, ‘Rubbish in, rubbish out!’ It seems this is the same for AI-generated text. In the Zoom call I mentioned above, the CEO of the Australian Society of Authors alluded to the term ‘hallucinations’ where AI scrapes the internet and draws false information or uses rubbish sources.

A recent article in New Scientist reports that ‘Microsoft and Google often train their AI on closed data sets that aren’t available for public scrutiny.’  So how do we check if AI collected its data from reputable sources? Has it understood nuanced writing? Have authors given permission for their work to be used?

What is in this for us?

It’s early days. Generative AI tools are not going away. They are tools, and if we choose to use them, we must learn how. We need to query their accuracy, check for bias and sensitivity, and be mindful of misappropriating other people’s ideas.

I will continue to use AI to help me edit my writing and I plan to see if ChatGPT can write me some promotional copy for my training course. 

How about you? Will you have a play with AI?

Contributor Beverley Streater

Beverley Streater styles herself as a reader, writer and critical friend. She relaxes by reading fiction, particularly new releases. Her key writing activity involves shifting complex text in government reports, white papers, and (UK) Mental Health Court reports into a format called Easy Read which suits readers with learning disabilities, cognitive impairment or people whose first language is not English. She and a colleague have written a short online course about writing Easy Read at easyreadtraining.com

She critiques and provides helpful feedback to authors in her role at Streater Editing Services.

You can find out more at streatereditingservices.com 

Beverley has always been fascinated by language and is curious about emerging technologies.

[i] https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2023-04-15/australians-using-generative-ai-everyday-life/102214676

[ii] https://theconversation.com/if-chatgpt-wrote-it-who-owns-the-copyright-it-depends-on-where-you-live-but-in-australia-its-complicated-202516#Do%20You%20Own%20Your%20Chatgpt%20output?

[iii] https://www.copyright.org.au/browse/book/Australian-Copyright-Council-Artificial-Intelligence-&-Copyright-INFO142/

[iv] Jeremy Hsu, ‘Big data may make AI more racist’, New Scientist, Volume 259, Issue 3448, 2023.


Member Blog by Gavin Fisher



Build your perfect CHARACTER

Let’s start with the NAME. When we are born, the first thing our parents do is give us a name. So too with the characters in your story, the protagonist and antagonist and even secondary personas.

The secret here is once again to keep it simple. Your main characters or protagonists should have easy names to remember and in keeping with the era in which your story is set.

For instance, in the early 1800s you had common names like Edward, Henry or Elizabeth. It would be uncommon to have had a name like Jayden or Makayla. No offence to the Jaydens and Makaylas out there.

If you’re really stuck for a name, there are some websites that may help inspire you, such as https://www.name-generator.org.uk/character/

If your preferred genre is Science Fiction, you may want to make up a name that is in keeping with the world or time your characters are living in. Be careful however to avoid names that are difficult to pronounce, thus causing your reader to stumble over them.

Let your reader SEE your character. Describe him or her by giving them a height, complexion, colour of hair etc. Do they have tattoos or piercings for instance? How do they move? The more information you give your readers, the more they will be able to associate with your characters and either hate or love them.

I’m a Pantser, as described in my previous blog, and unlike a Plotter who may develop their characters, complete with backstories before they put pen to paper, my characters pop up unexpectedly and develop right there in front of me in the same way my readers may get to know them.


This is a phrase that you will often hear when it comes to the art of writing. It’s when you as an author provide just enough colour and texture to a scene or character to allow the reader’s own imagination to take over.

For example, if I were to describe a character to you, let’s say;

A large man comes lumbering down the length of the room, looking every bit like a bouncer. Silver-grey hair shaved short against his skull and parted above his left ear by a livid sickle shaped scar. A tattoo of a Maltese cross adorns his neck.

Each and every one of you will visualise a different man and draw from your own experience or imagination, right down to his height, build, and what the scar looks like. Even the size and colour of the tattoo on his neck.


Get inside your character’s head. Feel his or her emotions and what they desire or dislike.

When writing in the first person, you are the protagonist and you live in the here and now, so your readers need to experience what you as the writer experiences as it happens.

If, however you are writing in the third person as I do, you need to take on multiple personalities. Understandably there will always be a faint trace of your own personality in each character you build, but you really need to push the boundaries. Flicking back and forth between these personas can be difficult at times, but you will get better at it as time goes on.


To make your characters believable you need to see them as real living people, with all their fears and hang-ups. Let’s say for instance your character is a fireman. He goes out and fights fire and saves lives. He’s a hero to everyone and even appears on the annual Fireman’s calendar. But back home he may have a wife or child who is seriously ill, or he may have some other internal conflict going on. Make them human.

Be careful however not to make their backstories too complicated or it will distract your reader.


Your secondary characters are just as important to the complexity of your story as your main characters. They not only help to humanise your protagonist or antagonist, but they give your story depth. In the real world, we are surrounded by co-workers, children and parents. The same goes for your characters.

Something to consider as well if you are going to write a sequel or two about one particular character you have developed, you may want to develop these secondary characters slowly, so that your reader gets to know them as well and feels like being part their lives.


By the time you have finished writing your manuscript, you will have developed an intimate relationship with your characters, and so too should your readers. They must become so involved with your characters that they don’t want the story to end. When the protagonist trumps the bad guy, they will want to cheer, or even cry when something bad happens to one of the characters they have fallen in love with.

We’ll be discussing the importance of RESEARCH next time, but for now, keep on writing …

Contributor Gavin Fisher

About Gavin

Gavin grew up in Paarl, in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, an area renowned for its scenic beauty and viticulture. Whether it was the scenery, drinking his parents’ wine on the sly, or being surrounded by the smell of fresh ink and the hum of his father’s printing presses—or all of the above—Gavin felt strangely inspired to start writing when he was twelve years old.

“My father gave me this old Underwood Standard. I’ll never forget it. It had a sticky ‘s’ key that would periodically instigate a maul of type hammers and shredded ribbon.”

Gavin went on the study Architecture and ran a practice in South Africa before emigrating along with his family, to Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s there that he started taking up writing seriously and began work on his debut novel, Colour of Greed. 

In 2008 he moved to the Gold Coast, Australia where he joined the Gold Coast Writers Association, serving as its president.

Colour of Greed went on to receive the Gold award for best fiction in Australia and New Zealand at the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2013.

“Writing can be an arduous and lonely journey. It is important to surround yourself with family and fellow writers who can support you along the way.”

Gavin still lives on the Gold Coast, working on his next thriller. A proud husband, father and grandfather. 

You can find out more about Gavin


Writing Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Member Blog by Russell Merrin

Writing book reviews is fun

First, there is the arrival of the three or four books from the journal I review for – all children’s fiction, information books or Young Adult novels – or the almost always delightful, illustrated picture books. It feels like I am still, vicariously, a part of the children’s literature community, from when I was a teacher-librarian for twenty-five years.

Review writing is a little like problem solving. First, you read the books as swiftly and thoroughly as you can, making notes of any salient points about each resource and jotting down a short and thorough outline of the main plot. Sub-plots rarely make it into the limited space of the review.

If your book review is for a newspaper or journal, you will almost certainly have a deadline to meet, preferably before the publication date. Check the deadline that you have been given and then set your own deadline for a week before that.

Length? My earlier editor’s less-than-helpful suggestion was that a review should be as long as it needs to be. While this was as generous as it was unhelpful, I usually try for 200 – 250 words. (Realistically 250 – 300).

You will obviously read the book’s own blurb first, to familiarise yourself with the genre and the general theme that this book will be all about.

As you are reading, get the names of all of the characters right, their ages, brief descriptions, allies, enemies etc. Be clear on the locations and settings and also the time period in which the piece is set.

The first draft of the book review involves writing it as comprehensively as you can and then paring it back, again and again, to make it as brief and concise and readable as you are able. It becomes a sort of puzzle, playing with words. I use my right click pull-down menu to trawl for synonyms, because the repetitive use of not-quite-precise ordinary words usually plagues the first draft.

Keep yourself out of the review, completely. This is not the place to score points or show off your own cleverness or give in to unhelpful sarcasm. Presumably, a dedicated author and their team put a lot of work into getting this work published, so they deserve your complete commitment.

Checklist for your book review

I have a short check list, a template for setting out each review, which varies, depending on what I’m reviewing. Picture books may need a slightly different approach (e.g., illustrations, artwork styles etc.)

  • Intro
  • Plot
  • Characters
  • Description
  • Illustrations
  • Cover Design
  • Opinion
  • Other publications by this author
  • Other observations
  • Conclusion
  • Recommended / Not recommended

When you have completely finished – if you are unsure of how your book review flows – go online and check out how other reviewers have reviewed this book. Have they picked up something you missed? Did they give a shorter, more concise outline of the plot?

If you are reviewing fiction, don’t give away the ending. That’s just being a bad sport.

Non-fiction doesn’t have to be read in a linear fashion. It can be read piecemeal. It is only necessary that you glean what the reader will want to get out of that book. Note any lists, fact boxes, maps, charts, photographs etc. Mention if the glossary, index table of contents is useful or not. If you think it is relevant, mention any other, similar earlier titles by this author.

It is not up to you to ‘sell’ the book. It is not up to you to pan the book. It is up to you to read the book – dissect it if you like – then report on the book as objectively as you can. If you do thoroughly love the book, praise it by all means, but do tell your reader why you like it. What are its strengths? Why is it so entertaining or informative for you? Who would you recommend it to?

You don’t have to, but I tend to comment on the writing style. Is it written in the first person, third person, multiple viewpoints, present or past tense?

Writing a review is reportage, so you are in pseudo-journalist mode when you write one. Check everything you have written, again and again. Just capture the essence of the book and omit the rest.

Finally, learning to compose a clear, concise review really is a helpful writing exercise, as it trains you to craft an effective blurb for your own fiction. It helps you to pare back all the extraneous detail and to write only the core of the story.

Have a go at reviewing. It is a good mental workout, and it can be quite fun. It definitely helps you to improve your own writing and it is quite reassuring because, as you read and assess each book, its flaws, as well its strengths, become obvious. Although one shouldn’t really say this out loud, there really is a lot of quite mediocre writing being published.

That should give the rest of us hope.

Contributor Russell Merrin
Russell Merrin

About Russell

Russ was born in Mackay, but grew up on the Gold Coast and has spent most of his life there, where he and his wife raised their family.

Before retiring, he was a primary school teacher and then teacher librarian, working in New South Wales, Victoria and, briefly, in the UK, before settling again on the Gold Coast. In Queensland, he taught at Palm Beach State School and then at the Tallebudgera State School.

His interests include reading, playing music (piano, guitar, banjo), bushwalking and geomorphology.

At high school (Tweed River High) he edited the school magazine ‘Seagull’ and at teachers’ college in Armidale, he edited ‘The Collegian’.

His short play for children, ‘The Bushrangers’ Last Picnic’, was published in the NSW Education Department’s ‘School Magazine’.

He has reviewed for the children’s literature magazine ‘Magpies’ since 1992, and contributed articles to its sister journal ‘The Literature Base’ over the same time period.

In 2008 to 2009, he was one of four national judges for the Children’s Book Council of Australia, judging the winning information books for the Eve Pownall Awards.

In 2022 he came second in the GCWA short story competition held that year.

Russell is currently editing a children’s novel that he just completed writing, and continues to maintain a keen interest and enthusiasm for reading, writing and books in general.

Breaking Traditions: The Benefits of Using a Self-Publisher

Member Blog by Andy McDermott 

Breaking Traditions: The Benefits of Using a Self-Publisher

Self-publishing has revolutionised the way we read, write, and shop for books. According to some estimates, over a million books were self-published in 2017 in the United States alone, a trend that continues at a breakneck rate. Trends in the Australian publishing market tend to follow those in the rest of the English-speaking world, meaning more and more authors in Australia are turning to online book publishing to get their words and ideas out into the world.

And yet, despite these fundamental changes across the industry, the traditional model of publishing still endures. So, why are so many authors of all genres, backgrounds and industries choosing to self-publish their books instead?

There are many benefits to self-publishing your next project. Here are just a few.

You’re in control. Traditional publishers typically wield final say over every step of the publishing process and book creation: marketing, jacket design, editing, even the title. By the time the final published version winds up on shelves, it’s been through so many hands, it’s hard to know how much of the author’s original vision remains.

When you self-publish your work, you take charge of the process. You have power over every aspect of the design, marketing and creative direction of the book. Of course, if your book features shoddy copyediting or a hideous layout, you may only have yourself to blame. But every element will be seen by your readers exactly as you created it.

Time is on your side. Many authors face tight deadlines for delivery of their manuscripts, then they wait for months or years for the published book to be available. A book that seemed relevant or timely while being written can be outdated by the time it arrives for purchase. Or an author’s fans anxiously await the book’s publication, then endure painful delays at the whims of a publisher’s packed schedule.

With online self-publication, you determine your schedule for delivery and release, and you have the option to coordinate your book publication with an event or book tour. Build hype with your readership by releasing chapters at a time. With the right preparation, you can publish practically the instant the work is done. And it’ll be available for purchase or review exactly as long as you want it to be. That means the only tough deadlines you’ll face are your own.

Keep your rights. When you sign a contract with a traditional publisher even a smaller independent press you surrender your rights to the material for a length of time. The publisher retains the rights over your book, even if they’ve given up marketing it. If the company folds or faces internal shake-ups, your work could languish in contractual limbo.

By self-publishing, you preserve all legal control over your work forever. You can do whatever you desire with it: revise, expand, repackage, or even delete it. And when hotshot movie producers inevitably come looking to purchase the rights for a massive global film franchise, you’ll be the only one signing that lucrative deal.

Target your niche. Most authors who find success self-publishing their work do so by understanding, and engaging with, their readers. Though the marketing budgets of the biggest book publishers might suggest otherwise, the best way to promote your book isn’t through blanket media saturation, it’s with positive word of mouth.

Of course, these days, much of that engagement occurs online. Creating that intimate bond between author and reader is easier when self-publishing your work. Use social media and online networking in conjunction with your publications to get the word out. Identify and target the readers who will actually want to read your words. Genuine reader loyalty is a relationship worth more than any book contract.

Say no to wasted inventory. The old ways of book publishing, with enormous and unrealistic print runs, often meant stacks and stacks of unsold books collecting dust. Online book publishing streamlines the production process. Services like short-run and on-demand printing leverage digital publishing technology to avoid quantities beyond what you need. That, in turn, results in lower shipping costs, less waste of resources and fewer copies of your precious work sitting in corners covered in cobwebs.

Get paid more and often. Traditional publishing houses pay their authors through advances and royalties. An advance paid upfront can be a welcome payday, but it really is just that: an advance on any payments forthcoming through sales. If you don’t recoup your advance, don’t expect to see more cash coming soon. And, in the eyes of your publisher, you’ll be considered a loss – hardly an ideal position to be in when negotiating your next book deal.

Self-publishing, meanwhile, is affordable and budget-friendly, with only minor upfront costs and no advances to make back. And, when it comes to royalties, self-publishing pays far better than old-model publishing. With a conventional publisher, an author might receive only 10 to 15 percent of a book’s list price. By contrast, self-publishing can earn an author up to 100 percent of the royalties after costs such as printing, bookstore mark-ups, and marketing.

Self-publishing also gets you paid regularly and often. While traditional publishers often make their authors wait interminably for the royalties to trickle in, self-publishing revenues are processed instantly and automatically. Seeing the payoff for your hard work racking up in real time can be incredibly inspiring when dreaming up your next opus.

For the fun of it. Remember why you started writing in the first place? Doing it yourself lets you maintain that initial thrill of unleashing your words in a published format. Self-publishing also lets you experiment with risky concepts or wild ideas in a way that traditional publishing can stifle. Let your creativity run wild with the design and feel of your book. Self-publishing allows you to share your philosophies, expertise, and stories all without any limitations on your vision. 

Contributor Andy McDermott

Publicious CEO Andrew McDermott (Andy) published his first novel, The Tiger Chase, in 2002 with an American publisher. He launched the book in San Diego and followed up with a book tour of the US, including the LA China Town and Las Vegas.

On his return to Australia, he became disillusioned with the publishing industry. After being locked into an unproductive contract, earning a tiny percentage of royalties for all his hard work, and not owning any of his rights, he decided to follow the self-publishing route.

Find out more about Andy here


Member blog by Gavin Fisher



Some of you may have heard these terms used rather loosely while talking to a Fiction Writer about their craft, and wondered what he or she was talking about.

I myself am a Pantser! There, I’ve said it. I have confessed…

So now let me explain the difference between the two before you think me evil and unfriend me.


A plotter is a person who sits down and outlines a plot of their story following a structured approach. This approach will most likely drill down to chapter headings and a rough outline of the contents of each chapter ending with the grand finale. A story outline such as this is sometimes a requirement for submissions to agents and/or publishers and it is an approach many authors follow.


The opposite to a Plotter, the Pantser sits down and writes, allowing their creativity to take over. There is no plan, the story develops itself on the fly as the author writes.

There is no right or wrong way to writing your story. It’s whatever works for you as the author or more importantly, the reader as he/she is the ultimate judge of whether it is working.


What’s the difference you ask?

Well let’s use my novel, Colour of Greed, as an example. David Burrows, while driving home one evening, comes across one of his buildings that has collapsed during an earthquake, causing death to many and maiming others for life. He blames himself and is forever wondering how it happened. That’s a story.

Now change that to include an anonymous tip-off that something was not right with the structure itself and other unknown parties that try to stop David from finding out the truth, and you have your plot.

A good plot must always have something at stake. A life or love, or something simple like trying to clear your protagonist’s name.

To be a good Fiction Writer you must keep raising the stakes. That’s what gives your plot momentum and makes your reader want to turn the pages. Everyone wants to see good triumph over evil. We live in a world where so much bad stuff happens, that we as readers want to see a satisfying outcome. Some form of closure. But don’t make it too easy.


Conflict creates drama. My main characters in the story are generally your ordinary everyday people like you and me, who get confronted by either a worthy villain who means them harm or a puzzle that needs to be solved. Avoiding or outwitting the villain becomes the conflict. Or if it’s a puzzle of sorts that needs to be solved, don’t make the solution too easy, or possibly put a time limit on it. That too becomes the conflict.

Something else to bear in mind is that your villain may even become your main character. Take Ned Kelly for instance. When you read about his exploits you sometimes don’t want him to get caught. Thomas Harris does it brilliantly with Dr. Hannibal Lecter in his sequel The Silence of the Lambs whereby you actually like Hannibal – even if he is the primary antagonist.


One of the things you can do to keep the momentum up is to introduce twists or surprises in your plot. Be careful however not to overdo it, or your reader may get confused with all the red herrings or simply feel that there is no end to the conflict and get bored with the story.


If you can condense your story into telling it in a few minutes, that is your plot.

We call it the Elevator Pitch. Imagine you’re getting into an elevator with a total stranger. You’re on the top floor and he asks what your story is about. You should be able tell him what it is about before you reach the ground floor. If they say wow, that sounds interesting, then that is the story. Don’t over embellish or pad it so as to get a high word count and make it look like War and Peace.

On the other hand, if your mystery listener in the elevator bursts out laughing and tells you not to give up your day job, then simply stop the lift between floors. When the police find the body at the bottom of the lift shaft with a note in their pocket saying they are sorry –

just that – I’M SORRY, you have the ideal plot for a Fiction Writer.

Next time we’ll look at how to create good CHARACTERS, but for now, keep on writing…

About Gavin

Gavin grew up in Paarl, in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, an area renowned for its scenic beauty and viticulture. Whether it was the scenery, drinking his parents’ wine on the sly, or being surrounded by the smell of fresh ink and the hum of his father’s printing presses—or all of the above—Gavin felt strangely inspired to start writing when he was twelve years old.

“My father gave me this old Underwood Standard. I’ll never forget it. It had a sticky ‘s’ key that would periodically instigate a maul of type hammers and shredded ribbon.”

Gavin went on the study Architecture and ran a practice in South Africa before emigrating along with his family, to Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s there that he started taking up writing seriously and began work on his debut novel, Colour of Greed. 

In 2008 he moved to the Gold Coast, Australia where he joined the Gold Coast Writers Association, serving as its president.

Colour of Greed went on to receive the Gold award for best fiction in Australia and New Zealand at the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2013.

“Writing can be an arduous and lonely journey. It is important to surround yourself with family and fellow writers who can support you along the way.”

Gavin still lives on the Gold Coast, working on his next thriller. A proud husband, father and grandfather. 

You can find out more about Gavin


Changing the Narrative of Gender in Storytelling.

Member Blog by Kellie M Cox

I’m Kellie M Cox, author, counsellor, creative coach, dog mum and owner of Strong Female
Protagonists Publishing, Changing the Narrative of Gender in Storytelling.

So, what does that mean? Are we as writers supposed to change the way we tell stories,
making the women the protagonists and men the antagonists? Of course not, but are we as
contemporary storytellers compelled to consider the narratives we create? Most definitely.

Ernest Hemingway is one of my favourite writers of all time. He has been described as a hard
drinking, womanising, misogynist. If this is the case, why are his stories considered classics?
It is when we read authors like Hemingway or Miller, we read them within the constraints of
the time in which they were writing. Even as a mature reader myself, I still cringe at the
numerous references to a certain unmentionable four letter word starting with the letter c and
the references to women as if they were disposable commodities. Would their novels be
published by the big five today? It is highly unlikely because they would be considered
offensive to some, sexist to many and not marketable to the largely mainly female cohort of
readers buying commercial fiction. But we readers keep reading the classics and rightly so.
Sometimes cringing, but with fascination for a time long past. Reading the classics is one
thing but writing those gender narratives in contemporary society won’t wash, fortunately so,
because we have matured in our view of gender equality.

Moving forward to more recent storytelling with the enthralling Tarantino movies of the Kill
Bill series. We loved watching Uma Thurman in a yellow jumpsuit making accountable all
who did her wrong. She avenged the man who assaulted her sexually, emotionally, and
physically. She became the strong female protagonist of her own story. Why did we love
these movies? We loved seeing a person overcoming incredible hardships and avenging the
wrong perpetuated against her by the cruel villain of the piece. I would suggest modern day
storytellers are moving beyond the male as the villain and instead are seeing kick arse women
just being inspiring, whether they are planning a massive jewellery heist (Oceans 8) or saving
a city from the supernatural (Ghostbusters) as in our latest reboots of popular movie scripts.

These examples form a progression of the narrative of gender in storytelling but where are we
at today? Today we are in a world of non-binary, non-gendered language. We have in many
countries around the world acknowledged our lack of understanding of forms of love and
changed legislation around rights to marry. We have non gendered language in schools,
teachers speaking to parents about their little person or their student rather than their son or
daughter. We have real life inspiration around us in people transitioning from the body they
were born to into the body they identify with.

In my novel Murderous Intent, I wrote a gorgeous character – a fun loving, risk-taking
creative. Someone living not within a box, for he never knew a box existed. He is in a
relationship with another man, and during the story, enjoyed a sex scene with his female
writing colleague. A reviewer wrote about this character identifying him as gay. I wanted to
question the reviewer and ask her how she came up with this label. The character himself had
some inspiring dialogue, once saying ‘We are artists my dear. We cannot be concerned with
society’s rules for us. We simply don’t conform and why should we. We must take every
moment. Every passion. Every ounce of beauty and live it. For then we create with that
moment in time something extraordinary to share with the world.’ In another moving
monologue, this same character describes himself as saying, ‘My dear, we are writers. We
must partake of whatever devilish desires our little hearts crave. It is what allows our artistic
juices to flow.’ In our current understanding of sexual attraction, this character could identify
as gay, bisexual, or pansexual, but he doesn’t sound as if he wishes to label himself at all and
why should we as writers or reviewers try to do that for him.

So, what are we as modern-day storytellers responsible for doing? We are mindful of writing
characters who identify outside of their gendered role. We are creating storylines of women
doing amazing things without the antecedent of a traumatic event perpetuated by a male
villain. We are creating characters who were born brilliant and who are courageous enough to
live the life they dream to live without generations-old views. We are keeping abreast of
changes to language to identify with the subtle differences that are happening every day. We
are writing not to fit any stereotypical norms, but instead writing characters who our readers
— female, male, non-binary, non-gendered and transitioning – can relate to.

Well done to those writers who are thinking ahead while still appreciating the words of our
great classics. I believe it is the creatives who change the world, and the power of our words make a difference.

Are you, in your current work in progress, keeping abreast of how our readers are identifying? This is a good question to ask with every draft and every edit. You are the writers creating the storylines our future generations will love reading, for they will see themselves in your worlds. Our future readers will appreciate that you took the time right now to consider the narrative.


Guest blog by Gavin Fisher


The end, finished, fine, la fin, break out the champagne!

No matter what your written language or background is, you have just finished your first draft and you feel on top of the world. It’s like this great weight has been lifted from your shoulders and you have achieved something you didn’t think possible when you first set out on your writing journey.

After months of research and plotting, what started out as a simple thought, a tiny seed that was planted in your conscience, has grown and blossomed into a unique story you can truly call your own. Something to be immensely proud of. You are a giant amongst giants, and you are going to sell and make a lot of money with your new-found creativity.

Reality check! But more about that later…

So, you ask yourself, now what?

Beware of the monster you have just tamed, the one that has been sitting inside your head for months, and sometimes, as in my case, years. Because, now the self-doubts will begin to set in. Will it be good enough to show the rest of your family or friends—if what you have just finished is your first manuscript—let alone getting it published for the world to see? Or, if you have already published, will it be as good as your last manuscript?

Best advice I can give you, is let it rest for a while, for however long it takes. Think of it as metaphorical loaf of bread. You’ve kneaded the dough with all its ingredients, wrapped it in a cloth and now it must rest and rise into a workable form.

In the meantime, move onto your next project. I can almost guarantee that while you were researching the subject of your manuscript, ideas for another story would have popped into your head.

Only when you feel the time is right—and you’ll know when—do you pick up that slumbering monster again. You may not even recognise some of that unworked mound of dough you put away, but that’s a good thing. It’s time for your second and even third draft, until such time you are happy with the result. It’s cut down to a manageable size and ready for the mould—editing! It’s time to reveal your monster…

I often get asked how I write a book, so I thought I’d give you some insight as to how I go about it. But remember, every author is different. Our methodology, our train of thought, even our way with words differ. That’s what makes reading a book so special. Every journey is a new one.


So, let’s go back to the point where all stories begin, the idea, that seed that gets planted inside your head. Something I get asked a lot, is where do I get my ideas from for the stories. The answer is simple. They come from anywhere. From something I may see while walking in the street or something I experienced for myself. The idea will simply pop into my head for no apparent reason and at odd times. I let that idea run wild for a while. Get those creative juices flowing. It doesn’t matter where the idea is going, it’s not the story itself, just the spark. The mere fact that it’s buzzing around in your head is a good thing.

I find it helpful to create a scrapbook, either on paper or somewhere on my hard drive where I can access it later when looking for some inspiration. Remember that these ideas can come at any time. More often than not, while you’re writing something else or doing the all-important research, which we’ll get to further on. Don’t let yourself get distracted from your current work.

It’s very rare that an author will come up with a fresh idea. It’s how we stitch those ideas together so as to form a tapestry that will engage our readers. A really good idea is one that you can tell your friends about, and they say, “oh that’s interesting, tell me more.”

Not every idea is a good book. Some ideas may lack sufficient substance or emotion to go any further, while others no matter how trivial, may spark such an emotional response in you, that you say to yourself wow, this idea is packed with so much emotion that my readers will be able to relate to.

To give you an example, my latest novel, Double Death, sprang from an emotional feeling of frustration and loss I personally felt while out shopping with my lovely wife. Yes, she disappeared, just as Angie did in the story, and it was that emotional response I felt that sparked the imagination.

I never know where the idea will take me, or the direction the story will go once I start writing, but that’s just my own personal style of writing.

I’ll be discussing the PLOT with you next time, but for now, keep on writing…

About Gavin

Gavin Fisher

Gavin grew up in Paarl, in South Africa’s Western Cape Province, an area renowned for its scenic beauty and viticulture. Whether it was the scenery, drinking his parents’ wine on the sly, or being surrounded by the smell of fresh ink and the hum of his father’s printing presses—or all of the above—Gavin felt strangely inspired to start writing when he was twelve years old.

“My father gave me this old Underwood Standard. I’ll never forget it. It had a sticky ‘s’ key that would periodically instigate a maul of type hammers and shredded ribbon.”

Gavin went on the study Architecture and ran a practice in South Africa before emigrating along with his family, to Christchurch, New Zealand. It’s there that he started taking up writing seriously and began work on his debut novel, Colour of Greed. 

In 2008 he moved to the Gold Coast, Australia where he joined the Gold Coast Writers Association, serving as its president.

Colour of Greed went on to receive the Gold award for best fiction in Australia and New Zealand at the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2013.

“Writing can be an arduous and lonely journey. It is important to surround yourself with family and fellow writers who can support you along the way.”

Gavin still lives on the Gold Coast, working on his next thriller. A proud husband, father and grandfather. 

You can find out more about Gavin

Winners of the Gold Coast Writers’ Association 2022 Short Story Competition – Writing in the Sand

A beach scene with the GCWA logo superimposed

We are excited to share with you our winning short stories for 2022, judged by Lori-Jay Ellis CEO, Queensland Writers Centre.

First place – Congratulations Justin Andrews on your winning short story Finding Words

Finding Words

I fall. I’m crying but I don’t have time to stop. I can hear the older boys closing in. So I get
up and I run. My knee hurts.
‘There he is,’ a voice shouts. ‘Don’t let him cut between the houses.’
I spy a small gap between the grey panelled box-like structures. It is barely enough for
my small frame but I manage to squeeze through. I tear away down the alley.
‘Dang it. Go around, get to the beach.’
I break through the thin row of houses, but I know I won’t have long before the older
boys find their way around the barricade and close in once again. A blast of warm sea breeze
wipes the tears from my face. The wet and salty streaks now replaced by the radiant fingers
of the sun. The heat slices into my dark skin; like a rake across dry grass.
I need to find a shell. Daddy and I love picking up shells on the beach.
My eyes scan the emptiness before me. My brown leather shoes kick up swirls of sand
which begin to form small uncomfortable mounds beneath my socks. The heavy shoes and
the soft sand slow my escape, but I don’t stop. I wipe my nose and the breeze keeps my
vision clear of tears.
I stop.
In the near distance I see a cluster of white shapes. Beautiful shells, devoid of life.
Before I reach them a strong hand is upon me.
‘Got you,’ Jeremy says. I know it’s Jeremy, it’s always Jeremy.
I try to tell him to go away. I want to tell him to leave me alone; but I can’t. I can
never find the words. All I can do is scream. Scream, groan and cry.
Jeremy pulls me toward him. There are three other boys with him. One of them is
even a white kid. They are Jeremy’s friends. They just stand and watch.
Jeremy’s strong arms seem to engulf me from everywhere all at once.
I pound my tiny fists against his broad chest. He’s only thirteen, six years older than
me, but much, much bigger. He kneels down. He holds me tight. I cannot break free. I wail, I
cry, I try to tell him to let go, but the words don’t come. The words never come.
Jeremy holds me.
‘Hush now, little brother,’ he says. ‘It’s alright, it’s just me.’
It’s not alright, I want to tell him. It’s not alright, and you have to let me go. But he
doesn’t understand.
‘Hush now,’ he says again.
Jeremy starts humming. It’s my favourite lullaby. It calms me. My crying slows and I
bury my head in his neck.
One of Jeremy’s friends puts a hand on my brother’s shoulder. ‘He okay, man?’ he
‘Yeah, yeah,’ Jeremy says. ‘It’s just a lot, you know. A lot to take in. But he’ll calm
down. He’ll be okay.’
Jeremy hums a little longer. Slowly, I give up. Instead of fighting against him, I raise
my arms and hug him back.
Another kid asks, ‘Why did he come this way, you think?’ It’s the white kid.

‘I dunno,’ Jeremy says.
He lets me go. He puts some distance between us but keeps both hands on my
‘Hey champ,’ he says, ‘Why’d you come this way?’ He smooths down my button up
dress shirt. ‘Shoot, you’ve got sand and dirt all over your Sunday bests.’
I spin and point a finger at the pile of mollusc skeletons nearby.
Jeremy says, ‘You want the shells.’
I nod and wipe my nose.
‘Oh yeah. You loved collecting shells with Dad. I forgot.’ Jeremy sniffs. He is trying
to hold back a flood of tears. He thinks he’s not supposed to cry in front of me. I heard
Mamma tell him he had to ‘be strong’ in front of me.
Jeremy stands and brushes his hands together, golden flecks of sand waft in the
breeze. He says, ‘Come on.’ He holds out his hand and I take it in mine.
There are hundreds of people at the funeral. Hundreds more are gathered outside the
cemetery. The people outside are protestors. They yell at the cops. They yell at the
government. They even yell at the soldiers.
‘Dirty hippies,’ my uncle calls them. He always says, ‘They never been to ‘Nam so
they don’t know shit.’
We have to press our way past the hippies before we can get back in the cemetery.
They make way for us. Parting like the Red Sea did for Moses.
‘Another kid without a father …’ someone shouts.
I am cradling an armful of beautiful, perfect shells. People think I’m dumb and that I
can’t hear them. Or even if they know I can hear, they don’t think I can understand. But I can.
I understand most things and know more than they think I do, it’s just that I can never find
the words.
‘That’s that mute boy, isn’t it?’
‘Hush now, he ain’t deaf.’
‘Poor boy, probably doesn’t know what to make of all this.’
‘At least he’s still got his mamma.’
‘Jeremy’s the man of the house now.’
Mamma is by the coffin. She cries when she sees me but doesn’t scold me for dirtying
my Sunday bests. She embraces me in the folds of her dress.
‘Oh dear boy,’ she says. ‘You know better than to run off like that, look at you, you’re
a right mess …’
But I’m not here for mamma. I push past her and kneel in the soft dirt before the
Carefully I lay out the shells one by one.
I stand up.
For the first time in my entire life, I’ve figured out how to find the words.
Mamma gasps, everyone gasps. Jeremy cries.
The shells say, ‘DaDDy.’

Second Place – Congratulations Russell Merrin on your winning short story The Three Minute Heirloom

The Three Minute Heirloom
The softwood frame was flimsy, but strong. It weighed barely anything. A mundane,
oversized bit of clutter – and yet my mother had adored it. Treasured it. Guarded it with all
the fervour and love anyone else would spend on a favourite piece of jewellery. But it was
very plain. Not really useful.
It had to go.
I examined the hourglass, turned it around and tipped it upside down. It stood about
twenty centimetres high, with its fine glass double bulbs tapering in the middle to an almost
impossibly fragile narrow pipe where the grains escaped to the haven of the lower bulb. How
many minutes would flow away, through that clear glass waist with the falling sand grains?
Maybe three? Perhaps I could use it as an egg timer, to boil the perfect egg!
The sand grains were so very tiny – almost silt – and in just two colours. Dark evil black
and angel white. They did not blend together to make grey.
But before I consigned it to the growing pile of discarded junk – because Mum had so
loved it – I inverted it, setting it down again on the bench and continued sorting Mum’s
The top chamber seemed to empty so fast, with the minute grains tumbling, rolling and
cascading down in a mini avalanche of white and black. By the time I had flicked through
Mum’s old faithful recipe book, the grains had settled into a little hill, almost completely
black, with a few white grains scattered randomly across the nearer surface. Not, not
More ordered.
Like … letters.
White on black.
I stared at the word spelled out. Word? It couldn’t be. No random cascading of tiny silica
grains could actually form so perfectly into letters. Impossible!
Talk? I stood the hourglass back on the bench and stared at it while I tried to settle my
pounding pulse and the light-headed flutter in my brain. I glanced around. It took way longer
than it should have for me to work out what to do next.
The obvious, right?
I lifted the hourglass and carefully turned it over again and watched the tiny grains once
more begin their downward cycle to nowhere. No words. Nothing, until the last grains slid
down in small cascade, wiping aside a slope of black grains to show – again white on black –
another word. I thought it was repeating ‘talk’, but the letters came out this time as ‘t’ and
finally, ‘o’.
Another word! Another impossible word. I wasted no time trying to work out what was
happening or why. I flipped the hourglass over once more.
And waited. Not for long. The next word was short. Simple.

Talk. To. Me.
Talk to me?
This was crazy.
I sat back and stared at the timepiece trying to still my thoughts and reassure my doubting
brain that I was not losing touch with reality.
‘Uh, okay,’ I said, feeling like a complete fool addressing the hourglass. ‘What do you
want me to say to you?’
I looked around. No-one there.
I tipped the hourglass upside down again. And waited. The miniscule avalanche again
began to pour down – far too slowly.
Gradually, over the half dozen or so turnings and up-endings, the sands finally spelled out
a series of words.
‘not’ ‘the’ ‘hour’ ‘glass’ ‘talk’ ‘to’ ‘me’
I simply asked it, ‘Who is me?’
Then, holding my breath, I stood the hourglass – so very carefully – heavy side up, onto
the table in front of me and waited. And watched as the sand grains, once more, tumbled
down to their destiny.
One word.
I stared at the timepiece for longer than necessary and again cast a glance around the
closed room.
My whole body chilled, and I felt a small shiver soft-rumble through my extremities.
I spoke and flipped the hourglass again and again, looking for any alternate, more
plausible answer.
I sat and stared at Mum’s hourglass.
The heirloom.
My recently deceased Mum could not possibly be on the other end of this conversation –
could she?
I tried a sneaky question.
‘So, is this why you always kept the egg timer hidden away from us kids?’
A three-minute wait for the falling grains of sand.
Pause. Think.
‘And you inherited it from your Dad? Grandad?’
Pause. Think. Wait.
I flipped the timekeeper as the words flowed from my lips.
‘And you used to talk to Grandad, after … he died?’
A familiar three-minute wait while she replied.
I could almost feel Mum’s familiar exasperation at my obtuseness.
I hesitated then, because it was the obvious question.
‘Where you are, is Grandad there as well?’
A pause as the tiny white grains did their work.
‘we’ ‘all’ ‘are’
I flushed with a deep secret excitement that I had never before felt. A million questions
swirled in my brain, but I could not think of one to single out and ask.
Almost of their own volition, my fingers absent-mindedly flipped over the hour glass once
Slowly, the words – Mum’s words – tumbled down the shallow slope of the black sand,
word after word after word.
‘we’ ‘are’ ‘all’ ‘with’ ‘you’
The rush of love that soared through me flushed tears to my eyes and flooded down my
I flipped the hourglass once more.
Then again.
All ways. Poor old Mum had never really been a good speller.
We are with you.
Correction, I am with you.
Always …

Third Place – Congratulations Cherie Bombell on your winning short story Back Story

Back Story
Held with two hands at his back, the boy drags a stick along the beach. Engraved sand
trails him, as if drawn by a long obsolete appendage. I follow not knowing where we’re
headed, what uncharted territory we’ll enter. He determines the direction and the outcome.
In his wake, I nimbly avoid stepping on the snake-trench he carves.
Twists and turns, lumps and gullies, unpredictable obstacles, he marks the sand as fate
has marked his life. Too many scrapes and scars for his nine years. Never does he change
his onward motion, never does he slow the pilgrimage.
‘I’m not going to school today,’ he’d said this morning, his Vegemite moustache
drooping as he spoke. ‘I need a day.’
We brought our already-packed lunches in a backpack and walked to the beach in silent
side-by-side harmony. In the two years since he’d come to me, I’d learned from him that
the thundering surf is more soothing than quiet solitude and sand between my toes is more
inspiring than any church sermon.
Relentlessly, he marches onward, etching his childhood in the sand. The detritus of the sea
tries to deter him: he skirts around sea jellies just as he’d dodged his father’s anger; he
ploughs through small rocks and shells just as he’d lived every day of his life. Seaweed
catches on his stick. He tows it, out of sight, just as his history clings to him.
Sun-bleached hair swirls around his bronzed face and knots in the offshore breeze.
Onlookers would assume this beautiful surfer boy has a wonderful life in front of him.
Truth is, what comes from behind too often determines what lies ahead.
The past follows him, all of us, inescapably into the future.
How can I help him when I can’t help myself? Who did I think I was to take on this
fractured, broken child when I too am broken?
My childhood shadows my days but I’ve buried my pain in an unreachable chasm – too
deep and overwhelming to resolve all these years later.
I can’t change what he’s experienced but can I change what happens next?
A dog bounds up and tries to wrestle the rod from the boy. Determined to maintain his
momentum, he holds firm and keeps walking, feeling, thinking, his composition guiding
The surf is our peaceful place. Out there, where water is sucked backwards to form a
wave that builds then races forward to crash and shatter near the shore. Day after day, all
day long, it moves; back, build, forward, crash, shatter, repeat. A rhythm all too familiar.
When I taught him to surf, I knew the sea would sting his eyes, salt his mouth, thunder
in his ears. I’d hoped it would also cleanse his soul.
Once on his feet, he’d balance against competing forces and react instinctively when
forced sideways to move forward. Sometimes, when a wave was too fast or too powerful
and smashed him, I feared the undertow would hold him down but he’d surface, hop up on
his board and paddle back into the melee. He said the ocean speaks to him.

Hours pass, kilometres pass. The boy stops, faces the surf and sits down cross-legged. He
holds his shaft like a tribal leader; one end in the sand, the other pointing to the sky.
‘I’m hungry.’
‘Okay, let’s eat.’ I hand him a peanut butter and slightly browned banana sandwich. We
drink from our water bottles and crunch a couple of apples.
I look out to the ever-changing ocean, beyond the lacy foam to the swell. Sunlight
twinkles like fine cut diamonds emerging from the sea. Down the beach, the spray dims
and blurs what is beyond. The same blurry unknown as the future.
His breathing slows and deepens to the resonance of the breaking waves.
‘Ya know, it doesn’t matter that James calls me names and tells the kids lies about me.
It doesn’t matter that the principal puts me on detention because someone said I did
something I didn’t do. They all think I’m a fuck up.’ His left hand holds his sandwich, the
right twists his staff, drilling it deeper into the sand. ‘What matters is that I know the truth.
I’m not my parents. I don’t want their life. I’m a good person.’ He turns towards me,
smiling, blinking rapidly. ‘You love me and teach me what I need to know.’
Unable to speak, I fuss with gathering up the lunch wrappings. This child who’d spent
his first seven years in drug-induced poverty and neglect is mistaken. He’s teaching me
about love and forgiveness. His innocent wisdom floors me, inspires me.
Waves of resolve crash against my chest – a gift from the boy who guides me through
the sand with his wooden wand. The boy whose love and lessons wash my heart just as the
waves cleanse the beach.
We head home, back the way we’d come. The tide has turned. Gentle foam and the
rising sea have smoothed over parts of his prose. Other sections have been obliterated.
With every step, his sceptre pierces and punctuates full stops in the sand. A small rewrite
of his backstory. A small healing.

Congratulations to all that entered. Listed below are the authors that made it to our long list in alphabetical order by surname.

Justin Andrews – Finding Words.
Beverley Bird – The Circle.
Cherie Bombell – Back Story.
Chris Chard – Floatlines.
Johnny Graham – Searching for Sandy Times.
Russel Merrin – The Three Minute Heirloom.
Wendy Tarrant – Dyslexia. Pfft.
Bob Topping – All it May have Been.
Steve Treffery – Ten Years.
Lauren Wapling – Story Wire.
Gina Watkins – Mirage.
Connor Zahra – Green Beach.

Thank you to Lori-Jay Ellis and her team, and committee members, Christine Betts, Kerri Yarsley, Kellie Cox, Kate Kelsen, Jane O’Connell and Selena Budgen for their time and dedication in bringing the competition to life.

Podcasting for Authors

Guest blog by Jen Swenson

Find your Why

This lays the groundwork for your new podcast:
● Define your goals. What do you hope to achieve through your podcast? Dream big!
● Choose your podcast genre and theme. The Change Room is a lifestyle podcast for
women in the latter part of life (45yrs +); designed to inspire transformation and
reinvention in all aspects of their lives.
● Find your niche. Everyone needs a niche to capture the attention of a specific group of
listeners, however, don’t cast your niche net too widely or your audience will remain
small. The Change Room’s niche is women over 45, who may be women of faith.
● Give your podcast a name! Your name should be memorable, specific and relate to your
personal ‘brand’ as an author, speaker or businessperson. However, leave creating the
artwork, graphics and branding until a bit later. Once your podcast’s identity takes a bit
more shape, you can start on the more creative tasks.
● Claim your socials! As soon as you have a name, check if your social media handles are
available. Even if you don’t do any more with your online presence at this point, you will
need to ensure you can use the name you have chosen. This is such an important step!

Pro-Tip Have at least ten episodes planned ahead of time and create a teaser episode or trailer for
the podcast. At this point in time, get your logo design underway, but leave the rest of the artwork until
a bit later, until you’re confident in the creative identity of the podcast.

Choose a format

What style will your podcast take? Will you be interviewing guests, or will it be a monologue? How long will each episode go for? Think about your listener and what they might want. Research the costs involved for hosting and the different pod player platforms available. How often will you release new episodes? Consistency is often rewarded by podcast platforms! Will your podcast be seasonal or continual?

Research and choose your recording set up and software

There are a few options out there…

You can outsource – hire a fully equipped studio or build your own. Google “How to
start a Podcast.” DIY setups are less complicated than they sound and can save you lots of
money if you’re launching your podcast on a budget. There are even podcasts about starting
podcasts! Research extensively, but don’t get so bogged down in learning that you forget to

Consistency is key

As mentioned above, podcast platforms like Spotify reward consistency. Jen Swenson had ten episodes of The Change Room ready to go when she launched. Jen hired a local studio to record and produce her first ten episodes at a cost of around $4,500. She used the process and time to research her choice of equipment and has now built her own in-home studio for recording. An in-home set up has become a popular option. The must-have requirement is a space where you can avoid echoes and background noise. Many home-podcasters swear by the walk-in-robe!

So, you’re ready to record your first episode?

Once you have chosen a place and platform for recording, write an outline for your episode and record a test track and listen to it. Make your outline as brief or as detailed as you’d like! Some may prefer to ‘wing it’ but this is a personal preference thing and depends on the tone you’re going for. Even the most seasoned
interviewers and speakers prepare for their podcasts or talks. According to Jen, a 1500-word script will produce around a ten-minute monologue. With The Change Room, Jen’s outlines entail a simple structure or flow and some notes to stimulate an organic, conversational feel.

Tease the release of your podcast

Create or commission a teaser episode for your podcast.
Like a movie trailer, the teaser sets the tone for the podcast and give the listeners an
understanding of what you’re about. But don’t give everything away all at once! Leave them
wanting more. This is a great way to secure yourself an audience for when you launch.

Edit your audio

If you have interviewed a guest, ask them if there is anything they would
like deleted. Record an intro and outro. Do you need music? Some platforms, like Anchor,
provide clips of music for podcasters to use. Again, think carefully about your podcast’s
identity. Does the music you’ve chosen emulate your theme well?

Create a checklist of essential steps towards your launch

At this stage you should also have an idea of the artwork/thumbnail/branding you would like to use.

Set up social media pages

You should have claimed your handles way back at the start and now it’s time to write in a bio and send the page to some friends to get a few followers engaged. If you’ve released your teaser, chances are some people are already interested in following you to keep up with the launch. This is a great opportunity to leverage your connections and get your friends and family to follow you.

Set up your podcast platform

Fill out your profile, upload your artwork, choose a podcast genre, upload your trailer episode and first episode. Write up your show notes. Show notes are a great way to link in resources and even to plug personal endeavours. Jen often links the web address for her email, Instagram and bookkeeping practice in the show notes as a way to connect her listeners to her personally and professionally. There are hundreds to choose from worldwide, but the main players include Spotify, Apple, and Google Play, but you can also research the following:
Wix Podcast Player, Podbean, Buzzsprout, Libsyn, Spreaker, Simplecast, Transistor, Blubrry, Captivate, Castos, Audioboom, SoundCloud, Anchor, Megaphone, Podcast Websites.


Q: Can anyone do a podcast?

A: Yes! There are obviously some rules around certain subjects, so ensure you choose the right
genre or category for your podcast. It’s essential to let listeners know if there is sensitive content or

Q: Should a writer cross-promote with their books?

A: Of course! A podcast is a great way to promote your writing or business.

Q: What platform do you recommend?

A: The Change Room is hosted on Podbean. It is a free-to-use platform and allows us to upload
our episodes to multiple platforms at once.

Q: How do you choose your guests?
A: Being well connected and having a clear vision for the topics is key. Jen asked a lot of friends
to appear on the podcast and, as it’s grown, she’s even had some experts and acquaintances contact her
to reserve themself a spot on the podcast. If you’re a good networker, you’ll find you’ll know someone
somewhere who would be a great guest. Be bold and reach out! The worst they can say is no.

Q: How do you ensure your guests have the ability to record (in the case of remote
interviews)? Tim Ferris sends his guests a top-quality microphone.

A: For those who don’t have Tim Ferris’ money, platforms such as Anchor and Riverside FM
work really well with your smartphone or device. As long as you communicate with your guests in
advance about having a working set of headphones, etc, this obstacle is easily eliminated with the right
software and a reliable internet connection.

Q: What are some of the pitfalls of podcasting?

A: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Preparation is essential in every area. Spend time
connecting with your guest prior to recording to clarify the direction of the podcast. Have a clear
outline that you share with your guest and make sure you allocate sufficient time towards your
podcasting. You should also organise a back-up guest if someone has to cancel. This is very important
to maintain a consistent release of each episode.

Q: When you’re interviewing a guest, do you ask them to sign an agreement, for example, if
they wanted something edited out?

A: Jen is more than happy to edit anything out. The more relaxed and professional you are as an interviewer, the more relaxed your guests will feel. A formal agreement is not usually a must, but if
your guest is not a friend or someone you know, perhaps this would work well to avoid any conflict.

Q: Do you give your guests a list of questions or topics?

A: Yes. Most of Jen’s guests have been friends, so the episode has been more like a chat over
coffee. With guests who are experts, you could ask them to give you a list of topics they would like to
discuss. The Change Room is designed to be organic and free-flowing, so Jen works each guest to
ensure that the conversation topic and the guest’s strengths are harmonious.

Q: How do you get listeners for your podcast?

A: Networking and marketing are essential. Talk about your podcast with people you meet. Jen
preferred an organic process at first, but has since started promoting the podcast on social media and at
networking events.

Q: How do you get feedback on your podcast?

A: Ask for it! On each episode and in your social media, ask your listeners to provide feedback
and to ‘Rate and Review’ if they like what they hear.

You can find Jen’s podcast on https://www.thechangeroompodcast.com/


Member Blog by David Kay

Caring for eight years had taken its toll. I visited Patricia in hospital but never saw her. They took me in for an Angiogram and discharged my wife. I was discharged on Christmas Eve and our family had Christmas together. Three weeks later Patricia passed away.

Losing my wife after fifty years of marriage was a huge blow and left me in a vacuum that seemed impossible to fill.

I was a published author who had not written a word or read a book for six years and felt like nothing was going to change.

I looked at bare walls for three months before my mind started ticking over. I was beginning to feel energetic again and even considered caring for others. Then I thought back to when the dementia took hold. I was 73 and writing with a passion that I found hard to believe.

I was 81 when I lost Patricia and going back to writing was a forlorn hope. However, I needed a purpose in life, and I remembered my tutor saying I should join the writer’s association in Pacific Fair. I was totally engrossed in writing at the time, and it never happened.

I found them at Fradgley Hall, Burleigh Heads and attended the monthly meeting. I was early and sat at the front desk on my own to observe the action. I was joined later by Rhonda Valentine-Dixon, who had driven from Brisbane, and next to me was her friend Bronwyn Holdsworth – good luck with ‘The Wizard’s Conscript’, Bronwyn. I wonder if they remember that day. I do because it was a turning point in my life.

We chatted about writing and family history and genealogy which is a pet subject of Rhonda’s. I can’t recall the presentation, only that Bronwyn asked me if I would be coming again, and I said yes. There was a nice feel about the meeting, and it was the members. We all speak the same language, meaning writing, and nothing has changed.

I decided that I had to join the committee and the Annual General Meeting was the following month. I started asking around for signatures and was directed to the Secretary, Beverley Streater, who passed me on to Luke Amery. Nobody knew anything about me, but I crashed the committee with twelve other members.

Date    16 November 2019.  Start: 9.30 am (extra hour allocated to planning activity)

Venue               Fradgley Hall, Burleigh  

Welcome        Marisa Parker, Kellie Cox, Jen Swenson, Beverley Streater, Jackie Moore, Kerri Yarsley, Luke Amery, Rebecca Torti, David Kay, Dominique Liongson, Ocean Reeve, Christine Betts, Kerry Pearmain

They were working on a big project, Gold Coast Writers Fair, and probably thought they needed extra help, so I was in luck.

At the first meeting I was asked the purpose of me being there. I told them the truth, ‘I am here to help you – to help me – to help you.’

I needed help to recover from my loss and to put something back in that was useful.

I have recovered and I am writing again, and I will continue to contribute in any way I can.     

This has all been made possible because of the committee and the members just being there. We help each other.


I emerged from my writing slumber to the shock of advanced media communication. Alongside Facebook, authors were now using Twitter, Messenger, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Where did they come from? The Writers Fair fell by the wayside and with the advent of Covid, the committee changed dramatically. New skills had to be learned to communicate online.

I became involved in live Zoom sessions, photoshop presentations, making videos for YouTube, Podcasts for Anchor and writing blogs, not realising that my writing skills were being rejuvenated. My tutor said that I would keep going back to my writing tutorials and it was happening. I was reabsorbing 30 Lectures and Assignments (Lecture 12 is attached). There would be time to write later and the whole committee were experiencing the same transformation. The stalwarts stayed and others, just as talented, returned to give strength to the present-day dynamic committee. Membership is growing and the future looks bright.

I have moved close to my family in Brisbane, and I am missing the atmosphere of the monthly meetings. I am settled in Aveo Newstead high rise, and after the big upheaval, I am at last finding time to write. Books 1 and 2 have been refreshed and republished and both have won international awards. Book 3 has been added to with another 15000 words and is in the hands of the publisher with a new title, ‘The Secret Child’.

I am researching for Book 4, reading Kings in Grass Castles by Mary Durack, transportation of convicts and thoroughbred horses to WA, the Irish Finian movement, an offshoot of the IRA, and the history of the Spanish Monastery in New Norcia, WA, and stories of Aboriginal Dreamtime. The novel is set in 19th century Australia during the reign of Queen Victoria and there are my usual aspects of Fantasy with the title, ‘The Outback Messenger’.


Best Wishes, David Kay

Contributor – David Kay

David studied genealogy in his retirement, and he passed a professional writing course at U3A Broadbeach. DNA ascertained his ancestors dated back to the Norse Viking immigration of the Lake District and this was the inspiration for his first fiction novel The Sword of Saint Isidores. Norse and Gypsy Mythology and English Folklore became a feature of his novels and ‘Why did you kill off Ragnarr?’ by annoyed readers led to the introduction of Viking reincarnation in books 2 and 3 of the series, ‘Circles of Time’. 

Book 2 ‘The Ring of Mann’ introduces the clandestine monks of Furness Abbey, the investigative monks of the Knights Templar, and the rule of King Charles II, racehorses and Quakerism. Book 3 ‘The Inscription’ jumps to the 19th century and the early rule of Queen Victoria, but the lingering curse of Freydis is never far away.

So, you’re considering entering a writing competition.

Member Blog by Christine Betts

It’s a bit nerve wracking. You make a cup of tea and sit down (with a biscuit!) to read through the
rules and regulations on the competition website.

It’s a bit overwhelming! So many rules! Why can’t I just write a story?

You can, absolutely you can.

There are dozens of writing competitions going on at any one time across Australia and around
the world, so if the competition you’re looking at doesn’t suit your style, find one that does. Some have
themes or prompts and some don’t, leaving it completely open to your style and genre.

Then there’s the other extreme! The Australian Writers Centre runs a quarterly Flash Fiction Competition called Furious Fiction. This hotly contested competition has strict prompts. For example, here is the prompt for the June 2022 competition:

  • The first line must have six words;
  • Someone should be ‘served’ something; and
  • You need to use the words Log, Wire and Bake.


Others have a general vibe they’re going for. For example,

  • The Northern Territory Writers Festival competition with its theme of Into the Light.
  • The Forty South competition with its theme of Island.
  • The Tamar Valley Writers Festival competition with its challenging theme of The Good Life with a Tassie Vibe

Why should you enter writing competitions?

Pushing yourself outside your genre and your writing comfort zone can bring far more benefits
than just a first prize or a shortlisting. When entering a themed short story competition or submitting to
a themed anthology, some benefits include:

  1. Writing prompted short stories helps build new writing muscle.
    If you’re used to writing long-form fiction (novels and novellas) in your favourite genre or not
    accustomed to writing to a word-limit, the idea of writing a fully formed 500-word story on an
    unfamiliar subject can be daunting. But this is a very learnable skill; telling an entertaining tale
    concisely is not witchcraft! It comes down to ensuring each word is pulling its weight and this is a skill worth honing – even 80,000-word novels need to tell their story without waffle and fillers.
    To get to the guts of the action without all those words in the way; to reveal a character’s inner
    conflicts in just a sentence or two; to move the narrative forward without losing reader engagement –
    this is what every good story, not just short, should do. ~ Maggie Doonan on Writers Edit
  2. You might find a new passion!
    Writing in a different genre or working with a theme you would normally avoid can help you find
    a new favourite genre. If you’re a Romance writer, you can push yourself by entering a Thriller contest,
    but most themes can be interpreted to fit your favourite genre.
    For example, fellow GCWA member Kate Kelsen and I often enter the same competitions. She
    typically writes Horror and Crime, while I usually write Contemporary Women’s Fiction. In a recent
    competition with an “Island” theme, I wrote a story about two sisters going to Bali, and Kate wrote
    about two men who crash landed on an icy island and cannibalism ensued. Two very different stories
    from one prompt! We took the same word – Island – and wrote a story in our chosen genre.
  3. Some new characters may waltz in and take up residence!
    In 2021, I wrote a short story for the Scarlet Stiletto Awards. I had never written Crime before. In
    the process, I ‘met’ some new characters who now live in a novel that is currently at 80k words and
    managed to get the editor at Allen & Unwin excited, if only temporarily!

Writing short stories is a wonderful way to develop new characters and stories without having to
write a novel. As Hannah Kowalczyk-Harper says in her article, “Short Stories: 6 reasons you should
write them,”
short stories can work as a tester, giving you an audition with readers.

Short stories based on your current longer-form works can be beneficial in many ways. It can help clarify the direction of the larger story. Entering the story in a competition or sharing it in other ways (on your blog; on a platform like Medium, Reedsy or even Facebook) and asking readers for their feedback, can help you gauge reader interest in the story. If the story garners interest from the judges or readers, you’ll know that a longer form story has a chance of finding an audience.

  1. Build your author biography.
    Getting your work out there can also get your name out there, or even up in lights! You can list
    the competitions you have entered or placed in on your bio. Even if you don’t win a prize, attending the
    awards ceremony or festival where the prize is announced or launched can be a great networking
    opportunity, but then I am an inveterate extrovert so maybe that’s just me…

Mostly, writing should be enjoyable, so make sure you are doing it in a way that brings you joy.

You can find more information on the GCWA short story competition here

Planning to enter the GCWA Short Story Competition?

I hope you are!

We want you to write up to 1000 words on the theme of “Writing in the Sand.”
How do I do that?
If you are writing Romance, you might write about a marriage proposal literally written in sand.
If you are writing Horror, you might write about a monster that devours those who stumble on a
deserted island.
If you are writing a Thriller you might write about someone who goes missing in the desert or a
writer who moves to a beach shack to write their book and see something they shouldn’t have seen…

One last thing… One of the rules for this competition is *Please don’t use the Theme (Writing in
the Sand) as a title. Why? Well, we want you to exercise your creativity to its full extent and as the
three top stories will be published on our website we just don’t want them all having the same title!

For some inspiration, visit the winners page of the Queensland Writers Centre monthly flash
fiction competition Right Left Write.
Read Christine Betts’ winning entry for the November 2021 Knock, Knock theme here.
Read Kate Kelsen’s winning entry for the January 2022 GenreCon “Tarot” theme here.
Visit the Queensland Writers Centre monthly prompted short-story competition, Right Left Write
and have a go!


Christine Betts is an Australian writer. Christine trained in education and the visual arts.

She spent many years creating Australian-made gift ware and art for interior design projects.

Writing took centre-stage in 2017 when she left her management position with a market-leading art-seller and packed up her brushes.

AWARDS 2021/2022

  • Death of a Show PrincessShortlisted for the Scarlett Stiletto Awards (Highly Commended.)
  • Tough CrowdWinner – Queensland Writers Centre RightLeftWrite competition in November.
  • How I Got this TattooWinner – The Tasmanian Writer’s Prize for 2022.
  • Southbank, Shortlisted -the Brisbane Writers Festival First Date at Southbank competition
  • Undetected – co-authored with Kate Kelsen. Rainforest Writer’s Retreat Anthology 2021 You can buy the anthology here on Amazon.
  • A Tale of Twin Towns – published – Eastern Regional Library (Vic) Anthology Tales of the Pandemic.

8 harsh lessons I learned AFTER I published my debut novel, Search for the Holy Whale

Guest blog by Selena Jane

Why 8? Why not? It’s my favourite number!

Many writers speak about the process of writing and publishing, and I’ll no doubt get to that in a later blog, but today I thought I’d share with you the top eight harsh lessons I learned AFTER I published my debut novel and my tips on how to deal with them.

Lesson 1: Your family and friends will probably NOT buy your book.

Not only will they not buy it, but they also probably won’t read it either.

I know it’s a tough pill to swallow, but best to prepare yourself now.

This is a common complaint among authors.

Why don’t they buy it, or read it?

Maybe they don’t read, maybe they don’t read that genre, maybe they are too busy, or maybe they expect a copy for free. Either way it doesn’t matter, I’m sure they support you in other ways.

Tip 1.

Try not to take it personally. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
Ok, so I know you are still taking it personally, so  if you want them to read it, ask them; if you want them to buy it, ask them; and if you want them to review it, just ask them. It’s quite liberating once you pluck up the courage to. It frees you from your negative thoughts, and after that the ball is in their court. I mean, they are not mind readers, are they?

Just ask!

Lesson 2: Promote yourself and your book.

No one is going to do it for you in the beginning, so unless you can afford to pay someone to do it for you, you’ll have to toot your own horn and put yourself out there on all sorts of social media platforms.

This is seriously uncomfortable for most authors. I’m an unknown, so for me it was super awkward asking people to buy my book. It still is.

Tip 2.

Ask friends and family to share pictures of your book on their social media platforms. Join a networking group and ask them to share your book for you, you’ll be less attached to the outcome, because they are business associates, and no doubt you’ll be asked to return the favour one day, which takes the pressure off. Organic marketing works well, but at some point, you may consider paying for a little advertising to give you an extra boost.

Lesson 3: You need reviews.

Imagine having to ask for reviews? Can I just crawl into the nearest space right now? Well, you could look at it that fewer reviews means less chance of critical reviews. I have heard some terrible stories of authors being slammed from pillar to post. But the reality is, reviews are important and you need them. Also, the review process can be tricky to navigate. For example, Amazon won’t accept reviews unless a customer has an account with them and spends over a certain amount each year.

Tip 3.

Ask with no expectation. Make it easy for anyone who has read your book by sending them a template or a sample of ideas with the links to your preferred review platforms.

Lesson 4: Not having an email list.

You’ll need to build and grow your email list to market your book and future and connect with your audience. If you don’t have an email list, then who are you going to connect with and sell your book to? How will people remember you?

Often, new authors start from scratch with this and that’s ok, an email list can build quickly, or over time, depending on what you do.

Tip 4.

Make sure your website is up and running. You’ll be surprised how quickly your email list builds if you have a lead magnet or a subscription newsletter on your website. When you connect with anyone on social media who is remotely interested in you or your book, ask for their email address as soon as it’s polite to do so, and add them to your email funnel.

Lesson 5: Crush Imposter Syndrome.

For most writers, getting their book to the finish line is a massive accomplishment. The most competent and successful authors speak about their crushing negative feelings around their writing and countless fears that they battle daily during the writing process. Putting your work into the world is a real leap of faith. For me, it feels like standing naked on the balcony every time.

After your book has been published there’s the agonising wait to see what people will think, which is worse. Maybe no one says anything, or no one is buying your book? You are getting no reviews, or bad reviews, and there is certainly no one patting you on the back saying, ‘Great job.’

Tip 5.

Let it go and get cracking on your next manuscript. Author and activist Glennon Doyle recommends completely detaching from your work once you’ve put it out into the world.

Easier said than done, but great advice.

Lesson 6: Learn the social media platforms.

Seriously, it’s an endless cycle of learning. So many platforms to choose from. Should you be on all of them or not? Even if you’ve mastered all of them, who has an infinite amount of time to monitor each one and post regularly to each platform so you are not forgotten?

Coming up with ideas of what to post takes you away from writing your next novel, but it’s crucial to your book marketing and your brand. It all takes time and often for very little engagement and, worst of all, posting to complete silence.

Tip 6.

Learn one platform at a time, master it and move on to the next. Always keep up to date with changes to each platform, as there are many. You’ll need to be super organised and schedule your posts. As soon as you can afford it, get a VA to handle your socials for you.

Lesson 7: Errors in your book.

We see errors in books all the time, right? But when you see one in yours, after all the hours of editing and proofreading, it can come as quite a shock. If you are a perfectionist, then the blow is going to be a double one. The print has been run, your book is out there and there’s no calling it back.

Tip 7.

Go easy on yourself. Remind yourself that the most famous books in the world contain errors and make a note to fix it as soon as possible.

Lesson 8: Managing other people’s expectations.

So, you’ve written a book and, apparently, you’re going to be famous. You’ll be taking your friends to a red-carpet event and shouting them dinner.

On top of that, you’re expected to whip up another book in a matter of months. Well, if you work full-time like me, that’s just not going to happen.

Friend: “Are you rich and famous yet?”

Me: “Ah no, maybe if you bought my book and told your friends about it and left me a review I might be.”

Ha ha!

Tip 8.

Run your own race and keep dreaming of that red-carpet moment. You’ve got this!


Selena Jane writes in several genres including teen fiction, fantasy, and woman’s fiction.

In 2020 she published her debut YA fiction novel Search for the Holy Whale, a coming-of-age story about the importance of our connection to animals and mother earth.

A copywriter by day, novelist by night Selena is also a mother, business owner, world traveller, animal lover, marathon runner and avid reader, she appreciates a well-written book, with great characters and a good storyline.

She lives with her Aussie husband, two children, and as many animals as she can squeeze onto their small acreage in SE Queensland, where she is busy working on her next manuscript.

You can chat with her on twitter, Instagram or facebook or visit her at http://www.selenajane.com


Ask An Editor Anything

We recently hosted a fabulous interactive workshop at the Gold Coast Writers’ Association in collaboration with a panel of experienced editors, Kerri Yarsley, Beverley Streater, Jacqx Melilli, and Gail Tagarro.

The following are questions from our audience of members and guests, and answered by our editing experts.

How did you become an editor?

Kerri: I began my career as a computer programmer, technical writer, and trainer in government departments. This instilled in me the importance of attention to detail.

Beverley: I began a government career with Human Services. After this I became involved in writing system policies. Since retiring. I have started an editing business, Beverley Streeter editing.

Gail: I also started my career in systems and technical writing. And since 2004, I’ve been working with authors helping them to write their books.

Jacqx: I started my writing career creating copy for our family travel company. I worked in universities and did my master’s degree. I now specialize in helping writers who want to write a memoir.

What is the number one easy mistake most new writers make?

Jacqx: Thinking they can go it alone. It takes a village to write a book. Not everyone has the talent to do their own book covers and PR.

Gail: It’s very difficult to give just one, sorry, but just getting to the nitty gritty, it’s the overuse of adverbial phrases beginning with as. As she ran, as he did, as she went… A client I am working with now has written fifty thousand words so far and after a search ‘as she’ appears fifty times and ‘as he’ appears forty-nine times. There are so many ways to rephrase these sentences.

Beverley: Every author has a different set of idiosyncrasies.  I really encourage writers to not be shy. Have a look around you at who might be able to give you some honest feedback. Not necessarily people who love you. It is scary to let go of your work. Be brave and put it out there.

Kerri: Develop a thick skin, and don’t send your first draft to an editor. Make sure you have had at least three or four drafts done. And please watch the tenses! So many times, a paragraph will start off in present tense or past tense then the next paragraph, especially if there is any dialogue happening. This can get really confusing. It’s important to be consistent. Editors will always pick up your grammar and typos later, but if you haven’t got your tenses right, it can confuse your reader terribly so make sure this is accurate.

Should you change your writing style to suit “political correctness”?

Beverley: Having worked with people with disabilities, for many, many years, is called Cultural Sensitivity. This doesn’t just apply to disability, it applies to gender identity, sexuality. Language keeps moving. If you are calling someone ‘deaf and dumb’ you are probably betraying your age.

Kerri: If it’s part of the character, if you’re writing a fictional story and this person is (politically incorrect) and that is a strong trait of theirs, then you need to be true to your character. But if you are writing something that is a little more sensitive and it doesn’t impinge on your character’s personality, then you should probably be more sensitive as well as an author.

Audience member: But this woman was born deaf and dumb.

Beverley: We now say non-verbal. It keeps changing depending on which country you’re in. In Australia, it is typical to refer to the deaf community, but if you were in another country, it’s important to find out what the acceptable terminology is. Literature can age. In five years’, that may all change again. You can’t say someone is Schizophrenic you have to say they have a mental health disorder. If you want to be a contemporary author, you need to do that research and find out what the contemporary language is.

Gail: It’s a fine line. Between being overly politically correct and being true to your era.

What is the preferred POV?

Beverley: In terms of what is a better (POV to write in) that’s up to you as an author.

Kellie Cox (Host): I have heard that some commercial fiction publishers don’t like manuscripts in first person. Some commercial publishers prefer third person. Would you say there is a preference for publishers?

Gail: Just from my own experience of working with writers and with my own writing, it can be difficult to sustaining first person. When I wrote my novel, I wrote much of it in first person before realizing it didn’t work, so I rewrote it in third person and decided that the main character would include journal entries. First person and third person are definitely the most common and some people manage to work really well with first person.

Jacqx: Stick to one point of view. Be consistent, don’t head hop.

Gail: Make clear and make sure your reader knows whose POV it is.

Audience member: Many authors include multiple POVs and tenses in their books but it’s important to be clear to your reader exactly who is speaking. Eg James Patterson, Gillian Flynn

Should I start my book with a flashback?

Gail: As in a prologue? I always say, whatever works for your story. I’m a horribly pedantic editor but at the same time I always say it something works – If you know the rules, you can break them! I don’t see anything wrong with a flashback or prologue. If it works, go for it.

Jacqx: Start it however you like, have as many flashbacks as you want, as long as it’s moving the story along.

Kerri: It’s a preference. But I personally get annoyed if there are too many flashbacks in a story. It all depends on the type of story of course. If the flashback is important for the story, if they are important things that have happened in the person’s past. If they are flashbacks for the sake of flashbacks, you can easily ‘lose the plot.’

Audience member: I did a novel writing course years ago and the facilitator said, ‘You can take your reader anywhere, just be clear about where you’re going.’

Can you explain the different types of editing?

Beverley: In the English language there are different terms for what we do. There is line, copy, structural, developmental edits, etc. The first thing to do is agree on what each party means. On one end is a manuscript appraisal and structural assessment and the other end of the spectrum is a simple proofread and in between, there’s a whole pile of other stuff.

Jacqx: I’m not sure about my colleagues but in my world, the client gets a copy edit and a structural edit combined. However, the term structural edit can also be used to mean ‘manuscript appraisal’ which in my world is everything else that doesn’t comprise a copy edit. A copy edit is just really spelling, punctuation, and general flow that things make sense.

Gail: For a lot of editors, a structural edit and manuscript appraisal are interchangeable terms. A manuscript appraisal is great for when you don’t know if your manuscript is ready for an editing. The editor will read through the manuscript and come up with a report and we do very little in the manuscript itself, in the report we will note everything that needs to be done

How do you decide how to charge for a full edit on a manuscript?

Gail: When I first started, I had a fixed price based on an hourly rate. Many accredited editors all charge on a per-word basis. A few years ago, I started charging on a per-word basis, but within a sliding scale. If a heavy edit is needed, I will do a sample edit and provide a quote, based on the whole manuscript. I never give generic quotes. I always look at the whole manuscript. Once you have a sample edit, you will understand why I have quoted the way I have.

Jacqx: You can’t ask a builder for a generic quote. They need to see the job. I also ask for a synopsis so I can see if you are clear about where your story is going. Some manuscripts are just not ready, and this is where the book mentoring and coaching comes in. A synopsis is a good one, and your elevator pitch. If you know where your story is going you know there is going to be a lot of work involved. I like to chat with the author to gauge. I use an hourly rate, but I am also aware of their budget.

Beverley: It’s a delicate issue and I have worked with authors who haven’t been crave enough to ask at the outset. The Institute of Professional Editors has suggested rates. It comes back to the relationship between the author and the editor. I have done free work if the person given people’s personal circumstances. I do index. You get a feel – it comes with experience – after reading selection of people’s work. It is essential to communicate with authors, especially regarding pricing and their ability to handle feedback. Some people don’t take feedback well and I really don’t like working with people who are not able to take feedback.

Kerri: I have done work at 2.5c a word which for a fifty-thousand-word book that comes out to about $1250. This is for a non-fiction book that had already had a couple of passes, structurally.

Beverley: If you are too cheap, you’re devaluing your time and your expertise. If you overcharge, you’ll miss out on work. It’s a matter of being respectful to yourself and your client.

Styling/formatting. How do you approach this for your client?

Gail: I style the manuscript in the first pass, as I read through. It’s usually not that difficult. A lot of people aren’t that familiar with Microsoft Word, so I do it for them. It’s usually double spaced, Times New Roman, 12-point font. Some people hate that and want Comic Sans? When you submit to a publisher, you’ll have to do what they want but I’ll do what you want. Using Word, I will build the fonts into the Styles for the Chapter Headings etc. and spacing. You don’t want to be hitting enter twenty-times because when you get to the next step, so the (book) designer won’t have headaches.

Audience member: You said it needs to be double line spacing?

Gail: Yes, so we have room to make corrections in the manuscript.

Beverley: There is a difference between working in a Word Document and the final design. When you are writing, don’t worry about how it looks. Editors can do this for you so it’s easier to work in. Formatting of the book is different to the book design.

How do you deal with editing a book that’s really not to your taste? How do you keep true to the style and voice of the writer while editing?

Beverley: I have been criticized by a client for changing the voice in the introduction. He was writing for an Asian market, and he was using profanities. I said, ‘That is probably not going to go down well, in the first chapter.’ But usually, if I was editing something that was set in the sixties, and I wasn’t familiar with the language I can do some research to see if their language is appropriate. Then I have the choice to trust the author and go with it, or to say I am probably not the right editor for this manuscript.

Gail: Is this book going to be acceptable to a wide audience, will a wide audience assimilate the story? Of it is going to be understood, the slang, the idiosyncrasies of the time; If your story is too obscure, that no one will understand, you will be narrowing your audience down. One of the things that none of us likes doing is changing the author’s voice because that’s what is unique about your writing. If it is that extensive, then it will definitely require a discussion between the writer and the editor. The author should consider the editor as a ‘first reader.’ If your editor doesn’t understand the book, the readership probably won’t either.

Do you have a favourite genre to edit? Do you still enjoy reading?

Beverley: That is the best thing about editing; You learn so much. I do and I have learned so much from the nonfiction books I am editing. I have learned a whole lot about veganism or Pilates. A whole lot of esoteric knowledge that I would probably never have read otherwise.

Kerri: I have just read the story of the women who invented the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. If I was editing something like that, I would be in seventh heaven.

Gail: My favourite genre to read and edit is historical fiction, but right now I’m editing currently sci-fi by this author, and I am absolutely loving it. It all depends on the story. I can love reading anything. If it’s a well written, written story.

Jacqx: When you love the project, you’ll read anything, but it does help if you love the story.

Who Are You? A Guide to Writing Your Memoir

Guest blog by Jacqx Melilli 

Everyone has a Story

Admit it. You’ve allowed another year to pass you by and the promise you made to yourself to write your memoir has not seen the light of day. Let me guess what your excuses might be:

  • Who’s going to want to read it?
  • I don’t have time
  • I don’t know where to start
  • I don’t know how to start
  • It might upset some people
  • What if I fail?

Maybe you had never thought about writing a memoir but are curious to know more. So, whether you’ve been procrastinating or simply curious, let me see if I can inspire you to move forward and get those words into print. One reason some people can’t accomplish their goal is that they try to do it alone. This makes it easier to give up. It’s a bit like trying to get fit without a personal trainer. Finding a writing mentor will keep you focused on finishing this worthwhile project.

I’ve heard so many incredible stories over the years. For some, procrastination resulted in their stories being lost forever. People don’t realise that their experiences will be valuable for generations to come. For some of my clients, writing their memoir resulted in a life-changing experience and has opened doors that offered unexpected opportunities.

What Legacy Do You Want To Leave Behind?

A eulogy is someone’s impression of you, which may or may not be completely accurate. Some people only show a version of themselves. Even people who are close to you may not know everything about you. Were you a star athlete in your youth? Did you escape a country at war? Were you persecuted after committing a heroic act?

One of my clients, Captain Rod Lovell survived an air crash after both engines failed shortly after take-off. He had 46 seconds to take action and made a split second decision to ditch the plane into Botany Bay in Sydney, Australia. His actions saved all lives on board and Rod was hailed a hero in the media. Six weeks later, he had his licence suspended and ultimately his aviation career destroyed. After spending the next 25 years attempting to clear his name, he decided that writing his memoir, titled From Hero to Zero, might be the only way to reveal the truth about what really happened. Little did he know it was to change the course of his life and have him back in the media spotlight.

Who Are You?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? We are complicated beings, and for me, the process of writing has been a journey of discovery of who I am underneath all those layers I’ve piled on myself. I have to admit, I still haven’t figured it out completely and I probably never will, but that’s okay as long as what’s had to be said has been said and someone has benefited along the way. The film Runaway Bride is a classic example of how some people morph themselves to how others want them to be. How well do people know you? How well do you know yourself? What legacy do you want to leave behind?

But I’m Not Famous

What’s fame got to do with it? A well-told story will resonate with people regardless of your social status. Personally, I think it’s more challenging to write a fictional story than a memoir. When you write a memoir, you don’t have to make up a bunch of lies, create believable characters and problems, then figure out how to solve them. However, you do need to make sure your story is intriguing and of value to the reader regardless of what kind of book you write.

With the help of an editor, your aim should be to come up with a unique way to present your story. You never know whether you’ll end up with a best-seller and become famous, like Scott Pape, author of The Barefoot Investor. Scott used a devastating life experience to teach people how to overcome financial hardship. His book is quirky and has a unique approach to sharing financial advice that is easy to understand and has appealed to, and changed the lives of, millions of readers.

All it takes is for you to present your story in a way that will resonate with your readers or answer the questions they hope to find in your book. The first step is to figure out what makes you unique? If you’re not sure, ask those who are close to you.

Who Would Want to Read Your Memoir?

Besides family and friends, readers who are interested in the theme or topic you are basing your memoir on, and WRITERS would like to read your memoir. I have read countless memoirs and autobiographies to research information for my projects. Some authors have spent years researching a particular topic they are passionate about and have chosen to share it in their book for our advantage.

If there are already many books on the market with a similar theme to your memoir, such as overcoming addiction, dealing with obesity, secrets to setting up a successful business, or your rags to riches story, I recommend reading as many as possible and approaching your story with a different angle that has your unique branding.

Can you recall books that have resonated with you enough to prompt you into action? This is where working with a writing mentor or editor helps guide you in the right direction to help make your book stand out.

You may choose to simply share special memories with family members and the generations to come rather than create a book for commercial gain. It’s still of great value and better and more personal than any gift you can purchase, in my opinion.

Reasons NOT to Write Your Memoir

Seeking Revenge is not a good reason to write a memoir. Most readers are discerning and will not appreciate an author’s attempt to manipulate their emotions by blaming others, being vindictive, or playing the victim to get readers on their side. This is an egotistical approach and usually has the reverse effect. 

Life Experiences That Make Interesting Memoirs

Take a moment to think about your life experiences. Here are some examples:

  • The journey to becoming a professional dancer or athlete
  • Ground breaking research or years of accumulated research
  • Collector of… and the extremes you went to obtain those collector items
  • Generational skills passed on such as farming, costumery, bush survival
  • Military service
  • Near death experience
  • Escaping domestic violence
  • Recovering from bankruptcy
  • Building a business from an idea
  • Recovering from sickness against the odds
  • Looking after someone who is severely disabled
  • Missionary work
  • Living off the grid

Be Creative

If you are an artist or photographer, you can approach your memoir in a creative way, such as a coffee table book. Artist, Lyn Marshall’s Harnessing the Power of the Creative Spiral is one example that I love as it encourages and challenges you to live the life designed for you and is filled with her magnificent artwork. If you want to share your travels, you might want to create a photographic book that includes your travel stories. If you love to cook, you could create a special recipe book with stories of how you acquired each recipe. I created a recipe book to pass on to my children that included their favourite recipes growing up and a photograph of the person who passed on the recipe. They love it.

Working With a Writing Mentor or Editor

If you choose to write your memoir for commercial purposes, it’s very important to find a writing mentor or editor to guide you along the way. Family members and friends are not professionals. They will tell you want you want to hear so as to not hurt your feelings. Or, they may be brutal and crush your dream of publishing after all your hard work. Writing is not as easy as people think. Even professional writers work with editors. Don’t even think about publishing a book without hiring an editor first. Once it’s in print, there’s no turning back without it costing you in more ways than monetarily.

Publishing Options

If your memoir has a competitive edge, you may want to submit it to a traditional publisher, or you may choose to self-publish and have full control of the production, marketing and profits. If the content is of particular interest, the money you invest in writing and publishing could continue to make you money for years to come, as long as you find distribution channels to assist you with selling in bulk. Some of my clients have written their memoir as a business marketing tool, or some sell copies after their speaking engagements.

Sell Your Memoir as a Article

If you feel that what you have to share doesn’t merit the effort of writing an entire book, you may like to consider writing an article of a few thousand words to submit to a magazine. Search out magazines that suit your story topic and submit a pitch to the magazine editor. Some magazines pay for well-written articles and you’ll have the thrill of seeing your story in print.

Image by Marc Schaefer

So, have I stirred up a desire to get started on your memoir?

Time is priceless and yet it slips through your fingers like sand. Begin the journey of self-discovery today by booking a free consultation with me at info@jacqx.com. Tell me a little about yourself and the best times to contact you. I look forward to hearing from you.

Jacqx Melilli – Contributor

Jacqx Melilli has a Master of Arts degree in Writing and Literature from Deakin University and has several publications including stage plays, educational books on filmmaking and theatre production, poetry, short stories and film scripts. One of her passions is assisting people to write and edit their stories. For more information on how to write your memoir, check out Jacqx interview on Media Queen TV.


Member Blog by Christine Betts

What is Genre? 

Simple question with a simple answer. Genre is a style of art, music, or literature. 

In all forms of artistic expression, readers and viewers have come to expect certain elements from their preferred genre. The Happily Ever After in Romance. The quirky sidekick in a Cosy Mystery who may or may not be a cat. The chosen one in Dystopian Future. 

But these are not set in stone. Devitt, et al have described genre as any form of communication with socially-agreed-upon conventions developed over time.” 

The range of genres available to authors now has vastly increased compared to fifty years ago.

So, you could say that Genre = Expectations

Fifty years ago, a Romance novel was very different to what we see today. There are literally dozens of sub-genres. Over time, reader expectations have expanded in some directions and become more embedded in others. The Happily Ever After is embedded but everything else is fair game. Hot Tip – if your Romance doesn’t have a HEA it may not be a Romance and you need to communicate this lack of HEA loud and clear in the blurb/marketing, or you can expect the reader’s disappointment to be reflected in your reviews.

Understanding your genre is central to world-building and word-building is for every story, not just epic fantasy, or science fiction. Your characters need somewhere real to live. Even if the world you’re building is exactly like ours, the world of your story must be communicated to your reader. 

The idea of genre really is an invention/extension of marketing.

 No doubt, booksellers found displaying books in categories useful. Some of the most common genres are:

  • Romance
  • Mystery
  • Fantasy/SciFi
  • Thriller/Horror
  • Young Adult (YA)
  • Children’s Fiction
  • Inspirational
  • Biography/Memoir

Choosing a genre?

What are your strengths. What are your areas of special interest or knowledge? If you don’t enjoy research, don’t attempt accurate Historical fiction. Focus on genres that allow more freedom for your imagination. If you love detail and procedure, write stories that invite this approach.

Follow your curiosity. Choose a subject that fascinates you. Chances are readers will find it interesting, too. Most writers start by writing the kind of book they like to read.

Explore different Genres. Read widely. Enter competitions that push you out of your creative comfort zone. 

Who is your Audience? What are the expectations of readers in your chosen genres? Once you learn the rules you can break them with style and push the boundaries of what readers have come to expect.

Writing to Market. There’s nothing wrong with writing stories with a market in mind. You can even, “over time,” create your own niche through identifying a story that wants to be told. Twenty years ago, Reverse Harem (which grew out of Anime and Otome games – literally “maiden game,” a story-based video game that is traditionally targeted towards women.) was still limited in its reach. Then in 2018 it became a huge seller through Amazon, mostly due to its uptake by Indie authors. 

Each to their own!

If you want to write your own thing, go for it, but forget about the dollars for a while. Write because it’s what you want to write.

Once you have decided on the genre, you owe it to your reader and yourself (if you want sales, reviews, etc) to include at least the basic elements expected in that genre.

Trope, Stereotype, Cliche

The basic building blocks of a genre are the tropes – the characters, language, storylines, and settings often used in the style.

Tropes make your book a comfortable read.

Knowing the world of your story and communicating it effectively to your readers makes everyone more “comfortable”! According to Aristotle in his Poetics, the best endings are Surprising yet Inevitable, those where we don’t exactly see the events of the ending coming, but as it unfolds, it’s the only way it could have ever happened.

We feel good when we’re reading such stories because like that moment when the beat drops or our favourite song comes on, we ‘know’ what’s going to happen to some extent and we humans love being right.

We get a hit of dopamine when we realise that the story played out in a way that was just…right, and perhaps because the author avoided cliches and stereotypes, it surprised us with its uniqueness.

Legendary screen-writing teacher Robert McKee says, “all cliches in stories are a direct result of one thing: The writer does not know the world of their story.” (pg. 67, Story)

Without effective world-building, writers all too often rely on stereotypes or cliches but one reader’s stereotype or cliche is another’s must-have in a story so write the story you want to write!

Tropes – Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series.

Elements of a Regency Romance:

  • References to “the ton” (le bon ton)
  • Depictions of social activities common during the social season such as carriage rides, morning calls, dinner parties, routs, plays, operas, assemblies, balls, etc.
  • References to, or descriptions of, athletic activities engaged in by fashionable young men of the period, including riding, driving, boxing, fencing, hunting, shooting, etc.
  • Differences of social class
  • Marriages of convenience
  • False engagements
  • mistresses and other women employed by men from the upper classes
  • Mistaken identity, deliberate or otherwise
  • Mystery or farce elements in the plot

While Quinn’s books adhered closely to their Regency setting, the recent Netflix adaptation is set in an imagined Regency world where the races were equal.

The Bridgerton series is a huge success because in changing the rules and communicating these new rules perfectly to the viewer, Shonda Rhimes has offered contemporary viewers a more widely appealing series.

Tropes/expectations in the Cosy Mystery genre 

  • A village setting
  • Clean
  • Lovable central character
  • Romantic/sidekick
  • Lots of Red Herrings
  • Must be fun to read
  • The ‘victim’ must be unlikeable.
  • No coincidences! Nothing unbelievable or supernatural – unless you have built the supernatural into your world.
  • All information is available to the reader
  • No children or animals harmed
  • A cosy mystery is a safe space.
  • Justice will be served in the end.
  • Short read. No more than 50-60k words.

Word Cloud 

We all love the moment the idea for a story comes to us but can freeze when we sit in front of our computer. One way to capture the idea without turning off the creativity is to create a Word Cloud.

Think about a story you are working on or wish to. What is the seed of that story? I find it helpful to write that ‘seed’ element in the centre of a piece of paper and then fill the page with everything that word evokes. Word Clouds can be done for entire whole genres or for an individual story.

Exercise: Make a Word Cloud

Spend a few minutes making a word cloud. Brainstorm the tropes, reader expectations, cliches and stereotypes for your chosen genre. Use Google where necessary and have fun!

A scaffold for World-building (Useful for the Word Cloud)

What is your catalyst? Pick the aspect of the world you’re most excited about and start there. 

Establish the type of world you want. Sometimes the genre you choose can help define your setting in many ways. Knowing this will help figure out the tone and mood of your world. 

Setting up the physical boundaries of the world helps create a more believable setting.

Define the culture and language. What do the inhabitants of this universe believe in? Is there religion? Is there a God? Do they have any sacred customs? Breathe life into the characters by giving them a meaningful existence. How do the inhabitants communicate? Do you need to create a language system?

List the rules and laws. The inhabitants or this world have their own independent existence. Who is in charge? Why? Do they use magic in this world? If so, who can use it, and how powerful is it?

Describe the physical environment. What’s the weather like? Establishing the environment and how it impacts the life within it can be a useful detail in the creation of your world. (The big picture, your environment, time and place)

Identify the history. What is the history of this place you’ve created? Have there been any world wars? Do the countries within your world have enemies? Are there rival races? Is there a sole antagonist? Providing the backstory for your world can give it an added dimension and make it feel more tangible.

Hot Tip – Read existing works to inspire. Revisit the works of successful authors to get inspiration. Never steal ideas but read widely. The work of other fiction writers especially those in your chosen genre will show how they answer the same worldbuilding questions within their own worlds.

Worldbuilding in your genre

Literary agent Felicity Blunt says, “I want a book that feels unique in its setting, where location is a main character rather than a forgotten bit player. A reading experience that accesses all five of my senses and for that reason is truly immersive.” 

Every story needs a setting. This can be a real place or time period. It can be completely invented. Or it can be anything in between. Up to a point setting can depend on the genre, but more and more, fiction is pushing the boundaries of what we expect in any given genre.

Show and Tell

Neil Gaiman urges writers not to fall in love with “Show don’t Tell.” 

He says ‘Be the storyteller! Most people know what a tree looks like; We need to describe what makes that tree memorable or important to our characters. What is that one thing that makes this tree fulfill its role in the story?

Dr Leanne Dodd, author of both fiction and non-fiction, who will be speaking to us later this year has this to say on world-building.

“A wide range of elements might make up your setting, landscapes, dwellings, social conditions or even individual objects or smaller spaces within these. Use sensory detail. rather than describing a quiet, dark alley, contrast it with the flashing of a torch, the echoing sound of fleeing footsteps, the smell of rotting garbage. Use the senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, sound to evoke a feeling, or presence, about a place that makes it seem real.”

Employing the senses and a balance of showing and telling can bring your story alive for readers.

Non-Fiction, Memoir and Biography

Setting is just as important for non-fiction. Travelogues, travel memoirs, general memoirs, and biography really must convey a sense of place to their readers. Bill Bryson does this wonderfully in his travel memoirs. As does Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love. Closer to home, author Bri Li evokes the Brisbane CBD in her memoir, Eggshell Skull.

A good habit to develop is practicing describing your environment. Even if you can’t whip out your notebook, make mental notes. Stories are everywhere and if you’re sitting on a train or attending a wedding or even at work, there is always something that will add life to a current story or inspire a new one. (During my circuit class at the gym yesterday, I wondered how many murder mysteries are set in gyms. All those heavy weights!)

Writing exercises. 

Option 1: The Big Picture

Let’s Write! Choose a well-known location and write a short description of the area in a way you might describe the area as a setting for a story.

Option 2: The Finer Details

Describe either your current environment or a visualise the environment of an intimate scene from your current work in progress.

Opening lines and paragraphs.

Prolific author and founder of the 20booksto50K movement, Craig Martelle, gives the following world-building advice for authors, especially those who want to write a lot of books. He says,

Start with minimal world building and construct the rest as you go.”

Martelle urges would-be prolific writers not to spend thirty years building intricate Tolkienesque worlds unless that’s your goal. He says the world building should be character driven. We don’t need to explain every detail of the world before we can start telling the story. The aim is to set a scene and create the world of the story as we go.

November 1930.
A fog of tobacco, smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the cafe.

She had come in from the rain and drops the water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women 

inside. A regiment of white apron Waiters rushed around at tempo serving the needs Of the Munchner at leisure. Coffee, cake and gossip.

He was at a table at the far end of the room, surrounded by the usual cohorts and toadies. There was a woman she had never seen before. A permed platinum blonde with heavy makeup, an actress by the look of her. The blonde lit a cigarette making a phallic performance out of it. Everyone knew that he preferred his women demure and wholesome, Bavarian, and preferably all those drindls and knee socks God help us.

The opening paragraph of Life After Life by Kate Atkinson introduces the time period, the setting, the location and the tone with which our Main Character views the proceedings and people before her.

You have 7 seconds…

In the past, writers had the luxury of time and words to entice the reader. In this fast-paced world we have, according to Aussie author Jackie French, about seven seconds to grab our reader. Like it or not, we must intrigue them from the very first line.

How about this one…

It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen. 

This is from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. We immediately know that we are somewhere, and sometime, very different from the usual and we want to read on.

I love this opening paragraph from Sally Hepworth’s The Younger Wife.

I always cry at weddings. Nothing original there, I know – except perhaps the reason. Most people cry out of joy apparently, or because they’ve been catapulted back to their own wedding day and are overwhelmed by the emotion of it all. I cry because I’m sad, sad for me. Sad for the bride. Sad for the institution of marriage. Sad enough that it makes me cry. I’m especially sad at this wedding.

We immediately conjure a wedding in our mind’s eye. We can picture the narrator, sitting in the last pew, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. We know she doesn’t like weddings and yet here she is at this event that makes her particularly miserable. And we want to know why!

Here’s the opening sentence for my own work in progress based on the short story I wrote for the Scarlet Stiletto Awards. 

“The car wrecks in the overgrown backyard didn’t concern her, but the dead body in the old Commodore was a real problem.”


One of the perks of being a writer is the opportunity to while away the hours reading and indulging our curiosity. You can get away with ‘researching’ anything! Libraries both real and online are invaluable resources.

Add and Subtract

Being a writer is a great excuse to travel! Place has always been my favourite inspiration for stories. My first two novels were inspired by visits to Paris. Both use real places but while the genre is technically Contemporary fiction, both use elements of magical realism, with the world’s rules including time travel. 

You can also take elements away from an otherwise true to life setting. The movie Yesterday posed the question, ‘what would the world be like without the Beatles?’

Google is your friend!

Craig Martelle suggests using maps – both the real and created variety- to keep tabs on where your characters are physically within the story. I used Google Maps to see how long it would take to walk that far. While I am not writing a textbook or travel guide, I don’t want someone to read Gallice’s story and find it hard to believe that a pilgrim could cross Brittany and England on foot.

Draw it yourself.

It doesn’t matter how good your art skills are, make sketches of your maps, buildings, vehicles, animals etc. Who knows, down the track, you may be able to use those sketches in your work, in your social media or even as part of an NFT.


Use Pinterest to create a virtual mood board or make a real one. The benefit of a virtual mood board on Pinterest is you can save research from websites and provide links to it later.

Exercise: Introduce your setting

The first thing the reader wants to do is ‘land in your world.’ Write a couple of paragraphs introducing your setting, focusing on the sensory experience of the character, introduce your reader to the world of your story. This exercise is perfect for fleshing out the setting using all our senses. 

For example, rather than writing, ‘Parker looked across the road and saw a vast forest. He gestured to his team to fan out…’ write from Parker’s perspective – what Jim hears, sees, smells, feels and tastes.

The ground dipped away sharply at the edge of the road, the gravel verge meeting a vast forest that stretched away to the horizon. Mist rose above the trees, bringing with it the clean smell of pine. There was something else, a scent beneath. Something metallic. Parker’s fist open, gloved finger’s flexing and the team surged from the truck. As one booted-foot crunched the gravel the forest exploded in gunfire.’  

Close your eyes and picture yourself sitting in some kind of vehicle. It could be a car, plane, train, or horse-drawn carriage. Whatever works to help you see you, or your main character, arriving at their destination of choice. Now open the door. 

Describe what your Main Character sees, smells, hears, feels, and tastes.

What is the first thing you see? What do you smell? What sounds do you hear? Step out onto the ground. What do you feel underfoot? Take a few steps and look around. Is there anyone else there? What is the weather like? You see a building. What is the architecture like? Is there a shop, cafe or restaurant nearby? What kind of food do they eat here?

Here is my attempt to introduce the town of Roadside to my readers.

The cracked asphalt bakes in the midday heat and the air vibrates with cicadas. The kids gape at me from the confines of the air-conditioned car. We’d spent the morning swimming in the sea and lunching in a café that wouldn’t be out of place in the city. Beachside buzzes with holiday makers and second-home owners, just fifteen minutes, but a whole world away. This detour, this brilliant idea I had one night after too many wines, makes me want to slam the car door and head back to the coast. To hell with the money.

The main street is called Melbourne Road. There’s a general store, a servo, and half a dozen boarded up empty shops. The words “ghost town” spring to mind but, as promised, the Emporium building is like a sleeping beauty. Out of habit I lock the kids in the car and look both ways before I cross though I don’t think a car has travelled down this road all morning. I stand on the opposite side of the street and snap a quick photo.

‘Good morning,’ says a cheery voice behind me.

I turn to see a little old lady in a bright red apron waving her free hand. The other hand holds a hose spraying a soft haze of water over the plants for sale outside the shop.

‘Are you lost?’


www.worldanvil.com – World Anvil is a set of worldbuilding tools that helps you create, organize and store your world setting.



www.pinterest.com Create mood boards for your stories. You can visit my Pinterest board for my second novel Alia Henry and the Ghost Writer here

www.spotify.com Create a playlist for your story! Here’s my playlist for Alia Henry and the Ghost Writer.

Read Ten of Swords – Kate-Lyn Therkelsen – Winner of the 2022 GenreCon Short Story Competition.

Read Death of a Show Princess by Christine Betts here. https://writerpainter.com/2021/12/02/death-of-a-show-princess/

An excellent Ted Talk on Worldbuilding https://youtu.be/ZQTQSbjecLg

Medium article https://samhollon.medium.com/world-building-resources-what-they-are-and-which-ones-you-need-4bda6cea4a29

A great list of Genres and Subgenres from

www.writerswrite.com https://www.writerswrite.com/fiction/genres/ 


  • Board Books
  • Chapter Books
  • Picture Books
  • Young Adult


  • Coming of Age
  • Dark Fantasy
  • Epic
  • Grimdark
  • High Fantasy
  • Magic Realism
  • Military
  • Sword & Sorcery
  • Urban

General Fiction

  • Absurdist
  • Christian
  • Contemporary
  • Humor/Satire
  • Political
  • War
  • Women’s Fiction


  • Gothic
  • Lovecraftian
  • Monsters
  • Occult
  • Psychological
  • Supernatural
  • Vampires

Literary Fiction


  • Amateur Sleuths
  • Cozy
  • Hard-Boiled
  • Legal Thriller
  • Medical Thriller
  • Noir
  • Police Procedural
  • Psychological Thriller
  • Supernatural
  • Women Sleuths


  • Chicklit
  • Contemporary
  • Erotic
  • Gay/Lesbian
  • Gothic
  • Historical
  • Paranormal
  • Regency
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Time Travel
  • Young Adult
  • Western

Science Fiction

  • Alien Invasion
  • Alternative History
  • Colonization
  • Cyberpunk
  • Dystopian
  • Hard SF
  • Military
  • Social SF
  • Space Opera
  • Steampunk
  • Time Travel


  • Contemporary
  • Cowboys and Ranches
  • Gunslingers
  • Outlaws

More Resources:

Christine Betts – Contributor

My 2022 Writing Plan…

Member Blog by Jill Smith

Each author has their own approach to goal-setting. GCWA member and Ten Penners
Coordinator, Jill Smith, outlines her goals for her 2022 writing year here.

My original plan was written twelve days into the new year. I decided not to delay my
Writing Goals for this year. I like to be able to refer to my list and tick things off as I
go, or at least remind myself what I want to accomplish throughout 2022. I’ve already
accomplished some of these goals or made progress into them. This is a mid-
February update.

Writing Goal 1

To limber up my writing muscles, I’ll attack the 12 Days of Christmas writing
challenge set by Melissa Gijsbers, as outlined below. I’ve completed stories for the
first nine prompts. They don’t have to be long stories. I’ve enjoyed this challenge and
think you will too.

Link to https://authorjillsmith.wordpress.com/2022/02/10/12-days-of-
for Jill’s blog

Writing Goal 2

The Ten Penners have a massive year planned. I’m now the coordinator of this sub-
group of the Gold Coast Writers’ Association (GCWA). Our contributors all need to
be financial members of the GCWA. I’ll be editing stories written by my fellow writers
and providing critique feedback to them. We’ve set ourselves a deadline for one or
two of our stories to be completed and edited by Easter. I’ve completed my two
stories titled, Crystal Ball Witch Hunt and Poo Boom Cat.
Once all the authors in our group have submitted their stories and we’ve completed a
first pass edit, we’ll work on the order of the stories. Then we’ll do a more
comprehensive edit of all the stories to make sure they are suitable for our age group

of ten-to-twelve-year-olds, and professional in their appearance with correct
formatting. We are also planning to create some artwork to go with each story.
Currently, our group consists of Jill Smith, Marion Martineer, Kate (PEPPER)
Russell, Jennifer Scicluna, Michelle Calder, Lindy Standage, Julie Baythorpe, and
Elli Housden. That is only eight members. We hope two new people can join us to
make us once again The Ten Penners. We’ve had male members in the past; in
Shock, Horror, Gasp, Malcolm Kearton and Robert Young contributed, so we are not
averse to new GCWA members joining us.
What a team we are! Lindy and Marion have been in all three of our previous books,
Shock, Horror, Gasp, Fan-tas-tic-al Tales, and Mystery, Mayhem & Magic. Kate, and
I have been in the latter two. Julie Baythorpe, Elli Housdon, both had stories in
Mystery, Mayhem & Magic. The other contributors have either left the group or
passed on. Louisa Wright also added to Mystery, Mayhem & Magic with her Utopia
Judy Wollin was a valuable member of The Ten Penners during 2019, however both
she and Louisa Wright are now involved with the GCWA Committee and find they
are time poor, so have left our group.

Writing Goal 3

Return to my Sci-Fi manuscript, the third book in The Ancient Alien Series, called
Travellers. I’ll try a program called Draft to Digital that Kate used recently to
produce her latest book, The Players. I plan to get my cover created by Marion’s
daughter, Starla. In my mind’s eye, the cover is a large, often augmented spaceship
with generational additions, silhouetted above an orange planet. My old laptop died
at the beginning of the year and the lost files were recovered by my whizz computer
guy. Thank goodness! I did also back up this manuscript by email, while doing
NaNoWriMo last November as I was editing it.

Writing Goal 4

Continue to post a daily blog to build my author platform, and generate interest in my
writings, books I’ve read, etc. On my old computer, I reached 123 posts in a row. On
this new machine, I’m at 14 – so that’s 147 consecutive days. I don’t want to break
this record. (Although I think the consecutive run may have been broken a bit when
the Australian Open Tennis was on!) I’m getting more followers and a few comments;
not as many as I’d like, so feel free.

Writing Goal 5

Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July, edit and fine tune another, almost finished,
manuscript, Microworld, which is a Young Adults Sci-Fi. Use Draft to Digital to
create this book.

Writing Goal 6

Again, use Draft to Digital (which I’ve yet to download) if my previous efforts have
been successful. The Microworld cover hasn’t fully developed in my mind yet. I’ve a
couple of images; either a domed city, or an underwater domed city.

Writing Goal 7

Download Draft to Digital.

Writing Goal 8

Continue to enter writing competitions. I missed the deadline for a competition for a
Writing Masterclass with Fiona McIntosh. Never mind, there are many other
wonderful opportunities.

Writing Goal 9

I’ve decided not to go to the Boonah Writers Festival. Instead, I have set my sights
on the Brisbane Writers Festival at midyear.

Writing Goal 10

Continue to write book reviews for those who ask me for a minimal fee. Continue to
post reviews on Goodreads for the books I enjoy reading.

Main Writing Goal for 2022

To continue to improve my writing, editing, and creative skills. The Ten Penners
anthology, to be launched in October, needs to be illustrated and we are challenging
ourselves to do sketches to go with our stories. Some of the ladies are accomplished
artists. I’m not in their league but have doodled images for our previous books. I’m
willing to have a go.

There may be many more things that crop up during the year, but for now, this
list is enough to use as a guide. Happy reading, writing, reviewing friends. – Jill

Like to know more about The Ten Penners https://thetenpenners.wordpress.com/

Jill Smith – Contributor

Harnessing Your 2022 Writing Goals

Member blog by Kate Kelsen

As an author, I have been avidly writing and self-publishing fiction and creative non-fiction
stories since 2010. I take a particular interest in exploring various human experiences and
perspectives to share people’s stories in the wider community. I am also the Vice President
and Social Media Manager of the Gold Coast Writers’ Association.
As a child, I discovered the joys of storytelling and enthusiastically embraced it. I
subsequently received recognition from writing awards and competitions around Australia. The Hunter Writers Centre selected my entries to the Grieve Writing Competition for two
consecutive years. One of those entries was chosen for the inaugural Hunter Writers Centre
Award. Additionally, I have been a finalist in the Reader’s Digest 100 Word Short Story
In this post, I will share with you the productivity tools that have been integral to my success;
helping me write and publish four books. From 30 & 90 Day Plans to tracking achievements,
I will share tips to help you harness your writing goals, no matter what stage you are at in the
writing process. Having these structures in place has given me a sense of accomplishment
and progress even during the smallest steps.

30 & 90 Day Plans

New Year’s resolutions are notorious for failure. Fuelled by enthusiasm, a few days, weeks or
even months into the year, we come up against challenges, we get busy, we lose our
motivation and become disheartened. 30 & 90 Day Plans help you break down your big goals
into smaller, more manageable goals.
Start by doing a BIG brainstorm, writing down all the goals you want to achieve that year.
Don’t think about the how’s, just write it all down. Personally, I do this in the first page of
my yearly diary (January 1).

90 Day Plan

The next step is the 90 Day Plan. This is a generalised idea about what you want to achieve
over a three-month period, for example, January-March, April-June. Make a list of the goals
you would like to achieve in the next 90 Days. I usually list these on the first day of the
month in which the new 90-day period starts.

30 Day Plan

Having completed your 90 Day Plan, now you can break it down even further into a plan for
the immediate month ahead, e.g., January.
The beauty of the 30 & 90 Day Plan is, if you don’t get all the items ticked off the list, just
carry them over to the next 30/90 days, and just keep carrying them over until they’re done!

Daily Achievement Note

Keep a simple daily record of the things you’ve done to contribute to your goal. This creates a
daily habit of contributing to your goals, however big or small. It will also serve as a
reference tool for you when you’re feeling unmotivated!

Other Time Management Tools

Below are some productivity tools to optimise your writing time and manage your social
media presence.

Pomodoro Technique

The mind works well with time deadlines and smaller targets. The Pomodoro Technique
involves writing for 25-minute sessions, and then taking a five-minute break in between. You
can use the Tomato Timer to track your sessions: TomatoTimer (tomato-timer.com) (Writing
Fridays uses the Pomodoro Technique. For more information…)

Social Media Scheduling Services

If social media is part of your online author presence, scheduling services can save you time,
enabling you to create and schedule posts for publishing in advance. Hootsuite is one of the
most well-known scheduling tools, however there are several others available too, including:

  • Buffer
  • Sendible
  • Sprout Social
  • Agora Pulse
  • Viral Heat
  • Social Oomph

Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress allow you to schedule drafts in advance with no limit on
posts or characters. Instagram does not allow you to schedule posts in advance, however you
can save drafts of your posts to publish later. You cannot schedule posts in advance on
LinkedIn but you can do this through a third-party scheduling service like Hootsuite, etc.
Whatever productivity tools you choose to use for your writing, always remember to
acknowledge your progress, however big or small. And most importantly, remember to enjoy
your writing time!

Contributed by Kate Kelsen

Discovering a passion for storytelling early in life, at twenty-one years of age Kate published her debut novel The Wilted Rose, a novel inspired by the true story of a Brisbane family’s experience with mental illness during the 1960s.

This book was the beginning of a passion for Creative Nonfiction.  Kate has since gone on to publish three more books and multiple short stories across various genres. 

Kate has received recognition from writing awards and competitions around Australia.

The Hunter Writers Centre in Newcastle consecutively selected Kate’s entries to the Grieve Writing Competition two years in a row, for publication in the competition’s annual anthology. One of these entries was also chosen for the inaugural Hunter Writers Centre Award.

Kate has also been a finalist in the Reader’s Digest 100 Word Short Story Competition.

Kate is currently working on a sequel to The Wilted Rose, and an Irish Noir novella series set in Galway.


Basic Strokes for Writing Great Fiction

Guest blog by Lynne Lloyd

As experienced writers, we leave the basics of language and written expression far
behind us. Or do we? I am a believer in the basics, not only at the learning stage but
also revisiting them at regular intervals. It is akin to resharpening our saw which
otherwise may become blunt and ineffective. Refreshing our basic writing techniques
can also overcome the human tendency towards complacency. It is easy to fall into
familiar patterns and rely on our comfortable habits. Becoming complacent, we may
fail to question ourselves, “Is this still working?” “What could I do differently?”

In the editing process, it is often the basics which are incorrect, poorly written or missing from the manuscript.
Highlighted in this article are three basic writing techniques which are often not
handled well, or at all, in the manuscripts we edit.

1) Using the Full Palette of Senses
Our strongest sense is our eyesight and therefore it is natural for what we see to
take centre stage when we describe a setting, a scene or a character. What is not
so fine and natural is when the visual is the only sensory information we write.

In major scenes, along with the visual, include one of the other senses of smell,
taste, sound, touch and movement.

To illustrate, please read this little scene:

“… this was a lot nicer than her own flat. Here there were plants and pictures
and cookbooks, there were blankets, old and threadbare but colourful still,
folded neatly in the corner. It smelled lovely, of woodsmoke and lemon. All the
surfaces were spotless.” (From Paula Hawkins: ‘A Slow Fire Burning’ p.187)

Here we have the visual sense paired with the olfactory. It would be an OK scene if it
only had the visual description but the little sentence, “It smelled lovely, of
woodsmoke and lemon” lifts the writing to a richer sensory level and makes the
scene work really well for the reader.
The basic equation ‘V + 1’ is visual plus one other sense. Visual plus smell (as
above); visual + touch; visual + sound; visual + taste. Increasing the sensory load in
our writing also applies to writing dialogue.
Over the length of our novel or memoir, with increased awareness, we can make use
of the full palette of our senses.

2) Recognising Habitual Words and Repeated Expressions
In a recent editing project, all the major characters showed their surprise or shock by
the exact same facial expression of ‘his eyes widened,” or ‘she had wide eyes’
‘widening eyes.’ It was a double repetition effect, not only was it the same
expression but it was used by all the characters.
The reader will not fail to
recognise this constant repetition which strains credulity, is distracting and may even
pull the reader out of the world of the story.

  • What are some of these oft-repeated expressions? Here are a few from recent
  • editing projects:
  • furrowed brows / furrows
  • bit her lip
  • smiled / smiling
  • flickering / flicker
  • widening eyes / eyes wide
  • smell his breath
  • as best they could.

For a list of over-used words in recent fiction manuscripts, click here.

3) Showing Our Characters’ Emotions
There is a world of difference between stating an emotion, for example, a character
is terrified of what is about to happen and showing the emotion through selected
physical and psychological symptoms of their terror. It is their emotional
symptoms we write, not the illness.
As an example, in the following passage,
George Johnston could have written that his protagonist, David Meredith, was
wracked with fear, but he didn’t. He wrote:

‘Meredith, staring through the brambles, could feel the breath choking in his
throat, could hear his heart hammering, and in the dry cavities of his nostrils
the dust clotted and mingled with the stale sour smell of the Chinese captain.’
(From George Johnston: The Far Road – p. 191)

Reading the above visceral description, we feel the absolute terror and panic rising
in Meredith who is concealed by the side of the road where he cannot hide for long.
The Chinese soldiers at the roadblock are armed and he must run onto the road to
reach his vehicle. Is he about to die?

Another tendency we writers have is to focus our characters’ emotions solely
on their faces, particularly the eyes and eyebrows.
Again this is not wrong; it is
only when we neglect to include other parts of the body which, in real life, are also
affected by our emotions. As we write, we seem to forget we have arms, legs, feet
and hands. The absolute best resource I have found to expand a fiction writer’s
emotional territory is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character
, 2nd Edition, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

In summary, we have looked at three of the basic yet critical techniques for writing
great fiction: first, how to enrich our readers’ experience by adding more senses into
our descriptions; second, we have highlighted the repetition of words and
expressions which become habitual and repetitive and third, how we cannot simply
name the emotion, we have to show it in our character’s face, voice and body
language. Paying attention to the basics is not confined to writers. The basics are
practised in many other disciplines: the prima ballerina continues to go through her
daily stretching and dance moves; the tennis champion continues to practise his
basic strokes for the whole of his career. For as long as we write, practising and
refreshing the basics will continue to matter.


Lynne is managing editor and publisher at LLOYD MOSS publishing. Based on the Gold Coast, they assist writers, published and unpublished, Australia wide. Their author services include writing skills development, editing (structural, copyediting and proofreading) and self-publishing.

At University, Lynne studied English literature and communication. My career took me into the world of educational publishing for ten years which was full of variety, challenges and personal achievements.  As part of my role, I was responsible for signing new Australian authors to write for us.  Subsequently, I held leadership positions in two HR consulting firms.  In 2008, I wrote and self-published my first book entitled ‘Personal Best Selling’,’ which I wrote to demonstrate my knowledge and expertise in the field. I have also written and self-published two books of short stories.

I love storytelling but I am even more inclined towards fine writing, the kind that lights you up inside and gives you joy.