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 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?’

Resources – World Anvil is a set of worldbuilding tools that helps you create, organize and store your world setting. Create mood boards for your stories. You can visit my Pinterest board for my second novel Alia Henry and the Ghost Writer here 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.

An excellent Ted Talk on Worldbuilding

Medium article

A great list of Genres and Subgenres from 


  • 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
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

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 ( (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.


The influence of TikTok on creative writing of screenplays

Guest blog by Elissa McGaw

Due to its rapid international growth and audience feedback, research investigating the methods of successful screenplay writing for the social media platform, TikTok, is warranted to elucidate its potential career benefits for a screenwriter.

This project aims to create an article that can be used by academics and industry professionals to analyse and think about the various aspects of screenplay writing that can be applied to the multimedia platform, TikTok. To assess obstacles a screenplay writer needs to overcome when creating a TikTok series, the author adapted a short detective story, “The Curious Case of the Billionaire’s Business Partner” into a screenplay, following the principles of Aristotles’ two and three-act screenplay format.

First, the author observed that a three-act screenplay was not appropriate for short TikTok posts, and a two-act screenplay is practical while rewriting complex scenes, which aids in more creative rewrites.

Second, TikTok users are more interactive with new content vs other multi-media platforms, and new creative writers can easily engage with the audience to find out what is popular.

Third, writing a TikTok series screenplay that is an adaptation of an original short story offers more challenging external environmental and financial constraints than traditional screenplay writing and encourages flexible and quicker rewrites.

Conducting qualitative interviews with TikTok content creators facilitated elucidation of the opportunities and frontiers TikTok provides for emerging creative writers. This investigation discovered that many stories can be told on the TikTok platform other than the proposed detective short story that has been adapted into a screenplay series.

Finally, TikTok is a perfect platform for emerging writers to launch their careers and create a writing portfolio regardless of their preferred genre. 

Contributed by Elissa McGaw.

Elissa McGaw is Gold Coast writer currently completing the last semester of a Master’s in Creative Writing. Her short story, Forced, was published in the 2020 GCWA anthology, Short Yarns for Big Imaginations Volume II.

As part of her degree programme, Elissa has written an article on the hurdles and opportunities for emerging screenplay writers, focusing on the social media platform TikTok.

Elissa wrote an original short story and adapted the story as a part of the screenplay series. The article interviews industry professionals and compares their expert advice with her own personal experience documented during the creative writing process. 

Read more of Elissa’s articles here –

Writing Historical Fiction and Fantasy – and finding your story.


Member Blog by David Thomas Kay

Many authors create their novels in a modern-day environment they are familiar with; others write Historical Fiction in a period of their choice.

I prefer writing progressive Historical Fiction and let good narrative and the passage of time move the stories forward.

Fiction! A fascinating subject. I enjoy reading Science Fiction, Fantasy, and modern-day Fiction. So, why did I choose to write ‘Historical’ Fiction?

Simply because I am a genealogist who loves researching past generations, the rulers of the day, the kings, and queens, culture and ever-changing religions, and I love Folklore and Mythology.

The stories are there to be found and developed, however, Fiction must be believable, and based on fact. Your story can only benefit by studying the environment that your characters inhabit.

DNA tracing suggested my ancestors came from Southern Norway and settled in the Lake District via the Isle of Mann. So, my first novel travelled beyond my research, into the realms of the Norse Vikings. I had to study Scandinavian history and Nordic mythology, and this became the foundation of my series ‘Circles of Time’.


The first story tellers were the cave dwellers, recounting their tribal wars, and their experiences of hunting and gathering.

As time moved on, they began to exaggerate their stories to entertain their listeners, and this is the first evidence of fiction based on fact. Their stories progressed into the Fantasy of Dreams and the creation of Gods. You could say this was Fiction based on Fantasy.


The stories of the Rainbow Serpent and the Three Sisters.

Aboriginal Dreamtime stories of how the world began.

Zeus of Greek mythology, Jupiter of ancient Rome, and Thor of Norse mythology. Zeus, Jupiter and Thor were Gods of the sky and of Thunder and Lightning. Three civilizations from different eras with the same beliefs, mythology, or stories passed down for centuries. They are an endless source of material for today’s writers and film producers.

Nordic kings hired Skalds, from their own ranks, to exaggerate and glorify their victorious battles. These Scandinavian poets created legends that were based on fact but verged on fantasy.


Then, we have the modern-day fantasy of Science Fiction.

The Day of the Triffids and Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica and Dune, and the most fascinating of all stories for young and old; the endless number of children’s Fantasy books. They stir the imagination of a child, and often grown-ups, as they enjoy the ‘suspension of belief’; the space between fantasy and reality. The adaptation to television and cinema extends our fantasy as we are persuaded to enter a new world of entertaining escapism.

The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Harry Potter, and … The Never-Ending Story. These are only a small sample of the numerous children’s classics, enjoyed by all ages and recognised as expanding the development of a young mind.

There are talking animals, mythical creatures, dwarves and centaurs, child protagonists, and evil witches. There are adventures galore and, as always, the clash between good and evil. It’s not surprising how many of these protagonists fly like birds – Peter Pan and Harry Potter.

Fantasy is escapism and readers are willing to be transported to another world, to be entertained and escape reality for a short time.

However, the rules of writing don’t change because of the genre, or the location.

There are goodies and baddies everywhere and a story must have a hero-protagonist and a villain-antagonist to create friction and conflict.

They say that everyone has a story to tell, but once told, what then?

Stories are all around us if we are observant. Stories from the past have already been acted out, but the same story can be changed with the creation of new characters. Examples are the modern-day versions of Fairy Tales.

Stories are about people and their personalities are the catalyst that will bring your story to life. How well you develop your characters will determine your success. Place them in a stressful situation and your characters will develop. Friction between a villain and a hero leads to conflict and suspense, which in turn leads to emotion and stress, and a test of their character.

From this conflict, a new personality can emerge, weak or strong, and be accepted by the reader. A strong, well-developed personality can dictate the progress of a story and change the direction of the plot. The story will take on a new perspective, and the reader will follow on, unaware.

Authors welcome these situations and follow the emerging character with increasing interest. How many times have you heard an author relating how his main protagonist has taken over, and is leading him into uncharted territory?

It’s exciting for the writer and rejuvenating for the story.

In the world of today’s Fiction writing, we embellish with a game called ‘Poetic License’. This is necessary to the art of storytelling and is a game played by the reader and the writer. It is known as ‘suspension of belief’, or how far to go with Fantasy without losing your credibility with the reader.

When you are writing obsessively and forget to eat, it’s safe to say that you have found your elusive story. Happy writing!

David Thomas Kay – Contributor

Vale Karen Knight-Mudie

by former Gold Coast Writers’ Association president Gary Ivory

Karen joined Gold Coast Writers’ Association some 10 years back and quickly stepped up to take a role on the Committee, helping to steer the association forward during adventurous and challenging times. As a member of the committee and later Vice President of the Association, I got to know Karen well and had the privilege to work with her on a number of projects made all the easier by our shared background in education and the love of teaching and learning.

As our Membership Secretary, Karen worked tirelessly to streamline the process of membership, ensuring our books were kept up to date to meet audit requirements. As a general committee member, Karen worked quietly in the background, supporting each person in their respective roles. At the table, she often injected energy and excitement with her thought-provoking comments into forward planning and problem solving.

Karen stepped up to support “The Authors in Schools Program” expertly running workshops in various high schools as well as liaising with fellow authors. With a secondary teaching background in the Arts, Karen relished the opportunity to work with secondary students, encouraging them to appreciate literature and inspiring budding authors to write. Her understanding of schools ensured these sessions were well organised and expertly presented.

After completing her PhD (James Cook University) with considerable research into the concept of “Creativity” and “Extrinsic and Intrinsic Reward Systems”, Karen spent time lecturing at Southern Cross University. I had the privilege to partner with Karen to deliver workshops in this popular area of study and arts practice. Karen’s lectures always stretched the imagination and inspired writers to keep writing or pick up the pen.

While teaching at the College of the South West in Roma, Queensland, Karen researched in great detail the tale of the Kenniff Brothers, notorious cattle rustlers, tried and convicted in the outback courts of old Queensland. Her book, “Moonlighting in Moffat: tracking the Kenniff brothers” told a fascinating tale of a story almost forgotten.

Karen Knight-Mudie Watercolour 2019

Her considerable and creative painting talent, saw Karen produce visual images on giant, strong brown paper banners, helping to bring the story to life. After exhibiting in Roma in recent years, the paintings, of some historical note, are now the property of the Shire Council, with replicas gracing the walls of the Roma Airport.

Karen’s love of art and art history was put to good use as she regularly lectured at a number of Gold Coast Libraries. My wife and I, along with others from the GCWA, both young and old, who were interested in art history, enjoyed many sessions as Karen shared some wonderful insights into the life and works of the masters. Titled “Walks in Time”, Karen’s love of art always showed through. Her research was so thorough and always very well received.

Dr Knight-Mudie presented a series of art talks during 2021 at her local library in Nowra

Karen’s published work “Yarns from Yandilla” was indeed a challenge to us all to live by standards, with the hope of making the world a better place. A teacher called Mrs. M took up the challenge and, with multiple copies purchased, used Karen’s work to help guide the children towards gaining insight into everyday life and the many ups and downs it can present. In her creative, artistic style, she crossed over into the animal world and a unique fantasy land creating characters which captured the imagination helping us all “To tinker with the tools in our head”.

She continued using her creative imagination in “Boy from Bullamooluka”. Her introduction gives a clue to Karen’s unique command of the English Language.

“This is a story that explores the dilemmas of diversity and the conquering of conflict when fantasy, technology and every-day normality collide and envelop Watson in a personal web of dismay and discovery.”

Karen Knight-Mudie

Watson, a 15-year-old at Bullamooluka High School student with all the trials and tribulations he faces, is the centre of attention as Karen draws on her considerable experience as a high school teacher.

In her words:

“During my years at school, I found the amazing magic of the written word and the surprising complexity of visual language. As a consequence, I’m still having an on-going affair with words and images involving lots of effort and lots of ‘tinkering with the tools in my head’. In other words, the affair involves learning and that, as you know, is a life-long voyage of discovery so I’m still travelling.”

Karen Knight-Mudie

Karen certainly did a lot of tinkering in her head, designing and building her home in Tallebudgera Valley. Designed around a central living area, her home had plenty of space to show her favourite art works and special treasures as well as lots of natural light to create new ones. Her property also boasted a stable and a horse rink allowing her to indulge one of her favourite pastimes–dressage. My wife and I and others enjoyed many a sunset, looking across her green oasis.

Karen, to the end, was feisty and determined. Her considerable talent and creative energy led her to enter the Archibald Prize, indeed a testament to her enduring character. Her last days were spent at her new home in Nowra NSW recording on memory sticks to be left for each of her family members.

Karen cared greatly about Animal Welfare, Arts and Culture, Children, Education, Environment, and Human Rights.  She will be missed greatly by her family and friends.

Getting your work out there!

Group of writers

Guest Blog by Judy Wollin

If you are writing anything other than a private diary, you will need readers to give you feedback.

Getting your work in front of selected readers before it is in the public arena will help it be the strongest you can write. Such input and advice can improve the quality of your writing, which can increase the likelihood of publication and sales, whether you are traditional or self-published. By reaching out, you can also build a network and get to know the publishing world. Building a network allows even unknown writers to get known.

Joining writers’ groups is a way of getting your work out there.


General groups are valuable based on the variety of work you will hear about, read, and share. Gold Coast Writers’ Association is one such group. Specialised writers’ groups focus on a single genre usually. Children’s authors and illustrators, crime writers, and romance writers are examples. They provide up-to-date industry news relating to the genre and discuss the nuances of getting published in that genre.

Critique groups bring together writers seeking and providing feedback for each other in a structured way. Alpha and beta readers have a similar function, but these are usually one-on-one.

Sensitivity Readers

Sensitivity readers have the key role of reviewing your work to identify and help you avoid biases, inappropriate language, stereotyping, racism, and other critical errors. Employing an editor is another avenue to improve your work and increase the likelihood of success.


Mentors and courses can provide education and feedback to help you become the strongest writer you can. Mentors work one-on-one whereas courses usually involve group learning. Both are useful ways of getting your work reviewed.

Manuscript Assessment and Pitches

Manuscript assessment and pitches are another avenue for getting feedback. A manuscript assessment can be offered on an entire manuscript or a set number of words. The feedback may be written or verbal. Pitching your novel is a brief, usually three-minute, opportunity to promote your story and yourself to an agent or publisher. Given the short duration of a pitch, it is best to seek expert advice in preparing for it. The Australian Society of Authors, Queensland Writers’ Centre, and the Australian Writers’ Centre provide suitable courses.


Competitions are a good idea for strengthening your writing. Writing to a specific criterion may stretch you in directions you would not try otherwise.


Submitting to anthologies is also a good way to get published. These are often published by writer’s groups. The Gold Coast Writers’ Association has published anthologies in the past. Editing and feedback for group anthologies is usually a collaborative affair, with writers swapping work among themselves.


Finally, a digital presence, Social Media platforms and your author website, for example, are important too. Publishers often look for an author’s digital presence for establishing an author’s willingness to market themselves and their work.

In summary, getting your work out there will improve your writing and increase the likelihood of your success in publishing. There is an option to suit every writer. Whether you prefer one-on-one or a group setting, broad writing groups or genre-specific groups, or a paid professional, course, or mentor. The choice is yours.

ASA Pitch Perfect course

As part of my journey to have my middle grade novels published, I completed the ‘Pitch Perfect’ online Zoom course run by the Australian Society of Authors (ASA). This course was very helpful.

In the first session, participants examined the foundations of developing a pitch. They were asked to identify what they wanted to achieve with publication and examined different publishing options, multinationals, independent and self-publishing.

The second session discussed whether authors need an agent, and the type of content that must be included in a pitch. Participants examined their genre, readership, and the importance of knowing comparative titles.

The third session covered writing a 300-word synopsis which formed the core of your pitch.

The fourth session addressed the format of pitching to an agent or publisher, preparing a pitch, and the need to practice.

The course was very informative and the resources very helpful. Course participants were given prior access to book their pitch sessions in the ASA Literary “Speed Dating” event. I would recommend this course to authors wanting the opportunity to present their work and themselves to agents or publishers.

Judy Wollin

Judy Wollin – Contributor


Alliance of Young Authors

Alpha and Beta readers. You can find talented readers on, or somewhere like Writerful Books.

Australian Crime Writers Association dedicated to promoting greater recognition for crime, thriller, and mystery writing in Australia.

Australia Society of Authors the professional organisation, community and voice of Australia’s writers and illustrators. Provides training, mentorships, advocacy, support, advice and literary speed dating.

Australian Writers’ Centre is one source of excellent courses

Book Links Promote authors, illustrators and storytellers for children and young people.


Queensland Writers Centre a not-for-profit membership organisation that supports, celebrates and showcases Queensland writers. It offers training, mentorships, critique groups, resources and meeting rooms. It is based in State library Brisbane.

Romance Writers of Australia promote excellence in romantic fiction, to help aspiring writers become published and published authors to maintain and establish their career.

Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators specifically for individuals who write, illustrate, and translate for children and young adults.

Vision Writers home for speculative fiction, science fiction, horror and fantasy writers in Queensland

Editing: How important is it, really? (Part 2)

Cover Pictures


You’ve sparked the interest of your readers with a great start.

No typos, the grammar is something Jane Austen would be proud of, and the story engages with a great plot, stimulating flow, and characters that would inspire a generation of wannabees. So, what else do you need?

Following on from Part 1 of this blog that described the absolutes you MUST do with your writing and editing, here are the other things you NEED to do, SHOULD do, and what would be NICE to do.

If you missed part 1, and it pains you to miss out, we recommend that you follow this link and start there.


These elements are essential to your writing, but can be in a lesser form than those that MUST be done; a bit like you MUST have oxygen, water and food to survive, but a four bedroom home with an ensuite is a NICE to have. Let’s face it, to survive, a shelter comprising a dry cave will do.

You can’t judge a book by its cover

The old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is probably true, but it really helps your book to have a great cover to attract an audience. Similarly, a catchy title will do the same. But, no matter how brilliant the cover or title are, the writing that lies within the front and back covers still has to live up to the hype and engage its readers.

“But what has this to do with editing?” I hear you ask. At the cover design stage, not much, but just wait until you get the proof back from the graphic design artist (please use one who has a reputation and not just your niece who has a ‘flare’ for it). Look at it carefully with a proofing eye. Check every little detail, such as the spelling in the title, the words on the spine, and the blurb at the back. It’s too late to say, ‘Whoopsie’ after the print run has gone through and the typo is there for all to see in graphic detail (pun intended) on all 500+ copies.


Depending on how you are publishing your writing – as a book, a short story or poem, in an anthology with many other works, or in an online or digital format – you should read through the finished product from top to bottom. Yes, I know, you’ve already done it in the MUST dos, but it’s a SHOULD do after you receive your proof copy. It’s amazing how many times something is missed.


You’ve now reached the point where there aren’t too many more things to do, so you can take a proverbial breather and look at your product. First question to ask is, “Do you like it?” Be honest. This is the last chance you get to change things.

Do you like the layout, font, size of font, formatting? Do you like the feel of the paper? Is it too thin or thick? Are the margins too small? Is there enough ‘white space’ on the page so the reader can rest their eyes while reading and not feel like they’re trapped in a cage? Do you want a paperback as well as a hard back, an eBook or an audiobook? (Be aware that an audiobook is a whole different kettle of fish! Maybe another blog…)

If you’ve had professional help with the layout, or you’re running with a group that chooses the style for your type of book, then you don’t have many options, but if you have self-published, then you can choose what you like. Research how other similar publications are done. Visualise your work in the same product setting. Does this look better? If you’re not sure, ask a friend or colleague who you trust implicitly to give their opinion. Then be prepared to listen without getting offended or hurt. If you listen with an open mind, you might hear something that you can learn from and gain a benefit. Change doesn’t have to be bad.

On the other hand, if you like what you see, then all is well and good. Success awaits!

Kerri Yarsley – Contributor

Kerri’s love of books really took off from her Year 12 readers: Pride and Prejudice, The Go-Between, The Once and Future King, and The Lord of the Rings (which she read in full six times that year, taught herself Elvish and translated the Elvish script on the book’s cover). This opened up a vast world of fantasy and imagination which has stayed with Kerri ever since.

A decade or two later, Kerri forged a career in the training and instructional design space, creating materials and courses for computer systems and applications. This world had videos, audios and magic! Creativity could burst forth.

So, Kerri decided to write a book – The Instruction Manual for Kids – Parent’s Edition. She had the experience of a couple of decades in both areas – kids and instruction manuals – so what could go wrong?

You can find out more about Kerri here…