Wednesday 26 December 2012

Great Sentence of the Week #11

This sentence comes from a poignant – and brilliant – short story in the 2012 Award Winning Australian Writing anthology. He walks along the fence line, the wired spine that fuses farmland with forest. The Nest (Sinclair)

Monday 17 December 2012

Common Thread Anthology

Here's a little locally produced book you might want to consider as a stocking filler this festive season. I can recommend one of the stories in it...

Thursday 13 December 2012

Images of Never Learning

I took a break from writing at lunchtime. A short break. A refill. And I sat down to watch one of my favourite movies on DVD: Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields. A sad, inspiring – and true – story. There’s an iconic scene at the start of the movie, which, even if you don’t recall the whole film, you will probably be familiar with. It lasts a few seconds. But it forced me back to the keyboard.
There’s a paddy field, dry now, but still as green as Eden, sitting under an upturned crucible of cloud unleashing hell. A small boy, maybe 5 or 6 years old, rides on the back of a barrel-shaped water buffalo. He is miniscule under the steel G.I helmet he now claims as his own. He holds it tight, stopping it from rolling off his head, as he gazes up into that dark grey forever and listens to an American jet shrieking like a winged dragon. And you just know the little fellow’s never going to make old age. And it strikes you that we’ve learned nothing from history.

Because somewhere there’s a poppy field, green and pink, and sitting under a sky of screaming blue. A small boy...

Sunday 9 December 2012

Best Australian Books?

From the ABC First Tuesday Book Club - the top 10 Australian Books of all time. I agree with some, but not all of these choices. How about you?

  1. Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
  2. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
  3. A Fortunate Life - A.B. Facey
  4. The Harp in the South - Ruth Park
  5. The Power of One - Bryce Courtenay
  6. Jasper Jones - Craig Silvey
  7. The Magic Pudding - Norman Lindsay
  8. The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas
  9. The Secret River - Kate Grenville
  10. Picnic at Hanging Rock - Joan Lindsay

Thursday 29 November 2012

Why you should write...

In the foreword to AWAW 2012, Mark Tredinnick has this suggestion for those of us who love to write, on why we should keep going: "Write, as the writers in this anthology have done, to make beauty, to make sense, to make prayer, to make love ... about who we are, and what is real, and what counts, and what one can do to help."


Thursday 22 November 2012

One with Birds

I climbed a tree once. About ten years ago. A beautiful twisted grandfather tree, with a sparse thatch of small green leaves. A rainforest veteran too old to put up much of a fight. I never was much of a tree climbing kid. Fell out of a few. Branches never seemed to hold me like they did other kids. But I climbed this tree – the old Booyong, burdened with a couple of climbing accessories – part rotting trunk, part steel ladder and part Strangler Fig.

In thirty seconds I was one hundred feet in the air. I stood in the old man’s canopy, on a small steel platform, underneath one of his surviving branches, now twisted and gnarled like arthritis. Vines and air ferns draped across the sky like exotic curtains. Pallid question marks of mist rising from between distant woolly green hills. A King Parrot whistled from somewhere close by, and at my level. For a few minutes I was in his space. A beautiful space. I understood why his calls always sounded so joyous.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Fair and Fear

It’s a sunny November afternoon. It’s mild and still, inside a room that’s pink and blue and green and gold. Outside there’s a sea breeze that’s lost most of its momentum, trying to reach this far from the sea. The trees do little more than shiver. Not me. It’s perfect. And on this perfect afternoon I find myself in a place I’ve known for almost half my life. In the middle of a conundrum. Two companions. As different as you could imagine. And I’m wondering which will bite me next.
To my left is Antaresia stimsoni, two years old, sleek and perfectly designed for task. Immobile, but never motionless. Eyes like polished beads. Movements deliberate Рlike liquid stone. To my right is Oryctolagus cuniculus, five years old, soft and round. Never really still. Pelt like the finest velvet. Movements almost a clich̩ Рlike a character on a TV cartoon.
Both have tried to bite me – one tried yesterday. Both will try again, given the right circumstances; given the provocation. One has succeeded. A deep painful bite – drawing blood. The other is yet to make me bleed. May not even be capable. Yet I wonder – even worry – which of my two companions future visitors to this room might fear. Might loathe. Maybe demonise.
I suspect it won’t be fair.

Saturday 3 November 2012

Watch this Space

Keep your eyes out for the results of this annual Australian Writer's Competition. I think I might know the winner.

Tuesday 30 October 2012


Back in mid-July I blogged about having one of those tumultuous weeks. Winning competition prizes, being published, starting a new business. Exciting times. Satisfying. It’s easy to be satisfied when things go well. And then there is...

It’s writing competition time at the moment. I have a lot of work before judges. Work I felt pleased with. As good as anything I’ve written. But nothing is winning. Nothing is making short lists. Results for the last tender I helped write – back when I was an employee – were poor. Disastrous. And it makes you ask why? What changed?

How could I have won those awards? Been published those times? Helped win so many tenders? Received praise for my work? How did that happen? And why doesn’t it continue?

How do you bounce back? Because not every week will be great. How much harder it is to keep hitting the keys after bad news. And things do go bad. We experience loss. We miss out. We fail. They say the secret is to keep writing. Jump back on the horse – or to use a ‘Wintonism’ – the surfboard.  I guess we ride the waves, enjoy the tube rides when they come and duck our heads when we are wiped out.

OK, I’ve got a keyboard to wax....

Sunday 21 October 2012

Great Sentence of the Week #10

I love this sentence for the sentiment as much as the craft...

We forgave each other for being selfish and we accepted our insecurities and allowed each other to be scared and vulnerable and messed up; we accepted each other the way no one else did. Kindred Spirits (May) Wet Ink #14.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Plover calls and Grandpa

For the family...

It’s a cool Sunday night. I can’t sleep. I lay in the streetlight glow, listening to distant plover calls. I love that sound. Yes they’re pugnacious birds, prone to dive-bombing and armed with lethal-looking wing spurs, but that sound reminds me of holidays – a time when the worries of the world belonged to someone else. And tonight, they remind me of Grandpa.

Grandpa’s dad built the holiday house. A naked fibro cottage built on concrete piers, built on a sandy peninsular, built into a saltwater lake. It’s an outer Sydney commute now, but then it was a place of deserted roads, vast brown back lawns for cricket and a deep green fishing creek out front. On summer nights we’d sit in the steaming yellow lounge room, talking, while mullet flipped and flew and slapped the surface of the creek. Later I’d lay awake, restless and sweating, listening to mosquitoes zing, my Grandpa’s belly laughs, and distant plover calls.

 We visited my Grandpa today; his corner at the end of a beige maze. Past warm rooms with silent television screens. Grey-haired ladies under crocheted rugs. Moaning. The smell of urine and disinfectant. Grandpa’s in his nineties now. Confused. Not always sure where he is, or our names. Days befuddle him. Not today. Today he was sharp. His eyes were sparkling and alive. We spoke about the holiday house. He remembered. Gave us one of his belly laughs. A sound from younger days. Like plover calls.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Great Sentence of the Week #9

Special thanks to my mate Ron for the heads up on this beautiful piece of writing.

Across a paddock in the afternoon: eucalypts repeated here and there on the ground by folding out at right angles, compressed as ink stains or thumb prints on a blotter. Eucalyptus (Bail).

Sunday 30 September 2012

Great Sentence of the Week #8

Again - to put it into context - I've included multiple sentences. They come from a beautiful article by William McInnes in today's Sunday Magazine - a tribute to his late wife Sarah Watts. If you've ever owned dogs, or are a dog person, I think you'll relate.

Ray and Delilah are our two dogs. Kelpies. Silly as wheels and lovely beyond all description.

Thursday 27 September 2012

A foray into verse

I'm not a poet, though I sometimes wish I was. Anyway, despite this limitation, something I saw and heard - and photographed - at Taronga Zoo yesterday sent me into free verse.

I apologise in advance....


I listen to them;
children whooping and laughing and making jokes about the funny monkey.
Lying on his back,
sleeping in the sun
making funny grandfather faces.
They laugh like they might burst.
It strikes me as disrespectful.
I watch him;
hard-wired super computer in a hair-triggered killing, fighting, fuck machine.
He swaggers away,
huge testicles swaying
like ripe black avocadoes.
He could tear a child in half.
There should be more respect.

Monday 17 September 2012

Great Sentence of the Week #7

Your worst enemy, he reflected, was your own nervous system. At any moment the tension inside you was liable to translate itself into some visible symptom. Nineteen eighty-four (Orwell).

Wednesday 12 September 2012

What Price a Moment?

For Mark Tredinnick...

I find myself in a moment; sitting and staring up through a v-shaped vista – between the grey, lichen marked trunks of Bangalow Palms – and I notice how the sun plays a different tune on each species of plant: delicate silver and copper piping on the Casuarina needles, or thick citric screaming on the Coachwood leaves. A Noisy Miner twists and flutters on glowing white feathers, then perches sideways on the crumbling bark of a Sydney Peppermint to swallow his catch. There’s an Angophora in the far distance; just a piece of a tree; a warty salmon branch twisting in an S-shape, before moiling towards the sky. A Currawong calls. The Sweet Pittosporum is thick with cream blossoms. Tree Fern fronds wave in a gentle northerly breeze.

I’ve been fortunate this week. In less than three days I’ve generated more income in my own business than I would have in two weeks as an employee. If my calculations are right, there’s a lot more to come. It feels like a blessing. Except now the Internet is down. Again. And for a moment, I can’t earn any of that promised income. A frustrating moment. I leave my little office and go outside for some air. Let my computer re-boot – and myself. Breathe. And I sit out in the shade and I listen to the colours of the world. It’s only for a moment, but it feels a lot more valuable.

Friday 7 September 2012

The eight pee-em blues

It's been a long day, but a satisfying one. Started out wondering what the day might bring, and just finished a few minutes ago - at 8pm. A thirteen hour ride - from a single office chair.

It's been a day thick with those winds I hate - the westerlies - roaring and setting the world on edge. Setting me on edge. It's been a day where the limitations of our communication networks seemed determined to drive me spare. Internet lock-outs and those sub-continental sales calls. It's been a day of pouring through Budget Papers and Ministerial Media Releases - sorting out the content from the spin. It's been a day of opportunity - embarking on a dual-writing project with one of this country's most unique - and as yet undiscovered - writers. It's been a big kind of day. I hope yours was equally satisfying - if slightly less taxing.

Now, your time is your own. Enjoy a beer or a glass of wine. Play with your kids. Make love to someone special. I plan to do none of the above. Too tired. Too lazy. And the wind is still blowing too hard out there. Or maybe it's just the eight pee-em blues.

Friday 31 August 2012

Great Sentence of the Week #6

He slunk off to the kitchen to make her a peanut butter and lettuce sandwich – sure she hated them, but wasn’t that half the point? Steel, Peanut Butter and the Story of Thursday (Sharp)

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Past lives and the people we leave...

I had lunch in the city today... OK, I know this is not exactly earth-shattering news, but this was lunch with former colleagues, from my life before full-time writing. A bitter-sweet lunch; missing their company, but not the lifestyle they represent; missing the train rides and time to read, but not the trains; missing the character of the city, but not the chaos – especially not the “over-emotional” types with blood streaming down their arms. Oh, most of you missed her... she came in after most of you had gone back to work.

Anyway, to those of you who read these mumbling musings – thanks. To those I missed seeing – catch you next time. And to Sashie – enjoy Brisvegas and please start writing again. You have real talent.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Great Sentence of the Week #5

The sandbanks rippled underfoot, schools of herring swerved and morphed as one in the channel, and across the bay the breaths of breaching dolphins hung in the air. Breath (Winton).

Friday 17 August 2012

AWAW 2012

In the coming months, keep your eyes out for the 2012 edition of "Award Winning Australian Writing."  A great compilation of award winning short fiction from the last year. I know one of the authors - and the guy who is writing the Foreword. Find out more at

The morning blues...

Is it just me, or is the sky a brighter shade of blue this morning? And I wonder if the air has ever been as fresh and crisp – like chilled spring water to a thirsty man. Have the Blue Gum trunks ever shimmered as they do today – like the glow of some exotic silk. Are the lawn dew tips like diamonds? Or has there been an overnight falling of crystalline manna? Breathe...

A pair of kookaburras laugh up in a high-v. And for once, it doesn’t feel like I’m the subject of their mirth. The instant coffee is nutty and delicious. Toast and butter smells. A Whipbird chatters outside my window. My morning headache is passing – no tablets required.

My business has its first pay cheque in the bank. Nothing massive, but that never really mattered. I can do this. I tell myself it’s possible. And for this briefest moment, words feel easy...

Saturday 11 August 2012

Great sentence of the week #4

They were not enemies, they were not criminals, they were nothing earthly now — nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation, lying confusedly in the greenish gloom. Heart of Darkness (Conrad)

Thursday 9 August 2012

Why Coachwood Critique?

The Coachwood is a medium-sized tree growing in temperate rainforests along eastern Australia. And I happen to have one growing in my own little suburban rainforest. The Coachwood has two great virtues:

1)    It’s practical: it was much prized in the past as a decorative, fragrant timber that was easy to work with. It was used in fine timber work such as cabinet making and coach building, but was also used in more practical tool making; from axe-handles to WW2 fighter-bombers.

2)    It’s beautiful: the Coachwood is one of the most beautiful trees in the forest, with distinctively mottled grey, silver, pink and green bark. It also produces multitudes of creamy pink star-shaped flowers during the warmer months. A stand of Coachwood trees is a beautiful sight.

What does any of this have to do with writing? Well, I think great writing needs to do at least two things:

1)    It must be practical: telling the story of a character, or an event, or a research finding, or a business venture, or why the writer should win a job vacancy. It must be clear and easy to read. Efficient in its use of words, grammar and punctuation. And like any good tool, it needs to function as it was designed.

2)    But it also should have ‘beauty’: there are no bad stories, someone once told me, just bad story tellers. If what you have to say stirs emotions – be it engaging, or entertaining, or fascinating, or disturbing, or exciting – then it can only strengthen what it is you have to say. Your words should elicit a response; otherwise the reader may stop turning the pages, or click somewhere else. It should inspire or excite, horrify or amuse, change an opinion, or fortify one. It should move the reader. It should have flow and feeling and sound and rhythm.

In everything I write – be it an entry in a short story competition, or my next business writing project – I try to apply this approach. Hence – Coachwood Critique.

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Great sentence of the week #3

Actually - two sentences - but still great!

The blackness he woke to on those nights was sightless and impenetrable. A blackness to hurt your ears with listening. The Road (McCarthy).

Monday 30 July 2012

Mark Tredinnick wins (another) award

Was thrilled to read this afternoon that my friend and mentor Mark Tredinnick has won another international poetry award. His poem "Margaret River Sestets" won the Cardiff Poetry Prize. This adds to his recent win in the Montreal Poetry Prize, and wins in numerous major Australian Awards for both prose and poetry.

To find out more about Mark and his writing, visit


Wrote this last Saturday morning; sitting on a levee in Mildura. Kind of sums up where I was at the time.

Somewhere, in some other time zone, they’re playing Bee Gees music and welcoming the athletes of the world. Not here. I think I’m glad of that. It’s cool and overcast. Morning quiet. The river is dark and shining and wider than it has been for a decade. It feels like I can reach out and touch it. I might.

Through a boneyard of lost River Red Gums, a pelican glides on the breeze, wingtips feathering the water. Butcherbirds start up a chorus and the petrified forest becomes a conservatorium. A Whistling kite flies over me, flapping hard. Something hangs from its talons. Shining and quivering. One less carp in the Murray.

There’ll be one less man in an hour or so. It’s almost time to go home. Time to learn how to earn a living. On my own. No direction. No net this time. A fresh start – or a disaster. Only if I jump will I know. Only if I leave my place by the river. And head somewhere.

Saturday 14 July 2012

This week...

It's been a big week.
Have you ever had those? Good and bad. Happy and sad.

Saying goodbye to friends. Starting a new enterprise. Lamenting problems with your writing and then being shortlisted in a national competition. Learning how to use a Kindle. Finding out your story has come runner-up in that competition and will be published. Remembering to breathe...

Maybe it's time to head off for a while. Stare at a beach. Walk on one as well. Go whale watching. Stare into the eyes of a lion or two. Listen to Siamangs shatter the dawn. Watch red earth kiss blue sky. Sit under a big sky and feel insignificant. Follow a river and find her confluence.

And write about it all.

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Dubbo Damsel - a teaser

OK Sash, I know you're out there, so here's a sentence or six for you.

A hush came over the oily vastness of the shed. Even the fly-maddened mob had fallen silent - like they somehow knew. There was just the ticking heat of the tin, and the sound of her heart, beating out the breathless rhythm of his name...




Not since Cebu had she felt so alive. So perfect...

Saturday 7 July 2012

Words and Art

Bernie Meyers is an artist friend. A very talented lady. Her work hangs in my office. Stirs my heart. I wrote this memoir for a piece of hers.

In the forest is a circle of life.

A circle of life, lifted from a pallet of rainbow colours.
Colours as old as life itself
Colours mixed by the Master painter.
When the spring rains are good, new growth paints the forest canopy in gold and pink and scarlet.
Mature leaves grow and harden and turn a thousand shades of green.
Eventually older leaves turn, not by the change of season, but in their individual time.
They return to the colours of their youth.
And then they fall, to carpet the earth in gold and pink and scarlet.
And with their brown bones, they lay a foundation for the next generation.
In this circle of life.

Great sentence of the week #2

"The sun has been out all day, and now what's left of it has fallen into the valley and is lying there on the yellow grasses like whiskey in a glass." The Blue Plateau: A Landscape Memoir (Tredinnick).

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Homeless sentences

I'm an obsessive-compulsive, which means the things I do, I tend to do a lot. Like writing. Thousands of sentences. Millions of words. Some have found their place. A select few have won awards. Fewer have been published. I have plans for the rest. Well, most of them.

Here are some of the currently homeless...

The wide sweep of the coppery creek is framed by cream sand and green forest. The rain has yet to make a difference to her flow and the silent water shatters in a thousand ripples. I sit, equally unmoved and try not to feel guilty about being here.

The crow sat out on the sway of a dead branch. A silhouette against the chromatic pastel of morning; darker than black; absorbing light. When it didn’t move, Bobby Cowell wondered if the bird had come for him.

She might have looked like a woman, but there still lived a child inside. A child who didn’t know what she needed. She sure as hell didn’t need me.

Above the black silhouettes of the trees, the morning is pink and grey. A pair of Galahs bound across the dawn; they are marionettes on invisible strings.

Heaven is sitting in my own dusty library; jammed with shelves jammed with book spines – some of them written by me – with a small fireplace crackling away the cold and an old mug of coffee, and nothing to do with my day but think of the next story.

Characters are people too?

I’ve had some interesting discussions in recent weeks. Frogs and their girlfriends not the least of these. One issue has re-emerged several times. The issue of character.
In fictional terms – what is a character? What’s the difference between a character and a person? And if there is a difference, what does that mean for those of us struggling to create great characters? I’ve been challenged by these questions, and more. So I did some research.
In the past week I’ve read a fairly divergent range of views on the subject. From litigation risks using real people in your fictional characters – to what constitutes the feel of a great character. And though the experience was very beneficial, I think I’m at the same place I was in the beginning.
And that is... Characters are not people. Some not at all...
Even human characters are fragments of real people. Reflections of people. They may look and sound and smell and feel and, God forbid, taste like real people, but they are not. And if that’s true, then it frees the writer to break some “people rules” when they draft their characters.
Below are some rules I plan to write by. You might as well – or not.

 1)      Characters are amalgams. They can be anything you want them to be. Parts of real people or not. I wrote a character piece this week where a woman had a face like a red potato. Now no living person seriously looks like a red potato, but I think the imagery works.
2)      Characters do not have to have redeeming features. No person is without a redeeming quality, but a character can be. Remember – their role is to help you tell a story, not to be a real person.
3)      People can be boring, but characters shouldn’t. Or if they are, make them entertainingly boring... OK, think about that one for a while... it will make sense.
4)      Characters have to move the reader. All the great characters of fiction move you in some way – even if it’s negatively. Characters help earn you the right to have a reader read on.
5)      You don’t have to tell the reader everything about a character for them to “get” it. And if your hints are good enough, the reader might discover things about your character that even you didn’t know.
OK, that will do for now. Comment below if you like – hairyipants, are you out there? I have some characters to write.

Friday 29 June 2012

Fifty Shades of.... Green

There was a discussion in the office the other day – of the type that occur when budgets are tight and employees’ thoughts turn to redundancy – about great celebrity men. In truth, I was poking my nose into a female confab about marrying a rich guy to escape impending poverty. The usual names emerged: Pitt and Craig, Depp and Lautner. And Kermit. Oh yes, you read correctly – Kermit – as in the frog. You can imagine my concern – sharing an office, and oxygen, with someone who has designs on a Muppet. But it did get me thinking...

Kermit is already in a relationship. Long-term. And granted, it’s not always been the smoothest of affairs, but it’s a relationship all the same. And Kermit’s life partner is a woman of considerable passions. It’s a passionate relationship. A passionate relationship with a pig. Think about it for a moment gentle reader... a passionate relationship between a frog and a pig.
OK, it’s research time. The biology of this velvety Hollywood union. Google it. Wikipedia perhaps? I did. And I was horrified. Cross-matching the she-pig’s needs with the he-frog’s capacity to deliver. It’s a disaster. A nightmare. No wonder Miss Piggy seems to be upset so frequently. And how the relationship has lasted, I’ll never know. This unequal union. How long can it possibly continue?
Perhaps that’s why single ladies, like my colleague, still hold a candle for Kermit the Frog. She knows he’s really still up for grabs. She craves fifty shades of green. And now my task is clear. She has to know the truth. She must be set straight about the frog and his “limitations”.
Next week, I think we’ll need to talk...

Great sentence of the Week #1

"Petal Bear was crosshatched with longings, but not, after they were married, for Quoyle. Desire reversed to detestation like a rubber glove turned inside out." The Shipping News (Proulx)

Thursday 28 June 2012

Five books that changed me

There's a major Australian newspaper that runs this column weekly - featuring some famous or near-famous writer, commenting on the books that changed their lives, or influenced their writing.

I'm unlikely to ever score a column in that paper. And a few of you have asked who I read. So here goes...

1) In the Shadow of Man - Jane Goodall.
The first book I ever borrowed from a library as a kid. It has it all - sex, graphic violence, wild jungles and a pretty English girl. And it's all 100% true. A highlight of my life was meeting Jane Goodall in 2011 - and having her sign my copy of this wonderful book.

2) A Bright Shining Lie - Neil Sheehan
Pulitzer Prize winning expose on the history, politics and personalities of the Vietnam War. A challenging read, especially in light of current events and the conduct of another unwinnable war.

3) Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
Actually, any Winton book would fit my top 5, but Cloudstreet IS the great Australian novel. If you haven't read it, you're doing yourself a great disservice. And if you want to ease yourself into the main menu, try reading Winton's Breath as an appetiser.

4) Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Superb, expressive, brilliant. The inspiration for Coppola's Apocalypse Now. The dark heart of Africa and the darker heart of men. My only criticism is that it's too short.

5) The Little Red Writing Book - Mark Tredinnick
Fancy including a text book in your top 5! But this is no ordinary text book. It is the most superbly written writing book you can imagine. If you aspire to being a writer of any worth, and if you haven't read this book - or it's overseas equivalent Writing Well, you need to get a copy this week.

There are plenty of worthy short-listers: Cormac McCarthy's haunting The Road, Kate Grenville's tragic settlement tale - The Secret River, Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang, Philip Roth's agonising and funny Portnoy's Complaint, E.Annie Proulx's icy and evocative The Shipping News, Keith Richards' autobiography Life, Michka Assayas' conversations with Bono on Bono and Mark Tredinnick's exquisit landscape memoir The Blue Plateau. 

The Loneliness of...

When you think about it, there are few things in life that are more enjoyable if you are alone. But writing is one. And I do a lot of it. Come the end of July, I plan to do some more.

Perhaps that's why the idea of this blog appealed. It will help me keep connections to the other humans. Or maybe I'm doing it because a couple of you goaded me into doing it. Like a dare.

And you know who you are.

Here's hoping we don't all come to regret it.