Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Hidden Benefits of Writing Courses

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The Hidden Benefits of Writing Courses

I love a good writing course. You leave energised, focused and ready with a new way to attack that novel. Saggy middle syndrome? No problem, see if your midpoint reversal lacks punch or is too early/late. Characters all sounding the same? Make each characters’ facial expressions as you write their dialogue. You’ve got interesting characters and beautiful language but nobody is really “feeling” it? RESTRUCTURE! The writing advice that you come away with is invaluable but you actually come away with even more than technical solutions and professional insights. You come away with a whole host of hidden benefits.

1. You open your imagination in ways you don’t expect:

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Knowledge is power, knowledge is sexy and all that Jazz, but knowledge is also creativity. From my perspective, I generally go to a course to fix a specific weakness I have in my writing or my current project. So for example I could go to a course on Graphic Novels with Pat Grant to work on my ability to combine language and visual art. I’ll be honest, I’m so far gone that even the genius Mr Grant would not be able to help my artistic woes.

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But let’s say for arguments sake I go, not only would I learn about the visual medium, comments made in passing may get me thinking just as much. Pat Grant might mention that his mate DC Green got his start peddling his own wares from school to school and made quite a good living this way. Suddenly you’re thinking about how you can get your own work out in an unconventional way. One thought leads to another and suddenly you’ve started your own boutique ePublishing business for tea fetishism.  Or you undertake a course on being Fabulously Creative with Walter Mason and he mentions how he did his PhD on “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and next thing you know you’re completely addicted to spiritualism and have written a bestselling novel about Rodrigo of Spain. Your mind is basically a science experiment. You put a stimulus in and you really don’t know exactly what will come out but you can bet it’ll be interesting.

2. YANA:

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You are not alone! Sometimes writing can seem almost like an existence of hermitude and madness. Trapped,  alone in the dark, with just your thoughts and your hands, expressing yourself away from prying eyes where you can hide your shame. But there are many of us out there. You are not the only one who secretly pretends to be texting when you’re actually noting an interesting phrase you heard. You are not the only one who uses toilet time to dream up new ideas. You are not the only one who never leaves the house without a variety of notebooks and pens in an array of colours so that you can colour code your ideas. There others like you out there. You don’t even have to like them, nor communicate with them, just knowing that there are more like you out in the wild can be enough. It takes away the isolation of your secret habit of hibernating over words because now it’s a community thing not just you. I did the Year of the Novel with Emily Maguire and it was fantastic because although we were all writing for different audiences, in different genres, we were all mad writers in it together.  YANA.

3. Friendship:

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But you just said we didn’t have to make friends! You don’t have to. Many courses I walked away with the glow of knowledge and a bit of a YANA sentiment but no friends. That’s cool, that’s normal,  that’s what I expect and pay for. But guess what, sometimes you get more. You get to meet like minded individuals,  who aren’t desperately paranoid that you’re out to steal their ideas, or desperately competitive and want to tear you down, and they just want to do their best and for you to do your best too. You see, the more Australian authors published,  then the more people reading Australian authors,  then the more people wanting to read Australian authors, then the more Australian authors who get published. So really,  helping others is helping yourself, so play nice people. Just let any paranoia or competitiveness go and be receptive to new things… I think I’m channeling my inner Walter Mason. I’ve met some absolutely beautiful friends through Kate Forsyth courses, one of the most exceptional teachers that I have ever met and so keep going back for more, and have felt very supported to expand my own ideas and writing. Writing friends are the best. Not only can they give you ideas about structure,  plot, characterisation and dialogue but they also understand when you explain quite calmly that you cut five human characters from your novel and replaced them with a pet rabbit. Not too many people can do all of that for you… and writers tend to like wine, so they’re often fab if you need a boozy lunch. Admit it, we all need a boozy lunch from time to time.

4. Positivity comes from negativity:

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Not everyone will get you. Some people will think you’re writing about weird crap and have spent far too much time researching the exact atmospheric  composition required to make a vanilla sky. They might think writing for children is stupid. Hell they might write in the same genre as you but actually hate the genre and want to write in it only for that sweet writer cash, whilst you love it and want to stay true to those who came before but add your own stamp to that. Or you could just not be their cup of tea nor shot of tequila. For whatever reason,  some people will just hate your writing,  and for that same unknown reason, some people will want to say it in the nastiest way possible. Usually not out and out aggressive but passively aggressively in a manner that will still cut straight through the bone and right to your soul because us writers are sensitive. Heck, I got a little note written to me that said, Nice try, but your story is really stupid and it is a stupid idea, even the teacher clearly hated it, but good effort.  Keep trying and you’ll eventually get there. I admit that zen like thinking did not envelop me immediately. I thought, Bitch you be like half my age and haven’t even finished your first chapter let alone your novel so just go over there in the kiddy pool and bite my arse you mean poo poo head! I don’t like you! And you don’t get to speak for the teacher!! And your face is stupid!!! And you’re stupid!!!!  Fortunately this is rare, most people are truly constructive but there are those special folk amongst us who really like to go for the jugular. I am quietly confident that our teacher would have been utterly mortified had she seen that note. Although this can feel negative in the moment it is actually quite positive. It will force you to think about your writing. Are they right? Is there a weakness?  If so, fix it. Not in the way they tell you to, it’s your story not theirs, and also, because if they can’t phrase criticism constructively… then communication just isn’t their strong point so their suggestions will probably not be spectacular. If they aren’t right, you’ve spent a lot of time going over your novel and making sure it is strong,  it is necessary and come away with renewed confidence. So even your harshest critics can give you a positive lesson.

So what are you waiting for? Go do a course today.

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Freecon: Calling all Sydney Sci Fi and Fantasy fans / writers / readers!

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For all the Spec Fic Peoples.

H L Petrovic

Greetings Brave Adventurers,

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Mark your diaries, Sydneysiders! FREECON is Sydney’s only free SF&F event, and its running 5th, 6th and 7th of December in Clempton Park, in Sydney’s Inner West and it needs your support!

Calling for the following: 

– Published SF&F Writers with a new SF&F book they would like to discuss (Sat & Sun, AM & PM)
– People would like to discuss the year’s Sci-Fi TV (Sat AM)
– People would like to discuss the year’s Sci-Fi Movies (Sun AM)
– People would like to discuss the year’s Sci-Fi Conventions and Meetings (Sat PM)
– People would like to discuss Writers support groups (Sun PM)
– People would like to discuss Libraries and Librarians, as the other source of SF&F (?)
– People would like to discuss Book Reviewing and Recommendations, pathways to better SF&F? (?)
– People would like to discuss SF and Fantasy in Music…

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Let’s Talk About That Baby

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock you will have heard about the newborn left in the drain for 6 days in Western Sydney at just 1 day old. You will have heard that the baby’s 30 year old mother dropped the baby approximately 2.5 metres down a drain, an almost certain death sentence. You will have been horrified and wanted to hug that baby. You will have wanted to tell that baby to fight and that he is worthy of love and life. You will have also heard the public outcry about the situation. You will have seen people calling for the mother to be locked up, beaten, dumped in a drain in searing temperatures herself. It’s a horrific situation,  people will obviously have an extreme reaction. It doesn’t surprise me, it doesn’t even disappointment me. All these strangers reacting strongly just proves how much they love children. The bit that does surprise me and disappoint me is that when women I know, who like me suffer from Postnatal Depression are calling the mother of this child all sorts of names, baying for her blood and saying how they can’t comprehend what she has done and that she deserves no understanding. Now I’ve personally never had any urges to harm my children, I sit within the postnatal depression range not postnatal psychosis BUT if we can’t have compassion, or at least a willingness to withhold judgement until all facts are out, for mothers who have done something so clearly out of the ordinary,  then… well… who the fuck will?

I never tried to OD with Postnatal Depression. Something that would deeply scar and traumatise a child for the rest of their lives, leaving them with a lifetime of issues requiring therapy,  but I withhold judgement from my friends who have attempted such things. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re such a toxic person that your children would be better off without you. So I offer these mothers compassion. Sure I could tell them they’re awful and that they don’t deserve kids and get up on my high horse and really go to town on them but I don’t. Why? Because I know what pain and confusion feels like. The same with mothers who leave their kids. I’m very much with my three babies. Mumma isn’t going anywhere save ill health (I can’t rule out being hospitalised with Pancreatitis again, unfortunately I just have a bad pancreas that confounds the medical world). But I understand the urge to run because you feel like you’re not doing anything right and your kids would be better off without you. Of course that’s not true, they’ll feel abandoned and unloved,  but we can see perception and reality aren’t always friends.

I hope you can see where I’m going with this. What if the mother didn’t abandon this child into a filthy hole in hellish temperatures which would certainly result in death because she was evil but because she thought it’d be better for the child to die than be with her. What if her self loathing wasn’t merely to depressive levels but psychotic levels? What if she did this out of sick depraved love not because she was “a dog” or a “selfish mole” or any other insult levelled at her? My heart doesn’t break any less for the baby. I don’t want to hug that baby and make everything better for him any less. It doesn’t make his circumstances any less horrific,  dropped into filth where he was unlikely to ever be found with no milk or hugs. The torment that sweet baby endured for 6 days when it so desperately needed love and nurturing sickens me. Not just a bit but to the point that I literally threw up. But I’m willing to see that the mother clearly needs help. That her mind is just as disgusting as that drain. That it needs to be cleaned out. That she isn’t necessarily some demon that needs to be hung. So I’m withholding judgement on the mother until the facts are clear and sending that baby love and strength. I urge fellow battlers of mental illness to do the same, because if we can’t show compassion for others, than who else can?

Furthermore, I think what some people fail to realise is that some women when in the depths of Postnatal Psychosis become so detached from reality that they just don’t even recognise their baby as a baby. Very rare but I have witnessed one such woman being shown her baby and repeatedly refusing the baby and asking the nurses what the hell they were talking about. Thankfully the baby was in a hospital and the nurses were there to protect it whilst this woman went through her break from reality but she could have so easily dumped her baby not even realising what she had done should medical staff have failed to pick up on the situation early enough.

Confessions of a Mad Mooer: New Mother Workshops

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Yesterday morning I met with a lovely life coach who had stumbled across my blog. Her special area of interest is new mothers and to this end she wishes to put on a series of workshops and panel discussions next year.  I was meeting with her because she is interested in having me on one of the panels. I’ll keep you updated next year.

After Lathamgate yesterday it is more important than ever to host these events for new mothers. Latham indicated that if you work you don’t love your kids, if you take medication you’re a coward, if you do anything at all for yourself you’re selfish. But this is hardly the first attack levelled against mothers. There’s a whole industry out there just to guilt mothers. If you use controlled crying your child will be psychologically damaged, if you cosleep your child will end up with an Oedipus Complex plus never be able to sleep on their own, if you give your baby mushy food it goes against nature, if you don’t give your baby mushy food they won’t be able to digest enough nutrients, you have to exclusively breast feed for at least six months preferably 24 months if you truly want your kid to be healthy,  if you don’t bottle feed you won’t know how much your child is consuming,  if you use disposable diapers you are killing the environment by increasing landfill,  if you use cloth nappies you are killing the environment through water pollution, if you put your baby in a forward facing pram they are traumatised because they have lost their connection with you, if you put them in a backward facing pram they’re development is impaired by lack of new stimulation,  if you put them in a pram of any kind you aren’t bonding with your baby because you must wear your baby, if you wear the incorrect carrier you are causing your children hip dysplasia,  if you walk near your child as they play you’re over parenting and denying them the ability to explore,  if you let your child out of arms reach they could get hurt or stolen and you’re an irresponsible parent, it takes a community to raise a child, grandparents are overused, too many kids are in childcare. I could go on. There isn’t an area where mothers aren’t judged. So not surprisingly, what I have termed,  Postnatal Anxiety,  is at an all time high. So that’s why we as mothers need to stand up and say ENOUGH. Different but safe choices are fine. Any event, cause, article, program that helps mothers to do that is invaluable.

As most people know, I’m a bit of a writer (a lot of a ranter) and I do enjoy a good Writers’ Festival. I think it’s time that we had Mother Festivals. Not Mother and Baby shows where merchandise is pushed on us and there are one or two speakers but an actual festival that focuses on connections and relationships rather than products. I was at the Emerging Writers’ Roadshow the other week and as always the first panel was 5×5. Five authors sat down and gave the five best pieces of advice they wished they had when they started writing. This same premise could be used for a mothers festival. Panels on multiple births, ethical responsibilities, juggling work, staying at home, maintaining a sense of identity,  Postnatal Depression are just the tip of the iceberg for discussions to be put on in various rooms. Sure, have a market where people can buy stuff but we’ve got enough festivals for consumerism,  so just have that small and on the side. Let’s get the focus back where it needs to be, support and wellbeing,  not judgement or product placement.

Now go out and hug a fellow mother today and tell her you respect the heck out of her.

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Any women who suffer from any form of depression or anxiety are welcome to join my own FB group which is pro mystical troll but doesn’t allow any nasty trolling.

https://facebook.com/groups/563402577109194

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If you or someone you know has postnatal depression you can find good resources on the following sites:

  1. Gidget Foundation http://gidgetfoundation.com.au/
  2. PANDA http://www.panda.org.au/
  3. PIRI http://www.piri.org.au/
  4. Black Dog Institute http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
  5. Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/ 

Confessions of a Mad Mooer: Mark Latham is a BEEP

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So… it’s Postnatal Depression Awareness Week,  we’re all wanting to #bePNDaware … What does Mark Latham do? Write a revolting article shaming women with mental illness. What does The Australian Financial Review do? Prints it. They print this ridiculous article that shames women who take antidepressants, shames women who want a career, shames women who struggle with this whole motherhood thing at all. Because apparently your child’s smile should be the only antidepressant that you need and if you need more you are selfish and hate your children. Apparently Mark Latham knows this because he is a Stay At Home Dad, who has lots of leisure time, tends his garden and cooks gourmet meals, single handedly. Where the fuck are the kids that you are taking care of whilst you are doing those things!!! Either they are in school being cared for by others or you have help where other take care of them also.

And correct me if I’m wrong… but doesn’t Latham have a little bit of an Anger Management problem? One that is evidently not responding to his rigorous treatment of smiles from kiddies as he is still doing the aggressive handshake stand over combo he loves so much.

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So maybe,  just maybe, this article is an anxious lashing out because he’s so deeply insecure about his own situation. Mark Latham,  I invite you to see your GP and get a Mental Health Action Plan drawn up. Don’t shun treatment. You don’t have to live your life in such an angry way. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Please reach out and get help, because as you say yourself, your kids are the most important people in the world and they deserve someone who can model compassion and contentment not just dominance.

If you or someone you know has postnatal depression you can find good resources on the following sites:

  1. Gidget Foundation http://gidgetfoundation.com.au/
  2. PANDA http://www.panda.org.au/
  3. PIRI http://www.piri.org.au/
  4. Black Dog Institute http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
  5. Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/ 

Writer/ Publisher Interviews: or Literary Speed Dating as the cool kids call it

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As a high school English teacher I’m familiar with Parent/Teacher Interviews. I get to see the parents of the children I teach and find out why they’re so hilarious or why they’re so not hilarious. Often they’ll have the nervous teenager in tow giving you that look like, “Please don’t tell them I said my parents don’t care if I don’t do my homework because they do and they will kill me,” so I obligingly start with homework. It’s generally all very civilised and we have a few laughs and agree that their child is special and what we can do as a team to maximise their potential, ie homework. Well except for that time when the parent turned up drunk and fell off their chair and kept forgetting why they were there and persisted on asking me about their nephew who I didn’t teach instead of their son who I very much taught,  that was slightly less civilised and laughy. Although now years and schools later I am seeing the laughingness of the whole thing. However, this only prepared me in part for the Literary Speed Dating event hosted by the Australian Society of Authors and the New South Wales Writers’ Centre.  Mostly because the publishers were the teacher, I was the parent and my manuscript was the kid… and I was utterly petrified that I was going to hear that he hadn’t done his homework.

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Fortunately, as I am the queen of catstrophising, things did not go as badly as I’d imagined.* Now I was a little delirious from lack of sleep,**  so my word can’t be taken as gospel,*** but it all seemed really good to me. The organisation was excellent. I know from Parent/Teacher Interviews that things can quickly devolve into a chaotic quagmire with nobody hearing bells or moving on but with the very loud air horn going off every three minutes that just wasn’t an issue. Light bladder leakage may have been an issue as some of us never quite got used to the volume, but it certainly made things run smoothly. I salute you air horn. Lining up was a great chance to catch up with old friends from writing courses like Lisa and Helen who I met through Kate Forsyth courses, and new friends I’d met through twitter such as Meyrnah. And I cannot forget my fellow acolyte of Walter Mason,   Ms Ashley. Thanks to Ashley I am now obsessed with Armenia. My husband is very pleased because he loves discussing history and politics. The atmosphere was absolutely electric. Being around so many dedicated writers was really inspiring. Most people were happy to discuss their manuscripts and I can honestly say that there are a lot of very interesting concepts out there waiting to be published. And to top it all off the Publishing reps asked for my manuscripts so that was brilliant. I shall now have an accelerated heart rate for the next three months whilst I wait to hear back about my memoir, or my children’s novel. Worth it!

If you have a completed manuscript that you feel is ready for a professional eye I strongly recommend you book in early for next year. It sells out around 6 months in advance so make sure that you’re organised.

For great tips on how to handle the event read here:
http://illuminationsbylisafleetwood.wordpress.com/2014/11/17/literary-speed-dating/
https://highfantasyaddict.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/literary-speed-dating-sydney-nsw-writers-centre-2014-asa/ ****

The only thing I could possibly add is, don’t be afraid to discuss your manuscript with others. Discussing it will warm you up for pitching to the publishing representatives. Life is too short to be paranoid that everyone is going to steal your ideas. And heck, even if they are, back yourself, you’ve written it better and at the very least you’ve got a massive head start as yours is already finished. If someone is now out there madly attempting to write a memoir inspired by my time in a psychiatric hospital best of luck to them. Heck, if they want to write a tale of friendship for children, go ahead, there’s already plenty on the market and there will be plenty more because life is about relationships. Back yourself,  be confident, believe in yourself. If you can’t believe in your own writing how can you expect other people too? So book in early, be confident and pitch your heart out.

*I’d imagined being met with a long awkward pause followed by, “Don’t ever waste my time ever again.”

** Mummy still loves you, but kids… I’ve got an audio book narrated by Samuel L Jackson that you need to hear.

*** Or any biblical chapters for that matter.

**** Those entries managed to capture photos of a smoking hot red head… a red head… a bottle red head. It’s me ok!

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