The Writing Process Tour – Inside the Mind of a (Non) Writer

I have recently been asked by blogger friend Jolandi, Dreaming in Arabic if I would like to participate in the Writing Tour, which is currently doing the rounds amongst bloggers. I decided to participate, because it gives me an opportunity to stop and think, what am I doing (in respect of writing).

I recommend Jolandi’s blog to all, she combines photographs and words to take us on a lyrical journey through the mystical Middle East, and opens our eyes to the beauty in that world, a wonderful antidote to the nightly news.

As part of the Writing Tour I have to answer four questions: What am I working on? How does my work differ from others of its type/genre? Why do I write what I do? How does my writing process work?

I was surprised to discover that I am actually working on five different writing projects, more or less simultaneously. This is odd, because I do not consider myself a writer as such. I think of myself as a retired corporate executive looking for a new string to her bow. And in the male-dominated shipping and logistics industry which I made my career, running off at the mouth was not admired. I sent many colleagues mad with detail, when I felt all I was giving was essential background information. So, I didn’t get much writing practice in the workplace. However, I am one of those annoying people who send a letter with the Christmas card, and sometimes it can reach seven or eight pages. I tried to give it up, but many recipients said they missed it – go figure. So that has been my writing practice up to now. In a similar vein, this will be a long post  . . . many apologies  . . . maybe it should be read in instalments.

One other thing before I do “run off at the mouth”. The idea of this challenge is to pay it forward. Theoretically, it should be three bloggers, who should have agreed in advance. Isobel, from Travels with My Son ( has agreed to come on board. Isobel blogs about ‘J’, her adopted son, and their experiences of love, life, and learning to be a family. I think there will be many fascinated with what she has to say. I know I am!

Well, here goes my list:

Blog, I now call it the Reluctant Retiree, by Garrulous Gwendoline. I already did a post called “My Ten Good Reasons for Blogging” so I won’t repeat that content here. As for how it is different – I think many bloggers have one core theme and stick to it. Which is probably good marketing. Mine is broader, more of a reinvention of self in retirement. It started when I was travelling Europe for several months, so it was clearly a travel blog at that time. But when I returned home I looked to the world around me for inspiration for a weekly post. I don’t work and re-work it. I simply sit at the laptop and bang out a story straight into the WordPress platform, like an extension of the Christmas letter-writing style (then I check the spelling etc). Most of the posts about going on road trips around NSW are drawn from journal entries I wrote at the end of each travelling day. When I wrote the journal entries, I imagined I was writing a letter to my travel-loving friend in Sweden who, sadly, passed away last month without ever having visited Australia in person.

Liz Thurlow. Liz is a sub-set of the blog. She was born accidentally last month after I attended a one-day workshop on Story Planning. She is an invented character who I am taking out for an adventure. This is the first time I have tried to invent a character, and I have not contrived a plot for her. I have set myself four parameters: write for thirty minutes, limit to 500/600 words, don’t plan ahead, and try to make each episode coherent. The story goes out in ‘as-is’ condition. I don’t refashion what has taken place, and I don’t know what is going to happen when I start, except that it flows on from the previous episode. Of course, I can theorise, but ultimately Liz decides. It is like doing your homework in public. Why these parameters? New writers are often recommended to write for fifteen minutes or more each day. I can’t bear writing gibberish, although it did work for the Jaberwocky in Alice in Wonderland, hence the restriction to write a coherent story. I am not sure it is working; that blessed detail is probably getting in the way of pacing. So last episode I did push her into bed with another man, she was going to get there anyway, although a few readers did feel the timing was sudden. So! It is a great exercise to get such instant feedback. I know many others who are blogging flash fiction – but I think they edit their stories before posting. In my case, I put the oven timer on for thirty minutes, open WordPress, bang out a story, do a quick spell check and then press post. Why no plot planning? Because I want to see what happens when you leave the story in the character’s hands. Of course, I am scared the answer will be “nothing much”. So then another exercise would be to turn it around and make the character conform to a predetermined plot. I might try that next.

I Belong to No One is a full length memoir, 95000 words. For years people used to tell me I should write the story of my life, and I believed them (mistake?). Turning fifty was the trigger. So, when I was still working, I set aside a Saturday once a month. I started from my earliest memories and worked on. Sometimes I used the photo album as a trigger. Sometimes it was characters around me, or unusual or special events. I wanted it to be a tribute to the women who had supported me because my mother suffered mental illness and there was no Dad. I spent far too long trying to make the early chapters perfect, before I got a grip and wrote to the end. I was 50,000 words in and still didn’t know its direction. Once I got to the end, and understood what was unfolding, I was able to go back and take out all the parts that did not relate to that story, including most of those laborious early chapters. I thought I was finished then. Little did I know I would write seventeen versions! I was still revising it up to this June just gone. By the time it was finished, it was a story of mental illness in part, but its major point is relinquishing a child to adoption. It seems my creative style is to sit down and write in a linear fashion without having a story outline. I hear of people planning what they will write in each chapter. I did the story planning workshop in the hope of picking up such a good habit, but I haven’t grasped it yet. Perhaps it’s a backlash to the organisational skills required in my work-life. It’s not as if you can load a ship in such a haphazard, unplanned, hope-for-the-best manner.

The memoir has secured a fabulous agent and is currently under consideration by a mainstream publisher. It is up to the costing stage. I have my fingers crossed that it will see the light of day, something I never dreamed of that first Saturday when I typed the first sentence (which did survive, but moved to a different place). NB: the story is not exactly funny, but it is not a misery memoir – – – I hope.

The Reluctant Retiree – Fifty-Five Days in the Balkans is a work-in-progress, first draft, travel memoir based on the trip which I blogged about last year. I am 35,000 words in, and only up to Day 18, so again, it will be grossly over-written. But this time, I don’t dwell on what I have already written, nor try to perfect it. I simply have a quick look at what I wrote the day before, and then push on with the next section. Again, it’s ultimate theme is yet to emerge. I get cranky with myself for writing in this style, however, I take comfort in thinking of the first draft as a humongous story outline. I have enough experience from the first memoir to know the final outcome may look nothing like it does now. Whether it will have any commercial appeal, I don’t know. I think one of the major differences in this, and all my writing, is that I do not have scribbled notes and phrases lying all around the place. I don’t do thought balloons, or mind maps. I can’t stimulate myself to write from those joggers, I just feel clumsy. I wish I could hand-write sitting in the sun, or somewhere dreamy, as I imagine that heightens creativity, but I can type faster than I can write, so I always end up back at the laptop, I wish I could write unconnected paragraphs or sections which I could meld or move around, but I always seem to think chronologically. I might know I am going to write about something that happened later, but I find I can’t pay attention to it until it’s time arrives. So – I just type in a logical stream, with the idea that I can tizz it up later. For better or worse. (nb: and so far, this memoir is mostly funny).

Un-named, un-commenced Novel. At the end of last year, I signed up to do a memoir writing course in Paris (the French one), this October-November. Perhaps starving in an attic, living on absinthe, might stimulate creativity? When I enrolled, I imagined my memoir would need further work, whereas it is now out of my hands. So, I need a new project. Why Paris? Why not? Actually, the real reason is that my Mum died (aged 93) and left just enough to finance the course, accommodation and airfare. So, in the spirit of seize the day I decided to do something I would never dare if the money came from consolidated revenue. It’s a kind of thank you to my Mum, to allow myself this indulgence. What she couldn’t do for me in life, and all that stuff.

What to write is the conundrum. In ‘I Belong to No One’ I mention that I have to go back to 1854 to find a legitimate birth on my maternal line. So I am going to Bradford, England, in search of that woman. The last one before it all went pear-shaped. I want to try to re-imagine her life and journey to Australia as a single woman. It’s a stretch to match it to a memoir course, but maybe I really will get inside her head.

It calls for a lot of research, beyond Googling to check a random fact. Not something I have done before. I have contacted a number of historical societies in Bradford and had one reply, which I am following through with. I expect to be buried in the Local Studies library for at least a number of days in Bradford. I know I will be reading a lot of newspapers and history books. I have come across something called the Female Middle-Class Emigration Society, and I’ll be digging into that further. Thanks to a tip-off from fellow blogger Sandra Danby, I have read Kate Grenville’s novel, ‘Secret River’, and am reading the back-story, ‘Searching for Secret River‘. The first is a novel based on a convict Australian pioneer, who was a London Thames lighterman. The second is her search for her real London waterman/convict ancestor Solomon Wiseman, and how that formed the basis for her novel. Perhaps I can emulate her experience. As to whether I can emulate such worthy novel writing is another story.

I will be in England from 10th September (that’s the week after next! – Ouch!) and France from 11th October, so am happy to meet up with fellow bloggers there. And if by some miracle this blog is read by anyone who is knowledgeable about Victoria Bradford, feel free to shout out!

If you have read this far, congratulations, and many thanks from Garrulous! And to all my followers, thank you so much for your support! I truly appreciate it.



Liz Thurlow, Part Six: Tony Unblocks her Pipes

As soon as Bob was out of sight Liz pelted next door to Jan’s house. She was standing in the front yard, making a show of watering the garden, when she spied Tony’s Ute turning into her street. He pulled into the driveway and jumped out, those shorts riding up again and flashing his thigh. She felt her heart tip-tilt. Her stomach clenched.

Tony sauntered towards her. ‘So! Liz. We meet again.’ he smiled that mischievous grin. She grinned back, the wave of adrenalin rushing through her body making her feel giddy, like a schoolgirl with a crush on teacher.

Another truck was trundling up the street. Tony turned towards the sound.

‘Ah! my workers. Good timing.’

Liz’s heart plummeted. ‘Oh . . .  I imagined you worked alone.’

‘Yeh. I work alone Liz,’ he grinned again, ‘these guys just scaffolders. This job. I mus’ work high.’ he glanced at her watering. ‘Don’ water around the back – okay? Better if ground is dry for put up scaffolding.’

The next morning Liz was back watering Jan’s garden when Tony pulled into the driveway. This time he was alone. He made small talk with her before unloading he Ute. She watched him drag out his tools and take them around the rear of the house. Back and forward, from the Ute to the backyard. She tried to look discreet, but she was fixated on his athletic body.

It was the same every morning for the rest of the week. The garden was getting a good soaking. And each morning their conversation went a little longer.

By the following Monday morning Liz was in a state as she waited for him to pull in. She had been agitated all weekend, impatient with Bob’s habits and imagining how Tony Babic might compare. She kept smoothing her hair, straightening her clothes, her stomach doing cartwheels, until he arrived, a little later than usual, but looking as relaxed as ever.

‘Liz,’ he said, ‘I been thinking. How come you water the garden by hand?’ his eyes were twinkling as if he knew a private joke. ‘There is irrigation, ne?’ He pointed at the black plastic poles sticking out of the soil.

‘Um, they’re blocked,’ Liz stammered.

‘Well, tell you what Liz. You ask me in for morning smoko, and I fix irrigation. Hows zat? So you don’ have to spend so much time watering. Pretty lady like you, got better things to do with her time, ne?’

Liz’s heart was pounding. Her throat felt so constricted, it took a moment to answer.

‘Deal?’ he prodded.

‘Deal,’ she nodded.

And it was that easy. Every morning he came in for coffee and chat, staying a little longer each time. And by the next Monday, he was in her bed. Liz had dreamt of it all weekend. A new start to a new week. It seems this pretty lady had certainly found something better to do with her time.


This is the sixth part in a story building exercise for character, Liz Thurlow.

To read from part one, go here



Liz Thurlow, Part Five: The Anticipation of Tony Babic

Bob’s habits irritated Liz, but not so much that she would ever leave him. It is not as if he was violent or abusive. He was just, well, boring. Besides, Liz was fifty now. She didn’t want to start over again, leave her house and her comfortable life. She’d never be able to afford to live in Killara as a single woman, and God forbid she would have to look for work. No, Liz craved an adventure, but not one that took her too far out of her comfort zone.

Liz would have been surprised if anyone pointed it out – but she had become a creature of habit herself. One morning a week at the local tennis club, three at the gym. Washing on Monday, ironing on Tuesday, housework on Wednesday and groceries on Friday. She was a lousy gardener, so she had a ‘man’ who came once a fortnight, but he insisted on her watering regularly. In the early morning, he stipulated, before the sun gets too hot. So she had added that to her regular routine, until she realised an irrigation system and timer could do the job just as well. But now there was Jan’s to look to.

Her day started at 6am. While Bob showered and shaved, she laid out his clothes and packed his lunch. When she heard him cleaning out his shaver, she put his two weet-bix with prunes and yoghurt in a bowl, and waited to greet him in the kitchen. She had given up asking if he wanted a cooked breakfast. Bob kept those for his weekend treat. At 6.45am he would put his bowl in the sink, give her a peck on the lips – so fleeting it was almost as if he was a teenager begrudging his mother a speck of affection – grab his briefcase from the kitchen bench and stride out the front door. It was a fifteen minute march to the railway station. Bob commuted, even though his position entitled him to a city parking space. Bob fancied this brisk fifteen minute burst of energy morning and evening was all he needed to stay in shape. Liz didn’t have the heart to tell him it wasn’t working.

Liz drummed her fingers on the kitchen bench. His shave seemed to be taking longer than usual. Hurry up. Her foot jiggled on the tiled floor. Get a move on. She checked her watch against the digital clock on the microwave. 6.25.

When Bob appeared a few minutes later, he stopped in the doorway and stared at her.


‘Oh nothing. Just I don’t often see you so glammed up on washing day. And aren’t you going to the gym?’

Damn. He’d noticed. She hadn’t counted on that. She’d gone for the Jackie Onassis smart casual look. A slim fit short-sleeved top over figure-hugging white Capri pants and ballet flats which showed off her long narrow feet.

‘I’m on a mercy mission. One of the tennis ladies is having a scan today. Breast scan. She got a call back. Wanted a buddy along . . .  doesn’t want to be alone in case its bad news.

‘Anyone I know?’

‘No, no.’ hurry up. She watched him swallow a mouthful of cereal.

‘Not Dot? Her husband would be gutted if she got cancer.’

‘No. Look, it’s no one you know. A new woman. I’m just helping out, that’s all. She doesn’t know her way around here yet.’ It was all Liz could do to stop her foot tapping. Hurry up.

‘What time will be you be leaving?’ Bob was crossing to the sink with his bowl. Finally.

‘Oh . . . soonish. I’ll just get a load on first.’

‘Well,’ he leant over to give her his mummy kiss, ‘don’t forget that builder chap is starting today. I told Jan you’d keep an eye on him.’

‘Thanks for the reminder,’ Liz feigned surprise, ‘I’d forgotten him. Had this appointment on my mind.’

‘Well. You might just check he’s under way before you take off. He should be along any tick of the clock now.’

‘Mmmmm . . . okay, well. So long as he gets here soon,’ she strived to keep her voice casual, disinterested. ‘And if you don’t get a wriggle on, you’ll miss your train.’

‘I could wait and get the next one. If you think you won’t be here for the builder, that is.’


‘No, no. Didn’t you say you had an early meeting too? You get off. Builders start early. He’s probably just around the corner.’ she was at the front door with Bob now, practically pushing him out.

‘As you command, madam,’ Bob gave a little laugh and an exaggerated bow and set off down the street – whistling.

If Liz had not been so distracted, she might have thought his behaviour a little odd. But Liz was too busy craning out for any sign of Tony Babic. She breathed a sigh of relief when Bob was finally out of sight.


This is the fifth part in a story building exercise for character, Liz Thurlow.

To read from part one, go here



Liz Thurlow, Part Four: Liz Keeps a Note

Tony was standing there with his hand outstretched. Liz could hardly snub him, could she? His grip was firm – Liz liked that. She hated those insipid handshakes of women who just rested their fingers, like a limp dead fish. The only thing she hated more was the air kisses of the ladies at the tennis club. ‘Daaaahling, you’re looking so well!‘ . . . mwaahh, mwaahh, blowing one towards each cheek, as if they were European socialites. Liz was tempted to kiss them three times, Arabic style, muttering ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost‘ under her breath. That would rock them. And she knew damn well that ‘looking well,’ was their code for ‘have you put on weight?’ She was sick of the whole damned scene.

‘. . .  and . . . you?’

Oh my God – she was still holding his hand. His eyes were dancing, teasing her. He was waiting for her to introduce herself.

‘Missus . . . uh . . . Liz . . .  Liz Thurlow.’

‘Well, I am pleased meet you, Missus Liz Thurlow. Maybe we see some more of each other, ne? If Jan, she like my quote.’

He was still staring at her with those teasing eyes, his mouth curling in a smile. ‘Uh . . . okay. Yes . . .  maybe . . .  if Jan likes your quote,’ she was standing there awkwardly, flustered for no good reason, ‘well . . . okay . . . uh . . . well, things to do, you know. So! . . . well, perhaps we will meet again . . .’

As she walked away down the side of the house, she could feel his eyes following her. Damn me if she didn’t wiggle her hips a little.

She paused at the rear of his ute, memorising his mobile number which was painted on tailgate. ‘Just in case‘, she told herself. Back in her house, she added the number to the note with his vehicle details.

 – – – – – – – – -

Bob was home on the dot of 6.30pm, the same as always. He greeted her with a peck on the cheek and poured them each a drink. ‘Did a builder come to Jan’s today?’

Liz took a gulp of her drink. ‘Yeeeessss.’

‘Oh good! She wants to get some work done while she is away. Hope his quote is good. Did he look professional?’

‘Yeeessss . . . How do you know about it?’

‘Jan emailed me at work.’

‘Why you? How come she didn’t email me? I’m the one who’s home.’

‘Beats me. S’pose she could be sure I saw the email. You wouldn’t always have the computer on.’

‘Well why didn’t she text me? it would’ve been helpful to know he was coming.’

‘You’re asking me how a woman’s mind works? How would I know? She just did, that’s all. I’ll let her know tomorrow.’ Bob had already turned away, was switching the TV on for the seven o’clock news. ‘Dinner on time?’

Bob liked to watch the news while they ate, and he didn’t like chit-chat, especially not during the sports report. Then he would switch to the living room television while she cleaned up and he drank a few beers. Tonight was just the same as always. It wasn’t long before Liz heard him snoring. He’d start with the snuffling and snorting, and work up to the chain saw rattling. Usually she sat with him in the living room with the television sound full up, but somehow she felt that tonight she couldn’t bear it. Everything was just the same as always, except that Liz felt different, unsettled somehow. She couldn’t put her finger on it.

She’d go to bed with a good book. The women at the tennis club joked that was better than sex. Liz didn’t have much to compare it with. Hadn’t been much sex in their house for months – she couldn’t rightly remember the last time.

Her handbag was on the kitchen bench. As she reached for it, her eye fell on the note with Tony Babic’s details. ‘So much for neighbourhood watch,’ she thought, ‘Jan could have saved me the bother.’ She screwed it into a ball and threw it towards the bin. She missed.

In the next room, Bob’s snoring was like an out of tune orchestra. She felt a rush of irritation. Every night the same routine.

My bloody crap boring life. My bloody, bloody, oh so crap life.

The note was lying on the floor. She stepped over to pick it up and throw it in the bin. But she didn’t. She picked it up all right. But then she lay it on the kitchen bench, smoothed it, folded it, and put it in her purse. She didn’t know why. She just did, that’s all.


This is thefourth part in a story building exercise for character, Liz Thurlow.

To read part one, go here, part two, go here, part three, go here







Liz Thurlow Meets Tony Babic

Liz was back at her front window just in time to catch a glimpse of Tony Babic as he strolled around to the rear of Jan’s house. Already she was thinking of him by name, when in reality she had no idea who he was. Or why he was casing out her neighbour’s house.

Liz hesitated, not knowing what to do. Should she confront him? It was secluded around the back of the house, out of sight of other neighbours. What if he turned on her, hit her, or stabbed her? She could be lying there for hours waiting for help and no one would know. Liz had agreed to water Jan’s garden, not fight off intruders. Best just stay in the house and keep an eye on what he was up to. Surely it would be enough that she could give police a description and the vehicle details.

But something about Tony Babic had stirred Liz’s curiosity. When asked about it later, she couldn’t explain it. She couldn’t even explain it to herself. Call it boredom. Her bloody life was so damn ordinary. Repetitive. Predictable. She was sick of playing it safe.

She pocketed her keys and eased her front door closed. That’s silly, she thought, why am I creeping around? Best to look assertive. She squared her shoulders, strode across her lawn and marched down the side of Jan’s house. Look assertive, look assertive.

‘Are you looking for someone?’ she spoke at his back. She meant to sound imperious, but her voice wobbled, squeaked on the ‘someone’.

He swung around, and she took a step backwards. ‘Shit!’ Then he recovered himself. ‘Oh . . . sorry lady, you surprise me.’ Liz couldn’t quite place his guttural accent. Russian, maybe.

‘I said – are you looking for someone?’

‘Me? No, no. I here to look at house for lady.’

‘You mean the owner.’

‘Thas right. She call me come take a look for some changes she wans. Fix it up a little.’

Liz was about to say that Jan was away for three months. Then she thought better of that.

‘She is not home today.’

‘Oh yeah. She tell me. Gone for a few months. Wan some things fixed up. She tell me just a little job. But it look to me like she wanna fix a lot.’ A smile was playing around the corners of his mouth as he spoke, and Liz had the feeling that he was appraising her. From the top of her long blonde hair, pulled back into a neat pony tail, all the way down to her long tanned legs, shown off to their best in her short tennis skirt.

Liz stared him full in the face, trying to look as if she could intimidate him, but it was if their eyes were locked. His were so dark brown, and framed in thick lashes. She didn’t think she’d ever seen such expressive eyes on a man. These were the eyes of a poet, like Khalil Gibran, or perhaps an actor, like Omar Sharif. These were not the eyes of a builder, at least, no builder she had ever met.

But those thighs, well they were another thing. They were the muscular thighs of a man who worked out, or maybe, a man who worked outside. She broke off her stare, shifted her gaze into the distance as if she had lost interest in the conversation, and all the time she held those thighs there in her peripheral vision.

He broke the spell, outstretching his hand to shake hers, ‘Tony Babich . . .builder.‘  His grin had a cheeky edge, as if he had read her thoughts.

This is the third part in a story building exercise for character, Liz Thurlow.

To read part one, go here

To read part two, go here.

Liz Thurlow Does Her Civic Duty

I’ve decided to have a bit of fun with Liz Thurlow, my character from Saturday’s Story Planning workshop, and will devote some upcoming posts to her. I have not planned out what she is going to do. I am thinking of this as an experiment in letting a character have their head and see where it leads. If you need to catch up, you can read the first part here. Thank you to all who gave me feedback from that first story, and for urging me to go on. Hope you enjoy the journey. I’ll try to keep each episode under five hundred words for a quick read.

Liz frowned. She knew her neighbour was away. When her husband had died suddenly, choking on the toasted ham and cheese sandwich that he’d grabbed and gobbled before he realised it was too hot to swallow, Jan, the neighbour, had changed. Took up tap dancing, went about the place singing and tip-tapping, started having her dance friends in for bubbles and brioche. Then she bought a camper van and announced she was ‘going on the road.’

‘Gone off to find herself,’ Bob had scoffed sarcastically. Bob’s idea of a holiday was two weeks in a caravan park. But he wasn’t a creature of habit, oh no, because they went to a different park every holiday. It was all the same to Liz. Cooking, cleaning and washing in one caravan was much the same as another. And none of it was much different to home – just less convenient. She’d put up with it all these years because she thought it would do the kids good to get away from their indoors lives and electronic toys, but the moment they moved away to uni they had stopped coming.

‘Since it’s just the two of us now,’ she’d said to Bob, ‘what about a trip to Hawaii?’

‘Hawaii? Why would you want to go all that way? We’ve got sun, sand and surf here. We’ve got Hawaii minus the airfare!’ he’d looked smug, pleased with his smart observation. Liz knew he thought it made him sound witty.

So with Jan away, why was this builder in her driveway? Liz was a founding member of neighbourhood watch, although no one came to meetings any more. Being home during the day meant she could keep a close eye on everything going on in her street, and others relied on her to note anything out of the ordinary. It was her civic duty, you could say.

Tony Babic, the builder, was 5’10”. She could say that with certainty because she was only a couple of inches shorter. Aged somewhere between forty and fifty, she couldn’t be sure. He had dark close-cropped hair, greying at the side and temples, and crinkling at the tips. The kind of hair which would grow curly if it was left longer. He was lean, not skinny, muscular lean – maybe around eighty-five kilos she guessed. His shorts were a snug fit, showing off a rounded bottom . . . and those thighs.

She took all this in as she watched him staring up at the front of the house. He paced back and forward, all the time craning up to the second storey.

‘What if he’s looking for a way to break in?’ she thought. She remembered the key point of neighbourhood watch. Note the vehicle details . . . It was a ute really, not a van. A white Toyota Hi-Lux, registration I BLD 4U. She ran to the kitchen and scribbled it on a piece of paper.




Story Planning and Design

The highlight of my week has been attending a workshop on Story Planning and Design. In fact, I am just back from Sydney, ninety minutes up the road, which in Australian is expressed as “just around the corner”.

Since my first manuscript took seventeen “tinkerings” (I can’t say that each of them was a complete rewrite), then I guess it is time I learnt some rules before embarking on my next project, which I hope to be an historical novel. Although – I have just started working on a travel memoir to fill in the gaps until I feel I have done enough research for the novel.

It was a very compressed course – after all, what can one expect from five hours? We did, however, address the main issues: character, plot, theme, setting, point of view, voice and genre. We got to take the face of a man and woman and characterise them: give them a name, description, personality and so on. By the end of the day, we got to give them a storyline, book blurb and opening page.

At lunch, another writer and I got into a conversation about what a delicious word is “crap”, and how we are grateful to our older brothers for inadvertently introducing us to it when we were so very young and impressionable. Inevitably, that conversation re-surfaced in my writing. I can’t apologise. If I start apologising now for everything I may write in the future, then I may  never write another word again. I can only hope it does not cause too much offence :-) Please consider yourself warned.

The room was 80/20 in favour of the females. It was surprising how many of the women despatched the male character. One dealt with him by putting rat poison in the home-baked pastry. She is a writer of flash fiction, so he was done and dusted in the first page. Another’s female character was into sharpening the knives, in preparation for the day she couldn’t cope with the twentieth call of ‘are you making a cuppa?’ Unfortunately, she had a slip with it in the kitchen, and he didn’t bother to tear himself away from watching the football to help stop the blood flow. There was a lot of blood flowing today. Another story started with a domestic violence scene. Let’s hope those two female characters get justice by the end of the novel.

We each had a book in front of us and were asked to fashion our ‘back of the book’ blurb around that example. Then were asked to select an opening line from about twenty on offer. We had fifteen minutes to write.

I always find this writing on the spot confrontational. I don’t suppose I am alone in that. But thanks to regular blogging, and reading the efforts of some of the bloggers I follow who are into flash fiction, I find it a little easier now.

So without any tidying up, here is what I came up with.


Liz Thurlow leads a comfortable life in Sydney’s leafy north shore. She has it all, successful husband, two children and beautiful house. But she is bored and hungry for change. When Tony Babic enters her life – a working class builder with an eye for the beautiful ladies – she is drawn to him, and to the excitement of an illicit affair. When her husband discovers them together, Liz’s life is changed forever. For the better. . . But it takes a murder first.

Opening (the bolded sentence is what I had to work from)

She was restless and more than a little bored. Liz Thurlow’s life was comfortable. Comfortable, safe and predictable. Twenty-five years married to Bob: Bob the banker, not Bob the builder. Two kids in uni, one of each type. The five-bedroom mansion in leafy Killara, every room professionally decorated, just like Liz, with her designer clothes moulding into her gym-toned body. She had it all.

But Liz was bored. So bored. She voiced it in her head. It’s crap. It’s all such crap. She liked the sound of it, tried it out on her tongue. My life is crap . . . Bloody crap . . . My bloody life is bloody crap. How she’d love to try that out on the old biddies a the tennis club. Bugger, bugger, bugger, my life is bloody crap. That would raise an eyebrow or two.

What if I told them it was effing bloody crap? Could I? she thought.

She was just getting her lips around the ‘eff’ when she noticed the van. It was trundling up the road towards her house. She imagined it was going to come straight into her driveway when at the last moment it swerved into her neighbour’s. She read the sign on the side: “Tony Babic Builder”.

She watched the driver jump out with an agile movement, saw the flash of a muscular thigh as his shorts rode up.

- and so ended my fifteen minutes -