The Creative Proce$$

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
—Mark Twain

Aah, words. How I love thee! They hold a power, a magic all their own. And Mr Twain speaks the truth – for a writer, there’s nothing like finding that right word, the right turn of phrase that will paint a world, a character, a scene with such vivid detail. It’s what has us rewriting and reworking until we hit that perfection.

Words are the life-blood of a writer. We love weaving them together to create wonder and enchantment. We want to take you places, leave you there for a while if we must, and have you take a little piece of it away with you.

We invest in our work, invest in ourselves to create that work. Time and learning our craft is the biggest investment a writer makes, but there are also times where dollars are invested. I’ve done it, and it was money well spent. Five years ago I joined the Australian Horror Writers Association crit group – the crit group was free, but a yearly membership of $20 was paid and worth every cent. Not only did I find a bunch of writers who helped me see where I was going wrong, and who supported and bolstered me and my writing, but more than that, they were (and are) some of the best people I know.


When the opportunity arose for a mentorship, I jackpotted again and was mentored by the extraordinarily talented and extraordinarily lovely Kaaron Warren (read her work, it’ll take you to some very spooky places). What I learned from Kaaron was invaluable, and the $165 I paid for the mentorship was a pittance compared to the experience and knowledge she passed along to me.

My writing improved a thousand-fold after working with Kaaron. Even my first drafts were not quite the crap they were previously (and we all know first drafts are crap), but the skeleton was stronger on which to build. It still meant rewriting and reworking that first draft, of course. It’s the investment of time. Time.

So when I came across a “book” professing a foolproof way to write your own book in less than a week, I was more than a little sceptical. More promises followed: six figure income in twelve months; will turn you into an expert in your field. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. And let’s not forget the “seminars” and “master-classes” (for more money, of course). Oh, and before you ask, qualifications? Pfft! Who needs those!

Now I have a healthy dose of cynicism, and could see right through this rot (note: I will not provide links to this so-called book, as… well, it’s a load of bollocks), but it’s not aimed at someone like me, someone who can call bullshit on their claims. It’s aimed at the most vulnerable of our writing community: the newbie. (Or as the book proclaims: “for the budding writer”)


We were all newbies once; caught up in the romanticism of writing, of creating, of being published. And we still are. Those of us who have been writing for a while now understand the amount of work, the struggle, the yearning and the passion to create. There are no shortcuts. You can’t wave a magic wand over a first draft to turn it into literary gold. It takes rewrites and redrafts, rereads and reworking.

It takes time. Time to make those words that will resonate with a reader; time to learn your craft; time to make your story the best it can be. Can it be done alone? I haven’t come across any story (be it flash, short, novella, novel) that’s stuck with me that hasn’t been passed past another’s eyes, a professional, before publication. When I see someone professing to hold the golden goose out to new writers, I get mad. Duping up-and-coming writers to make a quick buck is unconscionable. These parasites make a mockery of my profession, of my passion, and do so with little regard to those they target. There’s a special kind of hell waiting for those who cash in on the dreams of a new writer, I’m sure of it.

When challenged on the veracity of the content and title of that scam-book, the “author” bid a hasty retreat. Another took up their cause, which ended in an interesting discussion on the creative process, and this person’s flat-out refusal to ever engage beta readers or a professional editor or proofreader – their work didn’t require it.


As a professional (qualified) editor, I know this is not the case. All work, regardless of the author, needs another set of eyes passed over it (more than one set if you can manage it). It doesn’t need to cost a fortune, it doesn’t need to cost anything but time: reciprocity is a great foundation for beta readers, and also builds relationships with other writers (who are really quite astute readers).

Can a book be written in under a week? 10,000 words a day for six days gets you 60,000 words – the basis of a novel. Would you send it out in the world? Please don’t. Please, please don’t. You owe your potential reader more than that, you owe yourself more than that.

Can you make a six-figure income within twelve months on said book? Realistically? No. And promising a budding writer such is not only fraudulent, but downright despicable.

The creative process does cost, but most of those “costs”—time, sweat, and yes, sometimes tears—a writer is willing to invest. But those costs shouldn’t line the pockets of scammers trying to bilk money from those who are just starting out.

There are organisations—reputable writing centres, writing associations, writing groups etc—that are found easily enough on the ‘net. Invest the time to search for a group or association that fits your needs. There are a lot of genre associations who would be happy to point you in the right direction. Don’t be taken in by “books” that promise the world. Remember, if something’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Review: The Last Argument of Kings (Joe Abercrombie)

The final book in The First Law trilogy is the longest of the three and the one I read the quickest. Abercrombie had used book two (Before They Are Hanged) very well to set up the mess you knew was coming in The Last Argument of Kings.

When I say ‘mess’, I do so in a positive way. Abercrombie has worked his main characters into corners they may well not survive.

So before you read any further, I best add a spoiler warning:


Last Argument of Kings

We begin with the five intrepid questers (Ninefingers, Ferro, Bayaz, Luthar and Longfellow) returning to the Union from their failed journey to the old world. It’s here the decisions Ninefingers, Ferro and Luthar make as they disembark have grave consequences. Abercrombie does well to make what appear to be inconsequential decisions, life-changing ones.

The Union is still fighting for its survival, and with the death of the last royal, those of aristocracy conspire, coerce, cross and double-cross in a bid for the throne. Political machinations have never been so messy (and at times, tiresome), especially amid a war that could see the Union eradicated in its entirety.

Bayaz is his ever-scheming self, and Ferro’s quest for vengeance has tied her to the Magi more than she’d like or care to admit — a lot of which has to do with the mixed emotions she has for Ninefingers. The two had gone their separate ways despite both wanting (internally) to remain together, and for Ninefingers this will come back to haunt him in so many ways.


There’s much that needs to be tied up in this book, and as with books one and two, it was Ninefingers, Dogman and his crew, and West who held my attention. They’re in the thick of war. With some Northerners fighting on the side of the Union, loyalties are tested on all sides… or more a blurring of those sides against a common enemy. But even within these ranks, there’s no end of problems – past rivals and scores that must be settled.

As in the previous two books, Abercrombie doesn’t shy from the horror or war. This is especially evident when Ninefingers and his old crew join up with some hill-people to fight Bethod. This is a nasty, bloody battle, and it’s here we really see just how out of control The Bloody Nine is, and what toll that takes on Ninefingers.

The Ghurkish are still knocking on the door of the incompetent Union, and West is still being stymied at every turn by regulations that make little to no sense under the circumstances. Life really did screw West over.

There’s a lot to like and a lot to… meh, about in this book. The character development didn’t quite… well, develop. I wonder if this was intentional on Abercrombie’s part – sometimes leopards don’t change their spots.

There are no happy endings here – not for anyone. I suppose some might argue that Bayaz, the master manipulator, was the only “successful” player here – player being the operative word here. When it’s all revealed in the end, Bayaz just toyed with those around him, motivated solely, it seemed out of boredom (he’s lived a while, this magi). Being as powerful as he is, a god amongst men, he manoeuvres Jezal into Kingship by such roundabout means, it seemed like a waste of countless pages of political manipulation that could well have been spent on the likes of Glotka.

Ninefingers has been my favourite character from the start, but his ending (and that’s still up in the air – pardon the pun) felt like a cop out. Glotka, however, is the stand-out character come the end of this trilogy. Despite the character’s penchant for running his tongue over his gums, I found it was him I was sort of rooting for in the end.

The dreams/aspirations each of the characters began with are shattered, all through actions (and sometimes inaction) and decisions (or indecision) on their own part. They all had crappy lives to begin with, now they’re just in slightly different crappy lives. I guess the moral is: life sux.

Jezal gets far more than he ever wished for in his life, but guess what? When you get all you desire, it never really lives up to its expectation. Same goes for Ferro. Driven by her need for vengeance, it wasn’t much of a surprise that this came back to bite her on the arse.

It does make you think (as Ninefingers and Ferro often ponder) what their lives would have been like had they made different decisions upon their return to the Union. Crappy, sure, as that’s the way life is in these books. For everyone.

When I got to the end of this trilogy, I wasn’t sure how I felt. Book two is definitely the stand out for me. Book one was a painful read until the last 150-odd pages. Book three? Great battle scenes (all of Abercrombie’s battle scenes are beautifully and ghastly choreographed), deaths of some likeable characters (always a plus if an author’s prepared to do that), and an ending that I saw coming earlier than I’d have liked.

Overall, it’s a good trilogy. Not a great one. And I wanted a great one. The dark stuff was dark, and I think that helped get me through some of the more lacklustre parts of plot. Abercrombie’s characters run the gamut of ordinary to wonderful, but I was left with the feeling that this could have been so much more.

Abercrombie writes well, and there are times when his words are pure poetry, but when you’re looking at close to 1800 pages of story… I expected more, but it wouldn’t stop me from picking up another of his stories just to see what tale he can spin.


Supanova: You Be Crazy!

Yesterday, I broke my “convention cherry” (it’s a thing, it really is) at Supanova Sydney. Now before your mind starts taking you places it really shouldn’t, Supanova, for the uninitiated, is a pop-culture spectacular that covers all things geekdom: comics, books, anime, cartoons, gaming, cosplay… the awesome list goes on.

SNova 3

It was my first trip to a convention of this kind, but it certainly won’t be the last. There was much excitement in my household when I told the kids we were heading to Supanova (or Nerdvana, as my daughter happily called it), so much so they were dressed and ready without my usual cry of: “shoes, dammit, shoes!”

After gathering one of my son’s friends, we made the half-hour trek to the Sydney Showgrounds at Homebush. Much excitement ensued as we played ‘follow the cosplayer’ to the arena, but that was just a taste of what was to come. The outfits and costumes donned by some of those in attendance were brilliant, inspired, and the attention to detail in some was amazing.

SNova 1

Everywhere we looked there was something to nab your attention (there’s a bad ADHD joke in here somewhere). There were stalls upon stalls upon stalls of publishers hawking their books; stalls upon stalls upon stalls of comic and graphic novels; clothing of all kinds (including a ghillie-suit that had me do a double-take), collectables, two amazing sword and dagger stalls I tried not to salivate over; and did I mention books?

Two of my writerly mates and Sydney SHADOWS compatriots, Alan Baxter and Andrew McKiernan were there hawking their new releases. I picked up (and demanded) signed copies of Alan’s ‘BOUND’ (Harper Voyager), and Andrew’s ‘last year, when we were young’ (Satalyte Publishing). I also grabbed ‘Assassin’s Aprentice’ by the lovely Robin Hobb, who happily signed my copy then chatted graciously with me.


My kids (and my spare) were in their element, running from comic stall to comic stall looking for that something special that elicits a smile that lights them up from the inside – it was beautiful to see. And their pure delight at the costumes is something I know will stay with them forever.

I’ve read too much about the elitist and misogynistic crap that sometimes goes on at cons such as this, but I saw none of that, my kids saw none of that. They were happily caught up in the wonder of a community of people who had a love of all things fantastique. And a shout out to all those who happily posed with and for the kids – not once were they turned down; not once were they made to feel as though they were intruding. My daughter, who can sometimes be painfully shy, was hovering near Batman, when she was spotted by the Penguin (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write), who smiled and beckoned her over, making her feel at ease as they posed. It’s acts such as this that make things right with her world, makes things right with mine.

Cloe and friends

So with my convention cherry well and truly broken, and with tired feet, a tonne of fantastic photos and armloads of books for us all, we bid Supanova Sydney adieu, for we will be back next year, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll have two cosplayers with me.

Ramblings of a Serial Killer

I’ve killed off short stories in the hundreds; stuffed their rotting carcasses into dark nooks with nary a backward glance. I’ve hacked and slashed words with the impunity of a serial killer, and razed worlds like an unforgiving god. Cast them into the abyss and never looked back. Easy.

But the novel, aah, what a different beast it is! It fights dirty. The two main characters—Wren and Cy—make me pay for the wrongs I’ve done them: taking them on needless journeys; giving them pointless back-stories; creating traits that downright didn’t suit. They mocked my attempts to reason with them – they knew best. But I’m stubborn, and as they traded conspiratorial whispers at the back of mind, poking and nudging me toward the right path, I ploughed on.

Each time I gutted a draft, they sighed with relief; each time I severed a chapter or two or six, they goaded me to be harsher (they can be mean). And after the murder and evisceration of four drafts, I’m finally at a place where Cy is happy to move forward; Wren, reluctantly so.

blood spatter

“You had to work for it,” Cy told me, “it was the only way you were going to get us right.” His smile, as always, is never fully realised. “Experience is a brutal teacher.”

Wren snorted and gave us both the finger; her trust issues run deep.

With time in the Black Friday Wager very quickly winding down, I made the decision (although it was blindingly obvious) that I wasn’t going to win the bet with my mate Marty Young (read his stuff – it rocks!) to get this first draft finished. It’s a bitch; I don’t like losing bets, but it’s been far from a waste.

When I break it down all autopsy-like, I’ve written a total of 149,496 words; two in-depth character sheets (four pages each—longhand); chapter summary/outline (six pages—longhand), and one page filled with a stream of curse words (possibly my best work). The two words I’ve failed to write, however, are: The End. But that’s okay, I know where Cy and Wren have come from, I know where they’ve been and where they’re going. They don’t quite know all that’s in store, but if they’ve taught me anything, it’s that they won’t make it easy.

Novel writing is new to me, and the learning curve has been incredibly steep, and at times seemingly insurmountable. I hated and loved it in equal measure; I raged and cursed, floundered and despaired, but the stubbornness that drives me forward (and drives my husband to incoherency) meant I could butcher my drafts then pick through the remains and rebuild.

bloody pen

Not all of those 149,496 words were crap. There’s some great stuff in there, bits and pieces that I’ll use in later chapters; other sections I’ll rework to fit this new incarnation; parts that are quintessentially Cy and Wren.

Don’t get me wrong, this killing spree hasn’t been easy – at the time, each slaughter of the next draft has felt like a massive failure on my part. But one of my writing pals, Devin Madson, (read her work – she paints with words), told me I was lucky I could see it wasn’t working and could cut my losses and begin again; that I didn’t drag it out and waste both time and words. In my head that makes sense, in my heart, it’s like a dagger.

It wasn’t just my characters and their voices that had me struggle with my novel; work cut into my writing time, but I don’t begrudge that. I love being an editor; I love helping others with their work, their stories and their characters – it’s why I chose to get my qualifications so I could provide the best advice and expertise I could to those who love to write as I do.

As an editor, I’m trained to see where others’ novels require work: pacing, clarity, cohesion et al. This doesn’t, however, transfer to my own work – like I tell my clients: you can’t have objectivity with your babies. It’s insane to think you can.

And when the time comes, when I finally type: The End, (then do at least two rewrites – I’m a perfectionist, sue me), I will engage beta readers, then rewrite…and rewrite, and possibly rewrite again, before finally passing it on to an editor – someone who has the objectivity I no longer have.

It’s taken six months for me to fully comprehend the scale and heartache involved with writing a novel, but it’s been six months well spent. Do I wish I’d been able to get this “first” draft done? Hell yes. Do I wish I could have typed: The End? No doubt! Do I wish it was Marty buying me books instead of me buying him scotch? Yes (but I love Marty, so it ain’t all that bad). But the big question is: have I grown as a writer? And the answer to that is a big fat YES. And that, I reckon, is worth more than a bottle of scotch.