Writing, concerts, theatre and a little bit of travel

Category: Writing

I hope this isn’t a prediction for 2018!

you don't have a novel in you

Jon Kudelka, The Weekend Australian Review, 6 – 7 January, 2018, page 2


It reminds me, in a twisted way, of the Groucho Marx comment: ‘Outside a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.’

I’m still collecting metaphors and phrases I like: here are some more

the thick unknowable bush Charlotte Wood: The Natural Way of Things, p. 37
stretched white with illness Charlotte Wood: The Natural Way of Things, p. 150
she waited, lumpish and squinting Charlotte Wood: The Natural Way of Things, p.206
The ramparts of turned shoulders Hilary Mantel: An Experiment in Love, p. 72
My mother didn’t need much food – she ran on wrath. Hilary Mantel: An Experiment in Love, p. 94
The unweeded garden of their marriage Ian McEwan: Nutshell, p.12
His face splintered with concern Hannah Kent: The Good People, p 5
Sexual organs: the pale secrets of his body Hannah Kent: The Good People, p 8
The skittering presence of birds Hannah Kent: The Good People, p 23
At dinner, across the expanse of mahogany Kate Grenville: One Life My Mother’s Story, p 155
And there Aunt Dorothy from Brasshouse Lane has lived becalmed for many years Margaret Drabble: The Dark Flood Rises, p 39
rather stern good taste Kingsley Amis: You Can’t Do Both, p 215
Winston was gelatinous with fatigue George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, p. 208
Like 1914, a sleep-walk into disaster and misery Dennis Glover: The Last Man in Europe, p.73
Helen Garner’s description of bored jurors falling asleep in court: ‘like tulips dying in a vase’ Bernadette Brennan: A Writing Life Helen Garner and Her Work, p.254
He held the smile for a beat too long Sulari Gentill: Crossing the Lines, p.182
The house looked cosy and quaint, like it belonged on the lid of a tin of shortbread Sulari Gentill: Crossing the Lines, p.235 – 236
A sudden tender regret Steven Carroll: A new England Affair, p. 23
The gulls’ cries outside, one tapering into another Steven Carroll: A new England Affair, p. 164
The one window still unbroken briefly held the moon Pat Barker: The Ghost Road, p.140

Whether or not to plunge into Scrivener

Scrivener is a project management system for writers. You can access it easily on the Internet it all seems pretty generous: 30 days free trial and those are not consecutive days, but the days you actually use the package.

I heard about it a couple of years ago when a couple of IT focussed guys at work raved about it as a way to write their novels. A story went around that the designer of Scrivener was writing a novel, but Scrivener itself was so successful that he abandoned his novel and lived off the proceeds of his software package. Full of scepticism, I downloaded the package and started to do the introductory tutorial. I persisted for about half an hour, then the ‘instructor’ announced something like, that’s the first part, now go and get yourself a cup of tea . . . This isn’t for me, I thought. I closed everything down and went back to using Word, keeping my work in folders, all embedded in a folder called ‘Writing’. Sometime last year I went to a workshop given by Toni Jordan – a writer I admire very much. She is very keen about Scrivener. If she uses it, I thought, I’d better give it another try. Writers’ Victoria advertised a workshop on Scrivener to be delivered by writer Alison Stuart. I gritted my teeth and enrolled. Yesterday I took the workshop.


At the end of the full day workshop, I’m still not sure whether I will use it. I’ve got a new idea for a novel-sized book and used that as a kind of ‘guinea pig’. I had a new idea about it this morning and went to the newly-created Scrivener file to make a note about it. That’s a good sign. But I still feel very constrained: you start with a Binder (like a big ring-binder folder) and in this you create whatever sections you like, but if you’ve opted for ‘fiction’ you get choices such as ‘characters’ and ‘scene’. There’s an editing option (where you write stuff) and an Information section where you can store all the support material. I use old photographs a lot, you could also have pdfs of old newspapers, cartoons  . . . whatever. It will be useful to be able to have a split screen and write with this stimulus material next to the prose you are creating.

Scrivener with docScrivener doc 2






Writers are described as either Plotters (plan it all out first) or Pantsers (write off the seat of your pants). I’m a Pantser. The book that I’ve just (perhaps) finished started when I looked at an old photograph and grew with loads of twists, turns, diversions into 90,000 words. I think I’d have to regurgitate a first draft in Word and then sort it all out with Scrivener. Yet – I did go to Scrivener this morning when I had that new idea. So, I’m still thinking about it.

I can see that Scrivener would be excellent for writing non-fiction: you could keep interviews, notes, articles right next to you as you write. And the only way to learn about such a package is to use it – so I’ll give it a try, for 30 days, at least.

Scrivener fo Dummies

Some more metaphors and phrases I’ve selected from my reading

More than a year ago I gave a list of some of the metaphors and phrases that have stood out for me in  my reading — in most cases I’ve greatly admired the vivid description they provide. Here are some more from my collection:

Breathing the smell of the peasants, air and rain and turf and corduroy James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p.15
Grey muttering faces Pat Barker, Regeneration, p.5
Quivering respect Pat Barker, Regeneration, p. 220
Her soul rusted with that grievance sticking in it Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, page 12
the curtain yawned in Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North, p.146
the scream of his solitude Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North, p.418
Miss Burton . . . with her swift ferocity Winifred Holtby: South Riding, p.114
a leaping cheerful fire Winifred Holtby: South Riding, p.134


her face uninhabited by intelligence Winifred Holtby: South Riding, p.258
a froth of cats Winifred Holtby: South Riding, p.383
in a voice that could pickle fish Karen Joy Fowler: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, p.93
her blank, shut-in face description from Virginia Nicholson: Singled Out, p.15
pulsing slowly towards the end of his life Kate Atkinson: A God in Ruins, p.361
waves . . . rise with majestic deliberation Helen Garner: Regions of thick-ribbed ice, p. 23
a timpani of copper bottomed kitchen pans Anna Funder: The Girl with the Dogs, p.16
[After the death of his wife] He sputtered forward gamely for some years till retirement Anna Funder: The Girl with the Dogs, p.18
[about an earlier relationship] To speak of it now would be to blow out the private flame, small as a pilot light, of another possible life Anna Funder: The Girl with the Dogs, p.32
the centre of him seemed undisturbed Toni Jordan: Our Tiny, Useless Hearts, p.48
sticky silence Toni Jordan: Our Tiny, Useless Hearts, p. 215


Metaphors and phrases I like

As a new writer, I often marvel at the language of other more experienced writers. One beautifully chosen word sums up a feeling or paints a picture. So for a couple of years now, I’ve been ‘collecting’ these examples as I read. I use an index card as a bookmark. I usually have a pen nearby, so it is no trouble to record these phrases when I read them. I apologise that I haven’t noted all the publication details of the books. Here are ten phrases from my collection.

Judge Beggs lay on his stern iron bed Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz, p.16
The leggy pier Beverley Farmer, A Body of Water, p 134
The clatter of his wife’s existence Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, p 33
The glacial neatness of Mrs Peniston’s drawing-room Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, p 42
Their fathers were all ruddy, explosive men Toni Jordan: Addition, p. 41
The hoarse voice of the preacher blew death into his soul James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p.120
Nancy, dressed at enormous expense by the greatest artists in Paris, stood there looking as if her body had merely put forth, of its own accord, a green frill. Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, page 157
They stay turtled up to the bar Ben Fountain: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, p.199
the ceiling fan’s blades . . . slowly shucked time Richard Flanagan: The Narrow Road to the Deep North, p.146
the red and grey huddle of Kiplington Winifred Holtby: South Riding, p. 61

Here are ten more that I’ve collected:

My heart flopped in my chest like a hooked fish. Karen Joy Fowler: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, p.45
Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. Cormac McCarthy: The Road
the words fidgeted in her mouth Markus Zusak: The Book Thief, p. 147
a gust of annoyance Cate Kennedy: Former Glory (novella), p.34
irrepressible vitality Vera Brittain: Testament of Friendship
a crackling aura of purpose Helen Garner: This House of Grief p.169
curdled with contempt Helen Garner: This House of Grief p.224
We were all standing in a soup of grief. Margaret Drabble: The Pure Gold Baby p. 177
her nicotine-cadenced throat Margaret Drabble: The Pure Gold Baby p.182
her red coat bled into view Emily Bitto: The Strays p.1

So, how’s the novel going?

How I cringe when someone asks that question! It’s not that my book is going all that badly, it’s just that, unless you’ve written a novel yourself, you have no idea how long it takes – even once you have a beginning, middle and an end – to get it into shape and to a stage where you are prepared to send it off somewhere. The advice is: don’t send it out until you are absolutely happy with it. The problem is: I’ve never been completely happy with anything I’ve produced in my life – that includes music performances, essays, theses, as well as fiction.  The good thing about competitions and anthologies is that they have deadlines. You have to shut your eyes and press ‘send’ at 11.59 pm on the due by date. I try to impose some deadlines myself, but it’s easy to justify shifting the goal posts. I am heartened by knowing that Kate Grenville wrote about 40 drafts of The Secret River.

Where I write

Not just a room of my own, I have an apartment. I chose it with a view to writing. And indeed the view is important to me.  The sea would be even better, but I am happy with this view across to some public gardens.

View from my window

View from my window

It’s a bit like being in a tree-house.

Here’s the view from Virginia Woolf’s window at Rodmell .


My view isn’t quite as expansive, but I like to look down on the world from a leafy branch.




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