The Jinx Kite

I had a conversation with some other freelancers recently about how our culture loves to celebrate youth, and particularly the wunderkind, whether that’s in business, the arts or whatever. We were discussing how we’d like to see more stories of older people who may have come to their field late, but nevertheless blossomed, and it got me thinking about my grandpa, who I’m pretty sure gave me the writing genes.

My grandfather, Ken Sillcock, was a World War II veteran who, after retiring from his public service job in 1975 when he was 65, did a DipEd, learned computers (in his 80s) and devoted his time to writing and volunteering. He had quite a bit of writing published over the years, culminating in his memoirs of his and his brother’s war service, Two Journeys Into Peril, when he was 100.

But one of my favourite works is his poem The Jinx Kite (below), which appears as a foreword to the book G for George: A memorial to RAAF bomber crews, 1939-45 (G for George is one of the most famous Lancasters and now has pride of place in the Australian War Memorial’s ‘Striking by Night’ exhibition). Although Grandpa initially joined the Australian Infantry Force and was sent to what was then Palestine, where he did a lot of anti-malaria work, he transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force and became a wireless operator in Lancaster bombers with RAAF 460 SQN, based in the UK. This poem is about his time in that role, flying missions, seeing so many mates lost and wondering if they’d be next. He came home, but his brother, a pilot in the Pacific, didn’t. The poem still makes me tear up a bit. So here’s to him and all the other late bloomers.

Crew of Lancaster bomber Easy Two

The air and ground crew of Lancaster bomber Easy Two. Grandpa is sixth from left. Photo courtesy Australian War Memorial

by Ken Sillcock


“Grandpa, what kind of aircraft did you use
Back in the olden days?”
“Lancasters, lad, I’ll show you one some day.”
He made me think
Back to events, it seemed, of yesterday.

My first impression of the squadron was
A battle order on the notice board
And, next to it, the Melbourne Cup sweep draw.
I wondered which would give the better odds!
Then I saw Dalton, whom I’d known before,
Leaning on crutches, hurt on his first trip
By an incendiary from a plane above.

“Our fighters were not much opposed of late
Over the Ruhr.” The briefing room was hushed.
“Dortmund today, our deepest daylight strike.”
But they forgot to add “as fighter bait”.
Our next was Merseburg, late at night.
I thought” Why did I leave that useful army job
Killing mosquitoes in malarian zones?”
I’d known the threat of instant death before
In skidding cars on Gippsland’s soggy hills,
And, below decks, at sea, silent and tense,
Waiting the foe’s explosive messenger;
But this was not a passing episode too brief
For fear. Death stalked us eight long hours.
Seeking our slightest lapse from vigilance,
Just as I’d seen him wait in Lebanon
At the big house to which the wounded came.
The day we got an aircraft of our own,”
Yours is the jinx kite, Easy Two,” we heard.
“If you got G for George you’d have more hope;”
The last George, which got back from 90 trips,”
Flew to Australia just a month ago.”
“But Easy Two — we lose them all the time!”
The pessimists were right, for, all too soon
E2 was lost, but with another crew.

From the depth of winter to the equinox
We flew in fifteen raids in Easy Two,
Our second of that name.
The squadron lost
Ten crews on those same flights: seventy men
Who had been with us in the briefing room.
We had our moments. Jim gave “Starboard go!”
We rolled, nose down, rolled port and down again.
Then steeply up, still rolling. Radio gear
Before me vanished till we levelled out
And blood returned to my depleted brain.
We did another ‘corkscrew’, to ensure
The fighter Jim had spotted to our rear
Would go in search of a less wary prey.

Over Cologne, by day, another craft
Direct above us, opened the big doors.
His load, released, would intersect our path.
We held our course into the aiming point
A little longer. Then I said, “Okay,”
He’s moved to starboard.” But I wondered then
What might have happened on a cloudy night.
The night our navigation aids went wrong
I found Polaris, from the astrodome,
On our port bow; a suicidal course
To fly at night alone above the Ruhr.
As we turned west to make our late way home
I pictured all the other crews at Base
After interrogation, at their meal,
Saying, “E2 has bought it once again.”
Adding our epitaph, “They weren’t bad blokes.”
Crews were not callous, though. It seemed to me
That the dark veil that blacks our future out
Had been dissolved. We lived right on the brink
Between two worlds. Lost crews were near us still
As we awaited the next lottery draw
To find who’d be on this side, who on that.

Returned from leave, we learned that Easy Two
Was lost again; used by another crew
On their first operation. We received
Our third E2, used it on three more trips
Before our tour of duty was complete.

Then a new danger loomed: I would be sent
To fly instructor with those novice crews
Of whom dread tales were told. When lost in cloud,
Instead of climbing for a radio fix
They would go down to seek a clearer view
And find Mount Snowdon in their path — too late.
I’d feel much safer flying in Easy Two
Raiding oil plants or mining in Kiel Bay
With my six trusted mates, and with the care
That Lofty and his ground staff gave that kite
As if they had to fly in it themselves.
But in three weeks that new-found danger passed
When peace in Europe left us still unscathed.

And now I stand beneath the sturdy wing
Of G for George. On the museum walls
Are names of many who were briefed with us,
“Lest we forget!”
Should not we also say,”Lest they forget”?
Might they have clearer sight
In the dimensions they now occupy?
Perceptions hidden from us, as we grope
In the dense cloud of man’s distrust of man?

Could they transmit to us a course to steer
Or lift our eyes to a great guiding star
Of shining wisdom? We have hands and minds
The only assets we could ever need
To build that better world of which we dreamed,
And to pass down to disenchanted youth
Our vision of what can be brought about.

The time is short. We who are left grow old
But, with good briefing, we could do the job
Just as we could when time was short before.

Anatomy of a Novel Part 7: The first full draft

Ghost train

Well, it’s done. I’ve finished the first draft of The Iron LineI should be ecstatic, but to be honest, I feel a bit, well…flat. I can’t remember how I felt when I completed Greythorne, but I think it was probably more elated than this – probably because it was the first time, so it felt like a bigger achievement, and also I was much more ignorant of the process that follows. So these are my raw, honest reflections in the immediate aftermath of completion, because with this blog post series I said I’d take you behind the scenes, warts and all.

  • It’s too short. I was aiming for 80,000 words, which I then revised down to 70,000, then 60,000 but it’s come in at just over 57,000. That’s 10,000 words longer than Greythorne, but it’s still on the bottom end of novel-length works. I know that word count really shouldn’t matter, because every story has an optimum length, and when you start trying to pad it out is when you get problems. But I somehow feel like less of a writer for producing such a short novel (although Dragonscale is 90,000 words, so I’m clearly capable of doing it). Word count is one of my recurring writing-related neuroses.
  • It’s not the book I envisaged. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I set out to write Australian Gothic and ended up with a much more stock-standard murder mystery. It’s still fun and I still enjoyed writing it, but I think upping the creepiness factor is something I’ll need to fix in the next draft.
  • I can’t tell if the twist is really shocking. This was the same with Greythorne – I knew it so well that it was hard to tell if I was foreshadowing too much or not enough. This is why I have beta readers and copy editors.
  • This draft came much more easily than Greythorne did. I remember getting hugely bogged down in the middle of Greythorne. That happened a bit here too, but to nowhere near the same extent, and I was able to get over it fairly easily, although I still don’t know if the pacing is right.
  • Scrivener is the best thing ever. If you’re a serious writer and haven’t tried it yet, get on it.
  • Writing sprints work for me. I know I go on about this a bit, but they really do. Writing this way was what allowed me to finish it in a bit over four months.

So now the hard work really begins. I haven’t even read the full draft through yet, although I’ve been making notes to myself as I go about things I need to check – word use, internal consistency and so on. Now I’ll give it to my husband, who is my alpha reader and the only person allowed to see my first drafts. This is because the first draft is almost like a baby – it’s still new and vulnerable. The second and third drafts are less a part of me and are more able to stand on their own, so sending them out to beta readers isn’t so much of an issue. Around the fourth or fifth draft is when my books tend to enter adulthood and are ready to go out into the world.

So I’m going to take a break and work on other projects while Tristan reads it, then I’ll give it a big overhaul. Then I’ll hit up my beta readers, revise it with their feedback, and then we’ll see where we’re at. I expect that process will take at least three months.

In the midst of all the planning for editing, though, I think I need to take some time out and remember something: I wrote another novel. Something I only ever dreamed of doing, I’ve now done three times. A little perspective never hurt anyone.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves


Click image to view full photo essay

Last week I had the privilege of being part of an amazing art exhibition at the Annandale Creative Arts Centre in Sydney, called Creative Conversations with Women of the World: Access Denied. Artists and performers were invited to respond to the theme of women’s inequality globally, in whichever way they chose. Many of the pieces focused on issues such as child marriage and sex trafficking, but I chose to look at something a bit closer to home – the narratives of safety that we expect women to adhere to but which are not part of men’s consciousness.

Obviously it’s pretty unusual for a writer to take part in an art exhibition, and this was the first time I’d done anything like this. I decided to produce an interactive photo essay using Adobe Spark Page (which I wrote about here, back when it was called Adobe Slate) and display it on an iPad.

The story, called The Stories We Tell Ourselves, combines pictures of young men on a night out with the narrative that would be going through a young woman’s head if she were doing the same things: Does this outfit make me look like a slut? Can I run in these shoes? How will I get home? My aim was to create cognitive dissonance in the viewer to highlight how society’s expectations of girls and women when it comes to safety differ so significantly from our expectations of men and boys. This narrative has serious implications for how women and girls view their access to public space – although a woman is still most likely to be assaulted in her home, this narrative of being unsafe in public is so pervasive that many women (especially young women) choose to curtail their public activities. This is supported by evidence, which is cited at the end of the essay. You can click on the image at the top to view it in full.

I wish I could say this was hard to write, but it wasn’t. Every one of the situations in the essay is something I’ve either personally experienced or thought about as a distinct possibility. I imagine most women have, and that’s the tragedy of it.

It was an amazing experience being part of the exhibition and it’s reaffirmed my love for interactive storytelling and new technology. It’s really exciting as a writer to be able to bring my stories to audiences that I wouldn’t normally reach, and I’m grateful to the Annandale Creative Arts Centre for the opportunity.

5000 Words Per Hour

I’ve neglected the poor old blog a bit lately, but for probably the best reason a writer can have – I’ve been writing. Quite a lot, actually. The Iron Line is now about three-quarters of the way through, and I’ve also started a non-fiction book under the auspices of my business called Communications for Volunteers, which lays out everything volunteer-run community organisations need to know about how to get their message out there in a professional-looking way.

On top of all that, I’ve been travelling quite a lot for work as well, and doing backstage crew work for a local amateur theatre production, so life is pretty full! But the freelance life is very much agreeing with me, and I love having days like today where I can just sit alone in my office and work on my own projects – it’s introvert heaven.

My surge in writing productivity is partly due to my changed work arrangements, but the thing that really kicked it up a gear was discovering a handy little book (and its companion app) called 5000 Words Per Hour by Chris Fox, or 5KWPH for short.

5KWPH cover

To be honest, I initially bought this book in order to make fun of the premise. As if anyone could write 5000 words per hour! At the time I bought it, if I was writing 1000 words per day I was happy. Then I read it.

Fox is an app developer by trade, and his system is just one more example of gamifying productivity – that is, using the same competition and reward techniques that video game developers use to make their games so addictive. And the thing is, because it’s based in psychology, it actually works.

The premise is pretty simple: it’s based on ‘writing sprints’. Fox recommends starting small – three to five minutes – but I do 20 minutes as I’ve been at this writing thing for a while and I’ve got the stamina. During these sprints you get rid of external distractions, turn off your inner editor and just write whatever comes to you. If you need to do more research, you put a comment on the relevant section and move on so you don’t go off on tangents. The aim is to get a first draft down, however imperfect it may be (and as Hemingway rightly said, the first draft of everything is shit). You can fix it in the editing stage later.

Once your sprint is done, you note down how many words you’ve written and then multiply it to calculate how many words you’re writing per hour. The 5KWPH app does this all neatly for you, then graphs it, gives you little stickers as rewards for reaching certain milestones, and calculates how many hours you have left until you reach your word count goal (based on your current hourly rate).

Fox recommends having a good outline before you start your writing sprints, so that you know where you’re going and aren’t stuck for material. He also recommends using dictation software to boost your speed, but I tried this and didn’t really like it, and since I type quite quickly anyway it didn’t make a huge difference to me. But if you’re a slow typist then it will probably make quite a difference.

And the outcome? I went from 1000 words a day to just under 3000 words an hour. Now, when I work on The Iron Line, I do four 20 minute writing sprints, which means I usually write between 3000 and 3200 words in an hour and 20 minutes. That’s basically a full chapter for me. It’s much slower for the non-fiction book, and actually I don’t really use the app for that as I find it less useful due to the different writing process. But for fiction it works a treat.

I’m a sucker for a good productivity app and I’m also pretty competitive and goal-oriented, so it’s probably not a surprise that I like this system. It may not work for everybody, but if you’re looking for ways to increase your writing speed I’d recommend giving it a go.

Now, back to writing.

Community arts


A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending five days in the gorgeous Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, at the Sydney Artists Retreat. This is an annual gathering of artists run by the Annandale Creative Arts Centre, which is based in Newtown, Sydney, and it’s a close cousin to the summer school I often go to at the Poatina Arts colony in Tasmania. So the group was a mix of old friends and new faces (who became old friends by the end of it) – and it was fantastic.

The last time I went to the Sydney Artists Retreat was in 2014, and at that point I was doing the second lot of edits on Greythorne, after it had come back from my beta readers. I was also working full-time, so having four days (the 2016 retreat was a day longer) where I could do nothing but write was an incredible luxury, and I was very productive.

This year was different. I’ve been through some major upheavals work-wise over the last 12 months, accompanied by at times quite high degrees of stress and anxiety, and I didn’t realise how much I needed to decompress until I got to a place where I didn’t have to worry about anything for a few days. I’d planned to be fairly productive, but I wasn’t, really – at least, not in the sense of getting words on paper. But I actually felt relaxed for the first time in about 9 months, and having the chance to just hang out and chat with other artists – writers, musicians, actors, dancers and film-makers – was exactly what I needed. There are certain aspects and challenges of creative practice that I think are hard to relate to unless you’ve experienced them. It’s not all sitting round waiting for the muse – it’s often bloody hard work and accompanied by existential (and financial) angst and, more often than not, a fair degree of guilt for doing something that the world tends not to value too much.


One of the big themes of the retreat was ‘permission’ – giving ourselves and other people permission to be authentic and true to who we are in terms of our creativity. That may sound a bit hippy-dippy, but it’s actually a huge struggle for many artists, me included. When you’ve been told from a young age (by family, friends and society in general) that you can’t make any money at your art and you should keep it as a hobby and get a ‘real’ job, it can be hard to get over the feelings of guilt you get every time you devote time to producing it. That’s not saying artists should ignore the financial realities, but there are actually ways of making a living through art, and if you’ve got a bit of business sense you can make it work. So it was a huge thing for me to actually acknowledge that I want to make writing a significant income stream. It won’t be the only one, because reality, but it can certainly be a legitimate part of my business. For this reason, I’ve decided to independently publish The Iron Line, because I want to have more control over my rights and publishing timeframes. So I’m having a crash course in indie publishing at the moment, but it means that the new book should be out later this year.

I’m a huge advocate for artistic communities where artists support and value each other (as opposed to competing, which unfortunately is often the case). Becoming part of a community centred on Poatina and Annandale had a huge impact on me as a writer – not only have I learned so much from other writers and artists, but I’ve felt truly supported as I’ve tottered out into the world as a baby artist and started to grow and learn to walk for myself. Without that community I think I don’t think I would have had the courage to give myself permission to write properly, and I would have been thoroughly miserable as a result (I know, because that’s the way it was for most of my 20s). So here’s to the crazy ones – the artists, the writers, the dreamers – who taught me to be brave.

A day at the circus

Circus (5)

Last weekend I did something I haven’t done since I was six years old. I went to the circus. And it was fabulous.

Circuses seem to pop up in our area relatively frequently (once or twice a year) and each time I see the spires of a brightly coloured tent I think about going, but don’t usually get round to it. There’s also an idea that the circus is just for kids, which is probably why, until last week, I hadn’t been to one since I was a kid myself. But when the Great Moscow Circus came to town and a friend recommended it, I bit the bullet and bought tickets.

Circus (3)

I go to a lot of theatre, both amateur and professional, so I assumed the circus would be similar, just inside a giant inflatable tent. And it was, yet it was so much more visceral as well. There’s something undeniably thrilling about seeing people doing quite risky things – like trapeze flying or tightrope walking – right in front of you. It felt much more real and immediate than the productions I’m used to seeing.

Circus (2)

I’ve been fascinated by circuses for a long time, especially the old-time travelling shows and carnivals from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I think it’s because they occupy a kind of liminal space – in the heyday of circuses and travelling shows, they were important to the community (in fact the circus couldn’t exist without them) but at the same time they traditionally provided a haven for people who were otherwise socially excluded due to disability and difference (although the darker side of this was just another kind of exploitation). Probably for this reason, in popular culture the old-time carnival combines a fascinating mix of joy and menace, which has been deftly illustrated by authors such as Ray Bradbury (in Something Wicked This Way Comes).

There’s also a certain element of romance about the circus life – the freedom of the nomadic existence can seem, to those of us stuck in the workaday grind, like the answer to all our problems, although no doubt the reality is rather less glamorous. But who hasn’t at some point dreamed of running off to join the circus?

Strangely enough, as I was sitting there ringside thinking about circuses, it occurred to me that this is one of the big reasons I like being a writer. I’ll never run off and join the circus in reality – not least because I have no talent for it – but in my books anything is possible. My forthcoming novel, Dragonscale, has a troupe of circus folk in it, and I’ve long been toying with the idea of a book set in an American travelling carnival at the start of the twentieth century, when barnstorming was all the rage. One of the great perks of being a writer is you can be anything you want to be, so once I’ve finished being a nineteenth-century level-crossing operator in my current novel, The Iron Line, I may just become a circus acrobat for a while.

Anatomy of a Novel Part 6: The paper anniversary


This, incidentally, is why authors should never design their own covers!

When my husband Tristan and I first started dating three years ago, we had a ‘food-for-stories’ deal – he’d make me dinner and in return I’d read him the next chapter of Dragonscale, the long-running young adult fantasy novel I’d been writing off and on since 2007. We each thought we got the better end of the deal, although I’m still convinced I ultimately did. The unconditional support he expressed for my writing in those early days was one of the many things that convinced me this relationship was going places.

But over the intervening years, life got busy and Dragonscale lapsed. I went through a rough time at work and a period of quite crippling creative drought where I found it very hard to apply myself to anything; it took a new idea in a completely new genre – which ultimately became Greythorne – to snap me out of it. In the meantime, Tristan and I moved house, got married and I got the contract for Greythorne while on our honeymoon, so poor old Dragonscale languished in a corner of my hard drive.

It wasn’t until I went back to it earlier this year that I realised how close to finished it actually was. During a particularly obsessive phase I’d mapped out the content chapter by chapter, so I knew exactly where it was going and what needed to be done. Then I had a brainwave: Tristan and I were coming up to our first wedding anniversary in April, which is the ‘paper’ anniversary, and what gift could be more ‘paper’ than a manuscript? Finally I’d complete my end of the food-for-stories bargain and he’d get the ending he’d been waiting patiently for for three years.

I only made this decision in March, so it was a bit touch-and-go as to whether I’d finish it in time, but there’s nothing like a deadline to motivate you! And I got there…just. Here it is, all nicely finished and bound.

Dragonscale bound

As to what will happen to it now, that’s a good question. It needs a lot of editing, and Tristan is the only person I trust to read what Anne Lamott aptly calls ‘shitty first drafts’, so no one else will be getting their hands on it for a little while. I’m off to a retreat at the end of April where I’ll give it the first overhaul, and then we’ll go from there. Hopefully by the second half of the year it’ll be in decent enough shape that I can begin shopping it to publishers, so watch this space. I can’t lie though, it feels pretty damn good to have finally finished a book that’s been nearly 10 years in the making.

Local history


Down by the Queanbeyan River

I live in Queanbeyan, a smallish country town just outside Canberra, and one of the things I love about it is I’m constantly stumbling on new nooks and crannies, despite having lived here for four years.

The other day, for instance, I went for an afternoon walk and found myself down by the river. Walking along a little way, I discovered Riverside Cemetery, where a lot of the district’s pioneers are interred. It’s part of the local heritage trail and is speckled with half a dozen fascinating information signs. The oldest grave dates back to the 1840s – which is pretty early by Australian standards – and the latest I found was 2008, although the cemetery has been closed to new burials since 1996 unless the deceased has a connection to the founding families already buried there.

Some may think it morbid, but I find cemeteries and graveyards – especially old ones – fascinating because they tell you so much about bygone days. For instance, I learned that Victorian headstones are often very ornate, with lots of stonework and symbolism such as urns, garlands and angels, while later headstones (from the Edwardian era onwards) tend to be much more plain. The Victorians also went in for verse – many of the tombstones are inscribed with either Scripture or poetry. In contrast, modern graves (from the mid-twentieth century onwards) give a lot less information and are arguably a lot less sentimental. But I have a fondness for the Victorian ones myself!

An ornate Victorian tombstone

An ornate Victorian tombstone

Riverside Cemetery is informally divided along faith lines – Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist – which reflects the make-up of the original settlers. Many of those interred were Irish and their tombstones note their place of birth, e.g. ‘Native of County Cork, Ireland’.  One of my favourite headstones, from 1936, belongs to a Roman Catholic priest and is inscribed entirely in Latin.


The bit that tickled my fancy (which is a bit hard to see in this photo) was the phrase ‘Pastoris huius paroeciae Queanbeyanensis’, which I’m guessing translates roughly as ‘parish priest of Queanbeyan’. It just seems so weird seeing Queanbeyan, which is the bastardisation of an Aboriginal word meaning ‘clear waters’, wrestled into grammatically correct Latin. I had an image of Father Patrick as being a rather upright, straight-laced sort of man, based on nothing other than this inscription. So I did what any child of the internet age would do, and googled him.  I wound up in the National Library’s Trove service (whose praises I’ve previously extolled), which has a digitised copy of an article announcing his death, and it appears my first impression wasn’t quite right.

13 July 1936

POPULAR PRIEST REV. FATHER DEENIHAN | Death Announced at Queanbeyan

Gloom was cast over Queanbeyan last night when the death was announced of the Rev. Father Patrick Deenihan at St. Gregory’s Presbytery, at the age of 42 years. The late Fr. Deenihan who had become a popular figure in the Queanbeyan district during the last two years that he had been parish priest, had been seriously ill for some weeks.

The death occurred at seven o’clock, shortly before the commencement of the Benediction service at St. Gregory’s.

Born in Lixnaw Parish of Country Kerry, Ireland, the late Fr. Deenihan was eeducated at St. Michael’s College, Listowel, and was trained for the priesthood at St. Patrick’s College, Carlow. He was ordained in 1918, and came to Australia in a troopship in 1919. He has served in the priesthood in the Southern districts of New South Wales, his first station being Tumut, whence he was sent to Crookwell and Moruya. He was the administrator of Gunning parish for 12 months and at Cootamundra for four years, after which he was priest at Michelago and for the last two years at Queanbeyan. Known in the southern districts for his interest in sport, he had been a great athlete in Ireland; having played for Kerry in the all Ireland football competition. In Queanbeyan, he had been prominently identified with many sporting organisations.
During his last illness, the late Fr Deenihan has been constantly
visited by his brother priests at Canberra. The late Father Deenihan will be
succeeded as parish priest by the Rev. Father Patrick O’Carroll, who arrived at Queanbeyan on Saturday.

The remains of Father Deenihan will be interred at Queanbeyan. His mother and father are still living in Ireland, but his only relative in Australia is a cousin, who is a priest in the Townsville diocese.

A Requiem Mass will be celebrated by the Bishop of Goulburn (the
RC. Rev. Dr. J. Barry) at St. Gregory’s Church, Queanbeyan, at 10 a m. on Tuesday prior to the funeral.
A second article, dated 15 July 1936, notes that “Hundreds of persons were unable to gain admission to St Gregory’s Church, Queanbeyan, yesterday morning for the Requiem Mass for the late Father Patrick Deenihan, and the funeral cortege was the largest ever seen in the district.” Father Patrick was clearly well-loved in the district, and it makes me happy that 80 years later he’s still remembered.

Out and About

Tintern signing

Signing books for Tintern Grammar students

I’ve been AWOL from the blog for the last month or so as most of my energy lately has gone into getting my new business, Pure Arts Communications, off the ground. But I’m starting to hit a rhythm now and am loving the freelance life, not least because it gives me the flexibility to do one of the many book-related things I love – getting out and meeting readers.

Last week I travelled to Melbourne to do a couple of book events with people at contrasting ends of the age spectrum. My first stop was Tintern Grammar, where I ran a fiction-writing workshop for a group of keen writers in Years 7-9. We had lots of fun telling progressive stories (which got quite dark very quickly – teenagers!) and learning about setting, characterisation, plot, structure, dialogue and editing. It was great meeting the next generation of writers – and I have no doubt that in a few years’ time we’ll be seeing some of their names on covers, for there was a wealth of talent in that room.

The next day I joined the residents of Donwood Community Aged Care for a chat about Greythorne and the writing and publishing process. Many of the ladies (there were only two gentlemen in the group of 20) are mystery fans and were keen to find out what Professor Greythorne is up to in the cellar! It was a very different group to the school kids (obviously) but lots of fun in its own way, and I’m very grateful, if a little surprised, that I’ve somehow written a book that appeals to readers from 13 to 93.

I just love being able to get out and meet readers, and I really enjoy running fiction-writing workshops and getting to pass on some of what I’ve learned over the years. If you’re interested in a workshop for your school or group please contact me.

Travellers’ tales

Plane wing.jpg

From here.

I made a whirlwind interstate trip this week, and it reminded me of this article I wrote a couple of years ago about the extraordinary stories of ordinary people. How are the two connected? Read on…


I’m afraid of flying. Not in the way that I’m afraid of spiders, or needles – which provoke a minor twanging of the nerves – but sickeningly, panic attack-inducingly afraid. The mere thought of swooping upwards in a multi-tonne pressurised metal tube is enough to get my heart thumping and stomach churning; in severe turbulence it’s all I can do to hang onto my sanity and my dignity. Anxiety is a psychological issue with all-too-real physical symptoms: sweaty palms, racing heart, upset stomach, vomiting and uncontrollable shaking are all sensations I’ve experienced at some point before, during or after flying. Indeed, it’s not unusual for people to mistake panic attacks for heart attacks. And – something that people lucky enough never to have been on this rollercoaster can’t understand – I can’t switch it off. I realise it’s irrational and all in my head, and I’ve learned strategies to manage it to a certain extent, but I don’t know if it will ever go away. All I know is that no one would choose to feel like this.

Unfortunately, I also love to travel. Many times – usually while sitting in gut-churning apprehension in airports – I’ve wished I was the kind of person who is content to just spend the rest of their life in their hometown, but I’m not. Study, work and general curiosity have taken me to many far-flung parts of Australia and the world, and unfortunately one of the things these places have in common is that you inevitably have to fly to get there.

Consequently, I would willingly do just about anything to be rid of my phobia, and I’ve certainly never thought of it as a blessing. And yet it’s led me to meet people I otherwise would never have encountered, proving that there’s a silver lining to every dark, turbulent cumulonimbus cloud.

I’m naturally an introvert and, as such, I dislike small talk. On planes, however, I’m looking for distraction, so, if the person next to me is willing to engage, I’ll quite happily chat for hours (though if they’re not, I’m also perfectly happy to respect their personal space and suffer in silence). And the people I’ve met, almost without exception, have been fascinating.

There was the woman from Cairns who told me how she found a python stuck in her chook shed one morning; it had eaten a chicken and been too fat to exit through the hole it entered by. Then there was the Slovakian Orthodox-turned-Pentecostal preacher who was on his way home from India, where he’d started an orphanage. The retired dentist and amateur pilot who had flown with his mate in a Britain-to-Australia air race just because he thought it’d be fun, and who managed to make even someone like me see the beauty in flying. The former deep-sea fisherman – now working with the Department of Fisheries to develop turtle-proof nets – who talked about life on a Tasman Sea trawler. The ex-New Zealand Army officer who described how to eat your way round the South Island, including apparently the best fish and chips you’ll find anywhere. The woman who, like me, was trying to find a road-map for her faith journey, leading to an hour-long discussion of theology. And, perhaps most poignantly, the lady who was going home to give evidence before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, who told me how she’d learned to keep smiling despite her suffering.

I’ll probably always hate flying, but I’m learning to control the fear so it doesn’t control me. If there was a way I could be rid of my anxiety tomorrow I’d take it without a second thought. But in making me vulnerable, my phobia has also given me an openness to other people’s stories I might never have had, and that’s something I hope I’ll never lose.