Only 4 days to go until I see my 200 word Microlit story up in lights at the Newcastle Writers Festival!

4 finalists were chosen in the Festival’s inaugural Microlit competition  in partnership with publisher Spineless Wonders. My story is one of the finalists! Very exciting!

Richard Holt, visual artist, and actor, Eleni Schumacher, have recorded and created a special visual presentation of each of the final micro-stories to be shown at the free session Short and Sweet: the Art of Microlit on Saturday, 2 April, from 4.30pm in the Hunter Room in Newcastle City Hall.

You’re all invited!

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ABC Open 500 Word Project

abc open

March topic:                  My Other Life

ABC Open publishes and broadcasts stories created by regional Australians. I’ve read some wonderful stories online.

All contributions feature on the website, and selected stories also appear across ABC TV, Radio and Online.

Each month a new topic is chosen for the ABC Open 500 Word Project.

This month the topic is My Other Life. You can contribute by writing a 500 word true story about something unusual you get up to outside of work, or a side of yourself that other people don’t normally see. Write about your unusual passion and how you first got involved in it. How does your other self contrast with the side most people see? What satisfaction does your other life offer you that you don’t get from your day-to-day life? How does your passion contribute to you as a whole person?

Check out the other stories people have shared on this topic or explore stories from previous months by clicking here.

The deadline for this topic is the 9th April. Submit your story to ABC Open on their website.

ABC Open also runs free workshops [/events] in regional Australia where you can learn more about video, writing, photography and online publishing.

What also impresses me about the ABC Project is the community that has built up around it, and how that community’s heart is expressed through the hilarious, the heart-wrenching, and the amazing stories published online.


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Newcastle Writers Festival 2016


Keep the weekend April 1 -3  free for the 2016 Newcastle Writers Festival. It’s an exciting line-up this year. Check out the program .

If you want to spruce up your writing there are Masterclasses by Carmel Bird 


Carmel Bird

and Claire Scobie, and sessions on Self-publishing and how to Make your Writing Pop.

The Opening Night Event features Tim Flannery talking about his adventures with host John Doyle. 


Tim Flannery

David Marr, Libby Hathorn, Druscilla Modjeska, Richard Glover, Kerri Glastonbury, Marion Halligan, Charlotte Wood and Michael Sala are just a few of the noted writers speaking at the Festival.


Newcastle’s most loved and respected authors will launch new books, including Zeny Giles and Jean Kent.


Zeny Giles

The winners of the Newcastle Short Story Award will be announced on Friday at 5.30 pm at the City Hall.

On Saturday afternoon the work of the 4 finalists (including me!) in the Newcastle Writers Festival Microlit competition will be presented as art videos by author and visual artist Richard Holt, and the winner announced.

I hope to see you there!



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The ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize


Elizabeth Jolley

In 2010 the Australian Book Review formed the annual ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize. It was created to honour a highly respected Australian short story writer and has become one of our leading short story awards.

Entries are now open to writers anywhere in the world, and will close at midnight 11th April 2016.

Short stories must be between 2,000 and 5,000 words in length and written in English. They are judged anonymously.

First prize is $7,000. Supplementary prizes of $2,000 and $1,000 will be awarded. These three shortlisted stories will be published in the August Fiction issue of the Australian Book Review. The judges will commend three additional stories and the authors will each receive $850.

Entry costs AU$15 for current ABR subscribers or AU$20 for non-subscribers.

Click these links for further information and to read the stories of past winners.

Good Luck!

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Fiction & Compassion


        The Recipe                            by Frederick McCubbin


In a large regional town like any other large regional town in Australia lives a woman in her 60s. One of those battlers – you know them, the people who life has kicked around a bit but they get back up and make the best of things.

She works 2 days a week, volunteers at an animal shelter and loves having her grandchildren over to stay. Except she won’t let them come to her house anymore.

Over the years the public housing where she lives has become more and more disturbing and frightening.

In the townhouse adjoining hers lives a drug dealer. Most nights she’s kept awake by the continuous parade of clients slamming the front gate and doors, yelling out to each other, and roaring down the street in hotted-up cars.

The guy in the end townhouse comes down regularly for his ice. And at least once a week he bangs on the poor woman’s door in the early hours of the night screaming to be let in.

The woman on the other side of her is an alcoholic. She is feuding with a family across the road and has been caught defecating in their front yard. Or she exposes herself to men and boys walking past, summoning them inside. Night or day she’s out in the street screaming obscenities at the world.

Last year another woman desperate to leave burnt down her townhouse and damaged the others next to hers so the commission would have to place her somewhere else.

The police were there again this week when the ice addict was out waving and threatening people with a large kitchen knife.

Every night the woman my friend knows lies alone in bed in the dark, rigid except for a hammering heart, listening to every scream, every cry, every crash, every one of them a potential threat.

The housing authorities know how traumatic and terrifying the woman’s life has become. She has told them. She’s repeatedly begged them to place her somewhere else. The woman can’t afford to live in housing that’s not subsidised, yet if she leaves to live in a caravan park, for instance, she’s lost any chance of getting back into the system if a new placement does come up.

The police know all this. They’re frequent visitors, but nothing has changed.

I was upset when I heard this woman’s story because I had met her. I wanted to believe that if we could tell her story to someone in authority, with the real details of what it’s like to live her life, then they would be moved to do something about it.

Then I started thinking about all those other broken lives: the alcoholic aboriginal woman and the African family she terrorizes, the ice addict, the drug dealer.  Tragic personal stories that make up a part of the great family of humanity we belong to. No matter how unpalatable the stories are, or how much we turn away from the telling of them, they will still continue to exist.


Adam Smith

As a writer I know the power of story. Like the Scottish philosopher Adam Smith back in 1759, I believe that ‘the source of our fellow-feeling for the misery of others’ is activated by ‘changing places in fancy with the sufferer.’

Fiction allows us to change places with another person in a way that expands our experiences and understanding of their lives. When we know what it feels like to be that ‘someone else’ in detailed and unflinching truthfulness we’re more likely to develop sympathy and compassion for others like them in the real world.

This is fundamental to fiction at its best. And from that real changes are possible.

Remember  To Kill a Mockingbird.

There are so many stories we can write.

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The Joy of Writing


A writer friend who is also doing the challenge of observing and writing down the details every day sent me this email,

‘It is quite  incredible the wandering paths my mind has taken just by writing in the moment like this.Today I have tapped a little into the joy of writing again.’

Apart from writing two beautifully formed sentences she’s touched on something that happens when you forget about writing as a means to an end and write for it’s own sake, when you write for the simple pleasure of writing.

Writing like this feels as if you’re holding a conversation with someone who is excited by the same things you are, who you can be yourself with, who you can tell anything to. Who won’t care if you end every sentence with an preposition. How could you not want to spend a lot of time with someone like that?

I’m learning this daily writing isn’t separate from my life; it is my life. It’s my life I’m writing about every time I put words on paper, and from those words come insights, connections and a new and clearer understanding of what I think and believe, who I am, and the world I live in.

This daily writing centres me in the moment, just like meditation. It’s one way into discovering the joy of writing again. So I was thrilled when my friend rediscovered that joy, but not surprised. It happened like that for me, too.

So this week’s task is to write for the sheer joy of it. I can hardly wait.



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Writing from the forgotten senses

IMG_3078For three days last week the wind blew the rain horizontally. It pelted against the window glass and the drops sounded like someone throwing sharp needles.

Last week I’d given myself a writing challenge: to write somewhere different each day, observing and recording the detailed images in the world around me. You can find my post about detail here.

In this wild weather leaving the house was as appealing as volunteering as a dart board.

So first confession: I ended up writing in the same place for the week.

But from my dining room table I noticed there were worlds of different details to explore: the alchemy in dawn light that can change the yellow tablecloth I bought in Menerbes to gold, and which then reminded me of the autumn vines across Provence; a single blue gym shoe with a white tick that swung from the electricity wire scaring the myna birds much better than the scarecrow I built to protect the olives; a knot in our cedar table that reminded me of the whirl in the fringe of my sister’s red hair.

By writing about the details I observed from the dining room table, I went on unexpected voyages through time and place. Most of the things I wrote about reminded me of other things I’d seen or experienced, some I hadn’t thought about for years. I wrote down whatever came to mind, to see where it led and for the pleasure of it. There was no pressure to produce anything. All I was doing was practicing and strengthening my observation skills and recording detail.

I learned that sight was my dominate sense, with a focus on its associated aspects of colour and light. As a lover of photography that didn’t surprise me.

So I started including the other senses. Have you ever tried to put into words what peanut butter toast tastes like? Or tried to describe what a very itchy insect bite feels like? That I’m not showing you what I wrote must give you some idea of the quality of these little “masterpieces.”

So every morning this week this is what I did. As soon as I got up I made a cup of tea, opened my writer’s journal and started writing. I placed no limits on how much or how long I wrote. I just wrote until I stopped writing, or when I needed to.

Today I completed the task I set myself. Achievement feels good, doesn’t it? And I really enjoyed doing it. I learned valuable things about my writing, like how much I suck at writing convincingly about the taste of things.

But I also feel bereft, as if a beloved and exciting friend had been for a visit and had just left.

So for the fun of it I want to set myself another writing challenge for this week: to practice writing about the physical world without using the sense of sight. I’ll have to rely heavily on those other under-used senses of touch, smell, taste and sound.

Why don’t you do it, too?

Let’s keep an eye out in our reading for how other authors write from the senses. If I find anything great I’ll post it here. If you find a great example please share it in the comments!


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Love the Details

Details should be more than a writer’s friend; details should be our lover. Get intimate, close up. Slow down. Examine him/her with intense and specific attentiveness.

Details make the place in our writing real. Whether it’s travel, memoir, stories or a novel we write, it’s the details we choose that can make our piece live on the page.


Look at the details of place in this excerpt from the Master of Detail, Monsieur Proust.

To live in, Combray was a trifle depressing, like its streets, whose houses, built of the blackened stone of the country, fronted with outside steps, capped with gables which projected long shadows downwards, were so dark that as soon as the sun began to go down one had to draw back the curtains in the sitting-room windows; streets with the solemn names of saints, not a few of whom figured in the history of the early lords of Combray, such as the Rue Saint-Hilaire, the Rue Saint-Jacques, in which my aunt’s house stood, the Rue Sainte-Hildegarde, which ran past her railings, and the Rue du Saint-Esprit, on to which the little garden gate opened…

Proust paints a picture with words. We can see this dour village in country France. The action of drawing back the curtains as soon as the sun starts to set gives us a sense of how gloomy it is to live here. By naming the specific streets Proust gives the town a solid presence, an authenticity.

Or these details of place in Christos Tsiolkas’s novel The Slap.the slap

Last summer she had stripped the room bare of all her posters, all the images of movie stars, celebrities and pop stars; she chucked out Robbie Williams and Gwen Stefani, Missy Elliot and Johnny Depp. The only picture she couldn’t bring herself to part with, was one she had ripped out of a TV Week, a small black and white photo of Benjamin McKenzie from The OC. It reminded her of Richie and she kept it Blu-Tacked at one edge of her bedroom mirror…There were only two posters on the walls now. One was of a clear blue desert sky shot through with razor wire, protesting the inhumane detention of refugees in Australia. She had snaffled it at an anti-racism rally the year before. The other poster was a stark image of an Arab child with a petrol pump murderously aimed at his head. In Arabic and in English the stark red lettering read NO TO BUSH’S WAR FOR OIL.

From the details Tsiolkas provides about the girl’s bedroom we learn a lot about her. We get a strong sense of this character, her concerns and passions, and the recent change she has undergone, without even meeting her. Tsiolkas names the objects specifically: we know each celebrity and what they stand for; it’s not just any magazine but TV Week; the tv programme is The OC; it’s an Arab child. These details do two things. They help us draw conclusion about what sort of person would have these things around them, would live in this place, and they provide a picture for us to see.


And how evocative are these few well-chosen details Anthony Doerr uses to describe his characters in All the Light We Cannot See:

Levitte the perfumer is flabby and plump, basted in his own self-importance.


Sargeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel is forty-one years old, not so old that he cannot be promoted. He has moist red lips; pale, almost translucent cheeks like fillets of sole; and an instinct for correctness that rarely fails him.

Not only do we get a sense of what the characters look like but we also learn about an important aspect of their personality. “Basted in his own self-importance…”? Skin as translucent of fish fillets? Unpleasant men, both of them.

These examples show me just how important observation is as a means of collecting precise details to draw on. We need to see this wonderful world we inhabit and the world of our characters in microscopic detail if we hope to bring it to life on the page.

This week in my daily writing practice I’m going to slow down and get close and personal with the details around me. I challenge myself to go somewhere different everyday to observe and write what I see, smell, hear, taste and touch. Part of what I wrote today:

It is pouring this afternoon. I sit at the dining room table writing. Beside my journal is a cold cafe latte half-drunk and an empty Lindt wrapper. A cold breeze flits across my bent neck. The doors and windows are locked. I put down my pen and get up to turn on the overhead light. The shadow of the palm fronds thrashes desperately at my window as if trying to get in. Or to warn me of something.

Why don’t you take on this weekly challenge, too?

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New York – The Last Supper

The Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station epitomises New York for me, so it’s fitting that our last meal would be an early lunch here before we head for the airport. 

Every time we visit we sit up at the bar so we can watch  the theatre. It smells clean and salty like a beach. The unopened oysters are stacked in metal bins under ice. The oysters shuckers are quick with the knife and the oysters flick open. One man’s job is to cook bowl after bowl of seafood chowder in two metal contraptions more suited to a science lab. We get whiffs of creamy seafood stew when he pours it into the bowls. The steam billows up around him like the steam from the road grids in Manhattan. 

We always order the same thing: a glass of champagne and a mixed dozen oysters each. The varieties of oysters make us east coast Australians drool: Belon from Maine, Blue Diamonds from Washington,  Cuttyhunk from Massachuesetts, and the list comes out at more than a dozen. 

But it’s not just for us that we keep coming back here. Once we took a dear friend there knowing he would love it. The Oyster Bar became one of his favourite places in New York too. Sadly he died a few years ago.

Today it feels as if he is sitting up at the bar with us, slurping the salty oysters through his teeth, holding up his glass for yet another toast to some wonderful aspect of our lives, just as he did in that one long fabulous lunch we shared here. Here, more strongly than anywhere else, I’m reminded of him.

To Biggins!

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December Rain – New York City


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