Category: Stories

Anything related to story telling, the power and magic of stories and stories written by others.

Some of the best philosophers are bears: Introducing Mawson Bear

Some of the best philosophers are bears: Introducing Mawson Bear

Mawson Bear, author

Today I have an extra special Christmas treat as I welcome Mawson Bear to my website. Mawson is a shy and retiring bear of generous proportions, with a fancy for dapper bow ties. Ever since he can remember, he’s loved to sit atop a cushion and ponder about this often baffling world. Friends approach him about their own dilemmas. They seek instant answers that will make everything all right. Mawson does his best but he often just falls asleep and wakes as baffled as ever. But he’s always confident, down in his innermost stuffing, that the world is a bright place to be. Mawson likes to share his ponders by plonking them into little books for others to enjoy.

Mawson is the proud author of It’s a bright world to feel lost in, published by Publisher Obscura. This is a beautiful philosophical book in the vein of The blue day book by Bradley Trevor Grieve. It is the perfect sort of book to buy as a stocking stuffer or Kris Kringle for someone who likes to muse about life, and who hasn’t lost their sense of whimsy. Mawson has another book coming out very soon, She ran away from love

 Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

When young I devoured books by many authors but when it comes to the magic they brought me, I will list those by C.S Lewis (Narnia), Issac Asimov (Sci Fi), and Rosemary Sutcliffe (historical fiction).

Like most readers, what I sought was to be transported from this world.  With these writers I could be in Norman England winning back a castle during a school break, in the woods of Narnia on a rainy Sunday, or fleeing rogue robots during a long car ride.

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

A life is a story.  We wonder about our personal stories all the time: ‘What if I had been born in Carthage, or had gone to a school for wizards, or could be a colonist of Mars? What if I had stood up to that bully, stepped through the back of that Wardrobe, been kidnapped by pirates, chosen another lover?’ Many of us, having re-read our own pages up to now, then strive to change – re-write – our future chapters. But still we keep wondering: is this the best we can do? The stories we absorb from other people fascinate us. They entertain and enthral us as we learn in a safe way about the consequences and circumstances of the choices made by other people, real and fictional. Stories reassure most of us, I think, that after all has been said and done, our personal modest lives are really just fine. Being fragile creatures though, and constantly craving reassurance, we turn back again and again to the power of stories.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

Shyly he says, ‘I listen to the bears’.

Poets, actors, composers, painters, ‘artistic people’, all speak reluctantly about the heart of creativity. They proffer vague expressions like ‘feeling inspired’, ‘being guided’, ‘trusting the muse’, ‘entering into the role’. What does this mean? I think it’s about listening for ‘something’. Now, this ‘something’ cannot not be analysed or modelled on a flow chart. It’s very shy, and it needs to trust you to respect it. I think the greatest magical power of a writer is to gently –don’t startle it –gently reach out for this ‘something’, gain it’s trust; and then to let characters and story flow on from there.

I listen to my bears. I never know when I’ll hear in a voice as quiet as can be imagined the best ponders framed in the best words; and these are ideas and words that I myself did not have in mind, really I didn’t. When I don’t listen but just grind on, my writing is not right: the voice feels wrong, the images don’t flow, and it is not satisfying.

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

Naturally my bear Mawson’s esteemed peers and forebears come to mind: Pooh, Paddington, Calvin’s tiger Hobbes.

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

Long ago, I wanted to take the sort of advice that can be found in the Self-Esteem and Motivation style of books, which I read but often found to be a bit too earnest, even precious, and to present the ideas I thought most helpful as light hearted axioms with pictures. This plan did not get far. Instead the ‘something’ I am listening to keeps taking me back back to the sad times that every bear (or person) sits through. In their different ways, each of my bears becomes convinced that their particular shape and stuffing and being-ness is not enough. They seek and quest for some other way to Be One’s Best.

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To purchase a copy of Mawson’s gentle ponderings, or get news about upcoming books, the best place to start is his website, here. Mawson’s book will delight you.

For the Love of Art

For the Love of Art

art on wall of face with tearsArtists, whether writers, painters, sculptors or any other medium, are generally not paid well. This has been true throughout history. We know the image of the struggling writer starving in a garret so well it is almost a cliche. And the painterly genius who died in poverty. It’s part of the story we tell about artists. To create true art, the idea goes, we need suffering. Hunger is apparently a great motivator.

This story does artists a terrible disservice. No one does their best work when they are living with income security. Having to spend your time searching for income takes away from time making art. For many of the writers I know there is a constant battle in their lives, between time and money. They usually have enough of one, but not of the other. If they are earning money, they don’t have time to make art. If they have the time, they are struggling financially. But isn’t this the way it has always been, and will always be?

Is art worth less?

Meta-narratives are the stories that underpin society. They are big picture stories that shape how we think. The prevailing meta-narrative we live with in Western society is that the economy is more important than anything else. You can’t read the news without finding something about the economy, but what makes it a meta-narrative is the underlying message. In recent years that message has increasingly become that the value of something comes from its ability to generate income. Growing the economy (and making more money) is always put forward as a good thing, if not the ultimate goal.

Those who help grow the economy are rewarded. If they work in the field of finance, or manage a company to maximise its profits, they can receive huge salaries. Their contribution to society is unquestioned. Artists don’t grow the economy*. They often make very little money from their art. And under the current meta-narrative, this means their contribution is not valued.

What art contributes

The truth is somewhat different. Art and culture are enduring pillars of society. Wherever you go, around the world, you can see the art that has survived the centuries. We understand earlier civilisations through their art. Much of what art contributes to the world is intangible; it can’t be reduced to monetary worth. What it does is lift us out of our lives, let us see the world differently. It connects us to others, shows us how humanity. Entertains, provokes, enlightens, awes…  Without art, our lives would be very bleak.

Who does this narrative serve?

There have always been gatekeepers to the creative arts. These were once known as patrons. Now they have many different titles but they are always the ones who decide whether artists will be paid for their work or not. And since the ‘economy’ narrative places a low value on art, the gatekeepers don’t feel the need to pay them very much. In fact, the unspoken argument is often that artists do what they do for the love of it, so reimbursement doesn’t need to be that high.  Their reward is the joy of creating. There is a growing trend of asking creatives to produce something for ‘exposure’ or so they can ‘put it on their CV’.

This is great for those who want to buy the outcomes of creativity. They can get them cheap, but it isn’t great for the artist. What they create is not only the outcome of many hours work to produce that individual novel or painting or song, but also the result of many years of gaining mastery of their form.

So where to from here?

The economy meta-narrative, with its focus on ever-growing profits, has led to endless consumption and pushed us towards environmental disaster. We need to shift society’s values, to re-focus our sense of what is important. A new meta-narrative that valued art and saw that it should have a central place in life and culture, would be a great beginning. Maybe then artists would not be expected to do what they do simply for ‘love’, but would be paid a living wage. Imagine what a rich world we would live in if writers and painters, performers and sculptors, and others who contribute beauty to our world, had both the time and the money to create.

* (This meta-narrative is, by the way, outdated and inaccurate – arts events such as festivals and exhibitions bring significant income, although often the artists see little of it.)

Completing a Book Series

Completing a Book Series

Last week I wrote the final chapter of Pierrot’s Song, the last book in the Tales of Tarya series. The story is complete. Obviously I can’t say what happens, because spoilers, but in the nature of fantasy trilogies, every loose thread I could find has been woven in. Every character has reached some sort of conclusion. There is a resolution to the mystery that Mina uncovered. Mina, and those around her, can move on to new adventures.

Of course, at the moment this book is only a first draft, so I’m not setting it aside just yet – there will be a lot of editing ahead. But a wise author once told me to celebrate every achievement, and this is certainly one of them. Writing a story that is sustained over three books is definitely a marathon.

Long ago, when the stars still sang…

Writing a novel is like catching stars.
Photo by Rakicevic Nevad (c/- Pexels).

I can’t really remember exactly when I began writing the Tarya series now. But it’s probably been around twenty years. In that time I have had children and watched them grow up. My eldest is about to start university. (I’m pretty sure I wasn’t long out of uni myself when I started writing Harlequin’s Riddle!) I’ve completed two degrees and several different certificates. I’ve moved house three times. Both parents and a brother have passed away, as well as others that I love and miss.

Twenty years is a quarter of a lifetime. And I have changed with the years’ passing. The person who began writing that first book is not the same person who is in my skin now. Life happens to you. Hope becomes a little worn down, some dreams are caught while others escape you…

Crafting a series

Over twenty years I’ve also developed as a writer. Writing is a craft that takes time to develop. There are layers upon layers of skills to learn. Putting sentences together is only the beginning. Learning about voice or tone or pace adds to your skills. Finding ways to weave theme and metaphor, emotion and humanity through a tale is another level of challenge.

Sustaining a story over a three book series requires its own skill set. Continuity becomes incredibly important. Keeping your world, places and characters consistent over an extended time takes good organisational skills. I have a Tarya master document that is broken up into many sections. The added complication with my books has been that I need to keep track not only of the real world, but of Tarya. There are seven ‘levels’ in Tarya, and each has its own characteristics, in terms of appearance but also in terms of what Mina (and others) can do there.

Resolving the mystery

One of the biggest challenges I faced over the three book series was writing the mystery. What Mina uncovers in Harlequin’s Riddle is only the beginning. She thinks she has uncovered what is going on and who is doing it. But as she discovers in Columbine’s Tale, the terrible secrets at the dark heart of her world can be traced back many years, and the perpetrator is not who she might think it is. The problem goes deeper than she imagined, and it will not be easy to solve. From the beginning, I knew what was going on (plotter, not pantser!), and my task was to give out snippets throughout the three books. Laying clues like crumbs, I had to pace them so readers got a taste of the bigger story, without giving away too much too soon.

bookThen, in the final book, I had to draw it all together. That’s been an interesting process. In the end I made myself a list with lots of instructions. “Make sure you …” “This has to happen …” I needed resolutions not just for the overall story, but for things like romances and individual character arcs. And even working from that list, I’m pretty sure I’ve missed something. So my next step will be to read all three books from beginning to end, making notes as I go. Finding all the threads that I think need resolving.  It won’t end there either. After the rewrites, I’ll give the Pierrot’s Song to beta-readers, and I’m sure they’ll tell me if I’ve missed something that needs resolution that I’ve missed.

The bittersweet of endings

As the end of the story drew closer, I found myself reluctant to sit at my desk and write. I didn’t want the story to end. But I knew it had to. All stories come to an end. It is the nature of stories that we have resolution. (Life is never so tidy!) Then, when I was nearly there, the last two chapters wrote themselves, taking on a momentum that was exhilarating. I felt like I was on a roller coaster as the last words fell onto the page.

Having finished the final chapter now, I have some of the feels, but I’m sure there’ll be a lot more later. It definitely feels like a great achievement to have completed a three book story, but I know there is still a lot of work ahead. Which means I don’t have to say goodbye to Mina and her companions quite yet. When I do, that will be a wrench. But for now, I have set the manuscript aside to gain distance. Then I’ll go back and polish it until it shines. Only then will I be leaving the world of Tarya. But perhaps only for a little while…

Stories of myth and magic: An interview with Kate Forsyth

Stories of myth and magic: An interview with Kate Forsyth

My very special guest today is Kate Forsyth, named one of Australia’s Favourite 15 Novelists. Kate is the author of 40 books for adults and children. Her most recent works re-imagine loved fairy tales. The Beast’s Garden sets Beauty and the Beast in Nazi Germany. Beauty in Thorns takes Sleeping Beauty into the world of the pre-Raphaelites. But writing is only the beginning. Kate is a storyteller and runs magical writing retreats in the Cotswalds, England. She also co-hosts Word of Mouth TV, a Youtube show that combines food, books and wine.

Kate’s writing is always beautiful and magical so I was excited to see how she would answer my questions. For insight into Kate’s magic, read on…

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

What a lovely question. I would like to think that my stories cast a spell over the reader, enchanting them and allowing them to see the world with a renewed sense of wonder. And, I hope, my books teach the reader something they never knew before.

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

So many writers! As a child, I loved Enid Blyton, C S Lewis, L.M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Elizabeth Goudge, Joan Aiken, Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula le Guin, Susan Cooper, Nicholas Stuart Grey, Eleanor Farjeon … as I grew older I discovered the Bronte sisters and Joan Austen and Mary Webb, and writers like Marion Zimmer Bradley and Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. I read a lot of fantasy and historical fiction, and began to read books about myths and fairy tales by authors like Marina Warner and Clarissa Estola Pinkes.

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

Stories and storytelling are an essential element of what it means to be human. We tell stories to amuse and entertain, to affect and explain, to connect and share. Stories help us make sense of the world, and  pass on universal lessons and wisdom.

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

For me, ‘Rapunzel’ was always the tale that most haunted my imagination, probably because it resonated with my own personal story so much (I spent a lot of time locked away in a hospital ward as a child due to an accident when I was a baby). I also love the Persephone myth and its fairy-tale child, Sleeping Beauty, and the story of Psyche, which transformed itself into ‘Beauty and the Beast,’  and the story of ‘Six Swans’.

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

Themes of imprisonment and escape, wounding and healing, terror and bravery, cruelty and kindness, betrayal and love …

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To discover more, visit Kate’s website here.   Word of Mouth TV  can be found here.

The forgotten secret to being a writer

The forgotten secret to being a writer

I have a confession to make. For the last year I have been suffering from imposter syndrome. Although I have a published book, it’s felt like I was coasting on writing I had done years ago. I finished Harlequin’s Riddle when my son was small. He’s starting uni next year. Columbine’s Tale was finished when my daughter was small. She’s nearly in year ten. With all the responsibilities of life and work I’ve had little time to write for a long time. To be honest, I was really starting to wonder if I could even call myself a writer. How could I be a writer if I wasn’t writing? Turns out I had forgotten something important. Something I knew far better as a child than I do now.

Typical advice for writers

One of the things you’re told often if you are an aspiring writer is to write. Write a lot. I’ve even told emerging writers that myself. It’s good advice. The more you write, the better you get with words. You learn how to say what you want to say concisely. You discover which words you personally overuse. Your vocabulary expands. When you give yourself challenges, you develop your ability to write emotions or fight scenes or whatever it is you need.

The other important piece of advice that’s given often is to learn to edit and to accept editing. This is also important. A first draft is always going to need work. So’s a third or fifth draft. You need to be willing to keep working at your writing until it sings. And nobody can see all the flaws in their own work – when you’ve read it often you become blind to certain problems or repetitions. I think once a writer is able to accept feedback from others and work out what is valuable and what isn’t, they’re well on their way to becoming professional.

What I have and haven’t been doing

I’ve worked as a professional editor for about eight years now, and that has definitely allowed me to develop my writing abilities. My instincts have vastly improved for understanding what the issues are in a piece of writing. The more you analyse and problem solve, the more you can pinpoint what is going wrong and how to improve it. I can absolutely say that being an editor has made me a better writer. And I did do intensive editing of Harlequin’s Riddle and Columbine’s Tale before they were published.

But I still haven’t done much of my own writing.  And it hasn’t just been the last year – it’s been about four years. Probably since I finished my PhD. I’ve written previously about doing a creative PhD (here’s the link).  While I wrote a novel during my candidacy, I struggled with switching between a creative and academic mindset. And once the PhD was over I didn’t feel like a writer any more. I was burned out, heartsick, doubting my abilities. In the next few years we relocated to a new city, moved house twice, had issues with our kids’ school.

I’d forgotten how to be a writer.

A journey to the past

This week a magical confluence of events occurred. I made an unexpected trip to Tasmania at the same time that I was reading Terry Brooks’ (Shannara) book on writing, Sometimes the magic works. I was born and grew up in Hobart but I hadn’t been back in a while. Life moves on, and sometimes you only remember things when you return to the setting where they happened. As we were sorting out what we needed to sort out, we were driving around familiar streets, past familiar landmarks. And I began to see shadows of what I had forgotten.

Terry Brooks has a chapter on the importance of daydreaming for writers. I was reading that around the same time I was revisiting the places I spent so much time in. And I could see the imaginary places that rested alongside them. As I drove past the walk home, along a long road, a forest sprang up. Years ago I had walked that imaginary forest, dressed in a velvet dress and cloak, no longer a school girl but a gypsy. When we stopped to walk through the local park, I saw the castle that had once been there, with its many rooms and fantastic feasts. Driving past our old home, I remembered Helen, my invisible friend who lived under our house.

The forgotten secret

The thing is, Terry Brooks is right. Daydreaming is where it begins. It’s where stories take root and begin to grow. When you daydream, you teach your imagination muscles how to stretch. You begin the slow, sometimes painful but ultimately exhilarating process of growing wings. I spent an awful lot of time daydreaming as a kid. My imagination was well developed from an early age. And imagination is the crucial, forgotten ingredient to being a writer – especially a fantasy writer.

Remembering this, I was able to realise that even in the years when I wasn’t writing, my imagination remained my constant companion. I still wondered, and was curious, and conjured possibilities. I may not have been writing on the page, but I was always, always writing in my head. The stories never left me.

I don’t feel like an imposter any more. The physical act of writing is only part of the process. Whatever else I am doing, my imagination, given life and strength when I was a child, remains active, conjuring stories and characters and settings. As long as I have that, even when I can’t put pen to page, I am a writer.


Why we need slow art

Why we need slow art

Living fast – or slow

In the developed world levels of stress and mental illness are rising rapidly. There are various contributors to this: feelings of inadequacy that arise from comparing yourself to others on social media; the unexpressed grief caused by the mammoth in the room that is climate change; and the ever-increasing pace of life that demands everyone do more but get paid less.

In reaction, there has been a growth in social movements that promote a more considered pace of life. The slow food movement encourages the appreciation of real food, cooked in a considered way that takes time to draw out maximum flavour and nutrition. Slow living has come to the fore as part of voluntary simplicity, encouraging a lifestyle based on returning to more traditional ways of doing things, such as baking your own bread or making your clothes. Another movement that could sit side by side with these, that is desperately needed, is a return to slow art.

Churning through life

The pace of life has been carefully sculpted by large societal forces: Capitalism and social media. Social media works on principles identified by Pavlov. Every like and smiley face is positive reinforcement that keeps us scrolling. Each new piece of information keeps us hooked to our feed. We get a little dopamine hit every time we get something new, so we have become attuned to needing constant input. This results in churning. There always has to be something fresh to catch our attention.

Capitalism reinforces this. Capitalism only works if everyone keeps shopping, which requires a constant flow of new products. After all, people won’t buy things they have already bought. This is noticeable in the book industry. The time a book spends in a book shop has been getting less and less over the years. New books now are given very little time to make an impact (ie sales) before they are removed, returned and pulped. When I was told this by a bookseller, that time had shifted from three months to one month. It could be less now. New authors get very little opportunity to be noticed – the briefest window before everyone moves on to the next big thing.

The Netflix effect

The other thing that works against slow is the Netflix effect. Being able to binge-watch a show means people no longer want to wait for the next instalment. This is true of books too. I have spoken to authors who are under pressure (and contract) to get the next book in a series out as quickly as possible. Otherwise the readers’ attention and dollars might go elsewhere. The industry seems to believe readers don’t have the patience to wait, and sometimes they don’t. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of Patrick Rothfuss, author of the Kingkiller Chronicle, a marvellous fantasy series. The third and final book has been a long time coming, and Rothfuss has been subjected to significant online abuse for keeping people waiting.

Why this is a problem for art

Is this just how the world works now? Should we just accept it? I don’t think so. Because art takes time. Art is the expression of a human life. Through art a soul is bared on canvas or on the page or through a dress design. The creative process isn’t just the moment when paint is applied or words are written. It is the research that allows a piece to have depth and substance. It is the many hours spent developing technique. And it is that magical, alchemical time when the creative imagination is allowed to daydream and wander, transforming experiences and inspiration a creation that will reach out to others.

Why slow art matters

According to Celtic tradition, the Poets who guard the fountain of knowledge, known as the Aois Dana, give the gift of insight and creativity to artists, poets, story tellers and bards. These people are chosen so they can imbue their art with the memories and wisdom of their culture*. Artists create works that express the soul, that speak of what it is to be human, that provide connection and meaning to those who experience them. But art that is thoughtful and beautiful, and says important things, takes time. It must be nurtured carefully so that it emerges in the best form to express its truth.

We live in an era where truth is fragile and meaning is reduced to marketing catch-phrases. More than ever we need art that speaks to us, reminding us of the wisdom that is missing from so many public conversations. The greatest gift we can give the artists and creators is time. Time to research, time to dream, and time to create art that will speak to us.


* See the wonderful Celtic Folk Soul: Art, Myth and Symbol, by Jen Delyth

Weaving story: an interview with Lauren Chater

Weaving story: an interview with Lauren Chater

Each lace shawl begins and ends the same way – with a circle. Everything is connected with a thread as fine as gossamer, each life affected by what has come before it and what will come after. 

I first met Lauren Chater in 2015 at the Historical Novel Society of Australasia inaugural conference. She had entered their ‘First Pages’ contest, and I read out a portion of her debut novel, The Lace Weaver, to a very appreciative audience. Lauren went on to win the contest and this year The Lace Weaver was published by Simon and Schuster.  It has been described as heartbreaking and poignant. You can read more about Lauren and her books at her author website.

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

It probably comes as no surprise that I was a massive book nerd when I was a child. Some of my best and earliest memories are of hanging out in the school library or being snuggled up in bed, reading books by Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter. I should probably thank my parents for my insatiable love of reading; they clearly passed their passion for stories down to me and to this day, we still swap books and discuss our favourite reads whenever we get together. Some of my favourite books were (and still are) The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy Boston, The Hobbit by Tolkien and The Little Grey Men by B.B. We read lots of Patricia Wrightson and Ruth Park in our house, too, because dad loved those authors. There’s a reason their work is so enduring; they are essentially stories that inform us about who we are and the choices we make. Kids don’t worry about ‘genre’ – they just love good storytelling. I think we would do well to remember that as adults!

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

I think people need stories for a variety of different reasons: to provide comfort, to help them confront their own prejudice, to expand their thinking, to escape reality. There’s no reason why a book should have to do all those things at once, though and I dislike books that are heavy-handed or force you to conform to a deliberate agenda. You should be able to read a book and disagree with what the author is suggesting. There are so many opinions and alternate views out there and the waters are increasingly muddied by our obsession with social media. A book is a quiet thing; it’s a space which says ‘Hey! Step inside and spend some time in this reality. Imagine if things were this way.’ It’s a liminal place, a safe haven where you can’t be instantly judged or shouted down. It gives you room to breathe and gather your thoughts. I think books and stories are more valuable than ever in this digital age.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

That’s a tricky question to answer because like most writers, I experience crippling self-doubt on a daily basis. I suppose if I have one magical power it’s to (hopefully) persuade my reader to investigate the place or time period I’m writing about. I hope my passion and enthusiasm for research translates through my work and that it inspires others to learn more.

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

Best question ever. As a child, I was obsessed with fairy tales and I developed a weird obsession with Baba Yaga, the witch who flies about in a cauldron and lives in a house on chicken legs. She’s actually quite terrifying, but my sister and I used to pretend to be her and chase each other. I actually remember hunting my sister down in my imaginary cauldron (we were clearly strange children!) I recently heard the author Kate Forsyth talking about Baba Yaga and apparently she is not actually evil (in the Russian fairy tale, it’s the stepmother who is bad and ends up being punished in the end for her wickedness). Rather, Baba Yaga is neither good nor evil, but a catalyst for growth and change, a metaphor for the inevitability of losing ones’ innocence in the woods. I thought that was so interesting.

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

With every book, I do seem to be trying to get at new ideas, which are very slippery and constantly elude me. I do think that I will keep writing about women, though. Women fascinate me; their capacity to band together to survive, their shared stories and knowledge passed down through generations, their resilience when faced with loss. Let’s be honest, we are the stronger sex, right (JOKING)? I like to challenge myself and there’s no greater feeling than when two seemingly unconnected ideas suddenly merge in some strange, serendipitous way. I call it The Funnel – you pour in the research and ideas, and words come out. That’s real magic.

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Lauren is not only a wonderful writer, but an extraordinarily talented cookie maker. Her blog, The Well-Read Cookie, is a delight (but be warned, salivation will ensue from even a short browse!). Her second book, Well Read Cookies, featuring some of her amazing cookie designs, will be released on 22 October 2018 and will fly off the shelves like… well, like cookies, so make sure you pre-order you copy soon! And if you can’t get enough of cookie goodness, make sure you follow her on Instagram.

Caring for your new author

Caring for your new author

Congratulations! You’ve brought home a new author and you’re looking forward to going on an exciting journey with them. However, authors need to be treated with care if they are going to give you years of loyal storytelling. Before you begin, here are some important things you should know.


Authors need a regular supply of chocolate, tea or coffee and, if they write fantasy, baked rainbow goods, in order to keep their creative imaginations running. An author will struggle to feed themselves since they don’t make a living wage, so if you find one wandering in the wild, do your best to keep them fed and hydrated. If their inspiration runs dry, one day you will find them at a writers festival sitting in the corner, a dried out husk. If that happens to you, administer coffee immediately, intravenously if need be.

Emotional Care

Sensitivity is an important trait in an author since it allows them to place themselves in the minds of their characters with empathy. They also have incredibly active imaginations. However, this combination renders them somewhat fragile and prone to over-thinking. If you have promised to write a review of their book, make sure you do so because otherwise they will imagine you hated it and will die a little each time they see you. If you don’t read their genre, feel free to say that, but don’t use a superior tone as this is akin to saying their life choice is ridiculous. And most important of all, never, ever compare their book to Twilight.

Respect your Author

Research shows that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery of a skill. Your author has spent a long time learning to construct fiction. They have written some incredibly bad prose, survived the experience and lived to write better prose. They have mastered pace, dialogue, and characterisation, and may even know what a dangling modifier is. Unless you would say to a mathematician, “Yes, I expect I’ll  solve the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture when I retire,” do NOT tell your author you will write books when you get around to it. And it would be wise not to question their authorial choices on the basis of your personal preferences. An author will include things in their book for a reason, but that reason is generally NOT because you have a personal dislike of cut scenes. It is more likely to be related to the plot and story. Strangely enough.

Don’t make them beg!

Aside from coffee, reviews are the lifeblood of the modern author. Since there is no regulation of the author industry, author farms have sprung up where authors are kept in dark cages and made to churn out book after book. This means there is a glut of books out there. As a result, your author may be struggling to get noticed. This can lead to depression, over-eating of rainbow cupcakes, and paranoia that they will fade away and eventually become completely invisible. If you do not want this to happen to your author, keep them happy. This can be easily and cheaply done through little treats such as a review on Amazon, asking your library to get their book in, or buying their book for every single person in your extended family as a Christmas gift*. However, do not make them beg for reviews. It takes up precious time when they could be writing another book for you.

A final word…

Follow the simple rules above and your author will live a long and happy life. Your support will make all the difference. If you care for your author they will give you many years of reading pleasure. But be wary. Some authors are known to bite. If you fail to care for your author, you may find they turn you into a character in their book. Then kill you.

Have a lovely day!

* Ok, not all of them are cheap….


A journey into history with Wendy J. Dunn

A journey into history with Wendy J. Dunn

A very special blog post today as I interview historical fiction writer, dear friend and mentor-extraordinaire, Wendy Dunn. Wendy has been obsessed by Anne Boleyn and Tudor History since she was ten-years-old. She is the author of three Tudor novels: Dear Heart, How Like You This?, the winner of the 2003 Glyph Fiction Award and 2004 runner up in the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction; The Light in the Labyrinth, her first young adult novel, and Falling Pomegranate Seeds, the first book in a series about Catalina (Catherine) of Aragon. To read more about Wendy and her books, click here to visit her website.

Which writer or writers opened your eyes to the magic of storytelling and why?

I fell in love with C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series when I was a child of ten. I was one of those children who lived in hope of finding a wardrobe that would take me into a world with fauns, talking animals, centaurs, flying horses, wicked witches, giants – a world where tree spirits danced on moonlit nights. These books showed me how we can escape and experience other worlds through the power of good storytelling.

Rosemary Sutcliff started my passion for historical fiction. Her world building is superb and powerfully take you back in time. But more important than that – her stories speak eloquently about what is to be human and leave the reader with a sense of hope. In dark, despairing moments, when I need comfort, her books are still high amongst my ‘go to’ books.

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

Stories are part of our DNA, our human experience. Stories teach us that we are not alone. Stories give us a universal language– and have the power of taking us from the chaos of life to a life where we can find meaning. Stories also open the door to the experiences of others and build those important bridges where we can meet one another, learn from one another and return with a deeper sense of empathy.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

I persevere. By not giving up in this long writing journey of mine, I have discovered, as a writer, the truth of the saying, ‘Perseverance Furthers’.

Which mythic archetype or magical character most resonates with you and why?

Demeter. From childhood, I have always found something to mother, and I know the power of a mother’s love; my four adult children are the core of my existence. The Demeter’s myth speaks powerfully of a mother’s love and the grief of losing a child, and how a mother would do anything for the return of their child, so that child is safe in their arms again.

When I was writing The Light in the Labyrinth, this myth was very much on my mind. I saw Kate Carey, my main character, as being Persephone, who becomes entrapped in the Hades of the Tudor court. But it was her time there which led her back to her mother as a wiser and empathetic young woman.

What themes or ideas do you find keep arising in your writing?

Letting go, breaking the circle of the past, the sorrow of unrequited love, the power of forgiveness and the search for identity. Completing my PhD in 2014 also opened my eyes to the fact that my works can be explicated through Feminist Standpoint Theory.

The Light in the Labyrinth was my PhD artefact. Writing that work changed me. As a mother of three sons, I hesitated to call myself a feminist because I did not really understand what the feminist movement was all about. I now understand the feminist movement is all about women and men walking side by side as equals.

By the time I finished my young adult novel, I not only confronted again the societal space I occupy as a woman and the reality of how women’s power is something both given and taken away by patriarchy, but also the simple fact that we all need to be feminists. Our world will not be healed until that happens. This is the beating heart of why I write. I write from my experience as a woman about the experiences of women of the past in hope of empowering women today.

Wendy Dunn is a gifted writer whose work portrays the lives of well-loved historical characters through story telling that resonates with powerful emotions. To read more go to

Hope in Dark Times

Hope in Dark Times

Last week I blogged about why we need fantasy. I largely focused on empathy. Today I’d like to focus on another aspect of stories: hope. I’ve been seeing and hearing a lot of comments recently along the lines of ‘given how horrible the world is, we shouldn’t be reading escapist stories’. There seems to be this perception that when the world is dark we should constantly focus on how dark it is. Apparently we have an obligation to be serious all the time right now. Personally, I think the last thing we need at the moment are happiness police.

We live in dark times…

There is definitely a growing sense that the world is becoming a darker place to live in. I’m not going to go into all the details here. It’s happening all around us and everyone I know is very aware of the issues. We’re swimming in them. The media is showing us stories all the time about the disregard for human rights, the perversion of democracy, the creeping loss of civil freedoms. These are real and they are happening. I’m not in any way saying they’re not, or that we should disregard them. What I am saying is that it is not wrong to look for stories that make us feel good, as an antidote to the darkness.  If we are mired in the dark all the time, we will lose something important. Our sense of hope.

Hope matters

During the Great Depression, Shirley Temple movies were hugely popular. People were living in terrible poverty, but for 15 cents they could see a movie that would lift them out of their life for a while. Roosevelt said of Temple, “As long as our country has Shirley Temple, we will be all right”. Sure it was escapism, but it made a difference. It kept peoples’ spirits up. Stories can make us feel good too. They can give us a moment where we’re not weighed down. A story requires forward movement – something has to happen. Otherwise it’s not a story, it’s just a description. Such momentum can remind you of the possibility of change.

As someone who has lived through some very dark times, I’ve realised that one of the strategies I have used throughout my life so I don’t become lost in the dark is to give myself something to look forward to.  It doesn’t matter if it’s something big, or something small. What matters is that it gives me hope. That hope gives me the strength to keep going. Even more importantly – in the face of injustice, hope can give the strength to keep fighting.

Good versus evil

When we’re young, we learn from stories that good triumphs over evil. As adults we discover the world is not that simple. There’s no clear ‘evil’, just as no one person is pure ‘good’. But what we are seeing now is the binary of decency versus corruption. I know I for one have felt despair that our government acts against the best interests of many. Not only that, but they seem to think they are untouchable even as they are clearly going against the will of the majority. This seems to be a growing trend around the world. Now, I’m sure I’m going to be accused of idealism, and it wouldn’t be the first time, for what I’m about to say. But stories show us the bad guy doesn’t win. Stories give us a world where right triumphs.

Yes, I know that’s often not how the world works. I truly do. But sometimes it does. Sometimes regimes are toppled, civil rights are amended to be more inclusive, corrupt leaders are caught out. And the reason that happens is because people say no. They continue to resist – to say no even in the face of apparently overwhelming odds, or leaders who think they are beyond accountability. And the reason they say no is because they have hope. Those who know only despair don’t resist. Hope is a crucial ingredient for change. To quote Les Miserables, we have to believe that:

‘Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise!’

The creative human spirit

do think it’s important for people to be informed in a world that is in desperate need of change. Putting your head in the sand about climate change or politics is definitely not the way to go. But neither is turning away from the creative human spirit. Some of the greatest acts of resistance I’ve seen recently have been funny and immensely creative. Entertainment and laughter are food for the soul. Stories encapsulate the human creative spirit, but they also inspire it.  Sometimes we need to be serious. Sometimes we need to be uplifted, to see that change is possible and that corruption doesn’t always win. Hope can come from many places. Sometimes it can come from stories.