Tag: novel

Swedish death clearing and other adventures

Swedish death clearing and other adventures

Marie Kondo is so hot right now. Everyone has an opinion on her approach to clearing out stuff. I’ve been following the Minimalist and Decluttering movements for a number of years now. And I think a lot of the time there’s a big ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’ scenario going on. It’s the difference between focusing on the what (getting rid of excess stuff) and the why (making life simpler). I think at this point in time many, many people are overwhelmed – but not just by their physical stuff. There’s an awful lot of mental clutter created by our constant exposure to social media, the expectation that we fill out endless quality surveys, the millions of passwords we need to have, the endless mailing lists we have to sign up to if we want access to anything… Life has become really complicated. It can become incredibly easy to lose sight of what’s important.

Clearing out: a growing impulse

I’m not sure if it’s because of the recent spate of books, or programs like Marie Kondo’s, but decluttering has hit the mainstream. My family and I spent the beginning of the year with relatives who are doing Swedish death clearing. This involves clearing out your home before you die so your family don’t have to do it afterwards. I cleaned out my hoarding relative’s home years ago – a process that took three months, two giant skips and a fortune in cleaning products. So I’m all for the Swedish approach. It requires good communication though, because the relative doing the clearing may want to pass things on. If you’ve cleared out your house it can require some negotiation to avoid bringing home a raft of new things.

Back to the forest

See how easy it is to get focused on trees? I mean stuff? What I really wanted to write about in this post was what I consider the most important thing – the ‘why’ of clearing. You see, I think it works best if the process is about discovering what you want in your life, not just removing what you don’t want. If you touchstone for making decisions about what to keep is ‘is this important to me?’ then it becomes a much easier process. And as a writer the steady hum at the back of my life has always been the need to try to clear space for writing.

In the last twelve months that hum has become louder. I’ve developed a tremor in my hands which makes fine motor control more difficult. I’m not sure how related it is, but my energy levels have been very depleted. What this brings into focus is the need to clear out things that aren’t important or relevant to my life any more, but take up time and energy, to make space for the things that matter. (What I’ve really done here is sneak in a ‘new year’ post. Because what I’m talking about is my focus for 2019.) And not everything that takes up time and energy is physical.


I recently joked that doing my PhD I developed outstanding skills in procrastination. Any excuse not to do research and write the thesis. So one of the things I have to clear out this year is procrastination. Not an easy task. But I discovered when my kids were little

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash.

that realising your time is limited is a great incentive not to procrastinate. So now, discovering that there are days when my energy levels are non-existent means that on the days when I have energy, I grab it and use it. It doesn’t always stop me procrastinating, if what I have to do is something I really don’t enjoy, but a lot of times it does. The other thing I do to beat procrastination is to focus on the stories that are waiting to be written. This may sound crazy, but sometimes I wake in a cold sweat thinking about all the stories I may never get to write. But during the day, thinking of those stories can turn my panic into proactive action.

Keeping focused

Of course, procrastination isn’t the only problem. But it’s a start. As I said, life is always complicated. This year I’ll be working two jobs, parenting a family, trying to write and market my books and trying to work out how to deal with my health issues if I want to function at all. The end of the year is always a great time to take stock and think about the year ahead, before you end up mired in everything again. But the chaos quickly creeps up. That’s why I think having a really clear ‘why’ of clearing out is important. For me that ‘why’ is finding time to write. So I’ll be giving more thought to what else to declutter apart from procrastination. Hopefully if I’m successful the stories will stop waking me up in the night wanting to be told. Wish me luck!





Carolyn Denman: A journey to the Garden of Eden

Carolyn Denman: A journey to the Garden of Eden

Carolyn Denman is the author of an amazing YA Australian fantasy series, The Sentinels of Eden. Set in the heart of the Wimmera region of Victoria, the books feature a young woman called Lainie, who, it turns out, is so powerful even the moon would obey her commands – if she had any idea that she wasn’t just a normal girl about to finish high school.  Lainie is tasked with keeping an ancient gateway to the Garden of Eden hidden and safe, which becomes increasingly difficult as interested parties get hints of its existence. The third book in the series, Sympath, is being launched tomorrow, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. I’m very excited to have Carolyn on the blog today.

Carolyn lives on a hobby farm on the outskirts of Melbourne with her husband, two daughters, and her parents. The fact that she always has at least three of her pets following her around at any one time in no way means that she is the fairest in the land. They probably just like her taste in music. As well as her novels, Carolyn has written stories for Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways magazinesVisit her website here.

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

I remember as a child poring over maps of the Snowy Mountains and feeling a thrill whenever I came across names of places I recognised. At nine years old, having never even been there, I was deeply in love with those mountains. Even at that age I felt there was something majestic and sacred about that place because I’d read a series of books by Elyne Mitchell that swept me off my horse-addicted feet. The author’s deep love for those mountains shone through her writing – even in a story told from a brumby’s point of view. There was mystery without magic. Or at least, something deeper than the sort of magic I’d seen in other books. The stories were woven through with a sense of ancient wisdom and connection to the land. Elyne Mitchell shifted me from a simple enjoyment of colourful kid’s books to something much more profound and addictive.

Why do you think people need stories in their lives?

For me, the simple answer to that is insight. Humans have evolved to live in relationships, which rely on effective communication. Stories are an essential way for us to get meaningful insight into other people’s perspectives. Such insight helps us to empathise and to communicate effectively. It encourages us to imagine new places, new experiences, and invent new possibilities. Quite simply, without stories we can’t grow up, either as individuals, or as a society.

What is your greatest magical power as a writer?

I can influence your dreams. Occasionally. If you’ve had pizza for dinner and then read my book late into the night. I think that’s pretty cool.

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

I am rather partial to elves, particularly their more peace-loving representations. The idea of a race of people living in harmony with their environment, untainted by fear of death, designed to create music and art and to dance. With a wisdom and maturity that comes from living in relationship with other elves for thousands of years, and a sacred respect for children because they are so rare and precious. Don’t we all yearn for humanity to become just like that? Perhaps we will. Perhaps, in Eden, we already are.

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

Well…I’m a sucker for romance *author blushes*. Not the sort of romance that involves bare-chested men with abdominal muscles on the cover. I mean the stories that make your heart lurch at completely unexpected moments because someone just put their partner’s ego before their own. Have you noticed the pattern yet? That moment at the end of the movie when the guy gives that public display, making a fool of himself in front of crowds of strangers, just to prove how much he cares? It’s the moment we start to believe it. Displays of love aren’t enough. Displays of respect are much more important. When they prove that their self-pride is not as important to them as their partner’s – that’s when we really get the feels. So yes, I keep looking for new ways to explore that theme in nearly everything I write.

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Want to read more? Songlines and Sanguine, are available now through Odyssey Books and all the usual online bookstores. Book 3, Sympath, is being launched tomorrow – click here for details if you’re in Melbourne. The final book in the series is due for release early 2019.

Doing a Creative PhD – Things to Think About

Doing a Creative PhD – Things to Think About

In 2013 I completed my PhD by artefact and exegesis, submitting a young adult novel and a thesis. During and after that time I have had extensive contact with other students of creative PhDs. I’m on a facebook group where people sometimes ask about signing up to do one of these. The response is always overwhelmingly positive – people encourage others to go ahead and apply.  From my perspective, I am really pleased I obtained my PhD, but I believe anyone starting the ‘journey’ should have their eyes wide open. So this post discusses some things to be aware of.

The University Context

Probably the biggest factor at the moment for creative PhDs is that the university sector is being squeezed financially. And of course, like the broader social arena, the arts is always one of the first areas to lose funding. Potentially this might mean less funds available for going to conferences, less time allocation for supervisors to provide support during candidacy (so less face to face meetings) and less availability of other support (scholarships, research skills training etc.).

I had a conversation with a Visual Arts student recently on the day she discovered her supervisor had been made redundant. She was told there was no other potential supervisor on the horizon in the immediate future and was rightly devastated. Doing a PhD requires a lot of support. It’s hard to see how far these cuts are going to go, but one of the safeguards that can be put in place is to establish really good support networks with other students. Then if cuts do impact, you’ll at least have others to turn to who understand.

Your Goals

Be really clear about why you want to do the PhD. If it is to find a job in academia, see point 1! The traditional pathway of PhD to tutoring to lecturing to academic security is not a given any more. If this is your aim, it would be wise during your candidature to publish as much as possible, to develop excellent links to established academics who might be willing to mentor you, and to volunteer to help out with journals, conferences etc.  Show that you have a lot to offer. If you are doing the PhD because a scholarship is more income than a writer normally receives in a year and you don’t intend to become an academic, that’s fine – but see point 3! The point is, be clear about your expectations before you go in.

The Supervision Process versus Your Writing Process

Creative writing (and other creative arts) for a PhD is different to writing outside the university sector because you are subject to ‘The Gaze’. Whatever you write will be scrutinised closely to ensure it reaches PhD standard*. The ethics process can also impact. This means your project may be more collaborative than you are used to. For me aspects of the ethics process meant I had to entirely re-shape my novel.

For others, a supervisors’ input meant they took their writing in directions they were not initially keen on. Whilst this is akin to working with an editor, it can happen much earlier in the process than usual. Prior to my PhD I never showed my writing to others until I’d reached at least draft 3. However, during the PhD a supervisor wants to see that you are producing work, and may well want to see a first draft. Finding a supervisor you can communicate with is really important to find your way through all of this.

Creative Writing Versus Academic Writing

Your preferred emphasis and the university’s might not be the same. On paper a creative PhD is (depending on the uni) 70% creative project and 30% academic text. In practice, this is often reversed. Creative artists coming in are highly skilled and experienced at their arts practice, but usually less so on academic writing. It can be a shock to realise there is a huge expectation that you will spend the majority of your time on the academic work. Supervisors need to be sure you will tick all the boxes in terms of getting research and thesis chapters written. Friends of mine have (to their horror!) been told to put their novel aside for months whilst they focus on the academic text.

Do Your Research….

The best way to go into the PhD with your eyes wide open is to have some really good conversations with others who have gone through it, and with your potential supervisor to really sort out expectations. Good luck!

*PhD standard may be very different to publication standard!