Editing The Paris Wedding, The Horseman launch, and other stuff in June

I can't believe that it's been nearly two months since I wrote a blog, especially as that last blog post was in Paris. It feels too long ago! (or maybe that's the awful jet lag talking ... the ten days after we got back were pretty brutal). Anyway, this morning I'm sitting down to edit The Paris Wedding, which I have been resting for these past two months and which I now have my trusted friend/editor/beta-reader's notes on. The cold snap here in Brisbane is the perfect reminder of that glorious Paris trip; trying to resist leafing through photos instead of editing!

Ah, a sunny day, just cruising the Seine ...

Ah, a sunny day, just cruising the Seine ...

Other than that, there's lots of things happening. As I think I've posted on before, I started my PhD this year so I had assessment to hand in (done, fortunately), and The Horseman will be out in only a few weeks! We are having a launch at Avid Reader in Brisbane in July, so click on over to the books page if you want to see the details.

The box of books arrived on my birthday - nice timing!

The box of books arrived on my birthday - nice timing!

I've been doing so much reading lately I haven't seen many movies, but the movie adaptation of Jo Jo Moyes's Me Before You is almost out ... I'm not sure whether to see it. The book was fabulous and I have my mental images of Will and Lou - not sure I want them replaced with the cast actors, which always happens. Anyone else have that problem? All right, enough rambling and editing avoidance. Onwards!

Paris!

EAT EVERYTHING

You've heard all the cliches about Paris a billion times already. And when you come here as a foreigner, it's pretty easy to fall right into that space - eat croissants, toddle off to see the Mona Lisa, Notre Dame, and all the other iconic icons. I've been here now (researching The Paris Wedding) for nearly a week, and I've done a lot of those things (in large part because my characters will do it, too) but to be honest, it can be hard to find the romance of the city when you're in the Tourist Trinity (crowds, queues, and hasslers). The Mona Lisa is a little less attractive when you're being swept by the current of bodies along the creaking parquetry floors so fast you barely catch the edge of her smile, and you soon realise that those quaint seeming markets near Montorgueil are fleecing you worse than the traders outside the Louvre. So, Tourist meccas are a place to start, but we had to get out of that mould pretty fast.

(My attempt at a family selfie with monument. Fail.)

Staying in an apartment helps, because we've had to go to the supermarket (successes and failures there - don't forget your "sac". Also, the ziplocks are UPSTAIRS. No idea why). And travelling with a one-year-old means no fancy restaurants at night, and not much dining out at all really. Instead, we've been chasing the sun to the parks and although all the grass is still "inderdit" (forbidden) after winter, I feel as though we've really seen the city through it's green (or roadbase lined) spaces. I think that's the dualism of being here - you need to do the tourist thing, so you can do the non-tourist thing and find the real Paris somewhere between.

Looking towards the Louvre.

As well as the outdoor places, we're now on a mission to see some of the lesser-known museums. Yesterday, that was the Musée des Arts et Métiers, all about industrial design. Being a nerdy science girl and engineer from way back, this place was amazing. Everything from the evolution of the microscope to the CRAY supercomputers. Not everyone's bag, but I could spend hours more there than in the Louvre.

Having said all that, the iconic checklist is iconic for a reason. Notre Dame is one of those places that inspires awe no matter how long the queue or how many of those around you disregard the request for silence signs. It's amazing to think it was started in the 1100s, and under all that weight of stone, you can imagine how someone might have felt about it in 1300, when the modern city didn't exist and the cathedral was this incredible construction unlike anything else. Even without the religious and spiritual significance, the stained glass and sheer size of that ceiling ... totally worth it.

My cruddy photo does not do the rose window any justice at all.

Before I wax too lyrical, it's best to remember that Paris, like any city, has it's downsides. The cafe culture and the parks are cool, but oh my god, the smoking! Nothing takes the shine off sitting outside with a chocolat when the people on either side of you are lighting up, and people smoke in kids' playgrounds so you're always taking discarded cigarette butts off your toddler. People warned us over and over about the stairs in the metro, so we've been doing those like a champion, but I can't do anything about the smokers. Makes you positively homesick for Queensland. Also, practically nothing opens before 10 in the morning, so if you want to start your day early, forget it. The city is definitely geared to late nights and late starts.

But ... those are the kinds of things you have to work around when you're on tour. The weight of history, the sheer density of culture (both the old and the new) is what makes this city. I'll be sad to leave, knowing there's so much I've left undone, and like most travellers, I'll tell myself I'll be back to do it all again.

The light, walking back to the apartment at the end of the day. :)

The Horseman - Cover Reveal!

Landing in my inbox today, what did I find? Only the fabulously sexy cover for my next book! 

Loving the fresh look and the atmosphere in this cover - oh, and don't mind the hero either, ahem :)

Can't wait for release day, only a few months to go (which sounds like ages but really isn't - where did January go?). Of course, you can pre-order to get it as fast as possible. Will keep this space posted with news.

Horseman Giveaway Winner!

Thanks for your patience as I took a few days to get to randomly selecting winner - thanks to everyone who signed up for the newsletter to enter (and those existing receivers who were also in the draw). I'm happy to announce now that the winner of a personally signed copy of The Horseman is Sharyn Williams - congratulations! Look out for an email from me with all the details.

The Horseman New Year Giveaway!

Painting "Moving them" by  Chris Blake .

Painting "Moving them" by Chris Blake.

It's the new year, and to celebrate I'm giving away a personally signed copy of The Horseman to one lucky reader. To enter, all you have to do is sign up to my newsletter before the end of January (those already on the mailing list are automatically entered). The winner will receive the copy as soon as I receive my copies in May, which is the very fastest anyone can receive a signed copy. The winner will be chosen by random draw and announced in early February. Good luck!

Why my mum is the best

I'm the type of person pretty used to doing everything myself, and I tend to need to get everything done before I can relax. It's probably driven by internal guilt, but if I'm applying for jobs I call it "work ethic" because that sounds more positive. Anyway, this is great for a writer as my procrastination time is minimal. Terrible, however, for keeping blood pressure at healthy levels, because sometimes perfect storms happen and a la Sheldon Cooper, I can't let it go. I'm getting to my Mum. Bear with me.

So, anyway, we moved house in the last week, and if that wasn't enough, leaving a rental property means the usual clean-all-the-things. Except of course that even declaring I would pay professionals can't get all the things cleaned, not at this time of year. Exit cleaners won't do blinds or curtains. The blind cleaners are on holiday. The dry cleaners have a backlog on curtains until the end of January, and of course we have to have everything sorted before the official end of lease just after new year. Which means, basically, now.

So, me being me I go look at the curtains. Their labels say they can be handwashed, so I drag them to the cottage laundry and do said washing. Hang them, dry them. And then they were crumpled as week old bedsheets. I tried to iron them according to instructions, but those creases were burned in there. Nothing was shifting them. Plus, Master A is trying to crawl under the ironing board, pulling on the enormous curtains or the iron cord, which must look like great toys. Put him in the other room, and, well, screaming.

It took me an hour to realise I was in over my head. The curtains might be clean, but they looked awful, and two of them were bigger than bed sheets - impossible to tackle in a cottage with what felt like a Barbie-sized ironing board. I called professional ironing people, who refused to do curtains. And finally, I tearily called my mum.

Fast forward an hour and a half and my mum and step dad were at my house. They drove 45 minutes across town the day before Christmas eve with a car full of equipment, borrowed my ironing board and iron, and told me not to worry. Two hours later and mum had not only made the curtains look AMAZING (ironing damp was the secret - mum's a fab seamstress and knows these things) but my step dad had cleaned all the blinds, something I hadn't even contemplated yet because ... well, the horror. Mum said she was happy to do it, enjoyed doing it (I don't believe that for a second, but I appreciate trying to make me feel better). 

It was such a relief to have them take that pressure off, at short notice with zero fuss. Not everyone is fortunate to have wonderful parents, but I wish for everyone to have someone in their life who they can turn to when everything is too much. And I wanted to put this up as a tribute to my Mum and step dad - you're wonderful people. Thankyou, and all my love. xxx

December News - The Horseman cover, writing with a baby, and other stuff.

So, yesterday I saw my first glimpse of The Horseman's cover. It looks mad (in the brilliant sense) and I'm itching to show it to you all. I will be giving my newsletter subscribers a sneak preview as soon as the final res comes through, so sign up if you haven't already. The next newsletter will also have a giveaway, some stuff about thus-far unpublished projects, and some useful Christmas-y stuff.

So that's that. Now, to the nuts and bolts of what I do each day, which is write. I'm currently writing the first draft of my next project, which involves the recent research trip to Parkes and a trip to Paris next year (so you can imagine how excited I am about it). I'm just under 30k in, which I've written since the start of December. That's not bad going, given I get about 2-3 work hours a day, and I've moved house in that time. This past few weeks (and months) has taught me a few things about writing:

  1. I work much better with time pressure. When the window is narrow, and I'm desperate to get those words out, procrastination has to bugger off. There's no time to stuff around. This is much like I used to write when I worked full-time. A few precious house in the evening and weekend was all there was, and I was incredibly productive.
  2. Staying in the chair ups the word count. Most of the time, I'm back to writing with the baby sleeping on my lap. Then, I can't get up. So the washing, the cleaning, the whatever else also must bugger off. There's no time for that.
  3. Social media has to bugger off too. This is my first blog in a while. I haven't been on facebook more than a handful of minutes. Nor twitter. Pinterest only for research board. There is zero time to spend chatting, commenting or engaging when you're writing a book.

My goal before Master A was to write 3000 words a day for first drafts. Now I aim for 2000, and most days I'm hitting it; some I do more, some a little less, and I don't expect words on the weekend. What's to learn from this? If you're writing and you can't get words done (and I see the problem a lot in my teaching), maybe ask yourself what else is occupying your time, and why that's so much more damn important than your book. Or ask if maybe someone needs to be figuratively standing over you with a whip - making a deadline could make a difference. Or are you saying to yourself that your writing doesn't matter as much as all this other stuff? (it does, by the way, your need to write is not mutually exclusive with other responsibilities, even parenthood - if this is you, you might be interested in this - I don't like everything about it but the spirit is good). Maybe another blog a later time on the real nuts and bolts of how I'm doing this (writing 2k a day while full-time caring for a nearly 9-month old). But for now ...

... I'll just end in saying, from amidst the pile of boxes in my house, best wishes to all for the upcoming festiveness, whichever variety of it you celebrate. Love and safety for everyone, and I hope Santa brings you good books :)

Research Bound to Parkes

So, assuming there's no disasters between now and Monday, I'll be heading off with Master A on the first of two research trips for the next project. The trip will begin in Sydney but rapidly head west through the Blue Mountains and then hopefully end up in Parkes, which I've only ever waved at from the car on the way through before. I'm looking forward to it. Travelling with Master A means I haven't committed to be in any particular place at specific times, but you can be sure I'll plan to drop into any libraries and see all I can while I'm there. Of course I'm nerdily looking forward to seeing "The Dish", but if anyone else is from that neck of the woods and has any recommendations (8-month old friendly!) I'd love to hear them, and I'll try to post a photo or two of us on the road if I can.

Update November 2015 - The Horseman, the next project, and stuff

I've been pretty quiet these last couple of months, mostly because I've been feverishly working on a few things. Firstly, there's The Horseman, whose copyedit I've just sent back to my lovely publishing team at Hachette. I'm really happy with it, and that's the last big hurdle - I always brush a hand across my brow and think, there, that's really done now! every time the copyedit is sorted. It's due out next year, but in the interim we'll have the cover reveal, which I'll probably do first in my newsletter (so sign up if you haven't already :). Secondly, there's the book after The Horseman. In the writerly world we're always working 12-18 months ahead of what's already out, and so I've just started on the next and very exciting project, on which I can't reveal much yet but the research trip alone is bonkers exciting (and has also consumed a fair bit of time in the planning). Again, I should have some details very soon.

Lastly, of course it's the time of the year when I'm also marking student assignments. All this means that I'm quiet on blogging and social media - with a 7 month old in the house, I'm down to 2-3 hours work time a day, if I'm lucky, so I just can't afford time to blog/facebook/twit and still also write books. Such is the way of it at the moment. I still love receiving questions and messages, however, and I will always respond to those via Facebook or email. That's a promise.

So, that's it for now. Happy reading.

The Horseman is submitted!

So, a little news is that yesterday I submitted the manuscript of The Horseman (due out March/April next year) to my publisher. It's always wonderful to pass this milestone. Of course, there's work to come yet as edits are completed through the back end of the year, and I get started on the next project. In the meantime, here's a couple of photos from my research trip to the high country - it's a place of spectacular scenery, especially in summer. IMG_1503

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Struggling with time to read? Some life hacks to turn more pages.

IMG_5511As a writer, the adage goes read read read. That was what a kindly publisher wrote to me when, age 7 or so, I sent a short story off hoping to be published. Oh, haha, the blind hopes of youth (it was a blatant rip-off of Cinderella, but modified to be about dental health - clearly the dentist had exerted her influence). Anyway, the point (or theory) is that to be any good as a writer, you need to read a lot - to absorb the mechanics of story, the zeitgeist, maybe even the magical new book smell needs to be transferred to the blood by obsessive reading. Now, I'll be honest and say I'm struggling. Since some adverse experiences in primary school, I've had a difficult relationship with reading, but I can conquer that with a good deal of self-talk and good recommendations. But now being more or less a full-time writer, I find reading time hard to come by. Oh, I read a lot, but much of it is manuscripts, student papers, non-fiction research. I want to read more fiction. More than that, I need to.

So, here's some ideas I'm implementing to tip more pages into my day:

  1. Social media apps off the phone. Full credit for this suggestion to Peter M Ball, who pointed out the habit of using "The House of Zuckerberg" as a way of passing time. Guilty of that here, too, despite loathing myself every time I log on and just look at stuff I've seen before. The solution? Uninstall the app and put a reading app in its place, whether that's Kindle or whatever platform you use. Hell, do it for Twitter too if the Twitface sinks your time. Look at Facebook when you're on an actual computer, but don't use it to fill in your mental space when you're waiting for a bus/appointment/whatever. On a recent trip to the shops, I sat in a couch area where four other people were also sitting - everyone was on their phone, so this one is rampant. This has put so much more reading into my day already. Brilliant.
  2. Make use of your recorder. Am I the last person watching commercial TV? Perhaps. But if you're in the nigel-without-pay-TV club too, then make use of a recorder. I've often struggled to turn off a program once it's rolling, but if I do manage it, I've forgotten pretty quickly why I cared about who slagged off who on Ink Master this week. A few minutes setting up recordings ahead of the evening, and I can happily shut off the TV, and use the extra minutes to read. The evening consumed by TV is such a deep sink of time, this one is gold. I wind down better that way, the baby can't see any screens so he does too. Everybody wins. Sometimes I watch the recordings later, sometimes not. But recording means I get around the panic of thinking I'll miss something important, even if it's a doco I want for research. And if you're on a streaming service, or pay TV, great for you. You know your shows are going to be there for later anyway.
  3. E-reader lives in bag. I still read print books, but I have an e-reader, too. Keeping the e-reader in my bag means I never get caught without something to read when I'm out. Like the apps swap of no.1, that means if I'm stuck in a parents room at the shops, miss a train, or whatever, it's books instead of apps.
  4. Use devices to extend reading time. I can be an insomniac, even when (or perhaps because of being) extremely tired. It's an issue I've had since childhood in switching off mental traffic, and even sleep dep with a tiny baby hasn't cured me of it (I won't dwell on the injustice that with only a 3-hour window to sleep, I can sometimes sleep NONE of it). Perhaps I should meditate more. But! The point is that frequent advice for people like me is not to pressure yourself to sleep. If it's not working in 10-20 mins, then do something else and try again in a bit. An e-reader with a light is a lifesaver here (or a tiny book reading light), because it won't disturb the other half and lets me read while keeping lights low and restful. It also feels less brain stimulating than watching TV (don't recommend iPads to read here and other LED based screens). It works at 3:30 am, too.
  5. Audiobooks and podcasts. When I was doing a lot of travel for work, I frequently took the train instead of cabs because I wanted to be free to write or read without the pressure to make conversation. But many people don't have the option and commute long hours in the car, or spend long hours there because they drive for work. In that environment, there's heaps of great titles on audiobook, and podcasts of some short fiction if you like that, too. Also fantastic if you don't have your hands free, but aren't mentally occupied - a friend who worked as a cleaner used podcasts at work, and I find them great if baby has hands tied up. If you're into music while exercising, you could also contemplate switching in some podcasts instead, although music + exercise for me is idea generation territory and probably not to be mucked with.

In all these things, of course, the idea is to make room for reading pleasurably - reading is never a place for martyrdom. But if you really would like to read more, perhaps some of the above will help. Do you have other suggestions? Would love to hear about them in the comments.

Aussie novels on the map!

So, this morning I came across a link to this fantastic map that pins the settings of favourite books on a world map. It's a great idea, the literary variation on the similarly cool American states by movie that's been around for a while (there was a better one for TV shows, but google isn't helping me find it again ... ). I get excited by things like this because I (like so many of us) am a highly visual person. (And I like maps. There's that too.) In fact, when I teach creative writing in workshops and lectures, I use a lot of examples from TV and film. I find it brilliant for engaging everyone, getting across narrative principles in shorter time spaces than reading text, and speaks to love of cinematic style writing.

The book map has one big flaw though - there's only two entries for all of Australia! So, for a bit of fun, I've pinned my book locations on a map of Oz through mapcustomizer.com - you can click on it to go to an interactive version that shows all the books. And if you've got favourite stories set in our great land, why not go and nominate them on the lovereading site? Put our stories literally on the map!

Ozmap

April news - the BIG news and Ipswich library event

It's been a BIG month. Crystal Creek hit the shelves on 24 March, and it's been wonderful to receive a fantastic response from readers - thankyou for the lovely comments on my Facebook page. I'm glad so many have enjoyed the story - I've been eagerly awaiting this third book, which rounds out the main Walker and Bell family stories, and satisfied it's finally here. For those not on my Facebook page, 24 March was also a big day because my baby son decided to arrive - a little early, but healthy and lovely. This gave publication day quite a dramatic injection, especially as I was supposed to be heading to ABC radio for an interview - almost felt like I was in one of my own books! Never mind, that's the nature of these things. In any case, the ABC interview with Steve Austin (about Crystal Creek, building rockets and a few other things) was rescheduled on 7 April, and you can listen to it here. In addition, next week on 30 April, I'll be at Ipswich library at 10:30am for an in-person event, talking about Crystal Creek and writing. If you're around that neck of the woods, would love to meet you there (it's free but you need to book - see poster below).

The other things that happened this month was the Ditmar and Aurealis Awards. Many of my readers know that I write science fiction and fantasy short stories - very different to my Australian novels, but very much my stories too. Well, this year two of my stories were nominated for national awards - a superb honour. And while others left with the final award, I feel immensely chuffed and encouraged.

So, that's it for April news. I'm working on a short story off and on, and THE HORSEMAN, my next Australian novel, is also in the pipeline. It will hopefully be out this time next year. Lots to do, but loving doing it all. Wishing everyone the same. :)

Paper tales Charlotte Nash pixels

 

March news - CRYSTAL CREEK in the flesh, awards and other things

20150304_131421 (Large)Today in the post I got the first evidence that my third novel, Crystal Creek, isn't far off hitting the bookshelves. The advance copy is lovely - even nicer than the cover pictures I'd seen, and smells like a real book too. The official release date is 31 March, only a few weeks and just before Easter. If you're interested in pre-order, click here to see options. Also happening around Easter are two events in the Australian spec-fic calendar. Many of my readers would know that, in addition to my rural medical romance novels, I write sci-fi and fantasy short stories. This year I'm immensely honoured to have been shortlisted in two awards:

  • the Ditmars (given at Swancon 40 in Perth, 2-6 April), where 'The Ghost of Hephaestus' is up for the Best Novella or Novellette.
  • and the Aurealis Awards (Canberra, 11 April), where 'The Ghost of Hephaestus' is nominated for Best Fantasy Short Story, and 'Dellinger' for Best Science Fiction Short Story.

Of course, Murphy's Law says that all these exciting things are happening at the same time as another exciting thing - the addition of a little person to our family. So while I won't be attending the awards, or having a book launch this time round, I'm sure I'll be busy! I'll also be working on book four (The Horseman) in any spare moments I get. :)

Crystal Creek - cover reveal!

It's that exciting day for my next book Crystal Creek when I can show you the cover! So, here it is: CrystalCreek9780733631955 (Large)I love it, and I'm excited for Aiden and Christina's story to hit the bookshelves in March next year. For those who've read Ryders Ridge, Aiden is Dr Daniella Bell's dashing army captain brother. The story takes place in and around Townsville, and has romance, family drama, secrets and finding a new future (and some medicine, too!). I'd love to know what you think of the cover, too (post in comments or on Facebook), and if you'd like to pre-order, you can go to the links below.

 

 

Sailing the tropics, and what it's like coming back to the city

IMG_20141122_094907 (Medium)For the last week, I've been skippering a yacht in the Whitsundays, just my husband and I and a lot of sailing. I've long suspected the power of the ocean to dilate time - for that week has felt like two very pleasant months. The trip was part holiday, part research (I'm writing a book at the moment called Great Haven, a small-town on an island story with a little hint of gothic historical ghost), and also part satisfying that urge to sail that occasionally boils to the top of my psyche. I'm not sure if that's from the weekends sailing with my Dad around Moreton Bay as a kid, or something else, but I don't question it. I just go do it. The thing with being on a yacht is that it sounds really glam, and in reality, sort of isn't. You have low headroom, so getting in and out of a bunk can involve contortions and smacking your head and feet on various objects. The beds tend to be hard (my pregnant body didn't particularly enjoy that), the cooking space cramped. Your fridge and freezer is liable to act up as soon as you're out of port. The dingy outboard will refuse to start on at least two occasions. Wires will ping against the mast and a rolly swell will keep you awake. Your shirts will be grubby with anchor rust, grease and sunscreen (just take a look at the soak bucket in my laundry right now). It's not sipping cocktails on the back deck in your white bikini - unless you're just a day passenger on a corporate megacruiser. But then again, that's not why I go.

Because there's another interesting thing that happens out there. Your worries become much more primal than you can allow in the city. You no longer care about where your career is going, what people think of you, whether you remembered to set the recorder for the Great British Bake-off. No. Anything beyond the next few hours becomes irrelevant. Your worries become about whether you've put out enough anchor chain. Is this habour suitable for the wind forecast, and can I get there before dark? Has that bloody great motorcruiser doing the run from Hayman to Hammo seen you? Is the tide going to swing so you're worried about grounding? Have I put on enough sunscreen? Was that a shark I just saw? (it was) And where did this jar of nutella come from? (answer: clever Charlotte's preplanning).

After only two days, my brain switches off all the city bullshit. I can sit for hours at a time just watching the world slide past, in a way that would drive me nutty at home (oh, more distant land and ocean!). Taking responsibility for a boat is terrifying at first, then empowering, then it becomes the framework you live around. It becomes ... serene. Not the trouble-free kind (ask anyone trying to pick up a bloody mooring in a swell), but the kind that keeps the mind in a calm place. You're a very small part in a big powerful system around you (wind, tides, waves and sun), and you do the stuff that keeps you safe, fed and happy. That's it. It's lovely.

Coming back to the city, I woke this morning not to the sound of waves, but sirens. Now, I am very grateful to have my soft bed back, and be able to walk to the bathroom without banging head and feet, for easy showers and toilets you don't worry about blocking with more than 1-ply paper. But I'm also sad that the immediacy of living out there is fast slipping away in the face of the hundred or so emails in my inbox - things to plan and live out of the moment for are all sitting there.

My body still feels like it's on the boat, though, phantom waves still there even after a night on dry land. And I'd like to think I can remember what it feels like to be in a different mental gear. Until I can't anymore, and then it will be time to sail again. :)

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Halloween special: Characters I've killed

graves Every writer has a few skeletons in the closet, and in this context I mean the bones of characters who appeared in the first draft, but who vanished without a trace before the story saw the dim light of a reader's beside lamp. (Another time I might talk about characters who were actually killed off in the story, or ones that were going to be killed but ended up with a reprieve.)

For me, this seems to happen mostly with the secondary and speaking extra cast (whereas primary characters are more likely to have reconstructive surgery, a la extreme makeover - more about that another time). So I present a small tribute to the characters I've cut from my stories, and the very good reasons for doing so.

1. Hamish. In the first novel I ever wrote (The Q Line - still lingering in my bottom drawer) the early drafts had this lovable tweenage character who injected some light relief into the story. Or so I thought. Actually, Hamish was an irritating, wide-eyed troublemaker who created a tone problem (who would have thought in a dark sci-fi?) and stole scenes from the main cast. Every person who read the draft hated him. Now, likeability isn't a must, but distraction from a pleasing tone and core story are mortal sins. Cut.

2. The Ambos and Mike. In my next novel Crystal Creek, the early drafts included two ambulance officers (whose names now escape me - probably more evidence to the wisdom of cutting them) and Mike, a friend of an important secondary character. The main problem with these three was that they created convenient situations for the heroine to solve certain problems. When I removed them, I actually forced the heroine to be more proactive, solving her own problems rather than having other characters prompting her to do so. It made a more compelling story for her, so Mike was eliminated, and the ambos reduced to speaking extra characters in one scene only.

3. The Unnamed Sister. In the first draft of Crystal Creek, the heroine had a sister who figured in a secondary plot. The trouble with this was what that plot did to the story - because of the kind of character she was, it injected a dark and melancholic tone, which was at odds with the overall tone of the book. So I cut the character along with the secondary plot (and later had to create a different character and a new secondary plot to take it's place).

Actually, as a writer, I seem to be much better at spawning characters in subsequent drafts than killing them, and some of them (like Valerie Turner in Ryders Ridge) are favourites of mine. The ones that get cut have some fundamental problem for the story. I was never going to care about them anyway, so the story is better off without them.

So if you're a writer, pay attention to the secondary cast if you have problems with tone or your primary characters being reactive or passive - maybe one of them could be sacrificed to give the main story room to move. And if you're a reader, I'd be curious to know any stories where you think a character would have been better off not being there! Happy Halloween :)

Does romance fiction give women unrealistic ideas about relationships?

beachheartAt Brisbane Writers Festival a few months ago, I was on a panel with Kim Wilkins, Kate Cuthbert and Kylie Scott to talk about 'love stories', and the above question was posed to the panel. At the time, we talked about women being smart enough to tell the difference between fiction and reality and some other things, but the question has been bothering me ever since. And I think I've finally figured out why.

The short answer is, yes, sure. I reckon romance fiction could give unrealistic ideas about relationships – but in the same way that ANY made-up story could give unrealistic ideas about anything.

But the problem, really is in the question. Why are we asking this? What does 'unrealistic' mean? So let's unpack it.

At the core, this question seems rooted in a cynicism that is probably only rivalled by our attitudes to politics. We expect all politicians to lie, to be shallow and evasive – it doesn't surprise us when this turns out to be the case. These stories enforce ideas we already hold about the scummy world of politics, a kind of confirmation bias that props up the way we see the world.

So when someone asks about unrealistic expectations and romance, I see the same kind of bias loading up behind the question.

I write across the genre spectrum, and I've been on panels for both romance and science fiction at the same festival or convention. The thing is, this kind of question is never asked in science fiction. We don't ask – does science fiction give people unrealistic expectations about the future? Or about the world around them? No. We ask – does science fiction inspire science? Or, does science fiction predict future technology? We're interested in the positive effects of the genre – its ability to influence our direction.

I've often felt the need in such discussions to bring up the flip side of those conversations – that science fiction tends to give a skewed view to science ethics, through the mechanism I'll call 'narrative bias'. Narrative bias is the tendency for stories – especially fictional ones – to focus on the problems or conflicts of a situation. Therefore, for a new technology (say, something to do with genetics) there's a tendency to have in mind all the problems science fiction stories have thrown up about that kind of technology (Gattaca, anyone?). Watch the news and you'll see how often a story leads with "it's supposed to be the stuff of science fiction, but ...". Science fiction is intertwined with how we think about science. Therefore, this narrative bias is important to how we conceive potential problems.

Romance seems, however, to get the flip side argument as default. (And this is despite the strong cultural pockets we have who are just as heavily invested in sci-fi as perhaps some other readers are in romance.) We begin with 'unrealistic expectations' not with 'does romance fiction inspire better relationships'. And I have to wonder if that same political-style cynicism is at work here. We somehow expect that all relationships will be difficult. That men will cheat. That women will change. That women are naturally somehow given to fits of unreality, especially when it comes to relationships, or, that women's thoughts on this subject are to be questioned and mocked. That the idea of a more exalted way of being with each other – that two people are truly in love with and respect each other – is some kind of unattainable pipe dream, like the interstellar travel of the future. And such challenge seems to be seen as positive for genres like science fiction, because they stretch the possible. Ask questions. Pose answers. Give us new visions of being, even if those are a long way off. But somehow, in romance, such questions and visions are to be derided, even though they challenge the most fundamental and common situation that any of us will encounter. Few of us will go into space – but many of us will have romances.

Romance, too, being narrative, writes about conflict and problems. A story (at least, in the way we understand it) doesn't exist without that element. But the part that seems to attract attention and scorn is the happily ever after ending. Somehow the idea that the characters have worked out their problems, have come to some better place, is 'unrealistic'.

Now, of course, we know that in real life, this does not always happen (nor should always happen). I've read plenty of romances with stories and endings I thought were stupid, demeaning or ridiculous. But the same can be said of any other genre's narrative too – the heroes do not always win; the world is not always saved; we are not always freed from the yoke of tyranny. I've read plenty of science fiction that's stupid, demeaning and ridiculous, too. And yet, other genres do not cop the cynicism of creating unrealistic expectations the way romance does. Other genres are allowed to be aspirational – perhaps at times silly or farfetched – but certainly lacking the negative connotations attached to a question like: Does romance fiction give women unrealistic ideas about relationships?

So let's be honest. There's a jaded energy boiling behind such a question, which speaks perhaps of frustration and hurt, of a long history of concern over what women are reading in books, and maybe even a trace of mocking romantic relationships as serious fodder for stories. And perhaps there is the nub of the issue – while science fiction tends to speak to our pragmatism (except where it taps deep fears), romance is deeply emotional, and we deal far more easily with practical problems than emotional ones.

But maybe that's also, if we are brave, why romance in fiction is important. Because it is the genre that aspires to understanding ourselves in the ways culturally we least like to – within our most vulnerable parts. Our needs, especially as women, and especially where those issues connect with sexuality and power. Easy to mock. Not the stuff of Hollywood heroics, nor the bare-faced bleakness of the worst real-life conflicts (and there's a genre for that too). But it is no less courageous, and the fact the question comes so loaded seems to suggest that romance fiction has power – enough that someone worries about what that power is doing to women.

And maybe that's the most interesting part, and worthy of questions, and more discussion.

Book 3, news, and radio silence

Dear readers - it's been busy busy these last few months as I'm working a contract job (and madly writing/editing at night!). The good news is that Book 3 has a new title (more on that soon), and I'll be at Brisbane Writers Festival next weekend - come and say hello at my Sunday panels (10am for spec fic and 11:30am for Australian romance) :-) I'm also working on another short story which I'm hoping will be available free before book 3's release next year. That's all for now!