Served Cold – a review

Served Cold by Alan Baxter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another exciting, and at times unsettling, read from Alan Baxter!
This collection of short stories had something for each emotion. There’s the hauntingly sad Her Grief In My halls; the unnerving The Goodbye Message; the creepy They All Come Through London In The End; and the angry, revengeful Served Cold.
My favourite stories were:
– In Vaulted Halls Entombed, where a group of soldiers encounter otherworldly evil that breaks their bodies and minds; and
– Yellowheart, where a group a group of friends go to a cabin for weekend, and ingest some ‘alternative’ mushrooms. If you’ve ever read horror, or watched any ‘cabin in the woods’ horror films, you’ll know there’s nothing good awaiting these friends on their weekend away.
I’ve read a few Alan Baxter books now, and never fails to deliver an engaging story (in this case, stories), filled with the macabre, the eerie, and the dreadful. Highly recommended!

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Lesser Known Monsters – a review

Lesser Known Monsters by Rory Michaelson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bloody hell! What a ride!
As a long time lover of horror and monster lit, it was exhilarating to see this combined with queer lit in this exciting story.
Rory Michaelson has created an interesting ‘other’ world, where monsters exist in secret alongside humans.
The veil between the our world and the alternative reality where monsters originated is beginning to fail. Oscar, along with his friends Zara and Marcus, is thrust into chaos when he is exposed to the reality of monsters by the sexy Dmitri, a monster himself.
I would hazard a guess that Michaelson had some fun writing this book, as the sense of adventure and camaraderie shines through in his writing. This is dramatic speculative queer lit, with themes of found family, overcoming fears to be our true selves, accepting others for who they are, and trusting those closest to you.
I can’t wait for the next book in this series, The Bone Gate.

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They Both Die At The End – a review

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The enjoyment I received from this book was a complete surprise!
The story is set in an alternative reality, where an early-hours phone from a mysterious organisation called Death Cast informs people they will die that day. The two main characters, Mateo and Rufus, both receive calls. They connect via an app for the soon-to-be deceased, and spend their last day together. These two young men explore their city, their minds, and their hearts, as they ride the subway and Rufus’ bike around New York.
The narrative alternates between each character, giving the reader insight into what they think of each other, what they think of themselves, and what emotions they are struggling with during their last day on earth.
All the adventures they undertake carry risks, reminding the reader of how many near misses each of us have each day. Reminding us how precious life is.
I connected with Mateo and Rufus as people, and their plight, and was emotionally invested in their story. Even though I knew the ending form the start.
This is a smart and original story from Adam Silvera. I highly recommend this book for lovers of YA queer lit, or speculative queer lit, or any queer lit!

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Surrender Your Sons – a review

Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a thoroughly enjoyable queer YA story. Sass expertly explores the ‘negative’ of being queer in society – from religious judgement and family rejection, to teen pregnancy and first love, to suicide and conversion therapy. Adam Sass uses humour and adventure to lighten the load of these heavy topics, while giving the characters room to be emotionally impacted by their shared trauma. The found family element is inspiring, and balances well with the darkness encompassing Connor and the other teens.
I really enjoyed this book, and was rooting for Connor Major from the start!

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S.P.I.D.A.R. – a review

S.P.I.D.A.R. by Bryan Alaspa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The idea behind this story had me sucked in. As a life-long arachnophobia I have a morbid curiosity for spider stories, especially horror. It’s like I can’t look away. I covered my eyes and read the book through my fingers as I squirmed – and checked the corners of the ceiling for spiders!
I enjoyed the isolated setting, the unique township, and the high population of bisexual or pan-sexual townsfolk. The ‘she likes her’ and ‘he likes her too’ side comments added a lightheartedness to the story.
Unfortunately, the amount of character backstory was too much for my liking. I felt like I spent pages and pages being told why some characters had settled in this secluded location, only for them to die a page later. Yet the main characters weren’t given much opportunity to show their growth through the adversity they experienced.
Overall, though, a very interesting concept and enjoyable read.





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Arcadia Falls – a review

Arcadia Falls by Ken Stark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a thoroughly enjoyable YA sci-fi/fantasy/thriller mash-up. The high-schoolers at the center of the story are relatable, facing the everyday struggles of all high-schoolers across the world. Except, of course, for the monsters trying to kill them!
Stephen King-esque that no-one else can see what’s happening, or even remembers those who have been taken (killed) in the past. Only this handful of teenagers, and one determined grandfather, stand between the devastation of the town and freedom form the underground creatures.
This was a fun read – full of excitement and action reminiscent of The Goonies. It also deals with the issues of loss, death and grief from a unique perspective, subtly weaving these motives into a story that spans generations.



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Castles in the air

I never liked the term new year’s resolution. It always seemed so final, so unwavering. After all, a resolution is a firm decision, a determination to do something or not do something. Either you achieve it, or you fail.

I admire people that can make a commitment at the start of the year and stick to it. Personally, I think we could do this better, in a more self-accepting and self-forgiving way, by making non-specific statements about what we would like to see happen during the year ahead. There should be flexibility to what we want to achieve. If we’ve learnt anything from 2020, it’s that none of us knows what lies ahead.

Broad statements of intent are more positive, and flexible, that resolutions. Instead of saying ‘This year I will lose 10 kilos’, I could say ‘This year I will live a healthier life’. This statement allows for adjustment to unforeseen circumstances, and gives me control over the actions I take to achieve this end. If I merely focus on losing weight, and then don’t, I’ve failed. But if I focus on living a healthier life, I could achieve this through a myriad of ways, like walking, eating healthier, thinking more positively, or even having therapy. Through these actions I’ve achieved my goal, even if I don’t lose weight.

The same approach can be used for almost any scenario. ‘This year I will fall in love’ can be rephrased as ‘This year I will appreciate the relationships I have the new ones that come into my life’. This may translate into love. Or a love different from what you expected.

So, when making plans for the year ahead, think about how you approach the goals you want to achieve. Use phrases that allow room for movement and don’t trap you into an all-or-nothing scenario.

Allow yourself to have a happy new year!

Merry Christmas & thanks for all the trauma

What a glorious time of year! Trees swathed with tinsel. Carols playing on and on and on. people rushing about buying things, giving things, getting things. Families coming together to pretend everything they really like each other.

Excuse my sarcasm.

Christmas has been a challenging time of year for me. I don’t begrudge others their Christmas cheer. I even join in sometimes to be sociable. At the end of the day, though, Christmas reminds me of the awkwardness, discomfort, abuse and downright trauma I experienced throughout my youth.

My adopted parents always did the big Christmas thing. Santa, tree, presents, enough food to feed a third-world country, and alcohol by the bucket load. They tried to make it a fun occasion for me and my siblings. And it was. Then, during the years of my developing awareness, it all turned to shit.

Those teenage years, when you become aware of your parents as people, and not just ‘mum and dad’, can be a rude awakening. I was smacked in the face with my parents’ flaws. She was a controlling manipulator. He was an abusive drunk.

The development of my own identity collided with my new understanding of my parents. I was not like them. This was a ‘duh’ moment; being adopted this was always the case. But now it was as plain as the nose on my face. I was not only not like them physically, I also did not think like them, share their values, view the world like them, or believe in their fantasies.

Christmas became a time of torture, an excruciating event to be endured. When I hit my twenties I made excuses to escape. I even moved to another city to avoid the day. The guilt I experienced (another legacy of the master manipulator) was unbearable. It wasn’t until my thirties that I began to not care, to stand up for myself, and insist I did not want to take part in Christmas.

Now, in my fifties, with one parent gone, it has all changed. Maybe for good. I have just experienced my first Christmas with no contact from my adopted family. Maybe they finally understand I am not like them. Whatever the case may be, it seems our years of pretending to give a damn about each other are over.

It’s sad, I know. Even I feel sad, when all around me are doing things with their families and having fun. But I have new families. My friends are always there for me, and they support me without forcing their own beliefs onto me.

Maybe that’s the true message of Christmas. Families are found, not born.

Cemetery Boys – a review

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas is a unique YA fantasy novel, delving into the world of Latinx trans and queer kids, alongside mystical arts.
I was enthralled with the main characters from the start: trans-teenager Yadriel, his cousin Maritza, and the spirit Julien. They were well-rounded and had clear voices throughout the story.
Although I figured out the mystery about halfway through the book, this did not take away from my enjoyment of the story. In fact, it made me more eager to see what would happen, how the characters would deal with the inevitable conflict to come, and what the final outcome would be for each of them. Kudos to Thomas, I was a little surprised by the ending.
I really enjoyed the Latinx cultural references through the story as well. It made the setting and fantasy elements real, as though this is exactly how life is played out in East L.A.
This is a story of owning one’s identity, family connectedness (whether through born-family or found-family), cultural barriers to queer acceptance, and ultimately, love.
This is a must-read in queer literature.



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A Threat From The Past – a review

A Threat From The Past by Paul Cude

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A Threat From The Past is book one in The White Dragon Saga.
Paul Cude sets the scene here, building a world in which dragons co-exist secretly with humans. Dragons influence human development and policy, guiding humankind to make better choices for themselves and the planet.
Cude uses an interesting ploy to cross between dragon and human worlds: dragons use magic to transform themselves into a humans. This allows for everyday interactions between humans and dragon-humans, such as at work and sporting clubs.
The main characters are interesting enough. Peter flounders about trying to solve a mystery but really ends up creating a mess. His best friends, Tank and Richie, are barely developed in this book. Hopefully there a deeper relationship develops between them. For now they are merely ‘friends who grew up together’.
A lot of time is spent describing the dragon sport of Laminium Ball. It all sounds rather quidditch-esque, but with dragons instead of broomsticks. Hopefully the large amount of time spent describing this game feeds into the plot at some point.
The way the dragon world is tied into history is an interesting plot twist as well. I’m looking forward to reading more in this saga, and seeing just how much Peter and his friends develop into well-rounded dragons and humans.



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#NaNoWriMo2020

I don’t need to tell you what a strange year this has been. So I won’t.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s talk WRITING!

Strange year – yes. Productive year – HELL YES!

Earlier this year, I decided to throw away the novel I had started in 2019. It just wasn’t doing it for me. I was writing it for the wrong reasons, and the story didn’t inspire me enough to have words spewing forth and pages filling with lines of descriptive prose.

Once the old work was swept out the way, I started a new novel. I originally shied away from the idea for this novel, as I though it to be too niche. It had a gay main character, and focused on some gay issues. Thus, it was a gay novel. I thought it would not be mainstream enough.

Then I asked myself – mainstream enough for what? Or whom?

If it was a good story and well written, it would find a reader. That is what’s important. Yes, making a living as a writer is important too, but I can only be a writer if I have readers.

This time I was inspired and the writing was prolific, and in October I finished the first draft, all 86,600 words.

Then came NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. While my novel sits in its folder on my computer, percolating and fermenting before edits begin, I started my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo challenge. I began writing the first novella of a five novella idea I had been developing.

By day 12, I had finished the first novella. I am now working on the second novella, and aim to have the first two completed, and the next three planned out, but the end of the month.

While writing my novel proved to me I could write extensively without a timetable or schedule, it has certainly been easier writing within the expectations of NaNoWriMo2020. Even though those expectations are self-imposed and self-policed. I write every day, and think about writing every day when not writing. I enjoy writing, and miss it when I’m not writing.

At the end of the month I will have two more pieces of work completed, and well developed writing habits to take into the new year.

I am a writer.

Manifest Recall – a review

Manifest Recall by Alan Baxter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A good page turner. I was really lost at the start, and really sucked in to the story, then all the horrible trauma started revealing itself. Eli Carver doesn’t have any redeeming characteristics, except maybe being a good shot, yet Baxter still had me feeling for him. The ghosts made for excellent additional drama.
Well worth reading. This story has me looking forward to the next novel in the series. Yep, I’m hooked.



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What doth make a writer?

It’s been a little over a year since I quite my management job, became a part-time shit kicker, and focused my attention on being a writer.

Over this past year I have been devouring resources about writing. I have completed courses on plot, characters, dialogue, structure, and planning. I have subscribed to blogs and newsletters from around the world. And you know what I discovered? Writing is a world of contradictions, and sometimes hypocrisies.

Some articles tell you the planning stage is the most important. Once you have a detailed, documented plan, preferably plugged into a writing program (‘and here’s a link to buy the program I recommend’), then you can whip out a novel in a matter of seconds. (Ok, maybe I exaggerate by saying seconds. Perhaps it was days.)

Some resources tell you the most important thing to do is write. Don’t worry about the plan – the story will come to you as you write. Don’t worry about the quality – that’s what editing is for. Don’t worry if you don’t know what you are doing – you’ll figure it out. Don’t worry if it’s no good – you’ll get better. A lot of encouragement, very little practicality.

Some bloggers tell you the most important element of writing is the main character, or the dialogue, or the setting, or the realism. Only write what you know. Don’t write from imagination alone. Research, research, research. But also, have fun! WTF?

I’ve struggled to put all this information together in a way that is easy for me to understand; that’s applicable to the way I think and work; and that actually contributes to me becoming a better writer.

Until recently, when I read an article in Writer’s Digest t – 15 things a writer should never do by Zachary Petit. Zachary managed to cut through my confusion with these 15 basic rules, from rule 1 Don’t think there is any single path or playbook writers need to follow to rule 8 Don’t ever lower your guard when it comes to the basics (referring to spelling and grammar, etc). Zachary made sense, didn’t make me feel like I was doing it the wrong way, and was practical.

Despite my confusion, I have done well, so far, in making these rules, resources, and ideas work for me. I completed the first draft of a novel, which is now fermenting for a month before I begin editing. And I’m working on a five novella series. Yes. Despite my confusion, I have actually succeeded in writing.

What I would like to see, from writers and bloggers, are resources, guidance, and support around how you go about pitching your book to agents and publishers. How did these authors get published? Have they had the same agent and publisher for all their books? How did they get an agent? If they are self-published, how have they managed the publication and promotion? How are their sales? What kinds of promotional events do they run?

It’s one thing to write a novel. It’s a completely different thing to know what to do with it when it’s written.

Swimming in the dark – a review

Swimming in the Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


From the opening sentences, I felt the sadness of this story like a weighted blanket, comforting me through the book. This book is poetry: melancholic, innocent, hard and unyielding. The main characters, Ludwik and Janusz, share a love and passion that is pure; a love that is theirs to hold and that holds them in turn. The setting, 1980s Poland, and the background of unforgiving rule and minimalist existence, make their love even more valuable.
I knew I would be heartbroken in the end, even though I had no idea where the story would take me. There was something so predetermined about their love and their lives that left nothing but the knowledge it could not last in that environment.
I highly recommend this beautifully written story, about true love, of another, and of self.



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Box Hill – a review

Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones is an engaging, hypnotizing, and surprising novel, exploring the relationship between the low self-esteemed main character, Colin, and the world in which he finds himself enmeshed from the age of 18. Colin is an everyman. He is short, fat and self-deprecating. He unexpectedly becomes involved in a six year relationship with Ray, a character who is mythical and mysterious. As Colin’s experiences with Ray develop and grow, so does his relationship with the world around him.
This book was an inspiring read. The language is evocative, honest, and captures Colin’s heart and soul. I couldn’t put it down.



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Invisible Boys – a review

Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This is a compelling read. Well written, using simple, emotional language that takes you instantly into the heads of the three main characters. A coming of age tale for gay boys. Gritty, hard, reality based stories. Highly recommended.
I found it took me longer to finish than expected, as I kept having to take breaks. The story hit my memories hard, bringing back my own experiences of being a closeted gay boy in a catholic school. Such honesty in the portrayal of what these characters go through. Great ending. Not all happy, but at least hopeful.



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The Fell of Dark – a review

The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


What a fun ride! Auggie Pfeiffer is a normal, horny, uncertain, evolving, gay teenager. He just happens to have crushes on two sexy vampires – Jude and Gunnar. Oh, and he’s being slowly possessed by a fallen Angel wanting to take over the world. Add in witches, a lesbian best friend, and loads of boners at inappropriate times, and you’ve got an exciting and angst-ridden journey through an alternative reality, where vampires, humans, and witches share the earth.
I thoroughly enjoyed this YA novel. Caleb Roehrig provides a well written and emotionally authentic journey. Well worth the read!



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Eat, Gay, Love – a review

Eat, Gay, Love by Calum McSwiggan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Calum McSwiggan spins an interesting, heartfelt, sometimes cringeworthy, tale of his travels in this compelling memoir. The locations are exotic and varied, providing a theatrical backdrop to his very personal experiences. His interactions with the people he meets brought back many fond memories of my own experiences travelling the world, sometimes on my own, and the importance of the people I met.
As Calum says, “… it’s the company you keep that makes a home feel like home.” That is what he experienced in Italy, Germany, India, Thailand, and Spain. And it is what he creates for himself in London.
Calum also manages to include references to LGBT+ culture, laws, norms and behaviours form around the world, reminding the reader that what we might have, others may not, and the fight for justice for all continues.
A touching and inspiring memoir.



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Blame vs Responsibility

Over the past couple of years, my therapist and I have been grappling with my inability to assign blame to others for the harm they have caused me. Without getting too deep, this is mainly related to my parents. What has become clear is I am able to identify and assign responsibility, but not blame.

So what’s the difference? Surely, if someone has responsibility for a certain task, and something goes wrong with that task, they then can be assigned the blame for that mishap? You’d think so, but unfortunately that’s not how my brain works.

Let’s start with looking at the definitions of responsibility and blame, from the Oxford Dictionary.

Responsibility (noun) a duty to deal with or take care of somebody/something, so that you may be blamed if something goes wrong

Blame (verb) to think or say that somebody/something is responsible for something bad

As you can see, the definitions explicitly link responsibility and blame. Why, then, do I struggle to do the same?

Well, in my convoluted mind, whilst I can hold someone responsible for something, assigning blame moves into victim territory. And I refuse to consider myself a victim.

In my therapy, this relates to my parents. I hold them responsible for the things they did or didn’t do during my upbringing, because as parents it was their responsibility to parent. But to blame them for things they did wrong, which have led to the psychological trauma I experience, abrogates my personal responsibility for my own situation and makes me a victim of their actions. I don’t like thinking of myself in this way.

To me, blame also does not always take into account mitigating circumstances in the life of the responsible person. Going back to my parents, I cannot bring myself to blame them for the mistakes they made, as perhaps their mistakes were the result of someone not taking responsibility in their lives. To blame them for something that may have been beyond their awareness or control would be cruel.

Of course, my therapist would tell me I’m just making excuses for their bad behaviour. He’s right. I’ll take the blame for that.

Odd vibrations

The world oscillates with the thrill of vibrations; they make the world a living, thriving place, full of activity and connectedness. Everything, every animate and inanimate thing, vibrates to some degree. Each rock, leaf, person and animal emits a vibration at a personal pitch. When enough vibrations of similar pitch unite, they begin to form towns and cities. These places, conglomerates of vibrational magnetism, attract others who vibrate sympathetically. These others bring with them things – furniture, photos, ideas – that vibrate in harmony with their owners’ lives. Together these people and their possessions add to the overall mass of vibrations that makes a city ‘hum’.

I lived in Sydney for many years. I was born there, originally, although did not really live there until I was in my twenties. It is a city of light and colour and action. Most days you can be mesmerised by the sun glinting off the harbour like a million diamonds. The greens of the trees and shrubs are so deep you could dive into them. The shadows are enticing in the heat of the day. Sydney hums at a particularly high pitch. It is a collection of millions upon millions of small habits and movements; each person getting out of bed; going for a run; surfing; gardening, reading the newspaper in a café. It is each drunken bachelor party in Kings Cross and each football celebration at Panthers Penrith Leagues Club. It is each New Year’s Eve fireworks display from the harbour bridge, and the myriad of yachts in the hundreds of coves, bobbing in unison to the waves slapping a ditty on their sides.

Sydney’s hum is inviting, even intoxicating, to the right people. It is tantalisingly sweet for the young, drawing them in with its heady scent of wealth and sex and distinction. Most of the people who come to Sydney vibrate in harmony with it. If not all the time, then most of the time. This allows them to find their place in the metropolis.

It draws millions of tourists from around the world to marvel at its vacuous beauty. Many visitors find it exciting and exhilarating, but their vibrations don’t match those of the city and they are happy to leave at the end of their holidays, taking memories of the thrilling time they had with them.

I did not gel with Sydney. I recognised the beauty and thrills, but my vibration jarred against the city’s. Its pitch was too high strung for me. It got under my skin and into my mind and made it difficult for me to think. For years I struggled against the tide of Sydney’s vibration as it washed over me and swept me along against my will. I tried to alter my pitch, to match that of the city, or at least harmonise with it, but without success. I took drugs daily, trying to numb the pain the city’s vibration caused me, with some success. The dope did numb the pain, but it also numbed my other senses. I found it increasingly difficult to function amongst others and became withdrawn.

Some people, some very few and talented people, can live in a place even if their vibration jars with that of their town. They learn to adapt. They can ignore the discomfort that jarring causes. Some even channel the discomfort into their being, creating art from the discord. I was not one of these people. I could not adapt my own vibration to that of the city, and I could not exist while the city rubbed itself against my brain like fingernails on a blackboard.

So, I left Sydney and returned to Melbourne, where I was raised. Melbourne had a more pleasant vibration: lower pitched, slower, deeper. The type of vibration that reverberated along your bones and tingled your nerves. The type of vibration that feels like someone is tickling your balls. It’s exciting, but on a more ethereal level than Sydney.

Yet it still was not my vibration. The difference between Sydney and Melbourne was familiarity. Having been raised here, I was used to Melbourne’s vibration. I had become inured to its hoarse rasp in my ear over the years. We did not vibrate in sync. We did not match pitch. We did not harmonise or harmoniously clash. We merely existed together, like a couple who had been married for too long and didn’t know anything different.

It’s been decades since I started manipulating my vibration to match that of others. I’ve tried to meld my particular vibration with people, places, jobs and possessions. I’ve tried to mimic the vibration of others, hoping I could sustain the act and go unnoticed, or until it felt real. As they say, fake it until you make it. I could not fake it, and did not make it.

Every relationship failed because I could not contain my vibration. I would lie in bed and feel every molecule running away from the person beside me. It was like they were sandpaper, slowly wearing away my existence. I could feel myself disappearing beneath the force of their vibration. They were in sync with their world, which gave their personal vibration a force mine did not possess. In the end, I had to leave. I always had to leave.

My saving grace, through all these trials and years, has been water. For some reason, water nullifies the effects of the vibrations. They disappear, dissipating through the water. I could be in the water with hundreds of other people, and not feel like my mind was being dragged across a cheese grater. It doesn’t matter what form the water takes – ocean, lake, river, swimming pool, or bath – as long as I can immerse myself, it provides me with relief.

I don’t know why I have this affinity with water. I find it peculiar that as a fire sign I would find water so comforting. Maybe I vibrate so intensely I burn on a molecular level and need water to cool me down. I bought a house by the ocean, to better feel relief from the agony of living in a world that is constantly trying to eject me. I can swim. Even in winter I can be near the water, not quite relieved of the torture of living in a hostile world, but close enough to know the relief is only a few months away.

It’s quite odd, the way I vibrate. I am beginning to lose hope that one day I will find someone who vibrates in sync with me. Yet if I did, what rapture our vibrations would create together!

Too many ideas! 5 ways I decide what to work on next.

There’s been many a moment during the past 5 months of this pandemic craziness where I have felt stuck, unable to write. I would go to work (thank the goddess I still had a job), come home, watch Netflix, exercise, and go to the supermarket a couple of times a week. Lots of my energy was spent cooking and eating.

At other times I have felt an overwhelming urge to let my creative juices escape the confinement of my head, as they bubble to the surface and threaten to drown me in their tempest. This, of course, has created a new dilemmas for me (and us writers are all about our internal dilemmas!).

Dilemma – with lots of ideas in my head, how do I choose what to work on?

I’ve developed a few strategies to address this common conundrum. Feel free to use them or take them as a springboard to develop your own strategies.

  1. WIP – Work(s) In Progress

This strategy is about prioritising my works in progress, and focusing my energy on the most important ones.

Currently I have two works in progress. WIP1 is a novel, of which I have written about 40% of the first draft. WIP2 is a novella idea (or potentially a series of novellas), of which I have written 0% but have started an outline.

In this strategy my novel is my top priority, and when using this strategy I remind myself of this, praise myself for what I have achieved so far, and set a short term target for what I want to achieve next (e.g. 2000 words, complete a chapter, etc).

This is the main strategy I use as I have made a commitment to myself to completing this novel within a certain timeframe.

Which brings me eloquently to strategy number two.

2. Deadlines

I am really good at writing plans, developing structures, making notes, and setting personal goals. I am really crap at following those plans and achieving those goals. I’m the type of creative with a wandering mind.

Except when there is a deadline.

This closing date for entries to a writing competition, or for submissions to a magazine. Or a deadline set by someone commissioning a piece. It doesn’t matter where the deadline comes from, as long as it is set externally, i.e. not set my me!

This approach to writing works well for me, and I have never missed a deadline. I find external restrictions help me focus my energies and channel my creativity into a finished product.

This probably also has something to do with my desire to please people and not let them down, but we’ll leave that conversation for my therapist.

3. Distraction

Ah! My favourite strategy for deciding what to write next.

This is one of the simplest strategies, whilst simultaneously being the most procrastinating. It involves writing whatever I want, regardless of what I should be doing.

This strategy ignores priorities, deadlines and expectations. Instead it’s all about instant gratification. What do I want to do right now?

This may sound negative, but distraction has it’s place. Writing a short story or poem can help explore a new style, get an idea out of my head and into a format I can work on later, or be a strengthening exercise.

Regardless of the purpose of the distraction, I still take pride in the fact I am writing. Which, after all, is the point of being a writer.

Sometimes, a good distraction is exactly what you need to get back on track.

4. Inspiration

This strategy is about harnessing creativity. It is aligned to the concept that ideas come to us from the ether. Let me give you an example.

Last week, while sitting on the train on the way to work, I looked out the carriage window and saw the empty streets and dull buildings whooshing by in the grey morning light. Everything was deserted and depressing.

Objectively I knew this was because the city was in lockdown due to COVID-19. But creatively, this scene, and my relationship to it, inspired contradicting whimsy and melancholy in me that inspired a poem.

I immediately took my notebook out of my bag (I never go anywhere without a notebook for this very reason) and started scribbling out the poem as it flowed into my head.

This is inspiration. It’s like creativity is passing through me from some external mystical source, and I am being given the opportunity to capture it and turn it into something of my own, something I have created.

For me personally, this strategy takes priority over all others. When inspiration strikes, I just really want to get something down on paper. I may not work on it again for days or weeks, or never, but in the moment it feels like the most important thing to do.

5. Learning

As a writer constantly looking to improve my skills, I regularly enrol in courses that spark interest for me. Currently I am enrolled in two online course – one focusing on dialogue and one focusing on point of view.

When working on my WIP or another piece, I may find myself feeling stuck, or questioning what I am doing or how to express myself. If the scene I am writing is related to the course I am doing, I may choose to stop writing and do a couple of modules or look back through previous modules, to clear my head and bring confidence back to my work.

All the courses I do have practical elements where you are given opportunities to complete a short writing task to practice what you are being taught. These exercises, and continued learning in general, are good ways for me to maintain focus on my writing, and keep myself motivated.

So that’s it. These are the five strategies I use to decide what to work on next. This blog post, for example, was a combination of strategies 3 & 4. Now it’s done, I can get back to my novel and finish that chapter!

Happy writing, y’all!

‘You’ve lost weight’: The unconscious judgements in compliments

I returned home from overseas in March, and entered two weeks’ isolation under the rules to contain COVID-19. This was early in the virus spread, so I was lucky enough to spend the two weeks in a holiday house near the beach.

During those two weeks, I did not leave the property. On sunny days, I could not go to the beach or walk into town. I had my groceries delivered from the local supermarket, and occasionally spoke to a neighbour over the front fence. But mostly, I was alone.

What I did, was eat – lots! I was bored and lonely and spending most of my day on Netflix. I would start off eating healthy – cereal for breakfast, and a sandwich for lunch. By dinner time I was looking for all the favourite comfort foods I had bought – schnitzels, mashed potato, chips, chocolate, and several bottles of wine. I also took a case of beer with me, left over from my last birthday, and drank one every day.

By the second week of isolation I realised something had to change. I was feeling the weight pile on. Already a larger person, this added weight was not welcome.

I started exercising.

There wasn’t a lot of variety in the exercise I could do, stuck in a house. I alternated between a high intensity interval workout in the lounge room, and jogging around the outside of the house. I even completed 20 kilometres around the house one day, (333 laps – and my legs paid for it!), but usually managed between 7-12 kilometres.

Returning to home and work, I continued my exercise routine. I also started changing my diet. I still drank wine and beer, and ate chocolate and chips, just a lot less than before. As all the cafes were closed, I made my lunches to take to work. This allowed me to focus on healthy options.

You can imagine what happened. I lost 12 kilos (so far!). I felt good. I was fitter than I had been in years. I was even hammering new holes in my belt to hold my pants up!

Then I started receiving compliments from people, both at work and in my private life, about my weight loss. For some reason, these compliments made me uncomfortable.

I realised I was interpreting ‘You’ve lost weight’ as ‘You’re not as fat as you used to be’. While this obviously was not the intended message, it was a clear message behind it. To notice I have lost weight, they must first have noticed I was fat. Not being able to say ‘You’re not fat anymore’, they use the commonly accepted phrase of ‘You’ve lost weight’.

Our culture is ingrained with the concept of ‘thin is best’. I don’t need to go into this idea – there have been countless articles, critiques, and studies done to prove this point. What I’m focusing on is the praise we give weight loss, and how this message is received.

Some people crave this positive reinforcement of the hard work they have done to achieve their weight loss goals. Some people accept these comments as the normal response to weight loss, and even give the comments out themselves. Then others, like me, find the comments offensive.

As you can see, I interpreted the message as an unconscious acknowledgement that not only did they think I was fat, they paid attention to how I looked and judged me negatively for being fat. They could now judge me positively because I was aligning to the societal belief of ‘thin is best’, and publicly declare their acceptance of my physical form.

This also implied they felt more comfortable with a thinner me, as well. I mean, who wants to be friends with a fat person?

It got me thinking about the privilege thin or average weight people have, of which they are unaware. How else to explain someone feeling they have the right to comment on my body in the workplace, or in public?

I also thought of what message these comments send to others within earshot; others who may struggle with their own body issues. Giving this praise, and accepting it, reinforces the message of ‘thin is best’. If praise is only given when someone loses weight, this can reinforce negative body beliefs for others.

At my first dinner out since restrictions eased, two friends commented on my weight loss and started asking questions about my diet and exercise. I quickly but politely shut the conversation down. I thanked them, and said I did not want to discuss this further. They both accepted my stance, hopefully without offense, and it was not raised again.

But can I do this in the workplace? In my particular workplace, it is usual for staff to discuss their weight, diet and exercise. How then to politely shut down comment on my weight, without impinging on the conversations of others? I also know some of the people I work with take offense easily. If I were to raise concerns regarding their comments about my body, this could easily lead to conflict, and eventually involve management. Both things I wish to avoid.

Should I skimp my pride and go along with the status quo, to avoid conflict? Or should I politely introduce the topic of inappropriate body comments, opening a discussion (and possible conflict) which could change the conversation positively for me and others?

Courage would dictate I take the latter course. Another benefit from the Black Lives Matter and #Me Too movements is that courage is not always easy, but is usually necessary. This issue may not be as life threatening as what BLM and #MeToo are addressing, but every step towards confronting prejudice in any form can only be good for society as a whole.

I will challenge the idea that my body is an open topic of conversation for others, and hope this brings about positive change. In the meantime, feel free to talk about my self-inflicted, isolation haircut. Now that is a topic worth discussing!

Since I became a writer …

It’s been a year since I resigned from my job as a manager and moved to a part-time, low-paying role within my organisation, all so I could focus on becoming the writer I always wanted to be.

In the past year I have started two novels, written and rewritten over thirty short stories, created more than 20 poems, completed a couple of essays, and composed a plethora of flash fiction.

I have entered hundreds of writing competitions – from flash fiction to novel development – and only won once. I have submitted poems and short stories for publication, and not had a single acceptance.

Does this mean I’m a poor writer? Or that I just have nothing worthy to say?

The most success I’ve had with my writing has been through this blog, and Twitter. The responses I’ve had go someway to disproving both the questions above. On reflection, though, there is an element of truth there also.

I believe I am becoming a better writer as time goes on. I am learning from courses I have undertaken, from following other writers’ blogs, and reflecting on the feedback I get from some of my submissions. This would indicate that although I may not be a poor writer, I definitely had (and continue to have) room for improvement. The more I write, the better writer I am becoming.

I am also finding my voice. As soon as I resigned from my manager job I started working on a novel, the idea for which I carried around for a decade. I was surprised when I found it difficult to focus on writing this novel. I mean, I’d thought about writing this story for ten years! Why was it so hard to do? I thought the problem was just me adapting to a writing lifestyle. Then it dawned on me – I’m just not that into the story.

I was writing something that I thought other people would want to read, not something I wanted to write. I was approaching my writing from a sales perspective: this book has the potential to appeal to anyone from a teenager to a grandmother, therefore it has the potential to sell and be popular. This was true when I started writing the novel, and is true now. But it was not enough to inspire me and keep me engaged with actually writing the story.

I have since put this novel aside and started a new one. This new novel engages me at a personal level where writing is a pleasure, and words pour out of me with little effort. The story entertains me as I write it (I even laugh out loud at what my characters say!), and I think about it all the time.

This is what writing is meant to be.

I may not be having much success with all my submissions and competitions, and I may still be struggling to cement my voice and ideas into writing that is compelling for publishers and readers. But I am writing. And creating things no-one else has created.

This is what I have achieved in the past year. It gives me hope for what I will be able to achieve in the year ahead!