Writing Notes

2017-01 January

In the planning stage of a novel, well before I start writing, I spend a helluva lot of time creating the main characters, usually two women. For each, I create a document that details everything about her, from the obvious, such as physical looks, to the obtuse like her hopes and dreams, what she values and what she wants out of life. Much of it I never actually use in the writing, but I begin with a very good idea of what both are like.

This process makes each character very real and clear to me. It’s important because I need to know what she’s likely to think, say and do in any given situation. She must have a credible history before she meets Whatshername – that woman she’s about to fall in love with. Her history may include family structure, ethnicity, education, career, health, relationships, stellar successes / abject failures, and especially her strengths and weaknesses.

Deciding on a name is an intriguing, instinctual exercise, feeling for the right sound that personifies the character. Also, I research the meaning of a name and use numerology to analyse its implicit energy, sometimes adjusting the spelling to suit what I want it to convey. For instance, in Milgrane, just from their names you can tell that Sabine Zaffiro is the sensuous, shapely girl with secrets. And that Taite O’Dath is the uptight, angular, no nonsense investigator. Usually, I find a photo of a celebrity or actress who approximates how they look, just so I have a mental image as well.

Do I do the same for lesser characters? Not to the same extent, but I’m particularly careful with names, given the vastness of the internet, so as not to inadvertently implicate the innocent!

2016-12 December

"The Price of Salt” has to be one of my favourite books, so when I heard it was to be made into a film, I hoped it would do justice to Patricia Highsmith’s classic, fifties romance. When I first saw “Carol” I was impressed, and remain so, overall. But for some reason, the scriptwriter watered down the main character’s personality to such an extent that it made you wonder what the ‘magnificent’ Carol Aird saw in ‘pretty’ Therese Belivet. In the film, Therese is initially given a pair of forgotten gloves as an excuse to pursue Carol; in the book, she has no reason other than an instinct that she impulsively follows, which I think makes her far more substantial.

Neither is Mrs. Aird as sweet to her young admirer in the book as she is in the film. On paper, she’s erratic, challenging and tetchy, which bewilders Therese. From a distance, the reader can see that in the toxic-to-queers fifties, the older woman is testing her courage, resilience and commitment. Suffice to say, it took tremendous strength to be gay back then, let alone manage an enduring relationship with a same-sex someone. The talented Ms. Highsmith’s life is testament to the difficulties of the time. But I suspect she would raise an eyebrow at the way her two protagonists were air-brushed and made ‘nice’ for film in the 21st century.

I remain in awe of her sparse yet fraught-with-meaning writing style, without seeking to emulate it – she was a ‘one-off.’ Take your time when reading “The Price of Salt” – read it, then read it again. Its full story is not easily discerned, but it’s worth persisting."

2016-11 November

The stories I write are mainly set in Australia because it is a country with a culture and cities I know reasonably well. I’ve lived in various locations around the world, and draw on personal experience to create a sense of place for people and action. However, I’m aware that many of my readers are international, particularly American, so I strive to bring the Australian environment alive and make the culture accessible for all readers, without compromise.

As population grows larger, the world grows smaller by virtue of the internet, social media, and telecommunications. I like to drop in characters of differing origins and non-English-speaking backgrounds who might use another language in conversation throughout the story. That mix can be disconcerting, yet it reflects an Australia that is proud of its multicultural society which developed by dint of migrants who arrived from a dazzling array of countries over at least the last hundred years.

Those who once were ‘foreigners’ are now as Aussie as they come – part of the culture and landscape, which is all the richer for their presence - I make sure to include them.

2016-10 October

I began studying astrology in my teens and it’s become a long-term interest with considerable benefits, especially for understanding my fellow travellers on spaceship Earth. While we are all pretty much the same under the skin, we show considerable differences as individuals. Astrology is a remarkable tool that allows insight into those umpteen, complex differences. Its study fosters understanding and acceptance – a ‘live and let live’ approach that we sorely need these days.

When I’m developing characters in my novels, I often turn to astrology to flesh out how they think and what they would do in certain circumstances. For each of the main protagonists, I choose a date and place of birth and cast a horoscope. For instance, the talented remote-viewer, Kreyna Katz, was born in Canberra at 5:19am on the 7th of November, 1970. I’ve been studying astrology long enough to have a very good idea of what she’s like – her personality, how she would speak and behave, her flaws and motives, and what she wants out of life. As a writer, this is absolute ‘gold’ – a mine of information that provides a very real sense of my principle heroine.

In 2013, Eleanor Catton won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction for her novel, “The Luminaries” that features twelve characters based on astrological archetypes. Other writers such as P.L. Travers, Margaret Atwood and J.K. Rowling, have also found astrology an inspiring resource.

Not a day goes past that I don’t read and learn something about astrology – I’m a constant pupil to its well of secrets in plain sight, there to draw on at will.

2016-9 September

On my back patio rests a three-seater swing that faces a stand of lemon-scented and spotted gums. These very tall, straight eucalyptus trees emerge from the clay and granite that are typical of the hills above Perth in Western Australia. I’m fortunate enough to live in a cottage in my own private ‘park.’ When I’m plotting a novel, with a coffee to hand and Irish terrier nestled at my side, I spend an awful lot of time gazing sightlessly at this scene. In spring, the gums hum with bees gathering pollen from the flowers high overhead, but it all blends into the background when I’m scribbling ideas.

Some novelists plot out their whole book, scene by scene, before they write a single line of content. Others fly by the seat of their pants, making it up as they go along. I keep just ahead of myself, sometimes going down dark alleys leading nowhere, sometimes rushing forward smoothly with the flow. But I always begin with knowing where I want to end up, where my characters will be in relation to each other. How they get there is the unknown, fun part that makes writing such a buzz – challenging and sometimes scary, but such a buzz!