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love books

Top 5 Stupid Reasons to look down your nose at Romance

I spent the weekend at the Romance Writers of New Zealand annual conference. And I’ve said so, head held high, to every school parent and friend who has asked how my weekend was.


This is an incredible group of writers, from beginners struggling to put the final chapters of their first novel on paper, to the multi-million-copies-sold bona fide royalty of the genre. Everyone was so welcoming and encouraging, hard-working and genuine and generous. I had a blast! And I learned so much. I’ve come away inspired and rip-roaring ready to rework a couple of old manuscripts that aren’t yet gleaming and resplendent.

So, I had a wonderful weekend. And people ask, ‘what did you get up to?’ so I tell them.

I’m sorry to say their responses have been a little hit-and-miss.

It won’t be news to anyone that Romance is a genre often disparaged, and people will give a couple of ‘good reasons’ for that. For instance…

1. Well it’s not Dickens, is it.

Alternatives include mentions of ‘trash’ and vague allusions to the quality of the writing and the depth of the story.

Here’s the thing, Dickens was the popular fiction of his day. Shakespeare was enjoyed by the illiterate as well as the intellectuals. Hundreds of years later we dub them classics but in their day they were accessible to everyone. They were cheap and common—and brilliant.

challinorYou can’t argue with the figures: romance is certainly POPULAR fiction. As to its quality, well, it varies. As in any genre, there is trash out there, sure, but there is treasure too. Rich, rewarding, well-written treasure. I’m reading The Silk Thief by Deborah Challinor and she’s a genius (and a New Zealand author).

gabaldonPerhaps you’ve come across Outlander? Diana Gabaldon has answered the elitists numerous times and done it better than I can (what with the multi-million dollar book and TV behemoth to back her up) but the quality of the story-telling in these books, and in NUMEROUS others, is right up there. It’s not just romance, I hear you say. No, it’s a melange of many genres—but romance is one of them.

2. It’s chick-porn.

The word ‘chick’. Ick. We are not baby birds.

But that’s not the worst of it. One of the main reasons that Romance is so derided throughout the literary world (and the non-literary world) is the dominance of women in the industry. Women read romance, they write it, they edit it and sell it. Women are making the big bucks and have huge influence through their stories. Of course there are men writing and reading romance but look at the marketing of Romance novels. It’s shockingly pink. It’s not subtle. That’s how marketing works.

Genres that primarily target men NEVER suffer from this belittling. There are rubbish books in all genres, but only in Romance do people assume the writing is rubbish, the story predictable. What is it that makes it perfectly acceptable, rarely even questioned, when you’re looking down your nose at a Romance novel. Is it because the main character is a woman, the writer is a woman, and probably the editor too? Because it is about women’s experience?


Not good enough.

Now, about the porn. The porn industry uses, abuses, and destroys women, in their fictions and too often in real life. Meanwhile, the Romance industry gives top priority to a woman’s needs, her pleasure, and her very self. Women are shown to be whole and complex human beings, not THINGS to be used. Once upon a time, sure, romance novels featured weak heroines in need of saving, but not any more. The heroines in your average Romance novel these days are the masters of their own fates. They save the day, and more often than not, save the hero.

Of course, many Romance novels include sex scenes. Not all, but often they do. Yeah. So do many thrillers. And literary fiction’s never shied from the subject. Erotica is a genre of it’s own if you want to get down to technicalities. If you take issue with any book featuring sex then hey, that’s up to you, but it’s hardly limited to Romance.

3. It’s formulaic.

I once agreed with this. I thought, ‘oh it’d be so easy to write a romance novel,’ and I was so very wrong. I’m not going to to get down and dirty with semantics; there is a formula, but it’s one you’ll find across the board. It’s a pattern almost universal in fiction, whether in novels, film, television, comics, or plays.

The formula is this:

  1. Create a character: someone interesting, who readers will empathise with, and who wants something.
  2. Depict a world in which that character operates—and has good reason for not going after the thing they want, until…
  3. Incite an event which kicks them into action—now they’re going after the thing they want. And unknowingly, they’re going after the thing they really need. But this is all seamlessly woven in.
  4. Concoct a whole lot of problems and obstacles: be careful here, make sure these are believable and logical in the world, and for the character(s), or else the whole thing will feel contrived.
  5. Show how the character responds to those problems, gets stronger and wiser… to the point when they lose everything and must face their darkest hour, their true need, their true self. Make the reader think there’s no hope, no way out. All is lost.
  6. And finally, surprise us when the character achieves what they want and what they need (happy ending) or getting what they need but not what they want (bittersweet ending) or neither (tragedy).

In many ways, a good romance is more difficult to write than many other genres because you have to intertwine the journeys of two characters. To do it well and convincingly is HARD.

What makes romance different: some kind of happy ending is guaranteed.

Oh, wait, that’s true of the vast majority of mysteries, legal dramas, thrillers, comics… hm.

As an aside, Romance writers often cross genres. Over the weekend I met people writing paranormal romance, romantic thrillers, horror, sci-fi, urban fantasy, historical, and every combination of the above. The genre is in fact incredibly diverse.

4. It’s so commercial.

They’re in it for the money. They’re sell-outs. Pen-monkey whores.

Heaven forbid an artist should have food on the table and a non-leaky roof overhead.

But it’s true, Romance does pay. Between Romance Novels and Adult colouring books, the publishing industry is keeping its head above water.


You don’t have to like them or read them, just as I don’t have to pick up a supernatural thriller or a paranormal horror. There’s no harm in liking different types of books. That’s not the issue here.

Read what you like. But don’t hate on Romance.

In fact, the revenue the Romance genre pulls in is keeping the publishers above water. And these are the same publishers putting out the books you do read.

So, shut up and be grateful.

5. They’re easy reads.

Romance is easy to read. It’s true. These books are great fun and no doubt about it.

HOW and WHY is this an insult? Seriously! And yet, by the tone, the look, the something, I KNOW it’s meant as an insult. And I can only assume this is said by someone who doesn’t actually ENJOY reading.


I like reading. I read because it’s fun. You don’t have to read. You’re not obliged. But many do like it.

I also like watching TV. Some days I feel like Gilmore Girls,  other days Breaking Bad. Some days I want The West Wing, others I’m all about Will and Grace.


I loved The Goldfinch and The Luminaries, but why should that limit my enjoyment of this GENIUS Deborah Challinor book. The next title on my to-be-read-list is Letters to Love by Soraya Lane (another New Zealand writer) and the last thing I read was Sheltering Rain by Jojo Moyes.

You may call them ‘easy reads’ or ‘beach books’, but I’m confused… is reading meant to be hard? Unpleasant? A chore? Am I supposed to get to the end of the book and feel relieved that it’s over and I can put the book proudly on living room shelf and impress the neighbours. I can say I’ve read it, yes, cover to cover, and it was fascinating, really challenging and so artfully complex…

Bring on the fascinating. The challenging. The artfully complex. But a book can be all those things and enjoyable. If that sounds silly, you’re doing it wrong. A book can be deep, psychologically fraught, and still a page-turner. In fact, it probably has to be.

I don’t want to tick off books like I do errands. I want to get to the end and be gutted there isn’t more.

I want a book to make me anti-social.

Make me want to neglect my kids.

Make me think.

Make me laugh.

Make me wallow and then make me WOW.


I know, I expect a lot. But there are A LOT of good books out there. And a lot of them have love stories in them. And many of those are Romances.

So the next time someone puts on that tone, or makes that face, or says that stupid thing… I’ll probably be polite and laugh it off and pretend they’re not belittling what I’ve been working toward for five years now, because I’m a nice person.

But don’t be one of those people.

This article is also featured on the NZ Society of Authors Canterbury website.

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On being a great loser

For starters, never begin a game of Risk. No good can come of it. Fun, fun, fun, rising blood pressure, glee, despair, fury, philosophical levels of doubt about your value and place in the universe because if you were worth anything you’d surely roll something above a two!

I’ve never been great at losing. Some people are cool, calm, untouchable. Not me. When it’s board games, I’m getting better. Sometimes I still want to cry. I remember, one time, my husband and I once spent two days straight playing chess and late on the second day I won a game. I might have won two, total. It was long ago, before we had kids, and there was this great vibe about it: I’d decided I was allowed to lose, to begin with, at least, because I’d never really played before. This was learning to play chess and we kept playing until I had a fighting chance.

Losing without a fighting chance is the losing that sucks. So Risk is out because it’s a little tact and a lot of luck. Games that are a lot of luck drive me crazy. It doesn’t help that my husband is insanely lucky. No lottery winnings as yet but seriously, if a game is luck-reliant, he’s in. Lucky Luuk, we call him.

Okay, it’s just me who calls him that.

I’m much better than I used to be at losing at board games, anyway. The trick is playing lots and losing lots, I suppose. And winning often enough to not feel totally useless helps.

But boardgames are the baby pool, aren’t they. Stakes are low. Hours of your life (more or less) wasted unless you CONQUER, but no real stakes. No money, career, livelihood, DREAM on the line.

On the other hand, when I’m talking about my writing… ouch.

I have been sending out a heap of writing submissions: query letters to lit agents, to publishers, manuscripts, partials, short stories and flash fiction, poetry too, for competitions and journals. I’ve been doing this for years now, actually, and most of that time it was silence or rejection. Polite, impersonal form rejection.

But every now and then I’d get feedback. Notes on my work, not general niceties, but constructive criticism. It was a good sign. My work was worth the time and energy of saying something about it: that something being the reason it wasn’t right for whatever I’d submitted it for.

A step in the right direction, however painful.

I figured out that I wanted to get those notes before sending it out to be rejected. I needed criticism during the writing process, or rather, during the rewriting process (but that is part of the writing process, really.)

I had this AMAZING writer’s group in Paris. They gave brilliant notes. They didn’t hold back and yet none of it was cruel. It wasn’t me and my work versus the critique group; it was me and the critique group versus my work. It wasn’t personal, though my writing often was and is.

I lap up criticism. But once upon a time, it was personal, even if it came from a lovely, warm, collaborative place. I didn’t know how to separate myself and my worth, from the work and its worth.

I don’t lap up rejection, of course not, but I’m pretty good at taking the hit and getting up and getting on with more submissions or more rewrites or something else entirely.

But once upon a time it was THE END OF THE WORLD. My one almost-novel wasn’t good enough (and, in truth, it was not, and thank you lucky stars it didn’t go anywhere because embarrassing) and therefore I was not good enough. Rejecting that one manuscript was rejecting my entire body of work.

No one gets to do that anymore. No one sees my entire body of work. It’s more than a million words now and oy vey, right? That’s a lot of words.

When I get a rejection now, it’s one of MANY, rejecting one of MANY stories, poems, novels… Compared to that baby writer, a decade ago, a rejection now is a blip on the radar. It hurts, but it doesn’t take me out. I still write that day. I don’t chuck the lot. I don’t even chuck that story.


I’m sure different people have different processes and experiences, but for me it’s like learning patience: the only way to do it is to wait. For ages. It sucks. But you can’t learn to be patient without being impatient for, oh, hours.

Learning how to take rejection is the same: take lots of it, one way or the other, and you’ll get better. Which, I know, and I’m sorry, is NOT what anyone wants to hear, unless they’re well into years of getting rejection, and there’s the hope that it’ll start to pay off.

And one day, it won’t be rejection. It’ll be constructive criticism.

And then it might well be a few more rejections. Or years.

And one day it will be a yes.

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I’m a big girl now

Pull-ups, wow!

Just me? There was an ad, back in the day. Catchy tune. I’m singing it in my head.

Fine, out loud.

Oh look, there it is:

so that’s a tangent for a start. Gosh.

What was I going to say?

Right – I had a birthday. I’m now THIRTY-ONE.

To my ears, thirty is such a nice round number and when kids ask my age (they do… regularly. High schoolers try to wheedle it out, doing the math… so I just tell them) I say thirty without hesitation. Thirty-one, though, sounds like too much information. An over-share. Like, seriously, I didn’t need your whole life story.

Just me?

Maybe I should title this post ‘Just me?’

So, I’m another year older. Blah blah. My birthday present was going to see Dawn French a month ago. She was brilliant (of course) but that meant not much $$ left for celebrating on my actual birthday.

Two days before my actual birthday, Luuk and I went to a thing put on by the theatre program at Hagley – where I take an evening class. The school of cuisine fed us four courses between scenes. It was a whole do, and great fun, but not strictly birthday fun.

Mum and Dad, the legends they are, were determined to have a meal on my actual birthday, so we had teppanyaki. Delicious and a dinner with a show too because FIRE! Veritable pyrotechnics.

And… exciting news! I got a video camera. So… vlogs coming your way soon. And movies. And we’ll see about that web series I’ve been writing.

Now that I’m THIRTY-ONE, I suppose I am a grown-up. I’m writing this in PJs, naturally. But something very grown-up happened a week ago: I was elected CHAIR of the Canterbury branch of The New Zealand Society of Authors.

I’m a chair.


Yep. I came home and said to Luuk, “You’re married to a chair.”

Not very grown up, after all, perhaps.

In fact, so long as I use the words ‘grown up’, I’m giving myself away, aren’t I?

What does being CHAIR mean? Well, not just running the meetings but that is a big part of it, and I’ve no qualms about running a room, putting on my teacher voice so everything sits down and gets on with it. Back to the agenda folks. Lovely tangent but save it…

So I’m all set for that bit of it. I am aware I don’t know the ins-and-outs of NZ publishing and I don’t know all the names. But I have the gumption to ask. Cold call or cold email (more likely) the top dogs and queen writer-bees of this fine land, asking for favours, tips, tricks…

Unfortunately, I had to take the kids along to the first meeting I chaired; it being school hols. And my lovely Mum being sequestered to do actual paid work… so no sitter. But the kids were pretty good with their lunch boxes and colouring books.

And after the meeting,  we got to see Ray‘s Harley!

harley baby

The kids were so scared by the NOISE that they didn’t want to sit on the back for a photo. So I gave Louis the camera and he took this.

One day, I want an actual ride. This’d be some step up from the farm bikes I’ve been on in the past.

So, ’tis school holidays. Which means no breather for me. Not much writing. Low expectations of productivity. The bare minimum I need to do in the next ten days is…

  • three submissions – a short story competition, a poetry thing, and two flash fiction pieces…
  • write a poem a day because NaPoWriMo is on and so far I’ve managed, and it’s too late to give up now.

How??? In short: we are doing a kind of Playground Tour of Christchurch, basically.

margaret mahy playground

The Margaret Mahy one in the city is brilliant, of course, but ends in soaked kids (and one day I’ll learn to pack a change of clothes…).

playground writing

This one at West Spreydon School is freakin’ awesome. Enormous ropes and screeds of massive tyres, a proper wooden fort and lots of slides. The kids love it so we’ll go back there.

The Cashmere Playground is, as always, excellent. We go there regularly so it’s not so special-occasion-y but close. And close to a decent coffee shop.

Win and win.

While the weather is good, we’re good.

I don’t get much done, just a few poems, a few minutes of nothing but my own thoughts for company, and when I run out of words, I can read.

I’m trying to get on top of one cleaning/tidying job each day. We did the kids’ art one afternoon. Another, I traded out my (design flawed) bedside table for a small bookshelf and tidied my side of the bed. Another day we cleared the lounge and – wait for it – vacuumed! I know. Miracle. Call me Domestic Goddess and be done with it.

Elena is, this moment, drawing me with a crown on.

We are going to make a movie today, so they’re drawing up plans. Yay for happy, busy kids.


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This is how I roll (off my rocker)

Tags :

Category : Daily Life

on getting a wedgie straddling the fence between doing too much and missing out on cool stuff…


This week got a bit mad. The calendar assures me it is only Wednesday but I do not actually believe it.

Sunday afternoon, my lovely Mum and Dad offered to take the kids for a few hours and dropped them off around tea time, so Luuk cooked enough chips and sausages for everyone. While the kids were in the bath, we put our feet up in the lounge with a glass of port, and marveled at the madness that is American elections… and heard a dripping.

It wasn’t the kids.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t our flat at all.

Upstairs was leaking.

And it continued to leak until a locksmith let us in so we could turn off the tap and mop up the worst of the mess. Oy vey.

Downstairs at our place, the lights were flickering, so the electricity mains had to go off. The kids were asleep, totally unaware – and blissfully dry because the leak was all in the other end of the flat. Our room was also un-dripped-on. Whew. So we went to bed.

Monday began with the kids SUPER excited because OH MY GOSH THE LIGHTS DON’T WORK. Luuk worked from home for the day so he could be there for any visitors of the fix-the-wet-walls variety. I managed to get the NZSA newsletter drafted, checked, and sent off – small miracle. Mum came over with a maHOOSIVE load of laundry – washed and dried! – because the leak had gone through half the linen cupboard before we noticed…

I wrote a few poems – because it’s National Poetry Writing Month and a poem is a nice bite-sized piece of writing so I felt up-to-it.


Monday night I had my theatre studies class – which is going so well. Love it. Came home so energised, I did a whole ER episode-worth of exercycling.

Tuesday, I had my usual write-in (all welcome, by the way) at the South Library, all morning. I FINISHED a rewrite but it’s had so many rewrites now, I find it hard to celebrate finishing one. I find it hard to believe it’ll be the last one.

I was relief teaching in the afternoon. Sports studies.

Oy, quiet in the cheep seats. I was excellent.

Mum picked up the kids and hung out all afternoon – and all evening because I wanted to go to a poetry open mic and Luuk had a meeting. Bit hectic… well, yeah, but totally worth it. Somehow, I’ve been back in Christchurch for a year, poking my antennae every which way, looking for writing communities, and I missed Catalyst. They meet once a month at The Twisted Hop and remind me so much of the crazy crowd at Spoken Word Paris. I loved it. I read two poems. They sang to me! They sing to all the first-timers. There was also a sing-along of David Bowie songs to kick things off… because why not? All in all, a great evening.

Again, I came home, pumped and ready to cycle my way through a thrilling 40 minutes of ER, but I flaked out half way through. Had a second helping of dinner, and wine.

Today was the real clincher: I hiked down the hill to a doctors appointment, then hiked on from there and met a friend to go op-shopping. MaHOOSIVE haul of gorgeous goodies… and then quick! Off to lunch-meeting with a couple of NZSA folk, and then quick! Off home to pack a picnic afternoon tea, and collect the kids and race off to a catch-up with an old friend.

Damn! Forgot my phone. Quick! Dash home, up the stairs, find the phone, and the rest of afternoon tea, and lock the wide-open balcony door (oops), and trot back down to the car carrying too many things…

Now, you have to understand, our driveway is particularly steep. I mean, check-out-my-thighs steep. So I’m getting in the driver’s side door, trying to keep from smashing the bananas in my left hand or the phone in my right… and the door falls shut ON MY HEAD.

I was SO close to tears. Damn, it hurt. Caught the top of my ear. This is how those cauliflower ears the rugby players have begin. One good smack… and no ice.

While I’m breathing deep and ignoring the kids’ “Mummy, why aren’t we driving?”, my phone buzzes. So I check in with the friend I’m meeting, just to make sure she got my last message about when/where… and she’s sick. She can’t make it.

Afternoon tea is already packed. Coffee in a flask and everything. I’ve told the kids we’re going to a playground.

So we go anyway. To a closer playground.

They play, eat, play, hide (and freak me out because it’s every parent’s nightmare, losing a kid…) basically it’s a lovely afternoon. I realise I’ve double-booked myself for tomorrow, so I make a call and fix that. I realise I missed an important phone call earlier, and send a few texts, make a time, get it sorted…

I drink all the coffee even though I brought enough for two.

And then we go home.

Tomorrow, I’m relieving half a day, I have a meeting after that, then a gap before picking up the kids, then in the evening I’m going to the dress rehearsal for ‘Matthew, Mark, Luke and Joanne’ at The Court Theatre.

Friday, a flu jab and a play date.

Saturday a poetry writing class and in the evening a dinner-and-show thing the Hagley Theatre Company and Cuisine School are putting on.

It’s a rip-roaring week full of mostly good things (flu jabs and bruised cartilage aside)… but it might be too much.

I sat out on the balcony this evening, after I’d served up the kids’ dinner but before I was ready to eat, before Luuk had left work… I took my glass of wine out into the dusk, pulled up my socks against the cold, and watched the sky all pinky over the mountains. It wasn’t  silent: the wind and the trees, cars, neighbours, distant horns and sirens… but it was so peaceful.


I guess, those are the moments that make the madness manageable.

The occasional early night might help too.

Thing is… what I really want to do right now is pop in an episode of ER and sort out my wardrobe.

where would Corday go?


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Category : Art , Education

The gorgeous book was gorgeously launched! The Laboratory, Lincoln’s very own brew bar, was packed to the rafters with writerly types. Good beer, good poetry, and lots of “I can’t believe how many people are here! I thought no one liked poetry!”

The place was buzzing. A real party. With TWO mayors. (A week later, I can only remember the name one of them.)

christchurch mayor at the launch

There she is, the lovely Lianne Dalziel. She said poets can say things mayors aren’t allowed to. I like her.

So the book is ‘Leaving the Red Zone’. The editors are Jo Preston and Jim Norcliffe, veritable pillars of the writing community in these parts. I’d met Jim before but Jo was new, and a total dream of an M.C. – tearing up with all the feels one moment, making dirty jokes the next. I think we might one day be best friends, basically.

There are 148 poems in this baby, from 87 different poets, and I knew that before I got to the bar. I’d had a pretty lousy day, to be honest. It started horribly early – but on theme, if nothing else – with a couple of earthquakes. And then, from dawn to dusk, I was plagued with all those awful things our brains tell us on pivotal days.


  • I bet they took every poem. I’m not special.
  • I’m in it, therefore the standard can’t be very high.
  • I’m not a poet. I’m a novelist.
  • It’ll be a rubbish self-pub-looking pamphlet

And then I got to The Laboratory, bought a pint, found a friend, and man alive! The place was packed out. The book is gorgeous. Seriously, it’s just a nice-looking, nice-feeling book. And enormous – no pamplet. And it turns out, the editors received 10 times as many submissions as they put in the book.

me and the book

One highlight: the honorary mention of the one poem that they wanted to, but didn’t dare, publish: something about Gerry Brownlee that might have been actionable. I still wonder why that poem wasn’t read at the launch. That’d be covered by freedom of speech. Sure. Come on. Inquiring minds want to know. (Inquiring minds are never fond of Brownlee, after all.)


There it is, the first two stanzas of my baby. It’s official: I’m published.

What’s weirder is that I’m a poet.

So here’s the ugly truth: I’m kind of disappointed that for all the hours and hours, all the dollars and euros and pounds, all the tears and sleepless nights and long blocked-but-writing-anyway days, I’ve spent on my novels, it’s a poem I wrote on a train, en route to a writer’s group, and then reworked eighteen months later and submitted because why-the-hell-not? that finds an audience.

But it’s a start. A step in the right direction. And it’s a cool poem. Something to be proud of, regardless of its size.

I’ve been writing more poetry. Next stop, submissions. I’m not giving up on the novels, no way, they’ll get there. But there’s more than one way to do this thang. I guess this is the way I’m doing it.

And while I’m at it, I’m taking two online film courses: one on screenwriting and one on the whole film making process and all the dirty dirty logistics. Money. Time. Heaps of equipment I DO NOT KNOW HOW TO USE. OR WHAT IT’S FOR.

Meanwhile, at my theatre studies class, we’re acting. Yikes. Trying new things. Scary. Actually, the hard thing is doing this stuff without getting scared about looking like a fool. Embrace the looking-like-a-fool. And never rehearse in front of a mirror. Advice straight from Kate Winslett, right there. (Via bafta guru, a website which will make you feel so tiny and insignificant, or perhaps inspire you. Maybe.)

I feel like this post has wandered, so I’m going to grab a coffee and then do-over another poem.

leaving the red zone

‘Leaving the Red Zone’ is available at Scorpio Books or by order from Clerestory Press – clerestory@xtra.co.nz

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an ordinary week (with a few sprinkles)

I am such a routine fiend. I love having a plan and (mostly) sticking to it. Just love it. Lap it up. I get SO MUCH DONE when my days basically go the same, one after another, for four or five days in a row.

Which supposedly looks something like this:


Morning pages, breakfast, make kids’ lunches, bribe them to dress and eat and put on shoes. Walk Louis to school, Elena to kindy, and then walk home (via The Sign of the Takahe, for a bit of a sweaty but healthy start… if I’m feeling up to it.)

walking home from kindy drop-off

Walking home from kindy drop-off, in the lovely morning sun, with the shiny ocean view.

Next: writing-prompt writing and maybe a poem draft… then emails and social media. And then REAL writing, which at the moment is editing an old manuscript.

editing a manuscript

Lunch, and more writing/rewriting/editing. If I’m on a roll, I’ll run off to kindy pick-up at the last moment. If I didn’t walk after drop-off then this is my other opportunity to leg-it up to Sign of the Takahe and trek down for a work-out-ish-thing before picking up Elena. Then we grab loopy Lou from school and… and then do whatever. If it’s sunny, we often go to the school pool.

Monday night I have my practical theatre studies course so early tea for me and the kids. Luuk has to come home a bit earlier than usual so I can handover the kids. After theatre studies I do the groceries, then head home. The kids are in bed and the newest episode of Madame Secretary is waiting for us.



The morning runs the same: writing, food, kids, walk, writing, web stuff, writing, food, writing, walk, kids…

Once a month there’s the Committee meeting for the NZSA Canterbury branch. I often go early to the library where the meeting is held. I almost always forget to return the library books. gr.



Ditto the morning.

Ditto the avo.

walking to school

Walking home from school and kindy.

Basketball in the evening, at 6:30 or 7:15 or 8pm… and after yesterday’s game I’m NEVER AGAIN eating dinner beforehand. So Wednesday afternoons will from now on include a mammoth afternoon tea. And preparation of reheatable dinner.



Ditto the morning.

Ditto the avo.

Plus this is play-date day.



Ditto the morning.

Ditto the avo.

Luuk sometimes comes home earlier on Fridays… but not so much if he has to come home early for me to dash off to my class/basketball.


‘Tis the plan. It all goes out the window of course if I get called in to relief teach. But money… so, no complaints. Plus, I love being in the classroom. And I can usually still jam in a bit of writing at lunch time, or while the kids veg in front of a screen, or while dinner’s cooking…

more editing

Editing. And more editing.


This week is the first week of theatre studies and basketball, so they feel like special glittery things, but on top of that, I’m going to a parenting seminar… which is basically a girls night out because I’m such an old lady. My lovely friend Kirsty got an extra ticket, and I’m not going to pretend I’m an expert in parenting, so sure, I’ll go along.

Also, sprinkles this morning: I took a tour around Ngaio Marsh’s house. We’re planning a writing workshop – make a note in your diaries, for 19th March – and we’re going to have it there. Such a lovely spot!

A portrait of Ngaio Marsh

A portrait of the lady herself, on display in the Long Room.

Ngaio Marsh's writing chair

Ngaio Marsh’s writing chair. She also wrote in green ink, the guide informs me.

ngaio marsh, self portrait

A photograph of her, and a self-portrait. She loved all things theatre.

So much lovely art! The workshop will be INSPIRING and not only because the brilliant Zana Bell is facilitating, sharing her wisdom on ‘World Building’. Seriously, pencil it in. 19 March, from 9-3. Discounted rate for NZSA members.

Tomorrow’s glittery thing is the New Families BBQ up at school, by the pool… so weather, please cooperate.

And on Sunday, for a bit of something else entirely, I’m playing Clarinet at church. I hardly ever play at all so… yay!

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bit of a break

Category : Art

I haven’t taken a proper break from writing since… I started. I mean, I’ve moved countries and had babies, but actually in both cases kept at it, pretty much, as best I could. This summer I took an actual three week break from my novel manuscripts.

I made mosaics.

mosaic lady

I did a bit of gardening – very unlike me.

I read a stack of books – less unlike me.

Okay, I did write, but I played with a bit of poetry instead of my usual long-form-prose. I got Stephen Fry’s book, ‘The Ode Less Traveled’, for Christmas. I’m learning all about the different rhythms and metres and rhyme schemes, and there are writing exercises, and I’ve been having a ball. I know, I’m such a nerd.

But here’s today’s sampling – a little bit nerd and a little bit democracy in action… an attempt at RHYME ROYAL (that is iambic pentameter with a rhyme scheme of ABABBCC… for those of you who are interested… all three of you.)


Let’s see some RIGHT and HONOURABLE

Just days before Waitangi Day they sign
away our sovereignty to join the club
Don’t get me wrong, we make a nice white wine,
but in the scheme of things we’re just a bub
to be proud of and protect, aye there’s the rub.
They’ll homogenise the world to make a buck.
I’m worried my P.M. don’t give a duck.

Now there’s a thought – diversify! Farm ducks,
milk sheep and goats, make cheese unpasteurised.
Stop doing what they want – make your own luck.
Trust teachers, feed original young minds,
make good art, save the world, don’t super-size,
don’t strip mall, strip club, strip away bizarre
till all that’s left is cheap and bulk, banal.

Please check your job description, Mr Key,
the people are your first priority.


Okay, so the rhyme got a little less-than perfect in the second verse, but I was on a roll. It’s probably too fresh to publish, but I’m standing by it.

It is OF THE MOMENT, if nothing else.

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that doesn’t seem right

I’ve been aware lately of a few wonderful paradoxes, and I thought I’d share them here because it’s been a while. I’ve been doing nanowrimo (writing. A lot. That is all.) and now that’s done, so I’m back in the world of the living, just in time to put up the Christmas decorations.

Leo says,

What’s a paradox? some might ask. A seeming contradiction. Two things that don’t go together, but SO DO.

For instance: happily listening to an Adele song.

Now, that’s a bit mean. There is a happy song on her new album. The last track. I know this because I went out and bought it (so strange for me) and I’ve been listening to it on loop, obsessively (less strange). And very happily. So there you have it.

adele is awesome
Another example of paradox: you want something done, ask a busy person.

So you get it. Paradoxes everywhere actually. The one I’m most aware of at the moment is less pithy. It’s about being certain of uncertainty, about being happy but not entirely content. I’ve been looking for part time teaching work and, at the same time, looking at my writing – my nine complete manuscripts, a couple of which are pretty close to being finished, so far as I can tell – and where to take it next, how to publish and publish well.

writing and tea

In both cases, there are things I can do to improve my chances and then there’s just a tonne of stuff beyond my control. I’m impatient to be in the classroom again, and I’m impatient to be published, but at the same time, I’m loving writing, and I know what I need to be working on, and I’ve enjoyed relief teaching much more than I expected. In some ways relief is a good fit with writing. And if I do suddenly get a big break and have to do a world book tour, I won’t have to take time off and mess anyone around…

But seriously, that’s only slightly less likely than finding a teaching job in Christchurch.

Maybe. Hard to say for sure.

Louis started school a couple of weeks ago and he’s so happy there. Elena’s still loving kindy and they’re both becoming more independent.

starting school

They’re happy, healthy, adorable, and relatively low-maintenance kids. I’m not dreading the summer holidays the way I was dreading school hols earlier in the year. I’ll still be able to write and find some time by myself.

happy kids boating

What I’m saying is, life is good – it’s great. But I’m still wanting more, wanting things to change.

Here’s another paradox for you: holidays. Is it just me who’s always tired at the end of them? I really am so much better at work, in my routine. I can write in a quiet house, by myself, for hours and at the end feel energised and rested.


Maybe I’m weird.

Okay, definitely.

Here’s another one: if you want to do something really well, you have to make it a priority, focus… get going toward those 10k hours we supposedly need to put in if we want to be brilliant at a thing. Any thing. But, that said, if you reduce yourself to one thing, one defining interest, especially in the arts, then you can’t do it in a way that’s relevant to the world around you. I recently started playing basketball. Now, I’m no sportswoman. I mean, I have zero interest in sport-watching, and it’s fun to play, but I’m not very committed to winning. I won’t push myself so hard that I get injured or asthmatic. If I’m stuffed, I sub-off. If someone shoves me, I back-off. But I’ve been LOVING basketball. I did not see that coming. Now, if I’m not open to trying new things, then I’ll quickly run out of things to write about. If I limit my characters to my experiences and interests and point-of-view then my stories will be so narrow.

Plus, life is more fun if you try new things.

such fun

And the next one isn’t so much a paradox, as just an unfortunate truth that I’m grappling with: you can’t do everything. You have to choose what matters and what matters less and what doesn’t matter. But there are too many wonderful things, and too many important things. You can’t even do the majority of them, to be frank. If you try to do all the wonderful and important things then you’ll be miserable: there’s simply too much to do and not enough time. And so there are some hard decisions to be made. Finish writing on deadline or go to the climate march, for instance. Both are important, but doing both would be stressful and unnecessary. I think I might come back to this in a future blog: the saying ‘no’ to things subject. It’s a big one. Tricky and important.

Here’s a tricky paradox: missing a place and being glad to be somewhere else. Ah, Paris, how you mess me around. Paris is EVERYWHERE, can I just say? I mean even when it’s not being shot up by nut-jobs, it is everywhere. I’ve been supervising NCEA exams and we confiscated a pencil case so it was sitting up the front, and it’s got the Eiffel Tower on it – of course! Paris is a hard place to leave behind anyway but seriously enough with papering the world in Eiffel Towers.

And then there’s an awful act of terrorism, so you have my permission again (not that you need it), and these past few weeks people keep saying to me, ‘you must be glad not to be there’, and I am. We were there in January for all the Charlie Hebdo palaver, and I am glad to miss out on all that stress and chaos and merde.

me and invalides

(Elena took this photo on the day that the Charlie Hebdo situation was shut down. We had an appointment in Paris and arrived early. We were waiting and she was playing with my phone. That’s Invalides in the background. I think it captures how tired, stressed, and overwhelmed I was feeling.)

But I also really want to be there. I want to hug my friends so, SO tight. Especially, but not limited to, those who lost friends at the Bataclan. I’m heartsick for them. One friend, a poet, has been posting little details of her day on facebook – about getting her bag checked at every shop, and not minding, but thinking the cursory glance in her purse wouldn’t likely catch anything dangerous if it were hidden in among the flotsam; about saying bonjour and merci to the guards outside the mosque – people she walks past every day and has never spoken to before. This is the stuff that makes me want to be there, and also so glad to be here.

But Christmas is coming, and being here in the sun wins.

summer wins

I am glad to be home and for summer coming, and pohutakawa blossoming up the road.


Brandy snaps and pavlova and lots of bubbly and long evenings on the deck, with the barbecue and Adele crooning away in the background (probably just in my head because everyone else will be sick of her and her album will be banned in our house… it’s only a matter of time.)

in my head

Oh, I won’t.

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Christchurch’s new Nanowrimo Municipal Liaison Crew

Category : Uncategorized

As many Christchurch participants of NaNoWriMo already know, Lady Talia has stood down as the Municipal Leader for our region. She has contributed much to NaNo over the years, but is now looking forward to spending time with some of her other writing friends in other regions. How she managed on her own for such a large community of writers, one will never know.

Since the earthquakes, the writers within the Christchurch region have become so spread out, living as far north as Pegasus and as far south as Rolleston and Lincoln. To accommodate the growing size of the Christchurch region, two Municipal Leaders have been appointed for the forthcoming 2015 NaNoWriMo.

Christchurch Nanowrimo MLs

Judy Mohr (on the left in the picture) is a writer of fantasy, filled with dark turns, adventurous leaps, not to forget the humour and romance thrown in for good measure. Those involved with the Christchurch Writers’ Guild will know her well, as she is always spreading what tidbits of knowledge she can about her road toward traditional publishing, and frequently asks those hairy questions others are sometimes afraid to ask. She is currently the Guild president and is working toward improving Guild-offered services for Christchurch writers. She is also a member of SpecFicNZ and the Scribophile on-line writing community.

Judy is penning a Adult high fantasy series where a young magician must join her soul with twin warriors or give her enemy the ultimate power: the ability to bring back the dead. However, for this November, she will be putting aside the world of the Signs and the Bleeders, to start work on a Middle Grade science fiction filled with fun characters and deliberate cliches; if Jack O’Neil was a unicorn, he’d be in charge of the Rainbow Squad.

Judy’s NaNoWriMo name, unlike her writing, is not very imaginative. You can find her if you search for “Judy Mohr“. She’s the only one that comes up in the database.

Amy Paulussen (aka sunburntdaisy on NaNoWriMo and on the right in the photo) is a sun-lover, and has wrinkles from all the squinting, because she can’t bear to close the curtain behind her desk. She writes contemporary and historical fiction, love stories with a literary bent. Amy received a complete manuscript assessment from the NZ Society of Authors this year and so she’s in the midst of rewriting ‘Off Camera’, on the advice of a brilliant veteran author and lit agent. Come November, she’ll be writing a historical set right here in Christchurch… fingers crossed it’ll be NZ’s answer to Downton Abbey.

Amy discovered writers’ groups while living in Paris and loves a good write-in and/or a fierce critique sesh. She used to teach English and Media Studies, but then there were babies, and 3 years overseas, and she started writing full-time. Now she does relief at Hagley most days, writing in all the gaps. She calls it word-snatching, types at alarming speeds, but finds good ol’ fashioned pen ‘n paper a good way to tap into some kinda creative-special-reserve. Amy’s on the committee for the Christchurch branch of the NZSA.

Amy and Judy will be working together to ensure that all NaNoWriMo participants throughout the greater Christchurch region get the opportunity to meet with other Christchurch WriMo crazies (I mean writers). Feel free to drop them a line through the NaNoWriMo website, or if you’re on Facebook, make sure you make yourself known through the “NaNoWriMo Christchurch” closed group. Or for those of you on Twitter, use the hashtag #ChChWriMos.

Write-ins will be planned for throughout Christchurch, starting with the kickoff on Saturday, October 31st at Mexicano’s starting at 10:30pm. See you there.

  • -

and the winners are…

Earlier this year, a couple of days after we got to Christchurch (after relocating from France and visiting people for a few weeks in the north island before tripping down the country) I applied for a program the NZ Society of Author’s runs each year, called ‘CompleteMS’. Basically, I want some editorial-flavoured feedback from someone in the writing and publishing industry. I’ve had helpful criticism and lovely praise from my writers’ group and assorted reader/writer-friends, and I know this particular story has its strengths but it isn’t getting bites from literary agents. There are many reasons literary agents don’t bite – it’s not all about the quality of the work but that’s a factor. So rather than rush head-long into self-publishing, or continue firing off queries to agents, hoping someone will fall head-over-heels for this manuscript in its current form, I’m hoping to lift my game a bit, take this novel up another notch.

So I applied and I’ve won one of the twelve assessments they award each year! Hurrah!

Thanks to The NZ Society of Authors and CreativeNZ, I’ll have some help from… mystery guest. I have no idea who my assessor is, but I’ve posted off the big, fat envelope. It’ll take a month or two to get the thing back, with notes and all that, and then there’s a work-shopping session, a chance to talk through the issues and next-steps. And then I’ll be ready to rewrite the thing, again. Make it magic. Fine-tune. Or, you know, rip out great hunks and suture the wounds.

It could happen. It’ll hurt but if that’s what it needs…

So, yeah, that’s my news. Yay! It feels like a big smack of a kiss of legitimacy, to have something I wrote recognised as kind of up-and-coming. I even get my bio on the NZSA website.

In the meantime, while I wait, I’m still working: rewriting another many-times edited manuscript, one that has already had some professional editing. It’s not a magic fix-all, and I’ve gone several rounds with this baby, even after those assessments. I suppose, for all that, my expectations of this CompleteMS thing are in-check. It’s an honour to be supported in my work, but I still have to do the work.

We’re in school hols so with 2 kids under-toe I’m scrabbling at time to get at the manuscript. After sunset, I say fair game and let the kids at their screens, and pour myself a glass of wine and try to switch on my brain (and yes, I’m aware that’s counter-intuitive). If I can just get into it a bit them the odd interruption won’t hurt: I can go make hot chocolates or find someone a dummy, or build a mattress “slide bridge” and then return to my page and pick up where I left off. But I have to get my head into what I’m working on to begin with, and some days that takes longer than others. I went and hid in my bedroom this evening and read a whole chapter aloud. Off the back of that I managed several new paragraphs, necessary because of the massive changes I’ve made in the previous three chapters (cut the bulk of two of them – bam. Ow.)

So, yeah, that’s me, word snatching when I’m a bit past it. Today we roller-skated.

That's how we roll

Tomorrow we’re hanging with friends, assuming we don’t get snowed in. Thursday we’re going to try gymnastics on for size. There’s a school holiday thing on with heaps of stuff to do… so we’re doing, rather than bumming around at home, getting annoyed at one another. Or that’s the goal. I’d get more writing/editing done if we stayed in, but I’d be fobbing off the kids and I do try to delay that till later in the day.