Tag Archives: Inspiration

The secret to success?

I had a long, hard look the published writers in my writers group, and published authors in general, and I think I have cracked the key to their success.

Sure, there’s the long hours spent at the keyboard, writing, editing, writing, starting again and writing more. There’s the invaluable (and sometimes painful) advice they listen to from their writers group/ editor/ agent/ next door neighbour, and we shouldn’t pooh-pooh their never give up attitude in the face of insult and indifference.

But that is not it.

For the most part they are cat owners. Yes, those slinky (or chunky) fluffy muses pad the path to publication, and bring their owners with them. And now I am lucky enough to have one of my own!

My intention was to put up a photo of her here, but she is still a little timid and not terribly fond of the strange black monster with the one glassy eye that clicks when I press a button, so most of the pictures were just blue-grey blurs. Never fear, little miss is quite the artist and she has rendered a startlingly accurate likeness to the fluffy blue one, so I will share that instead.

British Blue Shorthair Cat

Naturally I expect my productivity to blossom. Watch this space and we can test out my theory.

When I was your age television was called ‘books’

Of course that is a quote from one of my favourite movies The Princess Bride, and I was lucky enough to have my own Grandpa/Grandson moment last night (but with a different gender and relationship). It reminded me again of the wonderful magic of books.

Little miss 6 had insisted she was grown up enough to watch the Harry Potter movies, so I struck a deal with her; after we read the first book, she could watch the first movie. She thought she had won the battle and eagerly agreed. A week later I presented her with her own copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

“There’s a lot of words in it,” she said sadly, thumbing through the pages.
“Yes, it’s a novel. It’s much longer than your school readers.”
She placed the book down on the coffee table, cover-side down. “I don’t think I really want to watch the movie anyway.”

I thought I was beaten, she showed no interest in the book, so last night I insisted that before she could watch her Saturday night movie we had to read the first chapter. Begrudgingly she agreed, if only to secure a little more adult attention for a while.

By page two she was acting out scenes to ensure she was picturing them right. She pulled the book from my hand several times and read out a paragraph or two of her own. She asked questions about magic, and owls and Muggles, wondering (with hope in her voice) if the tales were true!

It brought a lump to my throat.

The moment that you realise a book does not just have to be an educational ‘reader’ but can be a key to unlock the magic of your imagination is a magnificent moment indeed. And while little Miss 6 might not remember her captivation with this first non-school book when she grows up, I certainly will.

Thank you J.K. Rowling!

Books I’ve liked – non-fiction

Even if I wasn’t always doing some kind of research for a story, I would read a lot of non-fiction books. It’s like school without the tests, the early starts and bitchy classroom politics. You learn stuff you didn’t even know you wanted to learn, unlike the internet where you skim over everything that isn’t the answer to your question.

Here are five randomly presented non-fiction books which I have enjoyed, possibly more from a writing/inspiration point of view, but I would have no qualms about recommending any of them.

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
This is not for the faint hearted. Not only does it have a lot of gore, but it clamps the sphincter muscle shut with the terror of realising that everything that happens in this book is true. It details incidents where there have been uncontrolled outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever across the world (some in places you would not have expected). The book came out before the movie ‘Outbreak’ and the thousand others of its ilk, but even if you are tired of the genre this book will still chill you more than any of those fictional tales.

The Urantia Book by <unspecified>
I know some will criticise me for putting this in the non-fiction section, but as a spiritual text I will give it the same respect I give all such books. I have to confess that I have not read it all (it is well over 2,000 wafer-thin pages with about a 6 point font) but the chunks I have read are fascinating. It offers not only an alternative view of how the Earth and life began, but also gives us a purpose and place in the universe which is nicely comforting. The book doesn’t ask you to send money, or inspire you to go to war with others, which is always a plus in my eyes, and has some wonderful perspectives on humanity which we could all do well to take on board.

The Answer by John Assaraf & Murray Smith
Yes, there is a bit of a ‘The Secret’ connection, and the book does have a bit of fluff, but don’t let the self-help-ism turn you off. It teaches you some great mental techniques, as well as a basic version of gestalt therapy which I think is quite nicely done (as a qualified hypnotherapist I can say that). The book pulls together a lot of recent research on the brain and presents it in terms that are easy to understand. For the business inclined the second half of the book teaches you some business 101 skills which, in this internet age, we could all probably do with a bit of up-skilling.

Rich Dad Poor Dad (series) by Robert Kiyosaki
Yeah, I know what you are thinking, this one is only marginally better than ‘The Secret’ and if you did an accounting or commerce degree I would agree that you don’t need to read it. For the rest of us, Kiyosaki explains the basics of the fiscal system and how to work within it. I had a vague idea, but this really did teach me the actual mechanics. I wouldn’t necessarily advise you to follow all the investing advice, but I think it is important to educate yourself financially, and if you want your money to grow you need to get it out of the bank. If you don’t know why then you need to read this book (or one like it)!  

The Last Explorer by Simon Nasht
If you are an Australian you need to read this book. If you are a South Australian, you need to BUY this book. This is the true story of the life of explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins and it reads like the next instalment of the Indiana Jones series. I am amazed we don’t have more schools, hospitals, universities and awards named after Sir Hubert, and I was mortified I had never heard of him until I was given this book. Don’t be left in the dark, read the story of this amazing man.

Okay, again I could have kept going far beyond my limit of five, especially with all the amazing biographies I’ve read over the years, but this was just a sample. Please let me know if you have any non-fiction books you think should go on my list of books to read!

Nat

Scary Stories

UFO Alien Lights

What is it about the scary story that captivates us so much? Love them or hate them, when you find yourself listening, you just can’t turn away. Not only do we love to hear them, but we love to tell them, and this is not limited to the natural story teller, we all have our spooky story to share.

At a recent dinner party a woman in her seventies, not prone to flights of fancy, had us all captivated with her story of driving through Bacchus Marsh one night and being followed by extremely bright lights in the sky (at one point Bacchus Marsh was the Australian UFO hot spot, but she didn’t know this).

We were all rapt, hanging on every word as the hairs on our skin prickled. Her fear glowed as fresh and real as if she had just stepped from the car after the incident now over forty-five years in the past.

Once she had finished her tale we were all momentarily silent, chilled with the sincerity of her retelling. Then, as always seems to happen, the other scary stories around the table surfaced.

It seems we have all had at least one brush with a ghost or unusual lights or phenomenon that just can’t been explained by science, and the best way we can try to understand these experiences is to share them. By turning them over with others we hope to find the truth, and if that remains beyond reach, at least we can find comfort in the sharing of our fear.

So is it any wonder that people are drawn to scary stories; to find that thrill, the excitement, the fear, and come out on the other side unscathed (albeit carrying a few hidden tracking devices we can’t quite remember having inserted). I love scary stories. I love telling them, imagining them and above all, hearing them. No wonder I was always drawn to speculative fiction.

The drug of a nation

This weekend I saw an excellent exhibition on the machines of Da Vinci, and while he might not have invented the Cryptex (as claimed by Dan Brown) he was certainly no slouch. When he wasn’t painting, drawing or sculpting masterpieces, he was inventing things which have made all our lives better, and in some instances he invented stuff for things that weren’t yet invented (like pitch and roll measures for aircraft –yikes).

This of course left me feeling completely incompetent. The only thing I’ve ever invented was a delicious chicken/caper pasta sauce and a hot drink for getting rid of colds which tastes like sweet dirt and smells like well-used wet sandshoes.

But I am not alone. A lot of people I know have never invented life-changing contraptions or created beautiful works of art. So why was Snr Da Vinci so prolific and the rest of us so useless? I think The disposable heroes of hiphoprisy might have hit the nail on the head within the lyrics of their song; “Television, the drug of the nation, breeding ignorance and feeding radiation.”

When Da Vinci and his compatriots finished a long day at the office they did not flop home to watch the latest unreal reality TV or endless enigma within a riddle within a red herring drama. No, they entertained themselves. They invented things. They got creative.

So this week, in  the lead up to WriMoFoFo I’m going to record any ‘must see TV’ (of which I might add there is very little) and I’m going to see if I can get my creative juices flowing by banning the idiot box (as my mother likes to call it). I’m going cold turkey… Starting tomorrow.

Nat

I’ve got a great idea for a story!

One of the most common things you hear from people when they find out you are a writer (after, “I want to write a book one day”) is “I’ve got a great idea for a story.” If they don’t want to write it themselves, they kindly offer it to you. It is amazing, though, how often the ‘story’ idea being passed on is not a story;

“A car chase with Mr Whippy vans,” was one story I was offered.
“So why are ther Mr Whippy vans chasing each other?” I asked, drawing a very perplexed look from my friend.
“Well, you’re the writer, you figure that bit out.”
–See that is not a story, that’s a scene.

Another;
“Cats take over the world, and it ends up being a better place.”
My turn to look perplexed. “How?”
“Dunno, but it’s a great story idea.”
–Again, that’s not a story, that’s a premise.

The easiest way to work out if what you have in your head is a story is to work out if it has a beginning, middle and end. There are many other aspects which are required to make it a *good* story, but without those first three elements you haven’t even got the skeleton to start with.

Let me add a rider that not everything that has been passed on to me has been bad, most are great ideas, but I usually make a point of only writing stories that form in my head. If I can be inspired by the idea, and by inspired I mean I will change many aspects of the original plot, then I might write it. But if the world of that story doesn’t take seed and grow in my mind, I’ll leave it to disappear into the ether, because at the heart of it, it’s not mine.

So if you have a great idea for a story, don’t tell people about it, write it! Your images and feelings will shine through so much better than someone else who is just trying to capture what they cannot properly see for themselves. I don’t want you to tell me about your story idea, I want to read it instead!   

Happy writing,

Nat

But what if this happened instead…

Often when I’m reading a story I think I’ve picked where it is going, or what the twist is going to be, only to find that it doesn’t eventuate. Sometimes when that happens my idea is better than what does happen.

An example for me was when I was reading Twilight. I loved the way Stephenie Meyer was foreshadowing for the mother to have some vampire-related connection which explained Bella’s irresistible attraction. The mother was carefully kept out of the picture, only communicating by phone, and she had lived in the area where the novel is set when she was younger. Perfect set-up.

I couldn’t wait for the big reveal and what it would mean for Bella, but apparently it never happened. I say apparently as I didn’t get past the second book, so I had to ask a friend who had read them all. I was just so disappointed that such a perfectly set-up twist was squandered. 

So what is the etiquette on writing a story based on an idea you got from someone else’s story? The truth is it happens all the time, and people write the stories without any issue. In fact most of the time you could read both stories and have no idea that one inspired the other.

Where it can be problematic is when you get inspired by a submission from someone in your writers group, or from ‘the slush pile’ if you are reader for a publisher. If you are in either of these situations I think you have to let the idea go. In my writers group I’ll share my twist with the author, and if they like it they can have it, if not I wave goodbye as it disappears back out into the collective unconscious to be picked up by someone else.

So will I write the vampire story with the mother twist? Of course, in fact I already have. I just need to find a short story publisher without ‘PLEASE NO MORE VAMPIRE STORIES’ on its submission page and then I’ll send it off. Looks like quite a few people have been inspired by the Twilight saga!

Nat

To love a thief

Not long ago I put out a call to a bunch of friends asking for their favourite books. I wanted something un-put-down-able. I needed both distraction and inspiration (ie I was looking for further procrastination and ultimately its cure with regard to my own writing). It was a great success, and I got a heap of suggestions which I am slowly working my way through.

Now without giving away what I have read, so far I have been amazed by the difference in my reaction to these much-loved books of my friends. One I enjoyed in parts, one was as much fun as a visit to the dentist, and one I devoured, not wanting to put it down when the clock rolled around to midnight and I had to be up by 7 the next morning.

This got me thinking about the different aspects to a novel and how unique combinations make the perfect mix for each of us. It might be the story itself which grabs you, or the characters, the writing style, the moral, the originality or one of a million other things within the book. None of us are exactly alike, and probably what is going on in our lives when we first read the novel also plays a part, so even we are not a constant. There cannot be a perfect book!

I’m going to keep this in mind when I get my next rejection. An editor needs to love your story to print it, and if among my own friends (where we have similar interests and experiences) we have such differences in opinion about what is good, then I should keep faith that soon I will find the editor who shares my mix of ‘what makes a good story’ and will pick up my manuscript.  

For the record, the book I always recommend is Markus Zusak’s novel The Book Thief which isn’t really even spec fic. For me it was a beautiful novel which got the mix just right, well my mix anyway.

Happy reading.

We want to believe

There is a reason why so often footage of Bigfoot or strange sea monsters or (as it is today) aliens, turn up in mainstream news; we want to believe. Even those who poo-poo the idea of anything supernatural will watch it, secretly wishing they could be convinced (I’m sure).

So what do you make of the most recent offering;  
YouTube Preview Image

Well, I’m clearly in the ready to believe anything corner, my writing depends on it, but I am also just as open to finding out that it is fake (just watch the movie where the guy cuts off his own arm and you will know what they can do with special effects these days –if you can think about anything other than keeping your lunch down that is).

I love a good conspiracy theory and have no doubt there is a lot more going on in this world than we are encouraged to know. That’s why it is important to keep your eyes open. Sure you might watch a few movies by unemployed uni students trying to catch the viral train to stardom, but you may just see something *they* don’t want you to see.

Isn’t that worth the risk?