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Narrelle’s 2016 Holiday Reading Rec List

2016-banner

 

Whatever the end of the year means to you, generally it means a few lazy days and grabbing some time for a bit of reading. Whether you’re preparing to soak up the sun in the southern hemisphere, or rug up warm in front of the fire (or frolic how you please somewhere in the middle) it’s always a good time for a new book!

Naturally, I have some recommendations for you!

Narrelle M Harris has a bumper year

If you’ve somehow missed the excellent year I’ve had, may I draw your attention not only to The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, a Holmes/Watson romance set in Australia in 1893, but also to Wilderness, the third of my sexy spy thrillers about Martine Dubois and Philip Marsden.

In addition, there are the many wonderful anthologies in which my work’s appeared this year: Intrepid Horizons, A Certain Persuasion (queer interpretations of Jane Austen), The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes stories Part V: Christmas Adventures (traditional Victorian era Holmes and Watson) and A Murmuring of Bees (queer Holmes/Watson romance and erotica). In the next few weeks, Clan Destine’s And Then… anthology will be joining them with my 1851 fantasy, “Virgin Soil”.

That’s enough variety to keep you going for a few weeks, but if you’ve already been a champion and supported my work throughtout the year, I can also recommend some other fantastic books.

Narrelle’s 2016 recommendations

GoodReads stats tell me that I read 84 books this year, so I was clearly reading as fast and hard as I was writing.  So many good books too! Here are some of my favourites:

Romance and Erotica

alberts wars 2Herotica Volume 1 by Kerry Greenwood. Full of delicious queer love stories throughout history.

Albert’s Wars by Stewart Jackel. A bittersweet wartime love story. I cried. 

Definitely Naughty by Jo Leigh. Short, fast, fun, sexy read!

Science Fiction

THRIVE coverThrive by Mary Borsellino. This is the review in which I sang songs of praise to this book.

Are you there, God? It is I, Robot by Tom Cho. Tom’s work, like Mary Borsellino’s, is always an absolutely brilliant, brain-opening treat.

Trucksong by Andrew Macrae. Sentient trucks. Post apocalyptic Australia. So Aussie. So gritty. So good.

 

Fantasy

12th nightMonstrous Little Voices: These five novellas set in and around Shakespeare’s plays and life were an early gem and utterly brilliant.

  • Coral Bones by Foz Meadows;
  • The Course of True Love by Kate Hearfield;
  • The Unkindest Cut by Emma Newman;
  • Even in the Cannon’s Mouth by Adrian Tchaikovsky; and
  • On the Twelfth Night by Jonathan Barnes

Lady Helen and The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. Regency-era demon hunters, deft and fast-paced with fabulous frocks, manners that are not always impeccable and sexual tension you could cut with a knife!

The Time of the Ghosts by Gillian Polack. I didn’t think anybody could make me find Canberra interesting, but I was mistaken. Gillian Pollack does it effortlessly with the intriguing and marvellous tale of three older women, their protege Kat and all the kid-darkghosts becoming corporeal and dangerous in the ACT.

Tansy Rayner Roberts’ delightful novellas Glass Slipper Scandal: A Castle Charming Story, Unmagical Boy Story: a Belladonna University novella and Kid Dark Against The Machine. This woman keeps writing winners.

Young Adult

Pin Drop by Roz Monette. Life on the street for a young woman in America. Realistic but hopeful, with a positive ending.

fast pitch coverFast Pitch by Tim Martin and J Creighton Brown. I don’t normally go for sports books. I really loved this one.

Thyla by Kate Gordon. Tasmanian YA. An amnesiac girl is found in the wilderness. As her memory slowly returns, we learn why Tessa is a bit unclear on modern technology and what’s really going on with some missing girls from the school she now attends. Loved this one. Looking to get my hands on the next, Vulpi.

.

Crime

DrownedVanillaGhost Girls by Cath Ferla. Set in Sydney’s Chinatown, it’s crime in a transient Australian community and it’s fantastic.

Livia Day’s Cafe La Femme series:  A Trifle Dead, Drowned Vanilla and The Blackmail Blend novella. Set in Hobart. Tasty, tasty crime! (Livia Day is another name for Tansy Rayner Roberts, just going to prove that everything she writes is perfect)

The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim. Another crime novel exploring more diverse sections of Australia’s community. The splash of paranormal with the astrological charts just adds piquancy to the fantastic whole.

Non Fiction

Richard III: The Maligned Kingthe-maligned-king by Annette Carson. I’m convinced. I’m now a committed Ricardian. What’s more, I think Henry Tudor is the one who did for the kids. Boo. Hiss.

Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanksi. Powerful and deeply moving.

Blockbuster! Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex. Lucy breathes vitality and wry humour into this biography of a book.

Lives Beyond Baker Street: A Biographical Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes’s Contemporaries by Christopher Redmond is an incredibly useful book of the prominent, the famous, the influential and the infamous of the Victorian era. Handy if you’re writing Sherlockian fiction.


That’s probably enough to be getting on with!

Enjoy your reading, one and all, and I hope you have a relaxing break as we head into 2017, filled with excellent reading!

And please share your recommendations in the comments for holiday reading.

Xmas Gifts for Writers: The Journal of Infinite Possibility

img_6469It’s only November, I know, but Christmas is coming anyway, with all the inevitability of sunrise, vampires in fiction, and a writer’s need for either coffee or wine (or both).

Speaking of writer’s needs, here’s a really neat gift idea for the writer in your life. Whether they’ve got thirty books under their sparkly belt or they’re still experimenting with style, form and pen name, you can’t go wrong with an inspirational journal.

And oh look, here’s one that Clan Destine Press prepared earlier!

The Journal of Infinite Possibility is a gorgeous little journal indeed. For a start, it’s full of pages waiting to be filled!

Mind you, the creators of this journal are writers and artists themselves and well know the terrifying tyranny of the blank page. That’s why the pages here aren’t exactly blank.

img_6463Instead, every page of The Journal of Infinite Possibility contains a picture, a quote, a prompt. Places to doodle when the words aren’t wording, images to colour in when doodles aren’t even doodling.

Actually, there’s plenty of space here for artists as well as writers, or for those scarily talented people who do both! They’ll certainly be inspired by the gorgeous covers and corner illustrations by Sarah Pain, Ashlea Bechaz, Vicky Pratt, Loraine Cooper and Ran Valerhon! (Two of that august list have created covers for my books with Clan Destine!)

img_6470A few of the pages are shown in part here so you can see how gorgeous this whole package is. The only real danger is that the writer who gets this won’t want to ink up the pretty pages. But ink it up, folks! Make it messy and crazy and bursting to full with your own  ideas sparked by these words and pictures and blank spaces just begging to be decorated with words, lines, lists, scrawls, sketches and the seeds of something bigger.

What the hell. Don’t get it for some other writer. Get it for yourself.

It’s what I’ve done.

This year: the writing whirlwind!

And thenSome years, my writing schedule looks pretty quiet. I’m always writing up a storm, but in the way of the writing world, I am not always publishing up a storm.

This year seems a little different. Of course, numerous projects are still in waiting and may be delayed, but if all goes well it’ll look like I haven’t slept for six months while I wrote ALL THE THINGS.

As a bit of a round-up:

And Then… anthology

My story, Virgin Soil, is slated to appear late in 2016 in the two-volume And Then… anthology of Antipodean adventure stories, coming from Clan Destine Press!

Virgin Soil is set in Melbourne and the goldfields in 1851. It’s about a young man with magical powers, his equally gifted friend, a 400 year old shapeshifter who can’t remember if he began as a rat or a man because he has both memories, and a monster that requires a virgin sacrifice. Which may not mean what you think it means. Moran and Cato might look like the bad guys, but even the good guys need someone who’ll do the dirty work…

An Indiegogo project is underway for people who’d like to pre-order the anthology, which contains stories from fantastic Australian genre writers like Kerry Greenwood, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Jason Franks, Alan Baxter, and heaps more. Pop on over and pre-order the anthology as ebooks, paperbacks or hardbacks, and with extra book incentives!

Intrepid Horizons

intrepidhorizonskindlecoverA story called Death’s Door is in a science fiction anthology called Intrepid Horizons, published by UK small press, Jay Henge in April 2016.

The story is about a young woman who writes poetry about Death. Death is a bit of a fanboy and is stalking her to read it. They get to know each other and that changes how they view their own existence… If you’re interested:

The Adventure of the Colonial Boy

ACB launchThis Holmes/Watson adventure romance set in Australia in 1893 takes a homoerotic interpretation of the legendary friendship out of subtext and makes it just plain text.

In it, Watson, believing Holmes to have died at the Reichenbach Falls, received a summons to Australia. Shocked and hardly daring to believe it true, Watson sails for Melbourne. There, he and Sherlock Holmes have to confront their heretofore unexpressed attachment to each other, while at the same time in pursuit of (and pursued by) a deadly menace involving a repulsive red leech.

Reviews have been great so far, and I’ve spoken about it on the radio and in a couple of interviews. It’s from UK publisher Improbable Press, and I’m already doing more work with them. (There’s a big list of where to get the book in paperback or ebook on this page.)

The rest of the year

As I said, it’s all in flux to a degree, but on the cards for publication later this year are a Secret Agents, Secret Lives story, and another for the Talbott and Burns Mysteries. I’ve just submitted a short queermance story to one publisher with a positive reception, so if that comes off, it’ll be out towards the end of the year. Another queermance story submitted to an anthology may go ahead round that time too, so that will be cool.

A paranormal queermance novel is looking good with one publisher, and I’m co-writing a new Holmes/Watson adventure romance in a modern setting for Improbable Press, called God Save the Queen, which will be out in the latter half of 2016 all being equal.

A few more stories are in various pipelines, so we’ll see how they go. And of course I’m still writing up a storm, as usual.

Whatever happens, it’s a very big year for me already. Thank you to everyone who’s been part of my journey so far, and who continue to support me. May your library be ever full of books that give you joy.

 

Cover Reveal: The Adventure of the Colonial Boy

Colonial Boy v smlDrum roll…..

…and here is the cover for my newest book, The Adventure of the Colonial Boy! It’s a Holmes/Watson romance for new UK publisher, Improbable Press, and is due out around the end of March, although pre-orders and perhaps the e-book will be available earlier. I’ll make another announcement when those dates have been set!

The cover was created by Bob Gibson of StaunchDesign. Huge thanks go to Wendy C Fries, Craig Hilton and Tim Richards, too, for assistance in coming up with a workable concept!

The Blurb:

1893. Dr Watson, still in mourning for the death of his great friend Sherlock Holmes, is now triply bereaved, with his wife Mary’s death in childbirth. Then a telegram from Melbourne, Australia intrudes into his grief:

“Come at once if convenient.“

Both suspicious and desperate to believe that Holmes may not, after all, be dead, Watson goes as immediately as the sea voyage will allow. Soon Holmes and Watson are together again, on an adventure through Bohemian Melbourne and rural Victoria, following a series of murders linked by a repulsive red leech and one of Moriarty’s lieutenants.

But things are not as they were. Too many words lie unsaid between the Great Detective and his biographer. Too much that they feel is a secret.

Solve a crime, save a life, forgive a friend, rediscover trust and admit to love. Surely that is not beyond that legendary duo, Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson?

*

About Improbable Press

Improbable PressImprobablePress specialises in Sherlock Holmes romance and erotica, across both Victorian, contemporary and other historical settings.

Wendy C Fries – author of The Day They Met and also known for her erotic fiction as Atlin Merrick – is the new imprint’s acquisition editor. She also wrote the Press’s first book, The Night They Met.

Upcoming titles at Improbable Press include the anthology A Murmuring of Bees (to which I am contributing) and Atlin Merrick’s second novel, The Six Secret Loves of Sherlock Holmes. I’m about to start work on a second book for the Press, tentatively titled Framework.

nightIt would be wonderful if you liked Improbable Press’s Facebook page to keep track of the books and release dates – and to let us know you’d like to read Sherlock Holmes romance erotica, both canon and contemporary.

“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn” – a happy ending

babyshoesThere’s a story that does the rounds that Ernest Hemingway once wrote the shortest, saddest story every told, for a $10 bet.

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

I first heard that six word story when Mary Borsellino told of how she had found it so terribly sad that her friend, artist Audrey Fox, decided to subvert the gloominess of it. Since they both enjoyed monster stories, Audrey used that as an inspiration to illustrate the story in a way that gave it a happy ending (a version of which you can see here – Audrey redrew the picture for my blog!).

Of the picture, Audrey says, “I was really just using my imagination and thinking about what else the story could mean that wasn’t ‘sad baby tragedy’.”

That story, and the story of Audrey’s illustration, made it into one of Mary Borsellino‘s Wolf House books, from memory, but I’ve always loved that whole story-in-a-story

Now, the saddest part of this whole thing is that the Hemingway part of it isn’t true. Ernest Hemingway’s writing of the tragic six-word novel is an urban legend.

A very similar story actually dates at least to Hemingway’s own childhood, when a newspaper classifieds section titled Terse Tales of the Town published the item, “For sale, baby carriage, never been used” in 1906. Similarly worded stories popped up again every few years in newspapers.

Whether the bet with Hemingway ever happened (and if it did, whether Hemingway quoted this story deliberately) is unclear – but that version of the story is ascribed to literary agent, Peter Miller, who first told it in 1974 – after Hemingway’s death – and then published it in a 1991 book. It was just the latest in a long line of stories about that story, but it’s the one that stuck.

The idea of writing something so perfectly pithy over lunch is an appealing legend, but the perfection and pithiness of the six word ‘novel’ remains, whatever its origin.

I don’t think it spoils the tale to note that Hemingway didn’t create it. I love the fact that this little notion first popped up in 1906 (if not earlier) and proceeded to grow, little by little, acquiring embellishments as it rolled down the years, until it grew to the story of a dinner party and a bet and a writer of terse words.

Or until it grew to the story of terse words, a sad friend, and an artist who decided to turn the whole thing on its head.

It’s a great reminder that many stories never stop being told, and never stop growing in the telling. It’s a reminder that stories can mean different things to different generations and that sometimes, if you look at an old story in a new way, it can grow into a whole new meaning.

Sometimes with tentacles.

You can find some of Audrey’s art, and other art that she likes, on her Tumblr.

 

New release: Encounters edited by Jessica Augustsson

EncountersKindleCoverIn my mid-year review I mentioned a new SF anthology, Encounters, in which my story Show and Tell would appear – and now Encounters has been released into the wild!

Ever since Robinson found a stranger’s footprint on his solitary island, literature—and especially Science Fiction and Fantasy literature—has been fascinated by meeting the Other. In Encounters, the second speculative fiction anthology by JayHenge Publishing, you can find out what happens when different species, populations, times—or even objects—meet.

My story, Show and Tell, is about the most exciting Show and Tell day EVER, which comes about because Mandy has taken a cursed mummified hand to school for the event. (Dadda didn’t say she couldn’t; mostly because Mandy was much too wise to ask first.) The question is, who is more at risk? Class 1B, or the hand?

Encounters is available in paperback as well as e-book format from all the Amazons, of which these are a few:

If you get the book, it would be great if you could leave a review as well!

June 2015: The Mid-Year Review

upcoming Improbable booksWith the recent zhuzhing up on my blog, I thought it was time to do another of my Mid-Year reviews as a round up of what’s been happening this year, and what’s coming up in the next twelve months.

If you’ve come here from one of my other blogs, you’re aware that I’m trying to streamline all my social media (of which I have way too much) so that I can spend less time on social media admin and more time on writing the very many writing projects I have lined up like ducks at a shooting gallery. Or like tequila shots at the bar. (Either way, it’s going to be messy.)

So welcome to the new-look Mortal Words blog, where I will write about the usual writing/reading/Melbourne/travel/as-the-whim-takes-me stuff – and to which I will add posts on music, Kitty & Cadaver related projects, stuff related to romance and erotica (which I also write) and more stuff-as-the-whim-takes-me. I may also repost some of the posts from the other two blogs here, for consistency and linking purposes and the like.

The first bit of housekeeping news to share is that my publisher, Clan Destine Press, and I are in the process of changing the name under which I publish my romance fiction from NM Harris back to the full, real me – Narrelle M Harris. Apart from the extra social media work generated by the split, we figured that since I usually write very action-oriented plots for my romance and erotica, it’s not really that different from my usual work (except raunchier in parts).

We’re also talking about getting some of my out-of-print work tidied up and more easily available too. I’ll announce those when the details are worked out.

TandB A Paying Client smallestSpeaking of my erotic romance stories – two have been released so far this year! The second story in the Talbott and Burns Mysteries, about the two-man Scooby gang of Elliot Talbott and his boyfriend Jack Burns was released in February. A Paying Client sees the lads investigating possible witchiness on behalf of their first-ever paying client, a housewife from Reservoir. Naturally, things don’t run at all smoothly.

BirdsFinal_v_smlIn May, Birds of a Feather was released – the first of the Hammer and Tongue series about Alice, an engineer, and her linguist girlfriend Nerida.

There will be more stories for both series in due course, and more for my sexy spy couple, Philip Marsden and Martine Dubois (including one set in Canada in the wilderness!).

I also had a short story, The Birthday Present, published in the Queermance 2 anthology, (last year, Late Bloomer was published in the first Queermance anthology). The anthology was published in partnership with the second Queermance Festival, held in Melbourne in February 2015.

(You can find buy links for all of those stories and my other books on the Shop page!)

I’m waiting on feedback before completing the final draft of my first erotic romance novel, Ravenfall – paranormal action adventure with vampires, precognitive dreamers, a fox spirit and a spate of murders. That one features James Sharpe, vampire, and Gabriel Dare, an artist.

ImprobablePressI’m also absolutely delighted that my pitch for a Holmes/Watson canon-era romance adventure set in Australia was accepted by new Holmesian imprint, Improbable Press – because queer readings of Holmes are not at all new, but a publisher for those kinds of stories is. The Adventure of the Colonial Boy will come out in 2016. Now to write it! If you want to keep track of that, and the other books being released (starting with The Six Secret Loves of Sherlock Holmes by Atlin Merrick, launching in October) you can Like the Improbable Press Facebook page. IP will run a variety of competitions, too.

EncountersKindleCoverIn Short Story news – my story Show and Tell will appear in a digital anthology, Encounters, later this year. I’ve also been writing short stories to submit to other anthologies, including Clan Destine’s And Then… due out next year. I’ll post as and when (I hope) those are accepted!

Alongside all of these projects, I have notes for more books (including a third book in the Gary and Lissa vampire series – I haven’t forgotten! – and a second book in the Kitty and Cadaver series).

Kitty and Cadaver itself is with an agent, but I am slowly working on scoring the melodies for the songs used in the book, and looking to collaborate with musicians to arrange, perform and record them. Already Ann Poore has done a lovely version of Gretel’s Lullaby on the harp. Those who were at Continuum 11 last weekend saw (and bought) the beautiful jewellery that was created from broken musical instruments, too.

omnivoreNot content with writing books, short stories and music – I’ve also been experimenting with design at Redbubble. I have a range of designs available, some of which include song lyrics, or personal mottos, or text relating to the romance writing (the Adventurous Hearts line).

And finally, I recently spent a few days in the Wimmera region of Victoria, visiting libraries and talking about Growing Up Reading or doing writing workshops on Killer Opening Sentences. But that’s a post for another time.

The Weasel-word Edit

weaselwordleWhen I’m writing a first draft, I use certain words and phrases far too much, trying to capture the image and tone in my head for the page. Some scenes play out like a movie in my mind’s eye and I end up too prone to minute stage directions, to expressions that qualify and prevaricate and waver where no such words are required. Sometimes, common grammatical functions in speech are a disservice in their written form.

When I edit other people’s work (which I do from time to time) I’m relieved to find that I’m not the only one who uses all that unnecessary verbiage.

But those extra words – those weasely, prevaricating, wishy-washy words that don’t add to the story, or worse, drain it of energy and impact – still need to be edited out.

Not every single example meets the Red Editing Pen of Death, though. Like all words, they are useful and important in their correct time and place.  The test for me is usually – can I take out those extra words without changing the meaning? Does the sentence have more impact/more truth with or without them? If deletion is an improvement, out it goes.

But what are these weasel words, exactly, and why do they make such a difference?

The Qualifiers

Words and expressions like: just, rather, probably, maybe, possibly, perhaps, a little, a bit, kind of and sort of all serve to diminish the intensity of the words around them. And sometimes that’s exactly what you want – particularly in speech, or in a person’s direct thoughts, because humans tend to tippy-toe around some ideas and prevarication is exactly what you want to convey.

But a lot of the time, that’s just you, the writer, not fully committing to the idea.  Here are a few example from my most recent novel-in-progress, Ravenfall.

  • James sort of shrugged. –> James shrugged.
    Really – what is ‘sort of’ about lifting your shoulders?
  • Gabriel hugged him a little harder. –> Gabriel hugged him harder
    Hugging is happening. Degrees of huggage hardness are not important at this point.

Filter Words

Suzannah Windsor recently wrote a blog about eliminating filter words, bringing my own focus closer to verbs about perception that can put distance between the character and the things they experience. Verbs like think, feel, look, see, sound

  • Michael in fact sounded far from astonished to hear from his brother. –>
    Michael was in fact far from astonished to hear from his brother.

    Saying that he only sounded unsurprised might suggest it’s a front. But Michael’s well used to his brother’s random and sporadic phone calls.
  • He felt the skin along his spine, his neck, his scalp, crawl with apprehension. –>
    The skin along his spine, his neck, his scalp, crawled with apprehension.

    He’s not simply feeling it; it’s actually happening to him. Remove the filter and his reaction is more immediate.

Grammatical Filler

In speech we often use filler terms at the start of sentences – commonly ‘there are/is/were’ or It is/was’. Most of the time, however, in these contexts ‘there’ and ‘it’ don’t refer to anything else. They don’t stand in for a known noun (though perhaps that’s coming up later in the sentence). Often, they only exist as a way to begin a sentence and they’re only putting more words between your story and your reader.

  • There are days when the shell is very thin. –> The shell is very thin on some days.
    Shorter, more direct, and it goes to the subject more quickly.
  • There are other interpretations to be placed on your visions. –>
    Other interpretations can be placed on your visions.

    Once more we are right into the heart of it, without the ’empty calories’ of a phrase with no direct reference.

Useless Extra Moments

I have a terrible tendency to say that someone ‘paused a moment’ or ‘considered for a moment’ or ‘waited a bit’. Frankly, pausing is already obviously only for a moment, so why weigh it down with more moments?

He paused, she considered, they waited – none of them need a second longer or any refining of their activity.

Padding Prepositions

English is a funny thing. One reason it has such range is our habit of adding prepositions to verbs to make whole new verbs. Pass up, pass out, pass something out, pass away and pass by all have very different meanings. These structures, called phrasal verbs, are really useful. Most of the time. But the difference between sit and sit down is minimal. Are you adding prepositions to verbs that don’t need them?

Also, sometimes characters look up or down or over or across at other characters and things, but the preposition isn’t always useful or necessary. If everyone is always looking up at everyone else, how can you tell who is the shortest?

Tics

All of us have our own writing tics. I tend to write people as nodding, turning, smiling, sighing and frowning way too often, so I search for those terms too, deleting any that are unnecessary or otherwise implied. They only get to stay if they indicate a shift in mood or status or their reaction needs emphasis.

The Weasel-Word Edit

When I have my first draft down and solid, I read it again and jot down words that are clearly overused, along with my regular weasel-word list. Then I search my word file. The number of times a word appears can be a huge surprise. I almost halved the appearance of ‘a moment’ from one draft to the next, and people only do a third as much frowning now.

Never Say Never

As you can see, I didn’t eliminate frowning or moments (or any other words or phrases on my hit list) completely. People are rarely so crisp in speech, so some of these terms still appear in dialogue when it’s appropriate to the character, situation and mood. A good deal of scowling, frowning and blinking still occurs. The story is full of vampires, werewolves, precognitive dreams and a flighty artist. Scowling, frowning and blinking are inevitable under the circumstances.

Don’t blanket-delete words from your list, because every word, no matter how weasely it sometimes appears, has its place in the scheme of things.

I’ve included a list of the words that I have on my weasel-word edit list. Perhaps it can help you to tighten up or polish your manuscript. The list isn’t definitive, so add your own tics and linguistic bad habits, and cross off the sins you don’t commit.

Happy editing!


Weasel-word list

  • a moment, a while, a little, a bit, sort of, kind of
  • just, rather, pretty sure, fairly, some, still
  • perhaps, maybe, probably, possibly, really
  • there are, there were, there’s, there is, it’s, it is, it was, does+verb
  • look, like, feel, felt, sound, seem, think, wonder
  • nod, smile, blink, sigh, frown, scowl
  • up, down, over, across, around

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Writing short stories vs novels by Amanda Pillar

Graced Ebook High ResThis week, Amanda Pillar is my guest! Amanda’s new novel, Graced, has just been released, but she’s  written mainly short stories until now.  Today she talks about the difference between the two.

I began writing back to front. Rather than tackle the shorter and more attainable short story, I started with a novel. I spent hours tapping away at my 386 computer, painstakingly crafting a derivative and unimaginative first person fantasy that thankfully never saw the light of day. In fact, it was several (short) novels later that I wrote my first short story.

Looking back, I’ve been writing short stories for longer than I initially realised. Whenever we had creative writing at high school, I’d use my 500 word essay to write about vampires or witches or something magical, much to the annoyance of my year 10 teacher, who wanted me to write something else. But I persisted. In fact, one of my high school essays became one of the first short stories I ever had published.

It was at this point that I realised I needed to put the novels aside and work on my short fiction. I’d gone about getting published the wrong way; at least that’s what I thought at the time. I’d shopped my second novel around to publishers (agents, what were they?) and had received good feedback, but I was missing something. What, they couldn’t say, and I didn’t know. So I decided to refine my craft.

Writing short stories taught me that they were hard. In a novel, the reader is a bit more forgiving if you take a few pages to flesh out the character; in a short story, you have a couple of paragraphs. And yet, my novel writing had taught me how to develop a character, how to learn all their ins and outs. So this helped. I approached short stories with fully formed characters.

Short stories also taught me that the first sentence is paramount; the hook really is vital. Just as important as the following paragraphs. Every word in a short story has to count. Superfluous words are the enemy; there’s more lenience in novels for that kind of thing. That’s where your adverbs and ‘filter’ words really hurt.

And then I tried to write flash fiction. If anything, that is even more difficult. 1,000 words or less to make a reader 1) care about your character, 2) develop a plot and 3) have a conclusion. 1,000 may sound like a lot, but when you start out writing novels, 1,000 words is nothing. It’s often less than most opening chapters!

I then began editing as well. This helped my writing more than some might realise. It’s easy to pick out the errors in other people’s work, but it also made me realise some of the very common issues I kept noting I was guilty of, too. And so I began to look at each short story of my own more critically.

Then I went back to writing novels.

The hardest transition between the two is for me is pacing. And yet writing short stories means that every chapter I write in novel hopefully begins in a punchy way and ends with a conclusion of some sort, whether it be cliff-hanger or resolution. Every word in my novels now counts in a way it didn’t previously.

So for me, I think my roundabout way of going from novel writing to short stories and back again has taught me more about character development, plotting and word use than I may have achieved going from short stories to novels, but then, I’ll never really know. I just know that I love writing both.

About Graced:

City Guard Elle Brown has one goal in life: to protect her kid sister, Emmie. Falling in love – and with a werewolf at that – was never part of the deal.

Life, however, doesn’t always go to plan, and when Elle meets Clay, everything she thought about her world is thrown into turmoil. Everything, that is, but protecting Emmie, who is Graced with teal-colored eyes and an unknown power that could change their very existence. But being different is dangerous in their home city of Pinton, and it’s Elle’s very own differences that capture the attention of the Honorable Dante Kipling, a vampire with a bone-deep fascination for a special type of human.

Dante is convinced that humans with eye colors other than brown are unique, but he has no proof. The answers may exist in the enigmatic hazel eyes of Elle Brown, and he’s determined to uncover their secrets no matter the cost…or the lives lost.

Buy Graced:

About Amanda:

Amanda_small-1Amanda Pillar is an award-winning editor and author who lives in Victoria, Australia, with her husband and two cats, Saxon and Lilith. Amanda has had numerous short stories published and is working on her eighth fiction anthology. Graced is her first novel. By day, she works as an archaeologist travelling around Australia.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Where there’s a Will… there’s not a Reading

29819633_sMany years ago (many many many years ago) I worked for a government department in Western Australia that managed deceased estates. The Public Trust Office also wrote up Wills for people. I learned a lot about the technical side of such things, and even more about human nature.

People can behave quite strangely and unpredictably in grief, and also when they are not in the slightest bit griefstricken, sometimes for very good reason. As a human being, it was often sad, distressing or even distasteful. As a writer, of course, it was fascinating fodder.

One of the oddest things that happened, though, was the number of people who thought they would have to come in to the office for the Reading of the Will. So many believed it was an official and even legal part of the proceedings.

It isn’t.

Television, theatre and cinema are of course partially to blame for this misunderstanding. (I lay rather a lot of it at the feet of Agatha Christie and other crime writers.) When you see this event dramatised, it’s a theatrical device so you can see the shocked/smug looks on everyone faces when they are cut off without a penny/inherit all grandpapa’s wealth.

However, as with most things fictional, the idea has its antecedants in fact.

These days the beneficiaries of an estate will generally just get a photocopy of the Will in the post to inform them of their upcoming legacy. In the past, though, it wasn’t so easy to get a copy of the Will to the beneficiaries – handwritten copies would have to be sent out, and those done by hand might potentially contain errors.

It might also have been the case, in the past, that the beneficiaries were not very literate. They might need to have the terms of the Will explained in greater detail. It’s likely that some beneficiaries couldn’t read at all. In that case, everyone gathering at the solicitor’s office or in Grand Uncle Bulgaria’s musty library for a reading made a lot of sense.

Will readings were very much a practical matter, then, addressing problems of literacy and accurately conveying the contents of a Last Will and Testament, rather than any kind of legal requirement.

Nobody has a family gathering for the Reading of the Will anymore. Well, unless they have an overdeveloped sense of the pointlessly dramatic and the time to spare for such theatrics.

It’s almost a shame, really. Who doesn’t want to see the look on Cousin Dorothy’s face when she discovers Grandpappy Hubert has left everything to a Cats’ Home with a small legacy for a one-legged seaman who was once kind to him at the train station, or to see blustery Uncle Cedrick, with his bulbous red-veined nose, leaping from his chair with a hoarse cry and a tirade at mousey family outsider Marigold becoming an unexpected millionairess followed by the ominous phrase: “You haven’t heard the last of this, you little tramp!” (and maybe later, either Marigold or Cedric turning up dead at the Mechanics Institute reading room, with a dagger of oriental design plunged into the side of their neck)?

But let’s face it, loss and its aftermath are often dramatic enough, and sad enough, and human enough, without that kind of broo-ha-ha.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

[Image by Brian Jackson at 123RF.com]