Creative Challenge Finale

Creative Challenge Finale

So...we've arrived at the end of our year long creative journey, and what a year it's been. Creating a significant piece every week is a big undertaking, so congratulations to the creative challenge team for a year of absolutely fabulous design and creation. Here's what we've made to celebrate our grand finale.

Stephen Bennett

Stephen Bennett has completely finished refurbishing his century old camera, and he took her out yesterday for a test drive. She worked beautifully and was easy to carry around and use. He’s decided to call her Beatrice, and is looking forward to a long and meaningful relationship.

Camera refurbishment
Steve's old camera

The photos below are of Kama Nature Reserve and the Academy of Science at the ANU.

Kama Nature Reserve
Kama Nature Reserve

Georgia Bennett

The Lonely Road Georgia Bennett

Georgia Bennett recorded her first EP in July. It will be available for sale on iTunes shortly, but in the meantime here's a sneak preview of a couple of her songs. Georgia wrote all the songs on the album, and she recorded the guitar part and all the vocal parts as well. This is a huge achievement, and a brilliant result. Have a listen.

A few months ago, Georgia did a gig in Gold Creek dressed as the Black Widow from Captain America to support a local charity. One of the organisers liked her costume so much that she asked Georgia to model for a photo shoot to advertise a new cosplay event in Canberra that she's starting up. Georgia had a great time, and the photos are amazing.

Singer songwriter Georgia Bennett

Telena Routh

Classical oboist and textile designer, Telena Routh, has made a wrap this week, inspired by the paving in the Spanish village at Balboa Park in San Diego. 

San Diego

She laid painters’ tape on a piece of brown silk chiffon and covered it with 2 layers of fleece. She then felted it and cut the fleece along the taped lines, felting a little more to seal the edges. She's very happy with the result and thinks it is a lovely reminder of her travels.

Telena's wrap and pullover

Telena has also managed to finish the pullover she's been knitting, with a little help from her furbaby, Hazel! She's already thinking about her next knitting project and has decided that she has OCKD….obsessive compulsive knitting disorder.

Telena has had some lichen stewing for the past few months in a concoction of water and ammonia. It needs exposure to sunlight to help the colour develop into a more purple hue before she can use it in a dye bath. She's glad it's lost the strong eye-watering smell it had when she first made it. 

Lichen eco-dyeing

Telena says she's really enjoyed the 52 week challenge - the excitement of creating new work and the challenge of trying new techniques. She plans to continue to challenge herself this way in the future. Good news.

Kanen Breen

Opera singer and Strange Bedfellow, Kanen Breen, has managed a quick trip home to Sydney this week, and it gave him a chance to create a fresh look for a lampshade he picked up from the gutter (where else?) using a scrap of wallpaper and some trim from the local Indian supermarket. It took him a total of 20 minutes, and he says that measuring was the hardest part. As rush jobs go, Kanen says it was a quick and satisfying transformation.

lamp makeover

Kanen is back in Melbourne now, and he spotted these little dazzlers on sale in the window of Windsor Smith. He thought they were rather dishy, but he wasn't as keen on the price. His solution? Off to Rivers he went, and for $30 he had his own pair ready to be transformed. One hour later, and his new glitzy boots are drying on his balcony. They're cheap, cheery and every bit as marvelous as the real deal for a fraction of the price. Go for gold!

shoe makeover
shoe makeover

Trish Urquhart

Trish Urquhart, who runs Allaboutwriting, works as a documentary producer for Left-Eye Productions, and tries her best to live up to the title chef extraordinaire, is in Venice this week.

While there's bound to be cooking on the horizon, she's been out and about with her camera to capture some shots for our last creative challenge. It's hard to top photos of Venice, after all. Check these out.

Trish Urquhart in Venice

I must also mention that the bells of San Marco were tolling in the background as Trish emailed her photos through. Don't you hate it when that happens?

Trish and Richard are in Venice to run an Allaboutwriting writing retreat. Trish says that the apartments and palazzo are stunning, and the host very kind and helpful. She's enjoyed shopping at the Rialto market and surrounding shops, buying fresh fish, fruit and vegetables, and she plans to go with the cook during the week to shop for their participants.

Trish sends a big thank you to everyone in the creative challenge group for all the fun and inspiration over the past 12 months.

Trish Urquhart in Venice

Keryn Clark

Keryn's garden - before

South African born writer, florist and textile designer, Keryn Clark, has completely transformed her life over the course of our creative challenge. She's moved from Perth to the Gold Coast and has been gradually turning her new backyard into a more inviting living space. Here's a quick reminder of Keryn's starting point.


And here's the transformation below. While the weather still hasn't allowed for abundant growth, there have been significant changes. How fabulous does the garden look? Keryn has transformed her backyard from a concrete wilderness to an inviting outdoor living space. Great work.

garden transformation
Keryn's garden - after

Scarlet Bennett

I've created a series of pieces to commemorate our final creative challenge blog. This journey started (for me) with a horse, so I've ended it with a talisman that celebrates my love of horses. This set is made from sterling silver and carnelian.

Carnelian horse

I have a lot of different pendants (many of which I've made over the course of this creative challenge) that I wear with a plain black necklet. To provide a bit of variety, I made a simple black onyx and sterling silver necklet with a bolt ring centrepiece that will allow me to add any pendant I like. It doesn't look like much on it's own, but it's going to be the perfect backdrop for my pendants. This piece going to be a staple in my wardrobe.

I also made a carnelian necklet to wear with the carnelian pendant I made a few months ago. It's more vintage than classic, and I've got just the outfit to wear with it.

Scarlet's gemstone chokers

My final piece is made with sterling silver and denim lapis lazuli. I made it for my daughter Hannah, who's having a birthday in a couple of weeks. I hope she'll like it.

Hannah's lapis lazuli choker

Hearty thanks to the creative challenge team for a truly inspiring year. Thanks, also, to the readers who've sent encouragement along the way. It's been a really great year.

Week 51: Creative Challenge 52

Trish Urquhart, who runs Allaboutwriting, works as a documentary producer for Left-Eye Productions, and tries her best to live up to the title chef extraordinaire, is in Paris, and she's taken the opportunity to take some photos while she's there.

Trish and Richard are staying in a gorgeous, but tiny apartment on the Ile Saint Louis, but they've had a lot of work to fit in and that hasn't left Trish any time for cooking. With extraordinary food on every corner, who needs to cook in Paris?

Paris photography
Paris Photography
Paris Photography

Telena Routh

Classical oboist and textile designer, Telena Routh, has returned from a joyful family wedding in San Diego, where she spent time with family, went sightseeing, and drank quite a few margaritas.

Telena in San Diego

She took bamboo knitting needles, crochet hook and some wool to amuse herself on the plane, and she managed to knit and crochet a number of squares while watching seven movies over the course of two flights. She finds it easy to knit without watching what she's doing and she's getting better at this when she's crocheting, although she notes that she's a little slower.

Telena's squares

Telena had no opportunity for felting this week, but she's gathered some silk chiffon and fleece for a new project and can hardly wait to get started.

San Diego

Kanen Breen

Opera singer and Strange Bedfellow, Kanen Breen, has been the Jimmy Choo of Warragul this week. With three of the girls from the Remembrance tour green with envy over the ruby boots he made for Libby last week, he's found himself in hot demand. The girls trooped off to Target to buy some cheap shoes for Kanen to play with, and they put in requests for their favourite colours.

Kanen's shoes

Kanen says he spent no more than about 90 minutes on any one pair, although he notes that the pink undercoat didn't take to the faux leather very well, requiring four coats for even coverage. Each coat was completely dry within 5 minutes, however, so it didn't hold up production.

Shoe makeover

Kanen forgot to take a before photo of the blue boots (which were black), but he was quite taken with the blue leather paint, sans glitter, and he says he might whip up a pair for himself when he's home from tour.

shoe makeover

Stephen Bennett

Steve's scones

Stephen Bennett put on his chef's hat this afternoon to make a delicious batch of sultana scones to get us through the working week. He was a popular fellow indeed when they were sampled this afternoon. They're delicious!

Steve's scones

He's also shared some photos from a gathering of film photographers last weekend. The group sat around for a while talking about cameras, films, prints and the weather, then went their separate ways to see what they could find to photograph. The two buildings in Steve's photos were taken with a lens on the camera and the other two are pinhole (lens-less) photographs. Nice.

landscape photography
landscape photography

Scarlet Bennett

I've started working on some pieces to put aside for Christmas gifts, and I put together this choker set today for a friend who adores blue and butterflies. It's made with blue sky jasper, crystal quartz and sterling silver. It's not something I'd wear myself, but she'll love it.

blue sky jasper choker

Interview with Curling Up With A Good Book

What gave you the inspiration to write Striking Out?

I’ve always loved Australian vernacular and I was inspired to try and capture its charm. Australians are the masters of understatement and irony, and everyday Australian language has a unique and interesting flavour that’s tongue in cheek, funny, and used very cleverly, particularly by less scholarly types who tend to have a colourful way with words. An awful night out, for example, might be described as ‘a bit ordinary’, with a raise of the eyebrows and a pointed glance that tells the rest of the story in an amusing way. An Australian commenting on an argument that ended very badly would quite likely say, ‘that went well’, to make people laugh (or provoke the situation further) and restore a fragile sense of harmony. Curse words are used routinely to add colour and interest to otherwise mundane remarks – vulgarity is often used to express a certain cleverness and humour. I’ve been pleased to find, since my novel was released, that readers from all around the globe ‘get’ the way Australians use language and enjoy it too. That’s just wonderful.

Who is your favourite character in the book?

Readers may find this hard to believe, but my favourite character in the book is Des. He’s a creepy, misogynistic, ego-maniac with a soft side that almost redeems him by the end of the novel. And he’s my favourite because I have so much fun at his expense. Creating problems for Des is one of my greatest joys (I’ve made his life even more difficult in the sequel and, truly, it couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke).

Which came first, the novel or the title?

The novel came first and then I agonised and annoyed everyone around me for weeks trying to come up with the right title. I finally settled on ‘Striking Out’ (my daughter’s suggestion) because it so eloquently captured my heroine’s reinvention of herself and, also, because it was a nice play on words for her physical prowess and the fights she gets involved in.

What scene in the book are you most proud of and why?

The scenes in the book I’m most proud of are the sex scenes at the end, largely because it’s not the kind of writing that comes easily to me. My novel tackles a lot of difficult moments head-on, and I felt I had to be brave with the sex scenes too, to do the story justice, even though I wanted to run away from the challenge. It’s not easy to get the balance right when you’re writing sex scenes, but I’m really happy with how they turned out. They’re explicit but not smutty, and readers will hopefully see them as fitting vehicles for the emotions I was trying to express.

Thinking way back to the beginning, what's the most important thing you've learned as writer from then to now?

I’m less anxious as a writer, now that I’ve finished my first book. I no longer hope I can find my way through the difficult parts of the process, I know it, and that makes such a difference to my confidence. I’ve also learnt not to worry when I feel like I need to step away for a while. The breaks I took when I was writing Striking Out turned out to be helpful gestation periods. I see them as a normal, meaningful part of the process now. I guess, overall, the experience of having seen a book through to completion has bolstered my confidence in my ability to write the next one.

What do you like most about the cover of the book?

I really like the texture on the cover of the book. It looks good online, but great in print, where you can see every detail. It’s more complex than it looks at first glance, and I like the textural layers that reveal themselves over time. I really like the font too.

What new release book are you most looking forward to in 2015?

When the 2015 New Year rolled around, I was eagerly awaiting the release of David Baldacci’s Memory Man because the promo material about a lead character with synaesthesia really captured my interest – imagine a crime-fighting hero who starts seeing colours and numbers in highly charged moments as the result of a brain injury. The book didn’t disappoint. I loved it, and it really got me thinking about the creative possibilities arising from different sensory processing. I even wrote an article about it for my Psychology for Writers program.

What was your favourite book in 2014?

My favourite book in 2014 was J.K. Rowling’s (writing as Robert Galbraith) The Cuckoo’s Calling. I love crime fiction, but I’m not keen on graphic violence and I can only take so much suspense. The Cuckoo’s Calling had everything I love in a crime fiction book, without the bits I don’t like – a fabulous (flawed) lead character, a beautifully written story, great plot developments, and a really satisfying ending. I’ve read the whole series now and I can’t wait for the next book to come out.

What's up next for you?

I’m more than half way through the sequel to Striking Out, and I’m within a few months of finishing the first draft of a crime fiction novel with a heroine who’s a forensic psychologist. It’s the first book in a series and it’s much bleaker than the Sharon Jackson (Striking Out) series. I’m really enjoying writing it, and I love being able to jump between the two, very different books.

Week 50: Creative Challenge 52

Opera singer and Strange Bedfellow, Kanen Breen, sends greetings from sunny Wodonga today. He is, he says, time poor but glitter rich, and he's whipped up these little Target lovelies in a sparkling frenzy for his tour manager, Libby Hill, who greatly admired last week's blue effort. Libby swears that she'll wear the boots to their first regional performance of Remembrance.

Kanen's shoe makeover

The shoe makeover took Kanen all of 90 minutes - he's getting speedy and slap dash in his old age, he says. Speedy perhaps, but I can see no sign of the slap dash. These shoes are just splendid.

Kanen's shoe makeover

Trish Urquhart

Trish Urquhart, who runs Allaboutwriting, works as a documentary producer for Left-Eye Productions, and tries her best to live up to the title chef extraordinaire, has been impressively creative with the fruit she's been picking along the river bank this past week.

Trish made spiced roasted plums, which she says are delicious on oat porridge, with yoghurt, and also with cheese and crackers. She made sloe gin, which will take at least six months to mature (but will it last that long without someone giving in to the urge to sample it?). Still working with free fruit, Trish made apple, elderberry and sloe jelly. She also made a tomato tart tatin, and she's taken photos to show the making of it. Do check out Trish's food blog to see more of her fabulous food adventures.

Trish's tomato tart tatin

Trish has also been busy with travel photography this week and she's shared a photo of Godmanchester at night. Stunning.


Telena Routh

Classical oboist and textile designer, Telena Routh, has been busy preparing for an overseas trip. That meant lots of packing and giving extra lessons to prepare her students for exams too.

She decided to felt a cover for her ipad so she can slip it into her handbag while sightseeing. Telena estimated the size of her pattern before shrinkage and laid out the base layer of a silvery grey fleece with a more colourful fleece laid on top. She had to felt carefully to avoid getting ridges around the edges, measuring at each step to make sure the ipad would fit. Telena was very pleased to discover that she can turn the felt cover inside out because both sides are attractive.

Telena's felt ipad cover

Telena has also been indulging her passion for knitting, and she's been working on the sleeves to a jumper she showed us not so long ago. She thinks she'll have it finished just in time for the warmer weather, but is happy to have it ready for when the cold sets in next year.

Stephen Bennett

Stephen Bennett has had a man-cold all week, so he's been a bit under the weather creatively. He did, however, find a camellia flower on our pathway this morning, and he took a very nice photograph of it.


He also finished his camera renovation project this week, and here are the finished bellows, ready to go. Nice job.


Scarlet Bennett

It's still too cold in Canberra to be soldering, hammering and filing downstairs in my jewellery studio, so I've been making pieces that I can put together on the couch in our warm living room.

I played around with some copper wire and black lava stone this week, creating a necklace that I put together with sterling silver links and findings. I made a pair of earrings to match too.

Copper lava stone jewellery

I also made a necklace and earring set using amber stones with mixed sterling silver findings.

Amber and sterling silver necklace set

Interview with I Read Indie

Talking today with Mandy from I Read Indie about books and writing. Here's what I had to say.

What would you be doing right now if you were not an author?

I need creative endeavours in my life in order to maintain my inner balance. I like to write, whether my work gets published or not, because words are my favourite creative medium and I feel more myself when I do. So it’s hard to imagine not writing – I’ve always done it. Having said that, I also design and make my own jewellery using sterling silver and semi-precious gemstones (I’ve got a photo gallery of my creations on my website), and I enjoy that too – it’s much more physical than writing and it’s good to be physically active when you’ve been sitting in front of a computer screen for hours.

I combine writing with occupational psychology work and I’m passionate about helping people (especially other creative people) to survive the professional challenges and achieve their career goals. I love this work and I’m grateful to be able to support other writers, no matter where in the world they reside. Technology is fabulous!

Scarlet Bennett on writing

5 years ago: what were you doing?

I was doing the same kind of work I do now – writing in every spare moment and doing occupational psychology work with individuals, groups, and within organisations. I was mostly writing short stories then, although I’d written an almost complete first novel that I abandoned because I wasn’t happy with it. That particular work will never see the light of day, but I’m glad I wrote it because I developed a lot as a writer through that aborted first effort.

Do you have a certain writing ritual?

I’m very busy, so I made a conscious decision early on to keep my writing routine as flexible as possible. I prefer to write on my laptop, but I carry a notebook with me everywhere I go so I can work on my story if I have a few unexpected spare moments. And I do use the notebook even though I prefer to type than write by hand – I refuse to get wedded to any particular method. I’m the same with time of day. I have no set routine because my day-to-day working life is highly variable. Sometimes I get up early to write, sometimes I tuck into bed with my laptop and write before I go to sleep. My philosophy is that the story is inside me, therefore the external circumstances shouldn’t matter.

My only fixed ritual is that I always start each writing session with a review of the chapter I’ve been working on previously. Editing is a pleasant way to get my mind into gear – less demanding than staring at a blank page – and by the time I’ve edited the previous day’s work, I’m ready to go.

What has been the toughest criticism given to you as an author?

It’s hard to put my finger on the toughest criticism I’ve received as an author, because sometimes it’s the little things that sting the most, and that’s usually more about the way the criticism is delivered, rather than the criticism itself.

I was sensitive to criticism in my teens and twenties, but I’m much less so now. That’s partly down to maturity, but it’s also because I know how to deal with it now.

I think it’s important for writers to be emotionally robust. Firstly, it makes life a lot more pleasant (no tears!) and, secondly, it frees you to write with courage, to risk causing offence in the service of your story.

Ever fangirled over another author? Who was it?

I’m afraid I reserve my fangirling for singers and guitarists. I fangirl a bit over Australian author Tim Winton – largely because he’s intelligent, thoughtful and sensitive and that’s very appealing – but I’m mostly a sucker for a handsome singer with a voice that combines raunch with vulnerability, and if he happens to be carrying a guitar, all the better. I also fangirl over Colin Firth, particularly when he comes as Mr Darcy, but that’s only sensible, isn’t it?

Is there an author you'd like to meet?

I’d quite like to meet Tim Winton – in my dreams, at least. If it actually ever happened, I’d probably be too apprehensive to enjoy it. Circumstances like that usually pass much more successfully in my imagination than in my life. I’m the sort of person who would walk away afterwards thinking… ‘I should have said this… ‘I shouldn’t have said that’… ‘Why didn’t I think to ask him about…?’ It’s agony.

Biggest writing pet peeve?

Characters, for me, succeed or fail on two criteria: dialogue and action. If the dialogue’s clumsy or inauthentic, all I can see is the writer and the mechanics. The writing becomes a barrier that keeps me out of the story. If the dialogue is real, the writer disappears and the character becomes a person to me – someone I care about and want to get to know better.

The same is true of action, but I think the stakes are possibly even higher here. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tossed a book aside – disappointed at the wasted investment in reading to that point – because a character has been thrown into some kind of action that’s completely out of sync with the psychological profile the author has created. Once again, that takes me out of the story and into the mechanics (in a way that I find difficult to forgive). Action, in real life, emerges from the intersection of person, place and situation. How we behave is influenced by the time and place we find ourselves in, the social and environmental pressures we face, and who we are as people. Credible characters take themselves with them wherever they go – they don’t suddenly undergo a personality bypass in order to help a writer out with a difficult plot point. Not on my reading list, anyway.

Do you read other's reviews of your books?

Absolutely! I’m always curious to know what other people think and I’m grateful for the time and trouble they’ve taken to review my work.

Week 49: Creative Challenge 52

Classical oboist and textile designer, Telena Routh, has recently been in Orange and, while she was there, she visited Sassy Wines, a small boutique winery. The owner, Felicia, expressed interest in having some of Telena's textiles in the gallery at her cellar door, and she gave Telena a bag of mixed merino/polworth fleece to use in her creations.

Telena's felt scarves

Telena experimented with the fleece this week, finding that it created a softer felt than pure merino, and she's excited by the possibilities.

Telena's felting process
Telena's crocheted squares

She made two long skinny scarves, one with fleece alone and the other a mix of fleece and silk chiffon. Telena hasn't decided how she'll dye them yet, whether she'll eco-dye with leaves or aim for brighter hues.

Telena has also been making crocheted granny squares as she's going overseas and is hoping that a bamboo crochet hook will be deemed a safe travelling accessory by the authorities who determine what we can and can't take on flights.

Kanen Breen

Opera singer and Strange Bedfellow, Kanen Breen, reports that the tedious events of last week (when Kanen received a homophobic taunt from a heckler in the crowd after he sang the national anthem at a nationally televised basketball match in Melbourne) have deterred his itchy glitter-finger not a jot! So he presents this week's dazzling offerings with a gay and defiant heart. Bravo.

Kanen's glitter tie

Kanen hasn't shared his creative process since he assumes that, by now, we're all too familiar with his methods. He did, however, experiment with a new technique that's turned out quite splendidly. He dropped into Riot Arts and Craft for a bottle of acrylic medium because he's been struggling with the consistency of the gorgeous Glitterlites paints he so adores. It's very thick in the jar and doesn't spread very well on fabric, requiring several coats to achieve uniform coverage. Kanen thought he'd see if it might apply more evenly if it was dispersed in an appropriate medium.

Kanen's painted boots

His hypothesis was resoundingly confirmed and he says this is an important development because the thinner coats allow greater flexibility in the finished shoe, which means no cracks or sparkle loss where the shoe bends with the foot.

Are we glad to know this, he asks. Absolutely! I'm loving those new wheels sick.

Kanen's shoe makeover

Trish Urquhart

Trish Urquhart, who runs Allaboutwriting, works as a documentary producer for Left-Eye Productions, and tries her best to live up to the title chef extraordinaire, has contributed a wonderful recipe for her contribution this week.

Trish and Richard have started the return journey in their narrowboat, Patience, to their mooring in Braunston and, as they travelled through various locks, Trish discovered a bounty of hedgerow fruit - apples, plums, elderberries, haws, blackberries and sloes.

Trish's hedgerow crumble

Trish has mountains of fruit still to process, but for now she's created a brilliant hedgerow crumble, and she's shared the recipe on her blog. Do check it out. It looks delicious. As does her greengage clafoutis below. Yum!

Trish's hedgerow crumble

Stephen Bennett

Stephen Bennett has nearly finished renovating the camera he started work on last week and all that remains is to secure the bellows to the frames. He's very pleased with how it's turned out and, with the hardest part of the job behind him, he's looking forward to finishing the task.

Steve's camera renovation

We're just back from a trip to Sydney, returning to Canberra via Kiama and Berry, to shoot a couple of marketing videos. Steve took every possible opportunity to grap some landscape shots while we were there. He took these photos in Manly.

Manly Beach

The next photo was taken in Kiama, and rest at Berry.

Masonic Temple Kiama

Scarlet Bennett

I've got two new online courses that will launch in the next couple of weeks and I wanted to make videos for each of them to include on my website.

These are substantial programs - roughly six months in duration - and, although they're both peak performance courses, the content is very different because the professional demands of each profession differ so greatly.

So...we went to Sydney to film a video for the Peak Performance for Performers course because we wanted footage with the gorgeous Sydney cityscape in the background. We filmed at dusk and into the night to capture the amazing view of the city lights. Steve took a photo to capture my creative effort.

Filming for Peak Performance Psychology for Performers

This morning we drove to Kiama for some ocean footage, and the weather just couldn't have been better. The rain held off, but the sky was blanketed in grey clouds, giving us fabulous, soft light to work with. It was a bit of a flying tour, but we got the job done and now it's over to Steve to put the videos together.

Video for Peak Performance Psychology for Writers

There wasn't much time for recreation on this trip, but we did manage a walk around Manly Beach this morning and a book indiscretion at some point on our journey was inevitable. The impressive thing is...I only bought one!

Manly video trip

Interview with The Bookdragon

Talking with Mary Jane at The Bookdragon about writing and books...

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I write because it makes me feel better and I’ve just always done it. I like playing with stories and I get the same kind of escapist pleasure from writing a story as I do from reading one. More, in fact. When the story is your own, you can live with it for longer and explore its dimensions and variations in more detail. The world is a hard place to live in sometimes, and writing makes it easier. I can’t say that I ever actually decided to become a writer – I certainly never set out to achieve anything in particular. I’ve always felt a need to express myself creatively, and words are my medium.

Becoming a writer

Can you describe your writing process?

I work best with a blank page in front of me. I know a lot of people prefer to map things out in advance, but my best writing is always unplanned and spontaneous. When I write to a plan, it always falls flat somehow. When I sit in front of a blank page, hoping something will show up, I quite often get a happy surprise. I have difficult days, of course, and I do tend to have ideas about how the next few scenes could develop (if the mood strikes me that way on the day), but I like to let the stories emerge in their own way. The plot developments I like the most in Striking Out grew, without exception, out of that intangible ether of uncertainty and in-the-moment imagination.

My usual process is to start the day by re-reading (and editing) what I wrote the previous day – this helps to get me back in the story – then I find the new content flows quite naturally.

How long does it take you to write a book?

It takes me a year to write a draft of a book, but I can work on more than one book during that period. This year, for instance, I’ll draft two and a half books in the year (and I’m working hard – this is definitely my upper limit). I need a certain amount of writing time, but it’s the thinking time that sets the time frame for me. I need to live with a story for a while, play with it and ponder my plot options, and I’ve found that takes me a year. I wouldn’t like to rush that process.

What do you do when you're not writing?

My day job is in occupational psychology, so I work with people to help them achieve their career goals. There’s huge diversity in my day-to-day work, and I facilitate workshops on a range of different topics, working with organisations and teams in addition to coaching individuals. I’ve recently launched a range on online courses for writers and performers to extend my reach beyond my local area. I still run lots of live workshops, of course, but technology makes it possible for me to work with people from all around the globe, and I love that. I’ve got a Psychology for Writers program that’s proving to be popular, and there’s high demand for my Goodbye Stage Fright program too. You can find out more here if you’re interested

In my personal life, I design and make jewellery using sterling silver and semi-precious gemstones in my spare time, and I have a photo gallery on my website.

I read a lot, too, and I’m a particular fan of crime fiction so long as it’s not too violent.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

I learn so many things from writing that it’s hard to know where to start, but I’ll go with this one because it might help other people who are struggling their way through the writing process.

One of the most surprising things I’ve learned is how easy it is to craft good writing from a first draft. The first draft stage is hard. Some days, I’m happy with my first pass at an idea. Other days, I look back on what I’ve done and feel quite dejected – I haven’t hit the mark and I know it.

I think this is one of the things that blocks people’s progress when they’re writing. It’s easy to feel stuck at this point, and to doubt whether your work has any merit.

But the re-drafting process is a whole new phase, and there’s real value in having something on the page to work with, even if the first draft of an idea isn’t very good. I find that once I have the ideas on the page, I can craft them into something I like much more easily than I expect. So I’m a great believer in the value of getting your ideas out. You can always come back and refine them later. Writing is an organic process – it never really ends – and I’ve learned to trust that my story will evolve over time into something I like.

What's next for you?

My second novel will be published next year. It’s the first in a series, this time in the crime fiction genre, and it features a heroine who works as a forensic psychologist, using her professional skills to unveil the secrets that people will kill to keep hidden. It’s much darker than Striking Out, bleaker and more cynical, and I’m really enjoying the change of mood.

I’m working on the sequel to Striking Out as well, and I’m grateful to be able to switch between this lighter, humorous work, and the darker piece that takes more out of me emotionally. It’s wonderful to be able to further develop my Striking Out characters – I’ve made Des’s life very difficult in the sequel. Des is a misogynistic, sleazy ego-maniac and making his life a misery gives me a lot of pleasure.

I have a non-fiction book close to completion, too, and I’m hoping to have that ready for submission in the next six months or so. It’s a book on psychological profiling for writers, to help writers create psychologically credible personality structures for their characters.

Interview with WS Momma Readers Nook

Talking to Erika Messer at WS Momma Readers Nook about writing...

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write! Seriously. There’s no substitute for sitting down in front of a blank page and doing the hard yards. Be the person who does it, rather than the person who talks or dreams about it.

Be kind to yourself. No one’s first draft is a masterpiece (well, maybe someone’s might be, but certainly no one I know!). Just keep going with your writing, even if you think what you’ve written is flawed. You’ll fix the flaws when you redraft, so keep moving. New ideas might arise as you progress with your work that would require a different ‘fix’ than the one you might choose early, in any case.

Find your own style. Some people plot everything out in advance. Others make things up as they go along. And plenty of people sit somewhere in the middle. There are pros and cons to every approach, so don’t let anyone tell you there’s only one right way. The right way is the way that works for you.

Finally, write what you’d like to read, not what you think might sell or impress. That way the process will be intrinsically rewarding, and that makes all the difference when the going gets tough – and the going always gets tough somewhere on the journey.

Just write


What was the hardest part of writing your book?

The hardest part for me is always the redrafting process. I have more ideas than time, and I get real pleasure from sitting down in front of a blank page when I’m writing the first draft. It gives me an opportunity to play with some of the ideas I’ve been entertaining in my head, and I enjoy that process more than I can say. I particularly love it when I’m surprised by what shows up.

I find the redrafting process more tedious. There are a few key reasons for this. Firstly, by some quirk of fate (rather than some virtue I’m claiming credit for), I have a very good memory. This means that I quickly memorise the flow of words and that makes it hard for me to see new opportunities and improvements once I have a specific sequence in my head. I also enjoy big picture thinking much more than detail, so scrabbling around in the minutiae is never the fun part for me. The final challenge for me is that I’m easily bored. I like playing with new ideas, not tinkering endlessly with old ones that don’t seem so shiny anymore. I remind myself that my job is to maximise the shine for my readers, and that motivates me – until I start thinking about chocolate, and then I find myself all too easily distracted. I always gain weight when I’m revising!


Do you have a specific writing style?

I do have a specific writing style, but the guidelines I follow aren’t easy to explain. I don’t enjoy pretentious writing. It gets between me and the story, and I’m not interested in reading a book just so someone can admire themselves in the mirror and say ‘look how clever I am’. So one of my key rules is to make my style as invisible as possible. My writing is a vehicle for the story and I try to keep myself as far out of the way as I can. That means using the right words rather than the most impressive words I know. It means making sure that particular words don’t jump out, because they’re not quite right for some reason. It means ensuring that the flow of words is smooth and fluent so the reader is not pulled out of the story by a clumsy rhythm. I try to wear a cloak of invisibility, and if people say my novel is an ‘easy read’ (as a number of reviewers have), then I feel I’ve done my job.

On Writing

While you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?

No. And that’s a good thing. There were some unsavoury types in Striking Out! I did feel, though, as if my characters were real people. For me, they have to be alive in my head before I can do them justice on the page. I need to know what they look like, how they talk, how they move, how they think, what they wear. This is not so I can describe them to my readers, although it certainly helps with that, but because I only know what they’re going to do and say next once I can actually see them in my head. Scenes run through my mind like movies, and when I’m not sure what should happen next, I close my eyes and run the scene from the start. Once a mental movie is rolling, the flow is usually smooth and easy. Funnily enough, once the movie has revealed the answer, there’s a strange sense of inevitability about it – ‘of course, that’s what should happen!’ Why didn’t I think of that?

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I like to draw my own messages from novels – which may or may not be the ones the author intended – and I assume my readers like to do the same, so I never write with an agenda. I’m happy for people to take what they want from my work, and grateful that they’ve taken the time to do so. Having said that, there’s enough darkness in the world without me adding to it, so I try not to depress anybody. Life can be incredibly hard at times. I like books that offer some respite.

Aussie Humour

I was asked by an online interviewer to explain Australian humour to her American audience. Here's my response. Find the Mythical Books article here.

Australian Humour

Life is better when you're smiling

When people from around the world think of Australia, they typically think of magnificent beaches, warm weather, broad accents, venomous spiders and snakes, the Great Barrier Reef, the Sydney Opera House and, if they’re up to speed with current international politics, an embarrassing Prime Minister at the helm of a depressingly right wing government.

Australia has all of these things, it’s true. But none of them capture the unique cultural essence that, in my view, is Australia’s greatest charm. To understand Australia’s real character, you have to understand the distinctive use of language and humour – and that was what I tried to showcase in Striking Out.

Australians are the masters of understatement. A disastrous night out – a relationship break-up, followed by a trip to the emergency ward with food poisoning, and a long walk home in the pouring rain, for instance – might be later discussed like this:

‘How was your night out, mate?’

‘Oh. It was a bit ordinary.’  A raise of the eyebrows and a knowing nod would convey the rest.

And the thing is, Australians would get the subtext and laugh. Australians use humour and understatement to deal with misery.

Australians also employ irony as part of their distinctive interactional style:

You can assume in this example that the person asking the question already knows how the story ended and is just trying to open the door to a conversation about it.

‘How was your night out, mate?’

Your average Australian might reply. ‘Couldn’t have been better.’

Which means, of course, that it couldn’t have been worse.

Again, everyone would laugh and then – once the laughter had cleared the air and relieved the awkwardness around the issue – a more meaningful conversation would follow.

If you’ve ever been to Australia, you’ll know that Australians swear quite a lot. In all but the most conservative Australian circles, that’s not considered particularly offensive. It’s a way of introducing colour and drama to a conversation. Sexual humour is very much the same. Australians like to stretch social boundaries. On the surface, this might appear vulgar, but it actually has pro-social dimensions. It’s a way of reducing the tension around things that people don’t feel they can say.

Here’s an example of what I mean, taken from my novel, Striking Out. My heroine, Shazza, gets a phone call from a new friend, Jillian. The “elephant in the room” between them is that Jillian’s partner, Des, has been making a play for Shazza.  (By the way, Shazza’s name itself is representative of Australian humour. Sharon gets stuck with ‘Shazza’, whether she likes it or not. The country is full of ‘Barry’s’ who’ve spent their lives being called Bazza. Warren becomes Wazza. Australian nicknames are often ridiculous and they’re used to discourage people from taking themselves too seriously.) Here’s how Shazza deals with the Des issue in my story, letting Jillian know that she’s no threat. Jillian, by the way, has been having a very public affair with a guitarist.

“I was woken by an incessant ringing soon after nine the next morning, having only fallen asleep some time after four. I felt tired and flat and murderously grumpy.

‘What?’ I shouted into the phone.

I heard a girly giggle. ‘Who’s in a bad mood, then?’ Jillian said. ‘Desperate for a shag, are we?’

I groaned. ‘That’s your bag, Jillian. All I want is a good night’s sleep.’

‘That’s where the shag comes in,’ she said. ‘It’s relaxing.’

‘That depends on who you shag. And since I know you’ve had a baby with Des, that’s really too much information. You’re making me feel sick.’

She giggled. ‘I could tell you some very interesting things about sex with Des.’

‘That’s what I mean,’ I sat up in bed and propped my pillows behind me. ‘Not on an empty stomach.’”

Shazza has used humour to convey her lack of interest in Des. And they’ve both used sexual humour to overcome the social awkwardness inherent in their situation.

There are hidden nuances in the way Australians use humour and bad language, and it’s this subtlety that captures Australia’s real charm. If you happen to like great beaches and warm weather as well, all the better. Why don’t you sample Australia (and Australian stories) for yourself? You’ll be in for an interesting ride and they just might win your heart.

Week 48: Creative Challenge 52

Trish Urquhart, who runs Allaboutwriting, works as a documentary producer for Left-Eye Productions, and tries her best to live up to the title chef extraordinaire, has made a plum tart tatin this week and she's shared her recipe too. Read on!

Trish's plum tart tatin

Trish's Plum Tart Tatin Recipe

Melt some butter, sugar, star anise and cassia bark in a pan until it bubbles and is caremelised. Arrange the cut plum halves in circles in the pan and continue cooking until heated through. Remove from the heat.

Place a circle of puff pastry over the plums, tucking in around the sides. Bake in a hot oven until the pastry is puffed and golden. Remove from the oven. Allow to stand for ten to 15 minutes and then loosen around the edges and invert onto a serving dish. Serve with yoghurt or creme fraiche.

Do check out Trish's blog to see more of her fabulous food adventures.

Trish's plum tart tatin

Trish has also done some landscape photography this week, working with a sunset theme, and her shots are gorgeous.

Trish's sunset photography
Trish's sunset photography

Telena Routh

Classical oboist and textile designer, Telena Routh, managed to carve out some felting time this week, in spite of a busy teaching and examining schedule.  She felted a purple felt lace scarf for a friend, while she was waiting for a student to arrive. She then managed to finish the piece after his lesson, while a curry was simmering on the stove. Telena wins the multi-tasking prize this week!

A few days later, she enjoyed some felting in the sun, making small shapes into brooches, while enjoying a nice cup of tea. 

Telena's felt scarf and brooch

Telena also finished the eco-printed top from last week, leaving it to soak for a few days in the iron water, then washing it out and drying it to reveal the final colours.

Telena's eco-dyed t-shirt

Kanen Breen

Opera singer and Strange Bedfellow, Kanen Breen, is back in the tie game again this week, inspired by our illustrious PM and his draconian stance against marriage equality.

Victorian Opera asked Kanen to sing the national anthem at some basketball matches last night and he quickly decided that a glitter rainbow tie would be a fitting and fabulous protest whilst singing about the glories of our 'fair' and 'free' land.

He says the tie was straightforward if slightly time consuming to create (endless waiting for one color to dry before embarking on the next, and multiple coats required for even coverage), and the results most pleasing to his eye.

Kanen's rainbow tie

Kanen sang the anthems twice - first for the women's match and then two hours later for the men's. Both times were televised. The first time, the cameramen very artfully filmed him from the back and side, almost as though deliberately avoiding his fashion flair- most annoying, he says. The second time, however, they captured his full-frontal flamboyance, which prompted a redneck in the crowd to hurl homophobic epithets at him. Kanen says he expected this and couldn't have been less fazed. In fact, he found it strangely gratifying, because it meant that his tie must have been sparkling extra bright.

How gorgeous does he look is his finished creation? (The fans on Facebook were swooning).

Kanen's rainbow tie

Stephen Bennett

Stephen Bennett’s offering this week is threefold.

Firstly, he found another unusual vegetable to photograph, and thinks he might try a series of root vegetables. They're bound to be gob-smackingly popular with the punters.

Steve's root vegetable photography

Secondly, he hauled his bones out to the front porch and weeded the little garden next to the front door that has been in serious disrepair for months. There's still work to be done as he plans to fertilise and touch up the paint work, but it looks heaps better now than it did.

Steve's garden diptych
Steve's camera renovation

Thirdly, he’s making slow progress with his 8x10 camera, but progress nonetheless. This week he managed to get the old bellows off the front and rear bellows frames, and clean them up ready to receive the new ones. He’s a bit nervous about this as he doesn't feel that fabric related activities are quite his bag, and he doesn’t want to ruin the new bellows. He also prepared a couple of new lens boards for his two 8x10 lenses. He had to cut bigger holes in the aluminium, clean them up, spray with matt black, and then mount the lenses and tighten them up with the lens wrench. They are both ready to go now and just awaiting the new bellows, at which point the whole apparatus can be reassembled.

Steve's camera renovation
Steve's camera renovation

Scarlet Bennett

I've been a busy little author again this week, churning out nigh on 15,000 words, while carrying a full-time workload. I've drafted two chapters for my crime fiction novel - and it's just reaching the point in the story where some seriously bad stuff is going to happen, so that's kept me interested all week - a complete module for one of my online courses, and a few articles for my Psychology for Writers program too. One of my articles is about how you can tell when people are lying, and I really enjoyed researching and writing about that topic. Don't try to get anything past me now! My beta readers have given it a big thumbs up, too, so there are a few new lie spotters in the world these days.

The demand for my online courses has been really pleasing and I want to take a moment here to thank all you kind people who helped spread the word. I'm delighted to be working with the fine people who've signed up for my programs, so thanks for letting people know about them.

I whipped up some earrings today, mostly so I'd have something visual to share for my creative contribution. I've never made hoops before, and I'm very pleased with how these have turned out. And I made the turquoise flower earrings because they struck me as just the ticket for an out-and-about Saturday. Flowers, after all, go with everything

Scarlet's handcrafted earrings