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Friday, 29 May 2015

River at War - WHY I wrote the Book … Jean Louise Allen

I wrote River at War for all families who in some way, fought in the Second World War. I was three years old when WW2 was declared. In the following years young men saying goodbye in their khaki, navy or Air Force grey became a natural part of my life. In our street neighbour supported neighbour and in our town women, boys and old men took on the young men’s jobs while they fought for us left behind.
   Young men preparing to leave for WW2 were part of my days but it was the wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters who surrounded me. I came from a family of five daughters. While my father worked the tides and shovelled shingle, sand, and rocks onto barges to cart down for the building of the Whenuapai Air Force Airport, as well as running his own cartage business; we girls were helping Mum stretch the butter, eggs and sugar rations. We made up prisoner of war parcels to send overseas and we knitted. I was learning to knit scarves, my sisters knitted scarves and balaclavas and learnt to knit socks on four needles so that no seams would irritate a soldier’s feet. Mum knitted the gloves and mittens because they were done on four needles and she was the expert. All these were sent to the boys to keep them warm.  
   We supported Mother England and our country and were patriotic to the core. As a five year old New Zealander I could sing ‘Maori Battalion March to Victory’ with the best of them and by seven I sang “Keep the Home Fires Burning … ‘til the boys come home,” with feeling. We were taught that crying was a waste of time; so we sang. We sang on boats, on trains, around pianos and in halls. We sang with uncles, aunts, cousins and friends and neighbours. We sang to those leaving for War and to those coming back. Songs filled our hearts and fuelled our determination to help our ‘boys’ to victory.   
   I remember saying goodbye: to my big cousins and to my sister’s friends in Army, Navy or Air Force uniforms.
   I remember when they came back; some who walked with an empty sleeve, or a scarred face; some who walked with crutches; and the ones who came home very quiet.
   And I remember the ones that didn’t come back.
   And still the personal childhood sounds that come to me occasionally, in the night, or on a gentle afternoon, are the sounds I had never heard before; the haunting sounds of marching feet; of crying women; of kisses and goodbyes; and, personally, of the sounds of aeroplane engines in the skies. For in the later years of the war, when New Zealanders watched their skies for enemy aircraft, any plane engine within range of our small school was used as Air Raid Drill.
   Even now I hear around me my little friends and the light thudding of our feet as we run, in unacknowledged fear, for the long ditch at the bottom of the school paddock, where we crouch, heads down, waiting, in perfectly trained silence, for the engine in the sky to fade and fly away, to leave us alone.  
   I wrote River at War for all those people anywhere who were left behind; those who gave and worked and who kept on giving and working with amazing love and with unsung bravery to do their best for their country and for their men at war. May their blood, sweat and tears and the loss of their loved ones never be forgotten.
You can watch a video of Jean giving this speech here...   

River at War by Jean Louise Allen is the story of Miriam, the daughter of the main protagonist in my first book River River Raupo Rye. Miriam is an adolescent in the forerunning years to WW2, reaching maturity in the troubled times of the War itself. She chooses her life’s work against some opposition but is determined on her career. Strong minded, resolute and loving, Miriam faces many challenges, many struggles in her growing years. Will her loved one return? Will her country be safe? Will her work, family and two careers be too much for her young shoulders? And how will she survive the demands of the times? This is a feisty book that encompasses more than Miriam and her family. It is alive with the throb of friends, their town and the appalling hardships only war can bring. New Zealand as it used to be. Raw at times; gentle at times; gutsy throughout.
You can find River at War and all Jean's books here on her Amazon author page...

Friday, 22 May 2015

Barbara Algie muses on Mother's Day

‘I’ve been sitting here ‘reflecting’ when I should actually have been writing.   After reading columns in ‘Sideswipe’ from Mums begging their offspring not to outdo each other by going overboard, I realised Mothers were doing it too – ‘reflecting’ that is -  on what they didn’t want.   What they failed to appreciate was that Mothers Day simply keeps the retail world revolving happily for another year.
So if you are a Mum what did your heart desire – and did you get it?   Was that mini chain saw from the DIY store (professionally giftwrapped of course) really a delightful surprise, or would you rather your children offered a few hours of their precious time to front up, armed with the necessary equipment to demolish the triffids that threaten to engulf you every time you step outside your back door? 
Florists had a field day operating Eftpos machines between artistically arranging expensive white orchids amongst twisted willow twigs. Lovely, of course, but would not a bunch of flowers from your daughter’s garden have pleased you even more?  
Did you enjoy being squeezed into a packed restaurant because your suggestion of a home-cooked meal (which you didn’t have to prepare or clear up afterwards) went down like a lead balloon?  
Did you wonder as you opened that Gift Voucher what fate and the family had dreamed up?   You may find you’ll be bungy jumping off the Skytower (meaning they think it’s time you did something daring) – taking up the offer of a season’s ticket to the local gym (meaning your bulges are bulging) – or having a complete facial makeover (meaning you’re definitely on the slippery downward slope when it comes to dealing with wrinkle control). 
Good old Greetings Card manufacturers – they’re the ones joyously counting their profits and I have some advice which may please them no end  for not everyone is a Mother.  Consider their increased revenue if there should, in addition to ‘Mothers Day’ and ‘Fathers Day’ be an ‘Others Day’.


    There’s Fathers Day and Mothers Day, two days we celebrate  

    So why not have an ‘Others Day’ for those who didn’t mate?

    There’s lots of ‘Others’ out there who don’t quite fit the bill

    Some of them decided on the contraceptive pill

    If you should venture out this day at cafes you would find

    A host of other ‘Others’ of a very different kind

    There’s spinsters and bachelors, homosexuals and queens

    With not a sign of noisy kids from babes up to their teens

    Some of these other ‘Others’ only have a niece

    They chose a same sex partner to find their inner peace

    Though we may be a very strange and heterogeneous mixture

    I’d like to see an ‘Others Day’ become a yearly fixture.

Barbara Algie


Friday, 15 May 2015

Posture, Writing and Massage equal Creativity - Vicky Adin

I know my posture is bad. I sit for hours on the laptop, either researching, marketing or writing and pretend that all is well until the pain tells me I have to move. To help with the pretence that all is well, I have a regular clinical massage to ease the muscles. As I lay on the massage bed this morning while Sarah persistently niggled at a spot that was giving me a lot of trouble, I realised she and I had a lot more in common than I’d first thought. She tried this way and that, from this side and then the other, stretching, pressing, and kneading until she was satisfied with the result.

It’s the same with writing. You have to keep at something to get it right. You will never produce the best product you can if you take short cuts or hurry it along. Sometimes you need to experiment, and change things around.  Maybe head off down a different path when a difficult passage or scene just won’t come right and see where it takes you. Sometimes, you have to leave it sit for a while, and let it mature in the back of your mind, but in the end you have to keep reworking it until the words and action are in the right order to create the mood you want.

If I sit in the same position doing the same thing every day and the result is pain - yet I keep doing it - that is insanity. I know I have to mix things up. Stand for a while, walk about for a time, stretch, change the height of my chair or the laptop – whatever is necessary to change the result.

I can do the same with writing. If the characters are being difficult and churlish and won’t do what I want, then I have to work out what they want to do instead. I go for a walk or do some gardening, or let the analytical and controlling side of my brain take over. When that happens I find something else to do until the creativity brain returns, and it always does.

Blogging is one way to keep writing and keep the words flowing, and short social media comments sharpen the brain. Researching and transcribing notes into sentences is yet another, and seeking inspiration from images, comments and other blogs all help put things into perspective.

You can’t keep doing the same thing and expect different results. If you feel you are getting nowhere and going round in circles, try doing things in a different way and see what happens.

Vicky Adin

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Writing Real Characters - Bev Robitai

Sometimes as writers we create completely fictional characters for a story, other times we borrow somebody we know and use many of their genuine characteristics. Either way, the danger is to use a kind of shorthand – to make a stereotypical character so that readers recognise them quickly and we don’t have to spend a long time building them up. But flat, one-dimensional characters are boring, offering no surprises and no insights.
Take the standard Little Old Lady, for instance. She’s small, sweet, and her family think she’s not very bright. She dotes on her children and grandchildren, goes to church on Sundays, and likes to cook and sew. To most writers – and I’m including TV and movie scriptwriters here – she’s a comic figure with little to offer beyond light entertainment.
But look past that fa├žade. She may not be educated, she may mispronounce words and mangle her language to comical effect but she’s incredibly wise. She’s had a lifetime of close observation to know how people tick so she understands why your marriage is falling apart or why your children are in trouble, and her advice is worth heeding. Yes, her religion is illogical, but her faith gives her astonishing strength to deal with any situation. Her framework of belief gives her resilience no matter what disasters occur so she can comfort you despite her own sorrow.
She’s the glue that holds together a far-flung, disparate family. She’s the shoulder to cry on, the phone call in dark hours, the one person who loves you no matter what. That Little Old Lady has depth.
I once borrowed my mother-in-law to play a minor character in one of my books, slipping her in to provide comic relief. I don’t know if she’s ever recognised herself, but I rather hope she hasn’t.
I really didn’t do her justice.
Bev Robitai

Friday, 1 May 2015

Author Interview with Jenny Harrison

What inspires you to get out of bed each day? Coffee! No, really. The rich aroma of good coffee and I’m out of bed in a flash. Otherwise I tend to drift on in a dreamy state doing nothing, thinking nothing. In any event I’m pretty dozy until about 10 o’clock. But coffee helps.

What is your favourite book from childhood? Tell me about it. My favourite children’s book has to be Wind in the Willows. Such a tender book filled with gentle stories of friendship and adventure. Written by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by E H Shepard and published in 1908, this book is timeless, a long-gone pastoral England with characters one comes to love; Mole, Rat and the irrepressible, conceited Mr Toad.

What are you currently reading? Tell me about it.
I’m not a book snob. I haven’t read The Luminaries and probably won’t. My research at the moment is sombre; the Holocaust, so I need light reading to centre me. I have belatedly found Susan Hill’s crime novels, a nice balance of whodunit with complex inviting characters. Her ghost stories are excellent too and, I suspect, will become the inspiration for my own paranormal stories. There are no vampires or zombies. No one’s scared of those! They don’t make you look over your shoulder or double-lock your door at night. But a subtle story; a ghostly hand clutching yours, an indent on the bed when you know you’re alone, a shadow across the windowsill – now that’s the stuff of real fear.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote? Why does it stick in your memory? The first story I wrote was a book, Debbie’s Story. It was a bestseller and that’s probably why I remember it. It was a biography of childhood sexual abuse and it came out at just the right time and right place for a dialogue to begin about what some children are put through by evil adults. Radio, television, magazine and newspaper reviews – all heady stuff. I wondered if writing and publishing was always going to be that easy. I came down with a crash.

What’s the best thing about being a writer? Ian Rankin said; ‘I think most writers are just kids who refuse to grow up. We’re still playing imaginary games with our imaginary friends’.
Bam! Kerplat! Take that, you scoundrel! Saddle up, Tonto, we’re outta here!  It’s wonderful to create characters and to live with them for as long as it takes to complete the book. There is a kind of childlike pretension about writing and about slipping into the ‘skin’ of someone else, even if that someone is made up.

What is your writing process? I try to write for at least an hour a day and I keep a record of the number of words I manage in a writing session. Sometimes it’s a thousand and that feels very good. Sometimes it’s only a page – not so good. I don’t have any superstitions about writing, although if have a little stuffed frog on the computer whose black eyes stare at me and remind me to ‘get going, already’.

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time? I read a lot and I play classical guitar. I’m not only a double dipper (two books going at a time), I usually triple-dip, meaning that I will have one non-fiction book I’m reading for research and then two, at least two, novels. I might even have a ‘how-to’ book on the sidelines, something like Solutions for Writers by Sol Stein or Plot by Ansen Dibell, two oldies but greaties. When I get stuck those sorts of books become my butt-kickers.

What are you currently working on? Explain. At the moment I’m researching a book on the Holocaust. Jewish friends of mine lost their entire family, except one, in the Holocaust. All they had was a bunch of letters written in Polish. A good friend translated the letters and slowly a tragic picture is emerging. I’m hoping to have a first draft by the middle of the year (2015 that is!). We would like to call it Out of Poland : when surviving is the best revenge.

Do you belong to a group? About thirteen years ago I joined a fabulous group of writers. The Mariangi Writers Group in Auckland has been going for about thirty-five years and is a powerhouse of inspiration and encouragement. Every writer needs a group where they can throw ideas around, get good critique and have understanding friends. MWG has been that for me.

List of Books by this author:

Nonfiction:    Debbie’s Story

A New Life in New Zealand

To the Child Unborn

The Lives of Alice Pothron


Fiction:           The Falling of Shadows

The Indigo Kid

Accidental Hero

Rusty and Slasher’s Guide to Crime

Rusty and Slasher and the Circus from Hell


Links to books:

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