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Sunday, 9 October 2016

The Woes of Editing

I’m not a professional editor but I reckon that over the past two decades of writing, I’ve picked up an idea or two on how to structure a sentence, what passes for good grammar and how to spell. Not only that, I’ve got a very good sense of the music inherent in good writing.

I remember my very first first-author tantrum. It was during the edit of my book, Debbie’s Story. I feathered my returned manuscript with Post-It notes, all the places where the editor had changed something and with which I totally disagreed.  ‘This was exactly how it happened’. ‘How can you change that?’ ‘You’re killing off my voice!’ I cried. My voice? As a first-time author what did I know about voice? And how was any editing going to do that? In fact, I knew very little about the role of the editor and cared even less. My beloved, my baby, my perfect manuscript was sacrosanct. As with all newbie author’s my ego was up there with the 747s.

It was only much later, about the time I published my third book that I began to respect the role of the editor. A good editor refines a manuscript, takes the rough stone and cuts and polishes it until it shines. In doing so, the editor allows the author’s voice to be heard above the clamour of awkward paragraphs, mis-spelled words and poor grammar.

I was recently asked to edit the book of a friend. She had written a cheery little thing that I was anxious to see succeed. For a first-time author she had done well except for the usual glitches inherent with first-time writers. I spent days doing what I do best. She hated it. ‘You have ruined my voice’; ‘this wasn’t what I’d written’. She took back the manuscript and changed my editing. Okay, you might say, her privilege.

Yes, maybe. But it saddened me to see what could have been a professional book turned back into that of a first-time amateur. Not only that, it’s hard enough to keep the reputation of self-published books high…

I suppose if I were a professional and had charged her for my services, she would have had more respect for my skill.

Ah well, you live and learn.

Jenny Harrison



Is it offensive to be called a partner?

I know it is neither ethical nor legal to biff an old lady round the chops and, fortunately, few even contemplate it. But yesterday I came close to having my face re-arranged – all on the altar of accurate vocabulary.

I bumped into an acquaintance in the supermarket; in the toiletry aisle actually. She said she was looking for something for her partner. Perhaps I could help her find it?

‘Of course,’ I said, gazing around. ‘Is he or she your business partner or your sex partner?’

She looked puzzled and I repeated my question. Then the penny, as they say, dropped. Her eyes narrowed and took on a menacing glitter and her lips thinned in an aggressive line. I thought I saw her hands ball into fists before she stalked away.

Now, I ask you? What did I do? I was only trying to clarify the situation. She called this unknown person her partner. I didn’t know what sort of relationship she had. Now, in my day (yes, I know things change but they shouldn’t, not when language loses its edge and meaning) in my day a partner was someone you did business with. Today it means someone you do the business with. We used to call that ‘living-in-sin’.

If my acquaintance had been clear that this person was engaged in the morally dubious activity of ‘living-in-sin’ with her then we both would have known where we stood.

Today a husband or a wife is a partner. Murder is homicide. Rape is sexual assault. I find all this modern PC faffing about with words tiring and confusing. It’s just a way of fudging whatever activity you’re describing so that it doesn’t sound unethical or immoral or just plain bad.

Anyway, good on my acquaintance for walking away but not so good on her for allowing herself to be hoodwinked into being a ‘partner’ and not a wife.
Jenny Harrison

New book: Out of Poland: when the best revenge is to have survived
Other books available on my website:

Friday, 23 September 2016

Musings on Travel and Writing from Pam Laird

I’ve just been reading if your storyline is stuck, go and sweep the kitchen floor but I’ve gone one better, (at least more pleasurable) I’ve watered, fed and dead-headed all the indoor pot plants. And it’s given me an idea.

Has anyone noticed when travelling, say overseas or even when in one’s own country, that your reading choices change?

On a local break do you now flip through magazines or short stories because they’re easier to digest? In the stress of shortened time frames between moving on or going for a picnic, or moving from the all-purpose studio bach to some peace under a tree, is it easier to just flip through the local newspaper?

What if you’re a writer? Do you make copious notes to use in a future novel? Maybe you make special observations when you pass through a more down and out area on an island or in the ‘we don’t do tourist area’ of a port you’ve never been to before.

In other words, does travel for whatever reason change your thinking in a way that alters your writing vocabulary or enthusiasm or even your interest in the process?

Maybe you’ve been ill, or even disturbingly ill, obviously if you’re in hospital the constant comings and going are disturbing, so we’ll take that as a given and you can neither read nor write. But assuming you’re at home and not in pain, does the time you now have in your lap, change your thinking and consequently your writing?

What about choosing books when you’re laid up? Do you make different choices from say, crime or travel to light romance or humour? Or maybe the other way around? Maybe you prefer something more practical when one day you’ll be back on your feet and into such interests as ‘how to build a tree-house’ or a new gardening plan.

Or is it possible, in these circumstances of travel or health, the genre makes no difference at all. That nothing changes. As one travel greeting card once pronounced, ‘Wherever in the world you end up, there you are.’

Pam Laird

Friday, 9 September 2016

The challenges of writing non-fiction - Jenny Harrison

I’ve just finished writing what has proved to be the most fraught book I’ve ever tackled. It was the story of a Jewish family living in Poland at the time of the Holocaust. Not only was the subject painful to research but the surviving family members were quite naturally sensitive to anything that impinged on their long-held beliefs.

I didn’t know when I started that my research would throw up such challenges. As I progressed, sometimes naively enthusiastic, I think the family began to feel threatened. They were often reluctant to accept my findings and, at one stage, they pulled out of the project completely. I could use the story, they said, but I had to change the names so they would not be identified with what I had discovered. It wasn't what they had been told.

Changing names of those who died in a German death camp felt like a betrayal; a betrayal too far. With a deep sense of sorrow I changed the names as requested. Then the family read my research and the first draft of the book and there was a change in the climate. ‘Your research is impressive and has integrity,’ they said. ‘You have found out stuff we never knew. We acknowledge your honesty and ask you to use our real names.’ So the names were changed. One son was not able to accept my work and asked for his name to be disguised, so another name change. A few weeks later he came back to me saying his siblings had reverted to their real names so he ought to as well. So, there was a further name change. I think there were five different name changes before the end.

I doubt they will ever totally accept my findings and that’s okay. I remember when I wrote another bio, The Lives of Alice Pothron, there was a constant rumbling ‘but that’s not what my mother told me’. Writing a book about family will constantly throw up arguments and contradictions. Memory is fallible, reputations easily damaged; time-cemented beliefs can crumble. You have to be adamant and rely on history, not family memories.

The book Out of Poland, when the best revenge is to have survived will be available in September 2016 from your local book store (you may have to ask them to order it) or from my website

Jenny Harrison


Sunday, 28 August 2016

A Traveller's Thoughts from Evan Andrew

I am just getting back to a more normal lifestyle after my return from the UK, Europe, and Russia!

Wow, what surprise that turned out to be.

I was completely blown away, not only by the beauty of Saint Petersburg, (which I had seen hundreds of photos of,over the years ) but had failed to appreciate the magnificence until I saw it with my own eyes.

I was incredibly lucky to have had superb weather,in which to travel around and view everything, as well as a most informative Russian guide, an art & history lecturer at the university there.

I could relate many stories of his historical expertise, though his history seemed to end with the reign of Alexander II, and began again with Lenin, in 1920.

I should like to have explored  more of the country, and hopefully in the future I may. I certainly was surprised when I went out to Tsarskoe Selo, which was once the main district where the Emperor of Russia and all the Grand Dukes had their summer palaces, and the nobility their dachas by the sea.

Today, it is called Pushkin's village, and a statue in honour of the pet poet of Saint Petersburg graces the public gardens, and the guides are full of his exploits before his untimely death.

It caused me to think about all the Russian writers I knew of and read in my youth. Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekov, Alexander Herzen, and of course Alexander Pushkin.

Tolstoy was always my favourite. War and Peace, Anna Karenina; books I continue to re-read to this day.

I don't remember seeing any of the female Russian writers having their work translated into English. Elena Aprelva, Anna Barina, Anna Dostoyevskaya, Karolina Pavlova, Sophia Tolstoya, Zinaida Volkonskoya, are just some of that band of sisters.

I am sure their work is available, and it would be interesting to read, and see it they have that same slightly mystical, and often depressing theme, between laughter and tears, that is so typical of a lot of their male counterparts.

I am contemplating a book set in Imperial Russia, and hopefully one that will catch the unusual ambience of a country and its people that's not really European, any more than it is Asian.

Ah well, now all I have to do is try and find the time to write!

Spring, my favourite time of the year is just around the corner, and like all the new growth and birth at this time of the year, I feel a story coming on.


Watch this space!!!


Evan G Andrew


Friday, 12 August 2016

Jean Allen is 'Lifted by Words'

Sound/speech/silence – what we hear; what we say; what we think … the sounds of the earth, the sea and sky. Language lifts man or destroys him. In periods or stages of my writing years my soul goes through playing with words, with ideas.

Last week we took ourselves to Parakai where the mineral waters are harnessed for spas. I have been taking ‘time out’ at Parakai since my mother introduced me to those healing water in my teenage years. As a young man my father had laboured on the laying of the Council mineral pool foundations. I returned once, in my early twenties to stay at the old hotel, where we ran the water for our own baths. Over the years Parakai and the hugeness of the Kaipara harbour, where Dad plied his launch and barge carting business, the high clear skies and the huge harbour waters have called me. These river/harbour places between Dargaville and Helensville are my waterway roots, my birth, my whakapapa.

Nowadays I live across country, on the east coast. It takes me forty minutes of easy driving through farmlands and small settlements to reach Helensville … another four or five to Parakai … and about another twenty-five minutes to Shelly Beach, my other favourite place.



glass city


country grass




spring grows


punga groves


peace paddocks





This is Jean  ‘Angel’ Allen tired of the rain but loving the lambs in this New Zealand spring weather.

Pam Laird Finds How Things Can Happen When You Write

Recently an editorial in a well-known English publication dedicated a whole page to the magnificent war effort put forward by the Commonwealth countries towards Britain. 

Mention was made of the gratitude and appreciation of the British people. All about Canada, Australia and South Africa, but not one mention of New Zealand.

Having loaded myself with all the relevant war-time Google facts on New Zealand’s highly commendable contribution, I fired off an indignant, (and I hope, respectful) letter in response.

In due course this was acknowledged by the editor’s secretary per email, and a suggestion made that my letter could be published in the next issue. It was, but only half of it. The half mentioning the percentage of NZ serving men sent overseas, Sir Keith Park’s contribution in the Battle of Britain and various other facts and figures, were not.

However, here is the really interesting and ‘fun’ part. As a result of the publication of my ‘fact limited’ letter being published, I received an indignant email from an English resident. He said he felt ashamed of the omission of any mention of NZ in the original editorial. In his email he recognised not only our contribution to the war in terms of personnel, food parcels etc, but also mentioned his admiration of the NZ serving men and women at that time.

As it happens, he and his wife were already booked to spend a holiday in New Zealand this coming summer and I have arranged to meet at this time. New friends coming up?
We continue with regular emails that, in view of Brexit, are both interesting and entertaining, containing as they do, some fascinating comments of one man’s attitude towards the huge hurdles the UK now faces. Our son in the UK has taken the opposing view so their comments are enlightening, amusing and horribly confusing.

The moral of my story is…never be afraid to voice your opinion on published matter that veers widely from your own view of known reality and the facts. You never know what might come from such a discussion. After all, writing is a tool.


Pam Laird

Saturday, 30 July 2016

4 Powerful Ways to Improve Your Writing - Alex Limberg

Alex Limberg shares his personal writing journey. Reposted from Kristen Lamb’s blog.

Today, I want to […] highlight for you what has advanced me most in my writing. Hopefully these lessons will help you too, especially if you are at the beginning stages of creating fiction.

Any look back on a passion project must always be personal and a bit awkward. That’s because it matters so much to you.

When you start out writing, like with any new skill, what you are doing just feels clumsy and deficient. The ugly truth is, the beginning stage is painful for novices of any field. You have no clue about anything, and you don’t even have a feeling for what’s missing. You feel out of balance, like a bear starting to practice riding a unicycle.

In my case, that clumsy bear phase began when I was 14; that’s when I started writing with serious intentions. Gladly, while writing, I didn’t realize how far I was from where I wanted to be. Like the donkey following a crunchy carrot, it always seemed to me my goal was just around the next corner.

Internet was still a few years away, and I didn’t have any information about the most effective ways to sharpen my skills. I just followed my gut and did what my passion told me: To keep writing and pushing forward.

But looking back now, I can point out the four specific things I did that helped me more than anything for my fiction writing. Let’s take a look at them.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Like always, if you want a comprehensive, no-holds-barred list about what I learned makes a good story, download my free ebook about 44 test questions to make your story great.

Putting a Lot of Hours into Writing

If you take just one single thing from this post, let it be this one: You only learn by doing!

By far the most important thing you can do to get good at a skill is to practice it relentlessly.

Theory can be a shortcut, and it’s a good idea to study a bit how people more skilled than you have done it before you – but don’t get stuck with it. You will never be able to write well just from reading theory. That would be like trying to become a world-class tennis player by sitting on your couch, watching tennis and eating potato chips.

No, here is the only way to get good: You have to sit down on the cheeks opposite of your face and actually do it!

There is a rule that says you need about 10,000 hours to excel at a skill, and I found that number to be remarkably accurate: After roughly 10,000 hours of writing, I started to become really happy with the quality of my writing and my stories.

But back then, of course I didn’t know about that rule. I just knew that to have a finished book that I loved, I would need to have a finished book first.

And so I wrote. When the novel was done, I read it, and my heart sank to my knees – my writing was a lot worse than I had thought. But I still loved the story. So I wrote it again. And again. All in all, I wrote that novel four times.

And while putting in my hours and actually doing it, I became good.

Reading a Lot

Just like you probably do, I loved books, I loved stories, and I loved to withdraw and immerse myself in different, fascinating worlds. I was intrigued by exciting plot, strong characters and skillful dialogue.

I had started devouring books at age 6 and never stopped. By the time I started writing, I had already been through many bookshelves worth of literature, with many more to come. I just followed my passion. But what I didn’t know was that observing my role models shaped me excellently.

When reading fiction, your subconscious automatically absorbs the language, the patterns, the three dimensional characters, the plot structure.

When you constantly immerse your brain in stories and language, you can be sure that deep down a killer instinct for writing is built. You can’t help but learn.

You will be able to draw from this reservoir for all of your writing career. Even if it’s not a career.

Being Brutally Honest with Myself

Screen Shot 2016-07-28 at 9.32.13 AM


You won’t find this one in many writing manuals, because it’s hard to do: Being able to admit to yourself what you have written is plainly bad. Admitting it is especially hard when you have no idea how to make it better and how to navigate the maze that is writing a good story.

Me, I’m a critical and sometimes too critical mind.

I’m usually able to confess to myself when work I have done sucks. To be honest, for many years reading my prose was an utterly depressing experience. My pulse quickened and my palms got sweaty when I realized everything it lacked.

What I wasn’t aware of at the time was how many people go for half-hearted outcomes, only to tell themselves it is okay and good enough. But self-deceit hardly ever leads to success.

You grow most outside your comfort zone. You grow when you set yourself goals and work towards them. And in order to establish these goals, you must admit that you are not there yet. You have to be able to take a good, hard look at your writing and realize what is missing.

Only then do you allow yourself to become better.

Knowing My Characters as Well as My Best Friends

Your characters are driving your story. That also means when you have great characters, they will drive your story for you.

They will take care of who they are (characterization), what they do (plot), what they say (dialogue), and what they see (description). That’s still not your entire story (above all, you also have to learn how to handle language), but it’s a huge part of what makes your story.

Hence, if you know your characters really, really well, it will help you enormously.

Once I realized this, I started to write out long character sheets for each main character before even writing one single word of the main story.

I wrote out deep psychology, background, attitude, speech patterns and more. Then I put my characters into single scenes totally unrelated to the story, just to see how they would behave. How would they react to winning the lottery? To their brother insulting them? To gaining weight?

Minor characters would get shorter character sheets and even very small characters would have a couple of sentences dedicated to their personalities.

So write out your character sheets, and then lean back and let your characters do all the hard work for you…

In summary, follow these four cornerstones: Write relentlessly, read, be honest with yourself and know your characters like your best friends. I followed these rules intuitively, and only looking back do I now realize how important they were for my writing.

If you do just these four things, you have come a long, long way. Your writing will improve fast and the quality of your stories will skyrocket. Till one day you notice… writing doesn’t feel clumsy anymore at all.

Now it feels effortless.

Alex Limberg

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