Creativity, Play and Rest

Hello!! I have stumbled back to my blog like a stranger. It was doing a round of submissions that sent me back here as I needed to remind myself of my publishing background. Writing that out seems ridiculous. I know what I’ve had published—and what isn’t—but I’ve been so long into my current manuscript that I have neglected doing any updates here.

Where have I been? What have I been doing?

Since my last post, I have written eight Tinyletter newsletters that have included all sorts of things like poetry, having a knee operation, coping with the lockdown blues and some other things. While it’s been good to have a bit more interaction with these newsletters, it does make it look like nothing is happening here. (Side note: please sign up for my newsletters here where I might write more stuff)

Trust me, stuff is still happening in my writing and creative life.

I am still writing. At the end of May, I finished the seventh draft of my manuscript that has had many names during its various iterations but is now going under the name of Before, After, Now. It’s historical fiction based on my ancestor who was sent to Australia in 1787 for stealing a pot, a kettle and an iron. Her husband of the time pointed his finger at her in the court and said, it was her. Doesn’t take much imagination to guess at what kind of person would do that to his wife and, in turn, his one-year-old son who died on the ship before it even left Portsmouth Harbour. She had a wretched life and the work I have had to do to get the story to its current state other than all the research I have done over the last six years is to work out why each of the things I know about her happened. Why was her daughter in the first orphanage in Sydney? Why did she work for a short time as a cook in the orphanage? Why did the father of her daughter leave the colony and never return? Why did she never take his name, did she never give her daughter his name? Why did she die where she did, when she did?

The current iteration of the manuscript feels (for now) like the one that is right. It has three points of view: Ann, her daughter Elizabeth and the narrator. Finding my way into Elizabeth and her view of the world really opened up the story for me, and hopefully for the reader. Soon, it will go on its merry way to have a manuscript assessment when I will find out the truth about the manuscript.

This is The Most Scary Moment for me with it. To this point, no one else has read it in its entirety and while it is easy and less sick-making to keep it like this, it will never get published without someone else’s eyes on it.

When I first finished this draft I felt like I was cast out into a rubber tube in the middle of the ocean. I was so used to my routine of getting up every morning at 5.45 am to work on the manuscript, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Initially, I took the time to sleep in as I was very tired. It took a lot of out of me finishing this manuscript. Then I resumed my early mornings and did yoga.

Now it’s school holidays, I’m back at my computer doing writing admin, cleaning up my files, writing a synopsis and chapter summaries and looking at what else is going on in the writing submission world. This week I wrote a new short story and edited another and it felt great to play with new words.


‘If you don’t know how to play, then you will not be creative.”

John Cleese

John Cleese outlines what he sees as the five factors of creativity (the below is from the Brainpickings post about this):

  1. Space (“You can’t become playful, and therefore creative, if you’re under your usual pressures.”)
  2. Time (“It’s not enough to create space; you have to create your space for a specific period of time.”)
  3. Time (“Giving your mind as long as possible to come up with something original,” and learning to tolerate the discomfort of pondering time and indecision.)
  4. Confidence (“Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake.”)
  5. Humour (“The main evolutionary significance of humour is that it gets us from the closed mode to the open mode quicker than anything else.”)

I’ve learnt over time that it’s great for my creativity to do things that put me out of my comfort zone. Years ago when I felt like writing was difficult I took up learning jazz piano. While I am still not a piano player, it was the impetus that I needed to get back into writing after I’d learnt that it was okay to be terrible at something but to still have a go. So when my friend Katherine Collette (author of the very funny The Helpline and another book that will be published next year—watch this space…) told me a few months ago she’d enrolled in an improv course, I was interested. I knew it would be difficult coming off the deep editorial stage of manuscript I’ve lived with for the last six years to try to write anything else. I’m now six weeks into the course (if we ignore the three weeks intermission when we couldn’t do much due to yet another COVID-19 moment) and it has been a brilliant thing to add to my life. I spend three hours laughing a week while I get to make stuff up on the spot and learn that it’s okay to fail! What a brilliant thing for all of us to learn! It’s given me the energy I need for the new story I’m working on that is all fresh words and needs no editor’s eye on it. It’s the moment in writing when anything and everything is possible. It’s a wonderful playful stage of writing when I learn who’s who and what’s what and where’s where. Write it all out and delete it later (after I’ve saved it as Draft Zero). It’s also given me more confidence standing up in front of strangers and talking. Last night I put my name in the Jam Jar and bravely stepped onto the stage when my name was called and Made Stuff Up! On the spot. While I was nervous to start, my nerves fell away as I immersed myself in the experience. And I laughed. A lot. Laughter is so great for the soul.

My rough drawing of Little Red Riding Hood’s map

A couple of weeks ago I did a Queensland Writers Centre online workshop on map making with Kathleen Jennings. It was such a wonderful, playful and fun session that reminded me how much I love drawing and illustration. I have been playing with this since and again, it reminds me that playing helps awaken creativity. I’m amazed (but probably shouldn’t be) at how much energy playing gives me. It’s been so much fun drawing badly and allowing that to be okay.


On the last day of last term when we were all desiccated shells of ourselves, our principal sent all the staff something about rest that resonated with me. She talked about the research and work of Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith where she establishes the seven types of rest: physical, sensory, mental, emotional, creative, social and spiritual.

“We have a very limited view of what rest is. We think of rest as the cessation of activity—just stopping. But it’s actually practising restorative activites.”

Dr Saundra Dalton-Smith
Image from

I hope you can find time to rest, play, read or write. I’d love to hear from you to hear how this lands with you. Please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you ASAP.

Locking down, again.

My suburb is going into lockdown tonight for the second time. I had just begun to enjoy being out in the world again (cautiously), albeit without hugs and kisses with friends. While I don’t feel the same level of anxiety mixed with relief this time, I am feeling like this thing may keep happening and that we will never really get on top of it.

Last year I helped the English team at school select a novel to replace another for the Year 12 students this year. The one that jumped out at me was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I devoured the book and loved how different it was to many other dystopian/apocalyptic books. I loved the jump of 20 years to see how humans behave beyond a global disaster (spoiler: the same way humans always have behaved). When the students returned this year with their dog-eared copies, we laughed about how reality was mirroring the book. We chatted about how reality could help with their understanding of the book.

Then the fear and anxiety rose around us as COVID landed on our shores.

In the midst of lockdown when folks were posting pics of the sourdough starters, indoor plants, Zoom setups, people began to imagine a world where we all changed because of COVID. How we’d all be nicer, better people. How we’d spend more time cherishing the moments.

Cases of wine clinked from vendors to trucks to homes. Parents vented frustration and anger at having to home school. Teachers complained of headaches and worsening eyesight. Star Track and Aussie Post put on new drivers as homes filled with all the things that people hadn’t realised they didn’t have before. Dogs wondered why the gods had looked down on them with such delight and cats wondered the opposite.

We all said that the new normal will be different. Nicer. Kinder. Cleaner.

But, if we consider Station Eleven, will it? Or are we more likely to revert to old behaviours?

Certainly in the short time I had out in the world again, behaviours slipped. Things were changed, but rude people are still rude. Selfish people are still selfish. People still move about the world without thinking about how their actions may affect others. The minute people heard that cases were rising, the supermarkets noted a rise in purchases (damn that toilet paper!) and reinstated the restrictions on purchases.

Last week was my son’s seventeenth, and as I had no brain capacity to remember in time to order anything, I had to visit The Mall. I went early on a Monday morning in the hope that I would not be swallowed up by people. Initially it was okay. I moved freely as there were not that many people there. By the time I left, however, it was brimming with people who seemed to be there for a window shop. I couldn’t get out fast enough.

Now, as Melbourne digests the reality of rising infection rates people are trying to find ways around the lockdowns. The truth of the highly infectious virus seems to not stick with us, possibly because we haven’t seen the catastrophe here that is in other countries; we are the lucky country after all. It is only when we stop to think past ourselves in a pandemic that we realise that we all have to do the right thing and hang out at home for a little longer.

Me? I’m going to continue to Stay At Home. I’ve still got my list of things I never did with the first lockdown! Life will go on, for most of us. It is tough. I speak from a position of privilege of a house with space, of not having young children to care for. My son who is visiting for the semester break is going to get tested, and if negative will (sadly) take his safe bubble back to his country town for the rest of his break. I’ll continue to support my local businesses who I do not want to go out of business. The flats that are in hard lockdown are in a very different situation. I worry about the families in there. Many of my students live in them. I don’t know how they are going to cope.

I did finish one thing that I set out to do last time on my list, so who knows, I may even finish this manuscript this time. Time to sink into reading, writing and crafting again, and time to think about how to support the other locals who will struggle so much more.

The blanket that I have spent about eight years on, and then finally finished during the pandemic. Anything is possible now!

The months that were a year or more

I don’t need to tell anyone that this year has been too much. When this year began, I thought that the biggest things that I would be having to deal with were coping without two of my three sons moving out of home (and yes, they have been coping fine and it seems that I did teach them enough – Have I taught them enough?) and the climate anxiety in the young people I work with that would come from the bushfires (How to go on while Australia burns). Oh, how wrong was I. Instead it has been a year that’s has already felt like a decade.

My first day back at work in the school this year was the day after the weekend when we began to hear the news of this pandemic coming our way. The rest of that term was filled with rising anxiety from the students and staff as we grappled with the invisible and unknown. It felt like waiting for a tsunami. The early closures of schools that term came with an overwhelming feeling of relief for me to be out of the firing line of 500 odd kids and their potential germs.

The first holidays after that term I was overwhelmed. I wrote lists of things I could do to combat these feelings, but in reality, I was still working, still writing. Who did I think I was to be able to do all these extra new things! I slumped. I pleaded with my boys to come home, be safe, but they assured me they were fine. I sent them food packages as the country town grocery shelves emptied. I stopped looking at social media, at the news. I worked to help the teaching staff to be ready for teaching from home. I sought answers on why I felt so down and this article from the Harvard Business Review helped me to understand more about what I was feeling: That discomfort you are feeling is grief

As my husband, youngest son and I prepared for working and learning from home, I was thankful that we now had two spare rooms. I saw the privileged that we had with space to work on our own. My other two sons stayed in their respective houses in the country and continue their studies. They lost their new jobs and were fortunate that we could support them (which we will probably have to for a while). I wondered how others who could not lean on their parents for help were surviving. I filled my work room with boxes of books from the school library to work on and wrote lists of work that could be done from home.

The three of us in our home found our own routines. I rose at 6 am or earlier every day and settled into my writing life for at least an hour before I jumped on my bike for a ride that gave me a breath of nature. At 8 am I settled into work for the day which included the luxury of a coffee and lunch break with my husband and son. Usually I eat my lunch alone as I have it before the other staff so I am available for the students; I basked in this time I had with my husband and son to commune with each other over lunch. We were kind to each other as we all grappled at various times with the frustrations and grief of these times. Mostly, we loved each other.

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Morning ride: river, lake, birds.

A post shared by Meg Dunley (@megdunley) on

I met with my writers group every Saturday at 5.30, espresso martini in hand as we talked about our weeks. I was the privileged one in this group as I was the only one who did not have primary aged kids that needed a high level of supervision with their school. I encouraged them to lower expectations and reminded them of the year that I took the kids out of school, and how the kids survived. But I wasn’t living their hard times and could only imagine how hard it was as they told their stories of tears and frustrations.

As an introvert, I found the time to be a balm. It was quiet. I got lots of work done. I knitted. I learnt to crochet. I mended things. I bought books that launched in iso. I read. I spent time with my youngest. I chatted on the phone to my other two. I did online yoga. I rode. I patted the dog. I took an online course in Writing Picture Books and revelled in the joy of children’s stories.

I rewarded myself with the hard work by ending the work from home time with a four solid day virtual writing retreat interrogating every scene in my manuscript for its purpose as I prepared for the next draft.

This year was also the year of big numbers. My husband and I both were turning 50 and had big plans of a party to celebrate us. Our thirtieths disappeared in baby poo and vomit, our fortieths were spent in the outback so this one we wanted to share with our friends. Instead, we had quiet birthdays, and as the restrictions began to lift, small wonderful surprise birthday dinners arrived. I loved the intimacy of these dinners, loved the time spent with these people who I adore. They weren’t the big party we had envisioned, but they were extra special.

As an introvert, it is the returning to the world that has felt a little more disarming.

The first days back at school were a mixture of excitement at seeing each other and virus anxiety. A staff member hugged me before I had a chance to back away. My desk had been surrounded by tables for distancing in the very open library. Hand sanitiser bottles stood to attention in every room. The students returned, some masked, others oblivious. Conversations were held with the dance of social distance. Hand washing, and more hand washing. Processes implemented to Keep Us All Safe. I filled the tables surrounding my desk with a display of Aboriginal writing as worldwide anger rose at the terrible treatment of black people and First Nations People. Read to learn.

Yesterday I went to the mall for the first time in what feels like a decade but is more like five months. When I came home I had to nap. It took everything from me to have to interact and avoid so many people. We are once again in strange times where the breakouts are happening all around us and we can’t see where it is. I received an email this morning from Vic Roads reminding us to all stay home and I look out the window as cars laden with holiday pass by. Will it spread like the fires did over summer, or will people heed the warnings?

It’s holidays again and these ones feel better. I am happy to be home, albeit with a little jealousy of other’s photos of beautiful places they are going to. I have had one son home for his five-week uni break, and when he left, the other returned for his four-week break. My husband has moved his office into the room that I use as my office, and it mostly works. I have lists of things to get done. Lists are how I seek order in the unknown.

My morning writing schedule stays; it is the one thing that keeps me sane.

Have I taught them enough?

My oldest two are moving out of the family home within three weeks of each other to pursue their studies out in the country. I’m very excited for them as they embark on the next part of their lives. But there is a part of me worries about whether I have taught them everything they need to be out in the world on their own.


Photo: Stocksy

When I decided to move out of home, my parents loaded me with guilt about leaving (I was the last to leave home, and the only one to leave before getting married). Mum yelled-cried at me that I wasn’t ready to leave (I clearly was as I had already organised the house, had an income and was desperate to leave), while Dad told me that he wanted me to learn from his mistakes (which I couldn’t as I didn’t know what his mistakes were and I needed to make my own to learn from them, even if some of these mistakes were big). My boys leaving home feels quite different to that. We’ve known for a couple of years that the oldest would be leaving this year as it is a requirement of his course (Medicine) for him to spend the next three years out in rural areas (part of a strategy to get doctors into the rural areas), and he’s really excited about it. My middle boy is excited about the idea of living out of home and the course that he’s about to embark on is only offered in Ballarat (Paramedicine and Nursing).

I also know that this means that we’ve done something right for them to be confident to move out. They can both drive (my middle boy has his licence test in a couple of weeks), they’ve got jobs and skills that can get them jobs in new places, they can cook and clean and they manage their finances.

I remember when I moved out of home, I realised that I had never had to clean a toilet before along with many other things that Mum had just done or Dad had just done and I hadn’t realised I needed to know. I’ve spent the last twenty-odd years trying to teach my boys how to do all the domestic stuff; the last thing I wanted to do was to send my boys out into the world expecting any female to do the domestic things for them. My husband has been a great role model for them with this as well by being the chief ironer, cooking a few nights a week and being more fastidious with cleaning than me.

Still, I worry. Have I taught them enough? Are they ready? Will they remember how to make a quick and healthy meal? Will they know how to make their dollar go a long way at the supermarket? I’m tackling my worry in the way I know best: write. I’ve started writing a little book for them that has all the family favourite recipes and extra tips and tricks. Things like how long you can leave food in the freezer, use red lentils to thicken a dish and add protein to the meal, which meals are great for making up a batch to freeze for busy days, how often to clean the toilet, and what are good staples for the pantry. My husband is going to add to it when I’m done and I’m keen to see what things he will add. Who knows if either of them will even use it when they leave, but even if they don’t I know I will feel like I’ve done my bit.

Have you had kids move out? Did you send them off with tips on what to do? What things did you wish you had known before you left home? What else do I need to tell my boys? Tell me all! Time is running out.

How to go on while Australia burns

Today is cool in Melbourne. I woke to the strange sound of rain on the tin roof; it is easy to forget that there are so many fires still burning in Australia when rain falls. Yesterday Australia had its hottest day on record, and Penrith was the hottest place on earth. I doubt that much rain is hitting the areas that need it right now.

It is hard to think of anything at the moment other than our ravaged land, our people who have lost homes and livelihoods, people who have not survived the catastrophic fires. I find myself refreshing the browser of the Incidents and Warnings website to see if there is any change, if the fires will stop. The news tells me that the fires will probably continue for another eight weeks, and I can’t even comprehend what this must feel for the people most affected.

A few days ago we were camping in Harrietville, nestled in the valley between Mt Bulla, Mt Hotham and Feathertop. The water in the river was warmer than it should be, but the trees were still green. We made the call to leave when the fires began at Hotham and surrounds. We felt like we could be a burden on the community if it all turned bad.

I am lucky. I have a house in the inner city. I am safe. My house and my land are safe. I don’t rely on my land to ensure my family have food, water and shelter.

I turn my mind to my writing. It seems useless in these times. Who cares about my story when their world is burning down? I read instead: The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, Three Women, The Superior Spectre. Three Women leaves me feeling vulnerable and aching. I listen to The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone as we drive through the dehydrated landscape and somehow it amplifies the story.

At the start of every year I set my goals for the year, but this year it has felt too hard. I can’t seem to bring myself to sit down and do it. It doesn’t seem to matter in these days. My goals seem to be much smaller and feel more like my hopes for the world.

It’s now day five of 2020 and I have forced myself to sit with these fractious feelings. I have donated* what I can to the efforts of the firefighters and to the support of those who have lost so much (see below for ways to donate). There is nothing else I can do right now with this. Our useless government will continue to be useless whether or not I refresh my feed to see what else #ScottfromMarketing has to say. The greater community will, in the meantime, do everything we can to ensure the fires eventually stop and that people have the essentials.

I am easing myself back into the words with the admin: filling out my submissions spreadsheet with due dates coming up. Reminding myself that I am a writer again. I am warming myself up to work on my manuscript again. There are quiet moments here and there in my house as my husband takes our middle son for long driving lessons and the other two do their own things. I commit to throwing some words down about my feelings about what is going on right now, about the strange feelings I had while I was up in Harrietville; they may become something one day, or not. I commit to finishing my visual goals in my diary today; I know they help me during the year. I shuffle my to-be-read books around so that something lighter can rise to the top.

How to help bushfire victims

Cash is the best way to help bushfire victims. My chosen charities at this stage are Red Cross and Vic Emergency Bushfire Appeal. I also chose to support Haus of Dizzy who is donating to the First Nations People who have been affected. Some official charities to donate to are:

(NOTE: The featured image is from TripAdvisor of the Harrietville Caravan Park. We always forget to take photos when we are there. The creek this year has much less water.)

End of year thoughts

I have been putting off writing this post for a long time as I knew it would not be filled with any brilliant news or great successes. It’s hard to not compare myself with all my other writer friends and to wonder what I am doing wrong, but as the days creep closer to the end of the year and I try to regather my energy, I think it is important to have a quick look back and a longer look forward. It is a year that has taken its toll on many I know as we have been thrust into a global climate emergency with lame leaders. It has been hard to stay hopeful with this as a backdrop.

This year I took on full-time work at the high school where I have worked for the last five years. The one thing that worried me about taking this on was the impact it would have on my writing life. I committed myself at the start of the year to write every day after work, but I was not prepared for the effect the job would have on me. The reality is that my writing took a hit, but I also learnt a great deal about my dedication to it. The job has been a very busy one. It is managing a high school library (by myself) as well as doing all the communications and marketing for the school. I have never run a library before (other than my private one) and had no knowledge of how to do it, but I was prepared to learn. My day is busy. I start at 8 am and supposedly finish at 4 pm with a short half-hour break to eat my lunch. School libraries are not what they used to be. Our school library, which contains a cafeteria area with sandwich makers and microwaves, is the hub of the school. Kids flock to it whenever classes are not running, and during class time it is filled with kids who do not have classes, or who need to use the photocopier. To say it is noisy is an understatement, and this drew a lot of energy from me given that I am an introvert who loves her quiet time.

At the end of Term 1, I was ready to leave. I was exhausted from learning everything there was to know about running and cataloguing a library, resurrecting the library collection, and rectifying the library catalogue all while managing the students, as well as managing my household and completing another full draft of my manuscript. I began Term 2 with tears and dread. Not only was I worried about whether I would have the energy to keep going, but I also had a knockback from an agent. I sought counsel from a dear writer friend who empathised and encouraged to me keep going with my writing, to maybe write before my day’s energy was sapped from work, and reminded me that what I was doing in the school was good, that I was inspiring young readers.

During the year, my husband and I also battled various health issues with my husband having a moon boot for five months for two stress fractures, and I have had persistent plantar fasciitis all year and a torn meniscus on the knee on top of the worst year yet for my chronic migraines with more days of pain than not.

While I had hoped to have a contract by the end of this year (don’t we all?), I now know that the manuscript that I had sent out was not the one I want published. It pushed me to think more about the story: what is the best way to tell this story? I read more than I have read in any other year, with many of those sixty books being read to understand different ways to tell story.

So, while I may not have a contract (yet), I finish the year with some things I am proud of:

  • beginnings of a new and brave draft that is breaking my brain
  • first words of another manuscript that is making me laugh
  • admiration for my ability to get up early five days a week to write, despite how tired I am
  • knowledge that I am brave enough to completely break a well-written story to try to craft something more beautiful
  • learning new skills, and leaving the place in a better state than I found it
  • increasing borrowing by five (5!!) times in the library
  • attending the Historical Novel Society of Australiasia conference in Sydney alone
  • attending the School Library Association of Victoria Conference and making great and important contacts
  • going to two writing retreats even though I felt I didn’t belong
  • sending my young adult for a manuscript assessment
  • ability to live with and manage chronic pain
  • resilience in the face of rejection
  • publication in the Victorian Writer magazine
  • letting go of some overly ambitious goals.

I am deeply thankful for the people who have stood alongside me this year and cheered me on. It has not been an easy year and I have spent a great deal of it in pain, tired and grumpy. I have cancelled more things than what I have gone to. I have complained and cried. But with the love and kindness of my friends and family, I have picked myself up and gotten on with the work that needs to be done despite the pain and tiredness.

I am also deeply thankful for my medical team (neurologist, doctor, myotherapist, psychologist, podiatrist and osteopath) who have thought long and hard on how to help me live my best throughout. One of them told me to ‘just do a good job instead of a perfect job’, which was key to hear as it enabled me to let go of some of my perfectionist traits at work.

My family are everything. Without the chaos and laughter with my boys, I would feel bereft and selfish. I love them to bits. I am deeply proud of who they are and what they have achieved and are aiming for. They continue to ace at their studies while working part-time in various jobs and being their best persons to the world around them. I am thankful for my close relationship with each of them.

Next year is a huge year of change for our family. Two of the boys will leave home to study in regional areas. We are planning a small renovation during this time of a smaller family so that when we all come together again we will have a light-filled space to be chaotic together again. I have begun a new migraine medication that has been likened to a miracle prevention medication and I have high hopes woven with a dose of reality.

My goals for 2020 have more flexibility than other years as I am learning that this is important.

  • I don’t know if I will have this manuscript ready by the end of next year, or if it will be picked up by a publisher or agent, but I will complete the next draft and let it rest while I write something different.
  • I will review my young adult manuscript and see what needs to be done, or it if belongs in the bottom drawer.
  • I will keep reading wonderful books mostly by Australian women writers who deserve more space than they get.
  • I will spend time with my wonderful writing group who are deeply important to me.
  • I will spend whatever quality time I can with my boys as time passes quickly.

I hope that 2019 has been kind to you, and if it has not I hope that you can find some sense in it or are able to put it behind you. I hope that 2020 is a year that we can be proud of the decisions that our government make. I hope that 2020 is a year that brings kindness and love to you.

x Meg




Every story takes time (and a cheer squad)


The beautiful Ned and Musk Farm House where the magic of writing and writing friendship happens.

Two weeks ago I said to my husband that I should stop calling myself a writer. I felt utter despair with my two large writing projects. They felt too big, too overwhelming. It was the end of the school holidays and I had not done the big thinking and planning work on either of them that I thought I could have. I had been working at them five days a week for a minimum of 30 minutes a day on my work days, but it was not enough. Those tiny moments each day I spent with my writing before I started my day job were not enough to see the story as a whole and I began to doubt everything about my merit as a writer. I began to feel that working full time meant that I should give up my writing.

My two manuscripts have been redrafted a number of times and both of them need another draft (at least). One of them needed a new beat and a theme threaded through in addition to some sharpening to clear away the superfluous words. The other manuscript needs uninterrupted time to read through a manuscript assessment before I can even work out what needs to be done. Both of these things needed a big chunks of uninterrupted time (every parent and full-time worker) knows what I’m talking about here). I knew I had a week booked to write away with my writing gang, but two weeks ago I was overwhelmed and wondering if the sacrifices I make to write were worth it.

Luckily I have supportive partner and a writing accountability partner who both told me to stick at it, that I was a writer.  They both believed in me, even if I wasn’t sure I could do it. They cheered for me.

I am home now from my seven days away and I am exhausted and energised. Spending time with my writing gang has always helped me to refocus and to feel more confident in what I’m doing. It helps that doubtful voice to quieten. It reminds me that everything I am feeling is normal. This year we have not caught up as much as we used to and I am sure that this has also added to the spiral down of writing confidence.

I spent the first three days researching, reading, reacquainting myself with the manuscript. These days felt full and wonderful, but time was ticking by and I was losing myself down many rabbit holes (like the one that led me to the images below).  I worried that I would go home with nothing to show for my time away.


(Little sparks of joy from my rabbit hole researching. Images from

I scribbled notes on cards, paper and in new documents. I decided that if I could go home with nailing what the story was really about (in the words of a wonderful teacher: What is your story really about?), how the beat would hit the pages and that I would be able to hit my early morning writing date with confidence, then that would be a win.

The first great moment was deleting the first 11,000 words. What had been running through my mind were the words: start as late as you can. Suddenly I had the energy to run with it. It felt right (don’t worry, I did put those words into another document aptly named ‘Cut’).

The next great thing was when I applied something that I always told my creative writing students. I changed the point of view from third to first (i.e. ‘She’ to ‘I’).  Just to see.

And, oh. WOW. It worked!

I am now on the roll with again. It will be a better manuscript when I finish it. I am confident of that. Will it be the last draft that goes out to a publisher? I can’t answer that. What I can say is that it takes work—lots of work—to shape a story into something that is not only publishable, but is also interesting and stands on its own. While that work is being done (which is years) every writer needs to have people in their camp who cheer for them, encourage them and remind them that they are writers whether or not their book is in the world.


On exhaustion, writing and other things

I have been absent from here a great deal this year, which was to be expected with starting work full time for the first time since 1997 (yes, you read that right!), but I haven’t slipped away completely. It has certainly been a juggle working, writing and managing the family, and I’m hoping that the next term is a little easier to manage.

I started the school year with a marked-up draft of my convict woman story after spending 10 hours reading it aloud (something I have never done before and was certainly a great experience — even if I was left with no voice and an ulcer on my tongue). Each morning before I started work at 8 am, I spent at least 30 minutes editing. It took me a couple of weeks to settle into the practice (i.e. where to do it), but in the end, I found a room at work where no one would disturb me. I set the goal of Easter to have it ready to send to an agent, and on the first Tuesday of the school holidays (nine days before Easter), I sent it off (hooray!). I may never hear from her, but it felt great to have hit that goal. I was also very excited to see that I received an Honourable Mention for my story, Murder by Biscuit, in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge earlier this year. This was a short story that had to be completed with eight days. Everyone involved was given three things: a genre, an action and a character. Mine was: a mystery, a medical diagnosis and a prisoner. It was a lot of fun to write even as an unfamiliar genre.

My workplace

Workwise, I embraced my new role as Resource Centre (library) Manager and Communications and Marketing Manager for a secondary school. I set goals to put the library into order, order new books and connect with the school librarian community. It felt great at the end of Term 1 to see the shelves ordered, have new books arrive and to attend my first conference with other school librarians. I made it a priority to get books in that are on the Inky Awards lists from the last couple of years, and to make sure there are plenty of diverse voices, and Australian voices. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the excitement on the student’s faces as they borrow the books.

I attended a few book launches (The Rip by Mark Brandi, The Result Result by Graeme Simsion and Small Blessings by Emily Brewin). It was wonderful to celebrate my friends who are all wonderful writers. It was even better to read these books. If you haven’t read them yet, go grab a copy and read them.

Book launches!

I also attended a wonderful masterclass in climate change writing, run by Jane Rawson and James Bradley. There were loads of great conversations that day, despite only having had a few hours sleep after my middle boy’s eighteen birthday party.

I finished the first term of school in a state of sheer exhaustion hoping that I could spend the two weeks break resting and recovering before heading back into another ten weeks work. Life, however, doesn’t always work that way. Instead, I spent the first week taking my husband from here to there to find out why he had been experiencing excruciating pain and swelling in his foot for two weeks. I didn’t in those two weeks after the negative result on the first x-ray and the first blood test that showed up with high white blood cell counts, or in the week while we waited to hear the results from the blood tests, bone scans and ultrasounds. My mind wandered to the terrible as all I have ever known of strange and unknown things like this was fatal.


Waiting to hear why his foot hurt so much

The doctors scratched their heads and talked of gout (then crossed it off), rheumatism, and then nothing as time ticked by. Nothing was the worst. When the doctor greeted us to tell us the results of all the tests, he said he had bad news. I braced myself. I had been mentally preparing myself for this. For a life without my love by my side. For single parenting. For caring. Two stress fractures, the doctor said. I laughed. That! That’s not bad news, I said. And it truly isn’t. It will heal. He will be okay. So far from where my mind had gone. But I am still exhausted. He is still in loads of pain two weeks into wearing his moon boot, and I am now back at work without any rest. It’s going to be a long eight weeks.

Now onto my goals for the next term. I’m in that strange in-between-project writing period. I’m writing submissions for unpublished manuscript programs, writing ugly first words of short stories and trying to reconnect with my writing mates. Trying not to lose confidence in the words. In a few weeks, I’ll be off to my twice-yearly writing retreat with my incredible writing pals (Kate Mildenhall, Emily Brewin, Katherine Collette, Kim Sigley, Nicky Heaney and Venita Munir) so be prepared for some writing retreat spam.  I’m trying to get a better work-life balance so that I am not working an extra hour or more every day by setting alarms to get me out of there, and paring back my goals for the library so that they are more realistic. I’m also hoping to work out how to juggle the multiple roles that I carry there. With my home life, I need to get better at being a little more shiny rather than absorbent so that I don’t take on everything that my family need, instead, allow them to see that they need to do these things themselves. The eternal quest.

I stand for tolerance

Yesterday, on a day when most of the world took in the terrible news about the massacre in New Zealand, a neighbour decided to leave an intolerant note on the windscreen of a car parked in front of our house.

As we finished our dinner we heard an elderly Egyptian woman calling to us from outside. She waved a piece of paper as she cried ‘Sorry’ over and again. We went outside and asked her what had happened. She explained that this note had been stuck to her windscreen and she was dreadfully sorry to have inconvenienced us.

We stopped her to explain that this was not our doing. This was not from us. That we would not do that.

She left the piece of paper with us and left, I hope, reassured that not everyone in our street thinks in the way that the letter represented.

I, however, have been left with a sadness that people around me are so small minded to be this angry and rude about a car space. That people can intimidate others in this way. That people can be so intolerant of others.

If we want tolerance, we need to practise this at home, in our streets and in our communities. Even if it means taking a breath and driving around the block for a car park. Even if it means being a little uncomfortable.

I stand for tolerance.


An image of the note left on a stranger’s car. It reads: “You have parked in the middle of 2 spots. Just like parking is tight at your church, parking is tight in our street. Pls think of others when parking. If you can’t park your car in a single spot, pls get lessons.”