NZ Writing Competitions

10 July

Landfall Magazine November Issue

Categories: Poetry, Prose

31 July

Mindfood Magazine

Categories: Short story (2000 words)

15 Aug

New Zealand Heritage Book & Writing Awards

Submit 1 July – 15 August

Theme: Finding Our Way

Categories: Novel, Non fiction, Poetry and Short prose

30 Sep

NZ Writers College Short Story Competition

Theme: Only the Best of Intentions

Categories: Short Story

 

Power to the people: New Zealand Societies of Writers

Join and get support, news, competitions and grants.

Romance Writers of New Zealand

New Zealand Society of Authors

New Zealand Writers Guild

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Seven Sins of Writers

1. Absenteeism

Almost half the time people are off in la-la land. Killingsworth and Gilbert (2010)* found that 47% of the time the people in their experiment were thinking about something other than what was happening in front of them. I have a feeling this statistic would be much higher for creative people.  Since starting my book, I may be cooking dinner but thinking about how they stoppered wine bottles three hundred years ago (corks), how they opened them again (bottle openers), if cooks in big houses were all male (there were about equal numbers of male and female), how they stored meat (dried and salted) et cetera. Not to mention, it takes a lot of cog-churning to work through plot holes and line up fictional events with the dates of real events.

*A Wandering Mind is an unhappy mind (science.sciencemag.org)

2. Not listening

See Number 1, except children, husbands or other people are talking to me at the same time.

3. Using friends as characters

We have to take inspiration where we can find it. I, personally, don’t base my characters around people I know but I will ‘borrow’ a small habit or facet of their personality and use it to show their character and for continuity. Some people just have interesting personalities and mannerisms.

4. Procrastination

 I could write a whole blog post about the ways I avoid writing. For example, I write blog posts, post on Twitter, check Facebook, do some housework, stare aimlessly out the window, pet the pup. Did I mention I write blog posts? Some of them never see the light of day. They just sit in my Draft menu, mocking me with their blue ‘Publish’ button.

 5. Eavesdropping

 It’s not easy writing dialogue, especially dialogue that flows, sounds natural and drives the plot. So I listen to you in the café discussing your in-laws, I listen to you out on your first date in months trying to reconnect, I listen walking past the bus stop as you talk about how hard this thing called life is with your best friend.

6. Complaining

I think my husband would agree that I mostly complain about not having enough time to write. Or perhaps the state of literature and reading rates in the world today. And have I ever expounded upon the lack of arts funding in New Zealand? Creative New Zealand announced last year the decrease in funding of $11 million for the 2016/17 year than in 2013/14.

Having lived in France for a year, I noticed the very different attitudes towards the arts in Europe than here. At school, my son learnt about famous French writers and their works (In the equivalent of Year Two). I can identify with William Osborne’s article comparing attitudes and access to classical music in Europe with the United States.

7. Self-doubt

For me, writing is a self-taught process. There is no right way to do it and definitely no sure-fire path to success. So there are the days when I think about people seeing my first draft and want to curl up under a blanket and hide. There are days when I stare at the screen and only manage twenty words. There are the days when I think, perhaps I should go get a REAL JOB.

But it is the little things that keep me going; a motivational quote, a friend saying keep it up, a positive review on an author’s forum. Then I have a day where I am completely immersed in the story and five hours’ writing slips away like half an hour.

 

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Old French Recipes – Pigs’ Ears

Menu of Kings

Take some pig ears and cut them by halves; next, cut them into very fine fillets, put them on a plate; cut some onions into slices and next, cut them in fillets like the ears; take a dish and put a bit of butter into it and put in your onions and pass them through it a few times; next powder them with a pinch of flour and wet them with gravy and let them simmer; when ready to serve, put in a little puree and mustard; check that they taste right and set them out on the plate and serve warm as a sweet course.

Recipe from La Chapelle’s ‘Le Cuisinier Moderne’ (1736)

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April – 16,901 words

It is the last day of the autumn school holidays here. During the holidays, there is very little time for writing between visits to the skate park, farm outings and my second job as Negotiator for the Two Small Countries that live in this house. In fact, I think the net total word count in my manuscript has gone down over the last fortnight due to the swathes of rubbish I have edited out.

We also have a new family member who is a great distraction and a lot of work. But also pretty cute (luckily!)

When I tell people I am writing a book, the first question I get is what am I writing. My current work in progress is a novel of historical fiction set three hundred years ago in France. It is the first serious thing I have written. Along with that comes learning how to move the action along, how to stay motivated (ie not play on the internet) and how to edit. It is challenging in a few other ways too. Basically, I have jumped in the pool and am hoping I can stay afloat.

The novel is set in France so it can make researching difficult. I have a good working knowledge of English history but not necessarily French history. Most of the books, articles and primary sources for the period are in French. I can read the written language but it does make skim reading difficult and the whole process is a lot slower than usual. The French Revolution, with its associated reams of information, happened about seventy years after the period I am writing about. There might be one useful book in the library next to fifteen tomes about the revolution. I am really enjoying learning about French history and society aside from “let them eat cake” and guillotines though. I will start posting interesting facts from my research on this blog.

My novel is set in a time when the last major bubonic plague to hit Europe swept through the south of France. I love apocalypse stories as much as the next person (maybe a lot more) but I cannot get past the fact that the bubonic plague is gross. I am finding it difficult to read about the symptoms, let alone describe them in gruesome (flesh-blackening, pus-disgorging) detail. A lot of the remedies employed at the time did not help much and probably even hastened death, like bloodletting.

On a side-note, watching The Walking Dead helps a lot with envisioning the bodies (got to be counted under research, right?).

However, I think a novel is most poignant if it focuses on the characters, their interactions and their reactions to trauma. So I should be able to keep the gruesome to a minimum.

It can be a solitary existence writing. It is different from other jobs, in that there is no ‘team’ to share the latest gossip or meme with, no ‘water cooler chat’, no meetings nor even any feedback on work done until the manuscript is finished. It is normally just me versus the computer. So feel free to comment or ask me any questions.

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Books about 18th century France

I am currently writing a novel set in the early 1700’s in France. I am researching Marseille, Provencal culture and the events of the time to gain a thorough understanding of the life of the people I am writing about.

Find out more about my writing here.

It is especially difficult finding research material in English. The primary sources are obviously in French. Although there has been a lot of research done about the causes of the French Revolution, there are fewer specific sources about other facets of life at the time of the ancien regime.

This page is intended to help others in their research of the 18th century in the South of France and will be a work in progress, updated when I find worthwhile sources. Most of these are also inexpensive and available as ebooks.

 

Nonfiction

TOPIC: CONTEMPORARY THOUGHT

The Smile Revolution, by Colin Jones ****

This book focuses on how the act of smiling was perceived in France and how this changed over the course of the 18th century. Makes reference to pieces of art as well as other primary sources.

The Great Cat Massacre, by Robert Darnton *****

This is a fascinating read and provides some good insights into the values and attitudes of the masses in France with examples from folklore and personal correspondence of the time.

Women of the French Salons, by Amelia Ruth Gere Mason

TOPIC: RELIGION

The Huguenots in France, by Samuel Smiles

TOPIC: LAW

The Old Regime Police Blotter 1: Bloodshed, Sex & Violence, by Jim Chevallier *****

A look at the law in Old Regime France, with translated accounts of trials and punishments and comments from the author about the relevant law.

TOPIC: FOOD

Beer, Cider and Spirits in Old Regime France, by Pierre Jean-Baptiste Le Grand d’Aussy (Translated by Jim Chevallier) ****

An excerpt of the work by Le Grand d’Aussy on alcoholic drinks as viewed in France in his time (late 18th century)

The Expert Cook in Enlightenment France, by Sean Takats ****

A thorough look at the demographics, industry and job descriptions of cooks at the dawning of nouvelle cuisine. An enlightening read.

The Man with two Heads and His Friends from the Fair, by Jim Chevallier ***

Monologues inspired by true characters of the 18th century French fairs. A short read.

Primary Sources

Available for free in the public domain

Works of Elisabeth Charlotte d’Orleans

A collection of excerpts about life at court, taken from the four hundred letters sent by the mother of the Regent to friends and family in Europe. Full of court gossip but also some great insights into the prevailing behaviours and attitudes.

Memoirs of Jacque Casanova – Volume 21: South of France

This an entertaining account of the infamous lover’s time spent in the South of France . Bear in mind, it is one unique character’s view of the time and place (c. 1760’s – 70’s).

Le Cuisinier Moderne, by Vincent La Chappelle (French)

Available as a free ebook, this guide for cooks was written in 1736 and was one of the first recipe books in France.

I have translated recipes such as the one for Pigs Ears here.

Fiction

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

*** Asterisks are my (subjective) rating of the usefulness of the book as a research tool.

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Review: On Writing by Stephen King

In the name of research, I read Stephen King’s “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft” this week. No, I should properly say I devoured it. It is written in the style of a friend spinning a few yarns over a couple of beers. Having never read any books on how to write fiction before, I expected it to be pretentious and full of snobbery. However,that is just not King’s style. He follows one of his main principles, “write honestly“, discussing his addictions and also his estimation of his own skill and development.

The first part is random memories of growing up in humble beginnings. His childhood was spent with his solo mother and older brother and an innate love of words. He wrote satire about the teachers  and sold them to the other children at school. He went on to teach English at high school level for many years. He married a woman who was also a writer and a constant source of support for him.

He advises writers to “read a lot, write a lot”. He cites past students who apparently have no time for reading. His advice would be to read everything; that you learn more from bad books than good.

Then he moves on to practical advice on writing and grammar. There is a whole section on grammar with some basics like minimising adverbs and keeping the action moving by using active verbs instead of passive. He advocates leaving some time between writing and editing so you can approach it with fresh eyes. He was told early on to cut the word count back by 10% when editing and still follows that advice. “To write is human, to edit divine”. He argues that character-driven books are much more interesting than plot-driven books.

The last part is about his near-death experience in 1999. This section was a real page-turner as he writes with a detached inevitability of what is going to happen. The reader is stuck reading on in horror. I will leave you to find out for yourself what happens.

I realize Stephen King is not everyone’s favourite writer. He must be doing something right though, to have sold around 350 million books. I have read quite a few of his books, mostly as a teenager. One of my favourite books ever is “The Long Walk” which is one of the stories he wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Whether approaching this book as a King fan or an aspiring writer, there are some great points to take away from it. Apart from anything else, On Writing is simply a great read.

“What would be very wrong, I think, is to turn away from what you know and like in favour of things you believe will impress your friends, relatives, and writing-circle colleagues.”

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Review: Hotel on the corner of Bitter and Sweet

hocbsSitting on the tram, memories of unrequited love in wartime flash through my head. Oh wait, that is just me catching fifteen minutes of this novel after dropping my son at school. The characters are that vivid and their voices shine through so clearly that I feel like I know these people.

I have been reading Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, the much acclaimed debut novel of Jamie Ford. If you can get past the saccharine title, the characters will steal your heart. The main character is Henry, an American-born Chinese boy who lives in Seattle, USA.  There are two narratives, Henry as an adult in 1986 and Henry as a boy in 1942. Henry’s love story is set against the background of the Japanese internment during World War Two.

This is how you do readable yet hard-hitting history. The novel is primarily told through the innocent, uncomprehending eyes of a child, which, for me, softened the sometimes painful realities of the racism of the period. The book tackles the big topics of first love, immigration, generational divides and loss. However at times, the emotions can be slightly too sugary and not entirely believable for twelve-year-olds.

It wasn’t my favourite book but it was one of those stories that grew on me, making me think about it well after finishing the book. The historical facts are well-researched and intriguing as I did not know much about this period in America. I’d recommend it if you liked Memoirs of a Geisha or The Time Traveller’s Wife.

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Welcome to our fancy new home

Welcome to our fancy new site with it’s very own .com address! This site will inspire, inform and hopefully entertain. In the past five years, we have changed the way we live and we are much happier for it. We still have a long way to go in our quest to get out of the rat race for a more ethical and simple life. We would love to share all of our wins and pitfalls along the way.

lady stare at sea stocksnap

We are just a regular family living in the ‘burbs in New Zealand. However, a series of massive earthquakes under our city in 2010 and 2011 jolted us out of the suburban dream to start some soul-searching. Our house was broken, our city centre was flattened and all our friends were moving away. We wanted to find out what was really important to us. If we died next month, what would we regret not doing?

Was it our life’s purpose to buy the latest things? Was it to have the nicest house? Was it working hard to make someone else rich? Well, no.

What was most important to us was learning about the world through travel and teaching that to our offspring. In 2014, we left New Zealand to live in France with the kids for a year. We didn’t know anyone. We didn’t have jobs to go to either. You can find out about our adventures on my French blog. We are back in New Zealand now but are working on plans for our next journey. The French taught us a lot about appreciating the simple things in life, like nature and of course food and wine. Their attitude towards work is very different also, with the 35-hour work week enforced by law and two-hour lunch breaks.

What was important to us was being able to spend time with our children, while still being able to provide for their needs. We are working on creating passive income streams so that we can work from anywhere and with flexible hours. I have changed careers from finance to writing, fulfilling a long-held dream. We will be keeping our readers up to date with news and information for self-employed people and freelancers.

lady write stocksnap

We would love to be able to achieve these goals while living sustainably. Our dream is to have an efficient home that is powered ‘off the grid’, grow our own crops, minimise waste and collect rainwater. We will be the guinea pigs and post about what works (and doesn’t) when it comes to gardening, building efficiently and generally living in an environmentally friendly way.

So, basically, we want to maximise our free time, have enough money to travel, create a lasting legacy but keep our footprint on the earth to a minimum. Nothing like a challenge!

Watch this space if you are interested in sustainable living, earning passive income or finding writing jobs online.

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