Libraries are like lollie shops

I love libraries. And bookshops. They’re my haven, a place I go to when in need of some quite time, inspiration, or escape. Whenever I go to the library I can’t leave without taking at least three new books home with me. If I’m not reading at least two books at once I begin to worry, and if I don’t have a few books in reserve panic sets in.

Even if I’m just dropping off a book, I feel compelled to do a quick drive by the shelves of my favourite authors. Equally, I can’t walk past a bookshop without ducking in and  checking out the new best sellers. The pop up stores in shopping malls are not safe either, especially after I found the latest book from one of my favourite authors, Simon Toyne, tucked away on a display table in a newsagent. The price? $1.99!  I was in book heaven.

And I love nothing better than a good book and sugary sweet tart or bun with a cup of tea. In fact, I’ve been secretly addicted to sugar for many years, a habit I’ve found hard to break.  But when I read that sugar isn’t good for us and even worse, it could be linked to Alzheimer’s, I knew I had to stop. A terrifying thought – both about getting Alzheimer’s and having to give up sugar. As a compromise, I cut down on my favourite Mars bars and biscuits and stay away from the lollie and sweets aisle in the supermarket.

Parting with sugar has been hard but harder still was filling the gap in my emotional life. But fill it I did. By increasing the number of books I got out of the library and the number of times I charged into bookshops to get a fix. What a wonderful feeling, that rush of pleasure, in being surround by books just waiting to be opened and consumed. Just like being in a lollie shop.

Then I had another terrifying thought. What if I was frying my brain with too much reading? Could this really happen? Filling it with entertaining, well written fiction that provides a few hours of escapism but doesn’t really add to my intellectual grunt?

I frantically searched my memory for times when I might have put myself at risk. Then I remembered. The library of Trinity College in Dublin. I went there to see the Book of Kells and my, what an experience. The sheer scale and size of the library, the overwhelming number of old, ancient and august tomes it housed. The towering rows of volume upon volume of some of the greatest books every written by mankind just waiting to be climbed. I stood there in awe, stupefied by the magnificence around me. The feeling was one of pure joy, a profound pleasure that left me in a sugar-like coma for days.

Seriously worried, I felt I had to make some major life changes. Like not going to the library so often, cutting back to one visit a week (not counting dropping off books). Only reading two books a week instead of three. Changing my diet from all fiction to include some edifying, brain-nourishing matter from the non-fiction shelves. All of this was tough but walking past a bookshop without going in proved the hardest thing to do.

Then I read somewhere that if you’re a wannabe author like myself that reading often and widely is the best thing I could, and should, do. It’s called research. Imagine my relief at finding out that what I was doing was not bad for me but something I should, in fact, be doing, and doing more of! That obsessing about what book to read next is OK and making a detour to visit that new bookshop up the road has a legitimate purpose.

Now I can go back to guilt-free reading, safe in the knowledge that what I’m doing is not harmful to my body or brain, comforted by the thought that greater minds than mine know what they’re on about and there’s no such thing as too much research.

I hope this missive has helped other conflicted book addicts but I’ve got to go now. The library’s about to open.

 

Why is it so?

Why is it so Image Only

This is a phrase I heard often when I was growing up courtesy of Professor Julius Sumner Miller, an American physicist and television personality. Whilst teaching at the University of Sydney he hosted a science based TV show called ‘Why is it so?’ which I watched after school every week.

His shows were a hit because of his “cool experiments, interesting science, and fantastic hair”. You could say his show and teaching style was an earlier version of ‘Myth Busters’.

I was thinking about the good professor recently as I was working on the outline of a new book. ‘Why is it so’ was the question that popped into my head as I struggled to come up with a strong motivation for the main protagonist. Without it I can’t move forward with developing the story arc. So for the moment I’m stuck.

This is a fundamental question that all writers have to answer – the impetus, if you will, that drives the story forward to some form of conclusion. It’s such an important part of the process that there are even online motivation generators for writers who need a few ideas. With the a click of the mouse you’re presented with random motivations. How simple is that! For example:

  • Your character wants to clear their name.
  • Your character’s greatest desire is to protect their business.
  • Your character is trying to reunite with a major protagonist

There are even sites that focus just on the heroine or the villain. Just Google ‘character motivation generator’ to get a few ideas.

I also found this blog, The Psychology of Character by Fiction Editor Beth Hill from The Editor’s Blog, which covers the subject of motivation really well, with advice like the following:

“Knowledge of character motivation—knowledge of who the character is and why he is that way—helps the writer add layers and depth, veracity and cohesion, to story. It gives truth to fiction.”

 

To read more about Beth’s views on creating great characters, here is a link to The Editor’s Blog.

 

 

What would happen if time was metricated?

Metricated Time

This is a question I have often wondered about. Mainly because I never seem to have enough of it – especially to write. I was thinking about the issue of time scarcity following a brief conversation I had with the award winning author, Michael Robotham. I went to hear him speak recently at a local library and at the conclusion I asked him how I could get my next book published. He said that you just have to keep writing as the more I wrote the better I would become. I bought a copy of his latest book, “Close your Eyes”, and he was kind enough to sign it with the following inscription:

“Keep finding time to write.”

And here in lies the problem – I never seem to have enough time. My day, like most people, falls into three parts:

  • 8-10 hours for work, followed by
  • 8 hours to sleep (I need my beauty sleep), which leaves me with….
  • 8 hours to do whatever else I want/need to do.

So here’s my theory – if time was metricated we would have more of it. Problem solved!

Just think about it. If there were 100 seconds per minute and 100 minutes per hour and 20 hours per day we would have an extra 5.6 metricated hours per day. Imagine! All that extra time to do all those things we never get done.

It also occurred to me that the concept of time and how it is measured is one of the few things that all of mankind has agreed upon. As a species we have multiple languages, different currencies, calendars and measurement systems for weights and measures, even different calendars, cultures and traditions. But how we measure time is uniform across all countries and people. If only we humans could all agree on a few more things that affect us all.

There are no substitutes for time. Once the day is over, we will never get it back and we can never go back. Time is irreversible and irreplaceable.

Of course, metricating time is whimsical thinking. The real problem is not about how much time I have, it’s how I use it. I bought a book in 1993 called ‘Yes You Can’ by Jack Collis (it’s just been reprinted). As you would expect from the title, it’s a motivational book and I still have it today. There’s a chapter in there titled ‘Time is Life’ which I re-read recently and a salutary section stood out for me.

“Time is inelastic. You can’t stretch it (so there goes my theory on metricating time!). You can’t gain time. The only choice we have with time is how to use the time we have. It’s a sobering thought to consider that in any twenty-four hours, geniuses get the same time as mental incompetents, millionaires the same as paupers. The difference doesn’t lie in the time itself, the difference lies in the activities we undertake and the quality of life that those activities produce.”

Obviously, time is not my problem (or lack of it) – it’s how I use the time and prioritising those things that really matter to me – like finding time to write everyday.

 “This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Debits and Credits and the Great Ledger of Life

The Great Ledger of Life (2) (2)

We all know that life doesn’t always go according to plan. In spite of how hard we try and how much we plan we mere humans don’t have total control over our own destiny. Sometimes things go horribly wrong and it seems that nothing will ever be right again and you’re left with a feeling of deep despair. At other times things work out and you feel a fabulous sense of joy and happiness and all is right with the world.

They say that humans can experience over one hundred and thirty different emotions. These can be classified into six basic emotions – happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and surprise. Sometimes I feel like I’ve experienced all of them in one day. Life can often be like that.

Emotions help us deal with what life throws at us and is one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.  Just as importantly, each emotion comes with a set of physical characteristics – we scowl and shout when we’re angry, smile when we’re happy.

Being able to capture the emotion of a character, what they are experiencing and how they react, so that the reader feels their hurt or pain or happiness is, to me, the hallmark of a great writer. Something I aspire to but struggle with all the time. Being able to draw on my own experience helps make it real but I have so much to learn about how to write convincingly. Feeling depressed and despair are just two of the emotions I feel when I read my own work, interspersed with the occasional sense of elation and pride when I think I’ve got it right.

Which brings me back to the great ledger of life.

Dealing with the highs and lows is something we all have to learn to do in life. And the older I get the more I think about the cycle of life. I think about it in terms of debits and credits. So long as there are more credits in the ledger: happy times, success, achievements, and less debits: disasters, problems, issues, then I think I’m doing OK.

It takes a lot of work to make sure that, over time and on balance, life is more in credit than debit. It’s not always easy and especially at those times when all seems lost.

But remember we only get one shot a life  –  so smile and never, ever give up!

Frog music and the power of ten

Frog Music 31 May 2015.jpg

I went to a wedding recently set in the vineyards of the Hunter Valley. It was a hot afternoon and towards the end of the evening I wandered down to a row of grapevines and looked up to see a black sky full of endless glittering stars. Only in the country can you see the night sky at its majestic best. After a few minutes I noticed something else – the slow steady chorus of sound welling up around me until all I could hear was the throaty croak of frog music from the nearby dam.

I realised then just how important sound is in conveying a sense of place when writing. It’s just as important as the visual picture we draw with words in a scene.  That night made me think about all the five senses we have to work with when writing –  to see, hear, smell, touch and taste.

I’ve added five more to make the magic ten – to think, speak, laugh, feel and love.

Putting the S in Social Media

Putting the S into Social MediWhen I decided to publish my first book, Trinity, as an ebook I spent a lot of time working out how to do it myself. Thankfully, there were a lot of tools, books and resources available that allowed me to do this without too much difficulty. What I hadn’t counted on was the amount of work needed to promote the book and drive sales after I got it up on Amazon.

We all know social media is a great way to generate interest and awareness but the level of complexity can sometimes be so overwhelming it’s hard to know where to start. Social media has exploded around us whilst we slept quietly in our beds.

Every week there seems to be some new app, plugin, widget, website or platform that we have to come to grips with. When once all we had to contend with was Goggle, Facebook and Twitter (as if that wasn’t enough!) now we must understand LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, You Tube, Vimeo, Google+, Neo, Foursquare, Reddit, MySpace, Flicker, Friendster, Yelp, Gypsii, Songbird…

So I went to a course to help make some sense of it – or at least get a better handle on all things social. A few key themes emerged:

  • Don’t even think about social until you’ve worked out the strategy – what do you really want to achieve? Is it referrals or sales, retention, awareness, reputation?
  • It’s got to be sustainable – make sure you continue to invest time and effort once you’ve set your social media programme up.
  • Your website should be the centrepiece of your strategy – you own it and control it. Love it and nurture it and it will pay dividends
  • Content is king. If you don’t have good strong content people won’t engage with your website or blog. But there are ways to borrow and generate content that can make this part easier. You just need to know how. Evergreen content (content that doesn’t have a use by date) is best.
  • Start small – dip your toe into the social media pool rather than dive in.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t wait until everything is perfect – experiment and learn what works best for you and your audience.
  • Write for your audience not yourself to promote engagement and emotional connection.
  • Measure everything you can – there’s no point creating an online presence and not measure if it’s working. 

The main message I took away from the course was just give it a go. If you want to find out more about the course I went to click here.