Each month writers tackle an enjoyable writing challenge, which includes 100 word short stories – a
great exercise to sharpen writing and editing skills. But we have also worked on outlines and
character sketches for a 1500 word story. For the June meeting the new convener Sushi Stewart,
challenged members to dig deep and share the source of their passion for writing, motivation and
commitment timewise. How and where did it all begin? We found some members started writing as
small children, some not until their twenties and others not until their older years. In some cases all
it took was the encouragement of a teacher, parent or friend to get them started and with that the
reward of praise and success for their efforts. Nothing succeeds like success!
One consistent theme was that they have something to say and often it buzzes around a writer’s
brain and bothers them until they get it down on paper. Some writers are disciplined and write daily
between certain hours, some write at night, wake up and make notes, or keep a tape recorder ready
for those moments of inspiration. Others write in furious bursts when the story shakes them into
action and then find it hard to stop writing until the job is done and the story is literally out of their
system. What makes you want to be a writer? If you are passionate about writing, perhaps a new
writer just getting started, think about the source of your passion for the written word.
The Marlborough Writers group meets monthly on the third Tuesday of the month at 5 p.m. at
Fairweathers 36 Scott Street Blenheim. We extend a warm welcome to new members. We gather
from 4.45 p.m. and the meeting ends at 7 p.m. Our next meeting is on Tuesday 18 July.
Many thanks to the NZ Listener for a newish section on an author’s writing process: ‘A Way with Words’ – inspiring and thought-provoking.
Some writers get up early, like horrors, 5 am, others sensibly start with a coffee then go for long walks before sitting down to create, others work late into the night. Some covet a special desk while putting up with a wobbly door frame on trestle table legs or write in a café after the success of J K Rowling. In her memoir Janet Frame said her mother wrote poems on the back of envelopes at the kitchen table.
I met celebrity chef Jo Seager at Garden Marlborough while attending a workshop on how to espalier fruit trees. Jo told us she had just written a book called Elbows off the Table Please containing recipes and all sorts of useful hints on table manners for people bringing up children and teenagers.
Do you know what? In these times of introspection and living in the moment I have just discovered that I often sit at the table, perched there, leaning on my elbows, pen in hand, gazing out the window, noting all the different colours of green in the garden, or the birds pecking at the seed feeder in the apple tree. Chopin Nocturnes play softly in the background – all in the name of creative thinking – and writing.
I like to write between 11am and 1pm and stop when I feel hungry. I write a first draft by hand with a pen or pencil and paper. It’s something about the vibrations going from my brain down to my hand holding the pen. I write getting the thoughts down not worrying about punctuation or repetition. If I can’t think of the word I want I use an ellipsis. The important thing is to keep going.
Then I type it up, run the computer spell check and print it off. Then I go and sit in my favourite chair with a sea view and read it over. I leave this first draft on the dining room table for a day or two and re-read it out loud. By doing this I note when I pause and add a comma to show the reader how to ‘sing the tune’. I might add new thoughts, often change paragraphs around, look for repeated words and replace them with new ones I also check back with my original handwritten version to make sure I’ve included everything.
Finally I go through the piece again with a ruler under each line looking for those words which I’m sure I typed correctly but have missed a letter, or maybe left out a word or the computer has added its own word, mysteriously replacing my intended word. I make the corrections, and print another copy. I save the file to the computer and also to a small portable hard drive. I stamp the word ‘Draft’ in the top right hand corner – very satisfying! Then, most important, I write the name of the folder I have saved it in and the date in case I can’t find it again!
What I never do is make changes while I’m typing. It’s tempting but often the first thought is the most vivid. If I do decide to add or change a sentence I first save the original as a file with the title and a number in brackets so I can compare the versions later. When I get to the fourth draft I add the words ‘near final’ to give myself some encouragement to keep going.
If I do want to play around with a paragraph or a page I ‘Copy’ it and create a new file where I can alter it without losing the original version. I tend to save every ten minutes because words can just disappear at the press of a button and can’t always be recaptured by hitting ‘Paste’. Also being a cautious kind of person I imagine there could be a power cut.
Sometimes I scribble an idea down in the middle of the night by torchlight. I can barely decipher it the next day. Still if I hadn’t captured it in some form it would have gone away by morning. It may relate to what I’m currently working on or it may be a new thought or a line of poetry.
After attending the National Writers’ conference in September last year in Auckland all I can say about writing is: any place, any time that suits, one day a week or 5 days a week, 400 words or 1000 words a day, ignore the ‘ping’ of social media, ‘Just get on with it’.
By Julie Kennedy
Let’s hope George in 800 words on TV One stays fully clothed and doesn’t end up writing for the Weld Times to pay the plumber’s bill.
It’s just over a year since I arrived in the Top of the South and a lot has happened. Top of the agenda has been knocking our remote Wakamarina farm back into shape (my wife’s doing, to be honest, not mine – although I did help build the chook shed) plus a bit of writing along the way. In addition there was a trip to Europe in May to promote the release of the German, French and Spanish versions of earlier Cato novels. Meanwhile – down to work.
Initially the plan was to continue and finish the 4th book in the Cato Kwong series – my crime fiction police procedural series set in Western Australia and featuring Australian-born Chinese detective Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong. Then, and only then, write something else – something new. But the something else/something new elbowed its way to the front of the queue and Cato had to take a back seat.
My view out over the Wakamarina valley, the history, the present, the people, the nature, the weather – the huge difference between where I am now and where I was before (Fremantle, Australia) all ganged up on me and inspired a new crime novel and possibly the beginning of a new series set in, you guessed it – Top of the South.
I set myself new challenges – the Cato series had been written in the third person past tense. It allowed me to hop between different characters points-of-view, heighten tension as different threads unfolded, and – although I didn’t grasp it at the time – eased the unfolding of all the information you need to tell a story.
I decided that the new novel would be first person present – purely as a challenge to myself and as another way of differentiating from the Cato brand. Still, my character would be, like Cato, a man out of place – although in this case not an outsider by virtue of race but a real outsider from somewhere else – somebody in hiding. And the Wakamarina valley seems like a good place to hide. A plot took form and the words began to unfold on the page – at a great rate. Freed from the Cato brand, inspired by the place, and focusing 100% on writing without having to balance it with the day job I had a first draft in around six months when it normally takes me nine months to a year.
Along the way challenges presented themselves. With everything being through the eyes of one person, my hero, and in the present tense I began to realize how hard it is to drip feed the kind of information necessary to maintain sense and logic in a crime narrative. My character wasn’t God, he couldn’t know and see everything. But this challenge was also a gift in that it allowed suspense to build as the reader knows more than the hero.
Other practical things required research. How do NZ cops go about their business on a daily basis – what are the points of difference with the WA police? Detectives from Blenheim and Nelson helped put me straight. Logistics – at that time in the Wakamarina we had no internet, no mobile, bad radio reception, you name it. What would that mean for a cop’s job? What are the ranks and structures? Do they carry guns? If so, what kind? Other more mundane matters. My character is a city boy transplanted to a remote farm somewhere (funny that) and suddenly has to learn about goats, chickens, fences, and such. The vegetation, the animals, the birds, the geography, all different. The history, the slang, the culture – I learned very quickly that some of the words I took for granted in the Australian vernacular aren’t used here. I found myself reaching further back to my Mother Country and some of the words I grew up with in the north-east of England.
Slowly but surely the first draft was polished into the final draft and this week I finished proof-reading the typeset version. Now I await the cover and the blurb, and prepare myself for the release. How will it be received, particularly here in New Zealand? How will the loyal Cato fans react when they realise my next book is not what they expected? (Don’t worry, I’ve since finished the first draft of Cato 4 and he’s not far behind this next book). All will be revealed when MARLBOROUGH MAN is released in June 2017 by Fremantle Press.
Here in Marlborough, the winter months have flown, with days of sparkling frost followed by blue skies and sunshine along with days of rain, necessary for the growth of the lush bush on the surrounding hills, giving a wonderful excuse to curl up with a book. Whoever said living in a small town must be boring cannot have an ever growing pile of books to read … or write!
But now spring is here, and bright are the daffodils, nodding their yellow heads from the corners of the garden, making splashes of colour in pots and appearing on window ledges. The birds are twittering with the excitement of it all. We were visited by a group of seals in the marina a week or so ago. They had a great feed, lolled about for a few days then disappeared in pursuit of a better menu. The pied shag, with his bright yellow and blue eyeshadow wintering over in the marina has disappeared too, gone elsewhere to find a mate. Blackbirds are joining the bell birds and others in the dawn chorus. Soon the Kowhai will bud to the delight of Tui and Kereru who love the nectar in the long golden flowers. Almond, apple, pear and plum blossom will cover bare branches on garden fruit trees, and camellias and azaleas will brighten shady spots.
On the drive to Blenheim through the Koromiko valley, new born lambs frolic in the bright green paddocks. The valley opens out to breath-taking views of the Wairau plains, and a backdrop of the snow-capped Mt Tapuae-o Uenuku. Cherry orchards will soon be a froth of blossom and precious grapevines sprouting new leaves to be tended and nurtured. Roses, planted traditionally at the end of each row will be coming to life and forming their buds. Marlborough is a beautiful region of New Zealand, seamless vineyards stretch across the Wairau plains and the choice of vineyard restaurants with award winning wines is astonishing.
Picton, sitting prettily at the head of Queen Charlotte Sounds is a busy port, a summer haven for yachties, boaties and holiday makers. Cafes and bars are gearing up for the new season, colourful flower beds bloom along the waterfront. All the while the ferries come and go, to and fro from Wellington. Forty four cruise ships are expected to visit this summer and yet it will be possible to
find a secluded place in any one of the beautiful fern fringed bays around the sounds, where the water laps gently on a quiet beach of sand and crushed shell.
The seed for this website was sown at an Indie forum in July, organized by Peter Thomas, coordinator of the Writers of Picton. It was the third annual forum to be held and was very successful. Enthused by a presentation on the merits of having a website, presented by my talented daughter in-law Iona Elwood-Smith www.buildawebsiteforme.co.nz a group of Marlborough writers has commissioned Iona to build and set up this site. We are most grateful for her assistance. We hope our site will become a wonderful informative tool for communicating, sharing information, promoting our books, giving tips on writing, learning about successful authors, encouragement, enthusing others and a whole lot more.
Most important how we embrace this site is up to you, the members, newcomers and individuals. You do not have to belong to a group - if you would like to be part of our website please contact us, you are very welcome to join us.