OUR INSIDE VOICES!

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I’m thrilled to announce the recent release of Our Inside Voices – Reflections on COVID-19 – a rapid creative response to the strange and scary times we now find ourselves in.

Earlier this year Matthew Wengert – publisher at AndAlso Books who published Bjelke Blues last year – approached me about co-editing a collection of stories about the COVID crisis. So, along with Caroline Gardam, Louise Martin-Chew and Nathan Shepherdson, I put up my hand to help out. This collection of over 50 short stories, essays, poems and memoir pieces reflecting Australia’s early experiences with the pandemic, is the result.

It’s a wonderful collection featuring great Queensland writers like Nick Earls, Jess White, Samuel Wagan-Watson, Angelina Hurley, Amanda Niehaus, Warren Ward, Andrea Baldwin plus artists, Patt Hoffie, Michael Cook and Stephen Hart who bring a really interesting perspective. My favourites are Sam and Angelina’s pieces reflecting the Indigenous experience, Sarah Klenbort‘s beautiful memoir piece on how children have been impacted, and Karenlee Thompson‘s short fiction “Meg and the Margarets” which brings some much-needed quirky humour to the book. Proud to have had my own story “The Gentleman Caller” about a lonely woman’s misadventures with a nuisance caller also included.

You can get a copy now at all good Brisbane independent bookstores or buy online direct from the publisher at AndAlso Books.

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Michael Cook – Living the Dream

This fabulous image by Michael Cook was a hot contender for the cover. You can check out Michael’s latest exhibition here.

Great to have this book out in the world! My only hope is that we don’t need a sequel!

Stay safe everyone and keep smiling.

Lots of love

Edwina xx

WILL SHE OR WON’T SHE? SHAPING PLOT THROUGH CHARACTER DECISIONS.

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Recently I attended a Screen Queensland, Wendall Thomas screenwriting workshop on developing plot through decisions.

Wendall’s main message was this – Structure your plot through character decisions.

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As we know the very best plots spring from the intrinsic motivations and flaws of our characters. Their goals, hopes and weaknesses create meaningful plotlines that are compelling because we are invested in the characters. Alternatively, plots that are imposed on characters can feel contrived and don’t have the same emotional drive that keeps us reading.

According to Wendall, each decision has three elements.

MOTIVATION – what situation/idea/goal/event forces a decision upon this character?

DECISION – what choice do they make in response to that motivating factor?

And finally

CONSEQUENCES – what events does the characters decision set in motion?

These elements remind me of my days teaching kids with behaviour disorders in juvenile justice centres. On every wall were posters proclaiming a very similar process to get them to reflect before they took rash actions that could potentially land them in even deeper trouble. STOP. THINK. OPTIONS. CONSEQUENCES. ACTION.

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Stop and Think before you act!

A character has to act not just react. This process of shaping the plot through their decisions forces them to take active responsibility and turns a sappy passive protagonist into a vital force in your story, novel or screenplay.

In all forms it’s important to transform these internal decisions into external actions. To not just say, Bobby realised that killing the cat would get him in trouble, but to show Bobby, swinging the cat by the tail until it shrieked, but then stopping, holding the cat to his chest, wrenching its face up to look in its eyes, then setting it free.

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Dora Marr – Boy with Cat

Each decision has its consequences. Some good, some bad. As Wendall kept saying – every decision takes your character one step forward and then two steps back.

Let’s just say Bobby made that decision to set the cat free, but it was wounded and someone had already seen him with it. When it limped home, the owners called the police and Bobby was arrested. As the police approach him Bobby starts throwing punches, swearing and reacting as he’s always done, but one of the officers speaks kindly to him and Bobby thinks better of it and calms down. Goes with them peacefully.

After the inciting incident that sets up our story, the protagonist must decide whether or not to take up the challenge it presents. Once they do, they are propelled into the second act and continue to make decisions that move them one step forward and two steps back all the way through to the climax. Some decisions seem sensible, but others, motivated perhaps by their fatal flaw or a deep-seated weakness, we know from the start are only going to make things worse, much worse.

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At the watchhouse, Bobby is taken aside by a corrupt officer who tells him he’ll let him go if he becomes an informer and feeds him information about the drug running bikie gang Bobby’s violent uncle heads. Bobby shakes the corrupt officer’s hand, puts the cash in his pocket and we know things are only going to get a whole lot worse from here.

So remember, MOTIVATION, DECISION, CONSEQUENCES and show us those decisions in ACTIONS that manifest the characters feelings and realisations.

As we hurtle towards the climax of our stories, propelled by decisions that really aren’t going so well, the decisions become increasingly reckless as the character is put under more and more pressure. Consequences get more and more dangerous.

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Let’s say after informing a couple of times, Bobby sees Uncle Roger stash a couple of gym bags full of cash under the house before he heads out on his Harley. Bobby gets his phone and clicks on the police officer’s number. But then, just as the officer answers, Bobby shoves the phone back in his pocket, and scrambles under the house, emerging with a bag full of cash.

Then he turns up at his young girlfriend’s place and tells her to pack a bag. They’re both heading off down the street when the cat he hurt crosses their path. His girlfriend stops to pat it and they waste precious time. The bikie gang roars around the corner.

UHOH!

Decisions that your character makes early on in the story manifest themselves in consequences in the final act. Bobby’s decision to become an informer brings him into all sorts of dangerous circumstances he could have avoided. Even the cat plays a role in delaying his escape.

In every book you read and every film or TV show you watch, keep an eye out for how those character decisions are shaping the story.

And if in your own story your character isn’t making any decisions of their own, but is only reacting to external forces, give them some backbone and get them making decisions to give your plot a whole lot more OOMPH!

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Start making history with your stories

Hope that helps you whip your stories into shape.

Keep smiling and keep writing through all the madness now surrounding us.

All is well.

Lots of love

Edwina xx

Creative Writing and the Forgotten Australians

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These children were starving and abused, told they were rubbish

I’ve been working with Forgotten Australians – those who suffered institutional and/or out of home care as children – for several years here in Brisbane. But earlier this year, before COVID kept us all inside, I toured around my home state of QLD with program manager, Katie McGuire, facilitating workshops in regional centres.

As with all of my work with these extraordinary survivors, I was blown away by their stories and their resilience and willingness to try everything I threw at them.

We called our workshops The Healing Power of Story and part way through our travels were interviewed by local ABC media.

Here is the article they wrote if you’d like to learn more about Forgotten Australians and the work I’ve been doing with them.

It is a great privilege to be able to contribute even a little towards helping these incredible people heal the pain of their traumatic pasts. As I say in the interview, once I met them, there was no way I could ever leave them.

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They were trained to be domestic servants or labourers and given very little formal education

People like the Forgotten Australians exist in every community. Here in Australia they have been recognised and services like Lotus Place are now available to them, but in many countries this is not yet the case.

Being with them has taught me to never, ever, walk past a homeless person without a smile and a hello. To never judge a book by its cover and to always listen and wait for a story to unfold. You never know what hell a person has been through.

And yet they’ve managed to come through with wide open hearts and great kindness of spirit.

READ THE ARTICLE HERE

Lotus Place and other similar organisations are always looking for volunteers to help out with programs like these, so do get in touch if you’d like to contribute.

Lots of love

Edwina xx

HOW TO WRITE A SCENE IN 6 EASY STEPS

 

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Are you stuck in telling mode and don’t really know how to make the radical leap into writing scenes? Telling is easy, we tell people our stories every day when we get home. However, you’ll notice that gifted story tellers, those we love to hear stories from, paint a picture with their words. They include setting details and dialogue and make us feel as if we were really there too. That’s the trick when we move from TELLING to SHOWING.

Our job as writers is to make our readers feel as if the story is real, happening in real time, that they are experiencing it. When we bring our stories to life with setting details, action and dialogue, we make our stories feel as real as possible.

But how do you write a scene?

It’s really not that tricky.

Start by writing your first draft of your whole story – don’t worry whether you’re telling or showing. Go for it, tell as much as you like, just get those words and basic story ideas down onto the page. Create your big baggy first draft to sculpt your finished story from.

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Groundbreaking artist – Augusta Savage

Then once you’ve had a chance to separate from the story a bit, go back and find places within that big baggy draft where you were telling rather than showing. Or if your whole piece is stuck in telling mode, then find a key turning point in the action or an interaction between characters that feels important and get ready to turn it into a scene.

ARE YOU READY?

Let’s do it!

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First, spend a few minutes with your eyes closed envisioning the scene as if it’s on a movie scene, taking note of how it’s all unfolding as if you’re the camera.

Think about each character in the scene. What does each one want from this scene? Each character wants different things, so thinking about this early will help you build conflict.

Think about the conflict in your scene. If there isn’t any, there should be, so dream up some point of difference to generate more energy and forward motion.

Now write your scene.

6 EASY STEPS

  1. Where is it taking place? This is your setting and it’s important to ground your reader in that setting at the opening of your scene. Find a few specific sensory details that give us a good idea of where and when we are, and perhaps even demonstrate an aspect of your character, or the mood of the scene, or both.

For example: It had rained all night that summer of 1852 as The Enforcer wound its way between the outer islands of New Guinea.

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  1. Who is there? Your characters, that’s who! Now show your character or characters doing something in that setting, preferably doing something that demonstrates who they are and what they want from this scene.

Example: Fred the cabin boy clung to the ropes as he climbed up the rigging to the crows-nest, cursing the captain under his breath for sending him up.

  1. What is going on? What action is taking place? How is this scene furthering your plot? Remember that ACTing is the main job of a charACTer.

Example: From the lookout Fred saw the sun’s glow leaking out under mounds of cloud. They were steering perilously close to a storm with all sails flying. The captain was a madman. A wave crashed against the merchant ship and almost sent Fred flying, but he grabbed hold of the mast as it swung and lurched, creaking.

  1. Add some dialogue. Some folk find writing dialogue very tricky. My best advice is to just write any old blather that comes into your head and then later edit it down to be as minimal as it can be while retaining meaning. Make sure your characters speak at cross-purposes, all following their own agendas.

Example: Fred called down to the captain at the wheel, “Storm ahead! Pull in the rigging?”

“You giving orders now? I’ll have your hide. Just keep your eyes out for rocks boy!” the captain roared up.

“But the storm!”

“No storm’s ever stopped me.” The captain turned the wheel hard left, heading straight for the black-bellied clouds.

  1. End the scene on a cliffhanger. Don’t tie up all the ends but leave the reader still needing to find something out. For example, I wouldn’t show the ship reaching the storm in this scene, only that Fred was very worried and in danger.

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  1. Follow with a scene not immediately answering that question. For example, to increase suspense, instead of going straight to the ship in the storm scene, I’d perhaps do a flashback scene of Fred being punished by the captain earlier, wrongly accused of stealing bread. Rations are low. So not only is there a storm coming but we know the captain and Fred have a troubled history, and not only that, the ship’s rations are dangerously low.

Following those 6 easy steps should set you on your way to writing in scenes. Use all your senses, make sure your characters are DOING not just THINKING, add dialogue and build suspense.

I hope my ideas have helped demystify writing in scenes for you. Let me know how you go.

GOOD LUCK!

Lots of love

Edwina xx

STIRRING THE PLOT – how to build tension in your writing.

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As writers our primary aim is to keep our readers turning pages, engaged with our stories. Yes, we’re really quite wicked. We like to keep our readers up all night. We also like to make them cry. And laugh too if we can. We want our readers to feel something, to be moved by our stories. And maybe, just maybe, to be changed a little, for the better.

But in order to do that, first we have to get them to finish our story. So we need to have narrative drive, suspense. Forward motion.

We do this in a number of ways.

SET UP QUESTIONS

We set up questions at the start of our story – that’s our hook. Depending on whether you’re writing a novel or a story those questions will be big – Will Tracy survive the volcanic explosion? Or small – Will Bill make peace with his father? Actually, maybe all story questions need to be big – Ben making peace with his father is enough for a novel – probably more than Tracy and her volcano. And of course, if we put the two together…?

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CREATE A CRUCIBLE SITUATION

That’s the true secret of creating tension in your writing. It’s what Sol Stein calls “The Crucible Situation”. A crucible, apart from being a great play about witches, is an old fashioned term for a cooking pot. In modern terms we’d call it a pressure cooker.

What it means is that you put your story and characters under pressure. Put them in a situation they cannot easily escape from.

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Enemies are trapped in a lift together. Ex-lovers are forced to work together on an important work project with the boss watching on. Estranged siblings are forced to organise a 90th birthday for their mother together. Or a couple break up then are stuck together quarantined on a cruise ship. A bomb has been put under the building where warring families have come together to hear a will being read.

THROW IN A TICKING BOMB

The ticking time bomb works a treat. Not only can you throw in a crucible situation but also a time limit. Like Cinderella only having until midnight before she loses all her finery. Like that volcano about to explode. Like that tsunami wave dragging far, far out just before it crashes in. Like a lover about to leave forever on a plane (hence all the rom coms that have one party running through an airport at the end)

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Let’s just say your story idea is about Ben whose father was a mean and violent alcoholic in Ben’s childhood but has now reformed and is trying to make amends. Yes, lots of story material there.

We’ve got out hook question – Will Bill make peace with his father?

Let’s add a crucible situation – Let’s say Bill has a sister and it’s her wedding. She’s forgiven their father and has asked Ben to play nice for her wedding. Ben is stuck with his old man for a whole day and night. They can’t escape each other. Plus, there’s alcohol.

And a time bomb – Ben’s dad has cancer, a bad one. He’s been told he only has a few months to live. Now the pressure on Ben to make peace is urgent.

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That should keep your reader turning pages.

Hope those ideas help. Use them on a story you’ve already got that may be lacking oomph. Add a crucible situation and a time bomb and watch them blossom.

Let me know how you go.

Write up a storm!

Lots of love,

Edwina xx

 

WRITING PROMPTS FOR QUARANTINE!

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Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, in these crazy days of limited movement and social interaction, we still have a great power that no one can take away from us – our imaginations!

Yes! Through our imaginations we can still wander, all over the world if we like. We can create miracles, climb mountains, swim to the bottom of the deepest oceans and all without expensive equipment.

All we need is a little time and the ability to daydream. Never has dreaming and imagining been so important. We need to envision a new peaceful and positive way forward for our world, so that all this grief and loss brings good and long-lasting healing to our beautiful planet and all her people and animals.

So here are a few prompts to help get you started on using your imagination and letting it take you to places you may never have been before.

Your Favourite Place in Nature

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We may not be able to get out much these days but in our minds, we can still travel to our favourite places.

Close your eyes, focus on your breathing and take yourself to your special place, your favourite swimming hole or beach or forest or dessert or field of poppies.

Use your five senses.

What colours and shapes can you see? What is the quality of the light? When you look up what do you see? Look down. Look all the way around, stretch the working of your mind’s eye.

What can you hear? Is there the trickle of water, or the wash of waves against the shore? Are leaves rustling in the breeze? Can you hear birds singing, animals foraging in the undergrowth? Maybe you hear voices? You can have companions on these mind journeys too.

What can you smell? Is the air salty, or sweet and musty from the lush undergrowth of the forest? Maybe you smell pine trees, or the fresh sweetness of mountain water.

What do you feel? Is the sun warm on your back? The breeze soft on your face? The earth deep and yielding under your feet? Sand gritty between your toes? Water fresh and tingling on your skin.

What can you taste? How does the air taste in your mouth? Take a mouthful of that mountain stream, taste the sweetness of the water.

And how does it all feel in your heart? How does being in this special place make you feel emotionally?

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Once you have envisioned it all and dwelt there awhile in your imagination then get writing and fill in all those specific sensory details to bring your special place to life so that anyone reading your piece will feel as if they have been there with you.

All the Good that Will Come from This

 This is a wonderful exercise to do whenever you feel yourself stuck in a difficult situation, as we all are right now. Use your imagination to see a positive and powerful new future for us all. Even in the midst of all the tragedy now unfolding in many places, there is still good. There is still hope.0f8acd5ce0202400b9c03a0dc86b808f

Close your eyes again and envision all the potential for healing and the creation of new and better ways of being which can come from this enforced pause of human activity.

For me the ozone layer healing is a great and wonderful positive that I hope we’ll find a way to maintain. Plus we’re all getting a chance to slow down and pull back from some of the many hectic activities that usually fill our days. This situation has certainly brought into focus what’s most important to us. What we value most. And for many of us, it’s our people, our family and friends. Spending more time with family is also, in most cases a lovely plus to come from all of this. On my daily walks I’m seeing more and more people out enjoying nature now the gyms have closed. Another positive. People are pursuing more creative arts, learning new skills, learning to meditate or do yoga, playing musical instruments that have been collecting dust for years. Gardening. All these small things as well as big things like ceasefires, and fresh air and blue skies over cities that haven’t seen a blue sky in decades. All these and so many more.

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Write a list of at least 10 good things that can come from this. If you’d like to you could develop this into a short story about a utopian future, a future where we create a new world where resources are shared, greed is no more, and all the world lives in peace and harmony with each other and with nature.

 

Write Yourself Friends

 For many people this is a very lonely time. Especially for those who live alone. It’s at times like this we really need our friends and hugs.images

You can write a letter to a real-life friend, telling them all the things you value about them and remembering some good times that you shared. Post it the old-fashioned way and give them a treat in the mailbox.

 

Or you can imagine a whole new friend for yourself, a best friend, a lover even.

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What do they look like? What kind of clothes do they wear? Why do you like them? What do they do for work? What makes them so special to you? Flesh them out like you would a character, fill in all those little details, star sign, sense of humour. Create the perfect online profile of someone you’d just love to meet.

Then imagine meeting them, hanging out and doing something fun.

Write the story of that first meeting, that buzz of electricity when you meet someone you click with. Whether it’s platonic or romantic, there’s still a rare thrill that comes from meeting a kindred spirit.

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So write away. Get them to tell you what they like about you too.

And remember, you can write yourself as many hugs as you need!

What have you been writing during this strange time? Have you been able to write?

Your imagination is a powerful tool. As writers we know how to use it – now wield your power for good.

Write up a storm and keep smiling. Let me know how you go with the writing prompts!

Lots of love

Edwina xx

THE IMPORTANCE OF GROUNDING YOUR READER

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What does it mean to ground your reader?

It means you should give your reader enough clues at the start of a story or scene so that they can imagine the setting and protagonist.

Many of my students start straight into the action of their stories, leaving such things as the name, sex and age of the protagonist and where the action is taking place, a mystery. They say they like to reveal these things as the story goes on.

However, while this may work in film when the audience can see a character and setting in action, readers of prose are left scrambling in a dark void, trying to find something, anything, to base their experience of the story upon.

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The writer has a clear image of the scene in her mind. The writer knows where and when and who, but the reader can’t find a way into the story unless the writer shares some of this knowledge.

You can still keep many aspects of your story mysterious, but please, let the reader in on the essentials.

Where are we? When?

Who are we with? Name them.

What’s going on?

Why – you can let that unfold more slowly.

For instance, instead of

She rolled over.

“Get up!” a strange voice said.

She got up and ran as fast as she could in the other direction.

By just filling in a few important details you could have:

Rosemary rolled over in a pile of leaves, deep in the forest. She had no idea how she’d got there, but she recognised the forest as the place her grandmother took her to collect mushrooms in Autumn.

“Get up!” a strange man’s voice said from behind her.

Rosemary bolted upright and leapt to her feet, running as fast as she could away from the voice, along the secret paths her grandmother had shown her.

The mystery of how and why Rosemary has found herself in the forest, and who the stranger is, are still intact. But in the second example the reader can envisage the scene. Not only that, we have an idea how old she is, younger rather than older, and we are more likely to care about her because she has a relationship with her grandmother.

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Because all readings are subjective, with the reader imposing her own world view on the story world the author created, the forest may not be exactly the same as the writer envisaged, but the reader has somewhere to place the action, a protagonist to relate to, and is much more likely to keep on reading.

It only takes a line or two to fill in those important specific details to give the reader enough clues to enter your story world at the beginning of your story.

You’ll need to do the same work of grounding when you start a new scene as well. This can be as simple as, Three long years later… Or … Back at the busy cafe Fred stood in the line for coffee.
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It only takes a few telling details to set up your story world and protagonist in time and place so your reader isn’t left flailing in the dark, struggling to find a way in.

 

Yes it’s a writers job to keep secrets from the reader and reveal them slowly to keep the reader hooked, but some things, like who the protagonist is and where the story is set, are essential to establish right at the start so that the reader can even begin to enter your story world.

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Hope that helps!

Take care and keep smiling. Remember writers need never be bored stuck at home, there’s always more stories to write.

Now get writing 🙂

Lots of love

Edwina xx

 

 

 

PATHWAYS TO BECOMING A WRITER

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All roads may lead to Evans Head but there are lots of different paths to becoming a writer.

This is an old photo of my dear writing friend Helena Pastorand I at one of our first ever writing retreats at Evan’s Head. The sign doesn’t even exist any more! How young and enthusiastic we were then, only a few years into our writing journey.

Now, more than 14 years later, we’ve both had books published but we’re still not much closer to our dreams of international best selling success. Oh well.

Writing isn’t a career to embark on if you’re being sensible. It’s a calling – much like being a nun or a doctor or a missionary.  A wise writer once told me, “Writing may not make you rich but it will enrich your life immeasurably.”

Yes, there are days I’m bitter about all the unpublished manuscripts piling up on my computer still looking for the right publisher. But most to the time I’m extremely grateful for all the joys and adventures this writing life has brought me.af31a1047c84b539f45120607c9d6048--feminist-quotes-vintage-photography

It’s been a wild ride that’s for sure. With the highs of finally launching Thrill Seekers, a very long four years after signing a contract with my UK publishers, Ransom, and then the miraculous short listing for the NSW Premier’s Award. I had to pinch myself.

But then came all the years with equally valuable manuscripts being unable to find a good home. Not for want of trying. The rejections that still come even after almost two decades of writing and honing my craft.

Still, those years have been invaluable – I’ve learnt so much about writing and the business of publishing that I would never have known had my path been smoother.

Who knows where I would have ended up?

I may never have edited Bjelke Blues and met all the wonderful contributors, or developed my special workshops and retreats.

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Recently on CHOP CHAT COOK I spoke with my friend Joanne Tindale about all the ups and downs of my writing life and how you too can build your career as a writer.

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Check out the video and let me know what you think.

How is your writing career going?

Are you building a writing CV and still making ends meet?

This enforced period of isolation is a wonderful time to get stuck into your writing projects. So dust them off and write like a fury! Then SUBMIT!

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Lots of love,

Edwina xx

FREE STORIES FOR EASTER!

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HAPPY EASTER HOLIDAYS EVERYONE! Even though it’s the strangest and most isolated Easter we’ll ever have (hopefully) I hope you’re still getting time to connect with loved ones, rest and renew.

Here’s my little Easter gift to you – a couple of stories, free to read 🙂

Recently I had a flash fiction story published online at Flash Fiction Magazine.

I called it “Possum Magic“. It’s about those long dark hours of wakefulness in the middle of the night and the special connection we sometimes have with animals, from the point of view of a heavily pregnant woman. I hope you like it. You can read it here.

This next story was published last year by Four Way REVIEW in New York (yes super exciting!) Thinking of New York and all of America as they endure some very dark days. Sending love and hope with this story of a little girl on a cane farm finding a magical way through grief.  Read, or listen to me reading, “Something No One Else Can See” here.

You can submit your own stories to both sites as well.

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And you thought Santa was scary! That Easter Bunny scares the pants off me!!

I hope you enjoy the stories. Let me know what you think.

Take care and keep smiling.

Lots of love

Edwina xx

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EASY WAYS TO RELEASE STRESS AND FEEL BETTER!

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Recently I did a series of videos with my friend Joanne Tindale. This episode is all about RELAXATION TECHNIQUES. On that steaming hot day in January we had no idea of the bizarre world we’d all find ourselves in now.

As stress levels rise and fear and anxiety reach new heights, these easy ways to help soothe and calm yourself are more valuable than ever. These simple techniques I’ve picked up from yoga and a variety of healing modalities will help you release some of that tension and feel better.

Watch this quick video presentation and do the exercises along with Joanne and I,  and  you’ll be feeling much more relaxed in just minutes.

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Take some deep breaths and trust that all of this madness is in fact a deeply healing time for our world. The planet is getting to breathe deeper and we humans are getting a chance to reset our priorities and slow down.

I reckon it’s like the Earth Mother has put us all in the naughty corner for a while to, “Just have a think about our behaviour!”

I recently watched this uplifting Youtube interview with Aboriginal elder Sri Devi Mulharra and  was very happy to learn that all my freaky daily routines like grounding and tree hugging have an ancient source. I hope you’ll find it soothing to your spirit too.

Take good care of yourself and keep smiling. The world is still a beautiful place.

We’re all in this together. We always were.

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