FIVE FUNCTIONS OF YOUR FIRST FEW PAGES!

Hints for getting your story opening right! Memoir retreat is almost full – contact me if you’d like to come!

Edwina Shaw

The first few pages of your book, or the first few paragraphs of a short story, have a heavy load to bear. These are the pages that make or break your chances with publishers or competition judges and, most importantly, readers. It’s best not to think about it too much when you’re doing a first draft. Just start writing and then, later, once you’ve written all the way to the end, you can figure out the best place to start and whether it’s working well.

Photo by Alexandr Podvalny on Pexels.com

Most importantly your first pages must:

1.HOOK THE READER! Something in those first pages must intrigue the reader and compel them to continue turning the page. But how? SET UP A QUESTION. You can engage a reader with your beautiful prose but really, most of us just want to get our teeth into a riveting story that…

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RELAX AND WRITE IN THE MOUNTAINS 2021

NEXT RETREAT! 22 – 24 OCTOBER IN HIGHFIELDS NEAR TOOWOOMBA. Life Writing and Memoir focus.

Edwina Shaw

RELAX AND WRITE RETREATS are thrilled to announce a special introductory and memoir writing retreat at Camp Koojarewon in Highfields north of Toowoomba.

Is your creative spirit crying out for a little TLC? Always wanted to write but don’t know where to start? Need to reboot your writing mojo and be inspired to tackle that project you’ve been thinking about forever? Come along and regain your love of writing and life at the next Relax and Write Retreat among the beautiful big trees.

From 3pm FRIDAY 22 October – 2 pm 24 October 2021

Join like-minded women in a fun and supportive environment discovering just how much some deep relaxation can ignite your imagination and get you writing again. Relax and unwind with gentle morning yoga sessions and get writing with innovative workshops designed to help move those stories out of your head and onto the page. 

“I feel…

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6 STEPS TO SHAPING YOUR MEMOIR

HELP FOR MEMOIR WRITERS from my other website 🙂

Edwina Shaw

Structure is the primary concern of the writer, how to order all the key emotional plot points to keep the reader turning pages.

A memoir is not an autobiography. Unfortunately, unless you are a sportsperson, politician, musician, or movie star, no one cares about where you were born or your ancestral history, how your parents met, and what you did in grade three. Unless, of course, this is of itself interesting enough to be a story. A memoir is a slice of your whole life, focused around a topic, an idea or theme, a specific time, or linked moments that resonate around a search or question of some kind.

Here are 6 STEPS to help you find your structure.

  • NARROW THE FOCUS

When shaping your memoir, it helps to narrow the focus as much as possible – not justMy Journey to Healing, butMy Struggle with Addiction from…

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Rainforest writers and exotic dancers!

Edwina Shaw

A wonderful weekend was had by all at the latest Relax and Write Retreat in Springbrook on the Gold Coast hinterland. From our retreat nestled in the rainforest, it was only a short walk to a spectacular lookout that made the rest of the busy world drop away.

A fascinating group of women, aged from 23 to 83, gathered together to write, do yoga, feast and have fun, sharing wisdom and kindness. I am always inspired and uplifted by the magic of women coming together. These retreats are only as special as the women who come along, and this one was very special indeed.

The highlight for me was our glorious Jacqui and her Exotic Dance performance. Jacqui performed in an international revue in the late 70s and in eh 80s performed with Joe Cocker onstage and even for the Harlem Globetrotters. She taught us all that sexy is sexy…

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Magical Magnetic Island Mermaids!

RELAX AND WRITE IN PARADISE RUNDOWN!

Edwina Shaw

Sunset at Horseshoe Bay

Greetings from paradise! I’ve been having a wonderful time on Magnetic Island with my magical mermaid retreaters over the weekend.

Eight wonderful women writers in a beautiful location. Yoga in the mornings. Writing workshops through the day and lots of feasting and fun in between.

The sun came out for us, and we made the most of it with outdoor sessions and a picnic. Warm enough to swim.

Magda had us all entertained with tales from a life in shearing sheds, Kerstin shared parts of her memoir in process, young talents Bianca and Eliza wowed us with their writing, Julie rugged up and had a great time remembering she loved to write, Annie had us all laughing, and Sitara our tree-warrior made us think about how important our leafy friends are. Poor Antoinette came down with a dreadful tummy bug but luckily was back in action…

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Gentle energising morning practice!

My friend Lulu came to stay recently and we enjoyed doing some yoga together.

Ever since she got back home to Perth, she’s been asking if I would send her a video so she could keep up the practice at home.

Much pfaffing about with unfamiliar technology later, I succeeded in uploading half of what I recorded to YouTube.

It includes a variety of simple breathing techniques combined with easy movements that everyone can do. You can even do them sitting down.

A number of the practices are my interpretations of breathing techniques I learnt from Donna Eden’s wonderful book Energy Medicine. Other movements are from Master Yang of Calligraphy Yoga. Some I just made up 🙂

I highly recommend both these teachers if you are looking for gentle healing practices for your body and mind.

Here’s the link to me in my courtyard taking you through my morning warm up routine. I hope you enjoy it.

A little practice every day is the secret to feeling good.

You can even do it in your PJs 🙂

Let me know how you go!

Lots of love,

Edwina xxx

EXPERIENCE: A WRITER’S FRIEND

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Henry Handel Richardson – Ethel Robertson author of The Getting of Wisdom, Maurice Guest and The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney

I’ve just finished reading Henry Handel (or as I like to call her Ettie) Richardson’s memoir, Myself When Young.

I’ve been a fussy reader lately, picking up the latest literary best sellers, then putting them down again, unfinished. This though, I read all the way to the end.

Even though H.H. died before she’d completed the manuscript, her notes and her husband’s jottings were used to flesh out the final section. I found it a fascinating read, not only because it gave us a woman’s perspective of Australia in the late 19th century, but also because her writing is such a pleasure to read. Clean and clear. Her voice carried me through, even without a plot driving the story forward. Even though she was writing almost one hundred years ago.

Her life wasn’t easy. Her father died young and the family struggled, despite their middle-class privilege. But she knew this:

“To a writer, experience was the only thing that really mattered. Hard and bitter as it might seem, it was to be welcomed rather than shrunk from, reckoned as a gain and not a loss.”

H. H. Richardson

I’ve been telling myself and my writing students the same thing for a long time now. As creative artists, all the shitty stuff that happens to us has value. It is the gold we mine for our stories. And a wonderful way to find a way to be grateful for the traumas in our life.

EVERYTHING IS MATERIAL!

Every experience is be relished. Treasured even, no matter how painful. Because it all increases our depth of understanding of the human experience and that is what writers need, more than any fancy turn of phrase, or fast-paced plot. Because we write to make sense of what it is to live in the world, of what is is to live a human life.

The more we live, in all the pain and muck and glory, the better our writing will be.

Thank you, dear Ettie, for your words and for your wisdom.

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Ethel with her mother and younger sister, Lil.

Books are classics for a reason.

With lots of love

Edwina xx

RETREAT MAGIC!

Here’s a rundown of the most recent retreat. Next retreat December 11 – 13 in Springbrook! HURRY early bird prices close soon!

Edwina Shaw

Retreat woodland nymphs!!

WOOHOO! Well that last retreat was just about the best fun you can have in the woods. As usual, the magic of a group of women coming together began as soon as we arrived, with everyone chipping in to help set up and show newbies around. My favourite moment from the first night was when, after the first pair of writers who’d met at a previous retreat introduced each other as “my friend”, the rest of the group did exactly the same. Even people who’d only just met fifteen minutes earlier. So right from the start we were a group of friends.

Workshops in the hall

Our bunk bed cubby houses worked perfectly and everyone had plenty of room to spread out and much needed privacy. Not that most of us spent much time sleeping.

I’ve never seen such a group of avid writers, staying up into…

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BUSTED – SHORT STORY

Here’s an early story of mine. Hope you enjoy it! If you have something you’d like to contribute to Bjelke Blues, get in touch through the contacts page.

Edwina Shaw

BUSTED in the bad old days!

As the deadline for Bjelke Blues – the anthology I’m editing for AndAlso Books  –approaches,  here’s a story of mine about that time, “Busted”. It was first published in Griffith REVIEW 21 Hidden QLD and has recently been published online on the Artist Run Initiatives REMIX website

griffith-review-21-hidden-queensland“Busted” is a story about the bad old days in QLD when election boundaries were rigged, corruption was rife, marches were banned, and police had way too much power.

READ BUSTED HERE

And if you have a story about being on the wrong side of the political fence during the Bjelke Petersen regime I’d love to hear from you.

Deadline is February 25 so you’ll have to hurry.

Let me know what you think of my story 🙂

Hope you enjoy it.

Lots of love,

Edwina xx

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SENTENCE BY SENTENCE, WORD BY WORD – 5 Hints and Tips for cleaning up your prose

On retreat I always make sure there’s one session that focuses on the nitty gritty of writing, though most of the time we’re generating new material. It’s important to learn some elements of craft.

Over the past 17 years or so of writing, editing, studying the craft of writing, and teaching writing in the community and in universities, I’ve learnt a few easy tricks to help get your sentences working hard.

My favourite quote on the craft of writing is from George Orwell – “Good prose is as transparent as glass.”

For me this means, keep it simple superstar! Don’t get carried away with trying to sound “Writerly”, clever, witty, mad or however you think a writer should sound. The writing shouldn’t detract from the story itself. If a reader is stopping to ponder the meaning of your sentences, then they’ve lost touch with your story and that’s never good.

Let your story shine by keeping your writing as clean and clear as a pane of glass. Every sentence, every word has to serve a purpose. It must either drive the story forward, illustrate character, establish setting or add to the story in some meaningful way.

Whether you’re writing flash fiction, short stories, novels or screenplays the same rule applies. Which leads me to my first tip –

1. Does that sentence need to be there at all?
After you’ve written a fast and furious first draft and fallen out of love with it a little, go back and check. Is every scene really necessary or did you just get carried away and veer off course? Do you really need a full paragraph describing that lake or will one good sentence combining the best of that paragraph work much better? The same applies for every word. Go through your work with a fine-tooth comb – think nit comb!

In longer works you need to apply this to large chunks as well – Does that chapter need to be there? Does that scene?

Be brutal – save cut bits in another file so you won’t be heartbroken. I do this all the time but have rarely gone back in and rescued one of my darlings. But they’re still there – just in case 😊

2. Trim adjectives and adverbs

Yes, you’ve heard it before and for good reason. Writing styles have changed since those 19th century novels you love to read. Readers these days have a multitude of fast-paced alternatives to a book and most won’t wade through pages of description of a room Henry James’ style. In my university classes I still have many students decorating every noun with a string of adjectives because that’s what they’ve been taught to do all the way through school. ARGH! Get rid of them.
Think of adjectives and adverbs as salt and pepper – a little adds flavour but too much and you’ll ruin your dish.
Metaphors and similes are like chillies – hot peppers. Yes they’re great, but use too many at your peril.

3. Use specific nouns and strong verbs

Instead of all those adjectives, use nouns that do their job instead. Be specific.
For instance, instead of “colourful noisy birds made loud noises in the tall riverside gum trees”, write “Rainbow lorikeets screeched in the branches of a flooded gum.”

The same goes for verbs. Instead of “She walked slowly”, you could use strolled or ambled or limped or staggered. See how much meaning can be packed into one good verb? English has lots of them – put them to work!

4. Get rid of “There is”

Although we use these words (and “It is” and “There are” etc) often in speech, they create unnecessary clutter in our writing. When we were in high school padding out words for assignments they were useful, but now we know better.
For example; “There is an old car sitting in the driveway of the old house,” can easily be improved by cutting the “There is” and using a strong verb and specific noun (and an adjective) “A beat-up old Holden ute lay rusting in the driveway.”

5. Get rid of “I can,” and “S/he can”.

It’s still perfectly okay to write, she can ride a bike. I’m talking about when you are detracting from the reader’s experience of the visceral in your writing by always filtering it through your characters’ perceptions.
“I could feel the rain falling on my face” – changes to “The rain fell like tears on my face.”
“She could feel the sun burning into the back of her neck” – becomes “The sun burnt into the back of her neck turning it hot pink.”

Of course, these are only hints and tips and all rules are meant to be broken. So if you really need two adjectives for the rhythm of your sentence go right ahead and use them. Just please, pretty please never write “She whispered very quietly” or I may have to scream!

I hope these ideas are helpful. What hints and tips are your favourites? I love to learn about writing and learn most from other writers, so do share your ideas in the comments below.

Write like furies!

Lots of love

Edwina