My Writing Year Reflection

What is so special about Kathryn’s writing year?’ I hear you ask.

‘Well, nothing and everything’, is my reply.

Nothing… because I didn’t come close to achieving my writing goals for the year.

Everything… because there were some surprising adventures – writing-related and otherwise.

When I wrote of my previous writing year last February, I lamented not keeping up with regular postings on this website… and alas, here I am again acknowledging more of the same.

After the devastation of, and climbing back from, the fires; coupled with the trauma and uncertainty descended upon everyone by COVID the previous year, 2021 started on a note of optimism. The first three months passed unremarkably. We resumed our weekly commitments, had our hair cut after a year of growth and set about re-establishing routine appointments.

Life was unfolding as expected until I received a phone call every woman dreads ~ from BreastScreen NSW. There began a journey like no other… my life had changed forever.

As we transition to 2022, I have reason to believe that all cancer was removed with good margins and radiation therapy has set me up for no return of the Big C. Anti-cancer medications, physiotherapy and lymphatic drainage are here to stay… but the cancer itself is not! And that is the bottom line of 2021. I am rejoicing in being alive…

…and also in the writing achievements I managed despite my medical challenges:

  • Early in the year, I put considerable effort into re-writing and pursuing publication of my memoir, BookEnds; and was close to success when I had to temporarily lay it aside. My plan now is to publish within the next year.
  • I worked to extend the poetry chapbook manuscript that I am planning to publish, however more work is needed on this writing project.
  • Then came the tremendous privilege of being selected to be on the judging panel of the 2021 E M Fletcher Writing Award, on behalf of Family History ACT (FHACT). The competition closed a week before my cancer surgery, so I spent my recouperation time reading, assessing and grading 124 entries… and then collaborating with the other judges to negotiate a short list and the place-getters. I felt honored to announce the winners on a huge Zoom conference just days before the start of my radiation treatment in Canberra.
  • My story, Survival, which took out a Commended place in the 2020 E M Fletcher Writing Award, was published in The Ancestral Searcher – the quarterly Journal of the Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra Inc (HAGSOC) – now Family History ACT (FHACT). Survival later appeared in the book Every Family Has A Story ~ Short Stories from the 2020 E M Fletcher Writing Competition.
  • The Casino and District Family History Society (CDFHG) also published Survival in their quarterly newsletter in November 2021. They had previously published my short story, All At Sea, which won the inaugural E M Fletcher Writing Award in 2019.
  • The story I had written for this year’s award was set aside when I was asked to be a judge for the Award… and is waiting for entry in a future competition.
  • My writing year ended with a small win. I’d entered a Flash Fiction Competition on the spur of the moment, when I read about it within hours of the entry deadline. The task was: Write 30 words to celebrate 30 years of Writing NSW… and, as I was there right from the beginning, I wrote 30 words about going to Rozelle Psych Hospital in 1991 with a group of people to assess a building for the establishment of The NSW Writers’ Centre, as it was first known. My piece titled Day One, won, and I won $30 for less than 30 minutes work ! ! (Just a few minutes, actually!) Here ’tis…

Kate trails the group scrutinising the empty building. She imagines writers gathering, their energy warming huge rooms currently frigid with anguish and misery of past occupants. Hope fills her heart…

Despite the ups and downs of 2021 and the struggles of cancer and the ongoing COVID threat, I am encouraged and enthusiastic to get back to work after the holidays.

Meanwhile, I am spending a few days – the transition from one year to the next – sharing my writing room with two very special people. While I am writing this blog, my daughter sits at the other side of my desk reading my memoir manuscript, and my granddaughter writes in her journal and reads. The room is filled with quiet companionship and love.

c.  Kathryn Coughran ~ 2nd January 2022


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Explore Memories of Your 1st Day at School

Most people remember their first day at school, or at least something about it… especially if it was particularly emotional. The ends of the continuum from traumatic to ecstatic are always where extreme emotions lie and thus these leave stronger impressions.

Consider your 1st day of school and place it somewhere on the following continuum:

What value would you score your first experience in the classroom?

Now, write a sentence that focusses on the reason you chose this rating. Was it a happy day or a difficult day?

Jot down any memories that pop into your head…

To access, clarify or expand your memories of this significant life experience, ask yourself some, or all, of the following questions:

  • What comments were made in the family about school and my approaching attendance?
  • What did I wear?
  • How did I get there?
  • Who took me?
  • What instructions was I given from home?
  • Was I anxious, excited, boisterous, quiet…?
  • What were my first impressions?
  • How did these change during the day?
  • What was the room like?
  • Who was my teacher? Did I like him/her?
  • How many children were there?
  • Did I connect with anyone?
  • What did I do in class?
  • How did I get home at the end of the day?
  • Was my experience discussed over dinner that night?
  • What was said?

Add any further questions stimulated by this list…

Combine the answers to these questions with your original jottings of memories of the day.

Use these notes to shape the tale of your first school experience, written from the heart… so it tells not just what happened that day, but also how you felt about it and perhaps even the effect it had on you going forward.


You will find my musings about my first day of school Here

Looking Back and Forward

The motto of the College of Advanced Education where I studied in the late 70s and early 80s was Look to the Past and Future Together. The CAE has morphed since then and the motto has changed, but the original one has always resonated with me as I am a great believer in the preservation of history, and also how history informs the future.

This belief underpins most of my writing and other activities. It has, however, been enriched by the notion that in any given moment we are between what has been and what is to come.

‘Stating the obvious’, I hear you say.

Well, yes, it is… but how often do we fully focus on that moment? ~ the one I call ‘The Golden Moment’ ~ that space which is free of the past and the future, and is totally open to anything.

The decisions we make in that Golden Moment, whether conscious or subconscious, big or small, dictate what happens next (the immediate future) and whatever that is dictates the following outcome… and so on, building one on another, and again, and more… until we look back and wonder what we might be doing if any of these incremental decisions had been different.

Many of these Golden Moment decisions are inconsequential in the overall fabric of our lives; others can have a huge impact on us, and sometimes other people as well.

I am not suggesting we need to analyse our thoughts every second of every day. Of course not. What I am saying though is that it is easy to slip into the daily goings-on, especially if they are routine and have a sense of rhythm about them, and not think much about the bigger picture or the rolling away of days, weeks, and months… and dare I say it, years.

As someone who is approaching a significant ‘zero’ birthday, I think I am qualified to add ‘years’ to the list.

The past year would be a good example… an unprecedented year for everyone, a year we would all rather forget; but can’t for many reasons, not the least of which is that it has extended into 2021.

My strategy in difficult times has always been to take a deep breath, put one foot in front of the other and focus on the possibilities rather than the negatives. 2020 was no different… the fires were first and, while we had to dash for our lives, we were spared and so was our home… our losses were significant, but small compared to those of many others in fire-affected areas.

Next was the onset of COVID-19 in Australia. My strategy here was the same, but this time putting one foot in front of the other didn’t mean charging out and getting on with life. It meant staying in and taking advantage of the time and space this afforded me. I had just assessed my 2020 writing achievements and set a ‘To Do’ list for the remainder of the year, so I battened down the hatches and focussed on my writing.

I wrote most days, spent long hours in my office and made much progress. By the end of the year, I was able to cross off many items on my list:

  • One manuscript went to my preferred publisher, and I am working through her considered suggestions with one of her colleagues. Was this on my list? Yes. Was my stated task completed? Yes. Is there a next step? Yes… I will continue to strive for publication of this manuscript, either with this publisher or via a different avenue.
  • While waiting for that manuscript to be read by others, I concentrated on research, note-taking and preliminary writing for a mixed-genre manuscript which is slowly but surely developing. Was this on my list? Yes. Was my stated task completed? Yes. Is there a next step? Yes… I will bring together the research I have done and continue writing sections of this manuscript.
  • I summarised notes and developed planning frameworks for two novellas. Was this on my list? Yes. Was my stated task completed? Partly… Is there a next step? Yes… I will write the draft of at least one novella.
  • My poetry chapbook manuscript was completed and travelled via Submittable to two international competitions. Was this on my list? Yes. Was my stated task completed? Yes, twice. Is there a next step? Yes… I will work towards publication of this Chapbook.
  • I continued to enter writing competitions, and was again shortlisted in the E.M. Fletcher Award, gained a place and received a certificate… not 1st place this time, but I am happy to have my work on their list. My entry, Survival, was published in the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra (HAGSOC)’s Journal in December, as had my winning entry, All At Sea, the previous year. Was this on my list? Yes. Was my stated task completed? Yes. Is there a next step? Yes… I will submit to this competition again.
  • All At Sea was also published by Casino and District Family History Group (CDFHG) in August 2020. Was this on my list? No. Is there a next step? Yes… I will offer Survival to CDFHG for publication in 2021.

I am happy to report this progress on the above projects, and that these goals have been largely met. The bonus in listing them here is that it clearly shows the next steps I need to take. These are stated as affirmations and underlined at the end of each point above.

A re-assessment of my goals part-way through the year, based on the level of progress I had made, led to the removal of two items. The first, ‘Work towards publication of two poetry manuscripts’, was replaced by the expansion of my poetry chapbook and getting it out to a second international competition. Poetry manuscripts will find their way to my goals list again before too long. The second, ‘Embrace book promotion’, was/is not yet needed… but hopefully it will be before the end of 2021!

Next, I must face the fact that I have failed miserably in relation to my website and my social media presence. I made no progress here at all, and even posted far fewer times than any other year since launching my site. This continues to be true one month into the new year. There is no excuse for this, and the only explanation I can offer is the distraction of the events that have kept us all on tender hooks even when we thought they were not influencing us personally.

As I step through the space of this Golden Moment, with the past behind and future ahead, my promise is to increase my presence on my website and social media for the remainder of this year, while weaving my way through my new list of writing commitments.


This post relates to my Blogs ~ Moving Forward and Reflection On My Writing Year. Also Writing Exercise #26 ~ Take Stock Of Your Writing Goals and Ancestral Stories ~ All At Sea and Survival.


I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section on this page.


If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

Interview – Jennifer Severn

This author interview follows my review of Jennifer Severn’s new memoir: Long Road To Dry River, a few days ago. You can read the review Here.

In these unusual times when we are all committed to staying indoors and social distancing, this interview was conducted via email, which didn’t allow interactive conversation. This means my questions were constructed in advance (as they should be anyway), Jennifer scribed her answers instead of voicing them and there were no spontaneously interim discussions like we’ve become accustomed to in podcasts with authors.

This does not, however, lessen the potency of the author’s answers to my questions. Her candour and interesting comments, coupled with the content of my review, will intrigue you and whet your appetite for more of the engaging narrative which she has so well executed in Long Road Do Dry River.

Interview: Jennifer Severn – Long Road To Dry River

1)   The narrative in Long Road To Dry River explores three areas of your life – your childhood, the evolution of your personal and spiritual journey, and the diagnosis and unfolding challenges of life with MS… culminating in finding a place to belong. I’m curious about what in particular was the impetus for you to write this book.

Kathryn, yes, finding a place to belong is the most important aspect for me.

As for impetus, I probably started this book three times. After a conversation with my solicitor in 2001, which became the prologue, I thought, There might just be a book in this … And there were pages of jottings, old memories, that came into being in a long-ago writers’ group in Quaama. But the first time I remember actually planning to write a book was in 2012 when I embarked on a new MS diet that I really believed was going to cure me. I thought, I’d better document this because many people with MS are going to benefit from it. In other words, it was going to be a ‘Recovery Memoir’. Of course it didn’t turn out that way—but publishing consultant Mary Cunnane, who mentored me through the end stages of the project, agreed with me that it wouldn’t have been as interesting if I’d been cured!


2)   What is your favourite part of the narrative/favourite scene? Why?

There are a couple of lighter moments—the naked skydiving scene is one, and maybe the marriage proposal at Gate Three of Indira Gandhi Airport, Delhi. But there’s also one near the end, at my brother’s wedding reception, where I talk to my father after an eighteen-year estrangement, with a very surprising outcome. That’s one of my favourites because at the time of that event, in 2016, I was trying to finish the book but knew that I just couldn’t finish it without at least trying to talk to Dad. And no spoilers, but it paid off.


3)   Was this the easiest part of the manuscript to write? If not, what was … and why?

Those three all just tumbled onto the page. Maybe that’s why they’re my favourites!


4)   What was the most difficult part/scene to write? Why?

Definitely the final days of my beloved dog Harley. Even when proofing I found myself wanting to skip that part. In the book I acknowledge the difficulty of writing about Harley’s death, and speculate as to why. I think I had very high expectations of myself as a dog-owner, and I let him down.


5)   Long Road To Dry River is written in three distinct sections/parts, which form a framework supporting the interwoven threads that bring the narrative together by the last page. I am interested in the process that led you to this skilfully executed structure.

Kathryn, that’s interesting. Until almost the final draft the story started with my parents meeting on the Willem Ruys on the way from London to Sydney. Then Mary Cunnane suggested I break it into parts and start it somewhere more dramatic, and I chose what I saw as a ‘pivot point’ – a taxi ride that changed my life. Part One ends with me about to meet my father after our first long estrangement and that required some backstory—I had to explain my parents’ marriage and my early family life, thus Part Two. Then Part Three starts with that meeting with Dad—and finishes with another one, after another long estrangement.

Just trying to articulate the structure has brought home to me, again, how critical my father is to my story.


6)   How did you reconcile the fact that to write your own story you have to touch on aspects of other people’s lives?

Yes, none of us is an island. I like to think I have covered events in my life truthfully. I thought, well if anyone remembers things differently they can write their own memoir. But now that all my close family members have read the book, and no-one differs seriously with my representation, I think I got it right. I definitely haven’t lost any relationships out of it, and I’m breathing a bit easier. In fact it has led to some interesting—and rewarding—conversations.

For other events concerning non-family members, I did change some names in case it caused any upset. But I’d like to think it might flush out some people from my past I’ve lost touch with—even if just to argue with me!


7)   Memoirs can take years to write. How long did Long Road To Dry River take to write?

As I said before, some parts I wrote twenty years ago. But seriously, I finished the first draft about six years ago. It’s taken longer than I thought it would.


8)   What would be your advice to anyone about to embark on the journey of writing a memoir?

My advice would be, just do it! But I would also suggest that you examine your objectives. If it’s a device to settle scores, put it away until you’ve dealt with your resentments. And don’t be tempted to leave out the bad bits either – the bits that cast you in a less-than-favourable light. This isn’t Facebook!


9)   Now that this book is finished and published, do you have another writing project bubbling away and luring you to the keyboard?

Possibly. There was a novel I was working on before the memoir, and one day I’ll have another look at that. It’s about the inhabitants of a small town in dairy country, believe it or not…


Thank you, Jennifer Severn, for the opportunity to interview you for this Blog and to share information about your new memoir. I wish you well with this book, and encourage anyone who has even a whiff of interest to go ahead and read your story. They will not be disappointed.


Jennifer Severn’s – Long Road To Dry River – is available via her website:

It was shortlisted for the Finch Prize for Memoir in 2018.


If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section on this page.

Book Review: Memoir

A First For This Blog

Today I have decided to post a book review, which I wrote after reading a recently released memoir. The potent narrative moved me to delve deeper and I wanted to share this experience with you, so here we are…

Long Road To Dry River by Jennifer Severn

None of us can know where life’s journey will take us. We can see where we might be heading and even plan for a different route, but there is always the possibility a curveball will derail our expectations… sometimes there are several curveballs to field.

Jennifer Severn knows about curveballs. She has gathered the strength to meet them head-on and navigate through them, and the courage to make the most of the experience and learn the life lessons they lay bare before her.

Long Road To Dry River is her chronicle of this journey, told with the same daring honesty and heartfelt spirit she has mustered to traverse it.

‘Long Road’ gives a first impression of distance travelled, places lived or visited. There are many of these: a childhood in the idyllic surrounds of the Northern Beaches of Sydney, time spent at university and forging a career as a medical sales representative in Sydney, and living in Melbourne, India and Amsterdam.

The narrative tells of these places, yes, but the long road referred to in the title is so much more. There is the deeper story of the twists, turns and roadblocks encountered as the determined young woman charges forth from a disruptive and painful childhood to carve her place in the world.

Her urgent need for a different life gains momentum when a fortuitous meeting in a taxi catapults her onto the path of self-discovery, a decade earlier than most confront their demons from childhood. Thus, the upwardly-mobile corporate-attired Jennifer begins to share each day with her other self, Marga Sahi, the Rajneesh follower, living with her new partner in a shared household in Rose Bay, Sydney.

Her journey continues through life in ashrams, therapy sessions and structured groupwork, all the while confronting hurtful family behaviours and her own issues.

Just as she is taking control of her life and bursting into emotional freedom, she is broadsided by a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and also a legal battle of the calibre no one wants to have thrust upon them.

All that has come before is brought into perspective when the author moves past the hostility levelled at her during the legal process and the hurt it brought, settles near Dry River and moves into a fulfilling life despite living with MS.

Long Road To Dry River is beautifully written. There is a sense the author is speaking directly to the reader. She has skilfully interwoven threads of her life across several decades through Parts One, Two and Three of the narrative, without totally separating the three distinct time periods. The spiritual journey that is flagged in the first few pages is deconstructed, examined and restored to form a bridge connecting her urban beginnings and the ultimate feeling of truly belonging in her chosen small community.

Unflinchingly truthful, insightful, poignant and daring, this is a rare read. Although several clinical volumes are available on the subject of MS, there are few personal accounts of the wallop of the diagnosis, coming to terms with all that this means, and facing the challenges it presents. Such accounts by Australian authors are almost non-existent… only one other such memoir comes to mind.

Besides being an exploration and heartfelt sharing of the author’s experience, the work reviewed here is informative and will no doubt raise awareness of the symptoms, trials and management treatments available. The result will be increased community understanding.

Long Road To Dry River highlights universal themes. It will appeal to those who themselves have MS or a family member or friend who has been diagnosed with it, and anyone who has had life as they know it turned upside down by any chronic debilitating disorder/illness or other significant event that will have a negative impact on their future abilities.

Interest will also be stirred in those who recognise they are/may be from a dysfunctional family… are there any families that are not dysfunctional in one way or another? Anyone who seeks solace through personal development or spiritual awakening will find much between these pages to satisfy their thirst.

Long Road To Dry River is a gutsy, inspirational memoir that will surprise, shock and sometimes sadden any reader who accompanies the author through the pain, uncertainties and challenges of life both before and through the experience of her ultimate curveball – Multiple Sclerosis.

It is not surprising Long Road to Dry River was shortlisted for the Finch Prize for Memoir in 2018.


Jennifer Severn’s – Long Road To Dry River – is available via her website:


You can read my interview with Jennifer Severn Here


If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.


I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section on this page.


This morning I moved the bookmark from one book to another. At the end of one journey and with the anticipation of the next, I feel sad that the first is over but also have a deep sense of completion because it was such a good read. It was also a distraction from my small piece of dishevelled heaven.

The world is in chaos. The COVID-19 virus is spreading like wildfire. Countries are in various stages of lockdown, with multitudes ill and many dying. Everyone is learning to live an insular life until the spread is stemmed and eventually halted. There will be dreadful repercussions, the degree of which largely depends on our ability to be prudent, stick to the rules and take responsibility.

We are bombarded with constant updates. Reminders are everywhere.

It is devastating.

Before this level of disruption descended on us, the little cottage my husband and I call home in the beautiful Bega Valley was in its own state of disarray. Towards the end of last year, we purchased a huge four-section wall unit ready for the next stage of turning the storage room into our longed-for library. Between Christmas and New Year we began the arduous task of sorting through boxes of stored papers (old business records, university essays, research notes, teaching materials, writing drafts etc., as well as archives from my husband’s illustrious career as an electronics engineer through the expanding years of television).

By the weekend, piles of papers covered every available surface as we culled and categorised what we would keep or hand on to others… and more boxes awaited our attention.

In the early hours of New Year’s Eve, we fled from our home as flames rushed down the ridge towards our small community. Initially evacuated to Cobargo, we were soon on the run from there too as wild fires rained down on the whole area swallowing homes and lives as it progressed. Our fire experience will be the subject of another blog, but suffice to say here is that we returned almost three weeks later to find our home standing, with some damage to the outside and looking sad with the destruction around it.

Inside was as disrupted as we’d left it in our haste, everything was covered in ash and there was a distinctive closed-in odour. Amidst several attempts to free our home (and the piles of papers!) from fire dust, there were meetings and negotiations with government departments, local council, insurers, and recovery services.

The first of the official clean-up projects in our yard – the removal of twelve huge pine trees, burnt and dangerous – was three-quarters completed when COVID-19 struck, and the three remaining trees (most dangerous and closest to the house) stand waiting for the arborist and his chainsaw.

Our lives outside home are on pause. Having run from the wild fires less than three months ago and begun restoration in the meantime, we’re now bunkered down against the wildfire spread of the virus.

Staying at home is no problem for me. Since retiring, I spend most days in my office… researching, planning, writing, editing, re-writing, reading, keeping up-to-date on all things writing, discovering the lives of ancestors, and so on. I’m happy to be a homebody, venturing out when necessary or when the mood takes me. The suggestion of an ice-cream at the beach gets me every time. I like to socialise, but I don’t have to. I also like solitude. I continue to teach writing courses when the opportunity arises and regularly attend poetry afternoons an hour away from home. Social media also allows communication with friends and fellow-writers.

Most recently read books.

The isolation associated with the virus is different from my self-imposed work-related appointments with my computer. The current hibernation has no element of choice and there are dark clouds surrounding it; fear of the virus… anxiety for children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and other family members and friends… separation from these loved ones… and concern for the aftermath.

On the upside, I have enjoyable and productive activities to pursue, our vegie garden will get plenty of attention, Ron and I have an opportunity to get the library sorted, and my writing routine will surely thrive.

A few of my waiting treasures.

Our part of the world is accustomed to adapting. The fires were fuelled by the stubble of long excruciating drought, dry riverbeds and an abundance of brittle undergrowth. Their pattern and ferocity were unprecedented. Drought led to fires, followed by floods and contaminated water, and now a threatening virus pandemic.             

Australians are resilient and will face this challenge head on, each person moving into the new ‘normal’ in their own way.

As my journey evolves, I am pleased to be a writer and reader who can get lost in words for long periods of time. Just as reading has been a welcome distraction during the fires and the unfolding medical crisis we’re living, the book I finished this morning inspired me back to the keyboard after a void while adjusting to our new – but temporary – enforced lifestyle.

Stay safe everyone. Happy reading and writing – not just while you’re cosseted away, but into the future…


I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section on this page.

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

Moving Forward

My last blog reflected on my writing activities during 2019 and how well they met my stated goals for the year. In the final analysis, I largely achieved what I had hoped and will pursue any loose ends as my writing commitments for 2020 begin.

With January lost to the void of bushfire overload, I am pressing on without further delay. First steps will be as follows:

  • Submit my memoir manuscript submission package to my chosen publisher by the end of this week
  • Submit my poetry chapbook manuscript to the online competition I have in mind

What else will I do in 2020?

  • Follow through with the publishing process of my memoir manuscript – whether with my hoped-for publisher or by taking other steps
  • Work towards publication of two poetry manuscripts
  • Dedicate some time each day to move my mixed-genre manuscript forward
  • Summarise notes and plans for possible novellas and write at least one
  • Continue to enter writing competitions, especially those that most relate to my major writing projects
  • Post on my website at least six time each month – writing blog, writing exercises and tips, musings blog, poetry, and so on…
  • Expand social media presence
  • Embrace book promotion

Having identified my overall goals, it is time to draw up monthly and weekly work schedules to keep me focussed and on track. These will be reassessed and adjusted wherever necessary periodically throughout the year.

I am calling this a transition year. My sense is that I’m in the right place on my Writer’s Journey to take a leap of faith (or is that a giant step?) to bridge the gap between my passion for writing and small achievements, and my dream of bigger works coming to fruition.

2019 finished on a high for me with the delivery of The Ancestral Searcher Vol. 42 No. 4 –the journal of The Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra Inc. (HAGSOC), the founders of the E M Fletcher Writing Award.

View of Cattle Bay, Eden.  (


Cover photograph features the cottage referred to in my story 

View of Cattle Bay, Eden.  (


At HAGSOC’s 55th Anniversary Celebrations in October, I was announced the overall winner of this competition for my story All At Sea. The competition brought together two of my great loves – genealogy and writing. It called for a short story with a genealogy theme and I was inspired to dramatise a small piece of my ancestral history, thus giving voice to these special people (my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother) a hundred and fifty years on.

My success with this story and seeing it in print has increased my confidence in my mixed-genre exploration of the lives of the ‘great’ women of my heritage and of their generations per se, and the impact these women had on the survival and development of society as we know it. All At Sea forms part of this manuscript.

I am excited about the direction my writing is headed in 2020 and beyond!

My winning story, All At Sea, can be found here


HAGSOC website:


This post also relates to my Blog ~ Reflection On My Writing Year, Writing Exercise #26 ~ Take Stock Of Your Writing Goals and Short Story ~ All At Sea.


I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post on my website.


If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

Reflection On My Writing Year

2019 ended with a wallop. The bushfires saw to that. Our home is safe but damaged, and many other precious items are lost and our lives are shaken. January seems to have disappeared without even touching the aftermath bubble, let alone penetrating it.

For me, like so many others, this has meant no chance for reflection on the writing year that has been and no systematic goal-setting for 2020. Hopefully, by now, those not directly affected by the fires will have been able to commit to a writing plan for the year and have made progress into it – after all, one-twelfth of the year has already evaporated.

When I look back, I see progress across the months.

What were my hopes for 2019?

  • Tighten my memoir manuscript and take steps towards publication
  • Deepen/broaden research for my next manuscript, define the premise (the underlying story/theme), consider structure and begin writing
  • Edit and organise my poems, and work towards two poetry manuscripts
  • Enter competitions with a view to adding current awards and/or publications to my writing resume
  • Learn more about writing novellas
  • Maintain my website and post a variety of blogs and other writings

What did I achieve?

  • The memoir manuscript is 9,000wds shorter than it was this time last year, even though a scene has been added… so, it is much tighter after this last round of re-writes. The word length is now just over 90,000 – not bad considering it was 156,000wds in its first incarnation! (It was a novel based on fact then, but still too long.)
  • In November and early December, I repeated earlier research to identify the most appropriate publication options and decided on the publisher I would like to read my memoir. My plan was to send it to them on 8th January – after the holiday season. The fires led to a revised date of 31st January, and it is ready to go…
  • I’ve been systematically researching and organising information for the next manuscript. I will need to expand as I proceed, but am well on my way with the research. As so often happens, the premise has crystallised through this process and has been refined. As this will be a mixed-genre manuscript, the structure may also be a little fluid with the early writing, but I have a loose framework to keep me on track. The writing is well under way.
  • Some poems have been refined and put together as a chapbook. This series of poems tells one story and raises sociological questions about young people and the law. This chapbook is ready for a competition that closes shortly.
  • I continue to work to pull together a collection from my other poetry penned over the years and newer poems.
  • I entered a few writing competitions in the second half of the year and came up trumps when I won the inaugural 2019 E M Fletcher Award. My dramatised but factual short story gave me a current success and publication to add to my resume. It also paid financial dividends, which were immediately set aside to help finance my writing endeavours.
  • This winning story forms part of the mixed-genre manuscript mentioned above.
  • The proceeds from this competition, made it possible for me to travel to Sydney in November to attend Nick Earls’ Writing Novellas course at Writing NSW.


Nick Earls signing his Wisdom Tree collection of Novellas for me…






…and for fellow-attendee Andrew (A. B.) Patterson.




  • This workshop delivered everything it promised. I came away with a greater understanding of novellas and a practical feel for the necessary tools to write one, having applied these to the development of a plan and finding the voice for a story I plan to write. Markets and competitions for novellas were also discussed.
  • My website was maintained during 2019 and a variety of blogs and other writings were posted. I would, however, be happier with my efforts if I had posted more often. Improvement is needed here.

Overall, my year’s work fell relatively close to my stated goals. Any small differences between my hopes and my deeds are still in train and can be easily pursued. My next blog will pick up where I left off this time and will form the basis of my 2020 writing goals.

This post also relates to my Blogs ~ Are You On Track? and Lesson Learned. Also Tip #19, Tip #22 and Writing Exercise #26 ~ Take Stock Of Your Writing Goals.


I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post on my website.

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party. No other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

Mindful Writing

My last blog discussed mindfulness and how to get into the writing zone, where we’re able to write without the distraction of what has been before or what is likely to happen in the future.

This time I’ll highlight other ways we can apply mindfulness in our writing lives.

Be mindful to make writing part of every day. Like a pianist practising scales or an athlete training each day, it is advisable for writers to make writing part of their daily activities. Even if you’re unable to actually engage in the practise of writing for some reason, find some other way to advance your work. You might do research online, conduct an interview, brainstorm an idea or simply write down your thoughts.

Mindfully choose when and where to write. Many writers use Free Writing to clear their minds and help them open up to what is to come. This is sometimes called Stream of Consciousness Writing or Internal Monologue, and instructions for one such exercise can be found in my Writing Exercise – Free Writing Beyond Your Desk. Free Writing is often considered devoid of parameters, and the writing itself can be, however each time we settle to Free Write, we choose the place, subject, perspective, starting point and how long we’ll write. Hence it is within the framework of mindfulness and can benefit from the writer being fully focussed when making these decisions.

Clarify your intention before you begin. What is it you want to write? For whom? Ask yourself what the story/poem is about and jot down a broad answer in just one sentence. Then ask yourself what it is really about… what are the themes/issues that run through the story? The answer here will just be a few words, for example ‘trauma, isolation and courage’. Consider what message in relation to these themes you want to leave with the reader.

By the time you’ve clarified the answers to these questions you’ll have the essence of your intended work, and will also be able to identify the demographic of your intended readership.

This information will assist you to mindfully plan and structure your story/narrative in the most productive way.

Make mindful decisions in relation to research. Doing research isn’t just about numbers and quotes to verify what you write. There is a need to explore further than this… to question yourself about your method. Begin with a clear, focussed mind and ask yourself what research you need to undertake for your project. What research has already been done? What has been written on your subject? Who do you need to interview? What questions will you need to ask? What is the most productive way to collate and compile the results? What connections can you make and what conclusions can be drawn? And so on…

Mindfulness can enrich and expand every aspect of the writing process. Some examples are:

  • Characterisation – The clear mind and deeper creative ability that come with mindfulness will enable you to develop authentic characters, appropriate for the role they will play in your story. By asking questions of/about your characters, you will get to know them intimately.
  • Writing through the senses – Everything we experience comes through our senses and becomes connected to memory. How often have you been transported to an earlier time/place when you caught a whiff of something or heard a voice behind you? Or… perhaps you saw a pair of aqua jeans the same as you wore when you were seventeen, or you may have seen an advertisement for BEX powders on a run-down building that was once a corner store, and automatically swallowed at the memory of the taste… Tune into the sensations/responses your characters feel – what they hear, smell, taste, see, feel (touch) – through your own sensations/responses and memories surrounding them.
  • Dramatisation – Dramatised writing is that which shows the reader what is happening, rather than telling them. Its purpose is to evoke sensations in the reader and make the imagery in your writing more vivid. In the words of Anton Chekov, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.’
  • Dialogue – is a major factor in both characterisation and dramatisation. Be mindful of who your characters are in the particular world you’re writing, so you can step into their shoes and write realistic dialogue. This will allow readers to get to know individual characters and understand their approach to life in given situations. It will also bring your story alive by deepening and expanding scenes.
  • Attention to detail – There is great power in precision, especially when it can be utilised to give a sense of place, the ethos of the times and the reactions of characters. The caution here is to use detail sparingly, appropriately and to best advantage. For example, landscape poetry can be boring if it is merely a series of details, but it becomes interesting and experiential if you hold back on straight detail and add other elements such as changing light, seasons, moods, weather, a sense of history, the narrator’s connection to – and/or experience of – it. Sometimes a word, small phrase or one sentence is enough to give a sense of place, the times and the reaction of characters. This line from my forthcoming memoir could have read, ‘I was in the laundry doing the washing when I heard his voice.’ Instead, I added some time-specific details and it became, ‘When I heard his voice at the front door, I was wringing nappies through the rollers on the blue and white Pope washing machine Dad bought from a travelling salesman.’ The image this gives is far more comprehensive and draws the reader into the scene.

Mindfulness is the state of being fully focussed in the present, with full attention on your in-the-moment actions.

Whenever your activities are writing-orientated, consider doing mindfulness exercises before you begin. Techniques such as closed eye processes, attention to breath, and guided imagery can transform your writing.

This Blog relates to my Blog ~ The Writing Zone, Writing Exercise #24 ~ Clearing The Mind, Writing Exercise #25 ~ Clearing The Mind – B and Writing Tip #23.

I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post on my website.

If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.

The Writing Zone

Everyone has their own way of focusing as they prepare to write. Some people go for a walk first, swim or read. Others just settle at their computer and head into the next chapter. Whatever the chosen route into our work, we all have days when achieving focus is difficult.

Take heart; there are steps we can take to successfully enter and remain in the Writing Zone – that state where there is only you and your work, and you become as one lost in the journey of creation.

Early last year, I posted a blog about how we can act mindlessly when we’re overloaded, stressed or distracted. The example I gave from my life involved a batch of x-rays skyrocketing from the roof of my car, where I’d inadvertently left them days earlier, and the more mindful actions of the good Samaritan who went to great lengths to restore them to me. You can read this Musings blog Here.

When we act mindlessly, we’re not concentrating; not focused on the present, but distracted by past and/or future events. We’re operating ‘on automatic’, with little or no intellectual effort. We’re paying no attention to dangers or outcomes, or anything else related to the task at hand.

Conversely, when we act mindfully, we’re living in a conscious way. We’re ‘awake’ to reality, acutely aware of our surroundings, and more able to take in details. We can muster increased concentration and focus. Problems become opportunities and we can make conscious decisions for the most satisfactory outcomes.

The aim of mindfulness is to be fully present and focused. When we operate in the moment, we’re removed from before and after the now. We’re able to access a deep well of creative awareness with a clear mind, acute senses, more accessible and accurate memory, and unimpeded flowing thoughts.

I like to think of focusing on mindfulness as similar to putting on glasses for the first time – everything is clearer, details are sharper.

Mindfulness is useful at every level of the writing process. Decisions about where and when we write, how we ensure uninterrupted work time, how we clarify our writing goals, how we ensure we’ll stay on track, and how and where we’ll do our research, are just some of the questions we need to approach up front with clarity.

Then there is the transition from preparation to the writing itself. This is when we need to ‘get into the zone’, by letting go of anything crowding our minds from our pre-work activities or even our preconceptions about our work.

It isn’t possible to be centred while being hindered by self-doubt, self-judgement and/or the things we use to avoid writing… like telling ourselves writing is a waste of time, we’re too busy, and no one would be interested anyway; distracting ourselves by watching television, cleaning out cupboards, or anything else that feeds procrastination or impedes clarity.

If you are plagued in this way, considering the concepts highlighted in my blog Writer’s Block – Part C may release you to re-focus and take advantage of mindfulness techniques.

You can return to these questions at any time if you feel the need, but once you’re through them and feel ready to write, move on to mind-clearing and grounding exercises that will take you into the writing zone.

A simple clearing exercise can be found Here. Use this as a starting point, and watch for more techniques as they are posted.


This Blog relates to Writing Exercise #24 ~ Clearing The Mind and Writing Tip #23.


Next Blog: Mindful Writing


I would value your thoughts and feedback in the Comments section, which can be found at the end of each post.


If you would like to be notified each time I post on my website, please enter your email address under the heading Follow My Blog, on the bottom of the right-hand column on any page. Your email address will not be passed on to any third party and no other information is required. This is a free service to ensure you don’t miss new posts.