(More images at the end)
Washington DC. I’ve wanted to come here for so long, and here I am. Another dream come true.
I’m typing this sitting in the café in our hotel, located in Crystal City – specifically chosen as this is the area my characters for the White Rose series live. It’s nice to know I’ve placed them in a location that suits them, ie, a place where people like them would live. I can picture them here, and it’s a satisfying feeling – not to mention giving me ample opportunity to do research into the area for future stories.
As I’ve said in Facebook posts over the past few days, DC feels comfortable to me. I know it’s because I’ve spent so much time researching the area and writing about it, and its yet another affirmation for me. We’ve played the tourist, but with an eye on my writing – we’ve walked streets my characters have walked, eaten at restaurants that have/will figure in my writing, and I’ve tried to absorb as much of it as I can.
Writing ‘items’ ticked off:
J Edgar Hoover building, aka FBI Headquarters
This was the number one item on my ‘must do’ list. I had to see where Warren worked, and hubby and I had lunch in a little bakery café across the road from the main entrance (by accident, honestly!). I had a real opportunity to watch people go in and out of the building and the amount of security they used. I didn’t make detailed notes or anything like that - I’m not silly - but it gave me a real world view of the everyday life around the FBI HQ. Oh, and it gave me the chance to have my photo taken with a copy of Roses outside!
Old Ebbitt Grill
I send Beth and Warren to this restaurant for dinner early on in the next White Rose book and I really wanted to have a meal there. Another thing that didn’t disappoint! The place was gorgeous, just the kind of restaurant I could picture my characters eating at. We walked from the area of the FBI headquarters to the restaurant – perhaps a walk that Warren does to meet Beth for dinner.
The National Mall
On our first day in DC we walked part of the Mall. It’s a place that is used day and night by the people in the area and again I had no trouble imagining Beth and Warren strolling along under the trees. The Mall was in a part of their story that got cut from the first version of Roses, but it will make an appearance in the future.
In particular, the FBI exhibition. It was interesting to look at the displays they had there and read about the work of the FBI. I may have bought a few FBI items from the Newseum store while we were there…
There are three places on my list to go. The first is the National Arboretum, and in particular, Fern Valley. Readers of Roses may remember this is where Beth and Warren had their wedding. Hubby and I are also going to revisit the WWII Memorial on the Mall, which also plays a role in the next White Rose book. We have done a ‘Monuments by Night’ tour (fantastic, even if it was drizzling most of the way), so we briefly saw it lit up at night, but I want a better look. The other thing I plan to do is spend part of a day exploring the Crystal City area. I want to see the shops, the parks, the streets, and take loads of photos.
Non-writing stuff that might become writing stuff one day..
We did a tour of the Pentagon this morning. Wow! No, I’m not planning to write a story based in or around the Pentagon, but our tour guide gave us lots of information about the history of the Pentagon and a feel for the US military. We also saw where the plane hit on 9/11 – not that there is any sign of it. When it was rebuilt there was a deliberate decision not to leave any scar or mark on the building. I love the defiance of that! This afternoon was Arlington Cemetery. The morning’s tour guide had told us about the Sentinel Guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and it was a real privilege to see them in action. Away from the crowds (so many people!), the cemetery was a solemn and beautiful place. The sound of gun salutes echoing several times while we were there reminded us it is a working cemetery. There were 29 funerals held at Arlington today – a sobering thought. The cemetery gave me lots of inspiration and that and the Pentagon tour really brought back the feeling of my time in the Defence Force. An amazing day, all up.
Yesterday, as we sat opposite the FBI having lunch, we witnessed a cavalcade going through the city. First was a police officer on a bike, sirens and lights going, stopping all the traffic. Next came three coaches, with a police car weaving in and around them. The whole street came to a standstill as the cavalcade zoomed past – they weren’t going slowly! Fascinating, and more information stored away for possible future use!
I’ve loved every second of this amazing city so far. Okay, not every second. It was a little scary going into the Pentagon this morning, but once past the various security measures, and given a little time in the waiting area to relax, I started loving it! I can’t begin to express how I feel, seeing the places I’ve written about and channelling my characters to envision them here. It’s been a truly remarkable experience, and it’s not over yet!
Yep, more tears. I always knew it would be an emotional trip.
The Tasmanian Writers and Readers Festival was everything I hoped it would be, and nothing like I expected it to be.
The two master classes I attended were worth every cent. The fiction writing one reinforced many things I knew, and showed me lots of things I didn’t. Or should I say it showed me things I knew, but hadn’t acknowledged I knew—those vague snippets of information that sit in the subconscious and act without me realising. It’s good to have the out in the open, so to speak.
The travel writing class. Wow. Just wow. The class was taught by Tim Cope, who had spent two and a half years riding across Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan to the Danube. He gave a small grabs of the story as he explained how his editor helped him to shape his writing and give it focus and theme. I was impressed how Tim gave credit where it was due, sharing his (often harsh) critiques with us to help us grow in our writing. He never once implied writing beautifully had come naturally to him, and freely acknowledged the work of his editor in teaching him the craft. I now have so many ideas for my upcoming trip to the States. I can visualise a companion book to my two series; a story of discovering the places that are familiar to me because of my writing, and connecting my travel to the stories in my books.
One the real highlights was meeting Tigon, Tim Cope’s dog. He was given to Tim in Kazakhstan, and travels Australia with Tim whenever possible. Tigon slept for the first part of the class, and then woke so he could make the rounds of all the attendees, collecting pats and back scratches.
Probably the biggest thing I learned from the whole festival is to seize opportunities when they come along. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not big on doing writing classes, but if I hadn’t gone to the ones I did, I would have missed so much.
The main thing about writing is…writing. Sitting your butt down in the chair and doing the work. – Ben Fountain
Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. – Louis L’Amour
This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it's done. It’s that easy, and that hard. – Neil Gaiman
Wouldn’t it be nice if all a writer had to do was wait for inspiration to strike and then write. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it?
I’ll tell you a secret—it rarely happens that way.
The only book I really experienced that sensation with was Roses. Why? Because I spent so long developing the story in my head that for the most part it was easy to get out. It was all there, ready and waiting. But not all of it was like that, and I’ve learned (kicking and screaming in rebellion at times) that a story rarely appears by magic. As the quotes above say, the only way to get a project written is to write it. And that often means writing when inspiration is missing.
Here’s the good bit though. I can sit down and stare at the screen, not knowing what comes next, and when I write something—anything—then clarity comes and it all flows. I often say my characters show me what needs to happen, but in reality the simple act of typing words will let my instincts and imagination work together to produce the story.
But it won’t happen unless I start the work. Which is where the sitting my butt down and making myself type comes in. It’s sometimes hard to force myself to do it, and there have been many times in the past where I’ve failed. However, I’ve recently made myself write every day—a minimum of 500 words—and it genuinely helps. I even allow myself to stop in the middle of a scene, so long as I’ve hit the 500. The story is slowly coming out, but that’s not the best part.
The best part is it’s getting easier and easier to do. I now have the faith in myself that if it sit down at my computer, the words WILL come. And there’s nothing better than the joy it brings me.
There’s been a bit happening in my writing world at the moment so I thought I'd fill you in.
The next book for release has been critiqued by my beta readers and is now with my editor. The image for the cover has been chosen, the blurb has been drafted, and I’m hoping to be able to announce a release date soon!
It’s now only two months until the big trip! So many of the destinations are wrapped up in my stories that it will be an emotional time, and an exciting one. I plan to post on my blog while I’m away, and there will be heaps of story-related photos too. I’ll be putting an itinerary of the book related places I’ll be visiting up on my blog before I leave.
Work on a new book is progressing sporadically. It’s frustrating – I get a load of words down and then something happens (like getting a head cold) that stops me from being productive. It is coming along though – I’m about a third the way through writing it. I’m loving taking my characters through an adventure. Some of them are showing me new things about themselves, and some are pushing their way forward for more attention. It’s a wonderful process and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
While I’m working on that story, I’ve also started planning the first book of a new series. At the moment I think there will be three books in total. Early days yet. I hope to start writing the first book over Christmas. That’s always assuming I don’t choose to do one of the many others I want to write. So many ideas!
That’s it for now. Don’t forget – if you want to hear the big announcements before anyone else, sign up to get them delivered to your email.
I was asked a question a month or so ago about my choice of organisations—namely the FBI and the US Navy—that I have set my books around. It’s not something I’ve ever asked myself, because to me the answer is obvious.
Like many others of my generation, my parents lived through WWII and we had many relatives in the (mainly British) defence forces. My dad did National Service after the war, so the military has always hovered in my past. When my brother turned 17, he joined the Australian Army as an apprentice. He loved it, and his enthusiasm infected me and after experiencing a week of work experience at the Army Apprentice Barracks, I eventually went on to join the Australian Army Reserve at the start of my final year of high school.
I loved it! I loved it so much that at the end of that year I applied to join the Royal Australian Air Force as an Education Assistant (similar to being a library technician). What a great life! I worked in a variety of areas including a training unit, base support wing, and a pilot training squadron. I volunteered for ceremonial parades and was picked to be colour orderly for two different units, and also the Queens Colours when they were brought out to Australia. I got a kick out of having to work at my desk wearing ear-muffs because the FA-18s were outside doing hot refuels (refuelling with engines going). Hubby joined the same time I did—that’s how we met. Yes, a rookie’s romance! He went on to be a police-dog handler, and our lives centred on the RAAF.
The fun I had in the Army Reserves and the RAAF has stuck with me, and when I joined it with a love of police dramas and detective books, it seemed natural to base my writing around military and law enforcement. I have a general understanding of how organisations such as these operate, and with the vast amounts of information available on the internet, or by simply emailing with a question, the rest falls into place.
Okay, so I may not get everything right, but most of it is. I’ll admit to a degree of creative licence, too.
One of the most often quoted pieces of writing advice is ‘write what you know’. With the internet holding such a large amount of information on every topic you could think of, I’m not sure that advice holds much weight. I certainly haven’t paid attention to it. Do I write what I know? I prefer to think I write what I’m passionate about, what grabs my attention and fascinates me. Why else would I do it?
When I first thought I might publish some of my work, I would dream about getting a contract and royalties, and being able to just write for the rest of my life. It’s a good thing I didn’t pin my hopes on that, because the reality of most writer’s lives is very different.
Few writers make a living from book sales alone. The writers I know either have ‘day’ jobs, full or part-time, or they have a business such as editing, ghost-writing, or copy writing, to help pay the bills. It’s hard work, and sometimes they have to branch out further and do other things to make ends meet. It would be nice to only have to write the next best-seller and let the money roll in, but it generally doesn’t work that way. Failure, too, is common. The publishing company might reject your manuscript, or your book may not sell as well as you hoped. JK Rowling is well known for posting her rejection letters online in an effort to show her followers that rejection, or failure, is not the end, and it happens to everyone.
I’m lucky. After a brief dabble with submitting to a publishing company—and I mean brief—I decided self-publishing was the way to go and I’ve never regretted my choice. I don’t expect to make loads of money from my writing—I’m more interested in enjoying the process of writing stories. So I stick to my (nicely paying) day job and have fun. It doesn’t mean I don’t still have failures. I do. It’s easier to learn from them and move on if you’re not counting on the income.
Would I accept an offer from a publishing company if they made one? Honestly, probably not. At least not without having a good literary lawyer look at the contract. I’ve read enough about horror contracts to put me off.
I have nothing but respect for my fellow writers who write (edit, mentor, etc) full time. I’d respect anyone who runs their own small business—in fact I’m in awe of them. The simple truth is I don’t have the courage or drive to follow them. Not without a lot of fall-back money sitting in the bank.
Now, if I win Tattslotto…, but first I need to buy a ticket!
I’ve been making preparations for my trip to the US and one of the things I’ve put a lot of thought into is how I’m going to write and blog while I’m away. I could take my laptop, but when you plan to do as much souvenir buying as I am (how many FBI t-shirts can I fit in my bag?) a laptop is not a practical solution. Then I thought about getting one of those little notebook computers. I looked into them, but then I had a better idea.
I have an iPad mini that I use all the time. Sure the screen is small, but it’s not much smaller than the screen on the small notebooks. I downloaded a Microsoft Word app, bought a small Bluetooth keyboard, and for a fraction of the cost of a notebook computer I have my solution! Now that I’ve also downloaded the app for Weebly (website creation tool) I’m giving it a trial run.
So here I am at the Botanical gardens with a coffee, typing away, and shortly I’ll be posting this to my blog.
That’s the plan. If you’re reading this, then it worked!
It's been a tough week so I went on the hunt for something to pick me up, and this is what I found. It's a great little inspirational talk on grit and perseverance. It's just what I needed.
I hope you get something from it too.
Have you ever thought you were fighting your true character, that you were keeping a very real part of yourself back?
It wasn’t until recently that I realised how important the creative side of my life has been. All through high school I played music: violin, viola, ‘cello, bagpipes, plus impromptu lessons from friends on trumpet, flute, French horn, bassoon, and double-bass. Later on I tried a little highland dancing, and now of course, my writing. Creating has filled me with joy, but I didn’t consciously acknowledge it for a long time as I had other things that took priority. I always thought of myself as a practical person and I love routine. I hear a lot of writers say they struggle with routine, but it’s something I love and rely on. Which is why I’m going to fight it—or try to, anyway!
At the beginning of this year I decided I wanted to wing things a bit more, and particularly with my blog. So I post quotes on Monday, Word on Wednesday on…well, it’s obvious when, and a blog post of Friday. Yeah, that’s winging it and acting on impulse! Not.
Why the determination to change? I don’t know that I want to change, but I’m bored with the routine. It’s become stale. Right now the organising, routine lover in me is saying “but, but, but…it won’t be right” and I guess that’s why I’m going to fight it for a while. I’m let the creative side come to the fore—here anyway, not at work—and see what happens!
So brace yourself! Actually no, you don’t have to, it’s won’t be that bad. Just different.
What's it about?
It's about words and my life as a writer. There are also tips for those starting their writing journey, with a focus on self-publishing, and encouragement all round.