Looking for opportunities to donate at Christmas? Here are my favourites.

So, speaking of the Christmas Spirit, I thought I’d share with you a few of my favourite charities in case you are looking for some ideas of where to spread your Christmas cheer too. I donate to these charities every time I get a royalty statement too, so thank you for supporting my books because you in turn support these charities. xx

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Kiva

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To see who’s leading the way of amazing things you can do for the world in my list, head on over to the Kiva site. These are TRULY the gifts that keep on giving. Kiva is a phenomenally life changing micro loan site. That means, your money is a loan to an enterprising individual or group and they pay it back to you in tiny amounts at a time. You can literally change people’s lives with a $25 loan that comes back to you and then… here’s the awesome thing… you can send that same $25 on to someone else! It’s incredible. We can change the world with micro loans. I’ve got tiny loans out to people in Cambodia, Senegal, Phillipines, India, Zambi and Peru. I cannot speak highly enough of this charity.

And if you ever want to feel unbelievably inspired and hopeful for the world, listen to anything Jessica Jackley (co-founder of Kiva) has said. She is one of my heroes in life and I’ll be she’ll quickly be one of yours too.

Australian Koala Foundation

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On a sad note… Koalas, our national emblem, our national disgrace.

Did you know it takes fifty (50!) trees to supply food for ONE koala for ONE year?

We are losing our koala trees through deforestation and land clearing and cannot plant them fast enough to save this much-loved, cuddly species from a wipe out. The AKF is very clear: the only way to save koalas is to legislate protection of their habitat.

As their slogan says: No tree, no me.

Twice a year I donate to AKF to buy trees for their tree planting programs, building up crucial tracts of koala networks to save our friends. If it’s too late for the wild populations, then there is always the hope that zoos will have breeding programs to repopulate our land, and if that happens, the trees that AKF are planting right now (on private land, often donated or bequeathed) will be leading the way in providing food for them.

Freedom Hill Sanctuary

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These are our sponsor cows: ‘Teddy’ is on the top and ‘Christina and Batman’ are on the bottom. Teddy is my husband’s cow and the two on the bottom are mine. Cute, aren’t they? We have a real thing for cows. (Actually, we have a real thing for everything, hence why we founded and ran a horse rescue charity for three years and now have a paddock full of horses.) This year, hubby wants to add on a pig. Getting a real live pig is the one thing I have resolutely said we can not under any circumstances get!! I love pigs, don’t get me wrong, and haven’t eaten one for twenty odd years. But everything I’ve read about pigs leads me to expect broken fences, endless ear-splitting squealing and earth destruction! I just don’t think I can cope. So anyway, that’s why sponsoring your favourite animals is a great alternative, and hence why this time next year I’ll probably be showing you a photo of ‘our pig’. 🙂

Book Drive

You’ll likely find a children’s book drive going on somewhere near you. For us, it’s run through our library system in Books 4 Kids here on the Sunshine Coast. Because kids and books just go together, don’t they? And no child should have to be without books, especially at Christmas.

 Oxfam

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“One person in three in the world lives in poverty.”

Wow, right? How lucky we are.

Oxfam’s slogan is: The power of people against poverty. They help people all around the world, including here in Australia, through industry, agriculture and businesses that provide ongoing employment, education and food resources.

And fortunately for all of us, they supply us with great Christmas decorations and gifts for everyone. We do a lot of shopping with Oxfam at this time of year. 🙂

 

So there you go! Please, go forth and be merry! xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halloween As Story

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Halloween: I used to hate it; now I’m for it (sort of… kind of… not really, but… oh, let me explain…)

Right up until midday 31 October last year, I hated Halloween. I could not have been more resentful, bitter and loudly oppositional about it. I hated the crassness of it, the fake spider webs dangling from shop doorways, the sales kids dressed up in witches outfits, the pumpkins and goblin masks. I took particular offence to the notion of trick-or-treating and, especially, to the ghoulishness of it all. I hated the glorified meaninglessness of the commercial machine and the seemingly stubborn inevitableness that all this craziness was well and truly here to stay. Like, forever.

At that time, my son was two-and-a-half years old. Years and years of Halloween horrors loomed ahead of me. It wouldn’t be long before he’d be asking to join in, be invited to Halloween parties, with all manner of questionable games and violent costumes (call me crazy, but I don’t actually find it funny to see costumes with knives through skulls or blood and gorge hanging from body parts).

Then a good friend of mine (who doesn’t have children) posted a photo on Facebook, with her decorations of hairy spiders in the tree at the front of her home. She was the last person I expected to participate in something as gimmicky as Halloween. (She loves roses and antique teapots!)

Even her? Was I missing something?

I began to seriously mull over this whole Halloween thing, knowing I was running out of time before I would have to make some clear decision on where I stood and to what extent I was happy for my son to participate (or not). I didn’t even know where Halloween came from, so I hit the internet to find out. It’s a bit of a garbled mix of information out there, but my layperson’s understanding is that it seems to have originally stemmed from a custom of honouring the spirits of those who had passed over (on a night called All Hallow’s Eve) and transformed in some countries to people dressing up as evil spirits and monsters to make fun of them and show them that they were not afraid of them. And it was that last part that caused me to reassess the whole Halloween thing.

I suddenly got it–Halloween is STORY and STORY is how we make sense of the world. Myths, archetypes, legends, fairy tales, genres, nursery rhymes, poetry, cinema and all other forms of stories give us LANGUAGE to describe what is going on inside us and around us. Halloween, specifically, deals with monsters and scary things. And monsters are real, so it is natural that we would need a language–even a basic child’s language–to talk about them.

My theory goes like this. Monsters are real. There are monstrous people in the world who do terrifying, unthinkable, heinous things to children. There are monstrous dictators that torture and murder entire ethnic cultures on our planet. There are creative monsters in the world who want to smash our dreams, humiliate, bully and belittle us. There are monsters in our mind that tell us we aren’t good enough and undermine our actions and dreams.

The monster characters in books and movies—ghouls, two-headed creatures, slime-covered bottom-dwellers and so on—are simply the symbolic representation of real-life monsters. To deny they exist does a disservice to our children and to ourselves. Something like Halloween, if handled with sensitivity and care, might just be a wonderful opportunity to help children learn to bring monsters out into the light, to talk about their fears and know that as adults we will listen to them.

Obviously, I’m not suggesting we should deliberately go and frighten our children or go out of our way to bring monsters into their psyche. But I am suggesting that maybe we shouldn’t run away from the darkness. Maybe, when they come running to us in fear, saying, “There’s a monster in my room!” we might use that opportunity to say, “Thank you for telling me; I want to help you; I want you to tell me when you’re afraid; I’m here to protect you; let’s see what we can do about that together”, rather than saying “There’s no such thing as monsters”.

Because we all know that’s not true.

I’m still uneasy with Halloween’s crass commercialisation, the gore, and I’m definitely still anti trick-or-treating. But this year, I will be using the opportunity to sensitively (and with an age-appropriate agenda) help my son start to have language and dialogue around things that are dark and scary and assure him that I’m here to stand beside him to defeat the monsters together.

The Little Red Typewriter

Following, is a special memory and story for me, one that makes up the intricate tapestry of my creative self. And I’m wondering if you have any similar memories like this.

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Do you believe that kids often know what they’re supposed to do in the world from a very young age? In my case, I think I did. I have a very strong memory from when I was around three years of age, the timing of which my mother was able to verify based on where I described we were living at the time.

photo-3On this particular day, my parents took my sister and me out shopping and we ended up in a toy store. I wandered around and was interested in many things, including a plaster of Paris kit, with figurines of Paddington Bear. But then, I saw a little red typewriter. I was struck with an all-encompassing need to have that typewriter. Soon after, my parents announced it was time to go. I began to cry, real tears of utter pain that I would be leaving without that typewriter.

‘What’s wrong?’ my mother asked, kindly. But I couldn’t articulate what the problem was. I’m not sure I even had a clear idea of what a typewriter did, yet I knew for some reason I desperately wanted it.

‘Do you want the typewriter?’ Mum asked, clearly confused. Then, ‘Or do you want the Paddington Bear kit?’

Now, here is where it got interesting. I can’t remember for exactly what reason–whether it was because I knew the typewriter was expensive, or whether it was because I didn’t think it was reasonable that a three-year-old should want a typewriter (I remember thinking both of those things, but am not sure which argument won out)–I pointed to the Paddington Bear kit and said yes I wanted that.

We took it home and I remember spending many happy hours out in the backyard under the trees making and painting those plaster moulds. I did love it.

But what my heart and soul really wanted that day was the typewriter.

For some completely inexplicable reason, I knew that I was here to create stories and bring them into the world, and at that time the way you did that was on a typewriter.

I was telling my mother this story on the phone recently and I choked up. The pain of leaving that typewriter behind was a strong as it had been when I was three. So when I hung up the phone, I searched ebay to see if there might be a similar one out there. And there was ONE. Just one. Sitting there for sale in England. So I bought it. And now it sits beside my laptop in my writing room and reminds my inner child (and therefore my inner artist) that I am a writer. That I’ve always been a writer. That I deserve to be a writer. That I hear that calling and I acknowledge it. My mission in life is there as a very real, tangible object–a realised dream.

If you’re a creator of any kind, I’m wondering if you have any memories like this? Or if you have any symbols around you  in your space that affirm your dreams? Or have you noticed something like this in your own children? I’d love to hear these if you do.

Juggling Motherhood with Being a Writer: You CAN do it!

The final proofed pages of my latest novel, on their way back to my publisher, complete with Random Toddler Attack

The final proofed pages of my latest novel, on their way back to my publisher, complete with Random Toddler Attack

Top Ten Tips for Being a Mama and Getting Your Writing Done!

I see so many interviews out there where a female writer is asked how she manages to write while also being a mother. And I’m not saying it hasn’t happened, but I’m yet to see or hear the same question asked of a male writer. Now, I could pose a lot of theories of why that is the case, but since it is a topic that doesn’t seem to go away, I thought I’d put my two cents in as well.

Firstly, I want to be very clear in that I don’t think there is any difference between a working mother/writer and a mother who is also working as a teacher, nurse, psychologist, chemical engineer, astronaut, television host or cleaner. Right? It’s all a job or career and so we’re all faced with the same challenges. In fact, the ADVANTAGE of being a working writer and mother is that your time is infinitely MORE flexible. (That can also be a double-edged sword, but see below for that.)

So like all working mothers, working writers have to make choices about what is right for them and their career, their time, their family and their children. Nannies, daycare and grandparents are all considered, perhaps working part-time to allow for some sort of ‘balance’. Or, you might like to work full-time with full-time childcare. In my own case, we battled on with (expensive) in-home nannies for the first two years after our son was born (I got my literary agent five weeks after he was born… yikes!), and then he showed us he was ready to go to daycare two days a week. My dad and stepmother (luckily) adore him and they have him with them another day a week. So that gives me three days a week dedicated to writing. This works for all of us right now.

Before I had a child, I could write whenever I wanted to, for the most part. Now, I have to do it on my ‘working’ days. It’s not always easy but, again, any other job is the same. Some days we don’t want to go, right? But if you don’t show up, you don’t get paid. Sometimes I will work at night or on weekends, and every now and then I throw in a weekend away for a writing retreat to get some intensive uninterrupted time with my novel.

The tough stuff for me is when things happen on days that aren’t ‘writing days’: stuff like interviews, photo shoots, interstate travel, publicity events and commitments etc. Then the juggling does get tricky and this takes some whole family commitment to changing timetables and so on. And of course, often those other commitments DO happen on ‘writing days’ (because it is impossible to do a photo shoot with a toddler in his “Hulk” phase testing out his power by upending furniture), so that means that no writing actually happens and that puts pressure on the word count targets.

But I wouldn’t change any of it because I think I have the best job in the world for me.

I do know that the big pressures come when you are as-yet unpublished and are trying to work out how to work, and raise children, AND write a book. That’s tough. But still do-able. It takes a lot of compassion for yourself and belief in your need to write, as well as some creative thinking and support from your family. And it’s okay to ask for help, ya know?

Some tips:

  1. If you can, take back some time by hiring a cleaner to come for a few hours a week and spend every minute of that time writing. And if you have mama guilt about that, USE it to fuel your word count goal to prove to yourself how useful and productive you’re being. (As an aside, I don’t actually subscribe to this sort of fear-based motivation, but if you need to use it in the short term to get yourself moving then by all means DO IT!)
  2. If you can write in ten-minute or thirty-minutes snatches of time, I bow at your feet! If, like me, you’re not really like that, try to find at least ONE HOUR at a time (many writers do it at 4.30am or 9.30pm) and write like a demon for sixty minutes. Better yet, maybe it’s even more valuable to negotiate one whole weekend every month or two and just delve down deep into your book. You might get more done in that time than you would in six months of half-hour snatches.
  3. Writing brings with it incredible flexibility in terms of the time of day you can write and where you can write. This is awesome. Use that flexibility…
  4. …BUT! Be warned. This type of flexibility also means that when the child is sick and can’t go to daycare, when the car needs to go to the mechanic, when the plumber needs to come to the house etc. etc., it will likely be YOU that is asked to give up your writing time to deal with the domestic need. And, often, this happens because ‘your job’ isn’t ‘earning any money’ at that time while your partner’s job is. Oh, the mama guilt that goes with that! And look, the reality is that you do need to keep money coming into the house, right? But just be very aware of this trap. Learn to set boundaries and be patient with yourself as you learn to protect them and learn to claw back that time that you lost with the plumber on another day. Learn to negotiate. It can be tough; I get it. (Even now, as a published author whose income contributes considerably to our household, I still find it difficult.) But you need to do it.
  5. Work while disconnected. I use Freedom, a cheap, neat little program that BLOCKS THE INTERNET on my computer while I’m writing. What a difference it makes! We are too distracted and too distractible. If you’re on limited writing time than for goodness’ sake, suck the marrow out of every minute you have.
  6. Remember that you can plan a lot in your head while you’re playing with train sets and play dough. You can THINK about your book at any minute of the day.
  7. I think having a child actually makes me a better writer. It focuses my attention and time and forces me to move through procrastination and blocks much faster than I would do if I didn’t have the time ticking down to when I had to leave to pick him up from daycare. He is pure imagination and play and makes me laugh all the time and provides an incredible wealth of new experiences, emotions, ideas and material for books. And I swear that reading children’s books makes me a better writer. This is all valuable stuff for your career.
  8. Working on hard copy (writing by hand, or editing on paper) is much easier to do when you’ve got little people around than carrying your laptop around or locking yourself away in a room. Your supervision is still good, the little person won’t try and take over your laptop, you can hand over paper and pens so that you can ‘work together’, and the cup of juice that gets spilt won’t ruin your notebook like it will your laptop. You can always type up words later when you’re tired and don’t actually need too many brain cells simply to read and type, rather than create.
  9. Fatigue can be a problem. Oh boy, I get this. You need to train.
  10. Finally, it all comes down to this. If you want it enough, you’ll make it work. You can do it. You can. You absolutely can. You MORE than can. You can…. I promise.

Happy writing!

What if following your dreams causes pain?

This was an excellent question posed by a reader of my Dream time article in Sunday Life magazine last weekend.

images-3Opal from Twitter asked said, “I know someone who is so angry they can’t get £ for their passion. Bankrupt over it & dragged his kids all over the country chasing the dream for 20 years. When dreams hurt, I say stop!”

This comment had me thinking for a long time and I decided there was so much in it that I would need to write a whole post on it to reply.

So firstly, I have to say that of course I don’t know anything about the specifics of the person Opal is talking about so I am not making any comment there. And I also have to say, straight up, that if you have small children then your first priority, always, is their welfare, no arguments about it. So if your actions are hurting your children then yes, stop right now.

However, I feel there is always a way to nurture your dreams. Okay, you might not be able to pack up and head to New York or to live in an ashram. But you still have choices. And sometimes, especially when we have human responsibilities (like parenting, taking care of elderly parents and, in my case, a lifelong commitment to more than a dozen animals) that might slow the pace of our actions, but you can still chip away at your dreams one tiny drop in the vast ocean at a time.

I’d also like to suggest that this is closely related to another comment from a reader, this time from Owla on Twitter who asked, “Can we all earn from our passion thou? What about the crazy X factor ppl who want to be popstars?”

Great question. Obviously not every contestant on a talent show is going to win. This doesn’t mean they’re not meant to have a career in music or as a singer. Those careers take many forms and those dreams evolve over the years as we get to know ourselves. Putting yourself out there in a forum like that can be a really powerful life changing experience for many people, despite the fact that they may not make it past the first round. And that could even be the fact that they realise that particular career path is not for them. They may go home with an epiphany of another road to take, such as music for children, composing, leading a church choir, whatever.

I think the real key to all of this is to look for signs that you’re on the right path. If I look back over the twelve years I was writing seriously, and NOT making any money from my work, there were STILL signs that I was on the right path. Little moments here and there, little cracks in the chaos that shone through and said, there! Keep going! For me, if I am constantly banging my head on a wall until it bleeds and there are NO signs that the universe is supporting those attempts, then I need to bail on that pathway. (Again, it doesn’t mean the whole idea is wrong for me, just that chosen expression.)

A very simple example: When I start a new book, I ‘listen’ for the story that wants to be told. And I follow it for a while with research. And while I’m following that trail, I wait for signs that is the way to go. With my third foodie fiction novel (following the first book centred around tea and the second around chocolate), I was very interested in coffee for quite a while and did a lot of research. I was intellectually fascinated about the world trade and export and growing of coffee, the history of it in Australia, and all the cultural associations. But I had no fire for it. I didn’t have the passion in my belly that I would need to sustain it for years.

So I dropped it. Just like that. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be writing another novel. It means that story wasn’t the right one at that time.

Then I found my next subject and I began to see signs everywhere. I saw movies, pictures, events. I met a local primary producer who invited me (quite spontaneously, since we’d only been talking for a few minutes) to go to his place to see what he did. I looked on ebay for something totally unrelated and the first image that popped up with to do with my book. And I felt the fire–the heat in my belly that would sustain this book for its lifetime.

Opal and Owla, I hope some of this rambling is coming together for you as to my response to your excellent comments. We need to be wise to our journeys, to know the difference between struggle and pain, to watch for guidance to the next step forward that supports us and our loved ones.

#1 Thoughts on Writing: Swear Words

I’ve been asked a lot of questions lately on my thoughts on lots of writing topics so it only seems fair that I should share them here with you as well. Today’s topic is about swear words–how to use them, when to use them, how many of them to use, their validity etc.

'I'm telling you, that Darcy is a $%*!@! and he can go and $#*&*&! himself!'

‘I’m telling you, that Darcy is a $%*!@! and he can go and $#*&*&! himself!’

Here are my thoughts on this.

The first time I read a Jane Austen novel, I was utterly blown away by the depth of disgust, contempt, jealousy, rage and hatred she could portray and never a swear word was spoken. I always keep that in the back of my mind when writing and I try to hold myself to higher standards than I set in my real life.

In my life, I swear. But every year I try to stop (clearly, it’s a work in progress) because my feeling is that, basically, it’s lazy and unnecessary. And, also, any moment now my toddler will begin saying the same words back to me. Which is interesting, isn’t it? We all know we shouldn’t swear around children and we’re alarmed when we hear a five-year-old spouting off a litany of words that make us blush. But somehow the rules change as adults?

As I get older, fewer swear words appear in my writing. I will use them sparingly for impact where I feel it’s validated. But I think there are so many more ways to show character other than via swear words. The way they act and, of course, what they think, is arguably more important. As a writer, I feel it’s my job to dig deeper. If I’m relying on lots of swear words then maybe I haven’t gotten down to the true crux of what I’m trying to say. If I see a swear word in my manuscript, then I ask myself if that is really what’s necessary there or whether I just haven’t worked hard enough.