Win Writing Mentoring for Family History or Community Stories, or Young People Writing Fiction, with Author Melinda Tognini

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This is a special auction in our fundraiser to raise funds for Buy a Bale. Author Melinda Tognini is offering up to ten hours of mentoring for you or your family or community group. Being interested in the ‘hidden stories’ of our society, Melinda would love to work with you to help you get your story down on paper.

Melinda is also happy to work with young people who are writing fiction.

Here is some information about Melinda and what she is offering.

If you have a story to tell, then make sure you keep following along and bid, bid, bid to win Melinda’s attention!

Melinda’s offer will be on eBay in the THIRD round of auctions, starting 19 October 6pm.

Welcome, Melinda!

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Bio: Melinda Tognini is the author of Many Hearts, One Voice: the story of the War Widows’ Guild, and has been teaching and running workshops for more than 20 years. She is passionate about telling ‘invisible’ stories and empowering others to find their voice.

Why are you excited to mentor? Other than wanting to help our farmers, I love sharing what I’ve learned from listening to people’s stories, and researching community, local history and family history projects.

Genres: family history, community, history, autobiography, biography, general non-fiction.

Length of mentorship: up to 10 hours (reading and mentoring)

Communication: phone, email, Skype, in person

Reply time: by negotiation

Auction reserve: $149

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Interested? Of course you are! Stay tuned by following me on Facebook, Twitter or here on this blog to make sure you get all the news in the lead up to this exciting event!

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AUTHORS FOR FARMERS is an initiative by Australian author Josephine Moon (www.josephinemoon.com) to band together fellow authors from around the country to help with drought relief fundraising for Australian farmers. All money raised goes to BUY A BALE (registered charity, http://www.buyabale.com.au).

(Please note: Ebay charges fees for using its platform and these will be will be deducted from the total donation amount at the end.)

Book Research Gratitude

Research is the bedrock of my novels. It is the place where I find inspiration, joy, meaning, characters and story. I am never happier than when I am in the free-flowing state of inquiry, following my curiosity and passion as it emerges, taking a right-angled turn here, or a big swooping deep dive there.

Many people help me along the way and never want anything in return (though I do always gift them something in gratitude); people who are passionate about what they do are more often than not, I have found, utterly delighted to share their knowledge.

I’ve collected a raft of people of late who have helped me with my future stories. So let me take a moment to thank them and perhaps you will find some inspiration here, or if you are able, you might be able to support their wonderful business.

Firstly, I visited Noosa’s only coffee farm, Noosa Black, in Kin Kin and was treated to a lovely luncheon on the deck overlooking Traecy and Peter Hinner’s plantation. They were so generous with their time, knowledge and passion. Their single origin coffee is sold through local IGA supermarkets on the Sunshine Coast and through their online store. The really beautiful thing about Noosa Black is how community powered the business is. Traecy and Peter’s vision from the start was ‘local’, and everything they’ve done, from planting the trees to roasting the beans has been driven by local labour, and then it is sold locally too, so the food miles are short! It is a vision that means all the dollars associated with the farm circulate within a small geography, which is really very cool.

Next, I got to travel to the beautiful Barossa Valley in South Australia and visit Trevallie Orchard’s fruit farm, with my expert guide Sheralee Menz, who knows the business and history of the farm from the ground up. The fruit orchard is a piece of living history, still growing heritage varieties of apples and with a magnificent fig tree over one hundred years old! To my greatest disappointment, I had a total camera fail and only got this one lovely shot of a fruit tree flowers (a pear, I think?). You can buy Trevallie’s beautiful fruit from their online store or in Farmland stores or at the truly magnificent Barossa Farmers Markets each Saturday morning in Angaston. (We had the BEST breakfast there!)

And most recently, I spent time at Padre coffee in Noosa, first with owner and coffee expert, Marinus Jansen, who shared so much information with me I truly couldn’t write fast enough. One of the most fabulous things about Padre is their ‘open door’ policy of information. They train people who want to be roasters and hold regular cupping sessions. Soon after my time with Marinus came to an end, I joined coffee roaster Vanessa Joachim for cupping, and then she invited me back the next day to watch a roasting session. And then barista, Kayla Byles, talked me through siphon brews, batch brews and V60s! Needless to say I was pretty high on coffee when I left!

Other than that, I have been chatting to some special people who are helping me with my next book; but I can’t quite tell you about them just yet. However, I want to say again how grateful I am that people are so willing to share their experiences and knowledge with me, which eventually comes out in my writing.

One of the things readers tell me frequently is how much they’ve loved learning about food in the books I write and behind it all are the people on the ground, with their hands in the dirt, literally and symbolically.

From me to you, thank you!!

 

 

Where Do Characters Come From?

Right now, I’m looking for characters. I have a new, delicious novel a-brewin’ and I’m looking for people to fill the pages. But where do they come from?

Main characters I have known and loved…

Kate Fullerton, the main character of The Tea Chest, arrived between the time it took for me to sniff a selection of teas in a tea shop and the two hours it took me to drive home. Her personality was pretty easy to pin down, which made life simple.

Maria Lindsay, the main character of The Beekeeper’s Secret, was such a strong ‘force’ that she pushed aside the novel I was trying to write and instead demanded a whole novel all to herself. She was a dream character, always on my shoulder, always ‘there’ in the space, waiting to talk. She made writing that novel the easiest of all my novels so far.

Tansy Butterfield, the other main character of Beekeeper’s, was based on a woman that sat opposite me on a ‘coast to airport’ shuttle bus I once took. I sat on that shuttle for several hours and she was diagonally opposite me and I had so much time to observe her that I created Tansy around her. The woman was tall, with long limbs, a long nose and dark hair, and she looked like a runner or a ballerina. She was around the right age (29) and I jotted down notes on my phone as we zoomed the highway.

Christmas Livingstone (main character of The Chocolate Promise), on the other hand, took a lot longer to come into ‘view’ and was in fact the third iteration of that character for that book, although she chose her own name very strongly when, one day, I asked her, ‘What is your name?’ Quick as lightning, I heard “Christmas Livingstone” in reply. I said, ‘Really? That’s your name?!’ But it had been delivered so decisively that I couldn’t tell her otherwise.

Supporting characters I have known and loved…

Supporting characters are generally my favourite ones to work with. They tend be the most clearly defined, often larger-than-life, and bring humour, or deep pain, or great adversity. I find that it is often the relationships between my main characters and supporting characters that allow us to see extra dimensions and great truth in our heroes, who will often speak of the unspeakable with a supporting character when it’s too difficult to do so with a close family member, for example. In my first draft, my supporting characters are generally a bit quiet, but start to really find their stride around the third draft, bringing so much more depth and richness to the story.

Often, supporting characters just ‘turn up’ as I’m writing, with little to no forethought at all. Caesar, the Golden Retriever in The Chocolate Promise was a great example of that. I was writing a scene between Lincoln and his father when suddenly I ‘heard’ a scratching on the back door. I thought, ‘What is that?’ So I sent Lincoln over to the door to open it to find a hungry, unloved old dog there. It was as though I saw it happening in the same time zone as Lincoln did. Caesar was a total star character, one who stole every scene he was in, I think.

One of the greatest joys I have with supporting characters is that, as they often turn up unannounced, I might not know why they are actually in the story at all until I’m halfway through the book, or later, and then all the threads come together and I have a truly satisfying moment of thinking, ‘Ohhhh, that’s why you’re here!’ I had that moment recently, while writing the first draft of The Tuscan Feast (to be published April 2018), with Sven, a young Swedish man who turned up unannounced and then later earned his place in the story so perfectly.

Lulu Divine, a fierce and fabulous nursing home character in The Chocolate Promise, was actually sixteen years old and a trick rodeo rider last time I’d ‘seen’ her. She was a character in a Young Adult novel (set in 1958) that I wrote many years ago (but was never published) and one day just popped up in a scene I was writing, surprising me greatly, both because she had walked so unexpectedly into a different novel but also because that wasn’t how I’d ever imagined her life would turn out!

So where do characters come from?

In short, characters come from anywhere and everywhere. They might pop out of the ether, like Maria Lindsay did, or they might be awkwardly wrangled out of thin air and onto the page and then worked and worked until they are ‘real’, like Christmas Livingstone. They might be someone on a bus who catches my eye, who I then take a mental picture of, like a template, and then build from there, like Tansy Butterfield. Writers always have troves of stories that have never made it to print and these can be absolute diamond mines of fully formed characters just waiting their turn for the right story, as was the case for Lulu Divine.

And then there is this man.

old man

I found myself walking behind him in the streets of Rome on my way to the Trevi Fountain and there was something (something!) about him that made me pull my phone out and take a photo. A week later, sitting under the trees out the front of a sixteenth century villa in Tuscany, the memory of this man came back to me.

Samuel.

Samuel was the way into the story of The Tuscan Feast for my main character, Lara Foxleigh, who finds herself following him on her way to the Trevi Fountain.

But that’s as far as my journey and Lara’s journey went together. After that, it was up to Lara to lead the way out of Rome, and a whole novel rolled out in front of me.

 

 

 

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.

How to Keep Writing (When Life Gets in the Way)

I’m far from an expert at this, but I’ve had to learn really fast how to deal with high levels of writing commitments (i.e. publishing contracts with deadlines and money and stuff) with a baby/toddler in tow). And right now, I’m in the middle of my structural edit for my second novel, with a deadline this month so it can move through editing and onto the printers in time to hit the shelves in April next year (yay!).

And, timing of all timings, our household has been hit with one nasty virus after another–I’m talking flu, gastro, and now my toddler has a strain of a particularly nasty chest virus that’s knocked him down for more than a week. And when your very young child is sick, there’s not a lot you can do other than drop everything and look after them. They can’t go to daycare (if that’s what they do) and no one else (even the most doting aunties and grandparents) will want to look after your germ-infested, dripping, feverish, sneezing, snotting, wailing darling child. Quite reasonably.

Act like a squirrel: prepare, prepare, prepare

Act like a squirrel: prepare, prepare, prepare

Add to this the extra effort required with washing, sterilising and disinfecting, trips to the doctor, late-night runs to the pharmacy, the emotional stress of watching your little darling crying with fever or pain, or simply because they can’t breathe well enough to actually get any sleep, their rabid wrestling when you try to administer medication five times a day, and their likely constant need for affection and comfort, and you’ve got yourself a pretty intense time, and not a lot of mental space.

And then there’s the stress that your work is falling way behind.

So here’s what I’ve learnt to do: act like a squirrel. Be singled-minded about preparing for the future. Give up any idea of getting any serious work done and simply nest. Shop for food. Cook food. Freeze food. Plan meals. Do tidying and cleaning where possible. Wash clothes. Order supplies. Pay bills. Make phone calls. Send emails. Essentially, pretend you are leaving home soon to go away for a two-week holiday. You can do these things in little snatches of time between nursing, and they don’t take much mental power. And then the very second that the crisis has passed, you are set to go. Leave all that domestic chaos behind and sink blissfully into the newfound time and freedom you have so efficiently created while nesting alongside your sick child (or sick dog, or couch-surfing nephew, or whatever else turned up unexpectedly at your door). Right now, my freezer is filling and I’m on top of the washing. I’m just waiting for the season to pass so I can dive back into my book and enjoy all those nuts I squirrelled away during the storm of relentless ills.

Thoughts on Writing: The Clydesdale and the Unicorn

This article is featured in this month’s issue of WQ magazine, the official publication of the Queesland Writers Centre (a super resource for writers at all stages).

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I am most at home with my Clydesdale

I am most at home with my Clydesdale

I believe there are two horses residing within me: a Clydesdale and a unicorn.

I have seven horses of my own, used to run a horse rescue charity, and recently published Horse Rescue: inspiring stories of second-chance horses and the lives they changed (Penguin). 2014 is also the Chinese Year of the Horse. So it seems a good time to tell you about my invisible Clydesdale and unicorn.

They are the two sets of my writing self—the practical and the magical, heaven and earth, yin and yang… however you like to think of them. And I need them both in order to do my job, answer my vocational calling, find inspiration and meet my deadlines. The challenge is to get them to cooperate despite their very different agendas.

The Clydesdale is a workhorse. It is there every day, in its harness, ploughing the fields. It shows up if it’s feeling weary or injured, if the weather is poor, and even if its handler is asking too much of it. It is stoic, steady, completely task-oriented, wearing its blinkers so it can only see the path in front. It likes a schedule, turns up on time, and enjoys warm mash at the end of a hard day’s labour.

This one, I find a lot more difficult to handle.

This one, I find a lot more difficult to handle.

The unicorn, on the other hand, is flighty. It has wings. (Hey, it’s my unicorn; it can fly if it wants to.) It doesn’t have to stay in the field. It doesn’t even have to show up! And I can’t make it turn up because it has wings. It can go wherever it wants to go. It is fickle, doesn’t like to tough it out in the rain, likes to paint its shiny mane and tail with rainbow nail polish, fancies champagne and chocolate, and would far rather use its time slipping in and out of portals to other worlds than slogging it out in the mud. Time and deadlines mean nothing to the universe-hopping unicorn. It cares not for plans, structure or linear plotlines.

They are both powerful. They are both necessary. And they both need to be fed or they will wither, starve and die. They tell me they are struggling in different ways. The Clydesdale gets grumpy, physically sore and tired (though will struggle on long past when it should). The unicorn is more prone to tantrums, melancholy, catastrophising and tears. But when they start to act out and show their discomfort, I’ve learned that I need to pay attention and do something about it.

The Clydesdale is concerned with the physical world, so to feed it I need to make sure its base needs are met. To give it energy to do its hard work in the field, it needs good quality, energising food. Caffeine doesn’t cut it. I’m talking vegetables, fruit, protein, antioxidants, organics and juices. I need to cut out the foods that slow it down, like sugar, dairy and caffeine. It needs attention to its muscles and fitness—ergonomics, gym-based strengthening programs, injury (RSI) rehabilitation, rest, an occasional day off, and massage.

The unicorn is concerned with mental and emotional wellness. The unicorn has a huge responsibility for bringing in new ideas and content. If I don’t feed the unicorn, I’ll simply drain it of all its life and colour. To feed the unicorn, I must supply it with imagery and experience. I need to take it on artistic adventures. I need to fill it with sensory stimulus—music, art, film, stories, nature, foods, excursions and new knowledge. I need to give it freedom to explore without constraints, and silence and gentle spaces to hear it speak its dreams without judging, shaming or cutting them down before they’re fully expressed.

If you’re anything like me, you might be firmer friends with one than the other. For me, I’m more comfortable with the Clydesdale. I will happily work around the clock for something I’m passionate about. But it is harder for me to allow my unicorn untethered freedom to indulge its whims and fancies—in other words, it’s hard for me to play, to lighten up. Perhaps for you, it is more difficult to harness the discipline and work ethic of the Clydesdale. You have no problem going to the theatre and dreaming up stories but there is resistance to putting pen to paper day after day.

Wherever you’re at, it’s okay. Use your strength to its advantage and treat yourself kindly while you learn to encourage and nurture the weaker relationship in this pair. One day, they’ll both be pulling the same plough together at the same time, and it will be a fully functioning pink plough with sparkly wings, churning out a great story, with a strong structure, delivered on time, and with just the right amount of magic.

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p.s. I also have two human identities…

Horse Rescue is published under the name Joanne Schoenwald.

The Tea Chest is published as Josephine Moon.