I remember editing my dissertation a few years ago, reading and re-reading over eighty five thousand words. This equated to about 1,370 paragraphs (excluding footnotes) that I had to check for formatting, typos, spelling, punctuation, syntax, grammar, references and more typos. After I’d stared at the words on the screen and on printouts for way too long, my treasured band of proofreaders stepped in to try to ferret out what I’d missed. They went through the whole thing with fresh eyes, providing me with a bit of distance from it all and some invaluable feedback that I could put too good use. The whole process took months; it was a long, hard slog, but well worth it in the end. (Thanks again, guys).

To date I’ve had five sets of eyes (other than my own) run through my current manuscript. Four were those of friends or colleagues, their remit simply to look for flow and coherency in the story line and to let me know if anything didn’t make sense. Changes were made and then the manuscript went off for a more comprehensive review, to elicit specific editing feedback.

This brought me to the end of the first two phases of the edit process (self-editing and outside assessment) and has left me squarely in the middle of the formal revision stage. When that’s done I plan to call on some more of those fresh eyes before taking the next step.

Meantime the typos are easy enough to fix, the layout likewise, and even moving the prologue to the end of the story and repurposing it as an epilogue had turned out to be okay. Adding content for context is quite a bit more challenging. Not because writing the content is difficult, but because there is so much I could add – and only a small percentage of that is really relevant.

So I’ve taken to reading the new sections out aloud to see if they fit, or if they sound awkward. The dog gnaws on carboard and looks on patiently as I drone on to myself; the chickens watch me warily through the window with their beady little eyes. It’s a writer’s life.


I see some editing (however minor) in my immediate future…

A few weeks ago I read an essay by George Orwell in which he suggests that a ‘scrupulous writer’ should always ask the following of every sentence s/he writes: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? and Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? He adds that the writer should also consider whether what they’ve written is concise enough.

I’ve been mulling these questions over while waiting on a critique of my memoir (elsewhere referred to as Epic Tome #1). Is what I’ve written clear enough, succinct enough and, most importantly, interesting enough to engage readers? It’s become more and more difficult to answer these questions, particularly since I’m so embedded in the narrative. I’m prepared to confess to a smidgeon of obsessing on the issue, actually.

Then, this weekend, I found a most delightful surprise in my inbox. After weeks of worrying about the manuscript assessment, I finally received feedback in the shape of a very encouraging email and a comprehensive report from Tom Flood. I bounced around for the whole weekend after reading the email, feeling rather like I’d had too much sugar – or caffeine – or both. I didn’t even read the report until this morning – a combination of nerves and that Christmas-morning feeling of anticipation before all the gifts are opened.

Essentially what the report says is encapsulated in the email itself:
“…congratulations on a well thought out and executed manuscript. Not much to do to bring it to a publishable condition…You could have this ready for submission in a very short time… If that is the track you’re interested in, I would eschew agents and approach publishers directly, working from large to not so large.”

happy danceIf I had a picture of me doing the happy dance all over again, it would go here – and would quite a lot like this!

(Oh, and if you’re interested in the Orwell essay, you can find it at http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks03/0300011h.html#part42)

orange blossom_23aug1410 weeks ago I came across a 12-week online programme called Write your book in 12 weeks. It sounded promising – and it only cost $99. What a bargain!,  I thought, and signed up immediately. I waited with an-tic-i-pation for the first of the 12 weekly modules to arrive in my email inbox, confident that this programme would help me to pummel my notes into a good rough draft of my next book within three months.

But here’s the thing – and it’s scarcely new news: writing – or even editing content already mostly written (that’s me) – actually takes a bit more than $99, following instructions and scheduling time. Not exactly a revelation, but it still a bit disappointing to realise that 10 weeks out I’m not a lot closer to that first rough draft than I was at the start. It’s also a bit surprising since I’m usually pretty focused once I set my mind on something. So I guess that this isn’t (currently) something I want badly enough.

So what have I been doing instead? Well, I prettied up Epic Tome #1 a bit and finally sent it off to Flood Manuscripts for a manuscript assessment. That’s a big step all on its own – and I’m anxiously awaiting feedback as to how much rewriting I’m in for before I try sending it off to a publisher. That aside, I’ve been blogging. Yup, instead of editing/rewriting sections of Tome #2, I’ve been cobbling together regular slice-of-life posts as a way of regaining my joy in writing. It’s spontaneous, random, creative and moves me to think about the world around me differently. Coming up with topics each week can be a challenge, but it’s also fun. I head out to work, play, shop, walk and drive with one part of my mind paying that little bit more attention to the odd and the ordinary – and to my responses to them.

Things that made me smile this week: driving through rain puddles and creating giant sheets of water – wearing bright orange socks with my new red shoes – a bedraggled sunflower on a wintery morning – a girl with scarlet hair on the train – watching 100 school kids learning how to draw an emu – the smell of orange blossom.

On reflection, I don’t think it matters all that much that I’ve fallen behind on my 12-week writing programme. It’s still there, ticking away in the background, and I can – and probably will – pick it up again later on. I’m satisfied that I’m writing – and doing so regularly and with enthusiasm.


This is part of a strip that appeared between May and June, 1992. For the whole comic strip, check out http://blog.writeathome.com/index.php/2012/03/sunday-comics-calvin-and-hobbes-on-writing-a-short-story/

I wonder what other people do when they’re feeling unsettled? I usually go for a ride on my bicycle, peddling away any pent up angst or uncertainties, the wind in my hair and – with luck – no bugs in my teeth. Even a short ride usually leaves me feeling cheerful and more able to cope with whatever it was that sent me out on the road in the first place.

But winter in Perth can really put a spanner in the works as far as that goes. Days of drizzle and cold winds tend not to inspire me to gear up and head out – and somehow the exercise bike sitting in the corner of my games room doesn’t have much appeal as an alternative. Staring at the wall or the pool table while I pedal and the dog tries to chew my feet simply doesn’t compare to the open road.

So last unsettled week I just kept busy with work, chores and errands – until I found myself pulling in at a local cafe en route home one day. It being that time of day, I ordered something to eat, although I was slightly bemused to find myself out for lunch – alone and on a rainy afternoon. Neither of these things is my idiom – I tend to enjoy lunching out al fresco – which indicates warmer weather – and usually in company.

To add to my bemusement, my spontaneous solo-lunch venue selection was the South African shop a couple of kilometres from my house. This is not somewhere I’d lunched before, although I had been in for coffee and cake with friends a few times. So why here? Why now? And why did I feel so relaxed and comfortable about being there? Probably just a surge of nostalgia at the end of what feels like an endlessly long week, I thought.

Whatever it was, sitting there surrounded by sounds and smells from my childhood felt safe and comfortable. The background chitchat in a combination of English and Afrikaans was relaxing and the vetkoek smelled wonderful – and tasted even better. I’ve never tried making it, but vetkoek is essentially deep fried bread dough, drained and filled with some or other tasty filling. It may not sound too appealing, but I can assure you that it’s remarkably moreish, real comfort food. The outside is crisp and not at all oily and the inside is soft and fluffy, like hot bread. I chose a curried lamb mince filling (traditional) and enjoyed every finger-licking morsel of it.

The serious business of eating dealt with, I sat back with my latte and thought about how I was feeling. I’d arrived tired and slightly directionless and had ended up feeling as though I’d been wrapped in a warm snuggly blanket, looked after and cared about – even though, in reality, none of those things had actually occurred. The staff had made me welcome, certainly, and the service had been efficient and pleasant – but that was all. Nevertheless it was, well, nice to sit there – surrounded by hints from my past.

taste of nostalgia_august14I love Australia and wouldn’t swap my life here for quids, but tiredness and stress do strange things to people. No doubt I was experiencing no more than a sentimental connection to the simplicity of my childhood and to Africa, which is part of my core identity. But sitting there, with a taste of Africa still on my lips I felt at ease. As I gazed absently at the chalkboard  and started reading the names of places I’ve been to and through in the past, the words I-AM-FROM-AFRICA made me smile. Yes, I thought, yes I am.


mobile-phone-police-surveillance-feature-largeRather a long time ago a chap called John Stuart Mill asserted that there are some areas where governments/rulers appear to consider it best to mislead the public. These, he said, include “…the political religion of the country, its political institutions, and the conduct and character of its rulers.” He made this point back in 1867 and it’s abundantly clear that the political machine hasn’t moved on a great deal since then. There’s no doubt that it’s become increasingly media savvy to keep pace with technology, but it appears no more inclined to truthfulness – or what is nowadays referred to as transparency. One wouldn’t want to encourage informed debate and rock the political boat, after all.

Then, as now, governments simply don’t seem to believe that they can’t trust the public to make the right decisions on issues – unless, of course, they’ve been provided with the right information on the subject – by the right people… aka the government or someone who, in effect, speaks for the government. The sticking point here is, of course, that when governments choose what opinions their citizens will hold, they are, in effect, silencing the population and quashing the core principles of democracy.

JSM adds that rulers (governments) often inflict punishment upon those who criticize or who censure the conduct of government, which brings me to a film I watched today. The War You Don’t See is an indictment, not only of governments, but also of reporters and media conglomerates who collude with governments in programmes of public misinformation. Whether they do so actively (knowingly) or unwittingly (passively) makes little difference to the outcome.

Perhaps we need a JSM today, someone to remind us that we have a choice. Someone who will call attention to the need for active engagement in the world around us with words like these: “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.

Instead of JSM, however, we have the Internet. We have Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. We have WikiLeaks and Assange and Snowden. We have choice, a voice and the ability to share information locally and internationally. But for how long – particularly if we remain passive?

And so we come to what is being promoted by the Australian government as a necessary evil in a world stalked by threats of terrorism, namely data retention – and all that goes with it. Politicians at best loosely conversant with the Internet have been waving their hands and trotting out confusing and, quite simply, embarrassing poorly informed explanations on the issue all week. They’ve wriggled out of answering questions that look too closely at what is, without a doubt, an orchestrated breach of personal (individual) security.

Why is this information so essential to government agencies – and why are they out-sourcing the retention of the data to commercial entities (telecom companies)?  Radio National was asking these questions today too.

It looks overwhelmingly like a government trying desperately to reel in an unruly public – a public that is independently seeking (and gaining) information on a wide range of topics without that information being adequately mediated by the right people to ensure that the right opinions are formed… and the right people stay in government. The media is once again being utilised to manipulate and promote public fears, to link terrorism and data retention with ‘watch lists’ – using innuendo as an implicit threat to silence the tweets, discredit the whistle blowers, shut down the curious. The manipulation is overt, but the impact is insidious.

But I leave the last words to John Stuart Mill. “…an ignorant man … has at least a chance of being sometimes in the right. But he who adopts every opinion which rulers choose to dictate, is always in the wrong, when it is their interest that he should be so…”