Heartland – Connect With Nature In Your Lounge Room.

Heartland ACFI am thrilled about the recent launch of the hard-covered, coffee-table book Heartland by the Australian Conservation Foundation, not least because an excerpt of my writing has been chosen to grace its pages!

Heartland is an impressive, commemorative book of photography, and heartfelt expressions by Aussie writers – a glorious homage to nature. It has been published to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Australia’s oldest and largest national environmental group. Begun in 1965, it’s funded almost entirely by individual donations. CEO, Kelly O’Shanassy, says ‘The foundation is nature’s advocate and has been a part of every significant Australian environmental victory, ably assisted by the community.’

Uplifting and inspirational images capture the natural world across the continent, and people interacting with it in a myriad of ways. Stunningly beautiful, all-original photography is contributed by the MAPgroup of documentary photographers; two hundred images in all. They tell many stories. Of the profound bond between Indigenous people and country. Of our amazing plants and wildlife. Of surfing waves and rafting rivers. Of farmers’ relationship to the land, and of the deep, instinctive connection that children have with the natural world. It’s available from all good bookstores.

Heartland also has written pieces from various Australian writers (including me!) A stellar line-up features iconic authors and poets such as Patrick White, Judith Wright, Gillian Mears, Les Murray, Henry Handel Richardson, Favel Parret, Alexis Wright, Murray Bail, Christina Stead, Lee Kofman and more.

In the foreword, Australian cartoonist, poet and cultural commentator Michael Leunig writes that it’s ‘essential to our health’ that we love nature. Even better, we should understand and appreciate it deeply, enjoy it thoroughly and respect it utterly.

Leunig Cartoon 1‘Gratitude is the appropriate way, for mother nature supports us all and provides what we need to live: the air, the food, the vital elements and the materials with which cultures are built and sustained.

If you’re wondering about the meaning of life, it’s right there before you – and inside you. It’s nature. It’s the great beautiful common cause. Know it, love it, enjoy it – and do all that you reasonably can to rescue and protect it; but don’t delay.’

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Me (L), Helene Young (Middle) and Ann Lee (R)

On a different, but no less inspirational note, the RWA Writers Conference was held last weekend. Co-convened by my good friends Kate Belle and Kathryn Ledson, it featured a wide range of work-shops and sessions on the writing craft. Anita Heiss gave a sensational key-note address about courage, and the need for a diversity of voices in Australian commercial fiction. She seemed to be speaking directly to me! The conference was a great success, and raised buckets of money for the Indigenous Literary Foundation, a fabulous cause. I can’t wait for the next conference in Adelaide next year. Here’s a photo of me with fellow Penguin author Helene Young, and fiction fan extraordinaire Ann Lee. She and her friend Evelyn brought an entire trolley-load of Aussie novels to the book signing! Now it’s back to my work-in-progress, which is turning out to be the never-ending story :)

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Transfer And The Balance Of Power In A Novel

cross blogIt’s the time of the month for some discussion on craft. Today, writing teacher Sydney Smith and I discuss the balance of power in a novel.

Transfer refers to the shifts in power between a protagonist and their antagonist, as each strives to get what they want. These shifts reveal themselves most clearly through dialogue, although they can happen in other ways, too.

SYDNEY:
We so expect to see transfer take place in narrative, that it stands out when it doesn’t happen. For example, when the protagonist tries to get something from their antagonist―a vital piece of information, for example―and they are defeated again and again. No transfer has taken place. Each player remains in exactly the same position in terms of power.

James BondImagine James Bond is up against Schickelgruber, a man who has programmed a lethal virus that could freeze all online activity. He threatens to unleash this virus unless the world governments submit to his rule. James is sent out to defeat Schickelgruber. But each time the pair clash, Schickelgruber wins. Not only does he always win, but James has no effect whatsoever on Schickelgruber’s defences. Schickelgruber does not have to strengthen his security measures. He doesn’t have to shift the virus to a safer place. His plans don’t have to be altered one iota. That’s because there’s been no transfer.

Far from the Madding crowdI watched Far from the Madding Crowd last week. Bathsheba Everdene rejected the marriage proposal of Gabriel Oak. At that time, he was an up-and-coming young farmer with a hundred acres of land and two hundred sheep. Bathsheba was a poor young woman with nothing but her intelligence and her education. But a reversal of fortune takes place. Gabriel loses his land and Bathsheba inherits a substantial property. He goes to work for her. When he tells her a few home truths, her vanity is offended and she fires him. But no sooner has he walked off with all his worldly possessions in a knapsack on his back, than her sheep sicken from eating too much clover. The only man who can save her flock is Gabriel, the master shepherd. She sends a minion to summon Gabriel back. The minion returns, saying Gabriel wants her to go and ask him herself. Bathsheba refuses in a huff. She isn’t stepping down from her pedestal for him!

‘He thought you’d say that,’ says the minion. ‘He said to tell you, beggars can’t be choosers.’

In the next scene, we see Bathsheba riding to Gabriel to ask him to help her.

That is transfer. And by the way, it worked so well that the audience erupted with laughter. Transfer works best when it wins a response of some kind from the reader/viewer.

JENNY:
This is a such good topic, Sydney, partly because I’ve never thought about it before, and partly because power is always interesting. Often writers do things instinctively, but don’t understand why. It’s helpful to analyse the reasons behind what we do. So, let me think this through.

TurtleReef_coverThe hero should never have the power in the beginning, at least not for long. In fact stories always start with a major change in the hero’s life, so there’s an early power shift right there. The hero might decide to make a radical change. In my novel Turtle Reef, Zoe (hero) moves to take a job at the Reef Centre, putting her way outside her comfort zone.  Or perhaps something outside the hero’s control catapults them into change.

More and more they lose their power to the antagonist. The shifting power dynamic between hero and antagonist gives the story its dramatic tension. If the contest is too one-sided, it will be boring. It needs push and pull, feint and parry, advance and retreat.

How will I apply this to my current work-in-progress? I’ll put my Kim (my hero) through the wringer, that’s how. Put her in situations where she’s not in control. Rip the power from her, and give it to the antagonist. Make her fight to reclaim it. She’ll make mistakes, misjudge people, pursue dead ends. Snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Struggle against her character flaw. Never realising that her antagonist is mirroring her in a kind of Machiavellian tango!  I can’t wait to get writing …

libraSYDNEY:
Well, yes. But Snideley (our working name for the villain of the piece) can’t have it all his own way. Transfer goes both ways. If Kim has no effect on Snideley, if Snideley doesn’t have to shift and adjust his tactics with Kim, that also means a lack of transfer.

I’ve read entire manuscripts where there is no transfer whatsoever. The protagonist ends up in the same place they started from. They have not been altered by the influence of other characters. They have not had to change their tactics in order to keep on going after what they want. And yet they must, and so must the antagonist. Without these transfers in power, the story will lack zest. It’ll resemble a lump of granite.

David and GoliathIf you look at the story arc for a major player in a novel, you will see a shift in power. The hero will usually go from weakness to strength. The antagonist will go from a strong power position (Goliath) to a weaker one (defeat). All that is brought about by transfer.

I have often found that when the writer hasn’t grasped the importance of conflict in narrative, they will often prevent transfer from happening. The villain will be impossibly strong, the protagonist passive. A passive character can’t bring about transfer.

JENNY:
That makes sense. If Snideley is too weak, Kim won’t have to struggle and grow. If he’s too strong and always winning? Well, Kim might give up, and sink into despair. I can’t have that. My hero and antagonist need the chance to turn the tables on each other.

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5 Quick Questions with Kate Belle – Convenor of the RWA “Get Fresh in 15” Program!

jenniferscoullar:

I am SO looking forward to the RWA Conference this year, to be held in my home state of Victoria. It’s thanks to an earlier such conference that I got my big publishing break. This year promises to be bigger, bolder and more inclusive than ever. The conference will be held in partnership with the famous Melbourne Writers Festival. My good mate and conference convener, Kate Belle, has a chat to Anita Heiss, one of the fabulous speakers on offer.

Originally posted on Anita Heiss:

image001This year’s Romance Writers of Australia Conference looks set to be an extraordinary affair. I can’t wait to be part of it. So much so I have invited the conference convenor Kate Belle to answer some questions for me on what will make it so spectacular.

Kate Belle is an established writer whose first full-length novel, The Yearning was published in April 2013 by Simon & Schuster to rave reviews, while her second novel, Being Jade,  has readers begging for more.

Kate is also the creator of The Ecstasy Files blog on relationships, sexuality and erotic writing. and teacher of Eros in Action: write convincing sex & Romancing the Page: romance novel writing.

The fact that she is an author puts her in good stead to convene this professional conference, for authors, just like me!

So, five quick questions with Kate:

The theme of the conference is ‘Get Fresh…

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For The Love Of Horses

Riding Sheba

Sheba

A passion for horses has always been a part of me. I’ve owned them (as much as anybody can ever really own a horse), dreamed of them, played with them, ridden them and loved them all my life. I’m not alone in this. Not the only little girl to draw nothing but horses, filling reams of paper with bays, blacks and greys, as if sketching them might conjure them into reality. Not the only child to go everywhere at a walk, trot or canter, and write poems and love letters to favourite ponies. But for some, this intense horsiness is a passing phase. At around fifteen or sixteen, a lot of my friends discovered boys, and began scrawling the name of their latest crush on their exercise books, instead of the name of their dream horse. Not me. If anything, my passion for horses grew stronger as I grew older.

Candy and young rider

Candy and Young Rider

Starfire

Starfire

What is it, I wonder, that makes horses such powerful figures in the lives of many women? Why is there such a natural affinity? I think it’s because horses are both mystical and intensely physical. I like how they ground me, link me to the natural world, to the wind, rain and sun. Riding requires me to understand and respect my own body. It doesn’t matter how much I weigh, or what I look like, or how old I am. All that matters is how my body can best work with my horse.

Lofty

Lofty

Yet the sweat and straining muscles of a pounding gallop, also has a spiritual side. I’m at one with the universe. My focus turns inward. My senses heighten in a kind of meditation. I stop thinking about bills, and car services and deadlines. I see and hear what my horse does: the flash of a wallaby hide through the trees, the liquid song of a butcher bird, the rise and fall of the trail ahead.

I’ve been blessed to share my life with many fabulous horses, but you don’t need to own or ride one to feel this special connection. I get a tingle from seeing a horse in a painting, or a photo or just reading about them. When I started writing, I learned that horses also inspire creativity. Their mystery and beauty fires my imagination, taking it from limitation to freedom. ‘Since the dawn of civilisation, the horse and the Muses have been companions in all the heroics of mythology and history.’ – Robert Frothingham. There isn’t a book I’ve written that doesn’t involve horses to one degree or another. For me, horses embody sensuality, power, beauty, trust and freedom. What’s not to love?

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World Ranger Day

World Ranger Dayworld ranger day 6With the death of Cecil the lion, my thoughts have turned to the magnificent job park rangers do around the world. On the 1st of July,  Cecil was shot and killed after Walter Palmer, an American recreational big-game hunter wounded him with an arrow. Cecil symbolises the many thousands of endangered wild animals who are brutally and senselessly slaughtered each year, just for fun. Cecil was lured from the comparative safety of a reserve by a corrupt ranger, but there are bad apples in every barrel. This post is in support of the vast majority of park rangers who dedicate their lives to protecting our dwindling natural world.

World ranger day 5Last Friday was World Ranger Day, a day in which we commemorate rangers killed or injured in the line of duty, and celebrate the work they do to protect the world’s wildlife. There are more than 100,000 reserves, parks and protected areas around the world, with the oldest national park being Yellowstone in the US. World Ranger Day is organised by the International Ranger Federation and was first held in 2007.

World ranger day 4Tragically, it’s estimated that over one thousand park rangers have been killed in the line of duty over the past decade – seventy five percent by commercial poachers and armed militia groups. Park rangers are generally under-equipped, underpaid, and often under-appreciated. It is highly dangerous work. To me, and many others like me, they are modern day heroes. In this post, I honour and thank them.

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National Tree Day

National Tree DayToday is the 20th anniversary of National Tree Day, the country’s largest community nature-care and tree planting event. Each year over 250,000 people take part in National Tree Day events at 3,000 sites organised by councils, schools, businesses, communities and Toyota Dealers across the country. Since Planet Ark launched National Tree Day in 1996, more than three million participants have planted 21 million native trees, shrubs and grasses.By taking part in National Tree Day, you’ll be joining thousands of individuals in making a difference, connecting with nature, beautifying your local neighbourhood and inspiring positive environmental change.

Carnaby's Black Cockatoo

Carnaby’s Black Cockatoo

To celebrate National Tree Day this Sunday, WWF-Australia, with the help of supporters and volunteers, are planting 3,000 black cockatoo food trees at the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Karakamia Wildlife Sanctuary in the state’s southwest. WWF spokesperson Shenaye Hummerston said planting food trees like banksias, marri and sheoaks would help to bring black cockatoos back from the brink after a dramatic decline in bird populations in recent years.

‘Black cockatoos are well-loved in Western Australia with their characteristic haunting cries and big personalities but they are also under serious threat,’ said WWF-Australia’s Threatened Species Conservation Officer, Shenaye Hummerston. ‘Black cockatoos have lost many of their food trees and homes after many years of land clearing for agriculture and continuing urban development. We need to act now to save these amazing birds from extinction and planting food trees is one way to help do this.’

KarakamiaTwo species of black cockatoo – Carnaby’s and Baudin’s white-tailed black cockatoos – are found only in the internationally-renowned biodiversity hotspot known as Southwest Australia. Karakamia Wildlife Sanctuary, named for the red-tailed black cockatoo (“karak”), is home to all three threatened species of black cockatoos. Southwest Australia has the highest concentration of rare and endangered species in Australia and is considered one of 34 global biodiversity hotpots but land clearing for agriculture and urban development, along with introduced species, have exacted a huge toll.

‘The loss of habitat not only affects the availability of black cockatoo nesting hollows but also food availability. Loss of food is a major contributor to black cockatoo decline,’ Ms Hummerston said.

I will plant some more trees in honour of National Tree Day. Hope you can plant some too! BB14

Leaving Room For Readers

trust 2I try to keep the rules of narrative fiction firmly in mind when I write, if only so I know when to break them. There is an implied covenant between writers and readers. Readers do authors an honour when they invest time and money in reading their books. They need to trust they are in capable hands, that they’re in for an entertaining ride. We’ve all experienced that sense of disappointment when an author lets us down. Our hero might act completely out of character in order to get out of trouble. A wholly contrived coincidence might save the day. The climax might come and go with no sense of resolution. The author has betrayed the reader’s trust.

trustLikewise, authors need to trust their readers. Great stories result from an active partnership between the two. One writes the book, and the other brings it to life in their own imagination, creating a story which is unique and personal to them. Once a reader invests in a book, they own it to some degree, and are much more likely to get caught up in its creative web. They’ll want to love the story.

This is why it’s so important to leave room for readers. Don’t prescribe everything to the nth degree. Allow readers some creative control. Pique their interest with a few choice descriptive phrases, instead of drowning them in detail. Ernest Hemingway is a master of this. His sentences are simple, direct and unadorned by flowery description. One of his most famous stories is this simple six-word sentence.

‘For sale: baby shoes, never worn.’

Everyone will fill in the backstory to this sad tale differently.

trust 3Writers also need to trust that their readers are clever and insightful, as they invariably are. It’s tempting sometimes, when telling a story you’ve sweated blood over, to labour particular points in case the readers don’t get it. To over-explain, in case they miss a clue, or can’t understand how a character feels. Or in case they fail to hold onto important plot points between chapters. I’ve done it plenty of times, just talk to my editor! But nothing turns me off as quickly when I’m reading, as being patronised by the author. I don’t want to be that kind of writer. I want to honour the trust between me and my readers. This will be at the forefront of my mind as I forge ahead with this new manuscript.

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