The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

Writing: A Truth

So here’s where I’m up to in my writing journey.

I’ve sort of finished the first draft. It’s not very good, and I know it. There are gaping plot holes, inaccuracies, anachronisms and subplots that last one chapter and don’t lead anywhere. Some of these issues were intentional, such as the subplots. I’m not a planner; I normally have no idea where my story is going until I get there. (I lost count of the times I started an essay for uni only to change direction once I started writing. Research leads you down a rabbit hole and where you thought you were going turns out to be not as interesting as where you end up. I don’t think it’s a bad thing.)

This novel did not end up where I was originally planning. I do have an ending, but as yet I don’t know how to get from where I am to where I’m going. I’m sure it will reveal itself to me, it always does. I’m thinking that the original ending to the novel could become a sequel. First things first; I need to finish this one before I even think about starting another.

But, I digress.

I’ve started at the beginning to rewrite and edit. I’ve looked through the prologue before and fixed up glaring mistakes… However a second look reveals even more mistakes! Paragraphs have been deleted and rewritten, characters have had their names changed, details have been added. There was even a moment of, “Who the hell wrote this? It makes no sense!”

I submitted a short piece of this writing for feedback to my writers’ group last week. It is always helpful to have several pairs of eyes see what you cannot. For instance, someone picked up that I’d used metric measurements instead of imperial. Whoops. I’ve taken on all of their feedback and rewritten the scene.

One of the quirks about writing historical fiction is names. During each part of history, certain names are very popular. Within Australia in 1909, the names Elizabeth and John were extremely popular. In my novel, I had both fictional and factual characters named John, and a few women named Elizabeth (or derivatives of). I have changed the fictional names to make it more clear.

Editing… is it ever really finished?

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November 22, 2018 Posted by | Writing Journey | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Hello, my name is Renee and I am a fan of the Harry Potter universe.

I am not a fan of milking franchises just for the hell of it, nor am I a fan of films taking an exceedingly long time to get to the point. Both of these things are rife in this new instalment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, a prequel series to Harry Potter.

This film picks up about six months after the events of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Grindelwald escapes from the US Ministry of Magic, and after that, things get a bit muddled.

There’s a large cast of characters, from young Dumbledore to Nicholas Flamel to the returning four main characters from the previous film to a human form of Nagini… and a few others whom I had no idea who they were or why they were there.

The beauty of the Harry Potter books and films was that each one was a story in itself as well as part of a bigger arc. In contrast, the Fantastic Beasts films are stupidly long forays into a much bigger arc that will hopefully be revealed somewhere in movie 457 which will be released in about 20 years.

This particular film takes over two hours of visually stunning filmmaking to tell very little plot. The whole point of the movie is revealed literally in the last 10 seconds. Everything else is just dull filler. It’s akin to listening to a whole album to hear the magnificent hidden track right at the end.

JK Rowling is a fantastic storyteller. She’s captured millions of fans with good narrative. This is not going to win any new fans and, judging by the reviews on IMDB, might lose unite a few fans. She has stated the prequel series will span around 20 years, ending with the epic battle between Grindelwald and Dumbledore. But, as this point, I honestly couldn’t care less. There’s obviously bad blood between them, but I can’t believe (at this point) that Dumbledore is capable of killing someone. (That’s not a spoiler; if you’ve read the original Harry Potter books, you already know exactly what happened.)

I walked out of the cinema disappointed and angry at wasting time and money watching this over-long, pathetic yet very pretty, attempt at raking in more money for the sake of it. The film adds nothing to the narrative save for the last 10 seconds, and even then you’re likely to walk out wondering what the hell is going on.

Give this film a miss and read a summary on Wikipedia.

3 out of 10 popcorns.

November 19, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: A Star is Born (2018)

A star is born movie poster

Did we need another A Star is Born?

Bradley Cooper directs and stars in this third adaptation of the story featuring a young ingenue who becomes a star after being discovered by a fading rockstar. Lady Gaga stars as Ally, the young waitress who is discovered by Cooper’s Jackson Maine, whilst performing in a drag bar.

Cue a cliched story with terrible dialogue and an awful screenplay. It’s like a first year screen student read The Big Book Of Movie Cliches and thought, “hey, this is full of great ideas!” The direction is only slightly better. There are scenes which don’t go anywhere, characters that appear and disappear with no reason, and cuts to scenes which have no point being in the film. And did I mention the dialogue is atrocious?

The only redeeming features of this film are Lady Gaga and the songs. Surprisingly, Ms Gaga can actually act and while the viewer knows she is already a superstar, her character Ally shows a vulnerability and shyness that Lady Gaga quite convincingly pulls off. Gaga also wrote several songs for the film and performs them beautifully. Bradley Cooper does his best but it is clearly Gaga’s film. Bradley Cooper seems miscast as the fading rocker, and lacks chemistry with Gaga.

If you’re a fan of Lady Gaga, definitely see this film. If not, just listen to the soundtrack on Spotify.

5 out of 10 popcorns.

November 12, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody movie poster

You know the songs. You know the man. You know this film is going to be chock full of amazing songs. You know how it ends.

What you don’t know is that this film is also chock full of amazing performances, witty retorts, ironic statements and a glimpse into the creative genius that is Freddie Mercury.

It’s hard to believe Freddie has been gone almost 27 years, leaving a legacy of anthems sure to get any toes tapping and a fight against a disease that we seem to be winning. This film is not just the story of Freddie, but the story of Queen. The two are forever intertwined. Wait, Freddie did solo albums? I hear you ask. Yes, in fact, he released two solo albums. However he is best remembered as the front man of Queen.

I’ve heard the criticisms about the film: glosses over his extravagant lifestyle, doesn’t focus on his homosexual relationships (much), but really, how long do you want the film to go for? There’s plenty that could go into any film, but this is just the right amount of personal and professional lives.

At times the film does seem a little muddled as to whether it is a Freddie biopic or a Queen biopic. That’s my only complaint. Rami Malek is the perfect Freddie. The viewer never feels like they are watching an impersonator. The costumes are on point, including Freddie’s famous overbite, and every actor looks they are the real thing. During the Live Aid scenes, I actually forgot I was watching actors play the parts of Queen. That is the mark of a great film, when the viewer isn’t spending their time wondering where else they’ve seen that actor or wondering if they are lip syncing. I was totally lost in the film from the opening moments.

Rami Malek is previously known for his work on Mr Robot. His character is quite shy and introverted, so it was a complete twist to see him as one of the world’s greatest performers. The cast was outstanding. Special shout out to Mike Myers, who plays a record executive who quips that “Bohemian Rhapsody is not one of those songs that people bang their heads to while they drive their cars”.

You will come away from this film stomping your feet, clapping your hands and humming Queen songs. You’ll want to see it repeatedly. And you should.

9.75 popcorns out of 10. (Because no film is absolutely perfect.)

November 5, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When There Are No Words

Mist over the mountains

As a writer, I expect to always have the perfect word to describe anything. I choose words carefully to convey a feeling, an emotion, a sentiment. But sometimes, there are no words.

I woke this morning to news that a friend passed away over the weekend. He was a diabetic with a place on a transplant waiting lost for new kidneys. Although suffering chronic illness, he was not “ill” and his death was sudden. On Friday, he was talking about his plans for the weekend. It’s difficult to believe he did not see the end of the weekend.

In times of grief, there are no words to adequately describe anything you are feeling, nor any words of comfort to a grieving loved one. Some people don’t say anything. Some unintentionally say things which are inappropriate. Some people are at a loss for words altogether. The majority though, will settle on a simple “I’m sorry for your loss”.

There’s been an idea floating around my head for some time now, to write a book called When There Are No Words, about what to say to someone in the very worst time of their lives. In my research, I discovered that there truly are no words to convey everything one wants to say nor what one needs to hear. It would be a very short book. But, you should definitely say something to someone who is grieving. They just need to know you are there for them.

Brett, you were a good friend. Always in good spirits even when you felt like shit and looked like you’d been hit by one of those racing utes you loved to watch. I am deeply saddened and shocked at your sudden death. You’ll be sadly missed by all of us on the forum. Goodbye, buddy.

October 30, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: My Love Story by Tina Turner

Tina Turner’s autobiography, My Love Story

So, you think you know Tina Turner. The abusive ex-husband, the legs, the solo stardom and Simply the Best.

In this memoir, which was written with assistance due to Tina’s stroke, Tina talks about her past and the battles she’s always fought and won. Yes, there’s a frank chat about Ike Turner and the abuse she suffered at his hands, but also the continuing love story she shares with her second husband, Erwin, and how he literally saved her life with a donation of a kidney.

Yes, a kidney transplant.

This autobiography describes Tina’s recent health struggles: her stroke, intestinal cancer and renal failure. She doesn’t dwell on these issues, rather she focuses on the positive aspects of her life as she has always done.

The book is written conversationally, as if the reader is sitting in Tina’s lavishly decorated home in Switzerland enjoying a cup of tea. Tina has worked hard all her life and is proud to display the rewards she’s reaped. In her case, it’s beautifully decorated homes with photographs she doesn’t care about the cost to acquire. It may sound arrogant or haughty, but Tina’s style is not like that at all. She name drops her famous friends but in a way that oozes love and gratitude, not a “Look at me” attitude. It is quite refreshing to read; other autobiographies tend to focus on name dropping for the sake of name dropping.

The reader is lead through Tina’s extraordinary life, from her beginnings as a child in a tiny town named Nutbush, to being racially vilified on tour with an abusive and unfaithful husband, to her escape, solo stardom and retirement. It kind of reads like a goodbye to public life, although Tina acknowledges she will never fully retire as there is always something to keep her in the public eye.

Tina Turner’s public image is larger-than-life and this is how the book reads, although the private Tina also comes through, especially in the later chapters. She acknowledges all the fans who have come up to her thanking her for sharing her story and giving them the encouragement and power to leave their own abusive relationships. In its own way, this memoir does the same. Not only for her story with Ike (like everyone knows) but also health battles and finding one’s own voice to move forward. Tina’s life has not been easy, yet she speaks of each challenge as a way to move forward and live life to the fullest with optimism and love.

Recommended for fans and people who need a little encouragement to never give up.

8 out of 10 bookmarks.

October 21, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: The Dry

WARNING: This novel deals with the death of children, and other themes/scenes which may trigger mental health issues in some readers.

Aaron Falk attends the funeral of his childhood friend and his family in the town they all grew up in. The deaths seem to be an open-and-shut case, but in this small, drought-ridden town, there are always unanswered questions.

Jane Harper is an Australian journalist who has turned her hand to writing fiction. This novel has quickly become a bookclub favourite, and has even been hand-picked by Reese Witherspoon to be made into a film. So when it came up cheaply on Kindle, I decided to give it a read.

The novel is well-written, with a flowing narrative that never meanders along mindlessly. Chapters are short and sharp, doing what good writing always does and leaving the reader wanting more. As for the narrative, it’s a good yarn, worthy of the praise that has been heaped upon this novel. As expected, the little town is full of secrets which are revealed in a manner which is easy to understand yet never leaves the reader feeling like they’ve missed something.

Despite the length, this is an easy read, perfect for those rainy afternoons when you just want to snuggle under a blanket and read. Also good when you’re short on time and can only read a chapter at a time. You’re not going to lose your place; I found some parts to be repetitive, so if you do skim over something, it will come up again later. The characters are well written and quite memorable. It’s the sort of novel that gets your brain thinking, analysing possibilities and wondering how it all fits in.

Without giving away the details, the ending is quite satisfying. The reader can see how the pieces fit together and the clues that led Falk and Raco to their conclusion. I did find it to be a little rushed, which gives way to coincidences. But this is easily overlooked as the conclusion neatly puts everything together.

I’ve read that Jane Harper is busily writing another novel featuring Aaron Falk, and that the book won’t be a direct sequel but can standalone. That works for me; The story of this small town is neatly contained within the pages of this novel and doesn’t need to be expanded in a sequel.

8 out of 10 bookmarks. Recommended especially for lovers of Australian fiction.

October 15, 2018 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to beat Writer’s Block

Writing pad with pen

You’re sitting in front of your notepad or screen, and the words just won’t come. You’ve hit a roadblock. Your characters are waiting to be told what they’re doing, but you just can’t find the inspiration. What now?

Here are my top tips for beating writer’s block and get those creative juices flowing again.

1. Write

Pick up your pen or keyboard, and write. Wait… isn’t that what you’re doing when you realised you’re not getting anywhere? Stay tuned for tip #2.

2. Look to your left

Or look to your right. Pick the first object you see and write the story about that cushion. For example, I have a red cushion to my left. I can write the story of this red cushion. My story will be, it was made by a young woman in China who was paid 3 cents an hour but her family will beat her if she does not work. The cushion was sold to a major department store, where it sat being held by thirty seven people before I paid $43 for it. Tomorrow I shall donate this cushion to an op shop, where it will be bought by a psychologist and fifty people a week will sit on, cuddle or cry into that cushion. Each of those fifty has their own stories to tell.

(I did not actually pay $43 for a cushion, and the tag says it was made in Australia.)

3. Writing prompts

Writing prompts are little sentences you can use to kickstart your writing. They are designed to introduce something happening within your story. At the very least, they serve as a distraction and at the most, they will kickstart a new subplot or character into your story.

Try these for starters.

* The phone rang.

* There was a knock at the door.

* They heard a loud noise outside.

* Water rushed from the kitchen.

* They heard music coming from outside.

These tips will initiate your brain to write. It doesn’t matter if you end up using what you’ve written, the exercise has just served to unlock something in your writing brain in order to write.

Here are some more examples.

* She suddenly saw a hole in her hem. (Did someone else wear her dress? Did she catch the hem while skirting out a window? Was it torn during a sexual assault? Is the dress hers?)

*Their attention was caught by someone’s shadow falling across them.

* A beautiful daydream came to life before their eyes.

* “Did you see/hear that?”

* a wayward puppy ran across their path.

* An invitation arrives in the mail.

I recommend writing a list of your own prompts, at least 10-20. When you’re feeling stuck, randomly pick one prompt and start writing. It doesn’t have to make sense, it doesn’t have to add to the story, it will just get your mind and fingers into the rhythm of writing. The beauty of this is, you’re free to change, edit or delete as you see fit.

4. Take a break

I know, I know… I did say “write” as my top tip. However, if you’ve been writing for a while and you’re just feeling stuck, take a break and go outside for five minutes. Make a coffee, eat a biscuit, hang up some washing. Do something else so that your mind relaxes and you’ll find ideas will pop up. If you’re feeling sluggish, eat a piece of fruit or a couple of lollies (lollies contain glucose, which is a vital sugar your brain needs to function. Seriously).

So there you have it, folks. My top tips for breaking that writer’s block.

October 4, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , | 1 Comment

Research Weekend to Camden, NSW

Camden Park House Camden NSW

In case you’ve missed what I’ve been up to, here’s a quick recap. Basically, I’m writing historical fiction based on my family history in Camden, New South Wales.

This past weekend, Camden Park House had its annual open day. Just one weekend annually, this historic house is open to the public. And I had to see it for myself.

Although my ancestors worked at the Park and appear as characters in my story, they are not the main characters and they did not even live nor work at the Park at the time my novel is set. That’s the beauty of historical fiction: there’s a certain level of creative licence one is afforded. Neither my fictional family nor my actual family would not have seen nor stepped foot inside this homestead. Probably.

I began my trip by flying to Sydney from Brisbane. (Yep, I am certainly committed!) From Sydney, my cousin and I drove to Camden to begin researching. The first stop was Camden Cemetery at Cawdor, where I knew my first Australian ancestors were buried.

Gravestones of Thomas and Elizabeth Bugden

What you see here are the gravestones of Thomas and Elizabeth Bugden, who were the first Bugdens to step foot in this new colony. They were born in England, and were brought out by James Macarthur to work at the new Camden Park Estate. Thomas became a lessee of his own farm (I even found a photocopy of the original lease agreement!) and died in 1898. I must take a moment to thank the volunteers at Camden Museum, and Camden Historical & Genealogical Society for giving me so much of their time and resources as well as answering all of my questions. Special shout out to Robyn for answering questions about what life was really like for my characters back in 1909.

The visit to Camden Cemetery and Historical Society took up most of Friday, so on Saturday we headed back to visit Camden House for their open day. The home is still inhabited by descendents of John Macarthur (seventh generation, if I’m not mistaken) and is still a working dairy farm. It was quite overwhelming to stand in front of this homestead and imagine my characters interacting with actual people who once lived there. Some scenes of my novel take place within the walls of the homestead, so I was keen to see the layout of the house. Turns out, I was very wrong! It was a self-guided tour through the house, but there were volunteers in every room to talk a little about the history of the room and answer any questions we had. I talked to several of them about my project, and was met with enthusiasm, interest and well wishes for its completion.

I wasn’t so interested in the gardens, although they have won several awards. The gardens were (and still are) used to grow exotic and unusual plants. One example is the Bunya Pine, which was brought to the Park by William Macarthur to cultivate and sell to people around Sydney. (Shout out to Euan, one of the horticultural volunteers, for this information.)

What I was interested in was the layout of the Park. Obviously several thousand acres have been sold since the original land was granted to John Macarthur, however I was able to ask about the cottages of the original workers. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get too close to those cottages as they are inhabited by current workers and aren’t the original cottages anyway. Still, it was interesting to see where the cottages would have stood; it gives me a good idea about distances for my characters to wander around the Park.

At the open day, I was lucky enough to meet author Michelle Scott Tucker, who wrote a biography called Elizabeth Macarthur: A Life at the Edge of the World. It was reading this biography that inspired me to write my novel. She was signing books, however I’d bought my copy on Kindle and asked for a photo instead.

Me (Renee) meeting author Michelle Scott Tucker at Camden Park

I told her about my novel and how her book had inspired me. She was so gracious in wishing me well and even said she would like to read my manuscript when it was completed!

Over the weekend, I took close to 200 photos, mostly of Camden Park House. This opportunity is one I am so grateful for; not many authors get the chance to actually look through an iconic historical location featuring in their novel.

So what next?

I now have no excuses not to finish this novel! I’ve just hit 50,000 words. I’m not sure where or how this particular story ends; I definitely have enough information to complete it and write several sequels if I wanted to. My original idea was to move my fictional family to Queensland, however I think I might keep them in Camden, at least for this novel. Let’s see what happens.

I will say this though: there is definitely a lot of writing in my future. I’m just getting started.

September 25, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Illusions

Silhouette young lovers

Teenage Me thought Teenage You was cute.

You had dark brown hair, just a shade or two lighter than black. Your smile could light up a room. Your attitude… Well, it was just a typical teenage boy’s do-not-care-about-anything attitude.

“What are you looking at?” Teenage You said.

“Nothing,” Teenage Me replied. “There’s a cockroach on the wall behind you. I was waiting to see if it jumped on your back.” It was a lie. I’d been staring at you, wanting to remember every part of your face, hoping my subconscious would recall your features in my dreams that night. Unaware of my lie, you jumped, brushing invisible creepy crawlies from your shoulder. You didn’t see my face flush with embarrassment at being caught staring at you.

Eventually, the weight of my stare was too much and you didn’t talk to me at all. We both moved on. My mind drifted to my next crush, another boy I wouldn’t admit my feelings for.

It was a surprise to run into you more than twenty years later, in a shopping centre neither of us frequented. Fate was the romanticised name for it.

“Hey…?” At first, I wasn’t sure it was you. Eventually my long stored memories of your face came back asking for confirmation it was you. Yet all my mouth could muster was ‘Hey’, as if you actually had any idea who I was.

“Uh, hi?” Your face gave it away: your brain did not remember me.

“Milly,” I said, trying to jog your memory.

“Milly! Of course!” But your eyes gave you away: You couldn’t place me although your brain was clicking over all your memories. “How are you? It must have been, oh, five years! Has it been that long already?”

“You were in my Social Studies class with Mr Plummer. Do you remember him? That bald spot he always tried to hide with a terrible combover?”

You laughed. “Oh yes, I remember him! He never liked me, kept comparing me to my brothers, who were some sort of geniuses.” You laughed again.

I smiled politely, my heart beating fast. It too remembered the nights I stayed awake wondering if you liked me. “How are your brothers?”

Your smile faded. “Uh, well, um… Sam died and uh, Jesse is a human rights lawyer currently trying to get the government to remove people from Nauru.” You looked sad.

“Oh fuck, I’m sorry,” I said sincerely. Although I had studied your face a thousand times, I had ignored your brothers.

“Yeah, it’s been tough,” you said, and I asked no more.

“Look, it’s been really great catching up…” I started, desperately wanting to ask you to join me for coffee and lunch.

“Same,” you said. I didn’t believe you.

“Uh, I’m just heading for lunch and I’m not meeting anyone. If you’re free…”

You glanced at your Apple Watch, tapping twice and looking at the results. “You know what? I am free for lunch.” Oh, that smile!

The past twenty years melted away over that lunch. I ordered blistered cherry tomatoes on sourdough bread with feta and avocado. You ordered a latte, BLT and a cherry chocolate cake for dessert. I raised my eyebrow.

“Cake fan?”

You looked sheepish. “Yeah. I’m not supposed to eat junk, but you know… I stress eat.”

We talked about what had happened in our lives since those heady days at school. As you spoke, my eyes gazed at your face like it had so long ago. There were a few wrinkles around your eyes, smile lines showing a fun-filled life. I smiled and I’m sure you thought I was smiling at the anecdote you were telling, but it was me comparing Teenage You with this version now before me. A few grey hairs sidelined that face I remembered, giving you an air of authority and maturity.

We finished lunch, both of us too nervous to shake hands and seal that chemistry I still felt.

“Look me up on Facebook!” You called as you walked away. As if I hadn’t looked you up a dozen times already. Now, you gave me permission to actually request your social media friendship and I could stalk your secrets.

“Wait!”

You stopped, cocking your head like a dog trying to understand its master.

I bit my lip, summoning courage I felt building inside. “I’m sorry, I’m about to make this really awkward.”

You smiled. My heart skipped a beat.

“Can I kiss you?”

You did not know how to respond. Here’s this mad woman you haven’t seen for twenty years suddenly asking permission to invade your personal space. Don’t think I didn’t notice the lack of wedding ring on your finger.

Eventually you smiled. “Do you always ask?”

“Well, no.”

You leaned forward and lightly brushed my lips with yours. Everything I had ever felt for you rushed into every organ in my body. A rush of adrenalin surged through me, manifesting into my lips engaging with yours. For a second, I thought I actually felt a spark just before you pulled away.

“Teenage Me is very happy right now,” I admitted.

“What about Adult You?” You said.

“Adult Me wants more,” my lips said before I could stop them.

You didn’t speak. You grabbed my hand and pulled me along until you found an unoccupied toilet for the disabled.

I raised my eyebrows. You shrugged. It was the best solution at the time.

We were passionate, we were fast, we were quiet. Nobody was waiting outside when we finally came out, our clothes askew, our hair messy.

One last wordless kiss and we parted.

I returned home to my husband, who was slouched on the beanbag holding the game controller, his thumbs working furiously with his eyes glued to the big screen television.

“Hey,” I said cheerfully. “You’ll never guess who I ran into today. Your asshole brother says you’re dead.”

September 17, 2018 Posted by | Short Stories | , , | Leave a comment