The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

Writing From the Heart

Woman holding mirror to self

Image credit: Mathieu Stern, Unsplash

Last week in writers’ group, we were tasked with writing a letter to our younger self. What sort of advice would we give ourselves? They say hindsight is always 20/20… what would we do differently?

I thought about my letter for a long time before I started writing. I addressed the letter to my 15 year old self: I was an emo teen before it was cool. My parents were ending their marriage, I was with a narcissistic jealous boyfriend, and I was fast approaching the point where I would finish school with no idea of what to do afterwards.

Writing the letter was somewhat cathartic. When I read it out in its entirety to the group, I felt my heart open. I was vulnerable. But safe- I trust the group.

Some of the themes within the letter come out in my regular writing: my strong feminist views, my intolerance of bullshit, my anger towards my father. My stories feature women who often don’t know their own strength until a moment where they snap. They take back their power. They rise above the bullshit.

I wrote in my last post that most of my stories result in death. The death of a character, usually male, is symbolic of all the guys I’ve risen above in my life. There’s that first boyfriend, whom I dumped when I finally realised he cared more about himself than he did me. There’s my first serious boyfriend and my first broken heart, who taught me so many things about toxicity in relationships and why I need to hold my own power. There’s my father, whose mistakes in life taught me to take responsibility for my actions, especially when they hurt other people. And there’s my current boyfriend, who loves and supports all my crazy ideas because he ultimately wants me to succeed.

As writers and as people, we are constantly learning and changing. Some of what we write will be pure gold, other things won’t. Some stories will just connect with people, others won’t. And that’s all okay.

Writing is the soundtrack to my life. I write from the heart because that’s what I know. I may get inspiration from seemingly random things around me, but ultimately, what you read is me purging some aspect of my hidden self.

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April 8, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , | 1 Comment

Why don’t you write about puppies and rainbows?

Puppy looking at laptop computer

Image credit: Kyle Hanson, Unsplash

Spoiler alert: People die in my stories.

My sister once told me, my stories are too dark. Why don’t I write about puppies and rainbows?

The answer to that is simple. But because I am a storyteller, there’s a story before we get to the point. Bear with me. Grab a coffee, put your feet up. Here we go…

Once upon a time…

A couple of religious people knocked on my door. We started talking about their topic of the day, and one lady asked me whether I would want to live for eternity.

“No,” I replied. The two religious people looked shocked.

“Why not? You could do whatever you wanted! What do you like to do?”

I said I liked reading and watching movies. There were too many to ever see in my lifetime.

“Well then,” said the younger lady, “You will have eternity to watch them all!”

“Hmm… Correct me if I’m wrong,” I began. “But I’m of the understanding that once Jesus returns, all the things from now and our history is wiped. The slate is clean, we start again. Is that right?”

“Yes,” agreed the two ladies.

“So… all the books and movies I would want to consume would no longer exist. Am I still on the right track?”

“…Yes,” they agreed.

“Let me ask you something. Besides the Bible, what’s your favourite book?”

The older lady told me about a book, which I have not heard of let alone read. She told me why she liked the book. I asked her about the themes of the book, guessing that it involved someone overcoming hardship in their life.

“Oh yes!” the older lady agreed.

“Okay, so after the Second Coming, there will be no hardship. The most interesting films and books are about people overcoming adversity… And if there’s no adversity… See where I’m going with this? Nobody wants to read about rainbows and walking on the beach. It’s just not interesting. People love reading about other people who aren’t them.”

The two ladies were silent for a moment.

“Uh, yes, I see what you mean,” said the older lady. “I’m going to have to think about that.”

I haven’t seen them since. I didn’t argue for the sake of arguing, I was genuinely interested in how people would spend eternity without books and films.

My stories are somewhat predictable in that yes, there’s usually someone who dies. It’s a twist; the reader is not sure who will die nor how. However, I do understand the point of my sister’s question: My writing is quite dark.

There’s an unfinished novel sitting on my laptop which is particularly dark. It is about a suicidal woman who decides to end her life by jumping in front of a car. It’s called Triptych because it is told from the viewpoint of three people: The man whose car hit her, her husband, and the woman herself. It is very dark. Heartbreakingly dark. It was written during a dark time of my own life (although I was never suicidal).

Can I write something lighter? Sure. Well, I think so. Perhaps it is a goal for this year: write lighter. Puppies and rainbows? Hmm, maybe.

March 28, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , | 1 Comment

Vulnerability

Vulnerability: silhouetted person looking up at a starry sky

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Hi followers. How’s things today? You feeling OK? Awesome.

I’ve done something bold. It may seem like not-a-big-deal to you, but it is to me. You see, I’ve put myself out in the big world. I’m putting my name out there. Not only that, but I’m putting my writing out there. Hello world!

A few months ago (or maybe a year?) I read an article about a guy who makes an absurd amount of money writing stories for a subscription service. People pay US$5/month (AUD$7.49) to read an unlimited number of creative writing and articles, and the writers of those musings are paid from the subscription fees.

Just why it’s taken me so long… well, that’s a story in itself. At the crux is the thought that no one would want to read my writing. (Which is quite silly, of course. People read all sorts of stuff!) I want to write, and I deserve my writings to be read. Some people aren’t going to like what I write, and that’s fine. Not everyone likes the same stuff, which is the very thing that makes us all unique. The point is, I like writing, I have a voice, and I owe it to myself to be heard.

I’ve even thought of a pen name, yet I am hesitant to use it. On one hand, I wrote the stories, I should “own”them. Own my story. On the other hand, I’ve always thought my name is a bit blah, uninteresting. A pen name is also easier for me to publicise and put out there. I’m afraid of people googling my real name and laughing at me that I think I’m now a writer. Again, quite silly.

At the moment, everything is under my real name. As I said in the beginning, it’s a bold step for me. And I did not think I would have so much trouble with self-doubt and fear creeping through me.

Wish me luck.

March 7, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Feminist TV: A review of Stealing the Show

Stealing the Show by Joy Press

Women in television is nothing new, however they have come a very long way from June Cleaver and Carol Brady. Today’s female characters are sassy, working women who may choose not to have children. Oh, the very thought!

Pop culture journalist Joy Press presents a series of essays examining the roles of women in today’s television landscape. From working mom Roseanne Conner to inmates at Litchfield Prison, female characters are changing not only television as we know it but the way females in society are seen.

Once upon a time, females on TV were relegated to being mothers, with no strong narrative of their own. Think Morticia Addams, Samantha Stevens, June Cleaver. Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, and even Barbara Eden challenged the concept that women were just mothers.

Joy Press begins this book with Murphy Brown, a woman who was at the top of her career, and made international headlines when the character became pregnant. Roseanne Conner was a working mom whose family were always on the brink of debt if either she or husband Dan were fired couldn’t work for any reason. Other characters mentioned in the book are Liz Lemon and Hannah Horvath, both characters working in the male-dominated media.

The other thing that brings these shows to a new level of feminist TV is that each show has a female showrunner: the person responsible for creating and writing the show and basically keeping it under control. The addition and expansion of subscription services such as Netflix, HBO and Amazon (among others) allow even more creative freedom with female characters. This new universe is not fully explored as it would take up a whole new book by itself.

What Ms Press has done is examine how traditional portrayals of women on TV has changed since the 1990s. Using first-hand interviews and observation, the author has given a glimpse into the creative genius of women such as Jenji Kohan (Orange is the New Black), Lena Dunham (Girls) and Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy).

If you’re interested in television, feminism or the changing of dynamic of media, this book is well worth a read. You’ll find yourself searching all your streaming services to catch up on shows you’ve missed.

9.5 bookmarks out of 10 (because nothing’s perfect)

February 21, 2019 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Building Blocks of Writing

Scrabble tiles

Can you be a writer if you aren’t a good speller?

One upon a time, I would have said no. You can’t be a builder if you don’t know how to use a hammer and nails. Words are the building blocks of writing, so if you don’t know how to spell words, you can’t be a writer.

In my previous job, I worked in retail. When the store was quiet, we were allowed to talk to other stores (as long as our own stores were clean etc). I became good friends with the manager of another store, and we would email during our shifts. He was the worst speller I have come across; he spelled phonetically so I would have to say the word aloud in order to understand what he was writing.

As a self-proclaimed spelling Nazi, other people not knowing how to spell really irks me. I consider spelling a simple thing to learn… and here’s where hypocrisy creeps in. I am terrible at numbers. It’s a struggle for me to do simple addition or subtraction in my head. I am one of those cashiers whom you’ve glared at when you’ve given them coins and a note and they stare blankly at it, trying to work out how much change to give. In the course of my job, I became quite good at my 12 times tables, because I was constantly counting in dozens. I knew what change to give out of habit. Whenever we had a price change, it stumped me until I learned the change thanks to what the register was telling me.

It has taken me a lot of years to realise that some people can’t process spelling in their head the way I can’t process addition. And while I can’t see the difficulty in knowing which there/their/they’re to use, a lot of people do. My inability to mentally process numbers happens to others when it comes to words.

However, a writer isn’t just someone who writes. A writer needs to be a storyteller. This is true for all forms of writing: obviously creative writing but also academic writing, technical writing, copywriting. All the “technical” writing forms have to lead the reader to a conclusion, just the same as creative writing.

The uni degree I undertook was Bachelor of Communications. It now encompasses majors like PR and Business Communications, however it is best known for being a degree for journalists. In the very beginning of the Comms degree, budding journos are quickly disillusioned when they realise there’s more essay writing than news writing. Essays are difficult to wrap one’s head around: there is a certain style which needs to be adhered to. With creative writing, you can be, well, creative with style, however academic writing is quite a different beast.

But back to words. A storyteller is the soul of a writer. We desire to tell a story, and tell it well. A writer uses words to express meaning, convey a message, elicit a response from their reader. A writer will search synonyms of words, looking for just the right one to engage their reader into feeling something deep in their own soul.

But it does not matter how you spell that word. As long as you’re a storyteller, you can be a writer. There are people you can pay to fix the technical stuff for you. There are options available for people who want their stories available to the masses, other than traditional publishers. Yes, a writer needs words, but they do not need to know how to spell those words.

February 11, 2019 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections, Writing Journey | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Art of Deletion

A couple of days ago, I was very excited to hit 76k words in my manuscript. Hooray! Cake and champagne for everyone!

As of this morning, I’m sitting just over 74k words. Oh no!

When I wrote the first draft, I deliberately put in things that may prove useful plot points later. A hint of subplot that might be interesting. A character backstory that may have some useful narrative purpose.

It was these bits that I deleted, almost 2000 words of. They were scenes that didn’t belong, didn’t make sense, or didn’t further the narrative.

This is the art of deletion, the first step in editing. By the end of the first draft, you should have a pretty clear idea what the main storyline is and where your characters fit into it. By the end of the second draft, your narrative should be clear. Anything that doesn’t add to this narrative should be deleted, even if it is your favourite scene or a special moment with your favourite character.

If you listen to the Director’s Commentary for The Sixth Sense, you’ll hear director M. Night Shyamalan talk about a scene near the end that he edited from the finished film. He says it was his favourite scene, but it didn’t forward the narrative, so it had to go.

So my little celebration about hitting 76k words was short-lived. I can always have another celebration when I hit 76k words sometime next week.

January 10, 2019 Posted by | Writing Journey | , , , , , , | 1 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

Inheritance – A Short Story

Stock photo casket funeral

Inheritance

It was too hot for a March morning. I stood back from the crowd, respectful of the mourners and wondering why I was even here. I recognised his family from photos: parents, brother, sister, grandparents.

“He’s too young to die,” wailed a female voice. I choked back a sob.

Soon, the doors to the chapel opened and people started filing inside. I chose a pew fifth from the front, away from his family and close friends. A blonde woman strode confidently down the aisle, flicking her long ponytail as she walked. She was taller than everyone else there, even without the stilettos.

“That’s his girlfriend,” someone behind me said. Of course she was, I thought, rolling my eyes.

A man pointed to the seat next to me. “Is this seat taken?”

“No,” I answered, the words caught. I cleared my throat and answered again.

He sat down, his weight squeaking the pew. He offered his hand. “Sam. I’ve known Dan from high school.”

”Emily,” I replied politely, offering no explanation as to my relationship with the deceased.

The deceased. I sighed, trying to get my head around the fact that he was dead. As the music started for the first hymn, I dropped the program onto the floor, grateful for an excuse for the blood rushing to my head.

“He’d have hated this,” he grinned.

“Yes,” I agreed.

“Cremation was always his thing. He wanted to be burned and the ashes buried in a time capsule.” Sam laughed. “Never thought the bastard would be the first to die though.”

I bit my tongue. He was well aware he could die young. His remaining kidney couldn’t hold out forever.

At the graveside service, his father and sister spoke and the minister spoke about how the body may be dead but the spirit lives on. As the heat belted down, I pulled out the funeral program and fanned myself with it, wishing I’d brought a bottle of water. Movement to my right caught my eye: a group of women moving as one walked towards the gravesite, holding back from the main mourners.

As the service closed and the casket was lowered, fresh wailing from Dan’s mother could be heard throughout the cemetery. Her husband held her as she cried, while her remaining children held hands and sang a low tune I couldn’t quite hear.

“You’re invited into the wake room for tea and sandwiches,” announced the minister.

‘This should be interesting,” Sam said, raising his eyebrows.

Inside, I stood by the door with a triangle of sandwich in a paper napkin, happy to be observing. Sam was talking to Dan’s brother, chuckling over school shenanigans only the two of them remembered. The tall blonde was standing alone, her eye on the suspicious group of women who had wandered into the graveside service. I was so busy watching the blonde that I didn’t see the group of women moving towards me.

“Who are you, then?” A short brunette stood before me, one hand on her hip. Her hair was pulled into a high, tight ponytail. Her tight black dress was completely inappropriate for a funeral, showing off her voluptuous bosom. Her makeup was bright and heavily applied. She cracked gum in her mouth.

“Excuse me?”

”I thought I knew all Dan’s girls, but I don’t know you.”

I smiled, part amused, part pissed off. “Emily,” I said. “We broke up only about six weeks ago.”

The woman who spoke grinned. “That explains it then. She’s only new,” she said to the others in the group. The ladies tittered among themselves, making me feel quite uncomfortable at being blasted into a spotlight.

“Come join us,” another said. “We’re like the ghosts of girlfriends past. We all dated him, many at the same time,” she said with a sly grin.

“Quite the ladies’ man,” I agreed with a sigh.

“Anyway, this is Susanne, Angela, Mollie, Tina, Christina, Tammy, Sara, Hannah, Liz and I’m Lou,” said the lead woman. “There are others, but they thought it was inappropriate to come.”

”Who’s the blonde? I heard she was his current girlfriend.”

Lou nodded. “I think her name is Erin? Stephanie? Maybe Jessica?” she shrugged. The others laughed. “She’s not interested in us. She thought she’d be the last love, the one who finally tamed him. Joke’s on her, he’s been cheating on her for the past six months.”

Yep, I thought. I knew I wasn’t the only one although he denied everything. He’d told me his cheating days were over, he was only interested in me. Fuck him.

“Anyway,” Lou continued. “You’re welcome to hang out with us. We know what Dan was like, we just laugh about it.”

”Sure, that sounds fun. So uh, why are you guys here?”

Another answered; I think it was Tammy. “Same as you. We all loved him and thought we have just as much right to be here as anyone else.”

“Makes sense,” I replied, knowing that was exactly the reason I was there and hating myself for still being a little bit in love with the lying bastard.

Lou and the girls stayed for around an hour, chatting among ourselves and basically. ignoring everyone else. I’d even forgotten about the tall blonde. As we left, they all kissed each other on the cheek and reminded each other about the meetup in a fortnight at their favourite cafe.

“You actually hang out together?” I laughed.

“Of course!” Lou replied. “We swap stories, talk about his dick and the things he says to himself in the middle of doing it. I’m sure you’ve got stories too. Come join us!”

”Yeah… that’s not weird at all,” I answered.

Lou shrugged. “Up to you. Here’s my number,” she said, handing me a business card, “and you can call if you want.” Lou Parker, Senior accountant. Impressive.

I dialled her number into my phone and called. Lou’s phone rang, with a Nicki Minaj song as her ringtone. She fumbled in her oversized handbag but I stopped the call before she found it.

“Now you have my number too,” I said as I clicked open my car and crawled inside, glad the whole ordeal was finally over. The girls waved as I drove out of the carpark.

Two weeks later, Lou called me. I assumed she wanted to remind me about the Girlfriends’ Meetup.

“Hey hun,” she said cheerily. “Just thought I’d let you know, Dan left us all a parting gift. You gotta get yourself checked for chlamydia.”

September 10, 2018 Posted by | Short Stories | , , , , | Leave a comment

What am I up to?

I’ve been sharing little hints on social media about what I’m doing at the moment, but this post is letting the cat out of the bag, I suppose. I’m excited about this project and it all seems to be coming together, which is also very exciting!

For a while, I’ve been thinking about writing a fictionalised version of the Bugden family history. Thomas Bugden was the first Buggo in Australia, brought out by James and William Macarthur to work as an agricultural labourer on the Macarthur farm in Camden, NSW. When the brothers died, the land was passed to Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow, who turned the Park into dairy farms.

I read a biography of Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of John, who pioneered the Merino industry in Australia from Elizabeth Farm, near Parramatta. While reading that biography, I discovered synchronicities with my life in Queensland. Little threads of the tapestry, if you will. Things like, Elizabeth Macarthur, daughter of Elizabeth and John, was briefly engaged to John Oxley, who was the first white person to explore the Redcliffe Peninsula. I thought it interesting that my Australian history started on Macarthur land and here was a connection to where I am now. Finding this part fascinating, I toyed with the idea of writing a fictional family who move from Camden to Queensland.

My local libraries run a lot of free seminars about a range of topics; one I attended was by Kali Napier, author of Secrets at Ocean’s Edge. She spoke about writing historical fiction and the research required, plus making fact and fiction blending seamlessly together. Inspired, I went to the library and started looking at the early history of this area, finding a range of interesting facts and tales. It was decided: my fictional family would move from Camden to Queensland.

In another exciting synchronicity, my fictional family are dairyers on the Camden Park Estates, and the land on which I actually live used to be a dairy farm. It’s a no-brainer to have them move from Camden to this actual land my house now resides!

This is what I’m writing at the moment. It’s a slow process right now because I’m using my daughter’s two daycare days a week to write, plus there’s a lot of research and distractions going on; I’m also busily looking through the library’s records of local cemeteries, which is so interesting!

I also have some paid work. Content writing, blogging, editing, proofreading and the like. Today I attended another of the library’s free seminars on freelance journalism. While I’ve never considered myself a journalist, I can see the possibilities. I just need some discipline and better time management skills!

As for my novel, here’s a brief synopsis for those interested:

The Richmond family are dairyers on Elizabeth Macarthur Onslow’s dairy farm in Camden, NSW. When (something exciting and yet to be decided) happens, they’re forced to pack up their lives, choosing to move north into the unfamiliar state of Queensland. There, they find work on another dairy farm, where new and strange adventures await.

And as for my family, the fictional Richmond family work with the real-life Bugdens, but the Bugdens are not the main characters. Mainly because none of them moved to Queensland and I want to explore the social and cultural differences between the states while paying homage to my own life’s tapestry.

June 23, 2018 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grief

daisy (reduced)
Image by grief.org.au

Grief sucks. It’s a natural response to loss, most often triggered by death of a loved one (person or pet).

I’ve had a project in mind for quite some time. Several years ago, a friend lost her child to cancer and something she said at the time has stuck with me: I just wish people would say something. By keeping silent, she felt people were not validating her loss.

Although she has a lot of friends on and offline, she felt few of them reached out to her to offer condolences. People just don’t know what to say, especially when the loss is too horrible to comprehend.

Since then, I’ve wanted to write a book about dealing with grieving people. There’s tons of information, books, and websites about how to deal with grief, but not about what to say to grieving people. Grief is something that happens to all of us – why is it so hard to find something to say? Obviously, nothing is going to make the grief suddenly go away, but people generally find comfort in others.

To get started on this project, I’ve devised a survey. It’s a series of questions about events that trigger grief and how you felt when people did or didn’t respond. The survey takes around 20 minutes depending on the detail of your answers: I’m ever so grateful for as much detail as possible. There’s no identifying information, unless you’ve already told me the circumstances of the tragedy. Otherwise, I have no idea who wrote what. Individual answers may be included in the book.

If you’d like to participate, please follow the link: https://surveyhero.com/c/8bf2609.

Much love to you, and I am sorry for your loss.

 

 

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June 21, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , , | Leave a comment