#AuthorsForFireys

I’ve been on Facebook for years, but never really understood the point of Twitter. The social media platform seemed to me like a chaotic crowd of people shouting short sentences at each other. A couple of years into writing my book and listening to writerly podcasts advising on the importance of an ‘author platform’ I decided I needed to do something about it, and in January 2018 I set up this website and joined Twitter.

As I began to understand how Twitter worked, I began to find value in it because there are a lot of writers and other creatives on the platform. Australian writers (#Auswrites) connect up and play writing prompt games, ‘meet’ in a 6am writers group, share successes and disappointments, favourite books and authors. Some even meet up in real life for coffee/brunch occasionally. A global writers group (#writerscommunity) provides similar connections across the world. #PitMad is a regular pitch party where writers can tweet a 280-character pitch for their unpublished manuscripts and agents and editors make requests by liking or favoriting the tweeted pitch. And the list goes on…twitter writers are a friendly, engaging and welcoming bunch.

Twitter is also a place for writers to do good for the community. In early January a small group of YA and Children’s authors got together and organised #AuthorsForFireys, a twitter auction designed to channel funds to firefighters and agencies providing relief for those impacted by the Australian bushfires. Over 500 creatives participated in Authors For Fireys, a week long auction of signed books, illustrations, unique experiences, one-off opportunities and writers’ services. Authors from publishing houses like Penguin Random House, Allen and Unwin, and Harper Collins got in on the act. You could bid to have Clementine Ford cook you dinner, to sip champagne with Annabelle Crab and Leigh Sales after Chat10Looks3, get your hands on a leather bound edition of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild or offerings from a diversity of people from Nick Cave to Kevin Rudd to Christos Tsiolkas, who isn’t even on Twitter. My personal favourite was the $5,000 bid by Trades Hall for a personalised poem by Maxine Beneba Clarke – no pressure there!

I bid on a number of items and was lucky enough to end up with a manuscript assessment from Dan Hanks, a professional editor in the UK. All donations went to fire services or disaster recovery appeals across the country and as of yesterday the initiative had raised AUD225k and counting, and lifted the spirits of all those who participated.

Dames Of Crime: Dorothy Salisbury Davis

This post continues my Grand Dames of Crime series exploring some of the best women crime writers from history.

American mystery writer Dorothy Salisbury Davis (1916-2014) was born in Chicago and adopted out to a tenant dairy farmer and his Irish immigrant wife. Davis grew up in Illinois and Wisconsin, only finding out she was adopted in adulthood. She studied English and History, graduated in 1938 in the middle of the Great Depression and secured a job as a magician’s assistant, an experience that emerged in her novels which often included a seedy magician. Eventually she moved on from magic after finding a job in public relations and become a magazine editor. She married character actor Harry Davis (The Fortune Cookie, America America) in 1946 and they moved to New York where she began to write.

We reveal more of ourselves in the lies we tell than we do when we try to tell the truth.

A Death in the Life

Her first novel, the Judas Cat was published in 1949. The story opens with the mysterious death of a recluse in a small town, his bloody demise witnessed only by his cat. Davis often murdered people and animals in the first pages of her books, but her tautly crafted stories generally contained little violence otherwise, though they were not cosy mysteries. The author relied on plots driven by psychological suspense and portrayed complex characters and strong women.

Flattery makes fools of the best of us

A Death in the Life

A Gentle Murderer, Davis’s third novel published in 1951 was selected to be included in the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones of Crime as one the 125 best mysteries ever written. She was nominated eight times for the renowned Edgar Award for best novel, and served as the president of the Mystery Writers of America in 1956. In 1985 Davis was awarded the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master award for her body of work, and was one of the founding members of Sisters in Crime along with Sara Paretsky in 1987, an organisation dedicated to supporting women who write crime fiction. In 1989, she earned the Lifetime Achievement Award at Bouchercon, and in 1994, Malice Domestic named her their Guest of Honor.

Davis wrote twenty novels and more than thirty short stories during her five decade career. Apart from the Mrs Norris series (three books) and the Julie Hayes mysteries (four books), Davis novels were stand alone, which along with her mysteries containing little violence made her unusual in the world of crime fiction. Most of her work was in the mystery genre, though she also wrote a number of historical fiction novels including Men of No Property (1956), set in Ireland during the potato famine, The Evening of the Good Samaritan (1962) set during and after the Second World War, and God Speed Night (1968), a suspense about Nazi resistance during the second world war.

Beware of feelings, Father. They are the biggest liars in us. They make truth what we want it to be.

Where the Dark Streets Go

After her husband Harry died in 1993, Davis stopped writing novels but continued to produce short stories. The last one titled Emily was written when she was 91 for the 2009 Mystery Writers of America anthology to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe. In 2013, the year before her death, Open Road Media reprinted twenty two of her novels including her most commercially successful novel A Gentle Murderer, first published in 1951 about the psychological disintegration of the young murderer of women. Davis died in 2014 aged 98.

Books by Dorothy Salisbury Davis

Our beds are burning…

Happy New Year! This is not a writing post. It is another rant about some of the things I thought about whilst enjoying a beautiful evening in a bushland setting on the Yarra River on new year’s eve. Feel free to turn away, normal writing programming will resume next week.

I had mixed feelings about celebrating new year’s eve when catastrophic bushfires were raging across the country destroying some of Australia’s most precious bushland, decimating wildlife populations and ravaging human communities in their path. Despite the valiant efforts of underfunded volunteer fire fighters, Australia’s east coast has been burning since September 2019. Many of the fires remain out of control and will likely continue that way throughout the summer unless significant rain falls on the fire grounds.

Canberra was rated to have the worst air quality in the world on Wednesday due to smoke, killing one elderly woman on Thursday.  Meanwhile Scotty from Marketing (aka PM Scott Morrison) kept up his ‘nothing new to see here’ stance over champagne at Kirribilli house and entertaining the Australian and New Zealand cricket teams. On Thursday he delivered a press conference, and was on the back foot.

Of course Scotty from Marketing’s claims that climate change doesn’t cause bushfires, and Australia has always had droughts are technically correct, but incomplete and misleading. Suggesting the best way to respond to natural disasters is by ‘doing what we’ve always done’ sounds like a commitment to kick back and allow the problem to perpetuate. And saying Australia cutting emissions will make no difference globally is shirking responsibility. I bet he’s thanking his lucky stars that the millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide released by the current fires don’t count toward the countries emissions footprint or he’d have to do a lot more creative accounting than he is already to meet our Paris targets..

Climate variability does influence fire and the changes we are experiencing will make fire management more complicated because it alters ecosystems function. Fire is a physiochemical process that can be represented by a simple equation: fuel + oxygen + heat. Remove one from the equation and fire cannot take hold, turn up the volume of the elements and the frequency and intensity of bushfires increases.

Climate change contributes to creating the perfect weather conditions for dangerous bushfires. CO2 concentration impacts the amount and composition of fuel loads because it alters the growth rate of plants, and thus the frequency and intensity of fires when they occur. Increased and more extreme temperatures reduce humidity and moisture content, compounding drought conditions caused by diminished rainfall. Drier conditions bring vegetation closer to its ignition point and ensures it burns hotter and faster once ignited. Extended drought reduces fires intervals and the wild winds caused by changes in air pressure create perfect conditions to drive wildfires to their most dangerous conflations. Wildfires themselves then contribute to perpetuating climate change because they release a lot of greenhouse gas.

We are fast heading toward a new normal of longer, hotter, drier fire seasons and more intense fires. In Gippsland, rainforest that has never burnt are being engulfed. It’s likely that some plant and animal species may not recover because available habitats for some organisms will be diminished and shorter fire intervals may not allow time for even fire adapted plant species to mature. The result could be local extinctions due to an absence of seeds.

Contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth…reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us.

Darwin, The Origin of Species

We do not survive in isolation from our environment. We are like the frog, who when placed in a pan of tepid water that is slowly bought to boil, does not perceive the danger of its situation, does not attempt to jump out and gets cooked. We are blind to our own growing vulnerability. Despite the scientific evidence, the Australian government has no credible policies to address climate change – either to reduce our greenhouse gas pollution and transition to clean energy, or to invest in disaster management and adaptation to build resilience to cope with the new normal. Thoughts and prayers and patience will not solve this wicked problem and I suspect history will reflect poorly on many of the current world leaders.

In the absence of political leadership we place our hopes in the likes of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg to remind us of our collective failings and inspire action by uniting young and old to tackle contemporary environmental issue. Scott called for patience on Thursday, but it’s time to stop being patient and force the hand of the global political elite who prefer denial and maintenance of their ties with fossil fuel industries to carefully considered policies to a more sustainable way of living. My hope is that this bushfire season will spur more citizens into action. That we demand our governments take climate change seriously, start to think long term about minimising our contribution to emissions and begin to make the structural adjustments we need to build climate resilient communities.

Images: contemplating all that could be lost

Querying in 2020

I trust everyone is having a pleasant festive season. The timing of Christmas in the middle of the week seems to have thrown significant confusion my way. For some reason I didn’t realise it was Friday yesterday and forgot to do all the things I might usually do on a Friday, including posting a blog post, so apologies for being a day late. Last week marked a milestone for this blog – my 100th post, so it would be remiss of me to fail to post this week. Better late than never…

This morning I did research and preparation for querying my manuscript as I want to be prepared to get started once all the beta reader feedback is in and incorporated. The querying process will involve a bit of administration and organisation, so I set up a spreadsheet to help me, and who doesn’t love a spreadsheet I hear you ask…? Said spreadsheet has three tabs – one for literary agents, one for publishers and one for manuscripts writing prizes – all avenues that could lead to publishing.

Having ummed and ahhed about the agented or not agented approach to publishing, I have decided that I will start with querying some agents. The decision to try agents first was driven in part by the fact that I work almost full-time and want to use my meagre spare time for writing, rather than focussing on the business end of publishing. In addition there are obvious benefits in having someone who really knows the industry going in to bat for you and taking care of contracts and guiding you through the process.

I reaseached agents, publishers and competitions and picked about ten of each to start with. My spreadsheet is a place to keep a summary of them – names, websites, submission requirements, when they are open for submission, what their estimated turn around times are, whether they accept submissions in my genre, and if they have other authors or novels that are comparable to mine.

My go to places for this exercise, and to find information about publishing have been:

All three websites have great advice on the publishing industry and getting published. I also made use of the course materials from a couple of Australian Writers Centre online course which I have reviewed in previous blogs – Inside Publishing and Pitch Your Novel.

Once my spreadsheet was set up I identified two agents who will be open to queries in late January and prepared submission packages, taking care to ensure what I send covers all their submission requirements. I now have a good start to a plan of attack to give myself the best chance of getting my manuscript published in 2020. I’m expecting a lot of this process to be a waiting game, so I will also keep working on my next manuscript, the second in the series. The added benefit of starting another novel is that if I get any nibbles with my querying and am asked if I am working on anything else, I can hand on heart say yes.

What are your writing goals for 2020?

Burnt stumps and smoke after control burn, Warrandyte

God, fire and politics

I was going to do a bookish Christmas post, but have concluded that Christmas is a bit overrated. Besides, a few things have got my goat this week, so a pre-Christmas rant is in order.

On a day of 44 degrees in Melbourne, when half the coastline of the country is ablaze, and NSW is in a state of emergency, my dystopian fantasy of our future world is right on my doorstep and plastered all over the media. Meanwhile, our political leaders continue to bury their heads in the sand about climate change and the environment. I use the term leader loosely as it’s an attribute I feel is sorely lacking among our current political class. The best Scott Morrison seems prepared to offer is thoughts and prayers in its place.

You may be wondering why a fiction writer is having a rant about politics on a blog about writing? As it happens the crime fiction manuscript that I will start querying in the new year has political hypocrisy as one of its central themes, and it is something I am both fascinated and repelled by in the real world as well.

Morrison has gone to some lengths to avoid engaging in discussion about climate change and has pushed his perverse nothing to see here stance while communities are raised, flora and fauna are decimated, and city populations choke on the smoke. Earlier this month the man determined holding a press conference about his controversial Religious Freedoms Bills was more important than showing leadership about the bushfires. The first version of the bills had been heavily criticised by faith and secular groups alike, and I can tell you the second version is no better.

While Sydneysiders were gasping on smoke, Morrison was touting a package of legislation with potential to significantly change Australia. It may prevent many individuals accessing services such as medical, education, employment, aged care, and some commercial services on the basis of their otherness. Not to mention the Isreal Falau clause about how we can interact on social media. It is the most hateful piece of legislation to be tabled in some time.

I find it curious that institutions that were called out on poor governance, lack of transparency, and accountability in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse should now be deemed in need of the types of protections that will enable them to be even more closed and secretive by excluding anyone they view as other from their ranks. It strikes me as a recipe for more festering problems and institutional failure.

The religious freedoms debate started as a knee-jerk reaction to a small group of ultra conservatives railing against a secular state and afraid that allowing gays to marry would cause the sky to fall. After years of preventing progress in this area these conservatives were over ruled by the Australian public who voted in favour of same sex marriage. The religious right were offered a review to assess the state of religious liberty in Australia by the government as a consolation prize for the postal vote on same sex marriage to keep them sweet. Phillip Ruddock was tasked with overseeing the review. The first airing of the reviews outcomes was in the form of leaks of key findings around the time of Malcolm Turnbull’s demise. The leaks exposed the fact existing law already exempted religious groups from discrimination laws and enabled them to discriminate against teachers and students. They could sack teachers and expel students of diverse sexualities already if they chose to – it caused a moment of outrage, that many may have forgotten.

Subsequently Attorney-General Christian Porter was tasked with turning Ruddock’s review into legislation. It took an extraordinarily long time because ultra conservatives did not just want anti-discrimination laws for religious groups, they wanted a positive right to discriminate. Any reasonable person would agree that an individual should not be discriminated against on the basis of their faith, but what the religious right wanted was a weapon to strike out at people they deemed unworthy, like the LGBTI community, not just a shield to protect their faith. The laws are not about freedom to speak ones religion, but freedom for institutions to hire, fire, deny service, insult and humiliate based on an individuals personal characteristics. The cynic in me can’t help thinking Morrison may have chosen that moment on 10th December to announce the bills, with Australia burning in the background, to invoke some kind of symbolic fire and brimstone moment. But in reality who knows what Morrison really thinks about anything (he abstained from voting on same sex marriage)? He appears to be a man who will go wherever the favourable winds of power blow.

On the same day as focussing on a bill few deemed necessary, Morrison insulted volunteer firefighters by downplaying their work. Two CFA volunteers died fighting fires yesterday, and three more were injured. I wonder if Scott still thinks they really want to be doing this job?

…they’re tired, but they also want to be out there defending their communities…

Scott Morrison

All the volunteers were, foregoing income and time with their families to risk their lives fighting fires with often substandard equipment, yet Morrison was more interested in announcing legislation that has never been needed, and has the potential to create great divisions in society.

The wife of a firefighter wrote a heartfelt response to Morrison’s insensitive comments about our volunteer fire fighters that touched on another of Morrison’s blind spots – climate change. The blog has had over 80,000 views in a week. Remember Morrison is the guy who loves coal so much, he took a piece (which had been cleaned) into parliament in order to demonstrate his committment to a carbon-intensive economy and mock those concerned about climate change.

In November Morrison declared the bushfires had nothing to do with climate change and has been actively and publicly trying to shut down climate protesters because he doesn’t like their message, and clearly struggles to understand the science. He’s since made some concessional comments that climate change may be a factor, though I suspect that’s because he’s afraid of losing public support, he must have felt the winds changing. One wonders if he is confusing his own beliefs with science. He’s a Pentecostal. The evangelic religion emphasises the idea of the Rapture – that when it arrives, the chosen will ascend to heaven while the rest of us suffer the Tribulation – fires, floods and famines that will kill most of us, while he and his fellow chosen believers wait for the Second Coming.

Meanwhile, Scott has packed up his family and gone off on holidays. I don’t actually resent Scott having a holiday, we all need one now and then after all, but the act does expose a nasty element in his makeup and a big hypocritical black hole in the mans psyche. You might think that comment a bit harsh, but let me take you back to the Black Saturday fires that started on 7 February 2009 in Victoria.

I remember the day well as I was at home and could see the red orb thrown by the fires over the King Lake Ranges from my house. Apparently my town was spared by ten minutes and a wind change, my cousin wasn’t so lucky – her place burnt to the ground. In the aftermath, when people were looking for answers, and perhaps a few scapegoats, an ambitious young politician called Scott Morrison made an appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program and had a few things to say about the fact that Police Chief Christine Nixon left the incident room and went out to dinner that night.

“She’s clearly made a bad judgement call. That happens to people from time to time, but this was a very serious issue…I think there are very serious concerns in the community about exercising judgement, and it’s incumbent on all of us in public life to make decisions following that in the best interests of the ongoing nature of the program.”

Scott Morrison, Q&A 2010

Christine Nixon ultimately lost her job over the dinner decision. The comments then, and Morrison’s actions now, are an indication of the shallowness of the mans convictions. Ultimately he’s simply playing the politician, but his actions in recent weeks also call his judgement into questions based on his own benchmark. The image I have of Morrison lands somewhere between a crazed religious zealot determined to impose his beliefs on all of us, and Nero fiddling while Rome burns. The BBC delivered an interesting summary on Australia’s leadership failure on climate this week.

He’s not my Prime Minister, never was, never will be. I just hope the rest of Australia wakes up to his disastrous Prime Ministership soon and vote someone in capable of real leadership on the big challenges of our time.

Once I wrote a book…

I started writing my manuscript in early 2016 after enrolling in an online novel writing course with The Writers Studio. The last three years have been spent learning about fiction as I wrote and rewrote my story. Much of the work was put down in the same circumstances I am writing this blog post – on my iPad, on a Ventura bus trundling it’s way between Warrandyte and Docklands – thirty kilometres, one and a half hours, twice a day, every work day. The chore of the public transport commute transformed into an opportunity to steal some creative time, and to pass the time, and what an amazing journey it has been.

I wrote a book…

Writing is a significant part of my work life, but it’s business writing – briefs, corporate documents, media releases, and research papers. Creative writing is a different beast. There is a lot more to writing fiction than you might imagine before you start. You need to learn the craft; to harness and shape your imagination into characters, scenes, and dialogue; to develop a plot that has meaning and structure; and find a unique voice. It takes practice, persistence and a willingness to turn up at the page day after day, including when you don’t feel inspired to put down words – to keep spilling them out, even when you think they are crap – to develop a writing habit. It’s hard to say exactly how many words I have written in the process of developing this manuscript, but I’d hazard a guess it’s in the vicinity of 200,000, most of them typed in transit or snatches of time.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

To build my knowledge and skills I also devoured many podcasts on writing, completed a couple of short courses through The Australian Writers Centre, read books on the craft and devoured a broad range of fiction and non-fiction books to see what I could learn from the published works of others.

In January 2018 I started this blog because I was in a fortunate position to be able to take a year off work, primarily to focus on my writing, and wanted to make a record of my journey. Since then I have blogged almost 70,000 words, completed my year off, and am back in the fray of the commuter class.

A couple of weeks ago, I printed my manuscript and gave it to my first reader, incorporated some changes based on their feedback and have now sent it out to beta readers. It’s a funny mix of emotions sending your work out into the world, even if only to a limited few – there is both apprehension and expectation. You hope that readers will be engaged by, and enjoy the tale, and that they will be brave enough to provide honest feedback that will contribute to improving the work. There is also a niggling worry that you could have completely deluded yourself and spent years writing something that no one will understand or enjoy. Then whilst the work is visiting others, all you can do is wait. I have come to believe that patience is one of the key attributes for being a writer of any, but particularly, long form fiction.

DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague

When you have filled every spare moment with a project for many years, the sudden hiatus when you stop requires some adjustment. I thought it would be great to take a break – read some books and get onto some non-writing projects, like that garden paving I keep putting off. Curiously developing a writing habit has the hallmarks of most other habits, like exercise, where suddenly stopping leaves one with an uncomfortable, agitated residue. So last night I set up a scrivener file to start my next manuscript and I’m already getting a sense of what the plot line will be (rubs hands together).

Main image: Guggenheim Museum, New York

Grand dames of crime: Mary Roberts Rinehart

Born in the same year as Custer made his last stand, Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876-1958), from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, first trained as a nurse then took up writing post marriage in 1903 at the age of twenty-seven, spurred by financial necessity. Her first mystery novel, The Circular Staircase, was published in 1908 and her second The Man in Lower Ten published the following year. These two pulp novels were very successful, and are the earliest works by an American author still in print purely for entertainment, (as opposed to being classics or literature), a testament to her storytelling capabilities.

…a man may shout the eternal virtues and be unheard forever, but if he babble nonsense in a wilderness it will travel around the world.”

The Red Lamp

A feminist, Rinehart created middle aged spinster Tish in 1910. Tish become the central protagonist in a serious of comic long short stories that ran over thirty years. The series was about the wild adventures of the protagonist and her friends, Aggie and Lizzie, who did all the things women were not supposed to at the time, like race cars, do stunt work, and hunt.

The author (web image)

Rinehart’s work has much in common with hard boiled crime and scientific detection in style and subject, and she utilised realism to depict life and social issues of the time, such as class and gender. Her writing often combined murder, love, surrealism and humour, and she wrote a series of love stories dealing with nurses and hospital life, as well as several Broaway comedies. The most popular stage production, Seven Days, written with Avery Hopwood in 1909, was a farce based on Rinehart’s novella of the same name, and became a runaway hit.

…at last she drew on her gloves, straightened her hat, and went away with that odd self-possession which seems to characterize all the older women of the Crescent. Time takes its toll of them, death and tragedy come inevitably, but they face the world with quiet faces and unbroken dignity.

The Album

During the First World War Rinehart became a correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post and after using her nurse training to earn Red Cross credentials was allowed to got to the front where she visited hospitals, toured “No Man’s Land,” and interviewed both the king of Belgium and the queen of England.

The chef did it (web photo from Crimereads)

The biggest cliche in mystery writing, the Butler did it is often attributed to Rinehart’s novel The Door, published in 1930, in which the Butler turns out to be the villain, although the phrase itself does not appear in the text. An obliging mother, Rinehart wrote The Door in a hurry whilst recovering from an illness in hospital to help her sons fledgling publishing house. Rinehart was the near victim of a servant herself in 1947, when her chef tried to shoot and stab her in the library of her home. She was saved from injury by the brave intervention of her butler and some other servants. So apparently, it was the chef who did it in the library after all.

People that trust themselves a dozen miles from the city, in strange houses, with servants they don’t know, needn’t be surprised if they wake up some morning and find their throats cut.

The Circular Staircase

Her last book, The Confession, was published the year after her death in 1959. At the time, her books had sold more than 10 million copies, which is partly why she is often compared to Agatha Christie.

More information:

Tech review: writing tools

My inner geek relishes a bit of technology, so I thought I’d share the love and review some of the tools I have used in my writing.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a writing software tool designed to support long-form writing, developed by software company Literature&Latte. Scrivener provides a single container to store all your your research (including a neat function to upload documents or webpages), and to organise large documents, notes and references in a single carrier. The program uses the metaphor of a ring binder that allows you to break manuscripts down to chapters and scenes that can be re-arranged with ease.

There are several documents templates to choose from, including for longform fiction, non-fiction and screenwriting. The program also has functionality to create your own templates. Custom icons and color coding features help arrange folders for easy recognition and compartmentalise different elements of your manuscript.

The program provides many ways to view a project – an obsessive organisers dream. The ‘corkboard’ acts like index cards attached to every section of a project. You can shuffle index cards as you plan and plot, its a handy feature for a structural edit. The inspector is a place to plan, create synopsis or notes, references, keywords, metadata or snapshots. An outliner allows you to work with an overview of a chapter and the folder and subfolder structure. You can also view the same or two documents side by side.

Scrivener has some neat features to motivate your writing too. You can set targets by word count, date or time and once you’re finished you can compile and download the whole manuscript into a number of formats. I found the target setter useful at a point in my earlier drafts when I wanted to write one thousand words a day, the ping when you hit your word count is most satisfying.

The program has desktop and iOS versions, so if you save to the cloud you can sync your work and take it anywhere – but you need to make sure you don’t have both open at once as you can end up with annoying syncing problems. I particularly love the cross platform options as I do a lot of writing on my iPad during the week when I am mobile, such as on public transport, and then work on my laptop at home.

The software company provides excellent guidance and help in the form of videos, user manuals, forums, a blog, faqs and product support. This is particularly important as the product has loads of features that require some time and effort to learn in order to get the best from the product. Scrivener has a free thirty day trial and at the time of writing cost AUD$77 for macOS and AUD$20 for iOS for iPad. I’m a convert.

Hemingway editor

Hemingway is a neat little tool that is free to use online. You can also download a desktop app for AUD$20 making it more affordable than Grammarly or ProWritingAid, with many of the same features.
When you paste text into the tool it helps make your writing clear by checking grammar and highlighting areas for improvement using a color code system:

  • Adverbs highlighted blue
  • Passive voice highlight green
  • Phrases with simpler alternatives highlight purple
  • Hard to read sentences highlight yellow
  • Sentences very hard to read highlight red

The app also delivers readability, word count and read time statistics and has a capacity for large quantities of text – I have loaded a 90,000 word manuscript and analysed it without any issues. Once complete you can export and save your edits. I have found Hemingway a handy tool.

After the Deadline

After the Deadline is a free online spelling, style and grammar check. It’s an open source software available for French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish and can be used by developers to add to web applications. For general use, paste text in, select check writing and the program uses color coding to underline parts of the text it thinks you need to check, by selecting the highlights the product offers alternative suggestions. It’s main downfalls for me are it uses American English, it struggles a bit with large quantities of text and you have to copy and paste your corrections when done as you cannot download them.

Expresso

Expresso is a free online tool to analyse, edit and compare text styles in English for blocks of up to 5,000 words. The tools metrics include synonyms, weak verbs, filler words, normalisations, substitutions, negations, cluster sounds, long bound phrases, passive voice, modals, rare words, sentences that are too long or too short, fragments, and frequent word statistics, as well as general text metrics. When you select one of the metrics, the program highlights those sections in the text and suggests alternatives.

Autocrit

Autocrit is the rolls royce of cloud based writing software for fiction writers designed to help identify all those little problems that will jar readers out of your story. At the heart of AutoCrit lies its unique ability to directly compare your writing with the proven standards of successful, published fiction. The AutoCrit system is built using data from thousands of successful books, all fed in and averaged to provide a benchmark for manuscripts across multiple key areas. Once you load your work, you can pick the genre to run reports against.

The editor runs the summary report using your selected genre for comparison. The summary provides writing statistics and feedback on pacing and momentum, dialogue, word choice, repetition and strong writing.From the summary report you can run more detailed reports to review each element covered.

I discovered this tool when I was about to give my manuscript to some beta readers. After taking out a trial and playing with the product, I delayed the beta reader process. I removed about 1,500 redundant and overused words, which tightened my manuscript significantly. I also made good use of the showing vs telling feature.

For each report there are options for summaries and detailed analysis, and the product highlights the areas recommended for review in your manuscript. There is a handy feature to analyse manuscripts by chapter, though large pieces do slow the software down a bit which can be frustrating.

Autocrit was a little overwhelming initially, but the more I use it, the easier it is and there are a range of help tools, including videos, a blog, articles, and a YouTube channel which is worth taking a look at.

The downsides of Autocrit are that there is no integration with other software services, you can’t work offline and the subscription is quite expensive. I took out a two week trial for AUD$1, then extended by another a month for $AUD30. After giving the product a good run I was a convert and so took advantage of a lifetime subscription offer for $AUD197.

Book review: Circe by Madeline Miller

They say that writers should read widely, so not all my book reviews will be crime, though bloodshed may prove to be a common theme. Recently I dived into Greek Mythology. Madeline Miller’s Circe is a feminist spin on the epic tale of the immortal nymph sea witch by that name. Circe appeared as a minor character in the Homeric poem, The Odyssey.

Circe, the protagonist is the daughter of Helios, the sun god. As a child she is made brutally aware of her inferior status by her family. She was not born a god, is plain to the eye, and has the voice of a mortal. In her youth she was tormented by her siblings and barely seen by her parents.

I asked her how she did it once, how she understood the world so clearly. She told me that it was a matter of keeping very still and showing no emotions, leaving room for others to reveal themselves.

In coming to know love, jealousy and rage, Circe discovers her sorcerer powers, which she unleashes on her sister, a beautiful sea nymph, and the object of her envy. As punishment she is exiled to a picturesque, unpeopled island called Aiaia by her father.

Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.

Circe eventually comes to revel in her solitude and spends her time developing her occult arts and witchcraft, and taming the animals of Aiaia for company.

This was how mortals found fame, I thought. Through practice and diligence, tending their skills like gardens until they glowed beneath the sun. But gods are born of ichor and nectar, their excellences already bursting from their fingertips. So they find their fame by proving what they can mar: destroying cities, starting wars, breeding plagues and monsters. All that smoke and savor rising so delicately from our altars. It leaves only ash behind.

It is on the island, surrounded by tame wolves and lions and pigs – the latter formerly sailors who she turned to swine after they tried to attack her – that Odysseus comes across Circe. He becomes her lover and she bares his child.

I was captured by Miller’s lush poetic prose, which is like reading a song. Her reimagining of the myth brings one of the women from the original tale into the light. Her work was criticised by a few crusty old blokes for historical inaccuracy, perhaps because they prefer the original misogynist fantasy, but I found a beautiful remake of Homers epic poem in Circe. The novel gives a nod to other myths as well, including Daedalus and Icarus; Medea and Jason with the Golden Fleece.

I loved Circe’s chutzpah, she is a woman who will not be silenced and turns an ancient tale of female subjugation into one that is teeming with contemporary reverberations of empowerment and courage. Circe is Miller’s second novel and rivals her first, The Song of Achilles, a stirring reimagining of another of Homer’s epic poems, The Iliad. The Song of Achilles received the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012.

I highly recommend Circe, which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. It’s a particularly good read for writers who seek inspiration, and to broaden their writing technique, style, and craft skills.

No wonder I have been so slow, I thought. All this while, I have been a weaver without wool, a ship without the sea. Yet now look where I sail.

Grand dames of crime: Ngaio Marsh

In a previous post I wrote about Charlotte Jay and a session at the Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival inspired me to investigate more of the grand dames of crime fiction. This week I take a look at Dame Ngaio Marsh.

New Zealand born Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982) has ancestry that traces back to the twelfth-century de Marisco family of pirate lords operating from Lundy Isle (at the entrance to the Bristol Channel). This might be where she inherited her Amazonian appearance from. It is said she was a charismatic woman with a deep powerful voice, a powerhouse, domineering and determined, characteristics she no doubt needed as a single woman to make it in a mans world.

Marsh was the only child of unconventional parents, raised on a diet of Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes. Her governess Miss Ffitch would often read her The Tragedy of King Lear, so little wonder she grew up to be one of the original queens of crime and well as a theatre director.

She painted, wrote and acted all through school but her writing career took off after she sailed to the UK in 1928 and started to carve out a name as a crime fiction author alongside other greats such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Margery Ellingham. Marsh’s first novel A Man Lay Dead, written in the depths of the Depression, introduced Roderick Alleyn, a tall, cultured, detached, thorough Scotland Yard Detective Inspector. An objective man with a poor memory which meant he kept a small note book of important facts on hand constantly.

Marsh went on to write thirty two crime detective novels mostly set in English theatres and country houses, plus four in New Zealand, thirty-two with the Alleyn character. More popular than Agatha Christie at the peak of her career, one million copies of ten of her titles were released by Penguin and Collins on the same day in 1949, all of which sold.

When Marsh returned to New Zealand to care for ailing parents the second world war broke out. During the war period she volunteered as a Red Cross ambulance driver ferrying repatriated soldiers around for Christchurch’s Burwood Hospital, and continued to write novels, producing four book during the war period (Death of a Peer, Death and the Dancing Footman, Colour Scheme and Died in the Wool).

A woman with energy and an appetite for productivity she also began an association with the Canterbury University College Drama Society during this time which enabled her to invigorate her love of Shakespeare. The association resulted in more than twenty full-scale Shakespearean productions, from her 1943 modern-dress Hamlet to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (starring Sam Neil) in 1969. Marsh’s last theatrical effort was to write and produce a one-man show in 1976 on the Bard of Avon, Sweet Mr Shakespeare.

Marsh never married or had children and was fiercely protective of her private life. She enjoyed the close companionship of women including her lifelong friend Sylvia Fox, and a coterie of handsome gay boys, but denied being a lesbian. She was generous with her knowledge and skills and nurtured many young writers and actors, splitting her time between New Zealand and the UK.

Marsh’s autobiography, Black Beech and Honeydew was published in 1965 to no great acclaim, then in June 1966 she became Dame Ngaio Marsh (Civil Division) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. In 1978 four of her novels were adapted for New Zealand television, and she received the Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement as a detective novelist from the Mystery Writers of America. She just just managed to complete her final work, Light Thickens, a mere six weeks before her death from a cerebral haemorrhage and eight weeks before her eighty-seventh birthday. She died in her own home, which was subsequently turned into a museum.

Marsh’s elegant writing style and well crafted characters set in credible settings was said to have helped raise the whodunit detective novel to the level of a respectable literary genre. Harper Collins published a biography of Ngaio Marsh by Joanne Drayton in 2008 (Ngaio Marsh – her life in crime) which is said to have bought Marsh to life removing her from the cardboard cutout of respectability and decorum she presented publicly to the world to reveal a more textured and fascinating story of a woman with ambiguous sexuality who revealed in the abandon of the Bohemian Riviera and enjoyed her place at the table of the English in-set.

More information:

Images from the web: Book covers; the woman herself; immortalised on a New Zealand stamp.