Monday, October 31, 2011

And the winner is...

Thanks to everyone who entered my rather unusual giveaway. The entries have been read, the short list created, the votes tallied... etcetera etcetera. And Valerie Khoo, the powerhouse behind the Sydney Writers' Centre has put on her sorting hat and judged the worthy winner.

Now, if this were the Academy Awards or something, I'd be cracking jokes here in an effort to build tension. I would have announced the short list, who would be sitting in the auditorium wearing their friendly, self-deprecating, oh-no-it-won't-be-me (please-let-it-be-me) faces. The cameras would be closing in, hoping to catch a tiny glimpse of 'Good God NO! It can't be her' as the winner is announced.

But we're on a blog, in the Fibro. So I'll just get on with it, shall I?

The winner is Candice. Her winning entry read like this:

“We’re looking for Spark.”
“Really? Again?”
“Yeah. We last saw him walking along the fence”.
“In which direction?”
“Um, towards your house.”
“Okay kids. Let me just finish writing this article, then we’ll go look for Sparky together”.

Hi Allison,
I'd love to talk to you about developing my feature writing for magazines career. I'm about to move interstate with my husband, and this is the perfect opportunity to try and go full time with my writing. I've completed the SWC feature writing course, and I've had one article published in Good Reading Magazine and another about to be published in a local magazine.

I'd love (!!!!) to discuss the business of freelancing and talk to you about staying passionate about a topic weeks after pitching the original idea.

Thank you for this great competition and congrats with your 500th post!

You're an inspiration.

Regards, Candice 

Note the creative use of 'spark' (which is what we were, after all, searching for), a little CV to show us that she's serious, clever insertion of past SWC experience (use everything you've got people) and a splendid-but-not-overdone bit of sucking up compliment at the end.


Can't wait to chat, Candice. Drop me an email via the contact me thingy on my Blogger profile and we'll get started!

Thanks to everyone who entered. If Candice gives me a good reference, I'll look at doing it again in a few months' time when I hit the big two years on the blog. In the meantime, look out for my first Facebook chat over the next few weeks. I've even got a few guest stars lined up! Pop over and join the Fibro's Facebook community for updates.

[image: prettylittlelies via weheartit]

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Boo humbug: Not my party

I struggle with Halloween. I didn't realise quite how much until I had a chance conversation with a friend at a kids' party today. She asked me if I was planning to take my boys trick or treating. No, I said, I was not. And then proceeded to outline, in detail, for five minutes, exactly why not.

Everyone has their 'event' gripe. For some it's the commercialism of Christmas and how the true meaning is lost. For others, it's Valentine's Day and overpriced red roses. My 'event' gripe is Halloween. Specifically, Halloween in Australia. In the US, Halloween makes perfect sense. There's tradition involved. It has a place.

In Australia, Halloween didn't really exist until, as best I can figure, about 2005, when retailers decided it was the perfect occasion to boost sales in the lead up to boosting sales over Christmas. When I was a kid, Halloween was something I read about in books. I wish in my heart of hearts that it had stayed there.

I've watched Halloween creep, pumpkin by pumpkin, ghost by ghost, into the Australian child's consciousness over the past few years. This year, however, it has really reached a tipping point. Hence the reason for my conversation this morning. My friend was struggling against her seven-year-old daughter's begging and pleading to go trick or treating. Part of my friend's struggle was internal. She likes the idea of taking her children out into the neighbourhood at night. To walk under the dark sky and see their world in a different way.

"Fine," I said. "Dress them up and take them for a walk. But don't go knocking on doors."

My boys know that we don't do Halloween in the Fibro. When they asked me why, I simply explained that it was another country's tradition, not ours, and we wouldn't be taking it up. So last year when a young family knocked on our door - at 8pm - I had no qualms about telling them sorry, we don't do Halloween. I was polite, I was cheerful, I was firm. The mother was not happy with me. But I am not about to start handing out lollies to other kids who knock on our door, when I've told my children that it's not something we do. What kind of hypocrite would that make me?

My elderly neighbours (and the Fibro has many) hate Halloween. It's not part of their world at all. They hate anyone knocking on their door at any time, let alone after dark. It may be anti-social, but it's also about security. Not all trick or treaters are friendly six year olds, out with their Mums.

I know this makes me very Bah Humbug (or Boo Humbug, the Halloween equivalent), but I don't think I care. Halloween is not my party.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Join the Weekend Rewind

The Weekend Rewind, world's easiest linky, is on again at And Then There Were Four. Join Multiple Mum, me and scores of other fabulous Rewinders as we make our merry way through the month of March 2011. That's right. Old post.

All you do is link up your favourite post from March 2011 and then visit some of the other Rewind posts. Comments make the Weekend Rewind go round. That's right. Comment love.

My post this week is about the one thing I would change about myself above all others. I know. Such a difficult choice when I have SO many options.

What have you got for us? Link up and Rewind!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A stationery conversation

Oh, hello. It's you.

I'm so sorry, I can't talk to you right now. I'm very busy.

Very, very busy.

Doing what, you ask? Er, research. Yes, that's it, research. Very busy with reserach.

Oh, you want to know what I'm researching? Always with the questions. Sigh. Well, if you must know, I'm investigating stationery. Yes, stationery. Stationery needs investigating.

What's that? Well, yes, I did do that feature a couple of years ago about how we crave beautiful stationery even though nobody seems to hand write anything anymore. What of it? Didn't you read to the end of that story. Don't you remember how important that small piece of tactile luxury is in a world that's increasingly online and untouchable?

Of course you do. Which is why I know you won't mind if I just leave you right here and go back to salivating over beautiful paper products. If you'd like to join me, you can start here:

Upon A Fold

or here: Little Branch

or here: Paddock Press

And if you are a fellow stationery addict, please share your favourite online shopping haunts.  I'm in the mood for paper.

[image: Christmas cards from LeafJournals/Etsy]

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The things you do (as a Mum)

I spent some time this afternoon attempting to hit my four year old with a broom handle. Not exactly where I pictured myself when I fondly imagined my mothering years. Before you call DOCS, let me hasten to assure you that he asked me to undertake this exercise. Asked for it, I tell you.

Mr4 has taken up Little Ninjas. Following in the footsteps of, and standing alongside his big brother, in blue pyjamas. He was very keen on the whole thing, practising his sparring stance and his back-break falls with enthusiasm - until they brought out the stick.

We have reached the 'self-defence' module of this term's lessons, and part of this involves learning to dodge a large, red (admittedly well-padded) stick. Mr4 took one look at said stick and ran screaming for his mother - which strikes me as a sensible thing to do, but what would I know?

Apparently, he must learn to dodge the stick. To go one way when it goes the other. Or some such. I say he graduates with honours - he has learned to dodge the stick by running at breakneck speed in the opposite direction. However, it turns out that he will not get the 'stripe' on his belt for this particular module unless he faces the stick. Or 'The Stick' as it has become known in the Fibro. Like 'The Blob' or 'The Thing', only much thinner.

On the way home, after a serious discussion about how the correct response to the question 'what do you do when a stranger tries to drag you into a car?' is not, as Mr4 tried in class, 'get in the car' (accompanied by big smile), we talked about the importance of facing fears. About how fears only got bigger if you didn't turn around and look at them. How they grew in your mind while you had your eyes closed. Mr4 took that on board and then asked me to help him face down The Stick.

So, being the candidate for Mother of the Year that we know me to be, I spent some time practising with him this afternoon. I even thwacked the handle on the ground as it whistled past his ears (okay, came down somewhere in the vicinity of his body), so that he would not be frightened of any sound effects The Stick might emit. Even so, I'm not sure that I'm doing it right. When I come at him with a broom handle, he giggles. I clearly need to get a tougher expression as the wielder of The Stick.

We have until Monday to build up his courage enough to dodge The Stick on his own. Mr7 sits behind me, giving helpful big-brotherly advice like 'don't let it hit you'. Right. With a team like this on his side, how can Mr4 fail?

I also managed to slip some 'wrist escape' practice into the mix. This is the move you use when someone has you by the arm and is attempting to drag you into a car. It involves pulling up in the opposite direction from the person's grip. Or something. Mr4 was perturbed that I was trying to drag him into a pot plant, not a car, but I assured him the method was the same.

And I will sleep easier tonight knowing that if he learned nothing else today, he knows that the correct response if someone tries to drag you into a car is to run screaming to Mum.

Have you found yourself in an unusual situation as a Mum? And how did you have the 'stranger danger' talk without freaking out your child?

[image: WallDecalsAndQuotes/etsy]

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Words can haunt you

I got an email from a friend today. She lives on the other side of the world. We chit-chat about books and writing, friends and family. We've never actually met. But I'm always glad to hear from her.

Attached to the bottom of her email was the last email I sent her. Idly, I read through it, wondering what I'd waffled about (it had been a while between emails).

There was a lot of waffle. Then, about halfway down, these words:

"Don't give up. Persistence is the key to this whole mess."

I can't tell you how much I needed to read my own words of advice today.

[image: via]

Monday, October 24, 2011

The indelible marks of motherhood

Today I realised, once again, that motherhood has left an indelible mark on me. I was walking down a flight of stairs. Counting each step out loud. And I was alone. Alone in the sense of 'no child with me'. Not alone in the sense of 'no audience at all for my lunatic behaviour'. Indeed, the older woman coming up said flight of stairs looked intensely amused by the whole event. She smiled and nodded. She understood. She was probably counting the stairs herself as she went up. But she's had enough time to learn to do it in her head again.

Counting out loud - everything from stairs to mushrooms as you bag them at the supermarket - is one of the indelible marks of motherhood. As is pointing out diggers on the side of the road, even when you're in the company of adult friends who, really, could not care less. Going to the toilet with the door left slightly ajar 'just in case' is one that I'm hoping I'll grow out of very soon (as, no doubt, is the rest of the household).

Carrying a water bottle everywhere. Keeping an emergency muesli bar in my bag. Keeping an emergency fire engine in my bag (never know when you'll need one of those).

Never leaving a building without asking everyone in the vicinity (stranger or no) if they need to wee before we go.

An underlying sense of anxiety that never quite bubbles over and never quite disappears.

These are but some of the marks that motherhood has left on me. What have you got?

[image: merriweathercouncil/etsy]

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Signs of a misspent youth

The Rugby World Cup is over (congratulations Kiwis!) but its legacy remains. Specifically, it serves, every four years, to remind me of my misspent youth. I sat last weekend with friends discussing locks, flankers, fly halfs, phases and lineouts - the language of my 20s, spent, as it was, in the company of a rugby club. Weekends lost to the joys of shivering on the sidelines, wondering if my second-rower boyfriend would end up concussed, or merely with new cauliflowers to add to his patch. Saturday nights spent drinking, dancing and carousing.

A misspent youth is a wonderful thing and comes in many guises. Both of my sisters are extremely good at pool, and one, I won't say which, is an absolute demon. Wipe-the-floor-with-you, pool-table-hustler good. Don't say you haven't been warned.

I have friends who can roll their own, er, cigarettes one-handed. Friends who should never be challenged to a game of poker, or 500, or even Scrabble for that matter. I know guys who can play every song that Kurt Cobain ever wrote - and not much else. Girls who drive boring four-cylinder A-to-B cars like they're still driving the six-cylinder, gas-guzzling rev-head mobile they cruised through their twenties in. People who will never need a Cocktail Recipe book because they have every classic cocktail recipe memorised - and can produce one on cue.

The older I get the more I understand the notion that you only regret the things you didn't do.

Come on, 'fess up - what's the sign of your misspent youth?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Have you met the Weekend Rewind?

I'm joining in the Weekend Rewind this weekend, over with Multiple Mum. If you haven't taken part before, it's the world's easiest linky. All you have to do is link up an old post (this week you need one from February 2011) and share the comment love around.

My post this week is all about how much wood a woodchopper might chop if a woodchopper was to chop wood at the Fibrotown show. You can check out all the other links right here.

Why not join me?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

500 posts at the Fibro - and a giveaway

Today marks a big day at the Fibro. My 500th post. Good grief. That's a lot of words....

To celebrate, and given that we are talking about words (did you see that lovely segue there?), I have decided on a somewhat unusual giveaway. I'm giving away myself. To whit, two one-hour mentor sessions, frequency to be decided by the winner.

So, what do you get? 
Two sessions of 60 solid minutes each by phone or Skype (I promise I will know how to use it by the time it all kicks off...). We can talk about any aspect of writing/freelance writing/ publishing/blogging/whatever that you like that falls within my scope of experience.

My strengths are freelance writing for magazine, newspaper and internet, writing non-fiction books (including non-fiction book proposals), experience in the ins and outs of publishing, fiction writing (to the extent that I've completed three full manuscripts and have another two-thirds done, but not to the extent that I've actually sold a book as yet), short story writing (I dabbled in this and sold three stories to magazines), knowledge of writing associations and networks that might be helpful to you, access to lots of other writers who will answer any questions I give to them. And I blog. A lot, apparently.

I'm not strong in the area of writing children's books or YA fiction, but I've had a go at pretty much everything else.

I am happy to read the first three chapters of any work you may have in progress and give you feedback, but, due to time restrictions, I can't do a blow-by-blow appraisal of your entire manuscript.

What do you need to do?
Be a friend of the Fibro if you're not already (and feel free to 'like' me on Facebook if we're not connected there). Comment below, answering the following question: How can I help you? Tell me what you're doing, tell me which part of my brain you'd like to pick, what I can do for you.

Who's judging?
The lovely Valerie Khoo from the Sydney Writers' Centre will choose a winner from a shortlist that I select. Just to ensure fairness and friendliness. We're looking for... spark.

Other details
Competition closes Sunday 30 October, 2011 at 9pm (AEST). Winner will be announced on Tuesday 1 November, 2011, at the usual time the Fibro posts go up (around 10.30pm). Australian residents only, sorry. ( Just in case the whole Skype thing doesn't work out...)

Okay, I think that's it. Let me know if anything needs clarifying. Good luck!

[image: via Pinterest]

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Full heart, empty garage

No more babies for me. Not that I was planning any. But today I gave away the pram, the cot, the portacot... the essential hardware is out the door. Part of me is okay with it. The operating system required to have a third child fell apart soon after the birth of Mr4. Very soon after. Like 10 minutes after the birth.

"That's it," I said, gazing on the perfection of my second little boy, relief that he was here, in good shape, flooding my bruised, battered and re-zippered body. "We're done."

The Builder, dreams of little girls with red hair dancing in his head, wasn't so certain. Hoped I'd change my mind, to be honest. But I didn't. I haven't.

For reasons that are too long, complicated and boring to go into in a blog post, I think another pregnancy would do my head in completely.

And, let's face it, I'm no spring chicken in the baby-making stakes. Any baby that I had today would be looking at a very grey-haired mum at the High School Graduation ceremony. Sixty may be the new 50, but try telling an 18 year old that.

So, that's it. The hardware is gone. The software has malfunctioned. The garage is empty.

I'm okay with it. I think. Part of me reminisces about tiny feet, the scent of freshly washed newborn skin, little starfish hands patting my arm while breastfeeding, those chubby layer-upon-layer baby thighs. Another part of me punches my fist in the air at the idea of never, ever spending another night walking the floor with a screaming scrap of misery. Or spoon-feeding mush to a hungry little mouth (oh, God, the monotony). Or sitting through another Wiggles video.

I'm glad I went there. But it's not necessarily a trip I need to take again.

End of an era.

What about you? Is your garage cluttered up with baby hardware? Are you done?

[image: via weheartit]

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fibro Q&A: Just how do you publicise a book?

A few weeks ago I was sent a new book. It's called Swept (Love with a chance of drowning) by Torre DeRoche and is a memoir about how a chance meeting in a bar found Torre, a self-confessed 'city girl with a deep fear of water' sailing on the high seas with the (incredibly hot sounding) Ivan. It's a great yarn, full of adventure (and duct tape), with an evocative cover.

It's also self-published. Beyond the immediate questions that crowded to mind about the why of publishing your own print book in a world that seems to revolve around self-published Kindle editions, the next phase of questioning went immediately to the how of publicising such a book. How do you make your non-fiction book stand out in a field that seems to be shouting with a million voices without the safety net of a publishing house behind you?

I decided to ask an expert. Katie McMurray, the powerhouse behind KatieMac Publicity, specialises in media campaigns for authors, experts, businesses, festivals and awards. She used to publicise 200 authors a year for the Sydney Writers' Festival and is acknowledged as a leader in the field of book publicity in Australia.

The thing I love about Katie, mostly being on the end of her hard-fought campaigns to win editorial coverage for 'her' authors, is that she never sends me irrelevant stuff. She knows what I write about, she knows the publications and websites for which I write, and she hand-delivers me (okay, via email) updates about books (and therefore interview talent) that she thinks will come in handy for me. And they do.

She seemed like the perfect person to ask about how to publicise a non-fiction book. And she was.

What does a publicist actually do?
Katie McMurray: "A publicist achieves media coverage - stories in newspapers, magazines and online; radio and TV interviews. This is editorial, not advertising. We find what it is that best tells a story about our client and pitch that to journalists and producers. The best publicists have a consummate understanding of media and know what media are looking for. It's like a combination of translation, story telling and sales."

The general consensus seems to be that books are notoriously difficult to publicise - do you agree? What is the best traditional medium for finding readers?
KM: "All publicity work is challenging. We are competing for space and air time to get our clients media coverage. If you are an expert and you have a new book and something to say, media will give you the time of day.  But you need to put your best foot forward and not presume that someone will want to interview you just because you've got a new book. You need to give them other compelling reasons to talk to you.

"In the book game, the saying goes that 'radio sells books'. I think it takes a mix of well-targeted media, plus a great marketing plan (public speaking, newsletters, blogs etc) to get a book right out there."

Most publishers now seem to expect writers to blog/tweet/Facebook... Are blogs really an effective marketing tool for authors? 
KM: "A blog is a way to keep you connected to the people who most love your work. It's a relationship tool. From a media and publicity point of view, a blog keeps your thinking fresh and keeps people interested in you. If my author-client is writing a regular blog, then I have regular new ideas to pitch to the media."

Is it possible for authors/writers to overshare on social media and their blogs? Where do you think the line is?
KM: "I've not come across too much of this. I publicise non-fiction books by people who are experts. They tend to really know their stuff and their followers want to hear it."

What are your top three tips for an author wishing to publicise a book?
KM: "Number one, have something to say and say it powerfully. Two: Be somebody. Putting a book out does not mean the media will pay instant attention, so make sure you're active in your industry and business through public-speaking, workshops, blogging etc. Three: have your book professionally edited and talk to as many people as you can before you sign with a publisher or spend your money self-publishing."

You can find out more about KatieMac Publicity here and follow her on Twitter here. You can find out more about Torre DeRoche and her book Swept here (including how to buy) and follow her on Twitter here.

Update: the 'why' of self-publishing becomes clearer. I'm very excited to report that Torre has been offered a publishing deal and is now represented by Elizabeth Evans from JVNLA in New York. What can I say but 'go girl!'.  

Monday, October 17, 2011

Making time for friends

After reading this post (by Nicole at Planning With Kids) at the CareerMums blog, I have decided to take a night off. I am going out for a 'noice bistro meal' and a movie with some mates from the school community. We have been talking about it for ages... and now we're finally doing it.

I think there's a misconception as a mum that you need an 'occasion' to go out. That it needs to be an 'event'. With frocks, and heels, and pearls and stuff. A la Sex and The City. I think that is one reason that perhaps we don't go out enough. You don't need an event. You just need to get out of the house.

The Builder laughed when I told him that I was going out... on a Monday. After all, who goes out on Monday night? Mums do, that's who. It's not the coolest night to go out, I agree. But I'm going out. With friends. And that's cool enough.

When was the last time you went out with friends? Do you do it often enough?

[I appreciate that this image has little to do with a night out in Fibrotown...]

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Guest Post conundrum

I was working my way through a guest post (I'll link to it later in the week) tonight, remembering all the time a conversation that I'd had recently with Sister C:

C: "I read your guest post at [insert name of fabulous blog] today," she said. "It was good. But..."

Me: "But????" (There may have been a hint of defensive paranoia in the tone. Maybe.)

C: "Your guest posts never sound as 'you' as your blog posts do."

Me: "Hmmm." Ruminations. "I think it's because I'm writing in someone else's space. So it feels more like a column or an article. So I immediately switch to a more professional voice. A magaziney voice, I guess."

C: "Like a broadcast voice versus an intimate voice."

Exactly. When I write here, I feel as though I'm writing in a room. One part of me is aware (always aware) that it's a public room, but it feels like a live, unplugged gig. As soon as I step into another room, I'm more aware of the audience, so I step up a little, put on my stage face and plug into some electricity.

On someone else's blog, I feel like the support act, warming up for the show that everybody really wants to see (the blogger that they love), singing my heart out to a room full of people who are all talking amongst themselves and trying to time their toilet breaks so as not to miss the main act.

One of the first things I learned about blogging, via my endless, obsessive reading in the first few months, was about the importance of guest posting in helping to build a blog. It makes sense. A guest post introduces you and your style to a whole new audience. One that, hopefully, will like enough of what they see to follow you home. For that reason, I always say yes when I'm asked to guest post. If someone is kind enough to put me on their marquee (and offer M&Ms (red only) for my rider), I'm going to say yes, thanks for having me, and do my best to deliver them a show-stopping post.

But I won't say that I don't get stage fright about it.

How do you feel about guest posting? Do you love it or do it because you feel you should?

[image: button by BuyTheLightOfTheMoon/etsy}

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A blog is a chain made of 1000 links (Happy SITS Day to me!)

Back in the early days, when I'd started this blog on a dare and was beginning to work out that blogging is not writing and that it pays to invite the neighbours in for barbecues, I found myself on a site called The SITS Girls. The basic message: the secret to success is support. I liked it. I visited a lot. I signed up to be the featured blogger, to experience the joy of a SITS Day. I got busy. I visited more sporadically. I got busier, what with the Twitter and the Facebook. I became someone who popped by occasionally.

And then I got an email last week to say that my number had come up. My SITS Day was imminent. So I did what any normal person would do under the circumstances - I panicked.

Fortunately, I come from a family of bloggers. I emailed Sister B and Sister C (we are The Alphabet Sisters, A, B and C, in that order) and wondered aloud if I should have a spruce up. A makeover. Would I be good enough for such VIP guests? They laughed (they do that a lot when I make such suggestions, any suggestion come to think of it...).

"Didn't you write a post about this?" said B. "You Do What You Do."

So here I am. If we haven't met before, I'm Allison. I'm a freelance writer, a mother and a Mrs. I have two boys, Mr7 and Mr4 (aka Woody and Buzz), and a husband named The Builder (well, not really, but he likes the mystery). We all moved from The Big Smoke to Fibrotown three years ago, and we love it. I write about writing, being a work at home mum and ... whimsy. Sometimes I just write.

My blog was recently described as a 'mum-and-manuscript' blog and I liked that so much I've decided to own it. Anybody want to join my niche?

[Image: This 'Birds of a Feather' wall decal from urbanwalls/etsy is what I think bloggers might look like in the wild...]

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My world-famous, award-winning blog post

Have you noticed that there's no such thing as an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, average-beyond-imagination pie anymore? Or even a Quite Nice one?

Every pie shop or bakery you drive past features 'world famous', 'legendary' or 'award-winning' pies. I know this because on our drive down the coast to our holiday destination, we drove past at least three of these signs.

We even ate an 'award-winning' pie in Pambula, NSW. It was a very nice pie. But it didn't come with a trophy or have a blue ribbon stuck to it, and I would be hard-pressed to pick it out of a pie line-up.

Just what makes a pie 'world famous' or even 'legendary'? Who decides such things? Is there a 'world famous' list? Does word-of-mouth make it so? Or does it come down to the fact that nobody stops for a Quite Nice pie anymore?

Is there a world famous pie near you? Or even a Quite Nice one?

[image: perhaps you'd prefer a Barbie-sized pie, like this one from VansdollTreasures/etsy]

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The best organising tip I ever received (and actually use)

The Builder suggested I add point 11 to yesterday's list of the top 10 things I learned on holidays. His suggestion: no matter how long or fabulous the holiday, the second day back at work is always hard. I agree, but told him that nobody does 11 point lists. They just look wrong. So I came up with another one, to make it a nice round dozen.

12. The length of the holiday will be in direct proportion to the time it takes one to unpack one's bags after one returns home. To whit: if you go on holidays for one week and return on Sunday, you can be pretty sure those bags will still be sitting there come the following Sunday. And they will always contain three times as many clothes as you ever actually wore on said holiday.

But, having come up with that one, I decided that I would take a stand this time. I would unpack those bags. Today. I would... I would... I just...

I needed help. So I turned to a book sent to me recently by one of my favourite contacts, Lissanne Oliver. I call on Lissanne when I need help with the organisation/decluttering/simplifying end of the feature story spectrum. She is, quite simply, great at it, and gives good quote. Win/win for me. The only downside to our conversations is that she's usually saying things like 'People need to realise they can't work surrounded by piles of paper, lip balms, paper clips, nail scissors, random cables, books that need reading, articles that need referencing...' right while I'm sitting at a desk surrounded by all of those things.

Lissanne's book Sorted! is an action-stations guide to being organised. It has everything you need to clear space in your home, right down to the time-frames required to fulfill each step she outlines. Admittedly, there is not a section devoted to Unpacking After Your Holiday but much of the focus is on clearing living spaces - and given that the unpacked bags were interrupting a) traffic flow and b) air flow, I was able to use Lissanne's editing, filing and storing techniques to get the job done. Okay, half done. The Misters are now able to find their socks and undies for the morning. Me, maybe not so much.

It's progress, though, and that's what counts. Oh, and the best tip Lissanne ever gave me for a story (as in one that I actually use all the time)? Open your mail over the bin. Dump the stuff you don't need. Keep the stuff you do. Guaranteed to reduce the amount of paper entering your house.

Lissanne Oliver is joining forces with two international productivity and organising experts for the Six Steps To Your Organised Life workshops in Sydney (October 22) and Melbourne (October 29). Full details here. You can find out more about Lissanne's book and her organising work here

Monday, October 10, 2011

10 things I learned on my holiday

Over an intimate sushi lunch today, Mr7 and I were discussing his imminent return to school tomorrow. He is ambivalent about the whole prospect. I am somewhat more excited. We talked about what he might have to do this week. He has choir practice, environment club, library... But what about in actual class?

"I suppose we'll have to write a recount about what we did on our holidays," he said, staring into his soy sauce with an Eeyore-like expression.

"We had fun!" I said.

"We did," he agreed. "But it's not much fun writing about it."

I tend to agree. The joy of the holiday is in the actual having of the holiday. But given it's a slow blog night, I am going to lead the way with my own Holiday Recount. Ten things I learned on my holiday.

1. Holiday houses that are advertised as 'complete with everything' are never complete with sharp knives. There will be a knife. Which will be blunt. And you will cut your hand off attempting to slice onions with it.

2. Holiday houses that show ocean views on their websites will have ocean views... filtered through a stand of trees. This is excellent for bird watchers. Of course, the house next door to yours will enjoy uninterrupted, panoramic views of rolling waves and endless sands (see image, shot from out the front of the house next door...).

3. Other People always seem better prepared for holidays than you are. No matter how prepared you are. They will arrive earlier, settle in better, have wetsuits for water slides when it's 17 degrees celsius, have boogie boards, skate boards, scooters, bicycles, surfboards, ski boards, the right shoes, the right board shorts, the right everything. You will forget the ball. The Jenga. The binoculars. The [insert everything else you remember once you're an hour from home].

4. Other People are prepared to queue for hours to go on a Toboggan slide. Bad parents like you will suggest an ice cream and a game of Putt Putt instead.

5. You will play Putt Putt golf. Even if you never, ever play Putt Putt golf, or consider it, at any other time, you will play Putt Putt golf on holidays. And it will be fun. Note: beware mentioning the words 'Whip your butt' to your spouse before realising that any Putt Putt skills you may once have had were left behind with your 10-year-old self.

6. You will sit through a children's movie. As the entire theatre squirms, and wriggles, and crunches, and crackles, and whispers, and giggles, and snorts, and wiggles in the darkness around you, you will strain your ears to catch the storyline to whichever Holiday Blockbuster has been dumped in theatres. It will be Smurftastic.

7. It takes longer to get there than to get home. Whether you are driving to your destination, or riding your bike behind a seven-year-old three-quarters of the way through a 10km bike ride. This may or may not be because it's downhill on the way home. If you are four, you will not care how far it is in either direction because you will sit in your car seat or coast on your Tagalong bike without a care in the world.

8. You will swim. It may be below freezing, it may be raining, it may be on the verge of snowing, but if you have small children and there is a pool, you will swim.

9. The sun always comes out as you're packing the car to go home. Murphy's Law. Even if it's rained all week (which, I hasten to add, it did not), the sun will blaze in all it's shiny, golden glory when it's time to go home.

10. You will have fun. So much fun. And come home relaxed, recharged and ready to slog through until the next holiday.

So that's my effort. I look forward to comparing it with Mr7's work tomorrow. I suspect his will focus on the $8 bow and arrow set that he bought from the local $2 shop on our holiday and which won his heart to the exclusion of all else. His teachers will note that Other People had better holidays.

What would you add to my list? Tell me what you know about family holidays.

[image: the almost view from our bungalow at Merimbula Beach Caravan Park]

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fibro Q&A: The keys to surviving (and thriving) as an author

Writing is a lonely business. You spend a lot of time on your own, with your thoughts, and your insecurities. For this reason, every fledgling novelist needs friends. Good friends. Friends who understand what you're trying to say when you send them an email that simply says 'sigh'. Friends who will talk you down from the ceiling when you're waiting, and waiting, and waiting to hear back about a manuscript. I am lucky to have several such friends, one of whom is novelist, author and all-round good egg Allison Rushby.

Allison and I were brought together by an RWA Conference and the fact that we both have two Ls in our name. This kind of stuff is important. She is the author of nine books, both women's fiction and Young Adult, and has recently released a Kindle book called Die, Yummy Mummy, Die, which is a compilation of the very funny columns about motherhood that she used to write for Brisbane's Courier Mail newspaper.

I decided it was the perfect time to invite her to the Fibro to discuss the keys to surviving (and thriving) as an author in these tumultuous publishing times.

Given your long (and varied) experience in traditional publishing, are you excited by digital publishing or worried?
Allison Rushby: "A little bit of both, I think. It's very difficult at this point to see how publishing will be operating ten years from now, so this is worrying. The exciting part, however, is the knowledge that it's only going to become easier to reach more readers in all kinds of territories. The digital distribution of books will make a huge impact in Australia, in particular, I think. Distribution has always been an issue for us as our country is so large, but with a relatively small population for that size. Digital distribution will revolutionise publishing in Australia, but how this will work for booksellers, publishers, authors and agents right now is difficult to say."

You've chosen to put out your own Kindle book - why did you choose to go that route rather than bring it out through a publishing house?
AR: "Choosing to release Die, Yummy Mummy, Die straight to Kindle was an easy choice. It wasn't a book that a publisher would really be able to publish, for a start. It's a compilation of 20 of my favourite Desperate Housewife columns, which used to appear in Queensland's Courier Mail newspaper. I wasn't really interested in publishing more than 20 columns, as I wanted to stick to my, and my readers', absolute favourites. Even though the column ended some time ago, I'm still asked about it quite a lot and every so often a mum will come up to me in the supermarket, or a car park, and say something like, 'I'm a bad mum, too!'. I love that (I think) and so this is a book just for them."

What do you think are the keys for authors to survive/thrive in the current publishing climate?
AR: "Probably versatility and being open to change. I've had to try my hand at different genres over the years to stay afloat, especially because this is my fulltime job and I need to keep working. When opportunities come up, I tend to grab them. For example, just last week I pitched a six-episode young adult e-serial through my agent to a publisher who was looking for something Downton Abbey-esque. I think there's a perception that successful authors write one book every one or two years and that's it. But the reality is very different for most fulltime authors. Pretty much every author I know has a sideline in writing for different areas, or teaching others to write, etc."

How do you see yourself focussing your efforts in the future?
AR: "I'm currently writing a travel memoir and I have to admit that I just adore writing non-fiction. It's an area in which I'd like to write more. However, I also really enjoy writing Young Adult fiction. While I started out in women's fiction, I think my voice lends itself more to the YA genre. I have a YA book out in February next year in the USA and have also written another one that will hopefully follow close behind. I had a ball writing the first 5000 words of the Downton Abbey-esque e-serial, so while I love the non-fiction, I think I'll have to find a way to keep writing in all kinds of different areas (finally having both my kids in school is certainly helping).

Your top three tips for writers hoping to be published in fiction?
AR: "1. Simply start writing. This may sound obvious, but so many people think they need to find a large block of time, the perfect writing space, or the most original, amazing idea ever before they start writing. None of these things are true. All you need is a computer and your backside on a chair (you don't even need a computer - a piece of paper and the stub of a pencil will do!).

2. Keep writing. Another obvious one, but sometimes the obvious eludes us in creative endeavours, it seems! Writing fiction is a skill and, like any skill, the more you practise, the better you get. Think of your first manuscript as an apprenticeship. It's only a learning tool. Once you finish that first manuscript, write another one. I see so many writers pause for more than a few years trying to sell that first manuscript, instead of moving on to writing the next one. If they end up selling that first one, that's a fantastic bonus (and there's another waiting to be published right behind it!). But don't waste any time between manuscripts. Keep going.

3. Write what you like to read. I see a lot of writers setting out to try and write what's hot. But by the time you've written your vampire/wizard novel, the trend is well over. What you love reading is a really good indication of what you'll probably be good at, and enjoy, writing."

You can buy Die, Yummy Mummy, Die here. Allison blogs at Keep Calm and Carry Vegemite about her adventures as a newly minted expat in England, and you can find out more about her Young Adult fiction (including the new releases) here.
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