Category: blog (Page 1 of 3)

Why I like writing about books

I became addicted to books before I could even read, and I love to share that addiction by talking or writing about them. The act of picking up a book and disappearing into the story is a daily component of my life, silently dictating choices I have made from childhood til today.

I grow every time I read a book, even those judged as badly written. I am always drawn deeply inside the covers, physically, emotionally and psychologically. The world around me disappears and I emerge after the final page a slightly different person. I experience books as if I am sitting beside a stranger having coffee somewhere, and they are sharing something they have discovered, or a dream had.  I experience reading as being on another plane from where I am physically located in the world.

This alone however is not a reason to love writing about books. It is just where that story started.

Apart from that unjudging reading of books back-to-back since primary school days my academic credentials are a degree in English Literature, followed by Postgraduate Diplomas in Librarianship and years later in Professional Writing. Each decision was made independently of the one preceding yet, in retrospect, were a pathway guiding and shaping the undisciplined reader in me.

I had mixed feelings about my English Literature degree. On the plus side, I had access to fabulous reading lists, and a wonderful library. The tutorials and lectures introduced me to others, lecturers, tutors and fellow students, who shared my addiction to literature. 

I learnt terms and concepts that perfectly encapsulated things I ‘knew’ already but had not had words for; I love for example the concept of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ (believing in dragons) as much as ‘enjambment’, an acceptable literary strategy to carry an incomplete line of poetry into the next to maintain a rhyming pattern or show a pause.

However I had a problem with the Leavesite method of literary criticism beloved by the Department, requiring a detailed dissection of text and an analytic approach that was purely objective. That didn’t seem to recognize the unique contribution of the author, body and soul. I toed the line but felt conscious of that silenced voice behind the words I dissected.

It also left out the reader who would bring their own interpretations – naturally enough, as an academic approach requires leaving out any response even remotely subjective to a work. That’s a defining factor of academic work and must be respected as such, however it always felt like my thinking was being boxed into a place; my own thoughts about what and how I read did not fit.

I am always aware of the disembodied author behind the text, their words, ‘speak’ to me, factual or fictional. During my degree I read from the recommended critique lists but also studied works that were biographical: grass roots material like letters, diaries, essays and portraits so I could see their faces and how they lived.

In my final year special project, I chose for my theme how Thomas Hardy’s depiction of landscape changed over Tess of the d’Urbevilles, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Jude the Obscure. Feeling a bit nervous about what the reaction would be I sought out his personal writings to find the man himself, sourcing material in a diary and collections of letters where he wrote about his aims and approaches as he worked on all his books.

I used other works of literary analysis and examined Hardy’s stated intentions in his letters and how they appeared in each novel. I also quoted Hardy’s voice from the letters whenever I found a clearly expressed correlation between what he was aiming at and how it was expressed in different degrees of richness and complexity in each of the three works. 

I presented the completed work to my tutorial group and tutor, defending my approach. The outcome was overwhelmingly positive; my tutor thought it was publishable, and offered me an invitation into the Honours stream.

This acceptance of my choosing to put the author first as a valid strategy in literary analysis gave me confidence in my own thoughts.

On completing my degree, free to read whatever I liked, I discovered I could no longer read my beloved sci-fi without Leavis dragging me back to reality. Dystopian societies, complex alien societies, robots and cyborgs, something knocking on the outside of spaceships light years from earth – all suddenly appeared two-dimensional. Thankfully nonstop reading science fiction for two years fixed that.

I didn’t lose all I had learnt during my degree, especially retaining the ability to enjoy beautifully constructed sentences and see the scaffolding beneath and ways of writing that I would have missed otherwise – from the ‘no grammar’ of e e cummings to William Faulkner’s unsettling prose and the density of Herbert Melville’s Moby Dick. I battled through many of them; reading Moby Dick was rereading dense sentences over and over for pages then turning a page and suddenly getting it, surrounded by sea gulls and cold salt air and a leviathan of heart-stopping immensity. This made me think more about how I am affected by what I read, how other readers might respond to different writing styles, and how writers accomplish what they do.

 Studying a post-graduate diploma in Librarianship gave me an insider view of that most democratic and generous of human institutions, the public library system.  I learned the most important thing was how to give readers what they want, and not what I thought they should want. I learnt this in the interview for my first library job with a special library for the blind and print handicapped where I was told my studying classics worked against me as my degree branded me as someone whose knowledge of books was limited and unsuitable; I told them about my science fiction addiction and that got me the job!

Degree and day job sorted, I fitted my love of reading and writing in between work, raising children, and earning enough to keep body and soul together. Familiar with the value of a disciplined approach, and still writing, I enrolled in the Postgraduate Diploma in Professional Writing at Canberra University. Like the English degree, I gained fresh insights but stayed true to writer me; what I wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it, did not get lost in what I learned there.

All this feeds how I write about books. I think about the authors themselves, where they come from and who they are. I listen to their voice. I think about what sorts of readers choose what sorts of books, and also what publishers add to get writers’ words to those readers. I work on identifying my subjective versus objective responses to a book, including to works shared by fellow writers in my local writing group. And I try to make my words sing.

by Rhonda Cotsell

Something Overhead

by Roland Renyi

Winner of the 2022 Pamela Miller Prize

Coffee in hand, Richard climbed up to his and Ruth’s bedroom in time for the weekly web team meeting that he chaired. He could feel the stillness of the house now that Ruth and the kids had gone for the day.

Across from the open bedroom window a skylark was trilling and coming from overhead was the almost continuous sound of the planes on their approach to the airport. They made him think of Danylo and whatever might be in the skies above him.

He looked at his monitor, strategically placed so that their bed was out of view, and sipped his coffee. He and Ruth had bought a Krups coffee maker right after the kitchen units had been put in, a funky one that actually hissed as the steam escaped. Now they had temporarily run out of money to finish off the kitchen floor. But if he was going to work from home, he was going to drink good coffee.

Brita called in just ahead of time. Sometimes he could hear church bells from the square outside her apartment in Verona.  ‘Richard,’ she said in a scolding voice, her Italian accent emphasising the second half of his name, ‘I told you not to cut your hair like that. I can’t believe that Ruth would find that sexy.’

‘Lockdown’ said Richard protectively. ‘I got used to cutting it myself. And we’re budgeting. The kitchen floor, remember.’

George’s round face popped up from his shared house in Kelowna, British Columbia. He had once told Richard that his window looked across a lake towards sloping vines. Consequently, Richard had put him under orders to place his laptop opposite a blank wall.

‘Danylo?’ asked Brita.

They had all been following the news, but Danylo’s one condition for remaining on the project team was that it was not to be discussed.

‘We’ll give him another minute’ said Richard. ‘So. Cucumber or strawberries? Aside from lemon. Which goes better with gin and tonic?’

The consensus so far was that cucumber was better with Kendricks while strawberry worked with Gordons.

Richard exhaled when he heard the ping of Danylo’s login. He looked just the same, with his pointed beard, square glasses and shaved head, a typical web designer. He was calling from what looked like a high-tech designer office, recessed lights, potted plants and abstract paintings on the wall. A bottle of Kendricks was on the shelf behind him, next to a bowl filled with limes, cucumber and strawberries.

Then with a jolt Richard realised the obvious, that the background was completely fake; a digital dream constructed by their Ukranian colleague Danylo, who had never missed a call.

‘Sorry to be late’ he said. ‘There was something…’ then Richard heard the tremor in his voice ‘…There was something overhead. But we have internet. And it’s cucumber, guys. Always cucumber.’

‘Well, that’s great – really, Danylo’ said Richard. ‘Now, there’s a problem with the functionality of table 17. Shall we start with that?’

The quest for the exquisite sentence

Image shows a drawing of the type known as 'exquisite corpse'

You know one when you read it. The moment when you are forced to stop scanning words in order to just sit and digest the beauty of the sentence you have just read. Not long ago, I attended Emily Bitto’s course ‘Exquisite Sentences’ at Writers Victoria. Emily Bitto is an acclaimed author, and I love the fact that through Writers Victoria you can be one of only a handful of people sitting with, and learning from, authors of such a calibre!

 Emily was a warm and approachable speaker, who provided nuggets of wisdom throughout the whole afternoon. She provided unique writing activities and drills to encourage playfulness in our writing. Creating exquisite sentences is often a role of editing; for example, reading carefully for clichés which she stated are the enemy of original, exquisite sentences. When I got home and reflected on cliché, I found my writing was overflowing with them, they were a dime-a-dozen, in fact they were packed like sardines into the manuscript (clearly, I have a penchant for clichés and puns!) But it was a useful discussion to have in mind as I embarked on the editing of my latest work.

Emily also focused heavily on the importance of verbs in our writing. Often overlooked, an interesting verb can bring a spark to your sentence and elevate it to exquisite. We practised strange combinations of verbs and nouns. I had a crow which slaughtered the quiet of the morning and a river which hauled itself through the land. Approaching writing with a sense of fun and experimentation was part of the appeal, as often I find myself getting bogged down with ‘serious’ writing. It was also an easy pick-up, as I edited, to find verbs which I could strengthen throughout each of the chapters.

I encourage you to look through the wide range of courses on offer with Writers Victoria. Some are offered online, which is convenient for regional and rural writers, but the experience of sitting in a room with other writers is almost as valuable as the course itself! I’ve always been a strong reader, but since working with Emily, I’ve taken to reading and enjoying more poetry, which allows me to feel the rhythm of words more clearly. I’m revelling in their pleasure once again.

Things to do to encourage more exquisite sentences:

  • Expand your vocabulary and collect words
  • Read constantly and widely
  • Read poetry
  • Write more (every day!)
  • Spend time writing to experiment and play, rather than for completing a ‘project’.
  • Recognise and cultivate your own unique way of looking at the world—your most valuable tool as a writer.

by Nicole Kelly, BWI member

Image: Exquisite Corpse (1938) André Breton, Jacqueline Lamba, Yves Tanguy 

The Rejection Connection: a writing project for 2021

By Rebecca Fletcher

In 2021, I’m aiming for 100 rejections. You read that right. Not submissions, not publications: rejections. Telling people this has earned me some strange looks, so I want to discuss why I’m doing it, and why I think you should as well.

The big question is: why aren’t you going for publication? And basically I am, but I can’t force anyone to publish me, so all I can do is give it a good hockey try by writing, polishing and submitting. If they actually publish the thing, then that’s a ‘failed rejection’ and I’ll have to find somewhere else to be rejected.

So first and foremost, this isn’t my idea. The blog post I read it on was shared with me by a fellow Ballarat Writer who thought I should go for it. And after thinking about it for a few years, I’m going for it, and I want you to join in. Here’s why:

1. It forces you to write

There are lots of ways to go for 100 rejections. You can write one thing and submit it 100 places. You might write 25 things (around one every two weeks over the year) and submit them to four places each. Now you could be lazy and write one thing, send it to 100 places at once and call it done, but ask yourself what that proved?

The only real downside is that if you get a failed rejection and they publish the darn thing, you’ll have to write something else. What a problem to have.

2. It makes rejection into a positive thing

Even if you don’t care that much about something you write, rejection hurts. Because it feels like what you’ve written isn’t good enough, or that they didn’t like it. You know what? That might even be the case. But after being part of the creative editorial team for Antithesis in 2020, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes your piece was good enough but there was another piece on the same thing that they liked more. Sometimes you were the one extra poem they couldn’t fit in. Sometimes your piece just needed a little more work than the others. That’s okay.

The point is, stop thinking about it as a negative thing. Now, instead of stomping around the house ranting about how they wouldn’t know good work if it jumped up and bit them on the turnip, you can say ‘Great. Ninety-nine left to go’.

3. It encourages you to put yourself out there

You might still be at a stage where you’re writing for yourself and don’t want to share your writing with the world. That’s okay as well! But for those who are starting to feel a little braver, it can be a good way to start sharing your ideas and work with the world. It’s easy to get stuck in a bit of a rut with a local writers group (even if they are amazing!) and your critique group/writer friends. Spread your wings a little and see what’s out there.

4. You’ll read different things

Lots of people want to write but they don’t want to read things that other people have written. However, if you want to get a good idea of whether a journal or a publication is a good fit for you, you’re going to need to read the kinds of things that they publish (or don’t, but you’ll probably rack up those rejections a little sooner than you wanted). Maybe Vampire Trains is your favourite magazine, but they’re not going to publish your poem on turnips, no matter how good it is (unless the turnip is on a vampire train, maybe).

And, of course, reading different things fuels your imagination and will make you be a little more adventurous. Not to mention that by seeing the kinds of work that are being published, you’ll get a better feel for what might or might not be working in your writing as well.

5. You have a SMART goal

I’m not going to bore you all with the particulars of SMART goals, but 100 rejections is definitely one of those. It’s a concrete goal where you can measure your progress quantitatively and there’s a deadline to have it done by. Goals like ‘work more on my novel’ or ‘get better at writing’ feel good to say but don’t really give you anywhere to aim. One hundred rejections, on the other hand, is something that you can keep track of in a journal. You’ll be able to update anyone who asks in no time at all.

6. It doesn’t have to be about writing

Maybe writing is a fun thing for you and you don’t want to stress yourself out with rejections. That’s okay! But there are lots of ways you can still put yourself out there. You could write out job applications, you could submit applications for writing residencies, or, as one friend suggested, reject 100 people on the dating app of your choice. The point is to give yourself a reason to try something that you might usually talk yourself out of doing.

So why do you all care about my goal for 2021? You probably don’t, but I care about yours and I want to invite you to join me. I want you to aim for 100 rejections, with whatever focus you’d like. And I think that if there are enough of us (there are few of us at Write Club doing it already), we should find a way to keep in touch, share our progress, share opportunities and keep each other motivated.  I’ll be posting updates throughout the year with rejections and failed rejections, if people want to follow along. If you’re keen, drop me a line at chairperson AT and we’ll work it out. And hey, if no one emails me, then I guess that can be rejection one of 100 — just 99 to go!

Ballarat Writers Inc. chairperson Rebecca Fletcher is a Ballarat-based writer who has recently escaped the tertiary education system. Wondering about her odds of getting published? You’re not alone. You can read more of her writing (well, her blogs and her failed rejections, anyway) at

A Treasure Trove in Lockdown

By Nicole Kelly

Living in rural Victoria can be blissful, with summer sunsets and birds chattering in the bush, but as a writer it can sometimes feel a little lonely. This is why groups like Ballarat Writers are so important. The newsletter that arrives regularly in my inbox reminds me that I’m not the only one out here, scribbling away on my next work in progress.

Usually, each year I make the quick trip to ‘the big smoke’ to refill my creative engine – perhaps with a course from Writers Victoria or to visit the State Library of Victoria to research or just breathe in the books! If you haven’t stood under the dome at the State Library, it has to be put onto your to-do list—it’s spectacular. Sadly, though, 2020 has not been the year for travelling, which has made the isolation feel even greater.

In a stroke of luck though, many hours of my lockdown this year have been spent putting the finishing touches on my debut novel, Lament, due to be released with Hawkeye Publishing in October 2020. It is a historical fiction novel, set in 1880s Australia, and reimagines what would have become of Ned Kelly and his gang if the doomed plot to take down a police train had been a success. The story of Lament is woven around real events that occurred in our local area – Ballarat and Burrumbeet at the end of 1880.

Lament by Nicole Kelly

Late last year I entered my manuscript in the Hawkeye Books Manuscript Development Prize and was thrilled to be shortlisted. While disappointed not to win, I was later offered a publishing contract and have worked closely with Carolyn Martinez to polish my words into a book. An incredible thrill for someone who has had a life-long passion for words! 2020 sees Hawkeye Books running its Manuscript Development Prize again (closing 18 December), so it might be worthwhile checking it out if you have a manuscript gem sitting in the bottom drawer!

Lament has taken a little over six years to research and write. Being a historical fiction novel, woven around real events, the research took up a large part of this time. Finding resources on the internet can be problematic. Are they useful? Are they reliable?

Without doubt, the research I have enjoyed most has been the many, many hours exploring the Trove website. If you are unfamiliar with Trove, it’s an online database of books, pictures, gazettes, photographs, interviews and newspapers run by the National Library of Australia. If you want to read a primary source about the hanging of Ned Kelly, Trove is the place to go. Aptly named, it really is a treasure trove for writers, historians and the plain curious. Much like the State Library of Victoria, heading to the Trove website is a must-do for writers.

It is the perfect place to hunt around when you are stuck for inspiration. Choose a date and a paper and settle in for a read. Ideas are sure to abound, because truth really is stranger than fiction! During my own research, I was able to read the words that came from the mouth of Ned Kelly and Judge Barry at his trial, and the words of Aaron Sherritt’s wife after the murder of her husband, from 140 years ago. Having a resource like this at my fingertips made me feel connected even in this year of distance and helps we writers living in rural and regional Victoria from being further disadvantaged.

I’ve always felt putting words out into the world can be intimidating as a writer, revealing yourself to friends, family and people you’ve never even met. It turns out that releasing a novel is no different! However, what I do realise is what an incredible privilege it is to send my book into the ‘wild’, knowing it is a story that I have loved writing and crafting.

Lament is released in October 2020. Visit to pre-order your copy or you can visit to contact me. Otherwise follow me on Twitter @ruralvicwriter

Kiran Bhat’s advice for writers

Why is it that we choose to write? For almost all of us, there would be a different answer to this question, though I would say for most of us, it stems from this almost unquenchable and indefatigable urge to have something deep inside of us heard. What does that even mean? Just because we believe we have something to say doesn’t mean that someone else will feel the same way. And are we writing things that are truly, earth-shatteringly important? Is it important because we are tapping into something that goes beyond us, or is it important only because the walls in our ego-chamber lead us to believe so?

I don’t want to say that I write important things. I know that I write, and I know that I write with a certain belief as to what I want my work to do. I’ve lived a life of travel for over a decade now, because I really wanted to connect to the various cultures of  the world which weren’t mine, to the fullest extent a foreigner or  a no-nothing could. And from that life, and from the books I wrote from that space, I will say this:

Learn to humble yourself. It’s the hardest thing to do. Life is hard on the artist. We’re born with a different way of seeing the world, and society isn’t kind to such people. So, rather than developing a thick skin, we develop a lot of excuses in our head as to why the world has damned us, and we grow rancorous, and easily triggered. You need not be the victim all the time. And when people are telling us something, it’s for a reason. For thousands of years, artists on all corners of the Earth have been creating works of timeless art. While we believe in the deepest parts of our hearts that we have what it takes to rival them, there’s a more likely chance than not that your writing isn’t going to be that good.

And that’s okay. It’s okay to be a work in progress. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay not to write well, and it’s okay to do the best you can do. You only live in your head, you only live the life you have been given, so do your best with that, whatever that means.

Listen as well as you can. This is on the harder side. Our egos train us to listen to some things and not to others. The truth is that we can learn from anyone and everyone, and we should be willing to take things into ourselves that might hurt us, but also help our minds improve.

Yet, learn what you should listen to, and what you shouldn’t. There are a lot of things that people say that will just lead you further down the rabbit hole of negativity and wear at your self-esteem or sense of self. Learn how to learn from others, but also learn what is worth learning.

Finally, read widely, but experience wildly. There is a reason why in my mother tongue we have the adage ‘desha nodu kosha odu’ (or, ‘see the world, read dictionaries’). As much as it is important to be in conversation with the greatest of artists and their work, it’s also important that you are connected to the events that are happening in the world, and that you are responding to things people can relate to. The more that you learn to connect yourself to others, the more likely you are able to create characters that are outside of yourself and have tendencies and mentalities of their own.

And the more that you connect with others, the more likely that you will find yourself belonging a little bit more than you believed you could, and from that will come peace, stability, and self-discovery.

Kiran Bhat is an Indian-American polyglot, traveller and writer. He has been to 132 countries, has lived in 19 pockets of the planet and picked up 12 languages.  He is the author of the Spanish-language poetry collection Autobiografia (Letrame Editorial, 2019) and the Mandarin-language poetry collection Kiran Speaks (White Elephant Press, 2019), as well as the Portuguese-language story collection Afora, Adentro (Editorial Labrador, 2020) and the  Kannada-language travelogue Tirugaatha (Chiranthana Media Solutions, 2019). In 2020 he published the English-language story cycle we of the forsaken world… (Iguana Books). Find him online at

Online, (mostly) Australian Writing Resources

Hello all! As Australian writers, we are often quite isolated, some of us in more than one way. We are not only isolated from other English-speaking countries, but many of us are also isolated from larger population centres. This means it’s often hard for us to connect on a deeper level with each other.

The purpose of this month’s (September, 2019) blog post is to provide a living list of useful, online Australian writing resources that give before asking (i.e. they don’t make you pay money before giving you anything). If you have anything you think should be added to this list, please do contact us at (publicity) (without the brackets) at this domain name, and we’ll be happy to consider your suggestion!

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Kirstyn McDermott on Critique Groups and Workshopping

Kirstyn McDermott hosts Words Out Loud at the Printers Room monthly, teaches at Federation University, has been writing for upwards of 15 years and attends a Melbourne critique group meeting once a month. She’s a regular presence at our members’ nights, and was kind enough to share her experience and expertise this May.

She opened by saying that writers are not sole geniuses and they do not work alone. She shared a quote from Terry Tempest Williams — “I write in a solitude born out of community.”

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Revision and Regret

Robert A. Heinlein was so famous and well-respected in science fiction circles that he became like Albert Einstein or Noam Chomsky and was asked for his opinion on everything. Some of those opinions were about writing, which is why I’ve brought the subject up here. He said, ‘Never revise, except to editorial demand’. Jack Kerouac was also famous for saying, ‘First thought, best thought’, but while he might have famously written everything out on one spool of paper without interruptions, he was a planning maniac. His notebooks are crammed with very detailed information about what he was going to write once he sat down in front of the typewriter and paper roll and began to pound on the keys.

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