On not writing reviews

Twice in the past month I’ve heard writers criticise reviewers for not writing proper reviews. “Some reviewers take a book and use it as a launching pad to write whatever they want,” one complained over lunch.

I kept my mouth shut.

A day or so later, someone emailed me with a list of questions about the current state of on- and off-line reviewing. As I thought about what to answer, I realised one of the aspects I enjoy most about writing reviews online is the freedom to write what I want about a book. I like to write reflections, discussions, musings – and I like to read them, too. I like it when a reviewer gets personal, when s/he admits to feeling provoked, challenged, crushed and remade by a book. Or awed. Or speechless. Or bored.

But are such pieces reviews?

This question has been bugging me, and might account for why I’ve been reading far more than I’ve been posting reviews lately (or writing). The truth is, I’m not sure I want to write “reviews”. Instead, I want to share my experience. I want to give you a glimpse of how I’ve allowed some books to nest inside me, to brood until something cracks, until I feel a stab that tells me: yes, this book has life; this book will take flight in words, inspired-by-this-author musings – or fall, silent.

Whether others catch a glimpse of those words once they’re out and away, whether my impressions flash bright and beautiful, flicker in the shadows or hide invisible, doesn’t matter. The book lives on because it’s helped make me who I am.

So forgive my silence while words brood.

In the meantime, here are some of the books nesting inside me (a few have been there a while):

Do you have books with wings?

Photo by Rodney Weidland (used with permission)

Photo by Rodney Weidland (used with permission)


While we were in the mountains on the weekend, my neighbour rang to say we had a visitor hanging around our entrance – literally: an 8-foot python was draped around the pergola. She thought we might be away so, just in case, she roped off our path with a sign saying, “Warning: snake ahead.”

Later she saw it climb up a palm tree and onto our roof.

Last night, when we returned home, we had a nervous few minutes making our way to the door, imagining every wind-rustled branch and vine to be the python swinging down to greet us. With still no sign of it this morning, I’m wondering if it might have slithered into the roof cavity and scared off the pesky possum who keeps peeing through the ceiling.

I’m not sure which lodger I’d prefer: at least the snake would make less noise and keep the native rats and bandicoots away.

Here’s a photo our neighbour sent us – taken on Saturday from her balcony, looking down at our roof.

Where did it go from here?

Dream of being a writer? Try the Power of Positive Acting

A friend posted a link today to an article on the paradoxes of positive thinking.

“…when we focus solely on imagining the future of our dreams, our minds enjoy and indulge in those images as if they are real.  They might be reachable, realistic dreams or impossible, unrealistic ones, but none of that matters because we don’t bother to think about the odds of getting there or the hurdles that will have to be overcome.  We’re too busy enjoying the fantasy.” (Source)

It got me thinking, as usual. I’m a fantasist. Always have been.

In primary school, our class went on a holiday to a farm at Bullaburra in the Blue Mountains (just down the road from where I live now). I was in the naughty group who stayed up late listening to each other tell ghosts stories round the campfire. You know the stories. Like the one about the girl who hears stomping on the roof when her boyfriend disappears at a gas station (gas, not petrol, note) and then a voice telling her to run and not look back…

When my turn came I told the one about the headless motorbike rider, the guy who was decapitated when a sheet of metal slid off a truck trailer and caught him in the neck. I loved that story. One of my older brothers had told it to me one time when we were camping at Scotland Island and it had seemed so real, so vivid in my imagination, I knew it had to be true. Trouble was, as I told it, I also visualised it. Visualised so hard, I could see it. See it as clearly as if that headless guy was riding across the misty, dark paddock. Stumped neck bleeding, fists frozen to the handlebars, bike engine rumbling. Out there, coming towards us…

The problem was, I spooked myself. My words stuck in my throat; I went white as a sheet. Without telling anyone what was wrong, I was suddenly running across that paddock in the dew-damp grass, and crashing into the house, an eleven-year-old blubbering mess. Virginia Point’s poor dad who’d invited us to the farm freaked, called out to the helper mothers who looked on helplessly. I never recovered. I had to go back home early. For years, passing through Bullaburra gave me chills. Seriously. If you’ve ever been there, you’ll back me up: the place is creepy.

So, what am I getting at?

I can imagine things. Vividly. And for 20 years, I’ve imagined myself being a writer. Oh, I’ve done more than imagine. I’ve sat down at the computer and tapped out a million words. I’ve even submitted to competitions, imagining all my effort one day would lead to publication. One day.

Meanwhile, writing buddies started getting agents, contracts, release dates, invitations to speak at conferences, mega-buck advances, galley proofs (whatever they are), and review copies, and I let that all wash over me. I’m patient, right? And I was busy visualising my success, so it had to come to me. Problem was, I rarely, almost never submitted anything.

But this year, my strategy changed. My New Year’s resolution was to stop writing and start publishing. It was a good resolution, as resolution goes. Except for one, tiny thing. Yep, you guessed it. I still had to do something.

Let me paint a picture for you. All those stories I’d written over the years, the ones that had bravely travelled from my brain to the computer, had got stuck there. Stuck in a traffic jam bigger than that made by ants in the kitchen when they find Rodney’s homemade marmelade. Stuck in that delicious sweetness of possibility, of imagining, an ambrosia untainted by failure because none of them had ever been out there, never had the slightest chance of getting rejected. Always, there’s that sweet, sweet dream. One day they’d be published, right?

The problem was, it wasn’t up to them to do it. They weren’t about to leap out of the computer and make it happen. That tedious job was for someone else. Someone like – surely not? – their creator, the imaginer, the fantasist…(gulp)… me.

So, what exactly was needed? A good cold dose of pessimism. At some point, the cold shock finally hit me that nobody was going to publish my stories if I didn’t get them out there. I. Had. To. Act.

Easy, huh? So why has it taken me 20 years?

Then, yesterday, a week after I finally got off my imagination and jettisoned a bunch of stories into cyberspace, I received this in my Inbox:

“Just a note to let you know that your submission has passed its initial reading, and we are now considering it for inclusion in Andromeda Spaceways.”

Whoo-hoo! What a thrill. I updated my status on Facebook and my writing buddies cheered. I’d finally received an acknowledgement. Not a sale. Not even a Better Quality Rejection Letter (one of my previous year’s aims). A consideration. My story was through to a second round. It has a *chance* of publication.

Yet, when the fuss died down (and there was a fuss, thank you, buddies) I was left feeling just a little bit foolish.

Somehow the rest of that saying about positive thinking had escaped me. The part that said it has to be followed up by positive acting. How come I never heard before?

So, little story, as you venture out into the second round, if those editors don’t like you, I won’t forget and let you languish. I’ll send you off on another journey into publication land. Again and again, if necessary, till you find a home.


Here’s a photo of my writers group a few years ago. From left to right are Isolde Martyn (multi-award winner, including Rita award), Anna Campbell (multi-award winner), Caroll Casey (published in short fiction), multi-published Cathleen Ross, Kandy Shepherd (multi-award winner), Simone (helped edit best seller Marching Powder), Leisa O’Connor and me. Missing are Pan Macmillan author Christine Stinson (probably holding the camera) and Ned Kelly award nominated thriller author Jaye Ford and former members, children’s author Felicity Pulman and award-winner Susan Parisi. Okay so I’m not the only one still unpublished, but almost. But you just watch. That’s all about to change.

  • Goodreads

  • Country Secrets – anthology

  • Snowy River Man – rural romance

  • By Her Side – romantic suspense

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