That’s a wrap…

 

I’ve been in Sydney (for work) for most of this week, so not a huge amount to report. We’ve had rain – buckets of it, gallons even. Ok, perhaps I’m exaggerating a tad, but we did get about 300mm over 3 days – more than 3 times the usual October average. The tanks are full, the lawns are green, and things are all still a tad soggy. We needed it but.

What I’ve been reading…

 

The Word is Murder, by Anthony Horowitz. You know how much I love Midsomer Murders, well, Anthony Horowitz was the one who adapted the series from the books by Caroline Graham. he’s also responsible for Foyle’s War – which I also love. Why wouldn’t I be into his books?

I picked up The Word Is Murder at the airport the other day and was unusually grateful for the inevitable delay that rain brings to Jetstar flights out of Sunshine Coast airport. As an aside this is because there are no air bridges and people seem incapable of walking in rain in a purposeful manner. Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen? Your hair gets curly?

Anyways, this is essentially the story of a reluctant author named Anthony who happens to have written Foyle’s War and Alex Rider, and some Sherlock Holmes, who gets dragged into a murder mystery with an unlikeable detective he met on the set of another of his creations Injustice.

It was all so realistic I found myself googling the names of the murder victims. Aside from the story – which is very cozy crime, something else I adore – I loved how he laughed at himself and the life of the successful writer throughout. Without giving any spoiler alerts, there’s a particularly farcical scene involving a script meeting with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. The reviews I read haven’t been great, but what do they know? I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What I’ve blogged…

I’m updating some of my older Bali posts from and anyways for this website. So far I’ve posted why I’m so hooked on Bali and a recipe for Bumbu Bali. I also posted a training plan for nanowrimo and managed to get a newsletter out. If you want the recipe for Dragon Wings with Avocado Dip that I included in the newsletter, you’ll find it here.

Over on the Sunny Coast site I popped up posts on the new kid on the Mooloolaba block, Central Beach Club, and something on a seriously luxe bar under the Spirit House wing, Hong Sa.

What I wrote…

Not much, I’m in copy edit mode!

What I scheduled…

Baby, It’s You and Wish You Were Here will be available on iBooks from October 25. I’ll pop the links in next weeks wrap. Of course, all 3 books are already available on Amazon… If you’re interested, and of course you are, you’ll find the links in the top menu bar.

What I decided on…

My cover for I Want You Back, and some new logo designs. Below is a screenshot of the cover – I’m yet to receive the jpeg, but you get the idea.

What I started planning…

And I’m using the word planning extremely loosely…my novel for nanowrimo. I have an idea that I’d like to take 30 days and 50,000 words to explore. It’s about grown-up issues with grown-up characters and is sort of what happens after the happy ever after – what happens after bin night, I guess.  I have no idea whether it has legs yet, but if it doesn’t, I’ll have only wasted a month.

A photo of a flower…just because…

I’m loving jacaranda season and am thrilled there’s one in my front yard, but this lovely lilly that I saw at The Ginger Factory today was screaming out to be photographed…

Ok, that was my week…how was yours?

How to make Bumbu Bali

ingredients at Ubud markets

At the base of any great Balinese dish is a good Basa Gede, or Bumbu Bali. Translated literally, Bumbu means spice, Basa means bases, and Gede means Big. Sometimes you might see it called a Base Genep. However it’s described, it is a complete spice mix that adds big flavours to any dish.

Anyways, the ingredients list in this all purpose bumbu is huge, but it keeps for a few weeks in the fridge and a couple of months in the freezer, so it’s worth making a batch, and popping it away in individual portion sizes of, say, 100g, or thereabouts. I’ve tried to use bought pastes in my nasi goreng or chicken curry, but it just doesn’t taste the same.

Besides, there’s not a lot that’s more therapeutic than popping on some loud music, pouring a glass of wine, and smashing down pastes in a mortar and pestle. Just saying.

A general rule of thumb is that you need around 25g bumbu for each 100g of protein, but don’t get too hung up on that. If you’re making a chicken curry, for example, and are using 4 chicken thighs, just dollop on paste equivalent to one of them. Too easy.

When it comes to a vegetarian dish, or a nasi goreng, use less, adding little by little to taste.

This recipe is a combination of one that we made at a cooking school in Ubud – Bumi Bali – and one that’s in Janet de Neefe’s fabulous Bali: My Island Home.

Ingredients for bumbu bali

What you need

  • 8-10 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 3 long red chillis, seeded and chopped
  • 3 small chillies, seeded and chopped
  • 5cm galangal, peeled and chopped
  • 5cm turmeric, peeled and chopped
  • 5cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 3 stalk lemongrass. Smashed with the back of a knife and chopped roughly
  • 2 salam leaves(or bay or curry leaf)
  • 150ml coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 5 candlenuts
  • 2 teasp black peppercorns
  • 1 teasp white peppercorns
  • 1 pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teasp belacan or shrimp paste. If you’re vegan, you can substitute oyster or mushroom sauce

What you do with it

  • Depending on what sort of day you’ve had, and how much time you have, pound all the ingredients (except the salam and the oil) in a pestle and mortar…or use a blender. I use the nutribullet when I’m feeling lazy. Add water as required to moisten. As an aside, making spice mixes by hand is amazing therapy. Don’t worry too much if it seems too watery- this will cook off.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or heavy pan and add the leaves and cook for a minute or so.
  • Add the spice mix and cook over a high heat, stirring frequently, until the excess water has evaporated and the mix is a rich golden brown colour.

How to make Balinese chicken curry

Using this paste to make a chicken curry couldn’t be easier.

Chop about 750g of chicken thighs into a dice. Do the same with a few potatoes and a couple of carrots. Don’t be too precious about the quantities.

Heat some coconut oil in a large wok or deep saucepan, add your curry paste  and fry over high heat for a minute or so until fragrant. Reduce heat, add a stalk of lemongrass that you’ve bruised with the back of a knife, and a couple of finely shredded lime leaves.

Stir it all together for another minute or so. Add the chicken and your veggies, and stir to make sure the spice paste has coated it all and cook for a couple of minutes each side to get a little colour. Add a cup of chicken stock – maybe more depending on how much chicken you have. Bring to the boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer gently for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are soft. Add a 400ml can of coconut milk and a few squeezes of lime juice and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Notes on the Ingredients

  • Shallots: Sometimes called golden shallots these are milder than normal onions, are a bugger to peel and chop, but an absolute must have in Indonesian cooking.
  • Candlenuts: Here in Australia, it can be tough to source candlenuts. We have a few good Asian grocers around us that we source ours from, but if you have problems getting them, or simply can’t be faffed looking for them, macadamias are a good substitute from a texture viewpoint – although, to me, the taste is more like a cross between a macadamia and brazil.
  • Galangal: One thing we can’t get here is a differentiation between greater and lesser galangal. You see, not all galangals are the same. Both look like ginger root, but are very different in taste. Lesser galangal appears more like young ginger and has a more concentrated flavour. Sometimes the galangal we buy is technically lesser galangal, sometimes it’s very obviously greater galangal. Either way, it’s sold simply as galangal. Most Balinese recipes will use both, but I’ve just simplified it to galangal. If you really can’t find it, substitute ginger, but it is worth seeking out.
  • Turmeric: I get fresh turmeric at the local markets, but used to find it a tad difficult to source when in Sydney. If you don’t use it all, it freezes ok for next time. Another root spice, it looks also a little like ginger in shape, but is bright orange inside. It’s the turmeric that gives the final dish it’s amazing colour. When peeling it, if you don’t wear gloves, it will also give your fingers an amazing colour – as if you’ve been smoking three packs a day for the last fifty years! It has incredible health benefits too, so please make the effort to find the fresh stuff. If you must, substitute with 2 tablespoons turmeric powder.
  • Belacan: is a foul smelling shrimp paste that is absolutely essential in Indonesian cooking. It’s made from fermented shrimp and…you don’t really want to know. We buy it in our local supermarket in pre-roasted sealed portions. Trust me, there’s no personal glory involved in roasting your own.
  • Salam Leaves: You probably won’t find these, so don’t bother driving around town looking for them. Substitute with bay or curry leaves.
  • Coconut Oil:  Coconut Oil has many health benefits (which I won’t go into here), but it also allows frying at a high heat. Any other vegetable oil (other than olive) is a good substitute.

Bali – 5 reasons why I’m hooked

Taman Tirta Gangga

We’ve all seen the reality tv shows and shock current affairs stories about Bali. Usually they’re based on people behaving badly – and all too often it tends to be about a mix of alcohol and stupidity and a disregard for the local customs. Mostly these stories are centred around Australians behaving badly in Kuta. As an aside, not all of Kuta is as it’s depicted in these shows either – but that’s for another post.

Shows like these and behaviour like that leaves an impression about Bali on potential holiday-makers and it leaves an impression on the Balinese about Australians.

But, just like most Australian tourists are unlike those in the reality shows, the real Bali is not like that little pocket of Kuta. The real Bali has a way of creeping in under your skin and before you know it you’ll be planning your next trip.

I first visited the Island of the Gods in March 2011 – and have been another six times since. I love it so much that I’ve (partially) set two books there – Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry.

Why do I keep coming back? I’m glad you asked.

The Culture

It’s everywhere you look and tread.

The daily offerings are the most obvious – the beautiful little palm baskets that are left around shrines, statues, doorways, roadsides, paths, steps…wherever.

Some are elaborate, most are not. Some contain a few petals, maybe some rice, a cigarette, a couple of tiny crackers, an incense stick. There’s something so peaceful and mindful about watching the (mostly) ladies as they carry their baskets of offerings on their heads, and then carefully place them, saying a little prayer as they complete the mini ceremony.

Who are the offerings to? The Gods of course – and there are many. The tributes are designed to both thank and appease. It’s also a sort of proactive if I give you this will you leave me alone and go away type of thing.

These days, as life is busy, this too can be outsourced – well, at least the construction phase can be – as complete offerings may be purchased at local markets.

It’s not just offerings though, religious ceremonies can be seen all throughout Bali on any day at any time with the whole family – from the oldest to the youngest – participating with pride.

One time on a walk through the ricefields in Ubud we followed the faint sound of a bell to a temple in the middle of nowhere and watched the ceremony taking place. Just beautiful.

The scenery

Jatiluwih, Tabanan

Oh my goodness, the scenery. It’s jaw dropping – but you’ll need to venture out of your resort to see it. From the rice terraces at Tegagalang near Ubud, or Jatiluwih near Tabanan to the lush green in the foothills of Gunung Agung in East Bali. And yes, that’s the volcano that’s grunting and groaning at the moment.

Mt Gunung from Bali Asli

You can hire an English speaking driver in an air-conditioned car for between $50-$80 a day, so why wouldn’t you get out and about?

The food

Sure it’s about nasi goreng and satay, but it’s so much more than fried rice and chicken on a stick. There’s the fabulous babi guling, or suckling pig flavoured with spices that taste like the island (and yes, I used that line in Baby, It’s You), and bebek betutu – roast duck.

Babi Guling

There’s also soto ayam, a flavourful turmeric spiced chicken noodle soup, and beef rendang – the Indonesian version is a tad different to the Malaysian. My favourite, though, is nasi campur. Essentially this is a mound of steamed rice surrounded by small portions of a meat dish, some vegetables, perhaps egg or satay, sambal. There’s no rhyme or reason to it – and it will differ from place to place.

nasi campur

Oh, I’m almost forgetting my favourite salad – sayur urab. It translates loosely to mixed vegetables. I like it so much I’ll post the recipe separately.

There’s a fabulous restaurant scene in Bali now – especially around Seminyak and Ubud, but my favourite is still Bali Asli. Owned by an Aussie expat, the menu changes daily depending on what’s in the garden or what’s come out of the sea that day. It’s traditional food, prepared traditionally.

Located near Amlapura in East Bali, it’s a couple of hours from Legian and Kuta, but only about 30 minutes from Candidasa – and is well worth the trip.

I’ve written about it a few times – here, here and here.

Temples

Pura Luhur Batukau

Temples are such an integral part of Balinese life. I could do an entire post on temples. I love them. Of course there’s the biggies like Pure Tanah Lot, but there’s so much charm in the temples you find in family compounds and in villages.

Pura Luhur Batukau, in the central mountains west of Kuta etc is one that’s worth seeking out. For a start there are no touts, but the serenity is what it’s all about. I’ve written about it here.

Take the time to read the signage. I was particularly taken by the extensive list of warnings that this temple in Sanur came with. I have no idea what crossed streak is – and hope that I’m not afflicted by it any time soon. Speaking of which, according to the Lonely Planet guide, Sanur is one of the “few communities still ruled by members of the Brahmana caste”…and is a centre for black and white magic. Perhaps I’ll refrain from flirting – and ranting.

Ubud

Pura Taman Saraswati

Yes, Ubud. Sure, it has all the Eat, Pray, Love connotations (and I’m absolutely a fan), but Ubud is like a great big exhalation. Don’t just stop at Monkey Forest, stay a while and feel your stresses melt away to the faint sounds of the gamelan.

Lotus

I’m having difficulty transferring my travel posts across from and anyways, so for the next few weeks, I’ll be re-hashing them here.

Because it’s Thursday, it’s also time to get our happy on with the Lovin’Life linky.

To join in the Lovin’ Life Linky, all you’ve got to do is: Link one post about what you’re currently lovin’ in life. Read two or three posts from other Lovin’ Life Linkers and leave a comment so they know you’ve dropped by. Spread the Lovin’ Life word and feel free to link back.

The Lovin’ Life team includes:

50 Shades of Age | Seize the Day Project | Debbish | Write of the Middle | Deep Fried Fruit.

The linky goes live at 7.30am every Thursday and finishes at 7.30am of a Monday (Australian Eastern Time). Click on the link below to join in…

 

Nanowrimo – your training program

Last week I told you about nanowrimo – the equivalent of a marathon for writers.

Marathoners pull on their trainers each day and practice. If this is the marathon of writing challenges, the key to success is in the preparation. With November nearly here, it’s time to get started (if you haven’t already) on your Nanowrimo training plan:

1.Decide how you will be writing your novel.

I use the Scrivener app. Here’s 10 reasons why. I love how it sets session targets. I especially love the corkboard – so much that I might just manage a separate post on it.

If you’re writing your nanowrimo novel in MSword or freehand, simply  enter your word count daily into the nano website. You can stay on track, and the graph is cool. I told you about the graph, didn’t I?

2. Have a back up strategy…and use it

Be paranoid. I back up to a hard drive and also to dropbox – just to be sure.

3. Carry a notebook and pen with you at all times. I use a moleskine. It makes me feel like a real writer.

4. Have coffee – or wine – on hand.

I tend to subscribe to the “write drunk, edit sober” theory… not that I take this literally, but you get the idea.

5. Set your targets

Dig your calendar out from wherever it is languishing and mark in your writing days for November. Decide how many days a week can you write? (Hint: be realistic)

5 days?

7 days?

This will determine your nanowrimo daily target.

If you intend writing 7 days a week, you’ll be heading for a target of 1667 words a day.

I go to bed an hour earlier and write there. It works for me – just don’t tell my chiropractor. Quite often I dream what happens next.

I also tend to grab moments wherever I can – in the hairdressers, waiting at airports, during lunch hours. Wherever, whenever. The year my daughter did the HSC I got heaps of words written waiting outside maths tutorials. I felt like I’d been called to the headmaster’s office.

While you have your calendar out, mark in all your commitments – places that you know you have to be. Be honest, and be realistic.

Maybe you can manage a half an hour in the morning before the kids get up and all hell breaks loose, or an hour at night after they go to bed. You might choose to fit it in on a weekend, or get together with friends for a marathon writing session.

However you schedule it, keep to it.

6. Schedule in your down-time

You have to. Getting out for a walk, or a coffee or whatever will help keep the creative juices flowing – and ensure you stay sane. If you want to stay inspired while you’re walking, listen to your favourite podcasts.

7. Expect life to get in the way- it will.

There will be some days where you can sit down uninterrupted at the keyboard and others where you’re clawing 5 minutes here, there or anywhere. Life doesn’t stop just because you’re doing this. Houses will still need cleaning, clothes will still need washing, gardens will still need weeding, and arguments will still need mediating.

In the same vein, there is no perfect year to do nano – it’s what you make of it.

8. If you really want to do it, you will make time.

I recall finishing my first nano experience in 2009 in the airport at Perth.

As well as the normal demands of home and my full-time job, the relocation project I was working on for Perth (and managing largely from Sydney) had blown wide open.

2010 was much the same, although this time the relocation was in Hong Kong and the final chapter was finished at that airport.

On both occasions I carried my notebook with me and scribbled during coffee and lunch breaks. Back in my hotel bed each night I’d transpose my scribbles into real words.

Somehow the word total grew. Having so much on added to the sense of achievement.

In 2015 I spent most of November road-tripping around England, and in 2016 I was climbing a mountain in New Zealand – or, rather, walking Milford Track, which is much the same thing.

9. Run your own race

I’Il go hard the first week of the challenge and, despite the session targets I set myself, usually end the first week well ahead of schedule.

This is good because I tend to hit my personal wall at about the 25,000 word mark – and things slow from there.

10. The middle 2 weeks are hard.

Most stories are abandoned somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 words. The story is often in the saggy doldrums – enthusiasm is waning and the end is still a long way off.

I find that the efforts of the first week get me through the middle two.

11. What if my story gets stuck?

When I get really stuck, I jump scenes – sometimes writing the end first, other times writing another scene that has jumped into my head. It works for me.

I don’t happen to believe in writer’s block – I’m way too busy for that. If, however, you feel that you’re suffering from this malaise, check out this post: 8 ways to beat writer’s block.

12. What if I don’t know if my idea has legs?

That’s what makes nanowrimo so great- it allows you to explore an idea and determine whether there is really a 85-100k novel in it.

My effort in 2009 was largely semi-autobiographical. It was 50,000 words that will never see the light of day (heaven forbid), but needed to come out of my head. Nanowrimo was the best time to do that. Once those words were out, other ideas started to flood in. I now have a board full of potential stories- most of which consist of a single line. If you want to write something, but need to clear some space in your head first, I’d urge you to use this years Nanowrimo for precisely that purpose.

13. Plotter or Pantser?

If you like to know where you’re going to go with the story and how you’re going to get there, you’re probably a plotter.

If you’re starting with the germ of an idea, maybe a character or two, and just seeing where it leads you, you’re a pantser.

Perhaps you’re a combination of the two? I’m definitely a pantser.

Nanowrimo is a great time to play with something different. If you’re a plotter, why not give yourself the freedom to see what happens? If you’re a pantser, why not experiment with a different technique?

14. Don’t edit

The point of nanowrino is to get the words out, so resist the urge to edit as you go.

15. What if I don’t make the 50,000 words?

So what? You’ll still have more words than you started with.

And finally…

Nanowrimo is meant to be fun, so try not to be too hard on yourself, or do the analysis paralysis thing. Just write.

There’s no judgment, or right or wrong. There are just words – and hopefully more of them by November 30 than there was at November 1.

That’s a wrap – the Bundaberg edition

sugar cane just outside of Bundaberg

So, the week that was…and a mini break to Bundaberg…

I could tell you about how busy the partition job was, I could tell you that I got my copy edit back for I Want You Back, and I could tell you about a new place we tried for lunch on Friday – Chances at Mooloolaba. It was good.

I could also tell you about the lecture I went to on Tuesday about the state of the reefs around the Sunshine Coast – it was put on by Reef Check Australia and it was seriously informative. But I’m not going to tell you about any of that. Instead we’ll talk about the mini break we took this weekend… Oh, and a warning…the weather was dull – really dull…so my photos are too.

Where we went

Bundaberg, or Bundy, as it’s known locally.

Originally a timber town, Bundaberg today is known for sugar and rum – and is the gateway to the southern islands of the Great Barrier Reef.

It’s a few hours drive north from my home on the Sunshine Coast, and we could only manage one night away, but a break is a break, right?

What we came for

I wanted to see sugar cane. I had images in my head of fields of tall sugar cane against an impossibly blue sky. Sadly, all we got was grey skies and drizzle. I managed one shot with some blue sky behind it.

It’s not all about the sugar cane though. The soil around here is incredibly fertile and we saw fields of rockmelons, fields of berries, and fields of sunflowers.

Meanwhile back home in Buderim

The rain sheeted down. We’ve had 2 months worth of rain in 2 days – with more to come.

Where we stopped

All good road trips – even mini ones like this – need a good stop. On the way up we stopped in Maryborough. Yes, it was raining, but this town, on the banks of the Mary River, has some beautiful heritage buildings. One of its claims to fame is that PL Travers, who wrote Mary Poppins was born here.

We had breakfast at a little café in Customs House, A Spoonful of Sugar, and marvelled at just how high the floodwaters had got over the years.

This is a town that I’d like to spend more time in. The history fascinates me and, well, let’s just say I’d like to get under the covers some more.

Where we stayed

Bundaberg Spanish Motor Inn. It was clean, comfortable, blissfully quiet and a great price. The hosts provided a really friendly welcome. I’d absolutely recommend it.

Where we drank rum

Nope, I’m not a rum drinker – unless it’s in a cocktail by the beach. The thing is, Bundy is known for its rum and this weekend happened to be the Bundy Rum Festival – or something like that.

Despite the weather, they’d turned up in hordes to drink the stuff. Some dressed for the occasion, others just covered up in plastic ponchos.

Where we drank beer

The Bargara Brewhouse in Bundaberg. We each had a tasting paddle – and the beer was good. We were there a bit too early for lunch, but I’m told the sliders and chicken wings are worth sampling.

Where we sampled other fizzy stuff

Another thing Bundaberg is known for is ginger and, specifically, ginger beer. They do make other flavours as well – I use the lemon, lime and bitters to make scones, although apparently the ginger beer is good for this too.

I don’t really drink soft drink so the tasting was wasted on me, but you can really taste the fruit in their range – mostly because they use fresh fruit to brew the drinks. Yes, the soft drinks are brewed – just like beer is. At the end of the process though, the alcohol is heated off so you’re left with just the taste. Cool, hey?

Oh, and if you’re on their website, check out the recipes. I think they should turn the recipes into a cookbook…just saying.

Where I would like to spend more time

Bargara. Ok, the beaches aren’t like Mooloolaba but, let’s face it, I’m pretty biased about what I like to think is my beach. The black rocks are quite striking, and it’s a great foreshore area with, I think, the best ever playground I’ve seen.

We had breakfast at Rick’s on the Esplanade. I had the corn and zucchini fritters with bacon and eggs and it was good.

What I’m coming back some day for

The turtles.

Regular readers of the old and anyways blog know that I have a thing about sea turtles. They truly represent sea voyages and exploration and are the sign of the navigator. Anyways, female turtles also return to the beach where they were hatched in order to lay their eggs – and Mon Repos, just north of Bargara, supports the largest concentration of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland and has the most significant loggerhead turtle nesting population in the South Pacific region. I borrowed that last sentence from the website blurb.

The turtles nest between November and January and then 6-8 weeks later, from January through to late February/March, the little hatchlings emerge to scurry down to the sea. What makes this truly special is just how much the odds are stacked against these babies – just 1 in 1000 are likely to make it to maturity. I could go on, but I can see many of you glazing over already.

Suffice to say, I’ll be back.

How was your week?

30 things that make me go aaah….

jacaranda tree

Yesterday morning I sat watching some whales do the tail and fin thing as they swam the length of the beach. I’d brought my coffee back to a seat at The Loo With A View and was gazing out to sea when I saw the first blow not far past the shark net buoys.

As others cottoned onto what was happening only a couple of hundred metres off shore, more and more people stopped what they were doing. They stopped swimming, they stopped walking, they crossed the road from the shops and coffee shops. Cars pulled over to see what everyone else was looking at, kids pointed, adults stared.

For those few moments we stopped and we were in the moment – regardless of what else was going on. We were all watching the whales and everyone was awed.

I’ve been completely moved by the whale migration this year. We didn’t see much from shore of the northern migration, but they tend to come in closer on their way back down south. Sometimes it’s just a tell-tale blow or a splash where there are no boats that give them away, sometimes it’s the curve of the body as they dive over and down, sometimes it’s the flash of the tail or the wave of a fin. It never ceases to make me just stop and watch. They’re totally amazing creatures and seeing them fills me with complete peace.

It’s the same on those days when the dolphins are about. Sometimes I feel that seeing them it’s a sign that no matter what other crap is going on in the world, these magnificent mammals are out there – so everything can’t help but be ok.

Anyways, the feeling from this morning stayed with me through the whole of the work day that followed. It got me thinking about the other things that bring me pleasure – often fleeting moments of pleasure, but pleasure none the less.

Once I started writing, I forced myself to stop at 30 although I could have gone on…and on…and on…and that’s a good thing…right?

  1. Early morning walks
  2. The welcome from my dog when she hasn’t seen me for a few minutes/ since last night/ since this morning/ since I came back from dropping rubbish in the bin
  3. Doggy smiles
  4. The flash of colour from a rainbow lorikeet
  5. The early morning warble of a magpie
  6. The smell of jasmine when the sun hits it
  7. Watching the sun come up
  8. That silvery sparkly look of the ocean when the sun is on it – when it looks as though a million diamonds have been sprinkled across the top of the blue
  9. Taking my bra off at night
  10. The bubbles in sparking mineral water
  11. Having a pee when you’ve been holding on for what seems like ever
  12. That smudge of new green in the Spring
  13. Jacaranda flowers on the horizon
  14. Jacaranda flowers when they drop and carpet the lawn
  15. Autumn leaves – I miss autumn leaves
  16. The crackle of frost on a blue day – yep, miss this now too
  17. Bees on lavender and rosemary bushes
  18. Fresh sheets
  19. Shaved legs and fresh sheets
  20. Clean hair after being on the beach
  21. The smell of sparklers
  22. Writing my name in the air in sparklers
  23. Writing the name of the one I love in the air in sparklers
  24. Blowing bubbles
  25. Popping bubbles
  26. Popping bubble wrap
  27. Seeing a dragonfly
  28. Making a wish on a dandelion
  29. That first sight of the ocean as I come over the hill from Buderim Rd to Mooloolaba Esplanade every morning
  30. Walking on the beach, in the water, after work and feeling the wind and the salt whip away the day

What are the little things that do it for you?

Because it’s Thursday, it’s also time to get our happy on with the Lovin’Life linky.

To join in the Lovin’ Life Linky, all you’ve got to do is: Link one post about what you’re currently lovin’ in life. Read two or three posts from other Lovin’ Life Linkers and leave a comment so they know you’ve dropped by. Spread the Lovin’ Life word and feel free to link back.

The Lovin’ Life team includes:

50 Shades of Age | Seize the Day Project | Debbish | Write of the Middle | Deep Fried Fruit.

The linky goes live at 7.30am every Thursday and finishes at 7.30am of a Monday (Australian Eastern Time). Click on the link below to join in…

Why you should write a novel in November

So anyways, November is around the corner…and if November is around the corner, so too is NaNoWriMo. Nano wtf? National Novel Writing Month.

Essentially the challenge is to, along with a few hundred thousand other people, get 50,000 words out of your head and onto a page – or a laptop -during the month of November. It’s a bit like a novel writing marathon.

By the end of November, our poor little novel writer’s wrists are burning, our eyelids need propping open, our body fluids have been gradually replaced by copious amounts of caffeine or alcohol, and most of us have hit a wall at some point through the process. In our case the “wall” isn’t extreme physical exhaustion (although it can be) – more often it’s a blank screen, or page.

The hardest part of the process by far is fitting writing a novel in around life – because, as we know, it doesn’t stop just because we’ve committed to writing a novel. For those of us with kids, November is the time of the year where end of year exams and end of year performances and presentation nights all start to fill up the calendar. In addition, most of us have jobs and other responsibilities. We don’t have time to add writing a novel to that list. Do we?

So, if it’s that flipping hard, why do we do it? To be honest, asking a writer that question is a little like asking a marathoner why they lace up the trainers to put their bodies through 42kms of pain, or asking a climber why they do Everest. The answer is simple – because it’s a challenge and it’s there.

I’ve done it most years since 2009. Each of my novels has started life during Nanowrimo. Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry were both managed while I had a full time job – with large chunks written in hotel rooms and airports during office relocation projects – and all the things that go along with being a Mum with a (then) school age child. The bulk of Wish You Were Here was written during nanowrimo in 2015 – even though I was on a road trip through Britain for the 2nd half of November.

I even signed up last year – even though I knew that I’d be on Milford Track with access to no technology for a week of the month. The first 30,000 words of I Want You Back came from that.

Should you enter? Yes. Especially if:

  • You’ve been talking about writing a book someday for ever and flipping ever
  • You’ve got a story in your head that needs to escape
  • You like a good graph

Need more convincing?

  • 50,000 words isn’t a full novel (unless you’re writing novellas, category romance or children’s books), but it’s a bloody good start.
  • It’s a great way to take a new idea for a test flight. By 50,000 words you’re going to know whether it’s got legs and, if it doesn’t, you’ve only wasted one month. In my view, that’s an efficient outcome.
  • It doesn’t need to be a novel. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about a non fiction project, a memoir, a collection of short stories or poems, a screenplay.
  • It never needs to be seen by anyone other than yourself. The book I wrote in 2009 was vaguely semi semi autobiographical shite. It will never be published – although I have used parts of it in everything I’ve written since. I’d had it in my head for so long that writing it down allowed all the other stories that had been waiting their turn behind it in my brain to come tearing out. (I think my brain is a tad like an air traffic control tower.) Anyways, that character – my runaway astrologer Alice – has her own story that I’ll be writing this year. And no, it’s no longer even vaguely semi semi autobiographical. Except for the astrologer bit.
  • It’s one month where you can experiment with different genres, different voices. Again, if it doesn’t work, you’ve only wasted a month. The year I drafted Big Girls Don’t Cry, I experimented with writing as if it were a project plan ie from the end backwards. The year I wrote Baby, It’s You, I wrote to a playlist. I wrote 3 different viewpoints in I Want You Back. Because it is only a month, you can try out different techniques to get you through the wall, through the saggy middle, and to have a little fun with the process.
  • Even if you don’t get to 50,000 words, you’ll have more words at the end of November than you did at the beginning.
  • It’s great training. To be a writer you have to get in the habit of writing – every day.
  • If you’re a plotter or edit as you go, this is a great opportunity to just let the words flow. See what happens. No edits – not until December 1.
  • You get to see the graph on the nano site. It’s a great graph.
  • With nanowrimo, there’s no escape, no catch-ups. If you’ve been struggling to establish a writing habit, I can’t think of a better way to do it.

Am I entering this year? Absolutely. I have Alice’s story – or the The Book After The Book That’s After I Want You Back – to tell. It’s the last in my Melbourne Girls series and will tie up any loose ends – all the way back to Baby, It’s You.

If you’re up for it, you can sign up at the official site. You’ll find forums, events, cool widgets for your blog, emails of encouragement and a cast of hundreds of thousands of other people doing it with you. I’m Astrojo, so if you’re signing up, come follow me.

Introducing The Hungry Writer – and wrapping the week

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this week’s wrap-up is coming to you from a different website.  I’m phasing And Anyways out and am in the process of transferring some of the content across to here.

Why have I done this?

I originally created the author page midway through last year with the aim of showcasing my books and a focus on building my author profile – with a view to, of course, selling more books. There’s no point creating a product if no one knows about it.

And Anyways started life in 2012 as an overflow blog for everything I wanted to write about that didn’t fit on my astro site. With very few exceptions my astrology readers didn’t want to know about my travels, my life, or my writing. They just wanted the astro. Given that there’s a lot of them – almost 400,000 visitors in 2016, that’s what I give them. But I still wanted to write about my life – my travel, my experiences, the things that inspire my fiction. And anyways was created.

Yet, as I’ve begun publishing fiction the site address – a nod to a phrase I use constantly – has proven to be problematic. This came to a head a couple of months ago when there was a lot of confusion about what my site address actually was for the RWA program.

It’s become clear that I have 2 personas:

  • Jo Tracey who writes DIY astrology and
  • Joanne Tracey who writes fiction

My site statistics tell me:

  • There is negligible crossover from the Jo Tracey Astrology to either joannetracey.com or andanyways.com. Even when I’ve specifically linked in a post or a newsletter.
  • There is a little traffic from anyanyways.com to the astro site
  • There’s a lot of traffic from andanyways.com to joannetracey.com – and vice versa.

This tells me that the rambles of the hungry writer (my tagline for and anyways.com) and the books created by the hungry writer – based on those rambles – belong together.

It hasn’t sat well with me to have these posts on a different site from the books they inspired.  Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry are both set partially in Bali. Baby, It’s You, Big Girls Don’t Cry, and I Want You Back are set mostly in Melbourne – as will be the catchily titled Book After I Want You Back and Book After The Book After I Want You Back. Wish You Were Here is split between The Cotswolds in England and Queenstown, New Zealand.

In splitting the sites I’ve compromised both my traffic and my reach – and made life harder for myself from a content creation viewpoint. Yes, I’m a travel and lifestyle blogger, but primarily I’m an author.

To cut a long and increasingly boring story short, this site, The Hungry Writer, will be where you’ll find all my posts.  I’ve purchased the domain the hungrywriter.com.au and will be pointing it in this direction over the next week or so.

I still have some tweaking to do and widgets to set up, but I hope you can find your way around here ok.

For my and anyways readers, there will usually be one writing post a week going up here – probably on a Wednesday. For my author page readers, you’ll be seeing more travel and lifestyle posts. I’d really love it if we can all get along.

And for my astro readers? Jo Tracey Astrology is remaining unchanged. You’ll find it where it always is – here. I’m also keeping my Sunshine Coast blog separated for now too. If you’re interested in places to go, see and eat at on the Sunshine Coast, you’ll find them here.

Ok, without further ado, let’s do a quick wrap of the week. Other than redesigning my website, what else went down?

What I struggled with…

Time zone changes. Where I live – in Queensland – we didn’t go to daylight saving. This wouldn’t be that much of an issue if it weren’t for the fact that mine (and my husband’s) work is based entirely back to Sydney. I’ve kept my work laptop configured to Sydney time, but even so, it’s seriously doing my head in.

What frustrated me…

My astro website was down for what amounted to 2 whole days. This was due to an outage of the server that it’s hosted on. Beyond annoying.

What I didn’t see…

Sunrise. We had a couple of days of rain here this week – we really needed it – but mostly I didn’t see the sunrise because it’s now peeking its head above the horizon at about 5.20am – and getting a minute earlier each day.

What thrilled me…

Seeing the purple flowers appear on the jacaranda tree in the verge. There’s also a papaya tree, but that’s another story.

What I learnt…

The name of this plant – also in the verge. Thanks to my instagram followers, I now know that it’s an Ixora.

Where we lunched…

In our unrelenting search to find the perfect place to have a beer on a sunny afternoon – I know, it’s a challenge most sensible people would shy away from – we tried out Guru Life. I loved the spicy corn fritters, the pineapple wallpaper on the counter, the leafy courtyard, the mis-matched furniture and the duck pond.

You can read more about it here.

Also on the Sunny Coast site, was something on another beer garden/bar/Mexican restaurant – La Canteena.

Phew, that was my week – how was yours?

6 tips to writing a satisfying sexy scene

I’m writing this post on a Saturday afternoon. I have a zucchini slice in the oven that I’m keeping an eye on, and in the background is an annoying electrical alarm – like when the washing machine is out of balance and needs to have the load shifted. The problem is that it’s coming from next door and, as it’s been bleeping most of the day, I suspect that he put a load on before going out – and it won’t be stopping any time soon.

As for me? I’m sitting at my kitchen counter staring at my scrivener page and trying to sex up a couple of chapters. I’m working through my structural edit and my fabulously wise editor thinks there needs to be a tad more sexiness in a couple of chapters of the book.

She’s absolutely right – it was lazy writing…my words, not hers – and the scene felt, as a result, flat and lifeless. the same goes with my final chapter. It definitely needed the sensuality notched up a tad too.

So, I’m sitting here watching a zucchini slice do it’s thing and listening to the washing machine next door annoyingly bleep. My protagonists are getting sexy and hubby is now home and wants a detailed discussion about green fees and golf cart hire – and the relative value of each – at the golf course he’s looking for cost justification to join.

Each of the sex scenes in previous books has been written in equally unsexy settings – mostly on my lunch break in the food hall at Rhodes Shopping Centre with screaming kids and IKEA trolleys all around. Then there have been those scenes I’ve written while still in bed on a Saturday morning with hubby in the doorway asking if I’d like scrambled or poached eggs – or maybe an omelette?

The thing is, writing a squidgy scene isn’t a whole lot more different than writing anything else. Plus, if you let your imagination go wild, it can even be kind of fun – although it helps if you pretend that it will never be read by your mother. Speaking of which, after Mum read Wish You Were Here, she told me that she thought the sex was nicely done. Hashtag awkward. But, I digress.

One of the panel sessions I attended at RWA was about trusting your voice. Amongst other topics it touched on writing sex scenes when you’re uncomfortable doing so. The consensus from the panel – Anne Gracie, Marion Lennox, Trish Morey and Keri Arthur – was that if you’re not comfortable writing sex, that will come across. Marion Lennox – who has written over 110 romances – doesn’t write sex…and that’s how her readers like it. Trish Morey, on the other hand, writes some seriously steamy scenes and is eminently comfortable writing sex. I’m somewhere in the middle, I think.

Another of the sessions I attended at RWA the other week was a “round-table” with Amy Andrews. Essentially it was just 10 of us around a round table (hence the name) with Amy – and an opportunity to ask whatever writing related questions we wanted.

The question I asked was about her sex scenes – Amy writes scorching sex scenes. Seriously scorching ones. Not only are they hot (I already said that, right?) but they do what every satisfying scene should do – they are integral to the story.

I wanted to know if she has to get into any special sort of mood to write these – and no, I don’t mean that sort of mood, I mean as in a ritual sort of thing. Does she light candles, set mood music or maybe have some other method of getting into the right space? Actually no. She just writes.

She also had the following to say about writing them. Naturally I took notes:

  • The first sex scene between your protagonists should be the longest one in the book. It’s a turning point and a huge emotional whammy.
  • It’s also primarily an emotional act rather than a physical one. Whatever it is that our characters are doing – or how they’re doing it – we want to know how they’re feeling.
  • If you can delete the sexy bits without impacting the story, they probably shouldn’t be there. It has to advance the story in some way – either through bringing your protagonists together, pushing them apart, or complicating things enough to make a situation worse before it gets better

I’d add the following to these:

  • Sex is when we’re at our most raw, most needy, and most emotionally vulnerable – this should come across (no pun intended) in that first scene.
  • Stay away from the IKEA style tab A into tab B type of physical instructions. As, (I think it was) Anne Gracie said in the Trust Your Voice session, sex is about more than the docking procedure.
  • With your attention (and blood) diverted to areas much further south than your brain, deep and meaningful or philosophical conversations can happen before or after, but absolutely not during. Speaking of which, sex is real – as is humour – so don’t be afraid to lighten the mood as well.

So, there you have it – now I just have to put these tips into action myself. If only that bleeping washing machine would shut up!

 

5 Reasons to love your day job…

I’m not sure about you, but I have a day job. If I were a betting girl, I’d hazard a guess that most aspiring or emerging writers do – as do a relatively large proportion of (even) mid-list established writers. Sadly, we can’t all be JK Rowling.

I’m actually quite fortunate – since moving to the Sunshine Coast, not only do I work remotely (back to Sydney), but I’ve been able to cut my hours back to 3 days a week. After years of trying to juggle my writing with a full-time role and a daily 3 hour commute (90 mins each way), this feels awfully close to being the perfect balance. Surprisingly though, I think I wrote more feverishly when I had less time to do so. Go figure.

Ultimately my goal is not only to make enough money from my writing to not only pay the bills and travel, but to have the freedom not to work for anyone else again. In the meantime, though, the day job has to take priority – and I’m grateful for it. There are, however, still days when I’d prefer to be writing. On those days I remember these things:

It pays the bills.

Well, it pays some of the bills. It buys me time until my books can pay for themselves – and support us in the manner to which I want to become accustomed…and travel for research and…you get the idea…

It allows me the freedom to self-publish

The income from my partition job means that I have the funds available to invest in self-publishing. It buys me a control over my writing career that I wouldn’t otherwise have, and allows me to work with the people that I want to work with.

It provides inspiration

Sadly some of that inspiration will never hit the page – confidentiality and all that. Besides, some of the things I’ve seen and heard in the workplace would never be believed if I wrote it in a book. Some of the characters would definitely be criticised as being too clichéd or too completely unbelievable – sad but oh too true.

I read somewhere once that 30% of your characters are based on yourself, 30% on others, and the rest on imagination. You know what they say: don’t piss the writer off – you could end up in a book…dead. All I’m saying to this is stay tuned for my cozy mystery series…

Seriously though, the experiences of the day job provide layers and realism in my creative work. My current protagonist, Callie, is in human resources. I’ve never been in an HR job before, yet in the last couple of months I’ve been relieving in a recruiting role. I’m not sure whether it’s art imitating life or the other way around. Either way the experience has meant that a lot of what I’d previously written has been, shall we say, rewritten.

It provides the drive to write

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been stuck in a spread-sheet and had the best idea for a story, or the solution to a plot problem. If only I could write full- time, I say to myself, I wouldn’t have this issue.

The truth is, having the pressure of the day job, and the need to squeeze my writing into a relatively small space has resulted in me being more disciplined and more able to set goals and deadlines and stick to them. I’ve written and published 3 books in 2 years while working a busy corporate job and juggling my daughter’s school, life etc.

I now have the freedom to write more, but seem to be more productive creatively when the partition job is at its busiest and most, shall we say, problematic. Perhaps it’s at that point when the motivation is there to motor through and get the product out there. Just saying.

It helps from a business viewpoint

I’ve learned so much about running a business from my corporate roles over the years. Over the last dozen or so years every one of my partition jobs has taught me skills that I’m absolutely using in my indie publishing business today. Skills like project management, budgeting, deadline setting (and keeping), IT know-how, business planning, strategy, and so much more.

What about you? Do you have a day job? How do you juggle the 2 parts of your life?