Have you created something that gave others a buzz?

Michael Leunig is a treasured Australian cartoonist, writer, painter, philosopher and poet who I’ve posted about before. Leunig recently visited my workplace and shared a few honest and humble insights about his creative process.


Michael Leunig Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1I7f19p

At the beginning of almost every project, Leunig shared that he sinks into something similar to self-loathing. He asks himself, ‘What on earth makes me think I can write about something I’m not an expert on?’ (I wonder if that’s the point where many of us stop, listen to our negative inner chatterbox and go no further.) Eventually, from the ashes of this dark, doubtful and uncertain place, with a very deflated ego, he begins to create.

In his cartoons, Leunig hopes to be interpreted more as a catalyst for discussion rather than someone with a firm opinion.


Credit: Michael Leunig

He spoke about the under-rated appreciation of ‘mature innocence’, a quality he uses to explores emotions, or, as his website states -

‘the idea of an innocent and sacred personal world, the fragile ecosystem of human nature and its relationship to the wider natural world.’

For example -

‘We pray for the fragile ecology of the heart and the mind. The sense of meaning. So finely assembled  and balanced and so easily overturned. The careful, ongoing construction of love. As painful and exhausting as the struggle for truth and as easily abandoned.

Hard fought and won are the shifting sands of this sacred ground, this ecology. Easy to desecrate and difficult to defend, this vulnerable joy, this exposed faith, this precious order. This sanity.

We shall be careful. With others and with ourselves.’

AMEN (Michael Leunig)


Credit: Michael Leunig

I can’t begin to do this thoughtful, gentle, spiritual (yet not religious) and outspoken artist justice here. But the reason I’m blathering on about him again is a story from his childhood that Leunig used as a metaphor.

As a youngster Michael Leunig lived in the bush, and like many children he believed in fairies and pixies.

Down by a creek near his home, he’d create miniature gardens for the magic folk to play in – using sticks, pebbles, flowers and whatever was at hand. In the morning he’d go and see if his garden had had visitors overnight, and he was always sure he saw tiny footprints in the dirt.

Leunig likens his creative works as an adult to those tiny gardens he made in the bush as a young boy. If a reader wanders through his work (like the magic folk) and enjoys it, is enriched by the experience—then that gives him, the creator, great pleasure. More pleasure than awards and accolades.

That’s when I realised that should be enough. When we create something (cook a meal, write a book/post, paint, sew, compose, make a home/family etc), it really is a wonderful compliment to know that someone enjoyed the experience our creation gave them.

It is enough.

Have you created something others have enjoyed? How did it feel?

Michael lenig2

Fairies or angels? Credit: Michael Leunig

Note: Quite a few male colleagues admitted how much they enjoyed listening to Michael Leunig (who doesn’t shy away from feelings and emotions). Should be more of it. :)





Does anyone else have this problem with book reviews on Amazon?

Yes, I do write for the love of it,


Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1FHd6V0

but it would be helpful if….

My query to Amazon this month -

Subject: Book reviews not co-ordinated across Amazon sites.

Hello Amazon team

I am hoping you can help me. Could you please explain why reviews of my books are scattered across different Amazon sites? I have reviews on Amazon.com, but these don’t appear on Amazon.com.au, Amazon.uk, Amazon.ca, Amazon.in etc.
I uploaded my novel to what I understood to be a global website. I’ve paid Createspace for the print-on-demand option for my first book (they did a great job), and this has managed to appear on every Amazon site. Why can’t reviews be similarly distributed and published?
I have asked this question before and was informed the reviews are there if you scroll down far enough. However, potential readers land on ‘Arafura – Blood, the Wet and tears on most Amazon pages with NO star rating and the message, ‘Be the first to review this item’. This implies there are no reviews. Would YOU bother scrolling down? But go to the Amazon.com page and the Arafura has 13 reviews.
I don’t have many reviews, but they are positive and recommend my novel. I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that reviews are what emerging authors rely on to be noticed.
Now my sequel is out, the same problem is occurring – Amazon.com.au has a review by one reader, Amazon.com by another. Can’t all reviews be co-ordinated and appear across all Amazon sites, please?
I would be very grateful, and gladly pay for this service. It all seems a little pointless otherwise.
Very keen to hear your response

Susan Lattwein


Hello Susan,

I hope this email finds you well. Thanks for taking the time to send us your comments on improving the website by allowing reviews to be shared between our sister websites.

Our Customer Reviews feature doesn’t link reviews across Amazon.com and the International Amazon sites at present. However, as you may already know, we do have a feature that spotlights reviews from Amazon.com on international Amazon websites for the same product. While the reviews are spotlighted, the votes and number of reviews don’t count toward the total for the listings on international websites.

I understand that this is an area we can improve upon. As such I have passed your message along to the team involved with future development of our Communities features. I know they will want to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

I hope this helps. We look forward to seeing you again.

The Amazon team.

So many books so little time

Quote : Frank Zappa


I don’t want to whine, so I’m going off to drink one.



Write your novel with US words and spelling, they said.

So I tried, I really did.

After all, Australian television has so many American shows and sit-coms, right?

All I needed to do was make a few adjustments –  no ‘u’ in ardour, behaviour, colour, honour, glamour, flavour, labour, neighbour, odour, valour, vapour, favourite  …

I’d change words like centre, litre, theatre to center, liter, and theater; and replace the odd ‘s’ with a ‘z’.

American and Australian language has a LOT of similarities. However, I ended up changing more words than I expected -


Poor thongs…


Gravel became road metal

Car park  > parking lot

Windscreen > windshield

Boot > trunk

Bonnet  > hood

Lift (building) > elevator

Toilet > washroom, restroom (so much nicer!)

Chips > french fries

Serviette > napkin

Restaurant bill > restaurant check

Bucket > pail

Verandah > porch or deck

Wardrobe > cupboard

Door frame > door jamb

Jumper > sweater

Singlet > talk top, athletic shirt

Bitumen  > asphalt


Photo credit: Yank in Australia

Gutter > kerb

Tyre > tire

Dressing gown > robe,

My writing began to look like a mixed breed dog. Arafura had an Australian setting with Australian characters, but you could hear the fake American accents a mile away.

A rough example - ‘Hey y’all, this dude must have a few kangaroos missing in the top paddock’ , or ‘I’m super excited to be wearing my awesome new togs!’

I gave a very wide berth to ‘fanny’ and ‘rooting’ (not even going there …) For some reason I couldn’t come at blokes saying ‘ass’ instead of ‘arse’, and stubbornly held onto ‘thongs’ (meaning flip-flops, not G-string).

In the end my prose sounded awkward, so I decided to stick to Australian words. Although I tried to stay away from slang, I think a few colloquialisms snuck in here and there. (Hope I didn’t make too much of a galah of myself.)


Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1yhcfYo


This Aussie-American couple have it sorted -

What word differences come to mind for you?

Sizzling book descriptions…

I’m back from the cave (actually, we call it Nanna’s room, for when she visits—otherwise it’s where I write.)

I’ve finally pressed the upload button on Amazon, and Arafura – Unfinished Business (the sequel to Arafura – Blood, the Wet and tears) is floating in cyber-space, hopefully not like space junk.

Arafura – Unfinished Business will have the odd mistake. It hasn’t been ‘professionally’ edited, but a few generous souls have given it the once over, and made valuable suggestions. Overall, they have been very supportive (except the one who wanted to slap a main character, and thanks, that was constructive.)

Every time I edit, there’s still a full-stop or an extra space/letter/repeated word/verb that could be more active/passive voice/split infinitive/spelling-formatting error/quotation mark one space short/incorrect indent/inconsistent voice/joke too far or not funny enough, sentence starting with but ….

But I’m not going to wear my hair shirt over it. At recent editing training for work, the instructor discussed footage of JK Rowling with her editor – who told the author something like, ‘Ooops, here the person with one hand is clapping’, and, ‘You don’t need the whole of chapter three – remove it‘. ‘Okay,’ Ms Rowling said, cool as a cucumber. It’s reassuring, to hear that – cheaper than therapy.

Not being a tactical, military person who lives to play, and/or dream up war games and terrorist plots and shoot/apprehend/chase/blow-up criminals, I hope I’ve accounted for all guns/weapon/wounds where they should be, and when. I think my baddies are bad (they scared me anyhow – how did they sneak into my  romance??)—I’ve drawn on evil I’ve heard about first hand (thankfully not lived first hand). I’ve researched my gaps, interviewed experts, and hope the plot is compelling enough to make the reader suspend disbelief when necessary (as in James Bond movies etc., I can only wish…) Seriously, the things writers get away with…and isn’t a lot of fact stranger than fiction anyway?

I’ve grappled with swear words, suspense and sex, how far I want to go… I’ve tried to follow advice and amend my language to US style (alas, to no avail, and to be discussed in a future post).

I hope Arafura – Unfinished Business takes the reader on an emotional journey, of ups and downs, fear and hope, sexual tension, love, lust and hate, darkness and light; and I wouldn’t be satisfied if the reader didn’t emit the occasional snort of laughter from the banter between the two main characters. Goodness, I wish they would shut up – they are still carrying on – their voices in my head, like a travelling circus of boisterous characters on a steam train that takes ages to grind to a halt.


No, this is NOT the male lead …

Stories are like people, you can’t please everyone. Not everyone will like you/me, or my/your writing/hero-ine/ending/beginning/humor/’ham-fisted’ theme/sub-plot /partner/cooking/dog/fashion-sense/third-cousin removed. But diversity is the spice of life, is it not?

Anyhow, to the theme of this post – how to write a sizzling book description.  After a bit of research, it’s clear a description should have -

  • an implied whole story with a hook, or a question/itch that has to be answered/scratched
  • a story that moves the reader, takes the reader somewhere, and the read must be worth the emotional journey
  • a hero who offers conflict at a basic level, who can transform – one who has a primal goal everyone can identify with, and
  • something to offer the reader. Why should they bother reading the book?

Okay … how about this?

Love is patient. Love is kind. Sometimes love is explosive ….

Schoolteacher Katherine is kidnapped by terrorists outside a supermarket one balmy evening after being stalked by an unconnected, odious suitor – a police officer.

Soon Kat is caught up in a plot to wreak havoc in Darwin, her unruly emotions over the man who rescues her, and an ex-fiancé who refuses to move on.

As time runs out, how can they convince the authorities to take the terrorists’ plans seriously?

Arafura – Unfinished Business is a gritty romance with a bit of sex, dynamite, and hilarity – not always at the same time …

Any suggestions about what compels you to read a book?


From dragons to warships, from fairies to androids – thanks to a talented artist.

In this post I’d like to thank the imaginative, talented, patient woman who designed the covers to my two novels, Michelle Rene Goodhew.

michelle renee 11

Photo credit: Michelle Rene Goodhew

I also love the covers Michelle Rene created for other books and am in love with this little fellow in particular -

Michelle rene dragon

Image credit: Michelle Rene Goodhew

It’s not easy explaining what you want on a cover when you’re not sure yourself, let alone to someone on the other side of the earth, via email and not over a cup of coffee with the advantage of waving your arms around to get your point across …

The founder of Smashwords, Mark Coker, suggested imagining your cover with all the words removed, then asking – is there a question in the cover image the reader wants an answer to? I thought that was really helpful advice (I’ve discovered anything Mark says is helpful! I’ve learnt a lot more about Microsoft Word formatting from his free Smashwords Style Guide).


Image credit: Michelle Rene Goodhew

The cover briefs were tricky to explain because I’m still not exactly sure which genre Arafura – Blood, the Wet and Tears and the sequel Arafura – Unfinished Business belong to. Romantic suspense/comedy/drama/action/?

Here is my description for the first book in the Arafura series:

Nobody said the build-up would be easy. No body …

Sensible schoolteacher Kat is planning to marry when her long-term fiancé finds the time. When the mysterious and damaged Adam arrives in town, Kat is jolted well out of her comfort zone. Despite her loyal intentions, a dead body and enough pre-monsoonal weather to strangle a Kat, she must wrestle with an instant attraction that is emotionally risky and absolutely, definitely fraught.

Arafura will appeal to female and male readers who enjoy quirky, witty suspense with dark edges.

My favourite cover is Michelle Rene’s bold design for the second novel in the Arafura series :

Arafura final

Image credit: Michelle Rene Goodhew

The storyline of Arafura – Unfinished Business just needs a bit of tweaking and will be published by the end of October this year (I keep changing the dates as other life admin sneaks up on me, but this is a deadline, and I’ll be taking a brief blogging hiatus to make target).

The tagline is – Love is patient. Love is kind. Sometimes love is explosive.

This is what Michelle Rene has to say about the process of her design for Arafura – Unfinished Business.

“Working on ‘Arafura: Unfinished Business’ has been full of rewards. The sunset was a new venture that I started with a wax base for texture. I’ve never constructed a painting this way and thought it was vibrant and captured the color I was looking for.

Susan responded with a request to give the clouds more definition and I’m so grateful she did. The final result is striking compared to my first draft. This is a great new style for me and I look forward to trying it again.

I guess I had a good vision of the ship from nearly the beginning. I had started with a side profile and then Susan recommended the front view of the ship hoping for a more ominous feeling. I ran with that and had a clear Idea of how I wanted the colors to play on the surface of the steel.

My intention from the beginning was to have a bit of an abstract feel in the final piece. I thought it would allow me to really bring those bold colors forward, and I think I managed that in the end.

Putting the lights on the ship was tedious but satisfying because each one just seemed to spring to life with a little glow. It was the first time I have ever attempted party lights and my technique proved successful. Joy!

I love the energy I have had while putting this together. Susan has been an amazing author to work with, she has a delightful personality with an edge of humor that really is a great combination to collaborate with.”

I encourage you to visit Michelle Rene’s blog Book Cover Designer to see for yourself what a talented, thoughtful and positive illustrator and writer she is. I’m really looking forward to her first graphic novel. And one day we’re going to have that coffee (or champagne) together. :)

If you’re interested, Arafura – Blood, the Wet and Tears can be purchased from Amazon here, or Smashwords here. It’s also available at Smashwords’ global network of on-line retailers, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Angus and Robertson, Collins, Kobo, FlipKart etc.

So, if you ever need an illustrator …

Michelle Rene curious

Image credit: Michelle Rene Goodhew



A diagnosis I’m happy with…

creative people


Call it denial, but I’d much rather be diagnosed as creative than most of the alternatives. It seems you can get away with quite a lot of things (making mistakes, being a ditz, being idealistic/naive, short attention span), all in exchange for being labelled imaginative, or creative. Phew! 


I like this even better!! Photo credit: bit.ly/1p3FxrC

For instance, everyone in our family has a lot of different pet names, even the dogs. Some visitors have found this quite eccentric, and told us so. Is it really that odd, oops, creative?

Coco, Coco-lossal, Critter, Coco-liscious, Speed-hump, Road-kill-with-a-pulse, Step-cycsta, (the mean ones are my husbands) * Little Miss Cocie-girl, Hairy Prawn, Coco-loco, Lou-la, Zena-Marie Biscuit. Have I mentioned the songs?

But there is one thing that might be a little unique in our household. Speaking of pets, one of our pooches is much more self-centred than the other dog. My daughters and I sometimes talk to each other in what we call the dog voice, which is a higher octave, playful, selfish and sassy tone, spoken from the dog’s point of view. For example:

‘Heh! Where’s my dinner? I said I was hungry!’

‘I saw you give yourself the big bit!’

‘I said, hurry up. I’m going to leave without you!’

“That’s enough of talking about you, let’s talk about me.’

Then one of us will realise and say, ‘Hey. We’re doing the dog voice in public again.’

Why do we do it? I think it’s an extension of the many hours the girls spent playing Barbies and role-playing in their American accents (the accent probably came from Saturday Disney doll advertisements on TV). When our puppy came along we gave her a voice too. This is the culprit, 14 years on, still at it.


You can imagine our delight when we came across a couple of funny Facebook Doge posts (not always funny and the inventor remains a mystery, so I don’t know who to credit). Here the dog’s voice comes across as ESL (English as a Second Language), which makes TOTAL sense. I mean, what dog was born speaking English? They always pick it up later on, even though spelling obviously remains a challenge.

doge 1

Photo credit: Doge Facebook

doge 4

Photo credit: Doge Facebook

My daughters find these hilarious because they reflect exactly how our older dog thinks. They’re probably laughing in relief, that they’ve found someone else who understands dogs’ thoughts and voices them. Someone else being ‘creative.’

Perhaps Doge really is a dog!! You can’t be sure people are who they say they are, on-line, can you?

On the internet

To acknowledge a fellow blogger who is creative and knows about dogs and their opinions, I encourage you to visit Annabelle Franklin’s blog and read her enchanting post, Malamute Magnet. If you like dogs, you will love this story from the dog’s point of view. I did!


Please tell me you do silly creative things with your dogs too. :)

* My husband should have been in advertising. He came up with Abominable Showman for a Rolf Harris headline.





Dirt Music – playing in my head, again…

I’ve discovered that great books are worth a second read in one lifetime. I recently revisited Tim Winton’s novel, Dirt Music, and it’s still a magnificent, compelling read. Besides the accolades on the title below, it won quite a few other awards too.


Dirt Music is a tale of raw psychological depth, about being held back by the violent chains of the past, of a life-inertia born of grief and regret—where the rescuer and the rescued are not clearly signposted (I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that’s the happy part).

Descriptions of the novel are more numerous than Dirt Music covers in this post.

Dirt music 4

Apart from my bolded additions, Penguin Books describe the (love) story thus:

‘Georgie Jutland is a mess. At forty, with her career in ruins, she finds herself stranded in White Point (a ‘personality junkyard’) with a fisherman (with a dirty secret) she doesn’t love and two kids whose dead mother she can never replace. Leached of all confidence, she spends her days in isolation tedium and her nights in a blur of vodka self-recrimination. One morning, in the boozy pre-dawn gloom, she sees a shadow drifting up the beach below – a loner called Luther Fox (haunted by his past), with danger in his wake.’

There are many twists and turns and vivid settings, and you don’t dare skim-read in case you miss the author’s lyrical prose. Tim Winton elucidates things many people don’t talk about, reminding us that we’re not alone. I enjoy the way he walks among us with a universal voice (no matter what country you’re from)—which drops us right alongside his characters. Even if you don’t understand all of Winton’s characters you’ll care, and want to know what happens to them.

My imagination provided me with different settings ten years on from my first reading, a possible cause for concern, but I’m sticking to the theory that it was just a different film version running through the projector in my head. I knew the ending—but couldn’t remember exact details, yet Winton had me on tender-hooks ALL over again.

Here are some of my favourite quotes that won’t spoil the story. -

  • Georgie looked at the martyred jut of his hip bones.
  • “The hot Vegemite breath of a child.
  • “The girls had a slutty self-possession that attracted men and boys like food.
  • When a character is way out at sea, swimming in rough, choppy seas – “The water is all bellies and hips like a packed dance floor.”
  • “The sky was a sea, blue as a coma.”
  • The stars roll by on their wheels.”
  • “Tonight every flurry beneath the rock feels like the breeze of her passing.

Years later, I’m drawn to the vulnerability of the male characters, and am more sympathetic to their poignant loneliness. Winton’s calibrated unfolding of Luther Fox and Big Jim Buckridge, even other minor male characters, shows great sensitivity and highlights a vulnerability, a sense of them being trapped in their own shells. Heath Ledger was expected to play the role of Luther Fox in the movie – he would have been a perfect choice.

Dirt music 5

Below are a few humble quotes from Winton on winning the Miles Franklin Literary Award – from a Sydney Morning Herald interview.

Tim Winton

Tim Winton

“You get a little bit of affirmation [from literary awards], which is nice, but you can’t take it too seriously because if you win it doesn’t mean necessarily that yours is the best book. If you lose it doesn’t mean yours isn’t the best book,” Winton says.

“I’ve been doing it long enough to know that it’s a bit of a crapshoot, a bit of a lottery and you can’t take it too seriously. Otherwise you’ll give yourself a broken heart, you know. Or you’ll start writing with a view to cracking the prizes.”


I enjoy escapism, so Dirt Music is my favourite of Winton’s books. Although his other novels are also evocative journeys, the emotionally compelling and ultimately uplifting story of Dirt Music puts it on my short-list of favourite novels.

Any suggestions for other inspiring writers of succinct prose? I’d love to read them.

Penguin Books Australia

Tim Winton’s Big Issues – smh.com.au