Friday, October 31, 2014

A Point of View on Point of View

I've heard and read a lot about showing not telling, and various other no nos in writing. I've heard a lot about what it is exactly that constitutes good writing. I've taken care to try to at least consider the advice I've been given via the mountain of rejection letters I've received over the years, if not incorporate it into my work, but I reckon it all boils down to two things. I'll get to them later.

Many years ago I was given a story in a dream, or should I say an idea for a story. The idea was of a gorilla who lived underground with his human father. I wrote the story soon after the dream: a nearly 4000 word story titled Goyyou. (The name of the story and the lead character was given to me in the story as well.) The story was rejected by 7 editors before finding a friend and a home at Aphelion. One of the rejection letters stated that the point of view in the story was confusing.

I'm currently reading Rebellion by New York Times best selling author Nora Roberts. I'm not a huge fan of romance but I like to read it sometimes, and I'm enjoying this one. The reason I mention this book is that I am finding the point of view confusing. Roberts frequently switches between what Serena is thinking and feeling, and what Brigham is feeling and thinking. I did the same thing in Goyyou and was criticized for it, but apparently Roberts can do it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not being critical, I'm just making a point about what is acceptable writing technique and what is not.

Of course the other possibility is that I don't know what I'm talking about it, and I don't understand point of view, or the difference between show and tell, or what it is exactly that constitutes good writing. I do know that that good writing is not necessarily popular writing, nor conversely, is popular writing good writing.

Without further ado, here are the two things I alluded to earlier. Firstly, good writers read a lot: not just in their genre, and not just popular books by well known authors, and not just good books (however they define them). Secondly, a book is good if a reader says it is good. If someone reads it and likes it, if they connect with it, if they tell their friends about it, then it's good.

What do you think makes a good book? What makes a good writer?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rewarded not Awarded

The much anticipated inaugural Lane Cove Literary Award was held on Wednesday night. I was invited to attend as one of over 500 writers who entered their work in one of three categories: memoir, poetry and short story. I had a short story in the mix.

Attended by around 100 people, the award ceremony was held in the library and was a fine affair with complimentary wine, finger foods, and live music. Two local writers judged the awards, and were present to speak about the writing and announce first the short listed writers, and then the winners.

I did not win the $2000 first prize nor did I even make the short list but I did enjoy the occasion and I'm glad I went. It was inspiring to be among a community of writers, and hear the speakers talk with enthusiasm about the art of writing.

I'll keep entering competitions (free ones mostly) because I want to win and I want recognition which will lead to more readers. I haven't written a new short story since December 2012. My focus of course at the time switched to novels and I had two published in 2013. This year has been quiet and different and interesting.

Anyway, hats off to the winners and thanks to the organizers of the event.

Lane Cove Literary Award winners

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fair Weather Friends

My higher level students are given more challenging vocabulary worksheets when they finish set tasks. This keeps them busy and helps expand their vocabulary. Once you master the grammar, and incidentally many migrants do not, no matter how long they live in Australia, once you master the grammar then it's all about vocabulary. English has the largest vocabulary of all the world's languages. If language is all about communication and self expression then the more words you know, the better.

Anyway, I digress. A recent gap fill worksheet was about friends and one of the phrases to be used to complete a sentence was fair weather friend. None of the students knew what this was until I explained it, and then of course there were numerous "a-ha" moments as a succession of pennies dropped.

I'm currently re reading The Four Loves by C.S.Lewis. Here is just one of the many profound things he has to say about friendship. 

The mark of a perfect friendship is not that help will be given when the pinch comes (of course it will) but that, having been given, it makes no difference at all. It was a distraction, an anomaly.

If you have at least one real friend, you should be thankful. I am.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Like ice in boiling water

I nearly wrote something last night. I was lying on my bed having just finished a phone call, and I had an urge to grab my laptop and try to bang out a short story, or add a thousand words to my WIP. Before I could get up, the moment passed, vanishing like ice in boiling water, and I found something else to do. 

I'm coming to see this hiatus as necessary. Although I'm not willing to call it writer's block because it isn't, it is the first time since I began this long and arduous journey to fame and fortune with my pen that I have had trouble writing. Sixteen years. If it's tough now, so what? I'm a writer and I have good reason to be off my game at the moment. I'll be back, and it will be sooner rather than later.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


This is not the scene which greeted us this morning. Port Kembla Beach is an award winning beach on the south coast of New South Wales which at its best shows this face and is resplendent with the bright colours of summer.

We planned this trip to the beach a week ago, determined to get to in the surf more often than every other summer we have had such intentions. We woke this morning to grey skies and so began the inevitable debate as to whether we should go or not go.

In the end we decided to go for it despite the thick fog and the slightly cooler than anticipated air temperature. My dad, my nephew and my children braved the uninviting weather, the threat of freezing water and the absence of other swimmers, and we plunged in (after consulting with the life guard who was still trying to figure out the safest place to put the flags.)

The fog stayed and we had the breath stolen from our lungs as we dived into the waves but it was great. A half an hour later, the flags were up and other people flooded the sand, stripping to swim in the refreshing waters of the Pacific Ocean. We had a great time. It was super invigorating and a great way to start the day.

I'm so glad we went for it instead of making excuses to stay in bed. Ever had that feeling?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Warm and Fuzzy

Students where I teach receive 800 hours of English language training for free as part of the Skills for Education and Employment (SEE) program which is funded by the government. It is, however, rare for students to actually complete 800 hours, and this is so for a number of reasons.

Some move, either to another town, interstate or overseas. Some withdraw due to health or other personal issues. Some find work (which is the purpose of the whole program). Some enrol in vocational courses such as aged care or childcare at other institutions, and some are just plain lazy and don't want to work, so they either get kicked out of the program for non or poor attendance, or they quit.

Yesterday one of my students, Thomas, completed 800 hours, and in doing so he also earned his Certificate III in Spoken and Written English. The latter achievement is also a feather in my cap as his teacher. Thomas decided that he would like to bring his guitar to class on his last day and play a song for us. Great idea.

We finished the lesson early and I made a short speech and presentation to Thomas which included his laminated certificate, and a farewell card signed by all of us. Then he sang Halo which he said was written by Lionel Ritchie, but turned out to be Hello. It was a beautiful, albeit heavily accented version. A round of applause for Thomas (front left in photo) before he played the second song: a Vietnamese song which he delivered with equal intensity and aplomb. More applause followed, then handshakes and well wishes. A few photographs and then goodbye. I felt very happy and proud, but I will miss Thomas.

That was my warm and fuzzy moment for the week. Do you have anything to share?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How long is too long?

How long is a piece of string? Waiting is such a waiting game. (Jot that down so you will remember it and can pass it on to your children and grandchildren). I'm wondering when I will start writing again. I'm pondering whether I may be turning into a professional procrastinator. 

I've been reading news articles on line this morning: about the death and legacy of former Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, about ways to use money better, and advice on what not to buy new, a bit about the cricket test between Australia and Pakistan which starts today in Dubai (I would love to be able to go and watch it), and a nice piece about the largest spider in the world.

I just shared all that riveting information with you so now I can sign off and say I ticked the 'write a blog post' box.

But seriously, will I leave it too long before starting to write again? So long that I cannot resume? Ridiculous! I'm a writer. It's what I do, so stay tuned.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The X Factor

Many people will be talking about Marlisa's win on The X Factor last night, and therefore I will. I had a beef, and have that very same beef with young contestants on these types of shows. Marlisa is undoubtedly a good singer, and developed during the course of the show into a fine performer, and I am happy for her and her family, (and for Ronan who finally cracked a win after 5 years) but...

Marlisa's age was constantly referred to during the competition which gave her an unfair advantage over the other contestants. It was used to excuse poor performances and to garner sympathy. Secondly, this young lady clearly struggled more than others with the emotional strain of being on The X Factor. It may only be a television show but the contestants work very hard, and are under a lot of pressure and public scrutiny. I don't think children should be subjected to such stress. Thirdly, I felt uncomfortable watching Marlisa: dressing beyond her years, and singing songs with which she could not possibly have had any emotional connection.

I wish her well, and I am happy for her success, but...

Any thoughts on young contestants on TV shows?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Reader's Flow

Here's a reading update in case you missed my statuses on Facebook and/or you don't follow me on Goodreads. I just finished Meditations by Marcus Aurelias (long, repetitive and hard to read but very interesting and thought provoking), and The Many Loves of Marriage by Thomas and Nanette Kinkade (a lemonade and apple pie look a marriage with lots of inspirational analogies and anecdotes)

I added Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express and The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner to my exclusive 'to read' (only 20 places available). I started reading The Four Loves by my favourite author, C.S.Lewis, and I purchased Never by Crash Froelich to read on my phone.

Writing? How's the writing going, I hear you ask. Nothing to report. 

What are you reading at the moment?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rain Storm

Still on my mind this morning is the rain storm which hit Sydney and Wollongong during the week, and in particular the interview conducted with a home owner after a flash flood destroyed his home, endangering his life and the lives of his wife and children.

His description of what happened was delivered so matter of factly that it was clear he was still in shock. In the blink of an eye their situation worsened from a little water coming in under the door to a raging torrent smashing down the door and filling their house almost to the ceiling.

They managed to escape with some assistance from their neighbours as the water rose to knee level. They were lucky. The house was a complete mess. Imagine the contents of your home thrown into a mud filled tumble dryer.

This story reminds me again of the fragility of our lives, and the God given resilience of people to fight back from and overcome adversity. We are both weaker than we care to admit and stronger than we realize.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Shock departure

Jarryd Hayne 2011 (cropped).jpgJarryd Hayne is a rugby league superstar. Rookie of the year in 2006, and Dally M Player of the year in 2009. The 2014 season was his best, with another Player of the Year award, the highest number of tries and player of the series in New South Wales State of Origin series triumph. At just 26 years of age, Hayne is a player of rare and ubiquitous talent who has achieved everything in the game except for a premiership with the only NRL club he has played for: the Parramatta Eels. With the signing of a new contract, he was set to become the highest paid player in the game.

Now he has quit rugby league, and is heading to the United States to have a crack at American Football. He has his sights set on playing in the NFL, and who could deny that such prodigious talent will not be as highly prized in the US as it is here. It's a huge shock for the rugby league community and a massive risk for Hayne personally, but I say good luck to him.

Hayne said in the press conference that his goal was to become a professional rugby league player so he could buy his mum a house. He said he had achieved that, and everything since had been icing on the cake. It is time, he said, for a new challenge.

Thanks for entertaining us Jarryd, and all the best with the pursuit of your dreams. When you are ready, come back to us and we will welcome you with open arms. Champion.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Assuming most of my regular readers will remember what the acronym W.A.S. stands for, won't help deal with the ignorance, no offence, of new readers or casual visitors. There is an army of Square Pegs fans who storm the gates of hyperspace every morning to see what the great and not at all famous writer, D.A.Cairns has to say.

Sadly but not quite inexcusably, I have been neglecting my fans, and my writing. I've been neglecting a lot of things lately as a matter of fact, due to...let's call it an emotional distraction or two.

This Writing Activity Statement (W.A.S.) is proudly brought to you by...I've been watching too much television. Since the last W.A.S. I have had three short stories rejected, and zero published. I have added barely a paragraph to my novel and I have not written any new short stories. I'm barely a writer. I'm a shadow of a literary craftsman. I'm a vague idea. A long held but inconsistently pursued dream. I'm a bit stuck.

Never mind. It's raining and cold today. Winter has returned uninvited and unwelcomed. Never mind. It's all good. I feel good. How are you doing?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Shine with me

Out on the road this morning with my iPod shuffle supplying tunes for my mind while my legs and lungs battled on, I found peace. I felt settled in my mind, my thoughts clear despite the lack of oxygen in my brain. The song which particularly struck me, resonating encouragement, was Shine With Me by POD. Just a song. Just a guy singing some words while his mates play instruments. How beautiful is the way music connects us to each other, and to the Almighty. How it touches us, moves us, inspires us.

It's actually not that hard to find peace, you just need to know where to look. The God of all peace is never far away, you just need to find a way to connect. Shine With Me is an invitation to a perfect relationship.

How and where do you find peace?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Tennis anyone?

My family gets together once a month or so to play tennis. None of us are very good although I have noticed some improvement. However, it's not about being good or winning (official lie: if you play, you should always play to win), it's about spending time together. We get together on other occasions naturally, both organised and spontaneous, but playing tennis is something we do to make sure life doesn't pull us away from each other.

Life can tear us loose from the moorings of our family and friends, so we must be vigilant with the maintenance of our anchors. (Sorry for the double boating analogy. I don't even like boats very much.)

Aside from family and friends, do you have any anchors in your life?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Is honesty really the best policy?

I watched The Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds again last night. I really enjoyed it and it got me thinking about truth, and the infamous adage that honesty is the best policy.

Bullock's character, Margaret, blackmails her assistant, Andrew, into marrying her so that she can avoid deportation to Canada. She almost goes through with wedding until a last minute attack of the guilts prompts a confession from the altar. Having agreed to get married and then get a quickie divorce, and thus maintain the secret reason for the marriage from Andrew's family, Margaret falls victim to love. Her admission of the farce of their engagement and impending nuptials, and her subsequent refusal to go through with the ceremony hurts and shocks everyone. She feels that because Andrew's family have all been so good to her, it would be wrong to deceive them so she tells the truth.

It might have been much easier on the family if she had have kept her mouth shut and gone through with it. But there's no drama there, right? Every film needs that moment, especially rom coms, when all is lost and it seems that the protagonists are not going to be together.

People talk about loving and valuing honesty, but most of us, I suspect have been burned by truth at least once in our lives.We are, to varying degrees, afraid of it, because we recognize its power. Being honest and open can be very risky because it leaves us vulnerable to pain. Truth can be weaponised and used to hurt people. Truth can be used against us by others, and misused by ourselves. Truth can be very dangerous.

At the end of The Proposal (spoiler alert) truth was what opened the way for Margaret and Andrew to be together. They were able to admit and accept how they each felt about the other. If we want intimacy we must have honesty, but because honesty can cause us pain, it must be mastered by love.

Friday, October 3, 2014


I think I've only done one Facebook status update in the past two days. Mind you, it was a good one. If you missed it, I said that English was a female language because is was complicated and full of tricks. It became an internet sensation with one irate responder questioning the political correctness of such a statement.

Speaking of political correctness, I have one more essay to write to finish my last subject for Masters. The subject is cultural perspectives, and surprise, surprise the major essay (2500 words) is on Indigenous Education. Indigenous education is no longer merely concerned with employing more culturally appropriate and pedagogically efficient teaching methods, but also with educating white Australians about Aboriginal culture.

I don't have a problem with this except that, as with many essays required of university students, so much has already been written on the issue, what new information can I contribute? What original insights and fresh perspectives can I provide? Zero. What I am doing is essentially regurgitating and/or reassembling information. It isn't a very interesting or creative task but it's due midnight tomorrow which may as well be midnight today because tomorrow is NRL Grand Final day.

I'd better get on with the essay. Any thoughts on the regurgitation and/or reassembly of information?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


This could be fast approaching a record period of inactivity for me. I actually can't remember the last time I wrote anything besides these usually lame and inconspicuous blog posts. I'm wondering this morning if I should be worried about this dry spell. Should I fret over my lack of creativity, or more accurately my lack of desire to be creative? Should I force myself, discipline myself so that inspiration has an illuminated pathway down which to run?

Nah. It'll happen when it happens. I just can't write at the moment. Can't find the time and I don't want to find the time. I've got other things on my mind, and I'm through with beating myself up about what I should and shouldn't do.