Seven Australian Writers who have Suffered with Mental Illness.

In a fractured and profane existence, art provides a route to the revered and divine. There is an idealism about creatives living on the edge. Their sensitivity and vulnerability are considered necessary to find and reveal beauty. Many artists deal with inner troubles. Yesterday was World Mental Health Day and from 10 to 18 October 2020, it is Mental Health Week in Queensland. A reflection on the struggles many Australian writers have suffered gives us insight at this time.

In 2014 author/illustrator Mel Tregonning, at the age of 31, tragically took her own life after being let out of a mental health clinic. Her friend Shaun Tan collaborated with her posthumously to create “Small Things”. The story wordlessly tells how a small boy and his sister share their concerns and find support. The aim was to leave a legacy that could help others.

John Marsden, famed author of “Tomorrow, When the War Began”, openly talks of spending time in a psychiatric hospital for depression in his 20s, after leaving university. Another children’s author, Paul Jennings has shared his difficult relationship with his father. He has described how the feelings of disgust he felt for his father intruded on his inner world.

Doctor, medical researcher and author Kate Richards writes about her experiences with psychosis. “Madness, a memoir” is her first-hand experience of trying to create balance and stability.

Charmian Clift collaborated with husband George Johnston on various novels including “High Valley”. She was a talented journalist and wrote for the Argus. After moving to Greece, she wrote several fictions including “Honour’s Mimic”. In the 1960s she was responsible for a popular weekly column in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Melbourne Herald. She wrote the script for Johnston’s ‘My Brother Jack” television production. Both Clift and Johnston drank heavily. In 1969, at the age of 45, she overdosed on sleeping pills while under the influence of alcohol.

In the 1920s, Charles Carter was the Treasurer of the Australian Literature Society. He was a prolific playwriter and published regularly in Corroboree – the society’s journal. At the age of 75 he committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of The Spencer Street General Post Office in Melbourne.

Nicholas Kolios was born in Turkey in 1885. A traumatic experience caused him to migrate to Australia in 1922. He was a journalist and contributed to Ethniki Salpinx. He became the owner, went bankrupt and committed suicide shortly after. He was 42. One can only assume suffering displacement as a migrant contributed to his failing mental health.

All these intelligent and extraordinary people have endured mental illness. Those who lost their lives have left a fall-out of grief and loss that has echoed down generations. Notions of romance are not a fact of this outcome. Perhaps, if effective detection, treatment and prevention were available, these people would have been able to reach a balance more easily.  De-stigmatisation of mental illness begins with understanding. This can only be achieved by communicating and connecting openly about these experiences. Writers have the tools to be that catalyst.

If you are needing support, you can find help here:

The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante

This is a coming of age story about an Italian middle-class girl called Giovanna. She lives in Naples and the story opens with her questioning the unconditional love her father has bestowed on her. She overhears her parents talking. Her father blames her failing grades on her transformed likeness to ostracized Aunt Vittoria.  This propels her on a search for her aunt and she discovers the blue-collar area of Italy. She rebels against her father as she watches her family disintegrate. Her father leaves to live with another family. In awe of her mother’s ability to forget how much she hates her father; she tries to see the good in him. Ferrante’s quick moving text charts Giovanna’s experiences from 12 to 16. She captures the extreme feelings teenagers go through and the changing perspectives and gradual understanding that comes as they mature. Motivations are first simplistically assessed. As she grows, Giovanna gains insight into the nuances and complexities that are behind human behaviour. This is a woman’s tale, with various female characters taking bit parts. Universal and biblical themes thread throughout including beauty and substance, class, love and a search for meaning. The description of the country is intricate and transports the reader. The story ends with the main character and her friend Ida deciding to “become adults as no one ever had before.”

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.

Dellarobia Turnbow, is bored with her life as a farm wife. She sets out for a rendezvous with a younger man and is entranced by a hillside covered in orange monarch butterflies or King Billies. Although some consider this strange phenomenon a divine intervention, entomologist Ovid Byron determines it is due to climate change. Kingsolver captures the frustration of a women denied her potential due to pregnancy, isolation and poverty. The story is a belated coming of age of Dellarobia. Her confidence grows as she solves the mystery of the butterflies. Scriptural metaphors are laced throughout hinting at an apocalyptic end. The focus on the real-life issue of climate change does not allow an escape from reality but smacks the reader straight in the face with the current crisis the planet is experiencing.

The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean Dominique Bauby.

Bauby, experiences a stroke at the age of 43. He is in the prime of his life, on the editorial staff at Elle and has two small children. After waking 20 days later, he could only blink his left eyelid. Suffering what is called locked-in-syndrome he dictates this novel through blinking this eye. The beauty of this manuscript is its simplicity. The everyday of life and the importance of little things are lyrically described with precise minimalism ‘Céleste (his daughter) cradles my head in her bare arms, covers my forehead with noisy kisses and says over and over, “You’re my dad, you’re my dad,” as if in incantation’. The search for meaning and the desire to be remembered are poignantly described as the small things take on importance “My nostrils quiver with pleasure as they inhale a robust odour – intoxicating to me, but one most mortals cannot abide.” It was thought at the time of writing he might improve. He died suddenly two days after the French publication of this book, at the age of 45. He ironically was reading the Count of Monte Cristo – literature’s first locked-in-syndrome character – just before his stroke. Reading his story is at times unbearably sad as he is weighed down by the diving-bell – his earthly body. Yet at times it is incredibly uplifting as his butterfly – all his imaginative thoughts- land on what it is to be human.

Australian Writers who have used Male Pseudonyms.

Have you wanted to write using a pseudonym?

People do this for several reasons. Sometimes their own name is very common, other times their content does not blend well with their day job. Another reason is that authors wish to remove bias when having their work assessed.

Women have had a tough time getting published. Many brilliant female writers have been forgotten when their less talented male counter parts were supported and promoted.

Gwen Harwood’s(1920 – 1995) work is sublime, and she is one of Australia’s finest poets. “Barn Owl” is iconic. We honour her with a most significant poetry prize – The Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize. Gwen had her work rejected when publishing under her name. She used many pseudonyms: Walter Lehmann, W.W. Hagendoor, Francis Geyer, Timothy (TF) Kline and Alan Carvosso. She was seeking to bypass the prejudice she experienced as a female poet. She had work rejected but creative ideas stolen. In 1961 she protested by submitting two sonnets to The Bulletin under the pen name Walter Lehmann. On publication, she revealed the sonnets, called “Abelard to Eloise” and “Eloise to Abelard” were acrostic. The first letters of the lines divulged the phrase “so long Bulletin” and “F!@#$ all editors”. This caused a great controversy.

Earlier in the century, Marjorie Barnard (1897 – 1987) and Flora Eldershaw (1897 – 1956) had to publish their works under the nom de plum M. Barnard Eldershaw. They collaborated on five novels from 1920s to 1950s . “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is deemed to be one of Australia’s original science fiction novels. It was not published in its entirety until 1983 and was highly regarded.

Ethel Handel Richardson (1870 – 1946) wrote for decades under her pen name, Henry Handel Richardson. She was challenging the widely held belief that the writing of women could be detected. It never was. Her novel “The Getting of Wisdom” is now an Australian classic. The Richard Mahony trilogy took her twenty years to complete. It is considered the ultimate accomplishment in Australian fiction. Following its success, her identity was finally revealed.

Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin (1879-1954) wrote under the name of Miles Franklin. Her influence was acknowledged in 2013 with the establishment of the Stella Prize. The annual prize celebrates and promotes the excellence of Australian women’s writing. It is awarded annually for the best work of literature.

Women who revealed their gender suffered prejudice. These authors include Rosa Praed, Ada Cambridge, Christina Stead and Tasma the pen name for Jessie Couvreur.

We have barely heard of Mary Hannay Foott (1846 – 1918), Queensland’s first female journalist, who is attributed to inventing bush poetry. Despite her prodigious talent she was relegated to the “Housekeeper” column and the “Women’s Page”. A small consolation occurred in 1895, when she undertook two major interviews with women writers for The Queenslander. The first was with the famous novelist Rosa Praed who wrote of Gladstone. The was second was with Melbourne journalist Florence Blair.

Many of these names are no longer recognised. They were often denigrated as lady novelists whose work was frivolous, commercial and marginalised.

The names we do recognise such as Miles Franklin and Henry Handel Richardson still do not have their work published under their actual name. Publisher Percy Reginald Stephensen (1901 – 1965) from Maryborough, Queensland published these women’s works under several publishing companies. These included P.R. Stephensen and Endeavour Press. He knew because of the gender bias, they would suffer if they used their real names.

He also published the first Aboriginal authored newsletter Abo Call … but that is another story.

Women and Madness by Phyllis Chesler

Chesler is an emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies at City University of New York. This text was first published in 1972. What Chesler does is validate that most mental illness in women is due to conditioned behaviour.  “The cumulative effect of being forced to lead a circumscribed life is toxic. The psychic toll is measured in anxiety, depression, phobias, suicide attempts, eating disorders, and such stress-related illnesses as addiction, alcoholism, high blood pressure, and heart disease.” However, when these women go to seek help, they are classified as healthy, neurotic or psychotic by a patriarchal system. 90% of psychiatrists are male and the measure for a healthy woman is based on a gender bias that sees them as less competitive and more submissive than a healthy man. By these standards, the normal female is neurotic. When women seek help, they compound their mental illness because the system is patriarchal. It further enforces conditioning that requires them to be quiet and compliant. Chesler raises more questions and finishes the book with 13. The most significant of these being – where is a woman to seek the real help she needs to break free from this toxic conditioning? This book is both revolutionary and prescient.

My Brother Jack by George Johnston

Each read of this fifty-six-year-old classic reveals more nuances about the Australian identity. Set in post-war Melbourne suburbs, this seminal piece is a retelling by David Meredith of his life. His mother is a nurse who houses Gallipoli invalids including Meredith’s father. Suffering PTSD, he is a brutal alcoholic who displays unpredictability and weakness. The circumstances are so familiar, like an echo from within the walls of many homes from that time. Still to this day jingoism and heroic idealism is trotted out every Anzac Parade. Millions of dollars are syphoned into war memorials and ceremonies to recognise the tragedy of those who died. What this novel does is look at the consequences for those who survived. The family violence such as typified by Meredith being beaten unconscious by his father; the mother living in fear of her life; the grotesque disabilities of those men she nursed who could not survive independently; split open the myth of winning and national pride. Meredith’s brother Jack, considered the moral compass of the family, yearned for active service. When he was injured on home ground and could not participate, he felt this was an affront to his manliness and lost his way. We also get to be voyeurs of Meredith’s awful treatment of his wife. This is a consequence of his own epiphany about the emptiness of the suburban dream. Johnston’s writing evokes a melancholic nostalgia of the sprawling suburbs. The anti-war message is achieved simply by describing the reality of Australia at that time. The reverberations of these wars are still felt today, and Johnston’s observations still have chilling relevance.

Four Tips on how to Handle Rejection and put Self-Doubt in its Place

Rejection is particularly difficult to handle for perfectionists and high achievers. As a writer you will have to get ready for a lot of it. Publishers, editors, agents and readers can reject your work in polite or nasty ways. Modesty can be important but when this slips into overwhelming self-doubt, as you internalise the criticism, it can be paralysing. Many writers are high achievers and it takes an enormous effort to share your manuscript. Criticism can be like getting the carpet pulled out from under you. We want to share four tips to make the experience less painful.

  1. Do not take it personally. 

Not everyone likes oranges. You might be an orange and you write like an orange. Some people really hate oranges, some people really like oranges and some people do not care either way. If you try and please everyone one, you will end up with a manuscript that lacks authenticity and a voice. Also, many publishers want your work to fit a certain cast. If it does not suit their commercial needs, it does not mean that your story lacks integrity. Sometimes you may be so unique that people without vision do not understand your work.

  1. Feed off the confidence and courage of those around you.

Join a writer’s group and find a mentor. This can help you realise that everybody experiences rejection. Writers are very supportive of other writers. There are many online writing communities that are motivational to the members. Mentors inspire us. They encourage us when we doubt ourselves and spur us to keep practising and moving forward. They ignite creativity and support us to be resilient and persistent.

  1. Listen to the constructive criticism.

Some feedback employs the radical candour model. They care whilst providing challenging and honest feedback. It is important to listen to this feedback as it makes you a better writer. For example, being told your writing is too flowery or descriptive gives you something to work on. Even if you love the description you use, toning it down will make your story more accessible. Nasty generalisations such as you cannot write, or this is terrible are just demoralising and should be ignored.

  1. Self-Publish

You can build your confidence by self-publishing. Everyone should have access to feedback about their writing and support to take it to the next step. A community is robbed of its richness if there is a lack of diverse voices telling their story. If your ideas are considered problematic, difficult, upsetting or provocative you may be silenced. Stories different to ours help enlarge our world and fill it with multiplicity. Reach out to Mary River Press Services if you want help to publish your manuscript.

When you get criticism, take time to remember your motivation for writing. Then reach out for support and self-publish to build your confidence. Happy writing!

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin’s writing is beautiful, political and too immense for one genre. She intricately and quietly draws us through her compelling story about the twin worlds of Urras and Anarres. Anarres has split from Urras, is anarchist and the home of physicist, Shevek. He believes his studies on time, called the Principle of Simultaneity, can only be completed on Urras, so he travels to find more freedom. He attempts to increase the communication between to the two realms, after 200 years of very little contact, but finds himself alienated from both. The novel is a discussion of all sorts of societies. Le Guin does not endorse any specific one but directly drives us towards clarity. She does warn of the radicalisation of any stance. Starting from real world situations, she then presents new and ground-breaking options. The disconnection that capitalism causes is illustrated by Shevek’s reaction to Saemtenevia Prospect ‘All the people in all the shops were either buyers or sellers. They had no relation to the things but that of possession’. He is also ‘appalled by the examination system when it was explained to him; he could not imagine a greater deterrent to the natural wish to learn than this pattern of cramming in information and disgorging it at demand’. Although she recognises the drawbacks of the capitalist Urras, Anarres requires its citizens to experience great physical labour and scarcity. Questions about: whether morality is internal or should be externally imposed; if total freedom is possible and what hardships must be experienced to set up a new society with vastly different foundations; are teased out in this novel. She concludes that building a better society is an action/response process that needs to be innovative and progressive. Although this was written in 1974 in response to the Vietnam war dilemma, it is very relevant to our current leadership concerns and social limitations. That is testimony to her brilliance.

Priest Daddy by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood shares her memories of life growing up in the Midwest of America with her father who underwent “the deepest conversion on record”. His change from atheist to a catholic priest occurred after being locked in a submarine watching the exorcist while serving in the navy. The memoir tracks her return to her family’s home, with husband and cat in tow. Priest Daddy is fun in parts but deeply intimate in others. The impact of a rather perverted view of sexuality and Patricia’s evolution out of that world is highlighted. “Ah Well, I can’t argue with that,” I say, silently adding…without making myself crazy for the rest of my life”. Patricia and her mother go on vacation together. Once out of the shadow of her father’s dominance her mother begins to blossom. “My mother’s feminism goes on four wheels… Here in the rarefied space of the car…she tries something out. She says, “I think this song is sexist”. The fast moving story draws us along. The eight months she lives at home brings up memories pivotal to Lockwood’s growth that remind us of harsher realities. Personal crystallisations of experience delve us into her world. Acceptance is part of this coming of age story and is core to the family remaining close despite their different takes on the world.

What should you Pay for Editing and Proofreading?

Many self-publishing authors do not have a lot of money to spend on getting their book to publication standard.  Most require a little assistance to get the manuscript completed. Do you know what a reasonable fee is for editing or proofreading your text? Do you know what roles there are that participate in this process?  Mary River Press Services aims to answer these questions.

 There are seven main roles that can be involved in content creation.

  1. The writer.

This role can produce any content including ghost writing, rewriting existing raw manuscripts and creating new material for articles and reports.

  1. The editor.  

Editors can manage the project and develop the book from the beginning through to the final product. These editors are often called production editors and are rarely used by self-publishers.  Editors can also change the structure and rewrite the manuscript. These types of editors are often called content or line editors. The final and probably most important type of editor for a self-publisher is the copyeditor. This role checks spelling, grammar and punctuation. They also check for accuracy and consistency.

  1. The proof-reader.

A proof-reader looks for surface errors such as typographical and typesetting issues. At Mary River Press Services proofing also includes spelling, punctuation, grammar and other language mistakes. We also provide the option of academic assignment feedback and fiction appraisal.

  1. The researcher and picture researcher.

Researchers verify the information you have in your manuscript and picture researchers arrange the images and gain permissions for their use.

  1. The desktop publisher/designer.

These roles ensure texts are formatted, illustrations are arranged aesthetically, and pages are presented accurately. When you provide the text, Mary River Press Services can layout the content ready for publication.

  1. The indexer.

The indexer lists all references and concepts towards the end of the project.

  1. The translator.

This role rewrites content into a different language from existing material.

Once you have decided to employ one of these roles to assist with your project you need to be sure that the rate you pay is reasonable. If you pay too little, you probably will not get a quality outcome. You also do not want to pay too much and be left out of pocket by using an unscrupulous company or individual.

When you are seeking a quote, you need to be clear on what the contract covers. Additional days of work caused by changing your mind will be chargeable.

The below rates can vary and are an indication of what is a standard charge based on freelance association recommended rates for these services.

Editing and Proofreading Rates for Australian Writers per hour
Specialist editing, such as classical languages or complex mathematics $90
Project management $65
Substantial editing and rewriting $55
Design $50
Copy-editing $50
Rights and contracts $50
Publicity $50
Full indexing $50
Picture research $50
Proofreading $50 ($5 per page)
Manuscript reading and reporting $40
Index adapting and simple indexing $40

A page is always a definite 250 words. It is often best to get a quote as work can take longer than you think. Time frames, speciality required and changes all may increase the cost of the task.

Good luck with your writing. If you want to compete for a chance of a free appraisal, be sure to enter the Mary River Press Services short story prize.

Benefits of Self-Publishing

Are you a control freak? Do you want your book out quickly?  If so, then self-publishing is for you!

The biggest benefit of self-publishing a book is that you maintain control over the product. If you have esoteric interests or wish to maintain the integrity of your work, the self-publishing process ensures you maintain the quality of the end-product.

1. Self-publishing has creative freedom and flexibility.

With traditional publishing you do not have very much creative freedom or flexibility. Once you sell the rights to your book, it can be changed. Traditional publishers are looking for books that fit a certain cast. The publishers will either reject the book or ask for changes, if it does not suit their preferences. 

2. Speed to market is quick.

The process of publishing a book is slow with traditional publishers. It may take two to three years or more to get your book to market. This is because lots of people are putting their opinion into changes they think your book needs. A self-publisher has total creative freedom and flexibility.  Once you are happy with your book, you can upload it and within 24 to 48 hours it is available for purchase.

3. Production requirements are minimal.

Traditional publishers do not charge to publish your book and there is no upfront charge. You get an advance and you do not get any extra money until that book has earnt that amount of money back. As the publisher takes the risk when publishing your book, they end up receiving most of the sale profits. 

If a publisher asks you for money upfront, they are scamming you. These types of businesses are called vanity press or subsidy publishing businesses. They take your manuscript and charge between $5000 and $20000 to publish it. They take zero risk, outlay no funds and do not take responsibility for errors. Be aware of and avoid these businesses who prey on the vulnerable.

With self-publishing you are the publisher, so you must carry out the proofing, editing, graphic design and marketing. If you outsource those tasks to a company but upload the product yourself, it is called assisted publishing. Mary River Press Services fall into the assisted publishing category. You pay upfront for those outsourced tasks.

4. You can determine the quality of your self-published book.

Both traditional and self-publishers can produce very high-quality books. If you learn how to format the book and create a good book cover, you can achieve as high a quality product as a traditional publisher. You can also outsource tasks, and for a moderate fee you can still produce a high-quality product. You need to shop around to find a company that supplies good quality services at an  idea cost for you.

5. You choose how to distribute and market your book.

Traditional publishers may not provide a lot of marketing dollars for your book. They often expect you to do most of the marketing. Self-publishers must do all the marketing. If you are not going to get lots of support both publishing methods are similar. You can distribute your self-published book in a similar way to traditional publishers. These opportunities vary depending on which platform you self-publish on.

6. There are few legal pitfalls.

Traditional publishers can have do not compete clauses. These can stop you self-publishing as this would compete with their modified version of your book . Another part of a traditional publishing contract is the grant of rights clauses. These can take a lot from you without remunerating you for it, and you lose control of your book. The other clause that is important in these contracts is reversion of rights. These cover the steps of getting the rights of your book back. If you sign a bad contract, you might have to wait up to 35 years to get the copyright of your book back. The self-publishing method has few legal implications if you are an honest author. If you do not follow a retailer’s terms of service, and try and run a scam on a platform such as Amazon, they will not let you sell on there anymore. If you abide by the terms of services of the retailer you will not have any legal problems. 

Good luck with your book and reach out to us at if you need any support.

Circe by Madeline Miller

If you love Greek mythology Circe is for you. Madeline Miller creates a world based on the enchantress. Circe is the daughter of the sun god Helios and Oceanid nymph, Perse. Circe has long been an inspiration in literature. Homer and James Joyce wrote of her. She was a powerful sorceress who turned sailors into pigs. She is emasculating and potent. In Madeline’s first-person story, Circe reveals her emotions. She is not traditionally beautiful like her mother.  At her birth, when her mother imagined her betrothed to a son of Zeus, Helios states “No. Her hair is streaked like a lynx. And her chin. There is a sharpness to it that is less than pleasing.” In a world full of arrogant, narcissistic and vengeful Gods, she rises in her strength. She discovers her powers and befriends mortals. The solitary birth of her first child “I knew so little of childbirth, its stages and progression. The shadows changed, but it was all one endless moment, the pain like stones grinding me to meal …On it went. In my agonies, I overturned a table.” and her independence make Circe relevant. The embellished tale is peppered with many characters from Greek mythology. Out of this tradition rises a unique retelling with a women’s inner world at the core.

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

Papers transported to Melbourne inside a metal trunk are the basis of Carey’s story. Broken up into age brackets, it chronicles Ned’s life from his point of view. Events of his life show his humanity. After his father’s passing, Ned felt “there would never be a knot or a rabbit I skun or a horse I rode that I did not see those small eyes watching to see I done it right .” His brothers and sisters remain peripheral to the tale. Carey can write rich stories about complex women. The pivotal character of Ned’s story is his mother, Ellen. A candid portrayal of her giving birth with only 11-year-old Ned to help establishes her strength. Ned’s love of his newborn sister Kate is expressed as he looked into “her eyes so clear and untroubled.” This provides a window into his sensitive nature. The aspirations and successes of this poor rural family is simply stated. Ned was a leader. The community recognition he received when he rescued a drowning boy was one of his proudest moments. These early years and his connection to his mother explain why things evolved as they did in his later life. Carey has taken a myth and replaced it with a real family. We understand them, as they try to survive as selectors in the unmanaged and merciless Australian countryside.

Five Tips to Improve Characterisation

The next step of story writing once you have completed your exposition is characterisation.  In short stories there are usually only one or two characters.

Firstly, you need to know their name, age, occupation, happiest memory, worst memory, best friend, favourite food, nationality and hopes for the future. Knowing about their family life, where they live and what talents they possess further develops this creation.

The primary character is called the protagonist. The antagonist is the character that is causing the main character problems. Secondary characters are peripheral to the main story.

The rising tension between the protagonist and antagonist makes the story much more exciting.

You can develop these characters by:

1. Using their actions.

In Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, an insight into Ned’s leadership skills was provided through his action of saving a drowning boy. “Never one to wait I were swimming in the flooded creek before I knew it the water so fast and cold it would take your breath like a pooka steals your soul.” The fact that he found the drowning boy because he was avoiding the lockup where is dad was kept also expands our understanding of the inner world of this character.

2. Using other character’s reactions to them.

Ellen Kelly, Ned’s mother, knows that her son is steadfast and will do as she asks.  Even though he did not want to tell his father that his sister Grace was born, Ellen told him to “Go tell your da he has a little girl” because she knew she could rely on him.

3. Using language to describe them.

There is a rule with adjectives. They are always in this order: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose, noun. So, I would describe Ned as a sensitive, small, thin, Irish child. Their house would be a small, 19th-century, square, slab hut. Use of figurative language such as similes and metaphors allow the writer to illustrate subtle and specific attributes and appearances of characters.

Carey has Ned describe Ellen Kelly’s eyes “it aint the cold I remember but the light of the tallow candle it were golden on my mother’s cheeks it shone in her great dark eyes bright and fierce as a native cat to defend her fatherless brood”.

4. Using their reaction to the rising action of the plot.

An example can be found in Roald Dahl’s morbid short story, The Way Up to Heaven from the Tales of the Unexpected series. Mrs Foster’s reaction to her tormenting husband as the action rises, provides a surprising dimension to the seemingly fragile character. She suddenly becomes assertive and leaves her husband behind. It is unknown whether she knew he would die from being trapped in the lift. This change of character from submissive to assertive suggests she knew very well what she was doing.

5. Through their thoughts and words.

Carey’s Ned Kelly reveals his sensitivity when he states, “I did not wish to leave my new sister with her soft downy black hair and her white skin how it glowed like sepulchre inside that earth floored hut.”

The dialogue of a character is difficult to create at first. Here are some tips that may help with the dialogue.

  1. Showing attention can be communicated by the character leaning in, asking questions and having strong eye contact.
  2. Showing lack of attention can be communicated by the character leaning back and using antagonistic body language such as eyes rolling or looking away, closing arms and shrugging.
  3. Anxious disposition can be shown by the character having difficulty being still, fiddling, moving jerkily, breaking eye contact (by looking away, up or down), rubbing self or responding hesitantly.
  4. Rage or exasperation can be shown by the character having a tight or low tone, set jaw, tight neck, strong grip, and short staccato sentences.
  5. A character can be shown to be lying by speaking fast and flitting their eyes, delaying reactions, changing the topic, being defensive, standing aloofly, using closed body language such as crossing arms, demanding a big personal space, twitching, strange scratching or fidgeting.

If you follow all these suggestions, your character development will be as Mary Poppin’s announces “Spit Spot”.

A fun fact about this saying is that it follows a special type of grammar rule called an ablaut reduplication, but that is a topic for another blog.

Enjoy developing your characters, and don’t forget to enter your story into the Mary River Press Services Short Story Prize, closing on the 1st November, 2020.

Four Tips for Writing the Exposition.

Exposition means background details provided by the storyteller or narrator. It is sometimes called setting the scene.

In a short story everything hangs on the start. You need an explosive start to grab the reader’s attention. Skilful writers can introduce key information about settings, characters and themes. The best authors can intrigue the reader enough for them to go further.  Short stories do not have the luxury of starting slow. Hooking the reader in the first paragraph is essential.

1. Be imaginative when introducing intriguing information about your characters.

Gillian Mears starts the first paragraph of her collection of short stories Ride a Cock (1988):

Sss, sss, sss, the men sounded deadly and wielded imaginary whips. Beetle lifted his leg at the bottom of one pair of trousers, but nobody yelled or noticed. Albert laughed secretly and pressed on to be within sight of the finishing post.

Background information we need for this story is found in this paragraph.

We learn about one of the main characters. We know that his name is Albert and he is somewhat sardonic. Also he has a dog called Beetle and is keen on the races.

There is information about the setting. We know they are at the track and the horses are racing to the finish line.

This makes the reader ask more questions. It suggests interesting character information and hints at Albert’s motivations.

The fourth paragraph:

‘Go it girl,’ he hugged himself tightly as he recognised the big bay mare he’d bet Jinnie would lead all the way. From where he stood, she looked a certainty. Then suddenly it came to Albert that she was yawing into the straight all wrong.

The introduction of Jinnie, the second character occurs and we want to know more about the mare.

2. Create questions readers want answered.

Mears has cleverly piqued our curiosity. She has done this in the following ways.

There is involvement with the characters and what they will do: Why is the dog there? Why are they racing? How is Albert involved? Who is Jinnie?

There is a dramatic event without explanation: Why is the mare not running correctly? Why is this so important?

3. Use dramatic contrast.

The scene starts with the mundane act of going to the track with a pup. We can already sense something is wrong with the situation and anything but ordinary. The strange circumstances are juxtaposed to an everyday occurrence.

4. Use a strong narrators voice or a memorable setting.

 A strong narrator’s voice combines with a captivating start in Recipe for Bees by Gail Anderson-Dargatz (1999):

“Have I told you the drone’s penis snaps off during intercourse with the queen bee?” asked Augusta.

‘Yes,” said Rose. “Many times.”

Before August dragged her luggage upstairs to the apartment, before she checked on the welfare of her elderly husband, Karl, even before she hugged and greeted her seven kittens, she had made her way, with the aid of a cane, across the uneven ground to inspect the hive of bees she kept in Rose’s garden.

A memorable setting is found in her second book. This detailed setting exposition is intensely nostalgic.

“When it came looking for me I was in the hollow stump by Turtle Creek at the spot where the deep pool was hidden by low hanging bushes, where the fishing was the very best and only my brother and I figured we knew of it. Now, in spring, the stump blossomed purple and yellow violets so profusely that it became something holy and worth pondering. Come fall, the stump was flagrantly, shamefully red in a coat of dying leaves from the surrounding trees. This was my stump, where I stored my few illicit treasures: the lipstick my mother smuggled home for me in a bag of rice; the scrap of red velvet…

Told through the eyes of 15-year-old Beth, living in rural Canada, this novel is an intense sensory experience set during World War Two.   Anderson-Dargatz’s lament for yesteryear is driven by the reflection of the first-person narrator. This places it in the memory of the storyteller. The nostalgic treatment delivers a lyrical history amidst a stunning landscape of purple swallows and green skies.

The remote Turtle Valley in Canada almost becomes a character in its own right, as the poignant significance of it threads through the novel.

Enjoy writing the start of your story.  When you have finished all sections you can enter it into the Mary River Press Services competition. Winners get a free appraisal.

Stories: The Collected Short Fiction by Helen Garner

Monkey Grip, Helen Garner’s first novel, is raw. The portrayal of single mother Nora and heroin addict Javo’s life is now cemented as a classic. Written in 1977, it started her long career. She delves into authentic experiences of Australian life and disregards writing rules. She has mastery of the short story form.  In 2017 her fiction short stories were published in Stories. A companion called True Stories carried her non-fiction work. Helen Garner is refreshingly honest.  Postcards from Surfers is the pick in this collection. It is so accessible and filled with familiar landscapes.  From the arrival “Miles ahead of us, blurred in the milky air, I see a dream city: its cream and its silver, its turquoise towers thrust in a cluster from the distant spit.”  to the keen observation “the odd balcony on the half-empty tower holds rich people out into the creamy air”. It races to a conclusion dropping clues along the way.  These are written on postcards to Philip, a character from another life.  Lorna her aunt, is like everybody’s aunt who lives on the Gold Coast. Her father appears steadfast until intimate glimpses of their relationship are shared in postcard sized snippets. The story teeters from her beginnings in Geelong to her cosmopolitan life travelling. It leaves us with more questions than answers as she shares pivotal points of her growth. She is so candid and graceful, it takes your breath away.

Ten Ways to Ignite your Creative Embers and Exploit Incubation.

Have you lost your mojo? Are you being squeezed into the norms of the working day? Are you squashed as the world awards status to those who possess logical and linguistic intelligence? Is the everyday experience of having people point out spelling mistakes crushing your confidence? Guess what? Some people can more easily remember and follow rules. These people mistakenly believe that because of this they are superior. The education system has traditionally rewarded regurgitating students and has ignored those who learn and understand in different ways. With advances in writing programs these people’s skills are exposed as less effective than spelling and grammar apps.

Children are naturally creative in a myriad of ways. This flame is doused as we move through formal education and employment.  We do not grieve this loss until we find we are unmotivated and morose in our everyday activities, as we sleepwalk towards the grave.  

You can nurture your creativity by utilising all your intelligences to their full potential. This will help you harness new ways of expression and problem solving.

Here are ten ways to get started.

  1. Ask questions. Come up with your first query and then write five variations for the same issue. For example, How do I get rid of cockroaches?, could also be, How do I attract cockroaches into my bin? What do cockroaches like? Where do cockroaches sleep? What animals eat cockroaches? The better question evolves out of this process.
  2. Reinterpret what is already working but use it for different purposes. The most original people have simply hidden the source of their inspiration.
  3. Engage an aware and open attitude to all forms of knowledge. Learn something new such as a Tik Tok dance or how to surf. Remember to have fun and imagine. When you play with toys your mind can meander – play doh, collage and silly putty are all joyful textural experiences.  Arouse your senses. Work hard on something and then leave it incomplete. This allows time for your unconscious mind to incubate and your ingenuity will blossom.
  4. Use free association to generate different words and ideas. For example, you start with the word cockroaches and come up with flight (you can’t use another insect).You might then come up with aeroplane.
  5. List unusual names for usual objects. For example, a giraffe may be a spotted stretch.
  6. Schedule time to brainstorm and journal. This will allow you to gather ideas that inspire you and will increase awareness of creative vision in your everyday life.
  7. Combine ideas. Look in the second draw of two different desks and combine two objects to create a toy. It might be that you find a pair of shorts and some string – can you make a kite? Go to the last and first photograph in your phone and use these to set a scene for a short story. Enter it into our short story competition.
  8. Create similes, metaphors and analogies using common day objects. Is a kettle screeching like the thoughts in your head?
  9. Write ideas on sticky notes and join associated ideas. Compare idea groups and choose the best one.
  10. Do something physical. Often when you have been thinking about something for a long time you have lots of information and ideas. Having worked for a protracted time on trying to find an answer or opportunity, you begin to feel frustrated. Your mind feels overwhelmed, as you have pushed it trying to find a solution. This is the time to give your mind a chance to forget by doing something simple like going for a bush walk, playing sport or watching a movie. Your unconscious mind takes over and gets to work on a solution. This is called incubation and it is when you get the greatest insight.

Then Aha!

The gestalt moment occurs. Sudden clarity emerges and you have an idea that you can share. People will give you feedback. Read the Enigma of Reason to understand more about this process. Be sure to critique, edit and add to your idea and most importantly, enjoy the process!

How to Improve your Writing Confidence

The best way to get started is by writing a short story. There are lots of short story competitions you can enter that will test your skills. The Australian Writer’s Resource Competition page is updated regularly and lists current competitions found by trawling other sites. Mary River Press Services’ annual competition can be found on our competition page .  

The requirements of these competitions vary so paying close attention to the details is important. You need to master the standard narrative arc of a short story before you can then break all the rules. A standard short story is a fictional work that is usually less than 7500 words and includes one plot, one or two characters, a central theme and one setting. The best short stories present an unusual perspective and are rich in figurative language.

There are four main parts of a short story:

  1. The first part of the narrative arc in a short story is where you set the scene. This is commonly called the exposition. Everything hangs on the start. It must be explosive to catch the reader’s attention straight away. You need to hook them on the rest of the story. There are not enough words to slowly build up the interest. Make your story start with a thrilling and compelling beginning.
  2. A transition to rising action occurs next usually due to a difficulty or conflict which results in heightened drama. Use this conflict and tension in the story to show and expand the character. This reduces the number of words you need for character development and enables you to be brief with their role in the story.
  3. A climax is then reached which is the most exciting and interesting point in the piece. In this genre this is often extreme and immediately shows the psychology and behaviour of the character to the reader.
  4. Finally, there is the denouement where the strands of the plot draw together and a resolution is reached. The story ends.

Make sure you carefully proofread your manuscript before submitting and get help to polish your story.  Make a start and good luck!

The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

Told through the eyes of 15-year-old Beth, living in rural Canada, this novel is an intense sensory experience set during World War Two. She befriends the local Indian kids and the rich spiritual and natural world they share enables her to survive the sexual abuse and increasing violence her PTSD suffering father imposes on her. Supernatural enchantment abounds and the line between reality and imagination is blurred as the Indian legend of coyote haunts her. She survives the cruel environment, finding friendship with other outsiders. Filthy Billy has Tourette’s Syndrome and works on her father’s farm and is key to the supernatural suspense. Her other friend, Nora is an alluring Indian girl who provides sanctuary as Beth’s world spins out of control. Their grandmother, Bertha Moses, has a masculine voice and two little fingers. Bertha weaves together the stories Beth reads in her mother’s scrapbook and her experiences of the supernatural. This is an all-time favourite and a very rare, raw, and beautiful work that evokes a longing for the harsh beauty of the country.

Kindred by Kate Legge

Gustav and Kate Weindorfer walked the Tasmanian bush in an historic yesterday where the sublime power and enchantment of the wilderness was untouched. Through the Naturalist’s Club, they found a sense of belonging and freedom from the confining strictures of civilised life. We first learn of the Tasmanian landscape when Kate’s love of botany is paused to appreciate the view of land surrounding Mount Roland near her home town of Kindred –she feels ”the silent outreach of the soul towards eternal beauty”(p12). Having recently stayed in the shadow of this” dramatic thrust of basalt” (p11) I felt the longing for the vanished world that is so lyrically brought to life by author Kate Legge.

The Naturalist’s Club is where Kate meets Gustav. Although she had explored her homeland with her brothers sayshaying “upwards in ankle- length skirt” (p11), her desire to save Cradle Mountain was lit by her membership. Kindred tells us of a world that was populatedby hobbyists who drove scientific enquiry. Kate Cowl (later becoming Weindorfer), regardless of status or lack of qualifications could share her intimate knowledge of this part of Tasmania with this group. Her love affair with Gustav and their shared dream of tourism in National Parks opened the wilderness to the invasive glare of the world. This awakening to the treasures of Cradle Mountain ultimately led to its conservation. Kate’s role was reduced due to her premature death, but Gustav kept true to their vision. Kate and Gustav wanted a road to Cradle Mountain and although both died before it was built, their legacy remains. The Mountain had 38 visitors in 1916; a century later 280 000 visitors view the panoramas the Weindorfers held as hallowed. This is a well- researched lament for yesteryear driven by Kate and Gustav’s yearning for wild places and each other

The Enigma of Reason by Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber

This book contends with the question of what makes us human by taking us through the history of philosophical ponderings from Descartes to Martin Luther King, from Hermann von Helmholtz to Nietzsche. The authors step us through their theory regarding the purpose of reason and why it developed in humans. Examples demonstrate why we work best in communities and why scrutiny is essential to determine the best ideas. An explanation of how reason and logic sit side by side comfortably with gut instincts and inference and how they are really all part of the same continuum. What is unique about humans was proposed and in this time of technology, this theory reinforces how this cannot be replicated by artificial intelligence. This is another arrow in the defence of soft skills and their importance to human success in combination with logic.

The manuscript examines critical thought around why reason has developed only in humans. It proposes that it is not separate to cognition but a metacognitive skill that helps us rationalise our actions and decisions to ourselves and others. Quotes from Martin Luther King are used to postulate it is flawed to use reason to justify faith or religion; indicating reason is only useful in certain contexts. The authors also suggest some of the inferences we come to are so fast that we are not aware of the cognitive processes involved in coming to these decisions and that our perceptions are informed and misinformed by previous experience. The evolution of reason, they argue, is to rationalise actions and this can come to good conclusions when these rationalisations are analysed by a group with similar goals. This springs from the fact that people are better at evaluating than producing arguments and human irrationality is corrected when assessed by others. It explains why we work better as a community and highlights how precisely we have evolved to be a social species.

The Mint Lawn by Gillian Mears

Gillian Mears was born into a family of four girls and wrote about Grafton in her first novel. In this intensely sublime work of art ‘she writes like an angel’. Clementine has stayed in the small country town as her other ingenious and artistic sisters abandon her for the city, one by one. Her memories are filled with her creative mother who craved to make her mundane life more fulfilled. Clementine has chosen security over opportunity and her world is desolate. This is a raw account of the intense grief Clementine feels after losing her glamorous mother in a car accident. She chooses a relationship that suffocates her whilst also keeping her safe. The dis-empowerment she feels at 25 resonates deeply and her profound craving to fulfil her potential is intimately detailed.

Middle Game by Seanan McGuire

This is a cross between Brave New World and mythology. The author’s lyrical prose slowly interlaces a malevolent drama with avarice.  Power is apotheosized with children as causalities. The story begins as a slow burn that concludes in an explosion that provides hope and light. The main protagonist, James Reed, is a Frankenstein like creation put together by alchemist and children’s author Asphodel Baker. He learns the art of alchemy and begins cloning children with the power to do magical things, like change lead into gold. Investors clamour to own these children who will bolster their wealth. James has a far more sinister desire. He creates interdependent twins, Roger and Dodger, to be the catalyst that will allow his ascension to all powerful divinity. The twins have other ideas. Will they be able to use their mastery of language and maths to make this unattainable?

The Solar War by A.G. Riddle

This is book two in the Long Winter Series. Our planet has been thrust into another ice age. Migration to the only habitable areas left has resulted in chaos, with people languishing in refugee camps with nowhere to call home. The dystopian view of the world mirrors earth. Technology and unity save humanity. Drones, AI and innovative genius all feature against a backdrop of family life, factions and risk that will keep you in suspense till the end. This is a fun read. Scientists, James and Emma, the main protagonists, now have a family and will do anything to ensure humanities’ survival. The bedlam that erupted in book one emerges again just as people feel that the war may be over, and they can go back to normal. When three asteroids from the Kuiper Belt are found to be bearing down on Earth, it cannot be denied that the lethal Grid has returned. Although trust is tested, the three factions formed on earth must now work together to fight pathogens and predators in a new world.

The Whole Woman by Germaine Greer

This is a seminal book that will change your life. Germaine is able to eloquently describe things women experience in a way that makes you feel less alone and heard. Her research is undeniably impeccable, and her discussion is visionary. The media has lampooned Germaine. She very clearly describes the misogynistic and ageist way that outspoken women are treated, and it is no irony that she is now subject to this treatment. Germaine’s work is something that must be considered as a whole. Her work is as relevant today as ever, and despite cries to the contrary – the woman question has not been answered. Her erudition and enquiry push us from our complacency.

Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

This book allows you to reimagine pre-European Australia. Dark Emu is a factual explanation of pre-European Aboriginal agricultural practices.It puts to rest the simplification of the hunter-gatherer nomadic life of Aboriginal people and provides evidence of a complex land management system that sustained life for 40 000 years. The ignorance and arrogance of those who claimed ownership of this land saw this flourishing country diminish within a few short years. The legacy of this is still felt throughout the continent.Bruce Pascoe is an academic. There is no judgement in this book, just well researched new evidence that shines a light on the intricate relationship Aboriginal people have with their land and the vast knowledge they possess.

Why you Need a Mentor?

My first writing mentor was Colin Thiele, even though he didn’t know it. I was in primary school and living in a small regional area in Queensland.  We got the opportunity to attend an author talk by him at another school. I felt excited as I was herded onto a bus for the trip across town. Once there, we were led through the school grounds to sit in the library and listen, in wonder, to this man who had such a sublime mastery of language. He was so encouraging and entertaining. He also assured us that it was completely possible to become a writer.  He left us with his address and promised to help us if we wanted to correspond. I wrote him a letter almost immediately. However, as days bled into each other, I did not send it as I did not feel confident and feared failure. Finally, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and posted it. I was amazed when he replied. This author who had written over one hundred books and was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (probably around the time he visited) had found the time to hand write a letter to me. I have often reflected on what he wrote. He joked that the letter must have come via tortoise, as the date it was written was much earlier than the date it arrived. He also said that my desire to become a writer was entirely possible and he could see that potential in the letter I had written to him. His advice was to continue to practise and if I did, I would succeed.  Do you remember who influenced you to write? Having a mentor helps us reach our potential in several ways.

  1. Inspiration. They encourage us when we doubt ourselves and spur us to keep practising and moving forward. They ignite creativity and support us to be resilient and persistent.
  2. Radical candour. They can care personally about us whilst providing challenging and honest feedback.
  3. Objective perspective. When writing, it is easy to become completely absorbed in the process. This prevents us from seeing things that a mentor, coming to the writing with a fresh perspective, will see. This objective perspective will improve your writing and keep it on the right path.
  4. Find our voice. It is often very difficult to find your authentic voice when you begin writing. A mentor can help determine what is genuine and what aspects of your writing don’t serve you well.
  5. Set goals. A mentor can help you set goals and check in to see if you are meeting them. This helps us to stay conscientiously on our path to success.

Your mentor does not have to be a professional writer.  They simply need to care for you and your goals and be willing to be honest about your writing. Writing groups, friends and family can all be sources of support. A mentor needs to have similar interests and values to the writer and be willing to provide the type of expertise you need at the time. Are you just looking for a reader to point out the weaknesses in your plot or are you looking for someone to assist you with the eBook publishing process? Mary River Press Services can assist at any stage of your writing process.

Self-Publish eBooks

One of the great things about technology is that it has opened up the world of publishing to everyone. Well almost everyone. If you are not tech savvy, can’t type and have trouble spelling, it is still difficult. Take heart because W.B Yeats was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and was unable to spell even simple words! The most common platform for self-publishing eBooks is Amazon KDP. They have a really good step by step guide.

Amazon is free to upload; however they do take a substantial part of the profit. The digital pricing page contains detailed information.

The price requirements are listed below.

AUD Price Requirements for List PriceMaximum List Price
35% Royalty Option
Less than 3 megabytes$ 0.99$ 220.00
Greater than or equal to 3 megabytes and less than 10 megabytes$ 1.99$ 220.00
10 megabytes or greater$ 3.99$ 220.00
70% Royalty Option$ 3.99$ 11.99

The joy of self-publishing is that it is limitless. If you are willing to put in the work – and you will have to do all the work – you can get your writing out there. You will be completely responsible for every aspect of its evolution. If you are not ready for this, there is the assisted model of self-publishing, where you do some of the work and get assistance with design, formatting, editing and marketing. Mary River Press Services can help beginner writers navigate publishing with this support.

Becoming a Creator

Identity, voice and representation are the cornerstones of knowledge and power. A community is robbed of its richness if there is a lack of diverse voices telling their story. This is clear when looking at history. Much of Maryborough was borne from Chinese labour and yet not one picture of the bedazzling Chinese shops that lined the main street can be found. Their story was deemed not important enough to be told. If you know that your story or the way you tell it is different, you often lack confidence to share it. If your ideas are considered problematic, difficult, upsetting or provocative you may be silenced. But those who hold views that generate controversy, help us in the evolution and assessment of our own position and thinking. Stories that are different to ours help enlarge our world and fill it with multiplicity. How do we include everyone? How can everyone’s stories be told? Firstly, we should not feel we can only publish writing or creative works that are perfect and polished. We should have digital spaces where we can experiment and play with words and other creative formats. So, what if the spelling and punctuation is not faultless – is the idea exhilarating? We should be able to put up our best efforts without fear of being judged as unworthy. Also, we should all be able to afford to publish our works. Everyone should have access to feedback about their writing and support to take it to the next step, without having to pay enormous sums demanded by the publishing houses. Give me the writing that is repulsive, enraptured, ravenous, ravished and broken, authentic, current and timeless – for this is where the stories of humanity can be found.