One Terrific Lie

Welcome to my new blog, One Terrific Lie, which will follow my progress on my new novel. Each instalment will also contain one outrageous lie that I’ll (try to) disguise as the truth. Every new week, I’ll reveal the previous week’s lie. Why would you do this? you might be thinking. That’s a good question. One day, I may have a good answer (← this is not the lie).

So, anyway, I’m about to begin a new manuscript.

My first novel, Just Another Week in Suburbia, came out in September 2017 with Pantera Press, and was described by Ryan O’Neill, winner of the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction with Their Brilliant Careers (Black Inc. 2017) as ‘a hugely enjoyable novel which illuminates the extraordinary in the everyday, and the quirky in the quotidian.’ My second novel for Pantera, [TITLE TO BE CONFIRMED], has just been returned to me for proofing. [TITLE TO BE CONFIRMED] (← this is not an attempted pun – the title hasn’t been finalised) will come out around September 2018. And the new novel, the one I’m about to begin …?

I originally had the idea about mid-2017, but it struggled to find purchase in my imagination. A good idea grows. As it grows, possibilities develop. New possibilities stimulate further growth. Further growth creates further possibilities. And on it goes, creating this symmetric and beautiful network, like a spider’s web that – at some point – captures me. That’s when I think I know enough about the premise to start the book.

This just wasn’t happening for me, though – well, not meaningfully. There were a few spurts that got me hopeful, but they never sparked other ideas. Then, in desperation, I wondered how the story would work if I swapped the gender of the protagonist. I asked a few writers friends, who all agreed it would be a fresher story if I made the swap. Once that decision was made, things began to fall into place. What (also) helped was that the protagonist is carrying some established history into the story (but I’ll get into that next week – well, hopefully).

Ideas now flowed. I jotted a lot of them down in my phone while on a cruise around New Zealand. I never map out the whole story out before I begin. Much of it reveals itself to me in the writing – although, as I write, I will dot-point things that will or might need to occur. Equally, when I finish writing for the day and I’m doing something else – making dinner, washing up, lying in bed, etc. – ideas for revision occur to me. They’ll be the first thing I attend when I sit down to write the next day, as it helps me get straight back into it. But now I was finding lots of things were falling into place without having written one word.

My usual course – instead of outlining the story – is to map out every character (with a small backstory) and every location I think I might use in the story. This gives me a map of my world, so wherever my characters go, I know what’s there, and who’s there. This way, I don’t have to stop and contemplate these things when they come up. Also, their existence can stimulate the story. E.g. in JAWiS [MINOR SPOILER ALERT], I knew Casper had a troublesome neighbour in Vic Booth, but I didn’t anticipate how influential Vic would become.

Of course, there’s always lots of characters and locations I never use. In my [TITLE TO BE CONFIRMED] (due out around September this year – or did I already mention that?), about three/fifths of the characters I created were never used, but that was okay because they helped make that world real to me. I’m not a big believer in writer’s block. I do think it happens in extreme cases, but also believe that a writer’s lack of preparation can contribute to not knowing where to go next, which writers then mistake for writer’s block. This is my preparation – a technique taught to me by my writing mentor and one-time paramour Helen Garner.

The thing I find time-consuming – and sometimes difficult – is naming everybody. Names can’t just be random. There has to be some purpose to them. A name will immediately evoke a preconception. I say ‘Barney Hooper’, and you’ve already conjured an image of what Barney looks, although I’ve told you nothing about him.

In JAWiS, the protagonist is meant to have a name that symbolises how unobtrusive he is. His surname is ‘Gray’ – not a colour, neither black nor white, but something bland. His first name ‘Casper’ is an allusion to Casper the Friendly Ghost, because Casper is meant to be a ghost in his own existence, just slipping through innocuously. People mightn’t interpret this stuff consciously, but on a subconscious level there’s always some understanding. (You might wonder how I know this – it’s because I’ve sensed it.)

My approach to coming up with names is methodical. I’ll write out two alphabets – a lowercase a – z, and an uppercase A – Z. Then I’ll pore through two books of baby names I own, as well as a folder I’ve compiled which lists first and second names by nationality. For each first name I come up with, I cross out the corresponding letter that name begins with in the lowercase alphabet. Then I do the same for surnames with the uppercase alphabet. This means (that for primary characters) I won’t double- or triple-up on names beginning with the same letter, e.g. Bob, Bill, Burt – this can be confusing for the reader to follow (unless that’s the author’s intention). When I have lists of names, I start matching, feeling which is right for which character. If I’m looking for a specific connection, I might even fall back on what a particular name means. Then I compare the final names for any unwitting clashes, e.g. in the planning for JAWiS, I had a ‘Jane’ (in case you haven’t read JAWiS that’s the protagonist’s wife – quick! Go read JAWiS) and a ‘Dane’. Dane went.

For this new novel, I’ve got my lists, but not the names of my characters, although I do know who they are – how they factor in the story, and how they relate to one another. I had hoped to get started this week, but a severe bout of food poisoning on Saturday wiped out a couple of days. I’m hoping to nut out the characters over the rest of this week, then begin Sunday.

I won’t give away the title at this early stage, but I will give you its acronym – ‘TFSoLY’. And I will say that its protagonist is a supporting character in JAWiS (which, if you haven’t read, you should). But I’ll leave it at that.

Until next Tuesday …

Blog Hop

hopLast week, I was contacted by Brisbane writer and artist Julie Kearney about participating in a blog-hop, where one writer talks about what they’re working on and their writing process, and then passes the blog off to another writer or two to do the same.

Julie herself is currently working on the second of what she hopes will be a trilogy of historical novellas set on Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah) in the 1860s. The first one, ‘True Story Man’, was written in just five weeks, and she’s now working on the sequel, entitled ‘Truth is Green’. She’s been published in The Griffith Review and other journals, was shortlisted in the Fish Short Memoir Prize, and the Finch Prize, and won first prize in the CJ Dennis Literary Award. You can find her site at (

Two writers will follow me next week.

One is Beau Hillier, a Melbourne-based writer and freelance editor. He won the Grace Marion Wilson competition run by Writers Victoria in 2011, and in 2012 was featured in Possessing Freedom, an integrated YA short story collection. He currently is the chief editor of page seventeen, an annual collection showcasing emerging writers and poets. His blog will appear at

The other is Donna Joy Usher, the multi-award winning, Amazon best-selling author of The Seven Steps to Closure, Cocoa and Chanel, and Goons ‘n’ Roses. Born in Brisbane, she started her working career as a dentist. After fifteen years of drilling and filling she discovered there was more to life, and put pen to paper. Now she drills by day and writes by night. When not doing either of those things she likes spending time with her husband and two little dogs, fishing and camping, motorbike riding, stand-up paddle boarding, traveling and drinking wine on her deck. She has lived in a myriad of places: Melbourne, Perth, England, Rockhampton, Roxby Downs, Sydney, Cairns and is now situated on the New South Wales Central Coast. You can find her blog at

Now onto me …

What are you working on at the moment?
A few things. I usually work on a couple of things at once – something completely new, and something in revision. Revision gets me in the headspace for whatever else I might write. Writing something new is always harder, so revision acts almost like stretching before exercising. This year, I’ve added the weekly blog to the schedule.

The new thing is my current novel, ‘House of Cards’. This was originally a (long) short story (almost ten thousand words), although when I was writing the short story I knew I was skimping over scenes to get it finished. Feedback from friends suggested it would work better as a novel. I had something else I wanted to work on, but went with this first because it seemed a story ready to be told (at least as far as my imagination was going). It’s about a relationship, and the things we keep to ourselves when we’re just starting out.

I’m also working on The Other Me, my regular blog here (updated every Tuesday), which is about my experiences with neuroses and how they impacted my life. The purpose of The Other Me is if it helps anybody else who’s reading it (and might be going through anything similar), then it’s done some good.

I’m also (slowly) revising some old screenplays I wrote about ten years ago. I should work on the last novel I wrote, ‘Prudence’, which I finished after ‘Just Another Week in Suburbia’, a winner of the 2013 Hachette Manuscript Development Program, but my screenplays have just been sitting there, unattended for ten years, and I’m a much better writer now than I was when I initially wrote them, so I thought I might be able to do something with them. It’s also nice to be able to work in a completely different field of writing.

How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?
I don’t know if you can really differ in any way other than your own unique voice, and how you tell a story. That’s what makes your writing yours. I could say a number of other lofty things, but that’s what it’s comes down to ultimately. Whether you’re original with your ideas or you’re rehashing tropes in tried and true genres, it does come down to how you do it and tell your story which makes you unique.

Why do you write what you write?
I write whatever idea appeals to me, whatever gets my imagination going and which I’d like to tell as a story, although lately, that’s become more of an exploration of relationships and the way people interact with one another, and how they do (and don’t) fit into one another’s worlds. I think often, regardless of what you write, it’s a way of exploring your own head and making sense of the world (or what’s happened to you).

What’s your writing process, and how does it work?
I begin with the general idea of the story in my head. When I think I have enough, that I’m interested in taking on the job of writing it, I map out the world of the story. This involves naming all the characters and locations which I think might be involved in the story – so even if I think the characters might need to visit a café at some point throughout the story, I name the café, and the staff, even if they’re not used. But it gives me an idea of the world they’re navigating, and means that it’s there waiting should my characters go there.

Generally, after I finish writing for the day, I’ll bullet point any things that might happen later in the story, as well as any revisions I need to make. I usually address the revisions first thing the next day, as that helps me get back into what I’m writing.

Another trick I use is I leave my writing for the day at a relatively high point, where I know what’s happening – it’s easier to pick up and get straight back into it, rather than if you finished somewhere and were low on ideas as to what came next.