Brisbane Writers Festival Notes Part 3

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‘The World Turns’ by Michael Parekowhai. In his bronze casts, the small native water rat, the kuril (seen near the 5-metre tall elephant) is the hero. Along with the traditional Aboriginal custodians, the kuril is one of the caretakers of the land on which Gallery of Modern Art and this sculpture stand beside the river.

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear.  First, Jasper Fforde ‘Book Club’ up close and personal on the River Deck at State Library of Queensland, commencing at the civilised time of 10am.  I only managed one rather dull photograph because I didn’t feel comfortable breaking the reverent atmosphere.  Other times, it’s just not polite.

I waited with a friendly group of fans (all with different favourite books) as savoury snacks, cheeses, fresh fruit and small packs of mixed nuts were being put on low tables between an eclectic selection of chairs.  I watched the bar staff setting up with wine and soft drinks.  Scatter cushions were put on long low bench seating and I had my eye on a nice cosy corner.

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Left to right – book reader guest, Jasper Fforde, moderator, on the River Deck at State Library of Queensland looking across the Brisbane River towards the city.

Guest-of-honour Jasper Fforde talked about his 20-year career working in the film industry with some big names before he decided to write full-time.  He has 14 books under his literary belt.  These books are called post-modern, sort of parallel universe crime novels; he takes our world and tweaks it.  For example, Spec-Ops Thursday Next lives and works inside books, and in ‘Early Riser’ the Welsh population hibernate throughout winter with strange dreams and unsettling encounters.  Have a read of this New York Times review.  Jasper discussed his writing style, his books, and forthcoming standalone ‘The Constant Rabbit’.

Unfortunately I do not remember the name of our moderator, I know she taught creative writing.  She kicked off the Q&A session for us but we were a rather sedate bunch so no fierce debates ensued.  I asked Jasper about the gender ambiguity of Charlie Worthing in ‘Early Riser’ and how it was questioned on social media, adding it must have been difficult to write but it works.  The closest example mentioned was Virginia Woolf and ‘Orlando’ which contains gender androgyny.

As we sat and snacked and sipped, the view across Brisbane River towards the city was ever-changing.  CityCat ferries, a police patrol boat, the Kookaburra Queen paddle wheeler, and a jet boat or two cruised by, almost like a continually scrolling film.

Time was up!  All too soon it was over and I was smuggling a packet of mixed nuts into my bag for later.  I decided to get serious with the bookshop and purchased the items you see below.

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You know what happens, you go in browsing the books and next thing you are looking at all the book-related paraphernalia. Saw this book lover’s mug and couldn’t resist buying it. Happily, it features most of my favourite classics but it is a big mug and so far I haven’t been able to finish a full beverage.

Last item on my agenda, last but not least, was the Closing Address ‘This Way Humanity’.

Soon evening and 5.30pm arrived, as did the audience who piled into The Edge auditorium to hear Jasper Fforde’s closing words on a pretty heavy topic.  He delivered a personal 40-minute speech, going straight to the heart of the matter, raising pertinent questions on our future.  He gave examples about past, present and Little Daisy as yet unborn but what of her future.  Thoughts on where humanity is headed and the universal importance of literacy and book-reading and how we must dare to ignite and explore our imagination.

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The Edge auditorium, the audience hushed as Jasper Fforde delivered his 40-minute closing address entitled ‘This Way Humanity’.

To be honest, I couldn’t absorb all of the closing address, a thought-provoking mixture of insights and humour, and I’m hoping it will be available online for everyone to read.

By now I was getting hungry.  After a stroll through South Bank Parklands with family, we dined at the delightfully casual South Bank eatery Hop & Pickle where I had a super-duper fresh fish supper.

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After the Closing Speech, a stroll through South Bank Parklands and a relaxed dinner at Hop And Pickle on Little Stanley Street. “Proud purveyors of pub gastronomy”

On the walk back to the bus station, we bought sweet treats from Doughnut Time.  Yum!

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Walking back to the Cultural Centre bus station and just happened to spy the hole-in-the-wall Doughnut Time. Exotic delights with gorgeous names and way too much sugar and spice and all things nice. Yes, they did make it home before being devoured!

As you can see, I attended morning and evening events over the four days.  I travelled by council bus to and from each event.  That adds up to 10 bus trips of approximately 45 minutes duration each.  Yes, tedious, but I saved on parking fees and had a relaxing read during the journey.  Sometimes the bus was almost empty and on the last night it was packed so I stood up the whole way.

My visits were concentrated on one author (as you would have deduced!) yet each event was varied in presentation and content and I am very happy with the outcome.

I started my journey in the early morning with a smokey orange sky over the city.  Here is the same spot four days later looking twinkly in the late evening as I say goodbye to Brisbane Writers Festival for another year.  Safe travels, Mr Fforde.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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The Ending – nightlife – view from South Bank footbridge, looking across the river towards Brisbane City.

Brisbane Writers Festival Notes Part 2

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The Beginning – dust haze – view from South Bank footbridge, looking across the river towards Brisbane City.

This morning dawned an apocalyptic orange, heavy with outback smoke and dust.  Gone was the bright blue of springtime.  As I neared the city, gusty winds swirled around, making it difficult to know whether earth particles were coming in or being blown away.  Blinking dry eyes, I photographed the pallid light which struggled to illuminate the city skyline.

I was pretty annoyed at the weather’s bad timing.  With thousands of people, both local and international, converging on South Bank for the Brisbane Writers Festival, it made outdoor conditions uncomfortable.  I spared a thought for the farmers and those suffering terribly as bushfires rage across Queensland. We need our wet season now!

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View of Brisbane City from council bus window, the morning light seemed lifeless, glazed in outback dust as the 2019 drought worsens.

I was trying not to hurry.  I could taste the dust as it rasped in and out of my lungs.  Nerves and excitement made me shallow breathe, this was the first morning event at Brisbane Writers Festival.  After a quick swig from my water bottle, I headed towards State Library.   “Slow down”, I chided.  “Take a photo of the whales”.

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Life-size adult Humpback Whales and calf in the walkway of Queensland Museum, Brisbane, with complex underwater songs. The Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) occurs in all oceans of the world. Herds migrate along the Queensland coast between winter breeding and summer feeding grounds. This species was given complete protection by the International Whaling Commission in the southern and northern hemispheres. Today, the eastern Australian Humpback Whales show signs of strong recovery from commercial whaling. “Save The Whales”

After my paper ticket was beeped, I entered the Queensland Writers Centre rooms, oh, the joy of filtered air.  I settled into a well-designed (and comfortable) white upholstered chair ready for “Writing Futures”.  Placed in front of me was a bowl of sweets to fortify and information to read.  Two people were already standing beside a whiteboard.  One was the QWC spokesperson and the other was UK author Jasper Fforde.  He was about to give us a three-hour almost non-stop workshop based on his “narrative dare” principle.  Pens, paper and iPads were certainly worked overtime!

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I tiptoed past the Zen garden so as not to wake the sleeping rocks or disturb the gravel waves.

On arrival next day, a more pleasant day, I turned the corner and there was the solid, colourful comfort of Angel’s Place, a 7.5metre high dome structure which features a print of an original artwork created by artist Gordon Hookey.  Angel’s Palace is a multi-disciplinary collaboration that represents the voice of Indigenous Australia and celebrates Aboriginal storytelling and literature in a powerful experience for audiences.

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Angel’s Place on Maiwar Green outside the Gallery of Modern Art where special performances of Carpentaria were held throughout the Brisbane Writers Festival from panel discussions to secrets of the land.
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Angel’s Place, Brisbane Writers Festival, where ancient stories are told about Carpentaria. Here lives the spirit nest of the ancient serpent, a creature larger than storm clouds, who came down from the stars. On top of the snake’s spirit nest lies Angel’s Palace, the home of Angel Day. Look closely…

While I was photographing Angel’s Place, I heard a cultured Englishman’s voice behind me, asking a question about the dome.  I recognised that voice!  Sure enough, when I swung around I saw author Jasper Fforde walking past, heading towards Gallery of Modern Art with others on the “Dream Worlds” panel.  A fanfic moment rushed over me.  Before I knew it I was following the VIP group.  Walk, click, click, walk and they disappeared inside.  The audience was ushered in shortly afterwards and we took our seats in Cinema B for some serious (and silly) stuff on sleep and dreams.

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The weather had cleared and it was much finer on the second day of Brisbane Writers Festival. The arrow points to UK author Jasper Fforde followed by “Dream Worlds” panel moderator Sarah L’Estrange of ABC Radio National which broadcast the event.
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“Dream Worlds” panel discussion (left to right) moderator Sarah L’Estrange, guest authors USA Karen Thompson Walker, UK Jasper Fforde, Australia Krissy Kneen. And I purchased each of their books.

Official link to ABC Radio National audio recording https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/the-book-show/dreams-bwf/11506864

Had lunch at home prior to returning for “Early Riser: An Evening Conversation” with Jasper Fforde and hosted by John Birmingham in The Edge auditorium, State Library of Queensland.  Tough words, Jasper doesn’t swear but John does, and there were jibes, a bite to their conversation.  Jasper talked about the creation of his current book and John advised him not to give away any spoilers.

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Author Jasper Fforde and author/moderator John Birmingham at Brisbane Writers Festival 2019. I always had a good view of the proceedings and noted that the majority of attendees were women. Do women read more, are women more aware of literary diversity?

Below is what the queue looked like while I was waiting for Jasper Fforde’s autograph.  And I stood with an old work colleague I met quite by accident.  Jasper kindly signed my copy of “Early Riser”, stamped it This book has been declare SKILLZERO Protocol Approved”—an author/reader joke—and tucked a postcard inside.  I asked him what his favourite pet would be, Dodo or Quarkbeast, and he said Quarkbeast (from “The Last Dragonslayer” series) so the family was happy.

You may have noticed that I do not describe the full content of each event.  This is personal preference, I don’t want to divulge things which may be copyright.

The organisation and facilities for this experience are first-class and everything ran smoothly.  As a past volunteer at other literary occasions, I appreciated the knowledge and friendliness of the current volunteers.  Their fluorescent aqua t-shirts stood out!

Another day draws to a close.  I looked forward to tomorrow and perusing more free activities, strolling around the abundant bookshop, then chatting at author “Book Club” with drinks and nibbles, sitting on cushions in the sunshine on the River Deck at State Library.  It’s not difficult to appreciate the luxury of it all.

Ciao for now!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Brisbane Writers Festival Notes Part 1

Hi there, a diary entry to say that I am locked into five events over four days at the Brisbane Writers Festival and have attended session ‘Workshop: Writing Futures’ with UK author Jasper Fforde in QWC rooms which I thought ran for one hour, instead it turned out to be three hours.  Value for money!

Jasper Fforde’s takeaway tip for writers: Plausibility Not Believability.  There ain’t nuthin’ that bloke don’t know about writing parallel worlds and alternate futures.

Luckily I had tucked a muesli bar and bottle of water into my bag which helped stave off hunger as I listened avidly to every enlightening word.  Jasper Fforde is humorous, full of helpful advice and open to questions.  I was bold enough to asked a question or two about his ‘The Last Dragonslayer’ trilogy—although Spec-Ops and Thursday Next will always be my favourite.  During the Festival there will be plenty of time for book signings.

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https://bwf.org.au/

Roll on Saturday and a panel discussion ‘Dream Worlds’ in Cinema B Gallery of Modern Art, being recorded by ABC Radio National, with Australian author Krissy Kneen, American author Karen Thompson Walker and UK author Jasper Fforde.  They are followed by ‘Early Riser’ Conversation at The Edge, State Library of Queensland, South Bank, then Sunday ‘Book Club’ chat with Jasper Fforde on SLQ River Deck.  There is a closing address on Sunday evening ‘This Way Humanity’ and in the meantime I can avail myself of a Festival freebie or two.

Springtime here, it’s dry and unseasonably hot in Brisbane followed by bushfire smoke and dusty high winds so I’ve had to rework my wardrobe.  My bus GoCard is topped up, I have the BWF tickets printed, I am good to go.  Hopefully I will post more in-depth snippets next week.  In the meantime, type Jasper Fforde into my search bar to view my past posts.

The photograph (below) shows the way I walk to State Library of Queensland, underneath the singing whales in the roof outside the Queensland Museum.  Always reminds me of the whale in Douglas Adams ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’.

Bye for now . . . to be continued.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Life-size whale calf in the roof outside Queensland Museum, Brisbane.

My Elusive Career as an Aspiring Writer

Attention span of a puppy? Pushed for time? “Publishing is a long game. As they say, you have to be a stayer if you want to be a player. Even if your book is only 500 words!” said Jen Storer, children’s author and chief inspirationalist at Girl & Duck.com when discussing the pitted path to publishing.  I intended writing a three-part posting on my literary travails but here they are in one glorious chunk.

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PROLOGUE After reading countless children’s picture books for Storytime in a public library, it became obvious to me what worked and what didn’t with a live audience. I thought it was about time I tried to write my own children’s book.

WARNING – THIS IS A LONG BLOG POST WHICH RAMBLES OVER EIGHTEEN MONTHS OF MY WRITING LIFE – CAFFEINATED BEVERAGE RECOMMENDED.

 

CHAPTER ONE The Plan. Work up slowly with a picture book maximum of 500 words for age 0-5, step into small chapter books for age 6-8 with 20,000 words, graduate to a decent sized book of 25,000 for teenagers then launch myself into young adult. Well, perhaps not young adult, could get a bit messy in the emotions department. Hopefully, maybe, I could consider penning a series. Something humorous and fun, with a good plot and memorable characters. An attention-grabbing theme, a zany bookcover and before you can say Harry Potter, I’m flying high, riding the wave of published author!

Er, right.  The truth of the matter is that I knew full well I had no experience.  Career shattered before it began?IMG_20170531_184235

In steps the many writer’s workshops and online courses available to the newbie.  Or as they say in the trade “emerging author”.  Plus a local writer’s club SWWQ, State writers centre, Facebook groups and a conference or two.  (List of website links at end of page). Not forgetting the self-help books – anyone who’s ever written a book and had it published with moderate success seems to qualify as an adviser on the subject of literary rules. The do’s and don’ts, the routines, the voice, the need for originality, the best way to grab an editor’s attention, grammar, plot structure, plotter or pantser, show don’t tell, how to sell yourself, and the list goes on.

CHAPTER TWO First up, I enrolled in an expensive online course which certainly got me motivated but not by the moderator or the tutor. The other participants were withdrawn and really didn’t share. And the course notes were a little outdated. Yes, I know “Where The Wild Things Are” is a classic but hundreds of good, if not better, books have been published since then, with far more appeal. And I don’t really like the artwork.

Ah, artwork. You can write the words for a picture book but you can’t have it illustrated by an artist of your choosing. The publisher does that. And we all know we have different ideas when it comes to imagination and imagery. If you write and illustrate your own picture book, it has to be of exceptional standard. I can do pen and pencil drawings but they wouldn’t cut it. I’m much better with basic colour-in stuff. Which doesn’t sell.

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Grandpa’s Tree

Then came the face-to-face classroom workshops which were fun. Lots of buzzing people with buzzing ideas and questions. Isn’t it surprising that when it comes to reading out your own work, people clam up? Not me. I always read out my stuff and one story was later fleshed out into a decent read “Saving Grandpa’s Tree”. However, it hasn’t attracted anyone’s attention yet.

CHAPTER THREE The big thing among creatives is to attend a yearly conference or festival in another State, necessitating a weekend away. I think a conference is meant to be more serious than a festival with serious lectures, serious note-taking and serious editor appraisals.  I have a small green notebook riddled with notes. A festival has all manner of literary people chatting on stage, with microphone feedback, showing wonky PowerPoint slides, supplemented with drinks and nibbles and a lot of networking.

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Just like anywhere else, unless you are seen as someone who has “made it” you are not worthy of a business card exchange. And bookmarks, phew, I could wallpaper my room with all the industry bookmarks floating around.

 

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At these displays of verbose literary knowledge (excluding The Duck Pond – see below) I always wear my name badge. Nobody remembers my name and I don’t remember theirs but we compare notes, likes and dislikes and complain about the way the event is organised and the length of the queues. Usually the food tastes as good as it looks.  Of course, the better the quality, the quicker the goodies are consumed. Never cram your mouth because someone will ask you a question, and never spill anything down your front because you will be asked to step up the front to speak.

I’m going to pen a small piece on the Judith Rossell weekend writers retreat I attended at historic Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, Victoria.  Amazing vibe!  We don’t have many older buildings in Brisbane with such history.  I have organised, promoted and hosted author talks and, believe me, not all are created equal.  Will save that story for another time.

CHAPTER FOUR For well over a year, I submitted children’s picture book manuscripts to a myriad of publishers in Australia and overseas and have received only two rejections. I think the silence is worse than those two polite rejection letters. Surely, in this day and age, it wouldn’t take two seconds for the office junior to email a rejection to the poor, desperate writer at the other end.

RequiremeManuscripts.nts Of Submission occasionally want physical copies and I’ve gone the old A4 paper route, Times New Roman (no glitter in the envelope, big no-no) with clean easy-to-read layout and still not heard a word. Does that mean I’m no good or the publishing houses are totally swamped? Harking back to that office junior, who didn’t send me an email, I could get bitter. They are the first readers of unsolicited manuscripts which forces me to cry “What do they know? My literary reading is decades ahead of theirs.” Sadly, they know the trends. A new writer cannot predict trends. Nor can they single-handedly make them.

The scariest thing I’ve done (apart from hosting an avant-garde Shakespeare theatre troupe and judging a YA writing competition) was Literary Speed Dating; five minutes of torture in which you have to sell yourself and your manuscript.  A bell rings and, if you haven’t collapsed, you go to the next editor’s table.  And the next...and the next...A woman in my queue was eight months pregnant and the summer heat was ferocious but she coped better than all of us.  A book contract?  I hope the others were successful.  At least that woman has a baby now.

CHAPTER FIVE After becoming thoroughly disenchanted with the children’s book industry, I started up my own WordPress blog and thought “I’ll just do what I like and if anyone notices, that’s okay” but I didn’t hold my breath. Prepare to be amazed – 409 million people view more than 20.8 billion pages each month on WordPress, and users produce about 77.0 million new posts and 42.7 million new comments each month, an estimation of six new WordPress.com posts every second. Those stats have probably changed while I type, but it’s still a shedload of competition. It takes a lot to shine. Who’s going to read me and my miscellaneous Blogging Image 04ramblings? Recently I had 385 Followers but I culled the spammers and that number dropped back drastically.

I’ve discovered that personal stuff gets the most hits but specialising is not my thing.  Although I blog about many things, I still like the idea of kidlit. Notice that term? I’m getting good with the industry terms. Copy edit, structural edit, narrative arc, protagonist, antagonist … I subscribe to the newsletters of publishers, book stores, State organisations, libraries, writing groups, children’s literary charities and other book-reading bloggers like Paula Bardell-Hedley (see below). So far, I’ve come across a lot of WordPress book reviewers and enjoy their commentary. Personal opinion is a great thing, just not something I always agree with when it comes to books. Honesty compels me to admit that my leisure reading is not nursery rhymes, it’s a good crime novel.

CHAPTER SIX In between life, I volunteer at special events and displays at State Library and offer my free time closer to home in a charity shop bookroom. What an eye opener! Certainly a book for every customer, young or old; and quite a mixture of clientele. The shelves are browsed with all the fervent devotion of a high-end bookstore in the city. Without the price tag. And a few bent bookcovers and rusty pages thrown in. Behind the scenes, the staff are just as interesting. Again, will save that story for another time.

“But what of your picture book career?” Glad you asked. Confession time. Deep down my literary urge begins to lean towards writing for adults BUT I join Creative Kids Tales, an online group for emerging authors which specialises in children’s literature.  By this time I was doubtful that this was my true calling (after all, one can only take so many unsent rejection letters) and was oscillating between adult works and the perfect kids book.  I hung in there.

Truly Tan BooksEach month CKT features a different aspiring writer with a successfully published author. One author captured my imagination, Jen Storer of Girl & Duck.com An Enid Blyton lover, Jen shows an intelligent, vibrant nature, an honest, straight forward approach to writing and I like her children’s books, especially Truly Tan series.  Jen was starting a Facebook group The Duck Pond, inviting kidlit creatives to join, and the rest is magic.

CHAPTER SEVEN I’m pretty much a founding member of The Duck Pond and recently their creatives group Scribbles was added which I also joined. Membership grows weekly, and Jen does weekly Q&Q (questions and quacks) videos on YouTube. Apart from sudden Facebook drop-ins on screen, Jen does one-hour Scribbles Live Rounds and members tune in from around the world. Kidlit help is always at hand and the expertise of members is far-reaching.  The slogan “The rule is there are no rules” is true to its word. Jen says “Do the verk”.  Immersion is the only way and I’ve learned so much about writing books and the book industry generally.

Scribbles Live Round Participant 2018

An author/illustrator, Jen Storer believes is having fun and being messy, “Mess creates clarity”. The Scribblers course is for writers and illustrators and it encourages everyone to work without restrictions.  Quell that inner critic!  There are set Modules with exercises which you do at your own pace but following the easy guidelines so that your words just flow. I’ve experienced writing freely and unfettered and being surprised and pleased with the results. Honestly, with Jen’s prompts, I’ve had so many ideas I could be writing for years. Of course, submitting a manuscript isn’t messy, it has to be refined and polished. Jen is ex-publishing house so she know those ropes.

Now, the cruncher. I adore The Duck Pond group camaraderie and "doing the verk" but I am not a fan of the circus called Facebook. Nor do I participate in other social media like Twitter, Google, Instagram, etc. “Click this, view that, Like page” get lost. In a short space of time I have witnessed two great bloggers over-extend themselves to the detriment of their output.  I like to think I am not spreading myself too thinly!

CHAPTER EIGHT I’m loving my WordPress blog, the layout, the posts, changing photos, the full control I have over my content. Which reminds me, in the past I have submitted reviews and editorials to organisations who have edited or altered my work without my prior consent, which is apparently their prerogative, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I don’t – especially when they muck up a sentence to make it shorter or change paragraphing. So, dear reader, this leaves me in literary limbo.

Star Twinkle Twinkle 01CONGRATULATIONS – IF YOU REACHED THIS POINT WITHOUT SKIPPING BITS.

What is next in my literary journey? Will I shine? Over 18 months, and varying lengths of commitment, I have happily entered writing competitions (two Third Place awards and shortlisted) and completed a magazine writers course, travel writing course, children’s writing, crime writing, romance writers workshop, non-fiction-fest, lampooned the Australian publishing industry, and still don’t know what genre I want to pursue. I know it’s too late to become a ‘proper’ writer, contrary to what dear Jen Storer says in her passionate YouTube video A Slap Down For An Ageist Society I think I have missed the boat. I am passed my publishable prime. It’s no good lamenting the fact that I represent Gustav Freytag’s five-part story structure. I had a younger life to live and it didn’t include lonely, lengthy periods sitting at a keyboard. It does now.

EPILOGUE Sure, I can happily write to my heart’s content but who’s interested? Don’t answer that, please. Suffice to say I will dabble, making my miscellaneous Thoughts Become Words for my own pleasure because I can’t stop writing. Basically, that’s what it all boils down to, in the end we are doing it for ourselves. If someone else likes it, that’s a hefty bonus.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Paula Bardell-Hedley WP Book Blogger IN APPRECIATION – This post is dedicated to WordPress blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley for her great reviews, ideas, encouragement and super organisational skills
https://bookjotter.com/
https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2018/04/02/dhq-dewithon19/
and I get a mention in Winding Up
https://bookjotter.com/2018/04/06/winding-up-the-week-13/


RELEVANT GROUPS AND ORGANISATIONS:
CKT https://www.creativekidstales.com.au/
AWC https://www.writerscentre.com.au/
QWC https://qldwriters.org.au/
BCC https://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/facilities-recreation/libraries/opening-hours-locations/brisbane-square-library
CYA http://www.cyaconference.com/
KLV http://www.kidlitvic.com/
ILF https://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/
SD https://www.storydogs.org.au/
FF https://www.fantasticfiction.com/
BWF http://uplit.com.au/
G&D https://girlandduck.com/
A&U https://www.allenandunwin.com/being-a-writer/getting-published/advice-from-a-publisher
SWWQ http://womenwritersqld.org.au/