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cover of To End All Wars

Our members – 2018 achievements

By | News

Susan Francis began writing her memoir in 2015. It progressed well and she and her husband decided to move to Spain for a year so she could complete it. How wonderful is that? However, six months in, tragedy struck when her husband died. Susan returned to Mayfield and found writing a positive process to help her through her grief. 3 years later and Susan’s achievements show the process not only helped her grief but brought her rewards. In 2018: Winner,  Shelia Malady short story award; Highly commended, AAWP Emerging Writers’ Prize; Shortlisted for Varuna House Lit-link scholarship; Script performed, The Monologue Adventures Voices of Women; Longlisted E.J. Brady competition.

And the success continues into 2019: Long-listed, Margaret River short story competition, Published in the Hammond House Publishing (UK) International Anthology, Published in the Newcastle Short Story Award.

So what happened to the memoir? Well, just last month, Susan signed with Benython Oldfield, literary agent at Zeitgeist Media who has sent her memoir to some major publishers. Congratulations Susan!


Cassandra O’Loughlin released her wonderful collection Taking my Breath – a collection of ecopoems.

Taking My Breath a book of poems by Cassandra o'Loughlin
to end all wars book

Dael Allison, poet, HWC  member and secretary of HWC Board has had a very busy year completing much of our governance paperwork, writing her PhD and editing two books. What an amazing woman. One of the books she edited was To End All Wars. Here’s a review by one of the featured poets, HWC member Magdalena Ball.

Kit Kelen book of poems

Christopher Kelen has the rare gift of a voice that feels effortlessly, mesmerizingly, unique.

Poor Man’s Coat is a delight: a fresh and haunting mix of deep meditation, witty intelligence and the abundant wonder of poetry’s ‘wise surprise’. – Jean Kent



Kathryn Fry’s book of poems Green Point Bearings has been reviewed in The Compulsive Reader and by poet Brook Emery.

green point bearings a book of poems by Kathryn Fry


Storytime Lane have released two new books since their January launch: “Life is Not Fair When You Are Just a Chair” (E. S. Smith/Graham Davidson) and ‘”Hunter” which is book 2 in Graham Davidson’s Witches of the Cross-worlds series.

Books by HWC member Graham Davidson

Sutherland Shire Literary Competition

Congratulations Penny Lane

1st and 2nd Prizes Free Verse for her poems ‘Nothing Much Here’ and ‘How to Write a Waterfall’

Congratulations Catherine Moffat

Highly Commended for her story ‘The Lady Vanishes’



Karen Whitelaw won the Peter Cowan Short Story Award (WA) with Heat.

Karen Whitelaw HWC member


Hayden’s Bedtime by Wendy Haynes will be available late March 2019.  A crowdfunding event for this book starts soon. Please share and help families escape domestic violence.

reeds by river


Gillian Telford had two poems published in Not Very Quiet poetry journal: ‘Brisbane Water Estuary’ and ‘Midnight Lexicon’  and  2 poems in The Ghazal Page international online journal. ‘On being Alone’ and  ‘of belonging’

Jan Dean, Kathryn Fry and Magdalena Ball also had poems published in Not Very Quiet this year.


Malcolm St Hill’s essay on Australian Frederic Manning and his novel, ‘The Middle Parts of Fortune’, (the greatest war novel of all time) was published in Overland in November

Picture for Essay by Malcolm St Hill
HWC member Laura Brown


Laura Brown’s short story ‘My Brave New World’ features in A Patchwork of Stories, the best stories from the 2018 Birdcatcher Books Short Story Competition.

louise berry book on Dora Creek Hall

News from the Lake Macquarie Poetry Group:

Louise Berry had a poem published in the New Shoots Poetry Anthology 2017 and published her second book on Dora Creek history

Diana Pearce had a poem published in Valley Micropress in 2017, and several poems published in The Mozzie in 2017 and 2018 (print only journals).

Black Crow Walking received a 2017 HWC grant to write about homelessness in the Hunter.

Nicole Sellers had a poem published in Plumwood Mountain in 2017 and a poem published in Grieve Volume 6 Anthology in 2018.

HWC Member Laura Taylor


In November, Laura Taylor celebrated her 100th post on Planet Picture Book, a blog where she explores children’s literature from every country in the world.

midnight on a clock


Michael Tippett won First Prize in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge with his short story Crawlers. Read Michael’s story here.

The horizon shimmers, a quivering line of gel squeezed between the immense blue sky and the hard dun-coloured earth.

Mark Maclean is currently living and teaching in Lightning Ridge. He blogs about his experience in and around the town and his latest blog entry is about the time Bowie came to a nearby town. Read more

From Mark Maclean's blog 'Learning About Lightning'

Congratulations Katrina McKelvey on the signing of a contract for her 5th published picture book, Isla’s Family Tree to be illustrated by Prue Pittock and published by EK Books in 2020. Read all about it here.

katrina mckelvey member

Jan McLeod’s book, Shadows On The Track: Australia’s Medical War in Papua 1942 – 1943 is scheduled for release by Big Sky Publishing in February 2019

Book cover by Jan McLeod

Judy Johnson had a poem published in The Sydney morning Herald during 2018.

Judy Johnson poem



HWC Newcastle poetry group has reprinted its collection The Olley Poems. Hunter Writers Centre funded the publication of poems that pay tribute to Margaret Olley. Olley was an iconic figure in Australian art whose main focus on landscapes and interiors turned everyday objects and scenes into bursts of colour. Congratulations, HWC poetry group on a second print run! Purchase the book from the Newcastle Art Gallery for $15.

HWC poetry group
book cover of Seven Little Australians

Australian Literature Part 1

By | Australian Literature, News

Pages of Us – Introduction  – blog article by Susan Francis

Australian Literature. Does such a thing exist? That was the response from my Head Teacher at the UK school where I taught English. ‘Christina Stead . . .’ , I began to respond but, in the face of her hoots of incredulity, I stopped. Any feelings of inadequacy I may have been experiencing, in the face of teaching the English canon to the English, did not require further reinforcement.

Smarting as I was, my passion and my curiosity for our national literature never dimmed. To this day, I still become excited introducing Garner or Harrison or Winton to the students I tutor. My words speed up, my hands fly in front of my face because it is ‘us’. Us on the page. Us in the images. Us in the colloquial. ‘So what?’ they ask me. So what?

Growing up as a teenager in the 1970s in Newcastle was an uneasy time for me. Overweight and still wearing the cat’s eye glasses on trend at the time (there were no other options) my fit on the wide sandy plains of Nobby’s Beach was not organic. I don’t think I ever ‘fitted’. But I did find acceptance of myself in the books I read. There, between the pages, existed other plain girls, other girls who liked to read and found it difficult to make friends. I discovered my ‘unfitted self’ amongst the personalities and, therefore, I was. I was George in The Famous Five, I was Judy from Seven Little Australians, Laura from The Getting of Wisdom and Jo from Little Women. While these novels were chosen from various western cultures, the point is, through the reflection of my own character in those texts, I determined I wasn’t the only one who preferred a library to a netball court. And this of course is not an uncommon experience.

I draw the same analogy about our sunburnt nation. Our identity developed from and alongside the literature that reflected our unique environment, our vernacular and our irrepressible character. Charles Harpur, our first genuine Australian poet, who lived for more than a decade in the Hunter Valley, is renowned for being the earliest writer creating images inspired by the Australian landscape. John Miller writes he was ‘the only poet of the time who achieves an original Australian voice’. While other poets imagined nymphs and the green rolling hills of the old country, Harpur deliberately wrote what he saw.

The other legend to whom I believe we owe so much is Henry Lawson. Perhaps now out of fashion, he is undoubtedly the poet who, for me, best tries to capture the spirit of the early settlers. His beautiful and profound depiction of the resilient drover’s wife, who alone ‘rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying [her] dead child’, still quietens the 21st century noise around me. Reading Lawson’s work reminds me of how tough it was in Australia not long ago and from where our empathy for the underdog originates. But more than that, these early Australian writers placed us on the page and provided every European Australian the opportunity to be. The magnificent aspect of reading is that, as F. Scott Fitzgerald says, ‘you discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.’ So, for a country as isolated as we are, our own literature is profoundly important.

Of course I cannot finish without stating that the mirror Australian literature holds up for me is different to the First Australians’ experience or the experience of those living with a disability or the LGBTQIA experience. And I do not attempt to represent that experience. But I can begin to hope that, for all Australians, our literature starts to reflect more varied experiences because accepting oneself partly requires recognising oneself on the page.

Identity is linked inextricably to Australian literature.

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Susan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You an listen to that here:  https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/susan-francis-rpt/10467926

Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

close up of an elderly person's hand

Writing About Significant Loss

By | Grieve, News

Sometimes writing about the loss of a close family member can feel too hard because the enormity of all you have lost might stop you even starting. You may feel that in trying to describe it all you lose the sense of the person. What about writing about one aspect of the person? Start with a small physical characteristic or a small feature you loved about him or her – their smile, the way he sat to read, chat, write; the way she dressed or cooked or performed a regular chore. Below, Maree Reedman writes (in Grieve Volume 5) about hands as a recurring image which creates a clear and intimate portrait of her father. Enter your poem or story/essay into the Grieve writing competition.

My Father’s Hands
Maree Reedman

Long, tapered fingers,like candles.
Not a musician,though your sister
tried to teach you the piano.

A gardener
of fruit trees and roses
until you toppled over
the rosemary; the builder
of a mustard bookcase for my childhood
and my adolescent home;
a maker
of home brew
and pongy dog stew.

Your half-moons purpled
with blood as I held
your hand
while you snored,
mouth open
you always slept

My brother tried to close your lips
when you left,
off to go on that long-awaited
honeymoon with Mother,
the one you never took.
Man's hand in his lap
for love alone Christina Stead

Australian Literature Part 2

By | Australian Literature, News

Something Novel – Australian Novelists – blog by Susan Francis

In my mid-twenties I formed an attachment to an extremely astute young man: a poet who would invite me ice skating in Prince Alfred Park on Friday nights. Skating in the dark, beneath strings of fairy lights hung from the gum trees – there was nothing more magical. The swish of the blades cutting across the ice, the warmth of my hand held in his, it was all impossibly romantic. So, when the boy took pains to explain to me that he’d noticed every novel on my bookshelf was written by a woman, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. I remember trailing my finger along the spines: Stead, Lohrey and Lette. Ruth Park and Shirley Hazzard. Baynton and Bedford. Grenville and Franklin. There, too, the non-Australian fiction of Atkinson, the Brontes and French. Woolf, Lee and Lessing.

So when someone these days asks me that impossible question: what’s your favourite Australian novel, I make sure to mention Tim Winton. The lyrical descriptions of the Australian landscape discovered in Peter Temple’s crime fiction. Christopher Koch and the evocative picture he painted of Jakarta. I talk about Martin Boyd who has a favoured place stacked beside Peter Carey. There is Stow and Maitland and McGahan. These days my bookshelves hold a more even gender mix. But one thing still holds true; maybe a dirty secret of sorts? For an Australian novel to make it onto my top twenty, somewhere amongst the pages I like to recognise a reflection of a world I know or an individual who strikes a chord. I read Australian fiction to be assured I’m not the only player on the stage.

What’s your favourite Australian novel? I’m reluctant to alight on any one text because the range of Australian fiction is vast. The list is as long as our country is wide. And each work positively enunciates our poignant flaws. And I love that! Australian fiction informs so much about who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. But, if pressed, I admit, it is to Christina Stead’s novel, For Love Alone, that I always return.

Written in 1944, I studied this broad, brown land of a book for my Masters degree, drawn by Stead’s particular understanding of what it means to be an Australian woman. The book was panned by any number of academics for its introspectiveness and realist style. Many preferred the magic realism of The Man Who Loved Children. But when I read this book for the first time, I fell in love with the determined and homely Teresa. The link formed between this character and Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife was due to the values held by both: a shared focus on getting on with things and a singular toughness; a determination to make sense of the world around them. Hazel Rowley wrote in her biography: ” . . . Stead’s earliest memories were all associated with a sense of rejection, which she attributed to her physical unattractiveness. In all her stories about her childhood, she is acutely conscious of personal appearance . . .” And this, of course, is another reason I am so captivated by the book.

Melbourne University Publishing reissued the novel in 2011 and maintain: For Love Alone is the story of the intelligent and determined Teresa Hawkins, who believes in passionate love and yearns to experience it . . . [Stead] superbly evoking life in Sydney and London in the 1930s. 

 Soon, in 2020, my own book will be published. Yet another story of a plain, single-minded Australian woman who gives up everything to travel overseas, following the love of her life. And despite the tragedies and the awful revelations my journey revealed, there is a pattern I like here, a pattern I have only recently identified by revisiting Stead’s work. Independent, brave, raw. A little gauche. The Australian female protagonist who travels far to discover herself. She is a reflection of the landscape from where she originates. A reflection of her nation’s blunt, unattractive prejudices. A protagonist decided to succeed.

Recognising that woman, recognising myself, makes For Love Alone one of my favourite Australian novels.

Susan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You can listen to that here:


Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC
Shaynah Andrews Ryan O'Neill

2018 Newcastle Short Story Award prizewinners

By | Newcastle Short Story Award, News, Uncategorized

The 2018 anthology is now on sale

Congratulations to all the prizewinners:

First Prize – sponsored by the University of Newcastle, awarded to Shaynah Andrews (pictured R with Prof Darrell Evans and Ryan O’Neill, judge)

Here is an excerpt from her winning story ‘Not for Me to Understand’:

My blood feels too hot. I want to beat my fists against Dad for treating me like a kid. I smash a cup on the kitchen tiles, half on purpose. There are little bits of glass all around me. Dad and Linda rush into the room.

‘I’m sorry, it was an accident,’ I say.

‘It’s OK, possum,’ says Dad. I want him to yell and scream at me but he is gentle. ‘I’ll clean this up darlin’, just get away from all the glass. Careful now.’

Dad and Linda hover over plastic dustpans. I walk out the front door and ride my pushie to the beach with Ellie behind me.


Shaynah Andrews Ryan O'Neill
Sally Davies and Cassie Hamer

Cassie Hamer (R) won second prize donated by Newcastle Law Society represented by Sally Davies (L)

Megan Buxton Ryan O'Neill and Kate Griffith (sponsor from Westfield)

L to R: Megan Buxton, HWC President, Ryan O’Neill, judge, Kate Griffith from sponsor Westfield Kotara

Wayne Strudwick - award winner NSSA

Wayne Strudwick, Commended award winner for his story ‘Postcard

Shawn Sherlock and Jane OSullivan

Shawn Sherlock, Foghorn Brewhouse donated the Highly Commended awarded to Jane O’Sullivan

Tanya Vavilova and Amanda Shirley

Amanda Shirley from MacLean’s Booksellers donated the Highly Commended awarded to Tanya Vavilova

Author Ryan O'Neill and MJ Reidy - Newcastle Short Story Award

M.J. Reidy (pictured here with judge Ryan O’Neill) won a Commended award donated by Dymocks, Charlestown.

Derice McDonald and Rhona Hammond

Derice McDonald from Macquariedale Organic Wines donated a $120 wine pack awarded to Rhona Hammond, local writer’s award.

writers - local winners within the Newcastle Short Story Award 2018

Local Award Winners Shaynah Andrews, Edyn Carter and Stephanie Holm

True Crime Writing Part 1

By | News, True Crime

True Crime by Ted Bassingthwaighte

See It, Touch It, Smell It, Taste It

True crime was my passion and occupation for 22 years. I joined the NSW Police Force on May 18th 1987. In the first 12 months of my probationary period at Wyong police station on the NSW Central Coast I experienced the dark side of life on a daily basis. The first deceased person I met was an infant female child who I believed at the time was a victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. (SIDS). I knew nothing about how to question witnesses or develop an alternate hypothesis to the version of events given to me during the interview. My inexperience and the stark, cold horror of the next day handling her body at autopsy, always left me wondering if that child died of natural causes or was she murdered by her desperately poor, uneducated parents. I’ll never know.

When I see news about the convicted child killer Kathleen Megan Folbigg images and odours of my first dead child investigation way back in 1987 flood from my memory and it makes my heart sink.

But what that death did do was to spark my ambition to become a detective. A detective who would have the skills, the time and the organisational support to properly investigate crimes . . . or so I thought.

That child, whose name I remembered for years but now cannot, was not the first dead body I ever handled. I was a registered nurse before joining the cops and had watched people die in A&E and had participated in an autopsy as part of my training.

So, I wasn’t shocked. In actual fact I was fascinated. A fascination that holds true today even after I succumbed to chronic PTSD as a result of seeing too many dead people and from investigating too many child sexual assault matters.

I suppose in some way I’m ‘lucky’ to have experienced death and crime firsthand. By lucky, I mean the experience, I feel, was a privilege. How many others with an interest in true crime can actually smell, taste, and touch it?

But that is not to say the avid fan of true crime is not able to envelope themselves wholly in the stories they read in books or blogs or listen to in podcasts or watch on television or online because today there is so much true crime available, encompassing all types of nefarious behaviour, it seems endless.

Crime scene at 75 Barnhill Rd, Terrigal. Credit: Daily Telegraph

On Tuesday October 27, 1992 at about 9pm Malcolm George Baker started a murder spree stretching from Terrigal to Bateau Bay to North Wyong, that would only end after six unarmed and defenceless men and a woman were dead. I knew Baker and some of his victims. I was part of the large team of detectives to investigate the murders.

My interest in the case and labyrinthine motivations of Baker and his victims stayed with me all my career and beyond. After 27 years of that case fermenting in my mind I have completed a manuscript titled, Bloody Odyssey, a story of domestic violence, jealousy, greed and fear. Here is a short extract.

He moved with purpose across the road and down the slight incline of the front yard, avoiding the glare of a street light at the end of the driveway. A large evergreen tree near the footpath shadowed a vacant plot of land on the left of the house and gave him perfect cover.

Pic 2: Malcolm George Baker Credit: Daily Telegraph/Baker family

Upstairs in the two-storey brick house a television screen flickers in a darkened lounge room. The empty stairs inviting Baker forward. He slivered up the steps and onto the long, wrought iron fenced balcony protecting the front of the house. In an instant he stood at the closed timber front door, the first obstacle to his progress. He looks through a small coloured glass window in the door. Listening. Waiting.

Inside a large round cane chair with bright red and yellow pillows dominates the middle of the lounge room. A brown velour modular couch fills the whole left side of the room. Two fish tanks full of tropical fish and a dozing canary in a cage stand along the wall to the right. The noise and light of the TV fills the room. Voices. Mumbling. A human shape moves about at the back of the room.

Crunch!! Baker raises his foot and kicks the door. It flies open and crashes into the plaster wall behind it as the door jamb splinters from the hinges. Baker steps through the door, a loaded Remington 12-gauge double barrel shotgun at the ready on his hip.

Next week: Why do people love true crime?


Ted Bassingthwaighte is a retired NSW police detective living in Newcastle with his wife and dog. Since his retirement in 2009 he has been writing. He reviews books for the NSW Police news magazine, has entered HWC short story competitions, winning a prize in the HWC 2014 Grieve competition. He plans to have his true crime manuscript ‘Bloody Odyssey’ edited and ready for publication in 2019.

Doris Zagbanski judge of grieve with one of the prizewinners

Grieve Anthology Winners 2017

By | Grieve, News

Such beautiful poems and stories were entered into the 2017 Grieve Writing Competition. Over 100 captivating, brave and compelling works by Australians were chosen to be published in the anthology Volume 5. Buy the anthology either in ebook or printed book form here

Submit your poem or story into this year’s competition open to all Australians

Congratulations to the 2017 prizewinners:
Rachael Mead Powerless
Joel McKerrow On Saying Goodbye
Ky Garvey Deep Breaths and Heartbeats
Janet Holmes Carpet Beetles
Fiona Murphy Our Small Kingdom
Kathryn R Bennett Numbers
Josh Wildie When One Door Closes
Kaylia Payne I Miss You, Kid
Laura Jan Shore First Anniversary
Kathy Childs The Man in the Mirror
Ellen Shelley Failed to Provide
Vicki Laveau-Harvie Seasons of Grief
Undine Kanowski Okay
Cheryl Parker My Truth
Melanie Zolenas-Kennedy Scraps
Donni Hakanson The Ghost of A Mother
Edwina Shaw Thirty Years Gone
Sarah Bourne The Sounds of You
Gail Hennessey Message to My Mother
Kathryn Fry There She Is, My Mother

Poetry Writing Part 3

By | News, Poetry
Poetry process by Professor Christopher (Kit) Kelen 
and what a week it’s been, poetry process enthusiasts… there we were, up above the Arctic Circle, experiencing the midnight sun … first on land (over the water)

… so mainly I was inspired to draft just from where I was, just writing things as they were in the moment for me:
we went to see the midnight sun
Teigan - Hadsel Øye, Vesterlån

we went to see the midnight sun
on the other side of an island nearby
we went to Teigan - on Hadsel Øye,
in Vesterlån it is

so much brighter than you’d imagine
bounces along
runs a ring
delivers pinking stillness
like breath held for a non-event

flowers make the most of it
especially tiril tunga
somebody’s tongue
caught the colour

this sun leaves winged ones wondering
but a traffic in fish goes on

throws shadows on turf roofs, on the water
fields of fresh mown, lit green, yet to yellow
such shadows in the mountains
tree casting this way, that

this is the everyday unending
one cannot but be awed

the moon was up for company
paled at the very thought

and must not look at the main attraction
or see it in everything seared

of course I forgot sunglasses
ironic at the time because
I was writing a story about them
but it’s well past eleven and you wouldn’t think

here comes the Hurtigruten/ Coastal Express
in night that is not

and there’s another little vessel
flag of a country no one will know
comes chugging into view
what luck to have set sail in this

a herringbone calligraphy
feint moon ended

this is the way beyond the world

in through windows hereabouts
and shone along a beach

as if this last first searing
set islands here on fire

now east and west were rise and set
in all the innocence I knew

it’s not as if this makes any sense
but somebody knows how it goes
anyway everyone here’s up and doing

still there’s so much to do!
so many falling down farms and houses
embarrassed, all hours show
this sun still stands
makes spectacle
of itself
and of us all

part of the village came out specifically

lazy grass bears lounge under their ledges
the old troll woman high over scree
is still trying to get some sleep

it was the sun would never set
rising for us now

as if a fire were lit beyond
to dip and lift
that we’d behold
sky of changes

as if
as if
the sea was set
the sky was cast a mood

and some for mauve
for azure
run out of colours to call

a little east west bounce along
to run a little world around

how few were watching this
and did the midnight sun see us?

a question you’d sleep off

all along it was behind us
following the car
except when out in front

and on the up and up from now

a magic in the golden glow

rests on a roof as good as sleep
brighter than the dream


then a few days later at sea, though the sun seemed higher at the lowest there
midnight sun at sea
on the Hurtigruten’s MS Richard With
Svolvær (Lofoten) and onto the Norway Mainland

The sun was shining on the sea, 
It made the billows bright, 
And this was odd, because it was 
The middle of the night.
        Lewis Carroll

aboard and in pyjamas
now we have 360°
waving shores smell fish

up all night first time for years
for this beyond romantic

slow coasts in a shining

we of the underwisp
called to cloud
among mountains

first come so far was young Pytheas
now the ancients have come to bucket this too

midnight on deck
moment seared into seeing

the pinking dip
and up sun daisy
call it day again

morning, so to say, dozes with fog
an hour of breakfast still

come through Pillars of Hercules

which of us
will be so remembered
from a text forever lost?

how many cameras will fall overboard?
that’s luck in a wishing sea


travel is important to the process of poetry, but perhaps ironically in the sense of demanding presence to one’s here-and-now

and now I’m in Macao, on my way home, and a little jetlagged on the way…. more later on jetlag and Macao and how these inspire poetry…

but meanwhile Geoff Page’s review of my Poor Man’s Coat Hardanger Poems appeared in a place I will not mention, so I drafted Geoff a poem about my process in response:
my déjà voodoo
a little poem for Geoff Page

won’t ever be finishing itself
a piece of work one might say
but cut and come again
head like the song you know already

tree and stone and stream and sky
out of the blue clouds come over
just for instance or music sets off
hard line through a fog of chord

all the familiar crew
these rag and bone creatures
were sometime my pets
run the circus now

it’s only in echoes we live
only through the mirror we find what’s to give

midnight’s that glimmer
where the dream forgets me
leave inklings where I’ve been, will be
I can’t remember here

a stretch so slow of the imagination
might not notice you’re among
the most familiar things
where always you have been before

in picnic woods of somebody’s porridge
old friend sunlight shows
glad that you’ve already met so many
I hope you’ll come again

all of us are waiting here
that the journey might begin

There were also pieces last week about Norway and the oil (before and after), a kind of a long life cycle poem about a Norwegian (Nynosk) kids’ rhyme, a picture book text for kids about magic sunglasses and going through a troll and coming out the other end, and also a little piece for my field guide to Australian clouds…

and then there’s the list of what I thought I had been supposed to be doing at the beginning of the week…

perhaps also I should say more about drawing and painting and how these relate to writing on a daily basis…

but obviously we don’t have space for that here right now
… the point is that the process is full of surprises!

Christopher (Kit) Kelen (客遠文) is a well-known Australian poet, scholar and visual artist, and Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Macau, where he taught Creative Writing and Literature for many years. Kit Kelen’s poetry has been published and broadcast widely since the seventies, and he has won a number of prestigious awards over the years, including an ABA/ABC Bicentennial Prize in 1988; and in 1992 an Anne Elder award for his first volume of poems The Naming of the Harbour and the Trees. He has also won Westerly‘s Patricia Hackett Prize and placed second in Island’s Gwen Harwood Prize. In 2012, his poem ‘Time with the Sky’ was runner up in the Newcastle Poetry Prize, an award for which he has been frequently shortlisted. In 2017, Kit was shortlisted twice for the Montreal Poetry Prize and, for the second time, won the Local Award in the Newcastle Poetry Prize. In 2018, he was longlisted for the ACU and University of Canberra’s Vice Chancellors’ prizes. Volumes of Kit Kelen’s poetry have been published in Chinese, Portuguese, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Indonesian and Filipino and Norwegian. The most recent of Kelen’s dozen English language volumes is Poor Man’s Coat  Hardanger Poems, published by UWAP in 2018.

picture of a footprint in the sand

True Crime Writing Part 2

By | News, True Crime

Why Do We Love True Crime?

Mark Lawson in this article in The Guardian  said,

“Humans are fascinated by evil,” says bestselling crime writer Ian Rankin. “We wonder where it comes from and whether we ourselves could ever carry out such an act. Some readers turn to crime fiction for answers, while others prefer true crime. Of course, there is a vicarious frisson for the fan of either – the reader stands at the shoulder of monsters without being endangered.”

Trisha Jackson, who specialises in crime books as an editorial director at Pan Macmillan, believes stories of criminality “create a psychologically safe space that lets us dare to wrap our minds around otherwise unfathomable emotion. Unlike cinema, whether it’s fact or fiction, books allow the reader more control over what they are exposed to, as we can simply close the book.”

Is Ian Rankin, right? Are you comfortable standing at a monster’s shoulder and know you are safe from their evil intent? I assume some of you are. And good luck to you if you find enjoyment and learning in what you read or observe.

But what of true crime creating a ‘psychologically safe place where you wrap your mind around those unfathomable emotions?’ Because isn’t that the gist of your interest in true crime … all care and no responsibility? Or is it just plain old voyeuristic curiosity?

True crime for me was a paid job that I would have done without pay if I had to. Today I remain fascinated by the complex number of ways humans behave badly towards each other and themselves. But why are so many others drawn to the genre?

Of course, the genre is not just serial killers and cruel psychopaths. One cannot avoid reading stories of paedophiles, rapists, sadists, domestic violence murderers and organised crime gangs such as the Organised Motor Cycle Gangs (OMCG).  The business model of the OMCGs is predicated on the manufacture, sale and importation of illicit drugs, extortion, fraud and stand-over violence.

There is also a plethora of books that try to unravel, in some way, the mysteries of cold cases but rarely provide an accused nor a conviction. The unsolved Bowraville murder of three young Aboriginal children on the NSW north coast is a very good example

But Why?

Normal, you say! What’s normal about Ivan Milat, serial killer and sadist?  Or Sef Gonzales, who thought he was a gangster. He stabbed to death his father, Teddy, mother Mary, and sister Clodine, aged 18 in their Sydney NSW home to hide his bad University results. How not normal was Monsignor John Day who died in 1978 and may have been the worst paedophile priest in Australia?

  • Is it because we cannot look away from a train wreck about to happen?

I’ll confess. I am a voyeur when it comes to the crime scene. Of the hundreds of dead people, I met over my career I can safely say I remember each face, the circumstances of their death and the investigation outcome. Not only is this because of my professional approach to my police work but it was intrinsically akin to my compassion and voyeuristic curiosity about mystery, death and evil.

Truman Capote in his seminal true crime book In Cold Blood wrote: ‘Imagination, of course, can open any door – turn the key and let terror walk right in.’  That terror or voyeuristic curiosity is the very reason we cannot look away as trains packed with innocent victims hurtle towards each other.

  • Does knowing what evil is and evil does help us feel prepared?

Megan Boorsma , J.D. Elon University Law School , Greensboro, North Carolina writes about the implications of an American audience obsessed with  true crime. One premise of this very interesting treatise is that, ‘a majority of people in the United States receive much of their impressions and knowledge of the criminal justice system through the media.’ If that includes true crime books, blogs, podcasts and television one can see how the genre may make one feel prepared.

  • It gives us an adrenalin rush! It triggers fear in us.

Scott Bonn, criminology professor at Drew University, New Jersey USA, author of Why We Love Serial Killers writes:

‘People … receive a jolt of adrenaline as a reward for witnessing terrible deeds. Adrenaline … produces a powerful, stimulating, … addictive effect on the human brain. If you doubt the addictive power of adrenaline, think of the thrill-seeking child who will ride a roller coaster over and over until he or she becomes physically ill. The euphoric effect of true crime on human emotions is similar to that of roller coasters or natural disasters.’

So,  why do you love true crime?  That’s for you to know and others to wonder about.

Next week:   The whole crime scene!

Ted Bassingthwaighte is a retired NSW police detective living in Newcastle with his wife and dog. Since his retirement in 2009 he has been writing. He reviews books for the NSW Police news magazine, has entered HWC short story competitions, winning a prize in the HWC 2014 Grieve competition. He is a member of the HWC and participates regularly in HWC events. He hopes to have his true crime manuscript ‘Bloody Odyssey’ edited and ready for publication in 2019.

Ted Bassingthwaighte, member of HWC

Writing for Children Part 4

By | News, Writing for Children

How do I find an illustrator? How do I find a publisher? How do I submit my manuscript to a publisher? by Katrina McKelvey

I get asked these questions all the time. Usually the person asking doesn’t realise there are whole courses and workshops written to answer them. They are HUGE questions with no simple answers. There are processes involved and a lot of work.

1) How do I find an illustrator?

Illustrators are assigned by the publisher unless you are self-publishing. The publisher wants to make sure the writing style and the illustration style match. Only very established authors get to ask for specific illustrators. And publishers like teams too. Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley are a few examples. Kirrili Lonergan and I have worked on two books as an author illustrator team, Dandelions and Up To Something. This is wonderful for us as we can visit schools together and talk to kids about making picture books from both perspectives.

The publisher also works between the author and illustrator to bring the project together. The author and illustrator don’t generally directly talk to each other about the book they’re working on together unless it is via the publisher. Some authors and illustrators never meet or meet after their book is released. I knew Kirrili before we started in this industry. So, when we were contracted as a team for Dandelions, we were delighted, as new people don’t usually get to work on a project together when both are new to the industry. She would sneak photos of work in progress while she was illustrating our book. I would get so excited when they popped up on my phone. It was such a privilege to see these snippets as this doesn’t often happen in the industry. Once the book is handed over to the illustrator, the author has to step back during the next part of the project. They’re often brought back in after the illustrations are finished to check the text is still working and look for any final mistakes before the book is sent off for printing.

2) How do I find a publisher?

I’ve said this a few times during these articles now: do your homework. Not all publishers publish children’s books. But there are many ways to find the right publisher.

Look for a publisher’s Submission Guidelines on their website then bookmark that page (article 3). Follow these guidelines exactly. Note: not all guidelines are the same. If a publisher is closed for unsolicited submissions, DON’T send something to them. Instead, go and meet them at conferences and pay for a manuscript assessment. Then you can ask them if you can submit further work to them.

3) How do I submit to a publisher?

There are several ways:

Slush piles (direct and unsolicited)

Manuscript assessments during conferences (book via the conference)

Via an agent (but getting an agent to represent a children’s author is very difficult)

Solicited (invited directly via a conference or networking opportunity)

Twitter parties (yes, there is such a thing!)

Before submitting, there are a few things you need to do. These take time—so don’t rush your submissions.

  • Write a simple one-page cover letter. There is loads of information on the internet and in courses about this. If you don’t know the name of the commissioning editor, address it to, ‘Dear commissioning editor’.
  • Format your manuscript based on the submission guidelines of the publisher you are submitting to.
  • Write a synopsis and a pitch—can you write what your story it about in one sentence, three sentences, in 30 words, in two paragraphs? Practise these. There’s loads of information online and in courses about how to do this. This is not as easy as it sounds. And this can be done badly if the author hasn’t conducted some research into how to write a synopsis/pitch correctly. Also practise writing a blurb. This is different to a synopsis.
  • Track which publishers are open for submissions. See earlier article.
  • Enter writing competitions that give you feedback. This may give you an idea of whether you’re on the right track.

You can submit your manuscript to more than one publisher at a time but publishers would like to know whether your submission is in front of multiple publishers. And if you get picked up by a publisher before you’ve heard from all who you’ve submitted to, you must email them and let them know you’re withdrawing your submission. This is very important! Publishers spend a long time preparing to present possible manuscripts to a publishing team in acquisition meetings. If your manuscript is now unavailable you need to save them the time in preparing for these meetings.

After submitting:

  • Track your submissions—name of manuscript, name of publisher, were they via email or hard copy, who was the editor, what date did you send your submission, record date of any feedback, record any comments.
  • What do you do in the meantime?

Some publishers don’t offer any feedback and say if you haven’t heard from them in three months, it’s a ‘no’. Very informal I know, but they just don’t have the time. If you want feedback, pay for an assessment via a conference. In the meantime:

– write the next manuscript

– build your social media platform—own the title ‘author’.

– build and maintain a website

– write blogs

– support others

– read

– volunteer

After you believe you’ve exhausted all avenues and you still haven’t got that dream publishing contract, you can either put it in the bottom drawer, rewrite it based on any feedback you’ve been given, or let it rest and relook at it down the track.

Rejections are part of this exhausting process. They can be very confusing, disappointing, and upsetting. And most of the time you won’t know why you were rejected. But try not to take them personally. Publishing is a business.

I have always had the mantra, ‘If my stories aren’t good enough to compete with Jackie French, I don’t want my book on the shelf’. This is the attitude you need to get by in this tough industry. The rewards are worth it if you make it. Trust me!

Acceptances are so exciting. But I need to be a parent here. Not all contracts are the same. Some are extremely unfair and don’t have the author’s best interest in mind at all. If you are not a contract lawyer, and most of us aren’t, you can do several things. You can either become a member of the ASA and access their contract advice service and pay to have a professional contract lawyer let you know if it’s a good contract or not (https://www.asauthors.org/findananswer/contracts). The other thing you can do is complete a course about understanding contracts via the ASA or AWC. They don’t come up often and probably not when you need them most, but keep an eye out.

Do I need an agent? This is a personal question with no simple answer. The answer is yes and no. In Australia, you don’t necessarily need one. Many children’s publishers offer a slush pile or are accessible via conferences. But not all publishers have unsolicited slush piles. Some publishers only want submissions via agents. But getting an agent can be as hard as getting a publisher. This is a question that needs its own article. Look online and read relevant articles or listen to advice offered by agents at conferences.


So where am I in my journey now?

I am eight years in and I intend on continuing in this career for a lot longer yet. I have two picture books being released next year so I’m starting to plan those book launches.

I’m currently researching the structure of early chapter books—a new format for me. I’m also researching potential publishers. I’m hoping to have book 1 and 2 ready to submit by Christmas.

I’m a Littlescribe co-author. 

I’m writing four books for Macmillan Education Australia as part of their Snappy Sounds project. This has been challenging and rewarding. These books will be available in 2020. 

I love attending conferences and children’s events as a chair, panelist, or participant so I’m planning where I’ll go in 2020.

I’ll be writing more picture books and, of course, will continue to facilitate my writing group through the Hunter Writers Centre.

And I’ll be popping into schools doing author talks and writing workshops. Love these! I’m on several speaker’s agencies lists. To find out more, visit my website.

Hopefully I haven’t left you feeling overwhelmed by all this information. Work your way through it. You can’t get your writing career off the ground overnight. Everything takes time to develop including manuscripts, author platforms, branding, your writing style/voice, and your networks.

I can guarantee you one thing. If you put your heart and soul into this industry, you will be rewarded. But you can’t cheat. You have to work hard, learn, make mistakes, and continually pick yourself up and dust yourself off. But it will be worth it. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Have you got what it takes to be a children’s author too? If you’ve got the 6 Ps—patience, persistence, practise, perseverance, passion, and positivity then you’re ready to start.


Katrina McKelvey author

Katrina McKelvey is a children’s author with over ten years primary school teaching experience. She’s currently working on her first chapter book series while developing new picture book stories. She’s highly involved in the Children’s Book Council of Australia, literary conferences and festivals, and loves visiting schools. No Baths Week and Up To Something are Katrina’s recent publications, after her successful debut picture book, Dandelions. Two more picture books are coming in 2020. She loves chocolate but doesn’t like chocolate cake. She’s left-handed but plays sport right-handed. She loves tea, but dislikes coffee. Katrina lives in Newcastle, Australia with her family and a naughty puppy. Google her or visit her website: www.katrinamckelvey.com