Archive | June 2012

Ideas or Characters. Which is most important to writing?

Idea or Character, which is most important?

Where do you find your ideas? As a writer I’m often asked this question, and the answer has to be -from life. Not necessarily from my own life, of course, although, it’s these experiences that shape my outlook on life, that help to create my beliefs.  An idea can come from a news item, a chance remark overheard in a public place or even just by looking at someone and wondering about them and maybe imagining a life for them. Yes, ideas are all around us, just waiting to insinuate themselves into the mind.

Then come the characters. This is the thrilling part of writing – to create a character from the fabric of your own imagination, to give him(or her) a life, a personality, strengths and weaknesses; to mould him to whatever you want, good or bad, honest or truthful, cruel or caring. It’s all up to you! He/She can be pretty or ugly, dark or fair, short or tall, bitchy or sweet, manly or a wimp; it’s all up to you, your chance to play God! What power! It’s no wonder we writers become addicted to writing.

But the strange thing is that if you’ve created them well enough, your characters become real, and they end up dictating to you. They often take the story where they want to go. Forget your own pre-conceived ideas, if that’s what they want, you ignore them at your peril!

And often you find them intruding into your own life. They can make you feel guilty if you haven’t written about them for a while. I often find that one of my strongest characters, Kitty, who is the main character in An Independent Woman, the first book in the Redwoods series, forces herself onto my attention. When I conceived the idea for this series, I planned to write three books, each one written about the daughter in each generation, beginning in the late nineteenth century and finishing mid-twentieth century. I planned their stories to reflect the changing attitudes to women over those years, as women gradually gained more independence. But when I finished the first book there was no way Kitty was going to let me put her to bed. No, she still wanted to be #1. And so she is still a dominant character in the second book, A Liberated Woman, alongside her daughter Joy.

Now that I’m working on the third book n the series, I decided it was time to move on and leave her behind. But she doesn’t agree. She has even infiltrated my dreams. Believe it or not, I dreamed of her last night. I was standing outside a room with a closed door, and inside that room someone was hammering on the door. “Let me out, let me out,” a woman’s voice was calling through the door. “You can’t keep me locked up in here.” It was Kitty. Believe me!

So what am I to do? I suppose I’ll have to let her have her way, and put her in this book too!


Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes

On my Facebook  page today was a photo of women of all shapes and sizes labelled “Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes”, shared by a firm  in the USA called ‘Kathy’s Curvy Corners’.

How true those words are – beauty comes in all shapes and sizes! It’s true for everyone, man, woman and child. But it made me reflect on how social pressures today cause so many of us to overlook this, and to think we have to conform to today’s stereotyped version of beauty, which is usually, amongst other attributes, thin to the point of emaciation.

Over the centuries society has dictated its own version of beauty, from the voluptuous beauties of Rubens to the slight figure of that stealer of a Royal heart in the last century, Mrs Wallis Simpson – who is said to have once remarked, “No woman can ever be too thin or too rich!!”

We live in more enlightened times. Or do we? Intense pressure from advertising on television and in magazines makes it hard for anyone who cares how they look to maintain a healthy body image these days. Twenty years ago, the average model weighed 8 per cent less than the average woman — but today’s models weigh 23 per cent less than you and me. Popular film and television actresses are becoming younger, taller and thinner. Magazines are full of photos of young, beautiful, SKINNY models and pressure is on us all to accept that this is how we should look.

What many of us don’t realise is that these photos are airbrushed and changed to present the image they want us to accept as normal and that it’s the way we should look. The advertising in magazines specifically targets our insecurities about how we look, and promise quick fixes. They love to make us feel bad about the way we are, because the aim of these ads is to get us to buy their products, it’s  the magazine’s job is to make us  think we do. And if it doesn’t work for us – well – next month they’ll tell us about something else that’ll be THE ONE.

When these things don’t work, we tend blame ourselves, to think we’re not disciplined enough, didn’t use it right, or don’t deserve to be thin or beautiful or whatever. All this pressure makes us want to shape our body into the figure they persuade us it should be – and if we can’t, we often beat up on ourselves for being weak and lacking in willpower. It’s no wonder so many women, and men too, find it difficult to be always positive and maintain a healthy body image in the face of all this persuasive advertising.

So what can you do.? Check how your body rates on a BMI Calculator, you’ll find one easily enough on the web, and try to accept that these figures are what you should aim for, not what the advertising gurus feed us!

One of the sad things about all this is that teenagers and even children are affected by this hype. When we hit our teenage years, our bodies start to change shape. This is when teen eating disorders are a danger. Hips change shape, breasts appear, shoulders may widen. So we worry about what we eat and feel embarrassed when anyone looks at us. At this time we easily develop a negative body image. Anorexia is an eating disorder which is now becoming more and more common. In it sufferers have an obsessive fear of gaining weight. They commonly control their body weight by starvation diets, purging, vomiting, excessive exercise, or other weight control measures, such as diet pills or diuretic drugs. It mainly affects teenage females, however it is now being seen in children in their pre-teens. And not just females, approximately 10% of sufferers are male. It is important that children are set an example of accepting themselaves from an early age, and it is up to parents to help them do this by setting a good example.So try to see yourself as the beautiful person you are, no matter what your size or shape, and make sure your children realise that good health, and the beauty it brings, is  the only worthwhile goal.

Time to write?

Wouldn’t it be great to be able to sit down and write without having the interruptions of running a home! There never seems to be the amount of time you want for writing, so often something else crops up that needs immediate attention – like the baby crying, or the cat jumping up on the table and knocking over your coffee, or the washing machine beeping to remind you the clothes need hanging out . Or maybe it’s time to go and pick up the kids from school.  All things  needing immediate attention. Ignore them at your peril!

I bet when Somerset Maugham was writing his Tales of the South Seas he never had to leave his writing to do the laundry. I can just see him sitting at a table in some little bar in some little island, coconut palms waving gently in the breeze outside, a glass of whiskey at his elbow, as he scribbled away in his notebook.  And he probably had fresh clothes laid out for him daily by a  South Seas Island laundry-maid. And when Ernest Hemingway pounded away on his Corona#3 typewriter, writing his masterpieces, I bet he didn’t have to stop to go and prepare dinner.

Oh for a house-husband!

I read that JK Rowling said she did no housework for a year. How did she get away with it? Never cleaned the bathroom? Ate out every night? They all wore the same clothes for a year? Or did she just have a wonderful old-fashioned housekeeper? Sigh!

I never seem to have enough time for my writing. How do you manage? All suggestions welcome!



Help save the Great Barrier Reef

It is World Environment Day today and here in Australia we have some good news. The Federal Government has put a stop to Gina Rinehart’s plans for further coal mining in the sensitive area close to the Great Barrier Reef, pending further reports. As the Reef has World Heritage listing, it is the Federal Government that has the lead responsibility in protecting it from damage. Last week Unesco warned that the reef will be placed on the List of World Heritage in danger unless it is protected from the new port and infrastructure projects proposed. It is the unprecedented number of approvals in the last decade of projects such as the  liquefied natural gas plants on Curtis Island, and new or expanded ports such as Gladstone Harbour, that have caused this to happen.

Certainly these projects will boost the economy – but at what cost? The destruction of one of the most beautiful and ecologically significant wonders of the world is not worth it!  HOW DARE THEY DO THIS TO OUR REEF! The Great Barrier Reef belongs to all Australians, not just to those who live in Queensland. I live far away, down in South Australia, but I believe I have the right to regard it possessively. If you are an Australian, whether you were born here or adopted Australia as your home, then this is YOUR reef. Stand up for it! Find the names of your local MPs, Federal, State and local, and contact them. Get angry! Make them listen! Tell them you won’t stand for pollution of the waters of the reef, tell them you won’t stand for ships sailing through these sensitive seas. And tell them you will make your anger felt at the ballot box if they don’t stop this wanton destruction. Do your part to help to save our reef.

Can family eating help weight loss?

I wonder how many families manage to eat their meals together these days, it often seems that it’s a lost way of life. But it’s a habit that leads to better nutrition, and lessens the risk of weight gain and substance abuse. Family eating not only strengthens family ties and helps keep you in touch with what’s happening in your children’s lives, it can lead to better physical and mental health for both you and your children.

If you can make mealtimes a pleasant experience, when you all come together as a family, you will all benefit. Turn off the television, the video games and the computer. Encourage your children to join in the conversation at the dinner table – but don’t let them take over! It should be a time when parents and children can all share the happenings of their day, an opportunity for togetherness. It’s a positive experience for your children that leads to happier and well adjusted children. Encourage your children to help prepare meals, set the table and help with dishes.

Taking meals with friends and family also helps your children form positive attitudes about food and eating, and creates happy family memories they will remember all their lives. I well remember mealtimes when I was a child, as part of a large family, when we all sat down together. Children tend to copy their parents’ attitudes to foods. They won’t see healthy eating as important if it isn’t something they see you do. Meals can be simple. You don’t need to have gourmet foods. Simple, tasty, but healthy meals are best for families. Use positive messages when talking to your children about food. Let them know that most foods fit into a healthy diet, but all in moderation. Positive messages help to avoid the stress and guilt that can lead to eating disorders and poorer eating patterns as children get older.

It’s important for children to adopt a healthy lifestyle starting at a young age. Parents play an important role in helping to shape children’s eating habits. Of course you must use common sense; a two year old who doesn’t want to sit still for more than five minutes can’t be expected to sit for half an hour at a dinner table. But by the time they’re five, children should be able to sit at the table and start to learn good table manners. They should then be able to take their place in family mealtimes. It’s a habit that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. Researchers have found that teenage girls who eat five or more family meals per week are less likely to resort to extreme dieting measures like using diet pills or laxatives, binge eating, and vomiting to control their weight. The results suggest that encouraging family eating may be an effective way to combat the growing problem of eating disorders and overweight in teenage girls and children.

Sometimes parent’s working hours make this impractical for every day, but surely it’s worth while making an effort to eat together as often as possible. You will all benefit.