Writing Prompt: The Detective’s Last Case


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The circular glow of orange street light. Rain. Night. The perfect setting.

Hanover pulled up and got out, his steel-tipped boots rapping on the cement floor, echoing all around him as he strode across the carpark towards David Leppie.

Leppie stood next to his car, his hands in his pockets jiggling nervously. Jesus, the guy was always so bloody nervous. His child-like face – it was that of a kid, really – was filled with deep lines, and the purple bruise on his right cheek was turning into a bitter yellow. Years of worry and drinking at the Barn Yard had aged him, but it was his mouth that had gotten him the bruise. And all because of this. This case. The death of his supposedly beloved Allison.

‘Leppie,’ he said, approaching fast. He flapped his coat and put his hands on his hips. ‘How are you?’

‘Look,’ Leppie said, hands still fluttering, ‘I’m not here for small talk. Alright? Just tell me what you want so I can get the hell outa here.’

‘You know what I want, Leppie. I want to talk about that sexy dish you called Allison.’

Leppie’s face seemed to sink in on itself even more, if that was possible. ‘What about her?’ he said. ‘I told you, I don’t know anything.’

It was a fruitless lie, Leppie knew, one filled with the scent of a man who knows everything but refuses to admit it. He hated these conversations with Hanover. He did all he could to keep out of sight, out of mind, he even stopped going to the Barn Yard as often. But everywhere he went, there he was, this goddamn detective. Like a dog with a bone that he knows will turn out to be a winner.

‘I’ll ask you again. And again and again, for as long as it takes, Leppie. When was the last time you were with her? And don’t tell me it was at the Blue Light Bar because I know you were at Max Price’s party and so was she.’

Leppie shot him a confused, flustered look. ‘If you know, why the hell are you asking?’

Hanover said nothing. He sat himself down on the hood of Leppie’s car, lit a smoke and waited.

Leppie watched as the curls of smoke drifted away into the night. Finally, he said, ‘Alright, I was there, okay? I showed up around eight. She came about nine.’

‘She have a date or did she slink in with some hangers-on?’

‘Came with that prick she calls a husband.’

‘And?’ Hanover said. So far, so good, he thought. So far, Leppie was telling him the whole truth and nothing but. He wondered how long that would last.

Leppie shrugged. ‘I tried to talk to her, but she wouldn’t have a bar of it. She said, not now. Not in front of him. And she didn’t know why I wanted to talk to her anyway, because…’

‘Because she’d already broken up with you.’

‘Yeah,’ Leppie said, eyes down. ‘So, I went out back to talk to some others. To drink and forget about her. Then I left about an hour later.’

‘And then what?’

Leppie looked up at him, ready to blow, and Hanover almost smiled. He was getting to him, which was the way he wanted it. ‘And then what? And then I get a bloody knock on my door at six a.m., two days later, with your pretty face asking me what I’ve been doing and when and where and telling me that she’s friggin’ dead. That’s what.’

Now, Hanover did smile. Just a little. He took a drag on his cigarette and said, ‘And you have no idea who did it?’

‘No,’ Leppie said. ‘The husband, probably? He knew she was getting around on him and I don’t think he liked it.’

‘Well, you and her were pretty cosy, weren’t ya? He ever say anything to you about it?’

‘No,’ Leppie said and Hanover could tell from the scared shine in his eyes that this was another lie.

‘What about Max Price? Was he getting it on with her?’

‘Geez, man, I don’t know!’

‘What about David Lulee? Peter Ford? Jimmy Rollers? Any of those guys getting it on with her?’

Leppie was raging now. ‘No! None of them! Christ, you make it out like she was some sort of paid whore! She wasn’t like that, okay? She was just … easy going. Unsure of herself, who she wanted to be with. But other than that she was real sweet.’

Yeah, sweet as a candy bar dipped in poison, Hanover thought. He wondered how so many men could become besotted with such a danger of a woman. Looks, he knew. It was all about looks. ‘So, who was she afraid of then, Leppie? Other than her husband? Must’ve been someone.’

‘I don’t know,’ Leppie said. He looked away and then back at the detective. ‘Wait. Maybe there’s someone. The guy before me.’

‘Yeah? Who was that?’

‘Some banker. He worked with her husband. She called it off on him, she said. He was getting too rough, she said. And he wasn’t happy about it. When she and I first met, he was having her followed. That’s what she said.’

‘Someone was following her?’

‘Yeah. I asked who, she said probably one of those beefs who worked for her last beau.’

‘But she didn’t know? For sure, I mean.’

Leppie shrugged. ‘A woman like her, she was beautiful, you know? Men probably tail her around all the time, just to look at her. But … no, she didn’t know. She assumed it was one of the banker’s men. But I think, now that I look back on it, that you’re right. Damn right. It coulda been anyone.’

* * *

(Image credit: j4p4n @ openclipart.org).
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Goodbye, eBooks: Why I’m Going Back to “Real” Books


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ARE YOU AN EBOOKER? OR A REAL BOOK PERSON?

Why do you hate the eBook? so many people would ask. You love reading yes? You can have a million books in the palm of your hand!

I have to admit, I was very anti-eBook when eReading devices were first springing up years ago. But after a while, I got around to buying a Kobo (mini).

Yes, it’s true. Like the TARDIS, I can fit as many books as I like into my little eReader.

The best thing about it is just that – its tiny-ness. It fits, all snug, into my bag and hardly takes up any room. A far cry from the days of before when I would struggle to stuff thick or heavy books into my bag or when I would buy a bigger bag just so I could fit my book into it.

Other eBook positives for me include the in-built dictionary (though the Kobo one leaves much to be desired) and the ability to search digitally. And of course, cross-device syncing – I can read my Kobo at home, and then head out with only my phone and keys and continue reading.

And yet, despite all these perks, I’ve grown absolutely tired of my eReader. Something is stirring within me – the need for a paperback, a real book. I can’t stand being “trapped” inside that digital thing any longer.

Why would you go back? everyone remarks. It’s more convenient and cheaper with an eReader, and you can download an eBook and start reading it instantly!

And besides, it’s not like the words are different. Reading an eBook is exactly the same!

But it’s really not. ID-100187298 book2

Scouring through endless rows and shelves of books at Powell’s City of Books in Portland the other day (my husband had left me for an hour, and I was pretty much high on book ecstasy), I’d almost forgotten what it was like to have a real book, with real, tangible pages in hand.

There’s some kind of magic that happens when you first open the cover of a real book and begin reading. When you turn or flick – not swipe or tap or press a button – through to that first page and see it before you, words and all. There’s a deep, subtle sense that a real journey is beginning. That you’re diving in.

Touch is important, too. With real books, you can sense their weight in your hands and run your fingers over the texture of their pages.

Different books, prints and editions have covers with different textures as well – some are matte, some are glossy, some are embossed, others are made of fabric. And each adds to your experience of the book.

There’s also a kind of deep satisfaction that happens when you read a real book. You dog-ear the pages, crease the spine, bend the cover accidentally, spill things all over it and (as I’ve done many times) drop it in the bathtub.

In a way, the book becomes yours and yours alone – there’s a unity found, a uniqueness. It’s not a small device, one of convenience. A book is a possession, and it possesses you.

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I know what you’re thinking – that I’m missing the whole point. That the raison d’être is the words, the story. And of course the words are all the same – print, eBook, it doesn’t matter. Right?

But the physical experience of books is important, too. It shouldn’t be done away with or simply ignored.

I’m overwhelmed by nostalgia when I see real books from my past. The hardcover edition of Enid Blyton’s The Strange Umbrella sends me back to a childhood time that feels like a dream, and I spent many a week hunting down the same version of John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat that I used to own as a kid.

Yes, I know I could’ve bought those books on an eReader. I could’ve read them digitally. But it just wouldn’t have been the same. It wouldn’t have been as magical or as rewarding. It wouldn’t have felt like I was holding something to be treasured in my hand (and yes, books should be treasured).
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I know something else that you’re thinking, too – that I’m just a victim of the times.

Like old men who still love to buy and read the actual newspaper rather than looking it up online. It’s just because you grew up before eReaders, I hear you say.

But are we really just screaming towards a purely digital future, where the experience of all books will just be via a tablet? Will future childhood memories be saturated with quips like, I remember my mother reading that to me on my first eReader!

And if so, what of real children’s books, the ones with fuzzy, furry things to touch and thick, cardboard pages to turn and plastic ones that are good for the bath?

We’ll all grow out of that, someone whispers in my ear. That stuff’s for kids. Adults don’t need real books.

But don’t they?

After all, it’s one thing to watch a recording of a Shakespearean play. You get the same scenes, the same words, the same story, don’t you? But it’s another to actually sit in the stalls and watch it all unfold, in the flesh, before you.

There is something to be said about going to a real bookstore, as opposed to just sitting on your butt, downloading a book and having it appear before you. I know there’s enchantment in a bookshop that has real books. Every single person that goes to a bookshop and walks among the shelves knows it, too.

It’s there, in those moments when you first pull a book off the shelf, and feel it in your hands, and open it to that first page.

When it becomes yours, bent corners and all.

When the story unfolds before you with each, physical turn, with the literal feel of the words on the page, the pages between your fingertips.

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I know there are people out there who just don’t get it. Who don’t value the tangibility of a book, who find no sense of the sensual in picking one up and turning its pages. Who perhaps don’t own any real books or don’t remember what it was like to hold a book as a child. Who just, in a sense, write the whole ‘book thing’ off.

But please – the next time you are out, just try it. Ditch your device for an instant and walk into a real bookstore. Walk through the shelves, find something, pull it off the shelf.

It might not be magical straight away, but I promise you will find something in there. A sliver of enchantment, perhaps. A tangibility that you’d perhaps forgotten. A bookish adventure, with real, turning pages and a delightful thickness that can rest, forever, in your hands.

(Image courtesy of adamr, koratmember, dan, winnond, Surachai at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The Inconsistency of Character


ID-10072565In her book, The Writing Book: A Workbook for Fiction Writers author Kate Grenville writes that:

“Inconsistencies can make characters interesting, as long as they’re inconsistent in a way that adds something to the story.”

But what does mean by this? Aren’t characters supposed to be consistent?

They are, but when we write and read fiction, we don’t want to encounter flawless, whole characters who are perfect in every way. If our heroes and heroines were already perfect, what would the point be in going on a journey with them?

And how would we identify with them, since we, as readers, are inherently filled with our own flaws and inconsistencies?

What Kate is getting at here is that characters, while they must be consistently created by a writer, don’t need to be consistent in their fictional existence. As she says, “Inconsistencies can add depth to a character, but they have to be carefully controlled by the writer.”

When it comes to fiction and popular genres, inconsistencies are often the key to strong and appealing characters. All compelling characters, in other words, have an Achilles heel.

  • The hardboiled detective who is great at his job, but who can’t control his anger.
  • The bloodthirsty vampire who is capable of love and compassion.
  • The wicked queen who has a kingdom under her belt, but is still obsessed with beauty.

Inconsistencies not only make characters likable, but vulnerable as well. This is important because we need vulnerability in a character in order to empathise with them.

As readers, we need to believe that characters could fail as much as they can succeed, that their ultimate flaw or inconsistency is capable of bringing them down or as much as it can help them grow and change.

In any story, however, inconsistencies or flaws can’t be random. A character’s inconsistencies must somehow tie in with their personal story and relate to their inner fears, goals and arcs.

The overall point is that one way to add more depth to our characters and make them more likable is to give them an ‘inconsistency’, flaw or vulnerability.

Whether they overcome this inconsistency at the end of the story and how you play with these vulnerabilities is up to you (just think of all the flaws and inconsistencies in something like Gone Girl or Catcher in the Rye or even the Turn of the Screw), but I think it’s something that needs to be there, in every character.

For writers, this might sound like one of the most obvious and basic character-building approaches, but I always believe it’s beneficial to go back to writing basics and be consciously aware of how these vulnerabilities are playing out in terms of those character arcs and their journeys.

(Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net /  Craftyjoe) 

Writing Prompt: Weekend at the River – A Bricolage 


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The dogs had been barking at the edge of the gully for a full hour, an ominous nerve-racking sound, for it echoed down the gully and from the caves on the other side. Some kids are skipping stones on the river down river. I wish they’d float away with their bellies up.

Over the balcony and off into the flooded square where gulls would swoop and snatch them away. A theory of everything. There are simply too many characters.

Again I hear these waters, rolling from their mountain-springs with a soft inland murmur. I have grown up in the sound of guns like the child of siege.

When I was a kid, my pop used to take me fishing here. One day him and my mama were out on our boat and so I yanked down my shorts and plopped myself down in the sand and pissed. We all grew up with myths. This is, in part, what gives my life its own moral particularity.

Now the things you gotta make way for are the details, cause it’s the details that sell your story. We must stir our way onward, mixing as we go, disorder out of disorder into disorder until pink is complete, unchanging and unchangeable, and we are done with it forever.

Out of sight, beyond the frame, two people are sitting in the dark interior. It is like a strange picture, he said, and a strange sort of prisoners.

The ordinary-sized stuff which is our lives, the things people write poetry about – clouds – daffodils – waterfalls – and what happens in a cup of coffee when the cream goes in – these things are full of mystery. For him, they were not fictions, but how he suddenly saw, or interpreted the world.

I ran into the sun room where the lavender curtains were drawn and the moon was bright and half full. The waves are the loudest sound in the room at night.

Rivers of light live inside your head. It’s like love, don’t you think?

What Is a Bricolage? 

In any art form, a bricolage is a creation made from other available creations, forms or sources. When writing, a bricolage is a fantastic way of creating and shaping meaning through intertextuality and understanding the importance of the intertext, even when it’s evidently “on the surface” and to push the boundaries between original and new.

In my bricolage, I’ve taken phrases and sentences from other short stories, from movie scripts and plays, from poetry, and from other short stories I’ve written myself to compose a new text that makes its own meanings and offers commentary on the ways in which we see the world growing up.

Is It Possible to Over-Plan When Writing a Novel?


ID-10078246 man with penAre you a novel planner? I tend to be. But is it possible to plan too much?

Usually, once I have an idea in place, I go about creating a plan for the rest of the novel. Sometimes I wrote a long synopsis, other times maybe a chapter or scene summary.

And this plan serves to:

  • Keep me motivated
  • Keep my writing on track, so that I understand the goal or finish line of each chapter/scene
  • Force me to think about the bigger picture of the story, and how to create meaning for the characters and the actions they undertake along the way

But sometimes, when I write off a plan, I run into two main problems:

(a) It all begins to fall apart when writing. I start to question the plan I’ve written up and then I dive into other possibilities for character action, reaction, emotion and decision. And then – I just go back to doing more planning, instead of more writing.

(b) I get bored. One of the things I love about fiction writing is the opportunity to work out the characters and the story as I’m writing it. But once it’s all in a plan, the appeal of creating the story is kind of gone for me as an author.

So I suppose the question is – Am I an over-planner? Am I trying to work it all out too much in advance? Trying to make the first draft of the story to perfect?

Or should I embrace the plan-then-write working structure, and be a more methodical writer? ID-100160560 man dream bubble

Who knows. I’ve crafted story plans that have worked for me. And I’ve also ignored the need for a plan, and spent hours and hours writing around in circles.

I guess the conclusion here is that (like everything in life) it’s all about creating a healthy balance.

I do think it is possible to plan too much when writing a novel. You can plan everything to a tee – but at the end of the day, it still comes down to making it all work through writing.

And yet if you just write without a plan (as I know some writers do, and it works for them), you can end up becoming writing ‘lost’ (though which is not always a bad thing). It’s one thing to have a story goal for your character, but sometimes, it isn’t always obvious how that goal should come to fruition in terms of scenes, actions and emotions.

Anyway, it would be great to hear your thoughts – fellow writers – on how much or little you plan!

For me, I’m done with planning right now. It’s time for some creative writing.

(Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net / David Castillo Dominici / Master isolated images) 

Getting Inspired by Travel & Distance


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I’ve noticed there is a gap in my blog posts – but thankfully, it’s because I’ve now relocated from Sydney to Seattle.

I’m one of those people who could explore the world forever, and find myself constantly inspired by the things I see and the places I visit.

The mountains of Washington became the mountains in my children’s novel. And the lake and harbour near where I’m living bring to mind the world of a coastal town in another crime story I’m working on.

But can travelling and distance really make you a better writer?

I think so. Because the travelling experience – of the world, of new places, sights and cultures – gives you depth as a person. Which also means more depth as a writer.

The real challenge, at least for me, is to translate that experience in the words, descriptions and actions of my characters.

It’s one thing to set sights on a magnificent snow-capped mountain, it’s another to write about that experience from the point of view of your character so that it creates meaning within the narrative and adds something to the character.

But overall, the lesson here is that it helps.

Travelling can inspire and add to experience, and distance can give you perspective and breath, and all of this works towards making you a more rounded, well-versed and engaging writer.

Here’s hoping my Seattle experience continues to bring me a wealth of words and imagination!

Keen to read more about my adventures in Seattle and the US?

Follow my other blog – Seattle Soup

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