Wednesday, 28 September 2016

5 reasons why Beta Readers are better readers

5 reasons why beta readers make better readers - Hannah Davison - writer
My manuscript had been marinading for months. Several months of writing, a cooling off period, and then several more months of rewriting, editing and polishing. At last, when I felt there was nothing more I could do by myself it was time to seek the opinion of others. I could no longer see the wood for the trees. 

While keeping it to oneself may well feel like the safer option, succumbing to the fear of feedback would make eventual publication an impossibility. 

Finding a Beta Reader

I cast my net through my Facebook page and asked for readers in the relevant age range of 8 - 12 to step forward - or rather, be gently shoved forward by their parents like sacrificial lambs. 

The response was surprising. Children were clambering over one another to get their hands on fresh material. I was only too happy to oblige. 

Age range was the most important thing but I also wanted to test if my story would appeal to both boys and girls. Other than that, I was happy to roll the dice. 

Stepping into the fire

Before sending my manuscripts out I'd also sent it to a manuscript assessor. I knew that from her, I'd receive in return the bare-faced facts about the failings or successes of my story and craft. I would have to put my serious face on for that. 

To balance out the serious face, I decided to simultaneously send the manuscript out to 6 child beta readers. What would the audience think when they did not approach the critiquing from a professional point of view? How would they react to the experience of reading the story?

I also had a lot of fun tinkering with my stationery supplies and presenting the task to them (see above). After all, it involved a bit of homework. 

Questions to ask a Beta Reader

In return for the privilege of having their name in the dedications - nothing wrong with a little bribery and corruption - I sent them a list of questions to answer about the story. In the interests of confidentiality, I have replaced any words I'm not ready to make public with the name Boris. 

The questions were:
  1. What did you like or not like about Boris?
  2. Could you hear, see, smell and picture the place and people in the story?
  3. What was the funniest part of the story?
  4. What was the most boring part of the story?
  5. Was there anything you wish Boris had done or not done?
  6. Was there something that was not in the story you wish had been there?
  7. What do you think could happen to Boris next?
  8. What else can you tell me about what you thought when you read The Boris Boris's Boris?

The truth will out

The other thing I included was a packet of coloured pencils. I asked the readers to use the green coloured pencil to colour-in any parts they thought were really funny or that they enjoyed. Then, colour-in red pencil any parts they thought were boring or could be made better. 

Then I cowered in the corner and impatiently awaited the manuscripts to return. 

5 reasons why Beta Readers are better readers

  1. They don't muck around - I was soon sent photos of my readers engrossed in the story whilst driving in the car or curled up on the sofa. Within a matter of days I was receiving the returned feedback in the post. If you want something done, just ask a 10 year old.

  2. They know what they like - Children in the junior fiction and middle grade fiction age range read a lot. A lot. They know what they like and what they don't like. They aren't afraid to tell you and if your story is missing something at any point, they'll be likely to pick it like a dirty nose. I had one of the best pieces of advice from a 9 year old. Everyone else had missed it but he's hit the nail on the head.

  3. They make up their own rules - I suggested green and red pencil to identify their thoughts as they read through the story. One reader expanded the colour coding to include orange, for hard words, and brown, for suggested edits. A couple of readers picked up typos that now on seeing them, stick out like dog's b- well, you know.

  4. They give you more than you have asked for - Whether they had intended to or not, the readers gave me so much more in their responses than I ever expected of them. Whether it was a little bit of point 3 above, or the way they attacked the colouring-in process. Sometimes the colouring would vary in ferocity caught up in fits of enthusiasm. I felt really close to their reading experience.

  5. They are just generally awesome human beings - Today I got my work back complete with a drawing of my reader's interpretation of a Boris. It was awesome. I also received the following response to a question:
    Q. What was the most boring part of the story?
    A. The end. The words 'the end,' not the last page. I didn't want it to end. 

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Proof that it's never OK to settle

A 14 year old girl was given the following advice by a drama teacher: 

"You might do OK if you are happy to settle for the fat girl parts." 

That actress was Kate Winslet. 

I don't know about you, but I feel like she has done OK. In fact, I think it is safe to say, she has absolutely nailed it. She is living proof that if there is something you want to do and you want it badly enough, you'll find a way. 

Kate (we're on a first name basis now) talks about something vital that was the difference between settling and success...

"I didn't listen. I kept on going and I overcame all of my fears and a lot of insecurities. Just keep doing it, keep believing in yourself. That was what I felt I really had to dig deep and do." - Kate Winslet

She said this after accepting her BAFTA Award. In your face drama teacher.

"I am dedicating this award to all of the young women who are doubting themselves. Because you shouldn't be doubting, you should be just going for it." - Kate Winslet

Don't let the man get you down - ignoring bad advice

Much like our friend Kate, we will all come across plonkers on our journey that will be only too happy to put us down, play on our insecurities and tell us we don't have the chops to do it. 

I have met a number of these aforementioned plonkers in the past. But they have simply been plonked there in my path only to test my resolve. 

I'm grateful for these people. They make you stop and question what you are doing and if you truly care about doing it. Either you're not that bothered to be stopped in your tracks, or, you want it so badly you'll stuff self-doubt back in its box and sally forth regardless. 

Stick to your guns and all guns blazing!

It's hard to argue with ignorance

Advice is derived and given from an individual's perspective that is always limited by their own experiences. The advice you choose to take or to leave should be given serious consideration. Perhaps the giver has settled for the 'fat girl parts?'

You have to ask yourself: am I settling?

My writing mentor (far from plonker) was commenting on the amount of things I've got going on at once. I explained that when I realised what I wanted to do, I locked on to it and nothing was going to stop me. I had to start immediately and pursue it relentlessly until I succeeded. There is no other way. I am not prepared to settle. 

I'm not convinced that it is true, but what if we do only live once? There is no guarantee of the time that we've got here. There is not a moment to lose. 

Dancing with the stars

If there is something you want, I believe you have got to chase it down. The journey is just as much fun, if not more, than the destination. It feels like dancing on the road to infinite possibilities. Are you prepared to dig deep and trip the light fantastic?

Speaking of which, here is a quote I love from Amy Purdy. If you don't yet know who she is, look her up here.

Inspired yet?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The power of the Zzzzzzzzzz

The next fascinating sleep instalment as promised

In my last blog post I talked about an app I'd been trialling, the Sleep Well Hypnosis PRO app but it was early days of using it at that point. One month later I'd like to report that the app is still working like a charm. Brace yourself Henrietta, I am reborn! The bags under my eyes have morphed from check-in to carry-on. (I'd also like to note that this is not in anyway sponsored by the app's creators, although I am more than open for sponsorship, chocolate manufacturers, please apply...)

I realise that this is a strange platform to be banging on about sleep and how to get more of it, but it is something we all have in common. More often that not, it is being short of sleep that we have in common.

Some alarming statistics about sleep deprivation

I recently read that the effects of having only 4 - 5 hours of sleep a night or being awake for 17 - 19 hours in one stretch can be comparable to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05% - 0.1%. In the study, response speeds for some testing were as bad as being 50% slower and overall accuracy far poorer. You can read about the study here.

Great, so I may as well have quaffed back a glass of chardonnay or two before doing the preschool run? Not exactly reassuring.

Sleeping like babies

So I sleep now, properly. It is amazing. I'm falling asleep in about 10 minutes and sleeping deeply. If my dear, sweet Miss 1.5 doesn't wake in the night, I don't either. If she does, I tend to see to mummy duty and then nod off straight away again without any fuss. Sometimes I even get to be that smug early riser who leaps out of bed with huge enthusiasm at 5.30 am and knocks out a couple of hours work before anyone else rises. All smugness of course bestowed and utterly wasted upon the dog, the sole observer of my rapturous toiling.

The only catch

I have but one gripe about my sleep revelation which is that my husband and I have both discovered a sleep solution although not in the same app. We have to have a long nightly discussion about whose app gets a turn that evening. Frankly, the Soothe Baby app set on 25 minutes of rain falling on a car window with the wipers going doesn't rock my boat (nor my cradle). So all I can do is finish with a quote from Pride and Prejudice because the wisdom of Ms Austen is irrefutable “I have not the pleasure of understanding you.” 

Sunday, 26 June 2016

The ultimate working parent hack - explained in 3 minutes

It can't be this simple, it just can't...

3 minute blog read
4 minute TED Talk
25 minute App solution
Tick - done

When I'm at my worst, my ugliest, my most regrettable, it is always in the presence of fatigue. Most nights I don't sleep well. I used to be a champion sleeper but since having children I rarely enter that true deep restorative sleep I once thrived on. 

I couldn't possibly enter deep sleep in case I avoid stewing over whether little Miss 1.5's cough is just a tickle, indicates dehydration, or is a precursor to vomiting all through her bedclothes. Let's lie awake and think about it for a while. She also likes to wake up every night around 2.30 am so I might as well hang in there and wait for that to happen. Enough time elapses and then my brain kicks in and works out what I need to get done the next day, wonders how that is possibly going to happen, then finally, freaks out that I'm awake and begins counting down the time until the alarm goes off. The alarm goes off. I spend the following day being crotchety, snapping at all and sundry and unproductive because I haven't had enough sleep. Cue self-loathing.

Arianna Huffington, in her TED Talk: How to succeed - get more sleep (4 minute video), explains how much better we would all be if we got more sleep. She's right, what can I say. She also has a fabulous accent. But achieving good sleep can be easier said than done (please see above). I know I need to find a solution because on the rare - and I'm talking 'Ooh look! I just found 20 bucks in this jacket pocket!' rare - I just kill it the next day, I get a whole lot of work done, feed my children nothing out of a packet AND get a load of laundry washed, folded and put away. Killing it. We all need to get more/better sleep, but how on earth does that happen. Wishing it is so, doesn't make it so.

But it is that simple!


On Friday night we were swilling wine with friends in front of a roaring fire, toasting their new English Bull Terrier puppy acquisition while our English Bull Terrier (Duchess) was her usual over-familiar self. Sounds idyllic, was idyllic. We started talking about our favourite apps and podcasts which is when Miss P introduced me to Sleep Well Hypnosis PRO app. It freakin' works!!! I have had two of the deepest sleeps I have had in I can't remember how long. I'd forgotten what that was like. I'm still trialling it, I need to give it the wine test - because that usually has detrimental effects on my slumber, but don't worry, that is all in hand/glass...

The unexpected bonus

The weird thing is, little Miss 1.5, who, without fail will wake up every night around 2.30 am has actually slept through the last two nights as well. This is uncanny. Is it possible that this magical hypnosis app could travel through the wall???? 

Stay tuned for the next fascinating instalment of how the Davison household sleep at night.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016


The taste of irony

In my last blog I finished with 'Now with any luck, the waves might just gently lap at my toes for a while.' Soon thereafter came the sound of uproarious laughter echoing through the heavens. Little did I know that I would spend the subsequent weeks spinning in what can only described as a vortex of chaos. Oh irony, you fickle mistress!

A series of extreme weather systems

I'd also talked about surfing the tsunami until it was over. Only then, was I swept up by the vortex of chaos. There was no gentle lapping of the waves! I was lulled into a false sense of security, life had duped me again. It seems I'm still learning the lesson of acceptance but this time it has come at me in a different form. 

I thrive on order, tidy desk, tidy mind, a place for everything and everything in its place and so on. So long as my environment is in order my mind can cope. Now however, I'm learning to cope in utter disorder. We've just moved into the farm homestead which has been the family seat for numerous generations. It is a wonderful place for so many reasons and we are so happy to be here. In the words of Mr. 3, "I like it here, everything is good." With this lofty legacy however, comes numerous generations of accumulated items and memorabilia that we are now the custodians of. To move in, we first have to decide what items we wish to share our living space with, and which to tuck away. Then, we need to make space for the items we brought with us. 

This won't elicit sympathy from anyone and I'm certainly not looking for any but the experience has thrown me into huge disorder of my physical surrounds. For my mind, with its simple analogue operating system, it is a challenge. I'm running through the house using my hands as blinkers so I can't see all of the unpacked boxes. I know not where my knick-knacks are!

Exiting the vortex of chaos

I'm taking a deep breath and practising acceptance though. This is all going to take time and while that goes on it is still business as usual as far as the farm and writing are concerned. I'm definitely more apt to cope with this still as I realised how to drain the power out of the vortex of chaos. 

We recently returned from a family holiday in Fiji. It was so glorious that I had to make sure I hadn't died and gone to heaven. Then I realised that no one has to change dirty nappies in heaven so I was most definitely still in the physical realm.

Admittedly, we won't just be popping over to Fiji every time life's extreme weather systems take hold, but I did come to a crucial realisation. You can cope with anything for any length of time so long as you know that relief is coming. You have to have something to look forward to. For us, it was quiet family time in Fiji, for you it might be crossing the Atlas Mountain range on a penny farthing, whatever floats your boat. But there needs to be something to keep moving forward towards when things get tough, you have to know there is the other side. 

I managed to exit the vortex of chaos by allowing time to take an intermission from our everyday lives and step into an alternative reality for a moment of restorative calm. 

I'm short of the next thing to trudge on towards so I think I need to plan a little weekend break away somewhere and I'll then be ready for anything...

The hamster returns to the wheel

The power was drained from the vortex and although things are laughably chaotic at the moment I can approach it in a much better, more objective frame of mind. 
After all, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. One bite at a time.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

How to accept status quo when life has got you on the go-slow

Little tufts of hair all over the carpet

Following on from the utterly serene, nurturing and productive experience of my mini writers' retreat with Sarah Leov, I soon returned home to be overwhelmed by a tsunami of urgent non-writing-related paperwork. It was detailed, time-consuming and entirely frustrating. I'd just come back, feeling invigorated and enriched by the juices of creativity, but all too soon bumped back down to earth with a dull thud. 

It's not that I don't also get great satisfaction in the other work that I do, it's just that I'd like to be able to be taking great leaps and bounds forwards in all aspects of my life all the time. That doesn't sound unreasonable does it?? For a current assignment I'm doing I was asked, 'what writing problems do you still have to overcome?' To which I answered: 

'The fractious relationship I have with time is probably my greatest obstacle to overcome. It is not a lack of discipline so much as it is that there are only 24 hours in a day and that is in no way negotiable...'

And so on.

But in this frustration I understand that I am not alone. After a few phone calls to friends where they patiently endured my venting, I decided to accept the status quo and find a way to get on with it.

How to achieve acceptance, peace of mind, tranquillity, a meditative state and true, all-encompassing serenity

Ok, fine, that might be taking things a little bit too far but I did surprise myself with my ability to achieve acceptance and progress in a little under five minutes.

The fact of the matter was, there was no way I was going to be able to make any further progress with my writing projects if I first didn't overcome the paperwork tsunami. So post venting I grasped at the quickest, cheapest straws that I could.

Quite simply, I put on this meditation music playlist from Spotify and lit a candle which I placed by my computer screen. I took a deep breath or seven and got down to work. I think my husband might have thought me a little bit fruity, but it worked a charm! In no time at all I was utterly relaxed and getting on with the job at hand.

I almost felt I was in a spa - albeit the waiting room rather than the treatment room...

I managed to avoid getting into a total spin over what must be done before doing what I wanted to be doing. And now I am on the other side with most of my hair follicles intact, back in the position I prefer to be in. Peace at last.

But you know, that is just life. As much as I try to schedule and fit everything in, there are times when it all just blows up in your face like a sticky, jammy mess. Everyone is busy. Everyone who is driven to achieve anything is busy. Being busy is not special or more difficult that anyone else's life, it is normal. If someone is not busy either they've been busy enough previously that success has afforded them the opportunity to slow down, or, maybe they lack the drive or direction to move forward.

I had to achieve acceptance with my busy, make peace with status quo and find a way to surf that tsunami until it was over. Now with any luck, the waves might just gently lap at my toes for a while.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Chutney: what we can learn about the art of waiting patiently

It's autumn; with determined frugality I'm knee-deep in chutney production so that nothing in our garden be wasted with the coming of the first frosts.

For the first time I have made peach chutney. It looks beautiful; midnight amber. It smells deep, rich and sweet. It tastes... like being smacked around the head with a vinegar stick. WHOA! Mixed spice and mustard just shoved their fingers up my nose and poked me violently in the sinuses. Clawing sweetness has me in a choke hold and my eyes are beginning to water. 

I'd thought that the careful combination of flavours were going to join in a sweet embrace and dance softly, symbiotically into the night, moved by the same tender emotions... No, no, no. Here we have a group of inebriated football yobs stumbling out of the pub trying to dance the rumba.

What have we learned? Stop being so bloody impatient. Find the grace in waiting patiently.

I'd love to blame it on my generation; our addiction to the instant gratification of modern day life. The 1-click-to-buy world in which we live. But frankly, that's a cop-out. It is just ill discipline on my part. 

The fact of the matter is, things take time. Especially good things, big things, life altering things, the things you want SO badly. There is a process to undergo. Fact. Just because I can see where I'm going doesn't mean there is any way to get there faster than the natural process allows. That's how accidents happen, and preferably, I don't want to end up in a sticky, jammy mess.

I have to remind myself constantly that there is beauty in the process and that the journey is more important than the destination. That perhaps, the journey is the destination. Who ever has any plan of stopping and staying in one spot? That isn't growth, nor transition, nor improvement.

The Japanese have a word for striving for continual improvement, it's kaizen, which simply means 'change for better.

I've been trying to remember what that was for ages. Thanks Google. Maybe I should get a cat and call it Kaizen so it can wander around the house reminding me of that lesson. I just wouldn't ever want to discover the little wretch crapping on the carpet.

I digress...

Recently I wrote 'THE END' on a manuscript for a children's book. 

It was a glorious moment, I did a little dance and turned immediately to social media to obtain instant gratification from everyones 'likes' on the matter. Thanks, that felt really good. But I know it needs a lot of work, so I'm keeping that puppy locked in the office while I go through the arduous process of redrafting, revisions, rewriting, proofing; engaging beta readers, script assessors, editors etc. Needless to say, there will be a lot of crap to clean off the carpet between now and then. Once I feel it is as good as it can possibly ever be, only then will I send it out into the world to be tested by the shrewd eyes of agents and publishers.

You see, the manuscript, it's like the peach chutney. I read it out to my sister during story time on our three day writers retreat to Kaikoura. She liked it, which was nice. But she was hearing it for the first time. For me reading it, well, let's just say I was glad to be doing so after two glasses of wine. It reeked of incongruities, cliches, grammatical errors, typos, clunky metaphors and a structural issue so brazen it was just hanging out there like dogs bollocks. 

This writing business, bears no fruits when it comes to instant gratification, not if you want to produce something you can be really proud of. 

(Ok, that is a bit tongue in cheek; thank god for blogging I say. But hey, we've all got to let our hair down once in a while.) So I'm learning the lesson that chutney can teach us. I've put the chutney away for the flavours to meld together in the cupboard for a while. I hope over the next few months it will be diligently practising the rumba. For me, I'll just make another cup of coffee and go back to work, patiently, gracefully 'kaizening' the bollocks out of that manuscript. 

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

How to survive the death of creativity

I saw the saddest thing recently when we were having dinner in a beautiful restaurant. And really, it was beautiful; the food was exquisite, the wine a divine nectar, the conversation lively, the service impeccable.... I could go on. The point is, it was not a sandwich bar and our experience came at a price, but for something that a month later I’m still thinking about, it was worth it. At the table next to us sat a family who were travelling together. They’d chosen to come to New Zealand and share the experience of the quaint, historic harbour town of Akaroa with one another, so they must have been important. There were four adults and one small child. The four adults were taking photos of their food and posting it on the internet and then scrolling through photos of other people's food. The child was watching something on the iPad, presumably to prevent it from actually engaging with anyone. Just as well too, because otherwise it might have interrupted the screen scrolling of the adults. They were slumped back in their chairs like they might slump at home on the sofa, no one was talking, (unless you count the interactions on social media with people who were not actually at the table.) They were disengaged, disinterested and distant. Their active screens were doing a wonderful job of diverting them from what otherwise might have been a comprehensive, memorable sensory encounter.

Those infernal screens that have infiltrated our lives, with their mobile convenience so that we might have available to us, at any moment of the day, in any place, all of the information portals that we believe we are incapable of living without. But at some point we really need to draw the line.

How often I find myself looking at a screen. Whether it is the television, my iPhone or iPad; something is always close at hand. I’ve become more aware (though admittedly, not necessarily finding solutions for this) of just how often I’m scanning my apps and notifications for anything I might have missed. For that life altering red blob - could this be the notification that changes everything?? Surely, if it were really vital, I’d know about it. How did we even survive the days of dial up? The tense, excruciating moments - minutes actually - as the Hotmail account reluctantly loaded. What news of my immediate circle would I discover?? You never know what might have taken place between leaving school for the day and arriving home...

It seems that smartphone addiction is not only common place, but an acceptable explanation for our overuse of our devices. It has been reported that some people have likened losing their smartphone to losing a limb. I mean, please. But even though I can see the insanity of the breathless spin one enters on the temporary misplacement of one’s device, I’m absolutely not immune. So reliant we are on these damned screens that as they are luring our attention away with their pings, bleeps and whistles, their alluring bright lights and their tingling vibrations; we’re failing to notice the systematic slaughtering of life’s true magic. I’m talking about spontaneity, conversation, interacting with our children, romance, inspiration, the basic art of eye contact and, crucially for my profession, creativity.

Our brains are slouching back on the sofa every time we lock onto that screen. I’m sure there is a plethora of scientific evidence to back this up, but I’m not a scientist and you may google on your own time. What I’ve noticed is, that creativity, new ideas, solutions to problems and inspiration hits me at times when I cannot possibly use a screen. How often do you find that you have these moments of epiphany when you are driving your car, having a shower, going for a walk, doing the dishes, eating a messy sandwich, even reading text from paper? These times are when the magic happens - away from our screens.

Sure, it is an occupational hazard that screens are a necessary part of life for me, but I’d rather hit the keyboard with guns blazing with a head full of sprouting ideas because I’ve had enough time away from screens to allow creativity to happen. It is time to take back control before creativity, in its already endangered state, becomes extinct.

Allow your brain to do its work without constantly subduing it, just like a bum, it needs to get up of the sofa and do some exercise. Let us not accept a wobbly bottom in our brains, or worse, role model this slovenly psychology to our children. 

Monday, 29 February 2016

From pain to champagne in four easy steps

When time is stitched together like a patchwork quilt, fragments of minutes and hours are joined to form a haphazard design, the thing you now call a career. You hope it will become substantial enough to wrap up warm in and keep out the cold one day. Or will it only amount to an overgrown hanky?

Without the action of going to an office for a set number of hours on a set number of days I often wonder if I’m actually moving far enough, fast enough to get anywhere. There seems like an insurmountable quantity of study, research, reading, absorbing, pondering, planning and writing ahead. I feel like I’m trying to run up never ending sand dunes.

In reality, it has only been five months since breathing the life back into what I’ve come to understand to be my life’s purpose. That only happened because our little Miss took it upon herself to sleep through the night, which allowed me just enough battery life to let inspiration take hold. One book draft later, I knew I’d started something, I’d come back to writing after a three year hiatus and this wasn’t all that long ago.

It is certainly recent enough that I still have to overcome the crippling fear that takes hold moments before striking the keyboard. The one that suggests you’re a hack, a fraud, a talentless amoeba and so on.

Often, before I start, I spend five minutes flicking back through the notebook I bought myself when I started writing again. Each day I note down a short list of what I did with my time scraps that day which counted towards my ultimate goals. And actually, we’ve come a long way baby. I’m over halfway through the notebook and I’ve hardly ever ripped out a page to write the shopping list on. It is filled with the things I’ve done, ideas I’ve had, things I plan to do, goals for the year, essential industry information and small sentences of celebration with lots of gratuitous exclamation marks!!!

I can see that I am refining my overall plan and now everything I’m doing is targeting the ultimate goals. What started as a fumble in the dark five months ago has become a walk with purpose. I’m closing in on smaller milestones on my way to a destination I now have a clear view of. I can see that now and it is reassuring.

I’ve never been one for keeping a record and I didn’t put much faith in my ability to keep this notebook lark going, but now I can appreciate its true value. It has become a tool vital to how I go about my business and manage my thoughts. In this technological age, sometimes you just can’t beat the physical and tactile simplicity of pen and paper.

I’m using this blog post to stop briefly to sniff a rose before ploughing forward into a full study day tomorrow. I’ll just keep scrambling up those sand dunes. At least I’ve have the forethought to place a chilled bottle of champagne at the top of them, for once I’ve ticked off those goals, I shall be thirsty.

1. Scramble through sand
2. Sniff a rose
3. Kick a goal
4. Drink champagne

Monday, 22 February 2016

Before I die I want to...

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the things you did do." - Mark Twain

Imagine a dilapidated house, condemned and boarded up, awaiting its ultimate fate of demolition. It is a scourge on the neighbourhood, an eyesore, a constant reminder and lingering threat of utter ruination. This miserable, failed, dying thing, needing desperately to be put out of its misery.

An artist comes, full optimism and hope for her beloved New Orleans. She takes this nightmare, transforms it, and gifts it back to the people in dreams. Candy Chang covers the house in blackboard paint, stencilling on the phrase 'Before I die I want to_____________.' She leaves boxes of chalk and invites everyone to fill in their blanks.

Before long, every inch is filled with the hopes, dreams and intentions of hundreds of people. Take six minutes to watch this story here.

As I form my own list, memories are recalled of people I’ve met who have had the gumption to 'do’ the things they wanted to do before they die. I was privileged to witness them ‘doing’ some of those things.

In my early twenties I bought a round the world ticket, a backpack and took to the globe. Around 2am in Rio de Janeiro's Sambadrome friends and I jiggled around taking sips from a tequila infused camelbak as a sensory feast paraded before us. There I met a Canadian lady in her seventies doing likewise but minus the regrettable tequila. Her intention was to travel every country in the world. I forget the exact number she was up to but she was giving it a damned good nudge. She saw the sun rise with the rest of us.

In Huacachina, Peru, I met a single mother with two children of ten and twelve staying in the same hostel. Not your usual family holiday accommodation, more of a bunk-bed-bones-of-your-bum kind of affair. She wanted to show her children the world and take them on a great, gritty adventure, without shielding them from realities they might encounter.

Here at home, I'm planning an article about a lady who has held a lifelong dream of seeing the Iditarod dogsled race in Alaska. Her fascination began in her childhood, now in her sixties, she is going next month to finally experience it. She will watch from start to finish and also hitch a ride with one of the competing teams.

These people and their stories stick in my mind. They thought; why not? Why wait? When they had the opportunity to do it, they did it, because time is a slippery devil.

What’s on your list?

Thursday, 28 January 2016

With 'Persisterhood' in play, who needs a therapist?


A special solidarity amongst women who support each other while persisting (often against all odds) at a certain task. This may be attempting to get a book published, losing unwanted kilos or even waiting together at a stage door for a celebrity to appear.
Source: Australian Writers’ Centre Newsletter

I love this portmanteau which was made up by some genius at the Australian Writers’ Centre. It perfectly describes the relationship that I’m lucky enough to have with my favourite (okay, only) sister, Sarah Leov. The two of us are chalk and cheese, we always have been. I’m sure that for the best part of our childhood I was the boil on the bottom of an otherwise pleasant existence. But despite all of our differences, the latter part of our lives has ended up running along parallel lines.

I couldn’t believe that she married a dairy farmer. I believed even less that I was marrying a dairy farmer, but that was due to the fact I was only informed of this detail some time after accepting the proposal... Other than that, between us, in two short years we’ve managed to produce three beautiful offspring. Now that we can string a number of brain cells together at one time, we have also both chosen writing as the career that we squeeze into the crevices of our lives.

The support that we can give one another is always invaluable, not to mention; relevant, well-researched, timely and applicable to either party. Additionally, we have formed the world’s smallest writing group. She often critiques my work, and with her background of teaching english, she isn’t backward about coming forward with the red biro. I had to negotiate green biro as a demonstration in diplomacy.

I’m so impressed that she writes every morning before her daughter wakes up and when her farmer is milking cows. (Well apart from now, because her household is in quarantine lockdown due to a nasty illness which involves symptoms last endured in medieval times.) But generally, all things going to plan, she is diligently chipping away at the first draft of her novel between 5 and 7am. That is what it takes. She’s blogging about her journey too and confessing her progress by word count every week. (I link to the above post because she is particularly nice about me in it. I’ll always be the youngest child and I won’t fight it.)

This is all really cool to share with one another. She is my teacher, my coach and my therapist. She talks me down from the ledge at least once a week at that terrible moment I’m convinced I no longer have the ability, or, for that matter, any ideas left in my head.

My favourite thing is our IM chats at those glorious moments when planets align and all children are in bed asleep at the same time. We are sitting at our computers, striding towards our writing goals and tripping on our shoe laces a bit along the way, but never walking alone.

  • Sarah: Just completed the first chapter of the first draft and committed my first murder. Sense of accomplishment.
  • Me: Woohoo! How does it feel to get blood on your hands? Satisfying?
  • Sarah: I kind of like it. I just beat a man to death with a cricket bat.  
  • Me: Did you know that Brendon Mccullum names all his cricket bats after racehorses?
  • Sarah: No I did not. Excellent trivia.
  • Hannah: The one he just broke was called Black Caviar. Must go, Duchess just woke up Alex. Not cool!

Monday, 18 January 2016

Are you following your True North?

I'm listening to a really inspirational podcast at the moment called Laugh or go CRAZY. It is a series of discussions between two ordinary people who have each embarked on a spiritual journey to try to live the best lives they can. What is refreshing, is that they really are just ordinary people. They have families, relationships, jobs, their boilers break, they get annoyed, they argue, they get drunk, they are talking on Skype in their pyjamas - you get the picture. They are actively trying to get more out of life so that they can be more generous with themselves and with the people around them. The best part is that they are able to laugh about it all as they go. Their humour and playfulness is a joy, they don’t take themselves too seriously. This is invigorating stuff; especially as I've shed the skin of 2015 and am charging forth into the new year feeling renewed and motivated.

Sometimes if you are going through a period of reflection, you turn to people that have become famed as modern day spiritual gurus. You try to cleanse yourself in the soothing balms of their teachings, with the hope that a thorough dowsing will soak you right through to your knickers, and hopefully, your soul. But it can feel like there is a chasm between where you are; with all the crazy stuff going on in your life, preventing you from zenning the hell out, and where they are; seemingly having ‘arrived.’ Everything in life is a balance, sometimes a struggle toward balance and often a compromise. However, here are two people, Steve and Michele, having conversations that are prompting me to look objectively and realistically at myself.

My life can be wonderfully chaotic. There is a beauty in that which is easy to lose sight of. I don't make new year's resolutions because I've never followed one through to completion, so why set myself up for failure? What I am going to do instead this year comes down to two things; things I've realised are going to minimise stress and maximise fulfilment.

Number one is to narrow my focus - it is so easy to spread yourself too thinly across so many different things. You take on more than you can really cope with, because it is easier to say 'yes' than it is to say 'no'. I'm putting my life on a diet; I've made a list of what really matters, what is essential, and I am letting go of the things that aren't serving me or my family. I'm focussing on family, our farming business, writing goals, good friends and riding my horses (albeit irregularly). That is plenty to fill my life with right now, and also brings great joy when due love and attention is given to each.

Number two is to follow my True North - This was inscribed for me in a book written by the adventurer, Benedict Allen, as I prepared for a horse race across Mongolia (which is where my writing career began). I have never forgotten it. True North is literally the direction along the earth's surface toward the geographic North Pole, but this actually differs from Magnetic North, which is the reading you get from a compass. What it means, is the pursuit your own authentic path rather than succumbing to where you (or others) think you should be going. Your True North spans all areas of your life, as they are all a mini-journey in their own right. Considering if the path you are on is leading you to your True North sheds an honest light on the way you are choosing to operate. Bringing awareness to your True North shuts out noise, chatter and distractions, bringing your focus back, so you can behave in a way that really resonates with you. I'm going to be conscious about the directions I am heading and make changes where necessary in each area. There is great beauty in following a path that feels true to you. When you are on that path, it is like picking the lock of life, pins chink into place, opportunities arise and doors open for you to continue your forward momentum.

Holy smokes, this got deep, I've just had an (almost) full night's sleep and I feel unstoppable! I'm literally driving north for a friend's wedding and have pulled over in Kaikoura, an area of staggering beauty and also something of a spiritual home for me. I write this as I watch at a restless turquoise ocean, there could be no better time or place. Today is a good day.

So, while I'm not going to be suspending a dream catcher from my rear vision mirror, knitting a yurt or signing off my texts with namaste, I'm enjoying a little bit of centring and hope that I can continue to laugh when things inevitably get a little crazy this year. Happy 2016.