Monday, 27 November 2017

The Chewing Gum Theory: How to know when your manuscript is finished

“Are you happy with it?” asks Sue, my manuscript assessor. The ‘it’ being a picture book manuscript I’ve been toiling over for the past 10 months. ‘Wow,’ I think, ‘that’s a big question, Sue.’

A fresh pellet of gum

Back in March I wrote the first draft of this picture book manuscript. Writing a first draft is delicious. It’s the fresh, shiny pellet you pop out of the packet, knowing those first few chews involve cracking through a sweet outer shell into tasty al dente gum beneath.

Writing the first draft is how you picture writing to be; fingers flying over the keyboard, words pouring out, pages filling up with text and inspiration tingling in your gut. It’s a heady experience. You’re so drunk with the pleasure of it that for a fleeting moment, you think, ‘I’m done! It’s a masterpiece!’ *drops mic, pours glass of wine*.

The next logical step on writing a first draft is always to sleep on it. Because in the stark light of day you realise this thing you’ve made needs a lot of work, leaving you wondering exactly what happened last night???

Months of masticating

Then the editing process begins. Chewing it over, and over, and over. I revised and rewrote the story countless times before sending it off to my manuscript assessor. Then I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and hoped she would be gentle.

Constructive feedback was returned. I took a deep breath, put my big girl pants on and continued chewing. This is where the real work begins. The gum is no longer new and exciting. This is the lengthy middle phase where you stretch it out, wind it around your finger, chew it some more, blow bubbles and basically work that sucker for all it’s worth.

I believe that writing is 10% actually writing and 90% editing. There are extended periods of time where you’re just staring out the window followed by short bursts of typing and then deleting everything you’ve just written. Sometimes, finishing your work having torn your story to shreds and abandoning it in favour of walking the dog (where many creative solutions can be found).

At some point, at a loss for what else I could possibly do to improve it, I sent it back for more assessment.

Knowing when to stick it

The feedback returned with only a few minor recommendations – that dog walking really paid off… That’s when I knew I was getting close to completion. Just a few segues here and a gentle cruise on there. Then, back she goes (hopefully) one last time.

“It reads really well,” says Sue. “Are you happy with it?”

Well, to wrap up the chewing gum theory, this story has become so familiar to me over the past year it now resembles that gum stage when you just can’t wait to find somewhere to stick it. I can no longer remember if it was supposed to be minty or fruity. It’s just an exhausted mass. The underside of a park bench beckons. I just want to ditch it there and walk away.

I am so happy that it passes muster! But frankly, that manuscript has left me a bit of an exhausted mass. I think I need some quiet time away from it and to come back with fresh eyes to properly form an objective opinion. Because right now, I don’t really feel anything at all.

But that’s also how I know it’s finished. I put everything into the story that I could, and now our journey of creation has come to a close. I’m ready to let it go into the world. After all, a story doesn’t belong to the writer, it belongs to the readers. If I feel anything, I feel free from it and ready for something new. I can let it go into the world with utter detachment. I feel at ease with calling it finished. I think that’s a comfortable place to wind up.

Where analogies fall down

But now this is where my chewing gum analogy falls down, because not only would I never actually stick gum to the underside of a park bench, (that’s gross), I also don’t condone children picking it off and eating it. What’s more, I don’t even like chewing gum.

None-the-less, that is the analogy that sprung to mind, so I ran with it.

When stories go into the world

So, what happens when stories go into the world? Well, most of the time, absolutely nothing. And that’s fine, because by then it well and truly doesn’t belong to me anyway.

But when you do get some feedback on something you’ve written it comes as a wonderful surprise. I’m always really touched to hear when something I created resonates so much with someone they care to let me know.

That’s what happened last night as I was receiving heavy criticism from Miss 2 (nearly 3) about the inclusion of grated carrot in her meal. The phone rang. It was Helen from The Taumaranui Writers’ Group calling to tell me I’d won 3rd prize in The William Taylor Memorial Heartland Short Story Competition for 2017.

“Would you like me to read you some of the judge’s comments?” she asks.

“Yes please,” I say, listening happily as she goes on.

Mr 4 (nearly 5) and Miss 2 (nearly 3) grizzle in unison over their culinary disappointment.

“Would you like me to go on?” Helen asks.

“Yes please,” I say.

Sunday, 22 October 2017


It’s usually when I’m in the midst of unencumbered free-flowing creativity that I want to clamber to the rooftops and wax lyrical about the creative process and following your True North. Those (albeit usually brief) periods are absolutely glorious, filling you with inspiration, motivation, energy and hope for the future. But that’s not reality from day to day, and probably, isn’t reality for most people that have to engage with the mechanisms of everyday life either. So, let’s talk about that. I’ll be honest, she ain’t pretty and she certainly ain’t Instagram worthy.

How to laugh until you cry

Sometimes I turn to my husband and ask, “When are we going to have a year when it’s just ‘business as usual?’” And then we laugh and laugh and laugh. In the midst of the all-consuming demands of running a family, dairy farm and earthquake rebuild, I’m trying to scrape together crumbs of time to dedicate to my writing projects. It feels worse than a joke, it feels more like a bad pun. (And as an aside, isn’t it funny that we refer to running a business, or running a household? That’s a very specific and appropriate pace to attach to those duties. If anyone has mastered strolling, or better, perambulating, a business, household or the like, please share your wisdom).

It’s pretty easy to get down on yourself about achieving neither the amount, nor the quality, of work you’d hoped. Then the shame of being inauthentic and unreliable actually acts as another obstacle to being productive. There’s days that go by when you haven’t been able to contribute anything at all to your creative pursuits. I mean, I am SO far away from doing ‘morning pages’ right now, it would be an act of self-harm to even try. So, how the hell can you stay on track towards your goals, and in the creative flow, when you feel like a fraud because the everyday is owning your ass?

It would be very easy to quit on your passion projects when things get that way. Because, if I’m not doing anything, it feels like it doesn’t exist. Or, you trick yourself into thinking that you’ll just pick up where you left off when life gets easier. When I hear myself thinking, ‘It’ll be easier when…’ I have to slap myself hard and fast. There will always be life to run around whatever I want to be working on. So, no matter how hard it is to remain committed, no matter how ugly and irregular that creative time looks, there will never be a valid enough reason to give it up or postpone it. 

Baby steps

My career is still in its infancy, and just like having an infant, I’ve found it can be very helpful to repeat mantras like, ‘this too will pass,’ or, ‘it’s just a phase,’ or, ‘tomorrow’s another day,’ as you sit rocking in the corner. Things are never as broken and irreparable as you might believe they are. They’re just where they are at on that particular day and you just have to work with what you’ve got. Every day is different, there’s no need to hold a grudge against yourself.

Don’t fear, everything is going to be ok. If the best you can do is just to continue to scrape crumbs of time together, then just keep doing it. The sun will come up tomorrow, and as unexpectedly as you find there may be no crumbs of time, you may also actually stumble across a crust! Happy days! Dine out on that, fortune can go both ways. But, no matter how much you might veer off course, just keep the intention to come back, again and again and again. 

Staking your claim in creativity

Sometimes, if I can’t make it to writing, I just try to do something, anything, as a nod to the energy of the creative flow. It could be as minor as putting a little effort and imagination into cooking dinner, or taking more consideration with the clothes I wear for the day, because the combination of colours makes me feel happy, or, the fabric is soft. Maybe it’s taking a picture to post on Instagram because the composition is pleasing. It doesn’t matter, the point is, it is staking a claim in creativity. It is a grateful nod to that part of myself and my commitment to honour it, however small the gesture may be. 

Any old art form

I once met a man whose art was walking. I was a little bit like, ‘okaaaaay…’ but now I totally get it. It really doesn’t matter how you demonstrate your art, it could be anything, the sensation of generating creative energy is exactly the same.

I’ve come to learn that walking is a writer’s best friend, so that guy was, it turns out, onto something, not, as I first assumed, on something. The combination of movement, being in nature, absorbing the sights and sounds of the world around you, and simply existing in ‘the now’ does amazing things for the brain (as well as stopping you trip over tree roots). Importantly, as well as supplying your brain with blood and oxygen, helpful for creativity, it allows that hot little computer in your head to defragment, and suddenly – clarity, creativity, problem solving, bliss.

Rebel with a cause

So, because it’s Sunday, and to fly in the face of the tyranny of to-do lists, I took a long walk (which I happily posted to Instagram) as a pure act of rebellion. It was the most flipping glorious act of kindness to my creative self. Now, I can retain my sense of humour about the myth of ‘business as usual,’ and muster the courage to stay the course, regardless of how ugly, irregular or un-instagramable the everyday might be.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Too much risk? Or not enough?

It’s all so risky

When it boils down to it, life is all about taking risks. Each and every decision we make on a daily basis is run through our internal risk assessment machine before we make a call to go one way or the other. Most decisions involve minimal risk, so the turning of the cogs in our machine go unnoticed. Will these socks keep my feet warm enough? Are two cups of coffee too much coffee? Will I still fit my jeans if I finish this block of chocolate?

It’s the bigger choices that involve bigger financial, physical, emotional or psychological costs where we really hear the machine gears grinding and wait in limbo until it spits out the product of that risk assessment - are we going to do that thing, or are we not? Is it worth the risk?

Get out your abacus 

But then, what could be the more costly, to take a risk, or to sit tight? What if both options have a cost? On the one hand, if I take this risk, it could be financially costly; if I don’t take the risk, I might regret it for years to come. Would you rather live with a little bit of regret, or a little bit of debt?

For me, I could get over losing a sum of money more easily than I could get over losing an opportunity. The thing with money is that it is finite, you generally know exactly how much you stand to lose. You know if that would cripple you, or if maybe you might just have to sell off a few personal items to get over it. With opportunity, the potential cost to you is infinite. You just don’t know how much you could forego for the sake of safe-guarding your shekels. 

But then, you know, life…

It’s been some months since my last blog. With all puns intended, (because I flipping love a dad joke) I’ve had a major shake up (ba-doom-boom-tish). Managing the fallout of the earthquake has meant keeping a lot of balls in the air all the time and dropping them is a risk I can’t afford to take.

We’ve got to keep moving forward to recover, we’ve got to keep our business on track, we’ve got to meet the needs of our family, we’ve got to make home, home again. The essential balls are in play, the constant juggle. 

Keep it together, butterfingers

There’s these other balls though, the ones that are important to you personally, as the juggler. Relationships, hobbies - ooh, and writing.

Having been all shook up and having to keep more balls in the air at a higher tempo than usual, I’ve come to realise just what I’m not prepared to let fall by the wayside. I always knew I was passionate about writing, it is a part of me that makes me, me. And it’s clear to me now just how determined I am to keep the writing balls in play. 

Time and money - risk hungry

It’s tricky, because writing can feel like a selfish pursuit, and that can be the source of guilt. The freelance articles I write bring income, but the books - that’s were I’m taking all the risks. 

There are countless hours racked up that I may or may not ever be financially remunerated for. It’s a massive risk financially, physically, emotionally and psychologically. The risk assessment machine should say no - but despite it all, it says yes.

Computer says yes

That is one of the silver linings of going through an horrific event, you really do get to know what matters to you. It lifts the fog of confusion, questioning and also the guilt. I don’t feel it much anymore because I know how much this matters to me and if am going to show myself some kindness, I have to keep going. I will keep writing my novel, I will keep our picture book project moving forward and every now and again, I might blog and tell you about it. 

What do you risk it all for?

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Our Monster Called - Surviving the Unexpected

'The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.'

I'd set my alarm for 5 am so that I could wake up and finish reading this book, it was that good. You can probably count on one hand how many books leave you with tears pouring down your face, this is one of them. It was an emotionally demanding read and I was feeling utterly despondent that it was over. I left it on my bedside table and not three days later, our monster called too. 

Monday, 14th November 2016, 12:02:56 am. Depth, 15 km. Magnitude, 7.8. Location, 15 km north-east of Culverden

It happened almost underneath us.

We held on tightly to our children as the earthquake raged on, seconds stretched out to minutes. Like being trapped in a tiny boat on a rough sea we had to just wait and see what nature would do to us.

We shouted over the noise to one another as the roaring earth forced movement into materials that weren't designed to move. Furniture clapped and busted itself against the walls and floor. Rigid fibres of the house surrendered and failed. Chimney bricks began to tumble down the veranda roof outside the children's bedroom, we had to get out.

About six weeks ago the trajectory of our lives changed. We went out into the night in our pyjamas and left the house that had sheltered the last five generations of our family. We began to write a new and unexpected chapter in the history books.

A most undignified ending

She had the good grace to let us all out alive, but seeing the house's demise in this way is like seeing a grand old lady fall down in public. Then, on life support, we stripped her of her organs.

Knowing we had little time, the next few days after the quake were spent battling through a haze of shock and exhaustion to salvage as much as we could from inside. Either way, it would eventually be the house or the authorities that prevented us going back in, so we moved fast.

People rallied around us, friends, family, even teams of complete strangers. Together we brought everything out and into sheds until there was nothing left but broken things and stuff in places no one was prepared to go.

Soon after, she was given her prognosis, a red sticker, and the doors were closed.

Dealing with damage

Our property; a farm and several houses, has seen extensive damage. We are certainly not alone. This earthquake has upturned the lives of so many and the damage control continues. But nothing makes you feel prouder to be a kiwi than seeing how we cope with adversity - determination and pragmatism followed by a stiff gin and tonic. It is something to behold.

What will be involved in putting things right will be time consuming and complex, years of work. A difficult diversion none of us expected to be taking. To think of it is something thoroughly overwhelming. The psychological hangover from a close brush with your own mortality, too, has taken time to subside and probably isn't over.

Working it out

I feel quite certain now that the best way to deal with difficulty is to literally, physically, work it out. Work it right out of your system. Nothing is more dangerous than to sit and dwell on what has happened, what might have happened and the terrible possibilities of what could happen next. But to set yourself to a task and get busy moving forwards acts as a salve to feelings of pain, hopelessness and gravity that settle in after shock and trauma.

It was a giant task and I soon realised, best not to be thought about as a whole. But one step at a time, one thing at a time, one box at a time and one day at a time, the task was broken down, bit by bit, we are getting it done.

'It always seems impossible until it's done.' - Nelson Mandela

I probably spent over a week packing the contents of our home into boxes. Sorting, categorising, wrapping, packing and labelling. Hours and days of quietly plodding away in the garage beside our broken house as I came to terms with this step change and started to dream of the possibilities of rebirth.

The time spent working it out and making progress is all forward momentum towards turning a sense of misfortune into gratitude and opportunity. Every day if I can do something to move us forward, we'll be closer to going home and it is impossible to feel despondent in the light of progress. Weeks of reflection have left me accepting that we have much more to be grateful for than we have to mourn.

A New Years Revolution

I've been obsessed with time - making the most of time, not having enough time, trying to find time, wasting time. I think this year, if the past weeks have taught me anything, we just need to be more concerned with having the time of our lives. Because frankly, we just don't know how much of it we've got. The time of our lives isn't always super fun, but it is about being engaged, being in the moment, bring present, making the most of time, doing the best we can with it, and taking things as they come. Also, it is about celebrating the good things no matter how small. It is important to let the good times roll.

We are not in control of our time, just as we are not in control of what life might throw at us. This year isn't going to follow the plan that I had previously set for it, the earthquake made sure of that. I'm unsure what it's going to bring and what it will require of me. So instead of letting the fear of a lack of control, control me, I'm resolved to embrace it.

However, I didn't make a New Years resolution, it is a New Years Revolution, and that is to simply go with the flow. No more fighting the current or trying to swim upstream, go with the flow, and when necessary, ride the rapids.

Take it easy everyone and here's to 2017!

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Free-writing... what's so good about it anyway?

Free-writing... what's so good about it anyway?

Sometimes people ask why I blog. For me, it is for the same reason that many people practice Morning Pages or free-writing. It gets me in the zone, gets the words flowing and allows me to do a brain dump of ideas that wouldn't have a place anywhere else. My blog is kind of an orphanage for ideas, but I like to think it might be a happy one, perhaps with singing nuns and chocolate puddings... Not the worst place an idea could end up. 

Morning pages and free-writing are both ways of clearing out the clutter of your mind and also calling your subconscious to the fore. Once the psychological housekeeping is done, it is easier to get on with the current project. Granted I neither free-write nor blog often enough. However, this practice has been discussed in a couple of workshops I've attended recently and I feel the need to brain dump about it here. 

The following is 20 minutes (or two pages) of free-writing I did this morning... on the subject of free-writing

(With minimal editing from page to blog - just enough so there are actually proper sentences and punctuation allowing it to make some sense - but otherwise, quite raw. Consider yourself warned.)

I keep hearing about the practices of Morning Pages or free-writing. It's a tool that many writers use to get into the zone by out-writing their internal editor, clear the mind, and draw ideas out of their subconscious. 

The rules of free-writing

There are few rules; simply that: 
  1. You either write for a set number of pages or to a set time 
  2. You write in long-hand 
  3. You write whatever thoughts glide through your mind without stopping
  4. You don't worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation
  5. You keep your hand moving all the time. 
This is all just to tap into the subconscious, open up the pathways and let the drawbridge down to the castle of your creativity. This is an essential part of being a writer, to draw from your subconscious. Using your imagination and observations from the world around you, and from it, form characters, stories and build worlds so real that we might believe they are.

So what's the deal with Morning Pages?

Morning Pages is fully discussed in the book The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. It is the practice of writing three pages of text every morning by hand. By hand is important and I've talked about this before in an earlier post Mechanical pencil - immediate muse. The physical act of writing gets the brain working and for some of us, sparks the creativity we need to do our work, no matter how beige you might wake up feeling that morning. 

When you have to work, you have to work. The muse is a slovenly cow and we don't share the same work ethic. So, in Morning Pages you can write about absolutely anything you like. Whatever pops into your head. One rule is that you simply keep your hand moving all the time and don't let it stop, even if there is nothing going on in your head, you just write that. There is nothing going on in my head. (That's a gem to look back on. But nonetheless.) 

Eventually, little things do pop up and there could be something there. Something you might use. For example, you could free-write about a problem you or your character are facing. You could ask the question of them, 'what would you do if xyz...' and then write without stopping on that subject.

Further drivel on free-writing

Free-writing is much like Morning Pages but rather than a set number of pages it is a timed exercise. I set my timer for nine minutes - single digits are not so daunting - and then write. Frankly, I haven't developed any discipline over these activities but each time I've done it, I've got something from it and I'm using it more and more.

It can be a powerful tool to get to know your characters and hear their voices. It helps to move the plot forward by finding the story or solution which sometimes drops right out of your subconscious. It is even just a handy way to set yourself up for the day at your desk.

More on the joys of mechanical pencils

The key of it all is to get your brain into the zone as fast as you can and prepare yourself for your work. My tutor insisted free-writing or Morning Pages was best done by pencil - so remembering that, I've switched from ball-point to mechanical pencil. By Jove - I believe she is right! I've missed you old friend! It's this glorious sound as the pencil strikes the paper and makes shapes. It just sounds like bustling activity, like efficiency, like productivity!

Some ways to use free-writing

  1. Get to know your characters voice by writing a journal entry from their perspective, or, writing a letter from them to you.
  2. Discover their character arc by putting 'I want...' and writing for a few minutes, then, 'But I really need...' and writing for a few more minutes. 
  3. Write your way out of the problem you or your character are trying to solve, e.g. 'I've been backed into an alleyway by a pack of rabid dogs and there is no way out so I...'

What a total load of tosh

Dear reader, are you still with me? Have you read this far? Are you sitting in the waiting room at the dentist with only a 20 year old Woman's Weekly for reading fodder? Have you nothing better to do? What utter rubbish you have just read. I would apologise but this is the point of free-writing. It doesn't matter what falls out of your head, this is not making art. This is doing some light housekeeping before the work day begins. If you stumble upon a gem as you go, fantastic, and certainly, it pays dividends in strengthening the voice of your characters, but it is essentially a meditation and to be done with free abandon.

For me now, the drawbridge is lowered and I've got a nasty little character to flesh out in my story. I hope you might give free-writing a try for yourself and then go forth and create.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Creativity takes courage - feel the fear and do it anyway

Creativity takes courage - Sydney Opera House - Hannah Davison - writer

I've just returned home from a weekend in Sydney doing something that was entirely for me and nobody else. I attended a weekend course at The Australian Writers' Centre, deepening my knowledge of writing with their course, Writing Books for Children and Young Adults

Most women, and mothers in particular, will tell you that the idea of doing something entirely for themselves would riddle them with guilt. Ah, guilt, we meet again. Probably, it will be ever present, following me around and tapping me on the shoulder with its crooked finger. But I think you just have to let it be your silent stalker. I think it's part of the deal. However, that doesn't mean I need to pay it any heed. 

You will never be thanked, or indeed, paid for feeling guilty. This is not a place to bother focusing your energy. I can't stop guilt from hitching a ride on my trip, but I can tell it to sit quietly in the backseat and not distract me whilst I'm driving.

A fight erupts in the backseat

The other stowaway on my educational mini-break fighting with guilt in the backseat was fear. During this creative writing pursuit there is usually this other uninvited guest. Because, let's face it, writers put parts of themselves on a page and make it available for public consumption, and in turn, scrutiny. It's like the dream where you walk into a room full of people only to discover that you're completely naked. 

I've concluded that there is nothing for it but to feel the fear and do it anyway. Like guilt, you will never be thanked or paid for feeling fearful. 

So there they were, sitting in the backseat, poking each other in the ribs. Guilt and fear, doing their best to make a nuisance of themselves.

I accept now that they may well always be there. But the more I practice feeling the fear and doing it anyway, the easier it is to pay little to no attention to what's going on behind me. 

Creativity takes courage

Our presenter for the weekend, Sue Whiting, wrote on the board, 'creativity takes courage.' That message was left there for the duration of the course and I referred to it often. 

There were several poignant moments over the weekend where students, and also our presenter, demonstrated great courage. Everyone had a story that needed to be told, one they were desperate to get out of them. Each person was compelled to take the course and find a way to tell it. Investing time, money and energy in the pursuit of one's own creativity, despite whatever the outcome may be, that's courage. 

It's time to put your big girl pants on

Yes, creativity does take courage. But it seems to me that if you've been able to be brave once, you can do it again. Every time you practice bravery, the easier it becomes, and the quieter the backseat.

That's going to come in handy, because although creativity takes courage, so does perseverance, maybe even more so. Answering the call to our inspiration and aspirations is one thing, having the sheer bloody mindedness to carry on regardless, is another. It is the only thing that will count if we ever want to know what it's like to score that seemingly elusive publishing deal. 

A sore jaw and a glass of wine

The course was fantastic. It went by in the blink of an eye. We may in fact have worn out poor Sue's mandibular joint. At the very least she needed to have a sit down and a cup of tea (or similar).

Everyone loves a certificate - Hannah Davison - writerHaving just completed a separate year long correspondence course, doing classroom based learning amongst other students, and face to face with a teacher was invaluable. Being able to share ideas, ask questions and get lost in deep discussion was worth everything it took for me to be there. If I can find a way to repeat the exercise, I most definitely will!

The dangers of being a perpetual student

You can only be a student for so long. It would be too easy to fall into the trap of doing course after course and never feel qualified enough to actually produce the work you are training for. So now the real work begins. I know a whole lot more of what I didn't know before and undoubtedly I'll learn a whole lot more along the way. But for the foreseeable future it is bum in seat time. All other distractions, be gone. Between now and the end of the year the goal is to FINISH THE DAMN BOOK.

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.