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From Notes to First Draft: Know Your Protagonist

Know Your ProtagonistHow well do you really know your protagonist? One very overlooked aspect of our protagonist and our story setting is the home. Do you know where your protagonist lives? How much of the story happens in your main character’s home? Do scenes unfold around the dining table or bedroom? Are you pretending to know their home? Ultimately – how important is your character’s home to your character and to your story?

The home my main characters choose to rent during their time here in Florence is crucial to my story. Because the area, design and feel of the house are so central, I had to go and find the right house. So, you too – go out and find your character’s home. Walk and write! Make your character’s home yours. Own it! That’s what I did yesterday. I sort of knew what kind of house my married couple needed to make the story work but I had to go and SEE it for myself.

Know Your Protagonist

My couple are rich, so their Florentine Dream Home has to be up near Piazzale Michelangelo, where the view of Florence is the best. They are also the kind of people who want the best and this is one of the best areas in Florence.

Their street (Via in Italian) had to have something quirky about it. No good just having a straightforward Florentine home in the centre. Too boring! There have to be pros and cons to their choice of home; if it’s all fabulously smooth and easy to rent, it’s not believable. Characters need to make adjustments, be flexible, respond to flaws in their ideas or modify their plans just like we do.

Know Your Protagonist

So I found this Via, and thought it was the perfect location for my American expatriate couple’s dream Florentine home. Then I had to notice and write everything about the street. Observe everything. It’s imperative to see, hear, feel it all and write it down.
Colours, trees, lamps, façade texture, bird song, church bells. NOTICE everything and write it all down. Let you words, feelings flow, don’t hold back. Imagine your couple walking down this street. Who passes them? Imagine your protagonist in their home.

Know Your Characters

Sitting outside on the road here, my imagination was ignited. Your story cannot come together in front of the computer at home. To make it real, go and find the places that you are writing about and watch those ideas explode!

It’s time now for you to read through all your notes. It’s certainly time for me to lift out of my notes what refers to my couple’s home. As I’ve mentioned, the house I chose on my walk is a key element so I already have thoughts, descriptions and phrases in my notes. I would highly recommend that you now start to study parts of your notes. Transcribe what you need; put aside what you don’t think you’ll need. But definitely know your notes, memorise them so you can access what you need. By reading through past thoughts now you won’t waste time writing what you have already perfectly phrased in your notes.

This Blog is one of a series of sessions about taking your notes to fragments or longer pieces of text. We are working out how to manage our notes so that they start moving towards a book.

Know Your Characters

From Notes to First Draft with Bronte Jackson

acae9e0216fc4bf91c6a980da8310389As part of my series on moving from notes to first draft, I had the pleasure of speaking with Bronte Jackson, author of memoir Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons. I asked her a few questions on her note-taking process for her memoir, and I am happy to share her responses with you.

1. What was your note-taking process like in order to remember the details you describe in your book?

I am an avid journal writer.  I have kept a daily or weekly journal for most of my life, beginning from my 10th birthday when I received my first blank diary as a gift (it is quite entertaining to read and the first diary entry consists of a list of all my presents!).  As a writer of non-fiction memoir I found that this practice greatly helped me, not only to retain detail for future possible reference but in helping me to learn how to write. You have to be concise when writing a daily journal; unless you have oodles of time and pages you really need to focus on the important things that have created an experience or impression on you.  I found that when I came to write ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons’ I approached it in the same way.  I set aside the same amount of time on the same day each week and I wrote about the events of that week or month as if I was writing a journal entry.  I didn’t need to use notes as such because I was writing of recent events and encapsulating them as if in a longer diary entry.  Sometimes I joined these recent events with memories, for example the first time I met Alfredo’s parents, and in that case I was able to go back to my journal entry of that time to bring back the details.

Bronte Portrait jr

Bronte Jackson

2. How detailed are your notes, typically? 

It varies.  My journal entries these days tend to be short but detailed.  I also carry my journal with me wherever I go.  If I see or hear something interesting I write it down in just a few lines immediately (in a ‘notes’ section) so I can remember it and often it will stay in that brief form until I need to or have time to use it and flesh it out.  Often these one liners will remain like that for years.  I also usually give myself some dedicated time each week to record ideas or thoughts and these can be very detailed and many pages long.  Often I will go back to them and realise that I have already written a story or a short chapter that can be immediately ‘lifted’ into something without much more work on it.

3. How did you organise the breadth of outside research necessary for your book? 

‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons’ sprang forth from a deep well of passion and love for the city of Rome.  As this had already been going on for more than a decade I had already read extensively about it using guidebooks and history books.  I had walked its streets using ancient maps and books of guided walks and done years of my own exploring.  I had even been an official tour guide for a few years with a Roman walking tour company and had written my own tour for them called ‘Renaissance Rome’.  So much of my research had already been done by the time I came to write the book, or if I needed a few facts and figures, I knew exactly which of my books to find them in.  Where I did need to find these facts and figures I tended to keep it bite-sized and do it as needed so it didn’t overwhelm me and overshadow the joy of actually writing e.g. I didn’t write the book then go back over it and insert facts and figures.

4. From the wealth of experience you have in Rome, how did you choose which notes to include in your book?

photo 1I generally looked for stories and experiences that were unique.  There are many stories available about ex-pats living abroad so I chose notes that were about things unique to Rome, and that either illuminated a common perception to provide new understanding, or gave a different perspective to a commonly held belief.  I also included notes that related to experiences of Rome that I had as a result of being a long term resident rather than just passing through, or experiences that I was privvy to due to the fact I spoke the language and had deep access to Italian social situations through my husband’s school friends, or experiences that came as a result of being able to access the world of my parents-in-law and their friends.  All of these things provided a ‘point of difference’ and added to a body of knowledge rather than just confirming it.

When my book was being edited by my publisher, my editor introduced me to the concept of ‘my voice’ and showed me where and how that came through in my writing.  I now understand the importance of that for readers and realise this was what I was instinctively doing when choosing my notes; looking at what was unique to me and my experiences, and sticking to that rather than trying to write according to a recipe or copy what other people had done.

I am also quite a ruthless editor, trained by years of writing reports in the business world, and I seek to take out rather than put in.  I find as a general principle I start with lots of notes, as many as I want, then cut them back by asking ‘how much of this can I take out without losing the key message?’

5. How many of your notes ended up in your manuscript?

Given the process described in question 1 for how I wrote the book, I would say, most of them.  Not all of my original manuscript ended up in the book though.  After I finished writing all the chapter/parts of the book I wanted to include, I then spent just as much time editing the book (before I sent it to a publisher) and as a result a few chapters didn’t make it.  Then once it was in the hands of the publisher we knocked a few other chapters out, due to size restraints.  So I now have the first few chapters of my next book :).

From Notes to First Draft with Bronte Jackson

From Notes to First Draft: What’s at Stake

From Notes to First Draft: What's at StakeThis week has been wonderful for creative writing. Perhaps the new year is settling down into a schedule, routines are resolving themselves as my family goes back to school and work. In any case, my narrative theme is coming together now. I very much hope this week has been creative for you too. We deserve it. Finding time, feeling validated, knowing that our creations have value, not listening to self-doubt – these all extremely important issues for us Creatives. We are allowed to write. And we must do our best to find time to write so that we can feel whole.

This Blog is one of a series of sessions about taking your notes to fragments or longer pieces of text. We are working out how to manage our notes so that they start moving towards a book.

Over the past three weeks I have selected certain parts of my notes and extrapolated them into at least 6,000 words. Within those fragments are some beautiful parts (good prose), some really great dialogue, some fabulous emotive description and bits and pieces that see the plot moving forward. Right now I am trying not to dwell for too long on these fragments because I suspect a massive edit awaits.

Once you know those fragments are good and have some beautiful elements, move on because you might toss it or change it entirely later when you are pulling your puzzle together. Every book is ultimately like a brain teaser that is worked out as time goes on. However, right now those fragments have to excite you; they have to have that WOW-factor, they have to create a sense of place, and you have to find out what’s at stake.

Writing exercises this week:
From Notes to First Draft: What's at Stake

Remove anything cheesy or corny or forced or indulgent from those fragments so that they have great WOW-factor when you re-read them.

Start to give/understand plot time frame of the fragments so that the book’s chronological order comes together.

Sit quietly somewhere and make notes on your fragments: What more does she/he see, hear, smell, taste, touch. How can you improve the Sense of Place? (I will do this on the train to Rome on Sunday).

Does the beginning part of the plot have enough conflict? Is there enough ‘what’s at stake’ early on in the text? This is hugely important because your readers need to be hooked early on. This is a problem I noticed with my work this week. My story did not have enough ‘What’s at stake’ or ‘what has to be resolved’ early on, so I had to change my ‘opener.’

Keep your first chapter constantly in flux.

Create a file that just focuses on theme. What are the themes you are trying to show, rather than tell and how can small events show the theme. Through action and dialogue? I am collecting things that happen to me in Florence that illustrate some of the themes in my book. Isolation, bi-cultural marital difficulties, joy of being in Florence. I list them, gather them and then go to that file when the story line calls for them.

Di Morrissey is a well-known, prolific Australian writer. She once told me “The first draft is the skeleton, the next is where you put on the flesh, then comes the clothes and finally the makeup and the accessories.” I don’t really write like that, as I like to have plenty of makeup and accessories on my skeleton as I go so that I get excited and feel it’s worth continuing. But all writers have their methods and I will never, ever forgot her comment.

Good luck and keep writing and I’ll be back next Friday with more.

From Notes to First Draft: What's at Stake

Signing books at the recent Italian launch of Naples, A Way of Love.

From Notes to First Draft: Scenes and Fragments

From Notes to First Draft: Scenes and FragmentsEvery time I start a book, I extend, lengthen, stretch and explore the notes in my folders to create a scene. These drawn out pieces of text I call fragments. Your fragments can be two sentences, ten or fifty or one thousand.

Last week I Blogged about exploring your notes and deciding what to write. Instead of reading or transcribing your notes all the way through just yet, I suggested you choose something (a thought, point or scene) that strikes a deep chord in your heart. That chord is the music we played this week.

For the last five days I’ve been working on a note that I have now extrapolated into a 2,500 word fragment. It was a scene that had been playing itself out in my head for some time. It was a scene that I felt compelled to write right now. Essentially, you should now have some quality scenes or fragments drawn from your notes in your computer. Write what you WANT to write right now.

Love your notes, then love your fragments and nurture your fragments. They are the beginning of a good puzzle. We’ll fit the pieces together later.

From Notes to First Draft: Scenes and FragmentsYOUR JOB NOW is to take the longer fragment that you wrote this week and look for:

Clichés – get rid of them and make every phrase your own

Key emotions – can you make the emotion richer with a synonym? Can you draw out that emotion with a memory that describes more deeply your protagonist? Is there an emotion that can become part of a deeper characterisation?

Recurring themes – is this a theme that will repeat itself throughout the book so that the book ultimately is about isolation or loneliness or trust or hope?

For example, I had in this week’s fragment/scene a woman who is on the periphery of her social group because she doesn’t yet speak Italian. How can I show how she feels? What key words, feelings, metaphors, body language or mannerisms can I start to incorporate into the scene to show her emotions because above all, I must not tell, I must show her feelings?

You have two jobs this week. Start to think of the overall theme of your book. What are the emotional layers? How can I improve last week’s fragment and which fragment am I going to work on this week? Choose a new note from your notebook and start extrapolating a new fragment.

Just to re-cap, for the first part of 2016 this Blog will look at how to approach your notes. How to transform your notes from sentences into fragments, then longer passages and finally into chapters is a messy business. I’ll try to explain how I organise my first draft from my notes, as best I can.

From Notes to First Draft: Scenes and Fragments

From Notes to First Draft: What to Write

Use Your Notes to Find What to Write

From Notes to First Draft: What to Write

The beginning of a New Year is a powerful moment. It can also be a potent writing tool, and inspire us with a new resolve to write. But what if we’re unsure what to write?

At this time of the year we generally make all sorts of resolutions about our writing; to write more, write better, write slowly or more beautifully.

Though there are many others, these are some of the New Year’s resolutions that I hear often.

  • I will write on weekends
  • I will write at night instead of watching TV
  • I will get up early to write before work or before I have to take the kids to school.

With this first Blog of 2016 I want to harness this fresh enthusiasm. As January is the best time to forge different habits, strengthen resolve and instil renewed focus, I’d like to help you get your work over the finish line this year. But it’s a step by step process and I’ll be working on my own book as we go. I wrote before about Inspiration and Your Writer’s Notebooks, and I want to show you step by step the process that I go through in organising and using my notes. That’s my own New Year’s resolution, to show you What to do with Your Notes or How to Move from Note Taking to Writing Your Book while I go through the process myself. So stay with me. Every writer has their own system but this is how I do it and how I’ve done it with 2 of my books. Let’s see if this system can work for you.
From Notes to First Draft: What to Write

These are my notes – I have 100’s of pages of them. Most of the folders you see are full. There are also loads of written thoughts in my computer but many fresh observations, ideas or characterisations come from here – my notes.

Given that I don’t have many longer pieces or chunks of text in my computer, I have scanned some of these notes and lifted out the fragment that most inspires me. My job is to take that fragment/sentence/ phrase and make it into a longer passage. This is the first job I need to do. Extrapolate one really good idea. Whatever I write at this point must inspire me to continue. It has to be good. It has to be very good as this extrapolation will help me find my story’s voice.

With all your notes and thoughts, at this point you should definitely know what scenes need to be in your story, and it should be easy to find what to write. The Fragment I have chosen from my notes is one I’ve wanted to write for some time.

From Notes to First Draft: What to Write

This is of key importance and how you chose what to write/extrapolate from your notes. Which part of your story is hassling you to write it? Which scene is on your heart right now? Which note kindles your imagination? What event is on your mind – searing into it? There must be a scene amongst these notes that you cannot get out of your head. That’s what you need to write right now. It will be good writing because it’s what you need to write now. The passion you need to get it down is going to flavour it.

I am not going to transcribe yet. My notes will guide me in finding what to write and on which pieces to extrapolate. I want longer, good quality scenes or events or dialogue or important sections drawn from my fragments now. When I’ve done this with a few of my fragments it’s likely these pieces will become chapters. For now, work to first find what to write and then extrapolating your favourite notes, or key thoughts on plot in your notes.

In my next Blog I will talk about how to extrapolate. For now, start getting your plot clear in your head and choose which fragments in your notes you want to/need to stretch.

The Art of Writing 19-25 June 2016

PS: I signed my second book contract on the strength of extrapolated notes. Just so that you know – if you can gather lots of good stretched thoughts from your notes that will at some point become chapters, publishers can ask for them NOW and you can get a book deal just from extrapolated text from key notes.

What on Earth are Writing Prompts?

826e3766634b2bc71a695f7d27036c6e[1]Yes, well, that was the question after my last Blog about my writers prompts, coming over the next ten days.

‘Writing prompts’ mean a word or topic that jumpstarts a creative writing session. A prompt can be as broad as ‘write about a summer vacation’ or as specific as ‘Write a story about a countdown. Start the story at 10 and end the story at 0.’ They can be what-if scenarios or they can be snippets of dialogue.

e862edcf575f2050775cd6c923b2213f[1]Other writing prompt examples:

  • Write about something you’ll never do, or write about something you’ll never do again
  • She pulled the knife from her chest and smiled. ‘Was that supposed to hurt?’
  • 3, 2, 1…

Some will even specify what form of writing to use – ‘write a fairytale about X’ – or even specify how many words to write. One writing resource,, provides one-word prompts and limits you to 250 words.

Writing prompts are typically most inspiring when they are specific enough to trigger your creativity. There are lots of online resources for creative writing prompts, but not all of them will inspire writers equally. A prompt such as ‘write about aliens who kidnap the president’ may be a great trigger for someone writing science-fiction or a thriller, but may not carry a romance-writer very far.

Many of them also don’t get writers to delve deeper into the heart of the prompt. It’s that extra dimension that makes a writing prompt truly successful: it evokes an emotion or state of being instead of just an event.

How do you use writing prompts?

The possibilities for how you can use writing prompts are many. You can use them for:

  • words-to-use[1]Expanding outside of your preferred genre and style
  • Exploring different moods
  • Helping you to write daily, even when you’re in between projects or feeling uninspired
  • Writing pieces that seem ‘stuck’ in your manuscript. A writing prompt can provide just the inspiration you need for a blank space in your story, a way around a dead end, a rut, or writer’s block in the middle of your first draft
  • Solving writer’s block

The fragments, scenes, and short stories that you accrue from the prompts can be saved in a drawer for your eyes only, written in your diary, polished into a full short story, or woven into your manuscript as a scene or even a whole chapter. You can read my series on going from Notes to First Draft for some tips on how to weave in fragments, scenes, and snippets into your manuscript.

For the next 10 days, I will be providing a writing prompt daily. If this first prompt excites your muse, visit the other prompts that will be available on my Facebook pages, Instagram, and Pinterest. Your first prompt is:


I am going to prompt you to write!

Let’s try ‘Writing Prompts’ to unearth buried ideas and build stronger prose.


Feeling the lull of spring? Need to energize your writing? Are you keeping your New Year writing Resolutions? To start the month of April and Spring (Autumn in Australia!) I’ve decided to create a series of writing prompts, each one designed to help you practice different narrative techniques and also feel story freedom.

fdc15712025008f1a8e97017089d0ebcWriting prompts are a terrific, often underrated, tool for writers. A good prompt offers unlimited opportunities and angles to create a new fragment.

When following a good prompt, writers can learn to unlock creativity instantly rather than wait till the muse comes knocking. Prompts build stamina, persistence and consistency.

As with our notes and fragments, not all our reactions to prompts will make it onto the final page. Even when they don’t, they help us practice our technique and make us more comfortable with tackling a blank page. Without the constraints of our novel’s point of view, tense, setting or moods we’re free to use whatever we want to bring our scene to life. Any point of view, character, narrative technique, setting — everything is available to us when we use prompts. This freedom to explore can unearth ideas that lurk just below the surface of our consciousness. Our job is to WRITE and prompts can help us do that, just write. 

9d8cd9e0ac915efdeb69c7462cc04130On the negative side, some writers believe that prompts stifle creativity rather than unleash it. “I need all the writing time I can get for my novel,” is a common argument, or “I’d rather write what I want. Following prompts could make my writing generic and forced.”

If you followed my From Notes to First Draft series, you’ll know how important keeping fragments and notes are; they help you finish drafting. Sewing together the tapestry of many pieces that were written with love and excitement can create a stronger manuscript. Those pieces help us fill in the gaps between the blank stretches in our drafts. Pick what you love out of your response to your prompt and work it into your project. You’ll be surprised how much value is in those unconscious words.

I’ll be back soon with prompts to get you writing!


Find the right words, and learn how to keep them from getting away.

The right words, unique thoughts, perfect phrases, stunning sentence construction – why is it that they often come unbidden when you’re away from your computer?

It’s interesting how prose flows when you drive your car, take your shower, cook your dinner or hear a certain song.

Find the right wordsThere is something about doing something else that clears your mind and lets the right words come. Sometimes we sit at our computers for hours and labour over the right expression but it does not emerge. It seems as though our conscious mind is blocking the flow of our creativity and that once we step away from forcing it, that stunning sentence comes to us. As in, the right words or exciting ideas bubble up seemingly from nowhere when we are not concentrating so hard.

That’s why you must keep notebooks everywhere. Beside your bed, on the kitchen counter, in the car, bathroom, wherever it is that your ideas tend to come to you. It’s a personal thing – the arrival of that uninvited, yet most welcome thought. What’s not individual or personal is that it happens to every writer, the perfect thought can come unbidden at any time. A notebook in your pocket or handbag is not enough. Maybe you were transcribing and forgot to take your notebook with you. That perfect phrase will never come back again. Believe me; it’s best to write down your thought when it comes. Don’t think it will ever come back the way it did because it won’t. When it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

Be sure to read my blog series From Notes to First Draft on then turning these notes into scenes for your novel! 

Do you love writing? Would you like to join The Art of Writing team in Tuscany? Let’s dream, plot, write, learn and grow as writers for a week together.  Email me at so that I can tell you more about our annual creative writing retreats.

Keeping in Touch from Florence


A merry, wonderful Christmas to you. I hope your holiday season is filled with light, laughter, peace and inner harmony. When you are happy, internally peaceful, your writing should flower. Hopefully it’s during these content, comfortable, relaxed moments that you can slip away to your writing.

This message is to keep you in the loop about our plans for next year’s Blog posts and to let you know about our plans for our Tuscany retreat, The Art of Writing. 

As I’ve written extensively about the importance of keeping notes, most recently in my post Inspiration and Your Writer’s Notebook, some of you have written to ask me how I organise transcribing and note keeping.  Useful note keeping and ultimately knowing how to transcribe and organise your files, as your manuscript unfolds, is not easy. Especially during the confusing, head-spinning first 30,000 words of your manuscript. After 4 books I do have a bit of a filing, note keeping, transcribing system but that process changes with each book, mostly because each of my books is very different.


For the first part of 2016 this Blog will look at how to approach your notes. How to transform your notes from sentences into fragments, then longer passages and finally into chapters is a messy business. I’ll try to explain how I organise my first draft from my notes, as best I can.


The Art of Writing 19-25 June 2016


Finally, our Art of Writing 19-25 June 2016 retreat is shaping up to be really quite special.

I’ve thought deeply about our week’s focus for 2016. What, as writers, do we need to learn in this era of change in publishing? Are readers changing? And yes, though we shouldn’t care and should write about what moves us, what kinds of stories or books are people reading now? Interviewing, discussing and researching these questions have led me to understand that there is one common thread that links all forms of literature today. Readers want more suspense, more thrill, more engagement and more compelling, truly gripping stories than ever before.

Whether you’re writing historical non-fiction, romance, a memoir or literary fiction the Art of Writing 19-25 June workshop discusses pace, build-up and how to write unput-downable text.

How do we build tension? How do we create characters and dialogue that add pressure and conflict? Can characters and dialogue generate suspense? I am so looking forward to kicking back, listening and learning from Conrad Williams on these topics, and more. Conrad is the author of eight novels, a further two slated for release next year on his Joel Sorrell thrillers trilogy.

The Art of Writing 19-25 June 2016 retreat will also look more profoundly at my personal favourite: Writing from a Sense of Place, as after all, we are writing in Tuscany.

For a deeper look into the courses offered in the 19-25 June 2016 retreat, visit the Programme.

The Art of Writing Group

Sending all my best from Florence and I hope we always keep in touch,


Judith Morris on writing poetry and calling yourself a writer

judith morrisIt wasn’t until Judith Morris completed The Art of Writing course last fall that she felt able to call herself a writer, despite having written for decades and showing up in Tuscany with 15 brand new poems to workshop. I talked to Judith about her poetry writing process, her Art-of-Writing-inspired foray into short story writing and the lessons she has applied with success in the six months since our retreat.

When did you first start writing?

I have always enjoyed writing but never considered myself a writer. As an educator, reading and writing have been central to my work and purpose. Writing was a means to an end; to communicate, usually factually, something that needed to be taught, learned or reported.

But did you ever write creatively; for yourself; for pleasure?

Yes, but only very occasionally and usually in response to a homework or work assignment or task; in other words, the reason for writing was set or required by someone else. In these moments, I often found a creative spark which pleased me, but I lacked the motivation, time or confidence to pursue it. The craft of writing remained focused on my work.

imagesSo when did you consider yourself a writer?

There were times when an incident would so affect me emotionally that I felt writing about it was the only way to respond effectively. I found writing cathartic and I often surprised myself by what emerged; my thoughts and feelings seemed to be clarified. If I wrote when I was troubled, the problems were often eased and solutions found, where no amount of just thinking or worrying would have worked. Writing became a kind of infrequent meditation. On occasions when I wanted, for example, to write to a friend who had lost a loved one, I found that a poem would emerge from my pen if I held the person close in my mind. I learned that writing was, for me, a direct reaction to feelings; a response to my senses. Yet I still did not consider myself a writer.

Do you consider yourself a writer now and if so, what changed?

I signed up for The Art of Writing in Tuscany in 2014 and declared myself not a writer but someone who loved the written word, had experience of writing for different purposes and an individual keen to explore writing and to ‘find the writer within’! This was the impetus I needed. I would not allow myself to turn up for the workshop with no work to share so over the course of a month prior to leaving for Italy, I wrote 15 poems in first draft! Meeting and working with authors and other writers from all over the world and with varying experience and levels of expertise was life-changing. Sharing work, listening to feedback about how to improve it, receiving encouragement, praise and constructive criticism all confirmed I am a writer! I have not looked back!

affirmation-for-writersHow would you describe your writing?

I write about feelings and experiences; anything that speaks to me or moves me. It might be a sunset, a landscape, children exploring, a piece of architecture, an animal, an inanimate object or a natural wonder; a world event. I like to experiment with words and phrases that capture the moment, the idea, the feelings. I like the flow of the text; its rhythm. It feels musical and seems to flow naturally in poetic form. I enjoy the power of words and use them to communicate a literal scene but seek to go beyond this and explore something deeper; for example in these stanzas from my poem Healing Star I use the sun trying to push through clouds as a metaphor for a person’s struggle with depression:

Tension mounts

Piercing poker-hot 

Health-giving beams 

Compete with oppressive 

Cloying drapes

Clinging together tenuously

Like teeth of a worn zip 

Struggling to hold together

Pockets of blue 

Peep through 

Weaknesses in 

Sky’s grey blanket 

Tearing at

Frayed stitch work 

Worrying at threads 

And working them loose


morris coot


In another called Fabulous Feet, I write about a plain ordinary looking Coot that has amazing peacock blue feet and use it as a metaphor for not judging people by surface features:



You misjudge me 

As plain

Boring and dull

No magnificent ruff 

Or dazzling plume 

Just simple 


But should you 

Take the time

To probe

Beneath the surface 

Pierce the skin

Gain my trust

And tempt me 

From the lake

You would uncover 

A grand design

Of radiant peacock blue 

Perfect in form and function 

And discover

Hidden from view 


7a6f27072241d81e95a298f9dd4e727fWhat about other forms of writing? Have you tried longer pieces, for example short stories?

Here is where the Art of Writing was really challenging. With the opportunity to meet with tutors in one to one situations the suggestion was made that my work might be developed into story writing! This was a complete surprise to me, but I was willing to have a go. I learnt the importance of a key idea, a location, of capturing the reader’s attention in the first paragraph, of building believable distinct characters, of using powerful descriptive language to paint a scene, the importance of a good structure to hold the reader’s attention throughout and of a conclusion with a twist. And so I wrote my first story! Reading it aloud to gain reactions was a challenge but essential to feedback and improvement. With a good deal of re-drafting I felt able to submit it to a competition that I chose because it offered feedback for each entry. I knew my story would not be a winner. How could it be with my lack of experience? Just by producing something that was at least good enough to submit for comment made me feel I had achieved something, and I would encourage any writer to submit their work to this kind of scrutiny.

So have you heard anything from the competition judges about your entry?

Yes, I got feedback yesterday! And of course I didn’t win! But the feedback was really quite encouraging with very helpful pointers for improvement. In the 8 marking categories, I scored at the top of the middle band (e.g. 7 out of 10; 6 out of 8 etc.) except in story structure which was lower (4 out of 8) and showed where I need to put most effort to improve my story writing. Not bad I felt for a first effort! I will take the advice and work on some more stories, but I know my heart and my writing ability really lies with poetry. However, by writing in another genre I have been ‘forced’ to move beyond my comfort zone and I am sure this challenge will help me improve my poetry writing.

How do you begin to write a poem or a story?

The Art of Writing workshop taught me the importance of regular writing. I write quickly by hand, scribbling ideas as fast as I can as soon as I have an idea or a feeling. I do not think about structure or form at this stage. I am just keen to get the words down; to let them flow from the pen onto the page. Sometimes I use ‘Notes’ on my iPad but this is slower so I write by hand when I can. I then begin to transcribe my first draft electronically bringing more shape to the poem; refining the text. I will then return to it later, often but not always, on the same day. At this stage I am usually looking to shorten the lines, tighten the language, improve the vocabulary; to test out the rhythm and flow. I repeat this until I feel the poem communicates what I wanted to say. Sometimes it is difficult not to keep refining; it is important to know when to stop!

What have you learnt about writing in the last 6 months?

So much! The Art of Writing has been life-changing! Here is my list; my aide memoir for becoming a better writer:

  • Have fun; enjoy it
  • Reflect and meditate
  • Be open and observant
  • Write often even when there seems to be nothing to write about!
  • An initial idea can lead anywhere: it is just that – a stimulus to writing
  • Look beyond the literal; use metaphor
  • Select language that communicates; is rich and appeals to the senses: taste it, feel it, hear it!
  • Share work in a circle of trust seeking and responding to feedback
  • Find a reason; a purpose; an audience for writing even if it is just yourself!
  • Practice, practice, practice. Write, write, write.


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