Tuesday, January 26, 2016


John raced the length of the corridor and slammed the elevator call button. He had to get to Kelly before they put her under. He had to tell her.

But the elevator refused to play. He pressed the button again and watched the LED display’s countdown: 5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1 … G. The doors groaned and the elevator regurgitated visitors from its maw. They spilled out and scattered over the lobby floor.

He pressed ‘3’ and waited. Nothing happened. He stabbed at the button marked ‘DOOR CLOSE’. After an eternity, the doors closed and the elevator began its climb. G … 1 … 2 … 3. A clunk. Silence.

He slid through the doors as soon as he would fit and bolted for Kelly’s room, not pausing to apologise to the man whose shoulder he’d charged, who was yelling at him, calling him ‘buddy’.

John lost traction and skidded through Kelly’s doorway, bumping into a chair propped next to it. A nurse looked up from where he fussed around the bed, tucking in sheets and fluffing up the pillow case, then checked his watch.

Kelly was nowhere to be seen.

Of course—they wouldn’t give anaesthetic in the ward.

And he didn’t know where the operating theatre was.

About this piece

This was my third attempt at the no-adjectives, no-adverbs exercise. (See also Oblivious and Girl, Guide.) I think I did a better job with the verbs in this one, and it was nice to see some improvement. Much of my ongoing difficulty in these exercises seems to reflect the very reason I need to practise them: I struggle because I feel no spark of inspiration from them. They are exercises in the craft, not the art; they are lessons in emulating the masters, not blindly following my muse.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Review: The Seven Steps to Closure, by Donna Joy Usher

I’ve read several books in the past twelve months that could fall under the banner of contemporary women’s fiction, and few have held my attention. While I enjoy the light-hearted tone of such books, I’m frustrated by the way they perpetuate the myth of happily ever after: a beautiful woman suffers much in her quest for love before ultimately winning over and marrying the man of her dreams.

On the surface, The Seven Steps to Closure is another light-hearted read, full of good Aussie fun and devoid of that clich├ęd rural setting that’s penetrating romance these days. (Don’t get me started on the worst book I read last year.) I read this book over three nights and many of those reading hours were spent laughing out loud as protagonist Tara got herself into embarrassing but alarmingly plausible—or worse, familiar!—situations.

But look beneath the light language and you’ll see author Donna Joy Usher delving into some heavy, heartfelt topics with honesty and sensitivity. As the story unfolds, Tara and her friends deal with overwhelming feelings, unrealistic expectations, self-image issues, gender stereotypes, and cultural ignorance. The one that hit me hardest was Usher’s authentic depiction of Tara’s abusive relationship with her ex-husband, Jake, and her struggle to move past it. Glimpses of Jake’s classic narcissistic personality are revealed as a subplot to both the novel and to Tara’s life: the way he swept her off her feet; the way he picked fights with her and then blamed her for them; the way she always defended his behaviour, even after his ultimate betrayal; the way it continues to affect her interactions with other men.

Yet, somehow, the author manages to usher (*cough*) readers through all this darkness in an uplifting way. Strong women are modelled in abundance. They have agency—they control and create their own lives. Their varied careers bring them joy. In their healthy but naturally flawed relationships with friends, family and lovers, they face challenges together and work towards mutual happiness. They acknowledge and communicate their emotions. They are both relatable and inspirational. I was left hoping Usher also writes books for YA audiences, and was delighted to discover she does. Add them to my reading list.

Is the book perfect? Nope. I’d love to remove a few elements of repetition or switch a word or two out for clarity. But few books are perfect these days, and the changes I’d make to The Seven Steps to Closure are tiny—insignificant when compared with the valuable cultural commentary this great read provides.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Girl, guide

Leaves drift to the pavement, until the breeze stirs them up to flutter about my ankles like butterflies in a field. It stirs my heart, too; I feel its chill on my arms and in my belly.

The girl leads me, never faltering, never stopping to check the directions scrawled on a scrap of paper in her pocket. She knows what she’s doing. She knows the way, and so she should — this is her home. It lives in her bones the way Asher Street lives on in mine, its houses and trees and couples holding hands and kids walking dogs to the park all thriving in my memory long after they disappeared from my world. I wonder if this place will be gone one day, too, relegated to the girl’s mind.

I have no reason to follow her, yet I do follow her, because where else would I go?

I think we’ve spent the last few hours doubling back on ourselves and criss-crossing our own path. But we begin to open out in a spiral, as if searching for someone or something. A part of me thinks that whatever we’re searching for exists only inside our minds, but I don’t voice the thought.

In silence, I follow the girl.

About this piece

As with Oblivious, this was an exercise in frugal writing, avoiding adverbs and adjectives. I liked my result even less than my previous attempt—if that's possible. But here it is, for your entertainment. Or smugness.

Friday, January 15, 2016


We wake halfway and I think
it must be dawn; I think
the sun is in our room
because I am on fire. But

it is midnight, and
it is you, only you and
in me.

Your breath burns hot against my neck and
every hair stands on end as you scour me raw
with your oh-oh o'clock shadow

when you murmur urgently in my ear,
demanding my still-halfway-asleep attention.

You’ve got it.
You’ve got me.
I go down, drown
in you.

Slick with sweat, we rock together;
two voices rise in unison;
two hearts beat in rhythm—
one dance, one body.
One life.

Overwhelmed and exhausted,
we return to sleep,
only to begin again at dawn.

About this piece

I set myself a challenge to go beyond my self-imposed limits. I stepped very gingerly across that line at first, barely daring to graze the ground with my toe, deleting each line just moments after I wrote it. But soon it became a game; I changed tense, I changed time. I steadily teased away the boundary between right and wrong, and stood in the space between.

Lost and found

There’s a part of me I don’t know any more and I’m not OK with it. I don’t like it at all.
It was so familiar to me, a sensitivity that never let me down, a force to be reckoned with. We used to form a whole, but that was before I tore it away from me, leaving it forgotten in a sea of orange.

What remained was a gaping maw, spewing forth red obscenity. I wanted it to eye me dolefully but instead it remained angry and accusing. So I carefully wrapped the remains, stemming the outpouring of loss and grief from that space, strapping shut the part of me that caused so much grief. I could not bear to see it.

But now, thirteen days later, I have dared to peek at it. It is remarkable, wondrous. What was lost is found again—It has grown back. That part of me I thought was gone forever is a part of me again and we are whole. But it is unfamiliar, tingling with caution. I don’t understand; I can’t read its signals. I don’t know it any more, and I’m not OK with it.

About this piece

I grated off the tip of my finger and ta-da! It healed. So I guess this is an example of how over-the-top writers can go in an attempt to make something sound far more important than it is…as you may have witnessed in many business documents. Here's another misleading anecdote: Morning massacre.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Meredith shuffled along the verge of the road with her head bowed. The scuff of her shoes on gravel didn’t bring a smile to her face today. A station wagon sped by, stirring the hairs on Meredith’s arms; if she had looked up, she may have noticed the driver’s eyes fixed on the centre of the road as she manoeuvred the beast. She may have seen the passenger’s hands pressed against the window, his mouth opening and shutting in slow motion like a butterfly breaking from its chrysalis too soon. She may have seen the cords in his neck stretching to breaking point, or heard his gasp for help. But she was beyond help, so she only saw her feet and the gravel.

About this piece

Here I aimed to write description—no dialogue—without adjectives or adverbs (except adverbs of time, sparingly). This was my first attempt of three; all infuriated me. It was valuable to see how much I could accomplish using only the most basic parts of speech by carefully twisting metaphor and simile into the sentences. But I also recognised that adjectives and verbs are more than just a lazy writer's solution to poorly selected nouns and verbs; they add rhythm and movement to a piece so that it reads with its own flow of energy.