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Best Australian Blogs 2011 People’s Choice

I’m very excited to announce my blog is up for voting in the People’s Choice section of the Best Australian Blogs 2011 run by the Sydney Writer’s Centre.

If you would like to vote you can click the link here (I’ll also put a link up in the sidebar): Best Australian Blogs 2011 People’s Choice

There are lots of other fantastic blogs you can vote for too (including a few of my favourites).

Please note: There are two Jo Harts in the competition. My blog is on the last page under ‘The Graceful Doe’.

How ‘Sisters Red’ Can Make You A Better Writer

Since I began to really start focusing on my writing seriously (reading writing blogs, writing websites and books on the craft) it has affected the way I read. Now when I read, I sometimes find it hard to really immerse myself in a book because I can’t always switch my writer’s brain off. I pick up spelling and grammatical errors and I think to myself  ‘that’s so cliche’ or ‘this passage is full of purple prose’. So when I find a book that draws me in so deep and is so well written my writer’s voice is nowhere to be found, I know I’ve found a really fantastic book. It makes me wonder, what has this writer done differently to make me fall in love with these characters and keep turning pages well after I should be in bed because I can’t put it down? Because I want to be able to do that in my writing!

I don’t usually do book reviews on here, but this past week I finished two books I found so addictive to read I couldn’t put them down. One was The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, which I have been meaning to read for ages (ever since the movie came out). I loved it because the voice in that book was so authentic and real. But, the book I want to explore today is Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce.

Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce

Great Hook

I’m a sucker for fairytale retellings, and in particular Red Riding Hood retellings, which is what drew me to this book in the first place. The concept immediately interested me: The Red Riding Hood characters (in this case two sisters) are attacked by a werewolf when young and grow up into werewolf hunters, aided by their best friend, a woodsman. Talk about a great twist on the old fairytale!


Many agents and those in the literary world warn against writing in first person present tense because it is so hard to pull off effectively and naturally. Jackson Pearce managed to not only pull off writing Sisters Red in first person present tense seamlessly, she also did it while switching POV between the two main characters of the story (the two sisters). One of the reasons present tense worked so well for this story: there was a lot of action and the present tense allowed me to feel as though I was a part of the action as it was happening.


The two sisters were so well developed, each with their own individual voice, that even without the header indicating which sister’s POV it was at the start of each chapter, I still would have known which sister was speaking. Both had strong, distinct voices. I was immediately pulled into their story.


Talk about nail-biting. Particularly towards the end I couldn’t stop turning the pages because I was so afraid of what was going to happen to the main characters. Pearce kept putting them in tougher and tougher situations and I knew one of them couldn’t possibly come out of it alive, I just didn’t know which one, if any!


The relationships between the sisters and between each individual sister and the woodsman are all unique and continually develop over the course of the novel, while always intertwining and affecting each other. Yet no relationship is more important than another. These relationships are always at the centre of the story and drive the plot.

Other Reasons it was Great Writing

There was never a lot of description of the main characters, except when describing Scarlett’s scars, yet even then the description was never detailed, it was wound into the story. She focused more on the characters’ emotions, reactions and motivations.

I also loved that Pearce researched the little details to make them more authentic.

Jackson Pearce’s follow up novel Sweetly (a fairytale retelling of Hansel and Gretel where a brother and sister become witch hunters) is out later this year. I’ll be looking out for it. This for me defines a great writer – I loved her book so much that I can’t wait for her next one to hit the shelves.

If you are a writer, particularly if you are interested in writing YA, paranormal, action or fairytale retellings, this book is worth picking up and reading.

100 Stories for Queensland

It feels as though Mother Nature really has it in for Australia this summer. Currently, bushfires are raging in Perth. Only days ago, category 5 cyclone Yasi hit Northern Queensland. In December 2010 and January 2011 major floods affected seventy-five per cent of the state of Queensland, including Brisbane (its capital city) causing major damage and loss of life. My brother lives in Queensland and thankfully lives in an area not affected by either the floods or the cyclone, but many other people have been affected.

Watching the devastation unfold on television and reading the heart-wrenching stories around the web left me in shock. But, as with the devastating bushfires two years ago, it has been uplifting seeing not only Australians, but those around the world reaching out to help those affected.

The writing community has pulled together in several ways to help raise funds. In January several writers organised a charity auction. Writers from around the country donated books and offers to critique manuscripts to raise money for the Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal. Then, following in the tradition of 100 stories for Haiti and 50 stories for Pakistan, a call was put out for short stories to be included in an anthology to be titled 100 stories for Queensland. I knew without a doubt I wanted to submit –  to be a part of something that could help raise much needed funds for flood-affected Queensland.

The submission guidelines called for uplifting stories, and my first thought was to submit a comedic rhyming story I wrote last year and had been sitting idly in a folder on my computer. I soon found out, however, that the anthology wasn’t accepting rhyming stories, so it was back to the drawing board. As the days drew closer to the closing date, I started to panic I wouldn’t find inspiration for a story to submit. Finally, an idea developed. A story about a simple wish – about hope.

I wrote and rewrote and edited and proof-read. I passed it on to beta readers, including my friend Rachel who happens to be a history buff and was able to set me straight on a few points I’d overlooked. I submitted right on the deadline.

Last week, I found out my story had made the long list. Today, I found out it made the final list and will be included in the anthology.

My story is called ‘A Penny for a Wish’, but my simple wish is this: When the anthology is released on the 8th of March, please think about purchasing a copy as 100% of the sales profits will be going towards flood relief in Queensland. Two years ago in the Victorian bushfires, one of my best friends lost everything – her house, her property and all of her possessions. I’ve seen first hand how much these funds can help towards rebuilding someone’s life when they’ve lost everything. And even if you don’t want to read some fantastic stories by some amazing authors, consider donating in some other way.

P.S. I just found out about another great writer initiative raising money for flood relief. Writers on Rafts involves a multitude of fantastic Australian authors offering a multitude of prizes. All money raised goes towards the Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal and you can enter as many times as you like. Winners are drawn Friday 25th February 2011. (I believe the competition is open to Australian residents only on this one.)

Favourite Helpful Writing Posts 2010

Usually at the end of each month I do a roundup of the best helpful writing sites and blog posts I come across during the month. This month I will be doing things a little differently. For those who follow me on Twitter, or read my post from last week, you will know I have been a bit disconnected from the internet this past month due to some bad news I received early in the month. For those who don’t follow me, I found out I lost my baby early this month and I’ve been having a hard time emotionally. I’m starting to get back into the swing of things now, but as a result of my disconnectedness from the net I haven’t collected many great sites this month to share. Instead I’ve decided to do a roundup of a few of my favourite posts from throughout the year, ones I thought were so helpful I bookmarked them for future reference.

Helpful Writing Posts

Key Elements of Strong Fiction

Shennandoah Diaz writes about creating the foundation of strong fiction by establishing dynamic characters, an intriguing plot, a compelling voice, and a vibrant setting. She gives great examples to illustrate her points.

Top 8 Tips for Writing Dialogue

Ginny Wiehardt outlines eight ways you can improve your dialogue so it sounds more realistic, advances the story and fleshes out your characters.

Dialogue Tags

A great little reminder on the correct use of dialogue tags with examples of correct and incorrect usage.

Evil Overlords Lists

An excerpt from Teresa Neilsen Hayden’s lecture on ‘Stupid Plotting Tricks’ giving a look at cliches revolving around villains and the genres of science fiction and fantasy.

Counting Chickens: A Few Words About Word Counts

For anyone writing any form of kidlit (from picture books to young adult  novels), Hope Vestergaard’s post is handy to bookmark as a reminder on appropriate word counts for kidlit.

Workshop: Writing the Novel Synopsis

For any writer who dreads writing a novel synopsis or isn’t sure how to go about writing one, this workshop by Sheila Kelly shows you how to write a synopsis. She outlines the main elements you need to include and how to format it.

Helpful Writing PDFs

Book in a Month Worksheets

These worksheets are primarily geared towards planning for NaNoWriMo, but they are great planning tools for anyone thinking about starting a new novel idea. There’s a planning sheet for everything from story idea maps to character sketches to act one, two and three plot goals.

Eleven Senses – Who Knew?

I’ve mentioned this resource a few times on this blog. It outlines not only the five main senses we use, but six extra ones as well. It includes some writing exercises using the various senses and a great list of words for each sense (so you don’t always have to fall back on the same old sense words all the time, like saw and heard).

I hope everyone is enjoying their holidays and you all have a happy and safe new year!

Preparing for NaNoWriMo

With less than a fortnight until NaNoWriMo begins I’m going through a list in my mind of things I need to prepare before the 1st of November rolls around (and oh boy is it coming around quickly!). Here is a helpful checklist to make sure you’re prepared:

1. Write an Outline of Your Novel.

I talked about this one in-depth in my last blog post. It’s a basic road map with your plot idea, including the conflict and resolution, as well as some of the major plot points you want to cover.

2. Character bios.

This is an outline of your major characters (and maybe even some of your minor characters too). I found writing up character bios helps get me inside my characters’ heads before I start writing. Usually my character bios consist of three main elements:

– A character sheet, including name, age, physical description, personality, strengths, weaknesses and other important notes.

– A character interview answered in the character’s voice. The interview asks in-depth questions about religion, school, family, likes, dislikes, what they would grab if their house burned down, what are their goals/dreams.

– A picture. Sometimes I just search celebrities to find a picture of someone who looks similar to the idea I have for my character. I tend to use Sims to create my characters since I can choose hair/eye/skin colour and dress them how I picture them dressing. I then print screen and save it. I also like to do character collages. I search through magazines for pictures representing my character (both personality and physical appearance).

3. Research.

This will depend on what kind of novel you’re writing. Last year I wrote a fantasy, so I didn’t need to do much research since everything was in my head. I did draw up a diagram of the labyrinth in my story though so I’d have it straight in my head when I wrote those scenes. This year I’m doing a time travel novel, so there’s a lot of research involved in regards to historical accuracy. I don’t want to start writing in November and get sidetracked looking up dates and facts when I could be writing, so I’m doing all the research I can now and saving relevant facts in a document to refer back to as I’m writing.

4. Put Your Affairs in Order.

I just realised today that it may be a good idea to prepare my blog posts for November ahead of time, otherwise I’ll be faced with either ignoring my blog for a whole month or  writing blog posts when I could be trying to reach my daily word count on my novel. I’m also trying to finish up edits on my current #wip so I’ll be able to put it aside during NaNoWriMo and not feel guilty about leaving it unfinished to start something new.

5. Stock Up on Supplies.

Trust me, you’ll most likely need A LOT of chocolate and caffeine during November, so make sure you stock up. Notepads and pens are always handy to carry around for those times when you must leave the dank dark dungeon (aka the room where your computer resides) or to have beside your bed if you wake up in the middle of the night struck by inspiration. If you’re really prepared you may even do a bulk grocery shop with enough groceries to last a month to save yourself time on grocery shopping during November. Don’t forget to have take-away delivery service numbers handy too in case you get so involved in your story you forget to cook dinner (just don’t do this too often though, or your partner may unplug the computer).

Is there anything else you’re doing to prepare for NaNoWriMo?

Peevbody Award Thank-you

During last week’s blogiversary celebrations I received a lovely surprise from Carrie Bailey (Peevish Penman) who also celebrated her blogiversary that day. I was honoured to receive the first ever Peevbody Award. This is the description Carrie gives of the Peevbody Award on her blog (full description found here):

An award for friends of writers that is grander than grand. This award commemorates bravery and true blue friendship in a writer’s career.  New writers put their egos on the line and risk everything to share their art and craft, but somewhere all the line they receive encouragement. The caption of this reads in the old latin:

“one less peevish writer
Why? because support makes us happy.  It makes us believe in ourselves, our ability, and our craft. Whether a best friend, family member, agent, publisher, or anyone, it will be awarded once a month by Peevish Penman…

And this is what Carrie said on her blog about why she awarded me the Peevbody (full post on Peevish Penman):

I want to send out the biggest thanks and appreciation for the ever awesome Jo Hart for making our blogiversary special by collaborating with us on the contest, designing the header, and just simply being an awesome writer friend.  For this reason, Peevish Penman sends the first Peevbody award to Jo for all around writer awesomeness.

I just wanted to take the opportunity to say a big thank-you to Carrie for thinking of me for this award. I really enjoyed collaborating with Peevish Penman for the blogiversary contest.

I also want to say a big thank-you to everyone who helped make my first blogiversary special by dropping by, commenting and tweeting about it. I had an awesome first blogiversary!

Researching the Publishing Industry

I’ve been doing a lot of research into getting my manuscript published and how to go about doing it properly to increase the likelihood of it being picked up.

I’ve only ever sent one manuscript to a publishers before and I realise now I did just about everything wrong (which is ok, because I think my writing has improved a lot since then anyway).

Mistakes I made with the other novel:

– I sent it directly to a publisher, rather than through an agent (although I have recently found out that in Australia this isn’t such a big deal as publishers are much more lenient on unsolicited manuscripts since we don’t have a lot of agents here).
– I had no idea what a query letter was or how to write one effectively, so they probably took one look at my cover letter and thought ‘amateur’.
– I’m pretty sure I didn’t include a synopsis, and if I did I doubt it was very effective. I don’t think I was very good at being able to ‘sell’ my story.
-I only sent it to one publisher and after it got rejected I gave up and didn’t send it to anyone else.

This time around I’ve really done my research and I’m prepared to do everything ‘right’ so that my novel at least has a chance of being published. This is what I have been doing, and what I intend to do this time around:

– I’ve been researching how to write an effective query letter, what agents/publishers are looking for in a query letter and what you should avoid including.
– I’ve been scouting the internet for agents in Australia that are currently taking manuscripts in the genre of fantasy. I’ve started making a comprehensive list of agents to try sending a query letter to when my manuscript is ready. Plus I also intend to compile a list of possible publishers in case I can’t get any agents to pick it up. I’m not going to give up on the first rejection this time!
– I’ve also been researching how to effectively pitch my story and write a synopsis.

I’m hoping this time around I will have more success. I will be sharing some of my research in future blogs.