Last year, my sister came to me with an idea to do something a bit different and challenging every year together. Part of the reason for this was because we practically used to live in each other’s pockets (terrible sibling rivalry when we were growing up was transformed into a true friendship when she came to work with me in the theatre restaurant I owned and ran back in my twenties), but life and obligations to children, spouses and work means we don’t see each other as often we used to (although, we still see each other every week – some would say that’s enough, but we really are good friends!) The other reason is because there are things she wants to do that she can’t do with her hubby, partly because he has an injury which stops him from doing a lot of things, but also because he’s not inclined to do things to get your blood rushing in that way. She also wanted to show our children that you can do whatever you want when you put your mind to it.
I thought it was a great idea, so, last year, we went on our first special outing together – a face first abseil down a 6 story building. We did it 3 times that day, each time just as scary but better than the last. Without meaning to sound like I’m tooting our horn, the man who ran it said we were the best at doing it he’d seen for a while. Not bad for 2 forty-year old mums!
So, what to do next?
When I was 14 I went on a 5 day horse riding trek with my Uncle Richard (who is a horse enthusiast too – the only one in my family at the time) starting from Omeo and riding through the Bogong High Plains, camping out near old stockmans’ cottages every night. We rode up and down mountains, through the plains near the top of Fall’s Creak and down through the riverlands. It was an amazing experience we still talk about today.
At the time, my younger sister wasn’t really interested in horse riding and showed no interest in coming with us. Cut to 30 years later, six years of holiday horse riding camps down near Anglesea when we were at school and a few other rides besides, a damaged knee (me), a dislocated shoulder (her), marriage and children (both of us) and bodies showing the wear and tear of age and an active and sometimes reckless approach to our sports, and she suddenly decided a trek like I went on when I was 14 was just the thing, complete with Uncle Richard – who had given up city life years ago to live in the country and still horserides. So we approached him with the idea. Of course he was really keen to do it.
And we were off.
My sister found a place called Buckle Up Bushrides near Merijig who were able to do a 4 day ride at a time that suited us all. We booked in, bought new riding boots and jodhpurs and were off. We met Uncle Richard in Merijig the night before the ride and had a great country meal at the Merijig Inn and were sleeping in bunk rooms that reminded me of staying up at the snow. The next day we got up to a red sun and the smell of smoke – they were back burning up in the mountains – and headed to the Buckle Up Bushrides farm.
It has been 18 years since I rode a horse and since I’ve truly been around horses like that, but the moment I got out of the car, I felt like I was home. The scent of horses and paddocks, the dust and smoke in the air, the sound of whickers and hooves pounding the earth in the distance, were all sounds and scents I’d experienced many times before and made me feel instantly relaxed.
We had met the trail bosses the night before at the pub – Paul and Shelley, a really lovely couple – and then met the rest of the crew, Paul’s mum, Kay who was the camp cook, and Geoff who was Paul’s hand and camp supervisor. We met one of the others riders – the other wasn’t arriving until lunch and would be brought in by Paul in the 4WD), packed our gear into their trucks and then set off up the mountains in the 4WDs.
The horses had been trucked part way up Mt Stirling which was our start off point and where we met the other trail supervisor, Karen. We met our horses, and because all of us had a lot of previous experience riding, mounted up and headed off. I can’t tell you how fantastic it felt to be on a horse again. My sister and I were quite worried about sore muscles, and even though we did have them, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as we thought it was going to be. It was like the old riding a bike cliche. I remembered everything right away and my horse, Chelsea, was lovely, and after testing me to start off with, caught on that I was experienced and wasn’t going to let her get away with the kind of stuff she might try on a less experienced writer, and we settled down into a partnership right away.
That’s what this kind of horse riding is all about – a partnership between rider and horse. If you don’t respect each other, the ride is not nearly as enjoyable. Chelsea was doing a lot of the hard work – that first day was a lot of riding up steep hills – but it was my job to get up off the saddle on the steep parts and trust her ability to take the best path for her and me, looking after her so she could look after me, and it was her job to take my instruction when necessary. The first few hours were spent figuring each other out and after that, it was pretty smooth riding. She was a really good horse.
We rode through really rugged country up to the top of Mt Stirling on that first day. Very unfortunately, the backburning meant that there was smoke obscurring the view that would normally be fabulous, but we had a lot of laughs as we peered through it, trying to make out the village on Mt Buller (only just) and the other mountains surrounding there. I had never been up Mt Stirling before, but had viewed it many times skiing on Mt Buller – so it was kind of cool to see the view (what we could see) from the other highest point in the area.
Riding uphill is a lot of hard work on rider and horse and riding downhill is the same. By the time we got to just below
Craig’s Hut late that afternoon, everyone was tired and happy to see our camp crew had set up the basics of the camp – although, before we settled down, we rode up to Craig’s Hut, had a canter in front of it like The Man From Snowy River did in the movie, and had a look around
Craig’s Hut which was built there for the movie – although, the one that’s there now is just a replica as the original was burnt down a number of years ago in bushfires.
We all got back to camp, looked after the horses first as any good horseperson will do, and then my sister and I set up a tent for ourselves, rolled out our swags – first time I’ve ever slept in a swag – and settled down around the camp fire, swapping stories, having a good meal and just taking in the relaxing atmosphere that I only ever really find in the mountains. I think I must be a mountain girl at heart.
Given I’ve got so much to say on this amazing adventure, I’m going to split this blog into 2 parts. So, this is enough for now. Next week I’ll cover the rest of the trip – but I will say this now. If you are thinking of going on a horseriding trek in the mountains, the crew at Buckle Up Bushrides are fantastic. They love their horses and what they do and are incredibly friendly and helpful. They are a relatively new company up there, but they have been working with some of the biggest trail rides up there (Kay is a Lovick – one of the big cattle families in the region and the family made famous for their work on The Man from Snowy River) and really know the mountains. I want to do this again with my family some time in the future and I will most definitely be doing it with them.
Enough said for now – next week I’ll be talking about the challenging trails we did on day 2 and 3 and the excitement when one of the trail bosses had a spill off a very narrow, high track above the Howqua river.
I love series, whether in book form or on TV or at the movies. I love when there are characters to follow and a story arc that encompasses episodes or books that requires me to remember events and references from former episodes/books to help give depth and greater understanding of what’s going on. I love the cleverness of the writing when something is references in the VERY FIRST EPISODE and then the payoff for that is in the last episode/book. It blows my mind and makes me go back to watch/read the series over and over again to enjoy it all over again, and if it’s really good, get even more out of it on each read/viewing.
It’s nice to know others think that series are pretty hot shit too. Check out what Kristen Lamb has to say about why she thinks series are amazing, are coming back into popularity (although for some of us, they were never ‘out’ in the first place) and why we need them. Love this.
Today I have Madeline Ash as a guest blogger. Madeline is a pocket-sized powerhouse who writes stories that are real and have sweet sizzle. I’ve enjoyed her other books and am looking forward to reading her latest, Love & Other Lies.
Madeline’s new heroine is an interesting mix of sweet, sexy and flawed. I love a flawed character and so was really interested to hear what she has to say on the matter. Take it away Madeline.
Writing Immoral Heroines (and why I think that’s okay).
Abby, the heroine in my new release Love & Other Lies, has a history of compulsive lying. Honesty is highly valued in our society, so liars are understandably regarded as immoral, and due to that, when I was first struck by the idea for her character I worried readers wouldn’t accept her. Even I had difficulty relating to a character who had lied to people she loved for so many years.
Concerned, I researched immoral female characters and came across this blog post on The Border House, entitled Immoral Women: Why We Need More of Them. At one point, the author Katherine Cross says,
“Consider my title here: “Immoral Women.” Even now it conjures images of promiscuous, ‘loose’, or otherwise proudly sexual women, which is a testament to the suffocating and dehumanisingly limited framework with which women are saddled. I want that notion of immorality to be expanded to be something more fully human.”
Katherine raises a good point. The immorality of female characters is often related to their sexualities. And when a female character isn’t immoral, she’s often virtuous to the point of flawlessness. She’s an inaccurate representation of what it is to be a woman; what it is to be human.
Humans aren’t perfect. We make mistakes. Our experiences shift our behavior. Sometimes humans do bad things for good reasons, sometimes for not so good reasons. Imperfection is real, and this made me feel better about writing Abby’s story – it made me feel more confident about the way readers would react to her history of lying.
While romance has had its fair share of virtuous and morally pure heroines in the past, times are changing. We now have heroines that fall within, around, and outside of morality – they cheat, lie, and steal – and we still love them. They’re real, raw, and refreshing.
Loving these heroines of course relies on them being well-motivated. When I wondered how well Abby would be accepted by readers, I came to realise that it would come down to her reasons for lying in the first place. It’s like Helena in Orphan Black (anyone else watch that?). Because we understand why she acts the way she does, we can love her despite her (horrifying) flaws.
Katherine Cross also states, “Evil manifests itself in our world mainly in the form of people who are utterly convinced they are doing the right thing. Morality is rather tricky like that.”
Although I’m not talking about evil, just immorality, the above still applies. We can forgive a character when we believe they are doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. Due to this, characters aren’t necessarily immoral – just morally compromised.
Personally, I think it’s okay to write about female characters who aren’t perfect – who are particularly imperfect. And I LOVE that digital and non-traditional publishing has opened up opportunities for unconventional characters and storylines within romance. I know I wouldn’t have been able to sell Abby to a traditional publisher five years ago. They wouldn’t have wanted to take the risk.
What do you think? Do you prefer writing/reading about female characters that represent the best of humanity, or are you okay reading about (well-motivated) immoral female characters in fiction?
Thank you for having me on your blog today, Leisl! X
It was an absolute pleasure, Madeline, and thanks so much for being here. And by the way I LOVE Orphan Black – fantastic show and a great example of a flawed heroine – in fact Helena isn’t the only one in that show who is immoral in some way and yet we love them (Sarah and Mrs S anyone?)
Love & Other Lies:
Small town vet Abby Benson has fled to the country to put her shameful past behind her. She’s just beginning to find her feet again when handsome stranger, Rue Thorn, arrives in town and begins to stir things up. Rue is gorgeous, kind and thoughtful and the two share an instant attraction. But convinced he’ll despise her if he learns about her history, Abby reluctantly keeps him at arms’ length.
Determined to win Abby over, Rue tries to reshape himself as the sort of guy he thinks she might be interested in. And for a while it seems his act is working. But when he finds out that Abby has been lying to him, it isn’t long before everything start to unravel …
A moving story of trust, forgiveness and the power of love from the author of Uncovered by Love and The Playboy’s Dark Secret.
Madeline has always lived in Melbourne. She is emotionally allergic to spontaneity, and yet doesn’t mind the weather that drags her into rain when she’s planned for sunshine. She likes to call this her wild side.
She’s a Virgo, vegetarian, and once had a romantic suspense-style dream in which the hero was a shredded lettuce sandwich and the villain was a cherry tomato. The tomato got away. She took the dream as a sign that she’d better stick to writing contemporary romance.
Her stories have spunky heroines, strong heroes, and as much dialogue as she can cram in. As for why she writes romance, she’s in a long-term relationship with the genre and writing such stories makes it happy.
It’s been a bit of a big weekend for me. Yesterday, after having many things over the holidays upset my writing schedule, I actually managed to finish the final draft of Blood Moon – hooray! I thought I wasn’t going to get it done before the end of January. But I got some time yesterday and just went to it and now it’s all ready to send off to my Beta readers. I’m both nervous and excited to hear what they’ve got to say. So we had that to celebrate last night. But we also had something else to celebrate too.
Today is my 16th wedding anniversary. We celebrated together (just hubby and I) by going out to the movies at Gold Class last night and then today we went to the Enchanted Maze Adventure Garden with our boys. We’ve had a lovely day going on big zip lines and racing through mazes and having a ride at the tube park and just appreciating each others company in the gorgeous gardens there. It’s one of our favourite places to come with the family and today was no exception.
We had so much fun. Our feet are aching and everyone is smiling – what more can you ask for?
Well, I can answer that. I came home to see that I am a guest on AusRom Today in their fabulous Aussie Month – celebrating new and established writers of romantic fiction in Australia. It’s my anniversary and I get to talk about romance and what it means to me…how serendipitous is that? I didn’t even know it was going up today.
So, I’d love you to drop on by and leave a comment or share on whatever social media tickles your fancy on this special day. And I hope everyone else’s days were as good as this one was for me.
I am reading a lot of posts at the moment on various loops with people setting themselves goals for the year. It’s the time of the year when people do set their goals for all sorts of things, which is all very good. I think goal setting is essential to long term success, as long as you are sensible about it. Goals are a reflection of what we dream for ourselves – and if you are a creative person, you are already half way there because it is in your nature to dream.
However, the goals you make do need to be achievable to a certain extent, otherwise you are always going to fall short and fail at whatever it is you are trying. I really love this picture I found on dreamstime.com – it sums up completely how I think your goals should be set.
This being a writer’s blog, I am of course going to talk in relation to writing goals, but this is true for goal setting for any pursuit.
Goals like: I want to finish writing a novel/I want to enter a competition/I want to submit to an editor/agent are all good, reasonable goals that are all about head down bum up and personal determination. Goals like: I want to become a NYT best selling author or become a world famous author like JK Rowlings, are perhaps a little more out of your control. They still may be achievable, and certainly could/should be on your list as one of those pie in the sky kind of goals, but they shouldn’t be what makes up your list. Goals like: I want to get a perfect score/come first in that comp or have everyone love my books, are most likely not achievable as you can’t control how people are going to feel about your writing, no matter how good you get at it (case in point, this blog from NYT bestselling author, Nora Roberts).
I know when I started writing, one of my dreams was to be published and now that dream has come true after a lot of hard work and perseverence (head down, bum up). Now that dream has turned into being continuously published, having print books as well as digital and making a career of some sort out of my writing. This dream is part pie in the sky, part head down, bum up (fingers on keyboard). Pie in the sky, because some of it is beyond my direct control ( whether editors will continue to be interested in my writing and I’m writing something readers want to buy in an overcrowded market), head down bum up because I need to keep working at my writing, doing the actual writing, taking advice from my critique partners and writing groups and agent and working on that, building my author profile through social media etc etc etc. With perseverence and plenty of head down bum up, I should achieve the pie in the sky because my goal isn’t unreasonable and isn’t completely out of my control, and if traditional publishers won’t publish what I’m writing, I am educating myself about self publishing and will make certain I’m in a good position to give that the best go I can – and that is in my control. It speaks to the D.R.E.A.M picture above – I am dedicated to my writing, I am responsible about it (making sure I do it), I educate myself to improve and find out more about the industry, all of this indicates my attitude is good and I keep myself motivated to do it by being with and talking to others with similar goals and loves.
Some of the lists I’m reading about from other writers are a good mix of goals in the person’s control and a few pie in the sky ones thrown into the mix, but some are completely made out of pie in the sky – and in my experience, these last are the people who always end up giving up. I have to say I think this is because they can’t achieve any of their goals. A new writer saying they want to become a NYT bestselling author by the end of the year when they haven’t even submitted to an editor or finished their first manuscript is perhaps a goal that isn’t going to be reached. It would be like a 40 year old who had never run before saying they were going to win the 100m at the next Olympics. Very unlikely to happen unless your fairy godmother happened by and hit you with a zap of magic that gave you the legs of a champion runner half your age.
So, when goal setting, mix some sense in amongst your dreams.
I have to admit that I’m not in the mood for setting goals for the year to come right now. The last part of last year was pretty tough on the personal front and on the professional front and it’s really left me feeling drained, however, I do feel I need to give myself something to aim for. My overall goals haven’t changed – I want to write and edit up for submission a few more books and submit them and put this on repeat until I achieve my overall goal of an established, ongoing writing career – something that does seem to be a little more achievable now than it did part way through last year because I’ve recently been nominated as Best New Author on AusRom and have also made it into the finals for Best Paranormal Romance in the ARRA (Australian Romance Reading Association) awards – so people are liking what I write. Very nice to know.
So, that will continue to be my goal for this year on the writing front – at a minimum, finish writing the Dark Moon series (I’m editing up book 3, Blood Moon at the moment and have a few chapters of book 4, Ghost Moon, written) and finish writing the romantic suspense I’m working on and submit them to my agent. At a maximum I will also finish re-editing the first book in my Seer’s Blood series and resubmit that as well. Plenty to get on with, but it is achievable and working toward the ongoing goal.
How about you? What are your goals? And when setting them, remember to D.R.E.A.M big, but also dream sensible.
I love musicals – what’s not to love – dramatic stories told to music, characters breaking into song to express deep thought and emotion. And I love fairy tales – the dark ones, the Disney light ones, the reworked ones (I’ve just watched seasons 1-3 of Once Upon a Time and enjoyed the episode of The Librarians where the fairy tale book was taking over a town), the HEA ones and the ones with ambiguous endings where the hero doesn’t always win. And I love, love, love when they come together.
I was always really disappointed that I never saw the live stage production of Into The Woods. I do like a Sondheim musical – Sweeney Todd is one of my favourites. I saw it when I was at high school and the songs from it have stayed with me ever since. So, when I found out that they’d made a movie of Into The Woods, I immediately knew I had to go.
Today I went to see it with my mum and my son. Apart from being a little long for him (the live production would have had an interval to give the audience a break and come back to the second half refreshed and excited for more – when you see it in the cinema, you don’t have this and for a child, I think it can make the musical a little hard), we all really enjoyed it. It doesn’t have any of the standout songs of Sweeney Todd. ‘Prologue/Into the Woods’ is catchy, as are ‘Children Listen’, ‘Giants in the Sky’ and ‘On the Steps of the Palace’, but none of them really stick in my mind like ‘The Ballad of Sweeney Todd’, ‘Johanna’, ‘Not while I’m around’, ‘Green Finch and Linnet Bird’, ‘Kiss Me’ and so on from Sweeney Todd. I expect people will shout me down, but when I walked out of Sweeney Todd, the music wouldn’t stop playing in my head where at the moment, I’m having trouble remembering specific tunes from Into The Wood.
However, don’t get me wrong. This lack of a memorable song for me didn’t take away from my enjoyment of it, especially because of the way they played around with the fairy stories and the consequences of the wishes that were made in the opening song. And this is why I think I am really drawn to the reworked fairy tales that are so popular at the moment – because the old stories are taken and turned on their heads so we don’t know what to expect. It makes the old, familiar stories new and exciting, taking them into the rhelm of Happy Never After, which as a romance writer, is something I can learn from.
Romance writers are supposed to always write the Happy Ever After (HEA), or at least the Happy For Now (HFN), but at the same time we have to keep the possibility of Happy Never After (HNA) in our minds – something that will most likely happen for our characters unless we do our jobs and do them well. Watching these reworked fairy tales is a way I’m finding lately that gives me inspiration to do this. I was hoping that Into the Woods would give me some inspiration today – and it definitely did.
I know they changed some of the original script – Rapunzel doesn’t die for instance (although other characters do – I’m not saying who for all those who haven’t seen it), but they do play with consequences and the fact that sometimes what we wish for doesn’t always work out the way we wanted it to – that the grass isn’t always greener. Palace life isn’t actually what Cinderella thought it would be, and marriage to a prince who has been brought up to be charming rather than sincere is certainly not the HEA she dreamed of. I loved Into the Woods because it gave all the characters their Disney HEA, but then twisted that like a Grimm tale and made the characters look beyond the final page of their stories and enter into reality (albeit with a giantess thumping around and a girl talking to and understanding birds!) And that reality was definitely not what anyone wished for or planned for or even thought they could cope with. And yet, in the end, everyone who is alive does cope and they go on – to hopefully new stories. Their simple wish at the start has been transformed into something with much deeper meaning and the two dimensionality of their lives has changed so that they are fully realised characters with more than one simple wish. They learned about the world, about themselves and their place in it and become happier within themselves as a result – which allows them to open themselves to a new, truer story.
As a writer, this is the golden egg/golden goose/golden harp triumvirate – the Goals, Motivation, Conflict resolution that brings about the only ending there could possibly be for those characters. Into The Woods is bittersweet at the end, because it does not end happily for all, but happiness is in their future and that in itself is more satisfying than the original story endings would have been. And as a writer, I can take inspiration from this to bring to my writing and make sure I am being as true to my stories and characters as possible because I am thinking about consequences and taking the story (in my head at least) beyond the HEA/HFN and thinking about the possibility of the HNA.