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Every good novel begins with an outline. Doesn't it?

Of course it does. I mean, how else are you going to get all your characters worked out and ironed out and written out just like they should be? Everyone knows that a good novel needs a good structure, good characterization, good plot line, good setting...and the only way to get that right is a good outline. Isn't it?

So, always willing to learn new skills, Yours Truly set off to create The Outline. I wasn't going to write a word until I had it just so. I would be ordered, disciplined, super-duper-efficient and ever so creative. Two cups of hot chocolate, a coffee, three glasses of fruit juice, lunch, and (I think) four glasses of wine found me staring at a blank page. I'd filled it three times, honest. (What would we writers do without highlight delete - or, as my daughter would say when first learning computer skills: "quick unpick". Yes, her mother did a lot of sewing back then.)

It was, I believe, one of the most desperate moments of my life. You are a writer. You talk to characters while falling asleep and watch them while waking up. You live snatches of dialogue while waiting for the kettle to boil. You play the "what-if" game with imaginary people while chopping the veges, and listen intently while your cat offers amazingly perceptive insights into which of said characters is doing what and why...

And you can't write an outline?

I poured another glass of wine (we grow some really good wines, here in South Africa) and pondered the ridiculousness of it all. I had it, there in my head - no, you cannot mistake a veritable multitude of characters tromping around in such a confined space. So what is the problem?

It took quite a while - along with a magnificent sunset, a cuddle with a distinctly smug and supercilious cat, and another glass of wine (this time with a snack - I thought it wise) to discover the obvious.

Outlines are not me.

When I say my characters tromp, it means they tromp. Noisily. They do not gracefully surrender to predetermined plot lines. Nor do they suffer being relegated to types or stereotypes or even roles. They live, love, hate, cry, laugh, make mistakes and, ultimately, they act, react and evolve. They reveal themselve bit by bit, and sometimes they surprise me. Actually, they're a lot like me...

It occurred to me that I hate (to the point of "never!") work uniforms. I wear what I want, when I want, how I want, and no one is ever going to squash me into something I wouldn't ordinarily be seen dead in. (Yes, this post is about writing in general, and outlines in particular.) But, I do check the weather every day. No point in freezing my butt off just because I can. It's about what's appropriate to the setting. Hmmm. Interesting thought. So maybe the outline is not appropriate to the setting? Or the characters? Maybe not to the story itself?

Maybe I am someone who cannot outline what I have not "lived". Does that make me a "bad writer?" I'm not sure. All I know is that writing an outline made me no writer at all. So I decided to put it to the test. Delete file. Open new document. Chapter 1. 10 989 words (and no wine) later I was happy as can be. My cat had taken herself off to the electric blanket (no anxious hovering), my characters were yelling for attention, and my plot was weaving itself most enthusiastically. The defence rests, Your Honour.

So, for those of us weird writer types who find the muse going off on an outline-induced vacation when we think we need them most, take comfort. There are those who outline to great success, and there are those who don't. If you are one of the don'ts, do yourself a favour and try it. Just once. Just to be sure. You never know, you may actually find it works for you. If it doesn't, don't beat yourself up over it. There is nothing in The Great Big Rule Book of the Writer Universe that says you have to Write By Outline. Live the story. Feel the story. Take that one little string of words and let your imagination loose...

The boy huddled miserably in the bolthole he'd found behind the oldest tomb, where the rough stone of the wall had crumbled enough for him to wedge himself into the hollow. It was a small space, and damp besides. This deep into the sepulchre, few people bothered to check the walls of the old structure. In truth, few people ever ventured this far, for the burial place of Asalaine's kings was a dank and gloomy place and most like haunted by the royal spectres of those who were no more.

He'd come the first time looking for those ghosts. He had hoped that perhaps they could instil in him the things he so obviously lacked. Courage, for one. He had crept into the sacred place like a trembling rabbit, starting at every imagined sound, expecting that any moment one or other of his valiant ancestors would emerge from the darkness.

But they hadn't, and after waiting forever he'd given himself up to curiosity and the secret pleasure of being alone and safe in the darkness where nobody came.

Until today. At first the boy had thought that the dead had indeed risen to chastise him, and he had stood, frozen in fear, while his eyes searched the shadows. Then he'd realised that the voices were known. And hated. And feared more than the dead. That was when he'd tried to flee, but they were within and all he could do was burrow into his hidey-hole and pray.

The muse is happy. The cat is happy. And, most of all, the writer is exceedingly happy. Oh Joy! Adventure beckons.

Outline be damned... this is ME!

Take care, and enjoy the ride,



hayfields rainbowTwo Sundays ago I took part in a celebration... of grief and hope and something way bigger. It's taken a while for me to find the courage to speak it.

On 24th December 2012, my brother (in-law, but real brother in all ways that count) lost a long battle with brain tumors and left a huge hole in the space he once filled. And oh, how he filled it, that lion among men, true "patriarch" with wisdom and courage and the easy confidence of a true gentleman.

We gathered on "his" hillside to drink a toast to Willy, with an ache in our hearts and a sense of vast, raw loss - a family come to grieve together, the hurt still raw a year down the line, on an early summer day filled with bright sunshine and quiet beauty.

And no, the rainbow wasn't there. But in my mind it shone bright and clear. Little Amy, Will's granddaughter, was with us. Just a week old, the beautiful baby girl slept on, oblivious to all. Born a week earlier by ceasarian section, her due date had been... 24th December. A sign, I believe, of hope, a gift of life in grief, like a precious rainbow shining through the tears.

It was a painful, poignant moment for me, a mirror of my own long journey through pain and loss and grief. I lost my husband, Will's brother, Gary, also to cancer, sixteen and a half long years ago. And I learned something yesterday - actually a few somethings, which humbled me a little but also made the rainbow a little brighter for me.


through pain

Lastly I learned that there are wounds that never heal. WE heal. Standing on that hillside, the loss of Will large and poignant, I felt the other pain, the losing of Gary as fresh and raw as if it had been only yesterday. I realised that my today strength comes not from "losing" yesterday's pain, but from living around it. It will be there always, real and lasting, as much a part of who I am as the hope and the joy and moments that are to come. "Getting over it" means forgetting it. "Getting though it" means acceptance - an acknowledgement that it will always be there in some part of me, that it will surface here and there and make me ache a little with the loneliness of it.

I was reminded of my tribute to Gary which is included in the "Heartscapes" anthology, and the moment of acceptance it brought me. Looking back, as I read it once again, I'm reminded that acceptance is hope, a truth that exists far beyond the pain, an acknowledgment that the gift of love outweighed the pain of loss. If I could choose, I'd go through it all over again.

"Yes, the way was hard, sometimes. And so often you would thank me for the little things. And you would tell me you were so glad you had found me and that I had touched your life. But, looking back, I see that if I did, in some small way, touch your life, it was because you loved me. And, in giving me the joy of loving you, my life was touched, and healed, and changed. Though the ache in my heart is as great as the space you filled, still I can be content. Because, for just a little while, I held in my hand the most precious gift of all, and I know, in a place much deeper than the sadness, that if I'd known what was to come, I'd have done it anyway.

To my family:  Rainbow Ahead - Hang in there!


Heartscapes - True Stories of Remembered Love is available at:





horse postWell, here we go again! Nothing quite like being hacked to change one's perspective. The temptation is, of course, to moan and mutter and gnash my teeth, and I confess to a somewhat colorful stream of creative appelations for the cyber-jackers in unguarded moments.

The fact is, though, it's pointless staying mad, if for no other reason than the fact that it's pandering to their sense of power. If the truth be told, now that I've got over the initial disbelief, I feel very sorry for them. Clearly they don't have a life if they have to get their jollies by violating others, just because they can. It's really quite sad.

The upside of all of this is that I get a "do-over", just when my three books are due for re-release. So yes, while it's a pain to be back at the beginning, it's also a good opportunity to change a few things and make some improvements.

I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, just be patient with me while I sift through the cyber-wreckage.

Take care,