Strange Inspiration.

As a writer, inspiration can come from anywhere.

Last week, as my friends and I were sitting in a shopping centre food court, I watched a young boy carefully picki his nose, eating the booger, and follow it with a chicken nugget. He did this at least three times,

At a table nearby, another young boy watched too, with disbelief and horror written all across his face.

The scene amused me, and I filed a mental note about it. Did the second boy never pick his nose, I wondered, or was he just appalled by the thought of eating it?

As I was driving home, a story came to me.

It seems fitting that it is a macabre story, given that it is October and Halloween will soon be upon us.

However, when I went looking for a copyright free image of a kid with their finger up their nose, I couldn’t find a single one. You would think that with the world-wide resources of the internet at our fingertips, things like that wouldn’t be so hard to find. There were stock images available, but I generally refuse to use those because, like all Indie authors, I’m on a budget and that seems like a luxury to me.

One Facebook post later, my cousin came to the rescue. Her young son was only too happy to stick his finger up his nose for the camera, and now he’s my little hero. He loves creepy stories, so I’ve promised to write one for him. I just have to wait for a little more strange inspiration to come my way.

He’s a natural! Image by Geanette Saad. Used with permission.

I hope you enjoy The Final Blow.

Image by Geanette Saad 2019. Used with permission.

“How many times do I have to tell you not to pick your nose?”

Sam sighed. All he wanted to do was dislodge those crusty bits that stabbed the inside of his nostrils every time she made him blow into a tissue, and remained there stubbornly regardless of his efforts with the tissue. Those things hurt, and they didn’t let go on their own.The best way to remove them was gently, with his favourite finger, and then flick them into the bin.

She should just be thankful he never wanted to eat it. He didn’t understand how other kids could. Just the other day when they had gone out for lunch he had watched another boy in the restaurant eating his booger off his finger before picking up a chicken nugget and eating that. He shuddered at the thought.

“You don’t know…

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‘Good Tickle Brain’: An “excellent good friend” for exploring Shakespeare.

For Shakespeare Sunday this week, I want to share with you the wonderful work of cartoonist Mya Gosling at Good Tickle Brain. 

Mya takes the vast works of Shakespeare and condenses them into cartoons that even those with very little knowledge of Shakespeare can read, understand and appreciate.

For Shakespeare nerds like me, it presents a lot of fun and great “oh yeah!” moments. For those new to the plays or wondering what on earth the characters are saying and doing, Mya’s cartoons make the complex much more straightforward. 

This website contains a wealth of play summaries, character spotlights, analysis and audience insights. I frequently share Good Tickle Brain with my students because it really does help to make whatever play we are studying more accessible and relatable for them. 

Even if you haven’t seen or read the play Titus Andronicus — and let’s face it, most people haven’t— make sure you watch the video titled ’Titus Andronicus: All The Deaths’. The way she draws all the characters and then depicts how they died in the play is brilliant!

Also incredibly insightful is the non-Shakespeare section titled ‘Keep Calm and Muslim On’, which is Mya’s exploration of the way in which Muslims and non-Muslims get along together in American society, which I find highly relevant to Australia too.  I always enjoy seeing the simple but profound ways in which Mya breaks down the barriers and embraces the differences while still showing how similar we really all are. 

It’s a great website that holds lots of fabulous little surprises. I really hope that you’ll take a look, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do. 

How Self Publishing Improved My Mental Health

Lucy Mitchell’s experiences, as she describes in the article reblogged here, are not uncommon. Many writers, artists and musicians use their creativity to help process and deal with their mental health issues.

I share this author’s experience of gaining motivation, encouragement and purpose from writing and self-publishing my works.

Withdrawing my first book from its publisher and taking control of my publishing journey as an Indie author was incredibly empowering. Producing not just good writing but excellent books has been as source of both pleasure and pride for me, but it has also been fabulous therapy. 

Every poem I write, whether it’s about mental health or a medieval princess saving herself and taking control of her destiny is evidence of my strength and resilience, even at those times when I am not feeling particularly strong or resilient. 

The fact that I can write about my own mental health in a way that others relate to and find powerful is both liberating and encouraging. 
And every time I kill someone fictionally, it saves me bail money and keeps me out of jail because I haven’t actually laid hands on anyone. That’s a system that has worked extremely well for me so far, so I will stick with it. 

Every book I have published is testimony to my survival. This is, perhaps, most true of A Poet’s Curse, which was written indirect response to evil behaviour and nasty people. Publishing that little volume, to which I like to refer as my “dark little book of hateful poetry” really felt like I was taking my life back from those who tried to destroy me, and I celebrated it as such. 

At this point of my writing and publishing career, I can say that I am incredibly proud of what I have achieved. That in itself is positive and motivating, and encourages me to keep going. There are still a lot of ideas bubbling away, and there’s life in the old girl yet. 

And where there’s life, there’s hope. 

All of this is proof of how far I have come from those very dark times that almost destroyed me, and of my determination to never go back. 

I hope you appreciate and enjoy the insights from Lucy Mitchell as much as I did.

Reblog: How Self Publishing Improved My Mental Health by Lucy Mitchell via the I Write. I Read. I Review blog.

What I Like … and What I Don’t… About Instagram

I really like Instagram. 

It’s easy. A nice picture, a few well-chosen hashtags, and you’re done.  Scrolling through your feed and liking posts is easy too. 

Of course, there are ways you can make things more sophisticated. Adding your post to your story is relatively straightforward. You can add posts to highlights that show up in nicely organised groups on your profile. You can save posts into collections. You can follow favourite hashtags as well as individuals. 

There’s no obligation to do any of those things, so you can really keep it as simple or make it as fancy as you like. 

I really enjoy looking at other people’s creativity in pictures, so I’m right at home on Insta. I’m happy to look at their books, their cats or dogs, their holiday snaps, whatever. I love baby pictures. I enjoy memes. Some people want to post about their books all the time. Some people hardly ever post about their books. Either way, I’m cool with that. I like the fact that we all have freedom to post as we please, and we’re all able to get on and play nicely in the Insta playground. 

I like the simplicity of responding to other people’s posts. Liking is easy. Commenting is easy. 
I do occasionally think it would be nice if there were a choice of reactions like there is on Facebook. Other days, though, I consider it in terms of “a heart is a heart is a heart” and am grateful that there isn’t more value given to one response over another. 

It has been really encouraging and motivating to connect with other people with similar interests through the use of particular hashtags and “follow loops”, which are basically posts where authors or other people with common interests respond and then follow one another. I’ve found so much inspiration, and received so much encouragement and feedback, from other authors and Indie creatives on Instagram. It’s a great way to become part of a very positive and proactive creative community. 

The challenge of developing my own creative identity on Instagram has been beneficial in terms of incorporating my own style and branding so that my Instagram profile is consistently “me”. I want people to be able to look at my profile and understand something of my personality and commitment to what I do. There’s a lot more to that than “buy my book” posts. It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but well worth it in terms of consistency and style, and as a means of establishing some credibility.  

And, of course, there are things that frustrate me.
These fall into two groups: less pleasant aspects of the app itself, and my own personal peeves. 

First up: the less “user friendly” elements.  

  • Using the wrong hashtags – or more correctly, hashtags that have been abused by others, can cause your posts using those tags to be shadow banned. That’s a nerdy way of saying fewer people will see them. Don’t panic, though – there are ways to find out which tags are  thus afflicted, and so avoid using them. 
  • Scammers that look like legitimate shopfronts frequent Instagram. They’re as capable of using a pretty picture as anyone else, it seems. It pays to check out any business or site before clicking through from an Insta ad – and that’s the voice of experience talking. I got caught out once, and learned my lesson very promptly. 
  • The challenge of gaining visibility for posts. It seems that no matter how many followers I have, there’s a natural cap on how many “likes” or views my posts seem to get.  Just like Facebook – which owns Instagram – there’s an algorithm running that appears to how many of my followers see my posts. The more likes a post gets, the more visible it is to more people.  Of course, they’re quite happy to encourage me to boost my posts and pay for them to show my posts to more people. Forgive my cynicism about that, won’t you?


Secondly, my “pet peeves”:

  • Bookshelves arranged into rainbows.  I just don’t understand. I get that it’s pretty, and I like rainbows as much as anyone… but it really gives the book nerd in me enormous anxiety. Wouldn’t that mean a series of books is separated on the shelves? And how does one find anything if different genres and categories are all mixed up on the basis of the colour of their covers?  This is clearly a hard no from me. 
  • People who appear to be commenting in response to something I post, but they’re really spamming me with their own content. Ugh. That’s just rude.
  • People who follow in the hope that you’ll follow them back, and then unfollow you. Especially those who don’t just do it once. There are a couple of accounts with a really distinctive  and instantly recognisable handle that keeps on following me, then unfollowing and following again a couple of weeks later. Frankly, I wonder why they bother, but it is amusing. Do they think people aren’t going to notice that? 

The verdict: Instagram is generally a very positive and enjoyable place for me. The things I don’t like are opportunities for me to practise being a grown up and just keep scrolling past them.
It’s an Insta-heart from me. 

Pondering Promotion

One of the things I do in all the spare time I don’t have is creating book promotion for other Indie authors. 

Over the past few years, I have learned a lot about creating promotional images, writing effective tweets, putting images and text together for different platforms and using it all to put books in front of people who hopefully want to read them. 

Ironically, it’s a process that works better when you are advertising someone else’s book and not your own. If I tell a person that Charlie’s book is good, they are likely to take my words at face value. When I tell them my book is good, they tend to assume I have no idea. 

I have been pondering these things afresh while organising the preorder promo for ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’. 

Despite my obvious bias, it’s up to me to get my book seen by readers.
How can I make people want to read my book? How can I pique their interest? How can I get their attention? 

Those are the million dollar questions every author or promoter mst ask. 

The key lies in making them attractive to the target audience. An interesting story, well written and thoroughly edited, proofread, checked, formatted and checked again. A great cover that catches the eye and suits both the story and the genre. Promo images that are varied in colour and style, relevant to the story and genre, using clear and appropriate fonts. Not too wordy, and not too plain. 

Hopefully, those things will combine to have a positive effect. 
The fact is, before you can sell the book, you have to be able to sell the idea of the book. That’s why blurbs and taglines matter.  That’s why a cleverly worded tweet will sometimes have more effect than a beautifully written excerpt. 

Don’t get me wrong. A great excerpt is an effective way to win a reader, but you’ve still got to make people want to read it in the first place. 
So, for the next ten days until the book’s release date on June 14, I have prepared a bunch of teeets, some short Facebook posts, three different 16×9 promotional images ideal for Facebook and Twitter, and three square promo images for Instagram. 

There are hints but no spoilers. There is a mixture of information, humour and invitation. The hashtags are varied so that I reach more users than if I just stick to four or five basic tags. The images are different colours and styles, but all consistent with the story and genre.

Every post must have:

  • A promotional image that includes the book cover
  • Some information about the story or character
  • Clear indication of the genre
  • The link for ordering/buying the book
  • A mixture of popular and useful hashtags 

My goal is to achieve preorders for my book so that it has some sales momentum as soon as it launches, and then to continue promoting it to generate sales after that. That means creating different images, different tweets, and so on, on a regular basis. There is, after all, no such thing as “set and forget” promotion. 

***

A Rose By Any Other Name’ is available for preorder here

Cover Reveal: A Rose By Any Other Name

I mentioned in a post last week that I was anticipating the release of a new book, about which I am very excited.

The book is a medieval fantasy story called ‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ which draws on both ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Rapunzel’ as the starting points for this story before taking those narratives in a very different direction. 

And so, without any further delay, let me reveal the beautiful cover, created for me by Renee Gauthier of RM Designs in Toronto, Canada. 

The back cover is gorgeous, too.

It’s fair to say I am thrilled by the beauty of this cover art, and incredibly thankful to Renee for her fabulous work. 

This story grew out of the inspiration from my author posse, the Indie Fabs. When one of them suggested that we write a fairy tale retelling anthology as a group, I was very nervous at first. I had never written anything like that. I didn’t know where to start, or how I might ever achieve that goal. I honestly thought I was going to let them down. 
Then one of them said, “Write what you know.”  Well, I knew all the old fairy tales that I had grown up with. And I knew and loved Shakespeare. 
And in that moment, this story concept was born. 

‘A Rose By Any Other Name’ took its place in that anthology, titled ‘Once Upon A Fabulous Time’ and published in 2017. It truly is an anthology unlike any other – far more than just a collection of our reinvented and often significantly transformed fairy tale stories, those stories were linked with one another by another separate, magical story that wove them all into one continuous narrative. Because it is such a very special book, it is still available in paperback, but no longer as an ebook. As a result, my story is back in my hands and free to be released as an individual title.

It is available for preorder, and will be released at 12.01am EST on June 14. 

Make sure you’re following me on Twitter or Facebook so that you are able to reserve your copy. 

For Those who Prefer Bookish Treats for Easter

If you’d like a bookish Easter treat for Easter,
you’re welcome to join in the

Sparkly Badgers’ Easter Egg Hunt

All you have to do is start here, find the egg hidden on each blog or website, arrange the letters, and follow the instructions to claim an ebook of your choice from the organisers.

The hunt officially begins on Good Friday.

One winner will receive a lovely Easter gift which includes chocolate and a copy of each book on offer.

For more information, see the Sparkly Badgers’ Easter Egg Hunt page on Facebook.

Poem: ‘Loveliest of trees, the cherry now’ by A.E. Housman

This poem is perfect for sharing just a few days before Easter, being the time of the year when it is set.

A.E Housman’s ‘A Shropshire Lad’ is a relatively small volume of poetry that he self-published in 1896, containing some really lovely poetry and delightful imagery such as that we see in this poem, the second in that collection.

While the poet is young – twenty years old – and acknowledges that he probably still has fifty years ahead of him, his life expectancy is framed in terms of only fifty more opportunities in his life to see such a beautiful tree. That’s why he’s going to take every opportunity to observe the beauty around him while he can.

This brings to mind the Latin phrase made popular by the film ‘Dead Poet’s Society’: carpe diem! Sieze the day!

The poem is a great reminder to embrace the joys we find in life while we can, and to make the most of our opportunities to stop and smell the… blossoms.  

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

That certainly lays to rest the popular misconception that Indie poets are somehow lesser than others, doesn’t it?

Poem: Just Imagine.

Just Imagine.  

Just imagine a world 
Where more people read poetry 
Instead of giving breath 
To things that divide and cause fear.

Imagine a world
Where more people picked up a pen
Than a gun or a sword
Or even a lawyer.

Imagine a world
Where poets were the dealers
That troubled souls turned to for a hit;
Where people self-medicated with poetry 
Rather than drugs or alcohol 
To help them deal 
With their demons;
Where addiction brought life and hope, 
Mindfulness and restoration
To the broken,
The hurting,
The needy.

Imagine a world 
Where everyone knew and understood 
That they are not alone, 
That someone understands, 
That they are enough.

Just imagine. 

©2019 Joanne Van Leerdam

The Phoenix Project

Image courtesy of Phoenix Project

Phoenix Project is a new and very exciting series of community events coming to my home town of Cobden, Victoria.

Phoenix Project really is the perfect name. Almost a year ago, Cobden, Camperdown, Terang, and much of the surrounding area was either destroyed or threatened by bushfires. Homes and livestock were lost – but miraculously, no lives. Our town, and those others nearby, emerged covered in soot and smelling of smoke, but determined to recover and keep on going as we always have done before. 

That’s something I’ve had to do in my own life, too. I’ve been through some pretty tough seasons when it felt like my life was burning down around me. Yet I’ve emerged, covered in soot, and smelling of smoke and… you get the idea. As I observed last night, I’m a bit of a phoenix myself.

There’s no doubt the fires were an absolutely awful experience for everyone involved. But we got through it.

And those hard times in my life – I’ve come out braver and stronger than I’ve ever been. Well – mentally and emotionally, at least. My spine would tell you a different story.

I was very privileged to be one of the featured artists on the opening night of The Phoenix Project, alongside outstanding blues musician Alister Turril and Josh and Yas, spoken word artists from lowercase poetry in Geelong.

I shared some of the poems from ‘Smoke and Shadows’ that I wrote during and after the St Patrick’s Day fires, followed by some of my fantasy style poems because I didn’t want my bracket to be too heavy or confronting for a largely local audience. 

The poems I shared all focused one way or another on the idea of resilience, and  getting through the trials of life stronger and wiser than on the way in. 

It was a great night. The music was cool, the poetry was powerful and thought-provoking, and the tone of the evening was 100% positive. 

Phoenix Project continues this weekend with a great lineup of musicians and artists to feed the soul of everyone who comes along. 

Details of coming events can be found on the Phoenix Project Facebook page