A whole new group

Today I’ve hosted my first WriteSpace Retreat in partnership with Writers Victoria and it’s been fantastic.

I’ve met 12 new writers who are busy working on all sorts of projects – lunchtime introductions revealed that we’re in the company of a detective, an accountant and a Human Rights professional (who’s writing crime). We have parents of young children enjoying a rare solid block of time to write and a writer who pledged to read more and swear less in 2016.

Covering all bases and genres, I think if we tallied up the word count of new text, transcriptions from messy notebooks and copy edits we’d have at least one full (and very interesting) manuscript.

Funnily enough I think that this day has been as valuable for me as I hope it has been for my guests. Anything that gets me talking writing and typing again is wonderful. And thanks to my gorgeous partner it’s been pretty good eating as well.

Looking forward to next time and in the meantime, happy writing!




Not the naughty kid…

Thoughts from Emily Spurr after her first WriteSpace Retreat:

1. WriteSpace Retreat starts early on a Sunday morning. When you were on your way there, how were you feeling? What were you looking forward to?
I was mainly working out how I was best going to get there after getting on the train and realising as it was a Sunday, it would not be going to Spencer St!
I’m not big on ruminating over something I’m about to do before I do it. I prefer to plan and then just do. I’d planned the week before how I wanted to use the time and what my goals were, I’d packed my bag the night before, so really, once I’d worked out my amended itinerary, I just enjoyed the peace of walking through Melbourne on a clear Sunday morning. Which, by the way, was bliss.

2. How did you go? I claim that it is amazing what you can achieve in a day – did you feel satisfied with how much you wrote that day?
Definitely. I’d planned to get from point E to G in my ms and to roughly sketch out the scenes to finish. And I did that. I would have given myself a high five for a couple thousand good words, so getting 4,000 down was really satisfying!

3. How did I go? I think that coffee, tea and hearty food are important to fuel a writing day – did you enjoy what was provided, and was there enough?
Food, delicious. Just the right amount of yummy treats (homemade bickies!) and fresh brain food (soup, toasty wraps) good coffee, relaxing tea, all delivered and offered unobtrusively and with uncanny timing.

4. I describe WriteSpace Retreat as “It is work. It’s also a retreat.” How would you fill in the gaps? It is [INSERT]. It’s also a [INSERT]
It’s space and time. And the space isn’t just the space itself, which was lovely, but the head space too. To be in a room where everyone is writing, to have permission to focus on nothing else, and a whole day to do so, well, it was invaluable for me. It also creates the added incentive of not wanting to be the ‘naughty kid’, with all those keyboards clacking, you don’t want to let that vibe down. The focus in the room was great.

Emily Spurr is a writer who once did not appreciate the luxury of time. She thought working or study (or both) were adequate reason for the fluctuations in her productivity relating to her own works. There was all the time in the world to finish them… Then she had two kids, at the same time. Making time became a struggle and concurrently an absolute essential requisite for sanity. Half an hour three times a week became a really lucky week. The hunger to finish the current project became a roar.
As well as being a hungry writer and the mother of twins, Emily is a development editor working in educational publishing. She is looking forward to completing her novel this year.  The gods of toddler naps and writing retreats permitting.

Lunchtime listen: Death By Dim Sim

This month we’ll enjoy Sarah Vincent reading an extract from her memoir, ‘Death By Dim Sim,’ which is being published by Penguin Random House in March 2017.

Beginning her writing life as a playwright, Sarah’s plays have been performed professionally in Australia and travelled to Athens and Edinburgh. Since changing her focus to prose, she was invited to a memoir-writing week at Varuna in 2014 and was accepted into the Hardcopy program run by ACT Writers in 2015.

Sarah has appeared on festival panels and run workshops discussing many aspects of the writing and publishing process, including taking the leap from short fiction to a full-length book and finding support available to writers.

I’m really looking forward to hearing Sarah read from her memoir, and then we’ll have to let her get back to writing her next project, a detective novel called ‘The Fake Detective’ after lunch.

Look out and listen

Look – WriteSpace Retreat is on Instagram, and loving it.
IMG_1396Today’s pic is the before shot of the Platform at Donkey Wheel House. On Sunday the room will be set up for a day of writing and eating. I’m looking forward to meeting my first-time guests as well as catching up with some familiar faces. If we feel like a Lunchtime Listen I’ve chosen a short clip from…well I’ll keep that quiet until afterwards.

At our next date, Sunday 17th July, we’ll have a Lunchtime Listen with laughs. One of our writers will read from her upcoming memoir and I’ll be asking guests if they’d like to bring a paragraph or piece of flash that’s made them laugh.

Interested? Get in touch to find out more or to book your place at WriteSpace Retreat. Jen


On the table

FullSizeRender-3I bring a collection of reading material to WriteSpace Retreat, a range of books and journals that might be used for inspiration, a lesson or a well-deserved break.

Each retreat is different and I love looking after writers working on such a variety of projects. This month we have some new faces joining the group and I’m looking forward to learning more about them and their writing.

Some of the books on the table will be:
‘Wasted’ by Kate Tempest. If you missed her talking with Maxine Beneba Clarke at The Wheeler Centre last week, you don’t have to miss out. The podcast is almost as good as being in the performance space.
‘Writing Without A Parachute, The Art of Freefall’ by Barbara Turner-Vesselago. One of our regulars has enjoyed a couple of productive retreats hosted by this writing teacher – this print version of her freefall approach had me writing freely before I’d even finished the Introduction.
‘Dialogue’ by Lewis Turco. It’s always good to spend some time focused on one aspect of writing, and I think this can be one of the hardest. Besides, playing around with dialogue might lead to something you could enter in the Bartleby Snopes Dialogue Only Writing Contest which opened for submissions today.
‘Womankind’ magazine. This was recommended to me by one of the writers at a Women Who Write Melbourne catch up a couple of weeks ago. I’m looking forward to a few pages with a fresh coffee in the afternoon.

What else should be on a reading table for writers?

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Stephen King.


Hot Desks

Earlier this week I worked at the final 2015 Next Big Thing event for The Wheeler Centre. This was a night for 5 of the Hot Desk Fellows to read an extract from the work they’ve been developing during their 2 month residency. It was also, as they said, a time to catch up with each other. Although their desks were side by side, each writer has used their time to focus on their own project. Sure there were the hellos and how are yous, typical of any office or work environment, but that was usually about it. This was time to work.

Hearing this really reminded me of the Sundays that I’ve spent feeding and watching WriteSpace Retreat writers. I’ve tweeted and posted about how productive, and quiet, they are, and I think it’s something we should keep celebrating.

While I love using this quote as a fallback sometimes –

“What no wife of a writer can ever understand is that a writer is working when he’s staring out of the  window.”   Burton Rascoe

– the five (all female incidentally) writers that we heard from sat at desks that face a blank wall.

Listening to the scripts and stories from these women I thought about the retreats I’ve hosted this year and came to the conclusion that just being around, but not distracted by, other writers, even in a plain, functional space, can be just what you need to do hard work that yields tangible results.

I’m looking forward to meeting more writers and watching you work in 2016.

Keep writing


And if you want to read about how the evening inspired me to get back to my keyboard, I wrote about it here.

Write. Just Write.

Sometimes I cringe when I see a headline that has anything to do with writing tips. There is no shortcut or secret that will make it easier or a guaranteed success, whatever your definition of that is. But sometimes insights from writers resonate and motivate and need to be stuck on a post-it at your desk or saved as a screen saver or tattooed on your hand.

In The Stinging Fly’s publication of the six prize-winning stories from the 2014 Davy Byrnes Short Story Award, they included an Author’s Note for each piece. Two of these talk about the process of writing the story as well as what it’s about –

Julian Gough – ‘Harvest’
“One morning, I decided I’d write a story, because I hadn’t for a while. I sat down, and asked my subconscious, which is always composting experience into material, to give me something…”
“I’m very happy with how it turned out. But I’m still not entirely sure who wrote it.”

Colm McDermott – ‘Absence’
“When I started writing the story I’d no idea where it was going. All I knew was that I wanted to write about a woman stripped of the things which, in her mind, made her a woman…”
“In the end, the story became about endurance. A person’s need to go on and their ability to go on, despite everything. Since I was on the road so much, and could only cobble together a few hundred words at a time, the story was written in this spirit, a spirit of defiance, a refusal on my part to stop writing until I’d wrung the whole thing out.”

Not only have these writers given us stories that are beautiful, powerful and enduring, they’ve also shown that there is no better tip than this: Write. Just Write.


As a reader my main love is language. I’m more likely to fall for a writer whose work, like music, values rhythm and arrangement more than a writer who relies heavily on plot.

Simon van Booy consistently makes me feel like I have to sit down and stop everything else and just be in this world for a while:

“This morning I woke up and was fifteen years old. Each year is like putting a new coat over all the old ones. Sometimes I reach into the pockets of my childhood and pull things out.”

‘Little Birds’ in The Secret Lives of People in Love

I love Eva Lomski’s use of short and incomplete sentences to set tone and show action with such control:

Sun seared her eyes. At the eucalypt grove, he disappeared. For a second, she was confused. A chink. Her brain reactivated. Metal snap of a trap. Cried out. He was there, standing over her, springy as a jockey, lifting a shovel to waist-height. Black.”

‘The Trapper’ in Lost Boy and other stories (edited by Estelle Tang)

No amount of refining, drafting and killing darlings will help most of us develop a voice like these writers, but that shouldn’t stop us playing with structure and word choice to see what effects we can create.

Continue reading

The MWF prompt

This year Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) is celebrating its 30 year anniversary. I remember first going to the festival at The Malthouse, on my own, about 25 years ago. I was a closet writer, scratching angst poetry in a notebook that I stashed in a far corner of my cupboard and thought that no-one knew about.

The session that I remember the most, the one that made me really think that I want to be a writer, was a conversation with David Malouf. I can’t remember who interviewed him, or if there was a release to celebrate or a theme to discuss, but I do remember coming out of there blown away by the feeling that, for the first time, I knew what I wanted to do.

I had a few false starts at the writing life but only recently made the move to saturate myself, my work and my time in the writing world. I’m committed to far more than my own writing and have never been happier.

One of the things that Malouf talked about, the idea that I so often come back to, was a writer’s power to control time. Who else can make a morning last a chapter or a decade pass in a paragraph? If you’ve heard him speak I’m sure that you can hear the gentle way he would articulate this and other aspects of the writing life that he called a privilege. For a 17-year-old who couldn’t wait to leave school but was overwhelmed at what that might lead to, this man and this hour was my own session where time lapsed didn’t reflect the duration, or impact, of this experience at all.

I thought of what he’d said when I read ‘Poem’ a decade later:

“You move by contradictions:
out of a moment
of silence far off
in Poland or January
you smile and your body
returns to my touch.”

MWF has always been ‘for readers’ but it’s now expanded to include such a diverse reading, thinking and international community. That said, I’ll probably still drift to the “traditional” sessions (including both of Malouf’s) and will no doubt come out of one with an urgent need to find a table or a bar stool in a noisy MWF space and scribble something that feels important to capture.

Because I’ll be attending or volunteering at a lot of the festival there won’t be a WriteSpace Retreat in August, but for those of you who, like me, come away from these events inspired, the next one isn’t far away.

Enjoy the festival and happy writing. Jen


9am on a foggy Monday morning. Emails, Twitter and weather forecast all checked – it’s time to start the week.

If you haven’t come across it already, Paul McVeigh’s blog is a fabulous source of opportunities, interviews and free reading . With a background that includes short stories, writing for radio and comedy stand-ups, as well as recently launching his debut novel, Paul’s wide writing experience and interests are reflected in his blog that reaches writers of all different genres and forms across the globe.

Are you in planning mode and wondering how you’re going to get your first or final draft ready for a deadline?

Maybe one of the dates listed here will help. I’d love to look after you and help you to achieve your goal.