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The Shape of Writing

Posted by on Oct 30, 2014 in Busybird | 0 comments

wordsHere’s a writing exercise to try before this blog unfolds in earnest: write a scene in which your protagonist comes home and finds the corpse of their beloved partner lying in a pool of their own blood.

Try it.

See how you go.


As writers, we have a number of tools at our disposal to tell our story. Our primary tools are words. We find the right word to fit what we want to say. The right combination of words in a sentence conveys an idea. Sentences unfold in paragraphs, paragraphs into pages, pages into chapters – and on and on we go to create our world into which, if we do it right, we suck the reader.

But something we need to give thought to is how we shape our words, our, sentences, our paragraphs, etc. It’s easy to obey the laws of English as a guideline, but sometimes we need to manipulate it to serve our needs, and thus the needs of our story.

Again, let’s go back to the original premise: your protagonist finds their partner dead.

You may try something like this:

    He came into the kitchen, then stopped. Gloria lay on the floor, her body twisted unnaturally, blood pooling from a wound to her head, her temple indented like her skull had collapsed.

That would be the simplest way of writing a scene like this, but is this scene in any way distinguished from the rest of the narrative? Presumably, it flows as normal, even though our character is now in an extraordinary and shocking situation. Imagine you were in this situation. Would your digestion of what’s going on flow normally, like all you were doing was going out to pick up the morning paper from the veranda?

In all likelihood, you’d be in shock. Your mind would be overwhelmed, unable to process what’s happening the way it might normally. With this being the case we need to convey a similar disconnectedness in our narrative.

    He came into the kitchen. Stopped. Gloria. Lay on the floor. Body twisted. Blood. So much blood. Pooling from her temple.

Note the difference – now, we’re using short, sharp sentences to illustrate the way the protagonist takes in the scene. Even the word choice is important. Do you go for something fancy? Or something simple, if not blunt? The choices you make here determine the impact your writing makes in this situation.

Here (in our example), everything jars. He sees specifics, like flashes of cognition. Through this, we get that his perception has changed, and it demonstrates the shock of what’s occurring, as well as provides a contrast from the rest of the narrative.

Good narrative takes the reader on a ride through the story. If it’s done well, the reader won’t know they’re on a ride. They’ll just follow the prompts unthinkingly, and in following the prompts unthinkingly you’ll create for them the world of your story.

Every now and again, though, the ride may need to change its course or pacing – like a rollercoaster. A rollercoaster that kept going up, or only went down, or only ran straight, would soon get boring. So you have peaks and troughs, which helps build anticipation or provides a burst of excitement.

Think about how you shape your narrative, as it controls the ride you’re taking your reader on. Life isn’t a singular-paced ride. Sometimes, it’s nothing but fragments. Other times it might run long and uninterrupted. Just as life has ups, downs, and rhythms, you can impress the same cadences into your narrative just by the way you shape your words and sentences.


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P17 Issue 11 Reflections – Tom O’Connell and Jacob Edwards

Posted by on Oct 28, 2014 in Our Books | 0 comments

Reflections #4The P17 launch date is fast approaching – not long now until the latest issue of page seventeen is available!

It’s an open invitation to come on down to our launch event and open mic night at the Busybird workshop – 2/118 Para Rd, Montmorency – from 7pm onwards on 19 November.

In the meantime, a couple more of the Issue 11 contributors have offered a little more insight into what went into the latest P17 edition.


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Tom O’Connell on ‘The reunion’

My inspirations for ‘The reunion’ are threefold.

Firstly, this story was written in response to the Murakami short ‘All God’s children can dance’, wherein a young man, lied to about his supposed birth by Immaculate Conception, searches for his true biological father. The search culminates on an empty baseball diamond, a final image which has remained with me.

Years ago, I took regular evening walks around the streets of Northcote. On these walks, I often passed sporting grounds where local AFL teams had their weeknight training sessions. During training, the stands and grounds would be empty. The field would be lit, but only coaches and a dozen or so players were present. (I love how this contrasts the bustle of Game Day. Empty sporting grounds are so serene.)

One night, I noticed a hooded figure watching the boys train. The stands were unlit, so he was shrouded in darkness. I passed another night and he was there again. He came regularly. No one paid him any notice. He was probably one of the boys’ fathers, but that didn’t stop me turning over the possibilities. What if he was a spy, or homeless, or generally unhinged? (Amusingly, an earlier draft emphasised this angle.) The idea developed and he became an absentee father.

Finally, I suppose this story was written, in part, to satisfy an innate curiosity about my biological father, whom I have no relationship with. Paternal bonds often figure into my fiction, though never usually this explicitly.

Tom O’Connell is a writer, editor and tea-enthusiast. He is currently studying for a Bachelor of Writing and Publishing and has been published in [untitled], n-SCRIBE, Vine Leaves and Crack the Spine. Follow his writing at artofalmost.wordpress.com.


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Jacob Edwards on ‘Parking only’

On deck for the Hilton shanty

Sometimes poetry sprouts like a plant captured in time-lapse, starting out from a single, hidden seed and shooting up while clouds flit skittishly overhead. The bud eventually blossoms into something bearing little resemblance to its progenitor. On other occasions poetry just sails in from life’s oceans, then has to be picked apart and carefully reassembled within the poetic confines of whatever bottle you choose to preserve it in.

‘Parking only’ is of this latter type. It is a true story, and one that struck me as peculiar enough to warrant a place on the mantelpiece, rather than entrusting it solely to memory’s keeping. We did indeed book a room at the Hilton (I was told, after the transaction was made but before we arrived) with some fanciful notion of running into Richard Dawkins in the lobby. He did, through dint of happenstance, check in right next to us; and, due to an ongoing kerfuffle about ‘accessible’ bathrooms, we did nearly allow him to pull off a Mr Snuffleupagus and slip by unnoticed. The confusion, which for me at least remains ongoing, stems from the Hilton’s apparent reluctance to use the word ‘wheelchair’ in conjunction with ‘accessible’. If anything were to be found offensive, I’d have thought it would be the act of omission, as per disabled parking only. What do they have against wheelchairs, I wondered, that they would excise the term and render the phrase nonsensical? Thus a thought came to be bottled.

Jacob Edwards writes creative and academic non-fiction, short stories, reviews and poetry, and has appeared in journals, magazines and anthologies in Australia, New Zealand, England, Canada and the US. He lives in Brisbane with his wife and son, and may be found online (conspicuously not blogging) at www.jacobedwards.id.au.

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Posted by on Oct 23, 2014 in Busybird | 0 comments

joffabobbleSeveral months ago, we were sitting on the veranda (of the Busybird Studio ~ Gallery) having lunch and talking about football, when the topic of Joffa came up.

If you follow the AFL, even loosely, you’ll know that Joffa is a member of the Collingwood Cheer Squad, and when it looks as if Collingwood’s won the game, he’ll put on a gold jacket to celebrate the victory. During Collingwood games, cameras will often cut to Joffa for a reaction, particularly if Collingwood isn’t doing too well.

The public perception of Joffa – at least from those who don’t know him – is he’s an inarticulate, loud-mouthed bogan. Actually, Joffa suffers on two fronts: one, the personal stereotyping people impose on him simply by virtue of appearance and, two, because of the stereotyping applied to Collingwood supporters in general.

This was a matter that came up during lunch, and Kev and Blaise – the co-owners of Busybird, as well as supporters of the Hawthorn Football Club – were also curious about his public image. I’d met Joffa in 2001, and had sporadic contact with him pre-game for a couple of years, and then enough to exchange a ‘hello’ and a bit of a chat during games if I bumped into him, and I explained (to Kev and Blaise) that the Joffa who’s portrayed in the media doesn’t reconcile with the real person, and media play up the hoon angle because it makes for better copy.

Kev remarked that he’d recently read an article about Joffa, which talked about his early life where he’d been homeless, and that he now did a lot of charitable work, so it sounded like he had an interesting life. Blaise commented it was surprising nobody had done a book with him, a biography, and then suggested that was something we could maybe approach him about.

It was only a few days later that Joffa came into the studio to talk about the possibility of the book. His concerns were the ability to tell his story in a medium as big as an autobiography, admitting he could be repetitive, and that grammar and punctuation weren’t amongst his best assets, and, more importantly, that he would appear egotistical.

The nature of the book that Busybird wanted to pursue with Joffa was about more than football and the Collingwood Football Club, although obviously they would appear in it by virtue of Joffa’s association with both. But everybody has a story to tell, and Joffa’s life is about more than football, involving a number of elements (abusive upbringing, homelessness, a daughter who has epilepsy) that would appeal to any readers interested in a completely human story.

One of the agreements of the book was that 10% of proceeds would go to the Epilepsy Foundation. At Busybird, several of our books have altruistic outcomes, with a portion of proceeds being donated to various causes, so it was helpful that Joffa felt that a book about him could contribute to helping those with epilepsy (outside of the other charitable work he does himself, that is).

As an aside, we met with the Epilepsy Foundation about the book, who spoke glowingly about Joffa’s involvement with them, his capacity to engage with people, and his fundraising, working tirelessly and uncomplainingly, and often refusing reimbursement for expenses. It’s a far cry from the public image of Joffa, or from the way many would want to portray him.

In any case, a diffident Joffa left that first meeting about whether he could carry out the task. We’re not sure what happened in the ensuing days, but an excited Joffa contacted us not long afterward, eager to tackle the undertaking. Since, he’s steadily delivered chapters, ranging from being about his life to being about football. Our interns have been sorting through the material before it goes to editing, and have been moved by some of the events of Joffa’s life.

The book will be launched in May 2015, but we would like everybody to know that we have a crowd-funding campaign up at Pozible: Joffa Pozible Campaign. The work and expense that goes into a book is not something to be underestimated, and pledges come with great rewards. We also have a Joffa page up on our website now, too: Joffa Book Page.

Keep a look out for ‘Joffa’.


Postscript: You can now subscribe to the Busybird blog, which means you can have our blogs emailed directly to you. Just enter your email address in the light-blue ‘Sign up for the Busybird Blog’ subscription box in the sidebar and his Subscribe!

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P17 Issue 11 Reflections – Maggie Veness, A E Cochrane and Eril Riley

Posted by on Oct 21, 2014 in Our Books | 0 comments

Reflections #3It’s now less than a month until we unleash the latest page seventeen upon the world. Don’t forget, Issue 11 is available from November 19!

In the meantime, some of the Issue 11 contributors have a little more to share on what went into their latest work.

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Maggie Veness on ‘Cicada’

While I’m not a big fan of science fiction I enjoy reading Vonnegut – I admire the way the ordinary and the fantastic sit together so comfortably in his stories. His posthumously published collection, Look at the Birdie, inspired me to write a story where genres overlapped.

The shorter the story the less time a writer has to develop a character, and dialogue helps enormously to reveal character. However, when we meet my young protagonist, Ali, she doesn’t have the ability to speak. While this meant I needed to work hard on the narrative, the old adage ‘actions speak louder than words’ also came to the fore.

As both reader and writer I enjoy left-of-centre endings. Although Ali’s life is harsh and dismal she doesn’t have a mean bone in her body. I wanted Ali to maintain her gentle persona but still give her story a take that ending.

The way we process ideas at a subconscious level is wonderfully odd, and this sci-fi newcomer had to come up with something more original than little green men! Fortunately, the physical form of the other-worldly characters who rescue Ali seemed to assemble independent of me.

The feedback I’ve received about Cicada is humbling and inspirational. I’m no historian, nor creative writing university graduate; I’m someone who fell in love with writing, who writes in order to explore the human condition. I hope to remain as curious and grateful as I am right now.

Comments welcome: maggies_place_@hotmail.com (please type P17 in the subject line.)

Maggie Veness’s quirky, contemporary stories often challenge categorisation. Her knack for placing cogent characters in situations rarely talked about makes for compelling reading. With countless stories now in print across seven countries, she continues to work toward a published collection of her own. She lives on the northern coast of NSW.


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A E Cochrane on ‘The story of who I am’

My poem is a musing on the ultimate pointlessness of stories. We are obsessed with them, but in the end we are not our stories, they just get in the way of who we are.

I wrote this poem while walking down St Kilda Road. The first stanza is about the Shrine, the second about the Arts Centre, the third about Government House, the forth about the office blocks and the fifth is the Odyssey in the Botanic Gardens.

A E Cochrane works as a technician backstage at various theatres around Melbourne.


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Eril Riley on ‘Onshore, offshore, unsure’

What propels people to escape their homeland and risk their life seeking asylum in another country? The notion perplexes as much as it does disturb. To feel the necessity to flee and leave all that is familiar, including loved ones, is difficult to comprehend and in writing Onshore, Offshore, Unsure, I aimed to travel as an asylum seeker.

To experience sufficient fear, terror and angst that one would risk one’s life and often the life of children, is almost unimaginable to those who are fortunate enough to reside here in Australia. To endure weeks, months or years of uncertainty whilst moving through various countries not knowing if the destination would ever be reached, must certainly attack the hinges of one’s sanity. The journey is fraught – physically, psychologically and emotionally. It is one that requires resilience, determination and desperation. One begins onshore, navigates offshore and is always unsure of one’s fate.

Living within a sneeze of the Dandenong Ranges offers sustenance and inspiration for writing – an innate drive for Eril Riley, who retired from cartooning to concentrate on the written word. Several awards have prompted manic keyboard pirouetting.

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Working on the Other Side of the Globe

Posted by on Oct 16, 2014 in Busybird | 1 comment


One of the dangers Emma has to contend with in Australia – gigantic spiders.

One year ago my teacher told me to apply for work experience because everyone in Germany has to work for a few weeks at a company to gain some experience. I wanted to do my work experience in a foreign country and thought of living with the cousin of my dad, who moved to Melbourne twenty-six years ago. My first intention was to work for a radio station or a television channel but when they chose someone different I needed an alternative. By reason I’m thinking of working as a journalist after I finish school, I decided to apply at a publishing company and ended up at Busybird.

One year later, after twenty-four hours of plane food and sleepiness, I finally arrived in Melbourne on a Saturday evening. The plane flew half an hour over the city and all the lights were shining. That was the first time I realised that Melbourne is bigger than I could have ever imagined and that this city never sleeps.

After I finally got my suitcase, passengers of three flights had to form two lanes but ended up in more. Everyone wanted to be first, which caused chaos. A man behind me was saying, ‘In Germany this would never happen,’ and he was right. In my home country this would have been totally organised and planned in detail but it was nice to see that in Australia not everything is strictly overthought.

Moreover, it is noticeable that everyone thinks the public transport in Melbourne is bad but I can tell you, the public transport in other countries – for example, Malta – is even worse. You should be proud of having such a high amount of bus lines and trains. I am living on the other side of Melbourne and need to catch a bus for one and a half hours to get to work, but do not need to change the bus line once, which is pretty good and something that I definitely did not expect.

Another difference are men who help children to cross the street and the animals who are living here. Before my trip to Australia I only knew them from movies and was surprised as I saw them in real life. The second day when I was driven to work, a dead kangaroo was laying next to the street and I realised that they really exist. Even the men in yellow clothes stood close to every school.

Compared to other English-speaking countries, I think Australian is one of the most difficult ones to understand because of the really strong accent and the colloquial language but after a while I got it. Even if the German words sometimes creep over me, my English is getting better every day. On my first day I had to ask people every second sentence if they could please repeat themselves. Now it feels like it is only every fifth time.

In addition, I have to say that my written English is definitely better than my spoken one. Good for me that I have to read a lot of English texts at Busybird. Due to the fact that nearly half of the books I am reading in my free time are written in English, it is not as big a problem as I thought it would be. Of course, it depends on the text but after reading something twice when it is necessary, I understand the content and the main message.

A few days after my arrival I still want to sit on the other side of the car and even though I miss my friends and family in Germany sometimes, I am totally happy to be here. Much is different and not everything is better but it is liveable and an interesting experience.

Emma Schweidler
Work experience student.

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An Unweeded Garden

Posted by on Oct 14, 2014 in Busybird | 0 comments


If we don’t tend to a garden regularly enough, weeds take over. Even the least adept gardeners know that basic rule of thumb. The threat of weeds is always there, developing under the surface, creeping in and looking for a spot to break through.

Writing has its own weeds as well. They’re the little creepers that will overrun your writing if you aren’t mindful of it. The clutter that gets in the way of your plants flourishing. They can be tricky little buggers too, flourishing into pretty little flowers that look good on their own, but still ruin the garden they’re thriving in.

Some weeds are easy to get rid of. Others may always pervade your writing and require constant vigilance to keep in check. But it’s always necessary to keep on the lookout for anything which may exist to the detriment of your carefully-laid arrangement.

In Language. It’s common ground now to talk about reducing redundancies in language. Being active instead of passive (‘he ran’ as opposed to ‘he was running’); cutting adverbs and unneeded qualifiers such as ‘very’ and ‘suddenly’; being selective with detail to avoid bogging down the flow of the story. Most of these are pretty easy to edit out after the drafting is complete. Make it easier on yourself by developing habits to avoid their usage in the first place if you can, as in most cases these cases of padded text have little to no redeemable value.

In Characters. Sometimes we have characters that just have no clear purpose. They don’t service the plot in any meaningful way, and have no clear use as a specific narrative device (the comic foil, the moral conscience, and so on). Sometimes they need to be cut entirely to give the reader one less unimportant name to remember. If you’re in need of an extra bit of flavour or extra faces to fill out a crowd, proceed with reservation. Extras are fine as long as their screen time doesn’t outstrip their minor importance.

In Plot Points. From overdoing the backstory to juggling one too many subplots, this one can be tricky to identify and harder to exorcise. If a plot is allowed to meander it might get tangled in the minutiae of subplots and smaller dramatic moments – in short, being derivative. Discussing the management of plot threats is worth a whole other post, but for now it’s enough to give a rule of thumb: that the central plot must always feel like the central source of momentum, and anything else must be carefully managed.

In Themes. Specifically, when thematic content is allowed to grow too fecund and starts choking the life out of the rest of the garden bed. Any regular readers of this blog will already be familiar with my philosophy on keeping thematic development and didacticism a secondary priority in favour of storytelling, so I won’t labour the point. But for fiction especially, readers are seeking to be entertained before anything else. Don’t let thematic focus choke the life out of every other story element.

Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen

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Being an Editor

Posted by on Oct 9, 2014 in Busybird | Comments Off

Jessie, and the silence of the monkeys.

Jessie, and the silence of the monkeys.

I am a very bad editor. It’s true, I can’t deny it, and everyone I know knows this. Yet I am spending a week of the school holidays at Busybird Publishing. But that is the core of experience, to undergo something and learn.

And thus so far is my experience: the publisher of this enterprise, Blaise, has a smiley nature and reads books to publish and relax. The illustrator, Kev, is a self-taught guitarist and can juggle like a trained circus employee who draws very well on the side. The chief editor, Les, does not believe he is a nerd (which is not a bad name to be branded), yet speaks very fondly of the name Hobbits, and they all consume a number of cups of tea and chocolate biscuits daily.

There are many various stages of editing to consider, but the general gist of it appears to be this: stories are marvellous. They create images and characters and allow people to explore ideas and thoughts in their heads. But stories are only effective if the person you communicate them to can understand what you are saying. Lavishly draped sentences do not make an impact on a person; writing needs to be accessible. This is what an editor does. They will correct your punctuation and grammar and tell you how to spell words you butcher, but they will also praise a story and help you create a version that people can see and respond to accordingly.

Music plays in the background, and lunch at Busybird publishing is break time, walking being quite good to break up long segments of reading and recognise you still have legs. There do appear to be many monkeys that eye you whilst working, but they are so far harmless, and sum up the publishing house quite nicely.

The perception of a publisher’s life at Busybird publishing is very charming. It is one of editing and publishing others’ works, and is not at all a bad way to spend a week of one’s holiday.

Jessica Ridgeway
Work Experience student.

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