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Easter memories

It’s Easter, one of my favorite holidays. It comes in the autumn here, and the days are usually warm and golden and there’s a harvest festival mood, picking apples and nuts and just enjoying the season — and eating Easter eggs and hot cross buns, of course.

Easter in my family was a time we spent with friends, and my godmother, who was a single lady. There wasn’t that frenetic Christmas attempt to cover all bases and visit all relatives. 

It’s a glorious time of year in Victoria (my state) and especially in the north-east of the state, where I lived as a child. We lived in the foothills of the mountains, and splashes of exotic autumn color stood out against the subtler shades of the native bush.

If the weather turned wet and cool, we’d wait a few days, then go out and pick wild field mushrooms. As a child I loved picking mushrooms, but wouldn’t eat them. These days they’re a favorite for breakfast or supper. Mostly I cook them with a little butter or olive oil, some chopped up bacon, garlic, a little chopped onion and a sprinkling of fresh thyme. Maybe a splash of dry sherry. And served on piping hot toast. Yum yum.

But the main memories I have of Easter are the barbecues we’d have in the bush. We’d head out in the car, and find a space near a creek — this was usually in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, and the water in those creeks was clean and sweet. (Photo credit here.)

We kids (there were four of us) would be sent out to gather firewood, while Dad made a rough fireplace using river stones. Mum and my godmother would butter bread and slice up tomatoes and onions. We’d light a fire, and while it burned down a bit we kids would splash around in the creek, and explore our surroundings.

When the fire was ready—actually usually before, because Dad did love a fire — Dad would produce a metal grill from the boot of the car and on would go sausages and lamb chops and sliced onions — the standard barbecue fare in Australia in those days.  (Photo credit here)

The meat was always a little bit charred because of Dad’s impatience, and I have to say, I still love my sausages charred. Mum on the other hand preferred her lamb rare, but barbecuing was a man’s job back then, so she had to put up with extremely well done. 

We kids ate our chops and sausages on slices of bread — no plates for us, and as that reduced the washing up (which was the kids’ job) we liked it that way. I still prefer a sausage in a slice of bread. We’d finish the meal with apples and big slices of juicy watermelon.  And maybe we’d crack walnuts and later float the little shells down the creek in boat races.

The adults would finish their meal with cheese and crackers. Mum usually brought a thermos of tea, but sometimes we’d boil the billy over the fire and make tea the bushman’s way. We kids mostly just drank the fresh, clear creek water, sometimes with home-made cordial that my godmother brought.

Those childhood barbecues were a far cry from the ones most people have today, with big gas grills and loads of equipment and as much preparation and cleaning up as any big dinner party. And these days I’m wary of drinking water straight from a creek — sadly, safe drinking water comes in bottles now.  I still love a barbecue, but every Easter as I plan my days, I remember those simpler days . . .

Whether you’re in spring or autumn, or in a place where you don’t have such distinct seasons, and whether you celebrate Easter as a holiday or not, I hope you’re having a nice relaxing time, and are able to get out into the natural world and remember and enjoy some of the simpler things in life.  (Photo credit here

A Writers' Retreat

Every year, in March, I go away on a writers retreat with a group of eight or nine other writers. We’ve been doing it for years — thirteen, to be exact. Not everyone can come every year, but most years we manage seven or eight of us.

It began as a way of breaking down isolation — most of us only ever see each other once a year at the annual Romance Writers of Australia conference, and that’s always so busy, it’s hard to find time to really talk. When we started, not all of us knew everyone, but of course, now we’re all firm friends.

The very first retreat was in Queenscliff, overlooking the beach, but when that place became unavailable, the second year we went inland. It was a beautiful area, but we decided we needed to be near the beach. And for the last eight years we’ve settled on this place — in south-east Queensland.  

As we’re all professional writers (ie earning our living by writing) and all have impending deadlines,  we can’t afford to simply let  a week by the sea be a social occasion, so we spend the mornings (and some of the rest of the day) writing. And staring out to sea . . .  This was the view from my room this year.

The sea and sky offers an endlessly changing vista and as well as gazing, I took more than a few photos. I have quite a few of this sunset, for instance, which came after a blustery, blowy day.

We also do some professional development, and plan and schedule lunch-time and evening sessions. Those sessions are not simply a way of keeping up with the latest developments in publishing, they’re also a way of refreshing the muse, and trying new things. I posted a list of this year’s sessions here, on the Word Wench blog, where I blog every fortnight.

I should also confess that there’s also a wee bit of shopping done. I’m not much of a shopper in general, but my friends are, and once enticed into a local shoe shop with a sale that most of them had taken advantage of, I came away with these very comfy new boots. I have a fondness for red shoes — I suspect it’s a lifelong rebellion against the message of the story The Red Shoes, where a little girl was horribly punished for the sin of wanting pretty shoes. Bah humbug to that, I say, as I don my red shoes!

In March, Queensland is still very  warm and summery. But when I return to Melbourne, autumn has very definitely arrived, as my Virginia creeper gloriously demonstrates. Every year this plant swathes my garden in gorgeousness and gives me such pleasure as I watch the changing colours.

Page Proofs

I’ve just sent off the page proofs of Marry In Secret — Rose’s story.
I find page proofs agonizing to do. This is the final step in preparing the manuscript for publication — my final step that is, not the publisher’s. It’s the last time I get to change anything. 

The stages in writing for publication go like this:

1) I send my manuscript to my editor at Berkley.

2) She reads it and makes comments, tells me the bits she likes, points out areas she thinks aren’t clear or that I could strengthen or tighten or expand on — that kind of thing. She doesn’t change my sentences or anything — these are just general comments about the story. It’s called a structural edit — concentrating on how the story unfolds.

3) She sends her comments back to me, and I go through the manuscript again and make any changes I want to, keeping her comments in mind. It’s usually been a few weeks since I read it, so I can see it with a fresh eye. 

4) Then I send it back and she reads it and if she’s happy with it, it will be sent to a copyeditor.

The copyeditor edits on a word and sentence level. She will correct typos and apply house style to things such as hyphenated words and the use of commas. Copyeditors are wonderfully picky — they will spot that the timeline doesn’t quite follow — mine actually prepares a day by day calendar for each story — or spot that someone’s eye color has changed, or a butler had been renamed. Continuity things.

They also spot grammatical errors, and the words that I’ve forgotten to change to American spelling — Australian spelling is the same as English spelling, so my people go travelling not traveling, and move towards the door, when apparently Americans would say toward. A copyeditor also spots when water gurgles nosily down a pipe instead of noisily. She will query expressions like “walking in a crocodile” (the way school children walk in a line, two by two) in case readers might not understand, and “the wee small hours” which could be a tautology. (It is, but it’s also a common expression.)

5) The copyedited manuscript then comes back to me to go through again, so I can approve  or reject those changes and make any other changes I want to. It’s the last time I really get to change anything. As well as the small things the copyeditor has flagged, I might decide to delete a scene, or add one in — I did both this time around. 

6) Then it’s back to the main editor for a final read through, and then it goes to be laid out exactly as it will appear in the final book. 

7) This then comes back to me in a pdf for a final final read through to spot any mistakes. I find this stage in the process excruciating. By now I’ve read the story I don’t know how many times and I’m usually sick of it. But I have to read it, not for story, or expression or characterization, but for tiny little mistakes, a comma in the wrong place, or a typo that everyone has missed — really nit-picky stuff.  Because if I miss something, it’s certain that a reader will pounce on it. This time I found 7 small mistakes — to instead of so, that kind of thing. I might have missed some but by now I’m practically cross-eyed.  The next time I see this book will be as a real book, published, bound, and when it’s too late to change anything.

8) I send back my changes — I list them in a document, but I also print off the pages affected, mark the changes clearly with a pen and take a photograph of each page and email that to my editor. That’s how it’s done these days — all electronic.

So now Rose and her story has gone. I always feel a bit sick when the final final version has gone. There’s nothing I can do now except hope people will like the story. And get cracking on the next story — George’s story.