Writers Retreat in Spain

Spain Series: I

Up until 2019, I’d been to a spiritual retreat in England long, long ago, a meditation retreat in the hinterland of the Gold Coast in Queensland a few years back and a yoga retreat in Bali in 2015.

Considering writing has been an important part of my life for much of it, it’s surprising that the writers retreat in Spain was my first. It may also seem surprising that I had to cross the world to spend time on my own books. While some writers have the discipline and lifestyle enabling them to write every day, I do find it challenging, especially as I’m working on other writers’ books from Monday to Friday. After spending all week in front of my laptop, my eyes and hands need a break from it and before I know it, the weekend has sped by – with not a word written.

The writers retreat in Spain gave me two weeks of pure indulgence insofar as my own writing was concerned.

writers retreat in Spain Photo of whitewashed Spanish village in the Sierra Nevada
Village of Ferreirola

Why a Writers Retreat in Spain?

Why I chose Spain instead of a local writers’ retreat, or France, or anywhere else in the world was because I wanted to return after many years’ absence. Also, as my family and close friends know, Spain holds a special place in my heart. I planned to travel around a bit and make it a working holiday once the two-week retreat was over. After all, why travel almost to the other side of the world for just two weeks?

Where the Writers Retreat in Spain was Held

The writers retreat was held in a 400-year-old restored guesthouse called Casa Ana in the village of Ferreirola. It’s in the Alpujarras region of Andalucía, southern Spain, amidst the rocky Sierra Nevada mountain range, 1,000 metres above sea level. I arrived for the 8–22 June retreat, and having packed for summer, I was glad of the only light jacket and wrap I’d taken with me as it was cool for the first week, especially nights and mornings. June temperatures vary between 14°C and 28°C but that first week we got nowhere near the high.

Casa Ana is a beautiful guesthouse restored in the Spanish style. It’s a stunning location with impressive views and the house is set amidst beautifully kept gardens.

writers retreat in Spain Spanish patio with wisteria climbing over trellis and view of mountains
Writers retreat in Spain: the patio of Casa Ana bathed in afternoon sunshine

The Other Writers

There were just six of us, all English speakers. Two live in Spain, one in England, one in Germany, one in the States, and me in Australia. When attending a writers’ retreat you wonder what genres the others write, and what sort of writing expertise they have. The most important things were that we were all serious about our writing, everyone had written for years (not necessarily published) and the environment was supportive.

How the Days were Structured

Most days had the same structure. Breakfasts and lunches were included as part of the retreat, so our day began at 9 am for breakfast, a leisurely start for me.

From 9.45 am until 1.30 pm was quiet time, when we worked, in silence, on our writing. The only sounds punctuating the silence were the tinkling of goats’ bells when the farmers were herding them back to the home fields around midday and in the evenings, the water meandering over rocks in the streams in the valley below and the buzz of bees in the lavender and wisteria of the garden. There’s a huge bee in the Alpujarra region called the carpenter bee. I know it exists elsewhere also but I’d never seen one. Its body is black and its wings a gorgeous iridescent blue.

For views, we had the steep mountains and deep valleys of the Sierra Nevada to look out upon as we wrote, and we could choose various writing spots, moving around as our fancy took us: at the writing table in our bedrooms, in the sitting room, outside on the patio, or in various little nooks and crannies on the different levels outdoors.

writers retreat in Spain Mountains in the Sierra Nevada region of southern Spain
Writing retreat with a view

By lunchtime at 1.30 pm we were ready for chats as well as food and always looked forward to the amazing Spanish meals prepared for us by a private chef.

By 2.30 pm, it was silent writing time again until 6.30 pm.

Between 6.30 and 7.30 pm, we’d chat about our writing, or about anything, over a drink and nibbles on the patio, or just rest or keep writing if we felt like it. It was also the time to go for walks through the narrow streets of the village with the traditional whitewashed houses of the south. Ferreirola has only around twenty-eight permanent inhabitants. Some of the writers went on hikes along the many trails the region is renowned for. If I’d had more time in the area I’d have done so, and I did do a few of the shorter walks at the end of the writing days, but my priority was progressing with my writing.

We could choose, for an additional cost, to participate in dinners provided by the retreat three times a week, or walk ten minutes up the road to one of the three country restaurants there. We could also buy our own food to cook in the kitchen.

Quiet time again at 10.30 pm, but this was to sleep rather than to write.

Twice a week, the afternoon writing session/silent time finished an hour earlier, at 5.30 pm, to allow for a group critiquing session, which was included in the retreat price. Casa Ana organises a resident mentor for the duration of the writing retreats, and she led the critiquing sessions. We chose an excerpt of around 1,500 words from the writing we were working on and read it out to the group. Then each person in the group gave their feedback, followed by the mentor’s feedback. This was useful. Constructive feedback may:

  • reinforce a problem you see with your writing but aren’t sure about
  • confirm your feeling that your writing is strong
  • highlight issues with your writing that you haven’t been able to see yourself.

Private Mentoring

Three sessions of private mentoring a week were available with the resident mentor at an additional price. The writers submitted an extract of around 1,500 words for review. They then had a one-on-one session of one hour with the mentor to receive feedback and discuss the issues they had with their writing.

What I Learnt

It was wonderful being able to fully focus on my writing in a way I’ve probably never been able to previously. Having constructive, objective feedback from the others helped reinforce my confidence in my writing. I learnt how I could carry back into the ‘real world’ a support network by teaming up with another writer for regular critiquing sessions. The writer who told me this sends his ongoing novel to a writing buddy he met on a different retreat, and she sends him her ongoing writing. This is possibly one of the most valuable outcomes for me, as it will keep me on task.

A couple of the other writers keep a daily journal as a writing discipline. This is something I’ve done on and off most of my life, but sometimes ‘off’ lasts too long! So I’ve taken up daily journalling again. Even if it’s just a couple of paragraphs it’s preferable to nothing. Finally, I made some long-term connections with other writers.

Was it Worth it?

For me, definitely. I went to Spain with the goal of finishing, to publication readiness, two books I’d written years ago, and I’m happy to say I achieved that goal. Next goal is publishing them before the end of this year.

I couldn’t have wished for a more ideal, peaceful, beautiful location. With most of the meals and housekeeping taken care of, we were free to … just write.

young spanish women wearing traditional dress
Granada is the largest city in the Alpujarras region. The festival of Corpus Christi was being celebrated and so traditional dresses were on display

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Stuck with your writing? Need some guidance? Or maybe you’ve finished your manuscript and need to have it professionally edited before making those publisher submissions. Give me a call on 0405 695 534! Have a read about Writer CoachingEditing, and Manuscript Appraisals.

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The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami: A Personal Perspective

Gold Coast Author Sandra Sweeney tells her story of loss, resilience and survival

The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami: A Personal Perspective

Book Review

The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami took the lives of more than a quarter of a million people within a matter of hours.

Peter Beattie, who wrote the Foreword to Sandra Sweeney’s book
‘Ripples from the Wave: After the 2004 Tsunami’ accurately describes her as ‘an extraordinary person’. Sandra is most certainly a strong woman.

Sandra lost her son Craig in the 2004 tsunami when he drowned on Phi Phi Island, Thailand. Only nine months before, Craig had married a beautiful young Thai woman, Maliwan, in a traditional Thai ceremony in Thailand. Sandra and her daughter Sheree attended the wedding, which Sandra describes in all its colour.

Craig and Maliwan had been celebrating a late honeymoon on Phi Phi Island and Maliwan was pregnant. When the wave came, she and her unborn child miraculously survived.

I say Sandra is a strong woman because she lost a son, she took on the traditional Thai grandmother role of raising her granddaughter almost single-handedly, and she continues to work full time as a teacher of English as a second language. Sandra and I met around ten years ago, in 2010. She had begun making notes for writing a book only a month or so after the tsunami. Over the years, in between the tasks of a demanding daily life, she would find time to write a few chapters. We would catch up periodically by phone or in person to talk about her book.

While editing and proofreading Sandra’s book, no matter how many times I read it, the same parts always brought tears to my eyes. Sandra is a stoic person by nature, and not given to sentimentality, but her writing is deeply moving. ‘Ripples from the Wave’ is, in fact, a deeply moving and personal account of one woman’s loss after the horrific Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.

‘Ripples from the Wave’ traces three rites of passage in Thailand: Craig’s wedding, his funeral nine months later, and the birth of his and Maliwan’s child. It also shows how Sandra and her daughter navigate their way through immense cultural differences, the funeral being especially difficult for them.

The book is also a celebration of life, and it contains many humorous moments. It delves into the relationship between Sandra and her Thai daughter-in-law Maliwan and shows how, in the interests of raising Demi, the youngest tsunami survivor, the two women overcome huge cultural and language differences.

In summary: a hugely readable and moving book. I’ve spoken to several people who’ve read it and they said they couldn’t put it down.

  • Sandra Sweeney, Ripples from the Wave: After the 2004 Tsunami, 2018, Sandra Sweeney, Australia.
  • 195 pages

Email the author direct to buy her book: ripplesfromthewave@gmail.com

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Stuck with your writing? Need some guidance? Or maybe you’ve finished your manuscript and need to have it professionally edited before making those publisher submissions. Give me a call on 0405 695 534! Have a read about Writer Coaching, Editing, and Manuscript Appraisals.

Have you been searching for someone willing to share objective information about self-publishing? Look no further! I’ve got it all in one place for you. Take a look here.

You can also fill in some details about your book online if you prefer!

Book Review on Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One

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Book Review on Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One

This book review on Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, by French author Raphaelle Giordano (I seem to have had a bit of a focus on French authors recently!) is an interesting mix between novel and self-help book.

According to the book description, it reached best-seller status in France, stayed in the top ten books there for more than a year and has now been published in thirty-six countries.

The Story

The story follows thirty-eight-year-old Camille, a Parisian who seemingly has everything to make her happy: a steady job, Sebastien, a loving husband, Adrien, their nine-year-old son. So why is she dissatisfied with her life?

One Friday evening, after a frustrating day chasing jobs in ‘an uncharted wilderness’ – which she suspects is her boss’s punishment for agreeing to a four-day work week – her car tyre bursts as she’s driving back into central Paris during ‘an almost biblical storm’.

Out of mobile range, she abandons her car to seek help in what appears to be an empty woodland area, and comes upon a mansion set behind iron gates. The man who opens the door to her resembles a ‘Gallic Sean Connery’. Ooh-la-la! Introducing himself as Claude Dupontel, he welcomes her in.

Despite what you may be thinking right now, the story isn’t about a torrid love affair between them! Claude is happily married, an empathetic man who shows her kindness.

The routinologist

All of Camille’s pent-up frustrations are released when he shows concern, and she breaks down in front of him. Claude looks her ‘straight in the eye’, not judgementally, but in a way that is ‘like a benevolent pair of open arms’. Instinctively, she knows she can trust him and feels a surprising bond with this man she has only just met. She admits her dissatisfaction with her life and is taken aback when he tells her she is suffering from ‘acute routinitis’, a ‘sickness of the soul’ that affects many ‘happiness illiterates’, especially in the West. Claude tells her he is a ‘routinologist’ and that he can help her.

He explains that while ‘routinitis’ is seemingly benign, it can cause real damage: ‘epidemics of pessimism, tsunamis of discontent, catastrophic storms of bad moods. Smiling could become endangered.’ His gentle humour and accurate analysis of her malaise make Camille sit up and listen. She wants to have the courage to do what really makes her happy. She does not want to keep feeling that life is passing her by.

Universal theme

Herein lies the universal theme of the story. We all want to be happy. We all want to have the courage to make changes in our lives that will lead us to feelings of true fulfilment. None of us wants to feel that life is passing us by. Most of us want to live our lives to the full.

It takes courage and commitment to break out of routine, to recapture the excitement and passion of love that makes us go ‘weak at the knees’, to set boundaries with our children so that as parents we can also ‘have a life’.

Does Claude really have the answers? Well, the book proves that indeed he does. Gradually, by having faith in and following Claude’s steps towards a meaningful life, Camille’s life begins to change. She experiences the inevitable obstacles and frustrations and misgivings along the way. But with perseverance, she achieves happiness in surprising ways.

And the story ends with a curious twist.


I found the style and tone of writing interesting. In parts, it sounds more like a self-help book than a novel. This reveals the author’s profession as a personal development expert and the fact that this is her first novel. For me personally, this is one of the weaknesses of the writing. However, the story is strong enough to overcome that and the overall experience of the read is a feel-good impression. In the final analysis, it ‘works’, and that’s what matters the most in literature.

Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, Raphaelle Giordano, 2018, Penguin Random House Australia, Sydney, Australia. English translation copyright © Nick Caistor 2018. (First published in France in 2015 as Ta deuxieme vie commence quand tu comprends que tu n’en as qu’une by Groupe Eyrolles.)

About the author

Raphaelle Giordano is a writer, artist and personal development expert. She lives in Paris, France.

I invite you to check out my self-published eBook – see below. Take your writing to the next level. Read how easy it is to self-publish your book!

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Questions to ask Book Editors

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Questions to ask Book Editors

Are you new to writing and/or to the publishing world?

Publishing options for your book

Are you seeking an objective viewpoint about your publishing options? It is – sorry to say but a fact nonetheless – extremely challenging (but not impossible) for a mainstream publisher to take on a first-time author. One of the alternatives is to approach smaller publishers and author services companies. It may be difficult to obtain the right information from certain publishers or author services companies. Many will try to sway you towards their services, which often include substantially priced ‘packages’. (Read also my blogs How Can I Publish My Book and Working With a Genuine Business in Publishing Services.)

I’m Thinking About Self-Publishing

Do you want to find out what’s involved in self-publishing? Would you like to discover that it’s actually quite easy to do yourself?

How to Know When your Book is Finished

As writers, we don’t always know when our book is ready. Do you want an objective opinion on your book, or your writing generally? Perhaps a manuscript appraisal is the right service for you at this time.

Writing Coach

Do you feel you need some expert input to help with your writing? It could be that you’re stuck halfway through your book. Or you have a wonderful idea for the book you want to write, but you don’t know how to get started. Being guided by an expert writing coach/writing mentor is a sure-fire way to move forward with your dream of writing that book – and eventually getting it published.

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I Just Don’t Know What I Need!

Do you need help with your writing, but you don’t know what you don’t know?! It’s okay. You’re not alone in that, and help is just a phone call or an email away.

Phone Consultations with The Writing Coach

Gail Tagarro, the Writing Coach at editors4you, can help with all these things.

Here’s what Yvonne has to say about The Writing Coach’s advisory service.

“My name is Yvonne and I am a first-time author who did not have a clue as to how to put my book out there for publishing until I had a phone consultation with Gail recently.

I had done some research on the net, but it seemed as though from what I read, to publish or to get my manuscript made into a book was going to either cost me a lot of money, or was going to be a huge hassle. So I decided to contact Gail.

I am so glad I did, as she totally put my mind at rest after she explained to me my many options.

Her answers to my questions were informative and very easy for me to understand and her knowledge of the publishing world is extensive. I also received a follow-up email after our call with most everything we had discussed, so I can refer to this later on as I get closer to needing this information.

I found Gail to be patient and friendly which is extremely important to anyone on this journey for the first time. I highly recommend Gail and can hardly wait to obtain a copy of her new eBook* which is in the process of being published now, about writing and self-publishing” – Yvonne J., phone consultation 8 March 2019.

*now published, see below

What will it cost?

A phone consultation is $50 for 30 minutes, or $95 for 1 hour (+gst). We cover a lot of ground in the time. You can have your questions prepared beforehand, as Yvonne did. I always follow up our phone call with an email summarising the information covered, and provide any extra tips or links that may be helpful to you if relevant.

To book an appointment, just call me on 0405 695 534, send an enquiry online, or email editors4you@gmail.com

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I invite you to download my self-published eBook – see below. Enhance your writing skills and learn how easy it is self-publish your book!

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The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Book review

When does a book sell more copies because of its title rather than its cover? When it’s called “The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck”!

cover of the french art of not giving a f*ck

Fabrice Midal, the author, is a philosopher and ‘one of the world’s leading teachers of meditation’.

So it may come as a surprise that a practitioner of the esoteric should give his book such a blunt (but funny, you have to admit) title.

More serious than it sounds

With its title, I was expecting The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck to be a humorous read. While parts of it are, Midal’s overall purpose is to make us aware that we spend much of our lives living up to others’ and society’s expectations of perfectionism by ‘adopting norms, rules, and models that don’t necessarily work for us.’

We are all products of our conditioning, that is inevitable. But Midal encourages us to step back for a moment and look more objectively at the tremendous pressures we put on ourselves and the demands we make of ourselves because of this.

The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck: Offering alternatives

Midal proposes alternatives to the commands screaming around in our heads, and these are reflected in the subtitles of his chapters. So Chapter 1, titled ‘Fuck Meditating’, offers the alternative ‘Do nothing’. He goes on to explain that there need be no pressure to force ourselves to meditate in a certain way or to use specific techniques. We’ll only be able to meditate when we stop trying. Revolutionary? Or just plain commonsense perhaps.

And ‘Fuck Being Calm’, instead ‘Be at peace’. Have you ever been told to ‘calm down’? How did it make you feel? As Midal says, ‘saying “Calm down” never calms anyone down’. The feeling we seek is peace. He acknowledges that people may reject the notion of not being calm ‘when expressing emotions in any lively way has become taboo … society tells us to be cogs in the machine – perfectly calm, perfectly smooth, truly effective, smiling … ever-successful, from morning till night’.

I’m stressed already! Yes, I understand this. If someone tells me to ‘be at peace’ I will ‘calm down’ a lot quicker than if that person tells me to ‘calm down’!

Midal continues to turn our accepted conventions on their head in the chapter ‘Fuck Being Conscious’ and invites us instead to ‘Be present’. In his meditation classes, he teaches ‘full presence, rather than full consciousness’. That makes sense to me. It’s what my own yoga and meditation teachers say.

More F* chapters

There are fifteen ‘F*’ chapters in The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck. In this reasonably short book (185 pages including notes, appendices and further reading), Midal has a simple hope for us. That we dig through the layers of complexity in life and find happiness, not the ‘watered-down … sugar-coated, comfortable’ kind, but happiness as a ‘genuine adventure, complete with unexpected twists and turns’ that can be scary but infinitely exhilarating.

I hope you enjoy the read.

Midal, Fabrice, The French Art of Not Giving a F*ck, 2018, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW Australia (first published in France under the title Foutez-vous la paix!)

Contact me to chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may like a manuscript appraisal, or to ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!

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Working With a Genuine Business in Publishing Services

I’m a real person. Not a robot. Or a telemarketing company. I live and work in Australia. When you contact my business, I’m the one who replies. I email you. Or Skype you. Or phone you. We can even meet in person. When you work with me, you’re working with a genuine business in publishing services – and a real person.

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Are you working with a genuine business
in publishing services?

What do I mean by this?

I was recently speaking with a colleague – also a member of IPEd – who told me about a new client who had asked to meet her in person. The client was happy to pay a consultation fee for my colleague’s time, because, she said, ‘At least I know you actually exist.’

This lady was being harassed by an offshore company haranguing her with phone calls at all hours and trying to get her to sign up to pre-publishing editorial services.

It sounded like a vanity press business, according to my colleague. More on this below.

How do you know if you’re working with a genuine business in publishing services?

Let’s assume you’ve sent off a request for information. When you receive their reply – this would normally be by email in the first instance – you should be able to tell from the tone of their email. If their email reply addresses the questions you’ve asked and there is no pressure being applied to ‘act now or miss out’, your contact is most likely a genuine one.

If the email sounds impersonal, doesn’t address your specific questions, is full of marketing hype and buzzwords, and pushes you to act immediately or miss out on their self-professed amazing offer, then steer clear.

What does vanity press mean?

Now I apologise to those who’ve published with vanity publishers, but it cannot stop me from stating the truth to help other writers avoid the pitfalls of getting involved with a truly unscrupulous bunch.

Vanity press or vanity publishers accept for publication any manuscript, regardless of merit. Why? Because they’re not about quality, or offering a genuine service to their client. They’re about making money. And they often charge a very substantial amount for this dubious privilege.

Vanity publishers bring to mind that old adage – if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. They may promise the earth, but very often they deliver a handful of sand instead. Sometimes, not even that.

What’s the difference between a vanity publisher and a subsidy publisher?

Vanity publishers and subsidy publishers are not the same thing. I get rather rattled when I read other websites where so-called ‘experts’ lump them together. This is vastly unfair to ethical subsidy publishers.

A genuine subsidy publisher only offers a publishing contract to authors whose manuscripts they believe have merit and some chance of success in the marketplace. Subsidy publishing is a viable alternative to self-publishing for those authors who still want creative input into their book – which is almost impossible with mainstream publishing – but who don’t want to go to the trouble of organising everything themselves, as is the case with self-publishing.

Author services companies

Author services companies offer a diversity of services to writers wanting to self-publish. From my experience with my own clients, I see that most people who engage an author services company are first-time writers, or at least, they are self-publishing for the first time.

There are many genuine author services companies, but there are also many unscrupulous ones. I have heard from clients about the huge fees that some author services companies demand. Some of the work they include in their ‘packages’ is not at all hard for the writer themselves to do. Again, if the company is making promises that sound unrealistic, then beware.

Work with real people in real businesses

It’s not hard to separate the genuine from the unscrupulous so please, trust your instincts and keep away from those who only wish to part you from your money.

Ask me about:

  • Consulting on Publishing Options, including Self-Publishing
  • Writer Coaching
  • Manuscript Appraisals
  • Structural/Developmental/Copy Editing
  • Ghostwriting

Call 0405 695 534 or email editors4you@gmail.com or fill in our Contact Form

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I invite you to download my self-published eBook – see below. Enhance your writing skills! Learn how easy it is to self-publish!

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Book Review of The Empyrean Quest

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Debut Queensland author

Don Horsfall has done himself proud with his first novel. The Empyrean Quest is part story and part mystical personal development journey.

The self-help aspect of the book, however, does not detract from the story. I recently read another self-help fiction book, Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One, which I enjoyed immensely and learnt a lot from, but it read in many parts like a work of nonfiction that had been fictionalised.

John Demartini

If you know of Dr John Demartini, human behavioural specialist and educator, you may recognise some of his concepts in Don’s book. These include contemplation of our life direction and purpose and of destructive patterns we may have in our lives. Dr Demartini has written the foreword to The Empyrean Quest.

The story

Beau Sterling is a bright young Sydney lawyer set to take over the family law firm run by his domineering father. His whole life feels laid out before him, including his future marriage to a beautiful socialite. He seems to have no control over his own future.

Then he experiences the double betrayal of his fiancée and his best friend, and what had been a vague sense of unease escalates into a personal crisis. He sets off on a journey to gain perspective, starting in New Zealand and meeting Ellen, a fascinating American woman who has travelled the world seeking the answers to ‘life’s big questions’.

New Zealand adventure

They hike through remote parts of the South Island and Ellen learns that Beau is a keen sailor. She persuades him to join her as crew aboard a yacht sailing the South Pacific. On their mutual quest for answers and meaning, Beau and Ellen develop deep feelings for each other.


In the last third of the story, their yacht is wrecked and part of the crew heads ashore, reaching a mystical lost island. After much adversity, during which part of the group returns to the yacht, Beau and Ellen are guided to a village inhabited by evolved people from a different realm. The couple is led through personal challenges that unravel their deepest traumas – of which the reader has not been aware until then. This leads the pair to discover answers to some of life’s ‘big questions’ and ultimately, to achieve healing.

The Empyrean Quest is an immensely readable story of just over 200 pages. It will appeal to a wide adult audience that enjoys books such as Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield and The Magician’s Way by William Whitecloud.

Don Horsfall, The Empyrean Quest, 2018, Don Horsfall, Australia. Available in Kindle and paperback.

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Book Review – A Town Like Alice

Book Review – A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute, is a novel I have heard about since childhood yet until recently I had not read it. Having done so, I realise what I’ve missed.

The story, narrated by her solicitor, Noel Strachan, follows Jean Paget, daughter of a Scotswoman and an English army captain. After the First World War, the family moves from England to Malaya where Jean’s father works on a rubber estate. Jean’s father dies in a car accident when she is eleven, and the family returns to England.

Jean’s life, according to her, falls into three parts, ‘…the first two so separate from the rest that she could hardly reconcile them with her present self’.

Second World War

When Jean is about eighteen, she returns to Malaya to work as a shorthand typist on the same rubber planation in Kuala Lumpur where her father worked and where her brother now works. It is 1939 and the Second World War has just broken out. No one believes this is likely to affect Malaya and for eighteen months, Jean enjoys a wonderful social life.

The Japanese enter the war. However, when America soon follows, the expatriate community feels no threat. But soon after that, events move quickly, the Japanese draw ever-closer and there is a rush for the evacuation of women and children to Singapore. For a group of thirty-two women and children, however, who have missed the limited trucks, boats and flights out of Malaya, the Japanese reach them before they are able to escape.

Odyssey of Hardship

So begins an odyssey through Malaya for this group of women and children that will last three years. During this time, more than half will die of malaria and dysentery. They suffer from inadequate clothing, food and water, and endure long marches through all types of terrain, including unhealthy marshlands. They have ‘nowhere to go, because no one wanted us’. The conquering Japanese do not know what to do with them, no commander wants to take responsibility for them, so they are shunted as prisoners of war from one Japanese command post to another, always with the promise of redemption at the end of each relentless march. For the group, redemption is a prisoner of war camp.

Five months into their march, when the group of thirty-two has reduced to seventeen, they come across two Australian prisoners of war employed by the Japanese to drive and maintain their trucks. Sergeant Joe Harman, a ringer (stockman) from the Queensland Outback, stumps Jean with his Australian argot such as ‘dinky-die’ and ‘tucker’, but she soon finds out about his Aussie ingenuity when he obtains medicine, food and soap for them. In the short time they spend together, she encourages him to speak about his life in Queensland, which distracts and comforts them both from the grim realities of their current lives. Concerned at her impression that the middle of Australia is only desert, he corrects her, speaking fondly of Alice Springs. ‘Alice is a bonza place. Plenty of water in Alice.’

Joe’s Punishment

Joe obtains pork for the women and children by stealing a Japanese captain’s prize pig. But the theft is discovered and Jean is interrogated for hours, desperately clinging to an unlikely story in order to protect Joe. Her interrogators slap her face, kick her shins, and stamp on her bare feet with army boots. Joe Harman intervenes, admits to the theft, and is severely beaten, crucified and left for dead. The women and children are all made to watch the horror before they are forcibly marched off again.

The reduced group of women and children then spend three years living in a village. They labour as rice planters in exchange for having a home and food.

Return to England

Six years later, and back in England, Jean Paget is contacted by Noel Strachan who informs her that as the sole remaining heir in her family, she has inherited a considerable sum from an uncle. Jean decides to return to the village in Malaya to pay for a well to be constructed, in gratitude for the villagers’ kindness.

There, she learns something about Joe Harman, which sends her on an incredible quest.

If after reading this book review – A Town Like Alice – you’d like to read the story, you can find it here: A Town Like Alice.

Trailer acknowledged to The Movie Chronicles Inc. for this Book Review – A Town Like Alice

1950’s Literature

Reading a book first published in 1950 is an interesting experience. The strongest curses used are ‘bloody’ (only a couple of times), ‘mucking’, a euphemism for the same word beginning with ‘f’ (used twice in one scene), and the exclamation ‘Oh my word!’ There is just one sex scene, although the characters only get a bit steamy and do not consummate the act. Overall, sex is mostly implied.

Historical veracity

For World War Two history buffs, I’ll insert here what Shute says in his Author’s Note about historical veracity: ‘…I expect to be accused of falsifying history, especially in regard to the march and death of the homeless women prisoners. I shall be told that nothing of the sort ever happened in Malaya, and this is true. It happened in Sumatra.’

About Nevil Shute

Shute, whose full name was Nevil Shute Norway, was an aeronautical engineer born in England in 1899. He shortened his surname to Shute to avoid possible negative publicity around his novels that might affect his engineering career.

When Shute was fifty-one he emigrated with his family to Victoria, Australia, where he died at age sixty.

If you enjoyed this Book Review – A Town Like Alice, read my review of The Incorrigible Optimists Club by Jean-Michel Guernassia. And watch out for more book reviews to come.

Contact me to chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may like a manuscript appraisal, or ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!

Accredited Editor (AE) – Institute of Professional Editors

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Gail Tagarro AE

I invite you to download my self-published eBook “Ten Ways to Super-Charge Your Writing Skills! with bonus chapter on Self-Publishing”

Book Review – A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute

How to Punctuate Dialogue

double quotation marks, how to punctuate dialogue

Is it a struggle for you knowing how to punctuate dialogue? How to punctuate dialogue correctly eludes a lot of writers. Yet once you know the rules, it is straightforward.

Quotation marks, speech marks and quotes

Quotation marks are also referred to as ‘speech marks’ or ‘quotes’. I’ll use the term ‘quotation marks’ here so as not to confuse it with the other meanings of ‘quote’.

Quotation marks are either single – ‘ or double – “

In Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, it seems more common for writers to use single quotation marks for dialogue, while in the United States, double quotation marks are more common. Either is correct – consistency is the key.

Opening and closing quotation marks

When you use quotation marks in dialogue, you use opening quotation marks – ‘ – to begin the dialogue, and closing quotation marks – ’ – to end the dialogue.

Do you always need to use quotation marks in dialogue?

The English language is very flexible and readers are not too fussed about whether you do or don’t use quotation marks in dialogue. However, most writers do, because it clearly separates narrative from dialogue. So if you don’t use quotation marks, then you need to make clear to the reader in some other way when you are switching between dialogue and narrative.

Comma to introduce speech

When you have a dialogue tag – she said/he said or similar – introducing a character’s speech, you need a comma before the opening quotation marks.


Jenna asked, ‘Can I go to the movies with you tonight?’

Comma after speech and before dialogue tag

When the dialogue finishes and you are using a dialogue tag – he said/she said or similar – as long as the dialogue doesn’t end in a question mark or an exclamation mark, you use a comma before the end quotation marks.


‘I’m going to the movies with you tonight,’ Jenna said.


‘Can I go to the movies with you tonight?’ she asked.

‘I’m not going to the movies with you tonight!’ she said.

In the above two sentences, you only use a question mark or an exclamation mark, not a comma as well.

You’ll note that the first word of the dialogue tag – she – needs to be in lower case (small letters), as the sentence is not considered finished until after the dialogue tag.

However, sometimes a separate sentence follows the dialogue, as in the example below, so that sentence needs to begin with a capital letter:

‘I’m going to the movies with you tonight.’ It was clear that Jenna was not going to take no for an answer.

Punctuation falls inside closing quotation marks

Just keep in mind that before using closing quotation marks, you need to finish punctuating the sentence – with a comma, a full stop, an exclamation mark, or a question mark – just as you’d do if the sentence had no speech.


I looked at James and said, ‘Your glasses really suit you.’

Here, you can see that the full stop comes before the closing quotation marks.

‘Can you send me that file today please?’

The question mark comes before the closing quotation marks.

‘How dare you!’

The exclamation mark comes before the closing quotation marks.

More than one person or character speaking

When two or more characters are speaking, make sure you have a paragraph break for each new speaker. This makes it clear to your readers which character is speaking.

Quoted text within quotation marks

When a character is quoting another character or person, put the words they are quoting within double quotation marks nested inside the character’s speech.


Jenna said, ‘Mum always used to say to me, “Be careful who you associate with”, and I’ve always taken notice of that.’

Note that the closing quotation marks of the quoted speech go before the comma.

Dialogue plus dialogue tag plus dialogue

When you have your character begin a sentence, then interrupt their speech with a dialogue tag, then resume their speech after the dialogue tag, this is how to punctuate the sentence correctly.


‘Your glasses really suit you,’ I said to James, ‘so I think you should wear them more often.’

You could also break it down into two sentences separated by a full stop:

‘Your glasses really suit you,’ I said to James. ‘You should wear them more often.’

Dialogue interrupted by an action or a thought


 ‘Your glasses really suit you’ – actually, I couldn’t take my eyes off him so I was just stalling so he’d keep talking with me – ‘and I think you should wear them more often.’

‘Your glasses really suit you’ – Penny walked past and threw him a come-hither look – ‘so I think you should wear them more often.’

Multiple paragraphs of dialogue by the same speaker

Characters sometimes have a lot to say for themselves! While it’s wise not to tax the reader’s patience by frequently having characters talk for several paragraphs, when their speech is longer than, say, five or six lines, it’s a good idea to break it into two paragraphs. The rule is to use an opening quotation mark in the second paragraph to indicate the same character is still speaking, and to end the quotation marks after the paragraph in which the character finishes speaking.


‘I want to see you every day of my life from now until forever and I hope you feel the same way. Do you know when I first fell in love with you? It was that day at the market when that little kid fell down the steps and you rushed to help him up.

‘There was so much tenderness in your eyes, it was all I could do to stop myself from proposing to you then and there. You have the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known.’

Anything else you’d like to know about punctuating dialogue?

Contact me to have a chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may like a manuscript appraisal, or to ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!

IPEd Accredited Editor (AE)

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I invite you to download my eBook – see cover below. Enhance your writing skills! Learn how easy it is to self-publish your book!

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Is your Book Character-Driven or Plot-Driven?

First of all, what does character-driven and plot-driven mean?!

Illustration of a confused person looking at different options to represent the choice between character-driven and plot-driven stories
What do character-driven and plot-driven mean?


In a plot-driven story, the action is the focus of the writing, not the character. The character tends to be static; there is little character development. Plot-driven stories are often genres like horror, action, science fiction. An example of a plot-driven story is Dan Brown’s mystery thriller The Da Vinci Code. The story focuses not on the development of protagonist Robert Langdon or focus character Sophie Neveu but on their search for clues in an attempt to solve a mystery.


Character-driven stories focus on the character, the character’s emotional depth and the transformation the character experiences. A famous example of a character-driven story is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The central characters, children Scout and Jem Finch, develop an awareness of racism and its implications when their lawyer father Atticus defends Tom Robinson. They also ‘grow up’ (develop) in their understanding of their neighbour Boo Radley when he ultimately saves them from the story’s villain.

NY Book Editors  explain it like this: ‘Whereas plot-driven stories focus on a set of choices that a character must make, a character-driven story focuses on how the character arrives at a particular choice. The plot in a character-driven story is usually simple and often hyper-focused on the internal or interpersonal struggle of the character(s).’

Do you write character-driven or plot-driven stories?

As writers, our style naturally tends towards either character-driven or plot-driven stories. What’s important is to get the balance right – because both plot and character are necessary!

This means becoming aware of how we approach storytelling – that is, whether we write character-driven or plot-driven stories – and then consciously making a choice to keep the balance right between character and plot.

Problems of imbalance

Why is it necessary to have a balance between character and plot? Most of us write because we love writing. Beyond that, we write so that readers will want to read our books. We’re writing for an audience, ultimately, and good storytelling engages our audience through to the end of the story. This means we need to find the happy balance between character and plot.

Losing the plot

Stories that focus so much on character that they ‘lose the plot’ risk making their characters yawningly boring. A character may be appealing, intelligent and good-looking but if they are given no task to fulfil in the story – no conflict they have to face, so no growth and no development – then there’s unlikely to be great reader engagement with the story. 

Too much focus on plot

A fast-paced page-turner with heaps of action and heart-stopping scenes that leave the reader breathless, but that star one-dimensional characters, will be unsatisfying to the reader. One-dimensional means the characters lack depth, they do not learn or grow – they are boring.

How to nail it

If you’re struggling with getting the balance between character and plot right, these ideas may help:

Analyse movies

When you’re watching a movie, follow it more closely than you might usually and work out whether it’s character-driven or plot-driven.


Read excellent books written by excellent writers. You can’t go wrong with the classics of worldwide literature, and if you’re unsure, a quick Google search will reveal them. Your local librarians are a good source of knowledge on first-rate writers and books.

A couple of examples of books where the author got the balance between character and plot just right are:

Do a writing exercise

Challenge yourself to come up with an interesting situation asking a ‘what-if’ question, like Stephen King suggests (see below). Think up your main character, and then write a scene or a couple of pages. You never know; from these humble beginnings an award-winning story may be born!

Take courses

Many writers’ centres all over the English-speaking world now offer online courses in many aspects of creative writing. Search online to see what’s on offer for 2019.

What Stephen King says

Let’s finish this discussion with what storytelling master Stephen King says in his book On Writing: A memoir of the craft. He says that he distrusts plot, putting forward two valid reasons: ‘… our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning’. He also believes that ‘plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible’. What is needed is a strong situation. He proposes that the ‘most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question’, and gives examples of his own books: ‘What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot). What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo)’ (© 2000 Stephen King).


Australian Writers’ Centre, Character-driven versus plot-driven stories, 2014.
https://www.writerscentre.com.au/blog/character-driven-versus-plot-driven-stories/. Accessed 14 Jan 2019

Jennifer Kenning, How to be your own Script Doctor, 2006, the Continuum International Publishing Group, New York. Page 83: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=WT4VZC4lKiQC&pg=PA83&lpg=PA83&dq=Character+driven+vs+plot+driven+stories&source=bl&ots=biInlzdkNQ&sig=MeS9yKpo4drzEEIcC0_JBKBRws4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjFtpTCvuzfAhUFKo8KHcQtA084lgEQ6AEwAHoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=Character%20driven%20vs%20plot%20driven%20stories&f=false. Accessed 14 Jan 2019

Stephen King, On Writing: A memoir of the craft, 2000, Hodder & Stoughton, London.

NY Book Editors, Character-Driven Vs. Plot Driven: Which Is Best, nd.
https://nybookeditors.com/2017/02/character-driven-vs-plot-driven-best/. Accessed 14 Jan 2019

The Guardian, How to Write, 2000. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2000/oct/01/stephenking.sciencefictionfantasyandhorror. Accessed 15 Jan 2019.

Gail Tagarro, Accredited Editor (AE)

Contact me to have a chat about your manuscript. You may be ready for an edit, or you may think you need a manuscript appraisal for further development. Ask about writer coaching. Asking is free and I’m very approachable! Check out my testimonials while you’re on my website. Read some of the other informative blogs!

I invite you to download my self-published eBook – see cover below. Click here to download. Enhance your writing technique and skills! Learn how easy it is to self-publish your book!

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