The Profiled Author

The Profiled Author is part of ‘Let’s Talk with the Authors’, a series of interviews with authors who have worked with editors4you or WriteDesign Publications. The promotional opportunity is also open to other authors (contact us for details).

The Profiled Author: Greg Kater

Promoting Your Books

Around Christmas 2019, I offered my authors a simple way to promote their books through an author interview.

As we writers know, it’s one thing to write a book. It’s quite another to promote it. Writers tend to shy away from promotion, but it’s vital to kick the shyness habit and get our books out there in the big wide world.

In this third interview in the series, the profiled author is Greg Kater, a prolific author who has so far published four novels: The Warramunga’s War, The Warramunga’s Aftermath of War, Skills of the Warramunga and Conflict on the Yangtze. And he hasn’t finished writing yet!

Today, we chat with Greg about his four books. Meet Greg on his website.

Tell us how you started writing

I am an 80-year-old Australian living on the Gold Coast of Queensland. I retired as a geological and geophysical consultant to the resources industries five years ago. During my professional life, I was always busy and never had time for writing anything but thousands of technical reports.

On my retirement, I had time on my hands and decided that I would like to write fiction using my knowledge of different lands and peoples. I had worked with many weird and wonderful people and thought it would be fun to include them (under different names) in my novels.

That’s an interesting point, because your characters are vividly painted, likeable (the goodies!) and realistic. Did you tell these people they were going to appear in your books? How did they react?

No, I didn’t tell anyone in advance that I might base my characters on them. At first, I didn’t know which characters I was likely to develop as the story progressed, but each situation brought forth a new memory. Most of the characters I remembered are diverse and spread out all over the place. Some may not now be alive. Contemporaries of mine who have recognised themselves in my novels have been most amused (and, I hope, pleased).

I was fascinated and completely drawn in by the descriptions of countries, locations, buildings and customs in your novels. How were you able to make them so vibrant?

I travelled extensively and worked in all parts of the world and in all sorts of environments, from Australian desert and remote bush country to parts of the USA, Central America, South East Asia, Russian Siberia, the Middle East and most provinces of China. The countries and locations in my books are all personally familiar to me.

Tell us about your books.

The profiled author’s first book

My first book, The Warramunga’s War, was initially based on my father’s war diaries and his involvement in the Syrian campaign and the desert war in the Middle East and North Africa during World War II. My principal characters were based on people I had worked with at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory, including some of the local aboriginal people, the Warramungas, during the 1960s. All the localities in the book are places where I have been and know well.

cover for the profiled author
The Profiled Author: Greg Kater, The Warramunga’s War

Greg’s second book

My second book, The Warramunga’s Aftermath of War, which takes place in early 1946, deals with the trafficking of children from the war-torn Philippines. I lived in the Philippines for 11 years from 1969 as VP with one of the major mining companies there. I learned a great deal about the havoc and suffering during the Japanese occupation, as well as some of the terrible things that happened later as criminals took advantage of the chaos in the aftermath of war. I felt a need to write about this.

book cover greg kater
The Profiled Author: Greg Kater, The Warramunga’s Aftermath of War

The third book in the Warramunga trilogy

My third book, Skills of the Warramunga, takes place in Malaya, where I have also worked throughout the country. In the aftermath of World War II, many different groups, including communists, bandits, Nazis and others, were trying to gain control of all or part of the Malayan Peninsular from the British. The novel deals with the period when the British created the Malayan Union in April 1946. It showcases the extraordinary tracking skills of the Warramunga aborigines, which I witnessed first-hand during my time at Tennant Creek.

photo of book cover for the profiled author
The Profiled Author: Greg Kater, Skills of the Warramunga

The fourth book – Greg couldn’t let his characters go!

I had originally set out to write a trilogy using the same principal characters, but after the third novel I just couldn’t let them fade away! So, I wrote Conflict on the Yangtze. I have been to China more than a hundred times and am very familiar with the landscape and the people. In 1946, although Japanese occupation had ended, there was still a good deal of fighting throughout China between the government (the Kuomintang), the communists, warlords and various criminal groups, all trying to establish centres of power. Most of the leading families mentioned in the novel are real and there certainly was some opium smuggling going on at that time.

book cover for the profiled author
Greg Kater’s Conflict on the Yangtze

Your books clearly required a huge amount of painstaking research. How did you go about this?

In spite of my intimate knowledge of the localities and their histories, I had to undertake a great deal of research to confirm the accuracy of the historical events my fictional characters were involved in. I researched material from libraries, diaries and known histories as well as talking to people who had been around during the war in the different countries. As mentioned before, I was also able to use my father’s war experiences in my first novel.

Did you enjoy doing the research? Why?

Historical research is very fulfilling. I have always been interested in history and the research enabled me to learn much more about past events than I previously knew. That gathering of knowledge, in no small way, increased my enthusiasm for ensuring the accuracy of historical events.

What are the main themes in these four books?

Apart from a good amount of action, adventure and history, I have tried to include the themes of friendship, trust, humour and skills, mixed in with a certain amount of love and romance.

Who do you consider is your main audience?

I think my main audience comprises all ages, from 15 years up. With my style of historical fiction, I don’t believe it necessary to spice up the narrative with lurid descriptions of steamy sexual affairs or extreme violence. In wartime and its aftermath, violence does occur. When it does, I have generally moderated the descriptions as far as possible to appeal to a wider audience.

Many authors struggle with promotion. How have you gone about promoting your book, and what success have you met with?

Yes. As with all other authors, I struggle with promotion. I have been fortunate to have the support of the Online Book Club and other such organisations which have produced hundreds of maximum star reviews for my books and supported me in other ways. I have also been fortunate to have received several book awards from various international groups that run competitions. If any of that translates into book sales, we’ll have to see…

Greg, I believe you’re currently writing your next book. Can you give us a sneak peak, without giving too much away?

I am about 70% through another historical fiction novel which is set in a completely different period to that of my first four books. The working title is Scent of a Foreign Land. It follows the adventures of a family in the 1830s-40s who sail to Australia from England and carve out a life for themselves producing cattle and sheep in the vast wild country over the mountains west of Sydney.

The story is based on the detailed diaries and letters of my great-great-grandmother, as well as letters and histories of other ancestors. Writing this novel has been slow, as I am in possession of almost too much research material. However, it is a wondrous thing to be able to get into the minds of my forebears. They were a hardy lot. It is quite a series of adventures.

You can read reviews of and purchase Greg’s books by:

Going to Greg’s website and purchasing from one of the suppliers listed there, including from his publisher, Zeus Publications The Warramunga’s War, The Warramunga’s Aftermath of War, Skills of the Warramunga, Conflict on the Yangtze.

In our next ‘Let’s Talk with the Authors’ series, we chat with another Gold Coast author who wrote a moving account of losing her son in the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

If you would like to be interviewed for this series as a featured author, please contact us.

Featured Authors

Featured Authors is part of the series of interviews ‘Let’s Talk with the Authors’. Featured authors have worked with editors4you or WriteDesign Publications. The promotional opportunity for featured authors is also open to other authors (contact us for details).

Featured Authors: M.B. Wynter

Promoting Your Books

As we writers know, it’s one thing to write a book. It’s quite another to promote it. Writers tend to shy away from promotion, but it’s vital to kick the shyness habit so that we can get our books out there in the big wide world.

In our second interview of featured authors, we chat with M.B. Wynter, an Australian author from Sydney. The Fetal Position is her first YA fiction novel.

featured authors photo of M.B. Wynter the fetal position
Featured Authors: M.B. Wynter, The Fetal Position

Can you give us an elevator pitch of your story?

The Fetal Position follows the lives of my two protagonists, Dwaine Hauser and Paige Wyander, a young couple from Sydney and Melbourne respectively who are at a crossroads. Personally, they are in distress, and their relationship has come to a standstill. Paige suffers from a disability that greatly affects her relationships and her ability to manage a seemingly easy life, while Dwaine is trying to graduate high school despite his father’s recent incarceration. The novel has both lovely as well as cringingly awkward moments, which to me is a young adult’s life in a nutshell.

The Fetal Position is YA fiction. Have you found that people other than young adults also purchase your book? What feedback have you had from such readers?

Surprisingly, yes, and the feedback is mostly the same. In both online reviews and in person, many say that the book is a little too graphic for their liking in terms of sexual content. My response to that has been, ‘This is what young people do.’ I didn’t write an erotic fiction novel, but I wrote one that doesn’t shy away from what happens behind doors in a young person’s life. Particularly when the book is centred around a couple who are very much in love.

Some other responses I’ve received have been nostalgic. I reference a lot of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s music, and I realise that most young adults wouldn’t be familiar with half of it, but it worked with readers over 25. I’m relieved because yes, The Fetal Position is YA fiction, but what writer wouldn’t want their work to appeal to everybody? 

I believe it took you a number of years to finish your book. You began at the age of 13 and published your book in 2018. What were some of the challenges you faced in writing and completing your book?

No one on earth will ever know the agony I went through to write and complete this book. I was 13 years old; I was in year 8, I was a top student living a healthy lifestyle and I was very happy. I initially wrote about 25,000 words of The Fetal Position (which didn’t have a title until a few weeks before I published it) but then life began to change for me on a personal level. I won’t delve into it but the next 10 years were a severe struggle and it affected every aspect of my life, including my writing.

I was stuck. I didn’t have writer’s block (I knew exactly where my characters were going) but I was a kid, I knew nothing about writing a novel and I knew no one who had written one. I’d read a hundred books and all I knew was that The Fetal Position had its place on paper.

Stephen King says there are really only two things you need to do in order to be a writer; you need to read a lot and you need to write a lot. I read that quote when I was a teenager in the midst of my struggles, and it made perfect sense to me. There are no excuses or shortcuts. I struggled in my youth, yes, but I never stopped doing those two things. The writing took up most of my high school education and a few years after, but by 2018 I’d finished the first draft and needed professional assistance.

You redrafted your novel many times, but your book has an intriguingly mature perspective and contains many mature insights. Did you feel particularly ‘mature’ when you began writing your book?

The funny thing is that as I grew up, so did the story. Paige is 21 and Dwaine is 18. I (the person who made them up in my head and gave them names and scars and secrets) was 13. I felt mature when I started writing it, and in many ways I was, but it didn’t take me long to realise I was coming up short in some areas. I would map out a crucial scene, but when it came to writing it, I couldn’t inject emotion into it because I hadn’t felt those emotions myself.

That’s why I had to redraft parts of The Fetal Position multiple times. By the time I published it at 23 years old, I felt everything I needed to feel in order to do my characters justice and not sell them to the world ‘half done’.

Young adults are sometimes faced with adult issues. You told me these shouldn’t be treated lightly. Can you give a couple of examples from your book?

Many children are faced with situations where they’re forced to grow up very quickly. I knew when I started writing it that the mature themes were going to cause some controversy. My mother hasn’t finished reading it because in the first chapter there’s a moment when Paige and Dwaine witness her mother having sex in the living room. I understand my mum’s reservations as well as everyone else’s, but society needs to remember that this scene is not far-fetched for some people. Some kids have to be the ones to look after their parents, just as Paige does with her drug-addicted mother. I wanted to be as authentic as possible when writing this story, I didn’t sugar-coat anything.

Paige suffers from an illness where she must be medicated, and medication has side-effects. In recent times, the world is learning that adolescents struggle with many ‘adult’ problems, including mental illness, and it was important to me to factor this in when writing scenes that to some would be controversial. In reality, there are millions of Paiges out there.

Your book is set in 1994. Has anyone who’s read it asked, ‘Why isn’t this book set in the 21st century’? Why did you set in the mid-1990s?

The 90s were a simpler time for communication due to the lack of technology. I fell in love with and respected my characters to the point where I was afraid to ‘write’ them for fear I would fail them. Crazy, I know, but my way of making them great was to have them speak face to face rather than on Facebook Messenger. They deserved a love that was typically 20th century. I love writing scenes that don’t include a text message. I love writing intimate moments that don’t necessarily include nudity. People don’t speak to each other anymore. It’s ironic coming from me, but typing out words isn’t speaking. Using your ‘voice’ is the most daring thing of all, I think.

Many people have asked me why the book is set between 1990 and 1994, and I tell them the same thing: Even though I was a teenager in the 21st century, I liked it better back then. And the happier I am, the better I write.

I’m sure you can imagine their confused expressions at that one.

Did you have an initial inspiration for the book, or did it just ‘happen’?

I fell in love with writing when I was nine, and when I was 13 I said to myself, ‘I want to write a book for teenagers. I don’t know what it’s going to be about but I want to write something real. I want to write something that I would read a million times over.’

The next day, I saw an image in my head of Dwaine with his long hair and the day after, Paige looked at me with a sad face, and I just went from there.

Paige is 21 and Dwaine is 18, and they meet when Dwaine is still in high school. Despite the three-year age difference, in many ways, Dwaine is a lot more mature than Paige. Was this intentional? If so, why is it important to your story?

I deliberately made the characters and their personalities this way to avoid gender stereotypes and ageism. Dwaine is, in fact, more mature than Paige. He’s more emotional, he’s shy and he has a lighter presence. Paige, however, has a quicker mind, she’s more logical and she’s generally complicated. Typically, in the arts, the roles are reversed. I have a male friend who after he read the book said to me, ‘This dude is so many of us but he’s not what women want and it shows because Paige rages it at him.’ I replied, ‘Whether or not that’s true, you just said he’s so many of you and that’s all I wanted to write about.’ Something true, something people can relate to and something that both men and women can take away. That’s important to me. An artist can’t achieve much if they don’t understand people. People can’t be truly stimulated unless they feel understood.

When you began writing the book, you yourself were still at high school. What aspects of school life in the book are taken from your own high school experiences (if any)?

To be honest, so much of my high school experience isn’t reflected in the book for various reasons including the fact that I don’t remember a lot of my high school life (I mentioned my youth was a bit rocky). However, the only place I ever felt truly safe and understood was the library. If you read the book, that’ll make sense.

What do you believe is the main message of your story?

The entire foundation of Paige and Dwaine’s romance is based on the fear of the unknown. The way Paige sees herself in a negative way stems from her fear of not understanding why she suffers from a ‘curse’ of a disease. There’s a chapter I titled ‘Homophobia’, which represents the fear of something that people don’t understand. The 90s was a homophobic time. I don’t know if fear is the message I want to convey, but I certainly do want to show others that fear gets you nowhere at all, and sometimes it even gets you into trouble.

My English teacher in high school once said to me, ‘Once an author releases their work, it no longer belongs to them.’ I didn’t understand what she meant until she said, ‘People are going to dissect the shit out of your work and make it whatever they want it to be. You can tell them it’s not true, but why do that? People want to be entertained.’

I was angry. I knew people would think I had written a love story when I hadn’t. She said to me, ‘You want to be a novelist, right? That’s something you need to come to terms with.’ That’s what I did, so there isn’t a direct message. My readers will take care of that.

Ok, so here comes the question that all novelists either dread or smirk at! Is any part of your book autobiographical?

I wasn’t expecting this question but now I’m dreading answering it! I’m adamant that this book isn’t based on my life whatsoever, but I threw two pieces of me in there. The first was the music I loved and the second was my obsession with everything 90s. I also wanted to pay tribute to Nirvana and document Cobain’s death. Like Dwaine, they were my favourite band as a teenager.

So no, The Fetal Position isn’t autobiographical. Did I feel the way my characters feel when I was a teenager? Hell yes. 

Are you planning to write further novels?

Of course! I’ve mapped out a new manuscript. It’s also YA fiction, but it’s not a sequel to The Fetal Position. However, given the long and difficult 10 years I spent writing my first novel, I decided to put it aside and let it gain its strength while I wrote something a little less complicated, some poetry, which I’ve just finished.

The poetry is autobiographical, so those who found my vague comments on my adolescence interesting will have a chance to be nosy. And I welcome it! All updates will be through my social media. I can’t wait to share my next piece of work with you all.

How is your experience of writing your first novel affecting how you write your second?

I made a billion mistakes getting started and writing The Fetal Position, which I like to refer to as ‘writer growing pains’. I spent too many years striving for perfection when it didn’t exist. I spent too little time believing in my words and more time trying to comfort the characters in my head who I loved so much but who literally couldn’t love me back. When I started working with my writing coach and editor, she taught me so many things, from simple grammatical tips to massive ways to structure a novel. Editing a book is just as important as writing it, and with all this knowledge I know it won’t take 10 years to write the next one. I don’t recommend that to anybody. Time was my enemy for a long time, but it’s my friend now.

Featured Authors cover The Fetal Position
Featured Authors: M.B. Wynter, The Fetal Position


Next time in featured authors, we’ll be interviewing a prolific Gold Coast-based author about his books.

Contact us to find out about being interviewed for featured authors.

Writing Festivals 2020

My Writers Connect! Newsletter, generally produced fortnightly, is now combining with some of my blog posts, as in this one, Writing Festivals 2020. Here, we highlight some upcoming writing festivals in NZ and Australia.

In today’s blog, we finish up with a word of the day, a fun fact about a famous writer, and a brief tip to keep you inspired.

notebook coffee pencil sunglasses in cafe for blog writing festivals 2020
(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)

Writing Festivals 2020 – NZ

Wellington, New Zealand

2020 New Zealand Festival of the Arts

This festival is an absolute smorgasbord of events in the arts, with dance, theatre, music, visual arts, opera and of course writing. We focus on the writing program below. Some events are free. It’s well worth a visit to beautiful New Zealand.

Writers’ Program

22 February – 14 March 2020 (Note: full festival runs 21 Feb – 15 March)

Entry: Individual session $NZ19.Take Five Pass’ 5 sessions  $NZ76

Details of writers’ events here:

Details of all festival events here:

Writing Festivals 2020 – Australia

Below is a selection of Australian writing festivals coming up within the next four months.

Perth Festival – 2020 Literature & Ideas

21 – 23 February

Set in the grounds of the beautiful University of Western Australia, the 2020 festival is all about discussing the most pressing issues of our time: land, money, power, sex. There are plenty of free events.

Download the program here:

Writers’ Week – Adelaide Festival

29 February – 5 March 2020

This is truly an inclusive event. All sessions at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden are FREE. The Opening Event is ticketed. Selected sessions will be live streamed toschools, libraries and retirement villages from Mon 2 Mar to Thu 5 Mar.

Download the program here:

Download the live streaming events here:

Tickets for opening event here:

Sydney Writers’ Festival

27 April – 3 May 2020

You can look forward to around 300 events during the week-long festival across the city.

The festival is a not-for-profit organisation and their aim is to be accessible to a wide range of audiences.

The full program will be announced mid-March 2020. Meantime, you can subscribe to their e-newsletter to receive updates. See link below.

Sign up to e-newletter for festival updates:

About the festival here:

Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival, WA

15 – 17 May 2020

This is the largest regional literary event in Western Australia. It attracts novelists, journalists, academics and established and emerging storytellers from WA, interstate and overseas.

The program will be announced during February. Not long to wait!

Stay tuned for festival updates:

About the festival

Word of the Day


Meaning ‘a boyfriend or girlfriend; a romantic or sexual partner’, bae is mainly used as a term of endearment. It is now officially listed (as of June 2019) in the Oxford English Dictionary, so go ahead and use it in your YA fiction without fear!

Fun Facts – Enid Blyton

One of the most successful children’s storytellers of the 20th century – with more than 600 million copies of her books sold worldwide, Enid Blyton (1897 – 1968) wrote 762 books. Her mother thought her writing was a waste of time! Enid generally wrote 6,000–10,000 words daily. Her writing routine involved beginning after breakfast and writing until 5 pm, with a short break for lunch, her portable typewriter on her knee and her favourite red Moroccan shawl nearby. Red was a ‘mental stimulus’ for her.

What’s your writing routine, and do you have any quirky writing habits?

Get Inspired – George Orwell

‘A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?’—George Orwell, Politics and the English Language.

Writing festivals 2020 is…

… a regular update about competitions, festivals and other writing events. Festivals and writing events are a great way to meet other writers and keep up with what’s happening in the world of writing!

writedesign publications logo for writing competitions jan and feb 2020 post

Need help writing your business book?

One of the best ways to build credibility in your business is to write and publish a book. It creates trust in you and in your business.

You can sell your book, and promote it as a giveaway at keynote speaking events, seminars and training sessions.

Where do you start?

That’s where WriteDesign Publications comes in.

Affiliated with editors4you (established 2006), which provides professional editorial services including book editing, manuscript appraisal and writer coaching, WDP and editors4you together offer an end-to-end service to writers and business owners.

Drop us an email at [email protected] or give us a call on 0405 695 534 Ask for our cheat sheet where we show you how to plan your book in 30 minutes.

Writing Competitions Jan and Feb 2020

My Lonely Writer Newsletter, produced weekly or fortnightly, is now combining with some of my blog posts, as in this one, Writing Competitions Jan and Feb 2020.

In today’s blog, we finish up with a word of the day, a fun fact about a famous writer, and a brief tip to keep you inspired.

notebook coffee pencil sunglasses in cafe writing competitions jan and feb 2020
(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)

Put Your Writing to the Test

Writing competitions are a great way to open your writing up to an audience of professionals, without having to go through the – sometimes – discouraging process of submissions to publishers and agents.

With some competitions, you can even pay a little more on top of the entry fee to receive feedback. This can be so valuable!

Australian and International Writing Competitions

Below is a selection of writing competitions in Australia and internationally that you can submit various types of writing to this January and February.

Australian Writing Competitions

AWC Furious Fiction

About: Short story up to 500 words. First Friday of every month. Next starts 5 pm Friday 7 February.

Open to:Writers 17 years plus anywhere in the world

Theme: Follow the story prompts revealed when the competition opens

Closes: Midnight Sunday 9 February

Entry fee: Free

Prize: First: $500

Details here:

The Writing Quarter Competition

About: Monthly short story competition up to 3,000 words

Open to: Writers 18 years plus, any nationality, any country of residence

Theme: Open

Closes: Next competition closes 29 February

Entry fee: Free

Prize: First: $30

Details here:

Boyup Brook Bush Poetry Competition

About: Bush verse

Open to: All

Theme: Original Australian verse

Closes: 31 January 2020

Entry Fee: $10

Prizes: First: $100. Emerging Poet: $100

Details: Please email entries to [email protected]

International Writing Competitions

The Masters Review Winter Short Story Award

About: Short story, up to 6,000 words

Open to: Emerging Writers internationally

Theme: Open

Closes: 31 January 2020

Entry Fee: $US20

Prizes: First: $US3,000 + publication online. Second: $US300. Third: $US200

Details here:

Flash 500 Short Story Competition

About: Short story, 1,000—3,000 words

Open to: International

Theme: Open

Closes: 29 February 2020

Entry Fee: One entry £7. Two entries £12. Three entries £16. Four entries £20

Prizes: First: £500. Second: £200. Third: £100

Details here: Rules here:

Michael Terence Publishing Winter Short Story Competition

About: Up to 3,000 words

Open to: International

Theme: Most genres accepted

Closes: 29 February 2020

Entry Fee: £5 for each story entered

Prizes: First Prize: £400 + publication in MTP Anthology + Anthology title based on title of winning entry. Second: £300 + publication in MTP Anthology. Third: £200 + publication in MTP Anthology.

Details here:

Word of the Day


Until today, I had not heard this word. It is a nickname referring to the area of museums and other cultural institutions on Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London. It was named after Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, to both celebrate and satirise his role in Victorian life.

Fun Fact – Agatha Christie, surfer

The British crime novelist may have been one of the first British surfers. She and her husband learned to surf during an international trip. At the time, she was in her early thirties. According to some sources, the couple was among the first British people to stand up on a surfboard.

Get Inspired

If you’ve been writing bits and pieces for years, dedicate a rainy day to digging them out and rereading them. Pick out the most promising piece you’ve written, and develop it into a short story or novel.

Writing competitions in Jan and Feb 2020 is…

Just the beginning of a regular update about competitions you can enter. They’re a great way to test out your writing in a non-threatening environment. Go to it!

writedesign publications logo self-publishing services

Writing your Business Book

One of the best ways to build credibility in your business is to write and publish a book. It creates trust in you and in your business.

You can sell your book, and promote it as a giveaway at keynote speaking events, seminars and training sessions.

Where do you Start?

That’s where WriteDesign Publications comes in.

Affiliated with editors4you (established 2006), which provides professional editorial services including book editing, manuscript appraisal and writer coaching, WDP and editors4you together offer an end-to-end service to writers and business owners.

Drop us an email at [email protected] or give us a call on 0405 695 534 Ask for our cheat sheet where we show you how to plan your book in 30 minutes.

Australian Writing Workshops in Jan, Feb and Mar 2020

vintage books pen and photos on table
(Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash)

In last week’s blog post, Writing Resolutions for 2020, we touched on honing our craft as writers with ongoing training through writing workshops. This post, Australian Writing Workshops in Jan, Feb and Mar 2020, continues from there. We travel around Australia and pick out one writing workshop from each of the writers’ centres in the six states.

I’ve chosen these workshops randomly. So to be fair to the myriad of other workshops and presenters, as well as a link to the workshop selected for inclusion here, I’ve included a general link to all the other workshops currently available in that state.

Writers Victoria

‘Unreliable Narrators and Other Innovative Points of View’

24 January 2020 10 am – 4 pm. Cost $135–$215

This workshop centres on point of view. It sounds intriguing. Point of view ‘can establish your narrative, tie it to one character, and help develop the emotional resonance of your characters. It can also be a fantastic tool for laying the foundation for twists, red herrings and big reveals.’

The workshop is run by Robert Gott, the author of 97 fiction and nonfiction books. Of his seven crime novels, two of have been shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award.

Details here:

More events at Writers Victoria here:

Writers SA

‘Preparing for the Publicity Trail’

1 February 2020 1.30 – 4.30 pm. Cost $115

Designed for authors ready to hit the publicity trail with their book, this workshop will teach you how to promote your book, how to give a great book launch speech to drive sales, how to overcome nerves (including learning what not to say), even how to pose for promotional photos!

The presenter, Victoria Purman, is a multi-published, award-nominated, Amazon Kindle bestselling author. She has been involved in the Adelaide media for nearly thirty years in various capacities.

Details here:

More events at Writers SA here:

Writers WA

Perth Writers Salon

26 January 9.30 am – 12.30 pm. Cost $30–$150

‘Participants will learn how to generate ideas, create conflicts, take heroes on journeys, overcome writer’s block and much more in five constructive, inspiring and fun sessions.’ You can attend just one session, or join them all.

The workshop is facilitated by Campbell Jeffreys, an award-winning WA writer of nine books. He has also written for newspapers and magazines around the world.

Details here:

More events at Writers WA here:

pens and pencil tied with string on brown notebook
(Photo by Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 on Unsplash)

Queensland Writers’ Centre

‘The Hero & Heroine’s Journey: Blueprints for Writers’

25 January 2020 10.30 am – 4.30 pm. Cost $100–$190

As the workshop description states, ‘In both fiction and non-fiction, characters are the pillars of a good story. Fiction and memoir writers can look forward to exploring ‘where literature and psychology converge.’ You will improve your writing skills with practical exercises and group discussions, understand the hero and heroine’s journeys, ‘integrating the power of character flaws into authentic characterisation, creating engaging and entertaining characters, understanding how story and character arcs work together to serve the narrative.’

The presenter, Lauren Elise Daniels, has published globally.

Learn more here:

More events at QWC:

Australian Writers’ Centre (NSW)

‘Travel Writing’

10 February 2020 (any time during the week). 5 weeks (allow 3 – 4 hours per week). Cost $450

Here’s an online writing course for you. The course is ideal for writers wanting to combine a love of travel with a love of writing – and, according to the course description, ‘get paid for it!’ In the course, you’ll explore how the travel writing industry works, learn how to write travel stories readers will love, get tips on planning, photography and ‘getting free stuff’ and perhaps start earning an income as a travel writer.

The presenter, Sue White, is a freelance features and travel writer whose stories have featured in a wide range of newspapers and other publications, in Australia and overseas.

Learn more here:

More events at Australian Writers’ Centre (NSW) here: listing/?utm_source=ubermenu&utm_campaign=a-zlisting

Tasmanian Writers’ Centre

‘Writing Action with Dr Rosie Dubb’

15 March 2020 10 am – 1 pm. Cost $60–75

In both fiction and narrative non-fiction, action is an important element of story, ‘moving the plot forward, creating pace and revealing character.’ Action plays an important role even in more static scenes like moments of contemplation or conversation, and it’s important to make these engaging for the reader. You’ll explore, through discussions, readings and writing exercises, how to write compelling scenes by ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’, and how to build tension and work with pace, character and setting.

The presenter, Rosie Dubb, is the author of two novels, one of which is currently being developed as a feature film. She has also published short stories, essays and life writing in anthologies, magazines, newspapers and literary journals.

Learn more here:

For more events at Tasmanian Writers’ Centre:

I hope you’ve found this post, Australian Writing Workshops in Jan, Feb and Mar 2020, useful. Get in touch if you’d like to see any other workshops featured.

Keep writing!

Check Out My Books


cover of historical novel by G.E. Tagarro Winter in Mallorca about Chopin and George Sand

Winter in Mallorca, Turmoil to Triumph explores the relationship between Chopin and Sand during the winter of 1838 in an abandoned monastery high in the mountain village of Valldemosa.

One reader’s feedback: ‘The Prelude is strong, nice hook to get you reading, and then it just gets better. I would find period writing extraordinarily difficult, but you make it seem pretty easy. The psychological observations are spot on. Great historical asides, great landscape descriptions, lots of luscious colour to keep you ‘in’. I don’t usually get through books in one day!’

John W., Writer.

Read more about Winter in Mallorca here.

How-to Writing eBook

cover of ten ways to supercharge your writing skills by gail tagarro

This entertaining how-to writing book contains 10 chapters of simply explained writing techniques and tips that will help you super-charge your writing! Other chapters include how to handle writing techniques like pacing, head-hopping and narrative arc.

Only $11.95. Start super-charging your writing now!

Writing and Editing Internships

Writing and editing internships inhabit the blurred line between education and employment, allowing students to gain experience in the workplace while still studying.

writing and editing internships student wearing blue shirt holidng books
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Writing and Editing Internships and Industry Experience

I am Brienna Cottam, and this semester as part of my bachelor’s requirements I have undertaken an external industry placement, otherwise known as an internship, work experience or even practical placement. So, for the last 10 weeks I have been interning under Gail Tagarro at editors4you/WriteDesign Publications, learning more than I had thought possible and expanding my knowledge of the industry.

Writing and editing internships are invaluable for several reasons, whether it’s a university requirement, high school assessment or even just to get a head start in your chosen field. However, finding a suitable position and business to host your internship is not always easy.

It took me a few weeks to both find and organise an internship suitable for my course, however some of my peers took months and others never managed to find one at all in the allotted time. The availability and chances of gaining an internship can depend heavily on the time of year, your chosen industry role or career and the requirements you need to meet. Finding a position that was solely focused on the editorial aspect of the industry was quite difficult as I couldn’t find many editing-specific businesses. Publishers, magazines and news outlets seemed to be the most popular among my peers, and my research throughout the initial stages reinforced this.

So Why are Writing and Editing Internships Important?

Firstly, you are able to take your academic knowledge and all the research you have completed and apply it in the real world, allowing yourself to experience firsthand exactly what you’ve been learning about. This in turn gives you the opportunity to decide on your future career path and see where you can go within the industry. You experience the different roles and skills that can be achieved and are able to decide whether you want to continue in the industry now that you have personally experienced it. Depending on where and who you intern under, you may also find invaluable industry contacts that can be useful when it comes time to start your career.

The life experience and knowledge garnered from undertaking a writing and editing internship aren’t just another thing to throw on your resume and forget about. An internship can greatly enhance your employment chances. For most, work experience is simply something that looks good on their resume, and that they must complete throughout their schooling. Very rarely do people expand on their experience and use it to their advantage.

Who Can Undertake Writing and Editing Internships?

Internships are not always just about trying to get a good grade point average, or meeting course requirements. They can also be immensely helpful for those looking at a possible career change, or wanting to experience different roles within their current industry. This can benefit the internee in many ways, from widening their knowledge to advancing their chances of a promotion. That said, most internships are unpaid, which can affect the hours and availability of many who choose to undertake them.

Balancing Work, Study and Writing and Editing Internships

Trying to balance university or school with a job is hard enough. However, throw an internship into the mix and you better have some decent time management skills and a passion for what you’re doing. Having a set schedule for work is extremely helpful in situations like this, however like me, many students have casual work and struggle to manage work, an internship and study.

I found the first few weeks of both the semester and my internship quite stressful, as I started a new casual job at the same time as my internship and it was also the beginning of my final semester of university. Many institutions specify the time per week they expect students to spend on course content and assessment, the average being approximately 10 hours per class. This all made it quite hard to organise my weeks in advance, however I benefited vastly from my job’s 24/7 operating hours and their system that allowed me to roster off certain times and reserve it for study or internships. Many may not be as lucky but with careful planning and full awareness of your obligations, it can be done.

Looking for Writing and Editing Internships

It is often challenging to find an internship in your preferred field at the time you need it, especially one as specific as a writing and editing internship. I was incredibly lucky that I found mine in time. It is always helpful to know the requirements and type of internship you would like or need to undertake long before it comes time to look for one. This gives you the opportunity to look, research and decide on the internship that is best for you. It may take many weeks or even months to find an internship that works for you in a business that is willing to take you on.

Within my cohort, many only managed to find placement with newspapers or magazines, rather than with a business that they were more likely to enter after graduating, or that they preferred to work in. That being said, approximately half of my cohort never managed to find a placement at all, and as such had to complete an on-campus internship. This may not always be an option; it depends entirely on the way your learning institution has structured the course and what their requirements are. Many may assist with the process of finding external placement. However some, such as mine, require the student to source their own.

Internships with a self-employed freelance editor are quite rare and I was incredibly lucky to land one with Gail Tagarro at editors4you. It provided me with much more one-on-one learning and involvement and I have been able to observe how an editorial business is managed.

Some people may look into writing and editing internships for the sole purpose of getting their own manuscript to another level. This is a valid reason, however they would benefit more from writer coaching than an internship. (See here for more about writer coaching:

Tips for Approaching a Business

The prospect of approaching a business can be quite daunting, especially for a student or young adult. Even the simple thought of sending an email can be nerve-racking for some. Researching the company beforehand is a vital part of the process, and if you are looking into the publishing industry, research what type of publisher they are. (See the following links for more information: and

It is important to understand the business you are approaching and how they prefer to receive enquiries. Some may prefer email contact while others may prefer calls or meeting in person. It is also useful to know what they are looking for in an intern and details of the role they can offer. Here are some tips when it comes to that dreaded initial contact.

  • Always be professional and courteous.
  • Research the business and understand what they do.
  • Use your applications and email correspondence as an example of your character and your work. Showcase your ability to be professional, your excellent grammar and punctuation and of course your attitude towards the industry and internship.
  • Always be punctual with replies and follow up on any queries you may have. This demonstrates your eagerness in and understanding of the role.


Rarely will an internship follow the clichéd portrayal as seen on television or in the movies, media and books. Many of these show them as mindless minions running errands and fetching coffee. This should not be the case. My writing and editing internship taught me far more than sitting in a classroom ever could. It opened my eyes to the complexity and fulfilling roles I can achieve within the industry. I was introduced to more than I ever thought was involved in editing, and this reinforced my decision surrounding my future career path. There have been ups and downs and roundabouts, juggling the internship, study and work, and I am still learning and figuring out my way through the wide world of publishing and editing. However now, I have a clearer direction than I had before my internship.

Logo for Institute of Professional Editors
Gail Tagarro, IPEd Accredited Editor (AE)

Ask about our WRITING and SELF-PUBLISHING PACKAGES. From go to whoa if you like, and anything in between, our packages can be tailored to include Book Coaching, Writer Coaching, Editing, Book Layout and Design, and Book Printing.

WriteDesign Publications (WDP) is a writing and self-publishing consultancy. It is affiliated with editors4you (established 2006), which provides professional editorial services such as book editing and proofreading. Together, WDP and editors4you provide an end-to-end service to writers and business owners.


question mark for blog what on earth can I write about

Nine Ideas For What to Write When You’re Out of Ideas

Every week now, I take one day off for business development, to work on my business as the marketing experts say, rather than in the business.

Over the past few months, this day has mostly been taken up with writing for my website: blog posts, developing a fortnightly newsletter and book reviews.

Today, when faced with a topic for a blog, I came up blank. ‘What on earth can I write about,’ I pondered from downward dog position in yoga class this morning. ‘What can I write about’ I asked myself when driving home afterwards. ‘What am I going to write today’ I repeated in the shower. And this went on right up to the moment I sat down with my laptop in the café to have breakfast and get stuck into a productive business development day.

Still nothing.

I toyed with the idea of writing about the seven story archetypes, or literary devices or explaining obscure terms like pleonasm and prolix. But they all failed to inspire me today.

For fun, I Googled What on earth can I write about and came up with nothing to do with writing. Instead, my search returned existential results like factors that support life on earth, why is life possible on earth, how does earth support life, and five interesting facts about earth. I did find a writer, Daniel J. Botha, whose post Why on earth do I write?  at least contained the words ‘earth’ and ‘write’ in the same sentence.

So, I decided to write about what to write about when you’re out of ideas.

Here are nine ideas. I’ve written my own take on each one. You’ll have to excuse the unfinished nature of them. I was ‘just writing’, freeing up my creative mind. I hope you find at least one that’ll work for you when you’re clean out of ideas.

ONE: Sit in a Café and People-Watch

Here’s what I wrote in the café after breakfast. I just wrote for five minutes (I timed it).

The rainbow lorikeets in the palm trees are going nuts. I think they must feel the storm coming. They’re smarter than the people meandering along Surfers Paradise’s main drag oblivious to the soaking they’re about to get. It’s turned so dark in this outdoor café that the staff have just turned on the lights. I can smell the rain in the air.

At the table opposite, a man with close-cropped grey hair wearing a grey hoodie slowly stirs his cappuccino, licks the spoon, picks up his cup by the rim between his thumb and middle finger, and sips. He’s with a mate, who’s also wearing a grey hoodie, but they’re not talking. His mate is drinking a green juice from a bottle through a straw and scrolling through his phone.

TWO: Sit in a Café (with Free Wi-Fi) and Google Something You See

Here’s what happened for me when I did this.

I looked across the road and saw a sign for a boutique called Posha. Googling the word, I found many things. One of them is a name originating from India with the meaning ‘flower’ that can apply to both females and males. In Indian astrology, the article says, when the letter ‘P’ is the first letter of a person’s name, this is significant. It means that person has the power of philosophical thought.

THREE: Use a Childhood Memory

Here’s what I did:

I didn’t write anything today, but I’ll refer you to a story I wrote about my memories surrounding the old shed at my childhood home. Scroll to the last story on the page, The Shed, and download it for free. Enjoy the read:

FOUR: Free-Write

Just write anything. It can be any old jumble. You’re just trying to free up your creativity.

Here’s what I wrote. Just five minutes:

It’s almost mid-October and we’re well into spring, which on the Gold Coast is nothing more than a dress rehearsal for summer. But today, I’m cold. A watery kind of sun showed its face for a half-hour or so this morning, but it’s hiding now. We’ve reverted to wintry weather for a few days. Most people have ditched their sleeveless tops and flip-flops for jackets, jumpers and trainers. I like feeling cosy, so I dressed for a day that the Bureau of Meteorology app told me would reach a high of 23°.

See? This is no literary masterpiece, but I’m writing. And that’s the main thing.

FIVE: Use a Writing Prompt

I used the beginning of a sentence as my writing prompt, ‘She sat in the car…’ Here’s what I came up with. This is as far as I got in five minutes:

She sat in the car gazing at the beach through the raindrop-splattered windscreen. She’d parked under a spreading Norfolk pine. It was raining steadily now, the rain from the soaked branches above tapping out a constant rhythm on the car roof. No one was swimming or surfing today. Somehow, when the sun wasn’t out, the beach no longer held appeal for people. The grey-green water looked uninviting. But it was the same water, she thought. Odd. A bit like a meal: you could have exactly the same food in two different bowls, one a hodgepodge and the other beautifully presented, and you’d swear the beautiful looking one tasted a thousand times better than the hodgepodge.

The patter of the rain against the car made her shiver, although it was warm inside the car. She liked coming to the beach on a weekday when there was no one around. Easy to find a park. Quiet. She could drift into a daydream, mesmerised by the breakers and white water…

SIX: Write Dialogue

Write a conversation between two people. I wrote for about seven minutes.

‘So, how did your little holiday in NZ go?’ Meredith asked her friend, who’d just returned after a week-long break.

‘It was just what I needed. I didn’t realise how much until I was away.’ Jo smiled. ‘The weather was shocking, good old Auckland, but it didn’t matter.’

Meredith nodded. ‘You really did need the break, so I’m glad you enjoyed it. Did you visit any of the old stamping grounds?’

‘Sure did. I was staying with my friend Mary and we went to some of those cafes we used to go to, remember? Down on the waterfront?’

‘I remember. We’d go down most days to one or the other.’

‘Mary and I went out for drinks a couple of nights, and we went to the movies on one of the most miserable days. I even visited our old house. They’ve painted it black now!’

Meredith held her breath. Jo mentioning her old house and saying ‘our’ meant she was going to start on it again.

‘Bastard,’ Jo said under her breath, and then began recounting the thousand and one things her ex had done wrong over their forty years of marriage, the last one trumping them all: an affair with his first wife, for whom he’d left Jo. Then she added, ‘You know what my psychic said? That it isn’t going to last. He isn’t happy. That he’ll end up leaving her…’

For the first time since The Great Breakup, Meredith didn’t let her go on. ‘Jo, you’ve got to start letting this go, you know.’

‘It was forty years,’ Jo snapped.

‘I know.’ Meredith touched Jo’s arm. ‘And I’m not saying it won’t take time to get over. But going over and over what he did and said isn’t going to change anything. It’s over, you’ve said so yourself. You wouldn’t have him back even if he asked. And if it doesn’t work out between them, it’s not your concern. Thinking about it doesn’t help you move on.’

SEVEN: Write a Scene from a Movie or TV Show You’ve Watched Recently

My daughter and I have been following a Spanish TV series on Netflix called Cable Girls. Here’s my recollection of a scene in which an accidental murder takes place:

Mario pushed Angeles up the stairs to the rooftop, where she stumbled and fell to the ground.

‘You bitch! You f… bitch! You thought you could just run away from me? With our child? I’m going to kill you, you bitch!’

Mario was at least six foot and although lean, he was strong. Angeles was no more than five five, slim and fragile.

With practised hatred, he began kicking at her slender form on the ground of the rooftop. With each agonised cry he raised from her, his kicks became more furious.

‘Why? Why did you try to leave?’ he shouted.

‘I hate you. I’d rather be dead than take any more of your abuse, your beatings, your insults,’ she whimpered.

That earnt her more kicks, one in the head this time. Blood was tricking out the side of her mouth.

Then the door to the rooftop flew open and Angeles’ three friends from the telephone exchange were tackling Mario. Carlota managed to wrestle from him the baseball bat he’d just picked up to finish off his wife. She threw it into a corner, out of reach.

With Mario thus distracted, one of them helped Angeles up. Blood was streaming from her nose and she was gasping for breath. Now he turned his fury on Lidia, who had jumped on his back and was trying to overbalance him. He managed to get her off and was now holding her by the throat, throttling her near the edge of the rooftop.

Frantic for her friend who was close to choking under her husband’s brutal iron grip, and afraid for the others, Angeles acted on instinct, seizing the baseball bat.

What happened next seemed to play out in slow motion. The backward swing of the bat. The forward swing of the bat, with a strength she didn’t know she possessed. The crack as the bat connected with her husband’s skull. The sigh as he slumped forward, already dead. The slowly spreading puddle of red around his head.

She dropped the bat.

EIGHT: Describe Something That’s Thoroughly Familiar to You

Write about it for someone who’s never experienced this thing before. Use all five physical senses to describe it (what does it look, sound, taste, feel, smell like).

Here’s what I came up with:

The Sea, The Sea

The sea is blue or green or grey or black, depending on the depth and whether it’s day or night, sunny or cloudy, and it’s so vast you can’t see the end of it. The breaking waves sound like the wind and the rain, constantly chafing against sandpaper. It tastes like the salt on your food. It feels wet, just like when you have a bath or a shower or you go out in the rain. It makes your skin go taut when it dries. It smells fresh and clean and sometimes, it smells strongly of iodine.

NINE: Use the Dictionary

Take out your dictionary (or use an online one) to find a word you’ve never heard of before. Use it in a sentence.

Here’s a good one: jejune. According to the Macquarie Online Dictionary, it’s a rare adjective that means ‘unsatisfying to the mind; dull; boring’.

He attended the play expecting it to be uplifting or at least engaging, but it was a jejune story about a man and a woman who met on a bus.

TEN: Here’s a Bonus One to Try Yourself

Go somewhere unfamiliar, even if it’s just to a local café you’ve never been to before. What you’ll see with be through fresh eyes. Describe the place, just as it is, avoiding flowery language.

The next time you ask yourself, What on earth can I write about, try some of these ideas. I hope they’ve helped inspire you.


Botha, Daniel J., Why on Earth do I Write? The Story Behind my Stories Part II, 2018. Accessed 11/10/19

Macquarie Dictionary, 2019, Macmillan Publishers Australia.

Moonastro, Baby Name Posha Meaning and Astrology, Accessed 11/10/19

Ask about our new WRITING and SELF-PUBLISHING PACKAGES. From go to whoa if you like, and anything in between, our packages can be tailored to include Book Coaching, Writer Coaching, Editing, Book Layout and Design, and Book Printing.



Welcome to the very first newsletter for The Lonely Writer.

Writing is a lonely job. Or pastime. The Lonely Writer aims to connect with you, the lonely writer among other lonely writers, in this monthly newsletter. We understand you’re busy. So the newsletter generally has just four or five main items of content. A brief but satisfying read.

  • Write Here, Right Now: What’s Happening in Writing? Includes trends, festivals and competitions
  • Word of the Day. An unusual word to keep your writing fresh
  • Fun Fact
  • Writing Inspiration Quote

Write Here, Write Now: What’s Happening in Writing?

Psychological Thrillers

…are on the rise this year, from films to novels. Two that are making their way up the lists of bestsellers for 2019 are The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware and One Fatal Mistake by Tom Hunt.

Festivals and Competitions

The Brisbane Writers Festival

…is drawing ever closer, running from 5 to 8 September. Connecting writers, readers and anyone in between through debate, exploration and imagination as well as celebrating the greatest achievements in the writing world for the year, this festival will be well worth your effort. Check it out here:

The Furious Fiction Competition

…run on the first weekend of every month by the Australian Writers’ Centre, starts on 6 September. Details here:

The Sydney Hammond Memorial Short Story Writing Competition

…closes on 2 September. You’ll find out all about it here:

With the ServiceScape Short Story Award

…closing on 30 November, you could be in to win $1,000, so get cracking on that writing. Details here:

Word of the Day


Pronounced yoo·kuh·ta·struh·fee

Defined as ‘a sudden and favourable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending’.

Most of us would automatically attach negative connotations to this word, however its meaning is opposite! Could you find a way to use this in your writing, or even casual conversation? It will raise more than a few eyebrows.

Fun Fact

The very first manuscript for Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck was eaten by his dog. Perhaps this is where the old phrase ‘the dog ate my homework’ came from?

Get Inspired

‘You flourish one hushed breath at a time. Imagine all you can build word by single word’―Laurie Seidler, 22 Shelters: Lessons From Letters.

This first issue of THE LONELY WRITER is a collaboration between Brienna Cottam and Gail Tagarro. Brienna is a student at the University of the Sunshine Coast where she’s studying the course Bachelor of Creative Writing. She is currently undertaking an internship with Gail Tagarro at

‘A Penny for Your Thoughts’ and Other Idioms

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of ‘A penny for your thoughts’ and other idioms that populate the English language?

Do You Know What You’re Saying?

Idioms Explained

Wait. What’s an idiom?

Idioms are expressions peculiar to a specific language with meanings that are different from their literal interpretations. The word ‘idiom’ was coined in the late 16th century, from the French and Latin words (originating from Greek) meaning ‘peculiar phraseology’ and ‘make one’s own’.

English is filled with idioms that may seem wildly out of place in the language of our era. They flavour our conversations and add further meaning to our sentences. They amplify our communications and have become so deeply ingrained in our language and culture that they are sometimes difficult to recognise as idioms.

Let’s look at some of the more common idioms and how they came to be.

Ah, history. You know my penchant for it. As always, I promise to keep it brief (says Gail).

‘A Penny for your thoughts’ and other idioms

Break a leg

This saying is used to wish someone luck or give them encouragement. The idiom came about in theatres and performance houses in relation to the old belief that uttering ‘good luck’ to a performer would instead bring bad luck – therefore, the opposite must also apply.

Its true rise to popularity came in the early 1920s, the golden age of theatre and ‘talkies’ movies that introduced sound.

Another use of the idiom is to encourage a person to put in the most amount of effort possible to the point of ‘breaking a leg’. This was also common throughout the early 1900s. Some speculate that this version of the idiom also has links to the assassin and actor John Wilkes Booth, who broke his leg attempting to leap onto the stage of Ford’s Theatre following the murder of Abraham Lincoln.

Beat about the bush

This common idiom has been around for centuries, tracing back to the 1440s in the poem Generydes – A Romance in Seven-line Stanzas:

‘Butt as it hath be sayde full long agoo, Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take.’

As the poem suggests, the idiom has evolved from the original literal interpretation of beating around a bush, irritating the birds within and thus, enabling the hunting party to catch the birds as they fled. The earliest recorded version to include ‘about’ within the phrase is found in the 1570s.

Reaching peak popularity at the beginning of the 1900s, ‘beat about the bush’ is used to tell someone to hurry up. It also formed connections with the next idiom we discuss, ‘cut to the chase’. The two are often used in conjunction with each other despite the time difference between their origins.

Cut to the chase

Brienna (see end of post) says that as someone who often rambles on, she has heard the phrase ‘cut to the chase’ – get to the point – more than a handful of times in her life. Yet another idiom that has found its way into everyday conversations, media and writing, this phrase has its early origins in the silent film industry, especially comedies, which often reached their climax in chase scenes. It seems that inexperienced screenwriters or directors would stretch out a film with unnecessary dialogue, boring the audience and drawing out the time before an exciting chase scene. Movie studio executives used ‘cut to the chase’ to mean that the film should get straight to the interesting scenes.

An earlier version of the phrase (1880–1940) was ‘Cut to Hecuba’, used in matinée performances of Hamlet to mean to cut the long speeches before the reference to Hecuba.

‘Cut to the chase’ is relevant in today’s world of instant messaging and live news and media, with many people preferring to get straight to the important and relevant pieces of information: instant gratification.

A penny for your thoughts

Meaning ‘tell me what you’re thinking’ and usually said to someone who’s off with the fairies, this idiom first appeared in the written language c.1522 in The Four Last Things by Sir Thomas More:

‘In such wise yt not wtoute som note & reproach os suche vagaraunte mind, other folk sodainly say to them: a peny for your thought.’

However, ‘a penny for your thoughts’ wasn’t popularised until after 1562 when it appeared in The Proverbs and Epigrams of John Heywood. The idiom originated in an era when a penny was worth a great deal more than its current value.

The use of this idiom has noticeably declined over the last few decades and is more commonly used by older generations. Will this strange idiom weave its way out of our language completely?

To kill two birds with one stone

Despite its somewhat negative connotations, the 17th-century idiom ‘kill two birds with one stone’ appears to have a figurative origin. It means to achieve two objectives with one action. In our age of multitasking and deadlines, its meaning maintains its relevance.

The Oxford English Dictionary records a 1655–56 exchange of views about free will between the philosopher Thomas Hobbes and the Anglican Bishop John Bramhall:

‘T. H. thinks to kill two birds with one stone, and satisfy two arguments with one answer.’

An earlier version of the idiom appears in a 1632 book A Complete History of the Present Seat of War in Africa Between the Spaniards and Algerines.

There is also speculation that the phrase has its roots in the Greek mythological tale of Daedalus and Icarus. With both men trapped, and hungry birds flying above waiting for their demise, Daedalus uses stones to strike down the birds in order to create their own wings to escape on. He consequently discovers a throwing motion that allows him to kill two of the birds with one stone. Who knows?

The last straw

The last idiom we explore, fittingly, is ‘the last straw’, sometimes ‘the final straw’, an idiom that expresses anger and frustration. It’s the final tiny irritant or burden on top of a series of other seemingly minor burdens that causes what may appear an extreme reaction.

The idiom refers to the proverb ‘the last straw that breaks the camel’s back’. Variants of the proverb include ‘The last drop makes the cup run over’ (1655), ‘The last feather that breaks the horse’s back’ (1677), and the oriental proverb ‘It is the last straw that overloads the camel’.

The earliest recorded use of the phrase is in The Edinburgh Advertiser (1816):

‘MR. BROUGHAM remarked, that if it [a tax on soap] were only 3d. a head, or 4d. and 5d. upon the lower orders, yet straw upon straw was laid till the last straw broke the camel’s back.’

‘The last straw’ has fluctuated in popularity over the centuries. Nevertheless, it remains a valid and colourful way to express irritation and anger.

photo of penny for ‘A Penny for Your Thoughts’ and Other Idioms
Photo by Mark Bosky on Unsplash

As we’ve seen, idioms have wormed their way into our our everyday language and vocabulary. They add vibrancy to our communications and often a little humour as well.

Will you notice the next time you use an idiom?

After all, the devil is in the details …

Acknowledgements for ‘A Penny for Your Thoughts’ and Other Idioms,coined%20by%2C%20Hal%20Roach%20Sr,two%20birds%20with%20one%20stone.&targetText=In%20the%201600s%2C%20when%20the,partridge%2C%20according%20to%20the%20OED.

The post ‘A Penny For Your Thoughtsand Other Idioms is a collaboration between Brienna Cottam and Gail Tagarro. Brienna is a student at the University of the Sunshine Coast where she’s studying the course Bachelor of Creative Writing. She undertook an internship with Gail Tagarro of and WriteDesign Publications for several weeks in 2019.

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Time to Say Goodbye to Spain

Almost four weeks after completing the two-week writers’ retreat in southern Spain in June, it was time to say goodbye to Spain, adios España. I rather hoped it would be hasta luego, España – until we meet again – than goodbye.

Spain Series V: León 

Meantime, I’d spent my last 10 days in León at my friend’s place, working like a little Trojan on my lovely clients’ books. So immersed was I in the work that I’d look up from my laptop and out the window from time to time and think, ‘Oh, I’m in Spain, not at home!’

This visit to the modest and unassuming city of León had great personal significance for me. Way back in the 1980s, I lived, and worked as an English teacher, in León for several years. And the last time I’d visited the city was 24 years previously. You’ll be able to read all about it when I publish my travel narrative later this year, Forty-Four Days in Spain: A Travel Narrative of Duchesses, Dishy Spaniards and Disenchantments in Flamenco-land. Watch this space!

Where is León?

Except for those who’ve walked the famous pilgrims’ way, El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St James), and know that León is on the route, the city is little known by most English-speakers on our side of the world. Just an aside: The Way leads to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwestern Spain, where it is reputed that the remains of Saint James are buried.

León is located in the northwest of Spain, some 800m above sea level, on the banks of the Bernesga River. It’s an inland city, the capital of the province of León and since 1983, part of the Autonomous Community of Castile and León, with a population of around 126,000. The mountain range of the Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) is situated in Castile and León, Asturias and Cantabria.

skifields near Leon
Wintertime: Skifields near León

León has a long history. It was founded around 29 BC by the Roman legion Legio VI Victrix as a Roman military encampment. The name León, rather than referring to the translation ‘lion’, derives from the city’s Latin name, Legio.

To put its location in context, Madrid is two hours south of León on the fast train, the AVE.

What’s to See in León?

For a relatively small city, León boasts numerous historical buildings. These include the Gothic cathedral with its celebrated stained glass windows; the 10th century church Basílica de San Isidoro de León; the neogothic Casa Botines, designed by the famous Catalan architect Anton Gaudí; and the Hostal de San Marcos.

All these buildings have fascinating histories but for some reason, that of San Marcos always captured my imagination the most because of the many functions it’s fulfilled over the centuries.

San Marcos Leon Spain
A building that’s changed functions many times over the centuries, San Marcos is now a luxury hotel

San Marcos has variously been:

  • A hospital-temple providing shelter to pilgrims travelling the Camino de Santiago (12th century)
  • The main residence in the Kingdom of León for the Order of Santiago, a religious and military order founded to protect the pilgrims, ‘defend Christendom and … remove the Muslim Moors from the Iberian Peninsula’ (Wikipedia) (12th century). This was because as the capital of the Kingdom of León, León took an active part in the Reconquista, the reconquest of Spain from the Moors. (Want to read more about Moorish rule in Spain? See my previous blog, A Visit to the Hanging Houses of Cuenca.) 
  • A monastery/convent (comprising church, façade and cloister and sacristy). The medieval building, in poor condition, was largely demolished in the 16th century and rebuilt over the following couple of centuries (16th—18th centuries)
  • Makeshift prison cell for the lampooning and controversial Spanish nobleman, politician and poet of the Baroque era, Francisco de Quevedo (17th century)
  • A dark part of León’s history was when San Marcos was converted into temporary dungeons during the Spanish Civil War. Cells, rooms, stables, cloisters, church, choir, museum – every part of the building – was transformed into dungeons or jailers’ offices (1936—1940)
  • A luxury hotel or parador, the Parador de Leon: Hostal de San Marcos (since 1965), also housing a church and museum.

Insulting the Queen

Our provocative, rather cruel friend mentioned above, Francisco de Quevedo – who himself had a club foot and was notably myopic – was notorious (or famous, depending on points of view), for enacting a dare by his friends in which he publicly insulted, through wordplay, Queen Isabel de Borbón, who was crippled (coja). He bought two bunches of flowers, one of white carnations, and one of red roses. Presenting the two bunches of flowers to the queen, he said in rhyming verse (the bolded words rhyme):

Entre el clavel blanco y la rosa roja, su majestad escoja. Translation: ‘Your Majesty, Choose between the white carnations and the red roses.’ The wordplay is between escoja, which means ‘You choose’, and es coja, which means ‘You are crippled’. In an era when physical defects were considered hugely shameful, this was, as you can imagine, a huge risk to take!

Francisco de Quevedo
Quevedo, the man who insulted the queen. (For attribution, see Acknowledgements)

A Walk Through León After 24 Years

Naturally enough, I found León a significantly larger and more spread out city to the León I’d last seen 24 years ago.

We arrived from Madrid by bus, and walked from the bus station across the river to the Papalaguinda riverside walk. The walkway was looking attractive with many more gardens, mature trees and places to sit and chat, although the river was choked with weeds. My friend told me the river had been considerably narrowed to accommodate its reduced flow over the years.

It only rains on average 75 days a year in León (although I was surprised to compare the statistics on the Gold Coast that show an average of only 25 days a year over the past 25 years). An innovation since my time in León were the many boardwalks along the river, and a significant extension of the riverside walkway extending over several kilometres.

The Barrio Húmedo

At home, we changed and headed out into León’s nightlife, visiting the Barrio Húmedo (literally, the damp quarter!) in the old part of the city within the Roman city walls. In my day, the Barrio Húmedo was the drinking and tapas ground of my Spanish friends and I. Now, it’s become more upmarket and touristy and dare I say pretentious, with more restaurants than tapas bars and a consequent upsurge in prices. However, the drinking zone has extended to encompass various other parts of the old city, and there are still plenty of watering holes with an all-Spanish clientele.

Each tapas bar has its own specialty, and becomes popular (or unpopular) depending on what they offer. What becomes popular can be surprising. One of the typical bars we visited specialises in spuds cut into thin rounds and deep fried, served with garlic and chilli. Actually – delicious!

A Mix of Work, Wine and Tapas

Each day followed a similar pattern. I’d get up reasonably early and immediately get stuck into my work, wonderfully distraction-free compared to being at home where the cat, meal preparation and housework tend to disrupt one! When my friend got up, we’d have breakfast, usually a smoothie or smoothie bowl with blueberries, banana, soymilk, seeds and muesli. Then I’d get back to work. At Spanish lunchtime, 2 or 3 pm, my friend and I would make a h-u-g-e salad (remember, it was summertime) full of mixed greens, chickpeas, avocado, tomatoes, red peppers and whatever else we fancied on the day. We’d have this with a delicious dark multigrain bread smothered in hummus. We’d talk over lunch, catching up on family and old times, then it was back to work until about 7 pm.

As I’ve mentioned in other blogs in the Spanish Series (Writers’ Retreat in Spain, A Day in the Life of a Writer in Spain, Writing Groups in Madrid, and A Visit to the Hanging Houses of Cuenca), 7 pm feels super-early in Spain, where in summer, it doesn’t get fully dark until 11 pm.

Mornings and nights in León are cool even in summertime, though the days are hot. Nothing like Madrid hot, but in the high 20s or early 30s. Being amongst mountains, it’s very cold in wintertime (averaging highs of 8°C and lows of below zero).

We’d go for a long evening walk, taking in areas we used to live in and places we used to visit, as well as new areas – probably established 15 or more years ago, but new to me! Then we’d settle in a tapas bar and have their specialty tapa along with a delicious local red (or two) for me, and a beer for my friend.

Sunday, Sunday

Sunday morning was a break in the daily routine, with a Spanish breakfast out in a café: pastry and coffee. I ended up settling for a small black, as many bars don’t yet have soymilk and those that do use the sweetened variety. After breakfast, it was back home to work.

I’d been expecting to see a familiar face since arriving in León, but in the 10 days I saw only one other person I knew from way back when. We were out walking on Sunday afternoon – and it was still very hot at 8 pm – when I recognised her walking towards us with a couple of friends. She couldn’t believe it was me, and there was a lot of fast talking to try and bridge that 24-year gap. We caught up again a couple of days later for morning coffee to talk some more about our families and what we were both up to now.

cathedral of Leon
The Cathedral of León

The Time to Say Goodbye to Spain Arrives

The time for goodbyes finally arrived on the morning of Saturday 13 July, when I left León on the fast train, the AVE, for Madrid.

My friend kindly walked me from his house to the train station, about 10 minutes. We always used to walk everywhere, so this visit was like old times. Then it was goodbye, waving from the train carriage, watching him disappear as the train left the station, and shedding a few tears.

In Madrid on the Saturday morning, it was still cool, and relatively quiet in the train and metro stations. From the train station, the metro trip to the airport was straightforward. I only needed to change lines once and my terminal, T4, was the last stop. The only confusing thing was that at the airport stop, I had to pay an extra 3E on top of my transport card – like Brisbane, the last part of the metro line to the airport is privately owned – and it wasn’t at all clear how to do this! I wasn’t the only one confused, and the poor staff were backwards and forwards helping people. The authorities need to sort that one out!

I had hours at the airport before it was properly time to say goodbye to Spain, but preferred that to depositing my suitcase somewhere and passing the day in Madrid’s heat. A perfect opportunity to catch up on some more work. I mucked about in the airport shops, bought the Saturday special edition of the Spanish newspaper El País that I intended reading back at home, then ordered lunch – and left the newspaper on the restaurant counter.

My Emirates flight left on time at 10 pm. My seat had plenty of leg room, though I had absolutely no sleep whatsoever on the eight-hour trip. But I watched two good movies, The Joy Luck Club and Five Feet Apart. Emirates is proud of its multiculturalism, always announcing at the beginning of flights which countries the staff are from and the number of languages the crew speak – 20 different countries and 14 different languages on this flight.


Arriving at my hotel around 8.30 am, I had a whole day in Dubai, plenty of time to catch up on sleep, leisurely arrange my clothes for the homeward flight next day – I’d need something warmer than what I’d been wearing the past six weeks – then shower and change into my glad rags for a visit to Dubai Mall. I’d had no time for tourism on my way to Europe and honestly, Dubai in summertime is too hot for wandering outdoors or visiting deserts – at least for me. So contrary to my normal self, I was happy with mall walking in air-conditioned comfort.

Dubai Mall was in sight of my downtown hotel, but I took the hotel transfer there to avoid arriving sweaty and agitated. One of the streets we drove along was Happiness Street. My plan was to wander, eat, and watch the fountains/light show in the evening, before getting the second-to-last transfer back to the hotel at 7.45 pm. Check: Although I had no desire for shopping, I took in the entire centre and found the prices surprisingly reasonable, possibly because it was summer, an unpopular time for tourism.

The mall includes a giant aquarium, ice-skating rink, and waterfall with diving sculptures. Check: Happily found a restaurant with an extensive vegan menu. Sorbet in a cone for dessert while wandering around the mall. Check: Braved the still-crazy heat outdoors to watch the fountain and light show. Check: After running all the way through the mall and outdoors in the heat, made the 7.45 pm transfer to the hotel – sweaty, but not agitated. Breakfast next day was at 6.30 am, when the restaurant opened, and I was being collected by the shuttle at 7 am for the 14-hour flight to Brisbane, so I packed unhurriedly, had a nice early night and slept wonderfully.

Uneventful Flight

The flight home was uneventful – the type I like. I didn’t get a lot of sleep, but I did watch a trio of classic movies: Mr Smith Goes to Washington (James Stewart, 1939, director Frank Capra), Humoresque starring Joan Crawford (1946, director Jean Negulesco), To Catch a Thief starring Cary Grant & Grace Kelly (1955, director Alfred Hitchcock).

Brisbane greeted us with an 8°C but stunningly sunny, still morning. It was a strange feeling arriving home on the Gold Coast after six weeks away. But my boss gave me the day off – she’s so generous.

It was a day of firsts. First time back home in six weeks. First decent soy cappuccino in six weeks. Writing up my first Spanish Series blog in my local waterfront café, rugged up but enjoying the sunshine sparkling off the blue waters of the Broadwater.

It had been time to say goodbye to Spain. Now it was time to say hello to home on the Gold Coast.

Acknowledgements for Time to Say Goodbye to Spain

Francisco de Quevedo photo: Attributed to Juan van der Hamen – [2], Public Domain,

Wikipedia, 2019. Accessed 8 August 2019.

Wikipedia, 2019. Accessed 8 August 2019.

Wikipedia, 2019.,_Spain. Accessed 8 August 2019.

Wikipedia, 2019. Accessed 8 August 2019.

Wikipedia, 2019. Accessed 8 August 2019.

World Monuments Fund, Parador de León (Hostal de San Marcos), 2017. Accessed 8 August 2019.

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