This month we’re focusing on which tools we find essential in our writing life. In addition to the usual Writers Ask Writers group, it’s a pleasure to welcome Angela Savage, prize-winning Melbourne crime writer and author of three novels, most recently The Dying Beach, as our guest contributor. Thanks for playing, Angela!

Angela Savage

Angela Savage



Tools of the trade?’ So simple this month, I thought, with my cocky hat on, when I began to think about this topic – all any writer really needs is a pen and some paper.

Wrong! Turns out we need quite a lot, as the others attest too. Here are some of the tools I came up with, just for starters:


During the course of writing my books, ideas and phrases pop into my head throughout the day. Over the years I have learned to equip myself with some method of recording them so I can examine them later in more detail. I’m not especially fussy about what this is: small notebooks, the ‘Notes’ section of my phone, if I’m desperate then even a spare, clean nappy! As long as I can write on it then I will use the best thing available. My phone is usually with me, but where possible I’d rather write by hand, and so I keep small notepads in my bag. These notes are all collated and transcribed onto the computer at a later date.


My laptop is an HP (a MacBook is on my wishlist – ahem, Santa!). I have used Word for a long time, and I like Scrivener too, although I have yet to completely find my way around it. Despite my stationery fetish, I would never use a posh notebook to jot down my ideas, because my brain darts around so much that I end up with pages of random notes and have to keep rereading them. I like perforated notebooks so I can tear out pages and collate them properly. I save the pretty notebooks for diaries instead.


I wholeheartedly agree with Annabel that the internet is a godsend when it comes to research. I do have all sorts of reference books at home, various dictionaries and thesauruses, but more often than not I go online first nowadays. One of my favourite reference books is the Reverse Dictionary, which takes you from a definition/concept to find associated words or phrases.


Websites, social media platforms, phone calls, marketing materials, there are heaps of tools available to writers nowadays to help spread the word about our books. So much so that the whole thing is utterly daunting – but invaluable nevertheless.


There’s plenty of moral support available online – just check out any writer’s feed on Twitter – and the world wide web is the place to find out about author events near me, new books, and all sorts of things that will help me along the way.

I also love quotations, and pin them where I’ll see them: fridge, walls, computer home screen. Catchy little numbers like this:

The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all the world needs dreamers who do.


Last but not least, and by no means exhaustive, I need babysitters, Lindt chilli chocolate, a comfy chair and a fraction of uncluttered desk space, and preferably silence, or amenable background noise. And if I had more of that most precious tool – time – to think about this, I’m sure the list would grow. And this is all before I get to the really tough bit of actually writing a story.  Turns out my toolbox is quite extensive after all.


PWFC author collage

Writers Ask Writers

Check out what my writer friends had to say about their most valued tools of the trade:

Angela Savage:  …the less rigid my writing needs, the easier it is to capture inspiration when it strikes.

Annabel Smith: To me, the truly essential tools of the writing trade are intangible things like inspiration and time to write.

Emma Chapman: Being surrounded by signs of previous work helps me to stay present and to carry on.

Dawn Barker: At the start of each new novel, I buy myself a new notebook to keep everything together.

Amanda Curtin: I couldn’t get by without my post-it notes, markers in every colour, and more pens and pencils than the average person would use in a lifetime.

Natasha Lester: …my most loved tool is the amazing writing software program, Scrivener.



This month, if you live in Australia we are offering you the chance to win 12 BOOKS in our latest and greatest giveaway!!


In addition to copies of our latest novels we have each added to the pile one book that inspired our work. Alongside Shallow Breath, I’ve chosen The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony. While writing Shallow Breath I read many books on animal behaviours and human–animal bonds, but The Elephant Whisperer stood out amongst the others for a number of reasons. It is a fantastic story – all the better because it is true – of how Anthony rescued a traumatised herd of elephants and rehabilitated them on his private conservation reserve in South Africa. Anthony recounts the great lengths he went to in order to ensure the herd’s safety, and how he managed to form a unique bond with these elephants, after they had witnessed humans slaughter the rest of their herd. I wasn’t just moved by the story, I was also impressed by how Anthony managed to combine realism with idealism when discussing conservation. This delicate line is one my characters struggle with in Shallow Breath, and it is an issue I came across again and again when studying the environmental and animal rights movements. Anthony’s work helped me to develop my own fictional herd of elephants, and my character, Kate, who loves them – and it also proved great food for thought as I considered some of the broader themes of conservation and interspecies relationships found in Shallow Breath. As I finished writing the novel in March 2012, I discovered that Anthony had died suddenly when he was about to begin promoting his new book, The Last Rhinos. I am so thankful he found time to write these books amongst all his other dedicated work to saving the magnificent animals of Africa.

Unless we can allow not only elephants but all wild animals their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.

Lawrence Anthony


Enter the giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

PWFC author collageThis month the Writers Ask Writers group has tackled perhaps our most challenging question yet: Why do we write?

One of my earliest attempts at ‘writing’ was an epic poem entitled ‘Susie and the Green Washing Machine’. I’m pretty sure I wrote it for the hell of it, because I felt like it, and I didn’t intend anyone else to read it. I was about six or seven years old, had no notion of publication at the time, and I wasn’t one to stand up and recite verse at family gatherings. The poem itself is obviously crap by any critical standard, but I will always love it just as much as any novel I write. It reminds me that before I had other goals in mind, flexing my imagination was just pure and simple fun.

The foundations of my writing consisted of reading – otherwise I wouldn’t have known what a poem was, or that it was possible to craft such a thing. So one of the fundamental reasons I write is because I have always been a reader. I write because my mum passed on the value of books to me. I write because of all those other writers who have provided me with words to absorb. You might even say I write because of invisible chains of imaginative impulses that stretch back and back through time.

I write if I’m bored. So I’m rarely bored. My heart sinks if I search in my bag and find I’ve forgotten notebook and pen. As a last resort, I can craft stories in my head, although my memory often quickly loses or warps them. Nowadays the ‘Notes’ section of my phone has plenty of phrases and story ideas waiting for my attention.

I write to remember the most significant moments of my life, often in diaries and poems, not for publication.

I write to defy flesh and bone and fly away to other lives, other worlds, and the possibilities they hold. It’s my way of connecting and reconnecting with the world, with myself, with you.

I write for myself, because it’s the only way I can make my stories authentic – if I don’t find meaning and purpose in them, how can I hope that you will?

I write for you, because I want you to be fully submerged in the tale I’m telling, and when you come up for air I want you to have found value in the time you spent in one of my fictional worlds.

I write to try to look life in the eye – both when it thrills me and when it terrorises me. I write to explore the vagaries of human nature, the dichotomy of what is said and what is done.

I write to get to know myself a little better.

I write because it means a story that formed inside my head, while I went about my life in Western Australia, now sits on a shelf in a small library in Virginia, USA. And I get a geeky, writerly thrill about that.

I write because there is always something more waiting to be written.


In the blogs that follow you’ll find five distinct answers to this question of why we write, and yet all of them resonated with me. Annabel Smith talks of ‘the deep satisfaction of pounding at a sentence, a paragraph, and beyond, to create something which others will connect with and be moved by’. Natasha Lester discusses the gifts of both writing and reading, saying, when I am given a story by a writer, I feel it as an abundance: an abundance of experience and of emotion and of people. Dawn Barker describes writing as an escape, an intellectual challenge, and an incredibly frustrating puzzle that gives me immense satisfaction when I solve it’, while Amanda Curtin takes us on a trip to Scotland and a lightbulb moment: ‘So this is what I’m supposed to be doing’. Finally, Emma Chapman provides five reasons for writing, including the lifestyle of a writer: the flexibility of working from home, of being able to travel, and of feeling free.’ I gained great value and insight from their posts this month, and encourage you to click through and read them all.col-md-2

Our baby girl

Our baby girl

I have been a bit quiet lately, and it’s not just that I have been busy writing my new book. We welcomed our second daughter into the world just over two weeks ago, and I am a very proud and busy mum at the moment. I plan to spend the next few months focusing primarily on our family, but Book 4 is well on the way, and I have a few other exciting projects in the pipeline, so keep checking back for writing news. Meanwhile, if you have read my previous books you can find plenty of extras at and Happy reading!col-md-2

Fiction writing is all about inhabiting other lives for a period of time, so for this month’s Writers Ask Writers we’ve put a twist on this concept to ask ourselves the question: If you could jump into the life of another author, past or present, for one day, who would it be and why? Joining our Writers Ask Writers group this month as our guest blogger is Kirsten Krauth, author of Just a Girl and writer of the popular blog Wild Colonial Girl. Thanks for getting involved, Kirsten!

KK headshot & book cover

I’ve had great fun considering my answer to this question – although the day to be experienced is perhaps as crucial as the choice of author – I’m not sure I’d want to be anyone else on a low-key pyjama day or end up spending the afternoon with their accountant. So, presuming I can pick a day, who should I be? Should I be Margaret Atwood, who seems to have great fun developing interesting projects and whose imagination and literary genius I greatly admire? Or could I be Kate Morton, who is always off on interesting research projects, or Alice Walker and discover more about possessing the secret of joy. Perhaps I could go back in time instead, and become Virginia Woolf on a day when the Bloomsbury set were coming to tea? Or find out if Jane Austen was lonely, and how she managed to write and edit full length manuscripts by hand? I could be a Bronte sister, lost in my imagination while wandering the desolate moors, or perhaps Wordsworth, walking in the Lake District, which would certainly inspire me with my current book research. I could even be Lady Anne Clifford, diarist and celebrated patron of authors in the 1600s, on a day when one of her more exciting visitors – Ben Jonson or John Donne – came to call. However, I think for sheer intrigue I will go back to a day in 1990 on a crowded train and become JK Rowling  the moment she met Harry Potter in her imagination for the first time – apparently without a pen, so with hours to simply sit and think through what would become the defining book series of a generation. Rowling says she started writing The Philosopher’s Stone the same night, but that those first attempts bear no resemblance to the finished book. How I’d love to see what that very first draft looked like! If you could jump into an author’s life for a day, who would you be and why? Here’s what my fellow writers had to say: PWFC author collageOur guest Kirsten Krauth beautifully channels a songwriting genius. Dawn Barker would travel back in time to the shores of Lake Geneva, while Amanda Curtin would have a taste of the life of a prolific WA writer. Both Natasha Lester and Annabel Duckworth-Smith would journey to the US in the mid twentieth century, while Emma Chapman would also love to peer into the mind of one of the giants of US literature.col-md-2

Guest blogger Hannah Richell

Guest blogger Hannah Richell

For this month’s Writers Ask Writers blog we have decided to write about books that changed us – no small topic! We’re also delighted that Hannah Richell, author of the fabulous Secrets of the Tides and The Shadow Year, is our very first guest blogger. Thanks for joining us, Hannah!

This list only touches the surface of how books have affected my life, but here’s a short list of books that mean a lot to me for a number of different reasons:

1)      A shocking teenage discovery…

I read my way through all the Bronte and Austen novels during my teens, but it was Brother in the Land by Robert Swindell that remains my most memorable read, opening my eyes to the terrible after-effects of a nuclear explosion through the eyes of a young boy called Danny. I can still remember the horror I felt during the scene when a baby is born deformed in the aftermath of the bomb. And to know that these bombs really existed – and had been used on people – was terrifying.

2)      The unique talents of Alice Walker

I am fourteen years old. I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me… So begins Celie’s letter to God at the start of Alice Walker’s best-known work, The Colour Purple. Alice Walker is one of my favourite writers because she never shies away from horror and pain, and The Colour Purple is confronting right from the beginning. However, despite Walker’s direct and powerful examination of dark subjects, there is often an irrepressible thread of hope in her stories and poetry.

3)      The best kind of soul-searching

In my twenties, at a stage in my life when I desperately needed some support and guidance, I came across a Wayne Dyer book called Wisdom through the Ages. In this collection of essays, Dyer uses sayings, quotations and poetry from notable thinkers in history – from Rumi to e.e. cummings – to begin short examinations of many different, timeless human traits. This book has been invaluable to me, both comforting and empowering.

4)      Inspiring, absorbing, twisty fiction…

In this category I’d like to put all books that have inspired me in my writing, or reminded me just how good popular fiction can be. On this list I’d certainly include My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell, The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton and Sister by Rosamund Lupton – brilliant books by fine writers who develop intriguing stories with strong characters, and they all have the knack of nailing the unexpected twist. I should give a nod here to Agatha Christie’s books too – I read most of them in my early teens.

5)      A brilliant narrative on hope, life and conservation…

One of the best bits about writing Shallow Breath was researching people’s relationships with animals. I’ve picked The Elephant Whisperer out of quite a few inspirational books I read at this time, simply because I got so much from Lawrence Anthony’s balanced reflections on what it is possible for humans to achieve, how we can know so much yet understand so little, and how our blind spots are failing us. Those are the underlying themes of this compelling and honest story of a single herd of elephants who were saved because of Anthony’s eleventh-hour intervention.

PWFC author collageSo which books do my fellow writers think changed them? I think it’s safe to say that there’s an Enid Blyton fan club going on among our group (I’m absolutely on board with that!). Click on the links to find out which books are being referred to in the teasers below:

Hannah Richell: I was about eight-years-old when my Grandmother gave me this book…

Annabel Smith: It would not be an exaggeration lto say it blew my tiny mind and I’ve been hooked on sci-fi ever since.

Natasha Lester:her sentences are the kind I dream about writing.

Amanda Curtin: I responded to its story of love, family, friendship; its internal storytelling…

Emma Chapman: … a book that set my imagination on fire …

Dawn Barker: This was the book that has had the biggest influence on my own writing career…




Shallow Breath coverSome lovely news this week when the Davitt Awards long list was announced. Shallow Breath is on there alongside a record number of female crime and mystery authors.  The awards are administered by Sisters in Crime Australia, and will be presented at the end of August. It’s a privilege to be mentioned among some very talented writers. To see the full list, visit the Sisters in Crime website.col-md-2

For this month’s Writers Ask Writers series we are answering a tricky question posed by a reader of Annabel Smith’s blog:

How do you maintain interest in your project when you’re discouraged?

 PWFC author collage


Writing doesn’t get easier with time; every novel is a first novel.

John le Carre

For me, the hardest moment of my novels is beginning them. While stories sit in my mind they can stretch, explore, they bend with ease, but in the process of beginning to get things down on paper I am easily discouraged. My words are woolly, my descriptions are awkward and uninventive, and the drivel on the page does not reflect either the compelling plot or absorbing characters that have taken over my imagination. For me, the challenge is then chiseling away at this rough-hewn story, and through sheer effort and commitment trying to turn it into something interesting, enjoyable and valuable.


My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.

Anais Nin


That being said, I’ve learned through bitter experience that if I stare too hard or too long at a troubling page of words, I can’t see anything. In getting past difficult moments when creating my stories, I’ve found I need to rely on a delicate tension: acknowledging a problem as truthfully as I can to myself – this character isn’t working, I don’t know where to go next, the story seems to have broken down – and then having the courage to let the problem sit, without turning away from it. Sometimes this means putting the computer aside or the pen down, and doing something else. It means trusting that the answer will come without me spending 24/7 chasing it. My story remains much fresher to me when I don’t get caught up in obsessing about it.


The greatest gift is not being afraid to question.

Ruby Dee


One of the most valuable things I’ve learned so far is not to fear discouragement when I am writing. A stumbling block might contain a valuable lesson – if I can shake off the cloud of emotions that tend to trail after this feeling, and can easily envelop me in foggy insecurity if I dally too long. I’ve learned to try not to pay any attention to that painful little voice that likes to remind me that I’m a bit rubbish if it gets half a chance. If I don’t feel my story is working, then I take a step back and think objectively about why. What do I need to do to get past the problem? Sometimes the questions are small – Do I need another scene? – and sometimes they are larger – Is this the right book for me to be working on at the moment? But I’ve found there’s ultimately no harm in asking questions, even difficult ones, and it is often the first step in finding my way forward.

I can’t help but end with this marvelous quote from Geraldine Brooks, showing that the very best writers know what it is to experience discouragement:

Writing may aspire to art, but it begins as craft. Words are stones, and the book is a wall. You choose each stone with consideration, you place it with effort. Sometimes, you find just the right stone – the right shape and heft – for that difficult niche, and the effect is beautiful and satisfying. Your wall has gone up straight and true.

Other days, you pick up one stone and then another, and none is right. You try it, it will not fit. Frustrated, you jam it in anyhow. The effect is unsightly, the balance precarious. You come back the next day and cannot bear to look at it. You bring in the back hoe and knock it over.

The important thing is the effort. There can be no day without lifting stones. And after enough days, if you have sweated enough, scraped enough skin off your hands, been patient and diligent with your craft, unsparing in use of the back hoe, you will, in the end, have a wall. And it may even be a beautiful wall that will last for a hundred years.

[Read Geraldine Brooks’ full article here]


Every writer knows what it is to experience discouragement, so if it’s happening to you then you are certainly not alone. You can read all about how my fellow writers experience and respond to discouragement by heading over to their blogs:

I try different strategies, and the way forward often seems to lie in the space between persevering and allowing time for sifting and settling…Go to Amanda Curtin’s blog

‘Nothing comes out perfect first time.’ Go to Emma Chapman’s blog

‘trust your subconscious...’ Go to Dawn Barker’s blog

A residency is a wonderful boost.Go to Natasha Lester’s blog

‘I think there are two main reasons why we become discouraged with our writing. The first relates to difficulties with the project, the second is about ourselves.’ Go to Annabel Smith’s blog



Toni Morrison BelovedI am delighted to be appearing on Annabel Smith’s blog today talking about one of my favourite works of fiction, Beloved by Toni Morrison. To read the piece in full, click here.col-md-2