{Author Guest Post} Bonnie Wynne on lawyer skills and creative writing

Saturday, 1 February 2020


High-flying lawyer turns courtroom drama into blockbuster novel success. Sadly, I’m talking about John Grisham, not myself. As far as lawyer-novelists go, he takes the crown for most famous. But even Charles Dickens dabbled as a law clerk, and Harper Lee dropped out of an Alabama law school at age 23. So what turns so many respectable legal minds into starving, bohemian artists?

Maybe the real question is what turns creative writers into lawyers. A home truth: law school is where you go when you love writing but also love money. So off I went to learn the law, bright-eyed and eager, with a briefcase full of dreams and unfinished manuscripts about dragons.   

The Venn diagram between lawyer skills and writer skills is basically just a circle, and the most obvious shared skill is ‘sitting down’. We do a lot of that. But the second most obvious is language. Lawyers spend all day wrestling with the written word. Every sentence must pull its weight. These days, I can draft cleanly and hack through superfluous adverbs like a machete through the underbrush. A writer must kill their darlings, and I have no qualms about executing mine on sight. And I like to think it works both ways; that my creative side gives my law writing a little extra pizzazz. My boss may disagree (as he strikes out the word ‘pizzazz’ from my draft).

Law school also teaches you to see an argument from both sides. That’s not so different from the job of a writer: to put yourself in the shoes of somebody else. Imagining the point of view of an orc is a little different from imagining the view of opposing counsel (or is it?), but the principle is the same.

The Ninth Sorceress tells the story of Gwyn, who was raised in a travelling wagon by a stern and emotionally distant father figure. My own childhood was crushingly normal, so I had to imagine the world from her perspective. Who would you become if you were forbidden from having friends? How would you react to the abrupt and cataclysmic upheaval of your life? Those were the questions that intrigued me as I was developing Gwyn’s character.

Lawyers are detail-oriented by nature, and that’s a great skill to develop if you want to write well. My favourite podcaster Tim Clare always talks about crunchy specificity, which basically means steering away from the broad and obvious word choices and picking something with texture, something that suggests a world or a time period or a cultural milieu. It’s putting your protagonist in a clumsily hand-stitched sarafan instead of a shirt and trousers. I often fantasise about tattooing crunchy specificity onto my forehead.

Law school teaches you to be specific, with statutes and precedents and case law. Sure, you can show up in court and ramble about how ‘it’s the Constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s the vibe’. (But please don’t). And sure, you can write about how your wizard’s library smells of dust. But that’s an obvious choice, and it’s not going to wake up the dozing peanut-crunchers in the back row. What else? Floor wax? Woodworm? Buckram? Specific, specific, specific.

That brings me to the next great lawyer skill: research. At work, my browser history would put you to sleep. But at home it would put me in jail. Torture with hot irons. How to dispose of a body. How to make gunpowder. In law and in fiction, it pays to know what you’re talking about. Or if you don’t know, at least you can sound like you do. Research: the backbone of any convincing lie.

One thing every writer needs is discipline. Writing is work, even when you’re enjoying it. It’s tempting to go play video games or watch another episode or pair your entire sock collection. Those things are easier and more fun (well, maybe not the socks). And it’s no surprise that discipline is a mandatory skill in law school. If you’re a natural procrastinator (hello), the terrifying onslaught of essay deadlines and take-home exams will beat it out of you.

You can’t force inspiration – sometimes you turn the creative tap and only a trickle comes out. But you can force your butt into the seat. I wrote The Ninth Sorceress piecemeal over the course of a decade. But I wrote the first draft of Book 2 in just a few months, my fingers clacking at the keys so fast they started getting friction burns. Luckily, the warring wizards of The Ninth Sorceress are a lot more fun to write about than tortious misfeasance.

If my writing career takes off, it would be nice to eventually leave the law books behind. But in the meantime, I owe a lot to my legal training. And if I ever get sick of gods and alchemists, maybe I can try one of those twisty courtroom thrillers. John Grisham, I’m coming for your crown.

THE NINTH SORCERESS, Bonnie Wynne's debut fantasy novel, is slated for release February 13.


About the book


The Ninth Sorceress (The Price of Magic #1) by Bonnie Wynne
Released: 13th February 2020
Published by: Talem Press
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 360
In the blackest dungeon of the Clockwork City, a prisoner lies bound in silver shackles. Who is she? And why are the wizards so afraid of her?

Seventeen-year-old Gwyn has no family and no past. Apprenticed to a half-mad herbalist, she travels the snow-blasted High Country, hawking potions in a peddler’s wagon. Her guardian hides her from the world like a dark secret, and she knows better than to push for answers. But when she discovers she is hunted by the goddess Beheret, Gwyn is drawn into a deep and ancient tale: of chained gods and lost magic, of truths long buried and the rising of a war she never could have imagined. Wizards and their magic-sniffing hounds pursue her – as does a stranger in a smiling mask, who calls her by an unfamiliar name...

But what really terrify her are the dangerous gifts she’s spent her life suppressing. Now, Gwyn must step out of the shadows and take charge of her destiny – even if the price is her own soul. The Ninth Sorceress is the breathtaking first instalment of The Price of Magic, a sweeping fantasy saga full of rich storytelling and tangible magic.

About the author


Bonnie Wynne studied Writing and Cultural Studies at UTS, and completed her law degree at the University of Sydney. After a brief stint in legal publishing, she now works for the Australian government, deciphering ancient law tomes.

She lives in Sydney with her cocker spaniel, Percival Hector (Canine Inspector). When she's not reading or writing, she can be found playing video games, booking her next holiday, or elbow-deep in flour.

THE NINTH SORCERESS is her debut novel and the first book in her series, THE PRICE OF MAGIC.

Author Interview: Seven Sides of Self by Nancy Joie Wilkie

Monday, 20 January 2020

Seven Sides of Self by Nancy Joie Wilkie
Released: 5th November 2019
Published by: She Writes Press
Genre: Short stories
Source: Publisher
Pages: 152
Seven Sides of Self explores seven aspects of an individual — the storyteller, the skeptic, the survivor, the saint (or the sinner), the scholar, the seeker, and the savior. Through the lives of the central characters, Nancy examines themes of battling strong emotions, the lengths we might go to for self-preservation and self-sacrifice, the inability to accept things as different, and taking responsibility for what we create.

Each story seeks to contribute something to our ability to better understand ourselves, the world around us, and the conflicts we all face. Original and thought-provoking, these stories will delight any fan of science-fiction and fantasy.
Author Interview with Nancy Joie Wilkie

How did you first come up with the concept for Seven Sides of Self?

The answer to your question starts with the Preface in the book:

The title and the concept of grouping together these seven stories came to me in a flash. I had just spent the morning exploring my favorite art museum. My mind was full of ideas for new art pieces and projects.  I then made the short drive to the nearby artisan village. After visiting several shops I found myself hungry and walked over to a little sundry shop — “simplyummy.”  I placed my order and prepared myself for a wait of a dozen minutes. By the time my sandwich and salad arrived, I had sketched out the general structure for the book on a paper napkin. As I stepped back out into the hot Southern afternoon after finishing lunch, I carried with me the seeds for ‘Seven Sides of Self’ firmly registered in my mind. Oh, yes — and I had a beaming smile on my face! The Muses had chosen to bless me once again with their spark and inspiration. God bless them!

As for what the title signifies for me—there are little pieces of me in each of those seven stories — hence the title of the collection.

Were there any particular moments during the writing process for this book that helped you learn more about yourself?

The answer to this question is pretty much summed up in the first story of the book (”There Once Was A Man …”).  If one reads that first full sentence of the story, it goes like this: “There once was a man who wanted to write.” The story is somewhat autobiographical and relays the trials and tribulations that one must go through when one first feels the urge to write.

What made you decide to set most of the stories with a sci-fi twist, as opposed to the present day?

Actually, this was not a conscious decision because most of the stories were written before I ever had the inspiration to group these seven stories together as a collection.  So three of the stories (“There Once Was A Man …,” “Microwave Man,” and “Old Mims”) are set more or less in the present day — definitely not on some distant planet or in the far future. Three of the stories (“The Ledge,” “An Intricate Balance,” and “Of The Green And Of The Gold”) are most definitely set in a “sci-fi” realm. The one remaining story (“Journey To Pradix”) is not really set in either the present day or in the far future but rather has more of an epic fantasy feel to it.

And hence — all of this only serves to convey one of the criticisms of the collection — that being that it is very difficult to categorize the book as either pure science-fiction or strictly short story fiction.

What is the main message you hope readers will be able to take from Seven Sides of Self?

Ah, yes, good question! In general, I offer these stories as a means for readers to explore different ways to deal with dreams, fear, curiosity, sacrifice, desire, faith, love. But each story has its own message:

We all struggle to be creative, to be unique.
We all face life-defining decisions.
We are all curious about what’s “out there.”
We all struggle to balance self-preservation with self-sacrifice.
We all want justice for all.
We all strive for certainty that there is something beyond this life.
We all have a need to protect our children.

To sum things up: We all must deal with our emotions.

Without giving too much away, is there a particular quote or story in the collection that holds a particularly special meaning for you?

From “The Ledge”
“Why prolong thought for the sake of being able to think for a few more minutes?”

This line of thinking speaks to me every time I contemplate prolonging the life of someone who is suffering from a terminal illness.

From “Of The Green And Of The Gold”
“By Earth standards, the Color of one’s clothes is trivial; meaningless for all practical purposes.  And yet, in the absence of any other difference, this relatively inconsequential factor has become something monstrous on Aurillia—something that can, if disturbed, invoke nausea, arouse suspicion, and lead to death.  The logical summation of this set of circumstances is that the more identical those within a society are, the less tolerant the society is of differences.  So intolerant of this difference are the Aurillians, that it is the only reason one is put to death on this otherwise crime-free and war-free planet.” This story is really about how we deal with homophobia and transphobia.

From “Old Mims”
“You still can’t convince me your bleeding all over typing paper is good for the soul.  What I can’t figure out is from where do these wretched individuals that you dream up come?  Is there some repository of dark characters in the back of your mind you tap into every time you write one of your stories?  Have you ever thought maybe someone ‘upstairs’ is dropping these folks into your pitiful little brain because He can’t bear the thought of giving them life any other way?  What if a power greater than you or me is pulling all of the strings in this grand ol’ universe and there really isn’t any such thing as individual creativity?”

And this bit of pondering comes from my own thoughts about the Muses.

Could you give us a hint at what you might be working on next?

Sure!

First, there is my music! My fourth collection of original tunes titled “Aurillian Tales” is scheduled for release in early 2020. Several of the compositions are meant to bring a musical element to the stories that mention Planet Aurillia. The opening track titled “Aurillian Sea” mimics the painting described on Page 44 of Microwave Man.” The closing track titled “Aurillian Dream (Casla’s Lament)” attempts to convey the rather harsh punishment that Aurillia gave to Casla (one of the characters in “Of The Green And Of The Gold”). And I think that the overall “feel” of the CD is meant to mirror some of the same feelings that a reader might experience while reading the stories.

I also have a collection of short stories — actually fables — each ending with a moral containing a pair of anagrams. The idea is that the fable will highlight either the humor or the irony of the anagrammic pair (think “present” and “serpent,” or “ocean” and “canoe,” or “listen” and “silent”).

I have started working on a follow-up short story collection tentatively titled “Faraway and Forever.” There are four short stories (“The Natural Order of Things,” “The Wishbringer,” “Half The Sky,” and “The Last Sunday of Summer”) all a bit longer than the stories in “Seven Sides of Self,” and all are in the sci-fi/fantasy realm. I want to explore more fully the Three Laws of Spiritual Mechanics, Mothersouls, and a few other surprises.

And finally, some number of years ago I started a sci-fi novel titled, “The Oaks of Mamre.” It explores one man’s quest for immortality and the lengths to which he is willing to go — even at the expense of other people’s lives.


About the author

Nancy Joie Wilkie worked for over 30 years in both the biotechnology industry and as a part of the federal government’s biodefense effort. She served as a project manager, providing oversight for the development of many new products. Now retired, she composes original music, plays a variety of instruments, and records many of her compositions. “Seven Sides of Self” is her first fiction publication. Nancy resides in Brookeville, Maryland. More about Nancy and her work can be found at www.mindsights.net.

Review - Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge

Monday, 9 December 2019

Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge
Released: 15th October 2018
Published by: Penguin
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Bought
Pages: 160
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
From the Norwegian explorer, a stunning meditation on the power of silence and how to shut out the world.

Behind a cacophony of traffic noise, iPhone alerts and our ever-spinning thoughts, an elusive notion - silence - lies in wait. But what really is silence? Where can it be found? And why is it more important now than ever?

Erling Kagge, the Norwegian adventurer and polymath, once spent fifty days walking solo in Antarctica with a broken radio. In this meditative, charming and surprisingly powerful book, he explores the power of silence and the importance of shutting out the world. Whether you're in deep wilderness, taking a shower or on the dance floor, you can experience perfect stillness if you know where to look. And from it grows self-knowledge, gratitude, wonder and much more.

Take a deep breath, and prepare to submerge yourself in Silence. Your own South Pole is out there, somewhere.
Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy.

Reading this book was a breath of fresh air in a world that never stands still. This unassuming title was a serendipitous find in the art gallery shop, and since I can't say I've ever read anything by a Norwegian explorer I thought it would be a good place to start. What I didn't know then was that it would turn into one of my absolute favourite books of the year. What Kagge proves through these mini-essays and insights is that it doesn't always have to take a weighty tome to explore deep reflections on life - just a few fitting references to philosophers, a scattering of personal anecdotes and a warm tone that brings its own sense of calm to the whole piece.

Is it possible to both be present in the world and not present at the same time? I think it is. To me, those brief moments when I dwell on the horizon and am captivated by my surroundings, or when I do nothing more than study a rock with green moss and find myself unable to pull away, or else when I simply hold a child in my arms, are the greatest. Time suddenly stops and I am simultaneously present and completely distant. All at once, a brief moment can seem like an eternity. 

As Kagge himself remarks at one point, who would have thought there would be so much to say about something as basic as 'silence'? What I got out of the book in its entirety, from reflections on the author's explorations in the stark desolation of the Antarctic, to life around the dinner table with his three daughters, is the importance of appreciating the small things. It sounds easy enough, and maybe even somewhat trite; yet when you think about it, it's the 'timeless' moments which can bring the greatest joy and wonder. Simply put, 'Life is long, if we listen to ourselves often enough, and look up.' It's amazing to reflect on how little time we make to truly block out all the other distractions, notifications and chatter and just sit quietly with our own thoughts - or get outside in nature and appreciate the beauty of it all.

Allow the world to vanish when you go into it.
To listen is to search for new opportunities, to seek fresh challenges. The most important book you can read is the one about yourself. It is open. I've started to understand why I was so fascinated as a small boy by the snail who carries his house on his back. We can also carry our houses - everything we have - within us. 

I tabbed so many sections of this book as I was reading, but the quote above has to be my favourite..."The most important book you can read is the one about yourself." Being the author of your own life story is a gift we all have, and maybe it takes reading something like this to realise just how significant that is. One thing's for sure, this book is both thought provoking and memorable - perfect for revisiting when you're looking for a slice of solitude amidst an ever-evolving hectic schedule.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Almost anyone will find something to relate to in Silence. Erling Kagge is definitely onto something with this eloquent work that allows for the reader to experience moments where 'the world is shut out for a moment, and an inner peace and silence takes over.' For me, it's moments like that which make everything worthwhile. 

Waiting on Wednesday: The Long Distance Playlist

Wednesday, 27 November 2019


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly prompt hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are looking forward to. This week I've picked The Long Distance Playlist by Tara Eglington.


Told primarily in instant messenger conversations, Skype, emails and texts, this is Jaclyn Moriarty's Feeling Sorry for Celia for the modern teen.

Taylor and Isolde used to be best friends - before THAT FIGHT, 18 months ago. It's been radio silence ever since - until Taylor contacts Isolde to sympathise with her breakup: the breakup that she never saw coming; the breakup that destroyed her confidence and ended her dreams of joining the National Ballet School.

Taylor's had his own share of challenges, including a life-altering accident that has brought his hopes of competing at the Winter Olympics to a halt. Isolde responds to Taylor, to be polite. But what starts out as heartbreak-themed Spotify playlists and shared stories of exes quickly becomes something more. And as Taylor and Isolde start to lean on each other, the distance between them begins to feel not so distant after all ...

A boy. A girl. A one-of-a-kind friendship. Cross-country convos and middle-of-the-night playlists. With big dreams come even bigger challenges. 

I've been following Tara Eglington's books since she first got published with the fun and witty release of How to Keep a Boy From Kissing You (followed by its fitting sequel How to Convince a Boy to Kiss You). Then came the brilliant exploration of female friendship in My Best Friend is a Goddess, so I can't wait to see how this latest novel goes. If her track record so far is anything to go by, this is going to be something special - I can't wait to get my hands on a copy!

Releasing 16th December 2019 from HarperCollins Australia

Review: The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading and Writing by Debra Adelaide

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

The Innocent Reader by Debra Adelaide
Released: 24th September 2019
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Pages: 257
Books are impractical companions and housemates: they are heavy when you are travelling, and in the home take up a lot of space, are hard to keep clean, and harbour insects. It is not a matter of the physical book, it is the deep emotional connection that stretches back to my early years. Living without them is unimaginable. 

These collected essays share a joyous and plaintive glimpse into the reading and writing life of novelist, editor and teacher of creative writing Debra Adelaide.

Every book I have read becomes part of me, and discarding any is like tearing out a page from my own life. 

With immediate wit and intimacy, Adelaide explores what shapes us as readers, how books inform, console and broaden our senses of self, and the constant conversation of authors and readers with the rest of their libraries. Drawing from her experiences in the publishing industry, the academic world, her own life and the literary and critical communities, she paints a vibrant portrait of a life lived in and by books, perfect for any student, bibliophile, editor, or simply: reader.
Thanks to Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

There is something comforting about coming back to reading essays from fellow bookworms about just what makes reading such a major part of their lives. A few years ago I had the pleasure of eagerly flipping the pages of The Simple Act of Reading, edited by Debra Adelaide, which so eloquently described the joy and wonder which these words on a page can inspire. In The Innocent Reader we have a glimpse into Adelaide's own reading and writing habits, alongside how books had shaped her life from her early years, to raising a family and becoming an academic. 

I don't know how you cope. People would say this constantly over the months that followed. What with the other children, your work...There was no mystery. I told people I coped because I had to, as any other parent would do the circumstances. I coped because there was no question of not coping, there was quite simply no alternative...But there was another reason I could cope, which was one I could never articulate, seeing as it sounded so simple-minded at times, even callous. I coped because I read. My diary of that first year or so of the treatment is also a diary of my reading, haphazard and arbitrary, literary and highbrow.

It may seem easy to dismiss taking the time to pick up a book and escape for a little while into another world as something frivolous when we could always be doing something else - or if you are reading, for it to be at least something 'literary' or 'highbrow'. But what I love about Adelaide's voice which comes through so clearly here is that literary 'snobbery' doesn't need to have a place at the table in our everyday lives. After all, where is there room for that kind of ego when you are facing some of the biggest challenges of your life? The chapters detailing reading both for her son and herself at his bedside at Sydney Children's Hospital after he was diagnosed with cancer made clear just what a difference these simple moments with a book can make.

Everyone has a story in them. Everyone has a novel in them, or so it is frequently said. And humans tell stories...so it makes sense that people everywhere, from cocktail parties to wedding receptions and the signing queues in bookshops, lean forward confidentially and offer you a story, if only you are prepared to write it. 

While it was so interesting to read about the author's personal life in this book, The Innocent Reader also offers some really useful insights into the writing process and how to go about reviewing too. Now being a 'literary critic' is a whole other world from this land of book blogging, but the process of filtering your thoughts on a written work through both a subjective and objective lens is similar. It's definitely made me reflect on how I look at the books I read, and what that special something is that draws me to a particular author or writing style. With a balanced and measured approach of someone who is well within the literary scene, Adelaide offers her own advice and reflections in a way which all readers should be able to take something away from. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

As one of my favourite quotes from this book states, "There can never be too many books, or too many writers. Or too many readers, or too much reading." When it comes down to it, I couldn't have said it better myself.