Friday, 24 July 2015

My Father, and Other Stories

It was the great writer, Terry Pratchett who wrote, “Our ability to make other worlds made us human.”

And it was another famous Terry, my father, who came along with me to Toastmasters this week and taught me how to give a speech. Dad’s what I call ‘a natural orator’. He doesn’t have to try hard to speak in public the way I do! When I get called upon, I waffle and panic, whereas my father is ever smooth and unflappable.

Invited to speak for a minute, my father knew to go straight for the jugular.

Asked to speak on his past, he started out with a killer first line. “My childhood was dictated by Hitler.”

Way to bring the audience to a standstill, Dad! People strained to hear what happened next.

We, as a species, are wired for ‘story’.


Mankind first developed ways of communicating 150,000 years ago, and ancient peoples found explanations for everything that happened in their natural world. Those ideas found their expression via tales of the imagination. Suddenly, the world was a story.

Homo Sapiens became Homo Narrans, “Story-telling man”; the rest was literally history,” said Terry Pratchett.

The story-tellers’ ability to spin tales sent the human race on a path that led us to our modern existence.

Before you can change the world, you have to be able to dream up a picture of a new, better world. Who better to manufacture dreams than the story-tellers?


My father told myself and the other Toastmasters about the time that he was seven when war was declared. Hitler was sending planes to bomb England, and all the women and children had to be evacuated from the cities.

Dad was sent away from his parents in Hastings. As an only child, this was ‘hard on him and his parents’.

His mother, ‘Nan’, stayed elsewhere. She was Head County Borough Organizer of the Women’s Voluntary Service and they were busy working the equivalent of full-time jobs, weaving camouflage nets for tanks and military equipment and helping in other practical ways. Dad’s father wasn’t called up for service because he ran the power plant that supplied electricity to the whole district.


Dad went on and told us that instead of being sent to a ‘billet’ (to live with a family in the country), he was given the opportunity to go to St. Albans. At that time you had to be eight to get into the well-regarded grade school, he was only seven. Nan went with him for the entry level test.

“Spell cat,” they said.

Dad slowly spelled, “K. A. T.”

“Yet, I went to St. Albans!” He told us, and everyone laughed. Dad got a good round of applause as he returned to his chair.

Want to know more? Of course you do! Young Terrence wasn’t to return to live with his parents for five or six years after until the war ended. Dad still, to this day, doesn’t know how his mother got him into the exclusive school that sheltered him throughout the war. But he had a good education and endured no hardship there. Though by all accounts he missed his parents terribly, and they, him.

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As I say, asked to speak ‘on-the-fly’, Dad reached for his personal stories. He wove a tale about his childhood in an imaginative way that included us, the audience, and took us there. We escaped the room in the memorial hall and the winter day and went ‘somewhere else’ with him.

That’s the essential trait of a good story-teller. What is a story other than a window to another place?

The ability to spin a good yarn has long been a respected talent. It was humankind’s ability to conjure other realms through story-telling which has given us our fiction, and our mythology.

In 587 B.C. the alphabet reached the Jews, and their writings would become the best-selling book of all time, the bible. In another two thousand years, the first printing press would be created by Guttenberg and then the power of words would spread over the whole world.


Between the first human civilizations and the year 2000, they say nearly five ‘exabytes’ of information were created. Now the same amount of information gets churned out every couple of days. Probably more.

Whenever my family gathers together, we play cards, and we sit around my father in the evenings.

We listen to Grandpa’s stories; we absorb his unique contact with the past and our family’s history. We listen to his memories, his jokes and his old-time songs, the lyrics which he reads from a notebook, all written painstakingly by hand in his peculiar style of capital letters. We sit to be entertained and to share our family’s past in such a way that the tales bond us together as a group and ensures we won’t forget who we are or where we came from.


Story comes through as important rituals in many cultures.

Consider the age-old Maori tradition of the ‘Mihi’, when two factions meet, they stop and each person has the floor and the chance to give their Mihi and in that way say who they were and where they came from. This personal story sharing had a peace-serving function, creating ties with other territories through the discovery of shared friends and relatives.

That’s the real power of story. We need each other to survive. Stories weave us together.

Even today, humans are still very much Homo Narrans, “Story-telling Man”. In the global community, a story is still a powerful form of currency today. Still valued. Still responsible for our humanity.

And my father, who after his impromptu tales this week was warmly praised for his ability to ‘tell a story’, will always be welcome back at my Toastmasters club!

Dad is a Story-teller.

I am too.

How about you? What story-telling traditions abound in your family? 
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Tell me what you think in the comments…
Yvette K. Carol

“Lots of animals are bright, but as far as we can tell they’ve never come up with any ideas about who makes the thunder.” Terry Pratchett.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

“Where There Is No Vision, the People Perish” or why people should go to conferences…

The quote in the title for this post is taken from the Bible’s book of Proverbs. It speaks to me about the yearning of the human heart to have a goal—a vision—to pursue. It’s as true for us today as it was in the time of the bible that the average human being desires more than mere physical and social gratification. We also seek a wider sense of belonging in the universe.

I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the “mystery of all things”, and to borrow the phrase author, PJ Reece, coined, “the transcendental story heart”. I’m intrigued deeply by the puzzle of how to connect language to experience. My personal quest as a writer is to learn how to successfully translate the long story or the eternal aspect of ourselves.


The great Athenian philosopher, Plato, (c. 428-348 BC) used the expression techne tou biou, which means “the craft of life”, to refer not only to domestic and mechanical skills but also to development of the soul. The psyche, anima, atman, savira, semangat, nephesh, otachuk, loákal, tunzi, prana, duk, geist, sala, every ancient people had their word to describe the “life-giving principle”.


As the later Roman writer Apuleius wrote, “Everyone should know that you can’t live in any other way than by cultivating the soul.”

Artists and writers have the job of translating this wondrous ‘soul’ experience. Or as PJ Reece reminded me via email, “We live on the surface, but in constant awe of what lies beneath/above/beyond. As writers, it’s our job to live in the liminal zone between the two. And report back.”


At the end of this year, I’ll be attending the Tinderbox Conference for Children’s Writers and Illustrators (*see info. below). The first time Wellington hosted, I flew down for the ‘Spinning Gold Conference’ and over three days, I attended seminars, fangirled over authors, bought books (what’s not to love?) Yet, over and above the glamour of socializing with birds of a feather, the main thing I took away was inspiration.


Kate d Goldi, my tutor and mentor, gave a speech which she based on Jane Yolen’s idea of the ‘alphabetics of children’s literature’. “A is for antecedent,” said Kate, urging us to read the greats.

“B is for bone. Your fascination, your idiosyncratic fascination is why you were made and set here. Thoreau said, ‘Know your bone.’ Circle your preoccupations, recurring motifs, bury it up, dig it up, sniff it. If it hasn’t been written yet its because its up to you to write it.”

I was riveted. As was every person in the room. You could have heard a pin drop.

“I believe the compulsion to write comes from a deeper place,” said Kate. “I don’t write about or for children, but I write for the once and always child in myself. When I’m writing for children I’m chasing down a lost Eden, that hopeful springtime, to approximate the pleasure I had in those shaded imaginative places. The lost Eden of my childhood.”


Kate spoke of getting her ‘nourishment at the knees of writers’. Being one of the keynote speakers at the conference, now she was nourishing us.

“Carlos Fuentes’ book tells us that our lives transcend possibilities,” Kate said, “I think current stories are lacking in complex structure, nuance. Kids need more than a limited diction, and a palette of Smarties. We remember readings that acted like transformations.”

Her speech got a standing ovation as well it should. This is what we pay for, as Elizabeth Gilbert said on her amazing TED speech-, it’s ‘a glimpse of god and we need that’.


According to PJ, “There’s a theory of mental growth that states that we go through a series of psychological “disintegrations” on our way to becoming authentic persons. So it’s very much true to life that a character would be thrown into an existential void again and again. With each passage through the fire, so to speak, and with each “reintegration” the person becomes increasingly altruistic.”

Sophocles described his heroes with the term deinos, which translates loosely as “wondrous and strange.” A character who lives up to that description possesses a kind of incandescence, reminding us of the unpredictable capacity for loving sacrifice, heroism, fierce persistence—as well as craven selfishness, cowardice, vacillation—that each of us carries within his heart. ~ David Corbett

This is the transcendent moment in action. It’s what we live for.

Plato likened the perfect soul to a winged creature, hoping to soar upward toward Truth. I’ll be going to the conference in Wellington, to learn new tools for taming the muse, sure, to schmooze with other writers, yes, and also to be inspired, to soar upward toward the Truth!

Are you joining the Tinderbox in Wellington? Been to a conference lately and felt uplifted? Please share!
 See ya’ in the funny papers,
Yvette K. Carol
Humans are built for adventure and accomplishment. If we weren’t, James Bond, Indiana Jones, and the rest wouldn’t do anything for us.’ ~ Paul Rosenberg

If you’ve ever wanted to write a book for children, come to the Tinderbox Conference for Children’s Writers and Illustrators 2015. Check out the Tinderbox program is available for viewing on the website:

Registrations opened on the website on the 16th June and half the seats sold out within the first 24 hours so if you're interested, get in quick.


*RePosted from my blog over on wordpress:    

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Are you sick of ‘How to write' advice?

It’s Wednesday, time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world – or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up.

We’ve all heard the old saying which has been attributed to Somerset Maugham, ‘There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’ Well someone ought to tell that to the modern writing gurus because in the last few years there’s been an explosion of ‘how to write’ bloggers, books, articles and websites.

“Throughout your MYSTERIOUS AND WONDERFUL AND OCCASIONALLY MISERABLE ART JOURNEY, you will meet many naysayers, and you will be given enough advice that, if you wrote all this advice upon many pieces of paper, you would singularly destroy a significant portion of the world's forests.” ~ Chuck Wendig
My writing tutor said to me once ‘your sentences are kaleidoscopic!’ In my earnest attempts to win her favour I learned how to shorten and tighten. I read all the 'how to write fiction' books I could get my hands on. I thought, wow, I know nothing about writing fiction and I became filled with doubt.
“How-to” tomes often coax us to be a writer rather than encourage us to do the hard work that would turn us into writers. That is to say, write your brains out. I’ll bet there are young writers out there reading less literature than “how-to” books. We’re being seduced into posing as writers “rather than spending the time to absorb what is there in the vast riches of the world’s literature, and then crafting one’s own voice out of the myriad of voices.” (author, Richard Bausch) ~ PJ Reece
It took me years to realize that in my adherence to the modern rules of writing fiction, I had limited in every possible way my natural way of telling stories.
At one stage I found a new writing partner. He said, 'your sentences go clunk', and 'they're the oral equivalent of riding over cobblestones'. He suggested I read every single sentence aloud. I did, and I discovered something significant. I realized that in my earnest following of the rules, I'd lost the soul of my work. I'd pared, and primped to the point of squeezing the juice, the life out of my story. I had done what I was told. But all I had left was chunks of clunk.

In trying to please everybody, I had sabotaged my own story. ~ Anne R. Allen

And yet, since I’ve started reading bestsellers in my genre, one thing I’ve noticed again and again (so far), is that none of these successful writers are following the rules! What gives? Why do we have to follow the rules and they don’t?
This ties in nicely with the theme in my life as I get older, of listening to my own spirit. Allowing for my own knowingness of what's right to imbue my work, rather than what everyone else tells me is so.

Paulo Coelho ~ Books are not there to show how intelligent you are. Books are there to show your soul.
These days I'm trying to give myself full permission to 'just write', to let it flow. But I have a long way to go yet in throwing off the shackles of the myriad ‘rules’ I’ve imbibed.

Chuck Wendig ~ Write like you don’t give a damn. Write like there’s no expected outcome except a finished story.

I really like what Bryan Hutchinson had to say over on Positive Writer, he said, 'there’s a crazy myth writers need to kill: The myth: You need to be an expert in all aspects of writing to be a writer. No. No you don’t. As a writer, there’s only ONE thing you need to be able to do, write.'

I have to somehow find my way out of the forest of advice and back to my natural state. How about you? Are you a writer in your natural state? Or are you still trying to adhere to 101 different writing rules? Or are you stuck halfway between both worlds (like me)? I'd really like to know!

Talk to you later,
Yvette K. Carol

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Love That Silver Lining!

Around here, we’re knee-deep in the summer holidays. After four weeks of the kids being underfoot every day, tearing around, needing this, that and the other thing, I find myself unable to gather a coherent thought. I’ve made about four attempts on this post already and scrapped every single one.


However, one thing I do know, and that is my disappointment over not achieving my goal of publication last year. See how convoluted that thought was? Thank you, holidays. Not.  

After working on this book since 2005, last year I set the goal to publish it...and that didn’t happen. What does it take to put a book out? Chuck Wendig says it ‘takes a rather epic set of genitals’. I think mine have shrivelled. I confess I really did go through a lot of ‘down’ emotions about failing to cross the finish line, again. So then I got to feel silly about that too.

Life is amazing. Even our most spectacular fails have that silver lining my grandmother would talk about. At the end of every visit to gran, as I walked towards the door, she would never fail to say some parting phrase of wisdom or of love. Gran would say, "You look for the silver lining, it'll always be there." Or "Reach for that star and you will get there." 

The great thing that came out of last year’s ‘disappointment’ was that a new year, a new critique group, a fresh start has brought about a major revelation for me with this book. Simply put, the story in its previous form wasn’t ready. And that’s been the truly great, transformational thing about working on a project this long too, is that it has become my university. As I have torn down and built up this story over and over, I’ve seen it twist into new shapes and forms, and I’ve learnt more as the book has become more of itself.

James Scott Bell says you must find beta readers who are willing to ‘hold your feet to the fire’, and he’s so right. I've been really lucky with my beta readers. I didn’t truly start to grow with my fiction until I began to work with other writers through the critique process.

Critique group this year gave me a great wakeup call - I wasn’t aware enough of my market. I wasn’t writing to the genre, I had some adult words, concepts and techniques that weren’t suited to the ‘tween 9-13 year old market – in effect I was writing over their heads. My critique buddy suggested the cure: read in the genre, a book a week.

I started reading a ‘tween book that same day and immediately I could see the difference. I went back and gave the structure of the book an overhaul. The rewrite got underway this week, and it’s a thrill, a pure thrill to see my character’s adventure become what it should be, directed to the kids.
Apparently Chuck Wendig said, ‘the best work is rarely work that floods the market’. Boy, I hope so! This baby of mine has been a long time coming.

I sent the first three chapters to critique this week. The response came back. OMG! So much better! And there were 'only a few notes on punctuation.' J
Victory is sweet :-) You've got to learn to savor it in this business, and grab it wherever it comes.
Now if I can just get through the rest of the holidays....

Talk to you later,
Yvette K. Carol

Be big enough to create a first draft, and small enough to tear that draft to pieces, to write a second draft, then a fourth, then an eleven-hundred-and-fifty-sixth if that’s what it jolly well takes. ~ Chuck Wendig

Oscar Wilde said: "Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned."

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

What do you really need?


This post was written to coincide with the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our insecurities on the first Wednesday of the month. In time for the IWSG post day, I’ve been contemplating the fragility and uncertainty of life. Last week a friend died. I’m attending the funeral along with family and friends tomorrow. Tonight, as I try to gather my thoughts for a blog post, I find myself quite naturally thinking about the matter of life and death.

Some of my family is Maori, and today, we discussed the differences in the cultural ways of sending off loved ones to the other side. The Maori spend a week talking about the deceased and also spending time with the body. My nephew said, ‘that’s how you sometimes get to know the person really well, because you hear stories you’ve never heard before.’ And my niece said, ‘We, Maori, walk with death every day.’
This reminded me of my spiritual mentor, Erin Lees, telling us one time ‘that the Ngwhals say death is right over your shoulder, that’s how close it is. There is no time to waste. There is no guarantee. Therefore, one of the questions to contemplate, is what do you really need?’

I started to wonder... what do I really need?

The writer, Leo Buscaglia wrote, ‘Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey into the afterlife. The first question was, "Did you bring joy?" The second was, "Did you find joy?"’

This idea really fascinated me. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I find joy in my writing, and I (hopefully) bring joy through my writing as well.
Which touches on a conversation we held on Facebook last week, where a friend wrote: I once read a study that January 3rd is the most depressing day of the year because the holidays are over and now there's nothing but 3 months of winter to get through.’

I responded: ‘That's what I love about writing fiction. We get to create happiness where there was none!’
And that was where the self-doubt crept in.... Why did I say that? I haven’t published a book yet. For one reason or another, I’ve managed to get to 50 years old without putting a single fictional story into print. My goal to get a book published has been transferred from one intention list to the next on Jan 31st for years upon years in a row.
The Japanese say perseverance is a form of genius...but perseverance without ever reaching the end zone starts to feel like a form of self-delusion. I feel life is going by so fast - I need to hustle to get onto the ‘bringing joy’ part that is so important. How does one reconcile one's intention with reality? Any thoughts or ideas you have on this subject and those touched on above would be welcome!!
Talk to you later,
Yvette K. Carol
We have to be honest about what makes us tick, what makes us different; and then we have to have the courage to share it with others. ~  C. S. Plocher


Sunday, 28 December 2014

To Resolve or Not to Resolve, that is the question...

Someone recently told me this quote by Junot Diaz, “In order to write the book you want to write, in the end you have to become the person the person you need to become to write that book.”

I love that concept. And I think it’s natural at this time of year to look back at the year that was and look ahead to the year before me and ponder how I'd need to change in order to get what I want to create. I know I always do.


Some people like to write New Year’s resolutions. When I asked my friends about this, they said things like, Noooo. No resolutions. YUCK. In my head, I know what I have to do. I don't like writing resolutions. Then I feel like I failed if I don't stick to them. 
And, A resolution is more like a wish than a do don't ya think?
Then one of them said, The book I'm reading reminds us to live with purpose and create good habits that's kind of the opposite of a resolution.
I thought wow, this is in line with my way of thinking about it: that we have to ‘keep good thoughts’ as my grandmother would say, and do the work required to get to where we want to go.
A few years ago, I changed the title of my list to ‘Intentions’. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘Resolution’ as ‘great determination’, and ‘Intention’ as what one intends to do.
For my list each year, I write down what I'd like to achieve in the coming months along with something I could tackle about myself. For instance, this year I intend to conquer my fear of public speaking by joining a local Toastmasters club.

A couple of years ago, at this time, my critique buddy, Maria Cisneros-Toth, and I came up with a fun idea - to write our goals for 2013 on paper, and put them in a bottle. We called it a mini ‘time capsule’, (to be opened on New Year’s Eve). Maria posted a YouTube video in which she shared what she’d written the year before and her new set of goals, and shows you how to make your own time capsule.


This is an excerpt from my time capsule of Intentions for 2013 which were all large scale: 1) to score a traditional book publishing deal for Aden Weaver & the Or'in of Tane Mahuta 2) to have Peter Jackson (my idol) turn the first book into a movie 3) to finish Aden Weaver & the Sasori Empire completely.

This is an excerpt from my time capsule for 2014 Intentions, which were more modest: 1) to finish Aden Weaver & the Or'in of Tane Mahuta completely 2) to publish it myself.

While my time capsule message for 2015 has one Intention: 1) to finish and publish Aden Weaver & the Or'in of Tane Mahuta!!!

Sometimes you just have to suck it up and admit you’re not quite where you intended to be, while still walking the delicate tightrope between the truth and optimism, as is defined and redefined every year by my New Year’s List of Intentions.

Leonardo da Vinci said, "Art is never finished, only abandoned." Ain’t that the truth!



Talk to you in 2015!
Yvette K. Carol

"This morning I took out a comma, and this afternoon I put it back again." ~ Oscar Wilde