An Australian author who provides insight into the human condition.

On Writing: Life Song

Years ago, when I finally committed to actually writing fiction rather planning to do it, I envisaged a whole world with a community of characters whose lives intersected and diverged as the issues and concerns of their respective lives and the times brought them in and out of contact. My plan was for each novel to have a different set of characters at the story's heart and to write about their lives in that world. Like Tennyson, I believe that not only are we part of everything that we meet in life, but what we meet becomes part of us for good or for bad. I'm interested in the ripple effect of experiences in life and how that contributes to and shapes our personal stories.

My first set of novels are not sequels one to the other, but rather a series of novels about that constructed world. Secondary characters in one novel are central characters in another and so on. Each novel stands independently and on its own merit. Of course, when read within the context of the series, the readers' knowledge of the characters in that world is enriched. That world is contemporary Australia rather than outback and pastoral Australia so often celebrated in novels and film.

When I wrote 'In and Out of Step', I knew that Mavis Mills was going to be the protagonist in the second novel although I didn't fully know where her story would lead or what the title of the second novel would be. I wanted Australian names for the Mills family, and when I discussed the matter with my mother, she suggested the name of Mabel, a character from one of her favourite radio shows - Dad and Dave from Snake Gully.

Mavis and her family represent Aussie battlers, and I wanted names that echoed that experience. I varied the name from Mabel to Mavis because I discovered Mavis is a variation of Mabel and that mavis is also the name of a songbird. I developed Mavis' back-story in 'In and Out of Step' as a contrasting subplot to Cassie Sleight's story and journey. Cassie is a dancer, and it seemed fitting that Mavis, although from a different walk of life, should share the same strong creative impulse that would bond them somehow. Their lives ran in parallel at times but diverged because of the choices made.

An overheard snatch of dialogue between children at play became the stimulus for Dan's story (Mavis' son) in 'Life Song'. The little boy (the child of a single parent) in response to his playmate's comment that his father was returning home from overseas duty said, "I don't know where my daddy is, but I know he'll come home soon too."  

In developing Dan's story, I was interested in exploring aspects of life when a child grows up without his biological father in the picture. Dan is six when the novel begins. Zoey's story is juxtaposed against Dan's story. At times it runs in parallel to Dan's plot, but it also provides contrast through a different perspective. When I created Zoey, she was originally a minor character needed in the plot action, however, she stepped off the page very quickly and demanded that her story be told too.   

As a writer of women's fiction, I do a huge amount of research into women's issues and stories through discussions with as many women from different walks of life and generations as possible. I spend about a year in research. Despite obvious generational differences, we are all beneficiaries of the second wave of the women's movement. We enjoy the advantages that resulted from that movement while we try to navigate our way through the maze created by unforseen issues.

That research revealed that we share common concerns that arise from plotting a course through life in uncharted territory while trying to have it all. We are interested in the nature of love and worry that we could be deceived by counterfeit love and subsequently hurt. Many of us share a desire to have love of the adult kind - the real version of it and not an imitation. That research also generated common questions.

  1. What does it mean to be a woman in the modern world given the dualities of roles played?
  2. Does a mother's responsibility for her child take priority over her responsibility to self?
  3. What should a mother sacrifice and why versus what should be non-negotiable and why?
  4. How does a woman remain true to herself without short-changing her child and her family?
  5. Can a modern woman have it all?
  6. What does having it all really mean and involve?

Those questions became the starting point for my imaginative explorations of characters in a range of situations and settings. Research into the music industry continued during this time. As I considered the duality of women's roles in western society, I asked myself, What if ...? As a result of that imagining, a story finally emerged.

Given Mavis' back-story in 'In and Out of Step' and her musical ability, the Australian music industry was the obvious vehicle for Mavis' pursuit of a career. The music industry also forms one of the backdrops to Mavis' journey. The other backdrop is life in a coastal town south of Sydney.

'Life Song' is not non-fiction masquerading as fiction. It is Mavis's story first and foremost. It is a quest story about boldly journeying down a path less travelled. It is a tale about the power of believing in self. It is a narrative about rebirth with 'Life Song' beginning at the end of a period of loss and sacrifice.

Before I could actually put fingers to keyboard, I needed to find the organising motif and the central metaphor to shape my writing. When I was considering the story arc, I realised I wanted to write a story where the conflict grew out of conflicting character objectives and desires rather than having an antagonist who was a wolf in sheep's clothing or an outright corrupt person. I realised my motif was the tug-of war a woman goes through when she is pulled in opposing directions by the roles she plays and the people who have a claim on her.

With that motif established, the writing flowed. All I had to do was write what I saw and heard happening to the characters in the imaginary world in which I had immersed myself. The story itself is an uplifting one with endearing characters whose lives took a different course from the journey that I had originally plotted but which was ultimately a better course for all involved in that journey. I hope readers enjoy this story as much as I did writing it.

Go Back



arvo is Australian slang for afternoon.

Bloke means a man.

Bouffy means big and fluffy; it usually refers to a hairstyle.

Bump in and out refers to the process of moving a band’s equipment in and off stage and in and out of the performance venue.

Crank up in the context used in the story means increase the volume to very loud.

CWA is an abbreviation or The Country Women’s Association. It is a non-profit, non-party political and non-sectarian organisation for country and city women. Members work for the welfare of all women and children through representation to all levels of government, undertaking fundraising events, providing networking opportunities and teaching life skills.

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    Wednesday, October 10, 2018

    Reflection on 'In and Out of Step'

    Wednesday, October 10, 2018

    Set between 1988-1990, In and Out of Step’s thesis picks-up on a period of significant change in Australian social and cultural history which mirror the wider western world. The novel reflects the popular perceptions of the era and explores reaction to changing roles and values, the relationship between generations, gender dynamics, and power in society through contrasting character perspectives.  

    The novel charts Cassie Sleight's (rhymes with slate) and her generation’s journeys in new and uncharted territory in their relationships: personal, social, and work after the second wave of the women’s movement.

    Life forces the women in my novels to reassess what they are doing, how they are doing it, and to evaluate who they are and want to be.

    Through Cassie’s experiences, the reader is entertained and provoked to consider the perceptions held and dualities of women’s roles in western society. That may suggest that this is a non-fiction work masquerading as fiction. However, this aspect is firmly set in the external world of the story and Cassie’s experiences.

    In and Out of Step explores:

    • how identity and relationships are shaped by the way gender operates and gender differences
    • how place—geography, attitudes, values, and culture—shape people’s lives and actions
    • the culture that supports and promotes sexual harassment in the workforce and social spheres
    • changing perceptions of gender roles
    • adapting to change in oneself and the wider world
    • the personal, social, and workplace influences that contribute to change.

    My novelsIn and Out of Step, Life Song, Song Bird portray the diverse and changing realities of women in the time the novels are set: 1980-1990, 1996-1998, 2000-2002.  The stories are anchored in the social and historical context of each period.

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    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Life Song - a story of metamorphosis

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Twenty-two-year-old Mavis Mills first appears in my novel In and Out of Step. Outgoing, gregarious, and confident, Mavis is a significant secondary character in that novel.  Mavis' story - a subplot - is used to provide contrast to and insight into Cassie Sleight's (the central character) journey. 

    At one point in the novel, effervescent Mavis is severely injured – physically, emotionally, and psychologically - by domestic violence and the fire of her partner’s rage. He also destroys her guitar and the copies of her original songs. Part of  the subplot from In and Out of Step explores the context of the domestic violence and provides insight into the psychology of it. Excuses are not made.

    At the start of Life Song, Mavis is twenty-eight-years-old and very different from the young woman who shone throughout most of In and Out of Step. She is the central character in Life Song. She has become subdued, distrustful of her own judgement, and an echo of her former self. Unexpectedly, she discovers she has a choice: continue to live a life tainted by domestic violence or seize the opportunity before her and try to rise above her circumstance and, like the phoenix bird, leave the ashes of her past life behind.

    'Could she live the rest of her life as she'd been living. She couldn't, not now she'd glimpsed another world, fleeting though that vision had been.'

    Life Song is not a cliche 'chic musician on the road' story and is definitely not a romance. It is about the woman Mavis becomes and the people who stand by her as she undergoes transformation – physical, psychological, and to an extent spiritual. She does not solve her problems in the arms of a man but makes the hard choices herself.

    The drama comes from the tugs-of-war that Mavis has to work though. It is made all the harder because Mavis' heart is in conflict with itself. One person, no matter how strong, cannot win a tug-of-war alone. The same applies to Mavis.

    Readers learn about the things that give Mavis strength and that enable her to boldly embrace the inevitable changes coming into her life as she becomes Nikki Mills, the Song Bird from Oz.

    I recommend you listen to two songs from that novel: Sunshine Days and Life Song (A Vision Splendid) to get a feel for this story.

    There are many kinds of wins in life, most of them personal rather than widely acclaimed. It's those personal 'brave heart' moments that define Mavis. Reader feedback through my publisher and website is that Life Song is a gratifying read.

    As part of your journey in reading this blog,  I suggest you listen to Move On.  In my imagination, it is first sung by Mavis' support network, but ultimately the song becomes her personal mantra.

    Australia is a diverse landscape and has diverse communities. Life Song gives readers an opportunity to spend time in some of those communities. The title alludes to the fact that each character's life has its own melody and when sung in concert become the symphony that is Life Song


    Life Song is one of four novels in The Keimera Series. Each novel is a standalone narrative and has the backstory woven into it.  The Keimera Series is an opus.

    Keimera does not in any way allude to chimeraa monstrous fire-breathing hybrid creature from Greek mythology.

    If you would like to lend me your support so that I can produce more music from my novels, you can buy any of my songs from CD Baby.  Each of my songs can be purchased for the very small price of $1.69. My music is also on iTunes and other major online music sellers as well.

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    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    The story behind my song 'The Flame'

    Sunday, June 25, 2017

    'The Flame' features in my novel ‘Song Bird’. In the novel, it is sung by rock legend Rick Brody who serenades Nikki Mills (the central character in the novel). In real life, it was sung by Funnie Williams and Thanapat Yarchartoen (aka Film). I produced the song through Karma Sound Studios in Thailand.

    BACKSTORY TO 'THE FLAME' - The Singer or the Song?

    In ‘Song Bird’ and its prequel 'Life Song', Nikki Mills - the Girl from Oz - is a survivor of domestic violence. Once an innocent, she believed the very convincing serenade of her first significant love, Terry Kikby. Long before Nikki met Rick, his song 'The Flame' resonated with her.  She believed that Rick's songs really expressed his own ideas and values.

    Having been at the top of the music industry for sixteen years, Rick finds his music is dropping in the charts. Defined by his 'bad boy' image, he has lost sight of his real self. Consequently,  his music has lost its connection with his fan base. Interested in Nikki as a woman as much as in her skill as a lyricist, Rick collaborates with Nikki on a new album. 

    Flattered by Rick's interest in her and impressed by 'The Flame', Nikki embarks on a relationship with him.  A subplot in the novel explores the ramifications of that decision.  Can she help Rick find the heart that his music once had?  Will Nikki be hurt or healed by the relationship with him?  The answers are found in my novel 'Song Bird'. 

    Readers of this blog may also find the pop rock song 'Masque' and interesting insight into Rick and Nikki's relationship issues.

    I currently have 8 songs on CD Baby and iTunes. You can help me raise the money to produce the rest of my songs by buying one or more of my songs at the very small price of $1.69 per song. They are on sale at CD Baby and  iTunes. Online music streaming services such as Spotify and Deezer promote my music, but I only earn approximately one cent per one hundred streams. 

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