What does it mean when a flight attendant is wearing a wedding ring at the start of a flight, but for some reason he isn’t wearing one as the plane is about to land? I noticed this on a recent trip and it led me to a question I’d been pondering – When it comes to the characters of a romance novel, is marriage inevitable?

It depends who you talk to.

If you were to ask Jane Austen, you probably wouldn’t get an answer. However you can guess what she’d say. Yes, marriage (at the end of a novel) equals a happy ending. But let’s face it, if you were courting another 200 years ago and you didn’t receive a marriage proposal within a few weeks of dating, it basically meant the end of your courtship. So at the time, readers of her novels would have expected just that.

But for readers of contemporary romance novels, the happy ending may have a different meaning. Some may be hanging on every word as if they themselves are draped in lace and silk while their prince is waving proudly at a crowd of onlookers before stealing a second kiss on the balcony. (Yes, I watched the royal wedding on Friday and it was extraordinary). But other readers may want something else.

So how do writers of these novels ensure that their readers are happy? Should the ending be left open ended? Personally, I hate not knowing exactly what happens at the end of a novel or a film. I don’t want to read between the lines and I definitely don’t want to pick between two endings either. I like to know that the main characters of a romance novel have a definite future together. The marriage part, for the most part, is optional.

But at the end of the day, it ultimately depends on the characters. Whatever the circumstance, it can’t seem forced. Unless you can add authenticity to a wedding, there’s really no point in including it in your novel.

I’d hate to think that the flight attendant scenario would seem more likely in something I’ve written, than the intended happily-ever-after.

I wouldn’t worry though.

The plane hasn’t landed yet.

Writing from a male’s perspective can be challenging, especially as a female writer.

But whether you choose to write from within the head of a female character, a male character or both (within different scenes, of course), the amount of work involved in developing any character is significant.

No character acts as if he or she is merely playing a supporting role. No character thinks that the protagonist is the ‘main’ character or that he or she is somehow considered ‘second best’. All characters have a story of their own (what the writer is concerned, anyway), whether it’s shown to the reader or not.

And after exploring all aspects of your characters, male and female, would a male character’s perspective be as inconceivable as you think? I don’t. And besides, haven’t male authors been writing from female perspectives for centuries?

I realise that there are a number of differences that make us unique. But we’re all human, after all. Emotions are emotions and thoughts are thoughts – just experienced and expressed in different ways, and not necessarily gender-specific.

That’s what makes things interesting.

At the risk of oversimplifying things, I’ll say this – if you take a woman, add a bit of “don’t tell me what to do” and “yes, I know where this place is” – How different are we really? Men, compared to women, that is.

I might just leave it at that for now, my ears are burning already.

Without change in Fiction, there would be no conflict.

Without change in life, there would be nothing.

When I think about my life, I am reminded of a particular time when change was waiting and how incredibly frightening it was. As soon as I turned 21, I moved to another country with little more than an education and the clothes on my back.

I left behind my life as I knew it, my family, my friends – basically, that which gives us meaning – in pursuit of a way of life that seemed foreign to me. Although I had known no different, the days were gone when I had to check and double check the locks on my house or my car or think twice about walking down the street, at the first sight of the light beginning to fade.

I remember when I stood up in front of my new country, family and friends and became an Australian. I realised then as I do now, how humbling it is when another country agrees to love you as its own. I almost always have to swallow the emotion away whenever I hear Waltzing Matilda being played at home or any significant public event.

And now as I think about the future and the chapters to come, I chase away the familiar feelings of apprehension and fear. I remember the people, old and new, who shaped my life and continue to do so. I remember them all.

That’s what gives us meaning.

The absence of music in writing, especially fiction, is as unimaginable to me as the absence of music in life.

This might sound a little bizarre, but the first thing I typically hear when I listen to a new sound is its melody.

It may only be a single note and it may even be off key, but if you listen carefully, you’ll hear it in just about everything: A car idling impatiently, a bell ringing at a train crossing or a vacuum cleaner humming as the floors are being cleaned.

For this very reason I never seem to remember the words of a song. Unless I’m deliberately concentrating on the lyrics, all I’ll be memorising is the melody.

It goes without saying that music plays an important role in my writing, as in my life.

I have to mention that there are some exceptions, especially when it comes to editing, when there’s just no substitute for silence. But in general terms, music brings a certain film soundtrack quality to the process of writing and sets the mood of a scene unlike anything else. It can assist in adding speed when writing an action scene, in adding suspense throughout pages of horror and even in escalating the amount of conflict, when nothing else will.

Take a wedding scene, for example – with the bride and groom, the flowers and of course, the ‘I dos’. I would have a very hard time selling the idea of my protagonist walking down the aisle, while a 300 year old church organ is blaring Mendelssohn’s Wedding March and vibrations of the purest sound possible are sending chills through the entire church, if I hadn’t experienced the song for myself.

Imagine for a moment that you are pouring red wine into a glass. The wine is flowing from the bottle (or decanter) in your hand, into the glass. Now imagine the same scene with no bottle or decanter holding the wine in place. Impossible. You’ll be drenched in red before you even start and you’ll be pouring salt on that stain for days.

In my experience, the same is true of music and how a melody has the ability to mould a scene – as if it somehow transports words from mind to paper. Without music, all I am often left with is a stained mess of organised emptiness.

And I’ll be pouring salt on that stain for days.

The first thought that usually enters my mind after I board a domestic plane, especially if I’m travelling alone on a work trip and sitting in the aisle seat is: I hope there’s a free seat next to me.

I can vouch for that tonight on my flight from Canberra to Adelaide, as the first draft of this post is currently being written on the back of an unused motion sickness bag. You heard me. It was either that or the back of my boarding pass, and that wasn’t going to work. Besides, I paid for this bag (or my ticket did) and I’m going to use it.

I watch as approximately 15 school kids board the plane. They’re accompanied by someone who could, on any given day, pass for one of them. He must be their teacher.

He appears to have spotted my row number and is already reaching out to put his bags in the overhead locker above my head.

So much for that free seat.

I give him the armrest – There’s really no point in arguing. It’s not as if the armrest makes any difference on a short flight. And I don’t have the energy to fight him for it, anyway.

So here we are, on a flight fully booked, in our standard economy seats, when John Travolta appears on screen to welcome us on the flight.

How often has he flown Economy? I’d like to ask.

I lean back in my seat as the plane starts to move and the air hostess starts to show us the safety procedures. She points at the emergency doors and then at the beautiful blonde family, who is demonstrating the brace position on the screen.

I never like to think about the actual reason for the safety messages, nor do I like to entertain the thought that the strangers sitting next to me might be it, in terms of companions on a deserted island somewhere, if the safety procedures turn out to be necessary. But at least we’re all in the same boat (or plane), whether that’s a good thing or not.

During the flight I watch a documentary about farming or something, just to pass the time and distract me from the smell of food filling the plane (and not necessarily in a good way). Although I don’t mind airline food, I don’t like eating while my stomach bounces against my rib cage, mimicking the rest of the plane, through unavoidable bad weather.

Who’s up for a wine? I know I am.

I pull off my headset and reach under the seat in front of me for my book.

Reading will pass the time.

And sure enough, a few shakes, a chicken-a-la-something-or-other and one or so wines later, we manage to land in Adelaide.

Of course we would. This airline has never crashed. Just ask Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man – My favourite part of the movie, by the way, when Dustin Hoffman’s character refuses to fly with any airline apart from Qantas.

What do you mean you’ve never seen Rain Man?

Hang on. You’re that young person who sat next to me on the plane, aren’t you?

Well, at least someone is reading my blog.

In writing, as in any craft, people like to use the word ‘should’ fairly often. Your novel should be at least x amount of words in length to meet the requirements of most publishing houses, you should attend at least x amount of writing conferences and join at least one writing group. All good advice, given by people who know that these things do increase your chances of publication in a competitive market.

But just imagine for a moment that you can remove the word ‘should’ from your thinking, if only temporarily. Not in the literal sense of course and not in terms of the general rules of writing. I’m all for the rules, always have been. Characters that are developing with the plot and within a multi-layered structure, everything falling into place and making sense – It’s organised heaven! You can’t skimp on that. At the end of the day, your polished and finished product is essential to being a published writer. Without it, all the writing conferences and writing groups in the world will make little difference.

OK, now you can think about ‘should’ again, but I wouldn’t give it too much thought. After all, not all paths to publication are equal. Why do some writers publish their work early while others take longer to publish something of the same or better standard? Why are some painters or actors world-famous, while others aren’t? I wouldn’t give that too much thought either. But never let this discourage you from staying focused.

Say you’re hoping to travel from A to B. You’re 100 or so meters away from an approaching tram and tram stop and you decide to run. Some tram drivers might wait for you, some might not. Some might be running late themselves and won’t stop for long. Some might not even see you. But let me ask you this – will this prevent you from running if the same thing happened next time? No. You’d run again and again. And with heels, if you had to.

Yes, writing or any other craft is hard work, but so is anything else worth doing in life. As long as you realise that your craft can always be improved and you receive constructive criticism with this in mind, there might come a time when the tram will stop long enough for you to get on.

Yes, the market is competitive, but so are you. A competitive nature, in this case, is definitely an advantage.

I should know. I wasn’t banned from playing Pictionary in my house for nothing.

A few days ago, someone asked whether my novel contained any love scenes.  Naturally the blood raced to my face straight away as I struggled to imagine a question more awkward. I already knew the answer, of course.  I had just finished the first draft of my book the day before.

Technically, a love scene may contain as little as a kiss, or simply the prospect of one.  In my opinion, a writer has the ability to pack more emotion and significance into a single scene of one embrace, as any other scene worth including. Some people (or characters) base an entire lifetime of anticipation on such a memory.

Take historical romances, for example, especially books set in the early nineteenth century.  You would be lucky to see a kiss unfold.  As a matter of fact, a wink and a smile may be all you’d find.  Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be said about the authors of these books and the emotional impact their books have on readers, written within the constraints of such polite affections.

Other examples may include inspirational novels and women’s fiction, where a kiss would be considered more-than-adequate.

But I doubt whether my friend’s question had the same meaning.

After all, contemporary romances contain varying degrees of detail what these scenes are concerned.  From some rather explicit category romances (which my novel is not) to mainstream romances, this matter is left entirely to the author’s discretion and preference, guided by the target audience of the book and what they expect.

So, in answer to the question at hand – You might just have to wait to find out.

Rest assured – if there are scenes of this nature in any book of mine, I’ll be cringing (ever so slightly) at the thought of you reading it.

But it is what it is.

Every time I visit the Barossa Valley I almost feel compelled to write a letter, not an email, to someone far away.  Although I’m surrounded by Wi-Fi and more than one electronic device, I am reminded of a different time as soon as the old clocks in the living room start to chime on the hour, just like they have done for a hundred years.

If I were to write a letter to you right now, I would mention the calming effect of the neighbouring vines, stretching out in rows of thick green and brown; the familiar horses already covered in blankets, feeding at the bottom of the creek; and the Kookaburras sitting in the twenty-year-old Gum Trees, having a laugh at the expense of everyone else.  

But we now have several electronic alternatives to letters, all of which seem to have lost the distinct qualities that letters have, especially what personal correspondence is concerned.  I doubt whether a marriage proposal written in one’s own handwriting 200 years ago would have had the same impact if the Internet was available and an email was sent instead.

Don’t get me wrong (I have a feeling I’ll be using this phrase a lot), these methods of communication are essential for information sharing, professional correspondence and progress in general.  On any given day I am required to write at least 30 or so emails, text one person and chat to someone online.  However I’m sure that some people back in the day would have written on a rock, tree bark or something similar about this new thing called paper that will just not be the same. Of course this is all forgotten now, just like letters will no doubt one day be forgotten as well.  

You may think, ‘great story Grandma, but what’s your point?’  My point is this – There are places that still attempt to preserve the customs of the past and the Barossa Valley is one of them.  Whether it is through vintage festivals, “Town Days” or the German influenced Melody Night, these traditions will remain invaluable. And the fact that they are usually accompanied by a glass or two of local wine or Glühwein doesn’t hurt either. 

Personally, I would like to include the Barossa Valley in this section of my blog as one of my “favourite writing spots”.

An unwritten rule has been doing the rounds for quite some time, suggesting that a romance novel should always have a happy ending. 

Where did it come from? Who said it first? Who knows?  I suppose that is the point.  Whether it is “no one gets left behind”, “don’t swim within half-an-hour of eating” or “what do you mean the earth is not flat?” (I know, this one was actually written down), an unwritten rule is something that is believed to be true and you might have a hard time convincing some people that it isn’t.    

Yet we still come across people who break these rules.  How many times have I sat through endless pages in a book, only to discover that the protagonist is dying of an incurable disease, or that the so-called hero is about to be shipped off to the front line where he falls in love with Florence Nightingale, unintentionally of course, or that the actions of the two focal characters are entirely meaningless as they just can’t find a way to stay together?  Probably not too many, but enough to annoy me.   

If the objective of a writer is to give readers a powerful emotional experience, why would anyone choose an ending that results in grief, heartache or the absolute agony of putting your characters in a platonic torture chamber? Some writers, perhaps not necessarily writers of contemporary romance novels, do this exceptionally well and their audiences love them for it. These are powerful emotional experiences after all. But the readers of romance novels expect something else – a happy ending.

I struggle to envisage ever giving my readers anything else. I couldn’t stand it. After spending hundreds of hours getting to know your characters, while working through the first draft, the second draft and so on, you cannot help but invest in your characters and become emotionally hooked yourself. 

If I were to force my female protagonist, for example, to overcome one obstacle after another in pursuit of her goals, only to deliver the news that ‘perhaps he (the person you were made to fall in love with) is just not for you’, I don’t think the many-fish-in-the-sea argument is going to cut it with anybody involved. 

And this is something I know to be true, unless a novel of mine contains a vague time travel plot, I cannot foresee it ever having an open-ended finish. Mark my words, unless I absolutely have to obscure an ending, you will know how my books end, without a doubt.

This is my first blog post. I’m late, I know. I have to confess that it usually takes a while for me to commit to something new and starting a blog is in no way different. Where is the fun in being spontaneous when I can over-analyse things to death?

However, I am saying ‘no’ to procrastination and I am biting the bullet. In fact, I am charging the battle field with eyes open and hands armed with little more than these words, while occasionally glancing over my shoulder in every direction.

As I considered topics for my first blog post today, I reflected on writing and what it means to me. I eventually came to the conclusion that it would be nearly impossible to describe something so intangible on one page. Then again, if I did manage to cover it all in one post, I would have nothing left to write about and my blog would be over, which would defeat the purpose of starting one in the first place.

So I decided to pace myself and instead talk about the most important aspect of writing to me. Although I sometimes have to convince even myself – it is not perfection. Don’t get me wrong, I too believe that the Grammar Police have their place (sometimes) and I cringe as much as the next person at the sight of an apostrophe out of place.

But to me, the words are what really matter – whether part of a poem, a page in a novel or bundled together in a foreign language, words have an exquisite melodic quality that flows into a recognisable style and structure, completely unique to one specific writer or language. Like a musical instrument, writing also consists of a sequence of keys and strings and pipes that for some reason just fit.

This is what I would like to celebrate in my blog and any future writing that I have the privilege of publishing.

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music the words make.” Truman Capote.