Writing, Cultural Diversity and….erm… my mum.


I’m thinking about moving house. My current house is getting a little small. So I make the mistake of telling my mum that I am thinking of moving house. In my head I am sure my mum would say something like errr… “Happy house hunting!” and then let their grown up child who has flown the coop for 7 years already be, but of course this is how the conversation really went down.

Me: Mum, I’m thinking of moving house. I’m going to see this house on Monday.

Mum: What is the house number?

Me: 20

Mum: 20 is good. 18 is better and 8 is best, but thank goodness it’s not 4. I would say don’t even bother if it’s a 4. So bad luck. Chinese people don’t need bad luck.

Me: Um… okay. Thanks for the blessing.

Mum: Make sure the first question you ask the agent is “Why are the owners moving? Did someone die in the house?”

Me: I’m pretty sure if the owners are selling because they had all been involved in a mass murder I would have gotten wind of it.

Mum: You never know. I remember when we first started house hunting when we immigrated to Australia, some of the houses we looked at, I had to bring protective charms and everything.

Me: Okay. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Mum: Do you want your dad to come? Your dad is the construction expert in the family.

Me: No, no, I can do this myself.

(Later I found out my dad did secretly visit the house. If the neighbours spotted an older Chinese man tapping on all the bricks on front to check for workmanship, that would be Dad. He would also comment that the house is obviously built by Italians and was very solid, immigrants always built their houses strong… so shout out to the Italian community #immigrantpride)


Anyway, being a POC writer, my aim is always to try and write POC characters when I do with a lot of heart and integrity, maintaining what makes them and their family mad and crazy and fabulous, but without sending them over to caricature land. I recently received an email from lovely teen writer Wendy Chen who purchased a copy of my novel Preloved from a Preloved bookstore. How cute is that? She totally needs to be a character in another story in her own right. Here is an awesome article she wrote for That Reminds Me Mag about my novel and cultural diversity and it is so intelligent and all good things. Check it out. I feel very honoured.

To all those POC writers out there, I see your true colours.

Writing While Reading

Dead Romantic

It’s probably a very typical response, but I became a writer because I loved to read. I guess it’s natural to want to become what you love. And today I find in the post a book package from the gorgeous Mandee, one of those lovable Vegan YA Nerds. Thanks Mandee! I continuously read while I write. Not only books far removed from what I write, but books smack bang in the middle of the YA spectrum.

I made a pact with myself early on that I never wanted to be one of those writers that had to be locked away in a sound-proof cork room in order to be able to write, and not be exposed to anyone else’s work. It was hard when I was younger and more impressionable. I do remember the phase when I used to write in a terrible stream-of-consciousness style (I had read far too much Faulkner) and that time I thought I was Charlotte Bronte. But as I become more established, basically just wrote more, something interesting happened. I became comfortable with my voice and my style. I knew who I was as a writer. So while I can read anything these days and feel inspired, awed and in love with someone else’s work, I can’t help but write the way I still do. And anyway, I don’t want to emulate anyone. I really want to be myself.

So my writing advice is to:

a) write lots. It is true, the more you write the better you get. And if you’re destined to be an author, you’l find yourself.

b) read lots. You will learn more about writing reading books per se than books about how to write.

PS – if you’re wondering what that chocolate bar is, it’s like a vegan version of a Mars Bar, but way more delicious, the mollassey taste of the caramel is to die for*

*unintended tie-in pun with the novel.

Writing in Cafes

writing fuel

I have a lovely writing space at home with a big wooden table and a window view (always messy though, always), but nothing beats the treat of getting out of the house and into a cafe with a laptop.

It really helps to change your perspective, free up your mind and there’s no little writing quibble a hot chocolate and a warm blueberry & apple muffin cant fix.

I was joined yesterday by awesome writer Cristy Burne – if there’s one writerly tool I can’t do without – that’s finding someone who you can write peacefully with. So the silences are filled with prospect and words on the page and you can resurface for lunch with someone who understands everything you’re going through.

I surprised myself by writing close to 2000 words yesterday. Usually I end up caving in to the wi-fi (much to Cristy’s aghast) and… procrastinating (no, looking at Goodreads is not “research”)

All you need is a powerpoint and a cafe that won’t kick you out (and is sold by your argument that you are in fact a “living art installation”). Today looks like a gorgeous day to write.

Aural Inspiration #1

When you feel like you’re out there on your own/Know there is someone watching over you/When out at sea feels nothing like a home/Oh sailor we will blow the wind like oohhh

I don’t find myself drawing a lot of inspiration from other books (my style is pretty much set), photos (for some reason I grew out of this) or movies (I’m always too aware of writing essentially a film treatment rather than a novel, especially in YA), but apart from my own wonky imagination I find I draw a lot from music and music videos.

Have you ever felt like a song encapsulates a moment of your life? It’s the same with my writing – I listen to a lot of music and actively search for new music while I write and there will always be that one song that will for me come to represent what my project is about. I’m currently working on an interim MS while I decide what to do with myself (I call it my experiment MS, it may or may not involve friendly neighbourhood stalkers) and Oh Sailor by Mr Little Boots is my perfect inspiration song.

Chocolate & Creativity

From Trin

Thanks to Trinity from Trin In The Wind who sen me a wonderful care package consisting of a classic book and the above delicious dark chocolate:) It has provided much needed fuel for a new project I am working on. I’m not sure where the inspiration came from (I’d only just finished something else), but I think the chocolate helped! Thanks Trinnie!

2013 New Year Writing Goals

Happy New Year! How did you spend the last night of 2012? Mine involved drinking punch, eating cheeses & olives and dancing with my Beta, but perhaps the less said about that the better! (No, it was awesome. I’m always up for punch with fresh blueberries and strawberries in it.)

The ever lovely Emily (@ekmarquart) inspired me to examine what I want to achieve with my writing this year, so the following is (hopefully) my promises to myself.

Finish my current manuscript.

Did I tell you that my manuscript was “almost ready”? Well, I’m a blatant liar, that’s what I am. Maybe every writer goes through the same motions. A few weeks ago I LOVED my manuscript. It might have been something to do with the lychee martini that was accompanying me while I edited. But now, I look at it and I HATE it. These are harsh words. I know I’ll look at it tomorrow and think it’s not so bad, maybe I might even acknowledge that some parts are good. What I have to do is navigate through the push and pull and get this thing DONE. And to accomplish that I need to…

Be kinder to myself.

Trinity wrote a beautiful piece here, about setting personal bars and I couldn’t empathize more. Trying to compare myself to someone else can be a way to motivate, aspire and aim high – but when one is feeling low, it can also be soul sapping and detrimental. But ultimately we can’t help but always make comparisons, because it’s a human way to make sense of our place in the scheme of the writerly world. I’ll always sub-consciously do it, but I’m going to consciously say to myself more – when I’m sick of this room with all the bars and ladders, I’m going to go into the empty room next door and dance to the music I hear in my head (which may or may not be Robert Palmer) and be free to do my own thing.

Start something new.

Did I mention aiming high before? I want to complete my current manuscript and then write a first draft of an entirely new one before the year is out. This might seem impossible right now, but I’m very pugnacious. I have no idea what I want to write, but part of the fear is also the excitement. I love new beginnings.

Venture into The Land Where Abandoned Manuscripts Go to Languish and Die.

Does everyone else also have a deep secret draw of stuff they’ve started but never finished, abandoned beginnings and a general garbage heap of sketches, ideas, single sentences etc? I cringe when I think about it. I have a folder called “emo things” that may require a gas mask and radioactive equipment before I dare touch it. But 2013 is the year I tidy up (or at least look at) the things I wrote maybe 5 years ago. I might discover an accidentally thrown out gem. Or at least have a good laugh, a retrospective and (maybe sentimental) understand better how far I’ve come. It after all, is the year of being easier on myself.

Remember to write down my new ideas.

I’m terrible at recording stuff. The amount of times I’ve said inside my head “hey, that’s a great idea” and then promptly forget 10 minutes later is astounding. This year I will make a concerted effort to keep a little pocket book with me and force myself to scribble in it. Maybe this time I will capture that million dollar idea. Or not. But I like the idea of having something physical in the end, rather than thinking I can hold it all in my head and then losing it all.

Become an astonishingly rich, uber famous full time author. Oh and my book will be turned into a movie (or a TV series, but only if it can’t be a movie).

Don’t we all wish? But seriously, writing is an art you do for yourself, if you’re in it for the money then that’s a completely wrong way about it. It should be about writing a book that in 50 years time will last as a classic, not about which bandwagon you can jump on so you too can “succeed”. Having said that, I would love, love, love to gain international rights, but only so that more people can read my work:-) I don’t ever want to lose the romance of why I did all this in the first place.

 What are your New Year Writing Resolutions?

Will 2013 be your year?

Do you promise to be nicer to your inner writer? (because you do deserve it, you know)

Robert Palmer was Acceptable in the 80s

Robert Palmer Pepsi Girl

I have a very old mobile phone. It’s so old that it has Snake on it. Anyway, while waiting for my husband I managed to flatten my battery (playing too much Snake) so I just sat there and waited.

Frantic husband: I called you a gazillion times, why didn’t you pick up your phone???

Calm wife: My phone died. You said meet at this spot at 4.30 so here I am… waiting…

Frantic Husband: But I could have been late! Something could have gone wrong! I could have been in an emergency! You could have been in an emergency!

Calm Wife:  This was fine back in the ’80s.

Frantic Husband: Shirley – it’s no longer the ’80s!! And you never even lived through the ’80s.

I lived through the mid 90s though. Same-same.

Anyway, because I have no new news to offer you about my current MS and also to answer the question of “how do you get your ideas?” (usually from my everyday life, the things that appear mundane to normal people, I try to make it amusing), here’s another raw, unedited snippet from my failed NaNoWriMo 2012 effort 🙂

You can find the first part here.

“Halloween can be dangerous, you know,” says Mum. “Do you remember in the news last year how some kids got given cocaine instead of candy?”

“Cool,” I reply.

“You promise me you won’t get into mischief, Kellie?”

“Of course not. Mischief is only what Enid Blyton characters get up to.”

“Why don’t I trust you? As long as you stick by Kimberley. Now that’s a sensible girl.”

Halloween falls on a Wednesday this year, but no one seems to care that Thursday is a school day. There are rumours that James Palmer’s emo band is going to playing a secret gig at the party.

“Did you see it on Facebook?” Kimberley asks me on the phone.

“I don’t have Facebook.”

“Who doesn’t have Facebook?”

I don’t have Twitter, Tumblr or Hipstergram either. In fact I don’t even have a mobile phone. My parents gave me one for “emergencies” but I purposely hid it somewhere I wouldn’t remember.

“People were fine without it in the ‘80s.”

“It’s no longer the 80’s Kellie! Life is a lot more complicated. And there are… cyber criminals, like cyber punks and things out there these days. I just want you to protect yourself.”

I’ve hidden that mobile so well that even if I had to find it, I can’t remember anymore.

The only communication I have is my own personal line in my bedroom to a pink Princess phone. Sometimes I imagine myself lying on my bed and painting my nails while I talk to girlfriends about boys, like in a movie, but do you know how impractical that is?

Sometimes I imagine talking to Robert Palmer on the other line. Maybe he’ll tell me a bedtime story or he’ll do some rhyming couplets with me. I think its awesome how in “Simply Irresistible” he manages to rhyme inscrutable with indivisible and also principle and mythical. That’s talent. All everyone else can remember are the backup girls with the boobs.

In my room I also have an old TV and a VCR that I “inherited” off Mum. Plus all her old Robert Palmer videos.

One day Mum just decided to put the lot out on the curb. I rescued it immediately, went around and through the back door put it in my room in secret.

“That was fast!” Mum exclaimed. “People take anything these days it seems.”

Mum spent her teen years sitting in front of the TV with her finger on the record button so she could tape all the music video and interviews. Life must have been so tedious I think to myself as I watch clips with missed beginnings and chopped off ends. Then again, half the girls I know these days spend all their time sharing around emo pictures of headless girls and dead girls and dead, headless girls in prom dresses on their Tumblr and I can imagine thousands of teenage girls furiously looking and then tumbling along the images, all trapped in their dark caged rooms.

I’m glad I don’t have Facebook. I don’t care about boys like James Palmer, anyway.

NaNoWriMo 2012 (AKA the Year I Crashed & Burned), Robert Palmer & Boys called Michael

Confession time. I had high hopes for NaNo 2013, I really did. I was going to write every day, not the amount to make it to the 50K grand total, but at least 350+ words per day. I figured that if I wrote a mini chapter each day, then by the end I would have a mini-book that could possibly become the seeds for a full length novel. I was supposed to end up with 10,500+ words. Instead have a paltry 4,503 words:( I got up to Day #13 before I fell on my face. Bah. Real life got in the way, mostly in the form of my Beta, who turned out to be a complete Bridezilla, but it’s okay for me to point it out, she’s already acknowledged the fact:)). Oh well, I ended up with some interesting little vignettes. Plus there’s always next year!

Pssst. Not that it’s any secret (it’s visible on my public NaNo profile), but this is what I was working on. Truly. Do I ever humour you? But don’t you dare add this to Goodreads.

Novel: Robert Palmer

Author: Shirley Marr

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis: Liking Robert Palmer will get you into trouble.


Have you heard of Robert Palmer? He’s this singer who used to be popular in the ’80s. But he grew old and settled down here in Middlemoore to raise a family.

Why here? Why not a rich part of Britain? Why not even a rich part of Australia? Why not a tropical tax haven in the Bahamas?

Mum said Robert Palmer made some bad investments. And he wants his children to grow up without privilege. Even though it’s Robert Palmer, I still think it’s an adult’s way of saying that they want to subject you to the same crappy experiences that they went through so you’d grow up to be just like them. So you’ll all be truly related.

It helps me think of him as a real person.

Robert Palmer’s son, James Palmer goes to our school. He’s the lead singer of some emo band, but I don’t really know because I don’t listen to modern music. I like my mum’s music. I’m not sure whether this is because I want to be close to her, be like her or actually be her. Daughters are complicated like that. Mum used to be the Robert Palmer fan, but now it’s me.

James Palmer is having a Halloween party and everyone wants to go because it’s James Palmer. But I want to go because of Robert Palmer.

That’s why I decided to convince my best friend Kimberley to sneak out with me. It would turn out to be the biggest mistake of my life, of course.

I bought an early Halloween treat for myself, this big skeleton made up of individual lollies. I named him Robert Palmer and yesterday I ate his head. Today I will eat the legs. It’s really nice, tastes like milk bottles. I hope to finish him come Halloween.

But I never intended for Kimberley to disappear.

PS – I had a disagreement in the back of a limo with my designated groomsman (the good looking/goofy Michael, he’s so cute) on the day of the wedding about whether Robert Palmer is sexist or ironic. I think he’s the later. Michael of course does not believe me (plus I think that he thinks I’m a complete weirdo, mainly on account of singing Total Eclipse of the Heart in public), but I love Robert Palmer anyway.

How did you go at NaNo?

Have you written the next bestseller?

Same time next year?