Review of ‘Because of You’ by Pip Harry

Tiny and Nola should never have met. Tiny scrounges for food on the streets of Sydney, Australia, and is driven to steal sanitary supplies from a pharmacy. Nola and her friends are picking out $1000+ dresses for their Year 12 formal in a trendy Harbourside boutique.

But Tiny hears the writing group at homeless shelter Hope Lane has a free supper, and Nola needs a mandatory volunteer gig to pass Year 12.

On the surface, they couldn’t have anything in common, but out of fear Tiny and Nola have both made bad choices that hurt their families deeply. Neither will read out their creative writing to the group, but as they shyly exchange their poems to be read later, friendship and courage grow.

This is a tough book, peeling back the reality of life for people on the streets. There are drug and alcohol references, though Tiny avoids both.

One of the most striking qualities of this book is the cast of memorable “secondary” characters. Nola’s Dad deserves a book of his own.

But it is the courageous members of the Hope Lane writing group who hold centre stage, fighting rejection, self-doubt and the tug of the past as they set out to prove that, ‘Books can save anyone. If they’re the right ones.’            

Or, maybe, the right one.

How Grandpa Discovered Central Asia

Zachary's Grandpa

Dreamstime photo

I worried about Grandpa.

After Nana died, he was all by himself in England, and we, his family, were over here in Central Asia. My Mum and Dad both have jobs here, and we couldn’t go home to keep Grandpa from being lonely.

He’d never been out of England in his whole seventy-two years, so it was a shock to us all when he phoned to say he’d bought a plane ticket, and he was on his way to Gulistan.

‘It’s just crazy!’ Mum said. ‘I’ll be at work all day, Dad’s at work all day, and you three are at school. What’s he going to do? Sit around watching movies-on-demand for eight hours?’

I said, ‘He won’t mind. What does he do at home, anyway?’

‘He’s got friends, Zachary! He has a routine! He goes down to the pub. He goes down to the betting shop. There’s none of that here!’

‘He’ll know that. He’s coming to see us, not visit Ladbrokes.’

‘He won’t know that,’ Dad said. ‘He’s got no idea the world can be so different to what he knows. He thinks even Scotland is a foreign country.’

I didn’t like to say, So do the Scots. But I got Dad’s point. When we all came here three years ago, foreign country took on a whole new meaning.

We didn’t get to talk about the problem of Grandpa a lot more, because less than a day later, there he was. He walked out of Arrivals dragging a brand new green suitcase, and looking totally confused.

‘I told you,’ Mum said, almost grinding her teeth. ‘He thinks he’s mistakenly landed on Mars.’

But my little sisters and I just shouted, ‘Grandpa!’ and raced past Security to hug him.

He looked around, saw us, opened his arms, and the confused look became total happiness.

I stopped wondering if he might have done the wrong thing. Of course he should have come. My parents worry too much.

So we drove him home, and he sat in the front beside Mum, looking out the window at a world so untidy and unfamiliar and colourful, saying, ‘My goodness,’ from time to time. I thought that was pretty accepting, considering how wild the traffic is, how the market stalls crowd to the very edge of the bitumen, and pedestrians walk onto the road without looking.

We got home, and he greeted our Gulani cook like an old friend, looked around Chloe’s bedroom she’d given up for him, and nodded like he approved of it all.

So that first evening went okay, and after dinner Mum explained about us all being gone all day tomorrow. If he was disappointed, he didn’t say so. Dad showed him how the TV worked, and he could get the BBC World Service, or stream movies, and Grandpa said that was fine.

Except it wasn’t fine when Chloe and Francie and I got home from school, and Grandpa was missing.

‘When did he go out?’ I asked the cook.

‘About two hours ago.’

‘Did he say where he was going?’

‘No, Zachary. He didn’t say.’

‘Did he say when he’d be back?’



Francie took charge. She’s nine, and she’s into that. ‘Get your bikes. We spread out. Zachary, take the middle of College Park. Chloe, you take the streets to the west, and I’ll ride up the streets around here. Got your phones? Go!’

That was smart. He couldn’t have gone far, could he? Could he?

Face it, Zachary, in two hours he could be anywhere in Khan Sharif.

Well, not if he was walking. And he wouldn’t just get on a bus in a strange city, not knowing where it was going, would he?

Yes, maybe. Because we’d never thought he’d get on a plane and come to Gulistan.

I was riding up my street thinking all this, and thinking that any of the neighbours I was passing could have invited him in for a cup of tea, and I wouldn’t know.

Oh, Grandpa.

Chloe phoned in. ‘I can’t see him anywhere, Zachary.’

‘Keep looking, but don’t go too far from our house.’


I’d ridden along three streets and looked left and right down others, and still no sign of him. Up ahead was our little neighbourhood park. Ah-ha!

I stopped the bike and pulled out my phone. ‘Okay guys. Target visual. All units stand down and return to base.’

‘Is he okay?’

‘YOU FOUND GRANDPA?’ You can actually hear Francie talk in capitals.

‘Yep. All good.’

Dreamstime photo

He was sitting at a park picnic table with three local guys about his own age, one flat English tweed cap among three little round caps, bent over two checkerboards.

‘Hey, Grandpa,’ I said.

‘Zachary! Great to see you, son.’

‘Great to see you, too, Grandpa. We didn’t know where you were.’

‘Well, I was here. It’s just like the UK, Zachary. Indians down at the park!’

I shook hands with his new friends. ‘Salamet siz,’ I said to each one.

I explained, ‘They aren’t Indians, Grandpa. Indians come from India. This isn’t India.’

‘Phttt!’ Grandpa said. ‘I don’t mind where they come from. People are all the same.’

Well, if we all had that attitude, we’d have a peaceful world, wouldn’t we?

‘Um, I think we better go home,’ I said.

So he shook hands with the guys, and I taught him to say, ‘Khosh, goodbye,’ there were more smiles, and we walked home.

Mum and Dad were already home, and they weren’t too happy, at all.

‘Dad! You could have got totally lost, and we’d have no idea where you were!’

‘You can’t just wander around like that, Dad!’

‘Actually,’ I said, ‘The guys with him were pretty sure he came from this house, and they would have brought him home in a bit.’

‘That’s not the point,’ Mum said. She gets cross when she’s had a scare.

She hadn’t had half the scare I had. After all, before she even heard he was missing, I’d found him.

So the next day the girls and I got home, and no Grandpa.

‘He went to the park,’ our cook said.

So I rode up to the park, and he wasn’t there. His three Gulani friends weren’t there, either. Two women were sweeping the path for the City Council.

Kim izdeymiz?’ they asked. ‘Who are you looking for? Your grandfather? He has gone to the tea shop by the bus stand.’

Good grief.

I mean, there is nothing wrong with drinking tea down by the bus stand, but why can’t he stay home and watch movies on Netflix?

So I rode my bike down there, and of course the shops near the bus stand, well …. it’s chaos and it’s noisy. There’s loud local music, and buses revving, and half the car park is taken over by women and some men with little stalls, selling home-made fast food, newspapers, second-hand clothes and little kitchen gadgets and toys.

Between the convenience stores, and the butcher, and the tandoor bakery, and the mosque, there’s a tea shop. At the front is a huge shiny brass pot of boiling water, with a tittle tap at the bottom. Old men sit around wooden tables, and hanging on the wall are dozens of little blue metal teapots and white china cups.

Men in an Arab coffee shopDreamstime photo

Grandpa was with his three friends, drinking tea and playing backgammon.

‘Zachary, my boy!’

‘Hullo, Grandpa. Salamat ziz, atalari. Hello grandfathers.’

A boy my age isn’t really welcome in the tea shop, but I sat on the end of the bench and someone put a cup of sweet milky tea in front of me.

So Grandpa and I walked home again, and that night all our family went out to a really nice restaurant that has the best Gulani food in town. It was a great evening, and we talked until our throats hurt, about Nana, and about Grandpa’s home town and his friends, and about the mad things he did when he was young.

So, of course, next afternoon he wasn’t at our house when the girls and I got home from school.

‘He went to the tea shop,’ our cook said.

Good grief! He’s only got about three words of Gulsha, how does he even communicate?

So I went to the tea shop, and – surprise, surprise – he wasn’t there.

‘He’s gone to the kino,’ one of the customers told me.

Dreamstime photo


The cinema! Good grief! Which cinema? And they only screen local Central Asian movies. Okay, sometimes Hollywood blockbusters, but dubbed into Gulsha.

Why can’t he stay home and watch movies in English on Netflix?

‘Don’t worry,’ the customer told me. ‘His friends will take him to your house.’

Oh, right. Right. So we’ve handed over care of Grandpa to three old guys whose names we don’t even know.

So he came home about an hour later, looking a bit dazed. Apparently it had been some sort of singing, dancing musical with no plot he was aware of, but some beautiful scenery and a romantic kind of road trip. I showed him a couple of photos on my screen.

‘Yes! Those were the leading actors.’

‘Yeah. Central Asia’s most popular movie star couple. Their kid goes to my school.’

‘Really?’ I think he was impressed by having such a close brush with fame.

Next day was Saturday, and we drove out of the city and showed Grandpa the countryside – the neat farms with rows of poplars along the canals, the shepherds on horseback watching herds of sheep and cattle.

Grandpa shook his head at the undersized little cows. ‘They’re not like the fine beasts we have back home,’ he said.

That seemed to be the only criticism he had about anything in Central Asia.

We drove up into the foothills, and he admired the forests and the views back down to the plains, and enjoyed the lunch in a nice tourist hotel.

He leaned back in his chair when the meal was over, a large white napkin covering his lap. ‘I’m very glad I came here to see you. It’ll be a lot easier when I’m back home, having a picture of it all in my head. Knowing how you live here, and what a grand place it is. I understand why you want to be here. It makes sense now.’

So we drove back to the city, took a detour past our school so he could see that, too, and he was very impressed. Well, it is a nice-looking school.

On Sunday we drove to the airport. As we hugged him, all of us had a few tears, and then Grandpa flew back to the UK.

And that’s how my Grandpa, who had never even been to Scotland, discovered Central Asia.



The bike ride with my brother was months ago, but the bad dreams still come. I still wake up in a sweat in the dark.

We’d just wanted to get out of the house, to breathe some fresh air. We weren’t looking for trouble.

Yeah, we do live in Central Asia. Sounds a bit dangerous or exciting, yeah? But our neighborhood is quiet. Life is school, family, sport. Hanging out with friends. Pretty much like your life.


Why do we live in Central Asia? Dad’s a foreign correspondent, and from here he travels really quickly to breaking stories – riots, elections, revolutions, earthquakes, wars, whatever.

But Gulistan is a quiet country, mostly. Not a lot of dramas, so Dad and Mum settled our family here.


So, the day I’m talking about, the rain had been pelting down for a week. All the sports fields were muddy swamps.

Otherwise, right then I would’ve been playing football for my school.

I looked out the window and saw the rain had nearly stopped, and I was going mental in the house playing Skate with Joel.

I said, ‘Hey. The rain’s easing off. Let’s go for a ride.’

‘Nah, Ben It’s too wet.’

‘Come on. You’re supposed to be keeping fit.’

‘Nah. If you don’t want to play this game, get Motor Storm or something.’

I took the controller out of his hands and pulled him to his feet. ‘Let’s ride, little brother.’


We got the bikes, opened the gate and rode down the narrow street where the potholes had been breeding like vermin under the pounding rain. Deep, sharp-edged, they could wreck a wheel rim if you hit one.


Joel called from behind me, ‘Ben? You want to go and see if there’s water in the canal?’

‘There won’t be. It’s just a disused irrigation canal. It’s half blocked.’

‘We can look.’

‘Okay. If you want.’

We rode that way, turning out of College Park, Joel whingeing about the rain. ‘It’s running off my helmet, into my ears. The wind’s going right through my jacket. I’m freezing.’

‘Toughen up, Joel!’

‘You ever notice rain has sharp points?’

I started laughing. ’No. Never noticed that, ever!’


We were passing little shops, the kind that just sprout up in Central Asia where there’s a space and some local official will take a bribe to shut his eyes. They sell cheap groceries and hardware, and colorful plastic kitchen stuff. Butchers with a cigarette in their mouth chop up meat on huge wooden blocks. You can buy every kind of local takeaway food.

People even set up little stalls on the roadside, creating a bit of shelter under plastic sheets tied to trees or power poles or fences. Cars driving past spray water over everything. I think it’s harder being poor in Asia than in Australia.

Up ahead I could see men and kids standing looking down into the old canal, so I knew Joel must be right, and there was water in it.

We rode over and joined the spectators. Yeah, water was boiling along, but not deep.

‘Where’s it coming from, do you think?’ I asked Joel.

‘From the river. I rode all the way there, once. With Aurangzeb. When the canal’s dry it’s like the world’s longest BMX track.’

Aurangzeb’s a Gulani on my football team, but he’s Joel’s mate, too. I said, ‘Really?’

‘Yeah. But the end of the canal is blocked with dirt now. The only way the river could spill into it is if it’s flooded right over the banks.’

We sat there in the light rain, both of us with one foot on the ground. The water was getting deeper. Out past the edge of town the river must be higher than I’d ever seen it, covering the sandy beaches where we go for BBQ fish lunches, spreading right out over the floodplain.

How deep was the canal going to fill? We settled down to watch, along with a growing crowd of Gulanis.

When the farmland was taken over by suburbs, a long time ago, the developers put concrete pipes into the canal and proper fill over them whenever a major road had to go across. But the minor roads dip down and cross on a ridge of packed dirt. So today we had pools and rapids and water rushing through pipes, and it was all a lot of fun to watch.

Kids threw sticks into the water and shrieked as they bounced and spun and raced away. Flood debris came along, too, all making a bit of excitement.


The water was still rising steadily. Looking upstream I saw the rapids over the dirt ridges were now just a bit of turbulence. Downstream the water had filled the first layer of pipes under College Park Drive.

Screams and shouts made me spin around. I couldn’t see anything except all the pointing, men running along the bank, until a head broke the water. My heart almost jumped out of my chest, like NO!   I was frozen with the horror of that little head spinning round and round, racing down the canal, going under and coming up again.

Joel reacted faster. He was on his bike, accelerating down the canal bank, weaving through the running people. He can’t have had any idea what he could do except to get ahead of the child being tossed around in the filthy brown water. I followed, fighting my way through the frantic crowd.


The child disappeared into the pipes, and by the time I crossed the road he’d come out, still spinning around, and I didn’t know if he was dead or alive. Joel was way ahead of me, in clear space now, ahead of the child, riding as fast as he could along the muddy bank.

What does he think he can do? He isn’t going to dive in there, is he? 

There was one more road crossing, one more set of pipes, and then the canal just ran on and on, I didn’t know where.

Joel was nearly at the road, but in front of him was a wide ditch full of rushing water that poured over the bank and into the canal. He twisted and flipped and flew over the water and up the bank to the road, spun left, braked and jumped off.

He lifted his bike out over the rail, held it by the crossbar, and dropped it straight down as a heap of debris arrived, pinning the bike across the pipes. Two seconds later the child slammed into the debris, his arms thrashed wildly, he clung on.

He was alive!

A shout went up from the crowd, and they crossed the ditch holding onto each other, terrified of being swept away into the canal. I crossed with them, feeling the strong, safe grip of Gulani men’s hands on my arms.

Below us the water fought noisily, angrily, against the obstruction, frothing and bubbling and reaching for the higher pipes.

In it all, the little boy was screaming, vomiting up water, coughing, and screaming until he had to take a breath, and screaming again. The sound would haunt me for months.


What could we do? No-one had a rope, it was too far to reach down, and he couldn’t last long. He’d drown or die of cold. The water was rising, the debris with it. He’d be washed through the upper pipe.

A man slid carefully down the concrete side of the canal, another man holding one of his wrists, then that man slid down to the water, his arm gripped, and I held my breath as this incredible human chain stretched out in the wild water towards the child.

The first man grabbed at his slippery little arm, but the child’s screaming grew more frantic, and he fought wildly to stay attached to his tree branch. In the struggle his head went under a few times, and I thought, He’s going to drown, for all the awesome guts of these guys. Joel was on the edge of the bank, and his body language told me what he was going to do.

No, Joel!

I went in. I had no choice. Two strokes in the swift water took me to the little boy wildly thrashing one hand, fighting off the rescuer’s attempts to seize it. I hooked my arm under the skinny little arms, around his icy chest, and pulled him gently against my body. No way could I swim back now, one-handed against the current. I reached out to the nearest man, felt his strong fingers clutch my wrist, and the boy’s screams ripped my eardrums as I pulled him off the branch.

Now the water was fighting harder against my head and shoulders, as the human chain towed me slowly, slowly towards the bank, but all I thought about was keeping that little head above water.

It seemed to take forever. The flood wasn’t going to give us up without a fierce fight, and debris slashed and slammed us, but now I could hear excited shouting, the sound of men winning a battle, and suddenly my back was scraping the concrete and hands were grabbing me under my armpits, grabbing my clothes, and I was dragged clear of the water.

Someone took the child, holding him in his arms, kissing him and speaking softly in Gulsha, everyone crowded around, and they took him to a shop, out of the rain. A woman came out of a house with dry clothes, and helped rub the warmth back into him while he sobbed and called out for his mum and dad.

I had blood running down my back and arms. So did the other guys who’d gone into the floodwater.

It dawned on me now that no-one here was connected to the boy. They were looking upstream for anyone to come running to claim him. They’d risked their lives for a stranger’s child! I blinked back tears. Those guys should each get a medal. It had been nothing for me. I’m a strong swimmer. None of them were. I was sure of that. Swimming isn’t in Gulani culture.

Joel was standing with me, watching them too, shivering so hard in the cold rain he could nearly dislocate something. He’s muscled up a bit over the last few months, but there’s still not much of him. Always been a skinny little runt.

I said, ‘Come on, Joel. We need to get you home, and in a hot bath with a hot drink inside you.’ I picked up my bike. ‘Hop on the crossbar. I’ll give you a lift.’

‘Uh, Ben?’ He was wiping his face, wet from tears or rain I couldn’t tell.


D’you think Dad’ll say I’m irresponsible for losing my bike?’

What? Was he joking? Irresponsible? Seriously? But I looked in his eyes and saw, yeah, he was genuinely worried he might be in trouble when Dad got home. Amazing kid. He never has had any idea his quick thinking is something exceptional. I wished he was on my football team.

I said, ‘No, mate. He will not. He will absolutely be happy to buy you a new bike.’

Dad had seen enough death, enough horrifying things in the wars and disasters he’d covered.

I knew for a total certainty he’d say a lost bike was a very cheap price for a child’s life.

Narrative Voice


The world you create through your writing – its setting, characters, storyline, atmosphere and the rest – is as fragile as a soap bubble.

As long as your reader believes in your world, and cares about the characters and the outcome of their journey, your reader is likely to stick with you.

Of course, your reader may not care about your characters for reasons you can’t control. He or she has pulled your book off the shelf, discovered it is a romance between a thirteenth century English princess and a werewolf, or the adventures of a female bounty hunter in a distant galaxy in 2168, and that’s just not their thing. No sweat.

But suppose the would-be reader consults the blurb on the back and thinks, This looks promising. They check out a couple of pages and decide to take the book home and read it.

But then – the soap bubble bursts.

Your lovingly created world and characters no longer hold the reader.

Why? What happened?

Well, it could be several things, but the most likely reason I stop reading a book has to do with voice. The characters simply do not sound like who they are supposed to be. Not just in the words they speak, but the words telling me how they see themselves, the world and other people. group-1825509_640Their thoughts about values. About how to handle events. All the words on the page when we are in that character’s head, living their life, whether in “quotation marks” or not.

To use the technical term, the thoughts of the viewpoint character, at least for that part of the book. (A book may have one or more than one viewpoint character, but that is a subject for another day.)

To put it simply, if I am supposed to be inside the head of a fat, lonely, bullied eleven- year-old boy, I want to believe, for that moment, that I am. I want to see the world through his eyes, through his pain, in his language, in his limited experience of life, his limited emotional resources.

I do not want to hear the pity and concern of the middle-aged woman who wrote the scene. I don’t want to remember she even exists somewhere out there in the world of authors and publishers.

I just want to be inside Max, facing the bullies, sweating with him, feeling my heart thumping.


And if he describes the scene in his own eleven-year-old voice, I will be. And I will stick with him to the last page.

How do you achieve that? Well, you hang around the people you want to write about. Learn their vocabulary, their topics of conversation, their attitudes to everything likely to come up in the story. Read similar books to the one you want to write, but read for a purpose.

Stop and ask yourself, “Why is this scene working?” What is the writer doing here that has me utterly hooked on these characters and their story? How does he/she bring them to life so convincingly?

Suggested reading? Start with To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes, I know. But there is a reason it is a classic. The flawless voice of the grown Scout Finch recalls how as a small child she perceived a series of events that rocked her sleepy rural town to its foundations. The Help by Kathryn Stockett is widely praised for its “pitch perfect” voices. Go pick up one of the Harry Potter books and check the voices. It may be a fantastic imaginary world, but the voices of the students (and adults) are authentic. Remember, voice is more than quoted speech. It is a convincing presentation of how that character sees the world.

If a story isn’t reeling you in, again stop and ask why not. You could even make some notes, the beginning of a writer’s journal. Yes, that was a hint.

Reading as a writer is a very useful exercise. You almost cannot become a writer without making a regular practice of it.

Finding a person of that rare breed who will read your story (no, not your Mom) and give you feedback on what convinced them they were inside the head of the character –  or spoiled the illusion that they were –  is worth diamonds.

Lapses from using the right voice may not be what spoiled your story. But getting voice right is a huge step towards success.

Further reading? Ch13, ‘Voices’, Orson Scott Card, Characters & Viewpoint, link below.

“Talk Under Water” by Kathryn Lomer

The Facebook page of Jessica Watson – the Australian teen who skippered her sailboat solo around the Southern Hemisphere at age 16 – brings Summer Rainbird and Will Lane together.

They both think Jessica is awesome, but Summer has never set foot on a sailboat. Will lives on one.


When they find out they have a connection through a tiny coastal town in Tasmania, emails fly between them. But then Will announces he’s sailing home to Kettering. Summer is in big trouble. Because she is not the girl in the photo she sent to Will.

How can she get out of this one?

Back in Kettering, Will has his own problems. How does he fit into school after the freedom of the ocean? How does he reconnect with the kids he grew up with? They have changed too, in ways he can’t quite handle.

They can’t handle him, either. Or, his best friend Cully can’t handle Summer, and the growing bond between her and Will. To Cully, she’s always ‘the deaf chick’.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons                      Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

To Will, Summer is the easiest person to be around, whether he takes her out sailing on Albatross, or they silently fish off the jetty together, write notes to each other, or email. He’s fascinated by how she signs in Auslan with her deaf friends, and he’s soon discovering for himself what a neat language it is. A discovery shared by the reader.

And yes, with Auslan, you really can talk under water!

Their friendship deepens as they learn each of them has lost a parent. Then Cully steps between them, causing Summer to believe Will has betrayed her.

If Cully forces Will to make a choice, who will he choose, Summer or his childhood friend? On a three-day sailboat journey around wild and beautiful Bruny Island, the three teenagers’ true characters are revealed when disaster strikes Albatross off the island’s rocky shore.


Readers who hope to learn something when they read a novel, and readers who are just looking for a good story, will both enjoy this this book. Through some great characters, Kathryn Lomer has enabled readers to enter the twin worlds of a small Tasmanian coastal town, and Australia’s Auslan signing community.

Meet the author of Talk Under Water,%20Kathryn

More reviews of Talk Under Water

More about Auslan:

More about Kettering:

Writing fiction – Heroes and Characters

pencil, notebook, Pixabay

Here are a couple of central ideas from some of the recommended books on creative writing.

A hero is not Spiderman or the fireman who saves a child, or your favorite football player.

A hero, in storytelling, is the story’s central character, who goes on a real life – or mental, or spiritual – journey, and passes various milestones, to become a changed person at the end.


The Hero’s Journey has specified stages or turning points, and they can be identified in stories by writers as different as Shakespeare, Jane Austin and JK Rowling.

Note, that caricature characters like James Bond do not follow the journey, and do not change as a result of their adventures.

Another aspect of writing is the characters.

Like the Hero’s Journey, the possible distinct characters have been studied and written about. Not all the books and magazine articles agree on the details! Read them and decide for yourself.

More to the point, become an observer of people in real life.

Even if you are writing non-fiction—say the story of your family—it will come alive if you slip in vivid details of how people really behave. Put an expression on great grandpa’s face, give a voice to your great-great grandmother. Give the uncle who died in foreign combat a handshake, a way of nodding when he listens; put sunlight or the shadow of a leafy branch across his face as he talks.

Give your characters a background, a childhood, a personal history, whether it appears in the story or not.

Think about your own childhood, and the childhood experiences of other people you know well. What makes your created characters timid, bullying, dishonest, caring, the clown of the class, hard-driving, patient, idealistic? See them, hear them, and let your readers hear and see them, because you have developed a skill in observing people in real life. Of course, don’t overdo it. Keep your touch light.

 Google The Hero’s Journey and The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and see what you come up with.


You can easily buy both these books online

A word that writers often encounter is genre. This means categories of writing, especially novels. So we have the historical novel, romance, biography, thrillers, young adult, family saga, crime, westerns, war, horror and so on. Many writers keep to one genre. Others don’t.

Ask yourself what you like to read. That is probably what you should try to write.

Enjoy, and good luck!

‘Yong – Journey of an Unworthy Son’ ; ‘Ties That Bind, Ties That Break’

YA fiction, Ties That Bind, Ties That Break and Yong, Unworthy Son, book covers

Yong – The Journey of an Unworthy Son

Janeen Brian

Thirteen-year old Yong recounts his dangerous journey from southern China to join the 1850s gold rush in Ballarat, Victoria. He tries with all his heart to be worthy son, obedient to his father’s decision to sail to Australia after drought and famine devastate their village.

But everything goes wrong on a journey Yong never wanted to make.

Shipwrecked on the Australian coast 400 miles from the goldfields, Yong, his father and the other villagers are cast into a world of strange foreign people, and a stranger landscape.

Can they trust the white man they pay to guide them to Ballarat? They have no choice. They set out in the cold and rain of winter, carrying their supplies in baskets on poles across their shoulders, the mud sucking at their frail rope shoes.

Yong is hiding secrets – one from the other Chinese travelers, and one from his father. This second secret makes Yong feel a deeply unworthy son. Its weight is heavier than the physical load he carries on the endless, hungry trek through the alien Australian wilderness.

Their guide becomes a hostile drunk, and sickness strikes the exhausted would-be gold miners. As they argue, tell jokes, sing their country’s songs, encourage each other to keep going, we almost walk beside them. Like them, we fear reaching Ballarat may be an impossible dream.

Yong begins the journey as a boy, an obedient son, but by journey’s end he will be a man, making his own honorable choices.

Through one boy’s story, beloved Australian children’s author Janeen Brian has brought alive some Australian settlers we know too little about.


Ties That Bind, Ties that Break’

By Lensey Namioka

Two generations after Yong’s journey, little Ailin is born into a China on the edge of revolution. Her family’s wealth is slipping away as farmers rebel against landlords. The Emperor is overthrown, no-one understands what the new Republic really is, and Ailin’s own rebellion almost tears her family apart.

This little girl will not have her feet bound. She will not live her life as a cripple, even though ancient custom demands all women submit to it. Her defiance makes her a social outcast, without any hope of marriage.

bound feet China-ties that bind ties that break

As the western world forces its ways on China – railways, steamships, trade – Ailin travels her own path to freedom. One large, unbound foot at a time.

Her journey is longer than Yong’s, but we are carried along by this gifted, lonely little hero, who seizes every opportunity offered by a new China lurching out of the past into an unknown future.

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Read about author Lensey Namioka here:

Source: Reviews: ‘Yong – Journey of an Unworthy Son’ ; ‘Ties That Bind, Ties That Break’

“One Would Think the Deep” and “Steal My Sunshine”

When a family tears itself apart, can secrets from the past bring healing – or will they destroy even what is left?

Who will you be after the secrets are told, and how will you live with what you learn, and the people who lied to you?


Two Australian YA novels answer these question in very different ways.

Sam lives with his Mum in inner Sydney. It’s just him and her. He’s never known his father, and Aunty Lorraine and his cousins and Nana vanished from his life seven years ago, when he was ten.

One Would Think the Deep” opens just after Sam’s Mum has dropped dead in their kitchen, and the Welfare decides Sam can’t live on his own.

Aunty Lorraine reluctantly takes him home to the New South Wales  South Coast, to live with her and her boys. Shane’s old hatred of Sam is as mean as ever. But Minty and Sam were always like brothers, and Minty the champion surfer soon has Sam out on a board, catching waves as the sun rises behind them.


Then Nana returns from the past, determined to again be part of all their lives. Sam is torn between warm childhood memories, and fury that she walked out on them.

He has all the local kids to learn to fit in with, too, the surfer crowd and the others. The dialog between them is stunningly convincing – laconic, economical, easy in its casual acceptance of the newcomer.

But Sam knows he belongs nowhere. Lorraine doesn’t want him. When his lifelong, smoldering black rage explodes in violence, it threatens everything he still has.

The healing power of the waves, a love of offbeat music, a girl who runs by her own rules, and Nana who is determined to write a new story of Sam’s past – together they just may create a future Sam finds worth living.


One Would Think the Deep” is a moving and deeply convincing story of teen friendship, and of the healing power within even messed-up families. Claire Zorn’s reputation as a writer of outstanding YA fiction grows with every book.


Emily Gale writes a very different story of a broken family hiding secrets in “Steal My Sunshine”.

Hannah’s mother is distant, angry, seeming unable to love her daughter or her own mother. She gives Hannah the duty of checking in on Nana – Essie – a tiny, eccentric and fiercely opinionated woman.

The only person Hannah’s mother can love – or allow to love her –  is Hannah’s older brother, while Hannah is close to her dad. As she says, You had to pick a side in this family, or you had one picked for you.

Hannah’s best friend is wild-child Chloe, and like Essie she seems to know ‘how life really works’. But where is their friendship leading Hannah?

In the midst of a Melbourne summer heatwave, Hannah’s dad can take no more of the anger that fills the house. He packs his suitcases and walks out. Hannah’s mother has a breakdown, and Hannah turns to Essie and Chloe.

Essie senses her time is running out, and there are family secrets that need to be told before she dies.

What she tells Hannah is devastating for her, for her mother – and for readers of Steal My Sunshine. Emily Gale provides a powerful human face for a terrible injustice in Australia’s not-so-distant past.

Now that Essie’s family know the truth, can they create a more hopeful future? Or will it destroy any chance for Hannah and her mother to learn how to show love?

Emily Gale is well-established as an Australian children’s author. She is building a strong reputation as an author of contemporary, relevant YA fiction as well.


Julia on Writing Fiction #2

 pencil, notebook, Pixabay

Can you find someone to help you with your writing? Absolutely. Get on the internet and find out if there are writers’ groups meeting in your location, or online groups that fit your needs. Ask at your local public library.

Read writers’ blogs such as

Some writers’ groups and community colleges run short courses on writing and others are online and free

Pixabay, easel blackboard, classical school desk

Of course, the usual cautions apply. Be wary of scams when signing up for courses you have to pay for.

Libraries often have helpful books on various aspects of writing, as do online bookstores. Some classic books written decades ago are still eagerly read by a new generation of beginning writers. Used copies cost a lot less than new books, and some listed below (and others) can be downloaded to your device. On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft eBook: Stephen King ..

The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers: John Gardner …

45 Master Characters – Victoria Lynn Schmidt

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers – Christopher Vogler …

Awakening the Heroes Within by Carol S. Pearson – Read Online


Local public libraries also have periodicals on writing, some of the articles are very, very good, and it’s all free information. Ask your librarian.


Images courtesy of


Review – “New Guinea Moon” – Kate Constable

After one fight too many with her mother, sixteen-year-old Australian Julie McGinty finds herself put on a plane, flying to meet a father she doesn’t remember in a country she doesn’t know.

In a blinding rainstorm her tiny plane lands in the frontier town of Mt Hagen, high in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. The storm, the fury of the air charter boss at the deadly risk taken by the pilot, the rough language and teasing of Julie and her Dad by the other pilots – all foreshadow the turmoil Julie is about to meet head-on.

Teen girl PNG Highlands watches an aircraft

It is 1974, and the country is on the verge of independence from its Australian colonial masters. The ‘expats’ – or foreign workers and families – live pampered lives that socially exclude the local people. In their tiny social circle in Mt Hagen the expats ask each other, ‘What will Independence mean for us, when the ‘nationals’ take over? Do we have a future in this country many of us love as deeply as if it were our own?’

Julie is shocked and confused by the unwritten rules that separate the two communities.

For Julie, this conflict soon becomes personal, as Australian teen Ryan, and Simon, whose mother is local, compete for her attention. She hears the locals’ simmering anger in Simon’s, ‘It won’t happen after Independence,’ when he is challenged for entering an ‘expats only’ area.

Constable brings to life the beauty of the Highlands with the passion of someone who once called it home, so the reader almost sees the mountain views, hears the tropical birds, smells the rich vegetation, is deafened by the drumming rain.

She enables the reader to enter into the social tension, too, as we empathize with the expats who so desperately hope that Independence will not force them out. At the same time, we bristle at the locals’ lack of power and status, symbolized by expats calling adult local men bois.

‘Expat’ children with Tony, a Papua New Guinean father, and his children – 1973


Then a plane goes missing, secrets spill out, and Julie discovers she has ties with Papua New Guinea she ever imagined. To right a wrong almost as old as Julie herself, she and Simon must fight their way through greater dangers than the foreign community’s anger at their friendship.