Tag Archives: This writing life

This Writing Life: Tales From The Real Rocking Horse Hill

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Those of you who follow me on social media will know that I’ve recently returned from a trip to my home town of Mt Gambier, in the beautiful lower south-east of South Australia. My dad turned 80 and all the family gathered together for a lovely party at the local RSL.

Me and the birthday boy. Not looking too bad for an old fella!

Me and the birthday boy. Not looking too bad for an old fella!

While I wasn’t home for long, I managed to pack a few adventures into the few days I was there. I’ll be sharing more photos from the trip next Friday but today I have something special.

A Video!

And not just any video, this one is of Rocking Horse Hill. Actually, it’s of Mt Schank but it was this crater that provided much of the inspiration for the fictional volcanic crater Rocking Horse Hill.

Rocking Horse Hill by Cathryn HeinThose of you who have read Rocking Horse Hill and Wayward Heart will understand the enormous importance this crater holds for those stories’ characters. It’s been the site not only of heartache and tragedy, but also love and even passion. The hill is so dominant in those two books it’s almost a character itself, and I think the passages where it’s featured show how much I adored writing about it.

There’s a reason for that adoration.

Let me explain…

Wayward Heart by Cathryn HeinIt’s not that widely known, but Australia has one of the best volcanic fields in the world. The Newer Volcanic Province stretches from Melbourne through to Mt Burr, north-west of Mt Gambier and contains a whopping 400+ volcanoes. There are at least 20 eruptive sites around Mt Gambier alone.

Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Yet it’s true, and if you drive through the western districts of Victoria to South Australia along the Princes or Hamilton Highways and scan the landscape you’ll see them. Many are highly eroded but others, like Mt Elephant, Mt Rouse, Mt Napier, Mt Gambier and Mount Schank, stand proudly, their magnificent slopes a reminder that this lush and peaceful countryside was once violent with quakes, molten rock and flames.

Mt Schank has always had a special place in my heart. As kids, a great day out was climbing to the top of the crater and sliding all the way down again on our bums. We’d get filthy, tear clothing, occasionally hurt ourselves and have the best fun imaginable.

There was a kind of romance about the crater too. Unlike all the others, which are spent, Mt Schank is dormant and there was always this delicious fear that it might erupt again. My girlfriend Cathryn (yes, our names were exactly alike) used to live at the base of the crater and her mum would say she could feel it grumbling deep below the earth.

I loved the idea that the volcano was somehow still alive, that it was like a hibernating bear, snoring softly as it waited for the right moment to wake. Looking back at those feelings it seems inevitable that I would one day write about it. Not only write about it but develop a whole series of stories set in the shadow of Rocking Horse Hill.

On my latest trip home, it seemed only polite that I should introduce the mountain to one of the books it inspired.

And, because I thought you’d enjoy the moment too, I recorded the event.


There was a quarry at Mt Schank but it’s closed now. Rocking Horse Hill’s quarry, the place that broke hero Digby Wallace-Jones’s heart and almost tore his family apart, isn’t based on this one. The inspiration for that comes from Mt Elephant near Derrinallum in western Victoria.

The northern side of Mt Elephant has a dramatic gouge where the slope was mined for railway ballast in the early 1900s, while the cut into the western side was a commercial gravel quarry that operated until the 90s. Both quarries provided ideas for Rocking Horse Hill’s.

The photos below were taken from a distance so it’s a little hard to see, but you can still get an idea of how dangerous the edge of the diggings would be. They’re like savage gashes in mountain’s face, sharp-edged and cliff-like.

The north side of Mt Elephant, western Victoria.

The north side of Mt Elephant.

Mt Elephant's western quarry.

The quarry on the west facing side of Mt Elephant.

I hope you enjoyed this insight into how Rocking Horse Hill came about and the real volcanoes it’s based on.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to work on my fitness. All that puffing and panting on the video has left me seriously embarrassed!

Wayward Heart is in stores now. You can also order the paperback online from Booktopia, Angus and Robertson Bookworld and Fishpond. Or for instant gratification, download the ebook from Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Google Play and Nook.

Discover more about Wayward Heart and Rocking Horse Hill, including the story behind both books, by visiting their books page on this site.

Other books set in the Rocking Horse Hill and Levenham district include Summer and the Groomsman and Santa and the Saddler, with Chrissy and the Burroughs Boy coming (hopefully) later this year.


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This Writing Life: Christmas-New Year Australian Adventures 2017

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There’s nothing like a mammoth road trip to wear you out, and we did a beauty over the Christmas-New Year break. Well over 4,000 kilometres (2485+ miles) in total by the time we made it back home.

Not that this is unusual for us. With my family in south-east South Australia and Jim’s in north Queensland, long journeys are unavoidable. Anyway, it’s fun to cruise this vast country of ours. There’s always something wonderful to see or experience, from our natural beauty and fascinating history to our famously dangerous wildlife, and much more in between.

And when you spend so much time in front of a computer like me, sometimes it’s just a blast to tool around in the Aussie outdoors.

Here’s a selection of photos from our time away. Enjoy!


We called in to Moree on the trip up and had a lovely dinner with author Nicole Alexander. Unfortunately, neither of us thought to take a pic for you. We were too busy talking!

From Moree it was a cruisy drive to Rockhampton, a place I’ve had a soft spot for from first visit. And here’s a useless fact for you: Central Queensland University, which has its main campus here, is where I gained my post-graduate in business management.

As always, when in Rocky, we wandered down to the Criterion Hotel’s Bush Inn steakhouse for a big meaty feed. Isn’t the hotel beautiful? It was built in 1889 and is ‘cousin’ to Brisbane’s famous Breakfast Creek Hotel, although the Criterion has an extra floor. It also has a ghost, believed to be a chambermaid who died in the late 1800s, although no one seems to be sure.

Criterion Hotel, Rockhampton

Criterion Hotel, Rockhampton

Read more about the history of the hotel on its website.

Ah, I do so love a good equestrian statue! This – so the plaque informed me – is of Charles Archer and his horse Sleipner, who, on 1st September 1855, made rendezvous with his brother Colin Archer in the ketch Elida on the banks of the Fitzroy River, and thus the site of Rockhampton was determined.

Charles Archer statue, Rockhampton

Christmas was spent in Collinsville, which now advertises itself as the Pit Pony Capital of Australia, thanks to the historic use of ponies in the coal mine. Although they weren’t ponies, they were Clydesdales. Collinsville was the last mine in Australia to use pit ponies, with Wharrier and Mr Ed only being retired in 1990, which is kind of gobsmacking.

Timing meant I didn’t get to visit The Pit Pony Experience this trip but I will next time I’m up so I can learn more about the ponies and community.

A handsome statue has been installed in town to honour the lives of these animals. Naturally, being a horsey sculpture, I took lots of snaps. He was decorated for Christmas and looking very jaunty.

Pit pony statue, Collinsville

My father-in-law has the best big boy’s toys. This is just a small example. Next trip I’m going to have a go at the loader myself. And the digger. Wouldn’t mind a play with a big truck either but knowing me I’d probably break it. After all, I managed to mangle a header at agricultural college during harvest which did NOT go down well. Oops.

Big boys toys

The barbeque had a hanger on. These hornet nests are quite extraordinary, heavy and densely structured, but look how delicate the entrance funnel is. It’s almost a work of art in itself.

Hornets nest

We snuck into Bowen on Christmas Eve to raid the fish co-op and enjoy a tasty lunch at the yacht club. Did you know Bowen was where they filmed the Darwin scenes for the movie Australia, starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman? The town is very proud of the fact and even has BOWENWOOD painted in big letters on the water tower. Such an Australian thing to do. I really wanted to get a snap of that but the best vantage point was the highway and I didn’t think getting skittled on Christmas Eve was a good idea.

One of the signs near the tourist office celebrating Bowen's role in the making of the movie Australia.

One of the signs near the tourist office celebrating Bowen’s role in the making of the movie Australia.

The original big mango (which once made headlines for being “kidnapped” overnight) is on the Bruce Highway but there’s a smaller one, known as mini-mango, in town. I thought I’d show it Wayward Heart. Perfectly normal thing to do.

Tooling around in Bowen.

Tooling around in Bowen.

Post-Christmas we headed north to Townsville. The Strand was looking gorgeous, with plenty of people making use of the water park and patrolled beaches. I adore the fig trees; some of them are fantastical in shape and look more suited to a Lord of the Rings type movie set than a tropical promenade.

Strand water park

Strand beach

Fig tree

Townsville has some wonderful architecture, including the former Queens Hotel and Customs House.

The former Queens Hotel

The former Queens Hotel

Customs house

Customs house

The Strand is also home to several sculptures. This one is new since our last visit. It’s called Bazza and Shazza and was created by James Cook University alumni Jan Hynes. Isn’t it cool?

Bazza and Shazza Sculpture, The Strand, Townsville

Bazza and Shazza with Magnetic Island in the background.

At the top end of The Strand lies Jezzine Barracks. This redeveloped 15-hectare site celebrates the aboriginal and military history of the Kissing Point headland. The original fort was established in 1870, and the site was in continuous military use from 1885 until 2006. The views over the rockpool and bay are lovely and worth the climb, even in the heat.

View from Jezzine Barracks

View from Jezzine Barracks

This might be hard to read but this is a section of plaque in one of the barracks’ memorials that tells of the bravery of Private Jim Gordon VC. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous gallantry while saving his unit by capturing a pill box near Jezzine, northern Syria. As if that wasn’t enough, he was offered a SECOND Victoria Cross for his actions on the Kokoda Track, but turned it down unless the rest of his section were also similarly recognised. What an incredible man.

Private Jim Gordon VC

Private Jim Gordon VC

Here are some of the other memorials in the barracks.

A Jezzine Barracks memorial

A Jezzine Barracks memorial

Naturally, we played golf. Usually we’d play all three local courses but a 3.5 metre saltwater crocodile had moved into The Willows and I was buggered if I was going to play there. With everything else biting me I was bound to be snapped at.

Apparently they’ve since managed to capture one croc but it was only 2.3 metres long which means the 3.5 metre could be still out there… waiting.

Newspaper article about the Willows crocodile

Speaking of bities, here’s a green ant nest I spotted at Rowes Bay Golf Club.

green ant nest

Not something I’d like to bump into.

Castle Hill viewed from Rowes Bay Golf Club

Castle Hill viewed from Rowes Bay Golf Club

And another bitey, although in this case it’s a fake one draping the street in front of the Museum of Tropical Queensland. I bet that’s given more than a few intoxicated revellers leaving the Flinders Street nightclub strip a fright or ten.

Flinders Street spider

We called back into Collinsville on the way back because the local cattle needed to be shown Wayward Heart too. And don’t they look fascinated.

Wayward Heart with cows

Which reminds me, we struck a nasty storm near Guthalungra. Horrible to drive through but dramatic to look at.

Storm - near Guthalungra

It can be ridiculously expensive to buy healthy food when you’re travelling so we pack picnics and make use of roadside stops. It’s great. Mostly. At one stop on the upward journey we set up at a table only to discover halfway through eating our sandwiches that there was a paper wasp nest beneath. Poor Jim copped a few stings, which made for a deal of unhappiness.

Ever wondered why Banana in central Queensland (and not a banana tree in sight) was called Banana? I have, plenty of times, and now, thanks to this sign, I know the answer and so do you.

Why Banana is called Banana

In case you can’t read it, the piece about Banana on the sign’s left reads:

In bygone days of bullock drays Banana led the team, an enormous yellow bullock who died beside a stream. The years have passed “Banana’s creek” tells of the bullock’s fame, for a town grew up beside it and BANANA is its name.

There’s even a statue and memorial to good ol’ Banana. What fun!

Banana the bullock

I’ve forgotten how many times we’ve passed through Condamine, on the western Darling Downs, over the years and wished we could stop at its wonderful old pub, but we could never seem to fit it in our schedule. This trip we did, and so, after a long day on our bums, we enjoyed a refreshing leg-stretching walk around town followed by a cold beer and great counter meal. Bewdiful.

Condamine Bell Hotel

Condamine Bell Hotel

Enjoying a beer at Condamine pub

Flood marker - Condamine

The flood marker at Condamine. Look how high the 2011 flood is!

Condamine is tiny, with a population of 400 or so. What it’s most famous for is the Condamine Bell, invented by blacksmith Samuel Williams Jones. He was the first to manufacture stock bells out of sheet metal from crosscut saws.

I remember memorising a wonderfully romantic-sounding poem about this in year 10 in school, which I then had to recite to the class. It was called Condamine Bells by Jack Sorensen and I’m still able to recite lines by heart. You can read the poem in full here. As you can imagine, I was rather chuffed to visit the memorial bell.

The Condamine Bell

The Condamine Bell

A few days after returning home we zoomed off to Canberra to visit the excellent A History of the World in 100 Objects exhibition at the National Museum and take a bazillion more photos. I’d include those but I think this post is long enough as it is. If you’re interested, highlights can be found on my Instagram and Facebook pages.

I hope you had fun with this peek at our latest Australian adventures. We certainly had fun living it!

Did you have any adventures over the break?

This Writing Life: Something Fishy

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Last weekend we packed ourselves up for a trek into the city, with no real destination in mind other than a camera shop for a replacement lens cap (I lost the other one while tromping around Sculpture by the Sea) and somewhere indulgent and scenic for lunch.

Knowing we’d be lunching (oh, I SO love to lunch!) put the idea of food into my brain which then, somehow via a couple of tripped synapses and mental misfires, morphed into I WANNA GO TO THE FISH MARKETS!

The reaction from my other half to this enthusiastic announcement was decidedly nonplussed.


Seemed a perfectly normal thing to do in my opinion. I’d never been to the Sydney Fish Market and have heard marvellous things, and being a huge seafood lover this was an omission in my culinary life that clearly needed filling. And, well, fresh fishies and prawns and squiddlies and things. What’s not to enjoy?

Naturally the light rail was out of action and we had to wait for a bus at Central along with a bazillion other people. Which was stupid, because if we’d bothered to check Google Maps we would have seen that it was a fairly short walk and hoofed it, but no… Anyway, we got there in the end.

And I had a BALL!

Jim was underwhelmed but I was in fishy heaven. The variety was amazing and everything looked so fresh and lovely, and very, very edible.

So I thought I’d share a few piccies of this most excellent of foodie adventures. Enjoy!

The entrance to the Sydney Fish Market. It was rocking!

The entrance to the Sydney Fish Market. It was rocking!

A fresh fish display.

A fresh fish display.

Beautiful live pipis.

Beautiful live pipis. I wish we could get them like that where I live. I’d scoff myself silly.

Live abalone and eels

Live abalone and eels. We ate abalone as kids, sliced thin and flash fried on the BBQ. Lovely stuff.

Cooked yabbies.

Cooked yabbies. I almost wept when I saw these. Love yabbies! They had live ones too.

Crab and Morton Bay Bug display

It’s a crabfest! Blue Swimmers, Spanner crabs and Morton Bay Bugs.

Flute Mouth Fish.

Flute Mouth Fish. I didn’t even know these things existed.

These Pacific oysters were the size of my hand.

These Pacific oysters were the size of my hand. Enormous things. Oysters are one of the few seafoods I don’t eat. Can’t stand them. As my other half so charmingly puts it – they’re like eating bullock snot. Ah, those country Queensland boys have the best turns of phrase, don’t they?

Live mud crabs.

Live mud crabs. I’m thinking: chilli and lemongrass and lime and mmmmmmmm

Live vongole.

Live vongole. By this point in our adventure, I’m about to pass out with want. So much goodness, so far from home and no bloody cooler bag.

Gorgeous looking octopi.

Gorgeous looking octopi. I could do yum things with those babies.

Mulloway - one of my favourite fish.

Mulloway – one of my favourite fish. Perfect for baking whole, and what Callie goes fishing for at MacLeans Bay in my rural romance Heartland.

Oyster shucking.

Oyster shucking. This man was incredibly skilled and fast.


Periwinkles! I used to collect the the little covering shells growing up. I wonder what they taste like?

Prawn heaven.

Prawn ‘n scallop ‘n mussel  heaven.

Razor clams from Scotland and scampi from New Zealand.

Razor clams from Scotland and scampi from New Zealand. I’ve wanted to try razor clams ever since I heard about them on chef Nick Nairn’s Wild Harvest TV show back in the 90s. They pop out of the sand like meerkats, except not as cute. I bet they’re delicious too, unlike I reckon a meerkat would taste like. As for the scampi… drool.

There were plenty of ready-to-eat meals too.

There were plenty of ready-to-eat meals too. Lots of people come here to eat it seems.

A stand selling scallop gratinee.

A stand selling scallop gratinee.

Sea cucumber.

Sea cucumber. I know these are a delicacy for some people, and I’m normally game to have a go at new foods but… nup. They look like horse penises!

Shellfish display.

Shellfish display. Look at that king crab! Which reminds me of an excellent king crab risotto I once ate at a restaurant in Melbourne and wouldn’t mind having a go at making myself. Maybe one day.

Squid and fresh fillet display

There were lots of kinds of squid and fish fillets to choose from.


Turbot and coral trout. Both lovely fish.


Whelks? I wasn’t sure of the proper name for these.

Cheese deli with Stinking Bishop cheese!

Cheese deli with Stinking Bishop cheese! I must try that one. The deli section was a very pleasant surprise. I had no idea it was there and it was excellent.

More cheesey goodness. Some of the harder cheeses.

More cheesey goodness. Some of the harder cheeses.

Blue cheeses in the deli

What a range of blue cheeses!

One of the deli shelves.

One of the deli shelves. There was so much stuff I wanted to buy.

Fresh fruit and veg stall.

And if all the above wasn’t enough, there was a fresh fruit and veg stall too. And an excellent looking bread shop but I forgot to take a piccie of that.

Pelican looking for a feed.

I bet this chappie is well fed. In fact, it looks like all the birds at the Fish Market are.

What a revelation the fish markets were. Not only was there seafood up the wazoo, there was an amazing deli, a bakery and a well-stocked fruit and veg stall. I think I’m going to have to set aside a day where I pack a cooler full of ice bricks and just do a rush trip into the market (well, as rush as the bus, train and light rail will allow), then come home and cook myself silly.

I hope you enjoyed this bit of indulgent fun. Did anything catch your eye? Anything you’d never eaten before and like to try?


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This Writing Life: Sculpture by the Sea 2016

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A couple of weeks ago I trekked to Bondi Beach to check out Sculpture by the Sea, an annual event that’s been going since 1997 and I’ve wanted to visit for ages, but never managed to.

Initially lasting one day and run by volunteers, this year Sculpture by the Sea went for 18 days and boasted 103 artists from 17 countries, whose works spanned the entire 2 km coastal walk between Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach and its smaller but lovely cousin, Tamarama Beach

Although it took 2 ½ hours, two buses and two trains, and the joy of sitting next to a particularly fragrant fellow traveller, it was well worth the trip. If nothing else the weather, though blowy, was gorgeous and the beaches and craggy coastline sparkling and stunning. As for the famous Bondi Icebergs, I really must go there for lunch one day. As you can see from the photo below, that’s one hell of a view.

Bondi Icebergs looking gorgeous

Bondi Icebergs looking gorgeous

Some sculptures were brilliant, others not so much, but sculpture is no different to any other creative endeavour, including books – it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Here’s a small selection of photos from the bazillion I took, starting with my two favourite sculptures. I must admit, as much as I adore Transitions (the horse), Buried Rhino was just too fun. I didn’t spot a single person who didn’t look delighted when they looked at it, and rightly so. It radiated happiness!

Buried Rhino by Gillie and Marc Schattner

Buried Rhino by Gillie and Marc Schattner (he’s buried in Tamarama Beach)

Transition by Harrie Fasher

Transition by Harrie Fasher

Celestial Rings by Inge King AM

Celestial Rings by Inge King AM

Many Many III by Stephen King

Many Many III by Stephen King

Travelling Bag by Yumin Jing

Travelling Bag by Yumin Jing (that’s Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach in the background)

Wasps Nests by Hidemi Tokutake

Wasps Nests by Hidemi Tokutake

Weave the Reef, Love the Reef by Marion Gaemers

Weave the Reef, Love the Reef by Marion Gaemers

Dave by Cathyann Coady

Dave by Cathyann Coady

Dynamics in Impermanence by Nicole Larkin

Dynamics in Impermanence by Nicole Larkin

Kangaroo by Richard Tipping

Kangaroo by Richard Tipping

POP! BANG! BOOM! Little Pom Poms always turn into the mother of all POM by Lang Ea

POP! BANG! BOOM! Little Pom Poms always turn into the mother of all POM by Lang Ea

Flower Power by Silvia Tuccimei

Flower Power by Silvia Tuccimei

Metamorphosis by Tetsuro Yamasaki

Metamorphosis by Tetsuro Yamasaki

New Opportunity by Ken Unsworth AM

New Opportunity by Ken Unsworth AM

Dearest by Margarita Sampson

Dearest by Margarita Sampson

Nests by Jette Mellgren

Nests by Jette Mellgren

Embrace by Geoffrey Bartlett

Embrace by Geoffrey Bartlett

After Party by Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy

After Party by Sean Cordeiro and Claire Healy

Untitled (Coral) by Alessandra Rossi

Untitled (Coral) by Alessandra Rossi

Three Vessels - Amphora, Pug and Torpedo by Andrew Burton

Three Vessels – Amphora, Pug and Torpedo by Andrew Burton

Being: Now Here No Where by Mee-Sun Kim Park

Being: Now Here No Where by Mee-Sun Kim Park

Artist in residence at work, but I can't seem to find out who she was, sorry.

Artist in residence at work, but I can’t seem to find out who she was, sorry.

Knucklebones (Venus Combination) by Christabel Wigley

Knucklebones (Venus Combination) by Christabel Wigley

Link... by Gary Deirmendjian

Link… by Gary Deirmendjian

Chronic Series by Zheng Yuan Lu

Chronic Series by Zheng Yuan Lu

The Tractor by Markus Hofer

The Tractor by Markus Hofer

In Awe by Rebecca Rose (foreground) and Wave Wall by Zhou Tengxiao

In Awe by Rebecca Rose (foreground) and Wave Wall by Zhou Tengxiao

Hope you enjoyed this peek at Sculpture by the Sea. I couldn’t include all the photos otherwise I’d still be trying to do up this blog post, but from the ones here, which is your favourite?

I LOVED Buried Rhino and Transitions, while Celestial Rings, Many Many III, Travelling Bag and Flower Power were also wonderful. I found Untitled (Coral) and Chronic more than a little disturbing (which is a good thing in my book – much better than being boring), while Dave, Dynamics in Impermanence and even Nests were much, much better seen live. The photos don’t do them justice at all. As for the rest…um… perhaps not my thing but art is always in the eye of the beholder!


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This Writing Life: The Book Bible

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When it comes to creating a new book, my book bibles are the most precious things imaginable. They’re not always pretty – in fact, they usually end up looking decidedly tatty – but I protect mine like bejewelled medieval manuscripts.

Last Tuesday, I handed in my 2018 book to my publisher (rah!). There’s still a long process ahead – revisions, line and copy edits, proof reading and more – but the hard slog is done. Although labelling that book a slog is a gross injustice; I loved every paragraph and cannot wait for it to hit shelves.

With that book delivered, it’s time to focus on the next, and this is where my book bibles come in.

What Is A Book Bible?

Every author has a different process when it comes to writing, so I can only speak for myself. The way I operate is that I get struck by a brilliant idea (usually at the most inconvenient time, like when I’m up to my neck in another project and can’t afford to be distracted by this shiny, sparkly new thing) and before it goes flittering off into the universe to be snatched up by some other author, I write it down. Sometimes all I have is a hook or a brief premise, other times it’ll be a synopsis, covering the entire plot, and occasionally it’s as vague as just a character or setting. It varies.

Examples of initial ideas, currently pinned to my white board.

Examples of initial ideas, currently pinned to my whiteboard. Apologies for the pixilation, but I don’t want anyone pinching them!

Now, if the idea has real legs I’ll keep thinking about it and make more notes. Then I’ll either slide these notes into a folder or keep them together with a bulldog clip, and then file that into one of the nooks I keep for this purpose.

My ideas nook.

One of my ideas nooks.

If I’m feeling really excited, I might order some non-fiction books for research or start reading novels with similar themes. I might start actively hunting for newspaper and magazine articles too, and photos of scenery or characters.

If this continues long enough, and my thrill over the idea doesn’t wane, then it’s clear the story is a definite go-er and one I’m going to write. At which point I start a book bible.

What Does A Book Bible Look Like?

Well, like this:

Book bibles for Rocking Horse Hill

The book bibles for my rural set romance Rocking Horse Hill

Yeah, I know. Hardly exciting, is it? But it is, believe me, because contained in these books is everything important to the story I’m going to write.

Mine contain everything from those initial notes, to photographs, draft paragraphs, character outlines, settings, research, name lists… all sorts of weird and wonderful things. They end up loaded with information and scribbles, but apart from draft scenes and names, much of what they contain never makes it into the final book. That’s not the book bible’s point. Its point is to be a kind of stimulus, a physical thing that acts as reminder of all that made me passionate about the story idea in the first place.


Book bibles are vessels of inspiration.

To give you a better idea, here are sample pages from a few of my book bibles, some published and some still in progress. As you can see, they’re loaded with all sorts of things.

Pages from RACING HEARTS' book bible

Pages from RACING HEARTS’ book bible with photographs of its setting. I was going to set this in Dunkeld but have since changed my mind.

Pages from THE FALLS book bible

Pages from THE FALLS book bible – the hero Lucas is a farrier, hence the newspaper article, and the blue sticky note is an important moment between the hero and heroine that I felt really strongly about but never made it into the final book.

From RACING HEARTS book bible

From RACING HEARTS’ book bible. One of the characters is a specialist cheesemaker.

Scribblings from CHASING MISCHIEF's book bible

Scribblings from CHASING MISCHIEF’s book bible

Notes and brainstorming for RACING HEARTS

Scene ideas for RACING HEARTS

Another exampled from THE FALLS

Another example from my book bible for THE FALLS – the inspiration for Dominic’s flash beachside apartment.

I used to use softcover books but they tend to fall apart so I’ve swapped to using hardcover sketch books. Much nicer.

Not Every Book Needs A Book Bible

Stories are weird things. Sometimes my passion for them is so strong they just pour out. April’s Rainbow was one of those for me, as was Santa and the Saddler and Wayward Heart. Novellas tend to not need book bibles because they’re shorter and less complex, and I make do with a document wallet stuffed with notes. These usually contain scribbled scenes and character name lists, and must-fixes for second drafts.

The document file for SANTA AND THE SADDLER

The document file for SANTA AND THE SADDLER

Stories are also strange in that – for me – they form at different rates. I have piles and piles of ideas, many of which I adore and feel strongly about, but not all are ready to be written and some might never be. But if a story has made it to the book bible stage, then there’s an excellent chance it will.

Some Stories Demand Special Attention

I have a couple of non-romance/romantic elements ideas I’ve been churning over for a while now, one of which has just made it from the folder-of-scrappy-papers to the book bible stage. But this particular idea is so special, so different, so make-me-hug-myself-with-glee-brilliant, that I’ve decided it needs a book bible to reflect that.

This is going to be my book bible for Briarcliffe, complete with a matching fountain pen for extra inspiration. Gorgeous, isn’t it? I bet you’re intrigued as to what this one could be about. Sorry, not telling!

My extra-special book bible for BRIARCLIFFE

My extra-special book bible for BRIARCLIFFE

As I said in the opening, with my manuscript delivered, it’s time to start a new one, and that means sifting through my collection of stories that have made it to the book bible stage and seeing which one calls the strongest. Easy-peasy, yes? Err, no. The problem I have at the moment is: they’re all calling.

The examples above are just a few of the stories I have on the go. I have a giant list of books that have made the folder or book bible stage, and every one is a contender.

Which will win? Stay tuned!

THIS WRITING LIFE: Ain’t Love Grand!

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Aaaaaand, the 2016 Romance Writers of Australia conference has been and gone for another year. This year was special too, being the 25th anniversary conference and with the fab theme Ain’t Love Grand. I think the organisers did the RWA and themselves proud. I had a ball, as usual, and I’m pretty sure everyone else did too. Thank you, ladies and gents. Bloody brilliant!

The Ain't Love Grand logoIt’s such a delight to catch up with writing buddies that I tend to talk to only online or via phone. There’s nothing like human contact, is there? The hugs and squeals, the laughter and sharing of challenges and triumphs, the late night bar sessions…

But enough of that. It’s piccies I know you’re after and I have plenty. Now, because there are so many photos, and I’m flat out at the moment finishing Santa and the Saddler and poring over Wayward Heart proofs, I’m not going to provide in depth descriptions. You’ll just have to look and enjoy, then book your own slot for the conference or ARRA book signing next year, and make yourself a part of these great events.

The conference was in Adelaide, South Australia, so what better excuse to visit my home town and family first in Mount Gambier, then follow it up with a road trip to Adelaide?

I caught up with my niece and nephews and watched the boys play basketball. As you can see, they didn’t take after their aunt in the height stakes. I felt very stumpy.

With my tall niece and nephews

As many of you are aware, my mum has Alzheimer’s and is now in full-time care. I’d love to say she recognised me but in all honesty I don’t think she did. It’s such a shit disease, it really is, but she’s being wonderfully cared for and when Dad and I visited her, she was cheerful and perky, and in overall good health. We had a fun time taking her out to buy new slippers and a cuppa at the bakery in Casterton, Victoria. Here we are with one of the kelpie statues in town.

With Mum in Casterton

It’s lambing season across western Victoria and south-east SA. Not a good time to be a fox. Here’s a haul near Ardno Station, Strathdownie.

Strathdownie - fox haul

The next day it was road trip time! Here’s me and Dad cruising the Dukes Highway.

Me and Dad road trip

Then it was Adelaide or, more specifically, Glenelg, and what a conference location it was. The council even had a heart for us (it’s a permanent sculpture but we romance peeps laid claim to it).

Glenelg Heart Sculpture

After spending Thursday catching up with friends, lunching with my editor and enjoying high tea with other buddies at a local bookshop, it was time for the Harlequin author party. We were each presented with red feather boas on arrival, which was fun, but the venue and the conference hotel looked like a slaughterhouse afterwards with all the dropped red feathers. I bet the cleaners are still grumbling about us.

Here’s Michelle Conder, Annie West, Carol Marinelli and Fiona McArthur.

Harlequin author party

And me and Michelle later in the bar.

Me and Michelle Conder

The conference Friday workshop was with screenwriting expert Michael Hauge. I used his Story Mastery session and templates to start nutting out Eddie and the Show Queen, which is a kinda-sorta sequel to Summer and the Groomsman, featuring Harry’s rakish brother Eddie. Don’t ask when I’ll get around to writing this one, I have no idea, but at least now I have a plot plan.

Michael Hauge - Story Mastery

Friday night was cocktail party night where many choose to dress up. This year’s theme was Love Is A Cabaret, which meant feather boas, black ties and more. Take a look…

Leisl Leighton, RWA president. Awesome eyelashes.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - Leisl Leighton

Anne Gracie and Keri Arthur.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - Anne Gracie Keri Arthur

A crowd of flappers.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - crowd

Fiona McArthur and me.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - Fiona McArthur and me

T.M Clarke and hubby.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - TM Clark and hubby

Me, Louise Reynolds and Jaye Ford.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - Me-Louise Reynolds-Jaye Ford

Juanita Kees and me.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - Juanita Kees and me

Jane and Richard Carter.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - Jane and Richard Carter

Leisl Leighton serenaded us with a song from Cabaret to much applause.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - song time

Me and agent Alex Adsett.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - me and Alex Adsett

The gorgeous Lilia Kanna from Harlequin.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - Lilia Kanna

Michelle Douglas and me.

RWA 2016 Cocktail Party - Michelle Douglas and me

And the conference proper begins! Hardworking organisers and deadest legends Bronwyn Stuart and Trish Morey.

RWA Conference - Bronwyn Stuart and Trish Morey

They presented a fun talk and slide show of what the world was like 25 years ago when the RWA began. Such a hoot.

RWA Conference - 25th anniversary fun

The state of publishing and bookselling panel.

RWA Conference - state of publishing and bookselling panel

The Stamford Grand Hotel showed us lots of luuuuurve. Very cool.

RWA Conference - hotel love

Saturday afternoon saw the ARRA booksigning event which was another great success. Here’s Anne Gracie…

2016 ARRA booksigning - Anne Gracie

Rachael Johns…

2016 ARRA booksigning - Rachael Johns

Juanita Kees…

2016 ARRA booksigning - Juanita Kees

Kandy Shepherd…

2016 ARRA booksigning - Kandy Shepherd

Mandy Magro…

2016 ARRA booksigning - Mandy Magro

Crowd shot…

2016 ARRA booksigning - crowd shot

Then it was awards dinner time! Didn’t the room and everyone look gorgeous?

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - crowd

Leah Ashton, Rachel Bailey, Daniel de Lorne.

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - Leah Ashton-Rachel Bailey-Daniel de Lorne

Suzi Love and her husband Graham, who volunteers to help with the agent and editor pitches every year. Thanks Graham. I heard many singing your praises!

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - Suzi Love and husband Graham

Wheeeeeee! Summer and the Groomsman had its time in the sun thanks to its best rural romance cover win. I cheered it. Cos, why not!

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - Summer and the Groomsman best rural romance cover

Me and James Kellow, CEO of Harlequin and Harper Collins.

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - Me and James Kellow

Karen M Davis paying heartfelt tribute to her mother, the late Lynn Wilding, a founding member of RWA. Many of us suffered sniffles during this speech, it was so lovely.

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - Karen M Davis

Rachael Johns and James Kellow.

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - Rachael Johns and James Kellow

Rach taking out the Ruby Award in the romantic elements category with The Patterson Girls. Rah!

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - Rachael Johns Ruby Award

There was dancing! And photo bombing by Shannon Curtis.

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - dancing and Shannon Curtis

Annie West and Michelle Douglas.

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - Annie West and Michelle Douglas

More dancing…

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - dancing

And bar lounging…

2016 RWA Awards Dinner - post dinner lounging

As for what happened after that, you’ll just have to use your imagination.

Despite appearances, it wasn’t all frocking up and partying. There were plenty of workshops, speakers and panels to check out. Here’s one of the slides from Kathryn Fox’s talk: Writer Like The World’s Best-Selling Author, where she talked about writing for James Patterson and what makes him such an incredible seller.

2016 RWA Conference - Kathryn Fox's workshop

Can’t wait for next year in Brisbane with Love Gone Wild!

2016 RWA Conference - announcing Brisbane 2017

For those wondering what happened to Hot Chocolate the blow-up wonder horse, the news isn’t good. Despite enthusiastic but inexpert veterinary care, Hot Choc suffered another puncture and was feeling very deflated about the whole affair. He made it to the booksigning but spent all his time sulking under the table. I fear this may be the last…

Hot Chocolate - deflated again

My heartfelt thanks to RWA, the conference committee and everyone involved in this year’s conference. The location was perfect – one of the best – the speakers and workshops were great, the parties fantastic and the friendship brilliant. Thank you, thank you.

If you’re an aspiring writer I can’t recommend that you join the Romance Writers of Australia enough. There is no doubt in my mind that without RWA I wouldn’t be published. I also wouldn’t have the wonderful friends I have or the chance to make new ones. And if you’re a reader, there’s the Australian Romance Readers Association.

So join up and hang online and in person with the people who love the same things you do. Go on. It’s fun!


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THIS WRITING LIFE: The Great Hot Chocolate Emergency

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Some of you may know that since the Australian Romance Readers Convention in Canberra in March 2015 I’ve been carting around an inflatable horse to events. His name is Hot Chocolate and I bought him on sale from the gift shop at the Spirited: Australia’s Horse Story exhibition at National Museum for the princely sum of $5.

Here he is at his naming ceremony, with me and historical romance author Anne Gracie in the bar (naturally) at the QT Hotel in Canberra.

Anne Gracie with Cathryn Hein admiring Hot Chocolate the blow-up horse in the QT bar at ARRC 2015

I think it’s fair to say that Hot Chocolate is not a quality steed. His conformation is appalling and he squeaks like a mouse when you squeeze his off-hind leg, but he’s fun and I like carting him around.

Here he is at his first book signing.

Cathryn Hein and her blow-up horse at the ARRC 2015 booksigning

So it was with huge disappointment to discover on the morning of this year’s Australian Romance Reader’s Awards in March that Hot Chocolate had sprung a leak. There was no keeping air in him and it left both of us feeling very flat.

A saggy and flat feeling Hot Chocoalate

I took him home afterward with the great intention of finding his hole and patching him up. Alas, I forgot all about it until I suddenly realised I have the ARRA booksigning in Adelaide this Saturday and risked attending with NO HOT CHOCOLATE. We couldn’t have that. It’d put a jinx on everything.

Bathtub to the rescue!

Hot Chocolate being tested in the bathtub

Oh, did that horsey bubble. He had a giant hole in his chest seam and I thought it was curtains for poor old Hot Choc but a band-aid and a bit of sticky tape later and he’s all good. Not pretty, mind, but Hot Choc will at least be going to the party.

The hole in Hot Chocolate's chest

Emergency veterinary treatment for Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate rides again!

If you’re in Adelaide this Saturday, 20th August, come and see me and over 60 other romance authors at the Stamford Grand in Glenelg. The event runs from 5pm for an hour and we’d love you to come along for a natter and get your books signed. You can also purchase books at the event. For full details visit the Australian Romance Readers Association website.

You’ll even be able to pat Hot Chocolate!


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THIS WRITING LIFE: The End Is Nigh (or perhaps not)

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Breaking News - Author Cathryn Hein has NOT finished her book

Today was meant to be the day.

It’s not.

My book, my (untitled) work-in-progress, my current obsession, still isn’t done.

No triumphant typing of THE END, no running around the house in my trakky daks with my arms in the air squeeing like a banshee, only to screech even harder and retreat to my office in horror as I clock the poor, neglected mess that is my house. No cracking a bottle of fizz. No cooking of celebratory naughty food.

Just my bum back in my chair and my fingers on the keyboard.

I don’t know what it’s like for other authors, but when I get near the end of a work-in-progress I’m usually pounding the keys like there’s no tomorrow. By this point the story that I’ve dedicated half a year to, perhaps more, just wants to burst out. And out it usually comes in a great deluge of emotion and (very often) bawling on my part, because for the last however many thousands of words my characters have been tearing their hearts apart and now, NOW, there’s a chance it could be all right. Except then their HORRIBLE author throws them a googly and it all goes wrong, and unless they find their inner strengths and hearts, all will be lost.

Writing this bit—the black moment and denouement—is emotional and wonderful and the best fun ever, and I’m currently smack in the middle of it when I’d expected to be at the end.

As I’m (still!) learning, every book is its own beast, and this work-in-progress is no different.

This book is slow.

It started out that way too, defying every effort, every trick I could conjure up to speed it along only to ignore me totally and continue doing its snail thing. Now it’s ending exactly the way it started. Perhaps I should have anticipated that, but I didn’t.

I admit that I’m frustrated. I’m so desperate for these two gorgeous characters to achieve their happy ever after it’s killing me, but I’m also filled with joy because being with these two is a genuine delight. I know they’re fictional, I know they’re products of my imagination, but sharing their lives, their love, feels like a privilege.

This book is also proving to be long. I’ve just written a chapter 40. I have never written a chapter 40. Never. Not even before I was published. Of course, this might not be the case with the final book—editing changes things, sometimes dramatically—but I’m loving the novelty. More importantly, it works.

In fact, everything seems to work with this book. I love it, really love it. I’m CRAZY about it.

So I don’t care if it takes me another week, two weeks, or even a month to finish (although I bloody hope not or my Christmas novella will be seriously at risk). The pleasure with this one is in the journey. And it’s a journey I’m savouring.

Long may that be the case with all I write, whether it be a blog post, a tweet or a novel, because pleasure and passion matter.

If I don’t feel them when I’m writing, how can I expect you to?


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The trouble with being a writer is that it’s a sedentary occupation. You spend hours sitting on your backside and it’s really, really unhealthy.

I try to make up for it with exercise. I play golf at least once a week, I have a weights workout I do regularly, and I cycle or walk to the shops when the weather is fine and I have the time.

I also have an exercise bike, but the trouble with that is:

1/. The seat isn’t very comfortable, and

2/. I’m still sitting on my bum.

So a month or so ago I bought a treadmill. And I’m loving it!

It took us a while to get it out of the box and built. We would have been better off paying for that service because it was messy and painful, and caused much swearing on a Sunday morning. But we got there in the end and, most importantly, the finished product is getting plenty of use.

The treadmill under construction

The treadmill under construction

I’m doing 5 kilometres a day on it, mostly walking but with an occasional spurt of jogging when I get bored or overexcited. I have no illusions that this is enough to make up for all that bum-sitting, but it’s better than nothing. Plus I can do other things while I’m exercising, like listen to podcasts, record (panting) voice notes to myself on my phone, check emails and social media, and read.

Cathryn Hein on her new treadmill

Hooray for treadmills!

I can also daydream. Exercise is GREAT for creativity. Not quite as good as showering but pretty handy for triggering ideas.

Although I discovered the hard way that getting lost inside your head while treadmilling can be dangerous. The first week I used it, the treadmill tossed me fair off the back after a particularly ga-ga moment while zoning out on my work-in-progress. Now I make sure to keep my hands on the bars whenever I close my eyes. My other half keeps muttering that a smart person would clip on the safety release thingy, but that would be far too sensible and I notice the he never uses it either. So there.

Some authors set up desks over their treadmills, set it to a low speed, and write and walk for long periods. I can’t see myself doing at the moment but I certainly won’t rule it out for the future. In the meantime, I’ll just keep trundling happily along.

And hopefully not get spat off the back again.

What do you do for exercise? Do you multi-task while working out? Does exercise help your creativity too?


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Having been genetically programmed from conception to be horse-mad, it’s little wonder I have lots of horsey things. Figurines, stuffed toys, books, photos, paraphernalia and memorabilia from my riding days, stationery, jewellery. If it’s horsey, my brain automatically says WANT.

The other day, while I was searching for something else on the computer, I came across a weird file. What did it contain? Photos of equestrian statues and other horse figures. Because, well, why wouldn’t you take photos of horse statues on your travels?

Doesn’t everyone?

I have a book to write and can’t spend an hour going silly-ga-ga over horse pictures. Except that was kind of what I did, and I excused myself the indulgence by deciding that:

1/. Horses are clearly a writing inspiration and I should look at them often, and that includes photos of stone and bronze ones.

2/. A post featuring a few of these photos would send blog viewers into raptures and everyone would love me and buy lots of my books, and then I could go on more travels and take even more pictures of horse statues.

See? You can justify anything if you try hard enough.

So, given points 1 and 2 above, I’d better get sharing and ensure that my gawking time was not all wasteful procrastination.

Gird your loins and prepare to be wowed. No, seriously. Some of these are brilliant, I promise!

First up, our very own Man with a Donkey memorial in the Gallipoli Memorial garden, near Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance.

Man with a Donkey memorial

Richard the Lionheart in front of Parliament, London. So romantic.

Richard the Lionheart, Parliament, London

The fellow is outside of the medieval village and abbey of Conques in southern France. Fantastic place to visit.

Conques Horse Statue

Hay bale art from the 2012 Lantern Festival at Tarrington, western Victoria. If you’re ever in the area in late November this is a must-see. Huge fun.

Hay Bale Art, Tarrington, Victoria

Ah, Versailles. Not much more you can say other than it’s stunning.


Horsies in the Tower of London

Tower of London

The Cervantes monument, Madrid, featuring Don Quixote and sidekick Sancho Panza.

Cervantes monument, Madrid

The stunning Fountaine Bartholdi in the Place de Terreaux, Lyon, France. Love this.

Fountaine Bartholdi , Lyon

Superstar racehorse Black Caviar’s compression suit, on display at Equitana in Melbourne in 2012.

racehorse Black Caviar’s compression suit

Isn’t this statue wonderful? It’s The Young Man and the Horse by Heinz Schwartz, and is located on Lake Geneva.

Young Man and the Horse by Heinz Schwartz

The Louvre is full of horses. This is just one.

Louvre statue

Part of the Millennium Monument in Budapest. The sculptures are amazing.

Millennium Monument in Budapest

The 14th century knight Bertrand de Guesclin, galloping on his horse, Caen, France. Fantastic statue.

Bertrand de Guesclin, Caen

Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc), also in Caen.

Jeanne d'Arc, Caen

This lovely statue – Amazone by Louis Tuaillon – is in Berlin’s Tiergarten.

Amazone by Louis Tuaillon

And lastly, my absolute freaky favourite, Czech artist David Cerny’s surreal statue of King Wenceslas riding a dead horse, suspended inside the Lucerna Palace in Prague.

King Wenceslas riding a dead horse

Hope you enjoyed this sample of horsey statue photos from my collection. There are many more. A scary amount, in fact. I can’t help it. I just adore these things!

Have you seen any weird or wonderful horse statues? I’d love to know so I can add them to my bucket list.

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