Productivity, Writing

The art of saying ‘no’.

I’m deep into research for the third book in the Lucy and Dee series. In writing the first two titles, I learned that the secret to success in almost any endeavour is large, uninterrupted blocks of focused time. And this is especially true of research. I have to read, take notes, consider where to use it most effectively and, at the same time, ensure it enhances the story and doesn’t overwhelm it. There’s a lot going on and it takes time.

But how to get that time when there’s alway’s someone who needs the answer to a question, a task done, an event attended. So I’ve been working on saying ‘no’ as nicely and firmly as possible. But so often there’s a rebuttal like the innocuous sounding, “But it will just take a minute!”. A minute is all fine and good but, according to the lovely people at Mind Tools, it take 23 minutes (!) to regain focus after a single interruption. Who has that kind of time?

It’s impossible to accomplish anything of importance, professionally or personally without the ability to say ‘no’. And ‘NO!’ is a complete sentence.

If you want to soften it, consider using the E.B. White quote. If nothing else, I’ve found it baffles people long enough to derail them!

And I’ve discovered that those who truly care about my wellbeing will not try to manipulate and cajole. They’re happy to wait until my work is done. Besides, how urgent can it be? Unless there’s arterial bleeding, a blocked windpipe, a heart attack or stroke, quite frankly, it is not an emergency.

Now, back to my research!

Creativity, Writing

Five Fun Facts about the Lucy & Dee Series

The Lucy & Dee series required dozens of inspirations and decisions, large and small. Many involved extensive research which I absolutely loved. Although it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole only to emerge hours later!

Here are answers to five of my most frequently asked questions.

The fantasy land of Sericea was inspired by my travels throughout Asia.

For more than a decade I’ve travel to Asia – from Hong Kong to Chiang Mai, and many points in between. I loved the geography, the people, the culture, the food, and the mythology. When I began to write The Silk Road, it seemed natural to have an Asian flavour.

The title The Silk Road comes from…no surprises here, the fabled Silk Road that united Europe with the mysterious Orient.

I was always intrigued by Marco Polo’s travels to China – it seemed like a fantasy adventure. Having the silk road in Lucy & Dee literally made of silk just seemed like too good an opportunity to miss for a small joke.

Dee’s fascination with alchemy stems from my love of history and science.

The study of alchemy can be traced from ancient Egypt through to sixteenth century Europe. During this time, early philosophers built the foundations of modern chemistry and physics through alchemy, rational thought, and reason. While there was a line of alchemists interested in occult matters, these philosopher alchemists were particularly interested in metallurgy (including turning base metals into gold); the production of paints, inks, and dyes; and cosmetics. During their investigations they refined the scientific method.  

In parallel, China had its own alchemists. They were focused more on medical knowledge and how to live in harmony with the natural order of the universe and traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture, Tai Chi and meditation all focus on the purification of the spirit in the hope of achieving immortality, a core value in alchemy.  While trying to uncover an elixir for immortality Chinese alchemists accidentally invented gunpowder.

Lucy was inspired by the character from The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe.

I read voraciously as a child and my favourite books were the fantasy series and stand-alone titles. The Narnia series was a particular favourite as were The Borrowers, A Wrinkle in Time, His Dark Materials and The Diamond in the Window. By age eight, I was determined to write fantasy adventure books of my own.

The Vermilion Bird (Shuka), the Xami, the Azure Dragon, and the White Tiger (Baiku) are based on Asian mythological creatures.

Shuka, the Azure Dragon of the East and the Baiku are three of the four cardinal directions in Chinese mythology. Shuka represent south, The Azure Dragon represents east, and Baiku represents west. Omitted from the story (so far) is the Black Tortoise (north) only because I can’t find a role for this one…yet.

The Xami are based on the Qilin, another Chinese mythological creature.

There will be more fun facts about the series in future posts, but feel free to leave a message with any specific questions you have.

Creativity, Productivity, Writing

Sweet, Sweet Solitude

It’s been a busy, chaotic and exhilarating week with my family. We rented a beach house and spent our days walking a long, pristine, and sparsely populated beach, playing in the water, reading, eating, and talking, talking, talking. And I was spectacularly unproductive – no writing at all. It was great!


Time for some solitude

If I’m going to get book 3 in the Lucy & Dee series written in the next year or two I have to find a door to close behind me. It’s time for some solitude.

What I’ve learned about solitude

The need to spend time alone was, and still is, common among many poets, novelists, composers, artists, innovators, and inventors. According to Michael Harris in his book, Solitude (2017), there are three crucial benefits provided by solitude: “new ideas; an understanding of the self; and a closeness to others.” In addition, it increases our ability to solve hard problems.

The mind needs some space from constant stimulation in order to let all of those fabulous, unique connections, forged during REM sleep, to burble to the surface of our conscious minds.

There is no need to go all hermit to get the benefits of solitude, nor do we need to isolate ourselves for long periods.  We can maximize the benefits of solitude by simply striving to cycle between periods of solitude and engagement with the outside world. Solitude is about what’s happening in our brains, not the environment around us. It’s simply a state in which our mind is free from input from other minds. So, we can be solitary on even our morning commutes on the train if we allow ourselves to just be with our own thoughts rather than being on social media, listening to the radio/podcasts/audiobooks, reading, or otherwise engaging with another human. Moments of solitude—even small ones—when self-imposed, intentional, and fully appreciated, can have profound effects on our productivity and creative thinking.

Stepping away from the routine and disruption of daily life allows us to connect ideas we’ve been struggling with in new ways, follow creative impulses, and simply think about one thing at a time.

I know it’s something I’ve needed in regular doses all my life. It’s the one and only thing that helps me reset, recharge and let fresh thoughts flow.

And now for a moment of solitude

Get your Zen on.

Brought to you from Tallows Beach, Byron Bay, New South Wales.
Productivity, Writing

Space to create

Putting the question of money aside for the moment – ‘enough’ is different for everyone – I’ve found that writing does require space to think and create. And creating it can sometimes mean thinking laterally.

For five years my writing space was in a glorified hallway and the passing traffic didn’t hesitate to stop, have a chat, and ask for some of my time. My focus was shattered. I tried ignoring, I tried glowering, I tried everything short of physical violence. There would be a brief period of smiles, nods, and careful tiptoeing around me (can tiptoeing be sarcastic? Passive aggressive? I feel it can be!). Then behaviours would revert to baseline.

Beside myself, I was ready to give up and then a friend of mine, and master coach, Leah Badetscher suggested typing a sign to the back of my chair when I didn’t want to be disturbed.

Miraculously, it worked! I don’t know how, but it did. I’d hear the thudding of feet approaching, a hesitation, a sigh, and then retreating footsteps.

But I had a space of my own.

Another way of problem solving

When the Morton Bay fig trees are lit up like this at dusk, it makes me think of Lothlórien, the fairest realm of the Silvan Elves remaining in Middle Earth (Lord of the Rings).

Brisbane is full of Morton Bay figs. These spectacular trees don’t rely on anyone else to provide their support system. Instead, they send down shoots from their branches. These shoots root and become full tree trunks thus supporting the primary tree’s relentless quest for reach and height. One core tree can become a forest all by itself.

Productivity, Travel, Writing


I recently struck a blow for freedom by downloading…Freedom, the app that gives you your life back! (Note: this is not a paid promotion – I just like the app.)

My first task was to learn how to block my access to the App store – for days at a time – so I can’t re-download the solitaire game apps I deleted. And then I went on to blocking distracting websites for hours in the early morning and again in the evening.

So maybe I’ll really give myself a chance to kick the time-wasting habits now. The technology was too strong for my mere self-control and self-discipline. Using the Freedom app will give me time to break the bad habits.

I know I can do it, even though I’ve suffered from Shiny Object Syndrome (SOS), my whole life! My busy, active mind has always embraced everything with open arms, and encouraged me to wholeheartedly get carried away by the next new thing. Until the moment hits when I find myself trapped in a shiny globe of opportunities, pinging away madly from one thing to another with negligible results, far off track down a path I never meant to travel.

It’s like Dug. Dug is looking for love and friendship. Right up until the moment when…


In other news, freeing up time wasted on stupid games has given me the space to enjoy the outdoors while we’re in Australia!

Hiking up to Baroon Lookout, Sunshine Coast, Queensland. I was, perhaps, overdressed.

Turn up the volume! Kookaburras heard but not seen.

Lead image Photo credit: Jamie Street, Unsplash


Welcome to 2023!

It’s the beginning of a bright new year. A few years ago, I started choosing a ‘Word for the Year’. A word that represented to me how I hoped to grow over the coming twelve months.

This year’s word is ‘Kaizen’.

Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning continuous improvement. Consistently finding something to improve on (or picking one key area of life) and make a little progress on it every day. In his book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear refers to 1% improvements.

It’s a three-step process:

  1. Show up. Commit to doing something every day.
  2. Focus on getting better at it every day.  

My commitment is to improve my writing both the quality and the quantity of it.

Which brings me to:

  • Choose only one thing or area to work on. I’m a champion at saying “ooooh, I want to get better and this, and this, and, oh yes, can’t forget that. And by week two I’m so overwhelmed that everything falls apart.

Another way to continuously improve is to take it from the other side and eliminating mistakes.

A little update: I am down to the short strokes in the editing process for the second book in the Lucy & Dee series (release date October 2023) and I’ve started drafting book 3.

I hope to sort out what I’ve learned from writing the first two books to make the process of writing the third for more smoothly (and faster).

Continuous progress is the journey of a lifetime. What a life we could live if we just improved a little bit every day – the results take care of themselves.

What I've been reading, Writing

It’s My Book Birthday!

A Writer’s Journey

Magic! Adventure! Fabulous, mythical animals and wicked witches! These were the story elements that enthralled me as a child and inspired me to create the magical, mystical world of Sericea.

Lucy & Dee, The Silk Road is now available at your bookseller of choice!

It’s been a long journey. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was eight years old and fashioning little booklets out of folded paper. I’d write and illustrate fantasy – heavily influenced at the time by The Borrowers series.

Then, as so often happens, I was overtaken by events, school, early stages of career and family… Oh, I wrote…some truly dreadful novels that mercifully I let languish in my computer hard drive. But over time, the writing bug strengthened. I wrote more. And as I wrote, my writing improved. Participation in various writing groups helped along the way along with writing buddies and writing coaches.

Finally, perseverance has paid off!

Never give up on a dream. It may take much longer than you expect to achieve it, but that’s okay.

Things I’m Grateful for Today

Spring has truly sprung here on the Island and I’m loving seeing new flowers every day. Some of my favourites are camellias, rhododendrons, and flowering plums. Every day, there’s something new to discover!

A crackling fire while I work on the second book in the Lucy & Dee series

An almost three-hour phone call with a beloved friend this morning. We’re separated by thousands of miles and a substantial time difference, but each call is as if we’re sitting having a cup of tea together.

A heron landed by the pool in my neighbour’s garden yesterday. There is a blue heron colony in a public garden, not too far from our house. In the Celtic traditions, herons represent autonomy, persistence, and longevity.

What I’m Reading Now

When I start a series, I tend to go right through it and there are twenty-four Hugh Corbett medieval mysteries to date. This is only book 11. Paul Doherty has based every novel in the series so far on an actual event happening in the reign of Edward 1 of England. A historian as well as an author, Doherty brings the early 14th century vividly to life.