It is 1788. When twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth marries the arrogant and hot-headed soldier John Macarthur, she soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. Forced to travel with him to New South Wales, she arrives to find Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, scheming and rumours. All her life she has learned to fold herself up small. Now, in the vast landscapes of an unknown continent, Elizabeth has to discover a strength she never imagined, and passions she could never express.
Inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, this is an extraordinarily rich, beautifully wrought novel of resilience, courage and the mystery of human desire.
There’s no question that this is a beautifully written novel from a very talented author. Some of the description is absolutely wonderful and there’s such a clear sense of time and place.
The opening chapters, describing Elizabeth’s childhood, worked the best for me, and the Elizabeth in these chapters felt very real and fully drawn.
Once the narrative moves to Australia, the novel didn’t work quite so well for me. I did feel that Elizabeth was a little too good to be true and that the portrayal of her husband was a bit superficial. I would have liked a bit more detail about the dynamics of their relationship, and also some more detail about the daily hardships of life in the new settlement. This aspect, in particular, was very glossed over. It must have been absolutely brutal, but it doesn’t really feel that way.
I think too, that, while there certainly is acknowledgement of the cruelty to the indigenous people of the area, this could have been more fully detailed. And is it really believable that Elizabeth would have been so enlightened, that she would have recognized that the immigrants from England were stealing land and food and lives from others?
That said, the book did leave me wanting to know more about the real Elizabth Macarthur, and it was, on the whole, a book that I’m glad to have read.
For three years, Ana has been consumed by an affair with Connor, a client at her law firm. Their love has been consigned to hotel rooms and dark corners of pubs, their relationship kept hidden from the world. So the morning that Ana’s company receives a call to say that Connor is dead, her secret grief has nowhere to go. Desperate for an outlet, Ana seeks out the shadowy figure who has always stood just beyond her reach – Connor’s wife Rebecca…
This story begins at the end of an affair – brought short by the sudden death of Connor. It follows Ana’s memories of the affair alongside the way she copes (or doesn’t) with the situation.
The story is told in verse form, which makes every word, every line, every scene compacted into what is really important. Rather than making things feel underdeveloped, the author’s skill means that you learn so much about each character, each situation, in a few well-chosen words and situations.
Ana isn’t very nice. She’s selfish, and self-absorbed. But she’s also deeply unhappy, and the narrative doesn’t try to excuse her, or her behaviour, it simply shows us what she is like, what she does, and how that affects those around her.
The narrative is packed full of emotion – love, hate, jealousy, guilt, but it never feels overdone, just realistic, considering the characters and the situation.
It’s a fairly short read, but no less a whole story – I read it in a couple of days which is unusual for me at the moment as I have so much else to do! So that’s a testament to how much I enjoyed it.
‘Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly.’
Ludwig Wittgenstein Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, proposition 4.116
The Oxford dictionary defines clarity as:
The quality of being clear, in particular:
The quality of being coherent and intelligible
The quality of being easy to see or hear; sharpness of image or sound
In fiction writing, as in any other type of writing, you need to be clear – your words, your sentences, the pictures you build, must have clarity. Otherwise, who are you writing for? As an author, you have stories you want to share, so you must bear in mind your audience, your reader and what they will do with the words you choose to give them. This doesn’t mean you can’t be clever, that you can’t be creative, that you can’t build wonderful metaphors, use fabulous imagery and weave complex, intricate plots and storylines. But you must have clarity in all you write. What are those ingenious metaphors for? They are there to help your reader understand – to tell your story. What is that beautiful imagery for, if not to help your reader imagine your worlds, your characters, your visions? And if your plot makes no sense, then why should a reader waste time with your work? You are not writing in a vacuum, you are writing for a reader and your reader must know what you are conveying with those words.
So how do you ensure clarity in your writing?
One common issue I deal with all the time when editing is confusion resulting from the use of pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘his’, ‘her’ etc. It’s crucial that the noun the pronoun is referring to is clear. For example:
The car hit the barrier but it wasn’t damaged.
What wasn’t damaged? What does ‘it’ refer to – the car or the barrier? In this sentence it could be either.
John gave Adam his money.
Whose money? Adam’s? Or John’s? Make sure it’s clear who the pronoun ‘his’ is referring to.
Passive voice can make your writing seem wordy and unnatural. Using active voice makes your words more immediate and gives them energy. Find out more about active vs. passive voice here.
Ditch the clichés
Clichés don’t work in fiction because they are stale and overused. They are phrases other people have made – your story and your characters deserve fresh, new words and phrases that are all their own. Again, think of your reader. If you fill your work with stale old clichés, you give the impression that you can’t be bothered; you can’t be bothered to think of exactly the right words to use, you can’t be bothered to think of something fresh and new, you can’t be bothered to create new phrases and sentences. So why should a reader be bothered with you?
Cut, cut and cut again
One of the most common comments I use when I’m editing is ‘do you need?’ Writers should apply this to every word they write. Do you really need it? And if not, then cut it. For example:
When she went to the shops that morning, there were crowds of people thronging the streets.
Now if every word matters, what can be got rid of here?
It might be important that she went to the shops that morning, so we’ll leave that in, but you can cut ‘there were’. These two words are hardly ever needed.
When she went to the shops that morning, crowds of people thronged the streets.
So it’s only two words – but it’s two words you don’t need.
The same goes for ‘she felt’, ‘she saw’, ‘she knew’
As she walked to the shops, she saw two cyclists coming towards her.
Why not simply –
As she walked to the shops, two cyclists came towards her.
Another particular pet hate of mine is ‘she began’ or ‘she started’. Why write ‘she began to cough’ instead of ‘she coughed’? Or ‘she began to speak’ instead of ‘she spoke’?
And what about ‘Off’ or ‘off of’?
The short answer is ‘off’.
The long answer is:
You don’t need to say:
She pushed him off of the bridge.
She pushed him off the bridge.
Other words that can often be cut are ‘seemed to’ or ‘appeared to’. Be firm and clear in your writing and your meaning.
She seemed to quiver at the sight of him.
is much better as:
She quivered at the sight of him.
These are just some examples of how you can bring clarity to your work. I’d love to hear other tips and advice.
I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English.
I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.
China, 1941. With Japan’s declaration of war on the Allies, Elspeth Kent’s future changes forever. When soldiers take control of the missionary school where she teaches, comfortable security is replaced by rationing, uncertainty and fear.
Ten-year-old Nancy Plummer has always felt safe at Chefoo School. Now the enemy, separated indefinitely from anxious parents, the children must turn to their teachers – to Miss Kent and her new Girl Guide patrol especially – for help. But worse is to come when the pupils and teachers are sent to a distant internment camp. Unimaginable hardship, impossible choices and danger lie ahead.
Inspired by true events, this is the unforgettable story of the life-changing bonds formed between a young girl and her teacher, in a remote corner of a terrible war.
I’ve read quite a few of Hazel Gaynor’s books and have loved every one of them. She has a really lovely way of writing about ordinary people in extraordinary situations, showing how those people find such strength of character in order to cope. The relationships between her characters are always a highlight too.
This novel is no exception. Elspeth and Nancy are authentic and likeable narrators, showing clearly their fear and bewilderment as their lives change so dramatically. What works particularly well is their belief that this can’t possibly be happening, that someone will come and hp them. It really made me, as a reader, think about what how I would react in those circumstances.
I did find, however, the storyline around the Girl Guides a little overdone. I can appreciate that it was something to hold onto, for the girls and their teachers, and something they used to give life in the camp a sense of normality, but it did take over the narrative in places.
Otherwise, another great novel by Hazel Gaynor, and definitely recommended.
If you could go back in time to find answers to the past, would you?
For Faye, the answer is yes. There is nothing she wouldn’t do to find out what really happened when she lost her mother as a child. She is happy with her life – she has a loving husband, two young daughters and supportive friends, even a job that she enjoys. But questions about the past keep haunting her, until one day she finally gets the chance she’s been waiting for.
But how far is she willing to go to find answers?
Space Hopper is an original and poignant story about mothers, memories and moments that shape life.
When she is just eight years old, Faye loses her mother. Taken in by kind neighbours, she forges a happy life, albeit one that has a sadness at its heart.
She has a good job, a lovely, supportive husband, two daughters, lots of friends, but nothing quite fills that hole.
When she finds an old space hopper box in the loft, it paves the way for her to return to her past, and to be with her mum, but as is usually the case with time travel, interfering with the past isn’t always a wise thing to do, and the consequences can be much more far reaching than you expect.
I did enjoy this. For a debut novel it’s very well-written, confident, well-paced, and absorbing in places, and the details of Faye’s past were so well done, really authentic.
That said, there were a few places where things dragged a little, and some of the time travel aspects didn’t really work for me. And I’m not sure I completely believed in the ending.
But certainly a good read, and I’d definitely read more by this author.