Phoning home, Christmas, 1937

1937 – that’s before we had emails or Skype. But there was the phone. And you could make international calls. But it was a very different business from today. You might like this story of a 23 year old woman calling her family in an Australian country town from her digs in London. See in stories, on website,

too young to be embarrassed


These grandchildren are too young to be embarrassed by anything but Bytestories have a great competition running  for a short short story about an embarrassing situations. See it on bytestories’ Facebook page or go to their website I’ve got a story called “the New Girl”. I’d love to get votes, but really, the fun is in reading all the stories.

Someone better


6624452095_ca8a87a84a_mSomeone better? Someone who’s kinder, has more friends, does good works, is smarter, sexier, better looking, more successful, richer? Love him, hate her. Hate her, love him.

The someone better idea sits a little uneasily in our land of the fair go. And damn those tall poppies! That doesn’t stop us thinking that Julia is better than Tony or Tony is better than Julia. Kevin Rudd, well, he’s either Saint Kevin or the devil incarnate. We’re quite willing to rate our public figures, just not ourselves.

When a loved one (actually, they pretty quickly become an unloved one) tells us they’ve found someone better than us, that really sucks. A better friend, a better employee, a better sibling. Most of all, a better lover, male or female. How dare they?! It cuts us to the bone. Which is why I wrote Someone better – on my website

Being right and righteous

right-wrong 90pc
 – and read my short stories. Like me on Facebook Helen Townsend Author

A while ago, I was at a dinner party that degenerated into an argument. It got loud and a little ugly. My sympathy was passionately with one side, although now I can’t quite remember which side or what the argument was about. But I can remember feeling very emotional, but then suddenly I realising that neither side had any hope of convincing the other. Every single person – including me – was absolutely convinced they were right and we were all pretty damn righteous about that.

We humans do like to be right. We stick to being right even when we know we’re wrong.  It’s a big factor in human relationships, which means it’s important in writing about human relationships. And just about the writing – we like to be write about that too, which is why it’s sometimes hard to be edited. We must be right about our own precious prose, mustn’t we?

Back in the 60s, Robert Townsend wrote a book called Up the Organisation in which he discussed mistakes. He was the man who turned Avis into a major company, and having done so, he thought that most of the time, his decisions must have been right. But having just a smidgen of doubt, he started counting the times he’d been right and the times he’d been wrong. The result? More than half his decisions were wrong. That fascinated me.

Using a much smaller and more intimate context, I wrote the story Geoff – on having a blue. Most domestic arguments make no sense at all. A lot of them are ludicrous, even hilarious in retrospect. Like Geoff, I think a lot of our troubles come from our sharing most of our genes with chimps. Go to the zoo – you’ll see they’re argumentative little bastards.

Read my story if you like. If you don’t like it, tell me why. I’ll read your comment because I have to consider the possibility you might just be right.


Edit, edit, edit

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On the weekend, someone reading a post on this site found some typos. She pointed them out to me, then apologised in case I didn’t like being corrected. I don’t mind at all. In fact I think it’s great because it’s very hard to edit your own work. But editing and re-writing are perhaps the most important part of writing.

As you can see from the page here, I am a ferocious editor of my own work. I write, re-write and re-write, then some more. I come back to stories after a week and find I want to re-structure or re-write the whole thing. Or maybe my sense of a character has changed without me consciously thinking about it. Those time-out  periods are of immense value to any writer. Sometimes, when I’m walking or swimming, the characters start talking in my head, saying something I haven’t thought of. That doesn’t make sense of course, but that’s how it feels.

I find one of the big benefits of these time-out periods is discovering the real point of something you’re writing. “Ah, that’s what it’s about.” That thought is a seminal moment that suggests all sorts of changes and improvements.

Of course there are times when I reverse changes back to the original text, but it’s being willing to play round and try different things that is the key to making a piece of writing as good as possible.

Warning: Making it as good as possible, not perfect, is the goal. It never will be perfect. Your little literary child has to go out into the wide world some time.

Good writing!

Being old

5740802708_9901fa2697_mThis is a wonderful photo by Andy M. Taylor from FlickR creative commons. It’s about being old, it’s about being courageous, about having style and dignity. These are  things I love to write about with older characters. And of course because I’m getting older (65) myself! It’s a time of life that is quite amazing and challenging. It’s needs all our accumulated emotional wisdom. I’m not interested in a sentimental view, but the I think the view from this end of life is worth a look. I’ve just put a new story up on my site which is about an old lady – see Dr Suleiman’s Garden

Two new short stories

I’ve just added two new short stories.

One is a humorous story about arguments in a marriage. It’s called Geoff – on having a blue.  I wrote it because, in retrospect, most arguments seem petty and ridiculous. Ever had a fight about baking pans? Ever threatened to leave your partner and two weeks later you can’t remember why? Then this story is for you.

The other new story – Dr Suleiman’s garden, is more serious, but with a light touch. It’s about a very old grandmother who wants to donate a kidney to her granddaughter. It ranges over her life. She’s a gutsy old girl with many human frailties and an interesting life. Add in the wild and understandably depressed granddaughter, plus the prim but kind Dr Suleiman and there’s my mix. Enjoy!

typewriter 2           The stories posted last month are:

Black Labrador, a story based on an urban myth. It’s funny but with serious stuff mixed in.

Crazy for Daphne is a story for Baby Boomers. It’s about a child’s view of a love affair – and family relationships at that time.

The Laughing Club – people have described this story as weird. Have a look at the comments. It is. It’s about fetishes and laughter and getting your life together.


The Laughing Club – my inspiration


Okay, she’s a pretty wrinkly nude, but I did her in the one minute warm-up at the Arthouse Hotel in Pitt Street Sydney where they have Life Drawing sessions every Monday. (Fantastic value if you like to draw!) I go as often as I can. One night there was a guy sitting next to me who was basically just drawing the breasts of the model – very intently.I asked him if he was practicing breasts and he said “No”. Breasts were just what he liked to draw. He was a lovely guy, a little embarrassed about his breast fixation, but open about it too. We chatted a while and I said I think everyone is interested in breasts – men, women and children. He said he was rather more interested than most people..

I guess you’d call that a fetish. It got me thinking that often we regard fetishes as disgusting, violent, or somehow not normal. They are the most normal thing in the world, but sometimes they can interfere with others things. I used the character and the idea in the Laughing Club.

Writing style to help create characters

2012-08-12 10.24.48Every writer has a style, but it needs to be adjusted so it catches the characters in the story. This is nowhere more important than in a short story where often one or two characters carry the narrative throughout.

I always take time over this – imagining the character, feeling their age, their clothes, their speech, social status, relationships – basically everything I can think of.

Recently I’ve started using visual cues – objects, clothes, landscapes, houses that might be an important part of their life. Looking for the image is important because I find all sorts of things that aren’t right. Those things give me insight. But when I find the thing that is right, it gives me an actual sense of the character. I spend time gazing at, imagining. It really enriches  my ideas. Here’s my leadlight I recently used for a story set in an elaborate Victorian house.