Happy New Year!
January, 2018, here we are. Are you ready?
It’s been four years since THE JANUARY WISH, the first book in my Tarrin’s Bay series, was released. I’ve made a few wishes myself since then, many of which have come true. 🙂
January is a perfect time to not only look back on how far you’ve come, but also look forward to where you want to be, what you want to experience, how you want to feel.
I love the new feeling of January, the ideas that inspire me from within, and knowing that it’s a fresh start.
When I wrote THE JANUARY WISH I not only wanted to make a great story, but show readers that anything is possible. That no matter what has happened in your past… grief, loss, regret, illness… you can rise above it all and become the best version of yourself and find happiness and peace in your life.
Some of the story mirrors my own journey, and as I’ve risen above many challenges and made a few wishes, I’m grateful to what has manifested in my life, both personally and professionally, including my rewarding creative career.
I love inspiring others to do the same with their own life, through the pleasure of reading fiction that entertains and empowers, or through direct guidance and support with my coaching and online courses that I run. I’m holding a special 2 week online course just for the new year, called New Year Mojo! – The Secret Letters System for Releasing the Past and Manifesting the Future, based on my book The Secret Letters Project and on the techniques I’ve used myself to overcome challenges and create the life I want to live. If you’d like to take part in this small supportive group and be guided directly by me to step forward into an amazing new year and new life, I’d love to have you on board! You can find out all the details and register right now by clicking onto this page HERE. 🙂
And if you haven’t yet read the bestselling and award-shortlisted book THE JANUARY WISH, it is available in ebook from all online ebook retailers, and also in large print, and in print as part of the Time For The Beach anthology.
From Escape’s queen of ro-magic comedy comes a sweet, emotional contemporary romance about the pleasures of making a wish and seeing it come true.
When Dr Sylvia Greene makes an impromptu wish at the Tarrin’s Bay Wishing Festival, it’s the most out of character action she can think of. Hers is not a life of wishes. Hers is a controlled life of order, plans and preparation…of science and research and diagnosis and treatment. But her past has been weighing on her mind, and decisions made long ago have far-reaching consequences.
A week later, the daughter she secretly gave up for adoption at sixteen arrives in Sylvia’s small coastal town with secrets that can’t be shared. Between feelings of guilt, gossip, and a growing attraction to an emotionally unavailable colleague, Sylvia’s well-ordered life is soon thrown into chaos. She is no longer alone, and for the first time she feels as if her world is open to possibilities.
They say be careful what you wish for, but, for Sylvia, the unexpected consequences may be just what the doctor ordered.
Published by Escape Publishing.
Have an amazing new year!
~ Juliet xo
P.S. – Connect with me on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/JulietMadisonAuthor/
A novella is shorter than a novel, but longer than a short story. They are usually between around 10,000 to 40,000 words, and can be read easily in one or two sittings, making them great for readers who want a faster but still satisfying journey towards The End.
> Here are 7 reasons to write a novella:
1. When starting out as a writer to discover your style and voice:
A novella involves less commitment than a novel, and can be a fun and revealing way to experiment with a few different styles to find out what and how you like to write. It can also be a way to practise focusing on just a couple of main characters and a basic plot, before working on developing secondary characters and sub-plots.
2. To try a different genre, point-of-view, or experiment with a new story idea:
For writers who may have already written one or more novels, a novella can be a great way to explore a new genre and see how it feels. It can also be a way to try a different point of view, for example, going from third person to first person, or vice versa. Novellas can be good ‘experiments’, but can also be publishable and successful works of fiction.
3. To reclaim your joy & passion for writing, and stimulate your creativity:
If you’ve been writing for a while, or have become busy in other areas of your life and have lost touch with your writing, novellas can help to stimulate your creativity and give you an outlet to simply write for the joy of it, and see where it leads. They can be good for writing in between longer novels, to break up the routine a bit and inject some new enthusiasm into your writing life.
4. To use as a freebie to encourage new readers for your other books:
From a marketing perspective, novellas that you make available for free, such as via self-publishing, or in conjunction with a publisher, can be a great tool for attracting new readers. You can give one away to new newsletter subscribers, social media followers, or to those who have bought other books. A novella can be a useful introduction to an author.
5. As a complement or prequel to a series:
Novellas can also help to add extra interest to an existing series, by offering fans a bonus read. They can be written as a kind of ‘bonus feature’, like extras in a DVD, or can be a bridge between two linked novels, or a prequel to act as a lead-in to the series.
6. As a holiday-themed story or topical story to coincide with world events:
Themed novellas are popular, and easy to market around appropriate times such as certain holidays and special occasions (Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day, etc). You can also write a topical novella to coincide with world events in areas such as politics, royal life, current affairs, and other issues that are popular discussion points.
7. For an anthology with other authors:
Your novella can stand alone and/or be included with other novellas in an anthology; a collection of similar novellas by other authors, so that you benefit from cross-promotion. Your readers are likely to enjoy similar books by other authors, and vice versa. These are often self published but can also be traditionally published as a virtual boxed set, or a print compilation.
Novellas are fun, fast, and have many possibilities when it comes to adding to your catalogue of books or expressing your author brand. They also allow readers to get a taste test of what your writing style is like, and so for readers they are a great way to discover new authors, enjoy an introduction to a new series, or to enjoy reading something different without committing to a full length book, especially if their available reading time is brief.
Just because a novella is shorter than a novel, doesn’t always mean it is easier or quicker to write, though in general the time frame is usually faster. It still requires the same process for a writer, in terms of establishing an idea and concept, authentic characters, conflict and plot development, and a satisfying conclusion.
With novellas, there is not as much time to get to The End, and sometimes this can be tricker to work out out how to get there while maintaining enough plot interest and character development.
But there are tips and tricks to planning and writing a great novella, and I’ll be teaching these in an upcoming online course, as well as what types of publishing opportunities there are for novellas, and how to market them and make them a valuable and worthwhile addition to your book catalogue.
For this course, I’ll be focusing on romance novellas, which I like to call: Lovellas. 🙂
So if you’d like to learn How To Write A Lovella, head on over to the course information page where you can find out more and also register and take advantage of a couple of special offers! >> https://writingmojoacademy.com/how-to-write-a-lovella/ (the course will also be available as a download after the live event is complete)
Do you like to write or read novellas? Feel free to comment with your favourites, or leave a link to your own…
August was “Secret Letters to Strangers Month – Global Kindness Initiative”, to tie in with the release of THE SECRET LETTERS PROJECT book. People around the world wrote uplifting letters to strangers (using the Official Template or including the hashtag & website), and left them in public places for people to find. I did this too, and had a great time finding sneaky places to leave them! Many of us shared our experiences and photos in the Secret Letters project Facebook group. If you haven’t yet joined, you can do so HERE.
August may be over now, but secret letters to strangers will continue for all who want to keep writing and making this a regular part of their life. I hope to run the same event next August to make it more of an ‘official’ annual event to get as many letters out to the world all at once in a shorter space of time, and encourage new people to participate.
I’d like to thank every person who got involved in the project, it’s so rewarding to see people getting benefit out of not only finding these letters, but writing them as well. Some wonderful stories came through of people finding a letter just when they needed some encouragement or were having a difficult day.
Here are just some of the real life experiences and feedback I’ve received from recipients… (click each image to read up close)
“I recently lost my mum and one day a friend and me where in a second hand shop in Te Awamutu (New Zealand) looking for a special tea cup and saucer for a special friend when I came across this white envelope addressed
Dear Stranger – open me!
Yes you! If you found me, I’m yours! 🙂
Finding this envelope came at a time where I really needed it. The letter was so lovely and very befitting with how I was feeling and grieving the loss of my mum.
Thank you kind stranger! xox”
“So last week I received this secret letter. I cannot begin to tell you how much I needed these words particularly right at that moment. Last month I had a miscarriage my husband and I have been trying for our 2nd child for some time now without any luck. Finally we get that positive test only to lose that hope in a few short weeks.
It all happened so quickly I found out on the Tuesday had procedure done Friday and was back at work the Monday. Bring me to last week. After a rough week at work not having systems working and wasting a lot of time trying to get them fixed adding unnecessary stress coz I’m falling behind the work that needs to get done.
On Thursday we had to take my son to hospital we got home at 3.30 am in the morning and I was up at 6:30 am for work.
On less than 3 hrs sleep I worked a full day only to have more system issues and fall more behind with my actual work. When I spoke to my boss there was not even a care that I had showed up to work that day rather than call in sick like I should have. I walk out of work to find this letter. Everything that was written was exactly what I needed to hear.”
You can search social media for the hashtag #secretlettersproject to see other photos, stories, and experiences.
In addition to the recipient, writing these letters has also proved beneficial for the writer:
“As I was writing each word, I was feeling connections being formed and developed with people everywhere. Every person I pass on the street or have contact with could be a recipient of my letter, therefore I started acting that way towards others more often too and the results were surprising. After writing each letter I felt lifted, positive and significant.” ~ Tina
“For me I felt like I was writing the letters to myself without realising until I read them back. Giving myself permission to feel things I didn’t realise I didn’t know I needed.” ~ Laura
“It helped me gain perspective and peace on dark days knowing I was potentially helping someone else. It is truly givers gain where you get something wonderful by giving without expectation of getting something in return.” ~ Traycie
And it was great to see people writing about the project on various blogs and websites:
- The Simple Life: Secret Letters Project on News Tribune.
- 9 Secret Letters to Write for Reflection, Growth, and Transformation on Popsugar.
- Blogs: Keeps Me Out Of Mischief and Anxiety Mum.
I would also like to thank everyone who has bought a copy of THE SECRET LETTERS PROJECT, which not only talks about writing letters to strangers, but talks about the secret letter writing process I’ve developed for 20 different types of letters, such as Dear Universe, Dear Me, Dear Ex, Dear Son/Daughter, Dear Past Event, etc.
I love creating books like this and hope to make many more, and every sale, every word of mouth recommendation, every review, makes a BIG difference for an author in being able to continue writing and publishing the books they want to write. So if you’ve got the book and would be happy to leave a star rating and/or a brief review online, that would be very much appreciated! It doesn’t have to be detailed, just a simple ‘I loved this book’ or something similar is all that’s needed. The more reviews a book has the more visibility and exposure it gets in online stores such as Amazon. Thank you to everyone who has supported the book so far!
>> If you haven’t got a copy, you can get it from all online book retailers such as Amazon and B&N, and in stores in the US and Australia (Dymocks). The Book Depository has free fast worldwide shipping too.
And if you’d like to leave a review, go to the online store you purchased it from to leave your feedback, and/or write one on Goodreads. Thank you! 🙂
…Now onto something new and exciting… I’m holding some fun and inspiring online courses about my secret letters process, and you’re invited!
The first course: Secret Letters for Self Empowerment, is starting soon on Monday Sep 18, through to Friday Sep 22. And the first course is FREE! But if you miss it that’s ok, you can go back to the group where the content is posted and do the activities in your own time. You don’t need a copy of the book to participate, but it is a good adjunct if you wish to get the most out of it. The course will help with your self confidence, self love, self acceptance, and self empowerment, and is a great starting point for the courses that will follow.
JOIN here! It’s free. 🙂
The two follow-on courses (dates to be confirmed but probably during January) are:
- Secret Letters for Releasing the Past
- Secret Letters for Manifesting
These are a little more intensive than the first course and numbers will be limited so that I can guide each individual through the course as needed. The purpose of all is to free yourself from any limitations and past hurts and grief and allow you to move forward into the life you want to create for yourself. Once you experience the full healing and manifesting power of a secret letter, it will become a regular part of your life as it has for mine. 🙂
If you’d like to be notified when registrations open for the above two courses, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be notified. And you can also join the group for the first course to take part. I look forward to seeing you there!
CLICK HERE to take part in the Secret Letters for Self Empowerment online course!
Love, laughter, and light,
~ Juliet xo
Everything You Need To Know About The “SECRET LETTERS TO STRANGERS MONTH – GLOBAL KINDNESS INITIATIVE”
Everything You Need To Know About The “SECRET LETTERS TO STRANGERS MONTH – GLOBAL KINDNESS INITIATIVE”
During August, people around the world will be writing secret letters to strangers and leaving them in public as an anonymous act of kindness, to spread hope and inspiration and remind people that we are all in life together, and by connecting with each other we can make a difference and emphasise the good in the world.
By writing a secret letter, you could make someone’s day, or even change their life.
You might even find a letter yourself. How nice would that be?
So far over 3000 people have responded to the event invitation on Facebook, and it has been shared over 1000 times… I’d like to say a BIG thank you to all who have expressed interest and have shared and invited friends… all it takes is one person to make a difference, but with many, we can spread so much more kindness and inspiration, and I can’t wait to flood the globe with uplifting letters this August!
If you haven’t yet responded as ‘going’ or ‘interested’ on the event page, you can do so here: https://www.facebook.com/events/465815260431665/
You can also join the private Facebook group for THE SECRET LETTERS PROJECT, the book that inspired the idea to have a month dedicated to writing letters to strangers, as “Dear Stranger” is one of the chapters in the book (there are 20 different types of letters included in the book, such as Dear Me, Dear Soulmate, Dear Universe, Dear Ex… all to help gain emotional wellbeing, forgiveness and acceptance, and self empowerment). Join the group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/thesecretlettersproject/
To participate in the Secret Letters Month this August, all you need to do is the following:
- Download and print out the official Dear Stranger letter template. It is in the files section of the Facebook group, on the Secret Letters page of this website, and you can also download it RIGHT HERE. You can print 1 copy or 100, or however many you would like. You don’t need to explain in the letter about the secret letters month, there is an explanation at the bottom and a website address where the recipient can choose to share their experience or take part too.
- Write a positive letter to a stranger. It can be a few sentences, half a page, a full page, or several pages. You can write one letter or many. *See tips below of what you could write.
- Leave your letter or letters somewhere in public during August (although you can start earlier if you like, and you can continue after August). You can simply leave the letter as is, fold the letter, or put it in an envelope, or a plastic zip-lock bag (if leaving outdoors where it might rain). If using an envelope, be sure to write something on it that will encourage someone to open it, eg: For You, Dear Stranger, Open Me, etc. *See tips below on where you could leave your letters.
- Optional: Share in the Secret Letters group (or on the Facebook event page) about your experiences, your letters, photos, how you felt, etc. You can also share on social media using the hashtag #secretlettersproject. If using Instagram, you can tag me at @julietmadisonauthorartist …And if you find a letter yourself, please let us know!
And that’s it! Print the template, write a letter, and leave it in public. Simple, but powerful.
Tips on what to write:
Think of a tough day you’ve had and what would have made you feel better. What words, phrases, or positive sayings come to mind? Imagine the person receiving your letter is having a bad day, or perhaps they are having a good day, and when they receive your letter, they are going to feel even better. Write about positive things you have learned in life, supportive words of encouragement, or a reminder that each and every person is special and a valuable part of life. You may even simply write something like “Dear Stranger, I hope you have an amazing day!” The letter can be as long or short as you wish. As you write, imagine the recipient with a big smile on their face as they read your words.
You may choose to leave it unsigned, write your first name, or write something like “from one stranger to another,” “from anonymous,” “from me,” or “from a friend.”
You might be wondering what this is all about. Why would someone leave an anonymous letter for someone else to find? The reason is simple. There is a lot of negativity in the world, but I am choosing to spread joy and kindness. I would like to wish you an amazing day, and I hope all your dreams come true. Always believe in yourself, never give up, and keep smiling.
Your anonymous friend xo
Ideas for places to leave letters:
- In a public park (weather permitting, or placed in a plastic bag)
- In a doctor’s waiting room
- At the gym
- In a library on a shelf or inside a book
- At a bookstore
- Under the windshield wiper of someone’s car
- In a shopping cart
- In a payphone booth
- At an automatic teller machine
- In a stranger’s mailbox
- In an elevator
- Put your letter in an envelope and write something on it to encourage the recipient to open it. You may wish to decorate the envelope too.
- Along with your letter, include a spare blank letter & pen for the recipient to write their own and save them printing it out
- Leave a gift with the letter, eg: a scratchie ticket, a bookmark, a small amount of cash, a book, a movie voucher, a café gift certificate, etc.
- Decorate your letter with drawings or stickers
- Have a letter writing party with friends and then go on a kindness spree together
- Get your children involved to teach them about the importance of showing kindness
- Blog about your experience or share in the Secret Letters Facebook group
*I am also running a preorder contest during July… if you order the book before August and send me your receipt or proof of purchase via email or Facebook message, you’ll go in the draw to win a personal handwritten letter from me along with a special secret gift! This contest is open worldwide.
- Order a copy of THE SECRET LETTERS PROJECT from your preferred retailer. Some options are: Amazon, Book Depository (free worldwide shipping), B&N, Booktopia, Dymocks.
- Send your proof of purchase to me by July 31 at email@example.com with “Secret Letters preorder contest” in the subject line, or send via message on my Facebook page.
I’ll draw the winner at the beginning of August.
Thank you for taking the time to participate. I’ll also be writing my own secret letters! Have fun and enjoy.
~ Juliet xo
*HERE is the letter template again.
Imagine if you were going about your day as usual, or maybe even having a really bad day, and then the corner of an envelope poking out from behind a tree branch catches your eye… or maybe you arrive back to your car to find an envelope tucked under your windscreen wipers… or you’re browsing the books in your local library and notice an oddly placed envelope between the spines…
You pick up the envelope, wondering what it is.
It says ‘For You’.
You wonder if someone has dropped it, or left it for someone else who didn’t pick it up, or it as been mistakenly placed where you found it.
But still, it says ‘YOU’, so maybe you should open it?
You open it. Of course you do. 🙂
You start reading. A small smile lifts the corners of your lips, when you realise the letter IS for you.
But you don’t know who wrote it. It could be anyone… a friend, a school student, a busy parent, a local doctor, or a stranger. Regardless, as you read the words, you feel a strange but exciting connection to the person who wrote these words. It was like they knew what you needed to hear, what would help you on this very day. It’s like a guardian angel whispered in their ear inspiring their words and guided them on where to leave it so you would find it. It seems somehow … magical.
The letter reminds you about what is really important in life. It reminds you that you are doing the best you can. It helps you understand that you are not alone. This letter, from an anonymous stranger, helps you feel connected. Special. Lucky.
You re-read the letter and then glance around… is someone hiding, waiting to see your reaction? Or have they long gone, satisfied in the knowledge that the right person at the right time will find it? The right person did find it. You found it. This simple letter has made your day, and the warmth of gratitude fills your heart.
Now imagine if you were the person who had written the letter. You may not ever know who received it, but you would know you’d done something great, however simple, that could either make someone smile, or even change their life. You just never know.
If you had the chance to do that, with only a few minutes of your time, would you do it? What if not only you did it, but lots of other people. Hundreds. Thousands. Maybe more… Imagine the effect on so many people, letting them know that someone out there cares, even if they are a stranger. Because we’re all in this life journey together, and one by one, and together, we can make a difference. By spreading kindness and support, we can bring more light to this world that is experiencing so many dark moments.
During August 2017 to coincide with the publication of THE SECRET LETTERS PROJECT book and journal, I will be encouraging people around the globe to write secret letters to inspire strangers and leave them in public to be found.
And I invite you to take part…
Join the “Secret Letters to Strangers Month – Global Kindness Initiative” here: https://www.facebook.com/events/465815260431665/ and let’s make a positive difference in the lives of others.
*I would love to get as many people as possible to take part in this, and I need your help to spread the word. Please share the event page or this blog post with as many friends as you can, in your FB groups, and in any communities you belong to. Thanks in advance! 🙂
~ Juliet xo
Here is a post I’ve written on Writing Mojo Academy about a visual tool I use and am sharing with other writers to track word count progress! Click here to read the post and see the tool in action>> A UNIQUE WAY TO TRACK YOUR WORD COUNT
Writing is more than just putting words on the page, or the screen.
Often, before that happens, there is a whole lot of mental and emotional preparation to get in ‘the zone’, or to get that writing mojo flowing.
Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes we have to make ourselves write to get it flowing, but one key to help the writing flow time and time again, is passion. For writing itself, for your story, and for the big picture of ‘why’ you write. If you’re lacking in passion and enthusiasm for any of these, your writing can suffer.
You can be enthusiastic and passionate about writing, but have trouble getting words written because your story doesn’t feel alive or fresh enough to you… you can be passionate about your story but find writing challenging and difficult, or you can love writing and your story but get sidetracked and distracted because you don’t have a clear vision or passion for the big picture of what you want to achieve. Making sure these elements all work together is vital to boosting your mojo.
If you’ve lost some passion for writing itself, one of the best ways to get it back is to read. Read something for the enjoyment of it, and remember how powerful writing can be. You can also try writing for the sake of writing, without pressure or judgement, just write something without censoring yourself and watch how much lighter you start to feel when thoughts and emotions become words and are released from your mind.
If your story isn’t making you excited to get at the computer each day, then you need to boost your story mojo by clarifying your story hook (a succinct summary of main premise and plot) and making sure it stands out enough and is as unique as can be, deepen your characters’ goals, motivations, and conflicts, and get into the ‘feeling’ of the story and discover why it will be enjoyable and satisfying for a reader to read. A few tweaks and improvements can get you more excited about your book which makes the writing process a whole lot easier. Or, start a new story.
And do you actually know why you write? For many, it’s mainly a case of: “I can’t NOT write”. It can be like part of our DNA, something we feel born to do. Yet this doesn’t always compel us to write and to enjoy the process. Go deeper, think about how you feel when you write or after you have written… what does it bring to you and to others? Hold onto that joy, that bliss, that meaning and purpose, and bring it onto your day to day writing life. Keep reminders of your ‘why’ in the form of post-it note messages or affirmations to yourself, a collage of inspiring images, a picture resembling a goal stuck on your fridge, or simply a feeling in your mind. Remembering the big picture can help to keep the writing mojo going. You can also create a mission statement for your writing or career, for example, mine is: “Entertaining and inspiring myself and others through stories, art, and self empowerment.” I have this stuck on my whiteboard above where my laptop charges. If I get caught up with deadlines, overwork, or disappointments like bad reviews or less than expected sales, this helps bring me back to the big picture, to my “why”, to my passion for what I do.
The new year is a perfect time to think about what you want to achieve for the year ahead, and to get off to a great start with enthusiasm and passion… which is why I’ve created a fun and interactive online course called WRITING MOJO, to help you do just that! And even though I’m the teacher, I’ll be doing the lessons too, along with you, in the private group for course participants.
The course will start in January 2017 and contain 7 detailed lessons over approximately 2 weeks, but can be started at any time and done at your own pace. A downloadable version will also be made available. It is for all types of writers, beginners to advanced, and doesn’t matter if you write (or want to write) fiction, non-fiction, memoir, self help, health & fitness, or ‘how to’ books… it’s all about getting yourself ready for a year of success, creating and achieving your goals, and enjoying your writing life. And I’ll be there to help you along the way.
During December, pre-bookings for the course are $50 off the full price, and I’m also giving a free chapter critique to the first few students, so to secure your spot head over to the COURSES page where you can book easily online.
Hope to see you there, and I wish you a magical year of motivation, magnificence, and mojo! 🙂
I love the colours in this cover, what do you think?! 🙂
THE SECRET LETTERS PROJECT will be out in August 2017 with Sourcebooks, but is already listed on Amazon for preorder – click here.
You can also join the secret Facebook group for updates and to read real life secret letters and even submit your own – click here.
What are secret letters all about??
“Reclaim your emotional well-being, supercharge your self-empowerment, and create a magical life of miracles through the healing power of letter writing…”
Discover how an advanced form of journaling known as secret letter writing can help you become more positive and empowered in your life.
Whether the letter is for your eyes only or shared with another, this emotional release and manifesting tool has the power to transform your sense of self and your relationship with difficult circumstances to embrace positive outcomes and opportunities.
The Secret Letters Project is a practical and inspiring resource containing instructions and examples of 20 types of letters to write for various circumstances in your life, to help with things such as; dealing with grief, resolving resentments, releasing emotions and expressing yourself safely, asking for or offering forgiveness, uncovering answers, starting your life over or moving on from the past, providing clarity and closure, declaring your desires and intentions, aiding recovery from illness or addictions, giving gratitude, and expressing excitement and anticipation for what the future may hold.
No matter what challenges, choices, or opportunities you are facing, a hand-written letter from the heart can help.
Join THE SECRET LETTERS PROJECT Facebook group to keep updated> – click here.
by Juliet Madison
I Dedicated My Novel To A Ghost…
I’ve always loved ghost stories, and as I’ve often experienced strong gut instincts about certain things and have learned to listen to my intuition, it’s no wonder I like writing stories with a few elements of the supernatural thrown in.
When I started writing one of my magical romantic comedies, HAUNTED EVER AFTER, I was trying to come up with a name for my main character; a bride-to-be who becomes haunted by the wacky ghost of her fiance’s ex-girlfriend. A name popped into my mind. I liked the first name but the surname didn’t feel completely right, so I asked myself, ‘What would be a better surname?’ and instantly another one came to me.
I Googled it and found a news article about a woman with the same name who had been murdered. Her terrifying ordeal…
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In honour of ANZAC Day here in Australia, I’m sharing a scene from my latest Tarrin’s Bay novel APRIL’S GLOW, about a reclusive ex-soldier who moves into the house next door to April, a bubbly but troubled woman who helps to bring him out of his shell, and in doing so, helps her to face her own past.
A man in an Akubra hat met her at the rocky lookout, along with a few other people who were setting up some of the displays and seating for the service. She was instructed on where to bring the candles and he gave her a rundown of the proceedings. The sun was low and glary, and the strong breeze pushed around them like an annoyingly overconfident sales person. As he spoke about a friend of a friend’s grandfather’s time in the war, the contrast to where they now stood was so strong she felt unworthy of being there. In this beautiful place, this safe town, this beautiful natural landscape.
‘We’re lucky, eh?’ he said, glancing around the horizon where the deep blue of the ocean merged with the sky.
He eyed her leg, the ankle of her prosthesis visible under the hem of her long skirt. ‘How long’s it been?’ He gestured downwards.
‘Two and a half years.’
‘Not an ex-soldier, are you?’ He raised his eyebrows.
She chuckled. ‘Me? I wouldn’t cut it as a soldier. No, it was a car accident.’
‘Sorry to hear, love. Guess you’ve got to count your blessings.’
She’d heard that and its variations many times after that awful day, when the reality of being an amputee, among other trauma, had driven her deep into depression.
‘At least you survived.’
‘At least it was only below the knee.’
‘At least it wasn’t your right arm.’
And she knew they were thinking: ‘At least you weren’t paralysed from the neck down like Kyle.’
Kyle. He was the unlucky one. What if she had been sitting in his seat in the car? She shuddered to think of the possibility. He would have been her husband by now. But a drunk driver had changed that for them. And if she hadn’t been adjusting the volume on the car CD player and singing along, maybe she would have been able to react faster to the car coming towards their side who’d run a red light. Maybe less damage would have occurred had she been able to brake sooner, or swerve more sharply. Maybe then the impact would have been one inch further away from Kyle’s spinal cord.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
She would have stayed with him. She’d committed to being his fiancée and future wife. But his family said no, and once he was able to communicate clearly, he’d said no too. He’d wanted her as his wife, not his full-time carer. Maybe if he’d been a paraplegic, but quadriplegic? She’d known it would be incredibly difficult, especially with her own injury to recover from, but the accident hadn’t killed her love for him. Though he survived, she hadn’t only lost her leg that day, but her man. Her future. Life had dealt her a new one, and she was still figuring it out.
‘I have a lot to be thankful for,’ April said to the man, and before he could ask any more questions, she thanked him for his time and confirmed she’d arrive early to set up the candles.
* * *
The atmosphere the following morning was far removed from what it had been the day before. The sun had not yet splashed the sky with its glow, and the moon over the ocean created an eerie presence. Her candles, most held by the many attendees, and others framing the staged memorial area around the microphone and podium, glimmered in the sporadic breeze, the flames protected by their tall heatproof casing. A universal symbol of hope. Remembrance.
As names of soldiers were called out, and prayers and poems recited, she thought of Zac and wondered what sort of poetry he wrote. She’d never been into poetry, but hearing special words spoken into the dim expanse of Lookout Point, the sound of waves crashing and rolling beneath as their background music, she realised its power, its potential. It was a way to make sense of what had been, give structure to the chaos that had occurred, and immortalise the heroes who had perhaps stood here many years gone by, dreaming of a future they never got to experience.
Yes, she was lucky. She may not have got the future she’d planned, but she had a future.
When the service had ended and the early sun warmed the air and started waking up the town, April glanced down towards the harbour on her left, and saw him. Zac. In the distance, standing alone on one of the piers. Why had he not come up to take part in the service? She walked down the hill. Maybe they’d cross paths on her way back home. But by the time she got to the bottom he was already walking further ahead, going the long way around, towards the beach instead of the town.
Probably best. She would go home and make use of her rare day off while the shop was closed for Anzac Day. He’d go to his place and do his own thing, and they need never be more than courteous but distant neighbours. Later on she’d join some of the locals at the pub for dinner. Her mum wouldn’t be there though, she boycotted pubs. She would catch up with her for lunch tomorrow instead.
After chatting to some locals in Miracle Park on the way home, April arrived back in her street and found Zac planting a small tree in his front garden.
‘Poet and a gardener, huh?’ she said, stopping in front of his house. So much for leaving him to his own devices, her mouth didn’t like to cooperate with her brain. ‘I’ll leave you to it,’ she added, about to walk off.
‘Wait,’ he said.
She looked at his face, his eyes tight and squinting in the morning glare.
‘I’ve got something for you.’
‘Another cloud candle?’ April glanced upwards.
‘No. Something you can actually take with you. Into your house, I mean, not when you die.’
She tilted her head. She didn’t know how to respond to that.
‘Sorry. I’m sure you’ll live a long healthy life. I’m just saying. You know, after our conversation a couple of weeks ago.’
‘That we can’t take material possessions with us when we die, yes. I remember.’
‘It’s inside.’ He brushed soil from his bare hands and walked towards the front door. April followed, but hung about on the porch. A subtle glow caught her eye and she peered into his house, noticing the fireplace. But it wasn’t lit, the candle on the mantle above was. The cinnamon candle.
‘I’m glad the candle is getting put to good use,’ she said. ‘But they look nicer when lit at night.’
Zac wandered to the mantle. ‘I know. But I thought today would be good.’
‘Because of Anzac Day?’
He nodded, and before she knew what she was doing she had stepped into his house without asking permission. ‘Is that you?’ She pointed to a photo of two kids. She recognised the shape of his jaw, even in the youthful roundness of the child’s face. She looked back to the door she’d stepped through. ‘Sorry, I shouldn’t barge in. My legs and my mouth have a mind of their own.’
He chuckled. ‘It’s okay. Yes, that’s me and my friend.’
April’s gaze wandered to the photo next to it. ‘And all grown up. Same friend?’
He nodded. ‘Yep.’
‘You’re a soldier?’ It made sense. His commanding presence and posture. His tattoos, the intensity and seriousness he sometimes had. When he wasn’t chuckling or commenting on how she was ‘amusing to watch’.
‘How long have you been off duty?’
Zac glanced up to the roof. ‘Almost three years now.’
‘Wow. You must have seen a lot. I mean, I don’t need to know, but … is that why my prosthesis didn’t shock you?’
‘I’ve seen much worse.’
‘I can imagine. Although I can’t. Not really. I won’t begin to even … I should stop talking. I’ll stop talking.’ She turned away from his gaze and brushed her hair from her face.
‘It’s okay, April.’
She narrowed her eyes a little. ‘I saw you, at the harbour. You weren’t at the dawn service?’
He shook his head and slid his hands into his pockets. ‘Prefer to honour the men in my own way. And also, it’s …’ He ran his hand across his short hair. ‘Doesn’t matter. Oh, your gift.’ He went to the kitchen.
April furrowed her brow. ‘What is this gift you speak of?’
He held out his hand, a small seashell resting on his palm. ‘Found it when I was walking over the sand dunes. Made me think of you for some reason. I think because it has these little speckles on it, like cinnamon.’
April took the shell and studied it with a smile. Golden brown specks were scattered across it like freckles. And one edge of the shell was broken off. There was also a larger patch of golden brown near the centre, like a birthmark. ‘It’s unique,’ she said. ‘I like it. Thanks.’
‘Don’t thank me, thank Mother Nature.’
‘Okay then. Thanks Mother Nature,’ she spoke loudly in case Mother Nature couldn’t hear her from within the confines of this man-made enclosure.
Maybe the reason why Zac had been distant the past two weeks was because of what today represented, and it triggered memories for him. Painful memories, just like the month of September did for her. ‘Sorry if I’ve been a nosy neighbour, pestering you about what you do and how you pay your bills. I’ll mind my own business now and try to be normal. So, if you need to borrow a cup of sugar anytime, let me know.’ She laughed.
‘I don’t use sugar,’ Zac replied.
‘Oh. Then if you need to borrow a cup of … Sugar substitute? Chia seeds? Or … coffee?’
‘I’ll be sure to remember your offer.’ He grinned, then walked April to the door.
Before stepping off the porch she turned to face him, his eyes grey and tired-looking, like he hadn’t had enough sleep. Which if he’d been up since before dawn like she’d been, he hadn’t. ‘Hey, a few of us will be at the pub tonight for dinner, if you’d like to come?’
Zac took a step back. ‘Um. Thanks. But I’ll pass.’
‘Okay, but if you change your mind, let me know.’
He scratched his head, and his mouth opened like he wanted to say something, but no sound came out.
‘Well, I’ll be off.’
‘April.’ He lightly touched her arm and she glanced down at his hand. He had nice hands.
‘Thanks for the offer. It’s nice of you. But the reason I can’t is, well …’ He nibbled one corner of his lip. ‘It’s a bit embarrassing, really.’ He rubbed the back of his neck.
‘What is?’ she asked. ‘That you don’t want to be seen in such a state of obvious self neglect with your unimpressive physique and unshaven face? And those tattoos, I mean, you look like a badass. People might get scared.’ She nudged him with a wink.
Zac smiled. ‘Yeah, I’ve let myself go. Too many meat pies.’ He patted his belly that clearly received no less than a couple of hundred or more crunches per day. ‘Nah, the thing is, and I haven’t told anyone this, except for … anyway, the thing is, I have a mild case of agoraphobia.’ A slight hint of pink coloured his cheeks. ‘Crowds. I just can’t do them. It’s hard to explain. I need quiet. Not too many people around. A pub, or any similar place, it’s … I’m not quite there yet.’ He lowered his gaze and lifted the edge of his doormat with his foot.
April felt a surge of pity for the guy. Well, not pity so much as sadness. A man like him, in his prime, clearly traumatised by things in his past … of course it was understandable that the war would have affected him in some way. He didn’t appear to have any physical injuries, but maybe he had post-traumatic stress disorder, or maybe the crowds and open spaces just triggered anxiety for some reason.
April touched his arm as he had hers. Somehow, it felt both rough and smooth at the same time. ‘I understand. No problem.’ She offered a small smile. ‘Thanks for telling me.’
She gave a small wave and stepped off the porch, but as per usual, she thought of another thing to say and had to turn around again. ‘You know what? I feel like eating in tonight.’ April put her hands on her hips and surveyed Zac’s front garden. ‘Care to join me?’
Zac’s eyebrows shot up. ‘You’re inviting me over for dinner?’
‘Looks that way. I can pick something up, or find something to whip up.’
He rubbed his chin. ‘The thing is, I’ve already defrosted some chicken for tonight. How about you join me here instead?’
Now April’s eyebrows rose. ‘You’re going to cook for me?’
‘No, you can cook. I’ll just provide the ingredients and kitchen facilities.’
She eyed his unchanged facial expression.
‘I’m kidding,’ he chuckled. ‘You can clean up instead.’
April laughed and warmth spread throughout her cheeks.
‘Seriously, I’ve got it covered.’ He held up his hands. ‘Just come over when the sun goes down.’
‘You’ve got yourself a deal.’ She gave a nod. ‘Would Juliet like Romeo to join her for some gourmet cat pellets?’
Zac laughed, and his Adam’s apple bobbed. ‘I think the cats can sort themselves out for tonight. See you later on.’ He smiled and closed the door.
So much for not bothering to get to know him anymore. The pages of his book of life were starting to open, and she was sure tonight would provide many more answers to the questions that had been forming in her mind. It was time to get to know Zac, for real. Not just chatting over the fence, not the odd, random conversations at his door, but real, proper, dignified conversation over the dinner table. A sense of anticipation fluttered inside. She had been looking forward to dinner at the pub, but this … this she was looking forward to way more than that.
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