Wednesday, January 16

Here is a fun word that describes a fascinating phenomenon that every writer should consider as a writing prompt. One way or another, I dare say, everyone has experienced what it describes. Last but not least, photographic history is littered with pareidolia. 

So, what is it? 


Pareidolia -

 From the Greek words para (παρά, "beside, alongside, instead [of]" — in this context meaning something faulty or wrong) and the noun eidōlon (εἴδωλον "image, form, shape" — the diminutive of eidos. More here. 
It describes the tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern (Merriam Webster Dictionary). 

Pareidolia describes an imagined pattern or a meaning (can be audio as well) where none really exists. Especially seeing (human) faces in nature or everyday objects (see below picture of mine - not brilliant but an original:-) 

:-)  the smiley face is another example!

A classic example that's been talked, written and sung about a plenty is of course the "man in the moon" and the internet went hot for a while when people saw the "face of the devil" in the smoke of the burning twin towers. And, of course, we probably all smiled back at the "smiley face" on a morning toast. 

Picture credit: Author 2019

Let's test you for a second: Do you see a face (e.g. Koala? Owl)) here then your brain is experiencing the psychological phenomenon!

Pareidolia is considered a subcategory oApophenia (another interesting word). Pareidolia has been mentioned and observed in the context of psychology, art (Leonardo Da Vinci's notebook mentioned it as a creative device), computer programming, religion. It is also an  attempts to explain the paranormal, such as a "shadow person", a popular literary feature and object of history and folklore - a tradition that is well and alive in today's fantasy genre.

Apparently, in 2004, a ten year old cheese sandwich sold for $28,000 online, because it was perceived to have the image of the Virgin Mary burned onto it and according to pareidolia science, evolutionary psychologists argue that the phenomenon of Pareidolia was advantageous to our ancestors. 

> Have you experienced pareidolia? Do you use it in your writing or as a stimulus to get started? <

Leave your comments below:-)

Tuesday, January 15

Weekender Books - December 2018

Weekender Books - December 2018

This post is a belated December weekender book list - the holidays were nice and relaxing and filled with activities away from my laptop, including reading lots of books! This is why I'm a bit behind with my writing, but I'm back now and so I want to share some of my December reads with you. 

I have decided to do a YA list, to keep it a bit more coherent than my eclectic reading habits.

In these books, food and family play a big part as a framework while tackling difficult themes such as drug dealing, addiction, absent fathers, very present grandmothers (at least in two of these books) and death --
all told with uniquely Australian, contemporary voices. 

Here they are:

Inside The Tiger - by Hayley Lawrence

Song In The Dark - by Christine Howe

The First Third - by Will Kostakis

Inside the Tiger - by Hayley Lawrence (Penguin Books, 2018)

The story's unusual and contemporary theme and voices are not often heard of in YA - they explore the intersection between good and bad decision making and the 'ripple effects' of ones actions in a very fresh and relatable 21st century Australia and its Asian neighbours. Privileged, but emotionally isolated Bel writes to inmate Micah, who is on death row in a Thai prison. What starts out as a school assignment, develops into empathy and care, but ends up in a misadventure in Thailand, utter heartbreak and the decision to love at the same time. Great contemporary Australian voice.
Recommendation: A must read when in-need-of-a-bigger-picture-than-my-own-life's misery-pick-me-up. Thought provoking.

Song In the Dark - by Christine Howe (Penguin Books, 2013)

At the surface, this is a story about addiction told through the interplay of relationships of the protagonist Paul, a nineteen year old drug addict and dealer. Howe weaves an intricate pattern of voices and feelings through Paul's mother, his absent father, his grandmother and his own pov, in a poetic, empathetic style. Paul is not a bad guy, but his drifting through life hurts other people and ultimately himself. The harsh, violent and destructive effects of his actions make this a difficult read at times, but the beautiful contemplations and imagery in this book about the redemption found in music and the ocean - of love and hope. A touching, beautifully written portrait of a life on the cusp of being  lost, perhaps forever, to the vices of very contemporary temptations.
Recommendation: A tonic for those days when one is in an unforgiving and judgemental mood. 

The First Third - by Will Kostakis (Puffin Books, 2013)

This hilariously clever story entrenched in Greek kitchen philosophy was a book that made me laugh out loud at every turn, but only to realise at the end that this story is a serious take on profound losses and ends (death) and on how to turn them into beginnings. Bill is a sensitive boy who tries to mend his family - on bidding of his dying grandmother: finding a man for his lonely mother, reconnect with his long lost dad and get his unhappy brother back home. The book is a wonderful portrayal of family dynamics and ties, as well as the wonders of friendship. The ease Kostakis writes cerebral palsy, homosexuality and food into his characters without jarring the story is fabulous and admirable! A brilliant contemporary snapshot of an Australian story.   

Recommendation:  A feel-good-belly-laugh-kind-of-read that restores faith in family bonds and friendship.   

Wednesday, January 9

WOW - WORD OF the WEEK #1 Tsundoku

Word collector should have been my 'middle name' - as in Freddy-The Word Collector-Iryss. If you are into words, too, then join me on my weekly hunt for the WORD OF THE WEEK, which I will post on my blog, starting today!

Word's out every Wednesday. Feel free to comment or send me YOUR word!


Tsundoku (Japanese積ん読) - is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one's home without reading them

I first read about Tsundoku here, in an article by Katherine Brooksin the Huffington Post, where she writes that 'book hoarding is a well documented habit.' It certainly is one of mine. 
...Here is one pile...
I'm excited that there is a word for something I constantly feel bad about - my unread stacks of books! 

...and there's another!
Here is a snapshot of my own, private Tsundoku -- books I have bought over the past five years or more (not even including the ones from last year, 2018, which are on my 'current' books-to-read-list!).

The word Tsundoku and the fact that it does exist - for rather sad reasons, no matter how you look at it - inspired me to sort the books into two new 

piles, thinking it would encourage me to dust them off and start reading. 

And believe it or not - it works! 

So far, I have managed to read four in the pile on the right and one and a half books in the one above. 

My new rule is read 50 pages into the story, then decide if I'm IN or OUT. 

(Sorry, dear authors, if this seems tough love, but this way I get quicker to the books that hook me and which I might review on my blog.)

As mentioned in a previous post, a friend told me if I'm not hooked after 50 pages, I can put it aside or give it away - guilt-free!

So, the plan is, one way or another, I will work my way through them over the coming year. 

*Please, dear authors, in case you come across this and see your name/book in the pile, it's not your book, it's me! Sometimes I buy books in life's-too-busy-for-reading periods and then they just pile up!

>>Do you keep books for years on your book shelf, hoping one day you'll read them? How do you deal with Tsundoku?<<


Sunday, December 16

The Year 2018 - Failures and Fireworks

The Year 2018 - Failures and Fireworks!
Looking At My Goals, Taking Stock

As the end of the year draws near, many of us are inclined to take stock and I, too, see it as a good opportunity to look at my various lists I have made at the beginning of January to map out my year.

I want to share my to-do list with you here and how much (or little - you be the judge) I have managed to 'tick off'. 

2018 was to be my year of committing to my writerly goals:

1.     Get my MG novel signed for publication
2.    Finish, finish finish those EDITS of my MG novel!
3.    Find an AGENT
4.    Attend WORKSHOPS -
5.    Write more shorts and SUBMIT to competitions
6.    Get a MENTOR
7.    Create my own WRITERS PLATFORM: blog/twitter/ instagram
9.    Write, write, WRITE!
10. Read, read and READ!

 (Spoiler alert: I didn't get to tick off all items on my list!)

So, let's start with the news and get to the...

Failures...are only temporary

Ok, so I have failed to achieve these goals (below) and what does that all mean?

1. Get my MG novel signed for publication 

You probably have guessed the first one: at mid December, my MS is not even ready to go out to an agent, let alone to a publisher. I thought after an estimated forty plus redrafts, edits over the past 18 years or so you'd think I'd feel confident to let it go out - but no! Feel free to laugh (I won't hear it anyway and it might make you feel good!).

So, it's a resounding NO.

2. Finish, finish, finish those MG and YA EDITS! 

Sort of. I have sent off the MG manuscript to a friend for the final ripping apart before I ruin Christmas with endless edits! (cry if you like, but you shouldn't as I won't).

My YA, I have decided needs a complete redraft. So that's a big one.

That's a NO (for now).

3. Find and Agent

Well, its kind of tied up with the above failures, so I put it on the 2019 list:-) 

That's another NO.

So that's my failures wrapped up - not that bad, less than a third of the goals I set I haven't met. 

Anyway, 'failure' is such a strong word, usually fraught with negative notions, but most of all it sounds absolute and unshakeably set in stone. I prefer the German translation - Versäumnis, which implies more of an omission/loss of time kind of explanation as to why I didn't achieve those goals. So maybe it came down timing?

I don't  think we should fear failure. And because I feel like it and because I can, thanks to the internet, here are a couple of quotes:
 “It's failure that gives you the proper perspective on success.” - Ellen DeGeneres
and of course this old one:
“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” - Thomas A. Edison

And who says 2019 isn't big enough to accommodate three more goals?


In 2018, I have been able to make some liberating changes: I'm taking a sabbatical after I quit my job, am making more time for family, friends -- and am writing, so it's been pretty amazing. 

In the end, I keep finding fabulous things that have pushed me through like meditation, family, friends, music, making and admiring art, reading, writing, baking, cooking ...

Which is also why I make time for writing workshops every year.

4. Attending workshops - Why Workshops Works 

Have you ever met with a successful writer who hasn't given you the advice to write as much as possible, and to do whatever it takes to hone your writing skills? One of the ways to do that, as almost everyone will point out to you is to attend creative writing workshops.

I have facilitated workshops on the things I know well over the past seven years, which is why  I know the benefits they bring. And since I love learning in all forms and shapes - honing my skills in writing knows no boundaries - and workshops are a great space to learn from and with peers.  

I attend a minimum of three workshops a year.

As a writer and reader, I try to be open and not to discriminate (although I DO judge a book by its cover but that's another story!) and so I try my hand at all sorts of genres and forms. 

Last year and the year before, I even participated in poetry workshop although I never - even by a long shot - consider myself a poet (since then though I have got third place in a competition and a poem of mine has been published! As this clearly shows, it pays to break the mould of self-perception!

This year, I covered romance, how to get an agent, writing for the primary school education market workshop and and an empathy writing workshop and learned very distinct, but equally useful things in each of them.

Romance Writing Workshop - with Catherine Evans

Where: SouthCoast Writers Centre and Shellharbour City Library

Catherine is a funny and engaging workshop facilitator, who is a fountain of knowledge - I never knew there were so many types and sub genre to the Romance category! 

The rules and regulation of this quite strictly demarcated genre are intimidating and fascinating at the same time. Catherine writes also erotic fiction. 

My reading in that area doesn't currently go beyond Nicholas Sparks' literary Romance but it was interesting to see that certain romance book publisher demand that the love interested parties must meet within the first couple of pages and  have a kiss - what was it? No later than page 4?

"Readers pay for a promise of romance. Get to the first kiss early on."

The big shock for me was that many romance genres like Mills &Boone don't have backstories! My characters are usually so bogged down with back stories in the first drafts that culling it down the the main ones is hard enough. I cannot imagine writing characters without their own context. Who knows? There might be fantastic backstories which aren't in the published version, only in the head (and pc) of the author?

I think there is a lot to be learned from romance writing. For one, writing intimate scenes and situations with great attention to graphic detail about is certainly a good way to get over one's own inhibitions. Physical intimacy is not easy for everyone to depict and this genre and its sub genres are probably the only ones that can offer training with authority. 

More on Catherine Evans here

How to Get an Agent Workshop - with Mary Cunnane

Where? South Coast Writers Centre and Wollongong Central Library
It's not often that we get the opportunity to learn from the best: 

Mary has worked in the publishing hub of New York for many years and in Australia, and who was a founding member of the Australian Literary Agents' Association and its vice-president from 2008-2011. 

"An agent helps the author to make a decision what rights to sell when signing a contract."

She lives  on the South Coast and came to Wollongong to run a workshop on writing an overview/precis, what sample chapters to include, how to self promote and market, and some really helpful tips for writing a query letter.

Needless to say, the room was packed!

Find more info on Mary Cunnane here.

The Things We Don't Talk About: Writing Empathy - with Helena Fox

Where? South Coast Writers Centre/University of Wollongong Campus

Helena was s a wonderfully kind, sensitive and generous workshop leader, who provided a safe space to explore trauma and pain.

Her gentle, yet clear directions have made the mostly exercise based workshop an exploration of self and others in the group and in life. 

The questions we explored in each exercise will be useful for any future writing. Especially the tips on getting started, on how to make those words roll out in a constant stream, be that as word-vomit (Thanks, Chloe!) or as a stream of consciousness, I will revisit my notes in the future, for sure!

"What do I want people to know and understand?"

We had food, we had fun, we had tears and produced pages upon pages of writing, most of which we shared! To practice writing from someone else's perspective is a great way to develop a character, be that a protagonist or an antagonist of any story, in fiction or non-fiction!

More on Helena Fox here

Writing For the Primary School Education Market - with Louise Park

Where? Writing NSW, Sydney

Louise Park is a funny and very generous presenter and has shown great insights into what Education publishing offers.  

Louise is such an expert in the field and demonstrated how this is one of the best training grounds for emerging writers. But goodness me - if I thought Romance writing was complicated in its formulas and rules than Louise got me thinking again. 

For example, a picture book comes in the guise of phonic text books, text books for different reading abilities and ages, and they are instrumental in process-learning.

Here we learned that good counting skills are essential for this type of writing to

"...control the reading environment by using high frequency words!"
But it's worth hanging in there, despite all the formula, templates and strict rules:
"Many well-known children’s authors began their careers writing for the education market and continue to do so alongside successful trade careers."  
More on Louise Park here

5. Write more shorts and SUBMIT to competitions

I only managed a couple, but I won one of them and the second is due by the end of the year. So I'm happy and less annoyed with me that I - again - have missed a bunch of really good ones again this year! 

But I won't sit on my laurels, promise!

6. Get a Mentor

Although writing has been pivotal throughout my professional life, as a journalist, curator and tertiary educator and researcher, I'm still emerging as a fiction writer. 

We all have mentors throughout life. These might be a teacher, a grand parent, a parent, a friend or colleagues.I'm especially fortunate to have writer friends who have taken me under their wings and whom I consider my mentors as I do look up to them all. Mentoring is an important part of growing as a writer, by learning from the ones who have walked the path before and who are generous and kind enough to share their experiences.

But one can only ask so much time of someone, no matter how kindhearted and generous they are - time is a writer's most precious commodity after all -  and there is a fine line.

There are some mentorship programs out there. If you have been toying with the idea of getting a mentor read these five reasons by The Write Life  or find one here The Australian Writers Mentoring Program and at Writing NSW.

I personally would like to get specific writers to mentor me and so my plan is to find funding for it.

It would be great to have a formal mentorship with a writer. I'm working on that and see what's available to make that happen. I will report if there are any developments in 2019!

7. Create my own WRITERS PLATFORM: blog/twitter/ instagram

Yes! I did it! Finally, I found the Pen name that fits me and has a story, too.
(oh, I can feel another blog post coming on in the near future!)
You find me on my social media:

-  Blog - well you are reading it:-) -

Twitter - @FreddyIryss

I don't like Facebook so I will keep off it until I change my mind which might be - not in a long time!


Sydney Writers festival
Up until recently, organising events at literary festivals was part of my job and so I have been involved on that end for over seven years. 

I have been in conversation with guests of the Wollongong Writers' Festival and the Sydney Writers' Festival over the past seven years and had the luck to meet Peter Garrett, Ron Pretty, Sarah NicholsonTony BirchBruce Pascoe, Jim Everett, Catherine McKinnon, Alison Tait, Jeff Apter to name but a few.

SWF LIve&Local Wollongong
This year, I have been to the launch of the Sydney Writers' festival where I have been most inspired by André Aciman's keynote and the launch of the Wollongong Writers Festival. I have also attended the Kids & YA Festival at Writing NSW. 

It was my first Kids & YA Festival and I enjoyed every minute of it.

There was a good mix of panels on business of writing, fantastical worlds and writing with passion, humour, images and wrapped up with a pitching session - which was amazing! 

Kids&YA Festival

Not only was it great to see how people 'pitch their work' but also how they cram in all the info into 60 seconds!

Wollongong Writers Festival
This year, however, I was involved on the other side of the microphone for the first time. 

I had the chance to run a grant writing workshop at the Wollongong Writers' festival and present my eco tale with Q&A alongside my fellow writers, responding to artwork at the Wollongong Art Gallery, which was so much fun!
"For someone who did not know anything about the process, I learned a great deal and would recommend it to anyone considering applying for a grant." (Participant)
Festivals are great for learning, meeting other writers, connecting with new people, get inspired and grow your networks. 

I caught up with the amazing Kirli Saunders, Alan Baxter, Catherine McKinnon, Luke Johnson, Su Barnett, Christine Howe, Joshua Lobb, Tess Barber, Sandy Fussell, Chloe Higgins, Haley Scrivener, Tim Heffernan, Helena Fox.

I also met a bunch of new and inspiring writers and illustrators like the multi-talented and cultural visionary, Matt Ottley.

Every festival had such literary variety and shone light at new horizons.

9. Write, write, WRITE!

Well, I'm trying to stick to a writing routine and write at least 500 words of something each day. This blog and even Twitter and Instagram posts count towards that goal when I'm desperate! 

My current writing projects are: 1) a MG novel (stage: final editing), 2) a YA novel (stage: 7th revision - probably a major redraft coming up early 2019), 3) picture book (stage: complete) 4) eco tale #1 (complete) 5) eco tale #2 (stage: first draft)

I'm not going anywhere without my notebook anymore. (I have accumulated so many over the years, I decided I had to start using them.) I fill them with the usual: writerly observations, thoughts, poetic lines that come to me between aisle 2 and 5 in the supermarket, but also drafts, mind maps and story boards. 

And pictures. Pretty pictures. I mostly doodle and sometimes draw.

10. Read, read and READ!

I have bought so many books this year, I lost count (lucky I took pictures of some at least!).

Because reading (and new glasses) were big on my list this year, I stocked up at every occasion: at writers' festivals (which are great because often you get the author to sign), book fairs and while out shopping for socks and milk.

I think, apart from a selfish need to fill my house with books, it is important to buy books and support the sector and encourage authors to keep on doing at what they are good at - writing.

I must have bought close to 50 books this year!

Good to know: 
There is scientific proof that it is good to surround yourself with books (if you ever need to justify your spending spree), here is what Emily Petsko writes in Study Confirms Growing Up in a Home Filled With Books Is Good for You:

"People who buy more books than they can possibly read can now use science to justify their spending sprees."

But I, for one, intend to read every single one of them. 

Or at least I will read up to page 50 from now on. If I can't get into the story by then, as a friend assures me, 

"It's fine to put the book aside - or give it away!"

after I told her that the book I was reading at the time didn't interest me and that I wanted to like the book so I kept reading, while I was pining  to start another one in my ever growing book pile!  

Apparently, according to Michelle Debczak, there is a Japanese word for when you buy books and never read them.

"in English, stockpiling books without ever reading them might be called being a literary pack rat. People in Japan have a much nicer term for the habit: tsundoku."

I love the fact that there is a word for this type of habit, but I call them 'bedside table(s)' (less philosophical, more practical). So even if I don't read them for years, they fulfil a purpose. But of course, I have all intention to read all of my books. Eventually.

So, while my pile of books to read next to my bed is growing fast, I find other ways to justify coming home with more!

And so there are books I buy for gifts! So much fun:-) There are still a few days left...

... and this is my gift collection so far for family and friends this holiday, 2018!

What are you giving this year?