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Posts from the ‘Writing a novel’ Category

Month In Review (December 2013)

Writing Novels in Australia has reached the end of its final month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of monthly contributors encompassing aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists.

Writing Novels in Australia contributors Helene Young and Alison Booth are each attached to a novel writing retreat in 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

You can connect with Writing Novels in Australia on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Articles for December 2013

On Finding Success As A Writer by Jenn J McLeod

Going Public With Your Writing Habit by Phillipa Fioretti

Writing A Chapter Summary For Your Novel, by Kate Belle (guest article)

Setting In Your Novel by Alison Booth

Chase Your Dreams by Helene Young

Collaboration In The Writing Community by Kelly Inglis

Calling Yourself A Writer by Lia Weston

Taking Notes In The Course of Writing A Novel by Onil Lad

Writing Characters Readers Will Care About  by Ben Marshall


‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Teen Novels.


Writing Novels in Australia

Month In Review (November 2013)

Writing Novels in Australia has reached the end of its eleventh month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of monthly contributors encompassing aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists.

Writing Novels in Australia contributors Helene Young and Alison Booth are each attached to a novel writing retreat in 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

You can connect with Writing Novels in Australia on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Articles for November 2013

On Choosing A Title For Your Novel by Alison Booth

On Critiques, Contests And Conferences by Jenn J McLeod

Being An Author Book Stores Will Enjoy Working With by Lia Weston

The Importance Of Secondary Characters In Novels by Phillipa Fioretti

Writing A Satisfying Story Ending by Kelly Inglis

What Makes A Good First Chapter? by Ben Marshall

On Editing Fiction by Onil Lad

Writing Deadlines… And When Life Gets In The Way by Helene Young


‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Teen Novels.


Writing Novels in Australia

Month In Review (October 2013)

Writing Novels in Australia has reached the end of its tenth month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of monthly contributors encompassing aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists.

Writing Novels in Australia contributors Helene Young and Alison Booth are each attached to a novel writing retreat in 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

You can connect with Writing Novels in Australia on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Articles for October 2013

Finding Your Muse As A Writer by Jenn J McLeod

On Developing And Researching A Novel by Alison Booth

Navigating Your Way Through Conflicting Writing Advice by Lia Weston

Novel Editing And Over-Used Words by Helene Young

Hooking Readers With The Opening Of Your Novel by Kelly Inglis

On How Many Characters To Use In My Novel by Onil Lad

On Plotting And Writing Novels by Phillipa Fioretti

Writing Couples In Novels by Ben Marshall


‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Teen Novels.


Writing Novels in Australia

Hooking Readers With The Opening Of Your Novel, by Kelly Inglis

It’s essential that the first few pages of your novel intrigue the reader, like the bait on a hook entices a fish. But if the fish doesn’t take the bait, then you’re having a plain old salad for dinner. It’s the same with a story: if the opening pages of your book don’t hold the reader’s attention, then they likely won’t finish it, and certainly won’t recommend it to their friends or provide a favourable review.

When I’m reading a new story, the first few pages have to grab me and hold my interest. By the end of the first chapter, I expect to be so absorbed in the plot and the character’s lives that I absolutely cannot put the book down.

So how does an author get their readers onto that proverbial fish hook?

Firstly, the opening pages need to make the reader feel something. Consider using either characters or scene to establish some sort of emotion in your readers. It may be that you introduce a great main character with whom the reader can identify. Perhaps it’s the girl next door who reminds the reader of their best friend, or the sympathy elicited by the devastated parent mourning the recent loss of a child. Or you may choose to introduce the loathsome criminal who the readers immediately want to see come to a remarkably unpleasant demise. To make the reader care about your characters, they need to be genuine, or the reader won’t be drawn into their lives and won’t keep reading.

You can also create emotion by establishing the scene. Imagining the horrors of the hundred children with their sunken eyes and malnourished bodies toiling away in a Bangladeshi sweat shop elicits very different emotions in the reader compared to those evoked by the imagery of an exclusive country club where tuxedoed waiters serve complimentary Moët to every guest upon their arrival. Regardless of whether you use characters or scene to open your story, those opening pages must make your reader wonder about the people or the places, and want to know more about them.

Another way in which to keep your readers reading is to establish a problem or conflict in the early scenes. For example, Emily has locked her keys and mobile phone in her car and it’s getting late. Does she risk walking home through the not-so-safe streets to get her spare key, or does she swallow her pride, knock on the door she just slammed and ask her cheating ex-boyfriend if she can use his phone to call someone to help her? Emily’s dilemma drives the story forward, making the reader want to turn the page to see which decision she makes.

Starting a story in the midst of the action is another way in which to draw your reader into the book. Having a drug deal going down in a seedy back alley or a bloody gun battle in West Somalia on page one creates momentum that can captivate the reader right from the start. However, you need to ensure you provide the reader with just enough information about the characters and scene so that they aren’t confused by the action.

Like any good fisherman would know, fishing is not quite as simple as just hooking the fish. Just because you’ve hooked it, doesn’t mean that you can reel it into the boat, so after getting the reader firmly hooked on your characters and plot you’ll need to ensure the rest of your story keeps them on the line until the very end.


Kelly Inglis’s bio page


     Wings of FearHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodRotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistThe Indigo Sky

Writing Novels in Australia

Month In Review (September 2013)

Writing Novels in Australia has reached the end of its ninth month of articles for 2013 from this year’s line-up of monthly contributors encompassing aspiring novelists, early-career novelists and established novelists.

Writing Novels in Australia contributors Helene Young and Alison Booth are each attached to a novel writing retreat in 2014 with Novel Writing Retreats Australia.

You can connect with Writing Novels in Australia on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

Articles for September 2013

Using Observation And The Senses To Enhance Your Writing by Lia Weston

Knowing When To Take A Break From Your Writing by Phillipa Fioretti

When Our Fiction Impacts Readers’ Lives by Jenn J McLeod

On Sex Scenes In Novels by Alison Booth

Writing About The Future In Fiction by Ben Marshall

Refining The Tone Of Scenes When Editing A Novel by Helene Young

The Ups And Downs Of Writing A Novel by Onil Lad

Building A Profile As A Novelist by Kelly Inglis


‘Month In Review’ Updates

For more articles on writing novels you can check out Writing Historical Novels and Writing Teen Novels.


Writing Novels in Australia

Writing About The Future In Fiction, by Ben Marshall

In the future, people will have huge television screens, wear disposable silver jumpsuits and eat instant meals you can dial up from a 3D food printer that sits behind a sliding hatch in the kitchen wall.  Wormholes to other planets in other solar systems will be commonplace and we’ll be at war with some kind of Intergalactic Confederation who will want to take over everything for some reason.

Or, we’ll be living in a post-apocalyptic future, with or without zombies, amongst the shattered, radioactive ruins of which we’ll wander about looking for caches of canned goods while returning to our violent, Palaeolithic Lord of the Flies ways.

Or, large swathes of the planet will look like super-large developing-world urban conglomerates, with Bladerunner-esque tech touches, a 1984-ish political system, and an even deeper and more desperate division between rich and poor.

If you’re sceptical the future will be like any of those stock sci-fi visions it’s probably because you’re aware that, as a species, our predictive powers, Arthur C. Clarke and William Gibson aside, are limited.  History is simply too non-linear.

Few in my early life thought personal computers would be such a big deal, that phones would become ‘life companions’, or that the jumpsuit thing wouldn’t pan out.  We couldn’t see social and technological trends converging, in part because it happened so quickly, and also because change came from so many directions.  Immersed in the chaos of our daily minutiae, we can’t see the bigger patterns forming.

So how do we research the future for our speculative fiction and sci-fi?

There are those who study the future for a living, chiefly in academia, business and defence, their methodologies allowing them to extrapolate possible and probable futures.  In general, these professionals are working on specific subsets of the future, with specific starting premises and assumptions.  In other words, they’re not world-building as we are in the literary realm.

Cultural historian and strategic specialist with the Dutch government, Boudewijn Steur, suggests, “There are actually many similarities between studying history and thinking about the future. In both cases, one needs to take multiple perspectives into account, and question what ‘the margins of uncertainty’ are.  Also, both in looking to the past and to the future, we need to ‘distance’ ourselves from the present timeframe and indicate causal relations, between disrupting events for example.”

With my novel manuscript, The Pricking of Thumbs, I wanted to explore the world of 2070, or as much of it as I could cram into a novel.  Thus the narrative stretches from the British Isles, across Europe and Russia to the remote Tien Shan in Asia Minor, revealing the environmental and social changes en route through the eyes of my freak show protagonists.   In the final chapters, I look more at the technological, and build a new form of the homo species – homo connectus.

To do all this, I looked at what I wanted to happen in the world, and then at what would be likely to stop that happening.  My ideal world was self-sufficient, sustainable, globally and locally democratic, and using developing technologies to reduce population size to preserve resources, climate, and wild and non-wild environment.  A greenie’s paradise.

Then I extrapolated current trends – sociobiological (history, politics, anthropology, religion, and neurobiology), environmental (climatology, geology, oceanography, and general evolution) and took a quick glance at disruptive events like the odds of a visitation from aliens (virtually zero), or someone thinking up a new political system fairer than anything anyone’s ever thought of yet (again, virtually zero), or a new energy source derived readily and cheaply from, say, sea water (low).

Summing up all those trends gave me a fairly standard, arguably obvious, future crash, or series of crashes, when the unquenchable human desire for infinite resources meets the reality of those same resources being finite.  This I called the Collapse.

On the technology side – and I had a particular interest in neurobiology for this story – I saw that the concept of a self-propagating computer super-intelligence (often called the Singularity) will become mainstream as global environmental issues increase pressure to think up new technologies to save us.  The Singularity concept is hotly debated, often derided, and widely used in fiction, but it’s one that, after examining the assumptions underlying the premise, I don’t buy into.   That said, to a power-hungry government or corporation on an unstable planet, a tame super intelligence would be desirable tech.

Finally, and related to the above, I also saw that the human species remains mired in its biology – humans cannot think or act beyond a certain set of physiological and neurological parameters.   It’s true we use telescopes, technology, language and math to extend our range somewhat, but it’s clear the only thing our species learns from history is that our species never learns from history.  This points to a cultural reality that the human default for thought and behaviour is the medieval.  This idea isn’t popular but I found no evidence to suggest it’s wrong so it informed my novel accordingly.

So, if you want to time travel into the future, grab the trends as defined by the best current evidence available in the sciences, pit your premises and assumptions about the future against that evidence, let your protagonists hope for the best and plan for the worst – and hang on for a wild ride.  Bonne chance!


Ben Marshall’s author website:

Ben Marshall’s bio page


Stillwater CreekSavage TideHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodWings of FearThe Fragment of Dreams

Writing Novels in Australia

On Sex Scenes In Novels, by Alison Booth

Do sex scenes in novels make your toes curl with embarrassment?  You are not alone.  Many readers find them excruciating and many mainstream novelists find sex scenes the hardest to write.  Let me be clear from the outset that I am not referring here to sex scenes in erotic novels.  This post is about sex scenes in mainstream books – literary and commercial.

Suppose you’ve written your sex scene and you’re pretty happy with it. The next step is to get it past your editor and publisher. You achieve that, your novel gets published, you wait for the accolades… and you cross your fingers that you’re not going to be shortlisted for the literary honour that no one wants – being shortlisted for the annual Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

This award was established by the Literary Review in 1993. It explicitly excludes from consideration pornographic and erotic literature. You may be interested to learn that male writers predominate on the shortlists, and that in 2010 The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, an Australian author beloved by many, was shortlisted for the award (see

When thinking of sex scenes, it’s helpful to make the distinction between bad-sex scenes on the one hand and bad sex-scenes on the other.  The former refer to a frame in which the sex is not going well.  The latter refer to a frame in which the sex may be going brilliantly but the writing is not good.  If you look around you will find rather a lot of these. For some examples, see:

An example of a bad-sex scene can be found towards the start of the novel On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan. This chronicles a sexually inexperienced couple’s disastrous encounter on the first night of their honeymoon which ruins their married life.  The plot is dependent on this bad sex and the characters are changed by the experience.

Bad sex-scenes are badly written – and may be focused on sex that may or may not be going well.  They describe the activities of the relevant couple in great, and often toe-curling, detail that is secondary to plot development or to characterisation.

A third type of sex scene might be thought of as transcendental.  The scene takes one or other or both of the couple out of themselves to some higher level of emotion.  There are many nice examples of this in the novels by Patrick White.  (For example, see the union of Ellen Roxburgh and the escaped convict Jack Chance in A Fringe of Leaves.)

Should you or should you not include a sex scene in your novel?  Of course it is entirely up to you as the writer: you can do whatever you wish.  This is after all one of the joys of writing a novel.

Have I ever written a sex scene? Yes, in Stillwater Creek (page 22) there is a scene that relates to character development – and it is a bad-sex scene, written from the viewpoint of George Cadwallader, who is unhappily married to Eileen.

In general it is useful to bear in mind a simple idea –  that the sex needs to either advance the plot or to reveal more about the characters involved, or both.  If the sex scene doesn’t advance the plot, either remove it or rewrite it so that it does affect what happens next.  If it doesn’t show more about the characters involved, and hence have some importance for character development, again either remove it or rewrite it so that it that does.

It is not as if you’re losing information by leaving it out.  Remember that you can simply refer obliquely to the lovemaking or the sex.  Only if something happens during the sex to change the characters or affect the plot do we really need to see it in any detail.

Of course, this advice applies to every scene in a novel.  If you do decide a sex scene is vital for your novel, then there are online articles and sites that can help you. There is a good article at:

***Write with novelist Alison Booth near Hobart, Tasmania with Novel Writing Retreats Australia in April 2014

Alison Booth’s author website:

Alison Booth’s bio page


Stillwater CreekThe Indigo SkyA Distant Land     House for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodBurning LiesSavage TideThe Fortunes of Ruby White

Writing Novels in Australia

When Our Fiction Impacts Readers’ Lives, by Jenn J McLeod

I have a dilemma I need to share. Something is happening as a result of my debut novel that is both overwhelming and humbling, but also a little daunting. Let me explain …

As authors, we can hope our stories entertain readers to the point where they might escape their lives for a few hours. Maybe (hopefully) readers even fall in love with a character or two. What I never expected as a writer of fiction was to feel the weight of responsibility I’ve been experiencing since my book came out last March.

I’m referring to when someone sends a personal email that tells me that, after reading and enjoying House for all Seasons, they’re contemplating a life-changing decision, with statements along the lines of: “I’ve decided I’m not happy being me.” …and… “I’m going to make some serious life changes.” Then this one… “I needed [character name] to make me see the light. I know now it’s not a train! I can do this.”

To those who don’t know me, I write contemporary Australian stories about coming home to the country. They’re family relationship/friendship stories – of self-fulfilment, rediscovery, redemption, etc – that I hope readers will relate to on some emotional level. Some reviewers have labelled House for all Seasons a drama. This surprises me. I like to think that some of the more humorous aspects, as well as the occasional quirky character, inject a lighter element to balance out the seriousness of the subject matter.

This is the fiction writer’s dilemma: We write fiction, but it can impact readers’ lives.

House for all Seasons is the fictional account of four friends, a country house surrounded by the past, and a secret that ties all four to each other and to the century-old Dandelion House back in their hometown of Calingarry Crossing. Yes, it’s realistic. Fiction stories have to be; authenticity is right up there on every publisher’s checklist. What if that realism, or a character’s journey and growth throughout the story, was to resonate so deeply and on such a very personal level with a reader that it influenced them in their real lives?

How should we as authors feel about that? Elated? Worried? Or should it not concern us at all?

I know we write fiction, no different to Hollywood producing action blockbusters. It’s make-believe. Right? Then an orange-headed maniac made up like The Joker bursts into a cinema in the USA and randomly shoots theatre-goers. In one online article that examined this tragedy, violent video games and incendiary song lyrics also came into question for influencing the perpetrator that night.

Of course, it takes all kinds to make a world. Authors have all kinds of readers reading their stories. What we write and how we write it should matter. Shouldn’t it? We should feel some sense of responsibility. Shouldn’t we?

Okay, so maybe you’re no Jodi Picoult or Patricia Cornwell and your subject matter, like mine, is not controversial (I certainly have no psychopathic criminals planning mass murders in my novels). I love my small town stories sprinkled with humour. Never did I think about this issue until receiving a reader email recently that was quite detailed and a little unnerving.

Should I think about the issue of the impacts my story writing might have on readers’ lives as I move into book two? It’s a story in which I look at teenage issues, drug and alcohol abuse, and suicide. It really is a happy story! Or perhaps I am being my usual control-freakish self and wanting to organise the world to make it a better place and for everyone to live happily ever after. What do you think?


Jenn J McLeod’s author website:

Jenn J McLeod’s bio page


House for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeod     Half Moon BayA Distant LandRotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistThe Fortunes of Ruby White

Writing Novels in Australia

Knowing When To Take A Break From Your Writing, by Phillipa Fioretti

I’ve had a spurt of intense writing for the last two or three months but last night I knew I’d hit the dead zone. The dead zone is a place where you no longer care about your characters, your plot problems, your research or your structure. It’s a place where you want to be left alone to stare at a wall and cut pictures out of magazines when you get sick of the wall. It’s the zone of exhaustion.

It’s important to recognise it as exhaustion and not panic. Your ideas and imagination have not deserted you. They will return. You are not done as a writer. I think you can only know this by experiencing the roller coaster that is the writing life, once you’ve risen from your slump, phoenix-like, with a newly sharpened pencil and a feverish look in your eye, two or three times. Then you know it’s nothing to worry about.

You shouldn’t worry but it’s important to pay attention. There’s a lot of pressure to get instant results these days. With the rise of self-publishing and the short shelf life of books we writers can get a bit panicky if we aren’t banging out four thousand words a day. If you’re exhausted you need to step away from the manuscript and do something else.

I believe in writing through writers’ block but not in pushing on in the face of utter fatigue, because you simply emerge with an inferior manuscript. If you are on a deadline with a publishing house then that’s a different game. You have a deadline. There is an editor waiting to catch your words and help get them into shape. If you are writing on spec or for self-publishing stepping away for a few weeks is the best thing to do.

This break will refill the creative soda stream and give you an invaluable distance from the work, which will allow you to go back in and see all the shocking mistakes you never guessed were there when you had your nose pressed up against it.

It works like the ‘busy book’ they have in some primary schools. Give the kids something to do, create the illusion of forward movement, (just in case some pesky parent drops in unannounced). That’s all it is: an illusion. If you aren’t getting anywhere then down tools.

It feels like you’re doing nothing, a scary feeling, because we are committed to building our careers, author platforms, marketing plans and all the other stuff that looks down its nose at the flagrant doing of nothing. By doing nothing you are doing your manuscript and yourself a favour.


Phillipa Fioretti’s author website:

Phillipa Fioretti’s bio page


The Book of LoveThe Fragment of Dreams     The Indigo SkyBurning LiesRotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistAll This Could End

Writing Novels in Australia

The Historical Novelist’s Dilemma, by Ben Marshall

A writer, two historians and a reader walk into a bar.  They sit down, and the talk drifts to the writer’s work-in-progress, a story set in Japan and China during the lead-up to WW2.  A little while later a fight breaks out and the police are called.  Everyone is dragged out, rumpled and bruised, except for the writer, whom the barman finds staunching a bloody nose with beer mats under a nearby table.  The barman helps him out and asks what happened.  The writer replies…

On the battlefield, there is no honour, so why should I worry about writing a little biffo in a first-person narrative of the infamous Fall of Nanking?

The first reason is because it’s not usually called that. Most know it by the catchier title, The Rape of Nanking, in which the Japanese defeated the Nationalist Chinese army and took the Chinese city of Nanking in 1937.

Tens of thousands of troops and civilians died, women were raped, looting occurred and atrocities were committed.  Leaving aside the reasons for the battle happening in the first place, we can all agree that bad stuff happens in war.

The reason I briefly put one of my characters – a Japanese soldier – in Nanking is to give him a life-changing event.  I need him to see a bad thing happen; in this case the brutal treatment of a disabled Chinese boy in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The kid doesn’t even need to die.  In fact I could write it so he doesn’t get hurt. It could just be the threat of being hurt.

At this stage, the reader is intrigued, one of the historians is nodding, and the other looks uneasy.  The writer presses on…

I’ve done my research and, yes, by that I mean I’ve read quite a few books, a bunch of Wikipedia pages and other stuff on the net.

The historians roll their eyes. The writer points out that he is a writer not a historian and that this part of his story is only a few pages.  He just needs his guy to get in, get out and then return to the timeline of the main narrative. He continues…

The second reason I should worry about writing this stuff is it turns out the Chinese defeat/Japanese victory in Nanking is still highly contentious.  One side says that over a hundred thousand were massacred and hundreds raped.

One of the historians nods – he’s a ‘massacre affirmationist’.  The other scowls – he’s a ‘massacre denialist’ – and states that there was never any massacre, deliberate or otherwise.  The reader looks to the writer and asks which it was. The writer tries to avoid the issue by buying another round, but by the time I get back there’s a frosty silence and three pairs of eyes awaiting a response. He explains…

The simple fact is that despite the many ‘eye-witness’ accounts, there are so many discrepancies, conflicts of interest, hearsay and outright lies that a definitive case remains to be made.

This only riles the historians, who attack the writer’s laziness and lack of academic rigour then start arguing amongst themselves.  The writer explains to the bemused reader…

The issue is still a really big deal to a lot of people today.  It’s like attending the German-Jewish Friendship Association and suggesting the Holocaust is a ‘maybe it happened, maybe it didn’t’ proposition.

Complicating things further, neither the assimilationists nor the denialists are homogenous groups.  Yes, there are a bunch of agenda-driven Japanese nationalist wingnuts in the denialist camp, but there are also plenty of accredited and independent historians without an agenda picking some big plot-holes in the ‘deliberate massacre’ story.  Similarly, the assimilationists include agenda-driven contemporary peace movements, rabid Chinese nationalists and respected, independent historians.

Considering my Japanese character is potentially on the side of the mass-murderers, the reader asks which side I’ve chosen.  I try to explain that I don’t want to come down on any side.  My soldier only sees what I let him see, and I’m keeping him well away from any massacre – deliberate or accidental.  It isn’t part of my story, and I’m not looking for trouble.  In any case my soldier’s an ultra-nationalist, and at this point, I’m merely portraying the world through his POV.

The historians let rip: the gist of which is that the writer should grow a pair, get some research up him and agree with one or the other of them or they’ll both punch his lights out.  If they don’t, there will be millions of my potential Chinese and Japanese readers who will troll, stalk and hack my accounts online if he chooses the ‘wrong’ side. At this point, the writer’s like…

Whatever. It’s my book. There’s good research on both sides about this stuff, I’ll let the reader decide.

Unfortunately, the reader is unimpressed and starts jabbing the writer in the chest with each point: “Your role,” jab, “is to not pretend to some fake objectivity but to do the research,” jab, “that the readers can’t or shouldn’t need to do.  Not taking a stand,” jab, “is taking a stand, and it’s totally gutless.” Jab. The writer finally jabs back, one thing leads to another and suddenly he’s taking hits from three sides.  He dives, but the reader takes the opportunity to kick him while he’s down, and the historians take the opportunity to pummel each other with some ‘academic rigour’.

The barman pours the writer another drink, sympathetic.  He asks what the writer’s next book will be about.  The writer’s eyes light up.  He tells him…

It’s only in the planning stages but I had a great idea for a romantic triangle set during the Yom Kippur war.  What could go wrong?


Ben Marshall’s author website:

Ben Marshall’s bio page


Rotten Gods by Greg Barron - Australian novelistBurning LiesThe Fortunes of Ruby WhiteHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodThe Book of Love

Writing Novels in Australia


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