Monthly Archives: February 2015

International Writing Festival Competitions: Genuine or Scams?

What writer hasn’t been tempted to enter an International Competition?

I was thrilled to bits when Pickle to Pie won the Ilura Press International Fiction Quest and a publishing contract. A more ethical and nurturing small press publisher would be hard to find.

It is no wonder my eyes light up when I see the words International Festival Competition. Recently two emails arrived in my inbox with details for two international writing festival competitions. The first was


The second is


They are offering a paid trip to Hawaii or Amsterdam to attend the festival, plus $1000. I could live with that. But wait. To be eligible I will need to pay Aus$100 entry fee for both competitions, plus book and postage. Most Australian writers I know live on brown rice to make ends meet. Money is scarce and $200 would go a long way towards promoting that unpublished second novel safely stored on a USB key. My worry is that if I enter my novel the money will be well spent. Are these competitions genuine or just a money making scheme for the people involved?

On closer inspection I see that the $100 entry fee from both competitions go to

JM Northern Media attn: Amsterdam Book Festival 7095 Hollywood Blvd. Suite 864 Hollywood, CA 90028

JM Northern Media LLC attn: Pacific Rim Book Festival 7095 Hollywood Blvd. Suite 864 Hollywood, CA 90028-8080

I googled JM Northern Media and a complaints page instantly appeared with many authors calling the competitions ‘a crock of shit’ or ‘the way to part authors from their money’.

Some of the points argued were,

• The organisers only needed a few entries to make money. According to this article, the Hollywood Book Festival received 2,740 entries in 2012. At $75 per entry, that’s a gross of $205,500.

• Why pay for a ticket for the winning author to fly from Australia to the festival when a local author would be much cheaper?

• The short span of time between close of entries and judging making it impossible to evaluate all books entered, especially when the organisers only ask for one copy.

Are these complaints written by disgruntled writers who cannot understand how any festival could possibly choose another book after reading their fascinating story? We have all met writers who feel their book will change the world. However, Writer Beware  blog says,

If you’re a writer, I’ll bet you’ve been spammed by JM Northern Media. Don’t recognize the name? Maybe these will ring a bell. The Los Angeles Book Festival. The Hollywood Book Festival. The Paris Book Festival. The Beach Book Festival. The Halloween Book Festival. Animals, Animals, Animals Book Festival. And at least nine other annual festivals, all owned and operated by JM Northern Media .

Why, you might ask, would one company own so many book festivals? To make money, of course. JM Northern’s “festivals” aren’t really festivals at all, but textbook examples of a moneymaking awards program.


Below is a copy of the email containing guidelines for the Pacific Rim  competition but the one for Amsterdam is very similar. What do you think?


The 2015 Pacific Rim Book Festival will be held in partnership with the Honolulu Writers, Authors & Poets Gathering on March 31 in Hawaii, co-sponsored by Savant Books and Publications.

The Pacific Rim Book Festival will consider non-fiction, fiction, biography/autobiography/memoir, children’s books, compilations/anthologies, young adult, how-to, cookbooks, science fiction, business/technology, history, wild card, health/wellness, photography/art, poetry, unpublished stories, spiritual/religious works and regional literature. There is no date of publication restriction on submissions.

Our grand prize for the 2015 Pacific Rim Book Festival winner is a $1000 cash appearance fee and a flight to our gala awards ceremony, to be held on March 31, 2015 in Hawaii. Submitted works will be judged by a panel of industry experts using the following criteria: 1) General excellence and the author’s passion for telling a good story. 2) The potential of the work to reach a wider audience.

ENTRIES: Please classify your book and enter it its category. Multiple entries must be accompanied by a separate fee for each book.

In addition to honoring the top selections in the categories, The Pacific Rim Book Festival will award the following chosen from submissions: 1) Author of the Year- Honors the outstanding book of the competition. 2) Book Design of the Year – Honors outstanding and innovative design. 3) Publisher of the Year- Honors the top publisher based on materials displaying excellence in marketing and promotional materials, as determined by our judges. 4) Best Electronic Device Read – Honors the best e-book of the season.

FESTIVAL RULES: Pacific Rim Book Festival submissions cannot be returned. Each entry must contain the official entry form, including your e-mail address and contact telephone number. All shipping and handling costs must be borne by entrants.

NOTIFICATION AND DEADLINES: We will notify each entry of the receipt of their package via e-mail and will announce the winning entries on our web site ( Because of the anticipated high volume of entries, we can only respond to e-mail inquiries. Deadline regular registration submissions in each category must be received by the close of business on February 25, 2015.

Winners in each category will be notified by e-mail and on the web site. Please note that judges read and consider submissions on an ongoing basis, comparing early entries with later submissions.

TO ENTER: Entry forms are available online at or may be faxed/e-mailed to you. Please contact our office at 323-665-8080 for fax requests. Applications must be accompanied by a non-refundable entry fee of $75 in the form of a check, money order or PayPal online payment in U.S. dollars for each submission. Multiple submissions are permitted, but each entry must be accompanied by a separate form and entry fee.

Entry fee checks should be made payable in U.S. funds to JM Northern Media LLC. We’re sorry, but entries must be mailed and cannot be delivered in person or by messenger services to the JM Northern Media offices.

Entry packages MUST include: 1) One copy of the book; 2) A copy of your official entry form or a reasonable facsimile; 3) The entry fee or receipt for online payment; 4) Any press/marketing materials you wish to send. Marketing is used as a tie-breaking consideration by our judges. Entries should be mailed to: JM Northern Media LLC attn: Pacific Rim Book Festival 7095 Hollywood Boulevard Suite 864 Hollywood, CA 90028-0893 Phone: 323-665-8080

AWARDS: The Pacific Rim Book Festival selection committee reserves the right to determine the eligibility of any project.


I enjoy putting a small amount of money into a slot machine and crossing my fingers. I also occasionally invest in a modest ticket in a lottery, aware that I only have a one in 8,145,060:1 chance of winning. But still I dream that it could be me. To me, most writing competitions come into the same category.

This competition costs far more than I usually consider shelling out on a lottery ticket but I can’t help myself. You have to be in it to win it. Maybe I have been naïve. Maybe foolish. Possibly scammed of my hard earned cash. If so, I’ll try to be more level headed next time, but let’s face it, hope springs eternal and with me there is no guarantee.

I did not enter the Amsterdam Festival Competition. One lottery ticket this year will be enough for me

Writing Healing Life Stories

For writers, writing is how they make sense of their world.

There is a long human tradition of writing to make sense of events that effect the self. Writing can be a way to heal the emotional and physical wounds that are an inevitable part of life

class jpg

Some people use writing as a way to work through emotional issues by privately writing of grief in personal journals and diaries. Others write and publish memoirs such as the heart-rending Paula (1995), in which Chilean writer Isabel Allende interweaves autobiographical fragments into a letter to her dying twenty-eight year old daughter. Two recent memoirs about coping with the loss of a loved one are Megan O’Rouke’s The Long Goodbye (2011), about mourning her mother and Joyce Carol Oates’s A Widow’s Story (2011).

The most touching of all is perhaps Sandra Arnold’s Sing No Sad Song: losing a daughter to cancer (2011). These books add to a growing sub-genre that includes Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking (2005), a memoir of her husband’s death, daughter’s illness, and the wife and mother’s efforts to make sense of a time when nothing made sense. In her latest book, Blue Nights (2011), Didion mourns the loss of her family, youth and ability to write. David Rieffs’ Swimming in a Sea of Death (2008) is a loving tribute to his mother, the writer Susan Sontag, and her final battle with cancer. In a similar vein, Anne Roiphe’s Epilogue (2008), explores late-life widowhood.

This mourning of mothers, daughters, sons, husbands and friends shows the reader that their experience is not unique. They are not alone.

Last year I ran workshops concentrating on teaching the craft of writing and discovered that many students were recording their own traumatic stories. They wanted to make sense of their lives and hoped sharing their experiences would help others. The stories were far reaching and covered how life threatening illnesses, drug addiction etc. changed the lives, not only of the person involved, but also the extended family.

For this reason I’ve decided the 2015 workshops beginning in April at the Living Now Wellbeing Centre, Studio 7/14 Hartnett Drive Seaford will focus on the writing of Healing Life Stories.  The ten week course begins Tuesday April 14th until June 16th (10am -12noon).  If interested ring 97724566

Writing can heal your life. It allows us to find our creativity, write our stories, become more whole and expand our horizons.

 letter writing

Random notes jotted into an exercise book helps us to sort the tangled web that is our lives. My début novel, Pickle to Pie began in this way. Ostensibly I was writing my father’s story, but after the book was published, I realized it was my way of dealing with my hidden German heritage.

small final pickle coverBefore I was born, because of the ill feeling towards German people after two disastrous world wars, my Australian born father renounced his German ancestry. He also changed the family name by deed poll from Schlessinger to Sterling. When I was seven I found an old photo album in the bottom of a wardrobe and asked my father why the sombre groups of people looked different. He hesitated then replied that in 1885 his grandparents migrated (not from Germany) from Belgium. I didn’t meet my German grandmother until I was twelve and by then knew not to ask questions. The feeling of release once the story of my father’s life was published was incredible. I finally understood the whispered background to my childhood and could let go of the past.

Recently completing my second book, ‘Hens Lay, People Lie’ I now see that I’ve done it again. Written a story that explores my life journey. This book has moved beyond my childhood to enable me to make sense of my adult life. However, when I was three quarters of the way through writing the manuscript about two women, two countries and a life altering pen-friendship, my penfriend died and I was grieving. I found myself trying to writing while mourning. At first I couldn’t write, until I realised how much words like regret, love, loss, guilt, memory and remorse have power over our lives.

Hélène Cixous, a French feminist philosopher, claims that, ‘Words are the doors to all other worlds. At a certain moment for the person who has lost everything, be it a being or country, language becomes the country. One enters the country of languages’ Cixous 1992: 19).

cixous 2When Cixous was eleven, her father died. She describes this event as having a formative influence on her as a writer. Loss and the need for consolation became key motivating forces in her writing life. Her advice to those struggling with trauma in their lives is, “We should write as we dream; we should try and write, we should all do it for ourselves, it’s very healthy, because it’s the only place where we never lie.


If the writer revisits painful emotions there is extensive literature about the risk of slipping into depression (Kammerer & Mazelis 2006; Stone 2004; Wurtzel 1999). Joy Livingwell, online columnist for the Neuro Linguistic Programming website, for example, warns of the danger inherent in reliving grief when she advocates that it is essential for the person involved ‘to get the useful life lessons from less-than-positive memories, without getting upset or re-traumatized’.

Therefore, if writing can be cathartic, it can also be dangerous. To avoid the danger of slipping into depression, writers need as safe space. A journal can be such a safe emotional space; a gap between reality and imagination where feelings and emotions can be intuited, articulated or performed. A space to write. Yet, there is the constant danger of being brought undone by your own words: stabbed by your stories, bowled over by both understanding and misunderstanding. Terry Williams writes: ‘Words are always a gamble, words can be like splinters of cut glass’. Writers attending the 2015 Healing Life Stories workshops will explore this aspect of trauma writing and learn how to protect themselves.

I’ve found writing can take you places you’ve never been before; some good, some bad. However, for me, writing about my life has been an uplifting experience. It has enabled me to let go of the past and move on with anticipation to the next exciting stage of my life journey.

You can write your healing stories about yourself or someone else important in your life  either for your own benefit or with the aim of helping others. When writing the story of my father’s turbulent life,  I found myself writing with passion and compassion. Above my computer is a quote by Australia’s famous author Bryce Courtenay 

‘There is no greater tribute than to lovingly record a life.’


Moroka and Memory

Writers often rely on memories for their stories, but how reliable is our memory?

Memory is a central part of how we think of ourselves, and indeed a central strand of what we might know. Memory is not simply a mechanical process. It works in various ways and the majority of writers use it in their writing. The philosopher John Locke considered individual identity is inextricably linked to memory—we are only what we remember being. But how reliable is memory when we tell ourselves stories about our past?

Precious memories. They sustain us during times of stress and fatigue. In the freeze of winter, we warm ourselves with remembered images of hands stretched out towards blazing log fires. During a heatwave, it may be the memory of splashing through waves into the cool sea. But how reliable are these images? Memory can also act like a dream catcher, sifting out unpleasant experiences and retaining only the golden images that gladden our hearts.


The High Country in Victoria Australia, part of the Great Dividing Range is a beautiful, fragile Alpine region. It is part of my life, the stuff of my dreams. In summer, when Melbourne smoulders in oppressive heat, I remember dipping my hand into icy mountain streams, hiking over grassy plains, cool mountain lookouts, a blanket thrown under a shady gumtree, sandwiches and my laughing children. On the lower slopes are plump blackberries and wild plums for the taking. It is easy to visualize the Ganai Kurnai aboriginal groups who travelled up to the high plains in summer to gorge and fatten on the plentiful fruit and nourishing Bogong Moths.


It was a hot, dry January. On a sudden whim, fuelled by joyous youthful memories of sleeping under canvas and sitting around a campfire I managed to talk my husband into reluctantly going camping again. We packed our car to capacity with tent, poles, stove, chairs, a box of food and a picnic basket.

caravan park

It takes five hours to travel from Carrum to the foot of the Wonnangatta/Moroka High Plains. On the last part of the journey the sun disappeared, followed by gusty squalls which settled into a steady drumming on the roof of the car. Memories flooded back of putting up a tent in the rain. Not pleasant. I sighed in relief when my husband suggested we stay in a cabin overnight. The Licola Caravan Park had only one small cabin left to rent. Mary, lessee of the Park and General Store was ecstatic about the downpour and the sun thirsty mountains breathed sighs of heat relief. I recognised the land’s need, but the one room cabin didn’t have a shower or toilet and the mental picture of me squelching across to the park’s amenities block at night was daunting to say the least. Thunder and lightning split the skies and any thoughts of a peaceful night’s sleep soon vanished. We placed an umbrella and torch by the door.

cockatoo 2

We woke to sunshine and the sound of cockatoos squawking and squabbling in querulous voices, like grumpy old men protesting their fate. The coin-operated showers were surprisingly bountiful and outweighed the sight of the night’s collection of black insects buzzing in their final death throes. On the window ledge of the shower was a half empty can of Bundaberg Rum and Cola. Maybe alcohol helped blot out the bugs.

Mary, was soon busy pumping petrol, selling groceries and giving directions to The Bastards Neck camp site to groups of men. Their battered bush hats and Akubras pulled well down over brown faces, shading blue eyes. Motorbikes with Jim Beam stickers, four wheel drive utes with Rhino Packs, pack racks and bull bars offload deer hunters, trout fishermen and bush walkers. Most were on father/son bonding trips. The ariels whipping in the wind were so tall I imagined them receiving messages from the moon.

daisy 2    daisies    daisy whire

On the High plains the flowers bloomed as if they knew summer would soon be gone. Gold everlasting daisies soaked up the sun and scattered clusters of white everlastings looked like patches of leftover snow. We stopped by a stream to pick plump blackberries. I’d forgotten how the spiky blackberry canes snag any exposed skin and the blue/black juice stains. In spite of deep scratches and constantly swatting blood thirsty mosquitoes, I managed to fill several containers. My husband picked wild cherry plums and apples. Later we sat on sun-warmed rocks to cool our hot feet in the creek. I was at peace with the world, until I noticed the biggest, hairiest spider clinging to the underside of my rock. I remembered to grab the blackberries before frantically clambering up the bank.

When we spread our blanket under a shady tree for our picnic lunch, huge black March flies descended and we become their lunch. Hundreds of tiny bush flies joined in the fun. We finished our lunch in the car, but we are made of strong stuff. A few March fly bities are not going to chase us away. We donned our backpacks and hiked to Higgins hut, one of several cattlemen’s huts dotted here and there over the Alpine region. Built with axes and bush saws they are rough but serviceable shelters for local cattlemen, lost skiers and weary bush walkers. Dry wood, several cans of baked beans, flour and sugar; are enough to keep body and soul together until help arrives.

licola - horses

Mountain cattlemen have mustered cattle in the area for over one hundred years and consider themselves caretakers of the High Plains. Some even try their hand at poetry with varying degrees of success. These two verses are scrawled on the log walls of Higgins hut.


What are my loves?
My friends,
My church
My Tavern
And my only wealth?
These plains

Maybe it was a lost skier who replied

Wild dogs glory
Stockman’s hell
Land of deep thinkers
I bid thee farewell

When black clouds once again dropped their liquid load we too headed for home, the Ford Explorer packed with unused camping gear and containers filled with blackberries, cherry plums and wild apples. The memory of vicious March flies, spiders and prickly blackberry canes began to slowly disappear and be replaced with the bountiful vision of dishes filled with fresh fruit and ice-cream, stewed plums and apple pie.

blackberry       pie

Okay, so the blackberries squashed, the cherry plums were sour and the apples ‘woody’, but my memory dream-catcher was already in action. The following January I once again dreamt of grey-green mountains, wild flowers, and picnics. Like the aboriginals drawn by the thought of fat Bogong Moths, I returned to the Wonnangatta/Moroka High Plains. However, before I left I booked a cabin with a bathroom.

Wendy Ronalds: Author, Nurse and Goddess

Wendy Ronalds.  I first met Wendy Ronalds at the Living Now Wellness Centre in Seaford where I was teaching How to Write and Publish Your Stories. My aim was, and is, to encourage people to write their own stories.


The first thing I suggest is to grab an exercise book and simply start writing.


Knock that negative critic right off your shoulder. You know…the one that says it is too hard, you haven’t got time and you can’t possibly become a writer. The idea is to spend ten minutes a day to record whatever pops into your mind. It’s amazing what is revealed and after a while you will have pages of material you can use towards your book.

wendy goddess

Wendy has been doing this for some time now. Initially she wrote a short story about her mother’s life Emu in the Sky. For added interest she inserted personal photos, then took it to Officeworks and printed copies for her family. It was greatly appreciated. A small book about her experiences as a volunteer nurse   Angels in Israel followed. She also became interested in Australian bush flower essences and brought some to class. I was delighted by the little brown bottles with their detailed labels, crowned with a jewel. Wendy gave me a lavender perfume spray for calming and peacefulness. It worked.


To find out more about Wendy go to her blog Wendy’s blog bio reads: I am a writer, blogger, mother, nurse, Australian bush flower practitioner, traveller and lover of life. I live in Melbourne, Australia and travel back and forth to Bali, writing stories of amazing people and not so amazing people I meet on my journey.

Living on her own with two grown up sons, Wendy has discovered a new unfettered life which includes frequent trips to Ubud in Bali. Last year the Ubud Writing festival had an extensive program Featuring writers such as Angela Meyer, Dias Novita Wuri, and Nick Low discussing why write short stories. As Neil Gaiman observed, Short Stories are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back for dinner. Also present at the festival was renowned children’s author Mem Fox with Jeni Caffin (p28) speaking about Possum Magic in an Ubud Treehouse.

Wendy came away inspired to continue her writing career. On her return another book appeared A Gypsy’s Adventures in Bali. Wendy now spends eight months in Australia and four months living in Bali. Her constant reflections on the differences she has experienced and why she lives the life she lives is reflected in the short story below.


‘I suppose it is women trying to capture being young again’. I thought about a friend’s statement after talking about going back to Bali for an extended stay. ‘It’s not really I thought. It is about trying to find our own sacred space deep within our own souls and expressing that.  Would we really like to be young again?’ Heartache of losing a first love when you were sixteen. Competition to do well at school. Discipline to perform at work and the pressure from our peers. The undeniable will to find a boyfriend and to be married and have babies. We had the overwhelming worry of the health of our unborn child. The years of sleepless nights of a crying baby and breast overfilled with milk. Hearing our elders say to us to enjoy yourself before you settle down. Was being married a hard road even before you start? The blessing and gratitude of seeing my sons grow into fine young men was worth all the pain and sleepless nights. The beauty of words in a mother’s day card scribbled in crayon, ‘I love you as much as the earth’ from my then five year old son. I wouldn’t change a thing. No, it’s not about wanting to be young again; it’s about progressing to be an Elder Goddess. As we age or as we blossom, not as a flower of youth like an impetuous yellow daffodil but like a bold, feminine flower like a beautiful red waratah, strong, courageous and standing tall.


Wendy now has enough short stories and anecdotes from Bali to self-publish again. When she gets back from her latest sojourn travelling and living in Bali we will investigate how to put these books on However, the focus these days is on laughing, dancing, writing and enjoying life to the full.