Reading Challenge 2017


One of my favourites author newsletters is Roni Loren’s Fearless Romance. Along with all the usual author newsletter stuff, Roni reviews task management and planning stationery (journals, planners, stickers, highlighters…) and writes lists, and does planning challenges.

Totally sucks me in.

One of Roni’s planning actives is, naturally, an annual reading challenge. For the last couple of years she’s done a Push Your Boundaries Reading Challenge, complete with a customisable template for anyone who wants to play along. This year she’s shifted to a Read and Watch Monthly Theme-Word Challenge.

In one of those crazy, impetuous New-Years-Day moments, I’ve decided that this is the year I’ll commit to a reading challenge. And just to be contrary, I’m going with a slight variant on Ronis’ Push Your Boundaries Reading Challenge. The image above is of Roni’s template, adapted to include a mini diversity challenge, and completed with my preferences. The challenge is to read at least one book in each category (recording titles in the appropriate box). For my challenge, each book needs to be a first-time read to qualify.

I’m off to my TBR pile as soon as I post this, to queue up my first few challenge reads!

How about you—have you ever taken on a reading challenge? Which do you prefer—the idea of the Push Your Boundaries Reading Challenge, or the idea of the Read & Watch Monthly Theme-Word Challenge?





My Liebster Award Nomination



Some months ago (maybe about six… *ahem*), Karen Bayly nominated me for The Liebster Award. The Liebster is an appreciation award, from one new blogger, to their peers. It’s a way of saying, Hey, I’ve noticed that you blog, and I enjoy what you write. Keep on going!

A Liebster Award nomination is serious business. You don’t HAVE to accept the nomination, but if you do, you are honour-bound to also accept the Award’s rules. 

The Rules

  • Display an image of the award and write about your nomination.
  • Thank and link the person who nominated you for this award.
  • Answer the 11 questions prepared for you by the blogger who nominated you.
  • Nominate 5-11 awesome bloggers who you think deserve this award, and create 11 questions of your own for your nominees to answer.
  • List these guidelines in your blog post.

So—thank you Karen, so very much, for nominating me (and hope you had a giggle about how long it took me to notice!) My blog has lain idle for sometime, because—life. The Liebster is just the impetus I need to get blogging again, not to mention to look up, and check out what other new bloggers have been doing around the traps. If you haven’t looked in on Karen’s blog, I urge you to do so. Her most recent post is an application to the Hogwart’s short course program.

My nominations for the Liebster are at the bottom of this post, along with my 11 questions.

But first, here are my (belated) answers to Karen’s questions:



Name the character from a book with whom you most resonate?

One of the things that led me to write historical romance was my enjoyment of Regency Romance, a sub genre initiated by Georgette Heyer. Heyer’s Regency is a riff on Jane Austen’s sly observations of the Regency world—with a dollop of 1920s Brit-popular-fiction sensibility thrown in for good measure. My favourite Heyer book is Venetia. The heroine, Venetia, is good humoured, witty, sensible, broadminded, and clear-eyed—all qualities that I aspire to.

Have you ever walked out of a film? If so, what was it and why?

There are some Peter Greenaway films I love, but Prospero’s Books was too self-indulgent even for me. It’s the only film I’ve ever walked out on. Mind you, there are some pretty pretentious (and gratuitous) French films that I’ve stuck out to the torturous end, not to mention several makes-no-sense-at-all Japanese films. Maybe Prospero’s Books just caught me on a bad day.

Who was your childhood hero/heroine?

My Mum.

Which book do you wish you’d written?

The first book of The Hunger Games. What pacing! Makes me weep with envy—but it also inspires me.

If you could time travel, where would you go and why?

One of my interests is the sociology of handcrafts. I think it would be amazing to be in the middle of one of the pivotal craft-revival movements of the 19th century or early 20th Century. England, Germany, Scandinavia, or Japan. Any or all of them would be perfect.

What are your four favourite words?

Liminal. Luminous. Numinous. Cup-of-Tea.

What is the weirdest thing you’ve researched for any piece of writing? 

I can’t think of anything weird. How about esoteric instead? Not so long ago I was looking into the history of the Bandoneon (the ‘squeeze box’ instrument that often features in Tango), trying to work out when exactly it turned up in Argentina, and whether Volga immigrants would have been likely to play it.

Which author has influenced you most?

One cold, wet, mid-winter school holidays in the late 70s, I was stuck indoors for long stretches of time, in a holiday house in Marysville, Victoria. I’d already worked my way through all the Reader’s Digest abridgements on the house’s bookshelf. The next book in line was a paperback called ‘Carrie’. Reading it scared me silly, and it made me squirm, but I read that damn book to the very end. The experience was an epiphany. I realised that it wasn’t the subject of the book that held me in thrall, or even the storyline, but the actual writing technique. I haven’t read a Stephen King book since, apart from On Writing (I REALLY don’t like horror fiction), but Stephen King’s fiction writing changed how I read other books.

What not-so-good book, TV show or movie is a guilty pleasure?

I have a soft spot for Shirley Conran’s LACE. It definitely qualifies as a not-so-good book, and I feel genuinely guilty not only about owning it, but also about hauling it out for the occasional on-the-sly pleasurable re-read.

If you could bring anyone back from the dead, who would it be?

I think that right now, at this point in time, the world really needs someone charismatic to counteract the rise of the Loony Right—someone who can inspire people to stop blaming ‘other’, and encourage them to face suffering (their own, and that of all beings) with compassion. I reckon Siddhārtha Gautama is just the person for the job.

The world as we know it has ended. What killed it?

Wilful ignorance.


And my nominations of bloggers to carry the Liebster Torch are (drum roll):

Sarah Fiddelaers  – Sarah started her blog in August, and has done a stellar job of consistently publishing thoughtful, interesting posts. She also posts some pretty funny, honest Instagram comments about how early parenting mixes with writing.

Emma Lee Gough  – I suspect that Emma has already been nominated for the Liebster, but what the heck, she hasn’t accepted a nomination yet (I don’t think), and I like her blog, so yeah, she gets my nomination. Emma is an Aussie writing about Speculative Fiction. Yes!

Kathy Gates – Kathy writes about travel, and reading, and—most interestingly—about volunteerism.

Marie McLean  – Marie is another new blogger engaged in that tricky parenting/writing juggling act. I suspect we have similar approaches to household management and child wrangling.

Nicky Albrecht – Nicky’s blog at Bookbuzz  is brand spanking new, but has already featured several author interviews. Go Nicky!

To all my nominees—there’s no obligation to accept the nomination. It is, first and foremost, a genuine expression of appreciation for your blogging. Thank you.

If however you do accept your nomination, here are your questions…

Tim Tam or Chocolate Coated Teddy?

Name one writing-craft resource you find/have found useful. What do you like about it?

What’s your preferred method of task management?

What’s your go-to menu for those days when you don’t want to stop writing in order to make dinner?

You have three pet Guinea Pigs—what are their names? Feel free to embellish with descriptions of your pigs’ personalities and physical characteristics. Or not.

What did you think of Matt Smith’s performance as Prince Philip in The Crown? (If you haven’t watched the Crown yet, speculate…)

Speaking of Matt Smith—which Dr Who is your favourite, and why?

Name one, recent-ish non-fiction book that you’ve enjoyed reading. Who would you recommend it to?

You have received a limited-time-only email offer from The Household Maintenance & Cleaning Fairy. She says that if you transfer $10 to her account before the end of the week, she’ll grant you one wish* (*terms and conditions apply). What do you do?

Have you ever used affirmations or quotes to motivate your writing? If yes, please share one of the good-uns.

In a parallel universe where there is no such thing as blogs, or even the world-wide-web, what would you be doing right now instead of accepting the Liebster Award?

If you take up the challenge, please post a link to your acceptance post in the comments!









Speed Reading with Spritz

Sunset over the sea

A few weeks ago My Honey asked me what I thought of Spritz, a speed reading technology that’s currently used in about a dozen different apps across various platforms. Resisting the impulse to scoff, I managed to say, quite neutrally, “Why, I know nothing about Spritz. I’ll take a look at it, and let you know.”**

Appropriately, the Spritz website uses Spritz technology to introduce itself, doling out words, one at a time, at speeds from 100wpm upwards. At 100wpm, words plod past with sloth-like deliberation. At 700wpm, they buzzzzzzzzz. At 250wpm, Spritz flashes robotically, “Instead of you constantly moving your eyes to grasp the words, now they are streamed to you. Just keep your eyes on the red character and relax.”

Relax. Relax! Ree-laaaaaax…

There are many things I find relaxing. Indulging my predilection for long, hot baths immediately springs to mind, as does sitting on a tropical beach watching the sunset. (It’s really, really cold here in Melbourne at the moment!) Reading is also high on my list of relaxing-things-to-do, particularly around bedtime. Escapist fiction, engrossing non-fiction, eloquent writing of any kind that invites contemplation—all of it prompts me to slow down and sink into the text. In this context, a technology like Spritz has no place. As Bob Boffard wrote in the Guardian,“reading a novel on Spritz is like riding a unicycle from Shepherd’s Bush to Brick Lane. You can do it, but there are far more pleasant and logical ways to get there”.

To be fair, evangelical speed reading enthusiasts tend not to focus on revelling in witty dialogue, decoding textual subtitles, or giving free rein to imagination, but rather on cramming in ‘more’ for work and/or study, because…well, I’m not exactly sure why. Even the most prosaic, fact-oriented non-fiction relies on varying weightings of words to convey meaning, something that Spritz’s hyper-controlled, parsimonious revelation of text makes no allowance for. And of course if information is genuinely valuable, you need time to absorb and synthesise it. Having taken pains during my work life to render user documentation, business cases, forms, requirements—the whole business shebang—into simple language that promotes comprehension, I feel this quite keenly.

In his 2014 article, The Truth About Speed Reading,  Thorin Klosowski concluded, “Speed reading anything you need to truly comprehend is probably a bad idea. However, if you have a few documents you need to get through, or you’re reading something that isn’t that important, these methods can still be worthwhile.” It’s a generous, yet suspect concession. If I don’t need to comprehend something, why do I need to ‘get through it’?  And to be honest, I already read more fluff-text than is good for me. It tumble-weeds around my brain, clogging my intellect and my creativity, making me sluggish. I suspect I’m not alone in this.

It’s possible that technologies like Spritz will evolve over time, adapting to the demands of genuine language comprehension. That would be an interesting development. It’s also possible that they’ll precipitate a new media era, in which savvy marketers will write to the limitations of the technology. Yikes.

Which scenario is more likely?

When My Honey originally asked me about Spritz, he was coming to the end of reading Moby Dick. He’d been wading through it for months, periodically telling me how it needed a good, hard edit. With ten pages to go, he did his own Spritz experiment, in the interest, he insisted, of ending the torture. Turns out Spritzing Moby Dick was even more torturous than reading it the usual way. So My-sensible-Honey ditched the technology, and re-read those last ten pages the way Melville no doubt intended.

My Honey’s verdict? In the end, it was all worthwhile.


** It’ entirely possible that I’ve misrepresented the maturity of my initial response to My Honey’s question about Spritz. Point is I overcame my propensity to automatically dismiss speed-reading, and actually took the time to give Spritz a go.