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Flimsy: A Historical Novel

Flimsy is my first adult novel.  It's set at the end of the 19th Century and based on true events.  

The last thing eighteen-year-old Robbie wants to do is embark on a steamship voyage to New Zealand with his violent father and rebellious younger sister.  Especially when a series of small disasters place Robbie in charge of his family's sixteen racehorses and separate him from a certain female passenger he desperately wants to get to know. 

But the worst disaster comes on the final night.  His vessel is the ill-fated SS Wairarapa, and for all aboard an eventful voyage turns into a fight for survival.   

With everyone he loves in danger, Robbie's loyalty and courage are stretched past breaking point.  Even if he lives, will he be able to live with himself and all he did - or didn't do - on that fateful night?

Flimsy is based on true events surrounding the wreck of the SS Wairarapa in 1984, one of the worst disasters in New Zealand history.

I researched Flimsy with the invaluable assistance of a NZSA/Auckland Museum Research Grant awarded in 2012.  The novel is currently under submission.

A Perfect Mix Of Shakespeare And Whedon

I'm a Whedon fan-girl (Firefly's my #1 fave show), so it goes without saying that I'd snap up a ticket to Joss Whedon's shot-in-his-own-home version of Much Ado About Nothing. 

Funny thing about watching Shakespeare, for the first couple of minutes you struggle to understand what the hell they're all saying.  Then the gibberish starts sounding like regular talk, and soon you're laughing at every subtle pun or wicked barb.

"I can see he's not in your good books."
"No, and if he were I would burn my library."

The undisputed stars of the movie were Amy Acker who played Beatrice and Alexis Denisof playing Benedick.  Those are the choicest parts with the most delicious lines. Amy and Alexis looked like they were having a ball and they carried me along for the ride.  The other highlight was Nathan Fillion who was hilarious as the dim-witted Dogberry.

Just as sumptuous as the characters was Wedon's house... or should I call it a mansion?  Overlooking a golf course and with all mod-cons including a gently steaming swimming pool, I dream about spending a weekend there.  In fact the whole movie was like watching pictures of a big, enormously fun party I didn't actually get invited to.  *Sigh*.

Of course, the real super-star of the piece was the brilliant Billy Shakespeare.  If only he could have known when he first chortled to himself as he wrote "I wish my horse had the speed of your tongue," he'd still be cracking audiences up 400 years later.

I'll admit there were a few things that haven't made the transition into this century so well.  There were a few too many Princes and Counts for comfort, especially to be sipping cocktails in a modern LA home.

Poor Hero got a rough deal... although come to think of it, any modern man would be miffed if he thought his bride-to-be had been playing hide the salami with a random stranger the night before the big day.

And I must say, Beatrice's 'If only I were a man' speech seemed every bit as poignant and powerful today as it must have been centuries ago - some things haven't changed.

"O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace."

You said it, Bea.  Awesome.

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just wow. Do yourself a favour and listen to this audio book.

I must confess that it started slowly and it took a while to get me immersed in the story. But the whole scenario was gripping, the twists and turns held me spellbound, and the characters walked away with not only my heart, but more than a few of my tears.

I finished it a few weeks ago, and it's stayed with me more than any book has in a long time.

View all my reviews

Win With Words!

If you're in Year 7 or 8, and you live in Remuera or attend a Remuera school, you can enter Remuera Library's Win With Words writing competition!

There are 6 cash prizes to be won.  Submit your 500-word story on any subject to Remuera Library before the end of Term 2 and be in to win $150, $100, $50, or a $35 book voucher.

So what are you waiting for? Enter now!

Story Endings

Endings are, I think, the hardest part of writing a story. They are also the most crucial thing to get right.

Your ending is your reader's reward for reading your story.

Your ending will make or break your story. A great ending will leave the reader feeling satisfied. A bad one will make the reader feel cheated.

 I always decide what my ending will be before I start writing a story. I need to have a destination in mind, or I get lost along the way.

Your ending should answer your main story question.

 If you're stuck for an ending, ask yourself: What does your character want more than anything? How do they go about trying to get it? Do they succeed?

For example, in Harry Potter, Harry wants a family more than anything. It starts with him suffering with the horrible Dursleys, and the series finally ends with Harry getting a family of his own.


1. Take the story beginnings from the Beginnings section. Pretend you're the author of these stories, and write a sentence or two that might be a good ending for the story.

2. Take the story beginning you wrote, and write a paragraph that might make a good ending.

Advanced Exercise

Take one of the following endings. Write for ten minutes, finishing your story with the sentence you have chosen.

1. I hope I never see him again.
2. She still doesn't know it was me who did it, and I'll never tell.
3. The baby was okay, and that's all that mattered.
4. I had decided which one I wanted to kill first.
5. I watched it burn to the ground.

 Just like a good story opening, each of these endings contains at least one character (the narrator) and the resolution of a problem. Who the character is and what problem is being resolved by this ending is up to you to decide.

Story Beginnings

The purpose of a story’s beginning is to make readers want to read the rest of the story.

Beginnings need to do three things:

1. Get the reader’s attention.
2. Get the reader asking questions.
3. Let the reader know what kind of story it is.

Good Beginnings

Here are the first sentences of some well-known novels.

• Can you tell what kind of story each one is?
•  Can you tell what the story's going to be about or who any of the characters are?
• What questions do these beginnings raise in your mind?
• Do they make you want to keep reading?

The monster showed up just after midnight.
- A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness 

The Whips, as silent as hunting cats, surrounded Blood Burrow in the hour before sun-up and began their sweep as the morning dogs began to howl.
- Salt, by Maurice Gee. 

Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
- The Fault In Our Stars, John Green. 

The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say.
- The Knife Of Never Letting Go, by Patrick Ness 

"Sir?" she repeats. "How soon do you want it to get there?"
- Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher 

I'd never given much thought to how I would die - though I'd had reason enough in the last few months - but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this.
- Twilight, by Stephanie Myer (Preface) 

When I was little, my Dad used to tell me, "Will, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose."
- Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by David Levithan and John Green 

Beginnings To Avoid

Waking Up or Dreaming

A lot of people start their stories with waking up. Unless there is something unusual about the waking, this is usually not where the story should start. It's been over-used, especially if you start with waking after having a bad dream.
HOWEVER, if there is something unusual about the waking to make it interesting, then it can make a good story opening.

Bad: My eyes opened and I yawned and stretched, then I got up and went downstairs to eat breakfast.

Good: When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.
- The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins 

Starting Too Early

Figuring out when your story should start means deciding when the first bit of action or conflict starts and starting with it.  If you start earlier, your story beginning will drag.

For example, say you were writing a story about someone surviving an earthquake.  You would be better starting just as the ground was beginning to shake, or only slightly before then, rather than the day before, or even hours before.

Too Much Description / Setting

Description is important to make the story seem real, but it slows down your story. It's better to start with action or dialogue or your characters thoughts.
Also it doesn't raise any questions.

Bad: Sally was fifteen years old and she had brown hair and brown eyes and a round, friendly face.

Bad: The sun rose over the water, splashing reds, oranges and pinks across the sky.

Removing the Tension Before You Start

Compare these two beginnings:

Bad: Last year I was in an earthquake and I was scared I might die.

Good: The earthquake hit with a roar, shaking me so hard I fell to my knees.

The first example has far more tension than the second.  In the second example, the narrator is telling us straight away that he or she survived, so we know that before the story starts.  The language is distant and passive.  The first is action, the second is description.

The Weather

Compare these two beginnings:

Bad:  It was raining, the wind was blowing and it was cold.

Good:  Sally hunched down against the icy wind and drew her battered coat tighter around her. Freezing rain pelted her face, making it hard to see the road ahead.

Instead of describing the weather, show how the weather is affecting your character, and we suddenly have a reason to care about the rain.

With a character experiencing the weather, your opening raises questions in the reader's minds. What's Stephanie doing out in such horrible weather? Why is her coat battered? Where is she going?


Choose one of your characters from the previous exercise and write a story beginning.