Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The Importance of Research for Writers …. And some pitfalls Part 1

This article is based on a presentation I gave about the importance of research for writers and will be published in four parts. Examples from my own research for my three published books and my current project (the biography of Berenice Walters, the Dingo Lady) are in blue.



Most people would agree research is essential for non-fiction work. It is obvious you must have your facts straight or you lose all credibility.

Is it enough to simply check facts?

Is it necessary for fictional work?

Non-fiction must also hold the reader’s interest. That means building your background images as much as presenting facts and developing the personalities of the characters.

In the case of fiction, readers need clear images of time and place so you will need research to paint clear and accurate word pictures.

Example 1
In the biography I am writing, Berenice grew up during the Great Depression and World War II. I needed to include additional information about life in Australia about that period so younger readers have a clear idea of time and place. That meant doing my research.

Example 2
In her recount of her trip to Germany in 1987 she recalls her experience of passing through Checkpoint Charlie. It wasn’t until my third reading of her story I realised there is a whole generation (or two) that may not be aware of the Berlin Wall and the division of Germany. To clarify t for those readers I have included a brief explanation.

What information needs to be researched?
Here are some points you should consider for your story.

Facts – getting your facts wrong will destroy your credibility as a writer. Check and double check your facts.

Images – the graphics and images you build with your words. This applies to scenery, fashion, transport, architecture etc 

Location history and industry – you can’t put a space age industry in a 1925 cotton farming district - unless you are writing science fiction. If your location has an outstanding historical feature or relies on a specific industry you should also be familiar with relevant facts.

Writing science fiction?  Having made my previous point, and this is far from my field of expertise, don’t think you can avoid research. It may have come from your imagination, but many sci-fi readers are also science geeks, so you better bone up on current scientific advancements, research, and innovation.


Tuesday, 8 September 2020

A Dog’s Heart and Soul by Susan Webb - Guest Writer

Dogs are better than us. You only have to look into the eyes of your four-legged family member to see the truth of it. 

By comparison, even the best of us, are deceitful and self-serving, unworthy of their love. We give them the remnants of our time. Complaining bitterly of the inconvenience if their needs don’t fall within our routine.

They give us everything. At our beck and call, bowing to the demands of training, living their lives to our timetable and within our imposed restrictions. 

They love us with the fullness of their hearts. Other than food and shelter, it is their only other need is love. That we try and love them with the same selflessness is all they ask. We fail them time and time again. Even when they are beaten and broken, all they want is our love.

A dog will give up its life to save you and yours. Your family is its pack and they will put themselves in harm’s way to save every member of their pack. Even the life of a stranger is worthy of their bravery. I wish I could say humans lived up to this standard. We don’t. Animal shelters are full of dogs. Dogs that are no longer wanted as consumption obsessed owners move on to a new and cuter pet. Dogs whose only crime was to grow too big, be inconvenient, need training or medical help. Dogs that have been starved and neglected, there are cages upon cages of them. Dogs that can no longer make money for their owners by breeding, fighting or racing are thrown from moving cars, discarded in the bush, put down all for the crime of outliving their usefulness. Then there are those who have been beaten and kicked, mistreated by beings who are so much lesser than the dogs they exert power over.

I remember having a debate with a minister of a church about whether animals have souls or not. He believed only people have souls. That animals were mindless (read dumb) creatures that humans were given dominion over; to use as we please. I think he missed the point. I think animals do indeed have souls, they show selflessness, empathy and love. They can grieve loss.

We may not understand the way they communicate or know if they possess the same sense self-awareness we do, but that does not mean they are mindless.

No, I tell you, animals, especially dogs, are more truthful in their interactions than we are, when they love it is with every fibre of their being. There is no agenda, no conditions to their love. I do not think humans were given dominion over animals. I think if anything, they were given into our care, to treat humanely, with care and respect. A task that we were charged with, one which we often fail.

I informed the minister that my staffy showed empathy and cared about other life forms, more than some people I know. I told him how she would play gently with our cats, right up until they caught some small creature. She would then growl and charge at them until they dropped the hapless little thing. Jemma would then stand over it, protecting it from the cat’s advances, and bark until one of the family came to rescue it. Once she saw it was safe, she’d return to playing with the cats, like nothing had happened. This same dog, would check on us if we were sick or upset, snuggle up and offer comfort. If an argument erupted in the house, she’d stand between the combatants and bark until they gave up and reconciled. If we hugged, she’d want in on the action. When playing with my nephews, she would play with each of them differently, according to their abilities. Both boys were of similar age, but one was lively and boisterous, while the other had issues with balance and coordination.


My husband and I currently have a 50 kgs ‘bits’a’ named Klunk. He has the most beautiful temperament, wanting only to make friends with any other creature he meets. ‘Klunk’ is an unusual name, but it suits him down to ground. It’s the sound we would hear as he scrambled under the house to hide when people came to visit. You see Klunk is a rescue dog.

He was 18 weeks old when we got him from his foster carer, he’d been rescued twice in the short ten weeks he’d been away from his mum and he was broken. He came to us with a double row of puncture wounds around his neck. He was under weight and had no idea how to play. Klunk is a rottweiler-staffy-lab mix and has the misfortune to look like a Pitbull.

It is my belief that at one point, he was taken to be a fighting dog, only he didn’t have it in his heart to fight and so was discarded. It took a lot of love and care to teach him how to play.

It took 6 months before he realised that he could walk away from his food without fear of going without. It took longer again before he began to enjoy going for walks and didn’t have to be cajoled out of the gate, afraid of every noise and stranger. It is one of my greatest joys to see him happy, to see that big weapon of a tail lashing madly through the air, to see him laying all-four paws in the air, upside down on the lounge snoring, confident in his safe haven of a home.

This goofy looking, big boofhead is a smart dog, easy to train and eager to learn, even so, at 6 years old, he’s still afraid of people he doesn’t know. He runs around barking and watching every move and gesture. Too much eye contact, from anyone except my husband and I, panics him. He so desperately wants to make friends with people, but his fear shuts him down. Even when he does eventually form attachments with our visitors, he needs to reform them the next day or the next visit. He is still broken and when he is afraid, he can’t seem to make long term memories. It breaks my heart every time I see that fear rise up in him and I am reminded that people did this to him.

I remember that I told the minister he was wrong. I am not overly religious, but I have to wonder how someone who purported to be a representative for God, who guides and counsels his flock on earth, could have so little understanding of God’s other creations.

Dogs do have souls, souls and pure hearts. More worthy of heaven that most of us could ever be.


Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Dingo in need of help: Extract from the future biography of Berenice Walters

In 1976 the dingo had even less rights than today. The opinion of the lawmakers was it should not exist and if it did it should be exterminated. In late 1976 the case of a little dog picked up as a stray was brought to her attention. The following is an extract from Berenice Walters’ biography I am currently writing. 



It is strange but true a stray dog can be hanging around the local Post Office, ignored by all; or it could, be happily playing with the school children at the local school. As a stray, it is rightly picked up by the dog catcher. But it is just a lost dog. Label that friendly, lost animal a “Dingo" and it immediately assumes the proportions of a rabid wolf to the general public. 

Berenice received a call about a dog picked up in the Fairfield area. The dog-catcher had labelled it a Dingo. The next morning, she received an urgent call to saying an order had come from the Chief Secretary's Office to stop the release of the dog. It was to be destroyed without further question because it was a noxious animal.

At the time there was no way to prove 100% a dog resembling a Dingo was truly a Dingo. The same animal in black and tan resembling a Kelpie was labelled a Kelpie.

Berenice was filled with sadness to see the tiny, yellow, male dog. He was just a dog along with the dozens of other dogs penned; a nice clean, friendly fellow. He could just as easily been described as a cross Basenji. Why could he not have been treated the same as his kennel mates. He was just a dog, possibly a child’s much-loved pet. 

She considered the whole affair nothing less than a witch hunt. Pushing aside her concern about embarrassment she might cause Fairfield Council or the Chief Secretary's Department by showing interest in the dog, she saw it as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the unfairness of the law.

If there was any hint a dog may have Dingo blood it had no rights and was to be put down immediately. The Council, and the Chief Secretary's Department did the only thing they could as the law stood. She thought it wry there were other dogs with Dingo blood in their veins, but they were not Dingo in colour and they were considered perfectly respectable. They were Australian Cattle Dogs.

The dog should have been treated like any other lost dog. If his owner claimed him then he should have the right to be released. No way should he be given special treatment and no way should he be released to a wildlife park. He was unsound and a poor sample whatever his breed. She hoped if he was claimed he would be dealt with as an unclaimed stray, not as a noxious animal.

The case gave her an opportunity to show the general public how the law had been twisted to annihilate a part of our National Heritage. It was another native animal condemned because of the whim of a minority of the population with no consideration for the future. Again, archaic laws were shown to be unjust. Laws brought about by superstitions and fears from the Middle Ages; fears of the unknown, the wild dog. 

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Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Doggie Dictionary

LEASH A strap which attaches to your collar, enabling you to lead your person where you want him/her to go.

DOG BED Any soft, clean surface, such as the white bedspread in the guest room or the newly upholstered couch in the living room.

DROOL A liquid which, when combined with sad eyes, forces humans to give you their food. To do this properly you must sit as close as you can and get the drool on the human.

SNIFF A social custom used to greet other dogs, similar to the human exchange of business cards.

GARBAGE CAN A container which your neighbours put out once a week to test your ingenuity. You must stand on your hind legs and try to push the lid off with your nose. 

If you do it right you are rewarded with margarine wrappers to shred, beef bones to consume and mouldy crusts of bread.

BICYCLES Two-wheeled exercise machines, invented for dogs to control body fat. To get maximum aerobic benefit, you must hide behind a bush and dash out, bark loudly and run alongside for a few yards; the person then swerves and falls into the bushes, and you prance away.

DEAFNESS This is a malady which affects dogs when their person wants them in and they want to stay out. Symptoms include staring blankly at the person, then running in the opposite direction, or lying down.

THUNDER This is a signal that the world is coming to an end. Humans remain amazingly calm during thunderstorms, so it is necessary to warn them of the danger by trembling uncontrollably, panting, rolling your eyes wildly, and following at their heels.

WASTEBASKET This is a dog toy filled with paper, envelopes, and old candy wrappers. It is important to evenly distribute its contents throughout the house before your person comes home.

BATH If you find something especially good to roll in, humans get jealous and use this degrading form of torture to get even. Be sure to shake only when next to a person or a piece of furniture.

LEAN Every good dog's response to the command "sit!", especially if your person is dressed for an evening out. Incredibly effective before black-tie events.

BUMP The best way to get your human's attention when they are drinking a fresh cup of coffee or tea.

GOOSE BUMP A manoeuvre to use as a last resort when the regular Bump doesn't get the attention your require....especially effective when combined with The Sniff. See above.

CHILDREN Short humans of optimal petting height. Standing close to one assures some good petting. When running they are good to chase. If they fall down, they are comfortable to sit on.

LOVE A feeling of intense affection, given freely and without restriction. The best way you can show your love is to wag your stump. If you're lucky, a human will love you in return.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Dora the Mimic – an extract from For the Love of a Dingo as recorded by Berenice Walters

Dora was always very observant of everything that went on around her, quickly noting any change. She watched and worked out everything that I did. 

It did not take her long to realise that of an evening I went into the bedroom, and shortly after, the bed became warm. I had turned on the electric bed. 

Quietly, a short time later, we would chuckle to ourselves as she quietly slipped from the lounge room to curl up in the middle of the bed in a ball, or lay back, head on pillows, eyes large and dreamy till they slowly closed, only the oriental shaped slits visible.

I frequently took a hot bath rather than showering. Dora would usually come and peer in to see what I was doing, but this did not in any way prepare me for what I was to witness one day. 

On hearing strange rubbing and gentle scratching sounds coming from the bathroom, I crept to the door and peered through a crack. There was Dora on her back in the bathtub, no water of course, wriggling around as I had done so often. Then she got up and tinkered with the taps, took hold of the face washer and rubbed her cheeks on it. Then onto her back again ‘splashing’ around in utter enjoyment. She was doing exactly what ‘the Boss’ did. 


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Wednesday, 10 June 2020

A Dog's Eye View of Obedience Class

HEEL ON LEAD: Walk as slowly as you can, then spring forward with all your weight. If your handler falls flat on his or her face, you score 25 points.

RECALL: When your handler shouts at you, assume rock deafness. On no account sit in front of your handler, because he will only make you heel. 25 points if your handler loses his voice.

RETRIEVE the DUMBBELL: On no account fetch it back, because he will only throw it away again. If he wants the stupid piece of wood let him fetch it himself, you will be helping to train him not to throw away things he really wants. 5 points every time the handler gets the dumbbell.

SIT: Stay one inch away from the ground at the back end. This builds muscles and makes your rear legs stronger, which will help you pull your handler down on the HEEL ON LEAD.

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