Saturday, November 19, 2011



What is Grief Writing and Why it is useful:
Grief writing is a tool, one tool among many to use -
·      as a coping mechanism,
·      as a survival mechanism, 
·      as a release
·      as a celebration of a life lost or a trauma survived. 

It is a means of coming to terms with traumatic events – death, dying as with the eating, gradual death of cancer, loss, suicide, disappearance as when a loved one goes missing, injury and disablement.

It can be a path out of depression and through the ocean of seemingly insurmountable grief.

The saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ applies in all instances involving grief and trauma.  Sharing with someone you know and trust is important. If no access to such a person or to counseling is available, grief writing will help you exteriorise, unburden, cope.  

A bit about my own background and how writing has helped me:

My relationship as a child and young person with my mother was a role reversal. My mother suffered deep-seated depression caused by very severe, sustained sibling abuse, throughout her very traumatic childhood. At certain times of year, depression took over. I was confidante and comforter. This started when I was about 4 years old. Writing quickly became my survival tool. Who are you going to confide in when it is your mother who is the one heaping on the emotional and psychological burdens? I confided in prayers and in my writing.

“Mending Lucille”, my book that won the Crichton in 2009, grew partially out of my experiences with my own family. My mother never left physically, but from an emotional standpoint, from a mothering standpoint, she was never able to be there for me. My father tried but he had suffered too, a nervous breakdown after World War II that was directly related to his war time experiences as a bomber pilot and calculatingly self-obsessed parents who sent him to boarding school almost from the start of primary.

My first writings were plays that I put on with the neighbourhood children. Friends an relatives were the audience. Later came poetry, later still children’s books and books for education and, more recently, short stories. I am teaching myself script writing.

How to use Grief Writing:

1.                 Journaling –

Keys to get started -
·      Collage Key - Letting it go, letting it flow – cut words that relate to you, to your situation out of a magazine or newspaper. Take a large sheet of paper – butcher’s paper or newspaper off-cut and colour large blobs of colour/or paint/ or paste scraps of coloured paper. Paste the cut out words on the colour that matches for you. This is important - let your feelings dictate here, not your knowledge of the word, definitions of the word or anything else. For example – tears can be ‘red’ or ‘gray’ or ‘blue’ or ‘white’ or whatever colour speaks to you NOW as relating to that word.

·      Stream of Consciousness - With those words as stimuli, put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard with stream of consciousness writing. This means putting pen to paper and just writing  - all your feelings, thoughts, fears, doubts, memories. Do not worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar - just write. If writing is too daunting straight off, then speak your feelings into a recorder then transcribe.

Later, can be minutes to months later – go back, read it, punctuate, edit grammar. Then read it out loud or have someone close to you read it. This step helps place the anguish beyond you, outside of you, helps you to see where you are in the context of what you are experiencing with more clarity. It gives perspective, enables grater objectivity. It helps you see how far your have moved from hurt to healing.  It also acts as a reference point for further writing.

·      Memories & Memorabilia - Collect together memorabilia of your life as it was impacted by the person and / or event that is the focal point of your grief. Write down words that strongly connect you to the person/event. Write down words that describe those words.

Collect together memorabilia of anything ‘good’ / life affirming, anything that helped sustain you through the grieving process. Write down the words, descriptions of any images, that most strongly connect you to the person or event that is the source of your grief.

2.                 Affirmation –
Redo the stream of consciousness step with memorabilia around you and fresh in mind, then shape the resulting writing into a prose piece or poem. Turn it into a Poster Poem by illustrating it with photographs, craft work, collage or your own drawings.

Journal a piece that encapsulates where you are now and what lies ahead that you hope for. Thank those who have helped you survival thus far.

Keep all your poems or prose pieces together and periodically review them. This is your journey in writing.

3.                 Forgiveness

Forgive others their part objective or subjective; forgive yourself your part objective or subjective. Releasing yourself and others enables you to move on with your life, to move to the next stage of writing. This in NO WAY negates what has happened to cause your grief in the first place. This in NO way negates the  abuser’s culpability. This step will enable you to more effectively, one day, reach out and help others.

4.                 The Craft of Writing

Think of the sound words make and the images they evoke – words like ‘cut’, ‘hack’ are not gentle in sound or meaning. Words like ‘snow’ and ‘grass’ have a flow to them that suggests covering.

Try using poetic devices like onomatopoeia [sound echoing sense, e.g., feathery soft, the eider down settled] and simile [this is like that, e.g., fleece white as snow], metaphor [saying this is that, e.g., the gold-haired sun] or transferred epithet [giving human characteristics to inanimate  objects or nonhuman life forms e.g., the door stubbornly stuck fast] in your writing to add impact. 

Use haiku – the traditional three-line Japanese verse form of 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables - to tighten and focus your expression. Not one word is wasted in haiku.

Read what you have written out loud. Your ear will sense where the flow of your writing needs to be smoothed further or perhaps to be interrupted, punctuated to create shorter sentences for added dramatic effect.

Collect your writings together into a folder and  desktop them into a keepsake booklet.  Microsoft Publisher, Open Office drawing; Star Office Presentation; or Swift Printfolio  or PageMaker are all  options if you have a computer. Illustrate your writings with memorabilia, photographs, sketches, snippets from  magazines and newspapers, cards and so on.

Two examples from my own writing – my eldest son lost three friends within 18 months in horror road crashes.

Field Surgeon Remembering, [in Small Packages]

From his garden, he hears young men prowl in their cars,
Arms captured in a circling crush,
Hears their music blasting,
Down the stethoscope the beat is strong.
They U with screaming rubber.
He begins again, the third time tonight, the needle circling.
The metal cut deep in. The wound is sutured over staying the scar.

He wonders, from his garden, if the tank tracks are
Still there, snailing among the rosy flesh.
He remembers the bodies and how he stitched
Deliberate tank tracks across the skin,
The needle circling, the thread drawing torn flesh together.
He thinks, “there is no perfect rose.”

Slaughter House Road   by J.R.McRae [in Speed Poets]

Ten miles down
Slaughterhouse Road,
A cemetery -
Three crosses with their plastic flowers
On the home run.

The steering wheel
Crushing his sternum to spine,

With glass shards 
Through her jugular,

And little Daisy,
Three meters into the tall grass,
Dying for 24 hours before

On his way home,
Saw the wreck
And called 000 too late.

Joe's wife, Amelia,
Put the crosses there
For pity's sake.

Joe put the flowers
From the refectory
At the Slaughterhouse.

My websites: 

Some examples – Journal writing

Some web examples of Grief Writing/blogging

Further Reading:
·      Karen O. Johnson, Griefabet – a book of  survival and coping strategies – wise, ‘wonder’ full, whimsical and life affirming  - small tactics to keep you going.
·      Madelaine Tasky Sharples,  Leaving the Hall Light On - a family’s  journey back after the suicide of  a severely bipolar son/brother
·      Jessica Bell, Twisted Velvet Chains  - a chronicling of a daughter’s experience growing up with a suicidal, bipolar mother.
·      Shirley Pitcher, Conversations with Teddy – first in a series of memoirs about surviving an abusive childhood.
·      John Knight, “Letters from the Asylum” – poems from a poet who fought bipolar all his life.
·      Les Murray, Killing the Black Dog – the poet’s account of struggling with depression lifelong and poems specially selected by the poet.

REVIEW of "Cleave" by Angela Felsted

Cleave  by Angela Felsted - REVIEW by J.R.McRae 

This first chapbook by Angela is a promise of more intriguing, achingly revealing, painful and joyous revelations to come. It is an intensely personal collection. Were it not for the pull of the wonderful imagery, one might flinch from its almost too acutely drawn accounts.

The loss of a parent – “a man holds a little girl’s hand” – gives us the pain and self doubt of a child who feels abandoned by parental separation and yet, in hindsight, cannot deny the feelings in the last contact and memories invoked.

“you think of the hug he ached to give you
filled with sunsets, sandcastles, a warm breeze
handfuls of shells from the sea.

First love laid bare – “under waning stars”  and “she came to you as a new bride” - in the hands of a much older man, is as much a diary of betrayal as a rite of passage.

“friends, he called us
in the hushed fervent
voice of a preacher
clasping my body to
his, front against front
like a god fearing man
prays palm against palm.

our shoes made
circles in the dying
leaves. our friendship
dying with them.”

Images of snow/frosting and sunshine/yellow flowers weave through the entire collection, defining its pages and creating a sense of life in all its complexity and contradiction.   Some examples follow -

“daffodil petals unfurling
to the sun, spreading with
the swell of her stomach” [she cried in to the silver delta]

“they shot
through his scalp like new
grass, meadows of gold”

“her baptism like
a swatch of snow-white cotton, taken from the blanket
nurses wrapped her in at birth.”  [when my daughter moves away from me]

and one of my favourite verses –

“in the station, a clock strikes two.
on the platform, snowflakes kiss.
years from now, the girl will leave home
and the snowflakes whirling, falling in her hair
will mirror the stirrings of her
guarded heart: soft, cold, delicate. “ [a man hold’s a little girl’s hand]

Married life is shown as a seesaw of love and disaffection -  “your truth like a water drop” and  “your love like an old well” -

“metal squeals on metal, ropes
stretch, arms ache. the bucket creaks as
i lift it to my lips, tip back my face, wait
for the life-giving deluge of your love.

an avalanche of topsoil falls into my
mouth. why do i always come back?”

Then there is the anguish of motherhood –  “if I refused to cry”, “neurofeedback” and  “sitting in church” – the gigantean effort, the endless wondering and helplessness fed by censorious others,

“and that’s when i sense it: the wary gaze of the
woman in front of us, moving from
my brood  to her four obedient daughters
each with a wide brimmed pale pink hat.
they fold their hands just like their mother’s
silent mannequins in a fancy store window”

The collection starts with “buttercups” and ends with -
gauzy in the moon's silver-white rays.
naked skin glowing as pale frosting  “

This is a collection that will resonate with women the world over! But keep tissues by and be prepared for the sharp sting of recognition.

Friday, November 11, 2011

STRING BRIDGE by Jessica Bell, Lucky Press - Amazon chart rush

Today is THE day to help Jessica Bell's debut, STRING BRIDGE, hit the bestseller list on Amazon, and receive the all-original soundtrackMelody Hill: On the Other Sidewritten and performed by the author herself, for free!

All you have to do is purchase the book today (paperback, or eBook), November 11th, and then email the receipt to:


She will then email you a link to download the album at no extra cost!

To purchase the paperback:

To purchase the eBook:

To listen to samples of the soundtrack, visit iTunes.

If you are not familiar with String Bridge, check out the book trailer:

Rave Reviews for String Bridge:

Jessica Bell’s STRING BRIDGE strummed the fret of my veins, thrummed my blood into a mad rush, played me taut until the final page, yet with echoes still reverberating. A rhythmic debut with metrical tones of heavied dark, fleeting prisms of light, and finally, a burst of joy—just as with any good song, my hopeful heartbeat kept tempo with Bell’s narrative.~ Kathryn Magendie, author of Sweetie and Publishing Editor of Rose & Thorn Journal

“Poet and musician Jessica Bell's debut novel String Bridge is a rich exploration of desire, guilt, and the difficult balancing act of the modern woman. The writing is lyrical throughout, seamlessly integrating setting, character and plot in a musical structure that allows the reader to identify with Melody's growing insecurity as her world begins to unravel … String Bridge is a powerful debut from a promising writer, full of music, metaphor, and just a hint of magic.” ~ Magdalena Ball, author of Repulsion Thrust and Sleep Before Evening

Jessica Bell is a brilliant writer of great skill and depth. She doesn't pull back from the difficult scenes, from conflict, pain, intensity. She puts it all out there, no holds barred, no holding back. She knows how to craft a scene, how to develop character, how to create suspense. This is an absolutely brilliant debut novel. I look forward to reading her next novel, and next and next.” ~ Karen Jones Gowen, author of Farm Girl, Uncut Diamonds and House of Diamonds

Please TWEET and/or FACEBOOK this post using #StringBridge!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Jessica Bell's "String Bridge" just out with Lucky Press - Author interview

Jessica Bell – interview for  ‘String Bridge” by J.R.McRae

1.     Your music is an important part of your life and the musicality of words is very evident in your writing.  How much inspiration do you draw from music in your writing? What part did music play in inspiring and in shaping “String Bridge”?

Even though music doesn’t define me as much as writing does, yes, it is still a big part of my life. The idea for the book came about when I was thinking about a time in my life when music was all I ever wanted to breathe. Even though my priorities had changed, I still wanted to write about the power music has over someone who is so passionate about it. But I think music could be replaced by any sort of passion in String Bridge, because basically the story is about needing something more than you need yourself.

2.     “String” speaks to me of an unraveling—he deconstruction of a cat’s cradle /string bridge and, of course, of guitar strings.  Was this deliberate?

Absolutely. I wanted the title to symbolize three things:

·      Guitar strings, obviously, as this is the instrument Melody plays.
·      The bridge of the guitar which keeps the guitar in tune. This also symbolizes how well Melody stays mentally in tune throughout the story.
·      The symbolic bridge Melody has to cross to get where she wants to be is made of string, meaning it’s not very secure.

3.     I’ve come to know you through your poetry, which has an edgy rawness but also a lyricism. How important is your poet’s skill to your author role?

Very important. I don’t think I’d write the way I do if I didn’t write poetry. I really enjoy embellishing my prose with the perfect sounding word or phrase. It’s like a game to me sometimes. I have spent hours on one sentence before. I know that is sort of going too far, but I can’t help it. If it’s not right, it not right!

4.     Have you ever found yourself writing a passage and realizing this is also going to result in a poem?  Can you share some examples?

Well, yes. One example is the preface to my novel. I never ‘used’ it as a poem, but it’s definitely very poetic. You can read that here.

5.     Have any of your existing poems inspired passages or even chapters? Can you give examples?

Yes. The following poem ended up being morphed into prose in String Bridge:
in the middle
of a field

red dirt

and more
beyond it

for the end
of distance
where the stars
join to it — pins
to a tent in soil

looking up
to a cluster
of approving eyes

lying naked
beneath them
with him

a silence
that echoes
the touch
of your hand
to his cheek

being loud
and small
the way
the Sun
lights up
the Earth

you are the Earth
and he is the Sun
silence is tangible
and the stars are the souls
of your previous lives
that distance
is the place you’ll find death
where red dirt is your skin
and the field your bones

that love
is the desert

6.     All authors bring who they are to their work. How much of who you are informs your work, your characters?

I really don’t think I can give an accurate answer to that question. Sometimes I feel like I’m putting my whole self into my characters until they end up doing something completely out of my character. I guess I come and go I waves. There are moments that reflect me completely and there are others that are nothing like me.

7.     Do you find you emotionally invest in your characters? Have you created a character and later felt, oh no, they would not do that, think that, say that and gone back and reshaped the character accordingly?

Yes. My characters changed in every single draft I wrote.

8.     What initially inspired you to write “String Bridge’? Or was it a series of inspirations that came together?

Definitely a series. It all began with an idea that I wanted to write a book that was realistic rather than glamorous. There is actually nothing left in the novel now that was in the first draft. It’s come a very long way and floated down many different paths during the last five years.

9.     I’m interested in the interplay of the skills you have, you are very multi-skilled! You have written and performed your own soundtrack to “String Bridge” which will be released at the same time as the book. How do you juggle the demands of all your creative outlets—music, poetry, performance, writing? Do you have any tips or tricks you would like to share with readers?

Oh my gosh. I FAIL at juggling. Believe me, I’m always falling over my balls and then realize that they belong to someone else. I go through phases and never focus on more than one thing at one time. It just doesn’t work. And I think it doesn’t work because I must use different parts of my brain for each. Maybe each skill does strengthen the other, but it will only intrude if attempted in the same ‘time period’. So, sorry to disappoint, but I’m afraid I don’t have any tips. I just ‘do’ and then see what happens. And then fix if need be.

UK Amazon link:

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Dear Kurilpa Poets, Friends, and Word Artists
Haiku workshop alert!! Brisbane poet, Ross Clark, a leading exponent of the haiku form, will present a free writing workshop on Sunday October 30.
He will also bring his expertise as a QUT lecturer into play when he assists budding haikuists (haikuistas?) to craft their own versions of this ancient form of verse.

Arrival time at the venue - the Croquet Club of South Brisbane at 91 Cordelia Street, West End - is 1:45 pm for a 2pm start.

There will also be two open mic sessions which will include the opportunity to present haikus written in the workshop session.

Ross (karasu) began writing haiku in 1988, and by 1990 had helped to found Australia's only dedicated haiku (& cognate forms) journal -- the quarterly paper wasp, and had undertaken a sponsored tour of Japan.

He is the author of two chapbooks of haiku, has appeared in a number of national and international anthologies (occasionally in translation), and has three haiku set into the BCC's Kedron Brook walking & cycle path.

If you haven't been for a while, why not come along… also let your network of poets and writers, friends and family know about the Kurilpa Poets.
So you know people who don’t even write poetry but might be interested? How about inviting them to enter the poets’ world? Tell them it’s a chance to broaden their horizons, to see through the eyes of others. Interesting discussions and sharing of ideas in a positive environment are always a part of such gatherings. Tell them maybe they just might get the poetry bug and start writing their own work.
Open Mic - Starts at 2pm - All welcome
Arrive 1.45pm for a seat, coffee and tea, and network with your fellow writers and performers
2 x 15 min networking breaks for coffee, tea and cake
Workshop with Ross Clark
further Open Mic til 4.30pm.
For those with their own creative projects, don’t forget Kurilpa Poets now has its own Video Camera, digital camera, data projector, screen, laptop and printer and binder available for members to use.
Celebrating Children's Week

Sunday 30th October, 2011 - Something for the young ones, family, and friends - a great way to start your Sundary morning.
10:30 - 12:30

Bring your children and your grandchildren to the Mt Coot-tha Botanic Gardens for a wonderful morning of storytelling.
I'm sure there will be lots of wonderful entertainments other than me. But I sure would love to see you there. Please feel free to spread email this far and wide. I love a big, big audience. Contact Marilyn Roberts - []
Call Amanda on 0423 772 407 or email us at if you wish to use these items. You must be a paid member of the club to access the items. Please Note: All items must be returned in a timely manner, and in the condition in which they were picked up for use.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Share a link on Twitter

Pricing Ourselves out of Existence - downwards
Why is it that kicking a bloated bit of leather around a bit of grass and bloodying up a lot of other kickers in the process is worth millions when spending hours and hours to create something beautiful, something that adds something positive to the world is valued at what... $5.00 an hour.......? No wonder civilisation is heading down the gurgler!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Authors Compare: JR McRae - Author Interview: Short Story Writer

Authors Compare: JR McRae - Author Interview: Short Story Writer: What kinds of fiction did you read as a child and teenager, and did you have some favourites? Reading has always been a passion and my tas...

Monday, October 3, 2011

Authors Compare: JR McRae - Author Interview: Poet

Authors Compare: JR McRae - Author Interview: Poet: What kinds of poetry, including songs, did you experience as a child and teenager, and did you have some favourites? As a child, the rhyth...

About Authors Compare

There is a broad range of authors onboard, from award-winning New York Times bestselling authors from countries like the US, the UK, Canada, and Australia to interesting authors from small publishers around the world.

Sets of questions will be answered by 100 authors around the world so people can compare responses, do statistical analyses with easy-to-calculate percentages, develop ideas about the craft of writing, learn more about their favourite authors, discover the work of new authors in an interesting way, or get facts and figures for journalism and academic papers with easily verifiable source data if people want to look deeper into another person's analysis or statistics. [Steve Rossiter on Authors Compare]

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    Poetry for Children: Poetry 2010 Sneak Peek List

Poetry for Children: Poetry 2010 Sneak Peek List
for all those who love children's poetry and believe in the ability of poetry to get kids hooked into reading and literary creativity!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Stories For Sendai - out now - COMPETITION

This wonderful fundraising anthology is now out on Amazon. Edited by J.C.Martin and Michelle Davidson Argyle, it includes stories inspired by Japan along with stories by numbers of tsunami survivors.

To find out more about the authors, go to the site and read the author interviews:
Sushma Joshi, Nepal,
Lorraine Leo, USA,

Heather Parker, UK,
J.R.McRae, Australia,
Stephen Conley, USA,
Jake Henegan, South Africa,
Gale Massey, USA,
Bat-Ami Gordin, USA,
Roland D. Yeomans, USA,
Philip Allen Loring, Alaska,
Lucy Cripps, Austria,
Damyanti Ghosh, India,
Julie Christine, New Zealand
Kirsty Logan, Scotland,
C. N. Nevets, USA,
Aron White, USA,

Cherie Reich, USA,
Davin Malasarn, USA,
Michelle Davidson Argyle, Editor, USA,
J.C. Martin, Editor, Malaysia,

To celebrate, J.C. and Michelle are holding a competition
with prizes including manuscript critiques, Amazon vouchers and choice of bestseller from Book Depository and more. Contest closes on 15th July so hurry!

Competition details
  1. Purchase a copy (or more!) of Stories for Sendai when it releases.
  2. Email your receipt to storiesforsendai (at) ymail (dot) com.
  3. One contest entry per purchase--so buy extra copies for your friends/family! :)
  4. Contest closes on July 15th at 10.00pm GMT. Winners will be drawn randomly.
  5. To find who the winners are, click here on July 16th.

Monday, June 27, 2011

100 Stories for Queensland - it is out!

My review for "100 Stories for Queensland" is pasted below -

A Veritable Choc Box - Whatever the flavour you favour it's here!

If life is a box of chocolates, then this is the ultimate assortment! This collection is a remarkable mix of stories across numerous genres with something to suit, no matter what your tastes, age, or background. The stories have been drawn from all over the globe and all round Australia. A smorgasbord and it is all for a very good cause, helping Queensland's flood victims rebuild their shattered lives.

Whether you are an animal lover [try "Kittens!" by Sam Adamson] or you want a belly-laugh of a read [try "Why Can't I take Life Easier?" by Keith Havers], something multicultural ["Cake" by Lunar Hine or "Burka" by Sylvia Petter], a story of unrequited love with a twist ["Her Smile", Emma Newman], SciFi adventure ["Transmutator" by Devin Watson or "Drake M. Causeway" by Tomara Armstrong], a tale for the nature lover ["The Speaking Tree" by Alan Baxter or "The Miracle Tree" by E.N. De Choudens], the psycho drama [“Daisy” by Theresa Milstein] or something a bit trippily surreal and poignant at the same time ["Surviving the Kitchen Tiles" by Jessica Bell], it is all there. All collected together for you to dip into at your pleasure, whatever you mood, there will be a read for you!

And there is, as the adman says, MORE! At the end of the volume is a collection of 17 bonus stories, including the novel in miniature "Summer at the Sugar Palace" by Tanya Bell, the boy's own adventure of "The Quest" by Trevor Belshaw, "Clutch" a cruise ship romance with a difference by Jodi Cleghorn, my own tragi-comic "Her Ladyship Awaits..." under my other persona, J.R.McRae, and the uplifting and delightful "Smile" by Stacey Larner.

Short story collections have gained a new impetus with the advent of e-books, i-pads and Apps. A short story is the ideal way to indulge your reading passion on the move, waiting for a bus, train, plane or lift. They are the ideal online read during coffee-break or welcome diversion whilst whiling away time because your partner, lover, friend or colleague is late.

If you know someone going on a cruise or a long journey or a reader with eclectic tastes, this is the perfect present! It is like a box or Haigh's assorted chocs, you just can't wait to dip in! Do yourself a flavour! BUY IT!

Reviews on Amazon, The Book Depository, Boomerang Books