Atticus told me to write a story about something beautiful. But what is beautiful? A bouquet of flowers, a symmetrically-featured face, a snow-capped mountain, a satellite view of the earth orbitting the sun?

He clicked his pen as he thought of his own ‘beautiful’ story.

‘Can you stop?’ I said. ‘It’s distracting.’


He stuck the end of his pen in his mouth and cracked his teeth against its edges.

I gathered my notebook and went outside to sit on the deck.

There was nothing but fence and straw-coloured hills and sky. The cows and sheep must have been over the hills, grazing in the shade or drinking from the water hole. The gum trees rustled in the breeze, and goosebumps appeared on my arms. I stretched my legs into the sun, but kept the rest of me in shade so I could see my pages.

You know what’s beautiful, I wrote. The lines in the wood on the deck right here. You can follow them with your fingertips and go on journeys to everywhere. And you have to wonder what came before – what kind of tree was this wood made of, and which year of its life did this line signify? What happened that year – or the years and years before – to make the grain swirl in this way? Who sat under this tree, who climbed it, who lived in it, who scratched their initials into the bark? 

What’s beautiful is even thinking about these things. How does the sun feel if you’re a tree? Can you feel yourself growing?

Does your stump still exist out there somewhere, left to grow tall again while you are here, a plank of wood for me to sit on, stretching my legs out in the sun and writing about something beautiful?

Bare footsteps padded towards me, thumping and peeling away from the inside floorboards. The door opened then slid shut again to keep out the flies.

‘Time’s up,’ Atti said.

‘You didn’t say there was a time limit.’

‘Sometimes you can’t know these things.’


He snatched my notebook and held it high, ignoring my protests and jumping in pointless attempts to get it back. Giving up, I sat on the pile of firewood, crossed my arms, and waited.

‘Not bad,’ he said at last. ‘I’m impressed, little sis.’

‘You have to show me yours now.’

‘Didn’t write anything,’ he shrugged.

I got up and ran inside, but all his stuff was cleared from the table. My blood boiled like only he could make it.

‘I hate you!’ I called.

‘You don’t,’ he laughed.

‘I do! Why’d you make me write that stupid thing anyway? It’s not even a story.’

‘It doesn’t matter. Don’t you get it?’

Just then, mum and dad pulled back into the driveway. Dad got out of the car and opened the gate, and mum drove the car in, crunching gravel all the way. Atti left to help them bring the shopping in, and I cleared some space on the bench.

I gave one-word answers and nodded as they rattled on about the things they saw on the drive, the locals they spoke to, the daylight robbery prices of things at the shops.

And I forgot to say to Atti, No, I don’t get it. Why did you make me write about something beautiful? What did you write? I know you wrote something. I know it.

Now that he’s gone, I wish I’d remembered.

[a 20-minute story inspired by the following random words: beautiful, earth, orbitting, slow, Atticus, drinking, red, tree, running]

Catching the Light

Alannah stared through the rusty gate at the abandoned house on the other side. Its peachy walls were faded, peeling, and crumbly; vines crept up towards the roof like a disease. Most of the kids at school said this house was haunted. But Alannah had been inside this house in her dreams. She had seen warm, glowing light inside the rooms, and tiny specks of dust drifting down the halls, catching the light in ways that made them sparkle. Alannah knew something about this house that no one else did.

She knew that inside this house, there lived some kind of magic.

She fiddled with the padlock holding the gate closed with a heavy chain. To her surprise, with little effort, the padlock clicked open. She looked around – the street was empty – before she slipped the end of the chain out, pushed the gate open just enough, and clicked it shut behind her.

All the plants were overgrown, the larger ones overpowering the smaller ones, smothering them, taking over. Roots grew over foliage and reached into the far corners of everything.

She followed the pathway to the front door. She took a deep breath, and then she knocked.

Her knocks seemed to echo for days. When there was no answer, she turned the handle. The door clicked open, and she stepped inside.

The foyer was painted a brighter peach, unaffected by the weather. In fact, everything looked clean, new, grand. It did not look like the inside of an abandoned house at all.

‘Hello?’ Alannah called. ‘It’s me, Alannah.’

She looked down the hallway and saw the dust particles floating through the air, catching the light in ways that made them sparkle. Hypnotised by how pretty they were, she walked through them, feeling them brush her skin like feather-light raindrops.

A warm glow emanated from a room at the end of the hall. Slowly, quietly, Alannah moved towards it.

[a fifteen-minute writing exercise inspired by three random words: peachy, rusted, magic.]


I’ve had these characters floating around my head for more than a year

At first it was like looking at them through frosted glass, but as each day goes by the glass gets clearer, and soon it will thin and become nothing at all


I’ll be able to reach out and touch them;

sit beside them and feel our shared bench shift under their weight;

ask them questions and see the truth of their answers in their eyes, rather than only hearing the words themselves


Soon, I’ll know them – as well as anyone can ever know another

As well as anyone can ever know themselves

(they are, after all, a part of me)

And I won’t have to say, ‘Tell me your story.’

Because it will already be written.


Every night before she went to sleep, April told herself stories in which her mother returned to find her. She would send an email or a postcard, or April would pick up the phone to hear an unfamiliar yet familiar voice. Sometimes, she would open the door after the bell rang to see her standing there: older than she remembered, and smaller, but always wearing that mustard yellow coat. Her lips were red and her eyes were wrinkled, even when she wasn’t smiling. Her mother was much smaller than her (because everyone told April she got her height from her dad), as she fought back happy tears and opened her arms out for a hug.

Sometimes, the story ended with April falling into her mother’s embrace and smelling the perfume on her neck, the shampoo and hairspray in her hair. They would head inside for tea, elbows linked. April would pull the Florentines down from the high shelf and they would chat, catching up on years of stories, long after the tea had been drained from their cups and the afternoon sun had faded into night.

Other times, April would step back. More than once, she simply shut the door in her mother’s face and waited so long on the other side that by the time she opened it, her mother was gone. Sometimes, she yelled. The most satisfying endings were when she told her mother, right there on the doorstep, with her own feet inside and her mother’s clearly outside, every word that she had spoken bitterly into the dark through hot-watered eyes over the last ten years.

How could you, she spat. How dare you.

In those stories, April never wanted to see her mother again. She missed her dad like crazy, every minute since she lost him just a few months ago. But she didn’t need a mother – or anyone – who was willing to walk out on her with no goodbye. Who could just disappear from her life with no sign of returning.

How could you.

But as her own belly started to balloon, and the life inside her took shape in the ultrasound pictures – a head, arms, legs, a heartbeat – the more April toyed with the happier ending to the story.

Maybe she wanted the baby to have a grandma. Maybe she was so scared she just wanted someone, anyone, around. Maybe she wanted to understand her mother, so she could pinpoint the ways she could be different, better, and not just because she would be there.

Or maybe. Maybe. Maybe she just wanted to understand so she could let the baby go and not feel like a criminal.

[Character exploration for one of multiple current WIPs]