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Choose your struggle

Photo by Xan Griffin on Unsplash

Choose your struggle

A week ago I decided I was going to walk away from my stable and secure public service job and start my own business.

Told my manager, decided on a date (20th June). All very exciting, even a little dramatic.

That night there was so much anxiety in the front of my neck I could barely speak.

It’s a good job, after all. I work four days per week. The days I’m not at work I spend writing novels. It’s been a good arrangement for several years. In fact, some years were brilliant, the work that came my way was varied and challenging.

But I couldn’t shake the niggling desire to start a business. It just never left me.

Nice as it is to have ideas, the reality of setting up a business hit me like a freight train. Two kids need me to sort my shit out, FAST!!

My head was spinning. I went through the ‘What the fuck have I done??!!’ self talk. I don’t know what I’m doing! No regular pay packet! No more paid leave! Where do I even start?

Why make things hard for myself?

When I feel really alone, when I doubt myself, when I think my problems are insurmountable, I read. I read about other people who’ve faced pretty fucked up situations. I read about the problems people have faced. I read about how most people have hopes and dreams that have been cruelly thwarted by circumstances. It made me feel less alone. In fact, it became abundantly clear that my problem was in no way unique. It was just a problem. Just a bit of struggle. And we’ve all got them. In spades.

It got me thinking that to want a pain-free, struggle-free life is just absurd. Life is only possible with struggle. You can never, ever fully comprehend all the consequences of the choices you make or the circumstances that come your way. And they’ll be a mixed bag of truly extraordinarily wonderful consequences, and downright ugly painful ones.

When I came to understand this, the anxiety that was stuck in my throat left. I thought about what I truly value, what I wanted to be defined by, what I’m good at, what’s meaningful to me, and what’s going to drive me forward.

Even if there’s uncertainty, and quite possibly failure, I’m going to start this business.

We are, and always will be, defined by what we’re willing to struggle for.

So now, I sit at my desk and I plan, I strategize, I develop templates, I develop my systems, I do online courses. My writing for the second book has also improved. It’s punchy, and smart, and emotive. And I’ve realised there’s a strange kind of joy in this struggle stuff. I’m more motivated and enthusiastic now than at any other point in my life.

It took a long time to get here. I’ve had to really be dragged out of my comfort zone and I left scratch marks leaving, that’s for sure. I was always waiting to be ready.

But we’re never ready. I’m still not ready. Life’s too short. And there’s too much shit to do.

I bet you have a bloody interesting life with struggles of your own.  We’re all in this together. Please drop me a line at hello@jmlawler.com I’d love to hear from you. Really, I would love that.

~ Jann x

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No ideas without music

No ideas without music

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that sometimes I feel a little lost in these times we live in.

You are what you listen to
Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

I feel there is a fundamental awe in the world that gets chipped away with technological advancements. Human beings reduced to consumers.

Something that helps me enormously in these times is music. Music makes the ordinary, extraordinary.

We’ve all had that sense of being moved deeply while listening to music. We watch scenes in movies and the soundtrack is what lifts us up, elevates the scene to a higher realm and in doing so, elevates us.

I can only speak for myself as a writer, and quite simply there wouldn’t be books without music. Music is the soul of the book.

Music helps me dig deep, find words in a part of me I barely even know about.

Sometimes I listen to a song that I have found resonates with what I’m trying to write and I listen to it again and again and literally get transported into the character and the world.

Friedrich Nietzsche put it so beautifully when he said:

‘The musical art often speaks in sounds more penetrating than the words of poetry, and takes hold of the most hidden crevices of the heart… Song elevates our being and leads us to the good and the true.’

The River and the Ravages was written whilst listening to a number of songs which I’d like to share with you. They take me into the world of Traegos and I hope they take you there as well. You can find the entire playlist for The River and the Ravages on my youtube channel. I’d love to know if you love any of these songs. I’d love to hear what you think and what you’re listening to.

By chapter name – artist / song:

The Quiet Goodbye – Max Richter / On the Nature of Daylight

The Hive – Billie Eilish feat. Khalid / Lovely

Perfect Creations – Lana Del Ray / Born to Die

The Hunt – Birdy / Wings

Walking Through an Open Door  – Lamb / Gorecki

Anchor – Laura Marling / Rambling Man

Somewhere In-Between – Aurora / Running With the Wolves

Beyond the Boundaries – Olafur Arnalds / Only the Winds

The Departed – Sia / Breathe Me

~ Jann x

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Love and Hate are two sides of the same coin

Love and Hate are two sides of the same coin

I cannot tell you how many fights my sisters and I got into while we were growing up. When it was on, it was on. My poor mum had to deal with constant dramas as three girls turned seemingly innocuous events into scenes of emotional upheaval worthy of an Oscar. Thankfully there was no rushing to the hospital due to hair pulling getting out of hand. But I think there were plenty of close calls.

Better or for worse though, I wouldn’t change it for anything. There’s a reason why I dedicated my book The River and the Ravages ‘For my sisters. And for sisters everywhere.’

There’s simply no better connection than that which exists between sisters.

No one ever gets to you like your sister does. They’re hardwired to know your triggers, your vulnerabilities. The path to the door of your insecurities and all the stuff you try to keep covered up from the rest of the world is really a well-worn highway for sisters. They know how to get there with their eyes closed.

But therein also lies the wonder of it all.

They get you. They get you like no other. Having someone ‘get you’ when you don’t even have to try is one of life’s greatest gifts. Our greatest love is for people who let us be weird, who let us live in the space of our own uniqueness. Sisters are (usually) those kinds of people.

Sisters teach you about friends, men, work, heartbreak, joy. As other people come and go, sisters are always there. Sisters may even drift apart geographically, but they’re still there. Blood is stronger than anything. Cliche but so true.

It was always front and centre for me when I wrote a book. The genre wasn’t my core concern. What was essential to me was to explore two sisters, strong women but vastly different in nature, doing dreadful things to hurt the other with consequences and repercussions, but finding a way to appreciate and support each other.

But really, the greatest thing is simply having having access to all those extra clothes at no extra cost.

~  Jann x

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Under the Rose

Almost at the end of 2018 which just makes my jaw drop. I’m working on book two as fast as I can, but being very mindful that I want it to be an absolutely cracking great read with as much honesty and originality as I can muster. I’m not going to put a book out unless it’s the best I can make it.

Something I’m currently doing research into for book two are medieval secret societies. I first became interested in intelligence when I joined the Army Reserves and was posted to an Intelligence Corp for a couple of years. I loved the experience so much I went on to become an Intelligence Analyst at the Crime Commission in New South Wales. At the time it was a true sense of belonging for me. The daily opportunity to dive in deep and look for clues amongst seemingly unrelated bits of information was like a dream job.

I eventually went on to apply for work as an Intelligence Analyst with a federal agency in Australia. I went through a gruelling six month interview and psychological testing process. Just about every bit of my life was revealed. No stone left unturned. It wasn’t a comfortable experience I can tell you. I was offered the job and cleared for the highest security classification in Australia—Top Secret—and I turned it down. It was a gut-wrenching decision. Who knows the path my life may have taken had I accepted the job. But I didn’t want to live a secretive life. I didn’t want to ever find myself in situations with friends where I couldn’t be open and honest about what I do.

So I found another outlet for my analytical skills. And one was writing a book.

I understand the world of intelligence quite intimately which is proving to be helpful for book two. I’ve also been finding it a lot of fun to re-engage with my ‘past-life’ as an Intelligence Analyst. It certainly was one of the most interesting jobs I’ve held. I’d love to hear what the most interesting job you’ve held has been. I reckon there’d be some amazing stories out there. Please don’t be shy. Flick an email to me at hello@jmlawler.com or find me on any of the social media links below.

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And the next book is….

The second book in The River and the Ravages series is well underway, and has progressed from being a nameless, amorphous thing to a book with 1) a title, 2) a description, and best of all, 3) a pre-order arrangement. Yes, pre-order is here. But let’s get to that in a moment. The title of book two is…drum roll, please….

The Tempest and the Turning.

I’m incredibly excited by this one. It’s been going great. But hey, I’m bias. You be the judge! The book blurb goes like this…

You can’t run from who you are…

Aaliya, a woman with blood on her hands and a past to bury, sets off on a journey across the heart of The Reach determined to start a new life.

By her side is her sister, Maddalena, a self-proclaimed sibling rescuer and unabashed political schemer, who’s determined to use her smarts to lead an easy life.

When they come across burnt ruins in a remote corner of the realm, it becomes clear the past is never buried, the present is far from safe, and their brittle plans have just been shattered.

As war looms and threatens to turn The Reach to ash, both must make choices about the power they hold and what’s worth fighting for.

In a world where storms rage and lives turn…where blades are sharp, words are sharper, and alliances the deadliest weapon of all…they are about to discover you can’t run from who you are.

Interested? Intrigued? The book will be available in April 2019…which probably seems like a long time away, but soon it will be Christmas, and then it will be Easter…you get the picture. Order your pre-order at https://www.books2read.com/u/mleXnB. For those of you who prefer a print copy, I’ll include the pre-order details for print soon.

Luck favours the prepared mind.

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The Most Important Thing I’ve Learned as a Writer

In July 2017 I achieved something I never thought I would do. I published a book. I’m 46. For me, it wasn’t a lifelong goal. I haven’t harboured aspirations to be an author since I was 12 years old. It literally happened because I believed I had some good ideas for a story, could write pretty well, and probably most importantly, live my life with a pretty solid armour of perseverance.

Writing a book, like all journeys, involves the stuff you know is going to happen, and the stuff you either know about but are not prepared for, or don’t know about at all. You know it’s going to involve time on your own, putting words to paper, typing it up, revising, editing, making it sound amazing.

What was hard to contemplate from the outset was the magnitude of solitude involved. And how solitude changes you.

When I started writing in 2015, solitude was not something that featured significantly in my life. I live in an urban environment and have access to technology and social media. Like everyone else, I can choose to be connected 24/7, every minute, every second, of every day if I want. This connectedness, so we are lead to believe, is the ultimate ‘cure’ for the loneliness often associated with solitude.

Anyone who has ever tried to spend significant periods alone knows how hard it is. It was something I had to work at. I was fidgety, restless, craved distraction. I was stuck with my own mind and it was an incredibly uncomfortable experience. Thoughts came into my head and possessed me. Thoughts like who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are-writing-a-book and not-so-gentle reminders that I was nowhere near as good as all the authors I love and admire. I came to the rather sobering reality that being a writer means sitting with your own mind for long periods of time. It was not something I was warned about, but you REALLY get to know yourself when writing a book.

The ability to be alone is an essential condition to write a book. That’s pretty obvious, no surprises there. The same could be said of any undertaking that requires concentration and focus from crocheting a blanket, to tinkering on an old car, or painting a picture, or reading a book. What I’ve come to learn is that the ability to be alone is also an essential condition to love. That’s right, people, love. It’s only through time on your own you truly discover who you are, and it’s only once you truly know who you are that you can give love unconditionally to another. When you build solitude and stillness into your life, you notice things that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. All that matters is the activity you’re immersed in and giving your whole being to it. It really doesn’t matter what it is, all that matters is giving it your full attention. And such is the requirement of love.

Paradoxically, all this busyness, all this connectedness which is meant to make us feel less alone is often having the reverse effect. We’re feeling more alone than ever because we’re often not learning who we are and how best to tend to our needs. We’re running away from alone time, repudiating it. We’re hoping other people will just ‘get’ us when we often don’t even know ourselves.

All our gadgets and technology purporting connectedness are here to stay and they certainly have their place. It’s now about how we find a balance between alone time and worldly stimulation, how we quell our fears of aloneness and embrace what’s on offer from a bit of solitude: time to get to know yourself. It’s a practice. It’s not the solution to everything, but it’s likely to yield some beautiful surprises.

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Handmade Renaissance

Most people have an interest in being creative in some way. Our jobs are often just not big enough for us. Not many define themselves by their Monday to Friday jobs, but ask them what their interests are and you start getting to the essence of the person.

In the very early days of writing The River and the Ravages, I knew I wanted the protagonist, Aaliya, to be a saddle maker. This wasn’t just a random selection of a trade relevant during medieval times. I wanted saddle making for its association with practicality and for its incredible range for beauty. Saddles have stories. The people that had owned the saddle, the distances it had covered and the horses it had been on, the battles the saddle had been in, the unique parts of the world the saddle had been taken to. All of this mattered. And it shaped the character, Aaliya: who she was, what she stood for, what she wanted to achieve.

There’s a significant renaissance in the handmade movement at the moment. Etsy.com (Ebay for handmade) is mega-business as people seek out unique products. I’m drawn to handmade the same reasons so many other people are: the ideas, the tactility, and the hands that work upon the matter. You don’t just get a material item with handmade, you get meaning and stories. There’s longevity. Handmade items are rarely thrown out and in our disposable society, that’s BIG. Handmade items are often handed down through generations. They stand the test of time in a world where there is so much change and nothing seems to last. They help to define who we are and our place in the world.

I’m also heartened by the fact that around the world schools of old trades and craft are opening up and are thriving. Schools for blacksmithing, saddle making, woodworking, decorative ironwork and on it goes. Many people have become interested in learning old trades and craft as a way of counterbalancing our busyness and highly distracted modern lives.

More importantly, I think everywhere people are learning there’s a sense of joy to be had from making. There’s also a strong connection with the present moment when you’re making. You’re not thinking about your imperfect body, or the size of your mortgage, or your messy divorce. Loneliness simply drifts away when making and creating. All that matters is the connection of hand and mind and achieving something real and beautiful. Even if it’s just for yourself. No one else need ever see it.

Victor Frankl once wrote: ‘It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.’ Joy is the goal, not happiness. And I’m a firm believer that making is a strong element of joy in life.

Expect that anything worthwhile takes a long time. You won’t go from novice to highly skilled overnight in whatever craft you pursue. But that’s not an excuse not to start. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. But you already know that. And it’s more than likely you’ll discover a whole lot about yourself along the way.

And you know what’s the easiest part? Nothing. It’s hard work. But the rewards are plenty.

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Forthcoming attractions (and me!)

Ah, that long, lovely lull at the start of the year. Everyone (certainly me, anyway) dragging themselves out of holiday mode. I’ve made it to mid-February and looking down the barrel of the remaining months in 2018…it looks set to be a biggie.

Book 2 in The River and the Ravages trilogy is now in full swing. I’ve done my all important plans, I’ve pondered, I’ve ruminated…and now I’m writing like a demon. Every which way you look at it, there’s going to be edginess and grandiose struggles, characters are going to find themselves up to their eyeballs in problems, lessons are going to be learned the hard way, and of course there will be love and sex and beauty. Oh, not to mention hilarious banter. Something you’ve come to expect from me are well-developed characters and a conflict driving the main character to seek solutions…and you won’t be disappointed. This is all verging dangerously close to hype but sometimes you’ve got to put faith in your writers. And yes, I have a book title, and no, I’m not telling you what it is. Not yet anyway. Like all good maverick creatives, I must retain some shred of mystery, you know…

Some people have been asking about the audiobook version of The River and the Ravages. The process has been BIG…even I’ve been surprised. There’s so much involved…narration of course, but also sound engineering, rights and privileges, distribution and so on. But it’s so close now folks. Any day now it will be available and I’ll let you all know when and where and how so you can listen and enter your own river and ravage world while you walk the dog, smash those muscles at the gym, cook dinner, commute to work…

As I’m not quite at the stage (okay…not remotely at the stage) of chucking in my day job and being a writer full-time, I also will be endeavouring to transform the business of the South Australian public service agency where I work as a Project Development Officer. Yes, I have a whole other life outside writing which I fulfill like the good taxpayer that I am. But rest assured, writing is my love and I spend every waking moment outside my day job writing for your reading pleasure. Awww.

And for those who may be curious, the lovely artwork in the picture was done by my thirteen year-old-daughter. What a treasure she is. She helps to make my instagram account interesting!

Right, got to go

Books don’t write themselves. Yet, anyway.

JM

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New cover for The River and the Ravages

New year, new book cover. The cover is the most important tool an author has to sell a book. We’ve all heard the dangers of judging a book by its cover, but it’s amazing how many people do. And why not, anyway? A cover is a split second glimpse into what a story is about. It either captures the nuance of the story (and announces the genre and sets the tone), or it doesn’t. It’s that important.

When I first released The River and the Ravages, I thought I’d have a crack at the cover…for a range of reasons (money, schedule, creative impulse…). I had lots of fun working on it, and that was a good reason at the time too. Six months later, embroiled in the complexities of the publishing world, I knew I had to leave the cover in the hands of professionals. So with some spare funds and a new sense of enlightenment on all things book marketing, I approached Damonza requesting to have a new cover designed for The River and the Ravages.

And what a fascinating process it was! Some of the things we discussed (and why) were:

  • Genre has to be addressed in the cover. But the cover also ideally has to go beyond genre. The new cover for The River and the Ravages is a blend of something a little bit fantasy with something a little bit not. Hopefully enough to attract readers of fantasy with a female main character, but at the same time not repelling other potential readers.
  • The importance of colour and font. In other words…branding. Creating a mood, capturing nuance. You get the picture…
  • If the book is part of a trilogy (as is the case with The River and the Ravages), it is essential that the cover of Book 1 is part of a theme that can be adapted and modified, and carried over to books 2 & 3.
  • Somehow the cover needs to promise the reader the main character’s journey is one worth reading about. The style and content of the cover has to reflect the style and content of the book, and the author herself. No easy feat. One image. That’s all you get. The style and content has to be familiar enough so the reader thinks, ‘I’ve read stuff like this before and I quite like it’, but is just a bit more dazzled by the uniqueness of your cover so they think, ‘But this one looks so good I’m going to read it before the fifty other books on my to-read list’.

I’m sure you’re appreciating now what a tricky business this book cover business is.

When I first saw the cover as a draft I was simply blown away. It WAS The River and the Ravages. It captured it all and more, brought it to life. Aaliya (the main character) looks exactly as I envisaged her, the title font is stunning, and the light near the centre of the cover draws you in.

On a final note, from author to reader, I want to say I couldn’t be prouder of the new cover for The River and the Ravages. I think Damonza did a stellar job. I hope you love it as much as I do.

Best regards
J M Lawler
(Jann)

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The Happy Writer

Six months since the launch of The River and the Ravages and I’m starting to get some of those blessed things called reviews. Yes, we authors love ‘em, crave ‘em, scan the internet like crazed narcissists seeking them out and positively feel like bathing a kind and cheery reviewer in hand crushed rose petals when we come across one.

Possibly something most of you readers don’t know is that we writers are strange people. Yes, this might come as quite a shock but we’re a bunch of people whose crippling self doubt is often just slightly outweighed by our monumental fear of failure. We spend way too much time sitting on our own, fingers poised at the keyboard, our brow furrowing and twitching as images are formed in our mind, but never quite sure if what we’re writing is going to be actually liked by anyone. So when we come across someone who has enjoyed our book and has left us a good review (well…any review) we literally do cartwheels. Joy! Joy! Happiness! Joy!

But indeed it stands to reason, different people like different things. Of course, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. Thankfully, so far anyway, I’ve had pretty darn wonderful reviews for The River and the Ravages, such as this one on Amazon:

“A brilliant mix of intrigue, lust, love, danger and suspicion.”

And what about what this Goodreads reader had to say:

“Each page took me completely to Aaliya’s world, and for 48 hours I lived with her. Don’t you just love it when a book does that! Hot and steamy, tender and thoughtful. Can’t wait to read more.”

Yes I do love that! Let’s not forget Nina’s review on Goodreads:

“Fifty Shades of Grey pales in comparison.”

Oh my! A Fifty Shades comparison. Now we’re talking!!

But probably my favourite feedback was from a menopausal colleague of mine who just finished reading my book and told me “It got the waters going. Didn’t think that was possible…” Not what you thought the book would be like? Only one way to find out. Buy The River and the Ravages. I’m broke too. It’s dirt cheap on Amazon at the moment (only 75c for Kindle, and $13.99 for print). Give it a go. Then you can be the judge.

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  • Water in the bird bath frozen solid. It’s not in our minds...Adelaide ‘s having a very cold winter 🥶
  • What a woman. Amazing show to see. Guitars and saxophones. Alex Lahey..you’re a deadset legend.
  • Alex Lahey at The Gov. Here we come. Ready to burn a hole in the moshpit
  • Just walk people. Just walk. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, just walk. When you’re feeling so busy your brain is literally melting, just walk. When you’ve eaten too many choccies at Easter, just walk. The ultimate remedy. #walkingaway #alonetime
  • Happy Easter everyone. Just completed a 3 day walk (first multi-day walk for the chics) Mambray creek to Alligator Gorge and back. Freaking amazing, hardest of yakkas, but rewards a plenty. Girls came back pretty inspired. Phew! If I can I instill a love of wilderness, I’ve done my job.
  • Every now and then you’ve got to share the big scary stuff you’re going through. Some of you already know, but for those that don’t I’ll be leaving the comfy cushiony public service world for the less cushiony world of small business in the very near future (June 20 to be precise).
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Excited? Yes. Nervous. Hell yeah! I’ve been  a public servant for most of my working life so the leap feels pretty big. I’m going to (reignite) my website design and development business and because my world is words, words, and more words, copywriting will also be thrown in for good measure. . 
It’s going to be a big brave year. Probably going to be some tears and hide-under-a-rock moments. But it’s going to be one helluva journey. .
As I’m a big fan of poetry, I’ll end this with the words of Robert Frost who nicely sums up the way I’m feeling: Start with a big fat lump in your throat. Start with a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, a crazy lovesickness, and run with it. If you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve. Do what you love. And don’t stop until you get what you love. #flyingsolo #amazinglife
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Goodnight folks. 
XO Jann
  • Every year my birthday comes around and it’s a strange sense of dread and elation. . And every year I’m amazed by the quirky gifts I receive from friends who know me best. Am I weird enough to wear squirrel socks...yes indeed. Thanks for all the lovely birthday wishes. X
  • Reliving the joy that is photo booths in Japan. I’d go back just for the silly fun of doing this again
  • Hanging out with these bruisers at the #aflw grand final @ Adelaide oval. Amazing to be here. It’s gonna be a big score for the crows #genw

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