Rio Moods


Rio MoodsCopacabana, like a hot teenager on Spring Break… Around rock cliffs at Ipanema, the youthful rhythm of sun, sand and string bikinis still moves to a samba beat.  Revelling six-packs in tight, bright trunks above muscled brown calves casually kick balls, throw Frisbees into the surf, while heavenly bodies with fragrant hair and warm, white smiles drape themselves across the sand, each curved buttock accurately exposed to the sun in perpetual worship.  Rio parades through the calendar of carnival, shouting, swaying, jumping and diving to the inescapable chorus of relentless celebration.  Her undulating beats paved into waves of black and white mosaic marble rippled out in crazy patterns across the pulsing promenade, hovering like musical notes above the blue Atlantic.


Rio, like an aging harlot struggling to rise before noon, squinting behind dark glasses into the glare of relentless sun, lighting another cigarette, watching parading samba-schools streaming by below.  Rio, like the hollow ribcage of the ghetto child whose nose is never wiped, picking through rum-drenched refuse after nightly street revelry.  Rio, whose oozing gutters smell like raw petrol spilt from rusting tail pipes mixed with the blood of drug wars in the favelas, rising into shimmering heatwaves of ghosts.  Rio, like a penniless girl shuffling back to a shanty town in wet feathers after the last carnival parade, weeping into grey dawn rain.

©2013 S. K. Riley


The Moment of Truth

Yes“‘Ohhhhhhh,’ moaned Mrs Fruit. ‘Are any of Mick Looney’s ancestors there?’

Her words hung in the air, she took a deep asthmatic breath.  Suddenly she stiffened.

‘I have somebodyyyyyyyyyyy,’ she intoned.

Looney craned forward, the moment of truth. ‘What does he say?’ he said.

The answer came clear and strong.

‘The fish knives are with Aunty Peggy.’”

Spike Milligan

from The Looney: An Irish Fantasy1987.

Aphrodite’s Cave


All was hushed except for the wash of milky foam along the shoreline.  She scanned the ocean before her for the next set of waves, her back to the beach, legs dangling in warm water.  Aphrodite was sucking her out to sea, or so it seemed, by the strong tidal pull dragging her towards the horizon.

A newly formed wave rose into a breast of moving water, standing up with a roar.  She turned and paddled fast towards the beach, arms windmilling through thick brine, legs kicking madly mid-air. The long wave shaped itself into a coil ready to spring from her left, just as she stopped paddling and jumped into a crouched stand, left foot forward, knees bent, toes gripping the wax, arms flying like a bird.

Now racing parallel to the beach, tasting the salt spray, at one with the board, her fingers reached for the hard wave wall towering up beside her right ear, to feel the tingle of speed.  Back hunched, head forward, balanced over her feet, she carved down the face of the wave, driving the line, enjoying the ride, a curtain of white water slowly swallowing her up from behind.

For one, two, three, four, five seconds, she disappeared under an avalanche inside the crystal cave, stalling in the pipe, staying within it, milking it for speed.  Then, a gust of wind hit her spine and spat her out of the tube.  With the tip of her board she pierced the curved green wall and let it fling her skyward, up over the back, as the wave roared on to collide with the coast.

© S.K. Riley, 2013

Image: Aphrodite’s Cave – Thomas McKnight

Why are dreams taboo in Fiction?

The light in my dream reminded me of Cornwall…


When I came back from Lyonnesse
With magic in my eyes,
All marked with mute surmise
My radiance rare and fathomless,
When I came back from Lyonnesse
With magic in my eyes!

–       Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

from ‘When I Set Out for Lyonnesse’

(Lyonesse is a land from Arthurian Legend)


Literary Editors say: ‘have a dream, lose a reader’.

Maybe. maybe not.

I don’t quote poetry in my fiction, unless it drops from the mouth of a character.

I do sometimes describe a character’s dream, though it’s considered a cardinal sin.

The poem fragment above will not appear anywhere in my novel.

But the dream imagery which inspired my search for this verse

will certainly end up on the page.

The irony is that my story is set in the Australian outback.

But if, having seen it, you can’t write about the Cornish light, you can’t write about light anywhere.

It’s all about memory.

Like remembering a dream.

Like a character remembering a dream.

In a story.

The Mystery of Story – Watching the Tide

green-ocean-tideSo you’ve reached a point in your story where you’ve finished writing a scene but the characters refuse to move away. There’s more of the story to come, so they remain frozen in place like a faded tableau.

As the author, there’s nothing you can do but wait for them to come alive again. And when they do, you can feel the action arriving from a long way off.

I’m grateful to Tim Winton for his breathtakingly accurate description of this process…

“Writing a book is a bit like surfing,” he said. “Most of the time you’re waiting. And it’s quite pleasant, sitting in the water waiting. But you are expecting that the result of a storm over the horizon, in another time zone, usually, days old, will radiate out in the form of waves. And eventually, when they show up, you turn around and ride that energy to the shore. It’s a lovely thing, feeling that momentum. If you’re lucky, it’s also about grace. As a writer, you roll up to the desk every day, and then you sit there, waiting, in the hope that something will come over the horizon. And then you turn around and ride it, in the form of a story.”

When my characters resumed their scene at three this morning, I remembered everything I could and wrote it all down in the first light of dawn.  But just as a wave recedes, taking the flood of rich green waters with it, not everything washed up onto the beach, onto the page.  Bits of the story floated back out to sea like seaweed and salmon, bluebottles and baitfish, lifejackets and old flairs, on the ebbing tide.

I have faith that these ‘lost’ parts of the story will come again on the next wave, the next high tide, the next full moon… sometime.  And like all writers before me, I simply trust, knowing that the story is alive.

It will return these treasured pieces to me if I sit waiting on the shore believing in mystery.

– S.K. Riley

Characters & Letter Writing

LettersSome of my characters have never used the internet.  They write in longhand, telling their stories in long-winded, ink-smudged letters.

Such letters add immeasurably to any author’s ability to flesh out characters.

This has inspired me to rekindle my own lapsed correspondence with elderly relatives. They too tell wonderful stories on special stationary in beautiful, if shaky, copperplate handwriting.

I’m grateful to the fictional personalities I’ve come to know and love this year, for reacquainting me, not only with my family elders and the new stories they’ve shared with me, but for restoring the gentile art of letter writing to my twenty first century lifestyle.

These hand written letters now live in a special box tied with satin ribbons, to be handed on to a generation who have never known such pleasures.

May 2013 be a year of gentle rediscovery for us all.

A Writer’s Morning Ritual

Firstly, I forgive myself for not writing during the fullness of Christmas festivities.

Guilt is wasted energy.

Let’s begin again…


Early Morning Chores

  • Make strong black tea with honey.
  • Feed the cat, family, guests.
  • Water the summer vegetable garden, wave to neighbours, and harvest lunch.
  • Register the day’s energies: Full Moon /Heat Wave – a great day for fiery writing!
  • Make notes of ideas that have already arisen for the novel.
  • Set up books to be read or referenced for the day ahead.
  • Respond warmly to Email from an Editor writing from the frozen north.

At the Writing Desk

Books and other items within reach, which I may put my hands on throughout the day:

  • Cloudstreet, Tim Winton
  • Rhythms of the Kimberley, Russell Guéhom, Tim Winton
  • New Legend, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre
  • The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien (for the maps)
  • Lots of other maps, old and new
  • Old calendars
  • Mountains of research notes
  • New heart-shaped green pencil sharpener (from one of the Christmas crackers pictured here)
  • Pencils ready to be sharpened
  • Notebooks, both empty and full
  • A hobbled-together computer station
  • Cat asleep under foot on a sheep skin rug


Whether to keep Researching, Outlining or …

Forge ahead on that chapter that can’t wait to be written? (Today I will do all three.)


Need to see a Middle Eastern Recipe book. (This will never make it into the book, but I need to know the right spices.)


I already have a complete outline of the plot, but there’s much more work to do on characters and scenes.  I’ll forge ahead on this as the day allows.


A particular character from Chapter One, whose actions have been wordless until now, wants me to focus on the story from her Point of View.  Although I’ve already made a decision about POV, once this Chapter is written, I’ll know much more about whose POV is strongest for the telling of this story. It doesn’t hurt to remain open and flexible at this early stage of the draft. And holding this openness makes it easier for this character to forget her shyness, step forward and speak.

And so we begin…

Characters – Digressions, Petrol, Sharks and Sparks

A novel worth reading cannot be written suddenly.

It requires focussed effort, and putting in long hours.

And so the writer will often digress into daydreams…

How lucky I was as a child to spend tropical summers on a deserted 10-mile beach, infested at one end with gargantuan saltwater crocodiles, patrolled by 3-metre sharks in the middle, and at the northern end, a writhing nest of the most poisonous snakes on the planet. To be allowed to thrive in Wild Nature’s heart-stopping beauty, punctuated by the palpable reality that ‘safety’ is a relative thing, a fact demonstrated in daily reminders that the thin veneer of what is called a ‘comfortable suburban life’ is brittle, that life must be lived fully in each moment… all of this became the fortunate gift of petrol poured onto the fire of my young writer’s imagination.

But even such frothy digressions are not wasted time for any writer (please take note my dear publisher).
Use them as threads to gently tug on, to pull yourself back into the heart of your story.

Your story lives and breathes in the same place that produces such daydreams.
Dance with your digressions as they lead you back to the spark.


So now that you’re all fired up, let’s get back to –

Character Sketching

Ask yourself:

• What does your main character truly believe?
• What are his/her weaknesses?
• What is your main character confused or unclear about?
• What does he/she have the wrong idea about, especially in the beginning?
• What secret(s) does your main character know/not know?
• What does he/she need to know?
• How are you going to show this to the reader?

• What does you main character really need?
• Who or what does she/he really care about?
• Is this something you as the author also care about? (If so, you are building on your theme.)

• What does your main character desire above all else?
• What does he/she want to do (even if he/she can’t or isn’t willing to do it)?
• Who is he/she hurting, and who is hurting her/him, and why?
• What motivates him/her? (This is what pours petrol on their desires.)
• What is the goal he/she is striving for? (As the result of their desire.)

• Now break this down into private/inner and public/outer goals. (Will these align in your story?)
• How and when will your main character achieve such goals?
• Do they have a deadline to achieve what they most desire? (They should.)
• What actions will you portray them taking to make all of this clear to your reader?

• Who or what is preventing them from achieving these desires/goals? (Conflict)
• How are you going to show your main character’s internal conflict?
• What other frustrations, obstacles or setbacks will your main character encounter?
• What does he/she learn in the end?
• How does your main character change in their journey towards either success or failure to achieve what they desire? (And how will you show this?)

Now ask yourself these same questions for all of your other characters.


They say 10,000 hours of practice makes perfect.
Remember to stir in a little daydreaming for balance.