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Seeking inspiration from ‘The Thorn Birds’

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Fig.1. The Thorn Birds. From my iPad

Every few weeks my writing output collapses as I wonder where on earth I am going with it. A few weeks ago I thought 30,000 words along the lines of ‘Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging’ would be good enough and about the standard and tone of what I was producing as I wrote up the antics of a 15/16 year old with his eye on any pretty girl.

A second character appeared and grew. She took over the lives of two others and developed a life of her own.

I have both these two age six or so onwards.

Somewhere I got a whiff of ‘The Thorn Birds’ and so have had a couple of days reading what I vaguely remember as a TV series of Rachel Ward. It was on in 1983. I picked up bits of it. I had assumed it had been on far earlier than that, more like the mid 1970s.

Anyway, this story told over sixty years has its appeal as a model. There is more sense to it as the lives of the immediate family around the central characters are brought to life than my determined efforts to thread together a group of girls from a Form Photograph.



  1. I’m working on the basis that I will be working on a piece that passed through four generations and over 100 years. I’m starting in 1900. It will see one family’s descendants go from domestic service and farm labourers to multi-millionaires and a team of staff of their own. The first 60 years I wrote as ‘The Angel of the North;’ with boisterous Ettie making the first step away from domestic service during the First World War, her son turning a family business into a global enterprise and it all fragmenting and flowering in new ways with the third snd fourth generations scattered around the world.

  2. Jonathan, I’m suspecting that the “form photo” is getting you down. Is it? Just remember that that’s a part of writing too, even the things we love have their dark places. Are you boxing it? Or taking it on a time travel? Either way I think you’d have much to gain by finishing it, complete the process, get to know it, get confortable with your method, use it for practice before you embark on writing something with a big emotional connection to you because then you would suffer more if style and voice and point of view were blocking you from writing the story. It doesn’t have to be your publishable novel but it would be a closed chapter rather than an opened wound. Pretend you have a deadline, take out some of the pain and inject humour, have fun with it. Or turn it into a shortstory! Tell it in 5000 words. You can do what you want with it. A “the end” on it would probably be a great feeling. I hope you’re not doubting it because you think it is less valuable as story than the epic, long ones, I don’t think I have to explain or show you that that’s not how it works right? 🙂 Whatever you choose to do, I’m supportive and still a fan of yours 🙂 I just hope that by trying to help I didn’t confuse or discourage you more. In the mean time I signed up for a mini mini mini writing workshop (everything else is absurdly expensive) and they have little assignments, they’re in portuguese but I’ll post them anyway, translated the best I can (it’s so different to write in your native language, the more words you have available the more lost you can get choosing and arranging them…). I’ve read tons of things about the basics they are teaching but at least it makes me write and there’s that chance for feedback too. Hope I’ll still be reading from you, let me know what you decide. Truly wish you all the best!

    • You’ve seen how my brain looks for excuses! I do finish pieces. If it is to be Form Photo in 5000 words then it would be as ‘Angus, Things and Full-Frontal snogging. ‘ A celebration of hiw nuts it is to be 15/16 … today, as ever?

  3. Do you like it when characters choose to randomly appear and develop themselves in your stories, seemingly involuntarily? I hope that now you are writing up a storm (not being dragged down by a storm)

  4. I’m in the life-raft wondering what to do rethinking characters and giving a necessary few of them purpose. Rather than Thorn Birds, which is a bit of a soap opera like Poldark, I’m turning to Dickens. In a couple of pages in ‘Great Expectations’ he introduces Pip, adds Magwitch whose being runs through the entire story to the end, then Joe, Mrs Haversham and Estella all of whom have significance in the story and the protagonists life. I have some ideas on how to achieve this. So no characters appearing randomly and never involuntarily – I put them there so I can take them away.

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