On isolation

On isolation

I’ve been a full-time freelance writer now for 15 years. Before that I worked in many different workplaces – and I much prefer my current situation. I have greater flexibility, little or no travelling time (except to attend meetings) and don’t have to deal with office politics.

But something happened this week to remind me that there are some benefits to being surrounded by colleagues – and the main benefit is sharing good news or a piece of work one is proud of. 

My moment of enlightenment occurred as I was busy pondering what to write for this week’s blog entry. As I pondered away, I received an email containing a review for my latest book, Heroes of the Kokoda Track. It was a good review and I wanted to share it – but I was alone.

Now, I know in my first blog entry I said that this blog was not going to be about me – but every now and again it might. Because you guys are going to be the equivalent of my work colleagues – whether you like it or not.

So here’s the review:

The Heroes of the Kokoda Track by Nicolas Brasch (black dog books)

PB RRP $16.99

ISBN 978-1-74203-134-7

Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

The Heroes of the Kokoda Track covers one of most pivotal moments in Australia’s history and one that every Australian should know about. Nicolas Brasch has managed to jam in all the essential information of that four-month long campaign plus the historical background as to the reasons why the world was at war, in Europe as well as the Pacific.  Every aspect of the campaign is covered from why Papua was so important, a brief summary of the fighting, which Australian battalions were involved, the conditions soldiers endured, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, the Allied command and the Japanese perspective.

The beauty of this book is that it presents all this information in a way as to not overwhelm younger readers. The design and lay-out is outstanding. Text boxes, current and historical photographs, maps and artwork all contribute to the telling of this important event. A timeline covers the period from World War One to the Japanese surrender on 14 August 1945. To me, the most enlightening aspect was the personal recounts from men at the front. That is where the real story lies.

The vast range of primary sources included equips teachers with a valuable resource that can be utilised from middle primary school and up. Part of black dog books’ Our Stories series, this exceptional offering deserves to be in every public, school and home library in the country.


Nicolas Brasch

Constructive Criticism

A few suggestions have already come in about what topics to cover on this blog. So this week I am going to deal with one of them – how to go about receiving constructive feedback for your writing.

For a writer, receiving feedback is a nerve-wracking experience. You’ve been working in isolation on your masterpiece (or at least an early draft of it) and are now putting it out for others to voice their opinions. But who should you give it to? What is your objective? Here are some tips:

  • Never seek feedback from your mother or father or partner or best friend. They will either love it unconditionally or find tiny faults in everything – depending on how your relationship with them works.  Seek out people who you know will be critical. Critical does not necessarily mean bad, it means insightful. Which brings me to my next point …
  • The worst response for a writer seeking feedback is having someone say your work is ‘just fantastic’. It might be good for the ego but it doesn’t help you with your next draft. Whether you like it or not, it is far better to have someone say ‘this part stinks because …’ or ‘I didn’t believe this character’ or ‘this or that could be improved by …’. Which brings me to my next point …
  • Receiving criticism is difficult. But try not to become defensive when people tell you that something could be improved in a particular way. Acknowledge their view and give their suggestion a go. What have got to lose?
  • Sometimes you may think that the person providing feedback has not ‘got’ what you were trying to do. And maybe they haven’t. But don’t automatically assume that this is their failing. It may well be that you are not communicating your intentions well enough. If more than one person makes the same point, then it is almost certainly something that you need to change. Remember, writers become way too close to their own work.
  • So where to get good feedback? You could join a writers’ group; or do some research on the internet and find another writer who may be willing to swap with you (they read yours, you read theirs); or do a writing course and swap with other students; or use a professional manuscript assessment service.

And what if you are asked to provide a writer with feedback? What’s the best way to do so without hurting their feelings? Well, I think that just might be a future topic for this blog.

Nicolas Brasch

Corporate Clown (1)


In my guise as a corporate writer and teacher of corporate writing, one of my goals is to reduce the amount of corporate speak and corporate spin. I collect examples of over-the-top corporate jargon and spin (so feel free to send in any examples you come across) and have decided to create an annual award – the Corporate Clown Award. This will go to the person or company that provided the best (or should that be worst) piece of corporate jargon or spin during the year.

My first nomination is Geoff Parker, Chief Executive of the Australasian Bottled Water Institute. He was reacting to the decision by the University of Canberra to ban the sale of bottled water on its campus, a move that is estimated to reduce the amount of bottled water by 140,000 a year. Instead, the University is going to install water vending machines for use with refillable bottles. Sounds like a sensible idea, right? Well, according to Mr Parker, the ‘jury is out’ on whether refillable bottles are better for the environment than the production of plastic bottles.  

Say what? I have emailed Mr Parker as follows:

Dear Mr Parker

I was interested to read your response in the article in the Age on the University Canberra. Apparently you said that ‘the jury was out’ on whether refillable bottles were better for the environment than the practice of purchasing plastic bottles of water. To someone not in the industry, this seems a puzzling statement, and I was wondering if you would be willing to clarify it – which research could possibly support your view?

As a corporate writer and teacher of corporate writing, I try and impress upon both clients and students that ‘corporate speak’ and ‘corporate spin’ often undermine an organisation’s position and credibility. Surely a quote such as yours makes it less likely that you will be taken seriously next time – unless ‘the jury’ really is out.


Nicolas Brasch

I am awaiting a reply.

Despite the year being only a few weeks old, Geoff’s contribution sets a high (or should that be low) standard for the year.

Nicolas Brasch

Thomas Mann

I was recently interviewed and asked what advice I would give to unpublished writers. I replied that my first piece of advice would be that writing is ‘bloody hard work’. This is a message that I stress time and time again to my writing students. Thomas Mann said it a bit more eloquently when he wrote, ‘A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.’

Many times I have been handed a first or second draft of a manuscript and asked which publisher it should be sent to, and how best to approach them. The truth is that a publisher should not be approached with a manuscript until the writer has squeezed every bit of sweat out of their brow; and they have put their characters, plot, structure and dialogue through so many changes that they can’t even remember what the first draft looked like.

Of course, this is not the place to explain how to do this – there just simply isn’t the time or space – but I will say the following:

  • a first draft is simply the process of getting some ideas from your head to the page;
  • a second draft helps you refine and add to these ideas and start to get a sense of character and plot;
  • the next three or four drafts are an opportunity to try different things with character and plot (throw your characters into different situations and see how they react) – don’t just tinker;
  • the next few drafts …. etc etc.

You get the idea?

To be honest, anyone who sends a manuscript to a publisher before it is as ‘perfect’ as they can get it risks losing any chance of success with that publisher. Publishers keep records of manuscripts sent to them and if they’ve rejected it at an early stage, their first response on receiving a later version (no matter how good it is) will be ‘we’ve seen this before and didn’t want it then, so why would we want it now?’

So spend the time getting your manuscript perfect. Use manuscript assessment services, workshop it at writers’ groups, attend courses and have others analyse and provide criticism. Above all – rewrite, re-write and re-write.

It is bloody hard work but it’s worth it.

Nicolas Brasch


Welcome to my blog. I feel as if I have finally entered the 21st century. This must be what it felt like for someone having a phone installed in their house in 1910.

Why did I set up this blog? It is partly out of curiosity, I guess. To see if I am disciplined enough to add to it each week (or even more regularly). But the main reason is that I wanted a place to deposit thoughts, quotes, ideas and insights into writing and the writing process.

So ‘who am I?’ and ‘what right do I have to share my views on writing’?

I have been a full-time freelance writer since 1996. I have written more than 300 books for children and young adults, several of which have won major awards, and many of which have been published internationally. In addition, I write the corporate market. In this area, my output includes speeches, video scripts, internal newsletters and fact sheets, website content, advertising and marketing copy, HR material, articles, and heaps more. My corporate clients have included small businesses, blue chip corporations, state and federal government departments, local councils, peak bodies and more. In short, I write just about anything and for anyone who is willing to pay me.

Over the past few years, more and more of my time has gone into teaching writing, something I love. In 2011, I will be teaching:

  • Fiction, scriptwriting, corporate writing, writing for PR & digital media, and industry studies at Swinburne TAFE
  • Corporate writing at Box Hill Institute of TAFE
  • Corporate communications at Gippsland TAFE
  • The Advanced Year of Writing for Children and Young Adults course at the Victorian Writers Centre.

While most of the ideas in this blog will be generated by me, I am more than happy to comment on your views or answer questions or offer advice. So feel free to contact me at nic@writer.com.au

Nicolas Brasch





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