Meet the Author: Melissa Fagan

Melissa Fagan is a writer and editor
based in Brisbane, where she also
teaches and lectures in creative
writing courses at the University of
Queensland and QUT. Her fiction
and nonfiction has been published in Overland, Kill Your
Darlings, Meanjin, QWeekend and others. At various times throughout her life (but mostly pre-21st century)
she has worked as a receptionist, data entry clerk, call
centre operator, market research telephonist and editorial
assistant. She has also taught swimming and horse-riding,
and led tours through South East Asia, In 2018 she started
a practice-led PhD in travel writing with Curtin University
and the University of Aberdeen.

Visit Melissa’s website to find out more: http://melissafagan.com/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? The only reason I can write is because I stopped asking myself this a long time ago … even thinking about it gives me the heebie jeebies. Having said that, if I don’t write for a period of time, I soon realise that something is missing, so that’s a definite motivation.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? For most writers, myself included, being a writer entails doing lots of other things that may be only loosely connected to writing; so as well as writing (books) I also write professionally, and edit, and teach writing. If I wasn’t a writer who also did those things then I couldn’t be a writer. If I weren’t a writer at all I would be a wandering mystic. Or maybe a small business owner. Or both. And I’d probably still write a little bit.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My own impatience/lack of resilience. A few people may have a dream run from the outset, but for most of us it can be a long, hard slog. You’ve got to have self belief and humility in equal measure; it took me a long time to grow into that.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Do you have input into the cover and illustrations? What Will Be Worn is my first book and I was very involved in its development. I submitted it to my publisher more or less fully-formed. The editing process was intensive at the line level, but even then I had a lot of say in which changes I would take on. I also had a lot of input into the cover, which is an amalgam of old illustrations from McWhirters catalogues. Fortunately my publisher and I were in basic agreement about which illustrations might work from the outset. There were a few sticking points throughout the process, but we got there in the end and I couldn’t be happier with the end result.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Freedom and flexibility.

—the worst? As a result of the above, you have to be your own task master. I wouldn’t choose to have it any other way but deadlines are essential to getting things done, even self-imposed ones.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? One way to answer this would be to say nothing, because I am the writer I am now because of the pathway I have taken. But that pathway might have been shorter if I’d made a more concerted effort to finish things – that’s why writing courses are good, not because they teach you how to write but because the structure forces you to create finished works.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I don’t know if there’s anything that anyone could have told me that I would have listened to, not when I was younger anyway. If anything, it would be that life experience, which includes alternative careers, is really beneficial for a writer. I sometimes held back from opportunities, or didn’t follow them through, or only pursued them half-heartedly because I thought they were taking me away from my ‘true path’ of being a writer. But pursuing opportunities, professional and otherwise, that don’t seem to have anything to do with writing, can actually be a really good thing for a writer.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I’ve had a Rod Jones quote (from a 2003 interview with Jane Sullivan) pinned above my desk for the past 15 years. It’s about the importance of getting lost while you’re writing, that it’s part of the process and you shouldn’t fight it. While you need willpower to keep going, especially when you are lost, the breakthroughs come “not through will or ego or intellect, but through intuition, the accidental glimpses that come when you’re relaxed”. I’ve always found this to be true – ideas come to me in the shower, mid-conversation, in the middle of the night, while cycling or swimming or doing yoga – but it’s easy to forget this when you’re feeling frustrated.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read a lot and read widely.

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s not very important – at least it hasn’t been to date.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I think I used to, or at least I used to feel as though I did. I don’t think it’s a case that I’m less prone to writer’s block now than I once was, but I think my expectations have changed as I’ve become more attuned to my own rhythms. Some days I might struggle to write a good sentence; other days (rare days) I might get into a groove and write 3,000 words. Potentially the fact that I haven’t tried to write fiction in a while makes a difference. In memoir and creative nonfiction, the words are just as important, but you’re not trying to make stuff up; the challenge is often more in finding a shape for what’s already there.

How do you deal with rejection? Not well! Who does? A couple of years ago, I received a rejection email on Easter Thursday while waiting in line to buy beer tickets at a festival. I tried not to look at it, but the first line came up on my phone … so it was impossible. My mood tanked. I tried to fight it, to no avail. So I gave myself 24 hours to mope, then put it behind me. It wasn’t quite that simple – in reality it stung for months – but I think giving myself a contained period in which to really feel like shit helped a lot.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? You tell me.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? This is a trick question isn’t it? What could Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf or Marguerite Duras or Jeanette Winterson tell me in person that their words couldn’t?

BOOK BYTE

What Will be Worn

Melissa Fagan

Sometimes it seems the most invaluable stories can be
found in the unlikeliest of corners.

For all who know Brisbane, McWhirters, a once celebrated
department store in Fortitude Valley, is an icon. For Melissa
Fagan it is also the starting point for this remarkable
exploration of her mother and grandmother’s lives, and a
poignant reminder of the ways in which retail stores and
fashion have connected women’s lives across decades.
Behind the dusty shop counters of an Art Deco treasure,
Fagan discovers both what has been lost and continues to
shine. Ultimately this tender exploration of self and family,
so exquisitely written, speaks of the ways in which life so
often surprises us and of how the legacies of others can
truly enrich our own relationships and lives.

What Will be Worn is available from your local independent bookshop and  Booktopia.

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Meet the Author: Elizabeth Mary Cummings

My guest author this week is Elizabeth Mary Cummings, a British author based in Australia who writes, advocates and speaks on storytelling and health matters for families and youth. She is a qualified primary school teacher and has worked in many schools in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. Elizabeth is a member of the American Psychology Association and studied psychology and business studies at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland before training to be a primary school teacher and traveling around the world with her family. She travels globally to talk about family and mental health matters as well as creative writing.

It’s my pleasure to chat with Elizabeth today as part of the blog tour for The Forever Kid, a sensitively written picture book about how one family deals with the loss of a loved one.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

The Forever Kid is a beautiful, moving book told with warmth and compassion. What was the inspiration behind it? I was inspired to write The Forever Kid in a lightning moment in the middle of the night a few years ago. My parents were visiting and we must have been talking about family and life the universe and everything. One night I went to bed and woke up with the whole story in my head.

My dad is from a big family and the brother closest in age to him passed away as a teenager. I recalled as a child being very affected by this knowledge. I had been told that at the time of his death many of my grandparents’ friends had been inhibited by the sadness of my uncle’s early death and so had distanced themselves from my grandparents and the family rather than rallying round and supporting them.

There seems to be a culture, certainly in the UK at the time, of not talking about family and mental health issues and not sharing emotion around tough times and topics. This stiff upper lip is not helpful and I just remember being so very sad at hearing the story about my uncle’s death and how it impacted my grandmother and the whole family.

Around the time I wrote the manuscript I had been grieving for the loss of two very close friends and I do believe that this grief triggered my mind to start thinking about grief and loss in a wider sense.

I also have some dear friends who have gone through extreme grief at the loss of their own children, their partners and in some cases their siblings. The grief and loss resonated with me in the context of where I was at in my own grief.

Grief does not go away, it is real,  it is always there and I believe it is too important not to talk about it and the loved ones for whom we mourn.

Beautifully said, Elizabeth. Choosing to write about loss and remembrance in a picture book must have presented some challenges. What are your thoughts on tackling this topic for young readers? The challenge in writing a book like this is that the message has to be pure; it has to have integrity and it has to be honest.

You cannot dress these topics up. Children can see right through that. Young children grieve and their loss and grief is no less significant than that of older children and adults. They need to have a safe space in which to talk about the grief. They need to have a close adult or older child to do this. They need to be included in the memorial process as well as in the events surrounding remembrance and death.

Mental health education is a focus of your children’s books. Do you see it as more important now than in earlier times for parents to discuss these sensitive topics with their children and what role do you envision for your stories? No I don’t see it as more important now; rather I believe that it is only now that we as a society are beginning to understand how important talking about mental health is for our well-being.

Our society has become more and more sophisticated, there has been almost a sanitising of the circle of life that has for a while cut off the pointy end, the part of our lives that is about dying and leaving this world.

Where we are prepared to talk about birth and love in great detail, the full cycle of life has not been a subject that is easily talked about. I believe that is partly to do with the fear and mystery surrounding death. Whatever one’s religious or spiritual beliefs might be, one thing is certain: every human on this planet dies. It’s the one thing for sure we all have in common. Back in ancient times and in tribal societies children were involved in rites of passage in whole community engagement with life and death. That does not happen so much now but I think we are beginning to see the pendulum swing back towards recognising the value in including our young at these very important family times.

How has your teaching background influenced your approach to writing for children? As a teacher I have had a lot to do with children and their lives. I have worked with children from a myriad of backgrounds. You get to realise that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to teaching and that each child has the right to be helped to discover their own potential in a safe environment. I am very mindful of these things when I write As well as very grateful that I have had the chance to help children both as a teacher and hopefully now through my writing.

Tell us a little about your journey to publication. How did that come about? I have independently published a number of books before The Forever Kid was accepted by Big Sky Publishing.

I had written the manuscript for The Forever Kid a number of years ago and had polished it before going for a manuscript assessment with the amazing Anoushka Jones from EK books at the 2016 kidlit fest. She loved the narrative and wanted me to submit it to EK which I did. Sales and marketing were unable to commit to such a particular style of book due to the fact that they were already publishing a number of books with heart at that time. So reluctantly they did not take my manuscript on, though apparently there was not a dry eye in the room when they all sat and read the manuscript! This was motivation enough to me to keep going.

So I got advice from many different sources including large trade publishers like Sarah Munn from Lake Press and other publishers who all gave me direction. Andrew Wilkins from Wilkins Fargo suggested I speak to Big Sky Publishing which I did and the rest is history!

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover, illustrations and book design? Yes. Big Sky Publishing have been very inclusive to me as a writer and sharing various thumbnails and asking my opinion at each stage about the cover and the final layouts. They have made it a very natural and ‘unscary’ process.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I love connecting with other people and having the chance to share ideas and messages through the written word.

—the worst? The worst part of my writing life’s is that I have so many ideas and projects it can be a challenge to keep up with myself!

I can certainly relate to that, Elizabeth! What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m not sure – maybe that I should’ve got on with it earlier in life than I have. We can all have self-doubt and will allow other aspects of our life to get in the way, but if you have that burning desire to write, action it sooner rather than later.

What’s the best advice – writing or otherwise – you’ve ever been given? Best advice is not to compare yourself to anybody else, and not to compare your writing journey to that of anybody else’s either. You and your writing journey are unique. Your voice as a writer is important and does have a place, you just need to work out where that is.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read, observe, write, repeat!

How important is social media to you as an author? Social media is fairly important to me as a writer, however first things first. You’ve got to actually write!

I believe engagement through social media is not merely a marketing tool, it has a far bigger impact than that. Obviously there are your readers and fans and followers, but that is not all. SM connects a writer to the community out there of other writers and industry people. One can’t feel alone when you know there are people out there also writing, and reading about books and words in a way that motivates and inspires you

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? We all do, I’m sure.  I have a few trusted tricks to fight back against dreaded WB:

1:  Switch to another WiP for a while.

2: Go for a run/swim.

3: Change the music I’m listening to.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Intense, honest and accessible.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Ooo, I love this question. I’d love a night on the town with Oscar Wilde. I’d imagine us drinking cocktails in cool little speakeasies and talking all sorts of nonsense until the morning before going off ‘Bunburying’ in the country in a very ‘Importance of Being Ernest’ manner! On a serious note I would love to know how he coped with much of the stigma against what he represented. I also reckon Mary Shelley would have proved a great partner in school chemistry labs! Can you imagine the experiments!

BOOK BYTE
The Forever Kid

Written by Elizabeth Mary Cummings

Illustrated by Cheri Hughes

 

A gentle story about loss, lasting love  and remembrance that will move hearts. The Forever Kid  is a powerful picture book tackling the complex subject of grief from a child’s perspective. The thoughtful, wise narrative and beautiful illustrations combine to sensitively explore the idea that loved ones are always connected even when relationships change.  This story about the strength of family love is gently told and tenderly illustrated.

Order book: http://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/books/the-forever-kid/

To find out more about Elizabeth, check out the following links:

https://elizabethmarycummings.com/

https://www.facebook.com/elizabethmarycummings/

Twitter: @EMCummings1

https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethmarycummings/

https://instagram.com/verityville?utm_source=ig_profile_share&igshid=1888ssc0u9q83

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out the rest of the blog tour at the following sites:

Monday Oct 1 – Sunday Oct 14 www.justkidslit.com/blog

PLUS!

Tue Oct 2 educateempower.com.au

Wed Oct 3 missielovesbooks.com

Thu Oct 4 thebottomshelf.edublogs.org

Sat Oct 6 blog.boomerangbooks.com.au

Mon Oct 8 sharingyourstory.com.au

Tue Oct 9 telltalestome.wordpress.com

Wed Oct 10 readilearn.com.au

Thur Oct 11 mrsbbookreviews.wordpress.com

Fri Oct 12 karentyrrell.com

Just Write For Kids & Books On Tour www.justkidslit.com/books-on-tour www.facebook.com/booksontouraus www.twitter.com/booksontour_aus www.instagram.com/booksontour_aus