Meet the Author: Alison Booth

It’s my pleasure this week to introduce you to academic and author Alison Booth, whose work has been described as ‘evocative, insightful and thought-provoking’

ALISON’S TOP TIPS FOR WRITERS: Keep at it. Don’t give up. Have faith in yourself and remember that writing a novel requires a very long apprenticeship. Make sure you have a day job or some other income source because only rarely can writers make a living from writing alone.

Alison Booth was born in Melbourne and brought up in Sydney. She spent over two decades studying, living and working in the UK before returning to Australia some fifteen years ago.

Her debut novel, Stillwater Creek, was Highly Commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award, and afterwards published in Reader’s Digest Select Editions in Asia and in Europe. Her subsequent novels were The Indigo Sky (2011), A Distant Land (2012), and A Perfect Marriage (2018).

Alison has had a number of residencies at Varuna, The Writers’ House, following on from her initial award, and she is active on social media (Twitter and Facebook). Alison loves doing radio and other interviews, and also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at https://www.alisonbooth.net

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  I write because I’m driven to, because it helps me make sense of the world. And because the act of writing involves so much concentration that I escape from myself, and when I emerge from that state I view my day-to-day life more calmly.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?  I’d still be doing my other work, which is being an academic economist. And in addition to that I might be painting, which I love though I’m not very good at it.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Finding an agent for my first book.

 How involved have you been in the development of your books?  I leave the development to the publisher, apart from the cover. I love seeing the way the cover evolves. The design of my latest book, The Philosopher’s Daughters, took me by surprise because the wonderful Emily Caudelle got the cover exactly right at her very first draft.

 What’s the best aspect of your writing life?  The escape into another world. The joy when the writing is going well and the surprise when things emerge from my subconscious that I hadn’t known were there.

—the worst? Those days when what I’ve written seems like utter garbage and I lose faith in myself. I think we all get those days and we have to guard against them.

 What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Maybe do a creative writing course.

 What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m very glad I wasn’t told much because it’s good not to be put off when you’re driven to do something!

 What’s the best writing advice you were ever given? Read widely.

 How important is social media to you as an author? Writers need solitude and many find engagement with social media a shock. But social media provide a useful way of keeping in touch with other writers and what’s going on in the industry. What’s more, publishers insist upon it for book promotion.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I haven’t experienced writer’s block yet.

 How do you deal with rejection? With difficulty, though I did have some training for it: being an academic in my field involves frequent rejection of papers from journals and one learns to toughen up. The important thing is to remember that opinions about fiction are subjective. What one person loves another will hate. Put the rejection letter aside for a few days then return to it later, to see if there’s anything of substance in it you can take on board. Remember also that sometimes a book is rejected because the reader hasn’t got beyond the first chapter, so you might want to rethink that. And then send the book off to another publisher.

 In three words, how would you describe your writing? That’s a hard question to answer as it requires detachment on my part. Instead I will borrow the words that author Karen Viggers used to describe The Philosopher’s Daughters: ‘evocative, insightful, thought-provoking’.

 What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I hope readers get pleasure from my novels. I hope they enjoy the journeys the books take them on and are interested in the way the plot enhances character development, which is basically what my work is about.

What do you read for enjoyment? Favourite books/authors?  I have a great many favourites. Patrick White, Kate Grenville, Evie Wyld, Rose Tremain and Anne Tyler are particularly wonderful. Recently I’ve discovered Khaled Housseni’s work and I’m looking forward to reading all of his novels.

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? Rose Tremain and Anne Tyler spring to mind. I’d like to ask Rose Tremain how she has managed to find such variety in her plots and Anne Tyler if she writes a long draft initially and then pares it back to the exquisite and parsimonious prose that characterises her work.

BOOK BYTE

The Philosopher’s Daughters

Alison Booth

 

 

]A tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession. London in 1891: Harriet Cameron is a talented young artist whose mother died when she was barely five. She and her beloved sister Sarah were brought up by their father, radical thinker James Cameron. After adventurer Henry Vincent arrives on the scene, the sisters’ lives are changed forever. Sarah, the beauty of the family, marries Henry and embarks on a voyage to Australia. Harriet, intensely missing Sarah, must decide whether to help her father with his life’s work or to devote herself to painting. When James Cameron dies unexpectedly, Harriet is overwhelmed by grief. Seeking distraction, she follows Sarah to Australia, and afterwards into the outback, where she is alienated by the casual violence and great injustices of outback life. Her rejuvenation begins with her friendship with an Aboriginal stockman and her growing love for the landscape. But this fragile happiness is soon threatened by murders at a nearby cattle station and by a menacing station hand who is seeking revenge.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Katrina McKelvey

My special guest this week is Katrina McKelvey, a children’s author, former primary school teacher, wife, and mother to two tweenagers and a cocker spaniel. She’s written many children’s picture books and educational readers including No Baths Week, Up To Something, Isla’s Family Tree (April, 2020), and Chasing Rainbows (August, 2020). She’s highly involved in CBCA, SCBWI, literary conferences and festivals, and loves visiting schools. She’s left-handed, loves tea and rollercoasters, and is addicted to mint chocolate. While in lockdown in Disney World a few years ago, she survived Hurricane Gene (category 5) by eating awful brownies. You can visit her at www.katrinamckelvey.com

Thank you for joining me, Katrina, and congratulations on the release of your picture book, Isla’s Family Tree, which is a beautiful introduction to the concept of family trees and how they grow for young readers. Let’s find out a little about you and your writing…

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Flexible use of my time. And I get to make stuff up! I love being creative whether it’s with words, technology, or helping finalise a picture book file just before it goes to print.

—the worst? Waiting to hear back from publishers about submissions. And then getting a ‘no’ when you had a gut feeling it would be a ‘yes’.

Where do you draw the inspiration for your picture books? Everywhere, including observing and listening to my children, and taking in the small things in life. Ideas are all around. We just need to stop and open our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds.

How has your own childhood influenced you as a children’s books author? I was a reluctant reader as a child. I still am. And books weren’t all around me when I was a child, and reading wasn’t modeled by my parents. So, I made sure my children have shelves full of them. We visit libraries and literary events regularly, and I was heavily involved in helping them learn how to read and write. Still am actually. I also try to take them to events where they can meet their literary idols. I remember taking my son to meet Andy Griffiths at the Sydney Writers Festival when he was younger. Great memories!

How do you approach a new picture book project? Walk us through your creative process. Once you have an idea, what’s the next step?

  • Idea comes first – and it usually comes when I’m busy so I type it in the Notes app on my phone.
  • Then I let the idea rumble in my head for days, sometimes weeks – letting it go to crazy places.
  • Next, I write a story plan and try and work out the complication, and what my character’s goal is and what is motivating them.
  • Then I might open a new, secret Pinterest board and start pulling together images and illustrations of what my character looks like.
  • Some research (facts and market research) may come in next – depends on the story.
  • Then I write a first draft.
  • Then a second.
  • Then a third.
  • When I’m happy (and I’m usually very excited by this stage) I’ll start putting my manuscript through my writing groups. I’m now a member of three groups (Hunter Writers Centre, Writing NSW, SCBWI online). In between I’ll do a rewrite before submitting to the next one.
  • When I feel I can’t do anymore with it, I get it professionally edited.
  • After this, of course there’s another rewrite.
  • During the rewrites, I usually make a dummy book (for no one else but myself) and I check on page turns. My daughter usually sits in front of me on the floor and gives me feedback.
  • Once I feel I can’t do any more, I’ll start submitting it to publishers.

What are you working on at the moment? A new picture book about a girl, a dog, a book, and a treehouse. And I’m planning a JF series – very early chapter books.

How much time do you spend on creating each picture book? It varies but sometimes years! Usually nothing less than two years.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I hope everyone takes away something different. I also hope they connect in some way – either by relating to the character, or relating to the journey. And if my books fuel conversation either in the family, or in the classroom, that’s a bonus. And I adore seeing craft and other activities being completed as a result of my stories.

Is there any area of writing that you still find challenging? Yes. Word count – I always write too many words and don’t always use simple sentences. I’m getting better at controlling passive voice too. And aren’t we all working on improving the technique, ‘show, don’t tell’.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Believing in myself. I learnt quickly no one will until you do. And then I understood writing is emotional but publishing is a business.

What would you be doing if you weren’t writing children’s books? I’d probably be back in the classroom teaching upper primary school children, specialising in gifted education.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an author? I’d spend more time on the craft of writing before submitting. I’d also get all my manuscripts professionally edited before sending them to a publisher.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become a picture book creator?

  • Writing picture books for children is a specialised craft.
  • The industry has many ups and downs so be ready to navigate the array of emotions along the way.
  • Look at rejections as a good thing. They let you know you’re not there yet but keep to going.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

  • Be grateful.
  • And you need the 6 P’s:

Patience

Practice

Perseverance

Persistence

Passion

Positivity

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? I have five:

  • Make connections inside the industry. Start with local libraries and bookshop owners. Then find your local authors and illustrators. Join organisations such as SCBWI and CBCA. Subscribe to industry newsletters such as PIO and Buzz Words. Subscribe to publisher newsletters. Join a writing group and get your work critiqued by peers.
  • Educate yourself. Do courses and workshops via your state’s writing centre, the AWC or ASA.
  • Attend literary festivals. Volunteer and help out as well as attend sessions. If available, have a manuscript assessment.
  • Become a member of online groups such as Creative Kids Tales, The Duck Pond, and Just Write For Kids.
  • Follow Australian publishers and inspirational authors and illustrators on social media.

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Oliver Jeffers – he is so clever, a family man, and has an amazing, caring mind. Stephen Michael King – I want to talk to him about his writing style. Andy Griffiths – he’s always so busy and has thousands of people lining up to see him so no one ever gets to just chat to him. Commissioning editor of my favourite publishing house (I’ll keep that anonymous) – I want to get into their head and find out what makes them sit up when considering publishing manuscripts.

Isla’s Family Tree

Written by Katrina McKelvey, Illustrated by Prue Pittock

Isla’s family is changing and she’s not happy!

It’s time for Isla to explore her family tree so that she can see how all families change and grow over time.

The perfect book for anyone looking to find a way to introduce new family members or show children how they belong in their own family.

Buy the book here.

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Jenn Gott

Jenn’s top tip for aspiring indie authors: Make friends with other indie authors, especially if they write in your genre. It can be tempting to think of them as your competition, but in fact they’re your greatest allies. You can partner up with them to cross-promote through newsletter swaps and giveaways, let each other know about upcoming conventions and podcast opportunities, and just generally get support and encouragement when things get rough.

Jenn Gott is an indie author, as well as a writer for Reedsy, where she posts about books, publishing, and craft advice. So basically, she’s writing all the time. On her few breaks, you can find her snuggling with her cats, watching superhero movies, or designing houses in The Sims.

Find out more about Jenn at her author website: https://jenngott.com

 

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I’ve always been a creative person. Making things up and then finding ways to bring them to life is woven deep into the core of who I am. Over my life, I’ve dabbled in a huge range of hobbies and interests, from drawing to programming to music to Ukrainian egg decorating. Writing stuck around the longest. It’s also the most expansive creative form for me. That isn’t to say that other people can’t create vast worlds with other mediums, but I never got to the point where I could.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? This is going to sound weird, but in another life I’d kind of like to be a mortician! Which I know is not most people’s idea of a “dream job” by any stretch of the imagination. But I’ve always been interested in the macabre, and, like writing, it’s work that seems ideally suited to people who don’t mind spending a lot of time in a small room by themselves.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Honestly, money. As an indie author, there was technically nothing standing in the way of me publishing my book — but I knew that if I wanted to be taken seriously by readers, and have any chance of being successful, I’d need to produce a book that was at least as high-quality as what they’d see from a traditional publisher. That takes time, money, or (ideally) both, and I didn’t feel like I had either to spare when I started out. It was definitely a challenge.

Why did you choose to be an indie author? For me, there were two main factors. One was, ironically, money. I know I was just complaining about the investment it took to get started, but I also knew that if I played my cards right, I would make it back and more, a lot faster than waiting on advances and royalty checks.

The other big factor for me was simply the ability to retain my full creative control. Not that I didn’t trust a publisher to do the job well, I just didn’t trust them to do it the way I would choose. I’m also a very independently-minded person — I like my successes to be entirely my own, and I’m perfectly willing to embrace responsibility for my failures as well. This all combined to make it an easy choice.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Aside from just the joy of creating, I love it when I hear from readers! Getting an email or a message on social media from someone who’s taken the time to read one or more of my books is always such a thrill.

—the worst? The truth is that I really don’t dislike any aspect of writing and publishing. But the hardest part is definitely trying to find new ways to get the word out about my books. Book marketing is an ongoing learning process, in part because the tactics, including how to best influence search algorithms, change so quickly. There are some fundamental marketing principles that will serve you well long-term, but you always need to be open to seeing what’s new, what’s working now — and what’s stopped working. I’ve grown to embrace it and even enjoy it over the years, but it’s absolutely the part that keeps me on my toes the most.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Along those same lines, I wish I had researched and understood book marketing better from the onset. I had been told most of the common pieces of marketing advice before, but since I didn’t really understand why they worked, or what the purpose of each suggestion was, it was easy for me to brush off anything I didn’t feel like doing as a waste of time. This was a huge mistake, and one that definitely hindered my ability to reach readers in my early years of publishing.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? When you tell people you’re an author, a lot of them are going to suddenly look at you like they’re starstruck — yes, even when you’re just starting out and are literally nobody — and you’re going to need to get comfortable with finding a balance between being honest (no, really, I’m not topping the NYT Bestseller charts) and not talking down about your accomplishments. Too often, especially for women, we tend to downplay our successes, and there were times after my first book came out where I made it sound like it was no big deal at all, really, you don’t even have to read it, it’s fine. That’s terrible marketing! But if you’re a newbie and embarrassed about your low sales to start (even though everyone has low sales to start), it feels weird to have someone suddenly get all flustered that, oh my gosh, they’ve just met a real life author. You need to learn to respect that people are genuinely excited by your accomplishment, and that it is an accomplishment, even if you’re not where you want to be yet.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? This is on the craft side of things rather than the business side: have a place where you can just free-write thoughts about the project you’re working on. This can be a journal, or just a file in your notes, or a series of emails to a friend you don’t mind telling all the spoilers to, but it’s important to be able to “talk through” your thoughts as you figure out the details of your story and characters. Especially when you run into snags, having an unstructured place where you can just write out things like: Okay, if I do plot point X, it means that Character B suddenly knows way more than she should at this point in the story. But plot point X really needs to happen here, because… And then just keep writing through the issue until you have (at the very least) a better understanding of where the problem really lies.

This has been far and away the most helpful tip I’ve gotten for untangling my messy outlines and drafts!

How important is social media to you as an author? Probably of medium importance? From a purely marketing perspective, it’s not the best way to gain new fans, but I’ve always enjoyed it for its ability to connect me with both readers and fellow authors. I’ve made a number of good friends through it, and these connections allow me to be part of the bookish community in a way I’d definitely miss if I weren’t on social media at all.

That said, you should only dip into as much social media as you’re comfortable with. People can absolutely tell if you’re there because you want to be there and connect with people, or if you’re just there to push your books. You don’t need to always be the most active if you’re shy and introverted (goodness knows I take frequent breaks and hiatuses!), but make sure that when you are there, you’re present and engaged.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Yes, of course. In my opinion, “writer’s block” is so polarising because,  although we use a single phrase to describe it, we’re actually talking about a variety of different things that all lead to the same, surface-level result: making it hard to get work done.

Instead, I think it’s important that we understand what’s causing our so-called “block” — because the thing that will unblock you in one circumstance will make the block worse in others. As a quick example, if you’re stuck because you’ve realised you made a misstep in your story, taking the tough-love approach and forcing yourself to continue even though you’re miserable will only lead to a messy draft that may well write itself into a corner and worsen your misery. A break here, to clear your head and approach the problem fresh, could easily help. On the other hand, if you’re just feeling tired and unmotivated, allowing yourself to “take a break” can easily lead to a downward procrastination spiral.

So for me, I always try to identity what kind of “block” I’ve run up against (motivation, plot or character struggles, distraction, mental health issues, laziness, fear, etc.). Then I plan a path that will allow me to get back on track the right way.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Vivid. Fun. Devastating. That’s the goal, anyway! Up to readers to see if I’ve managed it.

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?

Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve only ever read Big Magic, and even though I don’t agree with everything she wrote in that book, I’d really love to sit down and pick her brain and compare our ideas on creativity and what it means to live a creative life.

BOOK BYTE

The Private Life of Jane Maxwell

by Jenn Gott

As the creator of a popular new comics franchise, Jane Maxwell knows a thing or two about heroes, but has no illusions of being one herself. All of that is shattered, however, when she finds herself swept into a parallel world—one where her characters are real, and her parallel self is their leader.

There’s just one problem: that Jane is missing.

Under the growing danger of a deadly new villain named UltraViolet, the team has no choice but to ask Jane to do the impossible: step into the suit left behind by her double, become the hero that they need her to be. But with budding powers that threaten to overwhelm her, a family she only half-recogniSes, and the parallel version of her dead wife staring her in the face, navigating her alternate life proves harder than she ever imagined…

Book links:

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0743H95RH

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w?ean=2940158789236

Apple Books: https://itunes.apple.com/book/id1261935002

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ebook/the-private-life-of-jane-maxwell