Meet the Author: Brendan Colley

Brendan’s top tip for authors: Diversify. Write short fiction. Write poetry. Seek to get published in smaller outlets. If you’re writing novels, allocate time in your week/month/year to explore other forms. Publishing shorter work not only broadens your skills, but gives you the encouragement to persist, and stay the course.

Brendan Colley was born in South Africa. After graduating with a degree in education, he taught in the UK and Japan for 11 years before settling down in Australia in 2007. He lives in Hobart with his bookseller wife.

His debut novel The Signal Line won the Unpublished Manuscript Prize in the Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards.

@brendancolley

Author Insight

Why do you write?

My reasons for writing have changed over time. Essentially, it’s something I must do at the end of every day. I had a passion for scribbling words on paper, so I started writing stories. That evolved into a wish to be read, then to be published, and after many fruitless years, a desire to create something I loved. These days, the act of fetching something down is organic to who I am. I’d write if nobody read what I wrote. There’s a pay-off in the discipline, and that’s the thing I learned after 25 years of rejection. Writing is its own reward, and I couldn’t have known that if I’d been published earlier.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

I have a day job, so writing occupies that extra time that might otherwise be spent on a serious hobby. If I didn’t write, I’d probably learn a musical instrument (piano). My wife also writes, and if we both didn’t write I’m sure we’d do something together, like learn a language (Japanese). We met in Japan, where we were both working as English teachers. We never became fluent, as we spent all our free time on our creative projects. That’s always been a regret.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

My passion for writing is greater than my talent for writing. The imagination and ideas were there from the beginning, but the craft took a long time to develop. Fortunately, I can outsit anyone if I love something enough J

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover?

Transit Lounge, my publisher, has been a true gift to me. My novel has received so much love and careful attention. At every point of the process I had an active voice: but the team that helped bring this novel into the world understood what it needed, and I tried hard to let go of my preconceptions and defer to their judgment as much as I could.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

That I can depend on it. My wife writes in the early morning, and tends to retire early; I write in the evenings. Regardless of what the day has been, writing is there waiting for me at 9 p.m. All I need to do is have the discipline to sit in the chair, and things will arrive that entertain me, mystify me, heal me, or make me suffer (in a beautiful way). It’s the surprise gift I get to interact with at the end of every day; and I need it.

—the worst?

I say ‘no’ a lot. I could have travelled more, seen more, met more people, socialised more. My wife and I live in a TV free house, and prioritise reading as much for our writing as we do for the pleasure of reading. I treat my 9 p.m. writing start time as seriously as I do the start time to my working day. I’ve lost count of the social invitations I’ve turned down over the years. It’s not something I’m proud of; and it isn’t useful. The well needs to be filling to have something meaningful to write about, and the tension between having the discipline to cut yourself from the world to write, and releasing yourself from the chair to make connections and have experiences, is a constant struggle for me.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Diversify. Write short fiction. Write poetry. Seek to get published in smaller outlets. If you’re writing novels, allocate time in your week/month/year to explore other forms. I’ve always been drawn to the longer form: feature length screenplays in the early years; and the novel. As such, I only got to test the quality of my work every 4-6 years. Two decades can pass with a room plastered in rejection slips from less than a half-dozen projects. Publishing shorter work not only broadens your skills, but gives you the encouragement to persist, and stay the course. Importantly, it will add detail for the bio paragraph in your query letter when you produce something that is ready.

How important is social media to you as an author?

I’m only recently published, so I’ve never thought of social media in terms of publicity. On the other hand, it’s great for sharing my writing journey with friends and family.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

I don’t know if I believe in writer’s block; although I certainly experience stretches of time where a scene or a project feels like it’s at a standstill. My way of pushing through these moments is to stay in the act of creating. If I can’t commit words to my work-in-progress, I’ll spend the session writing something else: a poem; a typed letter to a friend; a shorter piece; or play around with an idea I’ve been collecting notes for. In this way, I’m keeping the channel open. Like anything worthwhile, writing is hard, requiring a significant output of energy, so there’s an expectation at the start of any session that there’s a pain barrier of sorts to push through. But though it’s challenging, there’s a satisfaction to be gained; and if there’s none, that’s usually a sign for me to write something else for a bit.

How do you deal with rejection?

Over the years I’ve developed a habit of starting my next project on the same day I finish my current one. I always know what I’m working on next; so there’s an excitement for that first session. It involves A4 sheets of paper, index cards, coloured pens, and the sketching of schematics. That first session – though I may have been collecting notes on the project for years – is momentous. Everything’s possible, there are no mistakes to be made, and it hasn’t started to hurt yet. It builds anticipation for the second, third, and fourth sessions. In this way, as I go through the heart-wrenching process of querying my manuscript, I’m bit-by-bit gifting my creative spirit to something else. It doesn’t soften the blow of rejection, but by drawing life from another inspiration, I’m reminded that the act of creating something is the thing I need most.  

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Quirky, strange, heartfelt.

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?

Diane Samuels is an author and playwright. I only learned of her last year, on a podcast in which she was in conversation with Paul Kalburgi on The Writer’s Toolkit. The way she approaches creativity, and how she articulates it, resonated deeply with me. She writes with a spirit and an attitude that is a true example. I’d love to with talk with her about it. One jewel she shared was a question someone put to her early in her journey:

Do you want a writing career; or a writing life?

I wish someone had challenged me with this question when I was starting out. For so many years I wrote with an angst that was counter-productive to the spirit of creating; when all along I had what I was looking for.

Book Byte

Brothers Geo and Wes are testing their relationship now that their parents have passed away. Geo and Wes rarely agree on anything, especially not the sale of the Hobart family home. Geo needs the money to finance his musical career in Italy. For Wes the house represents the memory of their father, and what it means to live an honest, working life.
But then a ghost train appears in Hobart, often on the tram tracks that once existed, along with the Swedish man who
has been pursuing it for 40 years. Everyone it seems is chasing their dreams. Or are they running from the truth?
The Signal Line is a warm-hearted, unforgettable novel about what we are all searching for, even when our personal dreams and aspirations have collapsed: love and acceptance.

You can buy the book here.

Off the page with Amra Pajalic

I’ve always been interested in learning how other writers work and what they do when they aren’t focusing on what’s happening on the page of their latest novel. Today it’s my pleasure to introduce AMRA PAJALIC, an award-winning author whose latest book is a short story collection, The Cuckoo’s Song.

I am constantly tweaking and updating my writing routine to fit in with my changing life. The first few years as a full-time high school teacher I squeezed my writing into the edge of my life, on weekends and school holidays, fighting to keep a foothold in my writing world as the demands of teaching pressed in on me. I used my writing group and sought mentorships to give me much-needed deadlines and accountability.

As I adapted to my teaching load I realised I needed my writing life to have a larger portion of my life. I needed to write every day to remain tethered to my work in progress and to have it flow quicker, so I began waking up at 5.30 am to write for an hour and a half before I had to get ready for work.

I write listening to music soundtracks that act like white noise, shutting of my editorial brain, as I immerse myself in a stream of consciousness state. Some days I woke up with no inspiration and would write song lyrics or diary entries, until my muse was nudged awake and the words flowed. Each day became easier with the novel unfurling before me. The only issue was that as a pantser I kept overwriting, my drafts extending longer and longer, to 140K that I then had to fight to trim down.

I discovered that I had to focus on getting a first draft complete before embarking on any edits. That when I hit the 20K mark the novel began writing itself, and that no matter how long I took to write a book, I would always return to the ending that I had first imagined.

Now I had to work on refining my structure and realised that when I hit the 20K mark I had to develop the rest of the novel so that I didn’t get caught up in overwriting. I experimented with various books on structure, Save the Cat, The Breakout Novel, and each one added to my toolbox. I now know to write a synopsis when I hit the 20K marks and to keep referring to that as I go.

I use Scrivener to write my work in progress and find it helps me with refining the structure as it is easy to move chapters around and have a synopsis of each. I love the feature to insert my research notes and websites I am using so that I can always go back and re-check facts. I use the  Character sheets to insert images of my characters and develop their profiles, and Setting sheets to find photos of my settings and record notes about description. I also like colour coding sections that might be in different points of view or timelines to help me visualise the structure.

One of my character sheets in Scrivener.

I am now working part time and have one day off to prioritise my writing and no longer need to have a rigid writing routine. When I am developing my first draft I write every day, at least 1000 words, and this can be in the morning or afternoon. When the draft is complete I seek feedback from my critique partner and refine it.

At my standing desk.

I am now also using a standing desk and move around the house to write around my household routine. With much needed time I don’t have to fight so hard to prioritise writing and find myself fitting in writing sessions multiple times a day. Each draft is getting quicker and my hope is that I can keep prioritising my writing life as I reduce my teaching life.

You can find Amra online at the following links:

http://www.amrapajalic.com/

https://www.instagram.com/amrapajalicauthor/

https://www.tiktok.com/@amrapajalic

https://www.facebook.com/AmraPajalicAuthor/https://www.bookbub.com/authors/amra-pajalic

Amra’s short story collection The Cuckoo’s Song features previously published and prize-winning stories. It features stories she has written over the past two decades and are the map that reveal her growth and evolution as an author. Delving into familiar themes of family dissolution, deprivation of war, tenderness of family and the heart-rending experiences of mental illness, Amra also moves into new territory with previously unpublished thriller stories.
Many stories are extracts of her previously published novels such as Suicide Watch which features her protagonist Sabiha in a scene cut from her award-winning debut novel The Good Daughter. Also included are previously published
stand-alone pieces that became her memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me, that was shortlisted for the 2020 National Biography Award.

You can buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Dimity Powell

It might take decades to be an overnight success. Persistence, patience and consistency are key.

Dimity Powell

Dimity Powell loves to fill every spare moment with words. She writes and reviews exclusively for children with over 30 published stories and is the Managing Editor for Kids’ Book Review. Her word webs appear in anthologies, school magazines, junior novels, and as creative digital content, but picture books are her jam. Her latest titles include, This is My Dad (2022), Oswald Messweather (2021), Pippa (2019), the SCBWI Crystal Kite 2019 award-winning At the End of Holyrood Lane (2018), and critically acclaimed, The Fix-It Man (2017) also in simplified Chinese. 

Dimity is a useless tweeter, sensational pasta maker, semi-professional chook wrangler, Border collie lover, seasoned presenter and dedicated Books in Homes Australia Volunteer Role Model, Story City Community Mentor and G.A.T.EWAYS presenter who can’t surf despite living on the Gold Coast, Australia. Visit her anytime at: www.dimitypowell.com

Author Insight

Why do you write and what is about writing for children that keeps you producing stories for young readers?

The magic of experiencing a story unfold both as a reader and writer is something I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of. Stories were one of my whole reasons for being as a kid and while not all kids these days love reading as much as I did and still do, I hope know there is a story out there for them that provides that same mystifying personal connection; maybe it just hasn’t been written yet or in a way that resonates with them. This is part of what compels me to write on.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an author?

My sister and I still have aspirations of running a tea and book shop together; she’d drink and bake and nibble all day. I would hide in some corner and read, naturally. I’ve always wanted to be a Vet too, so I reckon I’d be in the country somewhere running an animal practice (and possibly writing in between birthing calves!).

What do you wish you’d been told before you decided to become an author?

Birthing calves might be slightly more lucrative than making stuff up.

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

I truly think the best stories come from life – and simply living it. That said, many of my picture book story lines are promoted by a casual suggestion or request for something. I welcome story prompts as they are often the green-go buttons that set my creative thought processes in progress.

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step?

Once the seed of an idea or story is planted, I normally allow it to germinate organically, in other words, I sit and think and ruminate on a number of possibilities, characters, names, outcomes. Then I’ll often draft these initial ruminations in long hand in a note book. I prefer to ‘hear’ my characters’ stories and let them tell them to me in my head before committing them to paper. Time, quiet and space are the best fertilisers for this part. Once the rough outline is captured on paper, I then switch to recording everything online: editing, exploring language, researching statistics, endings, character arcs, more editing … I normally get a trusted crit buddy to eye over the manuscript as well before even thinking about submitting.

How has your childhood influenced the writer you’ve become?

I think it’s more about the books I read and how they made me feel as a young reader that I still hold on to. I try to remember that when penning a story for a particular age group. No matter what happened to me in my own childhood, it’s how I reacted to it or felt about that experience that provides the most useful and authentic elements in my storytelling today.

Share a little about your path to publication.

After completing a creative children’s writing course while my child was still in Kindy, I promptly set up a spread sheet to record my rejections! This wasn’t for lack of confidence in my abilities rather simply an expectation as the norm. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use it for a while as the first short story I ever submitted to the NSW School Magazine was accepted.

After that I won a publishing competition which resulted in my junior novel, PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? (2012) and really launched my notoriety as an emerging children’s author. My ambition to publish a picture book was realised in 2017 with, The Fix-It Man after a long and arduous period of ups and downs. My publication apprenticeship continues to this very day.

How closely were you involved in the creation of the illustrations for your beautiful book This is My Dad? Are they what you envisioned for this story?

Nicky’s illustrations are again, 100% spot on for this story. We collaborate effortlessly but this time there was little involvement or back and forth necessary, possibly because this is our third book together and I have immense and implicit trust in her ability to ‘get’ my narrative intent.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories?

I hope readers both young and old feel a genuine connection with my characters that transcends simple entertainment. I hope they are moved to feel and ponder on the experiences those characters endure and are better able to understand their own situations and the world around them because of their stories. And ultimately, to appreciate that everyone’s story matters.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

Not usually. If a particular narrative has too many road humps, I simply write around it, invite a bit of that precious ‘quiet’ time and wait for the solution to present itself. It always does. Walking my demanding dogs helps too. Never underestimate the cleansing, rejuvenating power of nature.

Is there an area of writing that you still find challenging?

Endings. And reaching them. So really, most areas! Honestly, though, when something ‘writes itself’, it’s awesome however without the challenge of the odd struggle, not only would my job be less interesting but my stories more pedestrian.

What are you working on at the moment?

There’s a second, Pippa picture book in the works for publication this year or next and I currently have a few other picture book scripts in various stages of development that I absolutely love.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? —the worst?

Best: I get to learn something new each and every day. EVERY day. I love that.

Worst: Hmm, not having a functioning Time Turner necklace thingy like Hermione had.

How important is social media to you as an author?

I’ve known successful authors who lived without it but for sheer visibility and accessibility, I think it’s pretty vital. If nothing else, it gives creatives a chance to preen and self-pontificate a bit, right! SM does provide platforms to celebrate each tiny baby step forward too, which is important in this business as not all wins are colossal to begin with. The key is finding the platform you are most comfortable with and represents, ‘you’ the best, then be consistent.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

It takes decades to be an overnight success.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

It might take decades to be an overnight success. Persistence, patience and consistency are key.

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Are you kidding? I can’t describe anything in three words! Here goes: mellifluous, satirical, pure-hearted.

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?

Stephen Fry. He’s like every Shakespearean play rolled into one; tragic, comic, historically brilliant and desperately poetic. He could tell me anything he wants; I’m sure I’d find it illuminating.

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?

Ryan Reynolds. Because I’d really like to visit Canada one day and I need to know more about Deadpool 3.

Book Byte

Leo lives with his monster-battling, world creating, children’s author mother, and has never known a father figure. So when his teacher announces Tell Us About Your Dad Day, Leo’s tummy flip-flops; he worries that he won’t have anything to present to his class. Then he remembers that he already knows someone cool, courageous and clever – someone who’s not his dad, but is his everything. A heart-warming celebration of families of all shapes and sizes that will resonate with millions of children.

Available from EK Books:

Or

Dimity Powell: https://dimitypowell.com/this-is-my-dad/ – signed copies

Amazon Books:

Boomerang Books:

Booktopia:

Dymocks Books:

Readings Books:

Barnes and Noble:

Indigo Books:  

This Is My Dad Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgWxDgJnHpY

 

Meet the Author: Dominique Wilson

Don’t wait for the muse, she’s too flighty to be relied upon – just write. Be professional – ie: put in the work, accept criticism, meet deadlines. And lastly, read. Read constantly, in the genre you want to write and in other genres as well, because they all have something to teach you.

Dominique Wilson

Dominique Wilson was born of French parents in Algiers, Algeria. She grew up in a country torn by civil war, until she and her family fled to Australia.

Dominique holds both a BA [Professional Writing and Communications] and a Bachelor of Visual Communication [Illustration and Design] from the University of South Australia and, from the University of Adelaide, a Masters [Creative Writing] and a PhD, for which she was awarded the University Doctoral Research Medal.

In 2005 she was founding Managing Editor of Wet Ink: the magazine of new writing, a position she held until she resigned in 2012. From 2007 to 2010 Dominique was Chair of the Adelaide branch of International PEN.

Dominique’s short stories have been published nationally and read on ABC Radio. Her debut novel The Yellow Papers [Transit Lounge, 2014] and her second novel That Devil’s Madness [Transit Lounge, 2016] were both published to critical acclaim. Her most recent work, Orphan Rock, published by Transit Lounge, came out this month.

Author Insight

Why do you write? I have always been an avid reader, reading across many genres. Then when my daughters were born, I not only read to them every day, but also started making up stories for them. Going on to write for adults seemed the next natural step. I write because I’m interested in the human condition – why do people behave as they do? Why is it that some can withstand the most horrific conditions, whilst others collapse at the smallest upset? What makes a ‘good’ person? A ‘bad’ person? And is anyone truly all ‘good’ or ‘bad’? These are issues I explored in my previous book – The Yellow Papers and That Devil’s Madness – and in Orphan Rock, my latest publication, out in March 2022.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Probably trying to become a children’s book illustrator. I actually have a degree in illustration, but have let that fall by the wayside.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Myself – the self-doubt is very real. Even with two undergraduate degrees under my belt, a Masters and a PhD, I still question whether my writing is good enough. It’s not a case of false modesty or imposter syndrome – there really are some fabulous writers out there, and reading their work is a humbling experience.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Very much involved. From tossing around ideas with Barry Scott [my publisher at Transit Lounge], to working with Angela Meyers, who edited the book, to working with Scott Eathorne [of Quikmark Media] for publicity.

And yes, I did have input in the cover. To begin with, I asked Barry to please get Peter Lo to design this cover – Peter had done the covers of The Yellow Papers and of That Devil’s Madness, and I really like his work. Then Peter sent me six or seven possible covers for me to pick my favourite, and we went from there.

I may have written the words that became Orphan Rock, but it then took a lot of people to ‘birth’ this book.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The creative side can be pretty magical – when you come up with an idea, then a plot and characters, that you just know will work. Then there’s the thrill of having your work accepted for publication, and holding your book for the first time. And once the book is published, having readers email you to say how much they enjoyed the book is very special.

—the worst? The uncertainty – what if no one likes it/think it’s a load of rubbish?

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I don’t think I’d do much different. I started out writing short stories, and they were a good training ground, not just for the writing itself, but to learn about sending work out, getting rejections and the importance of not sending work out too early, meeting deadlines when a piece is accepted and so on.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? How long it takes to write a book! I don’t mean just the first draft – I mean all the research beforehand, the actual first draft, the rewriting, the editing and so on. And even once accepted – I never realised it could take up to a year from the time a book is accepted for publication until it hits the shops.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? That the difference between those who make it and those who don’t, is that those who make it try just one more time.

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m something of a hermit by nature, and a very private person. So on the one hand it’s wonderful for connecting with other writers and with readers, but on the other hand I can see how it can be intrusive, and a real time waster. So yes, it is important, but it must be controlled.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Not really – if I cannot go forward in my writing, it’s either a case that there is something serious [and not writing related] that is worrying me or, if there is nothing worrying me, then I haven’t thought the plot through well enough.

How do you deal with rejection? By not becoming obsessed by it. No matter how good you are or you become, there will always be rejections – be it for a piece of writing, a grant you applied for, a competition you hoped to win. Accept it and move on. It’s all you can do, really…

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Historical, engaging, thought-provoking.

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? Neil Gaiman – I’d pick his brain re his wonderful imagination and wisdom, and Rachel Kadish – how did she learn to write so beautifully?!

Book Byte

Orphan Rock is a complex and richly detailed story of secrets and heartbreak that will take you from the back streets of Sydney’s slums to the wide avenues of the City of Lights.

The late 1800s was a time when women were meant to know their place. But when Bessie starts to work for Louisa Lawson at The Dawn, she comes to realise there’s more to a woman’s place than servitude to a husband.

Years later her daughter Kathleen flees to Paris to escape a secret she cannot accept. But World War One intervenes, exposing her to both the best and the worst of humanity.

 Masterful and epic, this book is both a splendid evocation of early Sydney, and a truly powerful story about how women and minorities fought against being silenced.

Her writing is finely crafted, her prose poetic and subtle, and a joy to read.‘ Monique Mulligan, author of Wildflower and Wherever You Go

‘Dominique Wilson is a wonderful storyteller. The research is impeccable, the realism unforgiving.’ Brian Castro, author of Blindness and Rage and Shanghai Dancing.

Author website: http://dominiquewilson.com.au/

Facebook author’s page: http://www.facebook.com/DominiqueWilson.Author

Twitter a/c: @DominiqueWilsn

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com.au/dominique5758/_saved/

Buy the book here.

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Meet the Author: Lorraine Horsley

Books can change the world, and the right book at the right time can change your life.

Lorraine Horsley

Lorraine Horsley writes stories for children and adults along with non-fiction. Her first non-fiction book, You’ve Got This, Tips for the Uncertain Student was published by Dixi Books in October this year. Her first picture book, When You Left, is scheduled to be released by Dixi Books next year. She also has two stories in Don Cronk’s anthology Ghost Stories from Down-Under.

Lorraine has a Bachelor of Arts in English, an Associate Degree in Training and Development, a Masters of Arts in Professional Writing and Literature and is about to embark on another education journey with a Higher Degree by Research.

Lorraine calls Australia home and for most of her life she has worked in the media. For many years she was a presenter and producer with ABC Radio. She’s also spent the last couple of decades teaching and tutoring students at the start of their higher education journeys.

When not teaching or studying, Lorraine spends her time writing. She is a long-time member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and is a committee member of the Children’s Book Council of Australia WA Branch (CBCAWA).

Author Insight

Why do you write?  For as long as I can remember I’ve loved stories. I used to bang away on my mum’s old typewriter long before I could actually write. I knew back then that this was what I was born to do. I can’t not write. A day not writing just doesn’t feel right.

You’ve Got This: Tips for the Uncertain Student aims to help students kick-start their higher education and overcome their self-doubt and fear of failure. What inspired you to write it?

I work with Curtin University in their enabling program, helping students get started on their higher education journeys. One of our activities is to get the students to write about how they think they will go at studying and what barriers they might face. I was shocked to see that around a third of them were crippled with anxiety and fear of failure. But when I thought about it, I realised that I too had felt that way when I started my first degree. You’ve Got This is a book for my students and it’s the book that I wish 17-year-old Lorraine had too.

Your focus in the past has been on writing fiction, mainly for younger readers. Was it easy to make the switch?

Actually it was. I had one of those light-bulb moments while I was driving along one day. While I’ve always written fiction, in my day jobs, working in the media, I spent a lot of my life writing non-fiction – I’d just never really thought about that before. I was driving along and thought, what if I wrote a non-fiction book? What would I write about? By the time I pulled up in my driveway I had the whole contents page drafted out in my head.

This book didn’t have a conventional path to publication. How did that come about?

I’d decided I would self-publish this book. I have sent out lots of manuscripts over the years and while the rejections were getting more positive and a couple of books nearly got over the line, I decided that enough was enough and I’d just do it myself. Ironically, one of my picture books was picked up by UK publisher Dixi Books at that time. I couldn’t believe it! They asked what else I was working on. I told them, and about my determination to self-publish. They asked to see it first and this cheery yellow book is the result of me sending it to them. Never say never.

The cover design is eye-catching. Were you involved in that process?

Yes! Ayse from Dixi Books asked me had I thought about the cover. I sure had. I wanted it to be simple with an academic scroll on the front. I also wanted it to be yellow. When I first started working in a library, I noticed there weren’t many yellow books. I said to myself if I ever get a book out there, I want it to be yellow. It turns out that psychologically speaking yellow is a happy colour which fosters thinking and mental activity as well as increased energy levels – all things a student needs!

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

That they are good enough, that they are smart enough and that they can succeed. For many of my students the biggest hurdle is one they have created in their own minds. As they work through the book, they will be encouraged to challenge their fears and negative self-beliefs. I hope they will see that success really is just a matter of putting one step in front of the other and refusing to quit. There is no magic, just persistence.

What are you working on at the moment?

Ooh, many things! I’ve just finished a first draft of a contemporary women’s fiction. I’m letting that lie fallow for the moment. It’s NaNoWriMo month so I’ve just started a junior fiction mystery book that will be part of a series. It’s called Hannah B Mysteries. Hannah has been living in my head for many years now. She’s been stomping her foot asking to get on the page, she’s a bit happier now I’ve started. And I’m working on another non-fiction title with a colleague of mine, Linda Parkes. We have both worked in the media for many years, so we are writing a book to help people approach and engage with all types of media to get their messages out there.

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step?

Story ideas can be little puffs of things so I make sure to write them down as soon as I can, even if it’s just a sentence. I often email myself these ideas to come back to later. Then I usually let the idea roll around in my brain for a bit, Then, when I’m feeling brave enough, I start writing. I’m a pantser so I never know what’s going to happen on the page. That is both wonderful and terrifying!

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

Yes and no. I don’t really think there is such a thing as writer’s block, I think there’s a thing called ‘writers procrastinating because they are afraid to commit to the blank page’. I do suffer from that a lot. The only way to overcome it is to put your butt in the chair and write. Trust the process. The words will come. And don’t be too self-critical. The first draft is supposed to be a mess, that’s why it’s called the first draft and not the final.

Is there an area of writing that you find challenging?

I missed a lot of school as a kid so a lot of, as my teacher put it, ‘the more pedestrian aspects of writing’ I missed out on. Commas have been my nemesis for years, but we have a pretty good working relationship now.

How important is social media to you as an author?

I love Facebook and Instagram. I love having the ability to connect with readers and writers all over the world. I’m thrilled when a well-known author notices a post I’ve put up about one of their books. The world is a lot smaller now. When I was kid the idea of ever talking to a real live author seemed a fantasy. I also love being able to share in my friends’ successes. You’ve got to be careful of comparisonitis though!

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Keep showing up.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Just do it, you’ve got nothing to lose. And don’t delay. I spent years delaying my writing until I had the ‘perfect’ amount of time to write. That would be a day or a half-day – consequently it never happened. I’ve since learned that I can really only write in 40-minute bursts anyway. I drafted a whole junior fiction novel just by writing 20 minutes each day. Just put one word after another and keep going.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Varied and hopeful.

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?

It would have to be Enid Blyton. Like so many people I grew up reading her books. I’d love to know how on earth she managed to write so many!

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?

My husband, Geoff Horsley. He puts up with my ramblings and is always the first one to hear of my new story ideas. I could come up with a lot in several hours. You might have to check if he’d be keen on this scenario though!

Book Byte

Want to go onto higher education but you’re afraid of failing? Keen to enrol but just don’t believe you’re smart enough? Then this book has been written just for you.

Author Lorraine Horsley is a tutor at an Australian university and has helped hundreds of students to kick-start their higher education journeys and to overcome their fear of failure. Throughout the book, Lorraine draws on her own experiences and challenges you to assess why you are so afraid and how you can succeed despite the fear.

There are many books out there that teach you how to study. This book isn’t one of them. This book will help you to be brave enough to start studying in the first place. You’ve Got This!

Buy the book here. Visit Lorraine’s FB page here.

Meet the Author: Sarah Mahfoudh

Sarah’s top tip for aspiring author/illustrators: When you find the time to read, make it count. Sometimes life gets busy, so fitting in a daily writing practice and managing to read every day might not always be possible, but I do believe reading is the key to improving your own writing. You don’t need to read all the time but when you do find the time to open a book, read critically. Notice the things that work and don’t work in the books you are reading; notice what you enjoy and what bores you; notice how an author brings a scene to life. You can then use these observations to improve your own work.

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Sarah Mahfoudh is an author, illustrator and editor from Oxfordshire, England, with a BA in English Literature and Theatre Studies and lifelong love affair with books. Having lived in fairyland for most of her life, Sarah thinks it’s only right she should share her adventures with the rest of the world. Sarah writes children’s books for all ages, as well as YA fiction. She is the founder and creator of www.can-do-kids.co.uk where you can find articles, ideas, resources, and links to inspire children to be confident, compassionate and open-minded individuals. When she is not writing or reading, Sarah loves to dance, exercise and rant about ethical living! You can find out more about her over at www.sarahmahfoudh.com and follow her on Instagram (@mahfoudhsarah) and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mahfoudhsarah

AUTHOR INSIGHT

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? There are so many things to love about it: the fact that I am always learning and that I am never bored; the fact that I get to lose myself in imagined worlds for so much of the time; the sense of pride I feel when I finish a story or hold a published book in my hands. I really enjoy the editing process too. I know a lot of authors dread editing their own work, but I think the first edit might be my favourite part of writing because I get to read my own story. The second and third edits can get a bit much, though!

—the worst? Never feeling like I have enough time. I always have so many ideas and stories I want to work on and I never feel as though I have enough time to finish them. I also really dislike telling people about my books once they are finished and published. Promoting books and selling them feels like a full-time job in itself and it’s something I naturally shy away from. But I really do want people to read my books so I am trying to get better at being brave!

Where do you draw the inspiration for your books? For a lot of my picture books, I would say I am inspired by my own children. Can-do Kat, for example, was created to help my little girl with some of her confidence issues. For my older children’s books, YA, and adult books, I am often inspired by landscapes and nature. Sometimes a news story will trigger an idea, and I also find fairy tales and old folk tales really intriguing and evocative.

How has your childhood influenced you as an author? I was lucky enough to grow up in a house that was packed full of books, and my sisters and I would often pop to the library across the road after school and stay there for what felt like hours. My parents are both book-lovers, and my dad is a poet so I think stories and books are in my blood. In terms of the sorts of issues and themes I write about, my parents were always very outspoken against any sort of bigotry or injustice, as well as raising us to understand the importance of looking after the planet, so those are things that have always been at the forefront of my mind and naturally influence my writing.

How do you approach a new writing project? Walk us through your creative process. Once you have an idea, what’s the next step? Contrary to much of the advice out there for writers, I do a lot of my writing and planning in my head before putting pen to paper. I will often think about characters and their stories for months or even years before starting to write about them, or I will write an opening chapter and then step back from it for a few weeks or months before continuing. There is a popular opinion in the writing community that to be a ‘real’ writer, you must write every day but I don’t think this is true. If I try to write when I’m not in the mood, it just won’t happen so I have thinking days, note-making days and writing days.

I write long-hand and on the computer depending on how I am feeling on the day. If I am writing on the computer and I find I’m struggling with a section, I will switch to long-hand because it is much freer and boosts my creativity. I usually have an overall view of where the story is going by the time I get to about 25% of the way through but I won’t usually write the structure down until much later because I know it’s going to change. I find it incredible how stories and characters develop and take on a mind of their own once you actually start writing them.

As I already mentioned, I love the editing process so I really look forward to finishing my first draft and then moving on to the first edit, which is when I will take the time to really fine-tune plot and structure, develop my characters and bring the story to life.

What are you working on at the moment? I always have far too many projects on the go but I am trying to be more streamlined these days and focus on one at a time. (It sometimes works!) At the moment, I am desperately trying to finish the final edit (is there ever a final edit?!) of a YA fantasy book. I finished the first draft several years ago but life, work, kids and covid restrictions have delayed things slightly. The book is the first in a trilogy portal fantasy but it does follow on from a book called Faces in the Water that I published quite a while back now. Faces in the Water was my first ever novel and follows a 14-year-old girl, Eshna, as she stumbles into a new world. My writing and my ideas have matured slightly since that first book so this new trilogy can be read with or without prior knowledge of Eshna’s earlier journey, and begins around three years after the end of Faces in the Water.

I also have several children’s books in progress – one picture book, which is written but needs illustrating, and one middle-grade chapter book which is currently being plotted out in my head.

Do you have a daily routine? My daily routine is dictated by children. I wake up before the rest of the house so that I can meditate, shower and get dressed in peace. I only mediate for 10 minutes each morning but I find it helps me to stay calm when I am trying to get the kids up and out in time for school.

Once I have walked the kids to school, it’s time to work. If I have a paid assignment to do, that has to come first but, of course, writing and illustrating days are my favourites. I find the short school days frustrating, especially when I am on a creative roll, but in a way, I think they focus me and make me more productive.

After school, it’s all about kids’ clubs, dinner (my husband does most of the cooking), and I will try to squeeze in an exercise session at least every other day. In the evenings, I will sometimes carry on working and sometimes just flake out depending on energy levels and how inspired I am that day.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? Great question! Most of all, I just want readers to enjoy my stories. I want them to come away feeling as though they have been on adventure, experienced a magical world and made new friends. That being said, reading is one of the best ways for people to learn compassion and understanding for other people so I try to make my books inclusive and diverse and to challenge common stereotypes and out-dated attitudes. Many of my protagonists are female because women and girls are still underrepresented and misrepresented in literature, TV, films and the media. I hope my readers, young and old, will come away from my books with a greater tolerance for others, and that they will be inspired to stand up for themselves, be confident in their own abilities, and to speak out against injustice when they see it.

Is there any area of writing that you find challenging? Endings. I find writing endings and knowing when and how to finish a story, difficult. I also find it hard to be around people when I am really into a writing project. I get very annoyed by any interruption, however small.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Being brave enough to put my work out there. I can write and write and write but when it comes to publishing my work or sending it off to agents/publishers, I procrastinate, make excuses, and put up obstacles. This is something I am still working on. I have a few books just sitting around that I know I need to send out into the world to see what comes back, but I keep finding ‘more important’ things to do instead.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? It takes time. Embrace the process and don’t be afraid to take criticism. I was so sensitive to criticism when I was younger and I think it held me back for a while. I wanted to have written a masterpiece straight away and I wanted everyone to acknowledge it, but writing is like any skill, it takes time and patience to learn the craft, and criticism is an essential part of the process.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Trust your own process. It’s easy to get imposter syndrome as a writer, but writing is a creative process and there are no rules. Different people work in different ways and what works for one person won’t work for another.

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m not really sure. As an author, there is a lot of pressure to be visible on social media and I do try, but it can be hard work and demoralising at times. I think perhaps social media is a good place to connect with other creatives. In terms of selling and promoting books via social media, the jury is still out. For me at least, it seems like I need to put in a lot of time and effort on social media to see any sort of boost in sales.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I am never really sure what ‘writers block’ means. If it refers to running out of ideas and stories to tell, then no, I don’t have this problem. I do sometimes sit down to write or illustrate and find that it just isn’t working, though. When this happens, I have a few methods that work for me:

  1. If I am writing on the computer, I will switch to long-hand and I will give myself permission to write whatever comes out, no matter how rubbish it is;
  2. If I am stuck on a particular chapter or scene, I will just write a note to myself like, “They escape” and then move onto the next scene.
  3. I walk away and give myself space to think about the problem. If I am writing, I will do some art instead or vice versa or do another task on my to-do list until my sub-conscious has had time to figure out what to do.

How do you deal with rejection? As an author, rejection is part of the job but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting. It’s helpful to remember that all authors, even famous ones, will have been rejected at some point in their career. Once I have sent something off, I tell myself I won’t hear back about it and then I just put it out of my mind and get on with trying to make my next project even better. A growth mindset – which I really did not have when I was younger – has really helped me to develop as a writer in recent years, and it also helps me to handle rejection a little better.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Oo, that’s tough! Magical, compelling, fun … (I hope!)

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? Another tough one. There are so many good answers for this one but I think I would choose L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books. The character of Anne Shirley has been such an inspiration to me throughout my life. At a time when women and girls were expected to be pretty and quiet and obedient, Anne was out-spoken, determined and fiercely intelligent. I would ask the author what inspired her, how the book was received at the time, and how she, as a female author, was treated.

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?  Can it be someone who isn’t alive anymore? If so, I’m choosing Gene Kelly. He’s my idol, and I think a lift would be just about big enough for us to dance in. It would be an absolute dream to tap dance with Gene Kelly.

BOOK BYTE

The Twelve Dancing Princesses – the true story

Perhaps you’ve heard the classic fairytale about the twelve dancing princesses; the version told by stuffy old men from the olden days who thought it was okay to lock princesses up in towers and marry them off to strangers. Well, the stuffy old men got it wrong. Here’s what really happened…

Meet the twelve high-spirited princesses of Feather Castle. They enjoy science and magic, motor-bikes and clothes, music and saving the world – oh and they REALLY love to dance. But when spies in the shape of aspiring suitors visit the castle to discover where they go at night, the headstrong sisters won’t stand for it. They soon have their guests outwitted in this hilarious story of royal disasters, pixie-loving dragons, magical gardens, contests and friendship. outwitted in this hilarious story of royal disasters, pixie-loving dragons, magical gardens, contests and friendship.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses – the true story: Signed copies of the book are available in the UK from the Can-do Kids store here: https://etsy.me/3vL6VzZ Alternatively, it can be found in most online bookstores in the UK, from the Dixi Books website (https://dixibooks.com/product/the-twelve-dancing-princesses/) and for people buying from outside the UK, you can order it from www.bookdepository.com, here: https://bit.ly/3zKVz2e

To sign up to Sarah’s mailing list for future updates and lots of free resources, go to https://www.can-do-kids.co.uk/join-our-club For signed copies of Sarah’s book and a selection of children’s greetings cards, visit The Can-do Kids Etsy Store: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/CandokidsStore

Faces in the Water (mentioned in What are you working on at the moment?): https://amzn.to/3hrcLl3

Meet the Author: Karyn Sepulveda

Karyn’s top tip for aspiring authors: Be kind to yourself. When you’re on submission, do other things that you love, not only to keep busy, but also to keep your mood uplifted. And, be proud of yourself for following your dream and writing a manuscript – that’s already an amazing feat!

Karyn Sepulveda 3Karyn Sepulveda is an author, podcast producer and creator of short, guided meditations. Through writing about characters triumphing over adversity, interviewing women about their strengths and designing meditations that help the listener tap into their own creativity, Karyn hopes to spread compassion, inspiration and connection. Karyn completed her Masters of Creative Writing in 2011 and published her first novel, Letters To My Yesterday in 2018. When she is not working on her creative projects, Karyn is busy raising her two children and working as a teacher in primary schools.
Social Links Weblink: https://www.karynsepulveda.com/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karyn_sep/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karynmsepulveda/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I am fascinated by finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Writing stories allows me to explore the extraordinary aspects of a character’s life and it is also how I make sense of the complexities of this world (or at least try to!)

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I do a lot of other things besides writing so I would stay busy! I’m a primary school teacher and I also create guided meditations and run a creativity course. But if I wasn’t able to write, I think I would have to find some other kind of storytelling to enjoy – maybe I would try painting (I would need some lessons though as I’m not very good).

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My own impatience. In the beginning, I would send out manuscripts that weren’t ready for publication, because I was just so eager to be published. As time went on, I soaked up the advice of the surprisingly nice rejection letters I was receiving and realised that I needed to spend a lot more time developing my manuscripts in the editing and re-writing stage before sending out to anyone. This lesson took quite some years to learn, but I’m happy to say that I am far more patient with my works in progress now.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I did have a little input into the cover. I was asked to send some of my favourite book covers to the designer so they had an understanding of the style I was hoping for. And then I had a choice between five early book covers to work from. But I can’t take any credit for the incredible cover – I never would have imagined something so beautiful!

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Those moments when a scene comes together so vividly that it feels as though I’ve lived the moment and I can’t type fast enough to relay what’s happening. It’s pure magic!

—the worst? The nerves that come with waiting for an agent / publisher / editor / reviewer to read my book. I try not to worry and keep myself busy, but the underlying nerves are never too far away.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would take my time. I understand now that there really is no rush at all. And I would be more aware of how special the drafting process is and try to enjoy each moment of it more fully.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d known how helpful it would be to connect with other writers and support each other – I would have started making those connections a lot earlier.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? My creative writing professor told me that reading is like breathing in and writing, like breathing out. I’ve never forgotten this and it’s the best excuse for reading a whole lot of books!

How important is social media to you as an author? I only really use Instagram, but it is very important to me. I love the community of writers and readers I have found there. I’ve developed some terrific friendships and it actually feels like this secret little world of books that I’m part of. I am inspired by the writers that I follow and I get all of my best book recommendations from other readers.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I haven’t experienced writer’s block, but there have been times where I’ve not written for long periods because I have let other commitments take over. When this has happened, I feel the lack of creativity in my life coming through as a type of ‘lost’ feeling. So I use meditation to help me get back in the creativity zone and open up to some new ideas coming through. And then I ensure that I put aside writing time again – even if it’s just a couple of hours a week.

How do you deal with rejection? Now, I deal with it fairly well. I understand that we all have different taste and my writing isn’t going to be enjoyed by everyone who reads it. But when I started out, rejection would devastate me, as I took it personally. Once I developed the ability to separate myself from my manuscripts, I found coping with rejection much easier. As difficult as it can be sometimes, it’s important to remember that it’s not us as a person being rejected, it’s the story we created. And if we persist, that story will find the perfect home at the perfect time.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? (I hope it is…) Engaging, relatable and compassionate.

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? What a great question! I would spend an hour with Khaled Hosseini and I would ask him to explain his writing process and character development to me. I am in awe of the way he can write from multiple perspectives with such depth and invoke such incredible emotion.

BOOK BYTE

The Womens CircleSydney, present day. Anna is released into the world after six years in prison. The entirety of her possessions stuffed into a single plastic bag. The trauma of her past, a much heavier burden to carry. Feeling hopeless, isolated and deeply lonely, Anna attends an alternative support group; The Women’s Circle. But when she touches an ancient crystal, Anna connects to a woman she has never met, in a past she doesn’t recognise.
In 1770, a brutal regime torments the English village of Quarrendon and is determined to keep its women apart. Young villager Aisleen desperately seeks a way to defy the rules, reunite with her sister, and live life on her own terms, without her husband’s permission. The stakes are high and terror of punishment inescapable, but doing nothing comes at an even steeper price…
While separated by generations, Anna finds herself drawn to the spine-chilling and courageous plight of Aisleen and Quarrendon’s women. Can their bond help her to face her past and embrace her second chance at life?
A heart-warming and inspirational portrayal of inner strength and vulnerability, The Women’s Circle shows us the true power of female friendship in all its forms.

BUY THE BOOK HERE.

Meet the Author: Penny Macoun

Penny’s top tip for aspiring authors: Don’t give up, enjoy the process and it will take as long as it takes.

Penny Macoun was born in Sydney, Australia. She has been writing since 1993 when her story about a funnel web spider was printed in a school newsletter.  Ever since, Penny has loved the ‘other worlds’ that words create, and hopes to continue to create these worlds for many years to come.  Rollo’s Wet Surprise is her second book. When she is not writing, teaching or editing, Penny dabbles in various forms of visual arts and enjoys being in the garden.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I enjoy creating the ‘other worlds’ you find in stories. It fills me with excitement to create something new. Words are my passion.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I am a trained Primary School teacher. Up until the pandemic I had been a casual teacher for eight years. When I decided to put a hold on teaching, I decided to follow my career dream of being an author.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? As a self-published author my toughest obstacle was learning all the things I had to do as a ‘publisher’ such as getting an ABN, how to purchase ISBNs and understanding the intricacies of getting files ready for producing a book.

How involved have you been in the development of your book/s? I have been involved every step of the way. This is why I decided to self-publish my books, because I wanted to be able to produce the book how I wanted it to be. I thought of the illustrations as I edited the stories, which meant I could give clear guidelines to the illustrator.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Being able to set my own working hours and have flexibility to do things during the day if I want to. Oh… and sleep in.

—the worst? Low income. I love what I do, but slow and few book sales makes the balance sheet a bit difficult to look at sometimes.

How has your childhood influenced you as a children’s author? I think my career as a teacher has influenced me as a children’s author, rather than my childhood. I was working on an adult murder mystery for many years but it was my experiences of reading to children in the classroom and using books to educate that made me begin to see that some of my stories could be turned into books for children.

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? I don’t really set out to write a picture book. I write a story and as I write I am thinking if pictures can be attached to what I have written. Then I edit the story and create a storyboard to work on layout and illustration ideas. I then send the storyboard and the manuscript to the illustrator, who will begin on the artwork. They start by sending me character sketches and a black and white storyboard layout and then will add colour. We send ideas and illustrations back and forth until I give them the tick of completion. The illustrator then sends me print ready files to upload to Ingram Spark to create my book.

How much time do you spend on creating each picture book? Once I have written a story, I like to leave it alone for a few months before looking at it again and starting the editing process. I then will edit the story and send it to my friend, who is an editor. I also use another editor to have a non-biased look at it. After several reviews and the creation of the storyboard and illustration ideas, I give everything to the illustrator, who will usually take a couple of months. Therefore, I guess the whole process can take about six months minimum.

What are you working on at the moment? I have written a sequel to Gorkle, which was my first children’s book. Now that Rollo’s Wet Surprise is complete, I will begin editing it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Yes, I do experience writer’s block. Usually when I have to write something for the writing group I am in. To overcome it, I will either work on a different piece of writing or just do something that isn’t writing, so I can go back to it with a fresh view. Often a few hours or days away from the desk is enough to rejuvenate the writing juices.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? Enjoyment and the experience of learning something without even realising it. As an educator, I am always working to link books and my own stories to experiences or things children can learn from.

Is there any area of writing that you still find challenging? Writing chapter books for children. I would love to explore this area more. Five years ago I couldn’t even write a picture book and now I have published two, so there’s hope for me yet.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as an author? Take my time and don’t rush the process. I made this mistake with my first book, which meant there was a lot to fix by a designer before I could publish the book. Rollo’s Wet Surprise went a lot smoother.

How important is social media to you as an author? I find social media is important to get the word out about what I am doing professionally. I also regularly update my website. I find the engagements are becoming fewer as people become disillusioned with social media, which makes me wonder if people are looking at my posts anymore. However, I do feel that an author should use every method they can to spread the word about what they do; someone, somewhere will see the post and hopefully tell someone else and ultimately create a few book sales along the way.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I don’t really remember ever being given advice but something has stuck with me. I was with my dad at a shop counter after I had been looking at the books on display. It was in a hospital convenience store. I said I wanted to be a published author with lots of books like Bryce Courtenay. My dad scoffed and didn’t think much of this as a career, but the shop attendant said there was no harm in trying. Now most days, Dad asks me if I’ve written another book.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Colourful. Educational. Fun.

Website: www.pennymacoun.com.au

If you look at the Rollo’s Wet Surprise page you will find links to all online stores that have this book. I also sell both of my books through my website.

BOOK BYTE

Rollo is a dog that loves to go to work with his owner, Jim, who is a builder. Jim and his team of builders have been working on a house that Rollo has enjoyed visiting because the family like to give him lots of pats and the garden is nice and big, so he has lots of places to explore.

One day, the builders are moving lots of big, heavy windows to a safe area. Rollo begins to explore this new part of the garden, and sniffs around.

While Rollo is exploring, he tries to walk on a surface that he thinks is hard. Unfortunately, the hard surface is a pool cover and Rollo finds himself falling into a large swimming pool. Jim helps him out and everyone thinks it is very funny, except for Rollo.

This book is ideal for teaching children about being safe around water and remembering to always close pool gates and never go near a pool without an adult.

Tea, teamwork and pets of all kinds

Welcome to a new year and an interview with a difference. Penny Reeve and Cecily Anne Paterson write The Pet Sitters series together as Ella Shine and it was my pleasure to chat with them both about why they write, how they came up with the series and some of the challenges involved in their creative collaboration.

Ella Shine LOVES pets of all kinds. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her three cats, four bunnies, parakeet, bearded dragon and an imaginary ant farm for company. When she’s not writing stories for children she can be found dreaming up adventures and hunting for the unexpected with at least one of her pets in tow!

When she’s not writing as Ella Shine, Penny writes as Penny Reeve or Penny Jaye and is the author of more than 20 books for children and older readers. She’s an experienced writing workshop leader, conference presenter and writing coach with a particular interest in equipping children’s writers. You can learn more about Penny at www.pennyjaye.com and www.pennyreeve.com

Award-winning novelist Cecily Anne Paterson writes ‘braveheart’ fiction for girls aged 9-14. She grew up in Pakistan where she went to boarding school in the Himalayan mountains, and now lives with her family on Sydney’s beautiful Northern Beaches. She’s a freelance editor and writer, an engaging speaker and presenter, a reluctant housekeeper, and an aspiring, but average cellist. See www.cecilypaterson.com

AUTHOR INSIGHTS

Why do you write?

Penny: Writing is how I explore ideas and issues, but I also love the joy and power of story and finding ways to communicate to an audience through words.

Cecily: It’s annoying, but I can’t not write. It’s a compulsion I’ve had my whole life since I was eight and sat down and wrote newspapers about what was going on in our family. (They weren’t very interesting.)

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

Penny: I’d probably be doing what I already do when I’m not writing: being a stay-at-home mum trying to find ways to make a living with my creativity. Or I’d find myself in a teaching role of some sort, but probably not full-time classroom teaching. I love working with kids.

Cecily: I have very inferior skills, but I’d like to be a full-time musician. Failing that, I wouldn’t mind running a fancy op shop. Being realistic, I suppose I’d probably settle down to being a teacher or working in administration.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

Penny: When I first started out, I struggled to find a publisher who published the genre I wrote in. Plus, my writing wasn’t that great. So I needed to improve my craft while at the same time getting creative about finding the right publisher.

Cecily: Same as Penny. Craft, creativity and finding ways to get past rejection. I was encouraged early on by an editor from Penguin Books who liked my first novel and suggested ways to make it better, so I rewrote it with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, they didn’t take it in the end, but it gave me some assurance that I wasn’t simply a deluded, talentless hack.

The Pet Sitters junior fiction series is a collaborative project. How did that come about?

Cecily: We were talking about children’s books, as we are prone to do, and one, particular, massively successful series for eight-year olds. I think I may have uttered the words, ‘We could write those,’ and the vision grew legs.

Penny: It was also a great project to have on the go during 2020 as it required us to work together and have a sense of writing connection even when many other writing opportunities were slowing down.

Walk us through the process, please. How did that work? Were there specific challenges?

Penny: We decided early on that we wanted to write the books together with both of us having equal creative input. We began with a planning day where we sat and drank tea and plotted the stories. Then we took turns to write the first draft chapters, using our plan as a guide. It was immensely fun but was also quite challenging, especially at the beginning as we have very different natural writing styles.

Cecily: To be fair, we drank a lot of tea. And even before we started on the story plans, we did a lot of work on intended audience, the length of the books, and the different elements we wanted to include. We created the characters in detail before they even set foot in a story. We also created the author character of ‘Ella Shine’. It seemed too cumbersome to have both our names on the front cover, so we made up something far more memorable. You can read more about us here: https://puddledogpress.com/about

How involved have you both been in the development of your books? Did you have input into the cover and illustrations?

Penny: Because we decided to independently publish these books, we took ownership of the entire project. This meant we needed to source and contract an illustrator for the project. Thankfully, Lisa Flanagan was interested, and her style really complements the stories.

Cecily: Penny and I are both honest enough to know where our talents and experience lie and there was a neat, natural division of labour in creating this series. It’s a great example of the  whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Working together, we’ve achieved more than we thought we could. (For example, Penny was smart enough to apply for government funding for audiobooks, which we received. Adding the amazing voice narration skills of Suzanne Ellis to the project has made it even better. Check out our audiobooks here. https://puddledogpress.com/pet-sitters-news/cot8kp5zvuay7fkq1m8ignczlzfeq5 )

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

Penny: I love the creative stage of writing; the freedom of the first draft. But I also love the final product and being able to interact with students and readers when the book is finished. I suppose because audience is always my focus, I love seeing how people response to the books I write.

Cecily: Finishing. I get to the middle of a book and feel like poking my eyes out, it’s so hard. I like ending, and editing, and then later, reading what I wrote. (Also, I like fan mail. Especially the emails where they tell you that my books made them cry… in a good way.)

—the worst?

Penny: Rejections are never fun. One of my books (Our of the Cages) was rejected 11 times before it found a publisher, but it went on to win an award so the extra time and effort probably paid off.

Cecily: Yeah. Same as Penny. Rejection by publishers, and rejection by readers in the form of bad reviews. My skin is thickish, but it still hurts.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer?

Penny: I’d tell myself to relax and take my time, to learn as much as I could, but also to have realistic expectations. Being a writer in Australia is hard work and statistically doesn’t pay well. I’d probably also tell myself to go do a basic marketing course!

Cecily: I’d study genre, figure out what’s selling and write that! (Money to pay the bills does help in life…) Also, I’d work hard on my craft and join a critique group sooner than I did.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

Penny: Don’t send your manuscript to all the publishers at the same time. Suzanne Gervay once said this to me after I admitted I admitted I’d sent my story to five publishers. She advised me to send out sparingly to allow time and space to rework in between. And she was right. I’ve been doing that ever since.

Cecily: I’m not sure if this was said to me, or if I made it up myself, but it’s this: you can’t expect most people around you to care about the books you write. Your audience is out there somewhere, but it probably isn’t your family or even your friends. If you live or die by the praise of the people immediately around you, you won’t keep living as a writer.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Penny: Learn, read and write. Never think you’ve learned or read everything you need to. We can always learn more both about our craft and the work of others. But at the same time, don’t stop writing!

Cecily: Start a blog. Write and publish something small every day. Read other people’s work and pull it apart. Why did they do it this way? What makes this good or bad? If you grew up reading anything written before the 1980s, know that writing has changed. You can’t write something in the style that you loved as a kid: it doesn’t work anymore. Get a handle on close third person point of view, or your work will never even get looked at.

How important is social media to you as an author?

Penny: Social media is probably quite important for authors, but I’ll admit it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m active on Facebook but not on many other platforms as I find it too much to keep up with. For the Pet Sitters stories, we use Facebook quite a lot because it’s a useful took for interacting with our readers’ parents and teachers.  https://www.facebook.com/puddledogpress

Cecily:  Facebook = my alternate existence. Instagram = I do it because the cool kids are there. Linked In = boring, but I’m there because, you know… Twitter = runs screaming from the room. Everything else: I’m too old to know what it is or how to use it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

Penny: I very rarely experience the blank page writers block, but I do sometimes face the editing version of writers’ block where I don’t know what or how to improve my manuscript. If this happens I might go back to my planning stage, do some mind mapping on my characters or seek the advice of a trusted writing friend or writing ‘how-to’ book. I also try to get back to the fun, or the heart, of the project I’m working on as that seems to help break through the ‘stuck’ stage.

Cecily: Extremely rarely. If I’ve planned my story properly, I just write what’s in the plan. Occasionally I get scared of my characters and can’t write them. Sometimes I get discouraged and think, ‘this is rubbish, I’m rubbish, and no one is going to read it,’ but I force myself to write two thousand words anyway. I figure I can always fix it later. You can’t fix a blank page.

How do you deal with rejection?

Penny: I get really down, eat lots of chocolate, wonder why I’m writing and consider giving up altogether. But a couple of days later I pick myself up, remember how much I love the story I’ve been working on and get back to it!

Cecily: Chocolate.

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Penny: I’d probably describe my writing as topical, relatable and fun. Ella Shine is possibly more playful and less serious than my other writing!

Cecily: Character-driven, dialogue-rich, lots of sub-text. Like Penny, Ella Shine is more light-hearted and fun than my usual middle grade and YA 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?

Penny: I’d love to have a chat with Kate Dicamillo. I’d like to hear how she holds and weighs the hard parts of her writing with the lightness and hope of children’s literature. I’d be interested in it technically (her writing process) but also emotionally (how she processes the balance).

Cecily: I’d like to hang with a literary legend like Anne Tyler and find out if truly exceptional writing (the sort I get jealous of) can only happen for introverted, thoughtful, eccentric types who don’t have to keep ahead of the schedules of four children and who have someone else doing the washing and the cooking and the cleaning. Can you be a great writer/artist if you’re also a regular parent-at-home without long periods of reflection and solitude? It doesn’t seem to happen for me.

BOOK BYTE

Need a pet sitter? Cassie and Lina are the girls for the task… as long as Gus the talking cat can keep out of trouble!

Best friends Cassie and Lina would love to take a pet to the Pet Parade but it’s not possible… until they’re asked to pet sit Gus the cat next door. The girls might be ‘ready for anything’ but Gus isn’t quite the cat they were expecting.

Looking for an engaging, fun junior series with great values, gorgeous characters and hilarious action, with a sprinkling of the unexpected? Welcome to the Pet Sitters.

Pet Sitters Website: www.puddledogpress.com

Store site: https://puddledogpress.com/store

Meet the Author: Jane Rawson

Jane’s top tip for aspiring authors: The best bit about being a writer is the writing. Don’t get too stressed about whether you’re being published, or being noticed, or any of that. Nothing is more fun than the writing itself.

Jane Rawson is the author of two novels – A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (2013 Transit Lounge), which won the Small Press Network’s 2014 ‘Most Underrated Book’ Award, and From the wreck (2017 Transit Lounge) – as well as a novella, Formaldehyde (2015 Seizure), which won the Seizure Viva La Novella Prize. She is the co-author of The handbook: surviving and living with climate change (2015 Transit Lounge), a practical, personal guide to life in a climate-changed Australia written with James Whitmore. Her short fiction has been published by Sleepers, Overland, Tincture, Seizure and Review of Australian Fiction. She works for the government and lives in Melbourne’s west.

For more information about Jane and her books, visit her website.

http://janebryonyrawson.wordpress.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? My head has always been full of stories – there’s a lot of pressure from inside my brain to get them written down. I enjoy being by myself, and I love being deeply immersed in a world I’ve invented – it’s an almost physical thrill when it’s going well. And I’m a huge reader, a lover of words, and I really enjoy all the chances I get to talk about books and writing thanks to being a writer.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Most of what I do now is not writing (or at least, not my own writing) – I have a full-time office job as a communications adviser, I spend a lot of time just hanging out with my husband, I play the clarinet, I read a great deal. But if I stopped shutting myself away in a room to write and had more spare time, I’d like to think I’d devote it to environmental activism.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My writing! My stories are unconventional and the ways I tell them are a little experimental. They’re not easy to classify or explain and it took a while to find a publisher who thought that was a strength rather than a deal-breaker.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Creating something entirely new out of nothing but my own brain – it really works only rarely, but when it does it’s one of the best feelings in the world.

—the worst? Feeling jealous of other writers, and feeling bad about feeling jealous.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I’m pretty happy with the way my writing is developing and the results I’m getting. Perhaps the only thing I’d change would be having studied something at uni that would mean I could work short hours for loads of cash, so I’d have more time to write. Programming, maybe?

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? There are a lot of weird, bad feelings tied up with being a writer once you get published (as well as the good ones you expect). Be prepared.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Don’t be so harsh on your first draft – you don’t expect a little baby to be a concert pianist, why do you expect your first draft to be a great novel? Just get on with the writing and forget about the criticising.

BOOK BYTE

From the Wreck tells the remarkable story of George Hills, who survived the sinking of the steamship Admella off the South Australian coast in 1859. Haunted by his memories and the disappearance of a fellow survivor, George’s fractured life is intertwined with that of a woman from another dimension, seeking refuge on Earth. This is a novel imbued with beauty and feeling, filled both with existential loneliness and a deep awareness that all life is interdependent.

‘It’s hard to find the right words to praise this novel. I think we need a whole new critical vocabulary to be invented. Rawson recreates a vanished historical world with utterly convincing characters as well as inhabits the mind of a cephalopod alien and make us feel, in both cases, yes, that’s exactly how it is. Jane Rawson’s writing is mysterious, chilling and tender. The book is a sort of miracle.’    Lian Hearn

‘Rawson’s clear, lyrical prose—with its deep undercurrent of empathy—creates a breathtaking and revelatory reading experience. From The Wreck borrows from science-fiction, history and magical realism, forming a whole that is utterly unique and distinctly Australian. This is a masterpiece.’ Bookseller & Publisher

The book is available here.