Meet the Author: Sean Rabin

There is definitely something to learn from rejection. Maybe the work isn’t ready. Maybe you’re not ready as a person. Maybe you’re not approaching the right publisher… I’ve always known persistence was key to writing.

Sean Rabin

Born in Hobart, Tasmania, Sean Rabin has worked as a cook, script reader, copy-editor, freelance journalist and librarian. He has lived in Ireland, Italy, London and New York, and now resides in Sydney, Australia. His debut novel Wood Green (Giramondo) was shortlisted for The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2017 and The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2016 and was also longlisted for the ALS Gold Medal. It was published in the UK by Dodo Ink in 2016.

Author insight

Why do you write? To clarify what I’m thinking. To catch the stories floating through my imagination. To wrestle with language. To feel I’m functioning to my full potential.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? It’s very hard for me to imagine not writing – maybe I’d be a cook, but a sad, possible drunken one.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? The market. I could write, but I couldn’t write for the market. For a long time publishers were only looking for social realism, which doesn’t interest me at all. I prefer more imagination in writing – more elasticity in language – and it took a long time for me to find the right publisher. Barry Scott at Transit Lounge is the type of publisher a writer dreams of working with – interested in difference, supportive, professional, brave.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I had a large role in the cover for my first novel (Wood Green), so for The Good Captain I was interested to see what a designer would come up with. Transit Lounge gave me eight choices designed by Peter Lo, but we all agreed what the best one was. Everyone who sees it says, wow, great cover. Which is exactly what you want. I couldn’t be happier as it really captures the nature of the story.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The writing. It doesn’t always come easy, but the slow methodical arrival of something truly unexpected makes all the effort worthwhile. Sometimes it’s like an out of body experience – I forget where I am and the words just appear – like channelling some idea or message from another dimension – a bit like reading, I suppose. Of course there’s a lot of time spent wrangling those words into making sense, but the long years of persistent solitary intellectual work is the reason why I keep writing.

—the worst? Trying to understand and work with the priorities of the publishing industry can be depressing. Although it’s nice to receive recognition for what you do, be it financial or professional, I try to remember that publishing and writing are two separate activities.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I started writing when I was eight and wrote my first book at 15, so I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have listened to any good advice at that age. But if I could send back one message, I would definitely tell my younger self to turn off the television and read more and write more, and then read some more. I think I’ve always known persistence was key to writing, but perhaps I would also tell myself to speak less and listen more and ask other people about their lives.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? The only thing being published will change is other people. You, unfortunately, will remain exactly the same.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Don’t give up. You may go insane, but don’t give up because what you have is what everyone else is looking for. Purpose.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read widely. I sometimes sense that many writers don’t have a very broad idea of what a novel can do. As a young man, my Friday nights were often spent exploring second-hand bookshops, learning about writers and the history of literature beyond the canon. Read writers who take risks – not just with their subject matter but also how their words appear on the page and how they sound in your head. Read writers who might even be dangerous or that history has tried to leave behind. Also, pay attention to contemporary writers doing brave work – Anna Burns, Lucy Ellmann, Marlon James, Fernanda Melchor, Paul Beatty, Alexis Wright. All very successful writers who refuse to play the game of squeaky-clean prose.

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m not on social media so not important at all.

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

How do you deal with rejection? I’ve had a lot of rejection for my work. My first short story was published when I was 42, and my first novel when I was 46. There’s an envelope in my desk full of rejection letters from agents and publishers. It’s pretty hard to take – I sometimes feel a little broken by the whole experience. But there is definitely something to learn from rejection. Maybe the work isn’t ready. Maybe you’re not ready as a person. Maybe you’re not approaching the right publisher. Maybe you’re being stupid – I certainly was on many occasions. Of course a rejection is personal – it’s your book. So feel the pain, curl up into a ball, give up the whole damn thing for a day, then get back to work the next morning. If someone has taken the time to write what they think is wrong with the work, give their comments your consideration. Just because they said no doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Doesn’t mean they’re right either. Just take what you need.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Active, unexpected, evolving.

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? Lucy Ellmann – I’d ask her how she found the courage to write Ducks, Newburyport in this publishing environment, and how she didn’t lose faith when people started to say no.

Book byte

Set in the near future – during a time of plummeting fish stocks, toxic algae blooms and jellyfish swarms – The Good Captain follows a group of radical environmentalists committed to a mission of extreme civil disobedience against the powers threatening to destroy the last of the world’s marine life.
Led by the wild Rena – born and raised by the ocean – the characterful crew engages in a high seas drama that contains all the thrill of a cat-and-mouse seafaring classic, while at the same time offering a timely warning for the political classes that their negligence will not go unpunished.
Evoking a disturbing vision of what the world might soon become – random, dangerous, surprising and sometimes even miraculous – The Good Captain is a gripping, confronting novel.

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: 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: Kesta Fleming

Kesta’s top tip for aspiring authors: Join a writers’ group and connect with the writing community – especially with other children’s authors. You learn so much from other writers and it’s such a lovely community. Writing itself is often very solitary, but the writing life doesn’t have to be. Get out there an meet people. That’s where the ideas and stories (and all the hot writing tips) are!

Kesta Fleming headshotKesta Fleming is a writer and poet, and author of the Marlow Brown chapter book series for seven- to ten-year-olds. She was born in England but grew up in the Adelaide Hills in a house full of books, bells and music. With a love of stories and a fascination for words she began writing when young. In addition to Marlow Brown, she has had numerous poems, plays, articles and short stories published in The School Magazine and in anthologies. Kesta is a former teacher and now divides her time between writing for children and her therapeutic work helping people manage stress and anxiety. She lives in Melbourne with her husband, two teenagers and a Brittany Spaniel.

Visit Kesta’s website at Kesta Fleming Children’s Author – Creator of the Marlow Brown Series

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Kesta, you started making up your own rhymes and poems as a six-year-old. What was the inspiration for this early venture into sharing the wonder of words? I grew up in a family where music making and stories were as basic to my existence as food, water and shelter. In fact, stories and music were perhaps even more valued than a permanent home. Many of my early memories involve sleeping in a tent or the back of the car, as my parents were adventurous and we travelled a lot. So, we’d be sung to at bedtime, read to while eating family dinners each evening, and play word games and sing on long car journeys.

Added to this, my mother was the queen of nursery rhymes – there wasn’t one she didn’t know – and she wrote her own stories.  My father was a pianist and played several other instruments including banjo, ukulele and mouth organ, and he composed his own music. It was the ’70s and for my parents that meant crocheted jackets, caftans and regular performances with a folk group they’d formed. And then, the whole family rang bells, but that’s another story … It’s little wonder I was inspired to make up my own poems and rhymes as a six-year-old. Rhythm and rhyme was what life was all about!

How much of an asset is your teaching background when it comes to writing your books for children? I haven’t really thought of it in terms of an asset to the actual writing, but it’s certainly been a big influence on me. Teaching children in lower primary exposed me to lots of lovely picture books and junior fiction stories during my twenties before I had my own children. So, it not only kept alive my love of children’s literature at a time I might typically have moved away from it, but it also kept my knowledge of what was being published current. And it fueled my love of reading stories aloud. Seeing children captivated by a great story and being part of expanding their imagination is inspiring. Helping them to make sense of the words themselves as they learn to read, and having it finally ‘click’ is also inspiring. How much this all helps me when writing my own stories, I couldn’t say. But it certainly gives me purpose.

What’s the story behind the Marlow Brown series? The Marlow Brown series is about a girl exploring interests that don’t fit the female stereotype and that typically lead to professions dominated by men. So, in the first book she’s smitten with the idea of becoming a scientist, and in the second, she’s totally set on becoming a top-class magician. I’m currently working on the third which has an engineering focus.

It might all sound serious and heavy going, but it isn’t at all! Marlow actually started out as a boy, and it was my publisher who suggested we switch her to a girl. After much thought and consideration about how this might change things, all I ended up doing was a simple pronoun switch. Marlow’s character remained exactly the same.

I think the story is all the better for the switch. It means there’s no big deal made of Marlow not fitting the stereotype. She’s totally unaware of such things. She’s simply a kid following her passions, doing what she loves. And getting into scrapes – because that’s the kind of kid she is. It’s a series full of humour.

Where do you find your inspiration? I always struggle with this question! I have an admission: sometimes I feel inspiration-less. But that’s okay … when I finally remember that other times I’m full of it. I think inspiration comes from doing stuff. From talking to people. From watching. From listening. For me it also comes from remembering what it was like to be a child. I have very vivid memories from my own childhood so I tap into those. And I think, most of all, it comes from being curious and asking ‘What if…?’ It comes from playing and being playful.

Who has been the strongest influence on your writing life? Lots of people, but perhaps the steadiest influence has been my writers’ group. We meet monthly and have done for years. Everyone is always so supportive and helpful, but our late friend and fellow writer, John Tyrell, should perhaps take a lion’s share of the credit. John was all encouragement. If I hadn’t brought anything to workshop for a while, or was down in the doldrums with my writing, he’d say he missed reading my stuff. I had several months a few years back of writing nothing, but turning up to writers’ group and facilitating all the same. It was John’s encouragement and belief in me that got me back into it.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? A lack of understanding of just how much tenacity is needed to be successful. I’d give up on manuscripts too soon, thinking that after a certain number of rejections it must mean that there was no point in continuing with that one. I thought I was being tenacious in the way I sent my manuscripts out again and again, but discovered through talking to more experienced writers, that our definitions of perseverance were far from similar! I don’t give up as quickly these days.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? There are two best aspects – the moments when I’m totally engrossed in the story and everything is flowing, and the moment I finish the first draft. It’s the elation of having created something from start to finish, and there it is in front of me. I enjoy working on subsequent drafts, but it’s getting that first one down in full, and adding the last full stop that does it for me.

—the worst? Being stuck. And then procrastinating too long, and getting totally out of the way of writing, but feeling guilty about not getting back on with it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t know that I’d call it writer’s block, but, following on from the previous question, I certainly procrastinate when things get hard. And the way to overcome it is to sit down and write anyway. But that’s easier said than done! One technique that I’ve found really helpful is skipping ahead to a different section and writing it in first person, even if the rest of the story is in third person. Getting right into the head of my protagonist and having them write a letter or email to someone about what’s going on for them seems to free things up for me and make the missing bit in between more accessible.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? That it’s okay to fail. That what matters most is having fun along the way and having a gritty perseverance when it comes to following your dreams. That’s what Marlow Brown has in spades. And that’s what I’ve learned I need too, to be a successful writer. No surprises there!

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s a blessing and a curse! I wish it weren’t important, but it is. I’m in a number of writing groups on Facebook and have found these to be a great way to connect with others in the writing community, but I don’t like having to promote my work. It’s time consuming trying to pitch things in the right way for the right platform, and promotion isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I’m perfectly happy to promote others’ work on social media, but I have to swallow my own discomfort promoting my own. I know other writers struggle with this too, so I take comfort in not being alone in this!

You’ve written poems, plays, articles and short stories as well as books – what is your ‘sweet spot’ and why? I’m not sure if I have a sweet spot but I do like a challenge. Early on, I challenged myself to get something published in every genre that the NSW School Magazine published (with the exception of the cartoon strip because I can’t draw). I was pretty chuffed when I succeeded. I’ve only written one play so far, but I have to say I loved doing that, so I should probably try another. I like dialogue. My current personal challenge is to have a picture book published. I have many picture book manuscripts, but none have hit the right desk at the right time yet. I will get there. I’m determined!

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Amusing and relatable. (Is using ‘and’ cheating? Not at all!)

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Don’t give up on a story if you really believe in it. Keep sending it out. (After hearing this advice, I entered a story which had had multiple rejections as a rhyming picture book manuscript when I’d first written it thirteen years before hand, into the CJ Dennis Poetry Competition, and it won first prize!)

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? Well, at first I was thinking Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron, because I think a bit of magic in that situation could be handy, and if the magic wasn’t working for some reason, then the balance of the three characters might add some light relief … but then I started wondering about J K Rowling, because I love the world she created and I’m sure I could learn loads from her as a writer. But then there’s Dumbledore. I think I’m going for him. I have loads of questions for him! And who knows, he might have some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans in his pocket we could try our luck with to help us pass the time.

BOOK BYTE

Marlow Brown 2 - Cover ImageMarlow Brown: Magician in the Making

Written by Kesta Fleming

Illustrated by Marjory Gardner

Marlow Brown dreams of becoming a top-class magician but she has two problems: her special talent for creating chaos, and the fact that Dad won’t stop laughing … How can she show them, once and for all, what a serious and spectacular magician she really is?

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.

Meet the Author: Michael Fitzgerald

DominicLorrimerMichael Fitzgerald is a writer and art magazine editor living in Sydney. His first novel, The Pacific Room (2017), was developed through a Varuna Publisher Fellowship; his second, Pietà, is being released in June 2021, also through Transit Lounge Publishing. His literary work has also appeared in magazines such as Kill Your Darlings and Westerly. He is Editor of Art Monthly Australasia.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? This is something I’ve never really asked myself, and I wonder if it would be dangerous for me to find out at this late stage. Sometimes it’s best just to keep doing what you instinctively feel you need to do. With writing especially, I think there’s a danger in overthinking things. I’ll leave that up to actors to ponder: What’s my motivation?

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? A strange dream of mine would be to be a casting agent.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Life constantly interrupting and intervening. How dare it! … While my novels have been relatively short (in length) so far, they have taken me SO LONG to write.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Yes. I’m not sure how it is elsewhere, but at Transit Lounge my experience has been especially collaborative and creative.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being solitary and alone. It’s thrilling and scary, but very quickly things scribbled into notebooks and onto a computer screen begin to fill the void. And soon stories and characters flood your head and have a life of their own through this strangely mechanical and meditative process of pushing a pen or typing at a keyboard. I also love swimming for the same reason.

—the worst? Not having the time to write.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? To maybe think less about what other people might think, and to not try and second-guess what readers (or publishers) might want – but, at the same, not to ignore them, and to learn to lean into them a little more productively and meaningfully. Sorry if I’ve totally contradicted myself here, but I’m obviously in two minds!

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Nothing in particular, because I think it’s important for everyone to follow and find their own path and to sometimes stumble and grope around in the dark. That’s how I’ve done it, and I can’t imagine anything different.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? To never submit or press ‘send’ until a piece is absolutely finished and ready – though of course knowing when the moment is right is a whole other thing. I’m still not entirely sure … So, on second thoughts, maybe the best advice is something smaller and more technical – like Margaret Atwood saying (in the Paris Review I think) that the key to proofreading is a good ruler, and going through the text line by line.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Embrace the difficulty. It definitely doesn’t get any easier as you get older. I’m 56, but sometimes I feel like I’m still starting out. So, finding a voice, and the best narrative vehicle to express it is something I’m still wrestling with. It’s part of an ongoing process that never stops. Keep wrestling!

How important is social media to you as an author? I haven’t succumbed to Facebook or Twitter (perhaps to my detriment), but I do enjoy Instagram (I’m @mf.novelist). When you’re writing (or editing all day like I am), it’s sometimes nice to do it with images. And I’ve found and friended other writers on Instagram, some of whom use it in interesting ways ‘to share and connect’ (those ubiquitous words). Though it’s sometimes difficult to find the right tone and to avoid appearing gloating and self-obsessed – those ugly hallmarks of social media. Of course, occasional ‘digital detox’ is essential for any writer.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? As I mature and life gets more crowded and noisier, the writing bit of writing is not so much the challenge, but blocking out periods of solitary time is. For me time, and it’s perhaps a cliché to say, time and silence is key. Finding myself up at Varuna, The Writers House late last year, and faced with a week’s residency and with no particular goal in mind – and no distractions – was heavenly. I ended up writing short stories, one of which will be published in Westerly magazine this year. The experience took me back to the two weeks I spent in a convent in Rome, researching Pietà.

How do you deal with rejection? Stoically, and to immediately latch onto another hopeful or positive opportunity – there are so many these days. And to learn to love your ugly ducklings and to keep trying to turn them into swans. I have also been meaning to maintain a special ‘rejections’ notebook, as there have been so many over the years, and to keep this as a badge of honour.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Different each time.

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? Patricia Highsmith or Tennessee Williams. They both transgressed conservative convention in postwar America – one through spare, eviscerating psychological thrillers, the other through poetic and transcendent prose and plays. I would just like to hear them speak, look at their quizzical faces, and spend time in their writing studios while perhaps passively inhaling their cigarette smoke – you can always find out so much from the physical spaces writers inhabit.

BOOK BYTE

Pieta

These are the last days of 1999. At St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, as the world waits for the new millennium, Lucy, a young Australian woman looks up at Michelangelo’s Pietà behind its pane of bullet-proof glass; a red kabbalah string circles her wrist. She has come with the mysterious parcel her recently deceased mother asked her to bring to the box marked POSTE VATICANE.

But before Rome there is Saint-Cloud. Here, on the outskirts of Paris, Lucy works as an au pair for Jean-Claude and his wife Mathilde. When Mathilde leaves for Central Australia to research the Aboriginal artist Kumanjayi, Lucy’s circle of contacts becomes smaller and strangely intimate: Jean-Claude, the baby Felix for whom she cares, and the couple’s charismatic friend Sébastien, a marble restorer.

Yet Lucy’s homesickness for Australia and its vastness haunts her world, surfacing in the memories of her mother, the Australian garden at Empress Joséphine’s Malmaison, and Mathilde’s letters from Alice Springs. Lucy’s mother, Jude, who was a nun in the 1970s, once warned her daughter ‘to be careful what she wished for’. It is a caution that marks but rarely alters the choices these characters make.

With lushness and tenderness, and revelation, Fitzgerald’s unforgettable novel Pietà exquisitely captures the glorious and imperfect relationships between parents and children, between art and life.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Belinda Lyons-Lee

Belinda’s top tip for aspiring authors: Don’t. Give. Up.

Belinda Lyons-LeeBelinda Lyons-Lee was born in Geelong, Australia and still lives in the region with her husband and son. She has degrees in youth work, education, writing and literature. Belinda has been teaching English and creative writing in high schools for nearly twenty years and the nineteenth century has been an obsession of hers for even longer. Belinda has had various articles published that explore writing, vocation, mental health and creativity. Tussaud is her debut novel. Find out more about Belinda at http://www.blyonslee.com

Author Insight

Why do you write? I write because I love to escape and inhabit the times and places I create, because I want to discover something about what it means to be human, to try and make sense of my own, and other people’s lives. I read for the same reasons.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d be drawing, painting or messing around with clay whilst balancing teaching English. The same life I have now but swap out the writing for another form of creative expression!

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I can’t remember who to attribute the quote to but it goes something like – ‘It’s not what happens to you but what happens within you that defines who you are’. There’s been a lot of ‘stuff’ that has happened to me along my writing journey, the usual culprits of rejections, set-backs and disappointments. However like Marie in my novel, I had to instead concentrate on what was happening within me, my reactions, my self-talk and find a way through it all.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? My publisher (Transit Lounge) has been incredibly supportive in terms of opening dialogue about each step in the publishing process. I can say the same about the editing process – Kate Goldsworthy was amazing in the way she connected and understood not only the technical details of the writing itself, but the deeper, richer essence of the novel that shines through now more clearly because of her attentions. Talking through the front and back cover was very exciting. Josh Durham, the designer, is so very clever and physically captured the mood of the novel perfectly. I actually sent the publisher and Josh a Pinterest board of the sort of covers I loved early on in the process to help frame the look I ideally wanted. Josh came up with a few designs that were all equally impressive but in the end the publisher and I both felt that this one, the one that you see now, was the best representation of the mood of the story.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The very first draft. So much energy, momentum!

 —the worst? Sometimes the technical details of spelling, grammar, punctuation and then chapter length, refinement of sentences, plot holes, inconsistencies etc. This requires a different sort of energy and headspace. Sometimes it’s hard to balance out the two when one, for me, is much more fun than the other!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Celebrate the small accomplishments.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That writing requires an enormous amount of determination and sheer stubbornness.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I’ve had this quote by Neil Gaiman as my screen saver for about seven years. That tells you something about how highly I rate this advice! ‘Start telling the stories only you can tell. Because there will always be better writers than you and there will always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this -or doing that – but you are the only you.’

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s wonderful as a way to connect with readers and people in the ‘writing world’ but I guess like anything, it can quickly turn into a time sucking diversion.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? If I feel a piece lagging, losing energy or momentum, I find it’s because, as William Kenower (?) I think has said, I’m no longer curious about it anymore and perhaps have even lost confidence in myself, my idea and my ability. So the moments I ‘drop out’, I switch to writing another scene or chapter or go sideways into historical research and then maybe approach it slyly again the next day or the day after. This seems to have worked so far…

How do you deal with rejection? Generally I deal with rejection by allowing myself time to feel the sting, hours, days, whatever is needed until the ‘noise’ of it begins to dissipate. Then I consciously remember to myself what the vision for that particular piece of work is and I get back in the chair and just keep going.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Fictitious. Historical. Imaginative.

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? The hardest question ever – aside from name your favourite book! At this very moment in time, I would choose Daphne du Maurier. I read one of her biographies and was fascinated by her life and her complexities as a person. I would like to hear her thoughts on balancing the need she felt for solitude, the need to write and the need for intimate and social relationships.

Book Byte

Paris, 1810. Haunted by the French Revolution, Marie Tussaud has locked herself away in her shop with the death masks she was forced to make to avoid the guillotine.
Philidor, a famous magician, offers her the chance to accompany him to London to assist in creating a wax automaton that will bring them both money and success.
Following a disastrous performance on their opening night in which the wax on their prized spectacle melts, the eccentric Duke, William Cavendish, invites them to his rambling estate,
Welbeck, where he suggests they take up residence, use his underground ballroom for a new show and in return create a private commission for him: a wax automaton in the likeness of Elanor, a beautiful girl who mysteriously disappeared from the estate when he was a child.
In this delicious novel of twists and turns, Welbeck, with its locked doors and rooms, is full of secrets and no-one is who they seem. There is the seductive aura of Shelley, Dickens and Du Maurier in Tussaud. Marie must fight for survival in a world dominated by male advantage and power in a mesmerising story filled with wisdom about human behaviour and motivations.

Buy the book here.

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: Tobias MCorkell

Tobias’s top tip for aspiring authors: Don’t look for ‘tips’ or advice; cultivate your own practice.

Tobias McCorkell is a writer and academic whose fiction and non-fiction interrogate the class, gender and generational divides of Australian culture. He also writes light non-fiction, humour and gift books under the name Tobias Anthony.

The manuscript for Tobias’s first novel, Barely Anything, was awarded the University of Melbourne/Affirm Press Prize for Creative Writing in 2015. In 2018, Tobias appeared at the Melbourne Emerging Writer’s Festival. In 2019, he was accepted into residency programs both domestically and internationally, including a Varuna Residency Fellowship and a Leighton Artists Studios Residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Canada.

Tobias has been teaching creative writing at the University of Melbourne since 2012.

Find out more about Tobias at https://www.tobiasmccorkell.com/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? To tell the truth and connect with people. I’m mostly dissatisfied with how people interact with one another, there’s always a barrier, but writing strips that barrier away and the possibilities for connection and intimacy – even with strangers, with people who you’ve never met – are suddenly limitless.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d like to open a florist, or at least work in one. Probably, though, I’d be a schoolteacher like everyone else in my family.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Time. There’s just no way around it but getting to the required skill/competency level takes about ten years or more, and years of persistent effort. Except for a few freaks or ‘young’ authors being exploited by publishers keen to trade in on youth or some novelty aspect of their identity, the vast majority of people aren’t publishing in their twenties.  

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Really involved! I’m lucky being published by Transit Lounge, because they were keen to see me publish the book I wanted to publish, and so I felt supported during the editing process and like I was in control of the situation. This doesn’t always happen, so I’ve had a dream run with this book, though I’d say it comes down to how professionally you behave and how well you understand your novel as well as the industry. And yes, I helped design the cover – it was almost exactly as I imagined – so I’m to blame if you dislike it.  

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Getting to write. It’s all I want to do, really, apart from watch horror movies and read. If I could find a way to make money off the other two, I’d be set.

—the worst? The administrative tasks: emails, applying for grants/funding/residencies, submitting your work, doing Q+As (just kidding!), etc. It takes more time than it ought to, and mostly your applications are rejected anyway, so it can really feel like a waste, plus it eats into your concentration and focus on the ‘real’ stuff – the writing itself. 

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would’ve spent less time writing and more time reading and trusted that Time would take care of the rest. I wasted precious years stressing about the quality of my work and wondering if/when I’d be published. If I’d been less career-driven I would’ve had space for other things, too, like prioritising my own happiness, which means I would likely have left my relationship a long time before it ended … Too dark?

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m really not sure about this one … I can’t stress the importance of becoming a good editor enough and learning the ropes on the technical side of things. But I was always told this and just never listened. But then, my focus was elsewhere, and I got a handle on that part eventually.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I was once asked ‘What’s a voice that isn’t being voiced?’ and it’s always stuck with me as a way towards conceptualising what I want to do next. My writing isn’t especially original, I’m a fairly traditional writer in some respects, but I can aim to be good and to write something I’d like to read that perhaps isn’t readily available.

How important is social media to you as an author? Not very, though I do tweet relevant information if I have anything to promote and have, only this month, created a Facebook account to do likewise. But I don’t have a big following and doubt it’s of much use. I can’t get past the long-held belief that social media is a disease for the mind, adopted by depressives and the undertalented in a bid for underserved attention. 

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Not really, I think it’s a bit of a myth, a bit like that one about how everybody has a book in them. I think most people don’t have a book in them, and these are probably the same people walking around convinced they’re suffering from writer’s block. Regardless, planning helps – writers should spend about as much time simply thinking about their project and planning as they do writing.

How do you deal with rejection? Booze and good conversation; so, hitting a bar with a mate or date. Sex, too, if I can get it.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Oh. My. God …

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? Jean Rhys. And only on the condition that we wouldn’t waste a single second talking about writing.  

BOOK BYTE

Everything in its Right Place

Tobias McCorkell

Coburg, Melbourne. Ford McCullen is growing up with hismother Deidre and his Pop and Noonie in ‘The Compound’, a pair of units in the shadow of Pentridge prison. His father, Robert, has left them to live in the bush with his new male partner. Nobody is coping.
When Ford’s paternal grandmother Queenie’s good fortune allows him to attend a prestigious Catholic private school on the other side of the river and to learn the violin, Ford finds himself balancing separate identities. At school he sees himself being moulded into an image that is not his own, something at odds with the rough and tumble of his beloved north.
Crumbling under the weight of his family’s expectations and realising that he just might be the only adult amongst them, Ford embarks on a quest for meaning while navigating the uncomfortable realities of his father’s life, his mother’s ongoing crisis, and the pillars of football and religion, delving
ever deeper into a fraught search for the source of the ‘McCullen curse’.
Everything in its Right Place tackles themes of class, love and sexuality with humour, truth and grit. It is a story of the legacies and dilemmas that families bring, of how we all must find our own way.

Buy the book: https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/everything-right-place/

Meet the Author: JD Murphy

John’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read Steven King’s excellent memoir/coaching guide called ‘On writing.’

John D Murphy is an Australian author based in Queensland, He has had a lifelong attraction to storytelling; from stories ranging across family entertainment skits as a child, to turning his life into story as an art of understanding his adult purpose. This first of his novels is, above all, designed to entertain readers and he hopes they will be open to the tale he has crafted within.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  For the pleasure which writing affords me.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?  Teaching and travelling – preferably together.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?  Finding ‘that’ publisher who operates between the big end of town and the self-publishing domains.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? With respect to the development, I have had full engagement. With respect to the cover, I suggested some themes which I considered important; then a creative interpreted those ideas with required commercial focus. I was very pleased with the results.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Taking a fleeting dream sequence and turning it into a kind of reality which will appeal to a reader.

—the worst? 1. Constant interruptions by cats whose dominant thoughts are that I should be focused on them rather than writing. 2. Covid 19 chaos for grounding the launch of my first novel in April 2020.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Dream less and read more.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To read Steven King’s excellent memoir/coaching guide called ‘On writing.’

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Writers write; Authors publish.

How important is social media to you as an author? I am a shy, retiring, outgoing, loquacious type who really has to have something of substance to say before engaging with SM.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Never been a problem. Nor talking incessantly, as my dear wife and close friends would earnestly confirm.

How do you deal with rejection (of a manuscript)? Just the same as any other bump I have had on my life’s paths. Identify the issues and address them. Only happened once, because I had far too many typographical errors in the manuscript to be considered seriously. Having fixed said typographical errors with some stiff editing, I submitted to a Melbourne publishing house and the rest is going to be history.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Engaging. Relevant. Reflective.

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? David H Richter. Falling into Theory (1994). I would be pleased for this author to expand on those of his words which told me that I was going to walk on a writing path.

‘If in my life I have developed any ability to understand those who are other than me, other in race or gender or culture or sexual practice, a good deal of my training in empathy must have come from the practice fiction and poetry have given me in taking on other selves, other lives.’

BOOK BYTE

The Arbor girls are a force to be reckoned with

Maeve Fossard, a nurse during the bombings of Bristol in WW1 wants to escape the pain and suffering around her. A trip to a pub and a chance meeting with a stranger named Colin, changes her life. The shadow world of spies and politics becomes a reality.

Through two World Wars, the Cold War and into the Sixties; from England to Australia, she encounters ultimate highs and soul sapping lows.

Every action has consequences. Her companions, Margaret and Allison, their fates entwined, join a rich tapestry of characters, in her endeavours to create an invisible dynasty of social reform which will continue through to the future and span the globe…

“A fantastic read from a new Australian Author who has a flair for the period of such a wonderful storyline…authentic and moving with beautiful nuances and themes…5 Stars…”  Gail, IndieBooks Reviewer.