Read a lot. Read everything. Read deeply (take notes, analyse what you’re reading: how does that author produce that effect? What is the structure of the piece? Why do you care about the characters?) The more you read and think about other people’s writing, the more you learn about writing.
Angela is an award-winning writer and editor. Her debut novel, A Superior Spectre (Ventura/Saraband), was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award, the MUD Literary Prize, an Australian Book Industry Award, the Readings Prize for New Australian Writing and a Saltire Literary Society Award (Scotland). She is also the author of a novella, Joan Smokes, which won the inaugural Mslexia Novella Award (UK), and a book of flash fiction, Captives. Her work has been widely published in magazines, journals and newspapers, including Island, The Big Issue, Best Australian Stories and Kill Your Darlings. She has worked in bookstores, as a book reviewer, in a whisky bar, as a commissioning editor and publisher, a teacher of writing and publishing, and a freelance editor and consultant. She grew up in Northern NSW and lives in Melbourne, Australia. Find out more about Angela here.
Why do you write? I don’t know how not to write. It’s love and it’s compulsion. It’s a part of who I am and a way that I filter the world and my experiences within it. It’s also a way I connect and communicate with others.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’m lucky that being a writer has folded in with other paths: being an editor, a teacher; working with other writers. In some alternate life I may be a scientist; I would love to better understand the world as its components, at the quantum level.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Firstly, not being good enough and not being ready – that was the first couple of manuscripts. With the books that have been published, the main obstacle was that I cross genres. I don’t write in a way that fits into a neat (marketing) box, and that’s natural to me and that’s okay, but it does limit the number of mainstream publishers that will consider your work.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Yes, I was lucky to have some input. I gave initial ideas and then was guided by the publisher and designer, of course! But I love Josh Durham’s work and am pleased he’s done the cover of both my novels. They’re quite the pair. For Moon Sugar, dark, psychedelic, Marlene Dietrich emerging from lichen – it’s perfect.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The richness that writing brings to life, and the time I actually get to put words down (only a few hours a week at the moment). I also enjoy being part of the Australian writing community and getting to interact with other writers.
—the worst? Not getting enough time (or general head space) to write!
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Not much. I’m a ‘no regrets’ kind of person in general. You learn from everything you do and experience, good or bad. And there are no wasted words, when you’re learning to write, when you’re practising.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m sure people did tell me about working in the arts and living in a city and how expensive and difficult it would be at times, but I’ve always been independent and will follow my nose. It might have taken a bit longer to feel somewhat financially secure and I understand I’ll always work (and soon, parent) around my writing, but that’s just the way it is.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? To always try to understand things from another person’s point of view. That was a strong lesson in my childhood. It’s life advice but writing also stems from it – from empathy towards and curiosity about others (and about your own psyche and how it’s been shaped by perceiving and interacting with the world and with others).
How important is social media to you as an author? I’ve used social media since I began publishing my writing and it was a huge part of my early success (as a blogger!). Now, I see it as a way to be in touch with peers and colleagues, learn about their publications, and chat about writing, personal stuff, the industry and the world at large. Anyone who uses social media just to advertise is using it badly. There has to be a balance. Sometimes I spend a week off it and no one would notice. Many writers never use it. You have to only use it if it works for you, if you enjoy it and find it fairly natural.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I would have said no until this year! The first trimester of pregnancy, I was capable of just doing my work and sustaining the life inside me. That was about it…! I needed to eat and sleep. I had elaborate fantasies about my next meal. I did have a bit of a personality crisis as it was the first time I remembered not having the desire to write, or even read much. And writing and reading is who I am. Even through a major grief, and through the lockdowns, I did not lose the desire and ability to write. But the second trimester came and I felt completely myself again. Sometimes these big life shifts and accompanying hormones or mental states – you have to take a breath and understand it’s likely not permanent. You have to take care of yourself, be in touch with yourself on a different level, and be present and patient.
How do you deal with rejection? I might feel sad for a couple of days, talk to a few friends and my partner about it, and then I never reopen the email. I try to move on, keep writing, keep submitting. Sometimes I retire a piece if I realise it’s being rejected because it’s not ready after all, or not good enough.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Intimate, visual, emotive.
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? Franz Kafka. Not necessarily to tell me what he knows about writing (we can read that in his diaries and make interpretations from his work) but just to be in his presence for an hour, preferably in his serene phase with Dora Diamant. It would be such a privilege.
Mila can’t shake her grief for the life she thought she’d have. She’s broke, childless, and single. But her developing relationship with Josh, a ‘sugar baby’, opens her eyes to new possibilities. Then Josh goes missing on a trip to Europe – a presumed suicide. Mila, and Josh’s best friend Kyle, are devastated, yet they suspect something is amiss. Together, they feel compelled to trace Josh’s steps across Budapest, Prague and Berlin, seeking clues in his last posts online. Yet is there one mysterious factor Mila hasn’t considered? Is running toward danger the only way for Mila to meet her true capacity? Or will it mean yet more loss? This genre-defying stunner asks how we might make the most of our power in the face of fear, loss, and the unknown. It celebrates our ability, despite great challenges, to be intimate with others and with the world.
Alan Fyfe is a Jewish writer originally from Mandurah, the unceded country of the Binjareb People, whose verse and prose can be found in Westerly, Overland, Australian Poetry Journal, and Cottonmouth. He was an inaugural editor of UWA creative writing journal, Trove, and a prose editor for American web journal, Unlikely Stories.
Alan is a winner of the Karl Popper Philosophy Award, was shortlisted for the Judith Wright Poetry Prize, was commended in the Tom Collins Poetry Prize, and has been selected as a WA Poets’ Inc Emerging Poet for 2022 / 23. His first novel, T, received shortlistings for both the T.A.G Hungerford Prize (Australia) and the Chaffinch Press Aware Prize (Ireland). T is published by Transit Lounge. Most recently, Alan’s poetry collection, G-d, Sleep, and Chaos, was shortlisted for the Flying Islands unpublished manuscript award. He is currently writing his second novel, The Cross Thieves, a prequel to T in ring composition, as part of a doctorate in creative writing at UWA and is also teaching poetry.
Why do you write?
I don’t have an inspirational answer for that. I invested so much time getting good at writing, in knowing about poetics and the structures of story, that I’m not much good at many other things now. Most of my other skills are trivial – fire twirling is one of them, for example. I might have had a more directed answer earlier in my life, but those answers have all been said and have become cliché. No one needs to hear another writer playing out their messiah complex in an interview, or saying what benefits writing has for them personally. There are good things and bad things about it. At this point, it has just become an irrational belief for me, like a religion. I feel impulses to structure thoughts into poems and stories that I can’t explain except as a form of faith in literature itself, with all the attendant ecstasy and terrors that having faith brings.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
Trying to find fulfilment with some other thing, probably. Or just doing some other job and looking forward to holidays. No one’s forcing me to write, it’s a choice I take full responsibility for.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?
I’m going to talk about my novel, T, here because I’ve published many different things, each with their own gates to pass. It was money, really. I mean, I didn’t self-publish (which would have required me to pay for it), I looked for a good publisher and eventually found a very good one. But I was out of work when I wrote T, it was hard to live and look after my son, never mind the huge task of editing the novel to the millimetre and nursing it through to publication. Living without money is an extreme challenge; and making art while that’s happening is even harder. Other obstacles were about the kind of story I told.
Methamphetamine is a big issue in WA, and it’s not an issue everyone here is particularly keen to talk about. I didn’t want to tell a false redemption story, that’s not exactly what’s going on with my novel, so there was some resistance to the way I told the story, and some resistance from me to compromising the story too much. I’m all for good editing, in fact I love working with editors to make the art better, but there are certain compromises I wasn’t willing to make. T is a fiction novel, but a lot of it is close to my own experiences. There are also real humans, who are not me, that go through this stuff and I had to honour them. There were many more obstacles, probably a novel worth of obstacles – but probably not a very interesting novel.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover?
I did have input into the cover. I have to give my publisher a plug here, Transit Lounge were fantastic to work with and I didn’t feel alienated from the process at any stage. I’ve had some friends who had the opposite experience with their own publishers, they were just told what would happen with their books. I got a big PDF full of draft designs for covers, a lot of work went into it, and I got to workshop cover ideas with my little writing family and get their opinions. Two thirds of my friends wanted to date that guy on the cover. He sort of looks like a character from the book and gives the thing a human face, and there’s a wing for the Icarus theme. In editing T, it was the same, I felt like I was co-working the thing with a really clued up and creative team. I was well consulted and never pressured to do anything I was uncomfortable with. It was a great experience.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life?
Feeling like I put something complex and accomplished in the world that wasn’t there before and, if I’m very lucky, that will still be about after I’m gone. Hah, that’s me being religious about it again – a poet’s afterlife.
There’s a lot of anxiety about getting ahead. Like any creative industry, it’s very tough to excel. You’ll spend months and years waiting to hear back about things that might step you up a bit, even change your life. And the answer is never guaranteed to be one you’ll like.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer?
Nothing. I don’t devote much energy to regret. It’s a waste of time. If I have wronged someone, that’s something to regret. That energy can be devoted to fixing things though, rather than the useless activity of wishing the past was different – you know we can’t make it different, yeah? If I’ve done anything good in writing now, it’s a product of what happened before.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?
Again, I’ve been told all the things I needed to land me wherever the hell this is. Some of them were wrong, but wrong things teach a person to think critically.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
I went to a weird lecture John Kinsella gave when I was an undergrad at UWA at some point in the neolithic past. I can’t remember what the unit was and I’m pretty certain he didn’t talk much about the unit. It was, none the less, a fantastic and incredibly honest lecture; and some of it was about the work of publishing your own writing. He said, “Let’s face it, who gets published depends on who goes to which dinner parties with who.” And that put a pretty bourgeois face on it – I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a dinner party.
I think it was only six months later, I found myself in Brenda Walker’s writing class and I repeated Kinsella’s assertion to her, and she said it might be generally right but there seemed to be some artists who that doesn’t apply to, who “look neither left nor right.” The combination of those two ideas was a good thing to keep me going. It can be a depressing situation for an artist in the times when you’re not getting listened to much, and it was a consolation for me to think that I just didn’t have the network for it. But it was also great to think the pure practice and study of the art was a thing that could win through eventually.
Both Kinsella and Walker were right in their ways. Moving from the Peel Region to the city has helped me with a lot of connections and those connections sometimes throw me good chances at things in writing. But then again, when I published my first piece in a major Australian journal, I didn’t know anyone there, they just loved the story and the way it was written – they thought it was important to publish. It was the same with Transit Lounge, who are a Melbourne publisher outside my usual beat, Barry Scott and the team read the manuscript and thought it was worthy. You need some psychic defences in writing, and you (possibly) need some ideals too, the balance of those two pieces of advice were excellent examples of both.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?
Practise a lot, most things can be improved with practice. Make some friends who also write, not just networks or people who can advance you, but actual friends you like to be around and enjoy talking to about more than writing. Learn as much as you can access from wherever you are. Finish some projects. Finish projects that seem hard to make work and be honest with yourself about whether the final product works or not. Practise mostly though. Stay at the task until your work becomes undeniable.
How important is social media to you as an author?
I love social media, genuinely. I love being able to share thoughts and entertain people, make them laugh. Social media gives me instant access to that. In a sense, it’s the same as any other canvas to create on. I’ve run an activist campaign on social media and the speed and reach of it was incredible. The campaign worked, in the end, and we saved the thing we were trying to save. But there’s a moment in an author’s life where it can become work too. I was mostly restricted to one platform in the past and I was happy with it, I felt a small friend group to communicate with was a pleasure. But then the professionalisation of the platforms entered my life and that’s a different thing entirely. There’s a lot of pressure on a modern author to promote across the platforms, to find big crowds there. It is an opportunity. We shouldn’t see that access as an entirely bad thing, it has certainly helped poetry sales in a major way, which helps a more niche art like poetry to reach its crowd. But it can change from fun and connection to cynical hard work real quick. There’s a balance between being professional and having fun that I’m still trying to work out.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?
Not exactly. I always have something I want to do, some project on or some fully worked out story, or prompt for a poem, that just needs to be wrangled into a nice structure of words. I have exhaustion sometimes, or some other project that seems more fun than the thing I’m absolutely supposed to be doing. I sometimes have to fight myself to concentrate on the thing in front of me and not deliberately procrastinate. I can get very involved in binging a show I like, for example. And there’s depression, which can sometimes stunt my productivity for months. During a bout of depression, I will feel like utter shit and think anything I complete is worthless dust.
But the idea of a blockage, as such, seems strange to me. I don’t actually know what that means. Does it mean that the writer has nothing to write about? This might sound horrible, but if you don’t have a good idea what to write about, maybe don’t write. Writing is an activity, not a condition of being. I sort of plan to give up writing one day. And I expect that’ll happen when I can’t think of what to write next.
If I’m exhausted, that’s not blockage, it’s the same as wearing yourself out doing anything else. The answer is to rest for a while or to force myself to do it if I have a deadline. Forcing myself is something I seem to be able to do quite a bit, I have a good work ethic and I know the basics of turning out a competent piece, so I sit in front of the laptop and write during a time where it may not be a pleasure to write. I experience not wanting to work hard sometimes because it’s fun to lie around eating cake or whatever, but less than in other jobs I’ve done.
How do you deal with rejection?
Humour, bitching, psychic defences (as previously mentioned). Being truthful with myself that either the pool is huge and hard to stand out in, or that I didn’t make the best work I could have. I used to get complimentary rejection letters sometimes, with a little positive feedback in them. I liked those, it was good for the psychic defence to think I did something great but there wasn’t enough space or bigger writers were on offer, encouragement from people you don’t know can be a surprisingly good motivator in the early stages. Mostly the way to deal with rejection is just keep going or give up. That’s the bare bones of it. A writer can do either, whichever way the writer decides to absorb rejection into their ego. It’s good to have some friends who are on the same path as you. It makes the experience lighter when you feel like it’s shared and, believe me, it is shared.
In three words, how would you describe your writing?
Cooked yet poetic.
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?
That’s a hard question. So many people who have written things I admire turn out to be irredeemable scumbags; and I think a lot of things said about the “writing life” are either personal to the writer or useless tropes.
I guess I’m going to have to say Emily Dickinson. I got a line of hers tattooed on my arm to celebrate my first book contract. I don’t think Emily could give me much certain advice judging from the way she used words, but to just hear anything she had to say would likely be mind-blowing. You can see in her letters, even her mundane communications were often abstract masterworks. She could talk to me about baking if she wanted to. Seems like she shared the same passion for baking that I do.
Chilling to read, cut with powerful energy and strong feeling.
T or Timothy lives on the economic margins, both using and selling methamphetamine in Mandurah. When a friend, Gulp, tragically dies and T grows close to Lori-Bird his life promises to become more centred. But he moves between loving and leaving her.
This is a lyrical and arresting portrait of characters who crave love but struggle with addiction and the tenuous yet intimate community connections it gives them. The spirit of the Peel landscape informs both T’s identity and the lives of the people he encounters and offers a way out.
Intimate with suffering and beauty, T is also at times transcendent. A contemporary novel with the urgency of what Davies’ Candy, Kerouac’s On the Road, and Garner’s Monkey Grip were to their own times.
Shortlisted for the TAG Hungerford Manuscript Award 2018
Shortlisted for the International Chaffinch Press Manuscript Award (Ireland).
‘Confronting and discomfiting, with small moments of redemption –T is very much a story for our times.’ Kate Noske and Richard Rossiter (Hungerford Award Judges).
‘There is nothing else currently being written that is quite as exciting. Its blend of realism, grittiness, pared back lyricism and magical realism is unique and hasn’t been seen since the work of a powerful novelist of regional life like Tom Flood. T works the margins, both in terms of place and subject of the culture around meth use, in utterly compelling ways. This story needs to be told.’ Lucy Dougan, Premier’s Award winner and Westerly editor.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Peter’s top tip for aspiring authors: First write the book.
Peter Papathanasiou was born in northern Greece in 1974 and adopted as a baby to an Australian family. His debut book, a memoir, was published in 2019 as ‘Little One’ by Allen & Unwin in Australia and as ‘Son of Mine’ by Salt Publishing in the UK. Peter’s writing has otherwise been published by The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Times, Toronto Star, The Guardian UK, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Good Weekend, ABC, SBS, Meanjin and Overland. He holds a Master of Arts (MA) in Creative Writing from City, University of London; a Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Sciences from The Australian National University (ANU); and a Bachelor of Laws from ANU specialising in criminal law. He is currently working on screen adaptations of his books and writing his new novel.
Why do you write? There are so many reasons why I write. I write to share my experiences of the world. I write to share my thoughts on certain topics. I write to educate based on my knowledge and special topics. I write to entertain, to take people on an adventure. I write to feel less alone. I write to ground myself, to bring my focus to scattered energy, and bring my satisfaction and joy at the sight of something I created. There are so many reasons why I write. But in short, I write because I cannot not write.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I imagine I would be needing some other creative outlet to stay sane, so perhaps a visual or graphic art, or performing art.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Myself. Don’t let anyone tell you that publishing is easy; it is very, very hard. Some people are fortunate and have opportunities come to them readily, but for most writers, it is a long and difficult grind. The secret is to stick with it, to have resilience and not give up. And in succeeding at that battle, your only major obstacle is yourself.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I was very involved in the development of my book, which included working with an excellent editor who both gave and was receptive to feedback, having my author photo taken professionally, and working with my publisher on the back-cover blurb and most eye-catching and appropriate cover. I was presented with numerous designs which were whittled down to a shortlist. The final cover features a photograph by a Western Australian artist, and I am very proud to have this image on the cover of my book and support another local artist.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The feeling of pride that comes with executing an entertaining story. And I also love receiving reader feedback, especially when it is filled with praise and gratitude. Never underestimate how nice this is to receive as an author! It makes all those hours at the keyboard and moments of self-doubt worth it.
—the worst? Rejection! I know it is part of the game, but even after all this time, it is still hard to face, though I am hopefully getting better at processing.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Two things: first, I would be more open to feedback from others; and second, I would have started writing earlier in life because the more you practise, the better you become.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wished I’d been told how indirect and circuitous the journey would be, that it wasn’t just a case of A to B, and that I needed to think outside the box to both create opportunities and make my writing stand out from the crowd.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? First of all: finish your book! So many people abandon their manuscript or lose interest or get distracted. But without even finishing your book, the rest doesn’t matter. And second: if you seek to find a publisher for your book, don’t give up! Be prepared for challenges, but stay resilient and tenacious.
How important is social media to you as an author? I think that unless you’re a superstar author, social media is an essential part of the modern publishing process. It shouldn’t supplant your primary focus, which is your writing, but social media still needs some oxygen in order to help publishers with their book promotion, and also as a channel for readers to interact with their favourite authors. I get lots of messages via social media from people who have enjoyed my writing, which I genuinely appreciate – to know that my writing has made a connection – and always take the time to reply.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I think any writer who says they don’t experience writer’s block is lying! Like rejection, it is a part of the game. Overcoming it is a matter of staring at that blinking cursor until your eyes want to explode. Stay in your writing seat, in other words! When that fails, I have no choice but to step away, so will usually go for a walk or ride. It’s incredible how many ideas have come to me on the back of a bike.
How do you deal with rejection? I don’t very well! I usually fall into a deep pit of despair for about a day. But then I wake up, the sun is shining, the pain is less and growing ever smaller in my rear-view mirror, and I refocus and go again. But there needs to be a grieving process too, you can’t deny yourself that. For some people it is minutes, for some it is weeks.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Evocative. Accessible. 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? My debut novel is a work of outback noir crime fiction which was especially inspired by the late Peter Temple, who died in 2018. He was the first Australian crime writer to win the Gold Dagger in 2007 for ‘The Broken Shore’. In a first for a crime novel, Temple’s ‘Truth’ then won Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin, in 2010. The name of my secondary main character Sparrow is actually an intentional doff of the cap to Temple and his own Indigenous cop named Paul Dove. So, it would be great to sit down with Temple for an hour, tell him all about his influence, and also hear about his own inspirations as a writer.
A small outback town wakes to a savage murder. Molly Abbott, a popular teacher at the local school, is found taped to a tree and stoned to death. Suspicion falls on the refugees at the new detention centre on Cobb’s northern outskirts. Tensions are high between immigrants and some of the town’s residents.
Detective Sergeant Georgios ‘George’ Manolis is despatched to his childhood hometown to investigate. His late father immigrated to Australia in the 1950s, where he was first housed at the detention centre’s predecessor – a migrant camp. He later ran the town’s only milk bar. Within minutes of George’s arrival, it is clear that Cobb is not the same place he left as a child. The town once thrived, but now it’s disturbingly poor and derelict, with the local police chief it seemingly deserves. As Manolis negotiates his new colleagues’ antagonism and the simmering anger of a community destroyed by alcohol and drugs, the ghosts of his own past flicker to life. His work is his calling, his centre, but now he finds many of the certainties of his life are crumbling.
White skin, black skin, brown skin – everyone is a suspect in this tautly written novel that explores the nature of prejudice and keeps the reader guessing to the last. The Stoning is an atmospheric page-turner, a brilliant crime novel with superb characters, but also a nuanced and penetrating insight into the heart of a country intent on gambling with its soul.
Angela’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read. Ponder the experience of reading. Reading as a writer is an art in itself.
Angela O’Keeffe grew up on a farm in South East Queensland and now lives in Sydney. She completed a Master of Arts in Writing at UTS and has had short stories published in literary journals. Night Blue is her first book.
Why do you write? We can’t ever get into the head of another human but we can imagine ourselves into anyone and anything, whether fictional or real. For me, writing is the best and most exhilarating way of doing that. It’s my prism for experiencing the world.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? As far as having some sort of prism for experiencing the world I can’t imagine being happy with anything that wasn’t related to the arts. I would pick acting, I think, as there is that similar aspect of inhabiting a character, of stepping beyond the boundary of the self and in some way experiencing the other.
What was the toughest obstacle to becoming published? The toughest obstacle was me. I wrote probably three or four novels over the years, and a couple of those got initial interest from publishers that then didn’t go anywhere. I really took to heart the adages about writing “what you know” and “showing not telling” and in hindsight I think I let those adages sort of shackle me. In 2016 I went to Varuna, The National Writers House, for a “Conversations with Writers” workshop with Peter Bishop and he talked about allowing the writing “to breathe” and something just clicked for me. I realised I could step into a space where I didn’t know “what I knew”, a space where there was not necessarily a distinction between “showing and telling,” and things just got better from there. I wrote the first pages of Night Blue soon after that.
How involved were you in the development of your book. Did you have input into the cover? Barry from Transit Lounge really loved the book; from the start there was an openness, a common understanding. He has this way in his emails of saying little but meaning much, and I just felt really supported. Yet he was ready to push back when he felt he needed to, and I really appreciated that too. There was a small change I wanted to make in the final edit that he didn’t agree with. In hindsight he was probably right. There comes a point where the writer just has to let go of the work. Barry sent me five or six cover designs by Peter Lo, and asked me to choose my top three. The decision was never going to be mine alone – it wasn’t my department – but it was wonderful to be invited into that process. I love the cover that Peter designed for Night Blue; for me it speaks its own exquisite language to what is inside the book.
What is the best aspect of your writing life? The sense of freedom and discovery.
The worst? Being deep in it and knowing I have to break to do the shopping.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? For me, this question is quite useless. I wouldn’t know what I know now if things had been different. And I wouldn’t know it in the way I know it. For me, that’s impressive and I’m unwilling to walk myself back from that.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m tempted to answer same as above, but I do wish I’d been told that it’s best not to write with an open packet of biscuits within reach. But I stumbled on this pretty quickly on my own.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? In class at UTS Glenda Adams said something about when writing a first draft to let “everything in”; she said it was “like gathering flowers”, and she made these gestures of reaching left and right. I always loved that.
How important is social media to you as a writer? Right now it plays a role in letting people know about Night Blue. It also helps me come across writers, artists, podcasts that I find inspiring. I’ve had lovely connections with other writers on Instagram; it was through Instagram that Favel Parrett kindly agreed to write a commendation for Night Blue. The downside is that it can be a vacuous time waster. A bit like sugar, use in moderation.
Do you experience “writer’s block” and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t experience a block as such; I can always write. It’s more a matter of whether the writing is any good. If I’m really not happy with how it’s going I usually stop and go for a walk. I live near the ocean and just walking by it is an expansive experience. On the way back I might stop at the shops and buy items for a meal, and often by the time I’m cooking the onions something has shifted in the writing – in the way I see it and feel it – and I’ll know what it needs.
How do you deal with rejection? Cry. Vow never to write again. Go for a walk. Realise I want to keep at it.
In three words how would you describe your writing? Poetic. Accessible. Arresting.
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 want them to tell you about living a writing life? Franz Kafka. He once wrote that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” I’d want to ask him about that.
Potent, haunting and lyrical, Night Blue is a narrative largely told in the voice of the painting Blue Poles. It is an original and absorbing approach to revisiting Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner as artists and people, as well as a realigning our ideas around the cultural legacy of Whitlam’s purchase of Blue Poles in 1973.
It is also the story of Alyssa, and a contemporary relationship, in which O’Keeffe immerses us in the essential power of art to change our personal lives and, by turns, a nation.
Moving between New York and Australia with fluid ease, Night Blue is intimate and tender, yet surprisingly dramatic. It is a glorious exploration of how art must never be undervalued.
Sandi Scaunich’s career spans the fields of medical anthropology, women’s health, and diversity and inclusion. Her writing has appeared in various blogs, academic reports and The Age. She lives in Melbourne with her husband, three children and a very energetic Kelpie x named Pesca. Chasing the McCubbin is her first novel.
Why do you write? I’m not a big planner, so for me writing is an exciting and mysterious process of discovery that takes me out of my head and into the minds and bodies of my characters.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I (temporarily) stopped working in my career during the second lockdown. Until then, writing had been a side passion that I squeezed in around working and family. The kids are back at school now, which means I’ve been typing away freely, doing Q&As (ha!) – and gosh, it’s been lovely!
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My career is outside the publishing industry, and therefore I had no comprehension of how it operated. Unsolicited or agent? Bulk submissions or one at a time? These questions, and many more, were complete unknowns to me. So I enrolled in several courses, but the publishing industry still seemed like an exclusive grand palace with guards and huge gates where only a selected few gained access. Eventually I broke through!
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? When it came to editing and cover design, Transit Lounge were incredibly collaborative. Actually, I loved the first cover proof, so there was little back and forth!
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The joy of creating a new story filled with unique characters that, in my mind, live and breathe.
—the worst? Spending long hours at a keyboard isn’t great for the body! At the end of a writing session, I sometimes feel like I’ve aged ten years. And back and neck aches lead to headaches – so not great. I’ve integrated regular exercise and stretching into my weekly routine to counteract this. A must!
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Hmm … Would I have the wisdom and knowledge I have now? If so, I’d ditch the expectation of a publisher responding almost instantly with a big, enthusiastic, accepting YES.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That the publishing industry moves at glacial speed, and to expect rejections, often in the form of silence. Plus, I’d recommend attending as many pitch sessions as possible.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Graeme Simsion told me recently to keep my expectations realistic. This really resonated with me, as it’s about celebrating the wins and avoiding disappointment. An extreme example, but I see it like this: if an author is disappointed their book ‘only’ hit number 2 on the New York Best Sellers list, then said author (the J K Rowlings aside, of course) needs a reality check! It’s made it to the New York Times Best Sellers list! (On a side note, that’s not something I expect to be dealing with!)
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? I am definitely in the debut writers’ camp of ‘write what you know’. Stick to a subject you’re passionate about and know intimately. And listen to your gut instincts. For instance, there was a moment in the early stages of writing Chasing the McCubbin when I toyed with the idea of changing Ron’s character. By way of background, Ron is meant to represent a modern reincarnation of the man in Frederick McCubbin’s famous painting ‘Down On His Luck’. In the 1800s, impressionist painters, such as McCubbin, were promoting the white male narrative through their works – the white man as explorer, worker, prospector, farmer, etc. In light of contemporary values, I was tempted to carve up this traditional narrative. But Ron was simply too clear in my mind to disregard. I could hear him speak, visualise his walk and see him pottering in the shed. So despite my brain urging me to sever the continuation of the white male narrative, my gut told me to stick with Ron. Likeable or not, progressive or not, he evolved authentically as I saw him. Authentic characters engage readers; if they’re not, they risk feeling more like vehicles. Trust your instincts, I reckon.
How important is social media to you as an author? I’m a bit of a technophobe, really. In fact, I’d avoid social media completely if I could! But, hey, it’s no longer 1991, the year Chasing the McCubbin is set. My most significant tech-related achievement of late was connecting my Instagram to Facebook and Twitter! As much as I’d ideally be happy to avoid social media, I do want to connect with readers, and therefore I’m making an effort to post regularly on Instagram (I rarely check Facebook and Twitter). I’ve even posted a few vids of me chatting to the camera – talk about progress!
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t really believe in ‘writer’s block’. I think it might be more a crisis of confidence, although, luckily, I haven’t experienced it yet. Until recently, my biggest obstacle was finding the time to write – that was my personal block!
How do you deal with rejection? A Spritz Aperol and a blockbuster-action-type-movie. Like anything Marvel, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars…
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Atmospheric. Sensitive. Honest.
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? Having a chat over coffee with Helen Garner would be a dream. I’d pick her brains about all-things-writers-life … I’m not fussed about what exactly. In fact, she could tell me her preferred breakfast cereal and I’d be interested. (Is that, um, creepy?!)
The Pines, an outer Melbourne suburb down on its luck. A country in the grip of recession.
Experienced collector Ron senses new possibilities: swift evictions provide hard-rubbish to scour and garage-sales have doubled. There’s only one problem: since losing his wife, Ron has struggled to navigate the suburbs alone. Plus, his deteriorating health slows him down.
This all changes through a chance meeting with Joseph, a troubled, withdrawn and unemployed 19-year old who knows nothing about antiques. As Joseph comes to understand and appreciate Ron’s world of eccentric bargain hunters, and hopefulness, his ability to navigate a history of family violence and to see a future for himself grows. Both come to share the wild dream of finding a rare bargain such as an original Frederick McCubbin painting and making their fortune. So begins an exhilarating adventure and an unlikely and beautiful friendship.
Set against the background of the early 1990s, Chasing the McCubbin is funny and sad in equal measure. A story of loneliness and the ageless desire for belonging, it will be the most heartbreaking yet feel-good novel you will read this year.
‘Truly fine writing with a great sense of characters and place, sympathetic and heartfelt without being sentimental, Scaunich pulls us into a fascinating world of low stakes and petty rivalries.’ GRAEME SIMSION, author of The Rosie Project
‘Authentic, subtle, evocative and alive.’ KATE RYAN
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.
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.
Everything in its Right Place
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.
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.
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.’
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.
Dan’s top tip for aspiring authors: Develop a tough skin and don’t take the rejections personally.
Dan Kaufman spent most of his career at The Sydney Morning Herald, where he edited almost every section at one time or another, from Travel to MyCareer. He also wrote for almost every section, including essays and literary articles for Spectrum, and had the unofficial title of being the humiliation correspondent by writing about such topics as spending 24 hours in Star City and going to a bondage club. Since leaving the SMH he has continued to write the occasional opinion column for it. He also teaches writing workshops through his business Media Survival.
Why do you write? It’s a compulsion. Once a story or an idea comes to mind and takes over, I become obsessed with it until I’ve finished.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I have no idea. I spent most of my adult life as a journalist – and I now teach writing workshops – so it’s hard to imagine life without writing. I often think writing saved me.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Stamina and finding the right person to believe in the book. It’s not enough to get an agent – or even an editor who likes it. Often, you then need to get other people in the publishing company to get on board. However, if – like me – you write novels that don’t fit neatly into a specific genre, or that take risks (or both) then getting a publisher is almost as hard as winning the lottery. I wrote a previous book that I spent over 10 years writing and was obsessed with it. I still am, actually. I got an agent, I had interest from several publishers, I even had a judge from a literary competition email me and say that the novel deserved to get published and that he loved it – but no publisher could get the group approval amongst their editors to go ahead with it.
So with my new novel I took a different approach and sent it to a small publisher who didn’t need to get the approval of other editors – and it worked. However, it took thousands upon thousands of rejections over many, many, many years before I got a book deal.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Because I spent so long working as a magazine and newspaper sections editor – and I have worked on the production of countless covers in the past – I was hands on with my book. Luckily, my publisher (the fantastic David Tenenbaum from Melbourne Books) was great about this.
The cover idea was mine, and I suggested a great illustrator I know (Michael McGurk, who I have worked with in the past on magazines and at The Sydney Morning Herald) – and Michael absolutely knocked it out of the park. I couldn’t be happier with the cover design.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Simple: it allows me to disappear into an imaginary world and make things happen – all while playing with words, which I love doing more than anything else.
—the worst? It’s unlikely that I’ll become a millionaire from it. Or even afford toilet paper on the black market.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would spend a lot more time working on plots before just diving in. I’ve written countless unpublished books, and in retrospect they all had a common flaw: the plots were too thin. It took me a LONG time to learn how to put a plot together.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To create better plots!
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Show, don’t tell. Rather than saying that something is happening, show it. Paint a picture in the reader’s mind with details. For example, don’t just say that John was happy. Show him thumping his steering wheel with joy while screaming out a victorious “yes!”
However, it’s a fine line – too many details can detract from the story.
How important is social media to you as an author? Social media is important – maybe even crucial now in the age of the corona virus. Having said that, I’m still working on improving my own social media presence in an authentic way. I want to make sure that whatever I do online remains true to who I am as a person.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? No – but that doesn’t mean the ideas are always flowing. I think of writers block as when someone sits in front of a keyboard and doesn’t know what to write and gets frustrated.
That’s never happened to me, because my approach is not to force things. When the ideas come, get them out of you. When they don’t, then let it go. After a while, they’ll come back.
Thinking that you have to write is, in my mind, a bad attitude. The writing should come out of you because you have something to say. You shouldn’t even have a choice: you have to write. When you don’t have anything to say, that’s a sign you shouldn’t be writing at all. Only bad writing can come when people think they have to write and so they just force it.
How do you deal with rejection? Sometimes, quite frankly, it can be soul crushing. Having said that, I try to find any constructive criticism and make the most of it – and if it’s just a blanket rejection, then I try to use it as an excuse to think about how I can make my writing even better.
Rejection is an integral part of writing. Criticism is the best thing that can happen to us, and being forced to improve our novels and not become complacent can be a positive, not a negative, force.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Comic, bittersweet, satirical.
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? There are many writers who I absolutely idolise – but I have learnt from my journalism days that it’s never good to meet your idols. However, if I had to pick one then I’d go with DBC Pierre (the author of Vernon God Little) – I’m sure he could give me some great tips on both writing and being a writer. Vernon was such a brilliant novel that it would be great just to talk to DBC about how he developed it.
Drowning in the Shadows
by Dan Kaufman
David’s journalism students petrify him. Then again, so does his cat.
His girlfriend broke up with him, he writes about bars for a shrinking newspaper that’s abandoned news reporting for lifestyle articles, and he’s desperately searching for meaning amongst the backdrop of Sydney’s shallow social scene.
Then he meets a young woman who just might be the answer. The only problem is, she’s a friend of one of his students.
Drowning in the Shallows is a comedy about heartache, a satire of Sydney society, a coming-of-age tale about a man in his 30s who is only now growing up, and a love story about a man and his beloved evil cat.
Kirsten’s top tip for aspiring authors: Find your unique style and don’t be afraid to stick with it.
Kirsten Krauth is an author and arts journalist who lives in Castlemaine, Australia. Her writing has been published in the Guardian, Saturday Paper, Monthly, Age/SMH and Overland. She’s inspired by photography, pop and punk, film, other writers and growing up in the ’80s. Almost a Mirror was shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize and her first novel is just_a_girl. For more on the book visit @almost.a.mirror on Instagram or search out Almost a Mirror on YouTube, Spotify and Apple Music to hear the playlist.
Why do you write? I don’t feel like I have a choice! I have written creatively since I was four years old. When I’m working on a writing project, I feel challenged, content, curious. When researching, I learn a lot about new topics and I like to attempt to work out why people do the things they do. It also helps me deal with experiences that have lodged inside that I need to bring out to the open to contemplate.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’ve always dreamt of being a musician which is probably why I write about music so much. A dancer. An actor. Something expressive.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I found it hard to get an agent at first until I met the wonderful Jo Butler. Some of the agent comments along the way were pretty tough. But as this was my second novel, I knew what feedback to take on and what to discard. I was lucky this time in that it was a dream run in terms of getting a publisher. Transit Lounge sought the book out and being shortlisted for the Penguin Literary Prize gave it a boost.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Yes, I felt completely involved. The designer chosen for the cover was the person I would have picked. Josh Durham. He’s also a friend in Castlemaine so that was a nice coincidence. I’m a very visual person and as the book is partly about photography I was keen to have a say. Josh and I and Transit share the same aesthetic so it worked out beautifully.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The freedom to work from home, the collaboration, the immersion in ideas, the chance to meet other writers and artists.
—the worst? At the moment, the uncertainty of publishing a book on 1 April in this climate and the cancellation of all my launches and festival gigs.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? It took me a long time to start writing fiction as I began as an editor and arts journalist. I wish I’d started writing novels when I was in my teens – I dreamed about it for a few decades before I did it.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To choose a handful of people more experienced than you, who you admire as writers, and take their feedback seriously (rather than a broad spectrum of opinion that can be confusing when you’re starting out).
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Richard Flanagan said not to consciously write the deep and meaningful in, the erotic, the humour, the sadness – to just observe and let the reader do this themselves. This informs every aspect of my writing now.
How important is social media to you as an author? At the moment it is a lifeline in these current strange times. I’ve set up a FB group called Writers Go Forth to help authors whose books were due to be launched in 2020. It’s got 1400 members in a week! Building that kind of community is important to me.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? No, I don’t. My creative writing time is so precious I get on with it. I always write a first draft in fragments. I got a great tip for starting off if you’re stuck. Think of: 1. A location 2. A character 3. An emotion. Eg A concert, Nick Cave, Rage – this is in my book Almost a Mirror. I find I can start writing from that place immediately.
How do you deal with rejection? It gets easier as you go along. But then again as you keep writing novels more seems to ride on them! I tend to receive the rejection, feel upset on the day, put it aside, wake up the next day with a new idea and return to the rejection a fair way down the track. I don’t dwell on it.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Punchy. Stylistic. Empathetic.
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? Oh wow! It would be Patti Smith. I admire her strength and resilience and the power she creates with images and words – and music. I’d like to know how she had the courage to always be herself and how she manages to have such an emotional impact on the reader and audience at gigs.
Almost a Mirror
Like fireflies to the light, Mona, Benny and Jimmy are drawn
into the elegantly wasted orbit of the Crystal Ballroom
and the post-punk scene of 80s Melbourne, a world that
includes Nick Cave and Dodge, a photographer pushing
his art to the edge.
With precision and richness Kirsten Krauth hauntingly
evokes the power of music to infuse our lives, while diving
deep into loss, beauty, innocence and agency. Filled with
unforgettable characters, the novel is above all about the
shapes that love can take and the many ways we express
tenderness throughout a lifetime.
As it moves between the Blue Mountains and Melbourne,
Sydney and Castlemaine, Almost a Mirror reflects on the
healing power of creativity and the everyday sacredness of
family and friendship in the face of unexpected tragedy.