Melissa Ferguson is a cancer-fighting scientist who loves to explore scientific possibilities through fiction. She lives in Geelong with her husband, two children and two guinea pigs. Her short fiction has appeared in Island Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly and Postscripts to Darkness. Her debut novel The Shining Wall is available now. You can connect with her on Twitter @melissajferg or at her website melissajaneferguson.com
Melissa’s top tip for authors: Finish things and submit them.
Why do you write? Writing is a creative outlet for me. I used to love writing when I was a child, but then I gave up for many years as I pursued an education and a career as a scientist. My husband is a musician and a visual artist and I was always jealous of his creative pursuits. When I was in my early 30s I’d had my first child and some health problems that made me reassess my priorities. I took the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to do. I completed a short evening course in creative writing. At first my writing was mostly memoir and realism and was a therapeutic exercise that helped me work through the events of a difficult couple of years. Then one day I’d had enough of that and started writing fantasy and science fiction and began having a lot more fun.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I began a Masters in Human Nutrition a few years ago, but it cut into my writing time too much and I exited with a certificate. If I wasn’t writing I would probably be trying to make a go of a career in nutrition.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? There’s a lot of luck involved with getting published. The industry is so subjective. I think you just need to keep honing your craft and putting yourself out there until your work gets in the hands of the right person.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Josh at Design by Committee came up with the cover for The Shining Wall. It was the first one the publisher showed me and I found it immediately visually stunning, but I wasn’t sure it fit the themes of the story completely. After a couple of tweaks I was more satisfied with the cover and we went with it.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The best aspect of my writing life is when someone genuinely enjoys a story I’ve written. You can’t beat that feeling.
—the worst? The sore neck and shoulders from being hunched over a keyboard so often.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would have started earlier and not waited until I was in my thirties to take up writing again.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To go with my instincts when something doesn’t feel right.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? To finish things and submit them.
How important is social media to you as an author? Social media has been great for me for networking with other authors and publishing professionals and expanding my writing community. I can be quite shy in real life situations, so I get a lot more value out of my interactions in cyberspace.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? For me writer’s block often means that there’s a problem with my story that I need to think about for a while. While I’m waiting for the breakthrough (which often arrives while I’m in the shower) I work on other writing related tasks, such as proofreading, researching, or critiquing for other people.
How do you deal with rejection? A few mumbled swears and then I consider any feedback (if I’m lucky enough to have been given any) and decide if I need to do some rewriting or simply keep submitting.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Someone else once used these words to describe my writing and I quite liked them: A WILD RIDE
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? I’d would have loved to have met Octavia Butler and told her how much her work has influenced me.
In a ruined world, where wealthy humans push health and longevity to extremes and surround themselves with a shining metal wall, privilege and security is predicated on the services of cloned Neandertals, and the exploitation of women in the shanty towns and wastelands beyond the fortress city.
This is the frightening yet moving story of orphaned Alida and her younger sister Graycie, and their struggle for survival in the Demi-Settlements outside the wall. When the sisters are forced to enter the City by very different means they risk being separated forever.
Cloned Neandertal officer, Shuqba is exiled to a security outpost in the Demi-Settlements when she fails to adhere to the impossible standards set for her species within the City. Will she offer a lifeline to Alida or betray her?
The Shining Wall is at once a frightening parable of our unjust world of haves and have nots, a richly imagined yet thrilling story of technological control and the fight for survival, and a paean to female friendship and power.
Today’s author in the spotlight describes her writing as ‘raw, real and thought-provoking’ and is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects. It’s my pleasure to introduce Nadia King.
Nadia was born in Dublin, Ireland and now calls Australia home. She is an author, blogger, and presenter. Her debut book, Jenna’s Truth, is published by boutique small press, Serenity Press based in Western Australia.
Nadia is passionate about using stories to reflect a diversity of realities in order to positively impact teen lives.
Her short fiction has been published by Write Out Publishing, and has appeared in The Draft Collective, The Regal Fox, The Sunlight Press, Tulpa Magazine, and Other Terrain Journal.
Nadia runs a teen book club for the Centre for Stories. She enjoys writing contemporary young adult fiction and short fiction, and lives in Western Australia with her family.
Find out more about Nadia on her website and social media links:
Why do you write? I write because I enjoy writing. The writing process is a way to connect with my creativity. I’m one of those people who feels too much and writing gives me a safe space to expel some emotion.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’ve always managed to work with words. My first job after school was in journalism and I worked for a number of years in corporate communications. Currently, I’m studying to build my editing skills with a view to freelance editing in the not so distant future.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I hate to admit this but my toughest obstacle to becoming published was tied up with myself. I held myself back from creative writing for a very long time so it was almost a relief to get out there and try my luck with publication.
How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations? For my debut book, Jenna’s Truth I was very involved in the book’s development. For my short stories, I have little to do with choosing graphics etc although the magazines and journals I’ve been published by have been very open with me during editing. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an ex-journo but I really enjoy the editing process and collaborating with other creatives.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I never know what will turn into a story and I find such possibilities exciting. Using stories to connect with others fills me with happiness. Stories are a way to share your perspective with the world in a profoundly human way. For me, stories are a constant source of joy.
—the worst? The worst is tied up with the best aspect of writing—wondering if what I’ve written will resonate with readers. I mainly try to ignore my wonderings and concentrate on being truthful with my writing. I believe if you are authentic and honest in writing, readers will connect with what you have to say.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would write more short stories to gain experience in the craft. I would read more (although I’m not sure that’s humanly possible). I would be kinder by reassuring myself there is no one way of writing and I would take time to find out what works best for me.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? A tweet from author, Dea Poirier (@deapoirierbooks) lists five things she wished someone had told her five years ago. These points would definitely have been helpful to know before I embarked upon my writing journey:
You’ll never stop questioning yourself, no matter what you write
Don’t disregard praise and only focus on criticism
Impostor syndrome never gets better
Done is better than perfect
Perfect doesn’t exist
You are tackling some confronting issues in your fiction. What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I’m very attracted to social justice issues and tend to tackle such issues in my writing. Even though I play with dark material, I strive to convey a sliver of hope and humanity. It’s that sense of faith and humanity I hope resonates with and engages readers.
Is there any area of writing that you still find challenging? All of it! Ha ha! Writing doesn’t get easier and I seem to be drawn to writing projects which I am ill-qualified to tackle. But that’s also what makes the work exciting. I jump in the deep end, swim bloody hard, and pray I’ll make it to the other side.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? ‘Just bloody write!’ While I was toying with the idea of writing fiction, there was a part of me which was paralysed with fear. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to meet with a playwright from New York who patiently listened to my rumination before giving me a shove in the right direction. His shove was exactly what I needed and before I knew it, I was writing every day.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Ignore everyone else. I don’t mean to sound facetious but it’s so important to listen to your own voice. What are your dreams? Chase after your dreams not someone else’s. Not everyone will aspire to be on the New York Times Bestsellers’ list, and that’s okay. Pursue your own goals and define your own reality rather than following someone else’s idea of success.
How important is social media to you as an author? When I first started writing, social media was important because it gave me access to many other writers. Now though, it can often be a distraction. Social media can be valuable but it shouldn’t keep you from your work and if it takes away from your happiness, it may not be the right tool for you.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I was writing a manuscript a while back and it took me a while to ‘hear’ the voice of my protagonist. Writing can be a slow process. Respecting the process and nor coercing the words helps me find my voice for each project and overcome writer’s block.
How do you deal with rejection? Surprisingly well considering I’m quite a sensitive person. I’ve learnt not to take rejection personally and to realise the market can be fickle. There is a huge amount of competition out there and if you’re submitting to a traditional publisher, your manuscript needs to be commercially attractive. Coming to that realisation has freed me from my own personal pressures to seek publication.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Raw, real, and 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?
This is probably the hardest question of this interview. There are so many writers I would love to spend time with but I’ve narrowed it down to five:
Jane Austen (1775-1817, England) because she awakened in me a love of classic literature. I’m curious to know more about what made her tick and what were her motivations for writing.
Haruki Murakami (1949, Japan) because his stories make my heart pound in my chest. I would love to fangirl him one day and tell him how much his work means to me. If he could give me any tips on writing magical realism I would really appreciate it.
Favel Parrett (1974, Victoria, Australia) because her writing makes me weep. I would like to know why Favel writes and how she edits – I find her prose quite lyrical and she is generous, genuine and amazing.
Margaret Atwood (1939, Canada) because Alias Grace is one of my favourite books of all time. The structure of the book fascinates me and I would love to know how she went about planning the structure and tying it together with her research.
Germaine Greer (1939, Melbourne, Australia) because she’s fearless with her words and I admire her bravery and we both love drinking tea.
N L King
New and revised edition (previously published by Aulexic).
Jenna’s just a teenager who wants to fit in. The popularity that she wanted though, quickly turns into infamy when two “well-meaning” friends spark a controversy that alters her life forever. What happens when the popular kids are responsible for one of the most painful and humiliating events in your life? Inspired by Amanda Todd’s tragic story of bullying, Jenna’s Truth is more than just teen short story – it’s a lesson in empathy, self-awareness, and speaking out about what matters. Jenna’s Truth is a gripping story, which explores the themes of cyber bullying, teen drinking, sex, and suicide.
Life is not black and white, and sometimes teens can be the most insensitive people.
‘Inspired by the real-life story of the late Canadian teenager Amanda Todd, this story puts a human face on cyberbullying…[and is] a deeply affecting, valuable story and educational tool.’ — Kirkus Reviews
Jenna’s Truth is available from the following outlets:
Which author past or present would celebrated Australian writer Eliza Henry-Jones choose to spend an hour with and what questions would she ask? Find out this week when I chat with Eliza about her writing life…
Eliza Henry-Jones is the author of In the Quiet and Ache. Her latest novel, P is for Pearl, is her first novel for young adults. Eliza has qualifications in English, psychology and grief, loss and trauma counselling. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Age, Daily Life and The Big Issue, among other places. She lives on a small farm in the Yarra Valley.
Why do you write? I write because I love it – I get terribly despondent if I don’t have a story churning away. Writing fiction is A way for me to process and understand my world and even if I never had another book published, I’d never stop writing.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I would be running equine therapy groups for children who’ve experienced significant trauma. That was my job before I decided to focus on my writing and it’s something I’d love to come back to.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Self doubt. In a way, it worked in my favour. I never really thought I was “good enough” to be a writer (whatever that means) and instead pursued a career in community services, working with high-risk children and families. The work changed me utterly and I doubt I’d be writing how I do without those years of experience.
How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations? I’ve not had any input into my covers – but love them all. I know some authors are really involved in the design process and I’d love to be a bit more hands on down the track.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The community and the flexibility. The people I’ve met in the industry are some of my very favourite in the world. While I work longer hours than I ever did in my other jobs, I can set up my days to suit myself. For instance, I can do an extra long writing day when the weather’s bad and then work out on the farm and ride my horses when the weather’s pleasant. I also tend to work longer days during winter and shorter days in summer.
—the worst? The pressure to sell well, get reviewed by the papers and be listed for awards.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Put less pressure on myself – I’ve pushed myself extremely hard over the last few years and I’m definitely starting to feel it. I’d take things more steadily, if I had my time again.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?That the anxiety and self-doubt doesn’t disappear when you sign a book contract – for me, it intensified (which I was not expecting!)
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Read everything you can get your hands on.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Experiment – write short stories, poems and novels. Write plays and articles and essays. There’s so much value in the writing you do, regardless of whether it gets published.
How important is social media to you as an author? Some days I adore social media. I live on a little farm that’s quite a long way out from the city – 6kms from the nearest shops and 20mins from the nearest train station. Mostly, social media helps me feel connected and engaged with the writing community. Other times, it feels overwhelming. I’m getting better at recognising when I need to step back from it.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t entirely believe in writer’s block. I think on some days writing is much easier than on others, but you can push on, regardless. Sometimes I’ll be gentle and let myself step away from the project for a while, but other times I’ll push through. I may write 20,000 words that are all wrong, but I know I’ll eventually hit my stride again.
How do you deal with rejection? Oh, there’s so much rejection! I always have another project on the go that I can focus on.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Grief, love, joy.
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, goodness! There are so many. JK Rowling is definitely one – I grew up reading Harry Potter and find her utterly fascinating. I’d love to find out more about how she plots her books – they’re so intricate and carefully layered.
P is for Pearl
From the talented author of the celebrated novels In the Quiet and Ache comes a poignant and moving book that explores the stories we tell ourselves about our families, and what it means to belong.
Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn P. Pearson has become very good at not thinking about the awful things that have happened to her family.
She has also become used to people talking about her dead mum. Or not talking about her and just looking at Gwen sympathetically.
And it’s easy not to think about awful things when there are wild beaches to run along, best friends Loretta and Gordon to hang out with – and a stepbrother to take revenge on.
But following a strange disturbance at the cafe where she works, Gwen is forced to confront what happened to her family all those years ago. And she slowly comes to realise that people aren’t as they first appear and that like her, everyone has a story to tell.
A give-it-my-best-shot attitude and a commitment to learning has led to the realisation of a dream for West Australian debut author Shirley Rowland, my first guest on In Their Own Write for 2018.
Shirley was born in South Australia but now lives with her husband in a coastal suburb south of Perth, Western Australia.
Her interest in writing was sparked in primary school but lay dormant for many years. She joined her first writing group in 1998 and is currently a member of four groups, each providing a different writing relationship.
Shirley published her first fictional novel, Return to Crossways, in February 2017.
That’s a bit like asking, why do I breathe? It’s something that comes naturally, that I have always done, although not specifically creative fiction and novel writing.
The exact moment I decided to become a writer occurred in primary school. In Grade Seven (my last year at primary school). I was late returning to class one day. As I stood outside the classroom door, I heard the teacher reading “Compositions” from someone’s book. They sounded surprisingly good – but also vaguely familiar. When I entered the classroom and walked past the teacher to reach my desk, I glanced at the brown-paper-covered book in his hand and saw my name on it. No wonder those stories had sounded familiar! In that moment I decided one day I would become a writer.
I never dreamed that day would take half a century to arrive!
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
Either sailing around the world or doing something creative, like patchwork or painting. When I lived on the NSW coast I painted in oils for ten years. However WA’s harsh environment doesn’t inspire me, although I attended Forrestfield TAFE part-time for six years learning about colour and design – knowledge that has been useful for designing book covers!
Sailing is another activity that comes to me as naturally as breathing. If I hadn’t taken up writing, I would be on the ocean in some exotic location.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?
The decision to self-publish. It’s a huge step to take, but when I sat down with pen and paper and drew up columns listing the pro’s and con’s, I realised it boiled down to one word – AGE. Most sources quote an average time of ten years for a writer to land his or her first publishing contract. I have already outlived my mother in age; one grandmother died two years older than I am now although the other grandmother lived to her mid-eighties, which gives me some genetic wriggle-room. With such poor odds for longevity, I decided self-publishing was the logical option. In life I have generally found that if I want something done, it’s necessary to do it myself.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations?
Self-publishing means I have had complete control of development, editing, cover and everything else that makes up a book, which is both good and bad. I have attended publishing workshops, and as a member of The Society of Women Writers had access to advice from others who have taken this route. I have probably made every beginner’s mistake, but hey! it’s all part of the total learning experience. I figure that ‘content is king’ and to date feedback has been positive.
What is the best aspect of your writing life?
The high after a great writing session, when the creative juices are in full flow, the word count is impressive and I surprise myself with what appears on the page. A close second is the friendship of the members of the four writing groups to which I belong, and the camaraderie and stimulation of other creative minds.
What is the worst aspect?
Probably every writer’s gripe – not enough time to actually sit at my computer and type! I could gripe about retired husbands underfoot and other life demands, but who’s listening?
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer?
Write faster? Seriously, I have considered enrolling in a TAFE or university course to up-skill more quickly, instead of ploughing through every “How-to-write” book in my local library! and then teaching myself by instructing other writers in two of my writing groups.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?
I can’t think of any advice that would have changed my writing journey. How hard it is would not have stopped me. Ditto time-consuming. Becoming an author is not something I “set out” to do; it was always something that I would achieve one day. When I decide to do anything, I go ahead and give it my best shot.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
To FINISH! Finish the story before beginning to revise it. Stephen King is probably the most famous author to give this advice. I remember Anna Jacobs giving it at a workshop, and reading it from many other authors. It’s the most-repeated, probably because it IS the best single piece of advice, although I think that until you have completed that first draft of your first novel, you cannot fully appreciate its value. A close second is a piece of advice you once gave me, Teena. When overwhelmed with half a dozen projects on the go, pick one and stick with it until it is finished – which comes back to the first piece of advice; to keep going until you finish.
Shirley’s top tip for aspiring writers: Keep writing! I would add, join a local writing group. It’s amazing how inspiring, encouraging and understanding fellow writers can be. I gain something slightly different from each of the writing groups I am a member of. And keep learning: the learning process never ends.
Return to Crossways
When Priscilla de Rossi’s glamorous marriage fails, she returns to Australia expecting to take no more than a few weeks to untangle her life. On a weekend visit to country Crossways where she grew up, she discovers her grandmother has died and she has inherited a run-down cottage. But someone does not want her there. Is it her estranged mother or local hotelier, Steve Moncrieff?
Meanwhile she makes new friends and lands a job in Melbourne. Does her future lie in the city or the country?
Then she has an impulsive one-night stand that changes everything…
At its heart, this is a home-coming story. Priscilla must face the people she fled from ten years earlier.
The book is availBook Blurb for Return to Crossways: When Priscilla de Rossi’s glamorous marriage fails, she returns to Australia expecting to take no more than a few weeks to untangle her life. On a weekend visit to country Crossways where she grew up, she discovers her grandmother has died and she has inherited a run-down cottage. But someone does not want her there. Is it her estranged mother or local hotelier, Steve Moncrieff? Meanwhile she makes new friends and lands a job in Melbourne. Does her future lie in the city or the country? Then she has an impulsive one-night stand that changes everything… At its heart, this is a home-coming story. Priscilla must face the people she fled from ten years earlier.
The book is available in print and e-book format from Amazon.com here.