Meet the Author: Catherine de Saint Phalle

Catherine’s top writing tip: Be yourself in every way. Absolute honesty with oneself is my only tip. Does a mole lie to himself? Does a dog? Even if a dog tries to pull one over his human companion, like pretending he or she hasn’t eaten for weeks when they’ve just had their breakfast, you can see they’re whole. They do not slip out of themselves; they’re holding their lie like a bone in their mouth. It sounds childish to say ‘be true to yourself’ but it’s the only tip I have. Anyway, I think it’s none of my business to advise anyone. Maybe a prime liar could be a fantastic writer. I’ve just explained what works for me.

Catherine de Saint Phalle was born in London and was immediately taken back to Paris by her parents, where an English woman brought her up until she was eight. Her childhood was spent between Paris and Sussex, England. She started writing at seven. She did a modest year of university. Her way of learning was reading compulsively and writing; academia was not her element. She married and moved to the South of France in Provence where she lived till 1998 and had two subsequent relationships. She has the religion of friendship like her mother Poum. For a living, she’s been a Jack of all trades, translating, gardening, French lessons, cleaning etc. She has had nine books published: five in France with Actes Sud and Buchet-Chastel and two of her radio plays were broadcast by France Culture. She left France in 2003 to live in Australia and that’s the best decision she’s ever made. She’s the proud possessor of an Australian passport since 2008. She is now single, lives with her dog and it quite baffled at how happy she is.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  Throughout my life I’ve seen some of my dearest friends suffer in their effort to discover what they wanted to do in life – talented, inspired people who could not find their voice. I have written since the age of seven. I don’t think I can find a reason for writing. Writing is like breathing. If I don’t, everything becomes constricted and dark.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I think I would probably be learning about essential oils or naturopathy. My grandmother was interested in herbs and the people in the village came to her when they were sick. She died in 1943, so I never met her. But I feel close to her all the same. She knew the first French naturopath Paul Carton – long before natural remedies became the fashion. She also knew about graphology. Maybe I’d be a gardener, and then I could read and write for myself even if no one ever read me.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? It was changing countries. Five of my books had been published in France and my two radio plays had been broadcast. When I came to Australia, I couldn’t find a publisher. I stayed more than 10 years like that. I got a few articles out in the Big Issue thanks to Rochelle Siemienovicz and Martin Hugues, but that was all. I wrote all kinds of things, short stories, a play, a novel, nothing came up for air. I felt I was living in my drawer. I think I was just undergoing a process of transformation. Going from the French world to the English was part of it of course. But it was more than that. In Jung’s preface to Richard Wilhem’s translation of the IChing, he says that Wilhem became Chinese in his soul and, when at the end of his life he returned to Germany, he died. I think that pouring oneself in another container can be very hard. I didn’t realise this at the time of course.

I wrote my first proper novel at 17, then several others and was not published in France until I was well into my thirties. The main obstacle was self-belief. I never had much of that. But if you have too much, it can be a problem too. It’s tricky.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? No. In my experience, that’s the publishers’ purview. The font, the paper, etc is all their domain. Of course, if a cover made you physically sick, they would not leave you in pain. I’m lucky, I have an intelligent, considerate publisher, but he’s also very good at what he does and I trust him. As for the editing, he has a marvellous editor called Penelope Goodes and she helped me immensely to stay with the heart of the story.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? When I can write. That’s the purest joy. One is no longer in exile.

—the worst? When I can’t. When what is right there stays hidden in the moist earth – or when life is scary and intervenes.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I don’t know. I feel like a mole. For me writing is being in darkness, in the moist earth, digging towards the light, moving forward blindly, softly or sitting there in buried silence and trusting to find my way somehow.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Nothing. It’s a private matter, a personal endeavour. I even hate yoga, because the teacher whispers: You are calm, you are detached, you are this, you are that … I can’t bear it. I hate having a voice in my head. It obscures the other one, the feeble, tiny, half-smothered one I’m trying to hear. I know yoga is brilliant and would probably do me a world of good, but I’d rather strangle myself with my own cardigan than go to a yoga class.

 What’s the best advice you were ever given? Never take anything for granted. And listen.

How important is social media to you as an author? Well, emails, messaging, Facebook are great tools. Didn’t EM Forster have “Only connect…” written on his tombstone?

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? It’s the most awful thing. I have encountered it a few times in my life, once for a whole month. It feels as if the air were slowly being taken away from my lungs and I become more and more anxious – a tiger might as well be prowling around the room. I’m grounded when I write. I feel whole and useful, even when I’m writing in my notebook about a lady and her basket on the tram, about a streetlight, about the slope of someone’s shoulders … I feel I am saving them in some invisible, mysterious way. It’s ridiculous I know, but that’s how it is.

How do you deal with rejection? Because writing is such an inner thing, it feels like a jolt from above (again the mole), as if my mole hill had been squashed. It’s a tightening, a call to dig deeper. There’s a pinch of course, like all rejection. But it doesn’t make me lose heart entirely.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Oh dear, I’m incapable of describing my own writing. Sorry, it’s like trying to see what you look like from behind. It’s an inner endeavour, it comes from another world, the world of the unconscious where all our roots meet. So I have no idea at all.

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 think it would be Helen Garner. I always like to know what she feels about anything, not only writing. In fact, hearing her talk about her toothbrush would be most illuminating.

BOOK BYTE

The Sea & Us

Catherine de Saint Phalle

From the Stella shortlisted author of Poum and Alexandre, this is a heartwarming novel about longing, absence and the people we unexpectedly come to love.
After many years spent living in Seoul, a young man called Harold
drifts back to Australia and rents a room above a fish and chip shop
called The Sea & Us. Who he meets and what he experiences there
propels him to question his own yearnings and failings, and to fight for
meaning and a sense of place that can only be reached by facing what
is lost.
By turns electric, tender, and hopeful, The Sea & Us is a gem of literary
imagination. Catherine de Saint Phalle brilliantly captures disparate
characters and their common human desire for community and
connection. Long after the last page closes, ‘we can hear the bell
tinkle. Someone wants some fish and chips.’

The book is available here.

 

 

Meet the Author: Robert Vescio

Robert Vescio has worked in the publishing industry for more than 12 years as a Production Manager and a Photo Editor, working on a number of photographic magazines. Robert enjoyed sourcing photographic material from world-renowned photographers the ilks of Mario Testino, Annie Leibovitz, Patrick Demarchelier and Jean-Baptiste Mondino just to name a few.

Two of his picture books, Finn and Puss and Eric Finds A Way were shortlisted in the 2018 CBCA Bilby Awards.  Many of his short stories have been published in anthologies such as Packed Lunch, Short and Twisted, Charms Vol 1, The Toy Chest and The School Magazine NSW.

Robert has won awards for his children’s writing including First Place in the 2012 Marshall Allan Hill Children’s Writing Competition and Highly Commended in the 2011 Marshall Allan Hill Children’s Writing Competition.

He is a Books in Homes Role Model and enjoys visiting schools. His aim is to enthuse and inspire children to read and write and leave them bursting with imaginative ideas.

Robert is a BIG kid at heart! He is a huge fan of Disney. He lives in Sydney and enjoys spending time with his children, who are an endless source of inspiration.

For more information, visit www.robertvescio.com or https://www.facebook.com/RobertVescioAuthor or instagram: robertvescio_author

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? What I love about writing is that I get to share my stories with children. It’s great to see how I can make a difference in a child’s life. This is the rewarding part about being an author. I like to write stories that help children deal with changes in their lives and to better understand their world and relationships.

Picture books invite engagement – a connection. That’s why I enjoy writing picture books because it supports an adult-child conversation. The pictures help to initiate a discussion with young children and express their feelings. I find it a challenge to tell a story in under five minutes. Children read more books than adults and the world of children’s book publishing is welcoming. When you write children’s stories there are no rules. They can be silly or serious. Anything goes! Also, I get to visit schools and connect kids to books and give them an appreciation of the process involved in creating the books they love. Oh, and children’s book authors get the best fans and fan mail.

How has your childhood influenced you as a children’s author? Growing up, I loved reading the Winnie the Pooh series and I went on many great adventures. But my absolute, all-time favourite book is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I found new friends, a lamppost, a faun and a forest where it’s snowing all the time. For me opening a book is like opening a cupboard and being transported to another world. You never know who you’ll met or what you’ll find. Stories are fun and powerful. They transport us from one world to another by some sort of magic. I have wonderful tales to share, after all, I’ve lived life and you pick up life lessons along the way. So, you naturally employ those life lessons in your work.

How much inspiration do you draw from your own family life? Do you test your early drafts on family members? It helps to have kids. I observe them and the ideas start flowing. For instance, I wrote my first picture book No Matter Who We’re With following my separation in 2008. Not only was it rough for me on a personal level, with so much upheaval and sadness, but for my children too. So, I decided to write a story that would help not only my children, but also other children going through a similar fate to cope with the many changes experienced when parents separate. I couldn’t find any picture books that dealt with this issue so I thought I’d write a picture book about it myself. I test all my stories on family, especially my kids. They are the hardest critics!

In Voyage you’ve used minimalist text to tell a dramatic story about a family fleeing their war-torn country in search of a new life in a new land. It packs a powerful punch and I found myself saying a mental ‘yes’ as I turned the pages and followed their journey from chaos to comfort and safety. How did this story come about? What led you to pare the text back to basics? Most importantly, what do you hope readers will take away from it? Today, we find ourselves living alongside refugees who have suffered and experienced horrific trauma. They all have different experiences and come from different cultures. It’s important that we understand and build good communities and the only way we can do this is through stories – stories that help us explore and imagine being that someone else.

I wanted to write a story about the refugee crisis that was unique and different. The one word per spread gives the reader the ability to expand on the words and tell a story through what they see i.e. that old adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. This will help children to explore their surroundings and open classroom discussions about what is happening in the story. What is it like to leave everything behind and travel many miles to somewhere unfamiliar and strange?

The simple and spare text used in The Voyage, will help to put things into a context that will make sense to them. It’s simple and thought-provoking and shows the different stages of a refugee family fleeing their home in search of another country to start a new life. I hope The Voyage will help children talk about the different reasons people are forced to flee, build awareness and admiration and have a greater understanding of what it means to be a refugee.

Australia’s distance from the rest of the world can sometimes make it feel like we live in our own bubble. It can make it tough to imagine what people are experiencing so far away. The Voyage will help kids to talk about what’s happening and provide a little more clarity.

 How involved were you in the development of this book? The illustrations tell so much of this story. Did you have input into how they were shaped? When writing The Voyage, I didn’t have a specific country in mind that the family were fleeing from. The illustrator, Andrea Edmonds, researched refugees from different parts of the world. This led her to the refugees in the Middle East.

Andrea created powerful illustrations to help children visualise the people impacted by war. The illustrations draw the reader into every stage of the voyage. Her illustrations invite the reader to imagine the challenges they would face. The end result, is a simple yet powerful story of a family fleeing their war-torn country and making a dangerous trip across the ocean to a new life in a new land. It helps the reader to connect and sympathise with the family, and better understand the heartache of their experiences.

You have a growing number of titles released and in the pipeline. What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I think the toughest obstacle was finding a publisher who would take the risk of publishing my work. It’s important to persevere and never give up. The door will eventually open. Persistence is key! If you want to be a writer, you must call yourself one. Be brave. Believe it. Become it. I’m fortunate to have 12 picture books published to date with another five to be published over the next two years.

 What’s the best aspect of your writing life? For me, appreciating the work of other authors is the best aspect of my writing life. Writing isn’t easy and I appreciate all forms of writing. Writing is a labour of love. By writing what I really care about, I’m putting my heart into my writing. This is what makes it come alive. Words are precious. They provide a way into reality.

My creativity is another aspect I like best. I’m fuelled by many things such as books I’ve read, people I’ve come into contact with, art and my kids, of course.

I never know where my stories will take me. This mystery is what creates the excitement I need to stay inspired. Embracing the freedom to change things along the way helps every choice I make in my writing. By doing so, I open myself to a world where anything is possible.

I’m also inspired by the idea of creating something that is positive and brings happiness to people. It’s inspiring to know that I can make a difference in someone’s life through my stories. If I write creatively on what I know and believe then I’ve achieved what I’ve set out to do.

 —the worst? The worst part is having self-doubt. You must always be true to yourself.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I wish I had started sooner. There’s that self-doubt creeping back again. I believe if you can conquer this then it will lead to productive writing. Don’t let self-doubt get in your way. Just do it. Don’t wait!

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? How hard it was to get published.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Write what you know. Think of something close to your heart and make it interesting. If something is very close and dear to your heart the words will flow out easily.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read and keep reading more.  Practice writing and keep practising more. The more you write the better you will be at it. It’s okay to make mistakes as this will show you where you went wrong.

Seek out constructive feedback on your work. Send your work out to be assessed. Take suggestions seriously, and learn from them. My writing is far better for it. It’s important to get feedback from people in the industry.

Before submitting a manuscript, make sure your work is polished. After all, publishers are professionals and we must show respect in how we present our work to them.

Competitions and anthologies have been very helpful in shaping my career as a writer. I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in now had I not plucked up the courage and submitted my work to these events.

If your work is of a high standard, sooner or later it will get published.

How important is social media to you as an author? Social media helps. It’s a great way to get your books noticed. It’s important to have a presence out there. Remember – out of sight, out of mind!

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Yes, I think we all do. I go for a walk. This clears my head. You never know what you’ll find along the way.

How do you deal with rejection? No one likes rejection. Believe me, I’ve received my fair share. But rejection only fuels me even more to improve my work. I keep all my rejection letters in a folder. Why? Because this is a constant reminder of my commitment to my writing. It’s what keeps me going. I shrug it off and keep going. Be determined, and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If your story comes back with a rejection letter, don’t take it personally. GET IT IN THE MAIL TO ANOTHER PUBLISHER.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? From the heart.

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? CS Lewis.

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.’ – CS Lewis.

BOOK BYTE

The Voyage

Written by Robert Vescio, Illustrated by Andrea Edmonds

Displaced by war and conflict, a refugee family sets out on a voyage into the unknown. Told in only a few words, this is the powerful story of a family fleeing their war-torn country and making a dangerous trip across the ocean to a new life in a new land.

Chaos’ begins the story, as the family escapes.

‘Wild’ is the midway point, as their boat battles through a storm.

‘Land’ is the sight of a green, beautiful land ahead of them.

‘Safe’ is the beginning of their new life in their new home.

The book is available from https://ekbooks.org/product/the-voyage/

 

 

Meet the Author: Stephanie Ward

Stephanie’s top tip for aspiring authors: Believe. If you can’t believe in yourself (because so many of us writers are plagued with self-doubt), believe in your story. Or believe in your characters. They deserve to be heard.

Stephanie Ward is the author of Arabella and the Magic Pencil, illustrated by Shaney Hyde, published by EK Books in September 2019. Her next picture book is due for release in 2020, but it’s all under wraps at the moment so stay tuned for details! After many years in marketing, Stephanie now spends her time writing sweet, silly and sidesplitting stories for children. Too old to blame it on youth, she still hasn’t settled down and spends her spare time traveling. At present, she can be found in London, England with her husband and young son.

To find out more about Stephanie and her writing, visit her website: www.stephaniemward.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I have stories to tell and I want to tell them my way. I love playing with words and letting ideas take me into uncharted territory.

How has your childhood influenced you as a children’s author? Both Arabella and the Magic Pencil and my forthcoming picture book (top secret for now) are based on things I did in my childhood. The freedom I had then to imagine, create and try new things without any ulterior motive or goal set a wonderful precedent for allowing time for exploration in my writing life.

How much inspiration do you draw from your own family life? Do you test your early drafts on family members? My seven-year-old son and his friends are an unending source of inspiration. From their raw view of the world to the kooky words they use and their radical emotional swings, it’s hilarious and heartbreaking all at once.

I do force my son and husband to listen to my stories, but it doesn’t always end well. It’s like living with critique partners whose feedback you never use. Awkward.

Arabella’s Magic Pencil is a delightful take on sibling rivalry. It’s full of whimsy and a wonderful use of language. I found myself smiling as I turned each page. How did this story come about and what do you hope readers will take away from it? Thank you for your kind words. I first wrote this story in Year 8 as an assignment for English class. At the time, I was 13 years old and had recently become a big sister, again. The new addition to our family was a little brother who was then almost two years old. I’m sure I was channeling my annoyance at having a toddler messing up all of my important teenage stuff when I decided to write about a girl who could draw anything she wanted and erase things she didn’t.

I hope the story resonates with families who are welcoming a new child. It’s hard for children to identify what they are feeling about a new sibling, especially when emotions can change frequently. I wanted to write a story about all of those feelings.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Figuring out the publishing industry – who is open to submissions, what they want, who to pitch, how to submit, and on and on ad infinitum – is a full-time challenge.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the illustrations? Once the contract was signed, I was out of the picture while the wonderful artist Shaney Hyde worked her magic. I didn’t have input, but I got a couple of sneak peeks along the way and I was truly blown away by the end result. Maybe Shaney has a magic pencil?

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being able to write stories that are swirling around in my imagination and then share them with children who totally get it is amazing.

—the worst? Not being able to write down coherently what is so clearly the best story idea in my head is immensely frustrating.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I wouldn’t worry about what everyone else is doing or how they did it and simply forge my own writing path.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Being an author is more than just writing in pyjamas, so get ready.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Forget about anyone who doesn’t get what you are trying to do with your story, even if they are a publisher. Move on and find someone who does. (There was actually some profanity when it was told to me, but it certainly stuck with me!)

How important is social media to you as an author? For me, living across three continents, social media is a necessary evil. I don’t love it and I’m not good at it, but I can cheer on fellow authors in Australia, be a mentor to a school in the US and virtually join a chat in the UK from anywhere. That’s pretty amazing.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? If I can’t think of anything to write creatively, I revise something or critique someone else’s story or send out submissions.

How do you deal with rejection? I reject rejection! In my experience, publishers never actually use the word ‘rejection’. I decided early on that I wouldn’t believe that I or my story are ‘rejected’ when a publisher doesn’t take it. I work hard to find publishing houses that are a good fit for my project. But if they don’t agree, I move on.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Sweet, silly and side-splitting

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 have read Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman so many times (I even bought the Spanish edition and I don’t speak Spanish) that I’d love to meet him. I’d ask him to explain to me what it is – the X factor, that thing, the special something – that makes a book really ‘good’? Are You My Mother? breaks a lot of today’s picture book rules, but it has certainly withstood the test of time.

BOOK BYTE

Arabella and the Magic Pencil

Written by Stephanie Ward, Illustrated by Shaney Hyde

Arabella is a beloved only child who has everything until her brother, Avery, arrives. While she loves him, it’s sometimes hard to like him. She spends her days creating marvellous things with her magic pencil, and ignoring him. But when he spoils her tea party, she decides drastic action is required and she erases him from her life. Oops! Can she get him back? Arabella and the Magic Pencil will appeal to any child with a new sibling and to caregivers who are supporting changing family dynamics.

Arabella and the Magic Pencil is available from ekbooks.org and wherever good books are sold.

 

Meet the Author: Inez Baranay

Inez’s top tip for aspiring authors: Write however you want to write. Make your own rules, find your own voice.

Inez Baranay was born in Naples, Italy, grew up in Sydney, Australia. She has published 12 books of fiction and non-fiction, and has lived in and taught creative writing in countries including India, Indonesia and the United States. Most recently Inez taught at the university in Canakkale, Turkey, on the shore of the Dardanelles. She now lives in Sydney.
To find out more about Inez and her writing, visit www.inezbaranay.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I couldn’t bear not to. I need those periods of immersion in imagination and language, to be making something, to be in that state of other-being. But why why why, it’s a mystery eventually; sometimes to need to write feels like a curse.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I can’t realistically imagine not being a writer. I’d have to be someone very different. A gardener? A painter? An outrageously wealthy heiress?

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Waiting until the right publisher at the right moment turned up – it took a while.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? After the publisher (Transit Lounge) accepted the book they assigned an editor (Kate Goldsworthy) who was great for tidying up the manuscript and helping me solve remaining issues.

The publisher consulted me about the cover; several covers were suggested, then this one, and I immediately said Yes. The image gives me a good feeling.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Writing itself. The solitude, the complete freedom. You make your own rules, invent your own way of working.

—the worst? The realities of financial poverty, the times it’s going badly and my whole life seems based on stupid delusion.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Learn a trade by which to earn a living. When I started out there was an expectation that earning a living was possible from literary, independent writing.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Nothing anyone could have told me would have made any difference, I suspect.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? A strangely difficult question: good advice in general seems to confirm what you already feel is true, so the best advice came from myself, to trust the instinct. (No general advice suits all situations.)

How important is social media to you as an author? Not at all, except sometimes as a place to lurk and see what’s going on in the world and how people talk about it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t like that expression. Every creative endeavour has different phases, you can’t expect it always to be like it is when it feels like it’s flowing. Sometimes the writing doesn’t go well. Almost to the point of despair sometimes. Just keep going, try a different way, go for a walk, have a nap if you need to.

How do you deal with rejection? Pick myself up, dust myself off. Persist. Maybe feel horrible for a while then make up any interpretation of the rejection that makes me keep going.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Experimental. Imaginative. Precise.

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? Hm, that would have to be the subject of the biography I am currently writing, Sasha Soldatow, who died in 2006; he was my first editor, and wrote brilliantly, but not enough, who had talent to burn but, by all accounts, was destroyed by alcohol and pills, or by whatever made him turn to them rather than to writing.

BOOK BYTE

Turn Left at Venus

Inez Baranay

 

 

They were two little girls on a very big boat.
In the 1930s, Ada and Leyla meet as children on a boat bringing migrants from Old Europe to the New World. They talk of seeing kangaroos yet end up living miles apart from each other in suburban Sydney. Their separations are often lengthy but their friendship endures across continents and
decades and is a thread in this haunting story of writing, relationships and ageing.
Ada (A.L. Ligeti) becomes an author, searching for a Utopian world, exploring aspects of patriarchy and gender in her groundbreaking feminist science fiction novel called Turn Left at Venus. That novel and its sequels are celebrated and much discussed by generations of fans. Memory and imagination fold seamlessly into one another as Ada keeps moving on,
from relationships and places, living in hotels and rental spaces
in Kings Cross, San Francisco, Ubud and elsewhere.
Baranay’s emotionally resonant portrait of the solitary and artistic
life, lived adventurously across space and time, triumphantly
celebrates the singularity of being, of age, of imagination, and
of the ‘getting ready’ for the ending that life demands.

The book is available from https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/tun-left-venus/

 

Meet the Author: John Kinsella

John’s top tip for writers: Never give in.

John Kinsella is the author of more than 30 books. His many awards include the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Poetry and the Victorian Premier’s Award for Poetry. His most recent works include the poetry volumes Drowning in Wheat: Selected Poems (Picador, 2016) and Open Door (UWAP, 2018). Story collections include Crow’s Breath (Transit Lounge 2015) and Old Growth (Transit Lounge, 2017). Recent novels are Lucida Intervalla (UWAP, 2018) and Hollow Earth (Transit Lounge, 2019). He often works in collaboration with other poets, artists, musicians, and activists. He is a Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge University, and Professor of Literature and Environment at Curtin University, Western Australia.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Because it’s how I best communicate and because I feel writing can offer alternative directions for thinking and behaving.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Unimaginable. But I would still be trying to stop forests being destroyed and working towards justice and rights issues. If I didn’t write, I’d still be a reader. Reading is more important to me than writing. Reading and trying to stop the damage in whichever non-violent way I can.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Early on, probably my own disruptive and turbulent behaviours.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? Did you have input into the covers? I am always involved in the making of my books. Cover designs are usually the choice of the publisher, but I get some input and in the end it’s always a collaborative effort, even if it’s a matter of choosing which version from the array the designer has come up with. In this case, one of my brother’s artworks was used. Many of my covers have been designed around his unusual and indelible art.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? That it’s an ongoing process — that my work in one way or another, even across genres, is interconnected, to my mind at least!

—the worst? I like proofs because I don’t like errors — or if there are ‘errors’, I want them to be intentional and to know what they’re about… but my eyes get strained by the time the third pass proofs are signed off on! So proofs are a conundrum!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Start sober. I’ve been sober for almost a quarter of a century now since giving stuff up, but I wish I’d been sober from the beginning of my writing life.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Oh, nothing really — one finds one’s own way, whatever that is.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Never give in.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Never give in.

How important is social media to you as an author? Not at all — I think it’s a delusion.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I switch from genre to genre to avoid it. If I can’t write, I walk or (continue to) work to save the environment (which I also do when I can write). There’s always too much to do — no time to worry about those kinds of blockages!

How do you deal with rejection? It’s part of a writing life. I accept it and move on and try again. If I believe in a piece of work, I believe in it no matter what. I like critical input, but I also know myself as a writer, I think. Either way, I don’t give up on something, I keep working at it.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Strange, specific, activist.

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? A technical poetry discussion with John Milton would be interesting, though we’d run into problems with his tacit and less than tacit approval of violent acts of correction. Novelist? Probably Carson McCullers… an hour with her would be intense. Her writing life was complex… I am not sure what I’d want to be told about it other than what she’d hope to have written if she’d had a longer life. Maybe she wouldn’t have known.

BOOK BYTE

Hollow Earth

John Kinsella

Fascinated by caves and digging holes since childhood,
Manfred discovers a path through to another realm via a
Neolithic copper mine at Mount Gabriel in Schull, Ireland.
The world of Hollow Earth, while no Utopia, is a sophisticated
civilisation. Its genderless inhabitants are respectful of
their environment, religious and cultural differences are
accommodated without engendering hate or suspicion, and
grain not missile silos are built. Yet Ari and Zest accompany
Manfred back to the surface world. ‘Come with me and see
my world.’
So begins an extraordinary adventure in which the three
wander the Earth like Virgil’s Aeneas, Ari and Zest seeking
re-entry to their own world. The Hollow Earthers are shocked
at the cruelty and lies of the surface world, the dieback
spreading through the forests. Yet they are seduced by the
world’s temptations.
Kinsella’s parable draws on a rich tradition of Hollow Earth
literature and science fiction including Bradshaw’s The
Goddess of Atvatabar (1892). With strange beauty, its alluring
trajectory vividly captures our 21st century world in crisis.
Like Manfred we are often blindly complicit in the earth’s
downfall. ‘Happiness is under our feet.’ sings the narrator in
this passionate, layered and compelling new novel.

The book is available here.

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Philip Salom

 

Philip’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read. It’s always the same advice. Be critical not sentimental. Look for individuality and value in your own work and be welcoming but be rigorous in developing it. Quality matters more than popularity.

Philip Salom‘s new novel The Returns is his fourth novel. He has also published 14 collections of poetry. His recent novel Waiting attracted wide-ranging acclaim in reviews and in 2017 was shortlisted for the prestigious Miles Franklin Literature Award, as well as the Prime Minister’s Award and the Victorian Premier’s Award. His two earlier novels are Playback, which won the WA Premier’s Prize for Fiction, and Toccata and Rain which was shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal and the WA Premier’s Prize.

His poetry awards include winning the 1987 Commonwealth Poetry Book Prize in London for Overall Best Book of Poetry, after having won Best First Book Prize for Poetry in 1981; the Western Australian Premier’s Prize (twice for Poetry) and the prestigious Newcastle Poetry Prize. Plus numerous shortlistings in the major national book awards.

Philip was recognised with the 2003 Christopher Brennan Prize which is Australia’s most prestigious lifetime award for poets for “poetry of sustained quality and distinction”. Visit Philip’s website at www.psalom@philipsalom.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I’ve always been interested in making. As a child I did very little of it but those adults who did caught in my imagination as doing something thrilling, something I desired. Any kind of making, buildings, bridges, paintings, sculptures, but essentially visual forms. Though I read books non-stop it was only in my 20s that I realised I might actually make them. Not external visualisations, but internal ones. ‘Buildings’ you could say, that work in the mind.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Very hard to say. I have forgotten what it is not to write. And during the last 10 years I’ve had long works-in-progress happening all the time. I have already finished the novel which will follow The Returns. However, I love the idea of being a trouble-shooter, a Fix-it, a problem-solver. The challenge, the creative and imaginative thinking required, the suspense. The resolution. Especially if it has a hands-on physicality, thus the pleasure of working mentally but in three dimensions. Unlike writing, which for all its imaginative recreation of life, is actually a very inward encounter.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I was lucky. The first manuscript was picked up immediately because I was plucked: a publisher knew what I was working on and asked to see it. But some manuscripts have been harder to place and made me sit down and look very hard – to see if there were problems, then face up to them. First is the feeling of having gone wrong with it, having worked superficially, made errors of judgement. You must be rigorous, and get over it. Re-writing, even re-imagining, can be very confronting personally and tough in terms of sheer concentration, then in the new writing, and new re-writing. Endless re-writing sometimes!

How involved have you been in the development of your books? Did you have input into the covers? Sometimes my poetry has employed unorthodox layout so for a book I did with Penguin I was asked to do the entire layout myself. Fiction is much easier so I’m not involved. I always comment on my book covers, though, as part of my on-going interest in art and design. This new cover is the most unexpected so far and I have grown to really like it.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being so mentally involved with the actual writing. Fiction is something I carry in my head: my characters, their dialogue, their possibilities, potential surprises in development. It suits the loner in me to spend my private time in a place and with an imagined cast no one knows exists. Until it does.

—the worst? Not knowing quite how much has been achieved in one’s work and, much worse, receiving occasional reviews that seem to exist as bloody-minded dismissals of the work. Some reviews are examples of condescension by the ignorant, some are vindictive, some are not very bright. Thank god for the rest.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would have written more fiction from the beginning and as a poet made more of the networking that poetry (with its very much smaller base of readers) necessarily exists within. Especially in Australia, where the readership and public reception of poetry are less – and less generous – than in many other countries.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Same as the above, really, that there is the actual writing (which is private and which I value most) and there is the profession itself, where the public profile of any writer is established and promoted (or not). Most professions are like this but like many I had assumed the writing sold itself. It can, but mostly it doesn’t. There is a huge amount of unseen promotion behind very visible writers.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? A writer I admired telling me that I was on the right track i.e. keep going.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read. It’s always the same advice. Be critical not sentimental. Look for individuality and value in your own work and be welcoming but be rigorous in developing it. Quality matters more than popularity.

How important is social media to you as an author? It doesn’t appeal to me though its power and reach can be significant.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I’m lucky not to have it. Something always comes if you let yourself be subsumed by the work itself, not your anxieties about it, which are you, and personal. Drop the ego-self but keep the ego-confidence. During a long work I worry about where it’s going and how to solve its problems or demands (such as, does this scene work? Is it right to end it this way? Etc). I solve the problems by writing.

How do you deal with rejection? It’s a hit to the stomach. Keep on. Again, turn back inwards to the writing and if there are lessons in the rejection, use them.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Its own self.

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 remember the old saying: never meet your heroes. As above, the work is the ‘self’ that matters. The desire to meet others is of course very great. I had met and become friendly with John Clarke and he was an exception. His life and work were very much the same. Human, droll, insightful, hilarious and welcoming. That voice. A beautiful person.

BOOK BYTE

The Returns

Philip Salom

Elizabeth posts a ‘room for rent’ notice in Trevor’s bookshop and is caught off-guard when Trevor answers the advertisement himself. She expected a young student not a middle-aged bookseller whose marriage has fallen apart. But Trevor is attracted to Elizabeth’s house because of the empty shed in her backyard, the perfect space for him to revive the artistic career he abandoned years earlier. The face-blind, EH Holden-driving Elizabeth is a solitary and feisty book editor, and she accepts him, on probation …

Miles Franklin finalist Philip Salom has a gift for depicting the inner states of his characters with empathy and insight. In this poignant yet upbeat novel the past keeps returning in the most unexpected ways. Elizabeth is at the beck and call of her ageing mother, and the associated memories of her childhood in a Rajneesh community. Trevor’s Polish father disappeared when Trevor was 15, and his mother died not knowing whether he was dead or alive. The authorities have declared him dead, but is he?

The Returns is a story about the eccentricities, failings and small triumphs that humans are capable of, a novel that pokes fun at literary and artistic pretensions, while celebrating the expansiveness of art, kindness and friendship.

Praise for Philip Salom’s writing

‘Philip Salom … dissects the vulnerabilities of the human condition (loneliness, fear of intimacy, powerlessness, guilt), the power of the past to haunt us, the fear of the future to mire us, and the redemptive effects of love and acceptance.’ -Miles Franklin Award Judges

The book is available here and from all good bookshops.

Meet the Author: Angela Savage

Angela’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read and write. Don’t talk about writing. Do the work. And love what you do.

Angela Savage is an award-winning Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her debut novel, Behind the Night Bazaar, won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. All three of her Jayne Keeney PI novels were shortlisted for Ned Kelly Awards. The Dying Beach was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. She has taught writing throughout Australia and overseas. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Monash University, and is currently Director of Writers Victoria. Visit her website at http://angelasavage.wordpress.com/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Because, as Franz Kafka said, ‘a non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity.’

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

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Maintaining momentum in the face of rejection.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? One of the most exciting aspects of developing a book is the dialogue between the writer and publisher, particularly during the editorial process. I aspire to be someone my publisher enjoys working with. I take advice. I meet deadlines. I welcome editorial feedback. I check in when it seems appropriate but I don’t hound them. I respect their expertise. That said, I did push back on the initial cover design until I felt we had something really striking; designer Peter Lo has done a beautiful job.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Realising my dream of becoming a published author and having my work read. Also meeting other writers. And I get loads of free books.

—the worst? That there’s not more writing in my life.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Planned things better so I could afford more time to write.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?  That being known as a genre writer means some people will look down on you (I had no idea!); it will also make it harder down the track to publish non-genre fiction.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Just get the story down. The first draft is where you dump your ideas, meet your characters, sketch the arc of the story. Re-writing is where you craft that draft into a book. I used to spend hours trying to write the perfect opening paragraph. Now I believe you can’t write the perfect opening to a novel until you’ve written the ending at least once.

How important is social media to you as an author? All the evidence suggests being on social media doesn’t sell books, but it’s brilliant for connecting with readers and other writers. When it comes to productivity, though, I’m inclined to take breaks from social media in order to write more (fighting feelings of FOMO every step of the way).

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? There are certainly times when the words come harder. In her TEDx talk Creativity in the age of distraction, Kim Wilkins explains that writing takes us into unfamiliar territory and, as such, we are easily distracted by tasks that are less demanding of us (social media being a classic example). She says it’s important to be still, to sit with the discomfort. That said, I find it helpful at such times to take one of my characters for a walk and imagine the landscape through their eyes—to get moving, both literally and figuratively.

How do you deal with rejection? It makes me feel like I’m back in high school, being shunned by the cool kids. But I tell myself that rejection is a writer’s lot, and that the experience of rejection can bring us closer together through empathy and compassion. My 13-year-old also likes to help by reminding me that JK Rowling had 12 rejections before she found a publisher for Harry Potter.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Exquisite. Moving. Powerful. (I stole that from Christos Tsiolkas’s cover blurb for Mother of Pearl).

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 spend an hour in a bar in Wyoming with Annie Proulx and pick her brain for tips on dialogue and capturing regional voices in characters.

BOOK BYTE

Mother of Pearl

Angela Savage

A luminous and courageous story about the hopes and dreams we all have for our lives and relationships, and the often fraught and unexpected ways they may be realised.

Angela Savage draws us masterfully into the lives of Anna, an aid worker trying to settle back into life in Australia after more than a decade in Southeast Asia; Meg, Anna’s sister, who holds out hope for a child despite seven fruitless years of IVF; Meg’s husband Nate, and Mukda, a single mother in provincial Thailand who wants to do the right thing by her son and parents.

The women and their families’ lives become intimately intertwined in the unsettling and extraordinary process of trying to bring a child into the world across borders of class, culture and nationality. Rich in characterisation and feeling, Mother of Pearl and the timely issues it raises will generate discussion among readers everywhere.

‘This is a story of family and motherhood, and also a story of culture and exploitation that asks us to think through the costs of our insatiable desire in the West to have everything. What I find remarkable about this novel is how it refuses easy and lazy judgement, how it takes seriously questions of loss, longing, and our human need to connect with each other.’ -Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap

‘A beautifully crafted novel from an incredibly gifted writer. Angela Savage explores the ethical minefield of international surrogacy through the stories of three women, desperate but determined to repair the broken parts of their lives The prose is as precise as it is poetic, the characters so deftly drawn. I read this book compulsively, racing to its poignant conclusion with my heart in my throat.’ Melanie Cheng, author of Australia Day and Room for a Stranger

The book is available here.