Meet the Author: Amra Pajalić

Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Submit, submit, submit. Repeat. -Amra Pajalić

Amra Pajalić is an award-winning author, an editor and teacher. Her memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me will be published by Transit Lounge in May . Memoir extracts have been published in Meet Me at the Intersection (Fremantle Press, 2018) and Rebellious Daughters (Venture Press, 2016). Her debut novel The Good Daughter (Text Publishing, 2009) won the 2009 Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Civic Choice Award and she is co-editor of the anthology Growing up Muslim in Australia (Allen and Unwin, 2019) that was shortlisted for the 2015 Children’s Book Council awards. She works as a high school teacher and is completing a PhD in Creative Writing at La Trobe University. To find out more about Amra, visit her website at www.amrapajalic.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because writing is a compulsion. When I am writing the birds are singing, the days are bright, I feel light and floaty. When I’m not writing life is grey and so am I. It is my outlet and my saviour. I always feel like I’ve got my characters with me, keeping me company and I’m never alone or lonely.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I am a high school teacher by day and write at 6 am and on school holidays, so if I wasn’t a writer I’d be doing exactly the same thing and loving it. I’m very lucky that I love my day job and working with young people.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? The fact that I felt like there weren’t any books that represented my background and story made me feel inadequate. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in reading a book about a girl from the Western suburbs of Melbourne, about being Bosnian and from a Muslim background, and about having a mother who suffered from Bi Polar.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I have been so happy with the development of the book and the covers that were proposed. There wasn’t really any cover I didn’t like. In fact I liked too many of them and struggled to decide. In the end I used my students as my market research team and showed them the covers and asked them which one I should go with. They picked the one that I had initially thought was the one, then I got confused by asking too many people. So in the end I have my students to thank, and of course the amazing cover designer at Transit Lounge.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? When the words flow and I feel like my characters and world are coming to life.

—the worst? All the time spent throwing words down like stones on a road until the flow starts.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I wouldn’t have spent years attempting to work on a sequel to my debut novel, as opposed to forging a new path and trusting that I had new stories and characters to write about.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Write what your heart feels, not what you think will lead to commercial success. You can’t control what will happen once or if your book is published. All you can do is focus on writing the story that means the most to you so you don’t regret the time you spent writing.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? First comes the draft, then comes the craft. Which basically equates to get something down so you can polish it into something readable.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Submit, submit, submit. Repeat.

How important is social media to you as an author? This is a really interesting question. We spend so much time on social media and so it feels important, and I know that I have bought and read a lot of books because of social media, but then I also sometimes wonder if it IS a good use of my time, and whether time spent equates to books sold. That’s why I only post on social media things that I feel I want to share. I don’t want to think about it as curating myself or selling myself.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Usually writer’s block for me is fatigue and an inability to create. I don’t usually have any time when I don’t have ideas – because I work full time my struggle is to find time to write so ideas are always percolating. When I’m feeling fatigued and spent I take a time out and read books back to back. This gets me back to why I write in the first place – my love of stories and the escapism and joy they bring.

How do you deal with rejection? With difficulty. It is very hard to be graceful in the face of rejection – which is why it’s important to avoid social media at these times. I usually have to retreat from life, figuratively lick my wounds, get my gumption back and submit again. The most important thing about rejection is being able to rebound back. My memoir was rejected by five publishers. I took a few months off, revised it again, conducted research about where to submit and submitted to another five publishers. I received immediate interest from the next five, and as soon as I got an offer I withdrew from the rest. I call this the scatter-gun approach. You keep shooting until it hits a target.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Raw, gritty, confessional.

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 would love to meet Sylvia Plath. She is a poet and the author of The Bell Jar, one of the books I read as a young teenager that resonated so much with me as it was inspired by her own bouts of clinical depression until her suicide at age 30. I would like to ask her about which events in the book were autobiographical.

BOOK BYTE

Things Nobody Knows But Me

Amra Pajalić

 

 

When she is four years old Amra Pajalić realises that her mother is different. Fatima is loving but sometimes hears strange voices that tell her to do bizarre things. She is frequently sent to hospital and Amra and her brother are passed around to family friends and foster homes, and for a time live with their grandparents in Bosnia.

At 16 Amra ends up in the school counsellor’s office for wagging school. She finally learns the name for the malady that has dogged her mother and affected her own life: bipolar disorder. Amra becomes her mother’s confidante and learns the extraordinary story of her life: when she was 15 years old Fatima visited family friends only to find herself in an arranged marriage. At 16 she was a migrant, a mother, and mental patient.

Surprisingly funny, Things Nobody Knows But Me is a tender portrait of family and migration, beautifully told. It captures a wonderful sense of bi-cultural place and life as it weaves between St Albans in suburban Australia and Bosanska Gradiška in Bosnia. Ultimately it is the heartrending story of a mother and daughter bond fractured and forged by illness and experience. Fatima emerges as a remarkable but wounded woman who learns that her daughter really loves her.

 ‘Brave, compassionate, searingly honest and funny, this is a memoir in a voice like no other. Amra Pajalić’s love letter to her mother is a book that grabs at your heart and doesn’t let go until the final  page.’  ALICE PUNG

Buy links:

Amazon Paperback

Amazon preloaded digital audio player

Readings books

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Robert Power

 

Robert’s top tip for aspiring authors: If on any given day you don’t feel particularly creative, then edit your draft, or sketch out new plot ideas. There is never a good reason to stare at an empty sheet of paper (or blank computer screen). You become a writer by writing. And … never give up.

Robert Power was born in Dublin and has lived in Melbourne since 2005. He freelanced as a journalist in London, appearing regularly in newsprint and magazines including The Guardian, New Society, New Statesman, Radio Times, Time Out, City Limits. He has worked in international health for 30 years, travelling globally as a consultant, and publishing over 120 academic journal articles. He was short-listed in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards in 2008 and was a prize-winner in the 2012 Age Short Story Competition. He has published three novels: In Search of the Blue Tiger (Transit Lounge, 2012), The Swan Song of Doctor Malloy (Transit Lounge, 2013), Tidetown (Transit Lounge, 2015) and a collection of short stories, Meatloaf in Manhattan (Transit Lounge, 2014). Lulu in New York and Other Tales (Unicorn Press, 2017) is a collaboration with acclaimed American painter, Max Ferguson, in which Power has written 500-word stories envisaging sixty of the artist’s paintings. The book was launched in May 2017 in New York and the following month in London. Power’s memoir/travelogue Tell it to the Dog is now in bookshops and other outlets. More details of his work, including reviews and blogs can be found on his website: www.robertpowerauthor.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

 

Why do you write? I was born in Dublin, Ireland, so I like to think aspiring to being a writer is a birthright. In any event I have written fiction for as long as I can remember. It’s one of the best media for exploring the human condition, trying to make sense of life’s events and for wrapping it all up in a series of imagined worlds.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Very few writers are able to pay the bills by writing alone. I have had many jobs: a teacher; a freelance journalist; social science researcher. But for the last 30 years I have worked in international public health (with a particular focus on HIV prevention: see my second novel The Swan Song of Doctor Malloy).

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Staying strong when the publishing houses sent the rejection slips. I was once told by a commissioning editor from one of the big four that they ‘loved’ my first novel. Two weeks later she called to say the marketing department could not clearly identify the ‘genre’ so would not be taking it further. Finding a publisher to believe in a first time author is the greatest barrier to any aspiring writer.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Engaging the creative side of my being. Exploring and expanding ideas and watching stories unravel in front of me with characters that come to develop lives of their own. Tell it to the Dog is my sixth book and I am continually honing my skills and learning from those I work with, especially the editorial team at my publisher, Transit Lounge.

—the worst? Finding the time to write all I want to write. I currently have 50,000 words of a detective story in development, as well as drafts for new short stories and ideas for a follow-up to Lulu in New York & Other Tales (Unicorn Press), my collaboration with the American painter Max Ferguson.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would abandon the modern world, live in shack by the sea, rescue a dog, own a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt, eat off the land and the ocean and walk and write and write and walk.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I would like to have known more about the network of independent publishers that are interested in new authors and to be told to trawl through their websites to be sure that my kind of writing suits their interests.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? When I came to Melbourne 12 years ago I was encouraged to enter my first novel, In Search of the Blue Tiger, for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for an Unpublished Novel. I was short-listed. The chair of the panel, Kevin Brophy, recommended I send it to Barry Scott at Transit Lounge. Transit Lounge has been a great publisher for me ever since. Also, being advised to set up a website was invaluable: www.robertpowerauthor.com

BOOK BYTE

‘Robert Power’s journey is one of great heart, risk and compassion. He is a craftsman using language as a fine tool to carve a life story enmeshed in the values of our common selves.’ Tony Birch, author of Ghost River

Tell it to the Dog is an exquisitely written memoir that is at once playful, heartbreaking and affirming. From a Dublin childhood to London, then on to Europe, to Asia and Australia, there is a deep engagement with the world in this book about growing up, about human and animal connectedness, about friendship, love and loss. Power understands the uncanniness and endurance of memory. He can make us laugh, and then stop us in our tracks at the profundity of this business of meeting life. Each of these short chapters is beautifully complete; together the whole thing shimmers. In the most delightful and subtle of ways, the language, trajectory and wisdom of Tell it to the Dog underscores our need to embrace our own vulnerabilities, to confront our experiences and memories, and to believe as Jane Austen once wrote, that ‘when pain is over, the remembrance of it often becomes a pleasure’.

‘With exquisite prose and riotous feeling, Robert Power has created a stained glass window of a book, through which we gaze, as if for the first time, into what it means to live a life.’ Catherine de Saint Phalle, author of Poum and Alexandre

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Hazel Barker

Hazel’s top tip for aspiring authors: My top tip is to avoid the mistakes I made. Don’t be in a hurry to send in your work to a publisher. Revise, revise and revise again and again.

hazel-barkerHazel Barker lives in Brisbane with her husband Colin. She taught in Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for over a quarter of a century and now devotes her time to reading, writing and bushwalking. From her early years, her passion for books drew her to authors like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. Her love for historical novels sprang from Scott, and the love of literary novels, from Dickens. Many of her short stories and book reviews have been published in magazines and anthologies.

Hazel’s debut novel Chocolate Soldier, was released by Rhiza Press in September 2016. Book One of her memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind, was released by Armour Books in August this year. Both books are set during World War Two – the former in England and the Far East, the latter in Burma.

Visit Hazel’s website here.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

 Why do you write? I write because it gives me pleasure and satisfaction. It’s not what I earn or don’t earn. It’s like going on a journey.

 What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’ve retired now. If I was still working, I’d be teaching, as I am a teacher, but now that I’ve retired, if I wasn’t writing, I’d be immersed in orchids and helping my husband with his hobby.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My toughest obstacle was impatience – sending my manuscripts to publishers before they were polished to perfection.

 How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover/illustrations? Last year I had two books published. My first book was a memoir Heaven Tempers the Wind. Story of a War Child. My publisher was Armour Books. A month later, Rhiza Press published my debut novel, Chocolate Soldier. The Story of a Conchie. Both publishers asked me what I had in mind for the covers. As my memoir was set in Burma, during World War Two, I wanted a setting with pagodas in the background and planes flying overhead.

My novel, Chocolate Soldier was not what I’d asked for, but my publisher sent me several covers to choose from, and I selected the one I liked.

 What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The best aspect of my writing life is the joy of writing and getting my work published. I’ve made so many friends within my writing groups and met so many wonderful people since I commenced my writing career. I guess that makes three. But it was difficult to stop …

 —the worst? The worst is the lack of time – having to sacrifice being with my husband or participating in other pleasures together.

 What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would join a writing group ASAP, instead of struggling on my own, and hold back from sending in my work too soon to publishers.

 What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d been told that writing styles have changed over the years and that I should not take my favourite classical authors as my model.

 What’s the best advice you were ever given? The best ever given to me was by Jean Briggs, who used to help so many aspiring authors. She told me not to write in the passive voice. She also said I had a good academic style of writing suitable for a thesis, but not for a novel.

BOOK BYTES

chocolatesoldieresChocolate Soldier: The Story of a Conchie

London. 1940.

When World War II breaks out and men over eighteen are conscripted, Clarence Dover, a conscientious objector, refuses to go rather than compromise his principles.  Instead he joins the Friend’s Ambulance Unit.  From the London Blitz to the far reaches of Asia the war tests Clarence in the crucible of suffering.  In the end, will he be able to hold his head up as proudly as the rest and say, to save lives I risked my own?

One man will stand as God’s soldier, not the war’s soldier.

heaventempersthewindHeaven Tempers the Wind

Story of a War Child

Hazel’s idyllic childhood is torn apart by the bombing of Rangoon. The Japanese armies overrun Burma, forcing the family to move from one refuge to another. Hazel’s father, a Muslim, and her mother, a Catholic, fears for her children. Told through a child’s eyes, this story tells of a family’s travails during the darkest days of enemy occupation.

The book is available from Armour Books.

 

Meet the Author: Margi Gibb

MARGI’S TOP WRITING TIP: I studied writing in the early ’80s in Melbourne. I don’t remember much about what I studied, but I do remember one of the teachers – an author himself – stating, `a writer is a person who writes’. That always stuck with me, because basically that`s what it comes down to: fronting up and putting the words down on the page.

Margi Gibb publicity image Margi Gibb was born in the Victorian high country. She is a singer, songwriter, visual artist, adventurer, survivor, writer and educator. An earlier version of her memoir Kissed by a Deer was written as the creative product of her PhD. It is her first full-length work of non-fiction. Margi currently lives in Melbourne, Australia, where she works as a learning advisor for an international college. Find Margi on Facebook.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I`m a storyteller and stories beckon to be told, so writing is one of those things I feel compelled to do. In a way stories are all we have to help us understand and make sense out of life. I love sharing a good story.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I`ve always written in some form or another so it`s difficult to imagine not doing it, but I also like to paint, sing and play guitar. If I`m doing not doing one them, then I`m doing the other. I love all forms of creative practice.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I`m very fortunate: I`m not one of those writers who struggled to find a publisher. I intuitively and intellectually knew where to send my manuscript – the toughest part was summoning the courage to send it.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The best aspect of my writing life is the creative engagement with the text. I love working with the words on the page: they demand absolute concentration – so writing becomes a form of meditation for me: a way of finding stillness.

—the worst? The physical pain of sitting for long, long, hours: writing requires a great deal of physical and mental energy.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I`m not sure if I`d do anything differently. I would have liked to have started to write books when I was younger, but the reality is my first book took a long time to incubate. I don’t believe in forcing a story, you have to let it grow and develop organically.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?  Buy a good chair because you’re going to need it. Seriously if you are about to embark on a long writing journey you need to ensure you have everything in place that looks after you physically, because when we write we tend to forget the body and spend a lot of time in our heads.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? `Take it like a writer’: be prepared to write – rewrite and edit, edit, edit.

BOOK BYTE

Kissed by a Deer

Kissed by a Deer

Margi Gibb 

Available from Booktopia and Amazon

 

Prepare to be swept away by a story that is intimate, true, and utterly compelling. Margi Gibb’s much-loved father dies and, with her immediate family largely gone, her life is changed irrevocably. Immersing herself more deeply in art and music, she travels to America to study the sacred art of the mandala, exploring the wisdom traditions of Indigenous Indian peoples in the process. Then after a serendipitous encounter back in Australia she travels to Dharamsala to care for children in an after-school program at a Tibetan women’s handicraft cooperative. Her underlying passion is to initiate guitar lessons for Tibetan refugees. What follows is unexpected. Margi’s developing bonds with two very different Tibetan men, Tenzin and Yonten, change her life in complex and enduring ways.

Eventually she journeys to Tibet. Kissed by a Deer is a book about East and West. It is a passionate quest for the personal and intellectual truth that only comes through lived experience. Gibb’s story gives us amazing places, and wonderful characters, people we come to love and care about despite their failings. In its pages, wisdom searchingly finds its humble roots in the connections of heart, imagination and mind; in the midst of the act of living.