Meet the Author: Kristen Schroeder

Never completely give up on an idea if you love it. You may need to let it rest for weeks, months or even years, but there are many different ways to write a story. Be open to starting from scratch if you have to. 

Kristen Schroeder

Kristen Schroeder writes for children from her home in Minnesota, where she lives with her husband and children. She and her family are dual American Australian citizens and consider Melbourne their second home. Some of Kristen’s best childhood memories involve discovering a new favorite book or author at her local library. Books introduced her to other countries and worlds. Kristen loves to travel. She began writing for children in 2014 in between running a business and raising her kids. Her latest release, Freddy the Not-Teddy, is a heart-warming picture book about friendship, inclusion and staying true to yourself.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

What is about writing picture books that draws you to work in that genre?  I love the picture book art form. The interplay between words and pictures is unique and making it work is a bit like putting a puzzle together.  Picture books are not at all easy to write, like some people wrongly assume! There is also something magical about writing stories for children because they are like little sponges soaking up information and knowledge.

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories? For my first two published picture books, my inspiration came from my own children. In the case of FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY, my son had a stuffy named Freddy and just like the main character Jonah, Freddy was my son’s favourite. We weren’t sure if he was a funny looking chicken, duck or bird. One night before bedtime, I called him “Freddy the not-Teddy” and it sparked the idea for this story. I have also participated in Tara Lazar’s Storystorm challenge, which I highly recommend for picture book writers. The idea is to generate at least thirty ideas over thirty days during the month of January.  It’s free and the daily blog content is amazing! https://taralazar.com/storystorm/

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step? Many times, I start with a title (for example both FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY and my debut picture book ALIEN TOMATO started with titles).  After letting things roll around my brain for a while, I open up a new Word document and start typing. I definitely don’t plot out any of my stories in advance. Sometimes the story comes easily and sometimes it does not. My creative process is fluid in that regard. Once I have a draft that I think is semi-decent, I share it with my critique partners.  This is such a valuable part of the process for most writers, and I am no exception. Eventually, I send my new story to my agent and her assistant agent for their feedback. They usually have some revision suggestions, which I really appreciate. Our joint goal is to polish each manuscript so it’s submission-ready and can be sent out to editors.

How has your childhood influenced the writer you’ve become? My mother was an English teacher who loved to read and passed along that love to me. I dedicated FREDDY THE NOT-TEDDY to her, in fact. As a child, I pored over our collection of picture books and loved noticing all the little details in the illustrations. Our local library was one of my favourite places to visit!

How closely were you involved in the creation of the illustrations for your beautiful book Freddy the Not-Teddy? From the early stages of writing this manuscript, I knew one of the most exciting parts of the publishing process would be seeing how the illustrator imagined Freddy. I was invited to give feedback on Hilary’s initial sketches of Freddy, but he is 100% her brainchild. I am thrilled with how he looks! In fact, I’m having a custom stuffed animal made in his likeness.

Are they what you envisioned for this story? I didn’t envision what Freddy would look like because I knew that would be the illustrator’s job.  As a picture book author, it’s important to trust your publisher and illustrator. And as stated above, I am really pleased with the finished product. Hilary is such a talented illustrator and was a perfect choice for this book.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I don’t usually approach writing my stories with a pre-conceived notion of messaging. I know some authors do, however I usually think of a concept, or even a title, and then see where the story takes me. My ultimate goal is to entertain and engage the reader, so hopefully they want to read the story again (and again!) and pore over all of the details like I did as a child.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? There are times when I definitely get stuck whilst writing a particular story. It can happen during the early drafting stage for an idea that I like, but don’t know how to approach yet. Or sometimes, I get feedback from my critique partners or my agent telling me part of the story isn’t working for them. Even if I agree with their feedback, I may not know how to make the revisions right away. Setting the story aside, instead of forcing it, helps me.  Ideally, my subconscious works away on it as I go about other activities and sometimes a solution becomes clear. I also ask for help from critique partners.

What are you working on at the moment? I recently completed a revision on a picture book about a child who wants a giant as a best friend. I also completed a new picture book about a Zamboni machine, which is an ice resurfacer used at ice rinks. This one is influenced by the long Minnesota winters in my home state.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Utilising the creative part of my brain makes me a happier person in general. I enjoy having a project percolating at all times.

—the worst? Being a results-oriented person, it is hard for me to create just for the sake of creating. I always hope each manuscript will get published, but that’s not realistic.

How important is social media to you as an author? I started using Twitter when I first started writing for children, and I really enjoy interacting with the writing community on that platform. It’s also a great place to engage with agents and editors, as well as participating in Twitter pitch events.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I was lucky enough to attend a Picture Book Boot Camp retreat at the Highlights Foundation in late 2019 run by prolific children’s author Jane Yolen and her author daughter Heidi Stemple.  Jane’s mantra is, “Butt in chair, heart on the page.” The only way to write is to sit down and do it. Considering she’s published over 400 children’s books, I’d say it’s working for her!

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Never completely give up on an idea if you love it. You may need to let it rest for weeks, months or even years, but there are many different ways to write a story. Be open to starting from scratch if you have to. 

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Humorous, heartfelt, quirky.

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? Beverly Cleary. She passed away last year at the age of 104. I devoured her books as a child and would have liked to meet her just because. I don’t think I’d even ask about her writing except I’d like to know where she got the idea for the mouse on the motorcycle!

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Oprah. Firstly, I would feel confident that I would not be stuck in that lift forever because Oprah’s people would move heaven and earth to get her out safely. Secondly, after sharing a few semi-perilous hours together, we would be bonded by the experience and besties for life, obviously.

Book Byte

Freddy is certainly not a Teddy, but that won’t stop him from being the star of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic in this inspiring story about inclusion, friendship and staying true to yourself.

Freddy is Jonah’s favourite stuffed toy, but no one knows quite what Freddy is – a funky duck, a peculiar platypus, a punk rock penguin? When Jonah’s teacher announces that they’re going to have a Teddy Bears’ Picnic, it seems that if Jonah wants to take Freddy, Freddy will have to go in disguise!

Jonah and Freddy try all of their best Teddy Bear disguises, but nothing can quite cover up the fact that Freddy is a little different. What should Jonah do? He loves Freddy, but should he still take Freddy to the picnic if he doesn’t look like all the other teddies?

Find out what happens when Jonah stands up for himself and for his beloved Freddy in a heart-warming story that will resonate with any child who has ever felt like they’re a little different. A celebration of inclusivity and being kind to others, Freddy the Not-Teddy will inspire young readers to express themselves just as they are!

Buy the book here. (Teacher notes are available).

Meet the Author: Brendan Colley

Brendan’s top tip for authors: Diversify. Write short fiction. Write poetry. Seek to get published in smaller outlets. If you’re writing novels, allocate time in your week/month/year to explore other forms. Publishing shorter work not only broadens your skills, but gives you the encouragement to persist, and stay the course.

Brendan Colley was born in South Africa. After graduating with a degree in education, he taught in the UK and Japan for 11 years before settling down in Australia in 2007. He lives in Hobart with his bookseller wife.

His debut novel The Signal Line won the Unpublished Manuscript Prize in the Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards.

@brendancolley

Author Insight

Why do you write?

My reasons for writing have changed over time. Essentially, it’s something I must do at the end of every day. I had a passion for scribbling words on paper, so I started writing stories. That evolved into a wish to be read, then to be published, and after many fruitless years, a desire to create something I loved. These days, the act of fetching something down is organic to who I am. I’d write if nobody read what I wrote. There’s a pay-off in the discipline, and that’s the thing I learned after 25 years of rejection. Writing is its own reward, and I couldn’t have known that if I’d been published earlier.

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

I have a day job, so writing occupies that extra time that might otherwise be spent on a serious hobby. If I didn’t write, I’d probably learn a musical instrument (piano). My wife also writes, and if we both didn’t write I’m sure we’d do something together, like learn a language (Japanese). We met in Japan, where we were both working as English teachers. We never became fluent, as we spent all our free time on our creative projects. That’s always been a regret.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

My passion for writing is greater than my talent for writing. The imagination and ideas were there from the beginning, but the craft took a long time to develop. Fortunately, I can outsit anyone if I love something enough J

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover?

Transit Lounge, my publisher, has been a true gift to me. My novel has received so much love and careful attention. At every point of the process I had an active voice: but the team that helped bring this novel into the world understood what it needed, and I tried hard to let go of my preconceptions and defer to their judgment as much as I could.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

That I can depend on it. My wife writes in the early morning, and tends to retire early; I write in the evenings. Regardless of what the day has been, writing is there waiting for me at 9 p.m. All I need to do is have the discipline to sit in the chair, and things will arrive that entertain me, mystify me, heal me, or make me suffer (in a beautiful way). It’s the surprise gift I get to interact with at the end of every day; and I need it.

—the worst?

I say ‘no’ a lot. I could have travelled more, seen more, met more people, socialised more. My wife and I live in a TV free house, and prioritise reading as much for our writing as we do for the pleasure of reading. I treat my 9 p.m. writing start time as seriously as I do the start time to my working day. I’ve lost count of the social invitations I’ve turned down over the years. It’s not something I’m proud of; and it isn’t useful. The well needs to be filling to have something meaningful to write about, and the tension between having the discipline to cut yourself from the world to write, and releasing yourself from the chair to make connections and have experiences, is a constant struggle for me.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Diversify. Write short fiction. Write poetry. Seek to get published in smaller outlets. If you’re writing novels, allocate time in your week/month/year to explore other forms. I’ve always been drawn to the longer form: feature length screenplays in the early years; and the novel. As such, I only got to test the quality of my work every 4-6 years. Two decades can pass with a room plastered in rejection slips from less than a half-dozen projects. Publishing shorter work not only broadens your skills, but gives you the encouragement to persist, and stay the course. Importantly, it will add detail for the bio paragraph in your query letter when you produce something that is ready.

How important is social media to you as an author?

I’m only recently published, so I’ve never thought of social media in terms of publicity. On the other hand, it’s great for sharing my writing journey with friends and family.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

I don’t know if I believe in writer’s block; although I certainly experience stretches of time where a scene or a project feels like it’s at a standstill. My way of pushing through these moments is to stay in the act of creating. If I can’t commit words to my work-in-progress, I’ll spend the session writing something else: a poem; a typed letter to a friend; a shorter piece; or play around with an idea I’ve been collecting notes for. In this way, I’m keeping the channel open. Like anything worthwhile, writing is hard, requiring a significant output of energy, so there’s an expectation at the start of any session that there’s a pain barrier of sorts to push through. But though it’s challenging, there’s a satisfaction to be gained; and if there’s none, that’s usually a sign for me to write something else for a bit.

How do you deal with rejection?

Over the years I’ve developed a habit of starting my next project on the same day I finish my current one. I always know what I’m working on next; so there’s an excitement for that first session. It involves A4 sheets of paper, index cards, coloured pens, and the sketching of schematics. That first session – though I may have been collecting notes on the project for years – is momentous. Everything’s possible, there are no mistakes to be made, and it hasn’t started to hurt yet. It builds anticipation for the second, third, and fourth sessions. In this way, as I go through the heart-wrenching process of querying my manuscript, I’m bit-by-bit gifting my creative spirit to something else. It doesn’t soften the blow of rejection, but by drawing life from another inspiration, I’m reminded that the act of creating something is the thing I need most.  

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Quirky, strange, heartfelt.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life?

Diane Samuels is an author and playwright. I only learned of her last year, on a podcast in which she was in conversation with Paul Kalburgi on The Writer’s Toolkit. The way she approaches creativity, and how she articulates it, resonated deeply with me. She writes with a spirit and an attitude that is a true example. I’d love to with talk with her about it. One jewel she shared was a question someone put to her early in her journey:

Do you want a writing career; or a writing life?

I wish someone had challenged me with this question when I was starting out. For so many years I wrote with an angst that was counter-productive to the spirit of creating; when all along I had what I was looking for.

Book Byte

Brothers Geo and Wes are testing their relationship now that their parents have passed away. Geo and Wes rarely agree on anything, especially not the sale of the Hobart family home. Geo needs the money to finance his musical career in Italy. For Wes the house represents the memory of their father, and what it means to live an honest, working life.
But then a ghost train appears in Hobart, often on the tram tracks that once existed, along with the Swedish man who
has been pursuing it for 40 years. Everyone it seems is chasing their dreams. Or are they running from the truth?
The Signal Line is a warm-hearted, unforgettable novel about what we are all searching for, even when our personal dreams and aspirations have collapsed: love and acceptance.

You can buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Sean Rabin

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

Sean Rabin

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

Author insight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Lucy Ellmann – I’d ask her how she found the courage to write Ducks, Newburyport in this publishing environment, and how she didn’t lose faith when people started to say no.

Book byte

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

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Dimity Powell

It might take decades to be an overnight success. Persistence, patience and consistency are key.

Dimity Powell

Dimity Powell loves to fill every spare moment with words. She writes and reviews exclusively for children with over 30 published stories and is the Managing Editor for Kids’ Book Review. Her word webs appear in anthologies, school magazines, junior novels, and as creative digital content, but picture books are her jam. Her latest titles include, This is My Dad (2022), Oswald Messweather (2021), Pippa (2019), the SCBWI Crystal Kite 2019 award-winning At the End of Holyrood Lane (2018), and critically acclaimed, The Fix-It Man (2017) also in simplified Chinese. 

Dimity is a useless tweeter, sensational pasta maker, semi-professional chook wrangler, Border collie lover, seasoned presenter and dedicated Books in Homes Australia Volunteer Role Model, Story City Community Mentor and G.A.T.EWAYS presenter who can’t surf despite living on the Gold Coast, Australia. Visit her anytime at: www.dimitypowell.com

Author Insight

Why do you write and what is about writing for children that keeps you producing stories for young readers?

The magic of experiencing a story unfold both as a reader and writer is something I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of. Stories were one of my whole reasons for being as a kid and while not all kids these days love reading as much as I did and still do, I hope know there is a story out there for them that provides that same mystifying personal connection; maybe it just hasn’t been written yet or in a way that resonates with them. This is part of what compels me to write on.

What would you be doing if you weren’t an author?

My sister and I still have aspirations of running a tea and book shop together; she’d drink and bake and nibble all day. I would hide in some corner and read, naturally. I’ve always wanted to be a Vet too, so I reckon I’d be in the country somewhere running an animal practice (and possibly writing in between birthing calves!).

What do you wish you’d been told before you decided to become an author?

Birthing calves might be slightly more lucrative than making stuff up.

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

I truly think the best stories come from life – and simply living it. That said, many of my picture book story lines are promoted by a casual suggestion or request for something. I welcome story prompts as they are often the green-go buttons that set my creative thought processes in progress.

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step?

Once the seed of an idea or story is planted, I normally allow it to germinate organically, in other words, I sit and think and ruminate on a number of possibilities, characters, names, outcomes. Then I’ll often draft these initial ruminations in long hand in a note book. I prefer to ‘hear’ my characters’ stories and let them tell them to me in my head before committing them to paper. Time, quiet and space are the best fertilisers for this part. Once the rough outline is captured on paper, I then switch to recording everything online: editing, exploring language, researching statistics, endings, character arcs, more editing … I normally get a trusted crit buddy to eye over the manuscript as well before even thinking about submitting.

How has your childhood influenced the writer you’ve become?

I think it’s more about the books I read and how they made me feel as a young reader that I still hold on to. I try to remember that when penning a story for a particular age group. No matter what happened to me in my own childhood, it’s how I reacted to it or felt about that experience that provides the most useful and authentic elements in my storytelling today.

Share a little about your path to publication.

After completing a creative children’s writing course while my child was still in Kindy, I promptly set up a spread sheet to record my rejections! This wasn’t for lack of confidence in my abilities rather simply an expectation as the norm. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use it for a while as the first short story I ever submitted to the NSW School Magazine was accepted.

After that I won a publishing competition which resulted in my junior novel, PS Who Stole Santa’s Mail? (2012) and really launched my notoriety as an emerging children’s author. My ambition to publish a picture book was realised in 2017 with, The Fix-It Man after a long and arduous period of ups and downs. My publication apprenticeship continues to this very day.

How closely were you involved in the creation of the illustrations for your beautiful book This is My Dad? Are they what you envisioned for this story?

Nicky’s illustrations are again, 100% spot on for this story. We collaborate effortlessly but this time there was little involvement or back and forth necessary, possibly because this is our third book together and I have immense and implicit trust in her ability to ‘get’ my narrative intent.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories?

I hope readers both young and old feel a genuine connection with my characters that transcends simple entertainment. I hope they are moved to feel and ponder on the experiences those characters endure and are better able to understand their own situations and the world around them because of their stories. And ultimately, to appreciate that everyone’s story matters.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?

Not usually. If a particular narrative has too many road humps, I simply write around it, invite a bit of that precious ‘quiet’ time and wait for the solution to present itself. It always does. Walking my demanding dogs helps too. Never underestimate the cleansing, rejuvenating power of nature.

Is there an area of writing that you still find challenging?

Endings. And reaching them. So really, most areas! Honestly, though, when something ‘writes itself’, it’s awesome however without the challenge of the odd struggle, not only would my job be less interesting but my stories more pedestrian.

What are you working on at the moment?

There’s a second, Pippa picture book in the works for publication this year or next and I currently have a few other picture book scripts in various stages of development that I absolutely love.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? —the worst?

Best: I get to learn something new each and every day. EVERY day. I love that.

Worst: Hmm, not having a functioning Time Turner necklace thingy like Hermione had.

How important is social media to you as an author?

I’ve known successful authors who lived without it but for sheer visibility and accessibility, I think it’s pretty vital. If nothing else, it gives creatives a chance to preen and self-pontificate a bit, right! SM does provide platforms to celebrate each tiny baby step forward too, which is important in this business as not all wins are colossal to begin with. The key is finding the platform you are most comfortable with and represents, ‘you’ the best, then be consistent.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

It takes decades to be an overnight success.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

It might take decades to be an overnight success. Persistence, patience and consistency are key.

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Are you kidding? I can’t describe anything in three words! Here goes: mellifluous, satirical, pure-hearted.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life?

Stephen Fry. He’s like every Shakespearean play rolled into one; tragic, comic, historically brilliant and desperately poetic. He could tell me anything he wants; I’m sure I’d find it illuminating.

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why?

Ryan Reynolds. Because I’d really like to visit Canada one day and I need to know more about Deadpool 3.

Book Byte

Leo lives with his monster-battling, world creating, children’s author mother, and has never known a father figure. So when his teacher announces Tell Us About Your Dad Day, Leo’s tummy flip-flops; he worries that he won’t have anything to present to his class. Then he remembers that he already knows someone cool, courageous and clever – someone who’s not his dad, but is his everything. A heart-warming celebration of families of all shapes and sizes that will resonate with millions of children.

Available from EK Books:

Or

Dimity Powell: https://dimitypowell.com/this-is-my-dad/ – signed copies

Amazon Books:

Boomerang Books:

Booktopia:

Dymocks Books:

Readings Books:

Barnes and Noble:

Indigo Books:  

This Is My Dad Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgWxDgJnHpY

 

Meet the Author: Sioban Timmer

SIOBAN’S TOP WRITING TIP: It’s important to have a clear vision for your writing and the direction you want your work to take. A solid sense of direction allows you to accept feedback that is constructive and valuable to the agenda of your work and disregard that which isn’t. This means you make the decisions that are best for your writing – and not your ego.

Sioban Timmer is a Western Australian writer who grew up in Perth’s southern suburbs and now lives near Sioban TimmerByford with her husband Paul and their two children. Sioban produces stories and poetry for adults and children on a wide range of themes and currently offers children’s readings and workshops, monthly literacy sessions for children called ‘Bonding With Books’. Sioban is the publicity officer for the Gosnells Writers’ Circle as well as coordinator of the Children’s Corner Competition in Showcase Magazine. Visit Sioban on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sioban-Timmer/143021369204346?fref=ts

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? For as long as I can remember I have always put my ideas down on paper, it’s part of who I am. Inspiration is like a persistent ringing phone, it won’t stop until you answer the call. If the ideas are there, I have to nurture them and give them the attention they deserve or they keep rolling around and popping back into my mind. That said, I can’t imagine a version of myself that didn’t write – for me the question is; how could I not?

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I would love to be an artist, a dancer or a singer; anyone who has been subjected to me attempting to do these things knows – it’s a good thing I love to write.

If I were able to choose something else that would give me a sense of purpose it would involve working within the local community. I never cease to be amazed at what people can achieve by choosing to share even a little bit of their time for the good of others. People being willing to share their energy keeps a sense of community alive.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I was very lucky to find Jasper Books, a Perth-based Western Australian micro publisher. I was able to establish a personal connection with the owner Cate Rocchi. Jasper Books has a passion for ensuring that Australian audiences have a chance to read books that contain local stories told in our uniquely Australian style.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I love getting positive feedback about the book; especially from children. Kids are very honest, if they don’t like your work they will tell you, if they think it’s awesome they will tell you. Children have commented how amazing it is to meet someone who has been able to write ‘a whole book!’ and it’s so wonderful to be able to tell them ‘I loved to write as a child and look what I was able to achieve. If you love to write, keep going, stick with it!’

—the worst? Trying to incorporate the business and creative aspects of writing can be challenging. Time feels better spent on the writing; the ideas and the thrill of a concept at the very beginning when you start to get a real sense that it’s a piece worth continuing.

But publishing is also a business and it requires all the same administration – invoicing, and bookwork. Not as creative, not as enticing – but required to present as a professional individual and also to ensure that your work remains financially viable.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would have more faith in my abilities as a writer and put a copy of the quote below above my desk:

You’ll seldom experience regret for anything that you’ve done. It is what you haven’t done that will torment you. The message, therefore, is clear. Do it! Develop an appreciation for the present moment. Seize every second of your life and savour it. Value your present moments. Using them up in any self-defeating ways means you’ve lost them forever-Wayne Dyer

Most of the chances I have taken have had a successful outcome or positive flow on effect. If I have taken a chance and it hasn’t panned out – it certainly didn’t do me any harm.

Hearing ‘No’ doesn’t kill you, but if you don’t try – what opportunities have you unwittingly killed off?

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?

  1. Do the math. Examine all of the costs – the obvious costs and the hidden costs. Don’t forget when pricing the book that retailers will want to add mark up.
  2. Immerse yourself in what you love – do workshops, join groups and get involved. You learn so much from other writers and their different styles, but it is also important for the networking side and the skills that can be shared between writers like feedback and editing.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Write what you love – Love what you write. If it doesn’t feel authentic to you, it won’t feel authentic to the reader.

BOOK BYTE

cover with text copyToughen Up, Princess offers a new perspective on traditional fairy tales with a distinctly Australian flavour. The book is filled with delightful tongue in cheek illustrations by local artist Alison Mutton, which adds to the uniquely Aussie feel.

These humorous interpretations help children to see that there is another side to every story, even one they think they know very well. Many are told from the point of view of the supporting characters and encourage children to consider that we are all the star of our own story. The giant doesn’t see Jack as the hero, the dwarfs didn’t want Snow White to move in and maybe Cinderella liked cleaning. The commonly accepted ideas are challenged in a humorous and engaging manner while encouraging children to remember everyone perceives the world through their own eyes, their own words and their own viewpoint.

For a list of stockists visit www.siobantimmer.webs.com

The book is also available from the publisher. http://cerocchi.com/jasper.html

 

 

Meet the Author: Robin Bower

ROBIN’S TOP WRITING TIP: Keep writing, keep persisting at everything to do with the craft. Practise, join writers’ groups, associations, network, submit to publications and enter competitions. Travel as much as you can (but not cruises), meet the locals, experience the colour and the everyday. Listen to language everywhere you can and note it down – trains, buses, family gatherings, work, school – everywhere. Keep honing your craft but start something new often. Have several projects on the go at the same time. Read your favourite genres and authors. Then read outside your genre. Keep submitting, keep writing, self-publish eBooks while you’re working on the next great novel. Build it and they will come…

Amazon picThis week it was my pleasure to meet Robin Bower, a writer and accredited editor with more than 20 years publishing experience in Australia and overseas. In Melbourne she edited educational books and wrote freelance articles. She was managing editor and publisher of a magazine in Hong Kong, where she reported on the diamond industry for Asia and Europe. Robin taught Writing, Editing and Publishing at Curtin University, Perth in 2011. She has had almost 50 articles published in publications based in Hong Kong, Perth and Melbourne, and was awarded her Master of Creative Writing from the University of Canberra in 2011. Beyond Home is her first novel. Her second novel, set in Perth and Afghanistan, will be available in 2015. For more information, see www.robinbower.com.au

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? It’s a real release for my creativity that I constantly yearn for. Ever since I was young, I’ve wanted to be a published author. It’s taken a while! I’m in my own little world when I’m writing and I love telling stories that I’ve created from nothing. I love to write because I want my voice heard about important issues (or issues I deem important); I want people to read my writing and feel moved by it in some way.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’m also an editor and a publishing professional and have done manuscript assessing. I would probably help others to publish so be a publisher, designer, or an artist.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I’ve just released my first novel on Amazon Kindle. I have found that just getting through the process of writing, editing, development, rewriting, assessments, sending out to readers, rewriting and finishing with a final that I’m happy with is the hardest thing. So the whole process is time consuming and hard! It’s also a matter of confidence in what I’ve written – a confidence that grows with everything I publish. I have to let go of the critical self.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Having people read my work, love it and tell me about it. I also love the research that goes with writing a fictional piece. Absolutely everything must be researched so that I can bring authenticity to my characters and situations. This is an engrossing part of the whole process.

—the worst? When I have limited time to research, write, edit, rewrite, publish and promote my writing. I have to be strict about scheduling or life will just get in the way!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would find myself a part-time job in a writing environment, dedicate myself to finishing my novel to a deadline and get the process done much more quickly. I wouldn’t be so harsh on myself or wait to get industry approval.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? It takes five years to write a book. I finished my first book, Beyond Home, in 2008 after a five-year process. I’ve released it in 2014. In the meantime, I wrote my second book which is currently in the market for a publisher. That book also took five years so it’s a useful benchmark to have in the back of my mind. In retrospect, perhaps it’s better not to know and just do it!

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em think. Just keep writing.

BOOK BYTE

Beyond Home coverBeyond Home

Robin Bower

On her father’s death, Eve Robinson discovers a diary that reveals his life was a lie. He has not just been a public servant in Australia, but has a mysterious past in Burma far from Australian shores. Why did he lie to her? What really happened to her mother? Eve embarks on a journey to Burma to discover who her father was. On the way, she becomes involved in a kidnapping, political intrigue, corruption and murder. She forges an unlikely bond with a charismatic Burmese soldier who will do anything to become the leader. What starts as an accident turns into a crusade as Eve tries to rediscover the father she thought she knew.

Where to buy Beyond Home

Get the Kindle version for Australia here

Get the Kindle version for the US here

Get the paperback here

Check out Robin’s Amazon author page here and her website here.

Meet the Author: Lee Battersby

 

LEE’S TOP WRITING TIPS: Live. Travel. Take millions of photos. Go out at night. Visit museums, art galleries, botanical gardens, zoos. Drink. Dance. Have sex as often as you possibly can, and if you’re single, with as many people as you can. Read. Watch movies, plays, TV. Learn to juggle. Go to the circus. Play a musical instrument, badly and loudly. Ride a horse. Sing out loud as often as possible. Fire a gun. Argue. Take courses in history, criminology, art theory, whatever, it doesn’t matter, but take courses. Have hobbies. Do stupid things. Do brilliant things that are going to make you look completely cool. Try out different jobs. Milk a cow. Crack a whip. Feed lambs. Ride an elephant. Ignore the critics, the naysayers and the fools. Be a fool. Eat all different kinds of food. Get drunk. Try everything that comes across your path and then find other paths to try everything that crosses them.

By the time I published my first short story I’d been a tennis coach, stand-up comedian, watch salesman, graduate student, public servant and cartoonist. By the time I’d published my third I was a widower and single father—not that I recommend it. But if all you know is your day job, writing and reading, then what the *hell* have you got to talk about? Writers are interesting not because we write—anyone can do that—but because of what we write about, and the way we write about it. And that comes from experience: of the world, of our fellow human beings, and of the spaces in between everything that we notice but everybody else walks past without seeing. And enjoy the sex.

 

rsz_battersbyLee Battersby is the author of the novels The Corpse-Rat King and The Marching Dead (Angry Robot Books) and the collection Through Soft Air (Prime Books) as well as more than 70 short stories in the US, Europe and Australia. Winner of the Aurealis, Australian Shadows and Writers of the Future awards, his next novel, a work for children entitled Magit and Bugrat will be released by Walker Books in early 2015. He lives in Mandurah with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby, two insane children, and an ongoing sense of doom. He lives online at www.leebattersby.com and blogs at http://battersblog.blogspot.com.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Every time I run a writing workshop I start with an exercise I smurched from my friend Dr Stephen Dedman (link: http://www.stephendedman.com/), wherein I ask participants to note down, as truthfully as possible, the five reasons they write. I did it myself for a workshop I ran at this year’s Perth Writers Festival, and these were my five reasons:

  1. Fame
  2. Money
  3. Critical Acclaim
  4. To hang out with other writers
  5. To leave something behind when I die

One out of five ain’t bad….

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d be stuck working in the bowels of the ATO, suffering from suicidal depression and clouded in misery so thick I’d probably have ruined my marriage and my life by now. My writing career played a large part in landing my current day job in arts administration—not to mention putting me in the path of my wife– as well as providing me with a refuge whenever Real Life ™ has left me feeling under siege, so contemplating life without it isn’t a pretty thought.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Patience. It’s still my biggest obstacle. I wrote for a lot of media before I focused on writing narrative fiction, so I had a good education in the written form: stand-up comedy, short plays, poetry, cartooning, legislation, business letters, and on and on. It took me just on two years between writing my first story for publication and my first sale, and my wife at the time wasn’t really attuned to what I was attempting to do with my artistic ambitions, which led to conflict. It’s very difficult to explain to someone why you want to come in from a day at work, spend a short period of time with them, and then disappear into your own worlds for the rest of the evening, if they’re not absolutely simpatico with your goals. There was a strong desire to justify what I was doing, and to achieve something I’d set up as a pretty major life-goal. Every week without a breakthrough made it harder to justify the sacrifice.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? That moment, when you’re in the midst of creation and nothing else in the world is as pleasurable as the sheer joy of skating along on the thin edge of your creative powers, and all the words are laying themselves down in front of you and suddenly, out of nowhere, all those years of research and mental filing and subconscious connections just bubble up and go POW! And you realise that you’ve just said something in a way that nobody, ever, has said it, and now that you’ve seen things in this particular way they can never be unseen, and that once your readers read it, they’ll never be able to see it the same way again, that you have created something genuinely new that will, without a shadow of a doubt, change the way other people view the world. The awards and contracts and payments are nice, but they’re not as visceral as that moment, not as powerful. The rewards are wonderful, but that moment, that white-hot moment, that’s crack J

—the worst? The worst point for me came a couple of years ago when I realised that I’d done my best work as a short story writer over the previous two or three years and yet the stories I’d produced had pretty much disappeared without any sort of notice. I felt like I’d gone as far as I could with that form, and didn’t want to continue working on something for months for a token payment and no critical or commercial attention. Writing is the way I communicate my worldview, and if there’s nobody at the other end of the communication then what’s the point? I came very close to quitting altogether at that point: my Real Life ™ is quite stressful, and I need an outlet that rewards me, not adds more stress to the pile. I was fortunate in that a novel I’d submitted made it through the slush pile shortly thereafter and gave me new impetus and new direction, but that was the worst moment: the feeling that nobody was reading, nobody was listening, and all I was really doing was shouting into the mirror.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I wouldn’t spend so long writing short stories without moving into novels. It was 11 years between my first short story publication and my first novel publication, and looking back, I don’t think I learned anything in the last five or six years that merits sticking solely to that form for so long. I’d have been better off establishing my novel career much earlier. I’d have avoided sticking so closely to one genre for so long. I want to be known for my variety.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? “It’s sad, because I’d absorbed this advice and still managed to ignore it: don’t get tied to one form or genre. Don’t get typecast. All I wanted to be when I started out was a writer. Not an SF writer or a horror writer or a poet or any other badge that gives people a chance to pigeonhole your work. And yet, somehow, once I tasted a bit of success in one genre I focused on that single area of my work to the detriment of my full range. It’s only recently that I’ve worked to branch out again and move away from the speculative fiction field. I’ve always sold poetry throughout my career, but with a children’s novel under my belt now I feel I’m slowly establishing myself across numerous forms again.

Work as widely as you can. Wish I’d paid attention. ”

What’s the best advice you were ever given? The best advice I ever received came when I was studying writing at Curtin University. I had a student interview with Elizabeth Jolley, who was my tutor at the time, and while she was explaining why she was failing me advised me to give up: I lacked a basic understanding of fiction, had little facility for constructing a believable narrative, and would simply never make it. I should save myself a lot of heartache and be better off pursuing some other goal. Frankly, she said, even if I sold an occasional story, I’d never be known for it and never be read. I’ve always been grateful for her honesty. I always work best with a “f- you” at my back.

The best bit of positive advice came from a brilliant book called Booklife by the American writer Jeff Vandermeer. It’s a manual on how to be a writer, rather than an instruction manual on writing. He talks about managing your career arc, in particular how to have a clear view of your goals and how to analyse every opportunity in light of those goals. One thing he stresses in the book is the need to be unafraid in turning down opportunities because they don’t lead you towards those goals, even if they seem attractive. I’ve felt much more in control of my career since reading that: I tend to be a serial accepter, so being empowered to say ‘no’ is a good feeling.

BOOK BYTE

The Corpse Rat King

TheCorpseRatKing-144dpiMarius don Hellespont and his apprentice, Gerd, are professional looters of battlefields. When they stumble upon the corpse of the King of Scorby and Gerd is killed, Marius is mistaken for the monarch by one of the dead soldiers and is transported down to the Kingdom of the Dead. Just like the living citizens, the dead need a King — after all, the King is God’s representative, and someone needs to remind God where they are.

And so it comes to pass that Marius is banished to the surface with one message: if he wants to recover his life he must find the dead a King. Which he fully intends to do. Just as soon as he stops running away.

Available from Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0857662872?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0857662872&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Meet the Author: Kirsten Krauth

KIRSTEN’S TOP WRITING TIP: If you work on something you are passionate about, be loyal to it, stick up for it, and eventually an agent, a publisher, a reader, who is the right fit, will come to you. Don’t write for a market (unless you are into a very specific genre); try to find your unique voice.

Kirsten KrauthKirsten Krauth‘s first novel just_a_girl was published in 2013. She lives in Castlemaine, edits the NSW Writers’ Centre magazine, Newswrite, and is regional arts reporter for ABC Arts Online. Kirsten’s writing on literature and film has been published in Good Weekend, The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, RealTime, Island Magazine, Empire, Metro Screen and Screen Education. She blogs at Wild Colonial Girl about all things literary — where she runs the series ‘Writing Mothers’, and a monthly club for debut novelists and short story writers: Friday Night Fictions. She was one of the judges for the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Best Young Australian Novelists awards in 2013.

Meet Kirsten at UWA Publishing: http://uwap.uwa.edu.au/books-and-authors/author/kirsten-krauth/
Visit her blog at Wild Colonial Girl: http://www.wildcolonialgirl.com
Hang out with her on Twitter @wldcolonialgirl, Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/wildcolonialgirl) and Goodreads (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6947693.Kirsten_Krauth)

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I love playing with language. I like shaping words and seeing the results. I enjoy being able to inhabit characters very different from myself. As a child I was always happiest working on projects in my room, doing research, becoming fully immersed in whatever I was creating. Nothing has really changed! I get into a meditative state when I work. There’s nothing quite like it.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? In my dreams: an actress, musician or dancer. In reality: editing a magazine (which I do, anyway).

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? It took a long time for me to get the confidence to know I could write fiction. I ended up enrolling in a Research Masters of Creative Writing at Sydney Uni to give me the little push I needed. Like any writer, I was unsure about the process of submission: To try to get an agent? To send to one publisher at a time? I was very polite and waiting for people to respond (they often didn’t). I’d be more assertive the next time round.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The continual challenge. Always having the chance to observe the often small things going on around you. Spending lots of time in libraries and reading about subjects you (at first) don’t know a great deal about. The peace of sitting down and doing it.

—the worst? Always feeling like there’s never enough time and it’s a juggling act.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I’d send my draft out to more writers to comment on before I approached agents. I’d try to get an agent before I signed my first contract. I’d listen hard to general comments about the manuscript and try to nut out the common threads in the feedback. I’d organise more events to promote the book immediately after publication (I sat back and waited for things to happen).

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That it is addictive. That each book comes with different challenges, so you feel like you are starting anew as you approach the second (then the third). It’s challenging to always feel like you are starting again.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Look after your readers. Always respond to people who contact you and add a personal touch. Be part of a community of writers who can support you and give advice along the way (it can be a lonely process).

BOOK BYTE

justagirljust_a_girl tears into the fabric of contemporary culture. A Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam, it’s what happens when young girls are forced to grow up too fast. Or never get the chance to grow up at all.

Layla is only 14. She cruises online. She catches trains to meet strangers. Her mother, Margot, never suspects. Even when Layla brings a man into their home. Margot’s caught in her own web: an evangelical church and a charismatic pastor. Meanwhile, downtown, a man opens a suitcase and tenderly places his young lover inside.

Meet the Author: Annabel Smith

ANNABEL’S TOP WRITING TIP: Join or form a writing group. The feedback and support you’ll get from other writers at a similar career stage will be invaluable and will improve your writing more than anything else.

????????Annabel Smith is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards.

She has been writer-in-residence at Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre and the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA), had short fiction and commentary published in Westerly and Southerly and holds a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University.

In 2012 she was selected by the Australia Council as one of five inaugural recipients of a Creative Australia Fellowship for Emerging Artists, for the creation of an interactive app to accompany her experimental speculative fiction The Ark, to be published in 2014. She is currently working on an epic quest with a sci-fi twist featuring a monkey, an evil priestess and the mother of all tsunamis.

Website: http://annabelsmith.tumblr.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnnabelSmithAUS
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AnnabelSmithAUS

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Quite simply, I’m unhappy if I don’t.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Ideally I would be a lady of leisure – pilates, lunch with the girls etc. More likely I would return to my former job as a teacher of English as a Second Language.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? The changes in the publishing industry in the last few years have made getting published more difficult than ever before. Consequently I found getting my second novel published more difficult than my first. I attempted first to find an agent, and then when that was unsuccessful, I began sending my manuscript to small independent presses. It took three years and 17 rejections before I was offered a contract.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? What a hard question. There are so many things I love about my writing life it’s hard to choose one favourite. The satisfaction of crafting a sentence or paragraph that I’m very happy with would have to be up there; also the pleasure of receiving feedback from a reader who says my books have touched them in some ways is very special.

—the worst? The fact that rejection is just part of the process – sometimes that’s hard to take.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Ignore the instructions from publishers and agents that insist you only submit to one organisation at a time. Submitting to several simultaneously is a much better strategy.

BOOK BYTE

WhiskyCharlieFoxtrot CoverIt is less than twenty-four hours since Charlie received the phone call from his mother  and in those hours his only thought has been that Whisky must not die. He must not die because he, Charlie, needs more time. He and Whisky have not been friends, have not talked or laughed together for months, years. But he has never thought it will end like this. He has always thought there will be time.

Whisky and Charlie are identical twins. But everything about them is poles apart. It’s got so bad that Charlie can’t even bear to talk to his brother anymore – until a freak accident steals Whisky from his family, and Charlie has to face the fact he may never speak to his brother again.

Annabel’s book is available from: Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Whisky-Charlie-Foxtrot-Annabel-Smith-ebook/dp/B008VM84PC/ref=la_B001K7PXG8_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394513272&sr=1-1

Meet the Author: Francesca Forrest

FRANCESCA’S TOP WRITING TIP: In following advice from writers, feel free to discard what doesn’t work for you. I’ve listened to lots of interviews with writers and read even more, and people are hugely different. This one gets up at dawn and writes for an hour every day; that one only writes on weekends. This one outlines everything; that one feels outlines kill creativity. This one swears by writing groups; that one was scarred by them. About the only universal truth is that you do have to write to be a writer, so embrace the things that help you do that. But maybe that’s not a very helpful tip—in which case I’d go back to the best piece of advice I was ever given and say, read broadly!

Francesca photoFrancesca Forrest has lived in the United States, England, and Japan, and used to boast about having given birth to children on three continents. If she’d started earlier, she might have tried for births on a full six (sorry Antarctica!) Currently she works as a copy editor, spending as much of her free time writing as possible. She’s had short stories and poems published both online and in print, but Pen Pal is her first published novel. She also volunteers as a writing tutor in a medium-security jail and with a program to make children’s books available in the various mother tongues spoken in Timor-Leste. She loves knowing which plants in a landscape are edible and the folk names of wildflowers. She blogs at http://asakiyume.livejournal.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? You know how so many good things are even better if you can share them with someone? You hear a beautiful song, and you want your friends to hear it, or you taste a delicious dessert and want everyone else to be able to enjoy it too. It’s like this for me with the stories in my head. I have these stories, these ideas, and I desperately want to share them. So I write. I want the story that’s alive in my own mind to live in other people’s minds, too.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I really believe in the power of storytelling outside of the official role of writer. We’ve all known great storytellers (it could be a grandparent, an old neighbour, the class clown at school) who never put a word on paper, but who could hold you spellbound when they started weaving their tale. Even though the stories they tell seem ephemeral—gone as soon as they tell them—they often really linger in the mind. They have strength. If for some reason I couldn’t keep on pursuing writing, I hope I’d be one of these storytellers.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My preconceived notions regarding publication were my toughest obstacle. These days, there are many ways to be published: you can publish with a major publishing house, a small independent press, or you can self publish; you can publish a physical book, an e-book, or both. You can serialise a story online. And, you can choose one route for one project and another route for another project. All the forms of publication involve difficulties. I had to learn to be flexible, and I also had to recognise that no matter what route I took, it wasn’t going to be easy.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I love the actual business of writing. I love turning scenes over in my mind, playing with dialogue, images, sensory details, the order in which events are going to unfold, and figuring out what works best. Some people dislike revision, but I love revision. I love going over a scene and finding a way to make it better.

—the worst? It’s very frustrating and depressing when a story doesn’t gel, when I work on something for a while and see that it’s just not going anywhere. Nothing’s ever really lost—you can recycle ideas later, and the experience you gain in any attempt is always useful—but I hate the moment when I realise that I should abandon some particular thing I’m working on.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? In a sense, I feel as if I am only just starting out now. I wrote a lot as a child and adolescent, but largely stopped when I was in college and bringing up small children. It’s only been in the past six years that I’ve gotten back to writing seriously. To answer a slightly different question, if I could do something differently with my life overall, I would never have let my writing slide—I would have kept at it during those small-children years.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? My father’s a writer, so I don’t feel like I was confronted by many surprises: I knew what I was getting into. I guess it would have been reassuring to know that I actually *would* have the tenacity to keep going—that in the absence of miracles, I’d be able to put in the hard work . . . and that sometimes there would be miracles, just not necessarily in the form or places I was expecting.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? To read broadly. I really think the absolute best way to improve as a writer is to read, and to read many different sorts of books. It’s amazing what people can do with language; it’s amazing the way stories can be told. You can apprentice yourself in writing by reading.

BOOK BYTE

Francesca_Forrest_Pen_PalPen Pal starts with a message in a bottle and ends with revolution. Em, a child from a floating community off the US Gulf Coast, drops a message into the sea. It ends up in the hands of Kaya, an activist on the other side of the world, imprisoned above the molten lava of the Ruby Lake. Em and Kaya are both living precarious lives, at the mercy of societal, natural, and perhaps supernatural forces beyond their control. Kaya’s letters inspire Em, and Em’s comfort Kaya—but soon their correspondence becomes more than personal. Individual lives, communities, and the fate of an entire nation will be changed by this exchange of letters.  Pen Pal is a story of friendship and bravery across age, distance, and culture, at the intersection of the natural and supernatural world.

Pen Pal is available from http://www.amazon.com/Pen-Pal-Francesca-Forrest/dp/1494264633 and http://www.amazon.com.au/s/ref=nb_sb_noss/377-1330537-9613469?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=pen+pal+francesca+forrest

Francesca has also set up a website for the book, with pages on remarkable real-life pen pals, messages in bottles, floating communities and indigenous languages. She’d love you to check it out at  http://penpalnovel.virb.com/index