Meet the Author: Michael Fitzgerald

DominicLorrimerMichael Fitzgerald is a writer and art magazine editor living in Sydney. His first novel, The Pacific Room (2017), was developed through a Varuna Publisher Fellowship; his second, Pietà, is being released in June 2021, also through Transit Lounge Publishing. His literary work has also appeared in magazines such as Kill Your Darlings and Westerly. He is Editor of Art Monthly Australasia.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? This is something I’ve never really asked myself, and I wonder if it would be dangerous for me to find out at this late stage. Sometimes it’s best just to keep doing what you instinctively feel you need to do. With writing especially, I think there’s a danger in overthinking things. I’ll leave that up to actors to ponder: What’s my motivation?

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? A strange dream of mine would be to be a casting agent.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Life constantly interrupting and intervening. How dare it! … While my novels have been relatively short (in length) so far, they have taken me SO LONG to write.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Yes. I’m not sure how it is elsewhere, but at Transit Lounge my experience has been especially collaborative and creative.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being solitary and alone. It’s thrilling and scary, but very quickly things scribbled into notebooks and onto a computer screen begin to fill the void. And soon stories and characters flood your head and have a life of their own through this strangely mechanical and meditative process of pushing a pen or typing at a keyboard. I also love swimming for the same reason.

—the worst? Not having the time to write.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? To maybe think less about what other people might think, and to not try and second-guess what readers (or publishers) might want – but, at the same, not to ignore them, and to learn to lean into them a little more productively and meaningfully. Sorry if I’ve totally contradicted myself here, but I’m obviously in two minds!

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Nothing in particular, because I think it’s important for everyone to follow and find their own path and to sometimes stumble and grope around in the dark. That’s how I’ve done it, and I can’t imagine anything different.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? To never submit or press ‘send’ until a piece is absolutely finished and ready – though of course knowing when the moment is right is a whole other thing. I’m still not entirely sure … So, on second thoughts, maybe the best advice is something smaller and more technical – like Margaret Atwood saying (in the Paris Review I think) that the key to proofreading is a good ruler, and going through the text line by line.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Embrace the difficulty. It definitely doesn’t get any easier as you get older. I’m 56, but sometimes I feel like I’m still starting out. So, finding a voice, and the best narrative vehicle to express it is something I’m still wrestling with. It’s part of an ongoing process that never stops. Keep wrestling!

How important is social media to you as an author? I haven’t succumbed to Facebook or Twitter (perhaps to my detriment), but I do enjoy Instagram (I’m @mf.novelist). When you’re writing (or editing all day like I am), it’s sometimes nice to do it with images. And I’ve found and friended other writers on Instagram, some of whom use it in interesting ways ‘to share and connect’ (those ubiquitous words). Though it’s sometimes difficult to find the right tone and to avoid appearing gloating and self-obsessed – those ugly hallmarks of social media. Of course, occasional ‘digital detox’ is essential for any writer.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? As I mature and life gets more crowded and noisier, the writing bit of writing is not so much the challenge, but blocking out periods of solitary time is. For me time, and it’s perhaps a cliché to say, time and silence is key. Finding myself up at Varuna, The Writers House late last year, and faced with a week’s residency and with no particular goal in mind – and no distractions – was heavenly. I ended up writing short stories, one of which will be published in Westerly magazine this year. The experience took me back to the two weeks I spent in a convent in Rome, researching Pietà.

How do you deal with rejection? Stoically, and to immediately latch onto another hopeful or positive opportunity – there are so many these days. And to learn to love your ugly ducklings and to keep trying to turn them into swans. I have also been meaning to maintain a special ‘rejections’ notebook, as there have been so many over the years, and to keep this as a badge of honour.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Different each time.

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? Patricia Highsmith or Tennessee Williams. They both transgressed conservative convention in postwar America – one through spare, eviscerating psychological thrillers, the other through poetic and transcendent prose and plays. I would just like to hear them speak, look at their quizzical faces, and spend time in their writing studios while perhaps passively inhaling their cigarette smoke – you can always find out so much from the physical spaces writers inhabit.

BOOK BYTE

Pieta

These are the last days of 1999. At St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, as the world waits for the new millennium, Lucy, a young Australian woman looks up at Michelangelo’s Pietà behind its pane of bullet-proof glass; a red kabbalah string circles her wrist. She has come with the mysterious parcel her recently deceased mother asked her to bring to the box marked POSTE VATICANE.

But before Rome there is Saint-Cloud. Here, on the outskirts of Paris, Lucy works as an au pair for Jean-Claude and his wife Mathilde. When Mathilde leaves for Central Australia to research the Aboriginal artist Kumanjayi, Lucy’s circle of contacts becomes smaller and strangely intimate: Jean-Claude, the baby Felix for whom she cares, and the couple’s charismatic friend Sébastien, a marble restorer.

Yet Lucy’s homesickness for Australia and its vastness haunts her world, surfacing in the memories of her mother, the Australian garden at Empress Joséphine’s Malmaison, and Mathilde’s letters from Alice Springs. Lucy’s mother, Jude, who was a nun in the 1970s, once warned her daughter ‘to be careful what she wished for’. It is a caution that marks but rarely alters the choices these characters make.

With lushness and tenderness, and revelation, Fitzgerald’s unforgettable novel Pietà exquisitely captures the glorious and imperfect relationships between parents and children, between art and life.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Belinda Lyons-Lee

Belinda’s top tip for aspiring authors: Don’t. Give. Up.

Belinda Lyons-LeeBelinda Lyons-Lee was born in Geelong, Australia and still lives in the region with her husband and son. She has degrees in youth work, education, writing and literature. Belinda has been teaching English and creative writing in high schools for nearly twenty years and the nineteenth century has been an obsession of hers for even longer. Belinda has had various articles published that explore writing, vocation, mental health and creativity. Tussaud is her debut novel. Find out more about Belinda at http://www.blyonslee.com

Author Insight

Why do you write? I write because I love to escape and inhabit the times and places I create, because I want to discover something about what it means to be human, to try and make sense of my own, and other people’s lives. I read for the same reasons.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d be drawing, painting or messing around with clay whilst balancing teaching English. The same life I have now but swap out the writing for another form of creative expression!

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I can’t remember who to attribute the quote to but it goes something like – ‘It’s not what happens to you but what happens within you that defines who you are’. There’s been a lot of ‘stuff’ that has happened to me along my writing journey, the usual culprits of rejections, set-backs and disappointments. However like Marie in my novel, I had to instead concentrate on what was happening within me, my reactions, my self-talk and find a way through it all.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? My publisher (Transit Lounge) has been incredibly supportive in terms of opening dialogue about each step in the publishing process. I can say the same about the editing process – Kate Goldsworthy was amazing in the way she connected and understood not only the technical details of the writing itself, but the deeper, richer essence of the novel that shines through now more clearly because of her attentions. Talking through the front and back cover was very exciting. Josh Durham, the designer, is so very clever and physically captured the mood of the novel perfectly. I actually sent the publisher and Josh a Pinterest board of the sort of covers I loved early on in the process to help frame the look I ideally wanted. Josh came up with a few designs that were all equally impressive but in the end the publisher and I both felt that this one, the one that you see now, was the best representation of the mood of the story.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The very first draft. So much energy, momentum!

 —the worst? Sometimes the technical details of spelling, grammar, punctuation and then chapter length, refinement of sentences, plot holes, inconsistencies etc. This requires a different sort of energy and headspace. Sometimes it’s hard to balance out the two when one, for me, is much more fun than the other!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Celebrate the small accomplishments.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That writing requires an enormous amount of determination and sheer stubbornness.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? I’ve had this quote by Neil Gaiman as my screen saver for about seven years. That tells you something about how highly I rate this advice! ‘Start telling the stories only you can tell. Because there will always be better writers than you and there will always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this -or doing that – but you are the only you.’

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s wonderful as a way to connect with readers and people in the ‘writing world’ but I guess like anything, it can quickly turn into a time sucking diversion.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? If I feel a piece lagging, losing energy or momentum, I find it’s because, as William Kenower (?) I think has said, I’m no longer curious about it anymore and perhaps have even lost confidence in myself, my idea and my ability. So the moments I ‘drop out’, I switch to writing another scene or chapter or go sideways into historical research and then maybe approach it slyly again the next day or the day after. This seems to have worked so far…

How do you deal with rejection? Generally I deal with rejection by allowing myself time to feel the sting, hours, days, whatever is needed until the ‘noise’ of it begins to dissipate. Then I consciously remember to myself what the vision for that particular piece of work is and I get back in the chair and just keep going.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Fictitious. Historical. Imaginative.

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? The hardest question ever – aside from name your favourite book! At this very moment in time, I would choose Daphne du Maurier. I read one of her biographies and was fascinated by her life and her complexities as a person. I would like to hear her thoughts on balancing the need she felt for solitude, the need to write and the need for intimate and social relationships.

Book Byte

Paris, 1810. Haunted by the French Revolution, Marie Tussaud has locked herself away in her shop with the death masks she was forced to make to avoid the guillotine.
Philidor, a famous magician, offers her the chance to accompany him to London to assist in creating a wax automaton that will bring them both money and success.
Following a disastrous performance on their opening night in which the wax on their prized spectacle melts, the eccentric Duke, William Cavendish, invites them to his rambling estate,
Welbeck, where he suggests they take up residence, use his underground ballroom for a new show and in return create a private commission for him: a wax automaton in the likeness of Elanor, a beautiful girl who mysteriously disappeared from the estate when he was a child.
In this delicious novel of twists and turns, Welbeck, with its locked doors and rooms, is full of secrets and no-one is who they seem. There is the seductive aura of Shelley, Dickens and Du Maurier in Tussaud. Marie must fight for survival in a world dominated by male advantage and power in a mesmerising story filled with wisdom about human behaviour and motivations.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Sandi Scaunich

Sandi ScaunichSandi Scaunich’s career spans the fields of medical anthropology, women’s health, and diversity and inclusion. Her writing has appeared in various blogs, academic reports and The Age. She lives in Melbourne with her husband, three children and a very energetic Kelpie x named Pesca. Chasing the McCubbin is her first novel.

To find out more about Sandi, visit her website at www.sandiscaunich.com.au

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I’m not a big planner, so for me writing is an exciting and mysterious process of discovery that takes me out of my head and into the minds and bodies of my characters.

 What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I (temporarily) stopped working in my career during the second lockdown. Until then, writing had been a side passion that I squeezed in around working and family. The kids are back at school now, which means I’ve been typing away freely, doing Q&As (ha!) – and gosh, it’s been lovely!

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My career is outside the publishing industry, and therefore I had no comprehension of how it operated. Unsolicited or agent? Bulk submissions or one at a time? These questions, and many more, were complete unknowns to me. So I enrolled in several courses, but the publishing industry still seemed like an exclusive grand palace with guards and huge gates where only a selected few gained access. Eventually I broke through!

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? When it came to editing and cover design, Transit Lounge were incredibly collaborative. Actually, I loved the first cover proof, so there was little back and forth!

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The joy of creating a new story filled with unique characters that, in my mind, live and breathe.

 —the worst? Spending long hours at a keyboard isn’t great for the body! At the end of a writing session, I sometimes feel like I’ve aged ten years. And back and neck aches lead to headaches – so not great. I’ve integrated regular exercise and stretching into my weekly routine to counteract this. A must!

 What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Hmm … Would I have the wisdom and knowledge I have now? If so, I’d ditch the expectation of a publisher responding almost instantly with a big, enthusiastic, accepting YES.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That the publishing industry moves at glacial speed, and to expect rejections, often in the form of silence. Plus, I’d recommend attending as many pitch sessions as possible.

 What’s the best advice you were ever given? Graeme Simsion told me recently to keep my expectations realistic. This really resonated with me, as it’s about celebrating the wins and avoiding disappointment. An extreme example, but I see it like this: if an author is disappointed their book ‘only’ hit number 2 on the New York Best Sellers list, then said author (the J K Rowlings aside, of course) needs a reality check! It’s made it to the New York Times Best Sellers list! (On a side note, that’s not something I expect to be dealing with!)

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? I am definitely in the debut writers’ camp of ‘write what you know’. Stick to a subject you’re passionate about and know intimately. And listen to your gut instincts. For instance, there was a moment in the early stages of writing Chasing the McCubbin when I toyed with the idea of changing Ron’s character. By way of background, Ron is meant to represent a modern reincarnation of the man in Frederick McCubbin’s famous painting ‘Down On His Luck’. In the 1800s, impressionist painters, such as McCubbin, were promoting the white male narrative through their works – the white man as explorer, worker, prospector, farmer, etc. In light of contemporary values, I was tempted to carve up this traditional narrative. But Ron was simply too clear in my mind to disregard. I could hear him speak, visualise his walk and see him pottering in the shed. So despite my brain urging me to sever the continuation of the white male narrative, my gut told me to stick with Ron. Likeable or not, progressive or not, he evolved authentically as I saw him. Authentic characters engage readers; if they’re not, they risk feeling more like vehicles. Trust your instincts, I reckon.

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m a bit of a technophobe, really. In fact, I’d avoid social media completely if I could! But, hey, it’s no longer 1991, the year Chasing the McCubbin is set. My most significant tech-related achievement of late was connecting my Instagram to Facebook and Twitter! As much as I’d ideally be happy to avoid social media, I do want to connect with readers, and therefore I’m making an effort to post regularly on Instagram (I rarely check Facebook and Twitter). I’ve even posted a few vids of me chatting to the camera – talk about progress!

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t really believe in ‘writer’s block’. I think it might be more a crisis of confidence, although, luckily, I haven’t experienced it yet. Until recently, my biggest obstacle was finding the time to write – that was my personal block!

How do you deal with rejection? A Spritz Aperol and a blockbuster-action-type-movie. Like anything Marvel, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Atmospheric. Sensitive. Honest.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Having a chat over coffee with Helen Garner would be a dream. I’d pick her brains about all-things-writers-life … I’m not fussed about what exactly. In fact, she could tell me her preferred breakfast cereal and I’d be interested. (Is that, um, creepy?!)

BOOK BYTE

Chasing the McCubbin

The Pines, an outer Melbourne suburb down on its luck. A country in the grip of recession.

Experienced collector Ron senses new possibilities: swift evictions provide hard-rubbish to scour and garage-sales have doubled. There’s only one problem: since losing his wife, Ron has struggled to navigate the suburbs alone. Plus, his deteriorating health slows him down.

This all changes through a chance meeting with Joseph, a troubled, withdrawn and unemployed 19-year old who knows nothing about antiques. As Joseph comes to understand and appreciate Ron’s world of eccentric bargain hunters, and hopefulness, his ability to navigate a history of family violence and to see a future for himself grows. Both come to share the wild dream of finding a rare bargain such as an original Frederick McCubbin painting and making their fortune. So begins an exhilarating adventure and an unlikely and beautiful friendship.

Set against the background of the early 1990s, Chasing the McCubbin is funny and sad in equal measure. A story of loneliness and the ageless desire for belonging, it will be the most heartbreaking yet feel-good novel you will read this year.

‘Truly fine writing with a great sense of characters and place, sympathetic and heartfelt without being sentimental, Scaunich pulls us into a fascinating world of low stakes and petty rivalries.’ GRAEME SIMSION, author of The Rosie Project

 ‘Authentic, subtle, evocative and alive.’ KATE RYAN

Buy the book here.

Tea, teamwork and pets of all kinds

Welcome to a new year and an interview with a difference. Penny Reeve and Cecily Anne Paterson write The Pet Sitters series together as Ella Shine and it was my pleasure to chat with them both about why they write, how they came up with the series and some of the challenges involved in their creative collaboration.

Ella Shine LOVES pets of all kinds. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her three cats, four bunnies, parakeet, bearded dragon and an imaginary ant farm for company. When she’s not writing stories for children she can be found dreaming up adventures and hunting for the unexpected with at least one of her pets in tow!

When she’s not writing as Ella Shine, Penny writes as Penny Reeve or Penny Jaye and is the author of more than 20 books for children and older readers. She’s an experienced writing workshop leader, conference presenter and writing coach with a particular interest in equipping children’s writers. You can learn more about Penny at www.pennyjaye.com and www.pennyreeve.com

Award-winning novelist Cecily Anne Paterson writes ‘braveheart’ fiction for girls aged 9-14. She grew up in Pakistan where she went to boarding school in the Himalayan mountains, and now lives with her family on Sydney’s beautiful Northern Beaches. She’s a freelance editor and writer, an engaging speaker and presenter, a reluctant housekeeper, and an aspiring, but average cellist. See www.cecilypaterson.com

AUTHOR INSIGHTS

Why do you write?

Penny: Writing is how I explore ideas and issues, but I also love the joy and power of story and finding ways to communicate to an audience through words.

Cecily: It’s annoying, but I can’t not write. It’s a compulsion I’ve had my whole life since I was eight and sat down and wrote newspapers about what was going on in our family. (They weren’t very interesting.)

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

Penny: I’d probably be doing what I already do when I’m not writing: being a stay-at-home mum trying to find ways to make a living with my creativity. Or I’d find myself in a teaching role of some sort, but probably not full-time classroom teaching. I love working with kids.

Cecily: I have very inferior skills, but I’d like to be a full-time musician. Failing that, I wouldn’t mind running a fancy op shop. Being realistic, I suppose I’d probably settle down to being a teacher or working in administration.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

Penny: When I first started out, I struggled to find a publisher who published the genre I wrote in. Plus, my writing wasn’t that great. So I needed to improve my craft while at the same time getting creative about finding the right publisher.

Cecily: Same as Penny. Craft, creativity and finding ways to get past rejection. I was encouraged early on by an editor from Penguin Books who liked my first novel and suggested ways to make it better, so I rewrote it with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, they didn’t take it in the end, but it gave me some assurance that I wasn’t simply a deluded, talentless hack.

The Pet Sitters junior fiction series is a collaborative project. How did that come about?

Cecily: We were talking about children’s books, as we are prone to do, and one, particular, massively successful series for eight-year olds. I think I may have uttered the words, ‘We could write those,’ and the vision grew legs.

Penny: It was also a great project to have on the go during 2020 as it required us to work together and have a sense of writing connection even when many other writing opportunities were slowing down.

Walk us through the process, please. How did that work? Were there specific challenges?

Penny: We decided early on that we wanted to write the books together with both of us having equal creative input. We began with a planning day where we sat and drank tea and plotted the stories. Then we took turns to write the first draft chapters, using our plan as a guide. It was immensely fun but was also quite challenging, especially at the beginning as we have very different natural writing styles.

Cecily: To be fair, we drank a lot of tea. And even before we started on the story plans, we did a lot of work on intended audience, the length of the books, and the different elements we wanted to include. We created the characters in detail before they even set foot in a story. We also created the author character of ‘Ella Shine’. It seemed too cumbersome to have both our names on the front cover, so we made up something far more memorable. You can read more about us here: https://puddledogpress.com/about

How involved have you both been in the development of your books? Did you have input into the cover and illustrations?

Penny: Because we decided to independently publish these books, we took ownership of the entire project. This meant we needed to source and contract an illustrator for the project. Thankfully, Lisa Flanagan was interested, and her style really complements the stories.

Cecily: Penny and I are both honest enough to know where our talents and experience lie and there was a neat, natural division of labour in creating this series. It’s a great example of the  whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Working together, we’ve achieved more than we thought we could. (For example, Penny was smart enough to apply for government funding for audiobooks, which we received. Adding the amazing voice narration skills of Suzanne Ellis to the project has made it even better. Check out our audiobooks here. https://puddledogpress.com/pet-sitters-news/cot8kp5zvuay7fkq1m8ignczlzfeq5 )

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

Penny: I love the creative stage of writing; the freedom of the first draft. But I also love the final product and being able to interact with students and readers when the book is finished. I suppose because audience is always my focus, I love seeing how people response to the books I write.

Cecily: Finishing. I get to the middle of a book and feel like poking my eyes out, it’s so hard. I like ending, and editing, and then later, reading what I wrote. (Also, I like fan mail. Especially the emails where they tell you that my books made them cry… in a good way.)

—the worst?

Penny: Rejections are never fun. One of my books (Our of the Cages) was rejected 11 times before it found a publisher, but it went on to win an award so the extra time and effort probably paid off.

Cecily: Yeah. Same as Penny. Rejection by publishers, and rejection by readers in the form of bad reviews. My skin is thickish, but it still hurts.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer?

Penny: I’d tell myself to relax and take my time, to learn as much as I could, but also to have realistic expectations. Being a writer in Australia is hard work and statistically doesn’t pay well. I’d probably also tell myself to go do a basic marketing course!

Cecily: I’d study genre, figure out what’s selling and write that! (Money to pay the bills does help in life…) Also, I’d work hard on my craft and join a critique group sooner than I did.

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

Penny: Don’t send your manuscript to all the publishers at the same time. Suzanne Gervay once said this to me after I admitted I admitted I’d sent my story to five publishers. She advised me to send out sparingly to allow time and space to rework in between. And she was right. I’ve been doing that ever since.

Cecily: I’m not sure if this was said to me, or if I made it up myself, but it’s this: you can’t expect most people around you to care about the books you write. Your audience is out there somewhere, but it probably isn’t your family or even your friends. If you live or die by the praise of the people immediately around you, you won’t keep living as a writer.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Penny: Learn, read and write. Never think you’ve learned or read everything you need to. We can always learn more both about our craft and the work of others. But at the same time, don’t stop writing!

Cecily: Start a blog. Write and publish something small every day. Read other people’s work and pull it apart. Why did they do it this way? What makes this good or bad? If you grew up reading anything written before the 1980s, know that writing has changed. You can’t write something in the style that you loved as a kid: it doesn’t work anymore. Get a handle on close third person point of view, or your work will never even get looked at.

How important is social media to you as an author?

Penny: Social media is probably quite important for authors, but I’ll admit it doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m active on Facebook but not on many other platforms as I find it too much to keep up with. For the Pet Sitters stories, we use Facebook quite a lot because it’s a useful took for interacting with our readers’ parents and teachers.  https://www.facebook.com/puddledogpress

Cecily:  Facebook = my alternate existence. Instagram = I do it because the cool kids are there. Linked In = boring, but I’m there because, you know… Twitter = runs screaming from the room. Everything else: I’m too old to know what it is or how to use it.

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

Penny: I very rarely experience the blank page writers block, but I do sometimes face the editing version of writers’ block where I don’t know what or how to improve my manuscript. If this happens I might go back to my planning stage, do some mind mapping on my characters or seek the advice of a trusted writing friend or writing ‘how-to’ book. I also try to get back to the fun, or the heart, of the project I’m working on as that seems to help break through the ‘stuck’ stage.

Cecily: Extremely rarely. If I’ve planned my story properly, I just write what’s in the plan. Occasionally I get scared of my characters and can’t write them. Sometimes I get discouraged and think, ‘this is rubbish, I’m rubbish, and no one is going to read it,’ but I force myself to write two thousand words anyway. I figure I can always fix it later. You can’t fix a blank page.

How do you deal with rejection?

Penny: I get really down, eat lots of chocolate, wonder why I’m writing and consider giving up altogether. But a couple of days later I pick myself up, remember how much I love the story I’ve been working on and get back to it!

Cecily: Chocolate.

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Penny: I’d probably describe my writing as topical, relatable and fun. Ella Shine is possibly more playful and less serious than my other writing!

Cecily: Character-driven, dialogue-rich, lots of sub-text. Like Penny, Ella Shine is more light-hearted and fun than my usual middle grade and YA novels.

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?

Penny: I’d love to have a chat with Kate Dicamillo. I’d like to hear how she holds and weighs the hard parts of her writing with the lightness and hope of children’s literature. I’d be interested in it technically (her writing process) but also emotionally (how she processes the balance).

Cecily: I’d like to hang with a literary legend like Anne Tyler and find out if truly exceptional writing (the sort I get jealous of) can only happen for introverted, thoughtful, eccentric types who don’t have to keep ahead of the schedules of four children and who have someone else doing the washing and the cooking and the cleaning. Can you be a great writer/artist if you’re also a regular parent-at-home without long periods of reflection and solitude? It doesn’t seem to happen for me.

BOOK BYTE

Need a pet sitter? Cassie and Lina are the girls for the task… as long as Gus the talking cat can keep out of trouble!

Best friends Cassie and Lina would love to take a pet to the Pet Parade but it’s not possible… until they’re asked to pet sit Gus the cat next door. The girls might be ‘ready for anything’ but Gus isn’t quite the cat they were expecting.

Looking for an engaging, fun junior series with great values, gorgeous characters and hilarious action, with a sprinkling of the unexpected? Welcome to the Pet Sitters.

Pet Sitters Website: www.puddledogpress.com

Store site: https://puddledogpress.com/store

Meet the Author: Barry Lee Thompson

Barry’s top tip for aspiring authors: Be patient. The literary industry moves very slowly. Do your research on publishers, and take the time to get your approach right before sending your manuscript out. Find a publisher that you know will look after and respect your work. Take risks, be brave. And don’t be discouraged by rejection.

Photo by Damjan Janevski.

Barry Lee Thompson was born in Liverpool in the UK. After studying art history at the University of East Anglia, he moved to London. He lives in Melbourne, Australia. His short stories are published in Australia, the UK, and the USA, and have been recognised in awards including the Bridport Prize, The Age Short Story Award, and the Overland Victoria University Short Story Prize. His work appears frequently in Roomers magazine. He is a member of Elwood Writers, and of the Alumni Association of Varuna, the National Writers’ House. Broken Rules and Other Stories (Transit Lounge, September 2020) is his first collection of fiction. The book is supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria, and by Varuna, the National Writers’ House.

Find out more here: www.barryleethompson.com

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Because I’m inquisitive and I always want to see what happens. Writing is a way to slow things down, to examine them closely.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d probably be wishing I were a writer.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Doubts about the viability of short-story collections. When I first started writing the stories in Broken Rules, there was talk of the demise of short fiction. And it was suggested in some quarters that readers might be disinclined to buy short-story collections not by a familiar author. Fortunately, there are publishers and readers out there who are willing to take a chance on new authors.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Transit Lounge has been terrific in keeping me involved and informed throughout the production process. I was given a choice of covers, and we discussed these and came to an easy consensus. Publishers are in the business of book production and understanding the marketplace. Transit Lounge is a successful independent press. I was familiar with their list from the very beginning, so I knew my book was in the best hands.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being responsible for my own time. Being able to escape into the page. And I love how reading is part of the job, and that sometimes the answer to a writing problem can come from walking, or from just staring into space. I like sitting still.

—the worst? The precariousness can sometimes be terrifying.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Nothing, probably. It’s been useful to go down a few wrong paths, to make mistakes and learn from them. Nothing’s a waste of time. But maybe that’s a boring answer. Perhaps I’d try to worry less.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d been shown how to find the opportunities in rejections, to learn how to move on quickly and not be discouraged by them.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Keep your mind on the work. Cultivate gratitude for the people who take time to read your work.

How important is social media to you as an author? Other than a blog, which I treat more like a website, I don’t use social media. I deleted my accounts a few years ago. It was becoming too consuming. I don’t doubt social media has its benefits when used thoughtfully, but it’s not for everyone. I like the peace and freedom that comes from being unplugged.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t think I’ve experienced it. This may be to do with the way I write. I don’t sit down for lengthy periods in front of a page, but dip in and out through the day. Writing is a series of problems. I walk a lot, and think a lot, and sit and daydream, and ideas and solutions arrive in those moments. It’s all work because it’s all part of the process. A blank page can be an exciting thing, but sometimes it’s easier to visit an existing piece of work. Because I write short pieces, I’ve got hundreds on the go at any one time. I just have to delve into my files and open up a few documents, and before long I’ll stumble across a story I want to work on. If a story isn’t going anywhere, I file it away, sometimes until years later, then choose another page, blank or otherwise.

How do you deal with rejection? Rejection is cruel, but it’s all in the game, and everyone experiences it. I’ve found rejections often come in twos or threes, compounding the impact. Over time I’ve learned to understand them a bit better, and now they roll off more easily. It’s helpful to have some awareness of what might lie behind a rejection, and reframe it. A rejection is a decision made at a particular time by a particular person about a particular piece of work. All three of those are variables. The decision means the work wasn’t right for that occasion, but it will find its home, eventually. Rejection as opportunity. It’s easier said than done, though.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Let me think.

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? Samuel Beckett. I’d be interested in hearing his views on social media.

BOOK BYTE

Broken Rules and Other Stories

Barry Lee Thompson

These awards-listed, interlinked stories vividly capture the
small, rarely spoken moments of our lives that reverberate
with meaning, with darkness and with light. An adolescent
son and his parents on their annual holiday at a Bournemouth
guesthouse become intrigued with the glamour and
otherness of an American family from Boston. An adult son
and his mother navigate an unnerving relationship based on
dependence and ritual. A woman transgresses her husband’s
rules and his distaste for parties. A sex-worker empathises with
the life of an elderly client. From derelict industrial districts, to
a lonely highway diner, to the faded charm of a British seaside
resort, these are stories of growing up marginalised and living
in working-class England and Australia.

The book is available here.

 

 

Meet the Author: Claire Fitzpatrick

Claire’s top tip for aspiring authors: Write what you know, and be honest in your writing. Put your heart and soul into your writing. It’ll make for a more intriguing and realistic story.

Claire Fitzpatrick is a visual artist, performance artist, and award-winning author of speculative fiction and non-fiction. Called ‘Australia’s Queen Of Body Horror’, she enjoys writing about anatomy and the darker side of humanity. Her collection Metamorphosis from IFWG Publishing, was hailed as ‘simply heroic’, ‘graphic, disturbing, honest’, and ‘nothing short of a masterpiece’. She lives with her fiancé, the spray-paint artist Misery Ink Design, and their weird goblin kids somewhere in Queensland. Claire is currently working on a gory dark fantasy novella about shapeshifters and a non-fiction project on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley.

You can find out more about her on her website and social media:

Website: www.clairefitzpatrick.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/witch.of.eldritch

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/throughaglass_darkly91/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CJFitzpatrick91

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  Writing has always been the most stable thing in my life, and I honestly don’t really know what else to do with myself. I have a bachelor degree in Government and International Relations, a Postgraduate Certificate in Writing, Editing, and Publishing (the latter quite boring to complete, to be honest), and I started a Masters degree in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences before being fired. That was crap. But writing has always been there for me, to lift me up when I’m down, and to remind me it’s OK to fail at things because at least it’s something I excel in. I write because it’s cathartic, and it’s the only way I can express my feelings. I’m really bad at expressing my feelings. Ask my fiancé. (We’re getting married in two weeks. Gosh. That’s scary).

 What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? No idea. I’m constantly reinventing myself, though I suspect it’s part of my mental illness (I have Borderline Personality Disorder). Over the past seven years, I’ve worked in government, retail, hospitality, vocational education, journalism (news, radio, and music), human resources, and marketing. I find it really hard to keep a job or stick to a profession, and writing has been what’s grounded me. I’m really into gardening. Maybe I’ll work in horticulture? The possibilities are endless. I am, however, a performance artist and comedian (I’ll work a gig once every two or three months). That, along with my writing, have been the most stable aspects of my ‘career.’ Let me know what you think I should do next.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My first professional horror publication was in 2015. However, I had four comedy stories published in 2013, a poetry chapbook published in 2012, and a poem commended in the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Competition in 2002 (I think I was 12). But the initial success of being published in a professional horror magazine was, at first, hard to replicate. I felt like I had to be 100% better than I needed to be and held myself at an unreasonably high standard. It was a really difficult time for me. I always had to try harder, be better. It was only when I actually relaxed and wrote something uniquely personal that I overcame the fear of being a ‘one-hit-wonder’ kind of writer and went on to have several more publications. So, the toughest obstacle was and still continues to be me.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Luckily, I had the opportunity to work with my cover artist, as we’ve collaborated in the past. Greg Chapman is an amazingly talented artist. Not only did he work with me on my idea for the cover of Metamorphosis, but he also designed and physically created the cover of my award-winning non-fiction anthology The Body Horror Book. Greg listened to me and slightly altered his design to suit my wishes, which I’m so grateful for. I’m excited to work with him again, as he designed the cover of my upcoming anthology A Vindication Of Monsters, a non-fiction book on Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley (submissions are open –get in contact with me for details!). You can find Greg at www.darkscrybe.com/ (his writing website) and www.darkartiste.wordpress.com/ (his artist website). Greg is superbly talented! It’s always an honour to collaborate with him.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Not having to leave the house. Joking! I love the fact that people appreciate my imagination. I love that they enjoy reading what I have to say about myself, and the world. I love that I’m accepted for who I am, and what I write.

—the worst? I’m poor! Haha Don’t become a writer and expect to make money. Unless you’re a crime writer and extort people.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I think I’d try not to beat myself up over stories that aren’t accepted. I’d say, “Hey Claire, there are going to be some stories that just aren’t at the highest calibre they could be. Sometimes you get lazy when you’re in a slump. Also, it’s OK if you’re in a slump. That’s just how writing works. Additionally, stop thinking you’re a fraud. You’re being stupid and need to snap out of it.”

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Writing is a personal journey; you’re either successful or you’re not. But I’d like to have been told that it’s completely fine to not be published by the ‘big five’ publishing houses because it doesn’t mean you’re not a good writer. I’ve been fortunate enough to be published by a well-respected and high calibre Australian speculative fiction and children’s fiction publisher. I’m sure I would have been upset if my manuscript had been rejected, but it’s perfectly fine to have to keep trying. You can’t always be successful on your first go. Sometimes you just need to work at it. It’s very rare for people to become instantly successful.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? A few years ago, I was completing a creative non-fiction course at university, and I was finding it hard to figure out what to write about for my major project. Then my teacher told me it’s always best to write what you know, write what you feel strongly about, your passions, what makes you angry, what makes you depressed. Write something that is uniquely your story to tell, whether it be fiction or creative non-fiction. Personally, I think it’s important to be honest in your writing. Only you can tell your story. Write about you.

How important is social media to you as an author? Most of the people in my Facebook friends list are fellow writers. I have a Twitter account, but I don’t use it much. I think it’s important to use social media to connect with fellow writers. Find your tribe. You’ll grow as a writer, and as a person. Trust me.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? All the time. I’ve been writing a novella for about three years now, and I just can’t seem to finish it. It’s pissing me off. I go to write and…. nothing. But I tend to get writers’ block with larger projects, as opposed to short fiction. Saying that I have several unfinished short stories that I’ve neglected because I have no idea how to finish them. It’s hard to give advice on how to overcome writers’ block since I think many people overcome it in different ways. Something I do, which is helpful, is write non-fiction if I’m stuck on fiction, and vice-versa. So, I’d always recommend people do that. At the moment I’m pretty fucking (can I swear?) depressed, as my father has terminal cancer, and I’ve been writing like crazy. But I have a feeling I’ll get writers’ block after he passes. That’s the way life is, I suppose. I’m not sure how I’ll overcome that.

How do you deal with rejection? Sometimes, it hits me hard. I tell myself I’m shit and worthless and that my success won’t last. But that’s the borderline personality disorder talking. I’m quite a ridiculous person. But after a while I’ll write something new, and it’ll be accepted, and that makes me feel better. Sometimes I paint or tend to my plants. That’s always helpful. When I’m feeling better, I remind myself I’m 29, and a lot of people aren’t professionally published, or win an award/awards until they are older. I just happened to become relatively successful in my field in my twenties. So, rejection is OK. Just have to keep your chin up.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Bloody. Grotesque. Honest.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Clive Barker. After I read his work I immediately wanted to write body horror, and the first body horror story I wrote was my first professional publication. I’d just want to say thank you for helping me find my niche. I’d then ask him to tell me how to finish my damned novella, and how I can balance my writing life with my ‘real’ life. Actually, if anyone can tell me how to do that, that’d be swell.

BOOK BYTE

Metamorphosis

by Claire Fitzpatrick

Madeline will never become a woman. William will never become a man. Does June deserve to be human? Does Lilith deserve a heart?

Seventeen stories. Seventeen tales of terror.

If imperfection is crucial to a society’s survival, what makes a monster?

Buy the book here: https://www.amazon.com.au/Metamorphosis-Collection-Stories-Claire-Fitzpatrick/dp/1925956040

Meet the Author: JD Murphy

John’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read Steven King’s excellent memoir/coaching guide called ‘On writing.’

John D Murphy is an Australian author based in Queensland, He has had a lifelong attraction to storytelling; from stories ranging across family entertainment skits as a child, to turning his life into story as an art of understanding his adult purpose. This first of his novels is, above all, designed to entertain readers and he hopes they will be open to the tale he has crafted within.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  For the pleasure which writing affords me.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?  Teaching and travelling – preferably together.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?  Finding ‘that’ publisher who operates between the big end of town and the self-publishing domains.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? With respect to the development, I have had full engagement. With respect to the cover, I suggested some themes which I considered important; then a creative interpreted those ideas with required commercial focus. I was very pleased with the results.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Taking a fleeting dream sequence and turning it into a kind of reality which will appeal to a reader.

—the worst? 1. Constant interruptions by cats whose dominant thoughts are that I should be focused on them rather than writing. 2. Covid 19 chaos for grounding the launch of my first novel in April 2020.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Dream less and read more.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To read Steven King’s excellent memoir/coaching guide called ‘On writing.’

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Writers write; Authors publish.

How important is social media to you as an author? I am a shy, retiring, outgoing, loquacious type who really has to have something of substance to say before engaging with SM.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Never been a problem. Nor talking incessantly, as my dear wife and close friends would earnestly confirm.

How do you deal with rejection (of a manuscript)? Just the same as any other bump I have had on my life’s paths. Identify the issues and address them. Only happened once, because I had far too many typographical errors in the manuscript to be considered seriously. Having fixed said typographical errors with some stiff editing, I submitted to a Melbourne publishing house and the rest is going to be history.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Engaging. Relevant. Reflective.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? David H Richter. Falling into Theory (1994). I would be pleased for this author to expand on those of his words which told me that I was going to walk on a writing path.

‘If in my life I have developed any ability to understand those who are other than me, other in race or gender or culture or sexual practice, a good deal of my training in empathy must have come from the practice fiction and poetry have given me in taking on other selves, other lives.’

BOOK BYTE

The Arbor girls are a force to be reckoned with

Maeve Fossard, a nurse during the bombings of Bristol in WW1 wants to escape the pain and suffering around her. A trip to a pub and a chance meeting with a stranger named Colin, changes her life. The shadow world of spies and politics becomes a reality.

Through two World Wars, the Cold War and into the Sixties; from England to Australia, she encounters ultimate highs and soul sapping lows.

Every action has consequences. Her companions, Margaret and Allison, their fates entwined, join a rich tapestry of characters, in her endeavours to create an invisible dynasty of social reform which will continue through to the future and span the globe…

“A fantastic read from a new Australian Author who has a flair for the period of such a wonderful storyline…authentic and moving with beautiful nuances and themes…5 Stars…”  Gail, IndieBooks Reviewer.

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Sally Murphy

One of the loveliest aspects of my writing life is the friends I have made along the way. This week it’s my pleasure to introduce long-time friend Sally Murphy, who recently celebrated the release of her latest book for young readers, Worse Things, an inspirational story about the things that bind us all.

Sally is a children’s author, poet, book reviewer, academic, and beach walker.  Her 52 published books include verse novels, junior fiction, picture books, historical fiction , poetry and educational titles. When she isn’t writing or reading, she can be found near water, or hanging out with her family – or at her day job, at a university.

To find out more about Sally and her books, visit her author website:  www.sallymurphy.com.au

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? That is a BIG question. I write because I have to – it’s like breathing to me. Stories and poems and words come to me demanding to be put down – and then reworked and reworked of course.  But I also write because  there are stories, sometimes, that I feel only I can tell and because I love to think I am making some small difference in the world through telling those stories.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Persistence. It took me many years to get my first acceptance, and I still get more rejections than acceptances. Many of my manuscripts have never found the right home – and never will – and that can hurt when it happens. But a rejected manuscript is still proof that I am writing and creating, and everything I write makes me a better writer, whether it’s published or not. So  I just keep writing, and studying the craft of writing and writing some more.

You write poetry, picture books, junior fiction series and verse novels. Was it your intention to find different markets for your creative output or did it evolve naturally as an expression of who you are? Mostly I just write the thing that comes to me and then figure out what it is. I think that having a range has helped me to keep getting published, and to find different outlets for my work, but I also know it can make me hard to classify.  I have fallen into some forms of writing – for example, I didn’t see myself writing historical fiction until I stumbled across a story that fascinated me, and had to follow it. That led to my first historical picture book, Do Not Forget Australia. Once that was published, I realised that I loved researching history and crafting stories. My three subsequent historical stories were all ones publishers approached me to write, because they knew I wrote historical fiction.

How do you approach a new writing project? Walk us through your creative process. Once you have an idea, what’s the next step? Process? I’m supposed to have a process? Just kidding!  I know some people are very good at plotting and planning, but I have to confess I’m generally not. Usually an idea just comes to me, half formed – maybe just a character, or a snippet of an idea. I try to note things down, and then just see what happens. If it has wings, it will niggle away at me, and random ideas will come to me over weeks or even months until suddenly I realise there is a story there and I start writing.  Usually by this stage I have some idea where the story might be heading, but not the finer details. These evolve during the first draft, and then, once I have a draft down the hard work involves reworking and remolding, often adding strands and characters and detail. It’s a little different when I write historical fiction, which usually starts with a real event that I want to write about, followed by LOTS of research until I find a way in to telling it.

How has teaching influenced you as an author? Firstly, it is because I’m a teacher that my first ever book acceptance came about. I had been trying for years to get fiction and poetry published, when I stumbled across an educational publisher looking for proposals for classroom resources books. I sent in a proposal and it was accepted. I went on to write several more books for that publisher (Ready Ed Publications) and they are still in print, over 20 years later. Having that first acceptance gave me the courage to keep writing and submitting.  I’ve also had lots of other titles published for the educational market.

Having said that, when I write fiction and poetry I try not to wear my teacher hat. I want my work to reach readers first and foremost as readers rather than as students.

What are you working on at the moment? A few things. Some research for a possible historical, and an idea for a new verse novel which hit me last week and won’t leave me alone. I also have two junior novels to revise, one a verse novel and one prose. They both need a lot of work.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? Hope. I want a reader to finish my story smiling – even if it has been a sad or challenging story. I always work to leave them with some sense of hope, that things can be better.

Is there any area of writing that you still find challenging? Description. I have something called aphantasia – although I didn’t know it had a name till a few years ago. This means that I don’t imagine in pictures – except when I’m asleep. So, when I try to imagine what a scene looks like, I draw a blank. I can tell you what it feels like, sounds like etc, but not the visuals.  So I really have to work on visual description. Interestingly, I know of several other writers with the same condition.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Getting published and thus seeing my books in the hands (and hearts) of readers.

—the worst? Rejection.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Believe in myself more. Even after 50 books I still feel like a fraud.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? The importance of a good editor.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Be yourself – as an individual and as a writer, you need to do what is true to who you are.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Read. A lot.

How important is social media to you as an author? Very. I have lived in rural areas for most of my writing career and now divide myself between Perth and the South West. Social media allows me to share my writing and my writing life far and wide, and to interact with readers.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t ever run out of ideas, but I do struggle to write at times of crisis in my life. I used to try to force it, but now I am kinder to myself. Instead of setting word targets, I sometimes know I have to just let myself do other things. Recently, with Covid 19 and a death in my family, I found myself taking long beach walks, and doing a lot of gardening. And then, because I’d just left it, a story idea came along and bit me on the nose.

How do you deal with rejection? I can be angry or feel hurt – rejections aren’t personal, but they feel like they are. But rationally, I know that publishers actually want what I do – to publish good books. SO if my book isn’t right for a publisher, it either needs revising, or it needs to be on a different desk – or a combination of both. I try to take a step back from the manuscript, look at with fresh eyes, and decide which of those things is needed.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Eclectic. Emotional. Effervescent.

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? Light relief? I’m claustrophobic, so being stuck in a lift is almost my worst nightmare. So, I would choose my husband, because he is very steady.

BOOK BYTE

Worse Things

Sally Murphy

Illustrated by Sarah Davis

After a devastating football injury, Blake struggles to cope with life on the sideline. Jolene, a gifted but conflicted hockey player, wants nothing more than for her dad to come home. And soccer-loving refugee, Amed, wants to belong. On the surface, it seems they have nothing in common. Except sport. A touching and inspirational story about the things that bind us all.

Publisher’s Webpage: https://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Worse-Things-9781760651657

Sales site:  https://www.booktopia.com.au/worse-things-sally-murphy/book/9781760651657.html  (or any other online bookshop you want to link to)

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Alison Booth

It’s my pleasure this week to introduce you to academic and author Alison Booth, whose work has been described as ‘evocative, insightful and thought-provoking’

ALISON’S TOP TIPS FOR WRITERS: Keep at it. Don’t give up. Have faith in yourself and remember that writing a novel requires a very long apprenticeship. Make sure you have a day job or some other income source because only rarely can writers make a living from writing alone.

Alison Booth was born in Melbourne and brought up in Sydney. She spent over two decades studying, living and working in the UK before returning to Australia some fifteen years ago.

Her debut novel, Stillwater Creek, was Highly Commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award, and afterwards published in Reader’s Digest Select Editions in Asia and in Europe. Her subsequent novels were The Indigo Sky (2011), A Distant Land (2012), and A Perfect Marriage (2018).

Alison has had a number of residencies at Varuna, The Writers’ House, following on from her initial award, and she is active on social media (Twitter and Facebook). Alison loves doing radio and other interviews, and also loves hearing from readers. Visit her website at https://www.alisonbooth.net

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write?  I write because I’m driven to, because it helps me make sense of the world. And because the act of writing involves so much concentration that I escape from myself, and when I emerge from that state I view my day-to-day life more calmly.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?  I’d still be doing my other work, which is being an academic economist. And in addition to that I might be painting, which I love though I’m not very good at it.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Finding an agent for my first book.

 How involved have you been in the development of your books?  I leave the development to the publisher, apart from the cover. I love seeing the way the cover evolves. The design of my latest book, The Philosopher’s Daughters, took me by surprise because the wonderful Emily Caudelle got the cover exactly right at her very first draft.

 What’s the best aspect of your writing life?  The escape into another world. The joy when the writing is going well and the surprise when things emerge from my subconscious that I hadn’t known were there.

—the worst? Those days when what I’ve written seems like utter garbage and I lose faith in myself. I think we all get those days and we have to guard against them.

 What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Maybe do a creative writing course.

 What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m very glad I wasn’t told much because it’s good not to be put off when you’re driven to do something!

 What’s the best writing advice you were ever given? Read widely.

 How important is social media to you as an author? Writers need solitude and many find engagement with social media a shock. But social media provide a useful way of keeping in touch with other writers and what’s going on in the industry. What’s more, publishers insist upon it for book promotion.

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

 How do you deal with rejection? With difficulty, though I did have some training for it: being an academic in my field involves frequent rejection of papers from journals and one learns to toughen up. The important thing is to remember that opinions about fiction are subjective. What one person loves another will hate. Put the rejection letter aside for a few days then return to it later, to see if there’s anything of substance in it you can take on board. Remember also that sometimes a book is rejected because the reader hasn’t got beyond the first chapter, so you might want to rethink that. And then send the book off to another publisher.

 In three words, how would you describe your writing? That’s a hard question to answer as it requires detachment on my part. Instead I will borrow the words that author Karen Viggers used to describe The Philosopher’s Daughters: ‘evocative, insightful, thought-provoking’.

 What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? I hope readers get pleasure from my novels. I hope they enjoy the journeys the books take them on and are interested in the way the plot enhances character development, which is basically what my work is about.

What do you read for enjoyment? Favourite books/authors?  I have a great many favourites. Patrick White, Kate Grenville, Evie Wyld, Rose Tremain and Anne Tyler are particularly wonderful. Recently I’ve discovered Khaled Housseni’s work and I’m looking forward to reading all of his novels.

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? Rose Tremain and Anne Tyler spring to mind. I’d like to ask Rose Tremain how she has managed to find such variety in her plots and Anne Tyler if she writes a long draft initially and then pares it back to the exquisite and parsimonious prose that characterises her work.

BOOK BYTE

The Philosopher’s Daughters

Alison Booth

 

 

]A tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession. London in 1891: Harriet Cameron is a talented young artist whose mother died when she was barely five. She and her beloved sister Sarah were brought up by their father, radical thinker James Cameron. After adventurer Henry Vincent arrives on the scene, the sisters’ lives are changed forever. Sarah, the beauty of the family, marries Henry and embarks on a voyage to Australia. Harriet, intensely missing Sarah, must decide whether to help her father with his life’s work or to devote herself to painting. When James Cameron dies unexpectedly, Harriet is overwhelmed by grief. Seeking distraction, she follows Sarah to Australia, and afterwards into the outback, where she is alienated by the casual violence and great injustices of outback life. Her rejuvenation begins with her friendship with an Aboriginal stockman and her growing love for the landscape. But this fragile happiness is soon threatened by murders at a nearby cattle station and by a menacing station hand who is seeking revenge.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Leisl Leighton

My guest this week is award-winning author Leisl Leighton, who describes her work as ’emotional, pacey and suspenseful’. Read on to find out what Leisl wishes she’d been told before she became a writer and what she’d do differently if she were starting out now.

Leisl is a tall redhead with an overly large imagination. As a child, she identified strongly with Anne of Green Gables, and like Anne, is a voracious reader and born performer. It came as no surprise when she did a double major in English Literature and Drama for her BA and Dip Ed, then went on to a career as a performer, script writer, script doctor, stage manager and musical director for cabaret and theatre restaurants.

After starting a family, Leisl stopped performing and began writing the stories plaguing her dreams. She is addicted to the Syfy channel, her shelves are full of fantasy, paranormal, Sci-fi and romance books and DVDs, she sometimes sings in a choir, has worked as a swim teacher, loves to ski and horse ride, and was president of Romance Writers of Australia from 2014-2017. She now has a Graduate Diploma in Publishing and Communications (Advanced), continues to write novels and also helps other writers make their manuscripts shine with her manuscript assessing and mentoring services.

Leisl is the author of the paranormal Pack Bound Series, romantic suspense novels, Dangerous Echoes (Book 1 in the Echo Springs Series), Climbing Fear and Blazing Fear (Books 1& 2 in the CoalCliff Stud Series.) Most recently, she has been a finalist in the 2019 RUBY Awards (for Moon Bound) and a finalist in the 2019 ARRA Awards (for Climbing Fear).

You can catch up with Leisl at: www.leislleighton.comFacebook, Goodreads and on Twitter @LeislLeighton

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I write because I have to. I’ve always been a creative person – acting, singing, performing, writing scripts, musical direction etc – but after kids, these were much harder to do in a way that satisfied my creative needs. I turned fully to writing novels and haven’t looked back. If I don’t write, I don’t feel right.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Acting, singing, performing, writing scripts, musical direction and/or teaching.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Realising that just because writing is something you do by yourself, it doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. It wasn’t until I embraced a writing community and opened myself up to learning from and sharing with them, that I started to learn what I truly needed to do to become published. And they also helped to keep up my spirits and persist – because alongside improving your craft, persistence is a major factor in getting published.

How involved have you been in the development of your books? If you mean, have they all come from me and only me, no. They start off with an idea or a character and then I start to write and see where that takes me, letting the characters speak for themselves. Then I also run ideas and workshop with trusted writing friends and with my agent who help me to solidify the tricky bits and head me in the right direction. Then of course, my editors help to polish and refine my ideas. So, while probably 75% of it is me, the rest is done with help by my community of writing pals and the professional people in my life.

Then there was the Echo Springs series which came from an idea from my editor at the time who got together myself and three other authors to write a continuity. She had the base idea and then myself and the other three authors – Daniel deLorne, Shannon Stein and TJ Hamilton – workshopped the series and our ideas together then went away and wrote our individual story, then with the editor to make sure they all hung together as a cohesive whole. That was a really amazing project to have been a part of and I learned so much.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Losing myself in the world of my characters. It can be exhilarating.

—the worst? Having to constantly work at making others respect the fact I am a writer and that I’m not just home doing whatever and can drop what I’m doing and come to do whatever they want to do. It is a constant effort to have to make family and friends respect my working day.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Find a writing group to be a part of and join RWA right away (or some other writing organisation to suit my genre). I floundered for years on my own before doing those things and it wasn’t until I did join writing communities that I started to make the improvements and build the networks that led to me getting published. Also, my writing friends are some of the best people in my life.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Getting that first contract is amazing, but it doesn’t mean it’s all roses from there. There’s an increase in the hard work to come and that the ebbs and flows in the publishing industry mean that you can never be ‘secure’ – but that’s normal and has nothing to do with you. You just need to keep getting out there and trying and writing the best you can if you want the next step to be forward and not backwards. That and start building an author profile immediately – SM may be a burden at times but it can also be a joy and it certainly helps you to connect with authors and readers and stay informed and helps with publicity and marketing which are increasingly important for an author to take command over whether traditionally published or self-published.

What’s the best writing advice you were ever given? Join RWA, enter contests, get a critique partner, volunteer, go to the conferences, improve your craft and persevere.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? All of the above, but also make sure you get your work critiqued by someone who isn’t just a writing buddy or family member. That’s why going in contests can be so invaluable because you often get really great feedback that can help you improve. You can also find people who do author mentoring and manuscript assessments.

How important is social media to you as an author? Very. See my above comment about building an author profile.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Not really. There are times when I know what I’m writing isn’t working and I can feel a bit stymied, but that’s when I workshop with my writing friends to help me break through that. Even then, I don’t stop writing. I believe that getting something on the page that I can fix is better than getting nothing down – you can’t fix what’s not there.

How do you deal with rejection? I let myself feel the sting of it but then remind myself that I’m here because I love writing and I concentrate on that and move on. If there is advice in the rejection about my work, I take that onboard, workshop it with writing friends and keep going. I also know that a rejection is not always an indictment on my work – there are so many factors that go into a ‘no’ that have nothing to do with if my novel is good or not. So, remembering that helps me not take it too personally. Also, wailing to my writing friends helps – they’ve all been in the same position and empathise in a way that’s meaningful but then also buck me up.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Emotional. Pacey. Suspenseful.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? A sense that family can be made up of anyone who cares for you and you care for and that asking for help can be a person’s greatest strength. And also, that love is something we should all aspire to.

What do you read for enjoyment? Favourite books/authors?  I love reading what I write – paranormal and romantic suspense. I also love reading fantasy and historic romance. My favourite authors are Nalini Singh, Sherrilyn Kenyon, JD Robb/Nora Roberts, Raymond E. Feist, Anne McCaffrey, Anne Gracie, Mary Balogh, Amanda Quick, Julia Quinn (and many, many more!)

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? Probably Nora Roberts. I would like to ask her about balancing family life with writing life. Also, how to balance all the necessary business side of writing with the creative side and still living a life that includes fun time doing things that you love with family and friends.

BOOK BYTE

Blazing Fear

Leisl Leighton

Fire stole his past – now it is threatening to burn everything, and everyone, he loves. All over again…

Flynn Findlay likes everyone to think he’s in control, but the death of his wife during the bushfires six years ago changed everything. Now, even though it feels like a betrayal, Flynn can’t seem to escape his growing feelings for the beautiful new doctor in town. He’s never felt as truly alive as when he is with Prita – even his fear of fire doesn’t seem as bad.

Dr Prita Brennan is ready for a fresh start in Wilson’s Bend with her adoptive son, far from her overprotective family. It would be perfect, except some of the locals don’t like the changes she’s making to the practice. One of them is even making harassing calls. The handsome local horse stud owner, Flynn, is a further complication she doesn’t need right now.

But when harassment escalates to arson, to save the horse stud and their children, Flynn and Prita must work together to figure out who is after her – and why they are trying to burn to the ground everything she touches.

Buy Links for Blazing Fear

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2pGOWyK

Apple Books: https://apple.co/2Nj5rtY

Kobo: http://bit.ly/34FjLTt

Google Play: http://bit.ly/34saJcf

Romance.com.au: http://bit.ly/36y19GC

 

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