Off the Page: Paula Boer

Ever wondered about what sort of lives authors lead when they aren’t writing? Me too! This week, Paula Boer, author of the best-selling Brumbies books for young readers, let me take a peek at her life off the page. You can find out more about Paula and her books by visiting her website at and blog at

 Now, over to Paula…

Paula at work
Paula at work.

I’ve heard some people can write in a crowded café, caffeine on constant supply. Not me. I need total solitude and quiet. Luckily I have a library in the corner of our house where I can shut myself away undisturbed. My husband knows that if I shut the door I don’t even want to be offered a coffee. The only distractions are the horses parading by the window, but they can be an inspiration too.


My day always starts with a walk with my dog, Cal. My brain needs the physical exercise as well as me enjoying being immersed in nature. Living on 500 acres of natural bush there is always something to experience, whether it be a fascinating insect or a lumbering wombat, the varied mimicry of a lyrebird, or tongues of mist weaving through the tea-tree. I especially love winter with dew-cloaked spider webs and ice-bows arching the paddocks.

I use a laptop at my desk for my writing, though initial plotting and editing are done by pen while sprawling on my favourite leather couch in the library. Making cups of tea is a useful way for my subconscious to kick into gear if I find the words stalling. Research is another way for me to prompt sentences into appearing, most times using the internet to surf for information. I also have two shelves of dictionaries, thesauri and other references at hand above my desk, as well as my publications to lift my spirits when the current manuscript proves challenging.

Like most writers I am great at procrastination, often getting the most mundane of tasks done like cleaning the windows while I delay sitting down to work. But once I am in that zone, that wonderful otherworld of my story, hours disappear in a flash. When I have completed my target word count for the day I celebrate by permitting myself to read a book, work on a jigsaw puzzle, or play piano to unwind.

Paula and her husband kayaking in Vanuatu
Paula and her husband kayaking in Vanuatu.
Paula and foal
Horses remain a passion.

That might sound like a dull life, but I had to give up my one big passion, horse riding, due to ill health. I still have two retired horses at home and love to spend time around my friends’ horses. My other love is travel. Although my physical condition these days has restricted how far I can go and what I can do, I still enjoy visiting remote places of the world. I have travelled in more than 60 countries on six continents, from the Pantanal in South America to the steppes of Mongolia. I would love to go to Antarctica but that is now beyond my capabilities, though the Yukon Territory is still on my wish list. I am not one for culture or civilisation, my preference being for camping under an open sky in the wilderness, gazing at a vast star-scape.


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:
Visit her blog at Wild Colonial Girl:
Hang out with her on Twitter @wldcolonialgirl, Facebook ( and Goodreads (


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).


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: Norman Jorgensen

NORMAN’S TOP WRITING TIP: Give it a go. What have you got lose, other than a little dignity and a small hit to the self–esteem if your story is not accepted?

NJ at Ithica, Home of Mark Twain2Norman Jorgensen is one of Western Australia’s most versatile authors for young people, with 10 books published, including the highly regarded In Flanders Fields,  and several more nearing completion. He is one of only three Western Australians ever to have received the prestigious Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award in its 60-year history. He has been short-listed twice for both the WA Premier’s Book Awards and the WA Young Readers’ Book Awards and he has been honoured by the ASPCA Henry Burgh Awards in the United States.

Norman was born in Broome in 1954 when his father was the sole Post Master General Department’s  Technician for the entire North West and lived there, blissfully,  until his father was transferred to Mullewa then Narrogin and eventually Perth, where he now lives with  his wife Jan, an enthusiastic  children’s book devotee.

He has a deep love of books and literature and has worked in the book trade for much of his life, as a school book seller, publisher’s agent and as a bookshop owner, where he experienced the dubious joys of small business ownership.

His novel Jack’s Island, set on Rottnest Island during World War II has been well received, not only by teenagers who study it at school, but also by their parents and grandparents who seem to appreciate the way he accurately captured a simpler, more gentle Western Australia.  His picture book with James Foley, The Last Viking has been well-loved by thousands of children and has won six awards.  The sequel The Return of the Last Viking will be published in October 2014.

Norman is proud that his books are nearly always set firmly in Western Australia in a landscape that is recognisable to his readers and pleased that his young fans are still able to enjoy his work even though it is not set in Springfield, a rather unusual English boarding school, nor vampire-invested Forks, Washington.

For information about Norman and his books, visit or   


Why do you write?  I love the creative side of the story making. I love seeing how a single word or a sudden flash of just one small idea can grow and expand until the sentences, paragraphs and chapters all add up to become a recognisable book with interesting characters and setting and conflicts. Jack’s Island developed from hearing someone being called a dafty. A Fine Mess was sparked by a poster of old comedians Laurel and Hardy hanging perilously off a building. The Last Viking was sparked years before when my nephew added horns to his bike helmet, but not developed until I saw James Foley’s illustrating style and asked if he would draw a boy Viking.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Judging by my recent efforts, I’d probably be a Professional Facebooker. I gather the working conditions and annual holidays are reasonable, but the wages are virtually non-existent.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Trying to think and sound like a real12 year old and one who was 12 now, and not my vaguely remembered version of what it was like when I was that age. If my story was going to appeal to the audience I was aiming at, I had to get that basic problem sorted first off. So often I would add in references that amused me but no modern kid would have any idea at all. When the first manuscript had its 1960s gloss removed, and did not sound condescending, it had a much better chance of being considered for publication.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I really like living in a magical made-up world with imaginary friends (and enemies) who I can actually push around. When I’m bored or alone, I love being able to drift off into my head to my latest pretend landscape and watch what my characters are all up to. I don’t have as much control over them as you would expect, and I’m often surprised to see what they do and what happens next. They can be such an obstinate bunch of man-made souls.

Working with an illustrator can be a genuine pleasure, and I am amazed at seeing how someone like illustrator, James Foley, can take a whimsical idea we have thrashing about, and with a few quick sketches, suddenly give it life and the possibility of a whole new saga. I find the illustrating process fascinating, and being involved has been an unexpected part of the joy of my profession.

And I especially love seeing a new book come out and holding the printed, bound pages with a striking cover for the very first time. It is a wonderful feeling.

I like sharing the reaction from audiences of school kids when I read something that appeals to them, and their excitement at meeting me.  And I like the special way I get treated by strangers when I say I’m a writer. It is almost a pity my family and friends see just the real me.

And I especially love the happy band, we happy few, of other children’s book creators in this state with whom I hang about. Their talent is contagious and they are all so generous in their support of each other.

—the worst? Everything else that comes with job – the self salesmanship needed, rejections, having to edit, or be edited, the constant lack of money, writing unsuccessful jargon-filled grant applications, staying in seedy country motels, the uncertainty of knowing if a manuscript is any good or not after having just spent months working on it, revising a story over and over until can’t stand it anymore and can almost recite every damn word, days when only the wrong words land on the screen, being beaten at awards by books you privately think are not that good, reviewers who think all children’s books should convey a message or a moral lesson…  Stop me now as I’m sounding like a sad and embittered old man.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would treat my writing more like a business than a hobby and really work harder at it. I would go to typing school, and I would pay more attention to my English teachers at school, especially on the days we did grammar.  I would travel more when I was younger so that I’d have more experiences to write about. I would listen more to everyone around me and pay more attention to all my senses. I would read better books, and more of them, so as to learn more from the literary masters and great storytellers. I would learn patience, because the publishing trade is so unbelievably slow and every aspect of the process takes forever.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Writing it not just fun, but takes a lot of effort. Like all creative endeavours, it is said real skill needs a minimum of 10,000 hours of practice. At 20 hours solid writing each week, it will take 10 years to reach that figure, and even then success is not guaranteed, it just gets a little easier to find the words.

I wish too, I had been told how much work and time is involved that is not actual writing but promotion.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Carry your notebook at all times. Ideas are fleeting, so need to be written down the minute they pop into your head as they will often never reappear. Great sentences can also arrive at such unexpected moments that unless you write them down they will be lost forever.

Write your own story and don’t try following trends. By the time your book is ready, the current trend for vampires or wizards or angels or horse stories or whatever will probably be passed and your book will look a bit sad and unloved on a bookshop shelf along with the other unsold copies of clones of Hunger Games.

And secondly, use two characters who talk to each other so that their dialogue can push the story along, instead of writing great long passages of descriptions and sentences that include, and then she… went….did…said, etc. This is actually another way of saying, show, don’t tell.

Thirdly, try not to take rejection too personally. Pick ya’self up, dust ya’self down, start all over again, and send your story to another publisher, and another and another.



The Last Viking by Norman Jorgensen (Illustrated by James Foley)

9781921888106_LASTVIKINGYoung Josh is afraid of everything – he isn’t brave like the mighty Vikings his Pop tells him of. One day Josh decides to become a fearless Viking too. He calls himself Prince Knut,  builds his own armour and sails a dragon-headed longship through stormy seas. When bullies threaten Knut, he must find the courage to defend himself – and lucky for him the Viking Gods, Odin and Thor, have been watching. They won’t let one of their own stand alone…

Available from

Meet the Author: Amanda Curtin

AMANDA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Be a reader as well as a writer, and read widely. Much of what we know about storytelling—structure, pace, characterisation—and about the way words are used and sentences are put together is absorbed almost unconsciously through reading. I think that’s why often when I used to read books about writing, books that break down and analyse the elements of prose, I would have aha! moments, where I’d realise that someone had just articulated something I instinctively knew. Reading also keeps you learning as a writer, keeps you humble, keeps you striving.

ElAmanda Curtin is the author of two novels, Elemental (2013) and The Sinkings (2008), and a short story collection, Inherited (2011), all published by UWA Publishing. She has also worked as a freelance book editor for most of her adult life, and occasionally lectures and presents master classes and workshops for writers. She has a PhD in Writing, is an Accredited Editor (AE) with the Institute of Professional Editors, and is an Adjunct Lecturer at Edith Cowan University.

She has been awarded writing residencies at OMI International Arts Center’s Ledig House in New York State; the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Ireland; Hawthornden International Retreat for Writers at Lasswade, Scotland; and the Tasmanian Writers Centre, Hobart. She has won the University of Canberra National Short Story Award, the Patricia Hackett Prize for best contribution to Westerly, the Katharine Susannah Prichard Short Fiction Award, and the Golden Key Honour Society Award for Excellence in Fiction (Asia-Pacific).

Amanda lives in an old house in an old suburb of Perth, Western Australia, and is currently working on a novella project. Visit her website at


Why do you write? It’s a great question, an intriguing one for any writer to ask themselves. I feel it’s what I’m meant to be doing, who I am at this point in my life. I don’t write because there are things I want to say but because there are things I want to explore, try to understand. It’s the grey areas I am interested in. That’s the short version! I wrote a longish post on this last year:

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’ve been a freelance book editor for close to 30 years, and still work as an editor, though far less frequently. But if writing (and editing, and occasional teaching) didn’t occupy most of my time, I think I would study photography.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Lack of confidence. Three things helped me there. First, the encouragement of writers in my writing groups (initially, Annabel Smith, Donna Mazza, Danielle Wood, Carmel Macdonald Grahame; later, Robyn Mundy and Annabel Smith) and my academic supervisor, Richard Rossiter. Second, being fortunate enough to win a couple of awards. Third, being accepted into a PhD writing program.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I feel privileged, and lucky, to be able to do what I’m doing generally. And even more so when my work takes me to other worlds—either literally, through travel, or virtually, through desktop research. Beyond that, it’s immensely rewarding when readers go out of their way to make contact to tell me what they loved and why, or that they were immersed in the world I created, or that it connected with something in their own lives.

—the worst? Self-doubt is always the dark to the light, and I suspect it’s the same in any area of the arts.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I don’t have an agent. Having now observed what a good agent can do—working with a publisher, helping with marketing and promotion, etc.—I might have persisted in searching for one willing to take me on. However, it has to be acknowledged that it can be as hard, if not harder, to find an agent than it is to find a publisher. And I’ve also observed that there seems little benefit in having an agent who is not wholly enthusiastic and active on your behalf.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I didn’t realise how necessary, and how time-consuming, the marketing side would be. I’m not complaining, just acknowledging that I wasn’t prepared for it!

What’s the best advice you were ever given? A wonderful piece of advice that I try to put into practice is this: leave something unfinished at the end of a writing day, so that when you return to it you’re plunged immediately into the writing itself, rather than the thinking process that precedes it.


Elemental by Amanda Curtin

elemental_COVER v low resIt has taken a lifetime for me to see that the more afraid people are of the darkness, the further into it they will flee.

Nearing the end of her life, Meggie Tulloch takes up her pen to write a story for her granddaughter. It begins in the first years of the twentieth century, in a place where howling winds spin salt and sleet sucked up from icefloes. A place where lives are ruled by men, and men by the witchy sea. A place where the only thing lower than a girl in the order of things is a clever girl with accursed red hair. A place schooled in keeping secrets.

Moving from the north-east of Scotland to the Shetland Isles to Fremantle, Australia, Elemental is a novel about the life you make from the life you are given.

Available from:

Meet the Author: Vanessa Garden

VANESSA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Read as many books as you can get your hands on. Read in the genre you wish to write but also experiment with new genres so as to expose your writer’s brain to as many voices as possible. Also, write a little each day. Even half an hour a day can produce a book in one year.

Vanessa Garden

Vanessa Garden lives on the coast of Western Australia with her husband, their three chatty children, and three calming goldfish. When she is not writing, Vanessa can be found at the local bookstore where she works part-time. Being a bookseller as well as an author, Vanessa loves nothing more than immersing herself in the exciting world of books. When she is not gushing about her favourite reads to customers, or dreaming up her next novel, she enjoys spending time with the people she loves most.


Why do you write? I write because I genuinely enjoy creating stories and spending time with my characters, and also because I simply cannot stop. There have been times, more so before I became a published author, where I have said, ‘oh well, time to throw in the towel and focus on real life’, only to find that a day passes, or perhaps only an hour, before a new idea takes hold and basically doesn’t allow me to give up on writing.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’d most likely get back into baking and cooking. Before I took writing seriously I was always in the kitchen creating elaborate meals, but now I’m spending less and less time there due to my writing schedule and I do miss it. I’m sure my children and husband are getting sick of my ‘anything goes’ nights of eggs on toast, baked beans and two-minute noodles!

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Sticking with it and trying to keep the self-belief alive even after 200 odd rejections! As soon as somebody said yes, my confidence shot up. It is amazing what we can do when somebody believes in us and, more importantly, when we believe in ourselves.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Sharing stories with fellow readers, meeting other writers, and the euphoric buzz that comes with a new idea! There is nothing more exciting than waking up in the middle of the night to jot down ‘the next big thing’ (which will most likely seem ridiculous in the morning, lol).

—the worst? Trying to balance writing with family time and work. I’m very conscious of writing only when my children are at school or in bed, which can be difficult with working hours at my day job eating up a lot of the school time, so often I’m sleep deprived from writing late at night. Sometimes I just feel so exhausted. I wish there was an eight-day week!

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I learned as I went (making a lot of mistakes along the way) but it was all necessary to get where I am today. So probably not a thing!

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That sometimes you wait forever to hear back on a manuscript, so instead of waiting anxiously, write something new in the meantime.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? To write the story you want to read.


Captivate by Vanessa Garden

backdrop captivateFor the past 12 months since her parents’ death, 17-year-old Miranda Sun has harboured a dark secret — a secret that has strained the close relationship she once shared with her older sister, Lauren. In an effort to repair this broken bond, Miranda’s grandparents whisk the siblings away on a secluded beach holiday. Except before Miranda gets a chance to confess her life-changing secret, she’s dragged underwater by a mysterious stranger while taking a midnight swim.

Awakening days later, Miranda discovers that she’s being held captive in a glittering underwater city by an arrogant young man named Marko…the King of this underwater civilisation. Nineteen-year-old Marko intends to marry Miranda in order to keep his crown from falling into the sinister clutches of his half-brother, Damir. There’s only one problem. Miranda is desperate to return home to right things with her sister and she wants nothing to do with Marko. Trying to secure her freedom, Miranda quickly forms an alliance with Robbie — Marko’s personal guard. However, she soon discovers that even underwater, people are hiding dangerous secrets…


Meet the Author: Nora James

NORA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Be in it for the long run. Yes, occasionally someone writes a book, sends it off to a publisher who accepts it straight away and it turns into a bestseller pretty much overnight. It is possible. So is winning Lotto. Generally though it takes years (sometimes decades) to get there, so find a way to sustain your passion for as long as it takes, and don’t give up your day job unless you have a kind spouse who can support you, you’ve saved a lot of pennies for a rainy day, won the lottery, inherited a tidy sum from your great-uncle John, or all of the above. More than anything, enjoy the daily work – being a writer is hard but it’s a privilege.

Nora James

Nora James started her working life at age 14 in a bakery in Paris. She held a number of other jobs before studying law at the University of Western Australia and becoming an international resources lawyer and translator. She has travelled extensively, both as a child and adult, for family reasons, work and pleasure. She now writes novels and screenplays from her home in coastal Western Australia where she lives with her husband and daughter and a menagerie of furry friends. Visit Nora’s website at


Why do you write? I write because I seem to have a million stories in my head, and characters dancing around my mind, too. I feel I’m meant to bring those stories and characters to life and share them with other people. I find writing gives another dimension to my existence and allows me to live more than one life. It’s a little bit like reincarnation or time travel but all you need to do it is a pen (or computer) and paper.

I was drawn to writing from a very young age, too. In fact, as far back as I can remember, I wrote stories. Granted they were a little simpler when I was six, but I already loved how it made me feel. I get an incredible sense of achievement and purpose from it. And also, although I’m working, the focus and concentration of it seems to bring me balance and peace by blocking out the day-to-day issues I might face as a mother and a wife. In brief, it can be quite therapeutic at times!

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? If I hadn’t become a writer I’d be working as a lawyer or translator, which is what I was doing immediately before I started writing with a view to being published. I was lucky enough to be involved in some high profile cases, and to work for a few large companies on international matters. It was very interesting work – although I did my fair share of mind-numbingly boring stuff – and I travelled a lot. But at the end of the day I felt I was put on Earth to do something more creative and so I wrote whenever I could, on the train, plane, during lunch breaks. Eventually I threw in the towel and jumped into the world of writing in the hope that I’d become published and one day make a living out of it.

If I had to stop writing now, first of all I’d cry for days on end and then I’d probably start a small business. Something to do with animals, perhaps – I love animals – or maybe something to do with food, like having my own little French café. I spent many years in France and am married to a Frenchman and together we’d make the business quite authentic, I think.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Dark Oil was a little different, not your usual romance. It didn’t quite fit into any boxes and as a result was a bit more of a risk for a publisher, I suppose. I sent it out to a few publishers and got knocked back, as you do, sometimes with a lovely email telling me it was an interesting and thoughtful project that they’d enjoyed, but it was still a “no, thanks”.

I decided to put it aside and didn’t send it out again for a number of years. Then I heard about Escape Publishing through Juanita Kees, a very talented author who’d just joined the critique group I’m in, and it sounded like Escape was open to projects that were unique in some way. I tried it with them and was absolutely thrilled when it was accepted. I can’t begin to tell you what a wonderful feeling it is!

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. Feeling that way about your work is extremely rewarding. A close second is that I’m completely in control of my days. I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck. I don’t even have to get dressed if I don’t feel like it: I can just write in my pyjamas, which I have been known to do on a cold morning.

I don’t have to sit at my desk, either. I quite often sit on the couch or retreat to my favourite armchair with my laptop on my knee and type away for an hour or two before returning to the desk. Varying my position allows me to not feel stiff and sore.

—the worst? I’m torn between loneliness and uncertainty. Loneliness because even if you are like me and enjoy working on your own most of the time there are moments when it would be nice to wander down to the coffee machine or the photocopier and have a chat with someone, the way people do in companies.

And uncertainty because you never know if you are going to get published, and if so when. And once you are published, you don’t know if your next book will be accepted. And once it is you wonder if it will sell well or not. Uncertainty about the future seems to come with the territory. You have to be able to live with that.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I’d find out about markets. It can be very disheartening to write something beautiful and meaningful only for it to remain on your desk gathering dust because no one is publishing that type of manuscript. The best way to find out about what’s being sold and therefore improve your chances of publication is to join writing organisations such as the Romance Writers of Australia and go to their conferences.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish someone had told me that it is extremely difficult to get started in certain genres. You’re better off writing in a more popular genre to break in, and perhaps later on trying your hand at other things. Also, that it usually takes a very long time to make a decent living out of writing and many writers never will.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Join a critique group. It makes such a difference not only to the quality of your work as you learn from others but also to morale. Writing is a solitary pursuit that can’t be likened to many other professions: I can’t think of another job where you have no regular income, perhaps no income at all for years, your work is constantly rejected, you don’t see another living soul all day, you depend on no one but yourself for creativity, motivation and reward. At the same time, it’s a job that gives you an incredible amount of freedom, as well as the opportunity to express yourself, lead a meaningful life and leave behind in your art the essence of who you are and how you see the world.

So in summary join a critique group to find people who not only will help you develop your craft but also truly understand the trials, tribulations and exquisite joy of being a writer.

{For a snapshot of Dark Oil and a link to where to buy it, visit the Author Bookshelf page.}

Meet the Author: Dale Harcombe

DALE’S TOP WRITING TIP: Write, write, write. Don’t be content with first, second or even third drafts. Make it the best it can be. The hardest part then is knowing when to stop. Read, read, read as much as you can of all different writers and different kinds of books. Try and analyse why things work or they don’t. I’ve found since I’ve started to write I have become a more critical reader. I get impatient if the author doesn’t move the story along in some way. When I write I try and leave out the bits I would skip through while reading.  For example those passages that convey information because the author found it interesting but it does not advance the story or help the reader know the characters better.

Dale Harcombe

Dale lived in Western Sydney and the Central West of NSW before moving to the South Coast which immediately felt like home.  She started writing articles and poems. Many were published in magazines and newspapers. She has also written short stories, educational materials, bible studies and Sunday school materials, puppet plays, skits, and songs for young children. A radio play, called Edge of Silence, was broadcast in 2005.

Chasing after the Wind, her first published children’s novel was published by Scholastic in 1997. Since then she has had Kaleidoscope, a book of poetry and six other children’s books published.  Many poems in Kaleidoscope had been previously published in Australia’s literary magazines and newspapers. Her poetry has won prizes and been published in several anthologies. Streets on a Map, her first general fiction book, was published in December 2010. It is now also an E book. Dale is currently at work on another novel with the working title Sandstone Madonna.

As well as jobs as a bookseller and other sales positions, Dale has been a houseparent for a family of twelve boys, manuscript assessor, book reviewer and run creative writing classes at NSW Writers’ Centre, Parramatta Evening College and Central West Community College. She also wrote for several years about marriage and home related topics for She has a BA in Literary and Australian studies. More information about Dale can be found at or on her Write and Read with Dale blog


Why do you write? Sometimes I wonder! No seriously, because there are stories bubbling away inside that want to come out and hopefully, I might have some insights or knowledge that may be helpful to others in their life journey. I guess in another way it is something that has always been in me. I was one of those kids who sent off poems and stories to the newspapers back in the day when newspapers did such things. Do they even do that any more?

Over time that writing urge got pushed aside by other aspects of life. But like the phoenix it came back to life in later years. I started with poetry and articles, later moved to children’s fiction, back to poetry and then onto general fiction with Streets on a Map. Now I’m concentrating on fiction with a smattering of poetry still thrown in, because I can’t leave it alone. Fiction and poetry are my two reading loves as well.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Just living and enjoying life in this piece of paradise where I live. But I probably wouldn’t be as much fun to live with. I tend to get grumpy when I am not writing.

 What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Lack of knowledge of the way the industry works. When I first started, I didn’t have a website, know how to organise a book launch or anything else. It’s been learn as I went along and still learning.  I thought when my first children’s book Chasing after the Wind was published, I had a foot on the door and it would be easier. That didn’t turn out to be the case. The editor who had picked my manuscript out of the slush pile left. Sadly, the new editor didn’t seem to connect with what I was writing. So it was back to square one, and trying to learn more about writing and find markets. Six other children’s books were published before I had Kaleidoscope a book of poetry published. That was the quickest acceptance ever, less than 10 days from submission to acceptance by Ginninderra Press. By then general fiction was calling. Poetry got put aside. Streets on a Map was published and now I am working on another novel but also starting to work on a second collection of poems.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Seeing books I wrote in print and getting feedback from people when they like a book and take time to let me know. I have a few letters which live on my corkboard near my desk which are from readers who have told me how much they enjoyed my books. One of the most special is from a girl who struggled to read. Chasing after the Wind was the first book she ever actually read and enjoyed. That still gives me a thrill when I think about how I got her started on her reading journey and the response from her and her family.

 —the worst? Waiting. Writers spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for publishers to decide, waiting for contracts to arrive, waiting on proofs and editing, waiting for the book to be published. Waiting is not my strong suit. I usually try and forget about it and get busy with some new work in the meantime. E books and self publishing has changed a lot of that and cut out much of that waiting time but it’s not something I’ve investigated a lot to date. The promotion and marketing aspects that go with writing these days I also find hard. I’d rather just write.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I’d be less naive. I’d build a website and blog first and then go from there.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Be yourself because the reality is you can’t be anyone else anyway. So play to your strengths and don’t worry about things you can’t do or comparing yourself with others.

 {Visit the Author Bookshelf page for a snapshot of Dale’s novel, Streets on a Map and details about availability}.

Meet the Author: Nichola Hunter

NICHOLA’S TOP WRITING TIP: Unless you are writing something very generic, like a Mills and Boon and purely for money, don’t think about money. Think about getting it right. Likewise don’t think about getting famous or get overexcited about being an author. Think about getting it right. The manuscript takes precedence over your ego at all times. Also, when you think you have finished – you have probably just completed phase one of your mss.

Nichola Hunter

Nichola Hunter grew up Victoria, Australia and moved to Western Australia in her early twenties, where she studied Film and Television and Creative Writing at Curtin University of Technology. She has worked as a freelance travel writer and has published short stories, poems, travel articles and one novella, Ramadan Sky. She has travelled and worked extensively in South East Asia. She currently lives in Fremantle, Western Australia where she teaches adult migrants, works as a freelance writer and is writing another novel.


Why do you write? First of all, it’s about communication. I think writing is a way of creating an intimate relationship with a lot of strangers. I think if you write something really well you become an investigator – you have to slow down and watch what you are perceiving and then try to understand and describe its quality exactly. So in a way, writing is really very careful listening. Sometimes people will hear or see something but don’t have time to notice that they have seen it until they read it as someone else’s observation. When somebody reads what you have written and recognises or “gets it”, that’s very enjoyable.

Also some things are just so beautiful or so sad or so funny or so unfair, that they have to be observed and told. The lives of the poor in South East Asia fit all of the categories above for me. SE Asia with its dramatic, weather and its volatile politics, whose people seem to live beneath a mask of impassivity, is largely unexplored in Australian writing, which surprises me, considering our geography.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Well I’m doing a lot of things besides writing now. I am a keen photographer and would probably give this more focus if I weren’t writing. Also I would like to make a documentary one day.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? First, the book is a novella, and many publishers won’t accept novellas from debut authors. Also simply being a first time author with no contacts in the industry. That’s why I posted my book on HarperCollins’ website, authonomy, where it was noticed by the editor.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being able to share the exact quality of a perception – to describe something so that someone else “gets it” and to stop and notice for enough time so that you can put your finger on something precisely. I also enjoy the act of creating something from a blank – going from the terror of an empty screen to creating a story, novel or even a blog post. The words emerge like invisible ink becoming visible. Sometimes it feels like someone else is moving those keys.

—the worst? As Hemingway says: There’s nothing to writing. You sit down at the keyboard and you bleed. In order to write well I think you have to be looking for the truth and the truth hurts like hell sometimes.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would write to a plan. With Ramadan Sky I just started writing and then wrote some more and added bits and pieces and joined them up at the end. There are three narrators and the story takes place over twelve months. In the editing phase, I had to untangle the story lines and time lines for these three narrators. There were moments of acute brain freeze while doing this and the phrase “never again” almost became a mantra. Next time a clear plan at the beginning. And one narrative voice.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d been pushed to produce more. At university they had us writing short stories, which was very good training, but there isn’t much of a market for short stories. I wish we’d learned more about how to extend an idea into a bigger one and how to maintain pace in a longer work. Keep going—that’s it, I guess, in a nutshell.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? The first is “Write like every word is worth a million bucks.” By far the most prevalent mistake that I see on the authonomy website, which has thousands of aspiring authors, is that the writing is overly descriptive—too many adjectives, too many adverbs and too much information in general. This happens to everyone when they are writing. The trick is to keep a sharp knife handy and cut them out as you go along. I liken it to a haircut. Each piece you cut contributes to the overall shape you are making.

Along the same lines is this tip from John Fowles: Edit when you are feeling sick and tired of your manuscript. Mistakes jump out more, and you are more likely to be necessarily ruthless when you are a bit sick of it.

* Visit the Author Bookshelf page for a snapshot of Ramadan Sky and where to obtain it. For information about Nichola’s work visit her blog at

Meet Margaret Sutherland

MARGARET’S TOP TIP: Set a regular time to work and show up. Don’t discuss new ideas, plots or brilliant insights with anyone. They tend to dissipate when talked about. Don’t try and be your most admired writer. Read, read, read and sort out the wheat from the chaff. And share with your fellow writers. You will make some good friends and share the good times and the bad.

Margaret SutherlandMargaret Sutherland has followed a number of careers: nursing, writing, marriage and motherhood and music teaching. These experiences have provided invaluable material for her seven novels and three short story collections.

Her early books were well received in Britain, America and New Zealand. Great reviews and competition successes earned her a NZ Scholarship in Letters, two Australia Council writing grants, and first prize in a recent national short story competition. Radio NZ and Radio Denmark have broadcast Margaret’s stories. More recently, she has self-published, on-selling to Ulverscroft large-print.

Margaret’s goal in writing is to uncover the small truths at crisis points of everyday life. She writes affectionately about ordinary people who share our hopes, joys, loves and sorrows. Her settings include the languor of the tropics (Fiji, New Guinea), New Zealand (her birthplace) and Australia, a country she loves for its warmth, landscapes and generosity of dimension.

Writing about love’s many facets has always featured in her work. Recently she began writing romance. She enjoys happy endings for her lovers, while including children, the elderly and dogs in the stories. Margaret’s next book, to be published by Sweetcravingspublishing in America,  will be out for Valentine’s Day and is appropriately titled Valentine Masquerade.

Look for Margaret’s books on Amazon USA, Kindle, or


Why do you write? I think the urge to write is an inborn thing. It has certainly followed me throughout my life, even when I’ve had years when nothing has been written. I don’t see this as a disadvantage. We must get out and live life in order to write about it.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? If I wasn’t a writer, I would be doing what I’m already doing! That is, teaching music, enjoying life with my husband and pets, managing a home, garden, and maintaining a correspondence with friends and family, as I am a NZer.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My first publication came relatively easily. It was when I tried to re-enter the market after moving to Australia that I found standards had changed and my  background made no difference. There was a lot of competition, and it has only become harder as time passes. I found self-publishing, fortunately, as it is only this year that I have connected with a publisher for a new line in the romance genre.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Finishing a book and seeing it between covers and up for sale is the most rewarding moment.

—the worst? Making no money, low sales, too much competition, spending time on promotion when I would rather be writing.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? If I was starting out again, I might be more consistent, I might be more outgoing and self-promotional. I might stick with a genre rather than always experimenting with styles and techniques. I might not take those long breaks to do something completely different. How can I say? I might do exactly what I did!

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? It doesn’t matter what I might have been told. I probably wouldn’t have listened.

{Visit the Author Bookshelf page for a snapshot of Margaret’s latest publication and a link to her website.}

Meet Paula Boer


PAULA’S TOP TIP: Don’t be put off by rejections. Learn from them and keep writing, while being true to yourself about what you want to write.

Paula Boer started her lifelong love of horses when she first rode a pony on a ranch in Canada, aged 7. On moving to England at age 9, she commenced weekly riding lessons and became hooked. Paula’s horse infatuation led to her bedroom being filled with toy stables, posters of golden stallions, horse gear and, of course, horse books.

Paula’s writing career started at school where she wrote a story from the horse’s perspective for her final English exam. Combining her love of horses with her passion for travel, she raced the native horses in Mongolia, climbed the heights of Colombia on horseback, and competed in Endurance rides around Australia. She claims the best way to experience a country is from the back of a horse.

Although not always on horseback, Paula has travelled in 60 countries on six continents. After retiring from the hectic life of computer consultancy, she wrote her first novel, The Okapi Promise, based on her adventures in Africa in 1990. This fictional memoir was published by IFWG Publishing in November 2010.

From her own experiences of catching and breaking in brumbies, Paula decided to set her next novel in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. The Brumbies series was created, with the first book of five becoming an Amazon ‘Best Seller’ in 2012.

Paula is a regular contributor to horse magazines. She has also had numerous short animal stories published in journals in the UK.

Paula lives on 500 acres in the Snowy region of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband, three retired horses and a stick-loving dog.


Why do you write? I started writing to capture my memories, thinking that when I became too old to experience adventures first hand, I could read my stories and remember the great life I’d led. Once I started, I found I needed other people to read my stories, primarily to share my travels, but also to help me polish my writing skills. This is how The Okapi Promise, my debut novel, came about.

As it turns out, soon after having my first book published, I had to give up my lifelong passion of horse riding for health reasons. Now I write horse stories that give me the opportunity to re-live those moments in the saddle, the smell of hot horse, the sound of breathing in rhythm with a powerful canter, the close bond one builds with a trusted equine partner. Writing the Brumbies series fills the void in my life that used to be filled with horses.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?  If the definition of a writer is someone who writes, then this question is really “What would you do if you could no longer write?” One of my nightmares is losing my vision—I have wondered if I’d be able to use voice recognition and speech software to continue writing. Or what if my arthritis became so bad I could no longer type or hold a pen? That would also preclude me from playing piano, the other part of my life that fills my days. Simply put, I don’t know what I’d do. The thought scares me.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Becoming published, for me, was not tough. I was extremely lucky to have my debut novel accepted by the first publisher I submitted it to. However, getting it ready to submit was the tough part. I went through many painful lessons at writing workshops, even being brought to tears at times while learning how to develop a novel. After completing a full manuscript, I suffered through several assessments which tore my self-esteem to bits. In hindsight, it was all wonderful advice, but oh, the pain at the time! Learning to take critique as constructive, not criticism, has probably been my hardest lesson.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Hearing from readers that they love what I write, especially young aspiring horse riders.

—the worst?  These days, the worst part of writing is the inevitable marketing that comes from wanting to be read. Gone are the days when the publisher organised copious events and interviews, at least for mid-list writers like me. Time spent marketing detracts from time spent writing. It is a hard balance to get right.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I don’t believe there is an easy way to learn the craft. The important thing is to be constantly challenged; to write outside one’s comfort zone. I would like to have read more widely, not only books I found entertaining. Having left school at age 15, I don’t have any classical training. I think that undertaking a creative writing course, or a literature course, could have been useful.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I didn’t set out to become an author, per se. What I would have liked to have known, before many of my travels, was that I would want to write about them eventually. I would have written more extensively in my journals, and kept diaries of characters I met along the way. I would have paid more attention to seasons, flora and fauna, architecture and local customs. I would have taken more photographs and jotted down ideas for plots. Now I am never without a pen and notepad.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Every scene must move the plot forward. If something doesn’t contribute to the plot—character development as to why someone will act in a certain way, backstory to provide a clue, information that enables the reader to understand certain implications—take it out. I work from an outline that guides me as to what I want to achieve in each scene. When I have completed the first draft of a manuscript, I go back and write down what every scene achieves. If I can’t easily identify the point of a scene, I have to rethink why it is there, and either rewrite or discard those paragraphs.

{Visit Author Bookshelf for a link to Paula’s website and information about where to obtain her books.}