Meet the Author: Robinanne Lavelle

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Don’t give up! Find your passion and then keep investigating where it could be placed to be of the most use to others.

Robinanne Lavelle

Robinanne Lavelle lives and works in Brisbane, Australia. She completed a Bachelor of Economics, a Master’s degree in Business and another in Education Management. She has been a teacher, a lecturer and author of five textbooks in the social sciences. As well as academic pursuits, spirituality and emotional intelligence have been at the forefront of her life’s journey. After studying yoga and meditation with monks, she ran courses and has written a book on mindfulness and meditation. Robinanne has been writing professionally since 1990 and has no intention of slowing down anytime soon! Her latest release, The Road Awaits, a book of poems and stories, explores the life changing events that shaped her childhood and the adult she is today.

Visit her website here.

Author Insight

What inspires you to write? I just want to express myself and to help others. Writing seems a natural way to do this

What role does your career as an educator play in your writing? I believe most educators are people who want to help others by sharing knowledge. You can do this in the classroom/lecture theatre, and you can reach many more people through books. For example, when I co-wrote the Layman’s Guide to Law in WA the textbook reached 75% of those studying law in upper school throughout the state. I could help many more students than I could in one classroom.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Interesting, educational, and organised.

Who has been the strongest influence on your writing life? My grandmother wrote a book, then my mother wrote a lot of poetry and short stories. I felt they were both very articulate, expressive, passionate women.

Share a little about your path to publication. I studied law in upper high school in Melbourne. When the subject was introduced to WA, I was one of the first teachers to teach it. Victoria and WA law is not all the same and having only a Victoria textbook available was fraught with problems. I started writing a journal with five other teachers to help new teachers with the subject and this led to two of us ending up writing the textbook and workbook for both students and teachers in Years 11 and 12.

How involved are you in your cover and interior book designs? I had a vision of The Road Awaits having a nostalgic VW combi van on the cover. I searched for a professional photograph that would capture a combi in Australia. I collected many photos. I played around with the photos and eventually it was a photo that was taken in South Australia and captured the idea that the book is about travel in Australia, a road trip. I played around with the name of the book for months too, until it just felt ‘right’. Then I handed it over to the publishers for their professional take on how it should look. As for the layout and design inside, I have a Masters in Educational Management and my dissertation was on format of textbooks, plus through the books I have written, I have gained a lot of experience in what works for the reader. Thus, I set this book out with the photo relating to the poem, then the poem and finally a little story that elaborates on the poem or situation. 

What do you hope readers will take away from your books? The Road Awaits is a book about facing and overcoming hardships and treasuring the little gems you find on your path to a better future. I hope people will enjoy the journey, find inspiration in the stories, and stir them up to travel Australia.

Walk us through your writing process. Do you spend time planning or start writing and see where it will lead you? I have an idea what I want to do and usually formulate the layout first. So, it might be topics or chapter headings and then I start to fill in!

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I’ve never had writer’s block but then I don’t write fiction. I think fictional writers might be more inclined to have this issue. I have a subject I’m writing about, and I just write.

Is there an area of writing that you find challenging? I find proof-reading very challenging. Having ADHD, I don’t tend to focus well on every word and tend to read what I think I have written – not necessarily what is on the page! I always need a great editor and have found such in Olympia Publishers in London.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? I get to work from home. I’m not super keen on mornings and so waking up slowly, having a coffee, and taking it to my desk and working for an hour in my pjs (before showering etc.) I think is such luxury.

—the worst? Sometimes I think I would like to retire. I like the idea that I could do anything I like in retirement because once I start on a book there is a process and schedule to adhere to.

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m not an avid social media person. I much prefer to meet someone in the flesh for coffee or something. It is important though for an author to have a profile and face on social media. As an author you need to reach out to people and have yourself available online.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Make your difficulties your strengths. I have ADHD but this can mean I can do things and see things differently to other people and I cherish this as a gift now.

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? No doubt at all – it would be the Australian playwright, David Williamson. I believe he is our modern-day Shakespeare!

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? Eckhart Tolle – his understanding of the human mind and spirit is amazing!

Book Byte

The Road Awaits

Joan Elkington & Robinanne Lavelle

This invigorating collection of poems highlights the beauty of the natural world which is often forgotten about in the new digital age. Robinanne Lavelle reminisces about the first road trip she took as a child which drove her strong admiration for nature. From the beaches of Bondi to the grapes of Barossa, and shipwrecks of the rugged west coast, Lavelle explores the small divinities which make Australia so magnificent whilst passing on apples of wisdom fed to her by her parents. With sharp turns and bumps, this road trip will cause a range of drastically different emotions but is sure to leave any reader changed and awakened. Whether a passionate environmentalist or an indifferent traveller, the road awaits…

Purchase online through:

Amazon

Dymocks

Meet the Author: Lauren Hackney

My special guest this week is a debut children’s author whose first title is a sweet treat of a chapter book created in a delicious collaboration with her two sons. It’s my pleasure to bring you this conversation with Lauren Hackney as part of her online book tour for The Lolly Shop.

Lauren Hackney lives in Manly; a seaside suburb of Brisbane, with her husband, two creative boys, chickens, fish, cockatiels and their recently adopted dog. Together, they love exploring, travelling, trying new things, laughing and being amongst nature. Another pastime of theirs is storytelling. Whether it be a bedtime story, a campfire story or a road trip story – they love discovering where the stories lead.

For many years, Lauren worked in aviation, but she now takes stories on high-flying adventures through the power of magic and imagination. Her first book is The Lolly Shop – a delicious collaboration with her two sons.

Website: LBE Hackney.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/TheLollyShop

Instagram: www.instagram.com/lbe.hackney/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

What – or who – inspired your Lolly Shop stories? My children and I created this story at bedtime. This story was told for many years. However, life circumstances inspired us to publish it.

Do you draw on your own childhood memories and experiences when writing for children? Yes. The simplicity of the 1980s and early 1990s, where there was only one television in the home and no other technology, set the scene for many nights of family interaction with board games and playing cards.  I like to draw on these memories and combine them with the stories I’ve crafted with my children to help create a simple world for “the lolly shop”. I like remembering the simple pleasures of family togetherness when screens weren’t an option.

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step? Our creative process starts when my children are with me and we create stories around campfires, bedtime or road trips. Trying to then recall the stories around our dinner table and illustrate scenes to create a manuscript is the next step. From there I take the steps to draft and redraft the story until we are all happy with it as a family.

Do you have any quirky writing practices? As a family we write the story, not necessarily in order. How we are all feeling at the end of the day generally dictates which part we write/illustrate. Sometimes we start in the middle, the end or back at the beginning…

Is there an area of writing that you find challenging? Sometimes I feel that fitting in with other authors is somewhat challenging because I haven’t studied writing formally as much as some. I feel my children and I are more like story tellers rather than writers and that’s why I really enjoy the other aspects that come with being a children’s author, like sharing the story with children and seeing their reaction, going to local bookstores to read to groups at meet and greets. I am learning, however, and I am working on other writing projects my children and I have created.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Have a good laugh with my kids! We work on the books every day, whether it be a small illustration, or a paragraph written, so when we feel there’s no more fuel in the tank – we play a board game, kick a ball in the back yard or take our dog for a walk. Sometimes for us just taking a breather and getting some fresh air helps.

Share a little about your path to publication. Our manuscript was complete; however, we were rejected by every publisher we submitted to. A retired publisher, Wendy Scott, heard about our story and loved it. She generously gave us her time and helped publish our book. To this day we work with Wendy, who is such a pleasure to work with.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? The power of imagination. I hope that children get lost in the story and dream of magic. No matter what happened in their day, we hope the power of imagination can save the day. It certainly did for us!

What is the best thing a reader has said about your books? Can these magic lollies be real?! We loved that this child was so invested in the story that they wanted to play ‘Lolly Shop’ in the lunch break at school. They pretended they could float in the sky, pretended they were invisible and pretended they could run fast. That was the best reaction from a reader so far!

What are you working on at the moment? Book 3 of The Lolly Shop and another bedtime story my youngest and I came up with when his dad fell ill last year.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Re-living this fun bedtime story with younger children. Unfortunately, my kids are growing so The Lolly Shop series will come to an end, but we are also starting to tell other stories.

—the worst? Feeling like I’m not as accomplished as all the amazing authors I have met on this fantastic journey.

What do you wish you’d been told before you decided to become an author? I’m still pretty ‘green’ at this so I’m willing to learn. I love all the advice given – so many helpful people out there. I guess ‘just do it’ and ‘find the time’ would be the best advice.

How important is networking to you as an author? I love meeting other creatives, whether it be authors or illustrators, because they have the best back stories. I have heard so many inspirational stories that have driven me to keep going.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? That your future is already happening. Someone out there is living the life you want. It’s your job to find that person and ask how they got there. Hence, I’ve met as many authors as I can to see how they got to where they are.

My husband, who is such an inspirational man, also told me when we first met 21 years ago; ‘Be around those who you want to be like and who drive you to do better. Relationships can be your biggest influence.’ That has always been close to my heart. I’ve done this most of our life together and I’ve ended up with a group of empowering cheerleaders who are constantly lifting me up. And I do the same for them. 

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Don’t ever feel like you’re not good enough. Everyone has a strong suit – you just need to find yours, iron it and make sure it fits!

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Magic, working together and family.

Other than writing, what else do you enjoy doing? Spending time with my family, hiking, kayaking, playing soccer, cooking, playing my instruments and most of all – reading!

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? Stephen King. He was the first novelist I discovered when I was a teenager and his imagination is incredible!

BOOK BYTE

Two brothers own a lolly shop. What they think is sugar gets delivered to the store – only for it to be added to their lollies, and the result… lollies with magical powers! It wasn’t sugar that came that day – it was magical powder! With all kinds of mischief caused around town, the boys work together to find a solution where both adults and children can learn to live with magic.

But who is responsible for the magic powder?

Buy the book at: Amazon or email Lauren at her website.

Check out the rest of Lauren’s online book tour

Meet the Author: Kristen Schroeder

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

Kristen Schroeder

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

AUTHOR INSIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Beverly Cleary. She passed away last year at the age of 104. I devoured her books as a child and would have liked to meet her just because. I don’t think I’d even ask about her writing except I’d like to know where she got the idea for the mouse on the motorcycle!

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

Book Byte

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Author: Brendan Colley

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

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

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

@brendancolley

Author Insight

Why do you write?

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

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

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

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?

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

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

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

What’s the best aspect of your writing life?

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

—the worst?

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

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

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

How important is social media to you as an author?

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

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

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

How do you deal with rejection?

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

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

Quirky, strange, heartfelt.

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

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

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

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

Book Byte

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

You can buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Sean Rabin

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

Sean Rabin

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

Author insight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book byte

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

Buy the book here.

Off the page with Amra Pajalic

I’ve always been interested in learning how other writers work and what they do when they aren’t focusing on what’s happening on the page of their latest novel. Today it’s my pleasure to introduce AMRA PAJALIC, an award-winning author whose latest book is a short story collection, The Cuckoo’s Song.

I am constantly tweaking and updating my writing routine to fit in with my changing life. The first few years as a full-time high school teacher I squeezed my writing into the edge of my life, on weekends and school holidays, fighting to keep a foothold in my writing world as the demands of teaching pressed in on me. I used my writing group and sought mentorships to give me much-needed deadlines and accountability.

As I adapted to my teaching load I realised I needed my writing life to have a larger portion of my life. I needed to write every day to remain tethered to my work in progress and to have it flow quicker, so I began waking up at 5.30 am to write for an hour and a half before I had to get ready for work.

I write listening to music soundtracks that act like white noise, shutting of my editorial brain, as I immerse myself in a stream of consciousness state. Some days I woke up with no inspiration and would write song lyrics or diary entries, until my muse was nudged awake and the words flowed. Each day became easier with the novel unfurling before me. The only issue was that as a pantser I kept overwriting, my drafts extending longer and longer, to 140K that I then had to fight to trim down.

I discovered that I had to focus on getting a first draft complete before embarking on any edits. That when I hit the 20K mark the novel began writing itself, and that no matter how long I took to write a book, I would always return to the ending that I had first imagined.

Now I had to work on refining my structure and realised that when I hit the 20K mark I had to develop the rest of the novel so that I didn’t get caught up in overwriting. I experimented with various books on structure, Save the Cat, The Breakout Novel, and each one added to my toolbox. I now know to write a synopsis when I hit the 20K marks and to keep referring to that as I go.

I use Scrivener to write my work in progress and find it helps me with refining the structure as it is easy to move chapters around and have a synopsis of each. I love the feature to insert my research notes and websites I am using so that I can always go back and re-check facts. I use the  Character sheets to insert images of my characters and develop their profiles, and Setting sheets to find photos of my settings and record notes about description. I also like colour coding sections that might be in different points of view or timelines to help me visualise the structure.

One of my character sheets in Scrivener.

I am now working part time and have one day off to prioritise my writing and no longer need to have a rigid writing routine. When I am developing my first draft I write every day, at least 1000 words, and this can be in the morning or afternoon. When the draft is complete I seek feedback from my critique partner and refine it.

At my standing desk.

I am now also using a standing desk and move around the house to write around my household routine. With much needed time I don’t have to fight so hard to prioritise writing and find myself fitting in writing sessions multiple times a day. Each draft is getting quicker and my hope is that I can keep prioritising my writing life as I reduce my teaching life.

You can find Amra online at the following links:

http://www.amrapajalic.com/

https://www.instagram.com/amrapajalicauthor/

https://www.tiktok.com/@amrapajalic

https://www.facebook.com/AmraPajalicAuthor/https://www.bookbub.com/authors/amra-pajalic

Amra’s short story collection The Cuckoo’s Song features previously published and prize-winning stories. It features stories she has written over the past two decades and are the map that reveal her growth and evolution as an author. Delving into familiar themes of family dissolution, deprivation of war, tenderness of family and the heart-rending experiences of mental illness, Amra also moves into new territory with previously unpublished thriller stories.
Many stories are extracts of her previously published novels such as Suicide Watch which features her protagonist Sabiha in a scene cut from her award-winning debut novel The Good Daughter. Also included are previously published
stand-alone pieces that became her memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me, that was shortlisted for the 2020 National Biography Award.

You can buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Dimity Powell

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

Dimity Powell

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

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

Author Insight

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?

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

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

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

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

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

Share a little about your path to publication.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you working on at the moment?

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

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

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

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

How important is social media to you as an author?

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

What’s the best advice you were ever given?

It takes decades to be an overnight success.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

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

In three words, how would you describe your writing?

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

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

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

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

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

Book Byte

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

Available from EK Books:

Or

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

Amazon Books:

Boomerang Books:

Booktopia:

Dymocks Books:

Readings Books:

Barnes and Noble:

Indigo Books:  

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

 

Meet the Author: Dominique Wilson

Don’t wait for the muse, she’s too flighty to be relied upon – just write. Be professional – ie: put in the work, accept criticism, meet deadlines. And lastly, read. Read constantly, in the genre you want to write and in other genres as well, because they all have something to teach you.

Dominique Wilson

Dominique Wilson was born of French parents in Algiers, Algeria. She grew up in a country torn by civil war, until she and her family fled to Australia.

Dominique holds both a BA [Professional Writing and Communications] and a Bachelor of Visual Communication [Illustration and Design] from the University of South Australia and, from the University of Adelaide, a Masters [Creative Writing] and a PhD, for which she was awarded the University Doctoral Research Medal.

In 2005 she was founding Managing Editor of Wet Ink: the magazine of new writing, a position she held until she resigned in 2012. From 2007 to 2010 Dominique was Chair of the Adelaide branch of International PEN.

Dominique’s short stories have been published nationally and read on ABC Radio. Her debut novel The Yellow Papers [Transit Lounge, 2014] and her second novel That Devil’s Madness [Transit Lounge, 2016] were both published to critical acclaim. Her most recent work, Orphan Rock, published by Transit Lounge, came out this month.

Author Insight

Why do you write? I have always been an avid reader, reading across many genres. Then when my daughters were born, I not only read to them every day, but also started making up stories for them. Going on to write for adults seemed the next natural step. I write because I’m interested in the human condition – why do people behave as they do? Why is it that some can withstand the most horrific conditions, whilst others collapse at the smallest upset? What makes a ‘good’ person? A ‘bad’ person? And is anyone truly all ‘good’ or ‘bad’? These are issues I explored in my previous book – The Yellow Papers and That Devil’s Madness – and in Orphan Rock, my latest publication, out in March 2022.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Probably trying to become a children’s book illustrator. I actually have a degree in illustration, but have let that fall by the wayside.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Myself – the self-doubt is very real. Even with two undergraduate degrees under my belt, a Masters and a PhD, I still question whether my writing is good enough. It’s not a case of false modesty or imposter syndrome – there really are some fabulous writers out there, and reading their work is a humbling experience.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Very much involved. From tossing around ideas with Barry Scott [my publisher at Transit Lounge], to working with Angela Meyers, who edited the book, to working with Scott Eathorne [of Quikmark Media] for publicity.

And yes, I did have input in the cover. To begin with, I asked Barry to please get Peter Lo to design this cover – Peter had done the covers of The Yellow Papers and of That Devil’s Madness, and I really like his work. Then Peter sent me six or seven possible covers for me to pick my favourite, and we went from there.

I may have written the words that became Orphan Rock, but it then took a lot of people to ‘birth’ this book.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The creative side can be pretty magical – when you come up with an idea, then a plot and characters, that you just know will work. Then there’s the thrill of having your work accepted for publication, and holding your book for the first time. And once the book is published, having readers email you to say how much they enjoyed the book is very special.

—the worst? The uncertainty – what if no one likes it/think it’s a load of rubbish?

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I don’t think I’d do much different. I started out writing short stories, and they were a good training ground, not just for the writing itself, but to learn about sending work out, getting rejections and the importance of not sending work out too early, meeting deadlines when a piece is accepted and so on.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? How long it takes to write a book! I don’t mean just the first draft – I mean all the research beforehand, the actual first draft, the rewriting, the editing and so on. And even once accepted – I never realised it could take up to a year from the time a book is accepted for publication until it hits the shops.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? That the difference between those who make it and those who don’t, is that those who make it try just one more time.

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m something of a hermit by nature, and a very private person. So on the one hand it’s wonderful for connecting with other writers and with readers, but on the other hand I can see how it can be intrusive, and a real time waster. So yes, it is important, but it must be controlled.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? Not really – if I cannot go forward in my writing, it’s either a case that there is something serious [and not writing related] that is worrying me or, if there is nothing worrying me, then I haven’t thought the plot through well enough.

How do you deal with rejection? By not becoming obsessed by it. No matter how good you are or you become, there will always be rejections – be it for a piece of writing, a grant you applied for, a competition you hoped to win. Accept it and move on. It’s all you can do, really…

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Historical, engaging, thought-provoking.

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? Neil Gaiman – I’d pick his brain re his wonderful imagination and wisdom, and Rachel Kadish – how did she learn to write so beautifully?!

Book Byte

Orphan Rock is a complex and richly detailed story of secrets and heartbreak that will take you from the back streets of Sydney’s slums to the wide avenues of the City of Lights.

The late 1800s was a time when women were meant to know their place. But when Bessie starts to work for Louisa Lawson at The Dawn, she comes to realise there’s more to a woman’s place than servitude to a husband.

Years later her daughter Kathleen flees to Paris to escape a secret she cannot accept. But World War One intervenes, exposing her to both the best and the worst of humanity.

 Masterful and epic, this book is both a splendid evocation of early Sydney, and a truly powerful story about how women and minorities fought against being silenced.

Her writing is finely crafted, her prose poetic and subtle, and a joy to read.‘ Monique Mulligan, author of Wildflower and Wherever You Go

‘Dominique Wilson is a wonderful storyteller. The research is impeccable, the realism unforgiving.’ Brian Castro, author of Blindness and Rage and Shanghai Dancing.

Author website: http://dominiquewilson.com.au/

Facebook author’s page: http://www.facebook.com/DominiqueWilson.Author

Twitter a/c: @DominiqueWilsn

Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com.au/dominique5758/_saved/

Buy the book here.

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Meet the Author: Antoni Jach

Draft zero of your novel is your friend. Write with freedom. Write without the fear of making mistakes.

Antoni Jach

Antoni Jach is the author of three novels – The Weekly Card Game, The Layers of the City and Napoleon’s Double; a book of poetry, An Erratic History; and two limited edition artists’ books – Still River in the Numinous World and Faded World. He is also a playwright and a painter, and a highly lauded teacher of fiction writing who has mentored many well-known authors in their careers. For further information see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoni_Jach.

Antoni Jach. Photo: Sabina Hopfer

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? Life’s work. Writing fiction is an obsession. The desire to create something beautiful and true. The desire to create literature.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I would spend more time painting in my painting studio. A painting is a poem without words (a variation on a Horace quote).

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Writing in a literary style that has been influenced by European modernism. The preferred mode in Australia is for fiction to be simple, clear and direct while the preferred Australian theme par excellence is ‘stories of struggle’. The ur-text for Australian fiction is ‘The Drover’s Wife’ by Henry Lawson. Though having said all that, I have been fortunate to have worked with some talented publishers who have been prepared to publish my non-mainstream indie novels, so I would like to take the opportunity to express my gratitude. Thank you to Sophie Cunningham (at McPhee Gribble/Penguin) who published The Weekly Card Game, Caroline Lurie (at Hodder Headline) who published The Layers of the City, Ivor Indyk (at Giramondo) who published Napoleon’s Double and more recently, thank you to the highly supportive Barry Scott (at Transit Lounge) for Travelling Companions.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Kate Goldsworthy was a highly perceptive and skilful editor to work with and it’s a brilliant cover by Josh Durham that perfectly captures a sense of movement (the world seen out of a train window) and that spirit of sunny optimism when you set out on a journey. I also particularly like the fact that the cover image could be either a Spanish or an Australian landscape as one of the key themes in my novels is that mixing together of Europe and Australia (my father was Polish and my mother was Australian, but of Irish descent). I am fascinated by the themes of ‘Europeans in Australia’ and ‘Australians Abroad’ (in 2019, the Smartraveller website stated that, “At any time there’s around one million Australians living and working overseas”). Josh Durham’s cover is easily the best cover that I have had for any of my four published novels.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Inventing characters, placing them in a fictional world and letting them interact and converse with one another; together with being able to create a fictional world out of words that replicates (and even, on some days, replaces) the real world and ends up as a work of art.

—the worst? The VAST amount of time it takes to create anything worthwhile. Whole years disappear, never to be returned.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? If I were eighteen and starting out as a writer now, I would enrol in the best creative writing course at a university that I could find. When I was studying at university there were no creative writing courses and so when I had the chance at RMIT in Melbourne to create (with Thames and Hudson author, Anne Richter) a writing course, I did so — the course was (and is) called RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing. However, another way to answer that question would be to say that the actual process of writing a novel would be the same: you write, you make mistakes, you rewrite, you make more mistakes, you rewrite ad infinitum, you receive feedback and then at some point you have to let the novel go out into the world, even though it is far from perfect.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? That novels convey an attitude towards life. The fiction writer encodes signs while the reader decodes those same signs in her own (or his own) image. Also, “a story is a system for the transfer of energy” (which is a quote from George Saunders in his wonderful book on writing, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain).

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Be persistent. When I was a young writer there were people — such as the poet Judith Rodriguez, the poet Philip Roberts, the critic Brian Edwards and the critic Helen Daniel — who encouraged me as a writer. Also, the Fellowship of Australian Writers was incredibly helpful when I was a teenage writer. They ran competitions for young writers and I was lucky enough to win prizes for my plays and for my poetry. One year as a teenager, I would have been eighteen at the time, I was playing cricket for Panton Hill and I was pulled off the playing field late one afternoon because I had to go into Melbourne to receive a ‘best play by a junior writer’ award. The guest presenter of the awards was William Golding of Lord of the Flies fame. That was such an unexpected thrill.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors? Instead of a top tip, I have a series of top tips. Firstly, draft zero of your novel is your friend (write with freedom, write without the fear of making mistakes). Secondly, removing a whole section of a novel and rewriting from scratch can oftentimes be necessary; sometimes simply revising what is already there isn’t enough. Thirdly, develop your own authentic and original voice. Fourthly, go for broke — write following your own aesthetic, in spite of the consequences. (There will be always people who misunderstand your aesthetic and your approach.) And fifthly, cherish your darlings.

How important is social media to you as an author? Not important, though some of my friends who are fellow writers use it superbly and I can see how it could be positive in some ways in spite of the negatives.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? No. For me, ‘writer’s block’ is like a car with no fuel; you can’t blame the car. I have a process to follow in order to return to the intuitive zone for good writing. A writer needs an energy source and for me those energy sources are music (Philip Glass and indie rock bands such as Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and The Fainters), painting in my painting studio, reading literature and philosophy, having conversations with friends, bike riding, playing tennis and writing endless ‘draft zero’ versions of whatever it is I want to write next.

How do you deal with rejection? ‘Rejection’ for an author is to be expected and is a normal part of a writer’s life. Though ‘rejection’ is overstating what actually is involved. Often, it’s simply a difference of opinion (about aesthetic values and/or commercial values) between an author and a publisher rather than a rejection of oneself as a person. Often ‘rejection’ is simply a business decision where the publisher feels that your novel is not going to make enough money to justify the money spent on it.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Literary, artful, amusing.

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? I have met a lot of writers, and I have taught a lot of writers throughout my career. When I was a freelance journalist, I used to interview writers for print publication and I was able to ask them the questions about writing that I was interested in. Also, I have interviewed a lot of writers for the Melbourne Writers Festival and occasionally I have interviewed writers for the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Some of the writers whom I have enjoyed interviewing (for print publication) include Joseph Heller, Salman Rushdie, Alain Robbe-Grillet and Ian McEwan. While some of the writers whom I have enjoyed interviewing on stage, and having a drink with after the interview, include John Connolly, Tim Parks, Alain de Botton, John Armstrong and Gerald Murnane.

BOOK BYTE

Solitary travellers and a couple encounter Nina, an eloquent storyteller, on their travels through Spain, France and Italy.
She entrances them all with her tales, which prompts her fellow travelling companions to share their own stories.
A handsome young man from Staten Island, who believes that life forms exist in other galaxies, vows to never work in an office again and travels by container ship to a commune in Italy. A lonely postal worker from Lodz takes home and reads the most interesting love letters, often becoming convinced a relationship needs his intervention, before delivering them the next day. A woman named Pauline calls herself Kim because her surname is Nowak. Depressed about turning forty, she mysteriously disappears from her own birthday party. Told by people on a journey, these are stories – rich with unexpected wisdoms – of lives in transit.
Travelling Companions is charming, amusing and philosophical – a wholly original exploration of what it means to honour our strangest dreams and disappointments. It is both a confrontation with, and a sweet diversion from, these, the darkest of times.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Eugen Bacon

Eugen’s top tip for aspiring authors: Edit, edit, edit. If your first draft is so bad, you can’t give it a second read yourself, how do you expect someone else to read it? As a writer who is also an editor, I treasure good editors or peer reviewers who understand my work—their feedback helps me to bring out the best form of my work before it goes public.

Eugen M. Bacon is African Australian, a computer scientist mentally re-engineered into creative writing. Her work has won, been shortlisted, longlisted or commended in national and international awards, including the Foreword Book of the Year, Bridport Prize, Copyright Agency Prize, Australian Shadows Awards, Ditmar Awards and Nommo Awards for Speculative Fiction by Africans. Her novella Ivory’s Story was shortlisted in the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Awards. New releases: Danged Black Thing, story collection by Transit Lounge Publishing (2021), Mage of Fools, an Afrofuturistic dystopian novel by Meerkat Press (2022), Chasing Whispers, story collection by Raw Dog Screaming Press (2022). Website: eugenbacon.com / Twitter: @EugenBacon

Author Insight

Why do you write? My writing is a curiosity. It is a search, a journey, a coming through… I often start with a skeleton, a general idea, and the writing shapes itself.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I do have a day job and probably always have a professional career on top of writing. I am a mother, a scholar, an educator, an editor, a reviewer, and once held a career in computing. I’ve woven writing so intricately around everything else I do, I don’t see myself not writing.   

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Breaking through was really tough. I guess it’s a commercial industry of networking, marketability, relatability—and I’ve always been… different. I write… different. Non-conformist. It took two masters degrees and a PhD in creative writing for publishers and editors to begin to notice, and I guess things picked up from there.  

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? Transit Lounge Publishing is one of the best publishers I’ve ever worked with. The publisher, Barry Scott, was earnest, accommodating and inviting from go. Soon as he determined he wanted to publish Danged Black Thing, it felt like an amazing partnership that I hope is the beginning of more.

I fondly remember the cover design process. I said, ‘Something black? African and Australian, maybe?’ Barry sent me a link to Kara Walker’s stimulating and complex art, and I was enamoured. Kara Walker is an American contemporary painter, silhouettist, filmmaker, and professor who explores race, gender, sexuality, violence, and identity in her work. She’s best known for her room-size tableaux of black cut-paper silhouettes, and Barry suggested a silhouette that was just perfect for Danged Black Thing.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Creating is cathartic, it’s immensely fulfilling. The road to publication, first cresting with publisher acceptance can be truly amazing. Working with a skilled editor rocks. Kate Goldsworthy was my remarkable editor!

The thrill climbs to book release, promos, interviews, blogs—like this one, reviews… I am always astonished, seeing what readers distinctively take from each read. 

—the worst? Rejections—they are never personal, but some feel like they are. An agent once replied, ‘Please remove us from your spam list.’

Not winning an award—being so close and not winning can suck, but it’s an honour to nearly make it when you do.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Early on, I was eager and put out work that wasn’t ready. Now I’m older, a little more patient, perhaps wiser, and have a good instinct on quality. I’m also bolder and can experiment more with my writing.  

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? Never do it for the money. But I knew this already. I do it for the love.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? When I was doing my PhD, my supervisor looked at me and said, ‘Write, or perish.’ She meant it in terms of having publications across my candidature as part of my portfolio. I wrote like I was possessed. And was published, published… which set me right on my odyssey as a writer.

How important is social media to you as an author? I am inherently quite private, but writing has compelled me to have a presence online. I mind it, and I don’t. It’s priceless for networking.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I’ve had rare periods of deep trauma in my life where I couldn’t write, and others of deep trauma where I wrote as if a daemon was doing the writing. I deal with the blank page with distraction: I watch a movie, listen to a song, go for a walk, read my favourite author, write prose poetry—it always helps.  

How do you deal with rejection? Early on, I taught myself not to keep a shrine of rejections. I don’t save rejections and move on. If I believe in the work, I move to next mode. I find the right publisher for it and, mostly, I find one.

My book Writing Speculative Fiction by Red Globe Press (Macmillan, now Bloomsbury) was once rejected. By Macmillan. I reworked the proposal, draft manuscript, resubmitted. Someone liked it.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Lyrical. Abstract. Immersive.  

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? Toni Morrison. I’d ask her, how? Sula, Jazz, Beloved, Tar Baby, Love, Mercy, Song of Solomon, The Bluest Eye—how did you do it?

Book Byte

Danged Black Thing is an extraordinary collection of stories about love and migration, gender and class, patriarchy and womanhood, from a remarkable and original voice. Traversing the West and Africa, they celebrate the author’s own hybridity with breathtaking sensuousness and lyricism. Simbiyu wins a scholarship to study in Australia, but cannot leave behind a world of walking barefoot, orange sun and his longing for a ‘once pillow-soft mother’. In his past, a darkness rose from the river, and something nameless and mystical continues to envelop his life. In ‘A Taste of Unguja’ sweet taarab music, full of want, seeps into a mother’s life on the streets of Melbourne as she evokes the powers of her ancestors to seek vengeance on her cursed ex. In the cyberfunk of ‘Unlimited Data’ Natukunda, a village woman, gives her all for her family in Old Kampala. Other stories explore with power what happens when the water runs dry – and who pays, capture the devastating effects on women and children of societies in which men hold all the power, and themes of being, belonging, otherness.
Speculative, realistic and even mythological, but always imbued with truth, empathy and Blackness, Danged Black
Thing is a literary knockout.

Buy the book here.