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: Sharon Giltrow

Join a critique group where you can share your story with like-minded people. Take their feedback and make your story even better, while at the same time give feedback on their story.

Sharon Giltrow

Sharon Giltrow grew up in South Australia, the youngest of eight children, surrounded by pet sheep and fields of barley. She now lives in Perth, Western Australia with her husband, two children and a tiny dog. Sharon has taught for all of her career. Previously a teacher of children who are hearing impaired and deaf-blind, she now teaches young children with Developmental Language Disorder. Her humorous debut picture book, Bedtime Daddy! was released in May 2020 through EK books. Sharon’s humorous follow up picture book, Get Ready, Mama! was released through EK books last month. Her third and fourth picture books, Let’s Go Shopping, Grandma! And Let’s Go to The Beach, Grandpa! are due to be released through Dixi Books in 2022 and 2023. Samara Rubin and the Utility Belt, book one in Sharon’s early middle grade series The Utility Belt, will be released in 2022 through Clear Fork Publishing,  with book two Toby King and the Utility Belt to follow. Sharon is also a blogger for the Children’s Book Academy.

Author insight

Why do you write? I write because I have to. I have this need to write. If I haven’t written for a couple of days, I feel lost. Writing gives me a purpose and a creative outlet.

Where do you find your inspiration? All around me. In the everyday. A word, something I see or something someone says.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Humorous, relatable, inspiring.

How much of an asset is your teaching background when it comes to writing your books for children? Being a teacher is a great asset for my writing. I am surrounded by my audience and can see what they like and relate to. It is also very helpful when it comes to author visits as I know how to present to children.

Who has been the strongest influence on your writing life? The writing community that I am a member of both here in Australia and overseas. In particular my critique groups, for without them I would not have any books published.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Self-doubt and imposter syndrome. Thinking I’m not good enough to be an author, even after I have had books published. Oh, and convincing a publisher to publish my work.

How involved are you in your book cover designs and illustrations?

So far, I have been very involved in the cover design and illustrations for my books. For Get Ready, Mama! I was given cover designs to choose from. I loved them all but in the end, I offered a different idea for the cover. The publisher loved the idea and that became the cover. When I receive the storyboards for my books, I write my text on it to see how the text and the illustrations match. Then if needed I offer suggestions.

What do you hope readers will take away from your books? That although the everyday can sometimes be challenging it is also very joyful. Also humour can be found everywhere if you take the time to look.

Walk us through your creative process. Once you have a story idea, what’s your next step? After writing the idea down, then finding it again, and deciding it is the one, I spend the next week brainstorming for twenty minutes every day. Then I plot out my story using the ‘Three-act structure’. Beginning – hook, intro, problem, set up. Middle – challenges, obstacles, confrontation. Ending – completion and resolution. Then I start writing.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I am a plotter so if I have followed the above creative process then I don’t usually experience ‘writer’s block’. I do experience ‘writer’s procrastination’ and that is usually at the start of the process. If I am in the middle of the process and I am feeling stuck I go for a walk with a question about the story in my mind and usually while I’m walking, I get an answer, which I then record using voice memos on my phone. Also, if I am writing a longer piece of work I try and stop in a spot that I can easily come back to i.e., in the middle of a scene.

Is there an area of writing that you find challenging? Choosing which idea to write about and getting started. Oh, and rejections from agents and publishers, they are hard on the ego. But I pick myself up and keep going.

What are you working on at the moment? I have an early middle grade book being released this year, which is about an 11-year-old girl who is given a mysterious gift. I am currently editing book two and writing book three in this series.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? Taking an idea and making it into a complete world, with characters, settings, problems and resolutions. I love that as a writer I can create a character and build a world for them that never existed before.

—the worst? The waiting! Waiting to get a contract, waiting for the book to be published, waiting for children to read my books.

How important is social media to you as an author? For me social media is very important. It allows me to promote my work. It also provides me with an international community that supports me and who I can support.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Don’t give up. That book contract could be just around the corner and if you give up now you will never get published. Someone told me that you need to aim for at least one hundred rejections before you get signed. This number gave me something to aim for. I signed my first book contract after a total of 190 rejections across different manuscripts.

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? That’s tough it would be a choice between Mo Williems, Mac Barnett or Jon Klassen. I love their humorous books. But if I had to choose one it would be Mo Williems. I would like him to tell me the secret to writing such funny books. Also if he has any ideas lying around that he didn’t need. And why can’t the pigeon drive the bus?

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? My family. My husband because he would keep me calm. My son because he would be more scared than me and I would have to pretend to be calm for him. My daughter because she would have her phone in her hand and could call for help while making a hilarious TikTok.

Book byte

Even the most reluctant risers will find the fun in the morning routine with this lively role-reversal story about a mama who just doesn’t want to get ready!

Getting Mama ready for the day can be a challenge… you’d better watch out that she doesn’t sneak back into bed, try to distract you with cuddles, get breakfast all over her top, or… wait, is Mama watching TV? Learn how to get Mama up and ready despite her mischievous delaying tactics with this essential guide to dealing with morning mayhem!

With gorgeous illustrations and playful writing, Get Ready, Mama! is the perfect way to introduce some fun into the morning routine. Little ones will delight in the cheeky role-reversal that sees a young girl doing everything she can to get her reluctant mother out of the house, while parents and carers will gain a strategy for motivating reluctant risers.

Getting ready in the morning is a mission for many families with young children, but this inventive, tongue-in-cheek story provides a fun way of speeding things along. Full of heart and humour, Get Ready, Mama! is for anyone who has heard enough of “five more minutes”.

Buy the book at https://ekbooks.org/product/get-ready-mama/?v=fdd13832cd81

or https://bookshop.org/books/get-ready-mama/9781922539083

Find out more about Sharon and her writing life on her website https://www.sharongiltrowauthor.com/

Meet the Author: Sean Rabin

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

Sean Rabin

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

Author insight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book byte

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

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Lorraine Horsley

Books can change the world, and the right book at the right time can change your life.

Lorraine Horsley

Lorraine Horsley writes stories for children and adults along with non-fiction. Her first non-fiction book, You’ve Got This, Tips for the Uncertain Student was published by Dixi Books in October this year. Her first picture book, When You Left, is scheduled to be released by Dixi Books next year. She also has two stories in Don Cronk’s anthology Ghost Stories from Down-Under.

Lorraine has a Bachelor of Arts in English, an Associate Degree in Training and Development, a Masters of Arts in Professional Writing and Literature and is about to embark on another education journey with a Higher Degree by Research.

Lorraine calls Australia home and for most of her life she has worked in the media. For many years she was a presenter and producer with ABC Radio. She’s also spent the last couple of decades teaching and tutoring students at the start of their higher education journeys.

When not teaching or studying, Lorraine spends her time writing. She is a long-time member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and is a committee member of the Children’s Book Council of Australia WA Branch (CBCAWA).

Author Insight

Why do you write?  For as long as I can remember I’ve loved stories. I used to bang away on my mum’s old typewriter long before I could actually write. I knew back then that this was what I was born to do. I can’t not write. A day not writing just doesn’t feel right.

You’ve Got This: Tips for the Uncertain Student aims to help students kick-start their higher education and overcome their self-doubt and fear of failure. What inspired you to write it?

I work with Curtin University in their enabling program, helping students get started on their higher education journeys. One of our activities is to get the students to write about how they think they will go at studying and what barriers they might face. I was shocked to see that around a third of them were crippled with anxiety and fear of failure. But when I thought about it, I realised that I too had felt that way when I started my first degree. You’ve Got This is a book for my students and it’s the book that I wish 17-year-old Lorraine had too.

Your focus in the past has been on writing fiction, mainly for younger readers. Was it easy to make the switch?

Actually it was. I had one of those light-bulb moments while I was driving along one day. While I’ve always written fiction, in my day jobs, working in the media, I spent a lot of my life writing non-fiction – I’d just never really thought about that before. I was driving along and thought, what if I wrote a non-fiction book? What would I write about? By the time I pulled up in my driveway I had the whole contents page drafted out in my head.

This book didn’t have a conventional path to publication. How did that come about?

I’d decided I would self-publish this book. I have sent out lots of manuscripts over the years and while the rejections were getting more positive and a couple of books nearly got over the line, I decided that enough was enough and I’d just do it myself. Ironically, one of my picture books was picked up by UK publisher Dixi Books at that time. I couldn’t believe it! They asked what else I was working on. I told them, and about my determination to self-publish. They asked to see it first and this cheery yellow book is the result of me sending it to them. Never say never.

The cover design is eye-catching. Were you involved in that process?

Yes! Ayse from Dixi Books asked me had I thought about the cover. I sure had. I wanted it to be simple with an academic scroll on the front. I also wanted it to be yellow. When I first started working in a library, I noticed there weren’t many yellow books. I said to myself if I ever get a book out there, I want it to be yellow. It turns out that psychologically speaking yellow is a happy colour which fosters thinking and mental activity as well as increased energy levels – all things a student needs!

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

That they are good enough, that they are smart enough and that they can succeed. For many of my students the biggest hurdle is one they have created in their own minds. As they work through the book, they will be encouraged to challenge their fears and negative self-beliefs. I hope they will see that success really is just a matter of putting one step in front of the other and refusing to quit. There is no magic, just persistence.

What are you working on at the moment?

Ooh, many things! I’ve just finished a first draft of a contemporary women’s fiction. I’m letting that lie fallow for the moment. It’s NaNoWriMo month so I’ve just started a junior fiction mystery book that will be part of a series. It’s called Hannah B Mysteries. Hannah has been living in my head for many years now. She’s been stomping her foot asking to get on the page, she’s a bit happier now I’ve started. And I’m working on another non-fiction title with a colleague of mine, Linda Parkes. We have both worked in the media for many years, so we are writing a book to help people approach and engage with all types of media to get their messages out there.

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

Story ideas can be little puffs of things so I make sure to write them down as soon as I can, even if it’s just a sentence. I often email myself these ideas to come back to later. Then I usually let the idea roll around in my brain for a bit, Then, when I’m feeling brave enough, I start writing. I’m a pantser so I never know what’s going to happen on the page. That is both wonderful and terrifying!

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

Yes and no. I don’t really think there is such a thing as writer’s block, I think there’s a thing called ‘writers procrastinating because they are afraid to commit to the blank page’. I do suffer from that a lot. The only way to overcome it is to put your butt in the chair and write. Trust the process. The words will come. And don’t be too self-critical. The first draft is supposed to be a mess, that’s why it’s called the first draft and not the final.

Is there an area of writing that you find challenging?

I missed a lot of school as a kid so a lot of, as my teacher put it, ‘the more pedestrian aspects of writing’ I missed out on. Commas have been my nemesis for years, but we have a pretty good working relationship now.

How important is social media to you as an author?

I love Facebook and Instagram. I love having the ability to connect with readers and writers all over the world. I’m thrilled when a well-known author notices a post I’ve put up about one of their books. The world is a lot smaller now. When I was kid the idea of ever talking to a real live author seemed a fantasy. I also love being able to share in my friends’ successes. You’ve got to be careful of comparisonitis though!

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Keep showing up.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Just do it, you’ve got nothing to lose. And don’t delay. I spent years delaying my writing until I had the ‘perfect’ amount of time to write. That would be a day or a half-day – consequently it never happened. I’ve since learned that I can really only write in 40-minute bursts anyway. I drafted a whole junior fiction novel just by writing 20 minutes each day. Just put one word after another and keep going.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Varied and hopeful.

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?

It would have to be Enid Blyton. Like so many people I grew up reading her books. I’d love to know how on earth she managed to write so many!

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?

My husband, Geoff Horsley. He puts up with my ramblings and is always the first one to hear of my new story ideas. I could come up with a lot in several hours. You might have to check if he’d be keen on this scenario though!

Book Byte

Want to go onto higher education but you’re afraid of failing? Keen to enrol but just don’t believe you’re smart enough? Then this book has been written just for you.

Author Lorraine Horsley is a tutor at an Australian university and has helped hundreds of students to kick-start their higher education journeys and to overcome their fear of failure. Throughout the book, Lorraine draws on her own experiences and challenges you to assess why you are so afraid and how you can succeed despite the fear.

There are many books out there that teach you how to study. This book isn’t one of them. This book will help you to be brave enough to start studying in the first place. You’ve Got This!

Buy the book here. Visit Lorraine’s FB page here.

Meet the Author: Peter Papathanasiou

Peter’s top tip for aspiring authors: First write the book.

Peter Papathanasiou was born in northern Greece in 1974 and adopted as a baby to an Australian family. His debut book, a memoir, was published in 2019 as ‘Little One’ by Allen & Unwin in Australia and as ‘Son of Mine’ by Salt Publishing in the UK. Peter’s writing has otherwise been published by The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Times, Toronto Star, The Guardian UK, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Good Weekend, ABC, SBS, Meanjin and Overland. He holds a Master of Arts (MA) in Creative Writing from City, University of London; a Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical Sciences from The Australian National University (ANU); and a Bachelor of Laws from ANU specialising in criminal law. He is currently working on screen adaptations of his books and writing his new novel.

Author Insight

Why do you write? There are so many reasons why I write. I write to share my experiences of the world. I write to share my thoughts on certain topics. I write to educate based on my knowledge and special topics. I write to entertain, to take people on an adventure. I write to feel less alone. I write to ground myself, to bring my focus to scattered energy, and bring my satisfaction and joy at the sight of something I created. There are so many reasons why I write. But in short, I write because I cannot not write.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I imagine I would be needing some other creative outlet to stay sane, so perhaps a visual or graphic art, or performing art.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Myself. Don’t let anyone tell you that publishing is easy; it is very, very hard. Some people are fortunate and have opportunities come to them readily, but for most writers, it is a long and difficult grind. The secret is to stick with it, to have resilience and not give up. And in succeeding at that battle, your only major obstacle is yourself.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I was very involved in the development of my book, which included working with an excellent editor who both gave and was receptive to feedback, having my author photo taken professionally, and working with my publisher on the back-cover blurb and most eye-catching and appropriate cover. I was presented with numerous designs which were whittled down to a shortlist. The final cover features a photograph by a Western Australian artist, and I am very proud to have this image on the cover of my book and support another local artist.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The feeling of pride that comes with executing an entertaining story. And I also love receiving reader feedback, especially when it is filled with praise and gratitude. Never underestimate how nice this is to receive as an author! It makes all those hours at the keyboard and moments of self-doubt worth it.

—the worst? Rejection! I know it is part of the game, but even after all this time, it is still hard to face, though I am hopefully getting better at processing.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Two things: first, I would be more open to feedback from others; and second, I would have started writing earlier in life because the more you practise, the better you become.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wished I’d been told how indirect and circuitous the journey would be, that it wasn’t just a case of A to B, and that I needed to think outside the box to both create opportunities and make my writing stand out from the crowd.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? First of all: finish your book! So many people abandon their manuscript or lose interest or get distracted. But without even finishing your book, the rest doesn’t matter. And second: if you seek to find a publisher for your book, don’t give up! Be prepared for challenges, but stay resilient and tenacious.

How important is social media to you as an author? I think that unless you’re a superstar author, social media is an essential part of the modern publishing process. It shouldn’t supplant your primary focus, which is your writing, but social media still needs some oxygen in order to help publishers with their book promotion, and also as a channel for readers to interact with their favourite authors. I get lots of messages via social media from people who have enjoyed my writing, which I genuinely appreciate – to know that my writing has made a connection – and always take the time to reply.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I think any writer who says they don’t experience writer’s block is lying! Like rejection, it is a part of the game. Overcoming it is a matter of staring at that blinking cursor until your eyes want to explode. Stay in your writing seat, in other words! When that fails, I have no choice but to step away, so will usually go for a walk or ride. It’s incredible how many ideas have come to me on the back of a bike.

How do you deal with rejection? I don’t very well! I usually fall into a deep pit of despair for about a day. But then I wake up, the sun is shining, the pain is less and growing ever smaller in my rear-view mirror, and I refocus and go again. But there needs to be a grieving process too, you can’t deny yourself that. For some people it is minutes, for some it is weeks.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Evocative. Accessible. 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? My debut novel is a work of outback noir crime fiction which was especially inspired by the late Peter Temple, who died in 2018. He was the first Australian crime writer to win the Gold Dagger in 2007 for ‘The Broken Shore’. In a first for a crime novel, Temple’s ‘Truth’ then won Australia’s most prestigious literary prize, the Miles Franklin, in 2010. The name of my secondary main character Sparrow is actually an intentional doff of the cap to Temple and his own Indigenous cop named Paul Dove. So, it would be great to sit down with Temple for an hour, tell him all about his influence, and also hear about his own inspirations as a writer.

Book Byte

A small outback town wakes to a savage murder. Molly Abbott, a popular teacher at the local school, is found taped to a tree and stoned to death. Suspicion falls on the refugees at the new detention centre on Cobb’s northern outskirts. Tensions are high between immigrants and some of the town’s residents.

Detective Sergeant Georgios ‘George’ Manolis is despatched to his childhood hometown to investigate. His late father immigrated to Australia in the 1950s, where he was first housed at the detention centre’s predecessor – a migrant camp. He later ran the town’s only milk bar. Within minutes of George’s arrival, it is clear that Cobb is not the same place he left as a child. The town once thrived, but now it’s disturbingly poor and derelict, with the local police chief it seemingly deserves. As Manolis negotiates his new colleagues’ antagonism and the simmering anger of a community destroyed by alcohol and drugs, the ghosts of his own past flicker to life. His work is his calling, his centre, but now he finds many of the certainties of his life are crumbling.

White skin, black skin, brown skin – everyone is a suspect in this tautly written novel that explores the nature of prejudice and keeps the reader guessing to the last. The Stoning is an atmospheric page-turner, a brilliant crime novel with superb characters, but also a nuanced and penetrating insight into the heart of a country intent on gambling with its soul.

Buy the book here:

https://www.booktopia.com.au/the-stoning-peter-papathanasiou/book/9781925760798.html

Author websites

https://www.facebook.com/PeterPapathanasiouWriter

https://www.instagram.com/petepapathanasiou/

Meet the Author: Sarah Hawthorn

Sarah’s top tip for aspiring authors: Put in the hard yards and learn your craft from experts, it will pay off.

Born and raised in the UK, Sarah Hawthorn lived in Toronto, Dallas and New York before emigrating to Sydney, Australia. After career jumps from actress to journalist and then publicist, she relocated to the village of Bundanoon in NSW’s beautiful Southern Highlands to pursue her dream of being a full-time novelist. When not writing, Sarah enjoys theatre, cooking and walking her dogs. A Voice in the Night is her debut novel.

Author insight





Why do you write? I’ve always written – ever since I was a little girl and became fascinated by words, so I reckon it’s part of my DNA, like breathing. And when I’m not physically putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I’m writing in my head.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? It’s hard to conjure an alternative occupation that doesn’t involve some form of writing. For sure, I’d spend my time involved in a creative pursuit. Most probably I’d return to my first love, acting, and seek out podcast performance opportunities.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Before A Voice in The Night was picked up by Barry Scott at Transit Lounge, who bravely put his faith in me, I’d completed three prior manuscripts. Whilst each got good feedback, I was competing for attention with an enormous number of aspiring authors, and not standing out enough from the crowd. I believe coming up with a compelling hook was the key to becoming published.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? It’s been a fantastic journey. My editor Kate Goldsworthy was a hard task-master and really pushed me to make the book as good as it could be; I learned a lot from her during the editing process. My publisher has kept me super-involved in everything: selecting the right cover designs, and approving the cover content. I was also able to listen to audition tapes for the audio book, and provide my feedback and input.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Spending so much time with my imaginary friends, and never being quite sure what they’re going to do next. It’s never lonely.

—the worst? Procrastination. There always an errand or chore that seems to take precedence over knuckling down at the keyboard.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would have taken the plunge into being a full-time novelist much sooner. In retrospect, worrying about the financial uncertainty stopped me from backing myself, and writing a book became something I’d do one day ‘when I had the time’ rather than a life career choice.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m going to twist that question around and say how glad I am that no one told me how hard it would be to get published, and that it would take five years and three manuscripts before I nailed it. Patience has never been my strong point.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? When I was starting out as an actor, my father advised me to give it ten years. I think the same can be applied to becoming an author. You’ve got to be prepared to be in it for the long haul and not expect instant success.

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s a bit of a minefield, but nowadays you can’t expect widespread exposure without taking social media seriously.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I try to push through it rather than be beaten down. If I’m just stumped, I find going for a walk works wonders. I can also get re-inspired by leaving my office and taking my laptop to a different space. I work really well in cafes, on planes or trains, or in our garden house. But if I’m seriously blocked, taking time away from a project and moving onto something else for a while can help to provide a new perspective.

How do you deal with rejection? I’m fortunate in that having started out as an actor, from a very young age I got used to constant rejections and not taking it personally. I tell myself it’s a numbers game, and I rarely get ‘down’ about rejections – it’s all part and parcel of the business.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Pacy, incisive, tight.

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?

There are so many authors I’d love to spend an hour with, but at this current stage in my writing career, I’d choose to spend time with Christian White who was gracious enough to advance-read my book and give a cover review. I’m so impressed with how he backed up Nowhere Child with The Wife and The Widow (such an incredibly clever concept), that I’d be fascinated to learn more about his creative journey, how he’s navigated his subsequent success, and where he finds his inspiration. An hour wouldn’t be long enough!

Book byte

A Voice in the Night

by Sarah Hawhtorn

Following a bitter separation, Lucie moves to London to take up a position with a prestigious law firm. It seems an
optimistic new beginning, until one day she receives a hand delivered note with the strange words: At last I’ve found you. A shock I ‘m sure. But in time I ‘ll explain. Martin.
Lucie hasn’t forgotten a man called Martin who was tragically killed twenty years ago in the 9/11 attacks. When
she was working in New York as a young intern Lucie had fallen in love with him and he vowed to leave his wife to be
with her permanently. As an inexplicable series of events occur Lucie wonders if her long-dead lover could have staged his own disappearance under the cover of that fateful day. Or could it be that someone else is stalking her, or that her vivid imagination is playing tricks?

Meet the Author: Sarah Mahfoudh

Sarah’s top tip for aspiring author/illustrators: When you find the time to read, make it count. Sometimes life gets busy, so fitting in a daily writing practice and managing to read every day might not always be possible, but I do believe reading is the key to improving your own writing. You don’t need to read all the time but when you do find the time to open a book, read critically. Notice the things that work and don’t work in the books you are reading; notice what you enjoy and what bores you; notice how an author brings a scene to life. You can then use these observations to improve your own work.

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Sarah Mahfoudh is an author, illustrator and editor from Oxfordshire, England, with a BA in English Literature and Theatre Studies and lifelong love affair with books. Having lived in fairyland for most of her life, Sarah thinks it’s only right she should share her adventures with the rest of the world. Sarah writes children’s books for all ages, as well as YA fiction. She is the founder and creator of www.can-do-kids.co.uk where you can find articles, ideas, resources, and links to inspire children to be confident, compassionate and open-minded individuals. When she is not writing or reading, Sarah loves to dance, exercise and rant about ethical living! You can find out more about her over at www.sarahmahfoudh.com and follow her on Instagram (@mahfoudhsarah) and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mahfoudhsarah

AUTHOR INSIGHT

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? There are so many things to love about it: the fact that I am always learning and that I am never bored; the fact that I get to lose myself in imagined worlds for so much of the time; the sense of pride I feel when I finish a story or hold a published book in my hands. I really enjoy the editing process too. I know a lot of authors dread editing their own work, but I think the first edit might be my favourite part of writing because I get to read my own story. The second and third edits can get a bit much, though!

—the worst? Never feeling like I have enough time. I always have so many ideas and stories I want to work on and I never feel as though I have enough time to finish them. I also really dislike telling people about my books once they are finished and published. Promoting books and selling them feels like a full-time job in itself and it’s something I naturally shy away from. But I really do want people to read my books so I am trying to get better at being brave!

Where do you draw the inspiration for your books? For a lot of my picture books, I would say I am inspired by my own children. Can-do Kat, for example, was created to help my little girl with some of her confidence issues. For my older children’s books, YA, and adult books, I am often inspired by landscapes and nature. Sometimes a news story will trigger an idea, and I also find fairy tales and old folk tales really intriguing and evocative.

How has your childhood influenced you as an author? I was lucky enough to grow up in a house that was packed full of books, and my sisters and I would often pop to the library across the road after school and stay there for what felt like hours. My parents are both book-lovers, and my dad is a poet so I think stories and books are in my blood. In terms of the sorts of issues and themes I write about, my parents were always very outspoken against any sort of bigotry or injustice, as well as raising us to understand the importance of looking after the planet, so those are things that have always been at the forefront of my mind and naturally influence my writing.

How do you approach a new writing project? Walk us through your creative process. Once you have an idea, what’s the next step? Contrary to much of the advice out there for writers, I do a lot of my writing and planning in my head before putting pen to paper. I will often think about characters and their stories for months or even years before starting to write about them, or I will write an opening chapter and then step back from it for a few weeks or months before continuing. There is a popular opinion in the writing community that to be a ‘real’ writer, you must write every day but I don’t think this is true. If I try to write when I’m not in the mood, it just won’t happen so I have thinking days, note-making days and writing days.

I write long-hand and on the computer depending on how I am feeling on the day. If I am writing on the computer and I find I’m struggling with a section, I will switch to long-hand because it is much freer and boosts my creativity. I usually have an overall view of where the story is going by the time I get to about 25% of the way through but I won’t usually write the structure down until much later because I know it’s going to change. I find it incredible how stories and characters develop and take on a mind of their own once you actually start writing them.

As I already mentioned, I love the editing process so I really look forward to finishing my first draft and then moving on to the first edit, which is when I will take the time to really fine-tune plot and structure, develop my characters and bring the story to life.

What are you working on at the moment? I always have far too many projects on the go but I am trying to be more streamlined these days and focus on one at a time. (It sometimes works!) At the moment, I am desperately trying to finish the final edit (is there ever a final edit?!) of a YA fantasy book. I finished the first draft several years ago but life, work, kids and covid restrictions have delayed things slightly. The book is the first in a trilogy portal fantasy but it does follow on from a book called Faces in the Water that I published quite a while back now. Faces in the Water was my first ever novel and follows a 14-year-old girl, Eshna, as she stumbles into a new world. My writing and my ideas have matured slightly since that first book so this new trilogy can be read with or without prior knowledge of Eshna’s earlier journey, and begins around three years after the end of Faces in the Water.

I also have several children’s books in progress – one picture book, which is written but needs illustrating, and one middle-grade chapter book which is currently being plotted out in my head.

Do you have a daily routine? My daily routine is dictated by children. I wake up before the rest of the house so that I can meditate, shower and get dressed in peace. I only mediate for 10 minutes each morning but I find it helps me to stay calm when I am trying to get the kids up and out in time for school.

Once I have walked the kids to school, it’s time to work. If I have a paid assignment to do, that has to come first but, of course, writing and illustrating days are my favourites. I find the short school days frustrating, especially when I am on a creative roll, but in a way, I think they focus me and make me more productive.

After school, it’s all about kids’ clubs, dinner (my husband does most of the cooking), and I will try to squeeze in an exercise session at least every other day. In the evenings, I will sometimes carry on working and sometimes just flake out depending on energy levels and how inspired I am that day.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? Great question! Most of all, I just want readers to enjoy my stories. I want them to come away feeling as though they have been on adventure, experienced a magical world and made new friends. That being said, reading is one of the best ways for people to learn compassion and understanding for other people so I try to make my books inclusive and diverse and to challenge common stereotypes and out-dated attitudes. Many of my protagonists are female because women and girls are still underrepresented and misrepresented in literature, TV, films and the media. I hope my readers, young and old, will come away from my books with a greater tolerance for others, and that they will be inspired to stand up for themselves, be confident in their own abilities, and to speak out against injustice when they see it.

Is there any area of writing that you find challenging? Endings. I find writing endings and knowing when and how to finish a story, difficult. I also find it hard to be around people when I am really into a writing project. I get very annoyed by any interruption, however small.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Being brave enough to put my work out there. I can write and write and write but when it comes to publishing my work or sending it off to agents/publishers, I procrastinate, make excuses, and put up obstacles. This is something I am still working on. I have a few books just sitting around that I know I need to send out into the world to see what comes back, but I keep finding ‘more important’ things to do instead.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? It takes time. Embrace the process and don’t be afraid to take criticism. I was so sensitive to criticism when I was younger and I think it held me back for a while. I wanted to have written a masterpiece straight away and I wanted everyone to acknowledge it, but writing is like any skill, it takes time and patience to learn the craft, and criticism is an essential part of the process.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Trust your own process. It’s easy to get imposter syndrome as a writer, but writing is a creative process and there are no rules. Different people work in different ways and what works for one person won’t work for another.

How important is social media to you as an author? I’m not really sure. As an author, there is a lot of pressure to be visible on social media and I do try, but it can be hard work and demoralising at times. I think perhaps social media is a good place to connect with other creatives. In terms of selling and promoting books via social media, the jury is still out. For me at least, it seems like I need to put in a lot of time and effort on social media to see any sort of boost in sales.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I am never really sure what ‘writers block’ means. If it refers to running out of ideas and stories to tell, then no, I don’t have this problem. I do sometimes sit down to write or illustrate and find that it just isn’t working, though. When this happens, I have a few methods that work for me:

  1. If I am writing on the computer, I will switch to long-hand and I will give myself permission to write whatever comes out, no matter how rubbish it is;
  2. If I am stuck on a particular chapter or scene, I will just write a note to myself like, “They escape” and then move onto the next scene.
  3. I walk away and give myself space to think about the problem. If I am writing, I will do some art instead or vice versa or do another task on my to-do list until my sub-conscious has had time to figure out what to do.

How do you deal with rejection? As an author, rejection is part of the job but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting. It’s helpful to remember that all authors, even famous ones, will have been rejected at some point in their career. Once I have sent something off, I tell myself I won’t hear back about it and then I just put it out of my mind and get on with trying to make my next project even better. A growth mindset – which I really did not have when I was younger – has really helped me to develop as a writer in recent years, and it also helps me to handle rejection a little better.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Oo, that’s tough! Magical, compelling, fun … (I hope!)

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? Another tough one. There are so many good answers for this one but I think I would choose L.M. Montgomery, author of the Anne of Green Gables books. The character of Anne Shirley has been such an inspiration to me throughout my life. At a time when women and girls were expected to be pretty and quiet and obedient, Anne was out-spoken, determined and fiercely intelligent. I would ask the author what inspired her, how the book was received at the time, and how she, as a female author, was treated.

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?  Can it be someone who isn’t alive anymore? If so, I’m choosing Gene Kelly. He’s my idol, and I think a lift would be just about big enough for us to dance in. It would be an absolute dream to tap dance with Gene Kelly.

BOOK BYTE

The Twelve Dancing Princesses – the true story

Perhaps you’ve heard the classic fairytale about the twelve dancing princesses; the version told by stuffy old men from the olden days who thought it was okay to lock princesses up in towers and marry them off to strangers. Well, the stuffy old men got it wrong. Here’s what really happened…

Meet the twelve high-spirited princesses of Feather Castle. They enjoy science and magic, motor-bikes and clothes, music and saving the world – oh and they REALLY love to dance. But when spies in the shape of aspiring suitors visit the castle to discover where they go at night, the headstrong sisters won’t stand for it. They soon have their guests outwitted in this hilarious story of royal disasters, pixie-loving dragons, magical gardens, contests and friendship. outwitted in this hilarious story of royal disasters, pixie-loving dragons, magical gardens, contests and friendship.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses – the true story: Signed copies of the book are available in the UK from the Can-do Kids store here: https://etsy.me/3vL6VzZ Alternatively, it can be found in most online bookstores in the UK, from the Dixi Books website (https://dixibooks.com/product/the-twelve-dancing-princesses/) and for people buying from outside the UK, you can order it from www.bookdepository.com, here: https://bit.ly/3zKVz2e

To sign up to Sarah’s mailing list for future updates and lots of free resources, go to https://www.can-do-kids.co.uk/join-our-club For signed copies of Sarah’s book and a selection of children’s greetings cards, visit The Can-do Kids Etsy Store: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/CandokidsStore

Faces in the Water (mentioned in What are you working on at the moment?): https://amzn.to/3hrcLl3

Meet the Author: Kesta Fleming

Kesta’s top tip for aspiring authors: Join a writers’ group and connect with the writing community – especially with other children’s authors. You learn so much from other writers and it’s such a lovely community. Writing itself is often very solitary, but the writing life doesn’t have to be. Get out there an meet people. That’s where the ideas and stories (and all the hot writing tips) are!

Kesta Fleming headshotKesta Fleming is a writer and poet, and author of the Marlow Brown chapter book series for seven- to ten-year-olds. She was born in England but grew up in the Adelaide Hills in a house full of books, bells and music. With a love of stories and a fascination for words she began writing when young. In addition to Marlow Brown, she has had numerous poems, plays, articles and short stories published in The School Magazine and in anthologies. Kesta is a former teacher and now divides her time between writing for children and her therapeutic work helping people manage stress and anxiety. She lives in Melbourne with her husband, two teenagers and a Brittany Spaniel.

Visit Kesta’s website at Kesta Fleming Children’s Author – Creator of the Marlow Brown Series

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Kesta, you started making up your own rhymes and poems as a six-year-old. What was the inspiration for this early venture into sharing the wonder of words? I grew up in a family where music making and stories were as basic to my existence as food, water and shelter. In fact, stories and music were perhaps even more valued than a permanent home. Many of my early memories involve sleeping in a tent or the back of the car, as my parents were adventurous and we travelled a lot. So, we’d be sung to at bedtime, read to while eating family dinners each evening, and play word games and sing on long car journeys.

Added to this, my mother was the queen of nursery rhymes – there wasn’t one she didn’t know – and she wrote her own stories.  My father was a pianist and played several other instruments including banjo, ukulele and mouth organ, and he composed his own music. It was the ’70s and for my parents that meant crocheted jackets, caftans and regular performances with a folk group they’d formed. And then, the whole family rang bells, but that’s another story … It’s little wonder I was inspired to make up my own poems and rhymes as a six-year-old. Rhythm and rhyme was what life was all about!

How much of an asset is your teaching background when it comes to writing your books for children? I haven’t really thought of it in terms of an asset to the actual writing, but it’s certainly been a big influence on me. Teaching children in lower primary exposed me to lots of lovely picture books and junior fiction stories during my twenties before I had my own children. So, it not only kept alive my love of children’s literature at a time I might typically have moved away from it, but it also kept my knowledge of what was being published current. And it fueled my love of reading stories aloud. Seeing children captivated by a great story and being part of expanding their imagination is inspiring. Helping them to make sense of the words themselves as they learn to read, and having it finally ‘click’ is also inspiring. How much this all helps me when writing my own stories, I couldn’t say. But it certainly gives me purpose.

What’s the story behind the Marlow Brown series? The Marlow Brown series is about a girl exploring interests that don’t fit the female stereotype and that typically lead to professions dominated by men. So, in the first book she’s smitten with the idea of becoming a scientist, and in the second, she’s totally set on becoming a top-class magician. I’m currently working on the third which has an engineering focus.

It might all sound serious and heavy going, but it isn’t at all! Marlow actually started out as a boy, and it was my publisher who suggested we switch her to a girl. After much thought and consideration about how this might change things, all I ended up doing was a simple pronoun switch. Marlow’s character remained exactly the same.

I think the story is all the better for the switch. It means there’s no big deal made of Marlow not fitting the stereotype. She’s totally unaware of such things. She’s simply a kid following her passions, doing what she loves. And getting into scrapes – because that’s the kind of kid she is. It’s a series full of humour.

Where do you find your inspiration? I always struggle with this question! I have an admission: sometimes I feel inspiration-less. But that’s okay … when I finally remember that other times I’m full of it. I think inspiration comes from doing stuff. From talking to people. From watching. From listening. For me it also comes from remembering what it was like to be a child. I have very vivid memories from my own childhood so I tap into those. And I think, most of all, it comes from being curious and asking ‘What if…?’ It comes from playing and being playful.

Who has been the strongest influence on your writing life? Lots of people, but perhaps the steadiest influence has been my writers’ group. We meet monthly and have done for years. Everyone is always so supportive and helpful, but our late friend and fellow writer, John Tyrell, should perhaps take a lion’s share of the credit. John was all encouragement. If I hadn’t brought anything to workshop for a while, or was down in the doldrums with my writing, he’d say he missed reading my stuff. I had several months a few years back of writing nothing, but turning up to writers’ group and facilitating all the same. It was John’s encouragement and belief in me that got me back into it.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? A lack of understanding of just how much tenacity is needed to be successful. I’d give up on manuscripts too soon, thinking that after a certain number of rejections it must mean that there was no point in continuing with that one. I thought I was being tenacious in the way I sent my manuscripts out again and again, but discovered through talking to more experienced writers, that our definitions of perseverance were far from similar! I don’t give up as quickly these days.

What’s the best aspect of your creative life? There are two best aspects – the moments when I’m totally engrossed in the story and everything is flowing, and the moment I finish the first draft. It’s the elation of having created something from start to finish, and there it is in front of me. I enjoy working on subsequent drafts, but it’s getting that first one down in full, and adding the last full stop that does it for me.

—the worst? Being stuck. And then procrastinating too long, and getting totally out of the way of writing, but feeling guilty about not getting back on with it.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t know that I’d call it writer’s block, but, following on from the previous question, I certainly procrastinate when things get hard. And the way to overcome it is to sit down and write anyway. But that’s easier said than done! One technique that I’ve found really helpful is skipping ahead to a different section and writing it in first person, even if the rest of the story is in third person. Getting right into the head of my protagonist and having them write a letter or email to someone about what’s going on for them seems to free things up for me and make the missing bit in between more accessible.

What do you hope readers will take away from your stories? That it’s okay to fail. That what matters most is having fun along the way and having a gritty perseverance when it comes to following your dreams. That’s what Marlow Brown has in spades. And that’s what I’ve learned I need too, to be a successful writer. No surprises there!

How important is social media to you as an author? It’s a blessing and a curse! I wish it weren’t important, but it is. I’m in a number of writing groups on Facebook and have found these to be a great way to connect with others in the writing community, but I don’t like having to promote my work. It’s time consuming trying to pitch things in the right way for the right platform, and promotion isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I’m perfectly happy to promote others’ work on social media, but I have to swallow my own discomfort promoting my own. I know other writers struggle with this too, so I take comfort in not being alone in this!

You’ve written poems, plays, articles and short stories as well as books – what is your ‘sweet spot’ and why? I’m not sure if I have a sweet spot but I do like a challenge. Early on, I challenged myself to get something published in every genre that the NSW School Magazine published (with the exception of the cartoon strip because I can’t draw). I was pretty chuffed when I succeeded. I’ve only written one play so far, but I have to say I loved doing that, so I should probably try another. I like dialogue. My current personal challenge is to have a picture book published. I have many picture book manuscripts, but none have hit the right desk at the right time yet. I will get there. I’m determined!

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Amusing and relatable. (Is using ‘and’ cheating? Not at all!)

What’s the best advice you were ever given? Don’t give up on a story if you really believe in it. Keep sending it out. (After hearing this advice, I entered a story which had had multiple rejections as a rhyming picture book manuscript when I’d first written it thirteen years before hand, into the CJ Dennis Poetry Competition, and it won first prize!)

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? Well, at first I was thinking Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron, because I think a bit of magic in that situation could be handy, and if the magic wasn’t working for some reason, then the balance of the three characters might add some light relief … but then I started wondering about J K Rowling, because I love the world she created and I’m sure I could learn loads from her as a writer. But then there’s Dumbledore. I think I’m going for him. I have loads of questions for him! And who knows, he might have some Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans in his pocket we could try our luck with to help us pass the time.

BOOK BYTE

Marlow Brown 2 - Cover ImageMarlow Brown: Magician in the Making

Written by Kesta Fleming

Illustrated by Marjory Gardner

Marlow Brown dreams of becoming a top-class magician but she has two problems: her special talent for creating chaos, and the fact that Dad won’t stop laughing … How can she show them, once and for all, what a serious and spectacular magician she really is?

Buy the book here.

 

Meet the Author: Karyn Sepulveda

Karyn’s top tip for aspiring authors: Be kind to yourself. When you’re on submission, do other things that you love, not only to keep busy, but also to keep your mood uplifted. And, be proud of yourself for following your dream and writing a manuscript – that’s already an amazing feat!

Karyn Sepulveda 3Karyn Sepulveda is an author, podcast producer and creator of short, guided meditations. Through writing about characters triumphing over adversity, interviewing women about their strengths and designing meditations that help the listener tap into their own creativity, Karyn hopes to spread compassion, inspiration and connection. Karyn completed her Masters of Creative Writing in 2011 and published her first novel, Letters To My Yesterday in 2018. When she is not working on her creative projects, Karyn is busy raising her two children and working as a teacher in primary schools.
Social Links Weblink: https://www.karynsepulveda.com/ Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karyn_sep/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karynmsepulveda/

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I am fascinated by finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. Writing stories allows me to explore the extraordinary aspects of a character’s life and it is also how I make sense of the complexities of this world (or at least try to!)

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I do a lot of other things besides writing so I would stay busy! I’m a primary school teacher and I also create guided meditations and run a creativity course. But if I wasn’t able to write, I think I would have to find some other kind of storytelling to enjoy – maybe I would try painting (I would need some lessons though as I’m not very good).

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? My own impatience. In the beginning, I would send out manuscripts that weren’t ready for publication, because I was just so eager to be published. As time went on, I soaked up the advice of the surprisingly nice rejection letters I was receiving and realised that I needed to spend a lot more time developing my manuscripts in the editing and re-writing stage before sending out to anyone. This lesson took quite some years to learn, but I’m happy to say that I am far more patient with my works in progress now.

How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I did have a little input into the cover. I was asked to send some of my favourite book covers to the designer so they had an understanding of the style I was hoping for. And then I had a choice between five early book covers to work from. But I can’t take any credit for the incredible cover – I never would have imagined something so beautiful!

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Those moments when a scene comes together so vividly that it feels as though I’ve lived the moment and I can’t type fast enough to relay what’s happening. It’s pure magic!

—the worst? The nerves that come with waiting for an agent / publisher / editor / reviewer to read my book. I try not to worry and keep myself busy, but the underlying nerves are never too far away.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would take my time. I understand now that there really is no rush at all. And I would be more aware of how special the drafting process is and try to enjoy each moment of it more fully.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d known how helpful it would be to connect with other writers and support each other – I would have started making those connections a lot earlier.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? My creative writing professor told me that reading is like breathing in and writing, like breathing out. I’ve never forgotten this and it’s the best excuse for reading a whole lot of books!

How important is social media to you as an author? I only really use Instagram, but it is very important to me. I love the community of writers and readers I have found there. I’ve developed some terrific friendships and it actually feels like this secret little world of books that I’m part of. I am inspired by the writers that I follow and I get all of my best book recommendations from other readers.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I haven’t experienced writer’s block, but there have been times where I’ve not written for long periods because I have let other commitments take over. When this has happened, I feel the lack of creativity in my life coming through as a type of ‘lost’ feeling. So I use meditation to help me get back in the creativity zone and open up to some new ideas coming through. And then I ensure that I put aside writing time again – even if it’s just a couple of hours a week.

How do you deal with rejection? Now, I deal with it fairly well. I understand that we all have different taste and my writing isn’t going to be enjoyed by everyone who reads it. But when I started out, rejection would devastate me, as I took it personally. Once I developed the ability to separate myself from my manuscripts, I found coping with rejection much easier. As difficult as it can be sometimes, it’s important to remember that it’s not us as a person being rejected, it’s the story we created. And if we persist, that story will find the perfect home at the perfect time.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? (I hope it is…) Engaging, relatable and compassionate.

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? What a great question! I would spend an hour with Khaled Hosseini and I would ask him to explain his writing process and character development to me. I am in awe of the way he can write from multiple perspectives with such depth and invoke such incredible emotion.

BOOK BYTE

The Womens CircleSydney, present day. Anna is released into the world after six years in prison. The entirety of her possessions stuffed into a single plastic bag. The trauma of her past, a much heavier burden to carry. Feeling hopeless, isolated and deeply lonely, Anna attends an alternative support group; The Women’s Circle. But when she touches an ancient crystal, Anna connects to a woman she has never met, in a past she doesn’t recognise.
In 1770, a brutal regime torments the English village of Quarrendon and is determined to keep its women apart. Young villager Aisleen desperately seeks a way to defy the rules, reunite with her sister, and live life on her own terms, without her husband’s permission. The stakes are high and terror of punishment inescapable, but doing nothing comes at an even steeper price…
While separated by generations, Anna finds herself drawn to the spine-chilling and courageous plight of Aisleen and Quarrendon’s women. Can their bond help her to face her past and embrace her second chance at life?
A heart-warming and inspirational portrayal of inner strength and vulnerability, The Women’s Circle shows us the true power of female friendship in all its forms.

BUY THE BOOK HERE.

Meet the Author: Michael Fitzgerald

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

AUTHOR INSIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

—the worst? Not having the time to write.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? Patricia Highsmith or Tennessee Williams. They both transgressed conservative convention in postwar America – one through spare, eviscerating psychological thrillers, the other through poetic and transcendent prose and plays. I would just like to hear them speak, look at their quizzical faces, and spend time in their writing studios while perhaps passively inhaling their cigarette smoke – you can always find out so much from the physical spaces writers inhabit.

BOOK BYTE

Pieta

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

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

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

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

Buy the book here.