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.

Meet the Author: Angela O’Keeffe

Angela’s top tip for aspiring authors: Read.  Ponder the experience of reading.  Reading as a writer is an art in itself.

Angela O'Keeffe =

Angela O’Keeffe grew up on a farm in South East Queensland and now lives in Sydney. She completed a Master of Arts in Writing at UTS and has had short stories published in literary journals. Night Blue is her first book.

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? We can’t ever get into the head of another human but we can imagine ourselves into anyone and anything, whether fictional or real.  For me, writing is the best and most exhilarating way of doing that.  It’s my prism for experiencing the world.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? As far as having some sort of prism for experiencing the world I can’t imagine being happy with anything that wasn’t related to the arts.  I would pick acting, I think, as there is that similar aspect of inhabiting a character, of stepping beyond the boundary of the self and in some way experiencing the other.

What was the toughest obstacle to becoming published? The toughest obstacle was me.  I wrote probably three or four novels over the years, and a couple of those got initial interest from publishers that then didn’t go anywhere. I really took to heart the adages about writing “what you know” and “showing not telling” and in hindsight I think I let those adages sort of shackle me.  In 2016 I went to Varuna, The National Writers House, for a “Conversations with Writers” workshop with Peter Bishop and he talked about allowing the writing “to breathe” and something just clicked for me.  I realised I could step into a space where I didn’t know “what I knew”, a space where there was not necessarily a distinction between “showing and telling,” and things just got better from there.  I wrote the first pages of Night Blue soon after that.

How involved were you in the development of your book.  Did you have input into the cover? Barry from Transit Lounge really loved the book; from the start there was an openness, a common understanding.  He has this way in his emails of saying little but meaning much, and I just felt really supported. Yet he was ready to push back when he felt he needed to, and I really appreciated that too.  There was a small change I wanted to make in the final edit that he didn’t agree with.  In hindsight he was probably right.  There comes a point where the writer just has to let go of the work.  Barry sent me five or six cover designs by Peter Lo, and asked me to choose my top three.  The decision was never going to be mine alone – it wasn’t my department – but it was wonderful to be invited into that process.  I love the cover that Peter designed for Night Blue; for me it speaks its own exquisite language to what is inside the book.

What is the best aspect of your writing life? The sense of freedom and discovery.

The worst? Being deep in it and knowing I have to break to do the shopping.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? For me, this question is quite useless.  I wouldn’t know what I know now if things had been different.  And I wouldn’t know it in the way I know it.  For me, that’s impressive and I’m unwilling to walk myself back from that.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I’m tempted to answer same as above, but I do wish I’d been told that it’s best not to write with an open packet of biscuits within reach.  But I stumbled on this pretty quickly on my own.

What’s the best advice you were ever given? In class at UTS Glenda Adams said something about when writing a first draft to let “everything in”; she said it was “like gathering flowers”, and she made these gestures of reaching left and right.  I always loved that.

How important is social media to you as a writer? Right now it plays a role in letting people know about Night Blue.  It also helps me come across writers, artists, podcasts that I find inspiring.  I’ve had lovely connections with other writers on Instagram; it was through Instagram that Favel Parrett kindly agreed to write a commendation for Night Blue.  The downside is that it can be a vacuous time waster.  A bit like sugar, use in moderation.

Do you experience “writer’s block” and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t experience a block as such; I can always write.  It’s more a matter of whether the writing is any good.  If I’m really not happy with how it’s going I usually stop and go for a walk.  I live near the ocean and just walking by it is an expansive experience.  On the way back I might stop at the shops and buy items for a meal, and often by the time I’m cooking the onions something has shifted in the writing – in the way I see it and feel it – and I’ll know what it needs.

How do you deal with rejection? Cry.  Vow never to write again.  Go for a walk.  Realise I want to keep at it.

In three words how would you describe your writing? Poetic.  Accessible.  Arresting.

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 want them to tell you about living a writing life? Franz Kafka.  He once wrote that “a book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.” I’d want to ask him about that.

BOOK BYTE

Night BluePotent, haunting and lyrical, Night Blue is a narrative largely told in the voice of the painting Blue Poles. It is an original and absorbing approach to revisiting Jackson Pollock and his wife Lee Krasner as artists and people, as well as a realigning our ideas around the cultural legacy of Whitlam’s purchase of Blue Poles in 1973.
It is also the story of Alyssa, and a contemporary relationship, in which O’Keeffe immerses us in the essential power of art to change our personal lives and, by turns, a nation.
Moving between New York and Australia with fluid ease, Night Blue is intimate and tender, yet surprisingly dramatic. It is a glorious exploration of how art must never be undervalued.

Buy the book here.

Meet the Author: Sally Murphy

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

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

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

AUTHOR INSIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—the worst? Rejection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now for a little light relief – If you were going to be stuck in a stalled lift for several hours who would you choose to share the experience with you and why? Light relief? I’m claustrophobic, so being stuck in a lift is almost my worst nightmare. So, I would choose my husband, because he is very steady.

BOOK BYTE

Worse Things

Sally Murphy

Illustrated by Sarah Davis

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Author: Janeen Brian

 

Janeen’s top tip for aspiring authors: Get your heart involved in your writing. That is, write honestly with genuine emotional sincerity. Even if it’s a commissioned work, a piece of work you haven’t personally chosen, I still think you can find something in the research or the writing of it you can relate to. Something that sparks your interest, so your writing isn’t wooden.

Photo: Bob Gloyn Photography

Janeen Brian is an award-winning children’s author and poet with over 100 books published in both trade and educational publishing. She enjoys writing picture books, junior fiction, poetry, novels and non-fiction.

Many of her books have been translated and distributed worldwide while more than 200 stories, poems, plays and articles have been published in children’s magazines or anthologies.

Janeen was the recipient of the 2012 Adelaide Festival of Literature Carclew Fellowship and in 2009 also received a May Gibbs’ Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship. Janeen is an Ambassador for Raising Literacy Australia (The Little Big Book Club.)

She loves reading, creating mosaics, aqua-aerobics, Yoga, walking, gardening, travelling, craft work, singing, watching theatre and films and spending time with her family and friends.

She lives in the seaside city of Glenelg, in Adelaide, South Australia with her husband. She has two daughters and four grandchildren.

To find out more, visit her website and Facebook page.

www.janeenbrian.com

www.facebook.com/JaneenBrian

AUTHOR INSIGHT

Why do you write? I think of words as seeds. Each holds power and beauty and can be arranged in a million different ways to bring about a million different outcomes. I love taking disparate words and making connections. I love using my life’s experiences for something other than memories. For me, writing equates to creativity. And creativity is my soul driver.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I was a primary teacher for many years. And a not-so-good actor in a children’s theatre company for a few years! I loved my teaching years but left in 1990 to write full-time and now, I’m not sure I’d return to that career. Perhaps I’d work part-time in Early Childhood centres. And I’d spend the rest of my time creating saleable mosaics from recycled materials – something I’ve been doing for over twenty years.

What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Because I’m disciplined and have a reasonably strong work ethic, I love being able to work from home.

What’s the worst aspect of your writing life? When I think I’ve conquered a particular structural humbug, only to see it rear its annoying head again in another piece of work.

What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? To clarify, I never had an ambition to become a writer. I still sometimes find it a surprise that I am one. One writing colleague described it as being an accidental author. However, from age eight, I was set on becoming a teacher. But when, in my thirties, I began to write and later, to become published, I wished I’d been told you had to make TROUBLE in your writing. That CONFLICT was the cannon you fired to action the story.

What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Ignorance of story. Ignorance of books. I felt this perhaps because my childhood and school life was almost bare of reading material.

What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I was pretty much a self-taught author. Being a self-starter, I sought out books on how to write, from the library. Much later, there were writing prompts available online, which I ploughed through, and a ‘distant education course’ which I took, sending off work in envelopes. But today, I’d start out by studying the wonderful writing courses that are available both online, in universities and other institutions.

You’ve seen many changes during your writing life. How important is it to be adaptable as an author? What are the key attributes a writer needs for a long-term career in this unpredictable career? I delve deeply and often into my particular ethos of If it’s to be, it’s up to me.  Ultimately, it’s you who has to overcome hurdles and do the work. But sometimes, when even that’s not enough, having like-minded friends and colleagues to buoy you up through those tough times, is invaluable. Also, reaching out into other areas of the arts is helpful and enjoyable.  If you don’t want to sink, you learn to be adaptable in your own way. But, to stay afloat, you need persistence by the truckload. And an understanding that whatever you write can ALWAYS be improved, by revision, learning and practice.

You write picture books, junior fiction, poetry, novels and no-fiction. Do you have a preference? I love the crispness of picture books and poetry. I love to create words that sound perfect and hopefully, also provoke images in a reader’s or an illustrator’s mind. I so enjoy writing junior fiction and since I’ve now written three novels, I really like the expansion they offer as well. But I guess picture books and poetry nudge to the top of the line-up.

Are there any recurring themes to your writing? Succeeding by tapping into your own strength, intuition and creative problem solving would be one theme. So, in a word, resilience. Concern for the environment, another. Bringing history to life and also injecting humour into my writing whenever I can, would be others.

What was the inspiration behind your newest release, Eloise and the Bucket of Stars? It was the combination of two random images; one being memories of visiting old English orphanages. The other was reading the narrative behind medieval tapestries depicting the capture of a unicorn. The next step was to create a character who lived in an orphanage, who may or may not have been an orphan and to uncover her connection with a unicorn. And in so doing, create a story for mid-grade readers that entailed both mystery and magical realism. Talk about a challenge.

Is there any aspect of the writing craft that you still find challenging? Probably structure, particularly in longer pieces.

 

 

How important is social media to you as an author? Social media is good if you stick to those two words. Social, meaning you can visit and enjoy and share or gain information or knowledge from time to time. Media, meaning its very accessible. But beyond that, I’m wary, because it can drag you into passivity – when perhaps you should be writing.

Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I don’t ever label those sticky times as such, because that tends to set the whole idea in concrete. Yes, I have times when ideas lay low, or the work is sluggish or dull, but now I have a better understanding of dealing with those occasions. Often, I’ll leave the work for a while. Or I might do a brainstorm or mind-map to see if that generates a breakthrough. But it’s usually a stepping away from the work, with or without a certain amount of grace, depending on my mood!

How do you deal with rejection? I still feel sad when it happens. And disappointed. And frustrated. And I’m not the most garrulous person to be around for a little while afterwards.

But it is a case of whether you still believe in the work or not. One case in point, was that my agent couldn’t get any publisher interested in a particular picture book of mine. In the end she returned it to me. I gave it time, rewrote it and sent it to a publisher whom I knew. It was not only published but won a Notable Award at the CBCA Awards.

In three words, how would you describe your writing? Image-provoking, heart-felt, language-orientated.

If you had a 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 be Kate DiCamillo because she evokes such richness or emotion in her powerful stories. I’d like to know whether her beautiful, pared-down style of writing evolved through her own intuition, or whether it was partly intuitive and partly learning the craft.

BOOK BYTE

Eloise & the Bucket of Stars

Janeen Brian

Orphaned as a baby, Eloise Pail yearns for a family. Instead, she lives a lonely life trapped in an orphanage and made miserable by the cruel Sister Hortense. Befriended by the village blacksmith, Eloise soon uncovers some strange secrets of yesteryear and learns that something terrible may be about to happen to the village. As troubles and dangers mount, she must learn who to trust and choose between saving the villages or belonging to a family of her own. Unless something truly magical happens . . .

The book is available from:

https://www.walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Eloise-and-the-Bucket-of-Stars-9781760651879

https://www.sequelbooks.com/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars-by-janeen-brian-9781760651879?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgMi-lreM6QIVF38rCh3XlA5jEAYYASABEgJEqPD_BwE

https://www.qbd.com.au/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars/janeen-brian/9781760651879/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgMi-lreM6QIVF38rCh3XlA5jEAYYAiABEgIhk_D_BwE

https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/eloise-and-the-bucket-of-stars?utm_campaign=shopping_feed_gb_en&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc