Brendan’s top tip for authors: Diversify. Write short fiction. Write poetry. Seek to get published in smaller outlets. If you’re writing novels, allocate time in your week/month/year to explore other forms. Publishing shorter work not only broadens your skills, but gives you the encouragement to persist, and stay the course.
Brendan Colley was born in South Africa. After graduating with a degree in education, he taught in the UK and Japan for 11 years before settling down in Australia in 2007. He lives in Hobart with his bookseller wife.
His debut novel The Signal Line won the Unpublished Manuscript Prize in the Tasmanian Premier’s Literary Awards.
Why do you write?
My reasons for writing have changed over time. Essentially, it’s something I must do at the end of every day. I had a passion for scribbling words on paper, so I started writing stories. That evolved into a wish to be read, then to be published, and after many fruitless years, a desire to create something I loved. These days, the act of fetching something down is organic to who I am. I’d write if nobody read what I wrote. There’s a pay-off in the discipline, and that’s the thing I learned after 25 years of rejection. Writing is its own reward, and I couldn’t have known that if I’d been published earlier.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
I have a day job, so writing occupies that extra time that might otherwise be spent on a serious hobby. If I didn’t write, I’d probably learn a musical instrument (piano). My wife also writes, and if we both didn’t write I’m sure we’d do something together, like learn a language (Japanese). We met in Japan, where we were both working as English teachers. We never became fluent, as we spent all our free time on our creative projects. That’s always been a regret.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published?
My passion for writing is greater than my talent for writing. The imagination and ideas were there from the beginning, but the craft took a long time to develop. Fortunately, I can outsit anyone if I love something enough J
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover?
Transit Lounge, my publisher, has been a true gift to me. My novel has received so much love and careful attention. At every point of the process I had an active voice: but the team that helped bring this novel into the world understood what it needed, and I tried hard to let go of my preconceptions and defer to their judgment as much as I could.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life?
That I can depend on it. My wife writes in the early morning, and tends to retire early; I write in the evenings. Regardless of what the day has been, writing is there waiting for me at 9 p.m. All I need to do is have the discipline to sit in the chair, and things will arrive that entertain me, mystify me, heal me, or make me suffer (in a beautiful way). It’s the surprise gift I get to interact with at the end of every day; and I need it.
I say ‘no’ a lot. I could have travelled more, seen more, met more people, socialised more. My wife and I live in a TV free house, and prioritise reading as much for our writing as we do for the pleasure of reading. I treat my 9 p.m. writing start time as seriously as I do the start time to my working day. I’ve lost count of the social invitations I’ve turned down over the years. It’s not something I’m proud of; and it isn’t useful. The well needs to be filling to have something meaningful to write about, and the tension between having the discipline to cut yourself from the world to write, and releasing yourself from the chair to make connections and have experiences, is a constant struggle for me.
What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?
Diversify. Write short fiction. Write poetry. Seek to get published in smaller outlets. If you’re writing novels, allocate time in your week/month/year to explore other forms. I’ve always been drawn to the longer form: feature length screenplays in the early years; and the novel. As such, I only got to test the quality of my work every 4-6 years. Two decades can pass with a room plastered in rejection slips from less than a half-dozen projects. Publishing shorter work not only broadens your skills, but gives you the encouragement to persist, and stay the course. Importantly, it will add detail for the bio paragraph in your query letter when you produce something that is ready.
How important is social media to you as an author?
I’m only recently published, so I’ve never thought of social media in terms of publicity. On the other hand, it’s great for sharing my writing journey with friends and family.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?
I don’t know if I believe in writer’s block; although I certainly experience stretches of time where a scene or a project feels like it’s at a standstill. My way of pushing through these moments is to stay in the act of creating. If I can’t commit words to my work-in-progress, I’ll spend the session writing something else: a poem; a typed letter to a friend; a shorter piece; or play around with an idea I’ve been collecting notes for. In this way, I’m keeping the channel open. Like anything worthwhile, writing is hard, requiring a significant output of energy, so there’s an expectation at the start of any session that there’s a pain barrier of sorts to push through. But though it’s challenging, there’s a satisfaction to be gained; and if there’s none, that’s usually a sign for me to write something else for a bit.
How do you deal with rejection?
Over the years I’ve developed a habit of starting my next project on the same day I finish my current one. I always know what I’m working on next; so there’s an excitement for that first session. It involves A4 sheets of paper, index cards, coloured pens, and the sketching of schematics. That first session – though I may have been collecting notes on the project for years – is momentous. Everything’s possible, there are no mistakes to be made, and it hasn’t started to hurt yet. It builds anticipation for the second, third, and fourth sessions. In this way, as I go through the heart-wrenching process of querying my manuscript, I’m bit-by-bit gifting my creative spirit to something else. It doesn’t soften the blow of rejection, but by drawing life from another inspiration, I’m reminded that the act of creating something is the thing I need most.
In three words, how would you describe your writing?
Quirky, strange, heartfelt.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life?
Diane Samuels is an author and playwright. I only learned of her last year, on a podcast in which she was in conversation with Paul Kalburgi on The Writer’s Toolkit. The way she approaches creativity, and how she articulates it, resonated deeply with me. She writes with a spirit and an attitude that is a true example. I’d love to with talk with her about it. One jewel she shared was a question someone put to her early in her journey:
Do you want a writing career; or a writing life?
I wish someone had challenged me with this question when I was starting out. For so many years I wrote with an angst that was counter-productive to the spirit of creating; when all along I had what I was looking for.
Brothers Geo and Wes are testing their relationship now that their parents have passed away. Geo and Wes rarely agree on anything, especially not the sale of the Hobart family home. Geo needs the money to finance his musical career in Italy. For Wes the house represents the memory of their father, and what it means to live an honest, working life. But then a ghost train appears in Hobart, often on the tram tracks that once existed, along with the Swedish man who has been pursuing it for 40 years. Everyone it seems is chasing their dreams. Or are they running from the truth? The Signal Line is a warm-hearted, unforgettable novel about what we are all searching for, even when our personal dreams and aspirations have collapsed: love and acceptance.
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 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.
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.
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”.
My top tip is that no one has the answers and , ultimately, you must go deep into yourself to work out why you are writing, who you are writing for, and what you want your writing to accomplish. You have the answers – the writer’s journey is about trusting yourself to find them.
Maura Pierlot is an award-winning author and playwright who hails from New York, but has called Canberra, Australia home since the early 1990s. Her writing delves into complex issues including memory, identity, self and, more recently, mental health. Following its sellout 2019 season in Canberra, Maura’s debut professional theatre production, Fragments is being adapted for the digital space, supported by artsACT. The work is published online by Australian Plays Transforms and in print by Big Ideas Press. Maura is a past winner of the SOLO Monologue Competition, Hothouse Theatre for her play, Tapping Out. Her plays have been performed in Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane. A former medical news reporter and editor of Australian Medicine, Maura also writes for children and young adults. In 2017 she was named winner of the CBCA Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program, and recipient of the Charlotte Waring Barton Award, for her young adult manuscript, Freefalling (now True North). Maura’s debut picture book, The Trouble in Tune Town won the 2018 ACT Writing and Publishing Award (Children’s category) along with international accolades. Maura’s poetry, short stories, microfiction and essays appear in various literary journals and anthologies. Maura has a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctorate, each in philosophy, specialising in ethics. When she’s not busy writing, Maura visits schools and libraries as a guest reader and speaker, serves as a Role Model for Books in Homes, and contributes reviews for the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s online magazine, Reading Time. For further information on Maura and her work, Fragments please visit: https://maurapierlot.com and https://fragmentstheplay.com.
What is the story behind Fragments?
Fragments follows eight young people navigating their way through high school (with one having recently graduated). Although the characters are feeling disconnected, whether at home, at school, in relationships or in life generally, they are all wearing masks, pretending everything’s okay. School captain, Mason – good looking, sporty, high achiever and the one everyone looks up to – is fighting a crippling depression, confiding in his mother, who took her own life years earlier. Are Mason’s peers so absorbed in their own struggles that they can’t see he is not okay, or will their own sense of alienation bring them together, enabling them to draw strength from each other?
How did you approach this important project? Walk us through your creative process.
For a few years I had an inexplicable feeling that I wanted and needed to talk about mental health issues, especially those that young people were facing. In 2016 I received the MPS Travel+Tours Award, Capital Arts Patrons’ Organisation to write the script for Fragments. I spent most of the following year brainstorming – living with the issues in my head, trying to work out how I could tackle this project in a relatable and meaningful way. When I finally started writing, the words easily flowed into eight monologues. It was as though I had lived with these characters for so long that I already knew them inside out, their challenges, how they spoke, who they looked up to at school, who was a nemesis. Rochelle Whyte at Ainslie+Gorman Arts Centres had a look at an early draft and gave some very encouraging feedback. When I was in Perth for a Katherine Susannah Prichard Writer’s Centre Fellowship (for another play), I met with dramaturg, Suzanne Ingelbrecht, who offered valuable insights and told me the project ‘had legs’. I mounted a brief funding campaign via the Australian Cultural Fund, which chose the project for a ‘boost’ grant. With that nominal funding, I engaged James Hartley, who was a ‘script doctor’ for some of my earlier work, to produce the monologues in Sydney. We did a day-long workshop with actors in Sydney and the recently refurbished Pioneer Theatre in Castle Hill picked up the show for its opening season in 2018.
Meanwhile, ArtsACT had funded a week-long creative development, which I undertook as a Visiting Artist at Ainslie+Gorman Arts Centre in Canberra as part of the Ralph Indie Program, working with dramaturg, Gin Savage and a cast of eight exceptionally talented young people. The development was a great blend of dialogue and performative work, interrogating the issues and characters from all angles and culminating in a development showing for an invited audience who provided incredibly useful feedback on the work. I continued to tweak the script and when additional artsACT funding came through for a 2019 production at The Street Theatre, I quickly switched gears, launching into pre-production with director Shelly Higgs and CEO Caroline Stacey, soon casting the work. The challenge was figuring out how to tie the monologues together, determining whose story should sit above as an external narrative, driving the plot and upping the stakes. The Street Theatre selected Fragments for its First Seen Program, which gave me the time and space to interrogate these issues with Shelly and an amazing cast of young performers. Following the sell-out debut season at The Street in October 2019, programmed for Mental Health Month, I was geared up to bring the work to schools in the ACT but the bushfires struck, then COVID, pulling the pin on my plans. I applied for funding from artsACT to revisit and reshape the work post-production, and was thrilled to again receive support, along with funding to adapt the work for the digital space in 2021. When a publication deal was sidelined by COVID, I set out to publish the work myself.
The production of Fragments enjoyed a sell-out season during Mental Health Week in 2019 and received critical acclaim. What led to the release of it in its new format?
Creatives face the never-ending challenge of how to get their work ‘out there’ then how to bring it to new audiences. I always had high hopes for Fragments. Even when I was writing the first draft, I could imagine it in print and on film. My main audience for Fragments is young people and their families, also the educators and health professionals who work with them. Given the currency of the material, I wanted to get the work into schools but COVID made this impossible, somewhat ironic giving the soaring rates of mental health issues during the pandemic. I juggled the two projects in tandem, tweaking the work for the paperback edition, while trying to work out how best to tell the story through film. This has been a huge learning curve, and a somewhat tedious process at times. If 2020 was the year sitting with my work and myself, exploring what I wanted to write, and for whom, then 2021 was the year of stepping far outside my comfort zone, stretching my brain and seizing the opportunities I had created. I’m very pleased with how the paperback edition looks, reads and feels and also with early positive reviews. Although COVID has pushed back the Fragments film production somewhat, but we’re still hoping to release the digital component by the end of the year. The book launch is scheduled for the latter half of October but given that the ACT is still in lockdown, who knows?
What do you hope schools and communities will take away from the stories shared by your cast of characters?
I hope schools and communities will realise that mental health issues need to be addressed in a proactive manner, not only in times of crisis; that the arts can play a vital role in well-being in schools; that workshops delivered to students by adults, no matter how well-meaning, are unlikely to achieve the same level of understanding and attitudinal change that peer-delivered programs will. Through the dramatic arts and literature, audience members and readers are thrust into another world, in the case of Fragments, one that exposes the raw and real issues many that many young people (and adults) are grappling with in these times of uncertainty, enabling them to see themselves in the characters.
I wrote Fragments to start candid conversations about mental health with a view to reducing stigma and to ‘normalising’ issues that have all too often been ignored. I believe the play, the book, and soon the online content, offer an ideal vehicle to do that.
You have dedicated Fragments ‘To everyone who is struggling and searching to connect.’ How much has your personal experience shaped this powerful, thought-provoking work?
Although Fragments came about from my ongoing conversations with young people, the work has definitely been shaped by my own experience. My mother struggled with mental health issues for most of her life, but they weren’t so severe that they warranted a diagnosis –until her later years when a series of catastrophes forced the issue. I often felt like the lone voice in a family that was not ready to embrace the reality of her decline until they had no choice. Meanwhile, I was facing my own challenges. I think many women tend to lose their mojo somewhere between motherhood and menopause, let alone the netherworld that follows, but it’s not easy to work out whether it’s all part of aging, something more troublesome, or simply external stressors that will eventually subside. I had a hellish three-year period from 2017 onwards. I was trying my best to navigate my mother’s complex health journey from 16,000 kilometres away, visiting as often as I could. While this situation was unfolding, my husband became gravely ill (which led to a nearly two-year recovery), my own health challenges were popping up at the most inopportune times, friends died unexpectedly, then my mother. Meanwhile, I was trying to publish my first title, a picture book, while diving into the world of mental health for Fragments. After the debut of Fragments, I thought it was finally time to relax. Then the bushfires hit (we were at the coast), followed by COVID. It was challenging at times to write about mental health when not feeling whole. But in an odd sense, it was arguably a very authentic place from which to imagine the eight character and their stories.
Your writing delves into complex issues including mental health. What challenges does this present to you as a writer?
The challenge is to present honest, realistic portrayals of mental health issues, knowing there is not one ‘typical’ manifestation or story for each condition. Take depression, for example. Of thirty people diagnosed with depression, there will certainly be some overlap of symptoms and clinical findings. But on a subjective level, each person would undoubtedly describe a unique journey. Another challenge is to write about an issue that isn’t easy to identify, let alone describe, as few people open up about their struggles. We all wear masks, whether we admit it or not. We communicate superficially (Q: How’s everything? A: Fine, fine!). When feeling down, we tend to de-legitimise our pain, telling ourselves things like: No one wants to hear my problems. Everyone has stuff they’re dealing with. Things could be worse. I don’t want to ruin the vibe. Mental health issues can be difficult to navigate in real life and when experienced through the eyes and voices of characters. I wanted to do justice to the issues and to write from a place of authenticity. Another challenge was that I didn’t want to be didactic or preachy in any way. The totality of the work needed to be balanced; there had to be some light interspersed with shade. Humour was one way to achieve this, but I needed to ensure that it was used is a measured way that did not detract from the gravity of the issues.
Although young people opened up to me about very intense feelings and experiences, they seemed quite reluctant to tell friends, family and teachers. This wasn’t a scientific study, and I am not a psychologist. But I had a growing sense that many, many young people were feeling lost, confused and, above all, stressed which was manifested in a range of physical and psychological symptoms. Uncertainty about their futures was leading to a sense of pervasive dread. Concern about academic performance was affecting their mood, sleep pattern, social interactions and more. Without the wisdom and nous that age and experience bring, they were often struggling to keep issues in perspective. Instead, heightened senses led them to view relatively minor occurrences as major and somehow a failure on their part. They constantly compared themselves to others; not surprising, given the unattainable ideals perpetuated by social media. But at school most of them were forging ahead, pretending everything was okay, internalising their fears, feelings and struggles – ironically, even though their peers were struggling with similar issues. I had this overwhelming sense that young people were living parallel lives when they could be helping one another. There’s no miracle fix for mental health struggles but there is great relief and comfort in knowing you’re not alone. It’s ironic that in this day and age, global online platforms are making us more disconnected (in an existential sense) than ever. I hope Fragments encourages all of us to reach out, to speak our own truths, to listen to others without judgment, and to connect on a meaningful level.
You have written short fiction, poetry, memoir, YA fiction and a picture book as well as plays. Do you find it easy to adapt your writing for different markets and reader audiences?
I’m not sure that I find it easy but, if I’m motivated, feeling the right energy and in the right head space, I don’t find it particularly onerous. I tend to mull over what I want to say, and for whom. Then I live with the ideas for some time, letting them marinate in my subconscious before an inevitable wrestling match where they fight for dominance, leaving the ideas that have to come out in some shape or form. Usually, I have a strong intuitive sense of the art form; I know at the outset that I’m writing a short story, not a play. As I’m progressing the work, I’ll often get an equally compelling feeling that it could, or should, be adapted for a different market. The best way I could explain it is: For Fragments, I knew what I wanted to say, and I knew the ‘reality’ I wanted to create would be on stage, ideally a small space where the audience was yanked into the characters’ inner worlds, where they could see their tears fall and beads of sweat form on their brows. I didn’t, for example, say, I’d love to write a play then sit down and wonder what I should write it about.
What’s the best aspect of your creative life?
The best aspect of my creative life is that I have the freedom to do what I want, developing work that means something to me, and hopefully to others. Another great aspect is that, relatively late in life, after decades of putting everyone’s needs before my own, I’m finally doing what I want to do.
The worst aspect is the highly commercial and risk-adverse nature of the industry, and the unfortunate tendency to measure worth by publication success, sales figures or merchandising potential. For the most part, the market is served by what the market always buys, as the market can only buy what it is served. It’s a vicious cycle that doesn’t grant a great deal of space to non-commercial voices on issues that matter. Hence the inordinate number of books by celebrities and children’s books about bodily functions. My other concern (and I may get hammered here lol) is that the path to publication has become a big business. It often seems like there are ten times as many people offering to help (for a cost) as there are aspiring authors. Developing craft is hugely important but (despite disclaimers to the contrary) the inference is that by attending the conference, or participating in the workshop, or doing the course, you’re somehow more likely to find publishing success. Otherwise, let’s be honest, why would people continue to fork out the dollars? Yes, some people have found publication success this way, and that’s fantastic, but they would represent a microscopic drop in the proverbial ocean.
I’m concerned by how many aspiring creatives I’ve spoken to in recent years (dating back to before COVID) who were exhibiting signs of anxiety, depression and lack of self-worth because their work had not been picked up. Publishing is a strange business model where feedback is not given, courtesies are often not extended, there is no clear brief, you are constantly told what you should and shouldn’t be doing, and you face rejection on a regular basis. There are some exceptional resources on offer by various authors and organisations but, as in any industry, there are many that are far less so. I think aspiring authors should be judged for their work, not for who they know, who they follow, who they hang out with, what their backstory is, or how invested they are in the industry. When I buy a work of art, I don’t base my decision on the maker’s social media following, or their personal background, or whether they paid their dues in the industry. I let me eyes and heart do the work: am I drawn to this piece of art? Does it speak to me on some level? (And is the price right 😉) Basing decisions on superficial rather than substantive reasons doesn’t help anyone in the long term. I’d go as far as saying I think this approach loses sight of, perhaps even devalues, the work itself.
What are you working on at the moment?
The digital adaptation of Fragments will keep me quite busy through the end of the year. I’m in the early (developmental) phase of my next play, a full-length work on a controversial issue that’s been in the news recently. I’m also knee-deep in a few community initiatives that I’ve developed, which have unfortunately been sidelined by COVID. But I’m looking forward to launching at least one of them, possibly two, by the end of the year.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Back yourself.
How important is social media to you as a writer?
I would love to say that social media is crucial, allowing writers to engage with their audiences, to test new work, to broaden their base and so forth. But I don’t buy into all that. I’m a cynic at heart and don’t believe that social media presence has a direct correlation to sales. And it certainly doesn’t do anything to enrich our souls. I also believe most writers spend far too much time trying to come up with content, usually formulated for a specific end (read: not truly authentic). I treat social media quite differently and break all the rules. I only post when I feel motivated with little to no concern about the timeslot. I don’t plan my posts (unless there’s a time-dated event, like a book launch or #philosophyfriday). I don’t have a ‘brand’ or a ‘look’. I simply wake up and, as I’m downing my second (third?) coffee, I think, What’s on my mind today? Sometimes, it is as simple as a bird singing outside my window, a funny thing that one of my kids said, a memento that I’ve come across, a strange encounter that I just had, a challenge that I’m facing. The mundane stuff. But I often wax lyrical or philosophical; think Seinfeld’s poor cousin meets Aristotle. In my view, social media is unhealthy, generally addictive and exacerbates FOMO. Yes, it’s great for engaging with readers (though whether anyone can truly have a meaningful engagement online is debatable). I decided early on that if I was going to dive into social media, I needed to be in control of the process, not the other way around. So I imposed very strict rules. I literally point and shoot, type a few words, spellcheck and post. I spend less than ten minutes max per post and probably less than half an hour each day scrolling through my feed. With my writing workload, family and community commitments, and our business, there simply are not enough hours in a day for me to engage as much as I’d like to on other people’s posts. Besides, I tend to think many ‘conversations’ devolve into public posing. I’m much more interested in engaging with people about something meaningful via DM, online or in real life.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it?
I don’t get writer’s block in the sense of sitting in front of the computer on deadline and not being able to think of anything to say. I experience what I prefer to call ‘writer’s ambiguity,’ where I’m tossing around issues and can nearly feel and see the shape of what I want to say … but not quite. I do a lot of brainstorming and development in my head (unfortunately, often when I’m just about to fall asleep) and I only sit down to write when I have a good idea of what I’m trying to say. Not in the sense of a structure or outline, just in an overall sense. For Fragments, for example, I wanted to write a work about young people living in an isolated, internalised world who take the first steps towards healing through a sense of connectedness. My first draft usually takes a conversational or confessional tone. That nearly always leads to something.
How do you deal with rejection?
Rejection, in itself, doesn’t bother me. If I submit a picture book, for example, and no one bites, I don’t let it get to me. I’m a strong believer that things happen for a reason, even if the reason doesn’t reveal itself for some time. I do try to target my submissions but, to be honest, submitting these days is like a crap shoot. Publishers have unseen ‘lists’ and can’t say specifically what they want (“we want stories that make our hearts sing”), just that your work isn’t it. It’s like me shopping for a sofa and telling the floor staff, I can’t describe it, but I’ll know it when I see it. It’s a bit of a magic act so there’s no way I’d take a negative outcome personally. It’s great when someone’s interested in your work but it’s important not to beat yourself up when they’re not.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Smart, original, compelling.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life?
I suspect my answer to this question would change daily. However, based on what I’ve been writing lately, and where my head is at right now, I’d want to spend an hour with Nora Ephron, a New York humourist, essayist, writer and filmmaker. I love her cynicism and dry wit, how she strived to balance the heavy topics with humour, how she adapted to write across art forms, how she wrote about everyday life. (“Everything is copy,” her mother, a writer, is known to have told her.) I would ask Nora: When writing about your life, and the world around you, how do you make people care about what you think, and how do you address the inevitable tension between the ‘professional’ (writing about the experience) and the ‘personal’ (experiencing it)? And if she didn’t have the answers, I have no doubt she’d still make me laugh. And genuine laughter is a prized commodity in my view, especially these days.
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?
I’m tempted to say MacGyver because then I’d be out of the lift in five minutes. But I’ll say my father. Because I never got to say goodbye to him and would love the opportunity, even if just for an hour, to say so many things that had been left unsaid.
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 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/
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.
Sydney, 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.
Michael 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.
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.
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.
William’s top tip for aspiring authors: Find the thing that is most important to you to say, and that you are able to say at present.
William Lane lives in the Hunter Valley, NSW, where he is raising three children. After completing an Honours degree in Australian
literature, he travelled and worked in a number of different jobs. In addition to reading and writing, his interests include music and education. He has completed a doctorate on the Australian writer Christina Stead, and has had several critical articles on Stead published in literary journals. He is the author of three other novels: Over the Water (2014), The Horses (2015) and The Salamanders (2016).
Why do you write? I write to understand. I explore questions that bug me, because something about them does not seem to add up. A story is a form to tease out questions important to me.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Being very unhappy.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? Perhaps believing I had a finished work, which I thought worth trying to publish.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? The privilege of being published, and of having a readership, even if it is only small.
…the worst? The vulnerability of being published. Once your name is on a public work, you have to wear it.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would have more faith in following my intuition than I had.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I had been more aware of the differences between publishers; there are a lot of publishers, but only some will be a good fit for your work.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Time is a writer’s best friend.
How important is social media to you as an author? I’m not very aware of how important it is, as I don’t understand social media well. I don’t have a blog or a website, but I am aware enough to know I probably should. Social media makes me feel socially awkward, which is not a feeling I really want to be reminded of! The email form interests me. I have a few stories composed entirely of emails.
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? If I have nothing to say, which is quite often, I don’t write. I see no reason to push it. So I suppose I simply don’t label a time of not writing as writer’s block. I just see it as a fallow time – or, more likely, a time to research a future work or polish an old one. In other types of writing, such as academic writing, I do experience writer’s block, which in that case is shying away from doing the hard yards, the slog, of getting out an idea. Writing stories should hopefully never be a slog.
How do you deal with rejection? I sulk. But then it goads me. I only become more determined to revisit the rejected manuscript and make it better. It’s all part of the game. Every rejection has led to a better work.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? It’s just play.
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? Could I divide my time between two writers? Emily Bronte – it would be fascinating to observe how she interacted with the world, to try to get an idea of how she came to understand so much so young. And Jane Austen – she would just be wicked fun.
Kenric is an oddball advertising eccentric who possesses an
unusual gift for language. The brands he names, sell. Yet he
comes to believe advertising uses language too cynically.
He is inspired by Maria to abandon the corporate world
and establish a small residential community called The
Word. The idealistic community relocates from Pittwater to
a warehouse in industrial Mount Druitt, gathering about it others concerned with the misuse of language. The Word is both a charming ensemble piece of unforgettable characters, and an astute and humorous exploration of the ways in language beguiles, creates connections, but also misleads. The novel parallels current world trends, while evoking
with candour Sydney’s watery beauty and suburban harshness.
Author of award-winning short stories and internationally acclaimed novels Rosanne Dingli says clues to the future lie in the past.
I’m often asked for an opinion on the future of books, writing, and publishing. Good questions come from those who have been writing for some time, who have seen changes that have profoundly and permanently shaken the industry.
Publishing has transformed since 2009, and even if some fundamental things have stayed the same, the paradigm shifts and swings experienced can never be reversed.
Clues to the future lie in the past. The book world has always been subject to upheaval and disruption, especially with language and vocabulary. Political topics caused splits in families and communities, but also had a hand in altering and varying what appeared in print, so habituation and expectations of the reading public evolved.
The evolution can be attributed to four causes: affordability of books and universal education, establishment of book production and selling processes, increased rapidity in communication, and enormous innovations in printing and computer technologies.
Mass production of books, widespread literacy, and more leisure in people’s lives led in the post-WWII years to burgeoning entertainment, including a sharp rise in publication of fiction.
Publishing houses experienced their glory years, and the production/distributing cycle was established, enduring to this day.
The mass media of communications shrank the globe; news travelled rapidly, as did current affairs, celebrity gossip, and popular psychology.
Offset printing dramatically changed the speed and quantities of print runs.
Nothing, however, exerted as much power and turbulence as the advent of the home computer. Owning the means to record and process words has revolutionized writing. And the internet made magic happen. By 2006, people were writing more than ever before. It was not long before self-publishing became available through companies such as Amazon, Smashwords, Ingram Spark, and others.
Having the means to produce a manuscript and have it published cheaply or at no cost created a tsunami of material by writers who understood the tools. Still, just because one has the means and tools does not always mean the product is excellent. Many people own sewing machines, but not all are good enough tailors to make and sell clothing for a living.
It’s possible to predict that gross over-supply of self-published material will eventually plateau and subside, simply because it’s not possible for all who try to succeed. It is inevitable – even by the law of averages – that many will fail. Fail to finish a manuscript. Fail to publish it adequately well. Fail to attract enough sales. Fail to reach potential or reader expectations. Even if one follows advice of those who have done well, ticks all boxes, acts professionally, and “does not give up” there is absolutely no guarantee every book will succeed. Even very famous household-name authors have a few titles that bomb.
Many books by thousands of amateur and professional authors who have done their utmost to write, produce, and promote have sunk to the bottom of the pile at Amazon, never to rise or be seen again. In the next five years or so, many writers will give up. The difficulty to do well at this game – however one chooses to publish – will be widely recognized.
Careful observers of the book world noted in the past six or seven years that publishing has split into two (or more) streams. Traditional publishing and bookshop distribution and selling is one. Online production and selling, of both ebooks and paperbacks, is another. There is a bit of overlap, but it’s an intersection used mainly by readers, who might swap streams from time to time. Very few authors can say they belong squarely and lucratively to both sides. An independent author who ventures into a bookshop after spending a lot of time online quickly observes how different the two streams are. If the products were not so similar, one would be forgiven for thinking they were two completely separate industries. And in many ways they are. One can predict that in the next few years, this divide will become wider and harder to traverse.
The future will introduce more publishers, aggregators, and distributors such as Amazon and Smashwords. Trying for a corner of the market can be very tempting. Small publishers, too, will proliferate, but not for long. The big publishing conglomerates will hold their solid position. But only if they adapt, and adopt efficient resources to compete with the slickest, fastest, and most innovative of the independents; and if they keep their prices down, which has always been difficult.
It won’t be enough to publish electronic, paper, or audio editions. One will need to provide incentives such as background music, animations, and other additional material for ebooks, interactivity, well-illustrated paperbacks, fold-outs, and a number of ingenious inventions to keep books at the forefront of competing entertainment on various media.
Although edification and education are the other two reasons the world wants books, entertainment is the foremost reason they stay popular, and will continue to do so well into the future. Going back to those four points above; if we adjust innovation and progress according to the times, we can expect more of the same, with a few surprises and twists in the tail.
TIM’S TOP WRITING TIP: Get the novel written before even pushing publishing options. Get it polished, have something you are proud of. Read the two books above I’ve mentioned. Get in touch with me and other authors for help and encouragement. And read a lot.
Tim Heath has been married to his wife Rachel since 2001 and they have two daughters. He lives in Tallinn, Estonia, having moved there with his family in 2012 from St Petersburg, Russia, which they moved to in 2008. He is originally from Kent in England and lived for eight years in Cheshire, before moving abroad. His debut novel (Cherry Picking) was published in 2012 and his second novel (The Last Prophet) in January 2015. His third novel (The Tablet) is in edit, expected in December 2015.
Why do you write? I write because I have exciting stories to tell, ideas that float around my head until I’ve put them into print. I write to share these worlds, trusting others will eventually see what I see. It’s also good to have something that releases the stress, that allows you to be yourself and writing, for me, is that thing. It helps the rest of my life go on a little smoother – of course, writing also opens yourself up to all kinds of other pressures, but I’ll ignore them blissfully at the moment.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I’m only a part-time writer at the moment, so I guess it’s easier to answer that question with the other business stuff I do – I guess I’d be doing more of that. Truth be told, I only became (a part-time) writer by moving abroad nearly seven years ago. I’m a church leader and moved to St Petersburg (the Russian one) and then Tallinn (Estonia) where my family is now very happily based. This all keeps us very busy.
So if I didn’t have the space for writing, I guess I’d be doing all these things a little more – but maybe just a little more stressed.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? It was different things at different stages – the first challenge was certainly actually getting the novel written. I knew what I was seeing in my head was a great world with a strong plot. Ideas are not hard for me. The challenge (for all my books actually) is, can I get what I see down onto paper? Can I do the premise justice?
Sadly, having a finished book (yes, getting edits and covers etc is challenging, if you want it done correctly that is!) is not the end of the journey – it’s hardly even the mid point. Actually getting it out there (publication, firstly, but even beyond that) is a huge challenge. It might be the best story ever written, but if no one knows about it, nothing will change.
You need a lot of self drive and self belief, plus the support of a loving family around you goes a long way.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Until recently I’d certainly say writing. Last year shows this. I finished the first draft of The Last Prophet in January 2014. I then went straight into the editing process (don’t do this, I now know!). By September, I was bored. I hadn’t created anything in nine months, just changed and edited stuff as it came back from my team. In September, I’d planned to set time aside to write novel number three. I’d planned well and in just 13 writing days (over about seven weeks) I’d written the first draft of The Tablet – it flowed out of me. I’d missed creating so much it kind of landed on the page like a dam breaking.
By this January, a year on, I realised that in the last 12 months, I had just those 13 days of actual free flowing writing – the rest was just editing and publication issues. Ironically, even as a part-time ‘writer’, actual writing happens all too infrequently.
—the worst? It’s a very lonely path at times. Actually breaking through (I’ve seen relative ‘success’ at times) only pushes you far beyond your friendship circles. Friends who read your books tend to say nice things. Total strangers can (and do!) say anything!
It’s especially hard for the debut novel, as you’ve no point of reference and sharing your work for the first time with the world is a scary process, there’s no denying it.
Through the bad reviews (I’ve got far more good reviews, I should add, from total strangers too!) I realised that some people just like to be mean. All my favorite books by writers I could only dream of being half as successful as, have bad reviews. One-star reviews for books I absolutely loved reading. It just goes to show, you can never please everyone. So having a full range of reviews (as my debut novel Cherry Picking now has) only goes to show you’ve truly hit the mass market.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Knowing the ultimate publishing route I took, I’d have gone straight for that option had I known it at the time. Something I also did (and have seen others too doing) is rushing the process to get that first novel out. It meant too many mistakes (even though I had a team of proofreaders etc) got through and it just looks bad. These were corrected, but whilst I wouldn’t say wait until it’s perfect (it never will be) I would say don’t rush it until you are sure it’s up to standard for general reading by others.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? There’s the advice I’ve picked up on the way (which I can see is asked next, so I’ll add it there). That would have been nice to know earlier on than I did.
I don’t know if I set out to become an author – I wrote and that led to writing which in time led to a finished first draft (at long last!) which opened further doors. Looking back, I see the process now. But I guess I set out in the first place with the goal being to write the story down completely that I’d been acting out in my head.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? I’ll say two pieces, the first got me flowing right at the beginning of my writing career (before this time it was just a hobby I fitted around life). In his excellent book Your Writing Coach, Jurgen Wolff lists a number of reasons why people stop writing and I connected with most of them. The biggest one told me that you should write the first draft without reading it through, just write it, get it onto paper before you read it through. Before then, I’d been editing on the go – it left me with seven polished chapters but how could I start chapter eight, it just wasn’t up to standard – so I had stopped, until I read this life giving advice.
The second has helped me recently – from another brilliant writing book, this time by Stephen King – On Writing. I have the best quotes from his book next to my writing desk – this one I like particularly: “You can’t please all the readers all of the time; you can’t even please some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to please at least some of the readers some of the time.”
Nigel Gamble is a man with everything – including a dark past. He took his name from his early business successes, but in reality none of it was based on risk – only certain success. Every decision Nigel has ever made in business, people, sport or life had been based on some prior knowledge. When a stranger appears it shakes his rich world to the core. But Nigel has been waiting for him – and preparing. Now it’s a fight to the death – there can be only one winner.
John awakes to find himself in a hospital bed with no memory of how he got there. Then the visions start. Destruction and death. A last chance. The only one who can save millions of people. He is no hero. Could he do what was being asked of him?
SIOBAN’S TOP WRITING TIP: It’s important to have a clear vision for your writing and the direction you want your work to take. A solid sense of direction allows you to accept feedback that is constructive and valuable to the agenda of your work and disregard that which isn’t. This means you make the decisions that are best for your writing – and not your ego.
Sioban Timmer is a Western Australian writer who grew up in Perth’s southern suburbs and now lives near Byford with her husband Paul and their two children. Sioban produces stories and poetry for adults and children on a wide range of themes and currently offers children’s readings and workshops, monthly literacy sessions for children called ‘Bonding With Books’. Sioban is the publicity officer for the Gosnells Writers’ Circle as well as coordinator of the Children’s Corner Competition in Showcase Magazine. Visit Sioban on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sioban-Timmer/143021369204346?fref=ts
Why do you write? For as long as I can remember I have always put my ideas down on paper, it’s part of who I am. Inspiration is like a persistent ringing phone, it won’t stop until you answer the call. If the ideas are there, I have to nurture them and give them the attention they deserve or they keep rolling around and popping back into my mind. That said, I can’t imagine a version of myself that didn’t write – for me the question is; how could I not?
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? I would love to be an artist, a dancer or a singer; anyone who has been subjected to me attempting to do these things knows – it’s a good thing I love to write.
If I were able to choose something else that would give me a sense of purpose it would involve working within the local community. I never cease to be amazed at what people can achieve by choosing to share even a little bit of their time for the good of others. People being willing to share their energy keeps a sense of community alive.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? I was very lucky to find Jasper Books, a Perth-based Western Australian micro publisher. I was able to establish a personal connection with the owner Cate Rocchi. Jasper Books has a passion for ensuring that Australian audiences have a chance to read books that contain local stories told in our uniquely Australian style.
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? I love getting positive feedback about the book; especially from children. Kids are very honest, if they don’t like your work they will tell you, if they think it’s awesome they will tell you. Children have commented how amazing it is to meet someone who has been able to write ‘a whole book!’ and it’s so wonderful to be able to tell them ‘I loved to write as a child and look what I was able to achieve. If you love to write, keep going, stick with it!’
—the worst? Trying to incorporate the business and creative aspects of writing can be challenging. Time feels better spent on the writing; the ideas and the thrill of a concept at the very beginning when you start to get a real sense that it’s a piece worth continuing.
But publishing is also a business and it requires all the same administration – invoicing, and bookwork. Not as creative, not as enticing – but required to present as a professional individual and also to ensure that your work remains financially viable.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? I would have more faith in my abilities as a writer and put a copy of the quote below above my desk:
You’ll seldom experience regret for anything that you’ve done. It is what you haven’t done that will torment you. The message, therefore, is clear. Do it! Develop an appreciation for the present moment. Seize every second of your life and savour it. Value your present moments. Using them up in any self-defeating ways means you’ve lost them forever-Wayne Dyer
Most of the chances I have taken have had a successful outcome or positive flow on effect. If I have taken a chance and it hasn’t panned out – it certainly didn’t do me any harm.
Hearing ‘No’ doesn’t kill you, but if you don’t try – what opportunities have you unwittingly killed off?
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?
Do the math. Examine all of the costs – the obvious costs and the hidden costs. Don’t forget when pricing the book that retailers will want to add mark up.
Immerse yourself in what you love – do workshops, join groups and get involved. You learn so much from other writers and their different styles, but it is also important for the networking side and the skills that can be shared between writers like feedback and editing.
What’s the best advice you were ever given? Write what you love – Love what you write. If it doesn’t feel authentic to you, it won’t feel authentic to the reader.
Toughen Up, Princess offers a new perspective on traditional fairy tales with a distinctly Australian flavour. The book is filled with delightful tongue in cheek illustrations by local artist Alison Mutton, which adds to the uniquely Aussie feel.
These humorous interpretations help children to see that there is another side to every story, even one they think they know very well. Many are told from the point of view of the supporting characters and encourage children to consider that we are all the star of our own story. The giant doesn’t see Jack as the hero, the dwarfs didn’t want Snow White to move in and maybe Cinderella liked cleaning. The commonly accepted ideas are challenged in a humorous and engaging manner while encouraging children to remember everyone perceives the world through their own eyes, their own words and their own viewpoint.
The role of the artist is not often talked about these days. But I fear there is a subliminal idea of what it is, which has slowly permeated our western culture since the turn of the twentieth century. The original ‘permeators’, as far as I can tell, were that morbid trio of northern European playwrights Ibsen, Chekhov and Strindberg. These happy campers shared the view that life was pointless and hopeless and that it was their job to draw this cheery fact to the attention of lesser minds, who may have suffered from the delusion that life had a point, or who were foolish enough to imagine there was some hope.
In theatre at least, that viewpoint persisted up to the ‘Angry Young Men’ of the British stage of the 1950s. Only now there was a subtle change. The idea had become not exactly that things were totally hopeless, but rather that they were pretty damn bad, and it was the author’s duty to draw this to the attention of an apathetic world, so that those who held the reins of power would say: “Aha, thank you angry young playwright for alerting us to the fact that there is social inequality. We’ll now rush off and legislate that away.”
Of course the holders of the reins of power, in reality, remained unmoved. But the playwright didn’t care. He had done his duty, and now could go down the pub for a beer with his mates and tell them all what an activist he was.
In the world of novel writing there was a greater variety. People wrote romances and bodice rippers and science fiction and all manner of escapism. But if ‘serious fiction’ be their intention, then of course they had to embrace the hopelessness of the snowbound trio, or the preachy ‘fix this’ of the angry young men.
It never occurred to anyone to think it may just be the real duty of an author to go beyond the winging and offer a solution. Well I guess I have always thought that if you can’t offer a solution, don’t bother. In the modern world we all know very well, from the 24 hour news cycle, just how bad things can get. So just re-affirming, in literary form, how bad things can get, adds little of value to the mix. Give the politicians and social workers and medicos a bit of a blueprint to work from. Use your contemplative time to offer ideas to those too busy to contemplate.
That was the attitude I brought to the writing of The Story of the Good American. I wanted to show how things just might get fixed. But I didn’t want to lock myself away in the British Museum, there to invent theories that took no account of human nature. I wanted to write about something I knew could happen, that I knew was happening.
I chose the amazing work being done by people like Bill and Melinda Gates, whose aim is nothing short of the total abolition of world poverty and disease. But they are no theorists. They are getting out there and making it happen. Their method has its genesis in a simple mind shift. Instead of making the business of business the centre of their world, they have the business of philanthropy at the centre, and their ‘normal’ business becomes a feeder for that. Their shareholders support them because any temporary loss of income will be more than compensated for by the huge extra market they are creating. The destruction of poverty and disease means the creation of a whole new world of consumers for their products.
Then they are also in the business of enlisting other billionaires to their way of thinking. At this stage they have commitments from one-third of the world’s 200 richest individuals. Even that is enough cash to get the job done, and it will get done.
My characters are not Bill and Melinda Gates. They are fictional, exciting characters who find themselves caught up in all sorts of adventure and romance. It is a novel after all. I wanted to write something that was fun to read, that put the emphasis back on old-fashioned storytelling and empathetic characters. But the Gatesian thread is there for anyone who wants to pick it up.
Lastly, and most importantly, I wanted to give the average person like myself a bit of a blueprint too, for how we can fit into this new era which is dawning. How we can shrug off the despair that all the angry young men have been laying on our shoulders for a century, and joyfully do our bit. But if you want to know how that all works, you’ll have to read the book.
Victor Kline started his working life as Sydney’s youngest barrister. He worked as a Federal prosecutor in Sydney and later as a defence counsel in the Northern Territory in its Wild West days. He has been a playwright, theatre director and actor Off-Broadway and in various parts of Australia. He is the author of the novel Rough Justice and the bestselling memoir The House at Anzac Parade, as well as several produced plays. His most recent novel is The Story of the Good American. As well as New York and Central Australia, Victor has lived and worked in London, Paris, the South of France and New Guinea. He currently lives back in Sydney with wife Katharine and a little grey cat called Spud. www.victorkline.com
“AN ADVENTURE, A ROMANCE, A GAME CHANGER.”
A hobo, a billionaire and the woman they both love. An unusual prescription. Some remarkable cures.
Joe Starling was Pete A. Vanderveer’s right hand man. But one day Joe just up and left the billionaire. He left New York City too. Turned up years later in his home town of Sydney Australia, shining shoes in the Pitt Street Mall. What happened in between, to Joe and Pete and to the woman they both loved, was very likely to change the world. The book is available in various formats fromhttp://www.amazon.com/Story-Good-American-Victor-Kline/dp/0947245065/ref=sr_1_6_