Posts Tagged ‘Veny Armanno’

‘The end of a story is not the point of a story… but you have to get to the end to understand the point of the story.’ Veny Armanno, Year-of-the-Novel, QWC 2007

New Year’s Eve always feels more like a beginning than an ending. I’m usually running on a full tank after Christmas, eager to hit the road, and discover what’s dancing on the shimmering horizon. I have to force myself to slow down, pull over for a minute, ponder where I’ve been, before plotting a new course. The horizon shimmers in every direction; it doesn’t help to fix your eyes on a mirage…

The past twelve months has been a white-knuckle roller-coaster ride. My first manuscript became my first novel halfway through the year; and two months later I sold my publisher a novel I hadn’t yet written, based on three chapters and a synopsis.

Twelve months ago, I would have lacked the confidence to contemplate such madness. Sometimes I still wonder if it was ignorance or arrogance that led me to take the chance on myself, to believe that I could deliver an entire manuscript, fifty-thousand-odd words, to someone else’s deadline. But in moments of peace, I like to believe that I’ve learned to trust myself and my writing instincts.

Whichever is the case, Henry Hoey Hobson met his deadline, rose to a new level through revisions, survived the rigours of the copy edit, and is now with the typesetters and cover artists. Like my firstborn Dust, he will be released on July 1st, to make its own way through the world of reviewers, booksellers, teacher-librarian networks, and into the hands of his readers.

It has been a mighty year and I can’t help but feel grateful to all those who helped turn my wildest wish-fulfillment fantasies into reality. My gorgeous husband and children, treasured family and friends, my wonderful publisher Leonie Tyle, editor Sarah Hazelton, publicist Yae Morton, and all the booksellers, teachers, librarians, and readers whose support has been both gratifying and humbling over the past year. Thank you, and may the new year fulfill its promises to you all.

PS. I do have a new year’s resolution: I will finish The Lonely Dead in 2010. That is my promise to myself and to you all. Hold me to it. And Happy New Year. 😉

As a newbie in the world of publishing, I enjoy hanging on the words of the wise, and spending time with older hands who are happy to roll back their sleeves and show me their scars.

I have learned much at the knee of Veny Armanno (QWC’s Year of the Novel), Kim Wilkins (Year of the Edit) and Nick Earls, whose generosity in inducting Brisbane’s debut authors into the world of publishing was stretched to capacity this year.

My education continues, online, following writer’s websites (a few of my  favourites are on the lower right of the screen), and in real life, at festivals, writer’s get-togethers, and through reading till my eyes bleed.

But almost everything I have learned as a writer, I have learned by writing and putting it out there.

I now have a discerning first reader who is capable of pinpointing what hasn’t made it onto the page (but needs to be there), and what clunks in the otherwise smooth action of my story.

Feedback may not be the hallelujah chorus of my dreams, but neither is it a direct thrust to the heart. It is certainly an opportunity to see my work through trusted, more objective, eyes.

When I scanned the initial response to my latest work, I had to admire my first reader’s ability to season praise with constructive criticism. She hit on a couple of niggling issues that I had pushed away during the writing process (things I probably hoped to get away with and didn’t.)

It reminded me of James Roy on the adverse comment in an otherwise favourable review: ‘That’s like saying you’ve got a beautiful baby, but it’s got big ears. Big deal. You’ve still got a beautiful baby.’

I’ll hang on to that thought while I’m doing my revisions.

I’ve got a beautiful baby … (but that’s not going to stop me pinning back those ears.) 😉

Our ability as writers is limited by our own understanding of human nature (Veny Armanno, QWC Year of the Novel, 2007)

The characters I love best are the ones that run counter to type. That surprise and delight by doing the unexpected, while remaining absolutely true to themselves.

By revealing hidden depths, they often unmask hidden prejudices. Think the foul-mouthed, pornography-reading grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine, an emphatic rejection of the halo-effect of aging.

A personal favourite (for reasons which shall emerge shortly) is the stepmother in the movie Juno. Her fast and furious defence of her pregnant sixteen year old stepdaughter is a standout. Satisfying because it thwarts subconscious expectations, trained by generations of wicked stepmother archetypes.

We’ve had a bad rap, we stepmothers. Not all of it undeserved. The mothering instinct is powerful, primeval and little understood by the childless. And therein lies the rub.

It wasn’t until the birth of my second child that I finally began to understand the sacrifice of my stepchildren’s mother. I wept that night, not only for the perfection of my newborn son, but for the absence of my two year old daughter; it was the first night I had ever spent away from her.

My stepchildren’s parents had endured many such nights by that time. They knew the pain of absence and bore it for the sake of their children. They have my admiration and gratitude: for what I have learned from their sacrifice and from being allowed to love their children.

They are grown now, my stepchildren – seventeen and nineteen years old – and beautiful in the eyes of their four parents. Yet when I close my eyes they are still two and four, with milk-teeth smiles, and arms chubby and soft around my neck.

Like all the best characters, I hope they continue to upset the applecart of our expectations. They, and their younger sister and brother are my never-ending story, the one that I cannot put down, that I must keep reading, to find out what happens next.

Remember when you were seven years old and you decided to count to one million?

I packed it in at an embarrassingly early stage, defeated by the mere thought of ploughing through all those interminable numbers. One hundred and seventy-one thousand, seven hundred and eighty-seven… one hundred and seventy-one thousand, seven hundred and eighty-eight…

Life’s too short, right? Ah, but if I’d known then, what I know now…. Simple things like breaking down large tasks into smaller tasks, taking heart from every milestone, and persevering to the end.

Back then I could count to a thousand. I just didn’t know that if I did it a thousand times, ker-ching! I’d hit the million mark. (And please don’t call that cheating, call it creative problem-solving, OK?)

These days, a million words no longer daunts me. Veny Armanno says he wrote a million words – ten complete manuscripts – before his first novel was published.

Writing just one page a day – 275 words – would not only produce a novel a year, but it would get me to that magic million-word mark within ten years.

And that folks is apparently what it takes – ten years or ten thousand hours of deliberate practice – to become expert, at anything. Playing the violin, performing colonoscopy, writing a novel…

I’d like to think I can get there. I wrote for a living for a good fifteen years – nothing fancy, just news and current affairs items, articles, speeches, a couple of documentary scripts, reports and the like. Now I’m five years down the track with writing fiction, novels mainly.

I think I can get there, by taking it one step at a time, by breaking that mountain of a novel down into something workable – small  achievable chunks called scenes, with each new scene building on the last, progressing plot, character and theme, into that irresistable story that I can’t get out of my mind until I have gotten it down on paper.

I figure my little red engine is halfway there. Halfway up that expert hill. Halfway home. You can hear me if you listen hard to these blogs… I think I can ….  I think I can… I think I can … And you’ll really, really hear me if I ever make it to the top – hoo-oooo!

Being a writer makes a virtue of my bad habits. I was a shocking liar as a kid, but now that I’m an adult, I’m using my powers for good rather than evil.

Q. If that’s your virtue, what’s your secret vice?

A. Turkish Delight and writing something that makes me laugh or cry out loud. Now that’s addictive.

Q. How long did it take you to write your first novel Dust?

A. Way too long. I did everything wrong in the first draft and had to pull the whole thing apart and start again from scratch. It taught me a lot though and I hope never to make any of those 147 basic errors again.

Q. What was the motivation for writing your first novel?

A. Long story. I’ve devoted a whole page of my website to the answer so Click this link On writing Dust if you haven’t already. It’s for everyone who loves writing and loves their Dads.

Q. What is the best writing advice you have ever received?

A. Don’t give up after the first draft; the real writing starts with the rewrite. Write every day – the more you write, the better you get. Join organizations like the Queensland Writers Centre. Do courses, be prepared to learn from other writers and never be afraid to show people your work. QWC workshops I did with Veny Armanno, Kim Wilkins and Kate Eltham taught me things that I may never have been able to figure out for myself.

Q. Do you have a pet hate?

A. Advertising – it’s horrible that people are manipulated into wanting a whole heap of stuff they don’t need.

Q. Who are some of your favourite authors?

A. Peter Temple – he’s probably going to hate me saying this, but I just love all his early work, the Jack Irish novels, Iron Rose and Shooting Star – he just nails dialogue and the Australian vernacular. In YA, I am a big fan of Marcus Zusak and Melina Marchetta, and Karen Foxlee’s debut novel The Anatomy of Wings is just wonderful. Ditto the Mallory detective novels by US writer Carol O’Connell and the Jackson Brody novels by British writer Kate Atkinson.

Q. If you were an animal, what would you be?

A. I’m a fool for my dog, Huggy, but have to say that personally, I’m more of a cat – I have the requisite laziness, attention to personal hygiene and tendency to bite if rubbed up the wrong way!