Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

I’ve done some tough gigs in my time.

I’ve turned up to give a talk and found that the only other woman in the room was a topless waitress…

I’ve talked to Year Nine boys in thirty-five degree heat, last period on a Friday, after Phys Ed…

I’ve sat alone at an author signing table while every every child in the known universe lined up for Morris Gleitzman at the table next to me.

So, when I land a gig like the Gold Coast Literati, I feel honour-bound to publicly thank the high heavens (Gold Coast Libraries and organiser Maryanne Hyde, in particular) for such a wonderful event.

Literati was the bomb. Great food, convivial company, motivated and enthusiastic writers, illustrators, and audiences.

Highlights for me included:

Rosie Fitzgibbon, me and Katherine Howell at Gold Coast Literati

catching up with John Danalis, Katherine Howell, Karen Brooks and Belinda Jeffrey

meeting Rosie Fitzgibbon (who edited both Dust and Henry Hoey Hobson), and sitting in on her sister, Marion Halligan’s session with Sonia Orchard

meeting the gorgeous Alice Pung (who I would love to see in action; unfortunately her session with John Danalis coincided with mine and Belinda’s)…

sitting next to Garry Disher and Michael Robotham while the wickedly funny Shane Maloney discussed making his Murray Whelan books into movies: ‘I thought I’d just toss books over my shoulder and they’d run along behind me picking them up.’

Literati – what a pleasure, from start to finish. Thank you organisers, authors and audiences – Bravo! 🙂

I’ve had the grumps all week.

Tomorrow’s my birthday.

These statements may, or may not, be connected. But when one is off the grog for FebFast and one’s nose is scabrous (albeit now sunspot-free thanks to an acid-wielding dermatologist), clinging to one’s forties doesn’t seem like such a great thing to celebrate.

I despise whiners, especially when it’s me, so as soon as my husband and kids were out the door this morning, I decided to make some changes.

I washed and blow-dried my hair, put on a dead-sexy black and white halter-neck dress (it’s a bit tight around the derriere, but hey, some men like that sort of thing) and did something I haven’t done in months.

I sat down and started writing a new YA novel.  Are you gob-smacked? I am. I never write in halter-necks.

I am now three cups of coffee into it and loving myself sick. Like that last doilie-sized  bit that flaked off my nose, I think this one’s a keeper. 😉

Dust - cover 9781741664461The cover is glossy enough to leave finger prints, glowing, rich and vibrant, in amongst the detritus on my desk. My first novel is in my hand, fresh from the printers.

I flip through the pages, fast-forwarding to the end to read the acknowledgements – it’s the first time I’ve seen them in print.

A name leaps out from the back cover – Katherine Barry. I don’t know her, but that doesn’t stop the rush of gratitude for her beautiful artwork and cover design.

I flip back to the front; I’ve forgotten to add my website to my author bio. Doesn’t matter, there’s always google, if anyone’s interested.

My mind wanders to signings – which page does an author sign? Not the verso, the little-used left-hand pages, so it has to be recto … the title page or bio perhaps? Surely not the dedication page? Isn’t that just for Mum and Dad?

Like a primary schooler, I practise a new authorly signature. It’s harder than expected and keeps defaulting to the cheque-signing one.  The bank won’t like that, so I try again, tongue clamped between my teeth.

I should be working on my next novel – a strange man has hoisted Henry Hoey Hobson into the back of a truck – but I’m distracted by my first-born. Transfixed like all new mothers, but unsure what to do with it, now that it’s here.

It seems curiously self-contained, lying there on my desk, not needy at all. Meanwhile the faint hammering in my head is growing louder. It’s Henry, clamouring for my attention. He’s growing fast – 12,000 words old already – but he’s not going to get out of that truck on his own.

I kiss my first-born and move it gently, but firmly, to one side.

Hang on Henry, I’m coming!

SURF'S UPI’m like Tank the penguin in the movie Surf’s Up. Between action scenes, I’m holed up in my room, endlessly polishing my ladies.

It’s a guilty pleasure, which I have shelved (temporarily) after eavesdropping on other authors’ daily word counts on facebook.

There’s John Birmingham, working to deadline on his new thriller, with chest-thumping accounts of his daily tallies:

“Haaaaaar!!!!! Smashed thru the last eight hundred words & carried on for another three. Five thousand words for the day. This IS SPARTA!!!!!

He is Writer, hear him roar. Thank God I’m a girlie, or my goolies would have shriveled at the mere thought of trying to compete with all that writerly testosterone. Talk about inducing performance anxiety: his word count is sooo much bigger than mine.

I am Re-writer, hear me keep my word count to myself. Once I did manage to unwrite five thousands words of pure shite in a single day. But write – uh uh, no way.

No less impressive is the versatile and productive Kim Wilkins, who gets up before her two kids to knock off a couple thousand words before breakfast. Now that’s commitment. Which, incidentally, is also the key difference between the professional writer and the amateur.

The professional writer writes, even when it’s hard. The amateur waits for inspiration.

(That’s from “Confident vs delusional writers” in A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing. It’s an entertaining post, well worth the visit.)

I’ll be honest. I struggle with the first draft. Its imperfections bug me and I’m constantly side-tracked by the need to fix them.  But as Hemingway said ‘All first drafts are shit’. Get over it.

So each day now, I tell myself, just concentrate on getting it out. Write first, then you can polish with impunity, later.

I’m not alone in my fixation on polishing. Kate Grenville did thirty-eight complete drafts of The Idea of Perfection – and won the Orange Prize for fiction.

Melina Marchetta says she must have rewritten the prologue for Finnikin of the Rock fifty times; it won an Aurealis Award and she’s been at the top of her game for more than a decade.

Marcus Zusak says he would have rewritten sections of the The Book Thief a hundred times – and he made it onto the New York Times Children’s Bestseller List.

But that doesn’t alter the fact that first, we must write. In my case, a thousand words a day till it’s done. And then, the exquisite pleasures of the rewrite. Polishing my ladies, without feeling guilty, until I am spent.

The call came from my kids’ school, the moment I stepped off the plane. “The camp is under water, they’re on their way back from Stradbroke Island. Can you pick your child up at five-thirty?’

“Well, no. I’m in Sydney.”

Did I consider, even for a moment, heading home to rescue my children from flood-ravaged south-east Queensland?

Hell, no. I was in Sydney. I had credit in the favour bank. Enough to get me through the next 48 hours – floods, school closures, and bad mother rep, notwithstanding.

I had places to go, people to see… Family, newly cloistered within the gothic sandstone arches of St John’s College at U.Syd… Appointments with the warm and wonderful Linsay Knight, Sarah Hazelton and Yae Morton, in at Random House Australia.

Later, at the Writers Festival, I met Linsay’s son Dominic Knight of TV’s The Chasers. He spoke of taking the mickey, and his debut novel Disco Boy, to a packed auditorium at the Sydney Dance Company.

I was at a table outside, on the water, in debut author’s heaven, shooting the breeze with Melina Marchetta, internationally acclaimed author of Looking for Alibrandi, Jellicoe Road and Finnikin of the Rock.

I passed on the forty-minute long queues into jam-packed sessions, in favour of two hours with Melina, talking books, writing and life. She introduced me to mega-selling author Morris Gleitzman (who will also be at Voices on the Coast in July) and her literary agent, Sophie Hamley from Cameron Creswell.

Before flying out, I brunched with children’s literature advocate Judith Ridge whose Misrule blog comes in at Number 18 in CopyWrite’s Top 50 Australian Writer Blogs. I’m thrilled – Judith is producing the Teachers Notes for Dust which will be down-loadable from the Random House Australia website in July.

Barely 48 hours after leaving the rising floods of Brisbane, I arrived home, excitement over. Water levels were dropping fast, but there were lit candles on the dining room table, and a beautiful boy, with a hug as big as his smile.

“Did you miss me?” I whispered later, into my daughter’s hair. She smelled of puppy. Everything smelled of puppy.

“Uh, not really.” She pulled away gently. “No offence Mum, but you weren’t gone for very long.”

I thought back to all that I’d done, experienced, felt and seen; all that water under the bridge.

“Wasn’t I?”

“No. Next time you should go for longer.”

I kissed her again. That puppy smell had to go.

But she’s right. Next time, I will.

If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.
Vincent Van Gogh

‘Oceans of confidence’ was how a teacher once described me; a fond remembrance now that the description no longer holds water.

I used to blame the dropping sea levels on motherhood. I gave birth and everything became my fault. The scrawnyness of my first-born, the tantrums of my second, the opprobrium at preschool when our five-year-old brought to Show and Tell his drawing of Mount Doom and ten thousand attacking Orcs…

Getting stuck at traffic lights on our way to netball? My fault. The Balkans? Obviously my fault.

I began to write fiction as a way of fighting back, of reclaiming the sense of self that had been misplaced in a clutter of lost goggles, crappy nappies and broken hockey sticks.

If I could do one thing well, a scene, a chapter, a sparkling bit of dialogue, then the tide would turn, rushing in to fill that dry ocean bed with enough confidence to keep me going.

Each success produced a new high water mark, and finally, a king tide, bearing with it a publishing contract. Yet, each morning I still wake to desolate stretches of sand.

I live in a littoral zone of confidence, a rich and varying landscape of flooding hopes and ebbing fears. I pick my way through the flotsam and jetsam, using what I can and hoarding what I cannot, in the hope that one day it might turn out to be the button I need to press, the key I need to turn…

The hot sands have taught me there is only one way to call in the tides and fill the void.

It is simply this…

To write.

There is a tide in the affairs of women, which, taken at the flood, leads God knows where.’ Lord Byron

The blogosphere is a wild and wonderful place for writers, full of surprises and extraordinary souls. One of them is fifteen-year-old Steph Bowe who is writing two novels, running the YA Blogosphere (see Favourite Links) and interviewing authors like me at Hey, Teenager Of The Year. And she still eats off the kids menu at restaurants!

Any teenager who can pack that much into a day is gold. I just had to interview her to discover her secrets.

Q. How long have you been burning up the blogosphere, Steph?

I started Hey, Teenager of the Year in March. Before then, I’d had a few unsuccessful blogs (All of which are now in the Blog Memorial section of the Cyberspace Graveyard, may their bloggy souls rest in peace), but the entire time I’d be reading blogs and seeing what worked and what didn’t, and figuring out what I wanted to achieve with my blog.

The YA Blogosphere was inspired by the YA Book Blog Directory, an alphabetised list made by an American book blogger, The Story Siren. I emailed her, and she worked with me in setting up the Blogosphere. The difference between the two databases is that mine offers more information, though it isn’t quite as comprehensive (yet). I’ve compiled a list of almost one hundred blogs in the past few weeks from her database. The help of many YA authors has also been invaluable, particularly Susanne Gervay and William Kostakis.

Developing the Blogosphere has been very time consuming, and there is still a long way to go, but I’m hoping that it will eventually become a reference site for high school teachers, librarians, teenaged readers and maybe even authors and publishers looking to promote books.

Q. How did you get into blogging in the first place? And why?

I was inspired by Penni Russon’s blog (http://eglantinescake.blogspot.com). Hers was the first blog I ever read. That was at a point when I was very disenchanted with the internet, and how all the bad people in the world had ruined something that could be so fantastic and help people learn so much (I can’t remember now why I felt this way – I think I was going through a stage where I was disenchanted with everything) and then I found her blog, and I went “Wow, this is beautiful.” (I went and read her books after that – she wrote the Undine trilogy – and they were beautiful too). From there, I discovered many more author blogs, before stumbling across a blog of book reviews, author interviews, and giveaways. That made my mind up.

I wanted to get in touch with the YA blogging community. I wanted to get to know published and aspiring authors. I wanted to learn from others, and I wanted to share what I had already learnt. I think, so far, I’ve done most of those things.

It’s very rewarding when people enjoy my posts, and it makes the effort I put in worthwhile. I’ve also met some fantastic people – my blog has allowed me to get in touch with lots of wonderful authors, as well as other book bloggers, in Australia and abroad.

Q. Tell me five fantastic facts about you?

1. I shaved my head in October of last year. It grew back slower than I thought it would, and I now look like a cross between 1983 era Jamie Lee Curtis and the middle Jonas Brother.

2. I do school by correspondence, which may explain how I manage to spend so much time on my blog.

3.. I have an imaginary friend/alter-ego called Gracie Dove. She is the brave and unselfconscious part of me. She was also the star of my first novel.

4. I have written two YA novels, and I’m working on a third. The first one, Gracie’s List, can be read on my blog. I’ve heard that first novels are always a bit autobiographical, so I got that out of system before I started writing seriously. The second one is with a publisher at the moment..

5. I love B-grade zombie movies which somehow involve flesh-eating exotic dancers. Quite a few of them do.

Q. How do you combine your hectic online life with real life?

I do school by correspondence, which gives me a lot more time for writing and blogging. Schoolwork, family and responsibilities come first, and my mum keeps me balanced. I’m online for about an hour each weekday morning and I spend a bit longer on weekends.

Q. Are you goal or fantasy oriented? Most important goal? Most fabulous fantasy?

I suppose I’m goal oriented, though a lot of my goals are pretty fantastic. My most important goal is to become a published author, and to be able to support myself financially by writing alone. That’s a twenty-years-down-the-track sort of goal, though.

My most fabulous fantasy is to live to see complete racial, social and sexual equality. I’d like someday for gender, race, class and sexual orientation to have no effect on the way people are viewed, and to live in a world everyone is considered equal.

Q. Any advice for readers/fans?

I have fans? New bloggers: don’t let a couple of bad remarks get you down. I guarantee the majority of people will love your blog, and you just have to keep at it. Almost everyone who blogs about YA here or abroad loves making new friends, and it’s a fantastic network to be involved in; you’ll always be up to date on latest books and authors and you’ll also have a lot of fun.

For teenagers who write: you’ve got an advantage over people who discover writing later in life. Use it! Write all you can. Learn everything about writing and publishing. Jump at every opportunity. If you do those things, it’s only a matter of time and perseverance until you achieve your goals.

Q. Pitch me your novel in 25 words or less!

That’s incredibly hard. There are two. Alright, here goes…

Running With Scissors: Raphael awakens from a coma with total memory loss, reconstructing his life as he is swept into his girlfriend’s plight to find her estranged father. (This one is far, far better in 100 words – I barely made it in 25)

These Bones: Jewel saves the life of a boy who later dies anyway, but this chance encounter still drastically changes both of their lives. (Hopefully that’s kind of mysterious and leaves you wondering more… this book is a lot funnier than this seems to suggest.

[Editor: Like I said, pure gold. Pay her a visit and help her rocket up the Writing Blog Charts. She’s Number 80 on CopyWrite’s Top 50 Aussie Writer Blogs at the moment. Check it out here.

Everyone thinks I’ve been on holidays, but really, I’ve been on writer’s boot camp, training for a guest spot on Writing Races, the Australian Writer’s Marketplace online forum.

I thought it was an inspired bit of fun aimed at getting the procrastinators up and writing, if only for an hour, between 8.00 and 9.00 pm on a Tuesday. I thought the idea was to set aside the hour, get writing, and hopefully make some progress on the work-in-progress.

Then I find out that other racers have been known to clock over a thousand words in the hour.  A thousand words! Jesus, Mary and Joseph, talk about performance anxiety.

It was enough to make me suck in my writer’s gut and hit the keyboard for a gruelling week of finger agility exercises, keyboard readiness training, writer’s block attack strategies and a pre-race fitness program in scene mapping and character development.

I’d like to say that after just one week of training, I am now a lean, mean, writing machine. I would also like to say that I look fantastic in a g-string, but that doesn’t make it true, does it?

This writing machine was built for comfort, not for speed. I am a literary tortoise, taking a long, scenic amble through the landscape, smelling the roses, tapping out a few words, wandering off for a nibble, adding a semi-colon, jogging downhill for a couple of paragraphs, before circling back to replace the semi-colon with a comma.

Who am I trying to kid? Christy Brown wrote faster than me with his left foot. Dead poets write faster than I do.

You don’t believe me? OK, then, I dare you. Come along tonight (Tuesday 21 April) to Writing Races, the online forum at Australian Writer’s Marketplace.

We’ll be lining up at 7.30 pm sharp for an online chat with the punters, then we’ll be racing off-line from 8.00 pm. An hour later, we’ll check in to compare personal bests and word tallies.

Who will be the biggest loser in the history of Writing Races? Tune in to find out (but here’s a tip for free, the smart money is on me).  😉

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.

dust-cover-97817416644612Twelve-year-old Celia Maria was named after saints and martyrs to give her something to live up to.

Over my dead body, she vows.

In the blinding heat of 1970s Queensland, she battles six brothers on her side of the fence, and the despised Kapernicky girls, lurking on the other side of the barbed wire.

Secrets, buried deep, surface decades later when Celia drags her own reluctant teenagers back home to dance on a grave and track down some ghosts.

Tough-minded but tender, Dust glitters with a rare and subtle wit, illuminating the shadows that hang over from childhood, and finding beauty in unexpected places.