Author Archives: mgstroudy

Children’s Publishers

Hello All You Wannabe Children’s Writers,

Today I’m going to tell you all about publishers who focus on children’s books.  Now, are you sitting comfortably?  Can you see the pages?  Let’s begin…

First up – you need to know that I’m focussing on Australian publishers and I’m zoning in on those publishers that are accepting unsolicited manuscripts.  Does everybody know what that means?  In case you don’t – unsolicited manuscripts are those that arrive to the publisher unsolicited.  That means the publisher didn’t ask for them, they simply ‘arrived’.  Unsolicited manuscripts are different from solicited manuscripts – solicited m/s may have been introduced to the publisher by an agent or the publisher may have requested the manuscript based on you having previously published with them.  You’ve got to remember that publishers aren’t just sitting around waiting for your novel!  They’re working hard on putting together and promoting their current list, they have their ‘family’ of authors that have already been solicited (so to speak) and they have lots of other work they attend to.  Literary Agent and author Virginia Lloyd has written about the path of the solicited/ unsolicited manuscript on her blog which you can read here.

Anyhoo – for the purpose of this blog, let’s pretend you have written a sensational children’s book and you’re looking for a great Aussie publisher.  Who might you approach?

Well – the first stop would be to purchase the terrific e-zine subscription called Pass It On.  Pass It On is organised by the totes excellent children’s author extraordinaire Jackie Hosking. Each Monday, Pass It On lands in your email inbox and is jammed full with the latest info – specifically for authors of children’s and YA – on literary competitions, societies, groups, workshops, poetry, news, book launches and publisher information.  Pass It On will provide you with a way to build your writing network as well as offering all the links you need to polish your story and prepare it for submission to a publisher.

Pass_it_On

After that – you might consider approaching some of the following…

Allen & Unwin’s The Friday Pitch – make sure you follow all their guidelines and formats.  You want them to take you seriously!  I notice that The Friday Pitch is open to non-fiction and adult as well so if you’ve got some of those manuscripts kicking around the bottom drawer….

EK Books is an imprint of Exisle Publishing.  Their motto is ‘great story, great characters, great message’ and their books are mainly aimed at children aged 4-8 years.  They also describe themselves as the new kids on the children’s publishing block – so you might consider getting in on the ground floor with them as they build their lists.

Like Allen & Unwin, Freemantle Press are looking for all kinds of manuscripts – not just children’s.  They are especially interested in work that has a strong Western Australian flavour or that has been written by a WA writer.

Harper Collins Publishing offers The Wednesday Post where they accept unsolicited manuscripts on a Wednesday.  At the moment they are not accepting children’s but they are considering Young Adult so… worth a try there.

New Frontier Publishing is looking for children’s books to educate, uplift and inspire.  I also notice that you can purchase their author submissions pack which costs $60 but includes a variety of their books (around 5 ) and a description of why each of those were chosen for publication.  A good learning curve and a few books to add to the shelves!

Pan MacMillan Australia has Manuscript Monday and while they aren’t accepting children’s picture books they are considering YA, crossovers and junior fiction.  They emphasise that you must be familiar with the work they publish (it’s always a good idea – so you find the right publisher for your story).  Do your homework before you submit!

Random House Australia has a couple of imprints that will publish children’s books.  They request a query email first (kidspitch@randomhouse.com.au) so work on your pitching skills and make that initial email something impressive!

text publishing is interested in fiction and non-fiction for junior and upper primary as well as YA.  These guys are a personal fave of mine – they publish some great stuff and I love that they’re a little bit old school – they want you to post a hard copy, in the mail.  I love that – whenever I have to send anything in by hard copy I always give it a squeeze and a kiss before I slip it in the post! *blush*

Okay – so there are many more but I think this gives you a good starting point.  If you would like to know more, you can purchase (for a measly $5) the AUSTRALIAN CHILDREN’S BOOK PUBLISHERS ACCEPTING UNSOLICITED MSS pdf from Jackie Hosking at Pass It On (you’ll find it on the side bar)

publishers-cover

Good luck and let us know how you get on submitting your story to a real, live publisher! *squeee*

 

 

Categories: Publishers | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Me,

Dear Me (circa 2000),

Okay – bad news. You are not going to get a book written and published in your special three week ‘Olympic School Holidays’.

Good news – you are going to get a book written. And published.

Settle down, stop jumping around, settle down! Breathe.

This all happens in nine years time.

Try not to be disappointed. I know it seems like a long time between now and then, but you have much to learn, Grasshopper.  Even beyond publication you have much to learn.

You have much to look forward to as well. You are going to find a place – a magical, amazing writing haven called Varuna.

Varuna

Varuna

There you will meet your writing soul-mate. Her name is Jess and her connection with you will change your life. Jess will be your champion – believing in you with rugged determination that cannot be feigned. When you are ready to give up this lonely sport called writing, her encouragement will propel you and publication will follow.

Jess

Jess

Your first novel will be a YA fiction, arriving just twelve months after the birth of your first baby girl. You will celebrate with a massive book launch and Jess will be beside you.

Me & Jess launching my novel

Me & Jess launching my novel

The room will be filled with love and support. This will be a deliciously happy time in your life.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Books for sale!

You do not have Jess for long.

And when she leaves, it will be unbearable.

But you must write. Write. And keep on writing, carrying her with you like a burr on your sock. Like a tattoo on your skin. Like a shadow. Like a muse, an idea, a memory.

After publication and after Jess there will be a time. The time will be hard. The time will feel vacant and barren. But as it passes you will discover it wasn’t unproductive – it was lying fallow, becoming fertile and regenerating.

You will meet new friends and form a Posse. Crazy I know, but it will make sense to you.

The Print Posse

They will hold you up, stretch you out and push you forward. They will lend you their ears, their shoulders, their ideas and their courage. Together you will write your way forward. Maybe the Posse is a gift from Jess. You will never know.

A troublesome second novel will take some time – several years – but during that time you will learn so much. You will return to magical Varuna. You will discover the amazing synergy between reading and writing. You will find Kate and have Wednesday Write Ins! You will forge a deep and loving connection with your writing mentor Peter. You will know that writing is so much more than publication.

My mentor Peter Bishop

Beyond that? Who knows! I feel confident it will be wonderful and satisfying and productive and best of all – creative. There will be more novels, more publications, more articles, more friends, more money and more riches of a higher kind. And through it all, you will write. Write. Write and keep on writing.

Remember what Jess told you – you’re very talented.

You're very talented.

You’re very talented!

But for now, get back to your three-week-novel. Every story must start somewhere.

I love you,

Gab xxx

Categories: Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Revision

In The Writing Book – A Workbook for Fiction Writers Kate Grenville explains that whilst plots are important, they’re not what makes you read a book.

Life has no plot!

Life has no plot!

If a plot was all there was to it, it would be enthralling to have someone tell you the plot of a book you haven’t read. And having someone tell you the plot of a book you haven’t read is hardly ever enthralling… Plot is one of the most artificial qualities of the artificial construct called fiction. Life doesn’t have plot: life just has a flow of events.

(2009, pp. 142-3)

My stories come to me not as a plot but as a character (a voice) and a series of scenes. I write the scenes down and discover the story and the character. Even when I try to wrangle my stories into a “plot” they become unmanageable and restless. So I’ve given up! I accept that my stories are primarily about examining the human condition and that the story will spring from my character’s voice and their experience of their own plot-less life.

This means that when I’m revising, I don’t think about Goal, Motivation and Conflict. I tend to think more about the fabric of my writing.

I consider the fabric of my stories.

I consider the fabric of my writing.

What is conveyed?

What is left out?

Can the reader breathe?

Is there a strong sensory element?

I like to examine my work at the word level, pruning and pruning the wild bush that grew when I did my “hot writing” splurge. I look for repeated words, clichés, words ending in _ly, long sentences, short sentences and the quality of my dialogue. I read it out loud, scribbling and re-writing until it has a certain poetry to it.

Here's me pruning the unwieldy bush that is my first draft!

Here’s me pruning the unwieldy bush that is my first draft!

As I revise I’m always thinking show show show (don’t tell).

Here are three examples of recent revisions:

Example 1

First draft
It was getting late by the time I got home. There was no one in the house though and the place felt hollow.
Later draft
It was getting late by the time I got home. Nuts wasn’t slumped at the door and there was no one in the house. The place felt hollow.

Example 2

First draft
This was all about Bern. The champion. I let the word focus fill my skull.
Later draft
This was all about Bern. The champion.  Focus.  I let the word fill my skull.

Example 3

First draft
It was an effort. Just staying up that day and not crawling back into bed, but I did it. I followed Gus out to the kitchen for breakfast with Mum and Dad. I could tell they were pleased to see me. They both tried too hard to act normal so I carried on as though nothing had happened either. I made toast and Dad passed me a knife.
Later draft
It was an effort just trying to stay awake that day, but I did it. I followed Gus out to the kitchen for breakfast with Mum and Dad. They were pleased to see me, but they tried too hard to act normal. I made toast and Dad passed me a knife.

When I reflect on my favourite books, they’re more about character than plot.  Getting to know and love the characters is what keeps me turning the pages. I loved Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. I still consider Adrian Mole one of my mates (since I’ve read all his diaries).

Love love LOVED Adrian Mole. (And Pandora and Bert Baxter and Nigel...)

Love love LOVED Adrian Mole. (And Pandora and Bert Baxter and Nigel…)

I think Helen Garner and Christos Tsiolkas create characters that are memorable and realistic – when I recall their books I recall characters before plots.Garner Barra

There are as many ways of revising as there are authors in the world.  So – don’t leave us hanging here by a thread… how do you revise?  Do you think about each scene?  Do you question Goal, Motivation and Conflict? Do you examine your word choices and interrogate your characters? Click into the comments box below and share your wisdom.  We would love to hear it!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What I Learnt When I Stopped Writing

A strange thing happened to me the last time my novel was rejected.

  1. I saw my publisher’s email address in my inbox.
  2. My stomach gave that excited twitch – the same one we experience as a high schooler when our latest crush walks past.
  3. I thought ‘That was quick, I only submitted it last week.’
  4. I opened the email.
  5. I read the words ‘sorry to say, we won’t be offering for it’
  6. Blood rushed around in my head.
  7. My heart tried to implement some kind of evacuation procedure.
  8. The font on the screen seemed to shrink.
  9. My entire world seemed to shrink.
  10. I kept thinking ‘I still have teaching, I’ll just be a teacher.’
  11. I stared at the screen for a long time.
  12. I didn’t tell anyone for ages.
  13. Time passed.
  14. I rang two trusted writer-friends and cried.
  15. And moaned.
  16. And gnashed my teeth.
  17. I stopped writing.
Triumph

Writing isn’t easy. And I remind myself that I shouldn’t expect it to be easy.

Rejection hurts.  For me, rejection comes with initial feelings of shame, embarrassment, frustration, anger, disappointment and annoyance. And then I get the selfies. Not the “Look-at-me! Look-at-me!” frame-yourself-in-a-screen selfies, but the other kind:

self-loathing

self-criticism

self-disgust

But it’s item 17 on the list above that was the real hero who saved the day.  That time of Not-Writing – and it was a good six months or so – seemed very bland and pedestrian while I was living through it.  Not Writing was a kind of rebellion against my relationship with writing, a kind of teenagery “stuff you” and slam the door knee-jerk reaction.  But I realise now, in hindsight, that something incredibly powerful was shifting within me as a writer. During that period of ‘recovery from rejection’ I was discovering something that hurts more than rejection:

Not Writing.

Not Writing made me lonely, depressed and disconnected… I was empty and sad and unfulfilled.  I was hungry for something.  I was homesick.  I was not myself.

After a while I think I realised that the only thing that was going to restore my equilibrium was the very thing that had unsettled it:

writing.

So I took a breath and a big swig of harden-up and opened the laptop and started writing again. It seemed strange at first, like I’d gone rusty or lost my footing but overwhelmingly, it just felt right.  I felt like I was back inside my own skin.

My writing desk is littered with sayings about how to get the job done.

My writing desk is littered with sayings about how to get the job done.

After a while I even went back to that rejection email and read it again. And I discovered that there was a whole heap of feedback and advice from the publisher that was actually relevant, helpful and useful. I noticed some other words in the email too, like ‘fascinating angle’, ‘interesting story’ and ‘do stay in touch’. As I went back to my novel with that email in hand I found myself agreeing with the suggestions that had been made. I could see a better novel hidden within my current novel. I started feeling grateful for the rejection. Weird huh?

I should probably write a self-help book for people addicted to self-help books. Why do I love reading these things???!

I should probably write a self-help book for people addicted to self-help books. Why do I love reading these things???!

Right now I’m reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (I’m secretly a self-help junkie) and I found myself reading and re-reading his pages on being proactive. In this section, Covey shares an anecdote about a man that tells Covey he no longer loves his wife. Covey’s advice is simple: “Love her.” The man is baffled and explains again to Covey that the feeling of love just isn’t there anymore. He asks:

“How do you love when you don’t love?”

Covey answers:

“My friend, love is a verb.”

I feel the same way about writing. If I want to be a writer, then I simply have to write.

Being published doesn’t make me a writer.

Winning an award doesn’t make me a writer.

Gaining a grant doesn’t make me a writer.

Writing makes me a writer.

Although simple, this has been a profound paradigm shift for me and in many ways, it has also been liberating. I know that if I was rejected tomorrow, I’d just keep on writing. Because that’s what I do.

I love my sticky notes as much as I love my self-helps. This is above my desk. Pretty self-explanatory.

I love my sticky notes as much as I love my self-helps. This is above my desk. Pretty self-explanatory.

And more than that – it’s what other writers do. At the 2015 Byron Bay Writers Festival, Kate Grenville said that she wrote twenty-seven drafts of her latest book ‘One Life’: My Mother’s Story. Twenty-seven! Like I mean, twenty and then seven more. That’s HUGE. But it makes sense doesn’t it? She’s a writer, so – she writes.

27 drafts. I repeat 27 drafts.

27 drafts. I repeat 27 drafts.

And recently, during a Virtual Writer’s course, Charlotte Wood explained how once, when she was dwelling on a ‘bad review’ she rang her publisher and asked what she should do… and her publisher said “Write. That’s what you do.” Good advice, hey?

I've got Eleanor Dark pinned on my desk too. It's an intimidating picture - the intensity of her stare has kept me writing when I've felt like giving up.

I’ve got Eleanor Dark pinned on my desk too. Try tell her you feel like giving up your writing.  That direct stare just burns me up.

Of course, writing still brings moments of frustration, anger, disappointment and all of those messy emotions. But when those feelings come, I don’t put down my pen. I keep on writing.

I’ve also put some supports in place, to help my fragile writer-ego recover from the inevitable stumbles. These are things like:

  1. Reading another self-help book
  2. Remembering that Kate Grenville revises her novels more than twenty times
  3. Reminding myself that even great, established authors like Charlotte Wood endure writing-struggles
  4. Chatting with trusted writer-friends like my sisters here at The Print Posse and really listening to their encouraging words
  5. Setting new writing goals
  6. Signing up for a new writing-related course
  7. Re-reading positive feedback I’ve received in the past
  8. Letting the energy and the enthusiasm of writing friends fuel my own writing fire

And if I’m really honest…

  1. Those messy feelings can mean having a glass of wine and plenty of chocolate: a family block of Caramello is helpful or if I’m really troubled, a box of Guylian Sea Shells.
I remind myself that I've had a book published and I have what it takes to do that again.

I remind myself that I’ve had a book published and I have what it takes to do that again.

For me, being a writer isn’t about getting published, getting rejected, getting noticed or even getting read.

The very act of writing makes me a writer, and I’m happy with that.

Please let me know your go-to chocolate when the writing world caves in on you… Recommendations should be listed in the comments box below.

Categories: Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Pitch Perfect @ Byron

The Byron Bay Writers Festival has been ahhhhh-mazing! It’s been on the Vision Board since 2013. And I’m addicted. It’s like a three-day feast of ideas, conversation and story. For little old me from regional NSW, it was like a big cultural shot in the arm and I can only hope it sustains me until next year.

Totes stoked to be at this festival.  Yep - totes stoked.

Totes stoked to be at this festival. Yep – totes stoked.

The last session I went to on Saturday arvo was Pitch Perfect and it was fantastic! I made a bunch of notes so I could share them with the Posse and you – our devoted readers.

So Pitch Perfect worked like this. Earlier this year, the Byron Bay Writers Festival called for entries into the Pitch Perfect competition. Writers submitted manuscripts in the hope of winning a chance to pitch to real live agents and publishers. A panel of Festival Co-ordinators sifted through these manuscripts and selected three to go through to the Pitch Perfect Panel competition. Before the Pitch Perfect event, these lucky writers had the luxury of a “pitching mentorship” with Dr Jesse Blackadder.

At the Pitch Perfect event, the three writers were then allowed five minutes each to pitch their novel to a panel of publishers/agents who may (or may not) ask to read the rest of the manuscript.

From L-R, the back of Cate Paterson, the back of Alex Adsett, the back of Sophie Hamley

From L-R, the back of Cate Paterson, the back of Alex Adsett, the back of Sophie Hamley

On the panel was:

Cate Paterson – Publishing Director of Pan Macmillan

Alex Adsett – Consultant and Literary Agent, manager of Alex Adsett Publishing Services.

Sophie Hamley – non-fiction publisher Hachette Australia

The three writers waiting to pitch looked pale and sickly. All the mentoring in the world can’t prepare you for a panel like that. Also palpable in the tent that afternoon was the sense of opportunity. The fortune of these wannabe writers could turn within the hour and their manuscripts could make the heroic leap from the slush pile to the desk. I didn’t know any of the pitching writers personally, but as I watched them chew their nails, slide their hands into pockets and fidget their feet I found myself hoping and hoping that they’d hear each panel member say the magic words “I’m in!”

The three pitchers from L-R are Megan, Claire and Cynthis.  Here they are debriefing with panel chair Zachary after giving their pitches.

The three pitchers from L-R are Megan, Claire and Cynthia. Here they are debriefing with panel chair Zachary after giving their pitches.

The first pitcher/writer was Claire and she was pitching a series of three crime novels. Her pitch included a basic rundown of the plot in the first book and then more broadly how it spans three books. She described her protagonist in terms of characters from books and TV; “She’s X meets Y, if X and Y wore dresses!” She read a tiny excerpt from the manuscript and promised a strong main character with a solid ensemble cast. I felt like it was a good pitch that captured the pacey, gritty voice of the manuscript. But it wasn’t me she had to impress…

Sophie Hamley said “I’m in”

Alex Adsett said “I’m in”

Cate Paterson said “I’m in”

First writer/pitcher nervously takes to the podium.  I was dying a thousand deaths for her and I didn't even know her!

First writer/pitcher nervously takes to the podium. I was dying a thousand deaths for her and I didn’t even know her!

The second pitch was from a lady whose name is just destined to be on the cover of a book – Cynthia Pretty. She started with a true story of how she once rescued a drowning woman. Cynthia then explained how this extraordinary event had stayed with her and germinated to become a larger, imagined story. She used words like ‘wistfulness’ to describe the mood of her story and named published books that her story could be likened to. This pitch had me at hello and once Cynthia read an excerpt I found myself wanting to shout ‘I’m in!’ just so I could find out what happened next.

Sophie Hamley said “I’m in”

Alex Adsett said “No thanks”

Cate Paterson said “I’m in”

Beautiful Sculptures were on display and for sale at the festival.

Beautiful Sculptures were on display and for sale at the festival.

The last pitch was from Megan who had a raft of publishing experiences under her belt, namely short pieces for journals. Megan’s pitch was about a boy gone missing and the impact of broken relationships on child safety and security. The story sounded plot driven and Megan explained that the story moved from place to place. Like the other pitchers/writers, Megan read an excerpt, described who the story would appeal to and gave a word count. I got the sense that we would be in capable hands with Megan’s story.

Sophie Hamley said “I’m in”

Alex Adsett said “No thanks”

Cate Paterson said “I’m in”

Flag all the following points in your notebook.  (And how cool is this sculpture?)

Flag all the following points in your notebook. (And how cool is this sculpture?)

After each pitch, the judges gave feedback. Here’s what they said:

* Don’t be reluctant to use boastful adjectives that will sell your work! Use words like strong and engrossing, or better yet, riveting and compelling. Use these strong descriptive words early in your pitch.

* Hook us in with those first few sentences, just as you would with your novel. Make the publisher want to read on.

* Set the context of your work; genre, setting, potential readership, other stories it’s like, describe the style of your work

* If you’re pitching a series, suggest a tag line that summarises each novel

* Include the word length

* Include a brief bio of yourself as an author or relevant aspects of other work that you do. Make your bio as interesting as it can be. Cate Paterson (publisher) confessed that she agreed to Cynthia’s pitch just because her bio was interesting.

Truly a magical festival...

Truly a magical festival…

* Consider that publishers and agents are always looking for a reason to reject, so your pitch needs to be tight, convincing and reject-proof

* If you’ve published a previous book, ‘close that off’ – explain why you aren’t being published by your previous publisher

* Your pitch should include who your story would appeal to, the major themes within the novel and what shelf it would sit on in a bookshop

* If you’re writing non-genre (ie: It’s a story that doesn’t fall neatly into romance or crime or young adult or thriller or sci-fi or whatever) then your pitch should include an especially detailed description of the themes that your work is canvassing

* If you are pitching to Australian publishers and agents, then the books that you liken your work to should be Australian. The panel all agreed this was super important – they said this shows many things:

  1. you read Australian work
  2. you’ve done your homework about the books you’ll be competing with
  3. you have an awareness of the Australian market and industry

* Know thy publisher (or agent) – Alex Adsett (agent) explained that while she found Cynthia’s story intriguing, she was looking for works with a strong narrative drive and she didn’t think Cynthia’s story offered that. The panel went on to talk about how publishers are always categorising books and considering where a book would ‘fit’ within their publishing house. So, as writers/pitchers, we need to know who the perfect publisher/agent is for our kind of story.

* Explain why your story is different – Megan’s pitch intimated that her story related to the events of 911. Cate Paterson (publisher) said that writers need to recognise themes/ events/ ideas that have already saturated the market and make their pitch stand out above those. She said the pitch should clearly justify why a tired idea has been included or explain how this representation of that idea is different.

* Publishers are people too! They have personal tastes, just like a normal reader. Sometimes it’s just that a story doesn’t appeal to them.

* Understand the bigger picture, the market and the business of marketing. Many people are involved in the process of selecting a book for publication. At the regular ‘acquisitions meetings’ that publishers have, the publisher has to champion your book to a panel of people who are considering the potential sales, marketing and publicity of your story.

* Remember that publishers are BOMBARDED with submissions. There are more published books out there than can ever be read.

* Often, publishers select novels based on their instinct guided by their own passion for books and stories.

Phew!

It was a great session and I was sooo proud of these three complete strangers/ fellow writers who each got a minimum of two publishers to take a look at their work.

I hope next year, when I’m back the Byron Bay Writers Festival, I’ll see them sitting up there on the stage in an official ‘guest author capacity’ talking about how their published book was picked up at the 2015 Pitch Perfect event.

More than that, I hope I’m on stage next to them.

But I’ll settle for being in the audience if I have to!

Ahhhh Byron...

Ahhhh Byron…

Categories: Uncategorized | 8 Comments

A camera, a pen and an ear for detail…

Like Yanicke, I was given the old adage ‘show don’t tell’ pretty early on. But I never knew how to do it until one day, I went to my local Writers’ Group. It was a workshop by author Celestine Hitiura Vaite. She’s a Tahitian author – ‘Breadfruit’, ‘Frangipani’ and ‘Tiare’.

Celestine told us her house was spotless when she was working on a novel because she’d resort to sweeping when she was trying to establish a character or untangle a plot. She was the kind of writer who kept the momentum of her writing going even during the mundane domestic tasks, actually embracing them and using them as a tool to support her writing hurdles. I’m drawn to that kind of practicality and to this day I think about my characters while I vacuum the house, imagining how they would vacuum, thinking about their opinions on house cleaning and dreaming up scenarios they will face. But housework wasn’t the gemstone of advice Celestine gave me that day. When she promised us very practical advice on how to “show and not tell” I leant forward in my seat, pen poised over notebook.

“Imagine a video camera is strapped to your character’s head,” Celestine said and mimed attaching a strap around her chin. “Now, imagine what the character can see, touch, smell, feel and hear. This is how you’ll show your reader – because you’ll describe the beauty of the baby they’re looking at or the icy breeze that’s slicing through them or the steam from the pot that’s making their eyes sting.” It helped me understand how I need to ‘get under the skin’ of my characters if I want to write with authenticity… if I want to show without telling.

A picture worth a thousand words can inspire a thousand more…

Here’s a hangover as experienced by my protagonist ‘Mop’ from my current work Downhill.

The house was silent when I woke up. I must’ve followed Gus’s advice because there was a glass of water by my bed and a box of panadol that had been ripped to shreds. I sat up carefully and had a drink. My head was throbbing and even cracking open the foil on two tablets sounded like a roaring ocean. I rubbed my hair and squinted around the room, trying to remember who I was and how I got there.
Our dog, Nuts, wasn’t by the back door. Mum and Dad must’ve gone out to the paddocks. They’d said something yesterday about checking fences. I slumped on the lounge, flicking through crappy Sunday television, trying to find the cricket. The screen wasn’t even visible with the glare of sunlight invading the room.
Through the window I saw the Hilux tearing up the road, dust was billowing behind it. I heard the tread of boots up the back steps and a pause while they were hinged off. Next came the gasp of the fridge door being opened, the clink of a bottle.
“Hair of the dog?” Gus held up a beer and looked at me.
“Nuh.” I couldn’t think of anything worse.

The screen wasn’t even visible with the glare of sunlight invading the room.

The screen wasn’t even visible with the glare of sunlight invading the room.

My second piece of advice is something I’ve just learnt along the way. It’s pretty unorthodox but I’ll share it anyway.

Eavesdrop.

That’s it.

I think good old fashioned eavesdropping helps me to write authentic dialogue. I often listen to other people’s convos and then make a note of what they said (so watch what you say around me!). It’s interesting to consider their word choices, when they use names, how they interrupt each other and how they start a new idea before finishing the last one.

If you are going to eavesdrop, try not to get caught...

If you are going to eavesdrop, try not to get caught…

Again from my WIP Downhill:

“How’d you go?” Mum was at the stove and threw one arm around me while stirring the mince.
“Pretty crap, I rekon.” I stripped off my shirt and headed for the bathroom.
“Hey,” Mum stopped stirring. “Come here.” She held her arms out and I took the hug. “Yuck! You’re all sweaty and disgusting.” She went to the sink and washed her hands.
“How’d you go with those pickets?” Dad asked, picking up the chook scraps and heading out the door.
“Yeah, nah, alright. Vince took care of it. They’re still in the Hilux. Do you want me to-”
“Nuh, it’s right.” Dad was already out the door.

So that’s my advice – strap on a go-pro and eavesdrop. Give it a try and let us know how you go!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 4 Comments

Pursuing my writing…

I’m finding this month’s blog hard to write. I was super-keen when the topic – writing process – was suggested. But now… as I face the blank screen… I’m not so sure.

My writing process has changed dramatically in the past six months.

See, this year I left my full-time, well-paid job to “pursue my writing”. That’s what I would tell people: “I’m taking a year to pursue my writing.” Sounds like a high-speed car chase, doesn’t it?  Of course I’ve had to take up other less-demanding work, but the goal this year is to focus on my writing.

I agree completely with Yanicke’s post last week. If you’re a writer, you’re a writer and no amount of not-writing will change that. That’s why, for all those years when I was working full-time I could still call myself a writer, even though I hardly wrote a thing.

This year though, I’ve made a great big huge space in my life where WRITING can fit.  And every day I’ve been with my writing and in turn, I’m writing  more than ever have before. My writing process is developing and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s going to find it’s own seasonal rhythms.

As the year started, in the Summer months, I’d write for a few hours each evening. The process went like this: the whole family would troop down stairs and while the kids were arguing their way through the teeth and toilet routine, I’d duck into my writing room and light a candle, flick the kettle and switch the lamps. After kissing my girls goodnight I’d close their door and run into my writing room, where my story was waiting. I’d never been able to do that in the past because I was always too tired after a day of work.

My Writing Room

Now that the weather’s changed and the evenings are dark and cold, being in my writing room at night isn’t such a delightful proposition. The lure of a good book under my cosy doona is hard to resist. And so, I’ve discovered morning writing. My alarm goes off around 5:30am and once I regain consciousness I layer up and head down to the writing room. I’ve discovered how to set the heater so it comes on a few minutes before I get there and the room is toasty and welcoming as I pick the sleep from my eyes. There’s a virtuous feeling that comes with morning writing. I hug the satisfaction close to me during the day – knowing that if nothing else – I wrote something that day.

On the days that I don’t meet with my story – I try to do something that moves my writing forward. This might be following some writerly blogs, re-reading over some notes, editing, doing a writing exercise, dreaming up a new scene or simply reading. Every day I try to do something that connects me with my writing life.

I have also established two ‘writing dates’ in my week. The first is on a Tuesday when both my girls are in school. I’ve found a shared creative space in town complete with pressed metal ceilings, arched windows and a kitchenette. I take my computer and settle in for the day. Tuesday has become my favourite day. Being able to connect with my novel for several hours in succession has helped me discover layers beneath my plot and nuances within my characters. I can let myself become completely absorbed in my writing, knowing that I won’t be interrupted. The other folk who share the creative space with me are IT guys and they assure me they are writers too. But they write code so I feel sorry for them even though they seem happy. Our conversations are limited and their occasional discussions are remarkably easy to ignore.

CoWS

The view from my window. A nice distraction every now and then.

CoWS2

I love the arched windows!

CoWS4

Plenty of space for all my IT buddies.

CoWS3

The pressed metal ceiling, where I gaze for inspiration.

My second date is with my beautiful friend Kate. She lives in Melbourne, I’m in Merimbula and yet every Wednesday evening we send a text that creates a writing link. We settle into an evening of writing, sharing an occasional text of encouragement or a how did you go? query the next day. It’s an experience that warms me and keeps me connected to my work and to my friend. I love the notion of our creative spirits dancing together even if our mortal bodies are far apart.

My writing process is ever evolving. I’m beginning to play with amazing tools like Scrivener, ommwriter, Freedom and Anti-Social. I try new techniques when I hear of them. I collect ideas in endless notebooks. I always begin a writing session with a quick re-read. I always close a writing session with a few dot points of where the story is heading.

If you ask me about my writing process six months from now I’ll probably have a different answer. My process is changing, growing and evolving. But I wouldn’t say I’m pursuing my writing.  I’m not chasing it down the road like it’s something that got away.  I’m just being a writer – any which way I can.

Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Downhill

Hello… It’s Gabbie here – holding my breath as I gather up the courage to share my writing with you.  My excerpt comes from my Young Adult (YA) Work In Progress (WIP).  I’ve called it Downhill and it’s about a young guy from Jindabyne who was once a competitive Alpine skier until he decided to retire… at the age of 19.

Comments are welcome!

The view from Top Station, Perisher

Second place is the first loser. I scrawled those words on the edge of my exam paper, trying to make the letters look like they were sliding downhill. Maybe I would get it tattooed on my bicep – instead of the Olympic rings. No need for them anymore.

I sighed and leant back into the grainy plastic school chair. I stretched and tried not to yawn. The hall had sixteen windows, I’d counted them during the first exam. They were up high, so you couldn’t see outside and they weren’t very big either, just enough to let natural light come in. That was probably a good thing – less distractions and all that.

My desk was in a spot where a slant of sunshine had landed. It was pouring through one of those little windows making a straight line onto my exam. The dust motes were dancing in the light and it reminded me of falling snow.

I would miss snow.

I remembered the last time I had skied – really skied – down something steep and rugged and deep with powder. We had been in Canada, out the back at Mont Sainte Anne – off piste as the locals would say. My best friend Bern had a World Cup on his bedside table. Really. He had won the Alpine Ski World Cup the day before and the trophy was in our motel room. It was crystal, like a round ball sitting on a stem. Bern had kissed it a thousand times, carrying it with him as we pub crawled our way through the village. That night, while Bern was pashing his crystal girlfriend I was wallowing in the soggy depths of inebriation. And at some time that night I had agreed to ski out back with him before we flew home.

The powder was glorious and the sky perfect. The hard work of climbing back after each run down was worth it. My head was pounding but I didn’t care. In ten hours time I would be on a plane back to Australia, never knowing if I might ski overseas again. Certainly knowing I would never compete again.

The snow was thick, ungroomed, fresh. I had to push hard on every turn to propel myself downhill, chunks of snow tumbled beside me as I created a tiny avalanche.

Skiing is about being just this side of losing control, like you’re on the verge of falling but you don’t quite let go. But then I did.   I let my legs push harder and tighter until I was racing and control slipped away. I caught an edge and my skis took different directions.

I hit the ground.

Felt a crunch.

Blue sky.

White snow.

Blue sky.

White snow.

I tumbled.

Finally, I stopped, my body embedded. Unable to go on. My head felt like pins and needles were tingling in my brain. I could taste blood. I climbed up from the snow and a sharp pain gripped my left side. I squinted up the hill to see my ski, my pole, my goggles, my other pole, strewn like rubbish across the mountain.

Bernard plunged down after me; effortless and graceful. He skidded in next to me.

“Mop! Are you okay?”

I pulled off my gloves, pinched at my pockets. Snow spilt out of them.

Bern laughed and I tried to do the same but pain was burning at my side.

“Don’t make me laugh,” I winced. “I might’ve broken a rib or something.”

“That’s alright,” he said. “I’ve got some duct tape back at the Chateau. Let’s go and I’ll tape you up.”

We struggled up the hill to gather my things. I clicked into my bindings, shook snow from my collar.

“You know,” Bern said looking down the peak, “that was pretty bad, Mop. You could stack another thousand times and you’d never fall as hard as you did just then.”

     Focus

In the hall, behind me, I could hear Darcy’s pencil scrambling across the page like his life depended on it. His life probably did depend on it. He was smart. Darcy had a good chance of going to uni and studying something. I think I heard him say once he might try engineering. I didn’t even know what engineers did.

I held my biro and tipped it upside down. It was one of those novelty pens – I’d bought it in a tacky souvenir shop somewhere in Switzerland a few years back. Inside the pen was a tiny but gorgeous girl suspended in water. As I turned the pen, her bikini top slid off revealing ridiculously big boobs. I smiled, flicked the pen.  Bikini on, bikini off.

Focus

            I’d missed too much school to know a lot about anything. I knew this though – if you didn’t know the answer to an exam question, you were pretty much stuffed.  But I didn’t want to be the first one to leave the hall. I’d been the second to leave from English, third to leave from Maths and first to leave from Geography. There were only eight of us sitting the Design and Tech exam. I decided to wait. I’d be the fifth person to go.

I looked back at the exam paper and tried to focus on the question. Focus. That was the buzz word floating around my head these days. Haunting me.

Once – focus had been my trigger word; the word my coach would whisper before the buzzer sounded, the word I’d visualise in that heartbeat of a moment before they called my name to race. Focus had been my word. But I wasn’t sure what it meant anymore. I’d never had to focus on anything in the real world.

Early year, I’d made the decision to retire from professional skiing to focus on my HSC. I’d taken two years to complete Year 11 – that was with competition and skiing. Then another year for Year 12 and the HSC. Three years in total to do an eighteen month course and a few weeks of exams. And after all that, I still had more gaps than knowledge.

I didn’t know how to “focus” on school. The only thing I’d ever been focused on was skiing. I asked my friend Mac once how she did it. She had flicked her hair and told me it was easy. She could focus on study because she really wants the high grades and all that.

Everything I really want, I’ve already had.

Categories: Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I hear voices…

Last week, Yanicke revealed that she was a plotter.  Well – I’m a pantser…  Read on to find out about my (Gabbie’s) writing process…

In her book Reading Magic, Mem Fox teaches us that we should read to our children with ‘wild abandon’. Doesn’t that sound fabulous? Reading like nobody’s watching (or listening) – putting on voices, trying on accents, whispering, shouting, pulling faces and really breathing life into the book.

My daughter Olivia already reads with wild abandon – Look at her little sister Sophie just transfixed by her reading!

I write with wild abandon. I get a sparkle of an idea and let it germinate until a voice sprouts. Yes – a voice. (I’m one of ‘those’ writers!) And the voice becomes louder until I am compelled to write down everything it says.

IMG_1472

Once the voice arrives I spend a lot of time day dreaming. I let the character wander and be themselves. I consider how they move, their habits, their dreams, their food preferences and their mannerisms. I let their opinions collide with my life.   I keenly observe strangers and catalogue them into my character’s life: that’s his best friend, his Nan, a bloke he’d never talk to, a girl he’d have a crush on… I’m interested in writing about the human condition, so that development and understanding of my character is a crucial part of my process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So this dude was going for a surf (I don’t know him) but I know he’s a guy my main character Feet (from my first novel ‘Measuring Up’) would hang out with.

Once the character becomes part of my waking life, scenarios play out in my mind. I’m still dreaming, but I start making random notes like:

house empty goes to Nan’s

and

realises he’s been crying while he slept

and

hates greasy smell of wool

These are prompts for bigger ideas which I try to weave into a sequence that makes a story.  I transcribe the notes to coloured card because they’re no good to me on serviettes, old envelopes, within notebooks and on my phone.

IMG_1449

By this time, the voice in my head feels ‘natural’ and I have a good wad of scrawled notes. There is nothing and I mean NO THING to stop me from writing, but there is something I have to do before I can begin.

I procrastinate.

For a long time.

I take on extra work. I watch movies. I read. I organise cupboards. I make lists. I send emails. I volunteer. I begin new projects. I fill up every moment with other things – things that are NOT writing. Meanwhile, the character is festering in my imagination and threatens to stop speaking to me.

Side note: Why oh why do I do this? I should take some time to gaze at my navel and contemplate this phase of my process. I’ll do that next time I’m procrastinating. 

So – I put off the writing until I am disgusted with myself (and angry and frustrated and full of self-loathing).

And then, I write.

IMG_1495

I write and write. Wildly and with abandon. I let the story fall out of me. The character tells me stuff and I put it onto the page. There’s no direction and I try to stay out of the way, letting my character guide the story.   I don’t let anything stop the flow of my writing. If I come to a section, a sentence or a word that requires research or a peculiar detail, I type XYZ into the text as a reminder that to come back and fill in those blanks. During that first draft it’s all passion. Sometimes if I give my writing wholly to the voice I can create passages that aren’t written by me – shreds of text that came through me but were not of me.

After a few months, wild abandon becomes more like domestic deference. I plod, and procrastination grabs me by the throat. Those periods of procrastination (once I’ve started writing) serve as imagination pit-stops where my sub-conscious works on the next bit. When I return to the manuscript, I resume with wild abandon again and the cycle resumes.

Sometimes I wish I was a plotter. I’ve tried to plan. The trouble is the voice doesn’t always want to go where I want to take them. I’ve pretty much given up trying to force characters into corners; it leaves me feeling frustrated, like I’ve had a fight with myself. I’ve accepted my writing process. It is what it is. But wild and crazy “voice-driven” writing is awkward. I’ve had endings sneak up on me, which is disconcerting. I’ve slaughtered passages that were clever and well-written but also pointless. I’ve written things that made me uncomfortable, made me blush and made me cry.

Once I have my first draft, my “drafty draft”, I procrastinate again. I might sign up for the gym, buy books, do an online course, have a garage sale… The feelings of self-loathing, guilt and disgust rankle and I return to the manuscript. I research and find the value of XYZ. I cut and paste, shifting scenes and changing dynamics. I read and re-write, read and re-write, read and re-write.

Every writers best friend.

Every writers best friend.

When I can’t look at it anymore, when I am sick of it and know it by heart, I’ll ask a trusted friend to read for me.

Manuscript

After their comments, I make changes. I delete. I write. I delete. I listen to the voice in my head saying “Nah, leave that in, that’s funny” or “That bit never sounded good – you’re trying too hard. Ya try hard!”

Then I wake up one day and realise the voice has gone.

And all I'm left with is a manuscript!

And all I’m left with is a manuscript!

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Introducing Gabbie…

Hello Beautiful People – it’s Gabbie here and this is my first blog for The Print Posse.  Special thanks to Yanicke for getting us started.  If you haven’t read her post you should do that now. How gorgeous is that picture of her as a youngster reading with her cat Tobias?

Writing is a lonely sport. You do it all on your own and even when someone does finally read your work, they do that all on their own. It’s not like a huge cheer goes up the minute they read your best sentence. There’s no Mexican Wave after your most well-crafted chapter. And as you write, there’s no commentator describing your progress.

A few pages I scrawled the other night.

{Thank Gawd for that hey? Can you imagine it?}

“She’s writing some dialogue, it’s interesting, it’s witty oh but no, fatigue is setting in – here comes a cliché. Such a shame! Wait, wait… she’s re-reading and yes! She’s hitting delete, that cliché is gone. The scene is saved. So the score at this stage is three thousand words deleted and forty thousand on the page – of which 20% is pretty ordinary.”

I give thanks everyday for the delete key.

I give thanks everyday for the delete key.

And writing is nothing much like other long-term projects either. Consider knitting – even when you’re knitting you can at least hold up your work in progress and people can admire your sixty rows of knit one purl two. They can say encouraging things like that looks cosy and you’re so clever. When a writer is working on their manuscript, people tend to say the most unhelpful things like isn’t that book finished yet? when will it be published? and gosh it’s taking you a long time isn’t it?

Started crocheting this bunny rug when I was four months pregnant with my daughter, Sophie.  She's now four... years.

Started crocheting this bunny rug when I was four months pregnant with my daughter, Sophie. She’s now four… years old.

On the rare occasion that a writer might hold up their work-in-progress and offer it for critique, most people don’t know what to say. It’s just a pile of papers or a few thousand words on a screen. The person being shown the work knows that if they’re going to look at it – I mean really look at it – then they’re going to have to invest some serious time and brain-based energy.

Here's an old manuscript from years ago.  My mentor at the time - author Gary Crew - provided all the scrawls and scribbles.  There's a lot isn't there?

Here’s an old manuscript from years ago. My mentor at the time – author Gary Crew – provided all the scrawls and scribbles. There’s a lot isn’t there?

Writing’s lonely for other reasons too. You have to lock yourself away from your family (or lock your family away– always an option I like to consider).

Sophie (nearly 4 years old)

Sophie (nearly 4 years old)

You have to say “no” to nice things like yoga or coffee with friends. You have to be alone so words can seep into the place where all the other bits of life would normally go.

I was a lonely writer for a long while. I thought it was just the nature of the beast and so I struggled on in solitude wishing I had felt the urge to be a knitter or a footballer or anything that was a bit more social, a bit more “Oh that’s coming along nicely”, more “Yeah – great catch Stroudy!”. But ever since I was a little girl, I knew just knew that I was going to be a writer. I’ve tried my fair share of knitting projects and once I even joined a touch footy team (where I ran up and down the sideline before a helpful onlooker explained I wasn’t even on the field). No – I am a writer. I always have been. Snippets of my earliest writing still litter my childhood home.

My mum's still finding little stories I wrote!  We think I authored this one when I was around two or three.

My mum’s still finding little stories I wrote! We think I authored this one when I was around two or three.

Being stuck in regional NSW only seemed to make it worse. Although Merimbula is a beautiful place, the literary scene isn’t bursting with festivals and book releases and workshops. When you call out for another writer, you tend to hear the echo of your own voice.

This is where I live!  Yep - it's gorgeous.  Just not a lot of support for emerging writers in these parts.

This is where I live! Yep – it’s gorgeous. Just not a lot of support for emerging writers in these parts.

As time passed I let my pages of words fly into the world and my first book was published (Measuring Up). And through this process I discovered other authors and it dawned on me that we can be lonely side-by-side, in unison, together.

That’s what The Print Posse is for me and I hope it will become the same for you. It’s a space where writers can be lonely together and where these four fab ladies can reassure you that you are not alone in the lonely sport of writing. Readers can share in the journey, watching us evolve and hopefully- one day – read our swag of published books whilst saying “I knew those girls when…”

Next week you’ll hear from the delightful Fi Miller-Stevens who I know you are going to love and adore! But while you’re waiting for her post, why not leave The Print Posse a comment? We’d love to have some encouraging words thrown our way. Or if you’re a writer needing some support, just let us know and we will say nice, encouraging things. The comment box is just below.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | 4 Comments

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.