From Hook to Book

Dangerous Research on The Burning Sea – Sean McMullen

Sean McMullenToday I am delighted to welcome Sean McMullen back to From Hook to Book to celebrate the launch of his latest fantasy novel The Burning Seathe first of six books in The Warlock’s Child series, co-authored by Paul Collins and published by Ford Street Publishing.

Fans will be thrilled to learn that they won’t have to wait long for the following five books in the series, one due to be released each month April through September.

Congratulations againSean, and thank you very much also for sharing some of your research methodology and tips below, as well as a few traps that I recognise all too well.

First a little background: Sean sold his first stories in the late 1980s and has become one of Australia’s top science fiction and fantasy authors. In the late 90s he established himself in the American market, and his work has been translated into Polish, French, Japanese and other languages.The settings for Sean’s work range from the Roman Empire, through Medieval Europe, to cities of the distant future. His work is a mixture of romance, invention and adventure, while populated by strange but dynamic characters. His novelette Eight Miles was runner-up in the 2011 Hugo Awards and his next novelette Ninety Thousand Horses won the Analog Readers’ Award in 2013.

Book 1 - BURNING SEA - front cover

There is no lower rank than cabin boy on the warship Invincible. But Dantar knows he is important, because anyone who threatens his life gets turned into a pile of ashes. His older sister Velza is a shapecasting warrior, in a world where only men fight. Until now. Together they must solve the mystery of broken magic and escape the dragon.

Now, over to Sean.

Dangerous Research

Just after World War Two the Soviets were developing an atomic bomb. Their spies stole a sample of enriched uranium from the Americans and analysed it. It was not as pure as the Soviets’ uranium, and a minister boasted about this to an abducted German scientist. He replied that the Americans had only refined their uranium enough to get an explosion. The more pure Soviet uranium would give exactly the same explosion. They had gone to a lot of extra trouble and expense for nothing.

Sound familiar? Have you ever begun some research that should have taken ten minutes then spent the entire day reading something interesting? When you are doing research you need to know when to stop.

There are three types of research. The first is just writing from your background. The second is learning all about a subject by reading lots and lots. The third is just checking details. Why is all this important? When Paul Collins asked me to collaborate on the series The Warlock’s Child, I had four months to add seventy thousand words to the existing file. This meant no time for spurious research.

Much of our series is set aboard ships. I have helped out on yachts, and an ancestor of mine served on the Bounty, so I knew a bit about life on sailing ships. This meant I could write nearly all the shipboard material without any extra research. Depend as much as you can on this sort of research. It’s already done.

I did quite a lot of the second type of research, because I needed to know how ships fought before they had cannons. This is getting the background right, and you can do it with textbooks. You need to do this before you start writing. Our series was a fantasy involving medieval warfare at sea, which I did not know much about. Why use textbooks, when writing fantasy? I once assessed an unpublished novel with a supposedly medieval setting that also had steam trains and machine guns, and where people said things like “Hey you guys, let’s get outa here!” in moments of stress. Even fantasy needs a convincing backdrop.

The third type of research is the most dangerous, and takes discipline. How long does a sailing ship take to travel a hundred miles? How far can an arrow fly? You can check facts like there on the internet, but you will be tempted to keep reading. Resist that temptation. Why learn enough to write a PhD on archery, when all you wanted to know in the first place was how far to stand from a castle wall to be out of bowshot?

If your name is Suzanna Clarke and you are taking ten years to write Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, no problem, take all the time you like to do your research. I have to be careful how much research I let myself do, because my schedules are measured in months.

The Warlock’s Child series (readers 10+)

Coming Soon: 

Book 2 - Dragonfall Mountain - front cover      Book 3 - The Iron Claw - front cover

Book 4 - Trial by Dragons - front cover      Book 5 - VOYAGE TO MORTICAS - front cover

Book 6 - THE GUARDIANS - front cover

If you’d like to check out some of Sean’s other works, you can visit his website here and co-author Paul Collins here.

The Burning Sea is published by Ford Street Publishing: ISBN 9781925000924

 

#HNSA2015

Stepping into the past is something all historical fiction authors and readers love to do, and in a room full of like minds and 21st century technology, it’s even more fun. Just ask the hundred and sixty enthusiastic attendees/tweeters gathered recently in Sydney for the inaugural Australian Historical Novel Society Conference.

I took plenty of notes, but also discovered how fantastic Twitter is for capturing quotes and the essence of talks and then for sharing them, both with those attending and any interested to follow at #HNSA2015.

Rather than go into heaps of detail about the diverse range of sessions, ranging from personal histories to What is it about the Tudors, to YA historical fiction competing against volumes of vampires, I’m just going to let a few of the tweets talk. Along with some of the pics, including those of a fun and fabulous reading between our lovely conference patron Kate Forsyth, cheeky keynote Colin Falconer and (missing her second calling) the marvellous Jess Blackadder.

If you’d like a snapshot of the conference from tweeters including @KateForsyth @jesseblackadder @kmjgardiner checkout #HNSA 2015 on Twitter.

Many thanks to Chris Foley, Elisabeth Storrs and all their team for a fantastic event. I cannot wait until the next one *** IN MELBOURNE*** in 2017.

Big Books, Little Books

One of the most exciting things for authors is always the arrival of a package bringing their latest book/s. Or shiny new author copies.

Barnyard Dance Big and Little

Book deliveries have been a bit thin on the ground at my place over the past couple of years while I’ve been fully focused on writing and redrafting two historical novels, which, as much as writing these longer length works is my passion these days, also means a lot longer between celebratory bubbles. So it was especially exciting before Christmas to receive a BIG book version (426mm x 315mm) of my title The Barnyard Dance from Gilt Edge Publishing in New Zealand.

One of the things that drew me to write for Gilt Edge were their books’ gorgeous full colour illustrations and cover designs, and that, for some series, they produce BIG books. A large version for teachers to utilise.

Barnyard Dance internal 815kb

I’ve always loved The Barnyard Dance because it’s a fun to read, rhyming story, beautifully illustrated by Richard Hoit. Now I think I love its BIG brother even more.

This post started out simply to herald a new book arriving – or new version – and the thrill of it, but it also led me to search out my other kid’s fiction titles and, taking a fresh peek, it’s pretty exciting to see how many of my educational titles have been re-published internationally in different versions and formats, including braille and audio. Some feature new covers/colours/designs, new titles or changes in spelling, and quite a few have been translated into French and sold into Canada.

Here’s a few pics of some of my titles that have travelled and changed, if you’d like to play Spot the Difference.

Runaway

MacTavish's Creature

Snozza

Trapped

The Keycutters Grandson

The Grand Street Theatre Robbery

The Beast

Tall Tales

Scar

Rollercoaster Ride

Karting Kel

Jono's Rescue

H for Horrible

Darcy Devlin

Dominic's Collections3

Dominic’s collections including a braille version

Batty Aus and US version

My Unforgettable Year – Adem Besim

Adem BesimToday I have pleasure in welcoming debut author, Adem Besim, to share some of his writing process as he stops off on his tour to launch his first novel – My Unforgettable Year, published by Morris Publishing.

Adem was born, raised and still lives in Kyabram, Victoria – the setting of his novel – a coming-of-age story about triumph and tragedy, love and loss, acceptance and letting go.

Life’s looking pretty awesome for 17-year-old, Nathan Thompson. He’s the goal-kicking superstar from the small town of Kyabram. Nathan’s in his final year of school and has big plans set for the future; like winning the Thirds’ premiership cup, acing his Year Twelve exams, and finally graduating. One problem – his tough and over-bearing father, Mark, has other plans for him. He desperately wants Nathan to be the next AFL player to come out of Kyabram.

He seems set to stop Nathan from following his dreams of studying architecture at university. But a thirty-year-old secret of Mark’s that resurfaces on Nathan’s 18th birthday changes everything. Will it force Nathan and his father further apart or help them reconcile their fragile relationship?

On top of that problem, Nathan’s year gets worse as he deals with death, bullying and first love.

My Unforgettable year cover

Congratulations on the launch of your debut novel, Adem. And welcome to From Hook to Book.

What inspired you to write My Unforgettable Year i.e. character/setting/story idea?

I guess living in Kyabram all my life, and writing down the experiences I had in high school and growing up, I was bound to create a fiction story out of it someday. It all came to me over about a three-year period.

Are you a plotter or a pantser? In other words, how did the story evolve for you, through planning or in the writing?

I am definitely a plotter and a very precise one! I wrote down the initial idea, then after a long period of time, I added the key events I wanted to happen in the book, then the characters and the settings and then planning the order of the events in a story arc form.

My Unforgettable Year is written about your home town, Adem. How difficult was it to separate factual events and people from fiction and to avoid members of your community perhaps thinking that characters in the story are them?

Good question! Well, even though it’s set in a real town, my ideas and characters have always been fiction. There are certainly things in the book that people (especially the Young Adult audience) will be able to relate to – that’s been one of the biggest points behind writing the book – as well as writing about some things I went through or wished I experienced!

The story is written in a singular, first-person viewpoint and reads much like a journal of Nathan’s day-to-day life through VCE. What devices did you use to reveal characterisation of the other major and minor characters?

It was just a matter of careful planning and making sure that each scene took the story further in terms of both the characters and plot.

Being a younger author, in what ways is it harder and/or easier to write YA characters?

I was a teenager not too long ago, and started planning this when I was my main character’s age. Also, I’m still quite immature! I also read YA stuff and realist fiction novels. I was told from my earliest work for the book that the voice of the teen was very believable, so I just stuck at it.

What are you working on now?

I have a few other manuscripts in the works. All complete and edited, but I do want to give each of them some polishing up. My next one ventures a bit more into adult fiction (as the main characters are in their thirties) but it is still at a readable level for the YA audience. It is much different from my first book, and certainly not set in my town. It’s in America, this time!

Thank you very much for sharing some insights into your writing process and the evolution of your story, Adem. Best wishes for a bright future for you and My Unforgettable Year.

Thank you, Chris.

 

Follow Adem’s blog tour:

Nov 14 http://clancytucker.blogspot.com.au

November 15 http://www.robynopie.blogspot.com

November 16 http://www.morrispublishingaustralia.com/news-update-blog

November 19 http://www.kids-bookreview.com

November 20 http://elaineoustonauthor.com

November 23 http://authorjillsmith.wordpress.com

November 27 https://christinemareebell.wordpress.com

December 1 http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com

December 4 www.sherfordbear.co.uk

BOOK INFORMATION:
TITLE: My Unforgettable Year
Author:   Adem Besim
ISBN:           978-0-9925052-7-1
Publisher: Morris Publishing

 

Inside Story – Melbourne

Inside Story Melbourne 2014 logo

What a joy it is to be a part of the children’s writing community and attend such wonderful events as the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Inside Story!

Inside Story Melbourne

Kim Fleming Inside Story MelbourneSaturday (1st Nov) saw eleven authors and author/illustrators gather at Readings Bookshop – Hawthorn to share insights into the creation and genesis behind their books and book app. It proved a fascinating afternoon where I learnt many things, not least from author/illustrator Renée Treml who explained how (common) wombats have square poo. Why? So it won’t roll away, of course.

Goldie Alexander Inside Story MelbourneCorinne Fenton Inside Story Melbourne

Speakers shared how stories came about serendipitously, through a 2-year-old asking the not so simple question “How far is up?”, through lived personal experiences, a sibling suggesting “Frankie Dupont would make a great name for a detective” and an adolescent obsession for Choose your own adventure stories that sparked a series, giving the author “an excuse to relive his childhood”.

I was delighted to be asked to assist in drawing the door prize, especially hearing the very excited squeal of the owner of ticket A37 who won the fantastic SodaStream prize.



 

 

 

Betty Sargeant Inside Story Melbourne

Special thanks to the Inside Story committee Jo Burnell, Victoria Thieberger and Laura Wilson for hosting and organising such a wonderful event. Thank you also to all the very talented authors and illustrators of Inside Story – Melbourne 2014 for sharing, presenting and for their generous donations to the book door prize (in order of appearance) Kim Fleming, Renée Treml, Betty Sargeant, Jackie Hosking, Corinne Fenton, Victoria Thieberger, Alison Reynolds, Kayleen West, Julie Grasso, George Ivanoff, Pauline Luke and Goldie Alexander.

Inside Story Authors and Illustrators Melbourne 2014SCBWI Australia East & New Zealand logo

Story vs Character – Snap Magic Angela Sunde

ASunde.1d.WEBWelcome and warmest congratulations to my lovely and very talented writer friend, Angela Sunde, on publication of her latest book Snap Magic, another exciting Lily Padd adventure. Angela is visiting From Hook to Book today both to celebrate the launch of Snap Magic and to answer one of my favourite questions of writers – Story or Character – name your bliss, please, Angela?!

Hi there, Chris. Thank you for hosting me on your blog today. I’m very excited to be discussing ‘story versus character’ with you, as both plot and characterisation compete for attention in Snap Magic.

Lily Padd is a gorgeous character, Angela, and the kind of girl many teens would want as their best friend. Lily’s story is fun and humorous woven into a plotline full of secrets, bullies and twists – not to mention pumpkin soup. As a fellow writer, I’m keen to know whether you write from character or plot?

I always begin with a character and a problem. In my Aussie Chomp, Pond Magic, Lily couldn’t stop burping. In this new book, Snap Magic, Lily has a problem (amongst others) that is out of her control – long black hairs keep sprouting from her chin. From there I immediately leap into plot, mind mapping various scenarios and reasons behind Lily’s sudden facial hair with possible solutions – the crazier the scenario the better. This is why I enjoy placing the element of magic in my books; it makes anything possible within a believable world. Once I have a skeleton plot on paper, the focus on character jumps back in. How Lily, her best friend Maureen, classmates and family react and behave in each scene becomes the thrust that pushes the story forward.

SM.cover.119KB copyWas it the story idea or the character of Lily that led you to write a sequel to Pond Magic?

An interesting question. I think it was the character of Lily. She is such a strong, and (as my editor says) ‘sparky’ character who simply did not go away. Her timid avoidance responses to difficult situations in the beginning of Snap Magic evokes empathy from the tween reader and makes Lily very relatable. But the worse things become for her, the stronger Lily’s will to get to the bottom of things. Her character develops resilience through the story; she still braves the Halloween Dance in spite of the mean girl Ellen’s threats.

Is character or plot the biggest driver of Lily’s story in Snap Magic?

Plot and character sit side by side in Snap Magic. Each takes a turn to drive the story. Characters like the witch, Mrs Swan; the teacher, Mr C; and Lily’ s parents, who constantly embarrass her with their habit of pushing pumpkin soup and Snap ‘n’ Snack plastic ware onto all and sundry, add to the colour and fabric of the plot. Without them it wouldn’t work.

How do you most connect with Lily? Do you and she have any similarities or shared experiences?

I knew you’d ask me this! Am I Lily? Just a bit. I write from a twelve-year-old’s perspective. It seems to be where my narrative voice is most comfortable. Walking along with my back to the wall as a mid grader? Yes, that was me. Waiting till Mum was in the toilet to tell her stuff? Yup, me. I remember the discomfort and embarrassment of being twelve and the changes I was going through. And it seems I’m not the only one.

It’s a big undertaking to self-publish a book. When and/or how did you know that Lily was up for another adventure? And what excited you to go on the journey with her?

I had a team of high-level, industry professionals work on the book with me through a grant from the Regional Arts Development Fund, which validated it’s worth as a project. My editor for Snap Magic is my former senior editor at Penguin Australia (Pond Magic). My book designer is a highly experienced industry designer. I am the author and illustrator.

Snap Magic, as a unpublished manuscript, had received very positive feedback from my Penguin editor, when she advised me the Aussie Chomps list was closed. Snap Magic was also long-listed for the UK Greenhouse Funny Prize with a full manuscript request. Other trade publishers wished it were longer, but its Aussie Chomps length meant it did not find a home. What’s more, I wanted Snap Magic to be a sister book to Pond Magic with the same editor and no name changes. The only way to achieve that was to create my own publishing imprint, Red Pedal Press, and employ my own team of professionals.

Plus both my editor and I loved the story as it was.

SM.Signature.Promo.750x250Consequences are a big part of this story. Do you see consequences as a natural progression of the plot points or more connected to character motivations?

Thanks for asking this. We mulled it over quite a bit during the editing process. With two class bullies (one overt and one covert) consequences were a very important aspect of the plot. My editor and I didn’t want readers to feel the bullies had not had to deal with any consequences for their actions. My long experience as a teacher of this age group gave me insight and knowledge, but I also double-checked everything on government websites. For the bullies, the consequences are a natural and real result of their characters’ actions and motivations. The magical consequences of Mrs Swan’s solution are an integral part of the plot too and add to the humour and final hilarious climax.

Lastly, we all really want to know – are there further adventures on the horizon for Lily and her friends?

It’s ever so tempting to pop out another Aussie Chomp length novel about Lily Padd. Twelve thousand words seems to be the perfect length to integrate enough drama, hilarity and plot twists into my characters’ lives. Can I do it? Yes, the formula is in my magic recipe book. And with Snap Magic also being available as e-book, it has opened new avenues and platforms for me to reach my readers. So why not?

Thanks for having me on the blog, Chris. I loved chatting to you.

Thank you so much for stopping by From Hook to Book, Angela, and sharing both your and Lily’s journeys and how writing from character and plot influences a writer’s story. Best wishes for the rest of your blog tour and more magical adventures.

About the Author: 

ASunde.1d.WEBAngela Sunde is the author of the light-hearted fantasy novels Snap Magic, and Pond Magic (an Aussie Chomp – Penguin Australia.) Awarded a May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship in 2013, Angela represents the Gold Coast as a committee member of the Queensland branch of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is the editor of the Redlands City Council’s ‘Junior Redlitzer Anthology 2014.’ Formerly an award-winning language and literacy teacher, she is also a children’s writing judge and offers workshops at libraries and schools. www.angelasunde.com

snap-cover-e.signatureJoin Angela and Lily Padd on their tour of the blogosphere:

 

Monday 13 October Kids Book Review  http://www.kids-bookreview.com

Tuesday 14 October Sheryl Gwyther http://sherylgwyther.wordpress.com

Wednesday 15 October Robyn Opie http://www.robynopie.blogspot.com.au

Karen Tyrrell http://www.karentyrrell.com

Thursday 16 October Alison Reynolds http://www.alisonreynolds.com.au

Friday 17 October Chris Bell – From Hook to Book https://christinemareebell.wordpress.com

Saturday 18 October Boomerang Books Blog http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au

Dimity Powell http://dimswritestuff.blogspot.com.au/

Sunday 18 October Sandy Fussell / The Reading Stack http://sandyfussell.blogspot.com.au  http://thereadingstack.blogspot.com.au

Monday 20 October Aussiereviews http://aussiereviews.com

Tuesday 21 October Dee White http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com

Wednesday 22 October Angela Sunde’s Blog Tour Wrap Up http://angelasunde.blogspot.com.au

 

 

SCBWI Australia NZ Conference 2014

What a crazy, busy few weeks, but I can’t let them pass without mention of attending the fantastic SCBWI Australia NZ Conference in Sydney July 13-15th.

SCBWI VicSome of the wonderful crew from SCBWI Vic (Photograph courtesy Dimity Powell)

 What an amazing gathering of creators, publishers and industry professionals all communing and exchanging ideas, knowledge and inspiration. All brought together by our amazing SCBWI Regional Advisor and leader Susanne Gervay and her incredible team over three days at the gorgeous Hughenden Hotel in a packed program of publisher info sessions, pitches, book launches and insights into the international market.

SCBWI delegates at SCBWI 2014 including moi

Despite Jetstar’s best efforts to keep me (and a couple of colleagues) from the opening day and changing my return flight (again!), insisting I leave before the close, I enjoyed a wonderful couple of days and came home recharged and inspired. Who could not be seeing the wonderful, diverse works being produced out there in the kid lit world and wanting to be part of it?

Here’s a few reflections I shared on Twitter @chrisbellwrites on gems gathered.

  • Louise Park Publisher Paddlepop Press “Don’t orphan your product – it needs you.”
  • Lisa Berryman Assoc Publisher @HarperCollinsAU “Poignancy can make a book a classic.”
  • @Zoe_Walton Publisher Children’s &YA Random House sub advice “no marketing manifesto, we have a team to do that.”
  • Bruce Whatley deletes all illust notes “illlustrator needs to find their own visual narrative.”
  •  Louise Park Publisher Paddlepop Press “If you’ve got a top product – leverage – write three more.”
  •  @Zoe_Walton Children’s & YA Publisher Random House “Never underestimate the value of food in kid’s books.”
  • “Historical fiction with a genre twist can sell.”
  • @MissConnieH Connie Hsu Commissioning Editor Roaring Brook Press “Character driven picture books still reign supreme.”
  • Karen Tayleur Five Mile Press poss rej reason “nothing special to lift it to top of pile”.

Bruce Whatley session Twitter

Lisa Berryman Children’s Publisher Harper Collins introducing the amazing Bruce Whatley

 

 

 

 

Standing in Elite Company

Hemingway stood up to writeStanding up to work is a growing trend, though it seems Ernest Hemingway always wrote standing up due to a WW1 war injury. Only he stood at a typewriter balanced on a bookcase according to a 1954 interview with George Plimpton in The Paris Review. “He stands in a pair of his oversized loafers on the worn skin of a lesser kudu—the typewriter and the reading board chest-high opposite him.” 

I can’t boast such an exotic foot mat as Hemingway, but I’m really excited to have a brand new standing desk thanks to writer and Facebook buddy Tania McCartney heralding the Varidesk you see pictured below.

Hemingway wasn’t alone. Well he probably was, while he was writing, but it seems that a few other well-known writers stood up to write too i.e. Lewis Carroll, Alexander Nabokov, George Sand and Virginia Woolf. So it seems I’ve joined good company.

Varidesk standing deskLots of medical studies these days are revealing the health benefits of standing up to work too, at least part of the day, including James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic who cites the following benefits:

  1. Reduced Risk of Obesity
  2. Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes and Other Metabolic Problems
  3. Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
  4. Reduced Risk of Cancer
  5. Lower Long-Term Mortality Risk

(You can read more on Levine’s study: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-health-benefits-standing-desks-180950259)

I’d never heard of a standing-desk until I went to work in 2004 for a company run by an innovative and very creative Dane. To me, at first, standing up to work seemed a very tiring idea. But, as I learned through my occasional opportunities to stand up at one or other of the two standing-desks in the office, it’s really good for your concentration, not to mention your back and posture.

I’ve often thought of getting a purpose-built stand-up desk in my own office at home since, but couldn’t justify the expense fearing that my good intentions might tire quicker than my legs.

So, YAY! to Tania because the Varidesk is a very good idea. More a riser than an actual desk as it sits on top of my desk, but it’s really easy to put up and put down so I can stand up or sit down to work at a whim. It even comes with an app to download onto your computer to tell you when to stand up, sit down and even how many calories you’re burning. I don’t quite care how accurate it might be calorie counting-wise, but it’s a great reminder when I’ve been sitting awhile to stand up again.Varidesk timer  calorie counter

I’ve got to say I work best standing up to email, research and even type a blog post, but when serious prose writing I tend to need to sit down. I get so absorbed that I don’t want to strain anything standing too long, since in these early days of adjustment, I’m not quite in tune yet with the whole standing business. I just know that my back is going to thank me long term and hopefully my butt and hips too.

Mainly I’m just aiming to be fitter and thinner, and hopefully live a whole lot longer to write a whole lot more books!

 

 

It takes a village…

Chris Bell SCBWI meeting 2The thing I love about being part of SCBWI (Vic) is the support of fellow creationists who share and care and encourage each other. So standing up to speak in front of a large group of them last Saturday to share my Varuna Fellowship experience was a real pleasure, actually fun, and not at all fearful. Though I do recall that six years ago, as a relative newcomer, I was knock-knee terrified when I stood up in front of a similar group of SCBWI fellows to share my writing journey to that date.

scbwilogoI’m sure that becoming more confident in my writing, and more a part of the SCBWI community over the years since, (including more recently as assistant to SCBWI Vic ARA, Caz Goodwin) helped any likely nerves immensely, not to mention seeing so many familiar faces, and lots of new ones too, in the audience.

Having such a wonderful subject as Varuna meant I had plenty of fuel to speak of, but I always think the best industry talks are those where the audience come away with some little insight or new aspect to explore for themselves beyond the speaker’s experience.

I was fortunate at Varuna to have a chance to chat with CEO Jansis O’Hanlon, who generously shared her insights into the application process and criteria and, from some of the keen scribbling during my talk, I was happy to see that some of Saturday’s meeting attendees seemed to find her nuggets the same gold I did.

Sherryl Clark - SCBWI Member SpeakerMy fellow speakers made the day too: Prolific, award winning author Sherryl Clark speaking about her hybrid/self publishing experience producing an Australian version of her (U.S. published) YA novel Dying to tell me, a fast-paced mystery now on my TO READ pile. And the very delightful Susannah Chambers, Commissioning Editor for Children’s Books, from Allen and Unwin sharing her insights into the U.S. YA publishing scene, research gleaned through her recent Beatrice Davis Editorial Fellowship.Susannah Chambers - Allen & Unwin

A great afternoon in every way, organised by our lovely ARA Caz Goodwin, topped off by wonderful social chit chat time, aka afternoon tea, and the chance to catch up with both some old and new faces.

Maybe it takes a village to raise a writer too!

 

 

Varuna logo

 

Grateful appreciation to Jansis O’Hanlon, Varuna CEO, for generously sharing her time, insights and advice for SCBWI Vic Varuna applicants. 

 

Writer Envy for Burial Rites *****

Burial-Rites3What’s not to envy when a bestselling debut novel, published in 2013, is printed six times in that same year (as it says on my bookshelf copy). Wow!

I’ve just finished reading Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and it’s easy to see what all the hype has been about. Kent’s beautifully written, empathetic novel of the last woman executed in Iceland in 1830 is an enviable telling. Based on the true story of convicted murderess Agnes Magnúsdóttir, it re-imagines the last six months of Agnes’s life, housed with an official’s reluctant host family, awaiting her execution.

The early manuscript won the inaugural Writing Australia Unpublished Manuscript Award; the prize included a mentorship with Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Geraldine Brooks (March, Year of Wonders, Caleb’s Crossing). A bidding war followed the book’s completion and secured an international two-book deal for Kent worth more than $1 million. (More writer reasons to envy!)

Kent first heard Magnúsdóttir’s story as a 17-year-old Australian exchange student to Iceland. The initial six-months of her stay were extremely lonely and isolating in a semi-dark, freezing, small community, without a common language, and it is easy to imagine how she would’ve connected with and become haunted by Magnúsdóttir’s story.

Kent’s powerful rendering of weather in the novel had this reader shivering and imagining herself huddled inside the icy Jónsson badstofa along with the family. The seasonal shearing, slaughter and harvest beautifully dramatised the rhythm of the changing seasons and passing of time, creating a palpable tension that it was not the animals alone running out of time.

Autumn has been pushed aside by a wind driving flurries of snow up against the croft, and the air as thin as paper.

Magnúsdóttir’s specific part in the murder was not revealed in the trial accounts or records, leading Kent to re-imagine Agnes’s part in the crime. Kent has said that where research couldn’t uncover certain facts or sources were contradictory, she had to work out what would be the most logical, or likely situation and in doing so she had to walk an “ethical tightrope”.

The portrayal of Agnes’s part in the crime was the one aspect of the novel that troubled this reader. Without giving away any spoilers, my initial response jolted me out of the narrative. However, upon consideration, it was probably the one explanation that could have worked plausibly for the Agnes character Kent created.

There could be no happy ending to what is an undeniably grim tale with a pre-determined fact based conclusion, still I found Kent’s quiet and sympathetic rendering of the ending emotionally satisfying despite the harsh finality.

It was somehow reassuring for me to read too, while researching this post, that Kent’s mentor, Geraldine Brooks, encouraged her to ‘let a bit more light in’, particularly to what Kent says was originally an even grimmer ending, since I tend to lock out the light a bit in my own novels.

Most of us can only dream of the type of success that greeted Kent’s first novel. But, according to interviews, Kent too suffered self-doubt during the writing. She really set out to gain a qualification and didn’t think the novel good enough to be published. She entered a competition and there you go… A fantastic result and book, Hannah Kent, and a wonderful inspiration to all emerging writers coming along the path behind.

Burial Rites Hannah Kent

WINNER OF THE FAW CHRISTINA STEAD AWARD 2013

WINNER OF THE 2014 INDIE AWARDS DEBUT FICTION OF THE YEAR

WINNER OF THE VICTORIAN PREMIER’S LITERARY AWARD PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD 2014

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