From Hook to Book

Archive for the category “My writing journey”

The Value of Conferences – CYA

CYA dinnerI can’t believe it’s been weeks since I attended the fantastic CYA Conference in Brisbane. I’ve been head-down ever since, following up on manuscript advice received during my two publisher assessment sessions and giving social media a narrow gaze.CYA 2016

Chris Bell CYA 2016 Highly CommendedI was really excited in the weeks prior to the conference to be shortlisted in the 2016 CYA Writing and Illustrating Competition – published author category. It was fantastic that I was already booked in to attend the conference and so I was there to receive a “Highly Commended” award for my middle-grade eco-fic novel Strange Creatures from the judge, Scholastic Australia publisher, Clare Hallifax. I was extra pleased with my HC as there was only one overall winner (congratulations Facebook buddy, Karen Collum), but no placings in this highly competitive category.

It was a great boost to see this 19000-word story that I wrote several years ago with the intention of making it book one in a trilogy appreciated and acknowledged. I’ve always loved the characters and the setting and thought I had not perhaps given it fair exposure at the time as it always seemed an awkward word-count. So I worked on it some more and entered it into CYA and it was really terrific to see it awarded in the competition. I look forward to reading the initial judging reports, which give the added bonus of feedback to entrants in the CYA competition.CYA 2016 Highly commended

During the conference I had two really positive and informative meetings with publishers regarding my YA historical novel and received some great advice. 1. Begin in setting and introduce character’s day-to-day life 2. Use less language of the time.

The first suggestion initially surprised me because I’d always been taught – in kid lit – begin with action. But during the conversations (which offered very similar advice) I came to realise that, with my character’s world and time being quite foreign to the reader, to begin in drama gave the reader no chance to come to know or care about the characters before the initial dramatic interaction and danger. Invaluable advice and well worth paying for. This is one the value of critique and manuscript assessment sessions offered to attendees of conferences and seminars.

Both publishers are keen to see the reworked manuscript, so it’s back to work for me.

 

 

 

Photo credit: Peter Allert

Every writer needs a hobby

Writers are lucky. We love our work. Well we do when we’re not having to rewrite whole slabs that seemed so promising at first, but fell so flat; or freaking out didn’t I change that bit last week? Have I lost that draft? Aaah! Or suddenly discovering that something we’ve set up cannot work and it’s all about to come crashing down. Eeek! Etc, etc.

We love our story so much that sometimes it’s easy to keep writing, day in and day out, until one day, you realise that you’ve not only forgotten to smell the roses, but they’ve budded up, bloomed and fallen while you’ve not been looking. I think the official term is “lack of balance”.

This year I’m going to try working to more like office hours, take weekends. (Of course flexi-time is included. And maybe even RDOs, since I do the roster.) At least when not working to a deadline or in that heady, urgent “new” story zone that demands you write, right then, to catch all the ideas and characters buzzing in your head.

It’s sort-of hard getting away from writing/work when one’s hobbies are reading and writing poetry though, but, with a new address and larger garden, I’ve discovered a new passion – growing vegies and herbs and all things edible.

DSC04620Growing food is not unlike writing a new story, especially watching it grow from seed. Waiting to see if that tiny kernel will sprout into a seedling. One that will grow and grow and flower and once the prettiness falls away, the fruit remains to develop and mature into something palatable. Something to be enjoyed and satisfy and leave  you recalling it later. (Sorry, that could just be indigestion!)

I’m loving the watering (thinking time), harvest, and the eating of what we are growing. Nearly as much as sending a new manuscript out into the world and seeing a published book come back.

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A Varuna Fellowship – a tick off the old bucket list!

Varuna Writers HouseWhen I first started writing seriously and heard of Varuna Writing Fellowships, and Varuna Writers’ House, I wrote “achieve a Varuna Fellowship” clearly on my bucket list of writing goals.

So forgive me while I jump up and down with excitement to share the news that I have been awarded a 2014 Varuna Retreat Fellowship to work on my YA historical novel Prison Boy.

I have been to Varuna. Back in 2011, I paid for a one-week residency. It was writer heaven to be encircled by the quiet of the house, knowing my fellow writers too were squirrelled away at their desks, writing, reading, imagining. Best, there were no interruptions. No appointments, no ringing phone, no clothes to wash and most importantly and best of all (if you don’t count the writing) no meals to prepare. The wonderful Sheila prepares and cooks the most incredible meals and all one has to do is come down to dinner. Oh, and share a drink and conversation with fellow writers and/or illustrators.

I have to say that last time, a little part of me didn’t quite feel I’d earned the right to be there. I still coveted a Fellowship. Three weeks after the announcement, I’m still pinching myself.

Maggie the MuseI can’t wait to revisit, hopefully, the same productivity and inspiration of last time. Also I want to see if my little mate, Maggie, the magpie, and muse, with his twisted foot, is still there. I hope so.

Varuna, here I come!

A Writer’s Week Done

Read:

2 junior novels

1 YA novel

Words Written:   4700

Words Edited:    9300

CONVICT SLANG:

bolter – one who runs away or leaves a place suddenly

crap’d – hanged

qock’d – forgetful, absent in mind

Wild horse familyDID YOU KNOW?

Horses in convict Tasmania were a rarity. The high cost of owning a horse was prohibitive and usually only wealthy settlers, senior officials and military officers rode or owned the animals.

Just one of the interesting snippets I’ve learned while researching my current WIP. I read heaps and did lots of research before even starting to write my story, but some of the everyday work/life details, I just merrily wrote in thinking that I would verify the details later. Horses and dogs seemed a given, but then I discovered – no, not so. It’s amazing how changing some of these small details can require significant changes to a chapter. We don’t just write ‘the man rode his horse’. We incorporate the imagery of that horse ride into the scene, which means that all the subsequent references, sounds of harness clinking, flicking a fly with the reins, smell of horse sweat have to go too. Of course, I would always rather discover such errors myself in draft stage rather than have someone pick up my mistake in a published book. Still it amazed me to discover that a horse, something I saw as part of ordinary, working day life in Australia, even in convict times, was such a rarity due to our immense isolation from mother England and the expense of shipping livestock so prohibitive. Nothing is certain in historical fiction until it’s cross-checked and verified. Even though fiction, it needs to be right.

 

Source: Convict slang A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of the Flash Language (Author James Hardy Vaux 1812)

Moving House and Stuff

Well, we’ve moved house. And moving house is BIG!

Because we have TOO MUCH STUFF!

Moving house 2After all my best efforts to cull unnecessary bits and bobs and dispose of the long gathered minutiae we’ve accumulated over twelve years in the house we’ve just vacated, I thought I’d done a pretty good job.

But as you can see in the pic, I’ve boxes of stuff still unpacked. Stuff that’s now living in the spare room upstairs, because there’s no room in our small temporary abode. That’s right. We still have one more move to go. So I will have another chance. But, unlike the pressure of getting down a word count in writing, no one gave me a box or volume limit when packing. Though you’d have thought so from the sighs and moans of the movers who had to cart our boxes up the stairs.

The fact that there is so much stuff relegated to storage, not immediately needed, tells me I didn’t do the ruthless cull on my house that I’d do during a good word count slash on a WIP.

I guess it’s the same quandary. Sometimes it’s hard to see what’s worth keeping. We hold on to lines and extra linen we love, beautifully crafted sentences and spare salt shakers, hard wrought descriptions and hard bought dishes that we just might need one day.

But, if I can live without all this extra stuff for several months – and not miss it – until the house we’ve bought settles, do I need it?

I suspect the problem is it’s a bit like superfluous plot lines and peripheral characters. We don’t usually need them, but they’re awfully hard to dump. They took time to dream up and craft. We might want them back for another purpose the moment we’ve written them out or off.

I sold a couple of freestanding towel rails that I now really need back. Too late!

At least we never have to lose anything entirely in our writing. We can cut and cull to our hearts content and pop it all in a saved file, ready to grab back if needed. Op shops and online purchasers are not quite so understanding or restorative.

So I’m probably keeping way too much. And it’s not helped by the fact we are moving into a larger house again soon.

I really do like a good word count slash. The work always comes up stronger, clearer, cleaner without the dross. Now if I can just get rid of some more of my crap – pardon, I mean stuff – I’m sure my house will be cleaner and clearer too.

But can’t I just store it in the shed for a few months until I’m sure I won’t need it again?

Moving house is actually very exciting and cathartic. Not to mention inspiring for this writer after coming across a removalist who desperately belongs in a story. Stay tuned!

Celebrating Poetrix, Poets and Adieu!

Poetrix 40 coverSaturday 1st June saw the birth of this new poet with the publication of my poem Life in the final issue of Poetrix. It was a thrill to see my first published poem in print and have the opportunity to read it aloud in front of poetrix peers and poetry lovers, all gathered to celebrate the launch of Poetrix 40 and herald its farewell at the Williamstown Literary Festival.

It was inspirational to hear the thanks of poets who read their work and how Poetrix gave many their first chance at publication too. Some said that first acceptance also gave them the confidence to continue submitting to both Poetrix and other publications and grow their body of work.

Chris reading "Life" at Poetrix LaunchI am honoured for my poem to be included in this final issue alongside some powerful and beautiful poetry and some very well-known, well-published poets. I mourn the closing of Poetrix, just when I am just starting out, but none could argue that Sherryl Clark and her editorial team deserve a rest after producing two issues a year for over two decades. That’s a lot of reading, editing, collating and organising!

Sherryl Clark launching PoetrixPoetrix has seen twenty years of production, the publication of hundreds of poems and the birth of many new poets. In her launch speech, Sherryl explained how Poetrix began in 1993 after a survey revealed the disparity between the numbers of female to male poets being published and reviewed, and after a reported slur by an editor who refused to publish women’s poetry calling their poems “domestic, suburban vignettes”. Western Women Writers went to work to remedy the disparity and through lots of hard work raised the funds to set up Poetrix magazine.

I loved Sherryl’s explanation for the logic behind the title – how if a female aviator is called an aviatrix, a female poet must be called a poetrix.

Thank you Poetrix for enabling my poetry debut and for the warm encouragement of those I spoke to on the Committee. Now to honour your faith by continuing to submit and hopefully see my poetry further published. And now, I can call myself a poet.

Writing Through the Ages (of my children)

When I first started writing, my kids were six, nine and eleven, and I found coming up with ideas on what kids were into doing, liked, disliked, got up to, came very easily, especially when inspired by my live-in research/demographic sample. It took a long time for me to realise that as my children grew up, the ages of my protagonists had increased too.

Gorgeous babyNow my babies are all adults and I find it interesting that I’ve written an adult novel. I think there might be a connection there. (I am, of course, still writing YA and kids’ books too. Mind you, they are novel-length of late and the output slower than shorter-length works.)

So I’m really excited that I’m going to become a grandmother shortly. I could gush here all day about the multiple, personal ways, I’m excited, but this a writing blog. With that in mind, I’ll just say how excited I am that I will get to tell lots of spontaneous, made-up stories and see the world again through the eyes of this special little person. Also I know that I won’t only go exploring through his or her experiences, because I remember the wonderful world of make-believe my own children reopened the door to – in my imagination.

Being busy writing some tough and reality-based stories over recent years, I’ve missed the world of whimsy and fantastical imagination. I’ve missed cuddling the soft, downy cheeks of newborns and giving horsey rides around the house too. I can’t promise the knees are up to any horsey rides, nor wait to welcome this new member of our family and, dare I say selfishly, lots of new story ideas too.

So a question for fellow writers: Do you find that the ages/stages of children in your world have influenced the age group or genre you write for?

The Next Big Thing

I have been tagged, in the writers’ blog chain The Next Big Thingby the lovely and talented Corinne Fenton. The idea is that one one writer tags five more writers to talk about their Next Big Thing (project) and then those writers pass the baton on so that we can read about what lots of writers are writing about. So here we go with my Next Big Thing.

R1)  What is the working title of your next book?

The Swing Tree

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

Scotland research Bothwellhaugh miners row IMG_1029The Swing Tree began as a passion project after a visit to the State Coal Mine, Wonthaggi, exploring my family history back in 2008. My Irish great-grandparents journey to Australia from a tiny pit village in Scotland cried out as a backdrop in need of a story and so began a four-year love affair that has taken me to my ancestors’ birthplace, down a Lanarkshire coal mine and onto the battlefields of France.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Historical fiction

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Jayd JohnsonJames McAvoyHmm, a tough question, especially since my main character, Maire, is Scottish and I’m not so familiar with Scottish actors. During the writing of The Swing Tree,  I kept a photograph of the gorgeous Olive Thomas, star of the twenties silent movies, attached to my monitor as inspiration for Maire’s character.  I think today, young Scottish actress Jayd Johnson would make a fabulous Maire. I can see James McAvoy playing the role of Liam. He’s cute and cheeky, but he would also bring the hard edge to Liam’s character when necessary.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A young Scots immigrant follows the lad she loves to the far side of the world only to find him much changed and herself no part of his plans.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Fingers crossed – an agency.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Eighteen-months for the first draft. The completed manuscript is now 120,000-words, but I would have written over 170,000-words during three years of writing, researching, rewriting and multiple drafts.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

foals-breadYear of WondersI think my story compares with the struggles of the characters in Gillian Mears Foal’s Bread and Geraldine Brooks Year of Wonders, showing ordinary people trying to carry on living ordinary lives in the face of extraordinary circumstances, adversity and changing times. Though my book is more a crossover to mainstream fiction than literary.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Beyond the visit to Wonthaggi (discussed in question two) and my love of history and the Great War era, my great-grandparents’ journey to Australia inspired me. That challenge and their courage in uprooting their family and lives, for a new start in a country so far away, ignited a passion in me for the immigrant journey, particularly one that occurred during a time of enormous change, especially for women. Beyond the parallel migration journey, the story of The Swing Tree is entirely fictional.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

I believe readers will be interested in the female viewpoint shown of life on the home-front during World War One as opposed to the more frequently portrayed male viewpoint and life in the trenches. Life in Australia during WW1 was quite different for women compared to wartime life for women in United Kingdom, where women were encouraged to take over the jobs of men, drive ambulances, work in factories. Here, women’s war effort was confined to knitting and sewing for the troops, unless they were involved in the Red Cross. This proved frustrating and ground-breaking times for women here attempting to expand their roles, yet, many women had to take on the role of breadwinner when the men returned “changed” and often unfit to hold down fulltime jobs. Shellshock was yet to be recognised.

The BIG Question in your Novel?

Big ProblemThe first time I was asked: “What is the big question in your novel?” I responded with a blank look.

BIG question??? Hmm! Hadn’t really thought about a BIG question. I was just writing what I hoped was a cracker of a story and following my main character’s journey through a testing and changing time for women during the era of The Great War.

“Wrong. No! You must be writing to answer a question,” insisted my uni research tutor.

Really!???

Turned out, I was actually asking and exploring quite a few questions, but it took me some considerable effort to seek them out and, even more so, to articulate them and find the core question.

Being an historical novel, I thought, at first, that my questions would be very different to those that might be posed in a contemporary story. I considered them to be all about a woman’s right to happiness and did they have any rights to it, over duty, in the era of 1912 – 1920? I thought the question not relevant to young women in western society today, who often have so many choices.

Eventually I worked the major question in my novel through to:

At what point do we question the rightness and rationale of what we’ve been taught? (Or should we?)

Of course, this turned out to be a timeless question, relevant to as many women/people in the world today as much as a century ago. A right of passage and a question that – in some form – has  been explored and debated in books the world over – through every genre.

Bunyips Don'tI remember having a debate with my Writing for Children tutor, several years ago, when I wrote a glowing review on the picture book Bunyips Don’t by Sally Odgers and illustrated by Kim Gamble. My tutor maintained how could the book end with a celebration when Young Bunyip had moved to the sunny side of the swamp with new friends leaving old Bunyip alone? To her, Young Bunyip was bucking his heritage and a selfish creature for deserting Old Bunyip. I argued that Young Bunyip tried to encourage miserable Old Bunyip, living in the dank and dark, that he could dance and play (be happy) on the sunny side of the swamp and to come with him. Old Bunyip chose not to just because Bunyips Don’t dance and play and live on the sunny side. He chose to live the same old unhappy life rather than make a choice to change. In the end, my tutor was more convinced but still struggled with Young Bunyip “abandoning” his heritage and his kind’s way of life.

Doesn’t enjoyment and love for a book often come down to reader perspective?

If I hadn’t been going to uni, would I have ultimately learned as much just in the writing of my novel and formulated the same BIG question? Perhaps!

But the scope of my Master’s degree insisted I explore and articulate the social context and big question of my novel leading me to discover and thrill to what I discovered were the many layers to my story. Many intentional but some that I found had emerged organically too.

Chris pre-grad (Large)So last week, I walked the ramp to the RMIT graduation stage with a huge grin on my face and grasped my degree, very pleased and proud to be a Master of Creative Media (Creative Writing) with Distinction.

Now – onward to get my novel published. And discover the BIG question in my new manuscript/s.

Often I hear writers asked, did your idea spring from plot, character or setting? Not, what question are you asking. So I’m asking you: Do you write with a BIG question in mind?

Chris post graduation (Large)

A Make-over Mess

Living in our house right now is like living in a renovator’s delight.

One simple makeover/reno job has upturned, upset and upended every single room in the house. (Much like a manuscript makeover does a story.)

We started with a major expense project – new carpet – but not an overwhelmingly physical operation, one would assume. Then again we all know what happens when one assumes.

Long had Mr B complained about the unevenness of our floors and berated their long gone out-of-business builder, who built a lovely home, but took a few shortcuts and not just with the floor. (A bit like a writer thinking no one will notice that bit, being too busy taking in all the fabulous metaphors and striking similes.)

So we couldn’t do the simple take up and dump the carpet – or preferably pay someone else to break their backs doing it – and get our new carpet laid immediately. We needed to investigate the problem/s lurking beneath the underlay.

Do, do, do, do. Do, do, do, do! (Cue ominous Jaws theme here!)

Yes, Mr B was right. (He has to be occasionally.) Those flooring sheets had peaked – pushed together unevenly, or swollen, as I’m told flooring is apt to do – ALL OVER THE HOUSE. Creating hills and valleys and now, some twelve-years post being laid, unsightly lines in the carpet. Not to mention the room where the builder’s flooring didn’t quite meet the walls, leaving gaps for dust and dirt to vent and over the years discolour the carpet along some edges.

White carpet I might add. Not my choice, but it was here when we bought the house. So Mr B has had a big job planing off every join and now we are back on the level – bar the last two rooms to be done  – albeit in a hell of a mess.

It seriously reminds me of trying to do a manuscript makeover and the more you do, the more problems you find or work needing to be done. And before you know it the manuscript that, before you fiddled, looked not far off ready, begins to look an insurmountable mess. Bits that need rewriting, moving, fixing and uneven bits found everywhere.

But then you approach it systematically, move some things, discard others, refresh a few gappy sections, and you begin to see what it could be. Still it’s damn daunting when everything’s pulled apart and you discover a few other tweaks timely. For example, a good time to paint a couple of walls too. Might as well while the landscape is clear and changes sparking fresh ideas.

It’s that creativity and new ideas that keep me inspired. I know it’s going to be great when it’s done.

One added bonus/pest of our carpet makeover is that all my books had to exit the bookcase/s to take up the carpet. (Explaining why my office is one of those last two rooms due to the effort of packing and sorting “too” many books.) I know this looking at the fourteen packing boxes I’ve filled. And that doesn’t count the six full shopping bags I took to the op-shop.

With a blog post in mind, I wrote down some of the titles of books I’ve sorted “to read” and the “keepers”, but like everything else in my office, I think those pages went into a box.

I feel a little guilty to be heading off to Tassie next week for research and leaving Mr B to finish on his own. But I’ll come back to oversee the new carpet being laid and begin the task of putting my house back in order.

I know I’m going to come back really inspired to get stuck into writing this new project, and that will prove a great impetus to get my house in order faster.

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