From Hook to Book

Archive for the tag “The Writing Life”

Oh, what a feeling..!

Sheldon excited

That feeling when your brand new story/character/world becomes real and – OMG, it/he/she speaks to you!

Especially when you feared after finishing your previous project (of many drafts and years) that the same passion might never strike you again.

Despite reading many blogs/interviews/author biographies to the contrary – the promise of a long-held idea becomes real. Maybe even has legs!

Oh, what a feeling!

 

 

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Tagged

Alison Pith HelmetI have been tagged by lovely and prolific writer and friend Alison Reynolds to share my writing process in the “Tagged” blog tour. A bit of a worry since, as a child, I was “Chris of the Scabby Knees”, more likely to fall over than tag anyone. So just as well email is faster than me at tagging.

The Littlest bushranger_FRONT COVERAlison Reynolds is the author of the gorgeous A Year with Marmalade and The Littlest Bushranger picture books as well as the popular Ranger in Danger (choose your own adventure) series. And, “TA DA”, very, very soon a brand new Marmalade adventure. In fact, I’m excited to host Alison – next week – on her whirlwind blog tour to help launch A New Friend for Marmalade.

To find out more about Alison and more of her brilliant books you can visit her website at http://www.alisonreynolds.com.au.

What am I working on?

I am working on a YA historical novel set in convict Tasmania. It’s a bit scary saying that, because really it’s done and time to send it out into the world. That’s the hard part though, because a writer always fears – it might come back.

DSC03909 copyHow does my work differ from others in its genre?

When writing my last two novels, both the main characters’ voices  arrived strong and distinct. I hope this originality of voice will help set them apart from some other historical works. I write very much from story rather than the historical period I’m writing in. Of course, I want the details and history to be correct, but I don’t want to give my reader a history lesson. Detail is soon sacrificed if it ruins the moment or pace.

Rue de Kanga - Peronne copyRooDeKanga 1918 Peronne copyWhy do I write what I write?

These days I write mostly historical fiction because it’s become an absolute passion for me and, as it turns out, it’s what I’ve always loved most to read. Starting with A Little Bush Maid by Mary Grant Bruce, back in the days when I could read all night by torchlight to get to the end of a book or crash to sleep trying. I get so lost in the research, learning about the different ways of doing day-to-day tasks, gutting and skinning rabbits, lighting a fire, dressing and talking, that sometimes I forget to write.

I love that I get to talk to so many interesting people from all over the world too, including an ex-Scottish coal miner, the owner of a French chateau, and an expert on antique weapons, discussing everything from botany to broomsticks, cockatoos to crinolines. Plus I’ve been fortunate to go to some truly amazing places. A lot of the time only in my mind, yes. But my research has taken me to Scotland, down a real coal mine, onto the battlefields and into towns in France still bearing the scars of WW1, and forced me to face some fears stepping nervously through tunnels deep under the city of Arras.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How does my writing process work?

My process varies depending on what I’m writing. For short titles, I tend to plot first and then write out the story. But for my historical novels, I found the settings first and then the main characters arrived. I always knew what the problem/conflict was to start, just not how my character would solve it. With a basic starting point, I wrote to find out how things turned out. Themes and subplots emerged later, through many hours of daydreaming, midnight musing and redrafting, as well as during the writing.

ww1 mortar in wall IMG_1351 copyUntil I really get to know a character, many thousands of words into the writing, I can’t know how they will react to different challenges or what decisions they might make. Sometimes they surprise me and their decisions can lead to a plot twist that I wasn’t planning on. I can write copious notes in notebooks, ideas and scenes, and possible scenarios for the story, yet when I look back, months later, it has all turned out so differently. The character/s I planned in my notebook never turn out the same as the one/s that come to life on the page.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s  thrilling when a new character I hadn’t planned turns up. Shattering when one dies unexpectedly, yet rightly for the story. Sometimes things occur because they’re inevitable and no other way things could have worked out.

Then the editing process begins. Stuff gets chucked out, stuff gets rewritten and stuff gets added. So I guess my process is not systematic, though I’m always in control, even if I do have to wrench it back sometimes from my characters.

Now it’s my turn to tag. I’m out of breath, but have managed to catch up with three wonderful writers and friends.

Liz CorbettElizabeth Jane Corbett is a fellow writing group buddy and beautiful historical fiction writer. When she isn’t writing, Elizabeth Jane works as a librarian, teaches Welsh and blogs at elizabethjanecorbett.com. In her spare time, she also writes copy and reviews for the Historical Novels Review. In 2007, an early draft of her historical novel, Chrysalis, was shortlisted for a HarperCollins Varuna manuscript development award. In 2009, her short-story, Beyond the Blackout Curtain, won the Bristol Short Story Prize. Another story, Silent Night, was also shortlisted for the Allan Marshall Short Story Award. She is currently in the final stages of re-drafting her original historical novel. She expects to have it ready for submission by the middle of the year.

clairesaxbyThe multi-talented Claire Saxby is hard to catch. She’s busy, busy with three new picture books in production and the author of the stunning Big Red and gorgeous Sea Dog.  Claire writes fiction, non-fiction and poetry for children. She has published picture books and chapter books, short stories and articles. Her poetry appears in magazines, anthologies, on train walls and in museum resources. Claire lives in Melbourne and loves it, despite what anyone says about the weather.

Claire’s most recent picture books are ‘Meet the ANZACS’ illustrated by Max Berry (Random House), ‘Big Red Kangaroo’ illustrated by Graham Byrne (Walker Books) and ‘Seadog’, illustrated by Tom Jellett (Random House) which won the  Speech Pathology Award for Young Children in 2013. You can learn more about Claire on her website.

KatApel_Bully_B&W_SmLastly I’ve stretched all the way to QLD to tag the beautiful and very talented, Kathryn Apel. I met Kat through Month of Poetry, which she runs and coordinates each year. Kat was born and bred a farm girl – but she’s still scared of cows! Kat lives amongst the gum trees, kangaroos and cattle, on a grazing property in Queensland. Her chapter book, ‘Fencing with Fear’ is part of the Aussie! Read! series, and her rural rhyming picture book, ‘This is the Mud!’ has been read by Justine on ABC PlaySchool. Kat’s verse novel for younger readers, ‘Bully on the Bus’ will be released in July, with UQP. Prior to publication it won the published author’s manuscript section of the 2012 CYA Competition.

Kathryn co-ordinates Month of Poetry each January, and has had poetry published in magazines and on CD in Australia and New Zealand.

You can read more about her work at katswhiskers.wordpress.com

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.

DSC04628DSC04612

It must be January…

…because it’s Month of Poetry. Yay!

What an inspirational way to launch the year and reinvigorate the writing muscle. Month of Poetry is run every year in January by the very talented and lovely Kathryn (Kat) Apel who gives experienced and novice poets alike a forum to write and post a poem a day, and exchange comments and feedback with one another. This is my third time participating and I’m learning so much and about so many (new to me) forms.mop12

It’s such a wonderful way to jump into the writing year. And a fabulous kick-start for me after a complete break from writing since the beginning of December. Though it’s been wonderful to take time-out, it’s also been quite strange because I can’t remember the last time I spent so long away from a WIP, blogging or some form of writing. But after several months focused on rewriting my YA historical novel, and two house moves in between, it was definitely time to rest and play. And finish unpacking boxes!

my year

I’m really looking forward to this year. So much is on the horizon and lots happening for this writer. I’m heading to Varuna Writer’s House in March to take up my two-week Residential Fellowship and I can’t wait to catch the whispers in its walls and soak up the inspiration. I plan to write up a storm.Varuna Writers House

I’ve taken on an exciting new role as Support to our new Victorian SCBWI Assistant Regional Advisor, Caz Goodwin. And I’m really looking forward to meeting more of our members and participating in the exciting range of events planned for this year.

SCBWI Conf-logoI’m attending the SCBWI International Conference in Sydney in July. It’s going to be fantastic to catch up with some online friends and writing buddies from around Australia and meet lots of new ones, not to mention attend all the fabulous sessions and panels.

A quick trip to Tassie will enable me to tweak a couple of descriptions and double-check a couple of locations in my WIP.

So welcome 2014. I’ve cleared out my email inbox, tidied my desk, and, at last, filed my considerable WIP research. Phew! That was a job and a half. So I’m ready and raring to go a hunting words. The best part is to so look forward to getting back to work, doing exactly what I love.

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)

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.

The Paper-full Office

It’s time to put my office back together, after emptying it for new carpet, but I cringe to re-store all the boxes of old manuscript drafts and files. I’m wondering what to keep and what to chuck?

Even the tax man only makes me keep my paperwork three years. Am I just being precious keeping all these manuscript drafts of my published books, not to mention multiple drafts of many unpublished titles?

I’m so far distant from a paperless office I’m out the other side. In fact, adding much more paper, I will be – on the far side of the door. I truly don’t mind lots of books and paper stuff, but… seriously, it’s time to cull.

Surely even well-known authors who donate their work and boxes of manuscript to the Lu Rees Archives don’t keep everything? Or perhaps they do and that’s why they donate their life work when still living, to get the boxes out of their homes.

With that thought, I ducked into the website of the Lu Rees Archive to get an idea of what they do hold. Heaps, it seems, and, very interestingly, they also tell you how to look after your papers. I discovered I’m breaking all the taboos and shortening my paperwork’s life span by using metal pins, staples and rubber bands amongst other no-nos. The website explains that “metal rusts very quickly and leaves permanent marks. Rubber bands quickly disintegrate, leaving marks. Self-stick removable notes easily fall off, and when they do remain, may shift from the desired spot and leave a sticky residue. Sticky tape eventually loses its sticking capability and leaves marks as well as a residue. Liquid paper and correction tape wear off and crack.

One great and surprising tip recommends using HB pencil to label your files etc, because pencil lasts for centuries and doesn’t damage like inks and pens. Lots to learn if fame ever finds me and my work.

But, since I’m not famous, yet, and running out of room, perhaps a mini cull would suffice.

How many or much do you keep of old drafts, notes and paperwork from your manuscripts? Is there a good reason to keep all or any of it? Please let me know your method and ideas in the comments?

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.

Step by step to publication

 

After lots of emails crossing paths in the ether all week from various writing buddies… I’m putting it out there. How can we writers inspire, buoy, encourage and fool ourselves into keeping steadfast on our journey to publication?

More often than not, it’s a long, long haul from Point A – the idea that inspired the story to Point B – publication.

Sounds simple enough. I mean how hard can it be? A few thousand words! How long can it take? A few months!

Turns out – not so easy. Not so fast. A novel isn’t written in a day, a week, a month or, for most us, even a year. It needs to evolve, develop and be written page by painful page, draft by draft. (Unless, of course, the muse is in town and on those golden days it verily hurtles along.)

We need sustenance along the way. Small incentives towards making the dream a reality and I’m not  talking chocolate, a glass of bubbles on each chapter completed or trinkets in small velvet boxes. No, I mean some writerly stepping stones to support our self-belief and enthusiasm from point A to B. Because at some point along the path, there’ll be more quicksand than shore, more shale than stone under our feet. With no agent, or publisher beside us mopping our brows and waving the chequered flag, we can be the ones to flag. Our writing stalls and suddenly that brilliant idea seems trite, unoriginal and going nowhere.

We don’t get a treasure map, or to kick the odd doubloon to tell us we’re on track. We shake the compass, but it only points north – as the crow flies. It doesn’t tell us the easy roads or shortcuts.

What we need is some tips to inspire and gain some kudos along the way – always great for the C.V. but more important, great for our confidence and self-belief.

Here’s my top ten stepping stones towards publication:

  1. WRITE – only words on the page can grow a story.
  2. Join a writing group (find kindred spirits who get what you’re doing, and offer real, productive critiquing that helps your work, builds your craft, and theirs, spiralling you all towards publication).
  3. Enter competitions – to gain confidence, writing credits and crafting competence. (Not to mention certificates for your achievements book. Okay, brag book, if you want to call it that. See tip 5)
  4. Submit to anthologies, magazines – to get your name out there, gain confidence, writing credits and inspiration to continue.
  5. Keep an achievement (display) book to keep copies of those small steps, Letters to the editor, commendations, reviews you’ve written – great to browse those milestones on days you need a reminder that you’re moving forward.
  6. Build a website – create a cyber presence, AND/OR create and maintain a blog – gain a voice, a following, a kinship with fellow bloggers. (Remember to comment on other blogs and exchange reciprocal links.)
  7. Rework your chapter, story, base premise, for fiction short markets, or find non-fiction links and submit to newspapers, magazines, journals, e-sources for publication, gain writing credits and link back to your WIP.
  8. Build your writing profile through social media i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Jacketflap, LinkedIn. (Suggest keeping your Facebook author persona separate from your personal family/friends persona.)
  9. Network – online groups, associations, writing organisations, attend conferences, lit festivals and industry talks.
  10. Daydream – see your book cover on the shelf – crucial to keep motivation and self-belief alive. (I’ve been known to create a cover to manifest the dream. Love modern tech.)

My writing friends and crit buddies are invaluable in keeping me focussed and motivated. Their successes enthuse me and absolutely inspire and energise me to try to keep up with them and pull out all the stops to emulate their successes. And when none of us are getting far, we can commiserate together because none of us want to kick the dog.

Sometimes that finish line PUBLICATION seems invisible and as unreachable, un-navigable as a line in a river of frothing, foaming, rushing water.

Love to hear how you hold the sometimes rickety writing craft on course – please let me know in the comments.

Never poke a writer (or a Mama Bird)

This time last year I made a vow – after discovering a tiny baby bird alive but flopped on our back deck with a bleeding cut on its back – that if Mrs Pigeon showed any sign of setting up house this year, I would wave her off sans hésitation. I had no wish to repeat that worry or ensuing mercy dash to the vet. I never rang to enquire after the baby’s health but chose instead to believe that she pulled through and grew up to rear a family of her own.

But when the day came a few weeks ago that Mrs Pigeon flitted and fluttered around my deck, carrying twigs and fluff and the usual building blocks of a pigeon home, I couldn’t bring myself to stop her. What if she was ready to nest and I upset the process and as a result another chick was lost? The dilemma was momentary and I gritted my teeth, hoping for windless days and no premature barrelling overboard this time.

We’ve watched and listened while Mrs Pigeon cooed and sat, sat and cooed until finally, after her comings and goings recommenced, we got to see a little head poking up yesterday and one eye peeping over the top of the nest. A short time later when I went out with my camera, Mama bird had returned and so I asked hubby if he could climb the ladder and take her picture. To my absolute horror, he ventured too close, (we have zoom Mr B, 10x zoom!), and Mrs Pigeon panicked. She flew out of the nest, under the pergola, crashed into both windows before flying away into the treetops. I’m not sure who got more of a shock, her or us, and I was bereft fearing she may not return and what would happen to baby bird then?

Thank goodness, an hour after we slunk inside, out of sight, she returned. This morning, she is cooing and peaceful and I assume that means baby bird is too.

Baby birds are as fragile as new stories and Mama birds as flighty as any writer of a new work. Don’t poke the nest or creep too close. Any interference or perceived danger can send the writer fleeing, project abandoned and all the promise of that new work doomed without persistent warmth, heart and gentle coaxing. It may never take wing at all without a long gestation, application, and a writer willing to stick around long enough for it to be ready to throw it out of the nest.

Yesterday’s episode is a reminder to me too not share too much of my new WIP at this very early, fragile stage. Sometimes interested others can poke the writer’s nest without intending to and we can be such a flighty bunch. I have great hopes and plans to stick around, but I also have a feeling I’ll be nesting and sitting here a lot longer than Mrs Pigeon.

Do you share your WIP? Talk about it? Discuss it with family, friends or the postman?

My Year of Reading Challenge

Book 6

In the Human Night by Peter Bakowski 1995 (2000)

I love Peter Bakowski’s poetry. I can actually understand it and with its varied and recognisable subjects, refrigerators, mountains, clocks and kings, it speaks to me. So many gorgeous lines like “back under the axe of being alone: hearts eaten by banknotes: In your arms I find puddles, xylophones and all my chains turned into skipping rope”.

 Hale & Iremonger ISBN: 978 0 86806 539 0

Book 7

 We Don’t Know We Don’t Know by Nick Lantz 2010 

My daughter introduced me to the poetry of Nick Lantz. I found much to love in his lines but my favourite poem has to be Of the Parrat and other birds that can speake, an amazing poem on Alzheimer’s that resonated keenly with me. You can read it by clicking this link http://www.gulfcoastmag.org/index.php?n=2&s=943.

Graywolf Press MN ISBN: 978 1 55597 552 4

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