Tag: Australian authors

Finding your story … easier said than done

Some people are much more comfortable writing first drafts, rushing along like a fully-laden diesel train, without  stopping until the end to check the load. Me, I’m like that little old red, steam engine that could … you know the one, I think I can, I think I can…. ad nuaseum … chugging along, steadily, checking for damage to the undercarriage along the way.

my deskYes, I can’t help but edit as I go. It’s not the final edit – oh no, that’s a long way off. I’ve been so fortunate though – 4 weeks of being able to charge into the first draft for my new novel with no restrictions on my writing time (except I’ve only got one more week left here at the May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust‘s apartment in Norwood, Adelaide). This freedom is exactly what an author needs! 

My story, VIVALDI’S ANGEL is taking shape … ever so slowly. I’m up to chapter 12 now. By the end of my fellowship residency next Friday, I hope to be close to the end of a first draft.girlIf I’m not it won’t matter – I do have an ending in mind, and a bit of a road map on how to get there. It’s just that my character, Caterina is showing signs of definitely leading the way, and too bad about any map I have already! Which, for a writer is a good thing.VivaldiI have a rough plan of the story. I have lots of scenes I can write before joining them together. I write a rough, hand written copy in my story journal first … then add it to the computer (great for limbering the plotting part of the brain). All sorts of lateral thinking comes during this process.

I have Caterina’s imagined face and Antonio Vivaldi’s known one (did you know he had red hair beneath that wig?) on my drawing board. Plus several images of paintings of Venice and the Venetians back in the 1700s. And of course, I listen to Vivaldi’s music.

I long to finish this first draft! It’s difficult! I’m sure I’ve said this before. I LOVE the editing and rewrite stages. And all those little doubts linger like they do in many writers’ minds … is this story good enough? Will a publisher love it like I do? Will they GET my writing style. Yes, my style is different, but if I wrote like Andy Griffith, Kate Forsyth or Michael Gerard Bauer, it wouldn’t be a Sheryl Gwyther story would it? Viva la difference. Sorry about using your name in vain there, Michael!! I love reading your stories!

The only thing I can control at this stage is my own perseverance. Here’s my mantra …

I WILL finish this story.

I WILL stay confident it’s the bones of a great story!

I WILL try to write without stopping to edit constantly what I’ve written

Ha, fat chance! You’re such a control freak, Gwyther!That’s the muse on my shoulder talking, not me. I don’t think I’m a control freak at all. My desk isn’t tidy, is it? I just have a tidy brain, that’s all.

Dark chocolate frogs help
Dark chocolate frogs help

Another conversation with Karen Brooks – author extraordinaire

What a great pleasure it is to post this interview. Karen R. Brooks is the author of nine books and is currently working on her tenth. She’s a columnist, journalist (with a column in Queensland’s Courier Mail), an academic and a social commentator. She’s also a treasured friend.

Karen Brooks, author

We got together last week whilst I was in Hobart, Tasmania and as usual those hours flew past as we discussed all manner of things. She’s the sort of warm person I’d love to take, (along with my copy of Shakespeare’s works, Lord of the Rings trilogy and the next favourite book) to that proverbial desert island – you’d never run out of interesting things to talk about.

So settle down with a cuppa (like we did), a juicy morsel to eat and enjoy our revealing conversation.


So we’ve come to the final book in the series, The Curse of the Bond Riders, ILLUMINATION. Karen, it’s been a momentous and fascinating journey for me, one of your devout readers, I imagine journey’s end brings whole lot of mixed emotions for you?

Can I just say these are great questions, Sheryl?  Thanks for asking them. For a number of reasons, it’s both a delight and quite hard to revisit The Curse of the Bond Riders, but here goes…

Finishing The Curse of the Bond Riders was huge and not simply because the trilogy is between 700,000 and 800,000 words. I think, in the end, I spent almost eight years of my life in that world – that’s counting the initial thinking about it, research, learning Italian, some rough planning, the writing of Tallow (while working full-time, writing a non-fiction book and writing for newspapers and magazines as well – I’m a glutton for punishment) and then waiting for the novel to find a home. When it did, with Random House and the wonderful Leonie Tyle, who contracted the entire series, little did I know what lay ahead.

The writing of Votive and Illumination coincided with so many things in my personal life – being diagnosed and treated for cancer, losing one of my closest friends to the disease, moving house twice, moving jobs and, basically, being forced to make a serious career change. It was a bumpy ride in every sense of the word. Finishing the series was bitter-sweet as a consequence. It was both a great relief and a parting that was simply heart-wrenching. I cried buckets as I wrote the last scenes and then sent the manuscript away. It sounds so maudlin and self-indulgent now, but I also think I was weeping about many other things as well; things I hadn’t yet admitted to myself or confronted because I needed to be strong – others needed me to be as well. I love Tallow’s world and the characters but in the end, saying goodbye, as painful as it felt, was just a prelude to a much harder one.

We’ve talked before about the organisation of your work and during its writing journey, but it fascinates me how you were able to keep track of the plot and character development through this immense series (Illumination is 656 pages). How were you able to reel in the line on all those little story ‘fishies’ of information and action? 

I am laughing reading this because I wish I could say to you I had some grand master plan or that I have a whiteboard with arrows and sticky-notes and all sorts of things going on, or even that I keep know from beginning to end what’s going to happen. I wish!

When you were with me and I was showing you what I did, I realised how ridiculous it all seemed. I am not a planner, not in any great way. I now know I’m a panster – but I do research – possibly, too much. I’m ridiculously rigorous about making connections – within and across all books – so the internal logic of plot and character is consistent. I want the books to be able to stand close scrutiny (but, having said that, no doubt I missed some.  🙂

Before I wrote Votive, I re-read Tallow and made copious notes about things I had to be sure to bring across into the next novel. I did the same for Illumination – I read Tallow again, and then Votive and tried to ensure that anything I’d started (and I could have kicked myself for some of the things I did – and didn’t), I finished – and not in an ex-machina way either, but in a manner that was true to the character, the narrative arc and the world. I hope I was successful!

But, I do keep a great deal in my head as well. That’s why, after I submitted the finished ms of Illumination to the publishers in July 2011 as asked, I couldn’t stop thinking about the book and realised, much to my horror, that I still wasn’t happy with the storyline. So, I recalled the ms and asked for an extension, which Random House generously gave me. I then rewrote entire scenes, tweaking and editing and changing a couple of the scenarios. Again, it was about being true to the characters and plot.

A dear friend, who’s a writer, said to me “Are you nuts? For God’s sake, woman, you just got rid of it – you have agonised over this. Let it go!” But I couldn’t let it go completely the way it was. It wasn’t quite right. So, I spent 15, 16 and even 18 hour days, where I’d beaver away until 1-2am, burning the candle at both ends, to get it right. The ms went back to the publisher in September and with nary a correction or query from my wonderful editors, so it was worth it…

 I adored Tallow, a courageous girl, then woman of immense strength and power, yet vulnerable, her beauty, her capacity for love, her honesty and of course, her extraordinary talent. I imagine you spent a lot of time thinking and planning her character development.

 Can you share some of the insights you had while writing her? And while you were writing, did you have a picture in your mind (and jpg) of how she looked?

I am so glad you liked her, I really am. Thank you – I love the way you describe her :). I love her and wish I were more like her. But again, while I knew where I wanted her to start, the humble beginnings and, to a degree, finish, I didn’t have a clue how she was going to arrive there – I thought about her all the time but did I plan her? No. I threw her into scenarios, pitted her against characters, broke her heart, made her endure what should never be endured and she not only survived, she thrived.

I think, for me, the most important thing was to make sure she was never a victim. Others in the novel perceived her that way (at their own peril), but Tallow never did. So, in that regard, I didn’t plan her or even spend a great deal of time considering how she was going to turn out – she just did. Phew! Of course, every time she was in a scene, I thought deeply about her motivation, her way of expressing herself, how she interacted, even her physical responses and made sure she developed as the tale progressed – that she (and other characters) evolved.  (Ed: Brilliant info here for writers, Karen).

As for how she looked. Funny you should ask that. In the first book, I could see her clearly. To me, she looked like Winona Ryder’s character, Call (the android who is asexual) in Alien Resurrection. Beyond Tallow, I didn’t see her so much as feel her – I just realised – how appropriate for an Estrattore. 🙂 I know some readers have expressed discontent with the cover of Illumination, that she doesn’t have the silver eyes. Apart from the fact that she learned to hide and celebrate her differences by then, covers rarely satisfy everyone and I kind of like that some readers have such a clear idea of how they believe Tallow looked, they felt that wasn’t really her – they must have invested heavily in her and I feel humbled by that.

I like the cover – to me, it’s more a suggestion of Tallow – it’s alluring and it evokes my Venetian world and its heady seductiveness (as well as the misty threat of the Limen and Morte Whisperers) quite marvellously.

Karen’s beautiful work room

Here’s a nitty-gritty question about how do you write your first drafts? On paper by hand or on the computer? Freely without stopping too often to edit? Or are you a compulsive control-freak (like me) who must consciously push beyond those bonds to become a freer writer?

I note-take by hand into journals (which sit beside me as type), but I write straight onto the computer. I also have to get the beginning of a novel just right. I rewrite and rewrite and edit (sometimes twenty or so drafts) just to get the entry into the story right. Usually, the first 5-10 chapters, then I just go like wind to the end – freely and crushed by self-doubt!

I’ve met writers who are quite obsessive about not telling anyone about their plotlines, characters etc while they’re still writing. I’m a bit of a sharer and (as you know) can’t help talking about my story to someone I trust is truthfully interested. Sometimes, it actually opens other pathways in my brain whilst retelling too, (an extra bonus), and sometimes others have been very generous in helpful comments and critiques, for which I’m very grateful(Here’s looking at you, Karen, Dee and Angela).

Karen, I’d love to know more about how you feel talking to others during your work-in-progress. 

I am one of those who doesn’t like to tell – and border on being obsessive about NOT talking (I love that you do). I even recoil from saying the novel’s title, though I have in the past and add that it’s the “working” one. I don’t know. I think I am superstitious (stupid-stitious, my hubby, Stephen, calls it :)) and I don’t want to put the mockers on the novel.

I also want to get it right in my head first and then on the page, so I don’t tend to talk to anyone, except Stephen – he’s a fantastic sounding board. In the process of research, I’m obliged to speak to people about the novel, but I only talk about it in the broadest terms. I have had to do a lot of that with this next one. The research has been fantastic and moved me so far out of my comfort zone, but gosh, I’ve met some wonderful, passionate people who are so ready and excited to help and provide much needed information. Oh, and my agent. She’s wonderful to bounce ideas off – but she’s also read some of the work-in-progress (mainly to tell me if this idea is worth pursuing – according to her, it is), but that’s it. My lips are pretty much sealed 🙂

In the last interview we did after the publication of VOTIVE, I asked you what lies ahead in your writing world. Now that this series is finished, are you well into writing your next book?

I am, Sheryl. I am over 100,000 words in and not quite halfway! At this stage of the year, I wanted to be further along, hoped I would be. But I also promised myself I wouldn’t fret over it (ha!) and that I would take my time. I think, I hope, it will have been worth it.

Despite not really wanting to talk about the book, I will reveal it’s a stand alone, historical fiction set in the early 1400s – in England when Henry IV was king, but also with significant reference to the Low Countries and the relationship England at the time had with Germany and the Dutch. My heroine is of Dutch descent; my hero, English. It takes place over eighty years so is quite “epic”. It has intrigue, murder, loss, soul-shaking love, friendship, family, politics and, of course, the church. I have shared bits and bobs on Facebook – even had help naming the main characters which was wonderful. But not much else – superstitious me. I was born on Black Friday, after all 🙂

Thanks again for these wonderful questions, Sheryl. I love that you make me think about the creative process. I probably don’t do that nearly enough as I should!

Thank you, Karen for taking the time and the thought to answer my inquisition so generously – I’m sure it will be appreciate by all who read this post. All the best for the new story!

Author interview part 1: Karen Brooks – celebrating the release of ‘Votive’

I’m thrilled to have as my guest today, the gracious, beautiful and talented Karen Brooks, author of many books including the series, The Curse of the Bond Riders, academic and social commentator.

Her new book in the series, Votive is just released in Australia through Random House.  Huge congratulations, Karen! 🙂

Karen Brooks, author

I was lucky to get hold of a copy before its release (thanks, Leonie Tyle!) and after having read Tallow (the first book, published through Woolshed Press) and enjoyed every word of it, I had high hopes for VotiveVotive is living up to my high hopes. You do need to read Tallow before you read Votive though – well worth it as the world where Tallow lives is complicated and fascinating and her quest, intricate.

About TallowIn a world of darkness, there is one who will bring light . . . On the edge of a mystical border called the Limen, close to a beautiful canal-laced city, a humble candlemaker rescues a child whom he raises as his apprentice. Years pass and the child’s unusual talents are revealed, the gentle art of candle-making slowly transforming into something far more sinister.

Lingering in the shadows, enemies watch and wait – a vengeful aristocrat, an exotic queen and the lethal creatures known only as the Morte Whisperers.  They hunger after the child’s ancient magic and will do anything to control it – betray, lie, manipulate. Even murder.

A story of intrigue, deadly magic and a love so deep it transcends life itself.

Q.  I asked Karen what sparked the first flash of inspiration that led to her trilogy?

Quite literally, I walked into a candle shop that a friend mentioned had just opened on the Sunshine Coast. I burn candles a great deal and really enjoy them, so it was lovely to have a convenient place to buy them. As I made my purchases, a pamphlet promoting the line was placed in the bag. In the car on the way home, I read through it. It was fairly basic, but it had a few lines about how, in ancient times, they used to infuse scents into the candles.

I turned to my husband and said, ‘I’ve just had a really good idea for a story….’

That was in 2006! I had other projects on the go at the time, but I did start writing and planning Tallow and the trilogy way back then.

Q.  Karen, several things struck me reading Tallow and now Votive – the first is how you’ve extracted knowledge of human nature (there must be a touch of Tallow in you :)) and poured this insight into your characters – because they are so real and so fascinating. Many writers struggle with characterisation. Tricky question, I know, but how do you do it?

Thank you. What a lovely thing to say! I am humbled by that. I’m not really sure how I do it except to say that the characters, especially Tallow, but also the Venetian nobles and Baroque, the Cardinale and the other major players, are very real to me. I have imaginary conversations between them as I write and often stop and put myself in their place and think how they would respond, not how I would… does that make sense?

I have also asked my husband a few times, ‘is that how a man would respond in that situation?’ Sometimes, he says, ‘yes, but what you also might like to think about is…’ Or, ‘no, not really; a man would do/say/feel….’ I then translate what he’s told me to fit the character. He has a background in psychiatry – over 25 years, so it’s very handy!

I also researched the period well and tried, to the best of my ability, to glean an understanding of the people in that place and time. They were quite different in so many ways. 

Q.  This trilogy is set in La Serenissima, an imaginary canalled city that could almost be Renaissance Venice. Your weaving of descriptions throughout the narrative is very sensual, Karen.
As I was reading, I felt like I was there in the flooded city with its riotous colour, rotting smells and murky backwater canals. I’m interested in the way you researched this trilogy. Did you spend time in Venice?

I wrote Tallow without ever having been to Venice or Europe. But, being an academic, I read everything I could get my hands on and even studied Italian with the most wonderful teacher, Lauren Charrington and basically, did the equivalent of three years in two; I am losing it fast though!

I can still read it quite well, but my speaking skills, which were quite good, are now rusty. I think it’s testimony to others who have written on Venice (and there are many), that they brought the city to life for me.

I read contemporary and historical accounts – from the Lonely Planet Guide, to Casanova’s memoirs and the dense and a bit dry History of Venice, by Julius Norwich. I think I devoured over 100 books about the place.  I am still reading them!

Oh, and I should add, that La Serenissima is what Venice used to be called. It means ‘the most serene (republic).

But, I did go to Venice before I wrote Votive– in fact, I spent a total, over 2 years, of four months in Europe (I taught a university in The Netherlands for two months, so lived there) and had two extended visits to Venice and Italy. They helped enormously and consolidated a great deal of what I’d read.

"This is a photo I took in Venice. I adore it. To me, it’s always expressed the atmosphere of Tallow’s world."

Q.  What other things did you delve into?

Candle-making. I taught myself to make candles and have the burn scars to prove it. It’s not nearly as fun or easy as you would think – not to do it well. And I don’t. 🙂 I also read a great deal about Medieval Britain, France and even taught myself to use a new computer program in which I am now writing Illumination – Scrivener. It’s tailored for writers and is fantastic.

Q.  As well as it being a thrilling adventure, a love story, a quest for young Tallow and sublime writing, the story cleverly connects to politics, corruption and the cruel fanaticism of a papal religion that openly draws parallels with the Holy Roman Catholic church.
Did anyone criticize you over this aspect, Karen? Like the churches did against UK author, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials)

Not yet… I wonder if they might though. The Church in this period (and all others, really), was a mighty and corrupt machine. It wielded power and control. It hated relinquishing it and saw all other forms of faith and spiritual beliefs, never mind learning (outside what it taught), as a threat to its dominance.

In many ways, the Church as an institution (not as a body of people with strong faith and personal beliefs) is the ultimate villain and you just have to read a little bit of history to understand this. Pullman did it so well.

Thank you, Karen. 🙂 It’s been fascinating talking to you about your books and your writing – we’ll pick up the conversation again tomorrow. Now, I’m off to extract myself from the real world – need to get back to La Serenissima to see how dear Tallow is faring in Votive.

My pleasure, Sheryl! Thank you for asking me 🙂

 So ends PART ONE of my conversation with Karen Brooks. PART TWO will conclude tomorrow with MORE about how Karen planned the trilogy and her answers to questions like: 

  • What would be the best piece of advice you would give new and developing writers?
  • What do you wish you’d known before you started writing the trilogy, The Curse of the Bond Riders
  • What are you writing at the moment?

VOTIVE – Random House
ISBN: 9781864719437
Format: Paperback
Published: 1st June 2011
Age Range:  13 +  Years Old


Coming soon: blogging on ‘Votive’ – Karen Brooks’ new novel

  To celebrate the release of Karen Brooks‘ new novel, VOTIVE today (book 2 in the trilogy, Curse of the Bond Riders) I’ll be chatting with this gorgeous and talented Australian author about the books and life as a writer and a social commentator (with a regular page in Brisbane’s Courier Mail).

Karen has been insulted by the best and worst of them – like football ‘mouth from the south’, Sam Newman who called Karen a  ‘six two transvestite Sheila’ on national TV. No wonder I have such high respect for her! She is tall and she is beautiful! And she is a brilliant writer.


I read TALLOW, the first in the series and fell in love with the story, the characters (especially the remarkable Tallow) and the setting so reminiscent of Renaissance Venice. I had high hopes of feeling the same about VOTIVE.

The lovely Leonie Tyle lent me her copy recently (she was the Woolshed Press editor of Tallow). And what is my verdict?

Read my upcoming interview with Karen to find outCOMING SOON!!