Tag: Australian writers

the agony and the ecstasy – a.k.a. submitting a story

It feels strange to finally send off a story to publishers – especially a story that I can link to Geoffrey Rush (in an odd way). This manuscript is something I’ve worked on for many years – part of me fears for its future, part of me rejoices in the fact it’s now on its own, under the glare of lights. And the eyes of editors. (I blogged about this story four years ago – you’ll need to read through the original one to see the ending though).

FEBRUARY 10 2010 Several weeks ago, I completed the final re-write of my Australian Society of Authors Mentorship novel, Sweet Adversity. It has been a fantastic experience – from learning more on the craft of writing from my mentor, Sally Rippin, to researching the Great Depression in Australia, to putting the final polish to a story that inched its way into my life like a stray child.

Mostly, it has been a labour of love over seven years. But there have also been times when the manuscript annoyed the hell out of me. Then it sat in the naughty chair in the corner, out of sight, out of mind. When the plotting got too difficult, I let other stories slip into its place as the ‘Work-in-Progress’. It sat there on the shelf, glaring at me for months, but then offering possibilities of plot-solving and pushing the characters further than I had before.

It tantalised me every time I saw an article about Shakespeare, or recognised a quote from one of his plays (you may have guessed from the title, it owes more than a little allegiance to The Bard). Like Macbeth, the cockatiel in my story, Shakespeare’s magical mixture of spoken aloud words in his Plays have also captivated me.

My subversion to William Shakespeare happened when I was a student at a country high school in regional Queensland in the late 1960s. One day, a troupe of travelling Shakespearean actors arrived in town on the train. We students sat on hard seats under that hot, tin roof – pesky and smelly and ready to dismiss it as a waste of time when the actors began The Merchant of Venice. By the end of Act 1 you could have heard a pin drop on the bare boards of the Town Hall. I found out years later that one of those actors was the young Geoffrey Rush.

There is another reason I was determined to complete this story with its travelling actors and Shakespearean-quoting cockatiel and a runaway girl. I have a family link to that mostly unknown part of Australian history – the travelling actors who brought live drama to outback towns.

Three generations ago, Lavinia Margaret McAlpine, and her father, Daniel travelled through northern New South Wales in the late 1880s, in an acting troupe. They didn’t confine themselves to Shakespeare – they also put on plays by demand. Like Ten Nights on a Bar-Room Floor. Maybe it was the local chapter of the Anti-Alcohol Society who paid them to do this play?

There are other hand-me-down stories of Lavinia’s life – and a couple of them have inspired events in my story. I could tell you more, but it will have to wait – for the day Sweet Adversity finally meets a publisher who will fall in love with it.

FEBRUARY 26 2014 The Sweet Adversity work-in-progress was awarded a SCBWI International Work-of-Outstanding-Promise grant in September 2013. I’m using the money to travel to the National Library in Canberra to continue research in the best place in Australia to find out more of the Great Depression’s affect upon children.

I’ll never give up on this story. I owe it to the indomitable Lavinia Margaret McAlpine and Geoffrey Rush not to.


Perseverance is the WORD

Writers who succeed are those who persevere through first drafts that feels like pushing jelly uphill; refuse to take second-best for the multiple re-writes; do the spit and polish at the end; then cope with rejection letters, and re-write and edit again.

I’m polishing off a junior fiction novel I started writing in 2003 – wrote the first draft in a leather journal with gilt-edged pages and smooth, smooth blue-lined paper, and dated it, that’s why I know it was so long ago. (It was such a pleasure writing in a beautiful journal the first-draft stopped being a chore.)

Other stories have been written in those six years and accepted for publication since then, but this one is dear to my heart.

It’s a story that required research, imagination and a love of the English language – particularly the works of Shakespeare. It also needed a huge dose of PATIENCE and PERSEVERANCE.

Not that it’s an easy thing, this perseverance game!

I wrote a blog last year about coping with writing doldrums – thought it might be worth rehashing as a boost for anyone with a story that is getting nowhere fast.

One of my survival tactics when writing novels is to read an extract from the biography of  Katsushika Hokusai, brilliant artist and Japanese master of the ukiyo-e, the woodcut print. You would’ve seen copies of his famous works from Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji – they’ve featured in advertisements and fabric designs. Hokusai was born in Edo (Tokyo) in 1760 and died at the age of 88, in 1849. His most famous work is considered to be The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Japanese woodcut printmaking is a labourious, time-consuming procedure of carving in stages into a cherry wood board before printing and reprinting on the same piece of paper – yes, you do require patience.

Hokusai was a man obsessed with printmaking. He even took the art name of Gakyo-rojin at one stage which translates old man mad with painting. Which makes his attitude to perseverance all that more remarkable.

This is what he wrote in his autobiography, probably with tongue planted in cheek as he had a little dig at himself:

From the age of five I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note.

At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees.

Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own.

I only beg that gentlemen of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words.

You can see how this puts frustrating writing moments into a much clearer perspective. Attitude is all important.

Like everyone else I go through the frustrations of rejections. But it is true, persevere with re-writing and submitting and eventually they stop being one-line or one paragraph dismissals. Instead, they return with letters suggesting possible problems or an editor’s positive encouragement.

Not that I’d ever give up doing what I love most anyway!


Elbow room for verbs?

Have you ever succumbed to the temptation of not trusting verbs to do their job?

Like if your hero ‘went slowly down the road‘ when he could’ve trudged, ambled, plodded, tramped, staggered, crawled … you get the picture?

Maybe as you’ve developed as a writer you’ve become a bit of a ‘adverb-Nazi’? Scouring your manuscripts for those haughty, naughty adverbs?  Sniffing them out in a Search and Destroy mission with the touch of a key?  Noticing when other writers do ‘it‘?

There’s no doubt being choosy about if and when to use adverbs improves your writing – if you find the right, potent verb for the occasion.

In Writing Tools50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark pins it down..

‘At their best, adverbs spice up a verb or adjective, at their worst, they express a meaning already contained in it …

The accident totally severed the boy’s arm.
The blast completely destroyed the church office….’

Now see how much better the sentence is without the offending adverb. As Clark notes, ‘the deletion shortens the sentence, sharpens the point, and creates elbow room for the verb’.

But the war on ADVERBS doesn’t necessarily mean not using them at all. There are GOOD ADVERBS and BAD ADVERBS as Clark suggests…

‘She smiled sadly’ is more potent than ‘She smiled happily’.  And the best one of his examples … remember Roberta Flack singing ‘Killing Me Softly‘? It would never have worked with ‘Killing Me Fiercely’.

i.e.  if your adverb contains the same meaning as the verb, it appears weak. If it changes the meaning, it’s strong. In other words, there are adverbs that intensify the verb rather than modify it.

But this blog isn’t about killing off adverbs – I would suggest be sparing in their use though.

Some in the writing world champion the cause of poor old ADVERB. For example, British author, David Hewson (the Nick Costa series)

‘Adverb-hate is one of those automatic ‘never do this’ rules you meet in writing schools and at book conventions from time to time.
I hate ‘never do’ rules in creative fiction. We’re trying to produce works of the imagination here, not business plans.
Furthermore adverb-hate is very localised, an American habit, one some people lay at the door of Hemingway (though whether that’s true or not I’ve no idea).
I’d never heard of this ‘rule’ before I started going to talk at writing schools in the States. And I have to be honest… no reader and certainly no editor anywhere has ever voiced the opinion that adverbs are so, like, nineteenth century, dude.’

Read Hewson’s full blog articleI like adverbs: there I’ve said it boldly‘.

“Adverbs exist because, used properly, they bring something to writing and have done since we learned to communicate beyond grunts.”

David Hewson makes other interesting and relevant points in his blog.

What do you think about the use or non-use of Adverbs? Love to hear your comments.

If you like reading and thinking about the English language and the craft of writing, these two authors and commentators are worth searching out: she says, enthusiastically and eagerly.

Many thanks to artist and author, Inkygirl.com Debbie Ridpath Ohi for the use of her cartoon. Check out her webpage.

PS  Here’s another treat .. Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools … The Musical

thank you Book Chook for the link


Behind the bulldust….

Get on any number of commentating, opinion blogs, like Crikey.com and the leading newspaper online blogs you’ll find a host of passionate people arguing their corner regarding the proposed lifting of Territorial Copyright on Books.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I haven’t seen such passion lashing back and forward since the days after Princess Di died in that high-speed car crash in France … you remember …

MI5 and the Palace organised it!’  ‘No, it was the paparazzi.’   ‘I swear Arab terrorists are involved!’

Blah, blah, blah. I remember thinking, ‘Why the hell didn’t the silly woman put her seatbelt on at that speed!’

But I digress.

Re the current debate on Territorial Copyright in the online media, you don’t just get reasoned debate, you get name-calling, insults, irrational arguments and abuse.

I’ve been following one of these on Crikey.com – poor Shane Maloney copped a serve, as did Mem Fox – both luckily haven’t replied to the abuse. No point trying to argue with unreasonable, narrow-minded, faceless bloggers.

If you get on to Courier Mail online, be prepared to throw your hat into the ring, have your say and run. Red-neck commentators are out in force – but that’s pretty usual up here in my neck of the woods, in fact, it’s fun to throw a ball in the bull-ants’ nest occasionally.

But, of course, the anti-author brigade aren’t just in Queensland, they’re all over the place.

Why is this? Do Australians think we earn so much money on royalties we lounge in our spa baths drinking caffè lattes as we tap out our next bestsellers on our little Netbooks? That we’re spunging off the poor working man and woman? That the impression I’m getting as I tour the opinion pages.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Authors make as little as 6 – 10% a book and that’s only if the book is sold for its Retail Rec Price at a bookseller. If an author’s books are picked up by the school discount market and distributed that way, they could be facing even less royalties. If the book is illustrated, well, guess what? That (possible) 10% is split in half.

I think it’s imperative to let Australians know the facts otherwise they won’t support attempts to save our industry. If you want to do something to help in a practical way go to the new blog site  SAVING AUSSIE BOOKS

A side issue: People who are so down on authors (and they feel the same about artists and musicians as well) see no value in Creativity.  They see it as a waste of time and of Government funding.  Why do you think this is so?