Editing, Writers’ Week and Buffy

It’s been a busy few months for me as I’ve been working on the structural edit of my novel, Hot Pursuit. As with all my writing/editing projects, I went through my usual steps:

  1. Excitement to be at the next stage
  2. Pleasant surprise that the feedback isn’t as bad as I thought it’d be.
  3. Procrastination.
  4. Denial.
  5. Paralysis.
  6. Panic.
  7. I’m never going to be able to do this.
  8. Start with the easy bits.
  9. Everything falls into place.
  10. Pleasant surprise that I seem to have pulled it off.

I’ve sent it back to the editor and am hoping I actually did pull it off… In the meantime, I’m now feeling a bit empty without anything to work on. I became so immersed in the world of the story that I’m almost mourning the loss of my characters and find myself imagining them in various different situations. Luckily for me, I have at least another two books in the series to keep directing their lives, and the first draft of the second book is already sitting on my laptop, waiting for me to jump in.

IMG_5885I was also lucky enough to time my final week of maternity leave before returning to work with Adelaide Writers’ Week, my favourite time of the year. I didn’t get to as many sessions as I would’ve liked, but the weather was perfect and the atmosphere as magical as ever. I saw Sara Taylor, followed by a packed session with US feminist Lindy West, the highlight for me. I saw a few bits and pieces of other sessions, but mostly I just sat under the trees with my laptop and enjoyed the atmosphere.

i6guaja7bivibhmegqdnOn other matters, any die-hard Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan would be aware that last week marked the 20 year anniversary of the show airing on TV. I didn’t come to Buffy until around Season 5, I think, after which I immediately went back to the beginning and watched the whole lot (I don’t even know how many times I’ve watched the entire series since then).

I didn’t know it at the time, but Buffy began to awaken the feminist in me. It wasn’t because she was a kick-arse superhero, or that she was physically stronger than men – it was because slaying vampires and demons was the easy part of her life. It was the normal, everyday stuff that she struggled with. Paying bills, raising her sister, making poor choices in her love life, being there for her friends, knowing what to do with her life. She was a flawed human, but she was a whole human. She didn’t fit into the usual female roles of princess or supporting act to a man’s personal journey. And while it is often thought of as being too dark, Season 6 was my absolute favourite for continually knocking her down and letting her pull herself back up and become stronger.

Buffy was one of the first shows to star a tough woman who was also unashamedly feminine…not in the sense that she was beautiful, but that she liked girly things…she was never trying to be a man. While it paved the way for many shows focusing on women, I think it is still unparalleled in terms of character writing. Yes, Breaking Bad was a brilliant series, but there were next to no women characters, and they were only there because of what they meant to men. And it’s indefensible in the 21st century that 51% of the population takes up so little space on the screen (and in fiction, and parliament, and corporate leadership…).

Even 20 years later, while the fashion may be starting to look a little dated, the issues Buffy dealt with remain relevant…same-sex relationships, addiction, violence against women. It also managed to weave sharp, witty humour into some really dark themes, which is so hard to do well.

And for the record, it’s Buffy and Spike all the way for me…

I think it might be time to watch the series again.

Advertisements

I’m going to be an author!

This blog has been sadly dormant for way too long, partly because:

  1. I have three young kids who take up a lot of my time
  2. not much has been happening with my writing because:
    1. (see point 1)
    2. I’ve been concentrating on submitting my most recently completed manuscript, and I don’t want to go into the blow by blow of how many agents and publishers have rejected it.

BUT!

I finally have some blogworthy news to share, and this time it’s pretty exciting. I’ve been offered (and have accepted) a publishing contract! As with everything publishing-related that seems to happen to me, it was for a manuscript that I’d long ago consigned to the virtual bottom drawer as unmarketable.

It began in September 2015 when I’d been submitting my manuscript Misconception in the hope of securing a new agent. I was receiving rapid rejections for various reasons and, as my list of potential Australian agents dwindled, my spirits were sinking lower and lower when I saw a tweet from boutique publisher Pantera Press that they were seeking comedic chick lit manuscripts. My abandoned mystery series fit the bill, so to give myself a bit of a boost I submitted the first in the series, Hot Pursuit.

I didn’t hear anything for ages and my attention was consumed with finishing up work, starting my eldest son at kindy, moving house, having a baby, and various other unplanned stressful events, and I completely forgot about it. Fast forward to August this year and I got an email from Pantera that they were interested in my manuscript if I could make a few revisions to it.

Still not expecting much but with nothing to lose, I edited the manuscript and sent it back, and a couple of weeks later I was amazed to receive an offer to publish not only Hot Pursuit, but the whole series! After I’d got over my excitement, I sought advice on the contract and, with the nitty gritty out of the way, I was ready to accept.

Last week I was lucky enough to be whisked over to Sydney for a whirlwind visit to meet the whole Pantera team and sign the contract, with obligatory glass (or two) of bubbly of course! It was amazing to meet everyone and of course to hear so many lovely comments about my book!

A week later my head is still swimming with details, but I have plenty of time to absorb everything, as Hot Pursuit will likely be published in January 2018. Next up will be the structural edit of the manuscript, but until then I am continuing to celebrate the amazing news that after all these years of perseverance, I’m actually going to be an author!

Here’s me with Ali Green, CEO of Pantera Press, and Marty, Sales and Marketing Director.

pantera

This news was great timing for me, as I’d set a goal to have a publishing contract before I turned 40, which I’ve achieved with one year to spare!

I’m hoping to keep this blog way more up to date now as Hot Pursuit continues on its journey to publication. More to come soon!


Adelaide Writers’ Week 2015

It has not escaped my attention that my last post was entitled: ‘Adelaide Writers’ Week 2014′. No, I have not written on this blog for a year. Yes, I am a little ashamed. More so considering that I haven’t done a whole lot of writing either, other than some revisions on the manuscript I finished early last year.

But once again I managed to get to four out of six days of Adelaide Writers’ Week, and once again it has inspired me to get back on the laptop and start again.

My highlights of this year:

  • US authors John Darnielle and Smith Henderson spoke about their books in the context of a ‘troubled America’. Despite the topic, this was one of the more entertaining sessions, with both authors cracking jokes among discussions about gun control, low wages and many of the other issues facing contemporary America.
  • Cate Kennedy and Richard Fidler. Yeah, I know Richard Fidler is not an author, but damn he’s a good interviewer and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch him in action with his old school friend Cate Kennedy. I’d love to say I came to him through the Doug Anthony Allstars, but must admit that I’d never heard of him until I discovered his Conversations segment on AM radio during my first lot of maternity leave, and I’ve loved him ever since. He was also popular with the mostly over 60s crowd, with the applause suggesting many were there to see him as well as his interviewee. As expected, it was an entertaining and insightful session focusing on the beauty of ordinary life rather than sensationalism.
  • Jenny Offill is a US author whose novel focuses on the highs and lows of relationships and parenthood. She also spoke at length about her own writing process, which I always enjoy hearing, and how this one slim novel was the culmination of eight years of revisions until she found its voice and was able to complete it.
  • Roxane Gay was the highlight of the week for me, and the fact that she was interviewed by the wonderful Monica Dux was an added bonus. Gay is a prominent feminist from the US who calls herself a ‘bad feminist’ because she believes deeply in feminism and yet continues to enjoy things that are often considered its natural enemies. As a fellow enthusiastic yet bad feminist in the traditional role of stay at home mother while simultaneously the worst housewife on the face of the earth, I loved this session. Gay was funny, passionate, inspiring and encouraging to the next generation of feminists. I could have listened to her speak for hours.
  • Willy Vlautin, another US author, was lovely to listen to. He writes predominantly about common people who are down on their luck, and he spoke with a good-natured, self-deprecating humour that endeared him to the audience. His lovely readings inspired me to buy several of his books.
  • There is rarely a writers’ festival that I don’t come away from with a new Indian writer to read, and Jerry Pinto was this year’s gem. I’ve rarely heard a more hilarious account of a writer’s journey to publication, and his book, which is largely an account of his childhood growing up with a mother with bipolar disorder, is already doing important work in bringing recognition to mental health issues in India.

And so ends Writers’ Week for another year. As always, it was such a lovely experience to spend a few days sitting under the trees in perfect weather, listening to writers speak, and a reminder that, other than my family, there is nothing more important in my life than writing.


Adelaide Writers’ Week 2014

Adelaide Writers’ Week is considered by many to be the pinnacle of writers’ festivals in Australia, and 2014 didn’t disappoint. Some of Australia’s best writers plus a range of high profile international authors converged on the beautiful Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens for six days of talking about books to large crowds of readers.

Image

My haul from the book tent

I was lucky enough to have the whole week free this year, and I certainly made the most of it. For the first time in years, the weather, usually in the high 30s, was perfect. The festival begins on the Saturday with two kids’ days running parallel to the main program. I love to see little kids enjoying books, and aside from readings by authors such as Mem Fox and Katrina Germein, there were many other activities to keep small people entertained. We took our two-year-old on the Saturday and he had fun for hours.

As always, immersing myself in the world of books and writing brought inspiration. I haven’t been writing lately while I leave my manuscript to rest, but have been cogitating on a new idea, and throughout the week I found myself adding notes and snippets of subplots into my phone. I’m now feeling quite excited about jumping into it when the time is right. And of course I discovered a whole host of new authors, and bought a huge haul of books from the book tent.

Writers’ festivals are also an opportunity to meet other authors, and it was great to bump into Irma Gold, children’s author and editor of The Sound of Silence: Journeys Through Miscarriage, in which my own story was published a few years ago.

My highlights from the week, in order of appearance:

  • Richard Flanagan – Much has been made of Flanagan’s latest book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, but it wasn’t a book I had any interest in reading until I heard him speak about it. War stories are not usually my thing, but this book, based in part on the experiences of Flanagan’s father as a prisoner of war, seems so personal, and his reading from it so beautiful that it went straight on my list of books to be read. He also made a statement about asylum seekers that really resonated with me – and obviously with many others, as it earned him thunderous applause from the huge crowd – in that all the world’s great atrocities began with considering a group of people as less than human.
  • Jaspreet Singh – It’s no secret that I’ve long enjoyed Indian literature, so it was great to hear this Indian/Canadian writer talk about his book, which chronicles the 1984 anti-Sikh massacres. Again, this is quite a personal book, as Singh was a Sikh teenager living in Delhi at the time. While I have read a bit about this in the past, it’s a little-known issue outside of India.
  • Louise Doughty – The highlight of the festival for me, this author spoke extensively about her writing process. It’s always great to hear writers actually discussing style, structure and process rather than just talking about the book itself, especially when they admit to the same post-first draft panic that us aspiring authors have! I was only disappointed that I left my book buying too late in the week and all her books had sold out. And Doughty’s realisation that she came to while sitting through a murder trial as research for her latest novel will stay with me for a long time – that the prosecution writes its own novel of the murder while the defence writes a different version, and the jury are literary critics who decide which story has the most credibility. Brilliant.
  • Hannah Kent and Elizabeth Gilbert – I saw these two on a panel together about writing historical fiction. Local author Kent is always such a pleasure to listen to, humble despite her enormous success, and her reading from Burial Rites was a reminder of her stunning writing. Elizabeth Gilbert, on the other hand, was a surprise. I’ve never read Eat Pray Love, and have to admit to a certain snobbery due to its commercial success, but her reading from her latest book, The Signature of All Things, showed her to be both a witty, accomplished writer and a down to earth person.
  • Fiona McFarlane – I saw this new Australian writer on a panel with the aforementioned Louise Doughty discussing the issue of trust in fiction. Her first novel, The Night Guest, has already had considerable success, making the shortlist for the prestigious 2014 Stella Prize. Her explanation of the thoughts that went into the story was fascinating, and I’ve now added her book to my ever-growing to-be-read pile.
  • Alexander McCall Smith – I wasn’t planning on staying for this session, but I’m so glad I did. McCall Smith, author of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, among others, is a delightful man who exudes comedy and had the whole crowd in hysterics. Even the AUSLAN interpreter had to stop at one point as she broke down in uncontrollable laughter. Totally entertaining and endearing, and a prolific writer, turning out 3-4 books each year, it was a fun hour spent in his company.
  • Jeet Thayil – another Indian writer, Thayil has recently released his first novel about the opium dens in 1970s Bombay. Thayil was open about his own battles with heroin addiction over 25 years, but it was his reading from the novel that was the highlight for me. His prologue is a six-page, stream of conscious sentence, and what a sentence! Thayil is also a performance poet, and the couple of pages he read from the prologue were simply amazing. He didn’t even stand up from his chair, but his presence, his compelling voice, and of course the beautiful words, were an amazing experience to hear. He reminded me a lot of Kevin Spacey.
  • Michelle de Kretser – Winner of the 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Prize and the Prime Minister’s Literary Prize for her novel Questions of Travel, Sri Lankan born Australian de Kretser was also a highlight. I saw her on a panel with Jaspreet Singh in an interesting discussion on travel and tourism and what it means to different people and cultures. It was a lovely moment when de Kretser’s former geography teacher stood up to ask a question near the end, demonstrating that teachers can have an influence on their students long after their school years.
  • Christos Tsiolkas – While Tsiolkas was not his usual articulate self and often seemed to fumble for words, he’s worth a mention purely for his humility and genuine nature. He seems – still – genuinely stunned and humbled by his own success, despite the brilliance of his dissection of character in his most recent novel Barracuda. He also raised a passionate defence of public schooling, a subject close to my own heart.

And there ended Writers’ Week for another year. I’m now armed with a great pile of books and a lot of inspiration to continue with my own writing. We’re so lucky to have such an amazing writers’ festival here in Adelaide. I’m already looking forward to attending next year.


On hiatus

A few weeks ago, I finished the second draft of my novel. It was probably the biggest structural edit I’ve done, cutting 20,000 words from the total word count while moving scenes around and fleshing out half-formed subplots. The downside of this is that there are going to be holes throughout it which will probably mean another structural edit before I even get to the line edit and final polish.

This time, I’m determined to let it rest for a decent amount of time so I get some distance and perspective before I dive in again. So I sent it off to my beta readers and await their feedback and reactions with excitement and trepidation. I’m OK with the break (other than the undercurrent of anxiety that comes with the approach of baby #2 and probable disappearance of productivity), but I’m not entirely comfortable with not having a writing project to work on. I don’t want to start on a new novel and get seduced by first draft romanticism (otherwise known as never finishing anything). Plus, no ideas. But I want to remain productive and keep the writing muscle active while I can.

So I decided to try my hand at a short story. Again. I’ve written about this before. You’d think by now I would’ve learnt my lesson. Once again I started with an unformed idea and started writing, and this time I got further than a paragraph. I’ve written three pages. But it still doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. I feel no connection with the characters and I’m already tempted to give up. Rather than write quickly, as I do with a novel first draft, I keep going back and editing, changing happy to glad and back to happy again, which is generally my way of avoiding the fact that it’s not working.

I’ve still got the document open. I still want to write. The story possibly has some potential. I’m just not sure I have the patience to see it through. I’d rather be writing a novel.


Bootcamp!

No, it wasn’t one of those things where you get yelled at by a muscle-bound exerciseaholic while subjecting your own body to torture. But it was probably just as tiring.

Yesterday I completed the final day of a four day fiction writing bootcamp held by the SA Writers’ Centre. I’d wanted to go ever since I saw it advertised a couple of months ago, but with finances thin I wasn’t sure I could justify the expense. But then, two weeks ago, I was randomly picked to win a $200 workshop voucher, so I didn’t hesitate to book in. And it came at a perfect time considering I’m just embarking on second draft purgatory.

The bootcamp involved two workshops a day for four days covering beginnings, dialogue, voice, imagery, self-editing, ‘irresistible fiction’, characters and point of view.

The first was beginnings with Gay Lynch, which explored some ways to create the perfect first sentence or paragraph for a story. While I am for the most part still happy with my beginning, it’s always useful to look at things from different perspectives. The next workshop for the day was dialogue with Lucy Clark. The content in this workshop was quite basic and seemed to be aimed primarily at beginner level, but again it does help to reinforce existing knowledge.

Saturday began with the voice workshop with Jennifer Mills, which gave us some great tips to give our stories and characters a voice of their own. There were a number of exercises, including writing a scene from the perspective of a different character, writing a scene using only dialogue, then rewriting the same scene from an outside perspective relying on nothing but body language. It was interesting that I initially baulked at these exercises, but doing them gave me a fuller picture of everything that makes up character and story.

Next up was imagery with Lia Weston, which I also really enjoyed. It covered all the different methods we can use to convey mood as well as the physical. It was challenging for me to realise how ingrained cliches still are in my psyche, even though I despise them. The exercises really stretched me as a writer and made me think about how to use more evocative prose.

Sunday began with a self-editing workshop with Patrick Allington. I did enjoy this, but as we were a really large group and we only had three hours, there was only the chance to look at three pieces, the second two of which were rushed through quite quickly. I also found a lot of time was wasted by people debating whether individual words or sentences worked in the piece, which was frustrating enough for me let alone the person who was no doubt hanging out for the expertise of the professional editor in the room! The afternoon session was irresistible fiction with Steve Evans, which I found difficult to focus on, particularly in the afternoon, as it was delivered as a lecture with only a couple of exercises. The day ended with a Q&A with the ever-enthusiastic and lovely Sean Williams, who described his career trajectory and gave us some tips on perseverance and always enjoying the writing process.

Day four was also a highlight for me, with the morning session on characters with Anna Solding. This workshop helped me to get to know my characters better through a range of exercises that I would never normally do when creating a story. I feel like I have a more rounded view of them as people now, which I hope will make them leap off the page once I’ve finished editing.

The final workshop of the bootcamp was point of view with Amy Matthews, and this was another of my favourites. It was packed with exercises, which mostly involved re-writing scenes from my novel from a different point of view. My first reaction to this was that it was a waste of time because I wasn’t going to change the point of view in the novel, but once I’d done them I again found that I knew so much more about the background of the characters and story, which will help with authenticity.

By the time it was all over I was drained and utterly exhausted, but ultimately inspired once again to bring what I’ve learnt to my next draft. It’s always so valuable to meet other writers at all levels, and even to go over old learning with new eyes. I’d love to do something like this again in the future.


The books that have changed me

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time, and what better time to follow through than when I should be editing my manuscript…but let’s not speak of that.

I read a lot and I love a wide variety of books, but there are some that stand out because they’ve changed or influenced me in some way, either as a writer or as a person. They’re the ones I’ve read multiple times, and that have left me with something different with each read. And so, beginning in chronological order…

ImageBlack Beauty by Anna Sewell

This was probably the first book I became obsessed with as a child. I read it over and over again and, in the school holidays, my sister and I would watch the animated movie on repeat all day and then recite the lines across the dining table until our poor parents were driven insane.

This is such a timeless book with its messages of the importance of showing kindness to animals. I was born with a love of animals, but this book inspired in me a lifelong commitment to animal welfare.

This second edition (1898) has the inscription ‘Recommended by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’. I’d love to say it was my original childhood copy, but it was a very special birthday gift from my sister Amy and will always have a place in my bookcase.

ImageThe Silver Brumby series by Elyne Mitchell

Another childhood favourite, I read this entire series cover to cover more times than I could count and well into adulthood.

Yeah, it’s about wild horses that talk to one another, but it’s the first book I can remember reading where I actually appreciated the skill and beauty of the writing. The author had a real knack for evocative prose and the stunning Australian bush setting has stayed with me my whole life. To this day, whenever I see a ghost gum I can’t help imagining the silver shadow of a horse flitting past.

These were also the first books that inspired me to be a writer – in fact, as a teenager I wrote my own saga about wild horses in the Snowy Mountains which all but plagiarised this series.

ImageGreat Expectations by Charles Dickens

I was still fairly young when I read this book. It was my first experience of the Classics, and I must admit I wasn’t expecting much. I thought it would be dull, pretentious and wordy, but by this point I was becoming more interested in writing and I was curious about the successful writers of the past.

From the first page, I was impressed by the colourful characters and the dry, subtle humour. And by the time I got to the end I was blown away by the twists and surprises that I could never have participated.

After reading this book I sought out most of Dickens’s other work and was no less impressed with this master storyteller, but as my introduction to Dickens, Great Expectations remains my favourite of his books.

ImageA Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

This book is special to me for so many reasons. Family sagas are not usually my thing, but this book was recommended to me during my Dickens phase as being quite similar in style, and so I gave it a go.

And Dickensian it is, both in its humour and its contrast between classes and castes and the divide between rich and poor. While there are numerous characters, each is impeccably drawn and has their own individual emotional journey. This book also introduced me to a culture I knew nothing about beyond vindaloo, and it spawned a near obsession with all things Indian. Set in a key period of India’s history in the wake of Gandhi and independence, it also gave me an unexpected interest in politics. Each time I read this book I uncover more gems that I missed on the last reading, which for me is truly the sign of a great book.

But most importantly, A Suitable Boy made me serious about becoming a writer. I’d dabbled in writing on and off over the years, but after reading this book I knew it was what I wanted to do. It inspired my first (adult) full length manuscript, which gave me my first taste of industry affirmation, enough to encourage me to continue even though this one will never be published.

ImageCloudstreet by Tim Winton

This book was a revelation to me. It was the first book I read with such an unorthodox style, and it made me realise that there were ways of writing with brilliance and depth of emotion without using flowery, perfectly-formed prose. It taught me that it’s OK to break rules in writing and storytelling as long is it remains true to the story.

Another family saga (OK, maybe I do have a thing for them), each character, while having their own flaws, experiences the full character arc. I’m a sucker for a redemption story, and every character, no matter how contemptible, finds their redemption in this book.

It is an achingly beautiful story with such a strong sense of place that I could picture every creaking corner of that house and breathe in the dust of the street as I read.

ImageA Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Another Indian book set in a turbulent period in the country’s history, this one tears me apart on every reading.

The story swings unapologetically from the depths of cruelty and injustice to the sweetest, simplest joys of humanity and back again without ever resorting to cheap sentimentality. It is exquisitely painful and wonderfully uplifting to read.

While it is an often-depressing book, it also does a great job of demonstrating that true happiness does not come with wealth, but through families and friendships, and by accepting others for who they are and where they come from.

I can’t say enough about this book – it’s not for the faint hearted, but for me it’s a must-read.


Kirsten Krauth

Novelist, Blogger, Wild Colonial Girl

LiteraryMinded

Angela Meyer // hidden auditorium of the skull

sawriterscentre.wordpress.com/

fostering, developing and promoting writers and writing

Darryl Dymock's Writesite

Musings from author Darryl R Dymock

Author Dawn Barker

Author and psychiatrist

Sisters of the Pen

All about writing