Tag Archives: writers

Say it isn’t so :(

I’m a little bit in mourning, yesterday was the last day of my Refine Your Novel course. I am going to miss it so much, I enjoy looking forward to it and I enjoy the work while I’m there and I love the motivation in the days after it.

I’m also going to miss the tutor. I did this course with Toni Jordan 3 years ago so this is my second go around with her and she was just fantastic. This last day is possibly my favourite. In my favourite exercise she gives us an early draft of her debut novel, but a version very close to what she sent to her publishers, and then a photocopy of the printed book and she gets us to mark up the changes, of which there are many. This is incredibly brave of Toni and so helpful to us writers. It’s all well and good hearing about the things you need to do to a manuscript to whip it into shape, it’s another matter entirely to see and create a real life example.

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That’s a lot of green pen!

While we work on this, Toni takes a sample of our manuscript and line edits it for us. Most of us provide our first 1500 words, 3 years ago she marked up the first page for me (of a different manuscript) this time she marked up three pages. It’s such a fantastic opportunity, to see where it is you need to concentrate, where you’re going right and where you’re missing the mark.

20150726_152903And in a bit of a fan girl moment I got my copy of her first novel signed.

There’s much to be done, so much…

Little update

Maxine Beneba Clarke (Foreign Soil) and Emily Bitto (The Strays)

Maxine Beneba Clarke (Foreign Soil) and Emily Bitto (The Strays)

So I saw these two fantastic authors recently at an even put on by my local library. It was a brilliant talk that I’ll review shortly (as I’ve left my notebook elsewhere!). But I will encourage you to go out and purchase or go online and purchase both their books – Emily Bitto The Strays I selected as the next book club read when I host, and Maxine Beneba Clarke’s short story collection Foreign Soil I have just started.

I have my last instalment of the Refine Your Novel course this weekend. I am going to miss it terribly, there’s nothing like attending a course to motivate you in the days immediately before and after it! I am only at about 13,500 words into my rewrite, but hitting places where I can use almost entire paragraphs from my first draft, so that is nice. This is the class where Toni Jordan takes our first few pages (or whatever else you have elected to bring) and line edits it for you – humbling.

And a wee note on technology. I am working out of my usual library haunt today and have a bit of a crazy set up. My lovely littel red netbook is on its last legs and works terribly slowly, it moves into glacial when connected to the library wifi, so I also brought along my flash work MacBook that is only about 2 months old. The sleek Mac I keep for work use, not my personal stuff, but I keep it open for a quick web search, check of email and also to answer the odd work email (gotta quit doing that on writing days!). Then I realised I had some photos on my phone I needed for something so I opened that up to email them across. And my Koko ereader is on charge.

I look pretty ridiculous, I’d find me annoying! Gonna close the Mac, the ereader’s probably charged enough to put back in my bag.

Ah, that’s better 🙂

Side effects

The ripple effects of little coincidental things that happen in your life are interesting. Don’t worry I’m not getting deep and profound on you, its an observation on writing.

So as you know I joined this book club. An invitation that came about by coincidence, one of the mums at school and I were classroom helpers on the same day, we turned up one week to great apologies that their schedule had been changed and we weren’t needed. Her other kids were being looked after so we were both free for a couple of hours, went for a coffee and got chatting and she invited me to join book club.

Book club (or wine club as it is often unfairly but accurately described) has required me to read a number of books I would not have normally picked up. This month we are reading The Messenger by Markus Zusak. Everyone knows his novel The Book Thief , The Messenger is nothing like that, it is a YA novel, very Australian and I’m really enjoying it, based on the blurb I probably wouldn’t have picked it up. I do like a YA read now and then, but modern gritty YA, not my first choice. This novel is fantastic, Zusak is such an accomplished writer with incredible turns of phrase.

So to the side effect. While reading this, the conversations I am writing between my two main characters have improved out of sight. They have become much more natural and effortless, the dialogue is starting to speak to a comfortable familiarity and a shared past. I think I actually did a better job of this in the first draft and I’ve made them a little too serious in this incarnation.

A piece of advice that is regularly trotted out to writers is to read and read widely. It’s mentioned so often that I skim over it and ignore it, I do read, a lot. But every so often I get why.

 

Music soothes the writer’s soul

One of the blogs I procrastinate with follow is the Debutante Ball ‘Five debut authors, five novels, one big dance toward publication.

There is a theme each week and each writer blogs their experience – one week they interviewed their editors, one week their agents, they have talked about the jealousy on the road to publication when others get signed before you, about motivation and the list goes on. Over the last week they have written about the music they listen to while writing.

This has been really interesting and I have such mixed emotions on this. I do tend to listen to music while I’m writing but not for the reasons that the authors on this site suggest. The reasons behind their music choice distilled down to creating the right atmosphere to generate an appropriate emotion for the novel or the scene. While I completely understand their reasoning, it makes a great deal of sense, it’s not why I listen to what I listen to while writing.

I am easily distr…. ooh, look a bird’s outside the window, sorry where was I? Oh yeah, I’m easily distracted and so I listen to music while writing that can act as a sort of white noise. Having said that I’m not listening to death metal or acid house, I do need music that is fairly mellow. Music does definitely influence our emotions and I don’t need to amp up any anxiety or edginess.

I can remember when I was in high school my mum used to say she knew when I was studying behind my closed bedroom door by what music I had playing.

So to create the white noise effect I need I can’t have anything on my playlist that I know too well, I don’t want to be singing along. I use Spotify and sometimes will use some of their preprogrammed list – there was one called Your Morning Coffee or something along those lines, that I listened to for a while, but that could tend toward the insipid sometimes so it’s out of favour at the moment. I listen to some Damien Rice, but I’m getting to know some of those tracks a little too well. Buena Vista Social Club has been good, and also Paolo Conte – foreign language seems to help with the white noise effect. Jack Johnson and Nina Simone (not together although how great would that be?) and Eddie Vedder’s Into the Wild soundtrack get a fair run.

And shhh, don’t tell anyone the Twilight Breaking Dawn soundtrack. Please don’t judge me.

Some of the tracks the authors at Debutante Ball listed I really like, I may just have to spotify some of the others on their lists, chances are I’ll liek them but they’ll be unfamiliar enough to work for me. I always like finding something new (to me).

How about you, what music gets your creative juices flowing?

Three rules to writing…

There-are-three-rules

Read the words as they’re written – or don’t, but YOU choose, not an app

While it may seem a cop out to blog about others’ blogs, I read two kickass blogs this week that really resonated and I wanted to share.

The first was an entry from the fabulous Joanne Harris (yes, she of Chocolat fame). She found herself at the front of the Clean Reader app controversy. This is an app that allows the user to filter their ebooks and replace any nasty smutty language with tamer and more vanilla words (no fair – I love vanilla, but you know what I mean). Initially they were also a bookseller, you purchased the books through them and the filter was applied to your level of preciousness, now it seems that you can simply apply the filter to books you already own. Let me say – this way trouble lies, much much trouble. Not only were you’re standard profanity words swapped for things like crap and darn, but they were also changing more benign phrases like bastard (which has an actual meaning that is often used in novels, changing it to jerk will not make sense). But there’s a rather short slippery slope from substituting crap for shit, gee for Goddamn to taking out passages about topics we don’t like. If you don’t like the subject matter, the language choice, don’t read the book, or put it down. Anyhoo, Joanne Harris argued this far more eloquently than I in a direct exchange with the app developers – my favourite bit and what best encapsulates the relationship between a writer and a reader:

We have a relationship, you and I (you being the reader). I like to think it’s something deeper than a simply commercial one. I don’t want to be a product. I don’t believe you really want to be simply a consumer. By sending my book out into the world, I’m giving you entry to my heart. It is a gesture of trust. And I expect you, in return, to trust that what I write is as honest and true as I could possibly make it. That means trusting me when I say that I have thought about every word; considered each one carefully. If they shock you, it’s because I felt that the story needed to shock at that point. Stories are not always comfortable. The heart has many chambers, some of them very dark indeed.

I’m not promising to get it right all the time. I’m only human. But I try. Which is why, if you’re thinking of using Clean Reader to filter words from my books, don’t bother. Either you trust me, or you don’t. Fiction is a leap of faith.

Yet another reason to love Joanne Harris.

The second piece comes from Kristen Lamb who wrote this post about how it’s o to say you’re a writer, you’re not aspiring, if you’re writing that’s what you are, what you do. Don’t be flim flammy about it. There’s days as a writer that I feel like I’m playing at doing a real job, I’m a writer for work as well as a writer at home, and there’s days when I question the validity of what I do, whether the 1000 monkeys at the 1000 typewriters are just as capable. Then I read this. Thanks Kristen, while I’m not taking down dictators or inspiring acts of valour, I’m a writer and what I do is tough and is of value, and is valued.

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I hate the term “aspiring writer” because it takes guts to do this job. Everyone loves what we do. Their lives would implode without it. Without writers there would be no entertainment, no instruction, no industry. No movies, no television series, no books, no manuals, textbooks, magazines, newspapers, trade journals, warning labels, laws, speeches, and all songs would be instrumental. No lyrics. Heck there wouldn’t even be an Internet.

It would be all pictures of cats.

Modern society hinges on writers. If we can take a step back and truly take in all we contribute it’s easier to own our profession and value it. Most people take what we do for granted because they fail to make the connection that their favorite television show began as an idea and started with a writer. 

They just assume they will log onto the Internet and be able to google anything they want. It’s easy to forget someone wrote that information.

So yes, I get it. This is a tough job. But if what we do didn’t matter then why is it dictators arrest and shoot the writers first?

What’s in a name? Quite a lot actually

Titles – I struggle with titles, for short stories, blog posts, manuscripts. There’s an art to it. I was a journo for a whole bunch of years, on small newspapers with correspondingly small staff. This meant that I was journo, editor, subby, proofreader, chief cook and bottle washer. The most difficult task I had (other than trying to take down classified ads when that fab staff member was at lunch) was headline writing and photo captions!

I have found that unless I come up with a title in the early days of the manuscript, I will struggle to find one and be ultimately unhappy with the one I have. My 2009 nanowrimo project (which I have decided to workshop at the writing course starting soon) I am happy with ‘This is no holiday’ works really well for the story that unfolds and also the initial predicament of the protagonist. My project from this year – not so much. I have a working title ‘Under the carpet’ which I really don’t like, it only reflects the very first hook of the story, it doesn’t mirror the ensuing story in any way shape or form.

My other manuscript that needs a major rewrite is called ‘Chapters’ – this works beautifully and I love it, I just need to finish the flippin story!

I just read a blog post by Joanne Harris (Author of ‘Chocolat‘ and many more) and she lists the 10 book title cliches that wax and wane in popularity – check it out and let me know what you think.

The two titles of mine that I like fall into two of these cliches – is that a good or a bad thing? I don’t really know. Chapters is cliche #1 The One-Word, Multi-Syllable Punch although she suggests its more common in your action and horror genres (not really what my story is about.

This is no holiday falls into cliche #4 The Whimsical, Rather Over-Long Title That Tells Most of the Plot. The best example of this that I have recently read was The 100 year old man who climbed out the window by Jonas Jonasson – now there’s a lot of characters to fit on a spine!

Ahh, routine, welcome back!

School returned late last week after the long Christmas break and Little Man was squeezed into last year’s uniform some lunchbox fodder hastily arranged and off he went, happy as a clam.

And that means my work hours return to a more stable pattern and my free time for writing returns – huzzah!

draft 2With only a few weeks until my Writers Victoria course Refine Your Novel starts I need to do some serious work on my first draft. It has some pretty big issues that I know about, some flat secondary characters, a sister that disappears for half the novel, some additional tension that needs a ramp up, a backstory that kind of exists but needs more integrating.

So last night I popped online and uploaded my nanowrimo draft to Officeworks. Their little worker bees toiled away and this morning I went into the store and collected a printed out copy of my draft – it’s a hefty tome and soon to be covered in scribble marks methinks! Yes, these draftpics are of the actual manuscript – felt a bit guilty printing single sided, but those blank pages will get messy.

Thanks sabrakay for the kick in the pants that was your WIP Progress post, it may have seemed simple to you, but motivated me! .

Flash fiction – Next to Godliness

Recently I mentioned I have recently discovered podcasts. One in particular I have been enjoying is called Writing Excuses – short 15 minute discussions about a variety of writing tips and trends. At the end of each episode they feature a writing prompt – I wanted to list some here and thought I really should only do so if I have taken up the challenge myself.

So, the first prompt I chose is:

Develop a religion where people worship something that no one would ever worship (and it can’t be silly)

I’ll post the first few paras here, click on the link to the full version. I’d love to read if anyone else feels compelled to respond to the challenge.

Please enjoy: Next to Godliness

Kaylee wakes, instantly alert and active. Two years ago it was much harder to drag herself into wakefulness when her phone vibrated at 3am, her body would protest, reluctant to leave the warm cocoon of her blankets. But by now it’s easy, second nature.

About six months ago she started going to bed fully dressed, that had been Laura’s idea and it was a good one. Richard barely noticed her leaving anymore, she stilled her phone after less than a second, slid from under the covers and moved quickly out of the dark room. Her shoes and a warm jacket waited for her in the hall and she was in the car in less than four minutes.

road-at-night_2651004The streets are notably busier than when Kaylee started her daily pilgrimage. Two years ago the dark roads were deserted, traffic lights changing and directing non-existent cars at empty intersections. This morning she waits three minutes at the end of her street for a break in the stream of cars. She’s going to need to start getting up earlier or she’ll be too far from the gates to see anything. Read more

Harper Lee – a tough act to follow

As would have been the case for many other booklovers, I awoke to the news that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, is set to publish her second novel this year, 55 years after her iconic debut.

Initially I greeted this with surprise and excitement. I knew Harper Lee had never published again and was something of a recluse, I knew she must have been past 80 (she’s 88). When I read the article and discovered this wasn’t a new work, but rather a rediscovered manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, from the late 1950s my enthusiasm dimmed a little.

While I think it is wonderful that literature is front page news today, what will this book actually be like? There is no doubt that writing styles have changed significantly since 1960 when To Kill a Mockingbird was published, while that novel is undoubtedly a classic and stands up, to publish a novel in the same style and flow today runs the very real risk of seeming old fashioned.

Also the complexities of the social issues it addresses are compounded by the intervening years and all that has happened to society in that time. We view racial and ethical issues in a different light now.

But of more concern was the fact that this manuscript wasn’t considered for publishing when it was written, Harper Lee took two and half years of revision on To Kill a Mockingbird. She is now 88, profoundly deaf and partially blind, living in an assisted care facility. You have to wonder how much work this manuscript needs to whip it into shape, and whether Harper Lee is realistically up to the task.

It will sell, of course it will, I’ll certainly read it, she won’t need to do library readings and bookshop signings.

But you have to wonder. I don’t want to be a wet blanket however, so, despite some reservations, today I am happy for Harper Lee, and for readers everywhere.