Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Australian’ Category

Castle of Kindness: can books change the world? asks Felicity Banks

Felicity Banks is an awesome author, fighter for justice, escape room magician and innovator. She’s a fellow writer at Odyssey Books, and I spoke to her in 2018 for Last Word of the Week.

Today I’m thrilled to present Felicity’s guest post about the Castle of Kindness Project and the complexities of life in general.

Felicity Banks speaks about the Castle of Kindness

Felicity: From the age of twelve to twenty-two I planned and trained to become an aid worker in Indonesia, teaching slum kids English. During that time I travelled to Indonesia seven times, studied the language and culture from Year Seven to university level, and became fluent in Bahasa.

Then I. . . changed my mind. I wanted to stay In Australia.

I married, had two kids, and even finally had several books published.

Heart of Brass books by Felicity Banks

The Heart of Brass books by Felicity Banks

Then

My health collapsed into disability via chronic illness. But in all that time, Indonesia stayed in the back of my mind. Not to mention the rest of the world.

You can call it white guilt, if you like.

Or you can cause it historical awareness. Like every non-Indigenous Australian, I benefit from the illegal seizure of this land. And from the attempted genocide of the Indigenous people.

And from the systemic, institutionalised racism that continues in the form of police and prison brutality, media bias, and so much more. And from the day-to-day racism that means I am more likely to get a job (or a favour, or a loan) than an Indigenous person who is just as qualified as I am.

How do I live with that?

I’m no longer well enough to work at a “real” job, which ironically gives me every writer’s fantasy: the ability to write full-time. Writing is such an enjoyable thing to do, it hardly seems fair. I wonder, often and always, if my books are making the world better. If anything I do matters. If I should be doing something—anything—more than I am.

What more can I do?

And then I read [book title redacted due to spoilers]. A fantasy story, in which people from our reality step through a portal into a brilliant, beautiful, magical land. Even the toilets are magical: anything that goes into certain containers simply vanishes into thin air. Fun!

But the characters discover that all that magic is being taken from the ‘enemy’ population. The wealth that creates beautiful buildings leaves slums in the other land. The toilets empty into their backyards. Even the illnesses that would afflict the beautiful magical creatures in the first kingdom are given to the children of their enemies.

Ouch.

The characters, being fundamentally decent, must immediately give up their beautiful magical land and its exploitative underbelly. . . but in the process they discover that there are several types of magic, and many branches of magic are not being used at all. Magic is not a zero-sum game after all. Although it is difficult, it is possible for everyone to have a decent amount of magic (and the beauty, health, and wealth that comes with it).

A second fundamental truth: being decent human beings doesn’t mean I need to sell my house and give all my money to the poor (and then live on the street). I don’t have to lose everything to lift others up.

Author Felicity Banks

Author Felicity Banks

 

It occurred to me, somewhat belatedly (I’m now 38), that I could help Indonesian people white still living in Australia. I know better than most how difficult it is to live in a nation that speaks a different language, because I’ve been there. So I am ideally placed to help migrants and refugees coming from Indonesia (or anywhere really) to settle into Australian life.

This epiphany happened in 2019

And since then I’ve been looking for ways to give what I have to people here in Canberra (without much success).

A few months ago, one of the groups I’d reached out to reached back: The Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (check it out here).

Long before I read the books that changed my life, several major refugee advocacy organisations got together to study refugee sponsorship in other nations (such as Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand) and design a program specifically for Australia.

This year—yes, this miserable plague of a year—they set up a ‘Mentor Program’ as both test and training to see how their refugee sponsorship program could work in practice.

There are now about twenty groups set up around Australia, ready to welcome and support refugees and refugee families in a number of practical ways: helping them find work, helping them meet new friends in their new home, helping them settle their kids into school, helping them with English practice, teaching them about Australian food (and animals that will kill them), and helping them financially until they’re able to stand on their own.

I am now the coordinator of the Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Group. Our GoFundMe is here and we’re running a Fundraising Gift Shop (including books donated by Clare Rhoden herself—and my extremely fun and magical Australian steampunk trilogy) here.

Until the end of this year, all the money raised in my shop (up to a threshold of $1000) goes into the refugee sponsorship fund.

And I’ll sign, gift wrap, and post them to the address of your choice.

 

This is happening, and it’s beautiful. And it’s all because of a book.

 

Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Logo

Castle of Kindness Refugee Sponsorship Logo

 

We meet our first refugee family today.

****************************************************

Thank you so much Felicity for sharing your story and you kindness!

Please visit Felicity’s store if you are looking for a bookish Christmas/end of year present that also helps others.

Pondering the Business of Writing: a schema by Nat Dowling

The lovely Natalie Dowling is the bespoke writer behind Words on a Page (WOAP).

I’ve asked Nat to help me in the past, and loved her input. Nat introduced me at my latest book launch (back in 2019, when we had actual book launches!)

Nat introduces me at my last book launch

Nat introduces me at my last book launch

Today I’m asking Natalie to share some advice for creative people about the business of their creativity.

It’s not enough, as we know, to write a book. For example, the book needs a pitch and its author needs a bio. There is a business attached to storytelling.

In today’s blog, Nat is going to take us through some exercises to help us discover who we are – what values stand behind our creativity. Nat also shares some activities to help writers define  who they are and what they have to share.

 

THE BUSINESS OF WRITING

Writing for business is not the same as writing for creativity or self-expression.

As an author or writer you’re probably well versed in the latter. But if you want to get those words out into the world, at some point, you might need to think of yourself as a creative business.

That means developing a profile and talking about yourself with a brand story. Which might feel like sticking pins in your eyes. So, here’s a few tips for when you get stuck developing your bio or preparing the perfect pitch.

Accept the challenge

Talking about yourself to sell your work is difficult. Possibly unnatural. If you’re struggling to write about you, understand that that this block is not a reflection of your writing capabilities. It’s the tricky human dance between hubris and humility. Many people feel challenged by this task, so acknowledge the difficulty and give yourself time and space to have a go.

Brain dump words

Let your ego off the leash. Without overthinking it jot down an intuitive list of words that describe your work, or how you’d like to be thought of by others. Come back to the list. Feel into the words and whittle them down. Circle the most important 30. Then cull it to your top 20. Be the ruthless editor of your own story. Repeat, to get it down to three words. Use these as themes for your bio.

Draft multiple bios

If it starts to feel like you’re pigeon-holing yourself, try writing in different styles. Write a free range playful version. Then go for bureaucratic and perfunctory (a few games of buzzword bingo will introduce you to the industry lingo). You can also give yourself word length exercises. Write 50, 150 and 300 word versions. Deposit them in your bio bank, then access the appropriate version to fit the context.

Nail your narrative

Distil your work into 30 words. Nail your narrative in the most succinct way. Another option is to pitch it to a room full of ten year olds (real or pretend). Get over any idea that this is ‘dumbing down’. Conveying your work simply does not detract from the complexity of the ideas. This exercise can help you to step back out of your mind forest to see the wood for the trees.

Stage an interview

Sometimes we need prompts or an outsider to help us see what’s buried below the surface. Call in a friend or colleague to ‘interview’ you about your writing style, background or project. The ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘how’, ‘when’ and ‘where’ questions are useful starting points. But it’s often the follow-up questions or conversation that strips away the layers to uncover a gold nugget of wisdom or insight.

Create the momentum

You know how to plot a narrative arc or chart character development. So you’ve got directional skills. You can map possibilities and assess which routes to take. See what happens when your writing career becomes the subject and you put those transferrable skills to work. Make decisions about what you want to achieve and determine what’s needed to get there. Give yourself goals and deadlines.

Some folks don’t want to consider themselves business people, because it’s at odds with the noble artist motif. But if you want to find an audience or make a living as a writer, you might want to get over that. You don’t need to compromise your integrity to tout your wares. It’s just a different type of writing that requires a shift in mindset, a commitment to your work, and a little bit of practice.

Thank you so much, Nat, for these pointers on business writing for creatives. That was – and will be – really useful! More power to you.

Web:      www.wordsonapage.com.au                                         Socials: @wordsonapageau

Dream Big and Read Often says Melissa Wray

Melissa Wray finds time to write stories, usually late at night, when the rest of the household is quiet. She’s a mother of two, a teacher and lover of walks along the beach. Her new young adult novel, The Ruby Locket, is a dystopian novel that unfolds through the eyes of the two main characters.

Kerina and Saxon. Two different stories. Two different lives. One connected future.

Great to speak with you, Melissa, and to find out more about what’s behind your writing. What was your favourite book as a child?

Melissa: The Enchanted Wood and The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I loved these characters and desperately wanted the giant plum tree in our back yard to become the Magic Faraway tree. I would sit still for as long as possible, hoping to capture a glimpse of Silky or Moonface!

That makes perfect sense! What about creative writing courses – do you think they are valuable?

Absolutely! The key is finding one that suits your needs. There are many courses, both online and in person that an emerging writer can complete. Keep an eye out through your local writer organisation e.g. Writers Victoria or Geelong Writers Inc. Or subscribe to a writing industry newsletter such as Buzz Words or Pass It On. Both are valuable sources for courses, writing advice, and submissions. Both of these are excellent value for money.

I totally agree with that. There’s always more to learn … or re-learn! Do you write for yourself or for a particular audience?

I write whatever I feel interested in telling a story about. I have written stories suited to all age groups, from a picture story book to middle grade fiction through to a young adult audience. The genres have ranged from contemporary to historical fiction through to dystopian. I like to challenge myself in life whether it be at work or play and writing is no different.

A born story-teller, then! Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

Of course! Bryce Courtenay, one of my favourite Australian writers, once said “I take a fact and put a top hat on it, and a silk shirt and a bow tie, but I don’t ruin the fact.” I love this quote and try to include some secrets into my writing. It gives me a thrill that only I know what those parallels to real life are.

That’s good to know. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

I have one novel that is about 75% complete. I haven’t worked on it for some time so would like to revisit the characters and storyline to see if I can finish the story. To do this I need to keep a balance between my work, family, social and writing life. Quite a precarious balance!

Cover image: The Ruby Locket by Melissa Wray

The Ruby Locket by Melissa Wray

Yes! Mix all that and add a pandemic…Did you have a big break in writing? What happened?

My debut novel, Destiny Road, was published through Morris Publishing. I entered the first four chapters into a writing competition with them. It was shortlisted and I then had to submit the whole manuscript. From this, Destiny Road was selected for publication. This was a huge break for me! It gave me a boost in confidence that can be far between for writers, especially new ones.

I imagine it would. That’s fabulous. Now that your books are out there, how do you feel about reviews?

Mixed. It is uncomfortable knowing someone is reading your story and forming an opinion about it. Stories can take years to write and even longer to get published. The writing process takes commitment to writing and editing and hoping the characters are built well and the storyline works. Somebody can cut the story to pieces with a bad review or they can build you up with a good review. Both are equally terrifying to learn what people think.

And it’s completely out of your hands. Quite terrifying! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

One reviewer wrote the following review for Destiny Road and it still makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

“Wray has managed to write with absolute brutal honesty that very easily could have become too confronting- especially for those that have undergone a similar situation. The timing is perfect. You have time to catch your breath when needed without ever compromising the flow. In fact, the novel has such a polished feel I was surprised this was indeed her debut novel into the published world.”

That’s perfect. What would readers never guess about you?

My sense of adventure and the need to live a fulfilled life. I once slept in the middle of the Egyptian desert beneath the night sky after travelling all day on a camel. It sounds like a crazy thing to do now, but I love that I have this memory. I don’t want to look back one day on my life and wish I had made different choices.

 I would never have pictured you on a camel, that’s for sure. What would be a dream come true for you?

That’s easy. My book gets made into a movie and I have a cameo role in it. How much fun would that be?!

The Ruby Locket in multiple formats

The Ruby Locket by Melissa Wray

 

LOL! That would be wonderful. Thanks for speaking with me today, Melissa, and all the best with the launch of The Ruby Locket

 

Melissa’s LINKS:

Website: https://melissawray.blogspot.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DreamBigReadOften/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6465945.Melissa_Wray

 

Buy Links

Odyssey Books: https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/

The Ruby Locket: https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/titles/9781922311245/

 

How to be Happy with a Book Part 2: Does the book deliver?

Does that book make you happy?

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about reading happily, and how to choose a book that was most likely to please you. That was Part One of my meanderings about How to be Happy with  Book (click the link if you’d like to refresh your memory about that).

First, a reminder about the things I consider when faced with that delicious choice – which book next:

Clare’s three questions for being happy with a book:

  1. Do I want to read this book? … cover, genre, look & feel, reputation
  2. Is the book well written and appropriate to its genre? … writing quality, genre stylistics, expression, editing, production values
  3. Was this book a success? … thoughts about plotline, characterisation, suspension of disbelief, resolution, afterglow

Today’s post looks at the second list of criteria. That is, does the chosen book deliver what you expected? Let’s look at the writing quality and think about whether the book matches its promise.

Two books

Choose your next book to make you happy

Writing Quality Matters

There is no escaping the readerly expectation that books should be well-written and well-edited. We expect nothing less.

Production values

We like the book to look and feel good in our hands or on our screens. I talked about covers last time, and I want to add that I often look again at the cover while I’m reading. Does the cover represent a specific scene? Perhaps it shows me what a character looks like. Maybe it simply sets the mood.

If you don’t refer often to the cover, or you’re not really into visual mood-setting, this may not bother you. But…

When a cover doesn’t match what’s inside in any of those ways, I feel let down.

Writing values

What is it about good writing? To me, it’s a bit like listening to speech. When I was a speech pathologist, I used all sorts of cues and markers to diagnose speech problems. However, most listeners wouldn’t even hear what I was hearing. For example, it’s not until a speaker is less than 96% fluent that ordinary listeners might think they are stuttering.

The same with writing. I have studied the craft, and although there are much better editors than I am, I can spot writing problems – especially in other people’s writing! Not so much in my own… Many readers will be made uncomfortable by ungrammatical writing or too many swear words. They may not be able to pinpoint the problem, but they will say that the book is not well-written, and they will ditch it.

For us writers, getting it right means endless rounds of editing and polishing.

open book

Reading is one of life’s joys

Editing values

Poor layout and frequent typos present another barrier to the enjoyment of a story.

To some extent this is due to the disruption of the publishing industry and the rise of self-publishing. But that’s a long discussion for another day.

If typos and shoddy layout don’t bother you, you’ll be fine with anything. That’s not what I hear or see in the world of books, though.

Let’s just say that too many typos are a big turn off for dedicated readers. Look at the review websites to see the loathing. Hmm.

Genre matching

Sometimes it’s wonderful to be surprised, sometimes not. The example I often use is the Game of Thrones (GOT) fantasy series.

On first reading, you might expect that the story will follow the traditional hero journey of mainstream fantasy. There, good triumphs over evil, after a series of horrendous trials, strange meetings and sad events. Well, the death of Ned Stark at the end of the first GOT book put paid to that expectation. Not to mention the random slaying of baby dire wolves early on. Eek!

Millions of readers were enthralled about the reversal of the typical storyline of the genre, thrilled by the way the story played with fantasy conventions, and excited by loads of extraneous sex and violence that raised the stakes higher and higher. Other readers not so much, because they invested heavily in Ned Stark and felt short-changed.

I’m not going to decree whether meeting or flouting expectations is good or bad. However, if you particularly want a certain type of reading (such as a happily-ending Regency romance), you probably shouldn’t choose one with zombies included.

Levitation in historical fiction?

When to DNF

I try my very best not to choose books that I can’t finish. As I said previously, a DNF is a disappointment for both the reader and the author. I can generally judge whether I’m going to enjoy the book by using all the cues I mentioned in the first post about How to be Happy With a Book, and reading the first page/few pages/chapter.

I am so excited when I realise that YES, this book is going to be fabulous!

I hope you get that feeling often too.

Next time, let’s talk about how to reflect on the book … and a little bit about reviewing.

 

 

How to be Happy With a Book: a guide for readers and reviewers in three parts. PART ONE

In these days of lockdowns and revisiting old pastimes such as board games, knitting and baking, many of us* have been doing more reading. But are we enjoying our books?

*Well, not me, because I am a lifetime book addict and I can’t see how I could possibly do more reading. At least as long as eating and personal hygiene remain important.

How to be Happy with a Book PART ONE

I write books, and I love the fact that complete strangers read and review them – reviews are a kind of currency among authors. Most authors also read a lot, and a second aspect of my writing practice is book reviewing. To me, ‘book review’ = ‘book critique’ where ‘critique’ = ‘analysis and assessment of a book, including virtues and shortcomings’. In this series of posts, I want to talk more how to choose books better so that you spend more time reading books that suit you, and waste less time on the DNF* stories. This is about finding a book that makes YOU, dear reader, happy.

*DNF = Did Not Finish. A disappointment to the reader, and a cruel blow to any author…
Pile of books I have read this year

Some of the books I have read so far this year

As a reviewer, I see my task as working out which readers would like this book, and then telling them why. I don’t see the need to find fault, because I know that different readers like different things (gore, violence, swearing, romance, magic, philosophy, spirituality – you name it!). It’s a rare book, in my experience, that has nothing for anyone. I concentrate on finding out what’s good about this book, for which readers – hence the title of this series: how to be happy with a book.

As well as book reviews in print, there are also many online platforms to share our thoughts about books. Some readers check Goodreads reviews before they buy; others look at the Amazon scores. Authors sift through their reviews for good quotes to use on their book descriptions and some book bloggers check what everyone else thought about a particular book before they weigh in on one side or the other.

Reviews are not always positive, and authors are advised not to read reviews.* While it’s a fact that not every reader will love our books, we still like to see what others think.

*We do (read reviews of our books)

 

I read and review about 80 books a year. You might think that’s  a lot, but it’s perhaps a quarter of the books I’d like to read each year. How do I choose the ones that will please me best?

Clare’s three criteria for being happy with a book:

  1. Do I want to read this book? … cover, genre, look & feel, reputation
  2. Is the book well written and appropriate to its genre? … writing quality, genre stylistics, expression, editing, production values
  3. Was this book a success? … thoughts about plotline, characterisation, suspension of disbelief, resolution, afterglow

 

This post is Part One: choosing a book*

*I’m imagining that you have strolled into a bookshop or library, or you are scrolling online, just browsing for something to read. If you are looking for a specific author or title, you are way ahead.

 

First, look at the cover: The old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover has lost most of its power now that book production is streamlined with access to high resolution images, huge banks of attractive fonts, and the growing language of cover art. You will know what kind of book it is by the look of the cover. For example, a cover that features the back view of a young woman walking away from us into a dark street will be a crime thriller. The cover with the hovering dragon will be a fantasy. The cover with the pretty blue and pink border around a scenic view will be a romance, and the cover with the little white cottage surrounded by a flower garden is probably a cosy mystery.

Add to this the helpful work of bookshop staff and librarians who shelve novels under genre categories*, and you should recognise immediately what kind of book you are looking at, even before you pick it up.

*Genres are often imposed by libraries and bookshops. Many authors, myself included, just write the next story that comes along. Then we have to propose that story to a publisher, who wants to know ‘what genre’? Good question!

You, dear reader, now have a decision to make. Do you like reading this genre? Perhaps you have never read anything in this genre and you’d like to try it. Are you going to pick up this book, turn it over and read the blurb? If the book looks promising so far, then onwards!

Next, read the blurb: The blurb is part of the cover. Often written by a marketing staffer, sometimes by a bemused author, the blurb conveys the essence of the book in a way meant to entice the reader. The relationship of the blurb to the contents is not fixed. The blurb is as accurate as the ad for your local pizza chain. Do they serve the best pizzas in your town? The answer will be different for each reader, or pizza eater as the case my be. The blurb is to ‘sell’ the book to you, not to summarise the story.

Then check out the inside: The look and feel of a book is important too, especially in physical books. The artwork, the paper weight, the font, the ink quality, the layout – all of these can have an effect on your reading experience. I find that the font and layout of e-books is important too, and the quality of the illustrations is paramount for graphic novels in electronic form. I would usually read the first paragraph too, to see if the style of writing is one I can easily engage with.

Reputation: Have you heard of this title? Heard of the author? Heard of the publisher? What about any recommendations printed on the cover or on the inside? What do these things tell you about this book – do you think you’re likely to agree with the puff statements? Maybe you’re looking for an Australian book, or a quick read, or an elevating challenge. You can usually discover quite a lot about a book without even reading its first page.

PART ONE SUMMARY:

So, we’ve had a look at the book and we should now be able to decide whether or not to give it a go. Remember, our goal is to have a happy reading experience. I don’t mind passing on a book that others rave about, if my reconnaissance tells me it’s not going to make me happy. After all, I can only do justice to 80 books a year!

Next time, I’ll look at Part Two: Is the book well written?

Until then, happy reading!

 

Courage, hope, and hopepunk: Veronica Strachan

Veronica Strahan is magnificent at sharing words that mean a great deal to others. Whether writing non-fiction, children’s picture books or the fabulous high-fantasy-dystopian-hopepunk Opal Chronicles, Veronica ‘s books will affect how you see the world and yourself. Her memoir Breathing While Drowning is a message of courage and hope that speaks to grief and recovery.

Author Veronica Strachan/VE Patton

Author Veronica Strachan/VE Patton

Welcome, Veronica. You have quite a catalogue of amazing works. Why is writing important to you?

VERONICA: Though my creative writing was delayed by a few decades (okay four or so), due to the frustrating and often challenging interruptions of life, I’ve always felt compelled to write and share my stories—even if it was only with myself. When I spent years mired in producing formal clinical and business writing, my creative outflow was journalling. I love the power words have to change your life, to draw you into other worlds, to make you think, feel, and believe differently. Journal writing kept me sane and functioning until I found my story writing voice again. Once I’d turned on the tap, it was impossible to turn off.

 

Those words just keep coming, I know. What advice would you give an aspiring author?

VERONICA: Write what you’d love to read, the book that contains everything you ever wanted in a story. This is the story that will speak to other people. Let the creative juices pour out first, and then spend time on your crafting, and finding your audience. Take some creative writing courses and follow people who are writing things that you enjoy, or who are successful in their writing business.

Give yourself time. It’s a bumpy ride, but so worth your effort. You will change someone’s life with your story.

 

Oooh, that’s quite a concept! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

VERONICA: I’d given my daughter a draft of my first fantasy to read. She was reading it as a favour to her mum, but this was the text I received…

‘Noooooo!!!! That can’t be the end! I need more! What happens next?!?! Right are you finished writing book two yet? It is so freaking good!!! I literally got only a few hours sleep because I couldn’t stop reading and couldn’t wait to wake up and keep reading. Holy shit – you have written something truly fantastic! (In both senses of the word!)’

That made me very happy.

And since I’ve been writing children’s picture books… the videos and photos of kids tucked up with a copy of Chickabella are wonderful. They’re often accompanied by anecdotes from parents about how Chickabella is now a part of their family! One little boy wants his mum and dad to buy a rainbow house.

 

How fabulous! Great responses. How do you feel about reviews?

VERONICA: I find most reviews incredibly helpful. They tell you how readers are connecting with your stories and where improvements may be needed. A complimentary review can give you an incredible boost, especially when someone is moved by your words.

And reviews are vital to self-published authors like me. Without the machinery of a publishing company to assist and connect you to readers, it’s all up to you. Reviews from readers help put your story in front of more readers, spreading the word about your work. I like to tell readers that someone else who needs to read the book may find it by reading their review.

 

What do you think about covers, and what say do you have in yours?

VERONICA: Books are absolutely judged by their covers, particularly these days when so many people are scrolling rapidly on mobile devices. Covers needs to entice the reader into your world. I’m incredibly lucky that my daughter Cassi Strachan is a creative soul who creates beautiful covers to my very sketchy requests. She always exceeds my expectations. Cassi and I teamed up for The Adventures of Chickabella series (words by me and pictures by her) and that has been a lot of fun too. We get so excited when we hear that kids love the books and recognise Chickabella on the cover.

 

Do you have launch parties for your books?

VERONICA: I had a launch party for my memoir Breathing While Drowning, a few years back which reunited me with a bunch of wonderful people who had helped us over the years – and gave me excuse to have a book cake. But it was at a fabulous launch party in 2019 for my first fantasy novel, Ochre Dragon, Book 1 in The Opal Dreaming Chronicles (read Clare’s review here), that I felt I had really arrived as a writer – I had made the whole thing up after all. We had a delicious dragon cake (there must be cake), champagne and nibbles, book signing, and some reading from the story. Lots of friends, family, and other writers came to celebrate the book’s long-awaited birth. It was brilliant!

Launch party cake: The Ochre Dragon

Launch party cake: The Ochre Dragon

Yes, I sigh for the good old days of book launches! One day we’ll have them again. Do you write in more than one genre?

VERONICA: One genre – never! I’m definitely a multi-genre writer, sometimes with a genre mashup in the same book! I like messing with the usual suspects and deepening the characters and worlds. My favourite reads are fantasy and scifi, so that’s my main focus in creative fiction under my pen name V. E. Patton. I’m also completing the final edits of a co-authored, contemporary, action adventure with a supernatural twist.

As Veronica Strachan, publishing my memoir was the door opener into writing. I just had to write the story of my long healing from grief following the death of my second daughter Jacqueline Bree. It was incredibly cathartic. And as well as being a writer, I’m a leadership coach, health management consultant, and facilitator. So, as requested by some of my readers and clients, I wrote and published a self-discovery workbook and journal as a companion to the memoir. It felt very much aligned to my work with women who want to find ways to live a more remarkable life.

Veronica is also a life coach and motivator

Veronica is also a life coach and motivator

 

The first of my children’s picture books was originally written as a legacy for my sister Mary, who was a kindergarten teacher and told the best stories. I always nagged her to write a book, but she was our family’s oral storyteller. When she died in early 2019, I wanted to honour her love of children. My own children still remember their favourite read aloud stories, and I wanted to help make good memories for other children.

 

 

That’s wonderful. I’m sure Mary is glad that you are now putting stories onto the page. Thank you so much for talking with me today, and I look forward to the next book launch Opal Dreaming #2 is coming soon, I hope.

 

Veronica’s LINKS

I had to spend a semester in France: Patricia Worth

Patricia J. F. Worth is a French-English translator and private tutor of English and French. Trish received her master of translation studies from the Australian National University, Canberra, where she focused on nineteenth-century French literature and recent New Caledonian literature.

Apparently this degree forced her to spend copious amounts of time in France!

I’m very glad to be able to speak with Trish today about the complex mind games she plays with 19th century French fiction, because translation for an English-speaking audience of the 21st century is a mammoth feat of writing in itself. Read on to discover the heavy-lifting required to bring these books to life for us.

Welcome, Trish, to the Last Word of the Week. Can you tell me why is writing important to you?
Trish: Because I don’t like talking.

Ha! Great answer! What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?
Submit short stories to journals, keep submitting them until they’re accepted. If a story is rejected, send it to another journal the same day. Don’t wait.

Oh, that’s such good advice. There is a home for quality writing somewhere, and persistence really counts. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?
A reviewer of Spiridion, my translation of George Sand’s novel of the same name, said:

“I feel that someone needs to point out what an important publishing event this English translation of George Sand’s Spiridion (1839) constitutes.”

Since I didn’t ask for this review, it’s even more precious as a word of praise. And it confirms that my chosen life-filler – to find and translate some of the fantastic forgotten French writing of the 19th century – is worthwhile.

Spiridion by George Sand, translated by Patricia Worth

Spiridion by George Sand, translated by Patricia Worth

It’s a fabulous niche to get busy in. Can you tell me about the time you decided you are a writer?
Once when a former French lecturer read my translation of a story (after having harshly critiqued a dozen earlier), he was uncharacteristically generous in his comments, and finished by saying “You’re a writer.” That was when I knew.

It does help to get that sort of feedback, I agree. How much research is involved in your writing?
More than anyone (other than another literary translator) would believe. Since I can’t make anything up and my words have to mean precisely what the author meant, the research is never-ending. After reading the original text and deciding firstly that I’m capable of translating it and secondly that other readers will love it as much as I do, I then read everything available about the author, I read some of his/her other works, I search for any of them in English translation. I have to buy books from second-hand bookshops in France because they’ve often been out of print for decades. There are always obscure or outmoded words and expressions that send me digging deep to find their original definition; this can involve not only Internet research but visits to libraries and visits to French experts. And as I work my way through the translation there are countless occasions when I stumble across a word that the present English equivalent doesn’t seem to fit. This is when old dictionaries are opened, to find how the words have changed their meaning over time. And then there are the many trips I’ve made to France to walk and write in streets resembling those in my stories. When translating more modern literature, specifically from New Caledonia, I read a lot about the colonial history and the ongoing social tensions, I read all the arguments for both sides, the indigenous Kanak and the French settlers, and watch interviews and read news articles relevant to the story I’m working on. The New Caledonian author whose writing I translate lets me ask her questions. But I’m on my own when it comes to long-dead authors.

Stories to read by Candlelight, Back Cover

All about Stories to read by Candlelight, by Jean Lorrain, translated by Patricia Worth

How do you get feedback about your book before it’s published?
Until now, for the past eight years, I’ve had a trusty and willing reader, a retired academic with time to read my drafts (for free) and spend an hour or two with me discussing the changes needed. But he has just died. Over the years, to give him a break, I’ve asked a few other French speakers to help, but they always stress they have limited time available. It looks like I might have to start paying someone for their time…

Oh, and it sounds like you need someone quite specialised, too. That must be tricky  What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
To do the Honours year in French I had to spend a semester in France. I was middle-aged and hadn’t been overseas for 20 years, and now I had to go to a strange country and live alone, leaving my husband and three teenage sons here to fend for themselves. I feared my undergraduate-level French would not be good enough. I was scared out of my wits before I left. But if I had chickened out I would not be translating French literature today.

Stories to Read by Candlelight, by Jean Lorrain, translated by Patricia Worth

Stories to Read by Candlelight, by Jean Lorrain, translated by Patricia Worth

That’s an amazing achievement, I’m impressed. What kind of reader would like your books?
Readers of quirky old writing. Those interested in 19th-century France, 19th-century fantasy. Readers looking for delicious French writing (in English translation) from the era of Baudelaire, Flaubert and Hugo. Readers interested in New Caledonia and Vanuatu and stories from colonised Pacific islands.

Thanks so much for speaking with me today, Trish. Your work is absolutely fascinating!

 

Trish’s Links

Website: patriciaworthtranslator.com

Facebook: Patricia Worth

Amazon buy links

Stories to Read by Candlelighthttps://www.amazon.com.au/Stories-Read-Candlelight-Jean-Lorrain/dp/1925652580

Spiridion: https://www.amazon.com.au/Spiridion-George-Sand-ebook/dp/B00VF0YK5K/

Is my teenager an alien? Ask Steve Harrison

Steve Harrison writes witty, clever, profound and tender stories about life. Mostly these stories are encased inside an innovative plot that involves speculative fiction and turning the world upside down. Earlier this year, I reviewed Steve’s new novel Blurred Vision (a YA sci-fi adventure story featuring Polly Hart) for Aurealis Magazine, and I used words like witty and action-packed. But my favourite quote from my review is this:

Every parent knows how it feels to look at their teenager and not quite recognise them. An interstellar lookalike is a hilarious explanation.

I’m so pleased that Steve has dropped in for a chat today.

Author Steve Harrison

Author Steve Harrison

Hi, Steve, lovely to meet you. Can you tell me why is writing important to you?

Steve: Writing simply keeps me sane by providing an escape from reality. It’s a bit like meditating.

Yes, an inner journey to another place. What would readers never guess about you?

They might be surprised to hear I partnered a young unknown actor called Hugh Jackman in the chorus of an amateur musical production of Paint Your Wagon in 1989. I made him look and sound so good he went on to be a star!

That’s a great fact to pop into your bio! What’s the first book you bought for yourself?

I hardly read before I was 16, just compulsory books at school, but at that age my family migrated to New Zealand from the UK and a 30 hour flight without screens or electronic devices in those days made the trip a horrifying prospect. So I bought The Exorcist, which got me hooked on reading.

Nothing like a few hours of terror to grab a reader, hey? You’re not the first author to tell me that you were not a dedicated reader as a youngster – I think it’s a trend, and shows that you don’t need to be the nerdy kid to become a writer. What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

I consider all writing advice to be opinion, so I’ll give my thoughts about what I wish I had known starting out. There are no short cuts and writers should test all writing advice/opinion by trying to prove it wrong. Finding out what does and doesn’t work for you, and especially why, is incredibly time consuming but invaluable (in my opinion!). My theory is that the best writers are the ones who have made the most mistakes, so avoiding them isn’t a good idea.

Oh, that’s really good to hear. I’m knee deep in mistakes of my old stories! Is there anyone in your past who’d be surprised at your writing?

I had a close friend many years ago who reacted to my intention to write a novel by saying, “you will never write a book.” We lost contact by the time I started writing, but the insensitive and definite way he made that statement constantly rankled – it still does – and inspired me. I’d thank him if I saw him, but I still don’t like what he did.

That obviously hurt. I hope he sees your success from afar, and it makes sense that you’re no longer in contact.

Time Storm by Steve Harrison

Time Storm by Steve Harrison

How much research is involved in your writing?

Very little at first. My general knowledge is pretty good (and I have a head for useless knowledge, too) and I like to write using what I think I know about a subject. This prevents facts getting in the way of my first draft and spoiling my ideas. I find it easier to amend a story I have already written than sabotage it in my head by researching before I write.

I think that’s especially important for speculative fiction. The creative mind needs some free-wheeling away from Wikipedia, though like you I sometimes have to throw in a few catch-up stitches to make a plot stick together. How do you deal with plot holes – if you ever have any!

I never have any plot holes. OK, I wish I never had any plot holes. If I can’t fix them as much as I would like and have to leave them there, I try to write the scenes with absolute conviction and certainty and hope they won’t be questioned!

Great idea, I must try it. What’s your writing goal for the next twelve months?

I plan to finish the sequel to BLURRED VISION, titled OUT OF SIGHT, and start on the third book, FUZZY LOGIC. I am currently preparing a proposal for a TV series adaptation of my first novel, TIMESTORM, a time travel adventure, including the script for the pilot episode and a series ‘bible,’ which I will pitch to production companies. I also hope to sign with a US or UK literary agent for my contemporary New York-set crime thriller, OVERKILL.

I’m so glad to hear that there will be more Polly Hart stories. And you write in more than one genre, I see?

My two published novels have been time travel and science fiction, but I don’t have a preference. I have written a crime thriller and lots of different genres when screenwriting, including a family animated feature. I also have a WIP novel about a man going through a mid-life crisis. I get an idea for a story first and the genre is secondary. I like to describe myself as a genre-fluid writer…

I think that’s the way to go, if you are writing from story ideas and not trying to write to a specific market. It’s a much more organic approach, and besides, stories have been told since long before genre labels were invented. Thank you so much for chatting with me today!

 

LINKS

Website:  https://stormingtime.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/worldtimestorm/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/StormingTime

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hscope/

Elsewhen Press: https://elsewhen.press/index.php/catalogue/author/steve-harrison/

Steve’s books are available in ebook from all major booksellers (see the buy links on Steve’s website). The paperback versions can be ordered from bookshops or online from Elsewhen Press. Australian orders are printed in, and posted from, Melbourne.

 

19 and a half spells disguised by Josh Donellan

Today I’m talking with the lively Josh Donellan, author of 19½ Spells Disguised as Poems, the outrageous mystery novel Killing Adonis, and more.

Josh is an author, poet, musician, music journalist, teacher, voice actor and event manager, and a very entertaining interviewee. His CV includes being almost devoured by a tiger in the jungles of Malaysia, nearly dying of a collapsed lung in the Nepalese Himalayas, and once fending off a pack of rabid dogs with a guitar in the mountains of India. He has an unnatural fondness for scrabble and an irrational dislike of frangipanis.

Naturally enough, Josh’s answers to my questions are particularly amazing, and this interview reflects his clever sense of the absurd and the precious. Josh is a wordsmith worth noting, because you will never look at the printed page in quite the same way. 

You probably won’t be able to, because there’s every chance it will self-detonate before your very eyes. Either that or turn into a not-very-helpful imp.

19.5 Spells disguised as Poems by Josh Donellan

19.5 Spells disguised as Poems by Josh Donellan

Great to meet you, Josh, and congratulations on the publication of 19½ Spells. And thanks for reading some of them on your website here – that’s great! Can you tell me why is writing important to you?

Josh: Ani DiFranco once said “I was a terrible waitress, so I started to write songs.” I think I feel the same way, except I write stories instead of songs and instead of being bad at hospitality I was bad at (insert many different jobs here).

Ah, that means you really are a writer. Great. What was your favourite book as a child?

The Voynich manuscript.

 

In a language that only you can speak, no doubt. That one had me reaching for Wikipedia: ‘an illustrated codex written in an unknown writing system’! Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

Yes, if you read everything I’ve ever written you’ll find I’ve encoded the secret to eternal life using a secret cypher that can only be understood once you’ve posted really nice reviews on goodreads and recommended my books to all your friends.

 

That sounds like a good plan! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

 

 

“This is the best book I’ve ever read, but it should have had Dr Who in it.”

That’s the way I feel about most books, truly. Why are you the perfect person to write your books?

Because everyone else who has tried has descended into madness and now spends their days rocking back and forth, murmuring about eldritch horrors and the heinous price of printer refill cartridges.

 Or the scarcity of flour and toilet rolls, possibly. What would be a dream come true for you?

Having Taikia Waititi direct an adaptation of one of my novels, with the soundtrack by Explosions in the Sky.

That’s a movie I would definitely see. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Josh – more power to your marvellous way with words.

 

Josh’s Social Links

https://twitter.com/jmdonellan (@jmdonellan)

https://www.instagram.com/jmdonellan/ (@jmdonellan)

https://www.facebook.com/jmdonellanauthor/

Josh’s Book Links

https://www.jmdonellan.com/

http://sixcoldfeet.com/

Odyssey Books

Stendhal Syndome by Josh Donellan

Stendhal Syndome by Josh Donellan

Eleni Hale’s heartfelt Stone Girl

Eleni Hale’s stunning debut novel, Stone Girl, burst onto the scene in 2018, and was instantly recognised for its outstanding quality and its direct emotional engagement with a difficult topic – society’s forgotten children. Published through Penguin Random House, Stone Girl won the prestigious 2019 Readings YA (Young Adult) Book Prize , and has been short and long listed for a number of other awards. Stone Girl tells the story of one child’s journey through institutional care.

Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

Eleni describes herself as a survivor of the system, and she campaigns for the recognition and rights of children who are in, or have now left, the care of the state.

My review of Stone Girl is forthcoming. I can’t wait for the book to arrive!

Welcome, Eleni, and thank you for speaking with me today. I know you have quite a background as a writer across different media and genres. You’re now working on your second novel. Is writers’ block ever a thing for you?

Eleni: It’s not really a ‘block’ for me. I think it’s a message that something isn’t right in the work. It took me years to figure this out but it’s completely changed the way I approach that horrible moment when my fingers are suspended over the keyboard and I have nothing to say.

Writing isn’t just about writing. it’s about thinking and dreaming and problem-solving and that ‘block’ moment is when I step away from the keyboard to go for a walk or take a shower or clean the car.

I think about where the story is and how the characters feel about it. That’s how I figure out what to write next. And sometimes that means going back and deleting what I never should have written because those characters would never do that or it was leading the story to a dead end.

Sometime deleting sections is the kindest thing you can do for a work in progress, I agree. What would readers never guess about you?

I am addicted to documentaries, especially true crime. In another life I would have liked to be a criminal psychologist.

Never too late! And there’s always your next reincarnation. When did you fall in love with reading?

I discovered the escapism of books when I was about nine or ten. My mum let me read whatever I wanted and once I devoured all the Sweet Valley High series I quickly moved onto Judy Blume. Then, at about twelve years old, I discovered Virginia Andrews and Anne Rice.

Books opened up new worlds up for me. I was no longer living my life and grappling with my difficulties but sharing in the troubles of my characters. It was magical and empowering.

Always, I was attracted to dark-subject books.

Eleni Hale, writer

Eleni Hale, writer

Yes, I see that. Dark stories can be very affirming, in strange ways. Do you think that creative writing courses are valuable?

Yes. Writing course offer parameters and structure for the creative mind to build upon. I remember starting Stone Girl and my brain was the wild wild west. I had no idea how to write a book, what the elements were or the structure required to hold it all together.

Courses teach a novice writer the tools and secrets of those who’ve been writing for years. This is a fast-track method to enlightenment. Obviously, some courses are more valuable than others so do your research.

That sounds right. I learned so much from my creative writing studies, though I had been writing for a lifetime already. What words of advice would you give an aspiring author?

From my personal experience (I can’t talk for others), writing appealed to me because it was a way to express an active imagination. The world around me was shrill, triggering and inspiring. I wanted to capture it and, in this way, find some control.

Aspiring authors are told ad nauseum to read lots and write constantly. Create a character, find the plot and the voice and set it in a place. I concur that this is all vital.

However, don’t forget your imagination. It is completely unique to you. Don’t constrain it too much in rules and structure or worse, trying to write like someone else. Particularly with your first and second draft, allow your writing to be free and trust the muse. After that, apply the theory.

Imagination is the basis of each writer’s own voice, I think. Do you have a go-to routine for writing?

I enjoy writing in the morning but since I’ve had kids, I am an opportunistic writer. Pre kids I wrote for about six hours in the morning before university or when I worked as a journalist, I’d write on the train on the way to work.

Now, my husband and I negotiate terms and times and I inform everyone I’m working and to only interrupt me when it’s absolutely urgent. But, as I have a three and a five-year-old ‘urgent’ can mean pretty much anything! Yes, I’ll get you a snack/peel your banana/give you a hug. I’m starting to insist though that they understand this is important. Being a mother and a writer has taught me to be pretty great at shutting out distractions.

And excellent practice for pandemic lockdowns, too. Are there any secrets hidden in your writing?

I’m not sure about ‘secrets’ but I hate being bored. My writing needs to involve a level of emotional intensity and a constantly progressing plotline to keep it interesting. I often need to go back and stretch out the action to make sure it’s not too much too soon.

Pacing is important, but I’m sure you have that down pat. Congratulations on the great reception for Stone Girl, and many thanks for speaking with me today, Eleni.

Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

 

Stone Girl is available through all good booksellers (the link at the start of this sentence is to Booktopia), and many bookshops are providing free postage during the COVID-19 restrictions. Or buy an e-book – guaranteed germ free 🙂

Eleni’s Links

Eleni Hale – Writer – elenihale.com

Facebook: EleniHaleauthor

Twitter: @EleniHale

Insta: eleni_hale_

Goodreads: Stone Girl