Some awesome Writers’ Perks have had me smiling recently. A writer’s life is not all “stare at the keyboard until blood spurts from your eyes”, to paraphrase Hemingway. Sometimes you get to meet readers and interact with real people!
Writers’ Perk #1
In October, I spoke with three groups of young artists about the magic of writing, creating rounded characters, and my book How to Survive Your Magical Family. Creation is its own kind of magic, right? Before you write the story or paint the picture, that little piece of wonder doesn’t exist.
This was part of the awesome painting competition organised by my local art school Art Academica. What fun!
Writers’ Perk #2
Also in October, I attended a book launch for Fleetwalkerby Judith Michael. It was so much fun to meet other writers and Judith’s fans, friends and family. A great day was had by all!
Writers’ Perks #3
And on the last Friday in October, I attended the Founders & Benefactors Dinner at St Hilda’s College at the University of Melbourne, along with my fellow writing team member Louise Zedda-Sampson. It was a fabulous night where we met some amazing people and made connections to will go a long way towards setting the tone for our big project: Communitas-the first 60 years of St Hilda’s.
Announcing This Fresh Hell, a brand new horror anthology from the remarkable, innovative Clan Destine Press. You can pre-order this beautifully horrible book now (at a whopping 20% discount!). And yay! I have a story (or half of one) in this stunning collection of amazing tales.
From the blurb:
This Fresh Hell
A driver picks up a hitchhiker from the side of a road; a family moves in to a house that may be haunted; a visit to the cabin in the woods goes terribly wrong…
We all know how those stories end – OR DO WE? In This Fresh Hell, every story begins with a well-known horror trope but ends with a twist, bringing new life and unexpected resolutions to old ideas. Emerging and established authors from around the world reignite and subvert horror tropes in 19 wholly original, genre-bending stories.
Among these unexpected tales, a Slender Man offers help to a boy in trouble; a restorer develops an unusual bond with a cursed doll; a heartbroken influencer tests her mettle aboard a luxurious cruise from hell; a haunted house hesitates to terrify its new residents… Ranging from the chilling to the quirky, these are stories for dedicated horror fans as well as those dipping their toes into the genre for the first time.
And look at the wonderful cover by Claire L. Smith (@clairelsmxth on IG)
In this fearsome fray you’ll find a story I co-authored with the dedicated, decorated, devoted writer Eugen Bacon.
Our story PAPERWEIGHT is about a librarian, a cursed stone, a love-struck innocent (or not-so-innocent) and the fear of being buried alive…
This Fresh Hell presents stories by:
A.J. Vrana, Annie McCann, C. Vonzale Lewis, Candace Robinson, Chuck McKenzie, Claire L. Smith, Claire Low, Clare E. Rhoden, Elle Beaumont, Eugen Bacon, Gillian Polack, Greg Herren, Jason Franks, Katya de Becerra, L.J.M. Owen, Narrelle M. Harris, Raymond Gates, Sarah Glenn Marsh, Sarah Robinson-Hatch, Tansy Rayner Roberts.
I trust you’ll enjoy this marvellous collection. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and read all the other terrifying stories!
Toby’s father is a surgeon and his older sister is a lawyer. But Toby’s dad is also a renowned wizard, and so is his uncle, and his sister can influence people. His mum was special too, but she had to leave…
Toby isn’t any of those things. The only special thing he can do is pretty useless. Toby can talk with cats.
When Toby and his sister rescue a family of abandoned cats on the side of the road and Toby spots a mysterious silver bangle in the gutter, everything changes.
Mia is Toby’s best friend. She’s not magical either – she doesn’t even know magic exists! But when she watches Toby get on the wrong bus to school and a ferocious bus driver screams away with Toby on board, Mia’s world is about to change too.
If you love cats, or magic – and especially both! – this is your book. For confident readers 10+, and cat lovers of all ages. It’s a book with a dual point of view (‘dual POV’ in book-speak), with half of the story told by Toby and half told by Mia.
Once upon a time, there was a Big, Bad Wolf … he blew down the houses of swine, stole from little girls visiting their grandmothers … but maybe the wolf wasn’t so big or bad … Twisted fairy tales centred around this majestic creature written by 45 indie authors from all over the globe
Historically, men have power over the lives of both nations and women. Commerce and politics are traditional realms of masculine influence in cultures worldwide. The latest Australian historical fiction by S.C. Karakaltsas (see my review here), The Good Child explores the public and private aspects of how the behaviour of some influential men affects their loved ones as well as the rest of the community.
Author S.C. Karakaltsas answered some of my questions about writing this fascinating novel. And congratulations on Release Day!
What inspired you to write The Good Child?
Sylvia: There are good powerful men and there are bad ones. And I’ve always wondered what the mothers of bad powerful men must think and feel. What sort of relationship do they have with their child? That led to the characters of Lucille and her son Tom. Lucille’s reflections about her life and what part she played in shaping her son drives the narrative — one I really wanted to explore. The excesses of the eighties and the consequent fall out for ordinary hardworking people drew inspiration for Quin. She’s an ambitious and hardworking young woman who falls into the trap Tom sets for her.
I also wondered what would happen when Lucille and Quin met. And indeed they do, on a train, which makes for an interesting trip.
It certainly does! A gripping Australian historical fiction, The Good Child spans a number of decades, charting the everyday existence of ordinary Australian women across the 20th century.
How important is it to you that the stories of ordinary Australian women are told?
I think there’s more appetite to hear women’s stories: their voices, what they endured, how they lived, their aspirations and challenges. And that is largely coming from the number of wonderful women writers and the huge audience of women readers.
In the case of Lucille, born in 1920, she lived her life under the control of males. That was largely how life worked for women of her generation. Women’s aspirations centred on the need for financial security by being married and being a home maker.
For example, the challenges of having children during war time and the medical care at the time had an enormous impact on women whose husbands were away at war. What women wanted was never particularly given any attention.
The plot revolves around Tom, the man at the centre of the action, a man we always see through the eyes of others. Was this a deliberate story-telling decision, or
Did the women demand to tell the story from their perspective?
It wasn’t important to give Tom a voice as I wanted his character to be slowly revealed from the perspective of the two women he had affected the most. I thought they deserved to tell their side, to explain the choices they made and how they lived with the consequences. In Lucille’s case her love for her son is severely tested. In Quin’s case it’s her loyalty.
The financial excesses and frauds of the 1980s – mostly not uncovered until much later – lie at the heart of The Good Child.
How much research went into developing this story? Was it easy to find out how the fraud schemes operated?
As with all historical fiction there is always lots of research. It’s hard not to wander down rabbit holes.
But backing that research was my own experience and having worked in the financial industry at the time. I could draw on my own recollections of what was an extraordinary, tumultuous time.
I saw first hand what happened to everyday people whose fortunes changed suddenly through no fault of their own. That had an enormous impact on me.
It also surprised me that the most unlikely people commit fraud which just goes to show that if they can get away with it, then people will do it.
The ending of The Good Childcarries a strong note of hope for women to (learn to) manage their own finances.
Do you have any examples of whether the financial aspect of life has improved for women? And is there still work to be done?
Legislation as well as banking codes of conduct were put into place in the nineties in order for consumers to be better prepared about what they were getting into. Yet the recent Banking Royal commission in Australia has disappointingly highlighted issues where consumers have been adversely affected by the wrong doings of some financial institutions. I guess like many other people, I’m tired of the lack of accountability and the power imbalance.
I know of women today who are financially controlled. Interestingly, since I started this book three years ago, there’s more focus on improving financial literacy and understanding.
But I think there’s a long way to go. I suspect that we may see history repeat in the next few years.
The emotions in this Australian historical fiction complement and expand on the action, helping us to see the personal impact of business-as-usual.
What strategies did you use to keep the story on a personal level?
I think when a story is told from a personal perspective the reader should feel every part of it. Dealing with the everyday challenges of love, loss and survival are more relatable if told from the character’s point of view.
I hope readers will feel that they know Lucille and Quin, that they can relate to them, feel for them, be hopeful and yearn for them to find their way through.
You write about things and events that are relatively unknown. Your first two novels were quite different – one set on a phosphate island and the other about the Greek Civil War.
What are you working on now?
I’m half way through another split timeline novel set in a small town in Northern Queensland. It’s historical crime mystery with two main characters, a missing man and environmental damage in the sixties causing long term generational health problems.
The working title is The Palace Hotel. I’m very excited about this project.
So am I! I can’t wait to see it. Thanks again for sharing so much interesting background to The Good Child.
I admit that deadlines are good for me. I love writing inside a time frame. But remember, I’m a bit weird – I loved exams. Adrenaline = inspiration for me.
Broad Plain Darkening raised a lot of questions that I couldn’t wait to tackle. So many issues that I wanted to resolve. Imagine me rubbing my hands together in glee.
Once again, I needed a plan.
Strangely, my “plan” looks almost like a maths problem. How does it work?
You’ll notice very few words. The story was in my head. These are just reminders so that nothing got left out. Sticky notes for my brain.
Chapters are important. They need a starting point, an action or change point, and some sort of conclusion – one that leads to the next chapter, or one that closes the action and allows the next chapter to tackle another aspect of the story.
Chapter length is important. That’s what the numbers are about. I’m moving scenes around to ensure that each chapter is a similar length.
The first page of this notebook is dated Oct 19th, 2018. Three years ago today! That means that I was deep in writing Book Three while waiting for the edits to come back for Book Two.
Editing and writing at the same time: heaven!
Editing is such a satisfying task. You wrestle with what comes back; you suddenly see what doesn’t work. Then you scratch your head over how to make this or that point any clearer. You laugh at your hilarious typos (the runted land LOL!) and in your imagination, you high-five the editor at the brilliant saves.
Once again, working with Odyssey Books suited me down to the ground.
Seven-piece Essential Toolkit for Writing a Series
follow up your good starting idea
create characters to care about … ones that YOU care about
expect a great deal of work writing your idea into the first novel … possibly years
refrain from killing your characters too early – but be prepared to kill them at the right time
keep tweaking and submitting until you find a match
be responsive to your publisher’s needs
treasure the publisher who believes in you and your work
I have a dozen ideas for short stories set in the world of the Pale, but it’s no use planning a short story collection (working title The Chronicles of the Pale #4: Before and After) until I actually write those stories.
Jotted words in a notebook – useful as they are – do not turn themselves into publishable writing. And I also have in mind the possibility of a graphic novel or an animation. So a lot of work to be done first, but the world of the Pale now has to wait on edits for my current projects.
In the meantime, watch out for my next novel
How to Survive Your Magical Family
which will be out in time for Christmas. More news soon!
It took a little while to get my head around the possibility of more novels in the world of The Pale. A whole series of post-apocalyptic fiction? But hey! The world was all there, the characters created, and a trajectory beckoned. Plus the world always needs more books with talking animals.
All I needed to do was pick up where I left off, right?
It’s not that easy. Something I found quite testing was to check and re-check my built world, to ensure the consistency of both stories. Remember that I’d invented a highly-detailed setting, with too many characters, too many places, too much that was too clever by half (including an over-clever calendar)? Well, thanks to me being such a smarty-pants, there was too much in my head. I had to match the published version of my world, not the one teeming in my brain.
Hmm, did I mention this particular detail before? I kept asking.
I told myself: probably not.
Can I include it? I thought: Yes, but…
Can I do without it? Answer: YES!
The thing about world-building
It so happens that I know a lot more about the back-stories of the characters than will ever be published.
And that’s the way it should be. I am the iceberg. The published work is the best fraction of it.
Readers really only want to know what’s happening NOW.
They want ACTION. And they want EMOTION. They want RESOLUTION.*
*Beware generalisations. Some readers like the long way round a story
Readers don’t want to know about the hours I devoted to googling baby names as I tried to make my cast diverse and interesting. They don’t want to know about my failed attempts at tracing maps of Tasmania and putting Pale-style names in tricky terrain. And they especially don’t want to hear me arguing with myself about just how evil I can make the villain without turning science fiction into horror.
Stage 7: A Plan for Book 2
Take one ambitious time frame, add a thriving cast, lots of conflict and then make the world explode. Or at least cause the ground to shake.
I’m a pantser by nature, but I needed a plan. More, I needed – for the first time in my fiction writing – to create lists and signposts. I discovered that writing a series is like writing a thesis: there is more material than you can keep in your head at one time. You MUST be organised.
A character listwas easy enough, and here it is. I also asked for it to be included in the printed book, because many readers like to refer back as they’re reading.
A map! Fortunately, I have very talented people in my family – they’re so creative, this lot! – and @bernardjmaher listened carefully, coped with my scribbled diagrams, and voila! a map.
Stage 8: Writing Book 2
The deadline was good for me: six months to the first draft – remember that the first novel took several years to gestate.
I wrote and wrote and wrote. My method is to write a lot, and then edit, edit, edit. Then I add, subtract, rearrange and polish.
Characters from offstage demanded to be heard – for example, Helm, the lost tribesman. He’d always been there as Feather’s missing father, but he insisted that he had a much bigger part to play. More talking animals wanted to be heard, and many of the villains began to flex their muscles. Dystopia is like that!
Back and forth with editing. It was so much better this time around. I was more relaxed about strangers’ eyes on my imagined world, and more confident in my choices. I mus say that working with Odyssey Books has been amazing – truly life-changing.
Amazingly, within a year of launching The Pale, I was back at Readings Carlton, surrounded by well-wishers, thrilled to introduce my new book to the world.
I’m very proud of these books and still very much in love with them.
But how did this love affair with talking animal stories begin?
Today I’m letting you into the ten hidden stages behind the Chronicles.
Stage 1: An Idea
Ideas comes from everywhere. I can’t stop them.
This one began with a dream in 2014. We were shut inside a gated compound while outside, crying babies were dying from exposure. We couldn’t get out, but my dog Dinny (an ancient and beloved German Shepherd) snuck out and carried the two babies into safety.
From small kernels of inspiration, a big story grew.
Dogs had to feature!
Stage 2: A Short Story
The story of the babies left to die Outside was too good to lose, especially during the height of the worldwide refugee crisis. The wise and compassionate canini Mashtuk and Zelie, the heartless humachines, and fully-human Hector appeared in my head. I wrote them into a story and submitted it to progressive journal Overland. My first ever short story acceptance!
If you’ve read The Pale, you might like to see where it started.
Stage 3: A Novel
After the story was published, an indie publisher contacted me because my Overland bio said that I was writing a novel about these characters.
I hadn’t started, but I immediately began. Ideas came too fast and the novel grew too long, but I submitted it within six months.
Stage 4: A Rejection
Sadly, The Pale Version 01 didn’t make the grade. The novel was BLOATED with too many characters and dozens of subplots, and falling over itself with over-complex world building.
While the feedback was positive, the novel needed severe editing.
Stage 5: An Acceptance
More time passed. I took a good hard look at my manuscript and pruned a few thousand words. Some of the off-cuts were old favourites: names for every (and I mean every) minor character, a newly invented calendar based on the many seasons recognised in indigenous cultures, and a subplot involving flashbacks to the time before the Great Cataclysm…
Then I sent the new manuscript to my dear, dear beta readers. Their ultra-valuable feedback (thank you – you know who you are!) resulted in more tidying…and THEN
Oh, my. Having a novel published was a lifelong dream come true.
I fell onto a steep learning curve. Working with fiction editors challenged me, but I could see that every discussion, every point, made my work better. A wonderful cover artist sent me concepts, and I jumped with delight on the one with the city and the canini – of course, it’s Mashtuk!
I’ve talked about launching here, and I can still remember the wonderful feeling. The Pale sold some copies. Readers contacted me and asked about the characters and what happened next? The characters gambolled around in my head.
And the publisher said: is there a sequel?
Next week, I’ll explain how I got from a single dream to a three-novel series … and perhaps a set of short stories in genesis.