Writers’ Perks

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 Fleetwalker by 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!

fleetwalker cover
Fleetwalker, the long-awaited #3 in the GriffinSong trilogy

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.

Magic Cats rule October

character cats drawn by Elena Buyanova

The magical cats are coming!

This October I’m collaborating with local art school Art Academica. We are running a competition for two groups of teenage artists. Their task: create a portrait of one of the characters in How to Survive Your Magical Family.

While most of the characters in How to Survive Your Magical Family are magical, it’s the cats who make the story purr.  One Art Academica’s talented teachers, Elena Buyan, prepared the feature image for the start of Term 4 classes.

Here it is again for your enjoyment. Who’s your favourite?

character cats drawn by Elena Buyanova
Magical Cats by artist Elena Buyan

Next Monday, I will have the great pleasure of speaking with the young artists in a Q&A session for each group. I’ve heard that many of them create their own stories. I can’t wait to hear what they might ask me. More importantly, I can’t wait to see their portraits of my fantasy creations. Especially Toby, Mia, and all the cats.

I’m going to ask their permission to share their works online. So keep watching this space. In between, enjoy these photos With me is Art Academica founder and director,  and all-round creative, Taya Danchenko.

artist and author
Here I am with Art Academica’s Taya Danchenko
artist and author read book
Artist Taya Danchenko and I have a look at the magic inside the book

Tim Major shares some Open Submissions for June and July 2023

TIM SAYS: Here are the most interesting open submissions calls for SFF writers I’ve found this month. Good luck! Qualia NousThe first volume of this anthology series contained high-profile names and was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology. This new volume looks set to be a bit deal, too. The editor […]

Open submission calls: June 2023 — Tim Major

Australian novels of WWI: some recommendations

April 25, Anzac Day text

Fifteen years ago, I started my PhD journey looking at Australian stories of World War I. I wanted to discover how Australian writers of WWI transformed their experiences into fiction. Arguably, I’ve read more of these books than anyone in the world. Here are my recommendations for Australian stories you might like to read, if you’re interested in Australian perspectives of war.

Some people said

THERE ARE NO AUSTRALIAN NOVELS OF WWI!

But there are, and I discovered that Australian stories are different from the famous WWI texts of the English-speaking world (but that would be another post!).

Here are my selected reading lists for Australian novels of WWI. Copy and paste a title into your library catalogue (or preferred retailer) and get reading. I need more people to talk about these with! So read on …

Books of the Time:

By Australian veterans (first published; most recently published):

Leonard Mann, Flesh in Armour (1932;2008)

J.P. McKinney, Crucible (1935; 2012)

Frederic Manning, The Middle Parts of Fortune (1929/30; 2012)

Ion Idriess, The Desert Column (1935; 2017)

G.D. Mitchell, Backs to the Wall (1937; 2007)

By non-combatants (first published; most recently published):

Mary Grant Bruce,  From Billabong to London (1914; 2019), Jim and Wally (1915; 2019), Captain Jim (1916; 2022), and Back to Billabong (1919; 2015).

Ethel Turner, The Cub: Six Months in his Life: a Story in War-Time (1915; 1958), Captain Cub (1917), Brigid and the Cub (1919).

2000s Australian WWI Novels:

A selection. There are more.

Ian Callinan, After the Monsoon (2004)

John Charalambous, An Accidental Soldier (2014)

Jackie French, A Rose for the Anzac Boys (2008)

Stephen Daisley, Traitor (2009)

David Metzenthen, Boys of Blood and Bone  (2003)

David Metzenthen, Black Water (2007)

Clare Rhoden, The Stars in the Night (2017)

Brenda Walker, The Wing of Night (2005)

Sheila Walker, The Ghost at the Wedding (2010)

Chris Womersley, Bereft (2010)

Peter Yeldham, Barbed Wire And Roses (2007)

 

Please let me know if/when you’ve read any of these. I’d love to discuss 🙂

 

Open submission calls: March 2023 — repost from the savvy Tim Major

Whereas last month’s open submission calls all seemed to be horror-flavoured, this month I’ve come across a wealth of science fiction venues seeking story submissions. Maybe horror editors prefer the winter, and the impending arrival of spring is bringing out all the SF publishers? If you’d like to receive notifications of open submission calls direct […]

Open submission calls: March 2023 — Tim Major

What is it that makes the Attack at Fromelles resonate with Australians? ‘Don’t forget me, cobber’ — Baffled Bear Books

Thanks to Baffled Bear Books for the mention!

 

Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle. What is it that makes the Attack at Fromelles resonate with Australians? Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle from Odyssey Books comprises three fascinating WWI stories from Australian authors July 19-20, 1916 The Battle of Fromelles was Australia’s first action on the Western Front. It was disastrous. Arguably the worst 24 hours in […]

What is it that makes the Attack at Fromelles resonate with Australians? ‘Don’t forget me, cobber’ — Baffled Bear Books

Safe and Sound: Philippa East and the psychology of suspense

Philippa East is a fiction writer with HQ/HarperCollins and she also works as a clinical psychologist, which I guess can come in pretty handy for writing thrillers.

Author Philippa East
Author Philippa East

Philippa grew up in Scotland before moving to Oxford and then London to complete her clinical training. A few years ago, she left the NHS to set up her own part-time practice and dedicate more hours to writing. The result was her debut novel LITTLE WHITE LIES, which was long-listed for The Guardian’s Not-The-Booker Prize and shortlisted for the CWA “New Blood” Award 2020.

Little White Lies by Philippa East
Little White Lies by Philippa East

Philippa’s next book SAFE AND SOUND is another twisty and compelling tale. For a fun preview, check out the video trailer on Philippa’s Amazon Author page (best with sound on!).

Philippa now lives in the beautiful Lincolnshire countryside with her husband and cat. She loves reading (of course!) and long country walks, and she also performs in a local folk duo called The Miracle Cure. Alongside her writing, Philippa continues to work as a psychologist and therapist.

I’m excited to have Philippa as my guest today, as she tells us about what inspires her. Philippa also shares an extract from SAFE AND SOUND, which you’ll find below.

 

Inspirations

Phillippa: It’s a funny question, isn’t it? ‘Where do your ideas come from?’

For me, a book often comes alive when two (or even better, three) different ideas come together in my head. That’s generally how I know I might have enough material for a whole 90,000-word novel!

I write in the psychological suspense genre, and actually get a lot of my ideas – full disclosure! – from watching true-crime documentaries on TV. At heart, I’m fascinated by what people are capable of and why they do the things they do. This also overlaps with my day job as a clinical psychologist.

More specifically, individual plot ideas, character motivations or story twists can get sparked for me in various ways: reading other books in the genre can help get my brain in ‘thriller’ mode; I also often go for long walks around the Lincolnshire countryside to get the brain wheels turning, plus sometimes I just have to pin down a friend and brainstorm relentlessly with (at!) them until the pieces finally fall into place.

The inspiration for my latest book, SAFE AND SOUND, was actually the true-life story of Joyce Vincent, a woman in her thirties who died at home in North London in late 2003. Her body was only discovered in 2006. Around 2013, I found myself watching ‘Dreams of a Life’, the incredibly moving docu-drama produced by filmmaker Carol Morley about Joyce’s life and death. The film stayed with me for years, itching away at my brain, until I was compelled to write my own version of this heart-breaking story.

***

Thank you so much Philippa for sharing that with us, and especially for the (rather scary) extract. All the best for your work and your writing.

***

Extract from SAFE AND SOUND

Chapter One

Before I started in this job, I used to picture bailiffs bashing in people’s doors and dragging furniture out into the street.

Of course, it isn’t like that really. We’ve sent this tenant a letter to let her know we’re coming, all correct protocol with the London Housing Association that I work for. I have two bailiffs with me but, really, all we want to do today is to ensure that this tenant, Ms Jones, knows about her debts, and hopefully sort out a means for her to pay them. That’s why I’m here: as her Housing Manager. Hopefully, I can agree a payment plan with her, something to help her out of this mess.

The bailiff with the kind face takes a deep breath and knocks hard on the door. ‘Ms Jones? Ms Jones, we are here about your unpaid rent.’

Safe and Sound by Philippa East
Safe and Sound by Philippa East

I think I can make out voices coming from inside the flat, but as I lean closer I hear someone saying Capital FM!, and I realise it’s just the radio playing. If the radio is on though, I can be pretty sure she’s in there.

The bailiff knocks again, thump thump.

A song comes on a moment later: ‘Everywhere’ by Fleetwood Mac. We’ll keep knocking and hope that eventually she will come to the door, even if she doesn’t open it. She has a right not to open it to us, but I really hope we can speak to her today. That way I have a chance to help. We can let things go for a while – the longest I can remember was four months – but we can’t just let it go on forever. Ms Jones is already three months behind. We’ve sent half a dozen letters already, but she didn’t reply to any of them, so now it’s come to this. If we can’t arrange some kind of payment schedule today, the next step is an eviction notice and I would really hate for it to come to that.

‘Ms Jones?’ the bailiff calls again.

There are footsteps on the stairs above. I step back and look up to see who’s coming. A neighbour from upstairs, nobody that I recognise, a black woman, smartly dressed, probably on her way out to work. There are dozens of people living in this block but now I wonder how many of them speak to each other or even know their neighbours’ names. But she must pass this way at least, most days. ‘Excuse me,’ I call out to her. ‘Do you know the tenant in this flat? Is she usually home at this time?’

The woman comes down the last few stairs.

‘She’s got the radio on,’ I say. ‘We’re assuming she’s in.’

The woman pauses next to us and shrugs. ‘Her radio is always on,’ she says. ‘I hear it every time I go by.’

She loiters for another moment between the staircase and the doors to the outside, sizing us up. But she is busy, she has her own life to be getting on with, and no doubt she’s learnt that it’s best in a big city like this not to get involved. ‘Sorry,’ she offers as she hitches her handbag more securely onto her shoulder and makes her way through the heavy door to the lobby.

We turn back to the flat and the other bailiff knocks this time, his fist bigger, his knock that bit louder. I look down at the file of papers I am still holding against my chest. I’ve been in this flat before; I checked the last tenant out. I can still picture it: the tiny apartment is only a bedsit really, tucked away on the ground floor, hidden under the stairs so you could quite easily miss it. The living room and bedroom are one and the same, the sofa tucked behind the front door doubling as a bed, and there is a kitchen, but only an archway divides the two, so you could hardly even call them separate rooms. There’s a tiny toilet, with a shower attachment that hangs, a little bit crooked, above a plastic bath. And that’s it.

The last tenant, I remember, only stayed a few months. They complained about the commercial waste bins that always somehow ended up against the rear wall of this block, even though they belonged to the restaurant twenty yards away. Then the flat was empty for a good while, until this tenant moved in a year ago. Into this flat, now allocated to me.

The song has flipped over and it’s another tune that’s playing now. I recognise this one too: ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2. Out of nowhere I get a sort of roiling feeling in my stomach and a prickling up the base of my spine. I hand my file of papers to the bailiff with the plain, kind face and walk right up to the door. I bend my knees so that my eyes are level with the letterbox and lift up the flap. With my cheek against the flaky wood of the door I look through the slat of a gap that has opened up.

I see all the post, a slithering pile of it silting up the floor on the other side of the door. No doubt the letters we sent are among it. The strangest smell reaches me in thin wisps from inside, and suddenly I find myself thinking back to last year and the annual inspection I was supposed to carry out. I let the flap of the letterbox fall and straighten back up. My chest has gone tight. I can’t seem to speak.

Now both bailiffs are looking at me, but I can’t find a way to tell them what’s wrong. The older one leans down, copying what I have just done and sees for himself what’s through that narrow space.

He puts a palm on the door, as though to steady himself.

He manages to say something and he says: ‘Holy shit.

***

Oh my goodness! What a great beginning. Thank you Philippa for sharing.

Philippa’s Links

Safe and Sound book link (via Bookshop.org who support independent bookshops): https://uk.bookshop.org/books/safe-and-sound-9780008344047/9780008344047

How to be Happy with a Book Part 3 – Reflection: a guide for readers and reviewers

Title: how to be happy with a book part 3

You might remember my previous posts about being happy with a book. In Part One, I covered how to choose a book that’s likely to give you joy. Then in Part Two I posed some questions about whether the book’s writing quality met your expectations.

Today I’m going to dig a bit deeper into the final response to the book. Was this book successful? Did it deliver what I wanted?

Child laughing with book
Books can make you happy

First let’s recap this how to be happy project:

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

This post is about how to reflect on the success of the book you just finished. You might be considering recommending this book to a friend. You might want to write a review, or perhaps you have a task to review it. Time to think about what was good.

Or not.

My reviewing rules

I read in excess of eighty books every year, and a lot of other material too. My reading is for pleasure, for learning, to support fellow writers, and to write reviews. My reviews appear on Goodreads, here on my website, in Aurealis magazine and on the Historical Novel Society website.

Finished a book? What was it like?
Finished a book? What was it like?

I don’t review every book I read. You might see that my Goodreads average rating is quite high, because I concentrate on rating and reviewing only those books that I really enjoyed. Plus the ones that deliver what they set out to do.

What if it’s awful?

If I really don’t like a book, then I try to think: Who would like this? For example, I don’t like gratuitous or graphic violence, but some readers love that kind of story. I might say that it’s ‘a book for lovers of action who don’t mind graphic violence’.

Not the best read
Not the best read?

Or perhaps I’ll choose not to review at all. I don’t like giving low ratings or over-critical reviews, because I know how much work goes in to writing a book. Most books find their audience. We don’t all have to love all of them.

Some questions to ask

Now you’ve finished the book. Hooray! What are your thoughts?

Some readers are quite intuitive about how much they enjoyed a book (or not) and happily land on a star rating. Others could use some structure to sort out their reactions, especially if the book is complex.

If you would like a tick list of questions, I happen to have one right here LOL!

  1. Does the plot makes sense, with all loose ends tied up?
  2. Are the characters believable and engaging? Did I care what happened to them?
  3. Did the story pull me in? Can I accept its world building? EG its magic system, its police procedure, its logical structure, its historical recreation, its planetary set up and so on.
  4. Was the end satisfactory? Perhaps not all is resolved, but the story is complete.
  5. How did that book make me feel? Your expectation of feeling relies on what you’ve been promised: a chilling thriller, a sweet Regency romance, an exciting adventure in deep space? Your lasting emotional response to the book says a lot.

Finishing a book
Who would like this book?

You could do worse than give each of these criteria a number from 1 (weak) to 5 (excellent) before deciding your final star rating for the book as a whole. [HINT: authors love star ratings]

These criteria also provide beginnings for a text review. [HUGE HINT: authors love text reviews!]

Finally

Before you reach for the next delight from your TBR pile, a final thought could be: who would I recommend this book for?

The reading community is very diverse. Even the book you really don’t like will be just right for someone else. And that’s OK!

What’s even better is for you to give them the heads up that you’ve found a book just right for them. The ‘if you like X, then you’ll like this’ statement can be very helpful not only to other readers but also to authors.

[LAST HINT: authors love you to recommended their books to readers who will like them!] 

I’d love to know if you have any techniques for rating and reviewing books that you could share with me. And of course I’d love to know how you make yourself happy with a book.

Until next time, happy reading!

 

Harry Fletcher steps out of the Stars

Harry Fletcher is an energetic young man with many plans for the future. In this exclusive post on the eve of Anzac Day, I’m asking him about his upcoming tour of Egypt, Gallipoli and the Western Front.

First, though, we have to take ourselves back to January 1915 and behind the pages of The Stars in the Night.

Stars Amz cover

Clare: Hi, Harry, pleased to meet you. I’ve been hearing so much about you over the past few years that I feel like I already know you.

Harry: Never met you before, Miss, but how do you do all the same.

I hear you’re leaving the bakery to become a soldier.

That’s right. Me and my brother Eddie. Off to save the Empire, we are. Unless the war finishes before we get there.

I don’t think that will happen.

Really, Miss? They said it would be over by Christmas. Maybe next Christmas then.

Perhaps. Now, I have a couple of notes here that I’d like to check with you if that’s all right.

Go ahead.

You and Eddie have the same birthday. How did that happen? I thought he was your foster brother. Your enlistment papers make you look like twins.

Nah, we’re not twins. Have you met him, our Eddie? High as a house and twice as broad. Anyway, we have different surnames, so we can’t be twins.

And both your birthdays fall on the same day as mine, June 28th.

True, Miss? That’s strange. Eddie shares mine because we never found out when his real birthday is.

Indeed. Now, what about that Nora girl?

Miss MacTierney, you should say. What about her?

Nothing to be concerned about, Harry. I just wondered whether the two of you…

None of your business, I’m pretty sure, Miss. Where did you say you were from, anyway?

Ah, I’m from The Future. It’s a, um, a new paper. Interviews, life stories, history, travel, that sort of thing. Fiction and poetry.

Never heard of it. I like reading, though. History and geography. Not poetry so much. Mind you, I won’t get much time for reading from now on.

You’re heading off to training camp this month, I know. Tell me this, Harry: why did you enlist? The war is half a world away.

It’s the right thing to do, isn’t it? Everyone knows that. I couldn’t stay home when other blokes are fighting for what’s right. Britain is at war and they need us. Australia has to do the decent thing.

You really believe that war is a decent thing?

Well, it’s the only thing, isn’t it? The only way to beat a bully is to fight him. Besides, it pays well. Six shillings a day, imagine that, and a free trip to Europe. Not bad. And when we get there, we’ll show the English army that we’re just as good as they are.

I believe you will. I hope you stay safe, I really do. You and Eddie.

That’s kind, Miss ah, sorry, didn’t catch your name. Miss Future, let’s say. Maybe we can talk more when I get back.

I hope that too. Promise to look me up when you get home.

*laughs* You’ll have to wait in line, Miss. There’s somebody I’ll be looking up first.

Oh, of course, Nora! I’m sure she’ll be waiting for you.

I’m depending on it, Miss. Thanks for dropping by.

Thanks for talking to me, Harry. Good luck!

 

The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden -cover detail
The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden -cover detail. Cover design by Simon Critchell

You’ve probably guessed that this is one of many entirely impossible conversations that I regularly hold with my character Harry Fletcher, picking his brains about why he’s doing what he’s doing, and what life is like for him. He can be a prickly chap but he always tells me the truth.

For the latest review of The Stars in the Night, see Baffled Bear Books.

 

Where to find Stars in the Night: You can buy Stars from my publisher Odyssey Books, from BookDepository (with free shipping worldwide) and from Amazon in Kindle and paperback, and as an ebook for KOBO.

It’s also at Barnes and Noble in paperback, and at Chapters Indigo, Booktopia, and Waterstones.

You can also ask your friendly local bookstore to order it in for you. During the pandemic shutdown, many bookstores are delivering for free. Bonus!

If you are in Australia, you can buy a signed copy from my website, with free postage included.