Today I’m chatting with Karen King, who started her writing career writing for Jackie magazine (a British magazine for teenage girls), and children’s comics such as Postman Pat and Winnie the Pooh. Karen is a multi-published author of children’s books and romantic fiction. She has published 120 children’s books, two young adult novels, five romantic novels and several short stories for women’s magazines. Karen signed up with Bookouture (the hottest digital publisher around) earlier this year for two romantic novels. The first one, Snowy Nights at the Lonely Hearts Hotel, will be available on 9 November.
LWOTW: Welcome, Karen, it’s great to have you here. Tell us, when did you write your first story?
Karen: I can’t remember. I’ve written stories ever since I was a child and had a poem published when I was about ten. My first published story was in Jackie magazine back in the early eighties.
A lifelong writer, then. What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
I think ideas for stories come in many different ways and often a dream can be the catalyst then imagination takes it further and planning knocks it into shape.
A very neat summary. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Being asked to open a library at a local school when I lived in Worcester and discovering that they’d actually written my name on a plaque on the wall. I was so touched and honoured.
That really is a highlight! What are you most busy with at the moment?
I had a two-book contract with Bookouture earlier this year and my first book, Snowy Nights at the Lonely Hearts Hotel, is out on 9th November so I’ve been busy doing edits for it. I’ve also just finished writing the second book (I can’t divulge the title of that yet) so no doubt will have edits for that soon.
That’s a lovely sort of busy. If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t think too much when you are writing your story. Get the story out of your head and down onto the screen/paper. Then you can think what works and what doesn’t, what you can improve, tweak, rewrite. The story comes first.
And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
Thank you so much, Karen, for joining us for the Last Word of the Week.
This week we are being totally charmed by the gorgeous Felicity Banks, the Australian author who channels the Antipodean Queen (how cool is that?) among other things. Felicity is also published by the impressive Odyssey Books.
Last Word of the Week: Welcome, Felicity. Can you tell us when you wrote your first story?
Felicity: I can remember attempting my first novel when I was seven or so, during an idle afternoon at my grandparents’ house. It was about a family of cats, and the big drama was that Pamela (the mother) had gained weight. What unimaginable horror!
Then the amazing twist was that she wasn’t overweight after all. She was having kittens. There is no greater possible end to a story than brand new kittens.
LWOTW: A happy outcome indeed. What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
It seems I was born to plan out my stories before I write them, given that I was outlining novels at age seven. Sometimes I write out pages and pages of character notes, maps, and so on. Most of the time I have about an A4 handwritten page of notes when I start writing a novel and if I’m having trouble with a scene I might write out another page of notes just for that scene. Sometimes things change dramatically partway through the story, and I’m fine with that. Once I had a weird dream and then woke up and started writing a novel that afternoon.
Imagining things is easy; real life is hard.
LWOTW: We’re with you there. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
It took me a long, long time to get published—fifteen years after finishing my first novel. At around the same time as my first novel was published, I discovered the world of interactive fiction (like “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels, but usually digital), and nowadays my writing is actually in demand. That is absolutely amazing, and I love it.
I really enjoy going to conferences and fairs, especially meeting people who’ve read my books and come back for more.
LWOTW: That must be very affirming. What are you most busy with at the moment?
Trying to actually do the writing I’m meant to be doing! Which is precisely why I’m here, doing other things.
LWOTW: Well, we’re glad you took the time out to talk with us. If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Don’t! The average full-time writer in Australia earns only $12,000 per year.
But if you’re the type of person who thrives on being told not to do something, then the long years of rejection will be perfect for you. Or you can just write for fun (and if you get paid, great). That’s what I do.
And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?
Thanks for speaking with us!
You can find out more about Felicity’s steampunk fantasy books here.
Felicity’s interactive writing can be found under the name Felicity Banks at the site here – but beware, it’s addictive!
Felicity’s latest book is a middle grade novel called The Monster Apprentice and features monsters AND pirates. You can find Felicity’s various pirate tales (some for children, some not) here.
This week, I’m chatting with the intriguing Kathryn Gossow, whose YA novel Cassandra (published by the magical Odyssey Books) explores questions of future, knowledge, love, and fanily duties.
Last Word of the Week: Hi Kathryn! Tell us, when did you write your first story?
Kathryn: The first story I remember writing in primary school was about the moon and a little girl falling in love. When the moon had to return to the sky, it slipped out of the girl’s grasp and you can still see her hand print on the moon. I remember writing the line ‘forgotten like the man who invented matches’ which impressed my teacher. In grade 7, I wrote the end of year play. It was about a girl trapped on an alien planet at Christmas time. The aliens feel sorry for her and organise Christmas for her including an upside down tree and an electric dustpan for a gift.
LWOTW: What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Inspiration rests in our dreams and imagination, but have you ever had someone try and tell you about their weird dream? Dreams don’t confirm to storytelling conventions. On the other hand, have you ever read a washing machine manual? Too much planning and the heart that comes from the inspiration – the dream or imagination – loses its emotional impact. There needs to be a balance – like eating both your vegetables and your cake.
LWOTW: First time I’ve though of writing as a balance between vegetables and cake! Nice. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
This year, by far, it was having my book Cassandra short listed in the best fantasy novel category of the Aurealis Awards.
LWOTW: Fantastic achievement, Kathryn. Congrats! What are you busy with at the moment?
So crazy, crazy busy. I am working on my new book about a librarian who can heal people with books. I am editing my almost completed collection of short stories – The Dark Poet. I am also on the marketing train with my first book Cassandra. Then there is blogging and sending stories to magazines. I also have to dust my house, prune my stone fruit trees, buy a new thingamabob for my broken swivel mirror…do you really want the whole list?
LWOTW: I reckon that’s enough to be getting on with 🙂 If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Put your bum in the chair and write. It won’t write itself.
You’re right there – and no one else will write it for you either. Thank you so much for your insights, Kathryn, and all the best with the writing. And the thingamabob of course.
Today I’m pleased to welcome playwright Petra Kavile to tell us about her play, Oil Babies, which is coming very soon to Northcote in Melbourne. OIL BABIES explores climate change and our continued “hope-investment” in procreation compared with our feelings of helplessness at the state of the planet – and our role in its demise. Babies – to have or not to have?
STS: Welcome, Petra. Can you tell us a bit more about your upcoming project?
My play Oil Babies is opening at the Northcote Town hall as part of Darebin Arts Speakeasy on August 9-18. It’s being produced by the wonderful guys at Lab Kelpie.
STS: That sounds great! Is there one aspect of Oil Babies that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?
Oil Babies is about the environment and babies, both of which have played on my mind lots in the last few years. The environment and our impact on it is a constant concern of mine (as I’m sure it is for many people) – but the structures that support us to live the way we do haven’t really taken minimising our impact on the environment into account. So we constantly have to be on guard and vigilant in our attempts to minimise our carbon footprint. Add babies into the mix and you’ve got thousands more tons of CO2 pumped into the atmosphere. And yet, we can’t stop reproducing. I’m guilty of it too. So that’s what first spurred the urge to write Oil Babies, this growing conflict in myself and amongst my friends and family – of wanting to live as lightly as possible in a world set against us doing so while we contemplate reproducing.
STS: What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?
I’m passionate about new Australian stories. I think stories help us figure out who we are and what we want and why we behave the way we do. I think there are fundamental ways of being that cross history and culture – but I also strongly believe that stories of our time, place and culture are necessary too. I can’t stop helping facilitate stories for today, it’s like a compulsion.
STS: A compulsion, yes, many of the creative people I’ve spoken to feel that way, driven to pursue their art. Many describe their processes using analogies – like speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?
I’m a dramaturg – a bowerbird at heart. I steal little bits from everywhere and weave together something that resembles the mess / conflict between my head and heart. I write for short intense bursts. I set myself a task and hopefully magic happens and I lose myself in creative flow. Then, the fun part of weaving all those tasks together begins.
STS: That bower bird is a beautiful image, thank you Petra! Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?
Concise. Weaver. Cut-it! Humorous. Flexible.
Lovely words to live by and to create by. Thank you so much for having Something to Say!
This week LWOTW is very happy to welcome the intriguing Mat Larkin, author of the newly released middle grade novel The Orchard Underground. Mat has a very inventive imagination – as I know from working with him on a project in the past – so I’m expecting some unusual responses … Read on with caution and delight …
Last Word of the Week: Greetings, Mat! When did you write your first story?
Mat: When I was seven, I wrapped a small, brown, corduroy belt-loop in a note and left it on the kitchen counter. The note read: ‘Dear Mum, this piece fell off my pants. Can you fix it please? Love Mathew.’
That story was a lie. I cut it off with scissors. Don’t tell my mum.
The first honest fictions I wrote were little stories when I was around nine. They all had Doctor Who in them. I wrote them while wearing a duffel coat with a recorder in the pocket that I pretended was the sonic screwdriver.
I could tell you I got over that phase, but I now know someone who writes for Doctor Who and the envy is scalding.
LWOTW: What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?
Mat: A really good therapist once told me, ‘enjoy your dreams, survive your nightmares, wake up, walk away and leave them be. Your subconscious is out of your reach for a reason. Keep it that way.’
It’s profound, wise advice, and I absolutely never follow it. Dreams don’t make sense — that’s not what they’re for — but they’re so damn compelling, so tantalisingly just a fingertip beyond our reach that our big, twitchy, far-too-curious human brains don’t stand a chance to resist.
I still can’t make sense of them, though. Why would Daryl Somers even want me to have orang-utan arms for legs?
Imagination is play, and I lost the habit of play until my son was born. He taught me to write by asking me to get down on the floor and stare for hours at a spinning top, to clamber into a cardboard box with him, to draw wings on that box and fly in it with him to Neptune, to stare at Venus together until the actual real photons that bounced off another planet were lodged forever in our retinas. Space travellers we welcomed.
My son taught me to play, and to write.
Planning is creative. I plan a novel by playing with my characters, writing their backstories, wondering what’s around the corner of the last street of the world I just invented, writing all my plot points on system cards then shuffling them to look for better patterns.
I mean it’s also a load of financial, professional and record-keeping tediousness, but it’s easy to forget in all that to keep a creative element in the more mechanical parts of your creative practice.
LWOTW: System cards! Wow, I’m impressed. They obviously work well. What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?
Adults have been very nice about The Orchard Underground, and that’s very nice. But I’ve been visiting a lot of the middle-grade book clubs run by Melbourne bookshops, and there is no substitute, as a middle-grade writer, for sliding politely past the adults and talking to kids.
The kids I’ve met have been incredible. They’re engaged, thoughtful, creative, rowdy and very much full of their own ideas about my story and characters. It’s been exciting to hear girls tell me they love my female protagonists Attica Stone and Slotcar, but almost more exciting to hear boys tell me the same thing. Boys finding non-male heroes is a big deal for me.
So the highlight of my writing career so far is this drawing of Attica Stone, which was done on the spot for me at a book club. I can’t begin to describe what it’s like to see my character appear like magic on the notepad page of a ten year-old girl who loves her.
LWOTW: That’s wonderful! (I love Attica too – apologies for being an adult. I’m sure my child-self would have adored her, but I had to make do with A Little Bush Maid, who could at least ride horses, muster cattle, and fight bushfires as well as cook…) What are you most busy with at the moment?
Here’s my list
A prequel to The Orchard Underground, working title: The Chameleon Thief
Visiting schools, book clubs and anyone else who’ll have me to meet kids, talk about stories and hear their sensational ideas about double-decker ladders and rocket trees
Today I had the pleasure of speaking to some creative writing students at Victoria University, in the western suburns of my hometown Melbourne.
Being trapped in the spotlight in a room full of other writers felt a bit daunting, so instead of just reading from my book and then expecting discussion, I structured my given hour around reading, writing, questioning and visualising fiction.
In this post, I’ll look at the questions I prepared and the answers we discussed. These are the five questions I am most often asked since The Pale was published:
Where do you get your ideas?
What made you want to write about this?
How did you go from a short story to an 80,000 word novel?
How did you find a publisher?
How do you sell books?
My ideas come from the real world and from dreams. (I find my dream stories have had better success in finding publication – but that topic is for another post!) In the case of The Pale, in 2014 I had a dream that I was locked inside a wire compound and that there was a crying baby on the ground outside the gate. Nobody would let me go out to pick up the baby, and eventually it was left to my old German Shepherd dog, 15-y-o Dinny, who arrived suddenly at the baby’s side and rescued it.
The morning after the dream, I wrote the first draft of Man/Machine/Dog, which was published in Overland 215, Winter 2014.
What made me want to write about this dream was the refugee crisis, in particular Australia’s response, which I continue to find deeply distressing. (More information at the Refugee Council of Australia.)
From short story to novel took me almost a year and I did this mostly by writing backstory for all the characters. I created a writing exercise around this for the students which I will outline in a later post.
Finding a publisher was a pitted path. After the story was published, a start-up sci-fi publisher asked about the novel (which I had not written!). The first draft, which I sent to them, was seriously under-done and rightly rejected. Many revisions later, after learning more about the industry by attending workshops at Writers Victoria, I searched for a publisher willing to accept unsolicited submissions electronically (who wants to pay postage on a novel-sized project?). I sent a much re-worked version to Odyssey Books and was thrilled to be accepted for publication. I have some tips for organising and surviving your submissions – but that too is for a later post.
Selling books is quite hard. There is so much excellent competition out there, and marketing is not a core skill for me. It took me quite some time to grow a writerly skin which allowed me to submit my writing (poor shivering creature!) to publishers, and I am aiming now to grow a marketing persona. There are a number of associated activities that authors can undertake to help sell their books, and I will outline some of these in a later post. I can’t do everything, but I can always do something to help my book get into the hands of readers.
Speaking of which (shameless plug alert), if you’re in the market for a gripping read in dystopian sci-fi, you can buy The Palehere, or at the usual places, like Booktopia or Amazon.
I received my feedback from the 2017 Book Pipeline competition, in which the judges consider an extract of your novel (or your graphic novel/script/non-fiction book/book proposal) for its potential to be made into a film or TV series. For a fee, of course, but that is the usual course when you decide to put your work in front of judges for any purpose. You can see the shortlisted works here, and the finalists will be announced in a couple of weeks. My book The Pale is not shortlisted, but the exercise wasn’t a complete washout.
Book Pipeline’s extra incentive to pay an entry fee is that even if your work is not shortlisted (and therefore can’t win), you still get a paragraph of feedback.
So here is what they say: kind of yeah, no, yeah, but no.
That’s alright as I can cherry-pick the good bits (like our politicians do with ‘facts’), such as “there’s some cool world-building here”, and “classical in its approach”, and “familiar” elements “similar to Mad Max: Fury Road” (for the cyber-punk-ish bits) “and The Hunger Games” (for the competing factions aspects). I thought when I submitted that the biggest problem might be rendering the canini – my GM dogs with thumbs, enormous brains, and advanced language skills – onto film, but they didn’t get a mention.
Dystopian spaces are “incredibly saturated”, which I guess means that these folk watch the news :-). The Pale is considered just a little too classical, and too familiar, for movie purposes, but actually I think maybe that’s not a bad thing for books. Generally if readers like a book, they want to read another one that’s similar.
Anyway, it’s been an interesting and instructive process, and I now feel that I can legitimately compare The Pale to the Mad Max franchise (of which, guiltily I admit, I have never seen any), and to The Hunger Games trilogy (well, I have read the first book, but haven’t seen the movies). And “cool world-building” may well be a quote I can use for marketing.
Now, what can I pitch for the 2018 round, starting March 15th?
Halloween is over, but there are many scary tasks in store for the newbie fiction author. Today was another milestone day.
For the first time, I walked into a bookstore and said, ‘Hi, I’m a local author, and I’d like to ask if you’d consider stocking my book.’
But I really did it. Not once, but twice. And then I added a trip into a strange libary as a bonus, suggesting that they too might like to have my *divine* work on their shelves.
Now that my pulse rate has slowed somewhat, I can share some ideas for this task:
Be prepared. I kind of was. I prepared a one-page ‘Introduction to The Pale‘, on which I listed its freshly-developed tag (‘dystopian sci-fi with talking dogs!’), the link to purchase, RRP, a teaser re the characters (‘Meet the canini…’), and a short bio with contact details.
Have a book to show them. I *LOVE* the cover that Michelle organised for me (thanks to Elijah Toten), and it really goes down well with prospective buyers/readers.
Be prepared to give up a hard copy. Yikes! One bookshop – a very nice bookshop – said they’d love to look into it and could they have a review copy right now – so I had to say ‘Yes, of course!’ and watch the precious paper disappear behind the counter.
Live your local writing scene. It helps that I sometimes go inside these bookstores, as they are in shopping strips near where I meet friends for coffee. When I made my claim to be a local author, they came back at me with other names and a degree of excitement. Lucky for me I know a couple of these people from work (at uni), so I was able to join the booksellers’ enthusiasm. But being aware of similar titles to yours, or of other local writers, seemed to ease the conversation.
Populate your website. The bookstore that didn’t ask for a hard copy wanted to know if Odyssey had published a sample chapter online? I said, adlibbing quickly, not yet, but that there is a sample section about to be published on my own website.
Both bookstores said they have heard of Odyssey and would look to order after checking out the book. Fingers crossed!
The image is from Lilliput Lyrics, a children’s book published in 1899, courtesy of the free images provided by the British Library on Flickr
Image taken from page 180 of 'Lilliput Lyrics ... Edited by R. Brimley Johnson. Illustrated by Chas. Robinson'
ABA = Australian Booksellers’ Association – a pretty important group for authors to access.
Thanks to the good offices of my lovely publisher at Odyssey Books and our dynamic distributor Novella, I was able to join the stand at the Sunday afternoon trade exhibition. This is where booksellers meet distributors and publishers. Our task was to interest booksellers (ie the folk who sell books to the reading public) in the books we had on display, so that they would consider stocking Odyssye titles (and titles from other publishers in the Novella stable).
I had a wonderful time and learnt many things about the book trade and about book folk. Here are five major learnings that could change the way you approach marketing and self-promotion:
1. It’s hard to give away books
Even though all the sample books were free, it is quite difficult to persuade a bookseller that they need to add any specific 500g of brilliance to their luggage for the flight home. They have to be convinced that it’s worth their while. I hadn’t expected this – I mean, put me in a room full of free books and I’ll pay excess baggage any time!
2. About giveaways and gimmicks…
Some of the stands offered all manner of freebies, including champagne, chocolates, cupcakes, pens, notepads, neck massages and canvas bags. The neck massage included a chance to sample an e-book on an iPad. My impression is that the stands with canvas bags gave away most sample books, especially at the start, because folk could put the books in the bag. I wasn’t sure that the other giveaways resulted in more books being taken – but they certainly helped to stop the traffic so that booksellers actually looked at the stand.
3. Being an author counts
I had the best success when I was able to tell the person I had waylaid that the book I was offering had been written by ME (pointing to cover and to name tag so the connection could be made…). Booksellers appeared to be impressed by the fact that I actually had written a book that was being published! Congratulations flowed (more so than the champagne). Giving away review copies of my own soon-to-be-published book was comparatively easy, and indicating that I would be (more than!) happy to visit book stores to do readings/signings created a warm glow that I will definitely follow up 🙂
At other events, I have also experienced this conundrum – either there’s nobody at your stand and you look sad, or else your stand is crowded with people and other potential contacts walk away without a backward glance. This is inevitable at such an occasion, but I wished for an easy (and light-weight) take-away for such people, along the lines of those tear-off contact details you see pinned to notice boards.
5. Books ARE judged by their covers
It’s quite true. Not saying that good books might not dwell inside dodgy covers, but it was definitely the cover art that made folk look at my book. (PS I love the cover art!) Another cover that drew interest on the day was for the children’s book The Whirlpool by Emily Larkin, also published by Wombat. High quality, attractive images that clearly indicate the book’s genre seem to be the way to go.
6. Bonus learning: say YES
OK, I said five learnings, but here’s number six: whenever you are offered a chance to spruik your book, do it! You and your manuscript have already survived the seas of rejection and heartache, so what does it matter if some people think your book is not worth its weight in their suitcases? Someone else will tell you they love the look of it – and just one of those comments is worth any number of ‘no thanks’-es!