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Melissa Ferguson, a new and shining writer

Melissa Ferguson’s debut novel The Shining Wall was released earlier this year. Melissa is a medical research scientist with a graduate certificate in human nutrition. She likes to explore scientific possibilities through fiction. Her short stories and creative non-fiction have been published in lots of places that pay very little money.

When I reviewed her astonishing speculative fiction for Aurealis magazine a couple of months ago, I used words like grounded and observant,  accessible and engaging. I was utterly transfixed by the premises in the storyline, so frighteningly futuristic and so devastatingly apt for today’s world. I’m looking forward to reading more from this Australian writer and very pleased to have her on board for today’s Last Word of the Week.

Welcome, Melissa, it’s so lovely to meet you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Melissa: Access to affordable healthcare (as well as accurate health and nutrition information) are very important to me. I worked in medical research for many years (cancers and infectious diseases) and also completed a graduate certificate in human nutrition. I’ve also been a patient in the public system myself (two babies and Hodgkin’s lymphoma). And I have two children, one with allergies and asthma. The possibility of Australian healthcare being eroded until it resembles that of the United States terrifies me. I see people on social media crowd-funding for their treatment and paying ridiculous prices for medications such as insulin and epipens. I can think of nothing worse. There are many themes in my novel The Shining Wall, but access to affordable healthcare is the most important one to me. 

The Shining Wall_COVEROh, interesting, because there are so many fascinating themes in your book. I’m a huge fan of the Neo Neandertal/Sapien contrast that you explore, reflecting so many historic instances of some people being seen, and treated, as lesser than others. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

There’s one scene in The Shining Wall where the stories of all three point-of-view characters converge briefly at one of the city gates. The repercussions of that chance meeting have profound impacts on each of their stories. Angling the different threads of the story towards this convergence and then playing it out was a lot of fun and very satisfying.

And it’s really well done, IMHO. If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

I think all the characters in The Shining Wall would be quite relieved. They’d probably also wonder why I hadn’t created a kinder imaginary world for them. There’s a lot of weird consciousness stuff going on in the manuscript I’m working on at the moment. Those characters would probably be resigned to the nature of reality being an illusion.

Alida & Graycie by Brad O'Gorman

Alida & Graycie by Brad O’Gorman

Relieved! That’s an excellent response ! Now, can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I was always writing as a child. I was very into fantasy stories and fairy tales. I stopped writing to pursue science in my late teens and I didn’t take up writing again until I was in my thirties and had had my first child. The first things I wrote were short misery and motherhood memoir/realistic fiction pieces. Then I found Margo Lanagan’s books (Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels) and I wrote a fantasy novel with witches, selkies, dragons, man-eating trees, fighting bears and all sorts of fun fantastical stuff. While I was writing that I discovered Octavia E Butler and decided science fiction was for me.

Some other books that have influenced my writing include The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North, Into the Forest by Jean Hegland, Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, The Power by Naomi Alderman, and Wetlands by Charlotte Roche, The Road to Nowhere series by Meg Elison, and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor.

The character of Alida in The Shining Wall was influenced by some of my favourite female characters in fiction including, Mirii from Marlee Jane Ward’s Orphancorp books, Devi Morris from Rachel Bach’s Paradox series, and Temple from The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell.

Oooh, thank you, there are a couple of new ones there for me. I love to hear about undiscovered treasures to chase. They sound excellent. Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Ten years ago I’d just moved from Melbourne to Geelong, had left a job that saw me crying in the toilets on many occasions, was very pregnant with my second child, and very worried about my future career opportunities. If I could talk to that woman now I would say: ‘Your science career is going to fall flat on its face. Enjoy the time with your children and concentrate on your writing because that’s where most of your joy will come from.’ I would also maybe say: ‘No spoilers, but someday someone might even publish one of your books.’

Ooh, now I’m scared that I would adversely affect the future if I told past me too much!

Lucky you don’t write time travel then, eh? LOL. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

By the time I’d finished The Shining Wall I’d written three full-length novels in the space of five years. As a result, I felt the need to take on a more wieldy project. So during 2018 I wrote a novella, set in the world of The Shining Wall. The novella is out on submission at the moment (fingers crossed). I’m currently working on another story set on both a far-future, post-apocalyptic Earth and a distant planet colonized by a cult of humans. My plan is to keep exploring ideas that interest me with the hope that other people find them interesting too.

TSW front and back coverLovely to hear that there’s more where The Shining Wall came from! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I don’t think I could take the adrenaline of being a fictional character in the kinds of books I like to read. I like a quiet life. I would have to read some slow-paced realistic/literary fiction to find a suitable answer for this one (it’s not going to happen!).

Follow Melissa here:

Website/Blog:  http://melissajaneferguson.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/melissa.ferguson.50309

Twitter:  @melissajferg

Instagram: @melissa_ferguson

Buy The Shining Wall here:

https://transitlounge.com.au/shop/the-shining-wall/

https://www.dymocks.com.au/book/the-shining-wall-by-melissa-ferguson-9781925760187

https://www.readings.com.au/products/26956184/the-shining-wall

 

 

The Silence: cover reveal

Cover Reveal!

Today I’m jumping up and down with excitement as the cover of Susan Allott’s debut novel The Silence is revealed. The Silence will be released in April next year.

I’ve been lucky enough to have Susan answer a few questions, too, about her writing process and the story behind her novel, a suspenseful mystery about a missing woman, marriage, emigration, children, and especially secrets. The Silence has been compared to both Jane Harper’s The Dry and Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours.

I can’t wait to read it.

Welcome, Susan! At last, your cover is here, and it looks wonderful. Covers are so important. Can you tell us something about the process for you? Who gets to design and choose the cover – do you have input? And what about the title – was that your choice?

Susan: My covers were done by the in-house team at Harper Collins, one designer based in the US and one in the UK. The US cover came through first and I thought it was beautiful but I did ask for some changes. I had a very specific image in my mind of what the houses on Bay Street look like, and it bothered me that the houses on the cover weren’t exactly as I’d described them in the book. The designers went away and made the changes I’d asked for and when it came back the houses were accurate, but the cover was no longer beautiful! It was a good lesson. I realised the cover needs to evoke the book rather than depict it in a literal way, and it needs to be attractive to potential readers.

When the UK cover came through I loved it immediately. It’s so intriguing and inviting: exactly the kind of book I would pick up in a bookshop.

The title was my choice but it took me ages to come up with it! My book is about a woman whose disappearance goes unnoticed for thirty years, but it’s also about Australia’s ‘forced removal’ policy which continued for decades, and most white Australians were somehow unaware of it. We were trying to find a title which brought those two elements together, but nothing was quite right.

In the end I went back through working titles I’d used before I found a publisher. One of these was ‘The Great Silence’, a quote from W.E.H. Stanner’s famous lecture which describes a ‘cult of forgetfulness’ around the history of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I played around with it a bit – ‘The Long Silence’? ‘The Huge Silence’? – but of course the more powerful title was the simplest one. I sent an email to my editor and agent: ‘How about The Silence?’ And they both replied ‘I love that.’

It was such a relief, that we’d found the right title, but also that we’d held out for one that really worked instead of compromising. It’s so right for the book, I can’t believe we didn’t think of it sooner.

Silence_CoverReveal_1200x1200

Do you have a favourite task in writing, such as scribbling ideas, fleshing out scenes, inventing characters, visiting locations, editing? If so, why?

I get the most pleasure out of editing. I do a lot of deleting, rewording, deleting again, over and over until it finally works. My happy place is sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea, reworking what I wrote yesterday and making it shine. I have to force myself to push on and write new material. I think it’s because the first draft is often so flat and clichéd that it dents my confidence. I need to get over that. I do know that even the best writers’ first drafts are appalling.

I’m going to ask you to play favourites: who is your most beloved character in your own writing, and why?

I think I’d have to say Mandy, the character whose disappearance is central to The Silence. She’s a 1960s Australian housewife who doesn’t fit the mould. Her husband wants nothing more than a brood of children and she is secretly taking the Pill.

Over 50% of the novel is set in the 1960s, before Mandy disappeared, so we get to know her well. I wanted her absence to be felt in the chapters set thirty years later. Hopefully she comes across as complex and relatable, as flawed as we all are. She’s been in my head a long time.

Can you tell us something about yourself that you think readers should know?

The Silence began as a story about my experience of living and working in Sydney in the late nineties. More specifically, my experience of failing to love Australia, while everyone around me seemed so happy and at home. The book I tried to write was about a young British woman called Louisa who, like me, left Australia to return to the UK. Then she got home and wondered what was wrong with her. That experience of overwhelming homesickness was my starting point. But the story didn’t come to life until I started exploring the world Louisa had left behind: her husband Joe and their neighbours, Steve and Mandy. I wrote against my own experience, describing Australia through the eyes of people who loved it and called it home.

I fought the idea of setting the book entirely in Australia for a long time. Funnily enough, I met an Australian man in London a few years later, and went on to marry him! He encouraged me to keep writing. We visited Australia a few times over the years and gradually I accepted that my story was there. In part the novel is about the experience of migration, and how liberating it can be to make a new home on your own terms, even though that didn’t happen for me.

Are there any particular writers or books that inspired you on your own creative path?

The biggest influences for me while writing The Silence were Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, and Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara – the book and the film. Tim Winton too of course, I’ve read everything of his including his memoirs. Oh and Evie Wyld is incredible. The trouble is, these wonderful writers can be slightly intimidating and I spent a few years thinking my writing wouldn’t be good enough until I sounded like them. I think I took a long time to accept that my own voice was ok. I read a lot of non-fiction too while I was researching. The stolen generation storyline was inspired initially by a passage in a book called Australia: a biography of a nation by Phillip Knightley. There’s a section in that book about an Australian policeman who used to come home from work, sit at the back of the house and cry. I knew I wanted to tell his story.

What would you say is the most difficult barrier to overcome in writing a novel and having it published? Do you have advice about that, or a good story of how you got there?

I think the hardest thing is to keep going, especially when you’re aware of how hard it is to get published. For me, the challenge of writing alongside the demands of work and family life sometimes felt insurmountable. My advice would be not to fixate too much on publication as a goal, especially not in the early drafts. Write primarily for yourself and try to write the kind of book you love to read. If you love your book and enjoy writing it, that will come through on the page.

I’d also caution against giving up the day job too soon. Time is not always your friend. I never had enough time to write for the first few years, when my kids were little and I was working. I wrote whenever I could find a spare hour in the day. (Sometimes it was only twenty minutes.) It gave me an urgency when I did sit down to write that may not have been there otherwise. Writing was always the thing I did when I should have been doing something else. My me-time.

That said, I think it was a gift from the Universe when I was made redundant at the end of 2018. I had an agent by that stage and she was keen to submit my manuscript before the London Book Fair in March this year. The months I spent writing full time in the run-up to submission were completely immersive and I’m not sure I’d have managed it if I’d still been employed. I might have found the time somehow but I wouldn’t have had the headspace.

And the book did sell in the run-up to the Fair! I don’t like talking about luck, when really it’s sheer stamina that gets the book written in the end, but I do feel very lucky that I had that period of time to finish the book just when I needed it.

What was the most difficult scene to write in the novel – you don’t have to give away spoilers!

There’s a scene about a third of the way through where Isla, my protagonist, starts to question her long-held loyalty to her father, who is suspected of murder. I needed to show her range of emotion while also managing the plot and the logistics of the scene. The hard part always is trying to be subtle, but not so subtle that the reader loses the thread of where the character is coming from. I’m pleased with that scene now but it took forever and I drank an awful lot of coffee.

What are you most looking forward to in your writing?

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the new book, which is set in London this time. I want to get the sense of momentum again, where the hours go by and I barely notice. Other than that, I’m not sure if this is strictly ‘writing’ but I want to hold the published copy of The Silence in my hand and flick through the pages. I can’t think of anything more exciting.

That will be a wonderful day indeed. Congratulations, Susan, and I’m looking forward to holing a copy too – and reading it!

The Silence by Susan Allott will be released on April 30th 2020.

Susan’s links:

Website: www.susanallott.com

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

Twitter: @SusanAllott

Instagram: @susanallottauthor

Rosalie Ham: author and extra

Rosalie Ham is an Australian author most famous for her debut novel The Dressmaker, a black satire about love, payback, and 1950s haute couture, which was made into a major motion picture starring Kate Winslet, Judy Davis, Liam Hemsworth, and Hugo Weaving in 2015.

Recently I was fortunate enough to meet Rosalie at an event where she explained how the movie was made, her part in it, and the challenges of shifting a story from prose to film. Rosalie was so inspiring that, grabbing my courage in both hands and telling myself that being scared every now and then is good for me, I introduced myself and asked if she would consider appearing on the Last Word of the Week blog. And here she is! 

There-Should-Be-More-Dancing-677x1024

Thank you for joining me today, Rosalie. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Rosalie: I tend towards the ironic, and so some readers don’t ‘get’ that sort of tone or my black humour, but I get that not every book is for every reader.

That’s a great way to think about it, very wise. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

I have favourite scenes in all four novels, so I’ll pick a couple. In The Dressmaker it’s at the end when Sergeant Farrat is sitting on top of The Hill. Everything around him is razed, the landscape burned flat to the ground, smouldering and smoking, cinders floating. The District Inspector of Police arrives and asks, ‘What happened?’

The sergeant replies, ‘There’s been a fire.’

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At the beginning of Summer at Mount Hope Phoeba, Lilith and Maude are sitting on the narrow bench of the family sulky which is stranded in the middle of a roadside dam. The three 19thcentury ladies are wearing their Sunday best, sheltering from the sun under their vast, ostrich plumed hats. Their skirts are bunched on their laps exposing the lacy trim on their bloomers, their boots are up on the dash, slimy green water swirls just below their bottoms and the tail of the horse supposedly conveying them to Church floats before them. In the quiet of the country lane, they hear a carriage approach. It is the grand Britzka containing the wealthy neighbours from the vast property to the west. Maude speculates, ‘They may not notice us.’

Oooh, yes, these are perfect. From what I have read, I understand that your characters are not completely imaginary, but based on real people. Has anyone recognised themselves in your books?

I suspect most writers create characters using elements of real people. Because characters, basically, carry a theme, creating a plausible vehicle is my main focus. The added personality traits are instilled to make them more memorable and hopefully readers might then find empathy with a character and his or her purpose. Some readers out there might just recognise why a character says and does certain things.

I know that you appeared in the film version of The Dressmaker as an extra. Are you a character in any of your books? Why/why not?

No, I’m not a character in any of my books. Generally, in order to create an effective character for a particular role that character needs to do what you want them to do. Their intention is their narrative drive, if you like, so their intention has to be quite separate to what I might say and do. It’s essential to strive to present a balanced argument, so you need to think about alternate arguments and create characters to present them so they all need to be other than the writer’s personal point of view. The story becomes about the argument rather than how I feel about the point I’m prosecuting. 

Dressmakermovieposter

That makes sense. Take yourself back ten years – what would that Rosalie like to tell you?

Trust your ability. Believe in yourself more, go for it, your stories will reach further than you imagine.

Amazing, yes. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

 More writing. I’ve got a few more events to attend this year to promote my last novel, The Year of the Farmer, then there’s a rough first draft of my fifth book that I’m dying to get stuck into. As I see it, there are at least two more novels I could write. And I have a dream that one day I’ll adapt one of my novels to a stage play. And I need to do all of this while teaching part time.

 

Year-of-the-Farmer-677x1024What’s the single most important quality in a writer, in your opinion?

Talent. Some books are written through sheer determination and they’re good. Readers will get much from them, but some writers are different, their stories boil straight from the heart, they burn and shimmer, they’re well-structured and moving, revelatory, unique, life-changing, and above all, memorable. That sort of writing can’t be taught, it comes from the way writers look at the world and convey it to others.

And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I’d be Phoeba Crupp from my second novel, Summer at Mount Hope. I’d grow my own grapes and produce fine wine, raise beautiful sheep with superior wool, cultivate exceptional grain crops and work hard with nature. Because I value friendship above romance, I’d carry sad matters of the heart in my back pocket like a spare hanky. When my father betrays me, I’ll turn that to my advantage and make my life a testament to female strength and the fighting rural spirit.

She sounds divine. Great choice.

Thank you so much for sharing with me today, Rosalie. I was indeed a pleasure and an inspiration to meet you.

 

Rosalie’s Links:

Website: https://rosalieham.com/

Twitter: @RosalieEHam

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

If you’d like to book Rosalie to talk at your school, library or book club (or fundraiser, lunch, valedictory…) please get in touch with Booked Out Speakers, Melbourne on (03) 9824 0177. I can highly recommend her as a speaker!

Rosalie is represented by Jenny Darling and Associates (03) 9696 7750

Sue Paritt, writer with feeling!

Ardent Australian author Sue Parritt (who was born in England) has penned an impressive collection of novels across genres: future dystopia, WWII history, and contemporary fiction for a start. Sue’s writing is all about humanity and how we interact with each other. Providing great characters, detailed settings and fascinating plots, Sue Parritt is a writer to follow wherever she leads.

Author Sue Parritt

Author Sue Parritt

Welcome, Sue. I’m thrilled to be able to speak with you today. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

Sue: I am a feisty sixty-nine-year-old, passionate about peace and social justice issues. My goal as a fiction writer is to continue writing novels that address topics such as climate change, the effects of war, the harsh treatment of refugees, feminism and racism.  I intend to keep on writing for as long as possible, believing the extensive life experiences of older writers can be employed to engage readers of all ages.

I’m totally with you, Sue! Writers must write, and from the heart. What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

The scene in my fourth novel, ‘Chrysalis’ p.311 where my protagonist, Jane leaves the comforting cocoon of her sixty-year life to face an unknown future.

“Water seeped into Jane’s shoes as she disembarked at Heathrow central bus station. Stepping away from the puddle, she waited impatiently for luggage to emerge from bus bowels. At least the rain had stopped and grey clouds parted to reveal a washed-out sky of palest blue. She tilted her face, felt a hint of warmth to come. The perpetual promise of spring, new life, new growth and in this her sixty-first year, an opportunity for complete renewal. In an instant she had unzipped, cast-off, dashed over to a nearby rubbish bin and tossed her old jacket inside.

            And there was a butterfly underneath, damp wings trembling in straw-coloured sunlight as she prepared to take flight.”

This scene reflects my feelings on taking early retirement eleven years ago to concentrate on creative writing.  I took a risk giving up paid work but have no regrets. Like Jane in the final sentence of ‘Chrysalis,’ “today I know for certain true freedom lies within and I alone can birth its endless possibilities.”

How wonderful! How brave! If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

Sannah the Storyteller, protagonist ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim.’  “As a storyteller I am familiar with the imaginary. An articulate speaker, I employ both voice and body to weave a spell around my audiences, make them believe whatever the government dictates. But never forget that in my clandestine role of Truth-Teller, I share the truth about Earth’s degradation with readers and other characters to evoke essential action.”

Sannah is a great character, very brave, compassionate and intelligent. Can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I have always read widely, however some of my preferred authors are:  Helen Garner, Margaret Drabble, Mary Wesley, Sebastian Faulks, Ian McEwan, Kate Grenville, Anita Shreve, Joyce Carol Oates and Elizabeth Jolley.

From my days as a sickly child reading Dickens in my grandparents’ kitchen, I have found inspiration in fiction. Each narrative presents a microcosm of lives and worlds, providing for me not only a rich reading tapestry but also the stimulus to create my own stories.

We share some favourite authors too. I just knew it would be fun to speak with you! Take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Have faith in your writing, learn your craft and never give up no matter how many rejections you receive.

Great advice. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

Back to the future for my eighth novel, working title ‘The Doorkeeper.’ Set in Safety Beach on the Mornington Peninsula in 2100, this novel will deal with overpopulation and extended life expectancy in an increasingly climate-challenged world and the inhumane solutions adopted by a government determined to rid Australia of unproductive citizens. My protagonist will be forced to take up a position as a Doorkeeper, one of the hated individuals that choose who will be granted a continued lifespan or be euthanised.

Yikes, that sounds all too scarily possible. And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I would be ‘Jo’ in ‘Little Women’ – the tomboy, the writer, the one that isn’t afraid to flout the conventions of a society that seeks to confine her.

Dear Jo! What a role model! Thank you so much for talking with me, Sue, and all the best for your future writings!

 

Sue’s Links:

Sue’s website is at www.sueparritt.com

You can find her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/SueParrittAuthor/

Gill Thompson and her joined-up writing

Today I’m speaking with Gill Thompson. Gill has spent most of her career lecturing in English at sixth form level, but her hankering to write fiction has never gone away. She enrolled in and completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester, and says it was the best thing she ever did.

Gill understands both ends of the writing process: the planning and editing required to produce a text, and the reading and analysis it takes to appreciate it. She says she is now finally fully joined up! The writers among you will find her website full of wonderful writing tips, and the readers will be very interested in her wonderful historical novel The Oceans Between Us about the post-WWII child migrant process. So relevant in today’s context of the movement of people seeking refuge and safety, and with a foot firmly in both the UK’s and Australian social history.

The Oceans Between Us cover image
The Oceans Between Us by Gill Thompson

Welcome to Last Word of the Week, Gill! It’s lovely to have you. Can you tell us something about yourself that you think anyone who reads your book/s really ought to know?

That’s a difficult one! My book is about a child migrant from Britain to Australia just after World War Two. I don’t have any personal connections with that story (I’m old, but not that old!) – and in fact I agonised for quite some time about whether it was my place to tell it – but the support I received from ex migrants, and from The Child Migrants Trust, the charity that reunites parents and children, gave me the encouragement to go ahead. The fact that many people have written in their reviews of the book that they are grateful to have found out about this event makes me feel I’ve done the right thing.

My only common ground with the novel is that it is about a mother separated from her son. A few years ago, our son set off on what we now call his ‘gap decade’ (!) as he found a way to combine work and travelling. He is now settled in Bucharest where he met the girl of his dreams and they are getting married next month. I am happy for him, but I know how my character Molly feels at being separated from her child. It’s really hard! I certainly think I wrote those scenes from the heart.

Separation, especially for an unknown time, is really hard! What is your favourite scene from your own writing? Why?

I submitted three chapters from the novel as my dissertation for the Creative Writing M.A I undertook in order to help me write the best book possible. I remember describing a scene from that section that I was particularly proud of to my husband. Instead of giving me the approval I desired, he pointed out that I had missed an essential part of the plot. We argued about it for ages. I went away and sulked, then reluctantly conceded he had a point and finally, begrudgingly, I  rewrote it. To this day, that scene, which features my protagonist Molly acknowledging that her son Jack must have died in the bomb blast that destroyed their home, is one of my favourites. It was clearly right to put it in. I’m not going to tell my husband that though!

Oooh, a marital secret, how exciting :-). If I told one of your characters (you get to choose which one) that they were imaginary, how would they respond?

What an interesting question! (Don’t people always say that when they don’t know the answer?!) I think it would have to be an indigenous Australian girl called Rosie. Whilst I was researching the story of the child migrants, many of whom were falsely told they were orphans in order to lure them to Australia, I came across an eerily parallel account of the ‘Stolen Generation.’ These were Aboriginal children, taken from their parents as part of the White Australia policy. In my story, Jack and Rosie meet and bond through their common experience of loss. Having seen Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play Our Country’s Good, (based on the Thomas Keneally novel of the same name) and read Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, I’d become fascinated by the rich spiritual life of indigenous Australians, particularly their belief in the power and role of dreams. I’ve tried to convey this through my characterisation of Rosie who sometimes has supernatural insights. Of all my characters I think she would have understood the slender line between reality and fantasy and wouldn’t feel threatened by being told she was fictitious.

That’s a really great answer – and it actually makes Rosie more real to me! But more about you: can you think of any books and/or writers who inspired you on your path to be an author? Can you tell us about that?

I love the novels of the late Helen Dunmore. She had such skill at writing compelling human stories against the backdrop of historical events. I wouldn’t place myself in the same league as her but she is definitely a big influence. I read quite a lot of Tim Winton’s books when I was researching my story as I think he conveys the landscape and atmosphere of Western Australia so well. My central character, Molly, loses her memory so I read a few stories about memory loss such as ‘Pieces of Light’ by Charles Fernyhough and ‘Briefing for a Descent into Hell’ by Doris Lessing. I also love Maggie O’Farrell’s dexterity with words and the way she gets inside people’s minds so convincingly. Finally, Anne Tyler has an amazing ability to convey huge life issues within seemingly inconsequential events. I can only dream about writing as well as any of these authors, but they have certainly given me something to aspire to.

Ah, we have a lot of reading tastes in common! Lovely. Now, take yourself back ten years – what would you like to tell yourself?

Ten years ago my parents had both recently died and my husband was in the middle of a decade of ill health which he was seemingly unable to recover from and which doctors were baffled by. I was trying to care for him whilst supporting our family with my job as a teacher. I’d wanted to write since I was very young but life always got in the way. My father had written text books on Photography but always had a secret ambition to write a novel. I think he passed that on to me! Although he died in 2001, I was able to enrol on my Creative Writing M.A with some of the money he left me. It was hard at times, with Paul so ill, but I managed to scrape through it, and my novel ‘The Oceans Between Us’ started to evolve.

Eventually Paul recovered and I had the space to give the manuscript more of my attention. It took me nine years before it was published but I am so glad I stuck at it. I often wish I could travel back to 2009, when life felt so bleak, and tell my former self that my dream of writing a novel really would come true, and that life really would get better. I wish my father had known how my writing aspirations would end up.

That’s a great story, and I have some similar experiences and feelings. What’s next for you in the world of writing?

I have now written a second novel, ‘The Child on Platform One,’ about a mother and daughter separated by war, which comes out next March. It’s gone through two rounds of edits so I just have the proof reading to do and then it’s finished. To be honest, I don’t have a single idea for book three at the moment. I think the creative well has run dry! I am going to give myself the summer off. We have our son’s wedding to prepare for and my daughter and her husband are having an extension built so I have a feeling they will be bringing our two adorable granddaughters to stay with us on and off through July and August so I will have plenty to keep me busy. I am hoping inspiration will strike by the autumn though so that I can get writing again. I think I would miss it if I didn’t.

Oh, yes, I do hope there’s more to come! And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character – one of yours, or someone else’s?

I am currently obsessed by Eva, the protagonist of my second novel. She is a musical prodigy living in Prague during the late 1930’s. Later, when she is taken into a concentration camp, she uses her musical talents to mount a defence against the Nazis. I don’t have a musical bone in my body but I am fascinated by the power of creativity to triumph over adversity.

What a great creation, and a good choice. Thank you so much Gill for sharing with me today on Last Word of the Week.

Gill’s important links:

Website: http://www.wordkindling.co.uk

Twitter: @wordkindling

Phyllis M. Newman tells a ghostly tale

Phyllis M. Newman is my guest on today’s Last Word of the Week. Born in New Orleans, Phyllis spent her formative years in Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, and on a dairy farm in Ross Country, Ohio. After a long career in finance and human resources at The Ohio State University, she turned her attention to writing fiction. She published a noir mystery, “Kat’s Eye” in 2015, and “The Vanished Bride of Northfield House” in 2018. Today she lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three perpetually unimpressed cats, ghostwatchers all.

Phyllis M Newman author

Phyllis M Newman author

LWOTW: Lovely to meet you, Phyllis. Tell me, when did you write your first story?

Phyllis: I was thirteen and attending junior high school. It was a murder mystery entitled M is for Murder. (At the time I was living in Dade County Florida, murder capital of the world.) I still have a copy of it somewhere (and since then I think someone stole my title.) Maybe I could brush it up and finish it? At the time, I didn’t have the maturity and discipline to complete it with a well thought out plot and exciting characters. I do remember that the main character was named after my best friend Rhudell.

Ahem, murder capital of the world…*shivers*…You totally should revisit that book! What do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?

Only if you dream can you write. Only if you have an imagination can you create fiction. Planning, not so much. I prefer to start out with a strong character who has a set of problems and just write as if I am that person. I develop in my mind only a vague idea of where she will go and what she will do and about my major themes. Those details come to me as I flesh out the story.

Case in point, when I started The Vanished Bride of Northfield House, all I knew about Anne, my main character, was that she was orphaned, she secured training as a typewriter, she could see spirits, and it was set in England, 1922. You can see that any writer could develop volumes out of such a situation. It’s quite exciting to write in this way. It’s an adventure.

The Vanished Bride of Northfield House by Phyllis M Newman

VanishedBrideFrontCover

I love your method! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

When a traditional publisher accepted my manuscript for publication. And I got a cash advance. And a very professional editor worked closely with me for months to polish and improve the writing. After a year, I was holding a book in my hand with my name on it. Talk about dreams!

That’s a completely magical feeling. What are you most busy with at the moment?

I am polishing a finished manuscript, a novel in the same genre as The Vanished Bride of Northfield House. It is another gothic mystery with elements of the supernatural and a suspenseful romance. And, of course, trying to market and publicize my two other publications.

If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Just write. Stop dreaming and put your fingers to the keyboard (or pen to paper. Whatever floats your boat!) The more you write, the better you are at it. And read. Learn what makes a good story. And don’t forget the craft of writing. Good story telling is an art, but good writing is a craft that anyone can learn. But you can only learn by doing. That’s more than one thing, but all of the above is important.

Excellent advice there, thank you. And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?

I wear yellow, the color of sunshine, at every opportunity

How lovely! Thank you so much, Phyllis, for being my guest on today’s last Word of the Week.

Important links for Phyllis:

Contact/follow/like her at www.readphyllismnewman.com,  @phyllismnewman2, or Facebook  https://facebook.com/ReadPhyllisMNewman/

Buy link for The Vanished Bride of Northfield House: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1939403456

British buy link:   https://goo.gl/uU5QBC

 

Eugen Bacon has Something to Say

Eugen M. Bacon describes herself as a computer graduate mentally re-engineered into creative writing. Eugen’s entrancing, highly-regarded work is widely published in literary and speculative journals, magazines & anthologies worldwide. She is also a professional editor … check her out at Writerly Editing Services

Welcome, Eugen! Wonderful to have you on Something to Say! What project are you talking about today?

Eugen: My literary speculative novel Claiming T-Mo  is out with Meerkat Press in August 2019. It is a lush interplanetary tale where an immortal Sayneth priest flouts the conventions of a matriarchal society by naming his child. This initiates chaos, unleashing a Jekyll-and-Hyde child—T-Mo/Odysseus. The story unfolds through the eyes of three distinctive women: his mother, his wife, his daughter, and the unbearable choices they must make.

Is there one aspect of Claiming T-Mo that you relate to most – a favourite character, scene, effect? Can you tell us more about that?

Myra—pronounced My (as in ‘my name is…) Rah(as in ‘ra-ra-rasputin’)—is one of my favourite characters.  She is half human, half alien, impulsive, and doesn’t really ‘belong’. But I also really like the complexity of T-Mo/Odysseus, his double persona that fools all but his mother, Silhouette. She is the omniscient narrator who haunts across the novel.

They all sound marvellous! What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?

Dominique Hecq, a wonderful friend and mentor (she was my doctorate supervisor), articulates it best. She says that she writes to answer incipient questions troubling her mind, or to relieve some form of anxiety where cause may not yet be symbolised. She states, ‘I write because I must do so, exhilarating, detestable or painful though this might be.’

Like Hecq, I write to … find.

Very well explained! Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?

My approach to the compositional space is with excitement, with a sense of urgency, with a knowing that writing is an active speaking. Writing is a search, a journey, a coming through. Text shapes my silence. It shouts my chaos. I often start with a skeleton, a general idea, and then the writing shapes itself.

Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?

Experimental. Inventful. Bold. Otherness. Poetic.

And entirely engaging! Thank you so much for having Something to Say, Eugen, and more power to your pen. Um, keyboard. Whatever 🙂

 You can follow Eugen on Twitter @EugenBacon

A special invitation from Eugen:

Please join me at my Melbourne Book Launch  on 1 August! It is a combined book launch, also celebrating Writing Speculative Fiction, published by Macmillan in 2019.

 

Southern Skies Publications up and away

Today I’m so pleased to introduce you to Chris McMaster, who has wonderful news for all of us speculative fiction folk: writers, readers, book lovers that we are.

Here is news of a brand spanking new publishing house, that is not only seeking submissions, but also looking for staff to be involved with a new and more equitable business model.

Now you just HAVE to read on, don’t you?

Welcome to my blog! What project are you talking about today, Chris?

I’m launching a new publishing company—and a new type of publishing.

Southern Skies Publications  is a traditional small press indie publisher, established to bring Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction to print, and to work with other writers to bring their novels to life. I wanted to specialise in speculative fiction from down under: especially science fiction in all its many forms (Hard, Soft, Opera, Military, Dystopia, Apocalyptic, Alternate History, Time Travel), fantasy (Dark, Epic, Heroic, High, Low), and more.

I want Southern Skies to be able to help authors get their books to market. Self-publishing can be daunting. Traditional publishers can be closed doors. Southern Skies can offer the label, as well as the freedom to play a significant role in the production and marketing of the product.

We’re now team building, looking for folks who want to apply as well as develop their skills through participating in this exciting opportunity.

Chris McMaster

Can you tell us more about why you’ve started up?

I was excited to be offered a contract for my first novel, American Dreamer. It plays with time travel, alternate realities, interference by ‘gods’, and fighting back. I am still waiting, after one year, to be assigned an editor. In the meantime, I’ve written the third book in that series (now with beta readers), wrote a science fiction book (I’m almost done with first draft!) AND learned a lot about the publishing business.

I studied the model of my American publisher and saw where it could be improved. I think I’ve done that with Southern Skies, and am seriously contemplating asking to have that first contract torn up. I think we can do a better job.

Oh, that’s quite a story! Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline. What can you say about your process?

I love analogies, and have applied this one to Southern Skies: The whaling venture. It took me a very long time to finally read Moby Dick. I tried every few years, and eventually succeeded. As well as being a cracker of a yarn, it has an intriguing business model. Everybody on board a whaling ship has a percentage of profits. On those ships, it was whale oil. With a book, it is royalties.

Think back in time to when we didn’t know any better and whale oil was a valued and lucrative commodity. Ships were sent out to hunt whales, and it was only when they returned with the oil that any profit was turned. Somebody fronted the money for the ship (in most cases with Southern Skies that is me, but not always). They got a share of the profit. The captain of the ship got a share—our writers. And everybody who worked on the venture got a percentage. The harpooners, the deckhands, the first mate.

The marketeers are our harpooners, and they always get a fair share. Where writers also market, and develop their platform, their share increases. Editors are indispensable, and they get a fair percentage. Cover design is vital, which is why our graphic artist gets a percentage. Of course, all this is negotiable. We can be more flexible than a Nantucket whaler when it comes to individual arrangements.

I like the analogy of the ship, as each book will have its own crew, ensuring the success of that venture. I have heard the, “I’m way too busy for that!” reaction, but we’re only as busy as we choose to be. We’re in charge of that. You might want to play a part in one book, or two, or even three. You can be as busy as you want to be.

Oh, maybe another analogy: think microbrewery. There are the huge brands, that mostly taste the same. Try to talk to the folks there and see how far you get. Then there are local brews produced by people who care. You go to the counter and order your pint, and you talk to the brewmeister about it. You can meet the team. You could probably even join the team.  The beer is special because of that, as well as the individual flavour it offers, and the pride the team put into their product.

Southern Skies is like that.

It’s great to hear how passionate you are about this venture, Chris. Where can we find out more?

You can learn more about Southern Skiesat: www.southernskiespublications.com. Just click on the contact tab to get in touch—we’d love to hear from you.

My author site is: www.christophermcmaster.com. Take a look and join my mailing list—stay up to date with my books!

Thank you so much for having Something to Say today, Chris!

Good luck to Southern Skies!

 

On my wish list: Writing Speculative Fiction

A book I covet has just been published.

Author Eugen Bacon is here to tell me all about it.

Welcome to Something to Say, Eugen! Can you tell me about your book, published this month by MacMillan?

Eugen: Writing Speculative Fiction: Creative and Critical Approaches is an accessible read about vibrant storytelling of speculative fiction that crosses genre.

It’s a cross-disciplinary book that scrutinises the characteristics of science fiction, fantasy and horror, and considers the potential of literary speculative fiction.

Eugen Bacon 2

Eugen Bacon Author

That sounds wonderful. As a genre-hopper myself, I’m fascinated by insights into all of these. Is there one aspect of this book that you relate to most?

I really love this book because it is a reader’s paradise. It has vignettes and excerpts and samplers from renowned artists and novice students. It has writing exercises at the end of each chapter. It offers provocative and useful insights on speculative fiction, moving—as one reviewer professed—‘between ideas and stories, between analysis and narrative’. It is a book that celebrates amazing authors like Ray Bradbury and Octavia Butler, and supreme theorists like Roland Barthes and Simone de Beauvoir in embracing the pleasure of the text, and writing about the ‘other’.

I’m sold! I want my copy asap (but you have to sign it for me). What do you think drives you to pursue your creativity?

Dominique Hecq, a wonderful friend and mentor (she was my doctorate supervisor), articulates it best. She says that she writes to answer incipient questions troubling her mind, or to relieve some form of anxiety where cause may not yet be symbolised. She states, ‘I write because I must do so, exhilarating, detestable or painful though this might be.’

Like Hecq, I write to… find.

Writing Speculative Fiction

You write with very fluid genre borders yourself, of course.

How do you do it? Many writers have described their processes using analogies – the famous Hemingway one, for example, in which he says that writing is simply a matter of sitting in front of the typewriter and staring at a blank page until you start to sweat blood. Others speak of stitching scenes together, following characters on a journey, immersing themselves in a storyline.

What can you say about your process?

My approach to the compositional space is with excitement, with a sense of urgency, with a knowing that writing is an active speaking. Writing is a search, a journey, a coming through. Text shapes my silence. It shouts my chaos. I often start with a skeleton, a general idea, and then the writing shapes itself.

Finally, what five words would you use to describe yourself as a writer?

Experimental. Inventful. Bold. Otherness. Poetic.

Eugen, thank you so much for having Something to Say!

Here’s an invitation for us all! Put it in your diary.

Please join Eugen at her Melbourne Book Launch on 1 August at Readings in Hawthorn! Eugen will launch her new spec fiction, Claiming T-Mo (more about that soon) and also celebrate the release of Writing Speculative Fiction.

I will be there :-), having my copies signed. Can hardly wait.

Twitter: @EugenBacon

Last Word: Barbara Quinn

Barbara Quinn is an award-winning short story writer and author of a variety of novels including her latest, The Summer Springsteen’s Songs Saved Me, a novel about the healing power of the music of the Boss.

A longtime Springsteen fan, and native New Yorker with roots in the Bronx, Long Island, and Westchester, Barbara lives with her husband in Bradley Beach, NJ and Holmes Beach, FL. She has travelled to forty-seven states and six continents where she’s encountered fascinating settings and inspiring people that populate her work.

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Barbara’s many past jobs include lawyer, record shop owner, reporter, process server, lingerie sales clerk, waitress, and postal worker. She enjoys spending time with her son and his family, planning her next adventure, and listening to the Boss.

With that background, I can’t wait to hear how Barbara approaches writing. ‘I’m sick of sitting right here trying to write this book’ (Dancing in the Dark) seems to be one line from the Boss that doesn’t apply!

LWOTW: Welcome, Barbara. Tell me about when you first realised that you are a writer.

Barbara: As a child I was drawn to books at an early age. I became lost in stories my parents read to me of far off lands and fairytales. I started writing stories and plays that my brother and I performed for family. I never stopped. My first produced play was for my Girl Scout troop. That was a fractured fairytale about a good wolf and an evil Red Riding Hood. Ah, I can still feel the joy caused by the audience clapping.

I love the sound of that version – the good wolf especially. Do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?

I have a vivid imagination. I can’t control it but have learned to depend on it and to suddenly be taken someplace new and unexpected. Once there, other skills take over.

Author Photo

What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

Having my latest novel The Summer Springsteen’s Songs Saved Me published brought me so much pleasure. What a kick to see it out there. But the part that really made me happy was the incredible fan mail I received. There’s simply nothing like having complete strangers connect with my work to the extent that they are so moved they write and tell me about it. We are all human and that need to connect is real and is so rewarding when we accomplish it.

That sounds wonderful. What a great experience. What are you most looking forward to at the moment?

I’m looking forward to finishing another novel so stay tuned! And to traveling more now that my husband is retired.

If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Read widely. Write often. And find a place to share your work.

And finally: Who would you be if you were a fictional character?

Alice in Wonderland! I so would love to jump down that rabbit hole.

That does sound like a great place to travel Thank you so much for talking with me today, Barbara. I can’t wait for news of the new novel.

Barbara’s Links:

Twitter: @BarbaraQuinn
Instagram: @authorbarbaraquinn
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Healthy.Lifestyle

Website: http://baquinn.wixsite.com/barbaraquinn