The Writer’s Room: Jodi Gibson

Today in The Writer’s Room, I’m welcoming Jodi Gibson. Jodi and I met – and sat next to each other – during our 5 day Fiona McIntosh Masterclass. Jodi is a prolific writer, having multiple manuscripts under her belt. She also has a wonderful blog, full of writing insight, book reviews and fantastic author interviews. You can find Jodi on her websiteTwitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Jodi Gibson writes contemporary women’s fiction and is currently working on her first novel. She also blogs about all things writing and books. In her spare time, you’ll find Jodi with her nose in a good book, baking in the kitchen or dreaming of her next travelling adventure. Jodi lives in country Victoria, Australia with her husband, daughters, dogs, cat, horse and chickens.

1. Firstly, can you give us a bit of a run down of your writing approach? (when, where, how much, etc)
I try and write five days a week, Monday to Friday. I don’t have a set time that I write, but I will write for at least 1-2 hours, or to whatever my set word count is. At the moment, I’m editing and rewriting, so I’ll either do as much as I can within the 1-2 hours, or aim for 1-2 chapters.

2. What genre do you write in and can you share a bit about what you’ve written to date?
I write commercial contemporary women’s fiction. I have three manuscripts in progress at the moment. One which is nearing completion, one in fourth draft form, and one in first draft. The one almost ready for submission to publishers, follows a young woman who returns to her home town after her mother dies. Whilst there she is forced to confront the situation she ran from seven years earlier. But will the lies and secrets of those she once called friends be too much to bare?
The other two manuscripts are a lighter reads, but still very much character based. I enjoy writing characters who find themselves at a cross roads in their life.

3. Where do you draw inspiration for your writing?
Everywhere! News, articles, books, blogs, podcasts. I tend to write about real life experiences that we can all somehow relate to. My writing is very much focused on the character’s emotions and journey. A writer must be attuned to everything around them, a story ideas are everywhere.

4. What’s your favourite thing about being a writer?
When I write, it feels like the most natural thing for me. And although it can be tough going at times, it ultimately brings me joy. I love the feeling of exploring a story line and smashing out a first draft that I have no idea where will end up. And I’ve also learned to, I won’t say love, but enjoy, the editing process. There is something very satisfying about knowing each time you edit your work, you are improving it.

5. And what do you find most challenging?
Pulling the whole story together in a cohesive manner! Getting the character arc right, ensuring the story flows, getting the pace right – all that fun stuff.

6. What sort of training / study have you undertaken as part of your writing journey, and have you found it useful?
I’ve completed quite a few writing courses with the Australian Writers’ Centre including their 6-month novel program. This year I also completed a five day intense masterclass with prolific Australian author, Fiona McIntosh which was one of the best things I’ve done. Although I don’t think you can or should ever stop learning, I also think there comes a time when you just need to write. And I also don’t believe that you need to undertake a professional or tertiary education to be a writer. Sometimes you can take on too much information and become overwhelmed

7. Why did you start writing?
I guess in one way or another, it’s something I’ve always done. I remember writing stories when I was younger, and then I was obsessive about keeping a journal through my teens and early twenties. But a career in writing wasn’t something I ever considered until I reached my mid-thirties when one day I sat down and began writing a story that had been in my head for years. Although that story is sitting in the metaphorical bottom draw and may never see the light of day, it was the catalyst for me to realise how much I loved writing and how I wanted to see where the journey could take me.

8. Do you have any advice for other emerging writers?
Don’t let fear or imposter syndrome stop you from writing. If you have a desire to write – do it! Writing isn’t something that comes out perfect the first time. One of my favourite quotes is from Ernest Hemmingway when he said, ‘We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.’ Which is so true. Like everything, writing takes commitment, dedication and practice. The more you do it, the better you will do it. So just write, and see what happens.

The deadline is fast approaching…

Shortly after walking away from five days in the beautiful botanic gardens of Adelaide, with sixteen other writers, led by the fearless and charismatic Fiona McIntosh, I set myself a deadline to finish the second* first draft of my manuscript. October 31 was my D-Day.

That deadline is fast approaching. And, I’m not going to meet it.

It was an ambitious deadline, considering I have a toddler, a part (might as well be full) time job and freelance work on the side. I’ve made my peace with it. Working to a deadline is a hugely motivating way to achieve your goals. But it’s important not to get too caught up on the times when those deadlines fall through the cracks.

I had set myself a word count across four days a week. Some weeks I hit or even surpassed it, other weeks I didn’t come close. My son and I both got hit with Influenza A a few weeks ago, there was no writing to be had during that time!

Though the deadline won’t be met, I feel like I’ve still achieved so much in the past six months. Whilst I may not write every day, when I do carve out the time, I feel completely connected to my story. I’ve made huge changes and I’m proud of the work that I’ve achieved. I no longer dread opening my laptop to work on my WIP, because the story is clear to me now, and though it’s far from perfect, I am more in love with my characters than ever before.

I’ve also been able to acknowledge my limitations and put some strategies in place to work with them. After trying to fit writing into my son’s nap times and getting frustrated when he would wake up “too early”, I decided to ditch the nap time writing and either postpone it until after bed time when my husband is home and can deal with unexpected wake ups, or focus my writing energy on my train commute twice a week.

I also –  somewhat indulgently – put my son in childcare for a few hours on one of my days off so that I can buckle down and get more words on the page. I struggled with this idea at first, as if I was somehow putting my writing in front of parenting, but thankfully I have a wonderful support network of parents who reaffirmed my belief that we can’t pour from an empty cup. Resenting my son for my lack of writing time was emptying my cup quicker than I could refill it.

So where am I at with just a few days to go until deadline? As of this morning, I had written over 73,000 words. I am at the pointy end of the plot and the finish line is in sight. I have a clear idea of my ending, it just needs to be written! The anticipation of reaching the end is motivation enough to see me through the last 10K or so. I know there’s still plenty more work ahead of me, but the thought of sitting down and reading this new story from start to finish gives me such a thrill.

I am loving this journey so much more than I thought I would the second time around. I just hope that one day you all get to share in my characters’ challenges and triumphs, too.

*After feedback and learning so much at masterclass, I decided to start my WIP again, from scratch. I’d already written an 85K first draft, but so much of it needed to change that it felt more efficient to cut my losses and start again.

Managing the dreaded inbox

I recently started a newsletter mailing list (if you’d like to be on it – click here). It’s taken me a long time and a lot of toing and froing in my mind to come to this decision, but ultimately, it’s a worthwhile thing to have, especially once my book makes headway. I’ve committed to only creating a quarterly newsletter at this stage, because I don’t have the time for anything more frequent. The exception being if anything juicy or exciting comes up with my writing that I have to share immediately.

The reason I was so reluctant to start a mailing list was because I get So. Many. Emails. Between my day job, my writing and my personal account (which I’ve had since basically gmail was invented), the sheer volume of communication I receive is overwhelming. And I just didn’t want to contribute to someone else’s overwhelming inbox.

Why should you care about how full other people’s inboxes are? I hear you ask… Well, for one thing, my go-to way of dealing with too many emails is simply to delete them. Most of the time I don’t even open them. If the preview lines I can see on my phone don’t grab me, or if it’s from an account I don’t remember signing up to, or if I just don’t have time, I’ll delete it. This system is pretty flawed, because I know I’m actually missing out on a lot of great content. Which had me thinking, there must be a better way!

At my day job, I have a rule for managing my inbox. I call it The Scroll Bar rule. My aim by the end of every day is to ensure that I have only enough emails that there is no need for a scroll bar. If you work with Outlook, you’ll understand what I mean; once you get more than a certain number of emails hit your inbox, a scroll bar will appear so it can just keep adding more emails. On my laptop, the maximum amount of emails is about 10 before it expands to a scroll bar, more if I’m projecting to a bigger monitor. Those emails kept in the inbox are the ones that I still have to deal with or reply to, for some reason or another. Anything and everything else is either deleted, archived or filed into one of my many sub-folders. Now, I work with people who keep ALL of their emails in the central inbox and don’t have any sub-folders, and frankly, I think these people are monsters. Folders are my sanity system.

This system works well for me and I get a bit of satisfaction out of reducing my inbox to just the bare minimum. Even if it means that by tomorrow it will all be undone. At least I’m reading the emails and dealing with them, rather than deleting en-mass like I do with my other accounts.

So, I’ve decided to apply some of these inbox management systems to my other accounts.

Step 1: Clean up what’s already there.

Before I can implement The Scroll Bar rule. I really need to wade through the trash and work out what I actually want to be receiving, and what is pure rubbish that I should just unsubscribe from. This is a mammoth task, and one that I don’t have the time, nor the patience to tackle in one sitting. Instead, I’ve told myself that each time I open my emails I must look at every new email and make a snap decision: in or out?

If you’re in, I read the email and then delete/file it. If you’re out I find the tiny unsubscribe link and follow the bouncing ball. Do the hard yards now so that future you will thank past you for it.

Step 2: Work out where the problem is and fix it.

Before I can progress, I need to know how I have so many damn email subscriptions in the first place? Cutting the thing off at the knees will help ensure I don’t get into this mess again.

I’m sure many of you, like me, have signed up to some mailing list or another because you were going to go in the running to win a washing machine or there would be a free giveaway associated with your loyal following. I’m done with all that. I don’t want promises of stuff I don’t need. If I like your content, I’ll come back to your site. I’ll add you to my blog reading list or I’ll subscribe to an RSS feed (is that still a thing?). Just like my wardrobe doesn’t need any more shoes. My inbox doesn’t need any more eBook guides. Note to self: Don’t sign up to any more mailing lists unless you really REALLY want to.

Of course, this doesn’t account for all those sneaky companies that on-sell your contact details to other companies. But this is an easy one to deal with: If you don’t remember signing up, unsubscribe and delete immediately. Don’t even get caught up in the headlines and empty promises. It’s time to be brutal.

Step 3: Manage what does come in more efficiently.

Finally, I need to organise the stuff I’m keeping so that I can access it again later. Did you know that gmail has a setting that will delete emails in your central inbox after a certain amount of time? I’ve been caught out with this before and lost some important stuff, so if you’re using your inbox as a safety net, best to check if there are any underlying rules.

To get around this, I’ve created sub-folders in my gmail accounts too. If I want to keep anything that lands in one of those accounts, they have to be archived in the right folder. This means not only having no scroll bar, but having no opened and read emails in the inbox at all. If I read it, I must deal with it immediately.

And that’s it. Just rinse and repeat for the rest of your life.

The Writer’s Room: Jezz de Silva

Oh boy, do I have a good’un for you all today. Not only am I welcoming my first ‘bloke’ to the Writer’s Room, I’m welcoming a bloke who’s also a Romance author.

The affable Jezz de Silva has published two Romance novels, with his most recent, Against All Odds having just been released in September 2017. Jezz is an absolute character whom I’ve gotten to know through his humour and continuous tweeting of adorable animal GIFs on Twitter.

I found myself smiling and nodding along as I read through Jezz’s answers to my questions. I love his message, his optimism and his determination to see every heroine and hero achieve their happily ever after. Above all else, I love that Jezz proves that you don’t need a university degree to be an author. All you need is passion, determination and commitment to get it done, which he has in spades.

My long suffering First Reader and I live in a tiny one wombat town in the hills outside Melbourne, Australia. And when I say one wombat town I really mean it. I see the little girl when walking Bear and Max, my plot and character consultants.

Our little patch of heaven is overrun by a zoo of geriatric rescued animals who eat us out of house and home when not sleeping or guilting us into walks. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

When not tapping my fingers or banging my head on a keyboard creating happily ever afters, I love spending time with family and friends, cooking, EATING, gardening, renovating our castle, and teaching personal protection.

Apart from family and writing I have one other passion that transformed my life.

I grew up an insecure fat kid (now chunky old man) and started studying martial arts twenty years ago with the specific goal of becoming a ninja death killer. I collected black belts, fought in the ring, gave up a professional career to teach personal protection, and even worked as a bouncer.

A lifetime ago I started training with the toughest and scariest guy I could find. That man is now like a brother from a different mother and with the help of the nut bags we train with we’ve finally figured out what ‘IT’ is all about. ‘IT’ is becoming a better person, sharing what we’ve learned, helping others, and living confident, healthy, and happy lives with people we love.

I’m not a big fan of bullies and since women are victimised most in society I help women live safer, confident, and happier lives… Just like my heroes

Buy Against All Odds:
Entangled Publishing
Amazon US
Amazon Australia

  1. First of all, can you talk us through your writing process a little bit? (when, where, how much etc?)

Usually a lot of banging my head on the keyboard, then some crying, followed by more head banging. My First Reader and I don’t have kids so when I’m not day jobbing, sleeping, or getting yelled at, I’m writing. My best words come in the morning so I get up around 5am, seven days a week, and write before walking our dogs. I usually try to fit in two or three more sessions throughout the day. I write slowly so this is the only way I can get enough words down. I draft in Scrivener and revise/edit in Word. I don’t keep count as I find it turns writing into ‘work’. Instead I work as hard as I can without going nuts while making sure I’m still having fun and enjoying life.

I started as a pantser, but have become a plotter to save wasting precious words heading down wrong paths. I now write the dreaded synopsis first and use it as a starting point for a detailed outline before getting stuck into the first draft, which I find the hardest part of writing.

2. What inspired you to start writing, and in particular to start writing Romance?

We downsized our lives seven years ago and left careers we hated. I started test driving cars five years ago as a part time job and listened to podcasts and audiobooks throughout the day. After close to twenty years of studying violence and personal protection I wanted something more uplifting and ended up in Audible’s romance section. After binging on dozens of romance novels I suddenly realised all my favourite stories, movies, and TV shows usually had a love story somewhere in the plot.

Five years ago a scene stuck in my head and wouldn’t get out. I’d wake with it on my mind and went to bed thinking about it. I ended up writing it down and two years, twelve drafts, a critique group, multiple professional edits, and submissions later that scene made it into ‘Home’ my first novel (and it’s still my favourite scene in the book).

My First Reader and I still look at each other and shake our heads because the last creative writing I did was back in high school twenty-seven years ago, and I’d never even dreamed of writing since, let alone making it a career.

3. Where do you draw inspiration for your stories?

My characters, but especially my heroine. I want to give her the hero, life, and HEA (happily ever after) she deserves.

4. Your book ‘Against All Odds’ was published on September 18 by Entangled Publishing. Can you share a little bit about your publishing journey?

WOW! My publishing journey has been crazy and turned my life upside down. After finishing my first novel I figured what the hell and had a crack at getting it published. I had dreamed of getting published, but never really believed it would happen until I at least had a few novels hidden under the bed. Samhain contracted ‘Home’ (I’ll never forget that email) and I was off and running.

‘Home’ released and Samhain contracted my second book, only to close down a few weeks later. After months of limbo I figured what the hell and had a crack at getting an agent. Two weeks and a lot of happy dancing later I signed with Janna Bonnikowski of The Knight Agency. Around six months later Entangled contracted ‘Against All Odds’ and book 2 in the ‘Outback Hearts’ series, and we were off and running again.

I have no idea what the future holds, but my core job will remain unchanged. Keep improving and keep trying to write great books.

5. I don’t generally read Romance, but I really enjoyed Against All Odds. Besides the love interest between your two main characters, there were a lot of strong sub plots, including cancer, limb amputation, death of parents, Australian Aboriginal culture, blended families and life in the outback. Did you have to do a lot of research to bring all of this together and maintain authenticity?

A lot of what I write comes from what I already know. What I don’t know I research heavily. The last thing I want to do is throw my readers out of the story or upset people by doing a crappy job of representing them. I can not comprehend how long research would have taken without Google and the interweb. I also don’t want to bombard my readers with stuff that doesn’t matter so I try to leave out as much of the ‘research’ as possible and only use it to enhance the story. (Note from Kirsty: I LOVE the idea of ‘leaving out’ the research so that it doesn’t distract from the story, rather, enhances it).

6. Your voice and characters are quite distinct. Did you spend a lot of time working through your characterisations or did they come to you fully formed and ready to come to life on the page?

The honest truth is I have no idea where my voice comes from. Everything I do is centred around my characters. I only use plot to challenge my characters and bring them together. I have a rough idea who my characters are before beginning, but fall in love with them as the story progresses and I get to really know them. If I don’t fall in love with them, something’s wrong, and I revise accordingly.

7. Why do you like writing strong and independent female characters?

With my personal protection work I’ve seen and felt the impact traditional society has had on women and it drives me @#$%ing nuts. Ultimately I hope to show how powerful and amazing women are and how they deserve a HEA. Not just because they’ve found their partner, but because they’re living a life they’ve chosen which makes them happy. I can’t stand Alphaholes or any story where the heroine is simply used as a plot device or a doormat who’s ‘lucky’ to have a HEA. I’m also really looking forward to including more personal protection concepts in future books.

Another reason I like writing strong, independent female characters is that I fell in love with one twenty-six years ago and I’m hoping she’ll read this and buy me a donut 😉 (Awwww)

8. What is your favourite thing about being a writer?

Putting smiles on people’s faces. There’s enough negativity in the world and if I can help someone escape for even a few hours, it’s an awesome feeling.

On a more practical note: writing is one of the few professions you can do anywhere, anytime, by yourself, and with hardly any equipment. Writing is by far the hardest mentally and emotionally demanding career I’ve tried, but after two decades of searching, and without even looking for it, I’ve found my perfect career.

9. What sort of training / study have you undertaken as part of your writing journey?

I only have high school English, but I’m extremely lucky to have had the time to listen to thousands of hours of writing podcasts and how-to books. Following writers over their careers, some for as long as a decade via their podcasts, prepared me for just how demanding writing is. I still have no idea where commas and dashes go, much to the frustration of my agent and editor, but I’m slowly getting there.

10. Do you have any advice for other emerging writers?

I’m still very much emerging myself, but the best writing advice I can give is to embrace the fear and have a crack. FINISH your story (everything starts after you finish that story) and send it out to friends, critique partners, editors. Get as much brutally honest feedback as you can. Cry, throw tantrums, swear, then analyse that feedback with an open mind. Absorb what is helpful, and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Then send it out and start the next story.

The biggest question you have to answer for yourself is: ‘Can I write?’. Once you TRULY believe you can, rejection becomes less daunting and you’re free to hunt down your dreams.

 

I hope you love this interview as much as I have. If you have any questions you’d like asked in future interviews, or would like to be part of my ‘The Writer’s Room’ series, please contact me, I’d love to have you!

Weekend Wanderings: Library Up Late

On Friday night, my girlfriend and I headed to a not-so-local library (about 40km from my house) to attend an event titled ‘Grown Up Story Time’.

I’m told the Tea Tree Gully Library does events quite regularly, and they sure do them well! When my friend forwarded the event details to me, which promised mulled wine, buttered rum, craft and stories, I could hardly stifle my excitement. Plus, it was on a Friday night which meant I could cash in one of my 627 I O U’s for a night out, while Dad stayed home on parenting duty.

I arrived a few minutes late having misread my GPS instructions and getting caught in a loop of traffic lights, with no suitable U turn facilities in sight. When I finally arrived, it  felt weird and rebellious to be walking into a library after dark. Sort of like how I imagined, as a kid, being locked in a department store overnight would feel.

Fortunately, we weren’t the only ones to happen upon this wondrous event. The place was packed, with seemingly every available chair occupied. The organisers pulled some arm chairs around the back of the crowd for us, handed over some crayons and a blank picture to colour, which we struggled to fit on the tiny table alongside our mulled and sparkling wines.

We got to work colouring and waited for the stories to begin. Two of the librarians sat at the front of the room and read from a couple of the ‘Ladybird Books‘ for adults. If you’re not familiar with these gems, they are tongue-in-cheek manuals for dealing with every-day challenges, illustrated in the traditional vintage Ladybird style. We were treated to The Hangover and The Mid Life Crisis.  We sang nursery rhymes with the words adapted, and listened to some poems with cheeky rhymes.

Our two hours of library frivolity absolutely flew by. It was a wonderful event, hosted by a great community library which seems to have an emphasis on engaging people of all ages. This is a library that is not just about books, but about community. Not just about education, but about fun.

I hope to see more libraries thinking outside of the square and engaging their communities in fun and interesting ways, like this. Thanks TTG Library!

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The Writer’s Room: Rachel Sanderson

I’m so excited to introduce you all to my next guest in the Writer’s Room; Rachel Sanderson. Though Rachel and I haven’t met in real life (yet), we’ve bonded through Twitter over sleepless nights with sick toddlers, finding time to write and reading great fiction. I subscribe to Rachel’s newsletter and it was there that I found out about publication of her debut YA novel, The Space Between. I snapped up the eBook as soon as it was released and promptly devoured it. In today’s interview, I ask the standard writing questions of Rachel, but also delve a little deeper into her novel. There are no spoilers, but if you’ve read the book, you’ll find some wonderful insight from Rachel here.

Rachel Sanderson has worked as a bakery assistant, cleaner, telemarketer, receptionist, yoga instructor, university tutor, researcher and public servant. She’s studied philosophy, Spanish, law and has a PhD in history. She co-wrote a documentary film, The End of the Rainbow, which won the First Appearance Award at the 2007 International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam. The Space Between is her  first novel. It was shortlisted for the 2016 Ampersand Prize. She lives in Canberra with her partner and son.

You can find Rachel through her website, on Twitter, Facebook, and the book is available here on Amazon.

According to your bio you are a prolific reader and writer. You’ve had success in documentary writing, short stories, poetry, essays and now YA fiction. Is it difficult to switch between so many genres and styles? And how do you best approach your writing on any given day?

I’ve been writing for most of my life, so I’ve done lots of different types of writing but over a long period of time! I did a PhD in history and one of the reasons I didn’t want to continue working in academia is because I’ve always wanted to write fiction, and I found I couldn’t do both. It just didn’t work for me at all. I’ve had periods of writing poetry intensively but I’m not doing that at all at the moment. Since about 2012 I’ve been really focused on writing novels – it’s taken me such a long time to figure out how to get from one end of a story to another, and it takes so much focus and concentration, I find I can’t do all that much else now.

I do swap between genres though – I write contemporary young adult novels that tend to be on the darker, grittier side, and I’m also writing a fantasy series. I generally have multiple projects on the go simultaneously – something in early draft, something in revisions or resting in the drawer. I find I need to give my first drafts quite a bit of time to rest before I can work on them effectively – often up to six months. So it works well for me having different long-term projects underway. I also quite like the change of voice and style I get when I switch between genres – the tone is really very different, and I think writing fantasy gives me a break from the contemporary and vice versa.

In terms of my daily writing routine – I have a three-year-old and I work part-time and really just grab whatever time I can. Either early mornings, or evenings after my son goes to sleep. Sometimes I write on the bus. I have two mornings a week when my son’s in daycare and I don’t start work till late morning and I generally get a couple of hours then to work, which I absolutely treasure. I’m someone who works well to a routine and if it was just up to me I’d probably stick to a much more regular timetable and do a lot more hours, but it’s just not possible at the moment unfortunately! I’m always working around things and most of the time I live with an underlying feeling of frustration that I’m not getting more done, which is hard. I don’t do much of anything other than writing, parenting and working at the moment – any spare time I have is for writing. On the plus side, I think it makes me very focused when I do sit down to write now. I don’t procrastinate because the time is just so precious to me.

Have you undertaken any formal or informal education in writing? And have you found this beneficial in honing your craft?

When I was in high school I wrote volumes and did lots of fantastic writing workshops at a youth arts centre. I had someone who acted as a mentor to me there, and he taught me a lot, especially about editing.

Writing a PhD isn’t necessarily education in writing as such, but I have definitely found that the discipline I learned from my PhD is something I’ve taken into all the writing I’ve done since. That was how I learned just to sit down and write – when I was in the writing-phase I worked to a word count every day. I drafted and redrafted and redrafted and I wrote something big not knowing exactly where I was going, which was terrifying – which is how I always seem to work.

I’ve tried and failed to write novels for years. I have so many first chapters tucked away in boxes and drawers!  I just couldn’t figure out how to make a story move – how to make things happen. In 2012 I did a ten-month novel-writing course online through the Writers Studio in Sydney. It was very focused on the detail of story structure, and aligning your plot and character development and I did most of the course, then got a bit derailed by life events and didn’t finish it. I did Nanowrimo later that year and that was when I wrote the first draft of The Space Between. So even though I don’t tightly follow the approach we were taught, something in the course just clicked for me, at very long last, and helped me get to the point where I could actually finish a draft of a novel.  That was a huge relief!!

These days I listen to a lot of podcasts, and read Writer’s Digest and books about writing, as well as just reading fiction generally, so I try to keep learning more about the craft of writing that way.

Where do you draw inspiration for your writing?

The inspiration for my writing is primarily from my own life – not that what I’m writing is biographical but it draws on the colour and texture of my experiences. I’ve also read a lot, which I’m sure feeds my imagination. Often my writing starts with a very contained idea, a character or scene, something that sticks in my mind, and I gradually build it from there and learn more about what is surrounding it. It doesn’t all come at once for me – I generally figure things out slowly as I write, or more often as I re-write! That seems to be how I think best.

You recently self-published your first novel, The Space Between. Why did you decide to go down the self-publishing route, and what did you gain from that process?

I’ve been interested in self-publishing for a year or two now. I listen to a bunch of self-publishing podcasts which are really informative, and I’m involved in a Facebook group of self-publishing authors that’s also been really helpful.

My original plan was that I wanted to try to go hybrid – to see if I could traditionally publish my contemporary YA novels, which are stand-alones, and self-publish my fantasy series under a pen name, because series tend to do well for self-publishing authors. I started pitching The Space Between to publishers and got some really positive responses – it was shortlisted for the Ampersand Prize by Hardie-Grant Egmont, which was amazing, and Penguin Random House requested the full manuscript. I got really supportive and encouraging feedback from a number of publishers, but no contract.

I spent a year out on submission – and it’s a very very slow, glacial process. It takes so much patience and persistence, it’s quite draining. And meanwhile I was continuing to learn about self-publishing, and seeing some traditionally published Australian authors I really admire, like Alison Croggon, Ellie Marney and John Birmingham, choose to go down that route. I hit the one-year mark and just decided, pretty much on the spur of the moment, that I’d given it long enough and if I couldn’t get a contract I’d do it myself.

It’s been a steep learning curve but I’ve been so fortunate to have a hugely supportive author community to draw on for advice. When it comes down to it, publishers are businesses and they’re making a business decision about whether to invest in your work or not. If you don’t get a contract, it doesn’t mean your work is no good, or that you haven’t passed some threshold, it just means they’re not willing to invest in you for whatever reason at this point in time. But the technology is available through print-on-demand and online distribution for authors to make the choice to invest in their own work – to do the work and put it out there and let readers decide. I think that’s pretty exciting, and despite moments of absolute terror I’ve been generally loving the experience so far.

You’re based in Canberra, but you set The Space Between in Adelaide. Why did you choose this location, and what research was involved in getting the setting right?

I’m from Adelaide originally, I grew up there and most of my family is still there, so even though I’ve been living elsewhere since around 1999 I go back regularly. It felt like the natural setting for this story, and the place where they go for the camping trip is based loosely on a place I used to camp at when I was young. I honestly didn’t do all that much research – I spent a bit of time with Google Street View and that was about it!!

The Space Between incorporates some quite heavy topics. What was your driving force for writing this novel, and what do you hope people take away from it?

My dad died when I was eight years old, and as a teenager I was struggling to deal with a lot of unresolved grief and trying to make sense of that loss: what it meant to me and what it meant to my family. I think there’s a lot of that experience in the book. Grief can be such an overwhelming thing, and there’s no right way to deal with it. I’ve had a number of readers say they understood why Erica made the choices that she did but they didn’t agree with them, or they weren’t the choices they would make. I feel that you just don’t know, until you’re in that position, how you’ll respond or what you’ll do. And loss doesn’t go away, there’s no magic wand you can wave to make things all better, it takes lots of time and perspective for you to integrate those experiences into the rest of your life. The thing that shifted for me as I was writing The Space Between was that when I started, I thought I was writing a book about loss, about how we deal with losses that don’t make sense. And I worked on the story and worked on the story and one day I just hit a point where I realized that, for me, the point of the book isn’t loss, it’s love. The love between Erica and Daina is the core of the story, and the sense of that enduring love is I hope what will stay with people when they read it.

I found the characters incredibly realistic and well written. The way you developed Daina throughout the text without having her as a physical character in the scene was very clever. Was it hard to write her and your other characters?

It was an iterative process. I had the characters in my head, I think, but that didn’t necessarily translate straight away to the page. I found working with beta readers incredibly useful for this, because at some points they’d interpret characters actions completely differently to how I saw them, and that made me really examine what and how I had shown, and think hard about how to fine-tune them in every scene. So it took a lot of time to get the characters working on the page, but my sense of them was quite clear from the start.

Without giving too much away, the ending of the novel both resolves the main plot, but also leaves many questions unanswered. Is there any room in the future for a sequel, or are you happy to leave this as it is?

I’m not planning on a sequel but I’d never say never! For me, I feel like the story is finished, even with all the loose ends. I did have some ideas for an epilogue that I never wrote though, and these things can sometimes take on a life of their own…

What are you working on now?

I’ve been redrafting another contemporary YA novel called Mirror Me, which is a story about a girl who moves to a small town only to discover that she’s almost identical to another girl who was murdered there a year earlier. It’s a bit more of a thriller, with some whiffs of the supernatural, and quite a different narrative voice, which I’ve enjoyed. I just sent that off to the first batch of beta readers this week, so I’m happy to put it aside and not think about it for a while.

I’ve also just got my copy edits back on The Dying Flame, which is the first book in my Darkfall series, the fantasy I’ve been working on. I’m working through those at the moment (note to self: use less commas!) and am aiming to publish that book in late October. And then, start writing Book Two!!!!

Finally, what advice do you have for other writers who may be just starting out in the industry and looking for publication?

I’m very much just starting out too, but my main advice would probably be just to keep working. Try and polish a piece of writing to the point that you can send it out, send it out, then get started on something else. You don’t want to be too invested in any one piece of work. And think about what you want – there are lots of ways to connect with readers, there’s not just one single pathway to being a writer.

What a fantastic interview and insight into your writing process, Rachel. I hope this gives other authors who have been considering self-publishing the confidence to believe in themselves and not be deterred if a traditional publishing contract doesn’t come their way.

Thoughts on Marriage and what it means in Australia

In October, I will celebrate my seventh wedding anniversary. At the same time, Australia will most likely be in the midst of a national voluntary postal vote to potentially decide* whether same sex couples should be recognised in the Australian Marriage Act.

There has been a lot of debate about the topic, for a good many years now. And it’s true, Australia is “behind the trend” when it comes to comparing our laws around marriage equality with other countries.

Seven years ago I was married in a Catholic Church. Not because I am a practicing Catholic, but because I liked the idea of tradition. My parents were married in that same church. I was baptised there too. I was quite young and had a very naïve view of the world. If we’d had a vote back then, I honestly don’t know how I would have responded.

On both sides of the debate, people claim to be ridiculed and to feel too intimidated to share their opinions. In the media, it seems to be skewed to people who say they will vote against allowing same sex marriage into our Marriage Act; they feel that they are being ostracised for this choice. It must feel like a slap in the face for those people who identify as LGBTI+ who have been ostracised for their sexuality since, well, forever.

For the record, I don’t believe that all people who choose to vote “no” must hate gay people. Many of them argue for the traditional values of marriage, which by default excludes same sex couples. But in reality, they are not arguing for traditional marriage as it stands, they are arguing for the idea of traditional marriage. That man and woman will remain loyal to one another until death parts them.

But let’s be honest, the rate of divorce continues to increase in Australia, and the rates of marriage are actually decreasing. More people are choosing to bypass the expensive wedding ceremony and head straight to having mortgages and children together. Because we don’t need to be married for such things to occur. I’m aware that this is an incredibly privileged position to be in, and I’m in no way trying to downplay or trivialise marriage equality. I’m simply trying to point out that the majority of conservative arguments that I’ve heard are redundant.

Some will argue that marriage gives children the best chance at life, to be able to have access to both a mother and father. Who says that same sex couples would disallow that? At the moment, men can donate their sperm and women can buy it to impregnate themselves. Children as a result will be denied their father. I’m not saying that Team No agree with this loophole, just that it exists and nobody had to vote about whether it could or not.

There’s also an assumption that people who marry automatically want children. Again, times are changing and more people are consciously deciding not to have children. Arguing ‘parenting’ in relation to the Marriage Act is far too simplistic and not at all helpful.

Someone on my Facebook posted a video recently with a status that questioned whether anyone who was voting yes had actually read the proposed changes? She questioned whether it would open the gates to allowing paedophilia and incest. Thankfully, she was very quickly shut down. The article she had shared was from Pauline Hanson’s people and was clearly scare mongering. What baffled me more was that this is the same person who once criticised me for sharing a video showing slaughtered calves on a dairy farm, claiming that “most Farmers don’t undertake this practice.” Her argument at the time is no different to my argument now (except that the slaughtering of calves is a common practice in most commercial dairy farms – but that’s an argument for another day).

It’s disappointing to see these sorts of posts floating around, because it influences people, or at the very least, gives them fuel for their already biased arguments. Being gay does not equate, nor open the doors to, incest, paedophilia, or any other extreme and rare case of the like. Nothing else in our existing Marriage Act is set to change except for allowing two people of the same sex to wed. They can’t be underage; they can’t be related. And the assumption that they would want to is downright offensive.

At the end of this voting period, I hope that Australia proves to be an overall forward-thinking and progressive country. I hope that my children and the generations to come will inherit a more open, caring, considerate, compassionate and respectful country in which all people – no matter their race, gender or sexuality – are not only accepted, but welcomed.

I’m voting yes, and I hope you do too.

*In order for the laws to change the Bill has to pass in the Senate. The public vote is being used to gauge the Australian public’s opinion of whether the law should change. Some conservative politicians have said that if the results are overwhelming yes, they will change their vote to yes in the Senate.

A year in review

My baby turned one this week. In some ways, I can hardly believe I am the mother of a one-year-old, and in other ways it feels like this milestone took an age to arrive.

I have no doubt that parenting is one of the hardest and most challenging experiences of ones life, exasperated for me by the fact that I was unwilling to let go of my writing during those tough early months.

I didn’t write every day. Not even every week. I wrote some poems when I felt overwhelmed. I wrote in my journal a heck of a lot. But I didn’t really open my manuscript for fear that I would get immersed in it and my baby would wake up screaming. Which he did. A lot.

I feel like he didn’t sleep for the first 6 months. Certainly not in blocks of any longer than 2 hours overnight, 20 minutes during the day. He only started to figure out the whole sleep thing at 10 months. But it’s only been since 11 months that he’s consistently been sleeping through the night, and sleeping in wonderful long stints of an hour or more during the day. You will never appreciate a sleeping baby more than when you experience a baby who doesn’t quite “get” sleep.

Aside form keeping my son alive, I actually managed to progress my manuscript quite a lot in the past year. Something I didn’t think would be possible when I was in the depths of sleep deprivation.

After receiving such generous and heart warming support on my recent post over on Louise Allan’s Writers in the Attic, I began to reflect on exactly what I have achieved in this past year. Not just in my journey as a parent, but in my journey as a writer.

Though I still have a long way to go, I think it’s important to acknowledge how far I’ve come. And in an effort to do that for myself, I’m sharing my achievements with you all, here.

When my baby was 8 months old, in my sleep deprived state, I took myself off to Fiona McIntosh’s Commercial Fiction Masterclass. This was five intensive days in a room of 15 other fabulous writers, learning to hone our craft, navigate the publishing industry and basically get down to business. I credit Fiona and this masterclass to kicking my butt into gear and really committing myself to this manuscript.

I worked a reworked a synopsis and submitted it and my first three chapters to the Richell Prize for Emerging Writers. If you’d asked me 6 months ago how confident I was of my work, I would have told you it would never see the light of day. So to submit to such a popular and prestigious award (even with reservations), goes to show how much my confidence in myself has grown.

On advice from Fiona, I changed the names of my character’s and the working title of my WIP – which resulted in a snowball effect of changes to my entire manuscript. At first, this was incredibly daunting, but in actual fact, it’s returned some of the joy and pleasure back into my rewrites. Everything just seems to fit better.

I sorted out my home office. It may seem small, but for me it’s a really big improvement. In order to feel motivated to write, I need a good space. Something with natural lighting and a decent chair. Though I can (and often do) write anywhere, having a dedicated space makes me feel all that more professional.

I’ve made headway on social media, particularly on Twitter where I get a real sense of what a writing community is all about. I fell out of love with facebook but have since decided to modify my personal page as my writing page. I was going to set up an ‘author’ page, but I bulk at the thought of having another space to manage. So instead, I’m taking Valerie Khoo’s advice and using my personal page as my Facebook writing platform.

I started doing some freelance writing and editing. I don’t want to spread myself too thin, so I’m selective of my clients and the time I can put towards freelancing, but I’m enjoying the diversity of work and the options it may afford me in the future.

I started an interview series with and for my fellow emerging writers: The Writer’s Room.

And I created this blog!

 

Thank you to each and every one of you who have followed along with me on this journey, sent me encouraging words through social media or email, commented on my posts and supported me when I’ve complained or exclaimed about anything and everything going on in my life. Your support and encouragement means the world to me. X

The Writer’s Room: Kylie A Hough

This month I’m pleased to introduce another of my Masterclass alumni, Kylie A Hough. Kylie and I bonded over veganism, historical fiction and red wine during our stint at Masterclass. Having heard snippets of her writing through the course, I’m not lying when I say Kylie is an emerging author to look out for. She has a wonderfully deep writing style and voice, and I know her debut novel will be amazing.

Kylie has been disappearing into books and attempting to write stellar stories since she was a little girl. She was born in Frankston, Victoria but has vivid memories of tropical weekend getaways to the islands off Cairns where she lived from the age of eight to when she left in her sixteenth year. She has kept a diary since she was twelve and in addition to journaling, she writes poetry, short stories, flash fiction, memoir and award-winning academic essays. It was however only in 2016 (after an epiphany that she may not in fact be ‘youthing’, and that maybe twenty-two consecutive years studying random courses at university might be enough), that she began writing the novel that had by this time burned a hole into her cerebrum.

Like most writers, she has had a wide range of unrelated and somewhat peculiar jobs, from Registered Nurse in Alice Springs, to Au Pair in the tiny village of Bubendorf, Switzerland, to hostess in a strip joint in London’s East End. She currently lives in a big house on a tiny man-made island in South-East Queensland with her partner, their two children, a psychotic Moodle and two stinky rodents. Along with writing and researching her first historical commercial fiction novel, she pretends she will get a real job ‘soon’, spends way too much in online bookstores, reads anything going, continues to study English via correspondence, and drives her man bonkers.

Find Kylie on Facebook under K A Hough and on Instagram 

1. First of all, can you talk us through your writing process a little bit?
My writing process constitutes a mish-mash of what I’ve learned from life, friends, teachers, uni, books, practice, courses and the team at The Writers Studio (Sydney based). I adhere fairly strictly to what they say because it works for me. Basically I require and thrive on having steps and rules in place to lead me from draft to draft. The gang have provided a structured outline I can follow which involves coming up with a number of turning points and from the macro level, working inwards and downwards, to a micro level involving steps, sequences and finally, scenes. Had I not started my WIP with my clever tutor, editor Kelly Rigby at TWS, I know I would not have a first and half a second draft already complete. (Asperger’s and all my other mental syndromes are both blessings and curses. Yazzah!)

2. What sort of training / study have you undertaken as part of your writing journey? And have you found it useful?

You could say I’ve been training to be a writer from the age of twelve. That’s when I made my first diary entry in a heart speckled, pocket-sized, padlocked book I still have. My little girl likes to read Mummy’s first diary. Other than writing poetry, flash fiction and short stories, I journal and have written a ridiculous number of academic essays for various complete and half finished Bachelor degrees. I’ve taken a variety of short courses with editor Cathie Tasker at Australian Writers’ Centre including Creative Writing Stages 1 and 2 and Writing Picture Books. I’ve attended workshops with published authors Lisa Chaplin on plotting and deep point of view, and Kate Forsyth on planning and plotting. And as you know I recently attended Fiona McIntosh’s signature commercial fiction masterclass. (That’s where I fell in love with your vegan guts!) [Ditto Kye!] And last but certainly not least I am currently working toward a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English with, amongst others, Natalia Tobin (the best lecturer ever!) via UNE online. Oh, and I’m writing my first novel. Did I mention that? The working title is, The Girl in the Photograph. It’s an historical fiction set in post war Paris. I’ve read a bucket load of how-to books too.  I’m interested in life-long learning. Can you tell? If I had to narrow it down, I would say reading in general and what I have gained in person from attending Lisa Chaplin’s and Fiona McIntosh’s courses, and what I’ve gained online from feedback from Kelly Rigby and Natalia Tobin have been the most useful in assisting me on my writing journey. And I can’t not mention Anne Lamott’s, bird by bird and Stephen King’s On Writing, both of which have had a part in inspiring me and building my confidence.

3. Why do you write and what do you hope to get out of it?

Why do I write? I can’t not write. I write to feel my feelings, to give them lips and tongue with which to speak, to acknowledge them as opposed to burying them, to provide them with an escape route onto the big blue ball. It’s therapeutic! That’s a bonus. The primary reason I write though is because I am a writer. I know Grand Master M(a)c told us not to let writing define us, but writing is as much who I am, as something I love to do. I can think of no one thing I love to do more. The joy writing (and having written) brings me is up there with nights nuzzling with my goslings, inhaling baby breath as they laugh, playing kiss chasey in the park as they giggle and grow before my eyes.

4. Who or what influences you in writing?

Everyone I read and have ever read influences my writing. I’ve taken bits and bobs from writers I’ve read as much by osmosis as I have deliberately to arrive at a form and voice that is (I’m told) distinctly my own. I couldn’t tell you what came from whom but I fall in love easily, time and time again, with authors and their works the world over, and each and every one have in some way influenced me.

5. Do you have any advice for other emerging writers?

My advice to other emerging writers is this: Read every day. Write every day. You are better than you think. You can do it if you want it badly enough. Get up, show up, move, push. Don’t stop until you arrive. And lastly: You’ve got this.

Thanks so much Kylie for coming into the Writer’s Room and sharing your insight!

The Writer’s Room: Annabelle McInnes

I am just so excited to introduce you all to my second guest for the new interview series, the Writer’s Room: Annabelle McInnes. I met Annabelle when we both attended Fiona McIntosh’s Commercial Fiction Mastercalss earlier this year, and I was instantly drawn to her. Annabelle is already an accomplished writer, having secured a three book (series) deal with Escape Publishing, the first of which is due out later this year.

From the age of sixteen, Annabelle lived in a youth refuge while she remained committed to her education. She spent two years within a section of humanity that society overlooks.

Her experiences are the foundations that drive her stories and her characters. They fight for their freedoms, have courage in the face of adversity and will ultimately, always aspire for greatness.

Annabelle is privileged to spend her time writing with a backdrop of Canberra’s iconic landmarks and admiring its distinct and captivating change of seasons. Outside of her love for reading, she spends every free moment with her husband, son and her poodle named Serendipity. She drinks her Whisky neat and is known to scour the local markets in an attempt to find the best blue cheese available.

 

First of all, can you talk us through your writing process a little bit? 

I am the mother of a two-year-old son. A little boy who is full of all the wonderful elements that makes up any toddler. I also work a four-day work week and support my husband with his business. The only way I can fit in time to write is to be a master at time management. The baby goes down for a nap – write. Lunch break – write. During those precious moments, I don’t distract myself with housework, social media or telephone calls. My headphones are in and I have a playlist of 90s rock ballads that I put on repeat. I am also the queen of understanding my own body and what it needs to write. Mornings are best for me with a cup of tea, coffee or even an energy drink depending how much uninterrupted sleep I’ve had. I work in stages and do a minimum of four distinct drafts. I’m currently working on the first draft of my third novel, so I’m getting into the swing of my own style now.

Why do you write and what do you hope to get out of it?

I write because I love it. I write because it is an external expression of who I am. What I think, dream and feel. I’ve always written as a hobby, but I started writing True Refuge when my baby was only six months old with no intention of ever publishing it, or even anyone else reading it. I needed an escape, and so I wrote. That original draft has had innumerable rewrites as I have learnt the complex difference between writing a story and writing a novel to be published. Through that process I discovered that writing is intrinsic to my happiness. I want to create a career as a successful writer. It’s hard work, of that there is no doubt. But it is the type of work that feeds my soul, and so I am able to push through the barriers.

Who or what are some of your biggest influencers?

From sixteen, I lived in a youth refuge in Canberra. During that time, I experienced the significant disparity between privilege and poverty and lived within a part of society that most overlook. Those experiences still colour my life and heavily influence my writing. I have always loved high fantasy novels. I grew up reading (and re-reading) all of J. R. R. Tolkien’s books, the Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist, and the early books by George R. R. Martin to escape during my childhood. As a teenager I discovered Romance, and my ferocious appetitive for books really began. But it wasn’t until I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy did I come to appreciate dystopian and speculative fiction novels and how my experiences could shape these fictitious worlds. The concept that drives Speculative Fiction – What If – fuels my imagination more than any other genre. Couple that with romance and a chance to build a new world? A brilliant combination that I adore to read and write.

What sort of training / study have you undertaken as part of your writing journey? And have you found it useful?

Though I have always loved to write, choosing to become a published author was a decision that came in my thirties. Attending conferences and masterclasses has helped me develop my craft. In 2016, I attended the Romance Writers of Australia’s Annual conference. While I was there, I completed a one-day Story Mastery workshop with Michael Haugh. It really solidified how important it is to tell a great story. He outlined the strategic elements that create a detailed narrative, complex characters and a tight plot. Fiona McIntosh’s Masterclass was also a turning point. Her insights into the publishing world, the work required to create a career out of writing and the mechanics of a successful novel, were pivotal. The connections with other writers has also been fundamental. They inspire me, drive me and support me. I wouldn’t be here without the friendships made through those conferences and classes.

Do you have any advice for other emerging writers?

Write. Everyone says it, but it’s true. Write. Write what you love. I’m time poor, so if I don’t love what I’m writing, I’ll procrastinate and it won’t get done. Like training to run a marathon, it’s about time on your feet (or in the chair, as writing may be). You’ll never succeed if all you ever do is talk about it. Write, get feedback, edit, edit, edit, edit. Then send it out. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! Believe in your style, believe in your words, believe in your genre. Don’t listen to others. Like having children, everyone will have an opinion and everyone will tell you a better way to do something. Trust your instincts, and write, write, write!

The first book in your new Refuge romance series is coming out later this year, but I recall at masterclass that you are also toiling with the idea of writing in another genre, what is your reason for this and how are you finding the shift from Romance to something new?

The chance to explore other genres excites me. During Fiona’s Masterclass I thought of writing contemporary fiction, leaving myself open to the opportunity to explore a range of stories and narratives. These new plots play constantly in my mind, but as I’ve been working hard writing the Refuge Trilogy, I haven’t had a chance to fully investigate these options. Yet!

Thank you so much, Annabelle, for your time and insight. If you want to get more of Annabelle, you can connect with her here:

Website: www.annabellemcinnes.com
Facebook: https://web.facebook.com/authorannabellemcinnes/#
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/annabellemcinnes/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/akmcinnes
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/58003716-annabelle-mcinnes\
Escape Publishing: http://www.escapepublishing.com.au/product/9781489251015