Newcastle Writers Festival 2015

The Newcastle Writers Festival was yet again fantastic! I finished up feeling inspired, motivated and more confident.

First up was Strength in Numbers: What can a writing group do for you? It was really good. I never really considered joining a group, and I think some of the reason is the dreadful groups I got stuck in at uni. But this sounds much different. And importantly, I think I would enjoy critiquing other people just as much as having my work critiqued. It’s something to consider. I am definitely going to look into the Lake Macquarie division of the Fellowship of Australian Writers.

I then wandered over to The Press Book House for Idea Bombing Newcastle. That was pretty good. I had an amazing coffee (never thought of rapadura in coffee….SO good), and listened to some local magazine and zine writers who had some really amazing insights.

Then there was the opening night event The Book that Changed Me. It was really, really good. Michael Robotham moved me to tears twice! First with his Lord of the Rings story, secondly with his literary father story. It was a really moving and inspiring segment all round. I went down straight away and bough one of Michael Robotham’s books. I’d heard of him but never read him but he spoke so beautifully that I now just like him a whole bunch. I don’t read crime very often but I do enjoy it, so I’m hoping to love his work 🙂

On the drive home that night I was thinking about something completely unrelated to writing when something sort of *clunked* in my brain. Suddenly a HUGE problem with my not-yet-beyond-concept novel was solved, which I am thinking may cure my writers block. AND a whole new character was formed which really helps develop my main character. Yay!

Saturday morning I was in town bright and early for a fresh new haircut. Then it was off to Keys to the Kingdom which was great. I’d never even heard of Garth Nix but went immediately down to the book shop to get one of his books. The works sound really interesting and I enjoyed his way of thinking.

Next was Beyond the Crime Scene which was great. Both authors write fiction based on real events. I enjoy both fiction crime, and true crime, and it sounds like they sit somewhere in the middle. I ended up buying a Wendy James book too.

By this time my friend Belynda had caught up with me and we went and got some lunch. We had a long conversation about our story ideas and awesome authors, then we were off to Going it Alone which was a session about self publishing. I already am quite familiar with the options from following Catherine Caffeinated, but it was really good to see it in practice for three different fiction writers. Their stories each brought different complexities and I added Francesca Suter’s book “Returned” to my Goodreads “to read” list (I had exhausted my book budget by this time so will have to get the Kindle book later). They also mentioned NaNoWriMo, which I have been considering, and someone brought up Camp NaNoWriMo, which I had never heard of.

Then came the turning point for me. We went along to The WIP Session. I had registered to read some of my novel to the group (the only two complete paragraphs I’ve written). I was very close to chickening out, and Jacquie who was running it said it was fine for me to just listen and to see how I went. While we were waiting for the session to start, Belynda had a read and told me it was really good and that I should read it. Then my name was called and I just jumped up before I could talk myself out of it. I was SO nervous. I present to people ALL the time for my work and am a very confident public speaker, but for this my voice was shaking and my hands were a bit too. But I did it, got claps, and even a little “oooh” at the end because there is a little bit of a twist. It felt SO good that I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo that very night. Thanks for the support Belynda! I wish I had had time to stay and chat to other writers at the session but I had to get to a birthday party. Next time!

On Sunday I had to forgo the first session because I was at Raid My Wardrobe snapping up bargains. But then I was back on deck. I somehow stuffed up and was planning to attend Through the Eyes of a Child without realising I needed a ticket. But I just jumped across the hall to take in Readings from ABC Open 500 Words Project instead. It was really good! I now think I’ll start submitting.

Then I went in to a session called This Writing Life which looked at the lifestyles and work situations of three authors. Always worth a listen.

Finally I went to The Next Level: How to take your writing from hobby to publication. It was really good. I particularly enjoyed listening to Aiden Walsh’s tips for discipline and just “getting it done”. I also really liked hearing about Maree Gallop’s creative process.

I had such a fantastic time!

These are the things I have taken away to look further into:

  • Join a writers group.
  • Write and submit an entry for Grieve Writing Competition.
  • Write a short story “The Lawyer’s Wallet”.
  • Complete Camp NaNoWriMo for April. Have so far committed to 50,000 words, but may revise to 40,000.
  • Start participating in ABC Open’s 500 Words writing challenge.
  • Look into, and potentially start participating in, Friday Fictioneers.

I think I have moved past my funk 🙂

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Why do I write?

Or wish I was writing, as the case may be.

In the past it was always because my brain was non stop observing, narrating, creating, imagining.  When I was a kid I was constantly baffling my mum by walking around the yard talking to myself and gesturing wildly. I was telling stories, playing out my role in imagined versions of my life. Aliens landed, international trips were made, big city lives were lived. It never changed when I grew up, just became internal for the sake of, well, not being seen as crazy.

The last few years I have utterly struggled to write, and I think I know why. Being a busy and functioning adult requires more of my brain space than ever before. For a long time I blamed not having enough time, and being unwell. Both of those factors were true problems, but now they are improving and yet my writing hasn’t picked up.

In trying to solve my writers block I have thought more about why I wrote to begin with, and those imaginings as I paced around the back yard were it. I wrote to get the thoughts on paper, in a place they made sense. I need to let my mind wander again, to places that don’t make sense, in ways that waste time. The stories will come if I let go of the grown up thoughts and problems, empty my head, and talk to myself for a while.

Bring on crazy town!

Platform 9 3/4

I am currently re-reading the Harry Potter series whilst rewatching the movies and immersing myself in Pottermore.

On the surface it is a pleasurable and inspirational experience. Just beneath the surface it is very emotional. As I am about to start the Order of the Phoenix, I am expecting the primary emotion of the coming week to be rage.

But in my heart?

The Harry Potter series, and the extra bits revealed on Pottermore, are deeply intimidating to a wannabe novelist. Harry Potter is on the pedestal of my readerly expectations. J.K. Rowling is an idol. And it scares the hell out of me thinking I will have to come up with a passable plot when I cannot fathom coming up with the fictional universe I am currently immersed in.

I don’t expect that all writers should come up with such intricate plots of course, so it would be silly to expect myself to. But it is, nevertheless, intimidating.

Through it all, however, one sweet quote from J.K. Rowling regarding Platform 9  3/4 spurs me on considerably:

“There is a real trolley stuck halfway out of a wall at King’s Cross now, and it makes me beam proudly every time I pass…”

I love this. It’s not about fame. Fame is a byproduct. It is about readers developing a real passion for the work. People are so passionate about the Harry Potter series that relics are being installed in the very city the book visits, by the government (or government contractors) no less! I just find that kind of passion in readers beautiful and stirring. However few readers I may one day gain, I aspire to stir similar passions…..even if Sydney is never quite so enamoured as to erect monuments for me.

To solidify this inspiration, I have installed a new picture above my desk:

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Sydney Writers’ Festival

This Friday just gone I attended the Sydney Writers’ Festival for the first time.

It was tiring, Newcastle-Sydney trains SUCK, I got a blister, I near passed out from hunger at 2pm then again at 7pm, and I forgot to use my KeepCup for the one and only coffee I bought.

BUT….it was the highlight of my year so far 😀

Through some planning, some ticket purchasing and some sheer stubbornness I made it into each and every event I wanted to as a first choice. This was not easy since some of the lines were 200 people long for a 100 person room. But I did it and EVERY event was informative and inspiring. Here’s the rundown of what I attended:

  • Writing Across Forms. A panel discussing the creative challenges, rewards and freedoms that come with writing across different forms and genres.
  • Why Criticism Matters. What is the state of literary criticism today and why is it so important to have a robust culture of criticism?
  • Literary Buzz. What it is that makes particular books worldwide phenomenons?
  • On Craft: Monkeys with typewriters. Advice on how to write good characters and how to appreciate them when reading.
  • Fiction on the Edge of Reality. 

    On novels that draw from life and are compelling and unnervingly real.

  • Crafting the Message. Joe Rospars, Neil Lawrence and Grahame Morris discuss with Leigh Sales how they mould political messages and reputations.

I have to say that three of these really stood out for me, even though they were all great.

Writing Across Forms introduced me to the works of Lauren Beukes and Robert Drewe, two of the panel members. I have already churned through one of Lauren’s books since then and I am stunned. She is a great writer. I have also picked up one of Robert’s books and it already reads as promising. Both have also worked in journalism, which I am more and more seeing  as a career I should have tried. However the flip side to that lost opportunity is where I gained value from this session. Even if I can’t just go off an be a journalist now without being broke, I think I could bring more writing skill and enjoyment into my current work, and perhaps look towards expanding such opportunities for the future.

Literary Buzz was just a thrill. I had the joy of sitting in a small room listening to four international publishers talk about books that create ‘buzz’. How cool is that?? Grazia Rusticali (Italy), Kirsty Dunseath (UK) and Michael Zöllner (Germany) were quizzed by Hachette’s Matt Richell (Australia), asked for their thoughts on buzz books, starting with Harry Potter and looking through to 50 Shades of Grey and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. It was really quite fascinating, My favorite story from this session was from Matt Richell. He was working in London, just starting his career, when Harry Potter was first released by the publisher he worked for. He is sure to say that he had no part in the book being published, but did have the experience of watching J.K. Rowling, before he even knew what she wrote, enter a tepee with 10 students at a book event at a school. 40 minutes later every single student charged out of that tepee and chased down their parents to demand they buy the books. How amazing is that, to have watched the Harry Potter phenomenon coming to life? I think we all remember how we started our Harry Potter journey but how many can say they were actually there for the beginning?

Finally, I really loved Fiction on the Edge of Reality. My novel in waiting will be almost completely reality/present time based, teetering just slightly off the realms of what we know is possible. The writers in the session talked of their books, gripping and compelling thrillers and dramas which are based entirely in the realities we are currently living in, and yet just as thrilling as any out of this world conception.

Over all the Sydney Writers’ Festival was amazing and extremely valuable. Next year I will hopefully get a hotel and stay for 3 days…and pack ALOT of snacks to ward off starvation. There was plenty of food there, but no time to get it if you wanted to secure a place in line at your chosen event!

Reading list from the festival:

  • Monkeys with Typewriters: How to Write Fiction and Unlock the Secret Power of Stories by Scarlett Thomas
  • The Shark Net by Robert Drewe
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Already read it the very next day, super fast, and highly recommend it!)
  • Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
  • The Trusted by John M. Green
  • Fractured by Dawn Barker

Exploring…and a mini competition!

It occurred to me that I really haven’t a clue about what teen fiction currently looks like.

I know what it used to look like, in the late 90s and early 2000s when I was, indeed, a teen. But now? I know of The Hunger Games. I know of Twilight. And that’s it really.

For the record, I have seen The Hunger Games, but not read the books. I read the Twilight books and saw a couple of the movies. I am sure I will love The Hunger Games. I struggled with the Twilight series, for the often stated reasons, but admit that the books have their merits.

Anyway my point is that as a potential teen fiction author, what are my potential audience reading? I intend to explore the local bookshop soon, but yesterday made do with BigW, an Australian department store.

As expected, most of what I saw was fantasy. I found it so dull to be staring at blurb after blurb of vampires, underworld guardians and teens gripped with the responsibilities of either Buffy-like mortals or Buffy-like immortals.

Don’t get me wrong, I love supernatural themes in books, and even more so in television. Growing up, I lived for the show Charmed. And when older I sweated over waiting for new episodes of Supernatural. But in my readings, I prefer variety, not to mention a good dose of reality as well. All these books just looked the same.

So I dug around and looked for books that weren’t so obviously fantasy. I was tricked a couple of times but eventually settled on three to try reading. I only bought one, but will go back for the others on pay day.

First up, Rise: An eve novel, by Anna Carey.

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This is the one I purchased and it turns out this book is the 3rd in a trilogy…woops. But after reading the first chapter it looks like it will still be readable as a stand alone, and potentially enjoyable. It’s set in dystopian New America.

Second, Eve and Adam by Michael Grant & Katherine Applegate.

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This book really caught my eye by the cover, and the blurb sucked me right in. I can’t wait to go back and get it…it looks like its exactly what I would enjoy reading. The premise is a little hard to explain without lifting directly from Amazon, so I suggest checking it out there. It has mixed reviews, and that just makes it all the more intriguing to me.

Finally, Erebos, by Ursula Poznanski.

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The premise of this book immediately reminded me of one I had to read at school, Space Demons by Gillian Rubinstein (I had to use some Google trickery to find the name of this long forgotten book). Both books are centered around video games. In Space Demons the protagonist enters the video game (as in Tron), in Erebos, there is no such cross over, however the game impacts on the real world. Space Demons, unbelievably, was written in 1985, and I recall not liking it very much in school. I found it very unsettling but can’t remember why. I wonder if I will find Erebos equally as challenging. Time will tell.

Speaking of books I was made to read at school, another one I remembered recently was Z for Zachariah. And I remembered hating it. It is a book about a post nuclear war in which a lone teen, believing she is the last survivor, is confronted by an outside character. I remember the isolation presented giving me a feeling of dread, and the ominous visitor giving me a feeling of fear. But now, as an adult, I have read that if the book is read later in life it is often interpreted and viewed completely differently. So I borrowed it from a friend and am giving it another go. I’ll let you all know of the outcome!

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And now, for a competition! It’s just a little something, which I thought of while taking the pics for this post. You will see a little face peeking out of the book in the first pic and I actually have a few of these rather unique bookmarks spare.

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These are from the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children in Australia. On one side is the alphabet embossed in braille, on the other is the alphabet spelled out in Auslan (Australian Sign Language). How cool!

I was given a bunch of these when I studied Auslan briefly a few years ago and still have a few left. Three lucky winners will receive TWO double sided bookmarks. Yay!

To enter, simply comment below with a writerly or readerly share, be it a blog I and other readers might enjoy, a website full of resources, or a YA / teen book you recommend 🙂

I will post to anywhere! Even if you will never use the Auslan alphabet it is certainly an interesting and unique bookmark.

Winners will be announced 12 noon Monday 22 April, AEST.

Thanks for reading!

He told me a story.

I am in a bit of a state of shock. I’m high on pure adrenalin and awe.

Tonight I met John Marsden.

It was less than a month ago that I ranked him (in this post) as the very first in a list of people I want to meet, people I consider heroes.

And then yesterday I found out I had a chance to do exactly that, and today…well…I did it.

It’s hard to explain just why this man is so important to me.

John Marsden is the author of The Tomorrow Series, comprising of 7 books, the first of which is titled Tomorrow, When the War Began. The first book, and indeed the rest, are arguably the most famous and successful Australian books of all time. Many of my American readers will at least be familiar with them. Marsden has written over 30 books in total and I have read many of them. He is my main writing inspiration. He introduced me and many other teens to truth in writing.

I am a true fan girl. When I recently redesigned my study, I was able to bring my books back out and specifically allocated a shelf for teen fiction. Marsden dominates.

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That box set has been out of print for about 10 years I’d say, maybe more. Seven years ago it was my first every ebay purchase, after months of looking, days of waiting, and hours of sweating over how to “snipe”. I think I spent about $120 on those babies when I barely earned $150 a week….and it was totally worth it 😀

And there is more. Another row of teen fiction sits behind this, where Marsden again outnumbers the others. They are currently piled on my desk since I hauled them out to pick a lucky autographee.

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So yeah, I’m a fan.

The talk he gave was phenomenal. He is funny, eloquent without a hint of snobbery, and just plain intelligent and insightful.

Tonight I was given a simple tip on how to read Ulysses. I was told of the importance of status to almost every story one could ever read or write, whether we see loss of status, gained status, maintained status, fought for status…whatever. I was inspired to teach. I was inspired to learn more. I was reminded that the best ways to learn are to watch, to listen, to deconstruct, to break rules, to nudge aside convention. I was taught that language is to be played with. I was taught that stories are everything. On the surface I’ve forgotten some of things he specifically said already but they are stuck with me now and I know they will come back to me when I utterly need them, sitting here at this desk writing, reading, learning.

Last night I sat down with my collection and chose one to be signed. Part of me wanted to take them all and knew some people would do exactly that. But something told me to just take one, to be kind to him and to not embarrass myself if we were only allowed one anyway. Most importantly I think I wanted to come away with just one special prize I will cherish forever.

I did think of the Tomorrow box, perhaps taking a white permanent marker, but instead settled on Dear Miffy.

Dear Miffy is, to my knowledge, the raunchiest of Marsden’s books. It contains alot of strong language, alot of teen sex, and hard subjects. It is written from the perspective of a teen male who has little eloquence and holds many, many character flaws. It is not my favorite of Marsden’s work, but it is by far the work of his that I admire the most. If the right young men pick it up it has the potential to save them. At the very least it would convince any teen that there is fiction out there written for them, that is relevant to them, with nothing held back.

When I chose Dear Miffy to be signed, a part of me did do it to have a unique artifact. Not many would choose it. But my bigger motive was that I wanted him to know that it is more appreciated than he realises.

Of course when it was my turn, I said none of this. I have never been so lost for words or so shy. Old insecurities of not coming on too strong to people came barrelling back in. But he was SO great. I handed him the book and he smiled. He told me he hadn’t signed one of these for a while and I laughed and said I thought that might be the case. He then told me a story about the last one he did sign which was for a grandmother, who had bought it for her three year old grandson no less! Apparently the name ‘Miffy’ was meaningful to the little boy, or it might have even been his name, I can’t quite recall. We both had a chuckle and he told me he told her she should maybe wait a few years to give it to him. I eventually did manage to say to him that when I read it I had never read anything so real, so uncensored. Such words in no way conveyed even a smidge of what I meant to say or what he means to me, but really, what words would?

And that’s really it, I still can’t get my head around what happened tonight.

I met my hero and I know one thing for sure: I make good choices in the people I look up to.

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Myself, Sara and Kim with Mr John Marsden

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He spoke alot about playing with language, so the second I read what he wrote I smiled interpreting it like "good luck" but better, because why rely on luck? :)

He spoke alot about playing with language. When I read what he wrote I smiled, interpreting it like “good luck” but better, because why rely on luck? 🙂

Inspiration

Brief post tonight, as I psych myself up to plug in the usb stick to open Scrivener for the first time in months.

I want to take a moment to shout out to an amazing author and blogger, Catherine Ryan Howard of Catherine Caffeinated.

Catherine’s blog is primarily about self-publishing, in which she has found success with her travel memoirs. Catherine’s ultimate goal is to forge a career as a fiction author through traditional publishing.

Catherine has turned the waiting game to get self-published into a career that pays.

Catherine has helped me set goals:

  1. Write the damn book
  2. Seek agent
  3. If without agent and/or publisher within 2 years, but with no disdainful comments about my writing ability or the story, start path to self-publishing. (Unless I personally make the decision that I need more growth in my writing and the first novel is simply not ‘the one’)

There is alot in between all that including being more active in the writer’s online world, building my blog(s) and giving my readers something worth reading, but above are the core goals. And I am now confident I could self-publish well and maybe even successfully.

And since this provides plan for at least 3 years, unless I get an instant deal (ha), or write the book in 3 months (double ha), I can remain seated in my ‘day job’ for the next three years gaining the skills to part time freelance that work later if I decide to take the leap into self published writing.

I will be honest with myself and all of you. I haven’t written a word in months. But that is about to change. I can’t do this day job forever. I don’t hate it, I am not miserable. But it just isn’t me.

So thanks Catherine, for inspiring both confidence and realism. In your honour, a picture of coffee from a couple of weeks ago. With a double choc Wagon Wheel. And a Kindle since all my real books were still in boxes post move 😛

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