Monday, 23 November 2015

Blogging On

Here are some things I learnt from being Blogger in Residence at the ACT Writers Centre:

1. Being an arts journalist and blogger is fun


2. Having a coffee break won't help you meet your deadlines...

3. Writers can be generous with their time and information (and truly inspiring)

4. The ACT Writers Centre has a great program of workshops (don't be shy - they're for people like you)


5. The writing and arts scene in Canberra and surrounds is vibrant and buzzing with activity - be part of it!

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Rollercoaster: Q&A with Maxine Beneba-Clarke

You have been successful with both prose and poetrydo they come from the same creative place?
I write across genre a lot. I started out as primarily a poet, before moving onto prose and I also write nonfiction. I think of it as using tools from the same tool-box and the same building materials, to fashion different things. Usually I start with the concept or the idea, or even a feeling or event, and the form comes later. Occasionally a short fiction piece will start out as a poem. The story Harlem Jones from my bookForeign Soil started life as a poem called Angry Brown Men Are Going To Burn London To The Ground. The voice in the poem was powerful and I couldn’t abandon it, so I put it in the mouth of a young Black British teenager and kept working on it. The story Hope in Foreign Soil also started out as a long narrative poem written in Jamaican patois called Some Dream Was Brewing.
How do you come up with your ideas? Is there a particular technique that you have found useful for capturing your ‘voice’?
I write mostly from life, even when writing fiction. I’m interested in the ‘ordinarily extraordinary.’ Foreign Soilhas stories set inside Villawood Detention Centre, in Mississippi and New Orleans, in London’s Tottenham in the middle of the 2011 street riots, in an Australian schoolyard in the mid 1980’s. The geography is very loaded and vivid, and often that creates either incredibly intense or incredibly malleable characters as they need to navigate those environments. In terms of my voice, there are so many different ones in Foreign SoilI’m not sure I can even pin-point what mine is.  Except to say that as a writer, the character guides everything. In order to ‘get it right’, I feel I must hand the story completely over to them. The aim, in a sense, is for my voice, or my crafting, not to be visible.
If there was a single word to describe your writing journey what would that be? And why?
Rollercoaster. I always wanted to write, but I never in a million years dreamt I’d have published poetry, fiction, a memoir and a kid’s picture book by the end of next year—or have my work picked up for publication internationally. You hope—of course you have aspirations as a writer—but to have considered these things would happen to my work even five years ago would have seemed absurd to me.
Your work has won a number of prizes over recent years. Were there any significant mentors or supporters who really assisted you when you were starting out?
There are so many—encouraging teachers at high school and at university. I’ve been inspired by a lot of women of colour who were already blazing trails in front of me—writers like Randa Abdel-Fattah, Anita Heiss, Alice Pung, Melissa Lucashenko. There was Jeff Sparrow, the former editor of Overland, who eigth years ago gave me the password to the Overland blog and let me post my poetry there whenever I wanted which suddenly gave me a broad audience. David Ryding, the current director of the Melbourne City of Literature and a former director of The Emerging Writer’s Festival, asked me back to the festival ever year during his time as director, putting me centre-stage back when I had barely published anything at all. Alan Atwood at The Big Issue, who published my first ever feature article. The three judges for the Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript—Paddy O’Reilly, Francesca Rendle-Short and Sam Twyford-Moore, who are all masters of their crafts and without whom my latest book would still probably not have seen the light of day. Erik Jensen, who read my book and offered me work at The Saturday Paper. Sometimes everything’s in place in terms of your skills, and all you need is for someone to come along and offer you a break. Sometimes it’s hard to progress until someone comes along and does so.
If you could have your time as a writer over again, what would you do differently?
There are two short pieces of work I wish I’d never published (I won’t name them), and if I could have my time over, I wouldn’t do so. They weren’t great writing and I’m still unclear about what purpose they served(!). Apart from that, I wouldn’t trade my journey for the world.
You’ve been asked to conduct a workshop for the ACT Writers Centre. In what ways do you think your workshop will benefit emerging writers?
The workshop will teach, or remind, participants of the key components of short fiction, looking at reading examples. It will give them tips on structure, style, narrative voice, characterisation, research, narrative device, dialogue writing, editing and more. Participants will have the opportunity to ‘troubleshoot’ hurdles in their creative process, and to find out more about the submissions and publications process.
Is there any general advice you can give to emerging writers?
Don’t aim to write ‘like’ somebody else. Only you can write like you. Your job is to make that your biggest asset.
This Blog first appeared on Capital Letters, the blog of the ACT Writers Centre.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Hard Work Pays Off for HARDCOPIERS

The ACT Writers Centre HARDCOPY Professional Development Program has paid dividends for emerging writers. Over its two year life, sixty new voices have been nurtured by the combination of professional development and industry connection. Kelli-Anne Moore, ACT Writers Centre Director is delighted. ‘We wanted to give our HARDCOPY participants the tools to give themselves the best chance of having a sustainable career as a writer, and if they choose to embark on their journey to publication, they would do so with their eyes open and aware of the realities of the industry,’ she says.

According to Moore, one of the most important contributions of the HARDCOPY program is the sense of community it has engendered: ‘We love to hear about the connections that the participants have made, with each other, and with the Industry.’ This view is shared the HARDCOPY alumni. ‘HARDCOPY gave me invaluable insights into and access to the Australian publishing industry, the opportunity to connect with other writers in a similar stage of the process (the query game is a lot more bearable with company!) and, critically, the confidence to accept that I was ready to start submitting,’ says Sam Hawke, a 2014 HARDCOPY participant. ‘Since the program concluded I have been picked up by a London agent and am currently preparing for submission to publishers. I’ve also made ongoing wonderful friendships and am looking forward to following the careers of all the HARDCOPY alumni.’

Sam is likely to be busy because the Hardcopiers are a talented group with no time to waste. Leearni Hamilton, one of the 2015 participants says that, ‘Since HARDCOPY I have been working on my YA memoir and making my writing as powerful as I can (writing the tough memories). Recently my memoir was shortlisted for the Templeberg Fellowship in Sri Lanka. While I don't have a publishing deal yet I am very focused on polishing my manuscript with the hope that I can submit to more competitions and agents/publishers in the future.’

Developing an individual voice is something Serina Huang also attributes to the HARDCOPY Program: ‘Since HARDCOPY, I have begun to find my voice. I am becoming more authentic in my writing. I have worked through an issue that was blocking progress with my book manuscript. I am engaging more with readers on my blog. I don’t have a big fat publishing deal (yet), but I have focus. I am reaching within and sharing more, and it feels right. A few months ago I wrote a guest blog post about my Australian-Asian identity. And in the last few weeks I have written about my experience of leaving a physically and emotionally abusive relationship.’

HARDCOPY has inspired a series of related writing projects. In September 2014 four Hardcopiers bonded over a shared love of cultural commentary and joined forces to form the Cringe, an Australian voice on literature, culture and the arts. Launched in October 2014 the site is now celebrating its first anniversary, reflecting on the many articles, short fiction, reviews and profiles to have been featured on its pages, penned by both familiar Australian authors and emerging literary voices. Due to the range of material on offer, the Cringe consistently attracts an audience from around the globe, counting author Jerome Charyn and film director Jeremy Whelehan among its readers. Now edited by co-founders Elise Janes and Ken Ward, the Cringe is constantly evolving to build on its success and continue toward its mission of promoting an Australian voice on culture and arts both locally and around the world.

Three other members of the HARDCOPY alumni, Christine McPaul, George Dunford and Lesley Boland have gone on to establish Softcopy, an online e-journal for emerging writers. Since its launch in May 2015, when Softcopy included contributions from the inaugural HARDCOPY program, it continues to be a success. In its first two days, Softcopy received more than 1000 unique views, proving it is an exciting platform to showcase the work of emerging writers. With fiction and non-fiction submissions open until 30 November 2015, this new offering is an important contribution to the writing landscape. Moore agrees. We love to hear about projects–such as the Cringe blog and the Softcopy anthologyand the support and nurturing that participants are in turn providing other emerging writers,’ she says.

For others, like Jane Abbott, HARDCOPY provided a fillip for an already promising career. Jane wrote her manuscript, Watershed, in 2013. In early 2014 she applied to both the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, and the ACT Writers' HARDCOPY Professional Development Program for Australian Writers (Fiction Edition); Watershed received a commendation in the VPLA, and Jane was one of thirty participants selected for HARDCOPY. Her submission to the final round of the program proved successful and participating literary agent, Gaby Naher, expressed an interest in reading Watershed in its entirety. Subsequently, Jane signed with The Naher Agency in Sydney, and has spent the last six months developing the manuscript to the highest possible standard. In September this year Jane was offered a two-book publishing contract with Vintage Penguin/Random House. Watershed is to be published in June/July 2016.

HARDCOPY has also provided the backdrop for careers associated with writing. An example is Shu-ling Chua, from the 2015 round, who has been selected as the Live: Producer for Noted Festival 2016 (Canberra's experimental writing festival). Shu-Ling attributes being accepted for HARDCOPY as the moment she identified as a ‘writer’. ‘The program and HARDCOPY community have done wonders for my confidence,’ she says. ‘I've written my first-ever paid piece, ‘Love Like Mine’, and I write regularly for BMA Magazine. My manuscript is on the back-burner but for me, HARDCOPY is really only just the beginning.’

Arts worker and writer, Nigel Featherstone, along with the ACT Writers Centre, can be justifiably proud of the many offshoots from HARDCOPY, only some of which are included here. Funding from the Australia Council has been an important factor in the success of HARDCOPY, enabling emerging writers to engage with the writing and publishing industries, and to form connections that have led to a range of creative endeavours. ‘Without the Australia Council funding, none of this would have been possible,’ Moore says. 

This blog post is part of my Blogger in Residence with the ACT Writers Centre and first appeared in Capital Letters 

Monday, 12 October 2015

What Platform is That?

Increasingly writers are expected to be savvy social media users. Eva Bui, Digital Marketing Manager at Penguin Random House Australia, identifies Facebook, YouTube and Instagram as being important platforms for this digital engagement. According to Bui, Australians spend on average 1.7 hours daily on Facebook, ‘It’s the first and last thing we look at each day.’ If your audience is aged 18-34 years, you will need to know how to use YouTube where engaging, personal and short videos are most likely to be successful. Bui argues that relative newcomer, Instagram, is the fastest growing platform and more popular than Twitter. Designed to favour images, Instagram offers a way to connect with your readers in a fun and informal way.

Susanne Gervay, young adult and children’s author, agrees that to reach readers, especially young readers, writers must be on social media. She argues that with bookshops closing, publishers cutting and closing their lists and focussing on high profile names and series, social media is both a blessing and a curse. ‘The blessing is the empowerment to relate to readers through social media and not be dependent on publishers or bookshops for market penetration,’ Gervay says. ‘The curse is that it is new technology that authors must learn and then spend a lot of time working at.’

This is a dilemma for writers who sometimes feel that time spent on social media is time away from the central craft of writing. On the other hand, some social media, such as regular blogging, can be a way of practicing and refining writing skills, or trying new ideas that could lead to a larger project. Social media can build your public profile, help you connect with like-minded individuals and groups, share ideas and images, gather information and help maintain connections that may lead to paid work. Angela Meyer of LiteraryMinded agrees that this is the case, noting that social media helps her in her role as a commissioning editor where she finds the ‘lists’ function on Twitter useful.

Following others on Twitter or using the hashtag functionality in both Twitter and Instagram are ways to keep abreast of writing issues, publisher and agent interests, writing competitions and literary festivals. Angela Meyer follows, ‘A broad mix of writers, journos, bloggers, booksellers, vintage fans, whisky nerds, Bowie-lovers, academics, philosophers, absurdists, ironists, fictional characters, a person who posts a screenshot from the Simpsons every 30 minutes, historians, accounts in languages other than English (maybe languages can just be absorbed), book reviewers, filmmakers, artists and more…’

Meyer’s success points to the possibility for writers to make social media a profitable enterprise. Emily Craven, digital media specialist, is another innovator using digital tools to advantage. She sees digital options as complementing the more traditional book and publishing industries. For her, digital media is inherently creative, resisting the limitations of hardcopy documents. With no single container, no physical form and offering increased accessibility, the digital landscape, Craven argues, opens up opportunity and diversity for writers. Her eBook Revolution is an example of how authors can be successful in both paper and digital literary forms.

Stepping away from the print/digital dichotomy enables writers to choose the platform that best suits their writing purpose and the audience they hope to reach. For example, Gervay argues that social media can promote causes you are passionate about, such as the Room to Read program for which she is an ambassador.

There are many other options available to writers seeking to expand their digital and social media presence. Google Plus, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Ello, Reddit and Wattpad should all be on your radar. Creating your own blog, website and author page on Facebook have become essential professional tools. Gervay argues that, ‘Today an authors’ shop front is their website,’ which is certainly something to think about.

With so much choice, there's no right or wrong way, and definitely no one pathway to publication. As Craven suggests, use the Velcro approach to social media and see what sticks.

This blog post is part of my Blogger in Residence with the ACT Writers Centre and first appeared in Capital Letters 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Characters in a Jar

Recently I posted about how to make a Happiness Jar. If you haven't already started one, now is a great time to create an ongoing source of inspiration for your writing.

How often have you struggled to find an interesting starting point for a character in your short story or novel? You want someone engaging, right, someone you can come to know and (hopefully) understand, someone you care enough to write about.

So here is a neat tip. Randomly choose three slips of paper from your Happiness Jar. These slips will contain something that you wrote down about a happy experience.

You could:
  1. Create a character using the scenes suggested. Unless you are intending to write a memoir, remember that the character is not you - they are just inspired by the experiences you have had. 
  2. Transport the character forwards or backwards in time. Think about how they would respond to this happy experience if they lived a hundred years ago, or some time in the future. 
  3. Imagine what the character would do if they didn't have these happy experiences. Explore how they would feel, what they would yearn for, who they would envy.
  4. How would your character go about seeking out or achieving these experiences? Who would help them? Where would they look? What obstacles would they overcome? Would they be successful or not?
  5. Explore how your character talks about the experience, the longing for it and the sense of pride or anger associated with the search for happiness. Do they sound boastful, wistful, despondent, jubilant, doubtful, curious?

Time to scribble those thoughts down, so happy writing!

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Q&A with Susanne Gervay

Recently I, caught up with Susanne Gervay, ambassador for Room to Read, author of the children’s book series I Am Jack and young adult novel Butterflies

How/when did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I was always a writer, but publication didn’t cross my mind. I thought everyone wrote novels and by eight, I was writing to work out the ‘meaning of life’ or to escape ‘the meaning of life.’ I only became an author when my beloved father passed away. The intensity of the loss was so great, that I needed to write about him. I wrote story after story. Writing and life became intertwined.

Slowly came the realization that I wanted to share my writing. I wanted other people to know that my father was special, that he survived war, prison and migration and protected us all. Then as a sole parent of two young children, I wanted to write for young people, so they’d always feel there’s a friend in their corner – to play with, share growing up, be there for the challenges of life and know they can be all they can be.

Were there any significant mentors/supporters who really assisted you when you were starting out?
My writing group of unpublished writers was a key support in my journey of becoming an author. I developed a lifelong friendship with fellow novice author Moya Simons. We workshopped each other’s writing, shared disappointments and successes. The writers in my writing group all became published in the end, which was a great joy to me and to each other.

The craft of writing for children and young adults might seem challenging to some.  What attracts you to that demographic?
 Writing for young people is challenging as authors face parental, teacher and community gatekeepers. How do you navigate truth with the inbuilt and well-meaning censorship implicit in writing for children and young adults? You tread lightly but do not compromise your commitment to the story and your readers.

Writing down to young people for worthy reasons can never be acceptable. Young people feel and think about everything, except they do not have the experience to navigate life. Writing is partnering them on their discoveries. 

Young people read very differently to adults. If a story reaches them, they will read and re-read it many times. Story becomes part of their search for identity and it is a privilege to travel with them. I receive many emails and cards from adults and children sharing the impact of my I Am Jack books, Butterflies for young adults, my picture books for all ages. 

I receive emails and letters for my books all the time from young readers, parents and teachers. Some emails in response to the I Am Jack books are:

When I knew I Am Jack was true, I imagined myself in Jack’s shoes. I felt sorrowful and sad as Jack had to put up with bullying for a long time. It would have been a burden forever if I was Jack. – K

 My heart just floated into nothing when I discovered that Jack and Samantha were your actual children. – A

My son was a victim of a false gay rumour at a school camp. [Later] they studied I Am Jack. My son's teacher told me that my son finished the book before the class did, participated in the class discussion which he is normally very shy in doing, all because he identified with Jack. Thank you – L

I get bullied at school almost every day and it makes me sick. I just didn't feel like going to school. I pretended to be sick and stay home for the day. I've talked to the School Councillor, I've tried to tell my mum, I've thought of getting back at the bullies, but all these things don't seem to work. But I Am Jack inspired me to tell everyone that I am being bullied. It makes me feel great and today I treated my mother with respect (I wasn't doing that ….) – L

The cemetery scene really resonated with one of my students as both his parents died in Afghanistan. He is comforted by the thought that they are watching over him and that he can talk to them at anytime, just like Nanna and Jack do with Grandad. – R

I love writing for kids and young adults.

When you set out to write, do you have a particular topic or issue in mind? If so, how do you choose it (or perhaps it chooses you)?
I write from a very personal perspective. When something touches me, it swirls in my mind, often for years, until it emerges as the core of my book. For my young adult novel Butterflies, a girl asked me to write about growing up with severe burns. While I initially refused to do it, it wove into my passions on difference, disability, disempowerment/empowerment and giving young women a voice. It was years of thinking and research – interviewing burn survivors, parents, siblings, doctors, firefighters, community until I understood it in my heart. Then I wrote Butterflies. When The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney asked if it could endorse Butterflies. I cried.

Like tempering steel, the process of passing through the fire helps make a person of exceptional quality. Butterflies captures these subtleties for the reader, and gives a stunning insight into a difficult topic.
 – Dr Hugh Martin OAM
President of the Australian and New Zealand Burn Association and
Head of the Burn Unit, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, Sydney.

In a world that is increasingly complex, how do you approach the task of having an authentic voice for younger readers?
As an author for younger readers or adults, it is the same process. You get into the mind and emotions of a character and react to the world as that character does. This is the basis of all stories. An authentic voice means you understand and are that character, know how they react and feel.  For example, in To Kill A Mockingbird the narrator, Scout, is eight years old. The voice is authentic because it reflects a child’s voice and her exploration of an adult world fraught with adult issues of racism, sexual abuse, mental health, group violence, sole parenting and more. It also reflects her journey, understanding, courage, values and who she wants to be within the joys and adventures of being a child in a world that is so new to her.

You’ve been asked to conduct a workshop for the ACT Writers Centre. In what ways do you think your workshop will benefit emerging writers?
At a key level, it provides the opportunity to network with other writers and help establish and/or deepen your creative community. It’s an opportunity to work as a group where ideas and craft issues can be explored, developed and answered.  It demystifies the complex world of publishing which is essential for those entering the world of children’s writing.

Is there any general advice you can give emerging writers?
Read the books of much loved children’s writers. Read school journals and short stories. Establish a writers’ group to share your work, edit, comment, develop your craft, enjoy as well as struggle with the process. Join your local writers centre, go to festivals and participate in the creative life. When you feel ready, submit your work to magazines, journals, enter competitions. Research publishers and what they are publishing. Then submit the appropriate work for the appropriate publisher. Pin your badge of courage on and learn from rejections so you can get closer to your goal.

Do not write for the market. Write from your passion and belief in what you are doing. Publication is precarious, so you need to write something you love and are committed to.

For those who want a quicker process, write on the computer as it makes editing so much easier. Research during your writing process. The internet can be a great friend.

The Biggest tip is to be willing to work on your craft to ensure that your piece is as good as it can be.   

This blog post is part of my Blogger in Residence with the ACT Writers Centre and first appeared in Capital Letters 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Arts Collaboration Anything But Arcane

The New Glass 2015 Writing Competition, an initiative of the ACT Writers Centre and the Canberra Glassworks, is part of an ongoing endeavour to develop collaborative opportunities for glass artists and writers. Kelli-Anne Moore, ACT Writers Centre Director, says the idea for the competition came from the desire to ‘recognise and celebrate the work of writers, and to encourage writers to find inspiration in other art forms’.

2015 winner, Claire Capel-Stanley, was announced at a special event held at the Canberra Glassworks. Capel-Stanley’s piece Victories: On New Glass 2015 was published in the online brochure for the New Glass 2015: Archaeology, Excavation and the Arcane exhibition. In addition, the ACT Writers Centre presented her with a two year membership.
‘Glass,’ Capel-Stanley writes in her essay, ‘Seems to carry with it the whole consignment of human ingenuity: the necessary innovation of function, and the love of ornament.’ This seems a fitting observation not only of glass, but of the collaborative project which wove two strands of creativity into a new form.

Capel-Stanley, a freelance art writer and reviewer, studied Art History and Curatorship at the Australian National University and has worked in various roles in collections and galleries for several years. She is currently Program Manager at PhotoAccess in Manuka, where she manages exhibitions, artist residencies and marketing as well as the education program. ‘I also have an emerging practice which sits somewhere in the middle of writing, drawing and sculpture,’ she says.

According to Capel-Stanley, winning the award is validation of the sometimes invisible efforts of writers: ‘When you are trying to do anything “on the side” of a job, whether that's writing, art, or even making your own jam to sell at the farmers markets, it sometimes feels like an invisible career, something you just did one time by accident.’

Art writing awards and competitions are still uncommon, so the opportunity offered by the ACT Writers Centre and the Canberra Glassworks is innovative and welcomed by both glassmakers and writers. Capel-Stanley sees art writing as a growing field, one that is increasingly of interest to arts organisations, noting that, ‘It's nice to even be able to enter an art writing award, let alone win.’

Collaborations across disciplines provide new perspectives on content and approach – not unlike holding a piece of glass up to the sun and watching where the light refracts. Capel-Stanley suggests these connections are important and can be refreshing for artists and audiences. ‘We have a huge wealth of expertise and creativity in Canberra,’ she says. ‘Collaboration is a great way to introduce diverse knowledge areas to a wider audience, and to participate in a richer and more interesting conversation on current ideas in art, society and culture.’

When asked about what she would say to others interested in entering future art writing competitions, Capel ‑Stanley encourages people from different writing backgrounds to enter. Despite the view that specialist knowledge of technical terms and concepts will be required, she suggests this is not necessarily the case, instead believing that some of the best art writing comes from people who aren't ‘experts’. Capel-Stanley argues that because everyone responds to what they see and feel, art writing is much more accessible than most people imagine. By bringing their individual knowledge and experience into play, art writing is a way of sharing those insights with others. ‘Art can be a really interesting gateway to use as a writer,’ she says.

If you are looking for ways to start your art writing career, Capel-Stanley recommends Siri Hustvedt's book What I Loved for fiction writers and non-fiction writers could try Forty-One False Starts by Janet Malcolm.

The ACT Writers Centre and the Canberra Glassworks hope to encourage writers to explore the fascinating intersection of glass and writing by running a New Glass Writing Competition on an annual basis.

This blog post is part of my Blogger in Residence with the ACT Writers Centre and first appeared in Capital Letters 

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Industry Wrap

Day three of the ACT Writers Centre Intro2Industry sessions wrapped up with eBook Revolution's Emily Craven providing the low down on Indie and digital publishing. She argues that in the digital age, there is no need for authors to think only about 'bound, glued, dead-tree things'. Instead, writers can take the challenge to explore those diverse online mechanisms that enable their ideas to be shared with others.

This doesn't mean that the hardcopy book is dead, far from it. But it does mean that you need to be networked and seek out the best approach for your work.

These days, the options range across podcasts, direct downloads, subscriptions, apps and more.

'We are storytelling animals', so make the most of the opportunities the digital world offers.

The Hardcopy 2015 Intro2Industry program rounded off with a Q&A session provided by freelance editor, Mary Cunnane.

Emerging non-fiction writers now have a better insight into the many ways an author might seek publication. There's no right or wrong way, and definitely no one pathway to publication. As Emily Craven suggests, use the Velcro approach and see what sticks.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Innovation @Hardcopy 2015

Day two of Intro2Industry at the ACT Writers Centre didn't disappoint with an informative line-up headed by digital marketing specialist, Eva Bui from Random House. Her message to writers is to keep up with the digital age and embrace the opportunities for connection offered by technological innovation. Get a FaceBook page, tweet like you're a nightingale, seek out YouTube to reach the 18-34 year age bracket. And Instagram your heart out.

A new session at this year's Hardcopy was from Linda Funnell who shared her experiences at Newtown Review of Books. According to Linda, authors should not look to book reviews for validation, but if your receive a splendid review, don't be afraid to spread the word.

Of course, if you follow Eva's advice and have a strong digital presence, this will be easy.

The day was rounded off by a panel discussion about how to prepare for speaking in public and overcoming the (inevitable) stage fright before confronting your excited fans. My thought on this: make fan interaction a media event so you have something to post to YouTube and Instagram!

Friday, 11 September 2015

I2I @Hardcopy 2015

This morning I had the pleasure of attending the Intro2Industry sessions of HARDCOPY2015 to hear the latest from Charlotte Harper of Editia and literary agent, Jacinta di Mase.

We got down to basics in Charlotte's workshop where participants explored the imperatives facing publishers. While authors struggle with writing that perfect manuscript, publishers are worrying about marketing, rights management, publishing schedules, and the economics of choosing an author who will be noticed and sell. For those non-fiction writers out there, understanding the issues being considered by non-fiction publishers like Editia, Affirm PressText Publishing or Scribe is essential if you want to pitch your work successfully.

Jacinta provided insights into the relationship between non-fiction authors, agents and publishers with real life examples about the vibrancy of the Australian non-fiction book industry. It's not enough merely to have written a wonderful memoir, biography or history. Writers need a back story  why they wrote the piece, their connection to the topic, their credentials to deal with the issue. Authors might also consider whether their work lends itself to other forms such as documentaries or radio programs.

Congratulations to the ACT Writers Centre for once again conducting HARDCOPY. This is a leading professional development program backed by industry interest and commitment.

Looking forward to the sessions tomorrow.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

GNH to HJR: Happiness in a Jar

People keep telling me I look happy. And it's true. I have a general sense of well-being, of contentment and satisfaction with my life.

For me, it's not about having things to be happy, but being happy with the things I have.

Bhutan measures its Gross National Happiness (GNH) based on psychological well-being, health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and living standards.

Perhaps this offers some insight for happiness at a personal level: look after yourself emotionally and physically, make learning a life-long journey, be organised so you can achieve your goals, seek out difference and take in a broad range of experiences, act ethically, contribute to your community, create a garden, make the most of what you have - however much or however little this is.

Another way to know if you are happy is to create what I call your Happiness Jar Rating (HJR). It's simple. Choose a container (jar, pot, basket) and each day write down something that gave you happiness. Put the piece of paper into the container. Before long you have a ready-made reminder of positive, affirming, uplifting and dare I say it...happy memories. At this rate you'll have a seven star rating in no time!

There are fun ways to use your Happiness Jar as inspiration for writing. I'll explore this over the coming weeks.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Glass Half Full

Halfway through my Blogger in Residence for the ACT Writers Centre and time to do a stocktake of the experience so far.

One of the most interesting aspects is that my Residency is like a professional writing position. I submitted a timetable which was accepted and now it is a process of writing to deadlines, something quite different from the day to day free-form creative writing experience where a day or two, or a week or even a month won't make that much difference initially.

An enjoyable part of my Residency has been the professional contact with established writers, editors, bloggers and presenters. Not only have they been generous with their time, but the information they have provided has been inspiring and insightful.

A by-product of the experience is a greater understanding of the activities going on at the ACT Writers Centre. This has been in part due to the wonderful office there, but also through contact with workshop leaders for the spring program.

This brings me to the final thought for today, which is that while writing can be an individual pursuit, I've found that the Residency has enabled a greater sense of connection to the writing community. My Residency has given me more confidence as a writer, and with positive feedback about my blogs, I feel more capable and definitely appreciated.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Spring into Action

It's official. Spring is here.

If, like me, you've experienced a long, hard winter, shake off both Shakespeare ('Now is the winter of our discontent') and all thoughts of G R R Martin ('Winter is coming') and prepare your Writerly Things to Do in Spring checklist. Mine looks like this:

Organise your files - really it's about version control. You might have some pearls in the early versions of stories or the soon-to-be-best-seller, but you don't need to look at them all the time. Whether electronic or paper, put the older versions into a separate folder. It will clear your workspace and your mind. It also prevents you accidentally editing the 'wrong' version, or 'losing' the changes.

Set yourself a writing challenge - if writing matters to you, no more excuses! Get on with it. Can you create 500 words every day for a week? Or write for 24 hours straight? Or write 200 words in every coffee shop in town? Or create a short story in 100 words while you're on the bus to work?

Find a writing buddy - someone who is interested in writing too, who will hold you to account, who will encourage and nourish you and tell it like it is when you share early drafts. Avoid partners/spouses/parents/children/close friends. These people are lovely, but they don't have enough emotional distance for the task.

Enter a competition - yes, everyone else is doing this, but you have to be in it to win it. At the very least you will have a new piece of creditable writing that you may be able to publish elsewhere. If are the winner, fantastic!

Dust off old ideas - take something you have set aside for a while (yes, even for years) and give it a good going over. Change the perspective, introduce a new character, find a different location, try new dialogue, create a new opening sentence or revamp the title.

See, this is why you need to have a good filing system, be prepared to set yourself a writing challenge, have a writing buddy and a competition to send the finished product to.

So spring into action - there's no time to waste.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Softcopy: The Road to Self-Publishing an e-journal

‘The road to publication can be rough, take snacks and a friend’ – Elizabeth Hein

Three of us were crammed into my spare room with homemade muffins, chocolate-chip buns, a whiteboard, a laptop and an idea. We had already met a few times, and the plan was taking shape. We felt bold, excited and a little shaky – we intended to create a literary e-journal for emerging writers.

Last year I was one of thirty writers selected for the HARDCOPY 2014 program at the ACT Writers Centre. It was there that I met two friends, Lesley Boland and George Dunford, who would share the road to publication for Softcopy.

The choice to go digital was something we debated. But not for too long. Forums like Facebook and YouTube have over 13 million users each. In 2004 the amount of time people spent on the Internet was around six hours per week. By 2014 it had risen to 17.5 hours per week. If that seems like a lot, it might surprise you to learn that book readers spend above average time online compared to non-readers. With this in mind, we decided to embark on a pathway to independent online publishing.

One decision down. About fifty more to be made. What do we call the journal? Do we have the technical skills to make it happen? What are our design values? Can we secure the URL we need? How often will we publish? Do we have submission guidelines and will anyone want to submit their work? Will we finish our own stories in time? How will we edit? Assuming we make it to publication, will anybody read it?

Some of these decisions were straight forward. Others required cake, coffee, alcohol.

For the inaugural edition, we decided to focus on our fellow participants from HARDCOPY 2014, with sixteen submissions forming the basis of Softcopy Edition 1. George secured the Softcopy URL and provided suggestions on design. Lesley applied her expert organisational skills to editing and version control. I learnt how to use HTML so our stories could be wrangled into the online environment in a consistent format. We juggled jobs, writing and families while we tried to keep up the tempo to complete publication.

Since its launch in May 2015, Softcopy continues to be a success. With more than 1000 unique views in its first two days, Softcopy has proven to be an exciting platform to showcase the work of emerging writers.

The road from concept, through writing and editing, to publication, was a journey of around six months. When I’m asked what I think the key learnings from this experience have been, three things come to mind:
  1. Have the courage to back your ideas
  2. Build a team that shares the vision and has complementary skills
  3. Never lose sight of the important cultural work that storytelling performs.
A few months on, and with rucksacks stuffed full of ideas, we are ready for the next contour on the cultural landscape.

Softcopy Edition 2 will shortly be calling for submissions from emerging writers.

This blog post is part of my Blogger in Residence with the ACT Writers Centre and first appeared in Capital Letters

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Best Things in Life are Free: Copyright and Me

Not much these days is completely free, but copyright is both free and automatic. Copyright involves your moral authority to assert that you are the creator of your work.

In Australia copyright lasts for seventy years after the death of the author. So if you have written that bestseller, make sure you have made arrangements in your will so that these rights are appropriately managed.

As the copyright holder you can reasonably expect that others will seek your permission to quote from or use excerpts of your work. You should consider registering with the Copyright Agency  to enable others to appropriately seek and pay for licensing/using your work.

Alternately you may wish to make your work public and free for anyone to use. If this is your preference, consider using Creative Commons

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Only in Books?

The question is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant except in a picture book? David Attenborough

The ability to read is one of life's great privileges. Reading allows us to navigate our world and to share the creative and imaginative space with others.

Books, as repositories of knowledge, enable our species to record information and store it for the future. A book is a form of memory.

Some have argued that the book is in decline, somewhat like the elephant, but I would argue that the capacity to digitise also allows preservation. With the invention of the digital age, e-books, digital publishing strategies, online databases and libraries can provide unprecedented access to this cultural form. 

Let's wish a long and happy future for both books and elephants.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

No Ragrets

Blogger in Residence, Christine McPaul, caught up with Angela Meyer of LiteraryMinded to find out about her experience as an author, editor and blogger.

If there was a single word to describe your writing journey what would that be?
Intertextual. I am/my work is completely the product of every text I’ve absorbed.
Do you remember the first time you had something published? Could you describe the way you felt? Could you describe the process you undertook?
It would have been a review in Books+Publishing magazine, but more exciting was my first short story publication – though I can’t remember if it was the one in Hecate or Lip Magazine! I remember the room I was in. I remember the feeling of overwhelming joy bubbling up and the way I exclaimed out loud. I guess I was about 21. Every time I have a story accepted it still feels that good. Sometimes there are a lot of rejections in between. But I’m also lucky enough to have gotten to a point where I am now sometimes asked to contribute to a publication.
Were there any significant mentors/supporters who really assisted you when you were starting out?
Yes. Growing up in regional Australia it was a bit different to where I now live in Melbourne. My Oma used to write and encouraged me early, so did a few influential teachers. But Peter Bishop is someone who really saw something in my work as an adult, before many people did, in my early 20s. Peter was the director of Varuna Writers Centre in the Blue Mountains, and has nurtured many great writers. He read my first novel manuscript when he was travelling around to regional places, meeting with writers, and he gave me the feedback I needed (basically, it’s not great, but keep writing). Then, along with a panel, he chose my next manuscript for a residency at Varuna. We had some great and very real conversations about life, writing, and death. I’ll never forget it. I had come from a place where I felt a little starved, to be honest, of intellectual or philosophical (or even just honest, or raw) conversation, not to mention conversations that go deep into ideas of story, character, literary style, and what it even means to be a writer. That manuscript was unpublishable, too, in the end, but it was absolutely worth writing and working on because I learnt so much about my own concerns as a writer and I was on my way to finding better ways to express them, thanks to Peter’s encouragement, and then many others once I landed in Melbourne.
How did that first publication influence your writing career?
I wouldn’t say the short story had much impact on my ‘career’ as a writer, but it was an encouragement to keep writing them. But the first review – that certainly kicked off a whole, completely unexpected career as a book blogger and professional reviewer, which led to work also as a book industry journalist, and frequent festival chair, and eventually contributed to the range of experience which got me my current job in publishing.
If you could have your time as a writer over again, what would you do differently?
no ragrets
You’ve been asked to conduct a workshop for the ACT Writers Centre. In what ways do you think your workshop will benefit emerging writers?
I’m conducting TWO workshops! And both are aimed at inspiring emerging writers and giving them some mad skillz. I’ve been teaching ‘flash fiction’ for a while, as my book, Captives, is a collection of these tiny stories. I really enjoy introducing students to this small, satisfying form. At the end of the day they’ll even have completed a story or two!
My ‘reading to write’ workshop is very close to my heart. There’s no way my writing would have improved so much over the past ten years if I hadn’t also been such a voracious reader, and someone who had to ‘close read’ books for review, for study, for competition judging, and in my work now as an editor. I will encourage the students in this workshop to see their joyous reading time as something that can also be helpful in their development as writers. (And you get to spend time in the workshop banging on about your favourite book, which is always fun.)
Is there any general advice you can give emerging writers?
Others have said it before me, and better than me, but just read a lot and write a lot. Be dedicated. Love it. And go to those places you fear going to. Your writing will be better for it.

This piece first appeared on Capital Letters, the blog of the ACT Writers Centre, as part of my Blogger in Residence.
Thank you to Angela Meyer who generously answered my questions.