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!