GUEST BLOG: Oh, What Fun! By Anna Campbell

Anna Campbell has been one of Australia’s favourite romance writers for a long time now, charming readers everywhere with her unforgettable characters and turn of phrase.

In this exclusive blog, Anna talks about the F word. Fun.

Recently there has been a spate of very earnest articles about how reading romance can improve your mind, your health, your fine motor skills, and your love life, not to mention help you win the lottery and give you a free mowing service for the next twenty years. I’ve even written one, “Romance Mythbusting”, which appeared in the Queensland Writers Centre newsletter and is now available on my website here.

Anna Campbell 43970006

Author Anna Campbell

While all these articles (including, I hope, mine!) make a lot of sense, I think in many ways they miss the point. Do people read romance because it makes a feminist statement or because it helps people to understand the intricacies of a Regency wardrobe? Well, partly, I’m sure. I have to say I personally love the clothes in a historical romance, but that’s by the by.

However I suspect the most honest answer to that question would be no.

I think people read romance because it’s fun! Even when it’s packed with angst, as some are.

the-wickedest-lord-aliveThere’s the delicious thrill of watching two people who are perfect for each other slowly wake up to the fact – or wake up at the start of the story and struggle past whatever barriers are keeping them apart. Any good romance involves that lovely simmer of sexual tension that frequently blazes out into a full-scale inferno. There’s watching the characters make mistakes and try and correct them, often by making bigger mistakes. There’s great dialogue! Read a Georgette Heyer or a Christina Brooke or a Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and you’ll find yourself chortling away at the way the prickly dialogue goes nowhere near hiding how deeply drawn the hero and heroine are to each other. There’s the chance to go through a profound emotional journey with these people.

And the best fun of all? The fact that if you pick up a romance, you know there’s going to be a happy ending. Whether it’s in a dramatic, emotion-racked story or a sweet romantic comedy, these people will end up together, better, wiser, happier. There’s something marvelously reassuring about that. And when you’re going through a tough time in your own life, believe me, knowing that somewhere holds a guaranteed happy ending is reward enough on its own!

Is that unrealistic? Personally I don’t think so. I don’t believe that all human effort comes to dust. I think most people have as much chance for happiness as unhappiness. Hmm, perhaps you should call me a cockeyed optimist. Or a romance reader!

what-a-duke-daresThis August, I have got a new historical romance out. What a Duke Dares, book 3 of the award-winning Sons of Sin series, was great fun to write (I hope I’m not overusing the ‘F’ word!). Partly because I love the characters – falling in love with your own creations is an occupational hazard in romance. Even if they don’t start out as people you’d want living next door, they often end up that way. Partly because I got to travel through Italy in the company of my hero and heroine and observe how hard they’re fighting against succumbing to irresistible attraction. Partly because I got to hang out with the great and the good in the London season of 1828, not to mention visit a few extravagant stately homes along the way. I must say I’m a sucker for the glamour elements! Partly because when Cam and Pen from WHAT A DUKE DARES finally get their happy ending. They have really had to battle for it. Watching two people work their way, despite everything ranged against them, toward each other is always a wonderful experience.

And I guess there in a nutshell, you have the secret of why reading romance in any setting is fun!

So why do you read romance? Do you think it’s fun? Why?

My website is: http://www.annacampbell.info
You can read an excerpt of What a Duke Dares here.


Sons of Sin Trilogy Pack – Exclusive to Booktopia

Three Great Books – One Low Price!

by Anna Campbell

Click here for more details

Click here for more details

BOOK REVIEW: Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa (Review by Caroline Baum)

here-come-the-dogs-order-your-signed-copy-The energy of this debut novel just leaps off the page. Musa, a charismatic rapper, has successfully translated the idiom and pulse of performance to the page with its syncopated rhythms and hard-edged beats.

Inevitably, he is being compared with his mate Christos Tsiolkas for his full-frontal engagement with contemporary Australian society: in this case, multicultural masculinity with its surges of often misdirected testosterone.

In small town suburbia during a tinder-dry summer, anything could happen. Booze, drugs, violence and a racing dog all help pass the time.

At the centre of this compelling mash up of poetry and prose are three iconic young men: Solomon, a charming Samoan, who has broken up with his girlfriend and is fascinated by Scarlett, a free spirited tattooist; his half-brother Jimmy, who has got himself into trouble, and their Macedonian childhood friend, Aleks.

Musa manipulates language with raw, bracing vitality, offering up a picture of Australia that is not pretty but feels authentic.

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Caroline Baum has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National. She is currently Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

Grab a signed copy of Here Come the Dogs here

Grab a signed copy of Here Come the Dogs here

What Katie Read – The June Round Up (by award-winning author Kate Forsyth)

One of Australia’s favourite novelists Kate Forsyth, author of Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl, continues her monthly blog with us, giving her verdict on the books she’s been reading.

I came home from the ANZ Festival of Literature & the Arts in London with a whole bag of books and am slowly reading my way through them. Quite a few of them are by Australian writers who were speakers at the festival – it seems ironic that I had to travel 17,000 kilometres to discover books I could have bought at my local bookstore!

Here’s what I’ve read this month:


Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy

by Karen Foxlee

I really loved Karen’s mysterious and beautiful novel The Midnight Dress, and once I heard Karen speak about her new book Ophelia & the Marvellous Boy I knew at once that it sounded like my kind of book. I bought the gorgeous hard-back in London, and am glad that I did as the production is just exquisite.

The story revolves around eleven-year-old Ophelia who is smart and scientifically minded. She and her sister and father have moved to a city where it never stops snowing, as her father – who is an expert on swords – has taken up a position in a huge, dark, gothic museum filled with secrets and strange things. Ophelia sets out to explore, and finds a locked room hidden away in the depths of the museum. She puts her eyes to the keyhole … and sees a boy’s blue eyes looking out at her. He tells her that he has been a prisoner for three-hundred-and-three-years by an evil Snow Queen and her clock is ticking down towards the end of the world. Only he can stop her … but first he must escape.

A gorgeously written and delicate fairy tale, Ophelia & the Marvellous Boy reminded me of some of my favourite children’s writers such as Cassandra Golds and Laura Amy Schlitz, who are themselves inspired by Nicholas Stuart Grey and George Macdonald.

Grab a copy of Ophelia and the Marvellous Boy here


Dotter of Her Father’s Eye

by Mary Talbot & Bryan Talbot

Another book I bought in London was what I can best describe as a graphic memoir/biography. Told in comic book form, the story compares the life stories of Lucia Joyce, the daughter of the famous writer James Joyce, and that of the book’s author Mary Talbot, daughter of the foremost Joycean scholar, James S. Atherton.

Both narratives begin with the girls’ childhood and show their struggles to grow up in the shadows of difficult and demanding fathers. Lucia wants to dance, but is confined by the petty societal rules of her time. She ends up confined in a madhouse.  Mary rebels against her father, and forges a life for herself. The book shows how she fell in love with a young artist and married him – he is, of course, Bryan Talbot, the illustrator whose incredible artwork adorns every page.The book is acutely intelligent but highly readable, illuminating both the heartbreakingly sad story of Lucia James and the work of two exceptional contemporary artists. Not surpisingly, Dotter of My Father’s  Eyes won the 2012 Costa biography award.

Grab a copy of Dotter of Her Father’s Eye here


The Spare Room

by Helen Garner

I heard Helen speak in London and thought she was warm and funny and beautifully articulate, so I was very pleased to have her sign my copy of her first novel in sixteen years, The Spare Room. Published in 2008, the novel won a swathe of awards including the Barbara Jefferis Award. It reads more like a memoir, being told from the first person point of view of a writer named Helen living in Melbourne and being inspired by events that actually happened in Helen Garner’s life. However, no doubt many of the people and incidents have been changed during the writing process.

The story is driven by the narrator Helen’s fear and distress, after a dear friend who is dying of cancer comes to stay with her for three weeks while undertaking some kind of quack treatment. The writing is crisp and strong and poised, and the characters spring to life on the page with only a few deft strokes. I loved it.

 Grab a copy of The Spare Room here


Goddess 

by Kelly Gardiner

I’m been a big admirer of Kelly Gardiner’s gorgeous historical novels for young adults, Act of Faith and The Sultan’s Eyes, both of which are set in the mid-17th century, one of my favourite historical periods for fiction. Goddess is Kelly’s first novel for adults, based on the fascinating true life story of Julie d’Aubigny, a woman out of step with her own time (The court of the Sun King, Louise XIV, in Paris during the 1680s).

Raised like a boy by her swordsman father, Julie likes to dress like a man and will fight a duel with anyone who crosses her. One night she fights three duels back-to-back, winning them all. She elopes with a young nun and is sentenced to be burned at the stake, but escapes and becomes a famous opera star. The story of her adventures seems too incredible to possibly be true. The book is told in Julie’s voice – witty, intelligent and wry – and the whole is pulled off with wit and flair.

Grab a copy of Goddess here


A Stranger Came Ashore

by Mollie Hunter

Mollie Hunter is a wonderful Scottish writer for children who is not nearly as well-known as she deserves to be. I have many of her books – some collected when I was a child and some (including a signed first edition) collected as an adult. I first read A Stranger Came Ashore when I was about eleven, after borrowing it from my school library. I’ve been looking for it ever since, but could not remember its name. Then, a month or so ago, I read a brief review of it on an English book blog and at once remembered how much I had loved it, and orderd a copy straightaway.

It’s a Selkie tale, set in the Highlands of Scotland sometime in the 19th century. The novel begins with a storm, and a shipwreck, and a handsome, young stranger washed ashore. As his sister begins to fall in love with the stranger, forgetting her childhood sweetheart, 12-year old Robbie Henderson finds himself becoming more and more suspicious. He remembers an old tale his grandfather used to tell him about seals that turn into humans, but cannot believe it could be true. Soon he is caught up in a dark and suspenseful adventure as he tries to save his sister. A Stranger Came Ashore was rightly acclaimed when it was published in 1975, winning many awards including the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award.

Grab a copy of A Stranger Came Ashore here


The Colour Purplethe-color-purple

by Alice Walker

I saw Alice Walker speak at the Sydney Writers Festival in May, and bought The Color Purple which I had read and adored about thirty years ago (it was first published in 1982 – impossible to believe it’s been so long!) I read it all in one gulp and loved it just as much as I did when I was a teenager. I loved the movie too. This book will always be on my list of all-time favourite books.

Blurb:

Set in the deep American south between the wars, this is the classic tale of Celie, a young poor black girl. Raped repeatedly by her father, she loses two children and then is married off to a man who treats her no better than a slave. She is separated from her sister Nettie and dreams of becoming like the glamorous Shug Avery, a singer and rebellious black woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the support of women that enables her to leave the past behind and begin a new life.

Grab a Copy of The Colour Purple here


 Burial Rites

by Hannah Kent

I finally had a chance to read this brilliant historical novel by debut author Hannah Kent. Burial Rites been a critical and a commercial success, and deservedly so. The writing is so precise and vivid, and the story so compelling. I found myself stopping to read certain sentences again, just for the pleasure of the words: ‘it is as though the winter has set up home in my marrow.’ Burial Rites is set in Iceland in 1830, the last year in the life of a woman condemned to be executed for murder. The use of real historical documents as epigraphs at the beginning of each section adds to the sense of truth and awfulness. A clever and truly beautiful book.

Grab a copy of Burial Rites here


Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler

by Wendy Lower

Sifting through a second-hand bookshop in London, an English editor stumbled upon this self-published memoir of a young Jewish woman in Vienna and – enchanted by her romantic love story and vivid writing style – republished the book.

In 1938 Trudi Kanter was a milliner for the best-dressed women in Vienna. She was beautiful and chic and sophisticated, travelling to Paris to see the latest fashions and selling her hats to some of the most wealthy and aristocratic ladies of Europe. She was madly in love with a charming and wealthy businesseman, and had a loving and close-knit family. Then the Nazis marched into Austria, and everything Trudi knew was in ruins. She and her new husband had to try and find some way to escape and make a new life for themselves … and Trudi would need all her wits and panache just to survive.

Grab a copy of Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler here


Kate FKate Forsyth is the bestselling and award-winning author of more than twenty books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both children and adults.

She was recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite Novelists, coming in at No 16. She has been called one of ‘the finest writers of this generation”, and “quite possibly … one of the best story tellers of our modern age.’

Click here to see Kate’s author page

Rachael Craw, author of Spark, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Rachael Craw

author of Spark

Ten Terrifying Questions
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1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born and raised in beautiful Christchurch, New Zealand, and lived there until earthquakes broke our house and destroyed our neighbourhood in 2011/12. Whenever we go back to visit, the empty green paddocks of the eastside, post-demolition, make my heart sore. I hate that my girls will never know the city I knew, so many of our precious landmarks are gone. Now we live at the top of the South Island in sunny Nelson and I rather fancy my new small-town life. It suits me.

Growing up, I went to Burnside High School where I was greatly inspired by my English teacher Ms McColl. She took our creative writing class to my first ever Writer’s Festival in Dunedin where I sat in the audience moony eyed at the poetry of David Eggleton. At the University of Canterbury I majored in Classical Studies and Drama expecting to train and become a teacher in these subjects. Really, it was the literature in both that I loved the most and I became an English teacher instead.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

I’m not sure about these ages … but when I was 5 or 6 I desperately wanted to be a Solid Gold dancer (think Beyonce in glittering gold spandex + epic afro), around 10, like most of the girls I knew, I imagined a glamorous future as an air hostess, but by 18 I had the acting bug. I did amateur theatre and short films but it was the scriptwriting that got my pulse racing. By 30, I had been teaching for a while but the itch to write was getting harder to ignore.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

That Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer and Danny DeVito would be the best Batman, Catwoman and Penguin of all time. (Batman Returns 1992). While Tim Burton is one of my top 3 directors (heads up: you’ll see locations in my novels named to reflect this) Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) upended this strongly held belief. Though he has retired the cowl, Bale holds my allegiance. If Affleck can win my attention I’ll be impressed. I reserve judgment on any future Penguins or Catwomen (Pfeiffer for the win).

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

For thematic influences I would site my favourite texts to teach in the classroom: Hamlet and Lord of the Flies. Hamlet for the exploration of moral dilemma and the consequences of action or inaction. Lord of the Flies for the exploration of human nature and poking at the flimsy scaffolding that keeps us from savagery. At University I loved Oedipus for the question of freewill versus predestination. In a somewhat less grandiose scale I have begun to attempt my own experimentation with these concepts.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

Word-Lust

6. Please tell us about your latest novel…

Spark is a story about friendship, loyalty, courage and love mixed with a synthetic gene that creates guardians and killers known as Shields and Strays. Evie learns that she is a Shield, genetically engineered to save the life of her best-friend who is being stalked by a Stray.

Evie strives to learn how to use her new psychic and physical capabilities while managing grief, learning to live with her aunt and struggling to fit in at a new school. Added to these pressures is the complication of falling in love with a boy who is completely off-limits and totally irresistible.

Spark is the first novel in a sci-fi/crossover trilogy.

Grab a copy of Spark here

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?

A sense of investment in my imaginary world, that they’ve journeyed with characters they love and or loathe, that they give enough of a damn they’d want to visit again in the future.

8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?

My favourite writer of all time is Margaret Atwood. I fell in love with her work when I was a teenager and the novelty has never really worn off. In contemporary literature I’ll read anything Kate Atkinson sets her pen to. Isabel Allende, for magical realism and Alice Hoffman too. In YA, I love Patrick Ness and the astounding Elizabeth Knox.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?

I would love to have readers from all over the globe discover my imaginary world, emotionally invest and embrace the characters, grieve their losses, rejoice in their triumphs, and then argue about it all online, print t-shirts with their favourite quotes, swarm at conferences, throw my books across the room when their favourite characters die, lose sleep to finish a chapter, fake sick days to stay home, neglect their chores and families because they’d rather read, text their friends when they’re watching TV and they spot someone who’d be perfect to play a character from the book in a non-existent movie adaptation, create playlists that remind them of the story and re-read, and re-read because it’s just like visiting old friends. I dream of this because these are things I’ve done with books I love.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?

I am an aspiring writer and I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like I’ve arrived, mostly because I’m never satisfied. From the beginning I wanted to be good more than I wanted to be published so I have always been hungry for the best counsel and the most honest criticism, to learn the craft and keep learning, refining, exploring and taking risks. Unpopular concepts like sacrifice, hard work and commitment are the price you’re willing to pay to realise a dream but passion, faith and obsession is what keeps you going.

Rachael, thank you for playing.

Grab a copy of Spark here

GUEST BLOG: Notes from the Other Side by Jo Riccioni, author of The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store

9781922070883

I can remember the exact moment I started crossing over to the Other Side, the first time I made that tentative transition from happy avid reader to somewhat less contented beginner writer. It was ten years ago, almost to the month. I recall it so precisely because I came to writing comparatively late in life.

As a child, I was a bookworm but I wasn’t an endless scribbler, never kept diaries or notebooks, and didn’t always long to be a writer. My first attempt at writing fiction was made somewhere between mashing pumpkin and changing a nappy, and I found that my 8-month-old was cutting his teeth at about the same time as I was cutting mine on short stories.

I wish I could say it was a lot more romantic than that, but the truth is that writing rarely is. It’s an odd little obsession, practised by a surprisingly diverse set of people, in the face of all sorts of obstacles and knock backs. For me it started out as mummy therapy: a lifelong love of reading, meets a new laptop and a baby monitor on the kitchen counter.

Two months ago my first novel, The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store, was released in Australia. So how did I get from a laptop in the kitchen to a publishing contract? In short, with baby steps. It took ten years for me to hold my own novel in my hands. Here are a few of the things I’ve picked up on my trip to the Other Side, things I’m still learning about writing and publishing, and a few I wish someone had told me sooner.

1: It’s Hard, But Not Impossible

The first short story I wrote gave me a ridiculous sense of accomplishment: it came in second out of a whopping 52 entries in a local writing competition. I was ecstatic. I signed up for an evening course for beginner writers at my nearest community college. I read some famous books about writing. And then I went along to a day seminar at a regional writers’ centre to discover all about that Holy Grail: ‘Getting Published’. For four hours I sat there intently taking notes while a panel of novelists and publishers detonated the industry from the inside out. My writing ambitions (never overly robust to begin with) were left in smouldering ruins somewhere under my chair.

‘If you can do anything else that makes you happy or makes you money, then do that because writing sure as hell won’t make you either,’ a novelist told the audience.

‘The reality is that even good novels are getting passed up regularly in today’s uncertain climate,’ an agent announced bleakly.

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Author Jo Riccioni

‘There’s no such thing as manuscripts being picked up from the slush pile anymore,’ a publisher admitted. ‘We don’t even have a slush pile, we just have a bin.’

I went home and did what any self-respecting wannabe author could do. I filled a large glass of wine, opened my laptop and carried on writing.

But I didn’t bury my head in the sand either. And I don’t deny that I probably needed to hear what those industry experts had to say. However, what I took issue with was their attitude. It seemed to be all jaded doom-and-gloom, topped with a smidgeon of insider condescension. And yet I’d read three or four Australian debuts that year alone, so I knew there had to be gaps in that publishing stronghold, passages into the fortress somewhere.

Some time later, in a fit of masochism, I took a job in a bookshop. I highly recommend it as a gauge of serious intention to all aspiring writers. Book selling has to be the bracing cold shower to any writer’s burning ambition, especially if you’re writing literary fiction. If you’re still typing away after sending back boxes of unsold new releases, then you really have got it bad.

The flip side to this, however, is that unpacking all the new books means you get to see what’s trending in publishing, what’s actually selling and sometimes (not often but, reassuringly, sometimes) those books are works by new writers. The industry has to have new material. It needs fresh voices. It’s looking for the next big thing, or even the next medium-to-fairly-modest thing. And until you actually write, how do you know you’re not the person to give it to them?

I’m happy to say things appear to have changed a little since that first seminar I attended. Several publishers started accepting unsolicited manuscripts in a more structured way a few years ago and others have followed suit. Check out Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch; Penguin’s Monthly Catch, Pan Macmillan’s Manuscript Monday and Hachette’s open submissions, among others.

2: “Overnight Success” is a Marketing Construct.

Ten years after I wrote my first short story, I got a jiffy bag in the mail. Inside it was the finished copy of my debut novel. Sounds great, right? I really showed them, didn’t I? Almost … if it wasn’t for the ‘ten years’ part, maybe?

But ten years is what it took and those years are precisely the important bit, I now realise. I wasn’t actually writing the novel that whole time: I was learning how to write something publishable. Novels might be discovered by a publisher overnight but they certainly aren’t written overnight. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that, in the majority of cases, the publication of a book and its apparent ‘wildfire’ success shouldn’t be confused with its gestation or the period of apprenticeship the novelist took to get to the point where she could write that book. Whether that apprenticeship took the form of a series of ‘bottom drawer’ novels, or years writing short stories and poetry, or studying creative writing, or even simply a lifetime of careful reading, it is still an apprenticeship of sorts. Becoming good at anything takes time and patience, and writing is no exception. For me, starting to write felt like learning to read all over again – this time as a writer.

97805529920463: Get Help

I’ve been a long-term student of literature as well as a teacher of it, and no one ever criticised me for wanting to learn to be a better reader. I’m at a loss, then, as to why creative writing courses (namely, learning how to be a better writer) should be so frowned upon by some in the literary community. Perhaps we secretly want to think of great writers as being born, not trained? Otherwise, anyone could have a pop at a novel, couldn’t they? And then the intrinsic merit of writing as an elusive (or should that be exclusive?) art form would surely be devalued? I was as guilty as anyone of believing this when I was a young literature under-grad. And then I started meeting novelists and learning about how they work.

Many excellent writers never finish a novel while some pretty average ones manage to publish a whole shelf full. It’s Edison’s famous quote about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. A good quality writing course can help teach you to read as a writer (analysing structure, voice, narrative arc and the technicalities of the written form), but it can also offer practical tips for carving out the time to write, managing unproductive attitudes to your work, setting goals and deadlines and giving industry insights from other writers, publishers and agents about how to begin getting your writing into the public eye.

Writing courses can’t write your novel for you, though, and signing up for them continuously without putting in the hard yards is kind of like trying to train for a marathon by only studying a sports science manual. At the end of the day, it’s just you, your keyboard and 100,000-odd words (see below). But, forewarned is forearmed, and a good teacher or mentor can make that prospect seem a hell of a lot less scary to a beginner writer.

4: Being a Writer Means Actually Writing

I wish I had another novel for every time I’ve heard an aspiring writer (including myself) say: ‘I just don’t have the time to write.’ There are lots of valid reasons why we tell ourselves we can’t write, but most of these rapidly lose credibility if, in the next breath, we go on to analyse the latest plot twists of Breaking Bad or who got voted off The Voice. Yes, novels take time. They take a ridiculous amount of time. And yet the average Australian adult manages to dedicate 13 hours a week to watching TV, pretty much without thinking about it. Perhaps I’m being harsh. But sacrifices have to be made. Ask the tough questions and if writing doesn’t come out on top, then give yourself a break. Let someone else write the novels. There’s nothing wrong with that. Life’s too short to put yourself over the rack for something that’s not a genuine priority.

Having said that, once I’d decided it was a priority, I wished someone had told me that writing productivity does not necessarily increase when you reduce other professional work. I found that I wrote as many words when I had a part-time job and young children as I did when my kids were older and I quit work to finish my novel. And I’ve heard other writers speak of a similarly unproductive relationship with ‘too much writing time’. Sometimes all you’re doing is giving yourself even more hours to procrastinate. I wish I’d kept my day job. Then I’d have a novel and new shoes. Lack of time can sometimes make you more productive.

5: “There is no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing.”

I’m a firm believer in John Irvine’s famous quote. Most of my time spent writing, whether it’s short stories or novels, is spent editing. And any small success I’ve had with getting my work published has been because I’m reluctant to let it 9780552992053go out into the world until it’s the best I can make it. (Even when I’m thoroughly sick of it, I’m more likely to file it away than put it out there, if I don’t think it’s ready). You often only get one shot with an agent or publisher, so don’t get so excited at finishing your draft that you forget it’s still a draft. Make it the best it can be and get help if you think you need it.

6: Getting Published is the Easy Part

I know, I know, don’t you hate hearing published writers say this? I used to convince myself they were lying, that they were saying it to big note themselves, or because they derived a martyr-like satisfaction recounting the endless hardships of the writing life. What is there post-publication that could seriously be harder than getting up at 5am in the middle of winter to a blank screen, having decided to cut three chapters and four months’ work? Or, knowing in your heart you’ve got to get rid of a character and feeling like you’re murdering someone in the family? Surely it’s so much easier to do all this with the comfort of a publisher in the wings?

Well it’s not. I got signed by a publisher before my novel was completed and the security that offered was definitely offset by knowing I was writing to please someone else not just myself. Getting signed also didn’t preclude a scenario almost worse than not getting published at all, and that is thinking you’re getting published, only to have your book rejected at the last. I managed to avoid this but it does happen to writers at all stages of their careers. I wished someone had told me that ongoing performance anxiety was par for the course in the writing life. Thankfully, I’ve just recently discovered the excellent conversations between Charlotte Wood and Alison Manning in a Mind of One’s Own, which pull apart many of the psychological hurdles writers face and the self-sabotaging blocks to writing. They’re like an ‘on-demand’ pep talk and I’ve found them a great help.

Before my novel was released, the only end result I focussed on, like most debut writers, was getting that published book in my hands. I now know that really is just the beginning. When I was writing the novel, I was so engrossed in its world, in my artistic integrity, in making it the best it could be, I was barely aware of the book as a business proposition, a product. And that’s the way I wanted it. But the moment a book gets released, there’s no denying it becomes a commodity the author must help shift. I found I was changing hats again, not from consumer to creator this time, but from creator to promoter.

As much as I’d tried to familiarise myself with the post-publication world, I wasn’t prepared for just how involved I had to be in the actual marketing of my book. I’d made the grave mistake of thinking I could take some much-earned downtime between finishing my proofs and the book hitting the shelves. But this is in fact the busiest time for a writer. This is the time to take leave from your day job. This is the time to get out all those notes you took at that Marketing Your Book course you were smart enough to enrol in before it actually got published (and, no, I was not smart enough to do it before publication). This is the time you should be tweaking websites, spruiking social media, and offering giveaways in advance of release, setting up interviews, events with local libraries, bookshops and book clubs, and writing features that may help plug the book. Don’t assume your publicist is going to secure any of this for you. Don’t assume you are going to be able secure any of this for yourself, either. Debut fiction, especially the literary kind, is notoriously difficult to promote – which goes hand-in-hand with debut fiction being notoriously difficult to get published. Difficult, but not impossible.

There is plenty you can do and plenty of resources to teach you how. Take the knock-backs on the chin, keep plugging away, and continue until you get some takers to profile your book. After all, getting published was the easy part: you should be up for a little challenge by now!

________________________

Jo Riccioni’s debut novel, The Italians at Cleat’s Corner Store, is published by Scribe in Australia and the UK. Her short stories have been published in Best Australian Stories 2010 and 2011, The Age and the Review of Australian Fiction. She has a Masters in Medieval Literature, is a Varuna Fellowship Alumna and also a graduate of the inaugural Faber Writing Academy in Sydney.

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What Cathryn Read – The May Round Up (by bestselling author Cathryn Hein)

Popular Australian novelist Cathryn Hein, author of Rocking Horse Hill, Heartland and more gives her verdict on the books she’s been reading.

I had a slow reading month and didn’t get as many books read as I would have liked, but those I did read were excellent. Some made me cry. Always good! Unless it’s on public transport…

Here’s what I’ve read this month:


Marina

by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I’m a total Ruiz Zafón fan girl. I thought nothing would overtake The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game as my favourite Zafóns but Marina has. The moment I finished all I wanted was to read it again. Set it a wonderfully evoked Barcelona, Marina tells the story of young Oscar Drai and his relationship with the mysterious and beautiful Marina. Together they uncover one of the city’s darkest secrets. With Gothic horror, love, adventure and truly gorgeous writing, this held me captive from the opening page. Brilliant.

Grab a copy of Marina here


Outback Blaze

by Rachael Johns

Johns has done it again with another delightful tale from Bunyip Bay. Her knack for detailing the warmth and bonds (and sometimes failings) of small rural communities has been proven in previous tales like Jilted, Man Drought and Outback Dreams, but in Outback Blaze the Bay and its workings are drawn even more vividly. Nothing like a mysterious fire to bring a town together and the gossipmongers out! Drew, the local policeman with a secret, and Ruby, a woman carrying her own heavy past, are adorable characters that I loved from the get-go and it was huge fun to follow them on their journey to happiness. Heart-warming rural romance with a nice touch of mystery.

 Grab a copy of Outback Blaze here


Being Jade

by Kate Belle

I was fortunate enough to score an advance review copy of Being Jade and am so thrilled I did. What a book!

I thoroughly enjoyed Belle’s debut, The Yearning, but this is even more accomplished. The story is cleverly written from alternating point of views, swapping between poor, dead Banjo and his daughter Lissy as they try to unravel the truth behind Banjo and Jade’s marriage. A riveting, complex and beautifully written tale of love, betrayal, tragedy, and the difference between love and sex. This book made me think. A lot. And snivel embarrassingly on the train. Can’t recommend it highly enough.

  Grab a copy of Being Jade here


The Perfect Wife 

by Katherine Scholes

Another author whose books are an auto-buy for me and The Perfect Wife didn’t disappoint.

Set in the late 40s in Tanganyika in East Africa, it follows young Australian woman Kitty Hamilton as she tries to live up to her husband Theo’s expectations of a proper wife. Scandal has forced Theo to take a government post in its groundnut scheme, far from his aristocratic roots, with the hope this new life will rebuild their marriage.

There is so much going on in The Perfect Wife: the power of art, the affects of war, class snobbery, the loss of dreams, colonialism, a subtle love story. All combining to create another sweeping Scholes read. Great stuff.

Grab a copy of The Perfect Wife here


Hein, CathrynThanks Cathryn Hein, we look forward to seeing what you have read next month!

Cathryn Hein was born in South Australia’s rural south-east. With three generations of jockeys in the family it was little wonder she grew up horse mad, finally obtaining her first horse at age 10. So began years of pony club, eventing, dressage and showjumping until university beckoned.

Armed with a shiny Bachelor of Applied Science (Agriculture) from Roseworthy College she moved to Melbourne and later Newcastle, working in the agricultural and turf seeds industry. Her partner’s posting to France took Cathryn overseas for three years in Provence where she finally gave in to her life-long desire to write. Her short fiction has been recognised in numerous contests, and published in Woman’s Day.

Now living in Melbourne, Cathryn writes full-time.

Click here to see Cathryn’s author page

Rocking Horse Hill

by Cathryn Heinrocking-horse-hill

Who do you trust when a stranger threatens to tear your family apart?

Ever since she was a little girl, Emily Wallace-Jones has loved Rocking Horse Hill. The beautiful family property is steeped in history. Everything important in Em’s life has happened there. And even though Em’s brother Digby has inherited the property, he has promised Em it will be her home for as long as she wishes.

When Digby falls in love with sweet Felicity Townsend, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, Em worries about the future. But she is determined not to treat Felicity with the same teenage snobbery that tore apart her relationship with her first love, Josh Sinclair. A man who has now sauntered sexily back into Em’s life and given her a chance for redemption.

But as Felicity settles in, the once tightly knitted Wallace-Jones family begins to fray. Suspicions are raised, Josh voices his distrust, and even Em’s closest friends question where Felicity’s motives lie. Conflicted but determined to make up for the damage caused by her past prejudices, Em sides with her brother and his fiancée until a near tragedy sets in motion a chain of events that will change the family forever.

Rocking Horse Hill is a moving family drama and passionate love story from the author of Heartland.

Grab a copy of Rocking Horse Hill Here

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure, in conversation with Caroline Baum

Little Failure

A Memoir

by Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart‘s loving but mismatched parents dreamed that he would become a lawyer, or at least an accountant, something their distracted son was simply not cut out to do. Fusing English and Russian, his mother created the term Failurchka-‘Little Failure’-which she applied to her son. With love. Mostly.

A candid and deeply poignant story of a Soviet family’s trials and tribulations, and of their escape in 1979 to the consumerist promised land of the USA, Little Failure is also an exceptionally funny account of the author’s transformation from asthmatic toddler in Leningrad to 40-something Manhattanite with a receding hairline and a memoir to write.

‘Gary Shteyngard delivers big time with Little Failure. Told with fearlessness, wisdom and the wit that you’d expect from one of America’s funniest novelists.’ Carl Hiaasen

About the Author

Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972. In 2007 he was named one of Granta’s Best Young American novelists. His debut The Russian Debutante’s Handbook was widely acclaimed (and won the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction), as were his second, Absurdistan (one of the 10 Best Books of the Year in the New York Times) and Super Sad True Love Story (which won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize). He writes regularly for the New Yorker.

Grab a copy of Little Failure here

REVIEW: From a Distance by Raffaella Barker (Review by Terry Purcell)

Raffaella Barker is an established English writer whose latest novel From a Distance tells an engaging, heart-warming story commencing with war weary and battle scarred young soldier Michael finally returning to England from the Far East in the spring of 1946.

Instead of heading north to see his parents and fiancée, he heads south to Cornwall with no set plan other than to find a way disconnect from his six long years of war.
In Cornwall he is made welcome by strangers and quickly fits into an artists’ colony and finds new friends and work which helps to heal the emotional and mental scars inflicted by the war.

Barker’s post war Cornwall is a warm welcoming place full of interesting artistic people where the rigours of rationing and shortages seemingly have little impact on this remote and fertile part of England, all of which contributes to Michael’s recovery and his ultimate acceptance of the need to return to his parents and fiancée.

The author also introduces us to Luisa, her family of teenage children and teacher husband, in a small seaside town in Norfolk in May 2012.  Into her life, and that of her extended family, comes Kit, a wealthy bachelor who has just inherited a local redundant lighthouse.  Raffaella Barker

I like this book and particularly admire the clever yet believable way Barker seamlessly brings the several strands of the story together with a surprising yet heart-warming conclusion.

When preparing this review I happily re-read the book, something rare for me, yet doing so reminded me of this author’s ability to create warm and believable characters – it is a book for those who like engaging stories.  I look forward to reading some of the author’s earlier books which have just been re-issued.

Terry Purcell is a solicitor and was the founding director of the Law Foundation of NSW. He is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog.

Grab a copy of Raffaella Barker’s From a Distance here

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REVIEW: A War of Words by Hamish McDonald (Review by Justin Cahill)

A War of WordsBut for an accident of history, we would know very little about Charles Bavier. The chance delivery of his papers to the journalist Hamish McDonald saved him from oblivion. Even then, it was only after 20 years research that McDonald was able to shed more light on this extraordinary figure.

Born in Japan to a Swiss merchant and his lover in about 1888, Bavier was promptly deserted by his father, who left him with his Japanese mistress. Caught between two cultures at a time of increasing paranoia against the West, Bavier left Japan. He ended up in Australia where, anxious for military glory, he joined the Army and served at Gallipoli. There, his background and interest in military strategy did not endear himself to his commanding officers.

As the War’s irresolution played itself out twenty-five years later, Bavier was caught up in the shadowy propaganda battle against Japan. His task ? To persuade Japanese troops determined to die, by their own hand if necessary, to surrender. By chance, Bavier’s son, John, was also assigned this work. He enlisted in the Australian Army and carted recordings of his father’s exhortations to cease hostilities to the front at Bougainville and played them to Japanese troops.

Hamish McDonald

Hamish McDonald

As a result of these efforts, about 4000 Japanese surrendered. Ranged against the Pacific War’s heavy casualties, it was a drop in the bucket. Yet it was an important demonstration of the Allies’ commitment to political and personal freedom.

This unique book has stayed with me, throwing up questions long after being read. Of particular interest is McDonald’s account of the rise of fascism in Japan. All too often, we get the usual, shop-worn versions of the rise of Nazi Germany. Accounts of Japan’s struggle to find its place in the World, with its archaic Samurai code leading it to disaster, are rare. The sheer impunity with which its Imperialist faction assassinated its way to power makes Hitler’s Brown Shirts look distinctly amateur.

More poignantly, McDonald gives us a portrait of a ‘man alone’. How does such a man, cast off between Asia and Europe, make his way in life ? How does he survive when his worlds come brutally into conflict ? How does he build and sustain relationships ? This is not simply the story of a man caught up in unusual circumstances. It is a lesson in survival which offers a fresh, intriguing view of part of our national history.

Grab a copy of A War of Words here


Justin Cahill is an historian and solicitor, his university thesis being on the negotiations between the British and Chinese governments over the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

His current projects include completing the first history of European settlement in Australia and New Zealand told from the perspective of ordinary people.

He is a regular contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Heckler’ column.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Mandy Sayer, author of The Poet’s Wife, in conversation with Caroline Baum

Grab a copy of The Poet’s Wife here

the-poet-s-wifeThe Poet’s Wife
by Mandy Sayer

In the follow-up to her bestselling memoir, Dreamtime Alice, Mandy Sayer tells the story of the ten years she and Yusef Komunyakaa spent together, first as lovers, then as husband and wife.

Even though we’d grown up in vastly different cultures and countries, we’d both known poverty, domestic violence and the expectation that neither one of us would ever amount to anything. That was probably what united us more than anything: our shared defiance of that prediction.

She tap-danced on street corners for people’s small change. He was an out-of-work university teacher, poet and Vietnam vet. She was white and from Australia. He was black and from the Deep South. They met on Mardi Gras, New Orleans in 1985. She was twenty-two. He was nearly forty.

They fell in love. They married. What happened next will thrill, move, perplex and enrage you. It will break your heart.

The Poet’s Wife tells the story of the ten years that Mandy Sayer and Yusef Komunyakaa spent together, first as lovers, then as husband and wife. During that time he became a famous poet, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, the highest honour for poetry in the United States, and a university professor.

At the same time, Mandy became a writer, winning the Vogel Prize for young Australian writers for her first novel, Mood Indigo. She is now an acclaimed author and journalist and has written two award-winning memoirs, Velocity and Dreamtime Alice. The Poet’s Wife traces her life from the end of Dreamtime Alice, and again confirms Sayer’s place as one of our most lyrical and most courageous writers – memoirist like no other.

Praise for Dreamtime Alice: ‘A reminder of just how dynamic a memoir can be…spellbinding.’ – Interview

‘A joy to read…tells a story more vivid and unlikely than many modern works of fiction…Sayer tells her story colourfully, humorously and without a skerrick of self-pity…Trees would have died happy for once, if they’d known they would end up as the pages of such a special work of art.’ – The Bulletin

About the Author

Mandy Sayer won the Australian-Vogel Award in 1989 for her novel Mood Indigo. She has written five works of fiction, edited one anthology (with another due for publication later this year), and written two memoirs, Dreamtime Alice, which won the 200) National Biography Award and Velocity, which won the Age Non- Fiction Prize. She lives in Sydney.

Read Caroline Baum’s Review

Mandy Sayer’s third volume of memoir about her marriage to acclaimed black poet Yusef Komunyakaa is like a car crash – you just can’t look away. It begins with a shocking episode of violence that helps prepares the reader for the emotional rollercoaster ahead. Told with raw candour, it documents a passionate, toxic relationship in which jealousy, suspicion and dishonesty wreck the hopes of a couple who should have everything, given their love and their talents. But there is too much baggage here. Loss, mental illness, racism and poverty erode intimacy and corrode what started off as shiny.

Despite this, Sayer begins to write herself into another life. Slowly but surely as Yusef wins the Pulitzer and becomes more and more successful, she too finds her voice, gains recognition and confidence and steps away from the lies and paranoia to emerge from the wreckage strong and determined.

Grab a copy of The Poet’s Wife here

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