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

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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.

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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!

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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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A Booktopia Exclusive: Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu

Booktopia is so excited to be in an exclusive partnership with New South Books to present the debut novel of Arjun Basu.

If you’re a fan of twitter, chances are you’re a fan of Arjun Basu. Arjun has over 142,000 followers on twitter, where his 140-word short stories have drawn a huge following and a mountain of imitators.

We caught up with Arjun to chat about his new book, writing career, and spiffy tracksuits.

Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu

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9781770419971Q: Where did the idea for Waiting for the Man come from?

A: This is a long long story. So sit down. Throw another shrimp on the barbie (oh dear, I am so so so so sorry about that, I promise I won’t go down the sordid and silly road of national stereotypes again…). Waiting for the Man starts with images: a man on his steps. A man lying in tall grass. A road trip pit stop. And then these varied images started to coalesce. The first part of the book I ever wrote, a long time ago, is what we read at the end of the book. The last few pages. It was a snippet of a short story that I liked and filed away. And somehow the image within it kept coming back. And then one day I realized these disparate elements were all part of the same story. Did I answer the question? Are we still on speaking terms? I truly am sorry for the shrimp on the barbie thing. I think I had to get it out of my system. At least I didn’t say “g’day” right?

Q: What was it like to translate that idea into a full novel?

A: It is a long and drawn out process and involves quite a bit of drinking. And pacing. And the judicious use of hammocks.

Q: Waiting for the Man tackles some big issues about happiness, media, and celebrity culture. Would you say this novel offers some life advice?

A:  I am not offering advice to anyone. Really. I don’t even take my own advice. This is not a self help book and I’m not a life coach. I can’t ever be a life coach because I look silly in a track suit.Basu_Arjun

Q: What would you do if you encountered the Man?

A: I would run in the opposite direction and I would never stop running. Unless I owned a really spiffy tracksuit.

Q: You already have thousands of fans on Twitter that love your “Twisters.” Can they expect to find the same wit and humour in your novel?

A:  I hope so. Though let’s admit that we’re speaking of two very different mediums that are only connected by the use of words and punctuation. I like to think I’m funny, but that’s not really for me to judge. There is no bigger boor than the loud guy who laughs at his own (unfunny) jokes.

Q: Did you find it difficult to continue writing your Twisters while writing Waiting for the Man?

A: No. The Twisters are kind of mental therapy. Gymnastics even. They use a different part of the brain. Or I should say adjacent. The parts of the brain used for Twisters and for novel writing are like those hotel rooms with those locked doors that you hope are permanently locked but are probably opened up for large families, raucous bachelor parties and sales conventions.

9781770419971Q: Waiting for the Man is set in New York, yet you’re in Canada. What about this novel makes it able to resonate across borders?

A:  First, the story was originally going to be set in Montreal. I think any Montrealer will recognize the idea of a guy sitting on his front steps as a very Montreal thing. The front stoop is a part of Montreal’s architectural vernacular. But then the story took over and it demanded to be set in New York. On one level, this novel is very American. But on a deeper level, it is a universal exploration of something very human, and very basic.

Grab a copy of Waiting for the Man here – exclusive to Booktopia

Q: Food is featured a lot in your novel, from mundane pieces of pizza, to home-cooked lunches, to saucy ribs. Does food have a special significance for the story?

A: Food does feature in the story. But quite a lot of human things are featured. I mean, the novel is populated with humans! Eating. Sleeping. Bodily functions of all sorts. The little things that make us what we are. I might be more food obsessed than a lot of people but I think our culture is pretty food obsessed right now. And has been for a while. I mean, for the longest time I thought the best magazines in the world were the food magazines coming out of Australia.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: I’m writing. Another novel. I can’t believe I’m diving into this again, so soon, but I have this idea that I can’t let go so I’m going to see where it takes me. Interestingly, the main character is someone who came out of my Twisters. It’s grown to become more complex, naturally, but this novel, which is threatening to be quite a big one (much longer than Waiting for the Man) got its start in 140 characters. The door between the adjoining rooms must have been open. Perhaps for a raucous bachelor party.


Grab a copy of Waiting for the Man here

Don’t miss Booktopia’s Finest at the 2014 Sydney Writer’s Festival

Looking for things to see at The Sydney Writer’s Festival?

Come along and hear some experts from Booktopia chat about the wonderful world of books…

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GUEST BLOG: Flash Fictions – Key Words and After-Images by Angela Meyer

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

There’s a very short story by Franz Kafka, called On the Tram, where the narrator, ‘unsure of his footing in this world’, watches a woman move towards the steps, ready to alight. He is taken in completely by this vision:

She is as distinct to me as if I had run my hands over her.

He describes her appearance and dress, ending with this:

Her small ear is close-set, but since I am near her I can see the whole ridge of the whorl of her right ear and the shadow at the root of it.

He wonders, at the close of the story, how she is not amazed at herself.

The narrator never tells you that the woman is attractive, or beautiful, but she comes alive to the reader, due to words that convey intimacy (and we must acknowledge that word choice in this case involves the work of the translators Willa and Edwin Muir).

In a short story, every word must count. What is left out is as important as what is left in. The writer must create and maintain a particular tone, or mood, and create a piece that feels whole (not a fragment) but that may evoke much outside its confines. With my own very short stories (also called flash fictions or microfictions), I want the characters, images, themes to live long in the reader’s mind. I want them to have some impact.

You might compare a very short story to a complex painting – a narrative-based painting – where the symbols nestled in the setting and upon the figures work together to not only suggest a particular story but hopefully move you to feel something, something you may not even fully, consciously comprehend.

Angela Meyer

My own stories are not abstract paintings, they are figures in a landscape, though some are expressively warped: the stories in Captives range from dark Edvard Munchs to (superficially) bright Andy Warhols.

I’ve always been a visual person, and I think that’s one reason short stories appeal. Often they centre around an image, or a series of images. Think of Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, or the new cloak in Gogol’s The Overcoat. In flash fiction, the central image might burn on the reader’s retina, difficult for them to blink away.

One of my favourite very short stories by Janet Frame, The Linesman, is about a woman watching a man repair a telephone line from her window. She cannot seem to move away from this image, despite being hungry and thirsty. The final line is: ‘You see, I was hoping that he might fall.’ The images are sometimes related to epiphanies or indications of character. Often, they are absurd and tell you nothing overt at all (which may really be telling you more).

Mine include a man pointing a gun at his beloved, a woman swallowing objects, an empty cradle, a locked toilet, a newspaper headline, a man on a tightrope, and actor Anthony Perkins’ bum. I hope that the characters will come alive, like the woman on Kafka’s tram did for me, that the stories will produce a range of effects, and that an image or two will remain long in your mind.

Angela Meyer is a Melbourne-based writer and reviewer. Her short stories, articles and reviews have been published widely.

Her new book Captives contains touches of Annie Proulx, the way a lonely death can creep up on you and the way our sexuality will not be denied, though we may try to cover it up. There are many glimpses of ordinary people struggling with everyday madness in extraordinary ways.

Grab a copy of Angela Meyer’s Captives here

captivesCaptives

by Angela Meyer

Short, intense and mesmerizing. Read these very short stories on a train, a tram, a bus, or waiting in the check out line. Captives by Angela Meyer will fit into your pocket, your handbag or tucked into the cover of your ipad.

Captives opens with a husband pointing his gun at his wife. There’s a woman who hears ‘the hiss of Beelzebub behind people’s voices’, a photographer who captures the desire to suicide, a man locked in a toilet who may never get out, a couple who grow young, and a prisoner who learns to swallow like a python.

Movie stars appear throughout reminding us that people live on through images: Paul Newman, Anthony Perkins, Divine, and a girl who died in a car crash are all caught eternally on film.

Grab a copy of Angela Meyer’s Captives here

 

Joanna Trollope on Jane Austen

The Austen Project
Sense & Sensibility
A Q&A with Joanna Trollope

1. Sense & Sensibility is launching the Austen Project –  what was it about the idea of a modern re-telling of Jane Austen’s novel that caught your imagination?

My first – and I have to say, last – reaction when the idea of updating those novels was put to me, was: how brilliant! Jane Austen’s preoccupations – romance, money and class – are timeless, which is one of the main reasons that puts her at the head of the much beloved, as well as classic, category. She is also completely serious about any character or emotion that requires respect, while at the same time displaying a wonderful capacity for mockery and spot-on censure for folly and unkindness in any form. And so, while determined that any novel I wrote would be unquestionably a tribute to her genius, and in no way an imitation, I could immediately see that her characters and her narrative would translate absolutely seamlessly to 2013 – which, indeed, they have.

2. The characters that Austen creates are timeless but still, transferring them to current times must have been an enthralling task. Did you find the presence of an existing plot and characters liberating or limiting?

The whole process was a liberation. The characters almost felt that they were transferring themselves to recognisable modern people with very little help from me, so vivid are they. And being freed from the need to invent a theme, a narrative or a cast list for myself, I felt little short of exhilarated the whole time. Of course there were elements that had to be modernised since the characters in the original, a lot of them living on the proceeds of the slave trade (although that is never mentioned as it would have been such a contemporary commonplace) have the kind of leisure that is absolutely unthinkable nowadays. And the outrages – Willoughby’s impregnating of Eliza, say – have to be updated to convey the same level of shock. But these changes were really details in what was an extraordinarily engaging project.

3. In Chapter 5 Belle says: ‘Then he’d be at complete odds with my Marianne. And me for that matter. We believe in the love of a life, you see.’ Marianne really is the living embodiment of the sensibility that was so fashionable in the eighteenth century. How did you manage to update her romantic fervour and make her so likeable?

The thing is that Marianne is likeable, as well as close to impossible, in the original. We know that by the time Jane Austen came to write Sense and Sensibility, her own appreciation of the qualities of level-headedness that Elinor displays far outweighed the current philosophical vogue for sensibility. But Marianne is as much a child of her times – 1809 – as she is, with a slightly different modern interpretation, of ours. It’s just that we have a different way of describing, and of seeing, the same utter belief in emotional self-indulgence and the prioritising of individualism, as she does. What she would call sensibility, we recognise as entitlement. Her belief in finding the love of her life equates to our desire for a soulmate. She may exhibit an exasperating level of self-involvement which is very recognisable today, but she is also warm and welcoming and sincere in her attachments. And she loves her sister, Elinor, she really does. We can all look round our circles of friends and see people in it who are ‘Mariannes’ – maddeningly self-absorbed, and emotional, but also sweet and responsive and sympathetic. Jane Austen’s Marianne is a very modern girl, with all the plusses and minuses that that entails.

4. Sense and Sensibility is so much about how we declare our love, and how the public and private versions of love exist. How did you find writing this interplay? Do you think public declarations through social media such as Facebook and Twitter have changed our modern view on love?

I would guess that no amount of social media actually changes the way people feel, even if it might have enabled, rather than actually changed, the way they express those feelings. The desire to be loveable, and popular, and fancied is as old and as enduring as humanity is itself, and I would guess that the number of modern girls pressured by their peers or their own insecurities into making fools of themselves on Facebook and by Instagram, is exactly the same as it was before these alarmingly public fora existed. You can imagine very easily, can’t you, the Steele sisters taking avidly to Twitter! And I think the fact that I could insert a little modern media so effortlessly into Jane Austen’s narrative is the only proof you need that humanity doesn’t change, even if codes of conduct do!

5. Edward Ferrars is described in Chapter 2 as the ‘redeeming attribute’ of the Ferrars clan. But he has little direction and behaves submissively, at first, towards Lucy’s insistence that they are an item, in contrast to Elinor’s composure and intelligence. Did you find it hard when writing to see them as an equal match and can readers be fully satisfied that Elinor is to marry him at the end?

Oddly enough, I thought that Edward Ferrars was one of the most modern characters in the whole book – or, at least, one of the most recognisable as modern. He has had a bullied and neglected childhood, despite material comfort, and is clearly what we would now diagnose as a mild depressive by nature. There is an unquestioned sweetness in his disposition, but his upbringing – thrusting new money and ambition – is not in the least interested in sweetness, but only in success. His overbearing mother has accustomed him to obeying bossy women, and his sweetness makes him anxious to oblige. So he is easy prey, as a lonely teenager whose family have written him off as hopeless, for a gold digger like Lucy Steele. And Elinor, interestingly, for all her intelligence and self control, is the family missionary. She has appointed herself the Sensible one, the Saffy from Absolutely Fabulous, whose task it is to steer her chaotic little family ship to a safe harbour. If she didn’t like sorting volatile people, she would not be so unbelievably patient with her mother and sisters. Sorting them all is her chosen role – so Edward Ferrars is a natural choice for her. He may not be completely worthy, but he is what she wants.

6. The novel’s themes of status and money imply that some things are never out of date and that men with wealth and power will always be more attractive to women. Would you agree and do you see this ever changing?

I entirely agree. In fact, I would go further and say it’s mainly money that gives both power and sex appeal – and of course, the latter is a form of the former. Looking back at history, emperors, statesmen, successful industrialists, soldiers and entrepreneurs may not have made a universal success of their private lives, but they have never not taken what they wanted – or what they thought they wanted! And to look at the present day, it is only money that stops Fifty Shades of Grey from being a novel about sexual abuse – and I see that the new Sylvia Day will feature ‘a young billionaire’ hero … Now, I wonder why that should be?!

7. What would you like readers to take away from this novel?

I would love readers to take away several things. First, obviously, a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. Secondly, a sense of having been in the company of people they can both recognise and believe in. But thirdly, and most importantly, I would like them to feel a renewed and enormous admiration for Jane Austen, and a strong desire either to re-read the original, or actually, to read it for the first time.

8. Do you tend to read when you are writing a novel and, if so, what?

I read all the time … And what I read is not particularly deliberate, but more often than not, whatever is next on the pile of books waiting to be read because I have been asked to read them or am longing to, anyway! This year, one of my huge reading joys was the entire shortlist for the Womens’ Prize for Fiction – six dazzling books. I can’t think when there has been a stronger shortlist – everyone a winner in my view!

9. Did you re-read Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and if so, did you refer to it as you wrote or did you prefer to keep a distance between you and the text?

I read and re-read it exhaustively, to the point of cannibalising several paperbacks of it to work out the scenes I was going to use, and where I would have to add scenes to bring the narrative circumstances up to date. So I ended up with a tattered re-configured sequence of the original, heavily highlighted. I have left one line of the original in the updated version – I wonder if you can find it?

10. As a hugely successful, bestselling novelist, would you have any guidance or advice for young writers starting out today?

The first thing I would say is that there is plenty of time. You can be too young to write – simply because you haven’t had time to live enough – but you can hardly be too old. Think of the wonderful P.D. James, in the bestseller lists at 94! I remain of the opinion that most people write better after 35 than before, for that very reason. So, don’t be in a hurry! And while you are waiting, train your powers of observation, because that is the hallmark of all successful novelists. Maybe even keep a notebook – not a diary, but a notebook you have with you in which you can record ideas or observations, or snatches of a conversation you overhear, or scraps of dialogue. No amount of noticing of other people is ever, ever wasted for a writer … Good luck!


Joanna Trollope, OBE, is the international bestselling author of 30 novels and has written historical fiction, contemporary fiction and non-fiction. When Joanna considers what has happened to her career in the last ten years, she often thinks, as her friend Jilly Cooper once said, ‘You’d believe it, wouldn’t you, if it happened to someone else‘.

Paullina Simons, author of Bellagrand, The Bronze Horseman and more, answers Six Sharp Questions

bellagrandThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Paullina Simons

author of Bellagrand, The Bronze Horseman, Tully and more, answers

Six Sharp Questions

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1. Congratulations, you have a new book. What is it about and what does it mean to you?

Bellagrand is a story of a passionate, troubled love affair between Harry and Gina, who are the parents of Alexander, my hero in The Bronze Horseman books. Writing about them allowed me to immerse myself again in one of my favorite types of fiction: a personal and emotional story of real people against the backdrop of transformative historical events such as World War I and the Russian Revolution.
There is another reason: I love going back to the world of Tatiana and Alexander. I sometimes hear from my readers that they have trouble letting go of my characters. To them I say, tell me about it.

Click here to buy Bellagrand from Booktopia,
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2. Times pass. Things change. What are the best and worst moments that you have experienced in the past year or so?

Best: My new renovated house.
Worst: Living in our unfinished basement for three months while the house was being renovated. I have a lifelong healthy respect (okay, dread fear) of basements. My husband and kids, of course, love the cave-like atmosphere—and there is my life in a nutshell.
One moment stands out. For Thanksgiving last year I cooked the family dinner on a stove set up in the wreckage of my demolished-to-studs kitchen. We ate on a folding table in the cold basement. Was that the best or the worst? The answer is yes.

3. Do you have a favourite quote or passage you would be happy to share with us? It doesn’t need to be deep but it would be great if it meant something to you.

“Oh, what a lucky man he was.” (Emerson, Lake and Palmer)

4. Writers have often been described as being difficult to live with. Do you conform to the stereotype or defy it? Please tell us a little about the day to day of your writing life.

I am a delight to live with. I’m hardly ever home. I spend my days in my studio, with my laptop, my piano, and my coffee machine. Oh, and I like to pretend that I defy all stereotypes.

5. Some writer’s claim not to be influenced by the needs of the marketplace, while others seem obsessed by it. Would you please describe how the marketplace affects your writing (come on, tell the truth!).

I don’t think in terms of the marketplace, exactly. More in terms of what my readers and I like best. Since I try to write the kind of books that I myself prefer to read, I hope that my readers will want to read the books I like to write.

6. Unlikely Scenario: You’ve been charged with civilising twenty ill-educated adolescents but you may take only five books with you. What do you take and why?

The Summer Garden, for the lifelong soul of a marriage.
A Song in the Daylight, for the unfathomable human heart (both of which make great Christmas gifts, by the way).
East of Eden, for the Pandora’s box of good and evil.
Macbeth, because it has the best lines.
The Bible, for everything under the sun.

Paullina, thank you for playing.

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Matthew Reilly chats to John Purcell about his latest book The Tournament

Grab a copy of Matthew Reilly’s The Tournament here

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

(Review by John Purcell)

Bestselling author Matthew Reilly is one of Australia’s most reliable writers. Every couple of years he delivers his fans quality popular fiction and every couple of years he can be counted on to break Australian sales records. But till now, all of his successes, Ice Station, Seven Ancient Wonders, Temple, The Five Greatest Warriors, Scarecrow, to name just a few, have one thing in common, the breakneck speed of their narrative.

The Tournament is a departure for Reilly, gone is his trademark breakneck speed. Instead we find a narrative with gravitational pull. Enter The Tournament’s orbit and you cannot escape, you must read on to the final page.

That said this book still jogs along. You don’t get to where Reilly is without learning a trick or two. He has chosen a point in time, 1546. He has given us a narrator, Queen Elizabeth I, no less. He has booked a stage, a chess tournament in Constantinople held by Sulleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. And hired only the best talent to walk his boards, St Ignatius Loyola, Michelangelo, Ivan the Terrible, and a 13 year old Elizabeth Tudor, who is accompanied by her teacher, Roger Ascham, the real hero of the story, a Renaissance Sherlock Holmes.

ReillyBefore the first page there is a warning from Matthew Reilly stating that this is most definitely an adult book with adult content. And what I think he means is that there is sex in it. Because sex was the only thing missing from his other books, all which contain violence aplenty. In The Tournament the sex is illustrative, designed to show the decadence of the Sultan’s court and we, the readers, are observers only, never participants as is the case with erotic fiction. Any 15 year old with an iPhone has seen much, much worse. And besides, the sex and violence are the carrot which keeps us turning the pages. The Tournament is essentially a didactic tale, with lots of discussions about morality, religion, philosophy, history and politics. Ascham is the future queen’s teacher and he is convinced that she must know of the world to rule it well. Matthew Reilly, a great fan of Star Wars, has created a pair to rival, Obe Wan and Luke Skywalker.

This is a book which will entertain thousands of Australian readers this summer holidays. It is not too heavy, not too light, just right.

Grab a copy of Matthew Reilly’s The Tournament here

Kathryn Heyman, author of Floodline, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

floodlinesThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Kathryn Heyman

author of Floodline

Ten Terrifying Questions

 ———————-

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

I grew up in New South Wales, mainly in Lake Macquarie, where I sailed, kayaked and swam – pleasures that continue to sustain me. I was the youngest child of five, in a single parent household and I was both the wild one and the precociously studious one, which must have been an infuriating combination for those around me.  As a student I headed off to the UK and stayed for well over a decade, studying, writing, falling in love, getting married and then, later, having babies. The wildness had been massaged out of me by then. Most of it, anyway.

Continue reading

Meg Cabot, author of The Bride Wore Size 12, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Meg Cabot

author of The Bride Wore Size 12

Ten Terrifying Questions

 ———————-

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

I was born, raised, and educated in Bloomington, Indiana, known world wide as the “Gateway to Scenic Southern Indiana.” Continue reading

BREAKING NEWS: 900-Page Debut Novel Fetches Nearly $2 Million

Garth Risk Hallberg

Is the big fat novel back?

Donna Tartt’s exquisite novel The Goldfinch has 771 pages. Eleanor Catton won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for her 834 page masterpiece The Luminaries. And now City on Fire, the 900-page debut novel by New York writer Garth Risk Hallberg, has been acquired for nearly $2 million.

In a two-day bidding war that took the industry by storm last week, 10 publishers bid more than $1 million for the work already being compared to Michael Chabon and Thomas Pynchon.

According to Hallberg’s agent Chris Parris-Lamb, “[the events] revolve around a central mystery: what exactly is going on behind the locked steel doors of a derelict townhouse in the East Village, and what might it have to do with the shooting in Central Park in the novel’s opening act?”

Scott Rudin

To add to the hype even more, the film rights have already been bought by Scott Rudin, the award-winning producer of The Queen, No Country for Old Men and The Social Network.

“The scale of it, the vision of it, the big political ideas, how tightly knitted all the stories are to each other and how densely and pleasurably plotted it is, made me feel like, for the purposes of a movie, he had done the lion’s share of the work that anyone would have to do,” Rudin said. “It doesn’t need to be massively reinvented to be a movie.”

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