REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL

moomins dancing

2012 was a huge year for me with the long-awaited release of Thrill Seekers. Finally, after ten years of full-time writing I had a book out in the world to prove I hadn’t just been sitting at home watching Oprah the whole time.

And yet, I still feel only at the very start of my career as a writer, a beginner. When, in 2002 I picked up a pen and wrote my first short story since high school, I’d known what an arduous road lay ahead of me, perhaps I would never have tried. But I’m glad I did, and would do it all again.

Writing is a wonderful profession. Your comrades are sensitive, intelligent,  thoughtful creators and I have been lucky to share my journey with good writing friends who have cheered and supported, and cried and commiserated, with me as together we have made steps towards seeing our dreams of books on shelves become reality. Baby steps and then suddenly this year, some giant leaps.

And the writing itself still never fails to excite me, infuriate, confound, besot and delight me. Each new project is greeted with enthusiasm, each draft a challenge to surmount. I’ve learned to love rewriting, perhaps even more than the initial draft. I’ve lost that true beginners’ enchantment with the first draft, knowing as I write it that most will end up trashed. But still, it is thrilling, the places stories will take you, the characters that take over and demand to be given their say. I love it.

This year too, I’ve learned the business side of writing. Every writer runs their own small business whether they like it or not. Marketing your work is essential, from targeting the right publisher to entering competitions, to applying for grants. These skills too, need to be mastered. Can’t say I love this part of the business quite as much, but I’m getting a little better at it.

My heart is filled with gratitude at the turn of events in 2012, and especially for those who have championed my work, like my dear uncle, Jonathan Shaw, who has just released his own book of poetry, Veny Armanno, Julianne Schultz, Favel Parrett, Helena Pastor, Katherine Howell and Stephen Romei.

Who knows what 2013 will bring. I wish you all much love and luck and good fortune.

Onwards and upwards, dear friends. Onwards and upwards!

moomin_valley_nye

INTERVIEW WITH KATHERINE HOWELL

Violent Exposure by Katherine Howell

Violent Exposure by Katherine Howell

Congratulations on the success of all your thrillers Frantic, Darkest Hour, Cold Justice and Violent Exposure.   

That’s quite a list. With all those books published you must be a millionaire, right? Living in the land of the rich and famous?

 I wish!! Overseas sales help to bump up the income, but because foreign publishers have to factor in the cost of translation, when times get tight (as with the GFC) so do overseas deals.   As an overall average, think minimum wage, then take a little bit off.

 Do you have a favourite of your books? Why/Why not?

I don’t have a favourite. They hold special places in my heart for different reasons though: Frantic because it was my first, The Darkest Hour because it often seems to be in the shadow of the others, Cold Justice made the bestseller list, Violent Exposure was my most recently published and was reviewed as being even better than CJ, and Silent Fear because it’s the next one to come out. I also always love the one I haven’t yet written – so full of promise!

 When we first met about eight years ago you were working on an early draft of Frantic. You were also writing a thesis on building suspense. Can you give us a quick few pointers on how to make our stories more suspenseful?

 To develop suspense, a writer needs to 1. have characters the reader cares about and 2. make that reader feel uncertain about what’s going to happen to those characters. ‘Caring’ in this context can include feelings of curiosity and being intrigued – think Hannibal Lecter – though more often it’s understood as liking, or sympathy/empathy/identification. Uncertainty is built by posing questions that the reader desperately wants answered: Will the friends get to the bridge in time and escape? Will the separated lovers ever meet again and fall in love? Will the detective catch the criminal before he kills someone else? One question like this isn’t enough to sustain a whole work, however, so the writer has to pose and answer questions in each scene and chapter too, some of which will be answered sooner, some later.

 How long did you work on that first book?

Between all the crappy drafts then the reworking according to what I learned about suspense I reckon it was about six years. I did however write three other terrible MSs before that too, so all up from the time I started seriously working on novels to when I got published it was seventeen years. And worth every day.

 Was it easy to find a publisher?

I’d shown my agent one of those earlier awful MSs and she’d given me some feedback, which I’d then applied in further drafts, then I eventually put that away and moved on to those early drafts of Frantic. She read those too and gave me good feedback. After the suspense reworking, when it was finally ready to send out, it sold to the first publisher she approached (Pan Macmillan.) To say it sold so quickly makes it sound easy, but because getting to that point involved years of hard work it wasn’t easy at all.

 What about the others? Did you suffer from second or third or fourth book syndrome? Does it get any easier?

Cold Justice

Cold Justice

I found writing the second book, The Darkest Hour, at times absolutely terrifying and so difficult. This was mostly because having taken so many years to write Frantic (and the previous MSs) I suddenly had just one year and a very clear deadline to finish TDH (and at the start I had only 10% written). Also, I wanted TDH to be a better book than Frantic (everyone wants to improve, right?) but had no idea how to make that happen, or even what that really meant. Frantic had such a great reception, as well, so I was frightened of producing something bad and feeling that maybe I’d had only one good book in me. I ended up getting a one month extension on the deadline and it all turned out fine.

It gets easier in that I know that the writing of each book feels awful. I keep a diary with each one and I can look back over them and see they’re all full of fear, me worrying about how this time I’ve really lost it, the other books might’ve turned out okay but it’s all over now. The work itself doesn’t really get easier: climbing a mountain is still climbing a mountain, and having done it before means you know how hard it is and that having survived it once you can do it again, but that’s about it.

 At the moment you’re doing a PhD in Creative Writing and working on a new novel that’s not part of the series. How are you finding this experience? What element of writing are you exploring this time in your essay?

I’m finding it a challenge in that I’m using first person for half of the work, and Detective Ella Marconi’s not there and I have to fight the urge to bring her in! I’m enjoying it though. For the thesis I’m studying women doctors in crime fiction and their approach to the body, so I’ve had some lovely times researching such things as the history and development of the autopsy, and am looking forward to rereading some of the books of authors Patricia Cornwell and Tess Gerritsen.

 You have a wonderful agent in Selwa Anthony. Can you tell us a bit about how you found her and the types of things she does for you?

Selwa really is wonderful. An author and friend sent my work on to her back in the late nineties, and though I was still working on those awful MSs then she took me on. I think she’s incredible for that: she gives time to writers who may not be ready to publish yet but in whom she sees potential. She read my work and gave me feedback and never saw a cent for her time and effort until we got the contract for Frantic and TDH in 2006. Now I send her the novels when they’re complete and ready to go to the publisher, but I also send her work when I feel stuck – eg, a few months ago I sent her the first half of my new book, Silent Fear, saying I didn’t think it was working. She said, ‘You always do this at the halfway point!’ and read it and reassured me that it was working well. In addition she handles the contracts and money side of things, which means my relationship with the publisher can be all about the work rather than negotiating terms. Those contracts are like the contracts when you buy or sell a house, too – huge and complicated, and so you need advice on them.  

 You’ve always been supportive and encouraging of new writers and do a lot of teaching of writing at the Queensland Writers Centre and in other venues. What are your top five tips for beginner writers?

1 – never give up. No writer who’s published now was certain they would make it. Maybe your work isn’t up to scratch just yet, but neither was mine once. It might take years of effort, and there’s no guarantee of anything at the end, but if you give up you definitely won’t get there.

2 – write because you love it. Even on those tough days when the mountain feels impossible to scale and I think of all the other things I could be doing with my time, I know that it’s more than compensated by the moments when a sentence comes out just right, a character’s dialogue feel so perfect for them, or a scene does exactly what I’d hoped. If your goal is publication, that’s great, but it can’t be the sole reason you write. Even if you get published to enormous acclaim, the fuss and signings and events soon end, and you’re back at your desk, just you and your work, with months or maybe years until the hoopla happens again. Those short periods won’t sustain you if you don’t enjoy the long periods of work between them.

3 –  be prepared to work long and hard. Chances are your first novel manuscript isn’t going to be good enough to publish, and probably neither’s your second. Some people are the exception to the rule, but for the rest of us it takes years.

4 – be prepared also to let go of those early mansucripts. You’ve written one, you can do it again! Once you are published, you want to keep being published, right? You need to have the mindset that you are a writer who keeps on writing. If I hadn’t been able to move on from my early MSs, you wouldn’t be reading this.

5 – editing is key. No first draft is excellent. It’s all about getting the ideas down, the people, the bones of the story. The reworking that comes later is what turns it into a polished work that readers can enjoy. Be prepared to put in the work to learn how to edit yourself; it’s an essential skill. Pull apart the work of writers you love and see how they do what they do: how are they telling the story? How do they make you feel sad, or excited, or in suspense? Train your eye so when you look at your work you can tell what doesn’t work and why.

Thanks so much Katherine and best of luck for your new book, Silent Fear, going feral and selling like hotcakes all over the world. Rich and famous here you come!

thanks edwina  🙂

Katherine Howell

Katherine Howell

THRILL SEEKERS!

cover of Thrill Seekers

Thrill Seekers

 YES! After a wait of over three years, Thrill Seekers is finally on its way. It’s wending its way to India for printing, expected here in Australia in late July or August. I keep pinching myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. After all this time I’ll be swinging from the rooftops when my carton of books is delivered. Stay tuned for more info about a launch and free preview copies.

I’m busy marking student stories at the moment but will back with a vengeance soon. I plan to do a series of interviews with wonderful writer friends, including Favel Parret, Chris Currie, Phillipa Fioretti, Katherine Howell, Antonia Baynard, Victor Marsh, Michelle Dicinoski and my best writing buddy, talented memoirist, Helena Pastor (check out her new blog for helpful advice). I’ll be asking about their writing process, how they do what they do, and asking for hints and tips.

Happy writing everyone.

Hang in there!

Mountain-Climbing-old lady

Mountain-Climbing-old lady

    Often writing and trying to get published successfully can seem like scaling the world’s tallest mountain. 

Writing as a career isn’t the easiest choice. If you have an option about whether to write or not, then don’t do it! But if, like me, everything you think  about is part of some greater story you’re compelled to write then take the following advice to heart. 

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

 Calvin Coolidge 

About eight years ago when I first started taking my writing seriously, this was the quote I had on my wall. The more I write, the more it rings true. I’ve seen better writers than me come and go from my writing group after finding it all too hard and quitting before they really gave themselves a chance. I’m no genius but I’m stubborn and I’ll persist and persist till I make it. 

I’m hanging in there for as long as it takes.   

“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.”  William Feather  

mountain climber gripping rocks Hanging in there 

Remember the Australian ice-skater who won his gold medal because he was the only one left standing? That’ll be me, if it has to be. 

I know now this writing game takes time. My teacher Veny Armanno wrote a novel every year for ten years before his first book (short stories!) was published. My friend Katherine Howell had been writing for over ten years when she finally caught her break. 

Sometimes people get lucky. Very lucky. But I think for them the road ahead is just as difficult, though in a different way. Those of us who serve our apprenticeship in the unpublished wilderness are free to develop our skills without time pressures, editorial constraints and marketing requirements. We also grow hides as tough as horny rhinos. 

So you writers out there, frustrated at all the work you’re doing for little or no recognition or financial return, just keep writing. Our turns will come! Don’t give up now. 

  “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” 

 Thomas Edison 

mountain climber near summit

almost there

Don’t sit down in the snow and freeze. No matter how many times that story or novel has been rejected, go through it one more time. All this persistence means your skills are improving in leaps and bounds. Redraft. Resend. And hope for the best.  

Steven King’s Carrie was in the bin before his wife scooped it out and sent it off one last time. JK Rowling was rejected all over the place. They didn’t give up. They persisted. 

And so will we. 

Photo of excited woman mountain climber on the summit

made it!