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Novel under const'n

 A few days ago I was surprised to receive an email from Carol Middleton, an Australian award-winning writer, and a reviewer for the prestigious Australian Book Review. In the email Carol invited me to join the Writing Process Blog Tour, in which writers are invited to reply to four questions about their writing process and then pass the baton on to another writer/s.

Many thanks to Carol for inviting me to contribute to this tour, which in its construction is like a chain letter but nice. You can see Carol’s Writing-Process Blog published Monday 12th at http://carolmiddleton.com.au/wordpress

Here goes.

 

 

What am I working on?

Having put my first novel out on Amazon and Smashwords last year, I decided to try to get myself a bigger presence on the web by putting up a short story a month in 2014. Being the digital klutz that I am, it took me three months to learn enough to put up my first story Busting God, now available at: www.amazon.com/dp/B00J8ZIE8S. I’m now working on formatting my second story Remains to be Seen, which follows the fortunes of Busting God’s hero as he tries to recover from the post-traumatic stress caused by his participation in the Vietnam War.

I’m a tortoise, very slow at everything I do, and not very comfortable on the web. However, I’ve decided that having a higher profile there will help my novels eventually, so I’m nailed to the cross of formatting these twelve short stories for the remainder of 2014.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

How to answer this question? My short stories were published in such diverse places, ranging from Penthouse to Aurealis to the Australian Women’s Weekly. Each time I adapted my basic writing style to suit the market — I was a single parent and I needed the money. My only novel published so far is MagnifiCat: www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0ORWQY a strange little animal fantasy about a family of cats who find themselves on the poverty line in a small country town in New South Wales, Australia. In it I aimed to produce a kind of Wind in the Willows for adults. To what extent I succeeded is hard to gauge. The novel’s definitely not satire; it’s more like a fairy tale for adults, with an underlying heavy core that makes it adult fiction, though I plan to release a children’s version of it in 2015, minus the alcohol and the angst.

Why do I write what I do?

In my case there are two answers to this. The short stories were written either for money — publication or competition money — or to add to my literary CV. In the novels, however, I get to please myself. And I notice that what comes though in all of them (I have another four in various stage of development) is a desire to nail down a particular time and place that’s now long gone. You could say I’m obsessed with transience, and writing about these places is my way of trying to keep them alive in people’s memories after they’ve disappeared under the bulldozer of progress. My Queensland novel is set in Brisbane in the early 1960s; MagnifiCat is set in Byron Shire in the mid-1980s, and somewhere in the dim future, should I live that long, I’d like to write a novel set in Brisbane during WWII. It’s as if I’m saying to readers, Remember how it was. Don’t forget this.

How does my writing process work?

I write first draft material in the morning, while I still have some contact with my unconscious. Editing, a completely different process requiring a different part of the brain, I can do any time. I never work after dark unless I have an editing job or a manuscript appraisal for another writer and the deadline is looming.

To me, producing first-draft material is like digging semi-precious stones out of the ground, while editing is like polishing those stones into something people might find beautiful or useful. Basically, I want my writing to entertain, to make people happy. At the risk of sounding overly ambitious (or merely quaint), I’d like it to give people hope. Life can be tough sometimes.

 

The writer I’ve asked to continue the Writing Process Blog Tour on Monday 26th is Ed Griffin, a Canadian novelist and prison reformer. Ed taught creative writing in prisons for many years. He blogs at:

prisonuncensored.wordpress.com

Check him out on Monday 26th.

 

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How time’s flown. I must have been even more knocked around by my trip to NZ than I realised. My change of computers hasn’t helped either – followed by a change from dial up to Broadband. Dial up was cheap (its great attraction, there aren’t many others) but oh so slow. In the end, even I couldn’t stand it. So here I am, somewhat behind the eight ball, but full of good intentions after my break of over two months.

 This week, while I’m finding my feet and getting used to the dizzying speed of Broadband (how can humanity live at this pace?) I’d like to introduce David Ireland, aka Casimir Greenfield, who’s been kind enough to write a guest blog for me on his writing methods.

Over to David.


Having lived a long life, I have a good deal of source material to draw

from. Each day begins at five with a couple of hours writing before the rest

of my world wakes up. We have a very understanding dog.

I always have a number of projects running concurrently and I don’t really

have a problem skipping between crime fiction, young adult fiction,

non-fiction and song writing.

I do plot, but I prefer to let the characters and events unfold themselves

organically, even if that takes me down unexpected paths. I like to think

that my stories have shape, much like an opera or a humble vinyl album.

Beginning, middle and end — with a prologue, coda or false crescendo as the

story requires.

As a radio broadcaster, I value the spoken word, and thus each word of my

writing will have been uttered out loud before the reader sees it. I firmly

believe that much writing can be improved by vocalising before the final

draft is laid down. Dialogue needs to be natural.

I am not a fan of fanciful names, even in my young adult pieces. They can be

quirky, but I will not inflict unpronounceable names upon the poor reader. I

would rather that the ordinary encountered the extraordinary, and I hope that

my work is stronger for that.

An oft asked question: How do I write? Well, I love working digitally, but I

always have a notepad handy to scribble on and a Dictaphone for the car. I

know that if the idea is strong enough one should remember it, no matter

what, but I’m not prepared to take the risk. Everything is saved. I have a

sixty-second backup on the processor. Better saved than sorry.

Dave Ireland or Casimir Greenfield? I use a pen name mainly because my given

name has been around in the literary world for a while. The Australians

already have a David Ireland — they don’t need another. So it’s Casimir

Greenfield who writes the stories, sings the songs. I just take the blame.

I have recently published both my crime novels as ebooks for sale on Amazon,

but these are currently locked down, due to publisher interest. However,

both books can be read for free at the Harper Collins Authonomy site (see links

below).

I am presently completing the novelisation of the screenplay of my Ruby No.

One trilogy, a young adult piece currently under offer. Plus, my recording

career is kicking off again with the release of an album in June 2012 — I

said I had a lot of source material; it goes with a long and varied career …

If this seems like a scattergun approach, it is anything but. Any writer

will tell you that the only way to get anything down on paper is to work at

it. Consistently, each and every day. And if you do, whatever the result is

like, you’ll have a body of work that you may well be able to knock into

shape with some judicious editing. I think it works for me.

Bloodstones and Slow Poison can be found at Authonomy by clicking these

links:

http://www.authonomy.com/books/42590/bloodstones/

http://www.authonomy.com/books/42586/slow-poison/

More information about my work can be found at:

http://www.authonomy.com/writing-community/profile/me/

or at:

http://www.casimirgreenfield.com

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Martin Shaw of Readings Monthly described this novel as ‘gutsy, moving, beautifully wrought and utterly compelling’.  In this memoir-as-fiction, first novelist Michael Sala recalls his early life in Holland and his life in Australia after his family immigrated here in the 1980s. In compelling detail, he describes his dysfunctional family: the fragile mother he loves, her penchant for moving house and for picking the wrong men; his glamorous, estranged Greek father, his older brother Con and his relationship with his cruel stepfather Dirk. The family has secrets, things some of the older members of the family did during WWII in Holland to survive.

The first two-thirds of the book are consistent in style, tense and point of view. However, in the last third, which depicts the family’s life in Newcastle, a looser technique prevails. I found myself wishing it had been written in the same consistent style as the first two-thirds. But as the author had to jump many years to when he, himself, is a father, and his mother and estranged father are old, perhaps this did not prove possible.

Essentially, Sala is a painter with words rather than a storyteller. As each scene unfolds, it’s like watching a master painter apply brush stroke after brush stroke to a canvas until the whole comes together.  The sense of cohesion the reader is left with, despite the apparent randomness of the third part of the book (the timeline is disjointed, there are flashbacks and changes of tense and point of view), is due to Sala’s deeply felt emotion and the high level of technique he employs in describing these emotions and the interactions between family members.

Sala’s prose is impeccable. I note that Chapter 9 appeared previously under the title ‘The Men Outside My Room’ in The Best Australian Stories 2011 and Chapter 10 appeared under the title ‘Like My Father, My Brother’ in the anthology Brothers and Sisters. This is no surprise: Sala has a wonderful ability to write between the lines and is a master of the fine detail so beloved by the Australian literary establishment. At present, he lacks the polish of a Thomas Shapcott and the strong storyline structure we have come to expect from Tim Winton. But that will come.

An interesting read, though perhaps not traditional enough in form for some. I found myself looking forward to his next book – one that has a simple timeline and is, perhaps a little less ‘literary’.

Make no mistake. Sala is here to stay.

Readers can purchase a copy of The Last Thread from almost all independent Australian bookstores, as well as A&R and Dymocks etc. The e book is available from Booki.sh and Kobo.

Danielle de Valera

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And now we come to …

ANOTHER WRITER’S JOURNEY or The Writing Game, as far as I’ve got: Chris Shaw

The writing

I was working in the UK as a locum pharmacist (2001-2002) with Rebecca, my newish wife. The idea was to spend some quality time with aging parents (94 and 92), earn some good money and travel around.

It was a stressful time, primarily because of the weekly change of location, staff and corporate rules. However, it was because of this stress that I was stimulated to write newsletters to friends back in OZ. On my return, I combined them and came up with 40,000 words! To someone who writes addresses on postcards in very large print to avoid having to write much text, this came as a ‘Damascus’ moment for me.

Something funny happened in bed one night, involving our three cats and, with Rebecca’s encouragement, I wrote about it. The premise was that, ‘I never let the truth stand in the way of a good story’! Encouraged by the pleasure of the writing process, I wrote twenty- five stories over about four years, which doesn’t sound much, but it was an infinite increase from my one postcard per decade.

I sent these off to Danielle, who encouraged me to ditch seven and self-publish the remaining eighteen, which became, It’s All Relative: stories to shorten your travel time.

The learning curve took off at that point and continues its exponential growth to this day. I’m still learning a craft that will entertain me for the years I have left — who knows, maybe I can increase the smiles on our planet by one or two.

Agents and Publishers

I didn’t even look for an agent or a publisher, (why do those words bring Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons to mind?) The impression I get from all the talk around me is that agents and large publishers have enjoyed success in a long, easy market, to the point where they have become very selective and picky. It reminds me of the stockbroking market, where those in the know prosper, and there are very few surprises.

However, e-books may well be their Global Financial Crisis! This whole book market is in a state of revolution, and since my Rebecca has bought an iPad, I get a better picture of where the trend is taking authors. The jury remains out and vacillating, however.

I decided to self-publish.

Self-publishing

I had a series of three editors who gave the general impression they would have preferred cutting the complete works of Shakespeare into its component letters, rather than editing my little tome. However, I found an enthusiastic printer who produced 200 copies for me. I now have about 5 left.

The marketing was a challenge, although I thought I knew something about that through my work in small business. The money I threw at the project was what they call in the property business, ‘overcapitalising’!

The book cover was professionally designed, and I was very happy with it. The same logo was on 5,000 bookmarks, a big banner for signings, and on the back window of my 4WD. Then I got really creative and paid a professional actor to read the book to a professional sound engineer who put it on two CDs. He had a contact in Brisbane that ‘did’ me 500, in cases with a slick or printed insert in each, and had the CDs themselves printed. All very gung ho and swisho!

During the self-publishing process, understanding the language of the various agencies involved, with ISBNs, CIPs, galleys, colour bleeding and so on became an exciting learning curve too. You have to be tough and committed to search for, learn and incorporate all this stuff! (J. K. Rowling’s mega-success in the face of extraordinary odds may well be the ‘carrot’ for many of us!)

Marketing and Promotion

My book launch taught me a valuable lesson, namely: ‘Go and get some professional help at public speaking’. Fifty years of ducking and diving to avoid getting up on my hind legs in front of more than two people had given me a sense of false security. My launch in a hired hall had booze and nibbles, a PA system, and about 80 people — mostly friends who came for the free booze. I sold a handful of books but it was yet another financial failure.  Nice to catch up, though!

I’ve had some signings, put the book/CDs into a couple of bookstores and on my website, but haven’t worked very hard at it, to be honest. My deep-down feeling is that it was an apprenticeship exercise — but hey, I enjoyed it.

Finally, I retired from my profession, and sloughed off the odd fifty hours a week of slavery. So I’ve had some time to myself — what a dead-set luxury that is, after 56 years! I’ve learnt to operate the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner and how to wash up; I now cook about 50% of the meals – duties I take seriously, since Rebecca is still running her library.

I took a 6-week course on Public Speaking and Communication Skills, run by a highly experienced lady with a critical eye, and survived that. I also joined Book Creators Circle, an organisation that caters for ‘a soft landing for anyone with a passion for books’. Their members include writers, editors, publishers, designers, printers and book binders, so there’s no lack of expertise when you need it. Through this medium, I played Master of Ceremonies at the last Book Expo and have led speakers at our monthly gatherings. So my course has paid off handsomely — yes, I know, but not financially!

From May to September 2010, I threw down 100,000 words of a novel that seemed to come from nowhere. I’ve had it looked at, and have been told that while there is romance and war, I would have to pick a genre and stick with it. It will be called My Chocolate Soldier, and I’m struggling with it still. There’s some lovely stuff in it (I hope you understand that), and I’m very pleased with it, but it needs better organisation for a flowing story. I’m attached to it in the same way a mother is attached to a less than pretty child. More learning!

Meanwhile, I carried out a promise to myself to write a book called Hey Guys! Here’s How You get More Nooki! It’s a serious attempt to teach men what women need and want from a relationship, not what men think women want — having been through divorce and depression and the Victoria Cross level of courage to marry again, I think I’m qualified. But wait, there’s more! Being a pharmacist working in community pharmacy for forty years in the exclusive company of women, also gave me an edge. Add to that our second marriage, ‘built’ by Rebecca and I, which has lasted for twenty years with no arguments, and no cross words. THAT is my qualification for this current book!

Conclusions

Looking back through the whole experience, I’d rate Writing 1 out of 10 for difficulty; Agents and Publishing are 4 and 3 respectively, and Marketing, the remaining 2 — and if that doesn’t make 10, I’ll stick to fiction. That’s my take, but every writer’s different.

Whatever else you do, keep writing. Keep entertaining, making laughter and tears, fear and joy, and giving and receiving insights.

And keep smiling!

                                                                                                            Chris Shaw

Chris Shaw

I'm the one in the middle - "See No Evil".

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Shaune Lafferty Webb. Image supplied by Leslie Downie Photography, Noosaville. http://www.downiephotography.com.au

Back again, although it isn’t Sunday. Thought it might be interesting for writers out there struggling with writing their novel, memoirs, whatever, to learn of the experiences of two very different authors after their books were written.

This week’s author is Shaune Lafferty Webb, author of the speculative fiction novel Bus Stop on a  Strange Loop, published by Winterbourne Press. Next week – or maybe fortnight, depending on when he can bring himself to the task – it will be Chris Shaw, author and publisher of It’s All Relative, a collection of humourous short stories.  Both authors are based in Queensland, Australia.

And now to Shaune’s journey.

ONE WRITER’S JOURNEY

Five years ago, a change in circumstances offered me a rare opportunity: the chance to pursue an old dream. I wanted to be a writer … a writer with a published novel. I knew it would be a long road fraught with obstacles and blind turns. But I was prepared for the hard work; I could tackle the criticisms; and I’m nothing if not persistent. Finally, the writing was ‘finished’; I’d come to my first cross-road. Should I look for …

… an agent or a publisher?

A study of agents’ websites quickly led me to conclude that an agent was equally as difficult (impossible?) to snare as a publisher. Few invited new clients, certainly none I found encouraged writers of speculative fiction. So my course was set. I was off in search of a publisher.

Well, my quest degenerated into a frustrating and demoralising two-year process of submitting to every publisher I could find in Australia – and overseas – who was willing to look at unsolicited material. Sometimes I received a response; many times I did not. While the responses I did receive were polite and sometimes expressed interest in my work or complimented me on my writing style, my story was inevitably not what they were ’currently looking for’.

I’d hit another cross-road: what to do? If I were ever going to see my work published, it seemed the only direction left was Partnership Publishing, a phenomenally expensive gamble, which I did take but, for a number of reasons, elected not to pursue to completion. Was it worth the money? Not really. Did I learn anything from another editing experience? Yes: all constructive input refines writing skills. Would I do it again? No. However, a positive result of my investment was that I now had in my hands a professionally printed galley that I could send out for review.

Now there was a new obstacle in my path: I’d listened to my reviewers and refined my work accordingly, but I had already tried every publisher I could find. However, by a stroke of good fortune, Winterbourne Publishing had just opened its doors and it was a small publishing house geared strictly toward speculative fiction. You don’t find one of those every day. I submitted my manuscript yet again.

Not so fast. You thought I was going to say they accepted it, didn’t you? Afraid not. What they did offer me was the chance to work with them to revise it — one more time. After a brief fit of hysteria at the prospect of even more editing, I gratefully accepted the offer. Four months down the track my novel is out there for readers to buy from any on-line bookstore — if they happen to stumble across it, that is. Which leads us to …

… the marketing phase.

What can I say about marketing and self-promotion? Beyond expressing my sincere appreciation to my publisher who’s definitely given it all she’s got, not a lot that’s printable really. I have the website, but I am not a born blogger or social networker. I’m registered on Amazon as an author, but I don’t have a following or a bevy of enthusiasts ready and willing to promote my book. I’ve knocked on the doors of bookshops and been knocked back in return. Goodreads has brought my book to the public eye to some extent through their ‘give away’ program. But, as far as exposure goes, I haven’t even managed to scratch the surface.

I wouldn’t say that the writing was the easy part, but there is an element of satisfaction in putting images into words and in tying those words into a tale, that serves to offset the difficulty. Some writers might enjoy the hunt for a publisher or revel in the marketing scene. I’m not one of them. For me, there simply isn’t the slightest element of satisfaction in being repeatedly rejected or failing to succeed with a promotion.

Even a writer friend, who has managed to get her self-published books on the shelves of one of the major bookstores, has become dejected with the promotional phase of this business. Her book-signings have proven to be an expensive and unsuccessful approach. There might be a clever trick to marketing, but to date it continues to elude us both. So …

… was it worth it?

What were my expectations when I began this journey? To become famous and make a fortune with my writing? No, I wasn’t that unrealistic. To reach enough readers to make a living? Well, perhaps not a good one, but maybe if I were exceptionally lucky, I might bring in a little money. To attain just enough success to justify the selfishness of spending so much time writing? I’ll admit to that. Will it ever happen? No, I really don’t think so. Along every step of my journey, I doubted I’d ever really reach my goal.

Then what of those fine notions about being prepared to work hard and take criticism? Ah, those aspects were under my control. As was persistence. But it seems even persistence only gets you so far. Maybe there are just too many writers out there — a lot of hopefuls in a time and place where there simply isn’t enough hope to go around. Some make it by luck. Most don’t.

I was lucky. Although I won’t make it big, I did reach a few people who seem to like my work. I guess you could say that I’m stuck in a ditch part way down the road. But by the look of things, the odds are against me ever finding a way to crawl out.

 Shaune Lafferty Webb

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Before we go any further, I suppose it would be a good idea to let you put a face to this writer, let you know who you’re dealing with, as it were.

This is one of the few photographs I have in which I look even halfway presentable. It was taken in Brisbane in 2010 (I know it’s almost seven years ago; I’m harder to photograph than a yeti) at the 50th reunion of agricultural scientists who graduated from Queensland University in years in ’58-’62 approximately.

What’s a person with a B. Agr. Sc. and a major in Plant Physiology doing writing fiction and editing/assessing manuscripts? It’s a l-o-n-g story …

For more, click on the About section above. For information about manuscript assessments or editing, please see: http://patrickdevalera.com

and click on Manuscript Development Services in the menu bar.

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