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writing_competitions

Writing Competitions – April 2017

Looking to get your work seen by those in the know? Entering short story or poetry competitions is a great way to firstly, get your writing chops moving, and secondly, get your name circulating where it counts – within the world of readers, writers, editors and publishers.

Whether you’re new to the game or have been doodling away for years, if your words are staying hidden on your computer, your smartphone, or in your journal, you’re never going to know the satisfaction of being published.

Of course, before sending off any submission, you’ll want it to be the best it can be: polished and proofread. Workshopping through a writing group, engaging a beta reader or a professional editor will increase your chances multi-fold. If a judge picks up errors in your first few paragraphs, or they can see you have no idea about point view, I can assure you, they won’t read any further – and why should they? If you can’t be bothered to put in your best effort, why should they give you their valuable time?

So go to it!

Here’s the latest list of short story and poetry competitions. Good luck and remember:

Rejection is not failure, but a step closer to your goal. 

2017 Dulcie Stone Writers Competition
Adelaide Plains Poets Poetry Competition 2016/17
Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction
Darebin Mayor’s Writing Awards
The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award 2018
Best of Times short story competition
AAWP Emerging Writers Prize
The Elyne Mitchell Writing Award
Children’s Peace Literature Award
Aesthetica Creative Writing Award
The Mozzie Poetry Prize

 

 


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Editing: A Strange Life

Editing Is A Strange Life

Editing is a strange life

Any writer knows that the creative mind is a tenuous friend, given to disappearing just when you need it most. You think you’ll never speak again, that the relationship has desiccated into a hot crumbly mess you could use as chili flakes. But then, like a cool fifty bucks you find in the pocket lining of your favourite jacket, your friend, your motivation, creativity, angel, muse — whatever you like to call it — comes sneaking up from the land of who-knows-where and suddenly you remember why you’re a writer. Editing is seen as different — the sobre part of the process. But it’s just as easy to lose yourself.

Freelance Editing is solitary. You forget the time and day. You forget what you did yesterday, what you did this morning. The only thing you never forget is there’s chocolate and coffee in the kitchen (red wine anyone?).  And since I’m an adult, how I take my breakfast caffeine is my business.

Being trusted with someone else’s work is also strange. Editing isn’t the black and white, right or wrong, clickity-clack straight railway line job people often perceive it to be.

‘Really? You’re an editor? What do you do? Fix spelling and grammar and stuff?’

‘Sure. But there’s also syntax, and voice — the personality of the author or narrator that shines through the text. There’s meaning — what are they trying to say? There’s arcs — story and character. For non-fiction, there’s flow and fact. How does it all hang together? And there’s the author themselves to consider: how you communicate with them without breaking their spirit.’

*pause to check the person is still awake*

‘There’s a subtlety involved. It’s subjective and rule bendy. It’s a tightrope walk: you’re dealing with someone else’s energy, their hopes, their passion. Sometimes a manuscript is akin to a first child.’

‘Zzzzz.’

‘Hello? You still there?’

Chops are tough. Not the meat kind, the Kill Your Darlings kind. Cut, cuts, cuts. Even though you know words have to go because they’re repetitive, or misused, or misplaced, or they drag the pace into a pit of no return, the process can be uncomfortable. Yes, cuts make the text and story tighter, and therefore give the manuscript a better chance of getting published (and that’s what we’re paid to do), but there’s also a chance the cuts are going to whack a sensitive author’s ego over the head with a wet fish. A large, smelly, heavy tuna fish. The upside is, if you handle that fish gently (perhaps fillet it before serving) the author will get over it and on with it, and show their appreciation.

Handling authors gently is a talent in itself. In my first year of study, I thought it would be fun to insert some humour into my feedback comments on an author’s manuscript. I didn’t personally know the author I was assigned to, and as it turned out she took great offence. It made me stop and reflect how I would’ve felt receiving that kind of feedback in my early days of writing. I subsequently apologised, several times. Luckily she’s a gracious person and we’re still friends. Lesson learnt. Gently does it.

Clear Communication: I’m probably an over-communicator. I need to know the author understands exactly what I’m doing for them. Even if it’s not what they’ve initially asked for — because I’ve had to extrapolate what they actually need done. My worst nightmare is a client getting their manuscript back and going WTH????? To avoid this, I respond to each client in writing, laying out exactly what we’ve verbally agreed on: the type of editing required, the word count, rates, expected completion dates and response times. It’s a fail-safe for down the track, especially if the direction of the project changes along the way.

Don’t Hide. When I was starting out, my first project was a piece of cake: fiction with a clear story that only needed a light line edit, plus a tad of structural editing. My second project was enormous and I accepted it not realising the time frame I quoted was way out of whack with the amount of work required. Apart from giving a fixed price and doing myself out of quite a few hundred dollars, I was feeling stressed because of the time it was taking me — it was a clever and complex story but with an unusual and inconsistent voice that required nearly every line to be edited. To counteract my fears of ruining my reputation (by missing the deadline and disappointing my client), I kept in constant contact with him, being honest about the work I was doing and the time it was taking: I wanted to be thorough and not rush through. Being honest paid off and his appreciation for being kept in the loop meant there was no annoyance. This took an enormous pressure off me.

Boundaries. I have a setting on my phone that cuts off communication between certain hours. It’s easy for an author who’s in a panic to forget what time it is, or what day it is (sound familiar). I tell them my hours of availability, my response time, and I stick to them. Sometimes it takes a bit of training, on both sides … I’ll just check my emails after dinner … wham! I’m thinking about my client’s curly question all night. Occasionally, I need to send a gentle reminder when a client is persistent. If I’m clever I can give them a distraction to keep their ferreting brains, or need for approval, at peace — a research project, or clarification of something unclear in their text.

Content is a personal decision. Sometimes a project might go against the grain of your beliefs, knowledge or advice. I once turned down an edit on a manuscript because I felt the content appeared to be misogynistic. It surprised me how strongly I felt about it. I pondered whether to be honest with the prospective client, or make up an excuse as to why I couldn’t do it. I chose honesty. Luckily, the author was an intelligent person and went away to reconsider his angle. He came back to me with a completely different manuscript and we developed an open, on-going working relationship (insert happy sigh here).

So it’s a strange life I’ve chosen. And if you’ve chosen it too, whether you’re a writer or an editor, like most creatives, you probably doubt yourself daily, or wonder where your next job will come from. When things are rolling along nicely and you have a mountain of work, you allow yourself to smile, to love what you do. When things are uncertain and you feel like a fraud, tell yourself:

Be patient.

Be brave.

Be yourself.

Strange is good.

 


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Dealing with criticism

Ouch! Negative Reviews and Criticism

Or Dealing with Other People’s Poo

One of the realities of becoming a published author is that people outside our supportive circle of friends and family will read and publicly comment on our work. Fabulous! Isn’t that why you write? To affect people? To make them think, to stir their emotions?

But what happens when those comments are constructions of uninformed bile or troll fodder? And all you want to do is stab yourself in the heart? Or better still, stab the reviewer in the heart? How satisfying would that be?

As writers, we know not everyone will fawn over our work, and that’s okay. Potato Potarto. But when we come across a review that’s absolutely stinging and deliberately misconstrued, it can stick in our writerly craws for weeks, months sometimes wiping out every good review we’ve ever read about our work (so sometimes we’re drama queens). Damn it! I hate that. Get out of my head!

Logically, we know this person doesn’t know us, and probably doesn’t know our work well, so it’s not personal — it’s NOT — even though it may feel like an attack. A very, very personal attack. But unless we’re prepared to line ourselves up against a social media firing squad wall, we often have no recourse against these kinds of attacks apart from bitching to the only other people who understand — our writerly buddies. We have no voice to share our pain, to defend our work, or educate someone who thinks they’re in a competition to read fifty books a month and spew forth bile rather than read a book carefully, absorb its subtext and story arc and only then give a considered, informed review — even if they don’t like it (the word is subjective here, not personal).

The only action we can take is to MOVE ON. Block the person from our feeds, our social media, our minds. Don’t go giving them emotional real estate. While you’re stewing and fuming, they’re not even thinking about you. They’re probably sitting in their tracky dacks and stained T-shirt, stuffing their faces with peanut M&Ms and coke, illegally downloading crap movies. It’s the way of the digital world.

Move on! The moment we think about trying to defend ourselves, we’re at risk of falling on our own sharpie pens (or bashing our heads in with our keyboards). Want we really want is an apology, and a troll is never going to apologise, never going to understand the days, months, years and risks you took to wring those words onto the page, or the humungous effort it took to get published. (Have they written a book? Have they been published? Probably not.) So there you are stuck with the bitter taste of powerlessness in your mouth and a broken heart.

Or are you? Perhaps you were smart enough not read those reviews in the first place? Or you arranged to have friend vet them for you first? It’s not such a stupid idea. In fact it’s a brilliant idea. What’s the point of crazily poring over someone’s vitriol, line by line, over and over, trying to understand why they don’t like your book? Why they seemingly don’t like you?

Are we, as artists, drawn to punishing ourselves? Why is it we can have fifty fabulous reviews but that one, uninformed piece of hate is the only one that sticks in our minds, haunts us into sleepless nights and sometimes smashes our confidence? What is it we’re looking for when we insist on reading, then rereading negative reviews, continually churning the words over in our minds, dissecting and seeking to understand? Perhaps we’re looking for fault in our own work. Perhaps we feel we deserve to be shot down. Maybe our own lack of belief in ourselves is seeking a slap across our literary faces.

How do we stop? How do we deal with our fragile egos? I think Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat pray love fame nails it when she says:

I don’t look at it, and I don’t look for it.

I will not put those words in my head. I will not put those images in my head. To do so is an act of violence against myself, and I do not commit acts of violence against myself anymore.

That’s smart. But is it smart to completely ignore all criticism? Probably not. When we’re too close to the trees who’s going to help us see the plot holes in our paper forests? People we trust of course. Here’s Elizabeth’s take on it again:

I DO listen to negative criticism about my work, however — but only from certain people, and only at a certain time.

The people who I listen to about my work are people who have earned the right to offer me criticism. There aren’t many of them, but they are precious. They are a few of my closest and most trusted friends, family members, and colleagues.

 As for WHEN I listen to criticism? I only listen when there is still a chance to fix or change the work. After the book is published, THERE IS NOTHING MORE I CAN DO ABOUT IT — so why would I go digging for criticism after the book is already printed, and it’s too late?

But what about the good reviews? Should we be avoiding reviews altogether? Of course not. We deserve to hear some happy news. We’ve worked bloody hard to get where we are, and that work never stops. Enjoy the moment. Roll around in it like you’re a sparrow enjoying a dust bath, like a puppy who’s found a roll of toilet paper, a chook that’s found worm. Go for it. You earned it! Every little bit of it.

Just don’t trawling through Goodreads, looking for that negative review to counterbalance how good you feel before moving onto the next project, putting yourself on the line again. And if you do accidentally stumble across a piece of poo, well, look away. LOOK AWAY! QUICK!. It’s not your poo, it’s theirs. You don’t own it.

Of course, it’s impossible to avoid negativity entirely, but understanding why we feel the way we do, and being able to control our reactions to it, goes a long way to padding our fragile egos.

Here’s the link to Elizabeth’s article. I highly recommend reading it: Elizabeth Gilbert – Dealing With Criticism

 


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FNQ Is no excuse not to write

Serendipity.

After a few days slacking off up here in Palm Cove and Port Douglas, the nagging knowledge that I have three commissioned articles to submit to a magazine, plus a client’s novel to finish editing, is sinking in.

Trouble is my butt has been growing lazier with each sun-soaked, fish n chip, beachy day.

Butt (see what I did there?) yesterday I discovered a gorgeous little yoga studio behind our resort that offers Vinyasa, Hatha and Yin. AND a bonus 7.30am hot yoga class without a yelling yoga nazi making you feel inadequate. (Bikram has done its dash with me).

No, the gorgeous Michael Joseph is funny, warm, welcoming and deliciously camp. I followed up his class with a refreshing swim, banana smoothie, coffee and now I’m busy writing.

I guess the point of this post is: the mind is more willing to produce quality goods when you look after the vessel it resides in.

I still haven’t come at the Kale juice on offer in all the healthy eating cafe’s up here … maybe if they added a little vodka?

Sorry, not sorry if I’m making you sick. Gotta enjoy the dream while it lasts.

It’s defintely vodka o’clock now.


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Wringing Pain into Writing - AJ Collins Blog

Wringing Pain into Writing

Category : Inspiration , Writing

Wringing Pain into Writing: Many writers question whether they should take advantage of witnessed pain by incorporating their family or friends’ stories into their writing. Helen Garner is famous for it in ‘The Spare Room’. Lee Kofman has just released a glaringly honest account of her personal relationships in ‘The Dangerous Bride’. I’ve been facing this dilemma recently with my own work, even though in my case I write fiction.

For my family, it’s a time rife with guilt, helplessness, yet humour. Guilt because we’re wondering if we’ve given up too early, helplessness because we simply don’t know what else could be done, humour because it’s the only way to cope.

Today, my father and I are transferring Mum, my step-mother, to a hospice. She won’t be coming back home. She has dementia. This is my father’s third marriage (my natural mother and first step-mother both died of cancer.) Current Mum has survived cancer too, only to succumb to this insidious disease.

The hospice is as nice as any modern, fresh, spacious and clean hospice can be, but it’s not home. Mum stalls outside her room. ‘No. No.’ It’s not hers. She doesn’t want it. Dad points to the picture of a collie dog on her door. Mum used to have a collie, Jordan. There’s a hint of recognition. Kathy, the hospice manager encourages Mum to come inside and look out the window — there’s a koala statue just outside, in the garden. Child-like, Mum shuffles in, coos at the window, then walks back out to the corridor.

While Dad retrieves her clothes and belongings from the car, I lead Mum outside to a grassy fenced-in garden. I’m grateful she’s distracted by the chicken and kangaroo statues. But her attention span is short and, tired of exploring, she wanders back inside to roam the corridors, eyes wide and mouth constantly working. ‘Where’s Dad?’ she asks. She no longer recognises that she has a husband.

We sit at a dining table with Kathy. Two other elderly residents sit across from us in the lounge, one inert in a recliner the other shifting her eyes between the television and us newcomers. There are plastic placemats with pictures of animals and birds. I move one with horses in front of Mum. In broken dialogue she manages to convey she used to ride horses on the sheep station where she grew up. Dad and I joke that I may be causing an upset if the residents come to dinner and find their placemats have been shifted.

We drink instant coffee while Kathy explains the admission procedure. She assures us that Mum will settle in after a week. It’s heart-breaking watching Mum stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, pick at things, wander the halls, ask to go home, stand up, sit down, grimace, wander the corridors again, ask to go home, try to open doors too heavy for her. Her mouth still works, her hands wring each other. Her expression is one of confusion and … panic? It’s hard to know what her damaged brain is processing.

Kathy is softly spoken. She offers us sympathy. ‘It’s a difficult time for you all. You’ll be feeling a lot of emotions, including guilt. Be kind to yourselves.’ At this point, I grit my teeth, force my face to freeze and picture my heart as a small, solid, steel box. Don’t be nice to us or I’ll cry. I swallow and ask about the DNR form she mentioned earlier. Practical. Be practical. Be strong.

The discussion dwindles to awkward glances of ‘do we leave now?’ We sneak away so as not to panic Mum. We’re heavy with a fusion of relief, self-loathing and sadness mixed with a clutching hope that we are doing the right thing. And if we are, why do we feel like cowards?

Conflicting emotions

What does a writer do with this emotional miasma? I’m doing it ‘write’ now. I’ve known this day was coming: years, when it was an early prognosis with a distant, inevitable end; months, when the insidious symptoms were too obvious to ignore; weeks, when I kept hoping for a reprieve from this horrible looming moment.

I experienced first-hand some of the cliches of Mum’s disease — the trembling hands and body, the half-formed sentences, the child-like tantrums and sudden joys at delusional imaginings. But from my father, I heard of more awkwardly embarrassing moments like pants being dropped in supermarkets, or unsettling yelling matches with ‘the people in the mirror’. I’m thankful I didn’t witness that; it would have touched some deep element of fear in me — is she seeing people from the ‘other side’? Or is it a basic symptom of brain malfunction? Either way, it’s confronting and terrifying.

So I observed, I stored away details, I derailed my emotions by incorporating them into the written word of my manuscript (an older YA fiction novel currently under submission). In the final stages of writing, it stunned me to know that life had handed me the missing pieces — the bits that coalesced the story, that solidified the characters and their relationships like an egg binds the ingredients of a cake, like the surface tension of a drop of water retains the liquid in one, whole, complete form. It was up to me to be brave enough to incorporate this ugly gift.

So I’m here now, with Dad, facing what we fear. And while I feel like a twig, offering miniscule support, my father is somehow surviving this constant tide of unfair crap life has handed him. And I see him as a sack of steel bearings: on the outside, he’s soft, malleable, worn down, world weary. On the inside, he’s intensely resilient, smiling for those of us that need it, placing one foot in front of the other to push through the shit life is throwing at him. Again. And Again.

And it’s only now I realise that this one day I’ve been dreading, the day I thought was the end, is only the beginning. For, like Noah Calhoun in The Notebook, my father will now have to sustain visits with a woman he loves dearly, a woman who will break his heart a little more each day, a woman who will swim in and out of reality and eventually lose whatever recognition she has of him.

Capitalising on Pain

And so it is for the teenage protagonist in my book: I gave Lauren’s mother dementia too. That’s a powerful, yet scary thing to say. While it’s not the core of the story, on one hand I feel like I’ve capitalised on my parent’s misfortune; on the other, I feel like I’m honouring their lives by sharing the deep ache of their lives.

Yes, there’s a risk that I may upset some family members by exploiting this horrible situation, but like many writers before me, I take a breath and move forward with unease. I steel myself by recognising that it’s a necessary step to making my writing resonate, and to perhaps showing other people who are suffering similar family tragedies that they’re not alone. That it’s okay to be frightened, to sometimes drop the ball, to ask for help, to learn and not fear the moment at hand. To know that you will survive and grow stronger than you think you are.

Otherwise, what’s the point of all this pain?


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Speed date

Speed Dating Demons

I’m about to face my demons

This week I have cut myself off. From everyone and everything not writing related. It’s intense, euphoric and gloriously selfish. A week of me. A week of solid writing. Why? Preparation for today’s speed dating session. Not the romantic kind, but the literary, heart-stopping kind where I will put my passion on the line.

Held by Writers Victoria at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, the two hour session is an opportunity to pitch to ten major players. All I will have is a strict, three minute, face to face, opportunity with each publisher, to make them fall in love with my novel. Then I will hold my breath and watch carefully for their reaction.

It’s a confronting idea: I’ve spent the last six years thinking I can write. I’ve spent the last three years actually learning how to write. I’ve spent the last year and half working on my current manuscript and hardly contributing the household finances. Bless my dear husband.

This week I barely sleep. Character dialogue is like endlesss chatter in my mind, flawless chapters seem to develop huge plot holes, and one night I stay up until 6 a.m. writing because my character won’t shut up and she warns her words will disappear if I don’t get them into my computer right now.

One thing keeps running through my head. One frustrating, self-defeating thought: I have no idea what the core of my story is. I have no idea how to verbally encapsulate the essence of it in a one (maximum two) sentence logline. I need twenty sentences. Thirty. Forty. But I’m required to deliver it succinctly, and then give the whole story’s outline in less than fifty seconds. One minute in total. (We will need the other two minutes to answer questions).

I write, rewrite, ditch it all, write again, swap pitches, get and give feedback, and all I’m doing is making minute changes to the same logline and pitch. I know the truth is buried in there somewhere; it just won’t come to me. Don’t they understand there’s more to this novel than can be captured in one freakin’ sentence?

The story has changed form, characters have come and go, storylines have twisted so far I’ve have to rein them back to reality. Where the hell was I heading in the first place? Not where I’ve ended up. And it’s not even finished!

It takes remembering one comment during an earlier hefty discussion with my weekly workshop group (I’m an addict for having my chapters read and torn apart — okay, questioned in intricate detail by other authors like myself and then sulking for a week before I realise they’re right in their assessment) for the light to go on. It’s all so simple and one wonderfully insightful friend has said it already: ‘Lauren blames herself.’

It all falls into place. Thank you. Thank You!

The day is here. And I’m too excited to be nervous. I’ve gone to ridiculous lengths: I’ve learnt my logline and pitch by heart (though in the actual moment I’m so glad to have it on paper in front of me). I have put together awesome packages ready with my CV, pitch, synopsis and first five chapters — just in case.

While I wait in queues to see each publisher, I chat with other wannabes. It’s a great way to not lose my head because everyone here is just as invested as I am. All these (mostly) women have given their moments of stolen time to write. They all want the same thing: my publishing contract.

I take a seat with my first victim. She stops me twenty seconds into my pitch to tell me she needs to know the age of my protagonist up front. Rookie mistake. I thank her and keep ploughing. She says it’s a great plot but her policy is not to look at anything until the novel is complete. She says I should enter their YA competition when it opens early next year. She doesn’t give me her business card. I think I’ve been brushed off.

My next victim says she likes my pitch very much and she will keep it to read over again later. She’ll get back to me if she’s interested. Still no card though I’m feeling a little more hopeful.

My third try strikes gold. The publisher loves it. She wants to read me. I leave her table feeling like I have a golden ticket in my hand (it’s not, it’s her regular business card).

Fourth victim: I can’t really remember; I’m too high from the success of last one. I think this publisher liked it, she sounded interested. Told me to enter their YA competition. Wait. Was that another brush off? I wasn’t really listening. Did I say I was still high?

Fifth victim: ‘That’s an excellent pitch. I’m going to hand it over to our YA department.’

And bang! Time is up. Another four publishers and one agent sits untapped, probably as exhausted as the rest of us hopefuls. Now it’s the waiting game: waiting for the response from the big one, waiting for the other two possibilities to follow through (if they ever do), waiting for my protagonist to tell me if she wants to change her ending again: happy, heartbroken, or independently triumphant.

I’ve put my heart out there. It might come back chewed up and spat out, it might come back glowing with possibility. And if it does, the next round of waiting and hoping begins. Baby steps of agonised hope. There’s nothing to do now but keep writing.


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Pitch perfect

Tips on delivering the perfect pitch to a publisher

During my last semester at RMIT, where I did my Associate Degree in Professional Writing & Editing, my classmates and I were offered the valuable opportunity of pitching our manuscripts to two major publishers: Penguin and Text. I thought I would share some thoughts about the experience to help other newbie authors who feel their manuscript is at this stage.

We were all nervous, yet excited. We were given two minutes each to get our pitches across and then a further couple of minutes for questions from the publishers. Not a lot, granted, but it’s amazing what you can get across in a short period of time if you know your stuff.

The biggest lesson I took away from the event was not to be concerned about a ‘poker face’ or lack of enthusiasm from the publishers. In most cases, their reactions will have no bearing on the quality of your delivery – they’re just concentrating on listening to your pitch and where it might fit within their publication list.

And if they don’t show interest, well, you just keep on trying. It’s not the end of the world, or the end of your writing career. Chalk it up as experience. And the more experience you have, the better you will get at representing your manuscript.

Some students managed to get themselves all het up, as if this was their one big chance – forget it! Look upon this as a stepping stone. I’ve got a binder with rejection letters that I’m proud of; it means I’m moving through the stages that all successful authors have been through before achieving success. If you’re expecting to nail it first time, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. Go easy. It’s just the beginning.

I found that knowing your story inside-out is the key to confidence. Showing that you care about your characters and their stories is what’s going to come across in your delivery.

Quick Tips:

  • remember this is a chance – not your only chance
  • be brief: make a list of around 6 – 8 key points and stick to them
  • open with genre, name of manuscript, name of protagonist
  • focus on your pitch and not your perceptions of the publisher
  • inject some humour into your delivery
  • make eye contact
  • show passion for your writing
  • don’t expect to be perfect, it’s okay to stumble: you’re only human
  • practise your pitch again and again until it rolls off your tongue
  • practise in front of a mirror
  • know your market and be able to name some comparison authors or books
  • leave arrogance at home and don’t tell the publishers what to think
  • say thank you for the opportunity

During my research on how to pitch, I came across the above YouTube video: Make your pitch! 12 finalists pitch to big Hollywood live at the Napa Valley Film Festival.  Enjoy!


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Diamonds

The writing process – Blog Hop

Diamonds don’t start out shiny

My gorgeous friend and fellow scribe, Nicole Hayes, author of YA novel Whole of My World, has asked me to participate in a Blog Hop, called ‘The Writing Process’.

I thought it might be a good opportunity for some introspective examination — a pause to stop, breathe, and look where I am — so here are the four simple questions accompanied by my, hopefully not too waffly, answers.

1. What am I working on?

Oh god! What am I not working on?

• Literary Fiction: a novel based on the universal and ever-present need for parental approval.

• YA Fiction: a coming of age story about an abused young girl learning to face her fear of relationships as she moves into adulthood.

• Adult Thriller: abduction and slavery in the South Seas.

• Romance: love set in the turbulence of cyclonic Far North Queensland.

• Plus: copywriting, blogs, the odd short story, website content, articles, plus my editing and proofreading work. I think I just ran out of breath there.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Okay, I was asked this question in last week and I had a crap answer then, but I’m sticking to it anyway: it’s hard to define because I’m enjoying a tasting plate of genres to find out what my favourite flavour is. I have, however, heard it said again and again that there are no new stories; the difference lies in how the stories are told. So I’m leaning towards what differentiates authors themselves: their voices. I’m either grabbed from the start or it’s not worth persisting with the struggle. That’s a scary thing, knowing you have to snaffle a reader with your very first words.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because I’m a little crazy (all writers are IMO) and it’s in my nature to stretch myself. Over time I’ve learned to trust that path. Being brave enough to write the truth of our experiences, painful or joyful, embroidered in fictional characters or made bare in factual narratives, makes the writing real for others to experience. It works, it flows. Resisting the truth arrests the story. Ooh can I quote that?

4. How does my writing process work?

I’m a polisher. I can’t move on until my words, diamonds in the rough, have a reasonable shine. That doesn’t mean my words won’t get rewritten next time I read them. I’m a literary bottle of Mr Sheen and the words are never shiny enough.

That’s it. I’m done. Next Monday I’m passing the literary baton to one of my heroes and tutors at RMIT: Simmone Howell, author of Girl Defective, Notes from the Teenage Underground and Everything Beautiful. You can find Simmone here: www.simmonehowell.com.au


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TC where do you write

Where do you write?

I do it on the patio with TC

Where do you write? I once tried to do it in the bath. I visualised a leisurely, relaxed activity. I sat my iPad on a chair so I could reach over and type thoughts as they came to me. Dumb idea. Uncomfortable, wet-fingered, yoga-twisting awkwardness is what resulted. At least I can say I’ve tried it.

My favourite place to write is on our tiny front patio under a sun umbrella with one of our two cats supervising (see pic). That’s TC. He keeps his opinions to himself, even when I ask for them. He’s stubborn (or wise) like that. If he had opposable thumbs so he could bring me coffee he’d be purrrfect.

In bed first thing in the morning before distractions set in, is an incredibly productive option. Night time in bed doesn’t really work for me as I’m not a pen and paper girl and I have a noise-averse hubby (key taps can sound like whack-a-mole in the dead of the night) whose day job pays the mortgage and buys cat food. Fair enough, I need to eat too.

I’ve been told Hemingway liked to stand at a chest of drawers near a window in his bedroom, to write. *Goes off to visit good friend Google * True, it seems, and Hemingway wasn’t alone: Kierkegaard, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Vladimir Nabokov and Virginia Woolf were also fans of the vertical stance. Personally, I find being seated on my well-padded butt quite satisfactory for a writing position. The art is hard enough without tiring oneself out physically as well as mentally. Having said that, I’ll probably give it a try because I can.

So where else? I used to frequent a Borders Café to write. Sadly, it’s long gone now. It was perfect for eavesdropping on conversations—essential for picking up nuances in dialogue—and being surrounded by books has a settling effect on me. The tasty coffee and banana bread was a bonus. Your local library is always available for a quiet, disruptive-free zone. Again I think it’s the books thing, plus being around like-minded others with a similar energy is inspiring. Try it. If you get stuck writing you can always read and that’s just as productive.

The weirdest place I’ve written? Not so much weird as tense: making notes by flashlight, in a Far North Queensland community sports centre, with a category 5 cyclone in full force. With no power and a flat iPad battery, I had to resort to pen and paper. I felt terribly ‘authentic’, like an on-the-scene reporter, if that isn’t too wanky a concept.

If you choose to write while up a tree, on the loo, or on a pull-down tray in an aeroplane, do what works for you; words on the page is the aim. Your readers will never know.


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conflict

Stories from Conflict

Conflict can lead to creativity

Where do stories come from?

Some writers say the ideas simply float into their heads when they’re not really trying. Others like to brain-storm and think up a plethora of scenarios before they find the one that sits best.

I think the kernels of stories tend to come from our own everyday experiences: people we meet, situations we encounter, characters on television and in books, voices we’ve heard in a café or on a train ride. All this information is percolating in our brains and once our imaginations get a hold of that jumble, it feeds into our writerly minds, presenting us with a myriad of scenarios and characters.

Sorting through the tangle

It’s not so easy though. When stories do present themselves, they’re not something tangible we can grasp. We have to sit our butts down and let our fingers channel the ideas. In an interview with The Guardian, Tim Winton uses the metaphor of hunting to describe the story creation process: “You never look in the eyes of an animal. You never look at it directly, because it knows that you’re coming and runs away”. Isn’t it the truth? If we think too hard about the process it’s like the words slip through our keyboards instead of onto ours screens.

Running with an idea

Just yesterday, I picked up a new idea while sitting in my doctor’s waiting room (I’m fine thanks, if you were wondering). Although the scene I witnessed, involving an arrogant old man and a kindly nurse, left me angry, once I’d calmed I realised I’d been given the gift of a conflict I could develop into a short story or plot for a novel.

In his book ‘On Writing’, Stephen King says “The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question: What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot). What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo).

I applied this What-if scenario to my old man and the nurse and this is what I came up with:

What if an arrogant elderly man, who doesn’t want to wait a lousy ten minutes for his blood test:
– decides to chuck a tanty and knocks over a toxic sample, putting people’s lives in danger?
– kills the nurse with a knife protruding from the base of his walking stick?
– is beaten by his impatient wife when he gets home because he’s kept her waiting?

You know what? I used to think I was a nutcase for constantly creating tension in my mind from imagined conflicts: the dialogue between myself and the person who cut in line for coffee, or the person who took the parking spot I was waiting for, or the guard’s reaction if I lost my train pass before reaching my city stop. Now, I just let it happen and use it. There’s story fodder in every situation. Embrace it.


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