Endless possibilities

The studio

Eleanor Dark’s studio, my writing spot for the two weeks

A bit of an update on my latest YA manuscript, Ella, which won me a writing residence at Varuna this year. I wrote about winning this in September last year but forgot to say how it actually went.

I chose to go in the first two weeks of May, just as the weather started to get cooler. I hadn’t visited the Blue Mountains (east of Sydney) before, and the little town of Katoomba and the gorgeous surrounds were everything I’d heard of, and more. It’s a beautiful little old town set high in the mountains overlooking the stunning Valley and Cascade Falls. You can feel the history of the place reaching far back to the first inhabitants.

I got asked a lot what the residency involved, so here’s a quick rundown: two weeks of writing, eating, sleeping, walking, reading and talking writing! Yep, heaven for writers, basically. Included in the residency was an hour’s meeting with writing consultant, Dr Carol Major.  She interrogated me very gently but piercingly about what my manuscript was about, and what I wanted to convey with it. I blurted out that it’s “about the environment”, which was not what I’d expected to say – it’s an older YA book set on a farm with a practical, hard-working & hard-living farm girl. In that time, Carol gave me much to think about, and a couple of writing exercises to do. When I returned to my writing studio, there was a skink (a tiny lizard) sunning itself on the worn stone doorstep, which I took as a symbol that I was on the right path.

Five writers at a time stay in the old house, with all food provided and the lovely — coming in the evenings to prepare a beautiful cooked dinner each night. No housework, shopping, cooking or cleaning! Let alone a two week break from our paid jobs and/or family routines! Yes, you can see why people line up to apply for this residency 🙂

Writing hours are kept from 9am-6pm so as not to disturb anyone at work, but of course you could pre-arrange to meet someone for lunch or a walk. There was also a lot of chat in the kitchen when making a cuppa or sandwich. We would then all meet in the large library for pre-dinner chat about the day’s work then sit down for dinner around 7pm. Have you ever heard of anything so civilised? And we did talk and talk about writing, reading, writers’ festivals, the publishing industry and so much more. There was a good combination of people of all ages and publishing experience and writing backgrounds, so there was a lot to learn. And yep, a fair bit of gossip that shall remain buried under the ‘what’s said at Varuna, stays at Varuna’ law. It helps that I’m incredibly forgetful, of course 😉

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters (Meehni, Wimlah and Gunnedoo) look out across the stunning Kedumba (Jamison) Valley

In answer to the second most asked question, yes, I did do a lot of writing but mostly editing – I removed around 5000 words and worked on re-structuring the story. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to be immersed in a creative work for a whole two weeks – I thought I wouldn’t be able to make the most of, but it was the right time to work on this manuscript, and certainly the right surroundings. The Blue Mountains is one of the most stunning natural environments in the world (including the valley where they found the magnificent Wollemi pine), and despite the heavy loads of tourists and horribly commercial chairlift rides, the spirit of the places remains.


Local cockatoos kept me entertained while writing

Since my stay, I’ve been able to finish the manuscript (FINALLY got that structure into place after a lot of hard work!) and send it to my lovely agent, Sally Bird. Happily she liked it, and after I made a few changes, she sent it out into the great big publishing world last week. I have to say that despite getting over ten rejections for my previous (and now shelved) manuscript last year, this is still one of my favourite times when the possibilities seem endless and there’s hope that at least one publisher will take an interest in my book. All it takes is that one person at the right time.

So here’s hoping that my next post will have some positive news, but who knows? Meanwhile I have a very lovely middle-grade children’s book to work on, which I’d love to get out into the world before my younger relatives are too old to read it!

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Facing Up is Five!

It’s October 2019, which means my YA novel Facing Up is having a birthday! It’s reached the grand old age of five, and I thought that was worthy of a blog post 🙂

Facing Up was the second manuscript I started, but the first one I finished. It’s not polished writing and I look back at all the things I could change, but I’m quite proud of it. The characters still resonate in my head and it was alright for a first effort!

Here’s the blurb:

“Metal crunched, screamed as the force sent bodies in all directions. Instant stink of burnt rubber, glimpse of an arm flying up.

Only the signpost slamming into the side window stopped Carly’s momentum. Glass crunched. Then there was nothing.” 

Since the car accident, Carly hasn’t changed that much. She’s still yelling at her family, rebelling, alienating most people. Only now she has reasons to be angry.

The guy she liked is heading to jail for causing the accident. His mate was killed. Carly’s best friend Suzie is now wheelchair-bound. And a complete stranger is dead.

Life sucks, and Carly’s coping the only way she can.

If she can’t pull herself together, everything will fall apart. But what can you do when your face is half full of tiny glass pieces?

The anniversary has made me think a lot about the past five years. Have I achieved much since then? Well, I didn’t sell huge numbers of books, that’s for sure – but I only have a handful of paperbacks left out of the print run of 100 I did back then. The eBook isn’t on the bestseller list on Amazon, either, but then those lists can be read in various ways, depending on how far down the category rabbit-hole you travel!

I’ve wondered in the past if I made a mistake self-publishing Facing Up when I did. But no, it’s been part of my learning curve. In earlier drafts it was rejected by a number of publishers and agents. Once I’d had a manuscript assessment, re-written a lot of it and had several people read it, self-publishing (or indie publishing) was taking off and when a friend asked if I’d considered it (Amanda Hocking’s Trylle series was making waves at the time via Amazon) I investigated and thought why not?

So I’ll never really know if the revamped version would have been accepted, but I do know that I wasn’t great at pitching and I hadn’t done any workshops or talked to many other authors, traditionally- or self-published. I did all that AFTER I self-published – rookie mistake! But I did increase my social media as part of promoting the book, and in this way I met many wonderful people, learnt all sorts of marketing tips, and started getting out in real life more often, attending launches and workshops.

And along the way, I wrote and read and wrote some more, got short-listed in a short-story competition, found an agent and won a writing residency fellowship at Varuna – so I guess Facing Up was my calling card into the Aussie YA writing world.

I now have many friends and contacts, a much better idea of how publishing works and feel more equipped to get my writing out there and into readers’ hands.

I’m hoping to do another blog soon about my writing residency and further news, but until then, happy reading and writing to all the readers and writers out there 😊


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A work in progress (or two)

Bookstack LoveOzYA challenge

Day 7 in the latest #LoveOzYA challenge on Instagram

Hmm, the blog posts are getting further and further apart. But I am still here, still writing, and mostly present on Bookstagram, my happy place of books, authors, readers and bloggers. It’s not a coincidence that many of the accounts I follow post gorgeous and/or funny photos of their animals alongside gorgeous photos of book recommendations, events or just life. A nice place to be, most of the time!

Anyway, there’s now just six weeks (arrgghh!) until I take up my residential fellowship at Varuna in the stunning Blue Mountains outside Sydney. My manuscript Ella, which got me the fellowship, has gone out to two beta readers so far and initial reports are good. Phew! It’s definitely a work in progress, one where I know what I want to achieve and feel that I am on the right track. I am happy with the idea that it will take lots of revising and drafting to get it to publishable stage, and that two weeks of intensive work at Varuna should help with this.

Elvie and Hermie on bed

More animals? I think they’re glad they’re fictional

Meanwhile I’m using the time to work at two lighter, younger manuscripts, one of which is YA (young adult) and the other more MG (middle grade). I am having fun with both (strangely, they both involve lots of animals again – there are a few in Ella as well) and I think I have finally forced myself to come up with plots that may not be perfect but they will lead me into finishing a first draft in a lot less time than my first three manuscripts (ie: maybe even under a year – WOW!).

My wonderful friend and very successful author Alison Evans told me recently about this lovely lady Rachael Stephen, who talks about a thing called the Plot Embryo. As Rachael says herself, she didn’t come up with the idea, but she sure knows how to use it, manipulate it and give extremely helpful advice to authors struggling with plotting and just generally getting that damn manuscript finished. Added bonuses – her Scottish accent, no-nonsense attitude, lots of swearing and bloopers 😀

Oh – my YA manuscript Inside Out is on hold for now after going out to ten publishers and aaaaaaalmost hooking one. So close! But yes, it’s not quite ready for publication in our very small Aussie YA world and it’s harder to push a debut author unless they already have a name for themselves, so I’m concentrating on taking Ella to Varuna to continue our battle (she’s my toughest character yet).

YA Day 2019

YA Day, Melbourne, Feb 2019

So the long road to being published (traditionally) continues between lots of reading, author events, bookclub, workshops and fun writing sessions with friends (eh, so, the last one involved much coffee, laughs, advice and very little writing, but it was worth it!) 🙂

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Happy New Year and all that

Spoilt pets

The animals have had a slow year too

It’s been a slow year on the blogging front, but I’m happy to say I’m doing a lot more work on my manuscripts instead, so that evens things out in my opinion. While I don’t have any solid news about the manuscript which went out to publishers this year, one of them has shown interest in working with me in the future, so that is a happy dance right there!

Also I am pleased with the progress I’m making on Ella, the manuscript I’ll be working on during the Varuna residency next year, where I’m booked for two weeks at the start of May. So it’s been a good writing year all up 🙂

A few books read

A few books read

I’ve managed to read 119 books so far this year, according to Goodreads… I set the bar low at 90, it seems. A few were audio books (which take me forever to listen to but are great when cooking or doing my stretches) and a number were middle-grade, which don’t take long. The majority were YA by Australian authors, and adult fiction or crime fiction by mostly female authors – I seem to gravitate that way. I used to be reluctant to read too much, thinking it would interfere with my writing, but now I’m back to my childhood reading habits of picking up another book as soon as I’ve finished one, or alternating between two books. And it feels like a good influence on my writing style and ability – finally, it’s all soaking in!

Other than that, dropping back to part-time work has helped my health and energy, even if the budget has had to shrink a bit. I’d rather be working on my writing and spending time with my animals and great people rather than spending money on the latest technology fad or an overseas holiday or fancy wardrobe.

I’ve started with TreeProject again, and have planted most of the seeds already to grow indigenous seedlings for a farm out in Gippsland (a region east of Melbourne). Hopefully I’ll be able to provide the farmer with over 300 young trees, shrubs and grasses to help re-vegetate his property in autumn next year.

Adani protest 2018

The Adani protest outside Flinders Street Station in the heart of Melbourne.

On that environmental note, I marched in the Climate Change rally in Melbourne on December 2nd. Thousands of people of all backgrounds, ages and politics turned out in four cities to march against the building of the gigantic Adani coalmine in Queensland. This is a mining company with a poor history of environmental and human rights in its own country – if they build this mine, it will severely affect not only the area around it, but also the endangered Great Barrier Reef.

Anyway, I digress, but you can see what has been worrying me and millions of others this year. It seems that the health of our environment is slipping through our fingers, along with hundreds of species of precious, unique flora and fauna, while our politicians play power games of who can last the longest in the top job (1-2 years seems to be the going rate).

Okay, I’d better get off my ranting soap box and get back to my writing! I wish everyone safe holidays and a very Happy New Year – take care and enjoy your reading and writing or whatever else keeps you creative and well 🙂

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Some exciting news! I’ve won a Varuna Residential Fellowship for 2019 🙂

This is an amazing opportunity for Australian writers – basically it’s a writing retreat in Katoomba, in the beautiful, mystical Blue Mountains just west of Sydney.  It’s two weeks given over to writing, reading, thinking and talking to other writers, all in an amazing old mansion called ‘Varuna’.

Imagine that! No cooking or cleaning or work or any mundane thing that provides a writer with their usual procrastination tactics 😉

Varuna, the mansion and the property around it, was donated to the writers of Australia by Mick Dark in memory of his parents, Eleanor and Dr Eric Dark. Both his parents were extraordinary people – writers and environmentalists with a strong sense of social justice. Fellowships are given for manuscripts which are judged blind, on fifty pages and a 200 word synopsis (I can tell you the synopsis was the hardest part of the two!)

I’ll be working on a manuscript that’s still YA but on the older side, with a strong female main character, set in country Victoria this time:

When Ella’s cousin drowns, their small town is divided about the odd circumstances. A year on, trespassers on their farm trigger events that unearth family secrets.

Ella is a farm girl who takes no prisoners – in fact, I’ve just realised that she reminds me of a modern-day Norah from the classic Billabong series by Mary Grant Bruce – a girl who’s grown up on horseback, knows how to use a gun, lives and breathes animals and the environment around her… I love writing her and her physicality. And this book will have a strong environmental lean as well.

Anyway, that’s my exciting news for the week – hopefully I’ll be able to get up to NSW in autumn next year. My lovely husband will meanwhile be keeping the home fires burning, looking after our menagerie. Missing them all will be the hardest part, I feel 🙂

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Spiderwebs of contacts

1524467769058I used to hate the idea of networking – to me, it was just another buzzword, and involved people having drinks, swapping business cards and earnestly talking at each other about their work, without really connecting personally.

In my early writing years I didn’t understand how this could possibly help me. Isn’t writing all about working on your own, getting the thoughts out of your head and onto the page? Hopefully in a form that actually communicates those thoughts to other people.

So I spent too many years not going to events or launches or workshops. Strangely, that was despite the fact that I’d spent several years studying Professional Writing and Editing part-time, and enjoyed learning from other students as well as the lecturers. I just couldn’t seem to force myself to attend things during the time when I might have been relaxing or, well, actually writing.

But then a few years ago I took the dive into various forms of social media, mainly to promote my YA book – Twitter, a Facebook writer page, Tumblr, this blog, and then Instagram. Slowly and awkwardly I made friends with other writers and YA readers in the ether, even joining in a competition for ‘first chapters’ and a Twitter chat for YA fans. Then I ventured out into the world of book launches and a few events, and started meeting some of those people in real life.

Networking involves social contact with strangers, talking and making sense, and probably trying to juggle a glass of wine and a cupcake covering in a disturbing amount of squishy icing, all without looking like someone just out of a hundred days of isolation.

That pretty much sums up an author’s life – and says loads about why not all of us are fabulous networkers. However, the good thing about getting together at events is sharing stuff with people who quite likely enjoy the same stuff.

Social media is the stepping stone for this. I can’t count the number of times I’ve tentatively approached someone who looks familiar, because they have their photo on Twitter/Insta/Facebook, and we’ve exchanged handles and then proper names if necessary.  I now always introduce myself as “Carolyn Gilpin – carolynswriting” and 95% of the time get the response “of course, yes, we follow each other!”

Being quite shy, I used to have my book cover as my profile pic, until a lovely author (Sarah Epstein) suggested I change to a photo of myself, to make it easier for people to recognise me. I finally felt confident enough to do so, and it’s been nice.

I have found that despite my shyness, clumsiness and ability to embarrass myself with amazing ease (*note to self – make sure your phone’s camera flash is turned OFF when taking photos of authors while sitting in the front row at a bookshop talk), I CAN get out there and make contacts and even friends.


Two lovely authors I’ve met via social media then in real life – Eliza Henry-Jones and Emily Gale at the launch of Eliza’s YA book P is for Pearl in March this year.

This has led to great exchanges of book recommendations, writing tips, publishing tips, all sorts of handy information and juicy gossip, and in some cases friendships which I hope will last forever.

It sometimes leads to people searching out your writing, and even to those tiny, sometimes unrecognisable connections which may end up with you chatting to your future publisher/editor/agent 🙂

Now in my head I see spiderwebs of connections with people dotted here and there, all connected in different ways to various people.

Hopefully these people aren’t all injecting an anaesthetic venom into their contacts/prey then sucking the life-juice out of them! (Okay, there might be a few like that, but I digress)

Ha ha, no, hopefully these people are having a nice chat about shared likes and learning new things, making new connections. So next weekend I’ll be heading to a free event at a local library with four Aussie YA authors, one of whom I’m already friends with, because we met via Instagram, then introduced ourselves at a book launch, and now we catch up at events and for coffee and chats about writing and life in general. How good is that?  🙂


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It’s all about you… or me… or us

sky can litter coca cola

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Australia’s in the middle of a campaign right now to cut out single-use plastic bags, straws, bottles, etc. And it’s making me think about human behaviour.

How often do you ignore something wrong, something as simple as a discarded can lying in the gutter? Simply because you didn’t drop it there, or you didn’t have time to pick it up and find a rubbish bin, or you didn’t want to get your hands dirty. Fair enough.

It happens. We all feel that way at times.

But what would happen if you took a different view? If I took a different view? What if we all think from the ‘I’ point of view. First person, in writing terms. As in, “What can I do to help? What can I do to make it better?”

I know this can be turned on its head and people could just say ‘But I didn’t do that, so why should I have to clean up the mess.’ Or from the perpetrators’ point of view: ‘I can’t be stuffed walking two metres to the bin, I’ll drop my rubbish here.’

It’s too easy to go down that path, and we’ve all been there. But it would be nice to think that we, as humans who are apparently meant to be the superior beings, could collectively say, ‘I will do it. I will put my rubbish in the bin. I will help. I will pick up that bottle and put it in recycling. I will decide not to buy a plastic bottle of water today – instead, I’ll remember to take my reusable water bottle, to save money and the impact of packaging.’

Do you see what I mean? If we all decide personally to do something positive, every day, it could create a massive impact. Start simple, work your way up. Pick up that rubbish; don’t buy the takeaway food in all its throwaway packaging; help your neighbours move something; tell the people down the street that their poor dog barks for hours on end when they’re out; call the police if you hear a disturbance next door; ask authorities to investigate if you think something terribly wrong is happening to that child.

Okay, the last couple are dramatic examples and I don’t wish for anyone to have to face things like that. But they do happen, and often they keep happening because people nearby prefer to stay out of it: “It’s not my problem. Not my fault.”

Well, it may not be MY fault, but I can be part of the change, by doing something good every day.

ground group growth hands

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

YOU can be part of  the change, by doing something good every day.

WE can be part of the change, by doing something good every day.

Collectively, we’d all end up much better off. And really, most of it’s not that hard 🙂

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