Will I ever grow up?

I took this photo of a shelf sign in the Port Melbourne bookshop, ‘Three Four Knock on the Door’. Says it all!

This is not a new subject for any adult involved in writing, reading and reviewing Young Adult books – we get asked ‘why’ a lot. As in “Why do we ‘still’ like YA, even though we’re supposedly now grown up”?

I have thought about this a few times, especially when I look at my Goodreads list and see one or two ‘adult’ titles amongst twenty or so YA. Will I grow out of enjoying reading and writing fiction for teenagers? Well, I can’t guarantee anything in life – who can – but I don’t think so (and I hope not, looking at the massive collection on my bookshelves, mostly Aussie titles!).

But I have several reasons. There can’t be too many of us who didn’t find our teenage years confusing, embarrassing and occasionally downright horrible. It’s such a time of change, both physically and emotionally, with hormones kicking in and our bodies shooting up… and out.

In my case, I was taller than most of my classmates, but very clumsy, and wore thick glasses until I was finally able to wear contacts (back then, kids couldn’t wear contacts until late teen years). I had constant pimples and oily hair, was no good at sport, and at the time it didn’t seem that many people appreciated the couple of things I was good at – reading and writing. I felt like a fish out of water at high school.

And even if your own teenage years were relatively straightforward, adolescence is that point where you want more independence, but often have little control over your own life. Depending on your family, culture and religion, you may be restricted in how you dress, who you date (or even whom you’re friends with), where you go and for how long. Getting that ticket to freedom – a driving licence – involves money and adult supervision for an extended length of time.

Rules are there for a reason (for your protection, in the majority of cases), but they can certainly feel unfair or restrictive, especially if you have an inquiring nature and/or your friends have far less restricted lifestyles!

So it’s a powerful time of life when emotions and hormones are high, and everything seems magnified to the point of either magnificence or malevolence. Friendships are a battleground of negotiations and changing alliances. It’s no wonder that time sticks in our minds.

And if you’re a teenage reader, books can be an escape from, or an explanation of, what is going on around you. Even just reading about someone like you, or someone going through a similar situation, can be comforting. Many YA authors report getting feedback from kids – ‘I thought I was the only one who felt this way until I read your book!’ ‘I recognised myself in your character and now I don’t feel so weird and alone.’ (Which is also why we need more diverse YA books, particularly from “own voices” writers, for people of all genders, sexualities, races, religions, cultures and backgrounds, but that’s another topic again)

Believe me, YA readers are among the most passionate of all – there’s a million blogs, Instagram, Tumblr, YouTube and Twitter feeds out there to prove it! Have a read – and if you can’t understand all the acronyms, just google them 😉 Every now and again I still read a book so amazing and beautifully written and heart-breaking that I’m taken back to that passion – and it feels great 🙂

My piles of Aussie YA books. One day I’ll rearrange my bookshelves so they all fit…

So yes, I think part of me will never really grow up, and I’m happy to keep that part of me. Writing characters and situations has been cathartic for me in some ways. It’s powerful to take a story and have control over the outcome, whatever that is.

While I’ll happily read adult fiction, literature and the occasional crime novel in particular, I turn back to YA because I take joy in both writing and reading about those days.

Besides, what would I do with my time if I didn’t take all those nice photos of books for Insta 😉

 

 

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Structural stepping stones

Liane Moriarty is an expert in structure and the art of the plot reveal

So in my last post, I mentioned I had some much-needed work to do on the structure of my new Young Adult manuscript, Inside Out. My beta readers liked the characters and the theme and various things within – bullying, school theatre, op-shopping (or thrift shopping),  dressing up, friendship, & finding what you’re good at.

A nice start, yes, but there are still structural weaknesses which show up when I try to write a synopsis for it, and I have trouble pin-pointing the main turning points. They are just not in the right spots, and they don’t carry the narrative as they should. It’s like stepping stones laid by tipsy pre-schoolers, going every which way except down the plot-line path.

Like many of us, I love reading a book where the plot pulls you along, making you turn each page in the absolute NEED to know what happened. This doesn’t have to be relegated to the crime or mystery genre, but it’s the art of the author drip-feeding information in such a way that you have to finish the book to get the whole story, as it were.

I wish I had that knack! An author friend describes it as holding a little back to keep the reader intrigued. It doesn’t have to be a ‘whodunnit’ but it could just be slowly releasing bits of information about a character’s childhood or an event which affected them. So I’m working on that. And reading crime novels and authors like Liane Moriarty, not my usual fare of YA, but experts in the gradual reveal.

I will implement the great advice from Nicole Hayes at her workshop I attended last month, of picking four main turning points and structuring the book around them. And I have timelines to work towards now – I am booked into another Writer’s Victoria workshop in early April, to Write and Present Your Pitch, with Erina Reddan. While I’ve done similar ones previously, this is good timing and I want to have more confidence in my structure and synopsis by then, when I will have to (gulp!) read my pitch aloud in front of the class, including said author friend.

There be monsters in there – Izzie’s not that worried about the giant dog behind her, so I should take her advice for Literary Speed Dating

And THAT in turn will lead into a very exciting event in June – Literary Speed Dating! Yes, I already have a very useful and lovely husband, but I’m greedy and I’d love to have a very useful and lovely agent or publisher as well. LSD (hmm) is described as being ‘a roomful of publishers and agents and three minutes to pitch your work’. Yes, my hands get sweaty and my stomach dissolves just on writing those words.

You need to study the list of professionals prior to the event, pick who will be most suitable, then on the day, line up at your first choice, pitch to them, then move over to your next choice to pitch to them, and so on. Hopefully leaving an (excellent) impression in your wake. These events are very popular, sell out as fast as a new JK Rowling title, and have resulted in some successful pairings. And I’m sticking to the firm belief that if I can survive LSD, I will be able to pitch my story to the Queen if I am ever in line to meet her 😉

I am also trying to get up the nerve again to send out some short stories into the wild. It’s funny how you can do this over the years but still lose your nerve at times, thinking ‘they’re not good enough and everyone will know I’m a terrible writer’.  I have to look at it this way – if my story is published, then assume it’s good enough and numerous people will enjoy it. If it’s not published, no-one will know and I can just keep improving it and pitching it elsewhere.

My Instagram post on the night of the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras celebrated queer characters in Australian YA – there are more titles but these are the ones I currently own 🙂

Meanwhile, I’m happy with the fact that I AM still writing and improving and going to workshops. Plus February’s #LoveOzYAChallenge on Instagram was a lot of fun and resulted in new followers and some lovely new people to chat with about our love of books, animals, food and um, books again (and book covers and characters and authors and…)

It still remains my favourite place to share photos and the love of books. And one day (hopefully in the near future) I’ll be sharing the cover of Inside Out with everyone 🙂

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February already!

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Hermie assisting with my Instagram bookshoot…

Um yes, so about keeping up those blog posts… no, it hasn’t been as frequent as I’d like.

Well, it doesn’t matter, I’m here now and keeping busy enough 🙂

I’ve got my manuscript, ‘Inside Out’ back from some lovely beta readers who were both complimentary and practical in their advice. The best part was that they empathised with my very shy MC, Allie, and loved her friend Izzie, which is exactly what I wanted.

I did a workshop with the amazing Nicole Hayes on getting your manuscript moving – it was both inspiring & a reminder of how much work I need to do on the structure and to incorporate some things that my beta readers have mentioned.

On that point, I’ll be removing some embarrassingly dated items as I first started this manuscript over twenty years ago. A few small things have changed in technology since then. One of which is that most of the magazines we used to read in secondary school (such as Dolly and Cleo) are now only available online.

Once I’ve made those changes to my manuscript and re-worked the synopsis, I aim to start querying it with agents – wish me luck!

Apart from writing on and off, I read 72 books last year and I’m aiming for 80 this year, including some non-fiction which I’m not good at reading for some reason. I need that narrative flow to keep me going, it seems.

I’m doing a #LoveOzYAChallenge on Instagram for February, so 28 days of choosing an Aussie YA title to match the daily challenge: today’s was ‘Country Towns’ so I picked a verse novel by Steven Herrick, ‘By The River’, about two brothers growing up in a claustrophobically-small town.

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The author Amie Kaufman (L) launching Nicole Hayes’ (R) latest YA novel, ‘A Shadow’s Breath’

Last Friday night I attended the launch of Nicole Hayes’ third YA novel, ‘A Shadow’s Breath’. It’s always inspirational to hear writers talk about their ideas and the work that they put in, and also the incredible support they receive from family, friends and the book community, especially other authors. It was lovely to catch up with people like Shivaun Plozza, author of ‘Frankie’, and Ellie Marney, author of the ‘Every’ series, plus meet others in the YA community for the first time IRL (‘In Real Life’ – see, I’m learning from the kids, ha).

And next Friday we’re flying across the country to my nephew’s wedding in WA for only 3 days – I think I may take the laptop for the several hours’ drive south from Perth to Augusta. It’s a long trip but so much fun to catch up with family – there’s at least ten of us travelling on the same flight from Melbourne 🙂

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Family portrait – spot the second cat!

We’ll miss all the pets but a very good friend is house-sitting and I suspect she’s going to enjoy spoiling them as much as they’ll enjoy being spoilt!

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Season’s Greetings

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Tillie reckons it’s too hot to be wearing Santa hats.

Hello anyone who’s still reading my very infrequent posts! I will try to do a little more next year – the idea was to cut down on blogging, not stop altogether 😉 But at least I’m doing more with my WIP (Works in Progress – should that be WsIP?) so that is a good thing!

 

 

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Izzie knows she looks cute in this, so she’s prepared to at least look at the camera.

Apart from that, real-life work has increased in business and therefore busyness this year, which is of course good and bad. So the writing is being done in short bursts after work and sometimes on the train on the way to various book gatherings. And in between reading, which is essential for improving my writing, but also a massive distraction… I will have read at least 70 books this year, by the end of this week.

 

 

For now I’d just like to say happy holidays to everyone around the world and best wishes for 2017 for whatever your passion. Thank you for reading and I will endeavour to catch up on reading your own blogs very soon 🙂

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Elvis and Hermie are also not keen to pose in the heat.

 

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Dog humour

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Taylor grinning (most likely she was impatiently waiting for her ball to be thrown)

Have you ever wondered if dogs have a sense of humour? I’ve always thought they do.

My old dog Taylor, a smart Kelpie x Border Collie with a big personality, loved playing games with us. One was hide and seek with me around the front entrance of my parents’ place, where you could circle from the little foyer into the dining room, the lounge room and back into the foyer. We’d try to outwit each other – she knew to look up to catch my movement through the glass window between the foyer and dining room.

So of course I would try to duck, which slowed me down… and she was usually too quick for me. The couple of times I managed to creep up behind her, she was poised in a crouch, absolutely quivering with anticipation, trying to work out where I was. It was rare to catch her, but when I did, she jumped on me like a little kid, with a doggy expression that’s only equivalent to laughter in humans.

She also had a rubber doughnut toy that was her great love indoors. One of her favourite games was to lay it on the couch beside one of us, then wait, eyes glued to the doughnut. When we’d reach for it, she’d leap in and snatch it away just in time, then prance around flipping it in the air, ears back against her head and eyes shining with the joy of having outplayed us yet again. Again, her form of laughing.

Tillie, our big German Shepherd/Malamute/Mastiff-or-something cross, plays chicken with us on the oval. The look on her face is pure devilment as she bores down on us at a gallop, feinting and dodging aside just in time. Then there’s the playful dance around us, the ‘gotcha’ moment. She also entertains herself by scaring our chickens, suddenly bounding at them so they explode into flustered squawks. She never actually chases them, just walks off afterwards with a facial expression that can only be described as smug and satisfied.

Dogs express a lot of emotions and feelings – excitement, love, anticipation, fear, dislike, anger, pain, hate, shame, boredom. No, I don’t think this is being anthropomorphic (people seeing human characteristics in animals). You’ll be nodding along with all of the above feelings if you’ve spent enough time with dogs.

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why so many humans love dogs, apart from their guarding abilities or their many other attributes which are useful to us (guiding, finding, rescuing, fetching, etc). Not only can we be ourselves and show all our emotions in front of them, but we can share their emotions too. Apart from the big welcome home, or the affectionate smooch, or the snuggle when you’re feeling sad or ill, there may also be a shared moment of humour. It’s a wonderful thing 🙂

Has your dog ever displayed a funny side? I’d love to hear about it!

Below is a video from three years ago when Tillie was a little more energetic and a lot rougher in play (don’t worry, Elvis is a tough little guy!):

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100 words to 64,000

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Izzie assisting with the writing process.

Well, the 100 words a day was a success! I changed it to writing 200 words a day, mostly on my manuscript, with a daily reminder in my phone so I couldn’t just forget. I achieved that target most days. Often I did much more that 200 words. So yes, it can work – I’ve finished a draft of Inside Out, my second YA novel 🙂

I can highly recommend this method for writers who are strapped for time, or who (like me) constantly tell themselves they’ll set aside a day to write, then find themselves achieving nothing except procrastinational housework and the rearranging of their desks.

Inside Out is now about 64,000 words and is cohesive enough for me to have sent it out to four beta readers this week. Now I’m working on the dreaded synopsis, blurb and tagline.

Here’s the tagline: Bullied horribly, the shy, clumsy daughter of sports stars refuses to attend PE classes – and finds herself on stage instead. 

instagramcapture_ade03c35-21da-4c9d-81fe-fecf4a552c17_jpgIn other bookish news, I enjoyed myself attending a few events during the Melbourne Writers Festival, including the launch of Cath Crowley’s Words in Deep Blue, a lovely book about losing and finding love and letters in a secondhand bookshop. Fiona Wood and Simmone Howell introduced the book, and Cath is a warm and humble author who happily signed books and chatted. I love that the launch of an eagerly awaited novel by one of Australia’s best YA authors had plates of homemade food from herself and a couple of the other writers!

I’ve also joined a monthly brunch with other YA readers that’s very enjoyable, discussing (with much fervour) what we’ve been reading while brunching (my favourite meal of the day). Except for the part where wiring started burning and smoking in the cafe last Sunday… hopefully that cafe is still there for next month’s meeting 😉

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Elvis and Tillie find a really good scent

The animals have been featuring on Instagram between all the book posts. I’d ask their opinion on this, but I suspect they don’t care at all apart from the treats and attention they receive during photo taking!

Tillie, at 13, is struggling a bit with her arthritis, and we’re a little worried at how she’ll cope with summer coming up. But her treatment and medication are going well, and she’s still happy, loving and extremely interested in her food and walks, so that’s a good sign to say the least.

Other than that, I’ve recovered from an operation on my right middle finger which was just day surgery to remove a benign lump. As it turns out, the lump was growing in an artery. No wonder it hurt! So my whole hand was bandaged for two weeks to allow it to heal, and while I had two weeks off, it was a bit restricted (no driving, difficult showering and um, toileting, plus one-handed typing – with my weaker hand). I highly appreciate having the use of both hands, that’s for sure.

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Time to find more bookshelf space

And spring is well on its way here in Melbourne, with lots of rain which is a change to the past… well, fifteen years, really. It’s nice to have all the green and growth right now, but it doesn’t bode well for bushfire season this summer. Hopefully everyone will be on the ball and keeping paddocks, bush and weeds under control.

Well, I’m off to do a little more writing, and then reading before bed. I’ve achieved my Goodreads goal of 50 books already this year, so another three months should add a few more. I haven’t read this much for years – I discovered it just takes some practice to get back into it. And it’s doing my own writing a world of good.  Tonight I’m beta-reading a draft of a YA manuscript for one of my beta readers – it’s fantastic and very funny so far!

Hope you’re all well, and what are you reading yourselves?

 

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REPOST: Review: ‘Coming of Age’ at Melbourne Writers Festival — Liz McShane

A re-post of Liz McShane’s great review of a fantastic session  🙂

It was great to be back at Melbourne Writers Festival this year, particularly given there was a series of panels devoted to YA. The panels were grouped under the umbrella of ‘Eye on YA’. I attended ‘YA Superstars’, ‘Coming of Age’ and ‘Fantasy Fiction’. The standout event for me was ‘Coming of Age’. ‘Coming of […]

via Review: ‘Coming of Age’ at Melbourne Writers Festival — Liz McShane

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