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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Agented

Love OzYA collection

My Aussie YA collection – I hope to add my own (traditionally published) book!

Is ‘agented’ even a word? I don’t think it is, but I like the sound of it! I am now agented; I am with agent; I have an agent 😉

Basically, I’m very excited to announce that my YA manuscript Inside Out is now being represented by the lovely Sally Bird, of the Calidris Literary Agency. Sally has been an agent for over 21 years, and has a wealth of experience, so I’m really looking forward to working with her and learning so much more about the publishing industry!

A couple of people, on hearing my news, have asked when my book will be published. Oh, I wish it were that fast and simple!

Basically, Sally first read Inside Out (working title) around October last year. She was After four weeks of waiting, she responded to say that she liked it, but she didn’t feel it was quite ready, so she suggested I make some changes and try her again, if I wanted to do so. Well, readers, that is a rejection but a really positive one in publishing-speak! Mind you, I had to seek reassurance from author friends on this account 😀

So I worked (and worked and worked) on it over some four months, and got three lovely teenagers to read it for me, too. Luckily they all enjoyed it (and made some very relevant suggestions!) and I finally sent it back to Sally. And waited again 🙂

When she emailed to say that she liked the changes and now felt she could send it out into the publishing world, it was incredibly exciting! It was somewhat dampened by some sad family news, but still a thrill, and something I’ve really wanted for many years.

The next step is to work with Sally on a proposal for publishers (all that marketing stuff that I am really not good at!) like why this book will sell to teenagers, and what it can be compared to on the market. Once that is put together and we work out which publishers to approach, Sally will send my manuscript out… and we’ll wait. Again.

There is always the chance that we won’t find a publisher for Inside Out. That is relatively common, and it’s a very competitive market out there. But having an agent gives you more opportunities and someone with the contacts, skill and knowledge to give your manuscript the best chance. And it may also fall down to luck and timing in the end!

Despite those incredible stories about the latest BIG novel that’s doing the rounds, “sold into fifty countries within a year of the author deciding to write a book”, the publishing world mostly moves very slowly. This is a good thing, really, as it means that books are not being rushed out, most of the time. But don’t ever go into writing thinking that you’ll have an agent or publisher or book deal within weeks of sending out your work. That’s not to say that it might not happen to you, of course! But it’s a minuscule chance that it will, so be prepared to sit back and wait.

Meanwhile I’ll keep writing and reading and working away while I wait, and hopefully one day I’ll have more news to pass on, about Inside Out or perhaps another manuscript being published. So watch this space 😀

 

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YA Day

YA day

Alex and authors Michael Pryor, Shivaun Plozza and Alison Evans

At the end of January (I know, I haven’t blogged for um… quite some time), I was lucky to attend a brilliant Young Adult book event. YA Day was organised by two lovely girls who have been stalwarts of Melbourne’s #LoveOzYA community for a couple of years now.  Sarah and Alex of @TheYARoom started by organising monthly bookclub picnics and enthusiastically supporting Aussie YA. This year, they moved to new heights with YA Day and its ‘Teens to the Front’ theme.

Yep, YA is so popular with adults we need the catchphrase ‘Teens to the Front’, so they can actually have their say about the books aimed at their readership. There’s nothing wrong with us adults liking, writing and especially buying YA, but we must ensure teens aren’t scared off at events like book launches, or nervous about having their say on social media.

When YA Day was first announced, I was keen to attend but concerned about taking seats from teens. Luckily interest was so high, Sarah and Alex decided a bigger venue was required and ran a Kickstarter project. So we adult fans were able to pledge money as support and attend without feeling like we’d shoved a kid out of the queue!

They hired a room at the Wheeler Centre, housed at Victoria’s State Library, and despite the 40 degree heat outside, over 80 people attended. It ran so smoothly that it seemed Alex and Sarah had been event organisers in past lives (I believe they’re still officially teens themselves, if not far off it).

There were four panels, the first being actual real-live teenagers! Book bloggers 😀 (Sam @marbledlibrary, Anisha @sprinkledpages & Lissa @joysofbookworms) reminded us to not drown out teen voices; that teens are not the teens we were growing up; and it’s really important for them to see themselves in the books they read. Diversity is the key, people!

The second panel was BookTubers (using YouTube to talk about their favourite books – Piera @pieraforde, Chami @isthatchami & Lily @LilyCReads). One is still a teen and the others not much older. They talked about how to start in booktubing; how welcoming and supportive the book community is, across social media; and how they’d gained friends and a community IRL* from being online.

Tin Heart

Shivaun’s second #LoveOzYA book was launched in Feb – teenagers + cupcakes = perfect combo!

The third panel was authors of varying ages (Michael Pryor, Shivaun Plozza & Alison Evans).  They discussed getting into writing (Shivaun commented that you have to write a book in order to learn how to write a book – love that!); ignoring bad reviews (reviews are for readers, not authors, although Alison believes sometimes people may have good points to make); support other writers – #LoveOzYA is a small community, so don’t be a jerk! And read Aussie YA – if you can’t afford it, ask your library to buy it 🙂

The final panel was industry professionals (Danielle Binks, Nadja Poljo, Kate O’Donnell & Catriona @littlebookowl), who spoke about the varying paths they’d taken to get into publishing (apparently you do various degrees which you then don’t use!); and the honest truth about the good and bad of the industry. They all spoke about needing far more diversity in publishing – through management, marketing, editors, authors and the characters they write. We need more than just privileged white men at the helm (AGREED: a worldwide change please across ALL governments, business, education, etc).

(A massive thank you to the fabulous Jes @ageekwithahat for her typically amazing live tweeting during the day – you can find her thread on Twitter under #YADAY #LoveOzYA)

Looking around during the day, I had combined feelings of real excitement and being totally at home. I don’t often feel this, especially as I can be quite reserved in public. And I realised that it was partly because this kind of book community was not around when I was a teen, so I was finally getting to experience somewhere I truly belonged 🙂

In my early years, we didn’t have even a tenth of the Aussie (or any) YA that we have today (NB: calculation may be wildly inaccurate; maths was never my strong point). And we didn’t have social media *gasp* we didn’t even have mobiles! Now, there are many drawbacks about being online, but social media is ideal for book nerds of any age to discuss books with people around the world, no matter how shy they may be IRL.

I loved being able to hear teens talk about what they like and dislike in YA, and their utter passion about what they want: more diversity of all kinds, adults to listen, and to treat them with respect. Remember this, authors!

*

LoveOzYA books

Some of my collection of #LoveOzYA books

In a different aspect of age, recently I broke through my shyness by confessing my own* on Twitter, in a response to something another YA author, Emily Gale had re-Tweeted. It raised the question – does age matter when writing YA? Do teens care?

I’ve been very nervous about telling people, because it feels like I’m ‘too old’ to be breaking through into writing, especially for teenagers. Which is odd, because you can write brilliantly or badly no matter how old you are! Oddly, no-one seems to question the age of kids’ picture books and middle-grade authors.

Thinking over it now, I don’t believe teenagers care about an author’s age, as long as they can relate to the books and like the writing. And more so if the author communicates with them and isn’t condescending. A joy of social media is readers and authors being able to chat so easily.

But as Emily pointed out, having young writers around is also great for teenagers, inspiring those kids who want to write – ‘I don’t need to wait until I’m really old to do this!’ It works both ways 😊

Basically, young readers mostly just care about the book (okay, also maybe the cover, for Instagram purposes). And I love being immersed in this community, online and IRL, which promotes and celebrates reading!

*In Real Life  (for those who don’t live on Twitter etc)

*47 😉

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A short story

Exciting news! A short story of mine has been short-listed in a writing competition 🙂

It’s the first time I’ve had a fictional piece recognised and I’m very proud to be one of the short-listed in the Elyne Mitchell Writing Awards 2017. The winner was announced in a ceremony in Albury yesterday afternoon. My husband and I couldn’t make it due to time and cost restrictions (it’s a five hour journey via train or car) but I’m happy that my story Goldie will be published in a booklet with all the shortlisted entries.

I read Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby books to pieces as a kid. They were incredibly imaginative stories of wild horses in the mountains of NSW – told from the horses’ point of view. Elyne knew the mountains very well as a skier, amongst other sporting pursuits, and she obviously knew a lot about the social politics of a herd of horses. The books were fascinating reads.

When I wrote my story, Goldie, it was not meant to be a homage to one of the horses in the stories (a mare named Golden), nor even a homage to the series, but there’s perhaps a little similarity in the descriptions of the Australian bush. The story was entered in quite a few competitions, in various drafts, but it wasn’t until this year that the timing was right to enter it in this award.

Here’s a link to my story if you’d like to read it: GOLDIE Elyne Mitchell

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Tillie

Going for a ride!

I’ve been quiet again on the blog, and also haven’t been reading many other blogs, so my apologies. However, there has been a lot of reading, writing and submitting of manuscripts (to an agent, two publishers and a competition), so I’m happy about that. No good news yet but I’ll be sure to let you know 🙂

There was one very sad event which has taken up much time and emotional energy. Our big dog Tillie had been slowing down noticeably since Christmas. By late July, she was only managing short walks and I was hand-feeding her a lot of her meals. She even enjoyed breakfast in bed a few times, not wanting to get up until absolutely necessary (ie: when the dog leash was produced).

Tillie very proud of the (unripe) pumpkin she stole from our vegie garden

Finally we got the vet in for a house visit. Sophia was wonderful and did some tests. Apart from her arthritis and advanced age (at 14, she was doing extremely well for a 46kg dog), her blood tests showed some anaemia. So Sophia suggested we try an ultrasound. Since Tillie could no longer walk up the street to our vet’s, or even get in the car, Sophia brought down their new portable ultrasound, which doesn’t provide the same depth of scan as their in-house one. However, it was enough to check Tillie’s stomach and find some very large tumours. These were ones common in dogs, and often not found until they rupture suddenly and the animal loses blood, thus the anaemia.

The only relief in this diagnosis was that there was no question about what was going to happen next. Only when. That is the hardest part.  Sadly, having animal companions is sometimes having to make that decision on their behalf – when is the best time?

Tillie decided herself the next morning. We tried to encourage her off her bed to walk outside to go to the toilet, but she couldn’t get up at all. She ate a handful of roast chicken (the only food she was eating by this point) and some liver treats, and we called the vet.

I can recommend having the vet come to you for this event. Tillie didn’t have to endure being lifted in and out of the car, and she rested on her bed with me reading beside her while we waited, and her companion Elvis on his own bed and the cats coming in and out. She napped on and off, and didn’t seem too uncomfortable.

All I can say more than this is that she seemed at peace, and she knew it was time, just as she’d told us she couldn’t walk too far, or eat too much. She was a gentle and dignified giant bear of a dog, right to the end, and I am so happy we were able to make her final 3 1/2 years ones of love and comfort and happiness.

Tillie, Elvis, Hermie & Izzie

Tillie, you gave us so much love and laughs in return, and I miss so much our hugs and the way you leaned against my legs for a head rub, and how you let me press my forehead against yours when I came home from a rough day at work, and the way you feinted at the chickens to make them flutter off in fright while you walked off with a doggy smile on your face. I miss you asleep on the couch with Elvis, a third your size but your best friend/rival. You loved him, us, the cats (you longed to get close to them but had to make do with being allowed the occasional nuzzle), visitors, liver treats and galloping headlong towards us on the oval on our early morning walks.

Thank you, Tillie, and I think of you running free of your arthritis and escaping the coming heat of summer. You deserved and got all the love, and we miss you dearly 🙂

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Cutting back and breaking out

A recent balancing act for my Instagram feed 🙂

An update from the balancing act that is writing: one morning last week I managed to cut 7000 words from my WIP in less than an hour!

I did however save the previous draft as a whole and kept the discarded chunks in a new document 😉 Killing your darlings with a safety net, that’s called.

It’s like a weight has been lifted from both the manuscript and my shoulders all at once. By removing two plot threads that were proving difficult to resolve, it now feels like it flows much better, is closer to the average 60,000 YA word count, and it isn’t as difficult to create its synopsis. Phew!

Of course I do have to repair the gaps – one of the reasons I kept the remnants was because there are bits that may prove useful. Also my memory is awful, so those bits can trigger interesting things. But I will try to fill in the holes without referral to the extracts first, to avoid treading on old ground. Pass me the high-quality Polyfilla, stat!

And, more exciting news – I broke out of my shell yesterday and attended the Australian Society of Authors and Writers Victoria’s Literary Speed Dating Event with two agents and five publishers. I described the concept in a previous post, and I am proud to say that I survived – and maybe even succeeded!

While I did a lot of preparation, including attending a Writers Victoria pitching workshop and then re-writing the pitch many times, I was still terribly nervous. I even experienced a bad case of dry-mouth, which hasn’t happened for years! Not great when you have to speak clearly and succinctly. You get three minutes with each person, so it’s suggested you give a one minute pitch which leaves two minutes for them to question you.

Dogs are good at establishing bonds

However, I’d decided that my first person to approach would be the agent Danielle Binks. I’ve met her previously and felt this may help my nerves. While it seemed a little odd to shake hands formerly and introduce myself to someone I already know, our pitching tutor Erina Reddan had taught us this – also to smile and look them in the eyes to establish a bond. Sounds like a given, but when your stomach is flipping and your words have fled, it’s not so easy to do!

The pitch has to show conflict, drama and resolution but use some good adjectives to make it interesting. So I said my little piece, which I’d been practising in front of various people (I’d highly recommend this, even though for me it had felt quite soul-baring). I did switch a few words here and there in my nervousness but adhered to the old show-bizz advice of ‘DON’T STOP’.

However, Danielle was lovely and professional and straight to the point – she suggested quickly my novel might be for a much younger audience than I’d intended, gave me two very good reasons why, and said to send in a one page synopsis, first three chapters and a short author bio! Yay – the pitch worked 😀

I managed to see three other people, all editors for very good publishing houses (Penguin Random House; Hardie Grant Egmont; and Echo/Bonnier), and had two of them request to see the synopsis and extract. Yes, considering my utter case of nerves, I do consider this a win 🙂

Not clumsy at all (Courtesy Mean Girls movie)

Ironically, the novel I pitched is about a very shy and clumsy teenager, for whom the only thing worse than sport is drama. Yes, it *may* be loosely based on me as a teenager! But these days my life experience tells me that it’s worth busting out of the shy protective coating – with some preparation, of course.

Now I just have to polish the old synopsis. Yikes – wish me luck!

 

 

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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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