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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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!

hermie-by-the-river

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 🙂

family-portrait

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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