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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Antiheroines to the rescue

I had a great opportunity to be interviewed by Belinda Crawford, indie author of the Hero Rebellion series. Belinda has been running occasional interviews with writers who have created antiheroines, those fabulous females who run against the grain.  They’re not good girls, but often they do good in their own inimitable ways.


Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth Salander in the movies.

One of my favourites (and most unique) would be Lisbeth Salander in the Millennium trilogy of books by Stieg Larsson. She was so badly damaged and antisocial, yet was highly intelligent, utterly determined and protective of vulnerable people.

My character Carly, in my Young Adult novel Facing Up, is an antiheroine in her own way, grumpy and antisocial but trying to deal with the guilt eating away at her. Below is a link to Belinda’s website where she has interviewed me about  writing Carly, so please click if you’re interested:

Who’s your favourite antiheroine from books or movies?

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The Aussie YA Blog Hop – some #LoveOzYA recommendations

Aussie YA Blog Hop Banner

This is something a bit different for me, but it’s a subject that’s close to my heart 🙂

This week, the Aussie YA Bloggers Group is sharing the #LoveOzYA love across the blogosphere by talking about their favourite Aussie YA (Young Adult) reads!

Thank you to the group moderators: Happy IndulgenceGenie in a Book, Loony Literate, Thoughts by J and My Life in Books – please drop in on their blogs as well.

Join our Twitter chat on Sunday 14 August at 6pm on #AusYABlogChat and @AusYABloggers!

What I love about Aussie YA: It’s pretty damn diverse, often quirky and surprising and out there, and umm, just so AUSSIE in flavour! It’s so important for us to read our own stories and voices, as well as reading about other cultures.

Favourite Aussie YA authors: Sooo many… Melina Marchetta, Vikki Wakefield, Fiona Wood, Kirsty Eagar, for a start.


Melina Marchetta’s debut novel, now an Aussie classic

The Aussie YA book I grew up with: As I’m a little older than most of the bloggers in the group, I’d have to say Robin Klein’s books, particularly Came Back to Show You I Could Fly. In those days it was mostly US stuff, like Judy Blume and the Sweet Valley High books, so it was a revelation to read about Aussie teenagers. There definitely wasn’t the variety back then that we have now.

Favourite Aussie YA book released in 2016: Ask an easier question, please! For now, I’ll pick this one: Summer Skin by Kirsty Eagar was sexy, smart and on point with its subject of sexual inequality between genders, set on an Aussie university campus. One day we won’t need to have books dealing with this subject – I hope!

Aussie YA Debut I’m looking forward to: Yellow by Megan Jacobson. I know, it came out in February this year, and I still haven’t read it and don’t even own it yet! But I’ve read all the other debuts I was excited about, so it will happen, soon 😉

Favourite Aussie YA series: Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden. Yep, a common favourite, but it’s what young Aussies need to read. Happily most Aussie-born kids don’t know what it’s like to live in a war zone, and this series made us think about what would happen if we were invaded. And it made us cry. A lot.


A must-read for Aussie teens

Unexpected Aussie YA surprise: Clancy of the Undertow by Christopher Currie. Not sure what I was expecting, but Clancy (she’s a she) is just so endearingly quirky and awkward. She knows what she wants but is scared to get it, considering the narrow-minded small town she lives in. And it’s more Aussie in flavour than a lamington 😉

Aussie YA Book I always recommend to others: Stay With Me by Maureen McCarthy. This hasn’t had huge publicity, perhaps because Maureen hasn’t got an online presence, but it’s an intense read about a young woman trying to leave an abusive relationship. With toddler in tow. It’s perhaps more NA than YA, given the older MC, but it explains how a smart-enough girl can find herself unable to escape a once-charming boyfriend. Ugh, makes me shiver just writing this…



An Aussie YA book on my TBR: One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn. I’ve only read one of Claire’s so far (The Protected) and I’m really looking forward to this!

Recommending my favourite Aussie YA Bloggers! Emily at The Loony Literate always makes me laugh and think! And the lovely Michelle at The Unfinished Bookshelf for her book recs 🙂


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Secondhand Love

2ndhand books

Not the bookshop I worked in but typical of some secondhand bookshops I shop in 🙂

In my past life as a bookseller, I once spent thirty looong minutes with a customer who insisted on checking through piles of books to find the perfect copy. She wanted only pristine editions, preferably ones that human hands had not touched prior to hers. While I respected her wishes (and that she was buying at least ten titles), it was an exacting process that somehow required me as well as her to inspect each one for microscopic scratches and feathering of the corners. The removal of the price stickers caused even more angst, for both of us.

There’s a sharp division between brand-new and secondhand buyers. Some people come out in a sweat at just the thought of touching something pre-loved. And paper in particular can be a depository of germs and stains, so yes, secondhand books are not for everyone.

But I love them for several reasons – they’re cheap, it’s a great form of recycling, and they have a history – someone loved and read them at some point, but their time has come to move on to another reader’s hands. Or they’re just the dreaded syllabus novel that wasn’t even cracked (the movie was watched instead).

Gwynne signatureI also love opening the front page to find a prior owner’s signature inside, with sometimes the date and location, or a ‘Happy Birthday’ message from an aunt and uncle. This sets off my imagination as to why the book was eventually given away. And early this year I found a secondhand book signed by the author – extra bonus!

I find it very hard to give away books myself and have titles on my shelf from my childhood. I am however missing quite a number (like the early 1960’s editions of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree  and Famous Five series that went to my nieces and nephews and then disappeared forever *sigh*). But I still have most of my pony novels, inherited from a cousin or bought one by one out of my pocket money. Elyne Mitchell’s Silver Brumby series, Marguerite Henry’s series based on the stories of real-life horses (Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Black Gold, etc), The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley… All read many times, well worn and much loved old paperbacks from the seventies.

There are so many memories of the excitement of buying them myself, taking them home and pulling them out of their paper bag, smelling that amazing new-book smell, and then the joy of diving into the story, far away from my boring suburban life at the time (for which I am truly grateful – I wish all kids could experience a peaceful suburban life). I could never give those books up. But I’m glad that others can, or there’d be no secondhand book sales!

Books are ideal for re-using – they can keep going for as long as their fragile paper and glued spines hold out. And as with my childhood books, they can be over forty years old and still going strong. They are definitely worth giving that extra life.

Even better, buying books from op shops raises money for charity, as does donating books. I do confess to donating back the odd few books – usually a double-up because I’ve bought a book secondhand and then find I have a copy at home.

Recently I’ve discovered the best online bookshop – Brotherhood Books. It’s a second-hand bookshop that raises money for the Brotherhood of St Laurence, a charity based here in Australia. The website has a very good search engine and they are very efficient, delivering within a couple of days of ordering (I’m in the same city as their warehouse though). And while they are a little pricier than your average op shop, they give free postage (Australia only) for orders of three or more books. The warehouse utilises volunteers to keep costs down. A win-win situation for charity and booklovers!

Brotherhood books 2Here’s my haul from there so far (at left). After working in bookshops and publishing for nearly a decade, you’d think I’d have collected every book I ever wanted. But often I just read particular books on loan and didn’t realise until much later that I might want to own copies. Also I got many books for free, or at least cheap, so it took me some time to get used to having to pay full-price for books once I left the industry.

Secondhand is a great way to buy up a series, and I’ve spent years searching bookshops for some of my (slightly eccentric) interests, such as Monica Dicken’s World’s End series, about four children left to raise themselves and their menagerie of animals in 1960’s England (I’m only missing the final one now, Spring Comes to World’s End, which I want in a particular edition to match the others).

Online secondhand bookshops take a bit of hard graft out of the search (some street secondhand shops are serious fire hazards in their method of shelving and stacking), but it’s still hit and miss as to what you’ll find when. But it’s all for a good cause, whether it’s recycling or raising money for charity, or just fulfilling the eternal booklover’s dream of overflowing bookshelves and TBR* piles 🙂

So, how do you feel about brand-new versus secondhand books?

*To Be Read – the pile which never gets any smaller, no matter how much you read 😉

NB after writing this post, I went back online and bought three more books from Brotherhood. Whoops.

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“Don’t worry, my dear, I’m sure she knows what she’s doing”

That’s not a word, you say! No, I don’t think it’s a word either, but I like it. And it’s about as difficult to spell as it is to write a damn synopsis itself.

How do you sum up your novel in one page or thereabouts? Or even in one sentence, for that lucky moment when you find yourself in a lift with a publishing-type person and you need to approach them in that split-second between telling them you’re a writer and the moment their eyes roll wildly looking for the ‘Open Door’ button?

So, I’ve decided to give my Facing Up synopsis another re-write. Mainly because I would like to get it published traditionally eventually. And also because I need the practice for my second almost finished YA novel (yes, I swear, it’s almost finished – I know I’ve been saying that for at least a year! It’s amazing how many degrees of near-completion are covered by the phrase ‘almost finished’).


Jimmy Stewart knows all about survival in ‘Vertigo’

Where was I? Oh yes, in the middle of attempting to leap ship from self-publishing to traditional publishing. Whoops, caught. Well, I’ve had a go at it, and I know I’m not great at the publicity thing, so I thought why not use the knowledge I’ve gained and try to sell my novels to agents and publishers? There’s not a lot to lose, as I’m already well and truly caught up in the enjoyment of writing. Just a matter of some slightly dented pride with the coming rejections, but I know I’ve survived all that before.

This time, I figure, if I give it a red-hot go and work on all the things needed, like synopsis, blurb, tagline – and of course the novel itself – then I’m putting a lot of things in place that can be used if I decide later on to self-publish the second (and third! yes, there is a third in gestation). They do say it’s hard to get noticed as an author, especially self-published, until you’ve got several books out and have built a following.

So I’m working away on the Facing Up synopsis, summarising 55,000 words to preferably less than 1000. And then preferably around 300 words, going by what the publishers seem to be wanting. All this for something that may or may not be read! But writing a good synopsis shows your ability to build a story arc, to hold interest, build tension, and bring it all home to a satisfying conclusion, so here goes for what may be my fiftieth attempt to produce a decent synopsis for this book.


“Of course, using one of my movies as an example is a perfect idea!”

Here’s a few different articles I found useful – in this one, the plot for the Hitchcock classic movie Vertigo is used as an example (spoiler alert!).

In this interview from Writers Victoria, Aussie YA writer Shivaun Plozza gives an insider’s view, both as a published author and as a manuscript reader for a major publisher – how I wish I could attend her workshop in July, but my full-time job is getting in the way.

And here’s a challenge – write one sentence for each of your novel’s major plot turns. Phew.

Good luck with that, and wish me good luck too!

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100 words

deviation_number_100_by_donnobru[1]As I may have mentioned a few times before, I’m working on finishing my second Young Adult novel, Inside Out. And have been for some time. I am extremely slow in my writing and it comes in stops and starts, and I had also become stuck last year after playing around with the plotline in a way that totally confused the timeline (let alone the author).

Having decided to remove the scene that I’d inserted, which had totally changed things but then was getting in my way, it’s freed me up to finally finish the sucker. But I’m still slow, and the evil necessity of full-time work is getting in my way. At the end of my three week’s leave, a little deterred by not getting as much done as I’d hoped, my brain suddenly decided to come up with a brilliant way to get around my slowness and frustration.

Instead of trying to accomplish a lot at once and then feeling too tired and worn-out to even open the document, let alone write anything worthwhile, I’m taking it easy on myself.

I’ve challenged myself to write a minimum of 100 words a day, every day. It’s in my phone reminder so I can’t forget. I know that sounds very little, but so far, it’s a winner. Remember it’s a minimum of 100, so when the words are flowing, I often produce two or three times as much, plus I re-read and edit the previous day’s words. And because I’m achieving this daily on the manuscript, it frees me to work on other things if I feel like it (such as my short stories or the plotline or a scene for my other two ideas for novels).

It’s working! The guilt has gone, and I’m increasing my word count – more importantly, those words are moving the plot along and filling in the last gaps. Some nights I’m exhausted and I struggle to come up with more than the 100 words, but at least they’re there the next night, waiting to be edited and move things along.

Writing space

Hermie assisting with the writing process

Yes, it’s a very slow way to write, but it is far better than my alternative, which is not writing anything at all, and feeling depressed and overwhelmed, and making myself feel far worse, in a vicious cycle.

So, writers out there: what do you do when the writing is slow (glacial, in my case) or non-existent? Do you think the 100 words minimum is worth a try? 😀

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What I did on my holidays…

Dogs walking

Elvis (left) and Tillie on their morning walk, amazingly not pulling in this photo!

It’s been a lovely three weeks on holiday but I have no idea where the time went! The dogs and cats have loved having me home – hopefully they’ll cope when I’m back at work. Tillie passed some health tests with flying colours, pretty good for a big bear of a dog who’ll be 13 this year 🙂

I’ve managed to visit lots of friends and family, including my amazing great-aunt Mim who’s 101 and still sharp as ever! She’s coping better than I thought, with having finally moved into a nursing home recently, accepting that it’s easier to deal with day-to-day stuff. She still gets out though, with the help of family members.

Meanwhile I’ve caught up on (almost) all my health checkups and jobs to be done – funny how that list grows as you go, rather than shortens 😉

But I made it to another book launch two weeks ago that was lots of fun. I met Shivaun Plozza at a YA writing workshop last year run by Maureen McCarthy, via Writers Victoria, and we’ve bumped into each other once or twice since. And now her fabulous book Frankie has been released to great acclaim.

FrankieShivaun spoke about some interesting things – well, to me they were, as a fledgling author. How the manuscript didn’t contain anything about location, until someone asked her where it was set, and she said, well, Collingwood, really. And then she realised that Collingwood has so much character as a working-class suburb of Melbourne that it deserved a place. So it became another character, swearing and drinking and spewing in the gutter, while still feeling like home to her main character Frankie, who grew up there.

I’m fascinated by this, because a major part of the book’s charm was the location, and you certainly couldn’t tell that the details had been added later, which shows Shivaun’s skills.

Apart from launches and reading a lot of YA books for inspiration, I’ve been working on my manuscript; plotting another novel (set in the late 80s, my own teenage years); applying to agents; and working on my short stories as part of an online course I’m doing with Writers Victoria.

This course has been a real writing boost and a challenge at the same time. Feedback is the best and the worst – you have to learn how to use it and sometimes IF to use it. And short stories are a great way of learning to cut back excess. I’ve been loving the other contributors’ stories too – we have a weird way of having similar themes each month, entirely unplanned!


One of 50 baby Eucalyptus melliodora (Yellow Box), now about 10cm tall, one day it could be 30m in height!

Meanwhile I’ve been transplanting my little indigenous seedlings for TreeProject, which are all almost down to one seedling per tube, as it should be, and I have almost one and a half extra boxes of seedlings as back-up (there’s always a few lost in the next few months as we babysit them until later winter when they’re almost ready to be planted back on the land they came from).

But it’s back to work tomorrow, with an early start of 8am, so I’ll be arming myself with a large coffee and plunging in. Here’s to holidays and writing and just hanging out with the animals 🙂



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