In Episode 261 of So you want to be a writer: Discover a whole heap of literary gifts for Christmas. Meet Bernadette Schwerdt, SEO copywriter and author of How to Build an Online Business. Plus we have a 12-book giveaway up for grabs. Don’t miss out.
You’ve had a great idea for a novel for years, right? But, where to start? You don’t know how to write a novel and when you sit down with a pen in your hand or a keyboard hovering under your fingertips the blank page taunts you. If you don’t know how to get those ideas from your head to the page and from the page to the publisher, you need to listen to this podcast. Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait are published authors with years of experience between them and every single episode is crammed full of practical advice about the process of writing. There are links to websites offering advice about writing and publishing as well as informative interviews with published authors. The main theme is: Just Do It. Don’t keep the ideas in your head. Stop just thinking about the great novel. Just sit down and write, even a little bit every day, and the words will keep piling up until you have a first draft. This podcast is the inspiration I needed to start and if I lose confidence, just listening to an episode makes me feel like tackling the keyboard again. I’m really grateful to Val and Al for taking the time to share their knowledge about writing and publishing on this unique and entertaining podcast.
Bernadette Schwerdt Bernadette Schwerdt has trained over 5,000 people in the art of writing words that sell. She is the author of the bestselling manual Writing For Profit.
She has a Bachelor of Business in Marketing and is an accredited MBTI and NLP practitioner. She was also an account director with advertising agency Wunderman Cato Johnson and the marketing reporter on Channel 9’s The Small Business Show. Currently, she’s the producer and host of The Sydney Morning Herald’s online video series, ‘Secrets of Aussie Online Entrepreneurs,’ and her book of the same name was published by Wiley in May 2015.
She has trained individuals and teams from a wide range of companies including AMP, Red Cross, Coles, McDonalds, Australian Conservation Foundation, Médecins Sans Frontières, Scoopon and dozens of others.
(If you click through the links above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)
Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week has been torturous leading up to the holiday season.
Q: Phew, what a day. What. A. Day.
A: Repeating it in separate sentences. Nice. Effect. There.
Q: Thanks, but seriously, you would not believe the torturous shopping expedition I just went on. Absolute torture! Plus, because my GPS stopped working, the route I ended up taking was also long and torturous.
Q: What’s more, I got into a torturous argument with a shopkeeper about their intricate returns policy.
A: That’s a lot of torture.
Q: Yes, as I said – a torturous day.
A: We’re just wondering if you might be needing a different word for some of those.
Q: Well, torture means “painful” so I think I used it correctly.
A: That may be so, and sure, you definitely meant “torturous” on some of those. It’s a 15th century adjective derived from the Anglo-French noun “torture”.
Q: So it’s okay to describe my day as torturous then?
A: Yes, certainly. It clearly inflicted pain on you. But there’s another adjective that people often forget about – “tortuous”. This one means either “full of twists and turns” OR “excessively lengthy or complex”.
Q: Okay, interesting.
A: So, usually a journey would be described as “long and TORTUOUS”, not tortuRous. Because it had many twists and turns, rather than pain.
Q: Hmmm. And my argument?
A: It’s likely that your argument with the shopkeeper was more about their complicated returns policy – excessively complex – than it was actually painful.
Q: So, it was a “tortuous argument” instead?
A: Yes. We’d suggest it was in this context.
Q: But if I were chained to a stretching rack and not happy with the way my hands were bound, then that might be a “torturous argument”, yes?
A: Sure. English likes to keep us on our toes.
Q: Oh, don’t even get me started on torturous ballet shoes…
A: It sounds like it would be a tortuous explanation…
Q: Okay, time out. So, at least tell me that these words are somehow related to each other – because they look and act very similar.
A: Sorry – English gets to torture us again here. Because, the word “tortuous” is completely unrelated to “torturous” or any torture whatsoever.
Q: Of COURSE it’s unrelated…
A: It actually dates back to Latin “tortus” and before that Latin “torquere” – both meaning “to twist”.
Q: So, it took many centuries, but “tortus” got here in the end.
Q: So “torquere” must be where the word “torque” comes from. Please tell me it is?
A: Yes indeed, as that’s all about rotation; twisting.
Q: My aunt Grace was going out with a mechanic for a while this year. He kept promising her things, but she realised in the end that he was all torque.
A: Very funny.
Q: I’m just surprised “torture” didn’t originate from when they used to burn witches at the stake. “Torch her! Torch her!” – see what I did there?
A: This conversation was tortuous but it’s now starting to border on torturous…
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, !
Sue is author of more than 60 children’s non-fiction, picture books, middle-grade and YA novels, and is published in Australia and overseas.
We asked her for an insight into her writing life and what inspired her books this year. Here is her story.
Beware the Deep Dark Forest “The inspiration for Beware the Deep Dark Forest came from a young boy in a library I was visiting when doing a story time session in 2011. He was wearing a black cape and was walking up and down the stairs in the story pit, saying in a very dramatic way: ‘Beware the deep dark forest! Beware the deep dark forest!’
“He was in his own wonderful imaginary world and I was intrigued to know what was going on in that imagination. What did he have to beware of? When I asked him, he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Beware the deep dark forest!’ And walked off.
“This young boy provided me with oodles of inspiration but also a very clear purpose. I wanted to tap into those young imaginations, to write a robust story with rich language and a strong narrative structure. It ended up becoming a quest story in the style of the fairytales I enjoyed as a child.
“The first draft took about a day. It then took me at least a year to refine it; to get the structure right; the theme developed properly and the language and rhythm pitch perfect. I continued to tweak and develop it during the illustration process.
“I was a primary school teacher for 25 years, specialising in literacy education before I moved into children’s publishing, and one of the things I was passionate about was using ‘real books’ for literacy instruction. I think with Beware the Deep Dark Forest I was channelling my inner teacher as well as my inner child because this is just the type of book I would have loved to use in my classroom.
“I am happy to report that many teachers have already used it as a mentor text for writing quest stories, and also for its storybook language and use of literary devices, such as alliteration, metaphor and simile etc.
“Picture books are terrific to use as mentor texts because they often take a big idea or story and distil it down to around 500 words – to the bare bones – and this means that the bones of the story are exposed and easy to access and can be easily used to demonstrate and illuminate various techniques.
“I am very proud of the fact that the hero of the story is female. I am a big believer in the importance of books with strong, resourceful and courageous female characters in lead roles. It is so important for girls to see that it is possible for girls to be the brave hero and it is just as important for boys to see girls as the brave hero.
“I have had so much fun sharing this story with kids – I even have a carnivorous plant costume that has been a big hit. Kids seem to love the adventure and the suspense of the quest – and just like the boy who inspired the story, they seem to love being immersed in the imaginative world of the deep dark forest.”
Missing “I started thinking about Missing when I was doing some research for Portraits of Celina – a thrilling ghost story – and discovered that in Australia 38,000 people are reported missing every year. A large proportion are found in a relatively short period of time, but about 1600 are considered long-term missing. I found this statistic gobsmacking and I started to think about what it would be like if you were a twelve-year-old girl and someone you loved was reported missing.
“It was a difficult book to write as it involved working through many complex emotions and, as much of the ‘drama’ when someone goes missing happens in the adult world, it was tricky to find the ‘child’ story – Mackenzie’s story – within the tragedy. That took some time. It was also emotionally draining.
“The book took about a year to research, mostly because it is partially set in Panama, and about a year to write and work through the various editorial stages.
“The response from readers has been phenomenal. It is already my bestselling novel, by a long shot.”
Good Question “Currently I am working with illustrator Annie White on another picture book, Good Question. It too has its roots in the world of fairytales but is also quite different to Beware the Deep Dark Forest. It is due for release in early 2020 and I can’t wait to share it with groups of kids.
“I am also working on a new novel for readers aged 10-14 that will hopefully appeal to readers who enjoyed Missing. I am working on the third draft now and hope to send it to my publisher in the next couple of weeks. It is due for release in early 2020. 2020 is going to be a busy year!”
Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week we are proudly flaunting it!
Q: I have a question.
A: You’ve come to the right place. We have the answers.
Q: What’s the difference between “flaunt” and “flout”? Are they similar at all?
A: They are NOT similar – but many people get them confused.
Q: Do either of them have anything to do with playing the flute?
A: Well it depends on the context – if you were jumping about drawing attention to yourself as you played the flute, someone might call you a flaunting flautist.
Q: That’s cute. But why aren’t flute players called “flutists”?
A: Actually, we used to call them flutists, but then in the 19th century, Britain got cosy with the Italian “flautista” and switched to “flautists”. Americans stuck with “flutists” though – and still use that today.
Q: And from your definition, to “flaunt” is to draw attention to yourself?
A: Yes. Macquarie Dictionary defines it as a verb meaning “to parade or display oneself conspicuously or boldly” as well as “to wave conspicuously in the air”.
Q: If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
A: Precisely. It should be noted that even Macquarie warns that “flaunt” is commonly confused with “flout”.
Q: Right, so let’s move to “flout” then – clearly meaning something different.
A: Yes, this one is also a verb, but this time means “to mock; scoff at; treat with disdain or contempt” – most commonly associated with “to flout the rules”.
Q: What’s its origin?
A: “Flout” actually comes from an archaic variation of “flute” – “fluiten” to be exact, as in the whistling sound that you would hiss to show derision.
Q: So if you told someone who was flouting to “pipe down”, that would be rather appropriate!
A: Exactly. Today’s usage is less about mocking and more about open disregard for rules.
Q: So why do so many people get “flaunt” and “flout” confused?
A: It’s likely to be as simple as each having a similar form (starts with “FL”, ends with “T”), both being one-syllable verbs and also not all that commonly used. Intriguingly, both turned up in English around the 1560s, so their parallel timelines probably didn’t help either.
Q: It sounds similar to when I recently met two new friends at the same time, both called Sam. It was so hard to remember which one was which until I came up with a cool trick.
A: Oh, what was that?
Q: I called the boy Samuel and the girl Samantha…
A: Um, okay.
Q: So do you have any clever trick for remembering these ones?
A: Well you could imagine your AUNT jumping about trying to get your attention – as in “flAUNT”.
Q: Oh, you’re clearly talking about Aunt Helen. She’s such a drama queen.
A: Right. And then imagine saying “OUT!” to the rules that you wish to “flOUT”.
Q: Nice. We’d say we’re now quite fluent in flaunt and afloat on the subject of flout. Time to take flight!
If you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore, !
Back in February 2018, the Australian Writers’ Centre introduced Furious Fiction – a brand new short story writing competition where your 500-word story could win $500AU cash every month – with no entry fee whatsoever!
Needless to say, the competition (open to anyone 17 years and over, anywhere on the planet) immediately struck a chord with writers here in Australia and overseas. As the past 10 months have unfolded, we’ve judged more than 6000 stories and given away a total of $5000 cash. Ka-ching!
Naturally, with such a “nothing to lose, everything to gain” competition like Furious Fiction, the fan club has continued to grow bigger and bigger. But one group that has become smaller and smaller has been those who have entered EVERY month. So to mark the 10th month (and their perfect 10/10 entry attendance), we invited them to share what they love about the contest…
What attracted you to Furious Fiction? I was very intrigued by the idea of a time-limited short story competition. I’d seen competitions like that before, but none of them were free to enter, so I always talked myself out of entering. When I heard about Furious Fiction, I was intimidated, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity; and I’m so glad I didn’t.
What do you like best about participating in Furious Fiction? Proving to myself every month that I’m getting closer to being a ‘real’ author. I’m putting in the time, I’m making the improvements, and I know that if I stick at it, I’ll get where I want to be.
Furious Fiction has made me write in genres I’ve never tried before, made me develop more experimental short stories than I would have tried on my own, and in general grown my confidence in my writing, and the range of perspectives and styles in which I would consider writing.
How have you managed to enter every month? After about the second month of entering, I developed a system. I don’t always stick to it, but it helps me overcome any last-minute anxieties that would convince me not to enter.
On Friday, after I receive the Furious Fiction email, I brainstorm. If any ideas jump out at me, I write them down without thinking about them too hard. This stage is about exploring various directions I could take the prompts, not about judging the value of what I have. (I once accidentally wrote a short story that implied a man had romantic feelings for an elephant. I wish I had an excuse.)
On Saturday, I choose the best option I came up with, and I write it into a short story. I try to flesh out characters and scenes, to sharpen any dialogue and provide a twist ending that leaves readers intrigued. I might write two or three stories, or two or three versions of the same one. It really depends on how strongly I believe in the option I choose.
On Sunday, I look over my entry, make any tweaks for clarity, and submit it.
Have you had any close calls? Absolutely. I’ve almost not entered once or twice; I’ve had events that conflicted with the first weekend of a month. I’ve felt like nothing I had to say for the prompts was original enough to win. I’ve doubted my writing style and ability, and I’ve reconsidered writing at all. In the end, I just enter anyway. I trust that the people judging the writing won’t care if my story isn’t the best. I don’t always think that I have a chance of winning, but I enter to prove to myself that I can, that I want to, and because I know the practice is good for me and my writing, whether I win or not.
Do you have tips for new Furious Fiction entrants? Just do it. You’ll realise that you’re capable of more than you thought, that 55 hours is plenty of time to write a short story, that prompts and a time limit work wonders for creativity, and that inspiration can come from the least likely of sources.
Robyn Noble (Northern Territory)
What attracted you to Furious Fiction? When the first Furious Fiction was announced I felt it would be a fun and non-threatening way to increase my writing skills. I had entered some of the weekly competitions and this was another step. I was excited in the lead-up, determined during and left with a sense of achievement on completion.
What do you like best about participating in Furious Fiction? It’s fun, especially working the criteria into the story and trying to do that in a unique way. A locked door, a girl laughing and the words ‘it felt familiar,’ turned into a story about a big concern of mine; plastic and the harm it’s doing to our world.
How have you managed to enter every month? I found getting an early start Friday night helped, but that wasn’t always possible. One Sunday morning I had no idea what my story was going to be about let alone have any words on paper. My word count was closer to 300 than 500 that month, but at least I wrote something. At that point I realised I had set myself a challenge to enter every Furious Fiction this year.
Do you have tips for new Furious Fiction entrants? We have all heard the motivational speeches saying ‘Just do it’, while the voice in our head says, ‘ Yeah right, its okay for you, you’re rich, famous, don’t have 3 kids, I can’t possibly do it!’
I hear that voice often, but this was a challenge I set myself. I know i’m not talking about jumping out of a plane, diving with sharks or giving away all my worldly goods to live in an Ashram, but after pushing the submit button, I could say ‘I did it.’
What attracted you to Furious Fiction? I am notorious for procrastinating when it comes to my writing. Making 40 cups of tea, deciding to clean out my wardrobe, falling into a void of cartoon theme songs from the 80s and 90s on YouTube… You name it, I’ve done it. So it’s always nice to have something that has a deadline! 55 hours, a few prompts and the chance to actually complete a piece of writing. Love it.
What do you like best about participating in Furious Fiction? The prompts are a great way to really get your brain bubbling (which sounds weird now I’ve typed it, but trust me it’s a good thing!). Sometimes you might sit there thinking, “I have no idea how to work this word/sentence into my story” but it makes it all the more fantastic when you have that breakthrough and manage to weave it in seamlessly. And there’s always the anticipation and hope of making the shortlist – or actually winning! I haven’t experienced the excitement of that yet but fingers crossed one day.
How have you managed to enter every month? When the comp started I set a challenge for myself to try and complete a story each month until the end of the year, just to see if I could do it! I figure it’s good practice for me and I can reward myself with copious amounts of Christmas shortbread at the end of it LOL.
Have you had any close calls? There have been one or two close calls where I haven’t been able to think of anything to write until the last minute. And I think one story may have been a couple of hundred words over the limit one month and I sat there staring at the computer screen willing the words to edit themselves! (Spoiler alert: that didn’t work.)
Do you have tips for new Furious Fiction entrants? Definitely read the winning and shortlisted entries each month because 1) They’re awesome and 2) You get to see the type of ideas the judges are enjoying. It’s also a lot of fun to branch out and write in styles or genres that you’re not used to, just as an extra challenge for yourself.
Michael McLoon (New South Wales)
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What attracted you to Furious Fiction? I was attracted to Furious Fiction by the challenge to exercise my imagination.
What do you like best about participating in Furious Fiction? I like participating because it forces me to make the effort to compose.
How have you managed to enter every month? Fortunately I’m now retired and have the time to devote to writing.
Have you had any close calls? A couple of the topics really taxed my imagination – the picture of the elaborate table setting caused me the most difficulty.
Do you have tips for new Furious Fiction entrants? My tip for all entrants is not to procrastinate – as soon as you know the rules, set your imagination in train. Once you are happy with your story get it written so you have plenty of time to edit.
What attracted you to Furious Fiction? I liked being part of a national project with other writers of similar background and experience.
What do you like best about participating in Furious Fiction? I enjoy the writing exercise element of it. By writing to a strict word limit, and being given criteria to write on, it forces me to consider how I assemble a piece (structure/narrative flow), and what style and genre I use. Let’s face it, when I eventually get a publisher to accept my writing, I’m going to have to re-write great swathes of it to fit their expectations.
How have you managed to enter every month? Planning and effort. Doesn’t matter what your job is, planning is essential if you wish to meet deadlines. And you need to make the effort. After all, you can’t win the lotto if you don’t buy a ticket.
Have you had any close calls? Two. One month I was very sick and barely able to get out of bed, and on another occasion I had a lot of non-writing work on, and very little time. That’s were the “effort” part of the equation came into play.
Do you have tips for new Furious Fiction entrants? Give it a go. It’s not hard, and it’s kind of fun to see what you can come up with.
What attracted you to Furious Fiction? I came across Furious Fiction by accident before its launch. I had never entered my writing into a competition before and liked the idea of the challenge.
What do you like best about participating?
I love the fact you’re on a short deadline and the set criteria really makes you have to think outside the box to keep the story engaging in so few words.
How have you managed to enter every month?
Lucky I guess. Despite my studies this year, I still managed to find time to get my entry in.
Have you had any close calls? Yes, last month actually. Our internet, and even the Foxtel, suddenly dropped out on the Friday night. By 10pm Sunday (Queensland time) I realised that with an hour to go I was either going to have thumb the story on my phone or try to ‘hotspot’ my phone to my MAC. Thankfully the hotspot worked and I got my entry in on time.
Do you have tips for new Furious Fiction entrants?
Don’t ever think your writing isn’t ‘good enough’ to enter. All writing is good practice to help build confidence and improve on skill. Just give it a go, because you never know!
(Jackie was shortlisted in the June round of Furious Fiction.)
What attracted you to Furious Fiction? I was attracted to Furious Fiction by having guidelines and a deadline to write to. I had done this previously for work but never in my creative writing.
What do you like best about participating in Furious Fiction? As someone whose preferred genre is crime, I like how the monthly guidelines have led me into crossing genres and writing everything from romance to sci-fi to comedy.
How have you managed to enter every month? Probably because of the encouragement that I have received from the other writers along the Furious Fiction journey and members of the So You Want to Be a Writer Facebook page.
Have you had any close calls? After about 4 or 5 months I was really down in the dumps that I hadn’t been shortlisted and was about to give up writing, but the members of the So You Want to be a Writer [page] were so supportive that I thought I would keep going.
The next month I happened to be working Friday night, Saturday and Sunday and nearly didn’t bother, but because of that support I submitted a story about five minutes before the cut off time.
Do you have tips for new Furious Fiction entrants? The best advice I can give is to read the Furious Fiction archives on the Writers Centre website. You can read what the guidelines were for each month and then read the winning and shortlisted stories to get an idea of what worked with the judges as well as reading some great short stories.
What attracted you to Furious Fiction?-
It was free! And I liked the containable nature of it, it seemed like a short-story comp I could enter without taking too much time from my other writing.
What do you like best about participating in Furious Fiction?
I love the initial fun of getting the criteria and coming up with a creative story concept.
How have you managed to enter every month? Seriously? I am not a perfectionist! I just do my best and not every story I have entered has been as polished as I liked, but the exercise has still made me a better writer.
Have you had any close calls?
There was one month where my story idea just didn’t really work. I almost didn’t enter, but I pushed on and while it was probably my weakest story, I was still proud I got it in.
Do you have tips for new Furious Fiction entrants?
I think my method works really well. Brainstorm Friday, write Saturday, then polish it up and make sure every word is perfect on the Sunday. Not always possible on a busy weekend, but that is my aim.
(Belinda was shortlisted in the June round of Furious Fiction.)
What attracted you to Furious Fiction? I love that it’s such a fast turnaround – 55 hours isn’t long to write, edit and submit something! It’s also great to hear the results so quickly. It’s also amazing that AWC offers free entry and such a great prize – it makes the whole competition so accessible.
What do you like best about participating in Furious Fiction? The little sets of criteria for each month have really kept me on my toes. They make me think outside the box and stretch me creatively – like yoga for my writing brain.
How have you managed to enter every month? As soon as I see the Furious Fiction email, I push everything else to one side and focus on that. If I have enough time to let the idea take shape in my head first, it really flows when I sit down to write it.
Have you had any close calls? In September when I was moving through a whole bunch of different time zones, I nearly missed the deadline because of a miscalculation!
Do you have tips for new Furious Fiction entrants? Be ready and waiting for that email to come. Generate a whole bunch of ideas, then dismiss the really obvious ones and try following the obscure paths – they usually lead to the best places.
“Established in 2008, what makes the Indie Book Awards unique is that it’s the Australian independent booksellers themselves who nominate their best titles for the year; select the Longlist; judge the Shortlist and vote for the Category and Book of the Year winners – the entire process is based on the selection and involvement of independent booksellers, members of the Leading Edge Books group, making it one of the most democratic awards in the Australian literary calendar.
“The Awards recognise and celebrate the indie booksellers as the number one supporters of Australian authors. What makes our Indies uniquely placed to judge and recommend the best Aussie books of the past year to their customers and readers, is their incredible passion and knowledge, their contribution to the cultural diversity of the Australian reading public by recommending beyond the big brands, and their love of quality writing.
“The Awards cover the best Australian books in six categories: Fiction, Non-Fiction, Debut Fiction, Illustrated Non-Fiction, Children’s books (up to 12yo) and Young Adult (12+).”
The Lost Man by Jane Harper (Macmillan Australia)
The Fragments by Toni Jordan (Text Publishing)
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (Macmillan Australia)
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (Allen & Unwin)
The Children’s House by Alice Nelson (Penguin Random House Australia)
Shell by Kristina Olsson (Scribner Australia)
The Other Wife by Michael Robotham (Hachette Australia)
Cedar Valley by Holly Throsby (Allen & Unwin)
The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton (Penguin Random House Australia)
Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak (Picador Australia)
The Ship That Never Was by Adam Courtenay (ABC Books, HarperCollins Australia)
Boys Will be Boys by Clementine Ford (Allen & Unwin)
The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover (ABC Books, HarperCollins Australia)
Butterfly on a Pin by Alannah Hill (Hardie Grant Books)
The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper (Penguin Random House Australia)
Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee (Allen & Unwin)
The Barefoot Investor for Families by Scott Pape (Barefoot Publishing)
Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales (Penguin Random House Australia)
Teacher by Gabbie Stroud (Allen & Unwin)
Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin (Brow Books)
DEBUT FICTION Flames by Robbie Arnott (Text Publishing)
The Helpline by Katherine Collette (Text Publishing)
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton (HarperCollins Australia)
Scrublands by Chris Hammer (Allen & Unwin)
The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan (HarperCollins Australia)
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Echo Publishing)
The Earth Does Not Get Fat by Julia Prendergast (UWA Publishing)
The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland (HarperCollins Australia)
The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen (Picador Australia)
The Nowhere Child by Christian White (Affirm Press)
Special Guest by Annabel Crabb, Wendy Sharpe (Murdoch Books)
A Painted Landscape: Across Australia from Bush to Coast by Amber Creswell Bell (Thames & Hudson Australia)
The Great Australian Bucket List by Robin Esrock (Affirm Press)
Mirka & Georges by Lesley Harding, Kendrah Morgan (Melbourne University Publishing)
Marcia Langton: Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton (Hardie Grant Travel)
Bohemian Living: Creative Homes Around the World by Robyn Lea (Thames & Hudson Australia)
Smith & Deli-cious by Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse (Hardie Grant Books)
Family: New vegetable classics to comfort and nourish by Hetty McKinnon (Plum)
Gardens on the Edge by Christine Reid (Murdoch Books)
Australian Dreamscapes by Claire Takacs (Hardie Grant Books)
All the Ways to be Smart by Davina Bell & Allison Colpoys (Illus) (Scribe Publications)
The Tales of Mr Walker by Jess Black & Sara Acton (Illus) (Penguin Random House Australia)
A-Z of Australian Animals by Jennifer Cossins (Hachette Australia)
Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee (Allen & Unwin)
Claris: The Chicest Mouse in Paris by Megan Hess (Hardie Grant Egmont)
Jane Doe and the Cradle of All Worlds by Jeremy Lachlan (Hardie Grant Egmont)
Cicada by Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
Tales from the Inner City by Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)
Room on Our Rock by Kate & Jo Temple, Terri Rose Baynton (Illus) (Scholastic Australia)
Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Hachette Australia)
Hive by A. J. Betts (Pan Australia)
Just Breathe by Andrew Daddo (Penguin Random House Australia)
Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein (Walker Books Australia)
Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough (Hardie Grant Egmont)
P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones (HarperCollins Australia)
A Song Only I Can Hear by Barry Jonsberg (Allen & Unwin)
Obsidio: The Illuminae Files_03 by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Allen & Unwin)
Tin Heart by Shivaun Plozza (Penguin Random House Australia)
The Shortlist will be announced on 16 January 2019, with the Category Winners and the Overall Book of the Year Winner being announced at the Leading Edge Books Annual Conference Awards Dinner on 18 March 2019 in Adelaide, SA.
The Indie Book Awards are considered the forerunners of all major Australian book awards.
Congratulations and good luck to all these worthy authors.
In Episode 261 of So you want to be a writer: Discover planning tips for the next year and meet Alice Pung, author of Close to Home. We have a HUGE stash of books to give away to one lucky winner. Plus, the Newcastle Short Story Award is now open and more.
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All right. Now your latest book, Close to Home, for those readers who haven’t got their hands on it yet, can you tell us what it’s about?
Sure. So Close to Home is a collection of my nonfiction writing. I think it spans around 15 years from my very first published piece in the year, I think it was 2000 or 2001. Until a piece I wrote recently, just this year.
And so what made you decide to compile a collection of your writing?
Oh, Valerie, it wasn’t my decision actually. So last year, my editor, Chris Feik, who’s been with me since my very first book actually, he emailed me and said, “oh, I think you’ve got enough stories for a collection.” Well, firstly, I think the first thing I felt was embarrassment, because I’d only recently read some great anthologies, including Helen Garner’s latest collection, Everywhere I Look.
And I emailed Chris back saying, “I don’t think I’m at the stage in my career where I…” Because Helen Garner has anthologies, not quite younger authors. But he said that I’d written quite a bit for The Monthly magazine. And so he and Julia from Black Inc said, let us put together, make a list of all the things that you’ve published and see how you feel about it. And I didn’t realise that I’d written so much over the years.
So this is Julia and Chris’s doing. I can’t take much credit for the great way they’ve put it together.
And did you curate it in the order in which it has appeared? And then did you subsequently write some new material that was specifically for the book?
Oh, Valerie, it’s a great question. Because I was very lucky to have Julia and Chris curate the entire project. I wouldn’t know how to put my writing together because I’m too close to it. So the things that really embarrass me, I might have left out some stories that other people might have found interesting, just personally. You grow as a writer over 15 years. So I would have curated a very different and probably very inferior book.
So I didn’t curate it. But I did write one new piece for it. Because in the last section, to put it all together. Because when I read the manuscript about a month before it got published, I thought, oh gosh, I didn’t realise that the things I’d been writing had been telling a sort of narrative or trajectory of my life for the past 15 years. So there was one piece missing that I filled in the gap and that was it.
Great. And by the way, I’m sure you’re selling yourself a bit short, Alice, by saying that you would have done an inferior job. Because you’re an award winning writer, you’ve had so much experience.
When did you decide that you wanted to write? Was it something that you always loved when you were at school? Or when did it develop?
I always enjoyed writing. The necessity of writing, I think, developed early. Not because I had a dream to be an author or anything, but because I was growing up in Braybrook and we didn’t have Facebook. And I’m the oldest. And with a lot of refugee families, the oldest looks after the younger kids.
And I was really frustrated. Really, really frustrated. I’d go to shopping centres and people would give me funny looks, dirty looks, like I was a teen mum when I was just the oldest sibling looking after the younger ones.
And, you know, I read a book called The Feminine Mystique, written in the 1950s about housewives, how they were all on Valium because they were really depressed. And as a teenager, I thought, I get this.
I wrote a lot out of frustration, actually. And it was quite a therapeutic thing. It was a wonderful thing, because I didn’t take it out on my younger siblings. And it was a way of – what do you call it? It was therapeutic. Before Facebook.
So you mean Facebook has taken its place?
No, I’m barely on Facebook actually. I guess what I’m saying is today, if I had Facebook back then, I could have just written, “oh, I had to change my sister Lina’s nappy seven times today. I’m so angry.” And I would have got 17 people liking, or doing the sympathetic crying face. And I wouldn’t have felt so alone.
But when you’re in this concrete house by yourself as a teenager, with lots of kids, you really feel quite alone. So writing was a way to make me feel better. Not to make anyone else feel anything.
Wow. And so did you have influential people at school or teachers or authors that impacted, that influenced the fact that you wanted to write?
Oh, I did in primary school. I had this emergency teacher named Mr Galloway, who would only come very two or three months. And he didn’t even know my name; he called me Elizabeth. But he always said, “oh are you writing, Elizabeth? You’re going to burn a hole through the page.”
So if someone had said to me back then, “oh you’re so great at maths” maybe I would have gone in a different field. But I remember him so well.
And then my first author visit was an author named Arnold Zable, who you might know, might have interviewed. He spoke to our school when I was 16. And he was so honest and such a wonderful storyteller. And he did tell us that writing didn’t pay very much, but it was his life. And sometimes he’ll see people reading The Age and putting their coffee cup on his article, leaving a mark. And I really thought, this man is an extraordinary storyteller. And it was the first author I’d ever met.
Wow. And so you were born in Australia, in Victoria. But your parents migrated here and they were refugees here from Cambodia. And a lot of the stuff that you’ve written – and you’ve written a lot of memoir – has centred around that experience. The fact that you have that Cambodian background and how that’s played out.
Why do you want to write about that?
Oh, I think it’s the material I know best. I didn’t start off, when I wrote my memoir and my nonfiction pieces, I didn’t start off thinking that I had something very specific to say. I didn’t start off politically, which is what I’m saying. I didn’t even have a clear understanding of politics at 20 when I started writing my family stories. I just thought that that was the material I knew well.
And in fact, in my first creative writing class at university, I felt intimidated. People had been overseas. They had life experience. We had an older mother. And I started just writing about my family, and people seemed to find that funny and interesting. So that’s how I continued.
And so recently had a baby, your second baby, and we might even hear him gurgling in the background in this episode.
He’s fallen asleep now.
But apart from that, when you’re not nursing a brand new baby, you have a fulltime job, is that right? Or a part time job?
Oh, it used to be fulltime, Valerie. It’s now three days a week. Well, I’m on maternity leave at the moment. But it is usually three days a week at the Fair Work Commission.
Where you work as a lawyer?
A legal researcher now. So I’ve been doing that for over ten years.
So you combine that with writing, right?
Yes. Yeah, I do.
And so what proportion… So do you… How disciplined are you on the days that you’re not doing that? How disciplined are you in being committed to your writing? And what goals do you have in terms of using that time? Do you aim to get a certain number of things published per quarter? Or how does it work so that you have a forward momentum and that you’re not wasting those two days?
That’s an excellent question. Because on those two days I have my two boys with me. So one is three and a half, and one at the moment is a newborn. So in between time, which is very scarce actually, at the moment.
I don’t have a goal. I don’t think every quarter I should publish this amount of articles. I always say yes to commissions or to people who ask me to do work.
But I do have long term projects. So at the moment, I’m working on a young adult book. And I have wonderful publishers. So they let me take my time. So I set personal goals, of course. I say, oh maybe in two years I’ll have a first draft or something. So I don’t have very specific, you know, 500 words a day goals. But long term goals, I do.
Sure. You do write a lot of memoir. And it’s a balancing act when anyone writes memoir to make sure that you’re telling your story obviously truthfully and authentically, but in a way that’s really engaging. Because sometimes what’s engaging to us and our family isn’t necessarily engaging to other people.
That’s so true. Yes.
So how do you make… What kind of criteria do you have, or how do you determine, “you know what? I’ve gone too far in that direction.” Or what sort of rules do you have for yourself when you’re writing memoir?
Look, I have rules in regards to the stuff I write not hurting other people.
For instance, years and years ago my sister’s guinea pig died and she was a lot younger. And I thought I’d write about that as part of something else. And she said, “I don’t want you to write about the death of my guinea pig.” Which is something really small, but it was her first death.
Sure, significant to her.
This is coming from someone who writes about genocide in Cambodia. And I stopped and I thought, I can’t write about my sister. I don’t have permission from her. She may be a minor, she may be 12 or something.
So these are the rules. If people don’t want me to write about them, I don’t.
In terms of my own life, I don’t write about things that I don’t think are insignificant, just to get laughs or that I think might be of cultural interest to other people. I’m more about… I write to get to the emotional heartbeat of a situation or a circumstance. So I guess those are my unspoken rules.
You made reference to genocide in Cambodia. And obviously your parents left Cambodia during a difficult period. At what age were you when you started to understand what they actually went through? And how did that affect you growing up in beautiful safe suburban lovely Victoria?
Oh, so I’ve always grown up knowing that my parents survived war. Even from the youngest age possible. They would say things over the dinner table, not to shock, but it was part of their conversation, because it was a part of their life. Just as people who grew up in the 70s in Australia talk about their first Abba concert or something.
My parents would occasionally say, “oh remember, Needle? She was so clever with a sewing machine. Too bad they smashed her.” And these were people I’d never meet.
And so we grew up knowing that there were these bad guys called The Black Bandits, which were what my parents called the Khmer Rouge. And that they killed people in all sorts of different ghastly ways. But we also watched a lot of martial arts movies. So we could see that violence was part of my parents’ wartime experience.
I think it really hit me when I was 16 and 17, when you do history projects and you have to interview your relatives. And that was when my dad told me what happened in Cambodia. And I lost a lot of sleep then. I thought, wow, I can’t believe I have these parents.
They’re not abusive. They’re very loving. They’re funny as. And they survived this. You know?
And have you spent much time in Cambodia? Since you weren’t born there?
Not very much, Valerie. My father always prevented us from going there. He said, “you can visit anywhere in the world but there.” But then I had to finish a book when I was 29. And I asked him if he could come with me to Cambodia. So we spent about two weeks there. So that was the first and only time I’ve been there.
Wow. Okay. Okay.
And so with what you’re doing now, what’s your plan? Is the plan to continue working part time in legal research and writing on the side? And what’s the next big project that you want to take on?
I do always want to work part time. Because I find I’ve never been a fulltime writer. And even when I’ve gone away on residencies, just spending seven days a week writing, it doesn’t bore me or anything, but it feels really selfish.
And I don’t think I could do it. Yeah. Yeah. I guess, I don’t know. It feels really insular. And I get worried and anxious about what people think of my writing.
So having a three days a week job where I don’t concentrate on myself and I concentrate on solving other problems, really helps me as a writer. It makes the writing lighter, if that makes sense. Not lighter as in diluted, but it makes it not all about my ego and how I would feel if someone gave me a bad review or if the book didn’t do well.
Because it also provides a separate income from the writing. So it makes it freer.
Now if you did have a project… Sorry, no you continue, please.
Oh no, you go.
If you do have a project, like you said, “I’ll deliver this manuscript in two years” or whatever. Even if it’s a vague future deadline. How do you then structure that to make sure that it happens? You must have some kind of process or timelines? Or something to make sure that you do deliver that manuscript in two years? Or you can’t write it all in the final week!
Oh no. No, you can’t do it. So for example, I’m working on a young adult book, which is taking about two years. And I did say I’d deliver it hopefully by the end of this year.
Is that fiction?
Yeah, it’s a fiction. So how do I do that? I don’t know, Valerie. I have a hunch that I’ll get it done. And usually it does get done within the time. So maybe a few months earlier or later, but things eventually get done. Lucky I don’t have pushy publishers or a pushy agent saying, you have to deliver a book every two years or whatever.
Do you carve out a specific time? Like, Sunday afternoon, I’m just going to write. Or do you have any of those sorts of parameters?
No, I don’t. But you’re right, when I do have a deadline, I’m very lucky, I have a very supportive husband who will take my son, back then there was only one, out for half an afternoon so I can work on a Saturday morning. Or things like that.
And my son, when he’s in childcare, I get to write. Well, I was working at the Fair Work Commission, but I’m on maternity leave. So I do get some time to write when he’s in childcare. Because a baby sleeps quite a lot.
Yes. Always handy. What’s the most enjoyable thing about writing? And currently, because you do write a lot of nonfiction, but now you’re writing this young adult fiction, which do you prefer?
I think the most enjoyable thing about writing is I write to figure out things I don’t understand myself. And I think one of my favourite writers, John Marsden, also does exactly the same thing. He said exactly the same thing, actually.
And I’d never put it in so many words until I read something where he said, “I write to try to understand things I don’t get.” So I never really have an answer when I start to write. And it’s discovering, by the end of what you’ve written, that you don’t really have a complete answer, but you’re closer to some realisation than you were before.
What’s an example, before we move on to that other question. But what’s an example of something that you figured out as a result of writing?
Okay. So about three and a half years ago, when I had my first baby, I was really dreading my parents coming to visit. Because they’re overly anxious, overly protective. And they have this idea that a woman who gives birth, they have to spend a month in confinement. I read about it. You know, you don’t take showers for a whole month.
Yeah, nuts, right.
And I thought, oh no, they’re going to enforce that on me. And they didn’t. Because my baby was born premature. So it meant that I got out of hospital before my son did. I wasn’t really worried, because the hospital took good care of him. But I wasn’t confined because I had to walk to and from hospital every day.
And what I discovered was that my mother, she was wonderful. And..
It’s the 12th month of the year, so what better way to celebrate summer than with a 12-book pack giveaway! That’s right folks – one lucky winner will be starting 2019 with a big enough stack of bookish delights that they could easily turn it into a bedside table.
But kitsch furniture ideas aside, you’ll find plenty of readable uses for this dynamic dozen – with a selection that includes contemporary fiction, thrillers, page-turning true stories, children’s books and more.
This is definitely your chance to score some exciting new additions to your bookshelf (or great gifts for the reader(s) in your life). To be in to win, simply describe YOUR 2018 in ONE WORD – and tell us why (in 25 words or fewer). The entry that we judge the best will win the prize pack. You can only enter once, so make it a good one!
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Entries close midday Monday 31 December 2018, Sydney/Melbourne time.
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(NOTE: If you win, we’ll contact you via email. Winners must acknowledge their win and provide a sending address within 7 days of notification or they will forfeit the prize and a new winner will be chosen.)
On the Same Page tells the story of Miles Franklin (named after the famous author), who is a successful lawyer. But by night she writes historical romance novels under the pen name Emma Browning. When her assistant covertly enters her boss’s novel in one of Australia’s biggest literary awards—and it wins—Miles’s perfectly ordered world is torn apart.
This follows the publication of Penelope’s second book On the Right Track, a warm-hearted rural romance and her story, Six Rules of Christmas which appears in Our Country Christmas – a feel-good collection of Australian Christmas stories to warm the heart.