Wednesday, 20 August 2014

first manuscript query - allison tait of 'the mapmaker chronicles'

Australian writer Allison Tait joins me today to answer the big questions about her first manuscript.  In the process of writing my own, I've wondered what led other writers to this point and how old they were at the time.  I've discovered there's often a difference between the first manuscript and the first actual book published and a full resume of jobs until that point.  It's fascinating to discover the back-story and I'm delighted Allison has agreed to share hers with Stonefruit Season readers.

Allison writes fiction, non-fiction and features - and writes regularly about writing, life and .... whimsy at allisontait.comThe Mapmaker Chronicles, her first series for children (9+), will launch on 14 October 2014, with book one: The Race to the End of The World.  I'm a regular reader of her blog which is a lovely community for writers, both new and established.  I have also become a huge fan of her podcasts, So you want to be a writer, co-hosted by Valerie Khoo for Australian Writers' Centre, which feature tips, insights, motivation and interviews with writers from around the world - well worth checking out.

At what age did you write your first manuscript?
I was 29 and it was a romance novel - aimed at Mills & Boon. I was working in magazines at the time and thought that romance novels made complete sense for me. I'd read hundreds of them in my late teens, they had a specific market, and they were relatively short. What could possibly go wrong? As it turned out, quite a lot and it wasn't until I won a mentor in a competition that I was gently steered in the direction of broader women's fiction. "I think you have too much to say for a category romance novel," were her exact, diplomatic words.

What jobs did you have until then?
I've worked in various roles in magazine publishing (editorial assistant, sub-editor, features writer, features editor) almost my entire career, apart from three memorable months as a (very bad) receptionist for a homewares company. 

What was the catalyst for your first full-length work?
After I received those gentle words from my mentor, I turned my attention to longer manuscripts and I've since written two for adults, one of which got very close to publication, and two of which I'm still reworking. I've also, now, written 2.5 children's novels, my series called The Mapmaker Chronicles - the first of which, Race To The End Of The World, will be published in October 2014, and the last of which (the 0.5) is nearly at complete first draft stage. The children's series has been THE MOST FUN I've ever had with writing and I'm keen to do more of it.

Words of wisdom for budding writers
I've written a lot of stuff on my blog over the years but it all boils down to three things:

•You don't 'find' time to write a novel, you make time. Make it a priority. It's more important than The Block or Offspring or anything else on tele, for starters.

•There is no perfect time or place to write a novel. There is only now, there is only here. Sit at your computer or pull out your notebook and start right now.

•Finish the damn book. You can't edit a blank page and you sure as heck can't publish half a novel - push forward when it gets hard and remember you can always go back and fix it later. You'll learn to love editing…

Thank you Allison for your wonderful insights and taking the time to answer my questions.  Best of luck for The Mapmaker Chronicles - Book 1 is available for preorder now.

Over to you readers - are you writing too?  If so, please leave your answers to these questions in the comments section of this post.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

in the post: my salinger year

Joanna Rakoff's My Salinger Year winged its way to my house this week courtesy of an Australian Writers' Centre competition.  I recently heard Joanna talk on So you want to be a writer and I could have listened to her all day.  Her memoir recounts her time in New York answering writer JD Salinger's fan mail.  If Joanna writes as well as she talks, this promises to be one of my all time favourite reads.

Winning the book wasn't as simple as sending off my name and address - I had to write a short account of the funniest thing that happened to me in my first job.  Keen to find out what it was?  Here goes...

While this wasn't my first job, it was my first proper-Melbourne-job-in-an-office.

I was working as a marketing assistant at an industry association.  I spent a lot of time on the photocopier, but wasn't ever clear on what to do whenever those annoying flashing lights appeared.

One night, I was working late and I eventually realised that the toner cartridge needed replacing.  There was only one other person in the office.  I knew it wasn't worth asking her to do it for me, she would just say I had to learn how to do it myself.

I opened the huge beast of a thing and did my best to insert the new cartridge.  Something didn't quite work and the next thing I knew, I was knee deep in black toner.  It went all over the floor!

My co-worker heard me screaming and came in to find the biggest mess imaginable.  If you think of how many copies you get from one toner cartridge, you can imagine the scene of black dust in the photocopier room.

I maintain a fear of photocopier parts to this day and in every office since then, have deferred to others to change consumables.  You might say, I'm tarred for life.

How about you?  Any similar tales in the office cupboard?!

PS More wonderful AWC podcasts here.

Monday, 18 August 2014

why I didn't marry the boy next door

Overseas many years ago, I was told that when I got back to Australia, I should go and introduce myself to the boy next door.  The advice was given by a guy from the Northern Hemisphere who was married to a Kiwi and he said life was far simpler that way.  Ignoring his advice, I eventually met and married an Irishman, commenced our life together over there and moved back to Australia nine years ago.  While it's not always ideal, marrying someone from another country means you end up with family and friends on both sides of the world and a life that's all the richer from your chosen path.  We wouldn't change it for the world.

As for the boy next door, I didn't ever really meet him, but I'm pretty sure he was a real dork - and a teenager, which would have been quite awkward, given that I was in my twenties at the time…

Do you live between two countries?  Are they kind of close by like, say, Australia and New Zealand or do they requires hours in a tin can cruising from one hemisphere to the other?  

Better yet, did you marry the boy/girl next door?  Should I have gone and introduced myself after all?!

PS Joe arrived home last night to much excitement and relief from us all - pictures from our new point and shoot Nikon S3600 which did a fabulous job of capturing local sights and scenes.

Friday, 15 August 2014

book week - thank goodness for clementine rose

Australian author Jacqueline Harvey has saved our Book Week bacon with her delightful character Clementine Rose.  Here's someone who wears clothes just like Soph (who is minus the red bow - whoops) and saved a busy mother from a custom design!  Phew!  It's been lovely to find young Clementine Rose and the Treasure Box, a present from Joe before he flew out to Ireland.  As this is the sixth book, we'll have to work backwards, but it's always a bonus to find a series that hooks in young readers.  Sophie has read most of the Alice Miranda books and loved them, so we'll be keeping an eye on any new releases.  Find more here.

Have you had a lucky escape with a last minute costume?

Thursday, 14 August 2014

repurposed wheelbarrow: the succulent garden

Too good to throw away, this old metal wheelbarrow makes a great home for succulents.  Requiring little water, this is an easy care garden, only needing a slight trim when things get out of control.  When the aeoniums at the front get too big, I snap them down to size and start them growing again.  Larger plants can be transferred into other beds and cuttings from bigger plants can be started back in here - quite a lifecycle we've got going!

Do you repurpose secondhand items in your garden?
If so, I'd love to see some pictures of your creations.  
Please leave me a link in the comments and I will come and visit.

Joining in with Circle of Pines for #growforagecook.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

back to the faber academy - arnold zable

I'm delighted to be heading back to the Faber Academy at Allen & Unwin, this time for a story telling workshop with Arnold Zable.   I remember Cafe Sheherazade as being beautifully written, his wonderful tale of the Melbourne cafe and the lives of its owners and patrons.  I can't believe I'm going to get the chance hear insights from such a master of his craft - a very exciting opportunity.  The course outline says it will focus on both fiction and non-fiction, so it will be really worthwhile.  I'll let you know more once I've been!

Have you attended workshops with your creative heroes?  If so, I'd love to hear more!

Have you read Cafe Sheherezade or anything else written by Arnold Zable?  I can remember loving it so much, I'd consider it a must read.  Track it down and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

photo printing recommendations - help!

We celebrated a special birthday over the weekend and I had three of my favourite photos printed for the occasion.  They were all taken at the home of the person for whom the celebrations were held and were a great success.  I have loved seeing them in print so much I'm keen to get more of my photos blown up and put into frames.  But therein lies the rub: who to use?  What paper should I choose?  There seems to be fine art prints in cotton rag or giclee, printers located throughout Australia, both near and far.

Over to you readers - have you had your work printed to fine art quality?

Who did you choose and why?  

Thanks in advance for your help!

Monday, 11 August 2014

weekending and writing...

We spent the weekend with family for our annual get-together in north-eastern Victoria, a gathering of siblings, first, second and even third cousins.  This area is the place that inspired my entry for the Writers' Victoria Regional Members' Writers competition.  My Highly Commended piece has been published in this month's edition of The Victorian Writer - very exciting!  In the spirit of show and tell, I've attached a scan of the magazine to the blog - hope you enjoy it.  There was certainly plenty of story-telling this weekend and I'd love to capture these tales before it's too late.

Do you maintain links to your extended family and see them throughout the year?
Is there a special place in the world that you consider 'home'?
Has your family history been told?  If not, do you plan to record it?

Friday, 8 August 2014

flying in on friday...

We've been lucky to have this beautiful kookaburra visiting over the past week.  I haven't dragged out the bird book to determine exactly what type or sex, but I'm hoping he may become a regular feature in our back garden.  I don't know whether it's the banana skins adorning our roses or the abundance or worms attracting him here, but he keeps coming back despite the cat, the dog and the three noisy children.

Lovely flowers from Joe on his departure to Ireland.  We're almost half way through his two week visit back home to see his family.  It's an eye opener to be thrust into the world of solo parenting, but we're getting there, one day at a time.  Just as well we have this delicious plate of goodies I bought this morning from a fundraiser.  Apparently when you buy sweet things for charity, there aren't any calories - lemon slice anyone?!

Hope your week is going well - it's been early nights for me and equally early mornings!
Do you have resident wildlife at your place, friendly or not so friendly?
We've had both - and I much prefer the kookaburra to the red bellied black snake...

Thursday, 7 August 2014

motherhood - outsourcing time for yourself

Earlier this year I started to think there was no way I would reach my word target of 80,000.  It seemed too hard to juggle my writing around Jono's small amount of kindergarten when there were other jobs vying for my attention.  The less likely this looked, I started to push back.  I carved out time for myself and found those elusive hours: after breakfast, once the kids are at school, a quick spell while I'm cooking dinner (handy to have the computer in the kitchen/living room).  Since then, it's all added up and equalled the magic number, the one I set for myself last year.

Now I have reached the goal, I'm in editing mode.  It's not as easy to fit in here and there as it requires full concentration.  How can I do it when I need to muster every single thought and focus on this serious task?  Outsourcing - that's right, but not the editing, the child!  I've been able to book in a much-in-demand local carer for the next three Tuesdays.  She's great at what she does and just what I need to have some chunks of time to edit.  It's not a permanent commitment, but it's part of recognising when I need extra help to get things done.

In the same vein of taking time for myself, I've started taking tennis lessons again.  I had them when I was younger and played through school, but never as a serious contender.  I'm pretty uncoordinated really, but I love the game.  The kids recently started lessons and I'd heard there were adult sessions earlier in the afternoon.  My first was a couple of days ago and it was fantastic.  It wasn't just the playing part or the exercise, but being able to concentrate on something and not have to keep looking to see that the kids were okay.

When the teacher asked how I was feeling, I said it was exhilarating - that I bet he'd never heard that word on a Tuesday afternoon.  He said that, funnily enough, he has and that I have to get out more!  As I drove to school pick up I thought about his comment and agreed that, yes, I really should make the effort to do things for myself.  As mothers we can get so focussed on our families, we forget to nurture ourselves.  From now on, I'm going to make more time for me - because being a mother shouldn't mean that we get lost in the process.

PS My picture above, with a little bit of motivation for you!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

cardboard loom weaving for kids

Sophie came home from school yesterday with her first cardboard loom weaving project.  I've mentioned before that they have the most amazing art room and teacher and this makes me love them more and more!  A dedicated artist, Soph has worked away at her weaving and finished first thing this morning.  We've been on YouTube and found a tutorial we can do after school - it looks like something we'll be able to set up ourselves and get her going on the next one.  Sophie says she is happy about it because it's her first time and she has got a lot done.  She had a lot of fun and can't wait to learn more.
I'm particularly delighted to see Sophie working on this project as I worked for a weaver in Ireland many moons ago.  I worked in accounts and administration rather than on the creative side, but also spent a bit of time on the shop floor.  The looms were in the shop and tourists loved to come in and watch the weavers at work.  It's based in Dingle, Co Kerry, so if you're ever in Ireland, I would highly recommend taking a look.  Incidentally, Joe worked for the weaver's husband at this pottery so it was a wonderfully creative family to be involved with.

Are you a weaver or do you know any people still weaving today?
Are there any simple projects you would recommend for my budding creator?
And can you understand my relief that we've moved on from loom bands to cardboard looms?!

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

the writer's edition: month 16 check-in

It seems that I should be popping corks and throwing streamers - this month I achieved my word count of 80,000.  Since then, I've been working through each chapter to ensure every word and action is playing its part in the telling of the story.  As I strengthen some parts, I'm then able to see weaknesses and sections for deletion.  It's an ongoing process, but one I keep working on day by day.  Meanwhile, the plot for 'Novel number 2' is forming away in my mind and I'm excited to think there will be another project coming up next.

Last month, I said I would be attending Faber Academy's Getting Published workshop in Melbourne led by Allen & Unwin's group publishing director, Sue Hines.  It was a fabulous opportunity to hear insights from someone with over 30 years' experience in the industry.  Sue's warm and open personality really broke down the barriers between writer and publisher.  The relationship between both is that of professionals with each side expected to live up to their ends of the bargain.  As to the big question of whether to write a novel, the only way you can know is by doing just that.  A chapter or two may be wonderfully written, but the question is whether you can sustain interest for the length of a book - fingers crossed that is possible!  If you're a budding Australian writer, I would highly recommend this course.

Have you written a full length manuscript before?
If so, have you moved on to 'Novel number 2'?
What did you do differently second time around?

Monday, 4 August 2014

q&a with notes from delft - liebster award

Good morning!  It feels like I've been away for more than two days, a very busy weekend and a hectic start to the week.

The lovely Isabelle (Notes from Delft) has nominated me for a Liebster Award - thank you!  We've found each other recently and it's wonderful to have this new blog buddy on the other side of the world.  Isabelle has come up with a mini Q&A for her award recipients - here goes:

What dream would you like to see come true?
Regular readers won't be surprised by this one - to have my novel-in-progress published.

What do you hope to be doing five or ten years from now?
Writing my fifth or tenth book!  I'm hoping that when I have all three children at school, I will write at least one book a year.  Check back here then and we'll see how I've progressed!

What is your happiest childhood memory?
Tough to name just one!  All kinds, ranging from adventures on farms (cubby houses, bonfires, learning to drive, bareback horse riding through the paddocks), to days spent at the beach collecting shells (both in summer and winter, weather regardless), to playing in the park opposite our old house in Melbourne.  And reading - always reading - I have great memories of snuggling up with Enid Blyton, eventually moving on to the excitement of Judy Blume.

What is your favourite poem?
Argh!  Again, hard to choose one, so I won't!  We had a wonderful text book at school, Seven Centuries of Poetry in Modern English, and its contents still form the basis of some of my favourite pieces - The Broad Bean Sermon (Les Murray), Morning Song (Sylvia Plath), You Begin (Margaret Atwood), Not Waving but Drowning (Stevie Smith), Do not go gentle into that good night (Dylan Thomas), [Because I could not stop for Death] (Emily Dickinson).  Others include Stop all the Clocks/Funeral Blues (WH Auden), Late Last Night (Langston Hughes) and When You are Old and Grey (WB Yeats).

What was your favourite subject at school?
The previous post should be a huge hint - English, of course!  Although I wish I'd spent more time in the art room too, knowing how much I enjoy making things now.

What major obstacle have you had to overcome in recent years?
Financial constraints have been huge and have only been alleviated by sheer hard work and going without - when we married, we had no idea how hard it would be to get into our own house.  We juggled child care between us (formal never worked) and finally moved into our very own first home in 2012, eleven years after we got married.  This was a HUGE journey, with many false starts on the way.

Who do you most admire or look up to?
My family!  They've been wonderful to Joe and I over the time and I am very lucky to have such steadfast support in my life.

What are your best qualities of character?
That's a toughie!  Ummmmmmm I guess a good sense of humour will get you anywhere, although mine isn't always appropriate - I do guarantee a laugh though!  I guess you could also say resilient as I tend to be able to brush myself off and keep going.

What is your strongest talent?
Does managing money count?!  I've gone from being the girl who kept her money in a cupboard and withdrew it to go to the pub (in Ireland, pre-marriage) to someone who has heavily budgeted and lived mainly on one income.  We tend to amaze people with what we've been able to do just by being careful - so much so I'm sure some people think we have a secret source of income - and we don't!!!

How had blogging changed your life?
I started blogging in 2008 and at the time, as a mother of two young children, suddenly I had links to the outside world from the little farmhouse cottage we lived in.  It was something I loved but due to financial constraints, had to give up - children's swimming lessons vs the internet connection, and the kids quite rightly won!  I began blogging again in 2012 and loved being able to reach out again and be part of that big wide world - modern day pen pals, if you like.

What part of the world would you most like to visit?
So many!  There's a lot of Australia I haven't yet discovered, but also France, Italy, Spain, America and more.  I'd also love to go back to England, Scotland and Ireland.  And of course, to see my sister in New Zealand (another reason why I love blogging is for that connection to her when she lives so far away).

There you go!  Now, I'm not great at nominating people, so I'm going to put it out there and say please consider yourself a contender!  If you'd like to answer these questions, please leave a comment below with a link to your post.  They're wonderful questions that Isabelle has put together, so I'd be interested in hearing your answers!

Thanks again Isabelle, it's been lovely to get to know you!

Friday, 1 August 2014

the perils of 'find and replace' - changing names

'James Sallys Chloe' isn't a phrase I expected to read in my manuscript.

Stumped for a moment, I realised the problem happened when I did a 'find and replace' name change.  My main female character  Emily has a younger sister who was called Carrie up until recently when I renamed her - you guessed it - Sally.  I didn't even think about the word 'carries' being affected and if I had, I would have thought it would be okay.  It was, essentially, 'carrie' with an 's' on the end of it - a variation of the actual word I was looking for.  As the saying goes, never assume anything or...

And needless to say, I now have to do another find and replace regarding all occurrences of 'Sallys'!

Has this ever happened to you?
What glaring mistake may you have missed in your work?
Does this equate to the time I signed a hand-written business fax*, 'lots of love' rather than 'cheers' out of sheer habit from letter-writing?

* obviously quite some time ago - and probably when faxes were quite new!