A Story About Choosing an Author Photo

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Sometimes (okay, more than sometimes) I like to live in a world where the only thing I’m judged on as a writer is my writing. The rest of the time I know I have to play the game. You know the game. The one where what you look like, how cool you are and how good you are on social media seem to be just as important. I resent the hell out it (mostly because I’m not beautiful, I’m a nerd – not one of those cool new-age nerds, just an old-fashioned awkward nerd – and my social media skills could charitably be described as needing work).

So imagine the personal torment I went through as I recently chose a new author photo to go on the back cover of my latest book, Black Spot. If you know my history with author photos, it’s not that hard to imagine. Continue reading

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I Am the Very Model of an Unknown Author Immemorial

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I’m very bad at marketing and anything promotional
Even though with books I’m always quote devotional
In short, in matters authorial and even editorial
I am the very model of an unknown author immemorial
(And in this case, a bit of a plagiarist and an awful lyricist)

I know I do plenty right when it comes to my writing. If I thought differently, I probably would have given up a long time ago. But I know I do plenty wrong as well. How do I know that? Because I’ve written two-and-a-half books of writing, editing, publishing and marketing advice and often it’s a case of “do as I say, not as I do” because at least fifty percent of the time, I don’t – and sometimes just can’t bring myself to – follow my own advice. Which undoubtedly has something (probably a lot) to do with why I remain an unknown author (since time immemorial).

Here’s a (hardly comprehensive) list of things I do wrong. Continue reading

The Pros and Cons of Studying Writing

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I am following the careers of two emerging writers who have both gone back to studying at university in their late twenties/early thirties. I did the same thing, studying a master’s degree in writing, starting when I was twenty-seven and finishing when I was thirty. But even though they are both very vocal about writing, publishing and wanting to be writers, they aren’t studying writing. One is studying archaeology and anthropology ten years after gaining a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and the other is studying astronomy after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in criminology.

I find it curious, probably because I’m a literal kind of person. When I decided I wanted to make writing my career, I studied writing. But, of course, there are many paths that can be taken towards becoming a writer. And being a writer while having other specialist knowledge can really expand career opportunities. After all, most writers make most of their money doing things other than writing.

So should you study writing? Should you study something else? Should you study at all? Here are a few things to consider. Continue reading

There Once Was a Girl Who Looked Like a Horse…

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During the first year of my first writing course, the Novel teacher set us students an in-class assignment to pick a fellow student, write a description of them the way we would if they were a character in our book and then read it aloud. Then everyone had to try to guess which student was being described.

There were a few rules:

*Before we started, we spent an uncomfortable and lengthy minute looking around the room, deciding who to write about and absorbing as much as possible about their appearance as we could but without staring and giving away our hand before we’d even begun writing.

*After that uncomfortable and lengthy minute, we weren’t allowed to look at the person we were writing about again during the creative process in case it ruined the guessing game we were shortly about to play.

*We couldn’t write a description that was too obvious. If there was only one boy in a blue shirt, then it wasn’t going to be much of a challenge guessing who he was. Continue reading

Book Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

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This book has so many 4- and 5-star ratings on Goodreads that I was convinced there must be some sort of extraordinary twist at the end. There isn’t. It’s a well-written but averagely-plotted book. Anyone who has ever lived in a small Australian town where the landscape is brown more often than it is green will recognise the setting and the small-minded residents who think you can never be a local unless you were born there. But anyone who has ever read a crime novel will also recognise the formula. So I’m perplexed as to why there was so much hype. Continue reading

Do Writers Need to Study Professional Writing Courses to Become Professionals?

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In 2007, I was studying the final subject in my master’s degree in writing at Swinburne University. The subject was The Writerly Self (don’t ask, I have no idea, not sure if I even understood exactly what the subject was about when I was studying it) and the major assessment piece was a writing journal reflecting on my development as a writer. I really didn’t want to do it. It seemed self-indulgent. It seemed like a waste of the 3,000-5,000 words required.

I proposed, was given permission for and began writing several alternatives including an article with the title, “Can Writing Be Taught?” It was and still is a question perpetually asked in relation to professional writing courses.

At the simplest level, of course writing can be taught. We teach writing to children all throughout their schooling years. But the focus of my article was going to be undergraduate and postgraduate writing studies. What better way to reflect on my development as a writer than to look into the proliferation of bachelor-, graduate certificate-, graduate diploma-, master’s- and PhD-level writing courses, their necessity and their usefulness. Continue reading

How Much Lived Experience Do You Need to Create Diverse Characters?

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“There’s a quote from Julius Caesar at the start of Area 7. I made it up. It says fiction on the back. A lot of the books – I stopped it in Scarecrow for the sake of pace – have the prologue at the start. Advantage Press doesn’t exist. W.M. Lawry & Co. He was a cricket guy. There are gags in there if you look closely enough. But it says fiction on the back.”

Matthew Reilly in Literati: Australian Contemporary Literary Figures Discuss Fear, Frustrations and Fame by James Phelan

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Truth in fiction seems to be a big debate topic these days, at least some truths. Nobody seems to mind when Matthew Reilly makes things up in his books or when George Lucas writes about an epic resistance and the religion at the heart of it a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But when a writer wants to explore a real race or a real culture or a real disability that they have no lived experience of in a piece of fiction, it seems to be more and more of a problem. Verisimilitude, or the ring of truth, apparently isn’t good enough anymore. Some writers of those races or cultures or with those disabilities don’t want you to read a piece of fiction informed by imagination and (hopefully) a decent chunk of research. They instead want you to read their piece of writing about the same topic (whether fictional or not) so that you can read “the truth” or at least a piece of writing informed by their truth. Continue reading