Monday, June 29, 2009

My writing week 2(26)

Hi all,

My writing/editing/reading/critiquing output failed to increase much last week, even though I had overcome the flu and conjunctivitis, as I spent most of the week trying to catch up on other things. It was good to swim again and lift some weights, I really felt lethargic and semi-useless when not doing them.

I finished editing chapter five of "Stalking Tigers". Probably a better description of what I am doing is writing a second draft as I am cutting out 2000 or more words a 5000 word chapter and then adding in somewhere around 2500 new words. I am making so many changes to each chapter that I then need to go over it again and edit it. Chapter five ended up 500 words longer then it was originally.

One of the reasons for all the changes is that I had tended, in the early chapters at least, to have the main character despair too much over his situation. I have cut back on this, making the character more pro-active, and hopefully letting the reader despair for him. I am making him a more resilient character, one who clicks into scientific mode faster and uses his intuition to attempt to solve his dilemma. Before he spent too much time, I felt, coming to terms with his situation. The coming chapters show him struggling with his situation, so I don’t need to overemphasis it in the first few chapters.

Tim Winton spent most of his Miles Franklin acceptance speech criticising the Productivity Commission's suggested changes to Australian copyright law. He pointed out that Breath was published in May last year and under the proposed changes his Australian publishers would now have to compete against non-GST taxed imported versions for which Winton would receive little or no royalties.

I did the first reading of a short story for critters that had so much wrong with it that I would have spent hours writing the critique. The writer would have offended half his potential audience with his offensive portrayal of women as little more than sperm catchers. Unfortunately, when I got around to writing up the critique, I only had less than an hour until the critter's deadline, so the writer will have to do without my criticisms.

I hear thunder in the distance, bye.


Friday, June 26, 2009

The emerging writer's festival, part four.

Hi all,

The Revolution will be Downloaded was the fourth session I attended at the Emerging Writer’s Festival. The spiel for the session suggested I might find out about new writing markets and ways to promote my writing online. The Yarra Room was full with writers eager to learn about new opportunities.

Rachel Hills, a writer, editor, project manager and social commentator who has been publishing online since 1998 spoke first. She suggested using Google Profiles to collate all the online information about yourself. It is a quick summary page of your blogs, websites, and social networking activities which you can direct people to. I have started creating my own simple profile page, which I just linked my Facebook profile to. One suggested way to use the profile page is to put it as a link at the bottom of emails instead of having multiple links to blogs and websites.

Rachel has been blogging for a few years and stressed that you have to blog every day to capture a following. I don’t agree. It depends what you blog about. Literary Agent Nathan Bransford has a substantial following based on two posts a week. I haven’t got the time to read someone’s blog every day, so why should I expect anyone else to read mine everyday. Currently I will glance through the directory of Networked Blogs on Facebook or Myspace blog directory to see if any of the twenty or so blogs I have joined have something really interesting to say in the first sentence. If they don’t, I will skip most of them. I am thinking of dumping one blogger because she blogs three or more times a day and just clutters up my Networked Blogs directory.

Angela Myer, an emerging fiction writer and literary commentator, said you shouldn’t blog because you feel you have to, you have to enjoy it. She recommends enhancing a blog by using all the available media, like video and music. She emphasised that a blog has to have a theme, not be all over the place, and says the best blogs are personal. When I started this blog, its subjects were varied, now it concentrates on writing. I aim to share with readers, most probably other writers, my endeavours to finish writing something that is more than publishable. Once achieved, the blog will shift to my attempts at getting published while still talking about the writing process.

Darren Rowse, the founder and editor of, a Top 50 Blog Globally (as ranked by Technorati) and one of the leading sources on the Web for information about making money from blogs; and James Stuart, an online poet, were the other members of the panel.

Twitter was mentioned as a good promotional tool, so I relented and started my own Twitter account.

The session didn’t really introduce me to anything new. It did give me a few things to think about when blogging and got me experimenting with Twitter and Google Profile.

My next post will hopefully cover a couple of the sessions, including one on pitching.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

My writing week 2(25)

Hi all,

Conjunctivitis is not the greatest thing for a writer to catch. It’s a virus that irritates the eyes, and the ointments and drops used to remedy it tend to blur the vision. I had it all last week and had to live like a vampire as my eyes didn’t like bright light. Fortunately they have just about recovered, but I did little editing and writing, and no reading or critiquing last week. I had a mild dose of the flu at the same time.

Satima Flavell, one of my Facebook pals, mentioned that literary agent Nathan Bransford had collated a few writing articles on his blog. I had been a regular reader of Nathan’s blog until lack of time intervened, so I went and had a look and found a blog post on first or third person. For a while now I have been trying to find out why writers choose to write in first of third person. After posting that question on forums, I reached the conclusion that most writers just choose what they read. If they read a lot of fantasy, which is usually written in third person, they would start writing in third person.

When I started writing I had read a lot of high fantasy, so I choose third person. I changed to first person for the novel I am currently writing because I wanted the reader to immediately know that the only pov they were going to get during the novel was that of the main character’s and they were never going to find out what was going on in the mind of the other major character. They were only going to get the main character’s perspective of what the other major character was up to.

Nathan says:

The really compelling first person narrators are the ones where a unique character is giving you their take on something that is happening, and yet it's clear to the reader that it's not the whole story. You're getting a biased look at the world, which is central to the appeal of the first person narrative.

One of the great tensions in a first person narrative, then, is between what the narrator is saying and what the reader senses is really happening beyond the narrator's perspective. This doesn't necessarily have to mean that the narrator is unreliable, it just means that we're seeing the world through a very unique character's eyes -- and only through that character's eyes. A protagonist might really convince herself, for instance, that she isn't sad that her mother died, but the reader senses that there's more to the story. Not necessarily unreliable, but it's also not the whole picture.

This is what I am doing in Stalking Tigers. I want the reader to occasionally question whether the pov character is telling the whole story, not necessarily attempting to deceive, but to be aware that the trauma he experienced at the start of the novel may have affected the way he views the world.

Nathan goes on to say:

The other great essential element of a first person narrative is that the narrator has to be compelling and likeable. I may get a lot of grief for the "likeable" part, but hear me out. Nothing will kill a first person narrative quicker than an annoying narrator. Now, this doesn't mean the narrator has to be a good person, and hopefully the narrator is well-rounded enough to be a complex character. But the narrator has to pass the "stuck in an elevator" test. Would you want to be stuck in a room with this person for six hours? Would you want to listen to this person give a speech for six hours? If the answer is no, then you might want to reconsider.

I can think of a lot of other people I might want to be stuck in an elevator for six hours with than the main character of Stalking Tigers, as the trauma he has been through means that for much of the novel he is not a happy camper. But if he decided to open up and tell me the story of what happened to him then the six hours would fly past as I marvelled at what he went through.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Emerging Writer's Festival, Part Three.

Hi all,

The Great State Divide, during The Emerging Writer’s Festival, had a number of interstate writers debating what they thought made their state’s writing unique and different from that of the other states.

The debaters included Lisette Ogg who works for the Queensland Writer’s Centre; Rachel Hennessy, her first novel, The Quakers, won the Adelaide Festival Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, receiving $10,000 and publication by Wakefield Press, she currently lives in SA; Simonne Michelle-Wells, a writer from Melbourne (originally from W.A.) with a background in theatre writing and directing; Sean Riley who is regarded as one of South Australia's leading playwrights; and novelist Jennifer Mills who lives in Alice Springs.

Lisette Ogg started the debate by saying that WA writers were full of guilt about their treatment of Aborigines and migrants.

Sean Reilly grew up in Tasmania and told a story of his mother denying his families Aboriginal heritage, even to the extent of playing Spanish music as an attempt to claim they were Spanish. His mother had recently contacted him and told him that they were Tongan. There were a number of books and authors mentioned during the session including Xavier Herbert and I was waiting for someone to mention his novel Capricornia in which a half-caste Aboriginal is convinced by his white father that he is Indonesian.

Sean felt that Tasmanian writers were also full of guilt about what had happened to their state’s Aborigines, and their writing was full of the spookiness and harshness of Tasmania.
Jennifer Mills said there was a flourishing writing scene in Alice Springs.

The writers agreed writer’s shame about our heritage was not unique to any one state, with guilt about our treatment of Aborigines, migrants and the environment being the prevalent Australian voice. Tim Winton was mentioned as someone who typified Western Australian and Australian guilt.

They asked the audience which Victorian writer we thought typified the Victorian voice. No one was game enough to put their hand up. I immediately thought of Peter Carey, who was born in Bacchus Marsh in Victoria and where part of his novel Illywhacker is set. The True History of the Kelly Gang is also set in Victoria and My Life as a Fake is about a literary hoax perpetrated in Melbourne. Those novels all have characters of questionable integrity at their centre who seem to be in denial about the defining elements of their existence.

If I had felt really brave and willing to go into a long winded explanation I would have mentioned science-fiction writer George Turner. Two of the three novels of his I have read are set in Melbourne, with The Sea and Summer having global warming as its backdrop. Another one of his novels, Genetic Soldier, is about a future attempt to recolonise Australia, but this time the Aborigines are genetically enhanced so the outcome is different. Both novels echo the shame of our past.

My next Emerging Writer’s Festival post will cover a session entitled: The Revolution will be Downloaded.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Writing Week 2(24)

Hi all,

I have a progressively worsening cold or flu, so I didn't do much editing or reading last week. One thing I did do was mess around with the blog application on myspace. I can now cut and paste word documents into it without it destroying their formatting, so I hopefully won't have any more big posts go missing before I send them.

I critiqued a potentially great story for critters. It had three unforeseen twists, I am not normally one for stories with twists as I find many of them predictable and full of contrived or boring setup. I did point out a few style and writing problems with it though, like telling instead of showing, the overuse of was, and lots of sentences that needed to be tightened up. I hope the writer rewrites it and converts it into that great story.

Sad to hear that David Eddings died, I was one of the millions who read
The Belgariad series.

Time to cough, blow the nose and moan about my health.


Friday, June 12, 2009

The Emerging Writer's Festival, part two.

Hi all,

This is my second post on the Emerging Writer’s Festival that I attended in Melbourne on the 30th and 31st of May. My first post covered the session, Seven Enviable Lines. After that session I followed the crowd upstairs where about 150 of us crammed into the smaller, but slightly better lit, Yarra Room for the panel discussion Just Write Dammit.

The first speaker was crime novel writer PD Martin. She’s written four novels and been published in a number of countries. In between static clicks from the microphone she suggested that writers who finish a chapter should start the first page of the next chapter before stopping for the day, as this will the words flowing the next day. When I actually finish a chapter, I do tend to do this as I am keen to find out how I will set the scene for the following chapter.

She recommended doing the 10k in a day challenge, which she does once a month. To achieve the 10,000 words she does not re-read during it, and turns off the spellchecker and grammar checker.

She said it helped to have a writing partner to compete against in daily word counts.

Andrew Hutchinson, an award winning novelist spoke next. He tended to mumble a bit, so he was hard to understand on occasions. He mentioned that he felt first person was more personal. This is one reason why I have written the novel I am working on in first person.

He usually left a draft for three months so he could returns to it with fresh eyes.

He said Cormac McCarthy wrote his Pulitzer prize winning novel, The Road (see my review in an earlier post) in three weeks. This made all of us who had spent the best part of two years on the one novel feel terribly inadequate. The Road is a short novel, about 50,000k I would guess. I wonder if he had written it in his head before he started.

Short story writer and magazine editor Tiggy Johnson said “How To” books provided her with plenty of inspiration.

Victoria Carless, a playwright, said her PhD was useful for generating work. I found this also to be the case with my masters as the first draft of the novel I am currently editing is the result of a novella I wrote during it. I have also started extending another short-story I wrote during that course to a novel and I intend to turn another short story into a young adult novel.

She said that in her pitch to publishers she mentions her degree was admission by folio. I might mention my masters was admission by folio in pitches. Interestingly, when I was applying for university writing courses, only two, the University of Canberra, where I studied, and the University of Wollongong wanted to see some of my writing as part of the entry requirements. The others just went on high school marks. Too bad if those they admitted had nothing to write about.

It was then time for lunch that I spent finding my sunnies, left on the seat next to mine at the first session, and then watching Sri Lankans protest about the war in their country.

Liz Argall, one of the festival’s guest writers, is also posting on the festival.

My next festival post will include a debate by interstate writers on what they think their state’s unique writing voice is. I very much enjoyed this debate.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stupid myspace

Hi all,

Remain calm Graham, it is not the end of the world. I just spent about an hour writing a beautiful post about the emerging writer’s festival only to have it disappear into the ether. I haven’t got a clue what I did or even if I did anything. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Because myspace has previously totally stuffed up the formatting of word documents, I have been writing my posts directly onto it and then cutting and pasting them to my mirror blog on blogger. But, unfortunately, myspace does not allow you to save as you go.

While threatening myspace with every evil known to man, a door to door salesman interrupted me. He made a quick retreat.

I am not in the mood to write the post again today.

Stupid myspace. I hope Microsoft assimilates you.


Sunday, June 7, 2009

My writing week 2(23)

Hi all,

It's amazing how a three day trip to Melbourne for the Emerging Writer's Festival lead to such a huge backlog of things I just had to do before I could spend time writing. A week later and I am still trying to catch up with my pedantic reading of newspapers. I should be thankful that it rained a bit last week so I didn't have to water much - I have no idea where I got the time to water over summer. I did very little editing of Stalking Tigers last week, just enough for me to say that I wrote on every day, which I still have continued to do since the start of 2008.

I didn't critique anything last week. I started on a story for OWWW but then the author put a stop crit on it. I just had a look at the files for OWWW and found no science fiction so the prospects of me critiquing anything in the next week are not looking good. I am supposed to critique two stories a month, but last month did none, so I might be ejected from the group. My critiquing ratio of weeks to critiques is at 70% for Critters but that would have gone down a couple of percent after missing last week. Perhaps I could do two for Critters this week.

Not much reading last week due to no time and feeling really tired at night after failing to catch up on sleep over the previous weekend.

I will write another blog post on the Emerging Writer's Festival this week that will cover at least two of the sessions: my notes are not as extensive for the remaining sessions as they were for the first. Liz Argall, one of my facebook pals, has also been writing posts on the festival too. It will be interesting to see how we differ in our assessments of it and the sessions.

I started a Google Profile account for myself after it was mentioned at the writer's festival as a good way of getting all the web information you want displayed about yourself onto one URL link. My profile is just basic at the moment and I will plug it once I have dressed it up.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Emerging Writer's Festival - Part One

Hi all,

Last weekend I went to the Emerging Writer's Festival held at the town hall in Melbourne. Over the weekend I attended nine panel discussions on various subjects. I found all except one of them of interest. At a cost of $37 it was a bargain for any writer living in Melbourne. I had to travel down from Wangaratta and stayed overnight, but still found it well worth the cost.

I arrived early on Saturday and, taking their advice that some sessions could be booked out, took up a seat for the Seven Enviable Lines session. While I waited I looked through the showbag they had given me and find quite a few things that I will read, such as, a book called Perspectives containing non-fiction and fiction pieces on democracy, the future (perfect for a science fiction writer) and meeting the needs of vulnerable people, written by established writers and new writers. The first piece is written by Barry Jones who I have a lot of time for having read his book Sleeper's Awake where he warned of the coming challenges to Australia and the West. Barry Jones also warned the Hawke Government about global warming in 1984. The bag also contained a 2005 edition of the Griffith Review, a magazine which I am curious about because one of my master's lecturers, Jennifer Webb, edited it at one stage. There was also an issue of the Victorian Writer, which might finally get me around to subscribing to it and a magazine called Wet Ink, as well as heaps of bookmarks and other stuff on writing.

As I examined the bag's contents the dingy hall filled rapidly with 200 - 250 people, mostly in their late 20's to late 30's. The title of the panel discussion, the Seven Enviable Lines, referred to seven things the panellists wished they had been told when they started writing. The first to speak was poet Pooja Mittal. The things she wished she had been told were:

1. There are no ivory towers, you need to network to succeed. As mentioned in a previous post, I thought the underlining theme of the weekend's sessions was it's not how well you write or luck that will get you published, it is who you know.

2. All criticism is constructive, even that aimed at cutting you down and hurting you. A writer has to learn how to disengage their ego. I reacted badly to the first critiques I got, but have gradually come to value critiques, especially those where the author has tried to offer helpful criticisms.

3. Conserve your syllables, in other words use the least amount of words to say something. She gave a few examples of how this leads more to showing than telling in writing.

4. Writer's block is just that a road block, dry seasons are very natural, just let them happen. I don't know whether I agree with this as I have never suffered from a lack of ideas to write about, my problem is making the time for writing (which was dealt with in other sessions).

5. Inspiration doesn't strike, so there is no use waiting for it. It surrounds you, so go out and look for it.

6. Change is natural, so as a writer you will probably end up dabbling in various genres of writing. I have written short stories, novels a few newspaper articles, this blog, a website, an interactive story on that website etc.

7. Give no excuses for your writing. Behave like a criminal and have no shame. Explain less (this is one of the problems that frequently creeps into my writing) and don't seek to untangle all the knots (are you listening Professor Webb?).

The next panellist was Luke Devonish who writes historical novels, plays and was the script editor for 1,500 episodes of neighbours. Surprisingly he didn't appear to be brain dead. His seven enviable lines came in the form of wishes.

1. I wish someone would have called me a wanker. He felt that someone should have told him not to believe his own publicity, especially since he wrote most of it.

2. I wish someone had told me the importance of story.

3. I wish I had been told the real deal about agents. They don't get you work, they may get you more money for work you have already found.

4. I wish I had been told to keep my mouth open. You must be able to talk about your work, to defend it, to plug it.

5. It pays to be multi-skilled.

6. I wish someone had told me that you can't make a living out of writing if you can't spell and have lousy grammar skills.

7. I wish I had been told that there is absolutely no shame in aiming for the lowest common denominator. He felt that few writers seemed to be striving for good old fashioned entertainment. Sex and death are the two golden words in selling a story. If your story is dragging kill someone, preferably the character who readers/watchers will say, "no, you can't kill him".

8. (he got to eight) Just do it. Stop listening to others who doubt your abilities.

Freelance writer/editor and non-fiction writer Rachel Hills was next.

1. Media is about who you know, she accumulated contacts and bylines.

2. Start submitting stories now.

3. You need to work hard. She mentioned that when Hunter S. Thompson was learning to write, he pulled out a copy of The Great Gatsby and typed it up on his typewriter. In doing so, he felt he learnt the style of F. Scott Fitzgerald. I've been thinking about which author I would choose if I was going to do this, it would have to be someone contemporary, whose style I enjoyed, like Peter Carey or Margaret Atwood. Maybe just a chapter or two of each.

4. Write for publications you enjoy reading, and write what you enjoy writing. This cuts out a few speculative fiction magazines for me.

5. Learn the publications you want to write for.

6. Learn to leverage what you have already done. In other words learn how to use what you have written and have had published to sell what you are now trying to sell.

7. Getting to where you want to be will almost always take longer than you hoped.

Theatre director/writer David Milroy (I hope I've got that right) was next.

1. Writers spend more time thinking than writing. Having a lie down is good for writing.

2. Bananas are good for writing.

3. Surround yourself with people you trust to critique your work.

4. The biggest killer for writing is exposition (that's two of the panellists who mentioned this.)

5. Try and visual what you are writing, without the sets and props.

6. Share what you learn

7. Obsess about your writing.

The final speaker was novelist and writing teacher Kathryn Hayman.

1. You will be rejected, so keep on writing.

2. Take risks, you have to allow yourself to get it wrong. Her students found it hard to take risks. In my masters one of the better and more satisfying pieces I wrote was written in a ficto-criticism style, a style I had argued was full of wankery. I took a chance on it for the final project in one of my subjects.

3. If you're entering writing for the money, become an arm's dealer instead. There are a lot easier ways to make money.

4. There are many different methods of undertaking the writing process.

5. Trust your own voice, people will generally be more receptive to your writing if it is truthful.

6. Rewrite.

7. Be brave.

I will post about the other eight sessions in the coming weeks.