Adelaide Writers Week 2020

Adelaide Writers Week (#AdlWW) remains one of the best writers festivals I’ve attended. Year after year it doesn’t disappoint, and attendance is free. This year showcased a lot more non-fiction than fiction and it was an intellectual feast.

My plane landed at 3pm last Sunday and I got to #AdlWW in time for the Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. If you want to get your reading groove on with some award winners keep an eye out for these:

Children’s Literature Award and Premiers AwardNevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend (Hachette Australia) – An enchanting series by debut Australian author Jessica Townsend, about a cursed girl who escapes death and finds herself in a magical world, but is then tested beyond her wildest imagination.

Young Adult Fiction Award Small Spaces by Sarah Epstein (Walker Books Australia). Tash Carmody has been traumatised since childhood when she witnessed her gruesome imaginary friend Sparrow lure young Mallory Fisher away from a carnival.

Fiction AwardThe Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones (The Text Publishing Company) The art historian Noah Glass, having just returned from a trip to Sicily, is discovered floating face down in the swimming pool at his Sydney apartment block. But a sculpture has gone missing from a museum in Palermo, and Noah is a suspect. The police are investigating.

Natalie Harkin

John Bray Poetry AwardArchival-Poetics by Natalie Harkin (Vagabond Press) an embodied reckoning with the State’s colonial archive and those traumatic, contested and buried episodes of history that inevitably return to haunt.

Non Fiction AwardThe Bible in Australia: A cultural history by Meredith Lake (NewSouth Publishing) explores how in the hands of Bible-bashers, immigrants, suffragists, evangelists, unionists, writers, artists and Indigenous Australians, the Bible has played a contested but defining role in Australia.

After four and a half days of listening to many fabulous writers, here are some snippets from the ones that most captured my attention:

Fiction

Fiction writers I really enjoyed listening to included Charlotte Wood (The Weekend); Tash Aw (We, the Survivors); Alice Robinson (The Glad Shout); Lucy Treloar (Wolfe Island); Felicity McLean (The Van Appel Girls are Gone); and Michael Robotham (Good Girl, Bad Girl).

The imagination is so private, fiction writers worry about what people think about what’s coming out of our heads… you don’t want to be Andrew Bolt but you don’t want to self sensor before you put words on the page…if you have some talent you are obliged to use it.

Charlotte Wood

Non fiction

Meredith Lake, author of The Bible in Australia had a discussion with Christos Tsiolkas, fiction author of Damascus and Tim Costello author of memoir A Lot with a Little (Christianity’s Crossroads) on ethics and the culture of Christianity at a time when faith is in decline and church institutions have been in crisis. The three interpret the words in the bible in a way that is a world away from the likes of Israel Falou and the cherry picked words that spill from the venomous mouths of the more conservative religious leaders. Their interpretations speak of tolerance and justice and equality and attempt to grapple with the contradictions of faith, including the weaponisation of the bible and the churches as custodians of as much evil as good in Australia’s history. The discussion was far reaching across subjects such as Indigenous and LGBTI rights, child sexual abuse, refugees, science and climate change and was one of the most thought provoking discussions I have heard in some time, which is saying something for a secular non-believer.

Meredith Lake, Christos Tsiolkas and Tim Costello

I want the best of faith to defeat the worst of religion

Tim Costello

Ross Garnaut author of Superpower: Australia’s Low Carbon Opportunity had a conversation with Tim Flannery author of Life Selected Writings on climate change. Garnaut pointed out there was a brief optimistic moment in 2007-08 when all Australian governments were behind a positive climate policy move. This ended when Abbott wrested power from Turnbull then got rid of the climate council and carbon pricing and set about discrediting the science.

In 2016 a cyclonic weather event had a significant impact on South Australia’s power supply after destroying some pylons that were in the main supply line. The Commonwealth Government blamed the weather event on renewable energy. In another world the reality of a cyclonic event occurring in a non cyclonic region would have been seen as an example of the problem of climate change. As the speakers noted, governments have a loud megaphone, and when they lie, they get traction. A situation we see playing out more and more with politicians peddling fake news. The risk is they open themselves up to being vulnerable themselves to being tossed out by the next, better liar.

The shining light in the climate debate is that the state parliaments are in pretty good shape and delivering positive results in the climate change space. The federal parliament is pretty weak and bleak, aside from outlier, Zali Stephen. The price of successive government failures and our failure to change policy earlier is that we now need to cut emissions by 7% per year, every year from now on. It seems there are twenty five people in the Federal parliament holding twenty five million Australians to ransom. The electorate needs to force politicians to act.

The Cut Out Girl, a biography by Bart Van Es. The story was drawn from Barts family in the Netherlands during WWII. His grandparents were one of many families who hid Jewish children from the Nazis during the war. Bart tells the story of Lien, who was hidden for some time by his grandparents.

The degree to which we dehumanise others reflects how disconnected we are from our own humanity…mainstream acts of intolerance in the middle enable extreme acts at the fringe…compassion has to be married to healthy boundaries and consequences…

Tony McAleer

Other non-fiction writers I really enjoyed listening to included Long Litt Woon (Mushrooming and Mourning); Jamie Susskind (Future politics); Sophie Cunningham (City of Trees); Chike Frankie Edozien (Lives of Great Men); Dennis Altman (Unrequited Love); Tony McAleer (The Cure for Hate); Yanis Varoufakis (And the Weak Suffer What They Must?); Margaret Simons (Penny Wong Biography); Angela Woolacott (Don Dunstan biography); and the delightful, thoughtful and funny Vicki Laveau-Hardie who’s debut memoir The Erratics was published when she was in her seventies and won the Stella Prize.

Write, edit, submit…

Writing is a team sport

Really the title of this blog post should be write, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, submit. In my #AuthorsForFireys blog I mentioned that I had sent my manuscript off to an assessor. About ten days ago, editor Dan Hanks sent me his feedback and report on my manuscript. I was chuffed to read this comment in his email: The long and short of it is that this was a tremendously fun story.

Dan’s report is a considered breakdown of everything he thought worked or needed polishing. He also included a brain dump of notes scattered through the manuscript, pointing out his thoughts as he went which was really helpful. I have quoted some of his comments in this blog.

The story unfolds at pace, the structure is all present and correct, and the characters are so well written in their shades of grey that you’re never quite sure who is going to end up being good or bad or somewhere in between. Which means the tension is kept cranked up to 11 for most of the book and the reader can’t help but keep turning the page to find out how it’s all going to end. Great stuff!

manuscript assessment comment

I have heard varied opinions about the value of manuscript assessments, so I did enter into this exercise with a degree of skepticism. It was with welcome relief that found it to be very valuable. There is also the added bonus of an injection of confidence when someone you don’t know, and who’s job it is to be critical, reviews your work.

The writing style is crisp and clean and punchy, as you would hope from a book of this genre, but there is certainly scope to vary the rhythm in places and build on the beautiful flourishes of prose that crop up from time to time – which I believe will lift the book to the next level.

manuscript assessment comment

Here are the things I found most helpful from Dan’s feedback…

On story, plot and structure:

  • identified some gaps and areas he felt needed to be fleshed out – particularly to give context to make it work more effectively for an international market
  • inject a little more scene setting
  • identified a loose end I hadn’t accounted for that needed tying up

There is a big theme here about having the freedom to be yourself. Theme is a big way to turn a perfectly fine and well plotted story into something that the reader can’t stop thinking about after they’ve put the book down. And what you’ve done with these characters – set against a backdrop of a campaign arguing for the right to be able to be yourself – is quite special.

manuscript assessment comment

On characters:

  • a couple of minor characters he felt needed a bit more distinction between them

On writing style (description/dialogue):

  • identified a few areas to tidy up to improve clarity and flow
  • a couple of spots to improve logic or continuity for the reader
  • some advice on grouping dialogue snippets appropriately so it’s easy for the reader to understand who is saying what
The forest for the trees

Last week I worked through all Dan’s feedback and made most of the changes he suggested. The other interesting thing for me about this exercise was that between the beta readers and the manuscript assessment I set the work aside for about a month without looking at, or thinking about it at all. I had one of those ‘aha’ moments when I went back to the work, about why people say you should let your manuscript ‘breathe’. Looking at it with fresh eyes gave me a new perspective, and I made some more new changes I identified myself, because of the distance.

All in all this is a really entertaining read, with a surprising amount of heart for a thriller, and some great characters to follow as they try to solve this mystery (and hopefully more in the future??).

manuscript assessment comment

I still have some minor tidying up to do, but did send a synopsis and a sample of the work I have completed revising to query a couple of agents last week, so I feel I have now started the next part of this journey. As I enter the querying phase, I am following the approach I learnt from completing the online Pitch Your Novel course I wrote an earlier blog about and look forward to seeing how that goes, though no doubt the waiting will be a challenge!

How is your writing journey going?

Taking a writing break

Are we there yet?

I had a week off last week and went surfing with some friends and a couple of hounds. It was also an intentional week off from writing, so I prepared last weeks blog post in advance and wrote this one after I got home. Having subscribed to a ‘write every day,’ or at lease most days philosophy for the last four years, it was an interesting exercise.

Point Roadknight

Of course there is a good reason for writing every day. The practice, like developing an exercise routine, drives momentum, improves your writing technique and keeps you connected to the story you are working on. The flip side is that stopping (like stopping exercise) makes me worry I may lose my writing muscle and struggle to get back into it. It’s a bizarre bind. When I’m writing I often worry about the other things, like domestic chores, that I should be doing, yet when I’m not writing I worry that I’m not – in case I lose momentum. Despite my contrary feelings, the week off was refreshing and fun.

Main beach
Main beach

Anglesea is about 115 kilometres west of Melbourne at the northern end of the Great Ocean Road on the Anglesea River. It has a resident population of about 2,500 people and retains the feel of a sleepy village. We stayed at a house close to a bushland reserve and the local golf course which is home to a mob of kangaroos. It was quite lovely to hear the thud of kangaroos hopping through the garden in the night and to be woken by early morning bird calls each day.

Who’s got the ball?

The locale is a great spot to get away and relax, walk parts of the 44km coastal walk or through the beautiful wetlands at the head of the river, surf the long rolling waves, eat fresh fish and produce from one of the many local farmers markets, or simply read a book and gaze out over the bushland. And I did all of those things.

Yippee!

One day a friend who is the chef at a local cafe dropped by with fresh caught tuna which was delicious barbequed and served with fresh salads and overcooked potatoe chips. On another night we ate at Captain Moonlite, an eatery jutting out over the main beach in the surf lifesaving club restaurant that serves up coastal views and a fresh modern seaside inspired menu that is updated daily. A must for a night out in Anglesea.

Rest time

One afternoon we made the half hour drive to Lorne along the Great Ocean Road. It’s a drive that makes you realise just how beautiful the Australian coastline is – who needs Greece! Lorne is home to an old Art Deco theatre built in 1937 to cater to tourism after the completion of the Great Ocean Road. The cinema has terrazzo floors and is one of the few single screen theatres left in Australia. We saw the movie Little Women, which I enjoyed but found a bit long. The theatre is worth a visit, just remember to take cash as there’s no credit card facilities.

Raining Roo

The complete change of scenery felt much longer than a week and I feel quite refreshed. I’ll start to get back into the swing of writing this week and expect to get my manuscript assessment back soon so I can make what changes I need to, start querying in earnest and get on with my next book, which cogitated quietly in the background while I was away.

Morning glory

#AuthorsForFireys

I’ve been on Facebook for years, but never really understood the point of Twitter. The social media platform seemed to me like a chaotic crowd of people shouting short sentences at each other. A couple of years into writing my book and listening to writerly podcasts advising on the importance of an ‘author platform’ I decided I needed to do something about it, and in January 2018 I set up this website and joined Twitter.

As I began to understand how Twitter worked, I began to find value in it because there are a lot of writers and other creatives on the platform. Australian writers (#Auswrites) connect up and play writing prompt games, ‘meet’ in a 6am writers group, share successes and disappointments, favourite books and authors. Some even meet up in real life for coffee/brunch occasionally. A global writers group (#writerscommunity) provides similar connections across the world. #PitMad is a regular pitch party where writers can tweet a 280-character pitch for their unpublished manuscripts and agents and editors make requests by liking or favoriting the tweeted pitch. And the list goes on…twitter writers are a friendly, engaging and welcoming bunch.

Twitter is also a place for writers to do good for the community. In early January a small group of YA and Children’s authors got together and organised #AuthorsForFireys, a twitter auction designed to channel funds to firefighters and agencies providing relief for those impacted by the Australian bushfires. Over 500 creatives participated in Authors For Fireys, a week long auction of signed books, illustrations, unique experiences, one-off opportunities and writers’ services. Authors from publishing houses like Penguin Random House, Allen and Unwin, and Harper Collins got in on the act. You could bid to have Clementine Ford cook you dinner, to sip champagne with Annabelle Crab and Leigh Sales after Chat10Looks3, get your hands on a leather bound edition of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild or offerings from a diversity of people from Nick Cave to Kevin Rudd to Christos Tsiolkas, who isn’t even on Twitter. My personal favourite was the $5,000 bid by Trades Hall for a personalised poem by Maxine Beneba Clarke – no pressure there!

I bid on a number of items and was lucky enough to end up with a manuscript assessment from Dan Hanks, a professional editor in the UK. All donations went to fire services or disaster recovery appeals across the country and as of yesterday the initiative had raised AUD225k and counting, and lifted the spirits of all those who participated.

Querying in 2020

I trust everyone is having a pleasant festive season. The timing of Christmas in the middle of the week seems to have thrown significant confusion my way. For some reason I didn’t realise it was Friday yesterday and forgot to do all the things I might usually do on a Friday, including posting a blog post, so apologies for being a day late. Last week marked a milestone for this blog – my 100th post, so it would be remiss of me to fail to post this week. Better late than never…

This morning I did research and preparation for querying my manuscript as I want to be prepared to get started once all the beta reader feedback is in and incorporated. The querying process will involve a bit of administration and organisation, so I set up a spreadsheet to help me, and who doesn’t love a spreadsheet I hear you ask…? Said spreadsheet has three tabs – one for literary agents, one for publishers and one for manuscripts writing prizes – all avenues that could lead to publishing.

Having ummed and ahhed about the agented or not agented approach to publishing, I have decided that I will start with querying some agents. The decision to try agents first was driven in part by the fact that I work almost full-time and want to use my meagre spare time for writing, rather than focussing on the business end of publishing. In addition there are obvious benefits in having someone who really knows the industry going in to bat for you and taking care of contracts and guiding you through the process.

I reaseached agents, publishers and competitions and picked about ten of each to start with. My spreadsheet is a place to keep a summary of them – names, websites, submission requirements, when they are open for submission, what their estimated turn around times are, whether they accept submissions in my genre, and if they have other authors or novels that are comparable to mine.

My go to places for this exercise, and to find information about publishing have been:

All three websites have great advice on the publishing industry and getting published. I also made use of the course materials from a couple of Australian Writers Centre online course which I have reviewed in previous blogs – Inside Publishing and Pitch Your Novel.

Once my spreadsheet was set up I identified two agents who will be open to queries in late January and prepared submission packages, taking care to ensure what I send covers all their submission requirements. I now have a good start to a plan of attack to give myself the best chance of getting my manuscript published in 2020. I’m expecting a lot of this process to be a waiting game, so I will also keep working on my next manuscript, the second in the series. The added benefit of starting another novel is that if I get any nibbles with my querying and am asked if I am working on anything else, I can hand on heart say yes.

What are your writing goals for 2020?

Once I wrote a book…

I started writing my manuscript in early 2016 after enrolling in an online novel writing course with The Writers Studio. The last three years have been spent learning about fiction as I wrote and rewrote my story. Much of the work was put down in the same circumstances I am writing this blog post – on my iPad, on a Ventura bus trundling it’s way between Warrandyte and Docklands – thirty kilometres, one and a half hours, twice a day, every work day. The chore of the public transport commute transformed into an opportunity to steal some creative time, and to pass the time, and what an amazing journey it has been.

I wrote a book…

Writing is a significant part of my work life, but it’s business writing – briefs, corporate documents, media releases, and research papers. Creative writing is a different beast. There is a lot more to writing fiction than you might imagine before you start. You need to learn the craft; to harness and shape your imagination into characters, scenes, and dialogue; to develop a plot that has meaning and structure; and find a unique voice. It takes practice, persistence and a willingness to turn up at the page day after day, including when you don’t feel inspired to put down words – to keep spilling them out, even when you think they are crap – to develop a writing habit. It’s hard to say exactly how many words I have written in the process of developing this manuscript, but I’d hazard a guess it’s in the vicinity of 200,000, most of them typed in transit or snatches of time.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York

To build my knowledge and skills I also devoured many podcasts on writing, completed a couple of short courses through The Australian Writers Centre, read books on the craft and devoured a broad range of fiction and non-fiction books to see what I could learn from the published works of others.

In January 2018 I started this blog because I was in a fortunate position to be able to take a year off work, primarily to focus on my writing, and wanted to make a record of my journey. Since then I have blogged almost 70,000 words, completed my year off, and am back in the fray of the commuter class.

A couple of weeks ago, I printed my manuscript and gave it to my first reader, incorporated some changes based on their feedback and have now sent it out to beta readers. It’s a funny mix of emotions sending your work out into the world, even if only to a limited few – there is both apprehension and expectation. You hope that readers will be engaged by, and enjoy the tale, and that they will be brave enough to provide honest feedback that will contribute to improving the work. There is also a niggling worry that you could have completely deluded yourself and spent years writing something that no one will understand or enjoy. Then whilst the work is visiting others, all you can do is wait. I have come to believe that patience is one of the key attributes for being a writer of any, but particularly, long form fiction.

DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague

When you have filled every spare moment with a project for many years, the sudden hiatus when you stop requires some adjustment. I thought it would be great to take a break – read some books and get onto some non-writing projects, like that garden paving I keep putting off. Curiously developing a writing habit has the hallmarks of most other habits, like exercise, where suddenly stopping leaves one with an uncomfortable, agitated residue. So last night I set up a scrivener file to start my next manuscript and I’m already getting a sense of what the plot line will be (rubs hands together).

Main image: Guggenheim Museum, New York

Tech review: writing tools

My inner geek relishes a bit of technology, so I thought I’d share the love and review some of the tools I have used in my writing.

Scrivener

Scrivener is a writing software tool designed to support long-form writing, developed by software company Literature&Latte. Scrivener provides a single container to store all your your research (including a neat function to upload documents or webpages), and to organise large documents, notes and references in a single carrier. The program uses the metaphor of a ring binder that allows you to break manuscripts down to chapters and scenes that can be re-arranged with ease.

There are several documents templates to choose from, including for longform fiction, non-fiction and screenwriting. The program also has functionality to create your own templates. Custom icons and color coding features help arrange folders for easy recognition and compartmentalise different elements of your manuscript.

The program provides many ways to view a project – an obsessive organisers dream. The ‘corkboard’ acts like index cards attached to every section of a project. You can shuffle index cards as you plan and plot, its a handy feature for a structural edit. The inspector is a place to plan, create synopsis or notes, references, keywords, metadata or snapshots. An outliner allows you to work with an overview of a chapter and the folder and subfolder structure. You can also view the same or two documents side by side.

Scrivener has some neat features to motivate your writing too. You can set targets by word count, date or time and once you’re finished you can compile and download the whole manuscript into a number of formats. I found the target setter useful at a point in my earlier drafts when I wanted to write one thousand words a day, the ping when you hit your word count is most satisfying.

The program has desktop and iOS versions, so if you save to the cloud you can sync your work and take it anywhere – but you need to make sure you don’t have both open at once as you can end up with annoying syncing problems. I particularly love the cross platform options as I do a lot of writing on my iPad during the week when I am mobile, such as on public transport, and then work on my laptop at home.

The software company provides excellent guidance and help in the form of videos, user manuals, forums, a blog, faqs and product support. This is particularly important as the product has loads of features that require some time and effort to learn in order to get the best from the product. Scrivener has a free thirty day trial and at the time of writing cost AUD$77 for macOS and AUD$20 for iOS for iPad. I’m a convert.

Hemingway editor

Hemingway is a neat little tool that is free to use online. You can also download a desktop app for AUD$20 making it more affordable than Grammarly or ProWritingAid, with many of the same features.
When you paste text into the tool it helps make your writing clear by checking grammar and highlighting areas for improvement using a color code system:

  • Adverbs highlighted blue
  • Passive voice highlight green
  • Phrases with simpler alternatives highlight purple
  • Hard to read sentences highlight yellow
  • Sentences very hard to read highlight red

The app also delivers readability, word count and read time statistics and has a capacity for large quantities of text – I have loaded a 90,000 word manuscript and analysed it without any issues. Once complete you can export and save your edits. I have found Hemingway a handy tool.

After the Deadline

After the Deadline is a free online spelling, style and grammar check. It’s an open source software available for French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish and can be used by developers to add to web applications. For general use, paste text in, select check writing and the program uses color coding to underline parts of the text it thinks you need to check, by selecting the highlights the product offers alternative suggestions. It’s main downfalls for me are it uses American English, it struggles a bit with large quantities of text and you have to copy and paste your corrections when done as you cannot download them.

Expresso

Expresso is a free online tool to analyse, edit and compare text styles in English for blocks of up to 5,000 words. The tools metrics include synonyms, weak verbs, filler words, normalisations, substitutions, negations, cluster sounds, long bound phrases, passive voice, modals, rare words, sentences that are too long or too short, fragments, and frequent word statistics, as well as general text metrics. When you select one of the metrics, the program highlights those sections in the text and suggests alternatives.

Autocrit

Autocrit is the rolls royce of cloud based writing software for fiction writers designed to help identify all those little problems that will jar readers out of your story. At the heart of AutoCrit lies its unique ability to directly compare your writing with the proven standards of successful, published fiction. The AutoCrit system is built using data from thousands of successful books, all fed in and averaged to provide a benchmark for manuscripts across multiple key areas. Once you load your work, you can pick the genre to run reports against.

The editor runs the summary report using your selected genre for comparison. The summary provides writing statistics and feedback on pacing and momentum, dialogue, word choice, repetition and strong writing.From the summary report you can run more detailed reports to review each element covered.

I discovered this tool when I was about to give my manuscript to some beta readers. After taking out a trial and playing with the product, I delayed the beta reader process. I removed about 1,500 redundant and overused words, which tightened my manuscript significantly. I also made good use of the showing vs telling feature.

For each report there are options for summaries and detailed analysis, and the product highlights the areas recommended for review in your manuscript. There is a handy feature to analyse manuscripts by chapter, though large pieces do slow the software down a bit which can be frustrating.

Autocrit was a little overwhelming initially, but the more I use it, the easier it is and there are a range of help tools, including videos, a blog, articles, and a YouTube channel which is worth taking a look at.

The downsides of Autocrit are that there is no integration with other software services, you can’t work offline and the subscription is quite expensive. I took out a two week trial for AUD$1, then extended by another a month for $AUD30. After giving the product a good run I was a convert and so took advantage of a lifetime subscription offer for $AUD197.

After the terror…Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival

What would you call a large group of crime writers?…a band of bards; a gang of thieves; a law suit; a table of trouble; an anthology? I’m not sure, but they were certainly learned owls at the Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival.

Table of trouble

I boarded the Terror jet on Thursday and headed south for some serious sleuthing. Tasmania is the perfect spot for a dark crime and Cygnet put on a feast, there were bodies everywhere…mwahahaha.

Tiny Hobart, the artsy capital of the isolated island state off Australia’s south coast, has murderous intent lapping at its doors, and who knows what those creative types might get up to? Hobart is sandwiched between the wilderness to the west and the southern ocean – nothing much between it and Antarctica except whales and spooky stories.

I am fortunate to have friends who live in Battery Point, Hobart who let me set up base at theirs, which by the way has fabulous views over Sandy Bay AND Mount Wellington, so if you’re looking for a great Airbnb with fabulous hosts, check out Katrina and Susan’s Hobart Loft.

By coincidence, on my first night in Hobart, Katrina was taking part in an old-fashioned murder mystery radio play, Battery at Battery Point, performed at the Battery Point Community Hall. It was a hoot and a terrific event to kick of my crime weekend, not to mention the mouth watering Thai beef salad and delicious Tasmanian wine my friends provided.

On Friday we all piled into the car and headed to Cygnet (Port of Swans), a tiny town in the Huon Valley south of Hobart with less than 2000 inhabitants. It’s a magnate for creative types and has an oversupply of gourmet food for its size. Cygnet punches above its weight and was a perfect location for Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival, Australia’s newest crime writing festival.

My first stop was a MasterClass with Angela Savage, award winning author and director of Writers Victoria. She wore a themed black dress with white swans printed on it – for swanning around at festivals she said. If you ever get an opportunity, pop along to one of Angela’s sessions because she’s an excellent presenter who delivers engaging and thoughtful sessions with practical advice and useful exercises to develop your own writing.

I also attended a MasterClass with historical crime writer Meg Keneally, coauthor of the Monsarrat series with her father, and author of Fled. Meg provided some great advice on research, use of language for historical fiction, character development and choosing your weapon, or poison to bump someone off. The criminal mood of the session was enhanced by an impressive thunderstorm which probably left Meg horse after trying to make sure we could hear her over the noise.

Dodgy characters at Noir at the Bar

Cygnet folk like to dress up and Friday night was Noir at the Bar 1920’s style. Local gourmet providore’s provided delicious offerings with local beverages for accompaniment, and it was a cracking night. I presented a spoken word piece to the crowd and was pretty chuffed to be able to deliver Feet of Clay freestyle for only the second time I’ve performed it.

Saturday and Sunday were two days packed with the queens and (some) princes of crime led by international guest and author of the Inspector Singh Investigates series, the hilarious and fascinating Singapore based Shamini Flint; Canadian-Australian and vintage dress aficionado, author Tara Moss; and actress Marta Dusseldorp (aka Janet King Crown Prosecutor from the ABC drama). They were accompanied by a plethora of impressive Australian crime writers. The author panellists hosted two days of intriguing discussion on a range of topics, shadowed by the PEN empty chair to symbolise writers who could not be present because they are imprisoned, detained, disappeared, threatened or killed.

Tasmania’s finest – L.J.M. Owen, Joanna Baker and David Owen talk to Angela Meyer

Below are some snippets from the panels to give you a flavour of the discussions:

  • You can fix rubbish and you can delete rubbish, but you can’t do anything with a blank page.
  • Sherlock Holmes – a supercomputer hooked up to a dot matrix printer…lacking the interface
  • Recorrections’ of gender stereotypes can be as damning as the tropes they ostensibly challenge, e.g. damsel in distress becomes gun-toting fighter
  • Fictional crime is often a vehicle to discuss contemporary societal issues, it’s not about the actual crime in the way true crime is
  • I’ve never had a thought that didn’t end up in a book
  • Jack Heath asks his Facebook friends for advice on how to poison people but still ensure the body is perfectly safe to eat
  • So little diversity in crime writers they can be counted on one hand
  • I don’t believe in writing carefully. I do believe in writing thoughtfully – show your work to a range of readers as part of the writing process
  • The Bechdel Test — the measure of women’s representation in fiction
  • Why is it so hard to get men to view films/TV and/or read books with female protagonists? Jack Heath was inspired to write because genres for young male readers were all cars, sport and farting.
Angela Meyer’s , First Dog on the Moon and whiskey

Some of the other highlights for me included:

  • Mantra Dusseldorp reading from LJM Owen’s The Great Divide – gave whole new meaning to bringing story to life – gave me chills.
  • A discussion about whether Sherlock and Miss Marple would get along
  • The homage to the Golden Age dames of crime…Dorothy Sayers, Dame Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Patricia Wentworth, Helen de Guerry Simpson, Baroness Emma Orczy, Ethel Lina White,Josephine Tey, Agatha Christie.
  • All the panels with Shamini Flint because she’s very funny
  • The final session Whiskey and Words – First Dog on the Moon launching Angela Meyer’s novel Superior Spectre over a whiskey tasting

LJM Owen was the powerhouse behind the festivals birth and she and the team of organisers and volunteers did a fantastic job. The event was professionally organised and had great content. Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival is mooted to be a biennial event – I highly recommend you keep your calendar free and go along in 2021.

Main image: Battery Point by Moonlite

Online course review: Pitch Your Novel: How to Attract Agents and Publishers

It the second Australian Writers Centre course I have completed this year. I signed up for Pitch your novel: how to attract agents and publishers as I thought it would be a good companion course to Inside Publishing which I reviewed in August, and I was right.

The online self-paced course was created by historical novel writer Natashia Lester and includes nine modules. As with Inside Publishing purchase of the course gives you twelve months access to it online, and allows you to download the resources. The course presents advice on strategy and practice tips to get yourself pitch ready.

Module one focuses on developing a writing CV which includes building an author platform, an overview of relevant writers societies, creating a pitch package and putting yourself out there to build a writing network.

In the second module Natashia provides advice on how to make your manuscript pitch ready including what professional services are available to provide assistance, and free sources you can tap into for help.

Module three focuses on literary agents – what value they add, why your should consider pitching to agents before publishers, how to identify agents to pitch to, developing a pitch and keeping track of your approaches to agents.

The fourth module focuses on the pitch itself. Natashia provides advice on developing three different types of synopsis and when to use them, including examples from her own work.

Module five covers preparing a pitch package. It explains what research you need to do to develop your pitch package, what to include in the package and in what order.

In modules six and seven you’ll find out about what to do when you get a response from an agent, other than get excited. These modules provide practical advice about how long the process might take and what to do if you receive feedback from an agent.

Module eight moves onto pitching directly to publishers including which publishers are out there, how to find them and decide whether you should pitch to them. Practical advice about submission guidelines, how to organise your material and decide in which order you should approach publishers.

Natashia explores other ways to get published in module nine, including entering competitions, how to find these opportunities, information about some of the main ones in Australia and things to consider when submitting to these programs and prizes.

The final module looks at what to do if you get an offer including some basic advice about contracts and when and how to get help (I recommend Inside Publishing for more detail on actual contracts), as well as dealing with rejection because we all know we’re going to get some of that.

After completing a couple of the Australian Writers Centre online course, I’m a convert. They are professionally constructed, practical and chock a block full of good advice and resources.

Main image: Everything You’ve Got, Epi Island, Vanuatu

Be Afraid: Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival

‘Prospero’s Island’, Valerie Sparks

If you’re not into horse racing, bypass Melbourne and head straight down to Hobart over the Halloween – Melbourne cup weekend. Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival (TAF2019) is a new biennial literary festival to be held at Cygnet in the beautiful Huon Valley 31 October – 5 November. I’ve been looking forward to it for months.

The festival celebrates the work of female crime writers with the theme “Murder She Wrote,” inspired by a visit to Tasmania by Agatha Christie. Christie was on a ten month tour of the British empire taking in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada in 1922. The correspondence of her travels was published in The Grand Tour: Around the World with the Queen of Mystery. She was so enamoured by Tasmania apparently she said she’d like to live there one day. I’m with Agatha – Tasmania is one of my favourite places also.

“From Australia we went to Tasmania, driving from Launceston to Hobart. Incredibly beautiful Hobart, with its deep blue sea and harbour, and its flowers, trees and shrubs. I planned to come back and live there one day. From Hobart we went to New Zealand.”

– Agatha Christie
‘Prospero’s Island’, Valerie Sparks

I heard someone comment at a writing event I attended a while ago that crime writers are the most fun, and looking at the TAF2019 program, I can see why. The festival kicks off on Thursday and Friday with two days of writing workshops and masterclasses, as well as pitch to the publisher sessions. I’ve booked in for two masterclasses on Friday – one run by Angela Savage and the other by Meg Keneally. I’ll also be performing a spoken word piece at Friday night’s Noir at the Bar – a night of speakeasy jazz, spoken word and cocktails hosted by Naomi Edwards with a 1920’s theme.

Saturday and Sunday hosts a cracker line up of panellists celebrating and exploring crime fiction. I’m looking forward to hearing what some of these folk have to say – Tara Moss, Angela Meyer, Jack Heath, Tansy Rayer Roberts, Meg Keneally, Margaret Keneally, Shamini Flint, Angela Savage,Lindy Cameron, Joanna Baker, Marta Dusseldorp, David Owen, Debi Marshall, Livia Day, Sulari Gentill, L.J.M Owen, and more.

The weekend will be broken up by a Murder Mystery immersive whodunit dinner party on Saturday night set on an archaeological site in 1920’s Cairo. The theme is Curse of the Sphinx in a nod to Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. Guests will inhabit a character and try to solve a murder over dinner before coffee is done. Apart from the writers panels and the dinner I’ll also be imbibing a literary whisky with First Dog on the Moon and Angela Meyer on Sunday afternoon while they chat about Angela’s 2018 debut novel, A Superior Spectre.

‘Prospero’s Island’, Valerie Sparks

For those who haven’t had their fill on the weekend, its bookended by two days of food and wine inspired, mouth watering culinary events on Monday and Tuesday. As part of Trail of Writers Tears, you can eat and drink your way around the region, learn bookbinding, making Chinese dumplings, Italian food, or go and visit Fat Pig Farm for lunch.

For more information check out the TAF2019 website and listen to an interview with Festival Director, Dr L.J.M Owen with David Milne here. See you on the other side Bwa ha ha ha…

Images: ‘Prospero’s Island’ (2015-16) by Valerie Sparks. Commissioned by TMAG for Tempest