Back Again! I think…


Yesterday I received a notification that I have a new follower, Leeece14, whom I actually know via Livejournal, and because she won a giveaway on one of my other blogs. Hi Leece! She also gave me a lovely mug with an orca on it. It has become my favourite mug.

Me in the StTe Library with the Dromkeen sculpture!

Me in the State Library with the Dromkeen sculpture!

The thing is, I haven’t posted here for some time. It was originally intended as a writing-themed site in case my young readers might look for me and find that what I keep up to date is a book review blog.

But I find WordPress harder to use than Blogger and simply gave up. And how many blogs can you keep anyway?

But I felt guilty and here I am, back again. Even if some of it is a repost of what I have posted elsewhere I will try to get going here again. If you have any questions I can work into a post, do feel free to ask. I have a lot of hits on The Great Raven, but only a few comments and sometimes I wonder who is reading or even whether I’m posting to a empty auditorium. So do comment! I will reply.

From Blog To Ebook


I’m playing around with turning things into ebooks and, with the help of Sean Wright the Blogonaut, have found a website called Ebook Glue that lets you turn the last twenty-five posts of your blog into an ebook through your feed, for anyone who wants to take your posts away to read on an ebook reader. This one gives you the choice of ePub or mobi. I’ve used it for my other blog,The Great Raven and am now trying it with this one.

If you’ve got an ebook reader and would like to read the last several posts of Write On! check out the link below. Enjoy!

Write On!

From Slushpile To Art


Are you an artist hopingto be commissioned to illustrate for a magazine? Read on…

I answer inquiries for Andromeda Spaceways – both general ones and art inquiries, and also arrange with artists for them to illustrate stories and do our covers. It’s a fascinating job.You get all sorts of inquiries, from oh-so-professional freelancers who inform you that they can spare some time in November to do a cover for your publication to those who have no idea what you do publish because, like some of the writing students, they haven’t checked out the web site except the contact bit, let alone read the magazine.

Mostly, of course, we get fabulous artists whose work I look at and think, “Oh, my god, has she checked out our rates? Does she realise how little we can pay her for a LOT of work?” And mostly, they assure me that yes, they’ve checked and the small payment is fine. Those are the ones who love spec fic and think this would be a nice thing to do as long as they don’t have a commission from someone who can actually help them pay their bills. Occasionally they haven’t checked and have to withdraw their submission.

Then there are those who have looked at the web site and still don’t seem to get that we publish science fiction, who send a sample that would be fine for an advertising campaign but has no connection with what we publish. I ask them politely if they have something more appropriate and rarely hear from them again.

I don’t blame them for trying. You have to check out any market you can when you’re trying to make a living. But a quick look at our web site ought to convince most graphic designers who do advertising that this really isn’t the market for them and save them a disappointing reply from me.

To be fair, one young woman who lived in Melbourne and wasn’t actually a science fiction fan, just an artist looking for a market, did take the trouble to go to Collected Works Bookshop, ASIM’s Melbourne over-the-counter outlet and buy up the back issues to study her market. She never got back to me, but she at least had a go.

How do I know, apart from the samples (they don’t always send one with their inquiry) that they haven’t checked? Well, there are the ones who send you what’s clearly a standard inquiry, e.g. “As a book publisher, you must…”, “I’ve been impressed by your catalogue of books…” If you’re going to send a standard inquiry, at least don’t try to pretend it’s personalised. When I have to send a group email, I say so, and apologise – and assure the readers that if they’re on my list it’s because I have checked their site and thought it appropriate. I’ve taken to deleting standard inquiries that clearly haven’t checked their market.

Thank heaven this is a minority! And thank heaven for the first-class artists who do work with us!

The Current Big Thing


Hullo, lovely readers. I know, I’ve already done The Next Big Thing, about my WIP.
This is a blog hop, arranged by Vicki M Taylor, a member of a LinkedIn writers group I belong

The questions used are the Next Big Thing ones, but I am talking about my current book,
which is FINALLY available in US bookshops and on Amazon as a paperback instead of just
ebook. the idea is to promote and get some interest in your books.
Please check out the links at the end of this post to see what other writers are doing!

What is the title of your book?

The title of my current book is Wolfborn. It has just arrived in the US.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It came from a mediaeval romance by Marie De France, the Lai Le Bisclavret, (Werewolf).
I have used the story’s outline but set it in my own world.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s YA fantasy.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

In the Wolfborn movie, I would have Sean Bean or Viggo Mortensen as my
werewolf knight, Sire Geraint, who is betrayed and stuck in wolf skin.
The young hero, Etienne, his loyal page, could be played by Jamie Bell
if he was a few years younger. 🙂 I am still casting the other roles.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Teenage boy and friends race against time to save his master, a werewolf knight
who has been betrayed and stuck in wolfskin, before he becomes a wolf forever!

Was your book self-published or represented by an agency?

Neither. I was very lucky with this one; I was doing an interview about another book
in a magazine when a publisher who needed a full manuscript in a hurry read the interview
and emailed me to ask if she could have a look at the MS. She bought it two days later.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
This one was written and rewritten. The first draft was actually written very quickly
because the story poured out of me. Then I rewrote … and rewrote.
And then it was edited and edited again…

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I can’t recall ever reading anything quite like it, but I am a big fan of Sophie Masson,
Juliet Marillier and Margo Lanagan, all of whom write novels with fairy tale backgrounds.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was reading the mediaeval romance mentioned above, in a collection called
The Breton Lais. It was about a werewolf knight whose wife betrays him when
she finds out his secret, making sure he stays a wolf. I thought it fascinating.
These days we’re used to the werewolf, vampire or whatever as the good guy
in YA paranormal romance, but in the Middle Ages they were evil creatures linked
to Satan.Yet here was this story written in the twelfth century in which the werewolf
was the good guy and probably born that way. The story leapt out at me yelling,
Novel! It’s told from the viewpoint of a character I created myself, a teenage boy
serving in his castle and learning what he needs to know for his own
knighthood. I added a couple of romances and some characters not in the original.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Fairies! (Or Faeries) Villains! Love! Adventure! Heroism! The Wild Hunt!
And a big, soppy dog.

And here are some more posts on this subject by other fabulous writers – why not visit them

Vicki Taylor: http://vickimtaylor.blogspot.com
Gila Green:
Jim Westcott: http://jacksmonster.wordpress.com
Angela D Coleman:
H.L. Stephens http://chroniclesofhlstephens.blogspot.com
Susan Spence: http://www.susanspenceauthor.com
Lannah Sawers-Diggins:
And Deborah Teramis Christian:

* * *

Wolfborn In The US – Promo


A few months ago, I became very excited because I learned that my novel Wolfborn was FINALLY becoming available in the US. It wasn’t quite what I would have liked – they were going to distribute it themselves instead of creating a new overseas edition – but still, it was available outside Australia and I felt as if the book was being released all over again. I had one gig on the blog Dear Teen Me , arranged by the publicist over there, which I wrote and waited for more to happen, meanwhile arranging the interview and giveaway on I Am A Reader Not A Writer. So I asked the US publicist what else was happening.

Her reply came this morning : nothing else is happening, unless I arrange it. She will of course support anything I do, but she’s finished with it. She only has a few review copies left anyway.
So,where have the others gone? I haven’t seen a single review from over there. It’s the way of things, I guess. I’ve been dealing with publishers for many years. I can remember when I had to send THEM copies of reviews I found, because they didn’t let me know. One publisher asked me for a publicity photo and then lost it, these being the days before email. Ah, well! Nothing to be done there.

I would like to see more sales in the US, and if I had known it would all be over so quickly with so little promo effort from that side of the ocean I would have done more, earlier.

So, I would like to invite requests for review copies. If you have a blog and haven’t read my novel and would like to, email me at the contact address on this blog. If you’re in the US I will send your address to the publicist there. If you live elsewhere I will send you a copy from my stash – I bought far too many at author price anyway.

I do suggest you check out the sample chapter on The Great Raven to decide if the book would interest you. It’s not compulsory, but it’s sensible. Postage is going to cost me and I would like to think that anyone who asks for it is asking for something that they actually want to read. Just so you know, it is NOT a paranormal romance, it does not feature a Mary Sue who discovers she is a princess and has to marry a gorgeous vampire, mer prince, faerie king, whatever. In fact, it’s seen from the boy’s viewpoint and the romance element is subtle and takes the whole novel to build up, so much so that some reviewers have accused it of being “tacked on”. It’s a mediaeval fantasy with werewolves.

If that doesn’t interest you, don’t request it. If you think you’d like to read and review this, let me know. I’ll look forward to hearing from you. 🙂


Who Washes The Dishes In Rivendell? Those Aristocratic Elves


With the Hobbit movie all over the Net, this seemed like a good time to haul out a popular post from The Great Raven. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll remember the scene where the Dwarves in Rivendell are sitting unhappily at the dinner table trying to get into the whole notion of salad… and then trying to roast lettuce. 😉

Actually, it was originally written for a fanzine, quite some time ago. I can’t recall which one, alas! But I think it’s worth a re-visit. You’ll notice it mentions the LOTR movies as being new. 🙂

I have recently read a glut of fantasy novels and have been re-reading the original classic Lord of the Rings in preparation for the films and it has occurred to me that no one in any of them ever seems to explain how all those elves can be aristocrats. Tolkien, I’m afraid, much as I love him, is the worst offender. All his elves are rulers; we’re never told who they rule.

At a literature conference I attended recently, Tamora Pierce, a great Tolkien fan, remarked – not without affection – that no one ever seems to go to the bathroom in Tolkien, but it’s worse than that. We know Bilbo Baggins can cook, from The Hobbit, which may be why he is so welcome in Rivendell, because no one else appears to do any menial work, yet they seem to have no trouble whipping up a feast. The Elves who meet Frodo and Sam early on their quest apologize for their plain fare, but of course, it tastes superb – bread, fruit, wine – as you would expect of Elvish cuisine.

Everyone in Rivendell is a warrior or a musician or a scholar. No one is ever seen growing food or preparing it, let alone cleaning up after the party. There are elven smiths, true, but they are all too occupied creating magical rings or repairing swords for long-lost kings to be bothered doing horse-shoes or nails or anything so plebeian. I keep picturing some pointy-eared elven smith wiping his sweaty forehead as he says apologetically, “Sorry, sir, we’re a-makin’ of a mass order of armour for Ragnarok next week, no time to look after your ‘oss’s cast shoe. You tried the hobbit smith down the road?”

We know that Galadriel and her maidens in Lothlorien weave fabulous cloth for magical cloaks, but this, like making magic rings, is an acceptable aristocratic occupation. Somebody makes the lembas (journey bread), I suppose, but we’re not told who – or where the ingredients come from. Come to think of it, who looks after the sheep whose wool is used in elven cloaks or grows the cotton or flax?

They do make rope in Lothlorien; when Sam is leaving, he’s told that actually, they would have shown him how if they had known he was into rope-making. But it’s magical rope, of course!

Possibly they trade with the communities of Men or hobbits, but this wouldn’t be a very practical way to survive in out-of-the-way Rivendell or Lothlorien – what if you were cut off from your suppliers by war or the Dark Lord or something?

In folklore, we are told that the Fair Folk live on illusion. Their palaces only seem to be beautiful, their clothes grand. In fact, they live in holes, their clothes are rags and their food, if you’re silly enough to eat it and be stuck in Faerie, is tasteless. Not only that, but their gold turns into dead leaves overnight. My theory is that the reason for this is because they’re all aristocrats and find it beneath their dignity to cook, clean or make and repair clothes.

To be fair, we do see some plebeian Elves in The Hobbit – but this is in Mirkwood, whose Elves are not of the High variety and never went to the West back in the earlier ages.

Perhaps Rivendell and Lothlorien are Elvish artist colonies? 😉

If anyone knows of a serious fantasy novel that presents elves, Faerie, whatever, who actually work for a living – or go to the bathroom – I’d be interested to hear of it.

Interview with Tehani Wessely


First published in August on The Great Raven

Today’s post is an interview with Tehani Wessely. I have known Tehani since she was with the Andromeda Spaceways publishing co-operative, of which she was a founding member (I came along in the next wave). Whatever she says below about it being an apprenticeship, it was a highly impressive apprenticeship. It is true that she got her practice in publishing there. Tehani, like Miffy Farquharson, whom I interviewed earlier on this blog, is also a judge in a number of book and writing awards. Stuff the comic book superheroes, Tehani Wessely is Superwoman and a nice person on top of it all.

SB:You’re a teacher-librarian, a mother, a publisher, an editor, a blogger, a reviewer, a podcaster, a judge for three major awards (the Aurealis, the WA Premier’s and the Children’s Book Council, have I missed anything?) – how do you manage to fit it all in?

TW: That’s a very good question! I guess a lot of what I do involves reading, which I have always devoted a lot of time to (and I do read very fast – not always a good thing!) so it’s just a normal part of my routine. Luckily, a lot of judging reading overlaps, although the deliberations are always very different! I don’t watch much free-to-air television, or do a lot of outside the internet socialising, and if I’m being honest, I REALLY don’t get enough exercise, so I guess that’s where the time comes from! J

SB: How did you get the judging gigs you have had?

TW: The first time I judged was for the Aurealis Awards. I put my hand up a few years ago when Fantastic Queensland was running the Awards and called for judges, and was made convenor of the Fantasy Novel panel. It’s just grown from there – I’m now the judging co-ordinator for the AAs, and I think my other judging opportunities owe a lot to that experience as well. The first year I did WA Premier’s it was again just a simple matter of applying (and I think they were desperate – I shortlisted two categories on my own!) – I’m about to finish my last year for that, because you can only do three years in a row then have a couple of years break. CBCA was fantastic, and I’m only sad I couldn’t do my two year rotation (the judges are state-based and I moved interstate. I didn’t think it was very fair to the WA members not to have their judge accessible to them!).

SB: How many entries did you receive for the Children’s Book Council Awards and how long did it take to read and comment on them?

TW: I think we received over 400 entries across four categories. CBCA is great because from about May through to the following March, you receive a box of books every three weeks to read and comment on. The deadlines are nice and firm, and it keeps you on track, so although you’re reading a heck of a lot of books (many of which are picture books or quite short chapter books, which makes it easier!), it’s spaced out over the year.

SB: What criteria did you use in judging the CBCA awards (and any other you might like to comment on)?

TW: There are quite extensive criteria for the CBCA awards, which are available on the CBCA website – Naturally, literary quality is an important factor in all awards, but so is age appropriateness and many other elements. What’s interesting about judging for different awards is seeing the different focuses, and also how discussions differ in different types of panels – CBCA is eight people, face to face in an intensive four day judging conference in which EVERY ENTRY is looked at again; WA Premier’s is two people for initial shortlisting, then four/five for final decision (face-to-face meeting in an afternoon); Aurealis Awards is completely online, with three to four panelists. You can judge exactly the same books and get very different results – fascinating!

SB: What did you do with all those books you received?

TW: Most I donate to my local school/s – my own school library does very well out of me, as do my kids’ school. I give some to friends, and keep special ones for myself. I try to be ruthless about what I keep though – we’ve moved around a lot and boxes of books are HEAVY.

SB: I’m told that sometimes the difference between a Notable Book in the CBCA awards and a shortlisted one can be one vote – did that happen this year?

TW: Each book is shown to the judging team at the conference – if it receives at least half the team’s vote, it’s put forward for discussion to be Notable. The process is very straightforward – a certain number of votes are required for a book to get this honour, and then each of the Notable books is discussed and voted on to work to a shortlist. Then we vote again for Winner and Honour books. Each stage has clearly delineated rules about number of votes needed for a book to make it through. And yes, there were books this happened to – I imagine there would be every year!

SB: Would you do any/all of these judging jobs again?

TW: In an instant! I really enjoy the process, and the discussions you can have with other judges – I’ve never been in a book club, but I daresay I get the same sort of thing from judging!

SB: Tell us about Fablecroft Publishing, the company you founded.

TW: I started FableCroft after about eight years working in collaborative groups in Australian small press. Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine was really a kind of apprenticeship for me, and an experience I’ll always treasure for the friendships I made and the lessons I learned. But I eventually decided I really would like to do some projects on my own, and thus FableCroft was born. It’s been ticking along nicely since the first book, Worlds Next Door, came out in 2010. I did two books that year, just one in 2011 (I also helped run a major science fiction convention that year, which ate a lot of time!), and two already in 2012.

The amount of work required for the press comes in fits and spurts, depending on where in the publication schedule I’m at – I’m always looking for marketing opportunities, and do regular newsletters with Twelfth Planet Press, as well as mailouts to retail outlets, update the press’s social networks and am usually working on one project or another at various points of the publication process! Slushreading is perhaps one of the biggest time factors – for Epilogue, which was open internationally, I received almost 200 submissions, which translated to over 900,000 words of fiction. In the first two weeks of the submissions call for the new anthology, One Small Step (closes September 30), I’ve had a dozen stories submitted – it will be interesting to see what the final numbers are like for this book, as it’s open to Australian authors only.

I love working on FableCroft – it lets me be creative, and support our local authors. As with Andromeda Spaceways, I really enjoy seeing new(ish) authors I published early in their careers go on to wonderful success, and is one of the reasons I formed the publishing house. It’s also really great when stories I’ve published are recognised at awards time, because it means that other people agree that the stories are as good as I think they are! A FableCroft story won an Aurealis Award for the first time this year, which was very exciting (yay Thoraiya!), and we also have stories being reprinted in the Ticonderoga Year’s Best collection later this year. Awards are not the reason I publish, but it’s a lovely bonus.

SB: Small press publishing seems to be thriving in Australian speculative fiction in recent years. Do you agree – and if so, why do you think this is the case?

TW: Personally, I would agree that independent press seems to be thriving in Australia, but I’ve only got a decade long perspective to work with. Certainly it seems in our history, we’ve had other boom periods, but the difference today is, I think, visibility and accessibility. We live in a connected world, and it is both much easier to actually CREATE such things, thanks to the advances and lessening costs of printing/publishing, as well as to be AWARE of them, due to social networking. The noise-to-quality ratio may also be increasing, but authors can certainly find more publishing opportunities now than ever before, and those opportunities seem to be growing too. It means we know more about what is out there, both within Australia and internationally, and can easily find publications we’re interested in reading, and interested in submitting to. It’s a great and scary time to be involved in publishing – so many changes, and so many opportunities. Pretty awesome, really!

SB: And here’s the link to Publishing. If you’re a teacher or school librarian or both, you might like to check out Worlds Next Door while you’re there. There are some free sample stories to download and some of the stories have been read aloud by the authors.


My Next Big Thing


First appeared on The Great Raven

I have been tapped to do The Next Big Thing by George Ivanoff, quite late in the piece, which means that nearly everyone I have tapped myself has already done it or is busy. It’s meant to be a chain, so if any writer reading this would like to do it, get in touch. You do have to have a web site, because effectively it’s like doing an interview on your own site. However, if you’d rather do it on my site I would be happy to host you.

Below are the questions George sent me.

1) What is the [working] title of your next book?

The working title is The Sword And The Wolf, but I’m not good at titles. That said, when I did a writers’ workshop with it, the publisher from Tor thought the title was fine!

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s a prequel to Wolfborn. I felt that the story of Etienne and his friends, Armand, Sylvie, Jeanne and the werewolf knight, Geraint, was told, but there were some lesser characters in the novel whose stories I believed needed expanding. I fell in love with King Luiz, who mostly appears as a sort of deus ex machina near the end of Wolfborn, but turned out to be a likeable person and I wondered about his teenage years. And there was a lesser baddie who also took my interest, so he is worked in too. The universe is the same, but it’s set during an interregnum when the king had been killed in battle and his heir had gone missing. Yes, there’s an Arthurian flavour to it.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

YA fantasy. It has werewolves in it, but it’s a mediaeval fantasy, not the standard urban fantasy.

4)What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I’m still thinking about it. Maisie Williams, who plays Arya Stark in Game Of Thrones, would be about the right age now for the role of my heroine, Lysette, and has the right style. Her mentor Amrys, the former court wizard who got locked in a tree by his last apprentice and missed the young prince’s growing up, needs to be someone fortyish, as he was frozen in time. He’s not an ancient man with a long beard, he’s more like Mary Stewart’s Merlin. Maybe Hugo Weaving.:-)

5) What’s the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Teen werewolf girl lets a wizard out of a tree and finds herself caught up in the search for a lost prince – a very cute lost prince! 🙂

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I don’t do self-published. Agents? Over the years I have had to represent myself, because any agent I approached either had full books or didn’t bother to reply, even to an inquiry letter( I never sent them a manuscript unsolicited). Publishers know me now, so usually at least read the MS, even if they say no. That said, any agent reading this is welcome to contact me! ;-). Otherwise I will first offer it to publishers I have dealt with before. Then, if no luck, I will try others.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

My first draft is not finished. And it’s taken ages! Still, I’m around 60,000 words in.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I don’t think it’s exactly like anything I’ve read. The closest, though, would be a cross between Tamora Pierce’s WolfSpeaker and Mary Stewart’s The Hollow Hills.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My previous novel was full of aristocrats, even if they did have to live wild. I thought I’d see what life might be like for a peasant werewolf who managed to avoid being lynched.

10) What else might pique the reader’s interest?

Oh, lots of adventure, a little romance, prehistoric animals, humour. There’s not enough humour in YA fantasy novels in my opinion. If you’re curious, check this out: Sue Bursztynski Reads Her Fiction – it’s me reading from the manuscript on YouTube.

Thanks, George, for inviting me!

Slushing for ASIM


A reworked post that first appeared on The Great Raven some years ago

I read slush for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (aka ASIM). I look at submissions as a reader, not as an editor, by asking myself, “What would I want to read in a magazine?”

People ask me why I do it, given how many of the submissions are truly awful. The answer? It’s because I’m an optimist and always hope that the next story I open is going to be wonderful. And I have still not found more than a handful of wonderful stories in all the years I have been slushing. Some are good, or very good. But very rarely do I come across one that moves me deeply, or touches me, or makes me laugh for all the right reasons.

Still, you never know – the next one, maybe…

Meanwhile, here are some things I love about slushing and far more that are pet hates. Hopefully, someone thinking of submitting may be reading this and it will perhaps give them food for thought. We do buy good or very good stories, after all; it’s too much to expect that every piece is going to be a potential Ditmar or Hugo winner. There is a blurb on the web site about “what we’re not looking for right now” but there are still people not reading it before sending us their works of genius. Maybe a surf for markets might find this.

Things I Love About Slush Reading:

1. Every now and then, there is a truly wonderful story to read (see above)

2. More often there is a good or very good story and it might even be the next one you open.

3. Once in a while, a story I got in Round 1 slush (we have two rounds – the second is “refined”) wins an award and I know I chose well. Of course, I didn’t select it for the magazine, because I haven’t edited an issue yet, unless you count #38, which I finished off, with a lot of help. But I know I helped the story get into the slushpool, where it was chosen by someone else. (The slushpool is where we keep the stories that are considered good enough to be published).

Things That Cheese Me Off When I Am Slushing:

1. Non-spec-fic stories that I just know came from some mainstream writing student who has simply fired off the piece to every single market on the list supplied by the writing teacher, whether it’s appropriate or not, in hopes that one of them will take it. Oh, and the fact that these stories have been multiple submitted in the first place.

Come on, guys, didn’t your teachers ever tell you to check your market? I bet they did tell you how much publishers loathe multiple submissions. Okay, there are times when multi-subbing is justified. I’ve never done it myself, but I know the frustration of waiting six months and sending inquiry letters only to get the thing back, finally, squashed and not reusable, with a printed slip.

But this is not a problem with ASIM. The very most you will ever wait to hear from us is two months and that’s only if your story made it into the slushpool. Otherwise, you’ll get a reply in a matter of a few days – by email, so you don’t have to buy reply postage (and there are plenty of publishers who still want their submissions by snail mail, but if they do you can print out again). And you get it with helpful comments.

Of course, you know all this if you’ve bothered to check us out. Also, I repeat, we are a speculative fiction magazine. Don’t send us your mainstream fiction. We won’t buy it.

And if you must multiple submit, keep it for markets that you know take six months to get back to you. But be aware that the day may come when two magazines want your story. What do you tell the one you’re withdrawing from?

We have had occasions when we have taken a story and started editing it, only to have it withdrawn because the multi-subbing author got a better offer elsewhere. That affects the editor, who now has to find another story of around the same length and theme, to keep the balance. It also may affect you, because publishers know each other and word will get around that you’re unreliable.

2. Stories that are full of mistakes in spelling, grammar and/or punctuation. I see red when I get a story that can’t even punctuate dialogue correctly. I’m thinking of the ones like this: “Blah blah.” Said Michael. I get those around one in three submissions.

I reject them automatically, only allowing a couple of mistakes in case they’re typos. If you think I’m nitpicking, I’d like to point out that editing is not about fixing your errors, it’s about making a good story look its best. If you don’t care enough about your work to check it or have a friend check it, I don’t care enough about it to finish reading it, let alone pass it on to the next round.

3. One-joke stories that go for several thousand words. Even if it’s a shaggy dog story, you shouldn’t telegraph the fact. It should be a good story that suddenly hits you over the head with an unexpected punchline.

4. Stories that assume you know what the author is talking about, but which only make sense if you come from the same country. I’m sorry to say that the worst offenders in this category – at least in the slush I have read – are Americans. We certainly see a lot of US films and we get a lot of American fiction too, but in the end, a story that has them rolling in the aisles in New York may not make a lot of sense in Sydney or Auckland or London. There’s nothing wrong with sharing your culture with others, but remember you are writing for an international market and don’t assume we know what the joke is.

5. 20,000-word stories which should have been about a quarter the length. Sometimes a story has to be long, but most of the novellas I have slushed are just self-indulgent, written by someone who hasn’t edited. Bear in mind, too, that while we have occasionally published stories of this length, they have been brilliant. Each issue of ASIM has a fiction “budget” of 40,000 words. If your story is going to take up half of that, it has to be something about which the editor is passionate. After all, how would you like to buy a magazine which had one very long story you hated? A story that took up half the issue?

6. Cutesy themes that are the entire point of the story (see above, one-joke stories). It can be short. It can be very short – as long as the punchline suggests there is more. For example, the famous world’s-shortest SF/horror story. “The last man in the world sat alone at home. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.” Think about it.

7. Really good stories that are let down by their endings. When a story has kept me gripped right up till the last page, then suddenly ends illogically, I say, “Huh?” I leave it overnight just in case, but thinking about it, I usually realise that there are other bits of illogic in the story. Before you submit, put the thing away for a few days and re-read. If you still love it, then send it off.

You may find the same thing I would have found if I had read it, and have time to fix it before this grumpy old slusher rejects it!


Researching A Book: Writing Crime Time


A slightly edited version of a post first published on The Great Raven.

Having been reading and enjoying the History Girls blog for some time, I thought perhaps I might do a History Girls-type post here, about how I researched a book I wrote, and perhaps when you’ve read it you might like to check out the sample chapter I have on my book blog, The Great Raven. It’s the story of the April Fool’s Day bungled robbery, of which more later.

About four years ago, I decided to take a term off from school, on long service leave. I had no special plans, except a bit of travel and some writing of articles and short fiction. I was just about to start my nice long break when I received an email from Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing. I had written some short fiction for Paul before, but he knew I had written a lot of non-fiction(in fact, I’d recently completed an article about forensic science for the NSW School Magazine, at their request.)

Paul explained that his partner Meredith Costain had done a book called Fifty Famous Australians and he had an idea for a book on fifty infamous Australians. Would I be interested in writing it?

Is the Pope a Catholic?

When you write non-fiction for children, you have to be prepared to write about anything, and I had been doing that. Sometimes I suggested the topic; more often I was commissioned. I love writing about something unfamiliar, because I learn something new.

I did know a little bit about crime, due to my forensics article, and all the Underbelly gangland stuff in the newspapers. I’d read about it over the years. Who hasn’t heard of Ned Kelly? And then there was the gruesome story of the Batavia, mutiny and murder.

But there was a lot to do here, not merely the fifty, but a whole lot of snippets for “Did You Know?” boxes. I prepared a long list of possible entries and visited my publisher to be briefed and discuss. This was a book for children. As such, it had to be written carefully so that there wouldn’t be anything too detailed in the descriptions of the crimes. I knew that, Paul didn’t have to tell me. At the same time, this was a history of crime, children Iove gruesome and I was adamant that this was not going to be a book to help with homework. Potentially it could help with homework, but it was for entertainment. Anything called Fifty Infamous Australians would sound like homework material. In the end, I didn’t come up with the title Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, that was my publisher Paul Collins, but at least it didn’t imply homework!

There had to be a mixture of men and women, grim and humorous, scary and quirky and a vague historical timeline. I would start with the Batavia incident, when a Dutch ship was wrecked off the coast of Western Australia in the seventeenth century and while the captain was gone for help, members of the crew mutinied and murdered passengers and anyone who wouldn’t join them.

In the end, though, I wrote the entries in no special order, deciding to sort them later. I knew a book on Australian crime without Ned Kelly would be like a history of women in science without Marie Curie, but I also learned that there was a Kelly brother, James, who lived to a ripe old age as a pillar of the community. And with the other bushrangers there was a lady called Mary Ann Bugg, the wife of Captain Thunderbolt, who was brave and strong and who kept them alive in the bush. I devoured books about Australian crime, from the Batavia to the present day. I read the newspapers for contemporary crime stories, including those I could use for the “Did You Know?” boxes.

Australia is rich in crime stories, the only problem being how to choose among them. There were some who,like Ned Kelly, couldn’t be left out. Paul requested some and I duly researched them.

Because I understand how history writing works, I made sure that each of my entries had at least two, preferably more, sources. I remember one Internet source about the Hoddle Street massacre was suspiciously sympathetic to the murderer, for example. Likewise, there were articles protesting the innocence of one of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub fire bombers and those declaring the innocence of Martin Bryant, the Port Arthur killer. I had to be careful to get it right. Even newspapers vary in their reporting of the same story, and one book I read, by two respected crime historians, declared that Carl Williams left school at the age of eleven! (It was Year 11 at high school) A typo, for sure, but if you don’t check it, you can end up with egg on your face.

I’d written a stack of stories about serial killers and murderous baby farmers and my poor editor was groaning at the horror of it all, when I decided it was time to get into the humorous or at least quirky. I appealed to my friends for suggestions. My friend Chris Wheat, a workmate and fellow YA novelist, told me about the April Fools’ Day robbery, when two would-be thieves, Donna Hayes and Benjamin Jorgensen, attempted to rob the Cuckoo restaurant in the Dandenongs, and escaped with a bag of stale bread rolls.

Thank heavens for the Internet! I went to the Google News archive and found a stack of articles about the robbery. In the course of the stuff up he accidentally shot her. The newspapers couldn’t agree on where she had been injured, so I mentioned them all, saying the papers had found the incident amusing and some had said this, others that. There are times when you have to make a decision; this wasn’t one of them. In any case, you can read all about it in that chapter mentioned above.

Around this time, I also asked Kerry Greenwood, author of lots of crime fiction, if she could suggest something that wasn’t serial killer grim. What she suggested was a murder, but a quirky one. It was, she said, every crime writer’s nightmare: the story of Snowy Rowles, who, in the 1920s, was working with novelist Arthur Upfield on the Rabbit-proof Fence(even in those days most writers had day jobs). He used an idea proposed for a perfect murder in one of Upfield’s novels and very nearly got away with it! In the event, he was caught, bits of the novel were published alongside the newspaper stories and the author suddenly found himself a bestseller, but that’s a story for another post.

I travelled to Central Australia during all this and, one night, met a lovely grey nomad couple in a pub. Over dinner, I told them about my book and about Caroline Grills, the arsenic-and-old-lace poisoner who killed relatives with afternoon tea treats in the 1950s, whom I was currently researching.

“Oh, Caroline Grills? I knew her,” the wife said casually, adding, “She was such a sweet woman!” She had been a nurse at Long Bay Jail, where Grills spent her last years. What more could a history researcher ask for? Even if I doubted she could be described as sweet, it did tell me how she appeared to others, if she could make herself liked even by the prison staff, who knew what she had done.

My final chapter was about Tony Mokbel. Paul had asked me to do a chapter on him and I was wondering how I could do this when I went out for coffee and opened a newspaper to find a large spread on his escape from Australia, which was a wonderfully quirky and funny story in its own right, without needing any major background. I had my final chapter!

There were other humorous stories, too many to recount here, but I loved the stories of con artist Murray Beresford Roberts, of the Russian librarian who hijacked a helicopter to spring her boyfriend from jail and then was caught out because of some overdue video library loans and “Dumb and Dumber”, the two Australians working in the US who robbed a bank wearing their work IDs and escaped using their staff passes on ski lifts and Mary Wade, the child convict who robbed another child of her underwear in the toilets and became a pillar of the community here, the mother of about twenty children and the ancestress of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. It’s amazing how many of these stories were in the papers while I was researching, even the Mary Wade one. And recently, one of our Year 9 students asked me if I had anything in the library about Mary Wade. Proudly, I pulled my book off the shelves. She used it in researching her history presentation and commented that it was the example of how anyone could raise themselves here if they wanted.

The book was published in 2009, but I’m still fascinated by crime and read every crime article I can find in the papers, including things that happened to some of my villains after the book came out.

You never know when it will come in handy!