Category Archives: Writing

A Bit Of A Brag – Nice Review!

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There have been some nice reviews of Light Touch Paper Stand Clear, a collection of SF and fantasy fiction in which I had a story. The latest is on a blog called Fantastical Librarian and very nice it is too. I don’t do a lot of adult fiction- mostly I write for teens and children – but I was invited to submit something for this. The title is the theme. It was very vague, but I assumed, from the writing brief, was that you had to suggest how something started.

My choice was the Trojan War. Queen Helen of Sparta was married to the man of her choice, Menelaus, but because so many kings and princes wanted to marry her, the deal was that those who hadn’t been chosen had to defend the one who was. The idea was to stop them fighting each other over her – but in the end, it meant that they all had to go to war for her when she ran off with Prince Paris of Troy! There were so many things you could do with this. I found myself using the version that said she hadn’t run off at all and they were fighting for a woman made of cloud by the gods, while she was in Egypt.

I love writing silly. In my novel there was a lot of silly, including a scene where a boy who has been bragging about all the girls he’s had and how good he is with them, is revealed to be nothing of the kind, by a unicorn… In this story, I played it all for laughs, making it as silly as I could.About half the story was told from Helen’s viewpoint and it almost wrote itself once I got going.

It’s great to be able to report that, so far, reviewers have liked it. 🙂

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Wise Words About Submitting Stories

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Here’s a link to a very good post I found on the web site of Australian speculative fiction writer Alan Baxter.

Alan points out how important it is to keep submitting your writing; if you’ve done all the right things – polished it up, had others read it, taken advice of the occasional rejection that gives you a personal letter – and you believe in it, sooner or later it will probably sell. He quotes from a fellow writer who recently sold a story after nineteen rejections.

Alan does admit to an embarrassing mistake when he submitted a werewolf detective story to what turned out to be a soft porn magazine.

You really do need to check your markets. This I know from the slush that arrives in my in box every week, not to mention regular review requests for ebooks and adult books when my review blog policy says I don’t review anything I can’t put on my school library shelves after I’ve read it.

I think the reason some people don’t check their markets is because they aren’t sending their stories or review requests to one market at a time, but to a long list they got from their creative writing teacher or from a review blog directory, in hopes that someone on the list will get back to them and save them the time it might take to check which ones might actually buy their story or review their book. Not nice. Someone has to read that, even if they don’t reply. Please don’t do it.

If you’re a young writer, don’t tell the publisher how old you are. Either your book is publishable or it’s not. Sarah Berryman of HarperCollins says that Alexandra Adornetto, who was very young when she submitted her first book, sold it because she submitted professionally and the book was publishable, not because she was fourteen.

Everyone gets rejections. I think I’ve had enough to wallpaper a room. You just have to keep trying, and if you get a personal letter, take notice of the suggestions made. A personal letter usually means they liked it, even if they couldn’t take it. There’s no point in getting upset. Just think about what the reader said, see if it makes sense to you and rewrite. I’ve done this many times.

I remember doing a workshop at a convention once,with Bjo Trimble, a writer, handcrafter and many other things and one thing she said stuck in my head:”Treasure your rejection slips. They prove you’re a writer. Only writers get rejection slips.”

By that standard, I’m many times a writer. 😉

New/Old Bookshop

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The nice thing about living in the same area for a long time is that you get comfortable with the shops. I was living in Elsternwick, many years ago, when a new bookshop opened. It was a cheery place with the cheery name of Sunflower Bookshop. The owners were a lovely couple called Brian and Noreen Ormsby.

They got me interested in certain writers, such as Tanith Lee, whose first novel, Birthgrave, was on their shelves – I ended up buying about twenty of her books over the years. After a time, they moved a couple of shops down to the road to bigger premises. They would put aside books for you, which led to an embarrassing moment when I went into their storage area to pick up a book I’d ordered and found one put aside for my younger brother, Maurice, who had forgotten all about it. Of course, I bought it then and there, but they had been too nice to ask me about it.

Eventually, they moved on and the shop was bought by a lady and her daughter, who ran it for many years. Ruth, the daughter, was the shop’s children’s book specialist and when I went in one day to buy books for my library, it was she who took me to the shelves.

“Have you seen this?” she asked, pointing to one of my books.

I grinned and said, “Actually, I wrote it.”

She was surprised, but pleased, and told me that she sold a lot of copies of my women scientists book, Potions To Pulsars, for bat mitzvahs. After that, Ruth promoted all my books to buyers, which was very nice!

 

The next owner employed a children’s specialist, Michelle Prawer, who has been involved with the Children’s Book Council, and she did a very good job, but left to go back to library work. Michelle told me she had tried to contact my publishers just after Wolfborn came out so they could do a launch, but the place was closed for the Christmas holidays. I told her it would have been better to contact me, but it was too late by then.

Not long ago, Sunflower was sold again and taken over by Avenue Bookshop. I only went in for the first time today, since the place was renovated, and was pleased to see that there was a large children’s an YA section, an entire wall, in fact, taking up about half that side of the shop.

 

Time to rediscover my local bookshop!

Home From The YABBAs

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I’ve spent a wonderful morning with five of my terrific students and a whole lot more at the YABBA Award ceremony. The MC was Graham Davey who, apart from running YABBA, is a professional story teller and knows how to work the audience, who were delighted with him. There was a sort of Mr Squiggle thing in which children were invited up to do a scribble which three of the guest artists( well, two – one was Felice Arena, who’s a writer, author of the Specky McGee novels, but did a great bit of art)had to turn into a drawing.

Andy Griffiths won two prizes, one for Just Doomed(older readers), the other inducted into the Hall Of Fame as it had been nominated five times. The picture book prize went to Fearless In Love by Colin Thompson and illoed by Sarah Davis. The prize for younger readers went to Alice Miranda At School by Jacqueline Harvey, who couldn’t make it but sent a video message. The Year 7 to 9 prize went to Chris Morhew’s Phoenix FilesArrival. Chris, a teacher in NSW, couldn’t make it, so his publisher accepted the prize on his behalf. It was a reminder that most writers here have day jobs. If I hadn’t lived in Melbourne I couldn’t have made it either, but as it was, I wanted to grab the chance for my foundation book clubbers to have one more excursion together and we went.

I had three books to be signed for students who weren’t there. I had thought Vikki Wakefield would be coming, but she wasn’t there, so I’m afraid Jenny will have to have her copy of Friday Brown unsigned. 😦 As Dylan, one of my Year 10 students, was sick, I got him a copy of 26 StoreyTreehouse. Natasha had requested one of Oliver Phommavanh’s books – and guess what? The two gentlemen were sitting together in the author section and I sat next to them and asked for their autographs, which they gave readily, and very nice ones too, not just their names or “best wishes” but cute drawings. I introduced Kristen to Carole Wilkinson and she finally got a Dragonkeeper book signed. Selena had a chat with Gabrielle Wang, who signed for her in Chinese (Selena is a Chinese immigrant).

While my students wandered around mingling with the guests, I sat down for a signing and was pleasantly surprised at how many children asked for my autograph, two little girls even asking for a photo with me! The book stall, alas, didn’t have any of my books and I hadn’t brought any because it would have been too much to lug books home and then out again by train and tram, but I had brought a pile of Crime Time bookmarks and they all went. Hopefully some children will request copies at their libraries, at least, if not buy. 😉

We met my friend George Ivanoff,who has visited my school to launch Wolfborn, and two of the students bought copies of Gamer’s Challenge. (George is more cluey than I am and brought his own copies)

We left at a little after noon, with a lovely goody bag of some of the short listed books and others and, over lunch in town, sorted which ones the library already has and which it doesn’t. Those we already have I let them take home, while we have several new books to gloat over tomorrow at school. Thando had made sure the author’s who were there had signed. She also did an interview for the web site and from what I could hear, it was a good one.

Now to see if I can be invited again next year… And maybe take some of the younger students next time. It just wasn’t possible today – the event started in Kew at 9.30 and getting there from Sunshine,we would have had to leave well before school. I took the older ones who could meet me in town and be left at the station on the way home.

They must have felt like Gulliver in Lilliput, with the rest being primary kids, but had a great time anyway!

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Doing A School Visit When You Have A Day Job

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So, what do you do when you can’t travel around visiting schools and meeting your readers? I first posted about this on my book blog, but here’s the story again and hope you enjoy it.

I can’t do school visits. I work full time in the school system as a teacher-librarian. My writing has to fit around my day job. I have launched some of my books at my own school, but other schools? Forget it! Oh, I have gone a couple of times with Ford Street publishing, but I really can’t take a lot of time off work. If you work in a job other than teaching – and very few writers, in this country at least, write full time – you can take some of your holiday time off, but my holidays are when schools are closed.

Luckily, there’s now another way than actually going there. Skype!

One day Anthony, a teacher/writer friend, said if I ever came to Perth, on the other side of Australia, I would be welcome to visit his school. I told him innocently that I’d be happy to do a virtual visit by the wonders of Skype and next thing I knew he’d begun rushing around to arrange it. On my side I had to consult the computer tech at my school to make sure it was possible. Our wonderful technician Vien assured me it was.

Anthony, a Year 8 teacher, had been using my blog posts in his lessons, so his students already knew who I was. He asked his library to get in some copies of my YA novel Wolfborn and did some pre-teaching.

He arranged for his school’s techs to be there in case of connection problems. I suggested
we do a trial run, and I’m glad we did. The connection in my staff room was fine, but woeful in the library, from where I hoped to do my visit. Vien advised me to use an ethernet cable, which I could connect in my workroom and which was more reliable than wifi. Leaving nothing to chance, I bought a new ethernet cable. Mine was about ready to be replaced anyway.

When we were set up, I waved at Anthony’s students. They waved back. Anthony introduced me and I began my talk. To them, he is Mr Phillips and I had to remember to call him that. I told them that I, too, was a Year 8 teacher and a library teacher and was pleased to meet them. I spoke for a while about the things Anthony had requested, mostly fairy tales and werewolves, including that the wolf in Red Riding Hood was probably meant to be a werewolf – how else could he possibly pose as Grandma?

Interaction is a lot harder when you’re way over the other side of the country, as you can’t use props and invite members of your audience up, something I usually do, but it worked. After a short time I paused to invite a question and next thing I knew they were coming thick and fast and lasted till the end of the session, when we squeezed in a short reading, not from Wolfborn but from another book, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly(” Who wants a crime story?” and a huge number of hands shot up).

I was interrupted several times, once by the office lady, who wanted me to go look for someone. I had to explain I was talking to a class in Perth. Sometimes it was by students needing computers or keys to the computer lab. I introduced them to my audience before giving them what they wanted, without, of course, getting up. Later my colleague Chris Wheat(a fellow YA writer who works as a teacher from my library) told me he had had to hold off other people wanting things – the ones who got there slipped through the net.

It was hilarious!

Later, I realised how much could have gone wrong if Anthony hadn’t been so professional in his organisation of the event. I have no doubt there are writers out there with horror stories about virtual visits. But this one went smoothly and Anthony told me the students were keen to read my books afterwards.

And I’m keen to try this again some time. The Internet rocks!

Reading submissions

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This morning, after breakfast, I’m going to read some slush. I read stories for Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. We get a lot of submissions. They go through three rounds. First round, someone like me gets a story and decides if it’s good enough to be read some more. If it’s not good enough, it goes back to the author with thanks and sometimes, because we’re all writers ourselves and like to know why, it goes back with comments.

If it is good enough, two more people read it and give it a score. The top-scored stories go into our slushpool, from which we choose the stories we want to publish. We only keep them for a limited time, because it just isn’t fair to hang on to a story too long when the author can send it elsewhere. And quite often stories that don’t make it into ASIM from this pool find a home elsewhere.

Till the stories go into the slushpool we have no idea who wrote them. We have published some terrific stories by first-timers and sent back some by big-name writers who should have known better. At least no one can complain that we turned them down because they were new writers.

It’s no fun to send off a story and then wait and wait(I’m still waiting to hear from the CSFG on a story, but I know they got a lot of submissions and they’re doing this for love, not money).It’s no fun to have your baby called ugly, which is what it is when you get horrible comments. At the same time, if you’re going to be a published writer you need to get a thick skin, because you WILL have some terrible reviews, no matter how good your work is. You just need to say, “Stuff them!” and send it elsewhere if you believe in it. You simply can’t please everyone.

And these days reviewing is very democratic. Anyone can put up a blog or join Goodreads, a social media site for readers. Anyone can say horrible things about books on Goodreads and the author isn’t allowed to protest on pain of being kicked out for bad manners(mind you, while there have been people who got away with giving Lord Of The Rings one star, the person who commented “don’t bother with it” got a lot of furious responses from Tolkien fans! Democratic, as I said) So you should be able to handle unpleasant comments from a potential publisher, right?

Well, no. Not always. There are those who use their blogs to complain very loudly about how badly treated they were when their work of genius was called ugly by those dreadful folk at ASIM or whoever, never mind the fact that most publishers would have sent them a form letter.

I actually went on comment strike for a while, although my own comments are polite enough (hey, I’m an English teacher, we have to know how to be kind with comments! Two of my students follow this blog and are probably giggling over this).

I did have one positive experience with a blog, though. The blogger was complaining mildly about his rejection – really, just saying he was disappointed – but one of his comments was from a well-known writer who should have known better and certainly should have a thick skin by now – complaining about the comments system at ASIM because he had had a rejection with a comment he didn’t like. I responded to this, saying he should know better by this time in his career, that we do this for love and that any future rejections he got without comments would be from me because I was going on comment strike. I suggested to the blogger that he have a go at slushing himself, to see how the system works and what kind of submissions we get.

And then – something delightful! He had heard of me as a writer, had read my first book, which was about monsters and said it had inspired him to write horror fiction. Wow! Something I wrote got someone else writing! How cool is that? 🙂 He was trying to get another copy because his treasured high school era copy had burned with his home. And he decided he would take my advice about slushing, which he ended up enjoying enough to take twenty stories a week. I was thrilled!

If you do decide to submit stories anywhere, please, pretty please, make sure your grammar, spelling and punctuation are right. We’ll assume your story itself is fine. Most slush readers, those who do it for a living instead of for love as I do, are these poor sods who have to sit up till all hours wading through the submissions (and to put this into figures, only recently, when the publisher HarperCollins opened up for submissions from anyone for two weeks, they got over 4500 submissions!). They really should not have to battle against your awful grammar as well. “Hey, the editor can fix it when they publish it”, right? Wrong. Chances are they won’t buy it in the first place. What editors do is work with you to make an already good piece something you can be proud of. They’re not your English teachers – and with thousands of submissions, you will have to compete with those who did bother to get it right.

Three times I have chosen a story for a special issue of ASIM. Two of them I found in my slush pile. They simply leapt out at me because they were such wonderful stories, but I might never have found out if they had been badly written, badly punctuated or grammatically poor. I just wouldn’t have finished them. As it was, I was slightly embarrassed by the fact that I had to do so little editing on them (in one case I read the story several times and then had to ask the author if there was anything she wanted to change – she did mention something I hadn’t picked up, but it was a personal thing, really, and involved only one word).

Off to breakfast and slush reading. Maybe one of them will be a future award winner!

Dear Teen Me

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Back in July, I got some very welcome news from a lady called Shara Zaval in the US. My novel Wolfborn was finally going to be available over there and she was inviting me to help in the promotion by doing a guest post for a blog called Dear Teen Me. This is a book blog with a difference. Most of them, including my own Great Raven, do book reviews and maybe interviews with writers(and for a really great interview with YA novelist Justin D’Ath by guest bloggers Rhiannon and Braydon, why not wander over there as soon as you finish reading this post?)

But Dear Teen Me is entirely made up of letters from writers to their teen selves. It has been so successful that they recently published a book of seventy of these letters. I had to supply a letter to Teen Sue, a photo of me as a teenager and one more recent one. The post was no problem. I remember the nerdy kid I was, always scribbling, but with ambitions to act. But photos? I couldn’t find much in the way of snapshots of me at that time – some of me as a primary school kid, then into my early twenties, but only official pics of me in my teens, possibly because I was usually the one behind the camera when I got one. I found a black and white professional photo of me at my sister’s engagement party, in the rose garden of my aunt’s house in Balwyn. It was not too bad and I used it.

I think it’s a great site and will be going back to it to see who else is there, pouring out their teen hopes and dreams to the world.

Anyway, the link to my own post is here.