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In the Room with Aussie Greatness

Gleebooks in Glebe brought together some of Australia’s finest Young Adult Writing talent last night for what turned out to be a very humorous and enjoyable panel discussion.  Melina Marchetta, Erin Gough, Will Kostakis and  Chris Morphew were chaired by Felicity Castagna and discussed a range of topics pertinent to the current YA market.

One of the most striking facts from the evening was a statistic, only 1 out of 10 Young Adult books sold in Australia is from Australia. The majority are bought in from the US and the UK. Will, who has just released his latest novel Sidekicks, commented on how great our Aussie talent is at the moment, particularly some of the contemporary voices. He said he connects to seeing the places he lives being reflected in the work. Melina, who’s work includes The Lumatere Chronicles, thought the statistic to be very sad and believes that the Young Adult novels from Australia have been very strong over the last two years. It would be interesting to know how much the block busters such as John Green’s various titles influence these numbers. It would also be interesting to know how many Australian titles are released by Australian publishers compared to the number of titles they buy in from overseas.

There was a vibrant conversation about the appeal of writing for a YA audience. Chris, who is hilarious (and who’s book, Man in the Shadows, I had to buy because I know I will belly laugh when I read it) said that he loves the YA audience because they are so up for the adventure you want to take them on, they’re open minded readers. Erin added that this audience is all embracing, and to write for them gives you a sense of freedom.

The big conversation of the evening was around covering diversity in text. Both Erin and Will’s books have characters with different sexual orientation. Erin spent about eight years trying to write the great Australian novel, she didn’t want to be pigeonholed as ‘the gay writer’ and have a limited readership. But she has found this not to be the case, people have embraced her book, Flywheel, and they’ve embraced it for more than its lesbian content.

I’ve read and enjoyed work from most of these authors and I now have a handful of new books that I can’t wait to get stuck into. Felicity, who’s own book The Incredible Here and Now received the Prime Minister’s Literature Award, was an eloquent and engaging chair. Thank you for sharing Melina, Erin, Will, Chris and Felicity, and to Gleebooks for pulling such an awesome panel together and hosting such an enjoyable evening.

 

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Truth and Vulnerability

At the Writers Unleashed festival last weekend, I sat bolted to my chair as Trinity Doyle shared with us her insights on dealing with emotions in Young Adult literature.

She highlighted the importance of Truth and Vulnerability in our work. “Nobody is going to connect with ‘I’m fine'” she said. And she’s absolutely right. Teenagers are emotional, hormonal and for the most part melodramatic. Their crushes are all consuming, they fall in love, they fall out of love, they hate, they envy, they need and they need now! So as adults writing for Young Adults it’s important to remember the immediacy of their love, wants and needs, and not let our years of experience, and somewhat tamed hormones influence their reactions. “Let the raw, intense feelings of adolescence flood your work,” Trinity says.

Trinity pointed out that for the most part teenagers are outsiders all trying to fit in to what they see as the social norms. She suggests digging deep into the memory banks and thinking about what made you hurt as a teenager. Connection with readers comes from vulnerability. “Do not undermine the emotions of your characters,” she said.

I sat in awe of the amount of thought she had put into writing the emotions of her characters and can’t wait to read her debut novel Pieces of Sky, “A soaring, uplifting novel about love and loss from an exciting new voice.”

Pieces of Sky

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The inside word from Penguin, Random and Panterra

Saturday was the highlight of the Southerland Shire Writers calendar with the Writers Unleashed Festival providing the opportunity to hear from editors from various publishing houses. The event concluded with the Editor panel where we heard from:

  • Heather Curdie, Children’s at Penguin.
  • Beverley Cousins Adult Fiction Random House.
  • Zoe Walton, Children’s at Random House, and
  • James Read YA and Adult, Pantera Press.

Heather highlighted her tips and recommendations for manuscript submissions. She said that first and foremost she comes to a manuscript as a reader, looking to be engaged and entertained. She follows no firm rules and tries to clear her mind of preconceived ideas. But what it must have is;

  • Quality writing
  • A great voice (must be distinctive and original)
  • Great characterisation (characters must come to life on the page)
  • Compelling plot
  • Engaging first few chapters (for children’s books this is so important, they won’t persevere if they are not pulled into the story in the first couple of chapters)
  • A really satisfying conclusion

She’s currently looking for: Contemporary YA with a strong male protagonist & High quality stand alone Junior Fiction, that’s fun and intelligent.

Beverley spoke about what makes a manuscript publishable.

Things that are taken into consideration when looking at a manuscript they like;

  • Balance of the list – do they need more or less historical fiction at that time, do they already have too many rural fiction pieces on the list etc.
  • Profit potential – is the book commercially viable
  • Publishability of the book.

It is a difficult balance because each book is a work of art, but it needs to make a profit. So there is no easy answer.

She looks for Quality;

  • Well written
  • Compelling story
  • Ability to reach a wide audience

For commercial fiction, here is her advice:

  • Plot is key
  • They like a novel that promotes debate
  • The author has a clear idea of what the novel is about and it is something that a large number of people would want to read about.
  • Don’t go overboard describing everything you have researched.
  • Don’t overload with stage management.
  • Don’t over explain characters emotions.
  • Everything on the page should have a reason for being there and drive the story forward.
  • Make sure it is well edited before submitting.

Zoe used examples of books that they have recently published to highlight what they look for.

Starting with her best selling Rangers Apprentice series. She noted that whilst it was not an original concept John brought a really great sense of humour to his writing which kids love. He uses fantasy without magic which is unusual and makes his characters have to work hard for their success.

Next she looked at Alice Miranda. She said it is Jacqueline that makes these books special, she really understands and engages with her fans, and she works really hard for her books.

Lulu Bell was next, of Belinda she said that she really knows her market and knows what appeals to her readers. She is a great example of write what you know. Belinda’s dad is a vet and so is Lulu Bell’s in her stories.

Samuri verses Ninja, Here the title says it all. It is a high concept book with wide appeal.

Moving on to her Young Adult books she said that what makes a story stand out from the crowd is an original voice.

Are You Seeing Me? She couldn’t stop thinking about the characters in the story after she’d read it, which compelled her to acquire it.

 

James said that Pantera are a boutique press and they like to take on debut authors and nurture them, their writing and their careers. They are VERY unique in the publishing industry in that they pride themselves on a fast turnaround time. Getting back to authors within 3 weeks. Yes 3 weeks!!!! But you do need to follow their submission guidelines very closely.

They consider all types of fiction from Young Adult upwards and they are currently looking for commercial womans fiction. Ideally the next The Devil Wears Prada. Their submission guidelines are on their website https://www.panterapress.com.au/submit-your-manuscript

 

 

 

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How Audio Books have improved my self-editing

I find School holidays leave very little time for writing. However as we approached this six week long break I committed myself to as much reading as possible. And I discovered the wonder of audio books. What is so brilliant about audio books is that you can watch the kids on the beach whilst listening to a story. You can iron, fold washing and even make dinner whilst listening to a story. So I probably doubled my book consumption by way of audio books.

Having just completed the Editing Essentials course with Faber Writing Academy I was ‘deep reading’ and critically evaluating everything that I read, or listened to. And a brilliant thing happened. I always read my work aloud, but having listened to audio books I have developed a much stronger ear for when the rhythm and pace are working, or not, and when the dialogue feels authentic, or not. I feel that it has greatly improved my ability to asses my own writing.

So I am now an official advocate of the audio book. Not only does it double your reading time, it also improves your writing (Well mine at least :)) Just don’t all jump on board at once, audio books via the library are very limited and the best books have quite a wait time.

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How I Got My Agent

Firstly woohoo!! I have an agent!

Now that’s out of the way, here is the story behind my signing with Alex Adsett of Alex Adsett Publishing Services.

It all started three years ago, when I decided that I was going to be a writer. I threw myself into this decision whole heartedly, signing up for many courses, attending as many conferences and networking sessions as possible, and most importantly finding myself the most awesome and talented critique group with which to workshop my work.

I was starting to get wonderful and encouraging feedback from editors and publishers and a couple of manuscripts came very close. But then I had an idea. It was on the 18th October, so really not very long ago. I was in bed and I suddenly sat up, woke my husband up and told him. Despite being woken, which as a bit of an insomniac, really is his pet hate, he was enthusiastic. He even threw in some suggestions before letting his head hit the pillow again. The idea is for a picture book series, and it is so obvious now that I’ve thought of it, it’s amazing that it’s not already out there.

I threw together a first draft for the last book in the series. I was a jittering bundle of excitement. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait very long until my next critique group session. I needed to test the water and make sure I wasn’t over-reacting to my idea. The good news was; the girls agreed it was the start of something big, and that golden word ‘commercial’.

So I worked that one book until it felt solid and sent it off to one of my favourite publishers, with a very excited letter. Then I went to work on the other four books. They all came out at great pace and with a really joyous voice, not one was difficult to work on, they all felt like they wanted to be written.

Time was of the essence to get them to a presentable state as I had a conference on the 1st November where I was meeting with an editor and I wanted to have the whole series ready to pitch. Happily she loved the idea and was keen to take it back to her publisher.

Then came the ASA literary speed-dating event. I had avoided this event the year before because I didn’t feel confident that I knew how to pitch. But following an ASA course focused on pitching, I felt I had a much clearer grasp on what to include in a pitch and how to deliver it. I was armed with my picture book series pitch and my YA novel pitch. It was a nerve-wracking experience, but I have to say all of the publishers and editors were very supportive and encouraging. I had a very enthusiastic response to my series from the two publishers I pitched it to and came away feeling kind of floaty. Having run out of people to pitch that to, I decided to pitch my YA novel. It had been away resting for about 3 months, so I was a bit rusty, and I don’t think my first pitch did it justice, however, the questions the editor asked made me evaluate and improve how I delivered it. The second time was much better!

The second time was with Alex Adsett. I hadn’t planned to pitch to Alex, because she had stated that she was looking for ‘well polished’ novels. I was just about to embark on an editing course with Faber Writing Academy, which I knew would mean a re-write, pushing my ‘well polished’ back by about 4-6 months. But I decided I would be upfront about that and pitch anyway. Alex was interested. She was such a pleasure to talk to and she gave really great insight and feedback. So I took the opportunity, and asked whether she ever represented picture book authors. ‘Occasionally,’ was her response. So I pitched my series, and left a copy of all five manuscripts with her.

Alex emailed me on the Tuesday to say that she had thoroughly enjoyed reading them and could understand why there was so much interest in them. And so we began a discussion. Having more than one publishing house interested in a piece of work is an absolute dream come true. However, the idea of having to negotiate with them was really taking the shine off the excitement for me. The idea of Alex taking over the communication, and helping me through the decision making process took a huge pressure off my shoulders, and I am now living in the moment again. Of course this is still the very beginning of my journey, and there are never any guarantees of what will happen from here. But needless to say, I am very excited and hopeful.

And the moral of the story is to always ask. You have to put it out there. If I hadn’t taken the opportunity to speak to Alex, or asked the question about picture book representation I would still be a bundle of nerves, desperately waiting for the phone to ring, but also dreading the conversation.

Good luck everyone. And I’ll keep you posted about the series.

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Pitch Perfect

It’s been a busy couple of weeks – months actually.

Last weekend I attended a course on pitch writing with Claire Craig from Pan McMillan.
The take away message: The simpler the better. Using the best words in the best order. Deconstruct, delayer and get to the core of the story, then write a pitch that is concise, dense with meaning and elicits an emotional response.
It was a very timely course as I’ve submitted two pitches this week in time for the SCBWI Conference as well as sending a couple of manuscripts out into the word. I’ve included the ‘quick pitch’ of my YA novel Surviving Sam at the bottom of this post.

I also attended the CBCA shortlist presentation at Gordon library. It was fascinating to hear how the shortlist was chosen. One of the things I found most interesting was that most of the YA shortlist was made up of debut authors, whilst all of the Picture book authors were very well established, prolific writers. I have a pile of shortlisted YA books by the couch that I am looking forward to delving into over the next week or so.
As an aside, what a wonderful job they have done renovating Gordon Library, it really does feel like a wonderful creative space, and is clearly very busy, which is fantastic!

My wonderful critique group, Picture This, has been busy with successes too, with Penny Morrison launching the latest two books in her HEY! series. The event was in Willoughby and had a fantastic turnout. Here’s a picture of my little man Harrison, AKA The Book Thief, taking off with one of the books which he loved so much whilst Penny was reading to the group. You can’t get a much bigger compliment than children trying to steal your books 🙂 I’ve also had to read it twice every night since!

Penny's launch

Also from Picture This, Ramona Davey has been shortlisted for her picture book in the CYA competition, with one of my favourite stories :). Kylie Fornasier has presented at Penguin Live in the lead up to the launch of her YA Novel Masquerade. And me and the girls have had a working bee to fill all of the 150 delegate bags for the upcoming SCBWI conference in July, which was a great fun filled afternoon – if a little back breaking!SCBWI working bee

My writing focus has been on my YA novel Surviving Sam, which feels like it is really taking shape now. I have a couple of editor consultations lined up at the SCBWI conference, and hope to be ready to start submitting it off the back of that feedback towards the end of the year.

Too much writing. I’ll stop there! Have a wonderful weekend All!!
Surviving Sam Pitch below…

Surviving Sam is a contemporary romance YA novel, served with a side of psychological thriller. A story of young love that is interrupted by a sociopathic runaway teenager.

“I’m poisonous!” Said Sam. “Even the mozzies know better than to mess with me.” Katie laughed, but as she did she felt a chill penetrate every nerve in her body.

Katie and Eddie are falling in love and are oblivious to the danger facing them when they swear to Sam that they will safeguard the secret of her runaway.
As they spend lazy days hanging out by the river, cracks in Sam’s story come to the surface.
Are they strong enough to withstand the force of Sam’s malicious personality and her torrid retribution?

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Monsters Under the Bed

I had the pleasure of attending the Talking Writing event at the NSW Writers’ Centre last night, where Kate Forsyth, Nyssa Harkness and Matt Finch discussed monsters and villains in kid’s and YA fiction.

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion, for me anyway, was what makes monsters and villains suitable for children’s literature. Kate having written many a children’s story with villains in, suggested that a well written monster or villain in a children’s book sends a delicious shiver of fear through the child, whilst allowing them to still feel safe in their reading space. A child should be almost giggling with fear, not sweating with terror. And the difference between a child’s monster and an adults monster is defined by the depth of depravity. Get it wrong and that will be the last book you sell to that family, no parent wants to be woken in the night by a terrified child! True!

Another very interesting point was made around the level of sympathy you can manipulate readers to feel for the villains in stories. Kate talked about two types of villains, static villains, who remain bad all the way through the story, and villains that learn a lesson and change through the story. Readers can be encouraged to find understanding and even empathy for the latter, but will rarely have any sympathy for the former. Children have a strong inbuilt sense of justice, and like to see the bad guy punished and the good guy triumph. The story that stands the test of time is the story with a strong sense of justice and where true love triumphs.

There were many more interesting points made and all three presenters provided a fantastic insight into their area of expertise. Whilst I don’t write fantasy or dystopian fiction I came away from the evening feeling like I have learnt things I can incorporate into my writing.

A big thank you to Matt, Kate and Nyssa, and of course the NSW Writers’ Centre for hosting the evening.