Sunday, December 27, 2009

Yes, Virginia, you do need an editor

The chance of any wannabe writer being published by one of the major houses is very low indeed. About one of every hundred manuscripts sent to an imprint of, say, Harper Collins or Hachette Livre, will actually become a real book in a real bookshop for real people to buy.

The one in a hundred figure would include works from all authors, not just newbies, and would include both fiction and non-fiction. So the situation is far worse than I'd thought. Glenda Larke has pointed out that figures she read some years ago from one big publishing house indicated that two books are published from every 5,000 fiction manuscripts received from new writers, and that would include those sent by agents.

Seeing these odds (and they are getting worse, not better!) more and more discouraged writers are turning to self publishing or vanity publishing just to get their books out there. Many of these writers think their work does not need editing.

They are wrong. All books need editing.

The manuscript pictured at right (courtesy of Wikipedia Commons) is the original proof copy of À la recherche du temps perdu (known in English as In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past) by Marcel Proust. Although this one is a galley proof, with Proust’s own notes on it, it looks pretty much as any manuscript looks after an editor has worked on it. Friends who are published by major houses have sometimes shown me their manuscripts when they come back from the first edit, and truly, that is how they look. And they will usually be accompanied by a dozen or more pages of notes.

Now, if your favourite author gets his or her manuscripts back looking like that, what do you think yours would look like if an editor had a go at it?

Robert Sprackland PhD, a colleague over at Linked In (you can find Robert at paraphrases Benjamin Franklin (himself an author of note) who once said, "A man who represents himself in a court of law has a fool for a lawyer and an idiot for a client." Robert suggests that Franklin’s words could be paraphrased as, "An author who does the final editing has a fool for an editor and an idiot for an author."

And he’s not wrong. Books need editors as crops need rain.

We grow too close to our own manuscripts to see their faults, and even though most writers – and published authors, too – have reading circles or critiquing groups, an editor brings a fresh pair of eyes to the work. A pair of eyes, moreover, that has seen many manuscripts and is familiar with current usage and style. It’s not just vocabulary, grammar, syntax and spelling, although their importance should not be under-estimated. Many agents and publishers simply won’t consider a manuscript that does not come up to scratch in all those areas. But editing is also about structure, about seeing where the high and low points of the plot occur and suggesting changes if they are in the wrong places. It’s about understanding point-of-view and character development. It’s about knowing where to prune and where to delve into the details.

Authors who are published by the major houses may moan and groan about the extra workload, but when a manuscript comes back from editing there’s nothing for it save knuckling down to make the necessary changes, which occasionally amount to major rewrites. Yet when the final edit is done, the author is almost always delighted with the result – and filled with gratitude for the editor.

A book that is published commercially will always be a joint effort, involving the author and at least one, and more often two, editors. That’s because the final copy edit is normally done by an editor who specialises in finessing the details. The copyeditor provides another fresh pair of eyes, because after several months of working with the author on a manuscript, the first editor may well have grown just as blind to its faults as the creator! And errors do creep in as changes are made during the first and second edits.

I have seen quite a few self-published books that were not edited, and I’ve also seen many that were supposed to have been edited and weren’t. Sadly, these have usually been subjected to the not-so-tender mercies of a vanity publisher.

Vanity publishing is certainly one way to get your book out there, especially if you only intend to share it with family and friends. You will need quite a few dollars in the bank, for the services of vanity presses are not cheap and they will charge you extra for editing. For a few hundred dollars, your manuscript will get at least a bit of attention – but usually not enough. I have seen some vanity-published books that the authors had paid good money to have edited come back from “editing” at a standard no higher than a serious author’s first draft, and oftentimes worse.

Your work deserves kinder treatment.

Personally, I think that rather than going to a vanity press, you are better served by learning how to be a real self publisher, which means registering a business name and then engaging your own editor, layout person and printing house, and paying them individually. If you shop around, it may be no more expensive than the average vanity press. You can find the names of experienced, trustworthy people through your state’s Society of Editors. Some editors are willing to act as Project Managers, finding graphic artists and printers for you and overseeing their work. Get quotes from several different people, and compare their offerings closely. The cheapest is not always the best, but nor is the dearest. Be prepared to learn as you go by listening to other people who have gone down this path before you.

It may be a long, slow, challenging job (allow at least six months, and a year is better) and it may be expensive, but you will have a better book at the end of it – and the satisfaction of knowing you did your very best to present your book as professionally as possible. Surely your precious manuscript deserves no less?
Links to Societies of Editors within Australia:
# Society of Editors ACT
# Society of Editors NSW
# Society of Editors QLD
# Society of Editors SA
# Society of Editors TAS
# Society of Editors VIC
# Society of Editors WA

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Value of Wordle

Wordle is one of the fascinating little programmes which develop when people have a lot of time, and a lot of enthusiasm on their hands. In any age other than this one, the wordle wouldn't even be a concept.

You can find Wordle here!

Wordle is a fantastic writer's tool. All you need to do is select All of your text, put it into the Wordle text box, and paste it in. Then hit GO and see what comes up. I recommend you change the background to white, and then print it out for further ruminations.

My favourite use for Wordle is to spot weak words. It's also excellent for spotting repetitive uses of words. It should show clearly who your main characters are - and they are not always the point of view characters. This can be a tool to interrogate your novel in a completely different way.

Onto the personal stuff... this is the Wordle on my book at draft one.

I can see all sorts of words I am going to examine and fix in the novel - but one step at a time. I wrote this in a rush, and there's been a lot of cutting since this wordle was created, and there's going to be a lot more. (I didn't actually have a plot until about a third of the way into the novel. So that's about a third that needs to go! And then the last two thirds needs to be explored and ... fixed.)

You can see my lead character's name very clearly. I was surprised at who of my secondary characters showed up, and the strength of their place in the Wordle above. I didn't think Marissa had been given that much page-time, but it seems she gets mentioned as much as or more than Killan, who I thought had more page-time than any other secondary character.

There's a lot of words I am going to be examining with a fine toothed comb - back, just, enough, one, something, nothing, think, get, eyes, like, thought, feel,... lots of weak words in there. The next time I post this, expect it to be interesting to see what's different!

Wordle is also a way of making both Poetry and Art from your novel. The size of the font relates to the number of times you used each word, presenting both immediate visual cues, and a poetic display of symbolic relationships.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

We're doing the Aus Spec Fic Carnival January 2010

Inkyblots has done December's AusSpecFicCarnival (try saying that in a hurry!) and I'm in it! Go and check it out! There's heaps of stuff in there, and guess who's going to be doing January's Aus Spec Fic Carnival? The Egobooers of course! Bwhahahahaha!

So if you see *anything* you think should be part of the January Aus Spec Fic Carnival (gosh that's a mouthful) then please drop me an email, post a comment on the blog, SMS me, or whatever. I dare all of you to send me a link! (Email address is callisto at g mail dot com)

Australia has an awesomely vibrant and alive Spec Fic community, and I want every one to know!


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Carol Ryles: Journals And Space

Even as a child I liked the feel of a pen in my hand. If I wasn’t writing with it, I’d scribble fantasy characters in the margins of my schoolbook. When I turned ten, my brother gave me a diary. Here’s part of my first entry:

“Saw mum putting boxes in the car boot right behind where I’m sitting. She won’t tell me what they are.”

Of course I knew what they were: Christmas presents. I was supposed to believe in Santa, so I played along and pretended. Even for my diary’s sake. This is the most interesting thing about diaries I think: you can often remember the things you left out by reading between the lines. You can fool the page, but not yourself.

At fourteen, I taught myself to type on the rickety keys of an old Imperial typewriter. It was then that I started writing novels, but I’d always give up somewhere near the middle, when I couldn’t figure out what to do next. I decided that drama was more interesting so wrote plays about cowboys and Indians. (The Indians were mostly the good guys.) Then I graduated to aliens and spaceships. (The aliens were always the good guys.) I also wrote secretly about girls who piloted star ships and rescued aliens from the clutches of mad scientists.

After I left school, I worked for fifteen years as a registered nurse. My play writing fell by the wayside, but I still kept journals. They became my nightly way of working through the emotional roller coaster that always came with caring for the sick. They'd help me remember the good days and, at the same time, get through the bad ones.

My holiday journals, written in meticulous detail, are still my favourite. A little while later, I decided I wanted to write poetry. Unfortunately, I perfected the art of doggerel to such a degree that I dared not bring myself to keep any of it. Then, just before I went to live and work in China, I decided to take up novel writing again, so I took a portable typewriter and lots of paper. The novel didn’t get started. There was too much to distract me: a medical clinic to set up, a new language to learn, a culture to immerse myself in, a country to explore...

I kept my journal going; but none of it was fiction.

It wasn’t until 1997, when I was living in Brisbane -- a housewife with 3 young children -- that I sat down and decided to have a serious go at writing fiction. This time, even the prospect of transporting home and family an entire continent away couldn’t stop me. Now living in Perth, I have been working on stories and studying English ever since. I began my first (likely-to-be-finished) novel a little over a year ago.

Sometimes I love reading even more than I like writing, especially when it’s a story that’s so full of complexities and ideas, so carefully layered in imagination and detail that I have to read it slowly and selfishly until the words show me things that reality can’t.

When I started school, my dad used to take me to the local library. That’s how I discovered science fiction and fantasy. First with picture books, later with the Narnia series and later still with the works of Verne, Wells and Gollanz SF, which I recognized for its yellow covers. That’s how I introduced myself to the works of Asimov, Silverberg, Clarke, Le Guin, Henderson, Wyndham. I was hooked at an early age

Reading a good story is like watching an Olympic gymnast. The way she curls her body around the bars, arabesques in mid air, spins, flips and free falls onto her feet. How could I always remain a spectator when the gymnast is clearly ecstatic? Likewise how can I not write stories when reading them is so pleasurable? For me, living vicariously is never as satisfying as the real thing. I discovered that a long time ago when I bought my first motorbike and, later still, took up scuba diving and hiking.

I tried to be a gymnast when I was in my teens. It was fun and sometimes impossibly difficult. I practised at home, at school, at the gym. Then I fell off the balance beam and broke a couple of bones. They wanted me to stay in bed for six weeks but, after five weeks, even books couldn’t keep me down. My doctor recommended that I give up being a gymnast.

Not a promising analogy.

Fortunately, if I stumble when I’m writing, I have time enough to figure out where I went wrong and pick myself up again. That’s how it feels with my first novel: one step forward, two steps back. But at least, if I lose my footing, it doesn’t mean the end of things. It’s more like a wrong turn that leads to a revelation, a step towards understanding the many possible directions my imagination can take.

I’m grateful for the privilege of having writing buddies who can do this with me. In return, it’s a pleasure to watch their novels grow and mature alongside mine.

Monday, December 14, 2009

From Then to Now - a Writing Journey

There was a theory when I was very young that it was a bad thing to teach children to read before they went to school. I’m not sure why unless it was to make the teacher’s task easier. This was probably was a valid concern but it meant nothing to me so, with no encouragement from home, I proceeded to teach myself. When I went to school and was given my bright, new reading book – “Old Lob and His Friends” (all about an English farm and yes, you’d have to wonder about its relevance to an Australian child even then) I brought it home and read it in a few minutes – and I can still remember the shock when I found out that it was intended to be learned from for the rest of the year.

Fortunately, once I was at school, my parents felt free to let me read and when the next year a public lending library opened locally I was allowed to range through the children’s section and borrow books. They also bought a set of Richards encyclopaedia, an atlas with a large section on natural history and geography in it and a huge Webster’s dictionary that was so heavy I had to put it on the floor so I could look up words. When I had finished my permitted library borrowing of two books a fortnight (even a child I was a fast reader so this library imposed rule really irked me) I turned to these books, especially the encyclopaedia, and began to read them from start to finish.

In them I discovered archaeology, science, history (ancient and modern) and geography among other things but best of all was Volume Fourteen of the encyclopaedia. Packed with fairy and folk tales (mostly European but with a smattering of African and Asian), stories of water nixies, selkies, boggarts, pixies, fairies and much more, the whole of the Arthurian cycle and the myths and legends of the gods, goddesses and heroes of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, it also held more nursery rhymes than I have ever seen anywhere since. I was in heaven.

My fascination with fantasy, which eventually grew into writing speculative fiction, began there, but when I think about it, I’ve been making up stories all my life. I started telling my brother stories when we were quite little and continued with the bedtime stories I told my own children. Then the children got older and, while the stories still buzzed in my head, there was no-one to listen.

I was fortunate in 1994 to find the late Pam Steenburgen was running a creative writing class at the local community centre. She was a gifted teacher and through her I broke away from the straight jacket of academic and report writing I'd become enmeshed in and rediscovered the delights of story telling. Pam introduced me to the Karrinyup Writers Club and I owe a great debt to her and all the writers there who shared their knowledge and time to help a newbie develop.

In 1996 I entered my first major short story competition with Pam’s encouragement and was stunned when I won. For the next few years I honed my skills and entered literary and poetry competitions with some success until a flying pig landed on the page one day and I had my first adult fantasy story. I had so much fun writing it that others followed. I’d always loved science fiction and fantasy and read widely in the genre even when I was a child and, although I still write literary stories and poetry, my greatest love is speculative fiction.

Strangely,I’d never even thought about writing a novel until one day a few years ago during a writing marathon a unicorn-like creature walked into a forest clearing and bonded telepathically with a girl - and after that visit he kept coming back. Before long I had a succession of stories about the same characters and realised that they were part of something much bigger. The first novel about them is currently having what I hope is its final edit thanks to the Egoboos WA critiquers, and the sequel is over the half way mark. The time I spent as an Emerging Writer in Residence at Tom Collins House Writers Centre last May and the writing race with Carol Ryles and Glenda Larke a few months ago added immensely to the number of words on the page. If you’re interested you can read about both on my blog.

I’m still writing short stories too, of course. They are a very different skill set and it’s a good change of pace and style from novel writing. Besides I learned so much about short story writing by going to Clarion South in 2007 I’d hate to waste it. I have a whole file of story ideas to work my way through yet but when something really stirs my passion nothing works better than a poem to express my feelings.

This writing journey I’m on has taken me to places I would have never expected, both physically and mentally, and along the way I have met some amazing writers and editors who have shared their knowledge and enthusiasm generously. The Egoboo WA group is the latest in a long line of supportive people without whom I would not be writing as I am today.

What next? Well, it's to keep on writing, aiming at making my novels and stories the very best they can be, and then sending them out into the world in the hope those who read them will enjoy them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Five Opportunities That Keep You From Writing

Ripley Patton has put up a very interesting list about the things that can walay the writer, distracting them from the act of writing while still feeling like 'work' in a writerly sense.

In the comments are a very interesting points, and I wanted to talk a little more about finding balance and setting limits.

I think I'm a very lucky person, in that I am good at setting my own limits, and keeping to them. Not only am I lucky, but I'm also quite rare! However, my ways of determining what I want to do and what my limits are is a constant process in my life. I believe that every second of the day takes choices which can be unconscious, and every day I make firm efforts that all of my choices are the best they can be.

I have a very clear goal in my mind. This means that when something comes up, I can look at it and think "does this decision move me towards my goal?"

If the answer is no, but I'm still interested, I need to ask myself: "What cost does this have?" Every response has a cost. The question is how much of your time/mental energy/stress levels are you willing to assign it? Every minute spent working on something costs something else. If I'm working on editing, I'm not putting out a new story. If I'm writing, then I'm not polishing. It helps me to be aware of the costs of any decision I make.

I'm also rare in that I know that I need to balance my urge to work hard with my urge to play hard - and finding times and places to do exactly that. I need downtime to balance and recharge the uptimes, and this is when Bejeweled comes in handy, or reading books by authors I love. The more I learn about editing and writing, the more I understand why I love some of the authors I do. I sometimes feel like I am relaxing into their arms, safe in the belief that the book I am reading will be well written and well edited, and won't jar me from the story at any point.

The Five Opportunities that Ripleys lists are all things that I have looked at with longing eyes int he past few years. A nice, clearly defined job with a start and end would be something I would love. However that's not the game right now. I just have to keep the loftier goals in mind, and remember what it is I am going to do. Real Life is probably the big Zero that keeps you from writing, as it goes before all others. If you can get Real LIfe into line, then I'm sure you can get the rest of them to fall in line too.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Joanna Fay : Gods in the Machine

Where did my writing journey begin? In an attic bedroom in Hobart at eight years old. There was a cherry-plum tree outside my window and I used to see an angel in the branches. I took to writing poems for the angel and putting them on the window-sill so it could read them. Decades later, I'm still writing poems, often about 'angels' or other mythological beings, Orpheus and Isis being two of my favourite writing companions. As a child, I consumed books, particularly fantasy, such as the Narnia books, 'The Hobbit', Susan Cooper's 'The Dark is Rising' sequence, Alan Garner's novels and Antonia Barber's 'The Amazing Mr. Blunden', a ghost story that 'haunted' me for years after.

As my family moved to and fro across Australia, books became one of the constants in life. My mind was brimming with Austen, the Brontes, Dickens, Hardy, Collins, Trollope, George Elliot, Virginia Woolf, and then with French writers; Maupassant, Balzac, Zola, Hugo, Flaubert, Camus. At fourteen I read 'Lord of the Rings' and started exchanging letters in elvish with my best friend, thanks to Tolkien's linguistic finesse. Science fiction came on board with 'Dune', Asimov's 'Foundation' series and Philip K. Dicks. I dived into Egyptian, Greek, Germanic and Norse mythology at the same time and started writing my own mythical world, complete with languages and hundreds of drawings. Amazingly, that storyworld is still with me virtually unchanged, although its characters and their experiences have undergone radical alterations along the way. I continued to write in this world right up to late twenties, but on realising it had become 'tainted' with reflected personal traumas, decided to destroy the lot, some three and a half thousand pages! I stopped writing, except for the occasional poem...and vast amounts of essays, undergraduate and postgraduate research papers mostly on medieval art and films (two great sources of myths, past and current).

During all of that, I kept reading fantasy novels, although I got tired of formulaic repetitions. Then, when I moved house a few years ago and unpacked some old boxes, I found a few remnants of my storyworld that had escaped the purge and began to ponder reworking them into a 'novel'. It seemed a risky undertaking, since it was really 'personal writing', but I started to feel it might have something other readers could connect to or enjoy (or even both!). This experiment has so far taken a couple of years, with pitfalls and stumbling blocks abounding, and is far, far from complete. But I'm gradually getting a handle on the writer's craft, with thanks to my writerly friends, and becoming more determined...which is just as well, since the novel is now turning into a vast epic trilogy!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Silly Season Stocking Stuffer Sale

In celebration of the release of the Aurealis Awards shortlist, Twelfth Planet Press is having a Silly Season Sale!

Aussie Sales Free Postage
International Sales Half Postage

For great titles, go here

Last Short Story Project Wrapup 2009 for Sarah Parker

What is the Last Short Story Project?
The LSS Project is an attempt to read every short story published. A team of foolhardy readers set out to digest every short story published during the year to let YOU know what we like! We all post about stories that move us during the year, and as the year draws to a close we publish our lists of favourite stories. My wrap up is here!

Why am I doing it?

I've been so busy raising children that I'd forgotten I used to read for pleasure! The startling re-discovery came a few months before the end of 2008, and when the chance came to join this group, I knew exactly what I wanted to do - outread every one! That didn't quite happen (mutter mutter) but I did a nice 300 plus, so I am very happy. I also wanted to see what was new and exciting in the publishing areana, and thought that LSS would provide me a short, sharp shock on that exact topic.

So what did I learn?
I learnt that happy, uplifting stories are stupidly rare. I learnt that hopeful stories are slightly less rare. I learnt that unhappy endings are incredibly common. It's led me to wonder if maybe we write unhappy endings because it's easier to manipulate the negative emotions of loss and confusing and sorrow, whereas every person has a different and subjective idea on happiness.

I also learnt that there's a lot of stories published in a year! I also learnt that this year's Fantasy has been pretty outstanding, and that I like people drive stories over concept driven stories. The concepts can be as cool as you like, but I am demanding more characterization in my stories now.

Plus I learnt that of my top 18 stories, 8 were by men, 9 by women, and 1 unknown. To me, this shows that there are awesome stories written by both genders.

Of the 308 stories Excel tells me I read, 164 were male, 127 were female, 1 was co-written by a mixed gender couple, and 16 were names that I was unable to spot the gender of, or used initials. I could play with Excel all day, but I have work I need to do.

Would I do it again?
HELL YES. And, I am! Come along and see what gems we find over 2010!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Words, words, glorious words!

I’ve spent over sixty years wallowing in words. As a child, I used to amuse my family by coming out with words way beyond my years; words I’d only read and therefore mispronounced. As a four year old, I once pointed to a sign on a public toilet and loudly asked my mother, “What’s gentlemen?” I pronounced it gent- (with a hard g)-lemon with the accent on the le. Mother (and several bystanders) thought this very funny. Thereafter, Mother continually embarrassed me by repeating the story to every family member, neighbour and friend who stayed long enough to listen.

Like most children of my generation, I adored Enid Blyton and devoured her books so fast the family budget couldn’t cope. (It was about that time I discovered libraries.) I wanted to write stories just like hers, and I would tell anyone who asked that I wanted to be a "children's authoress" when I grew up.

Relatives, knowing my weakness for the printed word, supported my addiction by giving me books for birthdays and Christmases. As well as Blyton, I gobbled up Kipling, Ransome, Sutcliff and innumerable books of fairy tales. From Sutcliff I expanded to encompass other historical writers such as Elizabeth Goudge, and from there it was only a short step through historical and folkloric fantasy (Mary Stewart) to high fantasy (Tolkien, of course!). A few years later, marriage to a man who loved science fiction brought me to the masters of that genre – Asimov, E.E. (Doc) Smith, Moorcock and others – and for several decades I read little else.

Then I discovered Zelazny’s Amber series.

I was approaching middle age by then, and looking for new directions. I had a gut feeling that I could write this stuff, too. OK, maybe not as well as Zelazny or my other favourite authors, but I sure wanted to try. There was one rather tiresome problem: I didn’t have any stories. Over the years, I had written a little poetry and even had some published, but the muse of fiction writing seemed uninterested in me.

Frustrated, I concentrated on non-fiction writing instead. I’d long been involved in the performing arts, and when I was invited to write the dance column for Music Maker magazine, which later became Arts West (now sadly defunct) I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. This led to work for other magazines and newspapers, and for several years I set my novelistic aspirations aside.

In my early fifties, fresh out of a divorce, I did what more sensible and organised people do in their teens and twenties – I packed up my household and set off to backpack my way around the world. I visited Thailand, Nepal, the UK and the USA, then back to the UK to work and earn money to fund more travel. It was in Devon, while working at a hotel that resembled Fawlty Towers, that I was finally muse-struck.

I was “Executive Housekeeper”, a grand title for a general dogsbody who races around carting linen hither and thither. By the end of each day I was exhausted. Night after night, I would return to my room and collapse in front of Coronation Street and East Enders, too tired for any kind of social life. But one night, just as I was about to turn on the television, a sentence popped into my head. To be left a widow at the age of twenty-one may sound like a tragedy, it ran, but to be honest, I felt liberated by Reyal’s death. I knew at once that it was the start of a novel, and I sat down to write it.

I had no idea where the story would take me, although I knew from the start it was about a girl on another planet who set out on what was to be an around-the-world trip and was sold into slavery en route. Wryly, I realised that this was a reflection of my own situation. Like my heroine, Kryshli, I had little notion of where I was going or what I’d be called on to do next. Every evening the story meandered a little farther, showing me Kryshli’s world and its people, and every evening I couldn’t wait to sit down with my notebook to learn what happened next.

Kryshli’s Story
, of course, turned out to be a hopelessly unstructured tale with little in the way of plot or characterisation, an awful lot of telling and not much showing, and far more adverbs and adjectives than any decent writer would include. But nevertheless, it was, albeit a poor thing, mine own. It took me seven years to finish (I was amused to find that if I set the story aside for a few weeks or months, I would discover on my return that a similar time period had elapsed in Krishli’s life) and although I realised the novel’s shortcomings I could see that it was not entirely without merit.

Maybe I was a fiction writer, after all.

Not long after my return to Australia, I heard about the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in the hills outside Perth, Western Australia. I joined groups there and soaked myself in learning. When I found that one of my favourite authors, Juliet Marillier, was going to run a novel writing course I couldn’t wait to sign on. The course was called Tough Love, a term that describes the kind of criticism a budding author needs.

That was in 2003, and since then, other authors, including Michèle Drouart, Dave Luckett and Glenda Larke, have also contributed to my learning process. I am continually amazed at how generous published authors are in sharing their expertise with aspiring writers.

Through courses and workshops at KSP and elsewhere, I learnt how to write better. Through various critiquing groups, I also learnt to take tough criticism on the chin and profit from it. I now belong to several writers groups and feel I have reached the stage at which I can help others who may be just starting their journeys into the wonderful world of speculative fiction writing. I can, I hope, give and receive peer group criticism in a professional and compassionate manner.

And now the journey continues with Egoboo. Through this blog, the five of us – Carol, Helen, Jo, Sarah and myself – hope to share some of the joys and woes of that journey with our friends. Please feel free to add your comments to our posts and take the opportunity to share your own journey, whether or not it involves writing, with us. Happy trails, my friends!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Aurealis Awards Finalists are Published!

The Aurealis Finalists have been announced! Congratulations to many of my friends who have been nominated, well done every one!

Special congratulations to:

Alisa Krasnostein
Johnathan Strahan
Tansy Rayner Roberts
Tehani Wessley
Ben Payne
Cat Sparks
Felicity Dowker
Peter M Ball
Sean Williams
Glenda Larke
Deb Biancotti
Paul Haines
Sue Isle

Gosh there is a lot of you! A big WELL DONE for every one who is a finalist.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sarah Parker, Apprentice Wordsmith

How did I get into writing?

I wrote my first novel in high school, in Year Ten, called 'Keri, Kit and Laura', a science fiction story about a post nuclear dome city. My best friend and I wrote it together; she had the ideas and I had the writing. I still have the manuscript, written on an old 'portable' typewriter which printed in cursive font. I wrote a fantasy novel or two as well, one by hand, the other on an old massive typewriter (not portable at all!). I wrote poetry as well during high school, and have kept most of it too. I went to university, and did every creative writing course I could find, but since there were only two, it wasn't that exciting. I stopped writing after uni. I got very busy with work and then family and I'm now the proud Mum of 2 gorgeous boys.

With my first child being tiny, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I'd been making some subtle gestures about starting to write again, and with the sudden appearance of a baby who slept twice a day for three hours each time, I had a lot of time on my hands. I decided to tackle Nanowrimo properly that year, and wrote up a novel plan for a text about being a Poly Pagan Parent, with chapter breaks and everything. That was 2006, and I completed Nanowrimo on day 21, but kept going to tally up 70K in one month. My hands hurt, my wrists hurt, I was amazed and exhilarated. So, of course, I didn't stop.

My biggest hurdle to writing was a deep sense of shame I picked up somewhere. I have been working my way through the various issues as I go along, so if you read my personal blog, expect to see all sorts of stuff there. As creators and writers, we have so much going on in our heads, it can be difficult to find the compass and remember the way home. I hope that by being public with my issues and fears and the ways I deal with them, maybe someone else can see something they relate to, or find a different way of handling the same thing.

Writing can be a very lonely occupation. I'm so pleased to have found and been a part of the women who make up the Egoboo group. I've been very lucky to have a very supportive partner, and very supportive friends who love to read my writing, even as I cringe. It's thanks to the oceans of support and love I have been given that I feel confident in my writing once again. I'm picking up things I had lost or forgotten, and I'm feeling inspired and grateful to all of my friends and family.

I'd like to welcome our readers to the Egoboo corner of the web, and invite them to participate. Please, feel free to email us, leave questions, let us know your thoughts about anything we've said. We are hoping that we can show people what we're doing, so that other interested parties don't have to reinvent the wheel. Also, a HUGE thank you to the Writers On The Rise group (ROR) who started in 2001, and are the template for what we do. They have been awesome in answering our emails, and being supportive and offering us any sort of help they could.

So what am I hoping for in future? To finish this book to the best it can be. And learn so much while doing it that the next one takes much less work! One thing I love about this is that there is always something new to learn, something new to focus on. I get bored in repetitive jobs, and love using every skill I can when I can. I also love organization and planning, which are important skills for when the manuscript is actually ready to send out. I'm hoping to write across multiple genres, and I expect I will never run out of new things to learn. And this excites me like nothing I've ever known before.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How We Started

The house turned out to be an added incentive...

Perched in bushland on a hillside at Eagle Bay with a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean, it gave us a perfect vantage point to view migrating whales. We could hear the surf pounding below and watch native birds feed within touching distance. We were far enough away to escape everyday distractions and close enough for the drive to be an easy one. In all, a beautiful place to visit…

We were led there by a common interest – a need for space enough to talk about our novels without having to rein ourselves in out of fear of boring the pants off our friends.

We are members of the active and well attended Katharine Susannah Prichard Speculative Fiction Writers’ group, which still provides us with fantastic online opportunities for critiquing short stories and novel chapters. However, each of us has completed at least one novel and needed longer and more comprehensive critting sessions than the group could provide. We wanted to critique our novels in their entirety rather than as fragmented chapters over a matter of weeks. We also saw we had mutual compatibilities in terms of genres and interests, and a need for more intensive training. Furthermore, we were prepared to devote a great deal of time and effort to each other’s work – a grand total of 610,000 words – which we read closely and critiqued over four weeks prior the retreat.

After valuable feedback from the masters of retreat critiquing, Ripping Ozzie Reads we decided to give ourselves three days away. We wrote up our critiques beforehand and allocated three hours of critting time per novel. This enabled each critter to have a maximum of half an hour to have their say, while the author remained silent until the end. We finished each session with an hour-long discussion, which mostly became a brainstorming exercise where we mooted alternative plot trajectories and outcomes. Sometimes suggestions turned out to be not quite what the writer had in mind but, after consideration, became catalysts for the discovery of new ways of improving aspects of plotting and characterisation they had not thought about.

Our expertise is varied, which turned out to be a bonus rather than a problem. The more experienced critters helped train the less experienced ones, while the less experienced critters provided useful comments, not only as readers, but also as students practising their newly acquired skills. Even when differences of opinion did occur, we reminded ourselves that every critter’s comment is a valid reader response deserving, in the very least, to be listened to. This made for a friendly and supportive environment that enabled us to improve our writing and to critique thoroughly with respect and trust. Not once did we reach for the box of strategically placed tissues on the critting table.

With the day's critting over, we finished up with food, drink and movies. One would think that three vegetarians and two omnivores would complicate things, but our menus were unplanned. Kudos for the sushi, gourmet salads, beetroot chips, cheese selections and guinea figs. Kudos again for the valuable plotting lessons gleaned from the movies, made even more enjoyable with a good dash of Baileys.