breaching whale

Every year my family goes out onto the Indian Ocean to watch the whales travelling down the WA coast on their annual migration. Sometimes we’re lucky and a whale comes to investigate the boat, or flings itself joyfully out of the water nearby. I am one of those whose life has been deeply affected by the contact I’ve had with these magnificent creatures – ever since I had the privilege of scuba diving at close quarters with a minke whale ten years ago on the Great Barrier Reef. So this week I’ll be watching events in Morocco, as the IWC meets to discuss whaling. The strides forward that many people around the world have campaigned tirelessly for are now threatened, with deals for the resumption of commercial whaling on the table. I firmly believe that whaling has no place in a progressive future for the world, and I hope that compassion and conservation rather than commerce win the day. 

On a lighter note, I’m also avidly watching the World Cup, and with my dual loyalties hoping that both the Socceroos and England can make it through the group stage. They’re certainly making us sweat…!col-md-2

Lexie Sinclair’s life revolves around the Soho art scene of the 1950s, whereas in the present day Elina is struggling with the demands of motherhood. But despite living decades apart, these two women are connected in ways neither could ever have expected.

I have long been a fan of Maggie O’Farrell, as her first book, After You’d Gone, ranks as one of my all-time favourites. In this, her latest work, her writing is mesmeric, and I was captivated from start to finish. Such overt manipulation of narrative voice is difficult to achieve without losing the reader, but O’Farrell is fearless, and as a result The Hand that First Held Mine is a wonderful, unique piece of fiction.col-md-2

Come Back to Me is currently in Cairns library’s ‘Hot Speed Reads’, which offers the hottest bestsellers for a period of 10 days for $4. Also featured are great titles from top authors including Stieg Larsson, Lisa Heidke, Harlan Coben, Jodi Picoult – and one of my personal favourites, The Time Traveller’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.col-md-2

A lost child…a terrible secret…a mysterious inheritance…

I enjoyed this, although not as much as The Shifting Fog, which was by far my favourite read of 2009. Kate Morton is a master of original and evocative descriptions of people and places, not to mention time shifts, and the book moves easily between different decades. Considering how many threads she was tying together she did a great job of keeping me focused. I love the fairy tales running through the book too, which really bring the story to life. Would definitely recommend this one.col-md-2

I’m about to start editing Beneath the Shadows, and I’m very excited about it. It is through this process that my book will gradually evolve from its raw first draft into a finely polished finished piece. With a background as an editor I feel very open to the editing process, which can be pretty daunting and confronting for a writer. Everything from characters, plot and pace, and the strength of the writing itself, is examined thoroughly during editing; and as a result the book can change quite a bit, sometimes in ways the author never envisioned. Come Back to Me was a much better book after editing, and I’m sure that it will be the same for Beneath the Shadows

Beneath the Shadows is currently at the structural editing stage. So we’re looking at things like how the chapters work, both on their own and with one another; whether the characters are developing fully; if there are gaps that need filling, or sections that need paring back. So wish me luck, and I’ll post some updates on how it’s going.col-md-2

Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows?

This was on my reading list for ages. It took me a little while to get into the characters, but once I did I really enjoyed it, and there were a few laugh-out-loud moments. A compelling exploration of the evolution of a relationship while trying to find one’s way in life beyond the university years – some of it disconcertingly familiar!col-md-2

Book pages 1This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 9th April 2010

I was recently asked advice on how to become a published writer.

Here’s my take on what it takes:

Originality
In general, the more original your concept, the better. But originality must still be able to be placed within the market. Sometimes what’s original to one person can be just a bit too way out to the next reader, so don’t go too far. Alternatively, you may want to follow a trend – vampires, anyone? – but you still need an original take on it. And you need to get the timing right, so the market isn’t oversaturated by the time you finish your book.

Determination
You have to really want to succeed, be prepared for knockbacks, not get bogged down in them but use them to make you stronger.

Stamina
First of all to finish the book. An enormous feat. Then to go over and over it yourself, figuring out how you can make it better. Then to allow other people to do the same.

Enthusiasm
To learn from those who have been there. Listen to published writers. They can give you so many ideas, and to hear them talk is often inspirational. No one begins life as a published writer, they were all once in unpublished shoes, without exception. Read lots of books. They all have something to inspire you – even if it’s only, ‘I could do better than this!’

Listening skills
Listen to critique. While it’s great to wholly believe in what you have written, it’s also good to remember that your readers might just have a point. Try to look dispassionately at your writing, and pay particular attention if you hear the same comment more than once, even if it’s not what you want to hear.

Insight
Put yourself in a busy publisher’s shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? I can guarantee you that it will usually be the one sent with a bit of razzmatazz from an agent. So then perhaps you should find an agent. If you decide to go this route, put yourself in their shoes. They have thirty manuscripts. Four meetings that morning. Which should they pick up? The one that’s double-line spaced, interestingly presented, with a quick-to-grasp concept. And a covering letter that stands out. From someone who phoned or emailed first with a great, succinct pitch (although do check what type of contact each agent prefers before doing this)? Or the single-spaced scruffy sheaf of papers, appended to a meandering cover letter, from a person they’ve never heard of or from. I know which I would choose.

And finally: Passion
For the written word. For writing for writing’s sake, not just for publishing’s sake. Because that joy and commitment will be immediately recognisable to the reader, and there is little more compelling than that.col-md-2

Book pages 1An older version of this blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 8th April 2010

For me, for a long time my writing was my hobby, and as such I would get through everything else first, promising myself writing time later, as some kind of reward. However, it’s far too easy for that time to never arrive. It was only when I dedicated myself to finishing Come Back to Me at the end of 2007 that I really made the strides forward that I needed to then pursue publication. Now I do try to schedule time to write, but it’s not always easy. I have an active one-year-old little girl, all the general aspects of life to keep going, and my husband would quite like some attention sometimes too, I think. I have just finished my second book, and managed it by making the most of the time my little girl was asleep or my husband was here to care for her, as well as having the help of a wonderful childminder for a few hours a week. (Also invaluable was a well-timed visit by my mother!) Although I used to write at all hours of the day, for now I have to make the most of this dedicated, limited time. I usually have lots of scribbled notes to work through by the time each session comes around, as when I’m busy on other things I still make sure to make notes on ideas so that I can refer back to them later.

As with many other writers, it may well be necessary for me to continue my day job of editing to make a living. Then I will not only have to remind myself to make time for my writing, but to work hard to make sure that time actually happens. When the task at hand seems enormous, I also remind myself to just make a start, and that if I keep doing that every day, one day I’ll reach the finish line! And, if I don’t find the time I need, I may have to look hard at the things I am making time for. I once heard a popular fiction writer in England talking about how if you just turned off EastEnders, a prime-time soap opera that runs for half an hour four nights a week, and used the time to write, in six months you would have a book.  It’s worth thinking about.col-md-2

Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 7th April 2010

For the past eighteen months I have been telling family and friends that my book will be published. Before that I was just ‘writing a book’ – an oft-heard phrase. I think many of them have grown so used to hearing about this mythical book that it will actually be quite a surprise when they see it on sale. However, waiting for family and friends’ reactions is in many ways as daunting as waiting for the reviews. Because they read it from a different perspective, knowing me and my story. And because I can’t scrunch them all up and throw them in the bin if I don’t like what they say! Although, I’m not sure I can even trust their feedback – after all, I don’t think I would tell anyone I was fond of that I thought their book was a load of rubbish – at least, not if I wanted to remain on speaking terms.

I also realised a while ago that there’s another potential problem with having people I know read my book. I’m not sure if it’s a bigger problem for me or for them really. The question is: how many of them will be looking for themselves somewhere inside the pages? Sure enough, when my mother had finished reading Come Back to Me, one of her first comments was that she hoped the character of Chloe’s mother wasn’t modelled on her! I was pleased to reassure her that it wasn’t the case. None of my characters have been modelled on anyone I know, though no doubt at times I have drawn on my own experiences with people to help me to look further into a character’s actions and motivations. But it’s very general – believe me! Although perhaps I should do a quick friend tally now, and see if anyone stops speaking to me in the next few months – the reason why, whether valid or not, might just lie within the pages of my novel.col-md-2