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Wild encounters: meeting my muse

DolphinThe Indian Ocean on Sunday was cold enough to steal your breath, but we barely noticed. For the fourth time in my life I had the privilege of swimming with dolphins in their own environment – on this occasion with Rockingham Wild Encounters. There are approximately 200 dolphins in the area, and every day the boat sets out to find them. If they are lucky enough to come across a group willing to socialise, tourists enter the water in small groups and form chains by holding onto each other’s weight belts, while being towed along. This calm entry and relaxed behaviour in the water causes minimal disturbance, and the dolphins respond enthusiastically, swimming close enough that I was half expecting to feel the hefty flick of a fin or tail. There is a ‘no touching the dolphins’ rule on the tour – stipulated because skin contact can pass on harmful bacteria. However, this also means is that these dolphins are used to humans who keep a respectful distance, and as a result they are prepared to come much nearer, and even bring their young close too. At one stage on Sunday we had nine dolphins around us – and a dolphin even stopped and ‘buzzed’ me – just like Nicky the dolphin does to Desi in Shallow Breath (and if you’ve read the book you’ll know what that means!)

They stayed and swam with us on Sunday because they wanted to – there was no feeding, no tank walls, no training or tricks. When they’d had enough they moved on, and we got back on the boat and tried to find another group who might want to play. We saw them nursing, playing, rooting in the sand for prey, and swimming as a pod, the mothers and aunties hovering protectively over the youngsters. It was beautiful. As always, while in the water with them I briefly forgot everything else.

A dolphin’s use of echolocation gives them a kind of X-ray vision. They can see right through us. Scientists are still examining exactly what they might see, but perhaps it’s more interesting to note what they won’t see. They don’t see us driving our cars, building houses and cities or destroying them. They don’t see the shopping malls, the skyscrapers, our artwork, our aeroplanes, our space rockets, or our televisions. They know nothing of the world wide web. What they might see is an ungainly group of visitors, who can’t hope to match their graceful silhouettes, who breathe heavily through plastic snorkels. Masters of their own environment, they can see right through us.

The dolphins on Sunday reminded me of exactly why I wrote Shallow Breath.

 

 

Books now on Kindle

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Win 12 – TWELVE! – books by Australian authors (ANZ and UK competition)…

Want to the chance to win 12  – yes, TWELVE! – books? Win all 12 fiction titles written by myself, Natasha Lester, Emma Chapman, Dawn Barker, Amanda Curtin and Annabel Smith.

Just click on the books to join in – good luck! (Books posted to Australian and UK addresses only.)

 

13.04 Giveaway Collage

 

 

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A new collaborative blog and my writing process

This is my first post as part of a new collaborative venture with five other fantastic Perth-based writers, in a series we’ve called Writers Ask Writers. Each month we’ll be sharing our thoughts and experiences on the same topics, beginning with our writing process. However, before I get on to that, let me introduce you to the others:

 

PWFC author collage

 

Dawn Barker is the author of the widely praised novel Fractured, which was published earlier this year by Hachette. She is currently hard at work on her second book.

Emma Chapman’s first novel, How to Be a Good Wife, has already  been published in the UK and Australia and sold in the US and and across Europe. It has received extensive praise, including a fantastic endorsement by Hilary Mantel!

Amanda Curtin has won numerous awards for her fiction and short fiction, and is the author of a collection of short stories, Inherited, and two novels, The Sinkings and Elemental (the latter will be on sale in seven days – and Amanda is busy counting down with teasers on her blog!)

Natasha Lester won the TAG Hungerford award for her first novel, What is Left Over, After, and released her second book, If I Should Lose You, late last year.

Annabel Smith is the author of two novels, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the West Australian Premier’s Book Awards. Her third novel, The Ark, will be released as an interactive digital app later this year.

Writing is often a solitary business so it is a pleasure to be part of this group, and I am already learning a lot from them. You’ll find links to their thoughts on their own writing processes at the bottom of this post, but now I will move on to telling you about mine…

 

Oh how I wish it were that easy to reflect on my writing process! I remember hearing of a very well-known children’s author who every day, without fail, writes 500 new words and edits the words written the previous day. I lust after the idea of such a structured way of working, but in my semi-chaotic life it rarely happens.

Come Back to Me, my first novel, was written over four years, back when there was no pressure of a deadline. Even then I needed to take a three-month hiatus from my day job as a book editor to really tackle and finish the story. Beneath the Shadows was the first time I’d had a deadline and I also had a new baby by my side, so a combination of adrenalin and terror saw that one through. It was also during this time that Come Back to Me was published, and people asked questions about my ‘writing process’ for the first time. So it was really only at this point that I began to reflect on it.

There are things I have always done as a writer. I have always had ideas in the middle of the night, while sipping coffee at the shops, or on a long journey – those times when my mind has been a little less crowded with the other affairs of the day. I call them ‘snippets’ – they might be a phrase, a word, something to research, the beginnings of a scene – and I write them down immediately and try to file them appropriately so that I can come back to them. Other than that, I usually hold a story in my head for quite a long time without  making any formal attempt to write it down. During this time I’m getting to know the different characters, looking at the plot, and basically seeing if this concept is strong enough to gain a hold on me. One thing I don’t have a problem with is ideas for stories – but although they come to me regularly, not all of them are enticing enough for me to want to chase them down and capture them on the page. So I like to let things sit and settle before I write.

Chapter planning for Shallow Breath with stylish pink Post-Its!

Chapter planning for Shallow Breath with stylish pink Post-Its!

Life ALWAYS gets in the way of writing! Sometimes I let it, because I don’t want to be too obsessive and because my books often develop nicely, and in unexpected ways, while I’m doing other things. However, during this time the core of my story is growing in my mind, like a bubble, and when I feel the pressure of it increasing I know it’s time to sit down, let everything else take a back seat, and start to write. This all sounds very organic – however, it’s not so easy when there’s a publishing contract and a big X on the calendar marking the deadline for Draft 1. So, if it feels like it’s taking too long to start writing, I speed this process up by researching.

Researching a novel is, for me, one of the greatest joys of writing. I want to try to live in my story as much as possible, which means getting inside the heads of the characters, and visiting the locations of my story – in person if I can, otherwise through books and movies, online clips and everything else I can find. Researching a book leads me towards experiences I would never otherwise have, and the opportunity to learn and observe life outside my own little sphere is a blessing, opening my mind even when what I’m looking at is difficult or traumatic – as it sometimes was with Shallow Breath.  At times it’s very hard to let the research go and start the story, and with Shallow Breath it required a short period of adjustment to release myself from an avalanche of factual information and get back to my characters’ lives. However, researching a book means I’m always learning about my topic, and gaining new ideas on where I might go with my story.

Once I’ve begun to write those terrible first drafts, I use what I call a ‘building block’ process. This means that when I have written chapter 2, I return to chapter 1 and read the whole thing together to see how it works. I do this all the time, going back over sections or sometimes the whole book, shoring up the foundations of the story as I go, so that I probably read chapter 1 many more times over than I do the final chapter. This doesn’t make my story finished when I get to the end of the first draft, but it does make the sometimes arduous editing stage a little easier. Along the way I’m usually checking all those snippets to see what might fit with the story, or inserting sections I might have written out of order because they were particularly assertive and just wouldn’t wait their turn.

Finally, with deadlines there is little time to get caught up with writer’s block, but that doesn’t stop me from getting stuck. When that happens I go back to planning – I record the outlines of each chapter on a document and try to figure out why I’ve fallen into a fug – because getting stuck is usually a signal to me that the story has gone off track. Writing became a lot easier when I realized I didn’t have to fear these moments, because writing the wrong words might ultimately point me in the right direction.

So, now you know a little more about how I work, check out what the others have to say – I found it fascinating to see how we’re similar in some aspects but very different too.

‘The most important thing for me when I write is knowing that I won’t be interrupted, even if that’s only for an hour.’ Read about Dawn Barker’s writing process here.

‘I imagine I am looking at the book through the eyes of someone I admire: a favourite writer or my agent, and ask myself what they would say about each scene, each sentence.’ Read about Emma Chapman’s writing process here.

Process seems to imply a series of steps—linear, organised, focused. What I do is more spidery than that. And it’s been different for each work, although there are threads common to all.’ Read about Amanda Curtin’s writing process here.

‘I try not to edit at all when I’m writing a first draft. I need to get the draft out, fill in the flesh of the story and not slow myself down by polishing words and sentences until they shine like little nuggets of gold. That can happen later, in the redraft.’ Read about Natasha Lester’s writing process here.

‘I may begin with a single scene in mind, a setting, a character. I don’t research, or make notes, or even spend time imagining. I simply sit down and begin writing and see where the story leads.’ Read about Annabel Smith’s writing process here.

 

Back home, to good news and bad news in the world of conversation

Cryptic clue! This may well feature in my next book!

Cryptic clue! This may well feature in my next book!

I had a really interesting time in the UK researching for a new book – and I met some lovely people who were extremely helpful answering my questions. Now, it’s time to start writing. I’m hoping I can get past those first few scary pages without too much trouble, and that I’ll soon be immersed in this new story. Can’t wait to tell you all more in a few months!

On our return, I was really sad to learn that Semeru, one of the orangutans released into the Sumatran jungle by Perth Zoo, had died from the effects of a snake bite. I based one of the story strands in Shallow Breath on a fictional version of this project, and from all the research I’ve done I know this will have been  a huge blow to everyone involved. Perhaps it is some consolation that Semeru got to experience his last eighteen months in the wild.

My family, including  2-week-old, are in the B of Kimberley in this 2009 protest.

My family, including 2-week-old, are in the B of Kimberley in this 2009 protest.

A few days later came the news that the Kimberley gas project at James Price Point has been abandoned. As a long-time supporter of the protests against this short-sighted venture, which would have been catastrophic for this pristine wilderness area, I was overjoyed to hear the news. Since then I’ve loved seeing pictures of the celebrations by the protesters who have been camped up there for so long, and who deserve much credit for putting themselves on the line.

374520_557738140910921_934599965_nThis month I’m still doing some promotion for Shallow Breath – stay tuned on this site, facebook and twitter for a few new competitions coming up. If you’re in WA, please come along to Wanneroo library next weekend between 1 and 4 pm if you’d like to learn more about Atlantis, the marine park which featured in Shallow Breath, or share your memories. I’ll be reading from the book at various points during the afternoon.