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BOOK LOVE: The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain

Dear Anna,

What I have to tell you is difficult to write, but I know it will be far more difficult for you to hear, and I’m so sorry…

The unfinished letter is the only clue Tara and Emerson have to the reason behind their close friend Noelle’s suicide. Everything they knew about Noelle—her calling as a midwife, her passion for causes, her love for her friends and family—described a woman who embraced life.

Yet there was so much they didn’t know.

With the discovery of the letter and its heartbreaking secret, Noelle’s friends begin to uncover the truth about this complex woman who touched each of their lives—and the life of a desperate stranger—with love and betrayal, compassion and deceit.

This is a story about friendship, fate, and impossible choices, and it had me ignoring everything I should have been doing until I’d finished. The characters and their circumstances were so vivid (I loved the teenage Grace), and the slow unravelling of the chain of secrets was beautifully crafted. I’m looking forward to reading more by Diane Chamberlain.

(Thanks to my friend Jen for the recommendation!)

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The big picture – and what’s next

I’m still pinching myself that now I have two books out in the big book-buying world. Friends keep asking me how it feels, and to be honest I’m not sure I’ve really taken it in. What with the busy promotional blitz and caring for a toddler, I’m usually doing something work or child-related from the moment I get up until I go to bed, and when my head hits the pillow it’s lights out pretty quickly! But the publication of Beneath the Shadows marks the end of my first two-book deal in Australia, and already I am thinking about what I want to do next. I have two firm ideas that seem to be developing in tandem in my head, and I’m really excited about both of them. I don’t like sharing much of my writing until I’m finished – I’m a bit secretive like that – but my overall plan is that the first will be a complicated love story set around a passion for the sea, and the second is a family mystery with photography as an underpinning theme.  

It is both daunting and exciting to be very close to moving on from projects that have consumed the last few years of my life. I can’t wait to write something new, but thinking about what I hope to achieve next has led me to some reflection on what my overall goals are in my writing. Many aspects of my writing lend themselves to lots of other books too – most of us are touching on universal themes of love, friendship, journeys, psychology, freedom, fears and longing in one form or another. But I’m very interested in examining the psychology of traumatic events, and the different ways people try to cope with what fate deals them. I want readers to grow attached to my characters – not necessarily agree with them, but certainly relate to them, and recognise aspects of them in themselves or others.

I love to tell stories through the medium of suspense, with compelling chapters and twists and turns, because it’s what I want to read –there’s nothing better than a story that grips you. All that drama! The biggest compliment you can give me is saying you couldn’t put my books down – I want to grab my readers, pull them into the world I’m creating and completely absorb them until we’re finished. I hope I’ve achieved that in my first two books, but there is still plenty more to come.

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Finally, perhaps an end to whaling

breaching whale

My passion for the sea and marine life meant I was thrilled on Friday, when the Australian government announced they would press ahead with legal action to try to stop whaling in the Antarctic. It’s been a long time coming, but hopefully this will prove to be a true step towards change. Of course, the real celebration will come when whaling actually ends for good.

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On pursuing publication

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.

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About

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT ME

I live in Perth, Western Australia, with my husband and two young daughters.

Before I was a writer I worked as a book editor, at first in-house at HarperCollins UK and then freelance. I’ve edited and proofread well over 100 books, fiction and non-fiction, including novels by Paullina Simons, Kathryn Fox and Liane Moriarty.

My favourite authors include Maggie O’Farrell, Toni Morrison, Nicci French, Sara Gruen, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Wendy James, Kate Morton, Liane Moriarty and Jodi Picoult.

My favourite books include The Secret River by Kate Grenville, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, The Shifting Fog by Kate Morton, and After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell. The list goes on and on.

My favourite poetry collection is The Self-Completing Tree by Dorothy Livesay.

I was one of the original editors of the Kids’ Night In book series, which has been raising money for War Child since 2003.

I’m very lucky to belong to a writers’ group that includes Amanda Curtin, Natasha Lester, Annabel Smith, Yvette Walker, Dawn Barker and Emma Chapman.

I’m a huge fan of dystopian fiction, and I’m studying the genre for my PhD at Curtin University. My favourites include The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, and Pure by Julianna Baggott.

As a kid, in addition to devouring Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton books,  I loved the Sue Barton nurse stories and Gerald Durrell’s animal adventures. Later on I read everything written by the Brontes, and devoured the dark thrillers of Lois Duncan and Christopher Pike.

I was born and raised in England, but I’ve always had family connections to Australia, and we visited the east coast a few times during my childhood. My introduction to Australian literature was reading All the Rivers Run by Nancy Cato, and after that I wanted to be Delie Gordon for quite a while. In 1999 I made sure I got to stand at the wheel of the Philadelphia paddle steamer  when we visited the Murray River region.

My first pop concert, aged 12, was a Stock Aitken and Waterman event featuring my first love Jason Donovan. I was on a high for weeks afterwards. Little did I know that twenty years later I would end up editing his autobiography.

I love marine animals, and in the past (before children!) I have been a keen scuba diver. I’ve played with baby sea lions, penguins and marine iguanas in the Galapagos and scuba dived with Galapagos reef sharks and hammerhead sharks. I’ve glided with manta rays in Coral Bay (WA) and the Similan Islands in Thailand, encountered huge potato cod and graceful minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef, and swum with the mighty whale sharks of Ningaloo. I have experienced the absolute joy of being surrounded by wild dolphins in New Zealand and WA waters, and had the very special experience of a dolphin ‘buzzing’ me while I was pregnant (using concentrated echolocation to ‘see’ the baby).

In 2011 I went to Japan while researching Shallow Breath, and visited Taiji, the town famous for its horrific dolphin drives. I was only there for two days, and I didn’t have to witness the brutal hunt up close, although I watched the banger boats drive the dolphins in from a distance. However, I did encounter the dolphins in captivity in the sea pens, being broken and starved while trained for human entertainment. Those images will stay with me forever.

I met my husband Matt when I was nineteen. We both love to travel, and we tend to pick places where we can pursue our passions for animal encounters and the natural world. Our highlights include four months in South-East Asia, including chartering a tiny vessel to Komodo Island and staying amongst the dragons. We got engaged on an island full of monkeys in Halong Bay, Vietnam, and  for our honeymoon we visited Machu Picchu, Iguazu Falls, the Galapagos Islands, and travelled into the heart of the Manu Biosphere of the Amazon to see everything from capybaras to caimans. Now our two girls are getting older, we are excited about planning our next adventures.