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GUEST BLOG: NICOLE ALEXANDER, author of A Changing Land

I’m delighted to welcome Nicole Alexander, author of the bestselling debut novel The Bark Cutters (Bantam 2010), which I had the  true privilege of reading before it was published. Her travel, poetry & genealogy articles have been published in Australia, America and Singapore and her first volume of poetry, Divertissements-Love·War·Society (Kre8 Publishing) was published in 2008. Nicole is the business manager on her family’s rural holding north west of Moree and is a regular contributor to New England Country Living Magazine. A Changing Land, her second novel, has just been published, and is already climbing the charts. Over to Nicole to tell us more:

When I signed my contract with Random House for my rural novel, The Bark Cutters, I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel. I was still getting over the excitement of landing a major publishing contract when the publisher said they would like one. However as the initial contract was for two books I excitedly wrote a one page synopsis and sent it off. Then reality set in. I had twelve months to write it. Twelve months less the editorial process involved in turning The Bark Cutters from manuscript to novel form, twelve months less a month touring for the first novel, less my normal work commitments on the property where I live 110km northwest of Moree in north western NSW.

While the concept of bringing two novels out in quick succession in order to cement your reading audience makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective, from the author’s perspective suddenly your days are measured in terms of how many words you put down on paper: In an hour, a day, a week. Eventually I wrote A Changing Land in eight months. Along the way I suspect I wrote and deleted approximately thirty thousand words, suffered from cramping in my fingers and right hand, developed a healthy fondness for merlot and became acutely conscious of how much faith a publisher must place in a new fiction writer. Publishers invest many hours and thousands of dollars in establishing new authors and I’m sure Random House were holding their collective breaths hoping I wasn’t a one book wonder. So was I!

Luckily they liked A Changing Land. The writing of this novel was made easier as I already knew the world my story was set in. I knew my environment. I can still mentally wander the landscape that is Wangallon and I can draw a mud map in the dirt as to the exact location of the Wangallon homestead, creek, aboriginal camp and river. I could envisualise my characters talking to each other and through them the plot gradually unfolded, a natural progression of the original story. The environment was so real to me I could smell it and I realised how important it is to know your created world even better than your real one, for otherwise how can you make it believeable?

For those of you who have not read The Bark Cutters, A Changing Land is a stand-alone work. You can certainly pick it up and be thrust into the continuing legacy of the Gordons. So for a brief story rundown it is about four generations of a rural family, the Gordons. The work has an interweaving narrative with the story split between 1909 and 1990.

It’s 1909 and Hamish Gordon has a large rural holding built on stock theft. Determined not to bow to his wife Claire’s genteel need for respectability, he embarks on a final stage of land acquisition. His ruthless plan, triggered by an antagonistic English neighbour nearly destroys Wangallon and has serious repercussions eighty years on.

In 1990 after the death of her grandfather and family patriarch Angus, fourth generation Sarah Gordon now runs Wangallon with her fiancé, Anthony. Their relationship begins to deteriorate when a power struggle develops between them, Sarah’s problems escalating with the arrival of her Scottish half-brother. Jim Macken is intent on receiving the thirty percent share of Wangallon bequeathed to him by Angus. Stunned by her grandfather’s will which effectively destroys the family legacy of a strong succession plan, Sarah discovers that Anthony has embarked on a project that will ultimately change the face of the property forever. Unable to buy Jim out and with the possibility of losing one third of Wangallon, Sarah finds herself fighting the law, her half-brother and her beloved Anthony.

Sarah knows she must continue in her forefathers’ footsteps, however has she the same unescapable Gordon qualities that will ensure both her and Wangallon’s survival.

I’m touring NSW/QLD to chat about A Changing Land during March & May (while trying to write book 3!) so please visit www.nicolealexander.com.au for details or contact me through my site. Enjoy!

Thanks for popping by, Nicole, and wishing you the best of luck with your novels.

The month that was… February 2011

DURING FEBRUARY I’VE BEEN…

BUSY WITH… Promotion for Beneath the Shadows. So far I have visited three gorgeous independent bookshops and four libraries proudly supported by Dymocks, and met lots of lovely people. I have only noticed one person nod off briefly during my talks (FTW!), and I think I managed to speak fairly coherently to a brilliant turn-out of 80 at one of my local libraries, Joondalup, on Tuesday night.

THINKING ABOUT… Natural disasters – surely everyone is due for a break right now. My heart goes out to those who has been affected this past month, whether by fires and storms in Perth or the earthquake in Christchurch. I first saw the terrible news from New Zealand on twitter, and it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t a good idea to watch streaming coverage. I’ve been very interested in the subsequent debate about how the media should/shouldn’t report such events, I think it’s a really important issue but a difficult one to resolve. If you are interested, check out these two articles by Jonathan Green on ABC’s The Drum, and the response from Lyndal Curtis on the same site.

READING… I am alternating between Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step (I’m a big fan of the Buddhist monk/Zen master genre!). I’m also desperate to get back to The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.

WRITING… I’ve been working on an article about London-inspired books and films for the holiday goddess travel book that will be out later this year (www.holidaygoddess.com). It’s been a wonderful piece to research, and as a result I now have an extra-long list of books to read and films to watch.

PLAYING… I’ve been building a lot of towers in my spare time, with an array of multi-coloured blocks. I’m busy trying to teach my daughter to understand that ‘per-pol’ is not the default colour of everything, and loving all the new words she comes out with every day.

Happy 2011!

Happy New Year everyone!

For me and my family, this month has been a blur of Christmas preparations, culminating in a wonderful week in Singapore. You can’t fail to get into the Christmas spirit there – it seems everyone has wholeheartedly embraced the festival, and the kids are treated to all sorts of rides, shows and activities. The schoolchildren singing carols in our lobby on Christmas Eve were particularly special. My only low-light was seeing shark fin soup in so many restaurants on Orchard Road. We’re shark fans in our family – in fact, two of the highlights of my life were seeing hammerhead sharks on a dive in the Galapagos, and swimming with whale sharks in Exmouth, WA. Many ocean and conservation experts tell of the plight of sharks and the ecological disaster that is unfolding as they begin to disappear from our seas. Turning the tide seems a daunting task but a critical one.

The New Year has also brought me a new-look website, a new blog … and, soon, a new book! Beneath the Shadows hits the shops in just a few weeks time, and I’m excited, nervous, and busy working on promotion. There will be a dedicated web page for the book on the Random House site that includes a short film, a trailer, an extra chapter, and background to the book, which will be going live in just a few weeks. In addition, I am doing events in the west in February and the eastern states in March – all details will be advertised on my site.

The wonderful team at www.holidaygoddess.com have a beautiful travel book coming at the end of this year too, and I’m very excited to be part of that project. Plus, there’s an idea that I hope to turn into a book draft by the close of 2011. Phew, it sounds busy – but then that’s just the way I like it.

From now on, I will be blogging regularly on writing, reading, and life in general…and I hope to have some guests dropping by to say hello too. Please follow me on facebook or twitter for regular updates.

Wishing you all the very best for 2011.

Sara F x

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Don’t get rejected before they’ve even read a word…

writing (2) 75 dpiPeople who work in book publishing always have a ridiculous amount of reading to get through. I once worked on what is pejoratively termed the ‘slush pile’ in the HarperCollins fiction department, where I would often be the first reader. As such, I would get to decide if the story was worth further consideration by those higher up the chain. There were so many submissions I don’t think I was ever on top of it.

So, when submitting your work, to give yourself a head start you need to make your book stand out. Why does the publisher HAVE to read it? (If you’re not sure, how can they be?) Why do you believe in what you are doing? What is it about this book that warrants the attention of the book-buying public? If you are able to provide an agent or publisher with this kind of information BEFORE they look at it, then – as long as they are enthusiastic, of course – you’re a step ahead.

How can you make a potential agent or publisher want to read a script? It’s a big question, and you should take your time and consider your approach. First and foremost you need to stop thinking like a writer and start thinking like a marketeer. Can you condense your story down into one or two awesome sentences? If you can, you’ve developed a pitch, and depending on the policy of the publisher/agent in question, you can use this to get people interested – either on the phone or via cover letters/emails. I realise this can be scary, as you might get an immediate no. But the pitch will remain important right through to the book-buying stage, because in this frenetically paced market you never have very long to grab anyone’s attention.  Don’t start pitching until you’re ready, as a publisher isn’t going to take very seriously the person who develops a new pitch every few weeks. They want to know you are focused and serious about what you are doing.

Do you know which market you’re aiming for? Have you thought about how your book will compete with others on the shelves? Why is it different? Why will readers pick up your travel book on Rome rather than the Lonely Planet’s? If you can give a publisher answers to these kinds of questions (without them having to ask), you will pique their interest. Otherwise, if such questions come up and you have no reply, you will look naïve.

Look at submissions policies very carefully and use them to your advantage. A script that comes in clean, tidy, correctly formatted according to guidelines, and with a concise covering letter will get more attention than the dog-eared, single-spaced tome with a rambling two-page explanation. Are there small embellishments you can use to draw people’s attention – artwork, for example? Be careful with using unusual fonts – only attempt it if they fit the kind of book you are working on, and remember they must still be easily readable. If you make the presentation too much of a challenge for a publisher, you are shooting yourself in the foot before you’ve begun.

Can you do anything else differently to get people’s attention? Your ploys need to be subtle, as at this stage a busy agent/publisher is doing you a favour by reading your work. When I worked in-house we would get writers ringing up demanding why we hadn’t yet got to their synopsis and outline, and that didn’t go down well. Never mind the writing, who wants to work on publishing a book with a stroppy, argumentative author. If you haven’t heard anything for a while, keep your inquiry courteous. You can remind them why they really should read your book, but be careful how far you push.

The submissions stage is one where books and dreams are made or broken. Success is a combination of skill, perseverance, patience and good fortune (and much more besides) – but the only way the final line is ever drawn is the moment you give up. Good luck!

Pages

Come Back to Me

CBTM for web‘As a writer, an exceedingly good book to me, is when I don’t notice how it’s written, but find myself completely wrapped up in the story. Come Back to Me by Sara Foster was one of those books. I couldn’t put it down and lacked sleep for a few days.’ Michelle Dennis Evans

 

‘Set in both London and Perth, this is a moving story about impossible choices, about love, and about keeping a promise you made years ago, even if it risks everything you have now. I read this in one day and was left thinking about it for days afterwards. Keep a tissue close.’ July 2011 book of the month, www.ourbookclub.com.au

 

‘Come Back to Me is a complex story of relationships and how ones long ago finished can reappear at any moment and change the path you’re on. Despite the intricacies and twists in the storyline, it’s a quick and engrossing read – I powered through it in an afternoon. So very readable  – will keep you wondering and guessing (and in my case, praying that two certain people end up together) until the very last page.’ 8/10, 1girl2manybooks – to read the full review, click here

‘…this is a book that is big on secrets, everyone seems to be keeping secrets from everyone else, and it is a book that everybody’s stories seems to somehow intertwine with others, it is a story of love and loss, how being strong and taking charge can make us a better person, and how others perceive decisions that have been made even though they were too young, or not involved enough to know the reasons behind those decisions. 4.5/5.’ The Hungry Bookshelf – to read the full review, click here

 

CBTM Kindle for webSuspenseful, heartrending and transcontinental, Come Back to Me’s dynamic scenes extend from debauchery at an office party to a shocking outback crime. A complex psychological tale, Sara Foster’s debut novel…throws us headfirst into marital distress. Set in a middle-class world of city lawyers and designers, Come Back to Me is essentially a story of consequences…With its easy prose and short chapters, this is a novel suited to air travel. Yet it is sophisticated in two ways: it carefully considers the ramifications of split-second decisions on human relationships, and it highlights the importance of a strong question to a narrative…Each character, trapped in  this undercurrent of longing, makes the story somewhat earnest. But there is a balance in carefully placed moments of the everyday, like those in the relationship between Chloe and her wayward cousin. As a result, we, the avid readers, are continually reminded of the particular strength of the characters. It is a gentle strength, but a relatable one: the strength that comes from the simple, gallant act of moving forward.’ Kirsten Law, Australian Book Review, March 2010

This taut psychological drama will keep you enthralled as the mystery and tragedy of ten years ago gradually unravels.’ Northern Daily Leader, 20 February 2010

‘Come Back to Me is a wonderful debut novel. The stories of the four main characters are interwoven, with the reader taken on a journey through their past lives and the present, with revelations continuing right till the end… There is nothing not to like about this story – intriguing characters, plot twists, action and beautiful writing combine to produce a satisfying package.’ Sally Murphy, www.aussiereviews.com

‘The novel is both a stunning thriller and complex love story. It is an entertaining read.’ Border Mail, 27 February 2010

‘A new voice on the Australian fiction scene, Foster has taken an incident that she read about years ago when travelling and uses it to tell a haunting tale about relationships and the history that binds them.’ The Examiner [Launceston], 20 February 2010

‘…a dark psychological guessing game that will surprise you all the way till the end.’ ‘Read of the Week’, NW, 22 February 2010

‘Alex is happily married when he unexpectedly comes face to face with the girl he once loved. He has to decide if he should revisit the past, and risk everything with the wife he adores. This clever novel is deftly pulled together with secrets revealed right through to the last page.’ New Idea, 13 February 2010

‘Come Back to Me is a book for anyone who likes to be surprised by multiple twists and turns. Brilliant.’ http://www.thereadingstack.blogspot.com/

‘This is a very promising debut, with a storyline teeming with slowly revealed secrets and unexpected turns.’ http://www.chicklitclub.com

‘There’s no leisurely introduction to this story. Chloe and her husband Alex go to dine with her colleague Mark and his new date, Julia. But when Alex is introduced to Julia, it is soon apparent that something is very wrong. Julia vanishes, Alex is silent, Mark is furious, and Chloe struggles with her own secret as well as wondering about Alex’s past. Alex decides the only way for closure is to take Julia back to Perth where something dreadful happened. But in doing so, will he lose all he has? Can Julia face the past – and finally tell the truth? It’s a book to read in one sitting – you’ll be enthralled by the disquieting possibilities.’ Woman’s Day, 1 February 2010

‘What-ifs are the heart and soul of any good relationship story: what if we had stayed together, what if I had married someone different, what if I wasn’t having a baby? Here, Foster ties together all those life-crisis questions with the mysterious arrival of a missing ex-girlfriend. Although this will almost exclusively appeal to women, it is far from light and fluffy… [Rated 4/5 stars]’ The West Australian, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

‘A gripping read. Rewarding to the very end.’ Nicole Alexander, author of The Bark Cutters

For author interviews and general media, click here

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.