Sam van Zweden




Admiration/Inspiration Thursday with Steph Bowe

If you haven’t heard this name by now you must be hiding under a rock. Also, if this is your first introduction to Steph Bowe you’ll now become accutely aware of just how EVERYWHERE she is at the moment.

Steph Bowe is a sixteen year-old Melbourne novelist. Her first novel, Girl Saves Boy has just been published through Text. It was greatly anticipated, and has been met with huge amounts of enthusiasm. I was one of them – I was anticipating. I am enthusiastic.

Girl Saves Boy is a sophisticated novel about two teenagers both struggling with some huge issues. I admire Steph not only for achieving so much at such a young age, but also for being such a brave writer. She tackles big issues which many YA novels would be too superficial to touch. She even uses unusual character names, and you really need to have great characters to convincingly fill the shoes of people with names “Big Al”, “True” and “Jewel”. Steph pulls it off.

I also saw Steph speak at a panel this year at the Emerging Writers Festival, and she’s incredibly switched on. I get a lot out of reading her blog, Hey! Teenager of the year, where Steph posts a whole range of things from reviews and interviews, which she executes very well, through to inspiration posts (which is where the original idea for this one came from, so thanks Steph!) and posts reflecting on her position in the writing world. I think these posts are the ones I appreciate the most – Steph talks about how publication isn’t an end-point, and she doesn’t get too swept up in the fanfare – she’s certainly never become arrogant because of her success. Her reflective posts are something we can all think about, no matter where you are in your writing career.

I managed to have an incredibly brief chat with Steph (a number of things conspire against me at the moment, but that’s another post):

You’re a sixteen year-old novelist. Quite a celebrated one, at that – how does all that fit in with your regular life?
I do school by correspondence, which means I’ve got a whole lot more time than someone going to school for  seven hours every weekday, and I’m also pretty disciplined and self-motivated. My life now is the same as it was a year ago, except I just have more pressures and responsibilities. I perpetually feel like I’m behind the eight ball, and it’s difficult to stay on top of my various commitments – when you’ve got lots of schoolwork and writing and appearances and family stuff going on, it’s very difficult to find time to go out and relax or just do nothing – but my life is obviously still very normal (with the exception of the fact that I don’t go to school), and I’d say other teenagers feel similarly overwhelmed. Life is very busy!
How do you feel about the fact that there’s been so much attention to your age? Do you feel that, as a teen novelist, you’ve got a better feel for what readers your own age are looking for in a book? I certainly noticed that your book doesn’t dumb down or get superficial, like you have confidence in your readers.
I think as long as a writer likes and has respect for their audience, they’re capable of writing books for them. If you dislike teenagers, irrespective of your age, you’ll probably talk down to them in your writing. But you can be eighteen or eighty, and if you respect teenagers, you can write for them. The teenage experience hasn’t changed a whole lot over time – it’s about big emotions and feeling things for the first time and figuring out who you are. I just tried to write the sort of book me or someone like me would enjoy. I think the attention to my age can be annoying (people saying ‘oh, it’s a good book FOR A TEENAGER!’ drives me insane – you either like or dislike a book, the author or their age shouldn’t come into the equation), but I think it’s been helpful in that people, especially young people, have become interested in my age because of it.
Congratulations, by the way, on writing such a wonderful book! I just finished reading it, and I was really impressed by what you’ve done. You tackle some really heavy stuff in the book – mortality and guilt, blame, teenage sexuality and adolescent confusion. You’ve certainly taken on some things that are much bigger than what other YA novels seem to tackle – was this important to you?
I think that all teenagers are confronted with and think about these kinds of issues, and I think reading books are a really good way to explore experiences you might never have. And so for me, writing this was sort of 1) telling this story I had stuck in my head that wouldn’t leave me alone, and 2) really thinking about these issues and figuring out stuff for myself. I think there are quite a lot of YA books that tackle big issues, and others have lighter content, but they all express something worthwhile and can be enjoyable and/or thought-provoking for those reading them, whether they’re teens or adults.
And what kind of process did you go through to write this book – you’ve got some stunning detail in there that would have required a pretty intimate knowledge of issues, so did you spend some really hardcore time researching?
I’m actually not a particularly big fan of research, so I didn’t do a lot – I had to have a basic knowledge of what I was writing about so that I’d be confident having that detail, but at the same time the book is a lot more about the characters and emotional content than cancer or anorexia – I didn’t want it to be an issues book, but there are issues in it. The process started with months of the ideas growing into my head, and then once I knew what I wanted to write about, I researched a bit. And from there I wrote it, researching a bit more when I was trying to relate to the characters experiences and make them as believable as possible.

Thanks to Steph Bowe for answering my questions, go read her blog and buy her book. They’re both pretty awesome.

Admiration/Inspiration Thursdays with Mercedes M Yardley

This week, Mercedes M Yardley is our very welcome guest.

Mercedes is from Vegas, and she juggles two kids, a husband and a writing career. A writing career which is shooting pretty rapidly upwards at the moment, too. She writes pretty much everything – fiction, non-fiction, short-stories, a novel. Her blog, “A Broken Laptop” is updated regularly with updates about her writing practice and her thoughts on the world.

I came across Mercedes when I first joined WordPress, and have been reading ever since. I’ve even taken up some of her methods for working. My favourite? Her commitment to always have a certain amount of pieces out with publishers. I now have a running note in my journal: “Pieces out: X. Goal: Y.” It keeps me honest. And it’s paid off for Mercedes: her name has appeared in a huge number of publications, she’s won a bunch of competitions, and has just been picked up by an agent.

I admire Mercedes for her absolute commitment to making her writing work, despite all the crap life throws at her. Between caring for one child with Williams Syndrome and another who suffers from seizures, and being a good wife (she bakes!), Mercedes makes time in her day not only for writing, but for joy. Hats off to that!

She also takes FANTASTIC bio shots – check it out! :

How long have you been writing? 
I’ve been writing forever, but I’ve only been submitting to markets for about three years.  I’m still bright and shiny and new.

Your fictional work is about horror – what attracts you to the genre?
I like the darkness.  I think a little bit of fear is sexy.  That said, I tend to write “whimsical horror” instead of straight-up horror.  I don’t enjoy gore and I don’t enjoy scenes where the characters are being abused for the sake of abusing them.  I like my darkness to be twisty and fun.  Think Tim Burton.  Think Neil Gaiman.  That’s what I get a rush out of.  So my character stabs a boy in the heart with a sharp stick.  She did it out of love.  She did it to save him.  There’s always a lightness even in my darkest dark.  That is very much by choice.

What does a typical day in the life of Mercedes M Yardley look like?
My typical day is full of glamour and butterfly wings.  I wish! I’m a stay-at-home mom with two small kids.  My days are spent rushing about madly.  I try to keep up with my reading (Shock Totem slush, books for review, stories to critique for others, and, oh yes, fun) and fit exercising and writing into every day.  It’s a struggle sometimes.  But I try to keep the whimsy with me.  Every day I try to do something creative.  Writing, certainly, or I sit down at the piano and play.  The kids and I dance a lot.  I’ll jump on the trampoline and swing on the swings pretty much every day.  I’ll bake.  If I don’t keep things interesting, I get bored and become An Adult.  And we all know that Adults never have any fun.

Describe your writing process.
I’m very free-spirited when it comes to writing.  I don’t plan things out; I just type as fast as I can and see what happens.  I think that one of my strengths is that I’m hungry.  I get an idea and I want to see it, I want to know how it turns out, I want to fall in love with the villain (I love villains) and I want this to happen as quickly as possible. I’ll think about my characters and their traits, but I don’t really plot in my head or have an outline.  It’s like a lovely rollercoaster ride.  It’s thrilling.

You have an incredibly busy life, what tricks do you use to make the time and keep yourself writing?
I never sleep.  That’s pretty much true.  It’s always been this way.

I have also learned to budget my time and make sacrifices.  It’s impossible to write when both kids are home, so I know that I can only write when my son is at school or when they’re both in bed.  When that time comes, I’m not dawdling.  I’m writing RIGHT THEN because it’s the only time that I have. It is very precious.  I have to sacrifice some of the other things that I’d rather be doing in order to write.  I have to look at the long term.  In another ten years, will I be pleased that I spent an hour tonight looking at, or will I be pleased that I wrote that new scene for my book?  It’s horribly pragmatic, but it helps keep my priorities in order.  (Maybe just ten minutes of HappyChair.)  😉

Here’s another trick: Twitter.  I get on there, stomp around, make writing friends who support and encourage me, and then I challenge them to some sort of a contest.  A “I can write more than you!” or “I can publish a star story first!” or “Whoever makes it into this anthology wins” contest.  With consequences.  It’s a lot of fun, it’s extremely motivating, and it’s an excuse to play with friends and call it “working”.

And last but certainly not least, I have The Best. Writing Group. In The World.  I am not kidding you.  We read, we write, we nearly come to blows over our critiques, we hang out together and we have fun.  That’s dedication.  We have these amazing meetings every Tuesday night, and if you don’t have a piece to present, you can’t come.  That rule alone forces me to churn out something every week.  My Interdimensional Wombats are gold, I tell you. 

What kind of a role does your blogging play in your writing?
A blog is extremely valuable to me because I’ve met a lot of people that way.  Twitter is fun for conversation but blogs are better for content. My favourite bloggy thing right now is a series that I’m doing called “Be Mysterious: Writers in Masks” where authors send in a picture of themselves with their faces obscured in some way, and a blurb.  I dig it.  I love seeing these fabulous people portraying themselves in a mysterious light.  I look forward to every piece that comes in.

And right now my friend and fellow author Simon C. Larter and I are doing a kind of noir-ish serial blog project.  We each write a section a week and post it to our respective blogs.  Sometimes I forget how much fun writing is, but this project has reminded me. It’s wickedly delicious.

One of your latest projects is “Shock Totem”, a journal with the subtitle “Curious Tales of the Macabre & Twisted”, which I have to say is a pretty gripping title! Tell us a little about that, and how it’s all going.
It’s going quite well!  My piece “Murder for Beginners” appeared in the first issue, and about six months later they asked me to join as staff.  It’s a great experience for me.  I get to hang out with very cool people who care a lot about literature.  It takes an insane amount of time to choose stories and cover art and that sort of thing.  I never realized how much time, so my respect for magazines has skyrocketed.  I also write nonfiction for them, and it’s cool to write about real life horror.  We just released Issue #2, and I have a very personal, very soul-baring piece in there.  I’m a bit terrified to have it out there, quite honestly, but you never grow if you don’t do scary things.  In fact, my New Year’s resolution for the past few years has been “Do Things That Scare Me”. 

Congratulations are in order, Mercedes – a piece of yours has just been accepted for “Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters With the Beasts Within”. Your work appears alongside names like Chuck Palahniuk, H.P Lovecraft, Charlaine Harris and Neil Gaiman – you must be absolutely stoked! What’s that been like?
Oh my goodness, it’s been a dream!  I feel very honoured.  I also feel deliciously devious, like, “Yes, I crept into this anthology and it’s too late to kick me out!  Bwa ha ha!”  Working with John Skipp has been a pleasure.  He’s a delightful man, very encouraging and friendly.  He makes me feel like it’s perfectly natural to be included with such high profile authors. He acts like it isn’t strange, no, it isn’t strange at all.

You work on a really wide variety of writing – poetry, short stories, non-fiction, novels. Do you choose to work this way because you’re unable to pin yourself to any one genre, or is it more that you’ve just seen opportunities arise and made your writing fit those opportunities?
I like variety.  I like to see what I can do, and I like to stretch my wings.  I’ve always written stories and I’ve always written essays.  I’ve never seen them as mutually exclusive.  I enjoy it all, and the versatility is nice.  I see no reason to confine myself to one genre. Why do that when there are so many different things to explore?

What’s on the cards next for you, what can we look forward to?
Well, Werewolves and Shape Shifters: Encounters with the Beast Within comes out in October.  I’m in the Hint Fiction anthology with some other astounding authors (Joyce Carol Oates, Ha Jin, and F. Paul Wilson, for example. I die!) and that comes out in November.  I’m delighted to announce that I’m now represented by the very cool Jason Yarn at Paradigm (Yay! Yay, hooray!)  so perhaps we’ll hear something on the novel front.  Right now I’m working on a memoir about my son’s rare genetic syndrome and also a book of short stories.  So I’m busy, and maybe these pieces will see the light of day.  Who knows?  Life is such a gamble.

Thank you so much for having me, Sam! It’s been fun.

Thanks to Mercedes for joining us today for A/I Thursday – check out her blog and keep an eye open for this woman, she’s on the way UP!

Admiration/Inspiration Thursday with Benjamin Solah

It’s here! The new meme is here!

Admiration/Inspiration Thursday will appear on LGWABP once a week, featuring an interview with someone I admire for some reason, or a collection of things that are inspiring my writing that week.

This week’s guest for A/I Thursday is Benjamin Solah, Marxist Horror blogger. I’ve been reading Ben’s blog for a few months now, and had the good fortune of meeting him in the flesh during the EWF this year at multiple events.

Ben’s been chosen for A/I Thursday because of his sheer awesomeness and drive. He balances writing, blogging, and an incredibly active political involvement. His blog is a mashing-together of all these things – when I first saw this I squirmed a bit, but after reading it for a while I’ve realised that this entirely eclectic mixture really works. I’m not disinterested in politics, but it’s certainly not something I’m passionate about – I truly admire Benjamin’s investment in it, and how passionate he is. Just check out that picture below – you can see it!

Benjamin makes politics accessible for cretins like myself, and keeps a good levels of personal involvement in what he blogs about, so that it takes on an extra level of interest.

I admire him. He inspires me. I caught up with Benjamin for a chat.

Five words to tell us who you are.
Geeky Marxist Horror Writer/Blogger

You have quite an interesting blog – you combine your passion for politics with your love of writing, along with some tidbits from your personal life. It’s a pretty eclectic mix, but somehow you pull it off. Tell us a bit about how you make it work.
If it indeed it does work, and sometimes I doubt it does, I think it comes to the fact that I started the blog for myself more than for other people. I was naïve and had no idea about niches and audience and I think that could’ve been disorienting in this case.
I just write what I feel like. Some days some politicians pisses me off and I want to rant about it, other days there’s some debate about publishing I want to engage with.
If I felt like I had to manage a delicate balance between content, or write about one thing, it would be obvious to those that are reading. Sometimes the news is boring and there’s nothing political to write about. Other times, I’m not writing and too engrossed in a particular issue. I think that ability to sometimes switch off from one section helps too.

Your blog is starting to be recognized in the writing community as an emerging force-to-be-reckoned-with, how have you responded to that?
Wow, that’s quite a statement. I think I might quote that somewhere 😉 Despite what I said before, there is still very much something extroverted about blogging and so I enjoy getting a lot of attention around particular things I’ve written and the discussion it can prompt.
I’d like to say that I’ve just gone on and done what I’ve always done but I have to admit sometimes feeling the desire to tap into this audience and writing to cater to this writing community.

You update your blog quite frequently; how do you keep finding material?
There seems to be always a million things and questions running through my head so it’s usually not a matter of looking for material but working out which ones to go with. I read news and blogs quite frequently so often political issues and debates appear that prompt me to respond which is a large part of political blogging as well as more nuanced debates within the socialist movement that appear now and again such as anti-consumerist politics.
With writing, there’s a variety of blogs and events to bounce off. Whether I’ve been to a launch, there’s some debate about publishing or I’ve come into a problem during my own process of writing such as with editing or through feedback.
Then there are things like #Friday Flash which give me regular slots to fill.

You’re a very busy man – you work, you write, you go to loads of events, you read a heap, you can be found at most leftist rallies in Melbourne – how the hell do you manage to fit it all in?!
The key for me had been that I don’t do all that much work. Let’s hope my boss isn’t reading this but I have a bit of freedom in my job that I can fit writing, blogging and most things I need a computer for between the hours of 9 to 5 which is handy because with being a socialist, some weeks I have no time outside of work hours to write.
Protests and political meetings tend to come first on my list of priorities and it’s about saying this is a ‘must go to’ thing more so than I’d say about my job. It takes a while for the people around you to understand but eventually they caught on. I’m working on making people understand this about my writing.
And I wished, with all of this, that I had more time to read more!

You describe your writing as “Marxist Horror”, and are currently working on a collection of such stories… Describe to us what that is, and tell us a bit about your current project.
Marxist horror is a genre I kind of loosely defined myself that basically entails dark, usually violent, horror stories about the capitalist world we live in from a Marxist perspective. Sometimes you could even take stories out of the news and it would fit like stories of war, oppression and exploitation. But I think the genre is about amplifying the horrors, blowing them up and making them confronting and in your face so people see what’s really wrong with society.
The collection, Capital Comes Dripping, began as way to focus myself on a variety of smaller pieces as one whole collection including a novella about zombie fascists. It’s a wide variety of pieces now including a lot more poetry than I first envisioned and they deal with different issues and problems with capitalism, whether it is the exploitation of workers, homophobia, sexism, war, racism.
I think it’s an easier way for a reader to get a broad and whole idea of what I’m on about as opposed to a novel. A novel might focus on one issue, or try to look them in a broad sense, or moult of few issues together but a collection can focus on a lot of things and hopefully they tie together in a sense and draw out the connections between a lot of the world’s problems.

Are there any writers you would say have influenced you in your writing?
The closest writer to me would probably be China Miéville, who’s a Speculative Fiction writer from Britain that’s quite dark in a lot of his work whilst also subscribing to my particular Marxist school of thought, Trotskyism though his writing tends to be less political explicit than my stuff.
But before politics, I was just influenced by mostly horror. I was obsessed with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps as a kid and later the goriest horror movies you could find. I love Stephen King, read a lot of it and think his work has a lot more depth than people care to admit.
And then you look at the political fiction, Steinbeck, Orwell, Fight Club and kind of it kind of merges together unconsciously. I don’t think the two are as far apart as they might seem. The Grapes of Wrath is amazing. It illustrates something more horrible (The Great Depression with food being left to rot whilst people starve) than anything King could come up with.
And finally, if you look at the way the early Marxist writers polemicise against capitalism, the imagery and language they use is so dark and horror-like – from Karl Marx, “Capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt,” to Engels describing the conditions of industrialisation in Britain to Rose Luxemburg:
“Violated, dishonored, wading in blood, dripping filth – there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretense to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law – but the ravening beast, the witches’ sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form.”

And how did you come up with such a genre? Did you find yourself accidentally sliding your politics into stories, or do you do it more consciously as a political statement?
The politics kind of naturally slid into my writing. It wasn’t dogmatic or forced as some people might imagination like agit-prop literature. It would’ve been more forced if I tried to keep my writing and political ideas separate which is what I tried to do for a time.
If you’re writing any fiction but with me, horror, you write about the things that scare you. It just so happens that as a Marxist and someone that hates capitalism the things that scare me are the political; the vilification of Muslims to violent ends, bombs raining down on Afghanistan, being chained to work for the wealth of someone else and spending the majority of your waking hours working, refugees being locked behind razor wire and people feeling so insecure about their sexuality that it drives them to suicide.
It’s natural that these things are what I write about because it’s what I think about all the time.
I tend to try and avoid seeing writing as a political statement even though it can be because I don’t want people to see me writing as the main game in changing the world. I don’t think writing can substitute for actually getting off your arse and doing something, getting out on the streets, convincing others. For me, mass action is the real political statement, but that said, I hope my writing can inspire people to get involved in that, that perhaps they already sense there’s something wrong with the world but just maybe I describe it in a particular way or connect with them on a personal level that is pushes them to get out there and do that, to get involved.

Do you have any advice for people like yourself? And who, indeed, are these “people like yourself”?
I’m not sure there are people quite like myself. I’m sure there are some people that are pretty close and in that case, they ought to get in contact with me.
But for emerging, perhaps politically engaged writers, you just need to write and get out there and see the world. If you want to write political fiction, it’s probably best you don’t lock yourself away because you need to see what’s wrong or right about the world for yourself in order to write about it.
And submit, and go to events and blog and leave comments on people’s blogs (like mine) and have conversations.

And what’s next on the cards for Benjamin Solah?
Aside from working on various projects, I’m doing a bit of performance poetry. I’m trying to get out to some different open mic nights to read a small selection of poems I have. I’m finding it quite new and exciting, getting to get angry in the microphone and add that extra bite to my writing.
I’m also working on a zine called The Red Pen where I’ve gotten together a bunch of socialists and gotten them to send me anything with the idea that they’ll send me something not necessarily obviously political but you can see what really makes them tick in the subtext. The first issue is coming along nicely and will be out, launched in Melbourne and Sydney, in the next couple of months. Keep an eye on for updates.
And I’m in the middle of a really exciting and promising project, Chinese Whisperings, which is an anthology project of interconnected short stories in multiple books. I’ve recently finished my first draft of my story which is the 10th one in The Yang Book and getting a lot out of the process especially with editor Jodi Cleghorn. This is definitely something to watch and I’m really excited to tell the story I’ve got for it as it’s a character that’s been swirling around my head for a while.

Thanks heaps to Benjamin Solah for providing the fantastic angry picture of himself and the awesome interview, helping me launch this new meme! Check out his blog, you won’t regret it.

Also, feel free to provide me with some feedback on this new meme, and if you have any suggestions for how I might improve it. Much appreciated!

Breakable Bags, Zelda and Reframing Rejection

8.30am. It was absolutely freezing this morning, but I got out of bed. I got to the city. I got coffee. When I walked up to the door of the Town Hall, a fatherly looking man in an entirely-too-endearing beefeater-esque hat shook his head and made me finish my coffee outside. There are some serious injustices in Melbourne.

Once safely in those doors, the caffeine starting to do its job, Festival Fever took over. They asked for my autograph (…on the door list), they handed me a WEEKEND PASS necktag, and they pointed me towards showbags. And I have to say, I have mixed feelings about this year’s showbag. Last year, the bag itself was awesome (I still use it on a daily basis), but the contents weren’t so crash hot, with more pamphlets for things not relevant to me than things I was actually interested in. This year, however, the bag itself is incredibly cool (great size and comfy to wear) but dangerously breakable. I can see myself having to carry another bag inside this bag, in wait of its breaking day. Until such time – awesome. And the contents! ABR, Inscribe, Readings’ catalogue, Bookseller + Publisher, Wet Ink. And even the pamphlets are actually relevant and interesting – I don’t know how much of this was planned and how much just came in, but I’ll be busy with its contents for a while.

The day had an insane amount of knowledge on offer, so I came out pretty tired. So much went into my brain, and such is the extent of the notes I took, that I simply can’t recall all of it. I can, however, retrace my steps in terms of rooms and events, and give you a little taste of the glory that was the Emerging Writers’ Festival Town Hall Program today.

The day started with “Seven Enviable Lines”, which featured the Festival Ambassadors sharing seven pieces of advice they wished they’d received earlier in their careers. Natasha Campo’s “publish or perish” was quickly written down by me, and affirmed at every panel today. She also stressed the importance of being brave in asking for help from whatever relevant people you can find. Advice I’ll definitely be taking on board.
Sean Riley’s advice was not to be afraid to use the words “no”, “absolutely not”, and “go fuck yourself” – if, as a writer, you’re not backing your own work, then nobody will. He also said to remember to “arrive late and leave early” in scenes. An uproariously funny speaker, and certainly one I’ll jump to see if there’s an opportunity in future.
Jill Jones’ advice was to be aware that “writing is bad for your health – especially your posture”. As soon as she said this, everyone in the room wiggled in their chairs and straightened up self-consciously.
While this panel was on, it was nice to see each of the speakers nodding and each other’s advice. Also funny to see was Julian Shaw taking a photo on his iPhone – which soon appeared on Twitter. It was a reminder of the huge role that Twitter has played in the whole festival this year, and which was hugely present in every panel, whether through people talking about Twitter or just the guys either side of me posting tasty little snippets from their smart phones.

As I moved from room to room, trying to find zany ways to wear my necktag like they do on Survivor, I couldn’t help but feel comforted by the amount of people walking around with notebooks, madly trying to hold on to the pearls of wisdom imparted there. In fact, it was the people without the notebooks that looked somehow out of place.

Dion Kagan hosted the panel on interviewing, titled “The Gentle Art of Persuasion”. Dion cited many of his own “train-wreck” interviews as proof that the only real way to get better is to practise. I must say, I took a lot of encouragement from this – my first two interviews for camera aired just over a week ago – I’m still waiting to see them. I know now, though, that if they’re terrible it’s just a right of passage. Panelist Barb Lemon compared interviewing to adding character voices when reading a children’s book – I’d never thought of it like this, but now that the thought’s been introduced, I’ll be sure to approach story material in a much more interview-y way.
Travel writer Brian Thacker had some insanely wonderful stories, and he approached all his travels in this way – no formal interviews, just approaching it all with curiosity, taking notes, quotes in shorthand.
All the panelists also offered little hints to make interviewing much easier – check, double-check, triple-check all the technical stuff. Press record before you enter the room to make it more comfortable in dictaphone interviews. Have questions in a notebook, but don’t read them out verbatim. Best piece of advice for the panel, though?
Tate Ischia shared his favourite piece of advice about writing – that the whole thing is like Zelda. You have to go on weird quests which seem to have nothing to do with anything, meeting lots of people and doing lots of little tasks. In the end, all of this means you slay the dragon. You win the game.

The “Taking It Online” panel (exactly what the name implies) started with Phillip Thiel’s embracing of the impermanence of the internet. “It’s writing made to fade, and quickly forgotten”, he said. While that’s a scary thing in many ways, Phillip seems to have come to terms with it, embraced it, indeed turned it upon itself: his work centres around “a year of…” projects. This year, Phillip is kissing a different person every day – today it was festival director Lisa Dempster.
Also in this panel Mel Campbell put forward a convincing case for writers not to allow themselves to be taken advantage of just because of the newness of writing for online audiences.

In “Never Surrender”, the amazingly accented and very funny Paul Callaghan encouraged us to “reframe” rejection and accept it as part of the process not only of being a writer, but of being a human being. Elizabeth Campbell echoed this, saying that failure can be treated as something both inevitable and productive. By far the most entertaining speaker of the day though, was Sean Condon, who lamented his failure. Indeed, his failure at even failing saying he “counts actual rejection as something of a success!” – he by far prefers a rejection letter to being utterly ignored.

The final speaker of the “Mining The Personal” panel, Lou Sanz, was an absolute hoot: while her contribution wasn’t rife with advice, it was certainly a nice piece of comic relief when my mind was getting too full of information.

Today’s program ended with “The Pitch” – a panel featuring representatives from different publications and publishing houses. While most of the information boiled down to “read the submission guidelines, be considerate”, some more specific tips from certain publications will hopefully give me a bit of an advantage next time I submit something to them.

It started at 9.00am. It finished at 5.30pm. It was a damn long day, but one I’m so glad I didn’t miss.

The EWF Town Hall program is on again tomorrow, so if you’re free you should come down and soak up some of the fantastic advice and inspiration on offer.

The Importance of Creative Peers, Again

A few weeks ago I posted about creative people’s hierarchy of needs. The one that resonates most with me is “the need for creative peers”.

The last week has really solidified that for me.

Currently in the last week of semester, which is followed by two or three weeks of things-still-due, my fellow course-mates have been working furiously on a final writing folio for one subject. Mine isn’t due until next Tuesday, so I’m still breathing easily, but some others were not. I received a 5am email begging for help to cut 500 words from a 2,500 word story. I did my best.

All throughout the week coming up to this, I’d also received copies of many other people’s stories for feedback.

My boyfriend laughed at me. I didn’t mind though. Because I know that when I get up to 24-hours before the due date and stress out about my idea being no good, and can’t see the typos for the words, and have to either make up or cut out 500 words – well then I know my creative peers will be there, inboxes wide open, ready to help.

And even when it’s not about editing, I can’t stress how grateful I am to have all these creative people around me. There’s a group of slam poets waiting to hear my latest lyrical bonanza. There’s a publication group waiting for me to send in some work to help make it great. There’s a TV show waiting for my reviews and interviews. And there’s you, dear reader, waiting with bated breath for my next post.

All these people just make it so much easier to produce. I’m thankful for you all.

She promised to be free…

…and she was.

I watch her sketching whatnots in class, there’s snippets of life that she likes to pin to the edges of lecture pads.

That’s just what I’ve witnessed.

Much of what I haven’t witnessed has recently been brought into the loving arms of the interweb.

Her name is Jorja Kelly, I go to uni with her. I’m impressed and inspired by her work – particularly her drawings, they make me want to create things.

Her blog,  “A Bisonicorn Cluster Vomiting Rainbows” is a rapidly growing collection of her drawing, snippets of writing, images she’s found and liked. A very inspiring archive – keep checking back and keep your ear to the ground for this lady, she’ll get far.

She also presents a literary segment on SYN radio’s show “Arts Mitten” from 3-4.30pm on a Sunday afternoon.

Teaser Tuesdays #3.

Now, I know I haven’t done much here lately. Missed me?
I’m in the process of clambering back on the horse. I’m back into school, Irvine Welsh speaks at the Wheeler Centre tomorrow, hopefully next week I’ll be having some writerly researchy experience with some people from Streat, and I’ve been writing a whole lot, so more of my own work might start appearing… Also back into Yartz filming next week and hopefully my first on-screen appearance on Monday. In the meantime, here’s today’s Teaser Tuesday post!

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

” ‘Cyclops, the men you snatched with such brutal  force
and ate within your cave were surely not
the comrades of a coward. You have caused
much grief; and it returns to haunt you now:
you did not hesitate; hard heart, you ate
your guests within your house; therefore lord Zeus
has joined with other gods to batter you’ ”
                    -from Homer’s “The Odyssey”

Gala Soothes Home-Haircutting Aftershock

This morning I cut my own hair. I was feeling out of sorts, somewhat dissatisfied with the world. And my fringe had been hanging in my eyes for weeks.

Being poor and restless, I took up my scissors and gave it a good chop. A very rough, far-too-short chop. A chop that turned out looking not entirely like anything my fringe has ever experienced. It’s trying to be something, but it just looks confused.

To soothe the discomfort which has only been inflated by my hair cutting, (my partner hasn’t woken up to laugh at my uneven hair yet) I decided to sit down and watch some of the footage from the Wheeler Centre’s opening event, “A Gala Night of Storytelling”.

Yesterday the footage of Christos Tsiolkas, John Safran and Chloe Hooper was uploaded. On Thursday the first six writers’ footage was uploaded. There are still a few more writers to go.

Each featured writer was asked to share and discuss “those tales that have been handed down to them through the generations, each giving voice to an inheritance of wisdom, of understanding, of identity”. Some writers took this more seriously than others – some accounts are poignant, some funny, all are pretty enlightening in terms of where such revered literary figures have come from. I can honestly say that I only found one or two of these speakers dull…I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to pick which ones they were.

But at least even the boring ones distracted me from my wonky fringe… Time for round two with my scissors: The Straightening.

“Everything I Know About Writing” Review

So, number 2 book in my 100+ Book Challenge for 2010 was John Marsden’s “Everything I Know About Writing”…

This is a guide to writing, written by a top-selling and much-loved (particularly by me!) Australian author.

The blurb claims that “Everything I Know About Writing” is “as readable as a novel”…and it really is.

Throughout, Marsden gives tips about what makes good and bad writing, using his deep and wide knowledge of literature and language. He doesn’t just list tips on what’s good or bad – he uses a range of really apt examples to drive these points home. While a lot of what is covered in this book is either common writing sense, or something I’ve learned before, Marsden still presents these points in entertaining and clear ways, and I appreciate having so many useful things written in one place as a handy future reference.

Although this book was first originally published in 1993, the examples used in it are so timeless and sound that the book has aged very little in 17 years. Using a mixture of timeless texts taught in most high schools, and great Australian writing, Marsden’s crossover between teaching and writing is obviously one he’s been making the most of for some time now.

As someone who mainly writes young adult fiction, Marsden’s writing guide is an insightful guide for teenagers, simply and clearly spoken – however, it still stands as a helpful and fun guide for writers of all ages. Even if you know most of the stuff that’s being covered, it’s presented in such an entertaining and simple way that it’s still interesting.

A wide range of conventions and problems are dealt with here – how it’s essential to deal with sex and death in writing, how psychology affects characters as much as writers, the rules of reality and how they must apply to writing… One particularly interesting chapter deals with “banality”, where Marsden challenges the connections we automatically make between certain words, particularly in similes and metaphors (eg, “feather” and “light”).

In the “new and revised edition” (which I believe happened around ’98), a new chapter has been included – “600 Writing Ideas”… these range from ideas for personal stories, starters for short stories, “quickies” (“What is your favorite kitchen appliance, and why?”)… These are perhaps one of the most helpful things about this book. If ever there’s a day where I have nowhere to start, these ideas give me a starting point, which then usually leads on to something else and turns into a story I love… or hate.

The most resounding advice Mr Marsden leaves us with is this; “You’re God when you’re writing: you can do anything. The only unforgivable sin is to be boring”…
“Everything I Know About Writing” is a clear and helpful bundle of tricks to stop your writing from becoming boring.

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