Book mail

17 October 2018

This month I’ve been so flat out editing that I’ve barely had time to do anything else. I’ve got lots of wonderful books passing across my desk at the moment — literary fiction, YA and middle grade mostly — and it’s keeping me very busy. I’m booked through to the end of the year, which feels as if it is advancing at a great rate.

So in the absence of a proper blog post, I’m going to share with you this beautiful book that landed in my mailbox this week. (Is there anything better than book mail?) It is about Australian artist William Robinson, written by Nick Earls, published by Brisbane’s QUT Museum, designed by Sandy Cull and edited by yours truly. Images don’t do this tactile, light-catching cover justice, but here’s a short vid to give you a peek inside. Isn’t it a thing of beauty?

Knock outs: on writing rejection and success

19 September 2018

Wanting to be a writer and not wanting to be rejected is like wanting to be a boxer and not wanting to get punched.

David Barr Kirtley speaks the truth. Successful writers are those who have been knocked out and got back up, over and over again. In spite of that, writers are notorious for focusing on their failures, not their achievements. So I asked three successful writers — Eleanor Limprecht, Annabel Smith and Natasha Lester — to reflect on both their most biting rejections and their most affirming successes.

Eleanor Limprecht
My first was my worst rejection. The first book I wrote (Mothwings — it even sounds like a first manuscript) never found a publisher despite years of hard slog writing and rewriting it. I even had an agent representing it. Publishers said it was ‘too quiet’, ‘didn’t go far enough’ and that ‘the characters are lovely but nothing really happens’. That was the hardest rejection to take, because I felt like I would never be published. Like I’d wasted years of my life. Like I would never be a real writer.

The way I responded was by writing something new, an idea which had been in the back of my mind, about a mother with postnatal depression who leaves her baby. Giving up on the first book and giving myself permission to write the next was like clearing a clogged drain. This book became What Was Left, and was published in 2013 with Sleepers Publishing. It is a novel which still means so much to me. I have gone back every few years and revisited Mothwings, but I think it belongs in the drawer now. It was really difficult to let go of at first, though. I still think of the characters sometimes, but I learned so much about writing from them. Like how to create momentum and tension rather than just characters in a room, talking.

Since then I’ve had ego-shattering rejection again, of course. I think that the writers you see published aren’t the lucky ones, but the ones who get back up after being knocked down time and again. And since then I’ve had bad reviews. My latest novel, The Passengers had a shocking anonymous review in The Saturday Paper. So I hear, I’ve never read it and I don’t plan to. If a reviewer does not have the guts to put their name on a review, it is not worth reading. Jeff Sparrow said this succinctly in Overland: ‘If you expect an author to suck up your assessment of their book, you should at least be exposing yourself to equivalent scrutiny.’

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I’ve also learned to not read Goodreads reviews and to look inward rather than outward for my confidence. Easier said than done, of course. But even though kudos are lovely to receive, the best feeling is watching the word count creep up and seeing the story take shape. The best feeling is putting words on a page.

When I think of my most affirming experiences as a writer, I think of two. One was the Chancellor’s Research Scholarship I received to do my Doctorate of Creative Arts for my novel Long Bay at UTS, and the other was the Australia Council grant I received to write my most recent novel, The Passengers. Both were affirming because I felt as though they were formal investments in my work, in my career, without being tied to commercial outcomes or pressure. They gave me the time to research and write both novels and they gave me the sense that there were people I respected who think I am capable of doing those things. And then there’s the actual money. That’s nice too.

Eleanor Limprecht is the author of three novels: The Passengers, Long Bay and What Was Left. She teaches writing as a sessional academic at UTS, writes short fiction and blogs occasionally about subjects like self-doubt at www.eleanorlimprecht.com/blog/

Annabel Smith
When I finished my first novel, A New Map of the Universe, I entered it in the Vogel award. Though I wasn’t shortlisted for the award, Allen & Unwin wrote to ask if they could consider it for publication. I mistakenly assumed that if they were asking to consider it, they must already know they liked it, so it would be a shoo-in. Needless to say, my assumption was way off. But this was before social media, so at that stage I hadn’t yet read 2000 articles about how difficult it was to get published so I had the bombastic overconfidence of the blissfully naive. Several months later they wrote to tell me they didn’t think it was quite ready for publication and enclosed a three-page report with suggested changes. After reading the letter I sobbed uncontrollably, lying on the floor, until my face was red and my eyes were puffy. In hindsight, I know that this is an incredibly favourable response from a publisher. But it was my first experience of rejection and it felt utterly devastating.

My second novel, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, is about twin brothers who become estranged and then Whisky has a life-threatening accident, leaving Charlie to contemplate the part he’s played in the breakdown of their relationship. After the book came out in the US, I had an email from a man telling me he had been estranged from his brother for many years and had given up trying to mend their relationship. After reading my book he said he was going to give it one last try. Several months later, he wrote to tell me that he and his brother and their families had spent Christmas together for the first time in more than a decade. Positive feedback from readers is always a treat to receive, but to think that your book has changed someone’s life in a profound way is truly a wonderful feeling.

Annabel Smith is the author of The Ark, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the West Australian Premier’s Book Awards. Whiskey Charlie Foxtrot, published in the US as Whiskey & Charlie, has sold in excess of 70,000 copies. In 2012, Annabel was selected by the Australia Council as one of five inaugural recipients of a Creative Australia Fellowship for Emerging Artists, for her interactive digital novel/app, The Ark. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from Edith Cowan University. Visit her at annabelsmith.com

Natasha Lester
Ah, rejection. The thing that makes us better, stronger, and more resilient, right? The internet is awash with pretty quotes that tell us why rejection is good for us but, in the moment of failure, it’s hard to find reassurance in upbeat aphorisms.

When faced with the most difficult rejection in my writing life, I honestly thought it was over; I would never publish a book again. But it turned out that the prevailing wisdom about rejection and failure is right; being rejected was the best thing that ever happened to me.

My first two books were contemporary/literary fiction, with the first written as part of a Masters in Creative Writing it was the type of book I was expected to write in a university environment at that time. My second book was similar.

Then I wrote what I thought would be my third book, similar again to the first two. I hated writing it. I couldn’t get the voice right. The idea just wouldn’t become a story. I reached the end and knew it wasn’t working, but I didn’t know why or how to fix it. More than that, I didn’t want to fix it. So I rejected myself. I threw the entire book in the bin. My then-agent, rightly, concurred that I’d made the correct decision.

I honestly couldn’t imagine what I would do next. I was terrified to write another book because what if it turned out the same as the one I’d trashed? To make myself feel better, I took every book off my shelf that was a favourite and, for an entire month, I read. It was a wonderful month, full of inspiring sentences and marvellous stories and characters I could never forget. At the end of the month I asked myself why I liked those books. And I realised that what I liked about them was very different to the kinds of books I had been writing.

It made me think: what if I wrote a book I wanted to write, rather than a book I thought I should write?

I sat down at my computer and let myself play with an idea that had been sitting in my head, and which I’d rejected because it was nothing like the books I’d written before. But now I had nothing to lose.

I loved every minute of writing that idea into a story. It became my first historical novel, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, the book that kicked off my writing career. So I owe my rejected book a great big thank you for setting me on the right path.

This ties into my most affirming experience as a writer. The whole time I was writing A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, I was terrified. I was changing genres, which would mean changing agents — if anyone else would have me — and also changing publishers — again, if anyone would have me. What if that was too many things to change at once? What if I couldn’t get a new agent or publisher and had to bin yet another book?

It was lucky I loved writing the book so much because the pressure of doubt might otherwise have made me give up. When it was finished, I sent it to an agent. She loved it, and took me on. When she submitted it to publishers, we received three offers. I could choose who I wanted to work with, which was a most unexpected outcome!

It was the most affirming experience I’ve ever had because it told me to trust my gut and that, if I wrote what I loved, it would find a home. It made me believe that throwing away the previous book had been the right thing to do, that I had learned the right lessons from that process, that I had become a better writer, and that I was definitely stronger and more resilient than ever. And, let’s face it, you need both strength and resilience to survive in the world of writing!

Natasha Lester is the author of the  bestselling historical novels The Paris Seamstress (2018), Her Mother’s Secret (2017) and A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald (2016). She is also published in America and Europe. The Age newspaper has described her as ‘a remarkable Australian talent.

This month I have a Natasha Lester book pack to give away A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald and The Paris Seamstress. If youd like to get your hands on these fabulous books, simply sign up to my monthly newsletter (sign-up box on this page) before before 5 pm on Monday 8 October to go in the draw. 

Canberra Writers Festival

26 August 2018

The third Canberra Writers Festival has just wrapped, and this year I found more to love on the program than in previous years. In fact I wish I’d been able to split myself in two for several timeslots. If you’re after rundowns on lots of the sessions, head over to the Whispering Gums blog, but I thought I’d just highlight a few of my favourite events here.

First up though, I was on a Canberra Writers Festival preview event with journalist Sam Vincent, moderated by the Conservation Council’s Larry O’Loughlin. We spoke about animals in literature, and the power of words to change the world. Interestingly, this theme was echoed throughout the festival in many different ways. But in this session I naturally spoke about the animal rights issues involving elephants in Asia, which relates to my next book. I could talk about the complexity of these issues for days, but in truth I don’t recall the conversation in enough detail to recount it here (events are always a bit of a blur afterwards). I do remember that it was a thoroughly enjoyable conversation with some thoughtful and intelligent questions posed by the audience. Can’t ask for more than that.

Larry O’Loughlin, me, Sam Vincent

But on to other sessions. The Prime Minister’s Literary Award Recipients session was moderated by the wonderful Sue Whiting, a children’s author and editor (formerly my editor at Walker Books) and one of the judges for the PMLAs. Her panel consisted of a diverse range of writers — children’s author Wendy Orr, historian Peter Cochrane and poet Anthony Lawrence — and yet she managed to make this a cohesive and interesting session. Ryan O’Neill was also billed as part of the panel, and I was looking forward to hearing him speak, but sadly he was unable to attend due to a death in the family.

It’s impossible to cover everything in this discussion so I’m going to touch on a couple of points that most interested me. The PMLAs are the richest Australian literary prize, with each author taking away $80,000 tax-free. The financial benefits for writers — most of whom are unable to live off royalties — are obvious, but Wendy recounted how the prize meant so much more to her.

Despite spending her whole adult life in Australia and writing all her books here, she has always been referred to as a Canadian author. She has repeatedly been told that she cannot say that Nim’s Island was the first Australian book to be made into a Hollywood film, because she’s ‘not Australian’. Naturally she found this deeply hurtful, but the PMLAs changed all that. ‘I can say I’m an Australian author now, and my books are Australian books.’ Bravo!

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Sue Whiting, Anthony Lawrence, Wendy Orr, Peter Cochrane

A question from the audience raised the contentious issue that the PMLAs are the only Australian award where a politician can overrule the decision of the judging panel. The Prime Minister has intervened on three occasions and in two of those cases the prize was shared between the judge’s choice and the PM’s choice. In 2014, Tony Abbott’s overruling of Steven Carroll’s A World of Other People to jointly award Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North backfired on him spectacularly when Richard used the platform to criticise the government’s policy on refugees.

But on one occasion the judges’ choice, Frank Bongiorno’s The Sex Lives of Australians, was ‘completely red carded’ by Kevin Rudd and replaced with his choice of Ross McMullin’s Farewell, Dear People. Peter Cochrane spoke passionately about the need to change the award’s terms and conditions which allow the PM to undermine the judges at will. ‘It brings the award into ill repute,’ he said. ‘It’s feudal. If you’ve got an expert judging panel its finding should be final.’

But I want to give the last word to Wendy on the positive impact of the awards. ‘They get people talking about poetry and children’s literature and history which people don’t normally talk about.’ And that is definitely a good thing.

In a completely different vein was Majok Tulba’s conversation with Michael Fitzgerald about his most recent book, When Elephants Fight, which follows the bestselling Beneath the Darkening Sky. It tells the story of Juba who is forced to flee South Sudan’s civil war, hiking 700 kilometres through a jungle full of lions, scorpions and snakes to a refugee camp where life is a catalogue of horrors.

Both books are ‘seventy per cent autobiographical’ but Majok chose to write fiction because it ‘was safer’. ‘Everything that is happening [in South Sudan] they don’t want the world to know. And they hate people who talk about it,’ he explained. ‘So to say, ‘I know this guy and he has done A, B, C’ — that would have given me a lot of problems.’ But with fiction ‘they don’t worry. They say, ‘It is not about us.’’

Michael Fitzgerald and Majok Tulba

Beneath the Darkening Sky was a difficult book to read. I kept imagining my own young boys being taken from me, handed a MK47 and ordered to kill people. It is difficult to comprehend. But Majok said that ‘what happened in real life is more horrifying than a horror movie. I had to leave the most horrific parts out … to make it digestible for the reader.’ He added that writing the books helped release him from his most terrifying memories. ‘They are trapped on paper. So it helped. It helped a lot.’

I’m sure When Elephants Fight will be an equally challenging read, but I’m up for the challenge. And despite his ordeals Majok was always sustained by hope. ‘Someone who gives up hope will never survive,’ he said. ‘When you give up, your life is over.’

When Majok eventually arrived in Australia in 2001 he experienced extreme disorientation. ‘I felt like I landed in a world that was out of this world. Everything was terrifying. Everyone looked the same.’ Growing up in South Sudan he had assumed everywhere in the world was in a constant state of war. ‘We’d seen movies like Rambo and Commando and we thought there was fighting everywhere. And when I came to Australia I realised that was not the case. And how people could live in harmony despite political differences.’ As ridiculous as the whole recent leadership spill has been, Majok put it in perspective. ‘If Canberra was South Sudan right now there would be tanks rolling in the streets.’

From Africa back to Australia, Saturday night saw a packed theatre at the National Library for An Evening with First Nations Australia Writers. It opened with four writers reading four poems each, with Ellen van Neervan the standout for me. This was followed by a panel with three of Australia’s greatest writers: Alexis Wright, Melissa Lucashenko and Kim Scott. The conversation had such depth and was so multilayered that I’m at a loss as to how to summarise it in any meaningful way. It felt as if it was built upon the weight of so many years of conversations, and it was a privilege to be in the room.

Cathy Craigie, Alexis Wright, Melissa Lucashenko, Kim Scott

I will, however, relate the response to a question from the audience about how to be a good white ally. Kim suggested that it was important to ‘listen’ and Melissa said to ask yourself the question, ‘How will this benefit the local [Aboriginal] community?’ If it doesn’t, ‘think again’.

During the session Melissa also made a statement that really resonated with me, and I want to conclude with it. She said, ‘It is the job of any writer to pay attention. Tell the truth. Write towards power.’

How I got an agent

7 August 2018

In a nutshell, this is how I got my agent. I emailed Debbie Golvan a query letter, got up and made a cup of tea, came back to my laptop and there, in my inbox, was a response. The best kind, requesting that I send through the first three chapters. Seven minutes it took her to respond. Just seven minutes. Surely this was some kind of sign?

More emails followed, a request for the full manuscript while she jetted about overseas, conversations that led to me tweaking the ending, and then the official offer to represent my novel. All this took a little over seven weeks.

There’s a prequel to this story which is terribly complex, but I’ll leave that for another day. For now the manuscript has gone out to publishers and the terrible waiting begins.

‘Seven minutes it took her to respond. Just seven minutes.’

The path to getting an agent is so incredibly varied; everyone has a different story. So I thought I’d fill that terrible waiting space by asking three authors — Carmel Bird, Katherine Collette and Nick Earls — how they got their agents. Sure enough, their experiences were vastly different.

I’ve enjoyed reading these so much that I think this might have to become a series. But for now, let’s kick things off with Carmel.

Carmel Bird
This is a sweet story of destiny, in seven steps.

One: I didn’t have an agent. Ages ago an ex-student of mine said she had just engaged an agent whose surname was the same as mine, and furthermore this agent lived in my small country town. I had not heard of this neighbouring agent, and I made no attempt to find her.

Two: In February 2018 I gave a writing workshop at the Faber Academy. One of the students said her novel was being published the following week, and that she had a wonderful agent who shared my surname and village. I still didn’t wake up.

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Three: Another student in the workshop said he was giving his manuscript to his agent (a different one) the following Monday. Then he said she would have response from publishers within a month.

Four: Now something about that ‘month’ really got to me. I am sure the student was exaggerating about the speed of response, but as I sat on the train going home, the three points above came together and said ‘agent, agent, agent’. Shazam!

‘A sweet story of destiny…I’m glad I gave in in the end’

Five: I went to the website of Sally Bird, Calidris Agency, and we had a meeting, and we realised we lived within five minutes of each other, and, even more important, that we could work with each other. It is a strange relief to me to feel that a professional and widely experienced agent is now going to present my work to publishers.

Six: As well as having a business relationship, we enjoy each other’s company. ‘Bird’ is my married name, and also Sally’s married name. We have discussed the fashionable idea of having hyphenated surnames: Sally White-Bird and Carmel Power-Bird. How mad would that be? I began here by saying this was a sweet story of destiny – I am wary of events that seem to be working in sync with destiny, but I think I resisted this little series of steps for long enough. I’m glad I gave in in the end. A five-minute walk can do you the world of good.

Seven: Sally is now representing my new novel Field of Poppies. I am so confident and delighted about all this.

Carmel Bird’s novels have been shortlisted three times for the Miles Franklin, and in 2016 she received the Patrick White Literary Award. Visit her at www.carmelbird.com

Katherine Collette
Recently, I interviewed my agent, Jacinta di Mase for a podcast I’m doing with a friend, the author Kate Mildenhall. I sent Jacinta the questions a week before the interview, and she came early to the studios. While the tech crew set up, Jacinta pointed to the bit where I summarised how we met. ‘We better get our stories straight,’ she said. ‘Because I don’t remember this how you do.’

The bit Jacinta didn’t remember, where we differed in our recollections, was that in my mind, she rejected my manuscript twelve months prior to signing me. In her mind, she said maybe, and asked me to re-submit.

So this is my version of what happened.

In 2016, I had a finished manuscript of my novel, The Helpline. At the time, Jacinta di Mase was president of the Australian Literary Agents Association (ALAA) and top of my list of prospective agents. I sent her an email describing the book and then tried to forget about it. They say if you haven’t heard after twelve weeks then the answer’s no. But surprisingly, she responded quickly, saying she’d love to read it.

I bundled it off, in electronic form. Two weeks passed slowly, and then she called. It was a polite Thanks but no thanks (I think).

I was upset, of course. I sent it to other agents on the ALAA website, but none of them were interested either. So I put in a drawer.

‘She rejected my manuscript twelve months prior to signing me…you always get a second chance’

Flash forward six months and I was picked for the ACT Writers Centre’s Hardcopy program. Hardcopy runs across three weekends. The first involves workshopping, and the second is a serious of presentations from a range of industry insiders, including agents.

Jacinta was there. After her talk she stayed on for morning tea. While she drank her coffee, I angsted about going to talk to her.

Dear reader, I did not want to talk to her. It was only the sense that if I didn’t I’d be disappointed in myself that made me do it.

I’d like to say I was impressive, charming, thoughtful (etc.) but I wasn’t. It counts among moments I cringe at remembering. I was… not articulate. But she remembered the book and gave me some feedback, which I incorporated into the revised work.

We met again a couple of months later at the third round of the Hardcopy program, where participants have one-on-one meetings with ten different publishers and agents, all of whom have read the first thirty pages of your manuscript.

Given Jacinta had already rejected the work I wasn’t very optimistic about seeing her. What would we even talk about? She’d already said no. But that meeting counts as among the highlights of my writing career so far. Not only did she end up signing me, but she went on to secure me a two-book deal with Text Publishing.

In our recent podcast interview, I said to Jacinta, ‘We’re so often told that you get one bite of the apple, only one chance with a publisher or an agent. Yet, with you I had two.’

But again, she had a different take. ‘You always get second chance,’ she said. ‘It’s never really over.’

Insofar as there’s a moral to this story, that’s my take home message. It’s never really over, you always get a second chance.

Katherine Collette’s first novel The Helpline comes out in Australia in September 2018 (Text Publishing), and in North America (Touchstone), the UK (S&S) and Italy (Garzanti) in 2019. Visit her at www.katherinecollette.com

Nick Earls
I got my agent at a time when I really needed one, and through the generosity of a friend. It was 1994, and Brisbane still felt at more than arms’ length from the world of Australian publishing. I had toiled away at my writing throughout the 1980s in something of a vacuum. In 1989, I met Laurie Muller from UQP, and that eventually led to my first book (Passion, a collection of short stories) being published by UQP in 1992. But the critics mauled it, it didn’t sell, UQP rejected my next novel manuscript (or two) and I needed a fresh start.

‘Maybe I was actually about to get an agent? But I had to hear her say it’

Veny Armanno was back in Brisbane by then, and our first books had been launched together in 1992. By 1994, he was doing everything right. Jane Palfreyman was a gun young publisher and she’d signed him up to Picador and he was putting out novels. I was in a hole. Fiona Inglis had just left an editing job to join Tim Curnow at Curtis Brown and Veny was one of her first clients. My CV included a book that had tanked and some rejected manuscripts but, despite that, he pitched me to her. I sent Passion and some newer material, and she said she’d meet me. I either went to Sydney to do that, or happened to be going there anyway (despite the ridiculous early nineties airfare it would have involved, this meeting was the ultimate big deal for a writer who had wanted a break since 1978, so I would have paid if necessary). We talked. I liked her. At the end of our conversation she handed me a pamphlet about Curtis Brown and discussed their commission structure, etc. I was still anxious that this was an illusion, or that everyone got this conversation and then, ninety-nine per cent of the time it ended with her saying, ‘But that’s for other people. We won’t be signing you.’ I’d become far too conditioned to rejection. She led me to the door. She hadn’t rejected me, yet. I still had the pamphlet. Maybe I was actually about to get an agent? But I had to hear her say it. I said, ‘Does this mean you’re actually taking me on?’ And she said, ‘Oh, yes, sorry, didn’t I say that?’

Then I just needed to write something she could sell. From my multiple piles of possible novel ideas, instead of picking something I thought would best showcase my towering intellect, I decided to pick two that people might actually want to read. They ended up as After January and Zigzag Street. With After January, my connection with UQP was part of that working out, but with Zigzag Street the credit goes to Fiona. The manuscript missed out in the Vogel, but she knew Laura Paterson had just joined Transworld to set up an Australian fiction list, and that she was coming to a reading I was doing. Fiona did the groundwork beforehand, Laura liked what she heard, and off things went from there.

When Fiona went on parental leave maybe fifteen years ago, her assistant, Pippa Masson (who had been managing my diary), acted as my agent. When Fiona came back, it was clear Pippa was never going back to being an assistant, and she’s been my agent since then. It remains an important relationship, for a number of reasons. She knows me, knows my career and I trust her judgment. Also, I have a network of other agents too, but she’s the hub of that wheel. Through Cutis Brown, I have worked with literary agents in New York and London and, through a copy of Zigzag Street being shared around in LA in 1997, I have a film agent there. I also work with booking agents for events. But everything ultimately funnels back through Curtis Brown, where Pippa manages the bigger deals for me and Caitlan Cooper-Trent manages my diary.

‘The writing you needs to be passionate about your work, the business you needs to be as cold-hearted as an assassin’

When I was starting, there were fewer agents and I had no clue. I was too far from the publishing industry and there was no way to connect. Now distance isn’t what it was and the industry isn’t what it was either. It’s both more developed and a bit more desperate. If I were starting now, I’d definitely be trying to hook an agent, and fortunately there are quite a few good ones around. Having Fiona as my agent in the early days allowed me to focus on the writing while she — someone way more connected than I was — was there to keep putting my manuscripts in the right hands until something stuck. What I need now is different, but that’s what I’m getting from Pippa and Caitlan. I need someone to handle complicated things like film and TV contracts (sure, most of them go nowhere, but you need the paperwork right, just in case), to connect me internationally, to ask for more money than I’d dare to, to act as a sounding board and to provide me with industry intel while I sit here in Brisbane instead of turning up to events in Sydney or Melbourne night after night.

When trying to hook an agent, I think the key thing is to pitch yourself to them on their terms, as well as you possibly can, and then look away. Focus on something else while your work slowly rises higher in their slush pile. You need to separate yourself into two versions of yourself — a writing you and a business you. The writing you needs to be passionate about your work, the business you needs to be as cold-hearted as an assassin. Spend most of your time writing the best stuff you can. Send your work out to your current preferred targets, expect rejection, and then send it out again. That applies to agents as much as it applies to publishing outlets. If you get useful feedback, take it. But try, to the extent you can, to detach emotionally from negative outcomes, because they’re the norm. If your year has twenty rejections and two acceptances, your CV is two lines longer, you have made progress and no one needs to know about the rejections.

If you’re writing to an agent and you’ve won or been shortlisted in anything notable, let them know. If you’ve got publishing interest, let them know. If through a competition or a mentoring program (or anything) you’ve connected with an established writer who likes what you’re doing, see if they’ll pitch you to their agent, or other agents they know. It’s no guarantee you’ll get signed, but it takes you out of the slush pile and says you’re someone worth paying attention to.

Nick Earls is the author of 26 books, including two that have been adapted into feature films and five that have become stage plays. His most recent work is the award-winning novella series Wisdom Tree. Visit him at https://nickearls.wordpress.com/

This month I have a complete set of Nick Earls’ Wisdom Tree novellas to give away! Described by The Australian as ‘one of the most ambitious fiction projects being undertaken in Australian publishing’, all five books have garnered the highest praise. (‘You can’t write better than this. It’s simply perfect’—Elizabeth Gilbert.) If you’d like to get your hands on this linked set of novellas, simply sign up to my newsletter before 6 pm Thursday 23 August (link to the right). Open to Australian residents only. Winner will be randomly generated. Good luck!

Reading recs

5 July 2018

In a new quarterly series, I’m sharing the books that have stood out for me each month (featured in my subscribers’ newsletter), with a bonus fourth book. I usually read a couple of novels a week, and some months I’ve read so many good books that choosing just one is almost an impossibility.

I can’t find any particular connections this time, except that they all come from different parts of the world. I predominantly read Australian writers, but this selection includes a South African (Brink), an Australian (Winton — duh!), an English–Pakistani novellist (Shamsie), and an English–Irish novellist (Kidd). Two men, two women, and four novels that cross four continents. So, here we go!

April: Thanks to a recent post by Lisa Hill, I discovered South African writer André Brink (I am slightly embarrassed that I haven’t read him before). He was twice shortlisted for the Booker and during his lifetime actively opposed apartheid. I’m now reading his memoir, A Fork in the Road, but I first came to The Blue Door. It is a philosophical novella about the different potential lives that we might lead. The prose is beautiful and I gulped this little book down in one sitting. I’m now working my way through Brink’s back catalogue.

May: I resisted making The Shepherd’s Hut my pick because I read several good books this month, and Winton hardly needs the publicity. But in the end I just couldn’t go past it. It is very, very good. I’ve always loved Winton’s prose but his endings are usually hit and miss. This one, however, hits, making it a pleasure from start to finish. The story is told through Jaxie Claxton’s distinct voice — raw, colloquial and yet also poetic. It is a brutal and visceral story of survival, and of love. At the age of just 38, Winton was named a national living treasure; this novel reminds us why.

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June: Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire won the Women’s Prize for Fiction just as I was one-third of the way through it. Great timing, or what? Home Fire is billed as a modern reworking of Antigone, which I read decades ago and barely remember. In fact as I went on I was glad of this, because I didn’t want to be constantly comparing it to another work. Having finished it, I’d love to revisit Antigone, and then Home Fire, and see how different an experience it is. All of that aside, this is a work of brilliance. It completely shook me up and turned me inside out. I may have sworn at the ending, and then just sat there, stunned. I have told you nothing of the plot but let me say this: you must read this book.

Bonus book: I’ve long been fascinated by hoarding, which is what drew me to this book, but it turns out that The Hoarder is about so much more. Described as a ‘lyrical gothic detective saga’, it had me absolutely transfixed. My local library only had it as an audiobook and in the end I was glad of this—the narrator, Aoife McMahon, was wonderful. I couldn’t wait to get in my car and listen to the next instalment. The story centres on Maud Drennan who has taken on the care of a mercurial and violent elderly hoarder, Cathal Flood. She begins to uncover unsettling clues to his past, as the tension builds to the book’s final terrifying conclusion. I bloody loved this book. Even the minor characters are complex and nuanced—with Maud’s landlady and friend, Renata, a particular favourite. The book resists categorisation, traversing a number of genres, and I’ve now ordered Kidd’s previous book (her debut, Himself). Highly recommended!

Now it’s your turn. What recent reads would you recommend?