Browsing Tag

Tania McCartney

Four launches and a festival…

7 May 2019

…is much more fun than four weddings and a funeral.

The festival was the annual Flash Fiction Weekend, aimed at writers wanting to develop and hone their craft, held in the beautiful East Hotel. I had the pleasure of convening a panel on the writing process with superstars Graeme Simsion, Karen Viggers, Jack Heath and Susanne Gervay. I wish I could give you a sense of what we discussed but when I’m on a panel it’s always a bit of a blur afterwards, even when I’m the one asking the questions! So instead I give you writer Amanda McLeod via Twitter: ‘This panel was the business. I have many, many notes.’

With fellow panellists Graeme Simsion, Susanne Gervay and Jack Heath

I also ran my workshop on editing flash fiction and was thrilled when one participant told the marvellous organiser, Suzanne Kiraly, that my workshop was worth the price of the festival ticket alone. That kind of feedback is always happy-making. (Thanks John!)

There were lots of short keynotes and I enjoyed them all. Graeme Simsion of Rosie Project fame was up first. He spoke about how writers need to devote as much time to learning their craft as a neurosurgeon would to learning theirs. What’s more ‘there are more jobs for neurosurgeons than there are for writers’, he noted. Graeme is a keen plotter and encourages all emerging writers to carefully outline their plot before beginning to write.

Continue Reading…

Susanne Gervay, on the other hand, is a devoted pantser, writing by ‘the seat of her pants’. ‘I can’t do it any other way,’ she said. In her keynote she spoke from the heart about her writing journey and her goal to ‘empower the disempowered’. This goal drives all her books for children. Susanne is one of those rare speakers who reguarly makes me laugh and cry. No easy feat. I couldn’t agree more with her final advice: ‘You must write something of value.’

Despite functioning on next to no sleep courtesy of his two-week-old baby, Jack Heath was as engaging as ever, discussing his Hangman series, featuring a cannibal detective. Ten years ago Hangman was rejected by publishers who advised him to rewrite the story without the cannibal detective. As Jack pointed out, that would have made it the same as a bunch of other crime books. He hung onto his vision and eventually found a publisher willing to take a risk on it. And it’s a risk that’s paid off as it’s become an international bestseller. His take-away message — stick with what is unique.

 

Craig Cormick delivered some hard truths in his keynote. Here are a few:

  • Neilsen Bookscan reports that only two per cent of books sell more than 5000 copies.
  • Only one per cent of books (that includes self-published titles) make it onto a bookshop shelf.
  • Quality matters less than you’d hope and luck matters more than you’d like.
  • The book you want to write isn’t always the book someone else wants to read.

He concluded that the most you can really hope for as a writer is a life in which to write. You may not achieve fame, fortune, awards or bestseller status but the writing life is reward enough.

In a similar vein to Craig, Marion Halligan reflected that ‘it is perhaps a strange thing that so many people want to become writers. It’s hard work, poorly paid and fickle in its rewards.’ She recounted a review of her debut novel, Self Possession, which was reviewed with a batch of other debuts. The reviewer remarked that the other writers were sure to have a literary future, ‘but not Halligan’. Marion said, ‘I take a certain glee in being up to my twenty-first book.’ She reflected on the changes she has seen during her 30 years in the industry. ‘I sometimes think the writer is less valued than ever…most people in the industry seem to have forgotten that without the writer there is no book,’ she concluded.

Overall the festival offered a lovely mix of encouraging advice tempered with hard truths for the many emerging writers in attendance. It finished with the launch of Impact, an anthology of flash fiction that emerged from last year’s festival, edited by yours truly. Marion Halligan did the official honours and rightly observed, ‘Don’t think that flash is easy. Brevity is hard. And time-consuming…You have to make every word count.’

Editing this anthology — comprised of 21 stories by both established writers and fresh new voices — was such a pleasure. It reveals the breadth and strength of Australian flash fiction and is a perfect introduction for anyone not familiar with the form. Marion concluded: ‘I should offer a word of warning. A book like this is a marvellous rich box of chocolates. You want to have just one more, just one more, just one more. And then you’re finished.’

Let’s head back in time now for the launch of This is Home by my dear friends Tania McCartney and Jackie French. Jackie has curated a collection of poetry for children of all ages, with stunning illustrations by Tania. It’s a gorgeous book and my seven-year-old son was spellbound through the very long launch (all those seated in the image below were speakers). Afterwards he said to me, ‘I found all the writers really inspiring but Jackie French almost made me cry.’ At which point he did. So we went to talk to Jackie — catching her just before she sat down and signed books for the very long queue — and she said all the right and beautiful things about poetry and my son’s feelings while he wept into my skirt. Later when I asked him what it was that Jackie said that moved him so much he said, ‘I could just really feel what she was saying.’ Ah, the power of words, poetry, books.

The third launch was more kids’ poetry, namely Moonfish by Harry Laing, who had his audience crying with laughter. This time I was the one doing the honours of launching the book into the world, which is always a privilege. I love the tagline for this book: ‘Poems to make you laugh and think.’ Kids are instinctively drawn to the musicality of rhythm and rhyme in poetry, and the way Harry plays with language and ideas immediately draws them in. As an added bonus the book features illustrations from an incredible line-up of Australia’s best illustrators — everyone from superstar Shaun Tan to former Australian Children’s Laureate Leigh Hobbs of Mr Chicken fame. A winning combination, that’s for sure.

A fourth long-awaited launch by another dear friend, Nigel Featherstone, is on 16 May. I have followed this novel’s development — with all the pain and joy that writing and publishing entails — and can’t wait to get my hands on it next week. Readings describes his Bodies of Men as a ‘beautifully written, tender love story — the perfect book to curl up with as autumn sets in’. If you’d like to win yourself a signed copy simply subscribe to my monthly newsletter full of writing and publishing news, tips and advice, to go in the draw. Sign-up box is in the right-hand sidebar, or down the bottom in mobile view.

Till next time, folks! Happy reading x

Reading memories

6 June 2017
One of the perks of being Ambassador for the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge is visiting schools to talk about my favourite topic—books (duh). This week I headed to Holy Trinity Primary to meet the Year 1s and 2s. Here we all are getting a bit crazy together.

Talking about reading got me thinking about my own special reading memories, and one teacher in particular. Her name was Miss O’D and she was my Grade 6 teacher. She wore blue mascara and shoulder pads and was every kind of eighties cool. She was young, not that long out of university, and she made everything fun. And I mean everything. It was the only year that I enjoyed maths as we played ‘The Footy Game’ to learn our times tables. It involved an actual footy and four teams and much laughter. That year everyone’s understanding of maths skyrocketed.

Continue Reading…

But for a booklover like me it was the literary activities that got me all shiny-eyed. Every week Miss O’D wrote a Poem of the Week on our blackboard and illustrated it with Dr Seuss-style characters. We would copy out the poem (using smelly glitter pens) and create our own illustrations. I still remember the time I got a rare and coveted 10 out of 10 for my work. ‘Perfect!’ she wrote, and my feet did not touch the ground for the rest of the day. She also constructed a haunted house reading corner from a massive crate painted black. It was full of cushions and dangling streamers and clearly sent one message: reading is fun. But best of all, she got us to write, illustrate and ‘publish’ our own picture books. I had been writing stories and making my own books at home for as long as I could remember, so the opportunity to create a shiny hardback (well, more laminated cardboard) had me practically salivating. I still have those two books and I often take them with me on school visits, as I did to Holy Trinity, to encourage kids to make their own.

So as all the Reading Challenge Ambassadors head out for their school visits, I thought I’d ask them about their own special reading memories. Here’s what they had to say.

Jack Heath: At Lyneham Primary School I had a wonderful teacher librarian named Kay Pietsch. When I missed school due to a crippling ear infection, she hand-picked books for me to read during my recovery. Thanks to her I discovered Claire Carmichael, Jackie French, Brian Jacques and many others. When I finally got back to school, I wasn’t behind my classmates. I might even have been ahead.

Harry Laing: There’s a nursery rhyme that’s always stuck in my head with a particularly vivid quality. I think my grandmother read it to me (and I’m sure my mother and maybe a favourite great aunt). I think it was probably just before I was reading properly so the words had that talismanic quality…

Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark
Beggars are coming to town
Some in jags, some in rags
And one in a velvet gown.

Listening to this as a child gave me a delicious shiver. Something to do with the wonderfully tight and expressive sounds and rhymes of hark/bark and jags/rags. It was scary to think of the beggars coming to town, and their power to provoke the dogs with their rags and then the really scary last line ‘and one in a velvet gown’. What did that mean? I’m sure I barely understood what velvet was or even a gown but it was such a smooth and sinister phrase. I still get the same feeling 50-odd years later. I can go back and look at Mother Goose and there’s the nursery rhyme with illustration but it’s the sound of the words that lingers. And how precious that is, to be able to go straight back to being five years old with nothing in-between. Mind you I did have to look up the meaning of ‘jags’ (tatters, rags).

Tracey Hawkins: As a child I owned a boxed set of Golden Press books, Wonderful World of Walt Disney. There were four books in the set, Fantasyland, Worlds of Nature, America and Stories from Other Lands. My favourite was Stories from Other Lands. Turning the pages took me to a world far away from the small coastal town I lived in. Books provided knowledge and escapism, and fascinated me. Reading fed my imagination as I unearthed the mystery, myths, legends and cultural diversity of other countries. I read thousands of books as a child, but I believe it was this book led me on my future path as an adult to explore and travel the world.

Tania McCartney: One of my earliest and most precious reading memories is with my mum, reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. The intriguing thing about this persistent memory is that it’s not the actual story I remember. It’s the warmth of her lap. It’s her arms around my shoulders and the rumble of her voice, resonating from her diaphragm into my back. It’s the smell of her clothes and the smoothness of the book’s pages. I can still feel my little toddler fingers poking through the holes in the page as the caterpillar eats its way through a multitude of delicious treats, and how the paper scratched my skin. I can also feel the rumble in my tummy, wanting to join the caterpillar for cherry pie, watermelon and a lollipop. It’s all those tactile elements, yes, but it’s also the less tactile—that envelope of love, that feeling of belonging, that parental attention and sheer enjoyment of story. And that, my friends, is how children fall in love with books.

Just look at all those hands! Such enthusiastic little readers!

As Ambassadors we all hope that our school visits will inspire kids to explore many more books and develop a lifelong love of reading. So I was so thrilled to receive a stack of letters from Holy Trinity with beautiful words of thanks and equally beautiful illustrations. I wish I could include them all here but since there’s not space here’s my lounge room carpeted in them, and one of my favourites from Lachy. His exclamations (‘Your visit…OH! I loved it. Please come again!’) brought a big grin to my face. Also, I am ‘awsem’. That’s the best bit of being an author right there.

 

2016 reading picks

7 January 2017

It’s that time of the year where bookish types reflect on their year’s reading list, so I thought I might as well toss my faves into the ring. In 2016, I read 68 books*, which doesn’t seem nearly enough. Looking at the stats of childless friends, I’ve noticed that they tend to fit in well over 100. Perhaps this is because their reading is not limited to evening hours after children are in bed. Sigh. I look forward to the time when I’m able to dedicate whole weekends to nothing but books and drinking tea.

In the meantime, here are some of my 2016 faves, shuffled into slightly random categories.

what-belongs-to-youClassic: Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. I’ve been meaning to read this slim novel for a long time and Radio National’s African Book Club prompted me to push it to the top of the pile. It is a poignant and heart-wrenching portrait of a country undergoing great upheaval.

Queer fiction: What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell. A sharply observed and beautifully written novel about desire and longing and love. An absolute cracker.

Debut: The Paper House by Anna Spargo-Ryan. A moving portrait of a family coming undone; it is a haunting and stylistically beautiful novel. I’ll be keenly awaiting Anna’s next book.

Short fiction collection: Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh. I found the biting and quirky satire of these stories refreshing. A gem of a book.

Continue Reading…

heat-and-lightIndigenous fiction: Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven. Another short fiction collection, and I’m late to this one (it was published in 2014). I found these stories mesmerising; Ellen is definitely one to watch.

Novella: Wisdom Tree by Nick Earls. I’m cheating a bit here because Wisdom Tree is a series of five novellas (disclaimer: I edited them), but I couldn’t possibly pick just one. One reviewer described Gotham, the first in the series, as ‘the most perfect novella in the history of the format’. Nuff said.

Picture book: Smile Cry by Tania McCartney. My whole family (even those supposedly too old for picture books) love this gorgeous flip book that so deftly allows children to explore their emotions.

rebellious-daughtersNonfiction: Under Cover: Adventures in the Art of Editing by Craig Munro. A rare and revealing behind-the-scenes look at 30 years of publishing at UQP.

Memoir: Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner. I am a fangirl. Garner is a living legend. That is all that needs to be said.

Anthology: Rebellious Daughters edited by Maria Katsonis and Lee Kofman. These essays on varying forms of rebellion are delicious. I particularly loved those by Marion Halligan, Rebecca Starford, Leah Kaminsky, Eliza Henry-Jones, Jano Caro, Lee Kofman, Caroline Baum… Hell, I could list the whole damn lot.

the-writers-roomInterviews: The Writer’s Room by Charlotte Wood. I’m cheating again because this book could technically be listed under ‘nonfiction’ or ‘anthology’, but these interviews with Australian writers deserve a special mention. Each is an honest, thoughtful and insightful discussion about the writing process, and I know that I’ll take different kernels of knowledge away with me every time I return to it.

I’ve started 2017 with Peggy Frew’s stunning Hope Farm, which I devoured over two evenings (and a little sneaky daytime reading while the kids were otherwise occupied). I can only hope that the rest of the year’s books live up to this fine start. And if you feel like picking up any of my 2016 faves do try and support the Australian industry by grabbing them from your local bookstore. It makes a world of difference. Happy reading!

* This figure does not include any of the manuscripts that I edited, with the exception of Nick Earls’ novellas. Nor does it include the many literary journals that I consumed, and the countless picture books and middle grade novels that I read to my children.

Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge wraps

11 December 2016

reading-challenge-wrapA celebratory event at the National Library saw the ACT Chief Minister’s Reading Challenge wrap for the year. It was wonderful to see so many students from so many schools in attendance, and for us ambassadors to celebrate our year of working to get kids hooked on books (not that it feels like work!).

And what a year it has been. 2016 was the most successful yet, with 31,000 kids from 90 schools reading at least 15 books between May and September. That’s an increase of an incredible 5,000 students from last year!

The challenge was launched back in 2004 as a way to encourage and develop a love of reading in students from preschool to Year 8. There is no set reading list which, in my view, is part of the program’s strength. I am a firm believer that if we want kids to fall in love with reading, then we need to allow them to choose the books that they are interested in. So the students participating can read pretty much anything, including books in languages other than English.

Continue Reading…

One little star read a phenomenal 240 novels during those five months (I feel quite jealous of all those reading hours!). He traced the spines of every book on a long sheet of paper, and it turns out that he read a whopping 4.8 metres worth of books! I’m betting he cracks five metres next year.

It’s been an honour and a pleasure to be an ambassador for the challenge alongside Virginia Hausengger, Tracey Hawkins, Jack Heath and Tania McCartney. Yay books!

TREES, TRAINS & HOSPITAL TROLLEYS: WHERE WRITERS WRITE (PART 1)

7 July 2015

Writers write in weird places.*

I do all the standard things: scrawl notes in the middle of the night, while I’m out walking, when driving in the car (I pull over, of course, often bunny-hopping to my destination). I’m forever using the back of receipts or whatever I can lay my hands on (I’ve always been disorganised with notebooks, even though I’m always buying them).

editing in cafesCafes are hands down my favourite place to write but I’m not fussy. I’ll write any time, any place. This has included in the back of a tuk tuk in Chiang Mai as it veered all over the road, in a tent in Tanzania with the sound of hyenas scuffling outside, and in a hospital while I miscarried. It’s possible that only writers will understand that last one.

But perhaps the most bizarre experience was going into labour with my third child while writing a grant application for The Invisible Thread anthology I was editing. The deadline was just around the corner and I knew that if I didn’t finish it right then and there it wouldn’t happen. So I kept going, pausing every ten minutes to breathe through the contractions. I managed to finish the application and submitted it (cursing the absence of a special consideration category for completed-while-birthing-a-small-human). I shut down the computer, called my husband, went into hospital, and 90 minutes later had my little boy in my arms. Oh, and we got the grant.

946868After posting this more benign tweet, fellow writer Kaaron Warren suggested I collate a post of the strangest places writers have written. So I put the word out to my writer friends and their stories came flooding in, so many in fact that I’m going to split them into two posts. So here goes number one (you’ll see that hospitals emerge as a bit of a theme).

Continue Reading…

Brooke Davis: As a kid, I wrote sitting in a favourite pine tree, and in a paddock full of long grass, and while watching the tennis at the Australian Open. As a teenager I wrote on long car trips around Australia with my family. I had to hold my notebook above my head and almost write upside down because that was the only way I wouldn’t get car sick. As a uni student I once tried to write at Oktoberfest in Canberra. It was the kind of experiment you do in your 20s: What level of genius will I come up with when drunk? You probably know the answer: No level of genius in any way whatsoever. These days, I’m writing on lots of things that move. Ferries, buses, trains, cars, bikes, my own feet, planes, trams. I like how the movement gives me the feeling (i.e., tricks me into thinking) that my writing is moving. But to be honest, the older I get the more boring I am about it. These days, I crave places where I can hole up in a corner somewhere and think I’m invisible while I look at all the weird and wonderful people, like a creepy ghost with a laptop. This mostly happens in cafes and pubs and parks. Maybe I should go back to climbing pine trees?

Rosanna Stevens: I am currently writing in the only place that has Internet for five kilometres: I’m sitting in a garden, in the dark, listening to the shouts of women performing a fire ceremony at a shamanic women’s mysteries retreat in Las Chullpas — an hour from Cusco in Peru. I am also surrounded by puppies. Come at me, deadlines.

Susanne Gervay: Post operative after major surgery with drips and drains, I couldn’t move with pain and I kept thinking, I have to finish my novel in case I die. That’s what I did. Write my novel, not die.

Tania McCartney: Probably the ‘weirdest’ place I’ve ever written is super ordinary — my bed. Sometimes, if I wake in the depths of night with some urgent prose, I’ll fumble for my phone, set it to video, hide under the covers and whisper the text into the phone for transcribing the next day. My husband sleeps right through!

Craig Cormick: That was probably on a trolley about to go into the operating theatre for day surgery, telling the anesthetist guy, ‘Just a moment, just one more moment, I have to write this down before I forget it.’ Second weirdest would probably be in Antarctica, sitting down to write some notes by the edge of a penguin colony (where you are not allowed to get closer than a few metres to a penguin), and looking up and finding all these penguins waddling up to check out what I was doing (clearly the exclusion distance rules that applied to us did not apply to them).

Lee Kofman: The most bizarre place I’ve ever written in was in my living room, this week, when I sat on the couch with both my laptop and my toddler on my pregnant lap, while my boy’s nanny sat close by my side trying to cajole him away. She wasn’t successful though. My child wrapped his arms around my neck, teary, while I kept typing away an essay I had to send to an editor within an hour. The nanny kept talking to my boy, he kept sobbing, and I kept writing, feeling trapped, guilty and loved. I really don’t know more bizarre place for me to write from than this metaphorical, yet very tangibly claustrophobic, space of motherhood.

SJ Finn: One of the more obscure places I’ve found myself writing is on a support boat for an outrigger competing in a marathon race, 72-kilometres long, in the Whitsundays. While the outrigger was a slender boat — full of women going hell-for-leather with a fat-ended paddle — the support boat (a tag-team arranged on its deck) was a large wooden affair, more like a fishing boat than one for leisure but without the fishy smell, or the equipment of nets and pulleys on its deck. As a support boat was paired to every rigger it made for a busy flotilla of twin vessels on a choppy sea. I can, however, be pretty sure there was only one writer. Head down in the beautiful wooden cabin for the entire 8 hours, I wrote as my partner coordinated the ‘changes’ (baton-relay-like) for the paddlers to get spells from the gruelling effort to get to the finish line. Head down amongst the yells and cheers and instructions (when paddlers saw their number held up they had to jump from the rigger and swim to the support boat, another teammate already swimming to replace them) I blocked all this frenetic activity out and became a little famous — at least among a bunch of very excited outrigger competitors — for doing so.

Paul’s view in Arnhem land

Paul DaleyWhen I was a full time journalist, I, like most, found myself writing in some unusual places. The great thing about journalism is that it conditions you to write anywhere, no matter the degree of discomfort and regardless of noise. There’s really no such thing as writers’ block when you’re punching out words to a deadline. So I found myself writing: in the backs of cars; in burnt out hotels; on helicopters; in too many bars; in frozen fields; from police stations and court foyers; while sitting in gutters and on roofs.

With my creative fiction I’ve been more choosy. I started my last novel with a few scrawls in a notebook on a sun lounge on a remote Greek Island and while most of it was written at my desk in Canberra, it developed in cafes, the National Library of Australia and in my dreams (that’s why, like so many writers, I keep a notebook by my bed). My last published short story I wrote in one take in an airline lounge. I began writing the current novel I’m working on while staying in a small bungalow in North East Arnhem Land (the view from my writing desk is pictured here) and I wrote some of it on a boat. I’m heading back to Arnhem Land soon to write some more. Sometimes I write at the kitchen bench between cooking the spag bol, feeding the dogs and overseeing homework. I don’t need aromatherapy and dolphin recordings or solitude. But I do have a lot of false starts and a rewrite a lot in my head, especially while I’m out in the bush with my dogs.

Part 2 of ‘Where Writers Write’ will feature Karen Viggers, Jack Heath, Nicole Hayes, Kirsten Krauth, Melinda Smith and a bunch of others. Stay tuned!

* Not all of us! For some writers routine is everything. Alec Patric, for instance, wrote to me to say, ‘When it comes to writing I’m pretty boring. Can’t really write anywhere else other than at my desk, same place every day. The habit, or ritual, is the only way it happens for me.’