Posts tagged sydney writers festival

Shyness is nice: the beauty of inarticulation

An autobiography of Christos Tsiolkas
A biography of Christos Tsiolkas

At the recent Sydney Writers’ Festival, David Marr did a wonderfully incisive interview with Christos Tsiolkas, author of Dead Europe, The Slap and, most recently, Barracuda. Throughout the session, in response to Marr’s questions, Tsiolkas took many minutes to speak, occasionally with his head in his hands as if trying to squeeze out the answers. The loud silence filled the room. But when he finally was able to seize the words, his ideas were rich in detail, nuanced, worth waiting for. Marr quipped that ‘he writes loudly and speaks quietly’.

As I waited patiently for Tsiolkas to frame himself, I realised how rare this was: the chance to see a writer composing, having the courage to be uncertain, to not reach for the quick answer, to feel, as Tsiolkas said, a ‘real sense of responsibility … to what language means’. While Tsiolkas initially saw his writing as an effective way to channel rage (against himself, against others), he also wanted to fight off the ‘bad habit’ of being nice. Marr responded: ‘But you are nice, aren’t you!’ Being a writer, and performing in public, is so often about trying to reconcile these contradictory forces.

In her memoir Shy, Sian Prior uses this perceived dualism as a literary device. She intertwines the thoughts of Shy Sian (the interior monologue of a woman whose hands shake at parties, who’s always on the periphery, who runs for cover when things get too rough) with Professional Sian (the radio announcer and interviewer; the teacher; the activist; confident in front of crowds). When Prior takes to the stage or the street, she’s always anxious her shy version will seep through, but Ms Professional usually comes to the rescue. The whole book is searching for what Prior is really afraid of. Rejection? Grief? Being alone? Vulnerabilty?

If you’re feeling shy, you’re worried about something. If you’re a persistent worrier, you’re anxious. If you’re anxious, your mind enters into a pact with your body, sending it into the world with an armoury of self-protective physical responses. Danger! The adrenaline, the sweating, the rapid breathing, all preparing your body to run. Ensuring your hands will shake but your legs will move faster when you need to take off.

Except that you’re never sure why you needed to take off so fast in the first place.

Shy is the first book by Sian Prior
Shy is the first book by Sian Prior

What Tsiolkas does, in those long moments of public hesitation, is let us in, share some hidden part of him. These days, there is much pressure on writers to be perfectionists in all aspects of their lives. Not only on the page but under the spotlight too. To have the right answers. To be funny. To give the audience what they want. To be entertaining. But vulnerability can be a powerful thing.

In Brene Brown’s very popular TED talk (over 15 million hits) on vulnerabilty, she interprets shame as the ‘fear of disconnection’. While Prior in her memoir may be keen to do all the research and categorisation (shyness vs introversion vs social anxiety), the residue of her writing, the success of her book, is when she meditates on loneliness and what it means to feel ashamed, to wear a mask in public — and how she tries, often unsuccessfully, to get beyond the ‘I’m not good enough’ to build relationships with others.

It’s something I’m all too familiar with. A year ago, my first novel was released. It’s about a 14-year-old girl caught between the private and public worlds. It’s about characters who fail to connect. But most of all, it’s about the grey area: those gaps between what the characters want to do and say, and what they actually manage. As the time came for the book to be released, there was the slow dawn of dread: that I would have to stand up in public and articulate. In the past I had quit jobs, taken to my bed, manipulated and evaded, to avoid exposing myself. I had stayed in my comfort zone. Behind words. A computer screen. Like Prior I had run from a party in my teens, a panic attack in the car, paralysed. I had called on Professional Kirsten many a time, to various degrees of success. But I had never stood up for myself.

Tara Moss's memoir The Fictional Woman covers some of the same ground as Sian
Tara Moss’s memoir The Fictional Woman covers some of the same ground as Sian Prior’s Shy

It wasn’t looking good. The first call came out for radio interviews, appearances at bookshops, public readings. The fear in my guts started to bleed out. My brain quickly sought angles and innovative ways to say no. Like Prior, I was a master of the what ifs. But then it finally came to me. If I couldn’t stand up and talk about my own book, where could I go? I know! I could be cultivated as mysterious, hermit-like, Patrick White. Who was I kidding? A debut author can’t do that these days. Perhaps that was the problem. Like Prior, I was shy and mysterious — even to myself. I gave myself a pep talk. I had chosen this career as a writer. I had been lucky to be able to do it. The process, and the result, was a joy to me. It was something to share. And in the end it came down to six very small and extraordinarily powerful words: ‘Whatever I do is good enough.’ No what ifs. No buts. No calling in sick. Leave it at that.

Tara Moss’s memoir, The Fictional Woman, is a good companion piece to Shy, and shares some of Prior’s themes: how pain is written in and on the body; how others’ perceptions can be elevated above your own; how beauty can be worn as a shield; and how science, stats and semi-truths can be interweaved to make a compelling narrative. But in both these books, what it all comes down to is sharp writing. While Moss’s book is themed around common (mis)conceptions, Prior uses wonderful sleight-of-hand to draw me in and push me away: lists, short chapters, vivid description, strong characterisation, positing herself as the unreliable narrator, juxtaposing the two Sians in interviews, bold statements, wry humour, and the charm (and betrayal) of falling in and out of love:

On the computer screen we could be nutty, nuanced, nonchalant. Nothing seemed to be at stake, nothing required except to entertain each other with words. We told each other stories from our past, we compared our reactions to novels we’d read, we even offered tidbits of regret about past relationships. Writing to Tom, I felt weightless.

 And in one of those early emails, when I confessed to being shy, he simply replied: As Morrissey says, shyness is nice.

 I felt like I’d been found.

A year on from releasing just_a_girl, a piece of my identity has clicked into place too. The Land of Writers is where I feel I belong. Writers are weird, shy, crazy, eloquent, bumbling, provocative, curious, fringe dwellers — and often drink too much. Just like everyone else I like, really. As I challenge myself on the festival circuit, many writers have come up to me, confessed their own fears, keen for guidance. They’re shy. They’d rather be looking on. It doesn’t come naturally to them. They want to run. I feel their pain. But I can now point to Tsiolkas and Prior and Moss. Do I think any less of them (as writers, as people?) now I see their vulnerable side? Do I judge them critically, knowing what I do? In reality, it’s exactly the opposite. What remains is enormous respect — and a desire to know more about them (as writers, as people). Just read any blog about how to cope with mental illness, how to move through grief, how to come out as an introvert (via Susan Cain), and go to the comments section. People want to see the inarticulate, the not-so-slick, the grasping for meaning; it’s what generates passion and compassion in the reader.

Sian Prior’s memoir may not be a how-to or reveal-all, but it does connect. It dares me to challenge my own perceptions, see beneath the surface, and come out the other end, shyness intact. She has a talk on shyness coming up at the Wheeler Centre tonight. I hope it’s Shy Sian rather than Professional Sian who turns up on the night.

 

A version of this article originally appeared at the Wheeler Centre’s daily blog.

I have a Facebook page too. If you could LIKE I would surely LOVE.

 

 

 

Pushing your own cart: marketing, social media and author platforms

Kirsten Krauth, Darrell Pitt + Kate Forsyth, Forest for the Trees seminar, Sydney Writers' Festival
Kirsten Krauth, Darrell Pitt + Kate Forsyth, Forest for the Trees seminar, Sydney Writers’ Festival

The second session I did at the Sydney Writers’ Festival (after Here and Now) was part of the NSW Writers’ Centre’s Forest for the Trees day-long seminar, where I spoke about being a published author with a small press, and how I’ve marketed just_a_girl since its release.

The audience was diverse: from those who had never used Twitter to those creating their own films for YouTube. You can hear the entire session here (and many others from the day including an interview with Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Eimear McBride).

Nicola O’Shea from ebookedit.com.au did a great summary of the session I did with renowned author Kate Forsyth and indie-turned-book-deal star Darrell Pitt.

MARKETING + PROMOTION STRATEGIES FOR INDIE AUTHORS

On 22 May, I attended NSW Writers’ Centre’s The Forest for the Trees event at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. All the sessions were excellent, but the one I found most useful for indie authors was Pushing Your Own Cart, about how authors promote their books and the tools they use.

The panel comprised Kate Forsyth (The Witches of Eileanan series, Bitter Greens, The Wild Girl, Dancing on Knives), representing the established, internationally published author; Kirsten Krauth (just_a_girl), representing the debut novelist published by a small press; and Darrell Pitt (The Firebird Mystery, Diary of a Teenage Superhero, The Doomsday Device) as the self-published author – whose success at selling his own books has led to an 8-book publishing deal with a traditional publisher.

Here are some of the strategies the panellists shared.

ESTABLISH AN ONLINE PRESENCE/AUTHOR PLATFORM 

Although Kate Forsyth, Kirsten Krauth and Darrell Pitt have had quite different publishing experiences, they all agreed on the crucial importance of establishing an online presence: ‘an author platform’ as Kirsten called it, so readers can find out more about the authors whose books they love. An online presence might take the form of an author website or a blog; or authors can connect with readers through social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Wattpad.

AUTHOR BLOG

Kirsten started writing her blog a long time before her novel came out and used it to establish and practise her writing voice and to build a community. Even though her original intention wasn’t to promote her book, she found that when the book came out, her blog followers were keen to buy and read it because they already had a connection with her. Kirsten also has a regular post called Friday Night Fictions where she interviews debut Australian novelists (traditionally published and self-published).

Kate uses her blog to ‘connect with kindred spirits’ – people who love reading and stories as much as she does – and tries to give them something through her blog rather than using it only as a promotional tool for her own books. She writes reviews of the books she reads each month, and if she particularly loves a book she’ll contact the author and do an interview with them on her blog.

Darrell has an author website, but he doesn’t have a blog. While he agrees that it’s important for authors to connect with their readers, he believes it’s even more important that authors spend the majority of their time writing books. He gave the example of a reader loving a writer’s work and going online to find more books by the same author; but if that author’s too busy self-promoting instead of writing, there aren’t any more books for the reader to buy. This ties in with the advice from many successful indie authors that volume is important for discoverability. It can be more effective to write several books in a series before you publish the first one, so you can offer readers follow-up titles in a short time frame, rather than whetting their appetite with one book and then keeping them waiting for more.

Kate also uses her blog to survey readers about what they like and dislike about her blog, and asks for suggestions about how to make it a better experience for them. She often makes changes based on her readers’ feedback. Some indie authors push this idea further still, asking blog followers for feedback on extracts from their books in progress and then incorporating that feedback into their work. That kind of to-and-fro communication between author and readers creates a strong sense of community, and has a greater chance of translating into sales once the book is published.

The blog tour is another fairly recent promotional activity, and one that’s used by traditional publishers as well as indie authors. Kate did a month-long blog tour for The Wild Girl, which required her to write 31 posts, which were then published one per day on a range of international blogs all with thousands of followers. It’s a great way of getting global coverage without the expense of a physical tour. If you’re an indie author writing in a particular genre, you’re probably already aware of bloggers who write or review in that genre; ask them if you can write a guest post about something related to the subject of your book, or the writing process, or the self-publishing process – again, it’s about sharing useful information rather than simply self-promoting. It’s hard work creating fresh content for a blog so most bloggers are likely to respond positively to your request, as long as it’s a good fit with their blog and readers.

USING SOCIAL MEDIA 

All three authors agreed that it’s important to find a happy balance between promoting your books and connecting with readers in a more general way: e.g. with writing tips, sharing information about other writers and their books, and even writing about unrelated topics that interest you. The same rule applies to Twitter; as Darrell said, ‘No one wants to be constantly sold to’.

Kirsten loves the immediacy of Twitter, and also the way it notifies you of mentions of your Twitter handle – that allows her to reply personally to anyone who tweets about her book. Kate uses Twitter to engage with her readers directly too, and also to tell them about courses she might be teaching or appearances at schools or in bookstores. She said she aims to get 20 new followers a week, by giving readers something or sharing information with them.

Kirsten Krauth's just_a_girl experiment on Pinterest
Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl experiment on Pinterest

Kate is a big fan of Pinterest, and uses it to share covers of her books from different countries. Kirsten set up a Pinterest page for the main character in just_a_girl, and likened using Pinterest to making a scrapbook or journal related to your books, their characters and landscapes.

Darrell talked about his experiences with Wattpad, which is a site where authors can upload their writing and get feedback from other writers and readers. Wattpad is especially good for YA fiction as its reading demographic is mainly teenagers. Darrell put his first two novels up on Wattpad for free and had over 50,000 readers per book, many of whom went on to buy his other books, proving the theory that offering some free material can be a good way to general follow-on sales.

A writer in the audience asked whether the three panellists used YouTube to engage with readers (YouTube is the second-most popular networking site after Facebook), which led to a discussion of book trailers: short video clips to promote the book, like a film trailer but usually much simpler – often using images and music to create atmosphere, and sometimes with a voiceover or a short interview with the author. Kate’s publishers produce trailers for her books and she uses them at schools talks and other events; while Darrell told us he’d made a trailer for his first self-published book, The Steampunk Detective. Kirsten asked the writer in the audience how she uses YouTube to promote her books, and she said she’s experimenting with some short videos of herself giving writing tips, with the aim of encouraging viewers to click through to her website and her books.

GOODREADS

GoodReads is a networking site where people share information and reviews about books they’ve read or want to read, which, as Kirsten said, makes it the perfect place for writers to connect with other people who love reading. Kirsten finds GoodReads useful for getting honest feedback about her book and also connecting with her readers.

PROMOTION IN THE REAL WORLD/OFFLINE PROMOTION

Kate’s publishers send out free advance reading copies of her books to booksellers and reviewers; and Kate often goes on book tours around Australia and also overseas, talking at festivals, other book-related events and schools.

Kirsten had already established contacts in the media through reviewing books for newspapers so was able to draw on those contacts when it came to getting her own book reviewed. Kirsten has also given talks at libraries and festivals, and commented on how important it is to say yes to all opportunities – and also not to prejudge your audience. She gave the example of a recent talk to an audience of older women: she thought they wouldn’t be all that interested in her book as it’s aimed at younger readers, but afterwards most of the women bought a copy, telling her they wanted to understand their granddaughters better and her book would help them do that.

For indie authors who might not have media contacts, it’s a good idea to start local: contact your local newspaper to let them know you’ve published a novel; talk to your library to see if they host author talks; if your book is for children or YA readers, ask around the schools in your area to see if there’s an opportunity to give a talk to their students.

Darrell recommended Toastmasters as a way of improving your public speaking skills before you stand up in front of an audience to talk about your book.

COVER, TITLE + PRICE

Before you start the marketing/promotion process, of course, you need a great product. Authors who are traditionally published often have minimal input into the final cover design but the cover is professionally produced and at no cost to the author. Kate said that she has a lot of input into her Australian covers, but not so much for the editions of her books published internationally and in translation.

I asked Kirsten about her cover experience after the session and she said she found it a wonderful process: ‘I gave the publisher heaps of ideas, and examples of covers I liked, and their designer read the book and sent five examples to choose from. It was a really smooth and fun creative process.’ Kirsten even took printouts of the two ideas she liked most to a bookstore and ‘put them on top of the piles of books to see how they compared with others. This was an interesting exercise as they looked different when part of a large group.’

For indie authors, creating your book’s cover is a more personal process, but one thing all successful authors agree on is the importance of a high-quality cover that suits your book’s genre and market.

The title is equally crucial: it has to be engaging while also giving readers an indication of the book’s content and genre. Again, indie authors have more control over this process than traditionally published authors. When I worked in-house at a large publishing company it was quite common for book titles to change from the author’s original choice, based on how the marketing team planned to promote and sell the book. It’s important to find a title that suits the widest readership possible.

Indie authors definitely have much more control over pricing strategies for their books than traditionally published authors do; and, of course, they usually receive a higher percentage of that price each time they sell a book. Darrell talked about the benefits of volume when it comes to price: e.g. when you release a new book, you can offer previous titles at a lower price so readers are encouraged to buy more than just the new release. Or you might offer your new release at a special discount price for the first month, for example. Being your own publisher means you can be as flexible as you like with pricing strategies.

MORE MARKETING/PROMOTION TIPS

Another session I attended was called To Market, To Market, and these are the tips I picked up there:

The most-shared and retweeted blog posts are Top-Ten-list-style posts: e.g. Top Ten Tips for Self-Promoting Your Book.

Consider writing a monthly or bimonthly newsletter that contains useful information for writers, background history to your books, anything you think readers might find interesting. Add a sign-up option to your author website so readers can provide you with their email address to receive the newsletter.

Run competitions through your website to collect names/email addresses for your mailing list: e.g. give away a copy of your latest book to the first 20 people that sign up to receive your newsletter.

Consider purchasing advertising space in other successful e-newsletters. (Traditional publishers are doing this and finding they get an excellent return from such ads.)

 

WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT MAKES YOU PICK UP A BOOK? HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT MARKETING? ANY TIPS TO SHARE?

 

“Hell is a half-filled auditorium”: Richard Flanagan at Varuna/Sydney Writers’ Festival

Richard Flanagan + Geordie Williamson, Varuna/Sydney Writers' Festival
Richard Flanagan + Geordie Williamson, Varuna/Sydney Writers’ Festival. Photo: Bette Mifsud.

Richard Flanagan started his session quoting Robert Frost, while peering out to see the Carrington packed to the rafters. After watching him again down Sydney Theatre-way, I doubt he’ll ever have to worry about empty seats again.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is my favourite book of recent years. Its scope, its compassion, its use of poetry, its melding of the Australian/Japanese view, its horror and love, its strange and cyclical stucture: I have it by my bed to dip into, trying to learn its secrets, as it helps me start on my second novel.

Taking part in writer sessions recently has helped me realise the importance of choosing a good interviewer. Geordie Williamson is always sensitive and assured, and I love how he challenges Flanagan with wordy flights and interpretations. Flanagan begins with a reading, and I’m surprised to find it’s the passage that some might say is the spoiler. I like the daring of this: bringing up the novel’s central dilemma — as Dorrigo Evans walks, he sees his lover after a lifetime without her: will he stop (will she?) or will he walk on by (will she?).

The beauty of the novel comes from the bringing together of hope and horror, inflicting us with obscenities, and then asking us to rise above them. Flanagan laughs when he says he was terrified to write a love story and that he put it off for five novels: that ‘everyone recognises a bad note’. In my own writing I know this to be the case; the ugly, the disturbing, the conflict, is much more seductive, but I’m hoping to move on too.

My favourite novel of recent years: Richard Flanagan's Narrow Road to the Deep North
My favourite novel of recent years: Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North

In many ways, Flanagan’s power comes from the personal. A ‘child of the death railway’, the impact on him was all-encompassing. Many audience members who stood up to ask questions echoed this. The young men who returned with severe trauma didn’t heal in their own lives, while their wounds were passed on to following generations. Many of us with tight-lipped grandfathers, the ones who would only loosen up after sinking a dozen on ANZAC day, understand this well, the ‘gaps between the silence of men’. Flanagan questioned the current infatuation with the ANZAC legend as based on contested ground, leading towards a ‘perverted and dangerous national festival … an insult to those who died … a vindication of chauvinism’.

He sees writing a novel as a ‘journey into your own soul’, his latest book an attempt to translate ‘the small acts of extraordinary kindness we show each other’, along with the gore and the filth of POW camps. Most clear is his sympathy for those caught up in the machinery of war. He met Japanese and Korean guards (The Lizard) in Japan, and ultimately sees war as demanding evil of innocent people.

When Geordie asked him about the ethical dilemmas of taking fictional liberties with the ‘literature of witness’ (he includes Levi here), Flanagan says that ‘writing can’t have ethics … it’s beyond morality’. He sees the role of the writer as ‘an idea of someone whose task it is to communicate the incommunicable’. What was most important to Flanagan was not to cause offence to his father, his dad’s mates, and the people who stumbled and fell along the line.

The novel took over a decade to write. He finished the book on the day his father died.

And through it all is Flanagan’s wicked humour. After humbling himself — ‘the things that are the best of me are in each book’ — he adds, ‘the rest of me is an added disappointment’.

 

 

 

Tough love: Sally Piper & Annah Faulkner – Varuna/Sydney Writers’ Festival

Sally Piper + Annah Faulkner, Varuna/Sydney Writers' Festival. Photo: Bette Mifsud.
Sally Piper + Annah Faulkner, Varuna/Sydney Writers’ Festival. Photo: Bette Mifsud.

Annah Faulkner has the kind of eyes so sharp they seem to penetrate you to the bone. When talking about her novel The Beloved, you can imagine she is as gusty as the characters she speaks of. Sally Piper, a former nurse, has just released her debut novel Grace’s Table, and this is her first appearance at a festival.

Annah talks about how love seems to have changed over the generations, how in the past love could be fierce, so fierce it was like fighting for survival. There can be a point for mothers where they want something so badly (for their child), they’re so fearful about what’s going to happen (to their child), that their love tips at a point into something else, into desperate control. This reminds me of Jeanette Winterson’s adopted mother — evangelical, deranged — in her memoir, who asks: why be happy when you could be normal?

A small comment from a parent to a small child can influence how they see the world, and their place in it, for a long time. Annah tells of drawing at the table and her mother leaning over and saying, just casually, ‘Art is definitely not your strength.’ Creativity needs to be nurtured not strangled. It was only when she reached 41, that she saw a man in the park, and thought, ‘I’d like to paint that’. In a way, she sees writing a small girl character with a talent for art as a way of healing.

Annah Faulkner, BelovedAnnah reveals that her mother was a journo and photographer in Papua New Guinea. I was born in PNG and returned there for a short time when I was a child. It’s more and more on the radar with Australian writers. I look forward to reading The Beloved.

In Grace’s Table, Sally’s intent was to flout the expected conventions when writing about a 70-year-old woman. She wanted to write an older woman character who had lived (as we all have lived). Sally wrote her novel as part of a degree, and said she had always been fascinated with the 50s, women in the kitchen, the post-war period where after women had the chance to work, their opportunities were then stripped right back.

Sally talked about how the way we share food defines us, and her novel revolves around how food in a domestic setting is not just about loving and caring, but can be manipulative and taunting too. Her university exegesis was about how disempowered 50s women became empowered in the home by becoming guerilla tacticians. I have a vision of someone in a demure apron and a gorilla mask, but I’ll read Grace’s Table to find out more.

Sally Piper, Grace's TableIn response to an audience question about characters becoming part of their lives and buzzing around in their brains, Sally admitted to being a ‘bloody idiot’ when writing and driving (the two don’t mix; I can attest to this). I don’t mean literally. But having characters talk to you when you’re at the wheel can be really distracting.

While Annah, who has set an event in her new novel at a particular block of land that she drives past regularly, always thinks ‘There’s Fred’s place!’ as she sails on by…

For more on the Varuna/Sydney Writers’ Festival, see Emma Donoghue chatting about motherhood and cross-dressing, and a roundup of my Here and Now session with Felicity Castagna.

Here and Now: Felicity Castagna and me – Varuna/Sydney Writers’ Festival

Kirsten Krauth, Felicity Castagna + Irina Dunn, Varuna/Sydney Writers' Festival. Photo:
Kirsten Krauth, Felicity Castagna + Irina Dunn, Varuna/Sydney Writers’ Festival. Photo: Bette Mifsud.

When you go up on a stage to talk about your book, the harsh spotlight and the mics and the intense concentration and the nerves means the event can fly past you even as you’re experiencing it. Something like smoking too much pot.

I was going to dredge up my disconnected and whimsical memories but — thank God — I discovered Lisa Fleetwood’s Welcome to My Library blog, which covers it so much more eloquently than I could. She’s kindly agreed to do the work for me, and let me reproduce it here…

HERE AND NOW: DEBUT FICTION AT THE VARUNA/SYDNEY WRITERS’ FESTIVAL: FELICITY CASTAGNA AND KIRSTEN KRAUTH

BY LISA FLEETWOOD

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Wow, what a great start to the Sydney Writers’ Festival! I love the day up at the Carrington Hotel in Katoomba — its such a great setting for a writers’ fest! For this blog post I will just concentrate on the first session as it featured two amazing Australian women writers. I took so many notes, it’s too much for even one blog post.

Two debut writers (but both are by no means new to the world of writing and editing) Kirsten Krauth and Felicity Castagna featured in conversation with Irina Dunn. Both authors have written fiction centred around the suburbs of Western Sydney [Felicity’s is YA; Kirsten’s was published as adult but crosses over into YA], and have explored the lives of teenage protagonists that are forced into maturity early. The discussion was informative and interesting (as a writer and a reader), and chaired brilliantly by Irina.

just_a_girlKirsten Krauth’s novel just_a_girl tears into the fabric of contemporary culture. A Puberty Blues for the digital age, a Lolita with a webcam, it’s what happens when young girls are forced to grow up too fast. Layla is isolated and searching for a sense of connection, faith, friendship and healing. The author explores the teenage world of what it’s like to grow up negotiating the digital world of Facebook, webcams, internet porn, mobile phones and cyber-bullying — a world where the line between public and private is increasingly being eroded.

Felicity CastagnaFelicity Castagna’s novel (which has been short-listed for a NSW Premiers Literary Award & the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year: Older Readers) tells the story of Michael, whose older brother dies at the beginning of the summer he turns 15, but as its title suggests, The Incredible Here and Now is a tale of wonder, not of tragedy. It tells of Michael’s coming of age in a year which brings him grief and romance; and of the place he lives in Western Sydney and its mix of cultures. Through his perceptions, the reader becomes familiar with Michael’s community and its surroundings, the unsettled life of his family, the girl he meets at the local pool, the friends that gather in the McDonald’s parking lot at night, the white Pontiac Trans Am that lights up his life like a magical talisman.


 Irina began the discussion about the environment of the novels. How did the authors create the sense of place?

→For Felicity, Parramatta was a place she knew well, had walked and worked and lived in, and was fascinated by the mix of cultures and the small spaces where people gather — the Macca’s carpark, the Westfield food court, the local shops and the intricacies that make up a bustling city and how a teenager might inhabit that space.

→For Kirsten, her former commute from Springwood to Sydney was a plethora of research fodder for a self-proclaimed semi-stalker of people. She found that a train is a place somewhere in between public and private, a place where not all, but many people, reveal private information in a very public place, especially teenage girls. From the discussion today, I sense that the environment inside and outside the train (regular or irregular passengers, gigantic moths, the beautiful landscape passing by) will feature, but upon reading the book I am sure a further sense of Layla’s space, her inner thoughts and her online world will be revealed.

Both authors talked of wanting to elaborate more with the setting and place.

→Felicity is particularly interested in place-driven novels, but both commented on the need to strip back the description to write a character study rather than setting.

→Kirsten realised that her characters wouldn’t notice the environment as much as she would. Kirsten’s comment struck a chord with me — why hadn’t I thought about that before? I have sometimes used description in my novel as merely a need to get something across to the reader, but would a teenage boy (my protagonist) notice the lines of a building, what it was made of, or the sunlight sparkling on the cascade of a waterfall? Maybe not. Time for yet another edit maybe.

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Kirsten Krauth, Felicity Castagna and Irina Dunn, Here and Now session, The Carrington, Katoomba, Varuna/Sydney Writers’ Festival

The discussion moved on to how the authors captured the teenage voice. How did they do it so well?

→Felicity, as a former teacher in a boys’ high school, had seven years’ experience observing teenage boys and how they speak and react, but within that she wanted to create a poetic, lyrical voice with a teenage usage of similes and metaphors.

→Kirsten was fascinated with what she would sometimes hear on the train, the ease at which teenage girls would freely talk about their escapades (sometimes sexual) in a public space, but she was also interested in the private/public space of the internet and how much could be gleaned about people without their knowledge.

When researching her book (which actually began as a character study), Krauth found that talking to teenage girls didn’t reveal to her the information she was looking for, but all she had to do was sit back and listen — on the train, but also online. Her book also explored the digital medium of lonely people who can’t connect in everyday life but connect online privately on a public medium, or so they think. Krauth found that it didn’t take much to find out where someone lived, what they liked and who their friends were. She found it easy to get inside the minds of teenage girls, so how easy would it be for a sexual predator? Something to think about for me with a teenage daughter. We have had a ‘internet is turned off when Mum goes to bed’ rule for a long time. This rule won’t be changing anytime soon!

What were their influences for these novels?

→Felicity’s childhood YA reading (while living abroad) introduced her to a form of writing called ‘vignettes’ and she used this style to write her novel. A vignette is a short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or gives a trenchant impression about a character, idea, setting, or object, or in Felicity’s words — a series of ‘short short stories’. She then puts her stories into linear fashion and fills in the gaps.

→Kirsten’s quotes Room by Emma Donoghue, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer as influences for their clarity and fresh voice, as well as the naive voice (of a child) and a terrible sense of dread.

Plotter or Pantser?

Definition: Plotter –  Outlines novel before sitting down to write it. Pantser – Sits down at the computer each day, waiting to be surprised, writing your book literally by the seat of your pants.

→Kirsten — definitely a Pantser. She wrote the first draft without planning or plotting and without re-reads or editing. As soon as she mentioned doing her Masters with Sue Woolfe, I knew what she meant! (I will do a blog post about Sue Woolfe soon). I did a fascinating day course with her last year. Her view is that over-planning and plotting limits the imagination, reins it in. Where would our imaginative brains have taken us if we weren’t corralled by a firm plot? Kirsten talked of writing scenes in fragments and moving the scenes around to where they fit best. What voice appears in the story after first draft? What emerges as the heart of the story, the main theme?

→Felicity wasn’t quite as definite. I recall her nodding to the question of being a Pantser. Perhaps she may have been combination of the two, but her form of writing — the Vignettes — leans towards a Panster. These vignettes may have been her first ‘pantser’ draft, then upon second draft spent some time plotting and, as she said, ‘fills in the gaps’. If she reads this post, perhaps she can confirm! It was hard for both authors to answer all of the questions fully with the limited time of the session, or maybe I simply missed her response while scribbling notes.

In closing

There was further discussion regarding multiculturalism and how children perceive it, internet research and the dangers of connecting online, the world of self-marketing as an author, and comparisons between growing up in the 80s compared to teenagers in the digital age. A question from the audience touched on the perception of adults about teenagers, and the discussion led to the intelligence and sensitivity of children and teenagers, and how there is a big gap between their inner thoughts and feelings, and how they present themselves to the world, which could lead to an incorrect perception by adults.

Both authors read short excerpts from their books which gave me a real sense of the characters and the place setting. I am really looking forward to reading and reviewing them.

felicity-castagna

Kirsten-Krauth-200

To read more about Kirsten Krauth click here for her website and Wild Colonial Girl Blog.

To read more about Felicity Castgana click here for her personal website go tohttp://www.incrediblestories.net.au for a teaching guide for her book.

Book images and synopsis from Goodreads.

Read my related articles about Notable Australian Children’s Fiction and the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

 

Festivals: Clunes Booktown, Sydney Writers’ Festival + how to approach them

Alex Miller, Castlemaine-based author and winner of Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Coal Creek, will feature at Clunes Booktown
Alex Miller, Castlemaine-based author and winner of Victorian Premiers Literary Award for Coal Creek, will feature at Clunes Booktown

Before I head into a general ramble about festivals, I’ll get the topical bit out of the way to say: yes, I am in! May is festival time so if you live in Sydney, Melbourne, or the regions surrounding me (Ballarat, Bendigo, Castlemaine, etc), please come and see my fest debuts; it’s always nice to have bums on seats. And I always like to get audience questions from people I already know.

CLUNES BOOKTOWN, 3-4 MAY

This is one of my favourite festivals, where the beautiful old streets are taken over by second hand booksellers; a literary paradise. It’s a nice day trip from Melb or a fun weekender.

I’m excited to be including on the program, doing a session with graphic novelist Nicki Greenberg (where we push the boundaries of the novel), plus I’ll be pushing things even further when I head up on stage for the first time with my dad, Nigel Krauth, also an author (well, he did win the Vogel Award for his first novel Matilda My Darling and the NSW Premiers Literary Award for JF Was Here). We’ll be duelling light sabres and talking about how to write fathers and daughters and how we both get caught up in our own and shared fictions.

My sessions at Clunes:

Sat 3 May: 11.15-12.15, Pushing the Boundaries of the Novel, with Nicki Greenberg, Venue: Warehouse

Sun 4 May: 12.30-1.30, Writing the father Writing the daughter, with Nigel Krauth, Venue: Warehouse

The highly esteemed Alex Miller and Henry Reynolds will also be in attendance. Full programme is available here.

SYDNEY WRITERS’ FESTIVAL, 19 + 22 MAY

Felicity Castagna, Friday Night Fictions author, will be doing a session with me about first novels at Sydney Writers' Festival
Felicity Castagna, Friday Night Fictions author, will be doing a session with me about first novels at Sydney Writers’ Festival

One of the things I love about writers’ festivals these days is that they’re spreading like a virus out of the inner-urban into regional areas. I’m very excited to be appearing in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains (where just_a_girl is set) alongside another debut author Felicity Castagna (whose work appeared in Friday Night Fictions).

Again, city-dwellers could do a great day trip or locals will probably already have their tickets. Apparently they are selling well.

What I’m really keen on is that two of my favourite writers of the moment (Richard Flanagan – YES! – and Emma Donoghue) will also be in Katoomba. I’ll be staying at Varuna, the famous retreat for writers, so I’ll be able to suss it out before returning to hopefully work on the second novel at some point this year.

I never would have dreamed when I was about to launch my book that down the track I would be talking about marketing, but there you go. At Forest for the Trees, an all-day NSW Writers’ Centre seminar on the state of publishing, I’ll be hanging out with Kate Forsyth and discussing how you go about marketing novels, and how social media (and blogging) can help. I like to target these sessions to the modern introvert (like me) who can go a long way to promote their work without moving from their bedroom (except to get the occasional cup of tea).

My sessions at Sydney Writers’ Festival:

Here and Now: Debut Fiction, Monday 19 May, 10–11.10am, Carrington Hotel, Katoomba. (More info – tickets for session at venue or day passes available.)

Forest for the Trees: Writing and Publishing in 2014, how to publish and market a debut novel, Thursday 22 May, State Library of NSW, 10am–4.30pm. (More info – tickets available from SWF website.)

THE GENTLE ART OF APPROACHING WRITERS’ FESTIVALS

Richard Flanager, author of my fave book from last year, will also be appearing in Katoomba as part of the SWF
Richard Flanagan, author of my fave book from last year, will also be appearing in Katoomba as part of the SWF

I don’t tend to think of myself as naive, but if I’m being completely honest, perhaps I’m a bit more like my character Layla than I tend to admit.

Along the marketing ride (I mean gallop)  for just_a_girl, some things have taken me by surprise. One has been the notion of the writers’ festival.

Now I have been going to writers’ festivals since I was a child. My dad Nigel Krauth (see Clunes above) sometimes took me along to his sessions (I remember CUB Malthouse in Melbourne) and I’d watch with pride and awe as he read filthy passages that made me blush and roll my eyes, and fielded questions from the audience as if he was very important. In my twenties and thirties I attended many festivals as a reader, never in quite as much awe, but keen to glean as much know-how as I could, for the day when I would be a famous writer.

But back to earth. Writers’ festivals are quite hard to get into. I didn’t know this. I never did the maths (ie 10,000 aspiring writers does not equal 400 writers in festival program). I thought that once I had a novel published, there it was. I was a WRITER now. I wasn’t emerging any more. I was OUT. THERE. There’s this book in your hand. Anyone can see it. Feel free to programme me.

But no. Like anything else these days, it is no longer just about the book. It’s about the writer. And you have to sell your soul! I mean, your self. This is all about strategy. It’s taken me nearly a year to break into the festival circuit (since just_a_girl was published). Here are a few things that I’ve learnt so far that could help:

Tim Ferguson, author and DAAS (see earlier blog post), will be teaching comic writing at Sydney Writers' Festival
Tim Ferguson, author and DAAS (see earlier blog post), will be teaching comic writing at Sydney Writers’ Festival

1. You need to get in early. It’s good to think about approaching festivals pretty soon after the last one has finished. Not too soon … but.

2. The personal touch works. Don’t just send a media release with a review copy of your book. Write about you, what you’re about, why you wrote your book, how your angle differs from everyone else’s.

3. Offer to do extra stuff. Look you’ll get taken advantage of, but that’s the fucking industry all over, isn’t it! Offer to convene other sessions (if you’re the extroverted type) or blog about other sessions (more my style).

4. Try the regional angle. Of course everyone wants to get into Sydney and Melbourne and they have wonderful prestige and the chance to hobknob but in terms of promoting your books, you might get lost in the crowd…Look for festivals in your area (see Clunes Booktown again!) or check out online databases of literary festivals and try a smaller one that concentrates on your genre.

My good mate Walter Mason (Destination Cambodia) will be appearing with Stephanie Dowrick at Sydney Writers Festival
My good mate Walter Mason (Destination Cambodia) will be appearing with Stephanie Dowrick at Sydney Writers Festival

5. Rejection is hard. The difficult thing about being knocked back from festivals is if you focus on point 2 above, as you need to, it can start to feel personal. Not only does the festival not want the book, they can’t place you as a person either. But each festival director is different, looking for a new angle on old topics. Look at the program and see where you slot in. Try again next time. Try and find another writer working in a similar vein. Are they sexier than you? Good. Use them. Pitch as a team.

6. Look to the experts. I commissioned Angela Meyer, of LiteraryMinded fame, to write a terrific sum-up of how to appear at writers festivals for Newswrite magazine (NSW Writers’ Centre) because she’s been to loads. Her article has since been reproduced at ArtsHub so it’s a great starting point…

AND WHAT ABOUT YOU? DO YOU GO TO WRITERS FESTIVALS? WHICH ARE YOUR FAVOURITES — AS READERS OR WRITERS?

Wild Colonial Girl has a Facebook page too! If you could LIKE I would really LOVE.

OK, my book is out, now what?

Thrilled at the book's safe arrival!
It’s arrived! just_a_girl released 1 June…

When I posted that question recently on Facebook, a good mate said: ‘Sell it.’ Increasingly, with the advent of social media, and with book buyers receding, there is pressure on writers to market and sell their own books. I sometimes wish we could revert to the olden days before writer festivals, book tours and launches, when after your book was written, someone else would take it off your hands and you could let it gently fly away (I recently heard someone refer to releasing your book as watching your baby crawl across an eight-lane freeway.)

But who am I kidding?  I realise the irony of this, as I sit here writing a blog about my new book. I recently enjoyed seeing the literary critic James Wood speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival. I love his reviews, and they focus as much on the writer as the writing. The audience is hungry to know where the essence of the fiction comes from, what ‘truth’ gives the novel its flavour. I admire the guts of Italian writer Elena Ferrante, who Wood quotes:

Ferrante sent her publisher a letter that, like her fiction, is pleasingly rigorous and sharply forthright. It lays out principles she has not deviated from since. She will do nothing for [her book] “Troubling Love,” she tells her publisher, because she has already done enough: she wrote it. She won’t take part in conferences or discussions, and won’t go to accept prizes, if any are awarded. “I will be interviewed only in writing, but I would prefer to limit even that to the indispensable minimum”:

[Ferrante says] I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t. . . . I very much love those mysterious volumes, both ancient and modern, that have no definite author but have had and continue to have an intense life of their own. They seem to me a sort of nighttime miracle, like the gifts of the Befana, which I waited for as a child. . . . True miracles are the ones whose makers will never be known. . . . Besides, isn’t it true that promotion is expensive? I will be the least expensive author of the publishing house. I’ll spare you even my presence.

Oh, to have the gall! I wonder if she has read Wood’s article…

It is daunting letting your first book out into the world. You want it to be reviewed but to be treated kindly. You want discussion that looks at the real issues, that delves beneath the surface. You want your characters to be respected (but not necessarily liked). You want the fact that you’re a beginner (in terms of novels) taken into account.

Margaret Atwood, in a recent interview with Jennifer Byrne (currently available on ABC iView), mentioned that there were four kinds of books: good books that make money; bad books that make money; good books that make no money; and bad books that make no money. She said that three of these four is OK! I love her cheeky style.

And so here we go…the spruik (I promise I will only do this once).

just_a_girl was released into bookstores on 1 June

It’s been very exciting to finally see the manuscript in book form. When I opened the package from the publishers my hands were shaking and I did the equivalent of the touchdown dance they do in footy (or whatever it’s called).

Apparently, the book is available in Australian bookstores (a friend saw it in Readings in Melbourne but, being a rural Victorian, I haven’t seen it in a bookstore yet – if you do send pics!). If you live in Castlemaine, Stoneman’s will have it.

You can also buy either a paperback or e-book version from UWA Publishing here. If you live in the States or elsewhere overseas (I know a number of readers do), it’s available for pre-order on Amazon.

Invite: Sydney launch of just_a_girl, 18 June, Gleebooks, 6.30pm
Invite: Sydney launch of just_a_girl, 18 June, Gleebooks, 6.30pm

The official launches

The Sydney launch is coming up fast. TUESDAY 18 JUNE, 6.30pm, at Gleebooks, to be launched by the wonderful novelist Emily Maguire. If you’d like to come along, you can RSVP directly to Gleebooks via their website. Children are welcome. Would love to celebrate and meet you there.

The Castlemaine launch will be SATURDAY 13 JULY at Lot 19 in Castlemaine, from 5pm, to be launched by Angela Meyer of LiteraryMinded fame. The band Itchy Scabs will be playing and kids are welcome there too. If you’re in Melbourne, come up for the weekend. It’s a gorgeous spot to explore. Invites are being prepared as we speak…

Order it at your library

If you don’t have the funds to buy books (and many don’t), please ask for it at your library. I love libraries and the more libraries who order it, and the more requests at those libraries, the happier I will be.

Review it on Goodreads and Amazon

The worst thing that can happen for a writer is resounding silence, after ten years of focus on a work… If you like the book (or if you hate it), please talk about it. I’ve set up an author page and the book is now up for discussion at Goodreads. Get in contact with me on the blog, do a review. I’m so keen to hear your thoughts. Also, if you’re not on Goodreads, it is absolute heaven for book lovers. You can create shelves with books you have read, books you’re currently reading, do reviews, rate books, recommend books to others, and get close and personal with writers.

Suggest it for your Book Club — or start your own

Book Clubs are a fantastic way of talking about writers, especially debut novelists! If you’re a member of a Book Club, just_a_girl has some terrific book club notes exploring the following issues:

• Sexuality and identity; Teenage friendships and relationships; The dangers of social media and technology; Mother-daughter relationships; Faith and healing; Searching for connection in a disconnected world

Interviews and articles

The most wonderful thing about social media is how bloggers and tweeters help each other out. I will be posting interviews and articles/reviews regularly at Wild Colonial Girl, but first off the rank is the lovely Allison Tait who invited me in for a cup of tea and a chat at her blog Life in a Pink Fibro — about the teenage voice (in an adult novel) and choosing a publisher.

If you’d like to interview me, would like a guest blog post, or a review copy, just click on the Contact tab and send me a message.

Read a sample chapter or two

Sometimes, with all the choice on offer, I like to see a writer’s style of writing before I purchase a book, especially if it’s the first time. Here’s a sample (introductory chapters) of just_a _girl and I hope you enjoy it…

WHAT ABOUT YOU?

HAVE YOU HAD A BOOK PUBLISHED?

WHAT WAS IT LIKE LETTING IT OUT INTO THE WORLD?

AND HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT PROMOTING IT — AND DID YOU WANT TO?