But one of the most difficult aspects for writing for kids is getting what they say and how they say it, right. If we were to check on current teenage usage, we might find words like salty, (meaning to be negative,) yet (meaning to be cool), and fam, (describing your current group of friends). But should the characters we are writing about use those terms? Teens invent language to separate themselves from grown-ups, and rightly so. It’s all a part of growing up and becoming independent. But if we use them, youngsters will quickly find other modes of expression and the words will become irrelevant.
The second problem is that many novels take a long time to be published, and there’s nothing quicker than colloquialisms, clothes, and music to date a novel unless it’s historical or science fiction.
You may have noticed how many youngsters start a sentence with ‘like’ even if the word is entirely irrelevant to what they are saying. It’s an opener usually ignored. But dialogue is our chief way of ‘show don’t tell’ and brings our characters to life. Perhaps using ‘Like’ to start a sentence can be added very occasionally, but only to establish character.
Dialogue shouldn’t go on too long. If that happens, you should probably be writing a play. The best dialogue is brief. There’s no need to go into lengthy exchanges to reveal an important truth about the characters, what motivates them, or how they view the world. Otherwise, the reader can lose track of who is saying what. Also using multiple ‘he says’, and ‘she says’ is stultifying. Find other verbs to help establish characters and fill in more detail.
Dialogue that goes on for too long can feel like a tennis match with the reader switching between characters. Lengthy dialogue can be exhausting for the reader and sound more like a lecture. For the characters to speak to each other, cut dialogue down to the minimum. Above all, don’t waste your dialogue with small talk unless it leads to a new development. In the real world, small talk fills in an awkward silence, but in the world of your novel, the only dialogue to include is the kind that reveals something necessary about the character or plot.
If you want to show that your character doesn’t like awkward pauses, give a scene description. ‘Yes, ‘said Benny.Outside, the rain grew stronger…. Instead of using a long exchange, show the character’s discomfort by describing how she taps her fingers against the windowpane. Or sighs deeply. Or stares into the distance. Or gulps before saying… Or reddens angrily…
Don’t include small talk. Instead, pick exchanges that capture the moment. Small talk is understood, and the reader should dive into the action as soon as possible.
While you can certainly use dialogue to learn more about your characters, you shouldn’t use it to give too much information. If the characters (and reader) already knows that part of the story, then the other characters shouldn’t repeat it unless it adds to the plot.
If you must give information, don’t do it in dialogue. Not only is it awkward, it brings the story to an unnecessary halt. So… what’s the difference between giving too much information and revealing what is relevant? The difference is that giving too much at once is left for the reader to sort out. Relevant information is more subtle and best given a little at a time.
Give your characters a unique way of speaking.
Every writer knows to ‘Show, Don’t Tell. When writing dialogue, it’s easy to tell what the characters are feeling instead of showing it.
Benny is furious. Why won’t Amy say what she’s thinking?
Benny’s cheeks redden. Instead of answering, Amy looks away.
2. Use body language to show what’s happening. Body language is an important part of dialogue and should be written into every scene. It gives the reader important clues:
Benny becomes angry.
Benny’s eyes narrow and his lips tighten. He forces himself to breathe deeply.
3. Don’t underestimate your reader. The reader likes to see the scene instead of being told what to think.
Benny’s mother isn’t happy with him.
Mom continues to fill the dishwasher, her mouth set in a straight line.
4. Most people, including your characters, aren’t always aware of how they feel. And sometimes, what they say is different from what they feel. Use your dialogue to reveal character, but not always directly. To create a realistic interaction between your characters, you must accept that most people leave a lot unsaid.
‘That’s fine,’ Benny said slowly. Does Amy like him as much as she says she does? Can she be trusted?
Dialogue should reveal relevant information about your characters. The right dialogue will give the reader insight into how they feel, and what motivates him or her to act. It must help the reader understand the relationship between characters. It must move a story forward. After each conversation or exchange, the reader should be one step closer to either the climax or the conclusion of a story. Dialogue can either add to your story or seriously detract from it.
Viewing the action through the major character’s eyes will help give your account more colour. If the characters live in the past, their language/dialogue must suit the times in which they live. But please don’t make the mistake of writing dialogue as if the reader is back then. The odd word or two will establish your epoch or era. Anything more will detract from your story.
Read your work aloud. If you are tripping over your words, if it doesn’t sound right, it’s not going to sound right to the reader. Even though you’re not capturing every part of a conversation, it should sound like an actual person said it.
A final caution: Beware of your characters sounding too knowledgeable, too busy dotting their ‘I’s and ‘Q’s. It’s been my experience that lawyers have the toughest time writing convincing dialogue for youngsters. What they write might be technically correct, but isn’t how people speak, at least not outside a courtroom.
history is writing about time. Time provides answers as to how people lived in
the past as well as giving us the roots of contemporary laws, customs, and
political ideas. The accuracy of, “you can’t know where you are going unless
you know where you have been” holds true. Historians realize history does
repeat itself, though with different permutations. This repetition helps bring
about change and sound governmental policies.
The best historical fiction works on the
premise of “What if you were there at the time?” Good historical fiction has a strong internal logic and is easy for
youngsters to follow. The story must contain a quest. The characters must have
a clear idea of what they desire or fear. They must be wholly rounded as if
living in the present, and the reader must be able to identify with them. Good historical
fiction balances a character’s flaws with qualities we can respect and admire,
and gains sympathy for them. The best historical fiction is seamless. Though
the background has been carefully researched, this should not show. The
characters must live in their time as easily as you live in yours. Above all,
only use your research as part of your story. Remember the first rule of
writing: SHOW DON’T TELL.
I have written 8 historical novels for
young readers. I fictionalised the lives of
Australia’s First Fleet in “My Australian Story: Surviving Sydney Cove”;
wrote about the Great Depression in “Mavis Road Medley”; about the little known
Moslem discovery of Uluru in “The Youngest Cameleer”; explored the First World
War for very young readers in “Gallipoli Medals”; and imagined life in
Melbourne just before World War Two in “Lilbet’s Romance”. ‘That Stranger Next
Door’ centres on the Australian equivalent of the mid-fifties McCarthy Senate
inquiries. ‘My Holocaust Story: Hanna’, is set in the Warsaw Ghetto. Shortly to
be released is ‘Changing History?’ a reworking of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, a time
warp set in both the present and 1928 Berlin – a year that in many ways is
similar to the present. It will appear under the general title of SHAKESPEARE
NOW! A TRILOGY,
Writers are often chastised for writing about the past – as if only 21st Century problems are relevant, as if writing fantasy is the only way we can persuade youngsters to read. But history is never out of fashion and fictionalizing it, is the best way of ensuring that some understanding of past mistakes might prevent them happening again.
Thought I might show off the article that the Port Philip Times, our local paper, kindly printed for me with the grand heading of ‘Alexander the great choice to reinvent classics’. Hope the reading audience doesn’t mind a pun!
I have been writing books and short stories for adults and young readers for over thirty years. One way or another most of my work has been published if always in their original form. In those thirty years, though many authors see this as a wonderful way to party, I have mostly avoided launching my own books. In my experience, they take an enormous amount of effort, plus all the expense and time needed to make a success. Nor do I have a good history with those launches I have reluctantly undertaken.
My first happened interstate where I made the grave mistake of staying with the small publisher. Though I was happy to prepare sandwiches and snacks for whoever might turn up, I became the reluctant witness to an argument and wished I could vanish into the woodwork. No such luck. I could only pretend I hadn’t noticed.
My next launch was with a big publisher. Four authors launching a new concept in fictionalising Australian history. What three of us didn’t expect was the fourth sweeping in with an entourage of agents and followers and taking over completely. We three might not have bothered being there. I’m sure the audience went away thinking one author wrote all four books.
My next experience has a sad twist. Intended to take place in a government house where the state governor would launch this series, in my effort to present well, I bought a new frock. At the last minute, the publisher, who had been ill for a long time, took a turn for the worse, and died. We never did get to launch those books. I never did get to wear that frock.
At my fifth launch we invited a respected academic to introduce a young adult historical fiction set in Melbourne’s fifties. What we didn’t know was that she was in the early stage of dementia. Nor had she read the book. On stage she proceeded to talk about picture story books for little ones, obviously an earlier prepared talk, but had nothing to do with the book she was launching. Thankfully, someone took over. Maybe the audience didn’t notice?
Last week at my sixth launch, everything seemed to be happening by the proverbial skin of the teeth. So much so that my latest three books inexplicably vanished into our postal system. To check them out, I had to go the bookshop and buy them. Though the event was a success, by then I was so nervous, on the way to the event I tripped over a gutter and fell flat on my face.
From now on, I have promised myself to only ever launch books on the web.
Today we have the fabulous Goldie Alexander on board to answer some curly questions about her brand new venture SHAKESPEARE NOW!
Q.1. Shakespeare Now! is a fascinating concept. How did you first come up with the idea?
In a previous life, I taught these plays to secondary school students and spent most of my time ‘in translation’. There have been countless previous versions both on stage and in film. Novels by well-known writers have appeared in the last few years. I wanted to show how contemporary these characters and plots still are to younger readers and place them in recognisable settings. Five Senses Publications were keen on the idea so I spent the last three years hard at work.
Q.2. Some people think of Shakespeare as Literature with a capital L. In my opinion, he was really a writer of popular fiction. Can we have your take on this?
Definitely, a writer of popular fiction picking up on attitudes, themes and language of his day. But if attitudes and themes don’t change, language does, and that’s why some people have problems. Of course his poetry is timeless, and we can’t hope to emulate that in any way.
Q.3. Shakespeare’s plays play with universal themes. What drew you to the three plays you chose to modernise?
I changed the magical island in ‘The Tempest’ to The Trytth Chronicles’ because science fiction is popular with young readers. The themes of betrayal, alienation, and good versus evil, are universal.
‘Macbeth’ became ‘Gap Year Nanny’ set in suburban Melbourne. The themes of hubris, ambition, and narcissus-ism are relevant to our local politics and business magnates. But these days you don’t have to kill rivals to ruin them. Running alongside Stuart Macbeth’s story, I also followed Merri, the Macbeth’s ‘gap year nanny’, growing maturity.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ turned into the time-warp ‘Changing History?’ Note the question mark. Is altering history ever possible? When Taylor finds herself transported from Melbourne 2017 to 1928 Berlin she is protected by Jewish Rom and gentile Juliet, a couple who adore each other but both families forbid them to marry. This story was influenced by the discovery of an old building in Mitte Berlin once known as ‘The Hummingbird Theatre and Restaurant’. This way I could use my love of history and point to some of the events that led to Hitler’s rise in power, the Holocaust and WW2.
Q.4. Who is your favourite character in Shakespeare Now! and why?
Don’t have one. I love all my characters, including the bad ones like Caliban and Stuart Macbeth, even Lorna Macbeth and she is pretty horrible. If I didn’t, I couldn’t write about them.
Q.5. Suppose you, as a reader, have just read Shakespeare Now! and are writing a review of one of the books. What would you say in that review?
‘A brave attempt to make Shakespeare relevant to both young readers and adults using past, present and future settings and recognisable characters.’
6. How involved have you been in the development of your books? Do you have input into the cover/illustrations?
Far more than I have ever been. These covers were illustrated by the extraordinarily gifted Paul Taplin. When a friend hinted that these covers were ‘too different from the usual,’ I replied ‘Exactly!’ Otherwise I am dependent on my publishers for outlay and design. I wouldn’t be any good at those.
Q 7. What’s the best aspect of your writing life?
The process of creation and finally ending up with something that might work after a million re-edits. Though the process can be unbelievably frustrating, I wouldn’t spend my life any other way (except maybe as a film critic?)
8. —the worst?
That blank screen. And rejection letters. Even the most experienced writers get those, though they usually remain quiet about receiving them. But I always mention this to ‘newies’ as I think it motivates them to keep writing. I also run Writing Memoir workshops for seniors. Watching their delight at something they have written gives me enormous pleasure.
9.What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author?
Iwas told but didn’t really believe it. That writing can be heartbreaking and I soon found that it certainly can be. I discovered that I needed an alligator’s skin to take the knocks and rebounds and a soft heart to empathise with other people and characters enough to write about them.
Q.10.What’s the best advice you were ever given?
Edit, edit, edit and re edit. LIVE a little and READ!!! I read about 100 books a year and still that’s not enough. Lots of young writers write thinly disguised semi autobiography, and then get stuck. It’s never the first book that counts, rather the second!
Q.11 What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?
One word: PERSEVERANCE. And try and write every day, if only a sentence. Practice makes perfect.
Shakespeare Now! will be launched on the 22nd September 2018 at Readings Kids at 2.00 315 Lygon Street,Carlton, Vic
Here is some advice for emerging authors gained from 30 years as a professional author
Ask yourself… are you really determined to keep going? I have met and mentored too many authors with enormous talent but who find the going too hard and give up. Other authors are best described as ‘middle-range’. They are known within their genre but rarely recognised outside it. Personally, I prefer not to be introduced as an author because I often perceive a puzzled expression on the recipient’s face. It’s then I say, ‘I’m the least known if most published author in Australia.’ This may not be quite true, but it’s a helluva-good-line.
At first let me admit that for someone in my ‘senior years’ I hate all the stuff my generation uses to stay busy. Mention Bridge, golf, meals on wheels, caravanning, general good works, museum guiding, minding grandchildren(mine are now all grown up) I feel a yawn coming on. I have been writing and publishing for 30 years. That has given me a wealth of experience, ranging from the simple instruction of “don’t repeat a telling word in the same page if you can avoid it”, to always try to ‘Show don’t tell.’ There’s lots of basic advice on ‘how to write for kids’ in ‘The Business of Writing for Young People’ that Hazel Edwards and I co-wrote some years ago. I also published a memoir-cum-how-to-write called ‘Mentoring Your Memoir’ which contains the same advice, but with the occasional twist that focuses on ‘life history’. In it I give lots of examples, mostly from stories I wrote for kids.
I had to quickly learn that writer’s block doesn’t exist. What does is procrastination. Even if it takes me months to work out what happens next in a story, eventually it can be found. What matters is hanging in there. I often find that it’s when I log off in despair that the next idea comes to me.
Who! What! Where! and how! Never forget those 3 words.
Pitching your story. Tremendously important. In recall my first attempt to sell a story t a publisher and when asked, ‘What is this about?’ I really didn’t know. An important exercise for every creative idea is to reduce your story to one or two lines.
One of the great things about being a writer is that you can diversity into so many different areas. If you are a skilled wordsmith, you can write fiction and non-fiction; short pieces, novels and scripts. I think I have tried everything apart from ghosting and scripts for film. Be aware of your own limitations. I’m hopeless at design and even worse with technology. I work on my strengths and recommend so do you.
Novel writing is like attempting a long distance swim over a cold dark choppy sea. If I hadn’t had strict guidelines for my first four novels I would never have known how to do it. It also forced me to remember the power of plot. Without narrative drive, you end up with beautiful but meaningless words.
In a way the ebook has become both a life saver and a curse.. We are now able to take books that have been long out of print and upload them as ebooks. I have done this to the first YA novel published under my own name. ‘Mavis Road Medley’ was originally put out by Margaret Hamilton in 1991 with a grant from the Australia Council. The first print run sold out, but then this small company was taken over by a larger company and the book sank into oblivion. Unfortunately, that’s what happens to lots of books. So the blessing of ebooks is the ability to revitalize some of our hardcopy as ebooks. The curse is the flood of ebooks now appearing on line.
This leads me to marketing. Not my favourite activity but totally essential. So we blog, facebook, twitter, join other writers’ blogs and letters, linked in, etc. I openly curse the time this takes. Some of you might really enjoy these activities. I prefer to use my time to write, nevertheless I do what seems to be required of me, not always with grace. I’m sure you will do far better as you are younger and more in tune with current trends.
My motto is, never discard anything even if you can’t find a publisher first off. A colleague had a great success with a story picture book after it was rejected 93 times then sold overseas. Nothing is ever wasted. Projects can be cannibalized and used in other ways. Recycling is useful. I have several out of print novels I compressed into short stories and a long short story that became a novel for middle grade readers: “eSide: A Journey Through Cyberspace”.
Keep records of your own ideas and agreements, as often others forget who contributed what. You may know it is legally and morally yours, but finding the right files to prove it can be time consuming. One of my novels was begun with another author who, when it became too difficult to sell, decided she wasn’t interested and I took over the project. But I made sure there was careful documentation to support my ownership.
We are always told to update ourselves with new technology, and to know the technical jargon. Though I find this hard, I recommend that others go to digital classes and become familiar with the potential of digital gadgets so you can write better for new mediums. I wish I knew how to create apps and youtube videos but I plead ‘old age’ as an excuse. The truth is that I am hopeless when it comes to technology. Nevertheless I can’t recommend strongly enough that new writers learn these as much as possible.
When an ms doesn’t get picked up, change titles. For example an early novel that began as “Best Friends” became ‘Schoolies Week” before reaching the final “Dessi’s Romance”. That was because my “Body and Soul: Lilbet’s Romance” published as hardcopy in 2003, was being republished as an ebook titled “Lilbet’s Romance’ and we wanted to show the connection.
Learn from your mistakes. I tend to get seduced by an imaginative idea and then land myself in a heap. Don’t rush into it too quickly. Let it linger about somewhere in your subconscious. Recognize your obvious weaknesses (mine is marketing, though I am sure there are lots more) and collaborate and discuss with others who are expert in that area. Buy or swap skills if necessary.
Decide on a general direction, genre or format, and keep moving that way, even if detours occur. Learning about e-books is on-going. In the end I collaborated with a publisher who knew a lot about technology, and together we put up on Amazon my adult “Grevillea Murder Mystery Trilogy” and adult three short stories. Your ‘bottom drawer’ is likely to be your hard drive, but some of those projects, which didn’t get up in their original formats are not a total loss. Try and recycle them into new mediums.
Edit, edit, edit. I rarely send out an ms again without going through it first. And read, read, read. I belong to two book clubs, one aimed at reading adult books, the other at reading and discussing books for kids. I call them my unofficial university course as they force me to read books I might otherwise miss. Remember that ideas can be translated from one audience to another. It’s just a matter of how you do it.
Teaching and mentoring. Because I had taught English and History in secondary schools for some 28 years, it seemed natural to move into teaching creative writing and mentoring emerging writers. They taught me more than I taught them. There’s an old saying that those who can’t succeed become teachers. But I see these two aspects as hand in hand. eg When a class critiques an individual’s work, your own mind takes on that same critique and uses it to think about your latest ms. Nurturing new talent has been and still is, enormously rewarding and I watch with pleasure many of my ex students win awards and write wonderful novels. It’s interesting to note that it’s not always the most talented who do well, rather it’s those that have the necessary passion that makes them want to continue to write in spite of often difficult odds. I have had students who can assimilate with a few well chosen words how a piece of fiction could be improved. Often that same critical voice would stay in my mind when I went back to my own work.
You may occasionally have to alter your audience. When I had a long lull with my kids books I went onto writing memoir and I have now found a huge audience. In this way I also introduce an older generation to my kids’ books so they will buy for their grandchildren. But when it comes to them buying ebooks, it’s still an uphill battle. Ultimately what keeps me going is the passion, something I can’t pass on because if you don’t have it, I suggest you try something else. A new idea will always present itself, such as my latest YA SHAKESPEARE NOW! trilogy, a contemporary retelling of three well known plays using young protagonists.
Finally, never give up. If one project is hard to sell, leave it for a while and return and re-edit. In the end writing brings its own rewards, even if one doesn’t become the next JK Rowling.
Written by Laura Backes , and one of the best articles I have come across in a long time.
Laura is a long-time advocate for writers pleads for a better way forward on the subject of editor and agent rejections.
Dear Agents and Editors,
First of all, I want to let you know how much I respect what you do. Your dedication to discovering talent and bringing the best books for readers to the market is inspiring. The passion you have for your work is clear when you speak at conferences, post on your blogs, and champion your clients’ books. But most of all, it’s shown through the long hours (often outside of the office) that you put into combing through the slush pile submissions from new writers and illustrators.
So let’s talk about that slush pile.
I know it’s out of control. Blame technology and the ability to send multiple submissions with the click of a button. Blame authors and illustrators who simply Google “book publishers” and then mail off a copy of their manuscript to every company that pops up. Whatever the cause, I sympathize with the problem, and I want to assure you that we’re doing everything we can to educate authors and illustrators how to appropriately target their submissions in Children’s Book Insider, our Writing Blueprints tools, and in every webinar and writing conference we put on.
Many of you list very specific submission guidelines on your websites, stating exactly what you’re looking for, the tone, content and length of preferred submissions, and what you’re not accepting. You also provide updates on your blogs and Twitter feeds. Thank you for that.
But if you’re not being specific, if you’re simply listing broad categories (picture books, middle grade fiction, romance) without details, you’re going to be inundated with inappropriate submissions. If you speak at a conference and say, “I can’t tell you exactly what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it,” then every attendee with a manuscript is clicking the “Send” button as soon as they get home.
Can you blame them? Who knows, maybe they’ve got “it”. I realize that it’s hard for many writers to be objective about their work, and all hope their manuscripts are infused with “itness”, but if you provide more concrete details, maybe some qualities of books you’ve published that had “it”, you’d go a long way toward cutting down those unwanted submissions. Show, don’t tell.
Now, can we please talk about rejection letters? Because I firmly believe that the way you reject a manuscript can lead to bigger slush piles.
I know, lots of inappropriate submissions means you’re rejecting lots of manuscripts. The most time-effective way to do this is to have one generic rejection letter you send to everyone. But that may be hurting you in the long run.
First, how about we move the rejection process completely into the 21st century and require that every submission include an email address for a response? Many of you are already accepting submissions electronically, so that step’s done. For those who aren’t, it’s just one detail to be added to your submission guidelines, if it’s not there already.
Then, you create a few boilerplate rejection letters that you simply click and send. One for “this manuscript does not fall within our publishing guidelines” to alert the submitter that she needs to research better before making another submission. One for “I found the plot too predictable.” One for “I don’t feel the protagonist is believable.” One for “This is a great start, but I feel you need to work on developing and strengthening the voice of your writing to make it more unique.” You know, the stuff you see all the time.
Many of you have interns. Let them send these letters. Simply indicate Rejection 1, Rejection 2, etc. on the manuscript and you’re done. If you don’t have an intern or an assistant, simply type the recipient’s email into the To field and send. It’s OK if the letter isn’t personalized. What’s more important is that it gives the author a clue as to why the work was rejected. I appreciate that you want to spare authors’ feelings with generic rejection letters that say things like, “Your work isn’t right for us at this time, but we wish you luck in placing it elsewhere,” but this does nothing to help the author. What does this mean? Will the work be right in six months? Will it ever be right? The author’s going to take a chance and send it to 20 more editors and agents, just in case.
Then your colleagues get your rejections, and you get theirs. And the slush pile continues to grow.
Finally, let’s chat about the non-answer to submissions (hang in there, I’m almost done).
Again, I completely understand how sending rejection letters (even with the click of an email) takes time away from the work you’re doing with authors and illustrators already under contract. This precious time is spent on manuscripts you don’t want to publish or represent, so there is no financial benefit to you. But the bottom line is that you depend on submissions to keep your jobs. If all the submissions dry up, eventually your current clients won’t be able to create enough books for you to continue to make a living. You’ll need new talent. At their core, the author/agent and author/editor relationships are business relationships. They require both parties to act with professionalism and respect toward each other.
If you were to apply for a job, one you’d trained for and dreamed of holding for years, and the interviewer said, “If you don’t hear from me in six months, assume you don’t have the job,” would you wait around, or would you immediately go interview somewhere else? If you applied for another position and were told, “Wait six months before applying elsewhere. Then, if you don’t hear from me, you’re free to move on,” would you even want to work for that company? If you continued to advance your training and hone your interview skills, but spent years waiting for a response in six-month increments, only to be met with silence, how long would it take you to throw up your hands and say, “Screw it, I’m going to work for myself?”
I’m not implying that you don’t respect authors. I know you do. But it feels disrespectful from the author’s perspective to be told they won’t hear back unless you want to represent or publish them. And it’s especially frustrating when a click of a button can send a brief rejection that at least gives the author some closure and the ability to either revise their work or move on.
You’ve been the publishing gatekeepers for decades. And you’ve done a great job. But the business has changed, and the rules for entry need to be updated. Authors and illustrators need to understand exactly what’s expected of the work they submit, and they need to take those directions seriously. You, in turn, must let them know if they’re not ready, and give them a minimal amount of feedback so they don’t just storm another gate. If we can’t work this out together, as a mutually-beneficial business relationship, the talented authors and illustrators buried in the slush pile may just give up. And that would be a shame.
I’m sure you have thoughts about all this. I look forward to hearing from you.
Publisher, Children’s Book Insider, the Children’s Writing Monthly
HERE is an interview with the young novelist LORA INAK about her novel UNSPOKEN RULES readers might find interesting.
1. ‘Unspoken Rules’ is basically about cultural differences. Why did you choose this topic? Is it semi-autobiographical?
Unspoken Rules is only autobiographical in its cultural setting. My objective was always to write a story with characters placed in the same cultural background I myself grew up, and to then share the richness, the restrictiveness and the beauty of it all juxtaposed against an Australian backdrop.
Due to civil unrest in Turkey in the 1980s, my family immigrated to Australia to find a safer, better life. I was still a very young child at the time and suddenly found myself in a new and exciting world. There were difficulties at school, both linguistically, culturally, and socially, and in my teens I found myself walking a swaying tightrope between the culture of my birthplace, and that of modern Australia.
Given my own background and conflicts, the topic of culture and identity and belonging is very close and personal for me.
2. What is your writing process like? Do you write consistently or only when inspired?
I have a full time job in the corporate world and two young children, so sadly at the moment my writing process is more of a ‘write when I can find the time’ rather than when I’m inspired. However, there are pockets of time when I’m driving, or in the shower, or lying in bed waiting for sleep to claim me that I think about my characters, their motivations, behaviours, backgrounds and this eventually ends up in my stories.
3. Can you tell me a bit about what drew you to writing in the first place?
I’m not really sure, but I do remember being quite solitary as a young child, surrounded by paper and pencils, inventing stories and characters. I have two elder sisters, both in highschool by the time I was wanting playmates, so I often found myself alone with only my imagination to keep my company. It wasn’t long before I discovered the friends I could invent myself.
4. Where there any specific points at which you struggled within this novel?
The story itself came to me quite easily, but before Unspoken Rules, I’d only ever written picture book and junior fiction text, so finding my voice in the Young Adult space was new and challenging. I guess I eventually fumbled my way through and created something that I’m really proud of. I wrote this book in honour of my mother who passed away recently. A part of me believes she helped guide me through the tough parts.
5. As this is your first novel, how much help did you seek or get from others?
I have a wonderfully supportive writing group with three ladies I couldn’t do without. They have helped me through every chapter, through every character arc, through every plot direction. I was also lucky enough to have an editor give me wonderful feedback which really helped hone the work, and before sending it out into the world, I approached a manuscript assessor whose advice was pivotal to the final success of this novel being picked up by Rhiza Press for publication.
6. Imagining you could travel back in time and give advice to your teenaged self about writing and life, what would you tell her? And would she listen.
She’d definitely listen, so I’d tell her that to be a good writer, you have to live life, experience the world and the people in it, and practise, practise, practise and when you think you’ve finally mastered the art of writing, think again, because you haven’t. Writing is an art form that can always be honed and improved.
7. Can you give us a small blurb about your book, where to buy it? RRP and ISBN.
NATALIE balances two lives. It’s a tenuous tightrope.
At home, her life is governed by the unspoken rules and expectations of her Christian Orthodox background. Women are expected to go to their marital beds as virgins, men aren’t. Women are homemakers and caregivers; men can run businesses, companies, and empires. His decision is final; she’s expected to comply.
Her entire school life, Natalie has walked the tightrope without tipping over, that is, until now. Until a fall out with her best friend Katelyn leaves her confused and lonely. Until her devout sister, Misha learns of her incurable illness and doubts her faith and future. Until she discovers her Mother’s terrible secret which threatens to tear their entire family apart.
And… until she meets the new boy, Chris.
Unspoken Rules is available through all online retailers including Amazon, Booktopia, Rhiza Press, Ebay, Angus & Robertson Online, Book Depository and more.
1.Can you tell us something about your history to do with writing and publishing?
I have always loved creative writing and I have been writing poetry and stories for my own amusement from a young age. In 2014, I decided it was past time to start sharing some of my writing with others and I polished up a number of radically retold fairy tales I had written.
Beyond the Briar: A Collection of Romantic Fairy Tales is a collection of ‘novelettes’ (stories of about 10 – 16 000 words, longer than short stories but shorter than novellas) for young adult and adult readers. As it is typically difficult for emerging writers to find a traditional publisher for a collection of their short fiction, I decided to independently publish the collection on Amazon, as an experiment with the self-publishing industry. It has been a really interesting experience in building my platform as an author and has taught me a lot about the industry.
Over that time, I have also published several short stories in anthologies and other places, including in an annual Indie Author’s Advent Calendar, and I have independently published a few short stories on Smashwords, the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks. It has all been something of a fun exploration while I plug away (very slowly!) at several more demanding novels.
2.You are putting out a collection of modern fairy tales called WISH UPON A SOUTHERN STAR. Can you tell us something about them?
Wish Upon a Southern Star is a collection of radically retold fairy tales by 21 New Zealand and Australian writers. It is a young adult collection and I like to think it holds something for everyone — the anthology brings together stories which are dramatic and heartfelt with those which are tongue-in-cheek and mischievous. As the blurb describes:
The Southern Cross shines high above a fairy tale wood. Come step inside. Drink dew from the leaves with tiny Tommelise. Eat egg sandwiches with a toothy young troll. Escape with Rapunzel. Trick Rumpelstiltskin. Shiver in the snow. Climb the beanstalk. Pray to the Piper. Be a cat. In and out of the wood, whether in this world or another, these stories will take you to new places. Explore how far you can go in this anthology of twenty-one fairy tale retellings by New Zealand and Australian authors.
3.Why did this genre interest you?
Fairy tales have interested me for a long time. I loved reading fairy tales as a child and watching the Disney reinterpretations of some of those tales. I have also been a reader of fairy tale retellings for a long time, starting when I was a teenager with Robin McKinley’s Beauty.
When I was writing my PhD in young adult fiction at Macquarie University in Sydney, I read a number of critical analyses of fairy tale fiction, and this deepened my interest in the genre.
While fantasy is my favourite genre, there is something very satisfying about fairy tale archetypes, whether they appear in fantasy or other genres. I love the familiarity of common tropes and I love to see how authors play with those tropes and reader expectations.
4.Can you please describe the process from beginning to end of how you collected these stories and how you intend publishing them?
The idea of editing a collection of fairy tales by a variety of authors developed when I was running a fairy tale workshop for the Christchurch Children’s Literature Hub, an adjunct of the New Zealand Society of Authors.
I decided that the collection would showcase South Pacific writers only, so I put out a call for submissions to writing groups across these countries and writers submitted their work to me electronically by the deadline. Over the reading period of several months, I selected stories for the collection and began the process of editing the stories, in collaboration with the contributing authors. Several proofs later, the anthology is now nearly ready for release.
The collection will be published through the Kindle and Createspace platforms, which are the ebook and paperback platforms for Amazon. They will be available for purchase through Amazon and their expanded distribution networks.
5.How are you planning to PR this collection? ( mention the launch)
As most authors, I think, will agree, marketing is the most difficult part of independent publishing. However, there are many pathways available to get the message about a new book out to the public. For Wish Upon a Southern Star, I have been maximising the message about the upcoming release of the anthology on my website and Facebook author page by interviewing each of the contributing authors and giving readers a sample of their stories. We will be having an official book launch on Saturday 2nd September at the South Library in Christchurch, and a number of the authors will be in attendance to meet and greet readers and sign copies of the book. As part of the celebration, I am also running a fairy tale poetry writing competition for Canterbury high school students, with the winner to be announced at the book launch.
Although the anthology is a Pacific endeavour, we hope that a range of young adults across the globe will enjoy our radically retold fairy tales.
6.Anything else you want to add?
Readers are sometimes more reluctant to try independently published books than books distributed by traditional publishers – and this makes sense. They know what to expect from traditional publishers who have established their brands with the publication of multiple books over a period of time. Each new indie author offers readers a whole new brand to sample – readers don’t know what they are going to get and whether the brand will meet their needs. I hope readers will be adventurous and give Wish Upon a Southern Star a go – and in doing so, I hope they will discover some new favourite fairy tales.
Shelley Chappell is a writer of fantasy fiction and fairy tale retellings. She is the editor of Wish Upon a Southern Star (2017) and the author of Beyond the Briar: A Collection of Romantic Fairy Tales (2014) and a variety of short stories.
Shelley’s PhD, Werewolves, wings, and other weird transformations (2011), explored shape-shifting in children’s and young adult fantasy literature. She has worked as a university sessional lecturer and tutor, a high school English teacher and a tertiary student advisor. She lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.To find out more about Shelley and her writing, follow her on Facebook or visit her website, http://www.shelleychappell.com/
It’s been some time since I last wrote a blog. My excuse is that I was busy completing a trilogy. More about that later.
Presently, the following is on my mind: I recently offended someone in a writing class by pointing out that there is a vast difference between an amateur who creates a few poems or a few short stories and a ‘professional’. Also, that if this person is writing for children, that the difficulties multiply. People often assume a children’s author only writes texts for story picture books, often unaware that these are as difficult to produce as a perfect haiku. Some still believe with the aid of a computer that they can write a publishable text for their children/grandchildren. I wonder if those same people who will one day ‘write a book’ could claim to be able produce a saleable painting, or play an instrument in front of an audience without years of practice and experience?
They often seem unaware that children’s authors produce work for differing age levels, though movie makers use books aimed at a young adult audience for their terrific plots and characters.
All this leads me to comment on how little children’s authors are respected. How many names – apart from JK Rowling – can even a dedicated reader come up with? Note how very little space is devoted to critiques of children’s books in newspapers and ezines. Children’s books are often placed at the back of a book store, and too many are an imported series. Yet when overseas book sales are studied, books aimed at children head the list.
But my reason for this rant is the vast number of schools presently turning their libraries into computer rooms. Reading encourages a child’s imagination and an ability to see beyond the immediacy of an illustration or a photo. I watch too many toddlers being distracted with pads and mobiles, the same children who should be listening to someone reading aloud or playing with actual toys. Without fostering the imagination of our youngsters from the very start, we will lose our future creators, and that includes those that work in technology. It seems that we are transforming children’s brains in ways we can’t foresee and we can no longer predict the consequences. If we don’t want to breed a generation of kids who think all knowledge and imagination can be found via Mr Google, we’d best do something very quickly about it.