Tips for new writers from Emerging Writers Festival Authors

I attended my first Emerging Writers Festival event last weekend, and it was called the National Writer’s Conference. It ran both Saturday and Sunday, with two panel streams, along with a third meet-the-author style room.

I am a veteran of the literary SF conferences, such as the Australian Natcon, Worldcon and our local convention Continuum, so I had a few preconceived notions on how this event would be held. I don’t like to speak ill of the organisers but I was disappointed with a few of the panels. I found the panelists inarticulate and what was most disappointing was that they read their presentations out aloud. I am carefully not mentioning names because I know how scary speaking in public can be, but if you are signing yourself up for one of these panels all I can ask is that you know your product.

Admittedly, this being an Emerging Writer’s festival, most if not all the panelists have only one book published, but I am sure most of the audience would be grateful to learn the processes involved, not listen to an extended ad on their book that they are pushing.

Another gripe, and yes, I am griping, is that of all the guests, the only one I had heard of was Hannah Kent. Surely there are many more Australian Authors who only have one book published who could have been part of this event?

I felt the added pressure from my writing class that I had to bring back notes taken at the event with some interesting information, but I can say with certainty, that besides the first panel, which I scribbled furiously all the way through, there wasn’t much to bring back with me from any of the other panels. One became an outright political rant against the white privileged, while another the panelists stared at each other in dumb bemusement when asked a reasonably simple question.

I think I shall stick to my usual conferences which concentrate on the genre fiction I love and write and give these literary events the flick.

Having said all that, there was some good advice at the first panel, which I will try to distill down here:

The 5 x 5 Rules of Writing – tips from 5 authors and what they wish they had known.

Maxine Beneba Clarke says:
1 – Write what you know to be true. Find some way of accessing the story you want to write.
2- Use your failures. There are short truths everywhere. Use what you’re doing in everyday life.
3- Throw your hat in the ring. Submit, submit, submit.
4- Stay in the sweet spot. Trusting that when you feel you’ve written something good, stick with it.
5- Attend festivals. Belong to a community.

Felix Nobis says:

1- Publishing doesn’t just happen with the written word. It’s important to be mindful of the publishing possibilities but keep in mind the right form of publishing.
2- Every writer will be their own manager. Find out what prizes are going on, what grants are available.
3- A grant application is never the place to demonstrate creative writing.
4- Know what you are asking when you ask someone to read your work. Be clear to them what you are hoping their feedback to encompass. Respect the opinions you get.
5- Be aware of how you write best and then make time for that. Make time for it and do it as a job.

Krissy Kreen says:
1- Your novel will fall apart around about 20,000 words. Around the first act turning point. All stories are dogs. Don’t worry, write a bad first draft, it’s easier to work on improving a bad first draft than improving nothing written at all.
2- Be careful what you read. Books can feed our souls but they can also suck you dry
3- Writers must develop a split personality. 1 part is the creative brain, 1 part is the realist. Know the reality. Writing is tapping into the subconcious.
4- Be nice to strangers for they might be angels in disguise. Basically, you never know who you might be offending with your rude behaviour, especially at these conference events. Also, buy all your friends books if you expect them to buy yours.
5- Step away from Goodreads!!! If you are influenced by illiterate teenagers then you probably are too sensitive to be a writer.

Benjamin Law (Non-fiction/journalist) says:
All writing is vomiting and then cleaning it up. (Not a rule, just an observation)
1- Break your writing down into goals. Do this so you aren’t intimidated by the scope of your project.
2- Never be without ideas. Ideas are currency. Never wait for an Editor to reply. Send 7 ideas not 1. Record drunken conversations – sometimes real gems of ideas turn up. Join a book club – getting other peoples ideas about a book can turn up questions. Carry a notebook.
3- Exercise. There is a strong correspondence between exercising our body and our brain.
4- Get an accountant. Preferably one that specialises in the arts.
5- Choose your projects wisely. Keep moving forward. If a project doesn’t have two out of three of the following qualities, reject it. Fun, Interesting, Paid.

Hannah Kent says:
1- Read. To be a good writer you must be a good reader.
2- Cultivate empathy. The ability to understand and share the lives and feelings of others is essential in a good writer.
3- Work hard. Raw talent doesn’t count for much without hard work. Learn to write when you’re uninspired. Forget your ego – develop your skills. Be diligent, industrious and persistent.
4- Don’t wait until you feel ready. Start now. Be patient with yourself. You’ll become accustomed to the doubt. Brace yourself the the hard slog.
5- Write from the soul. Write from the deepest place of yourself. Write about something that means something to you.

Well, there you have it. Some wisdom from some of the new up and comers in the Australian literary field. Obviously this was an hour long panel and these tips are from hastily scribbled notes, but I think you will get their drift. It is not new advice, it is something I see written on most writers’ websites and in interviews. But obviously the message, being the same, means that it is something that should be practiced. I say do what feels right and pick and choose those rules you want and those you don’t feel are right for you can be discarded. Writing is an art as well as a craft, and while you are feeling comfortable with what you are doing, feel free to ignore everybody. If you are like me and crave all the advice you can get, then feel free to follow everything written here.

I am off to Continuum X this weekend, where I fully expect to fill my notebooks with interesting advice from experienced authors.


Is it really Therapy?

I know the term retail therapy is supposed to evoke visions of shoppers almost in a zen calm after weilding their credit cards, but really ithas notbeen my experience, especially today.  If anything, going shopping today is enough to send you to therapy.

All I want in this little shopping trip is one pair of shoes for a specific purpose.  They are for my upcoming trip overseas so they must be multipurpose shoes.  They must be cool, because I am travelling into summer.  They must be sturdy because I will be doing a lot of walking.  They must be pretty, because they will be doubling up as evening shoes.  And they must be reasonably priced, because I am a tightarse.

That’s not too much to ask is it?

But finding this wonderful pair of shoes is proving to be a challenge that I am not sure I am up to.  I cannot spend too much time searching as there are other constraints on my time but I have a limited time to get them.  I hate crowds but all the good shops are full of people.  I like personal service but the cheaper shops are all about help yourself.

I thought I had found the answer today with a factory outlet for Rockport Shoes which are very expensive normally but some of the best shoes around.  There was a big sale on and they had many sandles that might fit my requirements, but sadlyI must report yet another shopping failure.  All the shoes are tied together with plastic tags so there is no way to try themboth on without help from an assistant.  Try as I might those assistants ignored me.  Surely it wasn`t because I was looking in the super specials area?  I don’t want to even go there but needless to say there was bno therapy involved in today`s excursion.  In fact I think I wil fall back on the most proven therapy of all, chocolate

Technological breakdown

Aargh, even though I have a lot of modern technology in my house I still find it frustrating to set things up.  Struggling with things that should be automatic and not figuring out how they work makes me feel dumb when I should be concentrating on other things.  Just wasted almost an hour trying to get this stupid WordPress App to show up on my homepage.  Still haven’t managed it 😦

The Anticipation is Killing Me

Well, I finally got the notice from the library yesterday the Ghost Story by Jim Butcher was ready to be picked up.  I have been dying to read this ever since it has been published but being on a savings kick and only allowing myself a certain amount of dollars to put toward my reading addiction, I certainly could not afford a hardcover edition (not at Australian prices anyway)

So I put my name down for the book at my local library (yay Moonee Valley council – you rock) as they have a great range of SF/F and generally get the latest books in pretty quickly, but shock horror, I was number 5 on the list.  When you multiply that by 3 weeks each person, it is generally a long wait to read it.

Instead of getting frustrated by just going out and buying it, which I nearly did but stopped myself in a dramatic moment online (well it was dramatic for me and I stand by that tale) I decided to reread the series from the beginning.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Dresden Files series, Jim Butcher has written one of the most wonderful Urban Fantasy series I have read in a very long time.  Ever since I picked up the first novel at Borders (back when they had cheap SF and were still open) I have been obsessed with this series.  Fortunately Jim Butcher is quite prolific and there is generally less than a year to wait for the next book.

It is also quite a long series, with Ghost Story the 13th book released.  It is quite a task to go back and reread the whole series and I bogged down at book 4.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still enjoying them, but I kept getting distracted by shiny new books that I hadn’t read before, and I kept telling myself that my booking of Ghost Story was ages away so I had plenty of time to get the rest read.

Well, I have it now, and I can’t decide whether to jump to the book preceding it and read that first or just go ahead and start it.  The second one I hear you all calling out, why would you bother rereading something?  The thing is, I read so fast and so many books, that a lot of it doesn’t really stick the first time out.  I do like to revisit books, especially those I loved, and I continually find new and interesting things about the characters and the worlds the author has created.

This has been very much the case with the Dresden Files.  Everytime a new book comes out I find myself revisiting the whole series.  Maybe in this case, the anticipation will get the best of me, plus I only have the book for 3 weeks and if I don’t read it now I will find myself running out of time and not finishing it before it needs to be returned.

That’s it, I’m decided, I am reading it now, anticipation be damned!

The King’s Speech – The silent version – A review of the cinema not the movie

My parents are from country Victoria and are currently staying with me.  My mother has wanted to see The King’s Speech since it started and she was clutching a couple of Hoyts vouchers that she had yet to use so I (being of noble mein) agreed to go see the movie again.  We chose the 6.30 session because neither of us wanted to go during the day because it was so beautiful but we didn’t want to go the the 8.50 session either as it is a long movie and I have to get up for work tomorrow.

So off we go to Hoyts and once there, we discover that the 6.30 session is only available in Director’s Suite not in the normal cinemas.  After much deliberation, and studying of the other movies on at the same time we decided to pay the money for the Directors Suite and save the vouchers for another time.

For those of you who are not in Australia, Director’s Suite is supposed to be a luxurious way to watch a movie.  You get reclining seats and waiting staff serving you through the movie, but you can buy a cheaper ticket which is just for the movie, no food.  This is the one that we bought.

After we settled in, a little late but not too much, we sat back to enjoy the movie.  Good seats, good position in the cinema, but suddenly the sound goes slightly fuzzy.  I minor glitch I think to myself, but it happens off and on the whole way through the movie.  My irritation is high, but the problem is not bad enough to storm out and demand my money back, yet.  For those of you who haven’t seen the King’s Speech, I won’t spoil it for you but there is a scene right at the end just before he gives his speech where he and Lionel Logue have a great discussion dealing with several issues.

It is a very tense scene, or would have been, if the sound had actually worked.  We sat there watching the picture but no sound came out those speakers.  One of the viewers went out to tell the manager but it was a good 5 minutes later before the sound came back on.  We at least got to hear the Speech at the end.

After it was all over I went out to complain to the manager.  She gave us free tickets, but only to a normal session as we had not forked out the $32 for a full ticket.  Still, would have preferred to just have a good experience at the cinemas, not have to exert my rights as a consumer at the end.

Go see The King’s Speech, please do, it is a wonderful movie, just don’t go see it at Director’s Suite Highpoint.

The joys of rereading old favourites

Over the years, due to several moves, space constraints, money troubles and other reasons, my personal library has been pared down to my all time favourite books that I cannot bear to part with.  These books are the ones that stand up to multiple reads and never lose their appeal.

These books are full of favourite characters who, after all this time, almost feel like family that I can return to during various moods.  A lot of the new books that I read are eminently forgettable and indeed I have no interest in rereading them, not even when a sequel comes out (indeed most times the sequel won’t even get read), but these books that have stayed with me over the years are the ones that contain the best writing, the most amazing characterizations, and the most imaginative world building.

Over the next few months, as I will be busily saving for an overseas trip, my new book reading will be seriously curtailed.  I will be using the library, sponging off friends, the collection at the MSFC (a seriously wonderful genre collection at the Melbourne Science Fiction Club – I recommend any genre reader to join and access it) and of course, rereading old favourites.  This will mean that any reviews that I do will most likely not be current books (unless they are given to me). 

But that is ok.  People may not have read certain books when they came out.  They may now be out of print and only available at libraries.  It will be a pleasure to introduce these books to other people, perhaps get some opinions on what they thought of them.  I certainly think a lot of them for them to still be on my bookshelves.

Chronic volunteerism: do you have it?

Remember back to Primary School … do you remember the child who always had their hand up for everything?  The one who knew all the answers, the one who always went up to the blackboard to work out the maths problem, the one who always said yes when asked if they would like to participate in a class project or survey.  They were suffering from Chronic Volunteerism.

In my experience, humans as social creatures, need to fill their lives with human contact.  If your everyday life is not supplying that contact, you do something about it to make it happen.  That’s where volunteering comes in.  Many people do not even realise they are volunteers but without them, things wouldn’t happen.

This is especially true in the Science Fiction Fan Community.  Clubs and conventions simply could not exist without volunteers.  Without people dedicating their time to organising events, or fund raising activities, or movie nights, or even just every club meeting, there would be nowhere for us poor SF fans to congregate, to be able to mix with others of our own kind.

I have had positive experiences with volunteering for the fan community but there is one thing I have noticed over the past year that I feel compelled to warn people about.  It is what I call Chronic Volunteerism.  Volunteering for too much.  Getting so excited about something that you commit before really thinking it over.

This was especially prevalent during the Worldcon last year.  I took over the role of Dealers room liaison (under the very competent supervision of Steve Francis) from another person who simply didn’t have the time.  He at least recognised the fact and resigned early enough to let someone new have time to take on the role and accomplish something.

There were many who didn’t.  The fact that the Worldcon ran as well as it did was a tribute to the hard work of those volunteers who basically gave up all their spare time and indeed had to take time off work to simply keep up with the mammoth amount of work required to get the Worldcon up and running.

Over the past few months, indeed the last year, I have been putting my hand up for anything I can so I can experience something new and meet new people.  I certainly did that at the Worldcon, making many new friends and gaining a lot of respect for some I already knew.

But volunteering is not just about the science fiction community.  I have been thinking for some time now that I needed to connect with people in my area, as I have just moved there and haven’t got a history of growing up in the community like so many locals would.  I decided to volunteer at the local community house so I checked online to see what programs they had.  One stood out above the others.  It is a home tutor program for teaching english to migrants and refugees.

This was a way I could give back to the community while feeling that I was learning something new, expanding my horizons.  Last night I attended my first class in Home Tutoring for Migrant education and while I am excited over the new opportunity, there is the small feeling that I have bitten off more than I can chew.  The fact is, I will have to go into a total stangers’ house (one who can speak little to no English) and somehow get them to listen and understand a language that often escapes comprehension of native speakers!  It is scary but also thrilling as well.  It could become an addiction.

In fact I think all kinds of volunteering could become an addiction.  The feeling of appreciation you get from others makes you feel good about yourself and what you are doing.  It is very easy after feeling that kind of high to go ahead and volunteer for something else, and then for another thing, and another.  Before you know it you are a Chronic Volunteerer who has no time for anything or anyone else except your volunteer work.

Like any obsession volunteering can be bad for the health.  Excessive commitments can lead to stress and as we all know in these current times, stress leads to all manner of health problems.  So all you people out there who have volunteered for something and are now either regretting it or have over committed, don’t stress!!  Let your Volunteer organiser know your feelings.  They will be understanding (in most cases they are volunteers as well), and will advise you as to your options.  You can either volunteer for something else which takes up less time or you can get away from it all together.

Science fiction fandom even has a term for that.  GAFFiating (Get Away From Fandom).  It is where fans, either through over committing with volunteering thus burning out or partnering up with a non-fan, drift away from the frenetic world of Science Fiction Fandom.  Most fans I know have GAFFiated at some stage of their life.  Either they grew out of their interests or they simply didn’t like participating any more, whatever the reason, there is no shame and no condemnation once (or if) you return to the fold.  Mostly you are welcomed with open arms (and a question if you would like to volunteer for something?)

My advice is that if you enjoy it keep doing it, otherwise hand it over to someone else.  Nobody wants to be stuck working on something they don’t enjoy, especially if they don’t get paid for it.  That is what the day job is for!  So all you volunteers out there, keep at it but don’t over commit, that way you will avoid burning yourself out and the Science Fiction Community will have your expertise for years to come.

Empty musings about the reality of reality shows

I have been a bit slack with the blogging lately, frankly something that is quite in character with me.  I tend to get caught up with reading or catching up with television programs which I have missed.  In this case I have been reading a lot and watching a lot of ‘reality’ tv, trying to avoid doing certain other things I should be doing (like exercise or housework).

I have watched a lot of episodes of American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance.  Also I have seen a few episodes of My Kitchen Rules.  Even though each of these reality shows is about a different subject they are all scarily familiar.  The producers carefully edit the shows so that you have favourites right from the start, even though you are not supposed to know whether they are going through to the end.  In American Idol, if they do a back story about some sort of hardship you know for sure they are going to make it at least to Hollywood.

There was an article in the paper today about how the lady from Tassie in My Kitchen Rules was getting death threats because she was cast as the villain amongst the contestants.  Death threats?  It is a cooking show for christ’s sake!  I can’t fathom the depth of fanaticism required to issue death threats to a snarky mum from tassie, whose only crime is to be a bit picky about her food.  My God, every single person I know has complained about somebody’s food before.  Admittedly not on national television but geez it is a competition and she obviously wants to win.

Another report was saying the fans of Justin Bieber (the Beliebers if you can believe it) were threatening poor Esperanza Spalding on Wikipedia just because she won best new talent instead of Justin.

Being part of the Science Fiction Fan Community I am very familiar with people taking fandom too far.  It is very common to see a fan of a sci fi tv show (see me very carefully not mention a particular show so as not to cultivate a stereotype) take it to the next level, living the life so to speak as if it was real and not just a fantasy.

But that is not sending death threats.  These people are generally passionate about their obsession in many ways but certainly not to the extent that if someone dissed their idol they would make death threats to them.  I have seen many a heated discussion about whether Trek is better than Star Wars, in fact it is practically a given that there will be a panel on this at any Science Fiction convention, and the proponents of either side are generally passionate about it and can’t be swayed, but they don’t want to kill the other side either.!

It must be the fact that most Bieber fans are extremely young.  Everything is so much more important when you are a teenager.  When your idol fails, you feel personally affronted and must do something about it.  That famous ‘leave Britney alone’ video springs to mind as an example.

Another example of ‘reality’ shows being far from reality is The Biggest Loser.  As you know, I am on my own personal weight loss journey, but I avoid watching that show, as it only discourages me. People want to hear about great drops in weight, but in reality who can afford to take 3 months off work and have a personal trainer for 8 hours a day pushing you to exercise till you vomit?

Nobody, only people on tv reality shows.  Just how many of these people keep the weight off after the show is finished?  I bet only the winners do as they then have sponsorship to keep the weight off so the program doesn’t look bad.  Nobody real can lose 15 kilos in one week!  It just makes it harder for those of us trying to lose weight the old fashioned way, by trying to reduce the intake of calories and increase the exercise.

Anyway, I have blathered on about this enough tonight and will not bore you further.  I am going to try to blog more often, or as often as I can think of something to write about.  Since this is mostly for myself, I don’t really mind if no-one reads these anyway.

Cheers for now


Worst music lyrics of all time!!!

Have you ever wondered what the conversation between two 17 year old boys who just had sex (not with each other) would be like?  Read the lyrics to this song below and you will soon know.  I was listening innocently to the radio on the way home from the Nova Mob and this puerile excuse for a song came on the radio.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing so I looked up the lyrics once I got home.  Yes, they were just as bad as I thought.

I Just Had Sex Lyrics

[Lonely Island]
Something beautiful happens
in this world

And Lonely Island

[Lonely Island]
You don’t know how to express yourself so
You just gotta sing

I just had sex
And it felt so good (felt so good)
A woman let me put my penis inside her (her)
I just had sex (Hey!)
And I’ll never go back (never go back)
To the not-having-sex
Ways of the past

[Andy Samberg]

Have you ever had sex?
I have, it felt great
It felt so good when I did it with my penis

A girl let me do it
It literally just happened
Having sex could make a nice man out’ the meanest


You’ll never guess where I just came from
I had sex
If I had to describe the feeling it was the best

When I had the sex
‘Meant my penis felt great
And I called my parents right after I was done

[Andy Samberg]

Oh hey, didn’t see you there
Guess what I just did
Had sex, undressed, saw her boobies and the rest


Well sure
Nice of her to let you do that thing

[Andy Samberg]

Nice of any girl ever


Now sing

I just had sex
And it felt so good (felt so good)
A woman let me put my penis inside her (her)
I Wanna tell the world

[Andy Samberg]

To be honest
I’m surprised she even wanted me to do it


Doesn’t really make sense

[Andy Samberg]

But man, screw it


I ain’t one to argue with a good thing

[Andy Samberg]

She could be my wife


That good?

[Andy Samberg]
The best 30 seconds of my life


I’m so humbled by a girls ability to let me do her

[Andy Samberg]

Cuz honestly I’d have sex with a pile of manure
With that in mind the soft, nice-smellin’ girl’s better


She let me wear my chain and my turtle neck sweater


So this one’s dedicated to them girls
That let us flop around on top of them
If you’re near or far, whether short or tall
We wanna thank you all for lettin’ us fuck you


She kept looking at her watch


Doesn’t matter, I had sex

[Andy Samberg]

But I cried the whole time


Doesn’t matter, I had sex


I think she might have been a racist


Doesn’t matter, I had sex

[Andy Samberg]

She put a bag on my head


Still counts
I just had sex
And my dreams came true (dreams came true)
So if you had sex in the last 30 minutes then you’re qualified to sing with me
I just had sex (everybody sing!)
And it felt so good (we all had sex!)
A woman let me put my penis inside her (I wanna tell the whole world!)
I just had sex (I just had sex!)
And I’ll never go back (no, no, no!)
To the not-having-sex
Ways of the past

To those of you who got to the end of this without either gagging or laughing your ass off I applaud you!!



Happy Australia Day

Well it is Australia Day and I have just attended a barbeque as any good Australian should.  It was a wonderful time with people I like and at a lovely home out in the burbs.  It was also the biggest challenge to my diet so far.  The spread was divine, with exotic salads and meats and plenty of food for everyone.

I ate before we left so that I wouldn’t be hungry and could ignore the food.  I managed quite well with the meats and salads and felt quite proud of myself.  Then out came the traditional desserts and my eyes boggled.  Pavlova, chocolate ripple cake, cheesecake… the desserts kept coming and my eyes grew wider.

Now I know my weakness, and my weakness is sweets.  I have indulged in many a chocolate creamy dessert and my favourite of all is the chocolate ripple cake.  It is a deceptively simple dish, chocolate ripple biscuits surrounded by whipped cream and depending how fancy the cook wants to go you can grate a bit of chocolate on the top.  It is all chocolaty and creamy goodness indeed.  And there it was sitting in front of me while I am trying to be virtuous and stick to my diet.

I am happy to report that I did not succumb to the temptation and found that having plenty of company to talk to and letting them all know the reasons for refusing the dessert so that they weren’t continually pressing me to try some helped tremendously.  I think being honest about being on a diet is an important step and it means that you have plenty of people around you to support you.

I haven’t done any exercise for a couple of days now but will get back into the swing of things tomorrow.  Alcohol doesn’t really mix with exercise.

One last note before I go.  It is Australia Day today and I do expect a certain amount of patriotism amongst Australians as we have a great country to be proud of, but I was puzzled by the sheer amount of cars I saw travelling on the freeway with Australian flags on the back window of the car.  Were they coming from an event or is just everyone that patriotic?  Guess I will never know.