I met Josh and his partner Andy, at the Rockingham Writers’ Convention last year. I was slightly star-struck, after reading Find Your Creative Mojo. They are charming and loads of fun to chat with. Josh has walked the walk, which gives his books such power to help children and adults while dealing with their anxieties.
What do you like to do when you are not writing? Sitting on my verandah with my husband watching the sunset over the valley enjoying a glass of wine (or several).
What did you want to be when you grew up? When I was 6, I wanted to be a train driver because seemingly all you had to do was toot the horn and wave at people as you went by. Otherwise, I’ve never had any idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. As long as it wasn’t a normal boring job! I think I’ve succeeded in that; radio announcer, radio copywriter, author/illustrator, photographer, abstract artist, part-time afterlife investigator… who knows what’s next?
Josh recently launched his own YouTube channel.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? Andy is cooking southern style chicken schnitzels and garlic roast veggies and it suits me just fine.
Can you cook? Are you practical? Yes, I can cook and quite enjoy it. I’m lucky, that both Andy and I enjoy cooking so we have lots of yummy meals. My favourite is Tortellini. (There’s a recipe for Lemon and Parsley Tortellini on page 54 of Being You is Enough if you’re interested.)
Breakfast or dinner? Dinner definitely. Unless breakfast is something exotic like Parathas and onion bhajis…. (Or leftover Tortellini )
Your hero? I don’t have heroes, but there are a few people who I admire, such as Michael Leunig. I got to meet him at last years Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival (we were next to each other in the program guide, Langley / Leunig) and I was a blubbering mess. I couldn’t say anything interesting or clever, just ‘Um, I’m a big fan… Can I have a selfie?’. Sonia comments that’s so much like I was when I met you!
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, (Living or dead) who would they be and why?
Iggy Pop. He could tell some awesome rock and roll stories. The late Anthony Bourdain. He could also tell some greats stories about people, food and travelling. My husband Andy. I couldn’t let him miss out on all the fun!
What time of the day do you usually write?
I prefer mornings, the earlier the better but not like 3.30 (I did that once when I set the bedside clock wrong after a blackout) more like 5.30 onward. However, if I’m drawing illustrations, that can be anytime.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
I have a really short attention span when it comes to writing and rarely gets into the flow. I’m constantly checking Facebook, getting up to snack on something or walking around outside. Oh, look! Is that packet of pretzels? Yum!
What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
All over the shop like a mad dog’s breakfast. There is no structure. When I was working 4 days a week, I used to get up at early and write for an hour before work, but now that I work from home all the time, there’s no structure at all. I’m trying to write a memoir on childhood trauma at the moment and I haven’t found my rhythm as yet, but I’m hoping it’ll come. Maybe pretzels will help.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I can write anywhere. The kitchen table, office, beach, café etc. It doesn’t matter. I know that’s not quirky, but very handy!
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say?
I get a lot of feedback from parents telling me how the kid’s books have made a big difference in their child’s lives. Especially kids who may be a little different or who don’t feel ‘normal’ for whatever reason. They say that the books have started great conversations and led to all sorts of life-changing insights for both the kids and the parents. That makes all that I do worthwhile.
How has being a copywriter influenced your writing style?
Radio copywriting is all about distilling big concepts down into simple easy to relate to messages, which means using as few words as possible. It’s the same for kid’s books. I take big concepts such as emotional and mental well-being and all that’s associated with them and break them down into powerful short sentences and then marry them with simple cartoon-like illustrations. It’s the art of saying more with less.
I guess that in copywriting you work to appeal to emotions, does that carry over into your writing?
Yep, advertising is all about connecting on an emotional level and that is the same for writing non-fiction and kids books. Even though I’m not a traditional storyteller, the way I shape a story is to go direct to the heart of the reader and make a deep connection that way. Cut straight to the chase but have fun while doing it.
I think you have said that you write your children’s books for the kid you once were. I know that many, many kids and adults relate to them.
Yes, I write the books as though I was giving life advice to my 8-year-old self. I think there are only a handful of kids authors who are in the same boat as me (Todd Parr for example) as most are either teachers, educators, librarians, in the child development field or have kids themselves and I don’t fit into any of that. So writing the books for myself made sense and it was healing as well, as I had experienced childhood trauma and through the books, I was able to reassure the younger me that he is OK the way he was and that he is loved. I think parents can relate to the same message because it’s something they wanted to hear when they were young too.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special?
I love Graeme the Giraffe, the cover boy for Magnificent Mistakes. He represents the confident, playful happy go lucky kid in all of us. He’s not too concerned about what other people think of him and he’s willing to give new things a go. He wants to wring the most out of life.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions?
Everyone can feel their emotions in some way, even if it’s getting angry at a bus being late! However it’s being able to tap into that emotion and transfer it to the page so that everyone can relate to it, that’s the trick.
Best writing advice? Worst writing advice you ever received?
Best: “Adverbs are not your friend” – Stephen King. Worst: “This is crap” – Me.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer? My laptop. I love it. I really do. I think I spend more time with it than my husband!
Many people won’t have heard about your exploration into the afterlife. Personally, I’d like to thank you for doing things I have always been too scared to do. You have two books about this, don’t you?
Yes, ‘Dying to Know: If there life after death’ and ‘Turning Inside Out; What is everything we’ve been taught about life is wrong?’ both on my website.
I’ve always been interested in ghosts, the paranormal and afterlife topics and I was desperate to see if could have a personal experience of some kind myself. When I was planning the outline of Dying to Know I knew I had to include a ghost investigation, however, I couldn’t think of anywhere that I could have easy access too. Then one of my work colleagues mentioned in passing that he thought the radio station he was working at was haunted in some way. I remembered I had worked there many years before and thought the same thing. Bam! I had my haunted building! It’s not often you get to play ghost investigator, but it was heaps of fun, yet very scary at the same. It’s the kind of adrenaline rush I love. While some people like parachuting out of a perfectly good plan, I like to see if I can come face to face with a ghost!
How many unpublished/ half-finished books do you have?
1 novel, 2 kids books, a photographic book, and other stuff.
QUESTIONS FOR FUN (or maybe not!)
What are you reading now? Irritating posts on Facebook!
Do you have a favourite author? I don’t have a favourite author per se, but enjoy Mark Manson, Anne Lamott and Rebecca Solnit.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing? I really got a lot out of Stephen King’s On Writing.
Is there an author you most admire in your genre? Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are). His personal story always brings a tear to my eye. He kept his homosexuality and his 50-year relationship to his partner a secret from his Jewish parents because he didn’t want to disappoint them. If I could give him a copy of Being You is Enough and give him a hug, I would.
Favourite quote: “Find your own lane” – Diane Evans (my editor)
Favourite book when you were a kid? Rhyme Giggles, Nonsense Giggles, written by William Cole and Illustrated by Tomi Ungerer
Do you think being in a supportive partnership has helped your confidence and creativity?
Hell yes. I’m lucky that Andy is so supportive and encourages me to keep going with my projects. It also helps that he’s a writer and creative type as well, so we’re both encouraging and supporting each other. Mind you have been known to fight over the little writing desk on our library!
Thank you for having me, it’s been fun! Thank you for being here, Josh.
Hi Annie and thanks so much for joining us today. We will start with some getting to know you questions, then move on to your writing and art.
What do you like to do when you are not writing? My favourite is swimming in the sea and next is sailing
I didn’t expect to grow up as I am lucky to survive my childhood – my mother was an alcoholic who abused and neglected me. She tried to kill me, the first time when I was about four when she stripped me to my undies and locked me out of the house all day in the middle of a Melbourne winter – I got pneumonia and was very ill. The second time I was about eight and she slashed my right wrist and throat with a razor. Both times were when my father was away. I think she believed she was sacrificing or saving me. I survived the pneumonia and glandular fever which left me with lung and heart damage. I made 80 last year!
S B says Thank you for sharing this- what a traumatic experiences
Sometimes I share because telling others who have suffered and survived that you understand and care can make a difference, and keeping silent, as I was raised to do, perpetuates the damage of child abuse and neglect
What was your dream job when you were younger? I wanted to sail away, or fly like a bird, or write stories and make pictures.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? Not sure about tea tonight, but a takeaway would be good. Something new and different – except coriander.
What’s your favourite food? Currently it’s spinach and halva.
Your hero? Greta Thunberg,
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? Tyson Yunkaporta; he’s aboriginal and an advocate for indigenous culture, as well as a creative performer and artist. I would love to yarn with him.
Anh Do: came to Australia in a refugee boat, he became a comedian, artist (stunning portraits in his ABC show), and writer for young people. He’s creative in many fields – and funny and smart.
Julia Gillard: past prime minister of Australia. She was an outstanding leader, brave, and ethical and still a mental health advocate and strong woman.
They are all creators in different ways and from different origins that exemplifies our dynamic culture. From all the lands on earth we come – They affirm our unofficial anthem We are one – we are Australian.
What’s your writing space like?
I have a girl-shed for artwork and a ‘Do not disturb – genius at work’ sign in my corner in the back room with my PC and my home gym so I can get up and workout a bit when the flow stops. S.B. comments Lovely-love the genius at work sign.
How do you decide if an idea will be a story, a poem or an artwork?
It’s not a decision – some ideas come visually, some in a flash as a poem (usually when I’m travelling or walking) and then some are stories to be told over time.
For those unfamiliar with your fiction how would you describe it?
I decided to write romances when I retired but was totally no good at it – my attempt turned into the first book in the Travellers Trilogy which could be described as Adventure/Romance, as there’s a lot of adventure and intrigue and a powerful love story. My latest book is The Swagman Saga, a colonial myth, and this could be an Australian historical fantasy, I guess.
Is there a typical writing day?
When I’m writing, which I’m not currently, I grab the time when I can. I’m not an owl, so usually in the morning, but afternoons or evenings too, depending on what’s happening.
What is the most difficult part about writing for you?
Editing. It costs too much for me to have my m/s professionally edited, and I’m grateful for a friend who edited the trilogy, but he couldn’t edit the Swagman Saga, so it’s published with all its faults, which I’m sure are many and diverse.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?Don’t think I have one. I just hammer away and try to keep up with the characters as their lives unfold.
When you’re writing an emotionally draining (or sexy, or sad, etc) scene, how do you get in the mood?
I’m the watcher in my stories, so it’s like seeing a movie. I’m often surprised at what is unfolding, and react to the tragic, scary, passionate or violent events. I’ve been saddened by the way the lives of some characters unfolded and I usually intervene at the end, as I write to give hope, not to create sorrow and despair.
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special.
The truism that we are all our characters. I most admire the courage and devotion of Aidan, and Matilda; the adventurous spirits of Greta and The Swagman; and the dogged and persistent Old Grey Mare, – as they are the best of me; but I have to acknowledge myself in the troubled Gwen/Selina; and in the evil Tobias, and the shape-changing monster, Captain Sharman.
Why did you choose to self-publish, and use a pen name?
The rejections made me feel like a failure. Although I understand this is usual and it can take many years of rejection before a writer is successful, I was around 70 when I started writing novels and I thought I didn’t have that long to wait. I know my work doesn’t fit a commercial mould so I decided that I would write my own way. I feel I don’t need to write to a market as I don’t expect ever to write for a living, although I’ve covered my costs
I chose to use my maiden name as I wanted to disassociate my work from my everyday identity. I Googled it, and it wasn’t being used, since then two other M.A. Hills have appeared – one writes about chakras and yogic stuff which is OK, but the other writes lurid romances. Should have stuck with Otness.
Are you currently working on a new book? Will it carry on the stories from the trilogy or The Swagman?
I have started a young adult series called The Theriant, (Theriants are shape-changers). I find this concept not only fascinating, but a great way to create diverse p.o.v. I’ve written the first book and the first draft of the second and have the outline for another one. The protagonist is a mutant hero called Crystal Stone whose mission is to save the world. The first one – The Flight of Crystal Stone, is about its/her coming of age but after letting the work rest and coming back to it, I realised I must revise it, as the first part could be cultural appropriation, and also doesn’t fit the story as it developed
Who is your favourite author and why? So many: Tyson Yunkaporta – I’ve just read Sand Talk, and this was extraordinary– confronting – validating some of my concepts and challenging others. I’ll need to read it again.
Peter Fitzsimons; Australian history – he tells the true story and brings it to life.
Kem Nunn, writes stories with so much empathy about surfing and of people that I feel I know.
Liu Cixin – The three body problem. His dystopian future could become the new reality aka Wells’ War of the Worlds – Chinese viewpoint is enlightening.
All different and really great reads.
What book is currently on your bedside table? Kim Scott’s Dead man dance, Qi Gong, Me and the boat and a man named Bob, by C.E. Bowman (friends have told me it’s the best book they’ve ever read – Bob is Bob Dylan!) Moab is my Washpot – Stephen Fry.
I prefer to read eBooks now as the range is limitless with wonderful free library apps. I have about 3,000 books (I’m used to having shelves of books around I guess after 25+ years in libraries), and eBook loans suit me now.
What books or authors have most influenced your writing?
James Joyce, The Dubliners, I read at 18 and it reset my brain. After being schooled on Eliot and Thackeray, that were so alien to my life and culture, I couldn’t relate to them at all. Joyce opened the window to the wide universe of possibilities.
Tim Winton, because he writes about my kind of world, and I realised that we can tell the stories about places and lives we know. Rabelais Gargantua and Pantagruel because he is wildly inventive and bawdy and funny.
Cervantes because he wrote the ultimate quest,and many other authors.I think everything I read has some influence.
Who is the author you most admire in your genre?
Norman Lindsay, Tolkien and Terry Pratchett – for fantasy sagas, Susanne Collins’ The Hunger Games for YA. I don’t write to a genre but admire so many authors – I’ll pick Melissa Lukashenko, Too much lip as adventure romance. Poetry – Les Murray. Don Williams for theatre (I’ve written a few plays that I produced and directed at the Pocket Theatre – great loss that it closed down.)
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
Change is possible because it’s necessary – James Zerzan.
SB. That quote is very pertinent at the moment!
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult / ‘Sea Sick’ by Alanna Mitchell had a life changing effect on me and made me realise that I had to fight for the well being of the oceans that I love and voyage on.
Favourite book when you were a kid? Alice in wonderland and through the looking glass. I was sent to the care of strangers for a few months at about 9 and was allowed to take one book – Lewis Carrol was in hindsight such a good choice, with a strong, resilient, resourceful girl hero alone in a weird world.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor? Shakespeare – I think he’s the greatest writer ever even though I don’t read in other languages.
I’ve included a few of the quilts, which are made from silk paintings with shibori dyed panels.
SB I asked what Shibori was .
Shibori is a Japanese tie dye craft that gives a streaky effect.
M.A. Hill was born once upon a time in Tasmania, lives near Fremantle, Western Australia. She is an award-winning writer, playwright, poet, and artist – working in paint, textiles, and clay.
A blue water sailor and activist for the marine environment, her journey is one of survival that has taken her on trackless voyages where few have ventured. In her work she strives for a better world. As Annie Hill Otness, she has published –
Hi, Norman, It’s great to be chatting such a versatile children’s author
I must ask, with your surname, do you have Viking ancestry. Some. My great-great-grandfather arrived in Australia from Denmark during the 1850s gold rush in Ballarat, and my grandfather grew up in Coolgardie in the Western Australian goldfields early in the 20th century. I’ve always like Norse myths and legends, though, and think Vikings were a little misunderstood. J They can’t really have been that bad. Can they?
What do you like to do when you are not writing?
I read, of course, mostly historical fiction, and I love old black & white movies and Westerns, and I love travelling and photography. I am happiest tramping around the ruins of a medieval castle or exploring a smugglers’ village, with my camera running red hot.
What did you want to be when you grew up? I can’t answer that – I never grew up! No, I wanted to be Errol Flynn, swashbuckling star of Captain Blood, as well as a bunch of other pirate movies, and also Robin Hood and General Custer. I also wanted to be a Lieutenant in the US Cavalry, a Sergeant in the French Foreign Legion and a Spitfire Pilot in the RAF in 1940. Oh, and a Highwayman, a gunslinger, the Saint, and when I was about 14, I fancied myself as F Scott Fitzgerald, as played by Gregory Peck in the bio of his life called Beloved Infidel. The idea of being a tortured literary genius appealed greatly at that age. Unfortunately, these days I am neither tortured nor a genius, nor even suave like Gregory Peck, or even Atticus Finch, more’s the pity.
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? It is Sunday night, so Jan and I are in for a perfect evening. A long hot bubble bath with the steaming water up to our eyes, until we get wrinkly toes, then pizza and red wine while watching a British crime drama on the TV. What would I rather be eating? I’m happy with that, though a bowl of freshly-made pasta and Chianti while sitting on a terrace on a warm evening in Venice might be pretty good too.
Your hero? I have a lot of heroes, but especially my beloved Jan Nicholls. She is my biggest fan, but never reads anything I write until it is published, which is probably why we still get on okay. She is from Northumberland near the Scottish border where they breed them tough, but she is warm-hearted, kind, gorgeous, as sharp as a tack and incredibly funny. The poor woman is addicted to books, though, and spends a great time of reading and promoting books in her role as President the Children’s Book Council here in WA. Jan also likes travelling, so that fits in perfectly with me, and I admire how she has navigated us across the world in search of exciting places for me to write about.
Another hero is my mother, Barbara, who is kind and gentle but has a backbone of steel. She lived in Broome in the 1950s when it was a derelict shanty town so far from everywhere, and brought up four boys often by herself for long periods while my father was away working. She moved to Perth and had a successful career at Channel 9 and is still a stylish, enthusiastic world traveller at 86 years old.
Next on my list is Winston. I am a big Winston Churchill fan, though I am well aware of his flaws and significant errors and subsequent disasters. US broadcaster, Edward Murrow, said of him, “He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.” I hugely admire that ability he had. He stared down Hitler, ran the government, helped win WWII, and then went on to write 30 books and win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? My father and my grandparents. You never really get to say goodbye properly, so one lovely last evening with them would be wonderful. I still have so much I would have liked to share with them and so much still to learn. They were all great storytellers too, and I would have felt warm and safe and loved being in the same room with them again entertaining me with their tales of our family from long ago.
Now to questions about writing. I think readers and writers alike are fascinated by how writers write, and how they get their ideas.
What time of the day do you usually write? I am scatty and erratic, hugely disorganised, and away-with-the-fairies half the time, so there is no pattern to my writing day. My latest manuscript, The Smuggler 3: Dragon’s Blood, was written under a palm tree by a pool in Phuket using an old leather-bound notebook and a fountain pen. It was only the first draft, but I got so much written with no electronic distractions and no reason to stop other than the need for a quick swim occasionally.
What is the hardest part of writing for you? Revising and polishing. I find researching the life and times of my characters and settings and then writing the plot reasonably enjoyable, but the constant need to turn out half-decent sentences while making sure the meaning is crystal clear and exciting at the same time is a real challenge for me. I need to keep reminding myself not to include every single detail I have uncovered during the research, but to concentrate more on the hero’s journey and their interaction with the other characters. Historical books often overload the minor details of the past, so the reader gets bogged down, and then fed up, and loses sympathy with the hero, and that can be fatal.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing? My schedule is pure chaos. Sometime I’ll spend all day procrastinating, while others I’ll be on a roll and write like a demon all day, ignoring everything and everyone in the real world around me. Other days, it will be four hours before I get bored with myself. Ideas come at all times of the day and in odd places, so I have a box full of napkins, slips of newspaper, notebooks and movie tickets with random words and sentences hastily scribbled on them.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? I tend to over-reference old movies, TV shows, books I read in the past, and even jokes, sometimes completely inappropriately for the dire situations in which I have placed my characters. I am also on the lookout for humour in every case, which can be very annoying when Red, for instance, is seconds away from being eaten by a monster Tiger shark or being fired on by blood-thirsty pirates.
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say? Not too much. I do get great feedback from kids when I am giving school talks, and teachers often tell me how much their students enjoy my books. I did once get the best letter, though. It read, “Dear Mr Jorgensen, I know you don’t make much money from your writing, but rest assured, you are bringing great joy to millions of children all around the world.” Poor deluded fool they must have mistaken me for J.K Rowling.
I am guessing your readership is predominantly boys, am I right? I had imagined that was the case, but I am continually being proven wrong. Jack’s Island is studied and enjoyed in many girls’ schools, and I keep hearing that girls seem to like my character, Red Read, the teenage hero of The Smuggler’s Curse and The Wreckers’ Revenge. Several girls have asked for more romance in the sequels.
We both laugh and I suggest a comprise. Maybe you can write a choose your own adventure book to satisfy both boys and girls? Quick as a flash he comes back with ‘Choice one -Kiss the girl. Choice two -Jump overboard.’
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special. Red Read, son of Mrs Read who owns The Smuggler’s Curse Hotel in Broome, is my favourite. His mother sells him as a cabin boy to Captain Black Bowen, a notorious smuggler. Red is just like 12-year-old me, except he is brave, fearless, athletic and resourceful, unlike me at 12 who was a snivelling coward and none of those things. He handles everything I was too scared to do like he is a full-on junior swashbuckler. And after all his hair-raising adventures, he ends up very rich, also unlike me.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions? I don’t imagine so. You’d have to be pretty good at faking it. There is a saying in writing circles, “No tears from the writer, then there will be none from the reader.”
You’ve written children’s picture books and middle-grade fiction genre. Do you have a preference? I prefer mid-grade by far. Picture books are sooo difficult to write. The industry standard for them is 600 – 800 words over 32 pages, and trying to get the story that fills your head into so few words is nigh on impossible. Picture book stories are also told using a mixture of words or pictures, but not both, so your words are often cut as the illustrator takes over. If your text reads, “It was a dark and stormy night,” and the illustrator paints a dark and stormy night, then your carefully chosen words become redundant and get cut.
With middle-grade, you can create more elaborate plots and landscapes and explore inside your characters’ heads. You are also leaving a lot more to the reader’s imagination.
How do you decide whether it will be a longer book or a picture book? I see my stories in pictures in my head, just like watching a movie with a soundtrack and all, but some adventures will be far too long for 32 pages, so have to be turned into 60 to70,000 words instead. Interestingly, the three illustrators I have worked with, Allan Langoulant, Brian Harrison-Lever and my good friend, James Foley, have all had better pictures in their heads that I did, so, occasionally, I feel okay about my words getting the knife or the Viking sword.
You mentioned a trip to the Shetland Isles – did that inspire The Last Viking?
The Last Viking was inspired by my nephew Ben Jorgensen adding horns to his bike helmet years before, and then by me overlooking James Foley’s portfolio where he had an illustration of a boy dressed as a medieval knight. Why not a Viking, I thought? When I approached James with the Viking boy idea, I suddenly had to come up with the story on the spot.
The Shetlands Islands did, however, inspire The Smuggler’s Curse. R.L Stevenson’s father had been a lighthouse builder, and Robert had stayed in the same room as me as the Sumburgh Lighthouse. Learning this, I tried writing a pirate story just like R.L.S while there. It soon developed into a smuggler story set in Cornwall in 1810 and then, eventually, into an Australian sea story relocated to Broome in 1898, at the suggestion of my publisher, Cate Sutherland at Fremantle Press.
How much input do you have with your illustrators? Normally, none. Editors like to keep writers and illustrators apart, and often they are in different states. Brian Harrison-Lever lived in Tasmania, and I didn’t meet him until he had finished all the artwork for In Flanders Fields, though we did exchange emails. I met Allan Langoulant once a week for dinner where he showed me his previous week’s work, but I had no say in it as it was already finished. With James Foley, we did spend time working together on The Last Viking, sharing jokes and me suggesting scenes and film references, and that seemed to work well as we had a shared love of movies. The Viking books are heavily movie influenced. James was able to add in a lot of his own humour, making my original plot and jokes much funnier.
Best writing advice? Don’t get carried away with the traditional, stereotyped idea of being a writer
Waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Instead, just begin.
Starving in a Paris garret, suffering from TB, drinking yourself to oblivion on Absinthe like many, shooting wild animals like Hemingway, or going on the road like Jack Kerouac will only distract you. Just sit, turn down the lights, and actually type in one word after another until you fill a page, polish it, then do it again the next day until you fill another page. After a year, you will have 365 pages which should be enough for a book. That is advice from John Steinbeck, not me.
Worst writing advice you ever received? A teacher who read the manuscript told me to change the name of the title of In Flanders Fields as kids won’t know what it means, she said. Luckily, I ignored her as the book is still in print 17 years later.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer
My Lamy fountain pen from Germany and my Chinese fountain pen called The Black Dragon, the same name as the schooner in my latest books. I just had to buy it with a name like that. Mostly, though, every dollar I ever spent on airfares has not been wasted. I have visited every place my books are set as I believe it is important to be able to describe the settings in detail, down to the smell of the drains, the feel of the sand between your toes and the sound of the monkeys screeching in the jungle trees.
How many unpublished/ half-finished books do you have?
Dragon’s Blood: Red 3 (Upper Primary Novel)
Sons of the Desert: The Journal of Harry White (YA Novel)
This Pen for Hire (Adult Comedy Novel)
The Illuminator’s Apprentice (Picture Book)
The Goldminer’s Son (Picture Book)
The Gr8 Escape (Picture Book)
Castaways on a Dessert Island (Picture Book)
Advance Australia Unfair (Picture Book)
The Final Mission of a Flying Tiger (Picture Book)
Mary Christmas (Lower Primary Novel)
Who is your favourite author, and why?
My favourite authors are Leslie Thomas who wrote The Virgin Soldiers and Dangerous Davies and Tom Sharpe, author of Wilt and Blott on the Landscape, both British writers who generally wrote satirical comedy novels about ordinary people living suburban lives while mayhem surrounds them. When Leslie died in 2014 and Tom in 2013, I was shocked at how saddened I was each time as if I had suddenly lost a part of me and a whole chunk of my early reading years. I didn’t know either of them, though I met Leslie Thomas briefly at a book signing after a talk he gave here in Perth. He answered ALL my questions then afterwards signed my book, “To my greatest fan, Norman”, and he wasn’t the least bit wrong.
I also love the work of Bill Bryson and have read every word of his. We are much the same age, and his gentle sense of humour matches mine exactly. The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, about him looking for the small-town America of the old movies, is funny but also so sad as he slowly comes to realise that it has been lost and the towns have been devastated by enormous Walmart’s, huge car parks, endless fast-food joints, closed factories, empty shops and despair. His most successful book, Notes From a Small Island, about him revisiting the places he went when backpacking around Britain in the 1970s, is a joy to read. He gave his humour free rein, and I loved it, as I did with all his other books. He has since written 20 more.
What are you reading now? As usual, I have several books on my bedside table. This week it is Grant, a massive doorstop of a biography of General Ulysses S Grant, the US Civil War leader and President, by Ron Chernow. There is also The Last Dickens by Mathew Pearl an exciting books about copyright piracy in the 1870s, Mrs Kelly by Grantlee Kieza, about Ned Kelly’s mother, and to my absolute delight, an advance copy of Goldfields’ Girl by my great friend Elaine Forrestal just arrived this morning. I am really looking forward to reading this one.
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Robert Louis Stevenson. The Smuggler’s Curse has Treasure Island and Kidnapped all over it. I even called a character Bosun Stevenson in his honour.
I belong to the Society of Writers and Illustrators here in Western Australia, and I am always amazed at the quality of the books that our members produce. I admire so many of them as we really do have some remarkable talent in Perth.
In my genre, closest to my style of recent stories in John Flanagan, who wrote the Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series. His historically-based, overly-brave teenagers sometimes seem a lot like my young characters
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
“If you are going through hell, then it is probably best to keep on going.”
Or maybe… “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense.”
Both quotes are by Winston Churchill.
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult
Dissolution by CJ Sansom. It is a historical novel (of course) about a lawyer called Mathew Sheldrake in the times of King Henry VIII when he set up the Church of England and destroyed the monasteries and abbeys across England. Samson captures the life and times of pots medieval Britain so well that you feel positively grimy after reading his work. He has since written a series about Sheldrake, all equally as good and just as grubby.
Favourite book when you were a kid Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, although Enid Blyton and Biggles were favourites when I was younger.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor? John Steinbeck, who wrote The Grapes of Wrath. He was the first writer to keep me awake all night reading. He wrote with such compassion for his characters who were based on real people suffering in the Great Depression, as well as perfectly capturing a sense of place of an American landscape destroyed by drought, greed and economics. His writing is so flawless and seemingly effortless that you do not even notice the writing style as he has so successfully carried you away with the fates of his characters.
What are you working on now? I am researching for a book called In Search of Constable Jack Kelly, Brother of the Outlaw Ned Kelly. Ned’s youngest brother, Jack, was a world-famous circus star performing stockwhip tricks and stunt riding for Wirth’s Circus in the early years of the 20th century. For a few years, he was, almost unbelievably, even a member of the Police Force in WA where he worked taming wild horses. After that, he left for the USA where he joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and then went onto a glittering career in England and then South America.
Do you enjoy school visits? I do about 120 school visits a year and usually enjoy them very much, especially with kids in upper primary classes. They typically are so enthusiastic and not yet self-conscious like their older school mates, and so pepper me with questions. My book, Jack’s Island, about my father’s experiences as a kid during WWII is studied in depth by many schools and, for some reason, the kids want every episode in it to be true. It mostly is true though sometimes exaggerated, and I find it fascinating seeing what sections appeal or capture the imaginations of the readers. School visits are also essential for trying out chapters on the potential audiences to see their reactions. Frequently, some instant editing takes place as I read aloud, and pages are mentally slashed and burnt.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me- I have really enjoyed talking with you and I am sure you have gained new readers eager to share in an adventure or two.
Here is a list of all Norman’s published books and awards
‘Tread Softly Because You Tread On My Dreams’ William Butler Yeats.
What is written isn’t simply words on the page, these words are a part of the writer’s identity, their brainchild and often the child of their heart too.
When I was invited to be one of the section panel for a writing competition, I knew that it would be a difficult task.
Each person who had entered had written with a part of themselves and now we had to choose from amongst them and decide which were the best. All had merit in some way, maybe for the idea, or for a new take on an old idea.
Equally, perhaps the contest organisers had given us a more problematic task because they hadn’t specified a theme, so the topics were exceptionally varied.
Should tragedy and drama take precedence over comedy and the lighthearted ? Does writing about a topical situation or problem gain more points?
These were questions that everyone who was assessing the work had to decide for themselves. And of course, subjectivity came into play too.
And what about the rules? There was a word limit specified, should someone be be penalized if they went over it? What if by a few words or a lot?
I did my best and tried to be objective and to choose what I genuinely considered to be the best pieces of work. Well aware that by choosing them I was rejecting others.
Fortunately, the responsibility for the choice does not fall solely to me, there is a panel of judges. Will we agree or will they each make different selections? It will be interesting to find out.
All that I can say to everyone who entered is thank you for sharing your work with us. I respect that and I read it as I hope that my work will be read. Congratulations on daring to put your work ‘out there’.
It’s always a pleasure for me to be chatting with authors. Today my guest is talented author Teena Raff Mulligan. Teena changes easily between writing for children( picture books, and mid-grade books) as well as writing for adults. I had fun learning about her writing and her non- writing life and I hope you will enjoy this interview.
Finding out a little bit about Teena I asked her
What do you like to do when you are not writing? Watch TV. Walk the dog along the beach path. Dabble in art and photography.
What did you want to be when you grew up? A ballerina novelist.
Wow!What an awesome idea!
What was your dream job when you were younger? I had fantasies of dancing my way around the world and writing novels in the dressing room between performances. Film star was my back up option.
That sounds like a great plan!
What’s for dinner tonight? What would you rather be eating? I’m on a low-calorie meal plan at the moment so dinner today is a child-size serve of chargrilled chicken, potato bake and steamed veggies with gravy. I’m happy with that, though I wouldn’t mind baked ricotta cheesecake for dessert or a fruit and custard flan.
What’s your favourite food? That’s easy. Fish and chips. Preferably liberally sprinkled with salt and vinegar and eaten from the paper while parked in the car at the beach watching the sun go down over the ocean.
Your hero? My cousin Gypsy is an inspiration. She is wise, insightful, creative, intelligent, resilient, and has a wonderful sense of humour. Muscular dystrophy has increasingly limited Gypsy’s physical mobility over the years but her focus is always on what she can do rather than on what she can’t.
If you could choose three people to invite for a dinner party, who would they be and why? Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and other inspirational books for creatives; Eckhart Tolle, who wrote Stillness Speaks and The Power of Now; and Paul McCartney, who needs no introduction to people of my generation. I’m sure we’d have an intellectually stimulating discussion about living a spiritual life in our time, fulfilling our creative potential and finding a way to be authentically ourselves.
What’s your writing space like?
The main writing space is inside my head and I shudder to think what that looks like! I carry my stories around with me mentally so a lot of the sentences first take shape while I’m away from my desk. I have an office with my desktop computer, printer, filing cabinet, bookshelf etc and that’s where the manuscripts get knocked into shape for submission. I also do a lot of scribbling in notepads at the kitchen bench, in a recliner chair at the lounge room window, propped up in bed, on the back patio or the sun deck.
What time of the day do you usually write? Anytime!
Is there a typical writing day? I don’t have a typical writing day. Sometimes weeks pass without me producing the next chapter of my WIP, though I do work on writing-related activities every day. This might be freelance proofing or copy editing, formatting my next indie publication, looking for covers, doing admin/promotions/ marketing or organising submissions, talks or workshops. I also do the monthly newsletter for the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators WA (SCBWI West), and I’m volunteer coordinator of Rockingham Writers Centre. Most days I head into my office after breakfast, work till lunchtime, take an hour or two break, then maybe do another couple of hours before dinner – or maybe not!
What is the most difficult part about writing for you? Completing novels. The level of focus required to sustain a long-term project doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m a bit of a butterfly and there are so many bright shiny new ideas and creative interests to attract my attention.
What is your work schedule like when you are writing? I don’t have one. Of course, I apply myself and work steadily on a manuscript if there is an anthology or competition deadline or a publisher is waiting on rewrites. Basically, I work on priorities and do the job that needs to be done that day.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk? I have a stand-up desk and to introduce some exercise into my day I do a few dance steps, aerobic moves or on-the-spot marching as I work at the computer. I also try out various actions to see how they work and have conversations with myself to make sure the dialogue in my scenes sounds natural and in character. Fortunately, I don’t have an audience.
Do you hear from your readers much? What do they say? I don’t often hear from readers. Those who comment usually tell me my stories are charming and warm-hearted, with characters that come alive on the page. The nicest thing anyone ever said was that I must have“bottles of delight and whimsy in your office and sprinkle them on your stories because your stories are always delightful and whimsical.” That made me feel warm and fuzzy.
When you’re writing an emotionally draining (or sexy, or sad, etc) scene, how do you get in the mood? A lot of my stories are light-hearted so I need to feel at peace with my world. I can’t write those stories if I am upset or worried about something. Having said that, I had a publisher deadline on a major rewrite of my quirky MG novel Mad Dad for Sale at the time my dad was dying of cancer and somehow I managed to do that. The fantasy was a wonderful distraction from the reality of being about to lose my father.
How do you deal with the emotional impact of a book (on yourself) as you are writing the story? I’m more likely to be smiling or giggling at the computer because so much of what I write is light and quirky. However, I still get weepy when I read the final lines of my picture book Who Dresses God? and I was surprised the other day to find myself shedding a few tears as I proofread a scene in my forthcoming YA novel, Monelli & Me. Two of my unpublished picture books did stir up a lot of emotion because they are inspired by experiences which had a big impact on my life – the loss of a baby and losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s – so I let the tears flow as I wrote them. When they are published I might not be able to read them in schools!
Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special. I love Joshua Jones in The Seven Day Dragon. He has a lively curiosity and a unique perspective on the world.
You’ve written adult genre and children’s picture books and mid-grade fiction genre. Do you have a preference?
Picture books. I love the challenge of sifting and shifting words to tell a story as succinctly as possible, yet in a way that allows the illustrator plenty of scope to be creative. I also like playing around with rhyme and rhythm. I’m obviously still learning because I have quite a few unpublished picture book manuscripts. I’m much more successful with short stories and poems.
How different do you find the writing? I don’t really think about it. I focus on the story I’m telling at the time and the voice for that age group or genre seems to come naturally without conscious effort.
Who is your favourite author and why? That’s like asking me if I have a favourite child!
What are you reading now? I just finished reading I’m Your Venus: A Sylvia Stryker Space Mystery by Dianne Vallere.
What book is currently on your bedside table? Only one? My next read will be In Good Hands, a Georgie B Goode Vintage Trailer Mystery by Marg McAlister.
I’m reading light at the moment because it was quite intense doing the copy edits and proofreading of my women’s fiction and YA novels, which are both coming out in March.
What books or authors have most influenced your own writing? Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way, The Sound of Paper, The Right to Write); Natalie Goldberg (Long Quiet Highway); and Dani Shapiro (Still Writing).
Who is the author you most admire in your genre? Meg McKinlay. She has a wonderful way of writing for children and young adults.
Favourite quote (doesn’t matter the source)
Favourite book/story you have read as an adult. It’s impossible for me to choose one.
Favourite books when you were a kid. Nesbitt’s Five Children and It and The Railway Children and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. What Katy Did also struck a chord, as did books by Elizabeth Goudge.
What famous author do you wish would be your mentor? I wish I’d been mentored by the amazing Jen Storer when I first started writing for children. Jen runs the Scribbles Academy and started The Duck Pond FB group. She has a wealth of industry knowledge and is an inspiration.
You like to think that you are a good person.You dont hate people or resent them, until an acquaintance has a stroke of writing luck.
Until, someone you know wins a contest, has a piece published, writes a book or simply seems to be everywhere . They are on websites, giving interviews in magazines and book shops ,they are the next big thing and you tell yourself you are happy for them and you are. BUT…..
Not Quite So Happy?
But there is voice in your head that isn’t quite so happy at all. An inner voice that says ‘but what about me?’ Eventually, you realise that you are suffering from writer envy. You want what he or she has got. You whine inwardly because it seems to have been so easy for them.
And because we are all good people, you don’t talk about it or mention it to anyone. Gradually, you realise you are envious because what they have matters to you. If they were climbing mountains or being a successful investor, that wouldn’t cause you to envy them. But writing, that’s your thing, your passion.
Talking Writing with Writers
I recently brought this up in an online writer’s forum and most people were happy to acknowledge that yes, they felt it too. There was compassion and wise advice posted in the comments. Many adniited feeling the same. One piece of advice was ‘ be yourself- everyone else is taken.’ Their is wisdom in that, we each have our own lived experience and perceptions. So we have a unique perspetive .
Taking it further Here is the dictionary definition of envy from dictionary,.com
Envy a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck.
So, knowing we do feel envy ,what do we do about it? How do we use it creatively? How do we avoid bitter envy, and don’t say or even think those things?
Take action instead and use the feeling to spur you on. What did they do that you didn’t?
If they won a contest that you didn’t enter that might encourage you to enter next time. They submitted their work to a publisher while yours is still in a drawer. They got a lucky break, yes, but they were out there in the writing community .Being there,they met people, heard of opportunities.
Let envy encourage you to take action. You may never sweep into a book talk with an entourage of publicist, bookseller and adoring fans as some succesful authors do. But rememeber that even the most successful writer began somewhere- with blank sheet of paper and in an idea.
I presented an author talk on Friday The Art of Publishing a Romance and it was lots of fun and I think the audience enjoyed it too.
Then we came to the questions and answer session and the first question was the one that all authors expect and at times dread.
‘Where do you get your ideas?’
Sounds easy, doesn’t it? If only we could say ‘well, I pop down to the ideas store and see what they have saved for me.’ Wouldn’t that be fabulous? A store of ideas curated just for you.
So how do you explain the creative process, or more specifcially ,your own creative process?
For me it is partly research, looking at things that interest me, but equally it could be daydreaming..That aimless, letting your mind run free. It could be a tv program that I watched ,or a snippet of conversation I heard.
Ages ago I asked New York Time Bestselling author Natasha Lester a similar question.
‘How do you know you have enough of a topic to make a novel?’
Her reply really resonated with me.M/s Lester told me that she took two unrelated ideas and combined them. Four very successful books later, her latest being The Paris Seamstress AKA The Paris Orphan in the US I know she has a winning formula.
It followed that advice when I combined ice dancing and Norway with a time slip romance with a Viking age past that led to my book Fire & Ice.
So, ideas need to permeate, they need to resonate and then suddenly you realise that you have the right idea and that you are eager to write.
You may not have heard the term Vanity Publishers and they themselves don’t advertise as such, but they are out there and are a danger to both your self-esteem and your bank account.
What are vanity publishers and how do they differ from hybrid or assisted self – publishers?
Quality Control- is totally unselective with vanity publishers because their business model isn’t about the quality of your writing or its saleability. That doesn’t matter as a vanity publisher would happily publish your shopping list and tell you it was great if you paid them. They often approach you directly and you think you have hit gold. How do they find you? Maybe you won a contest or signed up for a course or a newsletter.
I personally signed up for a free writing course, a week of writing prompts and interaction with the course leader. She was a personable and engaging personality. The course was interesting, and some exercises worked, but then the hard sell began. There was a contest for a mentoring spot. An ‘associate’ called me to say that unfortunately I’d not won, but I had placed high, and I had so much potential. They could offer me a spot at a reduced price of $3,500. I politely declined saying that while I was sure it was an excellent opportunity it was way out of my budget and comfort zone.
It didn’t end there. There were a couple more phone calls, a blend of flattery –‘you have so much going for you,’ to warnings, ‘time is running out,’ and ‘we can’t hold a spot for you much longer.’ The price was reduced to $2000, and it was suggested that maybe I had savings or could take out a loan. Warning bells ringing loud and clear I thanked them but still said ‘ no’.Their final call offered me the whole course for $ 397. They said it was bargain I couldn’t refuse. But I did refuse, and I haven’t heard from them since.
This is the kind of intense pressure which encourages people to sign up with a vanity publisher. Vanity publishing is all about selling you, the writer, a service at inflated costs. As well as persuading you to buy tons of copies of your book. They don’t need to bother with marketing your book, because they made their money from you. Getting out and promoting the book is up to you. They may offer to put the book up on Amazon, but you can do that yourself if you self- published.
If you can, check out other books from the publisher, what’s the quality like? Also, be careful as their contract may take away your copyright and author rights. Buyer beware! Contact their authors and ask about their publishing experience.
The American Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association keep an updated list of publishers to beware of- it doesn’t hurt to go online to check it. Even if you simply do an internet search for Vanity publishers you will find that a heap of names come up.
Hybrid and subsidised publishing are legitimate and do charge you for partial costs but as always you need to be careful and compare costings and even research the company name to check complaints about them.
As always if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is! Save your dollars and your peace of mind by doing a little checking.
The classic definer of a love story is the film Love Story starring Ali Mc Graw and Ryan O’ Neal. It is based on the popular book by Erich Segal. It is a real tearjerker, with the beautiful young couple parted by death. It is a tragedy and almost all of the love stories considered great have sad or tragic endings.
Here are some examples taken from films and books. Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, filmed and updated as West Side Story.Othello. More recently Iain Mc Ewan’s Atonement, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.JoJo Moyes Me Before You, M.C Steadman’s The Light Between Oceans. And Cecelia Ahern’s Ps. I Love you, and of course ,my all-time favourite Casablanca.
Romances are different- they promise a reading experience or viewing experience that focuses primarily on the relationship between the couple or as Romance Writers of America says, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Or in simpler terms you are pretty much promised a happy ending and if not a happy ever after, at least the reader gets the happy for now ending.So if we know the ending why do we read romance?
We read for the journey, for the twists and turns of the relationship. A happy ending may be promised but getting there is half the fun. Who doesn’t love a flawed hero or heroine? Or beautiful couple too blind to see that they are destined for each other? Real-life can be dull and bland, but romances are exciting, sexy and fun. It’s far safer to have a fictional lover than a real one. Romance writers are endlessly inventive and contrive new ways for couples to meet and fall in love.
Examples of romances are Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and of course, it’s spin off’s Bridget Jones’ sDiary by Helen Fielding and the films Pride andPrejudice and Bride and Prejudice as well as the Bridget Jones trilogy of films. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a great read and has been filmed several times The fairy tales Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty.
Some romance movies are Romancing the Stone, Breakfast at Tiffany’s( but not the book which ends differently) Moonstruck, Brokeback Mountain( a guy to guy romance) Ella Enchanted and a real oldie but a goodie It Happened One Night.Another of my favourite films Love Actually spans both genres as it has both love stories with sad ending and romances with happy ones.
Why do you read romance and who are your favourite authors? Let me know!