Tag Archives: creativity

Many strings to my bow

A few months ago during the Q&A session of one of my library talks, I mentioned that I had a day job. One of the attendees promptly asked me whether, in that case, my novel writing was just a hobby.

I have to say, the comment stung a little. I replied that, no, it was not a hobby. That in fact many Australian writers could not afford to write full time and therefore had day jobs as well as writing novels and short stories. Some are lawyers, academics or office workers. We squeeze in our fiction writing around our jobs and families. We get paid, even if it’s not always a lot of money. For every writer who also has a day job, writing is not ‘just a hobby’.

The fact is, my day job is part of my work as a writer. I’m very lucky that I get to be a writer for my living as well as my vocation. I generally contract my skills out these days, so I have done all kinds of writing: external communications, advertising copy, editing of content for the web, report writing, copyediting.

At present I edit training materials for grammar, punctuation and style. It may sound dull to some of you, but i’m getting paid to be pernickety about grammar, so I enjoy it. I learn a lot too, so it is helping me becoming a better writer in other fields.

Those other fields include writing content for iPhone apps. My app, Melbourne Literary, was done in partnership with the US tech company Sutro Media. They provided the platform (the content management system, basically).  I pitched the idea of the app to them and then wrote everything and sourced all the pictures. I’ve pitched another app idea since then and am in the process of writing that one too.  We share the profits of the apps sold through iTunes (and hopefully one day soon through Android). So that’s another little bit of income from my writing.

I have my fiction writing, too. So far I’ve had four novels published, one short fiction story and one non-fiction essay. I wrote a one act play once, and was paid a royalty by the little theatre that performed it in WA a few years ago.

Another writing-related activity I do is public speaking. I talk to libraries and organisations (and very occasionally schools) about different aspects of writing and reading. Of course, being a writer, pretty much everything I do counts as research. Travel, theatre, reading, shopping. It’s a good life.

There are so many things to being a writer, especially these days, when diversifying your skills is so important. All writers, these days, also need to be marketers, PR people, public speakers, educators, mentors and more.

I consider myself so lucky to be a professional writer in so many parts of my life. I pay the bills, I nourish my creative self and I have opportunities to meet and encourage other writers and readers. And every different type of writing (or speaking about writing) that I do adds to my knowledge and skills, and makes me a better writer.

Really, I have the best life!

(But I confess, if no-one paid me to write, I’d write anyway.)

Doing It Yourself (with other people)

A little while back, I wrote about self-publishers needing to put in the time and effort to match the excellent work that traditional publishers do in getting a novel ready for publication. That work includes editing, proofreading, cover art and design. (Not to mention expertise, PR contacts and simply taking on all that hard slog so that the author doesn’t have to do it.)

It’s all well and good, you say, to declare that e-book authors need editors and cover designers and whatnot. But where are these persons of skill and virtue?

Good question, I reply to my imagined interrogators, where are they indeed?

So I asked some fabulous and talented people I know for some clues.

Alex Adsett of Alex Adsett Publishing Services says “The absolute best place to start for all this information is the Australian Writers’ Marketplace.  It’s a book and an online database, and invaluable if you’re looking for an editor.” Alex herself provides publishing advice, including contract and rights advice, to all writers.

Clandestine Books, headed by crime writer Lindy Cameron, provides editorial and PR services, including manuscript assessment, too.

Individuals offer editing services as well. Gillian Pollack (author of Life Through Cellophane) is a teacher-editor based in Canberra. Her approach is to work with writers to increase their editing skills. “Editing is part of the writer’s longer journey when they work with me.” You can find her contact details at http://www.gillianpolack.com.

Laura Goodin, who Gillian also recommended, has specialised in business and academic writing and may be a good choice if you’re writing a non-fiction book.  Another of Gillian’s recommendations is Elizabeth Fitzgerald. Elizabeth’s website,  Earl Grey Editing, will be active in a week or so. In the meantime, you can email her on elizabethafitzgerald@gmail.com for information and her rates.

The divine Davina MacLeod is the freelancer who copyedited The Opposite of Life. She charges by the double-spaced 12-point page and can be contacted on davinamacleod@gmail.com for a quote. Davina also does illustration and can be hired for cover designs.

Twelfth Planet Press publisher, Alisa Krasnostein, says “I hear Sarah Endacott is one of the best editors there are.” Endacott also provides manuscript assessment.

In terms of cover art and design, Lucy Sussex—researcher, reviewer and writer of crime and science fiction—says: “I find my own artists–go to galleries, collect photos, fight like hell with the publisher to get a decent image on the front of the book. It’s worked well so far.”

The previously-mentioned Gillian Pollack recommends Andrew McKiernan of Kephra Design, who designs for Aurealis and designed the cover of Life through Cellophane. Gillian also spoke highly of illustrator Kathleen Jennings in Brisbane.

For printing your book, Paul Collins, writer and publisher at Ford Street Publishing, says “One of the cheapest printers I’ve come across is a print broker called Alfred Hornung of Tingleman Pty Ltd.”   Paul also recommended Ekonvurs for the conversion of print to e-books.

So if you want to get a new cover and do a final polish on the out-of-print book you want to e-publish, or if you’re thinking about self-publishing an original manuscript, visit the websites or get in touch with these persons of skill (and, one assumes, virtue) for some quotes. Work out a budget to make sure your e-book is whipped into the best possible shape, with all of its apostrophes and commas in the right place. Banish those typos and continuity errors to the nether reaches of hell with some expert help and make your book the best it can be.

Where’s the pound of flesh?

Writer and food historian, Gillian Pollack, has sent me some recipes for Election Cake in honour of the Australian election being held this weekend. I was joking that we needed cakes full of nuts to represent our conservatives, or a hollow cake in honour of the policy-free zone that has led up to polling. She sent me three recipes, none of which include the requisite pound of flesh, though one of the recipes did include wine and brandy, which I would have thought were pre-requisites for getting through the tension of watching the results come through on election night television. Or for wiping out all the miserable memories if some of those nutters actually get into power.

The one I’m fondest of is this, from The Frugal Housewife, mainly for the book’s dedication: DEDICATED TO THOSE WHO ARE NOT ASHAMED OF ECONOMY

Election Cake
Old fashion election cake is made of four pounds of flour; three quarters of a pound of butter; four eggs; one pound of sugar; one pound of currants, or raisins, if you choose; half a pint of good yeast; wet it with milk as soft as it can be and be moulded on a board. Set to rise over night in winter; in warm weather three hours is usually enough for it to rise. A loaf, the size of common flour bread, should bake three quarters of an hour. — The Frugal Housewife LMF Child 1830.

There’s a certain economy of description here as well – though I suppose when this was written in the first part of the 19th Century, there weren’t that many options on what temperature you should set your oven to. You just stuck in the block of wood and cooked things till they were done. My grandparents had one of those stoves for decades, right up to the end of the 20th century. Perhaps they should have voted for whoever would bring them more modern amenities?

I’m also charmed by the idea of wetting my mixture with milk until it’s ‘as soft as it can be’. How soft *is* that exactly? In the current climate, I imagine as soft as the promises made on funding.

Perhaps for the recipe to really work in honour of the 2010 election, with its lack of policy and vision from the major parties, this particular election cake should only be half baked as well.

Given the number of ex-leaders loitering in the vicinity to queer the pitches of the current leaders, perhaps we should also add some grapefruit peel, to make it more appropriately bitter.

I think I know why old people get grumpy

Apart from the aches and pains that increase with age, which obviously would make anyone grumpy. But Tim and I have noticed something in recent months – that things we thought that everyone knew aren’t actually as obvious as we thought.

I mean, I’m used to the fact that not everyone knows the frequently strange and obscure things I have learned in my travels, and I’m never surprised when something even *I* think is odd knowledge isn’t recognised. But there are some things which, for people of my age group, are just things that everyone knows, surely? It’s shocking and disconcerting to discover something you thought was common knowledge turns out to be obscure or even irrelevent to someone under the age of 25.

This came up recently when Tim needed to explain Scott of the Antarctic to someone. When he told me, my first thought was “but he’s mentioned in the Australian Crawl song ‘Reckless'” – and then remembered that this song is from the 1980s and may be just as irrelevent as the doomed explorer to the person in question.

More and more often, things I thought that everyone knew turn out to be things that only people of a certain age know. Another friend was gobsmacked when he had to contextualise who the Nazis were for someone – when the penny finally dropped the person said “Oh! The Bad Guys!” as though she only understood World War II and the Holocaust from the perspective of someone who had only seen it in Hollywood movies.

I was naturally reminded of some of the older books I read – Jane Austen, PG Wodehouse, Shakespeare and Arthur Conan Doyle – and wondered about the references in those stories which were commonplace to the author and their contemporaneous readership, which are nigh on meaningless now. It doesn’t diminish my enjoyment of their work, though it sometimes requires that I do a little research. (It was amazing how much funnier Blackadder the Third became once I’d read a book on the Regency period., for example. That Mr Curtis knows his stuff.)

I wonder now at what elements of my own ignorance may have surprised my parents and grandparents. Did they have the sense of the world being not so concrete as they thought it was? In what ways have I appalled my elders by not knowing, or caring much about, things that were considered essential to an education in their day?

It brings a new light to the problem of writing contemporary fiction and wanting to put current references into the work which, in my experience, editors don’t like very much. They fear it will date the work, pin it too much to a particular time. It shows a charming confidence that people might still be reading the thing in a decade and wonder who these bands and celebrities and TV shows are that are referenced so glibly. But if you are writing for a young, contemporary audience, restricting yourself to referencing only pop culture that has lasted the distance in the last 20 years is going to date the book – or at least the author – before the decade is up.

I have vowed to be less gobsmacked at the things people don’t know. The only reason I know some of this stuff is because I read voraciously and talk to people a lot. I also vow to maintain my curiosity about what’s going on in the world *now*. I don’t want to suddenly find out that all my reference points for art, culture and history are dusty and irrelevant. That doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon the history that I know, or cease using it – but I intend to keep the weaving the thread, from past to present to future, pulling in the strands from every place I think can help me to tell a story and keep it rich, deep, detailed and relevant.