Monthly Archives: January 2016

2, 2 and 2: Sara Foster talks about All That is Lost Between Us

Sara Foster Image 1 (2016) for webWhat a pleasure to introduce the first of three books being released in 2016 by members of the Writers Ask Writers group that I belong to (along with Dawn Barker, Emma Chapman, Sara Foster, Natasha Lester, Annabel Smith and Yvette Walker).

A big welcome to my friend Sara Foster.

All That is Lost Between Us is Sara’s fourth psychological suspense novel. Come Back to Me was published in Australia in 2010 and reached the Sydney Morning Herald top ten Australian bestsellers list. Beneath the Shadows reached no. 4 on the Australian Sunday Telegraph bestseller list, and rights were sold in the USA and Germany. Shallow Breath, Sara’s third release, featured in the Australian Women’s Weekly, was chosen as Book of the Week in the Sydney Morning Herald, and was longlisted for a Davitt Award.

I’m looking forward to settling down on the couch with this new one.

Here is the blurb for All That is Lost Between Us:

Seventeen-year-old Georgia has a secret—one that is isolating her from everyone she loves. She is desperate to tell her best friend, but Sophia is ignoring her, and she doesn’t know why. And before she can find out, Sophia is left fighting for her life after a hit and run, with Georgia a traumatised witness.

As a school psychologist, Georgia’s mother Anya should be used to dealing with scared adolescents. However, it’s very different when the girl who needs help is your own child. Meanwhile, Georgia’s father is wracked with a guilt he can’t share; and when Zac, Georgia’s younger brother, stumbles on an unlikely truth, the family relationships really begin to unravel.

Georgia’s secret is about to go viral. And yet, it will be the stranger heading for the family home who will leave her running through the countryside into terrible danger. Can the Turner family rise above the lies they have told to betray or protect one another, in order to fight for what matters most of all?

Set against the stark, rugged beauty of England’s Lake District, All That is Lost Between Us is a timeless thriller with a modern twist.

Over to Sara…

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2 things that inspired the book

1 Teenagers using social media. I’ve read so many stories about teenagers getting into a terrible mess online, and I’ve witnessed it myself on the odd occasion. These crises can take less than a minute to begin, but the consequences may be felt for years. During my research I was deeply affected by some of the things I came across: a fifteen-year-old girl posting her suicide note on social media; another young girl who had been stalked for years online. Social media can be a beautiful thing when it connects people, but it has such a dangerous side, too, and because it’s only come about within the last ten years, we’re all still figuring out how to deal with it. When so many adults are addicted to web-based games and interactions, it’s very hard to encourage young adults to use these platforms sparingly and in ways that keep them mentally healthy.

2 The 2011 film of Jane Eyre. When I first began working on this story, I couldn’t get away from the image of Jane running across the wild landscape in the film, when she’s escaping Thornfield and Rochester’s revelation about his mad wife Bertha. I couldn’t understand why I kept going back to it! However, as soon as I learned about fell-running—an extreme form of cross-country running that is popular in the Lake District—I knew that it was perfect for my heroine. My vision of Jane was superseded, and it became seventeen-year-old Georgia who has to flee danger by running across the precarious landscape of the fells.

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2 places connected with the book

1 The Lake District—a gift for any writer. I loved bringing it to life within the novel. Most of my main characters have tarn waters running through their blood, and one way or another they are all connected to the landscape around them—metaphysically as well as physically. With a place such as this, I was always going to be left feeling disappointed that I had to leave so much out! As well as providing some stunning scenery for me to work with, I also got to know the darker side of the fells through the work of the mountain rescue teams. These amazing groups of volunteers conduct hundreds of rescues every year.

2 The Spirit Road—also known as the Corpse Road. This was an ancient track along which those in outlying villages would bring their dead for burial in consecrated ground—carrying the coffins for days over rough and rocky terrain. In my present-day story the kids now use this track, as it connects the tiny hamlet of Fellmere to the town of Ambleside. Along the way they tend to scare one another with tales of ghosts, and often sit on the corpse stone to chat—a stone where, centuries earlier, coffins were laid while their bearers rested. The track’s purpose has changed remarkably, but the notion of loved ones bearing incredible burdens to protect one another’s souls still connects the two stories across the centuries.

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2 favourite sentences in the book

1 Here’s one from Anya, the mother in All That is Lost Between Us, who is trying to come to terms with her firstborn child getting ready to leave the nest:

Back then we were only looking forward, towards an endless plateau of possibilities. Then life took over, constricting us into one narrow pathway that was slowly overlaid with a movie reel of memories, the film eroding in places, our choices blurred with our forgotten dreams, our triumphs and our regrets.

2 And to counterbalance, here’s one from Callum—mountain rescue volunteer, Anya’s husband and Georgia’s father:

When there was only clear, fresh air above him and so much of life was hidden in the valleys, it was easy to watch his troubles slide away down the hunched, broad backs of those giant slopes like the smallest of pebbles.

 

All That is Lost Between Us will be in available in February 2016
Visit Sara’s website
Find out more at Simon & Schuster Australia
Sara will be a guest of the 2016 Perth Writers Festival

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2, 2 and 2: Michelle Michau-Crawford talks about Leaving Elvis and Other Stories

MichelleLR-3I’m delighted that the first post for 2016 in my 2, 2 and 2 series, which highlights writers with new books, is Michelle Michau-Crawford and her debut short story collection Leaving Elvis and Other Stories (UWA Publishing). Michelle was one of the ‘next wave’ women writers featured on the blog in 2014, and I also had the great pleasure of editing this remarkable collection.

If the name of the author or the title story sounds familiar, you might be recalling that Michelle won the prestigious ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize in 2013 for the story ‘Leaving Elvis’, which was subsequently published in ABR.

Michelle has worked as a university lecturer, speechwriter, researcher and public relations officer, and lives in Perth with her menagerie in a house surrounded by vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

Here is the blurb for Leaving Elvis:

We’re travelling light, without excess, into our future. Gran had been rough as she uncurled my hands from their position, gripped around the open car doorframe, and shoved me into the passenger seat.

A man returns from World War II and struggles to come to terms with what has happened in his absence. Almost seventy years later, his middle-aged granddaughter packs up her late grandmother’s home and discovers more than she had bargained for. These two stories book-end thirteen closely linked stories of one family and the rippling of consequences across three generations, played out against the backdrop of a changing Australia.

A debut collection—as powerful as it is tender—from the winner of the 2013 ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize.

And now over to Michelle…

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2 things that inspired my book

1 This collection started as a sort of side-project to take me away from the novel I thought I should be finishing. In a roundabout way, a gentle rejection was the inspiration for finally letting go of something that had ceased to bring me any real satisfaction in order to focus on something that was bringing me satisfaction. By the time I’d completed one story and some first drafts of several more short stories, I had grown to resent sitting down to work on the novel. I had basically killed that work by overwriting and overthinking it. But somewhere along the way I had convinced myself that without seeing it through to publication, I was a phoney, and that once it was done I could put it aside and ‘write more short stories’. One day I braved up enough to share the manuscript with a publisher for feedback, and when we met to discuss it she identified what I already knew. We suggested putting the manuscript aside for a while. I was so relieved that I may have jumped up from my chair and given her a hug and said something along the lines of ‘Thank goodness, now I can go to work on what I really want to be doing.’ I seem to recall that I then proceeded to babble on about the closely linked stories I was working on.

That publisher was Terri-ann White from UWA Publishing, so the rejection story had a very happy ending for me!

2 For as long as I can remember I have had a fascination with abandoned and lost children. I was born just six months before the Beaumont children disappeared in January 1966, and from early childhood always knew that children could simply cease to exist in the blink of an eye. In 2005 I began what would amount to eight years’ work (not full-time, I might add) on what eventually became the short story ‘Leaving Elvis’. I was researching for an Honours project at the time, looking at memory and trauma in Australian literature. My particular interest at that point was in intergenerational trauma and patterns of behaviour, and abandonment, in all its various forms, of children by adults. I came across Peter Pierce’s The Country of Lost Children: An Australian Anxiety (1999). In his book Pierce describes the way that the theme of abandonment has flowed through non-Indigenous Australian literature since white settlement, and contemplates the contemporary ‘lost child’ as a victim of white society itself. Where early writings centred on fears about a hostile and unforgiving land, writing changed direction around the 1950s, a period generally recognised as a time when there was a loss of innocence in white Australian culture. Without intending to, and certainly without realising it until well into the writing of the collection, I appear to have continued this pattern and written a book that explores, in part, the lost child as victim of society itself, along with intergenerational patterns of behaviour in a period commencing around the 1950s.

2 places connected with my book

1 The small ‘home’ town that features in a number of stories appears to be somewhere in or near the Western Australian wheat belt. However, I have intentionally left the location unspecific so that by changing a few minor details it could be just about any small town or outer suburb in Australia where people have somehow found themselves living. It is the sort of place where, with no real aspirations or ambition to spend a whole life there, several generations of one family now reside, doing the best they can. Some of the people in these stories are prone to plotting or dreaming about escaping to that mythical ‘somewhere else’ where they can leave their past behind and live a more fulfilling life. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, wherever they may find themselves living, this is the only place they have to come back to in order to feel some sense of connection and belonging to a physical environment.

2 The sky is a place that is significant in Louise’s adult life. In her years in Europe, it is the thought of the specific colours and expansiveness of the Australian sky that increases both her longing for home and her sense of isolation. At one point, she has a fling with an English artist who’d tried to paint the Australian sky just so she’d have an opportunity to be able to talk about home and the sky with him. Many years later, in another story, she realises that she has to return to Australia, to her home town, while looking up at the sky of the northern hemisphere with it’s ‘skew-whiff shades’ that will never be right.

2 favourite moments in the book

1 In the story The Light, there is a moment where Natalie, having reached rock-bottom, and with every reason not to feel good about anything at that particular time in her life, sits in an isolated place in nature and feels a few fleeting moments of calm. ‘She’s never had religion, but there’s something soothing and spiritual-like about being here, and she feels close to relaxed, sitting there with the sun disappearing while the immense orange sky turns purple and grey.’ Often the people in these stories struggle to feel they belong and maintain connections, Natalie perhaps more so than others. But that passing moment of recognition that there is something bigger than her and her problems is enough.

2 I’m interested in those vulnerable moments in childhood and adolescence where there is an understanding in the young that there is something going on within their bodies and minds, but still an inability to fully understand or articulate those changes. There is a moment in the story ‘Rendezvous’ where this occurs. Louise reflects on being about eleven years old when she’d stood in front of her friend Leslie Mulligan: ‘pulling petals off a daisy one at a time, she’d stared him in the face, he loves me, he loves me not.’ Watching her friend grow pink and embarrassed, she’d run off laughing, knowing that she had ‘some sort of mysterious power over him, but not yet knowing how or when to use it.’  Confused by both his and her reaction to the experience, she hides until Leslie finally gives up searching for her and goes home.

 

Leaving Elvis and Other Stories will be available in bookshops in February 2016
Find out more at UWA Publishing
Visit Michelle’s website or connect via her Facebook page
Michelle will be a guest of the Perth Writers Festival 2016

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Submitting a manuscript: 10 tips

iStock_000018482964XSmallAt the beginning of a new year, writers have often been working hard on a manuscript and are trying to summon up the courage it takes to submit it to an agent or publisher. Here are 10 tips for those who are new to this stage of the journey to publication.

 

1. Don’t send your manuscript to a publisher who doesn’t publish in your genre. It sounds obvious, but publishers report that it happens all the time. Do your homework first. Take note of who publishes the books in your genre that you read, and research those publishers. Look for information in the newsletter or on the website of your state writers centre or other writers centres you belong to. Read the websites of publishers; if you’re still not sure, email a polite enquiry. Commercial marketplace guides, online or print, are also available (e.g. Australian Writers Marketplace).

2. Adhere to submission guidelines (e.g. what publishers or agents want to see, how much, what other information they want, whether to submit in hard copy or email, whether they use online submission processes).

3. Use double spacing, with wide margins left and right. Don’t use fancy typefaces and elaborate formatting. If you’re sending a hard-copy submission, don’t bind your manuscript in folders or files.

4. Don’t arrive at a publisher’s or agent’s office in person, expecting to discuss your manuscript.

5. Don’t follow up with phone calls and emails; if you haven’t heard back after two months, enquire but don’t make weekly contact.

6. Do avail yourself of the new submission processes that several publishers have put in place for unsolicited manuscripts (e.g. Allen & Unwin’s Friday Pitch, Penguin’s Monthly Catch, Hachette Australia). Follow the guidelines carefully. Receipt of your submission will be acknowledged. If they are interested in you and the preliminary sample you supply, they will ask for more. Take note of what they say about response times (e.g. some advise that if you haven’t heard back from them within a specified period, you should assume they are not interested).

7. Don’t submit your manuscript to a publisher or agent that states that it doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions—unless you’re prepared for it to go into the black hole of the slush pile.

8. Make your manuscript the best it can possibly be before submitting it. Revise and redraft it yourself, many times. Seek help from writing buddies/writing groups. Consider getting a manuscript assessment. If you can afford professional editing or proofreading help, consider that.

9. Be professional in your communications with publishers. And be brief. Don’t hold back on telling them anything that might make you stand out in a crowd—awards you’ve won, or that you have a blog with 900,000 followers, or any ‘marketable’ facts about you or your work (e.g. you recently won Master Chef; your novel is based on your experiences as a retired ASIO spy; your manuscript has been endorsed by Greenpeace and the National Heart Foundation). But don’t exaggerate, don’t make outrageous assertions (this novel is the best thing you’ll ever read in your life!), don’t send them a six-page letter about your aspirations as a writer, and don’t send false or dubious endorsements from others.

10. Proofread your covering letter and proposal several times. This is your first chance to make an impression. Don’t compromise that opportunity by sending out a document littered with typos or grammatical errors.

Happy New Year, and good luck with your submissions in 2016!

 

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