Thursday, 10 January 2019

A few goals for a new year

Remember whenI used to publish a full list of the resolutions that I'd made on my blog?

I think there's been a lot of backlash towards New Year's Resolutions growing for a while now, and I see this reflected in the people that I follow and am friends with on social media. Most people are actively rejecting resolutions, seeing them as naive and often too lofty to be achievable. Also, there's this recognition that you shouldn't have to wait until January 1st to start making positive changes in your life. People are constantly growing and changing, so it's a little naive to think that January is the only time when you can reflect on the active changes that you want to make. But, it's a good time to hit reset, and to think about the habits you've gotten into and maybe some of the new habits that you would like to form, so with that in mind, I just wanted to say a few words about a couple of goals that I am working towards at the moment. They're largely not writing related, but I still think they'll be interesting.

The first one, and this is the biggest one, is that I am wanting to change my attitude towards money-- towards saving it, and towards spending it. In the first half of 2018, I was very stressed. I reached a peak in my anxiety and I was unhappy a lot of the time. There were various reasons for this and I won't go into them, but I had been avoiding thinking about a few changes that I really needed to make in order to make that stress go away, and instead, I had been doing other things to relax. One of those things was shopping.

Had a bad day? Buy something. Feeling stressed? Buy something. Bored? Buy something.

This all sort of culminated in me realising, when I changed jobs and had to look at my finances, that I was living in a way that was unsustainable, and it meant that when I had bills that I wasn't prepared for or if something happened to my car (i.e. the flat battery I got one week before Christmas, thanks Santa), I just panicked. I loved spending money when it was for something I could enjoy, but when I had to spend it on bills and other 'necessary' items, I was a real Scrooge. My progress towards this goal already began in 2018, when I started using a budget, and when I shopped around for better deals on things like my phone plan, but in 2019, I am going to look at being more mindful about what I buy, and try to reset my attitude towards shopping. Shopping is NOT a recreational activity anymore.

I think the area that this is going to be hardest in will be with regard to books.

Most of you know that I was a bookseller for about six years, so I feel very strongly about supporting bookshops. I have a habit of walking into any bookshop I pass, and I feel guilty if I leave without purchasing something-- so often I have bought something on every trip.

Books are something that bring me joy and I won't apologise for this. But I have been acquiring books at a faster rate than I can read them, so my second goal for the year is to participate in The Unread Shelf Project challenge. I counted how many unread books were in my apartment (it was a lot) and I have committed myself to reading at least 45 of those before the end of this year. My Goodreads goal is to read 105 books this year overall, so that gives me lots of wiggle room to read new books... but I am going to be making use of my library in order to do this wherever possible.

That's not to say that I won't be buying ANY books at all. I'm still me. But again, I am going to be mindful about the ones I bring home.

I do have other goals, like riding my bike to work more, and being disciplined about writing regularly, but these are the main ones, and the ones that I already feel like I am making progress towards.

If you have any tips that might help with either of these, I'd love to hear them.  Or, if you just want to share your own goals.

Happy reading and writing!

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Most Anticipated: 2019

Posted with the full knowledge that this list will grow and I won't get to all of them...

Gingerbread - Helen Oyeyemi 

Invisible Boys - Holden Sheppard (winner of the 2018 TAG Hungerford Award)

Priory of the Orange Tree- Samantha Shannon

Dreamers - Karen Thompson Walker

99% Mine - Sally Thorne

The French Photographer - Natasha Lester

The Starless Sea - Erin Morgenstern

City of Girls - Elizabeth Gilbert

Sweet Sorrow - David Nicholls

The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers - Kerri Turner

Zebra and Other Stories - Debra Adelaide

Room for a Stranger - Melanie Cheng

Devil's Ballast - Meg Caddy

The Blue Rose- Kate Forsyth

The True Story of Maddie Bright - Mary Rose MacColl

A Thousand Ships - Natalie Haynes

Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait - Alison Weir

[There's also one other rather exciting book that I'm excited to see released in 2019... my own! It was announced in the most recent edition of the Margaret River Press newsletter that I was one of three WA debut authors who will have a short story collection out in 2019, as part of an emerging writers program. There is still much work to do, and I have no details like release date or title, but as soon as I am able, I will let you all know...]

In other news, I counted how many unread books were in my apartment this morning and... well I don't want to commit it to the forever-ness of the internet but it was less than I expected but more than a normal person. So reducing that number will be one of my main goals of 2019. The plus-side to working in a library is... every day I have access to borrowing books FOR FREE, so I will be taking advantage of that, and only acquiring books occasionally, when I know the author or collect that author's books or, you know, if they have really stunning covers.  I don't know about you all, but the 'due date' for a library book does make me think seriously about whether or not I really want to read something or whether I am just being a hoarder. Downside is, sometimes all the books I have put on hold arrive at the same damn time...

Anyway, 2019 looks like it will be a great year for both reading and writing, and I am looking forward to talking books with you all. If you think I've missed a book that I need to read in 2019, do let me know, as I love me a good list and I'll be making a wish list in my brand new journal, which I am currently setting up. Yay.

Happy new year!

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Book Review: Love and Ruin

Love and Ruin
Paula McLain
Fleet Publishing (Distributed by Hachette Australia) 2018
(I was sent a copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review)

Paula McLain's first big novel was The Paris Wife and when I first started in bookselling, it was the novel everyone was talking about. Following the years that Hemingway et al spent in Paris from the point of view of his first wife, Hadley Richardson, it shed some light onto the larger than life literary figure and gave some agency to a woman who was otherwise a footnote on his Wikipedia page. I don't remember many details from the book, other than that I loved it.

Both of McLain's recent novels, The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun have been criticised for their fawning, simpering heroines, but in Love and Ruin, McLain has Hemingway's third wife, Martha Gellhorn take the spotlight. Gellhorn was a respected writer and war correspondent in her own right, and this novel gently navigates the frustrations that she must have felt in trying to balance her love for a great man with a fragile ego, and her own attempts to do authentic work and be taken seriously as more than just Mrs Hemingway. Though this novel is historical, it is a theme that feels very 2018, particularly scenes such as when Martha receives a 'notice' (presumably a review for one of her books) that talks about her physical features more than it does about her work, and another scene in which a reviewer laments that Gellhorn's writing is becoming more and more Hemingway-esque.

It is no small feat to be able to write a love story in which the love interest behaves badly. Readers expect to want to cheer for the couple to make it, but as Martha's career takes off, and Hemingway's ego takes over, she finds herself wanting to travel into war zones again, to have a break from domesticity and ego-soothing, and to do something about the terrible injustices in the world, which Martha Gellhorn in this novel seemed to feel deeply. McLain is also gentle in her portrayal of Gellhorn's relationship with Hemingway's three sons, Bumby (son of Hadley), Gigi and Patrick (sons of Pauline Pfeifer, or Fife as she is called by Hemingway throughout the book). It is interesting to me that Pauline Pfiefer only appears in the novel as a minor character-- perhaps I am being led by my attachment to Alison Weir's novels about the 6 wives of Henry the Eighth, but it seems strange that she should not have her own book the way that Hadley and Martha have had.

As for the style of the novel, McLain's writing at times does have a hint of the Hemingway to it, with its strong, declarative sentences, but there is something more feminine, and more readable about the book.  I could have done without the many incidences where Hemingway and Gellhorn kissed, and she exclaimed that she 'could not breathe'. It was the only overly sentimental thing about what was otherwise a record of their romance, courtship, marriage and its breakdown.

This is a timely novel in its female-led rewriting of a celebrated literary man, but I fear that it will pass under the radar-- a shame, because it is a book that surpasses The Paris Wife in its writing and its subject matter. While I will never forget the way that The Paris Wife swept me up, because of Love and Ruin, I will now never forget Martha Gellhorn, and that is a far greater feat for this novel.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Books of the Year: 2018

It's been a spectacularly good reading year.

Not only did I have a number of friends releasing their debut books, I also found a few new favourite authors in surprising places.

I won't be doing a 'Top Ten Books of 2018'-- reading is highly subjective, and my enjoyment is often tied to factors like where and when I'm coming to the book, and what sort of mood I am in-- but instead, in no particular order, I present some of the books that have stayed with me this year; books that I recommend to all of you.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Circe by Madeline Miller 

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer

The Yellow House by Emily O'Grady

How to be Famous by Caitlin Moran

The Unexpected Education of Emily Dean by Mira Robertson

The Victorian and the Romantic by Nell Stevens

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Fragments by Toni Jordan

I'd also like to give a special shout out to a few friends of mine who released their amazing debuts this year.

The Sisters' Song by Louise Allan

Dustfall by Michelle Johnston

You Belong Here by Laurie Steed

Friday, 30 November 2018

10 Things 2018 Has Taught Me About Being a Writer

1. Writing and Publishing are pursuits that require extraordinary patience.

Writing your book takes as long as it takes. You cannot rush it. You can be disciplined, and have a plan, and work to your deadline if you have one, but in the end, you and your book have to be 'ready' before they will find their place on a shelf. Your first draft might take you two years, or it might only be four months. You might have to write sixteen drafts, not counting any redrafting that is going to take place after someone agrees to publish you. It is extremely rare that you will be able to write something, polish it once and then have someone offer you a publishing deal. (If this does happen to you, well done, and what is your secret please?) Likewise, pitching your book to agents and publishers takes time; time spent preparing submissions and writing synopses, researching who and where to send things to, and then waiting for responses. In short, you are going to have to be patient. Try to forget that you are waiting for emails if you can. I can't, and have been known to check my email every half hour on the hour when I am waiting for responses.

2. The most important asset is a supportive community.

We are lucky in Perth. The community is small, and pretty much everyone is warm and generous with their time and advice and wants to see others succeed. It can be incredibly buoying to spend time with other writers, whether that be in a small informal writing group, at events, over coffee. Plus, spending time building up the confidence of others can really put things into perspective for you. Every time I chat with another writer who is having a crisis of faith and struggling with their writing, I think back later about all the kind things I have said to them about giving themselves time and cutting themselves some slack and about the writing itself being the most important part and I think "Why can't I apply this same sort of thinking to myself." Positivity begets positivity, and creativity multiplies in much the same way. If you can, try to spend time chatting about writing and ideas with someone who inspires you on a regular basis, then come home and write while you're still experiencing that inspirational high.

3. At the end of the day, you have to have written something you are proud of.

I'm not going to be on my deathbed one day stressing about a bad review, but if I rush to publish my book when it's not yet fit to be published, I'm sure I'll regret that. I need to be as happy with anything I publish as I possibly can be. I have to have written something that I enjoyed writing, and something that I stand by. Something that I would be proud to talk about at a Writers' Festival. Something I would be proud to have one of my favourite authors read.

4. Every writer is special and no one is.

Think about how many hundreds of submissions publishers receive a year. A month even. Every manuscript has been crafted by a writer who has poured their soul into their work, given up social occasions, possibly skipped meals to write. Every single manuscript is special. Every single writer is special, because they've done the work, finished the thing, and had the guts to submit it. Publishing is competitive. The Australian market is oversupplied with manuscripts to choose from. I'm sure in some cases, more debut authors are submitting manuscripts than Australian books are actually being purchased. It may seem like every other month, publishing is touting the arrival of another 'Chosen One', the hit debut of the year, but once, that person was another manuscript on a busy publisher's desk. It's all just marketing. Leave that to the marketing department. Be realistic. Give your book the best possible chance you can, and then be a grown up if it's a no. That doesn't mean that you can't cry or be upset or disappointed. But don't go writing terrible reviews on that publisher's books out of spite either.

5. It's important to celebrate the little victories.

Hitting 50 000 words. Finishing something. Submitting something. These are all huge, and you deserve a reward for achieving them. Don't use awards, shortlists, getting published as your only benchmarks for how 'good' you are. Just writing something is a big deal. How many people never finish a novel, or never even start?

6. A disciplined approach is your best friend.

Ever made it to a six day in a row writing streak and realised that writing your book is getting easier? Ever taken a week off and discovered it's really hard to pick up where you left off? Everyone writes differently, but if you make a plan that works for you (half an hour a night maybe) you train your brain to work when it's work time.

7. Buy (or borrow from a library) debut books and shout out about the ones you love.

There are some amazing writers publishing in Australia, and many of the best books I have read this year have been by first time authors. Spread a little goodwill, and let your friends know about new authors you've discovered. Recommend them for your book club; tweet about them; review them on Goodreads. Reading new books in your genre will help you get a sense of what publishers are interested in, will inspire and entertain you, and will give you that warm fuzzy feeling that lets you know you're helping out a fellow writer.

8. Other people's success does not take anything away from you.

It's okay to be disappointed when you're not shortlisted for something. But it's also okay to be happy for other writers when they are. In fact, I recommend it. It's better for your mental health!

I really like that quote, "Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It's not pie."(Attribution unknown.)  I think that applies here in a similar sort of way.  There will be other opportunities! And remember, we're a community. When one of us succeeds, we all do.

9. Publishing has trends but if you try to write to one, you'll probably miss it.

Trends in publishing move fast. Remember vampire novels? Literary rewrites with zombies in them? Write the book you'd most like to read first and foremost. Who knows, maybe your book will be the one that starts the next trend. If you manage to, well done! Again, this sort of thing is best left to marketing types to figure out later. They're the experts. Let them do their thing when the time comes and focus on writing a book that you would be super excited to read if you weren't its author.

10. The only way to ever truly be out of the running is to take yourself out of it.

You might not get this book published, or the next one, or the one after that, but as long as you keep writing books, you are still in with a chance. You have options. You can self publish. You can write something else. You can rewrite your book for the eleven-hundredth time. The only difference between writers who eventually get published and writers who don't is that the writers who don't stop trying. 

If 2018 has been a trying year for you as a writer, you're not alone. I hope that good things are around the corner for you-- for us all. Keep your head high, and keep doing what you love.

Happy writing!