Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Short Story Book Club (The Podcast) Ep 2: The Love of a Bad Man

It's back!  The Short Story Book Club was on again for August.  This month, it was all about The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett, and I was lucky enough to be joined by two guests, Leonard and Veronica.  We tried extremely hard not to go off on too many tangents, and hey, I think we did a pretty great job, so here it is for your listening pleasure!

Remember, you can join us next month (September 19) when we discuss Pulse Points by Jennifer Down, and you have plenty of time to pick up a copy from your bookstore of choice and get reading.  Just make sure you register here.
  The Love of a Bad Man was published in 2016 by Scribe.

Thanks to Caroline and Claudia and all of the team at the Centre for Stories.  See you next month!

Leonard and Veronica- Episode 2 Guests

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Unexpected Writing Lessons

So here's a piece of writing wisdom I never expected to pick up:

Sometimes, you have to write it like a midday soap opera.

I don't mean that your book should read like one.  I'm talking about in your early drafts, or perhaps in your middle-of-the-process revisions.

Let me explain.

I'm currently working on the eleventh or twelfth iteration of my historical novel, Between the Sleepers.  The last time I rewrote it, I thought it was done.  I thought it was the best that it was ever going to be.  I'd taken it to a residency at the Katharine Susannah Prichard writers centre, where I'd reworked 40000 words in ten days and gone home feeling like a superhero.  I'd had a feeling in my gut that the book was as done as it was ever going to be.

And I pitched it to a few agents, some of whom even read the whole thing.  It was close.  But it wasn't getting over the line.




Readers, I took a year off from that novel.  It was probably the largest amount of time I'd ever had of not thinking about it since I started working on it back in 2008.

This year, I engaged an amazing local writer to mentor me through the process of revising the novel one more time.  And when I reread my work alongside her comments, I was shocked and embarrassed by the dross on the page before me.

This wasn't the amazing novel that I thought I had written.  This was a script for some soap opera with mistaken identities and identical twins swapping places, and characters being lost at sea for long periods of time only to return at the exact moment their ex-wife was about to marry another man.  (Or whatever actually happens on soap operas, who even knows...)  I had poured everything I had into that novel.  Every big word I knew, every romantic gesture, every seemingly deep thought.

And I had overdone it.

There were a few big factors in the overdoing it recipe.  First of all, I obviously felt the need to describe every little gesture or facial expression my characters had.  It was constant.  And I was taking away from the things that they said and did.

Second of all, my characters spent a lot of time spitting.  Spitting with rage, spitting their words, swallowing their spit when they were nervous.  And as my mentor rightly pointed out, it was a bit uneccessary and more than a little gross.

But the third and most unforgivable sin in this draft of mine was that I felt the need to make my characters go through the entire spectrum of human emotions time and time again when there just wasn't any need for it.

So.  This time around, I sat down and I wound back my novel.  And this weekend, I've realised something very important.

I needed to take my book through that woefully overwritten soap opera phase in order to get to the stage I am at now.  I could not have realised my characters' emotional journeys in the way that I have unless I made them wildly overemotional first, and then wound everything back.   What I now have is an almost complete book that I have been excited to rediscover.  It is a book that I understand better now, and I understand myself better as its writer.  (Corny, I know.)  I have learned through this process that one year ago, I was simply done with this novel.  But when I finish my novel this time around, I will have a book that I am proud of.  A book that I know will be some of the best writing I have ever done.

I almost don't want the process to be over.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Short Story Book Club (The Podcast): Ep 1- Australia Day + Portable Curiosities (guest- Melissa Davies)

The Short Story Book Club occurs monthly at The Centre for Stories. In July, emerging writer Emily Paull was joined by writer and poet, Melissa Davies, to talk about Australia Day by Melanie Cheng. We then flashed back to the 2017 Perth Writers Festival, where Laurie Steed and Emily Paull caught up with visiting writer, Julie Koh.

To find out more about The Short Story Book Club, visit The Centre for Stories online.  You can join us next month, when we discuss The Love of a Bad Man by Laura Elizabeth Woollett.

To pre-order Melissa Davies' poetry collection, Pineapples in the Pool, please click here.  

Monday, 24 July 2017

Author Interview: Melanie Cheng

‘After all, she had only looked to Cambodia when the hospitals in Melbourne failed to provide the validation she’d been searching for.  At the idealistic age of eighteen, she had chosen a career in health to make a difference, save lives, change the world, and Cambodia, with its reputation for tragedy, seemed like just the place to do it.’ (page 72)

This is part of the story ‘Hotel Cambodia’, one of the stories in the middle of Australia Day by Melanie Cheng.  I caught up with Melanie via email this past weekend to ask her all about this collection, and about the short story as a form.  'Hotel Cambodia' is the story of Melissa, a young Australian woman who goes to Cambodia to ‘make a difference’.  There’s a sort of double awareness in Melissa’s point of view.  On the one level, she’s there to save lives, to help the less fortunate.  But on a deeper level, one which the reader sees through the third person narration, but Melissa doesn’t really say out loud, she’s aware of the hypocrisy of going to a very poor country for the sake of validating her own need to feel helpful and selfless.  This is one of the ideas in Australia Day which was striking to me—the myth of the Western Saviour.  Do you think there’s a tendency in Australia to think that the traditional, White European way of live is ‘better’ than the way of life lived by some of the people living in neighbouring countries, or of those who migrate here from different backgrounds?  Was this something you were intentionally trying to explore in your work?

Melanie Cheng: In 2006 I lived in Cambodia for 5 months doing volunteer medical work with an NGO, and so to a great extent Melissa’s revelations are my revelations. When I arrived, a few people told me Phnom Penh was an NGO Disneyland because there were just so many different charities and organisations operating with little to no regulation. Most people I met had noble intentions but the Western Saviour phenomenon you refer to was a definite driving force. Once there, I felt ashamed for imagining that I—a junior resident with little experience—could have anything to offer the local Khmer doctors. Like Melissa, I was forced to acknowledge that my true motivations were more selfish and na├»ve than I was originally willing to admit. I don’t think the Western Saviour myth is an Australian construct, but rather a Western, developed world phenomenon. And it’s hardly surprising when the mainstream media and much of our popular culture perpetuates and celebrates these myths.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Westerly Volume 62 Issue 1 is here!

... And I am in it!
Front cover image Nina-Marie Thomas, Ten 2017. 

I'm so excited to have had a piece accepted by Western Australia's longest running literary journal, and to have my work published in the same issue as amazing writers like Susan Midalia and Caitlin Maling.

My piece is called 'Sister Madly Deeply'-- it's about the bond between two sisters, and how they cope with a family tragedy.  

You can get a copy from Westerly's website, and I think there are a few bookshops around Perth who stock it as well.