Wordsmith Interviews

Interview: Kimberley Freeman

Tell us (in a nutshell) about your wordsmith journey so far: In a nutshell? Wrote stories my whole life; had one published at 27; 15 years and 21 books later [I’ve released] Wildflower Hill; still love it more than breathing.

What inspired you to write about old-time Australia? And what made you choose Scotland for the original home of your heroine, Beattie? I wanted to write about Tasmania during the Depression, because I’d read a lot about it and it was so interesting to me. I love Tassie and was keen to set a book there. And as for Scotland, that’s just one of those aspirational destinations I’d love to go one day…

Was there a lot of research involved in the writing of the story? Did you know anything about wool farms and the like? My cousin Janine (to whom the book is dedicated) ran a sheep station in outback Queensland, so she was my touchstone on everything. Especially to do with horses because in real life I am terrified of horses. So a lot of research about wool, fashion, ballet, and of course life in the 30s.

You’ve previously written in fantasy and horror genres. Do you like flexing your creative muscles by writing about different topics and in different forms? (And do you have a favourite?). I love writing in any genre. It’s all brilliant to me. I never wanted to be stuck in one genre, so I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write as Kimberley Freeman as well as Kim Wilkins. It’s all about the stories for me, no matter how many ghosts or dragons are in them.

You have a degree in Creative Writing. Do you think that a degree in writing is essential to be a good writer, or do you think that good writers born not made? No, you don’t need a degree in Creative Writing. But everyone could use a little training. There are a lot of great courses in community writers’ centre especially. But a tertiary degree is only one avenue, and not necessarily the best for everyone. I don’t think good writers are born. We all have to do an apprenticeship.

You also write under the name Kim Wilkins. Any particular reason for the different names? That’s just so as not to confuse the markets. There’s not necessarily a crossover in readership.

You have a blog on your website. Does that allow the real you to come out (Kim writes on her thoughts about her writing and a number of social/cultural/political issues), as opposed to your characters?
I sometimes worry about what I blog. If I blog about politics, for example, I run the risk of alienating some readers. Also, I realise that there are children reading some of my books so I always put a swear warning on if I’m really going to vent. But in the end, my blog is a chance for me to express an opinion publicly so I try to be honest with myself and my readers.

Can we have a sneak peak at your goals list? What are some of your other projects? Goals? Get through the week without dying of exhaustion. I work 3 days a week at University of Queensland, write books, and raise 2 young kids. At the moment, though, I’m working on a big fat historical fantasy novel.

Will you be taking Wildflower Hill on any book tours around Australia, or even internationally? No, though we have sold it internationally to Russia and the USA.

Did you struggle in terms of finding a publisher when you first started writing? What was that like? I have an agent, so I’ve been very lucky. [Sarah: Me thinks it’s time we had a dicussion about the merits of getting an agent. Stay tuned].

What are some of the difficulties that you encounter when working on a big project such as a book? Staying focussed when the world intervenes. You have to have really good habits and not just give the book up for weeks on end.

Were these difficulties maximised by the fact that you were writing historical fiction? All fiction requires research, not just historical. I just factor that into my writing time.

What are some of the perks of the job? Working in your pyjamas.

Any advice for aspiring writers? Read a lot and write a lot and forget about publishing. Concentrate on writing something you love. The other stuff will come if it’s meant to.

Ten in the Hot Seat:
Describe yourself in one word: Driven
Biggest accomplishment to date: My children
You wish you wrote: Guy Gavriel Kay’s “The Last Light of the Sun”
Can’t leave home without: Blackberry
One thing you are currently writing: A fantasy novel.
First thing you wrote: A road safety story, aged 5.
Addicted to reading: YES
Top spot on your goals list: Work out how to clone self.
If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: Dead by page 10. I’m quite weak.
The best thing about being a wordsmith: Your characters can’t talk back the way your kids can.

Interview: Anne Fortier

As you all know, I recently read a fantastic novel that retold the tale of one of history’s most renowned couples. And of course, I just had to get inside her wordsmith head to see what her wordsmith journey has been all about, and what other creative tales she might have on the horizon for my bookshelf. Wordsmith Laners, I give you an interview with Anne Fortier…

In a nutshell, describe your writer’s journey so far, which has culminated in the release of Juliet: I started writing novels at age 11, and submitted my first ms to a publisher when I was 13. Twenty years of trial-and-error later, my first novel was published in Denmark in 2005. I learned from that experience, too, and all those tough lessons taught me how *not* to go about things, and culminated in the publication of JULIET now in 2010 – a loooong dream come true.

You had one novel published before Juliet, tell us a little about that one.
It is the story of a group of mad scientists, who secretly work to bring about the end of the world as we know it. They take a young woman, Marie, hostage in their bizarre efforts, and the book tells the story from her perspective. It is a genre-defying gothic comedy, which got a lot of reviewers’ underwear in a knot, but those who *got* it and saw all the philosophical slapstick treally loved it. It is a sort of Plato-meets-Dan Brown-but-enacted-by-a-circus-clown sort of story. One reader told me she had been reading the book on a transatlantic flight, but had to stop, because she was laughing so hard that people trying to sleep gave her the hairy eyeball.

What inspired you to take on history’s greatest lovers and change their story around? It really all started with the city of Siena (Italy). I went there with my mother and completely fell in love with the place. Only after deciding that I was going to set a novel there did I discover – thanks to Mom* – that Siena was, in fact, the setting of the very first version of the Romeo & Juliet-story, from 1476. Once I knew that, I knew I simply *had* to write that story.

How much research did it involve? Did you spend a lot of time in Siena? I have piles and piles of notes in my office, all about Siena history and Shakespeare. My mother is responsible for a lot of them, because she was the one who did the bulk of the research on the ground in Siena, while I was living in the US, working full time. I did get to Siena a few times while writing the book, but Mom was my fact-checker and the one who would go around and truffle out unusual tidbits from archives and museums.

Your reading of original stories of Romeo & Juliet helped you discover that the love birds were in fact originally from Siena and not Verona. Were these stories available in English, and if not, did the language barrier prove to be a struggle at all? The funny thing is that all those short stories are available in English, and still, few people know that Shakespeare did not invent the characters. I was able to find two different compilations in online second-hand bookstores, and so the research was no problem at all. That said, the bulk of the specialized literature about Siena history only exists in Italian, and my mother translated several books for me, since she is perfectly fluent in that language.

I love the way Santa Caterina (Saint Catherine) and the Virgin Mary feature (almost) prominently in your story, as though it is by divine will that the couple are meant for one another. Given our increasingly secular society, what prompted you to include that? Apart from the fact that medieval europe was largely Christian, that is, and given the fact that we’re not so public about religious matters these days. I actually think most people are still quite religious – we just dont subscribe to organized religion the way our grandparents did. We still have the so-called religious instinct; we often believe in a higher being, we are superstitious, we talk about fate, we like to see our lives as part of a grand design. And even though we call her by different names, we still long for the protection of the mother-goddess. This is why I think it is so easy for us to accept the way in which people in the book relate to Saint Catherine and the Virgin Mary.

How long did it take you to write the book? About three years, although much of that time was spent editing.

The novel is going to be published all over the world, with rights sold all over the place. Did you honestly think it would get this big? How do you feel when you read its reviews and hear of its successes? Even though I have a pretty good imagination, I never anticipated that the book would be sold in so many countries. I am of course delighted that things are going so well, because that means there is a chance I can turn to full-time writing from now on – my oldest and most persistent dream.

You have a PhD in the History of Ideas. Tell us a little bit about your academic work. What exactly is a PhD in the history of ideas and what was your thesis on? The history of ideas is a discipline that combines philosophy, history, and literature, and which traces certain ideas and concepts through the ages. My thesis was about the idea of cultural identity in the Roman Empire as expressed in the works of Latin historians over a 400-year stretch, and much of my teaching has been about tracing the ideas and realities of empire from Antiquity to later ages.

Your mum played a major role in the production of this book. How was it working with her on the project? It was fantastic. We would be on the phone all the time, discussing her research, and we had so much fun. It was great to have a project to work on together, rather than merely exchanging news, and I think we got to know each other in a whole new way.

I love the fact that you gave Romeo & Juliet descendants. It was like a second chance at love! Were you saddened by the fact that the originals couldn’t be together? Would you have changed the story to give them the happy ending we all feel that they deserve? Why/Why not? Actually, in the first draft of the novel I did give them a different ending, but it ultimately felt too cheesy. That said, I have left enough loose ends for a sequel, so … you never know what new stories might surface. [Sarah squeels with delight upon reading this].

Can we have a peak at your goals list? Right now my goals list is pretty down-to-earth: As soon as the book-touring is over, I want to get my family back into a good rhythm, so we all sleep calmly at night; I need to get myself into shape, so I dont develop writers ass; and oh yes … I need to finish my next book! In the long term I would like to keep writing high-concept books and hope to please readers all over the world.

Will you be doing any book tours in Australia at all? Nothing has been planned for JULIET, probably because I have a small baby. But in the future I would love to visit Australia and New Zealand, and I actually have a lot of friends from there, who keep urging me to come.

This blog is for aspiring writers (both journalists and fiction/non-fiction writers). Any tips for its readers? If I were to give just one piece of advice, it would probably be this: Start thinking about your query letter as soon as possible. Dont wait until the ms [manuscript] is finished, because you may end up with a story you cant pitch.

What’s next on your writing agenda? I have a lot of interviews and blogs I have to write this fall, but after that I look forward to going full throttle on my next book.

Ten in the Hot Seat:
Describe yourself in one word: indefatigable
Biggest accomplishment to date: landing my wonderful husband
You wish you wrote: faster
Can’t leave home without: lip balm
One thing you are currently writing: tips for aspiring writers for the Readers Digest writers blog
First thing you wrote: a story about a girl who gets kidnapped by desert bandits
Addicted to reading: Jane Austen
Top spot on your goals list: keep my family healthy and happy
If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: Robert Langdon. That guy seems to be wonderfully long-lived.
The best thing about being a wordsmith: I can move mountains without getting out of my pyjamas!

* Here in Oz, we spell mum with a U, not an O (American spelling). I kept Anne’s spelling as is for authenticity! Hope that clears up any concerns about my Aussie grammar!

Interview: Laura Greaves

Tell us (in a nutshell) about your wordsmith career path so far:

I’ll be 30 next month and it’s a little scary to realise I’ve been writing for publication in one form or another for 15 years! I started out in my home town, Adelaide, as a student reporter on a short-lived youth newspaper called Y; it was put out by News Limited’s South Australian community newspapers division. My work there helped me land a cadetship and I started as a general news reporter on The Advertiser newspaper just a couple of months after my 17th birthday. I’ll be eternally grateful for my three years as a cadet journo. After a six-week crash course in shorthand and the basics of crafting a news story, we were thrown into the newsroom and basically told, ‘Be journalists now’! It was a steep learning curve but I loved every minute of it. I covered everything from car crashes and murder trials to business and sports news, eventually becoming both Youth Affairs Reporter and Fashion Editor simultaneously (a weird combo I know!) I stayed at the ‘Tiser for nearly five years, during which time I was named both South Australian and Australian Young Journalist of the Year.

In 2002 I upped sticks and went to London for 12 months – and stayed nearly five years! I had a few jobs there, including production co-ordinator at Conde Nast magazines, which basically entailed chasing agencies for advertising copy. I was terrible at it and hated every second of it! Next I became Features Editor of a big London suburban paper, which was loads of fun – I interviewed some big names there, including Jack Nicholson, Halley Berry, Reese Witherspoon and a pre-crazy Lindsay Lohan.

I moved to Sydney with my husband in 2007. After a short stint as a book publicist, I became Deputy Editor and then Editor of ACP Magazines’ Slimming & Health. It sadly closed last year – a victim of the GFC – and I decided to pursue my long-held dream of becoming a full-time freelancer. It was a pretty big gamble – particularly as I signed the mortgage papers for my first home the day I was made redundant – but I haven’t looked back!

Sorry, that’s a pretty big nutshell!  (Sarah: ‘Tis ok, shall refer to it as egg shell instead. Dinosaur eggshell.)

What are some of your current projects, and who are you writing for at the moment? 

I’ve just finished a couple of features for Notebook magazine and my to-do list for the next few weeks includes stories for Madison, Dogs Life and Studio Brides, plus some in-house subbing work. There’s nothing like a bit of diversity! I’m also a part-time student – I’m studying screenwriting at film school – and as part of that I have a TV pilot and a feature film script to write. No pressure then…!

What made you get into freelance writing?

I think all journalists fantasise about being their own bosses! It was definitely something I’d wanted to try for a long time and when Slimming & Health closed it felt like the universe giving me a kick up the bum and telling me to give it a go. I’d been an editor and wasn’t necessarily professionally or creatively fulfilled, so I felt I owed it to myself to try freelancing.

You used to have a blog, but considering the weight of the material discussed (if you pardon the pun) you decided to shut it down. Do you ever regret this decision, or do you not find it essential for writers to have their own web space?

My blog was about weight loss and I wound it up basically because I was sick of getting nasty comments from people who had obviously missed the point of what I was trying to do with it. So no, I don’t regret giving up an avenue for people to judge me based on my thoughts on just one topic! But I do miss blogging and what is, for the most part, a really supportive online community, which is why my professional website (http://www.lauragreaves.com) now has a blog. At least, it has a blog page and said page will have words on it as soon as I get five minutes!

How useful do you find networking, and how would you recommend Wordsmith Lane readers network for their career potential, without coming across as pushy or annoying?

My mum always says, ‘It’s only the price of a postage stamp’. But that’s a bit 20th century, so these days it’s probably more accurate to say it’s only the amount of time it takes to fire off an email or Tweet. I definitely think it’s worthwhile electronically introducing yourself to editors and other writers you admire – you just never know what will come of it. I’d steer clear of follow-up phone calls though; from my own experience as an editor, I know that the incessant ring of the telephone is the bane of their lives!

I really think the most important thing when dealing with anyone at all, but especially someone who could potentially commission you, is politeness. It probably makes me sound like a right nanna, but there’s just not enough of it these days. I know I loathe receiving emails with just a press release attached and no message, or a message that starts just ‘Laura’. What’s wrong with ‘Hi Laura’?! Good manners are free, folks!

You seem to have a niche in the heath area? How important do you think having a niche is, and do you ever find it limiting?

I didn’t intentionally set out to become a health writer, but at the time I went freelance my most recent writing experience had been in that arena so it made sense to pursue it. And I must admit I find it fascinating –  there is SO much information out there on health, nutrition, fitness, weight loss etc. I really like the challenge of wading through it all and distilling it into something that a reader may find useful. But yes, it can sometimes be limiting. In the years I’ve been a journalist, I’ve found that many media outlets will base their opinion of you solely on what you did last. For example, I suspect I would really struggle to get a job on a newspaper now, even though I spent the first 10 or so years of my career on papers! My goal for 2011 is to challenge myself to write about subjects and for publications that are outside of my usual area of ‘expertise’!

What were some of the difficulties you encountered when trying to establish yourself as a writer? Did you rely on any tools, mentors, groups or writers centres/courses for help?

I did freelance briefly while living in the UK and found it really difficult there. It’s a much bigger marketplace and there’s loads more freelancers, so editors are generally reluctant to try an ‘untested’ writer. But since I’ve been freelancing here – touch wood – I’ve been in constant work. The only thing I sometimes find frustrating is approaching a publication I haven’t written for before and being told they have a full roster of freelancers and don’t want to see my ideas. I don’t understand that logic – where’s the harm in perusing a pitch? It might be the most fabulous idea you’ve ever read! Maybe some of your editor readers can shed some light on this?!

In terms of tools, I’m addicted to reading the blogs of fellow freelancers and I have freelance friends who are great to bounce ideas off (and have the occasional rant with over a glass of wine!)

Are there any other writing goals you’d like to pursue? Like creative writing, non-fiction books or even writer’s festival panels, for example?

Well, I have written a novel – haven’t all journos?! I did want it to be published but I don’t now – I know I can do better! Writing it was really just an exercise in proving to myself that I could finish something (and it took me four years!) Someday I’d like to write another one that perhaps is worthy of seeing the light of day. I’ve also got the two scripts on the go, and the further I get with them the more I’m feeling I’d really like to write for television as a ‘proper job’!

How do you brainstorm ideas and get your juices flowing?

I walk! Whenever I’m stuck for an angle or a lead, I take my dog out for a stroll and it seems to do the trick. Of course, sometimes I just feel thoroughly braindead and then I find the only thing that works is just sitting down and writing something – anything, even if it’s rubbish. (Who was it that said the art of writing is in re-writing?!) I do have a real problem with procrastinating, but I once I get going I invariably find myself thinking ‘why did I put this off?!’

What gets you inspired to write?

Honestly? Deadlines! I blame starting out in newspapers: if I don’t have a pressing deadline, I will do almost anything but sit at my desk and write. Being self-employed is pretty motivating, too: if I don’t generate ideas and write sparkling copy (!), I can’t pay my bills.

How do you keep up with it in the face of rejection?

Being an editor taught me that you can’t take rejection personally. A knock-back isn’t a reflection on your ideas or the quality of your work – it may simply be that the magazine published a similar feature not long ago, or they may have exhausted their freelance budget for that month. What I find a little harder to take is being ignored – no matter how busy I was as an editor, I always took the time to send a ‘thanks but no thanks’ email. Courtesy goes a long way! (Yes, I am the manners police!)

What is a typical day in the life of Laura Greaves, freelance writer?

When I first went freelance I tried very hard to stick to a 9 to 5-ish routine, but it didn’t take me long to work out that I am absolutely useless in the morning. So these days I tend to get up around 8am and spend a couple of hours checking emails, reading blogs and generally faffing about on the internet. Then I go for a run, do some errands, walk my dog, have lunch and, um, watch The View (hey, it’s research!) I usually start working (writing, interviewing, pitching etc) about 2pm and go through til 7pm (also known as wine o’clock!) Last week I met a friend for coffee on a Monday and it occurred to me that it was the first time I’d done that in over a year of freelancing – so I don’t know where people get the idea that all we do is have long lunches!

What are some of the perks associated with your job?

The freebies pretty much dried up the moment I left Magland, but really I think freelancing is a perk in itself! I work really hard, but I get to do it in my house with my dog at my feet. And I will never, ever cease to be grateful at not having to commute.

And what are your career aspirations?

Ooh, now there’s a question! It’s not very lofty, but really my chief ambition at this point is to continue to get enough work to allow me to keep doing this. I’m also pretty focused on pursuing a new/second career as a screenwriter. (Sarah: Well, stay tuned, we have an interview coming up with a screen writer soon to vary it up a little bit, plus an interview with astonishing first-time novelist)

What advice would you offer to aspiring freelancers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path?

Work, work and then work some more. I think there’s a perception that freelance writers spend weeks or months on every article and only write one thing at a time, but for me I definitely prefer to have lots (and lots) of features on the go at once. It keeps things interesting and it’s better for the bank balance, too! Pitch to any and every title you can think of; don’t just go for the ‘glamourous’ mags. Think outside the square – those free mags you get in supermarkets and gyms and health food stores all have to get their content from somewhere!

And I’ll say it just once more: be nice to EVERYONE! 

Ten in the Hot Seat:

  1. Describe yourself in one word: Frenetic
  2. Biggest accomplishment to date: Completing a full year as a freelancer without becoming homeless
  3. You wish you wrote: Jane Eyre. The brooding! The passion! The breeches!
  4. Can’t leave home without: At least one of my twelve thousand pairs of sunglasses
  5. One thing you are currently writing: A TV pilot about the daughter of the devil
  6. First thing you wrote: I literally cannot remember a time when I wasn’t writing. I was big on terribly clunky, rhyming poetry as a kid.
  7. Addicted to reading: Biographies. Just finished Jack Dee’s Thanks For Nothing.
  8. Top spot on your goals list: Go to New York for my 30th birthday, which I’ll be doing in four weeks’ time. Or 36 sleeps. Not that I’m counting.
  9. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. I actually spent a large chunk of my childhood thinking I was her!
  10. The best thing about being a wordsmith: At the risk of sounding uber-corny, it defines me.

Interview: Gabrielle Tozer

Tell us (in a nutshell) about your wordsmith career path so far:

Ever the ambitious child, I entered writing comps, asked journalists in my former hometown Wagga Wagga for advice and, at the tender age of 18, moved to Canberra to study journalism and creative writing. While there, I wrote for free for BMA, Forte, Lip and The Brag. A week-long internship at hip-hop magazine Urban Hitz also led to a two-year paid writing gig (and a bootylicious CD collection). Three years later, I was in Sydney working fulltime as the chief sub-editor at ACP’s Disney Adventures and DisneyGiRL – a glorious place where it was okay for me to announce that I was Princess Jasmine in a former life. Next stop was DOLLY, as their deputy chief sub-editor and health writer. I was asked to edit a one-shot – the DOLLY 2010 Quizmag – which was an incredible experience. I also freelanced for Cosmopolitan and Weight Watchers Online during this time. After my teen mag stint, I was off to be the deputy editor of the land of breast pumps – I mean the deputy editor of Mother & Baby, Pregnancy & Birth, FamilyFun and Shopping 4 Baby magazines. Cue: life-shattering realisation that I want to be a writer, not climb the ladder to fulltime editor just yet.

What are some of your current projects, and who are you writing for at the moment?
I’m currently the fulltime staff writer for Text Pacific/Pacific’s Weight Watchers magazine. I’ve put freelancing on the backburner for a few months while I sink my teeth in to the role (although keep your eyes peeled for the next issue of custom title Vital Health – I broke a promise with myself about taking ‘time out’ and wrote a story for them). My other projects are creative and seeking major rewrites: a chick-lit novel, a short film script and a children’s book.

What made you get into freelance writing? 
At university, it was the most obvious way to build up my portfolio – and earn a piggy-bank-worthy amount of money on the side. Once I started fulltime work in Sydney, the pressing need to get published faded away, but my passion for writing kept me going. I also mainly worked production-based roles – sub-editor, deputy editor, managing editor – so I craved the creative freedom of freelance writing.

How did you score your staff writing gig at Weight Watchers magazine?
Short answer: I saw it advertised, applied for it, had a job interview and started a month later. Long answer: this job and I were love at first sight. I am a fan of the Weight Watchers program, having lost weight with it three years ago, so I knew the content was right up my food-addicted alley. I arrived at my job interview with a bulging portfolio, clippings of my very own Weight Watchers slimmer success story and five words screaming in my head: I just want to write.

Do you find it hard to separate yourself from your full-time writing job when you have your freelance hat on?
I’ve stopped sniffing around for freelance opportunities – at least over the next few months while I get settled in the new gig. The ambitious side of me struggles with saying no to freelance writing, though. I had to turn down two projects recently and I was surprised how much I fretted over it. Once I’m ready to slip on my freelancing socks again, I’ll chat with my editor before heading out to market with grand ideas. Writing fulltime means I have to make sure extra activities aren’t a conflict of interest. In the meantime, I’m focusing on my job’s numerous copy deadlines and updating my website each week. I wish I could say my creative writing was underway, too, but it seems to have taken itself on a holiday to Aruba.

How important is your blog and website to you? Do you think it is essential for writer’s to have a web space?
I do think it’s important for writers to have a web presence. I love ‘Googling’ people and am always impressed to see how many writers have their own site. It’s a quick and easy way for people to find out information about you. I hated the idea of someone ‘Googling’ me and it bringing up random pieces I wrote five years ago. I think it’s essential that your website represents you, though. I think of mine as me in website form: girlie, professional and a smidge cheeky. My blog is another matter – we’re currently in the middle of a love-hate relationship. Sometimes I wonder whether my time would be better spent toiling away on my half-written novel, but my blog calls my name and I come running. I have to remind myself that any writing is good writing.

How useful do you find networking, and how would you recommend Wordsmith Lane readers network for their career potential, without coming across as pushy or annoying?
Networking is strange. I’m naturally drawn to websites like Twitter because I’m an internet geek at heart and this allows me to network with like-minded people. For others, they couldn’t think of anything worse – and that’s okay, too. I’m also organising a face-to-face club which will be a great opportunity for Sydney writers to get together and talk all things wordsmithery.

Do you think you have a niche, or is your writing portfolio more broad? How important do you think having a niche is?
My writing portfolio is broad. I’ve covered everything from Chopper Read’s hip-hop aspirations and the rise of Zac Efron, to how to find the perfect cot for bub and fashion tips for hourglass figures. I even have a few published short stories and poems thrown in for good measure. My non-published creative works are much more niche – girlie, first person, light and fluffy, fun, truly ridiculous and packed with hyperbole. As long as you’re writing what you love, I don’t think having a niche matters.

What were some of the difficulties you encountered when trying to establish yourself as a writer? Did you rely on any tools, mentors, groups or writers centres/courses for help?
The hardest part when starting out is getting your first break. Many editors won’t look twice at your pitches until you have ‘experience’, but you need someone to take a chance on you to nab your first byline. That’s why work experience, internships, writing for free and entering competitions are so important. I am the queen of mentors. During high school, it was my English Extension 2 teacher Cathy Edwards. During university, it was my Scriptwriting tutor Felicity Packard (who’s now one of the brains behind the Underbelly series). Now, it’s every writer I meet. I also make an effort to go to authors’ chats and ask them at least one question about their writing process.

Are there any other writing goals you’d like to pursue? Like creative writing, non-fiction books or even writer’s festival panels, for example?
I’d love to write books one day. Oh, just saying that makes me want to curl up in the foetal position under my desk. But it’s true.

What are your primary reasons for blogging? Does it get your ‘juices flowing’ in a sense?
Blogging makes me (and hopefully a handful of others) laugh and keeps the creative side of my brain switched on. I’ve found the more I blog, the more my brain opens up to new ideas.

What is a typical day in the life of Gabby McMillan?
My day includes writing, researching, interviewing, transcribing, scouring magazines, going to showings, meeting PRs, working on our slimmer photo shoots and emailing. Lots and lots of emailing.

What made you decide to put the toolkit page up on your website [Gabby’s toolkit page is essential a question/answer post about breaking into the industry]? Have you had a lot of responses to it/questions about it?
Over the past five years, I have been asked countless times how I cracked in to the industry and I figured putting the toolkit page on my website would be the quickest way to answer everyone in one hit. I have received a few lovely responses about it, so that alone makes it worth it. It could probably be summarised in one sentence, though: “Don’t think, just write”.

You have won a few journalism and writing awards at an establishing level. Did they encourage you to push further when it was hard to get a job?
Yes, I think so. They were a constant reminder that I had what it took; I just needed someone to give me a break. Getting a job in Sydney was tough. When you receive rejection email after rejection email, you can’t help but question whether you’re good enough. I had quite a few meltdowns and tantrums waiting for my fulltime magazine career to come to fruition – my poor family will vouch for that. I didn’t give up, though. I kept freelancing to make sure my portfolio was impressive until the offer for the Disney magazines gig came up.

Do you think you had it easier because you started out in newspapers and mags and were able to make contacts before you started freelancing? What advice would you give to someone who does work experience for a week or two, and then decides they want to freelance, without having had that concrete footing that a more regular stint gives?
Absolutely not. I didn’t have any contacts at the start so I had to build them up as I went, just like everyone else. I must have emailed hundreds of editors while I was university – you need to be extremely disciplined and organised to be a successful freelancer. Actually, I kick-started media work experience way back in Year 10 on the local newspaper, at the community radio station and TV station, so I’d recommend that path, too. While freelancing is fantastic, I think working fulltime reveals so much about the inner workings of the media. It also teaches you little but imperative things like house style, fair freelance rates and what constitutes good/bad writing. I would definitely recommend getting fulltime experience under your belt too, if possible.

What are some of the perks associated with your job?
Meeting inspirational people every single month, the occasional free beauty or health product and working in an environment that motivates me to be a healthier, happier person. Getting paid to write fulltime is a perk in itself!

And what are your career aspirations?
I love feature writing and I don’t see that changing any time soon. I go crazy when I’m not writing, so as long as stringing creative sentences is involved, I’ll be happy. It would be fantastic to publish a book one day, but I’ll have to master the art of writing 60,000 – 90,000 beautiful words first. A girl can dream, right?

What advice would you offer to aspiring freelancers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path?
Write – even on the days you don’t want to; never give up; build up your portfolio; create a strong, professional website that shows your personality; work on your writers’ voice; and ask yourself why you want it so badly and keep this answer somewhere visible so you stay inspired. Once you start getting freelance offers, my advice is: say yes to everything; edit, edit, edit your work; never submit a story in late; and aim to hand your feature in early if possible. When I was a deputy editor, I had to commission writers every month and the ones who handed their clean, tight copy in before the deadline won gold stars every time (and they were often the ones I’d re-commission the following month).

Ten in the Hot Seat:

Describe yourself in one word: Motivated.

Biggest accomplishment to date: I was blown away to win the writing awards at uni, but cracking my first fulltime magazine job in Sydney in early 2006 after months of job-hunting takes the chocolate-frosted cake.

You wish you wrote: the novel The Book Thief, the film American Beauty and the TV series Arrested Development.

Can’t leave home without: Eclipse mints.

One thing you are currently writing: a short film script.

First thing you wrote: a short story called Sammy the Spoon when I was five years old.

Addicted to reading: memoirs (think Eat.Pray.Love), dude-lit (think Nick Hornby and David Sedaris), TV series screenplays (think Seinfeld) and some chick-lit (think Helen Fielding).

Top spot on your goals list: Finish writing my novel. It’s currently ogling me from my third desk drawer because it hasn’t been touched since February.

If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: a combination of Liz Lemon and Bridget Jones – gluttonous and hopeless in every way.

The best thing about being a wordsmith: Seeing my name in print. After 12 years of bylines, the novelty hasn’t worn off. I hope it never does.

Interview: Nicole Haddow

Tell us (in a nutshell) about your wordsmith career path so far:

Arts/Professional Writing was the third degree I started, and the only one I completed. I was first published in RUSSH magazine in my final year at uni. I had multiple features published with RUSSH, and then I landed a contract with Lonely Planet. My time at LP was bliss on a stick. Loved it. Then, I landed a role at boutique publisher Niche Media. It was a small company, so I was charged with everything from coordinating photo shots, to writing and editing stories. I think I gained about 12 years worth of experience in 12 months, and with that experience I projected myself into the Sydney stratosphere and landed at ACP magazines.

What are some of your current projects, and who are you writing for at the moment? 

I’m currently working on features for Cleo and madison. What are they about? You’ll just have to buy upcoming issues of the mags to find out. I also write for family and kids’ titles to keep things interesting…

What made you get into freelance writing?

The eventual realisation that nothing else was going to make me happy. I was sitting in a marketing lecture (my second attempt at a degree), reading a feature in Harper’s Bazaar because I wasn’t at all interested in the lecture and I thought, ‘this is where I need to be – magazines’. At that moment I gave into my love of mags and embraced instability.

How important is your blog/your website to you? Do you think it is essential for writer’s to have a web space?

I have my blog to thank for a lot of my current work. I started it when I didn’t have much work on but I thought it would be a good marketing tool to sit alongside my portfolio website. I have a friend who knows madison editor, Lizzie Renkert – my friend flicked my blog link to Lizzie and before long I was having coffee with their features editor and working on my first article for them. In this competitive market, you have to find a clever way to differentiate.

How useful do you find networking, and how would you recommend Wordsmith Lane readers network for their career potential, without coming across as pushy or annoying?

I’m all about building genuine relationships with editors. When you send a pitch email, do it with a tone that assures the editor you understand the voice of the publication. Over and above that, offer to meet in person and buy the editor coffee. I always offer coffee to perspective editors. Caffeine donations get you everywhere. They can only say no, and sometimes they say yes.

Do you think you have a niche, or is your writing portfolio more broad? How important do you think having a niche is?

 I’ve fallen into a niche I wasn’t planning. My first feature for RUSSH was an account of a personal experience. From there, I wrote another first-person feature for them about my quarter life crisis. Now my features for madison and Cleo are anecdotal first-person style too. It’s great to have a niche, but it’s also good to show diversity in your portfolio, which I also do.

What were some of the difficulties you encountered when trying to establish yourself as a writer? Did you rely on any tools, mentors, groups or writers centres/courses for help? 

My university course was invaluable. I had some stellar lecturers. Friends in the industry were great to bounce ideas around with. I also recommend some work experience to gain a working knowledge of magazines from the inside.

Are there any other writing goals you’d like to pursue? Like creative writing, non-fiction books or even writer’s festival panels, for example?

Absolutely, I’m open to everything. I’m sure there’s a novel in me somewhere, but you can’t write if you don’t live. I’m not convinced I have enough life experience at the age of 27 to pen something great. And I’d prefer to wait until it spews out naturally than to squeeze it into being.

What are your primary reasons for blogging? Does it get your ‘juices flowing’ in a sense?

I blog in equal parts: self-discipline and self-indulgence. It’s also one of the ways I build relationships with other people in the industry. I take an interest in other writers and their creative process and share mine too.

What is a typical day in the life of Nicole Haddow, freelance writer?

There’s nothing typical about my days. Some days I’m in the office at ACP, other days I’m at home smashing out a feature. Sometimes I’m out in the field conducting a social experiment for a story. Just last weekend I had to go bar-hopping for work purposes. The only constant involves chasing my word count and more work!

What are some of the perks associated with your job?

The biggest perk is that my job and my life intersect because I write a lot about personal experience. Something crazy might happen to me and I’ll think, ‘there’s a story in that’. Writing from bed never gets old. The occasional goody bag doesn’t go astray either.

And what are your career aspirations?

I love the idea of being a full-time staff writer on a women’s magazine. Although, I dare say there’ll be an enmeshing of print and online in years to come, and therefore the gig I’m dreaming of might not even exist yet. In short, I’m keeping an open mind.

What advice would you offer aspiring freelancers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path?

Start writing now – no excuses. Send completed articles to editors if you’re still making a name for yourself. Once they know you they’ll accept pitches and ideas alone, but until then you need to give them everything you’ve got. Start blogging. Look at things from a different angle. Get creative. Seek out mentors. Read.

Ten in the Hot Seat:

  1. Describe yourself in one word:  Capricorn.
  2. Biggest accomplishment to date: Not giving up after seemingly endless rejection.
  3. You wish you wrote: The Time Traveller’s Wife. It’s sustained poetry. Gorgeous.
  4. Can’t leave home without: my iPhone. I’m addicted.
  5. One thing you are currently writing: A cautionary tale about modern dating.
  6. First thing you wrote: a bi-annual letter to all of my friends diarising our high school adventures. My first published piece was called ‘driving the lesson home’ for RUSSH in 2005.
  7. Addicted to reading: magazine features and biographies.
  8. Top spot on your goals list: more feature writing jobs than I can poke an invoice at, and an invitation to cover the couture shows in Paris for one the Australian women’s titles (dream big, right?).
  9. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: I aspire to be any of Maggie Alderson’s heroines. They’re quirky and stylish, funny, acknowledge their imperfections and have wildly wonderful leading men in their lives.
  10. The best thing about being a wordsmith: I can do it anywhere, anytime.

 

Interview: Steph Bowe

 

Guest Post by Wordsmith Lane Intern Megan Burke

I’ve known Steph Bowe virtually (isn’t that how all friendships are done these days?) for just under two years and in that time I’ve watched her emerge from an unknown blogger to an internationally published author (well, soon-to-be internationally published author!).

The sixteen-year-old’s blog, Hey, Teenager, gets enviable thousands of hits and had thousands of loyal followers, and her much anticipated debut novel, Girl Saves Boy, is being published in Text later this year.

She is keeping herself busy with publicity; upcoming appearances at writer’s festivals (including Melbourne and Brisbane) and working on her second novel.

Needless to say, Steph has certainly made a stamp on the industry and judging from the quality of her posts (and other articles in place such as The Age newspaper in Melbourne) and the hype of her debut novel, Girl Saves Boy, it’s clear that she will be around for years to come.

Tell us (in a nutshell) about your wordsmith career path so far.

I am having my debut YA novel, Girl Saves Boy, published in Australia by Text Publishing at the end of this month, and it’s also sold in the US, and will be translated into Dutch, Spanish and Catalan. I’ve written for The Age, and I’m hard at work on book two.

You’ve gone from blogging at Hey, Teenager to being a contracted author – how has your life changed?

My day-to-day life hasn’t changed much at all – I’ve just got more responsibilities. But I’ve done some public speaking as an author, and I’ve got a few festivals coming up, so that will be quite new to me.

Since finishing Girl Saves Boy – and in the process scoring a two-book deal – what is your second novel about?

I can’t tell you about it! I’ll jinx it!

You’ve also been writing some articles for The Age. Is this something you’d like to pursue further?

I’d love to pursue this further. I really enjoying writing articles (as you can probably tell from my blog!).

As well as working on your novel, you are home schooled – what is a typical day in the life of Steph Bowe? Do you feel like you’re missing out on a ‘normal’ schooling experience?

I get up in the morning and do schoolwork, go out and do something in the afternoon, write at night. I definitely am missing out on a normal schooling experience, but if I did go to school I wouldn’t also be able to manage a writing career. And don’t kids who go to school feel like they’re missing out on a ‘Steph Bowe’ schooling experience? I mean, they must miss a lot of Dr. Phil.

Most writers find that, at least initially, it’s very hard to get your writing read by a large audience. Do you think having a large audience base for your blog will make it easier to get exposure for Girl Saves Boy (and any follow ups)?

I think the audience on my blog means I can communicate directly with my potential readers, so it will be easier to get the book exposed to more people.

 

How did the idea for Hey, Teenager come about? Why do you think it’s taken off as well as it has?

There wasn’t really a specific idea – I wanted to talk about reading and writing, because I didn’t have many friends who shared my interest in it, so I started up a blog. I’ve no idea why it’s become popular – I think if I had set out to make a platform to sell books, it wouldn’t have worked out. I just blogged for the fun of it.

What are your plans after you finish high school? Do you think a creative writing/journalism degree would be relevant to you, considering you’re already a published, successful wordsmith?

It would absolutely be relevant to me – I don’t have much technical knowledge of writing, definitely none of journalism, so a degree in creative writing or journalism would be very helpful, and there’d be so much I could learn from that. But I don’t know whether I want to do writing as a day-job as well. I don’t have any definite plans at the moment.

You were extremely fortunate in that querying two agents and an entrance in a competition wheedled three offers of representation – almost unheard of in the publishing industry. What makes you so unique, so special? What is the key to your successes (especially at such a young age)?

I think it was a combination of putting myself out there (you can’t get a book deal if you never submit your work!), and exceptionally good timing and luck. There’s no special key, and I’m not particularly unique – I did the same thing, and I was on the same level as every other writer. It would be great if there were some secret to getting published, but there really truly isn’t.

What do you believe are key factors into breaking into the YA book industry?

Write write write, be passionate about the genre and the industry and be yourself. Hopefully yourself is someone who a publisher would like to work with.

What was the process of getting your manuscript from your computer to a physical book? Did everything meet your expectations? What were they? How did it differ?

After several rounds of edits, a typesetter typeset the book for the bound proof. So basically it went from a Word doc to a properly formatted PDF then off to the printers and into a book. The editing process and everything after it was what I expected, though very intensive!

Are we allowed to have a sneak peak at your goals list?

Oh, gosh. I don’t have a goals list. Should I have one? I’m just going to do my best to promote this book, write the next one, and finish high school. Just taking it one step at a time at the moment.

Ten In The Hot Seat:
Describe yourself in one word: curious
Biggest accomplishment to date: getting a book published! (of course)
You wish you wrote: every great book I read
Can’t leave home without: sunglasses
One thing you are currently writing: book two
First thing you wrote: I cannot remember
Addicted to reading: YA
Top spot on your goals list: there isn’t one
If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: the third-person narrator, seeing everything
The best thing about being a wordsmith: getting to work in your pyjamas

Interview: Kennedy Estephan

Kennedy Estephan, author of ‘The Day it Rained’

Tell us (in a nutshell) about your wordsmith career path so far:
It all started in a rather unexpected way. Initially I was planning to join a local acting group. When told there was no room left, I started looking into other options. A writers’ group was meeting once a month in the same building (Bankstown Arts & Crafts Centre.) So I joined them. The year was 1994. It was my first step in the thousand-mile journey.

Since finishing The Day It Rained, do you have any plans for new projects? Or are you going to rest easy for a while?
The bulk of The Day it Rained, I wrote in between manuscripts. Currently I am rewriting my very earliest work—a story of unrequited love set in a war-torn city. No rest, I’m afraid.

Most people seem to either excel in the humanities and arts or the maths and sciences. Yet you are a high school science teacher and a published author. Do you find it hard to reconcile those two aspects of your career?
To me the challenge is not in reconciling preexisting differences, but in finding the time to read enough of nearly everything to keep myself informed. Lately, I’ve been reading the history of science. The material tends to be informative, engaging and well-written. A good way, I’ve discovered, to satisfy a brain undecided towards which half it should lean.

Does your teaching inspire your writing at all?
Daily contact with students has helped develop in me a better understanding of  what is common in us. It is this universality which I try to carry into my work.

Publishing short stories is never easy. How did you go about getting yours into a book?
As we all know, short stories have a very limited market. Of course some collections do get published. But they tend to be of exceptional quality and/or written by some renowned novelist with established readership. That leaves many short-story writers out, which might explain why quite a few contemplate self-publishing at some point in their career. In my case I did so only after exhausting all other options. Mind you that many stories in ‘The Day it Rained’ had appeared in a range of anthologies following a placement/prize in some SS competition.  That was a source of satisfaction for a while. Then came the time when I felt the need to compile the work in one volume and have it out there for others to share. Thus, this self-publishing venture.

Do you think it’s easier to work on a collection of short stories on a novel? Explain.
Which of the two forms is easier to write depends on your personality and your overall take on life. I, for one, find short stories to be generally less demanding. It is like skimming in and out of water, without having to plunge too deep at any given time. The idea is to reveal, without having to worry too much about development. Of course, the catch is in having each and every word count. Economy is the key. You can’t afford to digress, tempted as you might be at times.

Your collection was awarded a grant by your local council that enabled you to self-publish. How did you go about securing the grant, and would you recommend self-publishing to other emerging writers? Why/Why not?
An opportunity presented itself. I submitted samples of the work. And I secured the grant. It was a humble amount, I dare say. But it lifted my spirits and provided me with much needed exposure. So thank you, again, to those involved. 
As for self-publishing, it is something I’d approach with care. If you were to tread that path, then this is my advice:

  • Have your work assessed by professionals. What you need is a constructive and objective feedback—the more reason why you should avoid seeking it from relatives and friends.
  • Have the courage and will to rewrite the work as often as needed.
  • Enter as many SS competitions as possible.
  • Secure a grant if you can. Financial help aside, it can draw attention to your work and help substantiate its literary merit.
  • Invest in the services of an editor, if you can afford to.
  • Secure a quote or two from people in the know. This will also help with marketability.
  • Content yourself with a small print run. The idea should not be to make a profit as much as to test your writing skills and develop some readership before you progress to the next step: securing a publisher.

Of course, there are stories out there of monumental successes following a self-publishing venture. These tend to be the exception, not the rule. Again, my advice is that you tread carefully and be realistic with your expectations.

Your publishing process was helped somewhat by the services of an agent. Do you recommend an agent to us aspiring wordsmiths? Why/why not?
A literary agent can significantly boost your chances of finding a publisher. If you can secure an agent, please do. Mind you this is no easy task. Only a manuscript with a good potential is taken on board. After all, an agent does not get his/her money until a publishing contract is secured. The more reason why he/she has to be extra selective. The agent that represents me is quite renowned. Over the years she has been helpful and extremely supportive. In that regard, I count myself lucky. 

What are some of the difficulties that you encounter when working on a book?
When in the thick of things, I find it quite difficult to juggle between writing and work. To write good fiction means to live through your characters with all their emotional peaks and troughs. To hold a full-time job means to wake up in the morning, disentangle yourself from the remnants of emotions lingering from last night’s writing episode and return to normality—whatever that means.

Another difficulty I encounter when working on a book is in the rewrite. Following a feedback changes are recommended. Some are cosmetic, but many are major. This means more hard work and a lot of heartache doing away with scenes and characters you invested months on end bringing to life. To make things a little more of a challenge, there is no guarantee the ms will find a publisher once those changes are made. Only that the new draft stands a better chance with many of its earlier flaws already addressed.

A few of the stories deal with the Lebanese civil war. As someone who grew up in Lebanon, did you find it hard to write it about something that hit close to home?
I certainly did. It was emotionally draining—let me put it this way. Another difficulty was in keeping away from cathartic writing. That would only have served my needs, not the reader’s. Rewriting those stories numerous times, and often when in good spirits, was one way to keep things on the right track.  

What are your writing goals now, in comparison to what they were before you were published?
I still crave for some recognition—no denying. It is something you’d expect, given all the hard work you put in over the years. Thankfully, I’ve grown more patient with time. Let things take their natural course, I keep thinking. Meanwhile, I work hard and try to be the best I can. That simple.

What advice would you offer to aspiring writers and wordsmiths who want to follow a similar career path? 
Vanity is one’s worst enemy. No one is immune to it. Fight it off with every inch of your being. And work hard. 

Ten in the Hot Seat:

  1. Describe yourself in one word: passionate.
  2. Biggest accomplishment to date: becoming a father.
  3. You wish you wrote: The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham.
  4. Can’t leave home without: hugging my two children.
  5. One thing you are currently writing: I am rewriting a manuscript—my first attempt at a novel. That was nearly twelve years ago.
  6. First thing you wrote: a clumsy, melodramatic, poorly-written short story set in a war-torn Beirut.
  7. Addicted to reading: anything of depth.
  8. Top spot on your goals list: finding inner peace. I fear that might also be the day I stop writing.
  9. If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: The nameless English patient in Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient.
  10. The best thing about being a wordsmith: the ability to reach across and touch people’s lives.