Mother

Mother is a psychological horror inspired by:

… a notorious Adelaide Hills firebug who was sentenced to 13 years prison in 2007 for the deliberate lighting of 21 fires around the town of Harrogate using customised mosquito coils.

$7000 damage was done to fencing and the largest blaze blackened 180ha of land. Residents describe the year before her arrest as a period of terror.

Links to news reports: The Australian, ABC, Adelaide Now,

My partner was witness to one of these fires at his family home in Oakbank. He remembers waking up during the night and seeing the fire at the end of the driveway to the property. During interviews with the CFS and the police, he learnt the incident was one in a long string of suspicious fires intentionally lit that summer.

It was believed, at first, that the culprit was male and from Harrogate. Many meetings were called by the local town council to discuss and condemn the terrorising actions of this individual.

The incidents became so serious that locals took to taking shifts, sitting in their cars and monitoring the entry to the town and recording suspicious vehicles passing through.

When White, loving mother of two and one of the most vocal advocates for catching the perpetrator during this time, was convicted, it sent shock waves through the community.

White told the court she had been suffering from post-traumatic stress due to an incident in her childhood, post-natal depression and anxiety.

She remembered watching the blazes but didn’t remember lighting the fires.

She was released on bail in 2016.

 

[excerpt]

 

Mother didn’t bother finding out my sex, so sure she was that I was a boy. ‘Gave a kick like a ginger hare in a ferret’s mouth,’ she told me once at Christmas, saluting with her empty scotch tumbler. ‘Near broke me ribs.’ As she laughed, the smoke from her Winnie Blues choked the tiny square space of kitchen.

Mosquitoes, a black storm cloud of them, rush the porch, blocking moonlight, wings beating a sound like static, angry humming becoming murderously loud. Once inside, I can hear the pebble bulk of their bodies battering the windows and doors, catching on the thin wire mesh of the fly screen.

‘There’s something wrong with my baby,” I say.

ISLAND 155 2018 COVER noBarcode LRG

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Leaden Heart

My mother grew up in Hobart before moving to Adelaide as a teenager. During a very special trip to Tasmania with my partner last year, I got to visit my mother’s old neighbourhood and home as well as experience some of the most beautiful Australian landscapes, wine, food and festivities (such as the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race).

We also made a day trip to Port Arthur, infamous convict penitentiary for some of the hardest criminals of the 19th Century, and also the site of more recent tragedy (Port Arthur Massacre, 1996). I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the natural surrounds, juxtaposed against the stories of horror and brutality that had been experienced there.

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This short story was inspired by this spirit of place, and

…the infamous escape attempt of George ‘Billy’ Hunt, travelling actor and self-proclaimed ‘mad man’, who tried to jump across Eaglehawk Neck to freedom in the the carcass of a kangaroo.

[excerpt]

The crack of the whip cut the frosty dawn, sending feverish shivers along the lines of sleeping men. Exhaustion kept them at a doze, although the sound pierced their flesh and settled in their bones. They had all endured the whip—but none had seen it ring so many times and with such ferocity as they did now…

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NYWF – Implementing Professional Advice and Feedback

Interpreting and implementing Professional Advice and Feedback­

*Fact sheet prepared for National Young Writers Festival, Sydney, September 2016

Downloadable PDF

Reading is highly subjective and so finding the right set of eyes to give feedback on a new piece of writing can be both instructive and detrimental, making the process of interpreting and implementing feedback daunting for any writer.

Listed below are sources of feedback a writer might expect to receive:

Writing mentor:

One of the most valuable and accurate sources of feedback can come from a writing mentor (see blog post ‘Professional Mentorships’ for more information on sourcing a mentorship). This process guarantees personalised and targeted feedback from a professional in the field who may be working in a similar style and genre for a target audience. Forms of feedback can include industry, structural, copy or proof as well as general personal support (as outlined in next section).

In-house editor / publisher / agent:

If you’re at the stage where you have gained the attention of an in-house editor or publisher, some agents and publishers will request a ‘revise and submit’ from an author before signing them. This is as much to identify how well an author receives feedback as it is to determine how successfully they can integrate that feedback into their manuscript.

Critique partner / critique group / beta-readers:

This is a great way to ‘cast the net wide’ and collect the opinions of a sample of readers. Sometimes the collective opinions of a group can help a writer better identify any weaknesses / trends in their work. Formal critique partners can be sourced through most writing institutions such as state writing centres, Australian Society of Authors and through writing memberships such as Romance Writers of Australia.

Freelance Editor:

Freelance feedback services are available from most writing institutions (State Writers Centres, Australian Society of Authors) and come at a cost. Rates vary depending on the editor and the type of service (structural or other). The South Australian ‘Society of Editors’ has a list of registered editors on their website and the kinds of services they offer. Registered means that each editor has undergone and passed state standards to receive qualification. http://www.editors-sa.org.au/

Manuscript assessment services:

Manuscript assessment is usually a combination of industry, structural, copy advice on a manuscript, with a focus on the big-picture—content, voice, tone, style, plot pace, characterisation, setting, dialogue, market, audience, theme. More on these categories outlined below.

Types of advice that may be contracted or received:

Industry advice:

  • Will the story idea appeal to the market in which it’s intended?
  • Does the story idea identify a target audience in tone, theme, voice, plot, character?
  • Does the story idea hold its own in the current marketplace? (Has it been overdone? Does it offer something new? Is it following a trend?)

Structural advice:

  • How does the work read as a whole?
  • Are events logical and consistent?
  • Are there any obvious plot holes?
  • Does the world/setting/characters work? Do the characters and relationships work?
  • Does the book begin/end in a satisfactory manner?
  • Does the author’s choice of tense and voice work?

Copy advice:

  • Is spelling, grammar consistent and accurate?

Personal advice:

  • Personal advice, usually given in an informal fashion (through mentorships, discussion panels). May include advice on how to handle rejection, stress, career pressures. This can be just as important as craft, industry and career advice to some writers.

Some thoughts on interpreting and implementing feedback

It is important to be open to feedback in order to learn and improve. However, being too influenced by feedback, or making uninformed changes based on mixed feedback can confuse and water down the intended effect of a particular work. It is important to develop a strong sense of intention before approaching feedback so that subjective opinion may be strategically and implemented or considered and, sometimes, disregarded.

Remember, as Neil Gaiman stated:

“…when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/477087-remember-when-people-tell-you-something-s-wrong-or-doesn-t-work

Hachette Mentoring Program Announcement!

I’m so stoked to be able to finally spill the beans. I’ve been chosen as a joint recipient of SA Writers Centre’s 2015 Hachette Mentoring Program alongside writer friend, Rose Hartley for my YA speculative fiction manuscript tentatively entitled Gold. Here’s what ran through my head after finding out the news. *See SA Writers Centre Press Release for full article.

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“When I found out I’d be commencing a mentorship with Sophie Hamley from Hachette, I spent a good hour just hyperventilating from excitement. It was clear that this could be the most important learning opportunity in my writing journey so far.

To me, writing has always been a solitary process – highly creative, subjective, and extremely hard to contextualise within the realities of the publishing industry. Who’s my market audience? What’s my brand? These are not typically the questions running through my mind while I’m at home, alone, lost in a fantasy world, shooting my characters with ice arrows.

But the more I’ve learnt about writing and reading, the more I’ve come to realise that craft and industry go hand-in-hand. Sometimes the difference between a highly ‘creative person’ and a ‘novelist’ can be the mere integration of these two skills. This is why the chance to work with an industry professional from an established brand with a target audience in mind will be invaluable to my learning. It will give me the clarity and confidence to take my writing to a new level and bring me one step closer to my goal of sharing my stories real-life readers.

I can’t thank SA Writers Centre, Sophie Hamley and Hachette enough for this invaluable opportunity. It’s safe to say I’ve never been so eager to work so hard!”

17 Questions a Publisher Might Ask of your Novel at a Pitching Session!

From the 24th to the 26th of July 2015, I was lucky enough to attend SA Writers Centre’s ‘Pitch Conference’ – an intensive three days of pitch workshops and 5 minute pitch sessions with publishers. It was the first time the conference was held in Adelaide and was made possible by the tireless work of SA Writers Centre staff including Director, Sarah Tooth and program director, Bethany Clark and funding bodies such as Arts SA.

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Attendance was stellar and included the likes of Tim Tomlinson, President of New York Writers Workshop where the conference first began, and Australian publishers such as Kate Blake (Penguin), Sophie Hamley (Hachette), Meredith Curnow (Random House), Roberta Ivers (Simon and Schuster), Angus Fontaine (Pan Macmillan).

It was an extremely successful event with 27 out of 42 participants receiving requests from publishers and a total of 44 manuscripts being requested (some by multiple publishers). It was an invaluable opportunity for Adelaide writers to pitch their manuscripts directly to interstate publishers.

Here are some of the questions the publishers asked:

  1. Does your book have a central question / theme?
  2. What are some comparison titles?
  3. What are some comparison titles from Australian writers?
  4. Where did you set the book? Where would you imagine it being set? Why?
  5. Can you speak to broader concerns relating to the current political landscape of your novel?
  6. Main attraction of your book? Why would a reader gravitate to it?
  7. Is there a love interest? What’s the pacing of the romance?
  8. What’s the pacing of the story like? Backstory – journey – main conflict – resolution? How long does it take to get to the journey?
  9. Where did you get your inspiration from?
  10. What was your writing process in coming up with this story?
  11. Plot-driven or character driven? Why?
  12. Is there more than one main character? If so, how did you separate the voices?
  13. In what POV / tense is your novel written?
  14. What is the turning point of the novel?
  15. What are you willing to do to assist with selling your book?
  16. Why would our book be interesting to women? (Women make up 70% of market in terms of readers).
  17. Have you been published before? If not, what have you done to improve your writing?

Extra tips (nuggets of gold)

  • Answer the publisher’s questions as succinctly as possible. Don’t give convoluted answers or a scene-by-scene run-down of what happens in the novel.
  • Use buzzwords and punchy adjectives. Write your pitch in an active voice.
  • Use language that connects with the mood/tone of book’s world but make sure it’s not in the book’s prose.