Write the World Competition!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

I'm super excited to be judging a short story competition for Write the World this month! It's an awesome website for young writers to get inspired, connect with other young writers and get feedback on their work!

It's open to writers aged from 13 to 18, and the best entry wins $100 and their story featured on the Write the World website. All you have to do is write a friendship narrative of 400-1,000 words. If you submit your draft by February 8, you get feedback, with final submissions due February 16. So get to it!

For more details, and to enter, check out the Write the World website.

Six Practical Tips for Writing a Long Series: Guest Post by Y. K. Willemse

Thursday, February 4, 2016

I'm bringing you a guest post today from 22-year-old New Zealand author Y. K. Willemse! Her debut novel, Rafen, was published in 2015, the first of the Fledgling Account series, so I thought it would be awesome to hear her thoughts on writing such an expansive fantasy series. I hope you enjoy reading her insights and advice, and are inspired and encouraged if you're keen to write a series of your own!

--

When I was six years old, I decided I was going to be an author. I anticipated that by the time I reached twelve, I would have twenty-two books published. When I was ten, I realised I better get started, so I began writing my first book. I had planned to write a series of seven. At age twenty-two, here I am, still going, at last having started on my seventh book. 2015 saw the publication of my first four books by Permuted Press, an offshoot of Simon and Schuster. After signing the contract just shy of twenty-one, I decided I better get ahead. Hence, I wrote books five and six before all the editing revisions for books one to four kicked in.


I’ve discovered that writing a series is so much harder than my six-year-old self ever thought. Here are some things that people never told me:
  1. You will struggle to write the first page every time.
  2. You will eat ridiculous amounts of chocolate and drink way too much coffee.
  3. ’Most everyone who knows you will think you insane.
  4. After you’ve managed book one, you will wonder if you can ever do that again.
  5. Each subsequent book is a harder push, a bigger effort.
  6. You’ll grow immensely, but sometimes only the people in your head notice. But you yourself: you will never be the same.
Just like very few people tell you how to get a book published, very few people offer tips on how to write a series. Hence, I want to give you a few simple points to help you in your journey to write your series, your own magnum opus.

  1. Let that main character drive it.
How does your protagonist grow? What does he want? How do his desires change and mature? If you have a villain, what does he/she want? How do his desires change and become more informed? In a saga, often two characters will be pitted against each other. Their conflict will shape the series. At the very least, your main character will drive each volume by what they want and by what they do. Don’t let your main character become boring, otherwise there’ll be no point writing.

  1. Go with the passion.
If you are not passionate about something, you will struggle to write an essay about it. You will certainly not manage a series. Make sure whatever you are writing, you are highly passionate about it – so passionate that it always seems new. I’ve been working on The Fledgling Account for over a decade, and I’m still excited about it.

  1. Keep writing.
Your passion will ebb away pretty quickly if you’re not feeding it. Read books that inspire you. Watch films that get you thinking. And above all, keep writing. Don’t stop just when your inspiration seems to, because pretty soon, you will have no passion either. A writer has to outlive their inspiration. Be disciplined. Have weekly goals and meet them. It’s easy to get lost on a massive series. Take each day a step at a time and make sure that writing happens.

  1. Keep notes.
Writing a series can get very confusing. You’ll need synopsises of each novel and you’ll certainly need notes on where each book finished off. I always make sure I’ve worked out the date, the season, and everybody’s ages at the end of one book. Then I start a new document and paste all that information at the start of the next book for reference. This means I don’t completely lose my mind when I start the next volume.

  1. Push yourself.
Getting a contract is a wonderful motivation. Don’t wait too long before you try this. Once your first book is in excellent shape, start querying agents or publishers. My previous agent sold the rights to my first four books. She hinted that she wanted to try something like this, so during the time she was querying publishers, I wrote the next three books in the series. I’m glad I did. Push yourself. Aim high. Give yourself a reason to finish. If this doesn’t work, let friends and family read your book. When they start pestering you for a sequel, it will be a good impetus for you.

  1. Don’t give up.
This is a basic, but it can’t be overestimated. Sometimes all one can do is keep holding on, even when it feels like there is no reason to do so. Keep ticking your boxes. Keep doing the daily write. Keep trying to inspire yourself, even if it feels like nothing is working. Sometimes your best work is the result of hard times. One day, you will see the purpose for your travails. There are times when you see that you just won’t see it today. I’m a Christian, so prayer was a huge thing for me. I prayed to the Lord with words of Psalm 90: “Establish the work of our hands, O Lord. Yes, establish the work of our hands”. Don’t give up.

Six points to help you with the writing of a series. Six tips that will keep you holding on. Hang in there. I want to see your books on the shelves.

--

Thank you, Yvette! You can find Y. K. Willemse's The Fledgling Account series at Amazon and Book Depository, and find out more about the author on Goodreads and at her website, writersanctuary.net.

The ACT Secondary Schools Writing Prize 2016

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I'm thrilled to be a judge of the inaugural ACT Secondary Schools Writing Prize, alongside the amazing Simmone Howell and Zoya Patel.

Entry is open to female-identifying students who attend secondary school in the ACT, for a piece of fiction or creative non-fiction of less than a 1000 words that's a response to the stimulus you can find on Noted's website.

The awesome people at the Stella Prize and Noted Festival are behind the prize, and the winner will receive a certificate and book pack (!) as well as their entry being published in The Canberra Times (!!).

Entries close on the 19th February, so get to entering if you're eligible! For more information and to enter, head to the Noted Festival website.

May Gibbs Fellowship!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I'm thrilled to have been awarded a May Gibbs Creative Time Fellowship for 2016!

I'll be spending a month in Adelaide later in the year developing a new novel. I'll also spend a week while I'm there speaking at Seymour College.

I have never been to Adelaide, so that's very exciting for me, and a month of concentrated writing time will be brilliant. I'm very much looking forward to it.

Here's the list of this year's fellows and their projects. Huge thanks are due to the May Gibbs Children's Literature Trust, who are amazing in their support of Australian children's authors.

Stella Sparks!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Stella Prize, for which I am thrilled to be a Schools Ambassador in Queensland, today announced their Stella Sparks campaign.

The Stella Prize is a major literary award celebrating Australian women’s writing, and championing diversity and cultural change. It also seeks to provide role models for schoolgirls and emerging female writers, and bring more readers to books by women. It's just all-around excellent.

You can become a Stella Spark by donating to help support the Stella Prize to celebrate Australian women writers. Apart from warm, fuzzy feelings, there are lots more good reasons to donate - check out their website for the details.

You can also share your own #StellaSpark: "a book by an Australian woman that struck a spark for you, igniting ideas, creativity and a passion for great writing. Take a photo of your Stella Spark book or share the story of why you chose it across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag #StellaSpark."

It's an awesome campaign. (My main struggle is picking just one inspiring book by an Australian woman writer.) For more information and to take part, check out their website.

Laurinda by Alice Pung

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Laurinda is an exclusive school for girls. At its secret core is the Cabinet, a trio of girls who wield power over their classmates - and some of their teachers.

Entering this world of wealth and secrets is Lucy Lam, a scholarship girl with sharp eyes and a shaky sense of self. As she watches the Cabinet at work, and is courted by them, Lucy finds herself in a battle for her identity and integrity. 

Funny, feisty and moving, Laurinda explores Lucy’s struggle to stay true to herself as she finds her way in a new world of privilege and opportunity.

Laurinda read more like a memoir than a novel, particularly when it came to Lucy's family and home and the suburb where she lives. I mean this in the best way possible: it felt real. I felt totally transported into her life. I loved her Mum and her Dad and her baby brother, and her working class suburb, and her hilarious friends (pre-Laurinda). Like Fiona Wood's CloudwishLaurinda is about an Asian-Australian girl on a scholarship at a prestigious private school negotiating various relationships and working out who she is and where she fits in. I love and recommend both but if you want to read something romantic with a touch of magic, Cloudwish is the go. If you want something entirely of-our-world (and more centred on private-school hierarchies and the dynamics between young women), read Laurinda.

Laurinda focuses on Lucy finding her place at the eponymous school, and a big part of that is dealing with the manipulative Cabinet, a group of girls who effectively own Laurinda. Lucy is an endearing and likeable protagonist who finds herself in an incredibly privileged environment, dealing with huge pressures and expectations from family, her community and her school. The Cabinet are borderline-evil, and do some horrific things (I cringed), but are always believably depicted. Having not attended any exclusive schools for girls, I don't have the personal experience to say whether Lucy's experiences at Laurinda are representative of reality, but they certainly seemed authentic.

There is a preponderance in this novel towards big sudden realisations, and the amount of insight Lucy has into the dynamics within her school and among her peers is perhaps difficult to imagine a teenager in the midst of it all actually having; it reads like the viewpoint of an adult looking back on it all with the benefit of hindsight. However, this didn't take away from the authenticity of the novel nor my enjoyment of it. Lucy, as an outsider, has a perspective of Laurinda, its students and its teachers that those more accustomed to and embedded in the environment simply do not have - people with privilege (of all kinds) just don't have to think about things from the point of view of those without. (I found a scene where the Cabinet and their mothers invite Lucy over to make rice paper rolls especially reflective of this.)

This was one of my favourite novels of 2015. I would recommend Laurinda to all readers of contemporary YA, especially those who want a break from romance-centred stories. Laurinda is engaging and genuine and hopeful without being sentimental. It's one of the realest YA novels I've read in recent memory, just a really gorgeous coming-of-age story, and one that I think every young person who has ever felt like an outsider will relate to.

Laurinda on the publisher's website.

Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

For Vân Uoc Phan, fantasies fell into two categories: nourishing, or pointless. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, for example? Pointless. It always left her feeling sick, as though she'd eaten too much sugar.

Vân Uoc doesn't believe in fairies, zombies, vampires, Father Christmas - or magic wishes. She believes in keeping a low profile: real life will start when school finishes.

But when she attracts the attention of Billy Gardiner, she finds herself in an unwelcome spotlight.

Not even Jane Eyre can help her now.

Wishes were not a thing.
They were not.
Correction.
Wishes were a thing.
Wishes that came true were sometimes a thing.
Wishes that came true because of magic were not a thing!

Were they?

I read Cloudwish immediately after I read Alice Pung's Laurinda, which happened entirely by accident and was possibly a bad thing, because they were similar enough that I was constantly making comparisons as I read Cloudwish. Both novels about ridiculously smart girls attending private schools on scholarships, growing up Asian in Australia, acting as go-betweens for their migrant parents and the wider world, and working out their identities in the weird, complex realm of their schools. The similarity between these two novels diverges at the point where magic gets involved in Cloudwish.

The fact that a magical wish is so central to the plot of Cloudwish made it unreal; Laurinda was entirely of our world, which made it feel wholly authentic. So while I'd recommend both novels (and I am writing a review of Laurinda, so I won't go into too much detail about it here), Cloudwish is for readers after a more enchanting, romantic story, while Laurinda is more realistic. That said, Cloudwish does deal with real-world issues with a lot of tact and thoughtfulness (including asylum seekers), so it's more wonderful contemporary YA plus a bit of the unreal.

Cloudwish occurs in the same universe as Fiona Wood's two previous novels, Six Impossible Things and Wildlife; Vân Uoc attends Crowthorne Grammar, and familiar characters appear in this novel. You will of course love it if you enjoyed either of Wood's previous novels. Vân Uoc is a wonderful narrator. She is strong and smart and fierce. She was especially engaging in the sequences written in first-person; while most of the novel is written in third, I felt a little distant from her at times (especially because she is so smart).

I loved reading about a character who is Vietnamese-Australian, and the depiction of her family life, particularly her relationship with her mother, felt honest throughout. One of the most wonderful things about fiction is being able to read about people different from yourself, and to learn and empathise, and obviously this isn't possible if you're a middle-class white kid reading about middle-class white kids all the time. I would love to see more novels that represent how multicultural Australia actually is, and feature non-white protagonists.

I did not find Billy Gardiner an especially compelling love interest (you are way too good for him, Vân Uoc!), but found the exploration of their relationship engaging. It's different to how many relationships are drawn in YA fiction; it had a definite realism to it, despite the fact it was based off a magic wish. The complexity of socio-economic and cultural differences between them was well-depicted.

Cloudwish is a beautiful novel. The sort that makes you feel a little demoralised because you know you'll never write a novel so good. And by you I mean me. It's a romantic, magical, heart-warming contemporary YA, that's still real and down-to-earth. It's about identity and finding your place and accepting that good things can just happen. It's just really, really lovely.

('Cloudwish' keeps auto-correcting to 'Cloddish'... which makes no sense. When do I ever need to use the word 'Cloddish'? Now I've looked at the word Cloddish, I mean Cloudwish, so many times that it makes absolutely no sense and the letters 'ou' seem very strange to me.)

Cloudwish on the publisher's website.
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