Day 8: I used to Know That – General Science

By Marianne Taylor


I often have to check facts about things I either never knew or have forgotten. This book is a simple cheat’s guide to physics (never knew), chemistry (new a little) and biology ( loved, but it’s changed a bit in many fields , like genetics). I keep it on my office shelf so that when I need to know which law of thermodynamics, or how does photosynthesis work, again it’s right there. I can check it in a minute.

I hate pseudoscience, and there’s so much of it around, from anti-vaccination to detox diets, homeopathy to climate change denial. I want to be able to spot it – and help stamp it out. Because, as the book says, ‘being able to understand how science works is one of the best things about being human.’

Day 6: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published

How to write it, sell it and market it…successfully!

By Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry



This expert guide to getting your book out there is packed with helpful information for new writers, would-be writers and those who have already published. The authors are simultaneously editors, literary agents and published writers. The first edition was published in 2005. This one, updated in 2015, takes the huge shifts that happened in the industry in those 10 years into account and includes ebooks and how to deal with social media. Although it’s written for the American market, most of it applies to publishing in Australia too.

The guide pinpoints what I aim to do for my writer clients to help them to get their work into shape to submit to publishers or for self-publishing. Read about the levels of edit most professional editors offer here.

“Outside editors, a.k.a. book doctors, diagnose, treat and help you fix your book.”

One of the book’s strengths – and there are many – is that it has sound advice no matter what you want to publish, from cookbook to potboiler, business manual to poetry volume. It’s not a writing manual (I’ll deal with those next week), but a practical (and pragmatic) how-to.

Publishing success comes from four basic principles:

  1. Research. Not just your subject matter, but what else is out there and who might publish your book. Do this and … your odds of getting published will go from nearly nil to extremely decent
  2. Network. Use your people skills to find the right publisher, create buzz, reach your readers and sell books. I believe this has become critical for successful publishing. The days of the cloistered author are well and truly over.
  3. Write. While this seems obvious, the authors say it’s the one thing published writers told them over and over. Get your ideas down on paper and keep at it.
  4. Persevere. You will have to deal with rejection. Probably a lot of rejection. As the authors say, ‘please, don’t quit five minutes before the miracle’.

Day 5: The (Mellifluous) Book of Hard Words

by David Bramwell



Mel-IF-floo-us: (of sounds) sweetly smooth. Literally means ‘flows like honey’. From the Latin.

I bought this one on a discount table in a shopping mall, to read on the train. Surely I could learn all four words I didn’t already know before my journey’s end? Truthfully, at least half of the words were new to me. And even for those I knew, reading about their etymology and examining the diagrams explaining where each word originated was interesting enough to ensured I missed my stop.

The book has one word per page, plenty of visuals, and is graded into hard, harder and hardest words. It’s certainly no substitute for a good dictionary. In truth, I can only imagine using most of these words satirically. In my everyday writing I’m more likely to say ‘Bruce Springsteen has a perfectly formed rear’ than ‘The Boss is callipygian’ (from the Greek kallos (beautiful) plus pyge (buttocks)). If a client describes their novel’s main character as orthostatic, I might gently suggest ‘upright’ or ‘standing tall’ would resonate better with their readers.

The Book of Hard Words is perfect for dipping into; for those moments when you should be working but you’re ‘doing research’,  and for when your internet is down. Or for when you are on a transpontine hibernacle.

Day 3: Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen

by Mary Norris


I bought this one because a copy editor wrote a 200+ page book and it made the New York Times bestseller list. And because through it I learned that there is an Apostrophe Protection Society with a really ugly website and a chairman.

Mary Norris is a copy editor with The New Yorker, and has worked there since 1978. She turns her vast, enviable experience into a funny and fascinating encounter with language. In her investigation of why Moby-Dick is hyphenated, she describes ‘…that immortal hyphen, stuck like a harpoon in Melville’s famous title…’. She has a whole chapter devoted to profanity, called F*ck This Sh*t. Sometimes you need to know how to handle that stuff.

I love her approach to language: precise, but not pedantic. I learnt so much about the origins or words, the uses of various arcane punctuation marks, and what a dream job working at The New Yorker is, and had a whole lot of fun doing it.

PS: Her new book, Greek to Me  will be published in April.

Day 2: A World Without ‘Whom’

by Emmy J. Favilla



I bought this one because I’m a little obsessed with style guides. A World Without ‘Whom’ was created for BuzzFeed to reflect our ever-changing use of language, and that it’s changing possibly more rapidly than ever before. (I also promised to report on how I went with it after the first two chapters back here.)

I was pleased that Chapter 3 deals with Getting Things Right, important stuff like not using the wrong word or abandoning clarity. Chapter 4, How to Not Be a Jerk, deals with sensitive topics, with a handy A to Z list. It’s there to guide you to using inclusive language.

The chapter How Social Media has Changed the Game is the core of the book. It’s here that you really get why we needed another style guide There’s a handy world list and some fun quiz questions at the end to check if you know your gardyloos form your bumfuzzle.

A World Without ‘Whom’ is a great reference for editors and writers who work in social media, particularly those for who(m) millennials are the target audience. For the rest, it’s an entertaining read that offers practical insight into how language is always changing. Favilla so clearly loves language, and her love is contagious.

Book-a-day February

Every day in February I will write about one book. I will write about why I  bought it, and why I’m not going to get rid of it any time soon.

Day 1: The Art of Reading
by Damon Young

I first came across this book while editing a client’s work, and revisited it recently when I proofread the final manuscript. Christopher Smith has written an amazing book about the power of reading, called The Reading Ripple Effect. It’s in the process of being submitted to publishers, so watch this space!

Christopher runs Shared Reading NSW, which runs reading groups that are ‘a relaxed space for people to read a short story, poem or part of a book aloud, reflect and then discuss it’.

In The Art of Reading, Philosopher Damon Young argues that excellent reading is not valued as much as fine writing and, with a lot of reference to his own reading, makes the case for the reader’s power ‘to turn shapes on a page into a lifelong adventure.’

It’s published by Melbourne University Press, recently in the news because its chief executive, Louise Adler, and five board members, including former NSW Premier Bob Carr and former human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs, resigned because the university announced it was no longer going to publish books for a general readership.

February will be my book-a-day month

 

I buy a lot of books – definitely more than I read.  I know that  Marie Kondo  has said we  should only keep 30 books (or did she?),  but for me that is clearly impossible.  I looked at the piles on top of piles, the stacks on top of bookshelves, and had the idea that every day in February I will post about one book. I will write about why I  bought it, and why I’m not going to get rid of it any time soon.

I’m not going to include novels or other forms of reading that are’ just for fun’. I’ll only be  including books that I have bought with a professional writing or editing  goal in mind.  I might also add in a couple from the library because I love borrowing from libraries too.

The Day We Built the Bridge

 

Children’s picture book   Written by Samantha Tidy    Illustrated by Fiona Burrows

My son was about 10 and we were crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge by train. ‘We’re so lucky to be on a world-famous landmark’, he said. We were, and we were privileged to be able to see its distinctive arch most days from the corner of the street behind our road. Now that he’s an adult, he realises that growing up so close to this iconic structure  was a huge privilege.

Samantha Tidy and Fiona Burrows have captured the outlines of the story of building the Sydney Harbour Bridge through the eyes of a child, from the need in 1890 , the idea, to the construction and finally to the cutting of the ribbon in 1932. The text is sparing, and just as the bridge’s two sides curved across the harbour to create connection, the words come together with the illustrations to tell a story of need, idea, effort, dreams, longing, striving and achievement.

The hardcover book is beautiful to hold and the illustrations are filled with detail that slowly reveals itself, from the endpapers illustrated with native flowers to the period posters for Arnott’s biscuits and Koala tea. It’s a lovely book for sharing with children in your life and will appeal to a wide age range, including children older than the traditional picture book reader. The book is a good spur for family discussions about a range of topics, from history, the First World War and construction methods used in the 1920s, to the place of dreams, needs, effort, achievement and celebration in our lives.

Publication date is 1 February 2019, and you will find teachers’ notes and be able to order signed copies at samanthatidy.com.

 

Great news – John Hockney’s memoir to be published in 2019

I’m delighted that an author with whom I have worked this year has been signed up by publisher Legend Press. John Hockney’s memoir is to be published in mid-2019. I was honoured to edit it before submission. It’s a very satisfying aspect of my work to help writers  get their book published.  Legend Press includes top Australian writers Mark Brandi and Alice Pung on its list.

John is a professional storyteller and helps others to write their life stories. I met him at a wonderful workshop he ran in the Blue Mountains and went on to work with him on his book before he submitted it for publication. That it took only a couple of months before it was snapped up is testament to what  a great story he has told.

John Hockney: storyteller

Before I did his workshop ‘Your Life – Your Story’,  I heard John talk about life with his brother, world-renowned artist David Hockney. David’s exhibition Words & Pictures opened at Blue Mountains City Art Gallery in October 2017. I remember thinking, ‘He should write a book’.

John Hockney tells his story going back two generations. His grandfather was a founding member of the Salvation Army in Bradford in England’s industrial north. His grandmother would made him a cup of cocoa with whole milk – not the watered-down variety he had at home – after he had dragged home her shopping in his billycart.

You would expect that the world-famous artist David might dominate the book, but John gives every member of his brilliant and eccentric family their due.  His father, who liked to wear brightly coloured stick-on dots on his bow tie, was always true to his moral compass. His sister Margaret produced an art work of a squid squashed on her scanner. It was accepted in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. The theme that they never worried what the neighbours think runs thorough the book.

With his closely observed detail and exceptional storytelling,  John Hockney combines the two essentials of memoir or autobiography: have a great story to tell and write it well. It’s often funny and always honest and true. My understanding of what life was like in  post-war Britain was so enriched,. My appreciation of what it means to be part of a family – in all its crazy complexity – was deepened immeasurably.

Watch this space for more closer to the publication date.

8 things an award-winning author can teach you about being a writer

Mark Brandi is the author of the award-winning novel Wimmera, described by one reviewer as ‘a dark and disturbing story from a substantial new talent’. It’s both a crime thriller and a coming of age story, set in rural Victoria. Recently he discussed what it’s like to be an author at a wonderfully relaxed session at Varuna the Writer’s House in the Blue Mountains.

Picture of cover of Wimmera by Mark Brandi

Wimmera by Mark Brandi

1. It’s true: write what you know.

This maxim holds if you want your work to be the best it can be. Wimmera’s closely observed reflection of small-town life feels all the more real because the author grew up in rural Victoria. He captures both how free this life is for kids, who can go yabbying and stay out until dark; and how claustrophobic it is for adults when the world closes in on them. He also draws on his experience in the criminal justice system as an advisor to the police minister, and the experience of his three brothers, all of whom work in the police and justice system. But remember, you don’t have to have experienced every single thing you write about either.

2. Find a way – and it might be unconventional.

Mark gave up a full-time job as a policy advisor, enrolled in a writing course and – wait for it – WON $50,000 ON MILLIONAIRE HOTSEAT!* And by guessing the final answer! He could have ignored the entry form his brother sent him, but instead, without telling anybody, he applied for this most unlikely source of literary funding for his new life as an author. He doesn’t suggest you give up your day job, but the point is to make it happen if you’re serious about being an author. Find an hour a day or a couple of hours at the weekend. Join that writer’s group. Apply for those residencies that will give you some time out to focus on your writing.

3. Use the support and inspiration that’s out there.

Attend courses and writer’s festivals. Take a look at everything Varuna has to offer, from one-off events to fellowships. Two residential fellowships at Varuna helped Mark to develop the manuscript for Wimmera. Join Writing NSW. See what the Australian Writers Centre has on offer.

4. You can start with a short story.

Mark’s book began as a short story called To Skin a Rabbit (click to listen to the RN audio version).  Two of the main characters in the novel continued to haunt him after he had written the short story. He pursued them, and Wimmera is the result. Often aspiring writers are told to focus on either novels or short stories as their demands are so different. Break the rule. If finishing a short story will inspire you to get that novel out, go for it!

5. Enter competitions and awards.

If nothing else, it will give you the discipline to work to deadlines and get your writing finished. You may even win! Plus, you will attract interest from publishers if you are shortlisted. When Mark won the 2016 Debut Dagger, publishers contacted him. But…

6. Get used to rejection.

Don’t take it personally. Use any feedback you get to learn and to improve your writing. Mark submitted his book to different publishers and programs and got plenty of what he described as ‘nice rejections’. Some of them contained useful feedback, which he took into account as he reworked Wimmera. Instead of regarding rejection letters as negative, consider what they have to say and try to act on the feedback. Publishers may say no for a range of reasons, and many of them have nothing to do with the quality of your work. Keep going.

7. Enjoy the editing process.

I know, it can feel a bit like the teacher got out her red pen and pointed out all your errors, but editors bring perspective and loads of experience to your work as well as fixing your grammar and punctuation. Mark described how an editor researched and corrected details in a scene in which he described a cricket match on TV in the background to a scene in Wimmera. You can be sure one reader will be an expert in almost anything you write about and errors undermine the quality and credibility of an author’s writing. I recently read a book which had the name of one of my uni mates spelled incorrectly. It’s not hard to check that. My reaction was to wonder what else in the book was inaccurate. A good editor will fact check everything as well as look at the broad scope of your work, switching between a sweeping overview and a microscopic focus on detail

8. Revel in being an outsider and an introvert, if that’s what you are.

Mark was from the only Italian family in town. School was tough and he was bullied and excluded. But, as he said it, the excluded tend to be sharp and thoughtful observers. Use what you see and hear around you every day to inform your characters and your stories. Mark does this so well, conveying how children cannot and do not understand adult motivations, how the adult world is inscrutable to his characters in boyhood, and using this point of view to drive the narrative in Wimmera.

Varuna The Writers' House in Katoomba

Varuna Writers’ House

I learned so much from Mark Brandi’s generous sharing of his experience at Varuna’s Open House Day. There were other sessions, including one that explained Varuna’s programs and included a speaker from the Australia Council who fund writers and writers’ organisations. Above all, it inspired me to stop dreaming get back to my desk and write. I hope these 8 tips help you do the same.

*Writer Melissa Lukashenko also won big on Millionaire Hotseat. Read about it here.