Day 16: Maths in Minutes

200 Key concepts explained in an instant

By Paul Glendinning


I don’t think I’m unique among writers and editors in being pretty average when it comes to numbers and all things mathematical. I like this chunky little book because it has entries on Monstrous Moonshine (surely a terrible drink from the prohibition era?) and the barber paradox (which exposes the flaws in elementary set theory). Also because for the first time I have an inkling what trigonometry is.

This is a handy reference for brushing up on the basics and checking that mathematical terms in anything I’m editing are correct. It’s arranged starting from the basics (numbers, sets, geometry) and moves on to the more mind-blowing (matrices, topology). So a systematic working through would allow you to nod knowingly at a mathematicians’ convention morning tea.

The author pours cold water on my sense of enlightenment. ‘Only a lunatic would pretend that all mathematics could be presented in 200 bite-sized chunks’, he says. Be that as it may, Maths in Minutes is enough for most of us.

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 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.

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.

Editing, learning and reading

Editing has taken a back seat for a few months, but now I’m up and running again.

What I’m editing

I’m editing two memoirs: one about grief and loss, and one about a journalist’s experiences of the world at some crucial moments of change. I’ll keep you posted!

I’ve also been doing some legal editing; something I enjoy for it’s technical precision and (to me) always interesting subject matter.

What I’m learning

I’ve almost completed six weeks of the workshop Write your Story with John Hockney at the Mid-Mountains Neighbourhood Centre in Lawson. John is a writer, storyteller and facilitator, and is writing his very interesting life story. One of his brothers is acclaimed artist David Hockney, and his ancestors were some of the founders of the Salvation Army. I’ve learned so much from both him and the group, Perhaps the most important insight is that  EVERYBODY  has an interesting story to tell, and it’s all in the telling. as Dr Seuss said, ‘There is no one alive  who is Youer than you’. It’s been great to reach back into the past and grasp the stories of growing up in apartheid South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, which I’ll use as background to my novel one day.

quote from Dr Seuss

Wise words from Dr Seuss

What I’m reading

Cooktown by Andreas Heger: ‘It is a brutal and tender tale exploring male identity and toxic masculinity seen through a lens of sexuality, desire and abuse.’  – Thuy On

The Thin Time by Lisa Finn Powell . (To be honest I haven’t started this yet. I went to a fabulous workshop she gave about journalling grief, which will be very useful to me in my editing work. Lisa is an experienced journalist (among so many other things) and  it will be great to see how she tackled her own (rather devastating) story.

Think your writing doesn’t need editing? Think again!

 

Authors often pour more than their heart and soul into a book or an article. They may put their own money into a project too, especially if they self-publish or enter a partnership publishing arrangement. That’s why it’s so frustrating to see glaring  and embarrassing typos, incorrect word use and clumsy sentence structures in published books. Using a good copy editor and proofreading thoroughly are sensible investments in an author’s work, and not optional extras.

Not all editing oversights are as catastrophic as Penguin’s 2010 proofing error which left a recipe calling for ‘salt and freshly ground black people’.  The entire print run had to be pulped, at a cost of about $20,000.

And you thought spellcheck or editing software would do the job…

CBCA judges’ comments on editing

I read the judges’ comments on the 2017  Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Book of the Year for older readers. This is what they had to say:

‘… many of the books are flawed by the inclusion of the kinds of grammatical errors that are in common oral currency… There are also occasional misuses of words… all solecisms that could have been eliminated with more attentive editing.’

These are published works submitted for a prestigious award.

The judges also said, ‘… a few novels that were otherwise excellent lost their place on the Notables list through flaws in their internal logic and character consistency; these issues should be attended to by close editing…’

Use a comprehensive editing service

copy editing

Proofreading is vital

If you’re planning to submit your manuscript to a publisher, enter a competition or self-publish, it makes sense to use a professional editor. At the very least, use an experienced proofreader. If your budget can possibly extend to a copy editor, it’s a wise investment. Better still, use an editor who provides a comprehensive editing service so that your structure, content, language, style and presentation are the best they can be for your readers.

YA novel Freefalling wins CBCA award for best unpublished manuscript

Maura Pierlot is this year’s Charlotte Waring Barton Award winner

Maura was announced as the winner of this award from the Children’s Book Council of Australia (NSW Branch), which is given annually for an unpublished manuscript. Maura wins a mentorship with  a well-known children’s writer. I was at the award ceremony in Sydney, and I think I might have let out a little shout when Maura’s name was read out as the winner – she had told me she definitely wasn’t going to win.

Maura Pierlot wins award

Maura Pierlot (centre) wins the CBCA NSW award for best unpublished manuscript.

I was lucky enough to copy edit the manuscript and I’m confident that it will be snapped up by a publisher.  It’s the contemporary story of Harley:  year 10 student, friend, sister, daughter and granddaughter, and her struggles with self-image, friendship, love and acceptance. Maura writes with great insight and sensitivity about eating disorders, disloyalty and grieving in a compulsively readable way.

Last year’s winner, Danika Hall, discussed her mentorship with Jen Storer as part of a great night at the offices of HarperCollins, whose children’s division sponsors the award.

Charlotte Waring  Barton was the writer of the first published children’s book in 1841, published anonymously as A Mother’s Offering to her Children: By a Lady, Long Resident in New South Wales. But more on that later, as it’s a story in itself.

Maura has also recently published the lovely children’s picture book The Trouble in Tune Town. It would be a great Christmas present for the music loving kids in your life.