The Problems with Writers Festivals

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The sceptic in me thinks Writers Festivals are about trying to make money.  It seems to be the big push during festival event time, buying tickets to events and then buying books afterwards.

But I can’t believe it is all about publicity and selling books.

They can also be about wankery, elitism, fame and sometimes literature.

The problems with Writers Festivals are that the panels are rarely about what you think they are about.  There is a lot of loose interpretation when it comes to panel headlines, and then what is actually discussed.

No one is actually handing out advice about writing, or speaking to the audience like they are writers too.  Mostly, Writers Festival audiences are made up of writers, looking for help, tips inspiration and guidance.

Also, writers always seem to want to do readings from their book – which breaks up the flow of conversation.

Writers festivals are about talking and socialising and being amoung people – not reading out loud to people who have either read your book and therefore don’t need to hear it again, or haven’t read your book and therefore don’t want the whole thing ruined. .

So why do I keep going?  Because THE BENEFITS OF WRITERS FESTIVALS always outweigh the negative

I found myself in Melbourne looking around at the audience and realised that I was in a room full of colleagues.  Colleagues is not really a word that writers use very often as it is a solitary career path.  But here we all were, having worked remotely for the last year, we had all come home to the festival to work together for a few weeks.

And work we did.

 

How to Prepare for and Nail an Interview

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Being able to interview people is a skill.  Luckily it is a skill that, with practice, becomes almost second nature.  There is so much information to be found in people if you only knew how to ask.

It is important for writers to be able to interview people well.  Interviews are a wonderful way to get your foot in the publishing / magazine / journal door.  They are also a good way to extract information from experts and research certain topics for your fiction writing.  There is so much information to be found in people if you only knew how to ask.

Below is a list from the INTERVIEWING PANEL at the National Writers Conference, 2015, combined with advice from a number of websites and blogs and a few tips and tricks from Susannah Fraser, our Manuscrapped in-house interviewer.

Before the Interview

  • Give your subjects options and be respectful of their time let them choose what works best for them.
  • Expect the booking and pursuing of an interview subject to be time-consuming.
  • It helps having a publication behind you when you approach subjects for interviews.
  • Once you have found a subject that you wish to interview, approach their publicist.  ‘Publicists are generally good to deal with.’
  • Refer a friend. It’s not out of the question to ask your interview subject to refer a friend for an interview.  Subjects will often know someone interesting you can interview next.
  • Choosing person to interview – ask your editor first.  90% of the work will be tracking these people down.
  • Think of what an interviewee might have to offer on a larger topic.  Don’t be afraid to include news and currents events, to get their reaction to the world.  It is a wonderful way of getting an insight into how your subject views the world.  What could they teach readers, about a larger story?

Continue reading

The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

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THE SECRET KEEPER by Kate Morton

I first stumbled upon Kate Morton in the book pages of the Sydney Morning Herald.  The article was about Australia’s most sought after writer at the moment – and how I probably hadn’t heard of her.  It was right.  I hadn’t heard of her.

At the time, THE SECRET KEEPER was about to be released, and I figured I owed it to myself to get a copy, I owed it to Australia!  That was the first time I read The Secret Keeper.

Now three years later, I am reading it again.

The Blurb Copy

During a picnic at her family’s farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson witnesses a shocking crime, a crime that challenges everything she knows about her adored mother, Dorothy. Now, fifty years later, Laurel and her sisters are meeting at the farm to celebrate Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this is her last chance to discover the truth about that long-ago day, Laurel searches for answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

As Laurel refuses to let her mother pass without sharing her secret of what really happened on that day, the reader is transported back to London during World War II when Dorothy, Laurels mother was a young woman.  The tale is adventurous and thrilling, but I feel like I cannot really put too much here without spoiling the whole thing.  All I will say is that the ending is gut wrenching!

This book has one of the most well written literary openings of any book I have read, comparable to the hot air balloon scene from Ian McEwan’s ENDURING LOVE.

From there it reads like a historical drama-slash- family mystery investigation-slash-war romance.  I hate to use the cliche, but it really does have it all.  At the heart of Morton’s stories are hidden family secrets set against vast sweeping sagas.  A genre she has single-handedly revived in such a way as to make it her own.

The emerging writer, writing, readingThe first time I read this book, it completely consumed me.  I powered through the novel at a crazy pace.  The second time around, knowing what I know about the ending, I’m seeing a completely different story.

The second reading is incredibly interesting.  I’m looking back at every thread of the story, knowing they are all leading together.  It’s really beautifully written.

The Secret Keeper is an easy (addictive) read, a book you can quickly pick up and put down.  It’s hard to compare it to other writing, as it so unique.  It reminds me of so many stories and novels I have read, but at the same time, has a unique voice I haven’t heard before.

KATE MORTON

THE SECRET KEEPER was published in 2012 by Allen & Unwin in Australia.  It is Morton’s fourth novel.  It’s a big book, at nearly 600 pages, but you don’t feel the story going slowly in any way.  It’s just heavy in your arms, late at night as you find you won’t put it down.

Reading this book as an Emerging Writer, I often felt a little sick. It’s the kind of book that is soooo good, you know you could never write.  Reading this book on a bad day could be detrimental to your writing practice.  On a good day it could bring hope that Australian lady writers from Queensland are making it big right around the world.  It could go either way.

When THE SECRET KEEPER was released in 2012 it was very well received.  I remember seeing whole stands in bookstores devoted to the fourth Morton installment (not that her books are related in any way).  The marketing behind The Secret Keeper was huge, and for good reason.  Publishers knew they had a winning book and they wanted to share the love.

Kate Morton has been working hard for a long time.  When people say, it takes 10 years to become an overnight success, they are talking about writers like Morton.  “It’s been a long, hard struggle to get to this point” SMH  Kate Morton now earns Million dollar advances for her books.  But it wasn’t always the case.

Kate Morton originally wanted to become an actress.  Instead, she earned herself first-class honors for her English Literature degree at the University of Queensland, during which time she wrote two full-length manuscripts (which are unpublished).  Mortons first book was rejected by publishers, as was her second.

The third book, that would become the 2006 novel The Shifting Fog (The House at Riverton), was set aside after she had her first child, and it was during this time that her agent received an offer for the half published piece.  She finished it in a month and the book was a success.  Since then she has released a novel approximately every two and a half years.

good fiction books to read, good books, book blogs, books, book reviews, book review blogs, good fiction books, kate morton, the lake house, the lake house reviewAs an Emerging Writer, Kate Morton’s work has not only taught me about plotting, character development and tone, her career has reminded me to keep pursuing a writing career, even when it feels impossible.  As long as I am getting improving with every effort, then I am not wasting my time.

THE LAKE HOUSE was released in October 2015. It is Kate Morton’s Fifth novel – I am leaving my office now to go and buy it – Goodbye.

This House of Grief, Helen Garner

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THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF by Helen Garner.  True Australian Crime.  Recommended for 18 and over.  (Not recommended for pregnant women.)

helen garner review, this house of grief review, reviews, meghan brewster reviews, book reviews, australian writers reviewed, Australian literature review, aussie writers, book review, book reviews, book review blogsThis House of Grief is the story of a murder trial.  The book is a detailed observation of the trial of a father accused of drowning his three sons on Father’s Day.  The high-profile trial that took place in Melbourne followed the accused Robert Farquharson of drowning his three sons by driving their car into a dam and then fleeing the scene.

After a six-year break in publishing Helen Garnder is back.  I purchased my copy of THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF at the Sydney Writers Festival, after Helen Garner gave an incredible address at the Recital Hall.  It’s signed.  And I love it.

The book covers almost seven years in which the court case became HELEN GARNER‘s obsession.  She was in the courtroom every day of Farquharson’s trial and subsequent retrial, along with countless journalists and the families of both the accused and his former wife.

Garner not only documents the presentation of the evidence and the intimacy of proceedings but allows her own perception and experience to colour the telling.  Her observations are so accurate it is exciting.  Intimate and mundane, addictive and gripping.

Her ability to read people and dissect their mannerisms, body language and presence makes this book stunning.  She is an observer of the purest form, seeking out both sides of the argument, wanted to extract the truth.

THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF was published in 2014 by TEXT PUBLISHING and is Garner’s fifth work of non-fiction.

I finished the whole book in just a week, crying in public and taking it into the bathroom with me because I simply couldn’t put it down.  A week to read, quite quick really.  The question that hangs over the entire telling is the most complicated of all, did he do it?

As an emerging writer, I think the first thing you need to know about Helen Garner is that she does not have a website, she isn’t on Facebook or Instagram and she doesn’t appear to use Twitter.   She does not engage in social media at all, and yet her work and her following speak for themselves.

Sitting in the Angel Place recital hall, to a full crowd of intrigued and excited fans, Helen Gardner was an incredible force.  Her words held us all, as we leant forward, craning for more.

She is an incredible writer.  Her description and observations of people leave me in awe, with beautiful metaphors such as…

…as Morrissey took Farquharson by the hand drew him into the bombed-out rubble of the story, aiming a hose at every smoking point of doubt, my heart softened again towards the awkward, unhappy figure on the stand.

When This House os Grief was released it was shortlisted for seven writing awards in Australia, winning the Ned Kelly Awards for Crime writing for Best True Crime.

Helen Garner’s work has taught me appreciate clarity, brevity and truth.

KILL YOUR DARLINGS review of Helen Garner’s This House of Grief.

Helen Garner PODCAST from the 2015 Sydney Writers Festival, How We Write About Darkness.

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

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THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train has been on my reading list since it was published in January of this year.  The book has been likened to GONE GIRL, and was discussed with great enthusiasm at the Emerging Writers Festival in May.  Everyone seems to be talking about it.  So did this humble little fiction from the UK live up to the hype?

It’s complicated.

good fiction books to read, good books, book blogs, books, book reviews, book review blogs, good fiction books, girl on a train, the girl on the train, paula hawkins, thriller booksMeet Rachel.  Rachel is struggling to cope with the end of her marriage, stuck in the monotony of her life and consumed with thoughts and plans about alcohol.  To fill time on her daily commute, Rachel has become caught up in the lives of a seemingly ideal couple, who’s house and backyard she can see from the train.  Each day she passes the house and projects onto them the ideal life that is out of her reach.

Then one day she witnesses something that shocks her.  As the secret eats away at her, she is desperate to tell somebody what she witnessed.  She decides to act, setting off a chain of events that alter the course of many lives.

The complexity of the plotting is a gem.  The Girl on the Train is told through multiple first person narration.

In many ways, the telling is quite sophisticated.  This book is a wonderful lesson for any Emerging Writer, who may be over explaining their work.  Paula Hawkins trusts her readers to figure a lot out on their own.  It wasn’t so much a twist at the end as a slow revealing of the truth.  As time slips back and forth between 2012 and 2013, characters and events  slowly reveal themselves, as the reader pieces the plot together.

The reader remains engaged as they have to actively figure out the story.  In doing so, I realised how many assumptions I made about many characters in the absence of facts.  It’s an interesting experiment in the things we make up about someone; the ways in which someone’s outward appearance directly influences our impression of their inward life. Continue reading

Why Do I Only Get Queries From Dudes?

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So, I review books.

My details are on a number of different websites, including this one, outlining how indie authors and writers can get in contact with me about reviewing their work.  Authors send me queries, which include details of their novels, and they ask me if I would be interested in reviewing their work.  I say yes to as many reviews as I can.

I receive one or two requests each day.  Many of these I turn down due to time restrictions or a disinterest in the blurb of the book.  But I read every request, consider it and respond.  I have a REVIEW POLICY that helps me choose the books I will consider for review.

I decided that I would always give preference to Indie Australian Female writers as that is my community, and you need to support your own.  The only thing is, they never write to me – Ever.  Since I started receiving queries for book reviews I have only ever been contacted by male writers. Continue reading

The Lake House, Kate Morton

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THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton

I’m a big Kate Morton fan.  It’s not just because I love her books, but because I enjoy how candid she is about her life as a writer.  Morton has always been honest about the challenges she faced initially getting published.  In interviews, she has shared her rejections, her moments of doubt and financial struggles, and times when she was working as a waitress at weddings.  SMH

All this honesty, juxtaposed with commercial and critical acclaim make Kate Morton a wonderful writer for emerging writers to follow and learn from.

Her latest release THE LAKE HOUSE follows on from her success as a time-slipping family-drama mystery writer.  I will try not to give anything away.  The blurb copy reads like this… A missing child.  June 1933, and the Edevane family’s country house, Loeanneth, is polished and gleaming, ready for the much-anticipated Midsummer Eve party.

Alice Edevane, sixteen years old and a budding writer, is especially excited. Not only has she worked out the perfect twist for her novel, she’s also fallen helplessly in love with someone she shouldn’t. But by the time midnight strikes and fireworks light up the night skies, the Edevane family will have suffered a loss so great that they leave Loeanneth forever. Continue reading

The World Without Us, Mireille Juchau

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THE WORLD WITHOUT US by Mireille Juchau

I knew nothing about The World Without Us when I first picked it up.  To be honest, judging from the cover, I thought it was going to be a science fiction novel.  I had just finished reading James Bradley’s novel CLADE and thought The World Without Us looked very similar.

I had not read a review on the novel or ever heard of the author, Mireille Juchau.  It was a funny choice, but I was stuck in Sydney for a week without a book and just took a chance.  I’m so glad I did. Continue reading

Rush Oh, Shirley Barrett

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RUSH OH! by Shirley Barrett

In the place where I grew up, Rush Oh! needs no advertising campaign.  Here it has received a great deal of traditional Eden gossip and word of mouth advertising.  Everyone has heard about the book about our whalers.

I am from the Eden, the town in which RUSH OH! is set.  Well, I went to high school in the whaling town of Eden, I watched the Whale Festival Parade meander down Imlay Street year after year.  I walked up the hill to the Whale Museum for science lessons.  I touched the bones of Old Tom on display in the museum and scratched whale oil from the carpet where it drips lethargically from whale bones bolted to the ceiling.

I knew this story.  I knew it well. Continue reading

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

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THE ROSIE PROJECT by Graeme Simsion

By the time I came to read THE ROSIE PROJECT, its reputation was monumental.  I knew it was a romantic comedy.  I had already heard the premise of the novel.  I knew lots of people loved it.  I felt like I had already read it.  I wondered if knowing so much about the novel would ruin it all, but really, I have to say it didn’t.  I loved it.

reviews, meghan brewster reviews, book reviews, australian writers reviewed, Australian literature review, aussie writers, book review, the rosie projectIn terms of reviews, there isn’t much left to say about THE ROSIE PROJECT, and I certainly feel like I am coming to the book very late.  But I still wanted to read it.  It’s famous and Australian and had a great reputation.

In case, on the off chance you have heard nothing about The Rosie Project, here is a little blurb.  Don Tillman is an Australian scientist who has set his mind to finding a wife.  With few friends and a terrible dating record, Don sets about formatting a wife questionnaire to find a most suitable wife.  He’s a little special when it comes to engaging with others, and if you were ever a teacher like me you will be thinking Aspergers before the end of the first paragraph.

His plans are set off course when he meets Rosie, who doesn’t fit many of Tillman’s criteria, but find her way into his life regardless.  As a genetic scientist, Don is in a position to help Rosie look for her genetic father.

Things go well and then things go badly.  It’s obvious from their first date that these two will get together, but the journey there really is worth the read. Continue reading