Tag Archives: authors

Wrestling

Inertia (noun) ii-ner-sha
Definition: Lack of movement or activity, particularly when movement or activity is desired or required
Reference: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inertia

Keen-eyed observers will quite rightly point out there’s been little movement on Thunder Road. Less progress than along the South Eastern Freeway during peak hour. Fewer words shared than during a silent meditation retreat.

I don’t want this blog too become a moan. Far too many past posts already focus on my frustrations with work-life imbalance or my inability of late to quarantine enough hours for clear-headed creativity.

But it’s something I wrestle with. Often. As a father/husband/allegedly mature adult, can I really allow myself an author life when the financial rewards are generally paltry?

I know other writer friends face the same dilemma. Some are reluctantly choosing to walk away from their vocation. To pay bills rather than pay attention to the stories shimmering in their consciousness. Tales that require countless hours to chart.

Adding to the angst, trade law changes proposed for the book industry by the Federal Government may sound the death knell for many literary careers. (See also: http://bookscreateaustralia.com.au/)

For my part, I am massively relieved mooted changes to the terms of copyright have apparently been abandoned. As a journalist and author I’m not the most practical or handy bloke. I’ve never built a house or factory that I can leave to my children. The novels I’ve had published may be the only things I’ve constructed that I can pass to my family – so the threat I’d lose ownership of my work, possibly after a fleeting 15 years, was devastating.

So where am I at? I’m working full-time, carefully choosing words that may appear in an app inside a mobile device, somewhere beside you, some time soon.

I’ve been learning about Viking culture, via a Danish exchange student staying at our home and now hosting my son.

And I’m following the fortunes of the North Melbourne Football Club, filing occasional match reports for The Footy Almanac.

Meanwhile the manuscript leading the pack of several pieces I have in progress is languishing but, hopefully, mentally marinading until the time is right to heat and serve.

I was lucky enough to visit Japan again recently and my research there will bolster the speculative fiction story I’m so keen to complete. We spent an afternoon at a sumo tournament and, as I type this, my epiphany has taken the shape of a mighty wrestler.

When a rikishi (contestant) enters the ring, there’s much tradition to be honored (and posturing to be enjoyed) before a bout begins. Salt is tossed liberally to purify the arena. The brow is mopped. Sake is slurped. Chests, bellies, buttocks or thighs are slapped, thunderously. The wrestlers may drop into their pre-attack crouch and give their opponent a death-stare, only to rise and lope back to their corner. Then begin the rituals again.

The build-up lasts longer than the battle. The rikishi only wrestle when they’re good and ready or their opponent is utterly psyched out. Perhaps that’s where I’m at. I need to throw salt. Purify my arena. Get my mind clear. Lower myself into writing position. Charge forward like an enraged bull. And wrestle my manuscript into submission.

Sumo wrestlers watched by officials

Book Week

There’s a parental saying I recall from childhood that arose whenever I asked/proposed something apparently unrealistic, unreasonable, inconvenient or inappropriate. The reply was along the lines of, “What do you think it is, Bush Week?” I quickly came to interpret this as meaning there was no chance of my request/idea eventuating.

Today I Googled the origins of the expression. Seems it refers to a week when wide-eyed bushies visited the city and fell prey to unscrupulous urban scams and rip-off merchants. My parents clearly cast me in the role of the scammer, despite my rural origins.

I’m reminded of the expression mainly because it sounds similar to Book Week. And, yes, this is a time when authors (often introverted and naive like bushies) venture, blinking, out of their garrets and into the wide world to proselytise on the magic of reading and creative writing. For those of us writing for children and young adults it can be the busiest week of the year.

My Book Week kicked off early, chatting to Yr 7 students in Pakenham on Friday. Yesterday I was in Wyndham Vale, as the (kind of) local storyteller accompanying Melina Marchetta, Elizabeth Honey and insideadog.com.au’s Adele Walsh. Tomorrow I’m in Fitzroy, followed by Greenvale (Thurs) and Berwick (Fri).

The following week I’m chatting in Mentone and also chuffed to share a Melbourne Writers’ Festival stage with Alice Pung. Last but not least, I’m trundling down the Western Highway for the Ballarat Writers’ Festival – a brilliant line-up focused entirely on literature for children and young adults. (Think Kirsty Murray, Penni Russon, Kate Constable, Steph Bowe, Leanne Hall, Karen Tayleur, Gabrielle Williams, Maureen McCarthy, Corinne Fenton and many others.)

September promises some other big adventures (details another post) but I’ll round off the month with the A Thousand Words Festival where I’m doing a couple of sessions including, gulp, the keynote address. As I blog this, I’m still open to suggestions on what folks would like to hear about. (At the moment I’m thinking about tackling ‘risk’.) This fledgling festival also puts writing for children and young adults in the spotlight and has some sensational sessions in store. If you’re interested in mingling with authors and illustrators it’s an opportunity to meet the likes of Sally Rippin, Cath Crowley, Fiona Wood & Michael Pryor. The Little Monkey and I attended in 2009 and had a great time.

Come the end of September I reckon I’ll be ready to self-medicate and/or become a hermit. Actually, I’m expecting to be overflowing with ideas and inspired by all these creative encounters. Locking away some rare writing time should be a must.

Speaking of which, folks keep ask me what I’m working on and I give necessarily vague answers. I’m not sure where the current ideas will go when they find water, fertile ground and fresh air. What I can say is my latest piece of published work arrived in the mail last week – a short story in a collection called The New Paper Trails. I was rapt to be asked to submit a story for this textbook and was honoured to find my work surrounded by tales from established authors like Garth Nix and Carole Wilkinson. The book is designed for English teachers with students aged approx 10 to 14. Hopefully it will find its way into teacher resources and a library or two.

Have a great Book Week and watch out for scammers.

Deja Vu

Saturday’s Herald Sun featured a Q & A interview with author Tom Rachman, who is described as a London-born, Vancouver-raised, Rome-based journalist. As I read it, I was struck by how similar some of our thinking was, given that I’m your average home-brand Victoria-born, Victoria-raised, Victoria-based journalist/author.

One of the questions asked was, “Was it always your goal, even before you became a journalist, to write a novel?” Mr Rachman’s reply is: “I became a journalist because I wanted to write fiction, as backward as that seems. I had planned to be a film-maker…but toward the end of my time at university I realised that it was fiction and stories that I really wanted to be writing…”

I entered university with no real idea what I wanted to do for a crust. I knew I wanted to write, preferably fiction. I considered script-writing but the career information seminar made it sound too cut-throat. (I think the phrase “like being raped by a two-tonne gorilla” might have deterred me.) I decided to have a crack at journalism, my logic being that I could write news stories by day and fiction by night. Naive? Totally.

Mr Rachman then speaks of being more confident in his work with his second manuscript, compared to his first. “I felt much more technically able… I had the misconception that a lot of people have about writing: that there are people who have talent and there are those who don’t. So when I sat down at my computer I was terrified that maybe I was one of those who didn’t, which was incredibly inhibiting, because you write something and then look at it and say, “My God, that doesn’t sound like Tolstoy to me, therefore I am completely untalented”. But in my case … I realised what was most important was having an idea, and, very, very incrementally, reaching that idea. And that involves a heck of a lot of work.”

OK. Let’s just say I know what he’s talking about. I read my stuff sometimes and wonder whether I should give up and go back to lawn-mowing. Or breaking rocks. My confidence ebbs and flows big time. Low tide is like, way, low, as my teen workshoppers might say.

I wouldn’t say I was any more confident with this manuscript than my first – apart from knowing my ever-enthusiastic agent would read it. But I certainly believe in the worth of fresh ideas and the power of perseverance. I’m on my 8th draft of Five Parts Dead and the final deadline is approaching fast. More sweat has gone into this story than anything I’ve written before. So I certainly understand the “incrementally” comment. And the “heck of a lot of work”.

Angry authors

Australia’s book industry is up in arms*. Cranky in the extreme. We’ve been done over and we’re not happy.

Why? Because the so-called Productivity Commission has made a ruling on the future of the industry that appears to be ideologically, rather than logically, driven.

What is the decision? I’m no expert but, as I understand things, it recommends the abolition of “Parallel Importation Restrictions” for books published in Australia. In other words a book printed here could be simultaneously printed el-cheapo style overseas and shipped Down Under to compete with the local editions.

Local publishers denied exclusive territorial copyright to titles, even for a limited time, will have a fight on their hands from Day One if they are to get any return from their investments.

So small Australian publishers will do it particularly tough. And that means small Australian authors will too.

Fewer publishers with the spare dosh to take risks on emerging authors means fewer local stories finding their way into print.

It might even mean local branches of large overseas publishers get slashed as most of the action will be overseas at head office. If so, authors’ opportunities to published will evaporate further.

It’s not just bad news for authors and illustrators. The domino effect means less work for designers, editors, printers, marketing folk, agents and many others.

Then there are the booksellers. Independent bookstores are a lifeline for local authors/illustrators – and they’re already endangered. If all bookstores become bulk discount outlets it will be a dark day indeed for local writers and READERS. Even if the books are cheaper, and I’m not persuaded this will be the case, you’ll need to mine the dross to find quality, small print-run titles.

Check out who is cheering the decision – mainly a specific chain store. Then go to one of their stores and try to find a book by an Australian author on their shelves if the title isn’t: a) a brand new release or b) a best seller. Good luck.

Here are some other random observations on the debate:

– While famous authors can be very eloquent, they appear incapable of 20-second grabs on TV.

– There almost seems to be an assumption that authors are well off. Believe me, very few Australian authors make a living writing full time. Many authors aim to sell Australia – New Zealand rights to their work separately from overseas rights as this is one of the few ways an author can slightly enhance their pay packet. Game as Ned, for instance, sold in Aust-NZ first, and then in Poland. These subsequent overseas sales provide vital funds that enable authors to keep writing. It would seem these secondary sales might be less likely now.

– Allan Fels obviously isn’t a struggling author. His victory smirk almost provoked me into kicking in my TV screen last night. Grrrrr.

Anyway, here’s a more learned explanation of what’s at stake, courtesy of Australians for Australian Books:

Territorial copyright for books, and the associated 30/90 day rules for book importation, have enabled the Australian book industry, long the poor cousin to the UK and US book industries, to grow strong and vibrant.

The 30-day rule means that an Australian publisher who buys the rights to publish an overseas book in Australia gains Australian copyright for the book if it is published here within 30 days of overseas publication.

The 90-day rule means that the same publisher effectively loses that protection if unable to supply the book to an Australian buyer within 90 days.

Together, these rules, introduced in 1991, provide Australian publishers with the security to invest in new books, underpinning their development of Australian talent, while ensuring new books come on the Australian market quickly and booksellers can buy the titles they need.

And there I was thinking the Productivity Commission is supposed to enhance productivity, not stifle it.

If you’re a reader, writer, illustrator or anyone who believes in protecting Australian talent, tune in to www.ausbooks.com.au for the next steps in this crucial stoush. To read the Commission’s report, click here.

* Back when I was a cadet reporter, this was one of my favourite tabloid terms for being irate. It feels like I should grab a gardening tool and storm a barricade somewhere.