Ep 109 Breaking up with your novel, what to look for in a writers’ group and meet author Sue Whiting.

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podcast-artwork In Episode 109 of So you want to be a writer: breaking up with your novel, what to look for in a writers’ group, bogus writing rules you should ignore, and tax tips for writers who hate maths. Plus: discover the meaning of “stultify” and meet author Sue Whiting. Also: how to use other people’s Instagrams to build your author platform, and more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Dear Novel: On Breaking Up with Your Manuscript

Thinking of joining a writing group? Ask yourself these 8 questions first

Should I join a writers’ group?

8 Bogus “Rules” New Writers Tell Each Other

Tax Tips for Writers Who Hate Math

Writer in Residence

Sue Whiting

Sue Whiting

Sue Whiting is the author of more than 60 books and has worked in the publishing industry for over 15 years. Sue’s nature storybook, Platypus, was a  Notable Book in the 2016 Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards. Her junior novel Get a Grip, Cooper Jones was a Notable Book in the 2011 Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Awards, and her picture book, A Swim in the Sea, won Speech Pathologists Australia’s 2014 Book of the Year.

As an author, Sue has written many books: children’s non-fiction, picture books, middle grade and YA novels, and is published in Australia and overseas. Sue was Senior Commissioning Editor and Publishing Manager at Walker Books Australia for more than 10 years, where she worked with many Australian authors, including Margaret Wild, Glenda Millard, Meg McKinlay, Anna Branford, and two Australian Writers’ Centre presenters: James Roy and Pamela Freeman.

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Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Email us

podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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Interview Transcript

Allison

Sue Whiting started her working life as a primary school teacher with a special interest in literacy education and children’s literature. In 2005 Sue left teaching to pursue a career in children’s book publishing and until recently was the publishing manager for Walker Books Australia.


She’s also a successful children’s author who has written picture books and chapter books and novels for teens.

 

Most recently her picture book Platypus, illustrated Mark Jackson, was named a 2016 Notable Book by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

 

Sue recently joined the Australian Writers’ Centre as a presenter. And now she joins us on our podcast today to talk about all of the fun things about writing, and not so fun things.

 

Welcome today, Sue.

 

Sue

Thanks, Allison. Glad to be here.

 

Allison

Always good to be here.

 

Let’s talk about the beginnings. You began as a primary school teacher, when you left to go into publishing were you already writing books as well?

 

Sue

Yes, I was. I had been writing for probably about five years. I got into publishing through writing. It wasn’t something that I ever sought out. I became an editor by extreme accident, and ended up working for a very small press that I had submitted some manuscripts to and they were just starting out. This was in very early days. And went from there to do some sort of freelance editing and it was really just a sideline, it just sort of fell into my lap and I just sort of went with it, because I thought, “Anything that you do, particularly in that early part of your career, that helps you understand the business and understand writing more is of benefit.”

 

So, that’s why I started editing.

 

And then the company that I had been doing some freelancing and some consulting for went bust — twice actually. But, that’s a very long story.

 

Allison

Twice.

 

Sue

When it went bust a second time, I thought, “OK, that’s it. The world is speaking to me, the universe is speaking, and I should just concentrate on writing and forget about this editing paper.”

 

At the same time there was an ad for Walker Books, who was starting their list in Australia and was looking for an editor. I didn’t see the ad because I wasn’t looking. And I went off to a writing tour for a week and I came back and my inbox was full of all of these different people who said, “Sue, Walker Books is looking for an editor, you should apply.” I went, “Oh, OK.” And it was past the date for the application, it had long gone and I thought, “Oh well, they won’t want an application now anyway, but just because all of these people have been emailing me, I’ll just email off a query.” And they came back and said, “Oh no, if you put in your CV today that will be fine.”

 

So I did. I didn’t even have a CV. I quickly whipped one up, I was going out to lunch, it was like eleven o’clock, but, “Oh, OK…” I quickly put one in, put it in, at least then I have, you know, done the right thing by all of those people who cared enough to email me.

 

Anyway, as you can work out I got the job. So, my whole life turned around. So, I left teaching and headed off to a whole new world. And I felt really privileged, actually, having two careers. It was 25 years as a teacher, and then to leave teaching and go into an office, which was really such a different work environment, and to have a whole other career that I never had even thought about was really quite exciting and I felt really privileged to do so.

 

Allison

When you said you had been submitting manuscripts to the small presses and stuff and that’s how the editing had come out, what was the first book you had published and how did that come about?

 

Sue

Well, the first book I had published was when I had started out and I was writing and sending things off and getting lots of rejections I was totally clueless, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I knew nothing about the publishing industry at all. I must have learnt something because someone told me to join writers’ groups and writers’ centres. And I joined the New South Wales Writers’ Centre and they had a publication that had some ads. There was an ad for a company called The Book Company. And they made novelty books and they were looking for a contract writer.

 

Again, I applied for that job. I had to write 100 words about a lion cub. And, low and behold I got the gig, which was a big shock, because the next thing I knew I had a brief and I was sitting at my desk and I had to write this story by Friday type of thing.

 

So, I started off in a different way than a lot of writers. So, I was writing for this novelty book company for a couple of years. I probably wrote about 20, maybe even more, different scripts for their novelty books.

 

And, so my very first book that was published with them was called Misty’s Magic. I think it is still in print, actually.

 

Allison

Misty’s Magic?

 

Sue

Yeah, about a fairy who lost her magic. And it had pop ups and it was interesting.

 

But, that’s how I got started. And, it was a really good apprenticeship because I learned how to work with editors, I learned how to work to a deadline, I learnt how to come up with lots of ideas and to think on my feet, lots of skills, and to write, you know, to a very short word length and get a story down in sometimes 200 words.

 

They were all really good skills to learn. It wasn’t the types of books I wanted to be writing in the future, but it was a great start.

 

Allison

At this stage while you were doing this contract work in writing Misty’s Magic and other classics, were you also writing your own stuff? Were you working on your own manuscripts at that time as well?

 

Sue

Yes. Yes, I was. I was writing the things that I thought I really wanted to write, lots of picture books that promptly got rejected. So, yes.

 

I think during this time too I started to write for the education market. So, my next line of books sort of came out was in the education market. And that I found, because I was a teacher and I was literacy teacher, they were, to me, sort of easy for want of a better word because nothing is ever easy and writing — I felt like I really knew what was needed in those books.

 

Allison

Right.

 

Sue

And so I wrote a lot of readers and chapter books for the education market, so… and I was doing that at the same time as writing for the book company.

 

All the while dreaming of writing a novel or a picture book for the trade market, that was sort of where I was hoping to get to one day.

 

Allison

Yeah, because the education market — it’s actually in the area that I think we should probably do an interview with, because it’s actually quite an interesting area of the children’s book market that I think a lot of people overlook when they’re starting out. They don’t actually know how to get into it or what’s involved or anything like that.

 

I think that’s a good idea, Sue. Thanks for that. I’ll be chasing that one off.

 

You’ve done quite a good apprenticeship here because you’ve done novelty books, you’ve done education market, chapter books and readers.

 

Sue

Yes.

 

Allison

Tell me about the first book that you had published that was like, “This is a Sue Whiting book.”

 

Sue

The first book that I had published would be Battle of the Rats.

 

Allison

Battle of the Rats?

 

Sue

Yes. It was with Koala books. And it was a novel for 8-12-year-olds. In fact it was one of the first stories that I started to write when I got the writing bug. It was about a family that moved into a house infested with rats. Sadly, my family and I had just moved into a house that was infested with rats.

 

Funnily enough we still live there, but the rats are now gone.

 

Allison

Excellent.

 

Sue

Mostly.

 

Allison

Mostly.

 

Sue

I was drawing, obviously — mostly, they come back occasionally. But, it was terrible when we first moved into this particular house. We’ve rebuilt the house now. It was quite an interesting part of our family history. When we first moved here, and so I use a lot of that material, as you often do in your first novels and first books, use a lot of that material to write this story.

 

And, so I had been submitting to Koala Books for quite some time and I had submitted something and Kathy Kastler came back and said, “I can see some promise in your work, can you send me a range of things?” … I didn’t really have anything to send, except I had this Battle of the Rats that I had been working on, I wasn’t finished, I just had a few chapters. I sent her that pretending that it was all finished, but just as a sample, and she came back and said, “Love it, send me the rest.”

 

So then I got busy.

 

Allison

Oops.

 

Sue

As you do. So that was my very first novel, and that was a really sweet moment.

 

Allison

Great.

 

Is it difficult to be a writer when you’re also publishing other people’s work? Is it difficult not to be distracted by what you’re working on every day and what you’re seeing around you and what’s happening? I mean how do you focus on what you’re doing when you’re also focusing on other people’s projects?

 

Sue

It is difficult, a lot of people do it, you know there’s lots of people who are editors and also writers. And, I found at different periods over the ten years that I was with Walker Books, in particular, that there were times when I couldn’t write and there were times when I was able to write. But, it was a real struggle because you had to find the creative space in your head for your own work, alongside the creative space for all of the other books that you’re working on with other authors.

 

I found that writing daily, when I could get into the habit of writing daily, and I used to write on the train for quite a lot of the time that I was working between sort of two stations… which was before it got too busy on the train. It was about 20 minutes, and every day that was my writing time. So, squeezing in these tiny little spaces of time.

 

And if I wrote daily I found that I was able to have my work fit in my brain alongside all of the other books I was working on in the same kind of way. So, I could just pull it out and work on it at will.

 

And that was the way that I wrote my young adult novel, Portrait of Selena. Just about the whole of that book was written in 20 minutes each morning on the train, and bits and pieces on the weekend. But, if I don’t do that it’s really hard because you just, your brain is too cluttered from other things and other books and it becomes quite impossible.

 

That’s one of the reasons that now, recently I’ve just left Walker Books, and even though I love that job and it was a fantastic place to work and I had very fond memories and it was a very hard decision for me, one of the reasons was that I found that after ten years I couldn’t juggle it any longer, it was just too hard and I had to make a choice. So, I decided to have another life change and to put writing as number one.

 

Allison

And is that scary?

 

Sue

Terrifying.

 

Allison

Yeah, I was going to say because I think it’s like when you’re used to writing around things and fitting it in twenty minute snatches and all of that sort of stuff, now there you are and you’ve got a whole week ahead of you, and you’re sort of like… is that expanse of time kind of scary?

 

Sue

When I was trying to image what it was going to be like — yes, it was scary, because I haven’t done it for a long time. There had been periods before I started at Walker Books where I had some leave and different reasons why I was able to work in some blocks occasionally. But, I hadn’t really ever done that. And, I always knew that I worked better under pressure. So, there were some doubts there.

 

But, I think… I’m only two weeks into my new world, but I’m loving having the time at the moment. I think from editing and working at a desk and working on big projects I’ve learnt some really good discipline and so I am able to sit at my desk for longer than when I was teaching, because teaching is sitting around on the go all of the time.

 

So far it’s such a luxury for me to be able to sit all day and concentrate on my own work that I’m loving it. But, I am also a realist, I know it’s going to… the shine will wear off and it will get more and more difficult because I’ve been writing long enough to know what it’s like. So, at the moment it’s great.

 

I do have other things that I have to do, I am doing some freelance editing and some presenting and shooting with the Writers’ Centre and so forth. So…

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Sue

And school visits. I’m already feeling very busy and already feeling that I’m having to fit everything in, thinking, “How on earth did I do it when I was at Walker Books all day?”

 

Allison

I don’t know how you did it, to be honest. But, anyway.

 

As a publisher what did you look for in a book you wanted to publish? Like, what were you looking for in a manuscript?

 

Sue

That’s a really hard question to answer, and I’m sure everyone says a similar thing. You’re always asked that question, “What are you looking for?” “What are you looking for?” And you don’t know until you read it, basically.

 

It’s not that I would be looking for a particular… sometimes I was looking for a particular genre, like I might be looking for fiction because we didn’t have enough of that on our list, or I might have been looking for non-fiction or something because there was a gap, we hadn’t had many submissions for that.

 

But, generally speaking it was just something that spoke to me as a reader, and there will be manuscripts that you’ll read and go, “Oh, I don’t mind this… I like this… this might be OK…” and you’re sort of pondering. And, they may go ahead, they may fit your list, but there’s others that you read and as soon as you start reading you know that this is it, this is the one that you — you have to publish this. And it’s just that feeling.

 

When you read a manuscript and you forget that it’s a manuscript for a while, and it’s just so unique and it’s just really got you. That’s when you know that that’s the one.

 

It’s voice, it’s uniqueness. It’s just that ‘X’ factor, I suppose.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Sue

And you don’t really know what it is until you read it. If you look at a couple of books that I’ve published in recent years there’s Meg Mckinney’s A Single Stone. And, I’ve been working with Meg for ten years, and so I’ve sort of been from her very first book, and even her very first book, it was the voice of that book that got me with that. It was just a beautiful, unique different voice. And, A Single Stone, for the moment she started working on that, I always knew that this was just… you just could tell that this was a special book.

 

And very different from all of her other books.

 

And then another book that was published recently called Magrit by Lee Battersby, and it’s a very unusual book about — I almost gave away the ending there! About a graveyard setting, actually. About a girl who is brought up in a graveyard. And, she takes care of this baby. Very unusual voice, very unusual story. It’s almost fable-like. But, again, as soon as I started reading this I just thought, “We have to publish this.”

 

And that’s a really exciting time when you find that gem that just stands out and it’s always when you least expect it often.

 

Allison

If you’ve saw that voice and perhaps there wasn’t… I guess what I think people are also interested in is what makes you pass on a book? Like, sometimes in the sense of do you see the same mistakes over and over again? If the voice is there will you work with someone to kind of bring everything else up? How much work is a publisher willing to do, I suppose?

 

Sue

I think that varies greatly from publisher to publisher. At Walker Books we were quite willing and happy to work with an author if we thought that there was something special there. And we do work quite long and hard with our authors through lots of different revisions and challenge them to get the very best out of every story.

 

But, I think those ones that you might pass on, I often used to talk about the ‘almosts’ and they used to break my heart. I think they used to break my heart as a writer because you know how hard people work on their writing and their stories, and some of them they might have been writing for years. They’re good, but they just don’t quite get over the line for whatever reasons. The advice I usually give authors is, “Try not to be the almosts, that when you submit your work try to make sure you’ve got everything covered. Don’t think that ending is almost right. Or, ‘I know it needs some work in the middle, but it’s nearly there…’ Or, ‘I know that there’s too many characters, but they can be edited out.’ Don’t give the editor the chance to have doubts.”

 

Voice, obviously, is the most important thing, because it’s very hard to fix or change voice. So, if the author isn’t speaking to me as the reader I would really want to… it would have to be really interesting idea for me to pursue that, because that can go terribly wrong sometimes, because sometimes you just can’t change that.

 

But, if it’s a plot or character or length or pacing or something like that, those things are easier to fix.

 

Allison

Right.

 

 

 

 

Sue

It’s very competitive and you just want to try to do your best not to give the editor any doubts, because when you get a manuscript that you want to publish you have other people you have to convince. Your its first champion.

 

And, so you have to be really confident that this is worthy and this is something that any problems there can be fixed. And if it’s a new author it’s a bet, you don’t know that.

 

A bit more dicey.

 

Allison

A bit more dicey.

 

All right. So, as a writer are you working on different projects all the time, or do you focus just on one thing until you get it as right as you think it can be?

 

Sue

Well, it varies from time to time. At different times I’ll have different works, working on different things at the same time.

 

At the moment I’m concentrating on one novel that I’m writing. And, I have another novel that I’m sort of note-booking. And, I finish work I thought… I wasn’t quite sure which one I was going to go with, one that I had already started, or this other new shiny idea that I was really liking.

 

And, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, but I’ve ended up working on the one that I had already started and I’m really pleased that I did, because it’s a hard book to write, but I’m enjoying the challenge. Yes, I’m focusing all of my energy on that particular work at the moment, and then I suppose any other ideas that come I just sort of jot them down and I have a whole range of different notebooks for different purposes. It gets sort of jotted down in a notebook accordingly, and sort of put aside for the time-being because I do want to really work hard to get this first draft finished and then I think I can sort of diversify and write a few different things.

 

Allison

OK, because it is very easy to get distracted by the shiny new idea, isn’t it? Like they always look so much more interesting.

 

Sue

They do because it’s all new and shiny and you want to explore it, it seems easier, I think. I think when you get sort of halfway into a novel and you know… you can see all of the problems a lot more and the things that you need to fix and then it becomes harder and harder. So, when a shiny new idea comes, it’s like, “Oh, that could be an even better idea!”

 

 

Allison

“We should do that one!”

 

Sue

“Let’s do some research on that one,” because it’s at the beginning and it’s all exciting and like a new relationship — “Let’s go for that.” But, yes, I’m trying to finish this one, I think I will do, because I think I’m invested. I’ve got to that point of no return.

 

Allison

Right, you’re in.

 

Sue

Yeah, I’m in. I have to see this one to the end no matter what, whether anyone… if it’s only myself and my agent who ever reads it, that doesn’t matter, I’m going to finish it.

 

Allison

Right. So, do you have a preference as far as the age group you like writing for the most?

 

Sue
No, I although I wish I did because it would be a lot easier I think, as far as career-wise, because I write picture books right up to young adults, which is great for the things like school visits, because I’m one of those people that can go into high schools and preschools, and my speaker’s agent at the children’s bookshop really likes it because I can do all of these different age groups, but as far as selling books and getting my profile in, people knowing you as a writer of middle grade fiction or picture books or whatever, when you write across so many age groups it dilutes that a little bit.

 

At the moment I feel like I want to concentrate on sort of that primary, sort of upper primary age.

 

Allison

Right, OK.

 

Sue

The book I’m writing at the moment, so it’s upper primary, lower secondary, but the shiny one is probably more primary school, and I really like that age group. But, I just really — I follow wherever the ideas take me. So, I have a couple of picture books in the works and I know that I’ll just forever be doing different age groups, because I think that’s just how my brain works.

 

Allison

Yeah, yeah.

 

Sue

I just follow that idea.

 

Allison

Just on the picture books and writing for different age groups, like each section of the market brings its own challenges, age group wise.

 

Sue
Yes.

 

Allison

Do you think it’s true that picture books are among the most difficult texts to get right? Because that’s often something that people talk about a lot, “Our picture book text is so difficult, much more difficult than doing other longer texts.” Would you agree with that? Like, you write all the different things, so you would know.

 

Sue

Yes, I think they are. Yes, I think — I love picture books. I think they’re my first love, as far as books go. And, they’re definitely my first crush, the children’s literature. I fell in love with picture books first and they’re a wonderful art form, but they are very hard to get right. There’s only about 500-600 words, and you have to tell a complete story. And, also tell it in a way that is a bit poetic, not necessarily rhyme-y, but it has a to have a particular rhythm and a particular voice and you have to think about the illustration and the page turn, and every word has to earn its keep. It’s very hard to do that over… to tell a really riveting story over 500 words. Sometimes it can be less than that too, but it’s really coming up with that unique idea and tell it in a way that no one has ever done before, because so many picture books are the same story, just told with a different character almost. And those ones that really stand out are the ones that hasn’t been told, or tell it in such a unique way.

 

And I think that’s getting increasingly more difficult with time, to come with that really unique idea and to make it work.

 

So while the first draft of a picture book generally takes a lot less time than the first draft of a novel, but there’s a lot of refining, refining, refining after that. And it is hard, I think, to get a publisher interested. There’s a lot of investment in a picture book from the publisher.

 

Allison

Now you mentioned earlier, you talked about your speaker’s agency, the fact that you do a lot of school visits and presentations and things like that. How important do you think it is for a children’s author to get out and about?

 

Sue

I think it’s very important. I don’t think… if you’re an aspiring author or if you are a children’s author and you don’t see yourself as a speaker or want to get in front of kids and do school visits. I don’t think that’s the worst thing. There’s worse things. But, I think it does help.

 

I think it certainly helps to get out and about and to get your books in the hands of kids, because unless you are one of those very few best-selling authors and your books are in all channels and they’re advertised and everyone knows your name, like Andy Griffiths who’s fantastic, you know, there’s few Australian authors that are sort of at that level that kids will say, “I want a book by ‘so and so’…” And most of the authors, their books would be a hand-sell, a book store has to know it and it has to be hand sell, and that’s becoming increasingly difficult because there’s less independent bookshops. You’re lost online. If you’re not on that first front page, you’re lost, unless someone knows you’re book.

 

So getting out to schools and talking to the kids and getting them to know your books is probably one of the best ways to help people get to know… to go to look on Booktopia, or wherever for your book, or to go to ask for that particular book, because as you know books aren’t in bookstores for every long, three months if you’re lucky. But, they are still available, but people have to know your books. And I think that’s one of the only ways to do that really, is to get out into the schools and to tell your stories.

 

Allison

Tell the kids, tell the kids you’re there.

 

Sue

And it’s fun.

 

Allison

It is fun. I enjoy it.

 

Sue

I love it.

 

Allison

Yeah.

 

Sue

Yeah.

 

Allison

It’s very fun.

 

You also have a website, which is quite comprehensive. There’s a lot of resources and there’s a lot of information and things like that there. And you have an occasional blog. Like, from the perspective of both writer and former publisher, do you think that’s also important, as far as discoverability is concerned? That sort of idea of being visible online as well?

 

 

Sue

Yes. I think it is important and my website is out of date, but one of my jobs in my new life is to get my website and my blog and all of these things all happening together in a better way. And, I do think it’s important.

 

I don’t think necessarily it leads to great sales or anything like that, but that discoverability is really important. And, I think people forever if they hear your name or if they see a book they like, the first thing they do is go into Google and they want to know more.

 

Allison

Yes.

 

Sue

And if you don’t have those places where they can say, “Oh, OK, she’s done lots of books… oh, OK, she does this…” I think it puts some doubt in people’s minds. So, I think it’s becoming increasingly important. And, I know as a publisher authors that haven’t had an online presence, particularly when it’s with young adult audiences, I think it’s really… because your readership really engage in that space as well, and the young adult authors who don’t have that presence, it’s really hard for them. And the ones who do can really get a lovely fan base through Twitter and Instagram and so forth, and that’s great, because that’s what you really, really want, particularly for those young adult ones, is to get that fan base. Because once you’ve got young people talking about your book, anything can happen.

 

Allison

The raving fan base, exactly what everyone wants, right?

 

Sue

Yes. A really good example of that is Rachael Craw, who is a New Zealand author. And, Walker Books published her first book, I think we’re up to the third book in this series. It started off with Spark and then there’s Stray, and Shield is coming out. And, she had never been on social media before her book came out. But, she was just a natural wizard. And, the books are great as well. But, as a new author and also from New Zealand, so that’s a little bit harder in the Australian market as well, she has developed such a lovely fan base and they call themselves the Spark Army, and they are so loyal. They are fantastic. And it really has had an impact on sales. So, that’s a good story.

 

Allison

I want an army, Sue.

 

Sue

I know…

 

Allison

We need armies.

 

Sue

Yeah, the Spark Army, and that was just spontaneous and it has just taken off and now it’s growing and growing.

 

Allison

Fantastic, good on her.

 

We’re sort of reaching the end of our chat, which has come up quite — well, it feels quickly.

 

So, we have to ask you our famous last question, which are what are your top three tips for aspiring authors?

 

Sue

Top three tips? Well, I think first of all what we were talking about before is writing daily. I think that’s really important. It doesn’t really matter what you write. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your work in progress, but I think it should become a habit and should become part of you. And it is a craft and it does need to be perfected, and you can only do that if you practice.

 

I think it was Jodi Picoult, is that how you say her name?

 

Allison

Oh, I always get it wrong, so I’m not even going to go there.

 

Sue

Yeah, as soon as I started to say her name I thought, “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that because I know I can spell it, but I can’t say it.

 

Allison

Let’s call her Jodi P.

 

Sue

Jodi P. I think has said something along the lines of that you should write daily and that you should write until your writing becomes a muscle that you can flex on command. And I know that’s what I had to do when I was writing Portrait of Selena. And it really worked. I think that discipline and that writing every day is really important.

 

OK, that’s number one.

 

Allison

That’s a good one. You’re off to a flying start.

 

 

 

Sue

What about — I think you should write from your heart and be really honest in your writing. Lots of people ask the question, “What’s the latest trend?” “What should I be writing?” And that’s the worst thing you can do, I believe, as a writer, is to try to follow the current trend in particular because by the time you finish the thing, of course, the trend is long gone.

 

And it’s also… it’s not going to be true to you. I think the best writing is when you write something that’s true to you. And, that way your unique voice can come through and you have something to say, and you might start a trend. I think if you try to follow a trend and say, “Oh, everyone’s writing dystopian, I’ll have to write a dystopian novel,” if that’s not something that really interests you and that’s not your thing or you don’t have a really strong idea that just comes to you, that just happens to be dystopian I think it comes across as fake and forced, and very rarely does it work.

 

So, I think you really need to be honest, write the story of your heart, the one that really is important to you. And like the book that I’m writing now, I mean I was quite serious when I thought, “I don’t really know who would want to read this, it’s a really sad story, but it’s the one that I have to write for whatever reason. I have this idea and I have to see it through,” and it’s the book of my heart at the moment. And you sort of hope that they’re the ones that will come across as being strong and authentic and true.

 

So… writing from the heart.

 

Allison

I can’t wait to read it.

 

Sue

I’ve got three readers now.

 

Allison

I’m ready.

 

Sue

Myself, my agent, and Allison.

 

Allison

Yes! Send it through, immediately.

 

Sue

Fantastic.

 

Allison

And tip three?

 

Sue

Tip three, let me see… OK, well, obviously I think you need to read widely and read in the genre that you’re interested in, and if you’re writing for children in an age group that you’re interested in, and read books that are current as well as books that you loved as a child.

 

But when you’re reading I think you should try to read like a writer. So, it’s not just reading and enjoying, I’m sure most writers are readers any way, and they read widely, but I think you need to read as a writer. So, if you read something and you think, “Oh, that was quite dull.” Start asking — be serious, ask questions, “Why was it dull?” “What did the author do that put me to sleep?” And the opposite, you know, “That was a fabulous read. My heart was in my throat the whole way through.” Go back and look and say, “How did the writer achieve that?” What did the writer do to achieve that?”

 

So, reading and thinking like a writer as you’re reading so you can see the ways that the writer solved the problems and how they get that mood or how that character is described in three words and just nailed. So, I always keep a little notebook when I’m reading — well, not always, but often. And if there’s anything that really sings to me, I just write it down. I hardly ever go back to it, but I think it just sort of impregnates in your mind a little bit, the things that really speak to you. I think reading like a writer is a really important thing to do.

 

Three — done.

 

Allison

Well done, that was excellent. I was absorbed. And I’ve also got a manuscript to read, so I’ve done really well out of that three tips, haven’t I?

 

Sue

I have to finish it first.

 

Allison

Thank you so much for your time today.

 

Sue

Thank you.

 

Allison

Fantastic. And welcome to the Australian Writers’ Centre Presenting Team. We’re very, very excited to have you. And I think people who are doing your course, which you’re currently doing writing for children and young adults, correct? Online?

 

Sue

Yes, that’s correct. Yes.

 

Allison

Yes, which I’m thinking about signing up myself, frankly. I think it will be great.

 

Sue

I think you’re fine, but… yeah, no, I’m excited to be part of the Australian Writers’ Centre too, so it’s a really nice. It’s something a little bit different for me, and using my skills in a different way, which is always a nice challenge.

 

Allison

Yeah, fantastic. Alright, well, welcome aboard. And we look forward to seeing what you do next.

 

Sue

Thank you.

 

And you too.

 

Allison

That’s a whole other story. OK.

 

Sue

  1. Thanks, Allison.

 


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