Ep 115 Hip hop in schools to encourage appreciation of literature. Meet journalist Jennifer Hansen, author of “Making Headlines”.

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podcast-artwork In Episode 115 of So you want to be a writer: Five entrepreneurial tips for authors who want to up their game and an English teacher’s hip hop curriculum is encouraging appreciation of literature. Discover the art of video game writing and and some tips on querying agents and publishers. Wow your readers by using “predilection” and “propensity” correctly. Meet author and journalist Jennifer Hansen. Also: have fun with an automatic story generator, figure out which book you should write first, and when less is more on social media.

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
5 Entrepreneurial Tips for Authors Who Want to Up Their Game

English Teacher’s Hip-Hop Curriculum Gets Students Writing

The Art of Video Game Writing

Don’t Make These 5 mistakes When Querying Agents and Publishers w/ @EvatopiaLit

Writer in Residence

Jennifer Hansen

jennifer hansenJennifer Hansen is best known to TV audiences as the former co-host of Channel Ten’s 5pm news. These days Jennifer works in radio as part of Smooth FM’s breakfast show where she reads the news and chats with Mike Perso about all things Melbourne. In between media gigs, Jennifer went back to ‘school’ – taking up the ‘Professional Writing and Editing’ course at RMIT. That has helped her complete her first novel and two screenplays. Occasionally she remembers to look after her family – including husband Neighbours actor Alan Fletcher (aka Dr Karl Kennedy) and their two children, Veronica and Tom.

Jennifer’s novel Making Headlines was released earlier this year.

Visit Jennifer’s website

Follow Jennifer on Twitter

Working Writer’s Tip

Which novel should you write first?

Answered in the podcast!

Web App
Plot Generator

Author Platform Building Tip

When Less is More on Social Media

Competition

Win our “fabulous five” book pack!

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

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us today, Jennifer.

Jennifer

A pleasure, Valerie. Thank you for interviewing me. I think this is wonderful, because when you finish a book sometimes and you release it into the world you suddenly think, “What now?” So, when people actually pay a bit of attention it’s very exciting.

Valerie

Actually on that then, when you finish the book there’s obviously a bit of time between when it gets finished and when it gets released out into the world, what did you do? Because you obviously had been working on this book for a while. Did you kind of go, “I’ve got nothing to do now…”

Jennifer

No, because I work in radio and I’m still writing every day, even though it’s a journalistic style of writing, which is completely different, there was still plenty to do also in relation to the book. I published it through Harper Collins, and immediately the book goes out into the world, they request you do what is called a blog tour, which means basically writing a dozen blogs for other people that they post on their websites, which is fabulous to promote the book, but it’s quite a lot of work.

Valerie

Yes.

Jennifer

So, I was very busy doing all of those tasks, and also I have a blog myself, so it took me I think a month to get my own book launch blog up.

Valerie

Oh wow, goodness.

 So, for readers who haven’t read the book yet, tell us what it’s about.

Jennifer

So the book is called Making Headlines, and it’s about a television journalist who wants to be a news reader, and all of these trials and tribulations along the way. So, naturally because I was a newsreader in a past life with Channel 10 I do have a lot of people say, “Oh, come on, surely it’s an autobiography,” but it definitely isn’t.

I think it’s a lot more fun writing fiction. I didn’t have a stalker, and definitely not that many lovers. No, I’m joking.

It’s always good to write about what you know for your first novel. That’s what we’re always told, the old cliché, but I do think it’s very good advice. For me, that happens to be writing about what was, I suppose, a fairly public job, but most people can get away with writing about what they know about, without that kind of accusation.

Valerie

At what point during your career did you think, “I would like to turn my hand to novel writing.”?

Jennifer

Look, it’s always been at the back of my mind. I think you become a journalist because you love writing, and the creative side of it is something that I’ve always delved into. I mean I’ve always written a journal or a diary or stories, and wanted to write a book.

I remember my English literature teacher at school saying, “You’ve got to live more of a life before you write a book.” I don’t think that’s necessarily true, but I do think it can help.

When I left Channel 10 I took up the PWE, Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT, which I think is absolutely brilliant for anyone starting out. I look back now and think, “How did I even think I could write a novel without studying creative writing in some form or another,” because it is such a different form of writing to journalism.

It’s also a world that changing so quickly, especially at the moment, with the advent of the internet, even though it’s been around for a while. It’s really changed the world of publishing and writing genres and styles and techniques. I just think it’s — I’ve learnt so much through doing that course. That was invaluable. And, just connecting with other writers was wonderful too.

Valerie

And how did the idea for this book form? Like, did it happen over time? Was there a lightbulb moment or something that spurred it on? Tell me about that.

Jennifer

I think I started dabbling with the idea when I was still at Channel 10. When I left I realized for certain legal reasons I could not even write an autobiography if I wanted because I had to sign a confidentiality agreement when I left. So, the best way to write about your experience, I suppose, is to use some parts of it, but to make it a piece of fiction.

I think there are also so many stories, things that I experienced as a journalist and in the workplace and heard from other women, especially about working in a male-dominated environment that resonated. So, I wanted to put a book out that touched on those issues without it being preachy in a hit-you-over-the-head feminist tone way.

I’m happy to call myself a feminist, but I didn’t want it to be a book that was labeled that. I wanted to deal with some issues in a light-hearted way, because I think often you can deliver a message more easily if it’s an entertaining one.

Valerie

At the time when it started entering your brain, “This might be the beginnings of something,” were you taking notes, or were you just letting it brew? When did it start forming into actual words and sentences?

Jennifer

The first version was written in the first person. And I started, I suppose, thinking it would be a little bit based on the first day — the book as it is now is very different to that really first version. Originally it started off as Rachel’s first day in the newsroom. So, that all went. There were so many different edits along the way, but what also happened is as I started writing it a friend of mine, Bobby Galinsky, who’s an American writer and film producer, wanted to read some of it because he thought it sounded interesting. From that we started to turn it into a television series.

We wrote it as a TV series that was then put forward and pitched to various production houses in America, like HBO and Disney, et cetera. And it did do really well, it got quite high up, but didn’t quite make it through and as Bobby said recently maybe now the time is right to pitch again.

So, that’s a possibility, but when you’re writing a television series you of course turn different events into different episodes. So, it’s almost like each chapter of the book becomes self-contained as its own story. It was a little bit hard to then convert it back into another story, as the TV it was set in Atlanta in America, so I had to go back to being an Australian. It has been through many forms. That’s been interesting.

And the biggest struggle I think was finding what was really my voice in terms of the book, without it being autobiographical, without it being too — I think also it was quite daunting the course at RMIT, which this group of people that I perceive to be so much more talented than I was… and you write your work and share it in class in workshop situation, which is quite terrifying.

And I think when I started out I was so desperate to impress that I was writing terribly ponderous long sentences that were very complicated with big words that were completely ridiculous and it wasn’t the way I tell a story. I was desperately trying to impress people in a silly way. So, I had to really par it back and find a simpler way of telling the story without getting bogged down in all of those.

I suppose the other cliché we’re also taught all the time is to show, not tell. And as a journalist, especially in radio, you’re telling an audience so they can picture something, it’s almost a reverse. You’re writing not to tell, you’re writing to create a sense of something.

Valerie

Do you find that you have to switch gears or change hats? Do you have to do anything to kind of put yourself into the right zone to show not tell and write creatively, as opposed to what you do professionally and is very much tell information?

Jennifer

Sure. I think it’s really good to have a break between work and writing. What I do now is breakfast radio. So, I’ve had to change my preferred writing methods completely, because I used to write late at night, which I loved doing, when the house is quiet, having a family and two kids. I also don’t like having time restrictions. If you’re writing during the day there could be other appointments or commitments. You’re looking at the clock thinking, “Gee, I’ve got to finish that soon.” I prefer to write when there’s no time constraints. That’s my preference.

Now doing breaky radio I will finish work, come home, just do some domestics, take the dogs for a walk, to have a break, for a couple of hours, maybe even go to the gym, and then write later in the afternoon or in the early evening. It separates the two.

Valerie

You say that the book now is quite different from that first version of Rachel’s first day in the newsroom. If you had to take a guess as to the number of drafts that you had to do before you reached the final?

Jennifer

Wow.

Valerie
Can you give us an idea?

Jennifer

I’d say probably about seven or eight.

Valerie
Seven or eight drafts?

Jennifer

There’s more drafts in terms of fine-tuning drafts, but I’d say there was originally the first person draft, before I started at RMIT, then it changed to a different format. Then there was the TV show, then I went through another redrafting in the course, probably two or three within the course of how I would start the book or what kind of character Rachel would be, it changed a little bit.

Then I did an edit with a writer and editor friend of mine, Ann Bosch, who does editing professionally. So, we did our draft before submitting it out to the world. Then when Harper Collins came back they wanted a different version, so it didn’t start at Rachel’s first day, so that was another version. So, that one was done.

Then they brought in an editor who did another version. And then they wanted another version. So, there were three for Harper Collins.

Valerie

Oh my goodness.

Jennifer

Yeah, I’d say it was seven or eight.

Valerie

And even with Harper Collins it was three versions?

Jennifer

Yes, and what was, I think, the most difficult one was the last one. Everyone tells you the editing process can be painful. I did struggle with that a bit, because being an eBook I don’t think publishing houses put as much support or advice into their editing structure, which is understandable. It’s a shrinking industry and they’ve got to work it out as best they can.

What happens with an eBook is that you submit it Harper Collins they will come back with some overall advice. So, you redo it, and you give them your final draft. They then employ a freelance editor who goes over it, but you don’t have any communication with that editor. She will give you a report, which suggests all of these changes. But, you don’t actually have the ability to ring or email or say, “But, why did you say this?” And, Harper Collins will say that you don’t have to make any of the changes. They leave that to your discretion.

But, at the same time as a first time novelist I’m thinking, “Gee, I don’t want to be stubborn here, they know better than me. I should change it.” Someone said, “Maybe it should be like 70/30.” You take on 70 percent of what they say, but stand your ground on some of the things that really matter to you.

Valerie

Yep.

Jennifer

I think I did that. I’m happy to learn. I don’t assume that I know everything, by a long shot. At the same time there were a couple of things, which I couldn’t budge on as a journalist.

The very first chapter of the book in the last, second last draft, opened with a much darker scenario, where Rachel, as a journalist, was covering the abduction of a young girl, who was then found killed. So, it was quite confronting, but it was also based on a real life story that I covered that was very emotional.

They said because they thought of it as more of a chick-lit type book, they wanted it to start out with something lighter, that it was too dark for what they considered female audience that would be buying the book.

When they suggested changing it, at first they said, “Why can’t Rachel find the little girl alive?” I said, “Because that just doesn’t happen, sadly. In real life when little girls are abducted — bigger girls who go missing run away, like 16+ maybe, but if they’re under 12 it’s very unlikely.” Sadly. I couldn’t change that to make it a happy ending story, because it would have been — it was very unrealistic to do that.

Valerie

When you were writing did you plot the whole thing out already? Did you know most of the key things that were going to happen?

Jennifer

Most of the key things I did know, because there was so much I wanted to incorporate. And, as I said there was some personal experiences I drew on. Say, the bombing scene in the book is drawn from the Russell Street Bombing, which I was very closely involved in, because our city office was right around the corner from the Russell Street Police Headquarters. So, the window next to me actually shattered in the blast.

So, that’s actually quite real, that chapter.

Now, I forgot the original question, what was it? Sorry!

Valerie

Did you plot it out?

Jennifer

Yes, because there was some things like that, which I really did want to include, I had pages blue tacked to my wall in the office, pretty much chapter by chapter.

But, at the same time I did allow — when the writing took you down a different path, because I do think the characters can take over and things can happen, or ideas, fresh ideas can come to you in the middle of writing. I do also keep a notepad by my bed, because sometimes you wake up and think of something, you’ve got to write it down, or you won’t remember it.

I was open to change, but I did like having a guide, at least, and I think that’s much more helpful to do that from the beginning. I’m the sort of person who’s quite organized. I like to know where I’m heading.

They do advise that in writing classes, because otherwise you can just be heading down this long and winding road that’s leading nowhere. I think you really — it’s a really good idea to have an idea of where it’s going to end.

Valerie

When you first started writing it did you decide that you were going to write in the genre of chick-lit or commercial women’s fiction? Or did you just kind of start writing a story?

Jennifer

I suppose when I first started writing it was a lot more somber, word-heady, serious. I was trying to be more literary. Not like in a Tim Winton sense, but more towards that vein of writing, but I just found because the voice of Rachel as a young woman had to be contemporary that it just wasn’t going to work. It just really had to be a chick-lit style book. And I also felt it would reach a wider audience if it was written in that style.

Valerie

Do you feel that you’ve found your voice? Because you were saying that you had to do that when you first started writing.

Jennifer

I do. I do. I’m a little bit sad that it’s not as intelligent and as literary as some of my wonderful writer friends. Like, my step-sister Sian Prior, who wrote the memoir Shy. Her writing is so beautiful. Alison Piper, who’s another friend. They’re writing is on another level. I can see that. And, I do aspire to that, maybe with another novel down the track.

But, I mean I’ve already started writing another book, which is still probably more of your easy to read type literature than the literary style.

Valerie

Can you tell us what that’s going to be about?

Jennifer

Yes, it’s called Black Angels. It was originally actually also written as a movie, because I did screenwriting at RMIT as well. And, another director friend of mine in the US said he loved the movie I did, but he thought I should try and have it written as a book first.

Yeah, everyone keeps pulling me back to the book, which is fine. But, I suppose this is a different genre in that it’s like a sci-fi or supernatural romance, more along the lines of a Twilight or a — not Harry Potter, but there’s an imaginary world, a fictitious world. 

Valerie

Yep. Now you mentioned when you were writing you do breakfast radio, then you come home and you kind of wrote in the late afternoons or early evenings. How long approximately do you think it took you with that routine to write the book?

Jennifer

I had plenty of breaks, because I suppose my career had a few different turns after I left 10, I worked at the ABC for a bit, and then I was doing a column for The Herald Sun, now breaky radio, plus I have a family. And there was a little bit of travel in between with my husband who’s an actor and goes to England a bit, so I go over there with him.

So, there were definitely breaks in writing. The wonderful thing, of course, about writing is you can take your laptop with you and continue it. It’s just a bit harder if you’re on the fly, traveling, I think, to get into that mindset.

I do like writing when I’m away from home, but I feel more comfortable in my office. I think it’s a bit easier when you’ve got your plot lines on your wall and all of your familiar things around you. It’s a better space for me to write in.

I think it would have taken — all up, I’ve said between eight and ten years probably.

Valerie

For all of the drafts?

Jennifer

Yeah, yeah. From the very first draft. Yep.

Valerie

Sure. How long do you think it took you for the first draft?

Jennifer

I suppose there was a break between starting the book and when I started at RMIT, there was quite a big gap, because then we working on the TV series.

So, I would say… I really do start the official timeframe probably from when I began the course at RMIT. So, I’d say probably from 2008 to about — the first draft would have been 2013.

Valerie

What do you think was the hardest thing about writing this novel?

Jennifer

I think the last draft was the most difficult, because I had made a lot of changes after I had been given the report from the editor, from Harper Collins. And, I made a lot of, I felt, compromises in terms of storyline and characters. I was down in the shops and I was about half an hour away from coming home and sending out an email to all of my friends and family about a book launch. I decided to have a book launch even though I shouldn’t say it, but I can’t help it, I still have the dialogue inside my head going, “It’s only an eBook.”

But, I still wanted to celebrate.

So I had a plan, “I’m going to be really positive, I’m going to have a party, I’m going to do it.” And I initially had the email plotted out on my computer and was about to push send when I had another call from Mary Rennie from Harper Collins saying, “Jennifer, I just decided after looking at it one more time, we need to go over it again.”

Valerie

Really?

Jennifer

I literally burst into tears, I think.

Valerie

Oh, wow.

Jennifer

She said, “No, I think there’s still too many characters and it’s a bit confusing for the reader, and I think…” So, when you get rid of characters, of course, that has a domino effect throughout the book.

And that was a very intense period because I was so determined to have it finished and so sick of it going on for so long.

So, I’d be working at work six or seven hour day on the computer, come home and do another six or seven hours. I actually developed a shoulder injury from your right hand going back and forth on the mouse all day.

But, I did get it finished to the deadline. But, as with every book apparently there is one mistake, I’ve found, in making headlines, so I’m a bit annoyed about that. I’m a bit of a … when it comes to word repetition. It’s not a mistake spelling-wise, but it’s a word repetition, which I’m not happy with and you can’t fix it.

Valerie

When you redraft, do you actually start from scratch? How did you approach your redrafts?

Jennifer

With the last redraft, yes, because it involved changing the first chapter completely. So, that was starting from scratch. And taking out — also Mary wanted a couple of characters to go, so that was tough.

I took the advice on and did it. I still don’t know. I would have to get someone to read both drafts to tell me if I made the right choice or not. It’s always a tough one.

Valerie

What’s the most rewarding thing about writing a novel? Don’t say the end, writing the end.

Jennifer

No, no, no. I think the most rewarding is now that it’s been out there for a couple of months I’m finally getting some feedback from people, even strangers, also people I admire and respect as writers, to have them say that they’ve really enjoyed the book is wonderful.

And, even my older brother, for instance, who as a bloke, I thought he might find it a bit too chick-lity, but he really loved it, and he felt, in fact, that it was marketed the wrong way, that the cover is too light and breezy. That it should be a more serious image.

Valerie

Why the change to sci-fi? That’s really quite different.

Jennifer

It is, isn’t it?

It was a story that came to me, and this is going to sound a bit weird, it was a dream. So, I woke up and thought, “Wow,” I just had this image of an amazingly strong female character who was dressed like a black angel, and I just thought, “That looks amazing, and we can do something with this in this story.”

Funny thing is I had a meeting at Warner Bros in Hollywood about this script, and not long after that Maleficent came out.

Valerie

Right, yes.

Jennifer

I take credit and say they stole my story.

Valerie

Of course. But, it’s a long bow between when you just have a dream about somebody dressed as a dark angel, then a black angel, and then actually writing an entire story.

Jennifer

Sure, sure.

Valerie

How did you then, you know?

Jennifer

Well, then I thought, “A black angel — why would there be a black angel?” Then I thought, “Well, you know, what? Actually, heaven could be a little boring.” So, maybe this a world where there are some rebel angels who had decided, “Bugger this, let’s go make life a bit more interesting.” And maybe they still want to connect with people on planet Earth.

Valerie

Oh, that’s great. I love it.

Now that you’re working on this and it’s your second novel, is your writing routine very similar to what it was with the last one? Because obviously you’re not going to take 8-10 years.

Jennifer

It is similar. My writing routine is very spasmodic and ad-hoc and all over the place.

Valerie

Yes.

Jennifer

At the moment I’ve been having a bit of a break. Then when I start writing again it’s very intense. So, it’s a bit like I’m an all or nothing writer.

Valerie

Yep. OK. What’s your advice finally for aspiring writers who hope to be able to write their first novel?

Jennifer

I think the most important thing is to find your own voice. Don’t try to be somebody else. Don’t try to impress people. Just write for the love of it. You shouldn’t really write — I know some writers who think they’re going to do the next Harry Potter and be squillionaires and you just shake your head and think, “No, that’s not why you do it.” I think you do it because you love it, because you’re trying to connect with an audience. It’s wonderful getting great feedback from people after you’ve finished a book, but you shouldn’t be writing with dollar signs in your eyes.

Valerie

Wonderful and on that note thank you so much for your time today, Jennifer.

Jennifer

Thanks, Valerie. It’s been lovely chatting.

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