Ep 135 A new book on pronunciation; and meet Laura Greaves, author of “Incredible Dog Journeys”.

podcast-artworkIn Episode 135 of So you want to be a writer: Have you been mispronouncing words? Find out with the latest book on pronunciation. What are the crossroads you face when writing a novel? And what no one tells you about pages proofs and blurb requests. Discover how you could win a Surface Pro 4! Plus: meet Laura Greaves, author of Incredible Dog Journeys. Can you repurpose your old Twitter account for building your author platform, and much more!

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Review of the Week
From CK8538 from USA:

This was my first time listening to Valerie & Allison. I am an aspiring author. I enjoyed the episode. I found the content helpful and informative. I especially enjoyed the interview with Jay Kristoff. I will be listening to more. Love their accents since I am a midwestern gal in America.

Thanks CK8538 from USA!

Show Notes

New book aims to settle debate on misused and mispronounced words

How to Write and Publish a Novel: 5 Crossroads You’ll Face

What No One Tells You About Page Proofs, Blurb Requests and More

Writer in Residence

Laura Greaves
laura-greaves_colourLaura Greaves is a multi award-winning freelance journalist with nearly 20 years’ experience on newspapers and magazines in several countries.

She writes for leading Australian and international titles including Marie Claire, Woman’s Day, Women’s Fitness, Nature & Health, Dogs Life, WellBeing and more.

She is the author of Incredible Dog Journeys, which will be released 28 November 2016.

Follow Laura on Twitter

Platform Building Tip

Can you repurpose your old Twitter account for building your author platform?

Answered in the podcast!

Competition

WIN a Surface Pro 4!

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, Laura.

Laura

Thanks for having me.

Valerie

Now you’ve written this awesome book, Incredible Dog Journeys: Amazing true stories of exceptional dogs. As soon as I saw it I went, “I need to talk to Laura.” Now for readers who haven’t read your book yet, can you tell us what it’s about?

I know that the title is sort of self-explanatory, but if you could just tell us in your own words, because I’m sure this book is going to off, especially with Christmas coming up.

Laura

I hope.

Valerie

So tell us.

Laura

I hope you’re right. I do think it’s a great stocking stuffer, type gift. But, yeah, you’re right, the title is quite self-explanatory. It kind of does what it says on the tin, this one.

So, Incredible Dog Journeys is a collection of sixteen non-fiction stories about dogs that have done amazing things and overcome enormous odds in order to get home to the people who love them, to their humans, their families.

Valerie

Absolutely. And what made you think of writing this book?

Laura

It was really interesting the way it came about. I have two romantic comedy novels published by Destiny, which is Penguin Random House’s digital first romance imprint. Obviously, through that I got to know some of the people who work for Penguin. And one of those people is also involved with the Michael Joseph imprint, which is one of their commercial imprints.

And she was tasked with producing a dog book.

And she thought, “Oh my goodness, I didn’t know anything about dogs. Who am I going to get to write this book?” And then she thought, luckily for me, “Ah-ha, I know crazy dog lady,” because I must admit I do wear my dog-nut credentials proudly on my sleeve. Both my novels have very extensive supporting casts of canine characters.

She came to me and said, “Is this something you would be interested in doing?” And of course I said, “Um, yes, please. Let’s do that immediately.”

I put together a big list of ideas for dog books, basically. I sent that to her, she discussed it with the various departments there, and came back and said, “This is the one we want. We want the one about the dogs who find their way home to their people.” And so it all snowballed from there.

Valerie

Wow, isn’t it funny that she was tasked with, “Hey, you need to do a dog book.” Like, I wonder what a dog book is apart from stories about dogs. What were some of the other ideas?

Laura

Well, one of them was dogs with jobs, which is actually the book that I’m writing now, which will be the follow-up to Incredible Dog Journeys. That comes out mid-next year, I think.

Valerie

Awesome.

Laura

That’s another one that is fairly self-explanatory. That’s about working dogs, but not the working dogs… not just the kind of farm dogs and the police dogs and the guide dogs that we think of, but all kinds of interesting and unusual canine occupations. So, that was on the list as well.

Goodness, I’m trying to think now. There were so many. I must admit this was pretty much a dream gig.

Valerie

Yes.

Laura

So, as soon as she said, “Give me your ideas,” I said, “Oh, here’s all of them.”

Valerie

Yeah, fantastic.

Laura

Every idea I’ve ever had about writing about dogs.

There was another one that was about — I think I called it Ruff Diamonds, or something. And it was going to be able dog breeds that people tend to associate as being quote/unquote bad dogs. Things like pit bulls and things like that. But, it was going to be about beautiful dogs of those breeds.

Valerie

Yes.

Laura

Dogs that had done amazing things.

So, that’s still a bit of a passion project of mine, because I’m very much anti-breed specific legislation, which some of your listeners may be familiar with. So, I would absolutely really love to write that book someday. So, that’s one that I’m going to keep pitching to them.

Valerie

Wow. Now you must have dogs?

Laura

I do. Yes, I have two dogs.

Valerie

What are they? And what are their names?

Laura

They are Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, which most people have never heard of.

Yes, Toller is the shorthand version.

They look a little bit like Border Collies, but they’re red.

Valerie

Oh, OK.

Laura

Yeah, they’re beautiful. They’re called Tex and Delilah.

Valerie

Oh, lovely.

Laura

Yeah.

Valerie

Gorgeous.

When you knew that this was the book that it was going to be, Incredible Dog Journeys, how did you go about researching this? Because it is eighteen incredible stories. So, how did you find the stories and then determine which ones made the cut?

Laura

Sure, well, I had so much fun doing the research for this book, I can’t even tell you. It was such a laugh.

Well, as I mentioned I am a crazy dog lady. I’ve been involved with kind of the dog world for quite a while, and I’ve been a freelance journalist now for going on eight to nine years, I think. But, prior to that I spent fifteen years working for newspapers and magazines. And one of the magazines I worked for, I was actually the editor of it, it was Dogs Life magazine.

Valerie

Awesome.

Laura

Which is the leading dog publication in Australia and New Zealand.

I was there for a couple of years and through that work I got to know a lot of people in the dog world, everyone from breeders to trainers to people in animal welfare and rescue.

So, when I was looking for stories the first thing I did was go back to all of those people, everyone I had ever met who was remotely doggy, and said, “Tell me, do you know any stories that would fit the bill?” I also asked friends, I asked my friends to ask all of their friends. I really did cast the net wide.

So, I got a lot of really great stories that way. And then just the good old internet. I just googled a lot, because I did have some idea… I really loved this type of story or that type of story. So, with a bit of constructive googling I managed to track down some stories that way.

And also there was a bit of synchronicity to it, because no sooner had I started writing this book then it was like the universe knew and all of a sudden my Facebook feed would be full of these sort of stories and news items about a dog who had done this or that. And…

Valerie

Yeah.

Laura

Yeah, things just seemed to find me as I was looking for them, which was very helpful, actually.

Valerie

Fantastic. And without giving too much away, can you mention some of your favourite stories from the book?

Laura

Absolutely. Oh my goodness, they are all my favourites.

Valerie

Yes, I’m sure. That’s why they made the final cut.

Laura

That’s right. It’s like kind of choosing a favourite child.

Valerie
Yeah.

Laura

But, there are a couple in particular that stand out.

The stories come from all around the world. There are lots of Australian stories, obviously, but there’s also stories from the US, from the UK, and my favourite American story is this one about a woman called Rose who lives in Arizona. She and her — I’m sorry, I immediately go teary when I start thinking about this story, because it’s just so beautiful. So, I’m sorry if my voice wobbles a bit.

Rose had two dogs and she and they would travel all around America and have all of these wonderful adventures together. Ily and Heffie were the names of the dogs. So one weekend they were coming back in Rose’s luxury motorhome from a weekend away and they were involved in just the most horrific accident. The motorhome was basically obliterated. Rose was ejected from the vehicle. She broke every bone — literally every bone her body. Very sadly Heffie died in the accident. And Ily, the other dog, vanished, ran off into the desert and people thought that was it. Everyone was telling Rose, “This dog would be so badly injured, there is no way she could have survived this.”

But, Rose refused to give up hope, and slowly hundreds of people came together and kind of ventured out into the desert in search parties looking for this dog.

It’s not giving too much away when you know that the book is called Incredible Dog Journeys to reveal that she did in fact find her way home after three and a half months.

And even more incredibly when she was found she had paired up with another dog that had been lost in the desert, and that dog was able to be returned home as well.

So, yeah, amazing — amazing that story.

Valerie

It’s so inspiring, isn’t it? When you read these sorts of stories, whether you have a dog or not, they’re just such incredible stories.

Laura

Yeah, they are. And what they really underscore for me is just that bond that people have with their dogs.

Valerie

Yeah.

Laura

I mean dogs will do anything for their people. And the stories in this book just absolutely confirm that for me. Not that I ever really doubted it, but just the lengths that some of these dogs went to…

There’s another story in the book about a dog that was stolen and was found ten years later and still recognised her original owner — it was just incredible.

Valerie

How many stories do you think were on the long, long list? And how did you then determine which ones made it?

Laura

I think I probably had around 25, maybe 30 stories that I was keen to pursue or to look into. Some of those just didn’t get up because I couldn’t get in touch with people. I mean it was really interesting on the research side of things, how I actually found people, because it wasn’t just as simple as here’s a newspaper article and you look them up in the white pages and then you phone them up.

Valerie

Tell us an example.

Laura

Well, there was one, for example, there was a story out of this little island off the coast of Seattle in the US where these two dogs went missing and they were found a week later and one of them had fallen into a disused well. And her companion had sat there next to the well for the entire week, watching over her and only leaving her to try and find help, which is the ‘journey’ part of it. She would journey out of this ravine that they had fallen into to try and attract attention and try to get somebody to follow her back into the woods where her mate, amazing.

So, I knew the owner’s name, but I couldn’t find him. So, eventually through this kind of weird internet paper trail I had found somebody who had written a blog, someone based on that tiny island who had written a blog about this happening. And from the tone of the blog seemed to know the dog’s owner.

Valerie

Right.

Laura

So I actually emailed the person who ran the blog to say, “This is who I am and this is what I’m doing. Would you mind, if you know this man, can you give me his details, or can you get him to call me?” And, yeah, we managed to connect, finally, which was great.

Valerie

Isn’t that fantastic?

Laura

Because it’s a wonderful story — yeah. But, it wasn’t always straightforward, tracking people down.

Valerie

Yeah.

How did you decide on the structure of each story, because they’re all self-contained stories, but how did you decide when to start the story? Or, the order in which you wanted to present the information in each story?

Laura

I guess I kind of approached it as long form journalism.

Valerie

Yeah.

Laura

Because being a magazine feature writer, telling these types of stories is basically what I do. This was just in a much longer format. But, I also faced kind of challenges, I suppose, because in a lot of the cases all I really knew was that a dog had been seen at this place, and then ‘x’ number of days, weeks, months, years later turned up in this place.

So, there was a little bit of detective work in terms of piecing together what had actually transpired in the interim. Like, there’s one story in the book about a dog from Newcastle called Occy who vanished in a thunderstorm and was found three days later in Sydney.

So, you know 150 kilometres away.

And the ASPCA are the ones who picked him up, and they deduced from the state of his feet that he had actually run all the way from Newcastle to Sydney over a period of about 48 hours.

So, that was great. I mean we effectively knew what had happened, but I then had to pull out all of these maps, because they thought he had followed the train line. So, I then had to pull out all of these maps and figure out, “Oh, he would have had to cross this many creeks. At this point his path would have been right next to the Pacific Motorway. And here he would have gone past a sewage work, and what that must have smelled like to a dog’s sensitive nose?”

And so through doing things like that I was able to paint a picture, I suppose, of what the journey had been like for the dog.

Valerie

Yeah.

Laura

So, I was really keen to not just say, “Dog disappeared here, dog turned up here…” but, to really put the reader in the paws, if you like, of the dog as they were on the journey.

Valerie

Yes, wow.

Can you give us an idea of some timelines of when you decided to embark on the book and the period of time that you researched and the period of time you wrote it? Just some milestones kind of thing?

Laura

Sure. Well, once I actually had the greenlight from Penguin, once contracts were signed and everything, I had about four months altogether to turn the book around, and it’s 75,000 words. But, I never thought, “Oh my god, I have four months to write a 75,000-word book.” I thought, “I’ve got this many weeks to do this interviews and this many weeks to transcribe those interviews, and then x, y, z…”

It actually worked out that I wrote the manuscript, 75,000 words in six weeks, which was stressful and I would not recommend that.

Valerie

Yeah.

Laura

My plan was to spend two full months just writing, but because some of the dog owners proved difficult to track down and because some of them are on the other side of the world where you’ve got to take into account time differences to do interviews and that kind of stuff, the interviewing portion of proceedings took a little bit longer than anticipated.

Valerie

Yeah.

Laura

So, yeah, it did end up being a very intense six-week period of just every free moment, basically, staring at a screen, tapping away.

Valerie
Wow.

Laura

It was fun though. I really actually enjoyed… as stressful as it was at times, I really did enjoy just being in it, in that flow and just powering through it and telling these stories and making myself cry and making myself well up and all of this kind of stuff.

It was great.

Valerie

Presumably you decided to do the interviewing and research first and once that was done then you started doing the writing. You didn’t kind of like intersperse them or anything?

Laura

Yeah. Well, towards the later stages of that four-month period, when I really did have to get cracking with the writing, there was a little bit of overlap, where I was still doing the odd interview while also writing. And I think maybe a different writer, potentially a more organised writer would have been writing the whole time during that four-month period. Just for me, just for the way I like to work, I wanted to have all of my information there next to me, a big stack of transcribed interviews that I could just dip in and out of and put together.

It’s interesting, actually, the way different authors work on non-fiction projects like this, because my novels were obviously an entirely different fish.

Valerie
Yeah.

Speaking of your novels, now as you’ve said you’ve written fiction, Be My Baby and
The X Factor, tell us a bit about those books and how they differ in terms of your approach to writing, because this is non-fiction and they’re completely different.

Laura

Yeah. Absolutely.

Well, Be My Baby was very different in that it took me about ten years to write.

Valerie

Wow.

Laura

Yeah, because I’m a terrible procrastinator. And, also I didn’t have a contract or a deadline, I was really just writing that on spec, so there was no real impetus to have it done by a certain period of time.

The X Factor also didn’t have a deadline, as such, but I knew that Penguin would be interested in reading, and also I was about to have a baby when I was writing that.

Valerie
Yes.

Laura

So, I wanted to get as much of that written as I possibly could before giving birth.

And then after I had my daughter I didn’t finish that book for about six more months. I just gave myself time to kind of figure out how to work the baby and everything.

Valerie

Yeah, sure.

Laura

And then picked it up again and managed to finish it off quite quickly after that.

Valerie

Oh good.  

This particular book, when you were in the writing phase did you… so with the dog book, when you were in the writing phase did you have a particular routine or word count goal or anything like that? How did you approach the actual writing? Did you write for two hours or did you write for eight hours a day? You know? Just give us an idea of that.

Laura

Well, my daughter goes to daycare two days a week. So, those days were writing, you know, non-stop writing sort of head down, tail up, you know, don’t even break for food kind of thing.

And then on the other days I would write whenever she was asleep, fortunately she was still sleeping at that stage about two hours, sometimes three hours a day. So, that was a good chunk of writing time.

And then I also had to use a lot of weekends too. I mean there were some days where I would write 12 hours on a Saturday or…

Valerie

Wow.

Laura

Yeah, it was pretty exhausting.

And I know it’s not being down a coal mine or anything, but it’s mentally really taxing. So, with this book that I’m doing now I’m trying to avoid having to do those really long, intense stretches.

Valerie

Yep.

Laura

In terms of word count, I knew that obviously I had this many stories and this many words to fill. Each story needed to be roughly — I think it was roughly 3,000 words. And I know that if I get a good stretch of uninterrupted writing time, I can do one chapter or one 3,000 story in a day, in about sort of six hours or so.

Valerie

Yeah, that’s — and also I mean you have the discipline of your journalism background, so you know how to meet a deadline.

Laura

Yes, that’s right. And in fact sometimes I think journalism has ruined me for other creative projects, because I literally can’t work without a deadline.

Valerie

I know what you mean.

Laura

Yeah, if I’m not up against it I just think, “Oh, I’ll do it later.”

Valerie

Yes, absolutely.

Laura

But, I deal.

Valerie

Now this has obviously kicked off something because you’re already working on your next book, Working Dogs.  

And so do you feel that this going to start a whole new series of dog books for you? You’re going to become the dog lady?

Laura

I’m not really sure. I wouldn’t mind if that happens.

Valerie

Yeah.

Laura

I’ll be honest.

But, the reason the second one came about so quickly was that Penguin wasn’t initially going to publish Incredible Dog Journeys until early next year. But, once I delivered it they liked it so much and I guess they saw the potential for it as a Christmas-type book…

Valerie

It’s going to go off at Christmas. I already know.

Laura

So they decided to bring it out earlier and that then left a hole in next year’s publishing schedule for another book of this type.

Valerie

Yeah, right.

Laura

Which was how we got the go ahead for dogs with jobs.

Valerie

When do you have to turn that in?

Laura

Mid-January is the deadline for that one. It was supposed to be early January, but I’ve been really unlikely this year with illness and I’ve just had a whole raft of horrible lurgies. So I begged and pleaded for a couple of extra weeks and thankfully they’re very accommodating.

Valerie

Yeah. I often find that as journalists we take the deadlines seriously and it often astounds me when a publisher will come back to me two weeks before the deadline and say, “Do you want more time?” And I’m like, “Oh my god, don’t stuff up my ‘need to now,’ why would you say that?”

Laura

Yes. I know, I’ve read these interviews with, like, literary authors when they talk about how they turn their book in three years late, and I’m like, “What?!”

Valerie

I know.

Laura

“How did you get away with that? How were you not just dying of stress?”

Valerie

Exactly. Yes — yes! Exactly.

Anyway, not just stress, but just an embarrassment that you didn’t do what you agreed to.

Laura

Yeah, that’s exactly right. I can’t miss deadlines, not without profuse apologises and terrible guilt.

Valerie
Yes.
 

Now is this consuming your working life at the moment, or are you doing other writing things?

Laura

It is consuming my working life, yeah. I have basically stopped doing freelance magazine work for the time being, just because I literally have no other time.

I’ve actually got a novel in progress as well, which… my stupid plan, and I don’t know what I was thinking, but my plan was that I could do them simultaneously. Then I got pneumonia and had to go hospital and thought, “Well, that was silly.”

Valerie

Yes.

Laura

I probably won’t do that now, I will do the novel later and finish the one that does have a deadline.

Valerie

Alright, I just want to circle back to fiction, because you’re soon going to be writing your third novel. Tell us a little bit about your creative process there in terms of do you just start with a premise, or do you already know the ending, or have you already got a story mapped out in your head? Just give us an idea of how you actually approach the building of your story.

Laura

I’m sure your listeners are very familiar with the whole plotter versus pantser debate.

Valerie

Yes.

Laura

Well, I’m very much a plotter. Most of the writers that I know are pantsers, but maybe it’s the journalism background again. I don’t know, but I like to get my head around the structure of things before I set out, which is not to say that I don’t allow room for things to change.

I remember in writing my second novel, The X Factor, I wrote myself into a corner and I couldn’t figure out how to solve this plot problem for months and still keep to the structure of the outline that I had written for myself.

And then I finally… the solution just occurred to me one day. And, it did go in a whole different direction. But, you know, that was OK, at least I kind of had parameters that I was working within.

So, with the third one I actually… I sat down one afternoon just to do the dot points, the kind of key story beats that I wanted to hit. And the next thing I knew I had written myself a 5,000-word outline.

Valerie
Wow.

Laura

Which even for me, as a plotter, is a little bit extreme. I’ve never gone quite into that much detail before. But, the novel is a romantic urban fantasy. It’s very different from my first two novels.

Valerie

Yes.

Laura

It involves lots of kind of mythical creatures and everyone has got magic powers and all of that kind of stuff. So, I really felt I needed to have that written down, just so that I knew exactly who did what and what the kind of rules of that world were before I actually started the writing.

Valerie

And why did you decide to do a romantic urban fantasy, which is very different to a book about dogs and just regular novels?

Laura

Yeah, that’s right. Well, I love to read it. It’s probably my favourite fiction genre to read. I do love chick-lit or romantic comedy, which is what my first two novels would be classified as.

But, yeah, I just love it. A bit of magic… especially the American urban fantasy, where’s it’s all set in the south and it’s all very gothic and there’s lots of, you know, vampires and all of these dark deeds going on. I just love that world. There’s something so appealing about it.

And I had this idea kicking around for a while, and I had actually written it as a screenplay.

Valerie

Oh yeah?

Laura

And just kind of thought, “No, I think it needs more… it needs a bigger canvas, really, to actually explore all of the issues and the ideas that I think need to be addressed as part of this idea.” So, I just thought I’d give it a try, really, as a novel…

Valerie

Sure.

Laura

… or as prose, and see how it worked out. So far so good.

Valerie

Oh good.

You know how you said there’s something really appealing about it.

Laura

Mm-hmm.

Valerie

What is really appealing about it? I’m keen to know.

Laura

That genre you mean?

Valerie

Yeah, about that world that you obviously love.

Laura

Sure. Well, what I really like about it is that in that world nobody is all good or all bad. In fact, that’s really the central theme of the novel that I’m writing. It’s how we live in a world there are shades of light and shades of dark, or good and evil, or whatever you want to call it — not just in the people around us, but in ourselves. You know, we have both of those things in each of us. And it’s about choosing the path that we want to walk.

Valerie

Yeah.

Laura

That’s very much the dilemma that my heroine faces in this new novel.

So, I just think that really appeals to me, because I love thinking about and looking into and learning about what makes people tick and what makes us do the things we do. So, putting that in a kind of magical setting is just — yeah, it was just too delicious a prospect to not pursue.

Valerie

Yeah, fair enough.

And, so if you are some advice to aspiring writers who hope to be in a position where they have published either novels or non-fiction books, what would your advice be to them? If they’re not there yet, what should they be doing?

Laura

You know, this is probably not a very popular viewpoint, but I think you just have to write. It sounds so simple, but I mean it took me ten years to write my first book. And in that ten years when I wasn’t writing I was still thinking of myself as a writer, and I was reading the books about which agents I should query and all of the rest of it. And I finally got to a point where I just thought, “Well, that’s just pointless, because I don’t have a book.”

So, I realised it can be very exciting and very alluring, I think, thinking about that world of publishing and how you would approach your career as an author, but until you’ve got a book, or a manuscript you can’t have a career.

Valerie

Yes.

Laura

So you have to prioritise the writing. You have to knuckle down. Schedule it in. I have to schedule it these days.

Valerie

Yes.

Laura

On the days when my daughter is at daycare people always say, “Oh, let’s have coffee.” Or, “Let’s have lunch.” And I have to say, “I can’t.” I just have to stare at my screen and write, because otherwise I won’t get the chance.

So, you have to be a little bit selfish about prioritising that time, I think.

Valerie

Yep.

Laura

And especially not feeling guilty about it, which is a challenge.

But, yeah, that is my advice. Just close yourself off from all of the fun distractions of what agent you’d like to sign with, or which publisher you’d like to be with, and just focus on writing the best book you possibly can.

Valerie
Absolutely brilliant advice. On that note, thank you so much for talking to us today, Laura.

Laura

Thanks, Valerie. It’s been lovely.


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