Ep 222 How to write for yourself when you write for a living. And meet children’s author Catherine Pelosi.

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

In Episode 222 of So you want to be a writer: A new project that hopes to have you fall in love with books at the first chapter. How to write for yourself when you write for a living and should you show a first draft to your agent? Plus: meet children’s author Catherine Pelosi.

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

podcast-artwork

Links Mentioned

Love at First Chapter

How To Write For Yourself When You Write for a Living

Listener Question

Anon asks:

Hi Al and Val. Happy new year to you both… I have a question for the podcast: I’m very fortunate to have had a novel published, with the help of a great agent. However, now I’ve nearly finished the first draft of my second novel. My agent asked to see it when I’d written 30,000 words, but I feel terrified to show it to her. I’m now up to 82,000 words. With my first novel, I didn’t even send to an agent until I’d written six drafts and polished it to a state I was really happy with. The idea of showing something so early sends me into a panic. Is it different for subsequent books? Should I throw caution to the wind and show her my terrible first draft? Do you think a good agent would be able to give helpful feedback when I’m really only still finding out my own story? 

Val and Al answer your question on the podcast.

Writer in Residence

Catherine Pelosi

Catherine Pelosi is a children’s book author.

Her debut book is a middle grade novel, Quark’s Academy was published in February 2018.

Her picture book, Something for Fleur is due for publication in August 2018, and a junior fiction novel, Meet the Maniacs in 2019.

(If you click through the link above and then purchase from Booktopia, we get a small commission from this purchase. This amount is donated to Doggie Rescue to support their valuable work with unwanted and abandoned dogs.)

Follow Catherine on Twitter

Follow Hachette Children’s Books on Twitter

Competition

WIN: ‘Australia’s Greatest Surf Photographers’

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Connect with Valerie, Allison and listeners in the podcast community on Facebook

So you want to be a writer Facebook group

Share the love!

Interview Transcript

Valerie

Thanks so much for joining us, Catherine.

Catherine

Thanks for having me, Valerie.

Valerie

Now, you’ve just released your debut novel. And I’m just so excited for you. For readers and listeners who haven’t discovered your book yet, tell us what it’s about.

Catherine

Sure. Well, it’s called Quark’s Academy. And it’s about three science whizz kids. There’s Augustine, Celeste and Oscar, and they’re spending a week at a very mysterious science academy where they’re competing in the best invention competition. But as the week goes on, they uncover a bit of a dark secret that changes everything.

Valerie

Wow. I love this. Now how did this idea eventuate? Where did this come from, this story?

Catherine

A few years ago I did an astronomy course at the Sydney Observatory, which is such an amazing place. And I had this fantastic professor who was really enthusiastic. And each week I was attending, I just started to think more and more about science, and what would it be like to study science every day. And then not only that, but maybe go somewhere where you’re creating your own inventions as well. And that’s sort of how the idea sparked. And from there I just kept growing on it and growing on it.

Valerie

I have to ask, what made you think, oh I’ll do an astronomy course now?

Catherine

I love science. I think back at school I gravitated more towards the arts and English, but I always found science very fascinating. So whenever there’s an opportunity to do something fun like that, astronomy, and the Sydney Observatory is just such an amazing place… The building… I just love it. I’ve always wanted to go, and when I saw it pop up I thought, oh, yes, I’ll give it a try. And I’m so glad I did, because I got so much out of it. On top of the astronomy, also, obviously a book idea!

Valerie

Yeah, fantastic. So give us a little bit of an idea of your background. Because obviously apart from being interested in science or astronomy, you’re interested in writing. So just give us a really quick potted history of your background.

Catherine

My background is marketing and communications. So I’ve been working in that, and I still am, for probably ten plus years.

But it was about ten years ago that I first decided I wanted to write children’s books, when I was living in London, in a very dull office. I started thinking about writing. And when I returned to Australia that’s when I actually signed up for the Writing for Children and Young Adults course at the Australian Writers’ Centre. Which was fantastic.

But once I finished, I got side-tracked again, and I started a new job, and I let the idea fall away. And then it came back to me. So I did the course again. I did it online. Which was the best thing. Because from that point I really started focusing on writing. And I’ve been treating it fairly seriously for about five years. Still working in marketing and communications. But it was about four years in that I signed up with an agent and then it sort of went from there.

Valerie

So what brought you back to it? Was it a particular story that you really wanted to tell? Or did you have some time from work? What brought you back to wanting to write for children?

Catherine

I love creative writing, and I love coming up with ideas. For me that’s the best part. And the thoughts and the ideas just weren’t going away. And I thought, I have to do something with this! Because it keeps… I’m the sort of person that thinks a lot. So it will keep me up at night. If I don’t get it out on the page, it’s really for my own wellbeing that I have to get it down and turn it into something.

Valerie

And why are you interested particularly in writing for children, as opposed to adults or other people?

Catherine

I think because children’s books, I love how they tackle big themes and important themes, but in interesting and creative ways. And being someone who is creative, I love trying to stretch the imagination and seeing how I can address different topics and themes that are relevant to children, but in a bit of a fun and creative fast paced way. That’s the sort of books I like to read.

Valerie

And so do you have children yourself?

Catherine

I don’t, no. I’m a godmother and an aunty, but I don’t have children.

Valerie

So one of the most annoying things that I hear people say, and it really annoys me, is they say, oh, how can you really write for children if you don’t have any? What are your comments on that?

Catherine

I have heard that. I don’t agree at all. I think, I mean, we’ve all been children. I was a child, once upon a time. And I think that’s the most important thing.

For me, the childhood years of about eight to twelve, are my most vivid. I had so much fun and I had this fantastic next-door neighbour, and we used to go on adventures. I can tap into those memories quite easily.

I don’t think it’s necessarily about having to have your own children, it’s just being able to remember what it’s like to be a child.

Valerie

You said that you can tap into those memories quite easily. Do you have to do anything? Do you have to get into a particular mindset? Do you have to bring yourself into a particular state, or remind yourself somehow? What did you do on that front?

Catherine

It’s a good question. Really for me, when I start writing I do character profiles. So I get really clear on each of the characters, and their age, their likes, their dislikes, even their physical attributes. And I just keep going back to that, and I’ll build on it and I’ll add to it as I’m writing. And I find that if I revisit that list, I can get into that headspace quite easily. But I don’t have any special technique or anything like that.

Valerie

When you say you write character profiles, practically speaking what do you actually do? Do you write words? Do you find pictures? How do you build that character profile? And where physically do you store the information on that profile? Maybe it’s just in your head, or maybe it’s in a document, I don’t know. You tell me.

Catherine

I use a notebook. It’s not a fancy process at all. In fact, if someone saw it they’d be like, my goodness! What is that! Because it’s just scribble. I just use a notebook. And I put their name in the middle of the page, and I’ll just write words around it. It’s really quite simple. I know that there’s all sorts of processes and programs that people use. But no, I’m pretty simple with that.

I have looked at pictures. Sometimes I’ll jump on the internet and I’ll Google images just to get ideas, even for things like hair and eye colour, or nose shape and face shape, to get inspiration. But yeah, that’s about it.

Valerie

So let’s talk about Quark’s Academy. Can you just give us a bit of a picture of from when the idea formed – obviously the seed was planted when you did the astronomy course – but when you started really thinking this is going to be a book and started mapping it out, and some kind of timeline. Like, it started here and then three months later I had the first three chapters, or whatever. You know what I mean? Just take us through the journey and the gestation of the book.

Catherine

Sure. I had the idea at the observatory. But then I spend a lot of time thinking before I actually put the words on the page. Because I have to be really sure that I’m confident and happy with the idea. And it’s so much of a commitment to write a book, and takes up so much time, that I don’t like the idea of getting into it and then scrapping it. So I do spend a lot of time thinking and walking around, thinking of the plot and the characters. And if I remain excited, I’ll go with it. So that’s what happened with Quark’s Academy.

And then the writing process, to get the first draft out it would have been around eight to nine months.

 

Valerie

Wow, okay.

Catherine

And during that time, I’m part of a great writers’ group, so I would take different chapters for their feedback, which is so useful. And once I had got it to a stage I was pretty happy with, I shared it with a couple of writing friends who read it from start to finish. And I think that’s really important, too, to get obviously the overall impression. And then I started the editing process. Which can take quite a while.

It’s hard to say. Probably about a year and a half, maybe, to complete and ready for submission.

Valerie

And so you had to juggle this with a day job at this stage. So tell us, practically speaking, when did you write? During those eight or nine months, when did you write that first draft? Was it weekends? Did you set times, did you snatch times? Was there a routine, was it just whenever?

Catherine

Definitely snatched times. So I would go to work an hour early and sit at the cafe across the road and write or edit, depending on where I was at with the manuscript. And then sometimes I would do it again at lunchtime.

So one of the great things is that we can have our laptops – and I’m never without my laptop in my handbag. And I’ll just pull it out whenever I can. And it was a bit intense at times, when I was trying to finish it.

And I know that you and Allison talk a lot about it on the podcast, about finding time, and I think that’s just so true. You have to find the time, whenever that may be.

Valerie

Yeah.

Catherine

And then I did quite a bit on weekends. Saturday mornings, for some reason, I’ll go down… I like writing in cafes. So I’ll walk down and have my coffee and write away.

Valerie

Great. And what did you write on? Word, Scrivener, Google Docs? What did you write your first draft in?

Catherine

I use Word

Valerie

Okay. That’s very straight forward.

Catherine

I haven’t tried… Yeah, pretty standard. I haven’t tried any others. I think because I’ve used Word for so long, I’m too afraid to try something different.

Valerie

All right. So with this book, then, did you plot out what was going to happen? Did you know what was going to happen at the end and all the steps in between? Or are you one of these people who wanted to see the story unfold as you were writing it?

Catherine

I used to be a pantser. No planning. But I found myself getting into so many plot knots and problems I couldn’t solve. And the time that it takes to undo all of that, it was just becoming ridiculous. So I am a bit more of a plotter now. But I don’t plot heavily. I know the beginning, I know the midpoint, and I have an idea of where it’s going to end. And I write to those points.

Valerie

And obviously this is your first published book, but you wrote other things before this. What sorts of stories were they? And what was the difference in this one that made this the one to break through?

Catherine

I actually started writing picture books. So the first writing group I joined was a picture book writing group, which was so useful in learning how to write. I just think it’s so challenging to put a whole story in 300 words. So it was sort of like a master class of children’s writing, I thought.

But my ideas seemed to bulge beyond those parameters, every time. So I started a chapter group writing book, and that’s when I started to focus more on the older readers.

And I have written a few other manuscripts. And one actually went to acquisitions but didn’t quite get through. So I had a bit of encouragement along the way.

I think the difference with this one, is when you start to get more into writing I think you get a better understanding of how many elements there are to a story. So when I look back to when I started it was more about, oh, that’s a good idea. Or that’s a good character. Whereas now I am much more aware that there’s plotting, there’s pacing, there’s character development, language – and you have to get it all right for it to work.

So I think that’s the difference. It’s just a better, more experienced, better understanding… Yeah.

Valerie

Now of course you have done various courses at the Australian Writers’ Centre. How have they contributed to your overall writing and your writing career?

Catherine

I have. I’ve done the Copywriting Essentials, and also the Travel Writing course. And I loved both of those, as well. The copywriting one, because I do a bit of freelance copywriting as well, and that was great. Just to help me understand what it involved, and how to go about becoming a freelance copywriter. And I have quite a bit of work since doing that course, so that’s been fantastic.

And the travel writing course, I’ve had a couple of articles published, but I just don’t have the time to focus on it right now. Although, I would love to revisit that one day.

So I think all the courses have been great, and just learning the essentials, and also how to go about doing it. Because it’s one thing to learn how to write, but then what do you do? I didn’t have any idea of where do I send my travel article, and how do I craft an email or a pitch, and all that sort of thing.

Valerie

And obviously you did the Writing Books for Children and Young Adults course twice.

Catherine

Yes!

Valerie

Which is cool. What did you get out of that that has been valuable for your writing journey, for your writing career?

Catherine

I think, well, firstly it’s being in the community.

Valerie

Community is so important, isn’t it?

Catherine

It’s so important. And I didn’t know anyone in the… Well, I didn’t know anyone who wrote children’s books, and I didn’t know anyone in the publishing industry. So doing that course, I met other writers. The presenters are very well aware of the industry and know editors and all that sort of thing, so they can give you very good insight into what’s involved.

So that was probably the biggest thing. It opened that door into the community which I just haven’t left since. I really try and attend a lot of conferences. Even just getting involved online, social media, there’s a big presence of the publishing industry on Twitter and that sort of thing. I feel it was going through a door into another world.

Valerie

Yeah, well you’re obviously well into that other world now because not only is Quark’s Academy out, tell us, you’ve got two more books that are definitely coming out. And I have no doubt this is just going to be the start of a whole list of books.

Catherine

Oh, thank you. I hope so.

Valerie

But tell us about the next two that are coming out.

Catherine

So Something for Fleur is a picture book that’s coming out in August this year, which is a really sweet picture book about friendship. And that’s illustrated by Caitlin Murray. And I have a junior fiction novel coming out early next year called Meet the Maniacs. And that’s about a nine-year-old girl called Lolly, who uncovers a huge family secret. And that one is a lot of fun.

Valerie

Right. So where did the ideas for those ones come from?

Catherine

Meet the Maniacs, the junior fiction, it’s very much about family. And that one came from… I started tracing my family’s family tree. Which I’d never done it before, and I have a friend that does it, and I started asking her about it. And thought, oh, I want to give it a try. And I uncovered some different ancestral roots that I didn’t realise we had. So it’s come out of there. I won’t give too much away about the story. But that’s from Ancestry.com, funnily enough.

And the picture book was a story that I had started writing with my critique group, and it has changed a lot. So there were different versions of it. And I just kept going back to it and slowly tweaking it, and it just got to a point where it just clicked. And I thought, oh, this is good. So I sent it off in a competition and it got quite good feedback. And then I later submitted it to my agent who took that one on as well.

Valerie

Now tell us how you got your agent?

Catherine

Yes. So I went to the CYA conference, which is a children’s writing conference in Brisbane that happens every year. And I really recommend it for any aspiring children’s book authors. And there was an opportunity to pitch to agents and publishers, and I managed to secure a pitch with my agent, Alex Adsett. And I had five minutes to pitch my book – which is nothing.

Valerie

Were you ready? Had you prepared?

Catherine

I had prepared. Because I knew I had to. So it was over the phone, actually. I don’t know if that still is the case. So it was a little bit different, and probably a little bit more relaxing over the phone, I suppose. But yeah, I pitched it, and thankfully Alex really liked it, and invited me to submit the full manuscript. And I was luckily enough that she was interested. And there was someone else in her team that was really championing it. And they said that they felt like it needed a little bit more development in parts on character and plot and that sort of thing. So I happily took on that and resubmitted and then signed up. So it was fantastic. It was a really exciting day when that call came.

Valerie

That’s awesome. Now the order of your books is Quark’s Academy, which is out now. And then Something for Fleur. And then what’s the third one again?

Catherine

Meet the Maniacs.

Valerie

Meet the Maniacs. Did you write them in that order?

Catherine

That’s a good question. No. So I wrote the picture book first. And then Meet the Maniacs also was a little bit different. I had a different version of it that just wasn’t quite working. So I put that one away and I started writing Quark’s Academy. And there was a time when I was sort of going a little bit between the two. But yeah, then Quark’s Academy finished, and then Meet the Maniacs. It’s hard to remember the order now. It feels like it’s a bit of a blur.

Valerie

Yeah, sure. So you talked about the fact that you’re in a writers group. Can you tell us when did you start, how many people are in it, how regularly do you meet, and what actually happens?

Catherine

The first writing group, the picture book group, I joined, that was one that was already established. And it was funny because when I first thought about joining a writing group, I honestly thought it was the worst idea ever.

Valerie

Why?

Catherine

I thought the idea of sitting around with strangers and sharing your work and having them tell you whether it was any good or not, it was terrifying! And I thought, I don’t know if I want to do that. But I dragged myself there. Because I knew I needed that community support. And I had heard it was a great way to do that, to find that. And I’m so glad I went. Because I was very wrong. It’s such a supportive environment, and I got so much benefit out of it. And getting people’s feedback. And also me giving feedback. Because you need to critique other people’s work, and that’s a great experience as well.

So generally there was about six people per meeting. And then they meet once a month. And that’s the picture book group one. And then I later started the chapter book, and that’s also a monthly meeting. That’s about four to six people as well, and we’ll share a chapter at the start of the month, and then everyone reads each other’s chapters, and then we’ll meet and go around the circle and basically discuss the work.

Valerie

Great.

Catherine

So yeah, it is great. And you do get a lot from it. And it’s also learning what feedback to take on, and what you maybe don’t feel is quite right. It’s just a great experience, to be honest.

 

Valerie

And tell us then what you’re working on now?

Catherine

Yes, I am working on another one. A junior fiction. So that’s the same age group as Meet the Maniacs. That’s another adventure style story. And I mentioned earlier I had that great next-door neighbour, and we went on lots of adventures around our neighbourhood, so it has sort of been inspired from that.

But I’m actually in the process of the structural edit for Meet the Maniacs. I’m a bit tied up with that right now. But once I submit that to the publisher, I’ll be able to focus on writing again.

Valerie

Awesome. And what’s the grand master plan? Obviously, you are still jugging, you’re still writing as well as doing your day job. So are you planning to continue with that?

Catherine

I’ve slowly scaled back my day job over the years. So I’ve gone from five to four to three days now.

Valerie

Great.

Catherine

And I do freelance, as well. So my schedule is quite hectic. But yes, I would love to write fulltime. That’s definitely the ultimate goal.

And now, this is my first book, obviously, and I’m getting into the publicity side and hopefully visiting schools. And I’d like to do a lot more of that, because that really interests me as well.

So yeah. I think it’s just keep cracking away, and keep writing, and submitting, and fingers crossed I can write fulltime one day.

Valerie

I have no doubt that that day is going to be sooner than you think. What’s your advice for aspiring writers who are where you were four years ago, or five years ago? And who are really interested in writing, but can’t see the breakthrough point at this point?

Catherine

Be persistent, is my biggest piece of advice. I think you just can’t give up. And rejection and sometimes criticism, it’s just part of being a writer. And I’ve had many… All the great writers have had rejections. Every writer has rejections. And I certainly did. And it can be a bit of a blow to your confidence. But if it’s something you’re really passionate about and you want a book – that’s how I was. I wanted it so much, I wanted to be published – you just have to pick yourself up and keep going.

And I think even once you publish, there’s going to be roadblocks and challenges and that sort of thing. So us writers have to develop thick skins. And I think it’s a work in progress. But yeah, be persistent and just keep going.

Valerie

Awesome. And on that note, thank you so much for joining us today, Catherine.

Catherine

Thank you so much for having me, Valerie.


Comments