Ep 224 Common plot holes and how to fix them. And meet Eliza Henry-Jones, author of ‘P is for Pearl’.

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In Episode 224 of So you want to be a writer: Discover common plot holes and how to fix them. Val and Al discuss the art of the paragraph. We are giving away the opportunity to become a master dream interpreter with The Dream Handbook. Plus, you’ll meet Eliza Henry-Jones, author of P is for Pearl.

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

Listener Shoutout

Kate Pianto:

As I drive to and from home it feels like Val and Al are right beside me in the car discussing all things writing like two mates tagging along for the ride. I have always loved writing however have allowed adult life to become an excuse for why I seem to do it less and less. So much so that I feel my writing skills have suffered a severe blow. The girls however I reignited the flame to my motivation and I have finally got around to STARTING my blog; something that I have wanted to do forever and always found every excuse under the sun to put off. Listening to their goodhearted banter has equipped me with a little more drive to start attacking some of my writing goals. Keep up the insightful and amusing work girls, you are so valuable to our writing community!

Links Mentioned

Plot holes and pot holes: 8 common mistakes readers hate – and how to fix them

The Art of the Paragraph: Applying Paragraphing Techniques in Your Fiction Writing

Writer in Residence

Eliza Henry-Jones

Eliza Henry-Jones is an author based on a little farm in the Yarra Valley of Victoria.

Her debut novel In the Quiet was published in 2015 as part of a three book deal with HarperCollins Australia and is now out in the US through Harper360. It was shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards and was longlisted in the Indie Awards and ABIA Awards.

Her second novel Ache was released in 2017.

Eliza has also signed an additional two book deal with HarperCollins Australia for two works for younger readers. Her first Young Adult novel P is for Pearl has just been released.

Follow Eliza on Twitter

Follow HarperCollins Australia on Twitter

(If you click through the links 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.)

Competition

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Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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@valeriekhoo

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Interview Transcript

Allison

Eliza Henry-Jones is the author of two novels for adults, and now one YA novel. Her debut novel In The Quiet was published in 2015 and was shortlisted for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, as well as being longlisted for several others. Her second novel Ache was released in June last year, and now we have her first young adult novel, P is for Pearl, published in March 2018. So welcome to the program Eliza.

Eliza

Thank you.

Allison

Okay, so we’re going to go way back to the hazy mists of time of 2015, and back to the beginning. Can you tell us a bit about how In The Quiet came to be published?

Eliza

Well, for me, writing has always been something that I just do. So I’ve written a manuscript every year since I was 14. And writing has always been my passion. I didn’t really feel like I was good enough to make a career out of it, so I went down the psychology route and ended up working in a drug and alcohol centre, working with families and children.

And in the meantime, I was busily on the side, on weekends and at nights, writing away. And in 2011, I finished a manuscript and I sent it off to an agent called Sally Bird and she picked it up. And I sort of thought, great, this is happening. I’m going to get published. You know, I was so excited. And the manuscript went out and I got a whole lot of – ‘oh, we like your writing but not this manuscript’. It wasn’t marketable, it didn’t have enough of a hook. It was very, very quiet.

In the meantime, I had written another novel called In The Quiet. And my agent read it and she said she really loved it, but again it was quite a quiet story, and she was concerned that we wouldn’t get a different response than the previous one. But out it went.

And it went out to ten publishers, and I ended up with five offers.

Allison

Gosh.

Eliza

Which absolutely blew my little brain. Because I had completely and utterly geared myself up for another ten ‘thanks but no thanks’ spread over the better part of the year. And I ended up signing a three-book deal with Harper Collins which was an absolute dream come true, and I still pinch myself.

Allison

So interestingly, what do you think, if you look at those two manuscripts now, with the benefit of hindsight and all those things, can you see why that one, why everyone was so excited about that one but not about the first one that you sent out?

Eliza

I’ve only looked back at the previous one very briefly, because I find it a little bit cringey.

 

Allison

You’re scared, aren’t you?

Eliza

Yeah!

Allison

I understand.

Eliza

But when I did look over it, it isn’t as strong as In The Quiet. The voice isn’t as strong, the characters aren’t as engaging, I don’t think, not to me anyway. But I think I’m still surprised that there was such a discrepancy between the two. And I guess that just comes back to it being such a subjective thing.

Allison

It is, isn’t it? And that’s, I guess, something that you really only learn through the experience of going through the process. Isn’t that right?

Eliza

Absolutely.

Allison

So you like a quiet book. I’m getting the vibe here that you quite enjoy a quiet book. When you talk about a ‘quiet’ book, what do you mean by that?

Eliza

I think a book that’s probably more character driven than plot driven. So particularly my two… I think P is for Pearl as well. So, all three of my novels, they’re very character focused. They’re very much about people’s relationships with each other. How they’re dealing with grief and trauma. What their internal world is like, rather than being really plot driven and whodunnit, and a real page turner in that sense.

Allison

And how old were you… When you say you’ve written a manuscript a year since you were 14, how old were you when In The Quiet came out?

Eliza

I wrote it when I was 22. I signed the deal for it at 24, and it came out when I was 25.

Allison

Right. Because that’s the other thing, too, it all takes an awful lot of time, doesn’t it?

Eliza

It really does.

Allison

It really does. So was there anything about – apart from that time factor – was there anything about the publishing process that surprised you?

Eliza

How much of a collaboration the editing process was. I think I had it in my head, and I’m sure there are a lot of aspiring writers out there who have it in their head as well, that what you send out to the publisher has to be absolutely perfect and that’s pretty much, bar a proof read, almost what goes to print. I was surprised at how much editing goes into it.

So there’s a big structural edit. So that’s looking at all the over-arching things. And then there’s the copy edit, which is sort of line by line. And then there’s the proofing. So that’s just making sure that the words are the words they’re meant to be, and all the commas and dots are in the right spot.

And I hadn’t really realised, I knew that the publishing itself, making the book was a collaboration, but I hadn’t realised that the story was so much of a collaboration, too.

Allison

So was your first structural edit – because I remember very, very clearly the experience of my first structural edit, and how traumatised I was by it – but how was that for you? Did you find it confronting?

Eliza

Actually, I really enjoyed editing In The Quiet.

Allison

You strange woman.

Eliza

Everyone talks about how gruelling editing is, and I didn’t realise what a dream run I had with that book. It was a bit of an anomaly, I think, because it was quite a cruisey structural edit, quite an easy copy edit, and it just sort of popped through. And I really enjoyed having someone else’s feedback, and working with editors who had so much expertise and knowledge and were so passionate about the book. Being able to actually work with them was incredible.

So I went into Ache, and Ache ended up being rewritten entirely once. Two big structural edits. And I think, oh… I think it was two copy edits as well. So I went in to that thinking, oh, I’ve got this, I know what to expect. And it was just a completely different creature.

Allison

So was Ache also, was it something that you started from scratch after In The Quiet was taken up? Or was it something that you had begun earlier, and was something that you were then redrafting for publication?

Eliza

Once I finish a manuscript, I immediately start the next one. And it’s sort of out of habit. It’s what I’ve always done. And it’s also a way to deal with the anxiety of having your work out there, which I find I struggle with quite a lot. So I transfer all of my anxiety and emotional neediness onto whatever manuscript I’m working on at the moment.

So I’d already written a couple of drafts of Ache by the time In The Quiet came out. And I got the idea for it, actually I heard a talk at a trauma conference I was presenting at, and it was about trans-generational bushfire trauma. And it really clicked into place that that was something I wanted to write about, because I’d grown up with bushfire stories. So that was well and truly in the process of becoming a book when In The Quiet came out.

Allison

So when In The Quiet came out, and it was so well received, like it really was one of those books that popped out of the ether and lots of people were talking about it, did you feel then that that put pressure on you for your second novel? Or was the fact that you had already written it, drafted it, did that help to take the pressure off?

Eliza

It was a lot of pressure. The writing experience was completely different for me. Writing In The Quiet, I just was writing it for me, basically. I had it in my head that if it got published, that would be really nice. But I wrote what I wanted, I wrote it for myself. And suddenly with Ache, I had this idea of all these people that were going to read it and whether they were going to find that it was good enough.

So suddenly I was thinking about, you know, is the editor going to like it? Is the publisher going to like it? Is the marcoms team going to like it? And that took a little bit of negotiating in my head, to be able to still tap into that creativity and just get it written.

Allison

So what did you do to deal with that? How did you manage it?

Eliza

This probably sounds a bit funny, but I tell myself that how all of that stuff, how the book’s edited, how it’s marketed, how it sells, how it’s reviewed, all of that, none of that is actually my business.

Allison

Right. Which is true.

Eliza

So that’s sort of how I frame it. My job is just to write the story. I’ll do my best. And then, there’s no point being debilitated about whether or not someone is going to like it or engage with it yet. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I’ve just got to get it down on the paper, and all that stuff is not my business.

Allison

It’s interesting, isn’t it? Because a friend of mine, when I was working on different manuscripts, and I was freaking out on the ceiling, she used to say to me – ‘the only thing you can control in this process is what goes on the page.’ That’s it. That’s all you’ve got.

Eliza

Absolutely.

Allison

What goes on the page. And I think if you can tap into that, it does help a great deal to just keep you focused, doesn’t it?

Eliza

Absolutely.

Allison

Now, In The Quiet, can you just for those readers out there who perhaps didn’t read it a few years ago, can you give us a little precis of what that story was about?

Eliza

In The Quiet is narrated by a mother who has died. And I think some people hear that and they think it’s going to be a bit sci-fi or a bit full of ghosts or whatever, but it’s actually very much realism. And it’s basically this woman watching her family after she’s died and the different ways that they’re coping with her death.

And it sounds probably a lot darker than it actually is. There’s a lot of warmth in it. There’s a lot of joy. There’s a lot of humour. And it sort of came from me working in a parenting program at a drug and alcohol centre, and working with a lot of mothers and actually spending quite a lot of time thinking about what mothering actually is, and what families are, and how people cope with trauma and grief.

Allison

So I read In The Quiet with my online book club, which at the time was known as The Pink Fibro Book Club. And it was very well received. There was a lot of love in the room. But one thing that particularly struck me at the time was just how well you wrote the teen characters in the novel. They were very realistic. So I admit I was unsurprised when I heard you had a YA novel coming out. I was like, yes, this makes perfect sense.

What did surprise me, however, was when I learnt that this particular novel, P is for Pearl, is based on a manuscript that you drafted in your teens. So my question then has to be, how similar is the final product to that first manuscript that you wrote? And how old were you when you wrote it?

Eliza

I was 16 when I wrote it. I was 17 in year 12. So I wrote it towards the end of year 11. And then in year 12, for my final art project, I typed out all the pages, I designed the cover, and my very lovely art teacher took me down to a printing place, and they turned it into a hardcover book.

Allison

Awesome.

Eliza

So it was called Wade’s Point back then, which isn’t nearly as good a title. It’s very much written to the back story and the present-day narrative. The present-day narrative has changed quite a lot. The characters are fairly similar. But there’s a lot more emphasis on, there’s a lot more romance in it now, there’s a lot more emphasis on school. But the back story, which is explored through Gwen’s diary entries, Gwen is the main character, that’s almost word for word what I wrote when I was 16.

Allison

So what made you pull that out and go let’s revisit and see whether we can get this out there?

Eliza

I was actually talking to one of the Harper Collins sales reps at an event for In The Quiet, and I think I’d been talking to the group about how I’d written quite prolifically as a teenager. And Michelle told me to go back into my drawer of manuscripts and to look at what was in there. Because I’d sort of written them all off.

And I went back in there and pulled out a few. And mostly they’re sort of bad fan fiction. But there was this manuscript that I’d written going back as a year 12 student, and I pulled that out, edited it, and sent it to Harper Collins and my agent. And it sort of trundled along.

Allison

Here we are. So when you read that not as a teen, do you think you read the manuscript in a different light? Were you looking at it differently?

Eliza

It was a really weird experience, actually. Because I think, normally when you’re editing your writing, it’s something that you’ve written in the last few months, or maybe the last couple of years at a stretch. And I hadn’t realised how much the story had… It was almost like a memory. Because I’d written it 12 years ago. It was like a memory. And it was quite hard for me to think in terms of editing it structurally, because it felt so cemented, and it just was what it was. So it was quite a mind bend, trying to get back into that world.

But some things hadn’t aged very well. And it was interesting. I’d put my favourite meals or songs I’d liked or little experiences or conversations I’d overheard. So it was almost like reading a diary.

Allison

It’s crazy, isn’t it? Because I read things now, even things that are published, I will have to go back and check on things in the Mapmaker Chronicles for something I’m doing. And I read it now and it’s like someone else wrote it. And it’s not that long ago.

Eliza

Yes!

Allison

So I can’t imagine what it was like reading what was essentially your diary from when you were 16.

Eliza

It was bizarre.

Allison

So as far as you’re concerned, having now written both adult and YA fiction, what do you see as the primary differences?

Eliza

Not as much as I would have thought there’d be. And I think that is to do with the sort of story that Pearl is. It deals with very similar issues to my adult books.

But I think for me, there’s no difference in the complexity or the emotions that are in there, or the quite dark events. They’re very similar in that way. And I think often there’s this tendency to underestimate teens, and assume that they’ve got less capacity for emotional complexity or whatever it is. And I think writing P is for Pearl really emphasised for me that they shouldn’t be underestimated at all.

Allison

So you didn’t find that you had to think about your reader differently when writing P is for Pearl? Did you have to have a teen in your head? Or did you have yourself as a teen in your head already?

Eliza

Probably myself as a teen. And of course there’s the things like drinking and swearing and drug use and whatever it might be that you wouldn’t think twice about putting in an adult book that you probably aren’t going to put into a 14+ young adult book. But that for me is very surface.

Allison

Okay. So the friendship aspect of P is for Pearl is something that’s been very well reviewed. That inside-the teen-friendship vibe. Do you think it’s because that first draft was written while you were in that zone?

Eliza

I think so. And I actually, the friendship stuff, it was there, but that’s something that I really emphasised and highlighted when I came back to it.

Allison

Ah, okay. So you actually brought that out in the editing?

Eliza

Yes.

Allison

And when you’re doing that, just from a craft perspective, how do you do that? What sort of things do you look at doing? When you think to yourself, the friendship aspect of this is something I really want to bring out, what do you do to do that? Is it a case of rewriting scenes? Is it a case of rewriting dialogue? How do you bring that friendship to the fore?

Eliza

For me, I actually based the friendship between Gwen and Loretta on my friend Maddie who I’ve grown up with. And so it was sort of just a question of what would Maddie do, when I was editing it.

Allison

Does Maddie know this?

Eliza

No, she doesn’t actually!

Allison

Oh, you’ve been outed.

Eliza

So for me it was very much just getting into my own head and thinking, okay, if this was me and Maddie having this conversation, or walking down the beach, what would happen? So it is probably, there are more autobiographical elements in this story than in either of my adult works.

Allison

Okay. Your first two novels were kind of towards the literary fiction end of the bookshelf. Would you put P is for Pearl in the same area? Or not so much?

Eliza

I really struggle with what literary actually is.

Allison

You and me both.

Eliza

I’ve spent a lot of time just pondering all the different ways that books can be labelled and categorised. I think that it definitely would fall into the same spot on the young adult scale as where Ache and In The Quiet fall on the adult scale.

Allison

That makes sense. Well, that’s your thing, isn’t it? That’s your style and your voice. You’re not going to change them to write a different sort of demographic, are you? You just bring the same style of voice to a different demographic. That makes sense.

So now that you’ve been published in both areas, do you feel yourself naturally gravitating towards one or the other for future ideas?

Eliza

I’m actually planning to sort of do a swap every year at this stage. So my next book out will be an adult book and then it will be another YA. I think they complement each other quite nicely, and I’m really enjoying shifting between the two genres.

So at the moment, I’m sort of at the tail end of my next adult book. And I’ve started mulling about what my next YA might be about. And it’s almost a slightly, it’s not a completely different headspace, but it’s just enough to feel like you’re not going to go stale.

Allison

Okay. And have you seen different approaches in the marketing of your books? In the sense of how much promotion you do yourself through social media and other activities? Do you need to get more engaged online for the YA stuff? Or not?

Eliza

Um, that’s a good question!

Allison

I’m full of good questions. It’s what I do.

Eliza

I tend to spend most of my time on Instagram, where I post a lot of pictures of my animals and all the stuff I’m growing in my garden, because I am 90 years old.

Allison

You sound like me.

Eliza

But in terms of what I’m posting, I haven’t shifted that yet. I might find that I need to as I go along. The promo is only just sort of ramping up for me. It’s been going on in the background with the publisher for a while, but the book’s just come out.

So I’ll sort of be thinking about if I do need to shift, or maybe shift onto another platform a little bit more. But I do think that Instagram tends to be pretty good for young people.

Allison

Young people.

Eliza

Young people!

Allison

Because you’re so old!

Eliza

So I haven’t changed anything yet, but I’ll see how I go. And I’m going to be doing some school visits and that sort of thing which I’m really excited about.

Allison

Yes, I was going to ask you about that. Whether or not that was a new area for you and how you felt about the whole school visit thing?

Eliza

I’m super excited. I used to run therapy groups for young people, and it’s something I’ve really missed, that interaction.

Allison

So you’re ready for year 9 boys on a Friday afternoon?

Eliza

Oh gosh. Is anyone ever ready for year 9 boys on a Friday afternoon?

Allison

It’s so funny, because I’ve never forgotten, we interviewed Tristan Bancks, the author who does middle grade and YA. And he was telling us about this nightmare school visit that was a group of however many year 9 boys on a Friday afternoon. And he said he’s never worked so hard. So, you know, say no, is all I can say!

So are you a fulltime writer now? Or are you fitting writing in around other stuff?

Eliza

At the moment I am writing fulltime. So I’m working on my novels and then I do a bit of freelance stuff, I judge competitions. And we’re also looking at turning out little tiny farm into something that’s semi-commercial. So I’ve been working away on that as well.

Allison

Terrific. And do you have a writing routine? Are you someone who gets up at five every morning and does their words? Or are you more of an ad hoc as and when?

Eliza

I have so much admiration for the people that get up at 5am and have that really strict routine. I am envious. I am incredibly ad hoc. I don’t plot things, I don’t have plans, I don’t have set writing hours. I’ll write in really big chunks. So I recently, to finish a version of the adult book that I’m working on, I did I think it was 16 or 17 straight hours. And then I slept for five and then I did another nine.

Allison

Wow. And did you have carpal tunnel issues after that? That’s a lot of typing.

Eliza

I felt pretty out of it.

Allison

Yeah. That’s incredible. Okay, so you’re not 1000 words a day.

Eliza

No.

Allison

You’re more like, I’ve got to get this done, and into it.

Eliza

Yes.

Allison

Okay. And are you someone who has, like your writing process, do you have lots and lots of ideas all the time? Or do you find that the next big idea sort of comes as you’re finishing up with something else?

Eliza

I constantly have ideas. And sometimes for me, the big tricky thing is actually being able to work out which ideas are actually going to go somewhere and have enough substance to them. Sometimes I don’t work that out until I’m halfway through a very bad manuscript.

Allison

Awkward.

So when you have an idea, if you’re working on something, like for example you’re finishing up the adult novel at the moment, and you’ve got some random new idea that comes along, what do you do with it? Do you put it all in a file and come back to it later? Or do you get yourself distracted and write 10,000 words before you know it and then think, oh no, I need to finish this other thing? Or how do you manage all of those ideas that you have?

Eliza

I’m definitely the sort of person that will be sitting down, have to finish this manuscript, and I will go and write 10,000 words on another story. That’s 100% me.

But I think it can be really useful. Because it can be really daunting… I don’t think there’s anything as daunting for a writer as sitting and down and staring at the blinking cursor of Word or Scrivener or whatever program you’re using, and not having an idea but knowing you need to write something.

Allison

Yeah.

Eliza

And it might just be a paragraph that I’ve written. Or a little snippet of dialogue. Or it might be the blurb of an imaginary non-existent book that I’ve just written down. And I find that just alleviates some of that pressure when it is time to start working on the next project.

Allison

Because you’ve always started, haven’t you? You’ve always got something to be getting on with.

Eliza

Yes. Absolutely.

Allison

All right. Well, now we come to our last and final and most exciting question. Eliza, what are your top three tips for aspiring writers?

Eliza

Top three tips are, and they’re probably not going to be cutting any new ground, but read… Don’t just read in the genre that you want to write in. Read every genre that you can get your hands on. So read crime, read children’s, read biography, read memoir, read fiction, read fantasy, just read as broadly as you can.

And I sort of felt that that was a no-brainer, but I’ve met quite a few people who are writing, but they just don’t read at all. And for me, writing is so much, reading is so much part of my writing process that I’m quite intrigued as to how you do one without the other. So that would be my big piece of advice. Just read absolutely everything.

Allison

Do you read while you’re writing something? Or do you tend to read between manuscripts?

Eliza

Working on this adult novel is the first time I’ve had to shy away from fiction while I was writing. Every other story I’ve worked on I have read quite prolifically the whole way through. I’ve actually been reading cookbooks.

Allison

Cookbooks? Great. So you’re eating very well at your house, are you, at the moment?

Eliza

Well, I’m eating two-minute noodles. But I’m reading about a lot of nice food.

Allison

Okay. Fantastic. So what’s tip two for aspiring writers?

Eliza

Tip two is actually recognising how you write. So for a very long time, I went to a lot of writing workshops, heard a lot of authors speak, and all of them seemed to say that they were very… So you have plotters or pantsers. So you either plot everything really carefully or you fly by the seat of your pants. And every author that I heard speak was a plotter.

So I went home and I tried to plot everything, and be very, very organised and have every chapter outlined and all that sort of thing. And it’s just not how my brain operates. And it was sort of pushing a boulder up a hill, and it made things really difficult.

So I think being able to recognise how you write, so whether you’re the sort of person that needs to write 500 or 1000 words every day, or whether you’re better off writing in a big stint once or twice a week, and then letting it sit and churn away in the back of your head in between. Or whether you need to write chronological, or whether it’s better for you to just write all the scenes that jump out at you.

So being really critical and really interrogating whether how you’re writing is what’s best for your brain and how you operate, I think is really important.

Allison

Very good advice. And number three?

Eliza

Number three is let your writing sit for as long as you possibly can. I’m still guilty of this. I’ll finish something and I’ll immediately want to send it off. And you actually can’t pick up on things.

It’s difficult to pick up on things in your own writing anyway. But the more time you give yourself in between the writing and the reading, the more likely that you are actually going to pick up those typos, pick up the inconsistencies in the scenes, pick up all those little things.

And I think that is advice that is circulated a lot, just put your writing in a drawer. But it is really hard to do and it is so important.

Allison

So true. It’s hard to fight that urge, isn’t it? To just be like, this is done, I’m sending it, this is great, I’ve had enough.

Eliza

Yes.

Allison

Well, thank you so much for your time today. We wish you all the best with P is for Pearl, and with the other works that you’re on. Where can people find you online? What is your website address?

Eliza

My website address is www.elizahenryjones.com, and I’m elizahenryjones on Instagram as well.

Allison

And is that your main social? Instagram?

Eliza

That’s my main. I am on Twitter. I’ve got Twitter and Facebook pages as well, but Instagram is my happy place.

Allison

And that’s the thing with social media, isn’t it? You need to find your happy place and work on that, as opposed to trying to spread yourself too thin in places that you don’t particular want to be.

Well, brilliant. Thank you so much. And we’ll look forward to seeing how P is for Pearl goes out there in the big world.

Eliza

Thank you so much for having me.

 

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