Ep 238 What you need to know about pacing and beat sheets. And meet Belinda Castles, author of ‘Bluebottle’.

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

In Episode 238 of So you want to be a writer: Discover the Wattpad sensation that turned into a Netflix hit and the five mistakes that new writers make (as told by an editor). Learn all about pacing and beat sheets! Submissions for a new anthology, Growing Up Queer in Australia, are now open. Allison Tait’s new course Creative Writing Quest for Kids is officially open for enrolments (kicking off 9 July)! You’ll also meet Belinda Castles, author of Bluebottle.

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

Shoutout

Excusesvslife from Australia:

This podcast took a little while to get used to listening to at first. It has a very relaxed and informal approach to the subject matter. However, after listening to a couple of episodes, I’m really enjoying being let in on wonderful conversations. These are two interesting, honest and very authentic women. They know a great deal about writing and I love the variety of topics and guests that they have in each episode. It’s not just about them.

Links Mentioned

Why Beth Reekles Is The Wattpad Success Story Behind Netflix Hit ‘The Kissing Booth’

Five Mistakes New Writers Make (As Told By An Editor)

NaNo Wrap-Up: Beat Sheets 101

Call for Submissions: Growing Up Queer in Australia

Enrol in Creative Writing Quest for Kids

Writer in Residence

Belinda Castles

Belinda Castles won the Australian/Vogel’s literary award for The River Baptists in 2006 and was one of the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Best Young Novelists for 2008. Her next novel, Hannah & Emil, won the Asher Literary Award for 2012-13.

Her latest novel is Bluebottle published June 2018 by Allen and Unwin.

Belinda lives with her husband and daughters on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.

Follow Belinda Castles on Twitter

Follow Allen and Unwin 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

Tell us what Bill Clinton is saying and WIN his latest book

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

So Belinda, thanks so much for joining us today.

Belinda

You’re welcome. It’s good to be here.

Valerie

Now for those people who have yet to pick up your latest book, Bluebottle, tell us what it’s about?

Belinda

Well, it’s about a family and their lives over one day about 20 years ago. And then how the events of that day affect them 20 years on.

It’s really based around three children’s view of their father, who is one of those dads who likes to dare his kids, chuck them around in the water, do dangerous things. So there’s always a little bit of an edge to him. And one day, there’s a bit more of an edge than usual, and the kids begin to form suspicions about him.

Valerie

Such a great premise for a book. You have written it in an area, or set it in an area that you live in, is that correct? Which is the Northern Beaches area of Sydney?

Belinda

Yes, that’s right.

Valerie

And why was that important to you? Why did you pick that place and that setting?

Belinda

Well, place often is the starting point for me. I also set a novel on the Hawkesbury River where I used to live.

I think what it is about that upper stretch of the Northern Beaches is the combination of dramatic beauty but a kind of a threat as well. A sort of wild edge. So strictly speaking, you’re still in Sydney. But there’s all these bush areas, the sea does unpredictable things, the ocean is a dangerous place. And it just seems like a really rich setting to me, to set off human drama.

Valerie

Yes. I can understand what you’re saying because I live in the Northern Beaches of Sydney and probably not far from you.

Belinda

Okay.

Valerie

You’ve got your setting then, especially if you start with your place. How then did the characters form? Or how did it really come to life? Were you down at a beach and you saw something? How did it happen?

Belinda

It was nothing so straightforward. I think it’s a couple of things. One thing that I was interested in, that I seem to keep reading about, was sort of old stories, really old stories from the 60s and 70s, of kids in Sydney disappearing. Young people being taken. And the way those stories haunt their communities and the place that they’ve been taken from. There’s a disappearance in the novel. So that was one theme.

The other theme that interested me was a particular kind of character profile. I remember one of the things that I saw when I was thinking about this story was there was an Insight program on SBS about a guy; he really fascinated me. He, I think, was a neuroscientist. And he had been doing brain scans and seeing whether there was a brain profile for psychopaths. And he discovered, or so he says, that he was a psychopath. So in the process of this research he kind of diagnosed himself.

It was less the psychopathy that interested me, but when he talked about his behaviour he was saying he was that kind of father that did things that were dangerous with his kids, went in water that wasn’t safe, drove cars too fast, and so on. And something about that and some other things that I was hearing just really fascinated me. Because I just think there are dads like that. And it’s a kind of a thrill that it’s got an edge.

Valerie

Yeah, right. Wow. Okay, so you started with that. And then did you develop the… What was your next step in terms of developing the story? Was it the characters, was it that you knew the way the plot was going to evolve? What was next?

Belinda

Okay. So I had this idea that an event would happen and that the kids would suspect their father of it. I had that very early on. I don’t know where it came from. I guess from this kind of personality. What’s behind that kind of edginess? How much can we know our parents? So all that was there quite early on.

And something that happened when I started writing about the kids – I wanted it from the kids’ point of view, because that’s where the drama is, I think. Their experience of it. As soon as I started writing about it, I had this boy, Jack, the son, and I thought, what would it be like for the boy in this family? Who is not the kind of boy that his father admires?

So his sister’s an athlete. She swims a lot. She’s beautiful, athletic. And the boy paints and is quiet and worries about people and panics. That’s one of his difficulties in youth, that he panics and he can’t control it.

And as soon as I started to think about those characters, they kind of created their own plot. Because their worries seemed to set Charlie, their father, off in various ways. So it set up a kind of dynamic where the more they worried the worse his behaviour became. Which often seems to be the case, as well. So I guess it was a funny sort of interaction between character and plot.

Valerie

So you have two different time periods twenty years apart. Did you know you were going to do that from day one?

Belinda

Well, a strange thing happened. I started with just the time period in the 90s, because I wanted to set it over one day. But then I started thinking, well, actually I really want to know what happens to these kids. What the aftermath of all this is. So I started writing sections in the present. But then I sort of became overwhelmed by the difficulties of the structure that I was constructing. And I got rid of all the present sections and just had this little capsule of the day in the past.

And I showed it to my agent and said, well, what do you think? And she said, I want to know what happens to them!

So I was back to that and I just had to figure out the structure that worked. But I was really glad that I did. I think it was something on both our minds that okay, so, what does it mean then? How do they turn out?

Valerie

Yes. In terms of how they turned out, how early into the process, or did you know this in the beginning, did you know what was going to happen? From day one? Or did you let it unfold in your own brain?

Belinda

So in terms of how the kids turn out, I didn’t know from day one. I did have an image of Lou, who is the older girl in the family, and Charlie’s favourite. And for some reason I wanted her to be a sort of borderline alcoholic real estate agent. I don’t know where that came from. It’s certainly not based on any locals. I just had this image of her, just somebody who lives her life just consumed by houses. But also kind of keeping it together with this very kind of fine balance of how much she’s drinking.

Valerie

People can be consumed by houses in the Northern Beaches, that’s for sure.

Belinda

I know!

Valerie

Now, you won the Vogel in 2006 for The River Baptists. And then your next novel also won awards, which was Hannah & Emil. When did you know you wanted to be an author? From when you were a little kid? Or later?

Belinda

Yes, from a child. But it sort of came and went a little bit. There was a period of wanting to be an interior designer. I’m a bit obsessed with houses as well.

But so what happened was, I used to write as a kid, and do well at English and things like that. And I did an exchange program with an American university. So I grew up in the UK, went to uni in the UK. And something that they had at American universities that we didn’t have was creative writing courses, at that time. So I did one for summer school, and I was just hooked. I just loved it. It really was life changing.

And really from then. So from when I was 20. You know, there was something there already, but it confirmed it for me.

Valerie

Wow, okay. And so when you were in the throes of writing this book, Bluebottle, can you tell me a little bit about your writing routine? Did you have a certain defined period? Like, X number of months that you were dedicating to it? Were you writing outside of your day job? Because you’re a lecturer of creative writing at the University of Sydney. How did you structure the actual getting the words out of your head and onto the paper, or keyboard, you know what I mean? Was there some kind of structure to it? Or did you just write whenever?

Belinda

It’s mostly been in bursts, for me, throughout, for all my novels. I’ve found ways to buy myself time.

For this one, before I worked at Sydney, I was in the UK for a few years working at the University of Exeter. And you work very intensely on teaching and supervision in term time, but then you get a really nice long period of not teaching over summer. So I really just powered up for those sessions.

There would also be maybe a month over Christmas. They don’t have a very long break then because why bother in the middle of English winter? And most people sort of took that time to decompress. I tended to write straight through it, because I just didn’t want to lose touch with what I was doing.

When I can, I find a few spots in the week, even in term time.

But what I tend to do, I think, I can sort of see a pattern at this stage, is I write in bursts, I apply for residencies, I churn out quite a lot when I get a chunk of time.

But in the times in between, what I’m always doing is emailing myself notes. So I’ll have ideas at strange times, and I just let them accumulate and look through them all when I get some time. And so it’s as though the process is still going. And I think it’s useful to just nudge that a bit so that it doesn’t disappear.

Valerie

So did you have a deadline for this book? Or did you write the whole book and then submit it?

Belinda

I didn’t have a deadline for this book. I did for the previous one.

Valerie

Which is why you could do that approach?

Belinda

Yes. I had deadlines that I set myself. And you know, my agent would say it would be good if we could get it by this stage and then we can do this, that and the other.

And I’m reasonably good at sticking to the deadlines that I make. Because even when you’ve already published a novel, unless your novel is in some way make or break for the publisher, those deadlines are a little bit extendable. It doesn’t really cause a great problem for me not to finish a novel when I’ve said I’m going to. So I have to be the person that enforces it, really.

Valerie

Yes. And so this is now your third novel. What parts of the process have become easier for you third time around?

Belinda

Well, it’s actually my fourth. My first novel was quite a long time ago. And it was before I was with Allen and Unwin.

So what’s become easier? Well, you know they say, and I think it’s true, that you don’t really learn to write, you just learn to write the book that you’re writing. And then you have to start again.

But even knowing that is useful. So perspective is always useful. That feeling of when the plot is causing difficulties. Just knowing, you know, we’ve been here before. This is a puzzle.

There’s a quote, I think it’s from Brenda Walker, but I’m not 100% certain, that says – it tangles then it smooths. And I just say that to myself all the time when I’m writing. Because once you’ve seen it happen a few times, the pleasure of it starting to smooth, the relief is just fantastic.

Valerie

Yes, definitely. And so what do you find is the most rewarding thing about writing fiction?

Belinda

What is the most rewarding thing? Just really when it starts working. When something that was just a glimmer, where you’ve been through all these bad drafts of the work, where you’re not expressing what you want it to on the page, but then you kind of hack your way through and it starts taking shape like a garden. It’s just exhilarating. It’s fantastic. You know, it’s a long game, but it’s so worth it.

Valerie

When you write, then, where do you actually physically write? Is it always in one spot? Do you go to cafes? Are you able to write in your office? Where do you physically do that?

Belinda

I do it anywhere I can. From day to day, it often depends where my children are and I need to be somewhere else. I’ve written in the car. So my previous novel, I was living on the Northern Beaches then, too, I would go and sit somewhere really pretty and just write in the car.

Valerie

Like on a laptop? Or in a notebook? Or on what?

Belinda

In a notebook, when I was doing that. I write less on a notebook now, because with lack of practice my handwriting is getting really bad. And I type so much faster and it doesn’t make my hands ache.

But I still sometimes when I need to give myself just a little bit of a jolt, a fresh perspective, I’ll just go somewhere with a notebook, away from all the places that I normally am, and just write it by hand and see what happens.

But really, I write anywhere. And often on the fly I just have to figure out where there’s going to be some space. But the brilliant thing about writing is that it’s just you and some pretty simple equipment. And you just need to find yourself a little corner. Libraries. Quite often I hide away in my bedroom. In England, we were living in a tiny house, so I put headphones on and I’d just sit in bed with the iPad. Just wherever, whenever I can just carve out a few hours.

Valerie

And then on a practical level then, if you’re writing sometimes in a notebook, sometimes on your laptop, sometimes on your iPad in bed, how do you manage all the different…? Like do you write in a document that’s synced across all devices? Were you just writing notes that you pulled together into something else later? How did that work?

Belinda

Well, so with notebooks, at some point I’ll type them up. So there will be a document that’s always on the go. And it’s slightly cumbersome but safe. My method is that I email the document to myself at the end of a session and I just open that document when I start again. So then it doesn’t matter where I am once I’m in the digital phase.

Valerie

Right. So you don’t actually save it anywhere in particular? You email it to yourself and use that?

Belinda

Well, I mean, it’s saved on these various devices. But it’s this paranoia that something’s going to break and I won’t have it.

Valerie

Yes, of course. That’s a great idea. So now that Bluebottle is out and making lots of waves, I’ve seen a lot of coverage on it, what are you working on now?

Belinda

Well, I’m doing this business of gathering the scraps and sending myself little notes. But I want to write a novel about friendship, about literary envy.

Valerie

[laughs]

Belinda

Yeah, I know. And also about the loss of friendship. Because I think the loss of friendship is one of those unexplored griefs that most of us go through at some point, but it’s not examined in the same way as say divorce, or the death of a parent or a partner. I just think it’s one of those painful experiences that everyone’s got access to that I think would just make great fiction.

Valerie

Absolutely. Everyone can relate to that. That’s fantastic. I can’t wait to read it. All right. So tell us then, if you could give your top three tips for writing, fiction writing, to aspiring writers, what might they be?

Belinda

Goodness. So one would be you’ve just go to get through the drafts. It’s not going to be beautiful. It’s going to be ugly. Just get through it. Keep going. It will come good. And you really need some practice to know that that’s true. But it really is.

Another would be to read. Really voraciously, but also carefully. To read with an eye on what you need. So it’s not about copying. It’s about figuring out how people do things.

And the other one would be that, if you can, you should walk or swim. It will help you think. Little problems will just get solved when you walk away from them and do some exercise. I think as far as is physically possible for people, if you can find the exercise that suits you when you’re writing, it’s like magic.

Valerie

Wonderful. And what’s yours?

Belinda

My form of exercise?

Valerie

Yes. What’s the magic for you?

Belinda

Walking. It’s just brilliant.

Valerie

And do you make sure that you schedule that every day? Or after every writing session? And do you ponder your characters while you’re walking? Or do you try not to do that?

Belinda

Um. When I’m in one of these chunks of time where I can write every day, I do try and walk every day as well. And I quite deliberately don’t take music or podcasts. And I sort of let the thoughts flow. But at some point I think, well, what about this business with Jack, say. And just let it kind of drift around.

But I don’t think you really even need to be so conscious about it. When you’re writing all the time, it’s there anyway. In the brain. Sort of looping around it.

Valerie

True.

Belinda

And it is like magic. I come back, and I just have to grab the notebook as I walk through the door.

Valerie

Wow. That’s amazing. Well, that’s great advice then. Love it. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Belinda.

Belinda

Thank you, Valerie. You’re welcome.


Comments