Ep 242 How to write when you’re on the go. And we chat to Pamela Hart on her latest book ‘The Desert Nurse’.

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In Episode 242 of So you want to be a writer: You’ll discover how Dean writes the quirky Q&A for the AWC newsletter each week and what tools you can use when you’re writing on the go. We also have 3 copies of ‘The Desert Nurse’ to giveaway. Learn why you should keep your clients updated with your work in progress. And you’ll hear from Pamela Hart, discussing her latest book The Desert Nurse.

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

lois jayne from Egypt:

Hey ladies, I happened upon your podcast last week and already listened to two episodes. I’m very new to this world of writers and a bit overwhelmed at all the resources and just wanted to say I find your show fun, with many practical tips and links to further info… thanks so much!

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Writer in Residence

Pamela Hart

Pamela Hart (also knows as Pamela Freeman) is the award-winning author of more than 30 books. Her most recent book is The Desert Nursea WWI historical novel set in Cairo and the Sinai, and covers the entire war, ending on Armistice Day. In 2017 A Letter from Italy, an historical novel set at the height of World War I was published. In 2016, The War Bride, an historical novel set shortly after World War I was published, sequel to The Soldier’s Wife (2015) (all published by Hachette Australia).

Pamela also writes fantasy fiction for adults. She is best known for the Castings trilogy (published in the US, the UK, France, Spain, Portugal and Germany as well as Australia) and for Ember and Ash, winner of the Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel. Another children’s book, Victor’s Challenge, was published in 2009 in Australia and the UK and won the Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Fantasy. Her upcoming picture book Amazing Australian Women will be published in August 2018.

Pamela started as a children’s writer, and many of her books have been shortlisted for the State Literary Awards, the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards, the Koala Awards and the Wilderness Society Environment Awards. Pamela – who is also an accomplished scriptwriter – taught creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney for many years. She has also been a guest lecturer at the University of Sydney and taught writing workshops around Australia for the National Book Council and various state libraries. Pamela has a Doctor of Creative Arts in Writing from the University of Technology, Sydney.

She has published numerous short stories and has spoken at various writers’ festivals around the country. Her book for young adults, The Black Dress, a fictional account of the childhood of Mary MacKillop in the Australia of the 1840s to 1860s, won the NSW History Prize for Young People.

Pamela is also Director of Creative Writing Faculty here at the Australian Writers’ Centre.

Follow Pamela Hart on Twitter

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(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

Competition: Caption this desert scene and WIN

Your hosts

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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Interview Transcript

Valerie

Thanks for joining us today, Pamela.

Pamela

Oh my pleasure, Val.

Valerie

I’ve just read The Desert Nurse, your latest book. I loved every word. I love the story. I love the descriptions. I love the detail. Before I go on, for listeners who haven’t read the book yet, tell us what it’s about.

Pamela

Well The Desert Nurse is about Evelyn Northey, who is a country girl from Taree who wants to be a doctor. But her father refuses to give her her inheritance until she’s 30. So she can’t afford to go to University. So she becomes a nurse instead. And when war breaks out, World War I, she enlists and goes to Cairo. And there gets involved with the nursing of the wounded from Gallipoli.

Valerie

So how did this idea form? What made you interested in writing about nurses in this war?

Pamela

Well, it goes back to my first historical novel as Pamela Hart, which is The Soldier’s Wife. And in that story, which is based on my own grandfather’s experience at Gallipoli, he was wounded, and he became very, very ill and almost died, and was saved by good nursing. And in the book that role is played by Jimmy Hawkins, and he comes back to Australia, to his wife.

But I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to write the story of the nurses. Because so many lives were saved by good nursing. And I felt that their story was worth telling.

Valerie

Now, of course, people don’t have to have read The Soldier’s Wife.

Pamela

Oh no. Not at all. It’s a completely standalone novel. But those who have read it will recognise Jimmy as one of the characters.

Valerie

Yes, for sure. Now, you’re a busy lady. You are not only the Director of Creative Writing at the Australian Writers’ Centre, and you teach and mentor our students, and they all love you.

Pamela

Which I love, I have to say.

Valerie

They love you back. So you also just released a novel for children. And the novel is called The Fastest Ship in Space. And you’re about to release a picture book, which is called what again?

Pamela

Amazing Australian Women. So it’s about 12 historical women from Australia. Some of them you’ll know and some of them you won’t.

Valerie

And you’ve just released The Desert Nurse! How do you even fit all this in?

Pamela

Yeah, well, sometimes it’s tricky, I must admit. At the moment, I’m trying to write the new book, the one that comes after this one. But yeah, the historical research takes a lot of time. But fortunately, I’m a research junkie so it doesn’t feel like work, that part of it.

Valerie

All right, so that’s one I want to talk about. Because there’s detail in this book that brings it to life to the point where I actually wanted to enlist and become a doctor. So where would you start, in terms of research… And I want to add, though, for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, there’s so much detail in this but it’s not heavy handed at all. It is woven in so that you don’t think, “oh my god, the author has done a lot of research” – as you do in some books. But it obviously underpins the story and brings it to life and makes it really credible. So where in the world did you start with this research?

Pamela

Well, we’re really lucky in Australia. We have the Australian War Memorial. And because Gallipoli was almost immediately understood to be an extraordinarily important event in Australian history, the families of Gallipoli veterans and of the nurses and doctors who served them, they kept all the letters and they kept the diaries of those people.

So where in other wars people kind of went, “oh, I don’t know what these letters are. I’ll just throw them out” – because Gallipoli was already established, even by 1916 which was the first ANZAC Day celebrations in Sydney, it was already a significant event in our country’s history. And so there’s an enormous amount of material, of letters and diaries. And the wonderful Australian War Memorial has digitised it all.

So I spent a lot of time reading diaries. And also a terrific book called More Than Bombs and Bandages, which looks at the actual physical work that nurses did in World War I.

But then you have to look beyond the letters and the diaries, because quite often people wrote things to reassure their families. They didn’t want them to know what the truth was like because then they would worry about them. So they often only talked about the good things in their letters. But there are official war photographers. So you have to go and look at the actual pictures.

And then I was really lucky, one of the nurses actually was an amateur photographer and there are a lot of photographs of the nurses, the orderlies, the ambulances and the wards in the Heliopolis Palace Hospital. So I was very lucky there. Her name was Lil Mackenzie, and she was a very tall kind of robust woman who had a real interest in photography. And it was delightful looking at those photos.

Valerie

So apart from the research, which clearly you really enjoy, because you’ve described yourself as a research junkie, there’s a great story in this. Regardless of the research, there’s a great story in this book, the story of Evelyn and her wanting to be a doctor, and the people and characters she encounters along the way. When you first started the book, how much of the actual story and plot did you already work out in your head or know was going to happen?

Pamela

The main part that I knew was the beginning and what happened during Gallipoli. But I always knew that it was a love story. So the other character, the main character, is William Brent who is a doctor who has had polio has a child and therefore isn’t fit for the army. And this happened a lot. There were a lot of people who weren’t able to get in who wanted to. And he decides to go to Cairo and offer his help.

And this is based actually on something that did happen. One of the other characters in the book, Dr Agnes Bennett, a woman doctor, is a real person. And when she went to Cairo, she turned up on the station at Alexandria when the wounded from Gallipoli were being brought in and sent to Cairo. And they were completely overwhelmed with the wounded, and she just started helping. And they not only allowed her in to help, but also she ended up being the first woman captain in the British Army. So she was the leader of a huge change.

And so I knew from historical evidence that if a doctor turned up at that moment and started to help, they would keep him. And so William wants to do his bit, but he has some physical liabilities.

And I wanted it to be a story about two people who were determined not to get married. Because Evelyn, because she suffered quite a lot under her father’s control, doesn’t ever want to give a man control over her again. And of course, in those days when women got married their husbands virtually owned them and everything they owned. And William doesn’t think he’s fit to marry. So I always knew it was a story about overcoming that. You know, that it was a love story between two people who felt that they would never be able to marry. And so all of the events of the story had to work towards that goal.

Valerie

And so Evelyn wants to become a doctor and her father is against it. And obviously in 1915/16 there are very different attitudes to women, especially women becoming doctors, than what there are today. How did you determine… Was that as easy to find out as the historical facts? The attitudes and opinions…

Pamela

Oh yes. Because they knew they were trailblazers, those women wrote about what happened to them. So women had become doctors, 60 years before that was the first female doctor in America. And since the 1880s, Sydney University have allowed women to study there although not to take the degree immediately. And Edinburgh University certainly had had almost a whole generation of people go through before then. So it wasn’t so much institutional barriers; it was social barriers.

Valerie

Yes.

Pamela

And in particular, financial barriers, because it was very, very expensive to go to university. As it was indeed in Australia until the 70s. So it was almost impossible for an ordinary person to get themselves to uni. And that’s why I had to have her have an inheritance that would make it possible.

Valerie

Yep. Now, when you’re reading this book, obviously it’s set in the early 1900s, set during the war. And one of the things is the characters really come to life in terms of the dialogue. How did you determine what was the dialogue of the day?

Pamela

I read a lot of contemporary novels. Like, from 1915.

Valerie

Ah.

Pamela

1915, 1920. Yeah. So that’s the only way, really. And even then, because you’d never have a novel where people really swear published in 1915, but we know they did swear. So you have to use a little bit more imagination. Not that there’s a lot of swearing in the book. But you know, you have to kind of think, okay, well when novelists were writing there they were writing under a kind of social censorship. And you have to look beyond that.

But a lot of it is simply reading newspaper reports of court sessions. Because there you have verbatim. People take down verbatim dialogue. That kind of thing.

Valerie

So on a practical level, apart from reading the novels of the day and court transcripts, like you say, did you just read it and let it osmosis-ise into you? Or did you take notes and think, I’m going to grab that phrase, and William might say something like that. You know what I mean?

Pamela

Yeah, no. For me it’s about kind of diving into the world and letting that world surround you and fill you up, and then it will come out naturally. Whereas I think… I mean, sometimes you notice a really good phrase and you think, oh yep, good, I’ll use that one.

And also of course, I used my own family. I mean, my dad was born in 1923. So a lot of his old expressions, things that he would have said when he was a boy, would have been in currency then as well.

I think it’s just a matter of knowing your characters, also. Knowing what class they’re from and what experiences they’ve had. It’s more complicated than just going, “that’s a good phrase.”

Valerie

Yes. I think obviously this is something that is… You’ve written a billion books.

Pamela

Thirty-five.

Valerie

Okay! 35. I’ve lost count. So it is something that just comes naturally to you. And you teach courses in dialogue as well. So what do you think is the biggest mistake people make when they are writing dialogue?

Pamela

Formality.

Valerie

Oh, you mean, being too formal?

Pamela

Being too formal. Yeah, having whole sentences. Not having sentence fragments.

And also, quite often the dialogue doesn’t mirror the state, the emotional state the person is in. So if someone is very upset, they don’t speak in formal sentences. They don’t speak in complete ideas. They interrupt themselves. They pause. They use repetition.

So it’s about listening. The best advice I can give to someone who wants to write good dialogue is to listen really hard. Every writer I know is a terrible eavesdropper. I mean, I love it when people have fights on mobile phones in public transport. It’s great. Because you really hear people talk. And so a lot of it is that.

And of course I started as a script writer, originally, with ABC Kids TV. And working with actors teaches you a lot about dialogue. It teaches you a lot about what can be said naturally, and what falls naturally to the ear. And I learnt a lot from the actors I worked with.

Valerie

And this book, The Desert Nurse, has mini-series written all over it! May I add.

Pamela

Oh, god, wouldn’t that be lovely!

Valerie

I just kept thinking, oh, I can just totally see this. I was seeing the opening credits. I was picturing all of the sets. But anyway! What were some of the biggest challenges in writing this particular book?

Pamela

The biggest challenge was the unrelenting nature of the work. To be able to represent that, the eight months of the Gallipoli campaign – and the book goes past that – but that was the most difficult part to write.

In the eight months of the Gallipoli campaign from the second lot of reinforcements, which is when she’s there, nine months, I guess, she never stops. And to be able to get that across to the reader, without boring them, without overwhelming them with operation after operation, and fever after fever, and to make that both clear how unrelenting it was and yet not make it boring, that was the biggest challenge, definitely.

Valerie

Well, you definitely succeeded at that. Because it’s interesting that you’ve said that that is the biggest challenge, because as I was reading it I just felt that excitement. And there weren’t any boring sections at all. I just felt that excitement. And just kept thinking, “oh my god! This is amazing! Oh my god!” That’s why I felt like I needed to go and enlist, you know what I mean? Even though I’ve never been interested in becoming a doctor before! But it sounded so interesting and so exciting that you’ve obviously…

Pamela

I worked really hard at it!

Valerie

So what did you, on that point then, on a practical level, what techniques or things did you do to do that? Because now that I think of it, you have conveyed so much information, you’ve really conveyed the extent of the busyness and the shear breadth of the stuff that these nurses had to do, what did you do to achieve your goal?

Pamela

Well, every scene where you actually see her working or assisting in an operation, every scene had to do something else as well. So it had to advance the relationship or hinder the relationship. It had to give her an idea about her future or it had to inspire her to do more. Or you know it had to have some emotional effect on both her and William whenever he was in the scene also.

So you can’t just go, well, this is what they did. You have to show the effect it had on each of them. And then you have to pick those scenes. Which operation would have that effect? Which scene with a dying patient would change her?

So you kind of do it backwards. You look for the function of the scene first, and then you pick of the many, many elements of her day, you pick the element that will best represent that function.

Valerie

Right. So start off with the emotional element first, and then go into the detail of the activity.

Pamela

Start off with how you want her to change. How do you want this to change her? Well, what would do that?

Valerie

And then how did you then go back and think, oh, a leg amputation will serve that function? Or fixing a shrapnel wound would serve that function. Did you then go back to a list of operations?

Pamela

No. I mean, my reading had given me a list in my head. You know, not a formal list. I knew I had to set up the fact that amputations were done regularly, because later in the book an amputation becomes very important. So we had to see that happen to other people. So it’s mentioned a couple of times before that final one.

And other than that it’s a question, I guess, of variety. I didn’t want people to get bored. I didn’t want us to be doing the same thing, even though they did. They did do ten amputations a day. They did do 20 shrapnel removals. But I didn’t want the reader to get bored. So that’s why I would look for variety, because there was a huge variety as well as repetition.

Valerie

What was the easiest – or maybe not easiest – the most flowing thing about writing this book?

Pamela

I just love William.

Valerie

Oh! Okay.

Pamela

I like Evelyn. Obviously, Evelyn’s a fantastic character to write, you know, because she’s very determined and intelligent and troubled. And that’s a great combination. But I just love William. He’s probably my favourite hero so far that I’ve written.

His problem, the polio, is actually based on my family doctor. So Kim Ng had polio as a child in Hong Kong, and survived that and became a doctor. And he’s just the most wonderful, wonderful doctor.

So when I was looking for a disability that William could have, that I knew a doctor could have and still be a good doctor, that was there in front of me. And it also is a great one because thanks to vaccines we don’t have polio anymore, so it’s a good historical item, as well.

But I just love William. I think he’s just a wonderful person. And I liked writing him. I liked being him while I was writing him.

Valerie

Is this the last we’re going to see of William?

Pamela

Oh! That had not occurred to me, I must admit.

Valerie

Are you serious!?

Pamela

No, I hadn’t thought about that. Well, you know that sometimes I do bring characters back. I mean, Jimmy’s in this book. And in the next book, which is called Dancing with the Prince of Wales, you may remember in The War Bride, the main character’s best friend Jane goes on the stage. And the next book will be her story. Her and Jonesy’s story in London. They go to London on the stage there.

So I do have a habit of bringing characters back. And maybe, I don’t know. I really seriously have not thought about that before, but maybe. Who knows?

Valerie

That’s bizarre that you had not thought about that. But anyway! All right. So this book is out. You’re obviously writing the next one.

Pamela

Yes, I am.

Valerie

Where are you at on it?

Pamela

Oh, I’m not far enough. I’m in the middle of writing it. In the first draft. So I’ve done a lot of research.

Valerie

Yes. So does this require the same level of research?

Pamela

More in some ways. Because it’s new, it’s London. So I already knew a fair bit about Australia during World War I. But this is 1920s London, flappers and the Charleston. And the Prince of Wales, who was very much part of the theatre scene at that time. So I’ve had to do a huge amount of research.

And characters like Fred Astaire and Adele Astaire and Noel Coward and Ivor Novello. So when you’re writing about real people, you have to do a huge amount of research.

Valerie

Yes. So you’ve mentioned that you’re a research junkie. And this again may be something that you already do naturally, but if you had to break it down – because I just got a question only yesterday that a writer is thinking of doing the write-now-research-later kind of approach. You obviously research first.

Pamela

Mostly. And then you do more as you go through when you need to.

Valerie

Yes. But from the sounds of it, correct me if I’m wrong, you research a whole heap of stuff and immerse yourself in that world and then are able to write about it. But do you have a technique of recording certain things in a certain way? Do you have a three-step process, perhaps?

Pamela

Oh, you’re going to hate me, Val. I just read things.

Valerie

Okay.

Pamela

I just read stuff and I copy photos off the internet. And I do, when I’m reading on my Kindle, I do highlight things and then print them out. But you know, I hardly ever look at them.

Valerie

It just stays in your head?

Pamela

It’s basically in my head. And then I will go back. I mentioned that Bombs and Bandages book, which is a fantastic resource. Well, I would remember, oh, she explained how to give a quinine injection in that book. I would go back and look at that when I needed to write that scene.

Valerie

Right.

Pamela

So for very specific details, I’ll just know where it is. And then I will go back and find it to write the actual scene.

Valerie

In that case, is it like… Because when I used to do exams at school, I would remember everything. But literally the minute after the exam was over I would forget everything. Is that the case with you? Once you’re on to your next book, you’ve forgotten those details? You’ve gone into a new world and you can’t keep it all in your brain?

Pamela

A lot of it goes. But because this is cumulative, because I’m researching the same period, some of it stays. But no, it is a bit like having an exam, yeah. Yeah, it is like that. And then a lot of it will just… I’ll know how to find it again.

Valerie

Yes.

Pamela

If you said to me, “where did you get that detail from?” I’ll know where it comes from. But then, writers often forget what they’ve written.

Valerie

Yes, absolutely.

Pamela

Quite often I’ve talked to friends and we go, you know, “I had a look at that book the other day because I had to read from it at a reading, and I’d completely forgotten writing that chapter.”

Valerie

Yes. I know. Weird, right.

Pamela

So I think it is like an exam.

Valerie

So with this book, now that you’ve written 35 books, do you still have a writers group and do you still workshop any of your stories?

Pamela

Yes, I do. I workshop everything. Well, not Amazing Australian Women. That’s a non-fiction book. But my fiction, certainly, I would workshop everything I write. My husband is my first reader. And he is also a writer. He’s just published his first book for children, The Lighthouse at Pelican Rock. And he’s become a fantastic first…

Valerie

And is that a novel?

Pamela

It’s a novel for primary school students.

Valerie

Great. And what’s his name?

Pamela

Stephen Hart. That’s where I got the Hart from, when I became Pamela Hart. And he’s a great first reader.

And then depending on the book, I have other readers. So I have people who read my children’s work for me. And I have people who read my adult fiction for me. And I do for them.

So I would never, no, I would never write anything without workshopping it. I am so convinced of the value of getting other people’s opinions. Because quite often you think you’ve done something, because you know all this stuff. It’s particularly important when you’ve done all this research. Because you think you’ve explained something, because you’ve got used to an idea that was true then, and then your reader will go, “I have no idea what she’s talking about.” And you go, oh but blah blah blah. Nope. Never heard of it. And that’s happened more than once.

So I think it’s crucial. I think all fiction needs to be workshopped.

Valerie

Yes. So in case there’s some newbie writers listening, can you just define workshopping and what you mean?

Pamela

Usually I wait until I have a first draft and I would give my work to people to read, whom I trust. And who know something about writing. It’s no good giving it to your mum or to your friend. Because either they’ll go, “oh, I really liked it!” Or “I don’t know, I couldn’t get into it.” But they won’t know why. And why is really important.

So you want someone who can say, not “oh I couldn’t get into it”. But to say, “well, really the story doesn’t start until chapter three. I think that’s where you should have your beginning.” So somebody who has some experience in speaking about writing, I think is important. And then they will come back and they will say things like, “the story doesn’t start til chapter three” or “I don’t think you’ve really established why she’s doing that here” or “this scene is very long, can’t you can’t it down? Because I got a bit bored by the end of it.”

And different people have different skills. So for example, my friends get me to do structural read, because they know I’m a structure girl. Whereas I might ask somebody else to do a dialogue, you know, just make sure the characters are working for me. Depending on where the book is at, what draft you’re at. So you learn which of your workshopping friends is good at picking up certain problems. And you listen to them about those problems. And then you try and solve the problems.

But the important thing is to find your solution to it. So people will give you suggestions. And this is absolutely true of editors as well, Val, it’s not just the people you workshop with. Editors are really good at identifying problems, but they want you to find the solution. And my editor at Hachette, Bernadette Foley, who teaches for us, she said to me once, “we prefer authors to find the solution because then it’s truer to the book.”

So listen to other people’s suggestions but follow your own instincts about finding the right solution. But fix the problem. If they identify a problem, it’s there. So you need to, and particularly if everybody who has read it has said the same thing, it’s almost certainly true.

Valerie

Yes.

Pamela

And then you have to find the fixes.

Valerie

And of course one of the places that you facilitate a lot of workshopping for our students is in the six-month Write Your Novel program, which you take and Bernadette Foley, as you mentioned, from Hachette takes. What do you think is the most valuable part of that six-month Write Your Novel program for students?

Pamela

I think there are three. Can I do three?

Valerie

Three? Go!

Pamela

The first one is it forces you to write. So you commit to something. You commit to submitting 20,000 words over the course of the six months. And people need that. Some people really, really need deadlines. Not everybody has, or could have, the… It’s not even self-discipline. Because a lot of the time, it’s about giving yourself permission to do it when there are so many other demands on your time. And I think doing the course over the six months really gives you permission to concentrate on your writing for that period.

And it gives other people… Like, people say, “oh come out with us” and you go “no, I can’t I’ve got to write.” And they go, “oh come on. Come anyway.” But if you say, “I’ve got to do the work for my writing course” they leave you alone.

Valerie

Yes.

Pamela

So I think that’s really important.

The second thing is the workshopping. You learn as much from reading and critiquing as do from them critiquing yours. And every student we’ve had through has said that. Because it teaches you a way of thinking about writing, an objectivity about the work that you can’t learn any other way.

But the most important thing, I think, is that at the end of the course you’re divided into groups. And the people in your group read your entire novel. And as far as I know, this is the only writing course in the world where that happens. And it’s very important. Because new writers are often very good at scenes and quite good at character, but not so good at structure. And you can’t get that feedback unless someone reads your whole book.

So I think that’s one of the things that makes that course stand out from others. Because getting three structural edits, effectively, at the end of the course, from people who have read the entire book, and then we help, we teach people how to do a structural edit, that I think is immensely valuable.

Valerie

Definitely. So we’ve already mentioned that you have just released a children’s novel, you’re about to release a picture book, you’ve just released The Desert Nurse. How do you plan your career, in a sense? How do you plan what’s going to be released when so that you can actually get it all done? And so that it will be released in a way that makes sense for your career as an author?

Pamela

Okay. Well, part of that is up to the publisher, obviously.

I’m a book a year author for Hachette. So I have one book a year come out with them and with Piatkus in the UK, which is part of Hachette there. So they tell me when it’s going to come out, basically. And they choose that according to where they think the book will best fit. So I started out being a Mother’s Day author. But recently, many publishers have been releasing a lot of books at Mother’s Day, which kind of cuts the sales down for all of them. And so they’ve brought me back to July.

So in terms of when it comes out, I’m committed to a book a year for Hachette, which is fantastic that they want that. And it’s up to them as to when it comes out.

I guess I fit my children’s work in around the adult novel, because the adult novel obviously takes a lot of time. But quite often, I’ll be writing the kids book while they’re doing the structural edit on the adult novel. And when I’ve done four hours of research, it’s quite nice to turn to writing about Kakadu, which is what I’m doing at the moment for a non-fiction picture book. So it’s a kind of light and shade thing.

But I haven’t had a proper job since 1989, Val. And I’ve got quite good at juggling a whole number of different projects since then.

Valerie

I reckon. And so finally, what would be your top three tips for aspiring writers?

Pamela

Write!

Valerie

That’s number one.

Pamela

As Pat Walsh says. That’s number one. The number one reason your book won’t be published is that you haven’t written it. And that’s flippant. But what that means is you have to give yourself permission to write. You have to give yourself permission to take it seriously. And you have to give it priority.

So a lot of people say to me, “Oh, I’d love to write a book if I only had the time.” And I say to them, “do you watch two television shows a week?” And they go, “yes.” And I say, “You’ve got time to write a novel.”

So two hours a week. I mean, it might take you a while, but you could write a novel in two hours a week. So write. Keep writing.

The second thing is find your tribe. Find your community. And obviously one of the things I love about the Writers’ Centre is that we offer that option for people. That we are a tribe and we are a community and we’re a very welcoming one. And beyond that, there’s also possibilities of finding other tribes. It could be fiction or children’s fiction or romance, there are other people out there doing the same stuff that you’re doing. And you need to find them. It’s only an internet search away.

And then the third one would be workshopping. You know, learning to take criticism, learning to be professional, learning to really listen to what people are saying about your work. And to be prepared to make the changes that are necessary to make it better.

Because the second reason your book won’t be published is that it’s not good enough. And by that, I don’t mean that you’re not talented enough. It’s just that people, they go too fast. They write a first draft and then they send it off to the publisher. But only a handful of first drafts in the history of the world have been good enough. So people have got to put the time in to do not just the first draft and the second draft and the third draft, but the eighth and the ninth and the tenth, if that’s what’s necessary.

So this picture book that I’m doing, Kakadu, it’s a companion book to Desert Lake, which came out last year. I don’t know how many drafts we’ve done on that, but it must be more than 50.

Valerie

Wow.

Pamela

It took… yeah. So I do practice what I preach. Picture books are very hard to write, obviously, because you have so few words. They all have to be perfect. So typically they would have more drafts than a novel.

But even so, you’ve got to be prepared to write and rewrite. And it’s really hard to do that alone, I think. I think it’s much easier to do that in a group, to do that with somebody helping, somebody coordinating, mentoring, whatever that is. Which is why I love teaching at the centre.

I don’t know, I’m sure you do know, that we have Margaret Morgan, one of our students, has her first novel coming out in August. A major, a major title for Penguin Random House. And it’s just been fab-fantastic to see – fab-fantastic, yeah – to see Margaret coming from her first class with us to the point where I said to her, you can pitch it now.

Valerie

Yeah, very exciting.

Pamela

And it’s so exciting when you can see someone develop their skills and grab hold of their identity as an author and make it. I think having a tribe and that workshopping support really makes a difference.

Valerie

Wonderful. And on that note, thank you so much for talking to us today, Pamela.

Pamela

Thanks Val.


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