Ep 258 Do you have NaNoWriMoFoMo? And meet DM Cameron, author of ‘Beneath the Mother Tree’.

Share on Pinterest
Share with your friends










Submit

In Episode 258 of So you want to be a writer: Do you have NaNoWriMoFoMo? Meet DM Cameron, author of Beneath the Mother Tree and discover your chance to win a copy of Believe Me by JP Delaney.

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

Links Mentioned

NaNoWriMo

Creative Writing 30-day Bootcamp

Your Kid’s Next Read

Writer in Residence

DM Cameron

Originally an actress, debut novelist, D.M. Cameron, is an AWGIE nominated radio dramatist, award winning playwright and celebrated short film writer.

Her first novel, Beneath the Mother Tree has just been published by MidnightSun Publishing.

She is currently at work on a second novel and taking notes for a third.

Follow DM Cameron on Instagram

Visit MidnightSun Publishing website

(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

WIN ‘Believe Me’ by JP Delaney

This podcast is brought to you by the Australian Writers’ Centre

Find out more about your hosts here:

Allison Tait

Valerie Khoo

Or get social with them here:

Twitter:

@altait

@valeriekhoo

Instagram:

@allisontaitwriter

@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 today, Donna.

Donna

Thanks for having me, Val. I’m very excited.

Valerie

Yes, well, you’ve got an interesting journey that has led to this book, Beneath the Mother Tree. So for listeners who haven’t yet read the book, tell us what it’s about.

Donna

Well, it’s about a young girl, Ayla, who was studying veterinary science but has come back to the island that she grew up on because she’s just feeling a bit lost. And depressed, I suppose, to a certain extent. She’s just found out about the plastic, islands of plastic junk floating in the oceans. And all the species that are dying out. And she just doesn’t know if what she wants to do with her life is going to be useful.

So she comes back to the island she grew up on, just defer for the year. And she’s also a bit heartbroken. She’s just come out of her first major relationship. So the whole story unfolds from there.

She has a grandfather who lives in a boat just off the island who is quite a heavy drinker. And he grew up with all these Irish myths, and he’s imparted all that Irish mythology onto his granddaughter, Ayla.

And she’s standing on the beach and hears this flute music. And one of the Irish myths she grew up with was the myth of the Far Dorocha, as Grappa calls it. And he’s a dark haired handsome man who plays a flute and he can transport you down into the underworld, because he’s actually an agent for the Faery Queen. And he’s very seductive. And you’re never seen again.

So she hears this amazing flute music and she glimpses him.

Valerie

Great!

Donna

Grappa thinks it is the Far Dorocha and it all unfolds from there.

Valerie

And so how did this idea come into your head? It’s quite out there. So what was the inspiration behind this?

Donna

I actually wanted to explore my connection to country as an Australian of Irish descent. But my family has been here for quite a few generations. But I also wanted to look at the Indigenous connection to country. Because the area that the book is set in, which is an area that I grew up in, there is a big Indigenous population there because there was a mission there for over 50 years.

I think I’ve always been aware that I am Australian, but I’m not Australian. And how should I connect to this country, the only country I’ve ever known, when my heritage is actually from a country on the other side of the world?

So I wanted to look at both those aspects. And I suppose that idea of belonging, in a way.

Valerie

And so this… Congratulations on getting this book out, because you’ve had some ups and downs on the journey along the way. Can you tell us some of the headlines? Of the main breaks, so the good breaks, but also some of the obstacles that you’ve had along the way.

Donna

Yeah, well, it took seven years to get published. I actually wrote the first draft seven years ago.

Valerie

That’s committed. You’re persistent! Persistent.

Donna

There was a real up and down journey, because I did have a big literary agent interested pretty well first up. And she asked me to cut 30,000 words off the manuscript. And at that point I was just really, I suppose, too inexperienced as a writer. I was a scriptwriter, originally. So to cut 30,000 words off, I think I managed about 10,000.

In retrospect, I wish I’d just paid an editor at that point to help me. I was so stupid, because I was so excited to have such an amazing agent interested, and I didn’t want to make her wait. And so I just rushed the whole… And she kept saying, don’t rush. Take your time. And basically, she was saying, you get one chance, but I didn’t realise that. I just thought, oh, it’s so exciting. And I rushed the manuscript back to her. And I only had managed to cut about 10,000 words off.

The book as it is now is down to where she wanted it. But at that time, I was just too inexperienced.

Valerie

So what happened when you delivered what she didn’t want?

Donna

She said, oh, well, sorry, it still needs, it needs a good edit and still needs work.

She explained that the industry has really changed now. It’s a much harder industry to get published in. And that you really need to… Well, she said, you know, she really needed to send a manuscript out that was almost ready to go, in a way. And it still needed too much work, and that was that. And I was heartbroken.

Valerie

So then what happened?

Donna

Well, something even worse happened, I suppose. I had one of the major publishing houses, they read the manuscript and this particular publisher, really lovely, lovely publisher, she sent me an email. And said that she was halfway through the manuscript and was really enjoying it and would I be interested in cutting some of the exposition off the front end of it.

And I had never got that email, because I had written on the front, I had written the incorrect email address down on the front of the manuscript. And that happened because I had sent the manuscript out to her and then I realised it wasn’t quite ready. So I emailed her and said, oh have you printed it out? Do you mind, I’m still working on it. And I did that to her a couple of times. So that was really awful.

And then eventually I felt so bad, I hand delivered the manuscript and I said, here it is. Okay. It’s ready. You can read it. But the email that I’d put on the front of that hand-delivered manuscript was incorrect. So when she did eventually..

Valerie

You got your own email address wrong?!

Donna

Yep. Yep.

Valerie

Oh my god. When did you realise this, though? But didn’t she have your other emails?

Donna

I didn’t. I didn’t. Well, she did have another email address which we had originally emailed from. But for some reason, when she got the hard copy that I had delivered, she just went from that email address on the front there. Which I had actually written down incorrectly.

And I had given her… I gave her about six months. I thought, oh I don’t want to bother her. I don’t want to bother her. I’ve stuffed her around. I’ll just let her read it when she gets the chance.

And so eventually after six months I contacted her and said, oh, I’m just wondering if you had the chance to read my manuscript? And she said, oh, didn’t you get my email? And she forwarded it to me and there I saw that it had been sent to the wrong email address and that I’d obviously… I looked at the file, yep, there it was. I’d written it incorrectly.

Valerie

Wow. I have to ask. Was it an actual typo? Or was it a completely different email address?

Donna

No, no. It was just one letter that was incorrect. So it was just a typo on my behalf.

So she was, she said… I said, oh please, I’ll do anything. I’ll cut my hand off! Of course I’ll cut out exposition! Please finish reading it.

And she said, oh look, I will, if I get a chance, but you know. It was leading up to Christmas, she had other books that she was working on. And she kept saying, look, if I get a chance, I’m going to have to read it from the beginning now, because it’s been six months.

Valerie

She forgot, yeah.

Donna

And eventually, I just felt like I was hassling her too much. I just stopped emailing. I thought, oh, look, I’ve stuffed this poor publisher around so much that I just left it.

But that was all my own fault, again.

Valerie

Wow. I bet you double check your email address every time you send something now?

Donna

Oh yes. Yeah. Well, you know, everything’s meant to be. So…

Valerie

All right. Let’s move on to the more positive stuff. So thank you for sharing those things. Because that’s reality, right? You can stuff something up just because of an email address. Or because you don’t want to… Or you get precious about the number of words, or about the words, you don’t want to kill your darlings.

So what happened then that became more positive?

Donna

Well, I was selected for a Varuna LitLink residency, thank god. Because after those two things happened I just thought, oh this is it, I’m going to give up on this book. And so that was a really positive thing. And it took the manuscript to another level.

And it was all meant to be. Because while I was waiting to hear back from these agents and publishers, etc, I kept working on it. And time, it takes time to write. I’d never written a book before. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was learning to write a book by writing a book.

Valerie

It’s probably a good way to learn.

Donna

And the first draft… Sorry?

Valerie

It’s probably a good way to learn.

Donna

Yeah, well, I don’t know. It was a bit heartbreaking at times. But the first draft came quite quickly. But it’s the editing. Editing is so important. And I just learned to edit, I think, over the years. I just kept working on it and working on it. And editing and editing, and adding layers. And eventually it got to a point where I was actually really happy with it.

Valerie

So you said eventually it got to the point where you were really happy with it. So previously were you not happy with it and yet you sent it out?

Donna

Well, yeah. Because I thought, oh, you know, when a publisher gets it they will edit and they will help me to get it where…

Valerie

Oh, I see.

Donna

I didn’t realise, until that agent said, well, the industry has changed. It doesn’t work like that anymore. And then I realised, wow, I’ve actually got to get it to that point where it is…

Valerie

You have to put forward your best work, yeah.

Donna

Yeah. And at first, I thought it was good enough. And it’s amazing when you leave something for a while and you read it again. And I’m a perfectionist, as well. I will never, now my book’s in print, I will never read it. Ever. Because I know there’ll be things that I’ll hate, that I’ll want to change.

Valerie

Right. Wow. Okay, so what kept you going over seven years? Especially when you had a couple of disappointing experiences. You know, good on you for your tenacity. What kept you going?

Donna

Well, I suppose those experiences were disappointing. But the fact was, they were very interested in the manuscript, as well. So that kept me going. I thought, well, these things have happened. But the positive thing is they actually were really interested.

People who read it really loved it. There was a lot of belief in the manuscript, as well. And I really believed in it. I knew that it was a story that I would love to read. I really believed in my book, I suppose.

Valerie

So you mentioned, you touched on that it has some Indigenous themes in it, or some history in it. Did you have to do much research for that?

Donna

Yeah. Well, I worked with Uncle Bob Anderson, who’s a Ngugi elder from Mulgumpin, which is Moreton Bay Island. So I worked with him on all the Indigenous content.

And I thought that I would be writing dugong dreaming, or their connection to country compared to the Irish connection. But I had no idea about the massacres that had occurred in the Quandamooka region. This is the area I grew up in. And there I was in my 40s, I learned about these stories for the first time. And that had a major influence on the book and took it to a whole different territory, in a way.

Valerie

And so ultimately, how did you get published?

Donna

So in the end, it was actually my mentor at Varuna. She said, “you know, your book is very unusual.”

And that was another thing. Some of the big publishers that gave me the most amazing rejections. Like, “you write so beautifully. I love this book. Unfortunately it doesn’t suit our whatever.”

She was saying, it’s actually hard to market because it doesn’t fit into a box, so to speak. An easy box. It crosses genres. So she said, why don’t you try some of the smaller publishing houses because they take risks. They’re more inclined to take risks.

In the end, I Googled the Small Press Network. And I found some publishers there that were really, that looked like they might be interested in my kind of book. So I tried them. And I ended up with several offers of publication, so that was really lovely.

The course I did, actually, at the Australian Writers’ Centre, there’s a publishing course that you have there, that came in so handy at that point. Because suddenly I had all these contracts I had to look at and compare. And so that was wonderful.

Valerie

That’s the Inside Publishing course. And that does go into a lot of detail about your rights and the kinds of things to look out for, as well.

So just tell me, in the process of writing the book – well, you’ve mentioned that the first draft was the easy part and then the editing was the harder part. Did you edit it in a… Like, what did you know that you had to edit? How did you tackle it? Did you do it in a linear fashion? Did you take it in scenes or sections? What kind of approach did you have?

Donna

The literary agent that was really interested in the book gave me two readers’ reports, which were just fantastic. And they really helped me through the editing process. I sat down with those reader reports and just kept looking at them, looking at the feedback and going, okay, this is what needs to be done.

It took me a while to get there. So looking for repetition. And also the layering. So there was the cutting down of the words, getting it to be really concise. But then there’s also the layering. Making the characters richer and deeper.

One thing that I could do, because I had the time, I suppose, was I did one whole edit where I focused on smell, for instance. So I did an edit on each of the senses.

Valerie

Great.

Donna

So while I was waiting for that publisher to get back to me, I thought, okay, I really want to look at all the senses. Because to me, the thing that the novel does best, really, compared to any other art form is immersion. So even film, you don’t smell with film. Because it’s much more sight and sound. With a novel, your characters can touch things and smell things.

So all those five senses, I did an edit on each of those senses. Just to make sure that it was there throughout the book. And that all takes time. So time is a really good thing, I think, with writing. I think rushing writing, you… I mean, I could have been published probably years ago, but it wouldn’t be the book it is today. It just took time. Maybe I’m just a really slow writer, I don’t know.

Valerie

So speaking of time, then, what did you have to fit it in with? A day job? What did you have to work with at the time, or fit in at the time?

Donna

At the time that I was writing the first draft, I ran – and I still do – I run private acting classes. But they start in the afternoon. So I usually have the mornings to write and then I go off to teach in the afternoon, a few days a week. So that works out well. So I suppose I work part-time.

Valerie

And so did you have a word count goal? Or any kind of targets while you were writing it?

Donna

The first draft, I think… Well, it was the Australian Writers’ Centre, listening to your podcasts. Because I literally did not know how to write a book. I was a scriptwriter. I’d never written a novel. I knew that this thing was a novel. And I think I Googled ‘writers centres’ or something.

Valerie

Oh, right!

Donna

Yeah. And the Australian Writers’ Centre came up and I saw it had podcasts. So I started listening to the podcasts. And then I learned through the podcast that 80,000 was the normal word length. In one of your podcasts. So I thought, okay, I’ve got to go for 80,000. But of course, it ended up 110,000, the first draft. And then just trying to cut that back.

Valerie

Yes. Which is why the agent wanted to cut it down.

Donna

Yes, absolutely.

Valerie

Because while epic fantasy can be 110,000, but regular novels are probably around that 80 mark.

Donna

And it’s around the 80,000 mark now, the published version. But at the time, it was so unwieldy, I just didn’t know where to start with it.

Well, I mean, I did. I got there eventually. But I just rushed. I rushed my edit back to her, because I was just so, I didn’t want to keep her waiting, you know? I was living in a state of fear of, oh, she might not be interested if I keep her waiting for too long. Just fear. It was so silly. I look back and I think, oh…

Valerie

Oh, well, at least you know now!

Donna

I do, yeah. And hopefully anyone listening will know, if you get a really good literary agent interested, take your time, do exactly what they ask.

Valerie

That’s right. Are you working on your second novel?

Donna

I am, actually. I’m still caught up with promotion for this one, because it’s only been out for a couple of months. But oh, I just so want to write this novel that’s calling me at the moment.

Valerie

Is it along the same vein? Or is it about something different?

Donna

It’s looking at the whole climate change denial that’s happening at the moment. And hope, I suppose. That fine line between despair and hope and where we’re sitting as humans. On one level it’s looking at that. But on the other level it’s a bit of a thriller, a road trip, there’s a love story in there. There is probably going to be myth. So again, a contemporary story but with an element of myth in there.

Valerie

Again, crossing genres.

Donna

Yeah. Well, yeah, I suppose. Probably not as much as Beneath the Mother Tree.

Valerie

Right. What was the most enjoyable thing about the writing process?

Donna

Ah. Okay. Probably moving to a place of compassion.

Valerie

Oh. What do you mean?

Donna

The first draft, one of my characters, it came out of a, I suppose… She was very one dimensional. I don’t want to give too much away because… For people who haven’t read the book. But I wrote towards compassion, which was a really healing beautiful thing to do for this particular character.

And I suppose that was a really positive wonderful thing that came out of the book for me.

Valerie

Cool. And of course, what would your top three tips be for aspiring writers who want to have their own book one day?

Donna

Okay. Well, don’t send it out too early.

Valerie

Yeah, well, that’s a good one.

Donna

Because that’s what I did and stuffed up, I think, really. So I suppose that’s patience. Practice patience. And that’s on lots of levels. I think to write a book, it actually takes a long time. To write a good book. To get all those layers, and to get the density, to get the writing where you want it to be. Editing, editing, editing. So refining and that all takes time. So patience, I think, is a big one.

Another tip would be listen to your subconscious.

Valerie

Right.

Donna

Yeah. Make room for your subconscious, because I think that’s where the gold lies with writing. That voice that wakes you up in the middle of the night. The good stuff comes from there. And even if you get stuck with a plot point or something, go for a walk, or work in the garden and do something else, and then suddenly your subconscious is working on it and fixes it for you.

And to hear that subconscious, you need silence. So get off social media. When you go for a walk, don’t listen to a podcast, even if it is Val and Al.

So yeah, let that subconscious voice be heard. Listen to that.

Number three… Let me think. I think embrace your uniqueness. I heard an interview with David Malouf not very long ago, I can’t even remember where or how it was that I heard this interview. And he was talking about when he was… I think he worked with the same publisher for years and years and had the same editor. And then for some reason he got a new editor, a young editor, who obviously hadn’t read a lot of his work and wasn’t used to his voice. And this editor had so many suggested changes that were to do with his unique voice.

And he said in this interview, he feels sorry for writers now because the whole way the industry is set up with the freelance editors coming in and they’re not getting to work with the same editor again and again. And so to be strong enough, I suppose, to say well, this is my voice. Rather than getting it changed so it’s watered down or grammatically correct. So embrace your uniqueness, I think, is a good one to remember.

Valerie

For sure.

Donna

Because that’s what makes you you. And makes your book different to everyone else’s. Yeah.

Valerie

Awesome.

Donna

And there will always be better writers than you. So just don’t worry about any of that. Just embrace who you are at this point in time.

Valerie

And finally, what’s been the most rewarding part of the experience so far?

Donna

Oh… Well. I think I just feel so free, writing novels. Because I often heard in prose, as a scriptwriter, and then I’d have to change that into dialogue. Writing this book was just so freeing. I felt like my voice was suddenly free.

Valerie

Wonderful.

Donna

And I really just want to write novels now. For some reason. It was so much fun. And the characters, they take over, and they become… It’s so immersive, writing a…

Valerie

Yeah.

Donna

Yeah. That’s the fun bit, I suppose.

Valerie

Wonderful. Well congratulations on the book. And looking forward to your next one. Thank you so much for your time today, Donna.

Donna

Oh, thank you Val. Thank you so much for having me. It’s been an absolute delight.


Comments