Ep 32 Sleep in your favourite literary home, bringing back typewriters, blogging and the law and author Kylie Ladd.

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In Episode 32 of So you want to be a writer, sleep in your favourite literary home, the Times to bring back typewriters…kind of, the business of digital life and death, we are the last generation to remember life without the internet, Moleskine embraces technology in their notebooks, blogging and the law, the one reason blogs succeed, we interview author Kylie Ladd, how to get typography right and we tell you how to find a mentor.

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

Sleep in the Homes of These 8 Literary Legends

The Times’ newsroom set to ring with the sounds of typewriters once more

The business of digital life and death

What it feels like to be the last generation to remember life before the internet

Moleskine unveils new notebook collection

Blogging and the law cheat sheet

The Veggie Mama blog

The elephant, the blogger, the brand and the reader

The One Big Reason Some Blogs Succeed, While Others Crash and Burn

Writer in Residence

kylie-ladd-241x300Kylie Ladd is a novelist and freelance writer.

Her essays and articles have appeared in The AgeGriffith ReviewO Magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, Good MedicineKill Your DarlingsThe Hoopla and MamaMia, among others.

Kylie’s first novel, After the Fall, was published in Australia, the US and Turkey, while her second, Last Summer, was highly commended in the 2011 Federation of Australian Writers Christina Stead Award for fiction.

Her previous books are Naked: Confessions of Adultery and Infidelity and Living with Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias.

Kylie’s third novel, Into My Arms, has been selected as one of Get Reading’s Fifty Books You Can’t Put Down for 2013.

She holds a PhD in neuropsychology, and lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her husband and two children.

Kylie’s website
Kylie on Twitter
Allen & Unwin on twitter

Web Pick

Wordswag

Working Writer’s Tip

How do I find a mentor?
Answered in the podcast!

The Mapmaker Chronicles is coming!

Find out more here.

Sign up to the Australian Writers’ Centre Newsletter!

Just fill in your details over here.

Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

Connect with us on twitter

@altait
@valeriekhoo

Email us
podcast at writerscentre.com.au

Transcript

Allison

Kylie Ladd is an Australian novelist who has published two non-fiction books and whose fourth novel, Mothers and Daughters, has just been released by Allen & Unwin. Kylie also works part-time as a neuro-psychologist, and anyone who has read her finely crafted novels will see the effects of her professional knowledge in her work.

Welcome, Kylie.

Kylie
Thanks, Al, lovely to be here.

Allison
Let’s start with your new novel, Mothers and Daughters, well-mined territory for psychological drama, don’t know how it is at your house. How do you take a subject like that and make it new and fresh?

Kylie
Well, it’s new and fresh to me, I guess. I guess that’s how I do it. I wanted to write the novel, which is about four middle-aged women who go away on holiday with their four teenage daughters. The girls are between 14 and 16. What drew me to the topic was watching as so many of my friends were starting to — engage is a nice word — were starting to battle, maybe, with their own teenage daughters. Not all my friends and not all their daughters, but I was certainly watching with interest as lots of my friends’ daughters grew up and life started becoming a lot rocker. I really wanted to write about that issue, I definitely wanted to write about that issue before my own daughter hits her teenage years, she’s 12.5, so I’m very happy that the novel has come out. No one can read it and think that’s, “Kylie’s daughter who’s the bitch,” in the piece there.

Allison
That’s interesting because that was a question I was going to ask you, when you’re writing something like that, as both a mother and a daughter, are your family members sitting on your shoulders, so to speak, as you write — how are you honest when you’ve got your own relationships like that?

Kylie
I don’t know if it’s my family members who are worried so much as my friends, who are worried as to what the topic was and why I was interested in it.

Look, I just tell everybody it’s all fiction, and that’s not entirely true, I’m ready to lie to people, but my characters are fictional in that if I ever use an incident or a characteristic it’s mixed with lots of other incidents and characteristics. None of my characters in any of my novels are ever a direct copy of someone, that would just be cheating, that wouldn’t be very interesting at all. But, that said you can’t help but absorb what is going on around you, particularly if you are a psychologist as well as a novelist, like I am. You can’t help but notice what is going on, and that does come out in your writing.

That said, I would say that there are aspects of myself in all four of the mothers, and some of the mothers are much more likeable than other of the mothers, but I do recognize parts of myself in all of the mothers. I think that’s hard to pull out too, particularly when you’re writing about a character who is the same age and gender and background as yourself.

Allison
That’s true, and you do say, I think — is your Twitter bio that says, “I like to watch and then write about it.”?

Kylie
That’s quite right.

Allison
That makes me very nervous with you.

Kylie
I’m just warning everybody, as Nora Ephron famously said, “Everything is copy.”

Allison
Yes, it’s true, isn’t it?

Kylie
There’s nothing that is sacred, it can all be used.

I’m one of those writers and I think we’re quite rare, unfortunately, I’m one of those writers that has no ideas. I teach creative writing for the Australian Writers’ Centre and I’m always impressed with my students who say they’re bursting with ideas and they carry notebooks around, which I do, but mine are empty. They’ve got so many ideas they don’t know what to work on next. I find it quite difficult to get ideas, I have to be honest, and when spark an idea I mine it as much as I can. I guard my ideas. I’m always on the look out for things that will inspire my writing. So, yes, I am a voyeur.

Allison
That’s interesting because that was one of the questions I was going to ask you, like you do seem to move seamlessly from one novel to the next. Like, you’re producing a finely crafted work every 12-18 months, generally speaking. So you don’t have the notebooks of ideas shoved in a bottom drawer ready to go?

Kylie
No, I don’t.

Allison
Do you get to the end of a manuscript and go, “OK, what do I do now?”

Kylie
It’s funny, I try to start thinking halfway through a manuscript, I try to start assessing my options, if there are anything at all in tank that I might possibly use for the next one, because that’s still like a year off before I’ll be writing it and I need that long for something to bubble to the surface, essentially.

Maybe I’ve been lucky and maybe my ideas are more creative than I’m saying. Usually I’ve always found by the last third of a manuscript I can see on the horizon what the next manuscript or the next novel is going to be about. So far that’s always happened. I’m 10,000 words into what I hope will be my fifth novel, there’s absolutely nothing on the horizon. My daughter said, “What are you going to write about next?” and I told her to wash her mouth out, because we don’t talk about what I’m going to write about next. I’m still feeling my way into a new novel.

I’m confident that something will show up, I’m hopeful that something will show up eventually.

Allison
I’m sure it will turn up, announcing itself, dancing across the horizon going, “It’s me, I’m here!”

Kylie
“It’s me, I’m the one!”

Allison
Now you and I have had several conversations over the years sort of on my blog and various places regarding the joys of plotting.

Kylie
I knew this would come up with you, Allison.

Allison
Of course it was going to come up with me, because it’s really interesting. A couple of the most recent interviews that I have done have been with authors who do not plot at all, and that’s Liane Moriarty and Michael Robotham, who writes those crime novels without plotting.

Kylie
And they both sell lots and lots of novels, so they’re clearly doing something right.

Allison
I know! Something is going on there.

Kylie
Maybe I’ve got to stop plotting.

Allison
No, because this is the thing, like as we have discussed several times, you have to do what is right for you, and different people work in different ways. But, what I am interested in is maybe you could tell us a little bit about how you plan and write your novels.

Kylie
Yeah, sure. Well, I get the gem of an idea, which I then nurture very carefully and feed steroids if I can for awhile. But, I guess — this is going to sound a bit hippy and I’m not the hippy type, I like to think that these ideas are sorting themselves out organically while I write the previous novel. I don’t know if that makes any sense. I do find that once I’ve fixed on an idea or a theme that I want to write about, I sort of say that usually I work out fairly early what my books are about, there’s always one word at its core what my books are about, be it grief, which was Last Summer, be it blood, which was Into My Arms, and the theme for this book, believe it or not, for Mothers and Daughters, was reconciliation. I knew that fairly early that reconciliation was the word I was working with.

I think once I have a word — that’s pretty pathetic isn’t it? All I need is a word, once I have a word I’m happy to let that word sit there for a few months and percolate away while I’m finish the novel before, if that makes sense.

Allison
So you’re actually an author who works from theme first, almost?

Kylie
I do. I wouldn’t have thought that I was going to be that author, because my first novel, After the Fall, it sort of just came to me and I just wrote it. I actually didn’t plan that one very much at all, but I’ve planned the ones ever since.

Now I think if I’m going to work on something for a year and a half I’m going to write roughly 100,000 words about it, it’s got to be something that at its core I’m interested and I think having a theme it gives me a rudder or a keel or something, it weighs me back in the book, it reminds me, “What am I trying to do here?” And having one word, for me, works like that. So a very important early part of the process of writing a novel, I’ve now realised, and this has happened over the course of — as I said this is my fourth published novel, I’m writing my fifth, but I had two unpublished novels before those, so really I’m up to about my seventh novel, practically, writing. A very early important part is identifying that word or theme, or I guess the touchstone of what I’m really writing about for the book.

When I finish the previous novel and it’s been sent in and I’m in that horrible stage of waiting to hear what my agent and my publisher think about it, usually I have a few months then and that’s when I try and to start the next one. Usually I’ll take a few weeks or a month even to sit down and start plotting out the next one. I know it’s plotting in the sense of I know what is going to happen, I know the basic narrative arc, but then it’s mainly not so much plotting each chapter by chapter, then the next step for me is working on the characters.

Allison
That was as question I was going to ask, at what point does the character come to you? I would imagine if you come up with a word theme does the character follow very quickly?

Kylie
Yes. Look, the characters — again, you’re completely right in saying different processes work for different people, but I have found what works for me is having the theme and then having the characters. I know what I’m working with and then I know who I’m working with. I’ve also found that it’s important to me to sit down and get out the exercise book.

Sorry, I’m laughing.

Allison
The exercise book, I’m laughing at you too. An exercise book, awesome.

Kylie
I have an exercise book for each novel, and I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but then I start looking for pictures of my characters and I stick in pictures of my characters or things that remind me of my characters and then I start writing about my characters, just about their characteristics and a little bit about their background, so I know who I’m working with. That’s the next stage of my plotting, I guess, I spend a few weeks doing that and fleshing out my characters so they’re quite distinct to me in my own mind.

That was really important with Mothers and Daughters because I’m dealing with four white middle-aged women and four white teenage girls, all from a sort of middle-class Australian background, so they’re very similar demographically, so I needed them to be very distinct to me in terms of their personalities and their attributes.

Allison
That’s actually more difficult in some ways than if you took four completely different people from different backgrounds.

Kylie
Oh, absolutely. No, absolutely, it’s much easier, yeah.

Allison
Because those nuances are hard, aren’t they?

Kylie
They are hard because my last book had a family of asylum seekers from Iran and once I had done the research, and I spent some time on asylum seekers as part of my psychology job, but once I had done the research I was really nervous about writing those characters, but they were so easy to write because there was such a richness of culture and difference there. I found it much harder to write my four Australian women and make them all distinct and interesting than I did to write about the different culture, which I hadn’t expected, I must say.

Allison
You mentioned your first novel, After the Fall, which I actually found you on Twitter, after hearing a lot chatter about that first novel. I loved the book. Can you tell us a little bit about how that novel came to be published? You said you had two unpublished manuscripts still in the drawer, so this is the third one you wrote?

Kylie
Yes, this was the third one that I wrote, and I will say for all your listeners that those two unpublished manuscripts did the rounds of publishers, both in Australia and overseas, we were living in Scotland when I wrote both of those, and then we were actually living in Montreal in Canada when I wrote After the Fall. I wasn’t just confining myself to Australian publishers, I was submitting all over Europe and North America, and I was widely rejected all over Europe and North America, as well as Australia. I will also say After the Fall was rejected roughly 40 times in Australia and in the UK —

Allison
Forty times?

Kylie
Yeah, roughly. Yeah, yeah — easily. Easily 40. I think I stopped counting after 40, it was too dispiriting.

What got After the Fall up was just a stroke of luck, I sort of still can’t believe it. The more I talked to authors, it’s almost like women with their birth stories, I think most authors have a novel story about how their novel got born. More and more I realised, and I wouldn’t want writers to think it’s all about luck, but I do think there’s luck or serendipity plays a small role, but you’ve got to be prepared, of course. But, anyway, what happened was I applied to do something called the — what was it called? Literary Speed Dating at The Emerging Writers’ Festival. The Emerging Writers’ Festival is held in Melbourne in May of every year and it’s quite a big festival now and it’s for, obviously, as the title suggests, for emerging writers, for people in writing who are finding their way into publishing, wanting to know about getting published and developing their craft and making contacts with other people within the same sort of boat.

To my knowledge I think they’ve only done this Literary Speed Dating once or twice and this was back — I don’t even want to say how long ago it was, I think it was about 2003 or 2004, something like that. They advertised that they were going to have an event called Literary Speed Dating, where would-be authors, novelists, but also non-fiction submitted a A-4 page about their book, it wasn’t allowed to be any longer than A-4, it could be an excerpt or it could be a synopsis and themselves and only ten were selected. I believe there were about 700 applications, ten were selected. I was lucky enough to be one of them.

Then we went speed dating. We were at the Melbourne Town Hall and we had ten minutes each with ten different publishers from ten publishing houses. In that ten minutes we had to sit down and pitch our novels as effectively and efficiently as we could, and then the bell would ring and we would hand over our piece of paper with the one page notes or synopsis or what have you and move onto the next one.

Allison
No pressure.

Kylie
I think I came out of that about 10 kilograms smaller than when I went in. I remember I was wearing a denim jacket and I sweated right through it and I’m not even a sweater — sorry that’s probably a bit disgusting…

Allison
That may have been a little too much information.

Kylie
It may, sorry about that.

Allison
Continue…

Kylie
The pressure, as you say, was immense. You know you’re meeting good people from — I met people from Text and Scribe and Penguin and Picador, and all of these wonderful people and you want to impress them with your novel and you just have to go — and I’m not good at putting myself forward like that. I can do it online, but I’m not good at doing it in the flesh, but you just have to go in and do it. It was very stressful, but long story short Allen & Unwin picked up the novel out of that episode, essentially.

Allison
Just on that though, the thing that I find quite interesting about this is that novel had been rejected 40 times.

Kylie
Yes, I know!

Allison
Why didn’t you just think, “Oh, it’s been rejected 40 times, I’ll just put it in the drawer with the others and move onto something else.”? What was it about that one that made you think, “I’m going to take this particular work to the Literary Speed Dating.”?

Kylie
What I had done is I had written this one that had been rejected all of those times, I put it back in the drawer with the other poor babies and left them to die and I had just gone, “This is not going to work,” and that was when I had moved onto writing my two non-fiction — well, I had co-authored one non-fiction book about dementia and then co-edited another non-fiction book about adultery and infidelity. That’s while I was doing those things, I had left it to die, but then when I saw the ad in the newsletter from the Victorian Writers’ Centre, which I’m a member, and I strongly recommend to all of my students that they become members of the Victorian Writers’ Centre, because I teach in Melbourne, but each state has its own writing centre, obviously, and they’re fabulous resources. I saw it in the newsletter and I thought, “What have I got to lose? I’ll give a shot.” So, I emailed in my application.

It was funny though that I sent in After the Fall and not one of my non-fiction projects, because I was certainly working on those, and non-fiction was invited just as much as fiction was. I think I still felt like After the Fall — I actually did feel that it was worth publishing. I thought, “Someone one day is going to take this novel,” and thank God they did.

Allison
Thank God they did, because I really loved it. I thought it was excellent.

Kylie
Thank you.

Allison
Let’s have a little talk about this business of just putting yourself out there, line of thought. This thought about the business of author platforms. Now, I know that you don’t blog and you have discussed at length why you don’t blog, which is that it takes a massive amount of time and all of your creativity, but do you consciously work to build your profile in other ways?

Kylie
I used to. To be honest I’m not as good at doing that, at the moment, as I would like to be, which is just purely a time thing. My neuro-psych work has expanded. I’m getting a lot more private work than I used to. To be perfectly frank with you the private work pays well and it enables me to write. I struggle to turn down well-paying work that gives me free days to write. A result of that is I have far less time on Twitter and social media than I used to have.

I joined Twitter in a year that my family — we had a sea change year and spent the year in Broome, we sort of had a year off, which is just fantastic. I joined Twitter then, which meant I was on it all the time, which was fantastic and totally unsustainable and I came back to the real world where I didn’t just spend my days swimming around Cable Beach and reading novels.

Allison
What a shame!

Kylie
They were good days. Yes, I came back to Melbourne and actually had to go back to work, so I find it much harder.

I do make an effort to be on Twitter as regularly as I can, unfortunately it feels more of an effort now because I’m squeezing more things in, but I do believe in the platform, I guess, in terms of keeping your name out there, but I do also enjoy it when I do get there. It’s not that I’m just doing it to market stuff, and I don’t think that works, personally, anyway. I do enjoy being on Twitter when I can, it’s just finding — I think the other thing too is my children have gotten older. My daughter, in particular, does four different sports and seems to require driving to all four corners of Melbourne every five minutes and that sort of thing, it just makes it more difficult. But, when I do get a minute I do enjoy being on there.

Allison
Twitter is your social media platform of choice, is that right?

Kylie
Pretty much, yes. I have got a Facebook page, but I keep getting emails from Facebook saying, “We haven’t heard from you in a while,” I think, “Oh, yeah, Facebook…I must post.” I have a personal page where I post everything embarrassing about my children and my husband and those sorts of things, but my author page I don’t use as well as I should. Again, it’s a time thing, Twitter I would say is platform of choice. The other thing I love about Twitter is it’s short. I love the 140 character limit.

Allison
Yeah, me too.

Kylie
Blogs scare me because they require a lot of time to write and to craft, and I have no ideas anyway. So, that’s always a problem…

I like the immediacy of Twitter. I like that I can be short and sharp and still be getting something out there, or saying something, or joining in a discussion or have an opinion.

Allison
What about in real life platform building stuff, are you doing speaking gigs? Are you doing library talks? Everyone talks about the ‘platform’, and I think the platform has to take in not just the online activities, but other things as well. Some people say, “I don’t have a platform,” but they’re doing constant library talks and things like that. I think that stuff is also important. Do you do any of that sort of thing?

Kylie
I do a little bit.

Allison
How do you feel about public speaking?

Kylie
I actually don’t mind public speaking. I’m always nervous beforehand, but I love the roar of an audience once I get going. Often it’s not so much of a roar, but a polite shuffling or crossing of legs.

I will do any public speaking or interviews. I really enjoy radio, and I have done quite a bit of radio with Radio National, not about my books, but just as a psychologist really, as a talking head so to speak. I enjoy that.

I will do anything that is offered to me, pretty much. I am not good at going out and chasing it down, unless I’ve got a book in the offing like I have got a lot of things coming up at the moment, because I’ve got a book coming out. I’m not so good at chasing up, I probably should be better.

I don’t know if this counts, but the school fete is coming up, and I’m being auctioned to go and talk to book groups.

Allison
Oh, you’re being auctioned? That’s hilarious!

Kylie
I’m very interested to see if anyone actually bids for me, but we’ll see.

Allison
I’d bid for you. That would be awesome.

One thing that we’ve touched on here a lot is time. Let’s talk about time, because one question I’m asked, as working mother and writer, is how do you fit the writing in? And I’m assuming that you also get asked this a lot. How do you do it? What is your writing routine? Where do you do the writing and how?

Kylie
I do the writing at home in my study, which has a door that closes from the rest of the house, which is very important. That said, the study has two desks in it, and I share the study with my daughter, so I never plan to do any writing when she’s around because it’s very hard to when you’re just hearing Taylor Swift blaring out or Minecraft battles being fought behind you, or what have you. I aim to spend, and it doesn’t sound like much, but I really think it’s important to set realistic goals, because you can meet them and feel OK about yourself, my aim is to spend two days every week writing. When I say ‘two days’ that’s between 9:00 and 3:30 when the kids are at school and the house is quiet.

To be even more brutally honest I never even aim or plan to start writing much before 11:00, because I know that I’m going to want to check email and check Twitter and there’s the washing that has to be put out and Guinea pigs that have to be fed and those sorts of things have to be done. I give myself two hours in the morning to do admin and to be on social media, and then I try to write like the clappers between 11:00 and 3:30, so four and a bit hours.

Allison
So you will write for four and a half hours?

Kylie
Yeah, pretty much, but I only do that twice a week. I aim for 1,000 words in a writing session. If I don’t make the 1,000 words I get back on the computer when the kids are in bed and I stay there until do. I’m very, very disciplined about that. I’m a very disciplined person, full stop. I make time tables and I stick to them, and that’s the only way I find I achieve anything. I can’t go to bed until the 1,000 words is written, essentially. I find that even two days a week writing for four or four and a half hours, producing, say, 2,000 words a week, even taking out the ridiculous amount of school holidays that my children seem to have, which is about 13 weeks a year, if you write those 2,000 words every week that is still a novel-length manuscript by the end of the year.

I have students say to me, “I don’t get much time.” I say, “All you have to do is 2,000 words a week and that will have you a novel-length manuscript by the end of the year. You’ve got to commit to doing those 2,000 words a week.”

Allison
Yeah, and to getting it done.

Once you’ve actually written those 2,000 words a week, with the amount of plotting and planning that you do you don’t then have to do an awful lot of redrafting, do you?

Kylie
No, and I should say that — no, I don’t. That’s me. When I teach I say, “Be prepared to redraft eight or nine times,” thinking to myself, “I’ve never done it more than once,” but everybody works differently. Because I write slowly, I get those 1,000 words written, and I know some people can dash off 1,000 words in an hour or so, it will take me the whole four hours or sometimes more to get those 1,000 words.

I write slowly so I can be sort of editing as I go. I will do a brief edit of whatever work I’ve done, the next day I will quickly go over that again, just to make sure that there’s nothing that’s jarring there that I’ve missed the day before. I do spend every so often — the 1,000 won’t just be for writing, if I got a new section coming up or an important scene coming up I will set aside the time to think it through very carefully and plot it out in my own head and make often copious notes that often end up being longer than the scene I actually write about what I want to achieve in that scene and what are the key things I need to do in that scene and how I’m going to move from A to B, if that makes sense.

Allison
Has there been anything about being a published author that has really surprised you? Is it a glamorous life of book tours and champagne? I’m thinking ‘no’, judging by our conversation.

Kylie
Oh God, I’m going to be the person who came on your podcast who was just down about everything.

Allison
No, not at all.

Kylie
No, it’s not a glamorous life. It’s not glamorous at all. There are glamorous moments — they’re lovely, those moments, but they’re not the sum total and they’re not all that common either. A lot of it is sitting in my pajamas or my track suit pants with the holes in them and wanting to beat my head against my desk.

Allison
Now that’s glamorous.

Kylie
Yeah, that’s glamorous.

I have to admit, I find writing very, very difficult. Sometimes a sentence or two, the words will flow, but mostly I feel like I’m drawing them out of me like a tapeworm or something. Sorry, I’m saying really —

Allison
Honestly, you’ve come up with some of the best imagery that we’ve had ever.

Kylie
I have, haven’t I?

I find writing to be hard work, and I often wish I didn’t feel obliged or compelled to write. That said, the relief and the joy I feel when I have written and I feel in myself that what I’ve written is OK, can be made to work, is going to be all be good, is a wonderful feeling. I think I also write too — I don’t find it a challenge to write well in that I think I can string words together and I can express myself. People would say, “I like your Facebook post,” my friends who aren’t writers, my writer friends don’t notice it at all. People say, “How do you write like that?” and I go, “I don’t know, that’s just how I write,” or email. I find that it’s easy to draft something for the swimming club or for the school newsletter.

The actual writing is OK, what I do find difficult is the plotting and making everything hang together. But, I actually also find, conversely, that the problem-solving aspects of writing fiction is probably why I keep coming back to it, because it’s so tough, but it’s so rewarding when you solve a problem about how you’re going to get a character from A to B, or make this scene happen, or what have you.

Allison
Having said all of that, and even brought up the tapeworm, which is going to live with me for some time —

Kylie
Sorry!

Allison
— you have a glamorous book tour coming up.

Kylie
I do have a glamorous book tour coming up, actually, which I’m very excited about. I’ve never been sent on a book tour before. My lovely publishers at Allen & Unwin are actually trying something new and they’re sending me on a tour with two other authors of commercial fiction, for want of a better term, we all apparently write the same genre, and that’s Fiona Higgins and Maggie Joel, and we’re being sent off for ten days in November to — all up and down the East Coast of Australia, essentially. Lots of driving, a little bit of flying, hopefully some nice hotel rooms.

Allison
It’s like a massive road trip, a girlie road trip.

Kylie
It is a massive road trip. I have never met either of these women before. If they’re listening I’m sure we’re all going to have a ball. I really hope we all get along well, because we’re going to be in that car together for five or six hours most days.

Allison
Now I’m really sad that you don’t blog, because this would be awesome on a blog.

Kylie
You know what? I reckon I could turn it into a novel, Al. There you go, I just thought of that right then — there’s my new novel. I have a sixth.

Allison
You may want to warn your fellow passengers that they are going to be turned into a novel.

Kylie
I really hope they’re not listening.

Allison
The other thing that we have to talk about is that you’ve also got a champagne moment. Let’s talk about your champagne moment, you have just sold 

Mothers and Daughters — where?

Kylie
Into the UK, which I’m very excited about. Thank you for bringing that up, because that actually only happened yesterday, you’re only the first person outside my immediate family that I’ve told.

Allison
See, there you go. I’m worth it.

Kylie
I’m absolutely delighted. You asked me something that surprised me, I think I thought when I started writing fiction that it was going to be more glamorous and that overseas book deals were just going to fall into my lap and that sales would magically appear and reviews would all be glowing. I’m not saying that it’s all be horrible and tapeworms and just a trudge through mud, it hasn’t at all, it’s been great. I think I’ve been very grateful for the career I’ve had so far. But, there are lots of down moments, when a moment like this happens it’s very wonderful and exciting and I’m absolutely thrilled that my agent has managed to get Little, Brown, who are a big publisher in the UK, they actually publish J K Rowling, which can only be a good thing.

Allison
Can only be a good thing.

Kylie
Could only be a good thing — yes.

They’re very keen on the book and they’re bringing it out actually — they’re bringing it out as an eBook quite shortly and then bringing it out in print next year, because that takes longer to happen. But, they’re so keen on the book they want to bring it out as an eBook straightaway, which is interesting, I’ve never seen that done before.

Allison
Fascinating.

Kylie
So we’ll see if that works. They actually published The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul and that’s how they did it with that too. I would not be upset if my sales were one percent of The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul’s sales, if that model worked for that book, well, it’s good enough for me.

Allison
Fingers crossed and more champagne all around if that happens.

Kylie
More champagne all around. Yes.

It is hard to sell overseas and that is something that surprised me. As I said, I think I just thought that book deals would then just rain into your lap once you sold a novel in Australia, which was very naïve. But, then my first novel did sell into America quite easily and quickly. I think I thought that would always happen. I realise now with a few more years and novels under my belt that it’s difficult and publishing is only getting more difficult, I think, as an area, it’s contracting — it’s not contracting in terms of what it wants to do and what it believes in, but it’s a harder area to get a foothold in these days.

Allison
What would be your three top tips for people who want to get a foothold, who want to be authors?

Kylie
Well, my number one top tip, and I always see a student roll their eyes when I say this, because they just think, “Yeah, yeah, yeah… get to the interesting bit…” Read. Read is my number one top tip for getting published. There’s absolutely no substitute for it.

Everyone I know who is a born writer wants to read anyway. In some ways I guess I should be preaching to the converted. Reading is so important. It’s important not for entertainment purposes, but it’s important to know, what you’re trying to do, it’s important to read to work out what works and what doesn’t, but I also truly believe that you absorb so much by osmosis, by reading good fiction. I mean I encourage my students to think forensically as they read, “Why is this scene working for me?” Or, not working, as the case may be. “What’s the author done with the sentence structure or their characterisation?” I mean I think all of that is important, but I do also believe in the osmosis thing. If you just read enough good fiction you will know somehow how to write a novel, how to structure a novel, you’ll know about how plot devices work and the sort of effects you might be going for. I think reading is really important.

That’s tip number one.

You need three tips?

Allison
I need three. Where are you going to go from here?

Kylie
Commit to the work. There I have said that thing about the 2,000 words a week, which there will be people who are laughing at 2,000 words a week. I believe Alexander McCall Smith knocks off 5,000 words before breakfast.

You’ve got to commit to actually — it’s such an obvious to say, but writers write. They don’t talk about writing, they don’t waltz around parties saying, “I’m going to write a novel one day,” they sit down and they do the work. If what makes you do the work is committing either a time span or a word count or a deadline, do that. You’ve just go to do it, you can’t afford to be too precious about it, you cannot at all what for the muse to strike. I don’t think I’ve seen the muse — the muse would be like the Easter Bunny at my house, you know?

It is a job like any other job. I don’t wake up in the morning and think, “Oh, I feel inspired to go out and assess a patient today,” for my psych work. I never feel inspired to go out and assess somebody with brain damage, but that’s what I do, so I go out and do it. Writing is exactly the same. I say, “OK, I’m going to write 1,000 words today,” and I sit down until they’re done, or mostly done, and I can get the kids to bed and come back and do them. Commit to the work.

What would be my third tip? Gosh, look for feedback. I don’t know if that’s a great tip, actually.

Be prepared to be clear-eyed about the industry and what you expect from it. Be prepared — I don’t want to bring everyone down again. Be prepared for it to be a hard slog. Actually, I think that’s my best last tip. Be persistent.

As I said, 40 rejections for After the Fall before I sold it, probably similar amounts for the two previous novels before that. There’s been great reviews along the way, people have loved my books, but always, nobody ever gets off scot-free, there’s always going to be someone who hates your book. If you don’t believe me get onto Goodreads and look up Pride and Prejudice and see how many people hate Pride and Prejudice with a passion and think Elizabeth Bennet must die, because she’s so horrible, or vapid or ineffectual. I guess I’m just saying you’re never going to win everybody over. You’re never going to win every battle that you fight, you’re never going to get every publishing contract you go for, you do have to, as well as committing to the work, you have to commit to the industry, to this is what you want to do. You have to put the hard yards in. Some people it happens very easily and organically for, but others do have to slave away for years, and then once you slave away for years and you get your first novel published it’s not over, then you have to slave away writing the next one.

Allison
Do it again.

Kylie
Yeah, you have to keep doing it. You just have to keep showing up. So, be persistent.

Allison
Fantastic.

Kylie
Try and keep faith.

Allison
I think that’s awesome advice. I think being persistent is one of the keys to getting there in the end. I think that’s an uplifting and inspirational last tip that you’ve given us there, I think.

Kylie
Can I just quickly say, I think authors are getting better about sharing this sort of stuff, but it’s probably the media’s fault rather than the author’s fault. I think we hear too many fairytale stories about people like Hannah Kent and all best of luck to Hannah Kent wrote Burial Rites, which was a debut novel, which got picked up through an unpublished manuscript prize and then sold into a billizon countries around the world and has made a gazillion dollars. Fantastic, it’s a great novel and good on her. But, I think that new authors go in thinking that’s how it always works, and that is well and truly the rare story.

I think we need more dialogue from mid-career authors like myself about what we actually do, which I always try and tell my students. I say, “Ask me anything you’d like because I’m going to be honest with you.” I think people need to know what we do, how hard we do work, how difficult it can be, how tough it can be when you get bad reviews or when something is not working. I think authors need to be very honest about what they do too, because a lot of people are very starry-eyed. They think it is all champagne and book tours, and it’s not. There’s tapeworms in there as well.

Allison
There’s tapeworms as well, people. That’s all you need to remember.

Thank you so much for your time today, Kylie. I really appreciate it. Good luck with the champagne and book tours. I think that will be nice before you go back to the tapeworm for the next book.

Kylie
Can I just quickly say that I really am grateful for my career and I thoroughly enjoy it and I love writing, even though it doesn’t sound like it. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Allison
I think it’s the kind of thing, as you said, it’s something that you feel compelled to do. I think that writing is, in many ways, if you don’t love it on some level then you probably shouldn’t be doing it really.

Kylie
Absolutely. Don’t do it unless you have to do it. Unless there’s a part of you that can’t not do it. That would be my fourth big tip, actually.

Allison
Thanks so much, Kylie.

Kylie
Pleasure, Al.


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