Ep 47 Get the most out of writing comps; how NOT to write an obituary; sex scenes; what one blogger really earns; and Writer in Residence Nigel Bartlett.

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In Episode 46 of So you want to be a writer: What’s in a name? Mapmaker Chronicles cover reveal, why Allison is not sponsored by her husband, getting the most out of writing competitions, how not to write an obituary, why writers have such a hard time writing about sex, what Allison has learned in her fifth year of blogging, the almost million-dollar man Pat Flynn, Writer in Residence Nigel Bartlett, how to find the right PR person for the product, and more!

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

What’s in a name?

Cover reveal! Prisoner of the Black Hawk

Key Person of Influence

“Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from

Getting the most out of writing competitions

A Girl’s Guide to Greatness, or How Not to Write an Obituary

Toni Morrison on Why Writers Have Such a Hard Time Writing About Sex

One thing I’ve learnt in my fifth year of blogging

My 2014 Annual Income Report and Review – $946,256.23

Writer in Residence
Nigel Bartlettking-of-the-roadNigel Bartlett is a freelance writer and editor with more than 20 years’ experience in magazines. He has written and edited interior design features for Belle, Inside Out, Real Living and other magazines. His work has included house and apartment stories, before-and-after pieces, kitchen and bathroom supplements and interviews with architects, interior designers, furniture makers and store owners.

His first novel is King of the Road.

Nigel on Twitter
Random House on Twitter

Web Pick

The 100 Best iPad Apps of 2015

Working Writer’s Tip

How do I find out who the PR is for a particular product?

Answered in the podcast!

Get paid to write!

Find out more here.

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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

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Transcript

Valerie

Thanks for joining us today, Nigel.

 

Nigel

Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

 

Valerie

Well, I’m very excited. I’m holding in my hand your book, King of the Road. I will admit that I have got spaghetti Bolognese kind of all over it — not quite all over it.

 

Nigel

That’s great for a book, I think. That’s a book that’s well-read, I think, and
well-taken.

 

Valerie

Yes, but that is because I started it two nights ago and I was gripped from the very first page. I had to start cooking dinner, I don’t have very exotic dinners, as you can tell, spaghetti Bolognese, and I was holding the book with my left hand as I was trying to chuck in garlic and tomato and mince and all of that with the other hand, because I just couldn’t put the book down.

 

Nigel

That’s so fantastic to hear. That’s kind of a wonderful recommendation really, isn’t it?

 

Valerie

It’s the truth.

 

For listeners who haven’t read the book yet can you fill them in please on what the book is about?

 

Nigel

King of the Road, the main character is a 35-year-old guy who has quite a close relationship with his nephew, an 11-year-old boy called Andrew. Andrew stays with him once a month for the weekend. One particular weekend Andrew goes out to visit a friend he’s made nearby and doesn’t come home. Obviously, David calls the police and through that process David, the main character, then comes under suspicion himself. I guess that’s how the novel kicks off, that’s the very early part of the book.

 

The novel then kicks off with what’s David going to do about it? Is he going to sit there and wait while the police investigate him and while, perhaps, other awful things are happening to Andrew, or is he going to take matters into his own hands? He has a decision to make, and never having been in this situation before it’s obviously quite a terrifying situation for him. He then makes a decision and he decides to just go with it. Without wanting to give too much away it then kicks off from there I guess.

 

Valerie

How in the world did you come up with this idea? Because it was gripping from minute one, as I said. Did it brew in your head for a long time, or did it just come to you like a lightning bolt? How did you come up with the idea?

 

Nigel

That’s a really good question, because actually looking back on how the story unfolds it was a big lesson for me in how writers write, or how I write. When I started, when I came up with the idea, I thought it would be quite interesting to write a kind of literary stroke psychological examination of what happens if you lose a child, but it’s not actually your child, it’s your brother’s child, and how that would affect your family, how they would react, the guilt that you would have and all of that sort of thing. It was meant to be sort of more of a kind of family drama, that sort of thing.

 

Actually, pretty much the first half of the first draft that I wrote years ago was along those lines. One day someone in my writing group at the time said, “You know, Nigel, this is all great, but nothing is happening.” And basically I thought, “She thinks it’s boring.” Then I decided to make things start to happen, I carried on in that vein and I suddenly thought, “This is actually a crime story,” or a crime thriller and I went into a bit of a panic. I thought, “This isn’t what I mean to write.”

 

So I carried on the first draft in that vein, feeling completely out of my depth, but then I when I came to the second draft I decided, “Right, this is now a crime thriller,” for the second draft I plotted it out completely differently and moved a lot of things up to the front. I kind of dispensed with this whole idea of people sitting around and having angsty conversations about, “Oh, what have you done to our family?” I mean that’s in there a little bit, but it’s not the whole premise of the book.

 

Really once I got my head around that, “No, I think I might be able to do this,” I just decided to go for it, decided to write a completely different book.

 

Valerie

Now it seems that Nigel not only writes crime thrillers, but he also lives in a construction site, what’s going on in your background there, Nigel?

 

Nigel

I will have to apologize for the sound of drilling that has started through my wall. It’s somewhere in my building I live in an apartment block and they’ve been renovating the outside and the inside of different people’s apartments. Fortunately, they have not had to do anything to mine, but occasionally the do have drilling, so sorry about that.

 

Valerie

That’s alright, we will push on. It adds some authenticity to —

 

Nigel

Right.

 

Valerie

— to the novel.

 

This is your first novel, correct?

 

Nigel

The first one I’ve completed and tried to get published, yes.

 

Valerie

Right. You have been a writer for a long time. In fact, I was thinking about it the other day and I reckon I meet you 14 years ago, almost 15 years ago, actually you came to a course I was teaching in magazine writing, although you were already well-established in the industry. I think you were doing it more as a refresher. Tell people a bit about your background, what you’ve been doing in your career thus far.

 

Nigel

Sure, OK, yes. That’s right, that’s the first time I met you. I think it was the University of Sydney evening class. But, prior to that I had been working for some of the big name gossip magazines, New Idea and previously Women’s Day and prior to that New Weekly, which is now NW. I had been a sub-editor and chief sub-editor on those magazines, which involves editing other people’s copy and writing headline captions and all of that sort of thing.

 

And then since then I’ve been, at one stage, the editor of quite a glamorous sounding magazine called GQ Australia, and another magazine called Inside Out. But, apart from that, since then I’ve been freelance writing and freelance sub-editing for magazines and websites in Australia, primarily inAustralia.

 

Valerie

And your protagonist is actually a freelance writer who lives in an apartment, that probably has construction going on…

 

Nigel

Probably, yeah.

 

Valerie

And I have to say I had to laugh when he felt the need to fix some apostrophes, because I totally relate to that. You said that you started the first draft or the first version of the story several years ago, can you just take us through the key sort of milestones in the evolution of what started off as a family drama, a bit like The Slap I suppose, and it evolved into a crime thriller? And the timeframes.

 

Nigel

I always, I have to preface the timeframe thing by saying, yes, I actually started the novel in 2006 and that was having written a short story using a similar sort of theme prior to that. So from 2006 until now seems like an incredibly long time, but of course I was working full time and sometimes I took a year out when I was in a particularly stressful job and that sort of thing.

 

I started writing it as part of a course I was doing at a university masters in writing. So as I said, I did that first draft over a relatively long period of time, maybe a year and a half, I think. I ended up doing six drafts before I sent it to an agent.

 

I sent it to an agent in 2012. I had read and heard quite a lot about how it’s best not to send out your work until you’re really confident that you’ve got it to the best it possibly can be. Each of those drafts were really a case of… after the second draft where I clearly knew it was going to be a crime thriller, each of the subsequent drafts were kind of layering in new aspects to the story, adding in scenes, changing characters, taking out scenes, changing the writing.

 

I found a lot of problems in the writing that were really disheartening, I was like, “Oh, this is terrible, I’ll never do this.” All the way through, just each different draft was another sort of adding in another layer of perhaps complexity or extra scenes just to flesh out certain aspects of it and that sort of thing.

 

Valerie

Did you have to do a lot of research? Because there’s police involved, there’s different procedures, there’s children involved. Did you have to do a lot of research for this book?

 

Nigel

The research that I did, I did as I was going along. The style would tend to be that I would tend to write a scene or write a certain way into the book and then I would think, “OK, I’ve written that, but actually I really need to find out if that’s how it really would be done.” For instance, with some of the police scenes I discovered someone I know who is a police officer, a detective with the New South Wales police, so I showed him sections of the book that had police involvement and he gave me feedback and said, “That’s fine, but actually they would probably do this,” or, “Yes, that’s fine, no problem with it,” or, “You would probably need a reason why the police would do this.” And it was just valuable.

 

As for a lot of the Facebook type sort of things, and social media, I did a lot of that as I went along. I mean I’m a big social media user myself.

 

A lot of the things, like places and that sort of thing, I would write them and then I would go and visit the place myself.

 

Personally, I’m not a fan, for me anyway, of doing heaps and heaps of research I might never use in advance, doing the research in advance. Although I did spend some time actually in libraries reading about things that I had no other access to, such as certain investigations that take place and that sort of thing.

 

Valerie

It’s peppered with a lot of really relatable things, like the Biggest Loser and King Gee and Jason Akermanis and stuff like that. Is that something that came naturally to you as you wrote, or did you feel that you needed to insert that later to make the story more real or more relatable?

 

Nigel

No, those pretty much came as I was writing, they would just be things — I’m a big fan of pop culture and all sorts of things. They just really came in the writing, however, because of the timeframe over which I wrote the book I had to go back and change some of them. So what I might have written in 2006, yeah, that’s not too much on the embarrassingly long time, but, yeah. All sorts of things changed. I just had to update them at certain times.

 

Valerie

As a sub-editor, you trained as a sub-editor so you’re used to actually fixing other people’s copy or making other people’s copy sound better, so you’re in a constant state of editing. Did you do that to yourself? Did you edit yourself as you go? Did you have to stop yourself from editing as you go because that’s so engrained in you?

 

Nigel

I didn’t edit as I wrote, so I didn’t do much going back and reviewing what I had written with that purpose of editing, I just want to keep moving forward. However, I did go back and read what I had just written so that I knew where to go from.

 

After I completed any of the drafts, when I was reading it afterwards I was doing a lot of subbing then. After I think like the second draft I noticed that I used the phrase ‘a bit’ or ‘a little’ over and over again and it just made the writing so
wishy-washy. He would say, “I’m feeling a bit angry,” I must say it must be something that I say naturally. There were lots of red lines all the way through.

 

It wasn’t just that, but all sorts of things that I noticed when I was editing those drafts. I think that was part of the sub-editor’s eye maybe that came to that. Yes.

 

Valerie

You freelance full time, and when you got, say, up to your six draft, the final draft before you sent it off the first time, did you have chunks that you were just fully dedicated to the manuscript, or were you always writing it on the side? If so, how did you structure your day to fit it in?

 

Nigel

That’s right. So my style of freelancing is generally to go into other people’s offices, because most of my freelancing is sub-editing, plus I do some freelance writing. Pretty much I work a 9:00 to 5:30 day. Usually I write on a Sunday, I just say to friends, if I get invited to any social engagement on a Sunday I just say, “Sorry, that’s my writing day.”

 

Valerie

Wow, very disciplined of you.

 

Nigel

Yeah. Even going to the beach and that sort of thing is usually out of the question on my Sundays.

 

I did have a spell where I would write before work in the mornings, not for very long.

 

But, to answer your question, there were times where I would take maybe four weeks off at a time. I didn’t do that a huge amount. I did do that a couple of times to try and get to the end of a draft or do some editing.

 

Valerie

But, essentially you did it part time?

 

Nigel

Yes.

 

Valerie

On Sundays, really.

 

Nigel

Absolutely. Absolutely, yes. Yes.

 

Valerie

I think that’s really heartening for some people or hopefully encouraging for some people who work full time and who think they don’t have the time. But, you chipped away at it every Sunday and was really disciplined about it.

 

Nigel

Yes, it didn’t feel very disciplined. Even on a Sunday I would wake up and watch The Insiders, which is my favorite Sunday morning show and then putter around and then get down to writing, it often might not be until eleven o’clock or something. But, it is actually amazing how much you can get done if you just say to yourself, “I’m not going out today.” I’d go out in the evenings possibly, but I now have a day free during the week as well, I’ve decided to keep a day free during the week. What I’ve had to say to myself is I’m not going to use that day for any medical appointments or any chores I need to do. If I was working five days a week I would fit it around those, so I’m just going to do everything on my other four days and keep that day for writing, because otherwise just too many other things get in the way of it.

 

Valerie

Yeah, exactly.

 

It did evolve to become a crime thriller, were you a fan of that genre before? Because it’s such a crime thriller book, do you know what I mean?

 

Nigel

That’s good to hear. That’s good to hear. That was one of the things that I was nervous about when I suddenly realized, “This is turning into a crime…” I didn’t know it was a crime thriller, I just thought it was just some sort of crime novel. That was one of the things I was nervous about, because actually in the years preceding that I hadn’t read a lot of crime, so suddenly I did start reading crime. My mom and dad were big fans of Ian Rankin, for example. I started reading Ian Rankin. I asked around different people for their ideas and got lots of names. Now pretty much most of what I read, I’d say 80 percent of what I read is crime.

 

Actually, when I stop an think about it as a teenager I used to love things like Agatha Christie, which isn’t quite the same as this. But, also I remember being on holiday once with some friends and they were laughing at me because I reading a John Grisham book and they were all being a bit snooty about it. But, I remember thinking, “Wow, I read that book in two days flat.” And any of the other sort of more literary novels that I used to like to read, or think I should read, would take me months to read, or weeks to read anyway.

 

I think I just uncovered something that I had always loved but hadn’t quite wanted to admit.

 

Valerie

Are you on your second book, a second novel? Have you started writing it? Is it a crime thriller?

 

Nigel

I have started writing it. I haven’t gotten very far into it, but, yes, it is a crime thriller. Yes, I’ve started it. I’ve got quite a lot of the story evolving in my head, and I’m only a couple of chapters into it so far.

 

Valerie

Right, so you’re going to continue down the crime vein?

 

Nigel

Yes, yes. Maybe one day I’ll write other things. My actual all time favorite authors aren’t crime writers, they’re people like Ann Tyler who writes mostly sort of family dramas, I think she’s a beautiful writer. But, I don’t want to necessarily emulate her, but there’s lots of other things that I would like to do in the whole big scheme of things. But, at the moment I do love crime and crime thrillers, yeah.

 

Valerie

You seem to have nailed it because I read this one in two days flat. And I’ve already cast the movie, just so you know.

 

Nigel

Wonderful. Wonderful.

 

Valerie

I already know who is playing every part.

 

Nigel

Right, OK.

 

Valerie

Consult with me if you need advice on that.

 

Nigel

I’ll get Stephen Spielberg to talk to you.

 

Valerie

Yeah, no problem. Joel Edgerton, just so you know, is David. Rodger Corser is Cam.

 

Nigel

Excellent. Yes, yes.

 

Valerie

The kid from Puberty Blues and Paper Planes is the child.

 

Nigel

Oh, excellent. Well done.

 

Valerie

And Vince Colosimo is Matty.

 

Nigel

Ah, excellent. Yes, they’re all very good.

 

Valerie

And Firass Dirani is Fayad.

 

Nigel

Yes. OK, that one works very well. Yes. Although we shouldn’t be planting in readers’ —

 

Valerie

No, I’m sorry.

 

Nigel

We’ll let them make up their own minds.

 

Valerie

Exactly.

 

Nigel

People will see things differently, but…

 

Valerie

Exactly.

 

Nigel

But, no, that’s great. I’ll get my people to talk to your people so you can take a cut of the casting.

 

Valerie

Yeah, no problem. It’s already sorted.

 

What do you think — this book works — what do you think when you got to draft six made it work? What do you think you did? What was your breakthrough, apart from obviously realizing it was a crime book, that just held it together for you?

 

Nigel

You know what? There were some things when I was writing it that weren’t answered for me. As in… while I was writing it questions got set up, certain characters, certain things happened that even I didn’t know what the answer was going to be. I think when I had finally, whether that happened in the sixth draft or fifth draft, it was probably more like the fifth draft, where I had finally tied up all of those loose ends and seen how this happening in chapter three, for example, when it gets to chapter eighteen, for example, that all ties in and it’s all solved and answered, or whatever it is. I think that’s where I really started to think, “OK, this is… I’m getting a bit more relaxed about this now.” Because as you probably know from… I don’t know if this is the same for everyone, but certainly for me the act of writing can be quite an anxious process because there’s always this sort of thing of, “Is this going to come together?” And, “Have I done something that is going to lead me into a complete… lead me up against a brick wall there?” and this sort of thing.

 

When I finally had all of those kind of things… “OK, I think these work…” I felt more comfortable.

 

Valerie

It sounds like they were issues of plot and things to make sense.

 

Nigel

Yes.

 

Valerie

How about in terms of, because there’s… as a reader I really wanted to read on. There was a lot of suspense, it was really good pacing. Did that come naturally to you, or did you — I know some authors really plan that out, making sure the pacing is just right in each section. What was it for you?

 

Nigel

I didn’t really — yes, did I do much planning? Maybe in the second draft I did have much more of plot, but it wasn’t really… I read about authors who plot out meticulously and I don’t think mine was very meticulous.

 

I do think that setting each draft aside for a certain period of time and then sitting down and reading it gave me a good sense… I think I said earlier that I crossed out things in each draft, but some of them I would actually just cross out huge great paragraphs where I just felt, “This is dragging on too long.”

 

It was really in the reading in the drafts that I got that sense of whether the pacing was possibly right or not. I think that’s how it worked for me really. Sort of writing and reading it, trying to read it as someone outside my reader, which is quite difficult to do.

 

Valerie

It is very difficult to do.

 

When you first started the book did you know how it was going to end?

 

Nigel

Not exactly. No, not exactly. No, no, I didn’t actually. When I first started the book, no, I didn’t have any idea how it was going to end. No, that’s the short answer.

 

Valerie

What’s your advice to people who have got their manuscript sort of written, or a chunk of it written, and they’re thinking, “Oh my god, I want to get published one day…” what’s your advice to them?

 

Nigel

If they’ve got a chunk of it written —

 

Valerie

A fair chunk of it.

 

Nigel

A fair chunk of it written, OK. Or even if they’ve got it finished. What’s really been of benefit for me has been somehow I managed to… and it wasn’t really intentional, but somehow I managed to find myself mixing in the world of writing. From being on courses I met other people who were also writing novels, and, of course, some of them ended up being published. They had already become friends of mine, so talking to them about what they did, how they sent out their proposals really helped a lot.

 

But, also I just think that I was incredibly fortunate that I had some really lucky breaks in terms of the people I met and became friends with. I mean someone recommended me to her agent, P.M. Newton, the crime writer, recommended me to her agent so that when I was then approaching that agent, Sophie Hamley, it just made life so much easier that I could approach her and say, “I believe Pam has mentioned my name to you.” It made that link a lot easier. And not, obviously, everyone is going to have that advantage.

 

Valerie

Well, I disagree. I would like to say that came as a result of networking. If you sit at home and don’t meet anybody that would have never have happened to you. The point is, I believe, to be proactive and getting out there as you say.

 

Nigel

I think so.

 

Valerie

And getting out and networking and being in workshops, in courses, in groups. The publishing industry isn’t that huge in Australia. There will be two degrees of separation if you actually get out there, I think.

 

Nigel

Yes.

 

Valerie

Listeners may be surprised to also know that not only does Nigel do sub-editing and write crime thrillers, and live in a construction site, he also writes for many interiors magazines and teaches about writing about interiors, style and design at the Australian Writers’ Centre. That’s a whole other string to your bow.

 

Nigel

That’s right. Yes.

 

Valerie

What do you enjoy about writing about interiors?

 

Nigel

Interiors I have always been really interested in, even as a teenager. One of the things that I wanted to do as a career was be either an architect or an interior designer. I actually wanted to be an interior designer, but I used to say I wanted to be an architect because I thought it sounded too gay to want to be an interior designer. But, now I wouldn’t care about that.

 

Anyway, I wasn’t very artistic and I wasn’t very good at math, so I was never going to be able to do architecture. But, I always had that interest. As much as anything it’s being able to look inside other people’s homes and have a sticky beak around and all of that sort of thing.

 

What I love about teaching it is that the people who come along, there’s such a wide range of people, they might be people who are starting out as magazine writers, or web blog writers, they might be people who have already been doing that sort of thing for awhile and want a new string to their bow. Or they might be stylists and interior designers who then want to learn how to write. So we always get a really good mix and get a lot of kind of cross-fertilization of ideas and how different people do things. Usually we have a lot of fun on that course as well.

 

Valerie

Well, you’re definitely a multi-genre writer, Nigel. As I’ve mentioned, I think the book is awesome. I believe it’s going to do brilliantly. Congratulations.

 

Nigel

Thank you so much.

 

Valerie

It’s fantastic. I will now leave you to your construction site.

 

Nigel

Thank you.

 

Valerie

And writing your second novel.

 

Nigel

Thank you. Lovely to talk to you.

 


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