Ep 6 Russell Brand, Julian Assange, will The Hoopla survive? And Writer in Residence Jack Ellis

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In Episode 6 of So you want to be a writer, we chat about The Hoopla’s new paywall, the myth of creative inspiration, Russell Brand’s new children’s stories, inspiring Pinterest boards for writers, Julian Assange’s new book, we speak with author Jack Ellis 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.

Show Notes

The Hoopla set to charge for content with paywall
http://mumbrella.com.au/the-hoopla-pledges-to-audit-figures-72835

The Myth Of Creative Inspiration: Great Artists Don’t Wait
http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2014/04/the-myth-of-creative-inspiration-great-artists-dont-wait/

Russell Brand Reveals New Children’s Stories on YouTube

Julian Assange to Publish ‘When Google Met WikiLeaks’
http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/julian-assange-to-publish-when-google-met-wikileaks_b84288

The Paradox of Publicity: How Awards Can Negatively Affect the Evaluation of Quality
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2350768

20 inspiring Pinterest boards for writers
http://thewritelife.com/20-inspiring-pinterest-boards-for-writers/

Jack Ellis HeadshotJack Ellis’ website:
http://www.jackellis.com.au/JackWebsite/

We asked for your favourite poem
http://www.hunterwriterscentre.org/newcastle-poetry-prize.html
https://www.facebook.com/WritersCentre

Working writer’s tip
http://www.allisontait.com/2013/05/tips-for-writing-features-12-a-question-of-good-questions/

You’ll find your hosts at:
Allison Tait
http://www.allisontait.com/

Valerie Khoo
http://valeriekhoo.com/

Australian Writers’ Centre
https://www.writerscentre.com.au/

 Transcript

Allison

Today we’re welcoming Jack Ellis, debut author, as our writer in residence. Jack describes himself as a writer of prose and songs, and his first novel, The Best Feeling of All, has just been published by Arcadia.

Jack, your first novel, how does it feel to see it on the shelves?

Jack
Oh, it feels like a bit of a shock, I suppose, really. Like, the stack of books I saw at the launch was pretty daunting, but I was very happy when they sold.

Allison
That’s always a good start, isn’t it? Like, if you can actually sell some at your launch you’re off to a flying start.

Does it feel like you thought it would? Is it a little bit anticlimactic? Like, what does it feel like in the sense that you’ve put so much work into this thing and now it’s out there? Is it a bit like, “OK, what happens next?”

Jack
I suppose so. One of the feelings that was a bit surprising is that I have sort of a pretty profound sense that now the hard bit starts. That writing and creating and publishing a book is one part, but the actual real challenge is getting people to read it.

Allison
Do you have any thoughts or any plans around how you’re going to do that? Is there a world domination plan in action?

Jack
Well, a world domination plan of sorts. But, I suppose those conventional things of talking to readers through radio interviews and podcasts like yours, Allison, and also press and writing articles. I’ve got an article up on Mamamia today and I’ve got various other articles and reviews and things. At this stage it’s just trying to kind of keep conversation going and generate a bit of interest.

Allison
Yep.

Jack
And that seems to be working pretty well.

Allison
Fantastic. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about The Best Feeling of All, where did the idea come from?

Jack
It’s a funny story, actually. The first thing that happened was I actually got the title, and it was in a dream, but it was a different title. The original title I knew no one would ever publish, so the original title is Love is Molesdire. And, so before I ever had any idea about the book I had the title from a dream, which was very strange.

Allison
Wow.

Jack
Then I really wanted to write a book to try and capture some of that sort of sparkling intensity of being young, because I do think those sort of early years, particularly around sort of 14, 15, 16, are when everything is most alive for us, you know? Before the kind of scar tissue of heartbreak and things begin to seal over us, when we’re absolutely open to the intensity of love and friendships and things. I wanted to capture some of that, but then also show the way that those early impulses and early decisions that we have and those crazy things we do sort of then reverberate throughout our lives.

Allison
Why did you choose to write it from a female point of view?

Jack
Well, I think on one level it was liberating in the sense that if you write sort of someone who’s like you, sort of your age, your sex, then everyone kind of assumes that every bad thing they do is a sort of veiled revelation or something about you.

Allison
OK.

Jack
So, partly, I think some writers — I’ve been reading a fair bit of historical stuff, there’s been a lot of historical fiction and things around there that get that sense of distance by putting it in a different era and get that sense of freedom by putting it in a different era. But, I just think that what I really wanted to capture was the intensity of young friendships, and I think young women seem to feel and foster those intense friendships better than young men do.

Allison
Because it’s quite an interesting thing, as we were just discussing before we pressed ‘record’, I, having started the book, I haven’t actually finished yet, but I have started it, and I found the immediacy of it — I really felt like I was right in it from the start. Did you start with that feeling? Let’s talk a little bit about the drafting process.

Jack
Sure.

Allison
Is that how you started the book in the first place?

Jack
Yes, it is. And, with this book I very much wrote it from the first page to last page. And, I wrote by hand.

Allison
Really?

Jack
Yeah, because I find that writing on a computer is too fast. When I write on computers, I write on computers a lot when I’m drafting an email or something like that, I tend to sort of splurt it all out there and then kind of rearrange as a second step, whereas I find when you write by hand you form the whole sentence and then the whole phrase, and then the whole paragraph kind of in your head before you put pen to paper. And, so what that ends up doing for me is — and I’ve attempted writing longer things on the computer — is that I edit a lot less. So, although the initial drafting is slower, because, you know, you’re forced to slow down to do it with your pen, the actual whole drafting process is much faster because you edit a lot less.

Allison
OK, so it wasn’t a case of getting a first draft down and then going back and rearranging the whole thing? It was start to finish?

Jack
Yeah, it was very much start to finish. And, I’d say there was probably three drafts. And they were — nothing major structural, the structure was always the same page order, sequence of events was always the same. It’s just there were a few things that I changed in subsequent drafts to sort of alter the tone of the narrative a little bit to make it more consistent once I sort of got to the end.

Allison
OK, so this is not the first novel you’ve ever attempted, like you have tried longer form writing before?

Jack
Yeah. I’ve got another book that I wrote called Mango Rain, which is set in Cambodia, and I approached that in a different sort of way, where I wrote in sort of bits and pieces and moved it around and things. And, yeah, that book is still unpublished, yeah, so this is effectively my second go at it.

Allison
OK. What do you think you learnt from the first to the second?

Jack
Write from the beginning to the end.

Allison
Really?

Jack
Yeah, I really do think that, for me, write by hand and write from the beginning to the end. The other things, I mean I don’t know how specifically you want to get to be, but write in the morning rather than the night. There’s a lot of things that are personal to me, obviously.

Allison
Yep.

Jack
But, I find that if I try to write in the evenings my head’s already full of the day’s events, whereas you kind of — if you get up and do it more or less first thing, then you’re sort of still fresh.

I can keep going more specific. Don’t write more than 1200 words in a day, because I find that if you do that and you take a wrong turn it’s — you’ve gone too far to kind of work your way back.

Allison
Right. OK, you’ve got a lot of crossing out to do.

Jack
Yeah, you do.

Allison
Especially when you’re doing it by hand.

Jack
Yeah. And it can sort of taint the rest of the book. Yeah, so it was very much an experience of slowing things down and doing things in a very methodical and systematic way rather than just sort of squirting it all out.

Allison
OK, so do you think that your experience with song writing and feature articles, because you do that as well, helped or hindered when it came to writing a novel?

Jack
With the song writing I actually studied classical music first, so I did a degree in classical composition at the Sydney Conservatorium, and then I spent a year on scholarship in the Hague studying classical composition.

Allison
Wow.

Jack
And I think the classical composition degree probably helped my writing more than anything else.

Allison
OK.

Jack
I think the musical notion of structuring things, of kind of giving birth to and developing motives and themes throughout a book is very much the same as you would do in a classical composition, and I mean I’ve gone for a classic sort of three method structure with this book.

Allison
Yeah, definitely.

Jack
A very direct kind of music structural idea.

Allison
OK, that’s really interesting. When you say that, I can see that coming through in your book.

What was the process to publication? You’ve written the draft, you’ve gotten yourself… there you are with it, what happened next?

Jack
Then I went and just submitted it to agents. Thankfully Curtis Brown took me on quickly. And then they sort of put it about to various publishers, and Arcadia was the first one to say ‘yes’.

Allison
How long did that process take? Like, how long did it take you to write the book and then how long from there was it to publication?

Jack
It took about 18 months to write the book, and then it was probably about another 18 months from like to Saturday, when the book was launched.

Allison
Fantastic. Was there anything that surprised you about that publication process?

Jack
One thing that I suppose I was a bit naive about, and I would encourage all writers to be naive about it, because it’s a fairly stifling sort of thing, is how strict the sort of genre guidelines are in terms of what publishers expect and the way they think about marketing books, the way they think about where it will sit in what kind of bookshelf and all of that sort of stuff.

Now, I know it’s probably wise to have a market in mind when you’re starting a book, but I also think that can be incredibly restricting. I think ultimately you have to write a book kind of for yourself, that’s what I have to do anyway. And, if I had known more about the marketing I probably would have done things differently and that would have been a mistake. One of the real challenges with marketing this book is it begins when the girl is 15. And so to your average impatient reader there’s a risk that they can open it up and see 15 year old girls talking and then, “Oh, well, this is just a kid’s book.”

Allison
Yeah.

Jack
Even though the majority of it takes places when they’re adults and it’s very much an adult book, there is that marketing problem with it, and there are elements of it that are perhaps, you know, a little confronting for school librarians and things like that. So, it does kind of sit in this weird gap between genres that proved a little challenging when it came to marketing.

Allison
For where to put it in the bookshelf, basically?

Jack
Yeah, effectively. And, it’s almost the first question a bookseller will ask, and I suppose when I set out to write a book I wasn’t thinking in those terms.

Allison
Well, it’s interesting you say that because I guess — because I really love the cover of the book, I think it’s a fabulous cover. But, I confess that I was surprised when I opened up the book — not because, mainly, I hadn’t read any blurbs about it, I didn’t know anything about it before I opened the book, and I was surprised to find a female perspective, given then orange cover. And then I went back to look at the cover again, because I had sort of taken it in, and I looked at it again and I could see that there is elements of the entire female lifecycle within that cover. And, I found that quite an interesting experience, I guess.

Jack
Well, I think when people see a male’s name on the book they are sometimes surprised to see that the central characters are girls.

Allison
Yes. All right. Now, the sort of new modern eternal question, where you asked by your agent or publisher to build a social media presence before the book came out, or had you already begun doing that? Like, was there any sort of feeling that you needed to do that to market the book?

Jack
Absolutely. Yeah. I actually attended a thing about, you know, eBooks and things at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre where Deb McGinnis, who eventually became the publicist for the book was speaking, and she talked about the way of building this kind of author platform online. Yeah, so I tried to build up — so just to start having conversations with readers before the book was even published.

Allison
How long ago did you start that? Like what was the advice you were given? How much notice do you kind of need to give people that you’re out there?

Jack
Well, the advice was ‘now’…

Allison
“Anytime, but now is good.”

Jack
Yeah. And, so I don’t think there’s such a thing a thing as too long. I think that if you are looking to promote a book, then the more engaged and big your online sort of networks are, then the better.

Allison
OK. So, do you enjoy that, like are you a fan of the social media, of publicizing? Or are you the kind of person who would rather just put the book and allow it to speak for itself?

Jack
Well, I think it’s a combination of two things, I mean there’s an element to which I do regard it as work, but there’s nothing more gratifying when you get someone writing to you and say they love the book and they were crying at the end, and all of that sort of thing. So, it really has its rewards. I suspect the thing that I’m having to learn, because although I’m relatively young, I’m not a sort of real online person by nature, is I’m trying to sort of work out what the right balance is between promotion and just engagement.

Allison
Yeah.

Jack
And so I’ve kind of tried to just separate those two things so that I’m just engaging with people on a human level and on an intellectual and emotional level, and then if they want to find out more about me it’s very easy for them to discover I’ve got a book out, rather than sort of shoving it down their throats the whole time.

Allison
Which is the fantastic approach to take.

What would you say are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned sort of during the writing and birth of your first novel?

Jack
I wish I had prepared for this question.

Allison
Sorry, I like to throw those ones out right at the end.

Jack
OK. Well, I would say the three biggest things I learnt are — well, again, they’re process things, like how to actually write and finish a book. And, I think that’s to stay true to yourself, to start at the beginning and finish at the end. And, to not put pressure on yourself to finish things too quickly, and not to do things too quickly, slower and more methodically is good, and that’s the important thing.

Then I think listen to advice would be the second thing. There are people out there who know how to promote and publish and do things, who have a much better idea than you do, and even though what they’re saying might be a bit counter-intuitive, I’d say listen to advice, listen to the advice of people who have done this before.

And the other thing I would say is when working with a publisher get on the front foot. So, what I mean by that is supply your own ideas for the cover. Like, I supplied that cover, I arranged it.

Allison
Oh, did you?

Jack
Yeah. I arranged it, designed it myself, had the idea myself to do it that way, because the more things that you can be supplying to the publisher and they’re responding to you, then the more likely you are to end up somewhere in the middle that you’ll be happy with, rather than if you’re just responding to the publisher, then they’ve already paid for a cover, they’ve already done whatever they’ve done, and so they are reluctant to kind of move — if you don’t like it they’re reluctant to sort of move too far back.

Allison
Right.

Jack
So, I would say from the word go when working with a publisher what I learnt this time is, “Here’s what I’m thinking for the cover…” “Here’s what I’m thinking for the blurb…” “Here’s what I’m thinking about promotion…” “Here’s what I’m thinking…” “Here’s what I’m thinking…” “Here’s what I’m thinking…” because to a certain extent if you’re coming up with ideas that are good or at least acceptable, then you’re also making it easier for them.

So, I would say those are probably the three things.

Allison
That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic advice.

OK, last question, are you working on something new? Or are you just so in the bubble with this book at the moment that’s all you can think about right now?

Jack
No, I’m about halfway into another one. So, with a bit of luck I’ll have that finished — I had hoped to have it finished by now, but things sort of got overtaken, so I hope to have it finished by sort of the end of year, maybe November, something like that. Yeah, it’s another novel.

Allison
Fantastic. All right, Jack. Thank you so much for talking to me today. I really appreciate your insight into the process. So, being there, getting your book over the line, so congratulations again. And, thank you very much.

Jack
Thank you very much for having me on.


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