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Tag: writing

Burnt Out by Victoria Brookman

Burnt Out, by Victoria Brookman, book cover

Writing that difficult second novel, it might be what many authors consider to be a good problem. Their debut novel has been published, an epic achievement, and now they have the opportunity to write another book. What aspiring novelist wouldn’t want to be in such a situation?

Cali, an author residing in the NSW Blue Mountains may be such a person, in Burnt Out (published by HarperCollins Publishers, January 2022) the debut novel of Australian author Victoria Brookman. Cali’s struggling to write her second novel, in fact she was meant to have turned in the manuscript long ago. In reality she hasn’t even started work on it. But for the moment that’s the least of her worries.

Her home has been destroyed by a bush fire, likewise her possessions, and to top it off her husband has left her. But Cali sees an opportunity amid the turmoil. Speaking to a television news crew, she tells them her manuscript was also incinerated, and goes onto chide politicians and well-off Australians for their inaction in response to the devastating bush fires. Her words immediately strike a chord nationwide.

After seeing her on-air rant, a billionaire offers her a place to stay in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, so she can “re-write” the novel. But will Cali overcome her second book syndrome, or will she find herself overwhelmed by the lies she keep telling everyone, including herself?

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To write your next novel, you must forget your last one

Sara Freeman, writing for Granta Magazine, with some sage advice for authors embarking on the writing of their next novel, to write your next novel, you must forget your last one:

There’s a kind of necessary amnesia that sets in after you finish writing a novel. Like childbirth, you must forget; the future requires it of you. If you remembered, really remembered, then surely you wouldn’t do it again. Or perhaps it’s that the experience itself of writing a novel is a kind of sustained forgetting, a controlled fugue.

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Case Study, by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Case Study, by Graeme Macrae Burnet, book cover

If Case Study (published by Text Publishing, 19 October 2021), the fourth novel of Glasgow based Scottish author Graeme Macrae Burnet, were a movie — and who knows, it might yet be — based upon video or film clips, it would be called a found footage story. The found footage technique is commonly seen in horror films, but it be could argued there’s elements of horror in Burnet’s latest work.

The literary equivalent of found footage is epistolary, where a story is told through a series of letters, or other written works, of which Case Study is an example. Martin Grey, who lives in present day Clacton-on-Sea, contacts the author after finding five diaries written by his cousin some fifty years earlier, under the pen name Rebecca Smyth. The journals detail her dealings with Collins Braithwaite, a therapist, who is remembered for his unconventional practise methods.

Rebecca’s sister Veronica, who had been a patient of Braithwaite’s for two years, killed herself, and Rebecca has no doubt the therapist was responsible. After creating a fictitious identity, and new persona for herself, Rebecca likewise becomes a patient of Braithwaite, in order to find out more about him. As the author reads the journals though, he comes to realise the intrinsically straight-laced journal writer was becoming ever more delusional, as she increasingly wrapped herself up in her free-spirited alter-ego.

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Writing tips for emerging authors from George Saunders

Words of advice for aspiring writers by American author George Saunders, and winner of the 2017 Booker Prize. This one resonates with me:

Know when you over-revise: those new to writing should overwrite just “to get a familiarity with their particular world. We have to learn our individual symptoms” of over-revision. “For me,” Saunders says, “the symptom is the humour goes out of it.”

In writings of mine there’s always the temptation to go into great detail about settings and environments. It seems to me if I over-revise, or cut out superfluous information, I know I’ve gone too far in doing so if the story loses its soul, or becomes too dry. But Saunders is right, overwriting is a great way to become familiar with the backdrop to the story you’re writing.

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Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel, book cover

Where are we in time? Where is the motion of the cosmos taking us? Forwards or backwards? Possibly though, you feel you’re stuck in neutral, moving nowhere, yet keenly aware of each passing minute. The strange times we live in have left many of us displaced and confused.

Sea of Tranquility (published by Pan Macmillan Australia, May 2022), the sixth novel of Canadian author Emily St. John Mandel, may well be a microcosm of our pandemic dominated epoch. Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective living in the twenty-fifth century, is asked to investigate a suspected anomaly in time.

But his search for answers is far from straightforward. The detective finds a young man, Edwin St. Andrew, who claims to be the son of a noble British family, who lived in the early twentieth century. And then there is Olive Llewelyn, an author unable to travel home because of a pandemic, who apparently lives in the twenty-third century.

What brings Edwin and Olive to the present day, and how? But is everything as it really seems to be in this usual world? Are Edwin and Olive who they claim to be, or is something else at play? Might the detective have stumbled upon some sort of switch junction in time, explaining the presence of Edwin and Olive?

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Positive representations of disabled people in Australian fiction

Social Queue by Kay Kerr, and Stars In Their Eyes, a graphic novel by Jessica Walton and Aśka, are among works of fiction by Australian authors featuring central characters with disabilities. In Social Queue, Kerr’s autistic protagonist Zoe navigates the world of dating, while in Stars In Their Eyes, queer disabled teen, Maisie, finds love at a fan convention. These works are welcome: in the past people with disabilities who have been part of a story have often assumed the antagonist’s role.

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What writers wish they knew before they started writing

Australian author Allison Tait recently asked sixteen local Children’s and Young Adult writers what they wish they’d known before commencing their publishing careers. There’s a lot of good stuff here, but this insight from Canberra based author Jack Heath, takes the cake:

I saw myself as a social commentator – but I realise now that I was a novelist. People didn’t like me, they liked my novels. I should have spent my time working on my books, rather than play-acting as a celebrity. In a broader sense, I should have focused on writing, rather than being a writer.

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The Good Child, by S.C. Karakaltsas

The Good Child, by S.C. Karakaltsas, book cover

Tom’s a con artist. He might have been the big-wig at a major Australian financial institution, but he’s still a shyster. He’s fleeced thousands of people of their life savings and other assets. But he’s been found out, caught, and is due to have his day in court. Although not directly victim, two other women are caught up in Tom’s web of deception. His seventy-two year old mother, Lucille, and Quin, a former colleague who played a part in enabling Tom.

Lucille and Quin meet on a train bound for Melbourne. Both are en route to Tom’s trial, but at first neither realises who the other is. Lucille is devastated by Tom’s illicit activities. But that’s not all. She’s lost everything. She has no savings, no home, and on top of that, she feels responsible for everything that has happened. Perhaps if she had been less lenient on her son, not so overprotective, things might have turned out differently?

The Good Child (published by Karadie Publishing, 15 November 2021) is the fourth book from Melbourne based Australian author S.C. Karakaltsas. Told from the perspectives of Lucille and Quin, The Good Child poses the oft asked question, if you could say something to your younger self, warn them, tell them to turn left instead of right, would you try? But fanciful thinking is of little help. Both women need to find a way through this quagmire in the here and now.

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Open Water, by Caleb Azumah Nelson

Open Water, by Caleb Azumah Nelson, book cover

Two people meet in a bar in London. Both are young, both are Black British, and both are artists. She is a dancer, he a photographer. The attraction is instant, and as the two spend ever more time together, their bond only grows. They also connect through shared experiences as people of colour in a place where they are in a minority. Although both were awarded scholarships to private British schools, both felt excluded, and unable to completely fit in.

Despite the passionate love they discover in each other, he hides a trauma, one he struggles to resolve. Partly, perhaps, because he still encounters the violence and fear he previously endured. Every day the two come face to face with racism and vilification on the streets of London. But his struggle, one he cannot articulate even to her, causes him to withdraw, to hide behind silence. She is devastated by the apparent rejection, left reeling and confused.

Open Water (published by Penguin Books Australia, February 2021) is the debut novel of London based British-Ghanaian author and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson. Written in the second person, with prose that is sometimes described as poetic, Open Water is perhaps more of novella, weighing in at about one-hundred and sixty pages. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the word count detracts from the story’s impact.

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Minds Shine Bright writing competition 2022

Entries are open for the Minds Shine Bright writing competition, until Monday 28 February, 2022. An initiative created by Melbourne based Australian writer and film maker Amanda Scotney, Minds Shine Bright seeks to encourage excellence in writing, particularly fiction. If you’re a writer of fiction, poetry, or script-writing, looking for some recognition, and a financial incentive, this may be the opportunity you’re looking for.

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A good writer never blames their apps for a lack of productivity

Can distraction-free devices change the way we write, asks Julian Lucas, writing for the New Yorker. A writing app, a word processor, one that cuts out the clutter, menu bars, formatting options, font choices, and all the impedimenta that might distract us: would we be more productive as writers if that were the case?

But focus mode on an everything device is a meditation room in a casino. What good is it to separate writing from editing, formatting, and cluttered interfaces if you can’t separate it from the Internet? Even a disconnected computer offers plenty of opportunities for distraction: old photographs, downloaded music, or, most treacherous of all, one’s own research. And so, just as savvy entrepreneurs have resuscitated the “dumb” phone as a premium single-tasking communication device, it was perhaps inevitable that someone would revive the stand-alone word processor.

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Beautiful Country, by Qian Julie Wang

Beautiful Country, by Qian Julie Wang, book cover

Mei Guo is what Qian Julie Wang’s parents called America, before the family left their native China to start new lives in what they believed to be the beautiful country. Once on the ground though, what they saw and experienced was anything but beautiful. Wang’s parents, who in China held down academic careers, found themselves working in below minimum wage jobs, earning barely enough money to keep a roof over their heads.

Beautiful Country (published by Penguin Books Australia, September 2021) is a no holds barred account of the childhood of New York litigator Qian Julie Wang, as an undocumented immigrant. Here Wang recounts contending with racism, poverty, and loneliness, among other things, while maintaining the façade the family’s papers were in order, she was of American birth, and they were residing legally in the beautiful country.

It may be a cliché to go and say the grass is not greener on the other side, at least not at first, but from this life on the run, Wang rose above every obstacle before her. She studied law while working four part time jobs, and now manages an organisation that advocates for education and civil rights. As a footnote, Wang composed her memoir on a smartphone during her commute to and from work, a detail the time-poor authors among us will find notable.

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Wild Abandon, by Emily Bitto

Wild Abandon, by Emily Bitto, book cover

The year is 2011, and Will, a young Australian, heart-broken after his girlfriend Laura left him, buys a cheap flight to America. His plan is to spend a few months in New York City, partying and meeting people, hoping he can put the break-up behind him. But not long after arriving in the city that never sleeps, an unsettling incident sees Will pack his bags and travel to a small town in Ohio. Here an old school friend introduces him to Wayne, a former soldier, and Vietnam veteran.

Wild Abandon (published by Allen & Unwin, September 2021), the second novel of Melbourne based Australian author Emily Bitto, tells a familiar story. A displaced person, struggling to find direction at home, sets off into the wide blue yonder, on the belief travel to places new and exciting will be a panacea for their ills.

Once he reaches Ohio, Will begins working for Wayne, who owns a private zoo where he keeps exotic animals. What better way to heal, you might ask, than caring for the beasts inhabiting a menagerie. Better, surely, that the drug infused parties of the big city. But Wayne is man with deep problems, and before long Will is lurching towards another calamity.

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The Beautiful Words, by Vanessa McCausland

The Beautiful Words, by Vanessa McCausland, book cover

Once inseparable, childhood friends Sylvie and Kase haven’t spoken to each other in decades, following a tragedy at the lighthouse one night when they were teenagers. But when out of the blue, Sylvie is invited to Kase’s fortieth birthday party, she begins to yearn for her lost friendship with Kase, and a life she perhaps may have lived differently.

Set between Sydney’s Palm Beach, and an island near Bruny Island, off the coast of Tasmania, The Beautiful Words (published by HarperCollins Publishers, December 2021), is the third novel by Sydney based Australian author Vanessa McCausland. Sylvie learns Kase has enjoyed success as an author in the intervening years, as have the people she surrounds herself with. But despite Kase’s aura of happiness, the now solitary Sylvie, who feels ill at ease among Kase’s ambitious friends, is certain she can detect a discontent simmering below the surface.

But the reunion does more than disturb the slumbering ghosts of their own pasts, and Sylvie and Kase soon discover their mothers, Franny and Eve, had secrets of their own. But in trying to understand happenings that took place before they were born, Sylvie and Kase must confront events that lead to the disintegration of their once close friendship.

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