Writing on, and about, an island

Archive for February, 2012|Monthly archive page

Cliffs. Coast. Cloudy Bay

In Island Life, Tasmania, Travel on February 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I am perhaps very un-Tasmanian in the fact I don’t like the bush. Actually, it terrifies me – in a 1967-bushfire/Blair Witch kind of way. The bush makes me claustrophobic; there is nothing relaxing about that closeness of tall, dark trees. And I grew up in the bush – which, to many, is the idyllic childhood.

No, my Tasmanian island ideal involves great stretches of coastline. Ocean. High cliffs. Seagrasses… Which is why I love Cloudy Bay, on the Southern-most tip of Bruny Island.

This Cloudy Bay beauty is currently for sale, for $1.5 million.

Cloudy Bay is spartan, windswept, and wide. I stood on the sands of it only a few weeks ago, in a storm, and it was everything that is best about Tasmania – the mist was swirling over Cape Bruny, the rain was pelting my face and the vast expanse of the Southern Ocean was almost indistinguishable from the big sky.

(This view is what someone inside that glass house would see.)

As I stood there, a lone 4WD exited the gravel road, onto the beach. I watched it drive to the far, far end of the beach, where it turned off, up to a half-hidden shack – one of only a handful of buildings on this lonely beach.

I think Richard Flanagan lives somewhere around Cloudy Bay. His shack is where my favourite author, Ian McEwan, finished off one of his books. If you’re a writer, Cloudy Bay is certainly one of the moodiest, most-inspiring places you could ever work from.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Write a Book

In Books, Tasmania, Writing on February 7, 2012 at 10:49 am

Yesterday, I met with a Tasmanian client who is thinking about marking a career milestone by publishing a book. She came to me for advice on whether she should, or could, do it. So, I asked her these questions…

1. Do you have something to say (and can you say it)?

I know – truly revolutionary stuff.

But an inordinate amount of people want to write a book without actually having anything to say… Or, without being able to write. It’s okay to not be a brilliant writer, if you can work with an excellent ghostwriter or editor, but you must recognise the fact first.

2. Is there another way you should be saying it?

By this, I mean think laterally about your message. Does it have to be delivered in a book? Would you be just as satisfied/achieve your goals by publishing your writing on a blog, in a newsletter, in a series of magazine features etc. Lots of people decide, vaguely, that they want to publish a book, but don’t take the time to consider if that’s the best medium for their message…

3. What is it you want to achieve?

  • Fame
  • Fortune
  • Helping others
  • Self-satisfaction

Be honest with yourself. If you want to make money, you’ll need to approach the book differently than if you want to produce something for family and friends.

4. Who is your audience?

Unless you want to vanity-publish, your book needs to talk to other people. Who are those people? If they’re X, then producing a book for Y but hoping X will buy it, just won’t work. You don’t have to please everyone, but you do need to respect your audience.

5. Does this book already exist?

There is enough crap out there already. Don’t add to it. You need to write something that hasn’t been written before. Or, if you’re writing about a topic that has been covered in-depth, you need to approach it from such a stunningly new angle that it seems new. Fortunately, there are so few people out there with real originality and individuality, and so few people speaking ‘the truth’, that it’s strangely easy to be different. Just work hard to find that difference.

6. Are you prepared to put in the effort?

Publishing a book is bloody hard work. Even if putting together the initial material is not difficult (ie it exists somewhere already), the actual production and all that goes with promotion is hard. Be prepared to be persistent and prolific.

7. Do you understand that you need to entertain, educate, inform and inspire?

If you can’t do all – or at least one – of these things with your writing, then you probably shouldn’t be writing.

If you have any aspirations to write a book – in whatever format, on whatever topic – you should consider these questions.

Why I Won’t Publish on Amazon

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Writing on February 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm

If you are considering epublishing, I suggest you read this very thought-provoking article on the phenomena that is self-epublishing…

Considering that I plan to self-publish my crime novel, and produce some non-fiction e-guides later this year, does the article worry me?

No, for 3 reasons:

  1. I was never going to publish on Amazon – I’m retaining control of every stage, thanks very much
  2. I believe in my persistence
  3. I believe in my ability to be prolific

I have not mentioned talent. That’s because persistence and ‘prolificness’ are more important than talent.

And that’s something I quickly learned when I worked in-house as a book editor, and sat in the Monday morning ‘slush-pile’ meetings, where all the publishers would put forward their cases for which authors the publishing house should offer a book deal to next.

I was startled – perhaps I shouldn’t have been – that those authors who could argue a case for several follow-up books and that they’d be able to stay the distance (through publicity tours and changing trends) easily trumped those who could ‘merely’ write incredibly beautifully.

Of course, having talent, persistence and the ability to be prolific is the best combination.

In that instance, Amazon can go to hell.

Dream Jobs vs Reality Jobs

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Travel, Writing on February 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm

Dream Jobs* (in no particular order)

  • Tintin (aka international photojournalist and detective)
  • Novelist
  • Small museum manager
  • Environmental/urban planner
  • Criminologist
  • Judge
  • Dancer
  • Anthropologist
  • Archaeologist
  • Landscape architect
  • Art and literary critic
  • Curator
  • Private investigator
  • Spy
  • Artist
  • Criminal mastermind
  • Fat controller

*I must make the note that I am blessed to have a career – as a writer – that has allowed me, at one time or another, to dip into many of the above careers (plus many more). I can think of only one other career path that allows you to do that: acting.

Reality Jobs (in order)

  • Receptionist (for my Mum in school holidays)
  • Body Shop Christmas-present wrapper
  • Barista
  • Server (and secret eater) of ice-cream at Haagen Dazs – opposite Windsor Castle
  • Artist’s model
  • Dancer
  • Arts events and book publicist
  • Journalist: production manager/sub-editor
  • Journalist: features writer (CLEO)
  • Freelance: writer, editor, project manager, stylist
  • Repeat the previous two for a couple for years
  • Newspaper columnist (Sydney Morning Herald)
  • Travel and food writer (Gourmet Traveller)
  • Freelance again (I think!)
  • Book editor (Random House)
  • Lifestyle Director (OK! Magazine)
  • Communications and Media Manager
  • Full-time ad agency copywriter, a la Mad Men… and freelance consultant and entrepreneur (MADE Tasmania)

The 5 Things that Matter Most

In Career, Freelance, Island Life, Minimalism, Tasmania, Writing on February 3, 2012 at 1:35 pm

My days have always been filled from end to end. I love being busy, and I am more productive when I have a lot on. Until recently, however, there were a lot of things in those days that frustrated me, didn’t satisfy me, and made me feel stressed. Things like:

  • committee meetings
  • an overloaded to-do list
  • freelance jobs that didn’t reward me enough for the time/creative energy invested
  • the feeling I had to reply to every single one of millions of emails in my inbox

Managing them meant I was losing valuable time for no gain – I was doing things through obligation not passion – and it took me a while to work out what was going on (obviously, because I’d been too busy to stop and think).

I only realised that I was giving away my time too cheaply during a 10-day holiday I took to paint my living room black and white. Spending every day doing nothing but sanding, plastering and painting was very zen, and although I didn’t plan on thinking about my life, and what matters most to me, it happened anyway.

I have spent the past 6 months thinking about what matters most to me, and got it down to a very minimalist top 5.

The 5 things that matter most to me:

  1. Eating homemade meals with my family
  2. Writing
  3. Reading
  4. Running by the ocean
  5. Living in Tasmania

I make sure those 5 things come first every day. (It’s almost like a muscle you need to keep using so it doesn’t waste away.) Pay yourself with your time first.

I’m not perfect at this. And, of course, there are many things I want to do, and many things that interest me – going back to uni or starting tango lessons, for example – but I’ve had to let go of the urge to do them all right now. At the moment, anything that’s not in that top 5 are just distractions from my main goal: learning to focus on what really matters most.


How to Edit Your Book

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Writing on February 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

It’s D-Day. Today’s the day I start editing the first draft of my crime novel. I had a nightmare last night that involved packs of Tasmanian Devils attacking me in a dark garden. Coincidence? I think not.

After having done nothing but the prologue of my novel for years, I wrote my 70,000-word novel in winter 2011 – in 3 months, while working full-time and managing a freelance business and a family.

I make these points (which I will turn into posts at some date) because they mean that, while I got a novel written quickly, it’s in a state you’d expect of something written in a flurry.

It will need countless revisions, but this first thorough edit will be mammoth.

I’ve worked as a magazine and book editor for about 15 years. So, therefore it follows that it will be near-impossible for me to edit my own book. Sort of in the same way that chefs don’t like going home to cook for their family…

But, as I plan to self-publish, I am committed to doing this thing. All I can do is approach my book in the same way I approach a stranger’s manuscript.

The 7 Stages of Editing

  1. I read the entire manuscript in one go – straight through, without stopping or worrying about obvious errors.
  2. I start structural editing – onscreen, in Word or InDesign if it’s an illustrated book – tracking my changes as I go. I love, love, love structural editing.
  3. After the structural editing, I do a copy edit (for grammar etc) – all the way through, making a Style Sheet as I go.
  4. I do another structural check, and cut the clutter (unnecessary words and sections), as well as make a note of anything that needs to be padded out. I know the book pretty darn well at this point, and I find this stage easy, and exciting.
  5. I do another copy edit, making sure I’ve adhered to the publisher’s specific requests.
  6. I do another full read through, ignoring minor errors, to make sure the story makes logical sense (I remember one crime novel I edited, where a murderer killed the victim on a Sunday, when it turned out later that the victim was still alive on the following Monday… Actually, that author mistake is not such a bad idea for a book…).
  7. Final tidy up – a proofread – and it’s off to the author and publisher.

I spend a while on stage 4, especially as I need to liaise with the author on what I recommend be removed, and also what I need from them.

Of course, every book is different and I don’t necessarily follow this exact recipe with each – an illustrated book, for example, often requires work on the appearance and the typesetting, and the writing of captions; I also do a lot of ghostwriting for authors at the editing stage – but it’s my tried-and-tested method for most of the author books I am privileged enough to work on (I get paid to read books!).

Hopefully it’s a method that will work with my book.

Goodbye, Group Think. Hello, Independent Thought

In Tasmania, Writing on February 1, 2012 at 9:48 am

I am allergic to FebFast. I am also allergic to religion, unions, sunscreen and anything else that peddles mass guilt to the guilty masses… It’s also why I have an ongoing struggle with Facebook (my time on there is doomed, I think).

I have come to my own conclusions about these quasi-religious social projects… and those conclusions do not align with my belief in independence and the fundamental differences that should be respected and revered in humans.

FebFast, as a timely example, is designed for people who need validation, the pat on the back, the relief from guilt that comes with doing something – very publicly – that is popularly thought of as acceptable, expected and desirable social behaviour. I don’t think this is a very sound reason for doing something, however good.

Think I’m harsh?

Consider the fact that all those people signing up to FebFast could do the exact same thing – abstain from alcohol/donate money – on their own terms. Quietly, without requiring other people to get involved or applaud them for it. So… why don’t they?

Want to do something that’s good for yourself or the world? Then do it because and only because you thought independently about it, not because you have been sub-consciously guilted into emulating others. Want to do something that other people say is incorrect/not the done thing, despite the fact it wouldn’t hurting anyone else in the doing of it? Go ahead. It’s your life.

There is a well-known scientific experiment of mob mentality, of group-think, involving monkeys, a banana and some cold water…

To be or not be a monkey? Hmm.

Mob mentality is what I disliked most about Tasmania while growing up here. Look at our politicians, the jobs for the boys, the way we dislike anything that challenges the status quo. Tasmania is a place where independent thought is so rare, that those who have it are championed as geniuses (Richard Flanagan*, for example – certainly a great independent thinker, but not, I would argue, a genius). Tasmania’s mob mentality is what I ran away from. But, inevitably, I find it’s still here on my return. I’m not running from it this time, though.

By all means, do good things for yourself and others. But don’t do things just because everyone around you is doing them. Just because something is popular does not make it right for you. If nothing more, think a little harder when you’re tempted to be conscripted into doing something ‘good’ – into joining someone else’s cause – just because everyone else is doing it. Instead, start your own cause.

 *RF, speaking recently at a wake for respected Tasmanian arts patron Dick Bett, said: 
“For a moment it seemed as if gathered there that night was the Tasmania you dream about – brave, gifted, open, laughing, free. I don’t know if we’ll ever arrive at that Tasmania.”

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