photo courtesy of Barry Aslop

Inspired by the history of the Caloundra lighthouses, author John Bradley and artist Diane Somers-Cook set about creating The Little Lighthouse – a beautiful, watercolour children’s book.

The (little) lighthouse was erected in 1896, making it the oldest surviving building in Caloundra.
In 1970 it was moved to Woorim Park after being replaced by a fancier, modern model (isn’t that always the way?). But when the rust ensued and the little lighthouse began to crumble, the community and council moved it back home in 1999 – where it was restored.

It stands beside its counterpart, sharing the headland, overlooking Moreton Island and the Glasshouse Mountains.

With a Sunshine Coast RADF grant and a further major grant, the book was developed and produced.

The book has proved popular – having now travelled all over Australia and other parts of the world.

The author and artist have both generously donated all profits from book sales to Friends of the Caloundra Lighthouses – helping to fund the continuous upkeep of the Caloundra Lighthouses.

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How do you write tense, suspenseful stories that will keep readers racing to the end? It’s a question I’m asked at writers’ festivals, via fan mail, during workshops and book signings. The answer is simple: you make the reader wait.

That’s right, my business model is all based on information deficit. As a storyteller, I’m careful and deliberate in how I release information to the reader – what information, and where, will dictate how suspenseful my story will be. Sure, there are character moments essential to propel the story and compel the reader – personal jeopardy, conflict, surprises – but the controlling design of all my novels is to pose a question at the start, then delay the answer.

I’ve been a full-time novelist since 2006. I write what are broadly categorized as “thrillers”. My audience is adult, young adult (YA), and middle grade (MG). They’re publishing labels to give booksellers – and readers – an easy idea of what to expect. Via Hachette and Scholastic, we’ve produced 26 novels. The adult thrillers run at 100,000 words, YA 65,000, MG 45,000. And the common thread to all my stories? They’re suspenseful reads.

To me there are two kinds of books: those that make you miss your bus stop – or sleep – and those that don’t.

Put another way, there are books you read to inhabit time, and books you read to pass the time. But how to make the reader keep turning those pages? Well, let’s look at another example: TV.

Consider some of the most popular genres on broadcast television: reality television. Those programs the industry call “shiny floor shows”, e.g. Masterchef, MKR, The Block, The Voice. They should be as interesting as waiting for water to boil. Watching amateurs compete should be boring, right? But they pull in huge audiences. Why?

These shows are compelling for good reason – and it’s just not because we like to see people succeed and triumph, although that is a part of the design. It’s all about making the audience wait – and then rewarding them with an answer.

They are asking a question: “what happens next?” and making you wait until after the next ad break for the answer. These programs are edited to make the audience hang around for the result to a critique or potential catastrophe. Come the next ad break – the same thing. And over each episode and the whole series, the same thing, at a macro level. Humans are hardwired to seek answers, and it’s in the anticipation of what might happen that is where we find drama.

Writing a novel is not as simple as putting 500 pages of filler between opening question and big reveal where the protagonist gets answers. The story must be engaging to hold and involve the reader, with questions and answers throughout. Tension and stakes rise and fall and rise higher again, a symphony in several acts, until the final crescendo – and there may be a coda afterwards, letting us down gently.

Provide the audience with a certain amount of information and leave the rest to their own imagination; it’s much more impactful to have the reader imagine the worst that can happen to a character, rather than spell it all out. If you manage to write in such a way as to have your reader participate, they will be involved in your story in ways beyond the literal. There are books that say more by what’s not on the page, and there are those that have everything explained and spoon-fed to the reader. Just make sure you answer the question that’s at the heart of your story. Do that, and you’ve got something worthwhile in your hands.

Avoid cliché – that might mean that when the reader thinks they know what will happen next, do something else. Until you develop a good skill set as a writer to spot the obvious (Hemmingway’s built-in, shock-proof bullshit detector), think through and write a few versions of what may happen until you hit upon an unexpected gem. You’ll know it when you see it. And the readers will appreciate the reward.

Understanding the writer/reader relationship is paramount to success. It’s a symbiotic relationship between the reader and the writer.

Reading is an act where one’s imagination is always at work, constructing the book, as Umberto Eco said.

It’s collaborative. They’re invested. They’ve stuck with you for 500 pages, spent money and time on your story. So you can’t cheat them. You must give them that answer. Does your answer have to be a satisfying one? No. But it needs to make narrative sense, even if your protagonist is unfulfilled – do they get what they want, what they needed, or something else entirely? All up to you, the creator.

My novels start with an idea, and a feel. That in hand, I have my driving force to go from page one to when I type THE END. I make some notes and think and ruminate until I feel I have the end, aka my main question and answer. Once I know what will happen, and the emotional charge of what that means for my characters, I can shape my suspense, unveiling the plot towards the inevitable answer. For each narrative, my stories are driven as much by what the reader wants as what the characters desire.

It’s a sublime moment, writing those last pages, the final movement were everything is moving fast towards resolution. Something I’ve figured out through practice is to do the slow stuff fast, and the fast stuff slow. Using minimal descriptions and exposition – the reader is creating that too – means that you can slow down during moments of great tension and conflict so as to fully be present in that time and place.

Make them wait. Make that wait worth while. And make the journey a helluva ride.

 

James Phelan is the bestselling author of twenty-five novels and one work of non-fiction. His publications include five thrillers in the Lachlan Fox series, and the Alone trilogy of young adult post-apocalyptic novels.

 

Revolutionary ideas and fresh new voices will lead Australia’s premier literary event, with Melbourne Writers Festival today unveiling its electrifying line-up for 2017.
Festival Director Lisa Dempster said this year’s Festival has armed itself with visionary talent from Australia and around the world to explore the theme of revolutions past, present and future.

Miles Franklin Literary Award winner Kim Scott (Taboo) will become the first indigenous writer to launch the Festival, delivering a powerful Opening Night address on Australian identity.
American literary powerhouse Joyce Carol Oates (A Book of American Martyrs; We Were the Mulvaneys) will visit Australia for the first time to reflect on how novelists bear witness to the world around them.
The Independent’s Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk will deliver MWF’s Closing Night address, explaining why we are no longer safe at home in the West after years of war fought on foreign soil.
Author and staff writer at The New Yorker David Grann (Killers of the Flower Moon) will discuss one of the FBI’s first major homicide investigations and examine how investigative journalism fits in world dominated by the 24-hour news cycle.
MWF has also teamed up with Canon in a Festival first to bring Australian photojournalist Stephen Dupont’s performance Don’t Look Away to Fed Square, taking viewers to the front lines of war through raw and devastating images (18+ event).
British journalist, blogger and activist Reni Eddo-Lodge (Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race) will fuel discussion on feminism, class and race, while Angie Thomas – author of the Black Lives Matter-inspired young adult novel The Hate U Give – will discuss how writing can inspire change.
For families, the Festival will celebrate 20 years of rebellion in the wizard world with Harry Potter Day – a free day of magical festivities including a Sorting Hat, live performances, story time and more.

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Fifty six projects have received a total of $1.3m from the latest round of funding from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, including the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

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The Australian Publishers Association (APA) has announced the shortlists for the 2017 Educational Publishing Awards Australia. The winners will be announced at the Educational Publishing Awards ceremony in Melbourne on 20 September.

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In the UK, World Book Day (WBD) titles sales have risen by more than 50% compared to the previous year, with 469,274 copies sold in the week of the event, reports the Bookseller.
The national book event took place on 2 March, and evaluation results released this week and reported on by the Bookseller revealed that the official UK top 10 bestsellers for that week were all WBD titles.
The week also saw children’s sales grow by 22% to £1.4m (A$2.3m) compared with the preceding week.
A large majority of booksellers said the event helped raise interest in their stores, with 87% reporting increased footfall due to the event.
More libraries also participated in the event, with 160 libraries signing up to receive display materials this year, a 10% increase on the number that signed up in 2016. Eighteen percent of participating libraries reported a rise in new membership as a result of the promotion.

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A new writers festival celebrating the crime genre will be held in Sydney from 2-3 September 2017.
The two-day festival, BAD, is founded by academic Denis Tracey and writer Michael Duffy, and will explore ‘Sydney’s unique relationship with crime’.
Speakers will be drawn from the fields of crime writing, film, investigative journalism, and forensic psychology, including lawyers, judges and detectives.

Director Tracey said in a statement, ‘Sydney is a city founded by criminals and their guards. Its convict culture helped shape egalitarian and larrikin Australia … BAD: Sydney Crime Writers Festival is an exploration of the dark side that is part of being human.’

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The lineup for this year’s Ubud Writers & Readers Festival has now been revealed, and Early Bird tickets to Southeast Asia’s most celebrated literary and artistic event are on sale now.

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Penguin Random House is thrilled to announce the establishment of the inaugural Penguin Random House Australia Literary Prize. Officially launched at the Leading Edge Books Roadshow in Sydney on 17 July, this prize endeavours to find, nurture and develop new Australian authors writing in the areas of literary fiction and non-fiction, and celebrates the recent formation of the Penguin Random House Literary Division. The winner, to be announced on Friday 9 February 2018, will be awarded $20,000, with the winning book slated for publication in early 2019.

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Ubud Writers & Readers Festival have released a sneak peak of their guest author line up for the 2017 festival which will run from 25-29 October.

Guests include Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin and Canadian writer Madeleine Thien.  Australian authors, Saroo Brierley, Robert Dessaix, Tim Flannery and Kate Holden are also featured on the program.  Local talent includes revered Indonesian authors Seno Gumira Ajidarma and Leila S Chudori, along with Indonesia’s premier theatre group Papermoon.

For more information: ubudwritersfestival.com

 

Hello from the Express Media team! It’s July, which means we’re already mid-way through 2017. It’s been a great six months here at Express Media, jam packed with events, opportunities and competitions for young writers.

To recap: our Toolkits program, 12 week online writing intensives, has gotten off to a roaring start with 16 bright and eager young fiction writers and poets getting stuck in to their courses. We had another successful year of The NEWS Conference and appointed our 2017 Kat Muscat Fellowship to Melbourne writer Fury. We took Tracks on the road to Adelaide and Geelong, and there’s more Tracks events and young artist showcases coming up in Perth and Brisbane later this year. 

We’ve also received a record number of submissions to The John Marsden & Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers, with over 600 secondary school students from across Australia sending in their fiction, nonfiction and poetry. And as always, Voiceworks has released two stellar print issues, ‘Relic‘ and ‘Retrograde‘, filled to the brim with the best fiction, nonfiction, poetry and visual art by young creators under 25. 

QWC offers a Youth Membership in partnership with Express Media, Australia’s foremost provider of support and development opportunities for young people in writing and media, open to anyone 25 years or younger.

The lack of a breakout print hit did not prevent US unit sales in the first half of 2017 from being 3% higher than in the first six months of last year, at outlets that report to NPD BookScan (which captures 80%–85% of print unit sales), Publishers Weekly reports. Units for the January–June period in 2017 were 310.7 million, up from 302.8 million a year ago. Just as it was in the first six months of 2016, the backlist favourite Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss was the most popular title in the first half of this year, selling more than 482,000 copies (up from 458,000 copies in January–June 2016).

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