The idea of working as a freelance writer sure sounds alluring. You have the freedom to set your own schedule, work your own hours, select your own clients and write about the topics you know and love from the comfort of your own lounge chair. What’s not to like? However the thought of becoming a freelance writer can be extremely daunting if you’re not sure where to begin. How do you get your name out there? Where do you find your first job? How will you ensure you make a profit? We’ve put together a few simple tips to help set you in the right direction and kick-start your freelancing career.
Find your Niche
As a writer, you’ll undoubtedly have a certain topic or genre you enjoy writing about the most. It’s the same for freelancer writers, who often specialise in writing within a chosen niche. To start formulating you own niche, select a few topics you’re interested in or have prior of knowledge on that’ll you’ll feel confident to write about. There’s no pressure to choose the ‘right’ topics straight up – you’ll find that your niche will naturally refine and develop as your freelance career progresses. The key is to simply you choose a starting point.
Create Sample Pieces
Freelancers need to pitch themselves for job advertisements or to prospective employers in order to source work. Just like any creative role, these employers will want to see evidence of your writing ability and/or experience if you are to land the job. If you’re completely to new to freelance writing and don’t have any prior work to include in your portfolio, here’s a few ways to create some winning sample pieces;
- Create a Blog: The easiest way to create samples is to write a few blogs posts within the niche you’d like to work. Blogs are also easily to link to when it comes to submitting applications or pitching for jobs.
- Personal Projects: If you don’t have any experience writing about a certain topic or for a desired format, why not create your own? Say you’d eventually like to write travel pieces for magazine – set yourself the task of road tripping to a town or national park you’re yet to visit and get writing!
- Guest Post: Offering to guest post on other blogs within your niche is a fantastic way to start creating a name and reputation for yourself. All you need to do is find a blog that sources guest contributors and pitch your post idea.
Create an online presence
In today’s digital age, maintaining an online presence is key in order to succeed in any freelance industry. This online presence should showcase your portfolio of work, explain your services, and provide an avenue for prospective clients to find and hire you. Thankfully, there are plenty of options available including social media sites like LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter as well as blog hosting sites such as Tumblr or WordPress. You can even go as far as creating your own website with platforms such as Wix and Squarespace allowing those without any coding experience to build their own. Be sure to include your title (i.e. what type of writer are you?) to clearly identify what you do and visibly display your contact information.
Network with other freelance writers
Other freelance writers can be a fantastic resource if you have any questions or are looking for extra advice. Social media makes reaching out to these writers easy – all you need to do is comment on a blog or Facebook post to spark conversation.
Send a few cold pitches
Have a dream company you’d love to write for? Even if they’re not advertising for writers, you can still take the initiative to send them your work and pitch your brilliant ideas. You never know, they might just call on you when they’re next in need of new writer.
Invest in a Course
When you’re new to something, learning from an expert can be extremely helpful, especially if they were once in your position. If you’re looking for an insider’s guide to freelance writing and how to you can combine this career avenue with your other commitments (like study or a full time job), come along to our ‘Sustaining Yourself as a Part-Time Writer’ seminar on Jan 20.
Finally, best of luck with your freelance endeavours! The writing world is truly your oyster.
January. It’s the time of year where everyone creates ambitious New Year’s resolutions and makes plans to ensure the new year will exceed the last. Yet when statistics show that few people manage to follow through on these resolutions, it can be tempting to pass off the opportunity to plan and visualise the year ahead as waste of time. Or is it?
Though many successful writers seemingly become an overnight success story with the release of a debut novel or feature in popular magazine, the reality is far less glamourous, requiring years of dedication, hard work and careful planning. Just like any career, creating a plan for the year ahead can be of great benefit your writing life and help put you on track future writing success (hello, New York Times bestseller). Here’s five reasons why:
Planning allows you to identify goals
Arguably one the key benefits of planning is its ability to help you identity goals for the coming year, whether that be a finished draft of your first novel or improved publicity and audience engagement. Once you’ve got a clear vision of what it is you’d like to achieve, you’ll be surprised how easily this will translate into a clear plan to help you accomplish them.
Begin by setting your long term goals – those big picture, long-term dreams that you have for your writing career. Where do you see yourself one, two or three years from now? With these set, you can start creating mid-term goals – concrete, well defined goals that you’d like to accomplish over the next few months. Finally, what would you like to achieve now? Perhaps you’d like to start setting aside X number of hours a day to your writing with no distractions? Or start blogging more regularly? These are will become your short term goals – the simple, easy things you’d like to achieve over the coming weeks. Concrete, actionable goals are the foundation for any form of successful planning.
Planning = direction
Planning ensures you have a clear roadmap for how you’ll go about achieving your goals. Spend some time planning how each one can be achieved and the individual steps involved. The result? Not only will you have a clear course of action to follow but you’ll also be well prepared for what comes next. You’ll have that novel written in no time!
Planning helps to avoid roadblocks
Planning increases your ability to handle any problems that may arise throughout your writing journey and, better still, help you uncover potential roadblocks even before they occur. Why? Planning encourages you to carefully consider each step of the process and the actions you’ll need to take for each; time and thought that you wouldn’t otherwise invest. As a result, you’ll likely discover any bumps or potholes in the road before they arise and can easily put strategies in place to avoid them.
Planning grants perspective
Planning your goals and mapping out the direction your writing life will take will give you a clear perspective of what’s important and what you’ll likely achieve by a set date (i.e. the end of the year). This will help you to focus on what you’re aiming to accomplish and provide with the motivation to prioritize your writing. Keep your goals in perspective and you’ll be well on the road to future success.
Planning increases confidence
As a writer, it’s easy to become daunted or overwhelmed by the thought of having to write a 50,000 page manuscript or learn a completely new skill such as social media. Such goals seemingly become a mountain too tall to conquer. Yet having a plan in place, complete with strategies to overcome any potential problems, will increase your confidence substantially and increase the likelihood that those goals will be achieved.
Sound useful but unsure where to start? Come along to our Writers Plan day workshop on January 19! You’ll be sure to walk away with a clear, concise and exiting plan for your future writing life.
Christmas has come again and that means many new books under the tree! With some of the biggest authors hitting the shelves at Christmas, there’s always something you’ve been waiting to read. And as writers, reading is paramount to improve our craft. If we didn’t love to read, we wouldn’t desire to write. But reading can only take us so far. So, if you’re looking to improve your writing and advance your career in 2019, perhaps this Christmas you should treat yourself to something more. And there is no better place to find motivation than to attend an event about writing.
Engaging in the writing world is the best gift I’ve given myself and my writing. Without attending festivals, workshops, and conferences, I would never have reached this point in my writing career, with an award-winning manuscript hopefully on the verge of publication. There is only so much you can learn on your own, self-motivation only takes you so far, and networking is key to success in this business. Therefore, if there was one thing I’d recommend to all young writers, after urging you to keep writing no matter what, it is to find your place in the writing world and soak up all the knowledge possible.
Why do I recommend this? Like you, I have been writing since I was young. While completing grade nine, I wrote two full-length novels. By the age of twenty-five, that number had increased to twenty-two. I had honed the discipline of producing novels and knew writing filled my heart. But none of this mattered if I didn’t know how books should be structured, the key elements to writing a novel, or how the publishing industry actually works. And these are the most important things I’ve learned since embracing the world of writing.
For me, this started during high school by attending the Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival in Mackay. This is the largest festival outside south east Queensland and has hosted many incredible Australian authors. There, I met and learned from the incredible Andy Griffiths, Paul Jennings, Melina Marchetta, Li Cunxin, and many more. Every year I found more motivation to write, felt inspired in my chosen career path of becoming an author, and learned more about books in the process. But it was the first author talk I attended at this festival that has stuck with me to this day.
I was halfway through grade nine and my very first manuscript when I signed up to attend Whitsunday Voices. My friend was a more avid reader than I and knew more about the authors in attendance, so I chose author talks purely on her recommendations. I signed up for a talk by a man who wrote action/thriller novels for adults, which was as far from anything I read, and he was currently on tour for his young adult book about racing. So there I was, sitting in a massive crowd waiting to hear Matthew Reilly speak. And that hour remains the most inspirational hour of my life, leaving me with Matthew’s words I still live by today – “What you know may not be what you’ve experienced.”
As young writers, we may be subject to being told to write what we know or, worse, that we don’t have the experience to write a novel. But I urge you to ignore this. Authors rarely have experienced what they write about as if that were the case, we’d all have very little material to work with. This was the first lesson I learned, that with an imagination and a rational mind, writers can write anything onto to paper and make readers believe. It’s our job.
Matthew Reilly’s words at Whitsunday Voices in 2005 have kept me writing about anything I want for thirteen years. All you need to do is rationalise, research, and dig into your heart to know what you’re writing about. And with this knowledge, I continued writing and attending Whitsunday Voices.
Find Motivation at a Festival
Writing, literature, and book festivals are abundant around the country and are incredibly motivating events for young and aspiring writers. Whitsunday Voices is the highlight of Mackay’s literary society. And while the Brisbane Writers Festival is an event you’ve likely all heard of, the Sunshine Coast, Capricorn Coast, Cairns, and the Burdekin all hold regular festivals as well.
Moving away from Mackay and losing Whitsunday Voices was difficult for me, but I kept writing. I had seven manuscripts from my high school days, four of which I continued to work on. Soon, I had twenty manuscripts and was submitting to publishers. But my continued rejections were proof I still didn’t know enough. There was one vital aspect missing from my process of becoming a writer. I didn’t know enough about the craft.
Learn at Workshops
Two years ago, I found the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre and, from there, my world of writing. I was a member of Queensland Writers Centre and Romance Writers of Australia, but I wasn’t utilising the opportunities they provided – workshops and competitions.
This year, treat yourself to one of the many amazing workshops that the QWC provides. Local libraries also host workshops from local or visiting authors. In Townsville, there are multiple workshops offered by the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre and QWC provides workshops at the libraries. No matter what you write, there is something new to be learned at a workshop. Narrative structure is vital to understand, character development mustn’t be overlooked, and above all, you need to know the key aspects of your genre. Workshops are there to provide this knowledge. And if you don’t have access to these live events, webinars and online learning are also provided through Australia’s top writing organisations.
Receive Feedback with Competitions
Entering my work into competitions changed my writing career. Utilising my membership with Romance Writers of Australia, I entered two novels into the Emerald Award for unpublished manuscripts. Through this process, I learned more than I ever had about writing. I’d never heard of the term ‘head-hopping’ while sitting in my isolated writing world. But I had learned invaluable lessons through this critique, causing me to rewrite every viable manuscript.
Not all competitions provide feedback, but I would recommend entering those that do. Short story competitions are also a great way to receive feedback and get your work seen and maybe published in anthologies. Scarlett Stiletto is a great anthology competition for female crime writers and with a quick Google search you’ll find many more. But don’t forget the big contests, such as QWC’s Manuscript Development program with Hachette, The Emerging Writers Festival’s Richell Prize, or prizes provided by publishing houses like The Banjo and the Penguin Literary Prize.
Network at Conference
After the invaluable feedback from the Emerald judges, I fully invested in my career and spoiled myself. I attended the Romance Writers of Australia conference. This is one of Australia’s largest writing conferences and if you’re looking to treat yourself, this conference presents some of the best opportunities you’ll find. And you don’t need to write romance as there’s plenty to learn about fiction and writing in general. At my first conference, I learned more about writing and publishing than I’d ever known. Amazing writers like Marion Lennox and Kate Forsyth gave inspirational speeches and I met so many writers it was almost overwhelming.
2019 also holds much excitement with the return of GenreCon, a conference not to be missed. Held in Brisbane, GenreCon is an event for writers to network and learn from the best in genre fiction. Personally, I cannot wait for this event and feel it’s one not to be missed with the workshops, panels, and pitching opportunities available.
The Value of a Manuscript Assessment
The best opportunity I’ve ever taken was submitting the one book I felt had true potential for a manuscript assessment. I knew there was something wrong with this novel and had an idea of how to fix it, but receiving feedback from an agent who knew books and about the publishing industry has been the greatest experience of my writing career. Taking on board critique from this assessment, I replotted the novel. From August to November, I completely rewrote the manuscript. With all I’d learned at conference, I continued my edits. In December, I submitted this to RWA’s Emerald Award.
This manuscript assessment was the best money I’ve ever spent as without it, I’d never have won the 2018 Emerald Award.
Manuscript assessments aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every cent you pay an agent or publisher to read your work and provide feedback. If you have a novel you believe has potential, consider submitting it for assessment. You can find avenues for this through QWC, the Australian Writers Marketplace, and individual literary agencies.
Pitch Your Story
Pitching is the best way to get your work in front of a publisher and isn’t as daunting as you might think. Publishers are there because they’re seeking new books and want to hear about your story.
Pitching is one of the most popular aspects of the RWA conference. The Australian Society of Authors also host pitching sessions, sometimes which you can do online or over the phone. Pitching sessions are also available at GenreCon. If you have a publishable manuscript, then treat yourself to a pitching session this Christmas.
Escape on Retreat
Going away with authors to learn and work on your book is an amazing opportunity. In Townsville, we host an annual writing retreat and there are also retreats held by authors, such as Natasha Lester in Western Australia and Alli Sinclair with Writers at Sea (retreat on a cruise ship!).
This is the gift I’ve given myself in 2019 – The Rainforest Writing Retreat on the Gold Coast Hinterland. Not only is the retreat location idyllic, the writing masterclasses are of amazing quality. If you haven’t looked into this retreat, I suggest you do. It comes at a very affordable price.
Critique is Your Friend
If you cannot afford to treat yourself to an event this Christmas, give yourself this gift: welcome critique. Critique is your friend. If you cannot receive critique objectively, you’ll never improve as a writer. There is always the risk critique will hurt, but sometimes this is for the best. As writers, we are very close to our work. But the ability to detach yourself is one you’ll be forever thankful for. This enables you to make cuts, edits, and improve your manuscript to a publishable standard. Learning to detach my heart and change parts of my manuscript I loved for the better has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself and I urge you to do the same. The writing world is no place for an overinflated ego.
The Write Gift for You
A competition, retreat, or festival is not something you can wrap up and put under the tree, so we still need those books. After all, reading will always continue to make us better writers. But do remember, reading can only take a writer so far. Therefore, spoil yourself this Christmas and invest in your writing career. As young writers, we’re lucky for the many opportunities out there. Don’t hold back! Treat yourself in 2019. Find an event that suits your needs and the genre you write. No matter what, you will find new ways to improve your writing. I know my indulgence in the writing world has certainly improved mine. I’ve made new friends, met amazing authors, and am finally confident that I can produce publishable novels. It certainly beats remaining in the isolated world that writing can become.
Writer and teacher Kristina Olsson recognised through top award
Writer, teacher and creative writing mentor Kristina Olsson is the recipient of this year’s Johnno Award, presented by the Queensland Writers Centre for outstanding services to Queensland writers and writing.
Established in 2001, the Johnno Award is named for QWC founding patron David Malouf’s eponymous novel. David Malouf has achieved international recognition for his poetry and literary fiction, and Johnno is considered a seminal Queensland text.
The award, presented by the Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) on 7 December, recognises Kristina Olsson as ‘a wise, giving and inspirational teacher who has supported countless writers at all stages of development’.
QWC chair Andrea Baldwin said that Kristina’s dedication to fostering the art and craft of writing through many avenues made her stand out in a strong and diverse field of nominees.
A wide range of contributions to Queensland’s reading and writing life were recognized this year through the Johnno Awards Honours List. Speech pathologist Alice Owen was celebrated for founding Brotherhood of the Wordless, a group of writers who use Facilitated Communication to overcome speech difficulties. Tina Marie Clark was acknowledged for her services to children’s and young adult writing over the past fourteen years. Thea Biesheuvel is a tireless teacher, mentor, editor and publisher of new writers, particularly women. Bel Ellis’s bookshop Little Gnome offers a hub and haven for readers and independent authors in Wynnum. And Sean Mee has brought new Queensland writing to the stage over many decades in his roles with La Boite Theatre, Playlab, QUT Creative Industries Faculty, and now the Queensland Music Festival.
‘QWC has been helping to foster a vibrant culture of reading, writing and storytelling across Queensland for nearly thirty years,’ Andrea Baldwin said. ‘We are very proud to continue the Johnno tradition celebrating all that’s wonderful about our state, our stories, and the people who help tell them.’
Your best friend has read your manuscript, loved it, and said “This would make a great mini-series! I can just see Nicole Kidman as the main character! And remember how good Brisbane looked in Harrow on TV? You could be famous!”
You think, “I could do that!” – but how do you set about pitching your work?
Thinking of your favourite movies, or small screen binge-worthy sessions, is there some commonality with novels, biographies, or even true-fact material, that you have read that have made it to screens large and small?
Have you seen the movie of a book you’ve read and loved, and been disappointed by its adaptation to the screen? Or the reverse: a movie that surpassed the book on which it was based? What does a writer need to consider about their work, before pitching to a movie producer?
There are many well-known examples of movies adapted from novels, that have virtually eclipsed their books. How many people have actually read The Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, or, at over 1,000 pages, Gone with the Wind? These movies are such classics that they have effectively replaced their sources. And what about modern works such as The Book Thief, or The Dressmaker?
There are books that have been adapted many times – think Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: made into three TV mini-series, and no less than nine movies, including Bollywood and Hong Kong adaptations. Not content with these direct adaptations Great Expectations: the Untold Story was filmed in 1987 telling the convict Magwitch’s story: what might Dickens have thought of that?
Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted into films, musicals and ballets, and even used as political set pieces, as well as still being produced in theatres around the world in close to their original forms.
So what is it about these stories that make producers want to have a go at yet another remake? Is it the story line? The snappy or moving dialogue? The conflict and its resolution? The humour? The action? A great theme? A charismatic character? Yes, to all, or some of, these, and yet not all adaptations make it in the big-time at the box office. And then there are the ‘first-timers’, of which yours could be the next one.
The word ‘adaptation’ is intrinsic to the process of taking a novel to the screen. A book relies on the author’s words to create images and inspire the reader’s imagination and desire to read on in order to find out what happens next, or how issues and conflicts are resolved. A movie or TV show has to find the essence of the story using visual and auditory methods to communicate with the audience. So, what is the essence of a story?
Does your work have a narrative arc, or story line, that carries the plot and characters forward? What, in other words, will keep the audience glued to their seats for a couple of hours, where a reader may take a matter of days. The mantra of ‘show don’t tell’ is never more important than in film. Literally, a picture paints a thousand words. Scenes, interiors, a character’s physical appearance are there to be adapted and interpreted.
It is possible that a producer will see something in your work that you don’t see: or, shock horror(!), want to eliminate some parts of the work (perhaps a favourite scene or character?) in order to accentuate a narrative arc or character arc/development. Elements, such as a back story, sub plots, peripheral characters and polemical musings just may not make it into a screen adaptation.
A movie or mini-series adapted from your written work will rely on the efforts of a great many people – think of the list of credits at the end of any movie – and is capable of enhancing and extending your audience and demand for your work. All these aspects aside, to see your story, the outpouring from your mind, up on the screen is an exciting prospect – even if it takes nearly as long for that outcome as it may have taken you to get it to this point!
So: Go pitch! And the very best of luck!
The simple fact is that fiction and film are different: as authors we rarely, if ever, think about the cinematic aspects of our work.
Often a written work will set a seemingly impossible standard for adaptation, with long detailed sentences, page-spanning paragraphs and comprehensive descriptions outlining a characters’ thoughts. A screen adaptation will remove all that and focus on events. There is no denying the things that make a great written work, such as narration; interior thoughts of the characters and writing style may be disregarded in the visual adaptation of the work as it transitions onto the screen.
Knowing if your work could transition to screen successfully, can be difficult, but as a starting point consider if your story contains three essential elements:
- A relatable PROTAGONIST– someone the audience can identify with from the very commencement of the film.
- An EXTERNAL IMPETUS that the protagonist aims to achieve by the conclusion of the film. This generates a finish line, allowing the audience to be engaged with the characters journey.
- Putting everything on the line. This seemingly simple act allows the audience to share in the characters highs and lows throughout the film.
There’s no denying film is a VISUAL MEDIUM. So, consider that movie storylines must be easily expressed in a single sentence. Also keep in mind stories that are hard to categorize are also hard to sell compared to stories that deliver a relatable experience and offer a predictable outcome.
When considering these experiences, two quotes from Stephen King come to mind:
Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit but taste completely different.
I love the movies, and when I go to see a movie that’s been made from one of my books, I know that it isn’t going to be exactly like my novel because a lot of other people have interpreted it. But I also know it has an idea that I’ll like because that idea occurred to me, and I spent a year, or a year and a half of my life working on it.
That’s the allure of many adaptations. Even at their worst, they all work off ideas and concepts that were at one time unique and exciting enough to compel the author to write anywhere from 300 to 2,000 pages.
Start your exciting journey in the world of adaptation with Queensland Writers Centre and Screen Queensland by submitting your work into Adaptable.
Open to writers Australia wide, the contest accepts any genre, fiction or non-fiction, published or unpublished. The deadline for submissions is 3 December 2018, make sure you make the most of this fabulous opportunity.
Writing a book is the easy bit. Getting it into the hands of readers is another story. How hard could it be to publish a book?
The first draft was completed at the end of July and the lease on my apartment was up at the end of March the following year. That seems to be enough time to publish and organise a book tour.
From this premise, I embarked upon a journey that has been both fun and more like the cha-cha-cha than a 10k run.
While the book was being edited, I turned my efforts to organising a book tour starting in April or May.
I had attended a few “Meet the Author” events in local libraries so that seemed like a good place to start. As this point, I had no detailed plan, no route, and no timings apart from something vague. I rang a few libraries and was asked questions that I hadn’t thought about like ‘Do you have an extract of the book so we can read it?’ and ‘We’ll have a look at your website to find out more.’ Of course, neither were readily available.
This is part of the cha-cha-cha, a step forward, one back and then one to the side. The side in this instance was setting up an author platform. Fortunately, I had a website with blog posts published intermittently through the year. All I needed to do was increase the posts relating to the topic of the book. That really wasn’t hard. Phew! I could become an author, yet.
Creating an extract was simple, but it needed a cover as well. I am not a designer and all the webinars on indie publishing said ‘Don’t design your own book cover.’ I thought it’s only to give an idea, what’s the harm? Using Canva, a browser based software; I set about creating something simple, just to tide me over. Have you ever done this at home and ten years later still using that temporary thing? Well, it couldn’t happen here, could it?
I sent out emails to those who requested the extract along with a huge caveat that it was still in the process of being edited. A week later I had my first booking.
Doing a happy dance was an understatement. I am unsure I would be as excited if I had won $100,000.
This gave me confidence and momentum grew. Then, another library wanted a synopsis, author biography, photos of the book cover and of me by the close of play. Firstly, I needed to find out what to include in a synopsis and one that was only one paragraph. I sent my attempt off to Lori-Jay of the Queensland Writers Centre to see if it passed muster. A few amendments later and the library confirmed the booking. Things were starting to move.
There is one gap, an RV. Last week, a publisher appeared out of the ether, keen to publish and can meet my deadline of the end of January.
My level of excitement is high. I have four events booked, 26 more to go. I am also booked to speak at a networking event with 30 people in March.
My goal has always been to get the book in as many hands as possible and to take the book tour to places that may not be on the usual track. I will achieve this. All I need to do is promote the virtual book tour using social media before March 2019.
For nearly thirty years, the Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) has focused on supporting people who want to write. This year, we’re offering workshops for people who need to write in the course of their work and to help them achieve their professional goals.
Our professional writing workshops are staffed by experienced real-world instructors who pass on their writing skills in practical, engaging ways to ensure that the next time you’re writing a report, email or any other business document it won’t be a chore.
We recognise that both private and public service employees balance front-line responsibilities with administrative and management tasks that depend on writing. And by offering structured training to remove the stress of writing, we can help Queenslanders write words that are more rewarding, useful and valuable.
Whether you’re new to a role that requires professional writing, or you’ve been producing business documents for years, take a look at our professional writing courses to see how you can enhance your skills to make 2019 your best professional year so far.
Queensland author Karen Foxlee‘s new novel Lenny’s Book of Everything promises to be one of the biggest books of 2018, after Allen & Unwin (and the team behind Marcus Zusak’s phenomenally successful novel The Book Thief) secured the publishing rights in a fiercely-competitive seven-way auction. Ahead of its much-anticipated release on 24 October, QWC member and author Chloë Cooper spoke to Karen about the book.
CHLOË: Can you tell me, in your own words, what Lenny’s Book of Everything is about?
KAREN: In a nutshell, Lenny’s Book of Everything is the story of Davey—a young boy who, from the age of five, starts to grow and grow and grow. By the time he is seven, he is as tall as a tall man. His story is told by his older sister Lenny, who loves beetles more than anything in the world. She tells the story of Davey’s brief, remarkable life. Over the course of the story, which runs over a period of about two and a half years, they have an encyclopaedia set that arrives issue by issue to their letterbox. They live in a tiny little apartment with their single mother in a middle-sized city in the mid-West of the States, in Ohio. But, through the pages of the encyclopaedia issues, they experience the wonders of the world. Much of the story is about loss and grief, but it’s also about love and what a wonder it is to be alive.
What was the inspiration behind the story?
I had a rough idea, maybe ten years ago, after I wrote The Anatomy of Wings and thought that it would be my second book. I remember liking the idea of a single mother who has a child who just grows and grows. I tried and tried to write it, but nothing I did worked. So I just put it away and went on to write my other books. It was while I was doing the edits for A Most Magical Girl, which was a couple of years ago now, that the story, all of a sudden, started to call me again. It was really interesting. I tried to ignore it—I had to do those edits! When I finally got back to the story, the character Lenny was there; her voice was there. Straight away she said me the opening words that still start the story. It just felt like the right time to write it. My mum had died in the previous year, so I had all these things that I needed to sort out and think about. I think it was just the right time to deal with those big issues.
I loved the theme that the Burrell’s Build-it-at-Home Encyclopaedia provides. What was the inspiration behind this?
I’ve just always had this fascination with reference books. When I was eight, my family got an encyclopaedia set and that was a huge part of our lives. It was really quite life changing, actually. I tried to explore that idea and it ended up becoming such a huge part of the novel. I didn’t know how it would work when I sat down to write it, but when I did it just sort of became the metre of the novel. It kind of times the novel out, because issues arrive every week and they are going through the alphabet, learning about lots of lots of amazing things in the world… so I just went with it!
What was the best or most rewarding part of writing Lenny’s Book of Everything?
The most important part of any writing for me is bringing the characters to life. So seeing them all, draft after draft, just slowly coming to life on the page was very rewarding. I started to care about them all so much. Especially Cindy Spink, her story… I really love how she changed throughout the course of the story. Writing the book just made me really happy. Even though it is, at times, a sad book, it gave me a lot of hope.
What was the greatest challenge you faced in writing Lenny’s Book of Everything?
The ending is always very hard. I also found the whole thread about Great Bear Lake quite difficult—I can still get quite emotional when I think about it. The fact that they didn’t get to physically go there, but on some other levels they did. I’m funny about books and there’s probably a bit in every novel that I’ve written that can still make me cry. If it does, then I know that it’s worked.
Did your approach to writing this book differ from writing your previous books?
It did in a way. I felt, when I got to this story, that everything would be all right… the story was kind of all there. Usually, I just take so long to wallow around and I don’t really know what the story is about. But this one was different. Sure, I didn’t have everything mapped out and I did discover a lot of things on the way, but I just knew pretty quickly what the story was going to be. So that was quite different for me. And I think I just felt more confident. It’s taken me a while to feel a bit more confident in myself as a writer. But I think that grows with every story. This time around, I knew what I wanted to do and how I was going to do it. I don’t know why, but this was one of the easiest novels I’ve written.
Did you draw on any of your own personal experiences when writing the book?
I have a brother, so I did try and draw a little bit on our relationship; just some of the funny, silly things you do with your siblings when you are young. I definitely drew on personal experience with the character of Cindy—I’m a single mother who works two jobs, so I know exactly the kind of exhaustion she feels. That’s pretty authentic. And I guess also, the joy of opening up those encyclopaedia pages. I really did think a lot about when I was a kid and what that kind of knowledge meant when it came into our house.
Why did you decide to set the book in America?
I didn’t actually decide. It sounds weird, I know! Originally, I thought that the story was set in Australia. When I sat down to write it, all I had was Lenny’s voice. She started to tell the story and I was just kind of mucking around with her voice in the beginning, seeing what she could tell me. She kept talking about this place called Second Street, which is the street they live on. I was trying to imagine that in my mind and it just didn’t seem Australian. It looked American. And I thought, well that can’t be right, there’s no way I can do that, that’s too hard, I can’t set it somewhere else. But, you know, A Most Magical Girl was set in Victorian London and the book before that was set in an unknown city at the top of the world where it always snows. So I told myself to stop thinking about it and just write. I started to describe the street first and then it grew and I could really see it. I never had a name for the place—the publishers made me give it a name. A couple of times I thought that I could still change this, I could make it in Australia, I could make it in England, but by that stage I already had Great Bear Lake and I just knew it was where it was meant to be. So it’s fictional, it’s a completely fictional place, but it’s kind of a mix of places I’ve seen in the States and also stuff from TV and books and my imagination.
What books and authors have had the greatest influence on you as a writer?
My influences are quite diverse. I will always remember The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I just love the story so much and it had such an influence on me and made me really want to become a better writer. I also love Ian McEwan and Philip Pullman… Philip Pullman wrote the most perfect fantasy novel… and Ruth Rendell—I’ve read every single book that she’s ever written because she does people so well. And I love the beauty of fairy tales, especially when I’m writing for children.
You work full time as a nurse—how do you manage to fit in your writing?
I’ve had a very good run at times, and I should never ever complain… Ophelia and the Marvellous Boys did very well overseas, so I was able to have a couple of years off. During that time I wrote The Most Magical Girl and Lenny’s Book of Everything. So there have been periods when I have been able to live the dream and write full time, but mostly it’s always been working and trying to write, working and trying to write… which, I guess is what most people do. It would be better to just live the dream, though!
What would you like readers to take away from reading Lenny’s Book of Everything?
I would like them to take away a sense of what a cracker of a miracle it is to be alive… what a wonderful world we live in and how much there is to learn and know. I think, also, a sense of hope that these difficult things in life can be faced. And, above all, love—all the different kinds of love there are in the world: neighbourly love, motherly love, sibling love, and the love between friends.
Chloë Cooper is a writer and a bookseller at Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane. She regularly interviews authors at Avid Reader and has appeared as a book reviewer on Radio National’s show The Bookshelf. Her work has appeared in The Lifted Brow, Overland, Kill Your Darlings, and others. You can find more of her work at chloecooper.net.
By Melinda Rogers, content specialist
Enhancing reputation, driving engagement and building success are crucial in every organisation. One way to achieve this is by developing a solid content strategy to underpin your business objectives. So what exactly is a content strategy, and why does your business need one?
To put it simply, a content strategy is about getting the right content, to the right user, at the right time. Content comes in many forms and utilises many platforms, ranging from video, blogs, brochures, articles and social media posts to something as simple as the wording on your business card. Standing out as a brand relies on producing meaningful and memorable content.
Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) has opened submissions for this year’s Manuscript Development Program, delivered in partnership with Hachette Australia, and for the first time is accepting Young Adult (YA) and general nonfiction entries.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the QWC/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program is a unique creative and professional development opportunity designed to support emerging writers from across the Australia to refine an existing manuscript over a four-day intensive retreat.
The program, which saw nearly 200 entries last year, has led to publication outcomes for scores of authors including Favel Parrett, Inga Simpson, Victoria Carless, Rajith Savanadasa, Charlotte Nash, Christopher Currie, Phillipa Fioretti, Darryl R Dymock, Pamela Cook, Kali Napier, Cathy McLennan, Sarah Ridout, Laura Elvery and many more.
“We are so proud to be celebrating ten years of our partnership with Hachette,” QWC CEO Lori-Jay Ellis said. “We look forward to once again shining a light on the very best emerging writers in Australia and helping them to develop their craft and career opportunities.”
“All at Hachette are incredibly proud of this program, ” Hachette Australia Group Publishing Director Fiona Hazard, said. “This is the tenth year, and we are delighted to have helped develop some stellar Australian literary talent over this time.”
“Our support of this program reflects Hachette Australia’s dedication to the Australian writing community. I am sure the next ten years will uncover more outstanding storytellers and look forward to the entries this tenth birthday year will bring.”
Up to 10 writers will be shortlisted to take part in the development program, a four-day retreat to be held in Brisbane, early in 2019. During that time, the successful applicants will work with Hachette Australia publishers, editors and authors to develop and refine their manuscripts.
The selected writers will also have the opportunity to take part in networking events with industry leaders, learning about the business of writing and establishing a writing career.
Applications Close: Friday 17th August at 5pm AEST
The short-list will be announced in November 2018
For more information and to arrange interviews:
Chris Currie, Queensland Writers Centre
07 3842 9952
NOTES TO ENTRANTS:
The QWC/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program is a creative and professional development program for emerging writers from across Australia. The program does not guarantee publication, but is designed to support emerging writers to refine a manuscript.
Delivered as a retreat over three days, the program provides successful applicants with feedback on their manuscript from Hachette Australia publishers, editors and authors; training to support their writing career and access to industry professionals through networking events.
The Manuscript Development Program has supported more than 60 authors since the program began in 2008. The program continues to be an important pathway to publication for Australian emerging writers.
For the first time in the program’s 10-year history, general nonfiction and Young Adult (YA) manuscripts will be considered. The program is open to emerging writers who, for the purpose of this program, are defined as writers who are unpublished or with no more than one commercially or independently published work.
2018 Program Submissions Open: Monday 2 July
2018 Program Submission Close: 5pm (AEST), Friday 17 August
$55 (plus GST)– Public
$50 (plus GST) – QWC members and members of any of the following Australian State Writers Centres:
- ACT Writers Centre
- Writing NSW
- NT Writers’ Centre
- Writers SA
- Tasmanian Writers’ Centre
- Writers Victoria
- Writing WA
To Apply: Post the Application Form with the first 50 pages of your manuscript and a one-page synopsis to QWC at the address below:
QWC/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program
c/o Queensland Writers Centre
PO Box 3488
South Brisbane QLD 4101
The Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) is a not-for-profit membership organisation that supports, celebrates and showcases Queensland writers and writing in all its forms. We work with our members and partners to promote a vibrant and diverse writing community across Queensland.
We are the leading support and resource centre for writers in Queensland, offering a comprehensive online and in-person range of services as well as information and advice for anyone interested in writing, whatever your level of experience of writing ambition.
QWC member Deborah Lee Terranova has been awarded a Q ANZAC Fellowship at the announcement of the recently announced State Library of Queensland fellowships.
It was one of nine fellowships and awards, collectively worth more than $100,000, announced at the Queensland Memory Awards ceremony in Brisbane.
Dr Jennifer Moffatt, the winner of the $20,000 John Oxley Library Fellowship, will explore a little-known ballot that helped shape the development of Queensland for more than a century.
In the 1950s more than half the land distributed in Queensland involved this lottery-style system, and Dr Moffatt’s research will bring new understanding to the state’s early pioneers and squatters.
The Queensland Memory Awards are celebrated annually and acknowledge excellence in research and the creation of new knowledge about Queensland’s history.
A major outcome of the fellowship program is to bring State Library’s vast collections to life and make their content and stories accessible to all.
2018 AWARD WINNERS:
- John Oxley Library Fellowship ($20,000) — Dr Jennifer Moffatt
(The story of Queensland’s selectors: how those who won land in a ballot contributed to Queensland’s social, economic and political development)
- John Oxley Library Award (posthumous) — Ian Poole
The professional photographer donated, arranged and described around 100,000 negatives, colour transparencies, photographic prints and scrapbooks for State Library
- John Oxley Library Community History Award — Yugambeh Museum, Language and Heritage Research Centre
Yugambeh Museum has developed its own language app to encourage young people and the wider public to engage with Aboriginal languages and heritage
- Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship ($15,000) — Hilary Davies
(History of the Canada Cycle and Motor Agency Ltd – one of Queensland’s major motor businesses)
- Letty Katts Award ($5,000) — Professor Peter Roennfeldt
(Brisbane’s Albert Hall 1901–1968: celebrating memory and heritage of a major performance venue)
- Q ANZAC 100: Memories for a New Generation Fellowships (4 x $15,000)
- Dr Martin Kerby (A war imagined: Queensland and the Great War)
- Dr Anastasia Dukova (Queensland Police and the Great War Effort)
- Deborah Lee Terranova (Queensland women and war: a multicultural perspective of the experiences of female civilians during World War II)
- Elaine Acworth (Put out into the deep — digital fellowship)