Lucy V Hay ‘Criminally Good’ Advice

After reading Lucy V Hay’s two informative books “Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays” and “How NOT to Write Female Characters” the next logical step was to subscribe to her website and learn more.

The first thing I noticed was that Lucy is very active and her site holds a plethora of information. Then I was delighted to receive a free copy of The Lynmouth Stories, three of Lucy’s short stories titled “In Plain Sight”, “Killing Me Softly” and “Hell and High Water”, twisters which certainly pack a psychological punch.

Here’s what it says on her website—

Lucy is an author and script editor, living in Devon with her husband, three children and six cats. She is the associate producer of Brit Thrillers Deviation (2012) and Assassin (2015) both starring Danny Dyer. See Lucy’s IMDB page HERE and other movies and short films she’s been involved in, HERE.

In addition to script reading and writing her own novels, Lucy also blogs about the writing process, screenwriting, genre, careers and motivation and much more at her blog Bang2write, one of the most-hit writing sites in the UK. Sign up for updates from B2W and receive a free 28 page ebook (PDF) on how NOT to write female characters, HERE or click the pic on her website.

For more scriptchat, leads and links, join Lucy’s online writing group, Bang2writers. It’s something I am going to explore further!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

ADDENDUM—For a free copy of The Lynmouth Stories and more, join Lucy’s EMAIL LIST—My post heading comes from the title of Lucy’s email CRIMINALLY GOOD where she interviews fellow crime writers and asks them five questions.  She says “It’s fascinating to read their answers, especially as they are all so different!”  Today I have the choice of Ian Rankin, Sophie Hannah or Peter James. GBW. 

Inspector Carlyle ‘The Circus’ by James Craig

Not so much a circus as a train.  Or a circus on a train.  Not a speeding train, not the Orient Express, not even a suburban train.  This book is a fully loaded interstate train heading inexorably towards a broken bridge over a river.  Along the way, passengers are jostled around, some jump out the doors, most get drunk in the dining carriage, several are angry and the rest are bemused.

Inspector John Carlyle is the most bemused of them all

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This series has an arresting array of bookcovers

I love a criminal book, you can comment hard!

Somewhere along a distant track I had stopped reading James Craig’s Inspector Carlyle series and this fourth book refreshed my memory.  It contains such a high level of macho rubbish, female exploitation and smarmy politics that it is well past the read-by date.

It is astounding that the book doesn’t run off the rails with the ludicrous amount of murders

If Inspector Carlyle didn’t have off-sider Joe Szyszkowski and other sensible police personnel to back him up, he would still be floundering for answers at the end of the ill-fated journey.  Maybe he’s on the wrong train?  He gets cranky and often causes ‘accidents’ to himself and others due to his own dullness.  Yes, he gets bashed up but never thinks his nemesis and ugly thug Trevor Miller knows where he lives – operative words ‘never thinks’.  Miller is now the Prime Minister’s security adviser and totally out of control.

Unreliable Narrator 03

When it comes to using high-end brand names, from beer to clothes, watches to furniture and a plethora of cafés, this story takes the cake.  Or biscuit if you are Carlyle who pays more attention to topping up his blood sugar levels and imbibing strong coffee than policing.  The ending will have you spluttering in your coffee, it is beyond contrived.

 

Published in 2013, the political issues and phone tapping scandal is old.  The dialogue is old, most characters give a neutral “Hm” when asked to respond.  There are too many hands placed on arms, too many raised eyebrows; and the plentiful white males POV often switches to an omnipotent narrator.

For me, the best character is the City of London

Without alcohol the stratagem would flounder, trim the sexual abuse and the chapters would be less, without repeat paragraphs like Carlyle whining about the declining standards of UK newspapers this book would be blessedly shorter.  And without packing in umpteen suspects from the Prime Minister to residents of greater London, this whole book would not have dragged on and could have been more effective.

Good grief, there are over 9 more books…

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Pen Paper Clipart Boy Holding PencilPublisher synopsis

https://www.hachette.com.au/james-craig/the-circus

“When the body of journalist Duncan Brown is found in the back of a rubbish truck, Inspector John Carlyle is thrown into the middle of a scandal that threatens to expose the corrupt links between the police, the political establishment and the hugely powerful Zenger media group.

Hunting down Brown’s killer, Carlyle finds himself going head-to-head with his nemesis, Trevor Miller.  A former police officer turned security adviser to the Prime Minister, Miller has dirty money in his pockets and other people’s blood on his hands.  Untouchable until now, he is prepared to kill again to protect his position – having failed once already to dispose of Carlyle he is not prepared to slip up again.”

Review ‘A Very Unusual Pursuit’ by Catherine Jinks

Book review

Birdie McAdam is a bogler’s assistant, a stout defender of Alfred Bunce and his unusual profession.  The ‘unusual’ relates to luring and eradicating child-eating bogles by using Birdie as bait.  Her songs sometimes quaver when a foul bogle monster leaves its lair but she holds firm.  A spear and split second timing is needed and old Alfred is the man for the job.

Before reading Catherine Jinks adult novel ‘Shepherd’ I read her children’s trilogy City of Orphans.  These stories captured my interest from the first page and held it to the last.  Following the adventures of young orphan Birdie McAdam, a lively, focused girl with a beautiful singing voice, I soon blended into the damp, grimy streets of 1870s London.

After the messy demise of a chimney bogle in a fancy parlour, the story kicks up a notch with overlapping events; Fagan-like Sarah Pickles with her young thieves and no scruples; well-to-do Miss Eames with an interest in mythology and rehabilitating young Birdie; and evil Dr Morton, a man with a heart as ugly as a bogle.  And, of course, the markets and docklands of London.

I love the levels of intrigue, grim deeds, and disagreeable behaviour which surround Birdie and Alfred.
As true protagonists, they rise to every challenge.
Birdie has entertaining friends, although she wouldn’t admit that to rascals Ned or Jem.
These lads get to shine in books two and three.
Characters are clearly and consistently written.
Together they overcome hardship and show concern for each other.
There is great strength of purpose when adversity strikes.

The fast-moving chapters are vividly written and although I am not the target audience, each time the tension rose I held my breath.  This plot builds and moves forward with fortitude, the second book in sight.  All three books are well worth reading, and while the mood may get darker and the bogles may get messier, the sequence of events lead to a very satisfying conclusion.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward 

My postscript

Poetry Clipart 08Bookcovers, like those beauties above, hold a certain fascination for me.  Way back I did a blog post about it.  In this instance, the publication of different titles and different artwork in overseas countries let me down.  They are nothing like the bookcovers shown here, their titles don’t capture the atmosphere of the era nor do the illustrations recreate how the bogles are described.  Gotta love marketing.  GBW.


About the author

Catherine Jinks, Australia (b.1963)  http://catherinejinks.com/

Catherine is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction.  In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.

Catherine Jinks Author Photograph 02Catherine Jinks was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.  She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television.  She gets her ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films.

The author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, Catherine writes whenever she gets a spare moment, and could write for eight hours straight if she had the chance.  She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.

Series

City of Orphans trilogy

  1.  A Very Unusual Pursuit (2013)
    or  How to Catch a Bogle
  2.  A Very Peculiar Plague (2013)
    or A Plague of Bogles
  3.  A Very Singular Guild (2013)
    or The Last Bogler

Pagan Chronicles

  1. Pagan’s Crusade (1994)
  2. Pagan in Exile (2004)
  3. Pagan’s Vows (2004)
  4. Pagan’s Scribe (2005)
  5. Pagan’s Daughter (2006)

Allie’s Ghost Hunters

  1. Eglantine (2002) – very quirky story.
  2. Eustace (2003)
  3. Eloise (2005)
  4. Elysium (2007)

Genius

  1. Evil Genius (2005)
  2. Genius Squad (2008)
  3. The Genius Wars (2010)

Rebecca Johnson Workshop with Juliet Nearly A Vet

First, some info on Juliet Nearly A Vet children’s series before I launch into my one and a half hour experience hosted by Book Links and Write Links at their centre for children’s literature.


JULIET NEARLY A VET
series by REBECCA JOHNSON

Juliet wants to be a vet when she grows up, but when she decides she needs to start practicing, her wonderful misadventures begin.  With gorgeous illustrations by local illustrator Kyla May.

“Hi! I’m Juliet. I’m ten years old. And I’m nearly a vet!  We’re off on a school camp to the rainforest. Chelsea, Maisy and I are excited about all the different animals we might spot on our nature walks and torchlight treks. Chelsea is NOT excited about the creepy crawlies we might find! I’ve brought my vet-kit along just in case we find any animals in need of help . . .”

Ages 6 – 9 years old
Book info click here


VET CADETS
series by REBECCA JOHNSON

A wonderful series about three smart, funny, animal-loving girls solving mysteries and causing chaos at their country boarding school.

“Abbey, Hannah and Talika are new recruits at Willowvale boarding school’s Vet Cadets program. Mrs Parry, their science teacher, has given each of the girls a chick to raise and train, but not everyone is happy about it!  When a game of horseback hide-and-seek turns into a matter of life and death, rules are broken and the friends’ courage sorely tested. This time, a solution might be out of the Vet Cadets’ hands . . .”

Ages 9 – 11 years old
Book info click here


AUTHOR PROFILE

Rebecca Johnson is an award-winning Australian author and primary-school science teacher who has written more than 100 children’s books.  Her works include the Steve Parish Story Book collection, Juliet Nearly A Vet series, Vet Cadet series, Insect series, and Steve Parish Reptiles & Amphibians Story Book range.

Author info https://rebeccajohnson.com.au/
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaJohnsonAuthor/


Rebecca Johnson Children's Author 02
ONE AND A HALF HOUR WORKSHOP

Rebecca Johnson spoke about how she became a published author and what inspired her stories.  Her two current series are based on her own childhood experiences, both as a young vet ‘assistant’ and then as a horse-riding teenage animal detective.

Her writing style has allowed her to find the balance between working part-time and writing.  She talked about the importance of verbal pitching in the early part of a writer’s career; know your story and speak passionately about it.

Rebecca was open and honest in all she discussed, particularly the challenges of marketing your first book once it has been published.  On the subject of payment, royalties and earning a decent income, Rebecca felt a book series worked better.

I jotted down a number of points; from having an agent, to evolving your books as your reading audience grows.  Interestingly, in this age of the internet, Rebecca hasn’t physically met Kyla May, her book illustrator.

A fascinating aspect from Rebecca’s talk is her use of a book tie-in and children’s conventions based on her Juliet Nearly A Vet books.  She ordered 1,000 vet kits child-size with working stethoscopes and white lab coats—spectacular to say the least.  And children obviously have a wonderful time learning about animals and caring for their toy pets!


CONCLUSION

My main takeaway from this workshop was “Write what you know, do the hard yards, continually promote your books” as well as attending events, libraries, Book Week.  I applaud Rebecca Johnson for the detail and length of her workshop, and the fact that she happily answered every question.

POSTSCRIPT

A friend of mine, children’s writer Artelle Lenthall, challenged me to nominate 7 of my favourite bookcovers and post one every day for 7 days on Facebook.  I have chosen 7 of my favourite bookcovers from Juliet Nearly A Vet series and will post them at 7.00pm each evening.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Peter Corris Crime Writer Cliff Hardy Crime Fighter

Peter Corris 01
The final Peter Corris crime novel featuring PI Cliff Hardy.

A few years ago I was going through a rough patch in my professional and personal life.  I wanted to close the door and read, read, read myself back to normality.

Search and ye shall read

The trouble was I hadn’t seriously knuckled down and read a well-written book for a long time.  I felt distanced from northern hemisphere writers (what’s snow?) and never really got the whole Scandi-noir buzz.  Several genres, including the ambiguous literary fiction, didn’t hold my interest.  I felt I needed comedy, something I could relate to and laugh at.  Also I wanted characters and places I understood, and possibly had visited.

Readers of my blog will know I like quirky writing so, rather than reach for self-help books, I began to search for way-out humour on the library shelves.  Unfortunately back then humorous Australian writers were thin on the ground so I hung around the bookshops until the next Thursday Next dilemma or Ankh-Morpork debacle was published.  Yes, Messrs Fforde and Pratchett saved my sanity with their insane books.

From comedy to crime

After trial and error, and iffy recommendations from friends, I discovered Australian crime writers.  The good old Aussie turn-of-phrase drags me in every time.  I know the cities, the vast distances between those cities, the weather, the beaches, the Great Dividing Range, the smell of gum trees and especially the food.  Our food is a mish-mash of many cultures but in there somewhere is real Aussie tucker and nobody does a Chiko Roll or TimTam like we do.  And our criminals are a bit special too.

I read in no particular order (and by no means all our contemporary crime writers) Garry Disher, Kerry Greenwood, Peter Temple, Leigh Redhead, Geoffrey McGeachin, Jane Harper, Robert G. Barrett, Honey Brown, Matthew Condon, Emma Viskic, Adrian McKinty (adopted Irishman) Candice Fox, Shane Maloney, Barry Maitland, Michael Robotham and my absolute all-time favourite, the iconic Peter Corris.

Peter Corris 04And Peter Corris came with Sydney private investigator Cliff Hardy

Peter Robert Corris (8 May 1942 – 30 August 2018) was an Australian academic, historian, journalist, biographer and novelist of historical and crime fiction.  As a crime fiction writer, he was described as “the Godfather of contemporary Australian crime-writing”.  After writing 42 books in his PI Cliff Hardy series, from 1980 to 2017, Corris announced in January 2017 that he would no longer be writing novels owing to “creeping blindness” because of type-1 diabetes and passed away the next year.

Naturally I was saddened to learn of his death but it hit me in another way.  I never wrote and told him how his Cliff Hardy books lead me into the badlands and showed me that my life was all right.  Well, in comparison to the criminal underworld Hardy inhabited.  Despite the sleaze, the drugs, the murder, Hardy had his own set of morals, he was a good judge of character and played fair.  However, he knew how to defend himself and fought hard when necessary.  Forget that it’s fiction.  Compared to his daily grind, I had nothing to worry about.

As Bowie said Ch-ch-ch-Changes

These Corris crime novels also documented a changing way of life through Hardy, especially the Sydney cityscape and his beloved Newtown.  For nearly 40 years, semi-permanent characters came and went, and mobile phones and laptops took hold.  High tech digital devices and spyware increased; electronic locks, security cameras and internet surveillance replaced skeleton keys and good old shoulder-to-the-door.  I feel the loss of a metal filing cabinet, its papers viewed by torchlight in the middle of the night.

But through it all, Corris always managed to side-step technology, keeping Hardy real, doing the leg work, nailing the bad guy.  His astute observations of human nature, and how he wrote plausible characters, made me feel I’d just met a crooked barrister or a smarmy crime baron.

Peter Corris 02

The book on the right is one of my favourites.  Recognise the bridge?  These days I do read more widely but I’m missing my yearly dose of hard-boiled Hardy—to use Corris’ own description.

Below I have listed all the Cliff Hardy books even though it doesn’t have the visual appeal of the bookcovers.  If you wish to check out more about each story, please visit Allen & Unwin Publishers website:

https://www.allenandunwin.com/authors/c/peter-corris

But—do authors and their books really die?

There could be reprints, anniversary issue, possible screenplay, theatre adaptation, prequel, or Grandson of Hardy for younger readers.  I won’t give away the ending of the last book because I expect you to BINGE READ the complete oeuvre, then see for yourself whether or not you like Cliff Hardy’s final installment.

My sincere condolences to Jean Bedford, wife of Peter Corris, and his family.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


PI Cliff Hardy book series

The Dying Trade        (1980)
White Meat                 (1981)
The Marvelous Boy   (1982)
The Empty Beach      (1983)
Heroin Annie and Other Cliff Hardy Stories (1984)
The Big Drop and Other Cliff Hardy Stories  (1985)
Make Me Rich             (1985)
The Greenwich Apartments (1986)
Deal Me Out                (1986)
The January Zone      (1987)
The Man in the Shadows: Cliff Hardy Omnibus (1988)
O’Fear                          (1990)
Wet Graves                 (1991)
Aftershock                  (1992)
Beware of the Dog    (1992)
Burn and Other Stories (1993)
Matrimonial Causes (1993)
Casino                          (1994)
The Reward                (1997)
The Washington Club (1997)
Forget Me If You Can  (1997)
The Black Prince         (1998)
The Other Side of Sorrow (1999)
Lugarno                        (2001)
Salt and Blood             (2002)
Master’s Mates            (2003)
Taking Care of Business (2004)
The Coast Road           (2004)
Saving Billie                (2005)
The Undertow             (2007)
Appeal Denied            (2008)
The Big Score: Cliff Hardy Cases (2008)
Open File                      (2009)
Deep Water                  (2009)
Torn Apart                   (2010)
Follow the Money       (2011)
Comeback                     (2012)
The Dunbar Case         (2013)
Silent Kill                      (2014)
Gun Control                 (2015)
That Empty Feeling    (2016)
Win, Lose or Draw     (2017)

NOTE: “See You at the Toxteth” Published by Allen & Unwin August 2019
https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/fiction/See-You-at-the-Toxteth-Peter-Corris-9781760875633
A selection of stories compiled by Jean Bedford featuring Australia’s favourite PI, plus unpublished writing by Peter Corris on crime.

Peter Corris 03
The first Peter Corris crime novel featuring PI Cliff Hardy.

Rare Book Auction and Alumni Book Fair PART ONE

So excited, I’ve never been to a rare book auction.  In fact, I have never been to an auction.  It’s not something which cropped up in my everyday life and I must admit from what I’ve seen on television, it can get pretty fast and furious.

There’s always the horror of twitching an eyebrow and accidentally bidding for a hugely expensive volume of poetry, the only book of its kind in the world, which has to stay in a glass case.  Well, not exactly, but you get the idea.

MY COMMENTARY INTERSPERSED WITH IMAGES

The University of Queensland Alumni Book Fair and Rare Book Auction will be held at St Lucia Campus, Brisbane, over four days on the weekend of Friday 3 May to Monday 6 May 2019 – Monday being Labour Day holiday in Queensland – see UQ website for various times.

HOW DID I FIND OUT ABOUT THIS RARE BOOK AUCTION?

Last month, I attended a talk at University of Queensland’s Long Pocket Campus, home of the University of Queensland Press, or UQP as it is fondly known, the oldest independent publishing house in Australia with an illustrious stable of authors.  I browsed some of the newly published books on offer, grabbed a coffee and sat with other attendees to absorb an informative talk from the Publishing Director, right down to choosing bookcovers.

We broke for a tasty lunch then listened to the ins-and-outs of publishing publicity, Selling The Brand.  Another world really but invaluable knowledge for a writer.  Our group participated in a Q&A quiz about books and authors.  I threw up my hand and answered correctly, winning myself a new novel ‘The Geography of Friendship’ by Sally Piper which I will read and review.

DOWN A HILL AND UP A HILL . . .

Afterwards, we all trooped outside, down a hill and up a hill through the lush native gardens to where the Archives live.  Amongst the thousands of new and used books donated every year, there are rare and valuable tomes, well-kept considering their age.  On the shelving, behold every genre, every topic, every format imaginable.  And nearly every item in the Junior Section held nostalgia for me.  It is here I learned about the UQ Alumni Rare Book Auction 6pm on Friday 3 May 2019.

BROWSE AND BUY – TAKE A TROLLEY – BOOK VOLUNTEERS WELCOME

I will have to leave you hanging, dear reader, because I will write Part Two when I’ve actually been to the Rare Book Auction in Fryer Library which itself is full of literary treasures.  See you there?

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Here is MORE tantalising information:
http://books.alumnifriendsuq.com/rare-book-auction/
and http://books.alumnifriendsuq.com/charles-kingsford-smith-at-the-the-uq-alumni-book-fair-and-rare-book-auction/

Plus BONUS extras so you can jump ahead:
Part Two
https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2019/05/05/rare-book-auction-and-uq-alumni-book-fair-part-two/
Part Three https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2019/05/08/rare-book-auction-and-uq-alumni-book-fair-part-three/


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UQ Duhig Tower Forgan Smith Fryer Library
UQ Forgan Smith Building, Duhig Tower to Fryer Library

Three Things #5

Bookshelf for ABC Radio 04

One post with three acts READING LOOKING THINKING based on the format started by innovative blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley of Book Jotter.  

Her invitation to participate offers a change from THINKING to DOING if that suits your purpose but my TBR is backing up and I need to list seven of the books I desperately WANT TO READ—which, er, goes over the Three Things limit.  I just want to blab about these great books 😃 GBW.


These two books are side-by-side because they involve food and drink.

Todd Alexander

has written a humorous memoir of his escape to the country.  I did hear him at an author talk but he didn’t divulge the full story.  ‘Thirty Thousand Bottles of Wine and a Pig Called Helga’ is sometimes sad, sometimes gruesome but I’m hoping it’s an uplifting story of the joys of living on the land.
http://www.toddalexander.com.au/

Maria Donovan

set her novel ‘The Chicken Soup Murder’ against the backdrop of real events in 2012, a time in Michael’s life when everything is turned upside down.  Cricket, football and the seaside are woven through the story as he strives to make sense of the changes involving death, suspicious neighbours and a school bully.
https://mariadonovan.com/


This is a mixed bag of goodies sharing the same photographic background.

Sally Piper

has golden wattle on her bookcover (I’m allergic to pollen) but the inside of ‘The Geography of Friendship’ greatly appeals to me.  The blurb reads ‘We can’t ever go back, but some journeys require walking the same path again’.  I won this novel at UQP behind-the-scenes publishing event.
http://www.sallypiper.com/

David Malouf

is an Australian icon.  I couldn’t begin to details his many and varied works here but his poetry is brilliant.  The ‘An Open Book’ flyleaf reads ‘Malouf reminds us of the ways poetry, music and creativity enrich our lives . . . about the dynamics of what escapes and what remains’.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Malouf

Simon Cleary

lives in my city of Brisbane.  He has written two novels about war and its devastation.  ‘The War Artist’ . . . ‘tackles the legacy of the Afghanistan war and the crippling psychological damage of PTSD’ and follows the shattered life of Brigadier James Phelan when he returns to Australia.
http://www.simoncleary.com/

Katherine Battersby

writes the most adorable children’s picture books.  I have been a fan of Squish Rabbit since his first appearance and assisted Katherine at one of her library book launches.  Forty children were expected and 140 turned up!  ‘Squish Rabbit’s Pet’ is my favourite so far; profound and endearing.
https://katherinebattersby.com/


I love bold bookcovers which alone tell a tiny bit of the story.

Hank Green

was recommended to me by a librarian with hair dyed pink, orange and green.  A reader of quirky books like me (although my hairstyle is more conservative) she advised that this book is a bit different.  And, yes, he’s the brother of John.

I have to say I have no idea what is in store for me with ‘An Absolutely Remarkable Thing’ so I will just leave you with the quote ‘In Hank Green’s sweeping, cinematic debut novel, a young woman becomes an overnight celebrity when her YouTube video goes viral . . . but there’s something bigger and stranger going on’.
https://www.hankgreen.com/


printable-times-new-roman-alphabet-stencilRight, that’s it, the seven books I’m going to read—not counting those on my ereader—now comes the wait until I post my book reviews.
Ciao for now!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Poetry Journey of Kate O’Neil

The personal experiences of poet Kate O’Neil offer a diverse and interesting look into the creative world of poetry.

After chatting to Kate over our shared memories of the old poem ‘Wynken, Blynken and Nod’ she kindly showed me her ‘waking up’ version (excerpt below) which fits beautifully with the original.  Kate then agreed to answer some tricky questions for me and her responses are both thoughtful and revealing.


Welcome, Kate!

Kate-ONeil-2001

Thank you so much for your time.
My favourite poem of yours is short and sweet; ‘Paragliders Bald Hill Lookout’ invokes in my mind’s eye vivid colour, movement and summer days at the beach.
Talking of short and sweet, I recall asking you which would you choose ‘Lollipop or Cake?’ and you immediately said ‘Cake’, supplying a recipe with almonds smothered on top.  I can identify with that!
I had read your work on Australian Children’s Poetry under Kate O’Neil and recently discovered your real name is Dianne Cook.  You explain why in our Q&A, and give readers a peek behind the scenes of your poetry life.

Okay, let’s get those thoughts into words…


What highlights stand out in your poetry journey?

I’ve been hanging out with poetry for most of my life, so there have been lots of decades for highlights to happen in.

Highlights of poetry reading still happen with amazing frequency.  They began when I first realised what magical particles words and sounds are, and what selection, arrangement, combination – even omission, can play in shaping and delivering meaning.  There were the ‘greats’ I studied at school – some fantastic stuff there, and I’ve stored many riches from them.  But the thing is – poetry keeps on coming.  There are poets all over the world publishing collections, submitting to competitions and anthologies and magazines – and sharing a way of seeing.  Some poems have knocked me flat, left me breathless.  Some have lifted me to heaven; it’s a great ride.

There have been highlights of poetry writing, too.  For years the only public airing of my poems was in eisteddfod performances by drama students for whom I had written them (but who did not know this – hence my use of a pen-name).  There have been lovely moments hearing something performed well.

A major ‘highlight’ was having my submission to the inaugural (and only) Manchester Writing for Children prize short-listed.  This competition was set up by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s team at Manchester Uni.

There have been some wonderful outcomes from this.  These poems were published in Let in the Stars, the competition anthology, and one of them has since been chosen for inclusion by Roger McGough in his anthology Happy PoemsAND I have kept in touch with several other poets in the book.  I love the book.  I love so many of the poems in it, and the illustrations (by Manchester art students) are wonderful.

Since then I’ve made successful submissions to several magazines and anthologies – for adults and children.  See ‘Cool Poems’ information further down.  And I keep on submitting – (loads of rejections, of course).

Kate O'Neil Bookcovers 2019
See OOPS! at the end of Q&A for more book details.

Is there a significant thread through your creativity?

I would say not.  If anyone ever notices one I‘d like to be told.  At the Manchester Prize event, Mandy Coe (one of the judges) commented that I write in a variety of voices / styles.  She suggested it might be the influence of drama teaching.  I don’t know if that was praise or not.  Aren’t we writers meant to ‘find our voice’?

What challenges do you face when beginning a poem?

Nothing like the challenges of finishing it.  If a beginning (or middle) pops into my head at an inconvenient moment, I fear it will vanish if I don’t get it down on paper or in the notes on my phone.  This makes my amount of ‘screen time’ look dangerous.

Are you inspired or influenced by another poet?

Inevitably, and I could never know how many.  I’ve done some online workshops recently with UK poet Wendy Pratt, whose work I admire.  She, and others in the group, have helped me tighten my writing.  Lots of deleting went on.

Can you name just one of your favourite poems?

James Carter UK Children's Poet
James Carter UK Children’s Poet

You are asking this of someone whose word files are loaded with favourites!  If they are in the cloud, it will rain my favourite poems one day.  What if I narrow this to ‘favourite poem for children’?  Or better still, ‘favourite concrete / shape poem for children’?  I can do that.  It’s ‘The Moon Speaks!’ by James Carter.  It’s on his website:

http://www.jamescarterpoet.co.uk/poems.html

What is your definition of a successful poem?

This is getting difficult.  There are so many ways in which a poem can succeed (or fail).  I think I’d rate a poem’s success (for me) by the state I’m in after reading it.

How did you feel about poetry when growing up?

I’ve probably answered this in the first question.  I had no discrimination, but anything with rhyme, rhythm, sound patterns, imagery caught my attention.  Hymns, advertising jingles, greeting cards, bush ballads…

Do you draw on your own childhood memories?

Yes, at times, but much of that grist is still very much in the mill.

Kate O'Neil Poetry Cool Poems 04
Excerpt from Kate O’Neil verse expanding on the traditional children’s poem.

Have you experienced an awkward poetry moment?

Mostly private ones. (‘What? Did I really write that?’)

Are you a day dreamer or do you plan significant goals?

Genetically inclined to dreaming, but I try to impose goals to counter this.  (Hence the Wendy Pratt courses which involved writing on a prompt a day for four of the past six months).

Can you give us a hint about your work-in-progress?

‘Progress’ plays tricks on me? I have drafts of picture books, a chapter book, jottings for poems – ALL OVER THE SHOP!  Sometimes something gets finished, usually unexpectedly, usually when I think I am working on something else – and I send it somewhere.  Results are mixed.  This morning, for instance, I learned I have TWO poems long-listed in a comp (adult) and they will be published in an anthology.  Last week I sent off a poem I quite liked to The School Magazine just before I left for Sydney.  By the time I got there it had been rejected.

Do you have some guiding words for emerging poets?

I think it better to share another poet’s words that have guided me.  The main one is READ.

Jo Bell web image credit Lee Allen
Jo Bell web image credit Lee Allen

Jo Bell quote:  “If there is one thing I want you to take from this book, it is this: Nobody writes good poetry without reading good poetry.  Those who don’t take this seriously invariably write cliched, derivative and unoriginal work – just what we all want to avoid – because they aren’t aware of the context in which they are writing.”

‘52: A Year of Poetry Writing Prompts’  p11.  Jo Bell   Nine Arches Press 2015

Poetry Clipart 04

OOPS!  I haven’t mentioned the publication last year of my ‘Cool Poems’.  This was a major highlight!  The book belongs in a series published by Triple D Press, Wagga Wagga NSW.  It was a nail-biting thing to have a book which would sit alongside collections by Australians Bill Scott, Anne Bell, Colin Thiele, Christobel Mattingley and Max Fatchen.  Many thanks to Zita Denholm (Triple D) and Christina Booth (illustrator) for helping it happen.

Di Bates, editor of Buzz Words Magazine, wrote a lovely review on 23 December 2018 ‘Buzz Words: Cool Poems’.

The book Cool Poems’ can be ordered through my website www.kateoneil.com.au or by messaging me through Facebook.

Front-Cover-for-web
‘Cool Poems’ The Kate O’Neil Reciter, illustrations Christina Booth, publisher Triple D Books.


Thank you, Kate!

It has been delightful making your acquaintance and learning more about the workings behind your poetry.  I look forward to reading many more of your beautiful poems.  Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Poetry Clipart 09

My Elusive Career as an Aspiring Writer

Attention span of a puppy? Pushed for time? “Publishing is a long game. As they say, you have to be a stayer if you want to be a player. Even if your book is only 500 words!” said Jen Storer, children’s author and chief inspirationalist at Girl & Duck.com when discussing the pitted path to publishing.  I intended writing a three-part posting on my literary travails but here they are in one glorious chunk.

Kids Storytime 02
PROLOGUE After reading countless children’s picture books for Storytime in a public library, it became obvious to me what worked and what didn’t with a live audience. I thought it was about time I tried to write my own children’s book.

WARNING – THIS IS A LONG BLOG POST WHICH RAMBLES OVER EIGHTEEN MONTHS OF MY WRITING LIFE – CAFFEINATED BEVERAGE RECOMMENDED.

 

CHAPTER ONE The Plan. Work up slowly with a picture book maximum of 500 words for age 0-5, step into small chapter books for age 6-8 with 20,000 words, graduate to a decent sized book of 25,000 for teenagers then launch myself into young adult. Well, perhaps not young adult, could get a bit messy in the emotions department. Hopefully, maybe, I could consider penning a series. Something humorous and fun, with a good plot and memorable characters. An attention-grabbing theme, a zany bookcover and before you can say Harry Potter, I’m flying high, riding the wave of published author!

Er, right.  The truth of the matter is that I knew full well I had no experience.  Career shattered before it began?IMG_20170531_184235

In steps the many writer’s workshops and online courses available to the newbie.  Or as they say in the trade “emerging author”.  Plus a local writer’s club SWWQ, State writers centre, Facebook groups and a conference or two.  (List of website links at end of page). Not forgetting the self-help books – anyone who’s ever written a book and had it published with moderate success seems to qualify as an adviser on the subject of literary rules. The do’s and don’ts, the routines, the voice, the need for originality, the best way to grab an editor’s attention, grammar, plot structure, plotter or pantser, show don’t tell, how to sell yourself, and the list goes on.

CHAPTER TWO First up, I enrolled in an expensive online course which certainly got me motivated but not by the moderator or the tutor. The other participants were withdrawn and really didn’t share. And the course notes were a little outdated. Yes, I know “Where The Wild Things Are” is a classic but hundreds of good, if not better, books have been published since then, with far more appeal. And I don’t really like the artwork.

Ah, artwork. You can write the words for a picture book but you can’t have it illustrated by an artist of your choosing. The publisher does that. And we all know we have different ideas when it comes to imagination and imagery. If you write and illustrate your own picture book, it has to be of exceptional standard. I can do pen and pencil drawings but they wouldn’t cut it. I’m much better with basic colour-in stuff. Which doesn’t sell.

Click link Saving

Tree Without Leaves 09

Grandpa’s Tree

Then came the face-to-face classroom workshops which were fun. Lots of buzzing people with buzzing ideas and questions. Isn’t it surprising that when it comes to reading out your own work, people clam up? Not me. I always read out my stuff and one story was later fleshed out into a decent read “Saving Grandpa’s Tree”. However, it hasn’t attracted anyone’s attention yet.

CHAPTER THREE The big thing among creatives is to attend a yearly conference or festival in another State, necessitating a weekend away. I think a conference is meant to be more serious than a festival with serious lectures, serious note-taking and serious editor appraisals.  I have a small green notebook riddled with notes. A festival has all manner of literary people chatting on stage, with microphone feedback, showing wonky PowerPoint slides, supplemented with drinks and nibbles and a lot of networking.

Daily Things Egg Bookmarks Kookaburra (3)
Just like anywhere else, unless you are seen as someone who has “made it” you are not worthy of a business card exchange. And bookmarks, phew, I could wallpaper my room with all the industry bookmarks floating around.

 

IMG_20171228_193003

At these displays of verbose literary knowledge (excluding The Duck Pond – see below) I always wear my name badge. Nobody remembers my name and I don’t remember theirs but we compare notes, likes and dislikes and complain about the way the event is organised and the length of the queues. Usually the food tastes as good as it looks.  Of course, the better the quality, the quicker the goodies are consumed. Never cram your mouth because someone will ask you a question, and never spill anything down your front because you will be asked to step up the front to speak.

I’m going to pen a small piece on the Judith Rossell weekend writers retreat I attended at historic Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, Victoria.  Amazing vibe!  We don’t have many older buildings in Brisbane with such history.  I have organised, promoted and hosted author talks and, believe me, not all are created equal.  Will save that story for another time.

CHAPTER FOUR For well over a year, I submitted children’s picture book manuscripts to a myriad of publishers in Australia and overseas and have received only two rejections. I think the silence is worse than those two polite rejection letters. Surely, in this day and age, it wouldn’t take two seconds for the office junior to email a rejection to the poor, desperate writer at the other end.

RequiremeManuscripts.nts Of Submission occasionally want physical copies and I’ve gone the old A4 paper route, Times New Roman (no glitter in the envelope, big no-no) with clean easy-to-read layout and still not heard a word. Does that mean I’m no good or the publishing houses are totally swamped? Harking back to that office junior, who didn’t send me an email, I could get bitter. They are the first readers of unsolicited manuscripts which forces me to cry “What do they know? My literary reading is decades ahead of theirs.” Sadly, they know the trends. A new writer cannot predict trends. Nor can they single-handedly make them.

The scariest thing I’ve done (apart from hosting an avant-garde Shakespeare theatre troupe and judging a YA writing competition) was Literary Speed Dating; five minutes of torture in which you have to sell yourself and your manuscript.  A bell rings and, if you haven’t collapsed, you go to the next editor’s table.  And the next...and the next...A woman in my queue was eight months pregnant and the summer heat was ferocious but she coped better than all of us.  A book contract?  I hope the others were successful.  At least that woman has a baby now.

CHAPTER FIVE After becoming thoroughly disenchanted with the children’s book industry, I started up my own WordPress blog and thought “I’ll just do what I like and if anyone notices, that’s okay” but I didn’t hold my breath. Prepare to be amazed – 409 million people view more than 20.8 billion pages each month on WordPress, and users produce about 77.0 million new posts and 42.7 million new comments each month, an estimation of six new WordPress.com posts every second. Those stats have probably changed while I type, but it’s still a shedload of competition. It takes a lot to shine. Who’s going to read me and my miscellaneous Blogging Image 04ramblings? Recently I had 385 Followers but I culled the spammers and that number dropped back drastically.

I’ve discovered that personal stuff gets the most hits but specialising is not my thing.  Although I blog about many things, I still like the idea of kidlit. Notice that term? I’m getting good with the industry terms. Copy edit, structural edit, narrative arc, protagonist, antagonist … I subscribe to the newsletters of publishers, book stores, State organisations, libraries, writing groups, children’s literary charities and other book-reading bloggers like Paula Bardell-Hedley (see below). So far, I’ve come across a lot of WordPress book reviewers and enjoy their commentary. Personal opinion is a great thing, just not something I always agree with when it comes to books. Honesty compels me to admit that my leisure reading is not nursery rhymes, it’s a good crime novel.

CHAPTER SIX In between life, I volunteer at special events and displays at State Library and offer my free time closer to home in a charity shop bookroom. What an eye opener! Certainly a book for every customer, young or old; and quite a mixture of clientele. The shelves are browsed with all the fervent devotion of a high-end bookstore in the city. Without the price tag. And a few bent bookcovers and rusty pages thrown in. Behind the scenes, the staff are just as interesting. Again, will save that story for another time.

“But what of your picture book career?” Glad you asked. Confession time. Deep down my literary urge begins to lean towards writing for adults BUT I join Creative Kids Tales, an online group for emerging authors which specialises in children’s literature.  By this time I was doubtful that this was my true calling (after all, one can only take so many unsent rejection letters) and was oscillating between adult works and the perfect kids book.  I hung in there.

Truly Tan BooksEach month CKT features a different aspiring writer with a successfully published author. One author captured my imagination, Jen Storer of Girl & Duck.com An Enid Blyton lover, Jen shows an intelligent, vibrant nature, an honest, straight forward approach to writing and I like her children’s books, especially Truly Tan series.  Jen was starting a Facebook group The Duck Pond, inviting kidlit creatives to join, and the rest is magic.

CHAPTER SEVEN I’m pretty much a founding member of The Duck Pond and recently their creatives group Scribbles was added which I also joined. Membership grows weekly, and Jen does weekly Q&Q (questions and quacks) videos on YouTube. Apart from sudden Facebook drop-ins on screen, Jen does one-hour Scribbles Live Rounds and members tune in from around the world. Kidlit help is always at hand and the expertise of members is far-reaching.  The slogan “The rule is there are no rules” is true to its word. Jen says “Do the verk”.  Immersion is the only way and I’ve learned so much about writing books and the book industry generally.

Scribbles Live Round Participant 2018

An author/illustrator, Jen Storer believes is having fun and being messy, “Mess creates clarity”. The Scribblers course is for writers and illustrators and it encourages everyone to work without restrictions.  Quell that inner critic!  There are set Modules with exercises which you do at your own pace but following the easy guidelines so that your words just flow. I’ve experienced writing freely and unfettered and being surprised and pleased with the results. Honestly, with Jen’s prompts, I’ve had so many ideas I could be writing for years. Of course, submitting a manuscript isn’t messy, it has to be refined and polished. Jen is ex-publishing house so she know those ropes.

Now, the cruncher. I adore The Duck Pond group camaraderie and "doing the verk" but I am not a fan of the circus called Facebook. Nor do I participate in other social media like Twitter, Google, Instagram, etc. “Click this, view that, Like page” get lost. In a short space of time I have witnessed two great bloggers over-extend themselves to the detriment of their output.  I like to think I am not spreading myself too thinly!

CHAPTER EIGHT I’m loving my WordPress blog, the layout, the posts, changing photos, the full control I have over my content. Which reminds me, in the past I have submitted reviews and editorials to organisations who have edited or altered my work without my prior consent, which is apparently their prerogative, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I don’t – especially when they muck up a sentence to make it shorter or change paragraphing. So, dear reader, this leaves me in literary limbo.

Star Twinkle Twinkle 01CONGRATULATIONS – IF YOU REACHED THIS POINT WITHOUT SKIPPING BITS.

What is next in my literary journey? Will I shine? Over 18 months, and varying lengths of commitment, I have happily entered writing competitions (two Third Place awards and shortlisted) and completed a magazine writers course, travel writing course, children’s writing, crime writing, romance writers workshop, non-fiction-fest, lampooned the Australian publishing industry, and still don’t know what genre I want to pursue. I know it’s too late to become a ‘proper’ writer, contrary to what dear Jen Storer says in her passionate YouTube video A Slap Down For An Ageist Society I think I have missed the boat. I am passed my publishable prime. It’s no good lamenting the fact that I represent Gustav Freytag’s five-part story structure. I had a younger life to live and it didn’t include lonely, lengthy periods sitting at a keyboard. It does now.

EPILOGUE Sure, I can happily write to my heart’s content but who’s interested? Don’t answer that, please. Suffice to say I will dabble, making my miscellaneous Thoughts Become Words for my own pleasure because I can’t stop writing. Basically, that’s what it all boils down to, in the end we are doing it for ourselves. If someone else likes it, that’s a hefty bonus.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Paula Bardell-Hedley WP Book Blogger IN APPRECIATION – This post is dedicated to WordPress blogger Paula Bardell-Hedley for her great reviews, ideas, encouragement and super organisational skills
https://bookjotter.com/
https://thoughtsbecomewords.com/2018/04/02/dhq-dewithon19/
and I get a mention in Winding Up
https://bookjotter.com/2018/04/06/winding-up-the-week-13/


RELEVANT GROUPS AND ORGANISATIONS:
CKT https://www.creativekidstales.com.au/
AWC https://www.writerscentre.com.au/
QWC https://qldwriters.org.au/
BCC https://www.brisbane.qld.gov.au/facilities-recreation/libraries/opening-hours-locations/brisbane-square-library
CYA http://www.cyaconference.com/
KLV http://www.kidlitvic.com/
ILF https://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/
SD https://www.storydogs.org.au/
FF https://www.fantasticfiction.com/
BWF http://uplit.com.au/
G&D https://girlandduck.com/
A&U https://www.allenandunwin.com/being-a-writer/getting-published/advice-from-a-publisher
SWWQ http://womenwritersqld.org.au/

Book Covers Tell Too Much

Books Bookshelf Old Volumes

Can you tell a book by its cover?  Sure you can!  Just the same as an individual’s personality and clothing can tell something about them, a book lures the reader with an enticing cover image.  That visual reveal, a hint of what’s hidden within the book is a very important marketing tool.

A contemporary bookcover, no matter what the genre or category, has to be identifiable.  It has to look good on publicity material, it has to create a mood and it has to appeal to its target audience.  The font style, back cover blurb and all-important artwork join together to get you interested enough to part with your money.  Unless you are borrowing the book from your local library.  Nevertheless, you will still be interested in that lurid hardback in your hand because it promises so much…just look at that out-of-context quote from a famous author who said “chilling depth” and “sizzling romance” from a “writer with imagination”.

Millions of modern eye-catching bookcovers are perfectly serviceable and practicable and sensible and don’t mislead the intended reader.  It can be argued that bookcover images only hint at a small portion of the entire book.  But, as a person who reads books very closely, I disagree.  I like to make my own assumptions and not be misled by skewed artistry.

Thus I start my LONG bookcover show-and-tell, documenting that which has annoyed me for some time – the all-to-obvious artwork on bookcovers, those illustrations which give the game away.

  • The reveal: I loathe it when the crime bookcover shows the pivotal moment in the book. A dead giveaway!  Is that the graphic artist’s fault for reading the front and back page?  Is it the publisher’s fault for handing out the last chapter?
  • Bookcover clue giveaway: I have just finished a police procedural and the creepy black-and-white cover photo with a rundown house on the hill encircled by barbed wire is actually where the bodies are buried. No kidding, I knew every time the detective went up that hill, he was darn stupid.  Or the one with the sketch of a child on a rocking horse holding a scythe over her shoulder – storyline crumbles before it starts.  Worth mentioning that a rocking horse was not even in the story.
  • Vignettes snipped from a chapter: Like historical fiction “Golden Hill”, where a sketch of the hero is seen on the bookcover leaping across a roof top in true Hollywood style, no doubt aimed at action-loving readers, when the bulk of the story revolves around cruel social hierarchy.
  • A mystery novel: Well, murder actually because several people end up getting killed. This illustration managed to ruin the first three punchlines in the first three chapters.  Not to mention the good guy is seen working in the downstairs office window when his office is upstairs.  Plus the red motorbike heading up the road outside is meant to be him, at the same time.  Lovely drawing but couldn’t they have chosen something more accurate?
  • Overcooked Clones:  There’s the hand frozen in ice (guess how the victim dies) there’s the bridge across the river (guess how the victim dies) there’s the threat (a big dark old building) there’s a corrupt political serial killer millionaire mowing his way through rich widowed neurotic socialites on board his yacht (guess how the victims die) or bones poking out of the earth…black crow…wolf in snow…lonely highway…stark tree…dropped gun…body part…the train racing through the underground station…all overdone crime tropes.
  • To quote Tim Kreider, essayist: “The main principles of design—in books…is your product must be bold and eye-catching and conspicuously different from everyone else’s, but not too much! Which is why the covers of most contemporary books all look disturbingly the same, as if inbred.”  Which leads into––
  • Dark silhouette: I, for one, thoroughly dislike the brooding male or female silhouette in a heavy coat, head down, walking toward a menacing city skyline/bridge on a rain-soaked evening. Boring!  The stock standard photo silhouette has been on countless bookcovers for years.  Think of Lee Child.
  • Expected bookcovers or Clone II:  Why does (1) Romance have the obligatory well-developed over-muscled man and well-developed bust-overflowing woman, and (2) Literary fiction has a sedate, toned, almost elegant layout with a design which purrs good taste?  (3) Non-fiction is so varied it usually has just a colour photo with a word overlay.  (4) Historical fiction will have a woman in period costume gazing at house or hillside.  (5) Children’s books, fantasy and science fiction have a place all their own.  Renegades breaking up the predictable.
  • Flip side: An irrelevant illustration. There are obscure bookcovers like “The Midnight Promise” with two hands shaking as though in agreement when the Promise is nothing like that image.  At least it gave me something to ponder.
  • World-wide: I’m commenting on English language publications and referring to p-books and e-books. I’ve mentioned arbitrary books I have read and tried not to name them.  However, the same book published in different countries gets a different bookcover.  This is where designers and image stock can become tricksy.  I have seen translated children’s books looking very adult, young adult books looking too adult, and adult books looking sugary sweet, e.g. cosy mystery covers with blood-thirsty content between the pages.

Book Sliced Up on Plate with Knife

BONUS:  Terry Pratchett’s bookcovers by artists Josh Kirby and Paul Kidby tell a detailed story.  With fiction, decide how closely you should look.  Decide if you want to undermine the plot.  You may not even notice pictorial clues!  Ask yourself if you are exercising your own freewill, or are you conditioned by a generic bookcover image.

Link to superb 20th century bookcovers from The Paris Review:
https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2018/02/22/twelve-illustrated-dust-jackets/

Today, the mass market book illustrators, the image makers, appear to acquire design inspiration from their clinical, perfectly sculptured computer programs.  Perhaps they should visit an art gallery, or see what’s shakin’ in the real world, then tell that miserable silhouette model to get lost.

Never stop reading!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Postscript : A Tiny Bit of History : Literature has changed in more ways than one over the centuries.  Illuminated manuscripts gave way to smaller volumes with dust covers/jackets in 1820s Regency, then refined in 1920s to make hardback books more attractive.  Before this the majority of bookcovers were a plain single colour with gold embossed wording and little adornment.  Swanky ones did have lithographs or a portrait frontispiece.  It is considered that 1930s paperback printing changed the course of bookcover art.

Lorna Doone by R D Blackmore
Lorna Doone by R D Blackmore