Category Archives: Writing

Paying for Our Passion – Lucy Sussex interviews Fergus Hume

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

This week’s post is a very special one. If Australia had a spec fic Hall of Fame, Lucy Sussex would be one of the first names listed (though she is another New Zealander we have appropriated for ourselves). Lucy has a glittering bibliography and a reputation as one of the best in the business. Added to that, it seems Lucy has another talent hitherto unrevealed–as a medium. Below you will find an interview with spirit of 19th Century author, Fergus Hume (the subject of Lucy’s latest book: Blockbuster: Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab) where he tells us about his own struggles to get his work published and his foray in self publishing. It seems that paying for our passion is not a problem limited to the modern era!

How do you find a ghost? Well, take a punt on one of his haunts, which a man, in the afterlife, might find pleasing. So I find him, on a fine autumn day, lazing on a bench in the Fitzroy gardens. The shade of Fergus Hume is at first unremarkable, as he was in life: a small dark man in well-tailored tweeds, only the fruity moustache and the bowler hat in his hand indicating his nineteenth-century origins. Who would think he wrote the best-selling detective novel of the 1800s?

“Mr Hume, I presume?” Damn, it sounds like a musical hall routine, of the sort he wrote. All he wanted to be was a successful dramatist and he ended up a crime writer.

A courteous inclination of the head, and I sit down beside him, with my copy of The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. “I would ask you to sign, but…”

“My apologies. I do not go in for automatic writing. Conan Doyle is the spiritualist, you might try him.”

“Can I at least request a short interview with you?”

Again that inclination. He does not mind.

“It will appear in a series, Paying for Your Passion, with various writers.”

“Ah yes, you can say I did that.”  His voice was described as being like corduroy–soft, warm, and raspy from smoking.

“Did your father really insist you complete a law degree before taking up writing?”

A faint sigh behind the moustache. “He was a practical Scot, and a hard man. It made a successful Madhouse keeper, but was difficult in a parent.”

“It was said you had no enthusiasm for the law.”

“Not at all, but I worked diligently at it. I was ever a hard worker.”

“You never practiced the law?”

“Being a law clerk allowed me more time to write: poetry, light operas, plays. And to attend the theatre and make useful friends.”

“Networking, we call it.”

“An interesting neologism, suggestive of crochet.”

At this point an autumn leaf falls right through him.

“But you couldn’t get the theatre managers in Melbourne to put on your plays.”

“They said colonial brains didn’t pay.”

“We call it the cultural cringe.”

“Apt, that.”

“So you wrote a novel.”

A smile. “I asked the bookshops what was selling: detective novels by Gaboriau. So I bought a passel of them, read them all, and wrote The Mystery of a Hansom Cab. I plotted it first, over weeks, then sat down and wrote.  Then, the villain being insufficiently concealed, I rewrote.”

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“Then you couldn’t get the publishers to take it either.”

This time he grimaces.

“So you self-published. An edition of 5000–huge for the time. Is it true you got the money by playing the stockmarket?”

“It makes for a good story.” Neither confirming nor denying.

“And you delivered the books to shops in a hansom cab and then drove around the suburbs as an advertisment?”

“The things we do for our art!” But the memory is clearly pleasant.

“And then it sold out, and you had to hastily reprint.”

“All I wanted was to draw attention to myself as a writer!”

“It worked.”

“Beyond my wildest dreams.” Drily.

“Famously you sold the copyright to the English edition, because you didn’t believe a colonial book would succeed overseas.”

“I got fifty pounds for it, a good price. But had I known…”

“Indeed.”

“And you never had such a success again.”

“But I could write, which I loved, and made a living from it, and never had to return to the law, which frankly I hated.”

“140 novels. And you never made it as a playwright.”

“It was Karma.”

“In a previous life, you said, you were a French aristocrat, guillotined in the Revolution.”

A shudder. “I can recall the feel of the blade still. What we do in one life, affects the others, through birth after birth.”

“You paid for your passion.”

“Assuredly. But to be Fergus Hume was not such a bad life.”

“So in your later lives, were you reincarnated as a successful playwright? Or movie scriptwriter?”

That smile again, but wide. “Now that would  be telling. I think you have had entirely enough of my time. And I have a film to attend.”

“One of your own, that you wrote in your future life?'”

A very knowing laugh, before he dematerialises, leaving me alone on the park bench, and the sun darting behind a cloud.

I can only conclude I guessed right. Damn, who is he now?

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Lucy Sussex was born in New Zealand. She has abiding interests in women’s lives, Australiana, and crime fiction. She has also edited four anthologies, including She’s Fantastical (1995), shortlisted for the World Fantasy Award. Her award-winning fiction includes the novel, The Scarlet Rider (1996, reprint Ticonderoga 2015).  She has five short story collections; and has edited the work of Ellen Davitt and Mary Fortune. Her Women Writers and Detectives in the Nineteenth Century (2012) examines the mothers of the mystery genre. Her latest project is Blockbuster: Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (Text).

Paying for Our Passion – Nicole Murphy

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

Today’s guest is one of those people without whose efforts and generous contribution of their time the Aussie spec fic community would probably grind to a halt. Since I have been around, Nicole Murphy has not only made me feel personally very welcome, but has been involved in the organisation of many of the events I have attended and enjoyed the most. She also has an excellent straight face–I wouldn’t play poker with her!  When you realise all that is on top of being a very prolific and talented writer, it gives you an idea of the level of her achievements. Here you can see how hard she has worked to get to that point.

The things you do for your writing career…

The year was 2007. I was working through my ‘Operation No-Regrets’ project—a list of all the things I wished I’d done in my life. I was doing one per month, culminating in my 40th birthday, where I would have no regrets.

Projects like that tend to focus your thinking and bring thing you hadn’t realised to the forefront of your mind. So, I was lying in bed one night and I had this clear mental image. It was me, on my death bed. I’d never had a novel published and as I lay dying, I thought to myself, ‘Maybe if I’d tried harder…’

There’s a lot of reason to never have a novel published (note we’re talking traditional publishing—the rise of self-publishing has turned the ability to have your words out to public on its head). You might have terminal bad timing and always submit a book weeks after the publisher bought something similar. You could write a product so niche a publisher can’t sell enough to make it worthwhile. You could actually not be a good enough writer (a fear that never leaves you). But NO WAY was the reason going to be that I didn’t try hard enough. I swore that writing, and publication, was going to be the focus of my life. If I got to the end and it didn’t happen, it damn well wasn’t going to be because I didn’t give it my all.

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This left me in a dilemma. At the time I was working as a journalist, and I hadn’t written any fiction for some time. For me, the source of words for both jobs was the same, and journalism was running me dry. It just so happened that it was time for me to leave my current employer. I had a choice—continue either as a journalist (or even move into a communications roles in the government and make more money) or leave the industry all together and find a job that freed my mind and soul to focus on my writing (and take a pay cut in the process).

In February 2008 I left journalism and in March 2008 I started working at Aldi. An easy job that didn’t take up my words. A pay cut, true, but Hubby and I made it work.

The new job was just one part of the commitment. I also had to commit fully to my writing. For the next two years I had just one day off per year (Christmas Day). Every other day, I was at the supermarket or I was writing. When I worked the late shift, I wrote in the morning.

It worked. By November 2008 I had a novel I called ‘Love in Control’, the first book in an urban fantasy trilogy, ready for submitting. I bypassed getting an agent and submitted myself. In July 2009 I sold the trilogy to HarperVoyager and in July 2010, ‘Secret Ones’ (formerly ‘Love in Control’) was released. The other two books came out in 2011.

I had to leave Aldi in 2010 because of back injuries. Hubby decided he was doing well enough to support me so I wrote full time for two years, pumping out the words and doing all the promotion I could.

Forward to April 2012—Hubby had a stroke. My lovely writing full time life was over. I nevermade enough money to make writing lucrative, so I had to return to work.
COV_DreamOfAsarlaiI made an error. I forgot my vow that writing and publication were going to be the focus of my life. I think I was lulled into a false expectancy by how lovely my life had been. I write fast, you see. So full-time, I only needed the morning to achieve what I wanted. I had my afternoons free for whatever. Sometimes, I got bored and took on new projects. So I thought I’d have time to focus, and do a cool job.

When I went for jobs, I didn’t look for easy jobs like Aldi. Instead, I got a job as a conference organiser—acknowledged by many work experts as one of the most stressful jobs around.

I kept up my writing. I reset my goals and it now takes 10-11 weeks to draft a 110k novel, rather than seven weeks (faaaast writer). I get up early (and I hate getting out of bed) every morning to write as much as I can before I got to work. For a while, I kept up my promotional work too (generally by giving up at least one day of the weekend). Then, I started to rely on writing weekends or retreats (where I could write full time) to keep up with my deadlines.

Kept up I did—since 2013 I’ve had another six books published, bringing my total publications thus far to nine books (eight novels, one collection of novellas). But each became more rushed, the deadline harder to hit. And the promotional work less and less…

And so begins 2015, which is in the running for the worst year of my life for a variety of reasons. One is work, which has taken over my life. From mid-March to mid-May, I doubt I wrote more than ten thousand words. Thankfully I spoke to publishers I’m contracted with and as a result, I’m not as far behind on my deadlines as I would have been if I’d kept to my original 2015 deadline (I was supposed to write 240k in the year—now it’s just 130k). Nevertheless, in order to ensure the rest of the year works, I’m in the process of drafting an 80k novel in five weeks.

Alleluia annual leave and a writing weekend with friends.

While on my week of leave, I remembered that vow and realised how far I’d slipped from it. I had a book come out June 8. Best you don’t know that. Why? I’ve been too busy/exhausted to do any promotion.

So, once again, I face a choice. Stay in a job that I often love (although the stress is sometimes unbearable) with workmates I like, or go find an easier job that will free my mind and soul to focus on my writing.

I think you can all guess what the answer will be.

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Nicole Murphy is a cross-genre writer who also publishes under the name Elizabeth Dunk. She’s had nine books published: The Dream of Asarlai trilogy (urban fantasy), the Jorda trilogy (science fiction romance), two contemporary romances and a collection of paranormal erotica novellas. She has a further six books contracted to be published over the next three years. Her current day job is as a conference organiser, but she’s hoping to change that so she can re-focus on her dream of a career as a writer. She lives in Queanbeyan with her husband Tim (a champion croquet player) and their two budgies—Freddy and Casper.

Paying for Our Passion – Jean Gilbert

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

As I have previously mentioned, my trip to New Zealand resulted in me meeting a heap of new people, and they made me feel incredibly welcome. Not only were they extremely friendly, but there is a massive concentration of talented writers in NZ, and today another one of them joins us–Jean Gilbert! 

I have two jobs, one as a surgical assistant, the other, as a writer.  I spend around 20 hours or more a week on each.  Though I’d love to write full time as a career, I don’t make enough yet to give up my day job. I still need to bring in some money to help supplement the household income. It is hard being divided between to jobs.

I work for a Paediatric Dental specialist, both surgical and clinical. This is a mentally challenging job. There is no room for mistakes. Concentration must be complete at all times. So when I come home, and I have to write, it becomes a challenge because by this point, I am mentally exhausted. To compensate, I have to lie down and have a mental break (nap) so that I can start afresh.  Otherwise writing became a struggle, and led to frustration, and a sense of unworthy. On the days I don’t work, I do a lot better, and am more productive in my writing.

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For a while, I was drifting, writing when I felt inspired, instead of viewing it as a job.  It was when there were a lot of family issues, health and otherwise, and I used writing as a means of escape, a place where I was in control when my world was falling apart around me. As you can imagine, it took me longer to write my first novel.  That’s when I introduced a schedule, and made myself stick to it, which meant sometimes turning down fun things like socializing with friends and family, reading, movies, TV, even vacations, all sacrificed on the alter of producing a piece of work by a deadline. I missed out on summer this year to meet monthly word counts.

Was it worth it?

Yes.

A schedule may be painful, but it works. And when the family gets involved in the decision-making, everyone is happy. They can’t come back and say that they want you for this or that when you’re in the middle of writing. You just point to the schedule that they agreed upon. Of course, I try to be flexible when I can be. But a deadline is a deadline, even when it’s of my own making.

Shifter ebook cover

At first, my family didn’t understand my passion.  They thought it was just a thing that would fade away. But now, they are very supportive, giving me the time I need to write, criticism when I ask for it, encouragement when I’m low, and money to support my works.  It wasn’t always this way, and for a time I struggle alone, not being able to share my joy and pain with anyone. But that has all changed, and for now, things are good.

As far as money is concerned, I haven’t made enough to pay for my writing yet. So, I have to use the family money to pay for things like editing, artwork, book covers, advertising, trips, etc. It adds up.  The cost is figured into the budget. Some things I have to pass on or postpone because the money isn’t there for it.

It is hard to get noticed without money to push your work out there.

I write, not for the money, but because of the love of the story. The story is what keeps me going, and if it brings other people pleasure, well, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

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Speculative writer Jean Gilbert moved from Virginia, U.S. to New Zealand in 2005, and has since called the Waikato Valley (the Shire) her home. Jean is a Core member of SpecFicNZ, and is also the coordinator for SpecFicNZ Central.  Jean’s latest science fiction novels are titled Shifters and Ardus from the Vault Agency Series published by Rogue House Publishing. You can find her short stories in Baby Teeth: Bite Size Tales of Terror published by Paper Road Press, and Pride in Contact Light Anthology.  Read more about Jean at www.jeangilbert.com, or visit her on Twitter and Facebook.

Paying for Our Passion – Leife Shallcross

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the reception that this series has received–and all credit goes to the people who provided me with such wonderful and deeply honest posts–and the way people have signal boosted and supported it. One person who has given some great feedback and support is the very talented Leife Shallcross, so I am especially happy to have her here today.

I’ve always had a bit of a love affair with the written word. I read voraciously as a kid. I managed to wrangle my Arts degree so it was about 85 per cent English Literature subjects. And, as long as I can remember, I’ve always made up stories – sometimes even writing them down. But in 2011 I decided I was going to take my writing seriously (although I will admit I had no idea at the time what that actually even meant.) My kids were at a manageable age (7 and 9), no longer needing quite the level of hands-on parenting that they had done; I was still working part-time, and I’d finally worked out that writing twisty fairy tales wasn’t a phase I was ever going to grow out of. Plus I had finally produced a short story that I thought might be kind of OK.

I joined my local writers centre, did a few workshops, and started receiving their weekly newsletter. Reading this one day, I saw a submission call for an anthology being put together by a local group, a strange and arcane sounding organisation called the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. Heh.

I agonised. I obsessively checked my manuscript for errant apostrophes. I tried to work out what the best font to use was. Double spacing, or 1.5? How many returns between the title and the first paragraph? Who knew? I hit send.

It got accepted.

I got my first publication credit and made $30 out of that story, but more importantly, it was a catalyst for getting involved in an incredibly knowledgeable and generous community of writers who today are my most invaluable support as a writer. And that, boys and girls, was when I started learning about what it took to be a “real” writer.

I figured out pretty quickly that, for me, getting a level of discipline around my writing practice was going to be a struggle. And this is always going to be my Achilles Heel. Unless the muse is running hot, the temptation to just check FB, or just play one round of Plants vs Zombies is always going to be there. Like most of us, I’ve learned that there’s a better chance of my muse showing up if I make proper time for her, and then act like she’s there, even when she isn’t. So I decided to treat this writing thing like a second job; a small business I am trying to get off the ground (which, essentially, it is.)

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So what did I give up to do this? The obvious things: time with my family, TV, other creative hobbies. I still work not-quite-full-time, so a small chunk of income. But for me, the main thing has been sleep. This sacrifice has been both voluntary and involuntary. I am naturally a night owl. Until 2013 I mostly did my writing at night, after the kids were in bed, with a precious weekly Sunday morning session in bed with my laptop and a cup of tea. The consequence of my night time writing was twofold: firstly, it meant that unless I was really disciplined about it (ugh, there’s that discipline word again), I’d inevitably sit down at 11pm at night and be tired and uninspired and anxious about getting my wordage done and getting to bed at a time that didn’t threaten to derail my paid job and my relationship with my increasingly tired partner.

Secondly, it meant I regularly suffered from horrible insomnia. Every few weeks, and sometimes more often, I’d have a string of three or four or five nights where I’d get to bed and my brain would just buzz and I would not sleep. If the muse had arrived ready to party and a coherent story was fermenting, I’d pretty much have no choice but to get up again and write it out of my head, which meant not getting back into bed until 3 am at least. More often, however, my brain would just be on and racing, and I would toss and turn and eventually get up again and have to go and play something mind-numbing (mah-jong is good) and have a glass of red wine to turn it off again. If I was lucky I’d be back in bed by 2am, but this would mean that I was pretty wrecked for work the next day, and my writing session the next night. And, as anyone who has experienced it probably knows, paradoxically insomnia gets worse when you’re tired.

Then in 2013 a friend of mine put out a call for guinea pigs. She was studying creative coaching, and wanted some bods to practice on. I was trying to finish a novel draft by a set (and immoveable) date, so I put my hand up. It was incredibly useful, but the most valuable thing I got out of it was that she asked me when my most productive writing time was. Easy. That would be the Sunday morning session. The one where I wake up after a small sleep-in, and ensconce myself in solitude for a good couple of hours. “Why don’t you try changing your routine?” she asked. “Get up early. Write before work.” My reaction to this suggestion was horrified disbelief. Me and 5am only ever encountered each other under extreme duress, usually because I had to be on a plane for work. But. Professional. (And desperate.) So I gave it a go.

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It was a revelation. It opened the door to one of the most productive periods of my life. I am still not very  good at getting to bed at a reasonable hour. But, now, at 11pm I am usually dragging my relaxed and sleepy self to bed, instead of my anxious and sleepy self to my writing date. Now, I get up before 6am most work days. If the muse is on fire, we might even make it to the computer by 5am. It’s bloody cold in winter, but there is something lovely and even luxurious about that early part of the day when all the rest of my family are slumbering sweetly away and it is just me. I still need at least one other daytime/afternoon/early evening writing session during the week, but what is interesting is that having kick-started the day with writing, I find it much easier to slip back into writing mode at any point during the day. I’m even spending more of my lunchtimes at work writing. And the insomnia is almost gone. I still get it every now and then, but we are talking maybe three whole one-off nights over the last year, as opposed to three a month, minimum.

I get by on about 6-6 ½ hours sleep most nights, with a catch-up sleep in on the weekend. But this is better than the old insomniac days, and I have a pretty regular (I won’t say “disciplined”) daily writing routine that works weirdly well for me. There are definitely days when I get up, and nothing much happens. Or I don’t get up. I skip it. But these are generally the exception to the rule, and having a structured approach to my writing time means I have more confidence in my ability to make up a skipped session, or at least get back on track.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a long way from living the dream of full- or even half-time writing, but I’ve got a mortgage to pay and a family who I really love spending time with, and this is a good compromise that works well for me. And, writing wise I have never been more productive or more (deep breath: I’m gonna say it) disciplined.

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Leife Shallcross lives with her family at the bottom of Mount Ainslie in Canberra, in a house she painted turquoise. Her first published story, ‘The Tether of Time’, appeared in the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild’s Winds of Change anthology, edited by Elizabeth Fitzgerald, in 2011. Her work has appeared in Aurealis and a number of other Australian and international anthologies. Her latest, ‘Wandering Star’ is in The End Has Come edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howie. She is currently the President of the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. When writing is not consuming her spare time and energy, she plays the fiddle (badly). She can be found online at leifeshallcross.com and on Twitter @leioss.

Paying for Our Passion – Darian Smith

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

As I have previously mentioned, my rceent trip to New Zealnd gave me the change to meet a whole new group of awesome writers and fans. I also had a chance to do a reading with a bunch of other authors–including today’s guest, Darian Smith. I loved the excerpt he chose to share with us from his new novel, Currents of Change, which is available on Amazon.com (and burning up the bestseller lists, I hear!) and at selected bookstores. Take it away, Darian!

I must admit, I found this theme of “Paying for our Passion” a little daunting when I heard about it because, let’s be honest, it’s a passion that doesn’t pay and I prefer not to think about that! If you’re a person who gets jazzed about finance or brain surgery (I’ve seen Grey’s Anatomy, I know it happens) then you’re going to make a decent living out of your passion. For writers…not so much. And the irony is that even the little bit that you do make, people feel entitled to take from you (I’ve recently had my first experience of being pirated. Not pleasant but there you go). But whiney as that sounds, writing is my passion and I love doing it.

So yes, most of us pay in order to write—be that with finance, time, sacrifice, or mental health. I’d love to say I have a partner who earns heaps and lets me stay home to write but, for better or worse, I married a fellow writer— so we’re screwed! We’re gonna be card carrying members of Starving Artists R Us! But that’s okay.Darian Smith picSo in what ways do I actually pay for my passion?

Well the obvious answer is by having a day job. I work for the Muscular Dystrophy Association in a role that I love. I get to connect with people who are dealing with a variety of neuromuscular conditions and to provide support and information to help them on their journey. It’s a cause that’s very close to my heart given that my wife also has muscular dystrophy and I like to think of it as making a positive difference in the world—a “good karma” kind of job. I’ve also been fortunate enough to tie a couple of my writing projects to MDA for fundraising so it’s great to be able to unite two passions in that way.

Less obvious but something I think impacts every writer is mental health. With my background as a counsellor and family therapist, it’s something I’m very conscious of. Writing produces something very personal and then that work – bound up with my dreams and passion and soul—gets thrust out into the world for people to judge. It’s nerve wracking and there’s a certain amount of bravery involved when you don’t know what feedback you’ll get (if any). Most of the writers I know have mentioned struggles with depression at some time or another. That said, writing gives back in this area as well. Positive feedback is a huge high and often a story can help me process emotions and events from my “real” life. Many of my short stories have served me in this way and I’ll be putting out an anthology of these in a couple of months.

Currents of Change frontOverall, I guess that while I do pay for my passion in many ways, my passion does pay me too. Even if I’m a long way off the J K Rowlings of this world, I get enjoyment, a sense of achievement, and an opportunity to share part of myself with the world every time I do what I do. And that’s pretty cool. I don’t know if the finance guy or the brain surgeon could say they do any better in that regard. I’m glad to say I’m a writer.

Darian Smith writes mainly speculative fiction (fantasy) and lives in Auckland, New Zealand with his wife (who also writes) and their Siamese cat (who doesn’t).  His novel, Currents of Change, was recently number 1 on an Amazon bestseller list.  He is the winner of the SpecFicNZ/Steam Press manuscript competition and has been a finalist for the Sir Julius Vogel Awards several times.

By day, he works with people who have neuromuscular conditions such as muscular dystrophy or charcot marie tooth disease. He is also a qualified counsellor/family therapist and can be seen – by those very swift with the pause button – on television shows such as Legend of the Seeker and Spartacus.

For more information about Darian and his upcoming work, please check out his website at www.darian-smith.com.

Signal Boost – Joyce Chng

 I realise that I spend a fair bit of time on my blog promoting writers from Australia, New Zealand and the United States, but I have been guilty of neglecting other parts of the world. So, I thought it would be nice to welcome someone who I have been following for a while on Twitter and always has something interesting to say, as well as spending a lot of her time signal boosting the work of others–Joyce Chng. She’s a very talented writer, and I’d encourage you to check out her work.

Oh, um, hello. I am Joyce Chng. I write science fiction, fantasy, YA and things in between. Oh yeah, I am Singaporean Chinese. I did study in Western Australia for seven years. Yeah, that’s all I want to say about me at the moment.

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Okay, yeah, the things I write.  I write urban fantasy set in Singapore and it has Chinese werewolves who are more wolves than werewolves. Think wolves in human bodies. The main protagonist is a woman who is the daughter of the large Lang clan leaders. She is a mom with kids. I wanted an urban fantasy that reflected my own reality and in 2009, challenged myself to write one. The result was Wolf At The Door, a novel set in Singapore, about sibling rivalry, unity of the family and mothers who have to protect their kids.

Wolf At The Door, Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye, and Heart of Fire are now being published under Fox Spirit Books, an awesome British publisher.

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I also write YA. My first attempt to write a YA one was a webserial titled The Basics of Flight, a steampunk tale with leofin pilots and a girl’s dream to be one. The steampunk tale was followed by Oysters, Pearls and Magic,  with magic and finding your own identity when you are different.  Then I went to write a trilogy set on a distant desert planet where the main character was of Han/Asian descent.  She too wanted to fly, this time, on one of the pterosaur-like aliens the humans had allied with on the planet.  In between, I wrote about a phoenix princess space opera YA and then, now a fantasy Qing China one where a human princess establishes a close friendship with a dragon princess.

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Many of my stories are also published in anthologies like The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History and YA’s Best Speculative Fiction 2013.

I guess I write because I love to write? I write because it is like breathing to me?

If you would like to find out more about my writing, you can check out A Wolf’s Tale (http://awolfstale.wordpress.com). There you can find out more about my books, along the side bar where I categorize them.

I also Twitter at @jolantru, if you like social media.

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Paying for Our Passion – George Ivanoff

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

I have waxed lyrical about the welcoming nature of the Aussie spec community on many an occasion, and one person who typifies that is today’s guest, George Ivanoff. Since I have met him, he couldn’t have done more to make me feel welcome and to help me out. Add that to being perhaps one of the best dressed authors around (with the coolest jacket you can imagine)–and one of the most talented–he’s one of my favourite people in the scene. Welcome, George!

Everybody, sing with me: “Money, Money, Money. Must be funny. In the author’s world.” Sorry…had to get that out of my system. My journey from unpaid writing to making a living from it, was a long and slow process—a process indebted to my wife and to my children.

When I started getting published, back in the 90s, writing was a hobby. I had a nine-to-five office job. I didn’t have children. I had plenty of spare time and I used it to write. Money was not the issue. Getting my writing into print was the goal. Most of what I wrote was unpaid.

In 1999 I had my first two books published—a YA short story collection called Life, Death and Detention and a non-fic book for the primary school education market called Real Sci-Fi. I got a small but reasonable advance for each of these books. Suddenly, I had dollar signs in my eyes. After years of writing for nothing, the allure of getting paid (and along with it, the notion of being more valued) took hold. I wasn’t planning on giving up my day job, but I decided that writing could provide me with some extra pocket money, perhaps even contribute to my income.
LDDcover_webThe short story collection didn’t do wonderfully well…but the educational book did. Real Sci-Fi led me to a string of other education market titles. These books, although often quite short, were also frequently research-heavy. I spent more time writing.

After being made redundant at work, I went to a contract position in web development. And after the contract was finished, I made the decision to go freelance in web development and project management. This decision came about partly because the opportunity presented itself in the form of a potential major client…but also partly because I wanted more time to write. I figured that if I was freelancing, I could devote more time to writing when needed. It worked. And I wrote more education books.

cover_definingpatternsWhen my first daughter was born in 2003, my wife and I decided to tag-team on parenting and work. After about of year of this, we realised there was a better solution.

By this stage I was doing less web development and more writing, which meant that my income had decreased. Meanwhile, as my wife shifted from a salaried position to her own graphic design business, her income increased. It made more financial sense for her to work full-time and for me to be the stay-at-home parent. This decision was helped along by that fact that I was the more naturally domestic of our partnership.

So, we decided that I’d become the full-time stay-at-home dad. I would stop freelancing in web development and spend all my spare time working on building a writing career, with the goal of eventually being a full-time writer.

Along the way we had another daughter.

GRcover_webFor a number of years I continued to write books for the education market. And I re-entered the trade market with Gamers’ Quest, a teen novel that eventually became a trilogy. I wrote when my kids napped. I wrote in between games of hide-and-seek at the park. I wrote in the evenings after they had gone to sleep and I wrote on weekends while my wife looked after them. And, when there were pressing deadlines, I wrote while they were baby-sat by the television (yes, I know…it’s award-winning parenting).

Slowly, over this time, my income increased. I solidified my reputation in the education market. I had lots of books in school libraries, which meant a decent annual ELR (Education Lending Rights) payment. And I started to build a reputation in the trade market with the Gamers novels and with stories in anthologies.

Fast forward to 2015. Both my daughters are now in school. I’m still not a completely full-time writer, as I do school drop-offs, pickups and lunches, as well as shopping and meal preparations…but I’m pretty close to it. I am now earning a living, albeit a modest one. And my income continues to slowly increase.

yc07_smLots of people think that now, because I have a successful series with a major publisher (You Choose with Random House), my writing income is secure. Let me shatter that illusion. The You Choose books certainly go a long way towards my income, but they are not the be all and end all. I still write for the education market. And I also get a reasonable portion of my income from speaking and running workshops at schools, libraries and literary festivals. With two kids and a mortgage it would be extremely difficult to survive on my income…if not for my wife and her higher income.

I used to earn a lot more money in freelance web development than I do now as a writer. But (and this is a really big BUT) I am now a much happier person.

George002_sm-213x300George Ivanoff is an author and stay-at-home dad residing in Melbourne. He has written over 80 books for kids and teens, including school readers, non-fiction books, chapter books, novelletes and novels. He is best known for the You Choose series and the Gamers trilogy. He has books on both the Victorian and NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge lists, and You Choose: The Treasure of Dead Man’s Cove has been shortlisted for a 2015 YABBA. George drinks too much coffee, eats too much chocolate and watches too much Doctor Who. Check out his website: georgeivanoff.com.au

Paying for Our Passion – Gillian Polack

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

Today I’m excited to welcome Gillian Polack, someone who wears many hats, ranging from historian to distributor of fine chocolates. A writer and editor of renown, Gillian has written novels and put together anthologies—and provided some great resources for authors looking to get their writing right. Check out her website for more.

For someone who tells stories, I’m having a remarkably hard time telling this one about myself. I think it’s because I’m one of those people who integrate unusual things. I bring opposites together and turn them into a life or into a story.

When I left the public service I was sent to a career guidance counsellor. She told me I’d never be happy, because I was very unusual. “You need, emotionally, types of work that cannot possibly be combined in any career on my books” she explained, after all the tests. “You need to do very high level analytical thinking, like a scientist; you need to be creative; and you need to be in a customer service industry. Teaching would work for a while,” she suggested, “So would architecture.” Then she said “They wouldn’t work for long. I think the best fit for you would be a receptionist. At least you’d get the people side of things that way. And you’re very organised and very understanding of others. You’d make a good receptionist.”

Middle Ages UnlockedI don’t know how many women with PhDs who were made redundant from middle management positions she advised to consider finding jobs as receptionists, but I wasn’t that pleased at the suggestion. I had explained to her that I wanted to write, but she couldn’t see how this or my earlier career would be useful in determining my future.

I sought a second opinion. The second opinion quite agreed that, on the books, I was an impossibility. I was someone who didn’t fit any of the nice neat diagrams, who didn’t even quite fit classifications like Myers-Briggs. What the second expert said, however was that my mind was a bit unusual and that if anyone could find a new path that suited talents so far away from each other that they couldn’t logically exist in the same body, it would be me: I should trust myself for my future.

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I did teacher training to give myself time to think about all this, and I started being published again. I was going to write no matter what, and a publisher ppersuaded me to change my mind about the publishing side (which is a different story and I’ve told it elsewhere), but so few fiction writers make a living from their work that I assumed (correctly) that I’d need to do more than just write and publish. I also decided that I’d make a lousy receptionist.

That’s how I got to where I am now. When I write and teach and do my academic research and do just enough administration, all those strange and different parts of myself come together. But they still don’t fit the models of ordinary life that other people have in their minds.

There is good and there is bad in this.

The good is that I get published and that I am doing what I love when I write and when I edit. I get to teach and to mentor and to work with other writers so that they can be where they need to be, which is important to me (the service side of my personality). Also, I must admit that I enjoy meeting readers and giving library talks and throwing chocolate at audiences. And resarch makes me joyous in a very special way. I love the ground-breaking, the life-changing, the intellectual rollercoaster of changing our culturescape through my research.

Ms CellophaneThe bad is that I’m not entrepreneurial and I’m very much not ‘cool’—my fiction and I both tried to fit into the neat categories most people need, and we both failed at that. I integrate the apparently-impossible almost instinctively, but I have trouble writing a book that doesn’t gently challenge the possible. I fly under the radar a lot, which has instant bad results for sales and public awareness of my existence. “Are you thinking of getting published?” people will ask me at cons, while looking at my name tag, with a booklaunch of my new book on the programme they’ve just been staring it.

Quite simply, I don’t look or act the way strangers expect, just as I didn’t look the way those career experts expected. That’s a price to pay for writing what I write: no-one sees my writing in me, for they don’t see the whole of me. I’m not easy to interpret, apparently.

This means I’ve sacrificed security to write, but most of us do that. It’s the part of the standard price of writing fiction. It also means I’ve given up on two careers because they didn’t work with all of me. There was the pure history road (I need my fiction as well as my history) and there’s the public service path (I was on a the way to policy glory and it got in the way of my writing ie it was either become senior or get out).

Effective DreamingI’ve also lost relationships. Not just friends (friends shift and change over lives), but the sort of long term partner so many people take for granted. Anyone who wants a relationship has to deal with the fact that I live in my mind a lot of the time and that my mind does some very strange things. That I can be scatty beyond belief and passionate beyond logic, or I can be a relaxed soul who plays silly games with children. ‘Integration’ sounds great and produces books and makes a very handy teacher and purveyor of bad jokes, but it’s also intense and quite hard to live with on an everyday basis.

So, by being a writer, I’ve become all the selves that the careers experts said I had within me but would be unable to express. One of them actually said “You’re probably doomed to unhappiness.” Fortunately for me, she was wrong. I’m probably doomed to a fair amount of poverty and ill-health and to stress about the small things of life and to not take holidays and to yearn wistfully after spending money on luxuries like DVDs or a dinner out. I’m doomed, too, to spend large chunks of my life alone, talking to invisible people. I’m doomed to writing stories about those invisible friends, and to discover fabulous things about how cultures operate and writers work and to test them out using novels as a springboard. And I’m doomed to lovely letters from readers and to have random people say accusingly “I read your book. I was supposed to be sleeping. Don’t do it again.” There are worse dooms. Boredom is a doom I don’t suffer from. Nor do I suffer from the doom of being forced to be someone I’m not.

To be honest, the price I pay for writing is high and the sacrifices are significant, but, honestly, the price would be higher and the sacrifices nearly impossible if I weren’t writing. I know this because I’ve tried that route. I don’t want to have to go there again.

Gillian Polack is a writer, editor, historian and researcher. Gillian’s most recent novel is The Art of Effective Dreaming (which once was cursed and now is merely strange) and before that was her time travel novel,  Langue[dot]doc 1305 (Satalyte). Her next book is The Middle Ages Unlocked (published by Amberley, in the UK https://www.amberley-books.com/the-middle-ages-unlocked.html), where she and an archaeologist (Katrin Kania) explore Medieval England.  Her second novel (Ms Cellophane, Momentum)was a Ditmar finalist, as was her second short story collection, Baggage. Baggage has recently been re-released by Borgo. She also writes short stories and one of her stories won a Victorian Ministry of the Arts award. Three more have been listed as recommended reading in the international lists of world’s best fantasy and science fiction short stories. She is a chocoholic, and refuses to reform.

Gillian Polack

Paying for Our Passion – Debbie Cowens

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

Recently I had the privilege to head over to New Zealand for their Natcon as the FFANZ delegate, and had an incredible time. I was made to feel so welcome by everyone, and I also had the opportunity to do my first ever reading! One of the people who made me so welcome, and gave an awesome reading at the same event, was the talented Debbie Cowens–who has a very intriguing sounding book out!

I must confess that I am troubled by a gnawing sense of guilt and trepidation when I contemplate the topic of how I make time to write. I fear that you, my insightful reader, will be able to burrow through any assertions I lay out like a truth-seeking honey-badger. In theory I have the most virtuous of habits and I should dearly like to persuade you that I steadfastly adhere to them. I have devised a sensible and well-thought out schedule that allows me to wake at 5:30am and write for an hour and a half before my son wakes up. I then set about the morning routine of making school lunches, preparing breakfast and ensuring everyone has dressed, brushed their teeth and makes it to their respective schools (both my husband and I are high school English and Media Studies teachers) on time. This is a slight exaggeration of my responsibilities–my husband has been responsible for dressing himself and has supervised his own tooth-brushing since before we first met. It’s one of the manifold qualities that first attracted me to him. But I digress. I was convincing you of my scrupulous efforts to attend to all the various facets of my life.

Naturally, I should now relate how at work in between inspiring the nation’s youth, I use my lunchtime to complete any class preparation and marking so that when I go home (usually with just enough time to unload the dishwasher before my son is dropped off) I can focus on doing some speech therapy with my son (he has Autism and has very limited speech – therapy has become an essential and time-consuming part of our lives) or help him with his homework.

OK, I’ll admit. Some days he’s too knackered after a day at school and just wants to play on his iPad or with a puzzle so I let him take it easy. Already the cracks in my well thought-out routine are starting to show under your imagined scrutiny.

The unfortunate necessities of domestic life such as cooking dinner and cleaning tend to occupy the next couple of hours of the day. Admittedly, not as many as they probably should. “Meh, that’ll do,” has become the mantra of my approach to housework. Some evenings I’ll get a break to sneak off and do some more writing. Some evenings I’ll have to do marking on the couch whilst The Wiggles or Kung Fu Panda is playing on the TV. Some evenings my son will decide to embark on a trampoline marathon so I might try to tap out some writing on my phone in the backyard, more likely I’ll just goof off and look on the internet while bouncing.

murder-matchmakingMy commitment to a writing routine is similar to my approach to a healthy lifestyle. I want to eat five plus a day and generally do. And I don’t just mean the yummy vegies like carrots and capsicum, but even the leafy greens like spinach and kale as well. It’s just that sometimes life is tough and I want a Tim Tam. Or two. Or, to heck with it, the whole packet. I suppose I manage to follow about eighty percent of my good healthy eating and exercise intentions about eighty percent of the time. All right, you got me. It’s more like seventy-five percent.

OK, seventy percent. Sixty-five?

Writing is sort of like that for me. I have periods of my life where I’m just so keen and eager about the story or novel that I’m working on that I stay up late writing or wake up two hours before the alarm goes off and trot off to the computer, my head brimming with words and ideas.

It’s just that there are other days like today when I spent the previous night staying up late to watch Game of Thrones and slept through the alarm and had to be forcibly ejected from bed in order to get ready for work.

I can be disciplined for a few months but I lack the ability to sustain it over years. I am, by nature, a fairly lazy and scatterbrained individual. We’re a minority amongst writers. Writers are generally focused and diligent folks. At least the successful ones who dispense advice at the writer’s talks and conventions I’ve attended have been. I’m not particularly wise and I prefer lolling about on a couch with chocolate and a good book to anything resembling hard work. You can ask my mother if you need a testimonial to the fact. When the first novel I wrote at the age of twenty-one was rejected, I resolved to quit writing. I lacked the steadfast nature to even see that resolution to its end. Writing is simply too fun to quit for long.

I suppose if I have any purpose to creating a flimsy tale of a writing routine that I only sometimes manage to follow and to then confess how poorly I do at achieving the expectations I place upon myself, it is this: it doesn’t matter if you’re an indolent, disorganised individual who has found the duties of having a career, mortgage and kid more exhausting than anticipated. Finding writing time in your life may seem impossible; stealing time for writing by neglecting other responsibilities is not only possible, but also appealing.

DebbieCowensIgnore the pile of laundry that needs folding – you can just put your clothes straight on from the laundry basket. Neglect the weeds growing in the garden – they’re plants, they have just as much right to grow as the tomatoes. If you’re invited to some social gathering, decline and spend the night at home writing. You can avoid all the social anxiety of interacting with people and you get to wear comfy pants or PJs.

The only thing that can compete with my writing time is life and, frankly, the real world is vastly less interesting and comprised of considerably more laundry than the worlds of my imagination. I’m happy to steal time to write. To sneak away from pesky, mundane responsibilities will always be appealing. As an adult one must pay the bills, feed one’s offspring and do sufficient domestic labour to prevent one’s house from becoming a filth-ridden wasteland fit only for cockroaches, but the stories in one’s head will consistently deliver a welcome reprieve. Real life, regrettably, can only be experienced in the first draft. First drafts are awful things: riddled with mistakes, awkwardness and clunky dialogue. It is only in stories that every detail can be amended to have meaning and be fun.

I steal time to write because writing is fun. Ideas can be fleeting things. If they are not captured and transcribed and honed there’s every chance they will melt away into thin air exactly the way that dirty dishes don’t. I make sacrifices to be able to write, and I’m pleased to reflect that those sacrifices are worth it.

I just wish I could get by on four hours sleep.

Debbie Cowens is a New Zealand writer and teacher living on the Kapiti Coast. She co-wrote Mansfield with Monsters with her husband Matt Cowens. She won the 2012 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent and Best Collected Work. Her horror story Caterpillars won the AHWA Shadow Award for Best Short Story 2013. Her novel Murder and Matchmaking is a mashup of Pride & Prejudice and Sherlock Holmes. It published by Paper Road Press and is available here. You can find out more at her blog or on Twitter: @debbiecowens.

The StarShipSofa has landed!

I got to unlock another achievement on my writing journey recently–having a story adapted into audio form!

My story “Our Land Abounds” had a difficult path to publication, and was rejected over ten times. I have been so happy that, since its release as part of Cold Comfort and Other Tales, it has found such a positive reception from reviewers.

When that most excellent of podcasts, StarShipSofa, offered to adapt it I was understandably over the moon, and after hearing the end result I couldn’t be happier. Narrator Veronica Giguere did an exceptional job–a big thank you to her and StarShipSofa for bringing my story to life!

You can listen to the podcast here (and check out the amazing back catalogue–what stellar company I find myself in!).

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