Category Archives: writing workshops and festivals

Toni Jordan on Character and Dialogue at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre

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Toni Jordan is actually more radiant in person

Once upon a time there was a writer locked in a tower. She did not grow her hair long, she did not dream of a knight so bold to rescue her. Instead she sat and thought about characters and dialogue and how she would like to declare war on adverbs. She didn’t want it to be a short and relatively peaceful war. No, she wanted all adverbs to be captured and interrogated and then inevitably executed. Maybe 2% of them would live, but the rest would die. And so one day, when she had escaped her tower, she came unto the Callan Park Centre of Writerly Deeds, and there she did enlist the help of peasant writers to join her in her war. The writer’s name was Toni Jordan, and this is the story of the day she taught a Character and Dialogue class at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre.

 

Toni Jordan strode through the doors of the Judith Wright room, drew her mighty whiteboard marker and declared, “Today we wage war, who is with me!”

 

A gentlemen opposite me adjusted his glasses and gulped. I dusted the biscuit crumbs off my woolly vest and stood up.

 

‘Ummm, okay…. Will we be back in time for morning tea?’

 

There was a murmur of agreement around the room. Morning tea was important.

 

‘What is food when our minds be starving?’ Toni stabbed her marker higher into the air.

 

‘What about lunch?’ a lady in the far corner managed to pop down a hot cuppa to say. ‘There’ll be lunch right.’

 

‘We’ll definitely need lunch,’ the woman sitting next to me managed to say around a mouthful of sugar snap peas. ‘I get super cranky if I don’t eat.’

 

‘Yeah, same.’ I nod knowingly at the green bean machine to my side. ‘I love a good literary war as much as the next person but could we perhaps declare it after lunch?’

 

Toni Jordan seemed to deflate on the spot, her marker sank to her side.

 

‘Why’s it always so fucking hard here?’ She’s not even looking at us, she’s staring at the ground as if hoping it will answer her. And truth be told it’s probably more sensible than the rest of us. ‘In Melbourne we have literary wars and cocktails more often then I change my underpants.’ An older gentleman at the back of the room begins to snigger a little. ‘WHICH IS A LOT! I change them very often, thank you very much. My underwear aren’t the problem. It’s not me, it’s you. You’re all so bloody interested in biscuits.’

 

‘Would you like one?’ I say.

 

Toni shrugs, I take it to mean yes, and pull out one of the seven packets I have brought. Our great lecturer sits down at her desk and begins to mournfully chew her way through a Belgian chocolate virtuoso.

 

‘Alright, let’s just do a workshop.’

 

And so began one of the best workshops of my life. Okay, part of the above may have been made up, but Toni Jordan did come to the New South Wales Writers’ Centre, she did teach us about character and dialogue, and she does hate adverbs. She really does.

 

I know at this point I am supposed to give you all the hot tips that she gave us, but quite frankly, I don’t want to because I just don’t think I would do the course justice. This was the best dialogue course I have ever done and for you to really get the benefit of it, you really should attend a workshop with Toni Jordan, or get a mentorship with her.

I’ll list a few things, but my mind is still going a mile a minute trying to process everything. It really was an extraordinary course. I think it was because we had the opportunity to do several writing tasks on the same thing, character, but focusing on different strategies each time. I guess that’s why you really had to be there. I’ll slap down a few general pointers for you, but, as I have said eleventy billion times, you really need to do a course with Toni Jordan yourself.

 

Tips

  • Multiple protagonists makes your job harder and don’t often make the story better
  • A weakness in your writing is not an excuse to shove in more protagonists
  • Readers can relate to characters without them having to be the protagonist (Ron, Hermione)
  • Your protagonist should either be skilled, in jeopardy, elicit sympathy, or be likeable
  • Avoid having your character being still and alone where possible
  • Always have subtext
  • Every character matters
  • Inconsistencies in character can help bring them to life
  • Dialogue is to reveal character
  • Dialogue for each character needs to be so distinct that you can pick it without dialogue tags
  • Believability is more important than accuracy
  • BAN ADVERBS! (But #notalladverbs, you can keep some)

 

I’m writing historical fantasy at the moment, what are you working on right now?

Toni Jordan is the only author in Australia known to have a dedicated fan page to her socks on Pinterest.

Toni Jordan’s website can be found here.

Toni Jordan twitter account can be found here.

Toni Jordan Facebook page can be found here.

 

Find the New South Wales Writers’ Centre  here.

Find the New South Wales Writers’ Centre on Facebook here

Find the New South Wales Writers’ Centre on Twitter here.

 

 

4 Things You Must Never Do in Blogging

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Today my humble blog turns 4, so I felt I’d celebrate by sharing with you the secrets I have learned through hosting this highly* successful blog.

1. Don’t vary your content too much.

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If you’re a spec fic writer stick to writing about spec fic and the writing process. Whatever you do don’t share short stories, then start doing horoscopes, then start covering writers festivals, then bitch about your codeine allergy, then start blogging about your journey through PND, then start doing TV recaps, then start doing stuff about your love of Australian writers… particularly if that stuff frequently involves references to wine and sticks rather than writers. That kind of jumping about would just confuse your audience. You have to remember that blog readers are vapid creatures that can only focus on one thing at a time. Count them, O N E. So make sure you just do the same shit every single day.

2. Don’t swear.

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You’ll look like a fucking idiot. Only people with a limited imagination swear. Don’t believe me, then fucking google it. Plenty of studies have been done into messy people who swear a lot and their intelligence. Pretty sure they all conclusively say that anal, sterile people, who never feel, and never show emotion are waaaayyyy more totes mega smart than foul mouthed fuckers.

3. Don’t get political.

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Sure, you saw this meme and thought it was the funniest thing ever. Don’t share it. Not even if you can find some tenuous link as to why you’d share it. Just don’t. Sure, you find the idea of men talking about women as if they’re a piece of meet deplorable, but somehow that doesn’t come across in ANYTHING you’ve published and you’ve got a shit load of supporters who love to grab that pussy. I’d suspect that the vast majority of the followers of this blog, written by a woman and a feminist, are lolling all day long about crazee ladeez and them wanting bodily autonomy. Because somehow my incredibly subtle profemale stance has passed them by. So if I posted that meme I’d lose 90% of my followers, so I sure won’t do something like that.

4. Don’t ever put out anything with grammos, typos, spellos, or any kind of os.

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If you , like I do, make mistakes, people will quite rightly assume that you’re a pathetic waste of space and that you don’t deserve to communicate in writing with anyone, ever. Fuck all of us dyslexics. Fuck us in the left temporal lobe. If we want to be taken seriously we should hire a professional editor for every single blog entry. Not just published books, everything. Every tweet, every comment, even emojis. Because every rude, snob, who doesn’t have any sort of visual or translation issue is a better person than us, and what they have to communicate is more important and insightful than any of us have to communicate. It’s just simple science. Heck, it’s probably a “vaccine injury.” We did this shit to ourselves. I strongly recommend that we just don’t even blog at all because we’re such turds on the face of written communication. We should all just go into the woods and eat worms.

5. Don’t break promises to your audience.

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If you said you’d give them 4 secrets to effective blogging then you better deliver. It’s literally the lowest form of humour to do one more or less. Failing your audience not only makes you a failure as a human being, but also untrustworthy. If you’ve lied about unlocking the secrets to successful blogging then what else are you hiding? Mascara, pushup bras, your own private chocolate stash that you share with no one?

6. Most of all, don’t listen to blowhards like me on the Interwebs.

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Be yourself, do things your way. Let your audience appreciate you for who you are. After all, you want your audience, not a bunch of bots.

* The word I’m looking for was probably un.

Speculative Fiction Workshop with Marianne de Pierres through New South Wales Writers Centre

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Over the weekend I undertook a Speculative Fiction course taught by Marianne de Pierres (MDP) through the New South Wales Writers Centre. I saw a few familiar faces from other Spec Fic courses and got to meet a couple of people I interact with on twitter in person. More importantly I noted that the real New South Wales Writers Centre Stick, had been replaced with an imposter. Which I’m sure you don’t care about at all. “JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU GOT TAUGHT,” you demand “Maybe a little more info about the stick, because we all care about that, but seriously, JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU GOT TAUGHT!” Now of course to get the full benefit of MDP’s wisdom you’ll actually have to go to a MDP workshop yourself. There really is no substitute for the real thing. But I’ll share some takeaways. But seriously, you need to attend a workshop yourself to take it all in.

The course was largely about world building so I’ll give some tips I picked up from that part of the workshop.

In regards to researching to build your worlds MDP says, before writing, during writing, or during editing, is all good. Just do what works for you. There is no best way. The only way to learn what works for you is through trial and error. Which means, you actually need to try different ways and see which one suits. Play to your strengths rather than work to a formula.

Her rules for using your research in your writing are essentially be original, don’t simply rehash, don’t distract the reader with slabs of info, be authentic, and know more details then you actually include. Don’t bore your reader.

Backstory can be the enemy of narrative drive. If the reader doesn’t need to know it, don’t explicitly list it and bore your reader. NEVER BORE YOUR READER!

Be mindful regarding tropes. You have to make choices as you write as to whether you subvert or use tropes. Always be thoughtful, don’t simply bung them in.

Think of your setting as another character. How does it feel to be in it? What are the smells? What is the history? And never forget the food.

The workshop also included segments on narrative drive, blending genres, new media, transmedia and a one hour question time where participants got to ask whatever we wanted. So, as I said earlier, there really is no substitute for attending in person.

Fabulously Creative With Walter Mason ( @walterm )

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I love attending Walter Mason workshops because he is the writing equivalent of viagra. We writers can be a terribly insecure and depressive bunch, much inclined to wallowing and procrastination. Walter Mason is the antidote. An encounter with Walter never fails to send blood rushing to the brain and joy spurting from the fingertips to splatter words onto paper.

Those closest to me know that at the moment I’m not exactly winning my battles with depression. Hey, it’s a war, so I’m sure I’ll get there, but right now I’m just flat, tired, and not winning. These flat times make not only eating and moving hard, but also writing. These glorious notions of depression creating exquisite pain to tap into emotional brilliance aren’t entirely true. Sure, you need light and shade to truly feel and you want that in your writing but being in a depressed state isn’t really conducive of writing. It’s grey, not fifty shades of grey, just one shade of grey. And hard to climb out of or write from. Writing once out of it is easy. The stereotypes ring true, once out of the pit, not so much in it. So a pick me up is vital.

So if you need some inspiration or an extra dose of fabulous, I do urge you to attend a Walter Mason event or read either of his travel memoirs, Destination Saigon and Destination Cambodia. Everybody needs a pick me up every now and then.  Especially creative types.

For more information please visit:
http://www.waltermason.com/

P.S. when is a travel show going to pick Walter Mason up? Getaway, Sydney Weekender, I’m not fussy, but this man needs to be on television.

Garth Nix Workshop: @garthnix presents at @asauthors

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Yesterday I had the great privilege of attending a workshop run by speculative fiction juggernaut author Garth Nix through the Australian Society of Authors.  Garth Nix has been described as the James Bond of the speculative fiction author world. And for good reason. He’s  smooth, he’s witty, he is internationally successful  and, he knows his business in and out. Coupled with the fact that he rarely does workshops he truly has a reputation for being an international man of mystery.  I jumped at the chance to go, because quite frankly I’d book in to see him read the yellow pages, it’s Garth Nix. However, the question lingers, is he reclusive because he can’t teach or simply because he is so incredibly busy writing, drinking expensive spirits and fighting crime. I can now confidently tell you that it is most certainly the latter.

Garth Nix did something very rare in his workshop, he addressed the ‘Art’ of writing and gave very specific business advice. In my experience workshops tend to focus on the ‘Craft’ of writing and gloss over the other two, whereas Garth Nix divided his time evenly between the three. I’m a bit of a workshop whore so thoroughly appreciated this unique approach. If you’re a bit of an over workshopped hag like me and occasionally suffer from itsallbecomingabitsamesameitis I would thoroughly recommend watching like a hawk for any Garth Nix courses that  come up. You will not be disappointed.

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Stop rambling and just tell me what he said. Okay, I’ll give away a few takeaways from the workshop but because what you take out of a writing course is purely personal the real benefit can only be truly attained by attending them. We are all on different writing  journeys so what inspires us, what we need to learn, what makes sense to us, is all different. So please keep that in mind. It all depends… but here’s a few thing that I learned.

Books are successful because they transfer emotions. You need to put emotions into your characters that in turn transfer into the readers. As such you need to fill up your emotional reservoir.

Write what you know does not mean write an autobiography. You know so much more than your actions. You are a sum total of everything you have read, seen, heard, felt and done. In short, you know so much more than you think you do.

Keep writing. If you finish a book write another story, if you put a book aside write another one. Just keep writing.

Don’t go too wild on your first novel. Learn the craft well before you start being too experimental. A tight focus with a straightforward structure works best for beginners. No need to reinvent the wheel just for the sake of it.

Don’t just rely on grammar to construct beautiful prose. Remember rhythm and euphony.

You need to decide if you’re writing for long or short term gain. Your approach to what and how you write will be different.

I shall leave my giveaways there, I hope to see you at the next course.

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Speculative Fiction Festival at #NSWWC

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Be Careful What You Wish For

As you all know I can’t resist a good festival so I of course went to the Speculative Fiction Festival at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre run by Cat Sparks. A good time was had by all. My main take-aways from the day are listed below. Enjoy.

Garth Nix

  • Garth Nix is so brilliant and so talented that he sold his first short story at the age of 19 to a magazine he didn’t even submit to. No I don’t feel like elaborating on that story because the specialness might decrease and I prefer to keep him godlike in my mind.
  • Garth Nix states that there are no dead manuscripts. A manuscript might not sell simply because it does not fit with the appeal of the time, in another five years it might suddenly be in. Don’t ever throw away manuscripts, resubmit, recycle, repurpose them.
  • Garth Nix said that I could sit in the same sunny spot as him. I died and the ran away. Totes kept my cool…

James Bradley

  • Initially thought that he would live out his days as a poet in poetry excellence of the most poety kind. Turns out he unfortunately needed to have written more than six poems to do this.
  • If you win a cheque, don’t lose it, the organisers of whatever competition or award you won it for will be pissed off that they have to rewrite it.
  • Authors get rejected all of the time. Don’t let rejection deter you because even if you have one success that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a nasty rejection lurking around the corner.

Kate Forsyth

  • Submit your manuscripts typed. Publishing houses don’t generally accept ones hand written in an exercise book that you have illustrated yourself.
  • Always be brave and keep on persevering. Never let your own fear or ego hold you back.
  • Kate Forsyth signed a copy of Impossible Quest 3 for my niece. I am now the favouritist aunt ever.

Marianne de Pierres

  • Internal logic is key to ensuring that your work is believable and accepted by the reader.
  • Marianne de Pierres says she doesn’t know how she feels about a lot of issues hence her characters have different views and she allows them to sort through bigger picture issues. Her works are explorations not morality messages.
  • Write to you personality style. That being style, genre/subgenre, length, strength of message etc. You have to write your novel not somebody else’s.

Stephanie Lai

  • Stephanie Lai starts with a human/scientific problem and then develops the story around that.
  • Stephanie Lai leans towards short stories because she loves quick immediate communication and gratification.
  • Stephanie Lai says to keep the science real but the world fun and fantastical.

Isobelle Carmody

  • Isobelle Carmody crowd funded her book before crowd funding was a thing. That’s how cool she is. She sold shares in her first book for $30 each and agreed to give the money back should she ever be published.
  • Isobelle Carmody has never been rejected. She humbly claims that it is because she takes so long to write her books that publishers are too scared to say no lest she never write another one or takes even longer next time.

Bruce McCabe

  • Bruce McCabe starts with real life problems being explored in scientific labs today, then moves out twenty years and explores what will be happening with those issues and advances.
  • Bruce McCabe feels that trying to box Science Fiction into a narrow definition isn’t productive. That there is a whole spectrum of sci fi ranging from hard to soft and they’re all equally valid.

Pamela Freeman

  • Okay, I am so spun out by what she said to me personally that I cannot even remember what she said on her panels. It would have been insightful too because she always says really good stuff. Pamela Freeman told me that she had read my ebook What Happens in Book Club… and had laughed so hard that she had to read bits to her husband. I nearly died in fangirling overload. I’m not confident that I am actually awake and this isn’t some extended dream. If I truly am awake… GO ME!

Now the bit that you really want, WHAT DID THE PUBLISHERS SAY THEY WANTED?!?

FableCroft Publishing

They are looking for sci fi. Middle Grade and YA. Make sure you read their submission guidelines or Tehani Wessley will cry. You don’t want to make her cry do you?

Ticonderoga Publications

They like anthologies. Love them! So write an awesome short story. Just don’t be sexist, and violent for the sake of shocking rather than for the sake of the story, otherwise Liz Gryzb will cry. You don’t want to make her cry either, do you?

Just quietly, I did pitch to one of the owners the idea of making a The Voice / Literary Pitching crossover show. They weren’t down with it, so if you have any great ideas like that, don’t pitch those to them. Russell Far rather kindly pointed out that although spinning chairs would be fun, they don’t actually see the person pitching as it is, only their words. Good point Russell, good point. However, if there are any TV execs out there who like my idea I am prepared to except my millions of dollars now.

Pantera Press

Their rep was so warm and wonderful that I think everyone wants to now submit every manuscript to them. Seriously, he was lovely and so caring. He was the Rick Martin of the Panel because he had such passion. The rep in attendance likes Romance so I think we’re all switching just to work with him.

Momentum

Genre fiction with a very clear audience in mind. So none of that boundary hopping, all over the place, wishy washy stuff. Keep it tight, keep it focused, keep it commercially appealing.

Harper Voyager

Wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of Epic Fantasy. But please don’t use humour in your submissions, or guilt trips over the fact that your family will starve if they don’t pick up your manuscript. They don’t like that.

Bloomsbury

Submit through the UK website

Hope to see you at the next festival.

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@dougcoupland speaks to @mmccwill at the #SydneyWritersFestival

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imageDouglas Coupland,  unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve probably heard of him. He’s the dude that coined the term Generation X. Turns out he went on to do a whole bunch of other profound stuff too… like write 14 novels and is an artist etc. Who knew. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to one of his talks at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Writing that Defines Modern Culture. He was interviewed by Michael Williams, who is the same age as me and is director of the Wheeler Centre, what have I been doing with my life?

I found Douglas Coupland to be an amazing speaker, not only is his voice the opiate of the masses (his voice is so calm and lilting it nearly drugs you into blind acceptance), but also he is just so deeply profound. Either that or he’s an expert in delivering sound bites. I’ll give you a few of his amazing quotes at the end of this entry but first I’d like to really focus on one comment that he made that really got me thinking. Douglas Coupland said, “When one medium is eclipsed by another it allows the old medium to become an art-form.” Now he was talking about the Internet superseding television. We used to get our news, our water cooler talk, our quick entertainment from the television, these days we get it from the Internet. Sure the television is still there, just as are books, radio, and movies, but the Internet has really invaded our lives. And through this ability for the Internet to cater for our immediate gratification it has allowed television to really step up. We have so many gorgeous shows these days, written by novelists, starred in by film and theatre actors, composed by award winning musicians. Give Tom Perrotta a Google for a sterling example of a greater writer in any format. We’re having a bit of a golden age of television. And it’s fabulous. Sure we have plenty of crap on television but there is also some beautiful stuff that really makes you think.

Now part of the reason why this got me so interested, aside from my love of golden age cinema and television, was that this same argument could be had around paper books and epublishing. Many traditionally published authors have spoken critically (a few darn right cruelly) about epublishing. They have claimed it is the ruin of reading, and that through the end of traditional publishing. That people self publishing ebooks for 99c will bring about the apocalypse of books, totally devaluing reading and leading to a wasteland of illiterate morons who don’t know what good literature is. Good literature being what big publishing houses allow, and there is no room in this argument for it to be otherwise… Or is there? Does this rise of new epublishing quickies for 99cents give immediate gratification for those who want it? Does it allow the consumer to have what they want and the ewriter to produce what they want. Is it like a quick and wonderful friendship between consumer and producer where they are both giving and getting what they want? And is this bad for traditional publishing or good? Perhaps this rapid fire exchange has actually allowed the paper book to step up and become an art-form? It is time to put some of that old fashioned love and dedication back into traditional publishing. That same love that resulted in embossed covers, gilded pages, artworks of breath taking beauty. Now I’m not suggesting that this needs to be done again, just putting that same level of thought and dedication into the system will provide far greater accomplishment than any amount of finger pointing at new systems. As Douglas Coupland has said himself, “Blame is just a lazy person’s way of making sense of chaos.” Stop blaming, stop shaming, start loving and giving.

When the radio came out people cried that there would be an end to reading, when VHS came out people cried that there would be an end to the movies, when epublishing came out people have cried it will be an end to books and world order… How about we all just calm down. How about seeing new technology as an opportunity for you to use. Don’t quit, step up your game. And if you can’t, maybe your game wasn’t that good to begin with.

Now as promised, the awesome sound bites:

  • “Words are art supplies.”
  • “There is nothing that we make that isn’t an expression of our humanity.”
  • “We are in the middle of an attribution crisis.”
  • “Publicity has turned into extortion.”
  • “Looking people up used to be considered stalky, now it’s rude not too.”
  • “Younger people are different than they have ever been before, but so are older people.”
  • “Oh English Language, you are a minx.”
  • “People are predictably surprising.”
  • Researching Google is like, “crowd surfing this bath of humanity.”
  • Researching what people search on Google makes, “you want to give humanity a great big hug.”
  • “Things get better after you’re 40.”

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And finally, when I asked Douglas Coupland to sign my book he complimented my bag, which has an image of my family as Lego minifigures emblazoned on it. So Doug, this little pic is for you, because who doesn’t love disco?