Auslit Manuscript Development Program

It is always useful to get professional feedback on your writing, especially if you aspire to be a commercially published novelist. The Australian Literature Review is offering just that, with its new 20 week novel manuscript development program, beginning mid Feb 2012. Editor/publisher Steve Rossiter will be running the show, which is best suited to writers starting a new manuscript, although it can also cater to writers with a work in progress.

Weekly classes will guide each writer to develop a compelling and commercially viable manuscript.  Each class (10 – 15 writers) will be a combination of lecture/discussion, individual and group activities, professional feedback, and analysis of other books and stories. Participants will leave each class with a detailed plan of action for the week ahead. The aim is for each writer to complete their manuscript by the end of the course, ready for editing. They will also learn a lot about the business of publishing. Classes will be held in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, with a video conferencing option available for regional writers.

As an enthusiastic participant in The Year of the Novel programs run by Writers Victoria, I can highly recommend this sort of assistance. I not only developed my craft, but made industry contacts, and gained a support network of other writers. Oh, I also finished a few novels along the way. So check out the program at It is a terrific opportunity for budding authors.


Indian Myna Birds

Indian Mynas are one of the most invasive animal species in the world. Introduced into Australia in the late 1860s to control insects in market gardens, they have now spread to most of coastal Australia and New Zealand. Mynas are a serious environmental threat to native wildlife, taking over nesting hollows, evicting birds and small mammals, and preying on nestlings.

I admire these adaptable little birds, I really do. Their success is testament to their intelligence and devotion to their young. They are also great songbirds and mimics. Nevertheless, I am a member of a landcare group that routinely destroys these birds. I have personally trapped sixty six mynas at Pilyara in just three years, handing them over to be euthanased.

This makes me very sad. Each time a group is consigned to be gassed, I say a little prayer and apologise to them. After all, this isn’t their fault. We brought them here.They are innocent, just surviving – doing what mynas do, and making a pretty fair fist of it.  And that, of course, is the problem. For one myna becomes ten in just three years. That means my sixty six birds would have become six hundred and sixty by now. Local wildlife could never cope with such an onslaught. So I continue my involvement with the program, and monitor the skies for mynas. I just never forget who the true culprits are.

The Pink Hyacinth Orchid

Tall spikes of Pink Hyacinth Orchid (Dipodium roseum) are blooming all over Pilyara’s shady messmate gullies at this time of year. It is by far the most spectacular and abundant ground orchid on the property. As a Saprophyte, it has no leaves or green colour at all, hence no way to photosynthesise. Each stout reddish brown stem bears a spike of up to fifty delicate pink flowers, that resemble Hyacinths.


The Hyacinth Orchid relies on mycorrhizal fungi growing in association with eucalyptus tree roots to provide it with all the nutrients it needs. The plant reverts to dormancy as an underground tuber in late summer, when its life-cycle is complete. Seed capsules are sometimes produced and can be seen for several more months.


I am always fascinated by these sorts of symbiotic relationships. They demonstrate the vital, but often invisible interconnectedness of living things in our world. Any foolish person who tried to grow this showy orchid in their home garden would inevitably fail. It can only live in association with its specific fungus, and therefore cannot be cultivated.

Structural Editing

This week I received an editorial report from Penguin for my upcoming novel Brumby’s Run. It looks at the ‘big picture’ stuff, targeting characterisation, pacing and plot, and it requires me to complete a minor redraft. For new writers, the editing process is a mysterious right of passage between submission and publication – secret author’s business, and I’d been eager to discover just what it involves. My wonderful editor feels ‘sure that with a little teasing out of the existing narrative, we’ll discover a new level of richness.’ Considering her intimate knowledge of the story, I’m sure she’s right. Seriously, she understands it better than I do. It was like she’d been sitting over my shoulder … like she’d been there when I was lazy, or in a hurry. She’d picked up on it every time.

The report contained no directions, only questions and suggestions. And there are plenty of those! I began to discover what a complicated and multi layered task lay before me. When you weave a new thread into the beginning of a narrative, it affects things all the way through – like going back in time changes history.

The first day I was paralysed. The next day I wrote an extra two thousand words and then deleted them.  But today, after reading the notes a hundred times, and reducing them to their essence in a dot point document … today I wrote a new chapter that I think addresses lots of the very legitimate issues raised. I’m getting a handle on the job ahead. Structural editing is widely considered to be the foundation of quality publishing, and I’m beginning to see why.

A Stellar Idea

In November 2011 The Stella Prize was announced, a new annual literary prize for Australian women’s writing. The Stella is our answer to Britain’s women only Orange Prize, and at $50,000 it is even more lucrative. The prize is named after Miles Franklin, or more precisely Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, for so she was christened.

In 2012 we shouldn’t need a prize especially for women. The disgraceful truth though, is that we do. The vast majority of writers shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in recent times have been men. The lady herself would turn in her grave to learn that in 2011, not one woman made the shortlist.




The majority of readers, writers and publishing professionals in Australia are female. How then, are women so under represented in literary awards? Stella knew the answer.That is why she published works under the gender ambiguous name of Miles Franklin. Her contemporary, Ethel Florence Lindesay Richardson, chose the pseudonym Henry Handel Richardson for the same reason. George Eliot, George Sand, Louisa May Alcott (aka A.M. Barnard), the Bronte sisters (aka the Bell brothers) … it’s a long list.

Maybe contemporary female authors would have more success if they followed the same strategy. It is a shocking possibility to contemplate on New Year’s Day 2012.