National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo) … thirty days and thirty nights of literary abandon. The idea is to finish a 50,000 word manuscript in a month, or to at least write the first 50,000 words of a longer novel. I have signed up this year, as coincidentally I’m beginning my new novel in November, but I do feel like a bit of a fraud. My expectation isn’t to finish the manuscript by December, but I do intend to give it a big kick start. It’s all about fun and motivation.


Writers wishing to participate first register on the project’s website, where they can post profiles and information about their novels, including synopses and excerpts. This annual novel writing project brings together professional and amateur writers from all over the world. Participants begin writing on November 1. The goal is to write 50,000 words (approximately 175-page) by 11:59:59 PM on November 30th. Because of the limited writing window, the main thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. This approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

As you spend November writing, you can draw comfort from the fact that, all around the world others are agonising over their novels and pounding away on their computers too. In 2011, there were 256,618 participants and 36,843 of them crossed the 50K finish line by the midnight deadline. Due to family commitments, I won’t actually be starting until November 6th, which puts me a bit behind the eight ball right from the start. Still, I’ll be interested to see if the peer group pressure aspect of the project, spurs me on.

Anybody else signed up for NaNoWriMo? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Now, off to make a profile …

Berwick Mechanics Institute Library Turns 150

This quaint and unique little library in Main Street Berwick is celebrating a significant milestone – its 150th birthday. Mechanics Institutes were born in Scotland and England during the 1800’s. Their primary purpose was self-improvement and education of the working classes, and their libraries provided up-to-date information including government notices, newspapers, magazines, books and journals.

When it first began in 1862, the Berwick Mechanics Institute Library, was open from 8am to 10pm daily. It served as a community hub, popular for penny readings and lectures by locals and visiting dignitaries. Pam Darling, who died recently at the age of ninety, was the library’s longest serving manager. It was her job to light two fires in winter, one in the meeting room and one in the reading room. The key hung on a verandah post of the Commonwealth Bank so groups could let themselves in.

The set up of a new regional library service in 1972 marked the start of a 15 year battle to save the library from being taken over. It had two big assets though. One was a 500 year lease signed in 1878, and the other was its cost effective service. These days, over 30 volunteers ensure that the little library is as popular as ever. It opens four and a half days a week, loans 40,000 books annually and has 17,000 registered borrowers.

Next Wednesday (24th October) the Berwick Library will celebrate its past, present and future with an open day. Morning and afternoon tea will be available, and the hard working committee members hope people will come in droves to celebrate with them. I for one will be there, with a couple of my books to donate. How marvellous, that small independent libraries like this can still flourish in our modern world!

Earning Out that Advance

I recently read an interesting article on Crikey about how authors are paid. (Advance Australian Authors Fair)  According to Fiona Inglis, Managing Director of Curtis Brown Literary Agency, ‘We consider money vulgar.’ This seems to be the general consensus in the publishing world, so in the same spirit I’ll confess to receiving a five figure advance for Brumby’s Run, and leave it at that. Stories abound of authors who never earn out their advance, with figures as high as seventy percent being reported by the New York Times. I’m therefore relieved to announce I’ve officially earned out my advance for Brumby’s Run after only three months. A huge thank you to all my wonderful readers out there who have made this happen! Thanks to Penguin Books Australia as well, most particularly to my lovely publisher, Belinda Byrne.

Publishers offer the advance they project your book will earn back in the first six to twelve months after publication. This sum is advanced against future royalties, kind of like a loan. It needs to be paid back before an author will see one more cent from book sales. If royalties earned fall short of that initial advance, then the author has failed to earn out, and the publisher might be reluctant to contract them again.

There is nothing quite so satisfying as receiving that first royalty cheque, however modest. It means your book has lived up to publisher expectations. Very good news indeed.

Orchids at Pilyara

Eastern Bronze Caledenia

One of the joys of living surrounded by bushland is the never ending variety of life that passes by, season by season. In spring, the wildflowers and birds provide spectacular flashes of colour. Here at Pilyara the soil lacks some of the richness found elsewhere, and this is the situation favoured by many ground orchids, or rather they have adapted well to such soils.  Under the canopy of Messmate, small colonies of orchids can be found.  Several species have begun to flower, and more will follow in the weeks to come.

Tall Sun Orchid

Many Australian orchids depend on mimicry to attract pollinators, using pheromones similar to those given off by female wasps. These orchids generally have unspectacular flowers, although in an attempt to appear wasplike their forms can be remarkable.Those that attempt to attract pollinators using colour and perfume are more spectacular.  The most showy varieties at Pilyara are the sun-orchids, so called because their flowers only open on warm sunny days.

Large Bird Orchid

The profusion of orchids found at Pilyara is not rare, or even uncommon. I’m still waiting to find something really unusual hiding away.  But as more and more bushland disappears, the rare vanishes, the uncommon becomes rare, and the ordinary takes its place as vulnerable. What a responsibility we have as stewards of this earth!

(Photos courtesy of my brother, Rod Scoullar)