A Spicy Sunday With Kate Belle

Please welcome Kate Belle to Pilyara. Kate is the author of The Yearning, which is rocketing up the charts – and it’s not just because of its intriguing cover! Kate is a very fine writer, friend and member of my talented writing group, The Little Lonsdale Group. And now its over to Kate for an in depth Q&A …

KateBelle-trad lores zoom‘Thanks for having me over here Jen and hello to all your faithful readers.

I’ve taken over a month to get to this post, only because I’ve been writing my second novel and watching with envy as Jen overtakes my word count! Having traversed some of the writing journey with Jen, I’m very excited to see her second novel, Currawong Creek, released. I was planning to share a little post about my hounds because Jen is constantly amused by my hot-to-cold relationship with them, but I might leave that for another time.’

Kate, How did you receive your first offer of publication?

‘The Yearning was written over about 4 years while I worked part time and cared for my pre-school daughter. I attended two consecutive Year of the Novel courses at Writers’ Victoria where I met Jen and a number of other wonderful writers who are published (or soon to be.)

During these courses I ‘grew up’ as a writer and was able to develop The Yearning into a mature enough manuscript to try my luck in the publishing world. My first break came in August 2011 when I attended the Melbourne Romance Writers Australia conference. There I met Sheila Drummond, who agreed to look at The Yearning and rang me immediately after the conference with an offer to represent me.

Sheila started shopping The Yearning around late that year, but it would be another 12 months before she secured an offer for it. In the meantime she managed to get me a contract for two erotic novellas with newly launched Random Romance imprint. At the time I was working in a restructured job in the public service and was pretty miserable. When voluntary redundancies were announced I eagerly put my hand up. I had surgery on my knee in September 2012 and as I lay in bed recovering I received a redundancy offer and a contract for The Yearning on the same day. It seemed like divine coincidence. I crossed my fingers, signed them both, and prepared to start a new life as a full time writer in 2013.’

What is your story about Kate?

Yearning lo resThe Yearning is an exploration of love and desire, and the social and emotional boundaries we are willing to cross to get what we want. It’s an intimate account of the thrills and dangers of first love. My sixteen year old protagonist, who remains unnamed throughout the novel, lures her charismatic teacher, Solomon Andrews, into an illicit affair with erotic love notes. The pair are discovered and separated, but she can’t let her memories of Solomon go and is haunted by their affair until they meet again by accident twenty five years later. The ramifications of the affair have reverberated throughout both their lives and the two must come to a deeper understanding of their sensual relationship and what it really meant.’

What or who inspired The Yearning?

‘I find this question a difficult one to answer. The Yearning evolved over a long time. The letters my protagonist sends to Solomon come from unsent letters I wrote to lovers. In early drafts parts of the letters headed up each chapter.

Some of The Yearning was initially put together from a collection of short stories I saw had a common thread. In truth, I think I drew much of the emotional content from my own unfulfilled longings for a relationship in my past that was never quite fulfilled. I felt a spiritual connection to this person, but being at different points in our lives meant we chose to leave the relationship behind. This experience has provided great fodder for writing about unrequited longing.’

Are there any parts of The Yearning that have special personal significance to you?

‘The year The Yearning is set is a special year for me. 1978 was the last year we lived in the country town of Benalla, where I grew up. I was on the cusp of teenagehood and sensed an enormous change encroaching upon me. It was the year I learned about Countdown and boys and politics. Australia was in the aftermath of massive social, political and cultural change after the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. Civil rights, Aboriginal rights, Women’s rights movements were all shaking a sleepy Australia awake. It was a powerful time of change, a national coming of age if you like, and a perfect time in which to place a promiscuous teacher and his love struck student.’

What do you see as the major themes in your book?

‘It’s clear from reader responses there are many discussion worthy themes in The Yearning. I can’t tell you the number of people who have contacted me once they’ve finished it to tell me they can’t stop thinking about it, can’t sleep, need to talk to someone about it. It’s that kind of book.

Most chapters are introduced with quotes from the biblical Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) because that text reflects the passion of erotic love and the stanzas I chose capture the essence of the chapter theme. The sexual/emotional power play between Solomon and his student demonstrates the complexity of student/teacher attractions. The reader is prompted to ask, who holds the power? Who is seducing who?

I believe my anonymous protagonist’s experiences in love, sexuality and family are common to many women. I think lots of female readers will relate to her feelings of obsessive first love and loss, her expectations and disappointments in marriage, her joy in her children, her frustrations with her family, her attempts to live authentically in spite of the expectations of those around her.

The Yearning also talks to the cycle of damage done to men by their fathers (and mothers), the difference between sex and eros (or lust and love), the arbitrariness of the age of consent and how it isn’t really a protection from the ramifications of entering a mature sexual relationship too young.

It’s a complex book and I hope those of you who choose to read find much to enjoy in it.’

Thank you Kate for your thoughtful responses and congratulations again on your gorgeous book! And next time, I definitely want to talk about those dogs of yours …

Yearning lo resIt’s 1978 in a country town and a dreamy fifteen year old girl’s world is turned upside down by the arrival of the substitute English teacher. Solomon Andrews is beautiful, inspiring and she wants him like nothing else she’s wanted in her short life.

Charismatic and unconventional, Solomon easily wins the hearts and minds of his third form English class. He notices the attention of one girl, his new neighbour, who has taken to watching him from her upstairs window. He assumes it a harmless teenage crush, until the erotic love notes begin to arrive.

Solomon knows he must resist, but her sensual words stir him. He has longings of his own, although they have nothing to do with love, or so he believes. One afternoon, as he stands reading her latest offering in his driveway, she turns up unannounced. And what happens next will torment them forever – in ways neither can imagine.

Read an extract here: (http://issuu.com/simonschusteraustralia/docs/the_yearning_by_kate_belle)

Buy The Yearning:

Ebook: Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/The-Yearning-ebook/dp/B00BSVMRC4) or iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/the-yearning/id576561492?mt=11)

Print book: Target, Kmart, Myer, Collins, Dymocks, Big W, Eltham Bookshop and other independent bookshops (http://www.truelocal.com.au/find/book-shop/) and major airports.

Reading group questions here (http://books.simonandschuster.com.au/Yearning/Kate-Belle/9781922052643/reading_group_guide#rgg)

Kate is a multi-published author who writes dark, sensual contemporary women’s fiction. She lives, writes and loves in Melbourne, juggling her strange, secret affairs with her male characters with her much loved partner and daughter, and a menagerie of neurotic pets.

Kate holds a tertiary qualification in chemistry, half a diploma in naturopathy and a diploma in psychological astrology. Kate believes in living a passionate life and has ridden a camel through the Australian desert, fraternised with hippies in Nimbin, had a near birth experience and lived on nothing but porridge and a carrot for 3 days.

Blog/website: http://www.ecstasyfiles.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/katebelle.x

Twitter: @ecstasyfiles https://twitter.com/ecstasyfiles

BB2013_Nominee

Pace Yourself!

pacing 3I’ve reached the 70,000 word mark of my current work-in-progress. Only 20,000 words to go and the threads are thankfully coming together as I’d hoped. It’s at this stage that I think a lot about pacing. I’m approaching the finish line. Things are coming to a head. Tension and conflict are building inexorably, like a river about to burst its banks. But how to control the ebb and flow of the floodtide? If it rages too swiftly, it might peak early and end in melodrama or anti-climax. If I dam it too much, it may lose momentum. How do you get the pacing just so?

pacing 2Approaching the end, you want the reader to feel a real sense of urgency and desperation. If you’ve done your job well, the narrative and character arcs should be catapulting your story at a good speed towards the climax. But there are other ways to control pace that don’t involve the plot at all. Simple craft tips that are an essential part of a writer’s toolbox.

 

Write short sentences, scenes and chapters. Condense dialogue and description, thereby heightening the significance of each word. Cut scenes short at vital moments to raise anxiety and suspense levels in your reader. Remember to vary your pacing though, even in these final chapters. Longer sentences and more measured prose will slow down your story. This sort of contrast is still important to allow readers to catch their breath.

Pacing 1Another way to build tension is to write in slow motion. This might sound counterintuitive, but it’s a technique used all the time by film directors to increase dramatic impact. So at the crucial moment, say when a character drowns at sea, take your time. Describe the scene in close detail – the freezing bite of the waves, the taste of salt water, the horror of hopelessly holding onto that last breath. Or you might want to do the opposite. You might want to plunge your reader straight back into the action after the drowning. This is where I sometimes make an exception to the old show, don’t tell rule. Shock the reader with the brutal fact of the drowning by simply telling it in as blunt a way as possible.

My last tip is to let the setting work for you. A storm at sea instantly ramps up suspense. A calm cove does the opposite. Spend some time getting the location right and it will give your writing an automatic boost. My story is rushing towards its (hopefully) dramatic conclusion. So it’s nice to know that I don’t need to rely on structure alone to control the pace. I have a few craft tricks up my sleeve as well.

BB2013_Nominee

Release Day For Currawong Creek & Giveaway

CC 4It’s that time of year again. Time to give my blog over to shameless self-promotion, for Currawong Creek will be officially released this coming Wednesday 26th June. I’m also approaching another very important milestone – 20,000 hits on my blog.

To celebrate, I’m offering two book-pack giveaways. Wasp Season, Brumby’s Run and Currawong Creek all bundled together with a ribbon around them! The launch for Currawong Creek will be held on the 3rd of July at Readings Carlton, 309 Lygon St, Melbourne. 6.00 pm for a 6.30 pm start. You are all welcome, of course! I’m very excited about this book. And not only because for the first time I get to have bestselling author on the cover! Apart from its heartfelt and turbulent romance, Currawong Creek also tackles some topics that lie quite close to my heart. The importance and challenges of foster care, equine therapy for children, and land and water conservation in Australia – looking at coal seam gas mining in particular. I hope my book can spark some interesting debate on these issues.

Thank you 3A big thank you to Belinda Byrne and all the Penguin publishing team, for their generous support and faith in my work. Thanks to my lovely agent, Fran Moore of Curtis Brown Australia. And an even bigger thank you, of course, to my wonderful readers. Without you, none of this would have been possible!

 

Outback Currawong CreekOne more thing. Please don’t confuse my novel with a book of a similar title – Outback Currawong Creek, which is a stylish, coffee-table book filled with beautiful photographs of nude men. Oddly, some of them have an uncanny resemblance to the men in my book …

Penguin is also offering a pre-publication price promotion on my earlier novel, Brumby’s Run. The ebook version is only $4.99 across all sites. So if you haven’t read it, grab yourself a bargain! For your chance to win a three-book prize pack, please leave a comment on this post. I will announce the winners of the draw on Sunday July 14th. Good luck!

Heartfelt and passionate Australian story from the bestselling author of Brumby’s Run.

CC 1 003Currawong Creek is the story of Clare Mitchell, a young Brisbane lawyer who is very caught up in her career. When she becomes the unlikely carer of a little boy, a problem foster child named Jack, her ordered world is turned upside down. In desperation she takes leave of her job and goes with Jack to Currawong Creek, her grandfather’s Clydesdale stud at Merriang in the foothills of the beautiful Bunya Mountains.

Clare arrives to find part of the property leased by a local vet, Tom Lord. Tom is an advocate of equine therapy for children. Jack falls in love with Currawong’s animals, and Clare falls in love with Tom and the life of a country vet. But trouble is coming, in the form of the Pyramid mining company. Trouble that threatens to not only destroy Clare’s new-found happiness, but also the peace and beauty of the land she loves.

BB2013_Nominee

Brumby’s Run Q&A

CC 3The launch date of my new novel, Currawong Creek is fast approaching. Penguin Books (Aust) is offering a digital price promotion ahead of the new title’s release. The ebook of Brumby’s Run (usually $12.99) is available at $4.99 until the 28th June. For those who haven’t read it, today I’m posting a Penguin Q&A about Brumby’s Run for your information. Here’s the link for last week’s Currawong Creek Q&A

Penguin Q & A with Jennifer Scoullar, author of Brumby’s Run

What is your book about?

2nd BR CoverBrumby’s Run is a story about a young woman named Samantha. She discovers she has a twin sister, Charlie, who is critically ill. City girl Sam soon finds herself running her sister’s farm, high in the Victorian alps. This new life, Charlie’s life, intrigues her. Bit by bit she falls in love with the mountains, the brumbies and with handsome neighbour Drew Chandler, her sister’s erstwhile lover. Sam begins to wish that Charlie might never come home.

What or who inspired it?

Originally I was inspired by the classic Banjo Paterson poem of the same name. It is one of my absolute favourites. But I was also inspired by the magnificent wild horses of the high country, and the fine work done by Australia’s various Brumby welfare associations.

90px-Penguin_logo_svgWhat was the biggest challenge, writing it?

My biggest challenge was finishing the novel in time to pitch to Penguin at the 2011 RWA Conference. I only just made it!       

What did you want to achieve with your book?

I wanted to share my love of Victoria’s beautiful upper Murray region, and pay tribute to the fabled wild horses of the high country. I also wanted to entertain readers with a passionate and unusual love story.

What do you hope for your book?

I hope it may be widely read and enjoyed.

Are there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you?

The horses are based on my own, favourite animals, past and present.

Do you have a favourite character or one you really enjoyed writing?

I have a soft spot for Charlie, and really admire her spirit.

What do you see as the major themes in your book?

One of the major themes in Brumby’s Run is our search for personal identity. The book also explores our relationship with animals and the environment.

high country horses

What made you set it in Victoria’s high country?I have a great love for this region, and it is where the Brumbies are.

Did the title come instantly to you or did you labour over it?I’d always wanted to base my novel on Banjo Paterson’s classic bush poem, Brumby’s Run, so the title was a given.

To whom have you dedicated the book and why?I’ve dedicated the book to Australia’s various Brumby welfare associations, in acknowledgement of the wonderful work they do protecting our wild horses.

Who do you think will enjoy your book?

Anybody who enjoys passionate love stories, set in Australia’s spectacular wild places.

Do you have a special ‘spot’ for writing at home? (If so, describe it)

Home Office I have a small office space off the lounge room (no door!), but with a noisy family, this isn’t always ideal. My favourite spot is over at the stables. Horses are good listeners, and don’t mind you reading aloud.

Do you like silence or music playing while you’re writing?

Silence. I’m easily distracted otherwise.

When did you start writing?

As a child I was an avid reader and loved writing stories and poems. I began my very first novel when I was eleven years old.

Did you always want to become an author?

I did, but then I grew up, and life kind of got in the way. There was long gap before I returned to my original passion for writing.

Tell us a bit about your childhood?

I was a horse-mad child. My family had a house in Melbourne as well as a property in the mountains. At every chance I escaped to the farm to be with my horses.

If you’ve had other jobs outside of writing, what were they?

I graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Law and Jurisprudence, and worked for a while as a solicitor. I have also raised four children, with the youngest one still at school. Now that’s a job!

Describe yourself in three words?Passionate, compassionate and curious.

capricornWhat star sign are you and are you typical of it?

I’m a Capricorn. That’s an earth sign, and I do feel a deep spiritual connection to the  earth. Typically Capricorns are ambitious and serious, with a strong work ethic. I suppose that describes me. They are also supposed to be neat and tidy. That definitely doesn’t describe me!

What three things do you dislike?

Cruelty, greed and indifference.

What three things do you like?

My family, my animals and having the opportunity to write, in that order.

Have you a family, partner or are you single?

As I said before, I have four wonderful children.  I am divorced and do not have a partner. Maybe no real-life man can measure up to my fictional outback heroes!

BB2013_Nominee

Currawong Creek – First Sighting

18th birthdayIt was my youngest son’s eighteenth birthday yesterday – a cause for much celebration! I also received an advance copy of Currawong Creek. It’s always a thrill to see your imaginary story in the form of a physical book for the first time. So all in all, a great week.

Today I’m posting a Penguin Q&A about Currawong Creek.

What is your new book about? Currawong Creek is the story of Clare Mitchell, a young Brisbane lawyer who is very caught up in her career. CC 1 003When she takes on the care of problem foster child Jack, her ordered life is turned upside down. Her partner’s betrayal is the final straw. She takes leave of her job and takes Jack to Currawong Creek, her grandfather’s Clydesdale stud at Merriang in the foothills of the beautiful Bunya Mountains. She arrives to find part of the property leased by local vet, Tom Lord, an advocate of equine therapy for traumatised children. Jack falls in love with Currawong’s animals, and Clare falls in love with Tom and the life of a country vet. But trouble is coming, in the form of the Pyramid Mining Company. Trouble that threatens to not only destroy Clare’s new-found happiness, but the tiny town of Merriang itself.

What or who inspired it? – I love Clydesdale horses! Also, I fostered kids for fifteen years, and saw many young mothers who needed help almost as much as their children did. There’s such a desperate shortage of foster carers in our community. Often, no suitable place can be found for a child after being Clydesdalestaken into care. So I thought I’d explore that problem in my story. There is so much evidence to show that animals can help to heal traumatised children. I had to give little Jack that chance!  The setting was inspired by Queensland’s Darling Downs, and its beautiful Bunya Mountains. A growing national concern about our land and water has led to a realisation that agricultural land and underground water are finite resources that should be protected. This is another issue explored in Currawong Creek. The characters though, are entirely fictional. I loved the idea of throwing a young, single, professional woman in the deep end with a difficult child – and a German Shepherd puppy! How would it change her? What problems would it cause? How would she cope?

What was the biggest challenge, writing it? – My biggest challenge was writing the relationship between Clare and Jack’s birth mother, Taylor. These are two women from very different worlds, yet they share a strong common bond. They both love Jack. Emotions naturally run high in that sort of a situation, and I wanted to show each of their positions with sympathy. It needed a delicate balance, and a lot of rewriting.

What did you want to achieve with your book? – I mainly wrote Currawong Creek to be an entertaining story. Along the way, it may raise awareness about the challenges and importance of fostering. It may encourage somebody to explore equine therapy as a healing tool for a child. That would be good. I also hope it may help spark debate about land and water conservation in Australia.

What do you hope for your book? – I hope my book will be widely read and enjoyed.

CurrawongAre there any parts of it that have special personal significance to you? – Samson, the German Shepherd puppy, has particular personal resonance for me. I raised and trained German Shepherds for many years, and he is a composite of my most intelligent and charming dogs. My father also passed on to me a particular love of Clydesdale horses, and I’ve always had a soft spot for currawongs!

Do you have a favourite character or one you really enjoyed writing? – Harry, Clare’s grandfather, was without doubt my favourite character. Such a sweet, old man with a great deal of courage and very fine principles. I’d love to know him in real life

What do you see as the major themes in your book? – I suppose one of the main themes is finding the courage to stand up for what you believe in. Also forgiveness and an exploration of the different kinds of love – love for a child, a lover and a grandfather.

What made you set it in …..? – The Bunya Mountains? They’re a magical place, Bunya Mountains 1like an island, surrounded by the plains and cleared farming land of the Darling Downs. A refuge of biodiversity, harbouring ancient plants and more than thirty rare and threatened species. Iconic Bunya pines (Araucaria bidwillii) tower over tall, moist rainforests along the crest of the range. Their distinctive dome-shaped crowns rise above the canopy, as they’ve done for millions of years. It’s a truly mysterious and romantic setting.

To whom have you dedicated the book and why? – Currawong Creek is dedicated to the Wilderness Society, as a tribute to the wonderful work they do, protecting and restoring wild places across Australia.

Who do you think will enjoy your book? – Anybody who loves kids, animals, the bush and a ripping love story.BB2013_Nominee

What Makes a Good Story?

Currawong Creek is all set to be published in June. I’m now 20,000 words into my new novel, and have been dedicating a fair bit of thinking time to the deceptively simple question of what makes a good story?

Tell me a storyFor me, the most important thing is that a writer needs to have something to say. Now this might appear to be self-evident, but think about it. Have you ever been bailed-up by someone who can talk and talk and talk, but really, has nothing to say? You begin to look for escape routes, ways to politely excuse yourself. It’s easier than that for readers. For if a novel isn’t animated by a powerful theme, then the reader can just close the book.

Writing from the heartA good writer in my view, writes from the heart. And an interesting novel must in some way take a stand. It must confront its reader, by presenting conflicting values and beliefs. Think of your favourite books, and consider for yourself, whether or not this is true. For me, writing that lacks a point is lifeless, full of ornamental adjectives and decorative imagery maybe, but lifeless just the same. Readers won’t waste their time on sentence after sentence without meaning, BUT If the writer believes, that whatever he or she has to say, MUST be said, that passion will come through the pages and grip us, as readers. We’ll care about the characters, we’ll suffer with them, we’ll hate them and love them. So my advice to all budding story tellers is to honour your convictions, whatever they are. Let them power your story. Let them challenge your readers, and make your story worth the telling. Care a lot about the subject of your writing and it will show.

Writing the breakout novelI’d like to finish with nine gems from Donald Maass, legendary New York literary agent. His seminal work, Writing The Breakout Novel has long been my bible.

  1. Think writing tools, not rules.
  2. Emotions are what connect us to the characters of a novel. What engages your heart will engage your reader. 
  3. Create interiority. Create an emotional landscape that the characters travel through–your story’s interiority.
  4. Reveal yourself through your fiction by writing from a personal place, a place of passion, a place of experience, a place that matters. Give these emotions and motivations to your characters.
  5. Genre categories have become a palette from which writers may draw from to create unique hybrids. Great fiction will not be bound by conventions.
  6. Surprise your readers. Don’t just write about the emotions that they expect. Think about the strongest emotions that you have experienced and then think about the underlying ones, the subtle ones. Write about those emotions instead of what the reader would expect from the scene/plot. Again, surprise your readers.
  7. Write your stories like they matter, and they will matter. Powerful fiction comes from a very personal place.
  8. Readers read to make sense of the world.Your reader wants some kind of insight into the antagonist. Who looks up to your antagonist? What does he have to gain? To lose? Why must he reach his goals? How much will he lose to meet his goal? What will he gain? Help your reader view life through the villain’s motivations and perspective. Make your antagonist multi-dimensional.
  9. Beautiful Writing + Commercial Writing (page turners) = High Impact Writing.

BB2013_Nominee

The Quiet Literary Achievers

introvertWhen I first began this writing gig, it seemed a perfect fit for my personality. I’m a bit of an odd-one-out, an introvert. I don’t much like crowds, or noisy parties, or even busy shopping centres. I’d rather be out in the bush, or talking to the animals … or writing. Writing is a solitary profession, and most writers are to a greater or lesser extent, loners. It can be no other way and this suits me just fine.

MeThen I became published, and read the endless advice all over the internet about the key to writing success. Publisher publicity wasn’t enough apparently. No, I had to become an authorpreneur, a juggernaut of self-promotion. I needed thousands of Twitter followers and 5,000 Facebook friends. I needed to strategically comment on high-traffic websites that targeted my audience, organise mega-blog tours, approach book stores and libraries, juggle daily posts on every form of social media. That’s when the collywobbles set in. The idea of flagging down readers and pushing my work on them was about as appealing as a kick in the head.

But do you know what? I discovered that, as with all things in life, there is a balance. You don’t need to be loud and flashy, with a sales pitch set at full volume, to succeed as an author. But you also shouldn’t be reluctant to join in the conversation, to link with other writers and experience that gorgeous sense of literary community that’s out there. I’ve discovered that I like Twitter and Facebook. I enjoy talking occasionally about my work, and most of all, I love connecting with readers.

quiet achieverSo I’d like to remind all of the shy, self-contained writers (including my niece!), not to be discouraged. There are plenty of quiet literary achievers out there. I’ve met them. Frenzied self-promotion is not the only path to success. First write an amazing book, one that says something important, one that showcases the vivid world living within your own imagination. Next, find the level of engagement that suits you, and be open to new people and experiences. It can be fun! Lastly, allow your genuine passions to shine through. Folk tales, science fiction, conservation, children’s literacy – it doesn’t matter, as long as the subject is close to your heart. Be authentic, and people will engage with you. It’s true!

P.S. Can’t wait to reveal the cover of Currawong Creek – coming soon …

BB2013_Nominee

AC Flory – Fab New Indie Author!

Meeka 2It’s great to welcome a terrific new indie author to Pilyara. AC Flory has recently published an intriguing new science fiction novel – Vokhtah. And the wonderful thing is, it will be free on Kindle from March 1st through to March 5th! As a teenager, my brother and I were actually very strong on science fiction. Classic authors like Asimov, Wyndham, Bradbury and Heinlein are still favourites of mine today. AC Flory is a master at world building, and also at telling stories from a non-human point of view. I like that very much! So now it’s over to my guest …

Thanks for inviting me to your blog Jennifer. We write in very different genres, you and I, but one of the things we have in common is a deep passion for the Australian countryside. It seems to go with us wherever we go, and whatever we do.
When I first began writing Vokhtah, back in 2004, I was focused on the main characters, who are all aliens. I needed to create people who were obviously not human, and differed from us in almost every way, from biology and language, to ethics and culture. Yet at the same time I had to find points of overlap.
While I was struggling with my honourable, but sociopathic aliens, I began seeing the world in which they lived as a massive influence on their racial and social development. I began to see Vokhtah as a harsh and unforgiving planet, a crucible for natural selection where only the strong thrived, and the weak became food.
Australia is not quite as unforgiving as Vokhtah, but there are parts of it that come close. There is aching beauty here, but Australia is far from tamed. It is not safe, and it is not forgiving of the complacent.
When my parents and I arrived here, we were refugees from the Hungarian Revolution. To Europeans, used to a tamed, green land, Australia was a… shock. I was only four at the time but I still remember peering out of the tiny window of that propeller plane and seeing nothing but brown and gold. It was summer, of course.
We did find an oasis of green in Wagga Wagga though, and all this time later, that first year in Australia is still fresh and clear in my mind. I was a city kid let loose in a wonderland of grass and trees, and a sky so big you could get lost in it.
Much has changed since those halcyon days in Wagga. I’ve learned to fear Australia as well as love it. Not surprisingly, many of those feelings sneaked into the creation of Vokhtah. Even some of our animals sneaked in while I wasn’t looking. The akaht are flightless, bird-like creatures with fur instead of feathers, but they do bear a striking resemblance to emus, and the aquatic pakti are like six-legged crocodiles with very long tongues!
Something few people know is that the cover of Vokhtah is based on a photograph taken here in Australia. With a slightly purple filter, and some clever Photoshop magic, my wonderful designer transformed a slice of Australia into Vokhtah. I was gobsmacked because the cover matched the image in my head so perfectly.
I did not consciously set out to write ‘about’ Australia, but I believe that even in fiction, we draw on our passions. I think that’s important for all writers because drawing on what we know, gives authenticity to what we write, even when the genre is as alien as science fiction.
Thanks for allowing me to ramble on Jennifer, and best of luck with Currawong Creek. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Many thanks for proposing that interesting connection. I hadn’t made it before. If you’re in the mood for something out of this world, do yourself a favour and take advantage of this great free offer. See blurb below:

‘Vokhtah is not a gentle planet. Ravaged by twin suns, it tests all living things in the battle for survival, but none more so than the iVokh.

Intelligent, and clever with their hands, the iVokh [literally meaning ‘small Vokh’] live in eyries under the protection of their huge, winged cousins, the Vokh. However when the Vokh battle each other, the first casualties are always the small creatures who serve them.

The only place on the whole planet where iVokh can truly be safe is in the Settlement, an eyrie ruled by the Guild of Healers rather than a Vokh. Yet even there, change is coming, and not for the better. Thanks to the healers’ obsession with abominations, even the Settlement may soon become a battle ground.

As one of the few healers not terrified of abominations, the Blue is determined to save the Guild from itself. It leaves the safety of the Settlement with a caravan of Traders, intent on manipulating the Vokh into dealing with the abomination themselves. However life, and iVokh politics, are never simple.

Aided by just one reluctant ally, the Blue struggles to survive in a savage landscape where even the elements are vicious. If it dies without completing its mission, the Settlement could well die with it. Yet what can two, frail iVokh do in a world where the predators are all starving, and iVokh are very much on the menu?

Time is running out, for both the Blue and the Settlement.’

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Kermit, the Superb Parrot

I finished my edits for Currawong Creek (June release) this week, and was too busy for my usual Sunday post. So here it is, better late than never!

Kermit 002We have a wide variety of beautiful parrots here at Pilyara: Rainbow Lorikeets, Eastern Rosellas, Crimson Rosellas, King Parrots, Galahs, Little Corellas, Sulphur Crested Cockatoos, Yellow-Tailed Black Cockatoos, Gang-Gang Cockatoos and even the occasional Long-Billed Corella. These are the usual suspects. So I was very surprised at the arrival of a green parrot which I’d never seen here before.

kermit 2I identified her as a Superb Parrot hen. After a bit of research, I discovered this parrot lives in New South Wales and northern Victoria, on the inland slopes of the Great Divide and along adjacent river systems. In other words, she does not belong in the southern Victorian ranges. The parrot (who we promptly dubbed Kermit), was quite tame and on closer inspection, a band could be seen on her leg. Kermit was an escapee from captivity. I wish she could tell me her story!

After much ringing around, I got onto a lady from the Bayles Fauna Park. She convinced me that I should catch Kermit and take her to the park, as a domesticated bird would not last long in the wild. I managed this without too much trouble, and Kermit now lives in a spacious aviary with others of her kind.

prc_bannerWhile researching what to do about our unusual visitor, I came across a remarkable organisation called the Parrot Rescue Centre.

It is prc adoption 2dedicated to improving the lives of suffering, abused and unwanted pet parrots by providing an appropriate environment for their individual needs. Its main aim is to educate people about the correct diet, housing, enrichment and training of these highly intelligent and long-lived birds. It also runs a rescue and adoption program, as well as a lost and found service. It is fascinating to browse their website, and see the gorgeous birds available for rehoming, such as this lorikeet. Why don’t you go and like their Facebook page, or even give them a donation? They are an inspiration!

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Save the Cat!

Save the CatSave the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need (by the late Blake Snyder) is a simple, no-nonsense explanation of effective story structure. Ever since I attended Alexandra Sokoloff’s fabulous session at last year’s RWA Conference, I’ve been interested in how the movie world relates to novels. After reading Save the Cat! I’m more convinced than ever, that authors can learn a lot from screenwriters.

 

 

Blake SnyderLikeable protagonists, for example.This is where the title Save the Cat! comes in. Imagine a scene where the audience meets the hero of a movie for the first time. The hero does something nice—e.g. saving a cat—that makes the audience like him or her. It’s something very simple, that helps the audience invest themselves in the character and the story.

Similarly to Sokoloff, Snyder offers a sheet of necessary beats or movie plot points – essentially a blueprint for compelling screenplay structure. Making a story board with index cards is the next step. This approach is equally helpful for fiction, and particularly for popular fiction. Snyder breaks down narrative theory in a very straightforward way, and with a great sense of humor. He has a lot of tough things to say about elevator pitches and themes as well. Snyder says that if you can’t come up with a great single sentence log-line, you may not have a story.  And he says a movie’s thematic premise needs to be stated in the first five minutes. Yes, actually stated, in an offhand remark, or question that the main character doesn’t quite get yet. To do this, you need to know exactly what your story is about, right from the start. Honesty is the best policy perhaps, or Be careful what you wish for. Save the Cat 2Nailing theme and structure early on is great advice I think, for authors too.

As I work through my Currawong Creek edits, I’m keeping in mind all these screenwriting tricks. They’ll also guide the writing of my new book, helping to set the story on firm foundations.

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