Stagnation – and an epiphany
As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working on a new fantasy series. What I didn’t mention was that, for the first time in my writing career (published and unpublished), I’ve had moments of genuine stagnation with it.
That’s not to say I haven’t hit brick walls before – I have. Many times. But in the past I’ve written my way through them. This time, though, it’s felt different.
For a while, I thought it was because I have a day job that stretches my brain, plus a busy lifestyle – but I’ve never been a full-time novelist and I’ve always managed in the past. Then I wondered if it was because I don’t have a deadline.
Last week, I discovered it was because there’s a hole in what I’ve been working towards with the new trilogy.
I hadn’t joined enough dots in my plotting for the third and final book in the series, which was causing me challenges while drafting the second. It was one of those ‘aha’ moments that made me wonder how I ever thought the series could work without this particular plot thread being strengthened.
In truth, I’ve had a similar process for all five of my published novels, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Apparently that’s my process!
This latest epiphany, though, didn’t fall out of the sky into my lap. I’ve had to dig for it. And, along the way, I’ve rediscovered the value and reward of the collective wisdom of the writing community. I’ve also discovered that having software that suits your writing needs is pretty handy.
For those of you who are writers (or just interested in the process), here are two resources that are helping me stay connected with, and dig deeper into, my writing.
Podcast: Writing Excuses
This US-based podcast has been going for more than a decade, and I’m embarrassed to say I only discovered it last year. I’m now officially obsessed.
It covers topics that, at first glance, I often think, ‘I’m okay with that stuff’. And then I listen to the hosts discuss their own experiences, challenges and solutions, which prompts me to think about those things in the context of my own work.
Without fail, every episode sparks an idea (and, on good days, a full-blown epiphany). It might be something small, or it might be a new way to tackle an issue in my current project. Or, better yet, it helps me identify an issue I didn’t realise I had.
And it’s about speculative fiction!
There’s a focus on fantasy and sci fi, with discussions including TV, film and table-top game references, as well as prose. Right up my alley. I like that each episode is around 15 minutes long, and is well structured.
On the days I drive into work for my day job, it’s a two-hour round trip, so I’ve been binging my way through current and past series. The challenge, of course, is holding new plot/character ideas in my head while driving, given Siri refuses to take a voice memo without me opening the app.
If you’re a writer, especially a YA spec fic writer, I cannot recommend this podcast enough if you’ve not discovered it (which you probably have).
The podcast is hosted by Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells and Howard Taylor, with new additions in 2023: DongWon Song and Erin Roberts. (Brandan Sanderson is a founding host and this year has officially stepped aside to concentrate on other commitments.) The photos below link to their bio info.
Podcast: I listen on Apple Podcast, but no doubt you can find this on your favourite podcast platform. The podcast on Apple is referred to as ‘Season 14’ but it’s up to date, including the first episode of 2023’s Season 18.
Writing platform: Scrivener
Yes, I know, I know: writers have been using this tool for YEARS. I remember looking at it when I was working on The Undercurrent and thinking I was doing just fine old-school-style, with my single Word doc file, notebooks, scraps of paper and endless supporting docs and web links.
Fast-forward a few years and my writing practice has become wedged between work at the day job, my consultancy side-hustle and the ride-on mower. The piecemeal nature of my writing sessions means it’s harder than ever for me to keep track of characters, plot and world building in a complex story.
After hearing Scrivener mentioned often in the above podcast, I looked it up and decided to give it a go. I signed on for the free 30-day trial and less than 48 hours later I bought my full-price subscription. Honestly, it’s been like shifting from a typewriter to Word (yes, I’m old enough to remember what that was like). It has, quite literally, changed my writing life.
I only mention it here because it’s helped me, and I can’t stop banging on about it. Again, if you’re a writer, you’re probably all over this already.
And a bit of inspiration…
Whenever I need to remind myself why I love writing, especially when it gets hard, I usually reach for my battered copy of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, beloved by writers everywhere.
Of late, I’ve also been checking out posts by @TrinDoyleWrites, an Instagram account from Australian YA writer, Trinity Doyle, author of the fabulous Pieces of Sky.
Trin’s posts are all about ‘writing tips, sustainable creativity and book whispering’. She’s fun, honest, and prepared to be vulnerable to stay authentic.
Much like Bird by Bird, Trin’s tips remind me that the creative process is frequently hard, occasionally mystical and always different for everyone – whether you’re published or not.
This boy and the view helps, too.:)
I’m still here…
Although I’d understand if you lost interest in this blog long ago.
It’s been five years since my last post. I’m keen to get blogging again on a semi-regular basis, and thought I’d start with an update on where I’m at in life and writing.
My last post was in 2017, when The Undercurrent launched. At that point, I’d lost my brother Steve a few days before the launch, barely two years after losing my dad, and my mum had been diagnosed with dementia.
The years that followed were full of ups and downs. I spent a lot of time with my mum, grateful for every day she remembered me. When my dad passed, it was quick and sudden. The last weeks of my mum’s life were the opposite. Both experiences were terrible, and each changed me in profound ways I’m still grappling with.
In happier news, a year later, my husband and I bought a 160-year-old cottage on a couple of acres in the Scenic Rim, an hour south-west of Brisbane. It’s been life-changing in all the right ways. Beautiful scenery, welcoming people, a sense of community, and a re-connection with life away from a digital screen. Our cottage is small, but my life is bigger in ways I’d forgotten I needed.
If you follow my author account on Facebook, you possibly saw I’ve had two pieces of news about The Rephaim series this year.
In March, Sarah Kelley – a lovely and talented Canadian actress and screenwriter – bought the rights to adapt Shadows into a film. Sarah is from Algonquins of Pikwakanagan in Golden Lake, Ontario.
It’s an exciting opportunity for Gaby, Rafa and company. It’s a long road from print to screen, and this is an important first step. The process from here is for Sarah to adapt the book into a screenplay and then find a production company to bring it to the screen.
I’m so grateful to Sarah for loving The Rephaim characters enough to want to adapt the first novel in the series, knowing how many of her own projects she has going on. (This year alone, her short film Good Grief has won a stack of Canadian and international awards (she wrote, directed and starred in it), and she’s also been busy acting, and had another of her screenplays optioned.)
The Rephaim are in Poland!
In September, a Polish language edition of Shadows was released in Poland (print, e-book and audio). Interestingly, it’s been released as an adult book (rather than YA), and has so far been well received by Polish book bloggers.
The Instagram posts have been stunning.
After The Undercurrent came out in 2017, I spent a couple of years working on a stand-alone contemporary adult thriller, for a change of pace. I wrote it during an intense time in my life, so maybe it’s no surprise it didn’t find a publishing home.
And then I did something I should have done a while ago: returned to the fantasy series I’d been working on before The Rephaim. I had the first book drafted, as well as a few chapters of the second book, so I figured it would simply be a case of tightening up the line, giving it a polish, and writing the rest.
After working with editors on five published books, I’m not only a better writer, I’m also a better storyteller and have a stronger sense of the type of story I want to tell with this group of characters and the world I’ve created for them.
So, I’ve spent the last two years completely re-working the first book (the story is essentially the same but the characters are more nuanced and the world-building much richer) and am about a third of the way into the second book. I also have a completely new direction for the third than what I’d originally planned.
For the first time in a long while, I’m excited about writing. I’ve been doing a lot of fun research, in particular learning more about the middle ages, sword play and Greek myths.
The story will take three books to tell. Fingers crossed the trilogy finds a home.
The Undercurrent – interviews and reviews
It’s been a busy six weeks since The Undercurrent was released here in Australia. I’ve had the chance to talk about the new novel on air, online and in print, which I’ve really appreciated. I’ve put together a few links below (as much for myself, so I have them in one place!):
- Magpies Volume Thirty-Two (one of the most in-depth interviews I’ve done)
- ABC Rhi, OzYAY Chat – extended interview
- ABC Brisbane Drive (1:32:35) with Emma Griffiths (4 August episode)
- Love OzYA Q&A
- Brisbane News
And here are some of my favourite reactions to The Undercurrent:
- #OzYA! -Rhi, Jean and Sarah discuss The Undercurrent in the 6 August episode
- Bookseller and publisher
- Sydney Morning Herald
- Children’s Book Council of Australia – Reading Time
- Kids Book Review
- Otago Daily Times
- Speculating on Spec Fic
Having a new book out is always nerve-wracking, so I appreciate the positive responses when they come. 🙂
In Melbourne, The Sun Bookshop’s Younger Sun YA Book Club is reading The Undercurrent and chatting about it over pizza on 3 October (6pm-7pm). More details here.
If you live in Brisbane and are keen to discuss The Undercurrent, I’ll be joining Trent Jamieson and Avid Reader’s Science Fiction & Fantasy Bookclub next month on Monday 30 October (6.30pm-8pm). You can book and find out more here.
Yes, the Undercurrent is a standalone novel
The Undercurrent – out now in Australia and New Zealand – is a speculative thriller set in near-future Australia and, yes, it’s a standalone novel.
There are two main reasons for this.
Firstly, after the challenge of telling a story over four books with the Rephaim series, I wanted to push myself to write a tightly contained narrative in a single novel.
Secondly – and more importantly – when I understood the story I wanted to tell with these characters, I realised it only needed one book to do it.
It took me a while to get a feel for these characters, their world and where I wanted to take the story. There were many false starts. I think I re-wrote the first 25,000 words at least a dozen times before I figured out what I was doing. (There were more re-writes once I had a full draft, but I understood the terrain by then.)
I had a number of competing priorities in my life at the time and felt like I could never get my teeth into this story, but it did come together, piece by piece, taking longer than I expected because I needed to get it right.
I tend to do everything at pace, but life was forcing me to slow down with the book and take my time. I hope I’ve produced a good novel as a result. It’s ambitious, I know. I hope it takes people by surprise (in a good way!). Most of all, I hope they’re hooked by the characters and the story, and enjoy the ride.
A time of celebration – and a tribute to my brother
Last night, we launched The Undercurrent at Riverbend Books in Bulimba (Brisbane). It was a lovely night and I’m so grateful to everyone who came out and shared in the celebration.
Special thanks to Christine Bongers for launching (and asking great questions), my editor Mandy Brett from Text Publishing for coming up from Melbourne, my niece Katie for travelling up from Adelaide and the team at Riverbend Books for another beautiful launch event.
There was also a great deal of sadness waiting beneath the celebrations. My brother Steve – who has been at every launch even though he lives in Darwin, and who was intending on being at this one – passed away suddenly and unexpectedly on 20 July 2017.
I managed to say a few words in dedicating the night to Steve, and I wanted to repeat them here:
Steve would have been here tonight with his wife Debbie, daughter Kelly and her partner Mitchell. He and Debbie have been here for every launch. The whole family, including my nephew Aaron, was here two years ago when we launched Burn.
I’m still in shock at losing him, to be honest. He was one of my favourite people. Almost all of our photos together are of eating, drinking or laughing, and that sums up how we spent our time together. He was a gentle soul, who was also a third dan black belt in Zen Do Kai. He was practical and sensible, but would laugh so hard he’d cry at the most inane things (like the dancing donkey in Nanny McPhee. Watching him watch that scene made me laugh so much I cried.)
Steve loved his family more than anything, and they were adamant I still go ahead with this launch. So I’d like to dedicate tonight to Steve.
Despite the sadness, it was a lovely night – and a wonderful distraction. I am truly blessed to have such incredibly supportive family, friends and readers.
Here are some shots from the night:
And here’s one of my favourite shots of Steve and me.