Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing (2009)
Tell us about your book, Dog Gone.
It’s a children’s novel about a boy whose dog goes missing while he is staying up on the Murray River with his Gran. The quote from Ursula Dubosarsky from the back cover of the book gives a good summation:
‘Written with charm and humour, this is a story full of incident and emotion about a missing dog, a ghost and a family at crossroads – but most of all about the wondrously healing power of poetry in the life of a child.’
Dog Gone deals with some difficult issues – death, separation and bullying – but it is also full of humour and features resilience and hope. I think the poems incorporated into the text sets Dog Gone apart from most other children’s novels.
Tell us about that process. How long did it take and how did you come up with the idea for the book?
I started writing Dog Gone in 2005 after setting myself the task of writing a short story. It was to set a good example to a group of primary school children enrolled in a writers’ workshop I was leading. At the time, I didn’t realise I was beginning a novel! The idea for the story came from a childhood experience I had when I was staying with my grandmother in Corowa. I loved going fishing in the mornings and I used to take a short-cut down to the river, trespassing on a neighbour’s property and cutting through a cemetery. To make the story more interesting I added a dog and a ghost.
How did your studies at Box Hill Institute influence your work?
I continued to write Dog Gone during the time I completed the Professional Writing and Editing course at Box Hill Institute. Lots of sections of the book were workshopped in classes while I was there, and I also had the opportunity of being mentored by Catherine Bateson for a year. I really enjoyed the experience of writing Dog Gone while I was honing my writing and editing skills.
Every subject I completed at Box Hill fed into the book in some way. And of course, by the time Dog Gone was finished, I was able to utilise my new skills to revise the earlier parts of the book.
Who published Dog Gone? Describe your experience in relation to what it was like working with the publishers.
In 2009, at the completion of my course, I was fortunate enough to win the Box Hill TAFE-BPA Print Group Award with my manuscript for Dog Gone. The prize provided me with $1000 from BPA towards printing costs, $2000 from Box Hill Institute towards editing and cover design, and for Dog Gone to be published by Avant Press.
It was a great experience working with Euan Mitchell in his capacity as publisher and editor. I have to say it was a bit overwhelming at first, being faced with the prospect of doing some more re-writing in order to address some plotting weaknesses in the manuscript. However Euan was very encouraging and his suggestions were spot-on and resulted in a much stronger storyline. I do think I gave Euan and Les Thomas from Box Hill a few extra grey hairs when it came to agreeing about a cover design. But it worked out perfectly in the end.
Where do you get your writing inspiration from? Do you carry around a journal? Do you blog? Are you in touch with other writers?
It’s a YES to all of those questions. I always carry a journal in my bag and I write in it whenever I have an opportunity. It’s full of quirky observations, snippets of overheard conversations and story ideas. Most of the poems I write start in my journal.
My blog is called Toast for Tea and contains my take on various events in my every-day life. Although I only ever studied fiction at Box Hill, I enjoy writing creative nonfiction. I’m inspired by the likes of Helen Garner and writers of the personal essay. I am currently studying a Masters at Deakin uni and I took Creative Nonfiction A&B as subjects last year. My blog is a good place to showcase that genre of writing. It is also a great way to connect with other readers and writers who are out there in the blogosphere.
Networking is a vital part of being a writer, both for encouragement and a sense of feeling connected and supported, as well as maximising publishing opportunities and keeping in the loop. Social networking sites are great but actually meeting up with other writers in person is important too. I attend book launches, writers festivals, professional development days and spoken word events, as well as joining up with professional associations like The Society of Editors, The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, The Victorian Writer’s Centre and going to their functions.
Do you have a writing ritual? Do you have another job besides writing? If so, how do you combine the two?
Because I am a mother of two teenagers – not to mention the dog and cat and chooks – I have to timetable my writing into the day or it could easily be squeezed out. I am also a teacher and a counsellor and my freelance editing work is slowly building up. ‘Stopping all Stations’ is a spoken word event I convene at the Station Street Cafe in Nunawading every third Saturday in the month.
I don’t get paid but I enjoy being involved in a service for the community that gives interested people access to a high quality poetry event out in the eastern suburbs. Life is never dull!
Are you writing another book? What is the hardest thing about writing and being a writer?
I’m currently in the early stages of writing a sequel to Dog Gone.
I think one of the hardest things about being a writer is being able to take the knock-backs from unsuccessful submissions. At Box Hill one of the points continually driven home to students of writing is to be persistent. It’s true. You have to send your work out and if/when it comes back, send it out again. There is so much competition out there. You have to keep your spirits up and keep believing in yourself. That’s where the networking with other writers comes into its own.
What advice would you have for young aspiring writers?
Keep going. There is a Leunig cartoon I love where a little man walks out his back gate and heads towards the horizon. Every so often he stops to have a rest, but then he picks up his bag and keeps going. It is the only way to get there.
The other advice I have is to READ.