Coffee, Cake and Contemporary Women’s Stories

Saturday was my big bookish day and after I had spent my morning up at the Wallsend book sale, I headed down to Lake Macquarie for a coffee, cake and books event in the afternoon. The event was held in a cute little café opposite the lake in Warners Bay and there was a wonderful view of the water from the tables. The authors in conversation were Trish Morey, Fiona McArthur, and special guest for the day Cathryn Hein with Jaye Ford as interviewer. Julie from Lake Macquarie libraries welcomed everyone and said that the event was the first of hopefully many like it. For a first time event it was well attended, the tables were full and there were delectable nibbles provided before and during the event from the café. The authors themselves were lovely as well. I’d met most of them at various other things before and being able to enjoy their conversations, their friendship and their stories was special and not only allowed you to get to know these talented women a bit better, but gain an insight into their craft.

Jaye, Cathryn, Trish, and Fiona

Jaye started the afternoon off introducing everyone and explained that this was part of their Summer With Friends Tour that herself, Trish and Fiona were doing, this time with an extra friend in Cathryn. Jaye spoke to each of the authors about their latest books, their inspirations and how the story developed. Trish explained how her latest book, One Summer Between Friends, got to be set on Lord Howe Island after a holiday there reminded her of its beauty. With a desire for a small town type setting, a place where everyone knows everything and you can’t easily escape, Lord Howe was the perfect location. She explained how she wanted to test the boundaries of friendship, wanted it to be fractured and see if it could be put together again. Trish also explained how life imitating art in her own world helped to make her book stronger because she was able to put personal experience into it. The hands on research she used didn’t change her story a great deal, she explained, but the detail and emotion she was able to now include was based on her real reactions, something which I thought was brave and amazing.

Fiona’s book, The Desert Midwife, came from a previous version which had been rejected from the publisher but had now been reworked into something similar but new. Jaye spoke with Fiona about the concept of love at first sight and Fiona admitted she knew three people who’d experienced the phenomenon, herself included with her own husband. This notion is explored in her novel and how a woman is able to cope when her loving husband suddenly no longer remembers her. Jaye asked about Fiona’s research and we heard stories of travelling around communities near Uluru and how interactions with the communities influenced Fiona’s story. She spoke about midwifery and how she always likes to promote that birth is natural, how if left to nature it usually sorts itself out and she joked that often midwives instruct doctors on better ways to do things. Their conversation turned to Fiona’s new endeavour into indie publishing with her book Midwife on the Orient Express and she expressed how nice it was to be able to select her own cover, keep the title she wanted and how she had been inspired by others, like Cathryn, who had gone out on their own.

Cathryn’s own story, Eddie and the Show Queen – the fifth in her series set in the Levenham’s area, goes to some emotional places but it is one filled with humour too. Jaye spoke to Cathryn about how she came up with her ideas for the various, amusing fundraising solutions in the story and Cathryn admitted it was the most fun she’d had coming up with all of those options. Bringing it back to the dual tones, Jaye asked how it felt to write both emotions and Cathryn said she enjoyed the contrast between the two. She said it wasn’t real if people were happy all the time and if she can make herself cry when she’s writing it, that’s good. Being the fifth book in a series, Cathryn spoke about how after writing the first – Rocking Horse Hill – she wanted to explore the stories of more characters. She explained how she comes up with the titles and then writes the book to that title. Cathryn explained with this new one, Show Queen was originally Show Girl but in an international market Show Girl means something different entirely and so she changed it.

Jaye spoke with the women about creative blocks, Cathryn explaining how some medical issues recently had halted her creativity, but she was slowly gaining it back as she got better. She explained the fear she had when she couldn’t write, she told us writing was her dream and not being able to write was horrible. One thing that really resonated with me was Cathryn saying that “100 words a day gives you a book in the end” which I think I might need to paint in large letters on my wall. It is a wonderful piece of advice and one I know I need. Trish spoke about how writing intense books was hard when her own life had become intense with family issues and so she needed to write a different kind of book, this also included not writing about sex all the time. Fiona told us that in the beginning she had trouble finding the time to write with children and a husband to care for and so she found some hours in the early morning that were all hers. Between 4:30am and 6am there was time no one wanted her for anything and it allowed her to write. Now she had retired she has all day which is even better. Fiona also offered some more fabulous advice telling us “if you keep going, eventually you get there”. Another for my wall.

Jaye spoke with the women about their routines and how they started their days, where their writing process took them. From long walks to doing Sudoku and taking afternoon naps there were numerous routines to get the brain kicked into gear and allowing time for plot points to be nutted out. Cathryn reminded everyone that you have to be disciplined because it is a business, and Jaye invited each author to talk about their writing process and how they gain their ideas and start planning (a plotter), or whether they make it up on the fly (a pantser). Trish acknowledged everyone has a different process, she likes to start with a ‘what if?’ situation and a character then venture into a story. Fiona is a pantser, and while Cathryn admitted she too is a pantser, she also mentioned that she needs to know how her story starts and she needs a crisis moment before she can start.

By now we’d all been served our afternoon tea and cakes and the audience was able to ask questions. There were some great questions like further clarification on the plotters vs pantsers and how do you start a story in the first place. Fiona sees her scenes like one would a movie and she builds on that first scene, Cathryn told us that the story takes as many pages as it takes to tell the story, whatever that length may be, as long as it doesn’t bore the reader.

Another question from the audience was how to identify and keep track of continuity. Fiona told us that when you start you don’t know your characters well, but you get to know them as you write the book. You get the story out then you can go back and fix it later. Trish said you need to keep your characters grounded, you give them a description at the start and use it as a reference and do the same for personality, find words and titles that go with the characters. I loved Cathryn’s approach, she mentioned she finds three things for her characters: something physical that sets them apart, some verbal tick/saying that is theirs alone, and a gesture that identifies them.

The two hours flew by and I easily could have sat there listening for two hours more. A whole lot more was spoken about, laughed about, and explored but I wrote eight pages of notes and to recap the afternoon in its entirety would be never ending. I will say though, if you ever get a chance to go to an event similar to this I insist you do; it is so wonderful to be allowed access into this world where authors discuss their work, their inspirations and to see the friendships and support that have formed over decades. I was entertained, I was moved, I was inspired not only in my writing but in many other ways too. It was a wholly delightful afternoon.

Sarah Barrie and Tea Cooper in Conversation

On Wednesday night I was fortunate enough to attend an author event at one of my local libraries featuring Tea Cooper and Sarah Barrie. Umina library hosted the pair for a wonderful evening of conversation. The event was remarkably well coordinated and run and it’s hard to imagine this was the library’s first time hosting this type of event.

Tea Cooper

Tea Cooper is the author of contemporary and historical fiction writing stories predominately set in regency and Victorian eras. Originally from England, she has found a new home in Australia and writes stories set in the Hunter Valley including Maitland and Wollombi. Her latest book is The Woman in the Green Dress which is due for publication 17 Dec this year. Sarah Barrie on the hand writes rural suspense and her latest book, Bloodtree River, follows on from the successful Hunters Ridge series and is available now. Listening to them discuss their writing styles and their experiences was such an enlightening time, and like most writing events makes me walk away inspired to return to my own works in progress.

The event began with nibblies and drinks before we all gathered inside for the talk. From the start it was presented as a casual conversation and Tea was quick to welcome people to interrupt and make it more of a joint conversation between them and the audience. This worked incredibly well because the audience questions prompted a variety of stories and insights from the writers.

Sarah Barrie

Questions ranged from how long does it take to create a book? And where do ideas come from? To discussing the historical research process for Tea’s stories and Sarah’s inspiration for ideas. One thing I found interesting was Tea’s answer about her research. She mentioned she never takes the historical stories from people who are living in the area, as many families still remain. All of her characters are fictional, but come from snippets of stories, Tea not liking the idea of putting words into the mouth of people who actually existed.

Through audience inquiry we learnt more about Tea and Sarah’s friendship and their relationship as writing partners. Another great audience question was about structuring writing time. Sarah gave a wise answer saying that stricture is great, but life doesn’t go to plan. She has to make the time but instead of daily goals or set times to write, she aims for writing a set amount of words per month. I quite liked this approach because it releases the constraint of daily writing, 4am writing (though it works for some quite successfully), and panicking when none of those this happen for weeks at a time.

Having a conversational style event also allowed for a lot of unexpected questions to be asked and it steered the conversation into educational and humorous avenues. There were personal stories exploring friendship and work histories together, and their own stories about getting started in publishing as well as a few tricks of the trade.

In the end the night seemed to fly by and even in the short time the women spoke a lot of ground was covered as the conversation flowed seamlessly from one question and topic to another. Local bookseller Book Bazaar was there as well so people could purchase both Tea and Sarah’s books and have them signed. It was wonderful to see people lining up to buy books both before and after the talk, the line for signings a great proportion of those who attended.

The informal and communal nature of the night was highly enjoyable and it was fantastic to hear from two local Aussie authors. Combine that with sitting in a library surrounded by books made it a very cosy night indeed.

 

You can find out more about each of these authors via the following

Tea Cooper
Website
Facebook
Twitter
Goodreads

Sarah Barrie
Website
Facebook
Goodreads

 

 

Wendy James in Conversation

Last week I attended an event at the library to see crime writer Wendy James in conversation with fellow writer Jaye Ford. It was a great evening, Jaye and Wendy have been friends for years so their conversation was informative and fun, with all the fun banter friendship throws in.

Jaye spoke to Wendy about her new book The Golden Child. James has been dubbed Queen of domestic thrillers, a term both Jaye and Wendy joke about often. What exactly is a domestic thriller? But this is a deserved title though because The Golden Child is incredible, and has already been optioned as a miniseries.

Wendy’s book is about bullying, social media, and parenting, but she is very good at not actually blaming social media or the parents for the events in this book. It’s a brilliantly complicated novel that looks at how issues of bullying can often come from nowhere. She told Jaye that she wanted the mother in the book to be unprepared, to not see where it had come from; that there are often no obvious signs. Social media, Wendy said, is so ubiquitous these days that you don’t notice it.

Wendy was asked whether it was tougher for girls these days and while she said it was harder for young girls, it is also harder to control older kids in regards to technology. One thing I really liked was that Wendy said it wasn’t about the social media or the bullying per se, it was about the women involved. She wanted it to be about how the mothers felt about the situation. Her character does everything she could to raise her kids right and yet still things aren’t perfect. What was also wonderful is there is no one person or thing to blame for everything, Wendy didn’t want to turn it into a book about how to parent or put the blame on a single entity.

The story is set in Newcastle but as Wendy said, it doesn’t mean it is a book about Newcastle. Being a newish resident there herself she wrote her idea of Newcastle, instead of the one that has the weight of someone whose whole life has been there which is something I think she did very well. It has the feel of someone who has just moved there, and not someone who knows everything there is to know about it.

The tail end of the discussion merged into a joint conversation which started with discussing each authors writing history and processes; something which I always find fascinating to hear about. Wendy spoke of her career as a teacher of creative writing and how it made her see things a bit differently, commenting that when you write you stop thinking about the craft after a while. The search and discovery for ideas was also mentioned and the pair joked about the best places to mullover ideas – driving and in the shower being optimal. The comment was made about needing a waterproof notebook in the shower and I forgot to mention it to them on the night, but there is one called Aquanotes if you’re interested, Wendy or Jaye. It’s ridiculously helpful for my own preservation of ideas.

The pair discussed research processes prompted by audience questions as well as their writing routines and styles. It was an interesting way to cap off a wonderful and informative evening. There is something wonderful about going to events like these that bring out your own inspiration and drive.

You can purchase The Golden Child via the following

Publisher | Booktopia | Kobo | Dymocks

 QBD | Angus & Robertson’s Bookworld

or check out Jaye books and Wendy’s other work because it’s amazing!

Jaye Ford

Goodreads | WebsiteTwitter |

Wendy James

Goodreads | Website | Twitter

Writing Herstory: A YA Event

It’s true dedication (or a type of madness) to endure the four-hour round trip for an often one hour or one and a half hour event in Sydney, but while some can be a letdown, others are truly wonderful and this was one of those times.

On Saturday, Jeann from Happy Indulgence hosted a panel called Writing Herstory: Today’s female experience in contemporary YA in the fabulous bookstore, Kinokuniya. It was a great afternoon listening to five fabulous women discuss important issues in YA novels and how important they can be to readers.

I often feel guilty, or feel like not a “true YA reader” (whatever that is even supposed to mean) for not knowing some of the authors on panels, but then I remind myself that I’ve been given a chance to discover some new authors. And of course, now I know of them I can read their work and fall in love with them.

Kirsty Eager, Gabrielle Tozer, Sarah Ayoub, Tamar Chnorhokian, Erin Gough. Courtesy of Kinokuniya’s Twitter.

Making up the panel of excellent women were Kirsty Eager (Summer Skin), Sarah Ayoub (The Yearbook Committee), Gabrielle Tozer (The Intern), Tamar Chnorhokian (The Diet Starts on Monday), and Erin Gough (The Flywheel). Having already fallen in love with Sarah and Kirsty, I was eager to discover these other YA authors and it didn’t take long for that to happen or for my admiration to follow.

Jeann did a great job as host, she asked wonderful questions and the discussion ranged from bullying, diversity, minority representation, and why the Aussie YA community is so wonderful. She asked the panel why they thought diversity was important and there were excellent responses such as needing your experience represented and seeing the less represented shown in a different light than they may be on TV or in films. Gabrielle made a wonderful point about it how it makes people feel included; they pick up a book and see themselves on the page. I also loved Sarah’s thought that it gives people a sense of self-worth and value when their experiences are in stories. Gabriella also pointed out that you can’t include everyone which is why there is a need for diverse writers and books.

The panel also discussed the various issues portrayed in each of their novels; peer pressure in The Yearbook Committee, sexual preference in The Flywheel, feminism in Summer Skin, body image in The Diet Starts on Monday, as well as the big issue of bullying and why it’s included in so many YA novels. The fact is, as Sarah pointed out, is that it is happening, and continues to happen not only to young people, and to ignore it is often detrimental and damaging. Erin mentioned the reason YA features bullying is because it happens and it sucks. And as Tamar pointed out, even when you are brave enough to stick up for yourself, it doesn’t mean it isn’t bullying, and it affects you in some way. As Sarah said, we tend to have a hopeful outlook on bullying, never looking at the consequences it can have.

The discussion was real and profound; it was wonderful to hear an open discussion about things like the different opinions of men and women in terms of sexual activity, and what body image is and where pressure can come from. I loved that Kirsty told us women don’t have to be role models and that Erin highlighted that there are more pressures out there than just from ones peers.

It was lovely to hear the panel talk about why they love the Aussie YA community, praising our passion and how engaging we are. Kirsty loving our open mindedness and how open-hearted we are, while Sarah loved how vocal we are about the books we love. Tamar mentioning along the same lines how she loved seeing readers react with books and characters. The common opinion from all five was how accepting the YA community is, which is a wonderful thing to have recognised by other people.

I came out of the event with five new books which I’m classing as a win. I’ve discovered new authors who were a delight to meet, so very friendly and cheerful, and I got to hear an important discussion about women and literature. I’m glad I made the trip down and so stoked to have discovered some more Aussie YA ladies to enjoy!

Signed and ready for reading!

 

 

David Dyer Talk: The Midnight Watch

David-Dyer.jpgA little over a week ago I went to a talk in North Sydney to hear David Dyer talk about his new book, The Midnight Watch. The story is of the Californian, the ship who saw the Titanic sink and did nothing to help. The story itself is incredible, I am working on a review for that at the moment, but I journeyed the many hours and had an adventurous train trip to hear David speak because I was in love with this book before I even read it.

It was a quaint little cafe and wine and canapés were offered which was very swish. There was a small but enthusiastic crowd; the 30 chairs provided being mostly filled. I discovered during the talk many people had no read the book yet which was interesting, but many did purchase it on their way in or out so I guess David’s talk was successful.

David only spoke for 30 minutes which I was very surprised about. The event had been listed as 6-7pm, and it wasn’t until about 6:15 I realised the first half hour was for the food to go around. Not to be ungrateful because David did a wonderful job, but I’m slightly indignant that it only went for 30 minutes. The argument can be made that the $35 I paid was for the food/wine/venue, but if you chose not to eat or drink, you really are paying a lot (and personally coming from a fair distance) for 30 minutes. To his credit, David fit a lot into those 30 minutes.

He told us that he’d always been passionate about the Titanic, having seen A Night to Remember when he was around four years old. Reading this book I was amazed to learn there had even been another ship in the area, I always hear about Carpathian and Titanic, never a third. The way David tells the story is beautiful and filled with history that comes straight from the records.

Click to find out more.Helen Baxter from Blues Point Bookshop introduced him and asked whether there was anything more to write about the Titanic, was it not overdone? But she complimented David for not only taking on the task but for doing it astonishingly well. David himself was surprised by the interest, the story is of course well known by the 1997 film, which catapulted the story like no film ever has. Because of this everyone knows the story of Titanic, but what surprised David was that not many people know that everyone on board could see another ship. The entire story would have been different, the Titanic may not have even been remembered, if the Californian had gone to her rescue and saved the 1500 who were lost.

David spoke about how his obsession grew over the years until he finally wrote a book about it. Even though the book is fiction it sets out to tell the truest story. As well as the Titanic/Californian story, an additional backdrop of the novel, and history really, is the suffragette movement; something David said was at its peak just before the disaster and which was set back years as a result.

Before becoming a writer David told us about training to become a doctor (but he faints at the sight of blood) before deciding to go to sea and work on merchant ships and tankers. He learnt a lot about himself at sea and this experience feeds into the novel. He was also a lawyer working in Australia and in London. In an incredible coincidence he was a litigation lawyer in the firm that represented White Star Line, the company that owned the Titanic.

When he decided to write the novel he began researching, and somehow ended up back in Sydney as a teacher. He took time off in 2009 to do hard research into the Californian and why it didn’t go to help. This took him all over the world, London, New York, Boston, and the Liverpool Maritime Museum, where all of Captain Lord’s papers are held.

Lord left all of his things to a friend who kept them all his life, and when he passed he donated them to the museum. David thought he would find an answer in these documents but only found commendations and a lot of people praising Lord, saying he was very brave. One of the greatest finds was two original letters that had been given to Lord by the two men who’d watched the distress rockets being launched and seen the Titanic in the distance.

These letters were written within a day of the sinking and listening to David read out his photocopies was incredible. These were the actual words of those who’d seen Titanic and are amazing contemporaneous evidence. As David read the words of the two men it’s no wonder Lord had the letters kept secret for 50 years because they clearly show him at fault.

David said that even more important than documents was actually visiting places and locations where events happened – New York, Venezuela, London, Liverpool etc. David called it narrative telepathy; he needed to go to the places the people went, needed to get under their skin. He went to the captain’s address and the second mate’s address to get a sense of how terrible they’d feel and what it was like for them to live among the community where so many were lost. David sensed Lord’s shame and anger, but not from malice. It was a small mistake that had consequences of 1500 lives.

In order to achieve the most narrative telepathy David was in the middle of the north Atlantic 100 years to the second over the sink site on 14 April 2012. He spent hours there looking over the water. The weather was the same, dead calm, no wind and a black night. He couldn’t imagine being in the water. Apparently one of the worst sounds heard by the 700 who escaped in lifeboats was people crying out in pain as they entered the water. The worst sound came ten minutes later when there was no sound at all because that was how long they had. This, David said, is what’s at stake in the novel – the captain should have come to help.

The audience were quite good considering most hadn’t read the novel yet. They asked why lord had kept the letters if they incriminated him. David admitted he didn’t know but thought perhaps Lord couldn’t bring himself to destroy them. There were bits of evidence to support it wasn’t the Titanic, but he may have known in his heart that it was.

David answered a question about the transcripts of the American and UK trials that took place, telling us they are available online for public viewing. The American trial was four days after the disaster and useful for being so immediate, while the UK one was more measured and thorough a few months later. Captain Lord and the two officers gave evidence and much of the dialogue in the book is verbatim from these transcripts.

Ending on a light hearted note David answered a comment about Clive Palmer stating that he would never have gotten his second Titanic to work because not only would he need to adhere to safety measures that did not exist 100 years ago, but no one would agree to share one bath between 600 people in third class as they had to do on the original.

As I said, despite only speaking for 30 minutes David managed to speak about a lot, including time for questions. There was a lot he couldn’t elaborate on which was a shame because it was clear he loved the topic and could have spoken for longer but what he did mention was fascinating. At the end I was able to get my book signed and I was even brave enough for a question (at the signing table mind you, not during the talk) so I was pretty pleased.

David is appearing at the Sydney Writers’ Festival to talk more about his novel and the suffragette movement if you’re interested. Full details are on his website and the SWF website.

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