A different sort of revolutionary road

War and peace

It was 15-year-old Igor Labzin’s first day at high school and he was in trouble for walking on the neatly mown lawn.

‘Stay off the grass,’ the principal said.

‘Thank you,’ Igor said.

The principal frowned. ‘I said, “Stay off the grass”.’

‘Thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.

The principal’s eyes widened. ‘You don’t speak English, do you?’

‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ Igor said.*

The principal was right. It was March 1962, and Igor and his family had just arrived in Brisbane from Indonesia. He could speak Indonesian, Dutch, Russian and a bit of French, but had no English.

Four years later, Igor graduated from the top class at high school, did an engineering degree, and then embarked on a successful career as a structural engineer in London, Montreal, and Canberra, and he continues to work in that profession.

The other evening my wife and I went to a launch of Igor Labzin’s book, Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.

Igor Labzin

Igor’s father graduated from the St Petersburg Naval Academy in 1918, just months after the start of the Russian Revolution. He had the wonderfully Russian name of Boris Martemianovich Labzin.

The young officer decided to support the White Army rather than the Communists, and Igor’s book traces his father’s life through the ensuing turmoil of civil war and escape to Manila and Shanghai in the 1930s, Indonesia in the 1940s and 50s and finally to Australia.

We knew about the book launch because Igor and my wife Cheryl were in the same class at senior high school and we met him recently at a school reunion. He still lives in Brisbane.

Igor was off the next day to launch his book in St Petersburg, at the invitation of the State Museum of the History of St Petersburg. How’s that for an immediate international audience (although the book has still to be translated into Russian)?

The Australian launch was at the wonderful independent Avid Bookshop at West End, Brisbane, which is a great supporter of new and existing writers. Digital publishing may be gaining ground (and I’ve published online myself), but there’s a lot to say for the smell and feel of a bookshop like Avid, with ‘real’ books.

Igor’s introduction to his father’s life was fascinating, and I’m looking forward to reading Russia and revolution: My father, the officer, the man.

The Hinkler cake

Regular readers of this blog will know of my book, Hustling Hinkler, a biography of the pioneer Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler.

At the abovementioned school reunion, one of my wife’s other former classmates, Narelle McTaggart, told me about a ‘Hinkler Cake’ which had apparently been devised especially for Bert Hinkler’s triumphant return to Bundaberg, Queensland, his home town, in February 1928, after his record-breaking solo flight from England to Australia in a single-engined biplane.

The recipe came from members of the Bundaberg Branch of the Queensland Country Women’s Association, an enduring community organisation that has branches in every Australian state and parallel organisations in other countries, including the Women’s Institute in Britain.

Narelle subsequently sent me the recipe, which is reproduced below. I am hoping to have a go at making a Hinkler cake, but haven’t yet got around to it.

Base

1/4 pound self-raising flour                 2oz butter           

2 teaspoons sugar                               Pinch salt

Mix with a little milk. Roll out paste very thin, put in flat buttered tin and spread with raisins, dates and currants

Sponge mixture

2oz butter                                            2 well-beaten eggs (or 1 egg & a little milk)

½ cup sugar (beaten to a cream)       4 tablespoons of milk Eggs

1 cup self-raising flour

Beat and spread on paste and fruit. Bake in a hot oven. When cool, spread with lemon icing.

I don’t know if Bert himself ever got to sample a slice of the Hinkler Cake. If any reader wants to be the first to try out the recipe, I’d be delighted to hear about it on this site, crumbs and all…

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

* The ‘facts’ of this story are as I heard them, so this retelling may be a version of the truth.

 

What writers say

The true unreliability of everything written down utterly fascinates me. Even the person who has set down the so-called facts will still get it essentially wrong. ~ Sebastian Barry

 

 

 

 

Until you know what it is to be a pea …

peas

And the winners are…

The Queensland Writers Centre and the publisher, Hachette Australia, recently announced the successful applicants for their 2015 joint Manuscript Development Program, now in its ninth year. They are:

Patricia Holland’s literary fiction manuscript ‘Lochwall’ (QLD)
Victoria Carless’ literary fiction manuscript, ‘The Dream Walker’ (QLD)
Wendy Davies’ romance manuscript, ‘The Drover’s Rest’ (VIC)
Susan Pearson’s historical crime thriller manuscript, ‘River is a Strong Brown God’ (QLD)
Mary-Ellen Stringer’s contemporary literary fiction manuscript, ‘A Beggar’s Garden’ (QLD)
Angella Whitton’s contemporary fiction manuscript, ‘The Night River’ (NSW)
Kali Napier’s historical fiction manuscript, ‘The Songs of All Poets’ (QLD)
Susan Fox’s commercial women’s fiction manuscript, ‘Mine’ (VIC)
Imbi Neeme’s divorce lit manuscript, ‘The Hidden Drawer’ (VIC).

I remember the excitement I felt when my name appeared on that list in 2010 for my non-fiction manuscript of the story of the Australian trail-blazing aviator, Bert Hinkler, which was published by Hachette Australia three years later as Hustling Hinkler. I also remember the anxiety I felt as I realised I had to polish my work to the highest standard for publication, and then submit it to public scrutiny.

Dawn Barker's book, 'Fractured', was chosen for the Manuscript Development Workshop in 2010, and later published by Hachette

Dawn Barker’s book, ‘Fractured’, was chosen for the Manuscript Development Program in 2010, and later published by Hachette.

From the experience of writers selected for the Manuscript Development Program in the past, not all the authors on the list above will see their books published by Hachette. Some will go on to other publishers; some may not make it to the point of publication, for various reasons.

Whatever the final outcome, selection in itself is an acknowledgment that the writer stands out from the crowd, and has something special to offer. So that alone is an encouragement in an industry where ‘getting a start’ is tough.

I know a writer whose application was unsuccessful this year, and I know how much work she put into the manuscript and how she drew on professional advice to help her shape her story. Even though she missed out on selection, this author is not giving up – she has a back-up plan to seek publication in other ways.

Some of the readers of this blog will know that one of my favourite quotes about writing is from the late science-fiction author, Isaac Asimov:

‘You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you’re working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success – but only if you persist.’ Isaac_Asimov

Read, and think, and listen to silence

I’ve been reading a biography of an author who won four Miles Franklin Awards*: Thea Astley: Inventing her own weather by Karen Lamb (University of Queensland Press, 2015), and came across this advice from the distinguished Australian author, Patrick White (1912 -1990), to Astley in 1961:

‘I think you should write nothing for a bit. Read. … Read, and think, and listen to silence, shell the peas, not racing to begin the next chapter, but concentrating on the work in had until you know what it is to be a pea … Then, when you have become solid, you will write the kind of book you ought to write.’ (p. 137)

Fire on the horizon

I was recently in Adelaide, South Australia, taking to ex-Chalkies about Army Education in Papua New Guinea (see previous blogs) and couldn’t resist taking this pic of the jetty at Glenelg around 8 o’clock on a Saturday night.

Glenelg Jetty Adelaide 8pm in mid-October

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

*The Miles Franklin Award award, now worth AU$50,000, was bequeathed by the will of Australian novelist, Miles Franklin, for a ‘published novel or play portraying Australian life in any of its phases’.  All entries for the award must have been published in the previous calendar year.

A boulder for a bold pilot

A boulder from a Queensland beach is now resting on the side of an Italian mountain, as a memorial to the trail-blazing Australian aviator, Bert Hinkler.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I wrote a biography of the famous pilot, Hustling Hinkler, which was published by Hachette in 2013.

Bert Hinkler Memorial, Mt Pratomagno, Italy

Bert Hinkler Memorial, Mt Pratomagno, Italy

Australian Ambassador to Italy, Mike Rann, recently unveiled the memorial on the slopes of Mount Pratomagno, in Arezzo Province.

Hinkler lost his life when his single-engined Puss Moth monoplane crashed on the mountainside in April 1933, during his second attempt on the England-Australia solo record.

The local Italian community and aero club paid tribute to Hinkler at the time as a pioneer international aviator, and Mussolini’s Fascist government accorded him a spectacular State funeral through the streets of Florence.

Bundaberg Aero Club memorial at Hinkler Ring, Italy

Bundaberg Aero Club memorial at Hinkler Ring, Italy

So it is fitting that the Australian, Queensland and Italian governments should unite in support of a memorial to the gallant flier at the place where he crashed.

The boulder is now a feature of an eight-kilometre long mountain trekking path, called The Hinkler Ring, inaugurated by the Italian Alpine Club’s Arezzo Branch.

The memorial was the brainchild of Queenslander, Kevin Lindeberg, who met one of the finders of Hinkler’s crashed plane, Gino Tocchioni , in 1974, and so knew where the crash site was.

Bundaberg City Council arranged for the 1.4 tonne basalt boulder to be transported to Italy from Mon Repos Beach, where Bert Hinkler first flew, in 1912, in a glider of his own design.

Hinkler Ring Memorial Walk. Italy

Hinkler Ring Memorial Walk. Italy

A time capsule buried in the base of the monument includes letters from the recently deposed Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. About 200 people attended the August ceremony, including Australian, British and Italian dignitaries, and Hinkler’s great nephew John Hinkler.

Here is an extract from the Prologue to Hustling Hinkler, the only piece of ‘creative’ non-fiction in the book, about Bert Hinkler’s final flight, in April 1933:

When he passed over the city of Florence around 10 am local time, he was already behind the schedule he’d mapped out. By now he’d been in the air for seven hours, and he was weary from the drone of the engine and battling the elements. Hinkler wished he’d been able to leave London three months earlier, as he’d originally intended, when the weather – and Air Ministry officials! – might have been kinder to him.

He could see cloud on the mountains distantly ahead, and the thought of diverting to Rome attracted him for a moment, but just as quickly he dismissed the idea – any diversion would mean less chance of breaking the record, and his future depended on achieving that goal. He continued south towards Brindisi. As soon as he’d made the decision to go on, patchy cloud began to snatch at the cockpit, and he could feel the cold drilling deeper into his bones. Sharp fingers of wind continued to push and pull at the plane, and for a moment Hinkler wondered if he sensed another tremor through the wings, but dismissed the thought as he wrestled with the controls.

Up ahead, through the clouds, he glimpsed the snow blanketing the Pratomagno mountains. He knew the highest point of the range, the Croce del Pratomagno, the Cross of Pratomagno, was just over 5000 feet, but that held no fears for him – after all, he’d crossed the much higher Italian Alps earlier in the day. Just so long as the winds were not too violent, and the plane held together . . .

Till next time

Darryl Dymock

 

What writers say:

Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind. ~ George Orwell

Input vs Output for Writers

The Brisbane Writers Festival (BWF 2015) is over for another year. I was fortunate to be able to get to a couple of the sessions on the Thursday and Friday – a masterclass withBWF-2015 US short story writer, Kelly Link, and another with researcher and biographer, Karen Lamb.

Kelly Link introduced us to The Family Arcana: A Story in Cards by Jedediah Berry. It’s described as ‘a story about a haunted family, published as a poker deck and written to be read an infinite number of ways’. Kelly’s deftness in shuffling this pack indicated either that she spent her childhood in Las Vegas or that she has a fall-back position if she ever tires of writing. One member of the masterclass asked her about the appropriate length of a short story. Kelly said she’d recently written a 14,000-word story, and one of her writing colleagues consequently suggested it

Author Kelly Link

Author Kelly Link

was time she thought about writing a novel…

I bought a copy of Kelly’s latest book of short stories, Get in trouble (Text Publishing, 2015), and when she signed it she warned me that the stories had ‘pretty weird endings’. I’m looking forward to reading it.

I have a few things in common with Karen Lamb – she’s a researcher and biographer, she teaches at a university in Brisbane, and she likes structure in her teaching. So she had a timetable for the masterclass. The value of the class for me was that it gave me new insights into my current draft about the ‘Chalkies’ in Papua New Guinea 1966-73 (see previous blog). Also, Karen mentioned a book by an American writer, the intriguingly named Francine Prose, Reading Like a Writer (Harper Collins, 2006), described as ‘A guide for people who love books and for those who want to write them’, which could be worth a look. I bought a copy of Karen’s biography, Thea Astley: Inventing her own weather (University of Queensland Press, 2015), because I’m interested to see how she wrote it, and I also like supporting fellow writers as well as an independent bookshop (State Library of Queensland).Thea Astley biog

There were other potentially fascinating sessions at BWF, but apart from having family commitments over the weekend, I also reach a point at such events where I need to get back to my own writing rather than continue to hear other writers talk about theirs. I strongly support the adage that the best thing a writer can do is write! As a long-time educator as well as writer, I believe external input, whether through writers’ festivals, self-help guides or online tips, can be very helpful, especially if it’s timely, but it can also be an excuse for procrastination.

Book review

I thought I’d share with you my response to a book my wife gave me for my birthday: Between you and me: Confessions of a comma queen by Mary Norris (Text Publishing, Melbourne)

Mary Norris is a copy-editor at the well-known The New Yorker magazine, which publishes news stories, short stories, essays, cartoons, poetry, etc, and includes an audience well outside its host city. It’s also well-known, if not notorious, for its rigorous copy-editing, and Mary Norris is one of the enforcers.

new-yorker-magazine

This non-fiction book is part memoir, part discussion of points of punctuation and grammar, often humourously expressed, and sometimes self-deprecating. Nevertheless, there are clearly standards of English expression to be upheld, and Ms Norris shows she believes has a responsibility as a standard-bearer. She does not brook the use of dangling participles, for example, once objecting to this construction from an author: ‘Over tea in the greenhouse, her mood turned dark’, and she rejects outright the use of ‘their’ in place of ‘his and/or her’. Mary Norris also uses only No. 2 pencils for hard-copy editing and if someone accidentally leaves a No. 1 pencil on her desk and she picks it up, she knows immediately it is not hers, and throws it in her desk drawer.  Part of her story is about being able to find a reliable supply of No. 2 pencils.  You get the picture.

In between, the author gives us a fascinating insight into the backrooms of The New Yorker and her fellow editors, including Lu, who ‘patrolled the halls like a prison warden’. On Lu’s desk sat a small canister she called a ‘comma shaker’, to express her distaste for what she saw as The New Yorker’s over-use of commas.

Between you and me: Confessions of a comma queen is an enjoyable read, and some of Mary Norris’s punctuation examples are guaranteed to provoke discussion among people who care about the use of language. I just hope she doesn’t run her No. 2 pencil over my blog.

Until next time

Darryl Dymock

 

 

Making a difference

I’ve never been one for making New Year resolutions, or rather, specific New Year resolutions, but at the beginning of each year I always feel an urge to do better in some way. (Mind you, the fact that I ‘m writing this on the first day of February might indicate that overcoming procrastination could be a specific goal worth aiming for.)

While I was doing a clean-up of my study over the past few weeks (which in itself might be seen as appropriately New Yearish), I came across two clippings, that, on re-reading, seem particularly appropriate for beginning a new year.

One of them is an extract from Ray Bradbury’s classic story, Fahrenheit 451:

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it, into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” (HarperCollins, London, 2004, p.164) In everything that I do, I’d rather be the gardener than the guy who just cuts the lawn.  I think of my late sister-in-law, Monica, who was about the same age as me when she died 18 months ago, and how her memory still lives on in the lives of people she knew and loved, because she touched them in some way. Through her acts and words, and through her husband, children and grandchildren, she’s still there.

The other quote I came across is from Neil Finn, former member of the band ‘Crowded House’, who continues to perform. Talking about his song-writing in an interview published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Finn said:

“When something looks effortless, like it always existed, like it rolled out of you like a river, then you have done a good job. But what makes that up is painful, small steps, craft, skulduggery, anything that gets you over the line.”

Neil Finn

Neil Finn

I have a number of writing projects on the go this year, and my aim is to make all of my writing look ‘effortless’. But I know that will require ‘painful, small steps and craft’ and that magic ingredient Finn calls ‘skulduggery’. There is also another element, which he doesn’t mention: just getting on with it. Sit down and write.

For 2015, may your gardens be well tended and your creativity roll out of you like a river. “It doesn’t matter what you do, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it, into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”

How would you like to be remembered?

Darryl Dymock

On the importance of being literate

On the importance of being literate is the title of a book that my good friend, the late Arch Nelson, was inspired to create in the early 1980s, when he was Chair of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy. I was reminded of the book’s title by something Richard Flanagan said in his acceptance speech as co-winner of the Australian Prime Minister’s 2014 Literary Award for Fiction for his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Flanagan, who earlier had won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for the same publication, said at the PM’s event, ‘If me standing here means anything, it’s that literacy can change lives.’ Arch Nelson passionately believed that too, and in the introduction to On the importance of being literate, he wrote: ‘The level of literacy in our society is an index of the respect, the affection and the compassion we have for each other, and … these things … are – or should be – basic to our way of life.’

Flanagan showed his own passion for literacy by donating his prize-money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), an organisation dedicated to improving literacy among Australian Aboriginal people in remote and isolated areas. In making the gesture, Flanagan brought the wheel of writing and reading full circle – the ILF was founded by the owner of the well-known Brisbane indie bookstore, Riverbend, in 2005, and has been supported by the Australian Book Industry ever since. I also donate a portion of my writing income to the ILF, but unfortunately my book sales are not in Flanagan’s league 😦

Like Flanagan and Nelson, my experience as a researcher and an educator convinces me that literacy can change lives, because it helps people take control of their lives. To paraphrase radical Brazilian educator, the late Paolo Freire, literacy helps us to read the word and the world.

It was therefore disconcerting to read in the Sydney Morning Herald of 13-14 December, 2014 that primary and high school students in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, are not achieving literacy and numeracy targets, and that children starting the first year of school are less academically prepared for the transition than they were three years ago (p. 5).

This is despite the introduction of standardised tests at regular intervals at school, and the fact that some 96% of the state’s children were involved in some sort of pre-school program.

I don’t claim to know why improvements aren’t coming, but I do know what I first learned some 30 years ago when I was Secretary of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy: the acquisition of literacy is a complex process, that the ‘aha’ moment of ‘cracking the code’ comes for different individuals at different times, that no single ‘system’ or strategy of teaching works for everyone, and that learning to read and write is a long-term proposition, not something acquired overnight, especially for adults who may have had unhappy experiences of school, and have been out of the classroom for a long time.

Not only do writers have a vested interest in having a literate population, but, like Arch Nelson (and, I suspect, Richard Flanagan), I believe that the level of literacy in a nation is a mark of the extent to which we are able to understand the world in a critical way, to respond to it, and to participate meaningfully and sensibly in it.

What’s your take on literacy?

Darryl Dymock

Books from our backyard 2014

Both my books that were published in 2013 are in the Books from our backyard 2014 catalogue, developed and recently published by the Queensland Writers Centre. Books from our Backyard is a catalogue of books written by Queenslanders or Queensland residents and published in 2013. My two are:

Hustling Hinkler: The short tumultuous life of a trailblazing Australian aviator (Hachette Australia 2013). Available at good bookshops and online through Amazon, Dymocks etc.

Extending your Use-by Date: Why retirement age is only a number (Xoum 2013). Available in print and e-book from the publisher http://www.xoum.co.au and online though Amazon, iTunes etc.

My latest published piece is ‘Working late: Encore careers’, an essay published in Griffith Review literary magazine, No. 45. As a result of that article, I was interviewed on Tony Delroy’s Nightlife program on ABC Radio on 30 July, along with another contributor to that issue of Griffith Review, Gideon Haigh.

 

 

Why are you writing?

I recently ran a workshop, ‘Harnessing your research for writing’, for the Queensland Writers Centre, and one of the most valuable sessions was when the 12 participants were asked to write a synopsis of the non-fiction book they were writing or planning to write. In 100-200 words, they tried to put down what the book is about, in words that would make a reader want to rush to open it, or a publisher offer a contract.

This turned out to be a challenging session for all of them. I watched them sweating over their keyboards and notebooks, grimacing, sitting back, crossing out, plunging on. At the end of the allotted time, I asked each of them to read out the first few sentences, and for the other to give feedback. It was a very constructive session, I thought, and its major value was in forcing all of them to consider what the purpose of the book was, what their intention was in writing it. Some of them were quite clear about where the book was heading, others were not so sure, and one or two decided they needed a major rethink.

It was a very interesting range of themes too, from memoir to self-help, and we plan to get together again in a couple of months to see how we’re all going.

If you’re writing a book, or planning to, you might consider the same exercise, writing a synopsis, as a way of focussing on its purpose, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. It could be a helpful way of keeping your writing on track.

One person who’s been on track with her writing is Charlotte Nash. I recently went to the launch of Charlotte’s second rural romance novel, Iron Junction. Set in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, the book tells the story of Dr Beth Harding, who leaves Sydney to take a locum job in the mining town of Iron Junction, and Will Walker, who’s foregone following his father into the cattle business to work in the mines.

Hi-vis vests & hardhats at the Iron Junction launch

Hi-vis vests & hardhats at the Iron Junction launch

Once again the book draws on Charlotte’s experience in the bush as a medical trainee and engineer. At the launch, a bunch of creative friends came in high-vis vests and hard hats, complete with Iron Junction logo. Charlotte added to the creativity by giving away chocolate bars and bottles of waterWith Charlotte Nash Iron Junction launch adorned with a label from the book’s cover. Sustenance for the mind and body. Water and reading are non-fattening, but I have my doubts about the chocolate …

Writing with passion and purpose

When people learn that I’m a (mainly) non-fiction writer, they sometimes say, ‘I don’t know how you write a book. I wouldn’t know where to start.’

When it comes to non-fiction, you should start with the primary purpose of the book. Why are you writing it?

If it’s a memoir, are you writing it for yourself or for others to read? If it’s a history, what are the main themes you want to stress, i.e. what are the points you want to get across through the story you are telling? If it’s a self-help book, what messages do you want the reader to go away with, or what actions do you want them to take? And so on.

In the introduction to Speechless (Melbourne University Press, 2012) James Button writes:

I wrote this book because I feel an important issue is at stake. Our politics seem thin and barren. Ordinary people are increasingly uncomprehending and disengaged. … But this view, however understandable and widely felt, does not do justice to the many people I met in Canberra who are trying to do good things … On the inside, the stories of politics and government are as fascinating and vital as ever.

Whether or not you agree with his viewpoint, Button’s words go to the heart of any writing: the author’s passion for the subject, passion for the story, passion for the message. What is it that you are passionate about that you want to convey in your book?

Once you have decided on the main purpose of your writing, you need to deal with how best to sequence the material you want to present. If you’re writing a history or biography, it might seem a no-brainer that the events will be in chronological order, but that isn’t always so. You still need to engage the reader, and some information may better serve as background to the main events.

For example, in Jon Krakauer’s book about a disastrous series of accidents and misjudgements on Mount Everest in 1996, Into thin air (Pan Books, 2011), he lets us know in the Preface that twelve people died – we don’t need to wait for the final chapter for that piece of tragic news. He is counting on the reader wanting to know how such appalling loss of life came about. In addition, the first three chapters leap back and forth in time: May 10, 1996; 1852; and March 29, 1996, respectively. In Chapters 2 and 3, Krakauer explains how past events had an impact on the happenings he describes in Chapter 1.

You will also need to decide how to structure your information, e.g. in chapters around key events, by theme, or by topic. If you compare cook books, you will see that culinary authors use a variety of criteria to decide what they will include and how they will group and sequence it. Stephanie Alexander’s classic, The cook’s companion (Penguin, 1997), features recipes based around foods in alphabetical order, beginning with ‘Anchovies’, and ending with ‘Zucchini and squash’, but the opening sections are about ‘Equipment’ and ‘Basics’. The sections in Annabel Langbein’s The free range cook (ABC Books, 2012) on the other hand, start with ‘From the oven’ and conclude with ‘From the orchard’. The authors and publishers not only have a particular purpose in mind for each of those books, but also a particular audience, which is the third issue you need to consider: for whom are you writing?

The answer to that question will help you decide on both the content and sequence for your book.

If you’re writing a self-help book about computers, for instance, what level of expertise do you expect the readers to have to be able to make use of what you tell them? In the early days of home computers, an American professor of adult education, Malcolm Knowles, complained that manufacturers’ manuals were geared towards teaching buyers how a computer works rather than about using it to perform the real-life tasks people bought them for. The point he made is still an important one for non-fiction authors: consider what the end-user is likely to want the information for.

Even in memoir writing, you need to consider what your intended readers might be most interested in. Putting in everything you consider important may be boring to those not so intimately connected with your life events and activities.

Nevertheless, as Simon Nasht says in The last explorer, a biography of Hubert Wilkins, the sum of a person’s life is not measured just by its accomplishments, but by how it is spent. The challenge for an author is to present that life, whether it is their own or someone else’s, with a sense of purpose in the writing, and with the information ordered in a way that makes sense to the reader, while at the same time not overburdening the book with trivia.

Finally, you may want to supplement your text with images, and once again you need to consider what will be helpful to the reader. Can you imagine a cookbook without photographs to help you see what you are aiming for? A map will make clear an explorer’s path, drawings can transform a how-to book, a graph can provide an instant comparison of a bunch of statistics, and carefully selected images can illuminate a biography or memoir.

I’ll be leading a one-day workshop at the Queensland Writers Centre in Brisbane on Saturday May 3 on the topic of ‘Harnessing your research for writing’, and we’ll be working our way through all those elements of a non-fiction book.

It doesn’t matter where the participants are up to in the writing process – whether it’s still an idea in their heads, or whether they’ve assembled some research and have begun writing. At the end of the day, they should go away with a plan of how to put it all together in a way that will be attractive to readers.

This should be the perfect opportunity to kick off the project they’ve always been intending to do. 

If you can’t make it to the workshop, I hope the ideas above might stimulate you to begin or continue your own non-fiction writing journey.

What’s your passion and how do you or will you write about it? Whatever sort of writer you are, I’d love to hear from you via the Comments button on this page.

PS My ‘self help’ book, Extending your use-by date, is now also available in print format, from the publisher: Xoum Publications.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s raining books!

In my previous blog, I mentioned that I’d strategically placed books by three fellow authors when Channel 7 News was filming an interview in my home office. Within a couple of weeks of publishing that blog, I discovered the exciting news that all three of them have new books in the pipeline. I also have a small item to add about one of my books.

Charlotte Nash

First cab off the rank is Charlotte Nash, with Iron Junction, her rural romance follow-up to the best-selling Ryders Ridge.

This time the setting is on the other side of the continent, in isolated mining country in Western Australia. According to the Hachette website: ‘Overwhelmed by her family’s expectations, Dr Beth Harding leaves Sydney behind and takes a locum job in the mining town of Iron Junction. With tensions in the mine running high, and feeling like an outsider, Beth is soon convinced the move was a huge mistake. That is, until she meets Will, who could make the difference between her leaving or staying.’ You’ll have to buy the book to find out if she stays or goes…

Ryders Ridge will be launched in Brisbane on 11th April, and I plan to be there.

Dawn Barker

Just two months later, Dawn Barker’s new book, Let Her Go, will be released. This is also a second book, after the very successful Fractured. Dawn has used her experience as a psychiatrist in both these books, and Let Her Go is described as ‘a gripping, emotionally charged story of family, secrets and the complications of love. Part thriller, part mystery, it will stay with you long after you close the pages wondering: What would you have done?’

Watch for Let Her Go in bookshops in June/July.

Poppy Gee

To complete the trio, I bumped into Poppy Gee, author of the popular Bay of Fires, at the Launceston airport, where she was en route as an invited speaker at the inaugural Festival of Golden Words at Beaconsfield in northern Tasmania. Poppy told me that she’s finished her second novel, and that it’s currently with a publisher, so WATCH THIS SPACE.

Extending Your Use-by Date

Finally, my news is not as exciting as another book publication (although I am working on another narrative non-fiction), but I’m pleased that Extending Your Use-by Date, which was published as an e-book in 2013, is now also available in print format. I know some people who will be pleased to have a hard copy in their hands. It’s available through the publisher, Xoum Publications, Sydney.

Keeping up appearances

I have a spate of local author events coming up in the next two months. If you’re in the area, you might like to check these out:

 Monday April 7: The rocky road to publication.

Elanora Library, Gold Coast 10am-11am gold-coast

Robina Library, Gold Coast 2pm-3pm

This is part of the ‘Gold Coast Writes’ program, and  I hope that tips and discussion in these free sessions from my experience in researching, writing and getting publishing contracts will help prospective authors on their own writing journeys. Bookings here.

 Saturday May 3: One-day workshop: Harnessing research for writing

Queensland Writers Centre, Brisbane, 10.30am- 4.30pm.

‘Whether you’re writing biography or historical non-fiction, family history or instructional guides, the most daunting task is how to structure and present your research and resources in a logical way to create a compelling read.’ QWC

This workshop comes from my own experience over many years and from queries from other prospective non-fiction (and fiction) writers about the challenge of shaping the information you’ve collected into a manageable and logical sequence that will make sense to readers. This will be a hands-on workshop where writers can go away at the end of the day with a plan that they can implement immediately, wherever they are up to in the development of their manuscript, from beginner to almost completed.

 22 May: Panel Discussion: Australian Novels as History

Toowong Library, 6pm-7.30pm

This is a free event for Australian Library Week, and I’m delighted to be able to support a local library. My writing is mainly historical non-fiction, but I’m sure there will be opportunity for a few viewpoints.

As you can see from all the above, while the publishing process can often take a long time, sometimes things come together! So when you step outside, you’d better put your umbrella up quickly, but upside down of course, so you won’t miss any of these great books 🙂