Writing process

One month to go

Only one month to the day Stars Beyond is published.

We’re starting to get nervous.

For those of you who have book money to spend after Christmas, we can recommend a good book. Lots of fun, adventure in space. Great characters. Why not give it a try.

The book is out on 20 January.

Writing process


Flew into Sydney this morning to start our cruise. The sky was still hazy, but nowhere near as bad as it was a week ago.  Last week the harbour bridge was obscured with thick, black smoke.  This week you can see the bridge, even though the sky still looks smoggy.

As a result, the setting sun was a beautiful orange-yellow.  Photos never do it justice, but here’s what it looked like.

Sitting up so high on the ship, you can see how beautiful some of the older architecture in Sydney is.

Writing process

Walking to New Zealand

The view from a ship gym.

Next week it’s cruise time.

If you read this blog you’ll know that both Sherylyn and I enjoy cruising. There’s something about being on the water that is magic. Not having to cook or clean is nice, too.

I love New Zealand. We cruised there last year, and we’re going back mid-year to WorldCon. We weren’t planning on going there again at Christmas, we planned to cruise the Aegean, or reposition from Southampton or Seattle to Sydney.  

But the New Zealand cruise was cheap, and the time was good, and we’re both really looking forward to it.

Last trip we did everything Lord of the Rings. This year we‘re doing nature. Particularly nature of a volcanic origin, because here in Australia our land is geologically stable, relatively speaking, and has been for a long time. New Zealand, however, is on the Pacific Ring of Fire. Show me some geysers and hot springs, please.

Anyway, we picked out a tour that’s going to take us into the area we want. It has a three kilometre ‘moderate’ walk.

“I don’t think you realise how unfit I am,” I said to Sherlyn, who goes to Zumba twice a week.

“You’re not that bad,” she said. “We used to walk a lot.”

That was a long time ago now, and I haven’t done any real exercise for twelve months. Life right now is work, home, dinner, sleep, and get up the next day and do it all over again. I don’t even take the stairs at work any more as I have a dodgy knee.

Around the same time, my work had one of those get fit initiatives where you join a team and count the number of steps you do each day.

“I’m in,” I said. It was perfect timing to get fit for the cruise.

I struggled. Not because I had to walk—although that was hard—but because my dodgy knee decided to play up. It was agony.

It still is.

Sherylyn has ordered some walker’s sticks for me. If I take some weight off the knee it helps (it would help even more if I lost some weight) but I’m still not as fit or as fast as I’d like to be.

Hence I have decided to walk to New Zealand.

Not all the way, of course, because there’s so much to do on board, but those of you who have been on ships might know that two prime forward viewing areas of the ship are taken up by the beauty salon and the gym.

One thing I do enjoy on a ship is the treadmill. There’s the ocean in front of you, and not much else. It’s a perfect place to dream.

All I want by the end of it is to be able to walk three kilometres in reasonable time.

As for the knee, we’ll see how that is on the day.

Writing process

The Shreader

The Shreader crew.
I’m feeling bad because I didn’t write down the names of the people doing the Shreader, and I can only name three of them. From left to right–Kim Wilkins, author, Sue Wright, editor and publisher, and Justine Barker, agent. I can’t put a name to the the convenor, sorry, but he read the manuscripts. If anyone can identify him, let me know in the comments.

Another GenreCon has been and gone. It was a lot of fun, with some stand-out sessions.

The conference was two weeks after Sherylyn and I ran an editing session down here in Melbourne, and some sessions particularly made an impact because I was still thinking about the course.

The Shreader

One session I want to talk about is the Shreader, where ten brave souls submitted the first two pages of their manuscript to an author, an agent and an editor, and they decided whether they’d read more or pass (shred).

It takes courage to put yourself out in public like that, even when you’re a published author with an editor and an agent behind you. For newbies, who don’t even have that experience behind them, it can be a raw experience.  It’s one I’d recommend, however, if you think you can take it.

As newbie writers we put our work out there and want praise. What we need, however, is constructive feedback. We also need the ability to listen to that feedback, the thick skin that comes from experience of being critiqued. It allows us to dissociate ourselves from the work being considered—mostly, anyway.

The Shreader is a harsh way to get this feedback, but it’s real life, and if you can face something like the Shreader and get value out of it, you’re levelling up as a writer. Good on you.

My two cents

The writing was good in all samples, but only four made it past the shredder.

You got a hint of how different stories appeal to different people, with those on the stage who liked fantasy showing more interest in the fantasy offerings, and—I think it was the agent, who specialised in children’s and young adult fiction—showing more interest in a story that was likely to be young adult. I found this myself, as I listened. Whilst the samples were all well-written there was only that caught my interest enough to want to read more.

It’s like picking up books in a library. I borrow roughly one in ten of those I read the blurb on.

I would say that for me many of stories felt as if they started too early. They also contained a lot of backstory. One of the things we touched on in the course we ran two weeks earlier was infodumps, so I was still very aware of how much backstory slows down the narrative, particularly in the first few pages, where you’re trying to capture the reader’s attention.

Resonating with Theme

The other session was Rob Porteous’ Resonating with Theme.

In this session, Rob talked about his years of judging the Aurealis awards. I’m working from memory here, because I didn’t write it down, but Rob said that the stories he judged were mostly well written, and 80% of them started off with a great idea. However, few of them carried through on the promise of the story.

It came immediately after The Shreader, and the two sessions seemed to cover a theme. Not Rob’s theme, which was about putting a theme into your story, but a thread of how you can write well, and have great ideas but still not be quite there.

When it is there, however, that’s when the magic happens.