Now Sponsoring “Story Dogs”, Sunshine Coast

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I am very proud to announce that I am now an official sponsor of a Story Dogs team here on the Sunshine Coast, sponsoring Ella and Charlie (pictured). Story Dogs is a registered charity that supports literacy programs in schools by sending in a volunteer human-canine partnership to help students on their paths to becoming confident, enthusiastic readers.

I first came across the concept several years ago via an American website and then looked for a similar program in Australia. I looked into volunteering with my Golden Retriever Daisy, but quickly realised Daisy was too much of a clown and I didn’t think we’d pass the behaviour test! Now, with my son starting Prep this year, I came across the program again and was truly excited to discover that I could add my name to the list of enthusiastic sponsors who help to keep this program running around the nation.

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While the sponsorship money is pooled across the country to ensure that no child misses out, the beautiful faces of my personal sponsorship are Ella and Charlie, who volunteer at St Thomas Moore primary school here on the Sunshine Coast, and I have committed to sponsoring a Story Dogs team each year that my son is in primary school.

As a former English teacher and now author, I know that reading is the keystone skill to a life of opportunity. 

You don’t have to be an official sponsor to help out too. You can donate or volunteer your time. Just visit the Story Dogs website at www.storydogs.org.au.

Books are like children: each one is different

There are many similarities with creating books and creating kids–the gestation, the labour of getting them out into the world, the letting go. And most of all, is the nurturing process, the drafts and drafts of ‘growing up’ with them, of listening to what they want to do while simultaneously trying to shape them into what you want them to do. Writers will tell you that each book’s process is different, just as every child is different. Here’s what I’ve learned so far from each of my very different (published) book babies.

The Tea Chest

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As an aspiring author who’d been rejected over one hundred times, I truly didn’t believe this book baby was going to make it out into the world. Perhaps like a mother who’d struggled to conceive and had lost so many babies along the way, I was well prepared to ‘lose’ this one too. I was shocked when this book sold, struggling to find excitement though it was something I’d wanted and worked so hard for for so long. I didn’t trust it. Fortunately, it all worked out, and it worked out far better than I could have dreamed.

But the biggest thing I learned from this book was to trust the magic. Writing a book takes discipline, sacrifice, artistry and more than a sprinkling of magic. I wrote the book I wanted to read. That was it. It was a lesson that took me twelve years and ten manuscripts to learn, but I got it. Finally.

The Chocolate Promise

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This book was written with a young baby in arms, excruciating levels of sleep deprivation, endless hours on long country roads to doctors, specialists and real estate agents as we make a difficult transition from the bush to the beach, gambling everything we had on a 115-year-old renovator’s ‘delight’, simultaneously relocating our family business to a new geographical region, with many months split between homes. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I drank so much coffee and ate so much chocolate (as research, but it doubled as caffeine too), blindly packing up my stuff to go and write for three hours at a time while a friend came to look after my young son. I never want to write a book under those circumstances again. Yet, I did it. I learned that even if a book feels like it’s going to fail, it won’t. I learned that I can make deadlines under the most crippling of circumstances. And I learned that the story always turns up. Even when I think I have no idea what I’m doing, the story has its own ideas and if I turn up at the page, it will turn up to meet me. Trust. Trust. Trust.

The Beekeeper’s Secret

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This book turned up unexpectedly. I’d been trying to write a family saga set on a coffee farm and had done heaps of research into coffee but I wasn’t getting any ‘signs’ to support that I was on the right track. So I had to sit back and say, okay, what else am I interested in. Everywhere I went, I saw bees, beekeepers and honey. I began researching bees and fell head over heels in love with them. I started to write a story (a corporate sabotage), but it wasn’t working and I had Catholic nuns in the background who were trying to wedge into the story. But they didn’t belong there. Again, I had to stop and say, ‘okay, what do you want?’ Maria Lindsey started talking and she didn’t stop. This book wrote itself so easily. Don’t get me wrong; it’s always hard work. But Maria’s voice was there every time I fired up my laptop. I trusted her, stepping outside of my comfort zone, delving into some darker places, and it all came together. With this book, I again learned to trust the story but I also learned to trust my readers. I was worried my readers would baulk at the change of direction this story took, but they didn’t. They came with me and loved it. I also learned that writing a book doesn’t have to be hard. Easy books are still good books.

Three Gold Coins

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Okay, so fourth novel in you’d have thought I’d learned a few things? Well, as previously stated, each book is different. This one was my most difficult book yet. I wrote three separate versions of this story. The final word count is around 110,000 words but I would have easily written over 220,000 in the process.

I mucked it up.

Firstly, I wrote the ‘wrong book’. I started this book in the Cotswolds in England and it was called Foxleigh’s Cheese Emporium and the novel revolved around two sisters, Lara and Sunny Foxleigh. But I got 50,000 words in (half a novel) and realised I’d written myself into a corner that I couldn’t get out of. So, I did what any sensible author would do and ran away to Tuscany ūüėČ While in Tuscany, I found a way to reincarnate Lara and Sunny Foxleigh into a totally new story.

Next, I mucked it up again. I started writing the story and backstory arrived. But I didn’t like the backstory and didn’t want to go there. I simply didn’t do books like that. So I constructed all sorts of plot and backstory to avoid writing what I didn’t want to write. I sent it off for an appraisal and upon reading my editor’s notes I realised my fatal flaw. I hadn’t listened to the story and I hadn’t trusted myself to write it.

I wrote a third version, one that went to difficult places, far darker than I’ve been to before. It was hard for me emotionally. I struggled. But good advisors kept encouraging me to continue and I pushed through it. I realised how much I have avoided writing about deep, deep pain because I didn’t want to feel it myself. But it was what the book needed and it is far, far stronger now than it was in the second version. It is now the story that wanted to be told from the start. I was a very, very slow learner on that one. In hindsight, I think that the commonly given advice to writers–to write what you’re most afraid of–is actually spot on. I know I am now a better, stronger writer for having gone to the place I didn’t want to go. I’m no longer afraid to go there again. This book made me grow ten-fold over what any of the previous books did.

Book Five?

What’s next? I’m pleased to say that book five is so far behaving itself! Phew! I am hoping it will be the easiest kid yet. It will be out in 2019.

 

 

 

 

Do you want to run a bookshop?

Sisters, Lucinda and Natalie, run The River Read at Noosaville

Sisters, Lucinda and Natalie, run The River Read at Noosaville

Have you ever dreamed of chucking in your ‘real’ job and owning and running a bookstore instead? Of being surrounded by endless books to choose from? A coffee machine whirring away next to you, book launches and that irresistible smell of new books? I did, all the time when I was working in a ¬†corporate job and trying to crack a publishing deal. My fantasy life was as a bookstore owner. So I thought it would be nice to ask a real person what that dream is actually like.

The lovely Lucinda Morley, co-owner with her sister at The River Read, answered some questions on what her day job is like.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself (and your sister) and your bookshop? 
My sister Natalie and I bought The River Read 5 years ago. For a couple of years we had been on the lookout for an opportunity to go into business together. We had grown up in Noosa and are big book lovers, so when my husbands step mother told me that she was thinking about moving on and selling The River Read it was the perfect opportunity for us. 6 months after buying the shop we added the coffee side of the business which was another great learning curve for us. We had never run a cafe OR a bookshop! We came into the business with a lot of passion and energy, and took on board a lot of advice from experts in both areas. We get told by customers all the time that the shop has a great energy, which we think is a result if it being something we put a lot of love into.

The courtyard at The River Read

The courtyard at The River Read

I think a lot of us dream of quitting our day jobs and running a bookstore. Is it really as much fun as it’s cracked up to be?
It’s pretty fun! We still get a buzz whenever new release books arrive, especially from authors we love. It’s pretty great going to a work being surrounded by books all day. It’s especially great because we do it together. Obviously there’s a serious side – paying the bills, hiring staff etc. but overall we love it.
What do you love most about your job?
Reading! It’s funny because people assume we come to work and get to read all day, but the opposite is true. We constantly have people (customers, book reps) telling us we MUST read this or that book and it can be really frustrating because you go home with a pile of books and not nearly enough time to read them.
How many books do you read a week/month? On average I’d say a book a week – sometimes more sometimes less. It depends on the size of the books and how much spare time I get (which is often not much).
What’s been the most challenging or unexpected thing that’s happened since you started?¬†What really amazes me is that after 5 years running and working in a bookshop, there is still not a day that goes by that a customer asks about an author I’ve never heard of. There are so many books and authors out there! It used to really frustrate me but now I just listen and enjoy learning every day. You can’t read everything so we really take on board the wealth of knowledge our customers bring in.

What are your top three pieces of advice for someone who dreams of having their own bookshop?

  1. Do your numbers. Having a bookshop is wonderful but unfortunately there isn’t a lot of money to be made from them. You need to have a variety of products to be successful.
  2. Don’t try to be everything to all people – you will never win. You heed to decide what kind of bookshop you want to be, which is determined largely by your location. We are in a tourist area so we stock mainly the type of books people read or buy when they’re on holidays. We have a local customer base also, so we do cater for that too, however we don’t do for example a lot of reference books. There are literally billions of books out there and you can’t stock them all.
  3. Keep reading books you love. When we first bought the shop I felt pressure to read outside my usual genres so I could sell them but reading really started to feel like a chore. I do read lots of different types of books but I’ve gone back to reading for pleasure. You can’t know everything about every type of book and you’re better off being honest to customers and saying ‘I don’t personally read a lot of that type if book, but….’ There are lots of ways to learn about different books without forcing yourself to read it all – listen to customers, friends, family, book reps. You need to keep loving books or you loose sight if why you started doing it in the first place.

Thanks, Lucinda!

The Tea Chest is alive!

My novel, The Tea Chest, is alive!

Last week I had the fabulous fortune of going to Melbourne and sharing high tea with a gaggle of fabulous women, booksellers in the independent book world. And to my complete surprise, a tier of reading copies of The Tea Chest greeted me upon arrival. I lost the power of speech for a good five minutes! Luckily, there was champagne and delectable goodies to revive me.

Reading copies are given out to booksellers and reviewers prior to the book being finalised and going on sale. So the cover is still not the final cover and the words do not include the final edits. But, gosh, how exciting it was.

I also had the pleasure of staying in the charming Windsor hotel, which was delightful.

Thank you to everyone who came to meet me, hear about my book and share tea. I always knew booksellers were special people but I like you all that much more again.

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GenreCon Wrap-up

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I was at GenreCon in Brisbane on the weekend, just for a day on account of my young child, and sadly missed out on the cocktails and karaoke, which were responsible for a number of red eyes on the Saturday. I was in a bit of a state myself, actually, having just lost my beloved Golden Retriever, Goldie, and I had several vague conversations with people, where words simply would not make their way from my brain to my mouth. Apologies if you were on the receiving end of one of these uncomfortable conversations.

Here are the highlights from that day, during the moments I was actually engaged with life.

  • Chuck Wendig was a special guest at a session on planning and prioritising writing around the complications of life and gave a hilarious account of what it’s like to have multiple book contracts and a toddler running around while trying to work, something I can empathise with wholeheartedly. Gracie Macgregor was also a guest there and equally funny in her accounts of writing and motherhood.
  • It is always delightful to chat to the lovely and funny, Anna Campbell, who managed to cheer me up for a few minutes. Thanks, Anna.
  • I caught up with a former work colleague, a fellow editor where I worked at John Wiley & Sons, Victoria Steele, and her friend, romance writer, Christina Brooke.
  • The food. Can I just say how amazing the food was at GenreCon? Seriously. Great job.
  • I sat in on a workshop with¬†Damon Cavalchini on preparing for reading from my book, The Tea Chest (out in April 2014). I picked up some great tips, including thinking about what I would do if it suddenly began to rain on me in the middle of my reading (has anyone created an Iddy-Biddy-Book-Umbrella?), and also, the benefit of having my own source of light, such as a book light.
  • And it’s always a delight to hear Kimberley Freeman (Dr Kim Wilkins) speak on all topics related to writing.

 

Well done to Meg Vann and Peter M Ball for organising such a great event. I look forward to staying for the festivities next year too.

A shameful secret

I have a confession to make.

In the spirit of Liane Moriarty‘s latest novel, The Husband’s Secret, I have decided to reveal a shameful secret. Actually, just to be self-indulgent, I will reveal two secrets.

First, Bold and the Beautiful is my guilty pleasure. I’m watching it right now! (I know, I know…)

Husband'sSecret_AusBut not only that, I have for the first time in my entire life done something awful. I skipped to the end of The Husband’s Secret to find out what the secret was. Yes, it’s true. Why? Because the tension in this book is utterly excruciating and I actually thought I might DIE if I didn’t relieve just a little of the pressure from this intense and masterful tale.

Around seven years ago, I was sitting with a group of fellow editors. We all worked in a publishing house in Brisbane and we were talking about books (of course) and do you know what? Half of the people in that circle confessed to regularly skipping to the end of the book to find out what happens to decide if it was worth reading. Half!!!! As an aspiring author, I was distraught! And these were editors, no less. They should know better!!!

But here I was, just a few days ago, lying in bed, well past bedtime, in writhing agony of the unknown and what did I do… exactly the same.

Shame, Josie, shame.

If you’re into compelling secrets, fantastic writing, clever dialogue, humour and very human tales, you won’t be disappointed in¬†Liane Moriarty’s latest offering. Though I certainly do not recommend it for reading before bed. Not if you ever want to sleep before turning the final page.

The publishing news I’ve been dying to share

I have been waiting a long time to share this news. Not just the past four months since my agent, Fiona Inglis, at Curtis Brown first sent out my manuscript to seven big publishers¬†and quickly began receiving excited feedback. But for years. Fourteen years, to be precise. Fourteen years since I decided unequivocally that I wanted to be a career writer. And in that time I’ve written around ten full manuscripts and received countless rejections. Some of them lovely. Some of them rude. Some of them heartbreakingly close to success. All of them leading to this moment.

footerLogoIn¬†January 2012, a fairy godmother of sorts entered my life. You might have heard of her? The¬†delightful and talented¬†Monica McInerney. Though Monica didn’t know me, something I said must have piqued her sixth sense because she very graciously shared her professional assistance. So began a journey that led to her own agent, Fiona, signing me on as well. One thing led to another and finally, I am very, very proud and excited to say that I have a contract with Australia’s largest independent publishers, Allen¬†& Unwin, for my women’s fiction manuscript, The Tea Chest.

In the past four months, I have received three offers of contract, flown to Sydney and Melbourne, been treated to the most exquisite afternoon teas, and listened to the most insightful and flattering descriptions of my book—a book I wrote because I loved it but one I never really thought anyone else would ever read, but which has been so joyfully received by the publishers who did.

When I went to Sydney to meet with senior editor, Annette Barlow, I had no idea that the entire¬†population of the Allen & Unwin office¬†building was going to join us for afternoon tea.¬†Annette led the way through an empty floor, with office chairs sitting alone in front of cubicle spaces with computer screens that had long since gone to sleep. We walked up a narrow stairway to the enclosed roof space where I could hear what sounded like a party going on above. I said just that to Annette and she smiled at me and said, ‘Well, it is a party.’ I still had no idea until I walked into the room and approximately 60 people applauded. Better yet,¬†they had baked! They had a large row of teapots, all with beautiful teas and little cards with tea descriptions, and piles of home-made goodies of brownies and cakes and slices. Fine bone china teapots. A photographer.

Now, I’m a bit of a wallflower when it comes to parties so I took my lovely cup of Russian Caravan tea and sidled to the side of the room wondering what on earth I should do in this large crowd. Never fear. Many friendly faces came up to say hello and talk about my book. There was great excitement. And speeches. And a presentations from¬†people on ‘what I’ve been reading’ (which, of course, turned out to be me).

To hear other people read from my book and talk about it book-club style was nothing short of an out-of-body experience for me. I was the person who’d been systematically rejected by publishers and agents¬†for fourteen years. I truly couldn’t believe they were now sharing such love for my work.

I wanted to share this story with you because if you are like I was right up until this moment, you might feel that publishers are a bit scary. But I’m thrilled to say that they’re ‘just my cup of tea’. (Come on, who wouldn’t love a group of people who have a monthly in-house¬†competitive bake-off?) And when they love your work, they really love it. And that is the most amazing feeling in the world.

I really want to thank Annette Barlow from the bottom of my heart, as well as all the team at Allen & Unwin¬†who also read my manuscript and loved it, for sharing such a beautiful moment with me, for spending so many hours baking (all gluten free food, which, very sadly, I couldn’t eat because I’d had a bout of food poisoning the day before), for bringing in their own personal collections of teapots and tea doilies, and for reading out my words aloud and teaching me more about my own book than I had realised. It was an afternoon I will never forget. Big love to you all.

Thank you¬†to Fiona for taking a chance on me and¬†listening to¬†my rather inarticulate,¬†sleep deprived¬†mummy-brain-impaired conversational skills (I flew to Sydney to meet Fiona just weeks after I’d given birth) and deciding to represent me anyway. (I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know, Fiona, that I seem to be¬†finally getting my sentence ability and memory back.)

And of course a big thank you to Monica for starting it all by stepping in and changing my life.

Finally, to make my news just that little better, my contract includes a two-book deal. Hooray! I am working on my next novel right now, and I look forward to bringing it to you in partnership with Allen & Unwin in 2016.

My first published book, The Tea Chest, will be out in early 2014.