Friday, September 29, 2006

Manuscript assessment for writers - interview

This is an interview I have done regarding manuscript assessment. It hopefully answers some questions for anyone interested in the process. I wrote it for a Creative writing student studying the growth of this industry. I seem to be focussing on my work and writing a little at the moment but that's possibly because i'm writing a book and , well, writing gets a bit obssessive and sometimes it's tricky creating something new when you've just written a couple thousands words of new stuff (that does or does not make sense...)

I hope this is useful to emerging writers or antyone who is looking into getting some objective feedback on their own writing.

How many unsolicited manuscripts do you receive from authors each year?

KB: 80 -100

Can you remember any major differences in numbers with years ago?

Kb: Driftwood has been operating for about ten years now. I have raised the fees, increased the assessor base and included specialists in areas of commercial and popular fiction which weren’t as well represented before, which is to be expected, as the previous director, Eva Sallis, is a highly respected and award-winning literary writer and she knew more literary fiction writers, whereas I write popular fiction and love it, and I love genre –writing, especially crime, thrillers, etc. My ex-partner is a very successful SF writer, so my contacts, interest and expertise were more in the commercial fiction market, and I seemed to attract writers in these genres too. Now we have a really well-balanced list of experienced assessors in almost every genre and field, so I can call on one of them to assess pretty much anything that comes our way, and they have, in turn taught me a lot about genres I don’t work in, such as children’s fiction and literary fiction. I’m constantly amazed by their experience and one of my favourite parts of the job is going over the reports. You can never stop learning and at times I think I learn as much from these reports as the client will. I’m very lucky to have several arms to my writing and editing work, and my mentoring and editing feed into my own work, my writing feeds into my assessment work, etc. I think this is of huge benefit to our writers as well, as I get to help them with their careers by guiding them away from some of the mistakes I made early on, and possibly still do make), while sharing my experiences and those of our assessors.

Kb: We stopped advertising some years ago (I used to put ads in various writers centre newsletters – and I notice many assessment agencies still do this) but frankly we have only increased our client base since that decision. It was, I’m sure a coincidence, but it also coincided with my career taking off a little more, and I think writers are more comfortable dealing with an assessment agency run by someone who earns their money from writing, and who can offer assessors who specialise in various genres and who works in the field as an industry professional with contact with literary agents and editors on a regular basis. I feel very strongly that if you write in a specialist genre such as crime, romance, fantasy, etc, you need more than just a ‘general assessor in fiction’. You need it to be read by someone who reads and writes professionally in this genre, so that’s why much of my effort goes into getting the best writers I can to write our reports. In the latest Australian Writers’ Marketplace Guide (the ‘bible’ for any writer, I believe) there was an incredible leap in the number of Australian assessment agencies. Many are very good and offer different services, many are run by people I believe are not qualified to offer industry inspired reports that are written with the heart of the genre, the love of reading and writing, and the important empathy and understanding that comes from working with other writers who know your field, genre and the career you aspire to. I would always advise writers to check the credentials of an assessment agency and make sure a publisher or agent respects and/or recommends them.

Kb: I also attend many literary festivals as a guest, and in this capacity, I think it quietly but effectively advertises the professionalism of the manuscript assessment agency, as we are very involved in the industry and get many direct recommendations from literary agents and publishers who know me and know that I operate the agency to help writers develop their work to publishable standard, and not to flatter them, as it seems some agencies do – which only gives them false hope, and undermines all the work they have put into their work, as they send the work off before it is ready, or anywhere near a publishable stage, and a publisher/editor or agent won’t accept a manuscript a second time for submission, unless they’re requested it. We try very hard to do the right thing by the writers we deal with, and by consequence, this helps agents and editors, who receive work of a higher quality.

Why do you think this is the case?

KB: I think assessment has become a more integral aspect of the publishing industry, and provides robust, critical and direct feedback that agents and editors can no longer give. There is little room for manuscript development within commercial fiction houses and literary agencies, so the work falls to us. We provide an objective opinion, with our hand firmly in the perspective of the publishing industry, so although our advice can be very tough sometimes, we are direct, and provide examples and praise, and work towards making sure the author does their story and their work, justice it deserves.

Can you describe any changes to the following: (how and why)

a) Presentation/submission/expectations/delivery of manuscripts

KB: I get less writers sending me manuscript wrapped in ribbon, or fully printed and bound like a book already, or with hand drawn covers done by their son, etc, as it’s more well known and pressed upon writers more and more, how the presentation of the ms should be, to make the reading process easier for the editor, publisher or agent who eventually, hopefully, gets to look at it.

b) Reading/reports/appraisal of manuscripts

KB:, I think there are an amazing amount of new agencies popping up, and frankly, very few of them are run by people I have heard of, or who seem appropriately qualified in the field. I think it would be good to have an accreditation, as literary agencies now have, to ensure those operating in their field are qualified to comment on another person’s work. All to often I have people coming to me, insisting they are qualified to assess writing, when really it would be peer assessment, they have been published, they haven’t an agent, or any dealings with the industry and their experience is purely academic. This is not enough experience to give feedback on a person’s work, and I truly believe writers need to be cautious in any case about the feedback they receive, from any assessment agency. We are not a publisher, so our advice is objective, but not directed towards a goal for publication in a certain way, which differs from the reports and editing I receive from my publisher (Hodder Headline Australia – now Hachette Livre Australia), which is directed entirely towards forming the book a certain way, directly for publication.

c) Acceptance/rejection of manuscripts

KB: I’m always stunned how many writers send work in to an agent in first draft stage, having done no research in their field on presentation or what that agent might require, and many who proudly boast that they don’t read in their genre in order not to ‘corrupt’ their vision or style. It’s very peculiar. I then often have conversations with writers and have to explain to them the way the industry operates, something they could discover for themselves from reading any of the terrific books, journals, magazines or by just talking to some one who does this for free at a writers centre. And, so many writers don’t belong to writers’ centres or the ASA (Australia Society of Authors). I think we need all the help and support and access to resources as possible, and I encourage writers to do a great deal of research to both boost their confidence, and to enable them to have an intelligent, informed conversation with an agent or editor if the run into one at a festival (which they should always attend). Hearing other writers speak about their lives and approaches to writing is invaluable.

From your perspective as an (agent/publisher/manuscript appraisal person) do you feel that the above changes have had a positive or negative impact on the book industry? Explain why.

KB: I think editors and agents are glad of some one helping writers present to them work of a higher quality, but it’s a very slow and sometimes indistinct change sometimes. We help writers all the time, but many get discouraged, many realise how difficult it can be to be a professional writer, how dedicated you must be, how much work you must pt into it, and the assessment process can only emphasise this, and thus perhaps many writers drop off, or stop writing for a while, but the ones who are determined to succeed, they take the feedback willingly, they love it. They can also take the criticisms as a challenge and get stuck into it. They’re the writers I know will succeed, as that’s the way I always worked.

Kb: You fall down but you pick yourself up again. In this field, your success is never guaranteed, but your love of it should be, you should love reading and writing and if you love something, no doubt you’ll be happy to do it a great deal, and to sacrifice many other things for it. So the improvement in the step between ‘final’ draft from a writer’s perspective and the work they finally submit for publication, would be greatly improved by the injection of a professional opinion, advice and examples, directions to head, suggestions to change and praise for where the work really is outstanding, so then, hopefully they will continue to write. And if that MS they submitted for assessment doesn’t get published, what they learned from that process improves the next ms, which might.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Submitting your writing to literary agents and editors - The distant sound of gunfire

I hope the following is useful to potential writers. I'd like to be able to post various different articles I've written, as well as personal opinions and thoughts and updates on my writing and what I'm working on.

I recently received some great reviews in Australian newspapers for my latest novel, THE LADY SPLASH and have included an example here. Reading the papers is one of my favourite things to do on a Saturday but in the months after publication each year (I write a book each year at the moment but I might be stretching that out a little for the next title - THE TEQUILA BIKINI which gives me more time to develop the books but also help look after my mum right now who is quite sick, and so my writing hasn't been as regular as usual).

I get nervous reading the books section because when I turn a page in the arts section of the paper and see an image of my latest book cover and article or review, my heart squeezes in fear. I've had a couple great reviews, some vague ones and one nasty personal attack, so I'm always expecting the worst, which is one of the crapper aspects of my personality. I'm working on building up some optimism but in the meantime, I think I can go back to reading my papers again without fear...

Giving yourself the best chance possible to get published

When W. H. Allen & Co. rejected Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal in 1970 citing ‘No reader interest’, he could have received it like a blow to the head, but he kept writing. Perhaps he felt compelled to contribute to the creative world or maybe he just set about furiously to prove them wrong.

But many writers don’t get the opportunity to get angry about anything other than a blank compliments slip, which can be quite a let down. As the director of Driftwood Manuscripts, I’ve discovered at least one of the reasons this rejection occurs. All too often the manuscript was not passed over because the agent had been lazy or arrogant or drunk, it’s because they never read it in the first place.

Any form of rejection sucks, but I found that dealing with rejection from a publisher by downing a few dozen shots of vodka is rather like trying to distract the Hounds of Hell with a few bone shaped treats. So while I can get used to good-looking strangers dismissing me with a glance and cashiers waving off my offers of exact change, publishers offering no explanation for this cruel clip around the ears was something I tried to address.

And no, agents don’t reject you without explanation because they’re crap. They want to publish your brilliant erotic space opera thriller that will open up their favourite editor’s fledgling fiction line to an untapped audience and require its own paper mill.

The truth is, they may well have not read the critical first sentence because they didn’t take your writing seriously. Agents are just not going to wade through the novelty paper, attention-grabbing glitter and 10 point Lydian MT font hoping for a gem.

I know this because agents and editors tell me about it and also because I see it a lot myself. Driftwood clients are asked to submit their work to us in the same way they would to a publisher (only without their surname in the header) in order for us to give them a robust assessment on the entire submission, but it’s really surprising how many manuscripts I receive tied up in ribbons (romance), strings and rope (sailing theme), spiral bound, glued like a book, illustrated by the client’s niece, with coloured fonts, (inexplicably popular) ClipArt, held together by plastic folders (which, when piled on top of one another, slip all over the desk and then get lost behind the shredder) and even quotes (‘Kirsty’s characters made me want to weep and laugh at the same time’ - Dave from Foxtel).

When these festive packages arrive and the agent is very quiet at her desk, she can hear the distant sound of gunfire. This is the actual sound of a writer shooting themselves in the foot.

As Caro Clarke, author of the article ‘I am your Editor: Submitting your Novel’ in the Romance Writers of Australia newsletter, Heart Talk, states: ‘This is what the professional side of being a writer is all about: making a no-gimmick, no-hassle submission that gets me to the point of reading. Don’t blow your only chance. Why give me an excuse to say goodbye?’

Meet the agent’s basic needs, but then tailor it to the individual agent or publisher you have targeted. But most importantly, be professional, concise and give them exactly what they ask for. Along with the basic information that every writer should know, there are many resources that offer a lot of very useful advice.

I recently spoke to a writer who felt she was ready to submit her work. When I suggested perhaps mentioning an author or two who had been successful in the same genre (and published by that company) in the marketing section of the submission, she asked me who I would suggest. I gave her a few names before realising she actually didn’t know herself. I don’t read in this genre, but I’d seen these blokes in the recent weekend paper while enjoying a chocolate croissant, so I felt I knew my stuff.

Now she’d probably been hunched over her computer laying down some fine dialogue that Saturday instead of developing late onset diabetes, but she should have known who she was competing against on the bookshelves. These final bits of information are available to all writers and much of it is incredibly important in getting that dialogue read.

So this is exactly how I cocked up when I first submitted my work. I remained unpublished for so long I got depressed, drunk, surly, and finally, indignant enough to do something about it. So I started trying to find out what agents wanted from me, and when I thought I had it right, I checked again. Then I shook out all the glitter and changed the font. Do yourself, and your manuscript, justice, and get it right the first time. You just don’t get a second chance.

This post first appeared as an article in the SA Writers' Centre newsletter.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Writing fiction - Planning your story or writing by the seat of your pants: individual writing styles

I won't be using this blog to give out anything but my personal thoughts on writing. But here is the first post for writers, to explain a little about what is so often, I find, unexplainable. Writing is part mystery, part determination, part inspiration and part joy. All of those parts make up a typical day with my laptop, a deadline and an image, or conversation, or scene in my head that miraculously, fairly often works its way into my story. If I don't write them down, I forget, so I work from a fifties hardcase samsonite make up case that holds all my notebooks and my laptop. These notebooks hold all my thoughts and recored and made up conversations. It also holds notes I've made, although the latest one I wrote said 'The Sultan's Elephant', and I have no idea what that means. If anyone can help, i would appreciate it.

For me, one of the best feelings in the world is when writing works. That sensation of escaping into a fictional world is a precious, powerful feeling, more real when I write than when I read because I can push the characters around a little. Sometimes I can direct my story, give characters lines, jokes, but sometimes they write their own. It’s a fairly common experience but one which is difficult to describe or explain.

I once had a Driftwood client who believed she was channelling the true-to-life stories of ghosts who visited her and that she was basically writing their words for them, but for many writers, that’s just sort of how it feels to write sometimes. We realise that when you get swept up in the story is the time it really is working. That’s when your reader is hopefully swept up too, transported by your words.

Sue Grafton said in an interview with the web-site, Writers Write that ‘I try not to create so much as discover. One of my theories about these books (the best-selling alphabet series) is that they already exist…I consider my job is to figure out what I already said, and just write it down again.’

Maybe it sounds like mumbo jumbo, but Stephen King says something similar in On Writing, stating that ‘Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.’

It’s an interesting theory, and a good approach for me, not because I think I’m a conduit for stories but because I’m essentially lazy. I lark around the house for a long while before I eventually sit at my desk with a reluctant sigh. Writing is like beer, it doesn’t look so good, but it tastes great when you’ve actually got it in your hand. I forget how good it tastes until I’m there at my desk, drunk on the story.

Which is why I have to sit down at my desk, with the blinds and windows open, my writing music on and force myself to start re-reading what I wrote yesterday instead of checking my e-mails, listening to the radio, anything that feels easier than writing but still resembles work.

If I wait to get a good idea before sitting at my desk, I can be waiting a long time. Usually my better ideas come when I’m within the story. While I’ve often had good ideas when I’m letting my subconscious settle (in the shower, bath, half asleep, while driving), the real gold is excavated at my desk, and I have to go to work everyday to dig it up.

One of my characters came out as bisexual a few weeks back and I’m still struggling to deal with the aftermath. It wasn’t ideal, but once the scene led up to the revelation, there was no option. I tried several different scenes, but eventually I gave in to this one. I was a little pissed off, because it changed the dynamics I’d set up, but now it’s working and I’m feeling a little disconcerted.

I was recently told that it was surprising that some of the promotional material for my series with HodderHeadline didn’t have my name on it, but instead promoted the characters, the story, the drinks at the club my characters frequent. I didn’t mind, because the focus should be on the story, the characters and world they inhabit.

The excavation theory of this fictional world is a favourite of mine because it’s one that makes it easier for me to sit down and write. The pressure is less. They say write with your heart, edit with your head, and for many that’s true. But for many others, remaining unpublished is also true. No writing theories work for everyone.

I admit that often it doesn’t work, that I spend months frustrated, unhappy, doubting everything and ready to give it all away. Self-doubt and problems with the latest book happen for every writer, no matter how many books they’ve written.

Keeping a book diary, or asking your friends, partner or family will probably remind you that you also doubted yourself in the last book and the one before that, so that you’ll find a way to dig up that story just like you have before. You might just need different tools, a new perspective, or a cold beer.

This first appeared in the SAWriters' Centre newsletter.

Friday, September 08, 2006

My advice on caring for a baby Honeyeater

The following is a detailed and slightly obsessive edit on some advice I’ve given recently to people raising a honey eater from a baby fledgling. It won’t be of interest to anyone who doesn’t have/like birds so I apologise for that but as I found very little information on the internet about raising this tiny bird, I thought I’d post this blog to help anyone else in the situation I was in.

It is a time consuming process but well worth it as he is such a great little bird now who skims my bath every night and then sits on the tap and cleans himself with the water he’s collected. He’s a beautiful and funny guy. Having two birds helps a lot with writing the character of Jock, the parrot in the Cassidy Blair books that I write for Hachette Livre Australia..

I have a 4-year-old cockatiel called Jones at home with me (I am writer so I spend a lot of time alone) and he’s great company, so when some friends (the gorgeous Robin and the spunky Greg) found a honeyeater and brought him over in a shoebox. He was so tiny I assumed he would die that night but I looked up some scant information on the internet, learned they were lactose intolerant (although since then both Charlie and Jones sneak breakfast from me and have suffered no problems so far).

So I bought some baby food and mixed that up and fed with an eyedropper before getting some advice from Dr. Hough’s excellent assistant, Lynette, and buying the Wombaroo honeyeater mix and also the insect mix, which I stirred with warm water twice a day 3:1 ratio, feeding him whenever he cried (every half hour or so). After a while the feeding became second nature but in the beginning I made the mistake of feeding him too much at once and he ended up getting a skin infection from the sweet mixture because it would ooze out his mouth which made his lose a lot of feathers.

This happened twice although obviously I changed my super-sizing. Dr. Hough was a bit unsure how to treat him as he’s so small and apparently no one has honeyeaters as pets, or tries to, so he tried several things including tiny doses of anti-inflammatory and I washed him twice a day (which he hated) with this special mixture (I’ve forgotten the name) that cleaned his skin and reduced the ph balance, I think… anyway, eventually his feathers returned – but it was important for him to have some tiny amounts of skin treatments because it was painful to grow feathers through raw thickened skin. Eventually his advice worked and I highly recommend finding a great vet like Dr Hough if you find a sick bird or any wildlife, as he specialises in this area (there are kangaroos and various saved wild life behind the clinic). Last time I was there it was like a vet in a cartoon, there was a guy with a seagull, a girl with a tree frog and me with my honey eater. I guess they get the odd golden retriever, etc, but I’ve never seen them.

One of the main problems with Charlie’s lack of feathers was that he would get very cold. Luckily we have lots of lamps around and he’s now appropriated two of them, so I put in high wattage globes and even now he sleeps there during the day. The other problem was that he loves bathing, so when he was wet he was basically skin and scraggly feathers. You could see his breastbone clearly through his skin. We tried a variety of things but the best was (uneconomically) leaving the heater lights on in the bathroom, which made a warm, safe spot for him to retreat, which he did often.

Keeping him warm was very important of course but I wanted to give him the freedom to escape if it got too hot, so while lots of people recommended the globe and covered container for these early months I found an open cage in a safe and warm spot, with a cover over the cage so he felt protected but not in the dark, worked best. He also loved being carried in my palm in a soft towel or flannel cloth but practical reasons this became impossible after the first few days when I realise he might actually live so I made up a sling out of a very soft and strong woollen scarf that rested near my heart, but I am lucky to have a marvellow light/heater that warns the bathroom very well and very quickly, so he spent a lot of time there. In fact, If I come home at night and he doesn't come when I call, guaranteed he'll be sitting in the shower behind the shampoo bottle, impossible to see unless you know where to look. I think he grew a real affection for the place he grew well in. He seemed content to sleep there in my sling while I was working for most of the day and I guess the added bonus of heartbeat and body warmth were beneficial (in between feedings – thank goodness they don’t eat at night or this story might not have been quite such a happy one).

Obviously I didn’t take him outside at all during this time and even nowadays he’s more comfortable inside than out in a cage, but that could be because of the local birds taking an interest in him. He was just so tiny for those first few months I feared he would die each day and the lack of information about caring for such a bird is frustratingly thin, so I just kept up with various ideas until something seemed to work. He’s just such a darling bird to have around and his singing is terrific, so I’m very lucky to have made it this far with him.

Charlie quickly grew a much longer tail and wing feathers and we saw that it was likely he was a white plumed honeyeater as he developed white flames of feathers on each side of his head. Anyway, this is indulgent, sorry. I guess what I’m trying to say was that it was touch and go for a long time and I made it up, with some wise advice from Dr. Hough at times, until I even felt confident he would be strong enough to make it through and I finally bought him a bigger cagé (although both birds have the run of the house, so far neither of shown any interest in leaving but possibly they’re not yet grouchy teenagers looking for something more lively).

The things that I learned with Charlie were that like Jones, he loved company, and I was lucky because, being home a lot and spending a lot of time at my computer or on the ground near him, editing, I could keep an eye on him and he felt safe. Now he’s a VERY clingy bird and really doesn’t like being away from people. This doesn’t bother me at all but he loves sitting on our clothes in the wardrobe and this can be annoying sometimes if fresh clothes already have the tiny markings of a long stay by Charlie.

Luckily I have found that a good bristle brush is the easiest way to remove bird droppings from clothes when they’ve dried. He hitchhikes round on our shoulders and in the evenings huddles up under my chin or inside my shirt (you have to be careful) and fluffs up into a tiny pompom and tucks his head away and goes to sleep. He is very trusting and sweet. If I take a nap he sleeps as close as possible, by my mouth where it’s warm, I guess, or poised on my finger. I have no idea how he has any rest doing this but whenever I wake up he’s there. I think he might be spoiled by us somewhat.

I bought a bunch of bird song CD’s because I was feeling bad that he might lose his song, but these just seemed to freak out both birds and they are much happier singing (very loudly) along to lyrical melody type songs like those of The Carpenters, Doris Day, Janet Seidel and so forth. For some reason Jones has a particular appreciation for the seventies and dances with unusual vim and vigour whenever I play the Bee Gees or anything else like that. I guess if I had better taste in music both birds would as well…

The other things are flowers, which I steal from neighbourhood gardens as the plants I’ve bought to attract birds to our yard haven’t matured yet. These he eats completely, especially the following types: Gold Chimes, Grevillea, Kangaroo Paws, Hebe Wiri Joy, Cape Honeysuckle, and one other native I couldn’t identify that has bright orange horn like flowers that come in bunches from a low growing bush and he loves these possibly the most, as the nectar is very sweet.

He also loves cooked rice, soft cooked vegetables like potato and pumpkin, picking the juice out of corn kernels, some sweet baby foods in jars, small pieces of bread, and all types of juice, although I don’t give him much in case it’s just too sweet. Luckily there are a lot of small organic ones available now. I stopped feeding him his favourite juice blackcurrant and apple because, well, the tiny problem of his droppings became a major one when they are bright purple and staining… He’s very partial to peaches, mango, gold kiwi fruit, raisons and chopped dried fruit (tiny pieces) and apples. I’m still trying to break him of the habit of being fed. Obviously he no longer needs the syringe but he doesn’t seem to notice food is there unless I mention it to him and then shove it right up to him or put some on my finger. Sometimes he won't even look unless I wipe the end of his beak with the mixture and then he's all crazy for it. I also get whole heads of corn and slice down each row with a sharp knife so the juice is more accessible and he can drain these guys within days. Dr Anderson, who works with Dr Hough in Mitcham, says that’s because he’s bonded with me and treats me like his mother, so I need to show him what to eat (and what not to eat)

Another thing he does, which is rather gruesome, I have a wooden bird feeder outside and when I move it in the mornings and if it’s wet, there are a few worms there, as well as in the soil, and I occasionally catch them for Charlie. He bangs them against the ground until they’re unconscious and eats them; in fact, he can stuff a lot of food in his mouth, half grapes, raisons, etc. I thought about the worms purely because he once stole some 2-minute noodles from my lunch (being a writer is such a nutritious profession…) and he did the same banging with the noodles.

Pretty much everything I’ve done, aside from the discovery of Wombaroo products and the medical help, has been from trial and error, which is really why I’m writing this rambling and slightly embarrassing post.

I should add that so far Jones and Charlie get along perfectly well. They’re not best friends and they love pulling each other’s feathers at times, but mostly they’re happy to sit side by side, making me feel like Sir Francis of Assisi, on my shoulder or head. Charlie is especially fond of sleeping on the corner of my spectacles. Both birds have a habit of bursting into song whenever the phone rings or a good TV show is on (kind of rare…), but that’s about the only negative I can think of, aside from getting used to cleaning up after them if you let them fly free in your house.

Clearly I’m indulging these animals, but they are very giving, loving, friendly and hilarious companions. Charlie comes whenever I call him and loves tangling himself up in my hair and playing there, which is fun until you try to get him out. Both birds put themselves to bed when they’re had enough. I do make sure I keep them somewhere that’s not draughty and also wrap them in flannel sheets or blankets (with air holes) because I’ve had friends whose birds have died of the cold this winter and after all the time and thought put into keeping these gorgeous birds alive, I’d feel devastated, and very foolish, for neglecting them in this small and obvious way.

I hope this information helps anyone with birds, especially baby birds and fledglings. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

Yours, Kirsty

Saturday, September 02, 2006

So who is this Kirsty Brooks?

Hello. I’m a writer and author in South Australia. The weather is good and I’m here with my two birds hanging out in my study. I try not to work on the weekends but right now I’m working to deadline, so in typical fashion I’m distracted by setting up this blog.

I am the author of four titles (so far) in the Cassidy Blair series, called The Vodka Dialogue, The Happiness Punch, The Millionaire Float and The Lady Splash, and two non-fiction books called Hitching: Tales from the byways and superhighways and Mad Love. Lady Luck is the first in the Phoebe Banks series and I’m currently rewriting the original manuscript for the sequel, called Bossy Boots. I’m enjoying researching this because all my novels are set in my hometown of Adelaide and for this one I went to stay in the gorgeous town of Mildura, on the Murray River.

My latest novel, The Lady Splash, was published in July. And I’ve been really lucky to get a great new cover design for this (it’s very pink) and some nice reviews. Sometimes it’s a bit nerve-wracking having a book out there in the public eye and it’s really interesting to get feedback from people who aren’t my family/friends and who aren’t being plied with vodka cocktails.

I recently received the Russian version of The Vodka Dialogue which was really really wonderful, even though I couldn’t read it. The best bit was the kitschy gorgeous cover, the fact that it’s hardcover (hardly any books are published in hardcover these days) and in Russia my genre is ‘Glamour’. My dear friend and fellow writer, Eva Sallis, read some of it to me and it sounded great, but that’s just because she’s so clever and can speak a couple of languages. She has more birds than I do, and her magpie sleeps in the bathroom.

When I finally save up enough for a house deposit (this is tricky) I can’t wait to have some more animals in my life, firstly a dog who can get along with my birds: Jones (my cockatiel, who is a wonderful curmudgeon but has been a great companion – writers spend a lot of time alone) and Charlie, the honeyeater I raised from a fledgling when friends found him fallen from the tree, who is very attached to me know.

Both birds hitchhike around on my shoulders and come when they’re called. As you can tell, I love animals. So my priority is to get my dog from the dog’s home at the Animal Welfare League shelter. My family has rescued quite a few dogs from there and they’ve all been amazing.

I am the director of Driftwood Manuscripts, have a Journalism Degree, and an Advanced Diploma in Professional Writing at TAFE – where I also teach. I have some great students and really enjoy talking to other people who love reading and writing as much as I do. Reading is great escapism but it also lets you experience life in someone else’s shoes, something I love, and that I have found useful in learning compassion and so forth.

One of the best things about being a writer is going to writers’ festivals, not just because you get to stay in great hotels like The Windsor in Melbourne, but because you get to hang out with other writers. As I’ve said, it can be a lonely profession so it’s nice to be able to talk to other people who do the same thing that I do. A couple of years ago I was awarded the Barbara Hanrahan Fellowship (I bought my first washing machine with some of the prize money and she’s called Babs).

I am currently writing the next Cassidy Blair novel, The Tequila Bikini, and reading the latest Elizabeth George novel. I’m listening to a band called Gauche from Sydney and looking forward to taking a week off work in November to do some lazy reading/walking/sleeping/bird watching.

Thanks for reading this slightly rambling introduction. In Adelaide it’s the beginning of spring and the blossoms and daffodils and jasmine are out and it’s the most beautiful time of the year.

All the best