Category Archives: Author Focus

Author Interview with Emily Moreton

I’m pleased to have author Emily Moreton on my blog today. Emily is one of my fellow authors from the Torqued Tales anthology and has over 30 published short stories to her name. I found we have lots in common (we both spent our uni days studying Primary Teaching and writing fanfic and we both had our first stories published in charity anthologies for victims of natural disasters).

torquedtalesfemme

Welcome to my blog, Emily, it’s great to have you here. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing?

I’m mostly a short story writer, because I get bored once I know how what I’m writing is going to end. I’ve tried to write a novel a couple of times, but usually by 40,000 words, I know what’s going to happen next, and then it stops being fun!

Most of the characters I write are military or ex-military, which is odd since neither I nor anyone I know has been in the military (well, my grandmother was an OWL during WW2). I’ve always been interested in fighter jets though; my parents took me to several air shows when I was a kid, and many time to see the Red Arrows, so I suppose that’s where that one came from. I even wrote about a Red Arrows engineer once, though I’ve never submitted it anywhere for publication.

 How long have you been writing for?

I’ve pretty much been writing all my life, and making up stories for just as long. My sister and I loved let’s pretend when we were kids, and writing was always my favourite subject in school. When I was in university, I got into fanfic, and also started writing a novel, and I’ve been writing regularly ever since… so, wow, that’s well over a decade now!

Can you tell us (without spoilers) what your story is about in Torqued Tales?

A Stranger Brought is a modern lesbian take on Rumplestiltskin, which I still cannot spell without at least three attempts! It’s about Tia, a young street artist who paints Kelly, and gets a date along with payment. The date goes really well, and Kelly promises to call… But if I tell you more, then there’s nothing for you to read about!

 I loved your take on the Rumplestiltskin fairy tale. What inspired you to write ‘A Stranger Bought’?

I started off at university training to be a primary school teacher, specialising in English, and as part of this, I bought a lot of children’s books, one of them a really lovely book of fairy tales. When I saw the call for fairy tale related stories, I dug out the book again and looked for one that’s not so well known – like Rumpelstiltskin. I started by taking out the parts of the fairy tale that I don’t like, including the love interest testing the heroine by making her spin straw from gold, and her offering to trade her first born for the trick, then got to thinking about what a modern version of spinning might be… from there, it was a short step to Tia the street artist. Throw in some magic, and there you have it.

 Do you have any writing advice for aspiring authors?

Get into a fandom and write fanfic! Sounds like odd advice, but fandom got me writing regularly, taught me how to write within confines like a prompt in an exchange, or the canon of a particular episode. Writing for challenges and exchanges taught me to write to deadlines, and also got me used to sharing my stuff in public. It also helped me build up a community of other writers to be part of, and even got me over my embarrassment about writing sex scenes (true confession: I used to write them while looking away from the screen, and avoided proof-reading them for months).

 (Note from Jo: I completely agree with Emily! Fanfic is a great way to hone your writing skills and get used to sharing your work and dealing with critiques of your writing.)

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just submitted a story about a young trans girl coming out in school, and now I’m working on something for an anthology of stories about writers, publishers etc – that one’s a sort of urban fantasy, about a printer who finds a hot, naked print devil in his shop one morning.

Thanks so much for stopping by and telling us about yourself, Emily.

If you would like to read Emily’s Rumpelstiltskin story ‘A Stranger Bought’ you can find it on Torquere Press’s website (you can read a free sample), Amazon and other online bookstores. You can also find ‘A Stranger Bought’, along with my Red Riding Hood story ‘Annabeth and the Wolf’, in the anthology Torqued Tales

Emily Moreton published her first short story in 2007, for a charity anthology in aid of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, she has published over 30 erotic short stories, mostly m/m and f/f. In 2011, she had a story accepted into the anthology of best speculative lesbian fiction, and in 2013 was part of an anthology nominated in Goodreads’ M/M Romance Members’ Choice Awards.

Emily lives in Bristol, UK, with her cat, where she works as a data analyst, studies towards her PhD, and tries not to sleep through Sunday morning archery class.

Follow her on facebook: http://facebook.com/emilyj.moreton; or at her blog: http://emilyjmoreton.wordpress.com

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Chester Lewis Author Chat

chester-lewis-fan-fiction-competitionToday I’ll be chatting in the Chester Lewis Fanfiction group on Facebook. For those who haven’t heard of it, the Chester Lewis Fanfiction contest is open until August 2013 and has a $2000 first prize. The idea is to write a fanfiction piece based on The Life and Times of Chester Lewis. Entry into the contest is $10 and this entry fee also gives you access to the Facebook group where you can chat with fellow writers, authors and the editor. Throughout the year (until the contest closes) there will also be author drop-ins which so far have revolved around the story of Chester Lewis, writing in general and the publishing industry (I picked up a couple of great tips during yesterday’s drop-in). It’s well worth the entry fee just for the Facebook group. Plus, who knows what other opportunities could emerge from this competition.

I’ll be dropping into the Facebook group in 6 hours to chat. That’s Sunday 3pm AEDT, Sunday 4am GMT, Saturday 11pm EST or Saturday 8pm PST. Don’t forget you need to have paid your entry fee before you can join.

Writers Beware (Part 2)

In part 1 I talked about a situation where a writer had her book published, only to realise too late that the company was not a traditional publishing company, they were just posing as one. They played on the writer’s dream of being published to make money off her. As a result she ended up with a book that was poorly edited, unavailable in bookstores and locked into a contract so she can’t publish it with anyone else. It was left to her to market the book herself, meaning it was bought by family and friends, but no one else. Even if she worked up the courage to approach a bookstore herself, they probably wouldn’t stock it because a) it’s overpriced for a book by a first time author, b) the publishing company won’t accept refunds if the book doesn’t sell and c) the book is so poorly edited, people probably won’t buy it anyway (no matter how good the story is).

How can you avoid this situation?

You have to be savvy.

Google is your friend.

This is a good idea to do for any publisher. Google the publisher, skip past all the links for the publisher’s own website and see what other people have to say. You will quickly find out if the publisher is a reputable one and whether other writers have had good or bad experiences with them.

Get involved in writers’ circles/writers’ forums/writers on Twitter.

We writers can be isolated people, but the net has made it easy to connect with fellow writers. There are writers at all stages of the writing journey, and some of them are a great wealth of information. You will soon hear the dos and don’ts of the publishing and writing world when you’re connected to others who have been there before you. Some great people to follow on Twitter (because they always have their ear to the ground and post great links): Elizabeth S Craig and Jane Friedman.

Follow Agent/Publisher blogs or follow them on Twitter.

There are some fantastic literary agent and publisher blogs around and they’re worth following. They offer a wealth of knowledge on the ins and outs of the publishing industry. For example, Nathan Bransford’s blog is packed full of great information on both writing and the publishing industry.

Read contracts carefully.

This is an important one. Know what you are signing before you sign it. This is where having a literary agent represent you can be of great benefit because they know exactly what to look for in a publishing contract and can negotiate terms with the publisher for you. Literary agents cost nothing, unlike lawyers, but you need to query them with your manuscript the same way you would with a publisher. It’s better to query agents first, before publishers, if possible. But if your manuscript has already been accepted by a publisher, you can still query agents and mention in your query letter that a publisher has already acquired it. Otherwise, you can get a lawyer/solicitor to look over the contract for you, but it will cost money and often they don’t have as much knowledge about the specifics of publishing contracts.

What can I do to get the attention of a genuine publisher?

The most important thing to do is to keep improving your craft. The second most important thing is to become knowledgeable about the industry.

Keep Writing.

The best way to improve is to keep writing. I can’t remember who said it, but it has been said that to be a good writer, you must first write one million bad words. Quite often the first novel you write won’t ever be published. It’s sad, but true. But every word is contributing to you becoming a better writer. And one day you’ll look back on that first novel and think, ‘I can’t believe how bad it was! Why did I ever think it would get published?’

Join a critique group/Get a critique partner

Remember my story in part 1 about the author not letting anyone see their work before sending it out to publishers? He/she thought it was the smart thing to do, but there is benefit in letting others see your work before you send it out – the biggest benefit being a better novel. At some stage you need to get over your fear that other writers are out to steal your ideas. The good thing about critique groups and critique partners is you have to trust each other. You won’t steal their ideas and they won’t steal yours. Once you find a critique partner you feel comfortable with, the next hurdle is to be able to take their critique. This is a hard one. You will feel hurt. You will feel indignant (what does she mean my character is flat!). But once you get over that, you may find she’s right. Once you learn to accept your novel is not perfect and there’s room for improvement, you will be on your way to having a polished novel.

Use writing resources available to you

As I mentioned, following agent/ publisher blogs and being involved with other writers on forums/Twitter are great ways to stay informed. There are a lot of great writing resources out there, and fellow writers are only too happy to share, and so are agents and publishers. There are some great writer blogs out there too. A good place to start is Barry Lyga’s blog, he has a plethora of topics for helping to improve all areas of your writing. Check out some writing books too, like Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’.

Research the industry

Did you know if you live in the US or you intend to get your book published in the US it is a good idea to first seek a literary agent? (A good literary agent won’t charge you fees, they make their money when the book sells.) In some other countries, such as Australia, literary agents are less common and a lot of publishers are still happy to accept unsolicited (eg: unagented) submissions. Do you know which agent/publisher is most suitable for your book? You don’t want to waste time sending a fantasy novel to someone who only takes on non-fiction work. Do you know if the publisher/agent you are querying has a good reputation? ALWAYS DO YOUR RESEARCH.

Follow guidelines

Publishers and agents have guidelines for a reason, so follow them. Some publishers/agents will reject your work without even reading it if you haven’t followed guidelines.

And because someone asked…

In my comments on part 1, someone asked about how to know if a literary agent is genuine. The points I’ve made about publishing companies can equally be applied to agents. Use google, research before you query, follow writers/agents on Twitter, join writing forums (many have sections on agents/the publishing industry). And if an agent wants you to pay fees to represent you, then he/she is probably not a genuine literary agent.

Writers Beware (Part 1)

Imagine this scenario…

You’ve been dreaming of being a published author your whole life, or maybe it’s a recent dream. You get a brilliant idea for a novel. Chapter by chapter you write it down until you pen the last word. You feel great! You just finished writing your first novel. You read over it a few times, fix up the plot holes and double-check the spelling until you’re completely happy with it (you can hardly wait to start writing the sequel). So far you have shown your work to no one (because you don’t want anyone to plagiarise your brilliant idea – it’s the smart thing to do).

Then comes the scary part. You finally work up the courage to send your baby out to a few publishers and cross your fingers they will like it. You hope your story will be accepted and all your blood, sweat and tears will be validated. (Sound familiar so far?)

A letter comes in the mail, sooner than you expected. You hold your breath. What if it’s a rejection? You slowly tear open the envelope. Your story has been accepted! It’s going to be published! You can hardly believe it, all your dreams are coming true.

You sign the contract, barely skimming it (you can barely understand all the legal mumbo jumbo, but you can’t afford a lawyer to look over it. Publishers are all reputable companies, so it should be fairly standard you think). You share the news with everyone.

Finally the day comes when you hold your book in your hand. You persuade all your friends and family to buy a copy and they do. You ask them what they think and they all tell you it’s wonderful. Then one brave friend (probably a writer type) tells you the truth:

“It’s a great premise, but I have to ask, was your editor asleep on the job?” (She probably says it more nicely than this.) She goes on to point out all the spelling and grammar mistakes your editor should have picked up on. But that’s ok, you’ve seen published books with mistakes, although maybe not quite this many.

Another friend asks, “When will it be in bookstores?” To which you can’t reply. Why isn’t your book in bookstores? Why is the publisher asking you to purchase the books for your friends and family to buy?

Too late you realise something is not right. In your excitement to get published you jumped in head first.

This is a true story…

Unfortunately this story is true for some aspiring authors, in fact just recently I heard of a writer who fell into this trap (it’s what prompted me to write this post). We can all relate to wanting to get published so badly, so much so that some writers are taken in by companies posing as traditional publishers. The truth of the matter is, there is no easy path to publication, and I know a lot of aspiring writers won’t want to hear this. Getting published is hard! Even the best of the best writers got rejected several times before selling a bestseller (ever heard of J.K. Rowling and Stephen King? They both got rejected at first.) If you send in your first ever manuscript, without ever having had anyone else look at it and you get accepted straight away, there’s a good possibility it really is too good to be true.

How do I know if my publisher is genuine?

A traditional publisher (think publishers like Penguin and Scholastic) will not charge you anything, they will pay you. They will not ask you to buy copies of your own book. They will market your book to bookstores and arrange author events. They will use a professional editor.

There are some companies out there who claim to be traditional publishers, but are really vanity publishers in disguise (a vanity publisher is a company who will publish your book, but expects you to pay certain costs or buy copies of the book yourself so you can sell them). These companies take advantage of aspiring authors by acting like a traditional publisher, so the writer thinks all her dreams are coming true, only to reveal their true selves when it is too late and the contract has already been signed. You can spot these companies by comparing them to a traditional publisher. If they charge you anything, including buying your own books, they are not a traditional publisher. If they do not do any marketing/if they are not placing your book in bookstores, they are not a traditional publisher. If they speed through the editing process to get the book published super-quick, they are not a traditional publisher.

There is nothing wrong with using a vanity publisher, if that is what you want (it’s a choice you make, the same way if you decide to self-publish). Some vanity publishers are quite reputable. But be aware of what you are signing up for (including rights). Also be aware that vanity publishing has a stigma attached to it in the writing world. If in future you do query an agent or publisher, you may not want to mention you’ve previously published through a vanity publisher.

To be continued…

Part 2 – how you can avoid these companies posing as traditional publishers and how to improve your chances of landing a genuine publisher.

Were you aware companies like this existed? Have you ever been duped by one of these companies or know someone who has? Share your story below.

Author Interview with Fleur McDonald

I’d like to welcome Australian author Fleur McDonald to my blog. Fleur is the author of the novels Red Dust and Blue Skies and is one of the authors featured in the soon-to-be-released anthology Australian Literature: A Snapshot in 10 Short Stories.

Can you tell us what inspired you to write the short story ‘Gone’, which will be appearing in the anthology Australian Literature: A Snapshot in 10 Short Stories?

I was wanting to branch out a bit from my normal farm/rural type stories, but still with a mystery/crime basis. It took me a little while to come up with the storyline and I was hesitant about my short story writing skills, having not written many before. It took a lot more drafts than what my novels do!

(You have nothing to be hesitant about, I loved reading your story ‘Gone’.)

 ‘Gone’ is quite an emotional story. As a mother it really hit home for me as it plays on every mother’s worst fears. Did being a mother yourself make it easier or more difficult to write this story?

I’ve lost quite a few family and friends to cancer and I know the difficulties faced by the families and friends of the dying. Trying to imagine my own children in that situation is quite frightening and the whole time I was writing Gone, there was this terrible sinking feeling, sitting in my tummy.

Because of that, it did make difficult to write, but the experiences I’ve already faced, with this type of situation, meant I could make it realistic and in turn that part was easier to write.

 In ‘Gone’ you write from Detective Indy Sullivan’s point-of-view. What made you decide to write from Indy’s point-of-view, rather than the parents or even fellow detective, Jack?

I’m not sure. Indy sort of jumped into my mind and stayed there. Writing it from Jack’s point of view would be an interesting experience. Maybe I should try that!

 How do you balance writing with being a mother and living on the land?

Well, it’s always a juggling act, especially this time of the year, when it hasn’t rained and we’re busy feeding animals every day. I often only write once a week, on my day in town. If I get any more time than that, it’s a bonus.

(I can totally relate! We’re lucky to have had a lot of rain this season on this side of the country, which isn’t always the case. It’s great you can make that time for your writing.)

Your published novels, Red Dust and Blue Skies, are both based on the land in rural Australia. How much are your own experiences living on a farm reflected in your novels?

Well, I guess the most experience I draw on is the setting – living where I do, makes it easy for me. The plots that I put my characters into, thankfully, I’ve never experienced.

As it’s Aussie Author Month this month, can you tell us about some of your favourite Australian Authors and how they’ve influenced/inspired your own writing?

Tamara McKinley, Belinda Alexandra, Rachael Treasure, Monica McInerney and Tony Parsons are just a few that have influenced me. Tamara, Belinda and Monica all write such wonderful sagas and I wanted to be able to do that in a rural setting – that’s where Rachael and Tony come into it – but with a crime influence (most of my crime favourites are American or English).

There’s many more that have inspired me, since I started to write and I’ve met them, either face to face or through the social media. Katherine Howell would now be one of my favourite crime writers.

 What are you working on at the moment?

My third book Purple Roads is due at the publishers in July and I’m nearly finished. I’m heading to Perth this week as my daughter is having a large operation and I’m hoping to finish it while I’m up there.

 (I hope all goes well with your daughter’s operation.)

Any words of advice for aspiring authors?

Never ever give up. Just because your MS isn’t wanted one day, doesn’t mean it won’t be wanted the next.

Fleur McDonald grew up among the farming communities of Orroroo in SA and now lives east of Esperance, on 8,000 acres. Here, she cares for a husband, two children and a menagerie of dogs, cattle, sheep and a bit of crop, not to mention tractors and other machinery!

Fleur is the best selling author of Red Dust and Blue Skies, both published by Allen and Unwin. When she has five spare minutes, she is writing her third and forth books, Purple Roads and Silver Gums.

For more information visit www.fleurmcdonald.com or follow her on Twitter @fleurmcdonald or Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Fleur-McDonald/204949640064?ref=ts

For more information on Australian Literature: A Snapshot in 10 Short Stories visit The Australian Literature Review.

Aussie Author Month – Graeme Base

I have long loved Graeme Base‘s books; they are amazing in both prose and illustrations (of which he does both). Although I focused on a picture book author last week, Graeme Base writes for older readers (from upper primary school children to adults).

Fantastic Detail

Before I discuss his writing, I just have to pay tribute to Base’s stunningly beautiful and detailed illustrations. These highly detailed illustrations are not only beautifully drawn on a surface level, in many of his books they include hidden pictures, intricate details and even clues. Some examples:

The Waterhole

(Notice the hidden monkey in the bottom left or the tarantula on the right? There are ten hidden animals on this page worked into the detail of the trees, etc.)

The Eleventh Hour

(Why yes, the numbers on the game board are out of order… a clue perhaps?)

Clever Prose

The detailed illustrations are complemented with clever, and often witty, prose, including well-written rhyme and alliteration.

Diabolical dragons daintily devouring delicious delicacies.” (Animalia)

Now Bertie knocked at Number Four… but silence reigned supreme.

The door swung open soundlessly, as if it were a dream,

For this was where Miss Poodle lived, ‘The Mademoiselle of Mime’,

And for an hour, without a sound, she acted out the crime.” (pg. 14, Enigma)

Picture Books for Older Readers

With the exception of The Waterhole and perhaps Animalia (as they can both be enjoyed by younger readers), the majority of Graeme Base’s picture books are aimed at older primary school readers (or even adults). They include complex language, mysteries to get the reader thinking and a sense of adventure. They often also include historical and geographical references.

Sorry to hear the raid was a bit of a flop, but I don’t see how it was my fault. I can’t help it if the Ancient Britons are onto us and have moved inland. Frankly I think the bottom is falling out of this Viking business and we should look at reindeer farming or something instead.” (pg. 6, The Discovery of Dragons)

That night Sprocc played his music as he never had before,

A sea of sound that rose and fell upon a rhythmic shore.

‘Nice meshing, Sprocc-groob!’ Stickman called. ‘You’ve really got it down!

This joint ain’t heard a mesh like this since SkatMan came to town.’” (The Worst Band in the Universe)

Graeme Base’s books need to be experienced in person to fully understand how clever and beautifully illustrated they are. It is easy to spend hours immersed in their pages.

A side note in regards to Aussie Author Month:

One of the aims of Aussie Author month is to raise awareness and funds for the Indigenous Literacy Project – a project that aims to raise Literacy levels amongst Inigenous Australians living in rural and remote communities. You can learn more here: http://www.indigenousliteracyproject.org.au/ and you can donate to the project as part of Aussie Author month here: http://www.gofundraise.com.au/page/ausbooks

Aussie Author Month – Mem Fox

In Australia we are spoiled for fabulous picture book authors (and illustrators). From the clever prose and gorgeous illustrations of Graeme Base (Animalia; The Waterhole) for older picture book readers to the endearing storylines of Margaret Wild (There’s a Sea in My Bedroom; Kiss, Kiss!) for younger picture book readers. From Australian picture book classics which Australian children have been reading for generations, such as May Gibbs’ Snugglepot and Cuddle Pie, to newer picture books, such as Kathryn Apel’s This is the Mud. A favourite picture book author of mine, and of my children, too, is Mem Fox. We have many of her books on our bookshelf and they are much requested at bedtime. So what is it about Mem Fox’s books that makes both parents, teachers and children alike keep reading them over and over again?

Rhyme

Many of Mem Fox’s books are written in rhyme. As a writer who loves to write picture books, I know just how hard rhyme is to pull off effectively. It’s not just about finding the right words to rhyme, it’s also about rhythm and flow. Mem Fox’s rhymes always flow naturally and beautifully, giving her stories a lovely lyrical quality.

It’s time for bed, little fish, little fish,

So hold your breath and make a wish.” (Time for Bed)

Here is the near sheep. Here is the far sheep.

Here is the moon sheep. And here is the star sheep.” (Where is the Green Sheep?)

Australiana

Mem Fox’s use of Australian animals as characters—characters who personify the Aussie spirit— tied in with other pieces of Australiana (food, places, slang terms), make her books feel like home to Australian readers, who can relate to familiar images and language evoked by Fox. International readers are introduced to peculiar creatures and new experiences from the land ‘Down Under’.

Later, on a beach in Perth, they ate a piece of pavlova.

Hush’s legs appeared. So did her body.

‘You look wonderful, you precious possum!’ said Grandma Poss. “Next stop—Tasmania.’

And over the sea they went.” (Possum Magic)

One night, beside a low camp fire,

They heard the men talk loud

about a boatrace way out west

That’d make all Aussies proud.

One said he’d give his two eye teeth

To be there at the race.

‘My oath, too right!’ the other said,

With longing on his face.” (Sail Away: The Ballad of Skip and Nell)

Repetitive Language

Young children love books with repetitive language and, when reading aloud, children will often join in because they can pick up on the repetitiveness. They can predict what will be said on the next page. My preschooler son will sit down with a Mem Fox book and read the book to himself from memory because the repetitiveness of the text, combined with the pictures, means he can easily remember the story and the words. This is a great precursor to learning to read. Mem Fox’s books are perfect for this pre-reading stage.

“‘Good grief!’ said the goose.

‘Well, well!’ said the pig.

‘Who cares?’ said the sheep.

‘So what?’ said the horse.

‘What next?’ said the cow.” (Hattie and the Fox)

And her sister said,

‘I’ll get you a sweater when the weather gets wetter,

to go with the blouse with the ribbons and bows,

to go with the skirt that won’t show the dirt,

to go with the socks from the local shops,

to go with the shoes from grandpa.’” (Shoes from Grandpa)

Page-turning Storyline

Mem Fox’s stories are written in such a way that the reader just has to turn the page to find out what happens next. The stories often build to the climax. Where is that green sheep? What can Poss eat to make her visible? Will Skip and Nell make the race in time?

If you’re a writer of picture books, check out this very interesting article on Mem Fox’s site about her process for writing Where is the Green Sheep? http://www.memfox.com/green-sheep-secrets.html There are some fantastic gems of advice in there, including this:

” After twenty one years of writing for children, I’ve come to appreciate that the books young children like best fall broadly into two categories: either short books with a pattern, based on rhyme, rhythm or repetition; or short books with a really good story. They don’t like nostalgia books. They don’t like first person books. And they don’t like long books. Stories, or patterns: that’s it.”

For a great overview of Australia’s most popular children’s book authors, have a look at this article: http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/childrensbooks/

A side note in regards to Aussie Author Month:

One of the aims of Aussie Author month is to raise awareness and funds for the Indigenous Literacy Project – a project that aims to raise Literacy levels amongst Inigenous Australians living in rural and remote communities. You can learn more here: http://www.indigenousliteracyproject.org.au/ and you can donate to the project as part of Aussie Author month here: http://www.gofundraise.com.au/page/ausbooks

And don’t forget to check out all the other exciting things happening for Aussie Author Month.

Aussie Author Month – John Marsden

As part of Aussie Author month I’m going to be doing a series of blog posts focusing on some of my favourite Australian authors—authors who have inspired me in my own writing.

For the first post I want to focus on one of my all time favourite authors: John Marsden. I started reading John Marsden as a teenager and he immediately became my favourite teen/YA writer. He also inspired me to really strive for my writing dream; knowing that an Australian could become such a well known author, not just here, but overseas as well, was a big push for me.

Marsden has written a multitude of books over the years, primarily aimed at teens. At one stage I had read every book he’d ever written. In year eight, my English teacher read our class Tomorrow When the War Began (which I’d already read by then)—every student in my class loved it and there was an influx in the library to borrow the next book in the series. Even the boys.

So how is it that Marsden, nearly a decade before the Harry Potter phenomenon, inspired teens, including reluctant male readers, to get reading?

Voice

This would have to be the number one factor in the appeal of Marsden’s books to teens. Marsden has a way of writing teenage voice realistically that draws teens into the story. Teens feel like they’re reading about someone their own age—they can relate to the feelings and thoughts of the character, because it’s how they think and feel. In particular, I find his ability to write in the voice of a teenage girl particularly brilliant (how many grown men could channel the voice of a teenage girl so realistically?).

To be honest, which I swore I’d be, we’d all had those delusions at times. They were only daydreams, to liberate our families, to fix everything, to be heroes… In reality the prospect of doing something like that was so horrifying and frightening that it made me ill to think of it.” (Tomorrow When the War Began, pg. 232)

I was giving your ear an erotic experience and you were giggling and pushing me away. The only thing that stopped me going further was all the people around, and Mr. Rossi. Like, he might be a good bloke, but if he finds two of his students having sex in the middle of an excursion he’s not exactly going to give us a pat on the head and an A in Art.” (Dear Miffy, pg. 75)

Characters

The characters in Marsden’s books come alive from the first page and make you want to know their story. Part of that is their voice, which I mentioned above, but it is also the layers of depth each character possesses. In books like Letters from the Inside and So Much to Tell You, the stories of the main characters unfold layer by layer. From the beginning the reader knows there is more to this character, some secret, and as the story unfolds we get glimpses of the secret, until we find out the whole story. In other stories, such as the Tomorrow series, we see the main character put in tough situations and continually growing as a character through these situations.

I don’t blame you for being scared of me. I don’t like it but I don’t blame you. I’m scared of myself sometimes.” (Letters from the Inside, pg.96)

…I started trembling and sobbing and hugging myself. I leaned against the wall then slid down until I was on the floor. It seemed like something outside me had taken control. It shook me like I was a washing machine. I knew what it was of course. The image of Shannon, lying there naked and tied up, her blood, the death that I saw in her eyes: Where was I supposed to put that?” (While I Live, pg.266)

Description

Part of what makes Marsden’s descriptions so effective is the way they’re written from the character’s perspective. His descriptions give the reader a clear picture, while showing the reader how the character views his/her world. He very rarely alludes to the characters’ physical descriptions, unless it’s relevant.

…Lisa came in, went to her bed and lay on it face down. And after a few moments she began crying! I could hear her. And I could see her shoulders shuddering. Lisa, the strong one, who never cries! It got worse: her crying became louder, uncontrolled, sobbing. From deep, deep down… I fluttered around the dorm wanting to help her.” (So Much to Tell You, pg.39)

… we ran the way rabbits do when they get a sniff of the warren and think they can just make it. We put our ears back, kept close to the ground and went for it… The fence loomed up at me. I dived to go under it. Still like a rabbit. Beside me Fi did the same. As we went down, the first shot wailed above our heads.” (Darkness, Be My Friend, pg. 234)

If you (or your kids) have yet to pick up a book by John Marsden, I highly recommend picking one up.

If you have (or write for) preteen boys, try Staying Alive in Year 5. For teen girls, try So Much to Tell You. For teen boys, try Dear Miffy. And everybody should read Tomorrow When the War Began at least once in their lifetime, it’s a Aussie literature must-read.

A side note in regards to Aussie Author Month:

One of the aims of Aussie Author month is to raise awareness and funds for the Indigenous Literacy Project – a project that aims to raise Literacy levels amongst Inigenous Australians living in rural and remote communities. You can learn more here: http://www.indigenousliteracyproject.org.au/ and you can donate to the project as part of Aussie Author month here: http://www.gofundraise.com.au/page/ausbooks