Author interview: Kayte Nunn

KayteIt seems crazy, but it’s close to 10 years since I first crossed paths with fellow Sydneysider Kayte Nunn. I was editing Slimming & Health magazine at the time (may it RIP, sniffle) and Kayte was at Weight Watchers magazine. But despite being professional rivals, we became mates and I was THRILLED when her fabulous first novel, Rose’s Vintage, was picked up by Black Inc Publishing . It’s out now, and Kayte dropped by to tell us all about it.

Journalist-to-author seems to be a well-trodden path! How did the authorly dream unfold for you?

Writing in some shape or form has always been a part of my life, from childhood stories, angst-ridden teenage diaries and terrible poetry, to studying a degree in English and publishing and then eventually working as a features writer. I’d harboured a secret dream to write fiction for years, but never had the self-belief that I’d ever actually achieve that dream.

The perfect storm of events came about when I had a gap between freelance assignments of about six weeks, my youngest daughter was in daycare three days a week and I’d recently read a couple of fairly ordinary books and thought well, I can do better than that (little did I know just how hard it was going to be!). It was a case of ‘now or never’.

I was also training for a marathon at the time, and the similarities of the two disciplines were not lost on me. I set myself a daily word count and started writing, not thinking too far ahead, and trying not to worry that I somehow had to spin a story out over more than 80,000 words!

And what about your journey to publication – how did you find your publisher? What was it like the day you got ‘the call’?

After about a year I had a first draft. I started submitting to agents and publishers. I had a few requests for the whole manuscripts, but also my fair share of rejections. Then, one afternoon, the woman who is now my agent gave me a call and said she liked what she’d read and could I send her the whole mss. She got back to me a month later and gave me plenty of notes on what needed to change – including changing the nationality of the protagonist and adding more on the antagonist.

I wasn’t precious about my work (having been a freelance non-fiction writer I was used to being edited) and hugely appreciated her insight.

I revised and resubmitted to her about three months later and she began submitting to publishers. We had several enthusiastic replies, but that it was too close in tone and subject matter to other of their authors. One publisher offered very detailed and generous feedback, which I took on board and re-drafted. Then my agent submitted to Black Inc, which was building its contemporary fiction list.

Rose’s Vintage was also close to an offer from the publisher who had given me the feedback, but my agent and I came to the same conclusion that a smaller publisher would be more likely to provide me with individual attention, which is so important for a debut novelist. Black Inc also offered for a second book, which by this time I was halfway through writing.

I really feel like I did my apprenticeship on this novel – I could write, but I needed to learn to tell a story – to open up the watch face and see how everything needs to fit together. The feedback I got from one particular publisher, from my agent, from a couple of writing workshops that I did, and from my editor was invaluable and helped to make the book so much better – getting a novel published is much more of a collaborative process than many realise.

The actual day of the call I was up to my elbows in filth, as we had sold our house and my husband and I and were cleaning it. I’d just had a feeling all that morning that something was going to happen, but when I got the call I was still shocked and it took a few days to sink in.

I think I was more excited when my agent rang me earlier this year to tell me that Rose’s Vintage and my second book had sold in a bidding war to a German publisher. Friends came over with Champagne after that news!

For readers who aren’t familiar, what’s Rose’s Vintage all about?

It’s the story of a young English chef – Rose – who takes a job as an au pair after her life in London falls apart. She arrives in Australia, in the wine region of the Shingle Valley, in the middle of winter and it’s completely the opposite of the sunny country she’d been expecting. She’s also there to spy on the owner – whose tempestuous wife has walked out on him – for her brother, who is interested in buying the troubled winery…

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‘RuRo’ is one of the most enduringly popular romantic subgenres in Australia. Did you set out to write a rural romance, or did the story simply evolve that way? What do you think it is about these stories that resonates with readers in such a big way?

I’d spent several years editing Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine and during the course of that rather wonderful job had visited many of Australia and New Zealand’s best wine regions. I had been taken by the wonderful sense of community and camaraderie that I encountered and also loved the gorgeous landscape, so it made perfect sense to me to set a book in a small grape-growing/winemaking community. Wine is such a sensuous product and lends itself to a love story as well as plenty of other shenanigans.

When I was in my teens I loved a series of books by HE Bates that started with The Darling Buds of May – the warmth of the family and all the jolly things they did made me want to be a part of such a world, and I realised as I wrote Rose’s Vintage that I wanted to create a similar feeling in my work.

Belonging – finding your tribe – is such an important human need, and Australian rural romance captures that – that feeling of community that can sometimes be lacking when you live in larger towns and cities.

Plenty of people still like to deride romantic fiction as shallow, unrealistic, antifeminist, yada yada yada – despite it being the most popular fiction genre in the world! What are your thoughts on some of the tired clichés and stereotypes romance is still saddled with?

People want to love and be loved and to know that it’s going to be alright in the end, to read about happy endings – that’s what romantic fiction gives them.

I do think romantic fiction has evolved from the heroine being ‘saved’ by the hero, to stories now where the heroine saves herself but gets the man as well – which is actually a strong feminist ideal.

What does a day in your writing life look like? Do you have a set routine or are you more of a go-with-the-flow kind of author?

I try to write when my two girls are at school, after some exercise and then until the last possible minute before I have to pick them up – it’s no surprise to me that the hour between 2 and 3pm is often my most productive! Other freelance work does take priority, but I find that I often have breaks between projects. I tend to look at my diary a week ahead and plan the days when I will write. I try and do all my errands in the late afternoons, when the girls are around, otherwise they cut into my writing time.

My two are quite sporty, so I spend a lot of time hanging around swimming pools and soccer pitches and gymnasiums. I often bring my laptop and sit in the car and write or at a table nearby. Luckily, after years of being in busy editorial offices I can write with almost any amount of noise.

Have you found all that ‘pitching’ you do as a freelance journalist has been helpful in terms of promoting your book?

Absolutely. Mostly it’s just common sense, but you have to think about why someone might want to interview you or review your book, and pitch a hook or an angle that’s specific to them, to give them a reason to interact with you.

What’s next on the writing agenda for you?

I’ve finished a second book, The Angels’ Share (which is what the wine that’s lost to evaporation when it’s in barrel is known as), also set in the Shingle Valley, which will be published in 2017, and I am now working on a historical mystery set in late-Victorian England, Chile and Sydney.

Interview: Belinda Williams, author

Belinda Williams bio pic - screen resWell, well – hasn’t it been a long time between drinks?! I’m thrilled to be back on the blog with a NEW author interview, especially given the author in the hot seat is the fabulous Belinda Williams, who is celebrating the release of her latest novel, Modern Heart, this month.

I met Belinda at this year’s Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne (she was a finalist for the RWA’s Emerald Award in both 2013 and 2014, doncha know), where we bonded over our love of chick lit (and shared frustration with the way the genre is often pooh-poohed and misunderstood, but that’s another post). I downloaded The Boyfriend Sessions, the first book in her City Love series, for the flight home, and have been hooked on Belinda’s brand of fun, sexy and sophisticated contemporary romance ever since.

Take it away, Belinda!

Tell me about your writing life… did you always dream of being an author? When did you start writing ‘seriously’?

I was the quintessential book nerd as a child. I liked nothing more than having my head in a book (still do). The only thing that beat that was a trip to the library. I happily spent hours there discovering new authors and different worlds.

Not surprisingly I always wanted to write a book when I grew up. Of course I forgot all about then when I was an adult and things like responsibility and the big wide world beckoned. Although I started an Arts degree at University I ended up swapping to a Business degree majoring in Marketing because I thought I’d have more chance of getting a job.

It worked out well and I’ve worked in marketing for fifteen years, although I started to feel like something was missing. I missed having a creative outlet, which is what prompted me to start writing again five years ago.

Once I started, I discovered I didn’t want to stop! Now I’m lucky enough to juggle my writing life with freelance marketing work and looking after my school age son.

And what about your journey to publication – how did you find your publisher? What was it like the day you got ‘the call’?

The very first book I wrote was a paranormal romantic suspense and it made the top ten finalists of the Romance Writers of Australia Emerald Award. This gave me the confidence I needed and I decided to self-publish to put my toe in the water, so to speak. It seemed like a logical step for me due to my marketing background.

When that book received good reviews but sales didn’t rock my world, I changed tact slightly and wrote a contemporary romance, the first in my City Love series. I felt like this book would be more attractive to publishers based on research I’d done. Also going it alone self-publishing can be a lot of hard work and I liked the idea of working with a team of professionals so I decided to pitch it to publishers. Before doing so I employed a professional editor to work with me on the manuscript so it was as polished as it could be.

I only pitched to a handful of publishers and I’m pleased to say the publisher I most wanted to work with, Momentum, signed me!

For readers who aren’t familiar, what’s your City Love series all about? Do the same characters feature in each book?

The City Love series is about four women friends living in Sydney. They all have their respective professional careers and love lives (or lack of love lives!) Each book is focused on a different girlfriend so you can read the books as stand alones or as a series. Along with the romance, their friendships are a central part of every story.

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The latest installment is Modern Heart – give us the rundown!

Modern Heart is the story of tough girl, Scarlett Wong, a Creative Director at an advertising agency and also a talented artist. Scarlett doesn’t do relationships but is finding this increasingly difficult with good guy, John Hart, around. Definitely a case of opposites attract. He’s the reason Scarlett has been offered an exhibition in New York to exhibit her artwork. By the end of the book, Scarlett will have to face up to the reasons why she pushes everyone away and why she’s been reluctant pursue a career in art, which is what she’s truly passionate about. It will be a bumpy ride but there’s plenty of laughter, friendships and love to enjoy along the way.

When you started writing book one, The Boyfriend Sessions, did you know it would be a series, or did it evolve more organically?

The concept for The Boyfriend Sessions came to me in an ‘aha!’ moment and it was just about that one book at the start. However, once I began writing all about Christa’s girlfriends, I fell in love with them! They were such an awesome group of women and I loved their dynamic. By the end of The Boyfriend Sessions I knew I had to write a story for each of them.

What are the best and worst things about writing a series as opposed to a standalone single title?

I suppose with a series you can get ‘series fatigue’ and tire of that world and the characters. Fortunately for me, I didn’t find that to be the case. I think because each book is focused on a different character, rather than a continuing storyline, I was always discovering something new.

On the plus side, once you’ve created a series it’s like returning to a group of old friends. You don’t have to spend hours doing character profiles like you do at the beginning of a series or with a stand alone, because you know them so well already!

Do you have a favourite book and/or character in the series? (I know, I know – it’s like being asked to choose a favourite child!) 

No, I honestly don’t. At first I thought I would, but by the end of the series I love Christa, Maddy, Scarlett and Cate equally (that’s a very responsible motherly reply, I know!)

Contemporary romance and romantic comedy – aka ‘chick lit’ (shudder) – is perhaps the most misunderstood of the romance subgenres (even among other romance authors!). What do you love about the genre, and what are your thoughts on some of the tired clichés and stereotypes it’s still saddled with?

Sometimes I feel like it’s a minefield. I pitch my books as contemporary romance but they could easily fall into the chick lit and romantic comedy subgenres, although I’ve been told that those two subgenres aren’t really a thing anymore!

I think whatever subgenre of romance you write you are still going to get saddled with that ‘romance’ stereotype. For my part, I try to own what I write with pride. If people choose to turn their nose up at it, that’s their choice. But I hope in being open and proud of the genre I write in, this will help to dispel the myths.

What I love about the genre? It’s contemporary (duh!) which means it’s relevant. The stories are about women in our world that we can relate to and I love that. The variety is great too because contemporary is a very broad genre. Lastly, I love that romantic comedy and chick lit are an enjoyable escape.

What does a day in your writing life look like? Do you have a set routine or are you more of a go-with-the-flow kind of author?

It varies. At heart, I’m a routine girl, but because I juggle freelance work and my family, every week is different. I try to squeeze writing in whenever I can. I’ve learned to accept that there’s an ebb and flow but I do go through phases of ‘binge’ writing, usually when I’m writing a first draft. Around these times I write A LOT, usually over a period of two to three months. Then I need a breather!

It’s a tough climate today for e-pubbed authors keen to spread the word about their work, but in your ‘day job’ you work in marketing. Have you found that’s been helpful in terms of promoting your books?

I do feel like I’m at an advantage with my marketing background (I work for a digital marketing agency). Honestly, though, I haven’t hit on any proven formula. The biggest issue for any author, self-pubbed or otherwise, is discoverability.

If I’m to put my marketing hat on, you need to step back and look at your books as products and your author self as a brand. Then consider who you are selling to before working out what marketing avenues to undertake.

All that being said, the market is so crowded and it’s very difficult to speak directly to your target market when you’re starting out. I think the best approach any author can take is to view it as a long-term venture. Sure, there are a few authors who make it big with their first book, but that’s rare. If you want to build a readership, give them something to read!

So I guess the best bit of marketing advice I can give, is to keep writing.

What’s next on the writing agenda for you?

The last book in the City Love series, Wish List, will be out in May 2016. This will be Cate’s story, who is the most romantic of the group. Quite a fitting way to end the series I hope.

From there I’m starting work on a whole new contemporary romance series. Stay tuned!

Author interview: Valerie Khoo

Valerie KhooCalling Valerie Khoo an author is a bit of a misnomer. She is an author (of six books, no less), but she’s also a freelance writer for magazines and newspapers, a consultant to the government and corporate sectors and has held senior editorial positions at major Australian publishers including Bauer Media and Pacific Magazines. But the go-getting Ms Khoo’s abiding passion is the Australian Writers’ Centre, of which she is founder and national director. Get ready to be inspired, people!

You used to be an accountant, but had you always wanted to write? What finally prompted you to decide to chase the writing dream?

I always wanted to write. Even at school, I loved English. I love writing and I used to think that it would be awesome to be a full-time writer. However, it just wasn’t in my frame of reference that this was possible. In our household, you became a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant. I became an accountant. Becoming a writer didn’t even factor into the equation.

I think the other factor was that I assumed that writers struggled financially – and I didn’t find this an appealing concept! The stereotypical writer is one who is starving in a garret and that had no appeal to me. It wasn’t til later in life that I realised that this is just a myth. You can make a very lucrative living from writing if you treat it like a business.

When I was stuck in an accounting job that I didn’t enjoy, I really questioned whether I should be taking my career in another direction. I realised that I had to make a go of it – or always wonder. But even then I didn’t have the guts to switch to writing straight away. I went into PR, which was more creative than accounting, but which still had roots in the corporate world. I did freelance writing on the side until, a few years later, I realised that I had to give writing a proper go. So I took the plunge and became a full-time writer. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Did you take writing courses yourself before starting the Australian Writers’ Centre (AWC)? What were the most and least useful things you learned from your own writing education?

I did countless courses with so many different providers. Some were great quality. Some were not. Some were taught by amazing presenters. Others barely knew what they were doing.

During this time, I remember wishing there was a centre that could ensure students would receive the same top quality learning experience regardless of which course they chose. I longed for a centre that would be a dynamic place where students could learn, connect with others, meet people from the industry – and have a good time. That vision eventually became the Australian Writers’ Centre.

To what extent do you believe people can be taught to be good writers, and how important – if at all – is natural talent?

We’re all born with different talents. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn new skills. I absolutely believe that people can learn good writing skills. I see it every single day with our students. Sometimes, learning some foundational rules can transform a person’s writing. In other instances, personalised mentoring can turn a good story into a great one. I think it all boils down to a person’s willingness to learn.

What prompted you to start AWC?

I love helping people achieve their dreams. I know it sounds clichéd but it’s true. I find it so rewarding when I can help someone tap into their potential and go further than they ever imagined. Often, they don’t even realise how great their potential is – but I love the fact that our courses are designed to help people figure this out.

As my technical skill is writing, it made sense for me to help people achieve their writing dreams. And I’m thrilled that we do just that. Every single day I receive emails from former students who are now being published, have scored book deals or who have been able to change careers or earn additional income as a result of coming to our courses.

I think lots of people think they don’t have time to write because they work full time or have other pressing commitments – what’s your advice to those people? After all, you run a thriving business, write for newspapers and magazines, and have also written six books – how do you find the time yourself?!

You just make the time. I am a big fan of grabbing “pockets” of time. I recently went to the opera and my friend went to the bar to buy us drinks. I used those few minutes to take out my notebook and write a few extra paragraphs in the article I was working on. It’s amazing how those “pockets” can add up. So I recommend using them!

What’s your favourite type of thing to write?

Although I’m an avid reader of fiction – and I devour novels – I actually enjoy writing non-fiction the most. I just love telling real stories. Writing a solid feature article can be really satisfying because you learn a lot about a topic, interview interesting people and then craft a story that readers enjoy. And you don’t have to spend a year of your life achieving this. You can go from idea to printed story in a matter of weeks (or, in some cases, days).

What are your future ambitions both for AWC and for yourself as a writer? 

I’m passionate about creating a nurturing and supportive environment to writers. I want to keep ensuring that we have the best presenters in the country so that our students are mentored by inspiring authors, journalists and bloggers. And I just want the Australian Writers’ Centre to help more people achieve their dreams.

People often ask me whether the recent government funding cuts to the arts have had an impact on the Centre’s capacity to provide services. They’re shocked to find out we don’t get any funding whatsoever. We never have. From day one – nine years ago – I’ve funded the Centre entirely by myself, out of my own pocket. It’s a real passion for me.

In terms of my own writing, I want to experiment with different genres – mainly for fun and to stretch my creative muscles. I have an idea brewing in the back of my head about my next major project but I’m not ready to plunge headfirst into it yet. I’m having too much fun helping other people on their journey for now!

Interview: Vanessa Stubbs, Author

Have you met Vanessa?

Vanessa StubbsOoh, look – it’s a trilogy! This week I’m chatting to my third terrifyingly talented journalist-turned-novelist, Vanessa Stubbs. By day Vanessa writes for the commuter newspaper MX, but by night (and probably at other times) she writes books. Her first, Star Attraction, was initially published in paperback by Penguin’s Michael Joseph imprint and has just now been reissued as a Destiny Romance e-book. Vanessa has also interviewed Daniel Craig and Ryan Reynolds, and I’m sure you’ll agree, has really envy-inducing hair.

Your day job involves interviewing celebrities, writing about fashion and, presumably, getting loads of free swag. Please tell us it’s not as fabulous as it sounds or we’ll have to hate you*.

I started writing theatre reviews for Drum Media, which is Sydney music street press. It was awesome. Someone paid me about $50 a week to go to live performances and write about them. It didn’t matter that it was only pocket money – I loved doing it and seeing my name in print and knew this was what I wanted to do for a living.

I interned at the Daily Telegraph and while I was there the entertainment editor went on leave and they put me in the role – after one week in a newsroom! I was terrified but I thought ‘what do I have to lose?’ and jumped right in. I loved the interesting people I interviewed and got a rush out of the adrenalin of deadline. I then did a cadetship at News Limited. This involved night shift – working from 10pm until 6am, going on the road with a driver and photographer. I learned a lot about the police world and crime during this time! I then worked on general news at the Telegraph for a few years. After that I became the medical reporter. There were lots of stories of incredible survival but also ones with very sad endings. Seeing children in particular who had been dealt a really tough lot in life, was very confronting. I think it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do professionally,  but it was also pretty inspiring.

Most journos seem to harbour secret (or not-so-secret, in my case) ambitions of writing novels. Was that the case for you?

My journalism friends who I did my cadetship with tell me I announced to the class that I wanted to be a fiction writer when we had to talk about our hopes for the future but I don’t remember that at all! I think I just wanted to be writing for a living. It feels like a privilege to be paid for doing what you love.  I guess I was realistic. Journalism pays week in and out. Novel writing is being paid a little bit to do your hobby. I interviewed the author Elizabeth Gilbert recently and she said that she didn’t think it was wise to expect your creative writing to pay the bills. She said it was too much pressure to put on the creative process. It wasn’t until I went on maternity leave and did a creative writing course that I started writing my novel Star Attraction.

What do you think are the fundamental differences between journalistic writing and writing novels?

They are so different and yet they come from the same place inside me. When I write I just start typing and the words come, whether they are creative or more formulaic, like writing an article. It seems like it’s tapping into the same place, in a way. But on the other hand writing creatively is easier for me. This is simply because I only need a quiet space, my laptop and my imagination. To write an article I need to research, call people, find talent and then use quotes etc etc. It is a lot more work and much more practical work, in a way, which is harder for me. It took me a long time to get used to having to source talent quickly and then interview them. Now it’s like second nature but it’s more of a skill to be honed. Having said that, structuring a novel is certainly a skill to be learned, too. I guess in some way both require jumping in and learning by doing. Journalism is very much up to you. It requires a huge amount of independence and being a natural self-starter. You have a brief – it’s usually vague and you have to find the hook – the most interesting part of the story and that is your lead. In a way I guess I view fiction in the same way. You have a vague idea for a story and you just create it out of nowhere.  I write towards the emotional heart of things. That’s one of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given and it applies to journalism too.

So what’s tougher, rubbing shoulders with A-listers or writing books?

I think writing novels is more challenging and more satisfying because it’s far less formulaic than journalism. Even if you have your plot and characters all sorted there will be times along the way where you just want to throw it all in and give up. It builds character! And it’s like child birth. When I finish a novel I look back on it with rose coloured glasses – it all seemed so easy but my husband quickly reminds me that there were floods of tears and a lot of talk of not being able to go on. Unfortunately there is no happy gas or epidural solutions!

It’s also such a strong interplay between your creative brain and your more analytical brain. I really think you have to be a certain kind of person to write novels – you have to be highly creative but also highly analytical because your plot, your theme and your character’s motivations are all one big puzzle.

Has working as a journalist has been a help or a hindrance in your journey to being a published author? 

Very much a help. It has made me a fast and accurate writer. Those two things hold for fiction as well. You also meet people from all walks of life. I think for a while when I was working as a news journalist and seeing hard things – death and sickness and negativity and the worst in people – it wore me down emotionally. It really does show you the best and worst in people. I shut off my emotions to deal with these things. I definitely couldn’t have written creatively during this period. I think you need to be emotionally open to the world to write fiction.


Star Attraction by Vanessa StubbsThe heroine in Star Attraction is a journalist – was her occupation a conscious choice or did it just feel natural to have her work in the media?

I wrote what I knew. It was conscious because I knew that everything I’d experienced in the newsroom was quite amazing. I thought it would translate really well to fiction. So much conflict and drama!

If you had a do-over, would you still be a journalist?

Absolutely. It’s a training ground for life, which is a training ground for writing novels. It exposes you to so much – good people, bad people, the powerful and powerless. It challenges your views on everything. I makes you think critically and in the end, if you’re a good journalist, you’re seeking the same thing as a good novelist – the truth.

 

* Just kidding, we could never hate Vanessa!

 

Interview: Nicole Haddow, Author

Have you met Nicole?

Nicole HaddowA fellow journalist-turned-author, Nicole Haddow has worked in magazines, social media and reality TV, so it’s hardly surprising that her fabulous first novel, Tweethearts, is set in the glossy, frequently hilarious world of the media. Nicole stopped by to have a yarn about what it’s like to, well, spin yarns for a living.

My career motto is ‘will write for food’. Can you relate to that?

I always knew I wanted to do many different types of writing including non-fiction features and fiction, too. I studied professional writing at university. This degree gave me the foundation I needed to learn the bones of each style. My first published feature in Russh magazine was actually a university feature-writing assignment. I wrote freelance features while I worked full time in entry-level media jobs. I moved to Sydney in 2010 and worked in contract positions for a number of titles at ACP Magazines (now Bauer Media). When I returned to Melbourne in 2011 I worked as a journalist for the Melbourne Weekly and wrote a mix of news and lifestyle articles. These days I’m working in social media and writing freelance features.

So was journalism a distraction on the way to becoming an author, or was it working as a journo that inspired you to try your hand at a novel?

Writing fiction was something that I had always been keen to do, but I felt I had to get some professional experience – and life experience – before I wrote a book. In both my journalism and fiction I draw a lot from real life experience and will often be in a social situation and think ‘there’s a story in this’. My journalism provided some of the inspiration for my fiction. I was working in magazines and reality television when I thought ‘I could turn some of these outrageous scenarios into great fiction’ and so I started writing without giving much thought to where the plot would go. I had to learn about structuring a book along the way.

True or false: if you can write well in one format, you can write well in any format.

You can’t assume that just because you’re a journalist you can write fiction. Obviously in fiction there’s a lot more creative license. In journalism, particularly news, the key is brevity so there’s not a lot of room for playing with words. However, learning to be concise was a good foundation for writing a novel. Although you’re working with a generous word count in fiction, there’s no need for long, waffling sentences in either form. Knowing how to paint a clear picture with just a few words is a handy skill.


Tweethearts by Nicole HaddowWhich is easier – journalism or writing novels? 

Both have their challenges, but in journalism it can be a lot easier to come up with an idea. You can just call people, ask what’s going on and get a stack of interesting angles out of them. In journalism, I had the luxury of interviewing a real person, drawing out their story and having wonderful dialogue handed to me. In fiction a lot of that has to come from within. Coming up with an idea, plot, characters and dialogue can take a lot of mulling, but it’s so freeing to stick words in someone’s mouth, then erase them and use them elsewhere.

In fiction I also enjoy not having a strict deadline, although sometimes I set myself one just so that I’m not writing an end in sight.

If you had a do-over, would you still be a journalist or skip straight to being a novelist?

Being a journalist has definitely been helpful; as I said, you get those good basic writing skills that can be transferred to fiction. However,  I learnt a lot of things that have nothing to do with journalism when I wrote Tweethearts – character development, setting and sustaining tension between characters were a whole new world.

Would you recommend a journalism career as a ‘training ground’ for writing novels? 

It depends on the kind of journalism. For me, writing features was really valuable. Writing in-depth profiles and interviews was a good way to think about characters and describing their mannerisms and sharing their story through dialogue. Being able to identify when something’s a worthy story is also handy. But I don’t think having a journalism career is essential. It’s just as important to read a lot and understand how to hold a reader’s attention. In journalism you only have to sustain a reader’s interest for a few hundred to a few thousand words. Holding a reader’s interest and getting them to fall in love with characters isn’t something that can be learnt through journalism.

 

 

 

Interview: Carla Caruso, author

carla_carusoHave you met Carla?

Adelaide-based Carla Caruso is a freelance journalist and author of four chick lit novels, the most recent of which is the fabulous Catch of the Day. I asked Carla whether a background in journalism is a plus or a minus when it comes to writing novels.

So, the journalisming (yes, it’s a word. Trust me, I’m a journalist.) Give us the rundown.

After school, I started an arts degree at Adelaide University, dropped out for three years to work in banking, retail and at a library – none of which suited me; my Italian family just thought going to uni really meant ‘bludging’ – before returning to study journalism at the University of South Australia’s famed Magill campus.

I didn’t know any journalists, so I just copied the lead of the other students around me and headed to the country for my first journalism gig. I saw an ad in the paper for a cadet, handed in my last assignment, and basically went there the next week. It was at the rural rag, the Coastal Leader, in Kingston SE in South Australia – home to the Big Lobster. A little of my latest novel, Catch of the Day, is inspired by this experience and is set in the town!

Homesick, about a year and a half later, I returned to Adelaide and worked in media monitoring for a few months, which required 3am starts (not fun)! Then I got a call from Adelaide’s daily News Ltd newspaper, The Advertiser, about a third-year cadet journalist position. I’d previously applied to be a cadet and didn’t make the cut. This time, I did.

It was one of the best and worst experiences of my life – stressful and exciting all at the same time. I lasted three years. My favourite gigs there were as a Confidential gossip columnist and fashion editor. I was always more of a ‘lifestyle’ journalist than hard-nosed reporter.

After this, I worked as a media adviser at a state government department for a year (very dull for me!), then headed to Sydney with my photographer husband, where I was a features writer and fashion stylist at the weekly Nine to Five Magazine. Then I went freelance, which I’d always dreamed of doing, even before I really knew what it meant. (I think I liked all the contributor pics and bios in the different mags.) I’ve since freelanced for various glossies including Cleo, Woman’s Day and That’s Life. Now I’m a mum to twin boys and just taking a break to focus on the babies – and fiction.

Which came first, the journalism or the books?

I always, always wanted to be an author. I remember dictating stories to my kindergarten teachers to transcribe, and handwriting 100-page novels in my school holidays – for fun. But being a novelist just didn’t seem like a real job – particularly not to my mum who told me work wasn’t meant to be fun! You weren’t mean to pursue your dreams. Be realistic, make money (instead). I was told if I liked to write to try journalism, so that’s what I did – although, I’ve always been more of an introverted, sensitive writer type, so I haven’t always liked having to ask the hard questions etc. I remember one woman at the bank I used to work at telling me I wasn’t cut-throat enough to be a journalist and I probably wasn’t!

What do you think are the fundamental differences between journalistic writing and writing novels?

I think for a while journalism killed a bit of my creativity. Because, especially with newspaper writing, it’s about being factual, short and to the point, and writing to a certain style, not letting your personality shine through. So once I started creatively writing again for fiction – and even in writing longer magazine features – I had to almost relearn that creativity. Everything I used to cut out, I had to add back in to let my natural ‘voice’ be heard, add some ‘colour’. Also with fiction, you can have more of an opinion – through your characters at least. With journalism, it’s more about crediting sources and backing up what you’ve written. Most of the ‘colour’ comes from the interviewee’s quotes and what they tell you, rather than your own words.

In your experience, which is easier – journalism or writing novels?

I guess journalism is something I’ve done for over a decade now, so I can do it more on autopilot and I don’t find it as mentally taxing as fiction, because I don’t love it as much anymore! But then again, because fiction is something I’m really passionate about, it doesn’t feel like hard work and it’s all make-believe, so how fast I am at it is all up to me. I don’t have to wait for people to get back to me with responses or for the phone to ring. I can do it anywhere, anytime! I’m always thinking of my latest manuscript and characters at the back of my mind, even if I don’t get a chance to sit down and type until later that night.

catch-of-the-dayYour novels have heroines who work in the media and in other industries – which professions are easier and more enjoyable to write?

I have done a lot of fiction writing about the media and maybe it’s the journalist thing – I worry about being accurate. And if I can write about a profession I know, I know it will be an accurate account, because I’ve lived it. Having said that, I also enjoy doing research prior to writing a novel. I recently interviewed a professional organiser for a book series I’m working on about a neat-freak professional organiser who gets involved in messy mysteries and I’ve been loving that. And I would love to one day do work experience at a workplace or go ‘undercover’ just to get a better idea of how another profession/industry works. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Do you feel that working as a journalist has been a help or a hindrance in your journey to being a published author?

You know, I used to be jealous when I’d read about other authors who’d hit the big-time in their twenties (I’m 35) and wondered why did I take so long to properly pursue my dream of being a novelist. But it’s only been lately that I’ve fully appreciated having another career first – and a really enriching one. Because it’s means I’ve lived a life and I have stories to tell, you know what I mean?

For example, working in the fashion magazine world in Sydney, I got to go to a lot of VIP parties with celebrities, where everything was turned on, and the same as a gossip columnist in Adelaide (although, the celebs were a bit more Z-grade then!). I also got to style fashion shoots, travel to interstate fashion weeks, head to Italy numerous times to cover a jewellery fair as a freelance trade magazine journalist, interview fascinating people and be nosey about their lives, work for nasty bosses that could later provide good novel fodder (!), and the list goes on… I think being a journalist makes you a well-rounded person, because you know a lot about a little, get to talk to people from all walks of life, and get to see a lot of things you ordinarily wouldn’t see.

Would you recommend a journalism career as a ‘training ground’ for writing novels?

I would! One – you get paid a hell of a lot more as a journalist (unless you hit the big-time straightaway as a novelist!). Some royalty cheques, as an emerging author, look about the same as what you’d get for a journalism article that took you under a week to write – while you might have slaved for six months over that novel! I think being a journalist also hones your spelling and grammar and your ability to write concisely. Plus, you learn how to write to deadline and not be precious about your ‘word darlings’.