Writing Insider – Ruth Morgan

Ruth Morgan discusses writing the stories that allow her no peace and how to qualify trusted readers.


Starting out

Why did you start writing?

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I can remember. I think my first story was written in primary school. I see the world in terms of stories. I’ve always been fascinated by the reasons humans do the things they do. Where the habits, beliefs, and motivations come from. Writing allows me the opportunity to explore in depth.

What kept you going?

A certain degree of sheer bloody-minded determination. Firstly, to tell the stories that would allow me no peace. And perhaps, initially to some extent to prove to the naysayers that not only could I get short stories published, but win a publishing contract and have a novel published.

Writing practice

What does your writing practice look like when you are working on a book?

I discovered writing a collection of short stories that I work very well swapping between projects. And do. I’ve currently got two novels on the go, with ideas for others. Also working on a number of short stories. When I get stuck, or the ideas decrease, I move onto the next project and allow my subconscious time to figure out what comes next.

The beginning of a book

When did you know you had a first draft?

I know I have a first draft when I can follow the threads that run through a novel. When the ending answers the questions posed in the first chapter. There is nothing quite like typing ‘The End’ even if you know it’s just the beginning.

Developing the work

How do you take on other people’s points of view?

I have a trusted network of readers, and fellow writers. I ‘test’ people out to see if we can work together usually by giving them a short story to read and judging how well the feedback resonates with what I already know doesn’t work and I’m more than happy to have things pointed out that are new. Some feedback isn’t – someone who says that they don’t get the story but offers no suggestions, or who says it’s wonderful – neither are helpful. It’s a fine line giving good feedback. Regardless of what is received, I always have a rule of letting it sit for at least 48 hours before rereading.

Agents and publishers

Any advice on rejection?

It’s part of the whole thing. Unavoidable. We all cope with ‘rejection’ differently. There are nuances in rejection letters too and you learn to read between the lines. Sometimes what you’ve submitted just isn’t for the publication or publisher. Take on board advice, get feedback, polish, polish and polish. Eventually the pain of rejection eases. Celebrate the wins, the positive outcomes, and accept that everything we write isn’t for everyone.

And, overall

What was the hardest thing about writing and bringing this book into the world?

Trying to change one particular story to make it fit in with what I thought ought to happen, not what the characters and the story wanted to happen. I did everything possible to change the outcome and the story, the writing and the writer suffered. When I acknowledged that the ending was how the ending had to be the whole thing emerged complete, layered and strong.

What has been the most joyful part of the process?

Being surprised. I love it when characters take over and do their own thing and sit there laughing at me wondering why I didn’t get it, or see it earlier. When they develop ideas of their own, and take the whole thing in an unexpected and often rather wonderful direction. I guess, when they come to life.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ruth Morgan, Author
https://ruthmorgan.com.au/

Ruth Morgan spent the first six years of her life on Wilkurra Station, near Pooncarie in outback NSW. An only child, with animals and adults for company, she quickly developed a rich and varied inner world populated with imaginary friends who went on exciting adventures.

Based in Northern New South Wales, Ruth Morgan loves telling stories of the characters and outback country she knows and loves. Her preference is crime fiction with a twist, her stories set in rural and regional Australia. The harsh landscape with its vast open spaces, floods, trees and isolation are essential elements in her stories, influencing how the tale unfolds, and how individuals react.

Writing since childhood, Ruth was the 2020 winner of the Great Clarendon House Writing Challenge and has stories published on a variety of sites.

BOOKS PUBLISHED

The Whitworth Mysteries, Ruth Morgan
Crime Fiction. Clarendon House Publications, 2021
> Read a review

A collection of short stories set around the fictional town of Whitworth, the Murray River and Hay Plains. The stories are a mixture of crime fiction, police procedurals, mysteries, romance, and speculative fiction. They tell tales of redemption, love, greed, grief, and revenge.Book blurb

Writing Insider – Tanya Heaslip

Tanya Heaslip discusses how her life has shaped her writing and equipped her for rejection.


Starting out

Why did you start writing?

I have written since I was a little girl and could first hold a pencil in my hand. I quickly moved to my father’s typewriter (much to his chagrin) and the best present in my whole life was an orange typewriter for my 10th birthday (all of my own – joy!). I became a one finger whizz and wrote story after story about children having adventures in the outback, where I lived. At age eleven, I typed an eighty-six page thriller called ‘The Red Red Rose of Triumph,’ which ended up with a major horse race in Central Australia! Writing was just a compulsion that lives on to this day. I don’t move anywhere without pen and paper in hand. I write constantly, notes to myself, reflections, bits of stories and – then, whenever I can fit it in amongst my work as a lawyer – the excitement of writing full stories!

Writing practice

What does your writing practice look like when you are working on a book?

I would like to say I have a writing practice but I work full-time as a lawyer so it’s whenever I can fit it into any spare moments I can. I use Julia Cameron’s morning pages whenever possible and that helps release stuff that’s blocking me and helps direct me to new ideas. Once I start writing, I become completely focused. I try to make the most of every moment I have because they are few and far between work, life, family obligations. I read an interview with Di Morrissey once, where she said as a result of having started out as a journalist, she could write anywhere, and did, even pulling up a petrol drum at the mechanics shop to use as a desk so she could keep writing while her car was being fixed. That inspires me to this day!

What are your obsessions?

I absolutely love memoir (the stories of other people and how they overcame life challenges), stories about travel (so that I can vicariously travel myself) and anything to do with mysteries and thrillers (my best form of escape – brought about from an early childhood love of Enid Blyton. Despite what people say today about her lack of political correctness, she inspired millions of children around the world to love reading, and if you look closely at her books, she was the ultimate thriller writer. Short chapters, each one ending on a cliffhanger, and the children having to use their own resources to work out how to escape impossible situations and beat the baddies. I devoured her stories and still have many of them on my bookshelf today.)

The beginning of a book

How did you come to writing your first book?

There are many things that have helped, but number one would be having a writing group at all stages of the process, I taught English in Prague four years after the Berlin Wall came down and fell in love with the beauty of the city, its countryside, its music, architectures, and a Czech man with blue eyes who quoted poetry to me under the stars and sang me folk songs with his guitar. It changed my life. I wrote endless diary entries about my experiences, and Mum kept my letters home, so when I returned, my memories were luckily preserved. Several years on, some events happened (I can’t mention them here, because that would be a spoiler!), that meant I felt strongly moved to write the story of my time with the Czechs. Once I started it became an absolute compulsion. I wrote about one million words (no joke!) and gave myself carpal tunnel as I did version after version until it reflected the magic of my time as I really remembered. ‘Alice to Prague’ was born!

Developing the work

What helped you along the way?

I’ve always had to write around full-time work, so I’ve reached out for support along the way from writing groups (both face-to-face and online) and sought out mentors to help me in the process. Having spent a long time as a lawyer, I had to retrain my brain to think and write creatively, and it was very difficult. I couldn’t do it on my own. Three amazing mentors helped me over the course of my fifteen year journey learning to write “Alice to Prague” – Patti Miller, Kathryn Heyman and Bernadette Foley – and I could not have done it without them.

Agents and publishers

Any advice on rejection?

In the 15 years of writing my first book, ‘Alice to Prague,’ I received over 30 rejections from agents and publishers. It was brutal. Each time I’d fall apart and hide in the cupboard, tell myself I was useless, that my dream was a complete waste of time and that my father was right (I should concentrate on my day job). But a couple of things helped me ‘get back on the horse,’ as we used to say when I was growing up in the outback. First of all, it seemed to me that the story had a life of its own and wanted to be told. After about two or three days of despair, the story would come along and tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Alright, enough of that self-pity, back to work’. I later read Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’ about stories finding writers, and I have no doubt that was the case for this one with me. Also, I’d had a very tough childhood in the outback, where you learn you can’t give up, otherwise you and your horse and the cattle you are mustering will perish to death if you don’t get yourselves back to the dam and to water by nightfall. ‘Never give up’ was our childhood motto, with the threat of literally dying if we did. That remained a very serious incentive, even many years on! And an incredibly supportive husband, sister and mother helped me beyond description. Having now written and published three books, I feel very lucky.

Acquisition to publication

How, if at all, did your work change in the hands of a publisher?

Once I was lucky enough to get a publisher (after the 30th rejection), my book ‘Alice to Prague’ had to be rewritten all over again once more. The process of writing and the people in publishing humble you time and time again. My sister has a great expression ‘It’s all about honing your craft, Tanya. Hone your craft. Don’t give up. Hone your craft!’

And, overall

What has been the most joyful part of the process?

My first three books were memoirs, telling the stories of people and places that I loved. ‘Alice to Prague’ (AU 2019). ‘An Alice Girl’ (AU 2020). ‘Beyond Alice’ (AU 2021). The joy in sharing these stories and keeping them alive meant so much to me. It felt like I’d drawn the formative parts of my life together in a way that could be used to celebrate those people and places, which was both a humbling and joyful thing to be able to do. And then hearing from other people who have been touched by the memoirs is the most spine tingling thing. So much joy!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanya Heaslip, Author
https://tanyaheaslip.com.au

Tanya Heaslip is an Australian author based in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. She was raised on a cattle station north of Alice Springs during the 1960s and 1970s. Tanya learnt about the outside world through correspondence and School of the Air. She spent many hours dreaming of the overseas lands depicted in her childhood story books.

When she was twelve years old, she was sent sixteen hundred kilometres away from her outback home to a boarding school, a traumatic and life changing experience. From there, she became a lawyer. She never stopped dreaming, however, which led her to the Czech Republic to teach English in 1994, four years after the Berlin Wall fell.

Tanya has published Alice to Prague (2019), An Alice Girl (2020), and her third memoir Beyond Alice was released in May 2021.

BOOKS PUBLISHED

Beyond Alice, by Tanya Heaslip
Memoir. Allen & Unwin, 2021
> Read a review

From the happiness and freedom of her bush childhood, Tanya Heaslip is sent to a boarding school sixteen hundred kilometres away from everything and everyone she loves. As these years pass surrounded by the friends she makes, Tanya’s memoir is a humorous and inspiring story of strength, resilience and the realities of Australian outback life.

An Alice Girl, by Tanya Heaslip
Memoir. Allen & Unwin, 2020

Alice to Prague, by Tanya Heaslip
Memoir. Allen & Unwin, 2019

Writing Insider – Sarah Bacaller

Sarah Bacaller talks about how she started out as a writer and what led her to publish her first book.


Starting out

Why did you start writing?

Was it a general compulsion? Did you have a story in mind that needed to be told? Grand ambitions of a new career?

I decided when I was 7 to be a writer. I adored books and lived in them. I did a lot of writing as a child and teenager—journaling, public-speaking, essays and competitions—but writing didn’t seem a valid career option when finishing school! Then I started university and found a home of sorts there. After a while I realised—Wow! Research, essays, tutoring … all this is writing! It was like my writing dream had come back to find me; I had come full circle.

Many of us know what it’s like to be in places where what we say, think or feel doesn’t count for much or isn’t heard. For me, writing has always been that place I’ve been able to find myself, to figure out what I think about things, to work through and explore ideas and possibilities, to ask questions and create space for myself—even if no one else around me is interested (but sometimes, they are … and that’s delightful!). 

How did you go about it?

Just open your laptop? Books? Courses? Degree’s? Workshops?

My writing journey has been multi-faceted. I did well in English at school and in essay-writing at uni. The latter forces you to work to a style guide, to measure your words carefully and to construct clear arguments. One of my lecturers became my research supervisor and then a trusted colleague and mentor — and he is a writing machine. He has helped me with focusing my writing, especially through writing to word-limits (which massively challenged my early swirly emotive writing style). He’s also helped me trust in ‘increments’ – little bits at a time build up to something substantial – especially important for me when juggling babies, study, work and other life-stuff.

I’ve done courses with the Australian Writers’ Center, through MasterClass (online), joined writers’ groups, attended conferences and made as many connections as I can (usually virtual). I’ve written book reviews for academic journals and have gotten to know the publishing process in that way. I’ve also connected with some amazing authors through my work in the audiobook industry. Writing a PhD is great writing discipline because you are being guided through a massive project by real experts in the field. My PhD is in philosophy so that complements my writing; philosophers tend to be highly engaged in writing practice. I also must mention my writing/mothering/life buddy, Becca; our friendship is a constant source of happiness and writing encouragement.

Writing Practice

How did you come to writing your book?

What draws you to particular stories/themes? What is it about the story that ‘hooked into you’? Did you go looking for it, did it just arrive or was it in you in some way all along? 

With Fault Lines, I needed to consolidate and crystallise some serious and painful life events and changes I was going through. This story felt like the space where I could explore those things in a reflective way that was hidden, but also wide open for others to share in. I had written bits and pieces when in swirly moods over a few years, and as a plot started to emerge, I began drawing those bits and pieces into some semblance of order.

I decided to aim for 20 000 words because it seemed manageable, and committed to working on my novella every weekend, focusing on a chapter at a time. It was a natural progression after writing shorter pieces for years (articles, poetry, research essays, teaching notes etc.).

Finishing Fault Lines was very satisfying because I could look at what I’d written and feel that, ‘Yes, this expresses what I’ve been through, and the beliefs I’ve changed and formed in that time’. And I felt passionate about the story because I believed in what it was sharing — lessons that were hard won and important to me.   

Developing the work

What helped you along the way?

This could be people, practices, process’…

I mentioned a colleague and writing mentor earlier — it’s great to have a range of these, because each have different strengths and areas of expertise, and I’m so grateful for mine. One thing my key mentor challenged me with early on was writing to word-limits: 50, 100, 200 words. This forces you to encapsulate an idea, an anecdote, a reflection into its crucial elements. You can’t waste words and you learn to tinker with them persistently in getting to the nub of any issue.

I was really sceptical about this approach at first. I was of the ‘let it all out!’ mentality, as though that was the only way to find or articulate myself truthfully. But this was in the context of academic writing, where you have to condense a huge amount of background research into a small space that creates a clear narrative line. It’s fine to write for the joy of self-expression; it’s an added challenge writing in a disciplined manner for others, recognising that when others spend time reading your writing, it’s a gift. That gift should be respected. Writing to limits forces creativity and directness, and that has been a huge leap forward for my writing development.

Agents and Publishers

How did you get your first book published?

What was your approach, did you have a strategy, what were the set-backs? Did you have to change your approach?

I made a list of publishers who published in the genre I was writing in and explored their websites for submissions information. To be honest, I feel like the publication of my novella was a fluke. It’s quite niche.

I originally submitted to one particular imprint of Wipf and Stock who rejected it, but who said they had passed it on to another imprint who were likely to take it on (and they did!). I was really keen to narrate it as an audiobook and loved that experience, and Wipf and Stock were happy for me to do that.

Any advice on rejection?

You often hear writers saying that if you want to be published, you have to get used to rejection. I adopted two goals for 2020: To give everything a crack (i.e. writing opportunities, like competitions) and to get used to rejection. I figured, if I wanted to really be a writer, I had to do both and I had nothing to lose. I followed those goals and came a long way. Nowadays, I’m always working on the next thing, so by the time rejection comes, I’m not as emotionally invested. But I’m still super stoked when things come through! 

And, Overall

A note on critique:

When I began writing longer research essays, I was quite fragile; I found it so hard to read my supervisor’s edits and feedback. I wanted my work to be ‘perfect’—and supervisor suggestions showed that it wasn’t. If this is similar to how you feel about feedback — it’s okay and it can change.

Now I love feedback because I know it makes my work better — and I go first to the people who I trust because I know their feedback is given in the context of their positive regard for me. But I also know they will be honest and give skilled critique. There is no final ‘perfect’ for me in writing anymore. Ideas are always evolving because we are dynamic, living, thinking beings.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Bacaller, Author
http://www.sarahbacaller.com
http://www.voicesoftoday.org

Sarah is a writer, audiobook narrator and researcher from outer Melbourne, Australia. She is a PhD student in Philosophy at Western Sydney University and is Co-Director, Producer & Narrator with Voices of Today, a spoken word audio production company in Australia. She also works in online teaching support in a tertiary learning environment and has recently published a novella: The Fault Lines Founding Liberty.

BOOKS PUBLISHED

The Fault Lines Founding Liberty by Sarah Bacaller
Novella. Wipf & Stock, 2020
> Read a review

The Fault Lines Founding Liberty explores the tensions inherent in growing up and moving on from faith, family, and past versions of ourselves. With unanswered questions and hovering guilt, a young woman comes to confront the spectres of her past through dialogue with an unexpected companion.