Writers’ workshop at the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre in Perth

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It’s always beneficial mixing with other writers. It’s also stimulating and enjoyable. As a result I always remain on the lookout for interesting opportunities to attend workshops or book festivals whenever possible.

An opportunity came up last month to attend a workshop at the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre in Perth, so I jumped at it.

Situated in the grounds of the very beautiful Edith Cowan University at Joondalup, the centre is housed in the actual house Edith and Peter used to live in many years ago.

Peter Cowan Writers' Centre

Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre

Running the workshop was Matt Buttsworth, a local author who knows his way around computers and digital publishing. The subject matter he presented was on how to format ebooks.

The workshop was attended by six or seven local authors who seemed to have learned a lot and found the afternoon well worthwhile. I certainly did.

Switching genre: the challenges of writing Sci-Fi

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I am busy with my 43rd book at present and have some interesting learnings. Firstly, this is the first time I am writing a Sci-Fi novel. Secondly, I am using new writing software that is still under development.

Here’s what I have found:
1. The basics are the same no matter what genre you choose.
2. Readers are to be treated the same, with respect and dignity.
3. Stories can only be told one word at a time, no matter what the setting or format.

As a writer, I still have to approach my work as I did when writing in other genres. I need to remain disciplined and conscientious. I also need to remain true to my craft. But I can experiment. Indeed, the art of creative writing demands it.

So with this in mind, I have challenged myself by writing a Sci-Fi novel. And I am doing so with the aid of Plume-Creator, an open-source writing package that is being developed with the aid of a small but dedicated group of writers around the world.

My book is called Crossing the Line and it is about an Australian skyship called Southern Cross. It takes place in a time when the navy has been transformed into the sky navy. My main character is Braxton Dunbar. He is a young skysailor who finds his moral code tested when he has to chose between remaining loyal to the sky navy, his family and friends or surrendering secrets about his skyship in order to save his best mate. It’s a developing story; I like to let the characters decide on their own destiny by letting the story take it’s own course.

Here’s what chapter one looks like on my computer:

Chapter 1 on Plume-Creator.

Chapter 1 on Plume-Creator.

If you’d like to follow my progress and receive updates, please let me know and I’ll add your email address to my database.

Are authors selling themselves short?

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With changes happening thick and fast in the publishing industry, where do authors stand? What is the best course of action for them to take?

Should they pursue traditional publishing contracts or go the self-publishing route? Which is more lucrative for them? How can they be certain?

Well, I came across this lengthy but informative report that is based on the latest statistics. It’s well worth reading. Consider the time as an investment in your future.

It’s horse racing season Down Under

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It’s that time of the year again when one horse race literally stops a nation. The Melbourne Cup is one of the world’s great horse races with prize money of $6 million up for grabs. 

Racing isn’t just about one race, though. This week is a racing spectacle in Melbourne, and the whole nation checks in. Australia goes horse mad. 

If horse racing captivates you, have you ever wondered what it’s like to be involved? There’s usually more to horse racing than the glitz and glamour of race day.

The world of horse racing is fertile ground for the novelist too. Some years back I wrote my first novel that was based on the sport of Kings. It is on sale all week. Get your copy from the bar on the left.

Point of View

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Choosing how you are going to tell your story is important. Your choice will make a huge difference to the way your readers interact with it. What I am alluding to here is what is known as point of view.

So what actually is point of view? It’s the way the story is told with respect to the narrator. Who is the narrator of your story? The protagonist, the reader, or someone else?

If you choose First Person, the narrator is the protagonist. You can easily tell because the narrator uses words like I and me.

Second Person isn’t as widely used because the reader becomes a participant in the story. Words like You are used a lot in the narration.

Third Person narration happens outside the action and makes use of words like they, he or she.

As you’d probably have gathered by now, first and third person is used most commonly in fiction. Which you choose is up to you but bear in mind it will affect the way your reader interacts with the story.

Let me give you an example. In my most recent book, The Altar Boy (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BSIZIZU) I chose to write it in first person.
The Altar Boy cover

First person gives the reader a sense of immediacy, a kind of direct link with the narrator. The downside is that it is fairly limiting in that the reader can only gain information that is available to the narrator. It is therefore rather limited in scope.
What is your preferred modality? First person, second person or third person?

By Unknown Means, a review

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By Unknown MeansBy Unknown Means by Doug Giacobbe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed reading this book. The story is good, so too is the plot. I felt, though that the author could have used an editor. I do understand that editors aren’t cheap and for this reason I didn’t let the odd missing word or typo put me off. The dialogue at times was a little stinted and unrealistic. I don’t feel characters would have reacted (by saying what they did) as they did in certain situations. Being a daily user of Morse Code myself, I also found the time the protagonist sent a long, detailed message by Morse, after not having used that skill for many years, to be unrealistic. Even in real life, operators tend to keep their transmissions short and to the point. Other than these minor criticisms. I found the book an enjoyable read.

I read the Kindle version and believe it important to post reviews. You see, good or bad, a review is an authors best friend. So much depends on receiving reviews these days. It really does.

View all my reviews

Writing for Money: a review

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Here is a 4-Star review of my book, Writing for Money, by Satyabrata Sahu, a writer who is based in Bangalore,  India.

Writing for Money

Writing for Money

SUMMARY REVIEW

Writing a how-to for writers isn’t easy, especially if you’re sharing ‘do’s and ‘don’t’s from what Life’s taught you about the entrepreneurial attitude. But that’s what Grant McDuling’s done in his 100-page Writing for Money.

A short, easy one-sitting read, Writing for Money’s simple, chatty style begs serious study and reflection the next time around – and determined application later. It’s for first-time small-business owners. The book packs wisdom gained from sheer experience.

Writing for Money’s a must-read, especially for writers because their work fuels cerebration rather than the action that is much needed if they would make a living off their talent.

DETAILED REVIEW

Writing for Money begins with an Introduction, halfway through which McDuling’s honest and frank personal narrative of how he broke into the world of writing-as-a-business gets engaging, coming as it does with all the unexpected twists and turns small-business owners face.

The Introduction done, McDuling tells you the story of where he’s coming from. He tells you up front that he’s writing to make it easy for ordinary people to “come to grips with” the entrepreneur’s attitude. He repeats this towards the end (p. 91) of the book: “You are a businessperson whose business happens to be…selling words.” The little book delivers well on its claim.

Chapter Two covers the growing popularity of the field of writing and the difference between writing as a hobby and a profession. It closes by making the reader curious about one “missing ingredient” that the best of independent writers often miss. By then, curious and excited I, for one, found my mindset had begun shifting from writing for writing’s sake to writing for profit.

Chapter Three is the kernel of the book – the “7 Easy Steps,” described in considerable practical detail evidently for those who need the mindset shift I just referred to. The first step talks about how to go about the important task of setting one’s professional goals. McDuling encourages you to take charge of your life, now that (given that you’re reading the book) you’ve decided to acquire a better lifestyle by choosing a new line of work. The second step deals with what to ‘do’ when starting off as a professional writer – inculcating the mental attitudes that are helpful especially for the target reader. Step 3 is about testing the water – the mind games to play (read more mental attitudes and a few other tips) when setting up your business. Step 4 describes how to market and create a brand around one’s work. What impressed me the most about this vast and somewhat nebulous area was that McDuling had written it specifically for the first-time small-business owner. Step 5 is a comprehensive and – justifiably – lengthy section on running your business: drafting formal business plans. Step 6 tells you how to write for media houses – for editors, in particular, who are Publishing’s linchpins. The last step points out common pitfalls that are crucial and fundamental to sidestep.

Chapter Four consists of a crisp, swift conclusion for McDuling’s ideas. In it, he repeats that writing for money must be viewed as a business where one is selling words.

Chapter Five and Chapter Six present the author’s professional profile and list some of his work, respectively.

The current manuscript needs a copyeditor’s and proofreader’s touch. Naming the Introduction as Chapter One, the About the Author as Chapter Five and the Afterword as Chapter Six overdo their importance: they needn’t be called chapters. The first four pages of the Introduction are superfluous; your heart starts beating from p. 5. Renaming Chapter Four more interestingly would tie in the manuscript attractively.

But, as I’ve said before (and I’ll say it again), Writing for Money’s a must-read, especially for writers because their work fuels cerebration rather than the action that is much needed if they would make a living off their talent.

McDuling has a terrific price tag for his not-so-little volume. The book could also easily sell as a pocket-sized paperback, particularly in developing economies.

—–end

When it comes to writing, it pays to be prepared.

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I have just returned from a four-month deployment at sea. My job was to write articles and news reports on a daily basis, working in a ‘hostile’ environment with no equipment supplied.

Fortunately, I knew I had to be prepared for any eventuality, so I took precautions and prepared myself well. I am so glad I did because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to function as a writer at all.

Living on a ship is so different to anything else. For starters, there is the constant movement of the ship to content with. And when the seas are rough, even sitting down in a chair can be a major challenge. I was thrown to the deck more than once.

Looking at a moving computer screen is also difficult on a ship in rough seas as it tends to bring on sea sickness.

Secondly, most offices or cabins on board are cramped and claustrophobic.

I knew I would have to rely on my own private computer to generate copy, so I took the precaution of taking along a bunch of CDs and a USB stick for backups. I also decided I couldn’t rely on my computer’s operating system (which in my case was Arch Linux) because in remote, extreme or hostile environments anything can happen, which would leave me in serious trouble and not able to function. So I took along another USB stick with Puppy Linux loaded on it. This is a minimalist operating system that works from the USB stick.

I also took along reference material I thought I would need.

The first thing I was told when boarding my ship was that all my electrical devices needed to be checked by the ship’s electrical workshop and tagged as safe. This was to avoid dodgy power supplies or cables being used on the ship’s electrical system, which could cause it to blow, rendering the ship without electrical power. Not good out in the middle of nowhere.

With my cords checked and tagged, I was in business.

A week down the track, I discovered that satellite internet connections at sea are very slow. This meant that I would not be able to download and install the usual updates to my operating system that I normally would. And as Arch Linux is a ‘bleeding edge’ system that features regular updates (often daily), my system soon broke. It simply refused to boot up.

This is where ‘Puppy on a stick’ came to the rescue and saved the day. I simply plugged in my USB stick, booted the laptop and was up and running using Puppy Linux. Not wanting to be stung with the unexpected again, I made sure to back up everything I wrote onto CD and USB stick as soon as it was written.

It pays to be prepared.

Keeping track of your output

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Writing can be a very busy profession. Just look at the proliferation of magazines and newspapers on the shelves of your local newsagent and you’ll see what I mean. There is so much to write about, so many publications to target and only so many hours in the day to tap into all this potential.

Once you get into the swing of things and begin selling your articles, you’ll find a few things start to happen:

• you’ll become accepted and trusted by those publications you sell to

• you’ll find it easier getting your ideas for articles accepted

• you’ll find editors start approaching you more often

• you’ll begin to feel like a working writer

• you’ll find it difficult keeping track of your output

My experience as a full time writer has taught me the importance of setting up systems in my office. This was because I soon started loosing track of what was going on and this rapidly became counter-productive.

With just six or seven articles in production at the same time, you’ll find things can get out of hand pretty quickly. This is because each and every media outlet has different requirements, lead times, schedules and deadlines. Some plan their editions a month out while others take a very much longer approach. And to make matters even more complicated, many don’t like it when you make simultaneous submissions. Some might want exclusive rights while others might not be so fussed.

How do you keep track of all this without losing your hair in the process?

The answer lies in tracking software.

I use an App called Story Tracker for Mac (www.andrewnicolle.com). It does a wonderful job of keeping track of all my stories, books and enquiries. It easily handles hundreds of submissions and prevents me making otherwise unavoidable or embarrasing mistakes. In the past I even made the basic mistake of offering the same story twice to a publication and only noticed this when the editor told me he had already rejected it! Ouch!

The nice thing about Story Tracker is that you can manage your writing business on the go simply by installing the App on your iPhone too. You can then easily transfer your database between your computer and your phone.

Story Tracker consists basically of three databases: your stories, your markets and your submissions. It is available from the App Store or direct from the web site and costs a very reasonable $15.99.

For those using Windows PCs, there is a Windows version due out soon.

 

Do writers have to be master of their tools too these days?

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I was intrigued by what Walt Kuenstler, a fellow ghostwriter and partner at Winans Kuenstler Publishing in Pennsylvania had to say in a recent blog. He queries whether writers need to master more than just words in order to survive in the modern world.

Here’s his blog:

Quote

Editorial work is now computer work.

We’ve known it, on some level, for years. But now it’s right there in the job descriptions.

 Virginia Hefferman, writing for Yahoo News admonishes all of us writer-types that the integration of digital technology, writing, and publishing of any kind has become the new normal.

She cites this ‘help wanted’ message posted to Twitter by Nicholas Thompson, the editor of The New Yorker website “: “Hiring a digital project manager. Help us at @NewYorker run cool, ambitious tech projects. Ideally, code too. Ping me.”

Ms. Hefferman continues, “Literary work—editorial work—is now computer work. We’ve known it, on some level, for years. But now it’s right there in the job descriptions. What’s the lesson in this for the rest of who aim to make media—whether it’s music, magazines or movies? We must overcome our occupational allergy to product design and marketing and then, as soon as possible, we must learn computer code.”

“Whether we call it photography or prose or TV or graphics the media we now make iscode. The Internet speaks in code; it thinks in code; it moves in code; it looks like code; its strength and value is code.”

Times change. Idioms change. I am 63 years old. When I first worked for the NY Times, giant steam-driven Linotype machines poured hot lead into moulds to make the type that printed each edition. My own grandfather supported a wife and two children retouching photographs with a steady hand and a fine-tipped artist’s brush—no Photoshop, and no computers for that matter.

We forget that Rembrandt and even Matisse not only painted, but also made their own pigments. So today, the 21st century writer confronted with the marvel of interactive eBooks now thinks as a designer, a digital artist, a videographer, a networker, as well as making those pesky words form coherent sentences.

No, not every book will become interactive. Paper books will continue to require no batteries and no WiFi, thank god. But moving forward, eBooks may require ghost writers and ghost programmers as well!

Unquote

Walt makes a very good point. You see, if we look back far in time to the time of the ancient Egyptians, writers had to be good at wielding a hammer and chisel. Then, as things progressed, they needed to make paper out of papyrus. Centuries later, writers had to know how to make a quill pen out of a feather; there was an art to getting the nib just right. Ink, too, they had to mix, using all sorts of pigments, etc.

We do seem to be getting back to similar days, but only with computers. I for one have taken a great interest in ‘how’ computers work because they are the tools of my craft. I also don’t need to be held to ransom by the hardware and software companies of the world, who all seem to want to charge the earth for their wares. So I taught myself how to build my own lightweight operating system that will work on even the oldest of computers.

My operating system is called Arch Linux; it’s lightweight, bleeding edge (always 100% up to date), extremely fast and free.

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I know exactly what Walt is getting at in his blog. And I agree. How about you?

 

 

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