2015 – the abyssinian contortionist – david carlin

the abyssinian contortionist

Today you’ll find me over at Newtown Review of Books, writing about The Abyssinian Contortionist, David Carlin’s biography of Ethiopian-born circus performer, Sosina Wogayehu. I loved writing about this book as much as I loved reading it (spoiler alert, sorry), so I’d love it if you clicked here and had a look at my review. There’s a video of Sosina performing for Circus Oz that’s definitely worth watching!

(Huge thanks to Jean and Linda from NRB for having me!)


In other news, today is Thomas Hardy’s birthday and Hardy fan and scholar, Justin-Paul Sammons is launching The Wessex Cycle – a reading project spanning two years (and seven months!) in which he’ll be re-reading Hardy’s works. If you’d like to join in, head over to the Wessex Cycle blog and sign up. I’m a huge Hardy fan, so I’m definitely in! Expect to see a few posts about Thomas Hardy over the next two years, seven months…

Plus, there’s another reading project I wanted to mention, although I’m a little late. Jane Rawson, author of A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists is encouraging people to read as many books as possible during June and July to raise money for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. The Just Read Marathon began yesterday and goes through until the 31st of July – and it’s such a brilliant idea, I’m seriously considering joining in even though I’m already a couple of days behind. Here’s the official Just Read site.

I’ll have more Emerging Writers’ Festival updates very soon, but in the meantime, thank you and welcome to everyone who’s visited Book to the Future for the first time in the past couple of days. Grab a cup of tea and settle in – I hope you like it here! Feel free to get in touch.

batterrrr up! the pitch, ewf15


On Wednesday night, four brave editors and publishers faced a huge Wheeler Centre audience of eager writers, all wanting to know how to go about making their publication dreams come true.

Welcome to The Pitch, with Hachette’s Robert Watkins (sporting his trademark bow tie in a spiffy shade of baby blue), Allen and Unwin’s Eva Mills, Erik Jensen, editor of The Saturday Paper and Adrian Craddock, editor of Smith Journal.

If you’ve ever wanted to know how to impress editors and publishers, The Pitch was pretty much…perfect. Ha?

Here’s a highlights package, with a basic rundown of what each panellist had to say. I hope you find it useful!


Robert Watkins

Publisher of literary fiction and non-fiction, Hachette Australia


What’s Robert looking for right now?

Hachette is on the lookout for everything from children’s books to narrative non-fiction, literary fiction and illustrated books.


There’s every possibility we’re looking for what you’re writing

Robert Watkins, Hachette


Biggest submission faux pas?

Books are long and publishers read outside working hours, so it pays to be patient once you’ve submitted your work. Don’t email Robert every week to ask if he’s read your book yet. That’s a one-way ticket to Rejection City. Also, avoid sending crazy gifts along with your manuscript. They’ve seen it all before. No, really – you have been warned.


Are there any alternate routes to being published, other than by sending your manuscript in and hoping for the best?

Hachette has a close relationship with the Queensland Writers’ Centre, as well as a number of rural writers’ centres. There’s also the new Richell Prize, announced at the Emerging Writers’ Festival Opening Night Gala! It’s worth keeping in mind with prizes that it’s not just the first-place winning manuscript that finds its way onto a publisher’s desk. Often shortlisted manuscripts are picked up too.


We look at [blogs] but in all honesty, everyone has a blog now. If you’ve got a really big platform with lots of readers, you’ve already got people who’ll be interested in your work, so that’s a plus. I think everyone, if you’re writing, should be in the digital space doing that sort of stuff.

– Robert Watkins on the importance of blogs, Wattpad and other online platforms


Erik Jensen

Editor, The Saturday Paper


What’s Erik looking for right now?

The Saturday Paper specialises in longform journalism that lives slightly outside the news cycle and trusts in the ‘serious and mysteriousness’ of its readers. In terms of what he’s after, it’s as simple as good storytelling.


Before you submit…

Read The Saturday Paper to get a feel for what interests TSP’s readers. Erik receives around two to three hundred pitches a week. Around fifteen will end up being published. To stand out from the crowd, keep your pitch short, and base it around one or two ideas.


Don’t assume that an editor doesn’t understand how vastly complex and important your story is. We do.

Erik Jensen, editor of The Saturday Paper


What’s the best thing a writer can do when submitting?

As far as Erik’s concerned, it’s all about the story. He’s not concerned about your background or even your publication history:


I’ve taken really long, rambling submissions that have turned out to be good stories – and worse, I’ve taken really badly written stories that have turned out to be really good, because sometimes you just have to work on things

Erik Jensen, editor of The Saturday Paper

And don’t let lack of experience hold you back. Last year, five of Erik’s ten favourite pieces came from first-time writers. One first-time contributor landed a book deal after their article was published.


Alternate routes to being published?

Don’t get too obsessed about being published in one particular masthead, says Erik. Publish elsewhere and you’ll be noticed. Also, it helps to find someone who’s slightly more experienced than you are to act as a mentor; someone who’ll be on your side and namedrop you when it matters.


Adrian Craddock

Editor, Smith Journal


What’s Smith Journal all about?

Smith Journal is founded by frankie press, but it’s more than just the male version of frankie. Adrian sees Smith as more as a unisex magazine than specifically as a men’s magazine. Like frankie, Smith Journal came from a feeling of dissatisfaction with the men’s magazine market. Adrian says of Smith’s founder, Rick Bannister:


He was sick of boobs and…well, not sick of boobs – sick of reading about boobs and the usual men’s magazine tropes.

Adrian Craddock, Smith Journal


Before you submit…

Grab a copy of Smith Journal and take a look. Pitches often land in Adrian’s inbox that are vastly different to the kind of thing his magazine usually publishes. You won’t find much in the way of short fiction, travel stories or first person perspectives in Smith Journal. Do your research before you pitch.


Biggest submission faux pas?

Don’t ask Adrian to send you a free copy of the magazine. We all laughed, but he said it happens regularly…


What’s the best thing a writer can do when submitting?

Adrian’s dream pitches include some kind of consideration as to how he can best present your work visually in his magazine. He’s also a stickler for organised pitches. Group your ideas into sections with subheadings and you’ll have Adrian’s attention.


Eva Mills

Publisher of books for children and young adults, Allen and Unwin


What’s Eva looking for right now?

If you write junior fiction for kids aged between 8 and 14, you’re in luck.


It’s really quite hard to write the perfect children’s novel because it’s pre-romance, so to drive the plot, you can’t use romance or sexual tension – you’ve got to have an adventure.

– Eva Mills, Allen and Unwin

You can submit to Allen and Unwin every Friday, during their Friday Pitch session.


Biggest submission faux pas?

Cover letters that begin about how much your grandchild or child loooooved your book when you read it to them. Plus, she personally hates books about talking animals.

(At this point, the man sitting to my left begins to shift awkwardly in his seat. Later, during question time, he reveals that he’s writing a book about talking animals…)


What’s the best thing a writer can do when submitting?

Eva wants to know a little about you and what inspired your story. Include a brief section to let her know about you and she’ll be so charmed she has to publish your book!


Alternate routes to being published?

Allen and Unwin has ties with the Faber Academy, so taking a Faber Academy course is definitely one way to get noticed. There’s also Allen and Unwin’s Vogel Prize, awarded annually to an unpublished Australian writer under the age of 35.


So, what’s trending right now in children’s fiction?

Actually, Eva’s not a fan of following trends. ‘Going and looking at what’s in bookshops is a good place to start,’ she says, ‘but don’t try and copy it.’


The Hunger Games wasn’t written because [author, Suzanne Collins] wanted to write a dystopia, she wrote that book from the heart. Be true to what you want to write and don’t worry about trends


Finally, one thing about pitching to publishers and editors is constant across the board: keep your submission simple and whatever you do, don’t ramble.

You’ll find submission guidelines for Hachette, Allen and Unwin, Smith Journal and The Saturday Paper on their respective websites. Make sure you read them thoroughly, because that’s another thing Robert, Eva, Erik and Adrian all have in common: if you don’t follow the submission guidelines, you’re making things even more difficult for yourself.

In summary, getting your words published takes dedication and serious hard work (especially when it comes to books!) but if your manuscript stands out from the crowd, for all the right reasons, you’re in with a fighting chance.

Godspeed, brave writer…

Next on my EWF adventure, I ventured Inside the Publishing House with Hachette for an even closer look at how the publishing industry ticks. And I’m just back from a great first day at the EWF Writers’ Conference.

Tomorrow afternoon, at day two of the conference, Sam van Zweden will be chatting with Meghan Brewster and I about blogging. It’s going to be great. I’ll see you there, I hope?

seeds and trees and ukuleles – ewf15’s opening night gala

How many writers’ festivals open with a ukulele performance? I’m not sure, but the 2015 Emerging Writers’ Festival did. And it was, of course, great.

If you already want to hear Jack Colwell’s song about all the ridiculous clichés he doesn’t want to see on the cover of his book (‘no lipstick, high heels, handbags or women in Victorian dresses’) again, you’d better look out for the next Kill Your Darlings podcast:

After a gorgeous welcome to country from Wurundjeri Elder, Aunty Georgina Nicholson on National Sorry Day, in which she spoke about family, the land and being the youngest of sixteen children, Festival Director, Sam Twyford-Moore took to the stage to remind us of the importance of the Emerging Writers’ Festival:

Growth only comes through nurturing. You can’t do away with the seeds and still expect the trees.

Emerging Writers’ Festival Director, Sam Twyford-Moore

Next, the Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing was awarded to Justina Ashman, for The Space Between, who treated us to an extract from her winning story. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of The Space Between when it’s published in Kill Your Darlings (those guys get all the exclusives!)


International guest, Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven, which has been nominated for pretty much every book award around (and won the Arthur C. Clarke award) spoke about reading, as well as what it takes to be a writer.

She opened with a story about wandering along the pier after a party at last week’s Sydney Writers’ Festival when a replica 18th century ship floated past with the sails down, reminding her of home. Not New York where she lives now, but the islands on the west coast of British Columbia, where she grew up. She spoke about how, when we love a book, we’ll often say that it ‘transported’ us, and the places we go when we’re spirited away by literature. A good book, to paraphrase Emily, feels like coming home.

As readers, we hold dual citizenship. There’s the country of our day-to-day lives (…) but there’s also a republic of imagination, open to anyone who can read who desires entry. What we do when we write is to expand that republic.

Emily St. John Mandel

My favourite writers’ festival guests are always, without fail, the writers who speak about the importance of reading. But it wouldn’t be a writers’ festival without writing advice. Here are Emily’s top three tips:

  • Use your time carefully. ‘You can spend time on social media or finish your book. You might find it difficult to do both.’
  • If you want to be a writer, you have to finish things. ‘Any idiot can write a compelling first sentence. It’s figuring out what happens next that makes you a writer.’
  • Never assume the publishing world is closed to you. Being published isn’t about knowing the right people, going to the right parties, living in the right place or doing the right course. Emily says she has ‘no degrees whatsoever, in creative writing or anything else’. Her agent found her first book in a slush pile. What matters is the strength of your work.

But an equally important aspect of being a writer for Mandel is how to conduct yourself. ‘The same attributes for being a writer are the same for being a good person’ she said. ‘You have to be kind. You have to be someone who other people want to work with’.

(…Which immediately reminded me of this Writers Bloc article by Walter Mason on the importance of being a good literary citizen, which I adored. Read it, bookmark it.)

Mandel concluded by returning to the theme of empathy – not only as writers, but as readers too:

Not everyone in the room tonight is a writer, but I would venture a guess that all of us are readers. The same principle holds true for readers as well. Reading books is a way to catch glimpses into the lives of others and develop our empathy, to imagine what life might look like from other perspectives. By spending time in the republic of imagination; in our second country, there’s a potential to become not just better readers or better writers, but better people who read and write books.

“I’m feeling so much nicer now!” Sam Twyford-Moore commented once the applause faded. I think it was a feeling seconded by everyone in the room.

Minister for Creative Industries, Martin Foley presented the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript on behalf of the Premier. Unable to resist a dig at the Abbott government’s recent arts cuts, he commented that ‘excellence isn’t something that’s handed down from the political class, it’s something that emerges from the wider ecology of creative people and creative communities’. Or something like that – I was too busy applauding to take notes.

Congratulations to Jane Harper for her VPLA-winning manuscript, The Dry, a rural crime novel (three cheers for genre fiction!) which sounds amazing. I’m hoping someone hands her a publishing contract very soon. She spoke to Jason Steger about the award and the inspiration behind The Dry.

Finally, Hachette’s Fiona Hazard announced the new Richell Emerging Writers’ Award, a fitting tribute to Hachette’s Matt Richell, who was passionate about supporting and nurturing Australia’s emerging writers. It’s in partnership with The Guardian Australia and entries close this August. Find out more here.

Despite Melbourne’s chill, being in EWF’s opening night audience filled me with warm fuzzies. No, really! Emily St. John Mandel’s words on empathy, Hachette and the Guardian’s act of kindness in establishing a new literary award and watching writers begin their careers – it’s all an antidote to how soul-suckingly hopeless the actual act writing can feel at times. For me, at least.

Coming up next, a (much shorter) post on Wednesday evening’s The Pitch session.

watch this space

I know, I know. I haven’t been blogging much since I moved. It turns out that combining freelance work with job-hunting is itself pretty much the equivalent of a full time job. Who knew?

Another thing I’ve learned over the past month or so? Like a sheepdog stuck in a suburban backyard, herding children, cats, stray tradies – anything at all – out of sheer instinct, a copywriter with not enough work begins to edit everything in sight. A poor, misplaced apostrophe doesn’t stand a chance around me at the moment. I’m like Zorro, except with a pencil instead of a sword.

In spite of the radio silence, there’s been a lot happening behind the scenes of this blog. I’ve done a lot of rewriting. Take a look at my new About Me page, for instance. I’ve also taken a heap of new photos and generally spruced things up a little.

What’s with all the spring cleaning? The next couple of weeks are going to be pretty busy around these parts…


Since returning to Melbourne, I’ve been looking forward to the Emerging Writers’ Festival for the longest time. It kicks off next week, with the Opening Night Gala on Tuesday night (like a heap of EWF events, it’s free, but you’ll need to book). My Zorro pencil has been hard at work – not fixing apostrophes, but circling events in the EWF program. I’ve got a huge festival planned and I’m bound to be run off my feet, in the best possible way.

In other big news, I’m really excited to be a part of this year’s Emerging Writers’ Festival program. Meghan Brewster from Manuscrapped and I will be speaking about blogging with host, Sam van Zweden from Little Girl with a Big Pen – a blog I’ve been following for ages. It’s all a part of EWF’s National Writers’ Conference, which is taking over Melbourne Town Hall on Saturday the 30th and 31st of May. We’ll be taking to the stage at 2pm on Sunday. If you’re in Melbourne, come and watch me say ‘um’ a lot.

The Writers’ Conference program looks incredible, by the way. Just $90 for the chance to watch so many ace writers talking about doing what they love? Bargain.

In addition to chatting about blogging, Sam, Meghan and I will also be writing about this year’s festival as this year’s official Emerging Writers’ Festival Bloggers.

This is my first EWF, so if you see me around, be sure to say hello. Big glasses, messy hair, says ‘um’ a lot – you can’t possibly miss me. Come and tell me what you’re reading!

Watch this space for more, and I’ll see you at EWF.