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‘Frank’ in Award Winning Australian Writing 2016 and more

August 29, 2016 Leave a comment

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My crime story ‘Frank’, which won the 2015 City of Rockingham Short Fiction Award, will shortly appear in Award Winning Australian Writing 2016, which is being launched at the Melbourne Writers Festival on 31st August. Sadly I won’t be able to attend the launch, but I am looking forward to reading this year’s crop of award winning stories. I’ll be reading from ‘Frank’ as part of my workshop on short fiction at the Avon Valley Readers and Writers Festival on 9-11 September.

‘Frank’ will also be appearing in Westerly: New Creative, an electronic issue of Westerly featuring emerging Western Australian authors, which will be launched at the Australian Short Story Festival in Perth on 21-23 October. Happily this is a launch I will be able to attend. I’m really looking forward to these launches and events; it should be a great end to 2016. I’ll be enjoying my hard-earned Long Service Leave from teaching over this period too–can’t wait!ASSF

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Writing the Dream now available for pre-order

August 5, 2016 Leave a comment

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Writing the Dream from Serenity Press is an upcoming collection of non-fiction pieces from 24 Australian authors on their pathways to publication. Featuring work by big name authors like Juliet Marillier, Natasha Lester and Anna Jacobs, the volume also includes pieces by emerging authors such as myself. I’ve been extremely impressed by the work the Serenity Press team is doing in terms of marketing. Writing the Dream will include a foreword by West Australian books editor William Yeoman and I expect it’ll get a fair bit of publicity in the WA media. As a pre-order special, Serenity is offering a free Writing the Dream notebook with the first 1000 sales. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this.

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You can listen to a podcast of Monique Mulligan, WA author, reviewer and Serenity Press co-director, on Business Insider Radio.

Monique blogs and reviews at WriteNotes.

Writing the Dream will be released in November.

Too old for the Vogel: on turning thirty-five

July 4, 2016 2 comments

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It’s not easy being an emerging writer in Australia, or probably any other country for that matter. Arts budgets have been slashed, bookstores are closing, even the Australia Council is under threat. In this landscape, The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award is a beacon of hope, offering Australian writers under 35 the possibility of breaking out of obscurity and earning $20,000 as part of the bargain. For a long time it was my overriding literary ambition to one day win the Vogel, and I knew that my final, final deadline was May 31st, 2016. By 2017, I’d be too old to enter and thus for the best part of a decade I’ve seen thirty-five as my expiry date, Logan’s Run style.

I had a plan, one that I first concocted in 2008. I’d churn out a novel every two years in the twelve weeks of annual leave afforded to me in my role of English teacher in WA’s Wheatbelt. For the most part, I kept my end of the deal. I entered my dystopian novel Yellowcake Springs in 2010, and while it didn’t get anywhere in the Vogel it later won the IP Picks Award and was thus published by IP in 2011. I didn’t enter Yellowcake Summer, reasoning that it was a sequel and not likely to feature, but I was unperturbed. I had another far off date in mind, Jan 31st 2016, by which time I’d have completed ten years of teaching and thus would be entitled to thirteen weeks Long Service Leave. I’d take this as soon as it became available, in Term 1 2016. This would give me the opportunity to give the Vogel one final crack.

Unfortunately, but seemingly inevitably, it didn’t work out like that. In 2012, I spent the best part of the year working for the State School Teachers Union of WA, which made for a welcome break from teaching but blew my Long Service Leave date out to October 2016. I knew exactly what this meant: there’d be no last hurrah in 2016. If I was going to win the Vogel, I’d have to do it the hard way.  The novel that materialised, my first crime novel, was Thirsty Work, which was written in part during my Katharine Susannah Prichard residency in 2013. I put what I thought to be the finishing touches on the novel in April 2014, during a second residency at the Fellowship of Australian Writers WA. I sent off my Vogel entry a month before the deadline and then, reasoning that it was folly to put all one’s eggs in the one basket, sent an extract of the novel to Fremantle Press. I went back to work with high hopes.

Six months later, Thirsty Work hadn’t been shortlisted for the Vogel, Fremantle Press had rejected it (albeit with words of encouragement) and my marriage of twelve years was over. In the summer of 2014/15 I had two choices: to stick with Thirsty Work and try to make the changes Fremantle Press had suggested, or twist and try to write a new novel in time to enter it into the Vogel in May 2016. I stuck, and struck out: Fremantle Press rejected the revised version of Thirsty Work, the novel was rejected by at least a dozen other Australian publishers, and I’d be turning thirty-five in less than eighteen months.

I did have an idea for a subsequent novel, City of Rubber Stamps, but it failed to cohere in time. I produced an abortive 10,000 word start on the novel in 2015, but in my heart I knew I wasn’t ready. During these months, I produced a handful of short stories when I had the chance and had some success in publishing these. Writing short stories seemed an altogether happier task than slogging my way through drafting novels that’d likely never see the light of day anyway. In the summer of 2015/16, I wrote only two short pieces: ‘Hard Travelin”, which will appear in November 2016 in Writing the Dream, and ‘The Not-Bird’, a retread of an earlier story. I was, and quite probably still am, at a low ebb.

Now, in July 2016, a month shy of my thirty-fifth birthday, I have that Long Service Leave up my sleeve, but by next year I’ll be too old for the Vogel. My last day of school for the year will be September 23rd, my daughter’s eleventh birthday. Thereafter I’ll have four glorious months to get cracking on City of Rubber Stamps. I’m getting married again in that time, too. My partner and I will be spending two weeks trekking around Tasmania in a campervan, but I’ll have my laptop handy. I might be too old for the Vogel, but with any luck there’ll be other dawns and new horizons.

Publication News

February 27, 2016 2 comments

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Three pieces of recent publishing news: first, my story ‘Frank’, which won the 2015 City of Rockingham Short Fiction Award, has now been chosen for publication in Westerly’s upcoming ‘New Creative‘ online issue. I’m really looking forward to appearing alongside a host of other (as yet unnamed) emerging authors.

Secondly, my baroque future fantasy piece, ‘when the jellyfish rule the oceans’, has been published online in Pound of Flash.

And finally, a non-fiction piece about my (torturous) pathway to publication, ‘Hard Travelin’, will be published later this year in Writing the Dream.

I’m pleased to be able to report these successes, but I’m still looking for homes for my fourth Tyler Bramble detective story, ‘Epoch O’Lips’, as well as a literary story about obsessive compulsive disorder and a dead ferret, ‘Losing Her Zen’. Hopefully I’ll find suitable homes for them in the coming months.

 

My story ‘Frank’ wins 2015 City of Rockingham Short Fiction Award

November 11, 2015 3 comments

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I’m very pleased to announce that my short story, ‘Frank’, has been awarded First Prize in the Open Section of the 2015 City of Rockingham Short Fiction Award! Competition judge KA Bedford praised the story’s “Intrigue and hijinks, leading to a very satisfying resolution follow,” and said “This was a great piece, and I award it First Prize with no reservations”. I’m very pleased to have won this award, even more so in that I admire Bedford’s Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, surely the only time travel novel in the history of science fiction to be set in Malaga, Western Australia. A requirement for entering this competition was that stories had to use the above picture, ‘(Light) House of the Rising Sun’ by Julie Podstolski, as a stimulus. In writing ‘Frank’, I also decided to listen to the Animals’ famous song every day before writing to get myself in the mood; hopefully some of that bluesy feeling made it into the finished story. There’s no publication associated with this award, but it hasn’t escaped my attention that this win makes the story eligible for entry into next year’s Award Winning Australian Writing anthology from Melbourne Books.

After my run of outs in recent times, this news comes as a much needed boost to my confidence. This award has been running for a few years now but it’s the first time I’ve entered. Not many writing competitions have free entry these days, and the prizes are pretty generous too. Thanks to the City of Rockingham and Lee Battersby (Coordinator Cultural Development and Arts) for supporting this award.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job: On Perseverance and Handling Inevitable Rejection

November 8, 2015 2 comments

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My writing career has been in the doldrums for the past eighteen months. 2013 was an amazing year for me in that I published four stories (one of which was shortlisted for the Carmel Bird Award), one novel, and I completed a Emerging Writer-in-Residence stint at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre. 2014 started pretty well too, with a similar residency at the Fellowship of Australian Writers (WA) in April.

Then, nothing. Or, rather, worse than nothing: piles and piles of rejections. In an eighteen month stretch, I had thirty-eight rejections and one acceptance. The one acceptance was for my story ‘Enter Sandman, Exit Light’, published in Tincture Journal. The bulk of these rejections were for my crime novel Thirsty Work, but my story ‘when the jellyfish rule the oceans’ has been rejected eight times, and ‘Enter Sandman, Exit Light’ six before being picked up. I had a PhD application rejected on the grounds that there was no one to supervise me. I had stories rejected because magazines were folding (once, cruelly, I was told this after they had accepted the story!), and short fiction competition pieces borne away in a flood of entries, like the Henry Handel Richardson Writing Competition, which had 450 entries in 2014.

It’s enough to make anyone melancholy and to knock one’s self-belief for six. This is where I’m supposed to say that if you try, try, try again it’ll all work out in the end. J. K. Rowling was rejected a zillion times. The recent Man Booker award-winner, Marlon James, recently said a similar thing. But for one Marlon James or J. K. Rowling, how many other writers are out there with the same self-belief and tireless perseverance? How do you keep going in the face of the world’s indifference?

For me personally, this last question is a false one. Whenever I’m brought low by my latest rejection, I try to imagine a life in which I didn’t write. Truth is, I can’t. Seems I’m consigned to a life of writing, if necessary in the face of continuous rejection. I’m not sure that that’s perseverance or even bloody-mindedness as much as an acknowledgement that this is truly who I am. Not writing would be a form of extinction, and I ain’t extinct yet.

We’re told not to take rejection too personally. Personally, I struggle with that, too. But I do have a piece of advice for those in a similar circumstance, after all, which is not to put all your eggs in one basket. The months of waiting are agonising, the almost inevitable rejection a punch to the guts, but this can be mollified by multiple entries and multiple submissions. Right now I have five short stories doing the rounds, the most I’ve ever had, so when I get a rejection I transfer my forlorn hopes onto the next competition or publishing target. Every time I get a rejection, I make sure to send the story somewhere else that same day. That way at least I feel I’m doing something positive, not just wallowing in self-pity.

And then there’s the money. Or, rather, there isn’t the money. Apparently, the average Australian author earns $12,900 per year, which is frankly a hell of a lot more than I make out of writing but still nowhere near a living wage. I recently estimated that I’ve earned something like $5000 from writing in the past five years. Given that I earn 10% royalties on my novels, that equates to 2500 copies sold, no? Well, no. The $5000 hasn’t come from royalties at all, but from the aforementioned residencies, workshops and, occasionally, judging. Luckily for me, I earn a good wage as a high school English teacher, so I don’t think about the money very much. It’s best not to. And the simple truth is that I’d do it for free anyway.

Where does that leave me? Pretty much where I started, I suppose. Best to think of this as a hare and tortoise situation after all. Even if I never win the Booker or sell millions of copies, at least I’ll be able to say, to myself if no one else, that I never took no for an answer.

Writerly tasks I’ve been undertaking recently in conjunction with KSP

September 8, 2015 Leave a comment

The Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in the Perth foothills has had an important place in my writing life ever since I was lucky enough to win the Young Writers category of the Short Fiction award way back in 1999, when I was but a callow youth. More recently, I was even luckier to be awarded a four-week Emerging Writer residency (on the fourth try), a role I undertook in April/May 2013. I  served on KSP’s Board of Management from 2012-14, and transferred over to their Literary Committee in late 2014. My main task in 2015 has been working with KSP stalwart and poet Mardi May and acclaimed WA author and editor Amanda Curtin in helping to select next year’s Emerging Writers in Residence. I don’t think the winners have been formally announced as yet, but rest assured that the three chosen authors will represent KSP with distinction in 2016.

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Another task I’ve had the pleasure of performing is judging the Secondary WA category of this year’s Write-a-Book-in-a-Day competition. This is a very worthy cause, raising money for the Kids’ Cancer Project, and it sees teams of writers from across the country frantically writing, illustrating and presenting picture books in a single day.  There are more than a dozen entries in this category this year, and I’m just about to get cracking on finishing my part of the judging process this weekend. It’s humbling to be a part of this program in my own small way, but the real credit must go to the teams of writers themselves, who’ve crafted some stunning work and, in doing so, given me a headache in trying to decide which entry ought to be the winner.

Finally, I’ve been invited to present a writing workshop, ‘The Narrative Engine’, at this year’s Avon Valley Writers Festival, at the Northam library on Sunday 20th September. This is the third iteration of the festival after similar events in 2012 and 2013. The festival was on hiatus in 2014, but it’s back bigger and better than ever this year, and it boasts a strong line up of authors, including the likes of Ian Reid, Amanda Curtin, James Foley and Sami Shah. Here’s the blurb for my workshop: What makes stories tick? How do you create suspense? This workshop will consider the finer points of narrative fiction with reference to some of the great artists of short fiction: Flannery O’Connor, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver and others. We’ll zero in on thorny topics such as point of view, narration and interior monologue, and discuss how inciting incidents and rising tension make for great short stories, no matter what time or place they’re written in. 

When I reflect on my writing career, such as it is circa 2015, it strikes me that the bulk of my modest achievements have been realised in conjunction with KSP. Writing is and remains a lonely business, but you could do much worse than joining the local writers’ centre in your area.