All of Us Together – With Bill Condon

disphotoofbillyToday we are pleased to welcome the amazingly talented Bill Condon to DeeScribe Writing. Bill is celebrating his new book, All of Us Together and he has some great writing tips, and at the end of the post we’ll also talk about the book itself.

On four occasions Bill Condon’s novels have been shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Awards. In 2010 he won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction. (Since then he hasn’t been able to find a hat big enough to fit him.) He lives on the south coast of NSW with his wife Di (Dianne) Bates.

All of Us Together

All of us Together is a junior fiction novel set in Australia’s Great Depression of the 1930s.

all-of-us-together-front-coverWhen John O’Casey leaves his family to go in search of work, his wife Margaret is left to raise their three young children, Daniel, Adelaide, and Lydia. Daniel, being the eldest, tries to take on the role of being a leader, but as he discovers, it’s hard to be a man, especially for a boy who’s only twelve-years old.

Although the events within these pages take place many years ago, it is not primarily an historical novel, but one that examines the lives of the same kind of down-to-earth people, who live and breathe today. This is about a family who remain hopeful and resilient, as they stand together through the hardest of times.

All of us Together is an uplifting story, told with poignancy and humour.

Bill’s Writing Tips

In 2015 I spent several months working on All Of Us Together, but I wasn’t happy with what I had, so I gave up, which is one of my many bad habits. At the start of this year I decided to change the story to first person, and when I did that I felt it worked much better, and so I kept on going. – Tip 1 – If your stories not working as well as you’d like, don’t be afraid to try a different approach.

unknownI think first person enabled me (and hopefully the readers) to get closer to the action, and made the story more immediate and real.

The main character in the book is twelve-year-old Daniel. When his dad goes off in search of work, Daniel takes it on himself to bring some money into the home as best he can. Needless to say, all does not go smoothly. But the family sticks together and stays strong.

Daniel and his family are loosely based on my own family. He has two sisters, just like me, and he has loving, working class parents, just like I had. Once I’d recognised the similarities between Daniel and myself, the writing became easier. Tip 2 – Draw on your own experiences and the things you can relate to.

When I was young my parents sometimes told me of their experiences during the 30s. They didn’t tell me much – or perhaps I wasn’t listening very carefully – but it was enough to get me thinking about setting a story during the Depression.

One of the problems writers face is in finding a plot. This is particularly so in my case. I always struggle. Fortunately, this book came with a plot already built-in – the Great Depression of the 1930s. All drama needs obstacles for the characters to overcome. What better obstacle than a period in our history that impacted on the lives of so many Australians? Tip 3 – Historical stories can come with a readymade plot.

unknown-1As with nearly everything I write, All Of Us Together has bits and pieces from my own life scattered through it. Some of the mischief I got up to as a child could fit into any era, so I didn’t find it at all daunting to write a book set so long ago. I also wasn’t perturbed that I was writing what many might perceive as a book about history. It was never that to me. Daniel and his family were just ordinary people – the kind who might be your neighbours today – doing their best to survive in a very tough time.

Because I’m not a history buff, and I doubt my readers will be either, I’ve kept the historical facts to a minimum. My research was confined to Google searches. There is lots of information, and photos about the Depression on-line. I saw one photo that gave me an idea for the story. It’s a picture of three or four boys, each aged around 13 or 14. They were living in a tent in the bush and shooting rabbits to get some money for their families. In my story there are two brothers who are out in the great beyond somewhere, living rough to try to help their family. They are heroes to Daniel and he is always searching for them. When he at last finds one of them, it isn’t at all what he was expecting. Tip 4 – Don’t become lost in your research.

I’ve never been any good at plotting a book. I just find little bits and pieces as I go – like that photo – and I very clumsily and slowly stick them all together. And then, after a year or so of stumbling around in the dark, I make my way to those magical words, The End! Tip 5 – There’s not ‘right’ way to write a book … do what works for you.

ALL of US TOGETHER REVIEW

all-of-us-together-400hIn his latest book, All of Us Together, award winning author Bill Condon gets us right inside the head of main character, Daniel, right from the first page.

All of Us Together is set in the Great Depression of 1930 when families were being ripped about by poverty.

Unable to find work, Daniel’s beloved father has been forced to leave the family to seek employment further afield in the hope that he will soon have money to send home.

He leaves behind Daniel, his two sisters and his mother, trying to cope with his absence. Poverty forces Daniel into doing things he wouldn’t normally do and his strength and resolve are put to the test.

This realistic representation of a difficult time in history has clearly been well researched, and the characters are so real that the reader feels as if they are stepping back in time, straight into the lives of Daniel and his family.

Amidst the hardship though, there is love and hope and we see the characters grow and develop as they face the challenges that life throws at them.

The harsh realities of the Great Depression are depicted with sensitivity and authenticity, and All of Us Together is a book that would make a great family or classroom discussion piece.

All of Us Together is a compelling read for readers aged 8+.

Bill draws us into Daniel’s world with his great characterisation, and the universal themes of family, belonging, and bullying make All of Us Together very relevant for today’s readers.

All of Us Together is available from About Kids Books or from any children’s bookstore.

Bill will also be visiting the following great blogs on a tour to celebrate the release of All of Us Together:
18 November Clancy Tucker http://clancytucker.blogspot.com.au 
19 November Sally Odgers http://promotemeplease.blogspot.com.au 
20 November Sandy Fussell www.sandyfussell.com/blog
23 November Elaine Ousten http://elaineoustonauthor.com/
24 November Melissa Wray http://www.melissawray.blogspot.com.au
25 November Susan Whelan http://www.kids-bookreview.com
26 November Romi Sharp http://www.justkidslit.com

 

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Tuesday Tip – A Writer’s Guide to Seemingly Insurmountable Obstacles

It’s weird how  life can provide metaphors for our writing.

Last weekend, I was driving to pick up my son and came across this very large obstacle across the road.  It seemed insurmountable. I couldn’t drive through it, I couldn’t jump over it – at least not in my car.

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Ever felt like that about your writing? I have. I tend to get to this point at the end of a manuscript when I’m not sure how to end it – when all the ideas I come up with seem cliched or inappropriate – when it seems like I’ll never get past this road/manuscript block.

So as a writer, how do you overcome something like this?

For me, the way the emergency services guys got this tree off the road was a perfect example of how to deal with a difficult manuscript problem – you have to cut it down into manageable pieces.

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And then handle those pieces one at a time.

I find that removing the ‘problem scene’ and treating it as an entity in its own right definitely helps. Look at that scene as a story.

  1. Does it have a beginning and and end?
  2. Does it have conflict?
  3. Does it reveal character?
  4. Does it have a resolution?
  5. Is the resolution satisfying to the reader?

It’s easy to envy others who seem to navigate the writing journey with apparent ease, who speed along straight to their destination – but think of all the visual wonders and experiences that they miss in their haste:)

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Enjoy the journey:)

Dee

 

Writing Tip – Sticking to Your Plot (Or not)!

Neridah had another writing question for me this week.

Sometimes when I have written a structured Plot Diagram and Chapter Outline for longer books, when I sit down to actually write it, some of my characters start to do things outside of these carefully made plans. This sounds crazy and I spend a fair bit of time trying to reign them back in or I go back to the Chapter Outline and modify it. In your opinion is this normal for writers?

Taupo BayNeridah, I have to assure you that you are not crazy and you are definitely not alone. Characters often start to develop a mind of their own and create dilemmas for us.

I find that when characters take me in a completely new direction it’s usually because I’ve got to know them better and they are telling me, “This is what I would really do if I were a real person. This is how I would really act.”

So in my opinion, this scenario is quite normal for writers – especially those who know their characters well or are getting to know them better.

I’m not sure what other people think about this, but my advice would be to embrace the actions of contrary characters – let them take you in the direction they want to go. Allow their world to be turned on its axis.

If you think that the direction your character is heading will add tension or conflict or enhance your story in some other way then go with it. If that means you have to adjust your plot outline then that’s what I would do.

Unknown-6I had an extreme case of this with my YA thriller series that I was awarded my May Gibbs Fellowship for.  One of my minor characters got so active and rebellious that she has ended up with a book of her own.

Writing a novel is constant process of evolution. As you progress, characters change, plots change and even you as a writer can change.

In some respects, a character is like an adventurous child – you have to give them the freedom to explore.

But unlike a child, your character should be encouraged to venture into danger. The more danger, the more at risk they are, the better.

Neridah, I hope this answers your question.

Have fun with your characters – let them loose, I say:)

If anyone would like to share their opinion or experience, feel free to comment at the end of this post. If you have a writing question of your own to ask, you can also use the comments section.

Thanks for your great questions Neridah.

Happy writing:)

Dee

TUESDAY WRITING TIPS – REVISING – Some Technical Tips

January was  very productive  for me.  I spent the entire month immersed in revisions for my young adult verse novel, Hating Ric.

This is the one I’ve been working on for my SCBWI Nevada mentorship and I’d had lots of great feedback from my mentor, Ellen Hopkins with suggestions on how to make it better.IMAG4962

I’ve added an extra 15,000 words, developed my characters, altered my setting and I’ve even managed to bring two black bear cubs into my story.

During the revising and editing process I discovered a few things that worked for me so I thought I’d share them here.

1.  I printed out the entire manuscript and read it. I find that when I read on screen my mind doesn’t seem to absorb things in the same depth. So I pick up superficial things like typos and vocal, but I struggle to see the overall story problems or pick up character inconsistencies or weaknesses.  I find I need to hold paper in my hand to get close to my characters.

2.  This book has two main characters so I looked at each character’s story arc and rearranged the pages according to flaws I found in the plot – where the tension wasn’t rising and things seemed to be happening in the wrong order.  My mentor was also great for pointing out where these kind of changes needed to be made, and where she didn’t think a scene fitted.

3.  I opened up two new files – one for each of my main characters – and I wrote new scenes for them – scenes to develop their characters – scenes to develop the setting – scenes to create rising tension – scenes to add layers of meaning.  By writing the scenes separate from the story, I was able to create them with fresh eyes and make them lively but relevant.  I printed them out and slotted them into the appropriate places.

4. I checked through my mentors comments and suggestions to make sure I had incorporated the changes that fitted with my vision for my story.

5.  I did a spell check.

6.  Screen Shot 2014-02-02 at 10.04.00 PMI did ‘find and replace’ to change certain words. And here I admit I ran into trouble. My character changed from being a rower to a basketball player. So when I did “Find rowing and replace with basketball”, it changed ‘growing’ to ‘gbasketball’. Thanks to my clever writerly friend, Thalia I learned that there is a remedy for this. Tick the ‘find whole words only’ box in the ‘find and replace’ option in Word.

7.  I saved my document as a PDF file – imported it into iBooks and read it on my iPad as an e-book.

8.  I attached it to my email and pressed ‘send’.

I’m sure there will be plenty more work to do on my manuscript, but I feel that now I have a practical way to handle those revisions and edits.

I’d love to know any technical tips you have for revising and editing. Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and editing:)

Dee

My mentorship experience was made possible thanks to the generous assistance of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund which provided me with Creative Industries Career Funding. http://www.copyright.com.au/cultural-fund

How to Write an Effective Press Release

Happy 2014 everyone. I hope your year is off to a flying start.

I’m deeply immersed in writing my mentorship novel so I’d made a commitment to myself to not start blogging again until February.

But many of my author friends are having books released in the next couple of months so I decided to do this post How to Write an Effective Press Release to help them successfully launch their new book babies into the very competitive market place.

The Purpose of a Press Release

You’re not just writing a press release to let people know you have a new book. You want them to be as enthusiastic as you are – so your press release needs to have a hook.  You need to think about what you want this press release to achieve.

Your press release will serve two definite purposes:

1.            Press Releases are supposed to make the media salivate – to make them desperate to interview the creators of this fabulous new book.

2.            Press Releases are supposed to inspire publications to want to favourably review your brand new book.

So when you draft your press release, you need to bear these two important factors in mind. You need to think about what you are trying to achieve with your press release.

PRESS RELEASE WRITING TIPS FOR AUTHORS

  1. Have a hook – why should the person you are sending the press release to want to read about your book? Why should they want to let others know about it?  A hook must have benefits and it must be relevant. Your hook should be upfront in the headline – in the same way as an advertisement.
  2. Do not use your publisher’s name or your name as a headline or sub-head – they are not selling points – they are just information. A publisher headline is not going to inspire the press to desperately seek authors and illustrators out to interview them – they need to know why they should be doing this.
  3. Be specific – Don’t use vague terms like international or bestselling author. Anyone who has ever sold an e-book could be an international author and everyone’s definition of ‘bestselling’ varies widely. If you really are a bestselling author, don’t be afraid to say how many thousand or million copies of your books have been sold.
  4. Be clear about what kind of book this is and what readership it’s aimed at. Particularly with kid’s books, a picture of the cover won’t necessarily reveal this. Being specific about this kind of information will ensure that your press release information reaches the most appropriate contact.
  5. Be relevant – if the book relates to a contemporary issue or event, say so  – and make the specific connection. For example if you are publishing a book about science and it’s the International Year of Science, then make sure you make mention of the fact in your press release.

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The important things should be listed first. Don’t clutter the press release with excess images. Unless you are a famous author, it will be the words you use in your press release that hook the publication/reviewer not the pictures.

Make sure your press release is clear and easy to read.

You have very few words in which to hook someone – use them wisely.

Here’s a fictitious sample press release to help you out.

PRESS RELEAS - sampleI hope you have found this post helpful.  Good luck with your new book. I hope it sells many copies.

If you have any tips for creating an effective press release, please leave them in the comments section of this blog.

Happy writing and book launching:)

Dee

Tuesday Tips – The Importance of Writing Goals

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 9.04.07 PMIn just over a week, I head to Nevada to start my mentorship with New York Times bestselling verse novelist, Ellen Hopkins. I’ll be developing my YA verse novel, Hating Ric (formerly Street Racer).

I’m attending a writing retreat at Lake Tahoe where I’ll meet all the fabulous mentors and mentees in the program, and I can’t wait.

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The mentor program is by run by SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators ) Nevada, and I’ve been very lucky to receive funding from CAL to help pay for the trip.

I’m so excited to be going, but one of the things I’m most pleased about is that applying for and getting the mentorship is a writing goal that I have actually achieved:)

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 9.07.09 PM My very good writerly friend, Maureen (Mo) Johnson first put the seed in my head when progress on my novel had stalled.

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 9.09.03 PMIt seemed like a really good idea, but also an impossible dream.  Nevada was so far away from Victoria Australia, and expensive to fly to, and apart from that, there was no guarantee that my mentorship application would be successful.

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 9.11.27 PMThanks to the encouragement and support of Mo and good writer friends Alison Reynolds, Sheryl GwytherTania McCartney, Karen Collum and others, I wrote the mentorship boldly on my list of writing goals and set out in hot pursuit.

I attended every available seminar  to find out as much as I could about putting together arts’ grant applications. (And blogged about it here). Then I set about applying for every available arts grant – no matter how unobtainable or obscure it seemed. I figured it was good practice anyway.

Screen Shot 2013-10-13 at 9.07.36 PMI was overwhelmed to find that not only had I received a mentorship with Ellen, but I had also secured funding – so now I could definitely go.

I’ve unsuccessfully applied for both mentorships and funding before, but this time it was different – this time I made the mentorship a serious writing goal.

Nothing comes easily in this business, but one of the many things I’ve learned from this experience is that it does pay to have writing goals – and it does pay to give them priority.

MY WRITING GOAL SETTING TIPS

  1. Set goals that are realistic
  2. Don’t be afraid to aim high
  3. Set goals that you want to achieve, not things you think you should achieve.
  4. Don’t compare yourself or your achievements to others – your goals should be ‘yours’.
  5. Set goals that you can achieve – that you have control over (you’ll don’t have control over acceptances or publication dates)
  6. Set  a manageable number of goals
  7. Set goals that are specific but realistic achievements

I hope you achieve your writing goals. For me, they have helped me keep the dream alive.

I was also fortunate to have a book trailer made by an optimistic and very talented friend, Svetlana Bykovec.  When I watch my book trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZs78xyveTQ, I feel that this book could be/will be published.

Book trailers are not expensive to make if you do it yourself – perhaps you can use one to help you keep your dreams and hopes alive – it could be one of your writing goals. If nothing else, making a book trailer is great for helping you understand the essence of your story.

If you have any tips on goal setting, we’d love to hear them. Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

My mentorship has been made possible thanks to the generous assistance of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund which provided me with Creative Industries Career Funding. http://www.copyright.com.au/cultural-fund

Tuesday Writing Tips – The Journey to Publication

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverAs we all know, getting published is hard…very hard.

This post is dedicated to Kelly McDonald, a dedicated and very talented emerging author and illustrator who asked me to post about my journey to publication.

So, Kelly, here’s the story of how my debut YA novel, Letters to Leonardo came to be a published book.

In 2000 I started developing the plot for a story idea that had been in my head for some years – ever since a friend told me about a man she worked with who thought his mother was dead. When this man turned 21, he received a letter from his mother and it turned out she wasn’t dead, but had been in a mental institution all that time.

I wanted to write for young adults so I decided that my story character would be fifteen, and in 2001 I started writing his story in earnest.

In 2002 I was awarded a mentorship through the Vic Writer’s Centre. I highly recommend mentorships and I know writers who have had fabulous experiences, but unfortunately, my mentorship for Letters to Leonardo was not a match made in heaven.

My mentor was nice, but she didn’t share my vision for my story. In fact we didn’t really agree on anything. She thought my story should be in third person, I had written it in first. She didn’t want me to use Leonardo da Vinci as a mentor figure for my character because she said that teens would not have heard of him – she talked me into using Buzz Aldrin instead. She thought my main character shouldn’t be artistic because she said there were too many stories about artistic teens.

So, after my mentorship, I ended up with a book called Space about a boy who was mad about astronomy and had Buzz Aldrin as his mentor.

It didn’t feel like my book anymore but being a very new writer, I believed that my much published mentor knew best.

I received some positive feedback from publishers about the quality of the writing, but the astute publisher at Allen & Unwin pointed out that something was missing. She was right, that missing something was ‘me’. It wasn’t my story anymore. The publisher suggested that I go back and rewrite the story the way I had originally intended. So back I went to my original manuscript Letters to Leonardo and started again from scratch.

In 2006, Letters to Leonardo came 3rd in the YA category of the CYA competition.

Encouraged by this, I spent the next 18 months or so rewriting and working on my manuscript. Then in 2008, I had it assessed by Margaret Hamilton at the SCBWI Sydney Conference.

Margaret loved the manuscript and she very generously took me around at the conference and introduced me to publishers and suggested they read my work.

3 months later, Walker Books Australia offered to publish Letters to Leonardo and it was released about 12 months later.

From initial draft to published manuscript, I’ve estimated that  Letters to Leonardo took about 1000 hours and a million words on paper.

So you can imagine how thrilling it was for me to finally see my book in print:)

Based on my experience, here are my tips on navigating the road to publication.

  1. Never give up
  2. If you believe in your story, be patient until you find someone else who believes in it too.
  3. Rework and rewrite your story until it’s the best it can be. Try not to think about how long it is taking. You usually only get once chance to submit to a publisher or agent so don’t blow it. Don’t send your manuscript off too early.
  4. Don’t lose sight of your vision for your story.
  5. Go to conferences so you can meet the publishers who actually publish your kind of story. But be strategic. Do your research. Find out who is publishing your kind of story and what conferences they are going to. Alternatively, if you have found a conference you like the look of, then research the delegates from that conference and find out which ones would be best to pitch to, or get an assessment from.
  6. Take advantage of manuscript assessment and pitch opportunities at conferences but only if they are with publishers or agents who you actually want to publish with – they need to be experienced in and have a love for your genre.  There’s no point in getting your fantasy novel assessed by a non fiction picture book writer.
  7. Do a professional writing and editing course. TAFE courses are particularly useful because the classes are usually taught by writers who are working in their field so you get lots of practical advice.
  8. Find a group of likeminded writers who will give you honest, constructive feedback on your work – writers who want the best for you so they will support you in a positive way.
  9. Read and read and read – particularly in the genre you are writing. Study the books you read – look at how other authors have written your favourite books. Why did you like these books? How did the author hook you in? How did the author keep you hooked? How did the author bring everything together for a satisfying resolution?
  10. Once your manuscript is ‘finished’ don’t send it out straight away. Put it aside for a couple of months and if you still love it when you get it out again, now could be the time to send it.

I hope you found these tips helpful. If you have other questions about my road to publication, please feel free to ask them in the comments section of this post.

If you have additional tips to share based on your road to publication, we’d love to hear them too.

Happy writing:)

Dee

Dee's book covers