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Sue Polson

Katrina McKelvey author

Writing for Children Part 4

By | News, Writing for Children

How do I find an illustrator? How do I find a publisher? How do I submit my manuscript to a publisher? by Katrina McKelvey

I get asked these questions all the time. Usually the person asking doesn’t realise there are whole courses and workshops written to answer them. They are HUGE questions with no simple answers. There are processes involved and a lot of work.

1) How do I find an illustrator?

Illustrators are assigned by the publisher unless you are self-publishing. The publisher wants to make sure the writing style and the illustration style match. Only very established authors get to ask for specific illustrators. And publishers like teams too. Libby Gleeson and Freya Blackwood, Jackie French and Bruce Whatley are a few examples. Kirrili Lonergan and I have worked on two books as an author illustrator team, Dandelions and Up To Something. This is wonderful for us as we can visit schools together and talk to kids about making picture books from both perspectives.

The publisher also works between the author and illustrator to bring the project together. The author and illustrator don’t generally directly talk to each other about the book they’re working on together unless it is via the publisher. Some authors and illustrators never meet or meet after their book is released. I knew Kirrili before we started in this industry. So, when we were contracted as a team for Dandelions, we were delighted, as new people don’t usually get to work on a project together when both are new to the industry. She would sneak photos of work in progress while she was illustrating our book. I would get so excited when they popped up on my phone. It was such a privilege to see these snippets as this doesn’t often happen in the industry. Once the book is handed over to the illustrator, the author has to step back during the next part of the project. They’re often brought back in after the illustrations are finished to check the text is still working and look for any final mistakes before the book is sent off for printing.

2) How do I find a publisher?

I’ve said this a few times during these articles now: do your homework. Not all publishers publish children’s books. But there are many ways to find the right publisher.

Look for a publisher’s Submission Guidelines on their website then bookmark that page (article 3). Follow these guidelines exactly. Note: not all guidelines are the same. If a publisher is closed for unsolicited submissions, DON’T send something to them. Instead, go and meet them at conferences and pay for a manuscript assessment. Then you can ask them if you can submit further work to them.

3) How do I submit to a publisher?

There are several ways:

Slush piles (direct and unsolicited)

Manuscript assessments during conferences (book via the conference)

Via an agent (but getting an agent to represent a children’s author is very difficult)

Solicited (invited directly via a conference or networking opportunity)

Twitter parties (yes, there is such a thing!)

Before submitting, there are a few things you need to do. These take time—so don’t rush your submissions.

  • Write a simple one-page cover letter. There is loads of information on the internet and in courses about this. If you don’t know the name of the commissioning editor, address it to, ‘Dear commissioning editor’.
  • Format your manuscript based on the submission guidelines of the publisher you are submitting to.
  • Write a synopsis and a pitch—can you write what your story it about in one sentence, three sentences, in 30 words, in two paragraphs? Practise these. There’s loads of information online and in courses about how to do this. This is not as easy as it sounds. And this can be done badly if the author hasn’t conducted some research into how to write a synopsis/pitch correctly. Also practise writing a blurb. This is different to a synopsis.
  • Track which publishers are open for submissions. See earlier article.
  • Enter writing competitions that give you feedback. This may give you an idea of whether you’re on the right track.

You can submit your manuscript to more than one publisher at a time but publishers would like to know whether your submission is in front of multiple publishers. And if you get picked up by a publisher before you’ve heard from all who you’ve submitted to, you must email them and let them know you’re withdrawing your submission. This is very important! Publishers spend a long time preparing to present possible manuscripts to a publishing team in acquisition meetings. If your manuscript is now unavailable you need to save them the time in preparing for these meetings.

After submitting:

  • Track your submissions—name of manuscript, name of publisher, were they via email or hard copy, who was the editor, what date did you send your submission, record date of any feedback, record any comments.
  • What do you do in the meantime?

Some publishers don’t offer any feedback and say if you haven’t heard from them in three months, it’s a ‘no’. Very informal I know, but they just don’t have the time. If you want feedback, pay for an assessment via a conference. In the meantime:

– write the next manuscript

– build your social media platform—own the title ‘author’.

– build and maintain a website

– write blogs

– support others

– read

– volunteer

After you believe you’ve exhausted all avenues and you still haven’t got that dream publishing contract, you can either put it in the bottom drawer, rewrite it based on any feedback you’ve been given, or let it rest and relook at it down the track.

Rejections are part of this exhausting process. They can be very confusing, disappointing, and upsetting. And most of the time you won’t know why you were rejected. But try not to take them personally. Publishing is a business.

I have always had the mantra, ‘If my stories aren’t good enough to compete with Jackie French, I don’t want my book on the shelf’. This is the attitude you need to get by in this tough industry. The rewards are worth it if you make it. Trust me!

Acceptances are so exciting. But I need to be a parent here. Not all contracts are the same. Some are extremely unfair and don’t have the author’s best interest in mind at all. If you are not a contract lawyer, and most of us aren’t, you can do several things. You can either become a member of the ASA and access their contract advice service and pay to have a professional contract lawyer let you know if it’s a good contract or not (https://www.asauthors.org/findananswer/contracts). The other thing you can do is complete a course about understanding contracts via the ASA or AWC. They don’t come up often and probably not when you need them most, but keep an eye out.

Do I need an agent? This is a personal question with no simple answer. The answer is yes and no. In Australia, you don’t necessarily need one. Many children’s publishers offer a slush pile or are accessible via conferences. But not all publishers have unsolicited slush piles. Some publishers only want submissions via agents. But getting an agent can be as hard as getting a publisher. This is a question that needs its own article. Look online and read relevant articles or listen to advice offered by agents at conferences.


So where am I in my journey now?

I am eight years in and I intend on continuing in this career for a lot longer yet. I have two picture books being released next year so I’m starting to plan those book launches.

I’m currently researching the structure of early chapter books—a new format for me. I’m also researching potential publishers. I’m hoping to have book 1 and 2 ready to submit by Christmas.

I’m a Littlescribe co-author. 

I’m writing four books for Macmillan Education Australia as part of their Snappy Sounds project. This has been challenging and rewarding. These books will be available in 2020. 

I love attending conferences and children’s events as a chair, panelist, or participant so I’m planning where I’ll go in 2020.

I’ll be writing more picture books and, of course, will continue to facilitate my writing group through the Hunter Writers Centre.

And I’ll be popping into schools doing author talks and writing workshops. Love these! I’m on several speaker’s agencies lists. To find out more, visit my website.

Hopefully I haven’t left you feeling overwhelmed by all this information. Work your way through it. You can’t get your writing career off the ground overnight. Everything takes time to develop including manuscripts, author platforms, branding, your writing style/voice, and your networks.

I can guarantee you one thing. If you put your heart and soul into this industry, you will be rewarded. But you can’t cheat. You have to work hard, learn, make mistakes, and continually pick yourself up and dust yourself off. But it will be worth it. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Have you got what it takes to be a children’s author too? If you’ve got the 6 Ps—patience, persistence, practise, perseverance, passion, and positivity then you’re ready to start.


Katrina McKelvey author

Katrina McKelvey is a children’s author with over ten years primary school teaching experience. She’s currently working on her first chapter book series while developing new picture book stories. She’s highly involved in the Children’s Book Council of Australia, literary conferences and festivals, and loves visiting schools. No Baths Week and Up To Something are Katrina’s recent publications, after her successful debut picture book, Dandelions. Two more picture books are coming in 2020. She loves chocolate but doesn’t like chocolate cake. She’s left-handed but plays sport right-handed. She loves tea, but dislikes coffee. Katrina lives in Newcastle, Australia with her family and a naughty puppy. Google her or visit her website: www.katrinamckelvey.com

Norway, where member blogger Kit Kelen is residing

Poetry Writing Part 1

By | News, Poetry

Professor Christopher (Kit) Kelen is a resident of Bulahdelah and he has travelled extensively around the world. He is a poet, painter and academic who has published a dozen full length poetry collections and translated books of poetry in several languages. Kit is Emeritus Professor at the University of Macau. Right now he is residing in a little farmhouse in Norway, 10kms from the internet. We asked him to blog about poetry and the writing process and he sent us this wonderful response:

a draft of the poem for the process 

here I am gathering lines from the track

(peripatetic, that is to say)

this is the draft

of the poem

of the process

of bringing the poem to be

(you’d have to read it though, to know

you couldn’t just guess

that the track is the way the words

fall on the page)

these are the secrets that give me away


often wake to the words

there because

must have thought in that direction

left for crumbs to collect in the night

for stones to shine

so to say

titles could come in anywhere

because the poem won’t yet know

if it’s beginning or ever will 

I follow phrases down into the page

improvise just on this theme

were they there already?

come steady from the rain as well

sometimes I come in with them dripping

even ironic sunshone

I work the shadows for a doubt

find a self folded into the text

also always there already

that’s the voice to run

salute to all doors 

feel free to rock gently

in throes of yoga too


the lines afoot  the effort in  the heart come racing till

in fear of where I am

and might be otherwise

smoke rising from my ears

a sign

and breathlessly up in the work

hold a mirror

show the world my way

catch rain in my compass for bung

I have a little radar

for the poem yet to spin

please don’t expect to understand

or dwindle me interpreting

where I’ve been bitten

there’s the rub

and one day they will say of him

trudge as far as he would come

third person that he is

lazy in the pages

climbing never quite arrived

but saw the peak from the queue

the rhythm of machinery was with this

and hear the footsteps - hot breath after

see them coming for the crown

I never had

I never wore

death of me this shroud

and red pen after

when I can’t correct

slow and steady

no one wins

go like the belled sheep

through my own words

four paws where the stone is dry

but here today the track again

and I so many rhythms

implausible insect of this day’s invention







reflect on my better qualities first

they’re all in the work and its making

and there is the goat self I come impassably to

my cooling system sky

all that masked

at least I try

see ants when I hear the rain

that’s for a lame foretelling

in dots

then stand in the forest’s coat

buy time

scribble at the fact

I drip myself

to dot the page

it’s any forest takes me up

to pour out just these words


cuckoo begins me on a tune

as any little wings would

and the rain is a forest as well

come to

slip away from thought

a trill

and nowhere

write my name

consider then how much rain to a poem

how many suns?

a puddle and not to flow

track makes itself as well

and trippingly

how much slipping with down?

sometimes there’ll be a creek run of vowel

come like an inkling to call


light instances

dream in the vision as such

and hear the sky’s increase

an image

smell the soil - one too

take the thing at a run

be the rhythm 
under own spell 


I am constructing the flower machine

and how many words till it’s said

crawl into these least and hide

here for my vanish

and how about you

now you’ve come along this far?

I’m telling this to no one

you see how far I’m gone


all this wander in my woods

you simply must try at home
Phil WIlliams HWC member Live reading at Newcastle Art Gallery Speaker at July 2019 to a full audience and art works

July 2019 Newsletter

By | News, Newsletter

First Tuesday Live Readings at Newcastle Art Gallery

Our inaugural Ekphrastic live reading was held last week.

23 pieces were heard and the judging was very challenging!

All the works brought the artworks alive.

Congratulations to Brian Noble, Nicole Sellers, Gail Hennessy and, people’s choice award winner, Jan Dean.

See upcoming dates and themes below

August – Tuesday 6th – acknowledging Grief Awareness month – share a poem or story about grief and loss

September – Tuesday 3rd – readings by you in response to the Kilgour Prize 2019 (opens August 3)

October: Tuesday 1st – readings by you in response to Robert Dickerson: Off the Canvas (opens August 24)

November: Tuesday 5th – readings by you in response to Wish You Were Here: landscapes from the collection

Seeking: Writing Group facilitator 

Maitland Writing Group

Meets: First Wednesday of the month 9-12

Are you interested in facilitating this group? You do not need to teach. You need to be a person with a big smile who makes newcomers feel welcome. Contact us if that is you. Maitland library is keen to host this HWC writing group to share your writing.

HWC Workshops

New Date – August

Saturday 3rd August

de Pierres - author

Self Publishing – an online course
Nigel George is offering a half-price special to all HWC members for his new self-publishing course.
Visit the Indie Publishing Machine course page, select the Australian Version, and enter the code HWCJULY50 at the checkout to save yourself nearly $100.
You’d better hurry though – the discount is only available until the end of July!

person's hand holding an iphone showing rows of books

HWC Blog

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Michael Tippett, writer


Our current blogger is member Professor Kelen
Thank you to our members who have blogged thus far

Australian Literature 
- by Susan Francis

Speculative Fiction
 - by HWC Spec Fic writers

Writing History
- by Christine Bramble

Crime Fiction 
- by Megan Buxton


Christine Bramble - staff member and blogger

HWC Member News

Anne Walsh HWC member

Member Anne Walsh is part of the amazing line up at Cuplet  July 11 – tonight!

Gail Hennessy and Jan Dean HWC members

Congratulations Jan Dean and Gail Hennessy who won awards at the HWC Live Reading at Newcastle Art Gallery

Congratulations, Nicole Rain Sellers and Brian Noble who won equal first at the HWC-NAG Ekphrastic live reading

Writing Opportunities and Events

Dying to Know Day – August 8th

An informative opportunity to see into the world of your local Cemetery & Crematorium. Learn about funeral planning, estate and wills and more.

Bookings Essential – RSVP to garry.bellenger@newcastlecrem.com.au

or call 4944 6000 Learn more


2019 Buzz Words Short Story Prize

Short story prize for adults writing for children

High Country Writers Retreat

Friday October 25 to Sunday October 27, 2019

2019 Writing NSW Grants Program

for regional writers 


2019 Aspiring Writers Mentorship Program

Open to picture book and junior fiction manuscripts. Entries close on 31 July

Odyssey House Victoria Annual Short Story Competition

1st prize $1000.


Closes Friday November 1st



HWC Writing Groups

Attendance is free as part of your membership. 
There are vacancies in most of our groups especially: Belmont and Teralba.
See the whole list in the Members Area
Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Australian Literature Part 4

By | Australian Literature, News

Different Voices: new and emerging writers – blog by Susan Francis

My relationship with Newcastle, the city of my birth, was always problematic. Years were spent away from the place. And now? Well, I have to admit, hand over my heart, I’m in love with it. I discover myself residing in the kind of community that facilitates and supports me in something fundamental to my life: my writing. Here, I engage with other authors, attend local workshops and live a life I’d always, in the folded recesses of my heart, somehow imagined. Despite the personal cost, I’m thankful I’m here. I’m thankful that writing was a love I held in reserve. Because the local writing community encouraged my first peek over the barricade of grief.

My debut book, a memoir, being published by Allen and Unwin, is due out early next year. It’s my tale of love, loss, secrets – it’s about finding identity. And most recently, several of my short stories have been shortlisted in Australian and overseas competitions. Some even published. These days, I’m always meeting promising local or established novelists, playwrights and poets. In Newcastle, I constantly feel like I’ve dived face first into a deep bowl of words.

Volunteering for the Newcastle Writer’s Festival began the journey. That year, I also met the indomitable Wendy James, joined a writing group and signed up for the Hunter Writer’s Centre. Three years later and I attend launches and workshops listening to resident shining lights like Barry Maitland, Keri Glastonbury, Ryan O’Neill, Claire Albrecht, Michael Sala, Jaye Ford and Jean Kent.

And all of a sudden, I’m an emerging writer. At 58! My first book to be published at 59! Who’d have thought? Australian literature, at a neighbourhood level, is a garden-fresh, fascinating experience.

Simultaneously, on the national stage, I watch a wave of Australian literature explode – with the relatively new voices of indigenous writers, women writers, disabled writers, the words of refugee Australians and LGBTQ+ writers. These composers now shift in the direction of the mainstream. Behrouz Boochani, a refugee writing from Manus Prison won two prizes this year at the Victorian Premier’s Literature awards. Carly Findlay’s memoir about growing up disabled challenges everyone who reads it, to see our Australian selves differently. Holly Ringland and Nigel Featherstone create worlds reflecting identities never written about before, never shared, never even acknowledged.

Thus, as an older, white, middle-class woman – I have to ask myself – what do I have to say that is new or even helpful?

When I began writing my book, I remember my late husband said, Suz, write about the love we share and the fact that we are older. Write about our adventures, the emotional and the intimate. He believed one of the remaining marginalised groups within Australian society was us.

So, what do I have to say? Because for a few years I did buy into the idea that I was no longer relevant. 

Surprisingly, I have much to say. I have a love discovered later in life to describe. I have grief to express. Images of homeless, elderly women to draw. Or that slumping you suffer under immovable menopausal weight; the creeping, loneliness of ageing; a search for a meaningful life when you live alone, and you’re limping into your sixties with asthma making it hard to breathe in the winter dark. I have the bravery and stoicism of my elderly mother to respect and write about. I have friendship to celebrate and coffee on Thursday mornings in Beaumont Street. I have the sunshine.

Ageing is a difficult, often painful subject to explore. Which is why, sometimes, people don’t like to hear or read about the matter. 

But what I’m learning as I grow older is actually something I’ve always understood – about the gift of identifying yourself on the page. When I recall being a young girl and discovering hope for my plain self because I read about other plain girls – that aha moment – that moment when reading made me realise I was not alone – that moment is equally significant now. 

Australian literature is no longer theoretical for me. Australian literature is alive and circling around me. It’s local. It’s real. And I’m a part of it. Australian literature. Does such a thing exist? Seems like an irrelevant question.


Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWCSusan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You can listen to that here:


Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

for love alone Christina Stead

Australian Literature Part 2

By | Australian Literature, News

Something Novel – Australian Novelists – blog by Susan Francis

In my mid-twenties I formed an attachment to an extremely astute young man: a poet who would invite me ice skating in Prince Alfred Park on Friday nights. Skating in the dark, beneath strings of fairy lights hung from the gum trees – there was nothing more magical. The swish of the blades cutting across the ice, the warmth of my hand held in his, it was all impossibly romantic. So, when the boy took pains to explain to me that he’d noticed every novel on my bookshelf was written by a woman, I experienced an epiphany of sorts. I remember trailing my finger along the spines: Stead, Lohrey and Lette. Ruth Park and Shirley Hazzard. Baynton and Bedford. Grenville and Franklin. There, too, the non-Australian fiction of Atkinson, the Brontes and French. Woolf, Lee and Lessing.

So when someone these days asks me that impossible question: what’s your favourite Australian novel, I make sure to mention Tim Winton. The lyrical descriptions of the Australian landscape discovered in Peter Temple’s crime fiction. Christopher Koch and the evocative picture he painted of Jakarta. I talk about Martin Boyd who has a favoured place stacked beside Peter Carey. There is Stow and Maitland and McGahan. These days my bookshelves hold a more even gender mix. But one thing still holds true; maybe a dirty secret of sorts? For an Australian novel to make it onto my top twenty, somewhere amongst the pages I like to recognise a reflection of a world I know or an individual who strikes a chord. I read Australian fiction to be assured I’m not the only player on the stage.

What’s your favourite Australian novel? I’m reluctant to alight on any one text because the range of Australian fiction is vast. The list is as long as our country is wide. And each work positively enunciates our poignant flaws. And I love that! Australian fiction informs so much about who we are, where we’ve been and where we’re going. But, if pressed, I admit, it is to Christina Stead’s novel, For Love Alone, that I always return.

Written in 1944, I studied this broad, brown land of a book for my Masters degree, drawn by Stead’s particular understanding of what it means to be an Australian woman. The book was panned by any number of academics for its introspectiveness and realist style. Many preferred the magic realism of The Man Who Loved Children. But when I read this book for the first time, I fell in love with the determined and homely Teresa. The link formed between this character and Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife was due to the values held by both: a shared focus on getting on with things and a singular toughness; a determination to make sense of the world around them. Hazel Rowley wrote in her biography: ” . . . Stead’s earliest memories were all associated with a sense of rejection, which she attributed to her physical unattractiveness. In all her stories about her childhood, she is acutely conscious of personal appearance . . .” And this, of course, is another reason I am so captivated by the book.

Melbourne University Publishing reissued the novel in 2011 and maintain: For Love Alone is the story of the intelligent and determined Teresa Hawkins, who believes in passionate love and yearns to experience it . . . [Stead] superbly evoking life in Sydney and London in the 1930s. 

 Soon, in 2020, my own book will be published. Yet another story of a plain, single-minded Australian woman who gives up everything to travel overseas, following the love of her life. And despite the tragedies and the awful revelations my journey revealed, there is a pattern I like here, a pattern I have only recently identified by revisiting Stead’s work. Independent, brave, raw. A little gauche. The Australian female protagonist who travels far to discover herself. She is a reflection of the landscape from where she originates. A reflection of her nation’s blunt, unattractive prejudices. A protagonist decided to succeed.

Recognising that woman, recognising myself, makes For Love Alone one of my favourite Australian novels.

Susan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You can listen to that here:


Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC
book cover of Seven Little Australians

Australian Literature Part 1

By | Australian Literature, News

Pages of Us – Introduction  – blog article by Susan Francis

Australian Literature. Does such a thing exist? That was the response from my Head Teacher at the UK school where I taught English. ‘Christina Stead . . .’ , I began to respond but, in the face of her hoots of incredulity, I stopped. Any feelings of inadequacy I may have been experiencing, in the face of teaching the English canon to the English, did not require further reinforcement.

Smarting as I was, my passion and my curiosity for our national literature never dimmed. To this day, I still become excited introducing Garner or Harrison or Winton to the students I tutor. My words speed up, my hands fly in front of my face because it is ‘us’. Us on the page. Us in the images. Us in the colloquial. ‘So what?’ they ask me. So what?

Growing up as a teenager in the 1970s in Newcastle was an uneasy time for me. Overweight and still wearing the cat’s eye glasses on trend at the time (there were no other options) my fit on the wide sandy plains of Nobby’s Beach was not organic. I don’t think I ever ‘fitted’. But I did find acceptance of myself in the books I read. There, between the pages, existed other plain girls, other girls who liked to read and found it difficult to make friends. I discovered my ‘unfitted self’ amongst the personalities and, therefore, I was. I was George in The Famous Five, I was Judy from Seven Little Australians, Laura from The Getting of Wisdom and Jo from Little Women. While these novels were chosen from various western cultures, the point is, through the reflection of my own character in those texts, I determined I wasn’t the only one who preferred a library to a netball court. And this of course is not an uncommon experience.

I draw the same analogy about our sunburnt nation. Our identity developed from and alongside the literature that reflected our unique environment, our vernacular and our irrepressible character. Charles Harpur, our first genuine Australian poet, who lived for more than a decade in the Hunter Valley, is renowned for being the earliest writer creating images inspired by the Australian landscape. John Miller writes he was ‘the only poet of the time who achieves an original Australian voice’. While other poets imagined nymphs and the green rolling hills of the old country, Harpur deliberately wrote what he saw.

The other legend to whom I believe we owe so much is Henry Lawson. Perhaps now out of fashion, he is undoubtedly the poet who, for me, best tries to capture the spirit of the early settlers. His beautiful and profound depiction of the resilient drover’s wife, who alone ‘rode nineteen miles for assistance, carrying [her] dead child’, still quietens the 21st century noise around me. Reading Lawson’s work reminds me of how tough it was in Australia not long ago and from where our empathy for the underdog originates. But more than that, these early Australian writers placed us on the page and provided every European Australian the opportunity to be. The magnificent aspect of reading is that, as F. Scott Fitzgerald says, ‘you discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.’ So, for a country as isolated as we are, our own literature is profoundly important.

Of course I cannot finish without stating that the mirror Australian literature holds up for me is different to the First Australians’ experience or the experience of those living with a disability or the LGBTQIA experience. And I do not attempt to represent that experience. But I can begin to hope that, for all Australians, our literature starts to reflect more varied experiences because accepting oneself partly requires recognising oneself on the page.

Identity is linked inextricably to Australian literature.

Susan Francis , blogger, member of HWC

Susan Francis’ memoir is to be published by Allen and Unwin and will be available early next year. She discussed a brief part of this book on ABC Conversations. You an listen to that here:  https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/susan-francis-rpt/10467926

Susan has been published in various anthologies, most recently The Newcastle Short Story Award 2019. Her work has been short and long listed for competitions around Australia, including the E.J. Brady Award and the Margaret River competition. Susan has a Masters Degree in Australian Literature and a half finished PhD sitting in her garage. She is a former High School English teacher. Susan is currently working on her second book.

person's hand holding an iphone showing rows of books

Spec Fic Writing Pt 4

By | News, Speculative Fiction

SpecFic for Fun and Profit

I’ve never bought into the genre writing vs. literary writing argument, because it doesn’t take too much research to find out which side makes most of the money.

You can’t eat accolades after all.

If you want to make a living from your writing, you have always had a better chance as a genre writer. But, until a few years ago, it was still only a slim chance.

If you are still pursuing the traditional publishing avenue, that slim chance is now next-to-no chance, as the sheer volume of work being submitted to the gatekeepers (publishers and agents) has got to the point that even high quality work doesn’t make it through the slush pile.

Yet the reports say that speculative fiction (SpecFic), especially science fiction and fantasy, are experiencing a renaissance; that more SpecFic writers are making a decent living than ever before.

So why the contradiction – why is it even harder to get published, but more and more authors are making a good living?

There isn’t a contradiction in my view – the renaissance is merely the traditional publishing world finally recognising what has been going on for about 10 years now – independent publishers have not only stolen the keys to the kingdom, but they have run away with the crown jewels too!

For clarity, an independent publisher, or indie, is a professional who self publishes their books either under their own name or through a publishing business they own. Not to be confused with the myriad small publishers who publish the work of multiple authors.

Indies account for half of all online book sales. In 2017 that added up to 113 million unit sales of digital books (eBooks) in North America alone. The so-called Big 5 (Random House et al.) were a distant second with 26% of total unit sales.

Of all the authors who debuted in the last five years, four out of every five authors making a decent living from their writing are indies.

Why is this?

The top reason is the difference in profit. Because indies cut out all the middlemen and sell direct to readers, royalties are much higher. In the science fiction and fantasy genre in 2018, the Big 5 publishers were ahead of the indies in terms of total dollar sales (41% vs. 35%), but the indies were taking home a whopping 3 – 4 times as much money as their traditionally published brothers and sisters.

Money isn’t everything, of course, your writing still has to be fun.

This is where I believe the true renaissance is. SpecFic writers have always explored the boundaries of the known (science fiction), dug deep into our psyches (horror and supernatural) and taken off into the realms of the impossible (fantasy).

Traditional publishing has always struggled with SpecFic, because much of the really good stuff is very hard to massage into a financial spreadsheet.

Indies have no such constraint. We can fly the depths of our imaginations without fear of what a publisher might think – we only have to care about what readers like. We don’t have to worry about shifting 10,000 units in the first week to cover our massive overheads, we just upload our book and start the next one. We don’t see numbers on a royalty statement every three months, we get to chat to real people every day; readers who are as passionate about our writing as we are. We get to make a living, and our readers get to read what they love.

We get to have fun.

And we all profit.



Nigel George is a traditionally published author turned successful indie publisher. He splits his time between writing and self-publishing fiction and non-fiction books and teaching other authors how to become successful indie publishers. You can find him at indiepublishingmachine.com

picture of dragon

Spec Fic Writing Pt 3

By | News, Speculative Fiction

Writing mythic spec fic: 6 tips

You’re setting off on an epic quest. You plan to slash through jungles, slay monsters, summon storms, and conquer civilisations. But how do you get your readers to follow you? With a powerful story to capture and sustain their interest, they’ll happily share your journey. To help you pack, here are my favourite tips.

  • Sharpen your archetypes

Fantasy and folk tales buzz with magical archetypes that reflect common values (like angels) and taboos (like devils). Most readers instantly recognise a little girl in a red cloak wandering through a forest as vulnerable.

Universal symbols like towers, swords, and magic beans can trigger emotions and tie a story’s themes together. They can also serve as prompts for your plot, setting, and characters.

  • Careful where you aim that thing

Weaving archetypal themes and motifs into my writing adds oomph, right?

Well, yes, but don’t get heavy-handed. Loaded weapons are risky, and most potent when waved around vaguely as a threat, not fired gung-ho. So apply your archetypes sparingly. Add your own unique spin. And don’t mix your metaphors (I admit, this one’s tricky). 

  • Morph your monsters

Warning! In the treasure-house of symbolism lurks the monster cliché. Hackneyed themes and overused archetypes must be challenged. Keep your creatures quirky.

Sometimes all it takes to invert a well-known trope is a little twist, a refreshing slice of lemon in your story spritzer, like the trickster lioness in my Leo zodiac story Safari Blonde. Other times, extensive changes to the trope are necessary. Either way, upending the story makes it far more interesting.

  • Play God

Should I retell an old myth, or write a new one?

Rewriting might be simpler but call for more research. World-building from scratch might be more fun, but ground it in reality. I’m finding the eco-religion in my novel-in-progress doesn’t work without referencing real religions. I guess even God needs source material!

Mythology opens windows to the past. Writing alternate history allows huge creative license as long as you stay in factual boundaries. Skating these windowsills requires balance, but it sparks infinite possibilities.

  • Pull up your pantheons

I think of gods and goddesses as personified archetypes, each with a character and backstory. The sheer diversity of world deities and pantheons means options galore. My newest story involves the Celtic goddess Brigantia, who later became Saint Brigid.

One way to liven things up is to set a traditional myth or deity in a contemporary world, à la popular superhero movie. In my story The Halo Effect, the Greek god Morpheus and the Morpheus character from The Matrix help a drug dealer change his ways.

  • Plant the magic beans

Spec fic writers are uniquely placed to tackle big questions through myth and allegory, point out social inequalities, explore the past or future, and find magic in the mundane.

Embed an archetype in your plot, character, or setting, and watch your story grow into something fresh. When mythology, history, romance, adventure, and spirituality sprout a lush tale, that’s my idea of fiction heaven. What more could a reader ask for?

Nicole Sellers received a gold star from her primary school principal for a one-page sci-fi story about an underwater city. She went on to study creative writing at UOW, majoring in poetry. While raising children she earned a living as a tarot reader, massage therapist, herbalist, and yoga instructor, and continued to write. Nicole’s poems and articles have appeared in Plumwood Mountain, Spiral Nature, International Light, the anthology Grieve 6, and elsewhere. Her novella was recently shortlisted for publication in Aussie Speculative Fiction’s Drowned Earth series. Patchwork Raven will release her zodiac-themed story as an illuminated manuscript in August, and she is a contributor to the forthcoming Story Hunters speculative fiction anthology. Nicole facilitates the HWC Belmont creative writing group. To find out more about her work, visit https://www.nicolerainsellers.com/

Nicole Sellers, HWC member
Book cover 'Fire In the Veins'

Spec Fic Writing Pt 2

By | News, Speculative Fiction

Putting the characters in the driver’s seat by Graham Davidson

Why be a control freak when you can let your characters drive the story for you? 

Put a group of Spec fiction writers together and they’ll often get caught up in the Pantsers versus Plotters debate. For those unfamiliar with the argument, Pantsers generally start with a setting and some basic characters, then make up the story as they go with no idea how it will end till they get there. Plotters on the other hand will meticulously plan their story, with a clear picture of the story’s conclusion before they put pen to paper. Both methods are as valid as each other, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. Yet one thing I’ve found most Pantsers and Plotters agree on is that their characters should have free rein to drive the story.

So, why is this one area where two such diametrically opposed approaches find common ground?

The answer is simple. Getting to know your characters is like getting to know people in the real world. No matter how much you analyse them beforehand, it’s not until you see them interact with others and face difficult situations that you know how they’ll react. For me, discovering how characters are going to react to a given situation, and what little secrets they may have hidden, is one of the great joys in writing. An example that comes to mind from my recent Witches of the Cross-worlds middle grade novel, Hunter, is a gravedigger named Sean O’Malley. After a pauper’s funeral presided over by one of the novel’s central characters, the Reverend Alfred Casey, the priest rides off leaving O’Malley to fill the grave. As soon as the priest is out of sight O’Malley jumps into the grave and steals the dead man’s shoes, something I hadn’t planned or expected… it just seemed to happen. O’Malley went on to become one of the central characters in the book; a portrait of self-serving, evil intent.

When sitting at the keyboard it’s as though I’m observing and chronicling an unfolding story. At the start of a scene I’ll play the director; making sure everyone’s where they should be, and that the mood is right. I might put words into one character’s mouth to begin with, but after that it’s time to sit back and let the imagination run free with how the characters respond to situations and interact with each other. Meanwhile, I madly try to write it down while it remains fresh in the mind’s eye. When writing dialogue, this means skipping all attribution until the conversation is finished. You can always add tags where needed later.

The rewards are many when characters do or say something unexpected… like O’Malley stealing the dead man’s shoes. This is often when I’ll decide to end the scene, even if my original intention had been to carry it on for longer.

When a character’s actions or words take the writer by surprise, you can feel confident it will do the same for the reader. And that will keep them turning the pages to see what other surprises may lie in wait for them.


Spec Fic Writing Pt 1

By | News, Speculative Fiction

Take Us To Your Reader by Michael Tippett

Let’s address the oliphaunt in the room, shall we?

Speculative fiction is finally getting the respect it deserves.

Not too long ago there was a stigma attached to being a genre writer—more so if you huddled under the ‘spec-fic’ umbrella of horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

Thankfully, all this is changing. Speculative fiction is pushing into the mainstream.

Some would argue it’s been doing so for years.

Long before a certain boy wizard came out of a cupboard under the stairs, Shakespeare was writing about ghosts, fairies, and witches. Shelley penned the nightmare vision of her modern Prometheus over two centuries ago. Then there was Kafka, Huxley, Orwell, and—in recent times—the likes of Atwood and McCarthy. All these literary giants have lent their weight to genres that some would proclaim as escapist fiction.

I get that change doesn’t always come easy. No doubt there are still readers who regard speculative fiction as nothing more than cheap entertainment; just as there are those who deem literary fiction to be pretentious or elitist. Personally, I’ve never bought into this tired debate.

But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered ditching elves and orcs in pursuit of literary esteem. I tried it during last year’s NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.

After two stages of intense competition, those of us who made it through to the final round had just 24 hours to write our crowning piece. Unlike previous rounds where random genres were assigned, we now had the freedom to choose our own. I decided to do my homework.

Reading through the winning stories from previous years, it became obvious that most of the pieces had a literary bent. I can do literary, I remember thinking. Something poignant, profound. Perhaps a dysfunctional family saga with a metaphorical title?

I had a solid game plan. But when Round 3 started, I was feeling uninspired and miserable. This lasted for the first few hours until, in a fit of frustration, I ditched the literary angle and went with a story I wanted to tell: a horror piece set during an alien invasion. It felt liberating to go this way, even though I was bummed that I had blown any chance of placing in the competition. So, imagine my utter disbelief when I was later informed that I had taken first place.

I learned a great deal from this. It was recognition. Validation. Not just for me as a writer, but also for the genres I love. For the tales of rocket ships and strange planets. For monsters lurking under our beds or inside our hearts. For post-apocalyptic landscapes ravaged by zombies / robots / plague / climate change.

Speculative fiction has earned its seat at the adult table. Yes, it can be cheap entertainment (don’t make that sound like a bad thing), but I also believe it has the power to explore the human condition as deeply as any literature…even if the characters themselves happen to be somewhat more—or less—than human.

Michael’s short story, Cherub, won the Hunter Writers Centre Members’ Prize and People’s Choice Award in the 2015 Grieve Project. He was also a top ten finalist in NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2017 and winner of NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2018.

Michael Tippett, writer