Sure! I am Christchurch born and bred and I love living here in New Zealand. I find nature very inspiring and the openness of the Canterbury Plains and the forested, hilly seascapes of Banks Peninsula have influenced my writing, as well as that feeling you get as a Kiwi of being at the very edges of the earth. I grew up curious, loving to learn new things, dreaming vividly, reading avidly, and longing to travel to all the wonderful places in the world I could only experience imaginatively. Once I did a little of that and settled back in Christchurch, it was a pleasure to go places again on paper and get back to my writing roots. I’ve been writing stories ever since I could pick up a pen and I’m currently working to complete several novels and short stories.
Has your knowledge of literary analysis affected your writing style?
Yes, absolutely. I consider my undergraduate and postgraduate literary degrees as an apprenticeship in the craft of literature. For me, as much as writing is about simply loving stories, it is also about loving the craftsmanship of creating them. Being trained in literary analysis taught me a lot about how stories are crafted, and this has helped me to be intentional as well as instinctive in my writing.
Has your knowledge of literary analysis influenced your reading habits?
You have published a number of retold fairy tales, but with a distinctly unique twist. What draws you to rewriting fairy tales?
You took the independent approach to publishing your novellas. How did you find the process and would you recommend it?
It took a little bit to get my head around the process at first, but once I figured things out it became straightforward and easy to reproduce. I wouldn’t recommend independent publishing to authors who are looking for a large (especially mainstream) audience, unless they are willing to invest in their own marketing campaign. But if you have a niche market or a story (or collection) that is unlikely to get picked up by a traditional publisher, then I think it’s a great way forward.
What advice do you have for other writers?
Recently, the Christchurch Writers’ Guild held their first ever annual awards dinner. As part of the awards, our members were invited to share snippets of their writing. This is just one of the extracts that graced the imaginations of our membership.
This snippet was submitted by
Jessica Colvin for consideration for the Bloody Quill, stories about death scenes.
Once Were Angels
By Ami Hart (aka, Jessica Colvin)
Extract from her current Work in Progress
WARNING: CONTAINS GRAPHIC VIOLENCE
Odez pleaded with her silently for a moment, then whispered “Sam…” as his hand stole beneath the heavy coat. She froze at the mention of her real name, her face turning a deathly pallor. When Odez’s fingers touched the hilt of that finely carved bone knife, his strength of purpose flooded back and doubt fled.
I need this. There it was, justification in grave-digging spades.
“Please forgive me, but soon you’ll see. All this is necessary.” He drew the bone dagger with deliberate care. The alabaster blade seemed to glow with a light of its own in the dim room. Silence reigned and in that moment nothing else existed, just this room, her, him and the moment to come. An inevitable juncture loaded with dread and promise, blood and blessing.
Sam’s gaze trapped his— twin barrels, ready to fire— but she said nothing. Accepting her fate? That was when Odez felt a foreign, invasive presence and its sudden arrival threatened to syphon away what courage he had. A war drum raged in his chest and part of him simply wanted to run.
They were here already?!
He was out of time. If he didn’t do it now, she would be damned. He couldn’t let that happen to another one.
Odez stepped forward, lifting the weapon to strike. His action accompanied by Sam’s sharp intake of breath, a startled finality, one last gasp. Her eyes narrowed, drilling hatred at the weapon in his hand. He spoke the sounds, the song that would unbind hidden things. The resonance of his voice reverberating the air, the voice of an angel— stolen for this dark purpose. When he drove that point down she caught his arm.
Odez baulked at the sudden resistance, his face twitching in surprise. Sam’s grip was deceptively strong, even when the point of his blade jagged her arm, drawing a steady line of scarlet which spotted the front of her gown.
The window behind them rattled in its frame. He dared not divide his attention – maybe it was just the wind— no likely not.
He strained against her, his body cording with the effort. The knife’s mean tip inching down toward Sam’s sunken, sickly chest. Her desperate nails dug into his wrist while her ocean-wild eyes pleaded. If she had been able speak he imagined she might say: I don’t want this, I don’t want to die. The usual mantra of the death-bed where the biological imperative went about its urgent, final business. The fear of the unknown, the fear of becoming nothing, the forever-black that lurked behind one’s eyelids.
“Let go. You need to let go of this life.” He grunted.
The tip touched the front of her gown, an over-washed hospital grey stained with desperate patches of vitality. Just like this reality. It’ll never be clean again. The Great-See had tried to address the disarray but reality was inherently messy, biologicals were messy, and free-will made it messier. He leaned in closer, putting his weight over the knife. That was when her free hand found his face, striking him hard. Odez’s head snapped to the side and her nails raked his skin. Then those same punishing fingers groped beneath his chin, pinching deep as if seeking to strangle him, stoppering air that he didn’t actually need.
Changing tack, Odez levered the knife sideways. The shift in momentum weakened her grip allowing him to angle the bone knife round, down and right into her side. Her blue green eyes watered and the age-lined face tightened with agony, twisting a mouth already enraged by defeat. He drove the knife deeper up between her ribs until the fine long tip reached her heart. Only then did he dare rasp, “It is done, it is done,” the words lacking his usual musical resonance.
Her grip around his neck slackened and he felt a peculiar sensation as her half-aware fingers traced the underside of his jaw. When her hand fell down with graceful finality she blinked slowly. Her eyes zeroed in and out of focus, from him—that murderous blot in her vision— to somewhere else, faraway.
Then something he hadn’t prepared for occurred. He felt the stutter of her dying heart, fluttering frantic like a butterfly stuck in a jar. Infinite black edges ringed his vision, while a deep pain ground within his own chest. It was all there, the harsh-cut reflection of what he’d done including the cold but simultaneously searing burn of the knife within, lodged deep against a background of screaming nerves and sundering cells. Odez struggled against it. Panic burst up and he cried out at the same moment that she whispered her last. The room swayed, swimming in pain, until it all flowed away, like a whirlpool were pulling it down to some black place. Sam’s strength was gone, her eyes had lost their focus, the ocean that they were, becoming still. Two, no, three deep gasps and that last exhale just kept going out and out, forever to its end
Odez was breathless as he pulled the knife from her body, hand trembling. A vital sickening warmth followed as the knife exited, flooding over his hand. He looked down stunned by the murder-redness of it.
It is done — those words fast losing their meaning in the face of the horror he had just experienced.
How? What was she?
About the author:
Ami Hart is the pen name for Jessica Colvin. She is a writer, artist, and mother of two from Christchurch, New Zealand. She lives in two worlds: one being post-quake Christchurch and the other is a fantastical place where dragons and space ships soar, sometimes side by side.
Ami is a member of SpecficNZ and the Christchurch Writers Guild. She has had several short stories published in various anthologies and is currently writing a fantasy novel. She blogs about her writing adventures here: http://www.amilibertyhartwriter.com/
Jessica Colvin is a writer, artist, and mother of two from Christchurch, New Zealand. She writes under the pen name Ami Hart and lives in two worlds: one being post-quake Christchurch and the other is a fantastical place where dragons and space ships soar, sometimes side by side.
Ami is a member of SpecficNZ and the Christchurch Writers Guild. She has had several short stories published in various anthologies and is currently writing a fantasy novel. She blogs about her writing adventures here: http://www.amilibertyhartwriter.com/
Can you please tell us a bit about your NaNoWriMo history? How many have you participated in, and how many times have you succeeded?
I started the NaNoWriMo journey in 2012 and haven’t missed a year since. I have also done Camp NaNoWriMo 6 times and met the word goal I set each time.
As a veteran NaNo Writer, what are some of your previous stories?
Liberty: The Fragile Empire, (Science Fantasy). Utopia Lost (Science Fiction), The Final Battle (Fantasy). All these novels are still in revision.
Why do you regularly participate in NaNo?
I liked the idea of the challenge and wanted an excuse to start the sequel to my first fantasy novel (still in edits). The forced deadline helps train me to be more productive as a writer.
How much preparation do you do in advance?
Not a huge amount. The characters and the world details form in my head, whizzing around helter-skelter, fluid and changeable right up to the point I start typing the first draft. Those few ideas I’m able to nail down firm I jot down in notebooks beforehand.
Would you like to tell us a bit about your 2015 NaNo project?
The working title is “Severed Wings/ Neon Dreams”. It’s an urban paranormal fantasy and is a collaborative project with my sister (she’s an illustrator). We were going to insert graphic novel elements/panels at the beginning of each section/ or chapter.
The story is centred around an elderly woman named Sam. Sam is dying of cancer, unmercifully slow. She accepts her fate, believing it’s what she deserves after the type of life she’s led. In this final twilight stage of her life she receives an 11th hour visitor. She never gets visitors, people with redacted pasts rarely do. This visitor in question sets about changing her life, or rather, her death forever. The problem is Sam hasn’t known any other life and certain lethal habits are hard to break.
Can you please describe your writing process; how do you fit NaNo into your daily routine?
I write whenever I get the chance. Generally when the kids are at school, sometimes in the evening (although my brain usually closes up shop by 8:30). Occasionally I brave an early morning writing session in the hope that I might get some done before the kids wake up.
I like to write uninterrupted for at least an hour. I only resort to outlining when I am stuck, even then they are brief, loose notes. I enjoy discovering the story as I write it—it’s much more exciting that way. Word sprints are my life savers, the 20-30 minute bursts can really get those words flowing.
Do you have a preferred “writing space”? If so, what about it makes it ideal for your project?
I have the office space in my room, but I like going out to libraries or cafes. There are often too many distractions at home, like animals, housework and baking.
Do you have any tips or tricks for coping with writer’s block?
Create a loose outline for the next chapter.
Showering (maybe the mystical shower portal will speak its warm glowy wisdom)
Music (and sometimes dancing)
If all that fails then I’ll skip the scene completely and go to a scene that I am excited about.
Thank you Jessica/Ami! Best of luck with your NaNo 2015 success.
What is Tuesday Nightowls?
NightWriters. Nightowls. We’ve gone through a few name changes, but still ultimately the same thing. So what is Tuesday Nightowls you ask? It is essentially a regular social gathering of Guild members as well as any other budding writers whom wish to engage with other writers in a friendly, casual atmosphere.
What do you do in these Tuesday Nightowl gatherings?
You can write, you can talk or just sit and people watch over a cup of coffee. Having space to write is important for any writer and it is ensured that there is space available regularly for those that need it, and don’t mind the active café atmosphere. Conversations, while they will draw you away from writing time, can be quite helpful in the creative process. Brainstorming over ideas, problem solving over a writers block, or lamenting the woes of publishing, a helpful ear is but a booth away. With a growing number of Nightowls, there is a wide range in resource to help. We do have one rule though; if they’re in the writing zone, don’t bug them too much. Good thing we set aside two booths so one can happily write, while the other can happily converse.
Who organises it?
The Christchurch Writers’ Guild, though specifically Chris Yee is the one that manages the Nightowls. You can enquire for contact details, however the best way to get in touch with him is through the Guild Facebook group.
Where and when do they happen?
The Tuesday Nightowls meet from 7pm until late at Bush Inn Coffee Culture, so writers can come in and leave at any time they please. There may be times when we shift venue, and this is usually communicated at least a week beforehand. To find the booths we’ve booked, look for the sign with the Guild logo on it. Or the group with many a laptop open.
How did this idea come about and how long has it been going on?
This came about as an idea between myself (Chris Yee) and a fellow guild member, Shelley Chappell after finding that the Monthly Guild meetings left quite a gap in between socialising and up to date news on the literary world. Evenings were the best choice for those that work during the days, so deciding which day would work best for everyone proved to be a bit of a puzzle. Through a stroke of serendipity, a mysterious writer appeared in the Canterbury Writers Meet-Up advertising for a regular meeting to occur on Tuesday evenings. After a bit of digging around to the location of Addington Coffee Co-Op, it seemed that this was outside of the trading hours (this was before I knew you could book it in for evening use), and so the first Write-In occurred on February 18th, 2014, in Riccarton Starbucks with a total of four showing up. With testing of various venues over the following couple of months until we settled on our regular nest, it has been continuing on strong since. One night we had 12 people trying to vie for seating! These days we average between six to eight, but there are always new people showing up.
Due to its popularity, East Side Writers had been formed to accommodate for those that could not make it to Riccarton in the evenings, as well as allow those with time in the mornings to have that much needed social engagement and writing space.
Chris Yee is our Treasurer. He has studied animation and worked as a game developer. Currently he tutors at the Yoobee School of Design, and for the Imagination Station (Lego!). He also, of course, writes!
Chris, can you please tell us a little more about yourself (and your creative endeavours)?
As mentioned, I teach Film, Video and Animation at ACG Yoobee School of Design, though to say my creative endeavours are restricted to motion graphics is a bit of a misnomer. Storytelling for me has always been an ongoing endeavour. I would probably go so far to say that it is something humans have had since the dawn of time, but I digress. While perhaps being something I’ve been doing for a long time, it was by no means a successful one as yet. I am quite bad at coming to conclusions, finishing off the story in a satisfactory way. I’ve read various literature in my youth, ranging from Sci-Fi notables such as Carl Sagan and Michael Crichton, to really cheesy titled books such as ‘Only You Can Save Mankind’, which ironically may have been my first introduction to Terry Pratchett. When the only storytelling ended up being in the form of mostly schoolwork, which at the time to me felt greatly restrictive, it took a back seat from the remainder of my studies. Then, sometime in 1999, I was approached by someone on ICQ (yes, this was THE chat messenger in those days), offering what was best described as text based role playing in the vein of a Star Trek theme. Intrigued at this I signed up, going through the processes and protocols of IRC (Internet Relay Chat, effectively real time forum chat rooms) and just fell in love with it. It was essentially being an actor, a screenplay-writer and a director all at the same time. Improvisation was key in being able to work with the stories created by the person in charge of running the Sim (short for Simulation). For a number of years I forged lifelong friendships and somewhat improved my ability to tell stories in a dynamic atmosphere. This real time, present tense scriptwriting eventually moved on to a past tense prose as it moved to a non real time format which has pushed my motivation to write in this way. A few years on I had become intrigued at the growing market of digital film-making, applying and studying at Natcoll Design Technology (now Yoobee School of Design) in 2006. Studies into the practical application of storytelling in a audiovisual medium helped me gain an understanding of how these aspects enhance written media in general, pushing me further to create fun and engaging stories. My road to writing has been a rocky and tumultuous one, but I still keep going with the help of friends and family who support my endeavour, and while I still regard this as a casual activity, I know it will lead to something greater.
Game development was an amazing experience. While I was brought on solely as an Artist, I moved up to the role of Technical Artist, in that I had to deal with technical and programming issues to ensure that the art side of things were consistent in the vision of the game producer. If not, then I’d find ways to get it working. Problem solving and analytical processes were something I was known for, and typically aren’t traits a creative artist possesses initially. It was sad to move on from this, but it has lead to other opportunities and can be something I can always return to.
Recently, at least this year of 2015 I had been approached to teach Stop Motion movies using Lego for the Imagination Station based in Christchurch. This was quite an engaging endeavour as it put two of my favourite things together (Film and Lego) to help kids of all ages explore storytelling aspects in a visual format as well as teaching them to understand some technical aspects of film-making. While teaching at Yoobee has now taken up the time I typically had for teaching at the Imagination Station, this has expanded significantly in teaching material with others taking up the mantle and I fully expect it to continue amazingly in the future.
How does telling a story via visual media (such as animation) differ from telling a story via written media?
In what ways are they similar?
The way that visual media communicates ideas and concepts lies in its delivery. While written media communicates various ideas over time, movies for instance provide additional depth to it in the form of an audiovisual sensory experience. In a lot of ways this can condense a lot of the material given; a lengthy descriptive exploration in a book can be represented by a brief scene of imagery in a movie. A conversation between characters is now enhanced by their body language, their tone of voice, and the cinematography. In short, this application of storytelling opens up a whole new realm of artistic expression. Structurally, they are no different; they more often than not have a three act structure, with inciting incidents, rising tension, a climax, falling tension, and denouement. These are the core aspects that make up a good story in any form and will most likely never change.
When writing for the visual, how do you portray a character’s personality?
Personality aspects in a visual medium can, at base level show up in their expressions, their body language and typically how they compose themselves in any given situation, as from a film-makers perspective, actors have to be able to portray any personality the writing and direction call for. Their appearance, clothing etc can be great visual indicators of their base personality, but that’s all surface and in most cases can only communicate where they’ve been. Who they really are, their past, their experience goes so much deeper.
Good thing though, when indicating in a script you can actually say ‘Bob is sad’. It’s up to the actor or animator to interpret this based on the context and scene and express these emotions accordingly via body language and facial expression. Scriptwriters have to be as concise as possible as they cannot fill the script up with endless description. The only section you can go to town on is Dialogue.
What genres do you prefer to work in? Who/what are your inspirations?
Science fiction has always been my staple, but I have been toying with other genres to see if I could do them. Two Science Fiction authors that I’ve been a fan of for a long time are Peter David and Dan Abnett. They write in a way that feels real, as in they’re not all super human types, just normal people thrust into a particular situation and deal with it accordingly, be it war, politics or the pawns of gods. For Fantasy, I still have my sizeable collection of Terry Pratchett. The dry humour is what caught me, and following along with the vein of ‘ordinary people caught in extraordinary situations’, I’ve been more interested in the Nightwatch story arcs, as well as other stories based in the City of Ankh Morpork.
Can you tell us a little about your writing processes/habits?
If you ask any writer, they will typically say they work in complete isolation, absolute quiet and zero distractions. I can work just fine with two of those, and ignore the distractions, unless something really interesting is being discussed. By that point however, the writing time has been sunk but it is often not without knowledge gained. I much prefer writing in the company of others, preferably other writers so as not to leave others in a non communicative state. Noise of all sorts, whether random music, cafe banter, or even a bustling airport terminal, I can easily zone all these sounds out to a indecipherable hum. However, I require these random noises, possibly to occupy my auditory senses so that the rest of my brain can focus, akin to distracting the attention starved child so that some amount of work can be done within an allotted time.
I will say that Scrivener has helped with my organising of my story materials immensely. For those that don’t know, Scrivener is a piece of writing software that aids in providing structure to various projects. I don’t spend too long on this process at the start, but it does help keep story, research and other bits & pieces separate, whilst at the same time having them easily accessible for reference.
And of course, nothing starts the process better than a steaming cup of fresh coffee.
How do you go about creating the worlds that your stories are set in?
Worlds, strangely enough, are one of the first things I start creating as it helps me understand what sort of events and characters will exist. In most cases, at least to date anyway, I create worlds that work for humans as well as any other races and/or alien life forms. With this in mind, a traditional Earth type, terrestrial world works. If this is early on in the story arc, then visualising set pieces to fit the story works for me as a lot of the world isn’t fully formed at this point, so I can be as flexible as I need to be if they help move the story forward. But as I expand the story, I develop town names, cities, nations, politics and so on. These things which I set in place, I make note of in my research files so that my world can remain consistent the more I reveal about it. Whether I describe an entire mountain range for the sake of blowing it up (and seeding plot points for later stories), developing an industrial society, or simply describing the onset of a magical infection that can transform life into something more terrifying, I take great care in cataloguing and integrating these moments and changes as the stories progress.
What advice do you have for anyone who might wish to create their own short animation, game or book trailer?
Have a plan. A good story, while having at minimum an outline, can be as flexible and random as anything. However the technical aspects that go behind the construction process of telling said story has to follow a good, solid plan if there is a deadline to meet. From concept to storyboarding, visual cues and even interactive prompts help guide and give direction to the material, so that all aspects are cohesive. With games, you take on board the story elements and integrate them smoothly with the gameplay elements. While some of the most popular games out there alternate between these two, it is in my mind not the best way to tell stories within a game environment. To use it effectively, the player not only has to be a part of the story, but also help drive the narrative and be invested in the actions they choose to take. This is a long and arduous task for a developer, which leads me back to how you must have an effective plan and solid research into the application of sensory experiences for animations and trailers, and interactivity for games. All this aids in seamless integration into the art of storytelling. Oh and one other thing; have fun while doing it. If you’re not having fun creating it, then you probably won’t enjoy reading, watching or playing it either.
Judy Mohr is the newly-elected Secretary for the Christchurch Writers’ Guild – having translated and transcribed screeds of legalese for us – and has also conceptualised and began plotting her dark fantasy opus. This begins with Beacon of Hope for which she has elected to take the traditional publishing path.
So, Judy, can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always made up stories. As a child, I would spend hours with a tape recorder making up plays for my Barbies to act out. (Yes, I’m really that old.) I have always expressed my thoughts into written form. I kept a diary in my teen years. I wrote poems and lyrics to songs in my late teens, early twenties, and spent far too many hours hiding from the real world in the bowels of a dark theatre somewhere, often on-stage singing and dancing. But while studying for my PhD, I needed to find another way to escape the pressures of being a part-time research student and a full-time mother of two.
One night, in 2008, I had one of those vivid dreams where you can remember every detail. I thought it would make a fantastic story, so I wrote it down. The next night, I revisited the dream, so I wrote down more of the details. Eventually, it became a way of allowing my mind to shift away from the complex engineering calculations that I had to do daily as part of my PhD. I wrote while on the bus. I wrote while waiting for the school bell to ring and the chaotic life of a mother to begin. I wrote while on my lunch break. I wrote before falling asleep at night. By the time I had finished my PhD, I had four volumes of hand-written notes. I typed it into the computer and there was well over 2000 single-spaced pages, and I hadn’t even scratched the surface of the world I was creating.
Today, many of those original ideas still exist, but they have grown as I’ve managed to find more time to devote to my fictional writing.
Your series spans multiple volumes; how do you organise and plot out the storylines?
You are, of course, assuming that I’m organised enough to actually plot in the first place. I very rarely plot. When writing, I write out of sequence. Inspiration strikes and I trace a character’s story, hashing out where it might fit within the timeline as I go. More often than not, I’ll write something referring to a past event, then have to go back and actually write that past event. I have a starting point and a finish point, the road between them is open to interpretation.
But how do I keep track of what will go into which book? Well, that I can answer. It comes down to finding a start point and end point for each part of the story. It’s a similar concept to separating a single book into chapters. They all need to connect, but they need to be self-contained bits of action. The other deciding factor is what becomes the controlling premise or inciting character for a given storyline. I have a large character set to draw from, and many are main characters for their portion of the overall story.
What is your favourite part of the writing process?
That would be letting my imagination run wild. It’s liberating to occasionally dream up gruesome ways for people to die, or the sensual touch of a lover’s hand. Frequently, I find myself examining my own thoughts and values as my characters go through the intricacies of life, ranging from childbirth to funerals, and battles with a sword or in the intimate confines of the bedroom. All characters are an extension of the writer, and sometimes we just have to let those aspects of ourselves run free. Saying that, it’s always interesting when a character takes on a life of their own and drives their own story. Recently, one of my characters managed to escape the massacre I had planned for her and she started a rebellion of her own. I have no idea how she did that, but she made sure that I couldn’t kill her, not right away. While I growl at the harlot for taking control of her own story, I find myself grinning. It’s so much fun.
And your least favourite?
My least favourite part about writing would be, without a doubt, the editing process. You spend countless hours building this amazing story, only to hack it to bits. Whole scenes disappear because they have no relevance, or passages vanish, never to be seen again, just because they didn’t work the way you had originally planned. In my mind, writing a story is the easy part; editing it into something worth reading—now that’s where a true writing talent shows through.
Do you have any tricks or techniques for keeping your stories focused in the right direction?
What exactly is the right direction? Because I write scenes out of sequence, I don’t normally see the right direction until the editing process begins and I start splicing the different aspects for a given section of the timeline together. It is frustrating when you know certain inciting events need to happen, having the story fully written from that point forward, but it’s that process of making point A match up with point B that is actually the fun part. I guess you can say that I’m a “Discovery” writer through and through.
Your world is complex and intriguing; can you please tell us a little about your world building process?
I have a process?
Joking aside, everything about the world in my stories is fashioned after what I observe in the real world. Okay, the magic side of things might be pure imagination, but there are still ties to the real world. Anger flashing into flames that cover the body… My mother often referred to anger like the blood was boiling and heat was rushing through you. If you think about it, it’s not far from the truth.
Any fictional world needs to be believable. You need to be able to identify the characters as real people, the settings as real places. By taking real world observations and shifting it into a fictional environment, you know that a reader could imagine whatever you throw at them and accept it as normal.
Editing is an important part of your writing process; can you tell us about the resources (ie: websites etc) you have used?
How ironic that you ask this. Editing for me is literally red ink on paper. I’ll print out what I have written, and hack at it with a red pen. When I’m happy with what I have written, I then get other writers to read it.
I’m a big user of the Scribophile.com website. This site is a critiquing site with writers from all around the world and in every genre imaginable. The idea behind the site is that for you to post your own work for critiquing, you must first critique the work of others. You may feel that you have nothing of value to add to someone’s piece, but every time you read another’s work, you start to see the faults in your own. You discover ways to express ideas that you never thought about, and the comments you get back on your own work might shift you in directions that you never considered, but make your story stronger.
Once I have something that I believe is ready to go out the door, I shove the manuscript into that metaphorical drawer and leave it while I go work on something else. I then come back to it, sometimes months later, and reread what I had. That’s when you discover those glaring faults that you would be embarrassed if anyone actually saw.
At the moment, I feel like the editing process will never end, and until my manuscript is actually published, it probably won’t.
What are the most important things you have learned through these?
Don’t give my manuscript to my husband to read. I say that jokingly, but there is actual truth to those words. Many family members don’t want to spoil any dreams that someone might have and hence will say your manuscript is great when it really isn’t. Now, my husband never once said that my manuscript was great. In fact, the first time I had him read through it (many years ago now), his only comment was, and I quote, “Your fight scenes suck.” Geez, could anyone be more blunt?
Over the years, my husband has read through my manuscript many times at different draft stages. It was him who pointed out glaring plot holes, leading to my first book becoming two. However, every time he did provide feedback, it would end in a shouting match. Now, I only get him to read through something that I want to be torn to shreds. It’s typically only a passage where I’m struggling to get the descriptive right; he can normally come up with the one word that makes all the difference.
What made you decide to take the traditional publishing route?
The biggest allure of traditional publishing is the marketing aspect. I have no idea what to do, and I really want to see my book on the shelves alongside Terry Goodkind and Brandon Sanderson, however, because of where my name falls in the alphabet, I’ll likely be next to George Martin, but I’d be good with that too. While the query process has made me question my writing more times than I care to count, I believe that my story is stronger for it. I have recently rewritten parts of Beacon of Hope, all in the hopes of tantalising an agent or publisher, and I actually like the revised manuscript much better. It’s a long road to becoming a traditionally published author, but I’m determined to get there.
Any advice for authors who might be thinking of taking similar steps?
Never give up. The worst that anyone can do is say “No”, but they will definitely say nothing if you don’t try. So you get a bad critique; rewrite the story and move on. So you get nothing but silence from agents/publishers; examine what you’re sending out, rework it and send it to the next lot of agents/publishers. If you believe in your story, it will happen. It only takes one “Yes”.
Over the next few weeks, I will be conducting “interviews” with various members of the Christchurch Writers Guild – both members of the committee and others.
We will begin with Beaulah Pragg, the newly-elected President of the Guild; she is also one of the co-founders. I first met Beaulah when I came upon her book, The Silver Hawk, on the shelf of PaperPlus Hornby, noted down her details, acquired the book, and emailed her. Soon after that we organised a meeting, got discussing writing in Christchurch, and from there the Christchurch Writers Guild was born. Beaulah also works for the Christchurch City Libraries, teaches writing courses and is overall an inspiration to us all.
To begin, Beaulah, can you please tell us a bit about yourself and your writing?
I’m twenty-six (for about another month). I work at the library and teach creative writing to children. I started writing back in 2005, with my very first National Novel Writing Month (Nano) and pretty much went from there. Have to admit, I wasn’t very good at Nano. I’d get bored with my story too easily, or get stuck, but I was too stubborn to give up, so I invented the world-building Nano, which I’ve done ever since. I just fill up the 50,000 words with character interviews, descriptions of stuff, random scenes from all kinds of POVs. At some point, all that information clumped together in my brain and I wrote the Silver Hawk. Now I’m trying all kinds of techniques to prod the sequel into shape.
What do you enjoy the most about the creative process?
I love the characters & social world-building. I’ve never been much good with magic systems or street maps, but I can tell you the history of a family back five generations. I have this cool timeline software that helps me keep track of all the backstory, and a family-tree program to manage all the inter-marrying. The trick is to let all of that go when it comes time to write the actual story. Just because you know the names of his three brothers, and their wives, and their second cousins, doesn’t mean you need to include them!
What do you find the most frustrating?
Honestly, the excessive world-building can be a bit of a curse, because you get stuck in things having to be a certain way because of other stuff you’ve already decided about his cousin’s ex-wife. Then, when I bravely tell myself to let it go and do the right thing for the story, I now have to go back and deleted said cousin’s ex-wife, or re-write her story to fit. I feel like there are so many threads and sometimes it’s hard to get them to come together in any pleasing kind of tapestry.
You have independently published your novel, can you please tell us a little about the process, the positives and the pitfalls?
That was back in 2013, so I expect some things have changed since then. I went through the query process and even got some bites from various agents, but they all said no in the end. I just wanted people to read my story, so I googled self-publishing and jumped on CreateSpace, Kindle (KDP) and Smashwords. I worked through their various formatting guides, threw together a cover and pushed ‘go’. I was really lucky. People have been so supportive and I’ve learned so much since then. The original book was full of mistakes, but my readers were also my friends, so they pointed them out in a nice ‘we still think you’re awesome’ kind of way.
I set up a book launch with South Library and got a whole heap of books printed for it. When they arrived, it turned out there were still a bunch of errors. Mum said I couldn’t sell them and paid for a last minute emergency reprint locally. Cost a heap and she wouldn’t let me pay her back. I felt really bad. It did change my blasé attitude toward spelling and grammar though. I highly recommend getting a professional editor, even if you do everything else yourself.
Please tell us a little about the inspiration behind the CWG.
Going through the process of self-publishing The Silver Hawk, I felt like I was the only person doing this kind of stuff in Christchurch. There didn’t seem to be a group for me. Everything was still all about being ‘good enough’ to get accepted by agents or publishers. When I met Angela and we realized we had both gone down the same self-publishing path independently, it seemed natural to want to create a group. The CWG is about having a place to go where you’re accepted and can talk about writing—whether you do it for fun, want to publish yourself or win a publishing contract. I just wanted to show people that we’re not alone. We’re here for you, whatever you want to do.
How have social groups such as the CWG and SpecFic influenced your writing endeavours?
It’s been great to watch that sense of community grow—to share our stories and learn from each others’ successes and failure. I’ve loved workshops like ‘Show, not Tell” because they’ve given me a chance to play and extend my writing. I’ve enjoyed going to conferences in Auckland and Wellington, meeting fellow SpecFic people and realizing there are a whole lot of people trying to do exactly the same things as me, and they’re awesome. I really believe that we have power as a community that we don’t have on our own. When be believe, as a group, that something is possible, we find a way to make it happen.
So yeah, being part of these social groups has helped me grow, not just as a writer, but as a person.
How can the CWG help and support our authors?
For me, it always comes back to those social connections. You are responsible for your own words and what you choose to do with them. We’ll help you out if you need advice, whether it’s about semi-colons or formatting a manuscript, or even handling a bad critique. We’ll run workshops where everyone can get together and practice their craft. But the main thing is that CWG is a place where you can find other people travelling paths very similar to yours. The support comes not so much from the organization, but from the people who populate its meetings, workshops and forums. We’re committed to that support being unconditional and unprejudiced. As long as you treat others with respect, we’d love to have you.
What do you predict for the future of publishing and writing in general?
We’re rapidly transitioning into a digital age. Barring catastrophic digital collapse, zombie apocalypse or other excuses to return to a primitive post-apocalyptic survival scenario, I expect most people will be reading digitally in the not-too-distant future. Certainly the traditional publishing model is collapsing. We can see that right now. The thing is, just because books aren’t being made and sold the way they used to be, doesn’t mean people aren’t reading. Story is a fundamental part of life. We all need stories to make sense of the world, and we love authors who make us think or make us feel.
So writers will still be needed and stories will still be read. Our job, as a group, is to look for new opportunities and pounce on them, feeding back what we’ve learned to enrich the whole. There’s no point bemoaning what is gone or trying to halt the wheels of change. I can’t tell you what the future will bring, but I can tell you I’ll be watching with baited breath. There are all kinds of exciting new ways to connect with our readers, if we’re brave enough to give them a go.
As you have insider knowledge, what role, do you feel, will the libraries play in this future?
Libraries are about so much more than books. People come to us for the community, for a place to work or study, or even just for help navigating the overwhelming mass of information out there. I get questions that range from “What should I read next?” to “How do I install Overdrive on my iPad?” and all kinds of unusual things in-between. The libraries are committed to staying relevant, which means keeping up with technology and being that support for people’s informational needs.
As a teacher of creative writing, what are some of the pitfalls you have seen?
I teach creative writing to children, so some of the issues I’ve seen are really just part of the learning process – things like “Use your quotation marks!” and “Please paragraph, sweetheart. It’s really hard to read a whole page without any gaps in it.”
Having said that, the children I teach are incredibly imaginative and have so much fun with their writing. I think one of the pitfalls for us as adults is to forget that this stuff is meant to be fun!
Any advice for aspiring writers out there?
Write. That’s a really good place to start. Keep your notes organized so you don’t expend precious mental energy trying to remember whether he had green eyes or blue. I use Super Notecard, which is just amazing for this (and also free up to the first 100 cards, so try it out).
Develop a safe, supportive community where you can share you writing and critique other people’s work. You can only improve as a writer if you let people give you feedback, and if you practice looking for ways others can improve. I’ve tried all sorts of groups and forums for this purpose, and my favourite so far is definitely Scribophile (which I just joined a week ago after our new Guild secretary, Judy, recommended it). Scribophile is also free for low-level users and has an excellent karma system which means you get back what you put in. I highly recommend giving it a go.
Finally, when you think you’re done and want to get your story out there, please make sure to find a professional editor. Even if you’re going for a traditional contract, you’ll stand a much better chance if your text is clean.
Oh, and join the Guild, so then you have people celebrate and commiserate with along the way.
Toot do da toot toot doo!
The Christchurch Writers’ Guild would like to announce the publication of its first member anthology.
The anthology is edited by Guild co-founder, Angela Oliver. It is an eclectic mixture of short stories and poems, illustrating the diversity of the writing talents and interests of Guild members. The unifying theme of ‘reflections’ was developed differently by each of the anthology’s contributors, within their own preferred genres:
Poems: the anthology opens with a poem by Sam Bueno, reflecting on his childhood; later, two poems from Damien McManus show us side-by-side childhood in Ireland and Christchurch in the present moment; Judy L. Mohr reflects on children growing up and David Thompson spins us a poem of a life well-worn, while Matty Angel writes of overcoming fear.
Historical fiction: Beaulah Pragg takes us back in time to an important Italian woman’s life.
Contemporary fiction: Helen Mongillo uses a carefully structured narrative to illustrate an important life skill and life lessons.
For children: Grounded, by Jim Cullinane, follows the fortunes of young Kiwi, Kate, who is hoodwinked by an Aussie Galah.
Contemporary fantasy: Jonathan Kingston-Smith explores the motif of the mirror in his dark fantasy/horror that imagines what life is like for those we see only as our reflections and J.L. O’Rourke offers a vampire murder-mystery. Shelley Chappell brings modern-day humans into contact with their hidden cousins, mermaids.
In the future: Ami Hart’s sci-fi romance, Ned’s Hallelujah, takes us into the stars on a journey with seasoned security officer, Ned, and the woman who might be the bane of his existence – or his redemption. Rachel Carlyon’s post-apocalyptic romance, Protector, shows how bands of youths struggle to share what remains of the earth.
Secondary world fantasy: Angela Oliver’s The Birth of Niamh is a dark fantasy illustrating the outcome of a child’s unusual birth. The Longest Night, by Scott Rankin, shows how an arrogant wizard is never too old to learn the error of his ways.
Keen to join the Guild? Let us know! Already a Guild member? Get your writing fingers ready for the next anthology call!