On Writing

Writers, editors, agents, publishers and more share their thoughts, experiences and stories.

A straw-hatted boy made of rubber sails the seas to find the greatest treasure in the world and become the King of the Pirates. He is racing thousands of other pirates to the end of the Grand Line, where the infamous Gol D. Roger has left his riches behind. The rubber boy’s pirate crew contains a robot shipwright, a shapeshifting animal doctor, an animated skeleton musician, and a bunch of equally zany humans. This is the premise of the manga series, ‘One Piece’, which is currently dominating the Japanese entertainment industry. Ah Japan, you’ve done it again. 

In 2009, the year that I turned 41, a slew of significant things occurred for me. I published the ninth issue of the romance comics anthology ‘Tango’, a comic book anthology that I’d been putting together since 1997, compiling new short comics stories from cartoonists all over Australia. At the same time, Allen & Unwin published ‘The Tango Collection’, a selection of pieces from the first eight issues.

For a children’s writer thinking about going “indie” and publishing their work outside of the traditional publishing house, what advice do you have?

Don’t assume writing for children is easier – it most definitely isn’t – and a picture book is the hardest to do: it’s the Rolls Royce of writing. A children’s audience is far more critical (they give you much more praise and fantastic fan mail, though!). Professional editing and quality is absolutely vital (and the benefit of this is it will mean your work lasts longer).

Working as a book designer for the past thirty years, I’ve witnessed quite a few attempts at self-publishing. It’s a tough gig. But as a part-time writer myself and confronted with the shrinking world of commercial publishing opportunities I decided to set aside my skepticism and try my hand at publishing solo. I knew that commercial success was highly unlikely but this didn’t really deter me. I was more interested in the process.

First a confession. The idea of writing a story about post-natal depression (PND) aimed at children was abhorrent. Plenty of people – mostly counsellors – had suggested I write about my depression. “Think of it as a form of therapy,” they said. To my mind, immersing myself in the very thing that was upsetting me seemed like an idiotic plan. 

We drove home along the forest road, the trees like exposed bones in the headlights. I stared out into the bush while behind us the darkness closed like a jaw. Uncle Cricket’s roll-your-own dangled from his lip, the ember tip brightening when he breathed. It happened quicker than I could blink; the kangaroo flung itself out of the night and, vibrating from the impact, the truck slewed across the track.

“A woman must have money and a room of her own,” Virginia Woolf told us, “if she is to write fiction.” The wisdom of this is never clearer to me than when I work on my novel while my husband hangs a curtain. Crafting fiction fires the brain – it’s all you and your ideas. 

Writers Victoria tutors Paddy O’Reilly and Kelly Gardiner chat about writing in company,reading each other’s drafts, and the value of having writerly friends.

Kelly Gardiner (KG): Was I recruited? Must be three or so years ago now. I was invited for coffee with two women I’d met briefly a few times [Paddy and Fran Cusworth]. After we ordered cake, I was asked if I’d like to meet more often and read one another’s manuscripts. Set up. A bit like the CIA. And yet not. Did you plan that? Why?

Rangoon creaks awake in the grey-blue hours before dawn. The heat softens into the compound like putty, melting into the cracks and corners with a sinewy torpor. It’s mercifully dry. There are perhaps three or four weeks before the wet descends once more, blanketing Myanmar in its oppressive skin like a birth sac over some newborn animal that lies damp and steaming beneath its cowl. 

I started in single-storey orange brick. A gum tree out the front with roots that fractured fault-lines in the nature strip. It scared me at night, creaking in the wind like a mast about to snap when there’s no land in sight.