The Melbourne Writers’ Social Group

Sunset on the first night I attended the writers' group

I took this photo a few weeks ago with my iphone, on one of the nights I attended the writers’ group

I head off on my big UK writing journey in a few weeks (nervous eek) and I hope to tell you a bit about the various writerly events I manage to get to, whenever I get the chance. But before I go, I thought I might tell you a little about a writer’s group that regularly meets in my hometown of Melbourne — the Melbourne Writers’ Social Group. Good name, eh? I mean, I especially like the ‘social’ in it.

I mentioned this group in my last post (I took the sunset pic at that time — the group before last).

The group meets fortnightly on a Tuesday at the Wharf Hotel, which is down by the Yarra River, and it’s free to join. (The Wharf Hotel is in the darkness on the very right of that above sunset pic.) It’s easy to join too: simply log into Meetup (or sign up to it, if you haven’t already), and ask to join. Once you’re accepted, do an RSVP for the next group you would like to get along to, and once you’re actually there, participate at whatever level you would like. (See you there!) Here’s the group’s main Meetup link.

Wharf Hotel

Wharf Hotel (sort of sandwiched in there)

The Melbourne Writers’ Social Group is a busy group with a variety of events for you to choose from (or go to the lot, if you want, and have the energy). The group is co-hosted by Geoff Stuart and Mat Clarke, two guys who are clearly in it to support good writing in ol’ Melbourne town.

The group has what they call The Flagship Event (perhaps it began here, back in 2009?), which is the Tuesday evening social gathering where readings are shared and informal feedback is given — more on the flagship event here. It’s the thing that I’ve been getting along to. We had a great turn up last week — 16 all up by my reckoning. As Autumn is truly upon us, we met indoors for the first time this year.

Philip - long-time group member

Philip, long-time group member

They also have the Writing Time group, where writers spend time quietly writing together, and then chat about what they’ve been working on afterwards. I’ve yet to get along, but it sounds great. Apparently the table is wobbly but the cheesecake makes up for it. They meet at the Cafe Giraffe — it’s worth getting along just for that name! This group used to be their NaNoWriMo group, for those in the know about that. More on it here.

They also have a public Facebook page here. Plus two closed Facebook groups, which you can join once you become a member and start participating. One of these closed groups is for critiquing written work (treading carefully on each other’s dreams, naturally).

I think that’s it? Oh, they also organise the odd one-off event, perhaps based around one member’s activity or a guest speaker opportunity. I told you they were busy!

So, if you’re a Melbourne-based writer — here’s a group to think about. But if you live in New York, Bangkok or Mykonos, well, it’s still interesting to hear how writers can support each other in different places. And perhaps there are some ideas here that you might like to try out in your own neck of the woods.

But — you know what? — in the end what really makes a writers’ group worthwhile is the writer membership. And so I will close this post by introducing you to a few excellent members from last week’s Tuesday meetup…

Billy

Billy

Billy read to us from his — to put it in his words — ‘memoirs of his misspent youth’.

Kelvin

Kelvin

Kelvin read from his published epic sci-fi. He is currently working on his second sci-fi novel.

Geoff Stuart

Geoff Stuart

Geoff Stuart is a co-host of the group (along with Mat Clarke who couldn’t make it last week). He read a short piece. He is currently working on a speculative fiction novel and a series of short stories in the ‘drama’ genre.

Andrew

Andrew

Andrew is currently working on a sci-fi musical, along the lines of Jeff Wayne’s exciting musical rendering of HG Well’s War of the Worlds, but in the metal genre. Sounds very cool.

Nick

Nick

Nick recently spent a month in Paris and read from his journal notes about that time, focussing on his hilarious airbnb accommodation experiences (names changed to protect the innocent).

Christie

Christie

Christie is writing a sequel to her published Red Dirt Road (which comes with an album of songs). The follow-up is a love story inspired by her experiences as a musician. (Doesn’t the picture look like a polaroid? Looks great.)

Ivan

Noel Anderson

Noel Anderson was the first to read on the night. He spoke eloquently about his new play and read from the script. The play is called Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame: In the Raw and is currently on at the Jewish Museum of Australia. Here’s a link if you’d like to find out more.

With so many great participants, I didn’t get to read at all. But it was terrific to hear about the projects of others and to contribute feedback on works in progress. And there’s always next time.

(I think my iPhone pics have turned out quite nicely, don’t you think? All personal pics used with permission — but just weigh in by clicking on ‘Leave a reply’ below, if one of them is of you, and you’ve all-of-a-sudden changed your mind now that you’ve seen it.)

Giraffe cafe

Meeting up … Down Under and Up Over

My plans to immerse myself in the ‘the life I never lived’ — as I’ve come to think of it — are progressing very nicely. I’ve bought my ticket for the long journey on the A380 airbus. I’m officially leaving Down Under and going … Up Over (sorry!) at the end of May. 

I’ve already joined three London-based writing groups, signed up for a week-long writers’ retreat in Shropshire (I love saying that … Shropshire), and badgered (more than once) a literary festival in Stoke Newington about their ongoingly imminent program.

And today, I thought I might tell you a bit about the writing groups.

MeetUp logo To start of with, have you heard of Meetup? It’s an absolutely buzzing website, it almost sparks off the screen at you. Basically, it’s is a social media platform through which you can seek out groups of like-minded people anywhere in the world.

I found the London Literary Cafe, Write Together and the London ALLI Meetup group. (ALLI stands for Alliance of Independent Authors. It was nice to see that the London-based members of this important online group of indie writers catch up face to face.)

I found heaps of other groups too, but these are the ones I’ve joined and I’ll let you know about each of them in more detail when I actually get along to them. (Pictures and all, if the members will let me!)

Two other groups I joined are ‘London for Less’ and ‘London for Less than a Tenner’. Ha! I’ll let you know if I actually get along to any of their stuff. They both seem to get along to a lot of plays, musicals and comedy shows — and if you’re to go by the photos, they appear to have a very jolly time.

And while I was on the hunt for London-based groups, I suddenly thought, I wonder if there are any people using Meetup back here in my hometown? I was amazed! There are thousands of Melbourne groups on Meetup. Possibly more than London. Some fantastic-looking groups, and about all manner of things. I won’t tell you what’s there. Way too many. Have a look for yourself, if you’re interested. See what’s happening in your neck of the woods. Here’s the link (but if you go, don’t forget to come back!).

Warf Hotel reducedI’ve been along to two groups already. I especially enjoyed The Melbourne Writers’ Social Group who meet at The Warf Hotel on the Yarra River (in Melbourne, obviously). The group turned out to be just the way they sound: a laid back, welcoming bunch of writers (and interested others), who sit around with a beer or wine and chat about writing. (Me included, now.) A number of us read out short excerpts of our stuff and I was very appreciative of the quick and useful feedback I received from around the table. Their Meetup page is here, if you’re curious.

Now that I’ve made a song and dance about it, maybe have a look at Meetup and check out what’s going on in your own area? You’ll need to register (free, of course) if you want to join anything.

Meanwhile, because I like any opportunity to stick pictures into posts that I write, I’ll sign off with this pic of the tree in my front garden. (What the hell, why not?) Do you recall it from my previous post? This is how it looks right now, in Autumn, in Melbourne. They don’t call the tree Sunburst for nothing…

Tree1 reduced

Sampling the life I never had

I’m off to England for the summer. Their summer, that is. During Australia’s winter.

Let me give you a little bit of a background as to why this is such a big thing for me. My family migrated from England to Australia  over 40 years ago. And in that time I have been back once. Once! And briefly at that! And that was twenty-seven years ago. I think it’s safe to say I don’t really know a lot about the country of my birth and childhood. I listen to a heap of UK bands. I’ve watched MANY UK shows, everything from New Tricks and Downton Abbey to the oh-so-wonderful shows such as Scott and Bailey, Broadchurch and Last Tango in Halifax. But firsthand, I’ve only old memories, like a book I once read.

Aust-Eur mapSo I’m packing my bags and covering the vast distance from Melbourne to London, going back for a decent visit.

I want to sample the life I never had. Leastways, that’s how I’ve come to think of it. Over the years, I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like had my family not uprooted us — family of five, me the second youngest and with no real idea — and whisked us all to the other side of the planet.

What would the ‘other me’ have been like? The one that never left? OK, only I might be interested in the answer to that, but it has bugged me for years. There are three things I want to do in the UK, because I’m pretty sure the other me would have done something like them…

1. I want to immerse myself in writing in the UK. The other me would have been into writing — my love of writing predates my trek to this enormous country weighing down the other side of the planet. Probably from the time my teacher at junior school read The Hobbit to us at the start of school everyday. Marvellous, that was.

Heron LP2. I want to immerse myself in UK music. The other me would most certainly have been into UK music in a big way (punk and new wave, no doubt). Before we migrated, I thrashed to death After the Goldrush and Abbey Road as soon as they came out. And an especially wonderful record by a band few remember anymore called Heron. I’m talking, like, when I was nine or 10.

3. I want to live in London. The other me would have lived in London, of this I’m sure! My family migrated to one of Australia’s smaller cities, Geelong. As soon as I could, I moved to the more cosmopolitan Melbourne.

So, come UK summer, I will relocate to London (and explore beyond, as much as I can afford to), where I will hopefully meet the kind of people that might have been my friends, had I never left. And walk the streets and visit the kinds of places I might have frequented…

In the meantime, it feels appropriate to finish up this blog post by telling you a little bit about where I am right now. The life I do have.

I’ll do it in pictures. Why not! My hope is to give you many more picaroonies from the other side of the planet, when I at last set out in May.

Here’s the front of my house. A 1932 (erh, I think) Californian bungalow. These houses are very popular in Australia and affectionately referred to as cal-bungs. Mine (mine and Gina’s really, my wife) is behind that big tree, a gleditsia triacanthos – isn’t it great that I actually know its botanical name? My daughter spent much of her childhood in that tree.

Front of my house (comp)

Here’s the back of my house. Just what you always wanted to see. Now you can. The picture includes the staunch defender of the house — Sparks the Incredible.

Back, with Sparks (comp)

Here’s the incredible canine house alarm in action.

And while I’m about it — what the hell — here’s where I work (doing social work stuff). At the top of town.

St Andrew's Square

Actually, the building I’m in is slightly to the right, diagonally behind those palm trees…

St As Place1

Here’s the old tram stop from which I used to catch trams into the main part of town. The stop is still there, but now we have brand-spanking new tram stops more akin to railway station platforms, smack bang in the middle of the road, where some cars and bikes forget to stop.

Tram shelter

And here’s a snap of my favourite building in Melb. Not far down the road from where I work. I couldn’t resist chucking it into this post. It’s quite something, isn’t it?

Manchester Unity Building

OK. I’d better sign off before I drive you mad with more random pictures (and dog barking videos) from my life.

I will be back to keep you posted about my UK writing and music plans as they progress. (Excitement everybody!)

Workshopping with the world – How it’s going!

Beneath the SurfaceIf you’ve been following my posts and tweets, you’ll know I’ve been workshopping my new draft novel as I revise it. It’s a young adult fantasy novel about an unwell 14-year-old-boy who enters a secret world under his garden. I have posted seven draft chapters so far, which comprise Part 1 of the story.

I’m happy to report the use of Wattpad for workshopping is going well. All was going well on Widbook until recently. Here’s a little more detail about them both…

Steady feedback on Wattpad…

A useful thing about Wattpad, from a workshopping point of view, is that one can put comments at the bottom of each chapter. This has been a very useful way for me to pose specific questions. For example, What do you think about the title? What do you think about the short nature of my chapters? Do you feel like reading on? These questions are not always responded to and that’s OK, but it’s great when they are. I genuinely want to know!

I’ve received all sorts of advice, some of which I’ve immediately acted upon, some I’m still thinking about, and some I’ve parked to one side in my mind, waiting see what a professional structural editor might suggest, when that time comes.

It’s been extremely useful to hear what readers have found interesting in the story, their various observations and reactions. I am not always sure I’m getting the balance right in terms of suggested symbolism, subtle meanings, character portrayal, plotting and so on. I’m wary of overstating something, which then may seem labored and obvious, or slipping into ‘clever writing’, which can interfere with the reader’s engagement to the story. It has been greatly reassuring to hear from readers that they are picking up on the story’s depth and various dimensions in an enjoyable way.

And I do have to say, the positive comments have been very gratifying too! They have helped me feel, Yes, this is a story worth writing. This is something others would like to read.

But slower on Widbook…

threeThe news on Widbook is not so good, I’m afraid. Sadly, after an initial burst of activity, feedback has dried up. At kick off, things were similar to how I’ve described them above, but not so any more. I believe there are still a number of Widbookers reading my draft chapters — my book was added to someone’s shelf only yesterday and I received a new follower today. (I always follow back, because I think that’s nice to do, but that’s just my style and obviously not a rule). But the energy has waned.

I have received some excellent support from a number of the Widbook staff (I’m yet to hear from anyone on Wattpad!). They made one of my earlier books ‘Book of the Week’ and also invented me to write a blog post for them. They were very friendly and I immensely enjoyed my interactions with them.

There are a range of possible reasons for the drop off in responses to my writing. Here are two that I’m pretty sure haven’t helped…

There are many Spanish-speaking writers/readers on Widbook, and no doubt this has an impact on ongoing interest in my English written work, even though users generally appear to have a good handle on English, especially from a reading point of view. However, as I cannot understand the Spanish language at all, I’m unable to reciprocate the gesture of feedback by commenting on a Spanish written piece.

Widbook has a five star rating system — this is probably not a good thing when it comes to formative writing/drafting. A rating system leaves writers too open to the subjective impulse of others. And of course — as we indie writers know only too well — it is open to easy abuse: friends giving each other top stars, or tit for tat.

Olearia-stuartiiSo, after posting only a few draft chapters (three, I think), the book was awarded an ‘average’ three star rating. Ow! This a draft I’m workshopping, people! Not a published book on Amazon — ready for customers’ reviews and ratings. Now, no matter how many revisions I undertake and further draft chapters I post, that mediocre rating will sit there for the rest of my draft chapter postings (nine tenths of the book is still to come!) and until I take it down from Widbook, in readiness for publication. The average rating has the potential to put off further readers who may have had highly useful feedback.

How I wish that that reader had instead chosen to give me actual feedback. Why did they find it average? That could be marvelously useful to know. Instead, I’m left guessing and others are possibly being influenced and staying away. A rating system (especially one akin to Amazon’s customer review system) in a creative space can only serve to throw a wet blanket over creativity, don’t you think? 🙁

What’s next…

I love the story I’m writing, and the feedback from these two social media writing sites has definitely contributed to story improvements, revision ideas (not to mention one helpful typo spotting!) and the keeping up of my energy —  serious redrafting can be exhausting.

Regrettably, after a very promising start, I may need to rethink how useful Widbook is for workshopping a draft novel, but I most certainly will continue to post to Wattpad in readiness for professional structural editing later in the year.

By the way … why all the damned daisies? They make sense if you read the story.

Here is where you will find me slaving away on the redraft of ‘Beneath the Surface’:

If you visit – be sure to leave some feedback!

D1208025898Bz-500

 

‘Beneath the Surface’ is featured on Penned!

penned app_icon

I’m happy to report the workshopping of my Beneath the Surface draft manuscript is going brilliantly. I’m receiving excellent feedback from where I’m posting the draft chapters on Wattpad and Widbook. And now — trumpets! — I have been approached by the marvelous Penned saying they would like to feature Beneath the Surface on their book app. I was quick with a Yes, please! and so you will find my first four chapters there too. But what and where is Penned? Not heard of them before? Read on below to find out more…

So just what is this Penned thing?

Penned is a literary app — it’s a writing app and it’s a reading app. You use it from your smartphone. Simply type ‘penned’ in the search field in your app store and up it will pop (for free of course). Beneath the Surface is a novel for teens (and the young in us, that’s me) and this is the absolutely latest way to read. You may or may not like it — it’s very different — but it’s fun to check it out and make up your own mind. I’m liking it…

Penned and Beneath the Surface

From the start I have been writing Beneath the Surface expressly to be read from an e-reader. (Do you like that adverb expressly? Suits what I’m saying exactly.) I have not allowed myself to write a chapter that bubbles over a 1,000 words. If one does, I split it, and rewrite the two new chapters afresh. I’m calling them micro chapters and often a single scene will track over a number of these little blighters.

Beneath the SurfaceIn my head, I’ve been thinking of each chapter as a bang from your e-reader. Something with zip and punch, even in the slow setting-up-the-plot moments. Something that feels right to be read from a glowing screen while your other hand clutches onto a train handrail. Or an ice cream. What the hell, anything — life is like that these days. The modern world is a bullet train speeding, multitasking world: hold onto the rail, eat your ice cream, text ur buddy, listen to the debut Bleachers album and read from Penned). A smartphone book app feels absolutely right for the micro chapters of Beneath the Surface and the whizz of today’s  world.

And before anyone says, What about print books? (some might still be saying that? as if reading from a kindle means you object to print books), I’m talking about workshopping my book with the world. Not the finished ebook and traditionally published print book. What better way to workshop your draft novel than through a mobile device?

So if you do check out Beneath the Surface — be it through Penned, Wattpad or Widbook — as always, I’d love you to tap on ‘Comment’ and let me know your thoughts. Without readers, a book is not a book.

Here’s the Penned website about the App, where you can find out more. And here’s their Twitter page if you want to follow them.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon…

 

Part 3 – Pushed into indie publishing. So I jumped!

This is the third of my guest posts written for Silk Screen Views about my journey as a writer. Here I chose to talk about my current  – and very new! – adventures in the land of indie publishing. Indie publishing is not easy. There is a lot of work involved in trying to be noticed among the many, many other highly active and very good indie writers. And you are responsible for every step of the way, which can sometimes be quite exhausting. However, there is reward in the sense of control, and it’s important to give things time to grow. You can check out the last of my three posts here.

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Like to find out more about my books? You can check out my Amazon pages here …

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Part 1 – How I decided I wanted to be a writer

 I am guesting on the up and coming website Silk Screen Views. In my first post I talk about my decision to be a writer in my childhood (momentous world decision that it was!).

You can check it out here

And while you’re there, have a look around the rest of Silk Screen Views’ beautiful website!

 

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Like to find out more about my books? You can check out my Amazon pages here …

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MonuMental – The final countdown

MonuMental Copy

When you see something behind your reflection in the floor, your instinct is to look up. See what is above.

They looked up. They saw nothing above.

MonuMental

That is the start of Chapter 22 and where I am up to in the final ebook-edit of MonuMental, the follow up to EleMental. Willis, Zeb and Arizona are unable to shutdown a v’game and have been drawn into an immense, silent hall with an endless, polished floor. They can see reflections behind their images in the floor, but there is nothing above them. The start of this scene marks the start of the climactic sequences. Including this chapter, I have sixty pages of final ebook-editing to go – nine chapters.

I should be getting on with it, shouldn’t I?  Instead, I am writing you this message. I’m keen to tell you I’m close!

Writing MonuMental

I wrote this follow up book at the request of my previous publisher, Pier 9 (an imprint of Murdoch Books) and that’s the sole reason the book exists. I love it, I’m proud of it, but without them, I wouldn’t have written it.

When the publishing house (not a small one!) folded in the second half of last year (bought out by Allen and Unwin), I was successful in regaining the publishing rights to EleMental, and so I put aside MonuMental for the time being and re-edited and re-published EleMental as my own ebook.

Months later, and I am at last almost ready to publish the follow up. I have emulated the traditional publishing process wherever I could, engaging a professional editor, an artist and a graphic designer. To do this properly, and make sure I am creating the best ebook I possibly can, is an exhausting process, and so it is good to see that I am now almost there.

I am running a chapter by chapter countdown on my website home page, and tweeting every time I move on to my final edit of the next chapter. I’m into the final countdown! And it feels great.

Stay tuned, and I will let you know when MonuMental is at last available.

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My Amazon pages:

US

UK

What can I say, producing a book is a slow business!

The cover of my MS after prof. editing - don't worry my actual won't be as plain as this!

The cover of my MS after prof. editing – don’t worry the actual book won’t be as plain as this!

MonuMentally slow

Sometimes I wonder if my own inner editor is more obstinate than the most hard-nosed New York publisher. Many writers say it’s hard to let go of your book – and I’m probably one of the worst. There’s always something else you need to do. ‘No, not yet. Just one more change!’

The final step for me these days, the creation of an ebook, presents a fabulous opportunity that no writer has experienced in the history of publishing until now. Until now, it has always been advisable to print off your final draft and work on it as a hard copy, often reading it out aloud as well, as your eyes can skip over things like missing words, but reading aloud adds another safeguard against that.

But now, with ebook publication, it is possible to view your book in exactly the state the reader will see it. It’s like seeing your baby in ultrasound. It’s fantastic. BUT! (That’s a big but, isn’t it?) It does give you one more reason not to publish just yet. It has become another layer of editing. One more reason not to publish … yet.

There are many ways to create an ebook, I do it chapter by chapter through something called Pressbooks software. Each time I add a chapter, I privately publish it and read through it as an ebook on my iPad’s kindle app. You would be amazed at the new things that jump out at you as you read. Subtle things, but, for me at least, still crucial . I did this with my previous book (EleMental). It had already been trade published, yet still more things jumped out at me. Things that I, the editor, the copyeditor, and the proofreader had all failed to spot.

So please wish me well as I work through the ebook creation of MonuMental . I am up to Chapter 6 – and I am maintaining a running tab of my progress on my home page here.

Well, back to it …

 

 

Happy Xmas!

Wishing you a big, happy Christmas and an excellent 2013.

sketch4_sml

Okay, okay, this picture is rather mean-looking for Christmas. But I still love it.

His name is Gilbert and he’s a dragonbot. This is from my new book, MonuMental, and is the artist’s first go at a cover. It’s wonderful to see ideas coming to life in other ways!

Best wishes, everyone.