Today, I’m talking to author Rosanne Dingli. Rosanne’s first novel, Death in Malta, and her newest thriller, According to Luke, are both published by BeWrite Books, a global publisher with offices in England and Canada.
Rosanne is also the author of two collections of short stories and a poetry book. She has worked as a journalist, feature writer, editor, manuscript assessor, slush pile reader, editor-in-chief, literary editor and book reviewer.
Rosanne is based in Perth, Western Australia.
Rosanne, you’ve obviously been involved in the publishing industry for some time. Can you tell me how you first came to be published?
It’s a very long story that can be summarised in this way – praise for my letters home after emigrating to Australia got me thinking. In 1985 I read a book by Elaine Fantle Shimberg (which I still have) about being a homebound writer, and also the introduction to the Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets.
The two pieces gave me the first impetus. I wrote a lot of poetry and short fiction, and was successfully published in a number of journals and anthologies in a reasonably short time.
After that, it was easy to move on to freelancing for magazines and newspapers, so I established myself as a professional, which got me a teaching position at TAFE, and soon after, a lecturing job at ECU.
I take one or two ideas to the breakfast table on a Sunday, and by about 11.00am we have a fully plotted novel!
Did you have a deliberate strategy to develop your career as a writer? How did you go about achieving this? Were the short stories and poetry part of this strategy?
It was deliberate, but if you can call it a strategy … I don’t know! It was a bit haphazard and random, but well directed in the main, and because it showed a modicum of success, I stayed encouraged. I am easily motivated by success, and because I got some, I kept going. Winning literary competitions can be quite motivating.
Do you ever encounter obstacles in terms of craft when writing for publication?
They were always obstacles that could be overcome with a measure of purpose, discipline, and a sense of humour. I always did work seriously and professionally, but never took myself too seriously – after all, this is a fickle industry, and one must keep at it in order to succeed. I have gone through phases of dejection, and I have given up about 20 times. It’s par for the course.
How did you go about plotting your puzzle thriller?
Plotting is a family affair! I take one or two ideas to the breakfast table on a Sunday, and by about 11.00am we have a fully plotted novel! All the family have something to contribute, and it can be fun and quite boisterous. I take it with a pinch of salt, but never discount even the most outrageous suggestion.
After a month of this, the scribbled plot is written out, and I start seeking jump-words to set me off. I am most inspired by actual words. Invariably, the vital ‘twist’ that really makes the story comes as I am actually writing. It is always a revelation, even to myself.
How do you find switching between different forms of writing, such as short stories, novels and poetry? Does working in one form help with working in another?
I have not written any poetry since 1993. I find I do get the mental rhythms that I used to work on, but I am a novelist now, and need bigger things to work on. Besides, poetry does little to promote me within the market I want for myself.
I used to find short stories very easy to write, and did write an enormous number of them, mostly based on atmospheric places in Europe, food, art and music. They can be fun, but do limit the writer in terms of background, because of the length restriction.
I rarely write short fiction now, but am trying to republish the out-of-print collections I have as eBooks.
Do you do research for your fiction? How do you tackle it?
Sometimes I feel I do more research than writing! I research a lot on the internet and our personal home library. We have fiction and non-fiction, lots of art and European literature, and guide books to all the destinations we have visited.
I immerse myself in the atmosphere when we travel, and take in important things about how the locals live. This filters back into my writing. It is an invisible thing that makes a reader feel I know what I am writing about, I hope!
I read very widely within my genre, and also non-fiction books about art and interiors, and map and reference books without which it would be impossible to write what I write. For my latest book, I even used the New Testament!
The vital ‘twist’ that really makes the story comes as I am writing. It’s always a revelation.
How do you research settings?
Nothing beats being there. Luckily, my husband and I have travelled quite widely, even with the children, and I make sure that each opportunity finds itself included in a book.
I am blessed with a good memory, so I remember things like street names, cafes, museums, churches, and so forth. I have often stood somewhere – such as a bridge in Venice, a wharf in Malta, a square in Belgium or a narrow street in Amsterdam, for example, and imagined some character of mine standing there in my place.
I take that feeling home, and without even thinking about it too much, it finds its way into my work.
If a piece is accepted for publication, do you often have to rewrite or rework material?
Re-working is very often part and parcel of what writers do. This is less about the quality of the work, or the actual language, but more a matter of tone or voice. It must be compatible with the periodical or publishing house.
Professional writers do not take it personally: they come to a point of agreement with the editor, and the published work is better as a result.
I have often stood somewhere — a bridge in Venice, a wharf in Malta, a square in Belgium or a narrow street in Amsterdam — and imagined some character of mine standing there in my place.
Have you ever done a book proposal for one of your books? If so, was it helpful for yourself or your publisher?
Book proposals are generally required for non-fiction rather than fiction. But yes, I have made a book proposal once: I was editor of a local history for the Bi-Centennial of the Shire of Narrogin here in WA. It’s a long time ago, but I do remember the care and attention that went into such a proposal. It was hard work.
The discipline and attention to detail required for a proposal teaches you a lot about what goes into a published work of any kind.
Do you have an agent?
Whether you have an agent or not is less a matter of choice than people think. I have approached a number of agents in Australia, the US and in the UK. I got a moderate level of interest at the initial stages, but I found that none wanted to represent the manuscript I had at the time. Agents must feel they can sell what you have, so I got no offers. I did get several invitations to approach with another future manuscript though.
I’ll post the second part of my interview with Rosanne later this week. In it, Rosanne talks about working with her publisher, the writing community in Western Australia, and how she promotes herself as an author.
In the meantime, click here to check out Rosanne’s blog.