Deborah Benson – author on a mission

Almost a year after my previous post, I am very pleased to introduce Deborah Benson. I met Deborah during a talk she recently gave at Scottsdale Library in Tasmania.

Deborah was inspired to write her first book to tell the terrible tale of David Young, a man she believes was wrongly convicted and executed for the vicious murder of a woman in Daylesford, Victoria in 1864.

Deborah is seeking a posthumous pardon for David Young.

Deborah Benson, with her debut book at Scottsdale Library

Deborah Benson, pictured with her book after her talk at Scottsdale Library

Can you tell me what originally inspired you to write your book, Judicial Murder?
After accidentally coming across the story and getting caught up in the research, I became impassioned to seek justice for David Young. I felt his story needed to be shared and that his side of the story needed to be told.

I attended a Professional Writing Course at Maldon’s Neighbourhood Centre. Our tutor was Josephine Emery – a very experienced and skilled writer. She encouraged me to write Judicial Murder and also edited the book.

Can you describe your writing day? Do you have any rituals, writing processes or methods that help you?
My writing day had no rhyme or reason. My work at the Eaglehawk Motel came first and I fitted the writing in around the demands of the Motel. Having the writing course to attend encouraged me to use my time wisely and to always have something written or ready to be discussed at the class.

My writing area was the front desk of the Motel. This was not ideal as guests and phone calls would interrupt my train of thought and research – through no fault of their own I may add. Extremely difficult circumstances to be creative in and a great deal of patience and determination was required.

How did you go about researching David Young’s story?
My initial research was using newspapers on Trove. This source came up immediately with my search term ‘Margaret Graham murder.’ I conducted further research at the Public Records Office Victoria, seeking out every possible communication related to Young’s trial, incarceration, hanging and the consequences. Police Records were available from The Victoria Police Museum which were essential for the views of the Police involved.

As I wrote, I realised to be authentic to the times I needed to find out about life on the goldfields, what life was like for a constable, Christmas celebrations in the 1860s, what people ate at the time, Christy Minstrels ballads, etc. I read books and used the computer to discover more about events and characters who came up in the case. Everything I found is referenced in the back of the book.

Did you do a detailed outline for your story or did you ‘wing it’?
The story developed as Josie, my writing tutor, said it would. There was no need to write an outline as the research revealed a sequential order of events. I also found that the story began to write itself to a degree. As I wrote, questions would come to me concerning the next step. In a way the writing happened naturally and was not forced or contrived.

How did you decide on your approach to narrating David Young’s story?
Once I realised I was going to write David Young’s story, I knew it would have to be based upon truth. I could not write a fiction story based upon these true events – there would be no point. My aim was to tell David Young’s side of the story. The story had to be real so I created dialogue to enable the reader to connect with David Young. I developed characters who were already in the story and who I had got to know through correspondence from the time.

How have you gone about getting your book into bookstores?
I initially approached my local bookstore and questioned the owner. She suggested the agent we ended up using to distribute books around Victoria and Tasmania. We approached bookstores ourselves. Some accepted the book while others didn’t respond. We are looking for agents in the other states and New Zealand.

I needed to find out about life on the goldfields. What was life like for a constable? What did people eat in the 1860s? How did people celebrate Christmas?

What’s next for you? Do you have any other projects or stories on the horizon?
I do have a children’s book in mind as I was a kinder teacher. My main priority is to follow up with David Young’s exoneration and to share his story as much as possible.

You recently toured Tasmanian libraries and bookshops to promote your book. How did you decide on content for the talks?
I felt the content needed to inform listeners as to how the story came into being, a background on David Young, a brief description as to the murder and damning evidence, what was happening against David Young, including a picture of the police of the time and the justice system.

Chris [Deborah’s partner] reads from the Hanging Scene. He does it so well and it is a nice change from my voice. I wanted my approach to be relaxed as possible as I am not a seasoned speaker so it suited me too to have Chris do the reading!

What helped me to have the confidence to be in front of strangers, talking about my book, was I was happy to be talking about David Young’s story and to be sharing it with interested people, rather than facing strangers who were all staring at me! This small change of attitude really helped to relax me. Chris is also a good critic and we discussed ways to improve my speaking.

Can you tell me something about EagleHawk Press – did you set it up to publish specific titles? Would you like to comment on the experience of running a small publishing house?
Eaglehawk Press was developed to publish and publicise our books. It is a small concern at the moment but we have learnt a great deal from our own experiences. We are looking to open up our services to other writers.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you published your manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
Be thorough, be patient. Take advice. Give yourself a reasonable timeline as writing and publishing all takes time.

The 28th of December, 1864 – a most brutal murder was committed in the goldfields town of Daylesford, Victoria.

The victim was a young wife of six weeks, only 17 years old, viciously attacked in her bed. The hunt was on to find the perpetrator. Eventually the constabulary settled on David Young; he was tried, convicted and executed.

But it would appear that everything about that conviction was unsound. How could this happen? Judicial Murder is the true story of those events and the desire to address a dreadful wrong.

Deborah with her partner, Christopher Creek

Deborah with her partner, Christopher Creek. Christopher read an extract from David Young’s Hanging Scene during the talk at Scottsdale Library

Deborah’s book has been nominated in Best True Crime Book and Best Debut Novel categories for the Sisters in Crime Davitt Awards, to be announced in August, 2016. Find out more about the book on the Eaglehawk Press website.

There is also a Facebook page for The Exoneration of David Young. The page contains information about any developments, venues and information regarding Judicial Murder, The Crown vs David Young and David Young’s case.

Deborah is hoping to do more guest speaking at libraries in Victoria, including a talk at Castlemaine Library on August 11th, 2016.

Contact Eaglehawk Press for information regarding Judicial Murder or writing services Deborah and Christopher can help with.

An interview with bestselling Australian author, Keri Arthur

Today, I’m delighted to be interviewing bestselling Australian author, Keri Arthur. Keri is a highly prolific writer in the genres of paranormal romance and urban fantasy. She lives in Melbourne.

Book cover for Keri Arthur's Wicked Embers

Keri’s latest book, Wicked Embers will be released in July, 2015.

Keri, can you describe your writing day? Do you have any rituals, writing processes or methods that inspire you?
I generally do the same things every day. I read emails and catch up on the news over breakfast, then I head off to the gym for a couple of hours (well, only one hour is at the gym, but it’s an hour drive each way to get there). After lunch, I write. I aim for five pages a day, six days a week. Sometimes I get there, sometimes I don’t. I generally listen to music when I write, but weirdly, when I’m editing, I hate music playing.

How have you developed your writing craft? Have you done formal study, completed any short courses or workshops?
I have been to lots of conferences over the years, so I’ve attended lots of panels and workshops (though I generally avoided the ones that make you work. My brain seems to freeze when put on a spot like that). I mostly learned writing the hard way – by writing books and getting lots of rejections.

How do you tackle research for your stories?
Google is my best friend ☺ But I do have a few Writers Digest research books – books like Body Trauma, Forensics and Fiction, Malicious Intent and Private Eyes.

I understand you have used Melbourne as a setting in your novels. What aspects of Melbourne inspire you?
I’m a born and bred Melburnian, and I love my city! I always wanted to write novels set here, but of course, was always told that non-US settings wouldn’t fly. Which is why my early ImaJinn novels were set in various US cities. But when the idea for the Riley Jenson series came along, I just thought I’d set it in Melbourne to see how it went. Thankfully, it went well, but I was fully prepared to change it if the publishers had asked.

Do you do detailed outlines for your stories or do you ‘wing it’?
I’m a pantser by nature and have written many a book that way. I think half the fun of writing is the discovery of where the story might take me. But these days I’m contractually obligated to provide a synopsis of my novel about four months out from the hand-in date, so I generally have a good idea where the story is headed. Which doesn’t mean it always goes there. LOL.

Did you have a strategy to develop your career as a writer?
My overall strategy is to keep being published! I love what I do, and really don’t want to go back to being a chef. (I hated that job!)

Write the best story you can, and hope like hell the readers love it.

I understand you have a literary agent. How does that relationship work?
An agent does many things – they submit your books, negotiate contracts, deal with publishers when shitty things happen so that you don’t have to, and they give feedback and advice on novels or career when asked. I wouldn’t be the success I am today without my agent, and she’s totally worth the 15% I pay her.

Have you been tempted to self-publish your work?
Indeed I have. I self-published a book about two years ago, just to test the waters, and it’s doing okay. I do want to self publish more novels, but I have contracted books to worry about first, and that’s where my priority currently lies.

What does your editor usually expect from you in terms of revision or rewrites?
Every one of my books goes through edits, copy edits and galley proofs (this is aside from the editing I do). I’m expected to do them in a timely manner and to discuss anything I might disagree with.

What’s happened in the past with publicity and promotions for your books?
It’s hard for me to do signings, launches, or radio work, as I live in Australia, my main market is the US, and I’m generally asleep when they’re all awake. We’ve done online promotion, blogs, etc, and I try to get over to the US every year to do the Romantic Times Convention.

How successful has it all been? I’m not sure. But I am a firm believer in the fact that the best thing any author can do for their book and career is write a damn good book.

Have you had assistance from your publishers with promotions or have you organised everything? With your social media presence, what do you find works or doesn’t work?
Publishers do a lot of the promotion work for me, but I do promote via Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, as well as through a newsletter and on my website. With social media, I think not promoting your own work too much is the key. Interaction with fans is the key.

I aim for five pages a day, six days a week. Sometimes I get there, sometimes I don’t.

How would you describe your ‘brand’ as an author? Or to put it another way, what is it that differentiates you as an author from the other authors?
I hate questions like this! Lol. My main goal for every book is to create characters people care about, and a story that is action packed and sexy. I guess that’s also my ‘brand’, though I really hate that term.

Are there any ‘how-to’ writing books, workshops or online communities that you could recommend to other writers?
I’ve only ever read two how-to books, and I recommend them both. The first is Stephen King’s On Writing, and the other is The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman. I also recommend hooking up with other writers and, here in Australia, we have several great writing conferences:

The Romance Writers of Australia runs a brilliant conference every year featuring US editors and agents (that take submissions). While they are romance-focused, their workshops are broad-based and useful for all levels of writers. They also have a very strong urban fantasy sub group.

Conflux is a Canberra-based speculative fiction conference. They have a mix of Australian and overseas writers and authors, and lots of great panels.

The other main conference – and a new one on the block – is GenreCon. This is (in their words):

A celebration of Australian genre fiction, bringing together diverse communities of genre writers under one tent to explore writing craft, discuss the business of writing, and engage with a research stream featuring industry specialists whose fields are of interest to creators.

Can you share any tips on how to write a bestseller?
Write the best story you can, and hope like hell the readers love it.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
Write a few more novels and get better at your craft before you bother submitting. Maybe then I would only had five years of rejections rather than ten. LOL.


smallerkeriKeri Arthur is the author of the New York Times bestselling Riley Jenson Guardian series. Keri has written more than thirty-two novels, received several nominations in the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Awards and won Romantic Times’ Career Achievement Award for urban fantasy. She lives with her daughter in Melbourne, Australia.

Keri will be on the ‘Superstar Romance’ and ‘Worldbuilding’ panels at the Romance Writers of Australia Annual Conference in Melbourne in August, 2015.


Keri’s website
Keri has loads of advice for budding writers on her website. Click on the tab ‘For Writers’ to explore.

Keri’s FaceBook fan page

Keri on Twitter

Expectation: The perfect ingredient for suspense


Readers will be simmering with anticipation when you work with, and against, expectations

I’ve previously written about how the editors of reality television shows heighten character traits to beef up the drama. Today, as My Kitchen Rules 2015 draws to a close, I want to examine the element of expectation, and how it can be used to create suspense.

Why reality TV? Devoid of anything actually meaningful, in competition-based reality television all that is left is the bare bones of drama, character and suspense. (And it’s not just my opinion – even the producers these shows admit this.)

Despite this, shows such as My Kitchen Rules attract huge audiences. An average of around 1.5 million Aussie viewers per episode makes this the most-watched show currently on our screens.

How are reality TV editors keeping us hooked? In the case of My Kitchen Rules – it’s expectation on a spectacularly over-the-top, hysterical and yet trivial scale.

You don’t need to go to such extremes to keep your readers engrossed in your stories! Expectation as a way of building suspense can be just as effective when used in more thoughtful, imaginative and insightful ways.

1. Character expectations

In reality TV shows, contestant’s expectations are staples of the genre. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reality show that doesn’t ask contestants about their expectations at every stage of the competition.

With your story you can ask yourself, what does my protagonist expect to happen? Does he expect to win the pie-eating competition so he can shout the girl of his dreams to an expensive dinner? Does your protagonist expect to catch the bus so she can get to work in time to get the promotion she wanted?

Knowing your character’s expectations, you can then work with and against them. Can your protagonist’s expectations be thwarted? Maybe he doesn’t win the pie-eating competition, but his love rival does?

What obstacles could you put in your bus-catching protagonist’s path? Perhaps the bus is early and she misses it, or it is late and delayed interminably by traffic?

Could your character’s expectations themselves be challenged? Your love-lorn pie-eater may find another way to impress his love interest, only to find they are completely unsuited.

Your bus-catching heroine uses her determination for that promotion to find a different way to get to work. You can then challenge your character’s expectations of promotion by allowing her obstacle-rich journey to give her a new perspective on work. The result is she is no longer keen to climb the corporate ladder.

2. Expectations other characters have of your protagonist

Another thing watching reality television has taught me is that other characters’ expectations can be important too. In the ‘instant restaurant’ rounds of My Kitchen Rules, guests were encouraged to talk about their expectations for each dish on their competitor’s menu.

When the dish finally arrives, guests are prodded into delivering a verdict:
‘I expected so much from this dish!’
‘It wasn’t at all what I expected!’

It is not uncommon for reality shows to take this one step further. In the latest My Kitchen Rules, family members of one of the contestants told her to ‘do it for the memory of your grandmother’. (The camera cuts to a photo of the dead grandmother.)

While not encouraging this sort of emotional manipulation, you can see that developing the element of expectation is a way of raising the stakes. If your protagonist’s decisions and actions directly impact other characters, you increase readers’ anticipation for the outcome.

For example, your bus-catching protagonist may really need that work promotion so she can afford to spend the Christmas holidays visiting her lonely grandmother. Or her boss may be keen to promote his protegé and is kept waiting for her to get to work.

For your heroine, getting to work on time becomes even more important.

3. Readers’ expectations

When using expectation to create suspense, be aware you are also building up the expectations of readers. Treat expectation in the same way as you would story threads. Make sure you are aware of every expectation you have set up and deliver on each promise.

Watching reality television shows can be like eating a soggy soufflé. While tempting at first, characters we have followed from the beginning are unceremoniously dumped – along with their hopes, dreams and expectations. Whereas fiction thrives on character transformation, it is doubtful that the winner of a reality television show is truly transformed by the experience.

As a fiction writer, you can address every expectation you have created. Do this and you will have happy readers during and at the end of your story.

Further reading

41 ways to create and heighten suspense by Ian Irvine.
6 secrets to creating and sustaining suspense by Steven James.
The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life by Noah Lukeman has a great chapter on suspense, plus a few writing exercises to hone your skills.

Ric Bennett’s advice to aspiring writers

Today I’m featuring an article by Tasmanian author, Ric Bennett. Ric’s novel, The Moses Prophecy, is a mythology-inspired adventure story.

‘What process did you use to write your book and what advice would you give to young aspiring writers?’, I was asked.

Goodness me. Who am I, a first time writer with no previous experience at writing a novel and who has never attended any story writing courses, to give advice about writing a novel?

Ric Bennett with a display stand to promote his book, The Moses ProphecyI can only tell you about my own desire and determination to write my book, The Moses Prophecy and how I went about it.

Being an artist and musician/songwriter/composer certainly helped. I’m a very visual and auditory person and my imagination does run riot quite often.

My writing style has been described as ‘cinematic’. While thinking of ideas and dialogue I actually saw my story played out like a movie on a cinema screen. I wrote about what I was seeing and hearing.

A well-known author told me that with the appropriate training I could become a good screenwriter. I guess that fits with my style being called ‘cinematic’.

I also had conversations with my main character. Never having done this before I figured this was normal for all writers, until I found out otherwise. Well, it worked for me.

The one piece of advice I would offer is this. Enjoy what you are doing. If you have a story and you believe you can write it down in a coherent way, without losing the plot (excuse the pun), then do so. Don’t be put off by anyone telling you can’t do it. And don’t be put off by adverse criticism. You have to believe in yourself.

The idea for my book was in my head for about fifteen years before I had the opportunity to get it out and let it take form as a coherent story. It involved a lot of research into historical data that I needed for the plot. Although the story came out of my imagination, it is fiction, set in the present but woven around facts, myths and legends. So much so that the reader will not know what is true and what isn’t. And this is entirely intentional.

Once you have the story down, and that may take many re-writes, additions and deletions before you are satisfied, then get a good editor. That may mean more re-writes but it’s worth it, especially if you want to submit it to publishers.

Ric Bennett is an artist, musician and writer who settled in Derby, Tasmania in 2014. The Moses Prophecy is set in London, Washington, Melbourne, Israel and Tasmania and is Ric’s first novel.

I will be publishing another interview with Ric in June, as part of the Dorset Art & Craft Festival.

Ric’s website
Amazon page for The Moses Prophecy
If you are in Tasmania, The Moses Prophecy is stocked by Petrarch’s Bookshop in Launceston. (They are on Facebook.)

Weird up your story with fold-ins and cut-ups

Inject a dose of the weird and wonderful into your stories with fold-ins

Inject a dose of the weird and wonderful into your stories with fold-ins and cut-ups

It was on Twitter where I first heard the terms ‘fold-ins’ and ‘cut-ups’ – a method of working used by William S. Burroughs.

I was intrigued. Actually, I was desperate. Bored by my own work, it’d become difficult to motivate myself to sit down and work on stories I’d already started. (New work was fine! I’m one of those writers who finds it hard to finish things.)

After a spot of Google research, I found a few brief descriptions of the technique used by Burroughs. Although the technique seemed better suited for poetry, I decided to give it a go with prose.

Before I explain how to use cut-ups and fold-ins in your own work, following are a few words of advice about using the technique in your prose fiction.

When to use fold-ins and cut-ups
Are your writing workshop friends saying your story is over-edited? Has your vocabulary become tired and unadventurous? If you’ve received feedback that your story is lacking in ideas or interest, this technique may be for you.

WARNING! Be prepared for the unexpected! Your carefully crafted sentences will be reduced to gibberish. However you can always revert to your backed-up original.

When not to use cut-ups and fold-ins
Conversely, if you’re not comfortable with the utterly unpredictable nature of what will happen to your writing after using cut-ups, I’d suggest avoiding them as a writing technique.

You may be the sort of writer who carefully crafts stories and is unwilling to relinquish control to the vagaries of randomness. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! We’re all different, and not all writing techniques are for everyone.

How to generate cut-ups and fold-ins
1. Choose one or two pages of your own work. In the case of a work-in-progress, preferably a portion that is vaguely coherent. Open the story in your word processor of choice. Copy and paste this section of your story into a new document and close the old one.

2. Select all of your story portion and format it using a generous line height, for example 1.5 or double line spacing. Make sure the font and font size is easy to read. Print off the resulting pages.

3. Now you need to find another story portion to fold in with your story. I suggest looking for a story that contains some element you’d like to emulate. Maybe you feel your story would benefit from more action? In that case, look for a story that that draws momentum from action. If your dialogue sounds inauthentic, choose a story containing lots of interesting dialogue. You can focus on any element of storytelling: vocabulary, dialogue, tone, pacing or description.

I’m also going to suggest choosing a story portion written in the same genre as your story – unless there’s some other aspect of the other story you’d like to build in to your story.

Here’s some suggested pairings:

    Your historical murder mystery with Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations
    Your post-modern urban crime story with a pulpy crime story from the 1950s
    Your science fiction story paired with an HG Wells’ classic

It’s preferable that your ‘fold-in’ story is in digital format, not a print copy. There are thousands of public domain stories, freely available, online. Project Gutenberg is a good place to start.

4. Once you’ve chosen a fold-in story, select one or two pages of the text and copy it to a blank document in your word processing program.

Format the story portion in exactly the same way as your first portion: same line height, font and font size. Print out the pages. For your first attempt, I suggest starting with one page from each story.

5. Fold each of the printed pages into four quarters. Using scissors, cut each page into four along the fold marks.

6. Shuffle the resulting small (A6) pages around on your desk. Sift through the pages, choose two of the small pages and place them side by side so that the sentences are aligned.

At this stage, you will probably begin to see interesting phrases you can use. You can choose random pairings, or pair the mini pages based on intriguing fragments that emerge.

7. Using sticky tape, stick the new, aligned mini pages together. You should have four new horizontal sheets.

8. Select one of the new sheets and type up the new sentences that have formed. You will need to alter grammatical elements such as pronouns and verb tenses. Insert prepositions if needed to give meaning to the new sentences.

9. Put your first new page aside and type up the other pages.

10. Print off the resulting pages. Find a comfortable spot and read your new pages. You may have generated sentences that almost make sense, or you may find a few interesting phrases or sentence fragments. Highlight the bits you like, put each page aside and move onto the next one.

It’s important that you don’t worry too much about the whole. Although you can use the resulting piece as the basis for a whole new story, you can also cherry-pick phrases, fragments and sentences you like and use them in your original story. If you’ve ended up with a particularly intriguing phrase, think about how you could alter your story so that the phrase makes sense.

For example, for a science fiction story I am working on, I ended up with the phrase, ‘the smell of white’. I wondered how white could have a smell. I brainstormed this idea and ended up with two ideas I then incorporated into my story: the smell of chalk, the smell of a hygienically-clean hospital room.

I like to think of fold-ins and cut-ups as a way of playing with words. If you are open to the possibilities, at the very least you will end up with an injection of new vocabulary! You may also have generated new ideas for the direction of your story.

Have you tried cut-ups and fold-ins before? Do you have any unusual ways to bring life to your stories? Share your results using the comments form!

William S. Burroughs and his philosophy behind cut-ups and fold-ins
More about how to do cut-ups.

Related posts
Tips for young writers: How to make your story more interesting by Marianne Musgrove
Tips for young writers: Write in character by Teena Raffa-Mulligan

Umwelt House: New house on the block

Update: As of 1 May, 2015, there is a note on the Umwelt House homepage that they are currently closed for submissions. I am sure this will change so I am keeping this article up as general information about their requirements.

New speculative fiction publisher, Umwelt House, recently announced a call out for short novels and novellas. Craig Hitchings, Umwelt House’s founder and editor, kindly agreed to answer some questions about what they’re looking for.

Umwelt House Logo

Craig, can you tell me which authors, books or speculative fiction subgenres excite you?

I tend to go through phases of getting really into someone, becoming completely obsessed and reading their books one after the other. The first author that comes to mind is China Miéville, whose novel Perdido Street Station blew me away a few years ago. I’ve since read all his books – the man is an ideas factory. Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhickers Guide to the Galaxy has a similar effect on me, and I ripped through the rest of the series in a matter of weeks. The book I most loved as a teenager was George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

I recently read Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, both of which kicked my ass. The Inverted World by Christopher Priest was another brilliantly executed idea. Nancy Kress’s novella Beggars in Spain was similarly excellent throughout.

Of course, I find myself returning to the classic novels by Philip K Dick, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K Le Guin, Stanislaw Lem, J R R Tolkien, John W Campbell, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke. The latter’s The City and the Stars is truly amazing – I’ve re-read it a few times now.

I’m also massively influenced by TV series, which I think have eclipsed film as the dominant visual form in recent years. I’ve been obsessed with Channel 4’s Utopia – particularly by the way it’s shot, the amazing music and the fantastic characters who add a human element to what is a very cold, dark conspiracy story. I loved Lost when that was on – and still do. Of course, credit must be given to Joss Whedon’s Firefly. The Game of Thrones adaptation is well done and Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series contains some brilliant episodes. There are so many to mention. A French show called Les Revenants (The Returned in English) is also well worth a watch – the music by Mogwai is great.

What do you look for in a manuscript?
I look for manuscripts that offer something a little different – whether it’s a mindblowing idea, a great character piece or something that’s just a damn good yarn. There’s a lot of saturation in the science fiction and fantasy genres, so I prefer things that blend elements from all genres, whether that’s sf, fantasy, magical realism, utopian/dystopian, horror and so on. I think the most interesting stuff crosses the borders. For example, two short pieces that really stick out for me are George Saunders’ Pastoralia and Escape from Spiderhead. Both shorts are hard to define in traditional publishing terms, but they are truly engaging, well-written stories with fully-formed worlds and rules that take the reader out of themselves. The best thing is that Saunders achieves this with an incredible economy of words. It’s this type of writer that I’m most interested in – someone who can describe amazing things within a very small space. I love clear language.

Take a non-speculative fiction author such as Charles Bukowski as an example. He doesn’t fluff his language. Everything is precise, pared back, powerful. If something doesn’t need explanation, he doesn’t say it. If a character smokes a cigarette, he says ‘X smoked a cigarette’. The reader can fill in the rest.

Do you have any suggestions for writers wanting to be published with Umwelt House?
First and foremost, be original, or at least present a classic idea in an original way. Write in your own style, without thinking about markets, or length, or anything else that puts restrictions on the work. It’s good to get shorter pieces into a few of the magazines, or to write a blog or have a decent social media following, but they’re not necessarily prerequisites. Above all else, read the submission guidelines carefully and stick to them, otherwise it’s just a waste of everyone’s time. A clearly formatted manuscript and a good synopsis also help with initial impressions.

Have you signed any authors yet? Anyone you’d care to mention?
I’m keeping quiet on that at the moment. I will announce any signings as soon I can. We’ve only been open for submissions for a few months. I have had a couple of interesting pieces that I’m considering. I hope to receive many more manuscripts over the coming months, with the first publications scheduled for 2015. I will always contact an author who perhaps has a nice idea but needs to put more work in to make it great.

How will Umwelt House’s titles be promoted?
I think, with the way the publishing industry is going, everything will be done online. First of all, the book covers will feature one colour that will be reflected across the website and our social media channels. When the colour changes, you’ll know there’s another Umwelt House book to read. I also aim to create interesting video content in collaboration with some of my friends working in London’s film industry.

Of course, it would be excellent to get reviews in national media (I currently work for one of the major newspapers in London), but it’s hard breaking through if you’re not one of the big publishers. So, in the initial stages, I hope that smaller publications and bloggers will take to the work, feature the authors in round-up pieces and interview them about their inspirations, aspirations and future plans. We’ll also be entering the books in the shorter categories offered by the Hugos, Nebulas and the other main awards.

The main selling point is that all the books will be under 70,000 words – a novella or short novel. They can be read in a few hours. They’ll take you on a journey in much the same way a novel would, without you having to set aside a couple of weeks/months to read them.

Do you offer authors advances or royalties?
At this stage, we are a small company, so we can’t offer advances. What money we have will need to go on printing, distribution, marketing and other costs. However, of course there will be royalties. I still need to finalise the exact amounts, but I’m hoping to offer as even a split between publisher and author as possible. But fear not, the percentages will be far more in favour of the author than what is currently offered by the corporate publishers and the wider industry. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not in it for the money. I want Umwelt House to make enough off each title in order to cover the publishing costs of another book – to get another author in front of the reading public. If I can keep this going long term, then I’ll be very happy indeed. Anything else is a bonus.

How many titles do you plan on publishing in 2015?
I’m hoping to start off with three or four throughout the first year. But I want to keep the quality extremely high. I’m hoping that if you like one Umwelt House book, then there’s a high chance you’ll like the other publications. That’s the plan, anyway.

How will readers be able to buy Umwelt House books? Which e-bookstores, ebook formats? How will they be priced?
Initially, they will be able to get them through the website, and through Amazon (both print and digital), iBooks, Barnes & Noble and other online stores. Once this has been set up, I hope to get the books out in shops in London, following up with distribution deals for the UK. After that, it’s about making sure the books get to America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other English-speaking countries. It’s early days at the moment, of course, but I also hope to get the works translated into Spanish, French and German at the very least. I’ll see how it goes.

In terms of price, I think we’ll aim for £5-£6 – the price of a couple of drinks (or one if you’re in London).

Are you looking for slush pile readers or interns at the moment?
I read every manuscript myself at this stage. And I try to get to each one within three months of it being submitted. I hope to keep this practice going for as long as I can, though I understand that it may become impossible later on down the line. Again, I’ll have to see.

Thank you, Craig Hitchings!

Umwelt House is seeking speculative fiction short novels and novellas in the 15,000-70,000 word range. Please submit your DOC, DOCX or PDF file in 12-point font, double line spacing using the links below.

Umwelt House
For more information on submitting your manuscript, click here.
To submit your manuscript, click here.
Connect with Umwelt House and Craig on Twitter!

Part two of an interview with Tansy Rayner Roberts

In part two of my interview with Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tansy explains how she promotes herself as a writer.

The cover for Ink Black Magic, Book 3 in the Mocklore Chronicles trilogy.

The cover for Ink Black Magic,
Book 3 of Tansy’s Mocklore Chronicles trilogy.

Did you plan the promotional websites or have they evolved as a result of the projects you’ve been involved with?
They’ve absolutely evolved. I’ve been blogging for at least a decade, but made the shift from Livejournal to a proper blog with my own URL round about the time that the Creature Court books were first published with HarperVoyager. When a new social media platform comes along I will usually have a play with it, and set something up, but I am wary of over-stretching myself. My blog remains as the central online place to find me, and I tie everything back to it as much as possible. Livia Day [Tansy’s nom-de-plume for crime fiction] is a bit neglected on the social media side – I find it too straining to pretend to be another person – but I have a basic site for her if people go hunting for the name and books.

You’re often busy on Twitter. Did you make a decision to avoid Facebook?
I don’t avoid Facebook at all! I’m more active on there now than I have ever been. I still love Twitter best – but I used to just mirror tweets on Facebook for years before a friend told me kindly to stop, because it’s really obvious.

Part of me has regretted those early sales, before I was entirely ‘cooked’ as an author.

I generally use Facebook to keep an eye on actual people I know, and don’t get to catch up with as often as I’d like. Twitter is something I enjoy for conversations across the international community. I put links to every blog post on both platforms, and convey news about my books etc. but otherwise I don’t really use them for promotion as such – I don’t think social media works that way. I prefer to use it for communication and fun and that instant ‘I don’t have a water cooler because I work from home’ chat that livens up the day. The good thing about that attitude is that I never convince myself that hanging out on Twitter for an hour is the same as doing an hour of work.

Do you give talks about your writing and books? Do you have a particular approach to public speaking or do you ‘wing it’?
I love to talk. I don’t do enough of things like school visits – I really should, but I’m constantly snowed under, so it’s not something I actively seek out. I often go to conventions though, and will speak at writers festivals when I’m asked. I was recently invited to the Beaconsfield Festival of Golden Words and loved it – I got to talk to a classroom of kids about writing, and then I got to be on panels as both Tansy and Livia!

My process is to figure out what’s wanted – if they want a formal speech, I will prepare something. But I know from experience that I am excellent at winging it, and so I will rely on that rather a lot. If there’s someone to ask questions, like at a panel, then I know that I don’t need much pre-planning at all. It helps to know that, because I get terribly nervous before presenting, and the earlier I start thinking about what I’m actually going to say, the earlier I get nervous. So I often terrify people by refusing to think about public appearances AT ALL until the very last minute. It almost always turns out wonderfully!

Tell me about your involvement with the crowdfunded Cranky Ladies of History project. Do you believe it is necessary to fund small press publications in this way nowadays?
I don’t think it’s necessary as such – though there is more of a strain on small presses than ever before, because a lot of the niche work of quality that used to come their way is now being self-published by authors. But crowdfunding can be an excellent business model for small presses and solo authors alike – it’s a brilliant way to create buzz around a project, and to check that it’s viable before you go to the presses. Not just having the money up front to print a book, which is fabulous, but also having your readers committed.

It’s heartbreaking at times – I have a lot of friends who are small publishers – to see them sink so much time and money and unpaid effort into a work that they think will have a solid audience, only for it not to find that audience.

Cranky Ladies of History was crowdfunded for one simple reason – Tehani [Wessely from Fablecroft] and I wanted to make the book, and we wanted to be able to pay pro rates to authors. Small presses can often get very good writers to work for them for a smaller amount of money because they have other things to offer – great editing, personal involvement in book decisions, and most importantly, a modern, flexible and collaborative approach to digital publishing, something that many of the larger publishers are seriously falling behind on.

So Tehani was always planning to print the book herself, and cover those basic publishing costs that she always does. The crowdfunding allowed us to test the idea to see if it had legs (people loved it! The title of the book created half the buzz) and also to raise the funds to pay authors what they are worth. It meant we could approach some seriously big name authors to take part, but also means that the newer writers who take part will be paid substantially as well.

My blog remains as the central online place to find me, and I tie everything back to it as much as possible.

Many of the authors helped out with the campaign – and even authors who didn’t have time to write a pitch or story for us volunteered to spread the word. Others wrote blog posts for our Cranky Ladies of History blog tour, which celebrated Women’s History Month. It was a mad, glorious festival of retweeting, and we were so excited to make not only the target goal, but our stretch goals, so the book will be illustrated now and have more stories in it than originally planned.

If you could travel back in time to the moment before you sent off your first manuscript, what advice would you give yourself?
That’s a tricky one! Part of me has regretted those early sales, before I was entirely ‘cooked’ as an author. A debut is a terrible thing to waste, and I do feel at times that mine was a bit soggy. I had my expectations rather horrible dashed within a year or two – coping with your first novel rejection after being published feels much worse than working up to an acceptance slowly! But without that first sale, I wouldn’t have learned half the lessons about writing and publishing that I did, and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to earn an income as a creative writing teacher for so many years.

I think sometimes, these days, authors are in such a hurry to be published, and because they can do it themselves, they hurl themselves into the fray. And I wince, because I see authors who start getting published later in their lives who seem to do a better job than I did of turning one or two sales into a proper steady career. It’s a tiny bit painful to have your juvenilia out there, published as a real book, when you know you can do better now. But I guess most of us feel that way about books we wrote 15 years ago?

My path to and from publication may have some bumps (and dips!) in it, but it’s mine, and I don’t think I’d do anything differently. I would tell my younger self to go ahead, post the manuscript, publish and be damned! (But also to write more books before having kids. Trust me on this.)

Tansy, thank you!


Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tansy Rayner Roberts is a fantasy author who lives with her partner and two daughters in Hobart, Tasmania. Mind-bogglingly prolific, Tansy has edited Andromeda Spaceways, co-edited AustrAlien Absurdities and promoted (and will co-edit) the Cranky Ladies of History project for Fablecroft. Tansy is one of the three voices of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia podcast. She also writes crime fiction as Livia Day.
Tansy has won Aurealis, Ditmar and Washington Small Press Short Fiction awards. She won the Hugo award for Best Fan Writer in 2013.

Tansy’s blog: Stitching words, one thread at a time.
Website for Tansy’s nom-de-plume: Livia Day.
Tansy’s Creature Court trilogy.
The Galactic Suburbia podcast.
To promote the Livia Day series.
The Cranky Ladies of History project on Fablecroft, on Pozible and on Pinterest.

You can also find Tansy on Twitter as @liviadaysleuth and @tansyrr.