Maurice Saxby Creative Development Program 2018

Prior to applying for the Maurice Saxby Creative Development Program, I had been working on my Middle Grade novel, The Rat-catcher’s Apprentice for a few years. Over that time, it had undergone many edits and changes, the loss and addition of characters and many different versions of the ending. It is a story I deeply love and believe in, and after some rejection from agents and one publisher, I decided it was time to look for opportunities which would help me understand the writing and publishing industry in Australia and sharpen my skills as a writer.

Being one of the five chosen recipients for the 2018 Maurice Saxby Creative Development Program has been incredibly insightful and beneficial. It has been an enriching and unique experience for me as an emerging writer and I feel it has given me a greater direction.  I never thought that I would have the chance to visit publishing giants like Allen & Unwin and Penguin and tell them about my work or meet the legendary John Marsden. The cherry on top was having Judith Rossell, author of the Stella Montgomery Intrigue series as a mentor.


Due to my pregnancy I was unable to attend all workshops and events, but the organisers were accommodating and understanding and happy to provide me with all the information I missed out on. The fortnight was a productive and one-of-a kind experience exploring all the facets of writing, publishing and bookselling. By the end the writers and organisers felt like a little family and I developed a new confidence and enthusiasm for my manuscript.

I want to thank the CBCA, Judith Rossell, Pam Horsey, Helen Chamberlin and Suzanne Thwaites for being our staunch supporters and for all their help along the way.

 August 20th

Meeting the fellow recipients and organisers of the MSCDP was initially a daunting experience. However, the warmth of Pam, Helen and Suzanne quickly made all the writers feel at ease and hearing about their selection process made me feel validated as a writer. Not only did these women with decades of experience in the Australian publishing and editing read my manuscript – but they liked it!

I was impressed by the diversity of the chosen recipients. Whether it was writing picture books, graphic, M.G or Y.A novels, we all shared a passion for stories which would resonate with young readers and we shared the hope of seeing them on bookshelves in our favourite bookshops. As well as writing in different genres, we were all at different stages in our writing careers, some agented, some published and self-published, or looking for an agent or publisher.

August 21st

We visited Readings Kids and chatted to Angela about the relationship between writers and booksellers as well as publishers and booksellers. We learnt that it’s crucial for publishers to send information about new releases which will engage booksellers and make them want to buy the titles. Also, a writer’s job does not end when their book is published. Arranging bookstore visits and events for young readers can boost sales and introduce writers to new and keen readers and staff who are likely to promote them.

Readings promote local writers and initiatives like The Readings Children’s Book Prize recognises the best new Australian books written for children.

Furthermore, Angela reminded us of the importance of unique storytelling and the need to avoid following literary fads whether it is regarding a genre or book cover design.


 August 23rd

Our team got to visit the gorgeous Melbourne Allen and Unwin office and got to meet publisher Erica Wagner and senior editor Susannah Chambers who got to hear about our manuscripts, which was a dream come true.

We learnt more about the roles of editors who are advocates for authors. Allen and Unwin publish 85 books annually and a quarter of them are picture books. Allen and Unwin focus on representing and building up local writers and represent a small number of overseas writers.

Similar to Readings Kids, Erica and Susannah stressed the importance of quality visuals and designs when publishing a book for young readers. Allen and Unwin taught us the importance of school visits, library visits and the need to be proactive and build an audience as an emerging author.

We learnt of the popularity of memoirs and non-fiction books and got a sneak peak at the newly released YA novel Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina who are a brother-sister team of Aboriginal writers who come from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Erica and Susannah reminded us of the importance of perseverance when it comes to writing and the long road towards publishing.  Before leaving we got to browse the dozens of beautiful children’s book titles on the Allen and Unwin bookshelves, which made it hard to leave the office.


August 24th

Visiting the gorgeous Penguin offices was a surreal experience. We got to chat with editor Amy Thomas and publisher Lisa Riley about the 100 children’s books they publish annually.

They stressed the importance of writing diverse characters with convincing authentic voices, and cultural sensitivity.  Furthermore, they reminded us that humour in children’s books is always popular and universal.

We got a sneak preview of some of Penguin’s upcoming titles, like The Adventures of Catvinkle by Elliot Perlman.

Once again us five writers got to share a little about our own manuscripts with the Penguin team and learned the best approaches for future submissions.

 August 27th

At the start of our second week, we visited the Brunswick offices of Scribble publishing, an imprint of Scribe Publication. They are a design-driven publishers of picture books, who represent local and international authors and illustrators. Scribble like to experiment with new formats, like board books with flaps and some Australian picture books have been translated in Korean, Italian, French and Spanish.

Editor and YA author Kate O’Donnell explained that Scribble searches for picture books which present an authentic children’s view and a philosophical view of the world from a child’s view. We were lucky enough to see proofs of some of Scribble’s titles and learn more about the printing and book making process.

We got to flip through some of their titles like, Rhyme Cordial and All the Ways to be Smart.


August 28th

We had a coffee date with Alexanda Yatomi-Clarke, Managing Director of Berbay Publishing.  In 2017, Berbay Publishing won BOP for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year (Oceania) at the Bologna International Book Fair.

Alexandra explained that she was looking to produce books she would have liked her children to read, “clever books for clever kids”. She stated that parents have a responsibility to guide young readers and that producing a good book full of integrity is more important than sales and profit.

Berbay Books will be publishing 12 books in 2019 and Alexandra stated that there is strength in non-fiction books which are educational and make history engaging and fun, like M is for Mutiny.

One of Alexandra’s aims was to stick with her authors and work towards establishing them. Alexandra also informed us that Berbay Publishing will be expanding and consider publishing junior and YA novels in the future.

August 30th

On our second last day we attended the Melbourne Writer’s Festival School’s Program. We got to hear literary greats Alice Pung and John Marsden talk about writing as a creative outlet and the influence Marsden’s work has had on Pung. Pung and Marsden both discussed the need to create realistic and complex characters, instead of one-dimensional “goodies and baddies”.

John Marsden explained the need to find a character’s voice before writing a novel and if he could give his younger self one piece of advice, he’d edit whatever is unnecessary.

We got to meet John Marsden after the panel and he taught us that literature should not be preachy and it should be trying to get closer to the truth, especially when portraying the turbulence of adolescence.

John was incredibly modest, approachable and eager to answer our writing-related questions.

That same afternoon we listened to Jessica Townsend, author of the hugely popular novel, Nevermoor. She was interviewed by Luca, one of the judges of the 2018 Inky Awards. Jessica revealed her long road to finishing Nevermoor and her plan to turn Nevermoor into a 9-part series, which pleased the many young readers in the audience.

That night the five writers got to meet past recipients and mentors of the Maurice Saxby Creative Development Program at Suzanne Thwaites’ home. It was encouraging and inspiring to see how the program has benefited other writers, some of whom were in the process of being published. The night felt like a catch up with an extended family.


August 31st

For our last day, Helen organised a visit to the offices of literary agent Claire Forster of Curtis Brown. Visiting an agent seemed like a great way to wrap up our journey of meeting authors, booksellers, editors and publishers.

Claire talked us through the recent publications of her clients. She explained that the role of an agent is to be a neutral but helpful presence, capable of stirring competition among publishers when it comes to selling a book.

Like the publishers we met, Claire stressed the importance of a powerful hook and pitch when submitting. Furthermore, as an agent, she recommended that emerging writers looking for representation should be committed to professional development, know the market trends and demonstrate writing experience.


After our visits wrapped up, I got to have a meeting with author Judith Rossell who read my novel and provided a fresh perspective and helpful feedback. Judith praised my plot and story arc and my stronger characters. She also complimented my world building and description.


At the same time, she provided me with feedback on how to make my protagonist more well-rounded and how to tie in some loose ends. Judith’s eagle-eyed observation has helped me feel new enthusiasm and have fresh ideas for my plot and characters.

Since our meeting, I have been rewriting my first few chapters and feel like I am making the appropriate changes to make my novel fit for submissions.


Chatting with Claire Varley (interview published by The Regal Fox)

Claire Varley is a Melbourne-based author and community development worker. Her debut novel The Bit in Between, a witty story of love loss and travel was published by Pan Macmillan in 2015. Her second novel is set to be released in 2017.

Varley’s fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many publications, including The Big Issue, Kill Your Darlings, and The Regal Fox. Varley is a supporter of the Australian literary community and frequently reviews Australian novels in the form of haikus. MAGGIE JANULOSKA and CLAIRE VARLEY had a chance to talk books, the joys of writing and creativity.


MJ: The West Australian described your debut novel as “full of heart and humour.” It starts with two unlikely people meeting in an airport lounge and forging a somewhat turbulent relationship. What inspired you to write your novel, The Bit in Between?

CV: I wrote the novel while I was working and living in the Solomon Island and originally I wrote an entirely different manuscript and then put it in the bin. It had a sci-fi idea running through it, I was enamoured with Terry Pratchett growing up and thought sci-fi and the Solomon Islands would go together. After I finished it, I knew it wasn’t the book I wanted to write, I wanted to write something which would better engage with the island and people. I wanted to write about the different people living and passing through the Solomon Island and tell more about these people and what their stories were.

MJ: How would you describe your publishing process? How long did it all take and what advice would you give to writers who might be pitching their novels?

CV: My biggest bit of advice would be to be patient. When I came back from the Solomon Islands, I sent my manuscript out in the world and it was rejected for a year by publishers. I think chance plays a part, especially when it comes to the slush pile. It depends on when publishers go through their slush pile and if they put your manuscript in their maybe pile, then if the publisher decides to look in the maybe pile and if the story resonates with them. Obviously you want to submit your best work and remember that when someone says no, it doesn’t mean your work is the worst piece ever written, it just means it isn’t the right thing for publishers at the moment.

MJ: What can you tell us about your upcoming 2017 novel?

CV: I just got my first lot of editorial feedback and I’m quite hesitant to say what it’s about because it may all change. It’s set in the north of Melbourne and it’s looking at some of the different people living in the inner and outer north. I wrote about where I was living and I wanted the novel to look at the idea of people living suburbs away from each other, but having completely different lifestyles and experiences of the world.

MJ: Describe your writing process; do you set yourself daily goals? Are you a planner or do you just let your story take you to new and exciting places without premeditation?

CV: I used to think that I was not a planner and I went with the flow, but I’ve actually realised I do plan everything. I do a lot of planning with novels because I write about multiple characters and I’m interested in the characters’ intersections and exploring how their journeys mirror or differ from each other. Often I know where I’m starting and know where I’m ending and have some idea of the middle.

MJ: How does an idea for a novel start? Is it a single idea or a character or scene?

CV: With The Bit in Between the first thing I wrote was the end scene and once I had the characters and knew where they ended up, I wanted to explore how they got there. With the new novel, it came out of a rubbish first attempt at a manuscript when I realised I didn’t like anything in it except this one character, so I wanted that character to have their own story. What about you? How do you find your own process?

MJ: It starts with an idea which keeps nudging me in the back of my mind. It wants to be written. If the idea isn’t that good or memorable I usually forget it within a day, but if it’s a good idea it stews up for a week or two and once I sit down it flows out on paper. The idea for my children’s novel came after teaching historical fiction to a class and one student wanted to write about vermin exterminators in medieval times. I thought the idea was really original and strange, so it stayed with me for a while and after my student forgot about the task, I ended up starting a story about a young girl in 1600s France who is sent out of home to apprentice for a rat-catcher.

CV: How do you prepare for writing historical fiction? My biggest fear would be getting things wrong. How do you get over your anxieties about getting things historically inaccurate?

MJ: I’ve studied history throughout university and I’ve had to reference events which happened at the time. My novel involves a plague, so I had to research real plagues and ways people protected themselves. I’ve tried to make the language accessible, without being too old or too modern. Research has been half the fun for me. Is there a mantra which keeps you motivated during the writing process?

CV: Not so much a saying, but I think what’s the worst that can happen? If you write something terrible, it doesn’t matter because you can edit it and improve it or you can write something better. What about you?

MJ: I like to think quitting isn’t an option. I also like the saying, “only dead fish go with the flow,” it reminds me to persevere and stick to what makes me happy. Australian stories are very unique. What’s your favourite thing about the Australian literary scene?

CV: I think it’s a really interesting time for the Australian literary scene, particularly with the changes recommended by the Productivity Commission in terms of copyright and parallel importation laws. I think it’s a really troubling time for the Australian literary scene. It’s an amazing scene and we are producing important stories and moving towards having more reflective writing. There’s still a long way to go in terms of who’s getting published, but we are at a time where the diversity of writers are reflecting the diversity of the community and we are realising that to be an Australian writer means there’s not just one Australian story. We are finally celebrating the fact that Australian stories look like a hundred different things and that’s what excites me.

MJ: I remember growing up and Looking for Alibrandi was the only book which was so radical in the sense that it was about being ethnic and embracing your identity.

CL: There’s value in our stories being about all kinds of people and families, but not necessarily being what the book is ‘about’. That a character might have a background or sexuality or identity that differs from what we’re used to reading about, but that the story isn’t necessarily ‘about’ that point of difference. These stories are all part of ‘Australian literature’. What excites you about the Australian lit scene?

MJ: I like the camaraderie between Australian authors and the quality of work in the last few years and the push towards celebrating what makes Australian stories different.

CV: I agree. Any writer knows how difficult it is to write and maintain any kind of lifestyle. With the proposed changes it would be harder for Australian publishers to publish Australian books. We got to a point where we are reading so much of our own writing, why would you want to step back from that?

MJ: If only Australian writers or creative minds were paid or respected as much as athletes. What’s been a memorable Australian book you’ve read recently?

CV: I found myself reading so many Australian novels last year not by conscious choice but because there is just so much good stuff coming out at the moment. I recently read Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident. I’ve also just read Charlotte Woods’ The Natural Way of Things. It was wonderfully written and it was a wonderfully put criticism on the treatment of women.

MJ: I just finished Lee Kofman’s The Dangerous Bride, your novel and Laurinda by Alice Pung. Do you believe in writer’s block? How do you combat it?

CV: I don’t know if I believe in writer’s block, but I believe that you have to give yourself time and not to put pressure on yourself. It doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating. For me, it’s more about being unhappy with parts of the story and not knowing what fits where. It’s important to give yourself time to get there. It helps with space and time. What about you?

MJ: Leaving your story for a few days, exercise and a change of scenery work for me. Also doing something out of my comfort zone, seeing a foreign movie or reading really helps.

CV: Reading is fantastic for working out problems. If I get frustrated with writing I’ll sit down with a book and two pages in, I’ll suddenly have an idea. I don’t write every single day because I have a day job and I’m too tired after work, but I still think.

MJ: What’s been your proudest writer moment to date and what are your goals for your literary future?

CV: When the box arrives and you see your book for the first time it’s a hugely validating moment. That was a pivotal moment for me, being able to hold my book and see it in bookshops. Also I’m proud that I’ve been persistent since writing is a difficult thing, especially finding time for it and setting up your life so you aren’t penniless and desolate. It’s difficult to find a balance in your life and I’m proud because as difficult as it has been I’ve been persistent.

At the moment I have a vision for where I see the next book and also during the extended period of waiting to hear from publishers, I researched and plotted a third book. My goal is to deliver my stories as I see them in my mind and tell the stories how I think they should be told. What about you, what’s been your proudest writer moment?

MJ: This year I was published in the Award Winning Australian Writing anthology. I don’t know if it’s a big deal but seeing yourself featured among amazing Australian writers has been validating. Not giving up after many rejections and having a tough skin has taught me a lot about myself. Which book has had a profound influence on you and shaped you as an author?

CV: Zadie Smith novels are some of my favourite, not that I think I in any way write like her. I admire her characters and her complexity. She is a profoundly talented writer who writes so well about life. Growing up, Terry Pratchett was one of the most important writers in my life. I read his work from a young age and although his fantasy writing is different to what I write, I’ve been influenced by his ability to take serious or important social issues and write in a funny approachable way. What about you?

MJ: As a child, I read The Count of Monte Cristo. I fell in love with mystery and adventure stories. Recently I read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and the story has been with me for months. It’s so haunting and descriptive. It’s not an easy feat to feel sympathy for a murderer by the end and hate you for doing it at the same time. After writing it Capote declared he couldn’t bear to write another novel. Also The Shadow of the Wind series of books have had a profound influence. They are very noir and gothic, with Dickensian elements and lot of heart. If you could have a dinner party with three creative figures who would they be?

CV: Zadie Smith, even though I’d feel very intimidated talking in front of her. I would invite Neil Gaiman who is one of my favourite writers. Also I’d invite Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who wrote Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah. She’s fabulous and wonderfully insightful. I love her feminism and her approach on women’s issues. It would be an interesting dinner party because I’d just be quiet, serve hors d’oeuvres and listen.

MJ: For me it would be Patti Smith. She’s one of the last survivors of that era. I just read M Train and I loved reading about her daily life. Next would be Frida Kahlo who I discovered as a teenager and I fell in love with her art and her spirit. She had a hard life and suffered growing up, but her story resonates with so many women. The last would be the wonderful Leonard Cohen. I was lucky to see him live in 2013. I cried for a week after his passing, it was like losing a dear teacher or a grandfather who’s been there in a strange way. His music is always with me.

CV: I was a wreck when Terry Pratchett died. It’s amazing that people you’ve never met can have such a profound impact on your life and your grief is so real. It just shows how important the arts are how they can reach people and connect with people oceans away.

MJ: That’s why people write, sculpt, paint or make music. The point is to share your story and voice and touch someone. Pursuing a creative path is never easy, but it is so rewarding. What has your creative experience as a writer taught you? Can you imagine yourself not writing?

CV: I can’t imagine myself not writing because it’s something I’ve always done and it’s something I’ve done for myself primarily. It’s taught me a lot about patience and having confidence in myself. In the creative process you get to a point where you are never done. The creative arts are not a linear thing. Every new project you approach as a student and you have to learn and relearn how something needs to be done. It’s a process where you have to be kind and patient with yourself. What about you?

MJ: The creative process has taught me that I can do it, I can write. I can be as good as other writers. Writing is not a passing fancy. It’s something I do and something I have to do for my own sanity and happiness. Claiming the title of ‘writer’ is also a big deal. I’d be miserable if I worked in my day job without a creative outlet.

CV: I work out who I am and how I process things through my writing. I learn so much about myself. For some people writing is a part of their self-care.

Claire Varley and Maggie Januloska

Short Story – Treat


She was exhausted, buried by her tweed school uniform, waiting for the tram. The heat was stifling, early summer. That was the fateful day it first happened.

After two sleepless years of cramming, expensive lessons and university-level textbooks, the exam for a Year 10 scholarship was over. Alice’s brain felt dissected. Alice, along with six hundred other anxious girls, pushed through the three-hour ordeal, prudently shading in bubbles on an answer sheet that would determine their future.

Things were black and white in the world of exams. Things were black and white in her parents’ world too. If Alice was accepted into the leafy suburb college, she’d be considered worthy. If she wasn’t, she’d be considered a failure, not as smart as so-and-so’s daughter. It seemed there was no in-between.

The tram was delayed and the heat was scorching, so Alice walked into the air-conditioned Carlton bookstore. Her eyes widened, the store was bigger than her entire home and there were books from floor to ceiling. She circled past the new-releases, memoirs, adventures, classics. Alice picked up a Carlos Ruiz Zafon novel and winced at the $32.00 price tag. She placed the novel where she found it, but a wicked little voice whispered inside her mind. Do it, this can be your secret, you deserve it. No one has to know.

Novels were forbidden at home, an unnecessary frivolity, a hindrance to exams, chores and homework. Novels were for indulged, lazy girls, according to her mother. Novels could fill her mind with silly ideas; fray away all the years of moulding a perfect student.

Yet, the scholarship exam was over and Alice thought she deserved a treat for all her efforts. She looked over her shoulder, the sales assistant was gabbing on the phone. Alice carefully peeled the book’s barcode and slid the book in her blazer. Her heart was thumping; she had never felt so wicked. She felt wicked, but alive. She was defying her parents, she was rebelling against order. In that moment, she was everything she had never been: brave, a rule-breaker, a criminal. Cavalierly, she walked out, alarms were not raised, and no one stopped her.

She returned to the tram stop, climbed aboard and once the tram started rattling, retrieved her prize from inside her blazer. She caressed the embossed sepia cover and dove into post-war Barcelona, a realm where her anxieties did not exist.

Alice devoured the book in two days, tucking it under her mattress as if hiding love letters. Knowing the forbidden item was with her made her giddy, in control of her destiny.

Yet Alice could not keep the novel. That was never her intention. She would read it, copy out her favourite lines and memorise them, allow the words to seep into her soul. Then she would return the book back to the shelf. Her guilt would lessen; she wouldn’t be a thief, just a book borrower.

Returning to the bookstore, Alice placed the book where she found it, careful not to leave any creases or marks on the pages and covers. She was not spotted, so Alice browsed the other shelves, her eyes mesmerised by a book of poetry by Lang Leav. Her hands twitched and she licked her lips. Within moments, the book of poetry was inside her blazer. Alice returned home ecstatic.

As the last term of Year 9 trickled away, Alice’s book acquisition continued. The bookstore was sleepy during the 3pm slump. In the summer months, she read Nabokov, Orwell, and Emily Brontё. She read the words of rebels. She plunged into a pool of vibrancy. Alice felt alive, unchained in those final days of freedom.

Two months after her first book acquisition, Alice received a letter. The prestigious inner-city college accepted her to start Year 10, the following year. She was one of the lucky eighty girls. Her stomach was in knots. This was all she ever wanted, wasn’t it?

That afternoon her parents showered her with attention, they phoned overseas and boasted, bought Alice mud cake and balloons. Yet, the same words flooded her mind: law, engineering, medicine, Maths Methods, Physics, and Chemistry. She was returning to the world of black and white.

The new school year dawned and Alice’s book acquisitions did not recommence. There wasn’t any time to read for pleasure. She was drowning under the weight of glossaries, formulas and scientific journals. She was gasping for air. Her hair fell out in clumps. Her nights were sleepless, with purple rings circling her eyes. Alice carried a mountain of pressure on her back.

The year passed, so did others. Alice’s days were full of academic responsibilities. She seldom thought of the novels she once read and her desire to read others waned. The prospect of reading was exhausting, not worth her limited time. Weekends were spent revising or consulting frazzled friends on their assignments.

Alice’s hard work paid off. She finished high school with immaculate grades and was accepted to study medicine at Melbourne University. Another six years passed in a blur.

One rainy morning, Alice walked past the familiar bookstore. She has just returned from her first serious job interview at a goliath medical research centre. She was offered a salary that doubled her parents’, a neat little office too. She walked home with a spring in her step. Yet a familiar itch found her. After a long break, she walked into the bookstore. The familiar smell met her, but the displays were all different. It was like returning to a home you once grew up in. Alice prowled around the best-sellers, fingering a wartime romance which had been adapted into a film. Her parents no longer cared if she read novels. For once, she had a bit of time to spare. This time, she could easily afford to buy the novel, she had the money.

Yet she wanted to do it again, for old time’s sake. After years of hard work, she deserved a naughty treat. She wanted the thrill, the ill repute. Alice wanted to secretly rebel after over two decades of obedience. She took the risk, sliding the book in her handbag. She exited the bookstore with the same adolescent bravado.

But Alice was rusty. She did not remove the security tag on the book. The alarm was triggered. “Miss, excuse me,” the sales assistant pointed and stomped towards Alice.

In a state of panic, Alice ran. One moment of foolishness could unravel all that she had built. She would be handcuffed and dragged to a police station, her parents would be mortified. Channel 7 would flash her face, a would-be doctor caught stealing books. Who would hire her? She ran in her uncomfortable heels, jostling past people on the footpath. The sales assistant did not slow down. Alice retrieved the stolen book and threw it. She lost the evidence. She looked back and saw the sales assistant stop and pick it up.

Alice ran across the road, not bothering to look out for traffic. A Volvo’s tyres screeched, but it was too late.

Dead Cat published in n- SCRIBE


My short memoir of growing up in 90s Macedonia has been published by Darebin literary magazine n-SCRIBE. It is a pleasure to be featured with other local writers and poets. If you are in Darebin, pick up a copy from libraries or selected cafes. Below is an extract:

I put on my tartan skirt and tucked in my creased shirt. A slice of bread smothered in hot ajvar awaited me and tried not to smear it on my books. The textbooks were a new edition, printed for the new grade-one students, white-washing any lingering traces of the Communist ideology which lasted over forty years. Stories of partisan bravery, the red star and the red flag were trounced, by something new and uncertain. Yugoslavia crumbled; Macedonia had gained its fragile independence, while the other Balkan countries ravaged each other.     

It is a great pleasure to have my short-story The Departure win the YPRL Write Now! Short Story Award in 2016. It is equally as great for that story to be featured nationally among other winning pieces in the 2016 Award Winning Australian Writing anthology. Pick up a copy, here.

George R.R Martin on Writing Fantasy


“The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.”

Inside the Mind of a Writer

“The characters in my novels are my own unrealised possibilities. That is why I am equally fond of them all and equally horrified by them. Each one has crossed a border that I myself have circumvented,” writer Milan Kundera once said and it got me thinking about the people us writers birth in our texts.We breathe; we think and live in the skin of our characters. If a writer does not feel what their character feels, then they are not good writers. So where do our characters come from?  Where do these weird and wonderful figments of imagination spring from?  Many writers project their own experiences and personality in their characters. Characters can show a glimpse of the writer’s soul, which might have otherwise remained hidden. Through our characters we reveal inner forgotten memories or longings.

What about characters who are like rebellious children? These characters are everything we as writers are not. Every writer has that once character who strays from the planned plot and becomes a lucid entity, trotting ahead and leaving the writer miles behind. These are the characters that slay dragons, break rules and melt chains.

“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.” William Faulkner  said.

So where did my own heroine, twelve-year-old Marie Perrin stem from and what have I learnt from her? I get inspiration for writing at all ungodly hours – usually after 2AM. Some ideas quickly come and vanish even quicker. In my opinion, this is what separates a quality idea from a sub-par one.  A story you must write will not leave your mind. It will gnaw you and brew, until you put ten to paper and then the story will simply pour out.

For me, it all started with the crazy idea of two children being vermin exterminator’s in 1600s Europe.  Since then it took shape into a story of an audacious girl who is sent out of home to apprentice for a rat-catcher. She must navigate through poverty and alter her identity to suit her settings and she must be strong and persevere during a contagion outbreak which destroys her hometown. In addition, she must be reunited with her twin brother, help the people she despised and find and lose love, only to find love again.

Through creating Marie Perrin, I have observes female strength and confirmed the idea that we all seek home and belonging, whether we are a famished girl or gnarly rat-catcher. She has taught me to never give up and never be silent in the face of injustice. In a weird way, she’s my friend and my child.

In the words of William S. Burroughs,  “my characters are quite as real to me as so-called real people; which is one reason why I’m not subject to what is known as loneliness. I have plenty of company.”