Gold Coast Writers Festival

The Gold Coast Writers Festival is on 26-28 October, and I’m heading off on the 25th on the long drive down. There’s a fabulous line-up of authors, publishers, and industry professionals all sharing their expertise with aspiring writers as well as giving readers insights into the industry.

On Saturday I’ll be joining Rowena Cory Daniells and Tony Cavanagh on the The Thrill of the Chase panel, with the CEO of the Queensland Writers Centre, Meg Vann, as chair. Meg also runs the Brisbane arm of Sisters-in-Crime and I’m sure she will have some interesting questions for the panel. The audience might go away with more than they bargained for 🙂

The panels at the festival are free, with seminars and workshops costing a minimal fee. It’s going to be a great event and I hope both writers and readers take advantage of the hard work the Gold Coast Writers Association has put in to bring this fantastic opportunity to the Gold Coast.

Congratulations to a friend

It was one day after Valentine’s Day, but my friend Louise Cusack‘s life was full of rose-tinged thoughts when her fantasy romance trilogy was epublished by Momentum Books on 15 February. Although the books had been previously print published in Australia, epublishing meant they were now available internationally.

Epublishing is a wonderful avenue for Australian authors to get their books out into the world. My books have Australian settings, which can make them difficult to sell overseas, and particularly into the USA, but with the growing trend towards readers purchasing ebooks it means my stories can now reach a greater audience and show readers from other countries aspects of Australia, and particularly Queensland, they won’t find in most travel brochures. For example, the amazing Amphitheatre at Carnarvon Gorge in Central Queensland is a wonderful example of nature’s force and I knew I had to use it when writing Dangerous Deception. The opening to the Amphitheatre is high up on a cliff face and can only be reached by climbing a series of ladders.

 

When you get to the entrance of the tunnel (which is formed by an enormous slab of rock splitting apart and creating an opening), you then have to traverse about 40 metres of uneven rock as well as concrete steps made by the Park Rangers. This photo was taken from almost inside the Amphitheatre looking back to the entrance in the cliff face.

When you step inside the Amphitheatre, it’s like walking into a massive cathedral. You gaze up the vaulting slabs of rock to the tiny opening at the top where sunlight enters. The floor is grey dirt, and amazingly ferns grow in abundance, perhaps watered by rain seeping through fissures in the rock. They certainly wouldn’t get much rain through the small top opening.

When we were there a young couple joined us, and the woman took out a flute and began playing. Magic. It was the only word to describe it. Pure notes lingering then rising to the tiny patch of sky above. The acoustics are so good they have had choirs perform there for the fabulous resonance.

There’s something spiritual about Carnarvon Gorge, and even more so about the Amphitheatre. It was something I felt just driving from the highway to the Gorge and became stronger the moment I walked into the Amphitheatre.

Aboriginal rock paintings adorn the cliff walls further into the gorge, and it’s easy to visualise them living here and enjoying the abundant wildlife. With a creek traversing the length of the gorge, there is ample water and lush grasses to attract wallabies, goannas and birds.

Unfortunately, feral pigs have also made the gorge their home, and their habit of rooting up plants for food has led to some destruction of the creek banks. The Park Rangers try to keep their numbers under control, but eliminating them entirely would be almost impossible.

That crazy Chaos Fairy

I couldn’t believe how long it’s been since I last blogged! I thought that once I returned from the McGregor Summer School I would have a few winding-down days, then jump back into writing and organising WriteFest, the Bundaberg writers festival. But no, that crazy Chaos Fairy (my friends call her the Curtis Chaos Fairy) swatted my darling daughter-in-law, Cheryse Durrant, and she ended up with a broken leg (Cheryse, not the Fairy, darn it). Luckily we have a car that Cheryse can manoeuvre herself into the passenger seat with her leg in the knee-to-ankle brace, because trips to the physio and doctor would have been impossible in her smaller car.

Now I’m getting back to editing Grievous Harm, the story that features one of the minor characters in Fatal Flaw. GH is darker than FF, and covers a topic that sends chills down the backs of parents. It’s a story that I found myself writing in spite of my natural aversion to the topic, but the characters demanded the story be told in a certain way and I went along because I agreed with them. Sometimes I wonder where some of these characters come from. I hope they’re not from a deeper side of my personality, because that would be too scary to live with. Ruth in Fatal Flaw is a character I was fascinated by. She had so many different facets to her, so much so that I wondered how each of us would have acted in her situation. I had a sneaking sympathy for her, and I wonder if any of my readers felt the same. I would love to hear readers’ thoughts on Ruth.

Delicate mouse

The smallest of all the Australian native mouse species is the Delicate Mouse. They eat grain from native grasses and, unlike house mice, are not a problem you’ll find in your pantry. And when I say these mice are small, I mean it. The largest would be 7.5cm in total length. And they are seriously cute. Their back legs have a rabbit shape, and they hop instead of run.

We live across from large paddocks of native grasses, and currently they provide a home for six small kangaroos, quite a few varieties of snakes, and a lot of other creatures. After rain we see egrets, ibises, cranes and wild ducks feasting on the grubs, worms and whatever else they can find. The paddocks are also home to Delicate Mice. I know this because our older cat, Zara, occasionally decides to bring one home as a gift for me. Which she did tonight. The poor little thing was terrified. I would be too if I’d been carted around in a cat’s mouth. It was smaller than my thumb, and I was trying to hold it gently so as not to harm it when it jumped from my hand and ran between the glass sliding door and the security screen door and didn’t know how to get out. After much manoeuvring, Rob and I finally freed it, but I was so worried for this tiny little creature.

So when I sat at the computer later tonight it struck me that in my job as a writer I get to kill some characters and put others through terrible trauma (and don’t tell me falling in love isn’t traumatic for some people <vbg>) and yet I get overly concerned for the welfare of one tiny little mouse. I also cry when I see kids in pain on television and when I watch sad movies, and am a sucker for donating to worthy causes when I read those brochures saying how it’s possible to save a life or rescue a dog etc. So sometimes I’ve wonder why I write what I do. But I reckon it’s because, as a writer, I get to give my characters justice.

Justice can sometimes be an elusive thing, and sometimes there is a fine line between seeking justice and seeking revenge. It was a line that Ruth Bellamy crossed in Fatal Flaw. It was difficult though, not to feel sympathy for Ruth. She was one of the most complex characters I’ve written, and I wondered how I would react if I had suffered what she did. I’m looking forward to getting feedback from readers about her, as I feel there will be conflicting views on whether Ruth was justified in doing what she did.

Ian Walkley has No Remorse

Ian Walkley

 

Brisbane writer Ian Walkley is one of the new generation of self-published novelists, with his debut novel, No Remorse, recently launched on Amazon and Smashwords. The non-stop action thriller, set in Europe and the Middle East, follows a former Army Special Operations commander on a personal mission to rescue a friend’s kidnapped daughter, only to discover a much bigger threat than he could possibly imagine.

With author JJ Cooper, who penned The Interrogator and Deadly Trust, describing No Remorse as “An edgy thriller that gets straight into the action and doesn’t let up, a plausible plot with a strong and engaging protagonist—intelligent thriller writing”, Ian looks set to establish himself as a thriller writer to watch out for.

 

Ian, your main character, Lee McCloud, is described as “a loose cannon” by his superior in the secret organisation which he is forced to join. Why do they believe this?
McCloud is a Delta Force special ops guy, trained for the toughest missions, deniable, highly intelligent, used to making quick decisions under extreme pressure. You can bet the bosses worry about whether someone like that can be controlled. Especially after McCloud leads a personal mission, unsanctioned, to rescue two kidnapped girls, which goes terribly wrong.

You have obviously done a lot of research to make sure all your scenes read as truly authentic. How much research did you do, and how did you go about this?
Writers are incredibly varied in how much research they do. Lee Child claims to do no research at all, whereas Gayle Lynds does heaps. I enjoy the research side, so I tend to do lots. I want the guns to be the right type, and to understand how they feel, so I go out and shoot a sniper rifle. I travelled extensively in the Middle East to understand the environment and culture. It was a wonderful experience. I found it difficult to gain the cooperation of Australian military. The US is more open to dealing with authors than in Australia. Two CIA agents even came to Thrillerfest in New York last year so we could ask them questions. The US sees it as good public relations. Australia is a little behind in this regard. Although I could easily find out on the Internet what weapons our soldiers use, the Army’s PR department declined to provide assistance, even though I am a member of the Media Alliance. I know they treat traditional journalists better, so maybe it’s a “first time author” thing. I hope it will be easier to approach people now I’m published.

In No Remorse, you have created memorable characters, including some villains like Sheik Khalid Yubani. Did you have anyone in mind when you wrote this character?
Not really. I was very conscious that there are many wealthy people who own luxury megayachts, so I was very careful checking to ensure the surname I used was not one I could find on the internet. Khalid is a very common Saudi name. There have been billionaire arms dealers with luxury yachts, whose names I’d prefer not to mention. And a dead British publisher with a yacht was reputed to be an Israeli agent. There is also a figure (now dead) associated with a defunct international bank who was alleged to have laundered funds for the CIA. So there are lots of real life personalities we writers can borrow from, but it is important that we generate fictional characters with their own unique personalities, having no resemblance to anyone living or dead (hopefully that will pass legal scrutiny).

Without giving any plot away, can you give us some background on Tally, the woman Lee McCloud has to work with?
Tally is a genius computer specialist with an eidetic memory. McCloud has a past problem with women, and feels that Tally belongs in an office, not out in the field where it’s dangerous. Tally also has a haunted past, which sets up for some good conflict, and some fun in the relationship. Remember the Moonlighting TV series, the movies Mr & Mrs Smith, and Romancing the Stone? They were my inspiration for this relationship. In the end there’s so much action happening I’m not sure I got as much into this as I could have. But I wanted to keep the plot real, and not manipulate the characters just for the fun of it. I also wanted Tally to be a strong woman, not necessarily a straightforward, stereotype. So she has her own unique traits and point of view that make her as much a protagonist as McCloud.

Ian, why did you choose to write a thriller, and especially one that has a main character with a military background? Have you served in the military?
Sadly, I haven’t served. Age 18, I applied and was recommended for the Air Force Academy but unfortunately the medical checks picked up a slight hearing loss I didn’t even know I had. I had my heart set on being a pilot, and no plan B. In some ways, writing novels is my plan B.
As a kid, I was quite an advanced reader for my age, and I loved Wilbur Smith, Alistair MacLean and Robert Ludlum. In my business career, I travelled a great deal, and frequently would buy a novel at the airport bookstore while waiting for the flight. I always dreamed about writing a “Wild Justice” or “Bourne Identity” type novel. These are global thrillers with exotic locations, international conspiracies, big stakes, larger than life characters, weapons and sex. James Bond/Jason Bourne loners against the powerful bad guys. These days it’s a Jack Reacher. My character Lee McCloud is one of these guys, with his own peculiar quirks and weaknesses. I hope the readers like him.

What made you decide to go the self-publishing route with No Remorse?
I had interest from UK and German publishers, but I submitted my manuscript too early in Australia and the US and was rejected by agents and publishers. Once I had worked with a professional editor I was ready to publish, but with the turbulence in the publishing industry I felt that resubmitting the manuscript would take another year and wasn’t prepared to wait. These days self-publishing is a realistic option. Many existing authors are self-pubbing their backlists as ebooks. Barry Eisler just did a deal to self-publish his latest novel, The Detachment, through Amazon Kindle, rejecting a $500,000 advance from St Martins Press to take the higher royalties offered by Amazon.
The other favourable factor is the ebook phenomenon. There are more than seventy million readers in the US alone who own iPads and Kindles or the next generation of tablets that can hold hundreds of books. E-books are cheaper for book lovers, and better for the environment. The maths stacks up. Like it or not, the future is e-books. Traditional bookstores are examining ways of selling e-books now—for them it is about survival.

What is your next challenge?
Testing the willingness by book reviewers in the traditional media to review self-published books. I think if a self-published author surrounds him or herself with professionals to edit, design the cover and promote the book, then these days it should be possible to gain the attention of book reviewers. I’m looking at ways to help other writers self-publish. And having the book available for sale is great motivation for me to complete my second novel, Bait, a crime thriller set in Brisbane, which will be released in April 2012.

Thank you for sharing with us, Ian, and best wishes for a very successful career as a thriller writer.

No Remorse is available as an ebook from Amazon, and Smashwords and will be available in print in early 2012. Check out the promotional trailer to catch a taste of No Remorse.

 

Drugs in Boats

Bundaberg made the national headlines recently, but for all the wrong reasons. Police seized 300kg of cocaine from a boat that had arrived at the Bundaberg Port as a finisher in the annual Port 2 Port rally and arrested four Spanish nationals.

Customs Officers check every boat that comes into the Port, but in this case they probably would have only given a cursory inspection as the Australian Federal Police had been tracking the drug syndicate for some time and were waiting to catch the Australian-based members with their hands on the drugs.

But don’t think that that means that the drugs would have been easy to find. When I was writing Deadly Tide, I spoke with a lot of the women involved in the trawling industry and they were aware that rumours abounded about trawlers that were involved in drug smuggling, and one even said how she and her husband bought a second trawler and discovered many secret compartments when they began refurbishing. This was wonderful background information for me, even though my villains weren’t smuggling drugs.

Truth can often be stranger than fiction, but it’s how a writer presents it to the reader that gives it authenticity. The scene where Chayse falls overboard when trying to free a rock caught in the nets during rough weather actually happened, but to a local trawler operator. His wife told me how terrified she was, watching his yellow raincoated-figure disappear under the water as she tried frantically to turn the boat to go back to get him. Fishers trawl at night, so the chances of finding him again were slim, but luckily he was able to discard his raincoat and boots and float to the surface.

I love talking to people when researching for my books. Sometimes they reveal fantastic stories that are like manna from heaven for a writer, and I’m very very grateful to them for sharing. So if a writer asks if they can interview you for research purposes, don’t worry that they will find your life boring – everyone’s life has something in it that will be interesting to someone else.

RWA Conference

It’s hard to believe it’s three weeks since I returned from the Romance Writers of Australia national conference in Melbourne. It was their 20th Anniversary conference and undoubtedly the best I have attended. The quality of the workshops, tutorials and plenary sessions was exceptional. Over the past couple of years the association has run an Author Day on the Thursday prior to the conference, and this continues to be a wonderful opportunity for published authors to meet with other published authors, both from Australia and overseas, and editors, publishers and agents to find out what is happening in their industry.

The buzz during the four days revolved around the future of publishing – print versus electronic. Would ebooks bring about the demise of the print book? Although the impact of ebooks is only beginning to be felt in Australia, we’re very much aware of how the industry has fared overseas. As more e-reading devices become available and more commonplace in Australia, there is no doubt we will follow overseas trends and opt for purchasing ebooks in greater numbers.

At the conference it was emphasised that as more and more ebooks are self-published (current figures indicate they are already in excess of 1 million) it will become even more difficult for readers to find quality reads. It will also mean that first-time authors risk seeing their books have miserable sales figures. According to Bob Mayer (NY Times bestselling author who has started his own publishing company Who Dares Wins Publishing), the authors who are doing better than most in electronic sales are those who have already been print published, have an established readership, and have the rights back to their back list that they can e-publish and attract new readers. The chances of a first-time self-published author achieving good to great sales are slim. The exceptions to this are authors like John Locke and Amanda Hocking, who have done amazingly well with their ebooks. Unfortunately, the other 999,999 authors will never come even remotely close to their success.

Author and blogger extraordinnaire, Joanna Penn, interviews a lot of industry professionals with insights into books and publishing, and both readers and writers will find her blog interesting.

With all the chaos happening before I left for the conference, I didn’t get to pack until the night before I flew out, and ended up forgetting my camera. So check out www.romanceaustralia.com for pics. The only one I have to show you is one a friend took on the last day and emailed to me. So if we’re looking a little tired … But here we are – Sandra Allan, Kaz Delaney and Isolde Martyn (the blondes) and me (the short one).

Coming into Winter

With a week of freezing weather before WriteFest I thought we’d be rugging up and having our workshop presenters huddled around heaters instead of enjoying beautiful Bargara Beach where they were staying. But the cold eased, and except for the odd shower the sun shone, so coats and umbrellas stayed in the cupboards. It was a great day, and attendees were very appreciative of the workshops by presenters author and psychologist Dr Leah Giarratano, games writer Leanne C Taylor, writer and QWC Program and Marketing Office Aimee Lindorff, author Anne Gracie and blunt and sharp-edged weapons expert Ray Floro (watch him in action on YouTube). We had to supply Ray with a full leg of lamb for each workshop so he could demonstrate the damage that knives, big and small, can inflict on human flesh and bone.  This resulted in lots of gasps and shudders from the audience. He also recounted incidents from his many years teaching defence force personnel and police officers – very enlightening. And the well-carved legs of lamb went to the RSPCA for their animals. 🙂

Just a few pics from the Meet-and-Greet Dinner on the Friday night and from the WriteFest day on the Saturday:

Authors Helen Lacey and Louise Cusack
Authors Helen Lacey and Louise Cusack atWriteFest 2011
Author Anne Gracie and weapons instructor Ray Floro
Presenters, editors, and the WriteFest committee

Now the excitement is over and the final details almost wrapped up I can get back to writing Conceptions and Misconceptions.

Finished!!!

Murder, Mayhem & Menopause is finished! I was beginning to think it wouldn’t happen. Months ago I thought it wouldn’t take long to get to the end but my characters had other ideas and took me on the journey they’d decided they needed to go on. I’ve given the manuscript to a couple of trusted friends (writers and readers) and am grateful for their feedback. The problem with writing the story is that you are too close to it and sometimes can’t see that some things need changing or expanding – or deleting. I’m very grateful to these readers for their opinions and comments. And for letting me know that they loved it! Thank you, gals. My husband read it too – but I know he only reads my books for the sexy bits 😉

It’s been a month of surprises. As you may have read in previous posts, I have been organising WriteFest, the Bundaberg writers festival, for the past six years. Last month a local Rotary club asked me if I would attend their change-over dinner and give a talk about WriteFest. Grateful for the chance to spread the word about writing and books, I agreed and spent a while working out a talk that was hopefully interesting enough to keep them awake and not nod into their desserts. So imagine my shock when, instead of being asked to come up and talk, I was asked to come to the podium to receive a Paul Harris Fellowship award for my work with WriteFest. I was so surprised I was speechless for a minute (quite remarkable for me, my friends will tell you). I feel very honoured by this as although not a Rotarian, I know how highly Rotary regards this award and wish to thank them for it.

Mentoring the Muse –  That’s the title of a writers mentoring retreat that I am conducting with two other writers in October. It’s an intensive three-day retreat offering one-on-one mentoring to writers of novels, short stories and memoirs, and plays. Acceptance to attend is based on submissions and these close on 20 August. If you are interested in attending, have a look at our website mentoringthemuse.wordpress.com and send in your submissions.

Isn’t it great to see winter is on the way out? I’m a spring and summer person – love the heat and swimming and watermelon and mangoes and ice-blocks dripping down my arm. Don’t like the psycho magpie who lives in a tree next door and attacks everyone within a 500m radius, including me as I get mail from my letterbox or hang washing on the line. Once his daddy hormones kick in he doesn’t seem to recognise that I’m the person who feeds him and his kids. Anyone who moves becomes his enemy, including a wheelchair-bound neighbour I had to rescue because he couldn’t push his chair as he needed his hands to fend off the feathered fiend. None of the other maggies are swooping yet, but he’s already started. And if last year is any indication he’ll be swooping long after the others have kicked their kids out of the nest. Anyone with a metal helmet for sale?

What a surprise!

Several months ago I was nominated for the Regional Arts Australia Volunteer Award in the Sustained Contribution category for my work with WriteFest and the Young Oz Writers Creative Writing competition. It was a condition of the nomination that the person nominated had to give permission, and I was very touched that the nominator had thought of me, so I agreed. I also didn’t think I had the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of winning 🙂

Imagine my shock when I received a letter informing me that I had been selected. Because the nomination had occurred in the months leading up to WriteFest I actually hadn’t looked into the award at all so then had to do some intensive research.

The award will be presented at the conference dinner during Junction 2010, the biennial national regional arts conference, to be held on Saturday 28 August in Launceston, Tasmania. I just hope the weather isn’t too cold – as a Queenslander I think anything below 10 degrees C is freezing.

I’m thrilled to have been selected, but only wish some of the other people who give me so much support with WriteFest could be included in the award.

On a different note, I’m beginning to think the fates are trying to put obstacles in my way of finishing writing MM&M. I’ve been called up for jury duty, and tomorrow have to front up at the district court to see if they want me. If they do, I’ll just have to chalk it up as a learning experience – I’m sure one of my future characters will end up on a jury some time 🙂

Ah, the possibilities …