I just thought I would write a quick note to say thank-you to everybody who has supported me through 2018—thanks to you, this has honestly been one of the best years of my life. This was the year in which I published my debut novel, The Way Home. It managed to reach #1 on several charts.
As a special thank-you, the e-book of The Way Home is available for a mere 99 cents at online retailers worldwide until 24 December 2018.
The novel would not have succeeded without you—when the book was released, I had no idea whether it would find any readers, but people really took the story into their hearts. I am in no danger of becoming the next J.K. Rowling, but at least once a week I get a message from somebody letting me know how much they enjoyed the book. That means the world to me. The Australian publishing industry is small but thriving, and I’m glad to be a small but thriving part of it.
Words cannot express how much I appreciate everybody who has taken the time to review The Way Home. Authors basically live or die on their reviews, and writing an honest review is the best thing you can do to support an author.
I’m particularly grateful to the hosts of my favourite writing podcast The Bestseller Experiment, who were instrumental in helping the novel succeed. Over the past six months or so hardly a week went by in which I didn’t hear my name mentioned on the show. At the invitation of friend and fellow author Mark Stay I ended up recording several episodes about craft for the show, and just recently I was a featured guest on the show. I chatted with Mark about The Way Home, epic story-telling, ancient myths, YA literature, Animorphs, small presses, the Australian publishing industry, koalas with boundary issues, and the horror that is Thomas the Tank Engine… You can check it out here.
I’m really, really looking forward to 2019, which will see the release of my series of Tooth and Blade novellas and hopefully the second Ashes of Olympus book.
A few weeks ago I promised that I would share my experience of meeting legendary author Terry Brooks at Supanova on the Gold Coast. Well, here we go! Terry gave me some great advice which I’m sure will stand me in good stead as an author. It was an important moment for me and I’m thrilled to share it with you.
I was full of nerves as I approached the table. Brooks is among the first big-name fantasy authors after Tolkien. People mention him in the same breath as Ursula K LeGuin and Lloyd Alexander. He’s written about 40 books. His Shannara series has been adapted for TV and his Magic Kingdom series has been optioned for a film by Warner Bros. Heck, he worked with George Lucas himself on the adaptation of The Phantom Menace and was partly responsible for the lore surrounding the Jedi and Sith. His writing had a big impact on me as a teen. I was meeting one of my heroes and a veteran of the industry, but I decided to be polite and not act like a fanboy. He probably gets that all the time.
He and his wife Judine were both at the table. The tension in my chest dissipated as they smiled and waved.
‘Hi, there!’ said Terry.
‘Hello! It’s great to meet you both,’ I said.
‘What’s your name?’
‘What have we got here, Julian?’ Terry took my book—I’d brought his memoir on writing. He and Judine exchanged a glance. ‘Sometimes the Magic Works?’
‘You’re the first person to ask Terry to sign this—for this trip, anyway,’ said Judine.
‘Oh, really?’ I said. ‘It’s the first book I ever read about writing, followed by Stephen King’s.’
Terry’s eyes twinkled. ‘The thing about me and Stephen is that we’re polar opposites. There’s an important difference between us, though.’ He leaned close. ‘I’m right, and he’s wrong.’
‘Are you a writer?’ he said.
‘Oh, well, yes actually…’ I hadn’t intended to give him a spiel but thought it would be rude not to answer properly. I rummaged around in my bag and pulled out one of my promotional post cards.
‘My first novel is coming out later this year. It’s an historical fantasy based on Greek myths.’
‘Oh really?’ he said. Maybe he was just being polite, but he seemed genuinely interested. ‘Is it just coming out in Australia, or will it be in the States too?’
‘It should be available world-wide.’
‘Oh, great! I’ll keep an eye out for it. But what you should really do, and I’m sure you’re doing it, is read lots of different books about writing and come up with your own ideas.’
‘Oh, yeah,’ I said. ‘I try and make the most of every learning opportunity.’
‘Good on you!’
I noticed there was a chapbook on the table. Street Freaks? What was this book? I had never heard of it.
He tracked my gaze and his eyes lit up. ‘Street Freaks! Now, this is my last chapbook, but I’ll let you have it if you prove you’re worthy.’
‘Oh, um, okay.’
He opened the chapbook to an illustration. ‘What do you notice about it?’
I blinked. It featured a young man climbing out a skyscraper window, a futuristic cityscape in the background. ‘It’s kind of similar to the poster for Ready Player One?’
‘Well, yes, it is. It isn’t gaming lit though. But what else do you notice about it? It’s science fiction!’
‘Aha! You’ve always wanted to write a science fiction novel, right?’
He nodded. ‘Right! I wanted to try it out. And I wanted to know what it was like to have total creative freedom and oversee every aspect of the publication process. The edits, design, marketing, the whole deal. It’s coming out through a small press later this year.’
‘Oh wow,’ I said. ‘I really admire the fact that an author as advanced in his career as you are is trying something different.’
He grinned and grabbed my shoulder. ‘I’ll give you some advice that you should keep in mind throughout your career as an author. If you have an idea, and it scares you because it’s different, that means you should go for it. Because you never want to lose that creative energy, that spark, and if you just do the same thing over and over, it’ll die out.’
‘That’s good advice. Thank-you.’ Oh what the hell, I can be a little bit of a fanboy… ‘Look, um, it’s such an honour to meet you. I read The Sword of Shannara when I was fifteen, and I loved your books as a kid.’
Judine smiled. ‘That couldn’t have been that long ago, surely?’
‘Oh,’ I say. ‘Well, half a lifetime ago.’
Terry’s eyebrows raised. ‘No! Really? You are not in your thirties?’
I shrug. ‘I, ah, hope it means I’ll age like Clooney.’
They chuckled, and he signed my book. ‘All right, you’ve proven yourself. The chapbook’s yours, but can you do me a favour?’
‘I’d like you to read it, and let people know what you think of it—on your blog, your Facebook page, whatever you got. Will you do that for me?’
And then I stammered my thanks and quietly slipped away from the table so he could talk to the next reader.
I read the first couple of chapters of Street Freaks that night. It’s a YA thriller set in a dystopian cyberpunk future. Here’s the blurb!
It begins with a dire call-right before his father disappears and his skyscraper home’s doors explode inward. It is the kind of thrilling futuristic story only Terry Brooks can tell.
“Go into the Red Zone. Go to Street Freaks,” his father directs Ashton Collins before the vid feed goes suddenly silent. The Red Zone is the dangerous heart of mega-city Los Angeles; it is a world Ash is forbidden from and one he knows little about. But if he can find Street Freaks, the strangest of aid awaits—human and barely human alike. As Ash is hunted, he must unravel the mystery left behind by his father and discover his role in this new world.
The writing whizzes like a bullet from a gun. It’s a definite departure for Terry Brooks, who normally eases the reader into the story. This one grabs you and doesn’t let you go. It sets up a mystery which hooks you with the first line. In spare prose, he conjures the setting of an LA whose air is poison and where androids hunt down the innocent. It promises to be a really fun read. It comes out in October 2018 and I can’t wait to see what happens next—I really can’t pay a higher compliment to a story-teller.
P.S. Sign up to my free monthly newsletter for news and previews, as well as an exclusive prologue chapter to the Ashes of Olympus series! In the meantime, check out the image below for a sneak peak at one of the illustrations by Matt Wolf… The Way Home will be released July 31, 2018.
It was another busy month in which I had to remind myself that reality is ultimately more important than fiction. I’ve had to deal with some health-related issues. They haven’t stopped me, though. I’ve been productive, but not as much as I’d like to be. No point wasting time berating myself about that. If you don’t look after your health and that of your family, then what’s the point?
That said, the work doesn’t stop. I’m about at the halfway mark on this children’s novel I’m co-writing with my seven-year-old. Given this project has to fit around my day job and looking after two sick kids, I’m happy with that. The manuscript is continually growing and developing, like him. He gets so excited at bedtime when I read to him from the book. A few nights ago, though, I had to tell him that I only had half a chapter to read him, and I thought he’d be upset. ‘It’s okay, Dad. I want to give you time to write more, so I’ll read to you from one of my books.’ What a great kid! I’m really proud of him. I’d like to do a blog post exploring the process of working together in greater depth.
What else? One of my close writer friends read over the draft of one of my earlier novels, and gave me some very encouraging feedback. It’ll be good to revisit that project, but for now it needs a little time to gestate. I in turn had the privilege of reading a manuscript for a member of my extended family. Being invited to read an unpublished manuscript is really special, isn’t it?
And finally, I made a couple of really important decisions about where I’m headed as a writer. More than anything, I want to write for a living. That doesn’t mean just sitting around waiting for the ‘right opportunity’ to come along like a kid with a band. It means making smart choices, forward planning and being willing to learn from mistakes. Over the last twelve months or so I’ve established a solid author platform. Now it’s time to start building on it. I’ll share more in the not too distant future.
Sorry I’m a little late with this update. It’s mostly because things have been going really well on the writing front. Hooray!
The upper MG historical fantasy I’m working on is growing little by little. It’s in good shape thus far. Marching ever forward and still on track to complete the manuscript by the end of the year. The story is set in a world very much rooted in Norse myth. I’m half-tempted to brew my own mead for, um, research.
In the meantime, a new and unexpected project has come up. My oldest son (aged 7) asked me if we could write a story together. He is really creative and I want to nurture that side of him, so of course I said yes. Together we brainstormed some ideas for a junior fantasy novel aimed at his age range. Think of Emily Rodda’s Rowan of Rin or Kate Forsyth’s Impossible Quest, and you’ll have a good idea of what I’m aiming at. The notion is that he comes up with ideas for the characters and I basically run with them. I read a chapter to him every second night and get his feedback.
Egads, what a challenge! Collaborating on an extended project with a 7-year-old is interesting in itself. But you know what? I love the experience of building a story together. I don’t even care whether it leads to publication, it’s bringing us closer. When it’s finished, he wants to print copies for all the kids in his class and give it to them for Christmas. As for the story itself, I’m in the honeymoon period. I’m pantsing it with only the vaguest idea where the story is going, which I’ve never really done before. And having the deadline of completing a chapter and have it ready to read aloud every two nights certainly drives the story forward. Reading it as a serialised bedtime story also helps me to resist the urge to go back and edit earlier chapters, otherwise it’ll make no sense to him. Basically I’m laying track in front of a moving train. There are far worse ways to tell stories. I’ve never written for this age range before, and I’m learning a lot of new techniques. All in all, it’s good preparation for the day when I transition from ‘aspiring’ to ‘professional.’
As a matter of fact, I should probably get back to it.
One of my old friends passed away a few weeks ago. Dealing with this ended up being a large focus of my month. I had planned to attend a local writer’s event, but the funeral was organised for that afternoon. Theoretically, I guess I could have attended the event in the morning and then gone to the funeral, but I thought it was better to focus my energies on helping out my friend’s family that day. Then I delivered a eulogy at the funeral. That’s one of life’s less pleasant story-telling exercises, but really vital. Stories can help people heal. The important thing, as always, is to speak from the heart and make it real. This person was an important character in your life, so you want it to be as genuine as possible. A few people came up to me afterward and said how much they appreciated my speech, so I guess I did okay.
I decided to take a week off from blogging after that. Sorry about that. I needed some head-space.
In the end, finances prevented me from attending this year’s CYA Conference in Brisbane, but I’m really thrilled to see that some of my writer friends have experienced such success this year in the pitch sessions and learned so much from the panellists. And gosh, I’m particularly happy that somebody to whom I gave some encouragement at last year’s conference did so well in the competition! Well done to everybody, but particular congratulations go to the organisers for making this conference as special as it is.
Things are steaming ahead on my current novel. It’s going in a rather different direction to what I initially envisioned, because the characters aren’t quite who I thought they were. Initially I had intended to retell the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf from the viewpoint of a teenage girl. Beowulf was going to be a love interest. However, after spending about 10,000 words developing the female protagonist, I realised it would be a real disservice to her if Beowulf came sweeping in. She doesn’t need a male love interest to be a well-defined character. If anything, adding a male protagonist was in this instance going to undermine her characterisation by robbing her of agency. The solution, of course, is to remove the Beowulf framework and let the story stand on its own. It’s inspired by Beowulf, but is no longer an adaptation. The novel is an original historical fantasy whose heroine is a Viking girl. Stepping away from the canonical text is absolutely exhilarating. It has given me the freedom to create something wholly new, and to take my characters to places they never could have otherwise.
Meanwhile, my amazing co-authors and I are pretty much ready to submit our article for peer review. I’ll keep you posted on that one. I also got some good writerly news last week, which could lead to some better news in the future… But that’s all I’ll say for now.
Well, we made it to the end of May. Queensland is a bit like Westeros at the moment: winter is coming, but it never quite gets here. Remember a while ago I asked readers’ opinions as to whether I should keep up the weekly updates on progress? Well, after thinking about the feedback I got, as well as my current schedule of deadlines, I opted for a monthly update.
On the academic front, my co-authors and I have put together a complete draft of the article we’re working on. We are well on track to get it out this month. Mythography is an amazing, highly technical area of scholarship which requires expertise in a range of disciplines. It’s also a lot of fun because you discover the weirdest and most wonderful things! I don’t know any other area where you’re called upon to consider the reproductive or dietary habits of Centaurs. I wonder if some of this detail might actually work its way into a novel someday. That said, typing in Greek is pretty much the opposite of fun. My poor word processor hates me right now.
Aside from that, I’ve finally figured out a fiction writing routine that seems to work. Huzzah! When you sit in front of your keyboard and your aim is to bang out a novel, that can be pretty daunting. The challenge seems insurmountable. Know why? Because it is! Especially when you’re working on an academic career and working full-time and raising a young family. Even among full-time writers, very few are capable of producing a novel quickly. Those who pull it off may very well be in league with the devil. The trick is to focus on one chapter at a time, one scene at a time. I’ve also set myself a weekly task—no matter what, I need to do one chapter per week, minimum, with a set word limit. This method of ‘chunking’ the tasks makes the weekly goal is very achievable. My eyes are still on the prize of having a finished novel, but week to week I’m no longer agonising about my productivity. Which, ironically, drives up productivity. Chunking is good for the story too. The pace remains high. Without room to waffle, every scene counts. It also provides a sense of rhythm. Things have been rocking and rolling since I adopted this method, and I’ve got a substantial portion of the manuscript down.
I’ve also been doing a lot of research into the publishing industry and where it’s headed. Listening to podcasts, talking to other authors about their experiences. In particular, I’ve been investigating the world of indie publishing. For now, my plan is still to seek a traditional publisher for my trilogy based on the Aeneid. But I’m also open to the possibility of publishing independently. No matter which way I go, the idea is to get better as an author. Connecting with even a small cohort of readers would help me to grow. And getting a behind the scenes look into the industry would be an amazing asset no matter what. Commercial writers can also learn a lot from indie authors, given that even in commercial fiction so much of the onus for marketing falls on the author.
The world is changing, isn’t it? We may be heading toward a time when writers need to show they’ve got the chops to make it on their own before a publisher will pick them up—especially when I see that Macmillan—one of the Big Five—has acquired the ebook distributor Pronoun.
Anyway. Work is progressing on the script for the audio drama, bit by bit. Writing for radio is really peculiar, but I’m enjoying the challenge. Will tell you more about that when it’s ready to go into production.
Anyway. I’ve signed up for a local authors’ event in a couple of weeks, which is thrilling. If funds allow it, I’m heading to the CYA conference in Brisbane next month. Really looking forward to meeting up with some like-minded people. Maybe I’ll see you there?
This week has been very much focused on academic writing. Good news, though! I finally knocked out my contribution to an article and sent the draft to my co-authors. It still needs some work, but it feels great to see a research project that started twelve months ago come to fruition.
I’m now going to focus on blogging and my fiction for a couple of weeks, before turning to the next academic project. I’m ecstatic about this next novel– it’s based on one of my favourite epic poems, Beowulf. I’ve written a draft of some early chapters, then realised I didn’t like the direction it was going down. So I decided to take it back to the drawing board and let it simmer for a few weeks while I worked on an academic project. In the meantime, I downloaded a series of recorded lectures on Beowulf and Norse history. This is one of the things I love about writing. It’s a fantastic vehicle for self-education and growth. And now, after a bit of cogitating on it (read: daydreaming), I’ve got a much clearer sense of where the story needs to go and who my characters are.
And we’re off to a flying start!
The only thing which could impede my productivity at this point is Netflix– I just joined and am slightly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of shows on there. On the one hand, it’s a bit of a time-sucker. On the other, good writing tends to inspire good writing, and by golly there’s some amazing writing in television right now. And then there’s Roman Empire: Reign of Blood, which is… not so amazing. In the meantime, I’m absolutely open to recommendations about Netflix shows.
Oh, and another thing I’m really looking forward to: I’m beta reading a good friend’s script! I love beta reading– I always learn so much, and it feels great to help out fellow writers.
In the meantime, O faithful reader, I have a question for you. Yes, you! How are you enjoying these updates on my writerly weeks? I’ve been contemplating the idea of dropping back to doing one per month. I find them a good way to keep myself accountable and it helps me a lot to look back and realise I have actually accomplished things. And yet I know it can get a bit repetitive to read what amounts to ‘wrote stuff, read stuff, thought about it a bit’ every single week. Let me know in the comments if you’re enjoying these posts, and I’ll let you know what I decide.
I’ve crawled across the finish line this week, and I’m weary. And yet I do have a few things to celebrate.
One of the highlights of this week was when a friend of mine showed me a photo he’d taken at the Classical Association’s annual conference– my academic book was on sale at the Routledge table! And another written by a colleague which I had proofread. I’m really happy that Tertullian and the Unborn Child is reaching people who will find it helpful, and that my efforts do make a difference in this world.
After a very intense month in my day job, I decided to carve out some time this weekend to focus on my creative pursuits. I decided to add a few key details to my novel based on the Aeneid, added a new scene to the radio play I’m co-writing, and pushed the next novel forward another few steps.
By the end of this weekend, I aim to have my contribution to an academic article done and dusted. It’ll be so great to have that Centaur off my back– hoofs hurt more than monkey paws!
I listened to a podcast this week–The Bestseller Experiment. Have you heard it? It is kind of brilliant. Basically these two guys (whose names, confusingly, are both Mark) have set out to write, publish and market a bestselling novel in one year. Every week they interview somebody from the publishing industry. Whether it’s an author, publisher, editor, agent, or a number-cruncher, the guests share their secrets to success in the world of book publishing. I wish the guys who run the podcast loads and loads of luck, though I suspect that the aim to produce a ‘bestselling’ novel in just a year may be an exercise in hubris. That said, the podcast is really informative and entertaining. I did a literal spit-take when they interviewed Ben Aaronovitch, and the interview with Bryan Cranston is amazingly insightful. Not only am I learning a lot about how the industry works, but I love the sense of connection with all these people who love books and contribute to our literary culture. At the end of the day, whether as big-time mainstream novelists or as indie authors, we’re all in this together. And, yeah, I can dream about being on the show someday. Well done, Marks, you’ve inspired me.
I’d love to talk about building upon one’s academic cred to make a career as a novelist. And compare and contrast modern and ancient means of storytelling. What can we learn from the ancients? How have we progressed? In some ways, have we come full circle?
Or, you know, I could just write a blog post about it.
Well, that’s about that for this week. Thanks as ever for sticking with me, folks. Building a community is one of the main functions of story-telling, as I see it. The writer’s journey can be impossible if you go it alone, but it gives me courage to know that my words reach others, and it’s so heartwarming to hear of others’ success.
My favourite Father-in-law informs me that salvete is not only for Latin for, ‘Hey folks!’ but is also Latvian for serviette. I can only assume that any Latvian readers who stumble across my blog think I have a weird fixation upon serviettes.
This week has been very much focused upon my day job as I am entering a period of intense workload. That’s life. I’ve done a few cool writerly things though.
Chipped away at a bit more on the big translation project I’m working on, and finally finished another smaller project. I take back everything I said about Ps. Nicolaus being readable.
I can give myself a bit of a pat on the back for sharing my research on how the Great War affected my great grandparents. Hint: it wasn’t that great.
I did some research on marketing fiction and looked into some discussion of where the publishing industry is heading. This is, alas, just as important as actual writing these days.
I carved out some time to work on an article whose deadline is looming. This comes as a relief, as it’s been hanging over my head for a while.
I’ve been reflecting a bit on my author platform. As a creative writer, I produce historical fiction with a heavy mythological bent. This is a fairly natural extension from my existing platform as a young scholar of Greek and Roman history. But this also means that effectively I’m building two writing careers simultaneously, working in two related but very different genres. They complement each other quite harmoniously. Still, balancing the two can be a challenge sometimes. But it’s a challenge I love to meet, week by week.
Thanks for sticking with me, folks. I really appreciate it.
And so we come rumbling to the end of another week. Let’s jump right into it.
Progress has been regarding my current academic project.
I gave one of my old essays a polish and posted it here, and it seems to have gone down well. Can I just take a second to express my gratitude at its warm reception? This essay has particular significance for me, as it was my first stab at researching my own topic independently when I was a wee undergrad! It’s more than that, though. The history of mental illness is a topic very dear to my heart, and my great grandfather’s PTSD following the First World War affected my family for several generations. Next week in honour of the ANZACs I am going to post some of the historical research I’ve done about my grandparents: how they met in WWI, and how the war affected them throughout their lives.
I’ve made a few minor tweaks to the novel which has a full manuscript, but nothing major. I should probably leave it alone now and just focus on the next project. Then again, I always remember a quote from George Lucas: ‘Films aren’t released. They escape.’ Perhaps its the same for all forms of storytelling.
The next novel has crawled forward a few paces. I had a bit of a brainwave on that front– the going has been slow, and that’s okay, but maybe I’m overthinking the first draft. My last novel was an historical fantasy set in a world which evoked the Greek bronze age. This next one is a first person narrative set during the early middle ages, and I’m working really hard to make the voice sound authentic to the period. The conceit of my current story is that it’s a lost historical source from a medieval author. Creating an authentic-sounding medieval voice is a greater challenge, which means very deliberate word choices. But you know what? Maybe I just need to give myself permission to write garbage and then edit, rather than agonising over every word. It’s important that I’ve got the voice down pat, as it’s really important. It doesn’t have to be perfect, though. That’s what first drafts are for.
I want to press forward on my writing projects, but it’s the Easter weekend and I think I owe my children some time. There will always be things to do, but my kids won’t be young forever.