The debut release storm

27 February 2021

I have started trying to write this post so many times but pre-publicity for The Breaking has me feeling like I’m in the middle of a storm. A tropical storm, perhaps (I love the tropics), but a storm nevertheless.

I had the best of intentions. Over the Christmas holiday period I knew I would have a couple of manuscripts to edit but that there would be plenty of time to write a bunch of guest blog posts and Q&A interviews. My plan was to get ahead on everything so that come release day I wouldn’t be overwhelmed.

There was one small problem that I hadn’t accounted for. Christmas slow mode. It happens every year, and yet every year I forget about it. My family came up from Melbourne (extra wonderful after all their months in lockdown) and I stopped working. I never stop working. One of the dangers of working freelance is that evenings and weekends are just extra work days, so I never really stop. And then when I do, it’s like someone switched my motor off. I didn’t want to go near my email, or even think about anything other than just being with friends and family and enjoying the summer. Then I took the kids north for a week (bliss), and then it was still school holidays. It took me a long while to get back into gear. And needless to say, instead of being ahead, I was then behind.

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I did manage to get some new author photos done. I’d been putting it off for so long because I loathe being in front of the camera, but I actually surprised myself by enjoying the shoot. All credit to the fabulous Karleen Minney who directed my awkward body into better photographic shapes. Well, except for this outake. I was at saturation point here and couldn’t figure out what to do with my hands (seriously, hands are the worst on a shoot).

Since then I’ve been doing interviews for print and podcast, writing more Q&As, signing stock that arrived early to some of my local bookstores, and working with my publicist to plan a book tour, which is super exciting. I was also on a panel with superstar combo Karen Viggers and Zoya Patel talking about the representation of women in contemporary writing, which was so much fun. And The Breaking was allowed to break its embargo for its first outing.

After launching in Canberra next Thursday 4 March I’ll be heading to Brisbane for an event at Avid Reader on Thursday 11 March and then spending two weeks visiting bookshops all down the east coast, ending in Melbourne with an event for Readings at The Collective on Tuesday 23 March. If you’re in one of these cities, I’d love to see you at these events!

It is a nerve-wracking thing releasing a book into the world. And although I’ve published a collection of short fiction and some children’s books, because this is my debut novel it almost feels like the first time again. Feedback from people who’ve read early copies of the book has filled me with such joy, especially from those I know whose opinions I respect enormously. And it is so happy-making to receive all the photos of readers’ pre-ordered copies arriving.

The book is officially in bookshops today, and on the weekend there was a lovely big spread in the paper ahead of its release. So this thing is on, the book’s out there, and I’m going to ride that wild storm to the end.

Wishing you all the merry!

17 December 2020

What a year it has been! I’m sure I can’t add anything new that hasn’t already been said about the shitfuckery of 2020, but I’m counting on 2021 being a whole lot different. For starters I have three books coming out. My debut novel, The Breaking, in March, then two picture books, Where the Heart Is and Seree’s Story, in June and August. So it’s shaping up to be a hugely busy year!

In the meantime I hope you all have a wonderful break full of good food and drinks and books. And I look forward to seeing you all on the other side. Wishing you all the merry!

Irma x

Secrets from the Green Room

22 October 2020

Mega exciting news! This year I’ve been busily planning a new writing podcast with my co-host Craig Cormick, called Secrets from the Green Room. Craig and I have known each other for more than 20 years. I first met him in my second year studying creative writing when he happened to be my tutor, and since then we’ve made books together, been in a writing group together, and now we’re hosting a podcast together. And boy is it a lot of work starting a podcast! I knew it would be, and yet…

Our tagline is ‘The author stories you won’t hear anywhere else’ because the podcast is taking green room chat live. When writers get together — be it in green rooms or bars or cafes — they talk frankly about the pleasures and pitfalls of writing and publishing in ways that they usually don’t when put on a stage at a festival. So Secrets from the Green Room is going to take you backstage, with thanks to our sponsor and supporter, the ACT Writers Centre.

Season 1 features James Bradley, Holden Sheppard, Karen Viggers, Chris Hammer, Anna Spargo-Ryan, and more. We talk about everything from rejected manuscripts that never made it to publication (Anna Spargo-Ryan), how the publisher you choose can have a big impact on sales — and no, it’s not necessarily about big versus small publishers (Chris Hammer), the perceived glamour of an author’s life versus the reality (Karen Viggers), being snubbed by literary big shots in the green room (Holden Sheppard) and so many other things besides.

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Ep 1 is now live! It features my interview with Anna Spargo-Ryan. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed talking to her about how she grew up with her own publishing house (sort of!), the manuscripts that never made it to publication, how she accidentally pitched a book on Twitter that led to a heated auction, what said heated auction involved (hint: a lot of emotional paralysis on the couch), the worst rejection of her writing life and a whole lot more.

You can find us on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen (obviously we’d love you to subscribe) and all the socials: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook (obviously we’d love you to follow). And you can drop us a line via our website. Hope you can join us for the ride!

Launching in the time of COVID

17 September 2020

Launching a book into the world can be a strange and surreal experience at the best of times, but launching a book into a pandemic just got a whole lot stranger. Authors have been forced to adjust to new technologies and ways of engaging with readers, and reconcile themselves to the fact that events are now all via a screen. So I asked three authors how their recent book releases compare with their previous books — back when we were all naïve and thought pandemics belonged only in novels. Laura Elvery, Elizabeth Tan and Mirandi Riwoe share the best and the worst of their book babies going out during the time of COVID.

Laura Elvery
In the week after Ordinary Matter came out, my sister and I drove to Brisbane bookshops following an itinerary my publicist had organised. I don’t remember doing this for my first book. It was new to head into a shop and try to non-awkwardly introduce myself. It was new to sign piles of books and try to note all the locations of stacks around the shop. And the whole time sanitising, sanitising, sanitising. (Also new was somebody at one of the shops saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if you had COVID because then you would have taken down all the bookstores in town?’ INDEED! A good joke!)

Strangely, I felt both a little more armoured than I did with my first book (a thicker skin, no newborn baby strapped to my chest, less time on my hands now to fret) but also less armoured (turns out some people actually knew I’d written a book and were waiting for it). In late February 2018 I was about 38 weeks pregnant. The launch for Trick of the Light was this incredibly fun party with 100 people, and it was, for me, all about making it to the event in one piece. A week or so either side and I’d have to reschedule. Look at photos of me that night and I’m just beaming — I’d made it. One week later my son made it into the world too. I sat up in the hospital bed with a stack of copies that Avid Reader had sent along for signing, my baby asleep beside me.

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But, look. A book during a pandemic! Could be worse! The good bits: in Brisbane, I can actually go into bookstores and spot Ordinary Matter on a table. I had more people at this Zoom launch than at the one in 2018. My sister-in-law and my little niece sat at their dining table in Copenhagen and watched. My oldest friend in the world, now living in Townsville, could watch. I got messages from writers in other parts of Australia who tuned in. My next-door neighbour could both hear me speaking through our shared apartment wall AND through her laptop. Good times!

More good bits: that I’m published at all. That Ordinary Matter remains a 2020 title and was pushed back only by one month, not a whole year, or not indefinitely. Podcasts and radio interviews. Good reviews coming in. That it’s a privilege to be reviewed at all. That it’s validating to have reviewers mention my second book in the context of the first. That there was a first book at all.

But some disappointing parts remain. I have friends whose books have been delayed, and friends whose livelihoods have suffered. No events at any bookshop, full-stop. No in-person Q&As. After years of writing the damn thing and then receiving early invites to writers’ festivals — no writers’ festivals. That all feels a bit sad. No line of loved ones waiting for their copy to be signed, waiting to grab a hug and a photo and a glass of wine together down the road.

Next time.

Laura Elvery is the author of two short story collections, Trick of the Light and Ordinary Matter, published by UQP in September 2020. She has won several short story prizes in Australia and her work is published in Griffith Review, The Saturday Paper, Meanjin and Overland. Laura has a PhD in Creative Writing and Literary Studies. She lives in Brisbane.

Elizabeth Tan
My first book, Rubik, was launched into the world by the exuberant Brooke Davis in April 2017, at Beaufort Street Books in North Perth. While I remember the night of Rubik’s launch with incredible fondness and gratitude, I also remember hanging from tenterhooks of nervousness for the entire month. Will enough people turn up? How much wine should I buy? How am I supposed to act among all these people from various social groups smooshed together, all of whom know a different me? How can I sufficiently convey my appreciation to everyone?

Smart Ovens for Lonely People launch

As the days crept closer to the June 2020 publication date of my second book, Smart Ovens for Lonely People, I worried about enduring all those anxieties again, but without that propelling energy which accompanies the release of a debut.

In late March 2020, when the whole country was locking down, my publisher, Alice Grundy, emailed me to ask if I wanted to delay the release of Smart Ovens. It was impossible for us to know the best decision. Certainly, I could see the benefit of waiting. But I knew it in my heart: it was time for the book to leave my hands.

The last story I wrote for Smart Ovens was ‘Ron Swanson’s Stencilled ’Stache’, whose protagonist is an ASMR YouTube artist. At the time Alice emailed me, virtual literary events were already popping up. I realised I’d been given the strange gift of not having to organise and navigate a big social gathering. ‘A virtual launch wouldn’t be totally out of character for this book,’ I eventually replied to Alice, adding: ‘e.g. an ASMR-themed launch?’

The launches of Rubik and Smart Ovens were incomparably different experiences — I can’t say one was better than the other. Some of my anxieties persisted, or were replaced with new anxieties, especially about the technical aspects of the launch. My partner, Shane, helped me work out the best way to record, edit, subtitle, and broadcast the launch — I couldn’t have done it without him.

One nice thing about the virtual launch was that people outside my hometown could attend and participate — especially Alice, who I’ve met in person only a handful of times. Alice recruited Bram Presser and Jane Rawson to record ASMR videos to contribute to the launch, which they did spectacularly. I also appreciated that friends who missed out on the live broadcast could still watch the launch later.

What I love most about online events is that there’s a tremendous amount of goodwill — nobody expects perfection. It’s clear that everyone is using the tools, props and software that they have on-hand. We have to be resourceful and imaginative like children. On the day of the broadcast of my launch, with the live chat humming, I felt very much like a child putting on a bizarre, gleeful play for my friends. Together, we cultivated a sweet, peculiar kind of intimacy — a perfect fit for Smart Ovens for Lonely People.

Elizabeth Tan is a writer from Perth, Western Australia. Her first book, Rubik, was published in 2017 by Brio. Her second book, Smart Ovens for Lonely People, was shortlisted for the 2020 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. View the Smart Ovens launch: https://youtu.be/zR41sptHI-A.

Mirandi Riwoe
At the very end of February this year, when coronavirus still seemed a distant problem, my husband and I flew to Los Angeles. We stayed in Santa Monica and visited family, rode rental bikes, ate out on the crowded pier, caught Ubers everywhere. By about 5 March, we heard news that a couple of LAX workers had contracted COVID-19 and that people in Australia were hoarding toilet paper. First, I said to my husband, jokingly, ‘I wonder if we should take some toilet paper home with us’, and then, more seriously, ‘I wonder if my book launch will go ahead.’

‘Of course it will,’ he said. ‘It’s on the 27th! Nothing’s going to happen in such a short time.’

Ha.

By the time we arrived back in Australia on the 9th, health warnings and restrictions were kicking off. It’s hard to remember how quickly everything happened, but over the next two weeks, the number of people who could attend my book launch at Avid Reader bookstore shrunk, until only a handful of people, including staff, could be spaced out on their deck. And did I really want to put older people, like my father, at risk? (My mother and two adult children had already had to cancel their air tickets to attend my launch.) Luckily, over the week before my launch the lovely people at Avid Reader practiced Zoom meetings with me a few times, and a couple of days before I was to have my launch, we all decided it was best if we went ahead with a Zoom launch instead. I think I had the first Zoom launch in Australia.

I dressed up — just as I would have if I’d had an in-person launch — in a lace cheongsam, put on my red lippy and perched on my dragon couch in front of my computer clutching a glass of champagne. Of course, I would have preferred to be surrounded by loved ones cheering me on, to hug, to gulp down a little too much wine while signing my book, (I had badges and magnets made up to give away with each book), to eat the cupcakes UQP were going to provide with my book cover iced on top, to go next door to Chop Chop Changs and eat noodles with said loved ones. But there were upsides to the Zoom launch. I get terribly nervous talking in front of a crowd, so speaking to the screen was a little less harrowing. And I got to clutch my daughter’s guinea pigs during question time. The best part of the Zoom event, though, was that so many lovely people who could not have attended the live event ended up coming to my Zoom launch — interstate family, writers and readers, who I love and admire.

Mirandi’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain launch

Missing out on a live launch is such a miniscule thing in the scale of what is happening this year. And I’m so grateful for how supportive readers and other writers have been during this fraught period. Back in March it was very difficult to know what was going to happen. At first I wondered if the release of Stone Sky Gold Mountain should be postponed, but by the time we realised lockdowns and restrictions were going to take place, it was too late. Thankfully, a lot of people have found time to read over the last six months and I hope people continue to find solace in books. There are just so many great novels coming out, despite this pandemic.

Mirandi Riwoe’s novel Stone Sky Gold Mountain won the Queensland Literary Award for Fiction 2020. Her novella The Fish Girl won Seizure’s Viva la Novella V and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Queensland Literary Award for Fiction.

To go in the draw win a book pack of Laura Elvery’s Ordinary Matter, Elizabeth Tan’s Smart Ovens for Lonely People and Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain simply sign up to my newsletter (sign-up box on this page).

On zooming: disconnected connection

12 August 2020

In the crazy COVID land of 2020, Zoom has emerged as king. I now have online editorial meetings with publishers and authors, and attend book launches, book clubs, writerly drinks, literary festivals and events, all via Zoom. In some ways it’s connected me with the literary community more than ever before, allowing me to flit all around Australia. I can cram in a book launch over dinner, or an in-conversation event while waiting in the car during my son’s basketball practice (restrictions are fun, hey?). But I miss being in the room with people — seeing their faces (in 3D instead of on a flat screen!), drinking a glass of wine, and generally soaking up the good vibes from being among bookish folk.

Listening to Tegan Bennett Daylight in my car while my son played basketball

The same goes for workshops. I recently ran an online course on The Art of Self-Editing Fiction over three weekends and it was an interesting experience. I’m used to reading the room through people’s body language, eye contact and the general level of energy. With Zoom that’s all gone. Yes, people appear on screen in Brady Bunch-like rectangles, but as the host you only get to see a few of them. What’s more, in order for participants to feel like you’re engaging and looking directly at them, you need to look at the camera. This means that the gallery of participants is not actually in your sightline. And then there’s your slide show and the chat function to manage.

On the up side, because the sessions were spread out over three weeks, the participants were able to exchange emails with me during the week which meant that I got to know a little about them and their writing. It can’t replace chatting with participants in the room, but it was something. And the breakout rooms are a great feature. They enabled me to split all the participants up into pairs so that they could give feedback on the first three pages of each other’s novels face to face. So there have been pluses and minuses, but the feedback on the workshops has been wonderful, which is heartening.

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Ultimately, Zoom is a kind of disconnected connection. But right now it’s the best we’ve got. I have three books out next year and I am desperately hoping (please!) that we’ll be back to live events by then. In the meantime, authors have been coming to grips with new ways of doing things. I finally bit the bullet and bought a ring light, and what a difference it makes! This week I’m filming a short piece for my next Walker Books title for the foreign rights team, so it couldn’t have arrived at a better time. During the last few months I feel like I’ve been forced to acquire new skills that I’m actually really grateful for.

I’ll be even more grateful when I can put them into action in a COVID-free world.