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Omar Musa

Events are back, baby!

9 March 2022

Yeeeeeees! How great is it that we’re getting out and about again — seeing our fellow literary peeps and drinking champagne and talking books. Oh, how I have missed it.

If you’re in need of a good literary dose, I’ve got events coming up for both adults and kids. I’ll be talking ‘Adulting and Other Catastrophes’ with Lucy Neave and Nigel Featherstone, and I’m certain this one is going to be heaps of fun.

Then I’m off on a trio of launches for my new picture book, Seree’s Story, illustrated by the incredible Wayne Harris. I’ll be in Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney, dishing out elephantine-sized fun. At all three there’ll be a book reading, craft activity, cupcakes and an awesome prize for the best elephant costume! Find details on my Events page.


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Then in May, I’m excited to be appearing at the Margaret River Readers and Writers Festival. (Thank goodness Perth has finally opened its borders!) It will be my first time in Western Australia, and I’ve been hearing great things about this festival, so I can’t wait. Plus I’m going to be recording a series of episodes for my Secrets from the Green Room podcast, so look out for those.

And because I haven’t posted here for months I want to highlight a couple of past events that deserve a mention. I was thrilled to be in conversation with Omar Musa for his new book of poetry and wood cuts, Killernova. The event had everything, including both laughter and tears, and Omar’s artwork surrounding us, making it a truly memorable event. The book itself is a thing of beauty, and worth your dollars!


I also attended fellow publishing stablemate Michael Burge’s launch for Tank Water. He was in-conversation with Nigel Featherstone and it was a fascinating evening. The book is an absolute cracker and held me to the end. It’s rural crime fiction like I haven’t read before, set against the backdrop of gay hate crimes. Definitely also worth your dollars!

Oh, and one final lovely piece of news. It’s not an event but My latest picture book, Where the Heart Is, has just been released across South America. I cannot explain the thrill of seeing your book in another language. I’m not entirely sure why it’s so happy-making but let’s just say this is a definite highlight of my career to date. Plus it means that now our story can be read in the country that inspired it (Brazil). ¿Qué Bonito! (Perhaps this calls for an event in Brazil?!)

Here’s to lots more lovely events to bring us all together. And here’s to seeing you at one of them!


1 October 2014

I was recently part of a panel on this topic with Omar Musa, Lucy Neave and Nigel Featherstone (Chair) for HARDCOPY. We had a wide-ranging and thoroughly enjoyable discussion and I thought it might be useful to pick up and elaborate on a few of the points discussed.

1. Your heart is published along with the book
Before this session I asked some fellow writers what they wished they’d known and Kim Lock put it beautifully when she said, ‘I didn’t realise quite how much of my heart would be published along with the book.’ She explained: ‘I found that reviews mattered and affected me far, far more than I’d anticipated they would. I found even the slightest criticism would stick with me for days.’

Having a book published can be a raw and vulnerable time, especially if reviews are excoriating. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t experienced one of those yet (right now I’ve stopped typing to frantically touch wood, cross fingers and toes etc, though in truth it’s only a matter of time). But I clearly remember analysing one line in a review of Two Steps Forward for a good 10 minutes. It’s meaning was unclear but it sounded potentially negative. ‘Do you think the subeditors changed something?’ I said to my bloke, and we tried to guess what might have been altered, and what criticism the reviewer might have been trying to make. In the end I concluded that if I couldn’t work it out after 10 obsessive minutes of dissection then no one else would either.

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Authors often talk (usually privately) about being floored by reviews, which is no doubt why some authors say they don’t read them (frankly, I don’t believe them). On the other hand, a thoughtful critique is like a gift. It can make you think about your work in a new light — both its successes and failures — which is invaluable. There was one review of Two Steps Forward that made me think deeply about the subconscious motivations for writing the characters I do. It gave me a new understanding of my work. That’s pretty incredible.

2. Know when to stick to your guns
Throughout the publishing process it’s important to know when to stick to your guns and when to compromise. I think I mostly get this balance right but I do have one small regret. Two Steps Forward was a title my publisher chose and I never much liked it. They decided that my original title, The Anatomy of Happiness, was too long and too literary. There are plenty of published titles of similar length, but they wanted something more accessible. The idea behind the Long Story Shorts series that Two Steps Forward was a part of was to make the short story appeal to a wider audience. If I was Tim Winton, I thought, I would stick to my guns, but as this was my debut collection I didn’t want to become one of those ‘difficult’ authors. I went back and forth with my publisher about the title but in the end acquiesced. If I had a time machine I’d pretend to be Winton and stick to my guns on this one. But I should add that this is my only minor regret in what was an exemplary publication process.

3. It’s tough out there
It’s been estimated that only one percent of all work submitted to publishers ever makes it into print. So it’s tough to get that first publication. What is probably less well known is that in the current climate it’s also tough to get the next book published. I know authors who’ve had two or three or more books published and are now struggling to find a publisher for their next book. Once upon a time I naively thought that with that first book the door to the publishing world opened and everything just rolled on from there. In truth it’s only the first door in a long corridor of doors.

4. Authors make a piddling about of money
Unless you’re Stephen King or JK Rowling you’re going to need to have another source of income other than advances and book sales. Natasha Lester wrote an honest and revealing article about this recently. She quotes stats that the average debut novel of an Australian author sells only 984 copies. Authors earn 10 per cent of the cover price, so for example $2.99 of a book with the rrp of $29.95. Therefore, 984 copies equates to just under $3K. And that’s for a book you might have spent three, five or 10 years writing. In short, when you sign your first book contract don’t ditch your day job.

5. There will always be doubt…
…and you just have to push through it. Personally, I have found it somehow reassuring that even the most accomplished writers are still filled with doubt about their ability. Interviewing Miles Franklin Award winner Roger McDonald was a revelation for me. He said, ‘Even when I’m close to finishing [a book], I’m thinking, ‘This is never going to work.’ That’s my struggle…it always seems just a little bit out of reach.’

Peter Carey puts it like this: ‘Writers spend a lot of their life failing at what they are doing. The chances are on any given day you are going to finish having not quite succeeded but you have that nasty feeling that there’s something false about what you have done. That process is painful: you are always filled with doubt.’ And yet there are days ‘when you are writing and you know you are doing something fabulous, and there’s no feeling like that on earth’. That’s what keeps us going, right?

Knowing that experienced authors like Roger and Peter still feel this way helps disempower my own doubt. It will always come and go, so you just have to get on with the writing in spite of it. We are all human, wrestling with the immense spirit of creativity. It’s one beautiful, messy, doubt-filled process.

Espresso and white noise: on writing in cafés

27 March 2013

Apparently people who take their laptops to cafés and write are pretentious. On his blog John Scalzi writes: ‘I mean, Christ, people. All that tapping and leaning back thoughtfully in your chair with a mug of whatever while you pretend to edit your latest masterpiece. You couldn’t be more obvious if you had a garish, flashing neon sign over your head that said ‘Looking For Sex.’ Go home, why don’t you. Just go.’

I am addicted to writing in cafés. And I hate to disillusion John Scalzi, but it has nothing to do with sex. (Frankly, I had no idea that the ultimate drawcard of editing galley proofs was supposed to result in days of hot libidinous sex.)

I work part-time as IrmaGolda freelance editor. I work full-time as a mother. Yes, I realise that doesn’t seem to add up and now I’m going to throw another factor into the mix. Somewhere between marking-up other writers’ creative works, and the million small and large things three children between the ages of nine and almost-two require, I attempt to claw back some time for my own writing.

Cafés, I tell you, are my salvation. Every Wednesday afternoon when my partner comes home from work early (and sometimes at weekends, too) I escape to a café to do my own writing. It is a sublime kind of bliss. So when Us Folk magazine recently asked me to write about my favourite place in Canberra, there was no contest.

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But why cafés? Well, for starters there’s no Internet. I can’t possibly be distracted by Facebook or diverted by the emails constantly pinging into my inbox that relate to ‘real’ work. But it’s more than that. As I wrote for Us Folk, being surrounded by the diversity of humanity, the very stuff of fiction, is energising. Cafés are perfect for those writerly necessities of eavesdropping and people watching. Then there’s the white noise of hissing espresso machines and the buzz of conversation which provides the perfect backdrop, somehow concentrating the mind. And let’s not forget caffeine to feed the muse.

I’m not a fan of JK Rowling’s work, but when it comes to cafés we’re of the same mind. Rowling says: ‘It’s no secret that the best place to write, in my opinion, is in a café. You don’t have to make your own coffee, you don’t have to feel like you’re in solitary confinement and if you have writer’s block, you can get up and walk to the next café while giving your batteries time to recharge and brain time to think. The best writing café is crowded enough to where you blend in, but not too crowded that you have to share a table with someone else.’

As you can see from the Us Folk pic above, they shot me in one of my favourite cafes, A Bite to Eat. Pretending to do what I do when nobody’s watching was an odd experience. To one side of me was the photographer’s assistant holding a large silver reflector, on the other side was the photographer (the very talented Ash Peak) clicking away. Naturally everyone in the café was watching, openly or in snatched sideways glances. I’m used to being anonymous, but there I was, outside my comfort zone in a place where I’d normally slide right into it. I guess I was literally leaning back thoughtfully with a mug of whatever while I pretended to edit my latest masterpiece. Have I just proved John Scalzi’s point?

Us Folk also interviewed two other Invisible Thread authors, Jack Heath and Omar Musa, and the filmmaker of the Thread book trailer, James Hunter. If you buy a copy of the mag you’ll notice that all three of them are young, good-looking twenty-somethings. That’s because Us Folk’s audience are in their twenties and thirties. So, let’s be frank, I’m really pushing the upper limit. Us Folk is a beautiful new magazine that has just celebrated its first birthday. With gorgeous production values and quirky, interesting content, it’s well worth a look.

Now, please excuse me while I head to a café for a flat white and the company of my muse.


7 March 2013

A quick heads up to let you know that next Wednesday I’ll be launching poet and rapper Omar Musa’s latest collection, Parang.

I first saw Omar perform some years ago at a poetry slam evening at the Front. I’d been hearing about how good he was for some time, and I’d read a few of his poems. That night he outshone everyone. Omar has the kind of x-factor reality show judges lust after. Combine that with the musicality and muscularity of his words and you’ve got something special. Coincidentally, the poem he performed that night, ‘Queanbeyan’ from his first collection The Clocks, was subsequently selected for inclusion in The Invisible Thread anthology that I recently edited.

Omar has won numerous awards for poetry, including the Australian Poetry Slam and the Indian Ocean Poetry Slam. He memorably performed ‘My Generation’ (included in Parang) on Q&A, and his debut novel, Here Come the Dogs, will be published by Penguin in 2014. He’s definitely one to watch.

All the details for the launch are here. In the meantime you might like to check out Omar’s book trailer, or watch an interview I did with him last year where he talks about the power of poetry slams for young people, how Sophie Cunningham unwittingly forced him to write his debut novel, and why he wants to change the perception that poetry is ‘irrelevant’.

Filming (mis)adventures

26 October 2012

Before The Invisible Thread series I had never interviewed anyone on camera. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of interesting people for print but my voice, my words have only ever appeared on the page, and my image has remained hidden. Seeing yourself played back is an excruciating experience (how do actors cope with their overblown reflection at movie premiers?) and it revealed an irritating quirk.

Whenever I start talking I experience an uncontrollable urge to wave my hands about. After I saw the first few interviews played back I gave myself a good talking to. Note to self: Keep your hands down. At all times. My hands would not listen. In subsequent interviews the second I started speaking up they would jump. Waving, waving, always waving. During one interview I tried to unobtrusively sit on my hands but I quickly released them. When I wasn’t waving them around I was unable to think. However it seems many authors are similarly inclined, so I’m in good company. Here’s Omar Musa and me waving at each other.

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My hand-waving was not the only challenge we faced. There were also a few technical misadventures. The ACT Writers Centre — where we filmed the majority of these interviews — was a logistical nightmare. Never has any room had so many plug sockets and light switches and poles, all highly unappealing features onscreen. We did our best to avoid them but early on one caught out my indefatigable cameraman, Dylan. During set-up my head was covering it, but as I began speaking and waving and moving around, the nasty little offender began playing hide and seek. When viewing the footage it was distracting in the extreme. I did show it to a couple of ‘test cases’ who didn’t notice it until well into the interview, but I knew we had to reshoot my noddies*. A right pain, but you can be sure we didn’t make that mistake again.

Then there was the issue of the second mic. We had a reliable and professional lapel mic for the author but tried a series of different mics for me. So in a couple of interviews you’ll see me holding up a lovely gold number (disco queens eat your heart out). There was no issue with the sound quality but when the interviewer holds a mic it changes the dynamic, making it difficult to set the interview on an equal footing. So we swapped that for another lapel mic which, as it turned out, would have been perfect if we were working as spies but wasn’t so great for interviewing authors. It picked up everything in the room, and I do mean everything. On the playback I swear you could even hear the air moving. So finally we returned to disco gold but with me holding it between my thighs out of shot (as you can see here while filming Roger McDonald). Rather odd but somewhat less intrusive.

But perhaps the crowning failure came courtesy of an author who shall remain nameless who deadbolted one of the doors after entering the room. The interview went beautifully, said author exited out of the second door and shortly afterwards, taking a break before the last author arrived, we did too, carefully closing it behind us to ensure that all Dylan’s camera equipment remained safe.

When we returned, reflecting on how well the interviews had gone so far that day, we discovered that my key wouldn’t open door 1 (now deadbolted) or door 2 (which opened with a different key). While waiting for the security company, Dylan paced from door 1 to door 2 and back again, vainly trying them both at least 30 times each. ‘Stop, Dylan!’ I cried eventually, and he then attempted to convince me that I would be able to climb up through a high glass window above the door and drop ninja-style into the room. Needless to say I was somewhat reluctant, and thankfully we were unable to prise the window open. There was talk of breaking the door down; we weren’t ruling it out. Eventually the security man arrived and popped it open easily with a master key (I may have fist pumped, I can’t be sure). ‘The whole thing sounds Chaplinesque,’ a friend commented. Indeed.

Now I’ve confessed all our misadventures you might be pleasantly surprised to discover that this week’s interview actually looks pretty decent. A writer and glass artist of Arrente, Chinese and Anglo-Celtic descent, Jennifer Martiniello has plenty of insightful things to say. Make yourself a cuppa, put your feet up, and click that little triangle.

* For those as ignorant as I was, noddies don’t have anything to do with Big Ears or Enid Blyton. A ‘noddy’ is the technical term for when an interviewer’s questions are filmed after the interview has been recorded. We used two cameras for the majority of the series, but for the first few interviews we only had one camera and so after the author left I became adept at pretending they were still sitting in the chair across from me.