- Guest Author -
Welcome to an interview with an Australian author - Pauline Montagna.
Welcome, Pauline ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I think I've always wanted to be a writer. I remember my first effort was a 4 page play when I was 8 years old. It was about a princess in a tower waiting to be rescued by a prince. How original!
However, it wasn't until I got a computer in the late 1980s that the daydreams began to take on form and I started dabbling in novels and screen plays. In the early 1990s I moved to Perth and while I was there returned to university to get my teaching qualifications. On returning to Melbourne in 1998 I came across the Professional Writing and Editing course and, having discovered at university that I was capable of getting assignments in on time and even getting the occasional A+, I thought it might be a good way to complete all those unfinished projects sitting on my computer.
WHAT TYPE OF PREPARATION DO YOU DO FOR A MANUSCRIPT? DO YOU PLAN EVERYTHING FIRST OR JUST SHOOT FROM THE HIP?
I'm very much a planner. This is imperative in historical fiction where you have certain factual historical points that you have to hit. You begin with those facts and you have to work out how your character gets from one to the other. However, I always leave room for inspiration. There's nothing more exciting than sitting down to write a scene and watching it develop in completely unexpected ways.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
I do love the research. My best summer ever was the one I spent in the State Library of Victoria doing the preliminary research for my current series. You can almost hear the neurons firing as you go from one book to the other, making leaps here and connections there. There's nothing better.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
As a self-publisher, it's getting my book out there to the public. I dread the very thought of going out there to sell myself. Thank goodness for the internet!
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
When I first went to university straight out of a Catholic girls' school I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but I soon gave up on that idea. Back in the 1970s Careers Counselling consisted of handing out application forms for the public service exams. Apart from teaching, any other careers for Arts students, such as publishing, which would have been my first choice, were a closed shop unless you knew the right people. So I joined the public service and there developed an aversion to being trapped in full-time, permanent employment I've never lost.
That first job was in the accounts department, so I used that basic training to develop a career as a freelance bookkeeper, a career which at one point took me into the film industry and over to Perth, where, as I mentioned earlier, I went back to university and finally became a teacher after all, a teacher of adults, generally of English as a Second Language.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
My greatest achievement so far is my latest book, Not Wisely but Too Well, a novel about the young William Shakespeare and his relationship with Christopher Marlowe. It took a great deal of research as, although the central relationship is fictional, I have striven to make it as historically accurate as possible. As I was writing in the first person I also had to develop a language that had the texture of Elizabethan English but was easily understandable by the modern reader. It has had some very favourable reviews.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
Completing the series, The Stuff of Dreams, of which Not Wisely but Too Well is the first of a planned four volumes. The series will cover Shakespeare's writing career and the influences that made him the great writer he became. However, it won't just be about his writing. My Will will also get involved in all sorts of political intrigues.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
As Edison said, creation is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. My inspiration comes from a story that refuses to be shelved and insists on being written. The first reaction to my attempt at writing about Shakespeare was discouraging, and I put the project aside in despair, but it would not let me rest until I picked it up again. The rest is perspiration.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
To be brutally honest, I'd say find another career. But if you must write, don't write novels. The novel is a dying art form and the market is flooded. Look to the future. Write for the next generation in the formats they'll be, in the jargon of the day, 'accessing' and 'consuming'.
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
One of the advantages of being a meticulous planner is that it staves off writer's block as you always know what comes next. However, I don't always feel 'in the zone' so sometimes that next chapter has to wait until I'm in the right frame of mind, or that last detail has been researched.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
When I'm writing, I don't need a schedule as, if I could, I'd be writing all the time. My preferred schedule is to sit down at my computer first thing in the morning and get up when I'm too tired to go on.
I can't write at night, so I'd never be able to hold down a full-time job and write as well. I prefer to work part-time and allocate certain days of the week to 'being a writer'. Unfortunately as marketing has become a vital part of writing these days, I'll have to allocate at least one of those precious days to marketing.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
I've set up the second bedroom in my two bedroom unit as an office (sorry, study if my insurance company is listening) with a lovely wide computer screen and everything at my fingertips.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I would say my favourite author is Mary Renault, for the beauty of her writing, her insight and her humanity. All her books set in Ancient Greece are a joy to read. The younger Ursula le Guin comes a close second. I loved The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed. If I could write as well as they I would die happy.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
I had a friend staying with me once, and she was reading the manuscript of my first novel, The Slave. She is a mathematician, a very pragmatic, no nonsense person. I had to interrupt her as she had promised to pick up her son. When she returned she told me she had found it difficult to concentrate on driving because her head was still back in the fourteenth century. What better compliment is there?
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
'But it's not Shakespeare.' No, actually that wasn't from a reader, but an agent's junior office girl.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
Only in small ways. The occasional incident from my own life finds its ways onto the pages of my historical novels, and I do put myself into my characters, but from then on it's all wish fulfilment! My contemporary short story collection, Suburban Terrors, is largely based on incidents I have experienced or witnessed.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Between writing and marketing, there's not much time left for other pleasures. I still enjoy reading, but find it hard to stay awake these days. I like watching good movies and television, and being with friends. I'm just back from a long stay in Europe. I love being there but I find the actual act of travelling and playing the tourist tiring and disheartening.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
As a trained editor and teacher of English grammar and spelling, I can generally produce a readable text, but obviously a dispassionate eye is required. Generally I ask friends for their feedback.
DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
No end. The industry is now all about making large profits rather than developing writing talent. They prefer to stick to the tried and true rather than take risks on new writers. They have also shed and outsourced all the mechanisms for finding new writers to literary agents, who have developed inflated egos as a result. Despite the fact that the whole industry is built on the sweat of our brows, writers are at the bottom of the pile and treated with utter disdain.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
There's no need for the past tense. I think of quitting all the time.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
My favourite manuscript is the one I'm writing now, or the one I'm planning to write. If you don't love what you're writing, there's no point in writing it. The writing life is unrewarding enough as it is without it being a chore as well.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER?
I don't expect to be a best seller, or find fame and fortune, but I would like to know that I have written books that a goodly number of discerning people want to buy and read.
WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR BOOKS KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
I should hope my readers put down a book of mine with a certain sadness that it has ended and wanting more.
HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
I take cover design very seriously. It's vital for creating the book's ambiance in the reader's mind. For my historical novels I like to keep the design simple and base it on a work of art which evokes the book's central character or theme. I was much more experimental with the cover of Suburban Terrors which I created myself from a photograph I took.
WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
To become a well-regarded and well-loved writer of historical fiction.
WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
I have been overseas for the last few months and while I was away I became obsessed with developing a marketing plan. I hope now to implement it successfully. For a self-published writer, marketing is difficult, much more difficult than writing. It's where the drudgery and uncertainty comes in. Unfortunately it's vital, unless you want to write in a vacuum.
There is lots of advice about marketing out there, but in reality, no one knows what will and won't work for your book. You have to try it all and hope that something pushes the right buttons. Of course, I could give up all pretense of integrity and write another 50 Shades, but I just don't have it in me.
My website: http://paulinemontagna.net/
Not Wisely but Too Well: http://paulinemontagna.net/not-wisely-but-too-well/
The Slave: http://paulinemontagna.net/the-slave/
Suburban Terrors: http://paulinemontagna.net/suburban-terrors/
Suburban Terrors http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhdFu5IF8sw
Clancy's comment: Pauline, you are right about marketing, and about the sweat on the brows of writers. It's the toughest gig in town.
Think about this!