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P17 Issue 11 Reflections – Vanessa Page, Beverley Lello and David Goodwin

Posted by on Sep 30, 2014 in Busybird, page seventeen | 0 comments

Reflections #1It’s still a little while before Issue 11 is released and available. So in the meantime, until November 19 we can do two things:

1) Shamelessly plug back issues available online here. Some editions are currently out of stock but the most recent issues are still readily available.

2) Promote/tease the upcoming issue.

Let’s devote a little time to that second point. Many of the P17 contributors for 2014 have kindly provided some insight into their submissions and what went into the work that you’ll be reading come mid-November. We’ll publish these reflections in a steady stream between now and the Issue 11 launch. Be sure to check them out in anticipation of the new issue – and many of these authors have an online presence so be sure to look them up.

Without further adieu, the first three reflections from the P17 #11 alumni. More reflections will follow in the coming weeks.

 

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Vanessa Page on ‘Bellarine machines’

In ‘Bellarine machines’ the timeless imagery of a beachside caravan park is designed to draw the reader into the space – that safe haven or escape bubble we exist in on holiday. The title is drawn from the Bellarine Peninsula in Victoria, where I experienced a number of caravan park holidays as a child. This kind of holiday escape is an experience that’s familiar to most readers and this poem uses observation and descriptive layering to create that sense of familiarity. I think a lot of the things that truly define us are exposed in these scenarios; when layers are scraped away, life is simpler and there’s more time for reflection. This is a gentle poem that immerses the reader in that space and those ideas.

vanessapage.wordpress.com

 

Vanessa Page is a Brisbane poet. She has published two collections of poetry: Feeding Paper Tigers (ALS Press) and Confessional Box (Walleah Press). She was the winner of the 2013 Anne Elder Award and has twice been named runner-up in the Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Prize.

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Beverley Lello on ‘Protest’

I was involved in the Vietnam Moratoriums in the early 70s and remember clearly the conflict which often arose in families between the older and younger generations.  I’ve always wanted to explore that time in a story but ‘Protest’ only came to life for me when I was able to put it in a modern context.  Seeing televised news reports of more current demonstrations gave me a way of connecting my protagonist, Susan, with those earlier demonstrations of the early seventies.

Protest marches are also a means people have of speaking out about an issue when the normal channels of communication fail.  In my story conflict occurs between the mother and daughter over the daughter’s sexuality but it’s really about the failure of two adults from different generations to communicate and speak openly.  This echoes an earlier mother/daughter conflict in the protagonist’s life.

I like writing stories about family relationships because they are so complex and conflict often involves other family members.  In this case the husband/father is caught in the middle but it’s his steadfastness – and love for his women – that has the power to provide a solution.

Inspiration for stories usually comes from my own life: travel, observations of the natural world and watching how people interact.  Also, many years of reading for pleasure.

 

Beverley Lello is a writer living in north-east Victoria. Her short stories have been published in Country Style Magazine, page seventeen, fourW (23 and 24), Award Winning Australian Writing (2012, 2013 and 2014) and several anthologies. Beverley has also received a number of awards for her short fiction.

 

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David Goodwin on ‘Hurling Truth’

The star of this poem exists – or, at least, he did three months ago – spewing out surprisingly eloquent brimstone at the cold Melbourne night. My small group was armed only with souvlaki and the beginnings of a hangover as we were beset.

He brought to mind Nick Nolte’s infamous mug shot: straggly swords of hair pointing down in diagonals and parallel universes sloshing in his irises – along with all the typecast hobos trudging around South Central from the terrible movies of my youth – food scraps clinging to impressive beards and sandwich-board screeds commanding repentance before the approaching Big Dance.

But this man possessed considerable élan. We watched him for twenty minutes as we scoffed down our lamb and his material was always fresh, rhapsodic, freestyled, almost as if he understood the demographics of his target market – many passing with addled, arts-and-craft store-eyes of their own, several of them twisting and jerking around him in an impromptu rave as street sweepers hissed at approaching morning.

 

David Goodwin is a young Melbourne poet and writer currently seeking publication for his memoir detailing six chaotic years working nights in petrol stations. He enjoys psychedelic trance, semicolons and several indicator lights blinking in unison.

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Writing a Cover Letter

Posted by on Sep 25, 2014 in Busybird | 0 comments

coverletterCover letters – eventually, we all have to write them if we’re to submit to a publisher or an agent.

But is there a trick? A good cover letter shows professionalism, eloquence, and the ability to sell yourself and your book in a limited space.

So, firstly, how long should a cover letter be? One page. That’s it. Don’t spend pages rambling about how great your book is, how great you are, and/or how you’ve been published in 921 other journals – at most, that’s just going to show you babble, and if a publisher or an agent think that of you, they’re going to carry that preconception in when they read your submission.

Open with a paragraph that surmises your story. When we looked at Writing a Synopsis back in May, we used The Hobbit as a template for our examples. So let’s do that here also.

      Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit who is happy to live his quiet, peaceful, and dull life in Hobbiton. He has no time for adventures, but when the Wizard Gandalf visits him, and introduces him to Thorin Oakenshield, the King of the Dwarves, and a party of twelve other dwarves, Bilbo is thrown headlong into an adventure to rescue Dwarven treasure and liberate the ancestral Dwarven homeland from the terrible dragon Smaug.

Obviously, we’re working in broad strokes. We can’t summarise every detail of the story in a single paragraph. What we want is just an overview, and – in this case – an introduction to the protagonist, and possibly a couple of the supporting characters, as well as the plot. But we get the gist: Bilbo, a Wizard, the Dwarf King, a quest, Dragon, treasure, and freeing the homelands. That’s the story in a nutshell.

What we need to do next is summarise the book as a product:

      The Hobbit is a 95,000-word YA quest-based fantasy novel I have completed, a story of magic, wondrous lands, and coming of age, where an unlikely hero is compelled to take charge and lead the way, much in a similar vein to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

    This gives whoever you’re submitting to an idea of a number of things: the length of the book, the genre, where it sits in the market, and existing books that are comparable. Something you need to accept is that you can write the best story in the world, but if a publisher or agent don’t feel they can sell it, well, in all likelihood you’re screwed, so it’s important to show them the commercial relevance of your story.

    Something else you might add to this paragraph are any endorsements the book might’ve received. Did it place in some competition? Or perhaps it received a glowing appraisal from a manuscript assessor known to the publisher? For example:

        The Hobbit was also shortlisted for 2013 Best Unpublished Manuscript Award.

    In the end, your book’s going to have to stand on its own, but any information that shows the calibre of the material is worth conveying. If it’s placing in competitions or getting glowing recommendation from assessors known in the industry, it shows your writing is strong.

    Something else you can include is if you have any (personal or professional) experience relevant to the writing of the book. Let’s say you wrote a crime thriller, and you’ve been a cop for ten years, that would be worth mentioning. In this case, The Hobbit’s actual author, JRR Tolkien, was an English Professor. Extrapolating, I might add:

        I’m a Professor of English at Victoria University, where I’ve studied languages and mythology, which has helped me create The Hobbit’s canon, and adds to the texture of the story’s history.

    If you don’t have a selling point in this regard, don’t worry about it. It’s not the end of the world. But if you do, again, it’s worth sticking it in.

    Next, let’s sell ourselves. Had other publications? Won or placed in competitions? Have a blog? Mention them. If you’ve had a litany of publications, don’t list them all. They’re not interested in a complete biography. Name a few. (And if you’ve included a bit about yourself – as demonstrated above – add this to that section; otherwise, start a new paragraph).

        I’ve had stories and articles published in various print and digital journals, such as Overland, Meanjin, [untitled], page seventeen, and others, and my short story, ‘The Long Road’, was highly recommended in the Alan Marshall Short Story Award. I also blog weekly at http://www.leszig.com/

    The publications and placings show that you’re writing stuff of a publishable quality, which is an endorsement in itself. It might also demonstrate that you have an existing readership. Of course, there’s a chance you mightn’t have been published, though. Not to worry.

    Something else you might consider mentioning is what else you’ve worked on, or what you’re working on next. Another commercial reality is that publishers/agents want to see whether you’re a dabbler as a writer, or whether you’re – potentially – a career author in whom they can invest.

        My previous book, The Silmarillion, explored the foundation of Middle-earth, the conception of the Gods, and the wars which tore apart the kingdoms of Men, Elves, and Dwarves. Currently, I’m working on a new book, The Fellowship of the Ring, which involves the war for a magical ring that Bilbo brings back from his adventures in The Hobbit, and the rise of a dark and ancient enemy.

    From my own personal experience, an agent rejected the book I was pitching in my cover letter, but requested to see something else I’d mentioned. You have their attention at this point, so it’s worth selling yourself and your writing (but without overdoing it).

    Then simply sign-off with something as basic as:

        Please find enclosed [or attached, if it’s an email] the material stipulated in your submission guidelines.

    And, yes, adhere to submission guidelines – and precisely to guidelines. If they ask for three chapters, don’t give them five because your story really doesn’t get rollicking until chapter three and four. If they specifically request Times New Roman as a font, don’t give them Arial, because you like it best of all the fonts.

    If you want to finish with a real flourish, you might look at a denouement:

        The Hobbit is a grand adventure that I’m sure will resonate with young adults and adults alike.

    But you don’t want to oversell it.

    There’s a chance after you’ve done all this, your cover letter is going to be longer than a page. If it is, revise. Go over this thing until it’s as tight as you can make it. Ensure there are no errors on the page – if there’s errors in your cover letter, it’s not going to be the healthiest representative of your writing. So revise, revise, revise. If your cover letter is just over a page, there’s tricks to get around it. But before employing them? Revise. That’s the first and best counter to whittling it down to size.

    Otherwise, here are some, um, cheats to get everything fitted on one page:

      • more and more publishers are accepting email submissions. If so, you’re just going to be copying and pasting your cover letter into an email, so an extra line will be negligible. Keep in mind that an email doesn’t give you carte blanche to ramble just because there are no visible page breaks. Stick to the one-page template.
      • change the font. If you’re using a big font, like Palatino Linotype or Georgia, change to a smaller Serif font, like Times New Roman, or Garamond. One page of Palatino Linotype translates to about three/quarters of a page in Times New Roman.
         
        Here’s a basic comparison – the same sentence in different fonts:
         

          The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs. (Palatino Linotype)
          The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs. (Georgia)
          The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs. (Times New Roman)
          The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs. (Garamond)

         

      • drop the font down .5 in size. Yes, you can do that in Word. The standard size is 12. But you can type in 11.5.
      • tweak the margins. Unless you’ve set your margins to something uniform (e.g. 3cm all around), by default Word has them at 2.54cm top and bottom, and 3.17cm left and right. All you have to do is shave those margins a fraction, and often it gives you enough room for your entire cover letter to fit.
      • tweak the line spacing. If you highlight the text, click Format, then click Paragraph; a window will come up. Underneath the Line Spacing heading, will be your line spacing. To the right will be a window, and above it the word At. You can change 1.5 line spacing to 1.4 line spacing by typing it in here – a tiny adjustment, but over the course of the page it adds up.

    Keep in mind these tweaks are intended to buy you only a handful of extra lines at most. The best option is always revision.

    Finally, personalise who you’re addressing your cover letter to, rather than the generic, ‘To Whom it May Concern’. Ring up the publisher, if need be. Many publishers will have different fiction and nonfiction editors. Personalising the cover letter is not only a nice touch, but it shows you’ve been industrious enough to research them.

    Don’t skimp on the cover letter. The cover letter is the first impression you’ll make on a publisher or an agent. Make sure it’s a good one!

    LZ.

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P17 Issue 11 Launch

Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 in Busybird, page seventeen | 0 comments

What will the latest cover look like? Attend the launch on 19 November and be one of the first to find out!

Oh yeah. It’s coming.

We’ve had a great response to P17 this year after our hiatus. After such a wide variety of submissions and competition entries, we’ve compiled our list of short stories and poems for the latest issue and everything’s ready to go. Our latest showcase of writers, both new and established, is on its way and will have its official launch in November.

To celebrate we’re having a P17 open mic night. For anyone who hasn’t been to a Busybird mic night before, it’s a chance for local writers to exhibit their work in a warm and friendly environment. In the November mic night we’ll have P17 contributors behind the mic as well, giving you a taste of what the full issue has to offer. We’ll announce the winners of our P17 short story and poetry competitions; we’ll reveal the winner of the cover image competition; and we’ll have an all-around good time.

The launch will be at the Busybird premises:

 

Wednesday, 19 November

7pm onwards

2/118 Para Rd, Montmorency VIC 3094

 

This is an open invitation to anyone who wants to come on down to the mic night and mingle with the page seventeen and Busybird crew. Any questions about P17 or the launch can be directed at pageseventeen@busybird.com.au.

Maybe I’ll see you there.

Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen

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Using Word

Posted by on Sep 18, 2014 in Busybird | 0 comments

microsoftwordMicrosoft’s Word, despite all its idiosyncrasies, can be a powerful tool for any writer when used correctly.

Unfortunately, most writers don’t. They use it as a typewriter, instead of taking advantage of some of the benefits that it has to offer – and it does offer benefits.

Let’s look at a few.

 
Spellchecker
Oh duh. Yes, duh. A lot of people don’t even bother to run a spellcheck, because they trust their spelling infallibly. That’s great. But the reality is nobody’s questioning your spelling (or just your spelling), they’re questioning your typing. Every writer will suffer from an occasional typo or two, particularly when revising over existing text. Always run a spellcheck when you’re done.

 
Grammar Checker
This is actually one of Word’s dangerous features because it gets stuff wrong, misunderstanding context. Trust in Word’s grammar checker, and you’re likely to introduce errors. The best way of using the Grammar Checker is to strip back what it actually checks. Here, it can become an invaluable tool.

 
Page Breaks
Some people manually insert their page breaks, hitting ENTER/RETURN until they get onto the next page. Great? Nope. Because if you insert or remove anything from previous pages, it’ll affect where that new page begins. If you needed to hit ENTER/RETURN ten times to begin a new page, then remove two lines on an earlier page, that new page will be elevated two lines (and possibly brought back up to the previous page).

You can enter hard line breaks, (which can be found in the ‘Insert’ or ‘Page Layout’ menu, depending on which version of Word you have). You also have an option of what sort of page break it’ll be. You can force Word to start that next page on an odd number (useful, for instance, if you have section breaks in a novel, which would always begin on an odd numbered page), and to delineate that a new section has begun. There’s a lot to play with here, and it ensures if you make revisions later, your page breaks remain exactly where they’re meant to be.

 
Headers & Footers
Useful for running headers of the chapter title, the book title, your name, the page number, or any information you require to appear throughout whatever your working on.

A strength of the running headers is if you use hard page breaks, you can have different headers/footers in a new section, whilst linking up things like the page number, so that runs continuous. This is useful for a big work, such as a book, which might have different titles for the chapters. You can also have a ‘Different First Page’, so you might have a fancy chapter title for the start of a chapter, but running headers through the rest.

 
Styles
This is the most – the most – powerful thing about Word and something everybody should learn to use. If you’re not using Styles, you may as well be using a typewriter.

Styles help determine the way your text looks, and you can define different Styles depending on what you want each to do. You can have a Style for your book title (on your cover page), a Style for your chapter titles, a Style for your chapter subtitles, a Style for your body text – there are no limits on how many Styles you can set up, although if you’re writing a story or a book, you’d probably only need a few (e.g. chapter titles, and a couple for the body text).

Again, depending on which version of Word you’re using, the location of Styles moves. Usually, you’ll be able to find it in the ‘Format’ menu. On the newer versions of Word, the Styles can be found as icons in the ‘Home’ menu.

When you go to add a new Style, you have a variety of options to play with, amongst which are:

    • Name: whilst self-explanatory, it’s worth prefacing the names of all your Styles with an ‘x’, e.g. ‘xpara’, ‘xtitle’, ‘xchaptertitle’. This means that when they’re sorted alphabetically (as Word will do), that they’re all clumped together, and won’t get lost amongst Word‘s default styles.
    • Style Based On: if one of your Styles contains characteristics of another Style, choose that Style here. This might be useful if two Styles are similar but for one thing, e.g. ‘xpara’ might be for your indented paragraphs, ‘xflush’ for paragraphs that are aligned flush left (which traditionally open chapters or resumptions from section breaks). If you were defining ‘xflush’, choose that it’s based on ‘xpara’, and just remove the indentations. Everything else is otherwise the same.
    • Style for Following Paragraph: this option is not to be undervalued, because it makes writing so easy. If you’re defining a Style for your Chapter Title, you could define the Style for the following paragraph is ‘xflush’ (your standard text, which is aligned flush left). After the ‘xflush’, you could determine the next Style is ‘xpara’, which is for the body of your text. So all you need to do is choose ‘xchaptertitle’ when you open a chapter, type in your title, hit ENTER/RETURN, and it’ll automatically catapult the cursor into ‘xflush’. Finish that paragraph, hit ENTER/RETURN, and it automatically goes into ‘xpara’.

There’s also a lot of stuff you’d expect, like the font type, the font size, the line spacing, the text alignment, and if you choose the ‘Paragraph’ option from the ‘Format’ tab (usually in the bottom left-hand corner), you can choose your indentation, and whether there’s any spacing between paragraphs, etc. There’s also an option with a checkbox that says Add to Template; this determines whether that Style will be available whenever you create a new document, or whether it exists just for this document that you’re working on.

The reason to use Styles is because of the total power they give you over your document. For example, you might’ve written a three-hundred page book with twenty chapters, each chapter with a title in Times New Roman 20pt font, and then decide you want something snazzier, and with more space between the chapter title and the commencement of text. Without Styles, you’d have to manually change all those titles. But with Styles, you just go into the relevant Style, make the changes you want, hit ‘OK’, and everything using that Style instantaneously updates to your new choices.

Another benefit of using Styles is that you can automatically generate a contents page from specific Styles. For example, let’s say the Style we’ve used for our chapter titles is called ‘xchaptertitle’. We can point Word‘s ‘Table of Contents’ feature to be generated from any text where the xchaptertitle Style has been applied. Thus, we get a list of all the chapter titles, as well as their corresponding page numbers. If we make changes later, we can update the contents, and it’ll adjust everything accordingly. If we wanted different levels of contents (e.g. chapter title, chapter subtitle, as well as headings throughout the chapter), we can stipulate we want the contents generated from several Styles, and even specify how they appear (e.g. font type, indentations, etc.).

Word generally isn’t the industry standard for professional writers. Most would use software like Scrivener. But Word does have enough tools for your needs if you just know how to use it right.

It’s worth experimenting with to familiarise yourself with its features. Once you get to know them (and particularly the Styles), you’ll wonder how you ever got along without them.

LZ.

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A Writer’s Morale

Posted by on Sep 16, 2014 in Busybird, page seventeen | 0 comments

sea-turtle-356125_1280Following on from my last post, it’s worth having a quick word about the mindset that comes around in being a writer constantly attempting publication.

Because, honestly, it’s gruelling to have to endure rejection after rejection, sometimes in one great big dry run that doesn’t seem to have an end to it. All writers have had it at some point. And not to be the doom-and-gloom guy, but any writers who haven’t had any dry runs – well, chances are that they will someday. Maybe years from now. But it’s a pretty sure thing.

The emotional reasons for writing are varied. Some may write for emotional release and catharsis, or simply because they derive pleasure from telling stories and using imagination to create scenarios. With so many different emotional footprints, there often isn’t a lot connecting different writers universally on an emotional level aside from the desire to put words to a page.

I won’t try to profile and address every writer who practices the craft for personal gratification or relief. But for all writers seeking an audience, there are two unifying factors – hope, and morale.

Both these ideas are pretty self-explanatory. Hope is the dream, and the ambition, of fulfilling one’s expectations – in this case, publication and acceptance. Morale is the motivational force that allows you to continue hanging on to that hope – it’s the fuel that gets you through the lows so that you can taste the highs. Hope is nothing without the morale to accompany it.

And that’s where people lose their drive. The hope doesn’t fade – the morale fades. That’s the most frustrating thing – you still want it, but it becomes harder to act upon it. Or, at least, that’s one of the more common illustrations of morale running dry.

Morale is normally tied to a group mentality – companies talking about how they can bolster the morale of employees as a means of boosting productivity. But what can an individual writer do, if the morale is running low?

Never forget the times you did accomplish something. Sounds easy on paper. But any publications you’ve already had, no matter how long ago or how minor – they’re all forms of acceptance. They’re all reminders that your work has an audience. Remember the praise and the constructive criticism. Remember the little moments that made you want to push yourself further as a writer. Those moments and milestones can see you through.

Get away from the desk. You might not even realise how much you’re bashing your head against the notepad or keyboard. At some point you’ve gone past perseverance and started chasing your own tail. Find something else to do. Something else to worry about. It can be boring worrying about the same thing all the time, after all.

Take care of yourself. You’ve surely heard all the benefits about eating well and taking the time to keep fit. Blah blah good hormones blah blah. You won’t listen to the science coming from yet another commentator. Just tell yourself, if you’re not doing anything to keep a varied diet and be active on a regular basis, that you really should. If you need more incentive, well – it gives you superpowers. I’m not supposed to talk about it, but honest-to-god superpowers. Just keep at it and you’ll get X-ray vision someday. And if you don’t, at least you’ll be fit enough to kick my arse for (allegedly) misleading you.

Try something new. I know – I keep bringing this up. But a new project with fresh challenges can be invigorating. A fresh angle on something you’ve tried before. A completely new genre or style. The trick is that if you’ve written outside your comfort zone, and that particular piece doesn’t garner results either, take that outcome with a grain of salt. It might not be your best work. But anything that expands your comfort zone is a stepping stone to refining your future work – and can be a fun challenge on top of everything else.

Share with others. A tough one, especially if you don’t already have a solid network. But there are so many people out there who will have their own wisdom to offer on how they got through their own rough periods.

These are only a few introductory ideas, but they’re a starting point to ensuring you can keep your motivation even during the tough times. There’s nothing more frustrating than hope without morale, so always be aware of your own drive and when extra measures are required to keep yourself on track. What do you do to keep your morale up as a writer?

Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen

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The Story Behind the Images

Posted by on Sep 11, 2014 in Busybird | 1 comment

kevwalkwithmeThe Walk With Me book has evolved over time from a simple record of my trip to a full-colour collection showcasing Nepal in all its glory.

Before I left for Nepal I was feeling anxious about the trip and how tough it might be. I’d heard quite a few horror stories from people of either not making it or feeling horrible and struggling at the high altitudes. It seems it’s not how fit you are or how much you might have trained, but whether your body genetics will or won’t allow you to climb to those heights.

I had a real mixture of emotions and although some were about the trek itself, I stressed a little about the book and my ability to capture images worthy to show off on my return. I also had 70+ supporters who had pledged money to the project and I was too proud to come back and say, ‘I didn’t quite get there.’ It wasn’t an option for me but I kind of knew it might be out of my hands.

Upon arriving in Kathmandu, my friend and travelling companion, Norm, and I based ourselves in the busy centre and set off shooting the locals. You realise quickly that you stand out and aiming the camera at people was way too obvious and didn’t allow for natural photos. The trick is to find a corner, base yourself there, hide in the shadows and quietly shoot away as life goes by. Norm and I loved doing this and had a ball finding amazing corners to observe and shoot.

After landing at Lukla (the most dangerous airport in the world) and heading off into the mountains, Norm and I realised this wasn’t going to be the type of photographic opportunity we had imagined. We had thought there might be times to stop, set up a shot, wait for the light or subjects to be perfect before shooting. Instead, it was shoot and run, photograph as you walked, no time to stop as it’s go, go, go. The sherpas would allow you a little time to stop now and then but the group as a whole really needed to stick together and keep moving.

Photographing the local village people was tough as well. If any caught you aiming a camera at them they would approach you angrily, asking for money or just stop what they were doing and hide. I ended up taking photos sneakily by presetting the camera, aiming generally at them with the camera down beside me, and shooting a few frames hoping they wouldn’t hear it clicking. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn’t. It really was the only way because even if you asked them permission they would yell NO.

The weather was also a factor. We assumed after reaching camp most days mid afternoon, we could go off and explore the area and do sunset pics, etc. Not the case. At the time we were there in March/April, the mornings are always crystal clear but by 1pm the cloud and mist sets in and it’s a whiteout by early afternoon. After trekking for nine hours a day we were mostly too tired to go off and explore more anyway. As you can imagine everything is either up or down in Nepal and, with weary legs, climbing a hill for maybe a nice photo was not going to happen.

Photographing along the way was also a challenge as compensating the camera’s exposure for the changing conditions and scenery – like snow and dark deep valleys – meant a constant manual compensation variation in exposure for each photo. It’s not easy trying to expose for bright snow at the top of the photo and dark shadow valleys at the bottom, so it was a case of guess the amount of compensation and have faith in your judgment. What also made it tough was I was wearing polarizing sunglasses due to the bright sky, which meant the screen went black and I couldn’t see what I had just photographed or the change in my settings quickly.

Another problem was I only had limited camera batteries on me and chances to recharge them was unlikely or expensive, meaning constant previewing of photos on the camera would be out of the question. I had three camera batteries that lived on my body for the entire trek day and night, either in my pockets in my under-layers of clothing or down my pants. You really have to keep them warm all the time or the cold will drain them in minutes and then you are stuck.

All of these obstacles really made it a ‘shoot on the fly’ type of assignment and added to the pressure. I was always walking and thinking I need this type of shot or I need that, and constantly looking for something different. As the trek went longer and longer, knowing I needed more but hadn’t got it yet was always playing on my mind.

The cover for the book was a tricky one. I was always looking for that HERO photo as the standout cover pic and although I had shot a few I thought might work it wasn’t until halfway back from Base Camp that I thought of setting something up at Dingbouche one crystal clear morning. I asked Norm to model for me and I lay in the dirt and snapped away. The cover to me describes all that my trek involved: the trekker on a path, dirty boots and dust flying up, the snow capped mountains, the Nepalese Stupa and prayer flags nearby. I loved it as soon as I shot it.

Once I got back I found I had over 3000 photos and I had to whittle them down to around 300. This was tough, as I liked so many of them and it’s hard when you have an emotional attachment to an image. I also drew ten or so illustrations along the way and wrote some silly poems to describe what I was feeling while drawing, which I expect will add to the experience of flicking through the book.

I hope that mixing all these together and presenting it in a classical, bright and large format book gives the reader a real sense of the beauty and the adventure that is Nepal and the Mt Everest Base Camp Trek.

Kev Howlett.

  • If you’re interested in pre-ordering Walk With Me, check out our page here.
  • If you’d like to learn more about CMT and how CMT played a part in the book’s development, check out our page here.
  • And if you’d like to see some outtakes which didn’t make the book, check out our page here.
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Questioning Your Writing

Posted by on Sep 9, 2014 in Busybird, page seventeen | 0 comments

telescope-300339_1920So a piece of work has been finished, or at least laid out to reasonable comprehension. There’s a sense of relief. Then anxiety. Then out-and-out despair. Because so much of it seems wrong, wrong, wrong. Or, on the other end of the scale, it’s a full and complete piece that’s been rejected on multiple occasions, and you just can’t work out what to do with it anymore – what else can be done to make it commercially viable.

You get the idea – we always second-guess our own work. We should. That’s how we evolve as writers. I think the worst thing is when we look at something we’ve written, we know it needs to be improved, but we don’t know how to improve it. We don’t know what questions to ask when we place the storylines, characters and themes under scrutiny.

So let’s go over a couple of the common questions and maybe a couple more that aren’t asked often enough. This quick list isn’t necessarily the definitive list of questions to be asked; every piece of writing comes with its own set of virtues and potential problem points. But this might act as a decent enough launch pad.

What’s it about?

Easy, right? Not always. Because it can be about several different things. But the trick is to be able to identify what the crux of the story is and lean against that as your main infrastructure – your support post. The components that define the entire story.

A more exact way of asking this question might be: What can’t be taken out? Sometimes characters and themes can be removed, and it may affect the storyline and destroy certain scenes. But the work itself can be repaired and still be essentially the same. Sometimes the ‘main character’ can be removed and events still play out in a similar fashion. Nick Carraway was mostly irrelevant in The Great Gatsby, despite being the sole narrator – the one thing that held the book together was the story and character of Gatsby. Everything else could have been changed or removed, but to remove Gatsby would have been to tear the roots out from the story.

Once you identify the components that can’t be deleted, you know what the story is about and how to arrange everything around it to service that lynchpin.

Who’s/What’s the main character?

Often it’s a no-brainer. Sometimes it might be a grey area as to who benefits the most from having the spotlight.

It’s tricky in ensemble pieces. Most characters will undergo their own arc in a collective span of time – or they have no arc or road to change at all, which in itself might be part of the story. If we take a scenario of a family gathering for a holiday, a la The Corrections, there could be an enormous bundle of stories, themes and character arcs to focus on here. So who needs to hold the narrator’s lens? Who is the most important character – if it’s not the narrator? Who deserves the attention?

Every story takes a perspective, regardless of whether the core lynchpin is a character or theme or story element. Every piece of writing has a lens – and every character you could potentially use as the reader’s avatar will have a different-coloured lens. Review the options and be sure you’re choosing the right lens.

Where should it begin and end?

Most emerging and experienced writers have heard the diatribe at some point about how in a first draft of any piece of prose, the first page is the most expendable. This is where the exposition is most commonly dumped to allow the writer to gain a sense of the story’s direction and to pick up momentum. This is where material can be most efficiently cut. Obviously it’s not a hard and fast rule, but it illustrates how important a meaningful starting point is to the effectiveness of a piece of writing.

The start should set the tone. Both by the emotion, and the opening event. Sometimes it’s not necessarily the first event in the sequence of storyline events – maybe it’s just the most important of those events. The one that embodies the conflict taking place. The moment in time that’s going to echo through to the closing sentence.

So the ending is important too. The best endings carry that echo from the beginning, and give the impression that there is little more to tell that is relevant. In many ways the ending is a stylistic fingerprint of a writer – every writer has their own way of ending something. It might be neat and final. It might be mostly resolved with a couple of threads to indicate continuity beyond the final words. It might be totally open with ongoing conflicts and issues, as long as the main focal point of the story has been brought to a relatively satisfying dénouement.

The beginning and end are, in many ways, more important than the middle. You might have complains about a sagging middle or juggling too many (or too few) events, but that’s because the beginning and end need to be redefined, and in turn will wash over everything that happens in between.

What’s unique about it?

Maybe I’m getting a little heavy-handed here. But this is an important one for me, as a short story writer – being able to identify what stands out for each piece as being just a little different from anything else I’ve written before. It might be the theme I’ve chosen; it might be the types of characters I’m writing about. It might be a certain genre, style or tone. But something is unique.

By constantly asking this question you’re pushing your boundaries, expanding your skill set and, most importantly, keeping it interesting and challenging for yourself. Any writer can fall into a rut. Making a conscious effort to avoid that rut can make any new piece of writing an exciting new challenge, a new focus. It doesn’t have to deviate too far from your standard pathways, and you can still write about what interests you and what you’re comfortable with.

And finally, keeping a mentality that favours new possibilities and options means that you’re more able to see the ways in which the above questions can be applied. How the lens of the narrator can be changed, and how the end can be redefined the better serve some of the central ideas of that particular piece.

What about you? What questions do you commonly ask when you’re placing your work under the magnifying glass?

Beau Hillier | Editor, page seventeen

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