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Mental health is back in the public discussion following the tragic death of AFL legend Danny ‘Spud’ Frawley.
It’s a shame that we only start talking about mental health again after something happens.
Growing up in the 1980s, mental health was stigmatised. Nobody talked about issues. Males were told to, ‘Man up’, and to brave through it. I was often advised, ‘Don’t worry’, and asked, ‘What do you have to worry about?’
For some, the cause of mental health issues can be obvious, e.g. a traumatic event, or a difficult upbringing. But, for others, the cause may not be clear. Clinicians can theorise about chemical imbalances, environment, and hereditary markers, but nobody genuinely knows the why behind it sometimes.
It’s not a sign of weakness. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, OCD, etc., have debilitated powerful people and towering intellectuals. These conditions don’t discriminate. They don’t care. And people who think they would overcome such a condition easily, or that it wouldn’t affect them at all, just because they’re too strong, too smart, or too wilful, just don’t know better. You might as well try that logic on a physical malaise, like a broken leg. See if that sort of attitude works there.
Many writers suffer mental health issues. I guess this is for various reasons:
- writers are extremely empathetic. How else do you write from the point of view of an elderly man one moment, a middle-aged woman the next, and a child the next? Most people only understand empathy from their own experiences, and from their own point-of-view. Writers are constantly dipping into the heads of all sorts of people, which expands (and deepens) their empathy.
- writers are often thinking about terrible stuff. We have to. Books about couples living an idyllic life, or the spy who takes a two-week vacation and sits on a Caribbean beach, don’t sell. A book about a love triangle threatening to tear a couple apart, or the spy who saves the world from annihilation, does. The brain’s not that bright also. You can put yourself in a bad or sad or angry mood just by drawing on a relatable memory. How does the brain react to thinking about all this fodder? It produces the same physiological response that it would if you were actually going through these things.
- writing is an isolating experience. As humans, we like to connect. We belong to packs. Most people go to a workplace where they interact with others. That’s not the case with writing. With writing, it’s just you and whatever you’re writing for long stretches. People become a hindrance.
There are other contributors. But these three intertwine, complement, and exacerbate one another. The result? Writers become highly sensitive, incredibly vulnerable, and feel deeply. That’s great for writing. It’s not always so great for everyday life – especially when confronting issues that should be dealt with or dismissed, rather than ruminated upon (and/or catastrophised).
Nowadays, people can talk about mental health issues without fear of being stigmatised. Unfortunately, this has provided some with an excuse for their actions. I’m sure most people can think of a celebrity or two who have cited mental health as a reason for some sort of bad behaviour. This is annoying, because it undermines those who are genuinely suffering, and generates cynicism from people who don’t legitimately understand mental health.
In 2009, I had terrible stomach pains. Months of tests couldn’t identify the problem. My anxiety exploded and I couldn’t stop imaging all the fatal things that could be wrong and were going undiagnosed. I complained to my GP I was worried the pain would get so bad that I’d end up in EMERGENCY, only for them to diagnose I’d had a panic attack. I said I didn’t want to waste their time with something that wasn’t real. My GP told me that a panic attack was real. That’s the sort of attitude you want to encounter. (As an aside, my stomach issues were later diagnosed as being a result of Fructose Intolerance.)
Nobody should invalidate what you’re going through. Mental health problems are real. Just realise that, ultimately, everything is manageable. Mental health issues can make you feel as if the world is shit, as if you’re worthless, as if there’s nowhere to go, but not one of those things is true. There are always alternatives.
Talk to somebody – family, friends, or clinicians. Reach out.
Answers are available.
August 29, 2019
[untitled] is almost ten years old. Just on a conceptual level, it’s been around since late-2008. It wouldn’t be until early 2009 that we discussed the form it would take, and what we’d name it. And then on 10 September 2009, the first issue of [untitled] found its way into the world.
Back then, we were oblivious to what we were getting into. We wanted to personalise every rejection to authors, but then the workload grew overwhelming. (Apologies to the author who commended us for personalised rejections, only to receive a form rejection later on.) We wanted to release two issues a year … but, well, same problem.
Running an anthology is a lot of work. Often, you’ll see anthologies who do two or three issues, and then disappear. Enthusiasm fuels those early issues. When that runs out, you’re left with the realities. There’s lots and lots of reading, liaising with authors, editing, proofreading, layout, cover design, more proofreading, organising the printing, and the launch at the end of it all. Anthologies don’t make money either. They run at a loss. They’re passion projects.
In part, we used [untitled] as a training ground for interns to get practical experience in reading (and appraisal), editing, and dealing with authors. We’d always oversee what was happening, but interns were given that responsibility. This was a much better way to learn than listening to theory in class.
Our process was simple: two readers would read a story and recommend whether it should go to a content meeting. If it did, then everybody on the editing team read it and discussed its merits, and whether it would be accepted or rejected. These discussion were another fantastic forum for interns to learn the precepts of good storytelling.
And that’s what it was about: good storytelling. We didn’t care about genre. We accepted contemporary fiction, satire, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, experimental … well, it just had to be a good story – the sort where you want to read just one more page, only to stay up late and read the whole thing.
Along the way, we’ve published the likes of Ryan O’Neill (winner of the 2017 Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Their Brilliant Careers), A.S. Patrić (winner of the 2016 Miles Franklin for Black Rock, White City), acclaimed playwright Emilie Collyer, best-selling YA author George Ivanoff, best-selling poet and performance artist Koraly Dimitriadis, acclaimed short story author Laura Elvery, revered mentor and author Laurie Steed – well, this list can go on.
Did we discover these authors? Well, no, but we’d like to think we played a part in their development and journey as writers. That’s the beauty of the anthology – it offers an apprenticeship that contributes to the author’s evolution, while giving them exposure, and no doubt offering motivation and encouragement. And that was our main reason for starting [untitled]: to promote new and emerging authors.
After a two-year hiatus, [untitled] is back with issue eight, launching just two weeks shy of its tenth birthday.
Come join us for a night of merriment, celebration, and accomplishment.
2/118 Para Road
August 15, 2019
We have a new website! It’s been a long time coming, but here it is!
One of the reasons we felt we needed a change is because we’ve just got so much going on. Between publishing our own books (under our imprint of Pinion Press); helping authors to get their own stories out there through self-publishing; individual services such as manuscript assessments, editing, proofreading, etc.; workshops; retreats; Open Mic Night; blogging; and so much more, our old website had begun to buckle under the strain of trying to accommodate, promote, and deal with it all.
Every time something new came up, we either had to work out where it fit, or rejig the whole website to give it a home. For example, our blog went from its own page, to sitting under Author Resources. The reason? Because we wanted to give away Freebies, such as pdfs to Map Out Your Book and Test Your Book Concept (with more to come). This blog itself tries to be a resource in educating writers. There’s also the subscription to our newsletter. So instead of those things being individualised, they were grouped together.
Our new website has been designed to incorporate everything we offer, from books to services to events. There is omnipresent immediate access to all the important stuff. And it’s aesthetically prettier than the old website. With our old website, we were winging it ourselves, doing the best we could. With the new website, we’ve retained professional web developers.
However, this new website isn’t entirely finished. A lot the copy was transferred across from the original website, and some punctuation characters came out weird, appearing as Ð, Õ, among other things. Some images came across fine. Others became blurry. These are all little teething problems that we’re aware of, and will work to correct in coming weeks.
But, because of this, we’re extending the deadline of our Eggcellent Manuscript Assessment Competition. Unfortunately, when we were transitioning from one the old website to the new, the competition page was lost, so writers couldn’t find the competition details and the entry form. We now have a new page up, along with a new entry form, and the new deadline of 15th September.
Seeing you’re here, have a look around. Let us know what you think.
We’ll be officially recognising the website as launched at Open Mic Night this Wednesday, 21st August, beginning (as always) at 7.00pm.
We hope to see you all there!
August 1, 2019
Authors often comes to us, asking what means they could employ to improve their manuscript.
There’s editing, which would look at the manuscript in terms of structure or copy (or a combination of both).
There are also workshops, although they’re designed more to improve the writer’s skills, which they will then apply to their manuscript.
A lesser-known but equally valid means is a manuscript assessment.
Usually, the authors stare blankly back at us. We try to explain that the assessment is like a book report. Usually, they still frown at us.
Here’s a basic breakdown of what you’re going to see in a manuscript assessment:
- A look at the title: does it work? Does it encapsulate the book? Is the title too common? Is it already in use? You may not have considered any of this, married to a title you thought was perfect. Or you might have a placeholder, and you’re unsure what title would encapsulate the book.
- Point of View: does your manuscript’s POV work? Are you flitting in and out of different POVs? How do POVs work anyway?
- Plot / Content: if it’s a novel, how does the plot work? Is it sound? Does it build the story as intended? Does it introduce stakes? If it’s nonfiction, does the content communicate its message? Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, does the writing achieve what it sets out to do? If not, why not? What can the author look at in terms of improving it?
- Structure: is the information delivered in the best way possible? Could it work better a different way? Is it underwritten or overwritten? Does it build logically?
- Punctuation, Grammar, Spelling: self-explanatory – a look at what you might be doing wrong and an explanation on how to correct it.
- Characterisations: in regards to a novel, a review of the characters. Are they well-formed? Are they believable and motivated?
- Market: where does your book sit in the market? If you haven’t considered this, the assessment can help you identify where you should be pitching your manuscript, or how to reframe it so you can place it in the market.
- Conclusion: summing up your manuscript.
Now, obviously, the assessment won’t cite every single instance of an issue. For example, if your POV is jumping around, the assessment won’t list every place it’s happening. It will explain how it’s jumping around and give you a handful of examples, educating you on what to look out for. That’s the same case with anything that might be occurring regularly.
The plot/content and structural feedback will be much more specific about what a manuscript needs. It can also open an author’s eyes to what they’ve been – or become – blind to. But that’s understandable. After working on a manuscript for so long, it’s normal that authors will lose objectivity. That’s where fresh eyes help.
And that’s why a manuscript assessment is invaluable. It’s great to get feedback from family, friends, etc., but a manuscript assessment is written by somebody who is trained to spot these issues and articulate methods to correct them.
A manuscript assessment is a priceless and an inexpensive insight.
Postscript: Don’t forget that our Eggcellent Manuscript Assessment Competition is on!
July 18, 2019
The anthology – as a concept – doesn’t get the acclaim it truly deserves.
A single-authored anthology allows that author to explore different forms and different subjects. It gives the reader a chance to see the author experiment. That doesn’t necessarily happen with a book. A book might be (for example) a third-person linear narrative told in past-tense and that’s it. That’s the vehicle. An anthology doesn’t have those restrictions, because every piece can be different.
Great examples with prose are Ryan O’Neill’s The Weight of the Human Heart, A. S. Patrić’s The Butcherbird Stories, or Julie Koh’s Portable Curiosities. These authors are able to flex their storytelling muscle and play with form. As a reader, it can be challenging, entertaining and immersive. As a writer reading somebody else’s work, it’s educating as well.
Anthologies are also fantastic mediums to discover and explore new and emerging talent. Our very own [untitled] is a perfect example. Early issues published authors such as Ryan O’Neill, A. S. Patrić, Emilie Collyer, Koraly Dimitriadis, Laurie Steed, Tess Evans, George Ivanoff, and many more – writers who’ve built (and continue to build) careers as authors in one form or another. Did we make their careers? No. But we’d like to think we contributed to their development, their exposure, and encouragement to keep writing.
As a prose author, anthologies can be a good way to start putting writing out there. They can seem hard to crack into, and arbitrary in their decision-making, but as somebody who’s been involved in various anthologies, I can tell you lots of talk goes into deciding which stories go through.
Sometimes, rejections aren’t due to quality, but …
- space constraints, e.g. here’s a great 4,000-word story, but we’ve projected we have only 2,000 words remaining we want to fill
- because we have a similar story, e.g. you submit a brilliant story about killer clowns, but we’ve just accepted a story about killer mimes
- it might not fit the tone, e.g. it might be a grim story in a happy anthology, or we might have enough grim content and are now looking at something happy as a counterbalance.
Nonfiction anthologies can also be compelling for similar reasons. We have our HealthConscious series, which (currently) features three books: Healthy Mind, Healthy Body, and Healthy Spirit. Each book looks at maintaining that facet of health filtered through the modality of that author’s vocation, i.e. obviously a psychologist, a naturopath, and a writer are all going to have a different outlook on how to maintain healthiness. This gives you different perspectives on the same topic.
We’ve also done anthologies on breast cancer, prostate cancer, and succeeding in small business, as well as helping various groups publish collections about things such as (just to name a few) a particular historic period (the Great War) or community (the Greensborough historical society) or a particular place (the Balwyn tennis club). Here you get people’s different experiences and stories.
You might not connect with a book for whatever reason. But with anthologies, one story might not connect with you while another does. That’s the beauty of an anthology. They have a widespread appeal and diverse content that is sure to offer something for everybody.