Friday, December 26, 2008

"Oh, what have I done?"

Shadowhunter asked me a few questions in the comments below:

I'm wondering if you have any tips or advice for aspiring Australian authors - or international for that matter - when writing and publishing a manuscript. How do you cope with writing and then sticking to that writing? Were there times when you were writing the Pellinor series that you thought: 'Oh, what have I done?'

And so I sit here in poses of thought. The truth is that every writer's experience is individual, and doesn't apply to everyone else. And I'm not at all sure that my experience would be very useful to aspiring writers, since as an author I have been, well, vague and feckless in the matter of my so-called "career". (The word "career" in connection with the word "writing" makes me think of a horse bolting, completely out of control, downhill).

For example, I sometimes feel embarrassed when people ask me about how to get published. I have never done the kinds of things that agents and "industry experts" advise you to do, and it all just seems to have happened anyway. For example, a poet is supposed to regularly send out work to magazines, in order to build up a "reputation" that then will attract a publisher. I haven't done that for about two decades, largely out of laziness and for other less admirable reasons, and for years have only sent poetry to those editors who ask for it. Nor have I ever sent a manuscript to a publisher. Publishers just seem to turn up when I've written enough poems.

Similarly with the Pellinor books, I never hunted for a publisher. Penguin Australia contracted me on spec, when I asked for some advice on what to do with this book I had just started... (But I could ask them to do that because they published my first book of poetry, and that came out of the blue too). I was very surprised, but the contract did mean that I was motivated to finish The Gift, which might otherwise have languished unwritten in a file marked "good idea". Deadlines are wonderfully motivating.

I have one piece of good practical advice. If you have a contract with a publisher, get a good agent. I have a wonderful agent who is worth her weight in gumdrops, and I couldn't manage without her. My business nous is about equal with that of Bernard in Black Books (look for the scene when he's doing his tax return). I can't even understand my royalty statements, except for the figure at the bottom. My agent takes care of all the stuff that makes my head spin. And negotiates better deals for me, of course. She is a Good Woman.

As for the actual writing... yes, I often clutched my forehead and thought, "Oh God, what have I done?" I was never sure until I actually typed THE END that I would ever reach the end of the story. (I can admit that now, since if my publishers read this, they won't have a fit. Having typed THE END four times, I feel a bit more confident these days).

The odd thing about writing is that once you finish, you forget how painful it was. (People say this about childbirth, but believe me, I remember that was painful - but I truly don't remember with the books, although I know it was very hard labour with all of them). There were, to balance out the days when writing every sentence felt like pulling a tooth out, also moments of exhilaration, and days when I emerged from the haze of creativity to tell my sceptical family that I was a GENIUS. But the best day of all was when I finished the series. I didn't get off that high for about a month. I suspect that might be the real addiction of writing novels: that wonderful feeling you get when you actually find out what happens in the story. Because you don't really know until you've written it.

I found that the main thing I needed to be was patient. Very patient. I spend a lot of time thinking about the shape of a novel before I write it. (Not the plot, the shape, which is a different thing altogether). When I did get around to writing, I never looked ahead, past the page I was actually writing, because if I did all I saw was the 60,000 words I hadn't written, and it made me panicky. By the time I got to The Singing, I was also aware of the weight of expectation from the fans who had read the other books. That made approaching that novel very intimidating indeed. Before I could write it, I had to forget about all that and try to write the book that I wanted to write. I figured if I did that, I had the best chance of (a) pleasing myself and therefore (b) pleasing others.

My only trick was to write down how many words I had written every night. That was the measure that helped me know that, despite how it felt, I was actually getting somewhere.

The other thing I needed was trust, a faith that I wasn't wasting my and everyone else's time. This is wholly unsupported by anything, because you won't know whether the writing has worked until you have finished it. This is why writers often appear a bit foolish. You have to believe that, as William Blake said, if a fool persists in his folly, he will become wise.

In Virginia Woolf's book To The Lighthouse, she has a character who is a painter. During the course of the book, she completes a painting of the lighthouse that features in the novel. There's a passage where she describes the process of creation, and it has stuck with me for years. At first, she says, you have the vision - you can see the whole thing, the landscape, the sea, the lighthouse, all in one complete picture. But painting it is like going over there in a boat. You can't see anything except the waves around you, and the wind keeps buffeting you in unexpected directions, and the spray gets in your eyes. You often feel lost. Completing the painting is like arriving at the lighthouse, and at last you can see what you've done.

That's certainly what writing is like for me. I just keep rowing that boat, until I get there.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

News from Holiday-land

Last week, we went for a family holiday. This event, by no means unusual in most families, last occurred in ours nine years ago. (That's the downside of having writers for parents. Of course, as we keep reminding the beloved offspring, there are lots of upsides...)

However, when we do go on holidays, we have good ones. As we did nine years ago, on that other legendary occasion, we went to Queenscliff, an old-fashioned and very pretty seaside resort on the Bellarine Peninsula, a shortish train trip from where we live. It's notable for its food and its spectacular Victorian hotels, all of which escaped the evils of "development" and then were restored when Victorian splendour became fashionable again.

There we rented a townhouse with a giant tv (and other more modest ones distributed about the house), and plenty of room for the six of us to read, or play games, or hit each other with cushions, or snooze. (It wasn't the building above glimpsed through the cypresses, which is one of those towered hotels, but it was right next door to the famous Queenscliff Hotel, where we had a most memorable lunch). We took up a bunch of books, dvds and games, and spent the week in glorious idleness.

The most important decision each day was where we should eat. If you like eating, Queenscliff is a good place to be. It's a bit of a foodie's paradise, bristling with specialist delis selling exquisite concoctions bewitched from the excellent local produce, and, of course, restaurants. As you might surmise, I'm not the action-holiday type, so it was a week short on thrilling narrative and very long on leisurely pleasures. And all of us agreed that the only criticism to be made of our holiday was that it was too short, and that we shouldn't wait nine years before we tried it again. I certainly feel more relaxed than I have for, oh, nine years...

Sadly, I am not a very good photographer. The picture above is of a beautiful sunset behind the Queenscliff lighthouse. Just looking at it makes me feel good, because I have the memory to fill it out, but I'm certain it won't have the same effect on you. But you can see, I hope, something of the charm of the place.

But anyway, to get to the point: while I was away, the news came through of an offer for the Pellinor books from Spain. They plan to publish all four through 2009/10, which is quick work! So the Pellinor Plot to Rule The World (very quietly) still proceeds apace...

Which seems a very good omen at this year's end. Prost!


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Checking in

Hello, Pellinorites. I see that I haven't written anything here, except answers to comments, for far too long. But now it's getting near to Christmas, I'm going on an actual holiday next week, and I've shut up shop on my theatre blog, which gobbles up all my blogging time. And I thought I should wave a hand and sprinkle some Christmas dust for my faithful readers.

Life has been jogging along quite undramatically. The US edition of The Singing is getting closer and closer, and the odd proofing query is still dribbling in (amazing, really, by the time the books get to the States, I calculate they've been proofed by about 10 people, including me...and there are still tiny corrections...) I keep getting boxes of German books, which are piling up in the garage. I don't know any German fantasy readers, so I'm not sure what to do with them. But what each box means, when it arrives, is that another print-run of the book has been released in Germany. Judging by the boxes, Pellinor readers in Germany are beginning to add up. As they are elsewhere. The Gift is now on its 12th reprint in the UK - I've lost count here. And apparently it's been sold to Portugal, with things in the works in France. So Alison's Plans to Take Over The World continue to move. Bwahahaha...

It's all very cheering, and it's all because of you readers. I am very grateful. Because the Pellinor books aren't a big advance, glamorously hyped series. These sales haven't been driven by publicity, but by word of mouth. Your mouths. I'm grateful to all of you.

So may you all have a brilliant Christmas/Solstice/Hanukkah/Muharram/holiday/Bardic festival of your choice. And I'll be back in the New Year, hopefully with a new book. Not a Pellinor book. Just another one. That's the plan, anyway. It's about time I wrote something else. Wish me luck!


Friday, September 12, 2008

Checking the books

My rather unscientific mode of tracking how my books are going no doubt leaves a lot to be desired. I get reports (and sometimes photographs) from family and friends who lurk in bookshops, turning the books cover out when the shop assistants aren't looking (they're a loyal bunch, and I guess the family has a material interest). Anyway, I heard two bookshop reports which pleased me very much this week.

I was totally delighted when I heard that my new collection of poems, Theatre, was in the front window of the Paperback Bookshop in Bourke St, Melbourne. Poems? In the window? Now that is cool, even if poetry is never going to pay the rent. And then I heard that The Singing was spotted in the Best Seller shelves at Borders. That must mean I can officially call myself a Best Selling Author. I've ordered the badge...

Life otherwise has been, to say the least, chaotic. I feel like I'm running like a loon just to stay in the same spot. Despite this, I really have started a new novel. It's a fantasy novel, but it's very different from the Pellinor books. Shorter, for a start. It's written in the first person, which I am enjoying, and it's set in a world and time very like ours. It's not quite what I expected I would be doing, which I take as a good sign, and I have no idea if those who like the Pellinor books would go for this one. But this character has taken hold and is demanding to be written. It's coming slowly but steadily. Writing is very mysterious sometimes...


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bestseller at last?

I've always been a little confused as to what constitutes "best seller" status. Aside from phenomena like Dan Brown and JK Rowling, I mean. How do you tell? When people say "best seller", does it mean the top ten of all books? Or just some top tens? Or what?

Anyway, now I might be able to claim that I am an international best seller author. The Singing has made it to No 2 in the fantasy and science fiction categories on, and is also No 2 on children's SFF. And is at No. 31 overall. I've no idea how amazon reflects general book sales, but in this list I'm currently beating Pratchett, Rowling and Pullman, with only Christopher Paolini beating me to No. 1. (So not quite a No. 1 Bestseller! But I'll settle for No.2.) I doubt this will ever happen again, so I might as well enjoy it. Just to prove it, I took a screen shot (click the image for a clearer version):


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Author! Author!

Just to prove I really am an Author - moreover, an Author Of The Month - a friend of my son's (thanks, Mel!) sent me this picture of a display in Borders.

Meanwhile, I've finished my first week travelling around with the Books Alive! campaign. Except for Tuesday, I've been in tandem with the charming Toni Jordan, and it's been a hoot (Tuesday was a hard gig, and I am very grateful to Pellinor enthusiast Ann for providing a friendly face in the audience, lugging 15 kilos of books into Fitzroy for me to sign, and for laughing at my jokes...) I met another fan, Patrick, on Wednesday, and that was charming too. The real pleasure of this is the chance to meet readers.

Last night we were in Warrnambool, at the local library, and that was enormous fun. Despite Penguin sending the bookshop 15 copies of Book 3 - instead of the more immediately useful Book 1 - people bought it and asked me to sign it, promising they would buy the first two books. They even (yes) laughed at my jokes, and paid attention, and were all-round a friendly and warm audience. Toni has been on the author trail since February, and is a trooper - two weeks is, I suspect, my personal limit. I must be a delicate flower: it's very hard work doing this stuff! But the Books Alive people - on the Warnambool trip it was Fiona Lange - make sure we're well looked after and very well fed. Last night's treat was a dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant, just down the road from the Warnambool Library. I consumed with great pleasure a chicken breast stuffed with chestnut and a rocket and pear salad, rounded off with some roquefort washed down with a botrytis wine. If being an Author means this kind of thing, I'm all for it...

Update: the Sydney date on Monday night has been cancelled (see comments) - my apologies to those Sydney readers who might have been there - maybe we'll catch up next time!


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tour dates

August is going to be a very busy month for one Ms Croggon. This is because The Gift has been chosen as one of the Books Alive 50 Books You Can't Put Down. Which is very cool. Books Alive is a huge annual reading campaign involving lots of authors, and which is launched officially this Sunday; but I'll wickedly leak some details here, exclusively for Pellinor readers. Especially because I hope people turn up. You can catch me being a fantasy author here:

August 11, 6.30pm: Diamond Valley Library, Civic Drive, Greensborough, VIC FREE

August 12, 1.30pm: Fitzroy Library, 128 Moor Street, Fitzroy, VIC FREE

August 13, 1.30pm: Lilydale Library Anderson St, Lilydale, VIC FREE

August 14, 6.30pm: Brunswick Library, cnr Sydney Rd and Dawson St, Brunswick, VIC FREE

August 15, 6pm: Warrnambool Library, 25 Liebig St, Warrnambool, VIC FREE

August 25, 7pm: Mosman Library, Reference Library, 605 Military Road, Mosman, NSW $8.80/$6.60 conc

August 27, 6.30pm: East Melbourne Library, 122 George Street, East Melbourne FREE

It seems a bit hard that Sydneysiders have to pay... Meanwhile, my Melbourne Writers Festival sessions, which cover some other writerly hats, are threaded sometimes rather hectically through these ones...I'll certainly be running from Federation Square to the East Melbourne Library one busy Friday. For the record, diehard Croggon fans can also catch me at these sessions, at Federation Square in Melbourne:

August 28, 5.30pm: ACMI 2 - Poetry now
Where are we? What’s the next big thing? Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Justin Clemens, Alison Croggon and Robert Gray will name check the movers and the stayers in Australian poetry.

August 29, 2.30pm: ACMI 1 - Legacy or burden?
Melbourne's APG and Sydney's Nimrod were the hippest places to be in the ‘70s. Their impact on future theatre generations is discussed by Gabrielle Wolf, Julian Meyrick and Alison Croggon.

August 29, 4pm: BMW Edge - One not used to happiness – Anna Akhmatova
Before the Soviet nightmare changed her song, Anna Akhmatova wrote some of Russia’s finest love poetry. Orlando Figes, Alison Croggon and Ellen Koshland discuss the life and work of the magnificient Anna Akhmatova.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

And who is that bearded bloke?

Amazon Germany tells me that the Pellinor books are doing nicely over there (many thanks, Bastei-Lübbe: you've done me proud). They've just bought The Singing, which is apparently due out there in March next year, hot on the heels of the US edition. No one can say the Germans are not efficient.

But the cover image suggests that the designer is yet to read the book. At least, who is that bearded Bard looking all, well, wizardly on the cover of Das Baumlied? Any suggestions gratefully received...

Meanwhile, Pellinor's plot to take over the world continues with the purchase by a Portuguese publisher of The Gift and The Riddle...


Friday, July 11, 2008

Who says fantasy is mediaeval?

I have always said my characters have a life of their own. And they just proved it - they have their own Facebook pages! Imagine my surprise when one Cadvan Lirigon, looking rather more ruggedly handsome than I anticipated, asked to be my friend. He's a "Dark ass-kicker" who enjoys "a good game of pool". Hem and Dernhil (who seems to have generated his own little fanclub) have their own pages too. They're all loyal viewers of a tv show called Days of Our Bards (wot, no Dr Who?) Wow. I look forward keenly to further revelations...


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Back home

...after a month long trip to England, where I was mostly being a poet and sometimes having a holiday. It was a totally brilliant time, and I've come back to the chaos of my desk deeply refreshed, if also deeply jetlagged - for those who haven't done it, Melbourne is a very long way away from Europe, and you never feel it more than when the plane seems to be poised endlessly over Central Asia... There's no getting away from the fact that it's a horror flight.

I had lunch with Walker, my English publishers, always a pleasant thing to do, and kept bumping into Pellinor fans even though I wasn't doing Pellinorish things, including the enterprising Lsle (did I get that right?) in Norwich, who hunted me down at the New Writing Worlds festival, even though I wasn't reading, with a much-thumbed copy of The Gift. That was lovely, and also unexpected. My editor wants me to write a book of short stories, along the lines of Ursula Le Guin's Tales of Earthsea, and I have to say that idea has its charm - I reread the short story I wrote last year, Two Friends, while I was away (my editor also, oh horror, made me do some work and edit it) and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I'll keep you updated on when that will appear... I couldn't face writing another novel of Edil-Amarandh, but some short tales might be a really fun thing to do.

Also, (I confess, to my considerable astonishment), Penguin is organising an Australian tour. The initial dates unfortunately clashed with some dates I already have at the Melbourne Writers Festival, but they are on the case with Books Alive! and if they can reschedule I'll be popping up in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and... Warnambool. So any Warnambool fans take note. Are there any? Please come if there are.

And a story that warmed the cockles of my heart. My son Josh was book browsing in town yesterday, checking out The Singing and loyally contemplating turning the covers face-out (all my family and friends seem to do this), when an excited young man with a back pack rushed up behind him, grabbed The Singing with a whoop, and rushed off to the counter. Now, that makes an author excited!


Friday, May 23, 2008

Pirene's Fountain

For the poetry lovers among you - the lovely Ami Kaye from the poetry ezine Pirene's Fountain showcases my work - in a rare combo, both fantasy and poetry! - in the new issue, which has been released today. And there are a few poems, including recent ones from my upcoming book, in the current issue.


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

I guess it had to happen

That is, if I'm going to running around like a headless chook* (as we so gracefully say in the Antipodes) at some point I'm going to fall over. This happened last week. I cancelled everything and stayed home wondering if someone had pinched some of my nailclippings and was shoving a red-hot needle through the head of a voodoo doll that looked just like me. Not a sensation I enjoyed particularly, I have to admit. In any case, the culprit was isolated yesterday: an infected tooth, which has been summarily removed by a very nice dentist. The relief is beyond words, and all I can say is that, for all its disadvantages, I'm very glad I live in the 21st century...

Apparently this tooth has been infected for a long time, and I suspect it might have been making me feel unwell for a while. With any luck my general health with be less dodgy after this. In any case, I'm officially convalescing, and thinking that I might be able to tidy my desk, catch up on some correspondence and maybe even instil some order into my life... though that might be a little ambitious.

The new Australian releases of the first three books are now out in the shops, and in some cases, in large numbers... Borders seems to be giving them a huge push, with a three-for-two offer on the first three books. Which is actually a bit exciting. And I believe the Australian pub date for The Singing is now July. Pub dates seem to be changing all over the place, so when I have straightened my desk (a massive job) I will send a few emails to publishers to get the latest news.

But I agree: The Singing is taking too long! One fan is so impatient she's written her own version, which is presently running to seven chapters. In the meantime, Walker Books has put a teaser - the new first chapter - up on their website as a downloadable pdf. I actually can't wait until it's out, it never feels finished until you can hold the book in your hot little hand...

* Australian for "chicken"


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The insanity continues...

This is one of those holding-type posts. I am having a really insanely ridiculously (insert further suitable adjective) over-the-top couple of weeks - of which the most insane bit was the last weekend's Australia 2020 Summit - but there's some Pellinor news just prodding to be communicated.

Anyone feeling a bit short of Pellinor books can go to Between the Lines and enter a competition to win one of 10 sets (my, a set! that sounds brilliant) of the Pellinor series. It simply requires you to explain, in 25 words or less, why you are the biggest fantasy fan. I'm sure that you superlative Pellinor fans can manage that! And meanwhile, some excellent news - The Gift has been chosen as one of 50 "Books You Can't Put Down", that will be part of this year's Books Alive promotion later this year. Do I think that's cool? You bet!


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Oh my

I'm turning into one of those terrible bloggers who only turn up to apologise for not blogging. So I'll get the apologies out of the way. Sorry for the long absence... Life has truly been bonkers. Perhaps the most bonkers thing about it is that I have been invited to the Australia 2020 Summit - a gathering in Canberra in which 1000 Australians are supposed to debate future policy. I'm in the Creative Australia stream, as they call it, under the leadership of the Elven Princess herself, Cate Blanchett. Which is at once daunting and exciting. Though who knows if the government will take any notice?

Meanwhile, the big fat proofs of the Australian edition of The Singing are on my dining room table. (And they are big - Penguin is releasing this one in the double size C-format). They look very handsome, and I can't wait to actually have the book in my hand - not long now! And in the past couple of days boxes have been arriving of the new Penguin Australia releases of the Pellinor books (right). They're pretty cool actually - based on the lovely English titles, only with my name in raised silver lettering, like proper airport novels. I think they hit the shops in May. (PS: The only downside is that I feel for those Australian readers who have been buying the books from when they were first released - now there will never be a matching set. Which seems a bit unfair...)

I'm having trouble keeping up (I know that other authors are out in many more countries, but the maths of four books in four countries is already beginning to confuse me). The Riddle is released in Germany on Friday. And then the paperback version of The Crow is out in August ... and I just found the cover online. I think it's gorgeous. And Irc looks more like a crow than on the hardback. On the hardback he looked rather like a seagull.

Meanwhile, I am planning to be in the UK in June, specifically in Norwich, with readings in Cambridge and London, and a few days in Cork in Ireland in early July. I'll be wearing my poetry hat, since I have a new book of poems coming out this year as well, but anyone nearby is welcome to turn up and surprise the poets by asking me to sign a fantasy book (I would quite enjoy that, actually). I'll let you know the dates closer to the day.

I'm beginning to think it's about time I started writing something new. But not another series. I keep returning to Wuthering Heights, one of my favourite books. (Emily Bronte is also one of my favourite poets, and I feel close to poet/novelists these days...) How would it be if I wrote something like that? I have an Idea...


Friday, February 1, 2008

Being an Author

Some people become writers because it's a nice private job where no one can look at you. I'm that sort of writer. I hide from cameras of any kind. Radio is a medium I approve of heartily. Deep inside, I superstitiously believe that each photograph steals a little bit of your soul.

Video, of course, is even worse.

So I spent this afternoon with some lovely people from Penguin Books Australia, trying to pretend that none of the above is true and that I wasn't agonisingly self conscious. Oh, I might be a writer, but being an Author is all a bit, well, traumatic. I am very happy for people to read what I write, but I'd rather they didn't look at me. On the other hand, in order to read what I write, they usually have to buy the book first; and in this modern world, away from the goose quills and smudgy type of Grubb St, that means Sales and Marketing.

Some videoed bits are for an upcoming Australian-based website that Penguin is making for the Pellinor books. Another bit was for the sales team at Penguin. I did my best: I tried to pretend that I'm the sort of person for whom the camera is a friend. But I'm just not.

The lovely people who coached me through it all with great charm and patience said I did fine. I hope they're right. I am now conceiving a plan: I have to become so famous that I need never stand in front of a camera again. Then I can just be a "famously reclusive" author, rather than just unknown. Or promising. Or whatever I am at present.

In the meantime, I'll let you all know about the website once it appears, no doubt when the new editions of the Pellinor books come out in Australia. One of the things I videoed was a reading of an extract from the new opening of The Singing, which might interest some of you...


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bizarre translating adventures

A wonderful review (insofar as I can make it out through the gobblydegook of amazonian babelfish) of The Gift in Germany, from the German site Fantasy News (Phantastik News). Carsten Kuhr (may the Light ever shine on his path) calls The Gift a "rare gem" that stands out among the hyped Tolkien imitators. As he says in amazonian, which is worth quoting for its sheer oddness:

In almost lyrical about nennender shaping describes forests and meadows, marshes and mountains, and in this way creates an atmosphere felt very intensely the reader to draw their world. Additionally, we are drawn interesting people, and to doubt their mission, which is to develop and understandable feelings reveal. It's about betrayal and trust, love and fear, envy and friendship, and not least to loss and grief - deep feelings in a world in which feelings of great importance.

Well, you get the picture. What makes me want to kiss Kuhr, however, is this: he understands that the Pellinor books are epic fantasy in the tradition of Tolkien, with everything that implies: but he also understands that this doesn't mean that they are "derivative". In other words, he reads the book as much for its writing and characterisation, and in particular, for its emotional power, as for its story. And it seems the word is spreading - German fantasy blog Wetterspitze Info goes so far to call the Pellinor books a "great highlight of the coming year".

It sounds, too, as if Michael Krug's translation of The Gift is pretty marvellous. How cool is that? Berlin, here I come...


Monday, January 14, 2008

Happy New Year!

Yes, I'm still here, and gearing up to the challenges of 2008, which look - from this end, anyway - as demanding as 2007. There's a long list of tasks on my desk at present, and I doubt it is going to get any shorter. Not that I'm complaining! I'm in the very fortunate position of loving what I do.

One thing I did on my Christmas break was to make a much-needed overhaul of my home page. Which was fun - I like mucking around with web pages almost as much as I like playing video games. Some of you might be interested in an essay on fantasy I wrote a couple of years ago, just after I finished The Riddle. It's longish, but it explores some of the reasons why I like writing fantasy, and why I think it matters.