Playwright Emma Gibson moved to Canberra from Albury Wodonga ten years ago to study law at the Australian National University. But three weeks in, she dropped law and gave in to her love of writing by picking up a major in English instead. Since graduating from the ANU, Emma has worked as a professional writer in a number of roles. Like many Canberrans, she now works for the public service. But it wasn’t until three or four years ago Emma realised she could combine her love of writing with her passion for theatre.
Emma is one of the rising stars of the Canberra performing arts scene. She has had two plays performed to critical acclaim: Love Cupboard and Widowbird and she is now working on her third, The Pyjama Girl Project, as part of her JUMP mentorship with the Australia Council.
Emma is also working on her first novel, a young adult ghost story about shipwrecks. “I’m not yet published,” Emma said, “but I am working towards that slowly.”
Her first novel evolved as part of a mentorship with novellist Daniella Brodsky. “Following the mentorship, I attended a weekly class that Daniella was teaching,” Emma explained, “and from that, I have become part of a regular writing group which has been enormously helpful, both in terms of criticism, but also in forcing me to stay focused. I’m just at the end of the first draft of this story.”
As a new and emerging playwright and author, Emma says that Australia is a small industry “so it’s often harder to get a start. I think today publishers can’t take the risks on new writers that they could have a decade ago. It can be confusing to navigate the book industry, and I think a lot of aspiring writers don’t research the market and may spend a long time writing a book that they may struggle to find a home for.”
Writing came quite differently to experienced and talented Brisbane school teacher, Karen Tyrrell.
“I was harassed by parents at my school to breaking point,” said Karen. They dished out spoken, written and psychological abuse on a daily basis, so Karen fled. She was found hiding in a lonely motel by police who then “forcibly incarcerated me into a psyche hospital where I developed an obsessive compulsion to write and I haven’t stopped.”
Karen was diagnosed with bipolar disorder but with the staunch support of her family and friends, Karen recovered and wrote her long awaited first book Me And Her: A Memoir of Madness this year. Me And Her provides “a deeper understanding of mental illness and how we’re all vulnerable” and is a guide to help others to recover.
In her journey to get her first book published, Karen became a member of some writing groups. She also attended two six month writing courses through the Queensland Writers’ Centre.
Karen is constantly trying to perfect her writing skills. She reads fiction and books on the craft of writing, attends seminars and workshops, and submits her work to Beta readers for feedback. Karen is now working on a companion guide to Me And Her called Me And Him: A Guide to Recovery to be launched in 2013. She is also working on a young adult novel and two children’s picture books, with mental health themes.
Like all new and emerging writers, Karen says there are many challenges on the road to publication. “It’s difficult to break into the struggling Aussie book industry with so many new competing writers and established authors,” she said.
“New books must be unique, of the highest publishing standard and highly marketable to stand out. E-books lead the way to the future BUT unfortunately there’s many D grade eBooks. Make sure your writing is A grade in theme, structure, editing and will hook the reader in.”
Social media opens many doors for new and emerging writers and Karen has fervently embraced Facebook, blogging and twitter as a way to promote herself and her writing. “Writers should build their writers’ platform by working out their brand or niche,” she explained. “Self-promote and network on social media on a world wide scale.”
Her advice to new writers? “NEVER, EVER give up. Keep believing you’ll get published.”
In this brave new world, traditional ways of publishing, reading and thinking about books are being turned on their heads by the e-book phenomenon and social media. But as science fiction and fantasy author Nicole Murphy said, at the end of the day publishers and agents are still desperate for great books, and the job of the writer (whether published or unpublished) is simply to write great books.
“The publisher still needs words, needs books, needs authors if they are to have anything to sell,” said Nicole Murphy. “So this is becoming one of the best times in the history of publishing to be an author.”
And writing great books and extraordinary stories is precisely what new and emerging writers Kimberley Gaal, Charmaine Clancy, Emma Gibson and Karen Tyrrell are doing. We wish them all well on their journeys.
About the Author:
Belladonna Took worked in community development and primary education in Sydney before moving to Canberra in 2010. She is a writer for Her Canberra, a website for women of the Canberra region. Belladonna is also writing her first novel-a young adult fantasy featuring elves, dwarves, romance (of course) and not so sparkly vampires.