Best Part of the Job!

In the excitement of the past few weeks, I somehow never mentioned some other news here: I recently became the Vice President of the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre!

I have always been keen on volunteering my time where I can, and over the years I’ve found myself giving my time in a volunteer capacity for a few organisations: a local art and project space; a multicultural radio station (where I co-hosted a radio show in French); and a university magazine (writing and copy-editing).

Typically, though, I couldn’t sustain any of these through the other demands on my time; the most longstanding was the radio show, which my co-host and I broadcast for about a year.

Back in April, I was invited to become a committee member of the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre. I’d done some work with the centre in my capacity working in community engagement for Edith Cowan University: I’d used some of my project money to fund workshop places for teenagers from low SES background, many of whom would not usually have the luxury of attending regular writing workshops to help nourish their creativity.

I’d sat on a few event or project committees before, but never on a management committee, so this was a new experience for me. I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough to contribute, but over time I grew more comfortable and realised that yes, I did, in fact, have something to give.

And a writers’ centre is a perfect fit for a writer to volunteer at! I get to give back to the profession I love; I get to help and support and nurture other writers; and I get to be a part of the local writing sector.

After some time on the committee, I was asked to be Grants Officer, and then shortly after I was asked to take on the Vice Presidency.

As far as writers’ centres go, the Peter Cowan Writers’ Centre is a really nice one to be a part of. Our centre sits in on the beautiful grounds of Edith Cowan University’s Joondalup campus, surrounded by gardens, pines, native bushland and a beautiful lake with a fountain in it; you can hear water gushing and birds chirping from our offices. Ducks waddle past on the regular, though it’s best not to get too close, as they have a tendency for diving at your head if you are perceived to get too close to their ducklings.

Holden at PCWC November 2017
Holden outside the PCWC, Nov 2017

Moreover, the job of VP is really nice. In the past week alone, I had the chance to visit the University of Western Australia at a networking event and the launch of their new online issue, Flux. I had the opportunity to chat with young writers and students about what our centre does – workshops, mentorship and guidance, competitions, writing groups – and got to hear about their hopes and dreams, too.

But my favourite event in the past week was the prize-giving ceremony for the 2017 Glen Phillips Poetry Prize, held in our grounds on a warm Saturday. I was the Master of Ceremonies for the small event, and it was really, really fun to be able to congratulate some local poets, like Scott-Patrick Mitchell, Shey Marque and Yanika O’Brien on their award-winning poems. There were some interstate poets in attendance, too: the talented Anne Casey flew over from Sydney to receive her award for her poem ‘Category Four’.

GPPP 2017 Winners
2017 GPPP Winners on the Day, with the competition judge Dr Vivienne Glance

It was great fun to be able to offer a moment of joy to some fellow writers, and to give them the opportunity to read and perform their poetry in front of an audience. And perform they did! All were remarkable; our first prize winner, Scott-Patrick Mitchell, was an absolute standout.

That day was, at this stage at least, the best part of the job!

I can’t extol the value of local writers’ centres enough. If you’re a writer at any stage of your career – aspiring, emerging, published and/or uber-famous – there is something for you to gain from getting involved in yours. Do an online search, find your local centre and drop in and say g’day! Writing is often a solitary and misunderstood profession – so get involved, even if you’re naturally an introvert, and you will be surprised at the opportunities for growth, and other connections, that crop up.






Success is an Iceberg

It was to my absolute surprise a couple of weeks ago that my debut YA novel, INVISIBLE BOYS, was announced as the winner of the 2017 Ray Koppe Residency Award.

This award recognises the outstanding manuscript of a young Australian writer (under the age of 30). It is run by the Australian Society of Authors, provides the winner with a one-week residency at Varuna, the National Writers’ House, and was judged by some fantastic and well-known published authors (Aoife Clifford and Tristan Bancks).

In short: it was a significant win, and definitely the most significant win of my writing career thus far.

It also caught the attention of a wonderful literary agent in Sydney, whom I have now signed with: again, a massive win in my career as an author.

The truth is, though, I never expected to win this award, and I was utterly shocked (and elated) when I did.

I apply for as much as I can, partly because I believe in seizing as many opportunities as possible, and partly on the advice New York agent Janet Reid always gives on her blog, which is, in a nutshell, “Write well, and query widely.”

I pretty much operate by that mantra. I write as well as I can. I seek constant feedback. I am always trying to improve, to write more economically, to write from the heart about what hurts, to avoid the cliche.

And I query as widely as I can. Not just in my submissions to agents and publishers, but when I send short stories to journals, and in my applications for residencies, mentorships, writing programs of all shapes and sizes – you name it.

Mind you, I don’t just hurl applications into the stratosphere and hope something sticks. I only apply for stuff where I fit the criteria, and stuff that I really want.

When I first got the email about my award win, I was confused, because I’d just applied for something completely different a few days ago, and I wondered how they could possibly have turned that around in such a short space of time.

Then the penny dropped.

Fuck, I lost my shit, man.

I won’t go into too much detail, but there was some jumping, some shouting, and some very loud music. I spun around my home office like a dervish whirling, though I don’t know any dervishes who like whirling to “Marry the Night” by Lady Gaga.

This was all the more sweet because, to be frank, 2017 has been a hard bloody slog.

I worked hard all year building my career as an indie author. I released three short stories, two of which sold decently and one which sold surprisingly well. I tweeted and Facebooked and blogged. I managed my own website, my own promotion. I poured what little money I have into my writing career instead of saving it. So many days, I would knock off from a day at working one of my five jobs (sometimes doing several of them in a single day), and then, before I could sit down and write my novel, I’d have to drag my arse to my trainer at the gym, who would pummel me for an hour – mentally and physically. And only then would I get home, shower, eat, and get stuck into a few more pages.

I burned out several times. When I wasn’t burnt out, I was either a pre-burnout neurotic mess or a post-burnout shell. I had to fit in doctor’s visits and counselling sessions into what was already a ridiculous schedule.

And during all of those godawful days, I never once thought of giving up.

Not once did I wonder if I would ever get anywhere with my writing.

At every stage, I just wondered, “How long will it take?”

Because I’m so deadset on my career as an author, nothing will stop me. If everything else fails and I lose everything, I’ll be that crazy homeless guy in the park and I’ll just read my novels aloud to the people walking by on their lunch break trying to avoid my gaze.

Of course, I hope it won’t come to that. The signs are really good. But I’m half Sicilian, and Sicilians can be a little cautious and a little superstitious.

There is some overused meme out there in the cyber-ether that says success is an iceberg. It is very, very true. I’m surprised at how many people recently have suggested, after congratulating me on the award win or landing my agent, that everything’s always rosy for me.

I probably should just let those comments slide – especially as they are usually well-intentioned – but, perhaps because I’m a writer, I want the picture painted by passing words to be accurate. Not just for myself, but for other writers to know that it’s the same for all of us. That’s why I’m at pains to point out that the overnight successes are never overnight, nor are they pure success.

In fact, in 2017 I think I faced more rejection than ever.

My first manuscript (not INVISIBLE BOYS, but a fantasy novel) was rejected by everyone who laid eyes on it.

And my other works were knocked back by journals, magazines, newspapers, websites, writing centres and publishers.

Over and over.

I don’t announce every rejection. Firstly because they hurt; secondly because I don’t want to be a downer.

But they happen all the time. They happen to every writer, aspiring, emerging and yes, even published authors get rejected.

This hasn’t been an easy year, so having a win at the end becomes an even bigger celebration for me.

I am so, so grateful that Ray Koppe’s legacy has enabled young writers like myself to have this opportunity. And I’m thrilled that the Australian Society of Authors keeps this program going.

The moment in the sun has reached its twilight now. I have deadlines now, and I need to make some edits to my manuscript, so it’s back to hard work mode.

But, man, after everything – the hard work, the failure, the sacrifice – it was really nice to have a bloody win this year.

More from me, soon.








It’s a Bitch to Grow Up

Far out, man.

I’d be hard pressed to pick a period of time in which I’ve been more hectic than I have been the past few weeks.

In fact, when I sat down at my desk today, I glanced at the papers strewn across it, including a very dated and half-completed to-do list, and realised I had not touched my laptop or sat down in my nice cushy IKEA chair for an entire two weeks!

It’s been that long since I threw together a blog post, too, which is hideous as I try hard to get the weekly blog posts happening with regularity.

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will know a bit about what’s been keeping me flat out in the writing space: a couple of really big wins that I will dedicate my next blog post to. I’d talk about them now, but it’s already 11pm and I’m knackered.

The other weight on me has been work. Like a lot of authors, I juggle a whole bunch of part-time and casual roles (and, foolishly, some voluntary ones, too). Usually this is manageable, but lately all of them have demanded my time at once, and I’ve found myself feeling like I’m desperate for air but stuck underwater. I am totally overwhelmed and the situation I’ve put myself in is quite clearly no longer manageable.

I blogged in July about this same sense of burnout, and it is becoming really clear to me that I still haven’t learned my lesson.

There is a latter-day Alanis Morissette song (circa 2008) called “It’s a Bitch To Grow Up”, and some of the lyrics are hitting home right now.

Namely the verse:

I’ve repeated this dance ad nauseum
There’s still something to learn that I’ve not

This is really so true. I have burnt out a few times now. As in, ending up in hospital kind of burn out. And like a magpie attacking its reflection in a flying rage, I somehow keep repeating the same mistake ad nauseum.

I’m an ambitious person by nature, so I like to take on more and more stuff, but I really have to come to grips with the fact that I can’t do everything at once. It’s just not possible, especially when I have five different paid jobs, a couple of voluntary positions and a writing career. It’s lunacy.

And as I’ve already established through my musings on this blog and elsewhere, writing is the thing that matters most to me.

So I think it’s time I learn that I can’t do a million things at once without making myself sick. I need to stop. I need to slow down. I need to recalibrate and work out how to run my life effectively in a way that allows me to prioritise my writing career without letting the day jobs and other commitments choke all the air out of the room.

I really just need to learn how to take care of myself, don’t I?

As Alanis said:

I feel done, I feel raked over coals
and all that remains is the case
That it’s a bitch to grow up